Mom's Best Friend

December 16, 200714 CommentsPosted in book tour, guide dogs, Hanni, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized

Ladies and gentleman…meet the lovely, wonderful, brave, and caring (I could go on), Flo!There’s Jenny-she’s the best!                             Sign and stamp…sign and stamp!The line just wouldn’t end…yay!Another satisfied customer…I had a good feeling that a lot of people might show up to see Hanni and me at The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn yesterday. Rick Kogan had mentioned our Glen Ellyn appearance on his WGN radio show in Chicago, there was an article about hanni and me on the cover of the Glen Ellyn Sun the day before, and my friend Jenny (who works at The Bookstore) had done a lot to promote the event in the store.
Only problem was, I wasn’t so sure I’d be in the mood to chat with a lot of people. My mom –I call her by her fabulous first name, Flo — is in the hospital, and that’s been weighing heavy on my mind. She took a fall last week, fractured her pelvis in two places and fractured a rib, too.
Hanni led me to Flo’s hospital room on our visits earlier this week. Flo has never been particularly fond of dogs, but for some reason she has really taken to Hanni. She talks to Hanni, tells her friends about Hanni, and on the rare occasion I am out and about without my dog, Flo is the first to ask, “Where’s Hanni?”
Guide dogs are allowed in hospitals, of course, and Flo was glad to seeHanni on our visits this week. So were a lot of people we passed in the hallways — A dog is a welcome distraction in a place so full of tension.
Flo is a real trooper. By Tuesday she was taking baby steps with a walker and sitting up in a chair. Already By Thursday they moved her out of ICU and into the rehab unit. But then later in the week, just as Flo was getting into the physical therapy groove, she got sick. That can happen when you’re in the hospital for a while – lots of germs going around. She was released from the rehab unit, sent back to the emergency room, then re-admitted into the hospital. Her sickness made me sick –with worry.
And so, Mike and I made a detour on our way to the book signing at The Bookstore yesterday. We stopped at the hospital to see Flo. She has a single room now, and we knew we’d have to wear gowns to get in – to prevent infection. I decided to leave Hanni in the car. We were sure Flo would be wiped out – we didn’t even know if she’d be awake during our visit.
My sister Bev was waiting when we arrived. We put our blue gowns on, entered, and were all delighted to find Flo awake and talking. “You’ve got color in your cheeks!” Mike told her. “You look good!”
She was happy to hear that, but disappointed when she looked on the floor beside me. “Where’s Hanni?”
We didn’t stay long. I blew Flo a kiss as we left, and she wished me luck at The Bookstore. I was buoyed.
Flo’s good wishes worked. The event at The Bookstore was terrific. It was great to be with Jenny again – you might remember her from my blog about the Illinois Library Association conference. I’ve known Jenny – and her sister Jill, who threw a scrumptious dinner party for us after the signing – since high school. It felt good to be able to talk about Flo with friends who have known her for so long. Flo would have been at the signing with us if she hadn’t been in the hospital, but we certainly felt her confident and supportive spirit. So many people came to The Bookstore to meet my Mom’s Best Friend, Hanni that we ran out of books!

The Wisdom of Longfellow

December 13, 20074 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, book tour, guide dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized, Writing for Children

Book Cover…sick of seeing it yet?Dora was the athletic type…Kids always have good questions!I’ve been visiting schools to talk about blindness and Seeing Eye dogs for years — ever since I got my first Seeing Eye dog, Dora, in 1991.
Now with my children’s book published, the visits are even more fun. Usually teachers have already read Safe & Sound out loud to their students before we arrive. That makes the questions the students ask all the more interesting. And detailed!
When it comes to the question and answer time, somehow every kids group I talk to gets caught up in a particular theme. When I talked to a group of Girl Scouts last year, one of them asked how I bake cookies. Every question after that was about the kitchen. How do you know where the stove is? How do you keep yourself from cutting your finger when you chop things? How do you know what you are eating?
Yesterday at Longfellow Elementary School in Oak Park, IL the kids were intrigued with the idea of intruders coming into our apartment. How would Hanni react? How would I react? One student remembered a passage in the book about me learning to use a white cane before I started using a Seeing eye dog.
“Do you still have your cane?” he asked.
I do. Guide dog users are encouraged to use our white canes from time to time. By keeping our cane skills up, we know that if – God forbid – our dogs get sick or can’t work for a while we can still get around on our own.
“What if you heard a man in the house in the middle of the night,” the boy’s questioning continued. “And you got out your cane, and you hit him, and then you found out it was your husband?!”
Must admit, I had to think about that for a minute before answering! In the end, I dodged the question altogether by telling a story of how I really did inadvertently hit Mike once.
My first dog Dora was pretty athletic. When we were at home, and her harness was off, she loved jumping in the air to play catch. “One time I was whipping a ball across the room for her to fetch, and I didn’t realize Mike was there,” I said. “I hit him right in the head!”
The kids laughed and laughed at that one. We were, ahem, a hit.

Happy Hanni-kah

December 3, 20072 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, book tour, Uncategorized

Of course people come when there’s wine being served!Read. Drink. Be Merry.                                                  Photograph by Mike GrossenbacherToday was the very first time I’ve given a children’s book presentation in a bookstore while enjoying a glass of wine.
The Book Cellar lives up to its name. Get it? Book CELLAR? They sell books, and they sell wine.
It’s my kind of store.
And the crowd was my kind of crowd: co-workers, students from the senior citizen writing class I teach, friends who have known me a long time and new friends who just learned about my children’s book. Best of all, my entire book club showed up.
When Mike, Hanni and I moved to Chicago in 2003, my college friend Nancy invited me to join her Sunday morning book group – they meet at different houses on the northside of Chicago. I was eager to meet new people and welcomed the invite. After a few meetings, I made a formal announcement. I told them all how much I appreciated them welcoming me to the group. “You are just my type,” I said. “You’re all such fun, you put out such lavish spreads of food, you meet on Sundays, and none of you go to church!”
The room got very quiet. You didn’t have to be able to see to know they were staring at me, open-jawed.
Suddenly they all exploded with laughter. “Beth!” one of my new friends finally explained. “Don’t you know? We’re all Jewish!”
I had no idea.
I’ve been attending Jewish Book Group ever since, and have learned as much from my fellow book club members as I have from the books we read.
An example: Today they reminded me that Hanukah starts Tuesday.
So when I signed – and rubber-stamped Hanni’s paw print — onto books for their nieces and nephews, I also wrote out a special wish from my dog: Happy Hanni-kah!”

Dry Run to Andersonville

November 26, 20074 CommentsPosted in book tour, guide dogs, Hanni, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized

Where is that darned bus?Hanni and I are doing a book signing at Women and Children First Bookstore on Wednesday morning, December 5. The store is in a terrific north-side Chicago neighborhood called Andersonville.
Mike, Hanni and I live on the south side of Chicago. The last time I went to Women and Children First, I took a cab. The beautiful thing about cabs: if they pick you up (see my blog post about a cab driver who refused Hanni) they let you off right in front of where you need to go. The ugly thing about cabs: they can cost an arm and a leg. It cost me over $20 to get to Women and Children First, for example.
This time, I figure, I’ll take a bus.
Truth is, Hanni and I rarely take Chicago buses by ourselves. I’m not afraid of much, but the fears I have are strong. One of my fears: falling into the laps of strangers. If a bus takes off before I find a seat, we’re doomed,
I can’t see the handles to grab onto for balance.
Knowing this fear of mine, Mike agreed to help us on a dry run yesterday. It went swimmingly.
First off, the bus was empty. Nary a lap to fall into. Even better: the bus driver waited for us to find a seat before he took off. Heaven.
A recorded voice called out the streets as we passed. To those of you who wonder whether blind people have a heightened sense of hearing, I’ll admit that after one announcement I told Mike I had no idea Chicago had a street called Killer.
“It’s Schiller,” he said.
I laughed. The ride was fun, really. I mean, once you’re seated, what’s to worry about? Chicagoans climbed on and off, a lot were chatting to each other, most of them seemed happy.
And no one fell into my lap.
After 45 minutes – Chicago is a BIG city — the recorded voice called out “Foster!” I grabbed Hanni’s harness, pointed to the front door, and commanded “Forward!” She led me perfectly, stopping at the top of the step down so I wouldn’t fall.
Women and Children First is two blocks north of Foster, Mike said. I turned north, commanded “Forward! and Hanni and I were off. When we got close to the door to Women and Children First, Mike stepped ahead. “It’s right here!” he said. Hanni went to him, sticking her nose under the doorknob. “Good girl!” I exclaimed, repeating that over and over while leaning down to pet the bejeezus out of her. Her tail was wagging with such enthusiasm that it brushed my face. We went inside, warmed up for a bit, then headed out again to circle back to the bus stop.
The second time, we let Hanni lead completely. When we got close to Women and Children First I started calmly and quietly repeating the direction she should be looking. “Right,” I said, pointing ever so slightly in that direction. “Right. Right. Right.” Sure enough, she walked right to the correct doorknob. Again the effusive exclamations, again the tail wagging. “Good girl, Hanni!” I know we’ll find our way on December 5.
It was a great afternoon. To reward ourselves, we ducked into a tavern/restaurant called Hop Leaf. Everyone we know who has ever gone to Hop Leaf gushes about it; finally it was our turn to give it a try. It did not disappoint. Mike and I enjoyed Belgian beer as we shared steamed mussels –Hot Leaf’s specialty.
The bus ride home was a cinch. No strange laps were disturbed.
Hanni’s bedtime treat that night was bigger than usual. We made it, I told her. Safe & sound.

Celebrating with Bethanni

November 16, 20076 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, book tour, guide dogs, Hanni, radio, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized

The wonderful kids at St. Athanasius gathered to meet Hanni and me. What a great audience!Uh-oh Hanni!  I think she’s got you beat in the cute department!Pick me! Pick me!Oh no–Hanni’s been spotted by the paparazzi!The Children’s Book Council named November 11 to 17 Children’s Book Week, and Hanni and I sure celebrated!
I already blogged about the radio show we were on Tuesday. What I didn’t tell you, though, was the reason Betsy and Sal decided to have us on Walking on Air in the first place: they knew it was children’s book Week!
Turns out we were on TV that day, too! WCIA Channel 3 in Champaign, IL did a special Children’s Book Week feature where they offered reading suggestions. Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound was right up there with some pretty well-known children’s books:
1) The Three Snow Bears, by Jan Brett (elementary picture book)
2) Knuffle Bunny Too, by Mo Willems (elementary picture book)
3) Hanni and Beth: Safe and Sound, by Beth Finke (non-fiction picture book)
4) Houdini, the Handcuff King, by Jason Lutes & Nick Bertozzi (biography in comic form)
5) The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick (novel)
Okay, so that was Tuesday. On Wednesday Hanni and I were on the front page of my old hometown paper. If you look at the Elmhurst Press story online, you can link to a video of Hanni and me walking near the Elmhurst train station. As I said in a previous post, “Move Over, Brangelina!” I wonder if fans will start calling us Bethanni?!
Okay, back to earth. Thursday Hanni led me to the doctor’s office so I could get a flu shot. Somehow we managed to even make a doctor’s visit into a Children’s Book Week celebration. The doctor I go to also sees two patients who happen to work on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I left two copies of Safe & Sound with him – he promises to hand them over to the Oprah connections the next time they are in the office. I’ll let you know when Oprah calls.
Hanni and I ended our Children’s Book Week celebration today with a visit to St. Athanasius School in Evanston, IL. I spoke to first and second graders. Of course they are all geniuses – you have to be in order to spell the school’s name!
Tomorrow morning we head off to the Bookstall in Winnetka. My friend Kate has offered to drive Hanni and me there and help us with signing – and pawprinting – books. Good thing Thanksgiving week is coming up – Children’s Book Week has worn us out. We’ll need the break from all this celebrating!