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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Glamor Or No Glamor

By Silvia Uribe

I love Oscar night! At home, my family and I get ready for the event every year. We buy selected ingredients to make fine and delicious "hors d'oeuvres" such as smoked oysters mousse with a hint of jalapeno, dried plums filled with toasted almonds, and covered with bacon, and other delicacies prepared by yours truly. Two or three different types of cheese, grapes, crackers, and wine, soda or water -depending on the taker's age and taste- complete the picture -no pun intended.

The attendees are three different generations of women - my mother, my two adult daughters, and myself. My husband plays the role of a ghost guest. He sneaks in and out of the room with two purposes: to enjoy the food and to be amused by our comments and actions.

Our experience each year is a standing occasion to be silly together for a few hours. We eat. We change seats (depending on how close we want to be to the food). We imitate actors and actresses' speeches, movements or posing styles, and we laugh until we cry. We've considered having guests, but we refrain ourselves for fear of social ridicule.

The Oscar night is the only night that we allow ourselves to be critical of other congeners regarding the way they look, and how they dress. We judge their hairdo shoes, rings, earrings, and necklaces. The make up is crucial for my youngest daughter. She tells us about the techniques that "so and so" used to enhance her eyes, or to disguise her imperceptible double chin, or to emphasize her cheek bones. My mother has an expert eye for walking styles and mannerisms. My oldest argues about dresses as if she was a "haute-couture" designer, and my thing is the person's image as a whole, and how comfortable he or she seems to be in their own body.

With so many experts in so many fields, there still are lots of things to discuss as a group. The show, namely the stage, the lighting, the dances, the songs, the presenters, and how funny or or creative (or not) they are. Who did better, or worse and why? What was moving, unexpected, and what made us reflect a little deeper? Oh, and let's not forget about the political statements during the speeches. Gay Marriage took precedence this year!

We are used to seeing lots of glamour from beginning to end. But this year, was different. Glamour in the production of the Oscar night was drastically scaled down. So, our conversation focused a lot on that. We observed that the location seemed to be way smaller. There was no big stage, or a big production with moving panels, nor changes of colors and appearance. Actors were almost seated on each other's lap. I actually liked the fact that the public was almost surrounding the stage, giving an impression of a more intimate event.

Some of us didn't think much about it, but others were unhappy. An argument started. The group was divided. My youngest and I accepted the fact that these are hard times for most people. Having the Oscars going overboard, would have been inappropriate. Furthermore, we thought that it might be a good idea to be more modest, not only for the time being, but from now on.

Our counterparts couldn't disagree more. They thought that in difficult times, when people go to a show or watch it on TV, they don't want to be reminded of their own hardships. They want to be taken away from their own hard reality to feel good with the notion that some things remain status quo.

Ones with this viewpoint had only harsh things to say about the stage that resembled an old brick building in the background. It was rather dark and depressing. The changes on the front were no better, they thought. Everything seemed so cheap? "We all deserve better from an industry that makes so much money thanks to us, the public", they concluded.

There was one thing in which we found common ground. We all thought that the personal messages that the Oscar winners gave to the Oscar nominees were a nice addition to an otherwise quite superficial event.

What do you think?

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

Monday, February 16, 2009

Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic

A Great Way to Volunteer

By Silvia Uribe

Would you like to help others, but you haven't found the way to do it? If that's the case, you're not alone. Not too long ago I was carefully looking- since I don't have a lot of free time to give - for an organization that would return the biggest "bang for my buck," so to speak. I didn't have to go too far. Right here in Goleta, I found Reading for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D), a vibrant organization that served almost 1,000 students of all ages last year, and is aiming to serve many more.

A few days ago, I called Tim Owens, executive director of RFB&D, and asked him for an interview. He was fast with his response and immediately gave me a phone interview later that same day. Not only that, he said he would have the education and outreach coordinator, Kristin Reed, join us! What else could I ask for? Although I was already familiar with the organization, they really gave me RFB&D's history and perspective.

Silvia Uribe

Kristin Reed and Tim Owens of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic

Recording for the Blind (their original name), was started in 1948 by Ann T. MacDonald, a member of the New York Public Library's Women's Auxiliary who wanted to help blind soldiers returning from World War II gain access to college through their GI Bill benefits. MacDonald and other Library Auxiliary members began reading college textbooks for these GIs. The demand was so great that the library's attic was converted into a recording studio, and Recording for the Blind was born. In the early 1990s, the name was expanded to Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic to accommodate the needs of students with learning and physical disabilities. Today, 75 percent of all students served have dyslexia. I didn't know that dyslexia affects 14-17 percent of the general population.

RFB&D's Santa Barbara Chapter has 200 volunteers every week, who contribute more than 14,000 hours in that same period of time, yielding over 185 textbook recordings annually. The organization serves almost 1,000 students - both individually and through schools - with the "Learning Through Listening" program. Their headquarters, in Princeton, New Jersey, has a lending library of more than 47,000 books, and nationally, RFB&D serves 238,000 students.

By Courtesy Photo

Last year, my daughter and I were included in those 200 volunteers. For a couple of hours every Tuesday, in the late afternoon, we would get to the office, look for a book that we wanted to read, and Ron, a very dedicated evening staff member, would get us in a booth, and set the computer for us to start recording. If you have a specific profession or expertise in any particular field, they will suggest you do those readings. However, it is entirely up to you which book you'll read.

You can choose to do the recording on your own, or to have someone else monitor your reading and handle the computer. My daughter and I chose to do it together. One week I would read while she monitored me, and the next week I would monitor her. Our experience was not only rewarding, but it was also a great "bonding and fun experience" as she explains it.

Volunteers at RFB&D, Owens and Reed tell me, come from all walks of life. Doctors, attorneys, writers, accountants, office assistants, students, full-time mothers, celebrities, and grandparents all have a place at RFB&D. There is no doubt that you'll find a book that will spark your interest. Personally, I didn't expect to find such a variety of topics, particularly for text books, which is one of RFB&D's distinguishing factors.

By Courtesy Photo

Volunteer, recording.

The best part about volunteering for this organization is knowing that RFB&D's audio textbooks significantly improve reading rates, reading accuracy, and comprehension, as demonstrated by studies from Johns Hopkins and Rutgers universities. As a result, students' confidence and self-esteem grow and their academic performance improves. Their chances for a successful education and future life are enhanced dramatically. "There are many students at risk of dropping out of school, getting into drugs, or into trouble with the law, and even of committing suicide due to their disabilities," said Owens. "We help change that."

If you want a little taste of the experience I have had, here's good news. RFB&D hosts an annual Record-a-Thon and this year it will be April 20 25. Last year, almost 300 guest readers participated, donating one hour of their time. For more information contact:

Recording For the Blind & Dyslexic

Santa Barbara Unit
(805) 681-0531

As a volunteer for RFB&D, you, yes you, can change lives for the better!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Don't Lose Your Smile

By Silvia Uribe

We know that a positive attitude is of the essence in times of despair, but how can we achieve this when we have everything against us, or at least, when it seems that way? When circumstances are pulling us down, and everything that can go wrong does, we feel as if we're in an exhausting, bloody boxing match, and we just want to throw in the towel. It's then when we have to remember that positivism is not a destination, but a path. It's one that should be traveled one day at a time. To successfully travel this path, only two tools are required: decision and action.

Living life with a positive outlook is a convenient principle by which to live. It leads us to success. Applied to any situation, it can make our lives less difficult and way more enjoyable. When problems arise, we can choose not to get preoccupied (decision), but to occupy our resources to counter the situation (action). Things will start to feel different, and they could actually end up being very different. The concept is rather simple. When we get busy, we are not powerless spectators, and receptors of what comes our way (as those who get preoccupied can be), but we start to generate situations and results that change the game more in our favor.

Let's take the present layoff threat as an example. If we get preoccupied and overwhelmed, we can create a bigger problem for ourselves. Our attention to detail at work may be reduced. Our low morale can affect our team. And, contrary to improving our chances to stay in our position, we might be making the situation worse and more immediate. Consider also that no one wants to be with a "loser", so our friends and acquaintances may disappear, making us feel even more isolated and depressed.

However, if we stay positive, we might be able to improve our circumstances and keep our job. Now, if worse comes to worse, we might, at the very least, gain some allies for our job-hunting endeavor.

Positivism is a strong shield for all battles. It can protect us from depression, from seeing the tree and not the forest, and from focusing on the problems as opposed to the solutions. It can also help us to see opportunities where others don't. Forget about asking, "why me and why now?" - Why not? After all, we are - excuse the cliché - but one more grain of sand on the beach.

When we get a "negativity syndrome attack" in which we see no possible solution to our problems, and our hearts and minds only beat to the sound of "this is the end", we should stop and collect ourselves. As bad as our situation may be, the reality is that nothing lasts forever. We should not get too used to the good times or suffer too much during the bad times. As the Jewish wisdom tells us, "This too shall pass." In Spanish we say "No hay mal que dure cien años." We will bounce back.

It's disheartening to hear about parents who, in profound negativity, take extreme measures and decide to kill their children and then kill themselves because of the financial distress. It just goes to show to what degree priorities and values have changed. Maybe we should turn back to a more humble way of living. Maybe we should be saving for the difficult times and not spending so much energy in "keeping up with the Jones."

Comfort and status should never take precedence over human life. This is only an example of how far negativity can take us if we allow it to grow inside our minds and permeate our souls. We are not immune. It only takes a little distraction on our part to slide into a free fall, if we don't pay attention and make a conscious decision to stay positive.

Don't loose your smile! Bad times are the best times to do some introspection and learn about our capability to overcome problems. They are times to find creative solutions for our families and for us.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Goleta Grapevine Visits the Coroner

Sheriff's Busiest Division Labors with Respect, Pride

By Silvia Uribe

Professionals deal with the effects of crime in people's lives on a daily basis. They are aware of the anguish and desolation people feel when a loved one is lost to a crime that makes no sense to them. Irresponsibility or ill intentions can put an end to a human life in a matter of seconds.

There is a group of professionals whose job is to tell us the story of how and why a person dies. Police and Sheriff's Department major crime detectives are in charge of discovering the circumstances in which a crime occurred and the details of what led to it, but it is the Coroner's Bureau that is in charge of finding out and informing us about the technical details.

I met with Sgt. Gregg H. Weitzman, head of the Criminal Investigations Division of the Coroner's Bureau, located in Goleta. The criminal investigations office is smaller than you might think. It includes a reception area, a private office, and a very cozy room for the family members who on occasion go there. To the right of that, on the other side of a wall, is the space where autopsies take place; it gains privacy by way of a sliding curtain. A door leads from this room into the cooling room, where bodies rest while at the Coroner's. In the back, in a separate building, is the detectives' office.

Weitzman is a very experienced law enforcement officer, who has served our community for 25 years in every capacity from patrol officer to helicoptor pilot to member of SWAT, Dive Team, and Major Crimes unit. He's done it all! Weitzman is passionate about his work and his answers were very direct as to what the Coroner's work entails.

"The Coroner is the busiest division in [the Sheriff's] Department," said Weitzman, without a trace of doubt. Besides himself, the division includes a pathologist, a secretary, and four detectives exclusively dedicated to its functions. "The number of deaths last year was 1,455. You have to understand that, when a medical death certificate is not available, all death cases in our county come to us, regardless of jurisdiction."

When detectives get to a possible crime scene, they collect all available evidence for the investigation that will follow, and then the Coroner is called. By law, no other entity can remove a dead body from the location it was found. The Coroner has quite a bit of authority granted to it by Civil Code 56.10. "For example, and among other things, we don't need a subpoena to obtain medical records," explained Weitzman.

Coroner's workroom.
Coroner's workroom.

The Coroner's staff has to study not only the obvious, but also what the naked eye cannot see. They perform microscopic and toxicology analyses, some of which are done "in house" while some are sent to other labs. DNA tests are done in the L.A area and it can take several months before the results are sent back to the forensic lab.

The average autopsy takes around three hours to perform, during which time the doctor is dictating his findings. When they are done studying the body, the Coroner's office gets in touch with the mortuary, which will take the deceased back for the funeral. Using the transcript of the previously dictated material, the Coroner's secretary then writes a report, which is reviewed by Sgt. Weitzman.

"We see here the worst of the worst cases, and the saddest. We deal with tragedies every day," said Sgt. Weitzman in a somber, respectful way. In his comments, he also showed pride in knowing that their work is crucial in making justice happen.

When asked about their interaction with families, he said, "We don't get to see many families here, mainly because we have the policy of not allowing viewings. Every now and then, however, a relative may come asking for a report from several years back, or to pick up some valuable property, which we usually return directly to the family."

When a person dies due to a crime and there is no family to be found, it becomes a "public administration" case. The Santa Barbara County administrative offices make every possible effort to find the next of kin, which may take up to a few months. During this time, the Coroner will keep the body sealed, in the cooling room, until the family-or the county, if family cannot be found-is ready for the burial.

I asked Sgt. Weitzman about the main thing that he has learned working in the Coroner's Division. He responded, "I've learned that life is fragile - our bodies are not invincible. With some slight excess of force, drugs, speed, or even an excess of trust, life can be over. We take living for granted, and life can be taken away rather quickly."

That's something to keep in mind.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the