Archive for the ‘News/Current Events’Category

It All Started With Ribs and Eye Drops

On Saturday, September 1st, 2001, I was in my happy place: Sparks, Nevada.

Photograph of 2011 9/11 Memorial in West Sacramento California

Photograph of 2011 9/11 Memorial in West Sacramento California

My family and I were at the Annual Nugget Rib Cookoff, and I was heading toward the Nugget Hotel elevator when the doors shut on me.

While I waited for another elevator door to open, a weary, red-eyed man appeared next to me. His hands were dirty and he was a sweaty mess. And he kept rubbing his eyes.

I watched him for about 10 seconds before the elevator chimed again. He had leaned up against the mirrored facade of the elevator lobby and tilted his head back. He looked as though he could fall asleep right there — with the casino bursting with noise from slot machines, cover bands, and old women complaining about stingy nickel machines.

I assumed that he worked at one of the rib vendor spaces, so I opened my purse, grabbed some wet wipes (because, after all, we WERE at the Rib Cookoff) and my eye drops, and said, “Here. The smoke back there can make even the most seasoned vet cry like a baby.”

He opened his eyes and looked at me like I was from Mars.

“Thanks . . . I, um . . .”

“You look like you could use a drink. And a shower.” I said. “You with one of the companies back there?”

He smiled, and said, “No. I’m actually . . . I’m a firefighter. I’ve been up on the hill for the last 18 hours.”

And at that moment I felt like a complete idiot.

There was a huge wildfire burning in the hills of Reno that weekend as well. Fire crews had been battling the blaze for at least three days, and it didn’t look like they were getting any closer to gaining control of it.

“Oh. Wow . . . I’m so sorry. And here I’ve been complaining about rib smoke . . .”

“No, it’s okay,” He said, as he wiped his hands with the wipes and poured eye drops into his eyes, “It’s not like I’m wearing my helmet or anything.”

I laughed, and I knew he said it to try to make me feel better.

A couple of seconds later, I realized my floor was approaching, so I said, “Well, thank you.”

He gave me the ‘Mars’ look again, so I elaborated.

“For what you do. I mean, there’s people up in those houses right? You guys go out there and fight fires and rescue people like me. No questions asked. So, you know, thank you.”

And I will never, EVER forget the way he looked at me as he told me these horribly haunting words:

“You’d be surprised at how little we hear that.”

I shook my head in disbelief as the elevator door opened at my floor. After I got off the elevator, I turned around and held the door so it wouldn’t shut right away.

“Good luck,” I said.

And then I let go.

Not knowing that just over two weeks later, he could very well have needed it.





09 2011

The One Where Jacob Was Brave and Taught His Class About What It’s Like to Be Bullied

I would be remiss not to share this story with you, since bullying is on the minds of so many people right now.

And, it’s lengthy, just like most of my other posts.

But I beg you to READ IT.

Then forward it to all the parents, aunts, uncles, caregivers, babysitters, and educators that you know.

Because this story has a happy ending. And it contains a message that something positive CAN result from a negative situation.

Gay (as well as straight) children and teens are committing suicide at an epidemic pace because they are being teased and bullied. I say children because some of these kids aren’t even 13 when they choose to end their lives over these vicious attacks on their character.

As a parent, I will not tolerate teasing and bullying. If another child comes at either of my boys sideways EVEN ONCE, they — AND THEIR PARENTS — are going to hear about it. If it continues, then we will go so far as to remove our boys from the scenario entirely.

Troy and I also taught Jake at an early age that teasing and bullying is unacceptable, and if he ever experienced it, to tell a teacher right away.

Jake’s been through his fair share of torment, just like any other kid, and for the most part has handled it like you’d expect a kid to handle being teased: He didn’t like it, told a teacher, and got over it.

These past couple of months, however, have been extraordinarily tough for Jake.

In August, he was supposed to start the 2nd grade at a school that he’d been attending since Kindergarten. This was a place where he was most comfortable — he loved that school and felt at ease with even the oldest of the 8th graders.

Then he decided that he wanted to play football — just like “that,” after attending one practice.

He didn’t even know how to PLAY football. Didn’t know the rules. And certainly didn’t know that he’d have to wear a helmet and pads on 100+ degree days.

He just knew that when he put the uniform on and went out onto the field, it felt right. It fit. And he wanted in.

The problem was, that, the school he loved so much changed their academic structure, and if he was to attend in the fall, he’d be kept in class until 5:00pm. Which didn’t leave much time to get to practice, which started at 5:30pm.

Those of you who know us personally know that we tried everything we could to get the school to allow Jake to leave at 4:00pm on practice days, but were ultimately shut down in our attempt to find common ground between Jake’s athletic commitments and the administration’s firm stance on the new school schedule.

So, Jake gave it all up.

He gave up the friends he knew, the school that he loved, and the environment that was so comfortable to him — all so he could participate in a sport that he’d never even played before.

That alone should be a testament to his character.

But apparently (as I just learned today), Jacob’s character knows no boundaries.

At seven years old, standing 4’7″ tall and weighing 115 pounds, Jake’s a sizeable kid. But he doesn’t look like he weighs 115 pounds. He just looks like a big kid that could do some damage if he wanted to. Yet, anyone who knows my Jacob knows that HE WOULDN’T HURT A FLY.

So much so that his coaches are punishing him for not being aggressive enough on the football field. They scream, “HIT SOMEBODY, LANCASTER! FOR CHRIS’SAKES THEY’VE GOT PADS ON! YOU’RE NOT GOING TO KILL THEM!!”

This kid can open a hole like nobody’s business, and can also hold his own against two defenders while STANDING ON HIS BACK FOOT. But he doesn’t want to HURT anybody. Safe to say he’s the nicest player that the Sacramento Youth Pee Wee Football League has ever seen.

So you can imagine my emotional torment when I picked him up from school this past Monday and he announced to me that he wanted to change schools at the end of the year.

“Why? What happened?”

“These two girls were being really mean to me, and they poked me [pointing to his chest and belly] and called me fat.”

“WHO DID THIS? Were they older girls?”

“No, they were from my class.”

Now, my first reaction was to turn the car around and confront the teacher since I’d not heard anything about it. Which in itself was quite unusual, because his teacher is one of the most engaging and brilliant educators I’ve ever met.

“Did you tell the teacher.”


“Then what happened?”

“They got in trouble. Bad trouble.”

Okay, I thought, she’s got his back. I can come in from the ledge now.

Then, after we got home, I found a note in Jacob’s backpack:

“Dear Mr. & Mrs. Lancaster,

Today during lunch recess a couple of girls were teasing Jacob. He was very upset (I would have been too).

I spoke with both girls to try and explain the seriousness of their actions. They will be in tomorrow at recess.

I hope that this doesn’t happen again.

Please, bring it to my attention if it does and I will discuss it with them further. I don’t believe they meant to hurt him, but it hurt Jacob just the same.

Thank you & Sorry”

After I wiped the tears from my eyes, I asked Jacob if he was okay, and he said yes. Then I asked him if he wanted to talk about it, and he said no. Then I explained to him that sometimes kids are mean, and I really didn’t know why — maybe because someone had been being mean to them and they want to take it out on someone else. He seemed fine with that, and, when I asked him if he wanted me to talk to his teacher about it, he said no, because his “teacher got the girls in trouble.” So I left it at that.

But I was heartbroken for my son. The whole scenario must have been SO AWFUL FOR HIM. I never, EVER wanted this to happen to Jacob, and I felt a pang of guilt for encouraging him to switch schools just so he could play football.

Then today, as I was walking down the school corridors to pick him up from school, his teacher flagged me down and asked me if he told me about “what he did.”

“No . . . what happened?”

“Okay. Did you get my note?”


And then we talked a little bit about what he said to me, and why she didn’t hear from me after it happened, and how we both felt absolutely horrible about the situation. She also let me know that she spoke to both of the girls’ parents, who were as equally distressed as we were.

“You should be proud of him. He did a VERY brave thing.”

Then she proceeded to tell me something so profound about my son that it made me cry.

And I’m still crying as I write this, pausing in between sobs to type.

First, she explained that she kept the girls in from recess THREE TIMES in one day. In the morning, she had them write a note of apology to Jacob. After lunch, she edited the notes and made them re-write them. In the afternoon, she looked the notes over one more time. Then she made the girls apologize to Jacob in person (again), and asked them to give him the notes.

He must have kept the notes in his classroom folder, because I never saw them.

The following day, he asked the teacher if he could share the notes with his class. At first, the teacher was reluctant to let him do it, and said that she intended them to be just for Jacob.

But he persisted, and asked again if he could read them aloud in class.

Now, I have to stop for a minute and explain to you that reading out loud is Jacob’s KRYPTONITE. He HATES to read out loud. But he felt a need to share his experience with his class, and convinced his teacher to let him go forward.

So, in front of a class that he barely knew, doing something that he openly despised, he began to read the notes.

Then, something else happened as he started his mission: Another new student — newer than Jacob, and a little girl who has just as much fear of reading out loud as he does — stood at his side and held his hand. Even putting her head on his arm when things got difficult.

And as Jake read the notes out loud and explained what it felt like to be teased and bullied, the class listened attentively. Some of the kids, including the girls in question, had tears streaming down their face. Jacob’s teacher also cried.

When he was finished, his teacher made sure that the entire class could see her reaction. She wanted them to know that what Jake had done was extremely brave, and that bullying would not be tolerated.

After a few minutes had passed, the kids began raising their hands.

Because THEY wanted to talk about how they had experienced being bullied too.

As Jacob’s teacher was telling me the story, I was bursting with pride and wet from tears and feeling terribly guilty for not believing that he could do something so bold.

But that’s not the end.

Later that day (the day Jacob read out loud to his class), as his teacher was cleaning up, she began to find little folded up pieces of paper.

They were notes.

Notes from students who were apologizing to others for acting like a bully.

“I’m sorry for treating you badly.”

“I’m sorry if I hurt you.”

“I’m sorry that I made you cry.”

All because Jake decided that he’d had enough.

He didn’t hide his feelings. He didn’t run away from the problem.

He instead chose to face bullying head-on, and perhaps changed the lives of his classmates forever.


10 2010

Your High School Senior is NOT a Responsible Adult, No Matter HOW Well You Think You Raised Him

Image from website:

You’ve no doubt heard the tragic story about Matt James, the 17-year-old All American high school student and top recruit for Notre Dame who, while on spring break in Florida, fell to his death from a fifth-floor balcony of a hotel. Because he was DRUNK.

Now, I did my fair share of drinking in high school. I’d also be lying to you if I said I didn’t do drugs before I turned 18.

HOWEVER, I never got to do drugs or drink while 3,000 miles away from home because my parents were NOT IDIOTS. Hell, they knew that just letting me go on a senior trip to DISNEYLAND (which is a 6 hour drive from my house) could be trouble, so I was forbidden to go. And I really don’t think it was because they knew that I’d been smoking pot here and there or drinking beer and wine coolers at makeshift parties underneath oak trees behind the local high school. I believe that they knew that I was an impressionable teenager, and in a big group of other impressionable teenagers, I’d give in to peer pressure and somehow wind up hurt.

So, on Easter Sunday, while reading all of the reports that surfaced about Matt James, my husband and I made a pact that if our children ever asked to go away on one of those spring break or graduation trips, our answer would be a very loud “NO.”

The VERY NEXT DAY, I received the email below from my niece, Lisa. The story you are about to read is TRUE, and has not been edited or modified in any way (except for my adding paragraph breaks, because you all know I’m a control freak and I need to see white space between organized thoughts or I’ll lose my mind).

The story below is about my cousin Jacob. This story was printed in the Rio Americano PSTA Newsletter. My Aunt Cheryl wrote this a few years ago after Jacob’s Graduation Trip.


Our vigilance as parents begins at birth and continues as our children grow older. Then why, when they turn 18 and graduate from High School, do we relax that effort? Many of us allow our seniors to embark on a graduation trip that for most of them is their first experience with complete independence — an experience shared with hundreds if not thousands of other CHILDREN.

If you are considering one of these trips for your child, please let me share my family’s experience when we made that same choice. “Be careful,” “stay safe,” and “make good choices,” were all words of advice given to my son as he departed for Hawaii after graduating from Del Campo in 2003. What were my husband and I thinking?

Yes, he was traveling with a reputable travel company. Yes, we had informed him of all of the rules. Most importantly, yes, we should have known better.

These were 18-year-olds on vacation held accountable only to themselves (and of course their parents an ocean away). The companies that promote these trips are not accountable for your child’s safety. They are merely providing an adult on the property if your child seeks their help. Their brochures state their zero tolerance policy. This policy is only effective when enforced. Some of the students on these trips are following the rules but many more are using alcohol and drugs, making choices you might never expect them to make.

Choices they themselves might never make under different circumstances.

You might think that because your child has never been in trouble and is involved in sports or other activities that if anything happens, it will be to “someone else” not your child. My son was that “someone else”.

I don’t have all the answers as to what happened in Hawaii. What I do know is that my husband and I  received the phone call that every parent dreads. When you are asked to be seated before the conversation can continue, no matter how much you pray the words coming from the other end of the phone won’t come, they do.

We were informed that our son was fighting for his life after surviving a fall from a third floor window. So badly I wanted to go back 6 months to when the brochure for this trip first came home. Desperately I wanted to go back 3 months to when the trip was paid in full. I begged the Lord to take me back to that June morning when we said goodbye to our son and sent him on his way. There was no going back.

My husband and I were on the earliest flight to Hawaii praying the hospital could keep our son alive until we reached him. The first sign that he would ever come home from his “fun filled” graduation trip to Hawaii came days after our arrival, a squeeze of my finger indicating that he knew we were by his side . . .

It took many days for him to be removed from a ventilator and begin breathing on his own. We were blessed after spending weeks by our son’s side in an intensive care unit to bring him home. His life has changed forever along with the lives of many of those who went through this experience with him.

If a graduation trip away from home is something you are considering for your senior, please learn from my family’s experience. I challenge you to find a student who has experienced a week on a graduation trip. Find out what really goes on. Surprisingly, those colorful brochures tend to leave some things out.

If you still choose to allow your CHILD to go, hold them accountable by speaking to them everyday and for more than 5 minutes. Impress upon them that if they see a friend in trouble, seek help immediately.

The importance of being a vigilant parent with your graduating senior should equal the efforts put forth when they were toddlers. They are still counting on you to make the right decision. Their life could depend on it.

Please don’t let the next “someone else” be your child.

Cheryl Rommel
(cr_grad [at]

I. was. FLOORED. I had no idea that this had happened to someone that was in my circle of influence.

I replied immediately and asked if she thought her aunt would allow me to post the story on my blog, to which she replied:

The other kids that were there slipped my cousin something and thought it was funny when he was tripped out and [started] acting very odd. This went on for about 3 days before anyone called an adult to check on him. They took him to the hospital when he starting hallucinating and taking showers with his clothes on.  He was being treated on the 3rd floor of the hospital and because he was hallucinating, he thought the doctors and nurses were aliens that we trying to abduct him. So he ran from them and jumped out of the 3rd story window. Crazy!!

I’m sure she wouldn’t mind. I’ll send her a message and let you know as soon as she gets back to me. I’m sure she’d like this to spread so that it will help others.

Wow. Did you read that? Jacob had NOTHING to do what happened. It was the OTHER kids.

Just knowing that this happened to someone near and dear to my family gives me all the ammunition I need to resist the urge to give in to a request for a week in Lake Havasu or Cancun. No thank you.


04 2010

Take a Whack at Bernie Madoff (Legally)

He is eee-vill. Like the fru-its of the de-vill.

"Eee-vill. Like the fru-its of the dev-ill. Eee-vill." (Mike Meyers as Charlie Mackenzie in "So I Married an Axe Murderer"

Did you, or anyone you know, lose money because of one Bernard L. Madoff?

If so, chances are that you (or the folks you know) would like the chance to beat the crap out of the guy. Hell, I never invested with this scum’s firm, and even I want to take a few whacks at him.

If you’re interested in taking out your aggressions (legally), you can take a whack at Bernie whenever and wherever you’d like (and as much as you’d like) thanks to a fun new creation called the “Bash-Me-Bernie” doll.

According to the doll’s official website, This wonderful action figure capturing Bernie in the ‘I am about to stick this poker right up your ass and take the spare change out of your pockets’ position can be yours for just $99.95 plus shipping and handling.”

And, if you place your order soon, the fine people at Mini Me by ModelWorks will include a “Hit Bernie” hammer with your shipment!

Now, if Bernie did end up taking you for your life savings, then it’s probable that you can’t even afford the shipping on the doll, let alone the $99.95 to pay for it.

But the idea is still funny as hell.


02 2009

“Young People Who Rock”: Cell Phones For Soldiers

I’ve been following the “Young People Who Rock” blog for a while now, and I thought I’d share one of the most recent posts:

Monday, December 10, 2007
Cell Phones for Soldiers

“Hey mom … I love you and miss you, but I’m pretty busy … so gotta go … Bye.”

I talk to my mom several times a day, and probably like a lot of people, I take it for granted. That’s a feeling that only gets stronger when you consider soldiers who are in a war zone this holiday season and how expensive calling loved ones overseas can be.

When Brittany and Robbie Bergquist of Norwell, Massachusetts, heard of a soldier having to pay almost $8,000 for a phone bill to call his family from Iraq, they wanted to do something. With $21, the brother and sister duo, then 12 and 13, respectively, started Cell Phones for Soldiers. The organization turns old cell phones into minutes of prepaid calling cards for U.S. troops stationed overseas.

People donate their old phones to the teens. They came up with the idea to sell them to a recycler for $5 and use the money to buy calling cards. Since they started three years ago, the pair has raised more than $1 million in donations and sent 400,000 minutes to troops. They hope to increase that amount nearly tenfold in the next five years so that more soldiers can call and say, “Hey, Mom.”


12 2007