Archive for December, 2013

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Have a Merry Christmas Maybe?

The closer it gets to Christmas, the more we are encouraged to have “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” and told that this season is “the most wonderful time of the year.” For many of us, this is indeed the case as we shop for gifts, send cards, enjoy the smell of freshly baked goods, and sing carols, but what about those who’ve recently lost loved ones? For example, I am close to someone who is grieving the loss of her best friend, that wonderful woman having died on December 8, 2013.

On national and international levels, South Africans mourned the passing of Nelson Mandela for ten days, and many U.S. communities, especially Newtown, Connecticut, acknowledged the tragedy that resulted in the deaths of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. When we are hurting instead of happy and our grief feels amplified by the festivities around us, where can we turn? Fortunately, we have many options.

Since the support of family and friends can be a tremendously healing balm, reaching out to loved ones can be very helpful. If you decide instead of, or in addition to reaching out to those close to you, to seek professional help or peer support, there are many places to which you can turn. One such place is Nebraska’s Boys Town which was founded in the 19th century by Father Flannigan. Although their traditional focus has been helping parents and children, their 24-hour, toll-free hotline is open to everyone, that number being 1-800-448-3000.

Another helpful 24-hour toll-free hotline can be reached by calling 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK. (This is part of a network of 160 hotlines that exist in all 50 states. To learn more, visit www.suicidepreventionhotlines.org.)

Last, but certainly far from least, is a phone-based service called “A Warm Line.” A Warm Line is staffed by trained phone support specialists who have experienced mental health crises from which they are either in recovery or have recovered. These trained peers also listen with empathy, and make referrals to community resources as needed. According to People’s Oakland, a local mental health organization, one in four individuals, or 25 percent of the U.S. population, will experience a mental health crisis. Although some Warm Lines are available 24 hours, many are not. Neither do all Warm Lines have toll-free numbers. If you want to reach one that is toll-free, visit www.warmlines.org or email me at t.winaught@verizon.net to get Warm Line listings from your state.

If pain is preventing you from celebrating this year’s holiday season, here’s hoping that, with the power of your faith and support from those who love you, your heart will be healed, and your mind made more peaceful.

Have a blest holiday season, including a meaningful celebration of the 7 African principles of Kwanzaa, which begins on December 26th and ends on January 1st.

Resources: www.peoplesoakland.org, boystown.org, www.suicidepreventionhotlines.org, and www.warmlines.org.

Feel free to let us know in Readers Forum what has helped you to get through the holidays while grieving a loved one’s death.

Feature Writer Roger Cicchese – Real to Reel

When you’ve just turned eleven and all you can think about is your upcoming vacation marking the beginning of the holiday season, it’s a wonder you can sleep at night.

I was halfway through sixth grade. My interests were imitating the voices of my favorite radio announcers, actors, fellow students and, of course, some of my more fun-loving uncles.

Once in a while, I could convince my dad to borrow a friend’s reel-to-reel tape recorder for a few days. As he operated the complicated machine, I got a chance to play radio announcer or conduct man-on-the-street news reporter interviews.

We didn’t have much money as I was growing up, so owning such a piece of expensive equipment was totally out of the question, but I could dream. Boy did I dream!!!

It all began when my cousin Billy took me to visit a Boston area radio station in 1959. They had a machine that could record your voice and put it onto an actual long-playing record. This was just like the kind you could purchase at the record store except this one had my voice on it and those of the other people at the radio station.

From there I learned about something called a tape recorder. This machine allowed a person to capture voices, sounds and music. They could listen to it over and over again. This recording could be erased or recorded over and re-recorded. It was even more magical than the radio, which I already figured out was pretty fantastic.

When we borrowed my uncle Mike’s recording machine and I sometimes recorded the sound of radio or television programs, I simply placed the microphone near the speaker, then sat back quietly while the program played. It was only later that I learned about connecting cables to get clearer sound without background room noise.

But, as often happens, my uncle’s tape recorder was very old and it eventually developed some sort of technical problem which he was unwilling to spend money to have repaired.

Needless to say, I was very disappointed. I schemed and connived as to how we might find a way to get that Magic Recording Machine fixed. No Luck!!!

In fact, I drove my parents crazy with the subject and finally they had to tell me to quit talking about it because there was nothing they could do. To make matters worse, my mom quietly sat me down and explained that she’d talked with my dad and they’d tried to figure out every possible way to see if they could somehow maybe afford to purchase a recorder for our family. She sadly said: “Roger, they are just way too expensive. We don’t have that kind of money to afford this sort of thing.” It wasn’t like they didn’t care or understand. They were just too poor. That’s the way I heard it. My heart was twice broken.

Uncle Mike’s recorder would cost too much to fix. My parents were too poor to buy one. The prospects were about zero that this situation would change any time soon. My dad had a secure job, but it paid a consistently low wage.

I had to face facts. Deal with reality, dream about the good times I’d already had, and maybe someday, when I get a job things would be different.

Let’s see, I got 50 cents per week allowance. A new, inexpensive tape recorder cost around $175. How many weeks would that take? 350 weeks. That’s how many years? You figure it out. I’m too depressed to do the math.

So vacation arrived and I realized that what little money I had saved toward my future tape recorder was going to be needed to obtain holiday gifts for family members. Now my plans would be set back even further.

I realized I was being rather selfish about this whole thing and so I put the matter aside for a while and concentrated on trying to guess what I could get for my brother, sister, dad and mom for the holidays that they would actually like and that I could afford.

By the time I’d made appropriate gift selections every penny which I had saved over many months, toward my dream, was gone. I took some small comfort in knowing that at least the other family members would get a gift from me they would like even if I’d have to start all over again in my quest for the recording machine.

In our household there is a tradition that began some years ago. Each family member gets to select and open one gift on Christmas Eve. I don’t know where this idea came from, but it continued that year. Wouldn’t you know that year every member of the family chose to open the gift I had gotten for them. Well, they were very pleased with my thoughtful choices. I felt happy about that, but inside I felt even sadder because I had brought them a degree of happiness while
I felt somehow miserable. We know as adults this does not express the true nature of giving, but gee I was just an eleven year-old kid!!!

Finally it was time to go to bed. As I was falling asleep I wondered how many times 52 went into 350. I fell asleep without ever getting the answer.

Christmas morning arrived. The scent of freshly brewing coffee and wonderful hot chocolate filled my nostrils as I awoke. I heard traditional carols playing on mom’s HI-FI with “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” booming out in the voice of Nat Cole. I heard my sister wishing everybody “Merry Happy.” I heard my mom’s slippers sliding softly across our living room floor over to the tree where she clicked the switch to turn on the tree lights.

We all gathered around to share holiday gift giving and a wonderful morning of laughter and merriment. I temporarily forgot my sadness of the night before, and my selfish feelings about wanting and not receiving because I took so much joy and pleasure in the expressions of glee and celebration with my family on that Christmas morning.

All too soon, however, the boxes, piles of paper, bows and ribbons lay in scattered heaps on the living room floor. You know that funny empty feeling you sometimes get when the frenetic pace calms down? Suddenly, it got very quiet. The holiday music was all I could hear. No one was talking. We were all seemingly preoccupied with the examination of our gifts.

Then, I heard a very strange sound. It was like chipmunks chattering or a whole bunch of mice squealing all at once. It was as if a squad of window washers had suddenly descended on our living room walls and were making a very loud racket with their squeegees. It made me jump. I was not sure what the sounds were or what made them. Nobody said anything to give me a clue. So I said aloud “Did something awful happen to the dog”? Everyone burst out laughing. In answer, my dad took my hands, and gently guided them to something that was slowly moving around and around just beneath my fingertips

I could scarcely believe what I was touching. I exclaimed exuberantly. “You somehow got Uncle Mike’s tape recorder fixed so we could use it today to record the festivities, wow that’s really cool dad.” My dad surprised me when he informed me that the answer to that question was no!!!

I was stunned and lost for words. I didn’t know what question was left to ask. There was one very remote, but impossible question I dared not even contemplate so I didn’t. My dad provided the answer to the unasked question. “This, Roger, is a brand new reel-to-reel tape recorder. It now belongs to YOU. Take very good care of it. We believe it will change your life and that’s why we got it for you. The strange noise you heard a couple of minutes ago was the machine rewinding the recording I’ve been making this morning.”

Because of that one Christmas gift the doors and windows to a long life in the world of communications possibilities opened wide.

My life, ever since, has been all about that one gift. My parents had an understanding far beyond my years and perhaps their own, as well.

I wonder how my life would have been different if not for that gift. Just when I thought the giving had ended, little did I know then, that my life of giving had just begun.

This article was based on those original Christmas morning recordings made over 50 years ago.

I marveled and contemplated what my future might hold, as the reels turned around and around.

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Voice Teachers Past and Present

I’ve been singing for many years and have had several fabulous voice teachers. Here are some brief sketches of the wonderful artists who have helped shape my vocal life.

While at the LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, I auditioned for and was accepted to the Chautauqua Summer School of the Arts program. It was there that I met the woman who would become my first private voice teacher, Ms. Maxine Davis. We worked on breath support, posture and repertoire. Ironically, Maxine gave lessons in an apartment in the residential hotel where we lived for a few years.

My next teacher, Jean Hakes, was a singer of some renown whom I met while studying at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. She is memorable for her technique (some of which I could barely understand at the time). I still recall the train ride to Brooklyn, the five-block walk to her private home and schlep up the stairs to her teaching studio. How they hoisted her baby grand piano up there is beyond me.

A student of the Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School at Lighthouse International for almost 30 years, I’ve experienced the good, the bad, the ugly and so much more. It was there, though, that I was introduced to Ms. Mindy Fliegelman and Mr. Robert Brown (both totally blind). Mindy was a great voice teacher who recorded songs on tape to Bob’s able accompaniment. How marvelous! I was freed from the strain of using a hand-held magnifier to read standard printed music. Later, Mindy and Bob became our excellent computer instructors and I credit them with kindling my love for technology. You just never know.

Ms. Helen Guilet was a wonderfully animated voice teacher who shall forever be remembered for her canned accompaniments. Knowing her limited piano skills, she had a pianist friend record the song. Once we were ready to sing it all the way through, the play button was promptly pressed on her cassette tape player. This spurred me on to finding the famous (or infamous) 24 Italian Songs and Arias karaoke version on CD, which I still own.

Also at the Lighthouse Music School, Mr. Richard Eikenberry introduced me to several glorious arias and Mr. Paul Chamlin taught a wealth of songs from the Broadway stage that were lyrically and musically interesting. Ms. Charlotte Surkin was a terrific voice teacher who concentrated on your vocal apparatus and vocal health in addition to repertoire.

Currently, I have an electronic voice teacher named Ms. Christina E. Brands. I found her course on www.amazon.com/mp3. She offers useful and effective vocal techniques and exercises that I do prior to our cabaret shows.

It’s been my privilege to have worked with such talented singers and instructors.

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – The Challenge of Meeting My Friend During a Major Winter Snow Storm

In November 2013, my friend Jenny and I decided to spend another Christmas together. We settled on her staying from December 14, through January 3.

When a snowstorm was anticipated the weekend of the 14th I was anxious. Would this change our plans? Saturday I slept with one ear tuned to the phone, TV and NOAA weather.

As I boarded the 2:40pm train from Fitchburg to Boston, I noticed how crowded it was. Everyone seemed in a festive mood and people were doing their Christmas shopping or going to holiday gatherings.

Jenny surprised me with a call to let me know she had gotten on the train in Baltimore and it would arrive on schedule in South Station at 5:19pm. I phoned the driver of the local limousine company we were using. He had looked online and was “on the road” to South Station. He was delighted to get out of Boston before the height of the storm. At Porter Square in Cambridge, while walking with assistance towards the subway station, I noticed chilly, brisk wind and powdery snow coating the subway platform. I boarded the Braintree train and departed at South Station.

Walking with assistance to the mega transportation complex, I spoke to someone at the Amtrak counter. I inquired about the status of the 5:19pm train from Virginia to Boston. Because of worsening weather, it would be delayed until 5:40pm. I called the limousine driver; our hopes of leaving Boston early were dashed.

He was looking for a parking space near the Amtrak entrance. As I was sitting waiting for Jenny’s train, the driver surprised me by coming in to wait with me for her train. After six o’clock, it finally arrived. We decided he would guide us individually to the sedan. As the driver and I walked to the car, we noticed the increasing ferocity of the storm, with its bitter winds and stinging snowflakes. I was happy to sit in the comfort of the warm car and he was soon back with my friend Jenny, who I had not seen since last January. Her luggage was secured in the trunk and we began the two and a half hour trip to Fitchburg.

Time flew by as we laughed and conversed about our lives. We urged the friendly driver to take his time getting us to our destination, the 99 Restaurant. As we drove in central Massachusetts, the weather and roads were getting worse.

We arrived at the restaurant and said goodbye to our friendly, affable driver. We had a nice meal since the snow had seemed lighter as we entered the restaurant. Maybe the worst was over?

I phoned the local cab company in Fitchburg only to discover they were closing at ten o’clock. I called another company in Leominster, and because they knew me they would take the risk of driving to Fitchburg on this stormy night. “Give us awhile” she said, “The roads are bad.”

At ten thirty were informed the restaurant closed around eleven, but our taxi driver arrived shortly afterwards. The woman guided us to the taxi. The walking was difficult and the drifting, powdery snow was obscuring the curbs. We told the driver to “take her time driving us home.” After a pick up at the Lunenburg Walmart, we were home by 11:15pm. I navigated the snowy steps and held the door open for Jenny and the driver. We thanked our friendly, polite driver and gave her a generous tip.

Even with the challenges of a dangerous winter storm, we were able to meet and arrive safely at my apartment. We knew, even in our sixties, we could navigate transportation with assistance despite the challenges of often-brutal winter weather in New England.

May all Ziegler readers have happy and blessed holidays.

Feature Writer John Christie – Class Action Settlement Will Make New York City Taxis Accessible to Those with Wheelchairs

On a recent Friday, New York City settled a class action settlement. If the settlement is approved, half the fleet of taxis would have to be wheelchair accessible by 2020. This drew praise from politicians and advocates for the disabled. However, with a new mayoral administration people in the forefront wonder how this will be carried out. A statement from the taxicab Board of Trade says it all. “We are left with more questions than answers.” This group should know because they operate 40 percent of New York City’s yellow cabs.

The deal requires that old taxis be phased out, and new ones take their place. As of now, only a fraction of the fleet is wheelchair accessible.

Under the deal, at least half of the new medallion taxis put into service in any given year must be accessible until 50 percent of the fleet is. This is the first comprehensive settlement in the country. Other cities will be looking at this deal to see how they can make their taxis accessible.

This allows people in wheelchairs to have another transportation option to rely on besides paratransit and the subway to either go to work, school or leisure activities. Hopefully, when a cab driver sees a disabled person in a wheelchair, they will stop and give that person a lift.

The 9 member Taxi Commission also praised the deal using words like historical and milestone.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/07/nyregion/wheelchair-settlement-poses-test-for-cab-industry.html?_r=0Take

November 2013 audio version

Welcome to the Matilda Ziegler Magazine audio player. To begin listening to the magazine, simply click the “Read more” link below. Once you select the month, an embedded media player will start playing the magazine immediately. While using this player, you can press the control key plus the space bar to pause the current article. To proceed to the next article hold down the control key and the shift key and then press the N key. To go back to the previous article hold down the control key and the shift key and press the P key.

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Feature Writer Jane Kronheim – The Gift of Literacy

We typically think of a gift as something that someone has given to us. Usually wrapped in seasonal gift wrap with a ribbon on top, the gift is hidden beneath such elaborate and colorful trappings. But I am thinking of the type of gift that keeps on giving in and of itself. And that is the gift of literacy.

As a teacher I am always amazed at the ways in which young children learn to read and write. Although learning to read does not come easily to some, most children who have the capability to comprehend what words are all about, learn the reading “code” whether this is in print or Braille.

I often think back on the many kids who struggled to learn what words represent. Some just could not grasp intellectually what this amazing system of words and letters is all about. And for those who had real print disabilities there was always the spoken word. What I mean here is the ability to listen to spoken information and to tuck that information away for further applications.

Many teachers believe that acquiring “true” literacy means that you can read print or Braille… and that’s it. They have frequently placed recorded or audio formats in the back seat (so to speak) of literacy, as if it does not count for anything. I vehemently disagree!

What to do with children who have print or Braille difficulties? Some might say that these kids are unable to be literate. Again I disagree. Over the years I have tapped into RFB&D – Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic which is now Learning Ally. These recordings have been developed for the many textbooks that print-disabled individuals could access when print failed them. I have also found that BookShare and NLS (National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped) is extremely helpful to many readers. Studies of those who experience dyslexia show that these highly unique and intelligent individuals can access the world of audio books just fine and in fact, they do quite well.

Now, for the blind and visually impaired there are so many audio formats to tap into, it boggles the mind. I have had numerous discussions with my blind colleagues and they say that most of the reading they are doing as adults is connected to audio format. Does this mean that they are all illiterate? Not so!!! I feel that the future of reading and writing will take place almost exclusively within the context of talking technologies and audio/video learning. And I am someone who still likes the feel of a real book in my hands. Take a look at the explosion of technological wonders that are now available and are also moving forward in research. It’s important to understand that the way an individual gains information may take many pathways, all of them pointed towards literacy and what that means to each person. And so if we say that literacy means “to read and to write” in our day and age, for future generations it will mean so much more. And that future is at our doorstep.

Take a look at this interesting definition of “literacy” from UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization): “Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential to participate fully in the wider society.” I would add something crucial to this UNESCO definition of literacy which is the ability to use not only printed and written materials but also audio and “spoken” information which will make learning all the more enriched. After all there is nothing like the human voice that can reach deep into the heart of the learner. Let us imagine that literacy in the 21st century will offer all of us more multi-sensory approaches to the acquisition of knowledge.

What would be your definition of “literacy”? Please feel free to share your perspective on this subject in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – Cookies and Reindeer

My fondest yuletide holiday memory was of dreaming of reindeer. Sure, I wanted Santa to climb down our chimney and deposit gifts, but I wanted to meet his faithful hoofed servants even more. After all, I was an animal lover and I wanted to meet those gifted arctic antelope. I made sure we didn’t forget the carrots, which were placed alongside the milk and cookies on the kitchen table before going up to bed. It was torture trying to fight off sleep while waiting to hear the sled land on our roof.

The next morning I ran down the stairs to the kitchen table, delighted to see that the jolly man’s companions had left the end of the carrot, complete with bite marks. To me, the leftover carrot, cookie crumbs and gifts under the tree proved Santa and his fuzzy friends had visited.

Fast forward a few decades and I found myself gnawing off the end of the carrot, leaving it on the plate in the dining room for my kids to discover. My husband, always blunt and often painfully honest, would say, “You know that’s deceiving them into believing something that’s not real, right?” I would always pick up the cookie and hold it to his mouth, “Just eat the darn cookie and don’t be such a bah-humbug.” “What about the milk? I hate milk.” I would snag a cookie and dip it into the milk as I ate it, smirking as he grossed out.

I’m not sure when, exactly, I made the dreaded discovery that Santa and his hoofed friends weren’t real. It wasn’t something I felt was horrible, but at the same time, I did wonder why people went to so much trouble keeping up appearances.

Later on, after the truth was out, I heard a myriad of explanations, like Santa was a marketing ploy for people to buy more Coca-Cola products, or that Santa was created to be the non-denominational representation of the birth of Christ and God’s message, representing “good will” to agnostics and atheists. The best and most unique explanation I heard was that Santa was the American conglomerate of many sectarian/non-sectarian and cultural beliefs all rolled into one jolly belly, representing a worldwide icon for what’s best in us all. It didn’t matter what religion you practiced or who you worshipped, Santa transcended it. I think even my skeptical husband would agree with it. Christmas is a magical time of year and part of me still wants to hear the clattering of hoofs near my window.

Happy Holidays to all.

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Bring On the Games

Now that my grad school term is over, I can take a breath and have some fun. One of my favorite things about the iPhone is the number of games that are accessible. This year a number of awesome new games have been added to the VO accessible list. My three favorite are Codename Cygnus, Papa Sangre 2, and Solara.

I first learned about Codename Cygnus from their KickStarter campaign. The inspiration for the game was to create 21st century radio dramas that would add a choose-your-adventure like spin. In the game you are a spy trying to capture the bad guys. Every few minutes of game play you have to choose how you will respond. Instead of selecting a button, you get to make your choice with your voice. The game also has no visual component, so the developers had to make sure that the narration was descriptive enough for players to understand their surroundings. I really enjoy this game not only because it’s fun to be a spy, but also because the audio is so well done. Learn more about Codename Cygnus by visiting the AppleVis page: http://www.applevis.com/apps/ios/games/codename-cygnus

Next up is Papa Sangre 2. If you’ve played Papa Sangre or the Knight Jar then you will already have a feel for what Papa Sangre 2 will be like. If you’re not familiar with those games than prepare to be wowed. Papa Sangre 2 is another game that has no visual component. All of your movement in the game has to be done using your ears. The audio in this game is amazing. You really get a 3-D experience. Even better than that, though, is the fact that the narrator is Sean Bean. I really enjoy the challenge of this game and the fact that it is fun for everyone, not just the blind. Learn more about Papa Sangre 2 by visiting the AppleVis page: http://www.applevis.com/apps/ios/games/papa-sangre-ii

Finally, we leave the audio game world to enter Solara. This is a fun role playing game where you’re building a castle, going on quests, and fighting other players in an arena. One of the best things about this game, besides its accessibility, is that you can only play for a short time before you run out of gold. I like this because it means that I’m not spending all day playing, but that I can play multiple times throughout the day. The developer has also gone to a lot of work to make the game fully accessible. He’s added text descriptions of all of the buildings and players who use voiceover can even explore the layout of their castle and move buildings around. To learn more about Solara, visit the AppleVis page: http://www.applevis.com/apps/ios/games/solara

I hope everyone gets some time to play some fun games over the holidays. For more game ideas, visit the AppleVis Games page: http://www.applevis.com/ios-app-directory/games

Letter from the Editor – Week of December 16, 2013

Hello Everyone,

I hope you had a great weekend.

I want to apologize to Sandra for printing the acerbic remarks directed at her in last week’s Reader’s Forum. Comments in the Reader’s Forum do not reflect my personal views but rather are a place for everyone to express their opinions freely. Inevitably there will be disparities in views from such varied perspectives that will lead to disagreements. Disagreements are fine, but I encourage readers to refrain from letting their clashing views devolve into anything that approaches resembling an ad hominem attack. I take full responsibility for the situation and for not exercising more politic oversight and exhort readers to remain civil in their communications.

This week we have contributor articles from James Campbell about a day that changed the course of his life and from Valerie Moreno about a friend that she lost.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season and getting some time to relax with family and friends.

Thanks for reading and to those who wrote in to the Reader’s Forum.

Have a great week.

Sincerely,
Editor