In addition to writing blog pieces as needed for work, I’ve written special interest pieces for local newspapers.  Please see a few samples below:


The following are a few samples of copy/pasted articles from The Almaden Times Inc. Unfortunately, these are no longer archived due to the paper switching archive systems.

March 5

March 5, 2009

San Jose’s Film Festival gets high ratings

By Cheryl Ryan
Special to the Times

Just days after Hollywood’s celebrated Academy Awards ceremony, Cinequest Film Festival 19 took center stage in San Jose’s downtown theaters. From more than 2,000 film submissions, 188 short and full feature films are being highlighted through March 8.


Matt Sobel’s film “X to Y” depicts unborn children residing in the future. These Pre-births, as they’re called, select and try to direct their future mother’s and father’s destiny by bringing them together to facilitate their own birth. Some Pre-births have better luck at this than others.

Representing 15 percent of box office sales in 2005, films like “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Juno” and this year’s runaway hit “Slumdog Millionaire” reflect independent, or Indie, films increasing popularity and creative range. And this year, a former Almaden resident is up for a top award.

Matt Sobel has already completed four serious film projects. He was 12 when his first film “Get Reel” won the Bay Area National Children’s Film Festival Award. Now at 22, his film “X to Y” is up for best short Jury and Audience Award at this year’s Cinequest.

Sobel was born in San Jose and attended Bret Harte Middle School. He graduated from Bellarmine College Preparatory high school in 2005 and is scheduled to graduate, with a degree in Fine Art, from UCLA this year. When asked why he started making films he said, “I loved Jurassic Park so much I wanted to be Speilberg.”

While at Bret Harte he began writing “The Cutting Room Floor.” During high school, he enlisted teachers and fellow students as cast and crew and began filming around Almaden and San Jose on weekends. He went on to write and film “Three to Five Pages,” another Cinequest entry, before leaving Bellarmine.

His new project is different than anything he’s done. Sobel raised enough money to hire a film crew and shoot on location in the White Sands desert of New Mexico. He hired actors and a cinematographer. Sobel did all his own editing and after two years work “X to Y” has been accepted at Cinequest. The story depicts unborn children residing in the future. These Pre-births, as they’re called, select and try to direct their future mother’s and father’s destiny by bringing them together to facilitate their own birth. Some Pre-births have better luck at this than others.

“X to Y‘s world premiere is March 6 at 7 p.m. and March 7 at 1:45 p.m. (see ticket info). When asked why Sobel makes films he says, “I love storytelling and I love visual arts. Film-making is the perfect meeting place for the two”.

In the top 10
Cinequest, named in the top-10 of the world’s 2,000 festivals by “The Ultimate Guide to Film Festivals,” has long been promoting the movement. It celebrates maverick movie making through empowering film artists, innovators, and students to create and showcase new technology from a personal and global perspective. Oprah Winfrey has featured Cinequest documentaries like “Awful Normal” and “Accidental Hero” on her show.

Besides “X to Y,” this year’s highlights include a closing night film and party, presentations by Louis Gossett Jr. and Kevin Pollak, a feature film “How to Be” starring Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame, Film and Innovation Forums and Day of The Writer (an all day $20 event featuring Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Juno”).

This year’s theme is TRANSFORM. Jessica Trainor, head publicist for Cinequest says, “Each submitted film goes before a committee and receives a rating of 1 to 10 and must fall into one of our six transforming categories, love, humor, provocation, inspiration, celebration and innovation. Those with the highest rating are selected for the festival.” Once selected, entrants hope to be the 1 to 2 percent that will get picked up for national distribution.

Indie films are made independent of major studios’ money and creative restrictions. Film festivals have become an important way for Indie studios to judge audience reaction, as an indicator of a film’s potential. Ticket prices start at $5 for students and $10 for general admission. Films are shown at Camera 12, the newly renovated California Theatre on First Street, and San Jose Repertory Theatre on Paseo de San Antonio. Go to for more ticket information and movie schedules.

Director and co-founder Halfdon Hussey have built Cinequest Distribution into a leader in the distribution of maverick pictures. Films and documentaries, that might otherwise lose momentum or be impossible to find after a festival ends, are now available through major retailers like Blockbuster, Netflix, Borders and other digital media outlets such as iTunes.

As large volumes of inexpensive film equipment have become available, festivals provide young filmmakers opportunities to showcase their work. Along with film submissions, top Hollywood development executives and independent producers read scripts submitted to the screenwriting competition. Cinequest also offers mentoring and interactive camps for students during the festival.

August 14, 2008

Shop offers more than just great doughnuts

By Cheryl McGinty Ryan
Special to the Times

Each morning at 3 a.m., Tal Ran arrives at his shop and begins preparing the batters and glazes needed for the day’s doughnuts.

picjumbo.com_IMG_6621 copy.jpg

Mary Tal’s radiant smile and arguably, the best doughnut holes in San Jose, keep loyal customers coming back.

Maple Leaf Donut Shop, a small independent store nestled between Blockbuster and Togo’s in the Almaden Shopping Plaza at Almaden Expressway and Camden, isn’t trendy or glamorous. But Mary Tal’s radiant smile and arguably, the best doughnut holes in San Jose, keep loyal customers coming back.

Tal and Mary left Cambodia in 1979 after the Khmer Rouge reign. Mary decided to leave after her entire family was killed. Holding a hand to her heart, she says, “They killed all of my family, including my dad. It wasn’t safe for me there and there were too many bad memories to stay.

“I still can’t talk about it because it makes me upset all day, and I can’t sleep at night.”

After their first child was born, they moved to Thailand. Three years and another child later, they immigrated to Los Angeles where Tal worked for years, many of them in donut shops, perfecting and tweaking the recipes he learned.

The Ran family moved to Northern California and along with a partner opened the shop in 1983. Mary always wanted to own a business. “My family owned a business before the war. They owned a grocery store and by age 8 I started working with customers and loved it. I like to meet people and talk with them. It’s my job.”

As night turns to day, Mary serves customers donuts or freshly brewed coffee and the 8-o’clock group or the “regulars” begin to come in and take places in the booths at the back of the shop. Sitting near a wall-size painting of the Angkor Wat Temple, the groups begin their own discussions. Mike Lescroart says his group “prefers political and social discussions.” At least one member of the group comes in each day.

Martin Grace has been walking two miles each way for five years to be part of the group. “After my wife died, it was the only reason to get out of bed in the morning,” he said. “We help each other here. If someone gets in trouble, we’re there for them.”

At the Maple Leaf Donut Shop, every morning the 8-o’clock group or the “regulars” begin to come in and take places in the booths at the back of the shop.

Bruce Wilson points to a laminated photo/cartoon collection he’s made of the 30 or so regulars that are posted on a wall next to the cash register.

As the day progresses, Mary has been known to offer free unsold doughnuts to kids after school. She regularly includes extra doughnut holes with large and small orders and routinely encourages customers without correct change to round down.

As I watch, a man panics slightly because there is only one pink doughnut and his list indicates the need for two. Mary talks him through it.

Both children and adults peer through the glass case carefully selecting their favorites, white sprinkles, pink swirls, cinnamon twists or apple fritters.

Other businesses in the neighborhood have collapsed, but Maple Leaf’s owners have apparently learned the recipe for survival. Patrons get great doughnuts, a sense of belonging and an old-fashioned feeling of being appreciated as a customer. Just the right stuff to make a small business work.

May 22, 2008

SJ Unified warms up to solar power

Leland to go solar

By Cheryl Ryan
Special to the Times

Four years ago, Leland High School’s energy-saving program consisted of turning off light bulbs and computers when not in use.

Today, it is among several schools in the San Jose Unified School District working in with Chevron and Bank of America to implement a solar energy program that is believed to be the largest K-12 solar power and energy efficiency program in the country. The program is expected to save the district more than $25 million over the next 25 years.

SJUSD spans more than 100square miles and serves about 31,000 students. The first phase of the program, which involves the construction of two megawatts of solar arrays, will be completed June 12. The project includes rooftop solar designs at Gunderson High and San Jose High Academy, and solar panel shade canopies in parking lots at Gunderson, Pioneer, Leland and San Jose High Academy.

It began for Leland in 2005-06 when science teacher Michelle O’ Shea and several school administrators began environmental discussions. “We enlisted a team of students to begin researching green strategies but kept coming back to the idea that we were in such an ideal location for solar energy. We started getting ahead of ourselves by having engineering consultants come out to give us a quote on solar panels.”

Upon learning the cost, O’Shea and her team realized it could take 10 years to build a solar program at Leland. Then they discovered Chevron Energy Solutions, a unit of Chevron, which has developed more than 800 projects involving energy efficiency or renewable power. At the end of 2006, they contacted the district for approval.

The district already was working on its own solar research. “It had long been a dream of Jorge Gonzalez, president of the district board of education, to bring solar to the district,” says Karen Fuqua, the district spokesperson. Armed with a collection of research, the district moved swiftly. “We’re excited to have had a solar plan in place before the city of San Jose, and are fast becoming a model for other districts,” says Fuqua.

Under the agreement, Chevron Energy Solutions will design, build, operate and maintain a total of five megawatts of solar photovoltaic arrays. Bank of America will own the equipment and sell power to the district under a service contract significantly below market utility rates. During the summer, when school usage is low, the district can use and sell the excess power generated by the panels,

“It’s really inconvenient for the Leland students to deal with the parking situation right now,” says O’ Shea. “We originally thought the design would be rooftop, but now we’re really excited that the panels are so visible and that everyone notices because it starts conversations about what we’re doing here.”

Even though the construction may have disrupted parking, Assistant Principal Michael Martinez’s enthusiasm for the project is evident. “Not only have we not lost any parking spaces, but once the construction is complete we will actually gain four to five additional spots due to the removal of a large decaying tree that was going to require expensive removal anyway,” says Martinez.

“I think it will be a great investment for the future. It’s been a bit of a hassle right now, but I’m proud of our schools for doing it,” says senior Natalie Herz.

The expansive property surrounding schools has long been an important asset to the district and this is no exception. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for a single school’s utility bills. Leland is expected to save up to 74 percent on energy costs once the project is complete.

Additionally, the district is expected to reduce carbon dioxide by 37,500 tons over the 25- year lifespan of the panels, which is the equivalent of planting four hundred acres of trees.

O’Shea is about to complete her first year teaching an AP environmental science course at Leland. “It’s absolutely what I’m passionate about,” she said. “Close to 200 students signed up the first year the course was offered. This is truly a generation that is interested in the environment. I think it’s really great to have a class that is so relevant for anyone that is going to vote or makes any purchasing decisions.”

The solar panels serve not only as a lesson in renewable energy, but one of cooperation and action.

Seeking School News

Do you have a school event to promote? Know of a student who has done something amazing or a teacher who has gone above and beyond what is expected of them? We’d like to hear about it. Drop us a line at or send us a fax at (408) 494-7078.