The Hanni hop

November 30, 201616 CommentsPosted in blindness, careers/jobs for people who are blind, guide dogs, Hanni, public speaking, radio, travel, Uncategorized, visiting schools, Whitney
Nancy has the full attention of both the 6-year-old and the 16-year-old. Or, the treat does.

Nancy has the full attention of both the 6-year-old and the 16-year-old. Or, the treat does.

My Seeing Eye dog Whitney and I took an Amtrak train to Central Illinois Monday to give a presentation to an animal sciences class at the University of Illinois. While there in Urbana, we looked in on retired Seeing Eye dog Hanni. Her human companions Nancy and Steven report The 16-year-old star of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound is still going strong.

Steven and Nancy hosted their families for Thanksgiving this year and headed to Homer Lake at a nearby forest reserve afterward to walk their dinner off. Hanni came along, and when they took her leash off, she took off for a run.

“Well,” Nancy conceded. “It was more of a lope.” Hanni suffers from joint pain in her back hips, but Steven says the female Golden Retriever/Black Lab cross is still determined to go for runs around the lake. “She’s learned to lift up both back legs together and hop while she pulls herself ahead with her front legs,” he marveled. “She ran like a rabbit for more than a mile!”

Mondays with Mike: Kitchen therapy

November 28, 20168 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, Uncategorized

Hope you had as good a Thanksgiving holiday as we did. We mostly hunkered down at home, and I cooked a lot.

I did not make Thanksgiving dinner—we went to some generous friends’ for that. But I did make some chicken broth from scratch, and used part of that to make some yummy beef barley soup. (Yep, the recipe called for chicken broth, not beef broth.)



Chicken broth seems like such a simple thing—but I’ve never been satisfied with mine. Until this weekend, that is, thanks to advice from our friend Jim, who’s a chef. The key is simple—use more chicken parts and less water to concentrate the flavor. Doh. Jim directed me to a great site called Serious Eats, which includes some nice tips for making a good broth.

I followed the Serious Eats recipe, and the result was an apartment—actually, an entire hallway—that smelled like comfort for hours. The next day, it was the same, only this time the aroma was beef and barley.

I’ve been cooking since high school—my mom taught me a lot, especially about Italian cooking. But I didn’t really fall in love with cooking until Beth and I were married. In our early days, money was tight, so going out to eat was a luxury we couldn’t afford. Plus, having friends to dinner was a way for us to thank them for all the help they provided in the days after Beth lost her sight and after Gus was born.

Apart from all that, cooking is therapeutic for me. When I get stuck in my own spinning brain (which happens a lot), cooking slows things down and gets things in order. The process—chopping, measuring, stirring, simmering roasting—is calming and gratifying in itself.

And when everything turns out like it did this past weekend, it doesn’t hurt that it’s awfully good to eat.



Eight books to help you escape for a while

November 24, 201625 CommentsPosted in blindness, politics, radio, technology for people who are blind, Uncategorized

When I woke up the day after the 2016 presidential election, I couldn’t hear out of my left ear. Days later the infection spread to my right ear as well. I couldn’t hear at all.

The timing was uncanny. Maybe it was a gift from the Gods. My ears plugged up the very day the drawn-out election was finally over. I couldn’t hear the radio. I couldn’t hear the television. I couldn’t hear my talking computer. Without my hearing, I could tune out politics completely. See no evil, hear no evil?

Seriously, though? I was miserable. So was Mike. The little candy-bar-sized contraption I use to listen to books eventually came to my rescue. If I turned the volume all the way up and held it right to my ear, I could listen to books. The Victor Reader Stream features buttons rather than a touch screen, and I’d already been pretty much connected to it before my hearing loss — books were my escape from the pre-election noise.

My sub-conscience must have taken over when selecting books — without intending it, every single book I downloaded the past month is written by an author from — or takes place in — a foreign country.

Understanding that some of you Safe & Sound blog readers may be looking for an escape from the news media, too, I’m sharing my recent book list.

  1. A Great Reckoning
    The characters from a tiny made-up town in Quebec come in and out of all of Louise Penny’s books: the gay couple who own the bistro, the cranky old poet named Ruth who swears a lot, the bookstore owner named Myrna, and so on. The Great Reckoning was just published this year, and if you choose to listen to it instead of reading the print version, you’re in for a treat — the narrator can even do a French-Canadian accent. The idyllic town of Three Pines is so far removed that there’s nary a mention of smart phones, tweets or texts. Bestseller. 2016.
  2. A Man Called Ove
    Ove is nearly sixty and the grumpiest man on the block. After losing his wife, his job, and his role as coobrienndominium president he decides to commit suicide. Enter a lively family of new neighbors and a stray cat, and Ove might just have a reason to keep living. First published in Swedish in 2012.
  3. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
    In the age of Rembrandt, artist Sara de Vos paints an image for the ages. In 1950s New York, a lawyer discovers that the painting he inherited has been replaced by a copy. Fifty years later, the lawyer, the forger, and the paintings are brought together.
  4. The Light between Oceans
    Western Australia, 1926. On an island one hundred miles from the mainland, lighthouse keepers Isabel and Tom Sherbourne discover a boat carrying a dead man and a crying baby. The decisions they make that day come back to haunt them several years later. Bestseller. 2012.
  5. Norwegian Wood
    Toru Watanabe is overcome by sadness when he hears the Beatles’ song “Norwegian Wood.” It evokes the events of that long-ago autumn of 1969 when he fell in love in Japan with Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend. Written by Haruki Murakami.
  6. The Little Red Chairs
    Dr. Vladimir Dragan, a holistic healer from the Balkans, arrives one day in a small village in Ireland. Fidelma McBride begins an affair with Dragan. Written by Edna O’Brien. 2016.
  7. Country Girl
    Edna O’Brien’s book about growing up in Ireland — she reads the audio edition. Describes her childhood in County Clare, apprenticeship at a pharmacist’s shop in Dublin, and literary high life in London and New York in the 1960s. Bestseller. 2016.
  8. Mr. Strangelove: a biography of Peter Sellers
    Biographer explores the quirky comic genius of British actor Peter Sellers, who just happens to appear in two of my favorite movies: Dr. Strangelove and Being There.

My hearing is improving by the day, and for that I am very thankful. I’ll continue using it to read books, so if you have Any suggestions (by American authors or others) please leave them here in the comment section. I’m all ears!

Mondays with Mike: Thanksgiving

November 21, 20167 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, Uncategorized

I had an idea to round up some of the more thoughtful bits of post-election reading I’ve come across. When I told Beth about my idea, she replied, in her infinite wisdom, “Don’t! People are getting all that from all sides.”


So, instead, I’m simply going to give thanks for longtime friends. The ones who’ve borne witness to my life and my foibles and still call me their friend. I was reminded this past weekend of the deep, comforting value of having people who knew me way back when.

That's Pick and us just before we left for the wedding. Thanks to Hank, the man behind the camera.

That’s Pick and us just before we left for the wedding. Thanks to Hank, the man behind the camera.

At the wedding we attended in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, at some point my friend Rebecca—the mother of the groom—took me aside and said, “I just realized who you look like. Your father.” For a moment I froze, grateful for the simple privilege of having a close friend who knew my dad. I knew Rebecca’s parents, too. We became thick as thieves in high school, and partners in crime during summers home from college. Basically, two kids with a visceral desire to get out of our little town and see what the hell was out there. Our lives took us in different directions, but we never lost touch.

On Friday night before the wedding, we stayed with Pick and Hank, who got together as a couple just about the time Beth and I did. I’ve written about them before. I met Pick when I was a college intern in Washington, D.C. Later, after I graduated from the University of Illinois I took a job in D.C. Pick and I eventually became roommates and fast friends. Pick was visiting with Beth, me and Gus at the house we rented in Urbana over Labor Day in 1991 when I got the phone call—my father had died at home of a heart attack. Pick drove up to Pennsylvania to be with us for my dad’s funeral. Come to think of it, Becky was there, too, at the wake.

A year later, a week after my mother’s funeral, Pick drove from D.C. to Urbana, Illinois, to help me and Beth and Gus get settled in our ramshackle “starter home” ($38,900 back in the day). I have Pick to thank for introducing me to Hank and a slew of other friends, most especially Michael and Susi.

I realized this weekend that I go back with all these people 40 years, more or less. I don’t know where the time went.

But I’m thankful I’m still here, and that they—and all of my friends—are, too.

P.S. I’m happy to report that although we did have a few frightening “Miracle Worker” moments, Beth’s ears are almost all the way back.

Just this one Thursday with Mike: Foiled!           

November 17, 20168 CommentsPosted in guest blog, Mike Knezovich, Uncategorized

Hey there, it’s Mike again. You may remember that on Monday I wrote about our planned trip to Washington, D.C.

Well, a not-so-funny thing happened on the way: Beth came down with a nasty, raging ear infection in her left ear, and then her right ear. For a short while, the infections left Beth barely able to hear, which as you can imagine, left her unable to fend for herself, pressed me into service, and pretty much just scared the hell out of both of us.

With Beth temporarily out of service, Whitney is really bored.

With Beth temporarily out of service, Whitney is really bored.

Three visits to the ENT, some nuclear ear drops (Cipro plus steroids), and a few doses of Advil later, she seems to be on the mend. To all her class members who’ve inquired, thanks for your kind messages, and Beth said to pass it along that she should be back in the saddle soon.

But we postponed our trip—we may be leaving tomorrow, but we’ll miss our date with Michael and Susi. And the discussion I hoped to have with Michael about the book Hillbilly Elegy and other recent events. On that subject, a few added thoughts:

As posted Monday, I liked the book Hillbilly Elegy a lot. What I failed to mention is that the book’s become a lightning rod of sorts. The author is a conservative, though I really hate labeling someone—because people are more nuanced than labels in my view—and because I don’t know what the hell being conservative means today. I kind of knew growing up. But I don’t recognize the Republican Party anymore.

Anyway, since I endorsed the book I felt obligated to add the above qualifiers. And in the interest of equal time, here’s a thoughtful  critique of Hillbilly Elegy from the New Republic.

Here’s the good and bad about this critique, in my humble opinion.

First, the bad: The author calls it out as wanting in terms of being a broad, even profound way of understanding the culture of the hillbillies writes about. I get that, but I think she’s shadow boxing. Here’s the deal: I took the book as a well told account of one guy’s life, a window on a group of people I don’t usually see, and I took whatever politics he included as his views—which he has a right to—and about which I don’t have to agree to find value in his writing. As I read the book, I noted points where I disagreed with the writer’s synthesis, and I was looking forward to talking about those points with my friend Michael tonight. (I’m sure we will, eventually.)

The good: Its criticism of other pundits and book critics, many of whom are mistakenly treating Elegy as an explanation for Trump voters, and a bigger deal than it is, or was meant to be. By his own acclamation, Vance didn’t mean it to be those things.

The best parts of the critique are the parts that don’t talk so much about the book, but about the broader issue of poverty. And about the election—smartly pointing out that hillbillies didn’t win the election for Trump. I hope you’ll read both the book and the critique—but the critique is a valuable read in its own right.

OK, to end this first and last Thursday with Mike, I’m going to repost the link to the article included in Monday’s postscript.

It’s called What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback about it from blog followers who read it, so I think it’s worth another shout out.

See ya’ Monday.