Sunday, June 29, 2008

The lecture circuit! ;)

Tuesday morning found us up and at 'em again...Gloria met us down in the lobby at *ack* 7:30. She came bearing coffee, though, so that helped ease the transition into my day. We took the rental car since we were checking out and wouldn't be back the rest of the day, and Evelyn and Norm followed us in their car.
Advanced Bionics has a very special "lecture circuit" called the Connect to Patients Series. Cochlear implant recipients are invited to come in and share their stories with the employees. This gives the employees a chance to see what valuable work they're doing. From my perspective it was tremendously exciting because it gave me a chance to say THANK YOU. What these people are building goes far beyond being just a product. I have many important products in my home...running the gamut from microwave to laptop to television to washing machine...but this one, the product in my head, is irreplaceable. It has not only given me back hearing but it has restored confidence and given me a new outlook on my life. This isn't just a product, and the work these people do is hardly is life-changing. What the speaker series does is gives us a chance to show HOW important the work is that these people are doing...hopefully this sends them back to their jobs inspired and encouraged. We were asked to speak at 9 and 10:15 at the production facility in Sylmar, and at 2 at the office buildings in Valencia.
Here we are in front of the gorgeous hibiscus plants at the production facility in
Sylmar: Evelyn, Gloria, and Jen :)
As we walked through the production facility, we ended up in an office for some reason (I can't even remember why) and a flash of pink caught my eye. MELODY!!!!!! We were some of the lucky first people to see Miss Melody in any version other than cartoon. She and Buddy were miniaturized and just adorable!! Evelyn and I modeled with the two little ones. Melody made her first public debut at the AG Bell Conference in Milwaukee last weekend.
Evelyn, Buddy, Jen, and Melody
Our speeches went very well. Evelyn and I are two very different people, and that was reflected in our speeches. Evelyn is crisp, graceful, and polished, and I'm a bit of a cutup...a plain old laid-back country girl who doesn't do formal speeches...I do better if I just get up there and talk to my audience. We made a good team...complemented each other well. We had very attentive audiences...they were great listeners and several came up afterwards to talk for a few minutes. They really made us feel welcome and quite comfortable...I got into my groove about three minutes into the first speech and really enjoyed myself after that. It was so easy to tell how grateful I am and how much my implant has changed my life...I tell people about that all the time...that's second nature. We were asked to touch on our experiences with and share some of the friendships we'd made there...and that, again, was easy...the people that we've met there have become family, and we just wished they could have all been there with us!
After we did the two morning talks, we drove to Valencia to the offices at Mann Biomedical Park. Our escort, Jennifer, was waiting there for us with lunch. We sat and visited with her for a few minutes before heading down to our last speech. After the last one was over the photographer asked if we'd do an impromptu photo shoot outside, and so we did was so much fun!
Gloria, Jen, and Evelyn...before the last speech in Valencia :)
It was hard cutting the apron strings in Valencia...I said goodbye to Beth Anne and Evelyn and Norm there at AB, and then drove Gloria back to her hotel before saying goodbye to her. I felt like I had known these people for a very long time, and were so comfortable and at ease with them that it was really hard to leave. Factor in that I was leaving my comfortable world of being with other deaf and hard of hearing people for a week and heading back into the hearing was a little hard to make the transition. It was the hardest leaving sweet Evelyn because we live so far away that it will be hard for me to see her on anything even resembling a regular basis. She is in California and I'm in Tennessee...what a stretch! Thankfully...we are only ever an e-mail away...and she's going to try to make it to Nashville next year for the HLAA convention, so I have that to look forward to!
When I left there, I drove Oxnard, California, where I met my friend Debbie for dinner at the Olive Garden. I have known Debbie for...oh...five or six years, maybe. I met her on a web forum years ago and we have kept up with each other here and there over the years. She lives in Santa Barbara, and I really didn't have time to drive that far up north, so we met in the middle. She got on my good side immediately by bringing a box of See's favorites, butterscotch squares! Those are a rare treat...See's is only available on the west coast, and shipping's pretty expensive, so I rarely get enough to hurt me. Debbie and I hit it off right away, despite the fact that I made her wait over half an hour...I took a wrong turn (!?!???!!!) and got on the entirely wrong freeway and it took me much longer to get there than it should have (I'm prone to that, and have seen many a "scenic route" that way). We sat and ate and visited for about two hours and then we said our goodbyes and I headed for my hotel.
Debbie and Jennifer, Olive Garden, Oxnard, CA
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I had told several people that this was a big trip for me...a trip of many firsts. It was the first time flying with a CI, the first time flying alone, the first time renting a car. I have traveled alone before, but Los Angeles was probably the biggest city that I've driven in alone. I found my hotel, returned my car, and navigated my way through LAX...alone. I know people do it every day, but this was all new to me...and what a great confidence builder when I navigated my way through downtown LA and found the Gateway Sheraton myself! My aunt Sonia had treated me to a night's stay was a huge treat to be right there at the airport in such a gorgeous hotel on the last night of my trip. I got to bed fairly early and totally crashed. I honestly don't remember anything between hitting the sheets and waking up the next morning...I was out like a light!
In the last treat before heading home. I had posted on Facebook that I was in California and Kauan Tyler's mommy Iz asked if she could meet me for coffee before my flight home. I accepted excitedly, and she, Kauan, and Mel met me in the lobby of the Sheraton at around 10 Wednesday morning. I was surprised and honored and grateful that her husband Carlos had taken the morning off work to come along and be our escort so that he could help her with the kids. I really wanted to meet them...I have followed their stories on Iz' blog...this way Iz, Mel, adorable baby Olivia and I forged a fast frienship over coffee and tiramisu at the Urth Caffe in Santa Monica while Carlos took Kauan for a walk. They are a delightful family...and they are moving east, so I'm hopeful that I'll get to see them again sooner rather than later!!
I was tickled that Kauan let me hold him. He is all boy....VERY active...and I had to enjoy my cuddles quick because he was ready to be off and running again.
Kauan, Jen, Iz, and Mel
Kauan and his mommy
Jen and Iz...she stood on the curb for this picture...and she is taller than I am here!
We had to rush through our goodbyes in the parking lot of the Sheraton because I had them drop me off at the valet pickup area so I could get my car and the valet told them to keep moving :(. I was just so glad that I got the chance to meet them...what a precious family!
I returned the rental car with no incident (a very tiny scenic detour, but what else is new?) then took the shuttle to the airport. I was a little nervous about navigating LAX but quite frankly the Southwest hub of it was really easy to get through. I did set off the security alarm at the airport...because I forgot to take my BlackBerry out of my back pocket....and I left my medical alert bracelet in the security scanner and the guy behind me in line had to catch me and send me back to pick it up. I found my gate with no problem, grabbed some lunch, sat down and worked some word finds and texted Abbie, Valerie, and Laurie while I waited. I actually knew someone who was on my flight back home...a doctor that I took a trip to Michigan with for an Amway convention several years ago (I've sold Amway...actually, I think I've sold everything, ha!). I ended up sitting next to the sweetest young couple who was on their way back from a missions trip in New Zealand, I think it was. They had never heard of cochlear implants and you know me...I was all too happy to educate them, and they told me a bit about their trip :). They made the flight back relaxing and about as much fun as it could be for as loooooooong as it was!
My flight got in at 9:30 that night...and after driving to Sonic to grab something to eat (I was starving) I got home around 11:00. Most of the kids were asleep, but I got kisses from the ones that were awake and then I stayed awake until around 1 telling my husband about the trip until he couldn't stay awake anymore.
It was an amazing trip in so many ways...I got to meet so many people, share so many experiences, and make so many memories...a trip to remember always!
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