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Blind on Long Island

March 12, 20087 CommentsPosted in blindness, book tour, Uncategorized, visiting schools

I met with hundreds of kids ON Long Island.They had lots of good questions!Hanni gave lots of demonstrations for the kids.Lots of demonstrations…Okay, she worked her little tail off!Hanni was exhausted from visiting so many places!But she still had time to eat……and drink……and play!Notice she’s not wearing her harness as she laps up her playtime.Even the teachers couldn’t resist!    

Before I get started on this post, let me apologize to the people of Long Island. In my previous blogs (and in email messages) I’ve been saying that I’m doing book events IN Long Island. The schoolkids I visited today set me straight.

I’m ON Long Island, not IN Long Island.

In addition to discussing prepositions, we discussed politics.
Elliott Spitzer stepped down as New York governor today. Lieutenant Governor David Paterson was named his successor. The kids today wanted to know what it meant to be “legally blind.”

Here’s the deal. David Paterson lost sight in his left eye and much of the sight in his right eye after an infection when he was a baby.

When Paterson takes office on Monday, he will become only the third African-American governor in the nation since Reconstruction. He will not be the first New York governor with a disability, though — Franklin Delano Roosevelt governed from 1928 to 1932.

Paterson will, however, be the first blind governor — at least as far as the National Federation of the Blind is aware.

From an AP story today:

“Refusal to bow to his handicap came early.
When New York City schools refused to let him attend mainstream classes, his parents established residency on Long Island, where they found a school that
would let him go to regular classes.”

The kids on Long Island feel proud. Or let me put it this way: they feel proud ON Long Island.

Blogging from Bohemia?

March 10, 2008CommentsPosted in book tour, travel, Uncategorized

Greetings from da island, mon!We had to fight the crowds off with a stick!Everyone in the exotic land of Bohemia was great!

Hanni and I are off to Long Island tomorrow – we’re visiting schools and doing book events in towns with exotic names like Patchogue, Wantagh and…Bohemia!

More details on our Long Island stops are available at the “upcoming events” link on my website. I’ll be bringing my talking laptop on the trip. In order to blog, though, I’ll have to figure out how to hook up to the wireless connection in our room at the Holiday Inn.
Confession: I’ve never used a wireless connection on my own before, someone else has always helped me connect that way.

In other words, if I were you I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a blog from Bohemia.

Polk, Not Oak

March 9, 20084 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, guide dogs, radio, travel, Uncategorized

Earlier this week I revamped that blog I wrote about taxi drivers and sent it to Chicago Public Radio. I recorded it for them Thursday, and it’s scheduled to air in Chicago on March 12 sometime between 9 and 10am. When we were done in the studio Thursday, the first cab to pull up took Hanni and me without a protest.

I was relieved. It would have been way too weird to be denied a ride in a cab after recording an essay about, well, about having been denied a ride in a cab.

“Dearborn and Polk,” I told the driver. He hit the accelerator. Most riders sit quietly in the back of a cab, fidget with papers, glance out the car window. I can’t. And the way I figure, maybe chatter will help drivers feel more comfortable with Hanni and me. Maybe it’ll encourage them to pick up the next human-and-guide-dog team they come across. So I talk.

“How’s business?” I asked. “Fine,” he said. That was it.

Not in the mood for chatter, I guess. Or maybe he was miffed about having a dog in the car? He sure drove fast. I told him so when he stopped the car and said how much I owed him. His speeding worked in my favor — The fare was three dollars cheaper than I paid on the way out.

I gave him a big tip. I mean, the guy wasn’t Mr. Personality, but at least he picked us up. Besides, I like cab drivers to know that people with disabilities can be big tippers.

After uncoiling from the cab, I picked up Hanni’s harness and commanded “Forward!” She brought me to the curb and stopped like always. We crossed the street to her favorite vacant lot, you know, where she “empties.” As I took her harness off, I reached out to the fence there for balance. The fence wasn’t there. “Wow!” I exclaimed to Hanni. “They finally took that stupid fence down!” Hanni did her business, I buckled her harness back on, and we headed north to our apartment.

The sun was out, and the snow was melting. It had been so long since I’d felt the sidewalk at my feet that it felt odd — Not the same cracks and angles I was used to. Hanni’s pace was quick — she seemed to be enjoying guiding me on sidewalks that were clear of snow and ice for a change.

I started listening for Jazz music – it streams from outdoor speakers at the sandwich joint in our building, that’s my cue to tell hanni to turn left and go to our doorway.
All I heard were birds. Hanni kept up her pace, then finally stopped at a curb at the end of the block. It couldn’t be our block, though. I never heard any jazz.

We must have gone the wrong direction when we got out of the cab. It was a nice day – cold, but sunny – and Hanni was enjoying the walk. I decided we’d continue walking. I was sure to hear, or feel, or smell something that would tell me which way to have Hanni take us.

We walked north, and north, and north. It seemed so quiet. No sound of kids from the local college talking on their cell phones, no smells from coffee shops. “Hanni,” I said.”I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

I called out an “excuse me” to the next pair of footsteps I heard. Turns out they belonged to a man named Carl. “I’m a little turned around,” I said. “Can you tell me where we are?” When Carl said we were on Dearborn and Division, I actually laughed out loud.

Division is 20 blocks north of Polk. There had been so many clues to tell me we were far from home – quick ride, cheap fare, missing fence, birds singing, Hanni’s enthusiasm (she always walks faster when we’re in new territory) – but I wanted so badly to be near home that I wouldn’t allow myself to be convinced otherwise. “The cab driver must have thought I said Dearborn and Oak,” I told Carl. (Oak is near Division.)

Carl hailed me another cab and waited while I tucked Hanni’s tail inside. Before he closed the door, he said one last thing: “Thank you for trusting me.”

Perils of Pauline

March 5, 20084 CommentsPosted in book tour, Hanni, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized, visiting schools, Writing for Children

Me and Hanni, a.k.a. Pauline, at the end of SAFE & SOUND.Paul Kirk, the principal at Roslyn Road elementary School, was the lucky man who got to introduce us to the student audience at our visit yesterday. During my speech to the kids, I explained the three rules to keep in mind if you happen to see a guide dog with a harness on: don’t pet the dog, don’t feed the dog, and don’t call out the dog’s name.

“Those things can distract a Seeing Eye dog,” I told them. “It’d be like if someone nudged you or kept calling your name wile you were working on your spelling words at school. You wouldn’t be able to concentrate on your work.”

I suggested we come up with a fake name for Hanni. “If you use her fake name to say hi to her, she wont’ notice,” I said. “She’ll think you’re talking to someone else!”

I asked the kids what their principal’s name was. They chorused an answer. “But what’s his first name?” I asked.

Hmmm. Paul wouldn’t work for Hanni. “How about we call her Pauline?”

The kids loved the idea. During the Q & A part of the session, a student asked if Pauline sleeps with me. It was a good question – it gave me a chance to explain that Seeing Eye dogs are not allowed on furniture. “But she sleeps as close as she can to me,” I said. “She lies right next to my bed. If I get up for a glass of water in the night I have to be careful so I don’t step on her.”

Students asked whether or not Pauline likes other dogs, does Pauline ever slip on the ice, what does Pauline do if she comes across a whole in the sidewalk. But then came a question I hadn’t heard before. “Have you ever fallen out of bed?”

“Yes!” I said. It took a second for me to figure out where this question had come from, but suddenly the light bulb went on over my head. “But I fell off the other side – not on Pauline!”

Guide Dogs and Spiders and Wolves — Oh My!

March 3, 20087 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, guide dogs, Uncategorized, Writing for Children

I know, I know. I already went on and on and on in my last post about our book being reviewed in the School Library Journal. But I can’t help myself! It’s just too cool! The review is available online now, too, at the School Library Journal website.

The icing on the cake? In the online version the listings are alphabetical according to the author’s last name. So there it is, Beth Finke’s book, directly above Jean Craighead George’s new picture book about wolves, “The Wolves Are Back.”

Jean Craighead George is a Newbery winner for “Julie of the Wolves” and a Newbery honor winner for “My Side of the Mountain.” She’s one of the most well known children’s authors of our time.

Last week Hanni was listed with E.B. White’s famous spider. This week, with Jean Craighead George’s famous Wolves. What next? I can’t wait to find out!