Friday, November 30, 2007

The Kindle--My Neighbor Had This Idea!

My neighbor, Rick, took a business class two years ago where the students had to come up with an idea and write a persuasive paper on that idea. Rick watched his son come home with heavy textbooks each day and thought, why not develop an electronic book for all of the textbooks?

Ah, but someone beat him to the idea. It probably won't be long until schools switch over to the newest product at Amazon: Kindle

At $399, the Kindle is flying off the shelves and currently out of stock. Amazon is stocking up and filling orders as fast as they can. There are 90,000 titles that can be downloaded wirelessly from anywhere--no need for a PC or wireless hotspot. Each book or bestselling title can be loaded for $9.99 and read over and over.

As much as I love the feel and look of books, I have to admit that it would be nice to have this nifty device for traveling. I like to bring four or more books sometimes in case I don't like one of them and having a Kindle would mean having to pack one simple thing.

So if you're looking for some ideas for that special someone, this would make a nice holiday gift for those who spend a few hundred on a loved one.

Rick--head over to the educational companies and go make a deal with the Kindle.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Adopted from Russia, Deaf Student Enjoys Life in America

A couple of weeks ago, my son David asked if he could have a new friend over. "Sure," I said. After all, the reason we fought to have him attend a different high school was to end the social isolation he was experiencing in middle school.

David's friend Aleksey came over with another friend and the guys played video games. Aleksey and his friend came over another weekend, playing video games and hanging out. It was clear that David enjoyed being with his new friends.

Aleksey's story is an interesting one. Born with Treacher Collins Syndrome, he grew up in an orphanage in Russia and came to America just before he turned twelve. His parents found him through the Children's Hope International. You can read more about Aleksey here: The Ultimate Survivor.

Aleksey will be featured on the ABC News this morning at 11 a.m CST through an interview with Karen Meyer. The transcript is up and the captioned video will be available later today. Deaf Gymnast Excels.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wordless Wednesday--Waiting For the Kids

It's Wordless Wednesday! Here's Kaycie waiting for the kids to come home from school.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Emma Agnew, A Life Ended Too Soon

It was the news that I was hoping not to hear. For the past few days, I have been reading about Emma Agnew, a deaf woman from New Zealand. She went off to meet someone about selling her car and was missing for nearly two weeks. Christy Smith, a deaf participant on the Survivor show, posted information about Emma on her blog: The Search for Emma. Jamie Berke from also urged readers to help find Emma.

This has a terrible, sad ending: Emma was found murdered. A 35-year-old man has been arrested, his identity has not been released. More can be found here: Deaf Community in Mourning.

My heart goes out to the family and the Deaf Community of New Zealand.

An interview with the family can be found here: Emma Agnew: Living Life to the Full.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Illinois School for the Deaf Sees Enrollment Increase

When my friend's son Matthew attended sports camp this summer at the Illinois School for the Deaf, he told his Mom, "I want to go to school here."

Sue never thought that she would consider a residential school as an option for her kids. Sue is deaf and she grew up attending schools that had several deaf students within a regular school. She always had one or two deaf friends to hang around with when she was growing up. She attended Hinsdale South, which had several hundred deaf students back in the 80's.

So when Sue saw the isolation that Matthew's brother, Alex, was experiencing during his freshman year at their local high school, she decided it was time to take some action. Hinsdale South wasn't an option for them unless they moved to a district that would accept placement there. Sue sat down with Alex and together, they made the decision to enroll at the Illinois School for the Deaf.

Sue called an IEP meeting with the district team and explained the reasons for her decision. "I was tired of seeing my kids socially isolated," Sue shared. "And when I explained this to the team, one of them simply said, 'they're all isolated.'"

For the same reason, Illinois School for the Deaf is now experiencing growth at a time when other schools for the deaf are struggling to keep their students. A recent newspaper article explains more: ISD Sees Enrollment Boom.

Social isolation for deaf and hard of hearing kids is a subject that is difficult to talk about and difficult to remedy when schools have rigid boundaries and limited regional programs.

To me, the solution seems simple: break down the boundaries and allow parents to choose school programs with a critical mass of deaf and hard of hearing students without having to fight for them.

For Sue, it will be hard to send her two sons off to Illinois School for the Deaf in January, but she knows that it is the right decision for her family.

"It's time to end the social isolation," she says.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Chicago Tribune Story--A Daughter's Journey with Hearing Aids

The hubby tossed me the "Perspective" section of the Chicago Tribune this morning. I almost never read this section of the newspaper but today, there was a side shot of a cute four-year-old girl sporting a hearing aid with a swirly pink and blue earmold.

Hear and Now? is written by Julie Vassilatos, a mom in Hyde Park, Illinois. She recounts the family's journey of getting a diagnosis and finally fitting her daughter, Angeliki, with hearing aids. Or "hearing maids," as her daughter describes them. Or perhaps it is "hearing mades," her mom shares.

"Strangely, Angeliki doesn't always want to hear as much as I want her to," Julie writes. "Who wouldn't love to hear everything better all the time?"

But I have say this-- Julie is quick to understand. She goes on to explain how hearing aids amplify everything, and that hearing is exhausting work. "And it makes a little child sleepy and cranky," she says.

As I'm typing this, my son is at the computer next to me with his rap music cranked up loudly. "Hey Mom," he says, "Go put your hearing aids on. I want to share this new song that I downloaded."

No thanks, honey. The silence is bliss this morning.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Potbelly Cooks up Some Access

Potbelly Sandwich Works was handed a lawsuit when a customer using a wheelchair couldn't access the restaurant:

Potbelly Adds Accessibility to the Menu

Kudos to Potbelly for committing to an accessible design for all their restaurants-- even if it took a lawsuit to make it happen.

Now let's see them hire people with disabilities as well!

Monday, November 19, 2007

John Maucere, Deaf Cruise Director

John consults with cruise staff about upcoming entertainment on the ship.

John and Mac perform a belly flop at the end of the Belly Flop Contest.

John Maucere was the perfect cruise director for the Deaf Freedom Cruise. Filled with boundless energy and sporting a Hollywood smile, John entertained the guests each day through various activities. With his background in stand-up comedy, John kept the passengers laughing each day.

"My experience as the Cruise Director was awesome!" said John. "It was almost 24/7 on the job for me, having to host games and perform evening shows. I had a fabulous time seeing thousands of smiling faces."

John was chosen as the Cruise Director after Mac and Tab Partlow, owners of Passages Deaf Travel saw him perform as a stand-up comedian at the DeafNation Expo in North Carolina. "I was honored to be part of history in the making," John continued. "The Deaf Freedom Cruise will be an unforgettable time in my life. I had a wonderful experience and I was blessed to be a part of that special week."

John grew up in Hollywood, California and attended the California School for the Deaf in Riverside at the age of four. John is part of a third generation deaf family. "My family was heavily involved in Deaf community events, which exposed me to the deaf way of life, its culture, history and language," explained John. He grew up watching his mother perform at deaf clubs and while at Gallaudet University, John was bitten by the acting bug. He performed in the National Theatre of the Deaf and later formed his own company, Deafywood, which specializes in stand-up comedy and shows about deaf life. John is known as the "Deaf Jay Leno" and does impromptu interviews with deaf and hard of hearing individuals at events, just as Leno does on the street in his show.

John and his wife Lauren are the parents of two children. When he isn't off performing, John works as a Deaf Interpreter in the Los Angeles court system.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Books on my Shelves and in My Hands

Terry Starbucker over at A Glass Half Full tagged me for a book meme. This meme is right up my alley, as my mother used to beg and plead for me not to bring a book to the dinner table each night. My own daughter always has her nose in a book, but I have to beg and plead with my sons to crack open the printed page.

So here goes:

Total Number of Books on my Bookshelves: I would guess that I have around 200 books. I've been selling them off one by one in the effort to downsize my life and only keep the ones that I treasure.

The Last Book I Read: I'm currently reading Talking Hands, a fascinating, well-written book about a community, Al-Sayid, that has a large population of deaf and hard of hearing members due to genetics and inter-family marriage. It is a modern day version of the community that existed in Martha's Vineyard many years ago.

Last Book Bought: I just bought one yesterday despite a promise to myself that I would not add to my book collection. I had a gift certificate that I won a year ago on Epinions and I finally got around to using it. So I bought The Unheard, by Josh Swiller.

Five Meaningful Books:

What Happy Women Know by Dan Baker and Cathy Greenwood. I selected this book for next month's BookHands meeting in my home. We're going to explore the secret to happiness.

On the Fence by Mark Drolsbaugh. This book is special because I was able to contribute a chapter about growing up hard of hearing.

Please Don't Cut Me! by Angela Hoy. Another special book for the same reason--I contributed a chapter about my son's homebirth.

If You Could Hear What I See by Kathy Buckley. A humorous look at life without normal hearing.

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson. This is a great book about letting the little stuff slide.

I'm tagging the following to play along:

Adversity University

Groovy's Ruminations

Enter the Laughter

A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

Beth and Cory's Mom

Communication Access on the Deaf Freedom Cruise

When the hubby and I got married on November 4, 1989, we shared our honeymoon with another deaf couple, Kay and Paul Folster, who were married on the same day. By the seventh day on our honeymoon cruise, we were ready to go home. We sat through a movie that wasn't captioned and couldn't enjoy any of the comedy or entertainment as no interpreter was provided. Because of that experience, the hubby was very relunctant to attempt another cruise.

Royal Caribbean is to be applauded for the communication access they provided on the Deaf Freedom Cruise. As soon as we arrived at the Port of Miami, there was an interpreter in every corner. Royal Caribbean hired 124 interpreters, including interpreters from other countries and deaf blind interpreters. On that first day, the interpreters worked the entire day with nary a break.

Mac and Tab Partlow,(seen with me in the photo above) the owners of Passages Deaf Travel, arranged for staff training. Royal Caribbean moved one of their staff, Bobby Brown, the Training and Development Manager with a background in Deaf Ministry, from the Navigator of the Seas to the Freedom of the Seas. Bobby arrived seven weeks before the cruise and provided classes to the entire staff. Keith Wann and a deaf staff member from Passages Deaf Travel teamed up with Bobby and together they provided numerous classes and a DVD for the staff. Some of the classes were provided late at night, which was the only time some of the staff were available.

We especially enjoyed our wait staff at dinner time. Ronnie, our head waiter from India (the tall guy in the photo below), stayed by our table one night and chatted with us. He used gestures and the signs he could remember and told us about his family back in India. His brother is a staff person on another ship. Each of them keep long hours. Some nights, they don't get to bed until four a.m. and they get up a few hours later. Ronnie was quick to whip out a notebook and pen whenever we had difficulty with communication. We always encountered smiles and friendly faces among the staff, which is even more remarkable considering the long hours that they work.

You can read more about the communication access here:

As for the hubby, the one who initially didn't want to go on another cruise after our honeymoon, is now saying he wouldn't mind another all deaf cruise!

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Wonder Woman Award Goes To...

Anna, from Beth and Cory's Mom surprised me with a Wonder Woman award. Thank you, Anna! I sure wish it came with Wonder Woman's body, too!

I could have used Wonder Woman at my house last night. I was in bed watching HGTV when my youngest son came in the room and said, "Mom, I hear something like water splashing."

Uh oh.

I got out of bed and turned on the light in my bathroom. Water was on the floor everywhere and it was spilling over the counter of the double sink. I frantically grabbed towels that were hanging up and the youngest ran downstairs to get the hubby. I opened the vanity doors and there was an inch of water inside.

Uh oh.

It took a while to sop up the water. We used just about every towel in the house. There was a lot of it on the floor. Unfortunately, it dripped into the ceiling over the kitchen as well. It will take a few days to see if we will be able to salvage the drywall.

Apparently the hubby was washing his hands and noticed that I left a shirt in the sink so he went over to the other sink but forgot that he left the water running.

Uh oh.

But back to the Wonder Woman award. The very first blogger that came to my mind was Liz Strauss from Successful and Outstanding Bloggers. Liz has an incredible amount of energy and often posts thought provoking questions on her blogs. On Tuesday evenings, she hosts "Open Mic" night, an event where bloggers leave hundreds of comments on a themed post and the comments actually become an open conversation for several hours. Liz created the SOB Award for Successful and Outstanding Bloggers. If you have a few hours between meetings, you'll find some incredible blogs on this list to read.

So Liz, the Wonder Woman award goes to you!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Deaf Freedom Cruise--Jamaica's Deaf Folks

The ship pulled into Ocho Rio, Jamaica on Thursday, November 1st. It was a cloudy day with periods of rain throughout the day. One of the first things we did was to sign up for parasailing through a local company. My two oldest kids were game, but my youngest one decided to watch instead.

The kids took off right from the boat:

Just as my daughter touched down back into the boat, it started to pour. We took shelter near the shore and ran into a group of deaf Jamaicans. They were very friendly and welcoming. Many of them left their place of work to see the "big ship with deaf people." Gloria, the woman in yellow in the photo below, is the president of the Jamaica Deaf Club. She lives in Kingston, over three hours from the port. Kingston is the largest city and the capital of Jamaica.

On the way to the shopping center, we were stopped by a local woman offering to braid hair. As she braided my daughter's hair, she explained that jobs were very hard to find on the island. Many of the locals had never been off of the island. "It is too hard to obtain a visa to leave," she explained.

I was amazed at her beautiful command of English. "What is the official language of Jamaica?" I asked her. She explained that there were three languages spoken there: English, Broken English (which is known as Jamaican Patois and is a creole of English and African language)and another language that I could not understand but that started with a "B". From searching the internet, I think she meant Bongo Talk.

Just listening to her describe her life on the island made me appreciate the freedom that we have to come and go in America.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Deaf Freedom Cruise--Grand Cayman

On Wednesday, October 31, we pulled into Grand Cayman on the other side of the island. Our original stop was supposed to be near the shopping center, but due to high winds and rough seas, we embarked on the other side.

The line to get off the ship went all the way up to the fifth floor of the ship. Rather than waiting in line, we jumped into the pool and did some more boogie boarding. I discovered a hammock in the solarium and took a much needed nap. In the afternoon, we decided to grab a boat ride to the island and do some swimming at the beach. The line going back to the boat was much quicker:

One of the fun games in the evening was the show "Accept or Accept Not" based on "Deal or No Deal." Each contestant competed for an upgrade to the owner's suite on the boat and various other prizes. In the photo below, Peter Artinian from Sound and Fury is shown trying to decide which case to open:

Every evening, the fifth (not fourth, as Fookem noted) floor of the Promanade deck was filled with people:

The two most popular spots on that floor were the coffee shop and the pizza restaurant. Both places offered sandwiches, coffee, cookies and pizzas at no cost. A few of my friends were able to stay up until four in the morning. I couldn't keep my eyes open past two a.m. on my best night!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Deaf Freedom Cruise--The Flowrider and an Interesting Book

Every day, the line at the Flowrider grew longer and longer. Certain times of the day were set aside for surfing and the rest was for boogie boarding. My youngest son is shown above on the boogie board the first day.

While watching my kids take turns at boogie boarding, I spied a guy sitting on the bleachers reading a book about female "G spots!" So of course, I just had to have a conversation with this guy and find out why he chose such a book.

I sat down and inquired about the book and he wasn't shy about sharing the contents of what he was reading. His name was Dylan and he explained that he was reading the book in preparation for marriage. Dylan was on the cruise with his fiance, Jackie. The two of them are from Canada and will be getting married in June of 2008.

I wish him luck in finding the G spot!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Deaf Freedom Cruise--First Stop, Cozumel

As we pulled into the port at Cozumel, Mexico, the Freedom of the Seas passed close by another ship. A lady on the other ship began signing and had a conversation with several of the Freedom passengers. She was amazed to discover that there were 3,800 deaf passengers on one boat!

Cozumel is definitely the place to purchase jewelry as we were able to bargain the prices down quite low. We spent the day shopping and eating Mexican food. We were disappointed that we didn't make it to the beach that day and when we got back to the boat, it seemed as if the best excursion (and the most expensive!) that day was the dolphin swim.

On the way back to the ship, we encountered the "frozen in place" natives:

The bronze guy at the bottom was so good at standing still that he really looked like a statue. He scared several people by jumping into motion as they passed by.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Deaf Freedom Cruise--A Party Around the Pool

It is no surprise that the most popular place on the ship was around the pools and hot tubs at the top. On the afternoons that we were at sea, there were several pool games. One woman from Minnesota was beating guy after guy at pool jousting, a game where one has to balance in a sitting position on a floating log and knock the other person off. Another afternoon game consisted of pool relay where a team of five girls competed against five guys. Each person had a large t-shirt provided by the ship. Once they completed their laps, they had to take off the t-shirt and place it on the next person. The last person had five t-shirts. The relay ended in a tie, but later footage by DeafNation showed that the guys actually won.

One of the most popular games was the Belly Flop contest on the last day:

A lot of people ended up badly sunburned, mostly because they couldn't tear themselves away from the pool!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Back Home Again--The Deaf Freedom Cruise

Oh gosh.

Where to begin?

We just arrived home and I'm already wishing I was back on the boat. A whole week of non-stop food, a great bed to sleep in, constant entertainment and wonderful service from staff members that made every effort to please.

I'm going to have to post this over a couple of series of blog entries this week. Despite the threat of Hurricane Noel, Royal Caribbean managed to steer into good weather for most of the trip. We were able to stop at Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Jamaica. Haiti was hit badly by the storm and that stop was cancelled.

Here we are at Miami Beach on Sunday morning, just before taking off for the ship:

The Freedom of the Seas is the largest cruise ship ever built. According to our waiter, there are two more larger cruise ships being built right now which will expand the Royal Caribbean fleet to 24 ships. The ship is as high as two Statues of Liberty and weighes as much as 34,000 elephants together. The ship's propellers can rotate 360 degrees and move the ship into tight spaces. The Freedom has a thruster system that keeps the boat relatively stable, even in high winds and rough seas.

Sailing on the Freedom of the Seas was quite a different experience than the cruise we took on our honeymoon eighteen years ago. For starters, we weren't separated into twin beds (yes, twin beds on our honeymoon!) and the queen-sized bed was incredibly comfortable. The kids were in the room next door with a door between the rooms. Each night, our cabin steward shaped several towels into various animal shapes. The kids really enjoyed coming back into the cabin after dinner to discover a new animal each night.

More tomorrow--there's a ton of laundry to unpack!