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Always be Ready for Anything
It was going to be an epic adventure. We were taking a small ship cruise from New Caledonia across northern Australia up to Indonesia and finally to Singapore. Another week in Singapore would top it all off before we came home. In the middle of the trip was my husband, Steve’s birthday.
That was the plan.
We sailed from New Caledonia to Cairns Australia with no issue. Two days after leaving Cairns we were told that we were headed back, the cruise was over and we needed to find our way home as we would not be allowed to stay in Australia. That was March 13.
We flew from Australia to Singapore, over-nighted in the airport and then attempted to catch our flight's home. Singapore to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Guayaquil Ecuador. As we checked in for our flights we were told that Ecuador had closed its borders. We asked if we could make it as far as Amsterdam and then figure it out from there, especially since Singapore had made it clear we could not stay there. We arrived in Amsterdam and were welcomed. While we do live in Ecuador, we are US citizens and considered trying to get back there but that would put us at risk on yet another plane ride and when we got there we would just be in the same situation we are in here.
Amsterdam had already closed all non essential businesses until June 1, that is all museums and shopping and churches, pretty much everything except grocery stores and restaurants that are allowed to do delivery or take out. Hotel restaurants are also closed but are allowed to deliver room service to guests. It became apparent quickly that we would need a place with a kitchen. We found a vacation rental and made a reservation until April 6, when Ecuador was supposed to reopen its borders. The criteria was kitchen and washer/dryer. We were near the end of our stay in this rental and it did not look like we were going home anytime soon, so we found another more comfortable place. We moved there on April 6. There is a beautiful park nearby that I anticipate many walks in. We initially packed for a tropical vacation, not March in the Netherlands, so we picked up some warm souvenirs rather quickly.
Our days are a mixture of watching the news, I have always been a news watcher and this crisis is not something I can turn away from, and focused distraction. We started walking around to Amsterdam's attractions and taking photos outside them. It is a beautiful city and the citizens are taking social distancing very seriously, we do as well, and are doing all we can to keep ourselves and others around us safe. Facetime has been a great way to stay in touch with our loved ones during this time, technology is fantastic.
As I said, groceries are open, but they only allow a certain amount of people at a time inside. The stores have the allowed number of baskets at the front door, when you go inside you pick up a basket, if there are no baskets, you wait until there is one. Once someone pays for their purchases, the basket is cleaned and placed back at the door. If you need to wait outside you stand in a 1.5 meter apart queue.
One of the best things for me personally throughout this situation has been projects I am working on with Learning Ally. I can DO something and feel good about doing it. I feel that it is something that helps me maintain my sanity, so thank you all for that! I attended the recent webinar (It was 10:00 pm here) and that was wonderful for me to feel connected. Bonus, I now know how to green screen my Zoom background, thanks Russell.
I am currently acting as listener for a few literature books.
“The Poet X” which is being narrated by Krysta Gonzalez is a true joy! Krysta is absolutely lighting up this performance and I want every young woman in the world to hear it, especially latinas!
“Lu” is being narrated by Gregory Jacques and is the third in the track series that I have worked on. Just started, but I have high hopes!
“The Sacrifice of Sunshine Girl” narrated by Rebecca Carter is an awesome and fun YA syfy type book that is going to give a lot of readers fantastic distraction.
“The Big Game” narrated by Jacob Lindsey is a coming of age, while playing football and trying to step out of your fathers shadow story. Jacob is hitting all parts gloriously.
“Cilla Lee-Jenkins Future Author Extraordinaire” narrated by Victoria Rivera is such a fun book, it has made me laugh out loud a couple of times and I have made Steve listen to passages just because it is so cute. A lot of that is thanks to Victoria really making this character pop!
“Five Feet Apart” narrated by Holly Russo and William Wright is a love story between two teens with cystic fibrosis. I don’t think I will make it through this one dry eyed, especially because Holly and William are really bringing it with their performances.
I don’t know how much longer we will be here, but I do know that I am so fortunate to have my Learning Ally projects to keep my mind active and give me a sense of contribution.
Did I mention we wanted an epic adventure?
Elementary Students Learn How to Make Audiobooks!
We recently had the pleasure of hosting students from two elementary schools in Austin, TX and Princeton, NJ. A great day was had by all. The excitement was contagious as they entered the building. You could see the wonder on their faces, as they are so familiar with Learning Ally and how much it impacts their day to day accomplishments at school. Without you volunteers, none of this would be possible! Here’s a look into each school visit, and what the students were able to experience while they were here.
Highland Park Elementary Students, Austin TX
On February 27th, 32 students and 6 teachers, parents and school administrators visited the Austin studio to learn about how our audio books get from volunteer’s voices/home studios into the app they use to listen to their books.
The students listened to the history of Learning Ally, back to 1948 when we were called Recording for the Blind and recorded material onto flexible record albums. They saw how we have kept up with technology over the years through reel-to-reel, cassettes and CD’s and now to the Learning Ally Link App. They watched a video showing how our books are chopped and scanned to make the PDF and EasyBooks files our volunteers use to read. They learned how volunteers can now work anywhere in the world to help record their books thanks to our virtual technology!
Highland Park students are experts at using the Link App, so they enthusiastically helped staff demonstrate how to search for and download books, find chapter headings, page numbers and change the speed of the audio and the color of the text on the screen.
Students got to step into our old recording booths and make a recording on a Learning Ally Flash Drive to take home to their family.
Austin volunteers Kathi Jensen and Robert Miller helped staff members Cheri Nightingale and Gigi Franklin with the tour. One little girl told us “This is the best field trip we have ever taken!” Their two hours at the studio flew by, but their enthusiasm for reading will last a lifetime. They all gathered in the studio conference room before getting back on the bus and yelled “THANK YOU!” to all the volunteers around the world who help brings books to life for them.
Village Elementary School, Montgomery NJ
On January 24th, we had an amazing group of students from Village Elementary School, visit us and get to experience firsthand how an audio book is made from beginning to end! They were able to experience LINK and be “testers” with some new advanced features coming up!
The students had an opportunity to meet learn about guide dogs, and how they are trained to lead the blind and visually impaired around obstacles. Abigail Shaw, a Learning Ally staff member was gracious enough to bring her guide dog Kit, for the students to meet. This was a huge hit with everyone, and it helped bring an understanding how important these companions are!
We had a great voice over session, where students recorded a clip of a short story of their choice and brought it home on a flash drive for their parents to listen to! They were so proud of themselves and loved hearing their voices on the recordings!
It was a great day that couldn’t have been possible without the help of our wonderful staff and volunteers that joined us for this impactful event. A special thank you to Maryfran Annese and Joe Clark for making a special trip to Princeton to join the fun!
The Literature team completed 53 Books in January! Thank you for the hours of narrating, listening, teamwork and talent that makes this possible!
Imagine having something you have created seen by millions of people around the world. That’s what happened for me on January 1, 2019 during the annual Tournament of Roses Parade. Here’s the story.
While the large, elaborate floats are commercially built, there are 6 smaller floats that are “self-built.” That means that all aspects of the float are handled by volunteers. I have friends who are volunteers with the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association. Each year they design, create, build and decorate the Rose Parade float that represents the City of Burbank.
Much as I would love to be part of that, I am a complete disaster when it comes to glue or paint. Not to mention the more skilled tasks like welding, sculpting, animating, and well, you get the idea. But last year, there was something I could do that none of the regular volunteers could do. I can spin fiber into string.
If you saw the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, you may remember the Burbank float presented cartoon animals who brought their instruments together to jam. It was an eclectic collection with a saxophone playing pig, a bass drum playing skunk, a huge bear with a concertina, and an alligator playing a washboard.
Then there was also a hound dog playing a banjo. A wolf playing a fiddle and a HUGE white rabbit playing a string bass. That’s where my contribution came in. One of my friends who works on the float knew about my spinning, and asked me if I could spin strings from raw cotton for those instruments.
Spinning is easy, but cotton is hard, because the fibers are short and they tend to ball up instead of lying flat. But with patience, I came to a compromise with the cotton and was able to produce custom strings for each instrument. The fiddle strings were thin, the banjo strings were more funky, and the string bass had thick strings. The bass strings took the most time because I had to spin 4 threads then ply them together.
Spinning was something I learned when I was working in a living history center in Maryland. We used antique wheels to demonstrate making wool yarn, therefore, I never learned to use modern tools. That was unfortunate for the float because the rabbit was supposed to be covered completely in cotton “fur.” I had to help the decorators find a woman with the machine that could produce batts (flat plates) of cotton. She prepared over 4 pounds of cotton batts needed to completely cover the 6 foot tall rabbit.
No, I didn’t go to the parade, I watched it on TV. But after the parade, all the floats are parked together to allow people to see them up close. I had seen the pieces while they were being built and decorated, but seeing the completed float with my strings on the instruments was breathtaking. Building a float takes thousands of hours by many talented people. Being a very small part of something as big and amazing as a rose parade float is a memory I will treasure.
From Staff: Beira has been a volunteer since 2006 and has managed to rack up almost 1700 hours of time as a listener for Instructional Text and the Literature team.