Emptying out the notebooks:
MOVED IN — Last summer, former Modesto City Councilman Denny Jackman and his wife, Patricia, took a nice, long vacation to visit relatives and do some sight-seeing in Idaho and Montana.
On July 7, they boarded a flight from Boise to Spokane, Wash., where they rented a car and drove across Idaho's panhandle to Glacier National Park.
A couple of days later, Jackman checked his e-mail and saw several messages telling him to call home, with no further explanation.
Never miss a local story.
Then came one with "sorry about your fire" in the subject line along with a link to modbee.com, The Bee's online site.
He clicked on it to see photos of smoke pouring out of the roof of the couple's Laurel Avenue home in west Modesto, and firefighters cutting a vent to allow the heat to escape.
The fire caused an estimated $100,000 in damage, mostly to the west side of the home.
End of vacation, right? Wrong.
"I called my brother (Jerry, in Modesto) and he gave me the long version of what happened," Jackman said. "He said, 'There's no reason to come home. There's nothing you can do about it.' "
What caused the fire? Investigators called it an electrical anomaly, Jackman said.
When the Jackmans came home five days later, they found the most unsettling part of the fire wasn't seeing the exterior damage.
"The biggest shock was coming home and everything was empty," Jackman said.
Their belongings had been taken out to be cleaned, stored and, in some cases, restored.
Repairs on their home began soon thereafter. The Jackmans moved out of the fifth-wheel travel trailer in the driveway and back into the home just before Christmas.
Fortunately, Jackman's insurance provided for full replacement, and he's been doing much of the rebuilding himself. He was able to add 200 square feet of living space over the garage and was surprised to find that the marble tile that cost him $12 per square foot in 1987 now costs only $6.
For certain, though, the next time they go on vacation, Jackman will be checking his e-mail more frequently.
MARISSA'S CLOSET — Feb. 4, I wrote about Marissa McLeod, one of two Ripon High seniors who committed suicide in the fall. As a junior, she gathered and distributed 235 prom dresses for girls who otherwise couldn't afford them. Her mother, Melinda Shaw, and 11-year-old cousin Alexis Garcia, are perpetuating the dress collection and giveaway as Marissa's Closet.
Since last week, they've received more than 500 dresses and are well on the way to reaching their goal of 700.
Each donated dress, Shaw said, has a story:
A grandmother donated a $200 dress her granddaughter bought but never wore to her prom.
A 70-year-old man donated a formal dress that had been hanging in the closet since his wife died eight years ago.
"He thought it was the right thing to do and brought it over," Shaw said.
A father who recently lost his job wants his two daughters to accept the donated dresses and then help Shaw by working at her booth at the Ripon Almond Blossom Festival later this month and at the dress distribution in March.
Some of the dresses will be used in a fashion show to help raise money for Ripon High's Sober Grad Night party.
A woman in Tracy who had gathered more than 300 dresses to give to the Florida-based Becca's Closet decided she will join Shaw and distribute them here instead, Shaw said.
The Sacramento Bee ran the column, and Shaw received nearly 200 e-mails from people in that area. Power Cheer, a competitive cheerleading program, has set up a collection point for dresses at its gym in Rocklin.
Shaw has received offers of from seamstresses to do the fittings, cleaners to clean and press the dresses, and from Turlock's Smokin' Gun tattoo shop to serve as a dress drop-off point.
RAISING THE ROOF — The children of Newman's Von Renner Elementary School raised $2,228 recently to help the children of earthquake- devastated Haiti. First- grader Nicole Flanders challenged the school to raise $1,000. She asked each student to bring at least a dollar.
The reward? If they hit $1,000, Principal Audrey Garza would have to spend the day on the roof above the school's staff room.
"They far, far exceeded that," Sue Tooley, school secretary, said.
So on Feb. 9 — off-and-on rain and all — Garza took a chair, an umbrella and her laptop computer to the rooftop and worked from there the entire day.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or email@example.com