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Warsaw Weekend

October 2, 200711 CommentsPosted in Hanni, travel, Uncategorized

Me, Beni (from England), Sheelagh (Belfast), beer & vodka (Warsaw reception hall)Bride & Groom (Agnieszka from Warsaw & Gerald from Berlin)The Palac Kultury i NaukiMore of the Palace

Whatta wonderful Warsaw weekend!  Weather was warm, we walked wherever we went. We witnessed where warriors waged war. We wandered where World War widows wept.
Wedding? Well, we waltzed, whirling wildly, wowing wedding-goers. Whew! Week-end, we were weary, worn-out, weak. Wonder why? Wodka.

Okay. Enough. But if you wondered how desperate I felt during that TEN HOUR FLIGHT from Warsaw to Chicago, now you know. I killed time dreaming up “w” words to describe the trip.

Yeesh.

The flights back and forth were well worth it, though. Friends from all over Europe met up with us in Warsaw, most of them were people I’d met 20+ years ago through my job working with foreign students. I lost that job when I lost my sight – that was before the Americans with Disabilities Act. That career ended, but the more important thing– these friendships – have endured.

And the wedding, of course, was fabulous. The service took place at city hall, where a woman translated the Polish vows to German. The reception was at the Palac Kultury i Nauki, Palace of Culture and Science. The Palace was built by the Soviets in the 1950s as a “gift” to Polish society. A web site about the Palace says the decision to combine traditional Polish ornamentation with Soviet architecture inspired Warsawans to baptize the Palace as “an elephant in lacy underwear.” I didn’t hear anyone at the reception calling it that, but then again – I wouldn’t have understood their Polish!

And so, like I said in the “w” paragraph, Mike and I had a wonderful time. That “w” paragraph is entirely true, in fact. Oh, okay, except for one thing. Although we danced — a lot! — at the wedding, we didn’t waltz.

As for Hanni, she spent the week in a Chicago palace – with our friends Pat and Carol on Michigan Avenue. When Mike and I walked into their condo to pick Hanni up, the star of “Safe & Sound” did not bound up to cover me with kisses. She did come up to greet me, but then quickly retreated to her spot in her new living room to chew on her Nyla bone. She guided me home safely, but I wouldn’t use the word “overjoyed” to describe her work.
I’m not worried about this – who can blame her? In the end, I think Hanni enjoyed her vacation as much as Mike and I did!

No Muzzle for Hanni

September 25, 20075 CommentsPosted in blindness, guide dogs, Hanni, Mike Knezovich, travel, Uncategorized

Book CoverThere, there.  I would never muzzle you!There, there.  I would never muzzle you!There, there.  I would never muzzle you!A friend of ours is marrying a woman from Poland this Saturday. Mike and I are flying from Chicago to Warsaw for the wedding.

Hanni’s staying home with friends.

I actually did consider having Hanni go with us and guide me through Poland. It’s true that guide dogs cannot travel with their blind partners into the United Kingdom and Ireland without being quarantined, but from what I gather we would be allowed in Poland.

At least I think so.

A list of European countries and their guide dog regulations called “Guide Dog Access to Public Places and Facilities in Europe” is available at the European Blind Union web site. Trouble is, Poland wasn’t’ even included in the list of countries.

Other countries were missing from the list, too, and the European Blind Union’s Commission on Mobility and Guide Dogs site was hardly reassuring. “Generally,” the web site says, “the presence of a guide dog is tolerated.”

Tolerated?

Truth is, the access situation for guide dogs in some European countries can be pretty complicated. There is no “Europeans with Disabilities Act” like the “Americans with Disabilities Act” we have in the US. In one same country the access rules can change from city to city, region to region. In some countries, there are simply no regulations at all.

Across the board, access for guide dogs in Europe pretty much depends on the good will and support of well-informed staff. This means there is always the possibility of a guide dog user being denied access to, say, a hotel, or a cinema, or a wedding reception.

And then there’s LOT Polish Airlines. Mike and I are flying LOT nonstop from Chicago to Warsaw. While they do allow guide dogs on board, LOT Polish Airlines regulations State that “a blind person’s guide dog should wear a muzzle and an appropriate harness during the whole flight.”

A muzzle? During the whole flight? A ten hour flight would be hard enough on Hanni.  A muzzle would be downright cruel.

Hanni and I have been together 6 years. I’ve only been without her once, when I went to Belfast.  Mike stayed home and took care of her that time. But Mike is coming along on this trip.

I started putting together a list of friends I could ask to take care of Hanni while we were away. The first person on my list said yes. I’ll miss Hanni while we’re gone, and Mike will have to do all the leading – I’m pretty hopeless with a white cane. Hanni will be a little confused, and I know she’ll miss us.  But who knows – maybe she’ll enjoy the time off work.  Who wouldn’t? Our generous friends Carol and Pat love dogs and have a great place for Hanni: a Michigan Avenue highrise, beautiful lake view, and…right across the street from Grant Park.

Hanni and Beth in Braille

September 21, 20077 CommentsPosted in book tour, Braille, Uncategorized

S & SSeedlings Logo  The Braille version of “Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound” is here! I received my advance copy in the mail today! That means the “real deal” should be available to blind readers on October 15th, the same day the print edition will officially be released. This is very, very unusual.

Braille is so expensive to publish that “braile presses” usually wait until a book becomes a best-seller before putting it out in Braille. But here it is, already in my dirty little hands.

Okay, that’s a joke. I washed my hands before touching the new book.

The book is in a Print-and-Braille format. The contracted braille and print match line for line, with the print just above the Braille (no pictures).
I can tell you first hand, so to speak, that it’s “good Braille” = the dots are stiff, they stand up straight, They’re easy to read.

A little known fact about Braille: less than 20% of the 50,000 blind children in the United States are proficient in Braille. All too often, the “written word” has been inaccessible to kids who are blind, far easier for them to listen to books on audio or hear words on a computer screen equipped with a screen reader. Technology is cool, but how will these children ever learn to spell correctly? How will they know where to put commas, quotation marks, paragraph breaks and so on?

My children’s book publisher, Blue Marlin Publications, teamed up with Seedlings Braille Books for Children, a non-profit organization in Michigan that creates Braille books for kids who can’t see. Blue Marlin didn’t charge Seedlings a penny for the rights to publish the book in Braille.

Not only that, but Blue Marlin Publications is donating a portion of the sales of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound to Seedlings so they can continue creating books in Braille for kids who need them. By producing Braille books for children, Seedlings helps promote “literacy for the blind,” providing visually impaired children equal opportunity to develop a love of reading.

With Safe & Sound available in Braille, I’ll be able to read it aloud at my presentations, too.

To find out how to order a copy of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound in Braille, or to donate to Seedlings to help them create more books in Braille for kids, link to www.seedlings.org.

Say "Cheese"…and Wine

September 19, 20078 CommentsPosted in Hanni, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized, Writing for Children

Safe & SoundWalking the Mean StreetsEvery once in a while, my talking computer barks out an email from the Illinois chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I listen and think, gee, that event sounds interesting. And then I find out where they are meeting, or when they are meeting, and I hit the delete button.
But then came the announcement for last night’s soiree. Downtown Chicago. 5:30 pm. Wine and cheese.
We live just south of the Chicago loop. The wine and cheese party was at Carus publishing – they’re the ones who publish Cricket Magazine for kids. Who knows, maybe Cricket is looking for stories about Seeing Eye dogs. And if they’re not? Wine. And cheese! I signed up.
Carus is at 70 E. Lake. A fairly easy walk for Hanni and me. Except during rush hour.
It’s not the traffic that’s the problem at 5 pm – it’s the commuters! Workers are so eager to catch their trains or get to their el stops or talk to friends on their cell phones that they don’t watch where their going. Hanni only got stepped on once during this trip, pretty good. But she was bumped into more times than that.
At one corner Hanni finally retaliated. She ran me right into the poor soul standing there waiting for the light to change.
“Hey!” the woman shouted at me.
“Sorry,” I said.
No answer.
We waited a bit. A noisy corner. Difficult to hear the traffic and figure out when the light turned green.
“Are you crossing here?” I asked the stranger.
No answer. Man, she really was mad at us. We waited. It was especially hard to judge the traffic. I needed help.
“Are you going this way?” I asked, pointing across the street. No answer.
That’s when I realized. The woman we ran into must be developmentally disabled. I left her alone.
Just then a young man walked up. “God you are in your own world!” he complained, nudging the woman so hard that she ran into us. Yeesh, it’s a violent pedestrian world in Chicago! “Take off your headphones!” the guy shouted to his friend. “You can’t hear anything!”
The stranger at the corner wasn’t developmentally disabled – she was voluntarily hearing impaired! The guy kept shouting to her as they crossed the street. We crossed along.
Hanni and I made it to 70 E. Lake. The book writers and illustrators were nice to us. One helped me find a seat, and Hanni immediately curled up next to me to recover from the trip. I drank wine. And ate cheese. And learned a lot about Carus Publications.               Any writers out there who are reading this blog: Cricket and Lady Bug and Baby Bug and all their magazines receive far too many stories about farms. And too many stories about summer adventures. They want more stories with an activity connected at the end. So if you have a story in mind about a winter activity in the city, send it to Carus. If the story centers on boys, all the better – they get far too many stories that relate solely to girls.
Our trip home was much easier – the commuters had all arrived at their destinations. Hanni and I made it home.  Safe & Sound.

Close Call

September 14, 200714 CommentsPosted in guide dogs, Hanni, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized

Book CoverBeth and Hanni  Last Wednesday Hanni led me to the Union League Club of Chicago to meet with the Barrington Bliss Book Club. Well, I say she led me there, but to be honest, when I asked her to turn at the front door she sped right by. The Union League Club is a swanky private club right in the heart of Chicago’s downtown financial district. Members meet there to “socialize and enjoy fine food and impeccable service.” No wonder Hanni raced passed the front door – she couldn’t believe we’d been invited!
When I felt we’d gone too far, I turned Hanni around and pointed in the general direction of the entryway. I could tell from the reluctant pull of the harness that she still wasn’t so sure.
We were at the right place,though. Some members of the Barrington Bliss Book Club are also members of the Union League Club, and they were kind enough to invite Hanni and me to join them as a guest author. The club had read “Long Time, No See.” We talked about how I decided to write that first book of mine and what all has happened to me since University of Illinois Press published it in 2003. Of course I managed to get a plug in for “Hanni and Beth: Safe & sound” as well! I passed the advance copy around, everyone ooed and ahhed appropriately at the illustrations. You can oo and ah now, too – a friend has attached the book’s cover design to my blog. (As you might imagine, visual decorations like that are not my forte!)
Back to Barrington Bliss Book Club: I met some wonderful women and time seemed to fly by. “Where’s Hanni?” some book club members asked when it was time for us all to leave. I pointed under the table – Hanni had curled up and fallen asleep down there. She was so quiet and still, they hadn’t realized she was with me!
BUT THANK GOD SHE WAS.
When we left the Union League Club and headed east on Jackson, we approached a side street. Hanni stopped, of course. Traffic was rushing by at our parallel, cuing me that it was safe to cross. “Forward!” I commanded. Hanni looked both ways, and judging it safe, she pulled me forward.
But then all of a sudden she jumped back. I followed her lead and heard the rush of a car literally inches in front of us. Hanni had seen the car turning right off the busy street. I hadn’t.
She saved my life.
I felt someone rush by us, then heard shouting down the side street. My heart was racing, but training at the Seeing Eye told me what to do next. “Walk backwards! Get on the sidewalk before you praise her!” I heard my trainer from years ago calling out in my head. We had practiced this very thing during training – staff members would drive Seeing Eye vans around town while we were out with our dogs, the van drivers would make quick turns and dart in front of us on purpose so we would feel how the dogs reacted.
Back on the sidewalk, I got on all fours to hug Hanni. I was afraid from what had happened, of course. But even more, I was afraid that the near miss could scare Hanni from wanting to work again. I pet Hanni. I hugged her. I reassured her. People who’d seen what happened called out from across the street to make sure I was okay. I called out a “yes!” and just then a man bent down and patted me ever so slightly on the shoulder. “You alright, miss?” he asked. He was out of breath, panting. “I work at the Union League Club, I saw the whole thing.” It was a cab that had sped around the corner, he explained. The driver hadn’t even slowed down to make the turn.
We stood up; I patted down my skirt and tried to regain my composure. Suddenly I realized. The sweet man panting beside me, worrying if Hanni and I were alright — he was the one I’d felt rush past while I was reassuring Hanni. “Was that you shouting?” I asked.
“Yeah, I was trying to catch him,” the doorman said. “Sure you’re alright?” He asked.
This kind of caring, coming from a complete stranger, made me feel better. I was sure, I told him. Hanni was alright, too. She stopped at every curb after that, and we proceeded with caution. But as always, we made it home. Safe & Sound.