From the emails, voice mails and other trusted sources:
SKYPE'S THE LIMIT Every so often, a company will stage a contest to promote its product. Invariably, a Modestan will enter.
Such was the case when Skype, which offers online video calls via computer or cell phone, asked users to submit their accounts of how the service benefits them. The entries are posted on www.skypestaytogether.com, and visitors can vote for their favorite. The winner will receive a $10,000 travel voucher.
Natalie Graham of Modesto entered with "Soldier, Friend, Brother," telling how she's relied on Skype to keep in close contact with her brother, Nolan Graham, an Army medic who has been in Afghanistan since February.
"I recently graduated from high school and he was not able to be there for my important day," the 2013 Davis High grad said. "But we were able to Skype a few days later and talk about it."
She's the runaway leader in the contest that ends July 22, with 7,584 votes as of Monday. Her closest competitor among the more than 400 entrants is a young man in the United States who tells how Skype connects him with his future husband who lives in Ireland. He's collected 4,014 votes after picking up more than 2,100 votes over the weekend.
Still, how did Natalie build such a big lead?
For more than a year, Natalie has been a fan of YouTube videos made by Shay Carl, whose "Shaytards" blog has a huge following. He's also connected with Skype, she said. In fact, his blog is where she learned about the contest.
She entered, figuring she'd get the votes of her Facebook friends and not much more. And she messaged him, telling him she's a big fan and had entered the contest. She soon received a Skype call from him.
"He's telling his (viewers) to support me, and that's why I have such a big lead," she said.
To vote, visit www.skypestaytogether.com, click on "story contest" and click on "most recent" and drag down to "most votes" to find her story.
THE OUTER LIMITS Here's a goofy sidebar to my column Thursday about how a small town in Colorado became Manteca for the upcoming movie, "Dear Eleanor."
I'd received a clipping from a newspaper in Niwot, Colo., detailing how that town was transformed for a few days into our neighbor to the north on Highway 99.
To understand the Manteca connection, I found that the script's co-writers, Amy Garcia and Cecilia Contreras, met and formed their writing partnership when both lived there. Garcia still does, in fact, and the movie's story line begins there.
I was able to reach Garcia, who explained the connection. We later exchanged a few follow-up emails, and this is where it gets quirky. In one back-and-forth, she told me she has a friend who lives down the street from me in Oakdale. That friend, she said, had been urging Garcia to contact me about doing a column about the movie and the success she and Contreras are enjoying. My neighbor, Garcia said, even dropped by one day to pitch the column idea, since Garcia herself hadn't called. Nobody home at the time.
Last week, I received the clipping in the mail and tracked Garcia down anyway, unaware of the neighbor's efforts to pitch the column. Call it a coincidence.
Then, during our phone conversation, Garcia told me that one of the actors in "Dear Eleanor" is Joel Courtney. "He's in 'Super 8,' " she said.
I hadn't heard of the film. But when I got home after work that same night, my wife was surfing Netflix and had picked out a movie. You guessed it: "Super 8."
Strange, but true.
LAWN-MOWER MAN Reader Don "Snoopy" Schneider emailed me this gem:
During Modesto's Fourth of July Parade, a Modesto resident who had reported that his riding lawn mower was stolen saw it going down the street. He recognized it as his own and yelled, "Hey, that's my mower." The thief jumped off the mower and took off on foot, Modesto police confirmed.
They later arrested the perp, and the mower was reunited with its rightful owner.
ANOTHER SCOOPY SCOOP Schneider also pointed out a pair of incidents that might be considered "fowl" play.
"What are the odds of two cases of heavy traffic disruption on the same day because of mother Duck and her string of ducklings?" Schneider wondered.
They happened July 9, the first near the old Burchell Fountain at Briggsmore and McHenry avenues. Traffic stopped in both directions until the ducks crossed the road (why, we can only surmise).
"I was having lunch with my daughter (on the 10th) and told her that story and she laughed and told me about her experience, also yesterday. But this was on Pelandale somewhere near the Calvary Chapel. She said cars came to a screeching halt while mama duck paraded across Pelandale."
(The obvious answer to this waddling enigma? To get to the other side.)
AUTHOR! AUTHOR! Local authors Claudia Newcorn and Oleta Kay Ham will sign books Aug. 3 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the McHenry Mansion gift store. A Bee community columnist for the past decade, Newcorn has written a trilogy of award-winning fantasy-fiction books: "Crossover," "Dark Fire" and "Firestar." They are available at the gift store as well as online and in print at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A portion of the proceeds from the signing session will benefit the McHenry Mansion.
Ham began writing "Migrant Mother: The Untold Story A Family Memoir" with her husband, Roger Sprague Jr., many years ago. He died in 2004. She remarried and has completed their book about Florence Owens Thompson, Sprague's grandmother and the subject of Dorothea Lange's iconic Dust Bowl era photo. Visit Tate Publishing on the Web, click on books and type in the title.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.