It’s here! Free audio version of Writing Out Loud now available to people who are blind or visually impaired

February 23, 20182 CommentsPosted in blindness, careers/jobs for people who are blind, memoir writing, teaching memoir, technology for people who are blind

February is Love Your Library month, and I’m celebrating in style: The Library of Congress Talking Book Service just released an audio version of my new book Writing Out Loud free of charge to Americans who are blind or visually impaired.

Cover of Writing Out Loud graphic.

The Library of Congress administers the National Library Service (NLS) a talking-book and Braille program available for free to those of us whose low vision, blindness, or physical disability makes reading regular print difficult. When surgeons told me in 1986 that the eye surgeries hadn’t worked and I’d never see again, one of my first concerns was how I would survive without being able to read books. NLS came to my rescue. Woman’s Day Magazine published an essay I wrote a few years ago about the talking Book Program, and that essay is still available on the American library Association’s “I Love Libraries” web site if you’d like to link there and learn more about how NLS works.

Back in the 20th Century NLS mailed cassette players and tapes free of charge. Now they offer free downloads. I am over the moon that so many more people will now have access to Writing Out Loud,and to that end, I’ll end this post with the description and call letters necessary to order the book from the National Library Service. Happy listening!

Writing out loud: what a blind teacher learned from leading a memoir class for seniors DB89064
Finke, Beth. Reading time: 9 hours, 55 minutes.
Read by Celeste Lawson.


Journalist who chronicled her loss of sight from diabetic retinopathy in Long Time, No See (DB 56482) reflects on teaching a memoir-writing class to older adults in Chicago. Discusses living in a new city, describes challenges she faces as a teacher, and shares excerpts from her students’ work. 2017.

Mondays with Mike: Who ya gonna call? Checkbook!

February 19, 2018CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike

In the wake of everything that happened last week, I have nothing to say that isn’t being said. And I’m kind of exhausted thinking about it, so I’m going to stick to some banal subjects instead.

Like plumbers. Roofers. Car repair shops. Dry cleaners. Kennels. Veterinarians. Appliance repair shops and virtually any other service firms you might need. And, how to find good ones.

Check out the video.

Here’s a tip: Check out Consumers’ Checkbook magazine at Full disclosure: this is a shameless plug for Checkbook—I used to work there full time and I still freelance for them. But it’s also an honest, I-really-believe-in-this-thing plug.

Checkbook is kind of like Angie’s List or Yelp!, but with more integrity. Checkbook rates local services firms much like Consumer Reports evaluates products. Checkbook operates in seven major metropolitan areas, including Chicago. When you subscribe, you get access to ratings and recommendations for dozens and dozens of service types in your area—you can search by zip code.

A few things set Checkbook apart from other referral internet ratings services. To start, Checkbook limits its consumer surveys to it’s own subscribers and Consumer Reports subscribers. (Consumer Reports has been a supporter and partner since Checkbook was founded.) This means there’s no ballot stuffing on behalf of—or negative campaigns against—the firms that are rated.

And just like Consumer Reports, Checkbook takes no advertising, so none of the firms it rates has any sway over what Checkbook does. Checkbook does regular surveys and compiles the research according to standard survey research protocols, and includes information about the statistical limitations of validity.


But beyond consumer ratings, Checkbook’s staff does fairly exhaustive independent research on the firms. I know, because I used to do it. When I lived in the D.C. area, I’d spend days at a time at local offices of consumer affairs, parsing physical files of complaints that had been brought by consumers. We then reviewed the nature of each complaint—for example, a company like Sears would have a large file—but we had to delineate auto repair complaints from appliance complaints, for example. Finally, we’d calculate a complaint rate based on the size of the business, which we gathered through other research.

Checkbook also does thorough price comparisons. I did a whole lot of “secret shopping,” calling shops for prices for carefully specified repairs or other services. And I drew my share of suspicion as, clipboard in hand, I collected prices at local grocery stores, hardware stores, and other retailers.

Checkbook still does all that and more. For example, Checkbook routinely rates hospitals, emergency rooms and physicians in cities where it operates. I can tell you, I trust their methods way more than do U.S. News or Chicago Magazine ratings.

Like I said, I’m biased. The founder, Robert Krughoff, was a mentor, he was unrelenting in pressing for thoroughness and accuracy, and he was a fierce editor. I was a green Midwestern kid fresh out of college when I first worked there in 1978. It was a terrific learning experience, and it was, as the slogan goes, the toughest job I ever loved.

Robert founded the organization after he was left pulling his hair out after multiple visits to a local car garage that failed to make his car right again. You can get the whole story in this little video.

Robert is less involved but he’s still at it, and where there was just one magazine in the D.C. area back in the day, the empire has spread across the country.

Which means, here in Chicago I’m still a loyal Checkbook user—and I hope you’ll check out Checkbook.

Is that a rude question, or a curious question?

February 17, 201815 CommentsPosted in blindness, parenting a child with special needs, questions kids ask, Seeing Eye dogs, visiting schools, Writing for Children

It never fails. Every time my Seeing Eye dog Whitney and I visit a school, one of the kids comes up with a question I’ve never been asked before. Here’s my favorite from a trip we took to suburban Glenview earlier this month. “If you were never blinded, which would you rather be: a cat person, or a dog person?”

I’ll let you guess my answer.

Photo of Beth and Whitney in front of fifth graders.

The fifth graders at Glen Grove school.

The fifth graders we were visiting at Glen Grove Elementary that day are working with the Nora Project that I wrote about here earlier this month. They’ve already been paired with a student who has special needs. Now the fifth graders seem excited – yet understandably nervous – to start interviewing their buddy’s family members and others who spend time with their buddy outside of school. Maybe the best way to see how their curiosity about my blindness intertwined with their concerns about the upcoming interviews is to look over some of the questions they asked:

  • You say in your Safe & Sound book that you take your dog’s harness off when you get home. How do you get around your house by yourself?
  • What would be the best questions to ask to get the best answers from the Nora Project parents?
  • You can’t see, so what sense do you rely on the most?
  • If you tell your dog to sit, and you can’t see the dog, how do you know it’s sitting?
  • What did it feel like when you found out you were blind?
  • You and your husband were both working when you found out you were blind, and then they fired you, so what was that like with money?
  • How do you know what you’re wearing?
  • How can we ask questions to get long answers?
  • Do you remember what your childhood was like?
  • What do you do if someone answers your question wrong?
  • When you’re asking somebody something, how can you tell if the question is a rude question or a curious question?
  • You look great in that shirt!

That last one was a statement, not a question, but I didn’t correct the student who said it. I just thanked him…and blushed.

These students will be using iPads to record video of the interviews they do. Soon they’ll combine footage from the interviews with video of their own interactions with their buddies. The documentaries they create from all this footage will be presented at an assembly towards the end of the school year.

I just love this project. Playing a very small part of it during that visit earlier this month was an honor. To learn more about the Nora Project, visit Documentaries produced by students from previous years are available there under the Nora Friends tab.

How to get work published? Submit it

February 14, 201817 CommentsPosted in careers/jobs for people who are blind, guest blog, memoir writing, teaching memoir, writing, writing prompts

Another benefit of the 500-word limit I impose on writers in the memoir classes I lead? Magazines, newspapers and blogs publish short pieces like that.

This week I asked some of my writers for 500 words on “Witnessing Love.” Sharon Silverman was so pleased with the poignant piece she wrote about witnessing the love in her uncle and aunt’s relationship that she submitted it to the Chicago Tribune.

And guess what? Sharon’s essay, When Memory Fades, Love Remains was published in today’s paper in honor of Valentine’s Day.

In class, and in the memoir-writing workshops I lead, I am often asked how to get work published. My response is a simple two-word sentence: Submit it. “If you don’t send it in, it’ll never get published!” I say with a laugh. I turn more serious when advising them to read submission guidelines before submitting. “That’ll tell you whether or not your essay is what that publication is looking for.”

So of course I’m extremely pleased that Sharon Silverman’s piece is in the Chicago Tribune today, but I’m especially proud of her for taking the time this week to submit it there.

Happy Valentine’s Day to our Safe & Sound blog readers, we love you all. As a gift, I’m sharing Sharon Silverman’s published work from today’s Chicago Tribune.

When memory fades, love remains

by Sharon Silverman

My aunt and uncle were strawberries and cream, apples and honey, enhancing each other with sweetness all the days of their lives. They still held hands walking down the street after 50 years of marriage.

Then my aunt started forgetting. “Where did I put my glasses?” “What’s the name of that place we visited yesterday?” Just small memory lapses, not uncommon in later years. Some mild senior moments. Or were they?

My uncle provided the answers she couldn’t retrieve. “We went to the Art Institute yesterday and saw the Monet exhibit. You loved the water lilies. Remember now?”

“Oh, yes,” she replied. “I enjoyed it so much.”

A few hours later she’d ask again, “What’s the name of that place we visited yesterday?” He calmly answered again.

Her mind was failing. His worry was growing. The dreaded diagnosis — Alzheimer’s — invaded their lives.

She retreated into powerful plaque and stuck synapses. He advanced into caretaker mode. Buying groceries, making meals, laundering clothes, dressing her, bathing her, taking charge until he couldn’t. It was too much.

My uncle succumbed and moved my aunt to the now-necessary nursing home. He joined a support group for those caring for loved ones who can no longer care for themselves. He wanted help with the loss and the grief of seeing my Aunt Ruth disappear.

Instead, he became more depressed.

He was lonely at home and moved to an apartment in the independent living section of the nursing home, only four floors away from her. She descended further into incompetence and incontinence. She cried in pain without relief.

He stroked her forehead, held her hand, kissed her cheek and prayed, “Please, let her die.” With steadfast love, he wrapped himself in memories of traveling the world, attending the symphony, walking down Michigan Avenue arm in arm in quiet harmony.

Only dissonance remained. It was unbearable. For her. For him.

She was hospitalized. He never left her side. The attending physician suggested not treating the infection. My uncle asked, “Is that really allowed?”

With an affirmative nod, the doctor answered his prayer.

Alone together, he stroked her head. He held her hands. He laid next to her, embracing her body — the body he had known for over 50 years. The body that must leave him now. The mind that had already disappeared.

She’s finally free and so is he. Only the love remains.

One Tuesday with Mike: Chicago, we have a problem

February 13, 201811 CommentsPosted in baseball, Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike

Hi all. Well, yes. it’s Tuesday. I committed a cardinal sin: I missed my deadline. In my mind, former editors, bosses, and professors have formed a chorus to chastise me.

But I have a note from Beth, who was present at the disaster. On Saturday morning, we headed out for coffee with our laptops in tow, looking to have breakfast while catching up on stuff.

I opened up and powered on, and I noticed that I had only 5% power remaining. That was odd, given that I’m certain it had been left plugged in overnight. I hadn’t brought my charger, so I closed up and settled for doing the Times Saturday crossword (the hardest of the week, no contest) while Beth pecked away.

Eventually we packed up, and at home I plugged back in. Power was down to 1 percent. It didn’t shut off, but even while plugged in, it didn’t increase the charge level. I looked up various remedies that didn’t work, and then decided on the age-old remedy: Restart.

Mistake. It hasn’t powered up since that fateful decision. On to the sleek new Apple store on Michigan Avenue. It took a couple of hours (I was a walk-in) to learn that it’d be $750 and they’d have to send it out for three days. Somehow, some gunk had gotten into the power port. I have no idea how or when. But they showed me and yes, there’s gunk in there.

Photo laptop opened up for repairs.

It was ugly.

I call Beth, we do the math, and I settle on a new MacBook Pro. I used to get excited when I got a new computer. I used to enjoy driving, too.

That was just the beginning. Luckily, I had a fairly recent backup and things went swimmingly, until they didn’t. A bunch of stuff simply didn’t make the trip from the old to the new computer. So, for about 48 hours I was wrestling and cajoling and entering settings until I have gotten this machine and my life mostly whole.

I had another topic in mind for yesterday, but it’ll wait til next Monday.

In the meantime, I’m wholly salved: Pitchers and catchers report to spring training camp, and it’s Mardi Gras.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!