Navigating a New Workplace

July 23, 20087 CommentsPosted in blindness, radio, Uncategorized

Chicago Public Radio logoEvery once in a while I record an essay for Chicago Public radio that, for one reason or another, sits and sits before they ever put it on the air. That was the case with the Navigating a New Workplace essay I recorded for WBEZ back in 2006. The piece was about an internship I did at Easter Seals Headquarters in Chicago.

The internship was part of a federal grant called the Technology Opportunities Project. Easter Seals teamed up with Convio, a software company in Austin, to make their web content program accessible. Translation: the program made it possible for blind people to manage and update web sites, even though we can’t see what we’re doing. That internship led to a part-time job for me – I moderate the Easter Seals autism blog now. Navigating a New Workplace finally aired on WBEZ this morning. Here’s the intro:

Starting a new job can be both exciting and intimidating. You have to learn new computer programs and protocols, get used to the office politics and figure out where the bathroom is. And sometimes there are even bigger challenges to face. Chicago writer Beth Finke recently navigated her way around a new workplace.

But oh, that’s just a tease. If you want to hear the entire essay, you’ll have to link to the story on WBEZ!

Hanni's Harness

July 21, 20082 CommentsPosted in blindness, Blogroll, guide dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized

You might remember my blog about seeing a physical therapist — I’d asked her if she thought my rotator cuff 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.”

I phoned the Seeing Eye then to ask whether rotator cuff injuries are common among people who use guide dogs. “This week they are. “ The trainer on the phone answered, sounding slightly bewildered. “Strange — you’re the third person to call in the past couple of days with this same problem.”

It’s not just the blind folks using guide dogs who suffer shoulder and arm injuries — Turns out a lot of the trainers end up with problems, too. Think about it. They are training young (STRONG) puppies to pull.

One of the trainers, a terrific guy named LucasLukas Frank, recognized this problem and has patented a new “swivel” harness handle that might alleviate shoulder and arm pain. After a few calls from my physical therapist, LucasLukas has had one of these new harnesses custom-built for me. He’s coming to Chicago this week to speak at the 2008 International Conference of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER), so while he’s here, he’ll show me how to use the new harness with Hanni. My physical therapist Patrice hopes to be at this training session, too –she wants to see how the harness works. She also wants to know (from LucasLukas) what she can tell me to do in re: posture and holding the harness without jeopardizing my safety. iow, I have to be able to “feel” Hanni through the harness, so even if it would help my shoulder some, I can’t hold the handle too lightly.
I’m doing a session at that same conference LucasLukas came to town for – my session is called Blogging by ear and meets at the ungodly hour of eight o’clock in the morning on Thursday. I’ll be talking about my job as moderator for the Easter Seals Autism blog and how that job led me to starting this personal Safe & Sound blog. And now, thanks to LucasLukas Frank, it looks like I might be debuting Hanni’s new harness at that session, too!

Henry Has a Home

July 12, 20087 CommentsPosted in book tour, travel, Uncategorized, Writing for Children


Henry, in safe hands after thumbing a ride from the ASPCA.

Henry, in safe hands after thumbing a ride from the ASPCA.

Remember my Lucky Dog blog post? It was about Kristen Limbert, the Coordinator for Humane Education at the ASPCA. While chauffeuring the Henry Bergh Childrens Book Award winners to a fundraiser to benefit a southern California animal shelter, Kristen stopped on a busy highway to rescue a puppy.


Now, that was one lucky dog. What were the odds of an ASPCA van crossing his path, headed directly to the local Animal shelter?! He had no tags, so was dubbed Henry — for the book award, of course! Kristen vowed that if no one adopted him by the end of the week, she’d take him home.

Many of you commented to that post, wishing the best for Henry. Well, guess what? You get your wish! Kristen emailed this week with this wonderful news:

I thought you all might like to know that Henry, the adorable little critter that let me rescue him off the California freeway has been adopted by a family out there. I had spoken to SEAACA (Southeast Area Animal Control Authority) staff on Saturday, when his stray hold was up, and at that point no prior owner had come looking for him. He was doing well, no longer limping, but still waiting patiently for a family. I was planning on taking him home myself, if he wasn’t able to find a new home easily and quickly. Such a sweet dog. However, I wanted to give him a few days, to see if a new caring person would come forward out in CA, saving him what would surely be a stressful flight to NY.

I called yesterday to check on him, and to begin making arrangements if he was still there, and he had been adopted!!

A smidgen of sadness, definitely, but I know it’s for the best. Hopefully he will have a happy, healthy life in Southern California. Good news for everyone involved!


July 7, 200827 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, book tour, travel, Uncategorized, Writing for Children


Beth and Hanni with Jude Rich (left) and Francine Rich (right)

That's me with Jude and Francine Rich, my favorite publishers.

This is Part Two of, well, a two-part series. To get the appropriate build-up, please read my Practice Run blog post first.


During last week’s cocktail reception, Henry Bergh Award winners were invited to give speeches. Joanne Ryder (author of Toad by the Road) thanked her husband Laurence Yepp during her speech. My publisher Francine Rich got so excited hearing Laurence Yepp’s name that I was afraid she’d fall out of her seat. Later on she explained: Laurence Yepp is the author of Dragonwings,a book her son Dominick counts among his favorites. “I got my picture taken with him!” she gushed.

Yepp and Ryder were among the many, many impressive writers at the reception. Mary Alice Monroe was at our table – she’s had a dozen books published already. Maribeth Boelts (her book Before You Were Mine won a Henry Bergh award for fiction) was at our table, too, along with her editor from G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Victoria Miles, author of a number of award-winning books for children, sat across from me and complimented my Lana Turner dress.

We all signed books after the ceremony, but the first person who approached my table wasn’t really interested in buying Safe & Sound– he wanted to pet Hanni. I happily relented, unbuckled Hanni’s harness, and let him have at her. After that, many of the 100+ in the audience lined up for a chance to pet Hanni. I mean, c’mon – it was an ASPCA event. They all missed their animals at home. While Hanni enjoyed herself on the ground, Guy Pantangelo (his dad is Animal Precinct’s Officer Joe Pentangelo) assisted me at the table by rubber stamping a dog pawprint onto every book sold. Just like the day before, a portion of each book sale was donated to the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority in Downey, CA.

Guy Pentangelo helps Beth while she signs books

Guy Pentangelo helps me while I sign books.

When the caterers came to clean off the tables and shoo us away, Cheryl, Marilee and I took our wine to the fancy lobby outside the meeting room. Lounging there in a comfy chair, glass of wine in one hand, Hanni’s paw in the other, my sisters sitting across from me, well, that’s when I knew. I was a winner. None of us wanted to leave.

The next morning we all headed back to the exhibit hall for one last visit – and one last free t-shirt. What a kick it was to be recognized by people at the convention center. “I was there last night!” “Congratulations!”

Hanni brought me back to earth by misbehaving on our way home. As we headed to the jetway to board our flight at the John Wayne airport, a child in a stroller caught Hanni’s eye. The kid was right next to us in line, enjoying a sandwich, kind of flailing her arms, I guess. Hanni took that as an invitation to enjoy the sandwich, too, snatching the PBJ right out of the poor child’s hand. It all happened so quickly that the kid didn’t flinch. Her parents didn’t flinch, either. By the time I got my hands on Hanni’s mouth to root out the sandwich, she had swallowed it.

Laurence Yepp pets Hanni

Hanni enjoys her time off work

Ah, well. Even award-winning dogs break the rules sometimes.

Practice Run

July 7, 20084 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, book tour, guide dogs, travel, Uncategorized, Writing for Children


2007 ASPCA Henry Bergh Award Winners

2007 ASPCA Henry Bergh Award Winners

It’s been a week now since Hanni and I attended the cocktail reception in California to accept our ASPCA/Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award, and we’re both still walking on air. Finally this morning I’m coming down long enough to sit in front of my talking computer and compose a blog post about the big event. Eight writers won the Henry Bergh Award this year, some for fiction, others for non-fiction, poetry, young adult books, and so on. Two illustrators were also recognized with awards.

I was so excited to get to the reception that we arrived early — the room was pretty darn empty when we got there. Our early arrival turned out to be a good thing – it gave Hanni and me a chance to practice getting from our table up to the stage. You know, so we’d be ready when they announced our award! For the first dry run I let go of Hanni’s harness – I held on to her leash as someone guided us and pointed out where the three steps to the stage were. At the foot of the steps, I crouched down next to Hanni and pet her and rubbed her and told her over and over what a good girl she is. When I stood up, I put my foot on the first step. Tapping my foot then, and pointing to the step, I exclaimed, “Good girl, Hanni! Here’s where we want to go. Good girl!” We were led back to our table. I sat down, then helped Hanni situate herself underneath. After that, I pretended our names had just been announced. I pulled out my chair and called Hanni to come out. She did. Standing up, I lined my back against the back of the chair and commanded, “Forward!” Hanni led me right to the stairs. She was perfect.

She is perfect!


Joe Pentangelo, me, and Hanni

Joe Pentangelo, me, and Hanni

We tried it a few more times – the practice was more for me than for Hanni – until I felt fairly sure we’d make it without me falling. Or fainting. My Blue Marlin publisher Francine Rich arrived with her husband Jude around that time – they presented me with lilies. The fragrance was sensational. I felt like a star. The whole event was first class, fancy hors d’oeuvres, fancy drinks, fancy people. I even had a police escort! Joe Pentangelo, Special Agent for Humane Law Enforcement at the ASPCA — and one of the stars of the Animal Precinct TV show on Animal Planet — met Hanni and me at the stage and walked us to the podium to receive our award. Find out if we made it without tripping — or fainting! — by reading my next blog post, called Winners!!!