Sunday, April 30, 2006

Two Lights - writing contest - I won second place!

I am so excited. I had never entered any kind of online or otherwise writing contest before last week. But when I read about the "Two Lights" short fiction contest, I knew I wanted to enter it. At the time, there were only five other entries in, so I looked at the photo (two lamps on a table in a hallway) and I tried to think of different representations of the lights and started writing. Then I sent off the story.

The winners
were to be posted on Friday. I was hoping to at least make some kind of honorable mention but there were so many good stories, I almost doubted that. Yet, I hoped. But, I was leaving for my conference and I did not take my laptop. (I kicked myself all Friday and Saturday for not taking it.)

Imagine my surprise when I returned and ran to log on and saw my name as the Second-place winner! I literally screamed!

I had a great weekend.

And thank you, all of you who read my story and sent me such nice comments. I appreciate that. You made my day! You really did.


Friday, April 28, 2006

Away I go

I didn't know if I'd make it to the conference afterall. My mama had a turn for the worst and has been a bit ill for the past few days. I brought her home to stay with me all week and decided to hold off on leaving until noon. That way, I will take her to my sister's and know that she will be fine.

I had originally planned on leaving by 7 a.m. and enjoying a day in the city. I had wanted to drop in on an art museum or perhaps do a little sightseeing/shopping in the garment district of Los Angeles. It has been years since I've been there.

But I guess everything turns out in the end. I should get to Los Angeles by 4 to 5 p.m. -- I know, right in the middle of 5 p.m. traffic on a Friday evening..... yuk! But that should give me plenty of time to check into the Fullerton Marriott and enjoy a nice dinner, maybe take in a movie and be ready for tomorrow.

:) Of course, my mother thinks this is awful! She does not believe that women should travel alone. I reminded her I've been all over the country, to Canada and to Europe ALONE.... she still said she wished I could take someone.

Truth is, I love traveling alone. When I've invited a sister, I feel so trapped. I enjoy their company but we are so different. I am too independent and move too fast. They linger too long at the "wrong" place (one store department, for example) I zoom in and out of stores, and my lingering is over coffee, reading a paper, or at museums (and they hate all that) LOL

I'll be back next week and will write about my experience -- barring any disaster from earthquakes (my one big fear) I should be fine. That is the only thing I am dreading. I hate being near tall buildings. Going to San Francisco or Los Angeles scares me for that one reason alone.

Until then,

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

My first writer's workshop

One of my New Year resolutions was to attend my first Writers Workshop or Conference. I browsed around and saw several that I would love to attend - such as the Yosemite one in August. But the cost is a lot! If I attend, the weekend will put me back $750.00!

So, I started to look at other options. I thought of attending the Mad Anthony Writers' Conference and Book Festival in Ohio, but decided to wait an extra week and attend something in California.

And that workshop is only four days away!

I am so excited. I will be attending the National Writers' Workshop at Cal State Fullerton this Saturday.

The workshop is put on by the Orange County Register (main newspaper of Freedom Communications - which also owns the Porterville Recorder that I write for)

Anyway, I was looking over the list of speakers today, and the more I read, the more excited I became.

No, this is not a writer's workshop for novels and romantic short stories -- that will come later.

For now, I would love to sharpen my interviewing skills and that is exactly what I am going to do.

Plus, the luncheon speaker is Jon Macks, speaking on "Writing for Jay Leno" -- which promises to be fun. But there are so many excellent speakers on the lineup -- see here!

I really can't wait till Saturday. I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas. After listening to a lot of my writer friends speak about their experiences attending workshops, finally it is MY turn!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Frank Buck Shaffer

I could not get this post to load properly - no matter what I did. So I removed it and started over.

I have had several emails asking about Buck Shaffer.
I interviewed him in March for a story. The two hours I spent with him were precious and priceless.

As I left his home, my CD played in my car and the song "Leader of the Band" by Dan Fogelberg came on. I had to wipe away a couple of tears as I listened to the words:

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through
My instrument
And his song is in my soul --
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy
To the leader of the band.

Thank you, Buck Shaffer. For the gift that you gave me -- the gift of music and for believing in me. Thank you for putting a song in my soul.

To see the original post, please click on March archives and scroll down to March 22. You can find the entry there.

To see the story I wrote for the Porterville Recorder, see below:

The Spirit of Freedom, page 1
Traditions Start Here, page 2
Shaffer: A Living Legend in the Community, page 10

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Orange Blossoms and Irises

I love the town I grew up in. We're an "All American City" with a lot of home town charm. It is always a pleasure to write stories about my town.

Every April, Porterville is blanketed with the lingering scent of orange blossoms, but since the town is surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of acres of citrus, it is no surprise.

Still, every year, I am pleasantly reminded of how great it smells. You can smell it every evening, for miles and miles. (Not good for those suffering from asthma or allergy)

Irises too, are everywhere. It is the official city flower. And Porterville is home to the world renowned Sutton Iris Gardens, with more than 100 acres of blooming iris of all colors -- as far as the eye can see. It is breathtaking beautiful!

I recently had an opportunity to write about the Iris flowers. I had four stories in today's newspaper.

You can see my stories here:
Iris Festival Brings More than just Beauty to Porterville
Sutton's Iris Gardens
Sampath Takes a Shine to Colorful Iris
Caring For and Planting Irises

Beautiful Iris

photo by Esther Avila

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Want to see Dama in shorts and halter?

OK - this is scary. An AW friend (Dama) and I have entered into the same agreement as WV Writer and her friend. Truth is, we both agreed that we need to lose a little weight and what better way than by motivating each other. Or in this case, being motivated not to lose the contest. LOL

All I can say is that I am sooooo glad that I went out to lunch today to Little Italy - my favorite restaurant. I think I may have just enjoyed my last Chicken Piccatta (grilled chicken in a lemon, butter and wine sauce) in a long time!

Hey, any of you other AWers (or other readers) want to join in? See, if there are three or four of us, than the chance of me losing declines! LOL

Dama, by the way, for those of you who do not know her, is young! Young enough to be my youngest daughter. I think metabolism might be on her side. But, that's ok. I really need to be motivated to do this. My high school reunion is this summer.

Am I a fool for going up against Dama? Maybe. But it's all in fun. And the only way that I will stay true to following a diet is if the stakes are high - and trust me, they are! LOL

So...if you want to join in, let me know. If you want to see Dama in shorts and a halter (she looks good in them already) -- then keep checking in to see how we're doing. Sorry, no pictures yet.

We decided that slow and steady is best. Even so, I know 10 can be lost in one week if necessary but those next five are harder. So...for that reason, I'll go for 10-15 pounds.

Eating right and more exercise is the key. I can't wait to see Dama in her shorts and halter. LOL

Let the game begin.....

Shorts, tank tops and high stakes

Some people are braver than I could ever be.

While cruising around, visiting AW members' blogs and sites, I ran across WVWriterGirl's site. She had one page that caught my attention. She and her best friend are trying to lose a little weight.

Ok, many of us try that at one point or other. But this was different. They added some friendly competition to it -- with high stakes!

Here's the deal: after the "contest" ends (both are winners, in my opinion) the "loser" has to post a picture of herself (on her blog) wearing shorts and a haltar top!

If that isn't motivation enough to lose weight! Of course, I'm hoping they'll both feel so great about their accomplishments, that they will both post a nice pic of themselves. LOL

But isn't that cool?

I was never heavy as a child or teen. I was the opposite, tall and skinny and awkward through grade school. By high school I felt a bit more comfortable with my body. I was an "Orange Blossom" (one of 12 coveted letter-girl positions) and by college, a cheerleader and a Barbizon model. I was still shy but always sweet enough to where I was televised quite a few times. (It was my smile)

Still, over the years, those pounds have a tendency to sneak up on a person. With my high school reunion coming up this summer, I have been watching the scales. How I would love to enter into such a challenge with a good, trusted friend.

I read WVWriterGirl's plan and I thought, "That makes a lot of sense." I would do my darndest to not lose the challenge.

I'd feel awful though, about my friend posting such a pic. LOL
But, it's all in fun and for encouragement. Wow.

My hat is tipped in your direction, WVWriterGirl.

Best of luck and mega kuddos to you and your friend.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Spring Fever

I was reading Anne's blog and suddenly got caught up with a form of spring fever. I can not wait to get out into my small back yard to fix it up.

I love flowering vines and I have jasmine, bouganvillas and grapes clinging to posts and climbing all over the place. There is no grass directly behind my home, but I have a couple of fountains, one with a waterfall, a bird bath and some rattan furniture (covered for the winter) and a swing. I have hung little lights and I have a section that has misters - which keeps part of my plants thriving year round.

To the side of my back yard, there is a small area of grass where my little ones can run around, but they tend to ignore it unless it is a sunny day - which have been few.

I have three dachsunds in the backyard and every winter, I pretty much let the place go. I bring two small doghouses up to the back porch which I enclose in thick plastic to prevent rain and wind from reaching them (they each have their own specially-made, small electric blanket and each has their own fire-alarm attached to their doggie house, just in case) All of this must go in order to reclaim my back yard.

We've been having too much rain - but once the rain stops, I'm starting. I'd love to put in a flower garden or plant some vegetables -- but with the three babies, I don't know how much of it would survive. So far, I've survived by planting in tall pots and planters.

Lately, all I do is open the door to let my doggies in every day, or step out to feed them. And I watch and hear everything from my bedroom (we have 2 security cameras aimed at my back yard)

Thank you, Anne. For reminding me that I should try to get outdoors more.
Now, excuse me please... my little yard is calling me.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

AW Monday Meme #15

Dawno has posted another Meme' - thanks Dawno. 

I love reminiscing.

The Rules: The first player of this game starts with the topic and people who get tagged need to write an entry about it as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose the next person to be tagged and link to their web journals. Don’t forget to leave a comment in their blog or journal that says “You have been tagged” (assuming they take comments) and tell them to read yours.

OK - From Dawno:
Time to dig into your past! Just use your best recollection – no need to go digging around in the attic or cellar for this stuff.

1. Do you have a picture of yourself as an infant, toddler or youngster in your own scrapbook, picture album or shoebox? If so, how old were you? What where you doing?
I wish I had pics of me as a child. We had a camera but most of the pics are of my older sisters or my baby sister. I was lost in the family, I guess. But I do have one of me at age 4. My sister emailed it to me last summer. I'll have to search for it. I am standing next to a tree, holding my skirt out to the sides. On my left arm, you can see a rather large bandage. The picture was taken a few days after I fell off a tall cherry tree. On the way down, I ripped my arm half off. I was unconscious and lost so much blood , I almost died. (ripped my artery) If I can find it in my computer, I'll come back and post it. [note: couldn't find it but i did run into this one - age 7 - my birthday]

2. What is the oldest piece of clothing you have in your closet. What is it? Do you wear it or just keep it for sentimental purposes, or because you haven’t had time to give it away yet? I have a short green dress with some horses on it. I loved that dress. (size 5) I bought it while on vacation in Guadalajara when I was 16 and up until five years ago, it still fit. Now my 16-year-old daughter can fit into it. (but doesn't wear it)

3. Do you have any souvenirs? If so, what is the oldest one, where is it from and how did you come to have it? I have some Disneyland tickets - the old ones, I have mainly "A" tickets but also a couple of the good ones -- the "E" tickets. I was 10 years old the first time I went to Disneyland. In those days, you had to buy a ticket book or individual tickets to get on rides. The "E" tickets were the best ones.

4. Do you have an appliance, utensil, dish, glass, platter, etc., or cooking implement in the kitchen that you got from a relative when you moved away from home? What is it and who gave it to you? I have a couple of dishes that my mom gave me when I moved away from home. They were from her own china set.
I also have a couple of very nice tea cups and a butter dish (yellow flowers) given to me by a very close friend. It used to belong to his mother. I was also given a couple of "baby" dishes the same person made with his own little hands in kindergarten.

5. What’s the oldest thing in your medicine cabinet? (and maybe it’s time to toss out the expired stuff!) I don't have a medicine cabinet. I keep a small plastic container in the kitchen with tylenol, benadryl and aspirin, but that's about it. And none of it is old. I'm never really sick. I'm very healthy.

6. Was the place you currently live in occupied prior to you? Did they leave anything behind? What? If not, have you ever heard any stories about folk who lived there before you did and would you share one? My home is awesome! It was built in 1904 and is listed with the city as a historical home. There is a book at Borders (bookstore) with historical homes and my home is there. It was once home to Visalia's first mayor.

7. Do you have any old IDs, business cards or other bits of old flotsam in your purse/wallet? What is the oldest thing there and why do you keep it? I have too many purses. Most are empty. No old Id's but I keep finding ticket stubs to previous baseball games I've attended, dating back to 1999. I keep the stubs to all the games I attend. The most games in one season -- 69 out of 70 home games (I only missed a Sunday afternoon game - on Mother's Day)

8. Do you have your yearbooks? When was the last time you looked at them? What is the thing you like most about your favorite yearbook? What’s the thing you like least about your least favorite yearbook? (I don’t know if this is a ‘global’ question – so forgive me if you are from somewhere that getting a yearbook is not a tradition) I love my yearbooks! I keep one shelf on one of my bookcase for just yearbooks (mine plus my three daughters have them now) and for all the "Who's Who Among American High School Students" books. I also have my Junior High yearbooks and my Reunion yearbooks.

The oldest yearbook is my 7th grade one - I was on the yearbook staff in 8th grade. What I love most is that I can go back and remember the good times, particularly band. I love reading some of the entries. I last looked at it about a month ago. Two of my daughters go to school with the sons of someone I was in band with. (Jim Kusserow, who is now the band director at my old alma mater) They were curious as to how he looked when he was young. I took it out and they laughed like crazy, at me, at him, at everyone else. Everyone had the 70's long hair look.

9. Do you have any old key(s)? Do you know what it/they’re for? Why did you keep it/them?
I have a roller-skate key. :-) I also have a set of "skeleton" keys for my home. My home was built in 1904. It is absolutely beautiful - lots of sliding doors - and they lock with old fashion skeleton keys.

10. 100 years from now, what would you wish someone had as a memento of you?
I used to say a classic story I've written but I'm not sure that matters any more. What matters is what we have now.

I have to see who I can tag - not sure who has done it already.
So, to quote my Governor: "I'll be back."

As promised - I am back and am tagging: Paprika - since her last AW meme entry was in January.

A Monday Meme' from a couple weeks ago

I had been so busy with all of the stories, including agriculture stories ( Ag Special all of the stories in there are mine, click on "next" to turn the pages )-- that I had stopped doing the Monday memes.
I was in the AW threads and reading some of the meme's I missed and decided that this one was too cute to pass up.

It was started by Ray Wong - Maestrowork!
His blog is at

1. If someone is going to make a movie about you, which movie star/actress should play you?
Young me - Julia Ormonde. Current me: Diane Lane

2. What are your favorite movies and/or books? Books -To Kill a Mockingbird, Casa Blanca, The Bridgest of Madison County, A league of their Own; and I'm a sucker for love stories/chic flicks.

3. Coffee or chocolate? Not a fair question. I love chocolate and I can't live without coffee - I absolutely love Starbucks Coffee. No flavor coffees for me. Just strong, with cream and Equal.

4. Hot tub or beaches? Beaches

5. Do you like to take naps? Or do you sleep only a few hours a day? I take occasional power nap - about 20 minutes, if I'm lucky. Not too often.

6. Do you sleep in the nude? No.

7. What do you consider is your best achievement so far? Raising my children. My three daughters are my pride and joy.

Since this happened some time ago, I'm not tagging anyone.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Blind Babies

photo by EstherAvila

I never knew that there were so many blind babies in our area. I have a special place in my heart for the blind because my daddy was blind.

Last Saturday I covered a Beeping Easter Egg hunt -- about 300 people attended (inlcuding 30 blind babies, ages 0-4, and their families)

The eggs beeped and the children, quite a few of them with white canes, walked around, listening for them.

The event catered to all of their other senses. They had flowers to touch, smell and plant; and baby animals to pet.

I was so happy as I covered the event. It was the most awesome thing ever.

The story ran in today's South Valley edition of the Fresno Bee. I'm attaching it below.

Fresno Bee - South Valley Bee
Friday, April 14, 2006
Blind Children shown power of their senses
By Esther Avila / Special to The Bee

Three-year-old Mitchell Villanueva smiled as he gently held a baby chick. Blind since birth, Mitchell could hear the chick's peeps and feel the fur -- and the squirming.

"He's soft," Mitchell said, placing the chick closer to his ear. "I like it."

Mitchell was one of more than 300 people, including 30 visually-impaired children, who attended the 13th annual Central Valley Beeper Egg Hunt hosted by the Blind Baby Foundation at Rowley Ranch in Visalia on Saturday.
The children and their families were also treated to a barbecue, tactile games, a visit from the Easter bunny and a special beeping-eggs Easter hunt.

"For blind children, we have to bring the world to them," said Kristi Spaite, vision-impairment specialist with Blind Babies Foundation. "We have to bring them these experiences. It is difficult for families to offer this kind of diversity to their children. A lot of the families don't get out much."

The Blind Babies organization was founded in 1949 after an epidemic of blindness among premature infants. The foundation's primary purpose is to provide early intervention services to children and families that encourage the child's development within their home environment.

"A lot of these activities are done with a purpose. We're getting them ready for Braille. We want them to want to use their fingers, and we try to provide them with as many textures as possible," Spaite said. "Many children do not like to touch different textures."

For that reason, Saturday's event had a petting zoo, where children could touch the fur, feathers, and skin of baby animals, from piglets and chicks to lambs and goats.

The children also participated in an Easter egg hunt that had 50 specially-made beeping eggs. Several of the children used white canes to feel their way around as they listened for the beeps.

"I didn't have a clue that there were so many blind children in our area," said Vicki Rowley. "I heard about this through church and immediately opened up our home for this."

Breanna Burch, 2, of Visalia also attended. When she was 7 months old, Breanna was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare disease in which bilateral tumors attach to the retinas.

"It's a fast-growing cancer. She needs eye sugery every three weeks to keep it under control," said her mother, Julie Burch, who had the same disease as a child. "It's genetic, but it's very rare. It can strike at any time, but the kids pretty much grow out of it by age 4 or 5."

Breanna laughed -- she had chocolate all over her smile from a cupcake she decorated before eating -- and said she was looking forward to searching for Easter eggs.

Following the hunt, the children planted flowers in their plastic buckets.

Michael Owens, 16 months old and blind since birth, sat next to Mitchell. The two boys grabbed small fistfuls of dirt and placed them in their buckets before their parents helped them fill the basket with flowers.

"The flowers are new this year," Spaite said. "The touch, feel and smell of the flowers are all different. We wanted to tie it to spring to help educate the families about teaching their blind
children about springtime.

'When they are little, we are their eyes. But when they get older, their fingers are what they count on."

Game called off

I knew before I got there that more than likely, there would be no game tonight. But, heck, I'm a true die-hard fan and rain or shine, I had to be there for opening day.

I quickly found all of my extended baseball family and after hugging half a dozen people and catching up on what everyone has been doing -- everyone started talking about the rain.

It had stopped raining for a couple of hours prior to game time. The sky even looked blue -- but, oh, those black clouds in the distance.... they did not look good. And just as the game was about to start, they came in - with full force, dropping giant drops of water that eventually went down to a heavy sprinkle.

No one really cared. We laughed and we talked and I ordered a hotdog and a water -- just to say that I did it. I've not missed an opening game in seven years.

Alas, the game was called and we all said our goodbyes. We'll try again tomorrow - maybe a double header.

Baseball and Rain

Baseball starts today. I love baseball!

I've been a ticket season-holder for Visalia Oaks for seven years. (and board member and secretary of the booster club for six years)

But it has rained off and on (sometimes poured) all day long. Will the game be canceled? I certainly hope not! I am sure that they are tired of me calling the office every two hours, trying to disguise my voice, asking if the game has been called off.

So far, so good.

The game starts in two hours. The clouds are dark but it is not raining at the moment-

Please - please --- no rain tonight. It is not that I don't like it, I just love baseball more.

I always loved the rain. I have so many fond memories about it -- starting with memories about my father. He was blind and never saw me. But he loved the rain. He loved the way it smelled. He loved the way it sounded - the splish splash on puddles and the ting tang sounds on metal or car tops. I must have inherited that love of rain from him.

I loved being outside on rainy days - umbrella in one hand. I would splash in every puddle I could find. But I was so skinny that on windy days, the wind would literally pick me up, or more often than not, knock me over. Still, I longed for rainy days - which were few and far between.

To this day, I love rain. This year has been great. The only reason I wish it would stop is because of the flooding it has caused. We have had nine or so different counties in the area (including mine) declared national disaster areas due to flooding.

(*actual opening day was Thursday - but this didn't go online till Friday.)

Monday, April 03, 2006

A Frightening Event

Something sad and scary happened on Friday.

I was driving home from a funeral and was in an area of town that I normally would not be in. As I turned the corner, I saw four Hispanic girls walking down the street -- in baggy jeans and long white T-shirts. They were laughing and trying to kick each other. But what got me was that one of them held a good-sized American flag, which she used to poke the others with, while dragging the flag on the ground.

I stopped my car, rolled my window down and said: "You girls really need to have a little more respect for our flag."

One girl apologized, two laughed and one cussed me out, flipped me off and then made some disgusting hand gestures at me -- I am not sure what it meant, but it didn't look nice.

I was mad but I Just waved goodbye and put my window up and as I did, I noticed from the corner of my eye, some movement to the right of the car. I turned and suddenly, there was a crowd of about 20 to 25 rebellious looking teenagers -- all wearing the same white T-shirts and baggy jeans, some of them clearly exposing their boxers.

It scared me. I was relieved to know that all doors were locked and my first thought was "If they bang on your car, just maneuver to the left and drive or speed away.

They glared at me. I looked at them and started inching my car forward. Then one of them held up two fingers "Peace" and I smiled and "Peaced" them back. They nodded and stepped away. I gave them a slight smile and waved goodbye. Several waved back.

To be honest, it scared me half to death. I've never been a confrontational person and I am one of those people who locks everything. I keep a lock on my fence gate - no one can even come into my yard.

I have a lot more to say about these protests - but I'll save that for another entry.