Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Update from the Deaf Freedom Cruise

What a cruise! 3,800 deaf and hard of hearing people on one boat. The first two nights were quite a mess with seating arrangements not confirmed. We've finally straightened out our seating arrangements and should have a permanent place to park our family for the next few night's dinners.

We have just docked in Grand Cayman and the winds have calmed down a bit since last night. The boat is amazingly steady despite 50 mph winds at times. We've had three days of sunny weather so far. The ship's crew turned the route around and we stopped at Cozumel yesterday. Haiti has been cancelled and there's talk that we might not tour Jamaica tomorrow. No matter what, we've got thousands of people to chat with and lots of nice activities on the boat.

Till later!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Marlee Matlin's Mom-- On Raising an Empowered Child

On Sunday, October 7th, I headed down to Nashville for the "Investing in Family Support" conference. I met up with Libby and Don Matlin, (Marlee Matlin's parents) and joined them for dinner. Libby was scheduled as the keynote speaker the following day.

The conference opened with a panel of parents and professionals lead by Leeanne Seaver from Hands & Voices, titled "Issues Worth Raising: Parents & Professionals Speak Out." I participated on the panel and one of things I shared was this: I've learned that professional opinions are just that--opinions. I've learned that I could take those opinions and use them as I saw fit, rather than having those opinions direct my decisions as a parent.

The next day, Libby spoke about "Raising an Empowered Child." Her message was a simple one: love your child. Libby spoke about parent support, noting that today's parents have access to a variety of information, choices and unbiased support via organizations like Hands & Voices. Back then, information was harder to come by and parents were often limited to the information given by the professionals in their area. Libby recalled that she and Don attended regular meetings where they could meet other parents and obtain face-to-face support, something that today's parents may find harder to do with both parents working.

After the presentation, we gathered with Libby and Don for a picture. From left to right: Karen Putz, Janet DesGeorges, Libby, Don and Leeanne Seaver. Janet is holding a copy of "Marlee Matlin, What My Parents Understood."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Tinnitus--It May Not Just be in the Ears

One of the most often searched for topics on my blog is the one about Tinnitus--The Roaring in my Head. Since so many searches are leading to that topic on this blog, I am guessing that quite a few people are affected by tinnitus.

In Healthy Hearing, a recent article, "Brain Imaging May Hold Clues to Ringing in the Ears," focused on tinnitus. The article stated that scientists are exploring the causes of tinnitus in the brain. Research currently shows that people with tinnitus seem to have a lower amount of gamma aminobutric acid (GABA) than people without tinnitus.

Imagine popping a GABA pill before heading to bed to make the roaring go away!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Marine Buddies Reunite

In 1943, my father enlisted in the Marines at the age of eighteen. After six weeks of boot camp at Camp Pendleton in California, he was immediately shipped off to Guadacanal to begin fighting in World War II. He fought in Guam and Okinawa and stayed on to serve during the Occupation of China. During his time in the Marines, my father became friends with a guy from his troop named Albert Aubuchon. The two of them fought together. The majority of the men in their troop never saw home again.

Shortly after arriving home in 1946, Dad stood up in Albert's wedding. Dad and Albert kept in touch for a few years after the war and then lost touch as the years went on. My parents moved from Missouri to Chicago, and then retired up in Michigan.

A few years ago, thanks to the internet, my sister Linda was able to locate Albert's phone number and my Dad got in touch with Albert. Albert called Dad on his birthday, a date he remembered after all of those years. Each of them can still recall their rifle numbers.

The Monday after celebrating Mom and Dad's 60th anniversary, my cousin Marilyn and Linda had another trick up their sleeve. They had arranged for Albert and his wife to meet with them in Missouri. They told Mom and Dad that they were all going to see a new mall out near Farmington that day. Along the way, they pulled into a McDonalds and Linda got the camera ready.

Marilyn turned around and said, "We can't eat a big breakfast, we are having lunch with Albert Aubuchon."

"What?" My Dad gave her a blank stare. Marilyn had never seen him so speechless.

Linda snapped the picture:

After they recovered from the surprise, they headed back on the road to Sullivan where they had arranged to meet Albert and his wife Eva, at a truck stop.

"Dad got of the car then," recalled Marilyn as she retold the story. "They shook hands and hugged each other. It was a very moving moment to watch. They were both so happy to finally reunite after all these years!"

After a nice lunch, they drove around Sullivan and headed back to Albert and Eva's house where they chatted into the early evening.

"I don't think mom & dad will ever trust me again!!!" chuckled Marilyn.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

John Denver Remembered

Though the singer is silent, there still is the truth of the song.

From "On the Wings of a Dream," by John Denver.

John Denver Dies--And so Does a Piece of my Heart.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Surprise Celebration in Ste. Genevieve

On Saturday, September 29, we took my parents around Ste. Genevieve to see all of the childhood homes of my mom and dad and their parents. During the ride around town, Mom was telling me how Tommy was helping to prepare the treats for what HE thought was someone else's retirement party. Little did my parents know that we were celebrating their 60th anniversary that night and that Tommy was in on the secret all along. It was tough to keep a straight face as I realized that my mom was preparing the treats for their own party, while thinking that she was preparing it for Tommy's retirement party!

At 5:30 p.m., Tommy and Marilyn and my parents arrived at the Knights of Columbus hall. As they all walked in, it was hilarious to watch my mom keep her eyes on Tommy, waiting for him to react in surprise. She had a puzzled look on her face and couldn't figure out why Tommy wasn't acting out in surprise. When my parents realized that they stepped into a celebration for them, they couldn't believe that we fooled them yet again ten years later!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

DeafNation and an Academic Bowl

I headed up to Harper College on Friday to watch my son David compete in the 15th Annual Academic Bowl. Five teams, including one from Wisconsin, spent the day answering questions and figuring out math problems. David's team won the bowl!

After the competition, I headed over to the gym to help and GoAmerica set up the booths for the DeafNation Expo. Every year, this expo draws a large crowd. We had a large team of "Champs" manning the booths this year. I really enjoy working for and I use the relay almost daily. The first time that I called my dad using Voice Carry Over, he thought I suddenly regained my hearing. He had no idea I was using relay and the interpreter on the screen in front of me kept up with his conversation so well that there was almost no delay. I no longer experience hang-ups when I order pizza!

The team: Champ, Steve Murbach, tests out the relay at the start of the Expo:

Friday, October 05, 2007

Touring Ste. Genevieve, Continued

After we left my Great-grandparent's house and my Grandma's house and Mom's farm, we headed over to see my Mom's school. We found the site, but no school. All that's left of the location is the flower garden in the picture above. We headed into downtown and stopped for lunch at Sirro's, a small restaurant located on historic Merchant Street. Ste. Genevieve is known as the first town that was settled west of the Mississippi in the 1700's. You can read more at: Historic Ste. Genevieve.

We stopped at the Church of Ste. Genevieve where my parents got married 60 years ago. It is a beautiful cathedral and quite a large church for a small town.

On the way to the Mississippi river, we passed by the land where my father lived in town as a young boy. The original house was torn down and another house sits in its place.

The Mississippi river is not far from town. A ferry runs across it daily to transport cars and passengers to the Illinois side. In 1993, the river flooded the downtown area and several historic buildings had to be restored.

When my father was a young boy, he swam across the Mississippi with three other boys. One boy did not make it out of the river.

Our next stop was my parent's first home on Linn Drive. Over the years, I heard many stories about life on Linn Drive. My four older siblings were raised in that house. It was just a shell when my parents purchased it and they used an outhouse until my father put in a bathroom.

One day, my Dad decided he was going to add a basement to the house. He rounded up his cousins and friends and began digging under the crawl space. Once the space was large enough to stand in, they added a conveyor to haul the hand-dug dirt to the outside. The day finally came to raise the house and pour concrete. My mom left the house with her sisters--she was too afraid that the house would fall down. When she arrived home, the house was still standing. "I was scared that it would fall in, too!" my Dad chuckled at the memory.

I got out of the van and decided that I would knock on the door and see if we could get a tour of the house. A guy came to the door and I explained that my parents were the original owners of the house. "Your father is Norm Griffard!" he exclaimed.

"You know him?"

"I took over for him when he went on vacation one week," he explained.

A small world in Ste. Genevieve.

We toured the house and my Mom showed me the kitchen cabinets with the original hardware in the kitchen. My father had made those. We went down into the basement. Along the wall was a cement ridge where the old foundation connected with the one my dad added. Here, my Mom explained, was where she stored her canned goods. My Mom is famous for her canning and storing food. I grew up with shelves of homemade canned food and preserves.

After we left the house on Linn drive, we drove over to my Uncle Francis' house and finally my Grandfather's (my Mom's father) house. By this point, it was time to get them back to the hotel and ready for the surprise to follow.

To be continued...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Matthew's Cochlear Implant Activation

Remember Matthew, my friend's son who received a cochlear implant several weeks ago?

Yesterday was his activation day and it went rather well. Sue, Matthew and I arrived at Children's Memorial and we were joined by a Department of Specialized Care for Children representative who wanted to watch the activation. The hospital also provided an interpreter.

The audiologist placed the implant on Matthew's head and hooked it up to a laptop. She explained that she was going to "map" the implant so that the sounds would be comfortably low. "Are you ready?" she asked Matthew.

"I'm ready!"

At first, Matthew heard nothing. Then his face lit up and he said, "I heard that." The audiologist asked him to point to a colored chart with responses that ranged from "too soft," to "too loud." She was aiming for a "sounds perfect" response on the chart. Within a half hour, she reached a mapping that Matthew was comfortable with.

"How does it sound?" Sue asked. Matthew explained that the sounds were sort of mechanical. The audiologist explained that over time, the brain would adapt to the sounds and it would improve.

The audiologist introduced the Ling sounds to Matthew. Ling sounds are "oo, ee, ah, sh, ss, and mm." She covered her mouth and went through the sounds. Matthew raised his hand on every sound. This is the kid who sometimes couldn't hear his own name hollered. Sue and I stared at each other--we couldn't hear two of the Ling sounds.

Matthew heard them all.

The audiologist then asked Matthew to repeat the Ling sounds after her. He was able to hear the sounds but not repeat them accurately. It will take time, practice and several more mappings before he can get the full potential of the implant and even then, it remains to be seen how much auditory benefit he will gain.

Matthew picked out a colorful blue-swirled covering for the magnet and the implant processor to match the one his friend has. Arriving home, Sue texted me, "Matthew listened to music on the way home. He says it sounds better!"

A similar post can be found at: Matthew's Activation.

Touring Ste. Genevieve

After we visited my great-grandparent's house, we drove a few miles to my grandmother's house. If you recall from the previous post, she was the only tuberculosis survivor in her family and she raised six kids--four of her own and two of her sister's kids. This house is located right off Highway 61, not far from the Mississippi River.

Ste. Genevieve has been flooded several times by the mighty river. In 1975, the water came up and Grandma's house was flooded halfway up the first floor, leaving mud and debris everywhere. The chicken house was flooded nearly to the roof. In 1993, Ste. Genevieve experienced a record high flood and Grandma's house flooded all the way up to the second floor. The flood swept away the garage, but in the front yard, her cement statue of the Virgin Mary survived every flood.

A few miles down the road on the other side of Highway 61, we stopped by my Mom's farm, the place where she was born and grew up. Her cousin now owns the farm and the house has been added on. I can remember visiting the farm when my Mom's brother owned it in the early 70's. One night, I got up to go to the bathroom and ran into a nightstand. I hit my eyebrown on the corner of the stand and it began bleeding. I woke up everyone who wasn't deaf with my screaming. I still have the scar today.

To the left is my Mom standing next to the copper urn where her mom made apple butter each year. They had a rough life on the farm--getting up at four in the morning to milk the cows and walking miles to pecan trees and blackberry bushes. There was no heat in the bedrooms upstairs and her brothers had to suffer through the cold winters. You know those old stories about "I had to walk a mile to school?" In Mom and Dad's case, it was several miles away.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Birthday and an Anniversary Celebration

What a weekend!

Friday was my youngest son's birthday. Steven was born ten years ago at home. He had a mess of black hair when he was born, but two short years later, he had a bright mop of blonde. On Friday afternoon, when he arrived home from school, we quickly opened presents and hit the road. We were heading down to Ste. Genevieve, Missouri to celebrate my parent's 60th anniversary the next day.

On Saturday morning, we stopped at my cousin's house to pick up my parents. We planned an entire day of touring Ste. Genevieve and seeing several family homes. My parents had no clue that we had planned a big celebration that night. They thought we were all going to my cousin's retirement party.

My dad had arranged for us to meet Delores and Earl, my mom's cousins, and Francis Bauman who owned the land where my great-grandparent's home was located. We were deep into the country, traveling down a rough, gravel road. Our first stop was at a small pond. My dad regaled us with a story of how he tossed dynamite into the pond one day and they gathered the fish that rose to the surface.

We stopped at a tree with large green globe-like balls. My mom explained that it was a walnut tree. The immature green husk emits a yellow dye which turns black and is difficult to remove. Mom shared a story about someone rubbing the walnut fruit on a stomach and ending up with black dye all over.

Traveling much further down the dusty road, we came upon the house. Walking carefully through the weeds with an eye out for copperheads, we peered through an open door. The floor had sagged through and broken boards were everywhere. It wasn't safe to walk inside, so I simply poked my camera through the doors and took as many pictures as I could. Two broken rocking chairs, a moonshine bottle and an old stove were all that remained in the house. If you look carefully at the picture, you can see the original wallpaper left on the walls. My Dad's mother was born in this house along with seven siblings. One by one, they caught tuberculosis, and one by one, they passed away. My grandmother, married at that time, was the only survivor and she raised her sister's two children along with my father and his three siblings.

Seeing the house was an eye-opener for my kids. "What did they do all day back then?" my daughter asked. My parents explained what life was like many years ago. As impatient as they were about driving down the winding gravel road, I reminded them that their great-grandmother had to walk that same road or hitch up the wagon to travel to town. The idea that there were no cars to hop into was something they hadn't really thought about until faced with a house that was over 100 years old.
Left to right: Francis, my parents, Delores and Earl.

Stay tuned for more...