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From Braille to Zoom, From a Birthday Toast to a Paw Note

January 27, 2021

From Braille to Zoom,

From a Birthday Toast to a Paw Note

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

What a week this one has been!  This WORDWALK post will feature events of yesterday, Monday, and Sunday–January 26, 25, and 24.  Mother Nature’s creating a snowscape with our biggest storm of this winter is only the backdrop–not the focused event of this blog post.

                Yesterday (January 26, 2021), on my favorite television program JEOPARDY, currently guest-hosted by Ken Jennings, Did you guess the answer correctly to the $400 clue under the category “Historical Survivors”?  The clue was:  “Blinded in an accident at the age of three, he became a church organist and got a scholarship to the National Institute for Blind Children in Paris where he went on to teach and develop the system of writing that’s named for him.”  What a wonderful idea to have this clue during National Braille Literacy Month!  The contestant Gabriela rang in and answered correctly in the form of a question.  If you have been reading my blog this month and/or if you have read the book I recommended earlier this month–LOUIS BRAILLE:  A TOUCH OF GENIUS, by C. Michael Mellor–I am certain you answered correctly.  “Who is Louis Braille?” 

                Through my decades of watching JEOPARDY, I have heard a number of clues about Louis Braille or with the answer of Louis Braille.  Although I realize the limitations of writing a brief clue to fit in the game’s space, I could do a little revising of this clue.  I believe that the scholarship came before Braille’s occupation as organist.  Certainly, the young Louis Braille developed the system named for him before he became a teacher at the school in Paris.  Finally, the code which Braille invented was not just a system of writing, but very importantly a system of both reading and writing.  Nevertheless, I do thank JEOPARDY for once again giving a nod to the genius of Louis Braille and the tactile alphabet which he invented.

                Since Louis Braille was so forward-looking, I think he would be delighted with today’s Zoom platform of communication.  While I do enjoy and learn from the numerous meetings which I attend via Zoom, I am especially grateful for Zoom’s giving my extended family a means to gather together more easily.  During this COVID Era, my extended family has had three reunions on Zoom.  With fifty-two participants, the Zoom Birthday Party on this past Sunday, January 24, 2021, was the most well-attended, most fun, and most memorable.  Happily, we celebrated the birthday of my aunt (of 84 years) and my cousin (of 82 years).  When you read the following toast which I prepared in advance to give at the party, you will realize how geographically spread apart my extended family is.  In the midst of all of the introductions and updates, three little ones from Arizona and two little ones from Michigan sang a delightful version of “Happy Birthday.”  While my sister handled the hosting duties, a cousin from Oregon was in charge of a fun family trivia game before her son played a piano selection, especially chosen for his grandmother–one of the birthday ladies.  After I offered the toast, an Indiana cousin led all in the birthday song.  As soon as candles were blown out, everyone had time to eat cupcakes or birthday cake and visit.  You would have recognized the January birthday ladies because they were wearing tiaras!

* * *

Toast at Zoom Birthday Party on January 24, 2021

                From Klondyke to Colorado and to the Kalamazoo area, from Blanford to Burnsville, from Florida to the Philadelphia area and Ohio, from Terre Haute (the “Crossroads of America”) and all our other hometowns in Indiana and Illinois to our relatives in the far western states (Oregon, California, Utah, and Arizona), from Mexico City to Milwaukee–please join me in raising your glass with gladness, gratitude, and good cheer to toast these special January birthday ladies–Carla and Aunt Kathy. 

In the light of these birthday candles, may you, Aunt Kathy and Carla, continue to glow with smiles of happiness, grace and beauty, good health and good cheer.  May the warmth of love you feel on this special day be with you throughout the coming winter months and always!  May you both cherish treasured memories as you look toward many, many bright tomorrows.  May your blowing-out-the-candles wishes come true and bring joy to you!  With our love, admiration, appreciation, and happy hearts, we wish each of you, Aunt Kathy and Carla, a delightful birthday and a wonderful year!  Happy trails!  Everyone, please join me in repeating a hearty and boisterous “Cheers!”

* * *

PAW NOTE:  Between snowstorms, my Leader Dog and I took advantage of the weather and sidewalk conditions to go shopping at our local supermarket on Monday morning.  Only when we turned north onto Van Buren did we meet a stronger wind.  Heading north to our destination, we pass a few driveways of which my Leader Dog Willow is always mindful.  At one of the driveways from the parking lot of the supermarket, I could hear a vehicle approaching more quickly than usual, but I knew that my Leader Dog would judge the situation properly.  The vehicle did stop, but Willow also stopped just shy of the far end of the driveway.  Besides the wind and the motor noise, I heard a dog in the vehicle frantically barking; however, I could tell that Willow was not turning her head to look at the barking dog.  My British Black Labrador was looking straight ahead.  When I asked her to go “Forward,” she exercised what Leader Dog School refers to as “intelligent disobedience.”  With my boot, I reached out and around, but felt nothing but a clear sidewalk.  I make a practice of repeating the “Forward” suggestion only twice more.  When Willow did not move, I reached out with my gloved hand and felt an unattended shopping cart.  Although I imagined that the driver of the vehicle might have been growing impatient, I took a few moments to praise Willow for her firm stop before the metal shopping cart.  As usual, my Leader Dog was very happy with this praise and wiggled a little with pleasure.  She does like me to feel an obstacle with my foot or hand before she takes me around the obstacle:  in this way, Willow makes certain that she will receive her highly earned praise.  We went around the cart and on to our destination while the vehicle’s driver had an opportunity to witness the important work of a well-trained guide dog and a most appreciative Leader-Dog handler.  How blessed I am with my Willow!  Thanks again to Leader Dog School and to all who make possible these amazing guide dogs!

Enjoy these remaining days of January!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

January 27, 2021, Wednesday


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  1. Carole permalink

    One of the positives during these pandemic months is the opportunity to connect with family and friends via Zoom, so thanks to all for the coordination of the memorable Birthday Party; and kudos to you, Alice, for a well-constructed toast in the birthday girls’ honor!

    I’m also sending kudos and hearty “cheers” to Willow for her “intelligent disobedience” in taking good care of you; although it is quite interesting and curious that a guide dog would display better judgement and empathy than a human.

    On another note as National Braille Literacy Month concludes, I am planning to celebrate an upcoming holiday with a special tribute in your honor, dear cousin, so stay tuned while keeping warm and safe!


    • To my mysterious cousin Carole–Many thanks for the “like” and nice comment on this post!  So glad that you and Tim were able to join the party on Sunday!  Willow thanks you also!

          Our low temperature this morning was nine degrees, with a wind chill of negative two degrees.

      Talk with you soon!  Take care–Alice and Willow

  2. I love, always, to hear about Willow’s amazing work! And what a wonderful “family” birthday party for all ages!

    • Good morning, Linda–Always so very nice to receive an early comment from you!  In my blog post, I had intended to add that only very rarely do we encounter a shopping cart on the sidewalk which is parallel to a major city street that leads to a ramp to and from the interstate.

      Take care, and thanks for keeping in touch!

      Best always–Alice and Willow

  3. Susan M McKendry permalink

    How nice that you could have a family Zoom birthday meeting and that you could write the toast. Thanks so much for mentioning the Louis Braille book previously. It is wonderful and hard to put down. We did see the question on Jeopardy yesterday, and how nice of you to mention it. But your description of Willow’s intelligent disobedience “took the cake” in this post. Her intelligence and understanding are obvious in many ways, and in this case she may well have saved your life. Some of her behavior and skill are the result of her training at Leader Dog, but I also think her handler has a great deal to do with how good she is. You are both lucky to have each other!

    • Hi, Sue–I am so glad to hear that you are enjoying the book about Louis Braille.  Willow sends you a big pawful of thanks for your nice words about her guide work.  Each day something happens to remind me how amazing she is and how lucky I am to have her in my life.

      Looking forward to talking with you on Friday!

      Stay well and warm–Alice and Willow

  4. mfanyo permalink

    Dear Alice,
    Your beautiful toast was a perfect salute to all of our family, far and near, in addition to the two birthday girls! The Zoom Birthday party was an exciting way for all 52 of us to be able to see each other and to celebrate such a special occasion.

    All of us need to “toast” wonderful Willow for her alertness in warning you of the danger ahead. She is an amazing Leader Dog and truly a hero right along side Louis Braille!

    Love to both of you,

    • Hi, Mary–Willow sends you a hearty thanks for your toast to her!  We will look forward to the next Zoom gathering.

      Take care, and talk with you very soon–Alice and Willow

  5. Gina Amerman permalink

    Alice, I really enjoyed your blog this week about the Birthday Zoom! party. That sounds like such fun
    for all involved! We watched Jeopardy, as we always do, and I was able to come up with the question about Louis Braille. I didn’t comment on last week’s blog, although I was glad to learn about young Louis and put him right up there on my list of “to learn more abouts!” Your description of Willow’s heroics was so special too…Have a happy, healthy New Year. Keep those Wednesday blogposts coming-they help us all brighten our weeks! Love, Gina

    • Hi, Gina–Many thanks for regularly reading my blog and for sending another very nice comment!  I am always glad to learn of another JEOPARDY fan and am so pleased that you want to learn more about Louis Braille.  Your comments about my Willow and my weekly postings are greatly appreciated.

      Stay well and warm!

      Best wishes for the new year–Alice and Willow

  6. Katherine Binole permalink

    Alice, I was so honored by the birthday zoom celebration for Carla and I! Seeing and hearing from so many family members, especially all the children and my great grandchildren in Mexico. A heartwarming 84th birthday for sure. My grandson, Brando, playing a piano solo for me was very special. I was very touched by your unique and special toast to Carla and I that highlighted regions of all our family! Thank you. Sending love to you and Willow
    Aunt Kathy

    • Hello, Aunt Kathy–Many thanks for adding your special comments to this blog post focusing on the Zoom Birthday Party.  Hopefully, for your 85th celebration, you will be enjoying the sunshine, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in Mexico.

      Best wishes for an ever-improving year ahead!

      Love, Alice and Willow

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