Saturday, September 17, 2016

Can you hear ME now? [letter 110]

Oh my dear,
   I have just heard the most amazing stories on TED Radio Hour. Sorry I do not recall precise theme but it had to do with finding oneself, in a manner of speaking - or maybe a manner of listening. [Looking online, I found the show bore headline "Extrasensory.] First story was of a man whose life really is black, white, and shades of gray. He is an artist who does not see color; rather, he hears it. Yes, I said hears it. Colors have frequencies which can be rendered tonally; he has been fitted with an implant which allows him to hear color. He shared with audience that before he experienced color, he used to dress drably so at least his clothes would not clash. Now, he dresses to sound nice. He spoke of *listening* to faces and said some who look nothing alike can sort of "sound" similar. I recall he said Prince Charles (of England) and some woman - name that comes to mind is Kate Winslett [you get the idea] - had tonal similarities. Fitted with his appliance, he considers himself a cyborg.
   Third narrator told of people's inability to listen. Probably everyone knows the feeling of being ignored or, at very least, to talk to someone whose attention is otherwise engaged. We've all done it: had radio or television playing while on the phone; listening to Siri's reply when child, parent, co-worker is asking question; whatever. We are so inundated by noise, we sometimes believe we need it. While prolonged periods of total silence may drive one to brink of madness, a constant barrage of auditory is also detrimental. Speaker encouraged people to spend three minutes each day in silence or, if total silence was not attainable, quiet. One's spirit needs to find restful quiet from time to time and being alone with one's thoughts can be restorative.
  As you have noticed, a segment is out of order. Story two dealt with synthetic voices. There are many reasons a person may be unable to speak: disease, injury, absence of tissue are a few. Speech scientist Rupal Patel spoke of being at a conference at which several people spoke using mechanical devices and they all sounded alike. Patel was determined to give individuals personalized voices. She envisions people all over the world lending their voices to help others speak. Many individuals who cannot produce words can still vocalize sounds. Combining an individual's timbre with sound combinations produces a unique voice. People can record scripted phrases - process takes three to four hours - which are then fitted with sounds made by recipient. Patel's six year old daughter says of the process, "It's like mixing colors to paint voices." [To learn more about *donating* your voice, go to] One thirteen-year-old who now has a fitting voice is Shannon Ward. She says, "Everyone deserves to be heard." Hear, hear.

Love always,
Jo Ann

Thursday, September 15, 2016

I'll have the soup, please [letter 109]

Hey dearie,
   Seems I have become a regular chatty Cathy, this being third time I've written in less than a week - but there are things to tell you. As mentioned in Monday's letter, this week's highlights included a field trip to Chelsea, Michigan; and lunch with former classmates.
   Wednesday morning, a group gathered at Tecumseh Senior Center, for our trip to Jiffy Mix factory. Director asked one lady her name - I suppose to check it off a roster. Giving response, there seemed a bit of hesitation. I thought levity might dispel tension, so asked, "Are you in witness protection and don't want anyone to trace your whereabouts?" Must have put her at ease, because she chuckled timidly.
   The outing was interesting, a lot of fun, and our group followed up with lunch at Chelsea Grill. So many choices, but I adopted a *When in Rome* attitude and decided on Chelsea Burger. Soup of the day was tomato-basil, so sprang for an extra $2.50; well worth it! Made fresh that morning, it had plenty of basil and was thick with cheese. Two other people at our table and one of them was disappointed that crackers were not served. We were brought baskets of bread and butter, which suited me just fine.
   Server came to take our drink order; met the eyes of fellow at opposite end of table and we simultaneously mouthed, "Beer!" My choice, a stout dark beverage called Keewanau Widow-Maker: one sip and I decided that guy never stood a chance. Kind of would have liked a square of dark chocolate to go with dark beer, but none was to be had. Savory food, good beer, and excellent service will bring me back. Half burger not consumed on site came home in a box.
   Thursday morning, texted a friend unable to make our luncheon, promising to extend regards to rest of group. Arrived same time as another woman, so we walked in together. Looking around, we did not immediately spot our party, but a hostess asked if we were meeting someone. Across the room, in a corner seeming all the darker due to sunlight coming from nearby window, were two others. We greeted each other with hugs and laughter. My laughter is one of my most distinguishing features and it carries. Uncharitable persons might call it raucous; I prefer to say it is musical.
   Jennifer, our server, came over and asked, "Can I get you started with drinks?" An innocent enough question and most pertinent, it elicited another trill of laughter. After discerning iced tea was brewed and not from powdered mix, that was my choice. Three of us opted for a selection featuring tomato-basil soup.
   Two hours and a round of refills later, Jennifer cleared plates and asked if we were having dessert. I was only one who was even thinking about it and was going to decline, since no one else seemed likely to indulge. We hit on brilliant decision to split something four ways. Passing around dessert menu, all agreed any option was acceptable but since it was my idea, final choice was mine - with caveat that were they dissatisfied, I would not be allowed to choose for group in future. I passed the test.
   We set a date and location for next outing and made our separate ways, with another round of hugs. We are so fortunate to be able to be demonstrative in our affection, without fear of ridicule or taunts from peers. Touch is vital to health and well-being, yet is missing from so many lives: death and divorce are contributing factors to that alone-ness. Anyway, life goes on and from my point of view it's pretty darn good - with or without the soup. Or even the beer.

'Til next time,
Jo Ann

Monday, September 12, 2016

Bugs 'n' stuff [letter 108]

Hello my friend,
   Forget manic Mondays, purple hazes, tangled webs, and whatever else may be obstructing your pursuit of happiness. If your surroundings are drab and dreary, I invite you to share my cloudless sky and warm *end of summer* day. This morning brought a hint of autumnal chill, necessitating long sleeves.
   I breakfasted on gelatin with fruit, left over from Saturday potluck, then worked on a few more illustrated postcards. Went to Tecumseh Senior Center for cardio drumming, where we had a dozen people - our biggest class yet. Prior to our meal, May asked what I was going to do with my birds [illustrated postcards]: told her I would let them fly away. Not sure what reply she expected but she seemed kind of surprised. Lunch was pork, barbecue beans, plums, and strawberry shortcake. Stayed for bingo, at which I won a package of paper plates and the cover-all round, which netted me a ticket for a free lunch.
   Came back to apartment to brush teeth before trip to dentist, and wrote out a check to register for a winery tour next month. Out the door again. Getting into car, noticed a spider on window and wondered if it would be able to hang on for the two miles to dentist. That's what inspired thoughts of being in relocation biz for bugs in witness protection programs. Obviously, nitrous oxide is not required for me to get silly. I envisioned that last scene in (I believe) the second Men in Black movie, with a door on our world opening into a vastness in which we are only a minuscule part. We really need to get over ourselves: we're not all that. I mean, yeah, we sort of are, but in so many ways, we also are not. It's complicated.
   Returning home once more, I checked mail and was pleased to find four letters. Answering them should keep me out of mischief. Before I forget, must tell you went with a neighbor Sunday evening and saw "Florence Foster Jenkins" a charming film with Meryl Streep in title role. I recommend it. Next few days are busy: Tuesday is our potluck/picnic here at Orchard Terrace; Wednesday, will go to Chelsea, Michigan with approximately two dozen participants from Tecumseh and Blissfield centers, to tour Jiffy Mix plant; Thursday, having lunch in Adrian with a few former classmates. Maybe Friday, can get laundry done; it will have to be soon - running out of clean socks and underwear.
   Well, that's probably more than you wanted to know, so guess I'll leave you alone and go bug the folks on Facebook.

'Til next time,

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Are you there? [letter 107]

Ah Dearheart,
   It is so comforting to know you are always there; that this missive will not come back to me unopened. There are several people listed in my address book, whose listings may not be accurate. Recipients may have moved, or even died - yet unless a letter is returned to my mailbox with a little yellow sticker affixed, I might never know.
   Do not think I regret "wasting" a stamp: it is not that at all. It's just kind of sad. You know? Empty. It is akin to blowing dandelion fluff: Where did it go? What happened to it? Did someone else see it and experience a moment of magic?
   While I lay in bed this morning, awake but not yet ready to rise, I thought of the form this missive would take, what words would be used. As you know, words are my *thing.* I savor their taste in my mouth, their sound in my ear, the patterns they form in my mind. How would I describe the poignancy of a returned letter? Should it be likened to a prayer, whispered on a breeze? Can a prayer be wasted? Sent out in love, in good faith, and is now another ethereal part of the cosmos. Then, somehow, my mind took a leap to Romance languages. Maybe because there was a thought of a letter going out in the way a kiss is blown, though of course "Romance" used in reference to a language goes to Rome and just means Latin based. Of course, should you be interested in etymology, you are well aware of resources to lead you in that direction. Pedantry, apparently, is unbecoming.
   My melancholy mood is likely tied to overcast firmament, visible from my living room window. There has been some precipitation but just enough to leave damp pavement, not standing puddles. Later today, a few of us will gather to share a meal, ostensibly in celebration of a birthday, but any excuse will do.
   Well, here it is, nearly noon, and I have yet to leave my apartment, though the door is at least unlocked. Good thing: neighbor just called and is coming over. Excitement. Got leftovers in a cast iron skillet, on a low burner; should be ready by time this is signed and sent.
   Very well, dear, I send you a kiss, a prayer, a kind thought.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Turn the page [letter 106]

Good morning my dear,
   Today is First of September, which for United States means heading into Labor Day Weekend. Labor Day is a celebration of American workers and is observed on first Monday of September. In some states, school year does not begin until after Labor Day. That was system employed during my own youth and seems fitting, as it does not cut summer short. Must admit, am not sorry to have my years of getting kids ready for school behind me.
   Recent days have found me turning tangible pages as I update my address book, as well as emotional pages as I *let people go.* If/when people, things, circumstances, have become burdensome, one must enter a time of introspection and determine which path will lead to best outcome for most people. Mostly, I have not been too distressed with choices I've made in my life. Since going back is not an option - at least, not for those of us who have not mastered the nuances of time travel - it is in one's best interest to make the best of going forward.
   In conjunction with address book update, have started keeping track of to whom my postcards and letters go on a monthly basis. I have for some months been meaning to track recipients, and it was just time to move forward. When talking to one of my siblings about this, told her my intent was to make sure all my contacts got at least one letter a year. It doesn't really sound like much, but now that most mail received by general populace seems to be advertising circulars and bills, a real letter, from an interested human being, is something to treasure.
   Sometimes I send postcards, which I tend to think of as long-distance smiles. I enjoy what I do and have been affirmed, both vocally and *on paper,* of its value. I have a dresser drawer full of old correspondence and a tote bag of current correspondence. From time to time, I reread these missives, reliving old times. It is for this aspect, I often refer to letters as time-travel devices. One day, while writing letters and listening to NPR (National Public Radio), I heard a woman state something similar. She spoke of letters received from her dad while she was in school. At that time, she just sort of skimmed them and told herself she would *get to them later.* "Later" turned out to be after she was out of school and her dad had died. But thankfully she has those letters, and she treasures being able to touch the pages her father touched. It is a sentiment known well to me, felt as I read cards and letters, written by Mom; maternal grandfather; friends from theater days.
   Some have told me, "I can't write a letter like you." Style is individual and letters are precious just because they are written by one person and sent to another. That, to me, is the bottom line: reaching out and letting someone else know you care and that you are willing to *put your money where your mouth is.*
   Last night I spent about five hours with friends; we laughed, talked, ate, drank, played cards. I love these women and in the last two years, we have built a bond. Subject of our upcoming community potluck picnic arose. R said, "We know what you're bringing; office manager told us you'd signed up to bring pickles and olives. We know you don't cook." See, they know me and accept me. Friends do that. This friend writes letters, so don't be too surprised if one shows up in a mailbox near you.

Hugs and kisses,
Jo Ann

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Open letter to a telemarketer

Dear human,
   Telemarketer lives matter, and Jesus, or Esteemed Revered Personage of  your chosen belief system (L. Ron Hubbard?) loves you. Bet that's not what you expected. Perhaps you did not receive enough positive reinforcement as a child. Maybe that's why you now do what you do. Or are you just desperate? There is always the chance, of course, that you are simply a sociopath, but I shall choose the high road and not go there.
   Last night you called at an inopportune time; maybe in your line of work, there is no such thing. I suppose *opportunity* is more on side of caller, rather than callee. On this occasion, I was dealing with the incapacity of another individual, and knew neither the duration, nor severity of the malady, nor what ensuing complications might be. Fortunately, I have ability to remain calm in times of crisis, so merely informed you neither Mister nor Missus were available. Why tie up the line berating you, when someone who could update me on condition of Head of Household might at that very moment be trying to get through? Besides, berating is not my MO - I much prefer to *kill with kindness.* (It's ever so much tidier.)
   I am aware telemarketing is a global industry and persons trying to 'make a go of it' actually go to school to learn persistence, innocuous manipulation and intimidation, even what accent might facilitate success. I am casting neither blame, nor aspersions - I just want to see you in a genuinely satisfactory line of work. The individuals you call should be clients, not "marks" and you should be selling something of durable value.  Do you understand? At the end of your career, you should leave a legacy, not merely a bank account. Is this something you would teach your offspring, have them continue the family business? I guess the payoff is real enough, because obviously you're still doing it. It just strikes me as somehow, what shall I say, slimy? No, you aren't holding your victim at gunpoint or otherwise coercing an individual, but please explain yourself. I am truly interested - because a problem cannot be solved until it is first understood. And *Houston,* we definitely have a problem.
   Oh, not me so much. You see, I am that fortunate individual who comprehends the meaning of "enough:" I have what I need and am content to live within my means. Not everyone is that lucky. Often it seems greed is considered a virtue and those who don't grasp for *more* are pitied and seen as somehow deficient. But, I can live with myself and genuinely like the person who looks back from my bathroom mirror. Everybody deserves that.
   Will an actual telemarketer ever read this? If so, will said individual be moved to question the situation? Remedy it? Who knows? Meanwhile, if you have read it, I hope you are left with a smile.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Basta et bueno [letter 105]

Dear friend,
    I have just - well, in last few hours - come from lunch with a couple former schoolmates. During our meal, we talked about what has been going on in our individual lives and laughed at little age-related things we experience. I told them I would be sending a blog letter about yesterday and today. A couple months ago, I sent an illustrated letter to one of the guys from our class. A week or so later, his wife told me how much he had enjoyed it. One of my foreign correspondents wrote saying these cyber missives fill in spaces left in time between paper letters.
   You may wish to settle in with a beverage while I tell you about my gourmand experiences. Thursday, went with a bus group to Northville, Michigan. We had a guided tour around some of the historic neighborhoods, but the main attraction was a meal and show at Genitti's Hole In-the-Wall. The play was an interactive cast-written piece of slapstick, titled Murder on the 13th Floor, which had people laughing the whole time. The headliner though, was the food, and was definitely *worth writing home about.*
    We were served a seven course meal: each course brought to our tables "family style." First, a pot of Italian Wedding soup was set at table end, along with bowls and a basket of bread. Martha, a member of our party, elected to serve, passing each bowl down the table as it was filled. We had been told the soup was 'chicken based,' which apparently meant the chicken didn't really have anything to do with the soup itself but had been in proximity during preparation. Most notable feature of this dish was presence of little white beads of [maybe] pasta. A tasty concoction and I was tempted to have another bowl but opted to pace myself, since there were six more courses to come.
   Next came salad course: iceberg lettuce, pickled banana pepper rings, cucumber and tomato, slices of black olives, pieces of salami, all served with Italian dressing. Third course: pasta alfredo; tubular pasta with a thick creamy alfredo sauce. This was followed closely by Italian sausage cooked with chunks of onion and slice of sweet bell pepper. A platter arrived, bearing fifth course - golden crusted chicken accompanied by sauteed slices of zucchini. Sixth course was the only one I found disappointing; a thin slice of Italian pork steak, served with roasted potatoes - but hey, one out of seven isn't bad. Finally, dessert: cannoli, providing a satisfying taste of sweetness.
   Today, had lunch at Mario's; a Mexican restaurant on Beecher Street in Adrian, Michigan. Two of our friends couldn't make it; we missed them but had a good time nevertheless. We meet monthly and always have fun. I told my companions I had a title chosen and would be blogging after I got home. "Basta" is Italian for "enough," and "bueno" is Spanish for "good." After paying our tabs and hugging each other, we went our separate ways; I had a bit of grocery shopping which needed to be done.
   Arriving at apartment complex, drove around back to unload car. Good thing I had not planned on using a cart, since neither was available. Perishables and *important stuff,* i.e., cheese and beer, are in the fridge; rest can wait.
   Tomorrow is Third Saturday, so will be meeting with other Tecumseh alumni at a local eatery. Food is an integral part of most social events, at least in my world, and the company is every bit as important as the food - in some cases, more so. Guess I have taken enough of your time. Write when you can.

Abbracci y besos, [hugs (Italian) and kisses (Spanish)]
Jo Ann