Saturday, September 30, 2006

Birthday and miscellaneous

Life is so hectic for me that when I was asked where I would like to go for my birthday dinner, I only had one answer -- HOME.

I love staying home.

I did have to work this morning but I made it a point to stay home all afternoon/evening. We ordered pizza for lunch and for dinner, I made simple BRC burritos. (beans, rice and cheese) As far as I was concerned, it was the perfect birthday meal -- delicious and fit for a queen.

Speaking of Queens -- I am the current reigning queen (a game we play) at Absolute Write. I was thrilled to have the honor of being royalty for the week. And it couldn't come at a more appropriate time - it is not only my birthday, but my one-year anniversary at the site. How cool is that? :) It really made the honor more special for me.

I have another reason for having an ecstatic birthday.

Today's newspaper at Porterville Recorder ran my stories on "Living Here 2006" -- It was so awesome to see the little magazine-newspaper insert with all of my stories. I must say "great work" to Glen Faison, my Porterville Recorder editor (and the others putting it together) for some great work there.

And, a story I wrote for The Fresno Bee on a little girl (Camron Ascencio) from my home town made front page of the South Valley Bee - complete with two color pictures (one that I took of her, the other her mother contributed - she's listening to our national anthem after accepting the gold medal) and another contributed photo on the inside page. That little girl is amazing. She's 13 and just won the gold medal for the United States at the 2006 World Baton Twirling Championships, in Rome, Italy. She's the first American to ever win the title. (Japan has dominated that field for the past eight years, sweeping everything from first through seventh place, almost every year.) Anyway, I felt so blessed to be able to interview this little girl and the layout on the paper was amazing. Kudos to my editors, Gene Garaygordobil and Kathleen Coates for a job well done on that layout.

On a sad publishing note -- my editor at Valley Voice magazine left this week. I'm going to miss him. I was quite excited because he had just asked me to write a piece for DISCOVER (a local magazine) that comes out twice a year. I wrote the story and turned it in but now I do not know if they will use it. I hope they do. I would love to see my name in the pretty, glossy-cover magazine.

On a sadder, more personal, note -- my sister in Phoenix is very sick. I wish I could go see her. I will try to get out there soon. Also, my uncle died a few days ago. My mom was expecting it but it was still hard for her. I am taking her to Southern California next Tuesday. We'll stay down there a couple of days. (That is why I can't go see Lily next week.)

Fortunately, I'm almost caught up on stories again. I have another special section coming out in the Porterville paper - the Women in Business section -- which comes out in a week or two.

Twirling in Blue

Lily twirled around the room while holding a light blue dress against her little body.

“I’m wearing this,” she said. “What are you wearing?”

I stared at my little sister. I hadn’t given any thought to my wardrobe. I was 6 years old. I did not care what I wore. Whatever I grabbed out of the closet first, or whatever my mother would hand me, that is what I wore.

“I want Daddy to see me in this,” she said as she twirled some more. “This is such a pretty color – just like the sky.”

I remember feeling ashamed. I never thought for a minute that our father might see us. Why would he? He had never seen us before.

“Is Daddy really going to see?” I asked my older sister.

“Of course, he is,” Becky replied.

I still didn’t believe it. Papa was blind. He had been blind since age 22. He had been a welder for the Ford Company near Ann Arbor, Michigan. The company sent him to a specialist when he complained of blurry vision after work one day but nothing could be done to save his sight. Within six months, he was 100-percent blind. He did not see shadows. He did not see anything.

Growing up in a strict Pentecost family, I had seen attempt after attempt of young and seasoned ministers – all praying diligently to have God restore his sight. A few strange ministers, not from our church, even went as far as trying to cast devils out of my father.

Papa was a Godly man. He had spent many a year as a missionary, preaching in Mexico after his accident. He played guitar and had a great voice for singing. He taught himself piano and accordion and he and my mother would fill everything from small shacks to large tents with people anxious to hear the word of God.

“Why are you blind, Papi?” I asked him once.

He started to tell me about his work.

“No. I know that. But, why hasn’t God healed you?”

I still remember what he told me.

"Sometimes, God can use a person with a handicap more than he could if that person is whole," he told me.

Simple. I nodded and smiled. Papa must have sensed it. He smiled too.

I understood perfectly and I never asked again.

But now, there was excitement in the air. We were all going to Los Angeles to a [famous television preacher] crusade.

I wanted my Papa to see. I really did. But deep down I knew he would return the same. And that made me feel ashamed.

I tried to get excited. I remember picking a yellow dress, my favorite, to wear – just in case.

With 10 children in the family, we didn’t venture out too often. But that day, we all climbed into our family station wagon for the four-hour trip south.

As we arrived at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Lily was jumping up and down, talking excitedly of how she wanted to hug my Papa first, so that he could see her pretty dress.

I remember watching miracle after miracle. A deaf woman could suddenly hear. A man in a wheelchair got up and walked. Every time the crowd would clap and praise God.

I was happy for them. I was. But I was so scared.

Finally it was my Papa’s turn. I saw him walk forward, holding on to my mother’s arm and I saw the minister talking to him and asking about his sight. He prayed for my Papa.

I’m not sure what all happened. I know there was prayer and a lot of Hallelujahs coming from the crowd.

“Can you see this? Follow my hand,” the man seemed to be yelling, as if being louder would make it happen.

My father shook his head and said he couldn’t see a thing.

Somehow I remember those words but not a whole lot more.

Finally, they stopped. The minister told my father that he needed to have faith and to return that evening, that this was a test. I also remember the minister talking to the crowd – telling them that they must also believe.

I shrank in my seat. Could this all be my fault? Did I not have enough faith? I wanted to cry. I knew it was my fault. Because of me, my Papa would remain blind.

I don’t know where we went for lunch but we did have plans on returning that afternoon. My Papa told my mother that he was thinking of going home. But my older brothers and sisters insisted we stay. Lily cried. She was so positive that he would see her blue dress before the end of the day.

We sat in the crowd, far from the front, when the minister called out for my Papa.

“Papa! That’s you!” Lily cried out but was quickly hushed. “They’re calling you. Didn’t you hear them?”

But my Papa wouldn’t budge. He shook his head no.

I don’t remember the rest of the service. I remember feeling horrible at the things the person was saying. How could he say such ugly things? He said the blind man did not have enough faith and refused to let God heal him. He said my Papa was wicked. He said things that made me cry.

No one else tried to talk Papa into going forward. Even Lily stopped insisting. I don’t remember a whole lot more but I do remember him talking to my mother and I guess my older siblings on the way home.

“I don’t believe God wants me to see right now,” Papa said. “God has a plan for us. It is not in his will for me to see – not today, anyway.”

I believed Papa. You don’t belittle people the way that man on stage did. I worried about Lily. I knew she wouldn’t understand. She was only 4 years old. How could she?

I turned to glance at her. She had crawled from the back of the station wagon to the middle aisle seat and into my older sister’s arms. I didn’t have to worry about her. She didn’t hear a thing. She was sound asleep.

My father was blind for more than 30 years and never did see eight of his ten children. I was only 17 when he died. Lily was 15. He never saw either of us - nor Lily's blue dress.

But I know some day he will see us in heaven. I have dreamt it many times and always --- I see my little sister, as a 4-year-old, in that same dream, twirling in her little blue dress.

“Can you see me, Papa?”

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Spinach and Al Qaeda

I am the kind of person who adds a little spinach to my salad when I visit salad bars.

"Gotta keep the spinach farmers in business" -- someone told me when I was little, and it always stayed with me. I say the same things to my daughters now.

But I had never bought spinach at the supermarket or had an official "spinach salad" -- until last week.

Of all the times I had to choose to start.

LOL I thought I was being so healthy. Not only did I add spinach to two big salads during a tennis tournament (for 50 people) last week, but I made myself a really nice and big spinach salad that I actually enjoyed.

It was not until that night that I heard about the spinach e-coli outbreak but I've checked with my daughter, no one on the tennis team has gotten sick.

Still, this reminded me of an incident in 1984, with a watermelon-pesticide scare. About eight people died.

We love watermelon and that day, my husband and I ate some and ended up getting sick. The sicker we got and the worse we felt, the more we ate. We didn't want food so we just sliced up more watermelon. We both ended up in the hospital. I came home right away, James was hospitalized for three days. That is how we learned about the pesticide poisoning. We were lucky. We could have died.

It's scary, when you think about it -- contaminating fruits and vegetables. It's so simple to do.

I live in the Central San Joaquin Valley -- everything is grown here! All it takes is for Al Qaeda terrorists to decide to contaminate our food source and we would be a bit of a mess. How do we know for sure if anything is safe to eat or drink?

I've been reading about some fish program that the government uses - to keep track of whether or not the water is contaminated. If the fish are fine, the water is fine. Simple.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Spinach, Tennis, Football and Wrestling

I just heard on Jay Leno earlier (one of my news sources) about the E-coli outbreak with bagged spinach. Oh oh! Just today I made a made a tossed salad -- complete with cherry tomatoes, croutons AND spinach from a bag -- for about 50 people. My daughter had a tennis tournament and since our school was the official host, the parents provided dinner.

I have not gone online to see what spinach it was. I bought bags with SpongeBob on the front.
(Oxnard, CA)

The tournament was fun. My daughter played three times and lost once. But because it was a "for fun" tournament, it does not count against her undefeated status. Actually, she was moved up to the No. 1 Varsity Doubles team for the tournament. I was very proud of her.

I was there from noon till after 5 p.m., then I rushed to take the salads in (I had premade them in the morning) and then hurried to take my girls to their first football game. I had volunteered to slice tomatoes for band boosters hamburger stand, so once I did that, I rushed to take my other daughter and son to the Convention Center.

Mike and Marisa are spending the night at the Convention Center in order to get some kind of WWE wrestling tickets that go on sale tomorrow

I hurried back to watch my two high school daughters perform at half time (both are in band) and then went home to do some more writing and print up invitations to my mother's upcoming BIG 85th celebration.

I don't think I will sleep any tonight. I have already gone by the convention center to check on my Down Syndrome kids five times! They were fine. It's going to be a long and cold night. Tickets do not go on sale till 10 a.m.

update: they got second-row seats. All front row seats were reserved. I also finished all of my story assignments and even though I said I wouldn't do this again, I then took on 8 more stories for three separate papers for next week. LOL Somehow after I caught up with those original ones, I figured it wasn't so bad.
And finally -- My tennis daughter has had two more meets, and remains undefeated. :) Yea!

Almost killed by a train

(update: 9/26: I had called the city and today I see that they fixed the sign. There is now a R/R crossing up)

I have a few phobias. I am scared of heights, earthquakes and trains!

There are railroad tracks about three blocks from my home. I pass them about 20 times a day as I come and go. Though I'm scared of being near tracks and approaching trains, I am not scared of riding in trains and I love the sound of the whistle. The train goes by in the mornings, at noon, around 5 p.m. and in the middle of the night. I always enjoy listening to the whistles.

But because of my phobia, I am always cautious when I cross any tracks.

Today, I came within inches - from having my car slammed, almost head on by a train. The road I took does not have a stop sign. It does not have R/R lights. There is a small, broken R/R sign. And there is a building just before the railroads. In that same area, the railroad curves and comes out from behind the building and can hit a car head on.

I was driving about 20 mph. I did not have my radio on. (usually I do and I am so glad I didn't.) I was not talking on my cell phone (I have a bluetooth but I was not on a call and I am so glad)
I did have the A/C on full blast because my car had been sitting for a few hours and it was a very hot day.

I never heard the train whistle.
I never heard anything.

But as I cleared the building, the train was right there. I slammed my brakes and stopped inches from the train as it went by. One more mph on my part and I would have been history.

I did not see my life flash before my eyes. In fact, I'm surprised that I stayed so calm. I quickly put the car in reverse and backed up a bit.

After the train passed, I drove to the other side of the tracks and pulled over and thanked God for sparing my life. I did not want to die in such a tragic way. My children would be traumatized. Thank God I was alone.

Only after the train passed by did I get scared. I am not exaggerating when I say that I came inches from the train. If I were sitting on the hood of my car, I could reach out and touch it. I was that close. One more inch and the train would be scratching my car.

I don't think God was ready for me. Or maybe I wasn't ready for heaven. Either way, I'm thankful to still be here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Back from my cruise

I'm back from my cruise - which I really enjoyed and know that I needed, yet I can't help but wish I had not gone. Too much happened while I was away.

On the plus side, I slept like a baby during the trip. But, I never got any writing done. Zero. It was naiive of me to think that I could. I did not take my lap top and I'm glad.

On the not-so-good side, I have not slept since my return. Sunday night, I slept two hours. I was so tired on Monday and had to put in a 6-hour day at work (medical work) -- since I had not been here all week, I had my day filled with appointments in four towns and two different counties. I then attended my daughter's tennis match. She won! Yeea! She's still undefeated. And from there we went directly to College Night 2006 at the Visalia Convention Center. It made for a super long first day back.

But aside from that, so much happened locally -- things that I would have loved to have been here for.

* The Visalia Drive-in Movies closed. They showed their last movie last Thursday and I would have loved to have been there. It is sad to see them all close - though I can see how economically it just isn't profitable.
* Also closing was Merle's Drive-in. They have been a Visalia landmark and icon since the 30s? President Richard Nixon ate there once. It was awesome. I remember the first time I went there for a hamburger and milkshake. The place is famous and I have seen photos of it in many books. It was like an old fashion Sonic - complete with roller-skating waitresses - though not for a while now. I'll try to go by and take a photo of the two places - both on Mooney Blvd., but a good four or five miles apart.
* Two more people were diagnosed with West Nile Virus in our area. And, anyone who visited the Fresno Fulton Mall over the weekend, may have been exposed to Rabies.
*Olympian Bob Mathias (two gold medals for the U.S.) died - he's from here (Tulare) and we have the track at Tulare High named after him. His funeral was held in Tulare and attracted many dignitaries and several other olympic-medalist athletes.
* Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was in town.
* A plane crash killed two men near Porterville.

There were several other local things and I can't think at the moment. Of course, it is 3:30 in the morning and I should be sleeping.

I worried for two days (while on my trip) about my writing assignments. I then made a decision that it was impossible to work on them from the ship and enjoyed the rest of the trip. That means that I now have 7 stories, with 7 sidebars that I must finish by the middle of next week. And two other non-related stories for other newspapers also due next week.

Today I must see my mama. I need to take her shopping and help her around the house. And with her big birthday party around the corner, I am putting the finishing touches on her invitations, that I hope I can start printing in the next day or two. I really neeed to mail them all out.

For now, it looks like my laptop has not been charged and it's about to die, so I better sign off and get back to bed.

I probably will not be posting for a while.