Saturday, October 06, 2012

Must do before my 2013 birthday

Birthday "to do" list - must do before September 2013 ends
(Update: 9/28/13 - I managed to check off 8 of these - that's half of them - not bad.
Second Update:  I got to check a few more checked off in 2015/2016.)

2012 Birthday dinner at The River

I am a "list" person - I love lists. It's the way I stay organized. 
If I have a list, I can cross things off as I get them done. 
I have lists for everything - groceries, chores, things to do, things to try, song lists, project lists, book lists, assignment lists.... on and on it goes. I also have an "unrealistic but dream about it" list.
I am celebrating a new year of life - and as such - it's time for some new lists - what I would like to accomplish this year - professionally, personally, for fun and for family. 
I keep journals - so a lot of it is hand written in my journals. Last year's list included taking a helicopter ride - and I did it! Yep. A very happy birthday to me. Just for fun - I'm adding my 'simple and fun' list here. This is what I will do before my 2013 birthday:

1. Zipline - scheduled to do but it rained, so I get to pass it to the next year.
2. Drive a tractor - um.....ooops, friend offered his tractor but I was too busy.
3. Milk a cow - check! 
4. Ride a mechanical bull - um....nope, didn't do this one. I got scared.
5. Sleep under the stars - check!
6. Catch my second fish - check! 
7. Camp - still have never done this. 
8. Explore a cave - check!
9. Hike Montana de Oro - nope.
10. Spend a weekend in a cabin - check! (Finally - Camp Nelson - 7/16  and Dunsmuir - 716 )
11. Revisit Horse creek - check!
12. Stand under a waterfall - check! check! check! check! -- stood under several of them.
13. Ride a horse for the first time - not yet.
14. Take another cruise - check, check!  4 in 2014, 2 in 2015
15. Go rollerskating - went ice skating, close enough, so - check! 
16. Arizona - Grand Canyon, Sonora, Winslow, Bisbee, Douglas - research for my novel! - went, did research on a couple of them but not all those places  but close enough, so - check!

Not totally unrealistic. Can't wait to get started on my list. I am so ready to start marking these off.....

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Don't shoot the messenger

A few weeks ago I was the victim of ugly. The strange thing is, I had no idea what was really going on.

It was National Suicide Prevention Week and I was writing about it. A casual friend called me and said someone she knew had died by suicide and - if it could help someone - his daughter was willing to share how it had affected her.

In journalism, we don't cover suicides -- unless it is done in a public place (hanging at the park) or by a local figurehead.

But because it was NSPW and because technically they called me, I decided to use the opportunity to kick off my story.

After speaking with the teen daughter and teen son, and their mother, I had a little info to add to the story. It wasn't much as the children didn't say a whole lot but the wife, or ex-wife in this case, said a few nice things. I mean, I've written quite a few "Life Stories" -- stories of people who have died -- and never would I ever write something derogatory about the person who died. Had anything bad been sad, I would not write it. Not under these circumstances.

Overall, I thought it went pretty smooth.

Was I ever wrong! Apparently the children and ex wife were not liked by the man's friends.

The story ran on the day of the man's funeral. My phone started ringing and people started yelling at me.
Over the next couple of days I received ugly texts, phone call messages at work and on my cell, and at my work email. I was also defriended by a few people. One person went as far as telling me she can only wish one of my own children would die so that I would know what it was like to be betrayed - or something to that affect. Ugly - ugly - ugly. I felt like I was being bullied and stabbed in so many ways.

As a journalist, it comes with the territory. I've had people upset over things written. That's fine. No big deal. Actually, most of the time - people love me and love what I've written. But this was definitely not just not liking what I wrote but hatred towards me - to the point of wishing me bad.

I can see being hurt because you care for a deceased friend so much. I can only hope to have friends who care that much. BUT - that does not give a person a right to bully or threaten another.

One friend of mine was deeply, deeply hurt and she cried and told me she loved me but hated what I wrote - it hurt me to know I had unwillingly hurt her.

But I did nothing wrong. If anything, I thought the story was good for the children involved - one last gift for them. 

But there was so much ugly, I won't even go into the details of it.

I did reach out to a colleague - a former editor I love, admire and respect - and she suggested I write about it. Not for the newspaper, but for myself. So I did just that. I wrote about it in my journal. She also suggested, if possible, take a day off.

And I did. I surrounded myself with love - my children - and took that next Wednesday as a day off and went to the coast.

Things looked better Thursday.

Honestly, before that story - I never knew the family. And like I said, I was approached - that is why I included the personal aspect in the story. And honestly, during this time - I prayed for his two kids. Because if I, as the writer, was being treated so bad - I can only imagine what they were being treated like.

I'm sure if one of his friends reads this - I will be hated all over again. So I will say it again - don't shoot the messenger - nor the writer, the person who just so happens to be able to see both sides of the story.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Who is Trevor Jarrett?

Trevor Jarrett after performing the National
Anthem, Aug. 25 at Visalia Rawhide.
Photo by Esther Avila
Last night while at a Visalia Rawhide baseball game, a former Porterville kid (who is no longer a kid) sang the National Anthem.

Sweet, little Trevor Jarrett, who I always remember as a little kid dressing up in cute red-white-and-blue outfits and singing and dancing to everything from Yankee Doodle to God Bless America. He was one of those kids I simply just loved. Back then he performed with his brother, Tyler. (Their mom, Linda, is pretty special too - love that lady.)

I remember writing about Trevor when he performed at our annual 'City of Hope Spectacular,' when he auditioned, and made it, to Star Search in Hollywood. I also wrote about his performances at the Porterville Fair, the Tulare County Fair and I was in the audience when he won an Hosscar Award for best male juvenile in 'The Music Man' at The Porterville Barn Theatre. The Hosscars are Porterville's version of the Oscars.

But as I went through some of my newspaper story archives - I found so much more - Trevor performing at the Fourth of July Firework festivities and other local street/community festivals. It was no surprise that he won first place, child division, during Porterville's version of Star Search. Unfortunately, a server crash at work in 2004 lost most of our archives - stories written prior to 2004.

One story still touches me. I wrote about his fundraising for Hurricane Katrina victims. I had the privilege of following him, and his brother, Tyler, to present buckets of money they had collected to two families displaced by the hurricane who had relocated to Porterville. I still remember watching the families cry as they accepted it and hugging the young boys. It was a very touching journalism moment for me and one I will never forget.

Trevor Jarrett performing at the 2005 Tulare County Fair
Porterville Recorder File Photo
That year - 2005 - Trevor was all set for an 'Elvis' act at the Tulare County Fair. He had the white jumpsuit and the black wig. But after the Katrina Hurricane, his heart told him he needed to do something else.

"When I heard about the hurricane, I knew I wanted to do something different. I wanted to [sing] songs that meant something to the people affected by the hurricane," Trevor had said during my interview with him in 2005. "We set a goal of raising $1,000 and I don't know if we'll get it but we're just going to keep going and collect as much as we can."

Trevor dressed in his blue-sequined vest, white shirt and black tuxedo slacks and opened with an amazing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" - the dollar bills started flowing into collection buckets.

Just remembering all this makes me love that kid more. He was and remains to be, pretty amazing.

It wasn't his first benefit either - following the 2001 terrorist attacks, Trevor's Frank Sinatra 'New York New York' performance raised $5,000 which he presented to then New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

I could go on and on about Trevor Jarrett - he's just one of those kids you meet and don't forget and one I will always have a hug for - no matter how old he gets.

For fun - here are some links to just a handful of stories I've written about, or mention, him.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

First time for everything - reporter gets close look at marijuana raid

First time for everything - Reporter gets close look at marijuana raid

Reporter gets close look at marijuana raid
Though I have been a news reporter for more than 10 years, there is one thing I had never personally reported on — a marijuana eradication.
When I learned from my editor that I would finally have the opportunity to do just that, my mind raced. I knew sleep would be difficult the night before. I was too excited.
Not because of the plant itself, but because it meant spending the day in the mountains at Sequoia National Forest.
First, I must say, I am not your typical person. I was raised quite sheltered and was always considered different or odd by people I talked to in reference to what they considered ‘normal’ adolescent experiences. People still find it hard to believe that to this day I have never drank a beer or smoked a cigarette in my entire life.
With that said, I can honestly say that Tuesday, July 31, 2012 was a unique day for me — it was the first time I saw, touched and smelled a mature marijuana plant with blooming buds.
And, as odd as this sounds, I can say that getting there was fun. Getting back was not.
It also made me realize just how much work the Tulare County Sheriff’s Tactical Enforcement Personnel (STEP) unit — the primary team for pursuing illegal marijuana traffickers in Tulare County — are up against. Marijuana gardens in the forest are not usually simple to get to. On Tuesday, I just got lucky. Or did I?
After meeting Sgt. Chris Douglass, Tulare County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson, in Springville, photographer Reneh Agha and I became a part of the caravan led up the road, past the Springville White Barn and up Bear Creek Drive to the garden.
Parking at a 2,900 elevation, the group — seven to 10 Sheriff personnel and five civilians, a television-news reporter, Chief of Staff from Congressman Devin Nunes’ office and the field representative for Senator Jean Fuller, Reneh and myself — prepared for the steep descent to the bottom of the mountain. We were advised to watch for snakes, be aware of ticks, avoid touching poison oak and to stay close, as “bad guys” were seen in the area earlier in the day.
Within minutes, my shoes were filled with pebbles and dirt. The trail, which started simple, was covered in brush and blocked by numerous branches, many of them dried, but it was not too bad. There were several areas with slippery terrain — dirt, that when stepped on, rolled away and down the hill, causing several of us to occasionally lose our footing on the way down. Fortunately, TCSO was there with several helping hands along the way to steady us through the rough patches.
As we approached the garden area — a good 300 feet or more drop in elevation — irrigation lines leading from the waterfall via streams were pointed out. But what surprised me the most was the scent that suddenly appeared, and lingered strongly, prior to reaching what was described as the first processing center — a place where four-to five-feet tall plants had already been removed. We could smell it before we could see anything. I was also very surprised by how sticky the plant was. 
As we continued on our trek, we came across a littered makeshift camp. My first thought was ‘How can they live like this?’ and I mentally started rearranging the place to a kitchen, living, and sleeping quarters. Just as fast, my mind returned to the camp and I saw that they had a form of system already in place — including a “laundry room” where clothes hung on barb-wire and a “recreation area” where numerous porn magazines still lay. A long PVC pipe device was near the “kitchen” and I listened to a STEP officer describe how “honey butter” or “honey oil” was made by extracting THC from marijuana leaves. It was all a bit foreign, but interesting, to me.
Moving along, we came to an area of tall plants — seven to eight feet in height. I honestly had no idea these plants grew so tall or could thrive so well.
As our tour came to an end, and following a long break, we prepared for the return to our vehicles. The return, it turned out, was what seemed to be 20 times harder than the descent into the garden. Everything was suddenly a steep uphill climb, and with my shoes slip-sliding on soft, loose dirt, I found myself needing a few rest sessions along the way. My face and hair damp from sweat and with water that I used to frequently drench myself. There were areas that required one to almost crawl up the dirt, holding on to anything that wouldn’t move. It was not easy but I made it — thanks to perseverance and a few helping hands that helped me pull myself up from rocks and sandy inclines along the way.
All in all, I would say it is an experience I will not forget and one that I can add to my list of unique-story coverage.
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Summer Dreams

Now that my hectic May is over I can start dreaming about my own summer projects and trips.

I know I've been talking about cleaning out, painting and setting up my cottage guesthouse (currently used as a storage/junk room) for a long time. I had even given up on the dream. But, like my wild jumanji plant that grows wild all over my home, the dream is back and stronger than ever. I want that place so bad! It's been a dream for years. And I want to cover the cottage with my Morning Glory vine.

I want to do a bit of research for my novel - which means some (possibly) dangerous travel. A cousin of mine has a cabin in the nearby mountains and said I can borrow it. That is very tempting - especially since there are archaeological finds in the area - another "summer must" I would love to enjoy.
I also want to zip line this summer in the mountains! I am really looking forward to that. And I want to catch my first fish (though not sure I can eat it.) When it comes to fish, I only like Tilapia and Mahi Mahi.
But perhaps I can accomplish both of these things with my research trip.

Gotta love summer days!

Burton School District Graduations 2012

Class of 2012

Monday, May 28, 2012

PUSD Graduations 2012 - Porterville,California

Porterville Unified School District's Class of 2012
Scholarships, Graduations and Perseverance stories by Esther Avila

California State Seal of Biliteracy
* Honor Roll Schools
* Monache, Granite Hills, Porterville - make list of top USA high schools

Photo by Esther Avila

Monache High School
Scholarship Night
Perseverance story: Andrew Velasquez

Granite Hills High School
Scholarship Night
Perseverance story: Ernestina Quintero

Recorder photo by Cheiko Hara

Porterville High School
* Scholarship Night
* Graduation
* Gates Millennium - Lucero Martinez
* Perfect attendance - Raziel Castro Garcia

Photo by Esther Avila

Butterfield Charter High School
* Graduation
* Perseverance story: Mary Bushnell

Harmony Magnet Academy
* Scholarship Night
* Perseverance story: Diana Ramos

Recorder photo by Reneh Agha

Citrus High School
* Graduation

Strathmore High School
* Scholarship Night

Recorder photo by Cheiko Hara

Porterville Adult School
* Graduation

The following 2012 graduations were covered by other reporters:
GraniteHills, HarmonyMagnet, Strathmore,
Recorder Photo by Cheiko Hara - Strathmore High School Commencement - May 25, 2012

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Porterville College 2012 Graduations

Class of 2012
Porterville Scholarships, Graduations and Perseverance stories I have written 

Kern Community College District
Recorder photo by Cheiko Hara

Porterville College
Scholarship Night
Perseverance story: Phil Duncan, 2012 PC Scholar of the Year
RN Graduation

Phil Duncan - PC Scholar of the Year - Recorder photo by Reneh Agha

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


A recent photo that ran in our newspaper has received a lot of comments from people who find it distasteful. The photo is of a city refuse truck that hit a motorized wheelchair in a cross walk.

The wheelchair was dragged and is seen under the front passenger tire. The man's legs/feet are seen laying midway between the front and back tires. Is it disturbing? Well, yes. But so were the photos from 9-11, tsunamis, earthquakes, and other horrible catastrophes.

Ok, so this is not a national catastrophe. But it's just as important. It's journalism.

Yes, I know it is sad for the family. It's also sad for the driver of the vehicle. I can only imagine what that poor man is going through. God bless him and all the families involved.

It's actually a mild photo. It could be worse. One local television station said (to us, not to the public) "If it bleeds, it leads." 
May 22, 2012 Recorder Photo by Reneh Agha 
That's just the way it is in journalism.

We're there to be the eyes and ears and report what has happened. If we aren't there, we get criticized. If we are, we get criticized. It comes with the territory. 
Are we desensitized? Maybe. I know I'm not shocked by things that happen daily.

Yes, I feel for the families and am respectful to them, giving them space and backing off when they ask me to during certain incidents.

But there are other times when we have to be there, asking questions and reporting. In my job, people either love me or hate me.

I know this sounds morbid, but as an emergency-room nurse, I always got excited with the sound of sirens. Not that I wanted anyone to be hurt but as a way to prepare for whatever was to come in next. You never knew what would come in through the door.

I've seen my share of "horrible" accidents when I worked at the Emergency Department at Sierra View District Hospital. Many of them were horrid - a 3 year old child raped and sodomized; a high school classmate (four years after graduating) with third-degree burns (later died) from a stove explosion; two high school friends who were killed in a car accident; two college friends who had moderate to major head injuries (and neither was ever the same again) after a car accident and a boating accident; two young children (the smell of burned human flesh is probably the worst thing I ever dealt with and it stayed with me a long time) who were brought in from a house fire and died after we tried for two hours to save them; a homeless man whose leg was crawling with maggot; and a man who was shot in the abdomen and brought to the ER by his friends. The car pulled up honking and friends screaming for help. Back then, we'd run out and get them. I was wearing a white nurses' uniform and, as the nurse on duty, helped pull the man out of the car. His blood, feces, vomit and alcohol smeared all over my uniform. Totally disgusting but I was unable to change until we stabilized him. He lived.

In each case, my heart hurt - especially when we had to tell the family that their loved one did not make it. The doctor and a nurse always did that. Many times I was the nurse who went in with the doctor. It was always the same way. We'd call the family into a private room -- usually they suspected what was coming -- and then the two of us would go in. When a different nurse went in, it still got to me. You could never hear the doctor, the news was always delivered in a low, sad voice. But outside the doors - you could suddenly hear the loud wailing and if I happened to glance through the window, could see bodies collapsing to chairs or the floor as they heard the devastating news. I remember times when a person would grab me and cry on me until I helped them to a chair or until another family member stepped in to take the person away. 

They knew we cared. I didn't have to cry with them, though at times I did shed some tears - even the doctor had tears. I was not insensitive then and I'm not now. As I cover death and tragedies (not necessarily with death, but house fires and car accidents) I always remember that this could very well be a loved one. I try to be respectful and sensitive.

But back to the photos -- it's nothing personal -- we're not trying to go out of our way to "sell papers" as people like to say. That's not it at all. 

And if anything - I hope people will realize that this accident could happen to them or their loved one!

PLEASE - always make eye contact with the driver before crossing in front of them. I know that pedestrians have the right of way -- but it does no good if you're killed. Who are you going to tell? God? "But God, I had the right of way."

I've been at crosswalks and could start walking - but I look up at the driver and there have been several times where he's looking one way and then starts moving forward without looking back to my side. Had I started crossing in those instances, I would have been killed - well, hit for sure. Please teach your children and tell everyone - no matter what age - to see the driver. It really can be a matter of life and death.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's A MISSILE?

Photo by Esther Avila - May 18, 2012
Santa Barbara, California
I'm not one to say that I believe in the Chemtrail conspiracy. But I have friends who do. Still, I can't help but question, and be puzzled, with the strange markings that constantly plague the skies -- and yes, especially following a refreshing rain that has left the skies beautiful, blue and perfect -- a perfect clean slate for graffiti-marking gangs, each one with its' own agenda.

Perhaps there is some truth to what conspiracy-believing people say -- that the government is behind it all.

Two days ago, I witnessed a very strange "chemtrail" myself. It was Friday, May 18 in Santa Barbara. I was at my daughter's graduation -- when suddenly - out of nowhere - something shot across the sky slower than a speeding bullet. It was not fast.
It was not a contrail from a jet -- as there was no jet seen. So what was it? And how far up and how far away?

I remember contrails from when I was a little girl. That is different. I've also seen the so-called strange chemtrails - and am not sure what those are. But this thing Friday - I had never seen anything like it before in my life.

A friend of mine wrote that it could possibly be a missile. One supposedly was launched that same day from Vandenberg Air Force Base - just 33 miles from where I stood. I am guessing that's what it was. But honestly, I just don't know. The verdict is still out. Was it some kind of alien thing? No. Not that. This was too simple to be them.

Click here for another story on this strange phenomenon.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

I only did this one little thing ...... not!

This is me - in April of 2011 and again April of 2012
No surgery. No drugs. Just changed a couple of things.
Since posting on my personal Facebook page that I have lost 30 pounds since December, many people have asked me for my secret. Fact is, I don't have one. I did joke on Facebook that all I did was follow "this one simple trick" -- basically, making fun of all the ads that say the same thing, but when you click on them, they never tell you what the secret is unless you send money.

But back to my situation. Yes, I am excited about my loss, but even more so about losing more. But I haven't. I've been at a stand still again. I say again because this happened when I hit a 25-pound loss. Thus the reason I finally decided to "come out" and post some before and after photos. Not for you, but for me! To encourage myself to keep going and not fall back and regain any of it back. The way I see it, if I admit the weight loss publicly - I will be more determined to keep it off. And, it's nothing miraculous I did and yes, I will share with you. But first - I want to share some info from my childhood.

SKINNY as a skeleton
I was always thin. Very thin. Too thin. I  literally got knocked over on super windy days. I could hide behind a telephone pole and not be seen. I was the kid who would cry every Valentine's Day because my little Valentines bag would be filled with every skeleton-picture valentine found in each sold box. Once, in fifth grade, I got 18 of them - "I can feel it in my bones - be my Valentine" they all said. I laugh now, but I cried back then. It was cruel and not funny. I was also tall - so I also got the giraffe valentines. I was teased and yeah, bullied, because of my thin frame.... probably the reason I was always so quiet. I tried not to bring attention to myself.

High school was different and fun - since I marched with the school band - first drill team, then banner girl, and my senior year as an Orange Blossom - I was the first "L" in "PORTERVILLE!"  I loved those years. I was still thin and tall - and still got occasional mean comments from mean girls, but I survived.

By college, I finally managed to get up to 110 pounds and loved it! I was very active too. I got brave and tried out and made it as a PC cheerleader. I also ran on the cross country and track teams for Porterville College for two years.

After PC, I attended Barbizon School of Modeling in San Jose (Any of you ever guess I used to be a model? ) For a short while I was - once earning $600 for a 30-minute modeling stint in Vancouver, Canada!  I was photographed a few times and then walked down a walkway twice - wearing nothing more than a fur coat and heels. But I was a good Christian girl and modeling required doing things I didn't feel comfortable doing. I talked to my pastor who agreed I shouldn't be there and I decided to let it go. I don't regret getting out of it - I'm sure life would have been a lot different for me had I stayed in that environment but it wasn't for me. When it came to big cities and modeling, I was a timid, shy, small-town girl. I didn't have the necessary personality for it. No regrets.

Fast forward - marriage, children, returning to school, single parenting.......
Not totally sure when I started gaining weight. Whenever it was, it happened gradually - over years.

But last August - during a wonderful Florida vacation with my three girls, I injured my right knee. I managed, in pain, but each day it got worse - not better. Finally getting to the point where I could not walk up stairs.

After I returned home - and to work - I was at a local high school for a story and I could not go up the stairs. (GHHS Pyramid) I stood there, with the high school girl looking at me, asking if I was ok. I said yes, but I wasn't. I told her I had an old leg injury and I was slow but I was fine. I told her I'd meet her at the top of the stairs (at least 20 of them) but she didn't leave. She took one step at a time with me. It was humiliating for me. That was when I knew I had to do something and went to see Dr. Tindall.

My orthopedic doc said I had a choice - surgery or lose weight.

Losing weight would be simpler and healthier. But too hard for me. Or so I thought. I was thinking exercise program and such -- something I never had time for since I work long hours, commute, and take care of handicap sister and my elderly mother with little help from anyone else.

In October my blood pressure shot up again - to 200/100 (normally it runs very low - almost too low) so for me it scared me. I did not want another Bells Palsy incident.
I got myself to Sansum Clinic in Santa Barbara and restarted my medication - being careful to monitor my blood pressure - not because it could go high - but from going too low - which makes me super light headed when it happens.

I also decided I'd get a full physical. The physical involved not eating for a day and since I hadn't had time to eat prior to leaving for my 3-day full checkup - I was without food for 2 days. The next day, I just couldn't eat and by the fourth, fifth and sixth day - I just couldn't eat much. So I got a head start on a diet I hadn't really planned much for.

I just continued my new eating habit. It's not a doctor-recommended one -- so that's what I meant when i said to some of you that it worked for me but it's not necessarily a healthy choice I recommend. I guess this is where I say "check with your doctor first." But if you do, be prepared for him to say this is not good. :)

An APPLE a day:
From December to April and to present: Pretty much (except for rare occasions) gave up french fries, tortillas, bread and mexican rice.

Breakfast: I have always had coffee only in the mornings (an occasional bagel) - but mainly just coffee.

Snack/Lunch: I have a banana around 10 a.m., an apple at noonish (sometimes with a walk around town) I would have another apple and a Starbucks' Misto at around 2 p.m. and another banana on my way home around 7 p.m.

Dinner: A real dinner- mainly consisting of Tilapia fish, with vegetables and steamed rice. Or grilled chicken breast and a little pasta. Lots of spinach salad - love that. And, I've never been a dessert person, so I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything.

Late night snack: Cornflakes! which I happen to love! (but not too often - usually I just have coffee at 7 or 8 p.m.)

But I started noticing that certain days, I'd feel real light headed. So by April I changed my lunch to include an apple, string cheese and/or a small yogurt - and if I felt weak, a sandwich - no mayo, just mustard.
I do have an occasional lunch out - it's not like I can't. When I do, I just adjust and have cornflakes for dinner or late evening.

TricksI like placing my apple on the top of my computer at work - it motivates me and reminds me to eat healthy.

A banana on my way home helps me not to get home starving and munching. Drink lots of water - very important. And you must do some kind of exercise. I do wii dance at home - and while watching television, try to remember to do arm lifts - bending at elbow for biceps and above head to work on triceps with weights.  I've got a long way to go but feeling better.

So that's it. That's my secret. See, I told you it was not really a secret and not anything big. But it's been working for me. Yes, there are days I am hungry. And if it's close to lunch or dinner, I eat. That's how it works. So far I'm not starving all day long, but if I want something - there's always an apple.

The above photos are real photos. Not the best but it was two that showed the difference - and both were taken in April. The first one during our town's - Porterville Corporate Games 2011 - and the second one a year later, to the day, while I was at Diamondback's Salt River Fields at Talking Stick - Spring Training in Scottsdale, Arizona with my girls. I love baseball and spent a couple of weeks out there.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Championship win for Granite Hills High School

Top - Recorder Photo by Cheiko Hara. Clown: Photo of Abraham Leon by Ryan Garcia

There was no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the Granite Hills High School Winter Percussion Ensemble would win the PPAACC Championship title today. How could I doubt it? The drumline is amazing!
They have placed first in three out of four competitions. The time they received a second place win - they lost by 1/10th of a point. Wow - goes to show - every single every fragment of a point counts when you are this good.
On Saturday, the team took the floor for a 10 a.m. competition, and by early afternoon - were finally acknowledged as the champions they already knew they were.

Congratulations, Granite Hills High School Drumline, band director Kenny Ormonde and drumline instructors, Ryan Garcia and Cody Clem! You all totally rock! I am so proud of you.
Coulrophobia - fear of clowns - is not the reason drumline ensembles from throughout the Valley, including some from the Los Angeles area, should fear the Granite Hills High School Winter Percussion Ensemble....The real reason? The band is amazing and should be feared!  Click on story below.

Porterville - the town that is all about band

There is no question about it. I love anything that has to do with high school marching band and I consider myself blessed for growing up and living in the place that basically set the bar for it - PORTERVILLE.
We have a long history - more than 100 years - of band music. Our own Porterville High School not only has the oldest-continuous marching high school band in the state of California - but also in the nation!

Recently we unveiled a beautiful 100-foot long mural at Centennial Park in downtown Porterville.

That day was one that I will remember forever. To be there and watch Porterville High, Monache High and Granite Hills High bands march in, one by one, and gather - facing the park - and listening to them play the National Anthem and a patriotic medley - I loved it. Later, listening to everyone talk about our great band leaders - and listening to Jim Kusserow play "Amazing Grace" on trumpet as doves were released. I felt tears on my face. And as the band mural itself was unveiled - and seeing it, after years of anticipation, for the first time in all it's 100-foot long glory -- It was more than my heart could take.

I stood there in silence, in awe, not of the mural itself but of our town, the people who made the mural itself possible, our bands - all of them. I walked to the Time Marches on Clock - the one with the bronzed figurine of Buck Shaffer, baton in hand, leading the band - and I sat in silence. I thought about Buck Shaffer and of my love for music, band, our veterans and America. It all came rushing in at once. It was an explainable experience and one I don't claim to understand.

Do you know how you hear that right before a person dies, you see your life flash before your eyes?

I had something like that happen to me. I, in fast seconds yet in perfect clarity, saw myself at age 4 - meeting and talking to Buck Shaffer for the first time, I saw Martha Anderson introducing us to Lynn Enos when she first arrived to PHS - and loving her from day one! I saw myself standing on the football field, waiting for halftime to begin and smiling/laughing as the band came out in double time with their then traditional high-kick march - half running/half marching. I remembered how I felt at my very first ever Band-A-Rama - an experience I will never forget, and how I felt when I marched onto Jamison Stadium for my first-ever halftime show - and walking out onto the filled-to-capacity stadium to march at several Los Angeles Rams halftime shows. I remembered Gerald Ford shaking my hand and telling me he liked my smile and how sharp I looked in my Orange Blossom uniform, the super bright television lights that almost blinded me as the band marched around a bend in the street during a Hollywood Christmas Parade and marching in Disneyland year after year. The fast, yet completely focused pictures and feelings kept coming - my first East Coast Tour - seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, looking up at amazement as our bus drove past the Empire State Building and having the Twin Towers pointed out o us as we drove by on our way to tour the United Nations in New York City.

I felt tears once again as I thought of Buck Shaffer - and of some of his final days and felt grateful I was able to spend so much time with him at the end, visiting him daily for weeks.Later of traveling to Shinnston, his hometown, and touring his childhood home, Shinnston High School, the cemetery where many Shaffers are buried, and attending, and reporting on the Fabulous Studio Band Concert in Buck Shaffer's hometown.

How was it possible to see all that during a few minutes, I don't understand.

It could not have been more than two or three minutes. I got up, walked to the mural and continued talking to people. They all talked about the same love, the same respect, they felt for Buck Shaffer, our current band directors and our high school bands.

In addition, various items will be raffled between music sets. Marching through Time Mural Dedication. 10 am — Opening ...
NEWS April 9, 2012
Shaffer died in 2005, McElfresh in 2011. “Vedra was bound determined to be at the mural dedication,” Hatfield said. And in a way, she will, he said. ...
NEWS March 23, 2012
Porterville High School's Orange Blossom Leticia Garcia, 17, salutes during the dedication ceremony for the "Marching Though Time" historical band ...
NEWS April 21, 2012
anticipated unveiling of the “Marching Through Time” band mural during an ... as master of ceremonies, the unveiling and dedication ceremony slated ...
NEWS April 19, 2012
Dedication ceremony held Saturday, April 21, 2012, at Centennial Park /
VIDEO April 21, 2012

Friday, April 27, 2012

Porterville Panther Band Concert and award recipients

Congratulations to the Porterville Panther Band Award recipients

The Frank Howard Student Award: Mitchell Walters. 

Buck Shaffer Outstanding Musician Awards: 
Juan Maldonado, Terah Rollans and Alejandro Gonzalez. 

Outstanding Orange Blossom: Olivia Nash.

Outstanding Musical Contribution Awards:
Delia Ramirez, clarinet; Eric Lucio, Alec Gonzales and Ramon Serrato, percussion.

Frank Howard Service Awards: 
Emily Gonzalez, alto saxophone; Tanna Doyel, flute; Savannah Marquez, alto saxophone; Oneida Escobar, Lexis Cartagena and Megan Behrens, Orange Blossoms.

First Chair awards:
Karen Gilstrap, French horn; Alejandro Gonzalez, percussion; Juan Maldonado, tuba; Victor Moreno, trombone; Miranda Patrick, flute; Mitchell Walters, euphonium; Sadie Whitten, clarinet.

Click below to read about tonight's Panther Band Concert.

Jim Kusserow - 2012 Tulare County Teacher of the Year

One of the nice things about attending school board meetings is learning about some of the wonderful things teachers, schools, and/or students are doing. There is always something that amazes me. At yesterday's Porterville Unified School District Board Meeting, I smiled at several things. A girl from Monache High won state champion at a competition in San Diego - the only girl there, beating dozens of boys - more on that later., several other kids saw the ocean for the first time. A Harmony Magnet Academy student, Dalton Rogers, said some pretty impressive words as he addressed the PUSD Trustees.
But what was very exciting was when Dr. John Snavely mentioned that once again the "Teacher of the Year" was from Porterville. That alone was great news. When he said the name - I literally gasped and my heart felt as if it skipped a beat. Jim Kusserow. Wow! It was wonderful news. I went to school with Jim Kusserow, marched in the band with him and graduated with him. I admire him and love that he returned to PHS to take over after Buck Shaffer retired.
I still remember when he invited me to travel with the band on their East Coast Tour - and again to travel with them to the Rose Parade. I've covered the Fabulous Studio Band during their Pacific NorthWest Tour.
But the one that stands out the most is when we were in Shinnston, West Virgina, Buck Shaffer's home town. The band was playing at the Fire Department on Father's Day. It was an amazing concert - an amazing, unforgettable trip. That day, Jim Kusserow said something simple that stayed with me and made me admire him even more. He was talking about Buck Shaffer when he said it.
"There is no place I'd rather be than to follow in the footsteps of the greatest high school music instructor I have ever known - and I've known some really good ones." -- Jim Kusserow, Shinnston, W.V.
Congratulations Jim Kusserow for being named Tulare County Teacher of the Year! Definitely well deserved.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"I don't know anything about you."

I've always been electronically-challenged. I occasionally need help if my wii game console gets unplugged and I have never figured out how how to program the living room police scanner.

I only recently learned how to turn on my bedroom television without help - and only because my daughter printed step-by-step instructions. I still struggle with the main television in the house - too many remotes - surround-sound system, etc.) I prefer to escape to my little private room and watch my "simple" television.

On the plus side, I have had a blog for years and I am immersed in social media - Facebook and Twitter - at home and work. I've also had an iPhone for years (Blackberry prior.)

But just when I thought I was getting the upper hand on all this, something new came along - for me, anyway. My new work iPhone 4S.

We (news reporters) got them last Tuesday - but I hadn't actually done much with it. I sent one text to a colleague on day one and that was it. On Thursday, I "Tweeted" from a school board meeting I was covering. And Thursday night, I finally tested the Siri feature.

This phone talks to you! I knew that from the commercials but never imagined how interesting it really was.

"Can you help me?" I asked it.
"I'd like to but I don't know who you are. In fact, I don't know anything about you," it answered me.

I started laughing.

Smart-alec phone...but I love it.

I'm still waiting for my first call. The phone has never rang.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

There's a first time for everything

I cast my first rod today - at least, that's what I think I did.
Since I am not a fisherman - um, fisherperson - and prior to today had never fished - I really have no idea of the correct term to use....but I attempted to fish and I had fun. Along the way, I learned a bit about lures and bait, worms and bobble thingies.
I couldn't have asked for a prettier day -- warm, blue skies, a clear lake, a blanket of yellow - wild mustard-seed flowers surrounding us, purple wild flowers seen on some of the foothills and the
beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains in the background.

And nope - didn't catch a fish. Not a single one.

But that's ok. I did experience a few other firsts. I saw two large white pelicans on the water. I had no idea we had these anywhere near Porterville. At least, that's what they looked like. They were
definitely not cranes and definitely not egrets, I've seen plenty of
those. These were pelicans. White pelicans. I had one other first but I'll
keep that to myself. :)

Spending the day out there - enjoying the sun, hearing the birds, drinking coffee and later, diet coke, learning to cast and simply enjoying nature - was relaxing. I really loved it - plus, it didn't hurt to have some really nice company.

It was a fun day.