All Aboard: Urbana

November 1, 20077 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, book tour, guide dogs, parenting a child with special needs, Seeing Eye dogs, travel, Uncategorized

Hanni and I at the University of Illinois quad.Mike and I met in Urbana. Our son Gus was born in Urbana. My first Seeing Eye dog, Dora, retired in Urbana. When Hanni first came home to live with us, we lived in Urbana.
We love Urbana.

Our son Gus moved to the Bethesda Lutheran Home in Watertown, Wisconsin in 2003. That’s the year we moved to Chicago. We go back to Urbana often. We have lots of friends there, Mike’s sister Kris and her husband Ed live there, and so do Kris and Ed’s kids and grandkids – our great nieces and nephews.
So it only seems right to return to Urbana to celebrate the publication of this new childrens book. On Friday I’ll do an interview on WILL Radio, the NPR affiliate down there. Hanni and I will visit a Champaign middle school that afternoon. Saturday morning we’re slated to do a presentation at Urbana Free Library. To cap it all off, I’ll sign copies of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound at Jane Addams Bookstore in downtown Champaign from 2 to 4 pm Saturday afternoon.
Hanni and I will embark, excuse the dog pun, on this trip tomorrow night on the City of New Orleans train. I just got off the phone with Amtrak. Now I know why I kept procrastinating when it came to booking the ticket.
When I phone Amtrak to make a reservation, I always tell them I’ll be traveling with a Seeing Eye dog. This is not a requirement –they’d have to take me with Hanni whether I told them ahead of time or not. I just let them know as a common courtesy.
But geez, the commotion it creates in the reservation process.
“Is it a big dog?”
“Well, yeah. She’s a Seeing Eye dog.”
“How much does it weigh?”
“Sixty pounds.”
I was put on hold. When the Amtrak employee came back on the line, he had more questions.
“What kind of dog is it?”
“A Seeing Eye dog. A guide dog.
“Yeah, but what kind?”
“A cross between a Labrador and a Golden Retriever. Is that what you mean?
“Yes, we need it for our records. So it’s a Yellow Lab?”
“Yes.” Forgive me Hanni, for lying.
I was put on hold. He returned with another question.
“So you are visually impaired?”
“Will you need any assistance?”
I thought about it for a second. Mike is taking me to Union Station in Chicago, and the Champaign-Urbana station is small enough that Hanni and I can navigate it on our own.
“You don’t need any assistance?”
“No, thanks.”
I heard laughter in the background. I didn’t want to think the joke was on me, so I started chuckling, too.
“You guys are funny, “I said.
I was put on hold.
The Amtrak employee finally came back on line, repeated my reservation information, and told me to enjoy the ride. I thanked him and hung up.
People who never ride Amtrak fantasize that a train ride might be romantic. Those of us who regularly ride Amtrak fantasize that our train will arrive on time.
I’m not taking my laptop along with me to Urbana, so you’ll have to wait a few days to find out whether this fantasy comes true. And whether Hanni can impersonate a full-bred Yellow Lab.

Safe & Sound in Printers Row

October 28, 200712 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, book tour, Hanni, Uncategorized

Just Hanni and me, taking a breather on Printers Row in front of Sandmeyers Bookstore.Book CoverThe party begins…Is that a line?  I’m blushing!Readers of all ages gathered!And of course, no event would be complete without some of my wonderful family present: Mike, Cheryl, and Flo.When Mike, Hanni and I decided to move from Urbana, Illinois to Chicago in 2003 we looked for a neighborhood that would be friendly, safe, and easy for Hanni and me to navigate.
That’s how we found Printers Row.
Printers Row is a tiny neighborhood in Chicago just south of the Loop. The buildings in our neighborhood were originally used by printing and publishing businesses.
Before electricity, printers used natural light to check their work, so the windows in neighborhood buildings are tall and wide. You know, to let light in. The ceilings are high, too, to accommodate old printing presses. Most of the buildings in Printers Row have been converted into residential lofts. There’s always a lot of activity up and down the street, so I feel safe. When I’m walking around with hanni, I feel like people are looking out for me.
Printers Row is close enough to the Loop that Hanni can walk me to my part-time job at Easter Seals and the weekly writing class I teach for senior citizens at the Chicago Cultural Center.

And so, the neighborhood feels safe, it’s easy to navigate. The last requirement: it had to be friendly.
Trust me, it is. In my previous post I told you about the champagne celebration at our local tavern. Now it’s time to tell you about our local bookstore.
Copies of “Hanni and Beth: Safe and Sound” arrived at Sandmeyer’s Bookstore Wednesday. Ulrich
Sandmeyer called me the minute the books arrived. Mike and I ran right down to admire the box load. One book had already sold by the time we got there – a neighbor had seen Ulrich pulling a copy out of the box and insisted on buying it right away.
“There’s not another book like it,” Ulrich said, marveling at the illustrations inside. “It’s going to sell very, very
well.” To that end, Ulrich immediately placed one copy of Safe & Sound in the front display window.
Ulrich owns the store with his wife Ellen — today she pushed that boxload of books on a pushcart to our friends Pat and Carol’s house on Michigan Avenue. Carol and Pat are the couple who watched Hanni while we were in Poland, you might remember my blog about how much Hanni loved her stay with them. Today Carol and Pat showed their generosity once again, hosting an open house to celebrate the publication of Hanni and Beth: Safe & sound. It was only when I sat down to write this blog post that I remembered: Carol and I met on the street! She had seen an article I wrote for the Chicago Tribune Sunday magazine and recognized me from an accompanying photo. She stopped me on the street afterwards to tell me how much she enjoyed the piece I’d written. We’ve been friends ever since.
I sat with Ellen Sandmeyer at the party, signing, Brailling, and rubber stamping Hanni’s pawprint into books for anyone who wanted to buy one. And lots of people wanted to buy one. Or two! or three! A woman from the writing class I teach even bought SEVEN — she’s in the Safe & sound Frequent Flyer Club now.
Neighbors were there, friends from my book club , my writing group, my senior citizen class came. My sister Cheryl surprised me by bringing Flo to the party — what a delight!
The event was wonderful. My neighbors are great. Once again I was reminded: Mike and I made the right decision when we decided to live in Printers Row.


October 26, 200718 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, Uncategorized

Hanging at Hackneys with bartender Billy Balducci!Now what should my next book be about…?Looks like Hanni’s had one too many…Last week Mike, Hanni and I brought a copy of Safe & Sound down to Hackney’s, our local tavern. Jim — one of the owners — Showed the book off to everyone at the bar. I was so busy answering questions about the illustrator – “He lives in a farm house two hours north of Minneapolis.”, “No, I didn’t know him before. The publisher chose him.” “Hanni and I took a bus up there from Chicago, he watched us working together and sent sample drawings to Mike.” “Oil. each page is a painting. He did them in oil.” — that I didn’t notice Jim slip away downstairs.
When Jim re-emerged, he had a couple of bottles in hand. Champagne! Not only that, but real champagne glasses, too. Oo la la! Everyone in the bar that night celebrated with us.
Cheers to Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound. And cheers to Hackney’s, too.

Hanni Unleashed

October 24, 20078 CommentsPosted in Blogroll, guide dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, travel, Uncategorized

My apartment was filled to the brim with future scholars!Scratch, scratch, scratch…depaul-students-4.jpgEvery semester I give a guest lecture for a disability awareness class at DePaul University in Chicago. This semester, though, the class decided to come to me.
Twenty or so students piled into our apartment this afternoon to see where I live, how I manage in the house, and what my talking computer sounds like.
As an added bonus, they got to pet and play with a Seeing Eye dog. Hanni doesn’t wear her harness in the house – I know my way around, so I don’t need her to guide me. And when Hanni’s harness is off, she’s fair game – you can pet her, play with her, talk to her. The second her harness goes on again, though, she’s working. I ask people not to pet her or talk to her while she’s at work. Quoting Hanni from Safe & Sound:
“I like people, but they shouldn’t pet or talk to me while I’m working. That way, I can pay close attention to Beth. That way, we’ll be safe.”
Back to the DePaul students. I enjoyed having them over – they had lots of good questions. “How do you deal with trust? You have to trust a lot of people!” “Here’s a whimsical question: do you and other blind people dream differently than we do?”
A few students arrived early – one was thinking of majoring in journalism. It was fun to talk to her about writing, and her interest in journalism provides a segue to my next subject: my nephew Brian Miller is a writer, and he got a story published in an on-line magazine today!
Brian teaches English as a second language in South Korea –he has lots of interesting stories about life in Jeju. One of them was published today in World Hum. Brian and I found out about World Hum through my writer friend Tara Swords, her story “An Island in Costa Rica” was published there last year.
Obviously the editors at World Hum have good taste – congrats, Brian. Your aunt is very proud of you.
And now, it’s time to put Hanni’s harness on to take her out. Back to work —

Book People, Blind People, and Big (as in Adult-Size) People

October 21, 20075 CommentsPosted in book tour, Seeing Eye dogs, travel, Uncategorized

BookPeople LogoThe Book CoverHanni and I gave a presentation in the BookKids department at BookPeople in Austin yesterday. I started the presentation by explaining that even though my eyes are open I can’t see. “When I was little, I went to school just like you – and then when I lost my sight I had to go to school and learn to do things all over again,” I told the kids.
Only trouble was, There were no kids in the audience — I had no idea that I was talking to a bunch of adults. Duh! It is so embarrassing now to think of how painstakingly (for the people in the audience, I’m sure!) I explained what Braille is. I encouraged the audience to try squeezing toothpaste onto a toothbrush with their eyes closed. I teased them, telling them they could borrow some of the Seeing Eye dog training methods to “train” their parents.
It wasn’t until I’d finished signing and paw-printing copies of “Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound” afterwards that it dawned on me. I’d signed 20 books or so but didn’t talk to a single kid. “There were some kids mingling around,” the BookKids event planner told me. “But the audience was all adults!”
Well, adults and dogs, that is. A couple from Austin brought their Seeing Eye dogs along to the presentation, so Hanni had a little competition. That’s good for her – her head was getting big after those designer treats at the Renaissance Hotel!
Karen Thomas was there, too – she’s the editor of Dialogue Magazine. DIALOGUE is an international news magazine for people who are experiencing vision loss or are blind. It comes out in large print and on cassette, and Karen brought a copy of both formats for me. Guess what? “Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound” is reviewed in the September/ October 2007 edition! I listened to the review — and the rest of the magazine — on my flight back to Chicago.
And now that I’m home, I’ve made a note to myself: in the future, I’ll start my presentations by asking the audience to say, hmmm, let me think. How about they say “Safe!” if they’re adults. “Sound!!” if they’re kids. Then at least I’ll know who I’m talking to!