tech talk

Batteries are the New Black

Just a quick post, about something that Lindsay experienced the other night while we were out and about with friends. Another enormous difference between hearing aids and her CI processor: what happens when the batteries die.

I didn’t know this, but hearing aid batteries die slowly, with a very gradual loss of sound. A typical aid battery can last for a week or two. But not so for the power-hungry processor: like a typical smartphone, you have to recharge those batteries every night, and they last for about a day, if she’s lucky. When she isn’t lucky, there is nothing gradual about the sound loss – she can go from hearing to hearing nothing mid-sentence. The processor warns her that the battery level is low, by giving her a few beeps in her ears beforehand, but that’s all she gets. It always surprises her.

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things heard

One Lonely Drum

We’re going to be crossing the one-year mark of Lindsay’s implant surgery and activation in the next couple of months. I truly don’t understand how a year could go by so quickly. But I do know that this has been an exciting one.

Yesterday, in the car, I was memorizing some lyrics to a song I was performing with some friends. We were coming home from a road trip – Lindsay was driving, and I put the song on the car stereo and started following along. When she asked me what some of the lyrics were, I wondered just how many she could make out on her own, without reading my lips. An experiment! Here’s the song:

One Lonely Drum
(Kevin O’Donnell)

Stop the parade but leave the streets all closed
Tell the children to remove their brightly colored soldier’s clothes
Oh please, let one very lonely drum still drone.

Set baby on your shoulders and let his balloons rise up
Still hold your post; the marching won’t let up
The sun is still above but no eyes will blink
The shiftless crowd will know and wonder what to think.

May the wind blow cold and make our mouths close
The old and wise don’t know what history has told
There’s nothing new in death and ends all come again
So stop and hear the leaves underfoot… were once green.

So much remains the same
Even as so much as changed
A thousand men and women and children… change.
May the fifer’s lungs leave last song unsung.

I went over each line, sometimes in sections, sometimes even down to a single word. The song was perfect as a hearing exercise, because the lyrics are a little esoteric. This killed Lindsay’s preternatural ability to decipher sentences from context, a skill that all lip-readers have to have. With lines like “May the winds blow cold and make our mouths close”, she couldn’t guess what the sentence was, she had to work hard to hear it.

A year ago, even with her hearing aids in and cranked to the max, she might have made out one or two words of the song, total. And most of those would have been lucky guesses. But 10 months into living with a cochlear implant, by my (very un-scientific) estimation she could repeat about 60-70% of what I read to her, with no lip-reading.

There were sentences that she got immediately. “The old and wise don’t know what history has told”, for example – sentences with more hard consonants, in general. Then there were pieces of phrases that she could make out, but got stuck at more ‘nasal’ phonemes (“mouths”, “unsung”). And there were words she didn’t know at all, like “fifer” (a word that very few people know, probably, unless you’re into tiny flutes). She had to give up on that word completely, but before she did, she tried words like “night” and “bike” and “life”. She was getting the “aye” sound pretty clearly.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is completely kick-ass. It may seem like a small feat to some of you. It’s not talking on a telephone, or following a movie without captions. But it’s a whole world of difference to the both of us.

“So much remains the same… even as so much has changed!”. Hell, yeah!

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cued speech

AGB Montessori! and Twista: Cued Speech is Great

Last night Lindsay and I went to a gala and silent auction for the Alexander Graham Bell Montessori School, the school she started school at. Lindsay was one of the school’s first students, and it was (and continues to be) one of the leaders in use of Cued Speech, thanks to its program Alternatives in Education for the Hearing Impaired (AEHI).

As I’ve mentioned before, I personally owe a lot to CS; learning it helped me with the very few communication hurdles Lindsay and I had at the beginning of our relationship. I’m still not a whiz at it, but it’s easy to learn and a great system for the hard of hearing, their friends and relatives. It’s not about language, though Cued Speech can help with that-it’s about communication, which is important whether you are deaf, or Deaf, or hearing. It’s a tool, and a great one for anyone.

Our friend Ben Lachman was honored last night for his recent work in spreading the word of CS, as was the Illinois School for the Deaf, which has recently made mandatory some all-Cue classes in its curriculum. It’s very exciting. The kids are excited. And so is Twista:

Ben and friends made this great video the other week and I’m still kind of stunned at how fast he’s able to cue, in it. Sure, he’s been Cueing all his life, but still. My “speed Cueing” classes start next week.

I know that I’ve shared the official Cued Speech site before, but Ben and a group called Cue Cognatio have put together a new one recently: http://cueeverything.com, aimed at a younger audience, I suppose, but not exclusively so. There is a whole lot of great video on the site…and one of my favorites is Hannah’s Cued Speech Story because it does such a great job of explaining that Cued Speech doesn’t have to replace Sign Language for the deaf…it’s just an easy way to make communication easier for deaf and hearing alike.

And the videos that the group calls “Cuesic Videos” – people cueing songs (like the Twista one) – are going to be fun to watch. Lindsay has always told me that the way for me to get faster at Cueing would be to cue along to songs that I knew. Ben asked us if we’d do a Cuesic Video together…a challenge that I am ready to take. Stay tuned!

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things heard

Staying Alive

Before I post about the great time we had at the AGB Montessori Gala last night, which won’t mentioned cochlear implants at all, I wanted to say that even though the evening (for us) was mostly about Cued Speech…

At one point in the evening while the DJ was spinning various popular songs, Lindsay realized suddenly that she could actually hear the track he was playing. There have been times in the past year that she asked me whether she was hearing a certain song, in a bar or restaurant, perhaps, and was disappointed to be wrong. Last night she nailed it: Staying Alive, by the BeeGees.

A look to the dance floor gave her all the confirmation she needed: a sea of arms spastically pointing fingers to the air and to the floor. Ten o’clock, four o’clock, ten o’clock, four o’clock…stayin’ alive! stayin’ alive!

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activation

Little Things

She now hears what she calls “pretty” things: church bells ringing, solo piano pieces, certain voices that have a clear and resonant quality. Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music, for example, which has always been one of her favorite things. (Woof! Sorry.)

She hears the dogs’ under-cut toenails as they scuttle across the hard wood (vinyl) floors. She had no idea they made so much noise. This is also kind of annoying, she thinks, and I have to agree, but it’s neat that we can share this annoyance now.

Garbage trucks and other street cleaners, airplanes and buses: she heard them before, sometimes, but now she hears them down the street, around corners. She has to ask what some of the sounds are, but I don’t mind.

Last night she heard the waitress, standing behind her, ask a question. She answered without turning around. She doubted what she heard, out of habit, but she was pleased that she was correct.

And more and more she hears me: the timbre of my voice (tenor-pitched, a nasal tone). When it’s quiet in the house she sometimes answers questions that I don’t look at her to ask. And it’s almost like living with a different person when that happens.

But it isn’t a different person, and I have to remember that no matter how good she gets at this, I can’t get lazy about communicating with her. And it’s still the beginning.

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activation

Lindsay Doesn’t Squeak Any More

She used to, though. That is, her hearing aids did.

Every time she had to wear hats, or if someone put a hand to her ear, or sometimes even if she yawned too vigorously: the microphone in her hearing aids that sampled her world and sent that sound to her ear would feed back, causing an audible “squeak”.

But she hasn’t worn a hearing aid in many months. And while her CI does have a microphone, it isn’t amplifying any sound externally, so…

She might be getting some really nice ear muffs for Christmas.

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honeymoon

Ravenna and Modena: Part 1

While we stayed in Dozza, we visited the nearby towns of Ravenna and Modena.

Ravenna is the home of eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, thanks to its various glittering Byzantine mosaic murals.  Because of glass’s ability to retain color, these mosaics are nearly as vivid today as they were fifteen hundred years ago.  This was hardly an opportunity Matt and I could pass up, so we took the short drive to Ravenna and spent the morning gawking at broken bits of glass in several churches and buildings.  The most impressive mosaics were in the Basilica San Vitale, a church built in 526.  That’s THREE digits, not four.  Which means it’s REALLY REALLY OLD.  The mosaics were stunning.  Pictures and words can’t begin to describe them.  The skill and technique required to create these intricate masterpieces is mind-blowing.  We visited several other mosaic sites in Ravenna as well, and while all were glorious, none could match the jaw-dropping San Vitale.

Other than the mosaics, the town of Ravenna was pretty typical for the region. Cobblestone streets charming their way into your heart, buildings in warm yellows and oranges, gelato shops galore.  (Oh what I would give for that to be considered typical here in America!)

Modena was another typical small town that we visited for several reasons: 1) to tour a Parmigiano Reggiano factory. 2) to visit an artisinal balsamic maker and 3) to eat lunch at Hosteria Giusti.

Okay, the Parmigiano Reggiano factory–I thought I was going to vomit.  The smell was so strong.  It took 95% of the strength I had not to hurl all over the whey-covered floor.  The other 5% was devoted to contorting my face into an expression that I sincerely hope resembled pleasant interest and curiosity.  I love parmesan–a lot.  It’s one of my favorite compliments to a meal.  But this tour involved being in a storeroom with thousands (not an exaggeration) of aging cheese wheels the size of small tires stacked twenty high.   The air was so thick I felt like I was inhaling a syrup.  A syrup made of feet.  Matt and the other two people on the tour didn’t have a problem with the smell.  (Robots!!!)  I wonder why.  My mother didn’t breastfeed me, could that be it?  Perhaps starting the first several months of your life drinking and puking sour milk equips you with a lifelong ability to withstand a giant room of cheese?  There you have it, moms-to-be, a good reason to breastfeed: your babies will be able to visit cheese factories when they get older!

But anyway. I didn’t lose my breakfast, somehow.  Go me!

The smell aside, the Parmigiano Reggiano tour was super fascinating.  It was free, too, which is always a plus.  A tour can be arranged at one of several factories through the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, who take pride in promoting authentic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  Only five cities in the Emilia-Romagna region are legally allowed to produce Parmigiano Reggiano cheese: Bologna, Modena, Reggio Emilia, Mantova, and, of course, Parma.  It’s like how Champagne can only be called Champagne if it’s made in the Champagne region in France.  Anywhere else and it’s just … sparkling wine.  That grainy stuff from a green can that’s been sitting in your fridge for years that you shake onto your Prego-laden spaghetti noodles from a box is not Parmigiano Reggiano.  It’s just … parmesan.

Click here to read a good summary of how Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is made.

To be continued…

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honeymoon

Dozza

Our first three nights in Italy, we stayed at a bed and breakfast on a farm in Dozza, a medieval village about 30 minutes east of Bologna.  The farm, run by a family of four (mom, dad, two young daughters), consists of a vineyard, fruits and vegetables, goats, and chickens (we got to drink wine made from the grapes and eat fresh cheese from the goats’ milk–mmmm!).  The mom was off interpreting for a meditation retreat in Tuscany during our stay, so we didn’t get to meet her, and as a result probably had a different experience than most visitors who stay at the farm.  For starters, there were no napkins provided when we ate dinner with the family, and there was no hand soap in our bathroom.  Is that a sexist thought?  Thinking that the mom would have thought about napkins and soap when the dad didn’t?  Maybe she doesn’t care about clean hands either, who knows?  Could be the reason why they fell in love.

Though our hands were unclean, our stay was lovely and we were fortunate to have spent a few days with an Italian family.  The grandmother (Nonna) even invited us into her home to teach us how to make fresh pasta, an experience that has pretty much ruined dry pasta for us forever.  So now we need one of these.  (And a bigger kitchen, please!)  One thing that was incredibly entertaining about this class was watching the steady stream of family members and neighbors waltzing into Nonna’s home.  “Mia bella!” a grandfather-like figure exclaimed with outstretched arms to one of the little girls, as the adults chattered on excitedly in fast Italian.  The second little girl yanked out a few of her eyebrow hairs, feeling rejected once again.  (Kidding.  I’m sure she got a nice exclamation from pseudo-grandpa, too.)  Later on, Nonna abruptly took a break from teaching us about pasta when a neighbor brought over a newborn baby.  As she oohed and ahhed over the wee bambino, we were but a distant memory in her mind for several minutes.  Not that we minded.  It was like watching an Italian sitcom!

The father served the pasta we made that night with browned butter and sage.  So delicious.  You’ve seriously not lived until you’ve had fresh pasta.

Anyway, Dozza has an undeniable charm.  The town center is tiny, about a quarter mile long and half that wide.  What sets this town apart from the hundreds of other villages in Italy is their painted wall festival–Biennale di Muro Dipinto–a biannual event since 1960, where painters from all over the world are invited to paint murals onto the walls of the village.  This means that Dozza is essentially an open-air art gallery, currently boasting about a hundred murals.  Pretty rad!

The largest structure in this tiny town is the Rocca di Dozza, a fortress from the middle ages.  In the cellar of this fortress is the Enoteca Regionale, the official wine “museum” of the entire Emilia-Romagna region, housing over a thousand wines.  You guys, it was the coolest wine shop I’ve ever been to!  I mean, The shop was in the freaking cellar of a freaking medieval fortress!  How can Binny’s Beverage Depot possibly compete with that?  We met an insanely cute sommelier who denied our request for a menage a trois (kidding–obviously she accepted), but not before recommending a few lambruscos for us to try.  While the lambruscos typically imported to sugar-addicted America are cloyingly sweet and disgusting, the lambruscos offered by the Enoteca are dry and robust and fizzy, like a prosecco with more depth.  Delicious.

Did you like how I strung random words together to make it seem like I actually know anything about wine?  Did ya did ya?!  Yay!  (But seriously, dry lambrusco KICKS sweet lambrusco’s ass.)

Anyway, pictures!  As I mentioned in my previous post, Matt and I are terrible at taking photos, so I had to google a couple to fill in the blanks.  If you took one of these, let me know and I’ll credit you.  (Also: get a life, why are you reading some rando’s blog?)

[Aside: my friend Jessica teaches a pasta making group class here in Chicago.  If you ever want to learn how to make pasta, give her a call.  Here’s her website and her yelp page.]

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honeymoon

Berlin

Matt and I went to Germany and Italy for our (belated) honeymoon. It was my first time in Europe–and certainly not my last. LOVED IT.  Can’t wait to see more.  I hope you don’t mind me taking a break from my cochlear implant adventures to discuss it a bit.  (Spoiler alert: I am hearing so much more now!  I have got to write a post about that.  Sorry, I was busy honeymooning! Speaking of which…)

Quick breakdown of our trip:

First, we spent three nights in Berlin. Then we flew to Bologna, rented a car and drove to a bed and breakfast in the nearby town of Dozza, were we stayed for three nights. After that, we took a train to Venice for two nights. Then we flew to Naples and immediately took a ferry to Ischia (an island off the coast of Naples), where we stayed three nights. Then we took a ferry back to Naples and stayed two nights there before flying home.

Whew. So much traveling! Matt and I agreed that packing so much into this trip was inevitable, since Italy has so much to offer, but that next time we go overseas (ahem, Thailand, pleeeease) we’ll take a more leisurely route.

Because writing about the entire trip in one post would be kinda boring, I’ve decided I’ll break it up by city. So, today: BERLIN!

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t super stoked at the idea of going to Berlin. When I saw The Talented Mr. Ripley back in the late ’90s, I was utterly seduced by not only Jude Law, but by Italy, as well. Those dreamy images of Anthony Minghella’s sun-drenched paradise stuck with me more than a decade later, so when it was time for Matt and I to decide where to go for our honeymoon, I could only picture one place: DUH, Italy. Matt was in agreement, but suggested we include Berlin in our iterinary as well. His friend Adam has been living there for the last several years and Matt felt it would be a shame to go to Europe and not see him. I nodded, uh-huh, but I’m sure my expression read: Berlin? Gray, dour Berlin? But WHY, when we have Italy, with its vivid reds and yellows, its warm mountains, its turquoise seas? Where Jude Law stepped out of a tub naked? Where God, after being in labor for a torturous 43 and-a-half hours, birthed pizza and tortellini and Campari and wine? And where, you know–I’m sorry–a ton of unbelievably super depressing shit didn’t happen in the last century?

Buuuuuut apparently being married means cooooompromising and blah blaaaaah blaaaaaaah.  So… Berlin, in addition to Italy. Okay!

As you’ve probably deduced by now, I came to Berlin with low expectations. And guess what? I loved it. Of all the places we went to on our vacation, Berlin was the only place where I could actually see myself living.

Adam was a great host and gave us a chance to see Everyday Berlin as opposed to Berlin: The Tourist Version. I mean, we did see some landmarks, like Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, and what’s left of the Berlin Wall, but we also ate at a variety of restaurants (Chinese, Ethiopian, Caribbean, and of course, German), hung out at random bars with his friends, strolled through a turkish market with endless stalls of aromatic foods, walked through a huge flea market filled with hipsters and street performers. (Yeah: hipsters. Berlin is chock full of mustachioed imps!) The city is beautiful, not at all gray as I expected.  Its history is so rich and bursting from every orifice, unlike anything in America, which I never really truly realized is just so young.  There is nothing like being in an old city, especially one that has been through so much.

Berlin’s vibrancy is all that more impressive in light of its history.  I mean, it’s been dealt a dark, dark hand.  There are old bullet holes from World War II all over buildings throughout Berlin and East Berlin still has a section of that infamous wall that held its citizens prisoner for so many years.  These scars show how far Berlin has come and exist as a reminder that what didn’t kill it only made it stronger.  And way cooler!  And far more interesting!  Gahhhh Berlin is so awesome and I want it to be my best friend and can we hang out soon please?!?

Anyway!  Neither Matt and I are that great at taking pictures.  We tend to get caught up in a moment and sometimes forget to capture it.  Oh well.  Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  A single memory is more valuable than a thousand snapshots.  I was kind of disgusted by all the tourists who literally saw every moment through the viewfinder of a camera.  Dudes, put those cameras down.  You’re  actually living that scene you’re constantly taking pictures of.  Enjoy it.  Have some wine.  Gawd.  But, we did get a few pics:

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Uncategorized

In Berlin!

Lindsay and I are in Berlin, for our year-delayed honeymoon. And headed to Italy soon. We spent the week before we left packing and preparing, so I didn’t get to write much about the drama that accompanied the arrival of the Naida processor…needless to say it seemed to us that Advanced Bionics was fairly disorganized in the deployment of devices and parts. Lindsay got all sort of parts that she didn’t order, and didn’t get some parts that she did order, and it took nearly a week to get it all sorted out (and we’re still not 100% sure that we did). It wasn’t a big deal, but it was a little frustrating to go through right before a big trip.

That bit of negativity aside, the difference between the Harmony and the Naida are immediately noticable. She’s already hearing things that she didn’t before. And quieter noises too. It’s smaller than the Harmony, and the color she ordered (brown) blends with her hair better. She was a little annoyed at the new cabling system; the cable itself attaches to the magnet/mic with a lot of extra depth, but to me the entire processor is a lot less visible than the Harmony. So if you don’t want to hide your Naida, order it in hot pink.

We’re on vacation and she made a bold decision to a. not bring the rechargeable batteries and b. not bring her hearing aid. Before now she used the hearing aid a lot as a “crutch”; it was a familiar sound and in some ways provided more volume for her (as maybe we’ve mentioned before). But in a desire not to keep up with two different sets of batteries and gear she left it at home, and has been hearing the entire trip with just the CI. And so far, so good!

I wish that I could better detail the new things that she seems to be hearing. I notice, of course, when she asks me what the “pretty sound” is (usually chiming church bells, actually) and now, seemingly as a Theme for her entire cochlear implant experience, she will say “Crickets!” when we pass particularly loud critters singing at night. It’s a beginning, for sure. And she knows that her depth of sound has changed and will continue to change (hopefully). The other night she told me that she was glad that she had the implant, that it was already worth it, which I was happy to hear.

Internet/time is spotty for the last/next week or so but we’ll write again as soon as we can.

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