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Sightseeing

January 17, 20085 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, travel, Uncategorized

Mike snapped this picture during the 2005 World Series. Let’s go, let’s go White Sox!When I answered a craigslist ad to write blurbs for Not For Tourists – Chicago, I didn’t have my heart set on writing for a guidebook. I was just curious to find out if
1. Not For Tourists would hire me if they knew I was blind, and
2. readers would notice my travel writing doesn’t describe the way things LOOK.
The answer to the first question is yes. Not For Tourists rocks. As for question #2, the jury is still out.
I already blogged about my travel essay in Dog Fancy this month.
As far as I know, Dog Fancy editors haven’t received any letters from disappointed readers. The 2008 version of Not For Tourists – Chicago is out now, too. No word on any letters complaining about my “visually clueless” blurbs. Not yet, at least.
If you’re curious how a person might write about sightseeing without having…well…sight, here’s the excerpt I wrote for NFT about US Cellular Field:
Both of Chicago’s major league ballparks are named for corporations (one famous for gum, the other famous for cell phones) but the similarities end there. Any White Sox fan will tell you: tourists pay big bucks to watch ivy grow in the little place on the North Side, real baseball fans head to see the White Sox play at U.S. Cellular Field.
Straddled by the Bridgeport and Bronzeville neighborhoods on Chicago’s south side, US Cellular Field opened in 1991 to replace the old Comiskey Park. The new park was built for $167 million–a relative bargain even in 1991. Cost-cutting meant altering the original design, though, and not for the better. What the park lacks in beauty, it makes up for with its friendly staff and fabulous food—perennially rated among the best in Major League Baseball. Meat-eaters: Follow your nose to the grilled onions and say “Polish with.” Better yet, say “Polish witt.” You’ll get a sublimely good Polish sausage smothered in caramelized onions. Come hungry on Thursdays: Ball Park Franks are $1 and Best’s kosher hot dogs are $2.50 each at select concession stands during all Thursday home games.

And if you’re hoping to hear about fashion, or business deals, or coffee shops, this ain’t the place. Fans here talk about baseball. They love the game, and they love the team that FINALLY brought a World Series trophy to Chicago in 2005.

Nancy Faust, the hardest-working (and most creative) organist in baseball, has been the official White Sox organist since 1970 and still plays day games. And Roger Bossard—an obsessive-compulsive turf guru who consults to sports franchises around the world—maintains one of the most beautiful, truest playing real-grass surfaces in all of sports. Bill Veeck’s scoreboard explodes with fireworks at each home run, and street musicians serenade fans as they head to the red line or the parking lot after games.

Back to me: If you’re wondering how I know the real-grass playing field is beautiful, it’s because I am one of the few civilians ever allowed to step on it. Back in 2004, I toured US Cellular with a bunch of blind high school students. But that’s fodder for another blog. For now, I’m heading to the kitchen. Writing about those carmelized onions made me hungry.

Hanni's Favorite Airport

January 10, 20083 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, guide dogs, Hanni, Seeing Eye dogs, travel, Uncategorized

Dog Fancy CoverKnowbility LogoRemember the blog I wrote about how much Hanni enjoyed our trip to Austin?

I mentioned then that I’d written an essay about Austin, and now it’s in the January, 2008 issue of Dog Fancy.
“A Dog’s-eye View of Austin” is in the magazine’s Canine Traveler section. Trouble is, Dog Fancy is not available online. My story is listed on a site called Animal Network, but if you link to that site, all you get is a list of the table of contents for the January, 2008 issue of Dog Fancy. No links. Dang.
Oh, well. Guess you’ll just have to check your local newsstand. Better yet, take your dog to the vet for a check-up – vet offices ALWAYS have copies of Dog Fancy lying around. In the meantime, here’s a tease from the end of the essay:
“On our way to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport I lamented that we hadn’t found time to go to any of the dog parks. When our flight to Chicago was delayed, we got our chance. Even the airport has a dog park!

Located outside the lower level at the east end of the terminal, the airport dog park was originally conceived to let guide dog users like me walk our dogs at the airport without crossing a street. Realizing that other traveling dogs might need a break after a long flight in a kennel, airport administrators decided to welcome all dogs – and other traveling animals – to the park as well.

Hanni looped around the park’s figure-eight walking path with me a few times, then took advantage of the low-to-the-ground drinking fountains for some cool water. The park even supplies dog bowls.”
Just found out that Hanni and I will be returning to Austin in May – I’m giving a keynote at Access U, a yearly conference/workshop about accessible technology. Access U is put on by a non-profit in Austin called Knowbility. Last year I sat on a panel with Knowbility’s Executive Director and co-founder Sharron Rush. I’m looking forwar to working with Sharron again. And Hanni? She’s looking forward to that airport with a dog park!

Hanni's New Harness, Flo's New Walker, My New Shoulder

January 6, 200846 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, Flo, guide dogs, Hanni, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized

“I’m going to Disney World!”Harness before…Harness after…clearly a huge difference!
I swim for exercise. Hanni guides me to the pool area, and if I lay towels down on the tile floor and give her a treat, she’s content to sit there while I swim. Onlookers tell me that Hanni’s head pivots back and forth, back and forth, tracking my laps. The only stroke I do is the crawl. One arm or another is extended in front at all times, protecting me from crashing my head into a wall. Tapping the lane marker on every other stroke keeps me swimming straight.

I like to swim. It’s a form of exercise I can do all by myself. I don’t need to tie myself (literally!) to a sighted runner, or pedal behind the lead on a tandem bicycle. Another thing: My friends who work out lifting weights, or running, tend to get hurt. Not me. Swimming is low-impact, safe.

That’s what I thought, at least. But then last month I found out I have a rotator cuff injury. My diagnosis came just days after Flo took a fall and fractured her pelvis. And so, my mom and I are simpatico. Our fates are in the hands of physical terrorists. I mean physical therapists.

Baseball fans know about the rotator cuff – it’s at the shoulder joint, a tender spot for pitchers. Turns out rotator cuff injuries are common in any sport requiring repeated overhead arm movements. Tennis, for example. Weightlifting. And swimming.

I asked my physical therapist if she thought my injury had anything to do with the way I hold Hanni’s harness. “Well, it’d be better if the harness handle were vertical, not horizontal,” she said. “You know, so your thumb would be sticking up.”

“We can’t cock the harness handle 90 degrees,” a trainer from the Seeing Eye told me when I phoned them later that afternoon. “But we can send you an extension that’ll turn your hand 30 degrees — your physical therapist will like that.”

“Yeah,” I laughed. “But will I?” The new handle will take some getting used to, he admitted.

“Are rotator cuff injuries common if you’re using a guide dog?” I asked.

“This week they are. “ He sounded a little bewildered. “You’re the third person this week to call with this same problem.”

My physical therapist would prefer a 90 degree change in the handle, but she’ll settle for 30 degrees. If I use the new handle and keep up with my exercises, she says I may be able to avoid surgery. And if that isn’t motivation enough, I have Flo as a role model. She has been hard at work with her physical therapy for a month now, and last Friday she walked out of the hospital. Flo’s home now…safe & sound.

Chicago Tribune and The Prairie Wind

January 1, 20085 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, guide dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized, Writing for Children

Book CoverSafe & Sound ended 2007 right: our book was mentioned in the Chicago Tribune’s “For Young Readers” section on December 29:
“Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound
By Beth Finke, illustrated by Anthony Alex LeTourneau
Blue Marlin, $17.95
Ages 7-10 years

Hanni, the author’s guide dog, is chosen to tell the story of their workday and home lives. Beth Finke also answers questions that young children especially might wonder about, like whether working dogs ever get to play.”

Back to me. Another thing readers might wonder about: how – and why – did Hanni and I write Safe & Sound in the first place? You can find the answer to this burning question in the Winter 2008 issue of Prairie Wind. Prairie Wind is the Newsletter of the SCBWI-Illinois Chapter. Safe & Sound blog readers might remember our first visit to a meeting of the Illinois Chapter of the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators – I blogged about it in a post called “Say Cheese!” Hanni and I met Children’s Book Author and Writing Teacher Esther Hershenhorn at that meeting. Esther referred me to the Prairie Wind editors, they asked me to put together an essay about writing Safe & Sound, and…voila!
Happy reading, and…happy new year!

Jeopardy!

December 26, 20072 CommentsPosted in Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized

seeing-eye-logo.gifQuestion: “Over the past 78 years, This Morris County organization has matched over 14,000 specially bred and trained dogs as guides for persons who are blind or visually impaired.”
Answer: “What is The Seeing Eye?”

Jeopardy! America’s Favorite Quiz Show®” (and, by the way, Beth Finke’s favorite TV quiz show) is featuring the Seeing Eye during today’s “Clue Crew” segment. The Clue Crew is a group of correspondents who bring clues to life by visiting places and showing them on “Jeopardy!” Past Clue Crew destinations include the pyramids of Egypt and ancient Greek ruins. I guess they view the Seeing Eye as one of the Wonders of the World, too!
My friend Bonnie Lannum uses a Seeing Eye dog and works for the Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ. She is quoted in the press release about the show:
“We were delighted when the producers of ‘Jeopardy’ approached us about filming clues here at The Seeing Eye last summer,” said The Seeing Eye’s Communications.
Associate Bonnie Lannom. “We were able to represent all aspects of the Seeing Eye program, from puppy raising and dogs in training all the way up to a working dog.”
Back to me. “Jeopardy!” airs in the afternoon here in Chicago, but check your local listings for the time and station in your area. Tune in and test your knowledge along with Hanni and me — and 23 million other viewers!