Sunday, June 5, 2016

Donate your voice... it can change someone's life!

Most people take their voice for granted.  It's something I'm guilty of for sure!  Like any other human being on this planet, communication is crucial; as a business owner, a mother, a grandmother, a storyteller of my own stories and of others'I also have the privilege of singing in a choir, so I get an immense amount of pleasure using my voice in a myriad of ways. Heck, I've even had wrong numbers call me back because they like the sound of my voice - that was a laugh!

But did I ever truly think about what life would be like without a voice? 
The discovery of VocaliD, the voice company that brings machine voices to life, was a complete revelation to me!  It really helped me truly appreciate my ability to speak and realize that there are many who don't have a voice. 

I've now recorded over 1000 sentences for VocaliD, about a third of the way to completing my goal of 3487 sentences.  This means that I will soon be able donate my voice to someone who is a match to me.  Curious yet? Don't worry, I'll tell you more!   Hey, I even got this cool certificate celebrating my progress!

So, what is it all about you might ask.

I was so inspired when I first heard about Dr. Rupal Patel on an episode on Terry O’Reilly’s Under the Influence CBC show.  I was intrigued enough to find out more about her, so found her TED Talk: Synthetic voices, as unique as fingerprints.  After watching it, I was completely captivated and I knew I had to find out more.

It was her first story that got to me most, about the two people chatting to each other using their electronic devices; a young girl and a grown man.  When I heard her tell about these two people using the same synthetic voice, both sounding like Stephen Hawking, it had the same profound effect on me.  Dr. Patel said that it "hurt her heart" that this young girl had to use a voice that did not represent her; her age, her gender or her unique personality.  It was just so wrong.  You would never dream of giving this young girl an adult prosthetic limb... so why would you give her a man’s voice.  She knew she had to figure out a way to do something about making sure as many people as possible were given the gift of a voice unique to them.

There are about 10 million people worldwide with an inability to speak.  It could be because of a neurological disorder, something they are born with, like cerebral palsy; or perhaps it's ALS like Stephen Hawking, or a stroke, or Alzheimer’s.  In fact there are over 60 diseases where losing the ability to talk is a devastating complication.

Dr. Patel collaborated with a colleague of, Dr. Tim Bunnell, the head of a Speech Research Lab at a hospital in Delaware.  He had been working on reconstructing voices for his patients who had lost their vocal ability later in life.

There is obviously a lot of complicated science behind it but over the next few years, they developed a technology, which is now VocaliD.  Through reverse engineering, they can create personalized voices for people who have severely impaired speech, people who have never had a voice.

The basic principles are that VocaliD blends the speech of two individuals—a donor and the recipient.  They first record whatever sound the recipient is still able to make. Sometimes it’s just a single vowel sound, but each person has a unique vocal identity.  Someone like Samantha, who you will meet in the video, can make a sound... just an "Aaaaah..." but it's uniquely her sound.  It isn't much, just the tonal quality – the colour of her voice – but it’s enough to be able to match up the with a voice donor - someone like me... or you... so they can customize a voice just for her.

I'm really hoping that this will inspire more people to sign up on the website and donate their voice.  I'm finding it so incredibly rewarding to know that they have already matched me up with three woman who will now have a voice.  And it’s even more heartwarming to know that my grandson, Connor was motivated to sign up too!  I'll have to check out to see how he's getting along.  

Here's a quote from Dr. Patel's quote - I think it is perfect:

    "To give blood can save lives... to give your voice can change lives."

If you still have questions, here are the answers to some of the questions I had before I started:

Here’s what you need to know if you’re interested in donating the gift of your voice: 
Q: When can I start?
A: If you want to be part of The Human Voicebank Initiative, please visit and sign up to donate your voice, time, expertise, or financial support.  It’s easier than you might think!
Q: What do I need to do?
A: You need to be able to read or repeat short sentences that, together, cover all the combinations of sounds that occur in our language.  The more of your speech we have, the better a voice we can create.
Q: How long does it take?
A: We need about 2-3 hours of speech from each donor. (Though even an hour of speech can go a long way.)  You don’t have to do this all at once. You can take your time and break it up into small sessions of around 15-20 minutes, so that you can record your best voice. That’s why we need a simple website or app — so you can record whenever you want. All we’d ask is that you record in a quiet place. The better your recordings, the better the voice we can create.
Q: Do I need to sound like a radio announcer?
A: No.  We want and need all types of voices.  Each person has a unique voice, which can help this project in its own way.
Q: Will others recognize me in someone’s voice?
A: The new voice will have elements of your voice blended with the recipient’s voice, so it is possible, but very unlikely that others will recognize you — unless of course you have a famous or well-known voice ;)
Q: Why should I do this?
There are so many reasons!  First, you can help give someone a voice — that’s powerful.  But in the process, you can also learn something about your own voice just by banking it.  Most of us rarely give our voice much thought, but the process of recording can be made educational and reflective.  In fact, for K-12 donors, we hope to develop a curriculum that will supplement the voice donation process.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Happiness... it's the small precious moments that count.

May is a rough month for me... 
Today, May 22nd, is the anniversary of my darling Mum's passing.  I often reflect on her life and her lessons, but on this day she is even more present in my mind, especially her special philosophy on happiness.  But I can't believe it's been 8 years.
Mum - just before our float plane ride to Victoria

On my walk with Zoe this morning, I also thought about my precious Tilly, the Westie I had before Zoe came into my life. (Did I tell you May was a bad month?).  It was at this time of the year in 2010 that I lost her.  Tilly died very suddenly after contracting aspiration pneumonia; she was only four. 
At the time, I was a complete basket case, utterly  devastated at losing her, and spent at least two weeks in tears. 

It confused me so much at the time.  Why wasn't I handling Tilly's death as well as I did when my own Mum passed. I came to the conclusion that it's because Mum was able to give me permission to be ok with it, to be happy that she had lived such a wonderful life. She was able to tell me how content she'd been, that she had absolutely no regrets about her life.

People told me that Tilly would have no doubt have said the same thing if she'd been able.

So, in memory of Josie Summers... (what a fantastic name!) I thought I'd repost a piece that I wrote when I first discovered how ill Mum was... it helped me at the time and it helps me now to remember her as the amazing woman she was and it gives people some idea about how she lived her live.

Originally written on March 22nd, 2008.

I've been desperately trying to come to terms with some news I've received this week. And after a couple of days of bawling my eyes out, I've found a few things that have helped me cope. One is my daughter, Karen. She's my rock. And playing baseball with my grandsons, Connor and Callum yesterday was the best! I tell you, whacking at a ball with a baseball bat is GOOD therapy!! The fact that it has completely buggered up my shoulder is totally irrelevant...

Then there's writing. I'm sure a couple of my friends here will forgive me for spilling all my feelings out to them.... but it is the one way I know to get my thoughts in order and try to understand my true feelings about stuff.

I have the most amazing mum... she's always been such a big inspiration for me and has always been one of the strongest people I know. Her zest for life has never ceased to amaze me... and even now, now that she knows the end is quite near, it seems to be no different.

Mum is in Leicester Royal Infirmary at the moment after suffering a spinal cord collapse yesterday. It's a very scary complication from the cancer she's just had diagnosed. We only found out for sure on Thursday this week.

She's always been a terror when it comes to going the doctor. Not quite sure why. She said she didn't want to bother anyone when she felt perfectly alright. But she's always been a true fatalist and a realist and is of the opinion that what's meant to be, will be. It might not have been the wisest course of action, but it was hers. And I'll always respect her choices in life.

Anyway, she hadn't been to the docs for at least three years - too bloody busy enjoying life. She's hardly ever felt ill her whole life. But last month she finally admitted she'd been feeling unwell. She'd had some back pain so went to see someone. They did some blood tests and found alarmingly high calcium levels. This was just three short weeks ago so what's happened since has been a big shock to us all.

As I've often said, my Mum is a pretty amazing woman. She has told both my brothers that she's very happy and so glad that she's led such an interesting life. Mum has wanted to experience as much as she possibly can... and I believe she has.

Apparently this hunger for life experiences even includes what she's going through right now.

She spoke to my brother, Ed, yesterday about how beautiful the day was, the view from her window of the hospital is glorious. She said that the music in between the thumping and banging of the scanner was so lovely, she fell asleep and they had to wake her up. She talks of how good the food is at the hospital and how wonderful all the nurses are. How can you argue with that attitude in life?

Mike just phoned again to talk about the plans when I get there on Wednesday. Then he told me of the laugh he'd had with mum today. She's really upset about the brand new, very expensive hearing aid she's just bought - and I mean REALLY upset! If you knew my mum you'd know she HATES wasting hard-earned money. So, she was wondering if Mike could try to get a rebate on it. On a lighter note, she's also really pissed off about the 5 or 6 good pairs of shoes she' won't be getting any use out of now she can't walk... and suggested Mike try to sell them on eBay! Bloody hilarious!!

I wrote here yesterday that you can wake up every day and choose to be angry with the world... or wake up to the world happy. Mum chooses happy. That's my philosophy too. And I'm determined to be happy when I see her this week... even if it might be for the last time.

This is one of my favourite pictures of Mum taken on her favourite beach in Cleethorpes with her sister Lorn...  I love you Mum… xxxx

I did see my Mum again on another trip to England in April and sat with her sharing many precious memories.  It was so very special and treasure those moments in the garden of the hospice.  I will never forget it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


It's been a while... But then, I read these words.  My mind went... ZING! And I felt compelled to come back here.

"Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be."
 Wayne W. Dyer
Peace... how wonderful...

Yes... being at peace.  It's a place most people seem to struggle with, but for some reason it has always come fairly easy for me.  Contentment... peace... pure joy at being alive, however you name it, I've been lucky.  I would say that "decide to be happy when you wake up" kind of approach to life is an attitude I got from my darling mum.  I have to thank her for that.  I have joked in the past that it was probably because I have such low expectations.  A friend said last night that she's always amazed at how many people have such a sense of entitlement, that life owes them something, just for existing.  This is exactly why this quote struck home for me.

I often think back to the time we were living in Gosport, when I was in my early twenties.  Jim and I were sharing a rental house with a couple of single guys.  Looking back at that place now, I realize it was pretty tough.  Jim was starting our first business and was hardly ever home... which is where I was most of the time.  Money was very tight, but we'd made the decision that I should be at home with our two kids.  For me, there really wasn't another choice.  Mark and Karen were both still in diapers, we had no washing machine or dryer, so there was a big pile of hand-washing to be done every morning.  I didn't drive so we walked everywhere. And I mean everywhere.  Even up St. Anne's Hill Road, which seemed at the time to be the longest hill ever.  It really was only an overpass, but on wet days when I couldn't hang the washing on the line, slogging it up that hill to the laundrette in the pouring rain, with two kids piled into the pram, heavily weighed down with wet laundry, the dog by our side... well, it was flippin' exhausting.  How could I possibly have taken ANY pleasure in this existence?  Amazingly enough I did.  I can bring back that feeling now... being in that steamy room, drips running down the condensation on the windows and the damp smell of clean washing in the air.  With my two lovely kids chattering away to each other, happily playing with the toys I'd brought with us, I would settle down and dive back into the book I was reading and steal a few precious moments for myself.

And even though there were long evenings, once I'd put the kids to bed, spent looking out the bedroom window, waiting for Jim to come home, for some reason, deep down inside I was happy.

I'm forever thankful that I am blessed with the ability to see the beauty around me everywhere, even on the darkest days.  I can easily take pleasure in the small happinesses that come my way.

I've been trying to write something about what life has brought me so far this year... "New Beginnings", but being completely honest with my words is proving difficult for me.  This is an unusual set of circumstances, I don't normally have that problem.

After a lifetime together, the last 8 years with Jim were incredibly hard.  They were hard for us both.  Jim had so many struggles with his health and with his self-esteem.  He had such a hard time coping with being sick, he'd always been so fit and so strong.  I guess the spiral of dealing with all conflicts he faced trying to live a healthy lifestyle just took over.  Sometimes it's just too hard... and I don't think I need say anymore than that.

But I honestly believe the choices I made during that awful time have gone a long way to saving me and my sanity.  When I made the decision to become my own person, and to consciously live a purposeful life before it was forced upon me was an incredibly powerful thing.  It's the only way I've been able to cope with the challenges I've faced, both personally and with our business, since Jim finally left us in March this year.

It's because I made peace with those decisions, that I'm still loving life.  And I do feel at peace and even full of joy when I wake up every morning.   At first it made me feel guilty, but after a while I realized that it was ok.  To quote another friend, "It is what it is..."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Project 365... I'm almost done... but what is my next step?

I'm coming to the end of my photo project as described in two previous blogs. One I posted in January Project 365 and then in a touch-of-narcissism.  It started off being a very personal pictorial diary, but it's now much more than that... and I need your help.  I'm wondering how best to showcase the whole album.  I currently have the whole project split into four albums on Facebook, mostly because there was a limit of 200 pictures in an album.  I think it's still the case, but even if it wasn't, the thought of wading through all 365 photos in one album is still a little daunting.

The links to all four albums are here...

Here's one of my favourite shots from the first album, January thru March.  This one is my grandson, Callum at one of his soccer game taken on March 12th.
Click here for Part One - January thru March
Here's a shot that brings back so many memories of walks on the beach this summer with Zoe.  Here's one after a game on the beach taken on June 6th.
Click here for Part Two - April thru June
Here's one of my favourite shots taken at Gary Point in Steveston.  It just shows you what the iPhone can do!  And there's quite the story behind this one... a crippling back injury for one!  Taken July 2nd.
Click here for Part Three - July thru Septembe
And this picture was taken after I decided I needed to be a little more adventurous and I went from my iPhone to a more sophisticated camera, the Nikon D60.  It was hard to choose... but this is my favourite so far taken October 6th.
Click here for Part Four - October thru December
So... the time is almost here when I need to figure out the best way to preserve this whole project as one entity.  I'm tempted to put the whole thing in an Apple iPhoto Book, they really are terrific publications and it would make an awesome coffee table book.  But am I only going to print one?  Who else would be interested?

And if they are interested... how should I produce it?   As I said, I started this thing as a pictorial diary. The plan was to have collection of photographs, only of interest to me... but a very a unique way of recording a year of my life.

I've been playing around with iWeb, thinking that might be my answer.  But I'm leery about spending too much time on it.  Perhaps I should just put up in a separate Wordpress blog....hmmmmm.... still usure.  Does anyone have any suggestions?

Any input would be REALLY appreciated!!

Thank you so MUCH!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rainy day stuff...

It's raining... a steady July downpour.  And it doesn't look like it's going to stop.  

As I lay in bed this morning I was thinking it was the perfect day to just carry on lying there reading my book.  It's a particularly good book, the new Jodi Picoult, "House Rules".

I love her style; especially the way she uses her trade mark technique of controversy and multiple perspectives to get the story across. She has an astonishing gift of being able to get right the heart of her characters, giving them such different voices and making them come alive. I thoroughly enjoying it and was really hoping to finish it this morning...

But my Zoe had other ideas.  She sat there staring at me; staring and grunting until I took notice and got up.  It really is most disconcerting and makes me feel incredibly guilty.  She wanted a walk.

We returned an hour later... drenched.  Wet through to the skin.  I had rivulets of water are running down my back and between my breasts.  But, you know what?  It was so worth going; it was so fresh and exhilarating   Rain in July is very different to rain in November.  And I also took my new picture of the day for my Project 365 (I'm on the third album now, July thru September).  And I'm thrilled with it. It shows quite clearly that there is still beauty to be seen, even on the most miserable day. 

It's still fairly early as I write this.  I have promised myself that I WILL do something around this place today... eventually.  A little cleaning perhaps, the fridge is actually scaring me right now.  

However, I was able to divert my attention enough from the household tasks to take part in some pleasurable procrastination.  This diversion usually involves some kind of word game like Words With Friends or Lexulous, perhaps a little Facebooking, listening to music.  This morning I got completely lost on YouTube.  I wanted to listen to some more Norah Jones after hearing her sing "Turn Me On" in a movie last night.  This one is so sexy and sultry.  I just love it!  

Then I started looking at some of the IMDb profiles in that film, "Love Actually"  I have a lot of favourite movies, but this one has to be up there.  It's a splendid story about all kinds of love, with a terrific soundtrack.  And it also has a stellar cast: Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Thomas Sangster, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Laura Linney, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, and even Rowan Atkinson puts in an appearance.

I was particularly impressed with young Thomas Brodie Sangster (a little trivia here... he's actually a cousin of Hugh Grant! Cool!)  I remember seeing him in Nanny McPhee and I loved him in "Tristan + Isolde".  But he also recently played the young Paul McCartney in "Nowhere Boy".  He was very good, and in my YouTube travels this morning I found this super interview of him about his role in that film.  This kid is definitely one to watch!  

I guess I'd better get on with some work... there are things lurking in the back of my refrigerator calling my name.

I came back here to post a video...  I've never done it before, so I hope it works.  

We had a break from the rain this afternoon, so Jim and I made the most of it and took Zoe for another walk at Diefenbaker Park.  They say that the arrival of swallows at least could be taken as a sign that summer has started and that warm weather is here to stay.  However, the proverb "one swallow doesn't make a summer" definitely comes to mind today.  It's a caution against getting one's hopes up too early... just because initial signs may look encouraging... one swallow doesn't guarantee that there's not another cold snap on the way.  But what about 24?


Sunday, May 8, 2011

To one of the most amazing Mums in the world...

This morning I thought it was time to do another blog.  I had one in mind... I was planning to honour my Mum on Mother's Day.

But the feelings I felt today changed my mind completely.  This blog is dedicated to one of the most wonderful Mums out there... my daughter, Karen.

I have watched this beautiful girl grow and blossom into the most amazing woman.  Karen never ceases to amaze me with her many talents.  And believe me, I should know.  I work with her every day so I see first hand exactly what she manages to accomplish on a daily basis.  She just blows me away sometimes.

When her boys came along ten years ago and the challenges they brought to her life, I've been constantly  impressed by her strength and capacity for love.  She is truly awe inspiring.  

I could go on talking about her accomplishments, which as I said are many, but I won't... I just know that my grandsons, Connor and Callum, will have some pretty fantastic memories to look back on when they are men.  And I sincerely hope they appreciate all she does for them.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

a touch of narcissism?

After completing the first album in my Project 365... January thru March I posed a question.  If anyone had a favourite photo so far, I'd love to know which one and why.  Then a friend asked me why I needed to know... and it made me ponder the reasons.

This pictorial diary will definitely allow me to look at 2011 in incredible detail.  It's going to be a lot of fun looking back over this year in a very unique way. 

But I have to admit there has to be an element of what you might call ego stroking.  Isn't that what a lot of this social media thing is all about?  Sure, it's about connecting with people.  It's people watching to the utmost degree, which is always fascinating.  But aren't most blogs, unless they're purely factual, somewhat narcissistic?  Look what I'm doing... see how I think... aren't I interesting/funny/different?  

It's true, I love to ponder things in a very public way. It's wonderful getting other peoples' opinions on stuff.  I've always found it helps to get my thoughts in order when I write things down, even before the internet existed.  I used to do it when I wrote letters to Mum.  Admittedly, the response was never as immediate, but of course now Mum's no longer around anyway.  I used to email my brother too... he's always been a great source for the truth.  But Mike's so incredibly busy these days, he hardly has time to answer.  So, is all this social media I take part in, and this blog, a sort of substitute?  

With all this said, it's hard to believe that 92 days have passed since I decided to start this project.  It has been a very interesting ride so far.  I've found the most difficult thing has been keeping each photograph fresh and different.  I've had the occasional fail when I've realized late in the day that I hadn't yet posted a picture, but I've nearly always been able to come up with something!  Like the one I took in my bathtub... it's neat seeing which pictures get the most comments too.  

I'm going ahead and choosing three of my particular favourites and posting them here just for the heck of it.  Each one is chosen for completely different reasons... 

About halfway through this first album I realized I would have to start looking at the world a little differently to keep things fresh.  I think Photo #43 was the first one that succeeded on that level. It was a particularly grey day; it seemed like it had been raining for weeks, but training myself to see the world with different eyes made me look up... and I got this one.  For some reason I love it! 

Photo #45
Photo #85 is one of Zoe, chosen for the cuteness factor:
Photo #85
And last but certainly not least, Photo #18 just for being different...
Photo #18
And now I've started Project 365 - April thru June 2011 and from what I've posted so far, this is my favourite... just cos it's so damn pretty.
Photo #92