What do you move, and what do you give away?

September 24, 20178 CommentsPosted in careers/jobs for people who are blind, guest blog, memoir writing

My memoir-writing classes don’t meet during the Jewish high holy days (the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) but that doesn’t mean these seniors stop writing!! I was so moved by this email Hugh Brodkey sent yesterday that I asked if I could share it with you Safe & Sound blog readers.

Hi, Beth,

At temple for the Jewish New Year, our rabbi made a couple of comments that I realized might suggest writing assignments.

Photo of old handwritten letters.

He started off by saying that he had recently been helping his mother downsize in order to move into a senior residence. She had lifetime collections of letters and greeting cards from her family and kids as they were growing up, many, many family pictures and a major collection of decorative pill boxes.

What do you move, and what do you give away? If you decide to give it away, who wants it? If nobody wants it, what happens to it? (This last point struck a chord with me. When my Dad died, he left an office where the walls were covered with framed awards and testimonials. We couldn’t figure out what to do with them.)

The rabbi’s sermon then shifted to the current crises of flooding and forest fires and earthquakes in which thousands of people are told that they have only a few moments to decide what to carry out with them to safety. Almost invariably it was the family pictures and mementos…most of which had no value to anyone but themselves.

What does that say about how we live our lives…or how we should live our lives? What is more important in our lives than what? Hope we never have to make such important quick decisions……and that you and your family have a peaceful New Year!


A funny thing happened at my sister Bev’s book club

September 20, 201710 CommentsPosted in blindness, Braille, memoir writing, technology for people who are blind, travel
Link to video of Bev's grandson interviewing Beth.

Bev’s eight-year-old grandson Bryce interviewed me for his Summer Awesomeness youtube show before cocktail hour began.

It all started in Grand Haven, Michigan Tuesday evening. Poolside cocktails (Bev had rented their community clubhouse for the event), dinner inside afterwards, dessert, my short talk, a Q & A, a writing exercise, and then, big finish: I showed them how I manage to read excerpts of Writing Out Loud at book events without being able to see.

”It’s hard for me to read Braille and talk at the same time,” I confessed, wrestling an earpiece into my left ear and plugging into my digital recorder. “Before we left Chicago, my husband Mike recorded a part of the preface onto this little handheld contraption,” I said, explaining that once I turned it on I’d listen to Mike reading inside my ear and repeat what I hear. “Kind of like a TV broadcaster.” I was sailing through my reading when suddenly, the power went off. Which means, of course, that all The lights went out, too.

Not one of Bev’s polite friends interrupted my reading. I kept on, literally and figuratively in the dark. Cue the Twilight Zone music!

Turns out lights were out off all over the neighborhood – a power surge of some sort — but one book club member thought I’d orchestrated the whole thing. “I thought maybe you have them do that at all your presentations!” she laughed.

And you know what? From here on out, Maybe I will!

Mondays with Mike: Meet Rishi Agrawal, who’s running for judge.

September 18, 20177 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, politics

Wanna know more about Rishi? Check out his site,

Earlier this year Beth gave her senior writers at the Chicago Cultural center this prompt: My Favorite Year.

Anu Agrawal chose 1969, when she and her husband immigrated from India. Anu shared her reminiscences about seeing the lakefront for the first time, the museums, and Marshall Field’s here at the Safe & Sound blog back in February—it still rings with the optimism she was feeling decades ago about her new home.

Anu and her husband thrived here, and their American born children are doing the same. She told Beth a few weeks ago that her son Rishi Agrawal is running for Cook County Judge, 8th Judicial Subcircuit.

Since we’re eligible to vote in that contest, Beth invited Rishi to meet us at Hax (the new incarnation of Hackney’s). It was one of countless absolutely lovely evenings we’ve enjoyed this summer (I’ve taken to calling Chicago San Diego by the Lake), so we sat outside.

We covered a lot of ground. Family, education, work, values—his and ours. He’s a good listener. Time flew by and when we parted ways we’d agreed to do what we could to help. So today I’m offering the official Safe & Sound, Mike and Beth Endorsement of Rishi Agrawal.

And I’m inviting you South Loopers to visit our regular Saturday morning Printers Row Farmers Market this Saturday, September 23. Beth and/or I will be there taking signatures to get Rishi on the Ballot, and Rishi will join us for part of the time. To sign, you have to live in the 8th Subcircuit (see map).

We’ll be out with Rishi around 10:30 a.m. Saturday, September 23.  It’s at Printers Row Park, also known as the Fountain Park, on Dearborn between Harrison and Polk.

There’s an old saying about Chicago politics that speaks to all the connections and insider dealing Chicago is infamous for: “We Don’t Take Nobody (that) Nobody Sent.”

To that I’ll reply, “We’ll take anyone Anu sent.” Hope to see you.

Guest post: They may just have to lie about their age

September 15, 20176 CommentsPosted in book tour, careers/jobs for people who are blind, guest blog, memoir writing, Whitney

I like promoting my books as much as I like writing them – you meet so many cool new people, and in so many different settings. We had a great turn-out at Women & Children First bookstore last Wednesday (big thanks to all of you who came), and I’m speaking to a group this afternoon at The “ssenior lifestyle facility” where Hannelore, one of the writers featured in Writing Out Loud, lives now. This past Tuesday? I nestled into a comfy chair in a beautiful condo on Chicago’s north side for a book party. The dozen women Sharon Silverman (another writer from one of my memoir-writing classes) invited to her place hadn’t all met before, but thanks to a little wine and a writing exercise, they left knowing each other pretty well. Here’s Sharon now, with a guest post about that party.

by Sharon Silverman

Let’s start at the beginning. Beth lives in the South Loop. I live miles away in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. How to handle the logistics? When Beth heard that the #147 bus stops right on my corner, she just shrugged and said, “Oh, I’ll take the bus with Whitney.” Piece of cake.

Photo of women gathered in a living room.

We had a great time at Sharon’s house.

Winding her way on the bus through the Loop, onto Lake Shore Drive, and eventually on Sheridan Rd., Beth would text each location to me. “Getting closer.” “At Greenville stop.” “Almost there.” Eureka! When they arrived at the corner of Farwell and Sheridan, I sent my friend Margaret down to escort them back to my place. Let the fun begin!

No evening at my place is complete without wine and goodies, so my wonderful women friends join Beth and me with glasses of red and white and plates of cheese, crackers and sweets. Bonus: cocktail napkins that say, “Book? I’m just here to drink.”

Each woman I invited is remarkable in her own right: a psychotherapist, a graphic artist, a Kohl award-winning early childhood teacher, a former college administrator, a piano teacher, a human resources manager, a community college teacher, a higher education professional. Sitting in a circle in my living room, let the stories commence!

“Let me tell you about the little three year old boy in my class who uses swear words.” “That reminds me of the college administrator I know whose vocabulary is full of unmentionables.” Laughter abounds. We are connecting and entranced as we listen to each other — a prelude to Beth’s presentation about writing memoir.

Beth tells her story and describes how she conducts her memoir writing classes. The stem of Beth’s glass of red is ensconced very tightly between her feet on the floor, right in front of Seeing Eye dog Whitney — who behaves herself and doesn’t dare take a sip.

Beth had asked if I’d share some examples of assignments I’d written for class. I chose a piece I wrote when she assigned “Late Again” as a writing prompt. My essay was about showing up late for school every day during my teenage years –I wasn’t terribly fond of high school. When Beth describes some other writing prompts she uses in class, I bring out the essay I wrote when we were asked to write an entire 500-word essay using only three-word phrases – my piece acknowledges my worries about what life might be like a decade from now. An excerpt:

Blood pressure high.
Mom’s was, too.
Bladder is weak.
Please don’t leak!

Lots of smiles and giggles, and then I pass around notebooks and pens for a quick memoir-writing prompt. The writing exercise is optional, but these 12 women are game. They all give it a try, and by the end of the evening, it’s apparent we have some budding memoir writers in the group.

I had to laugh when some realized they aren’t old enough to join one of Beth’s classes. “I’m just 50.” “Can I join a group?” “I just got my AARP card in the mail! Does that count?” More wine, more laughter, and as the party ends, Beth rummages through her backpack to dig out her ink pad and rubber stamp. Whitney’s pawtograph is ceremoniously stamped into our copies of Writing Out Loud, and Beth autographs them, too. Truly an evening to remember.

Mondays with Mike: It’s a cel-ablation!

September 11, 201717 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike

First things first: Beth’s sister Marilee and her Florida family weathered Irma and everyone is safe. Though it sounds like some hard work is ahead. Phew.

Now, in other news: For those of you who care to know but don’t yet, I had what’s called a catheter cryoballoon ablation last week. Rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?

First, the back-story: I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation last year—basically, the electrical signals that trigger heartbeats went haywire. It manifests itself differently in different people. For me, I could be sitting and doing a crossword puzzle or just watching TV, and my heart would take off beating and it was like a hamster was running inside my chest—but with an irregular foot speed. My heart would race as if I was exercising vigorously even though I was perfectly still. I’d get dizzy, short of breath, and pretty much non-functional. Sometimes it’d last a few minutes, but it often lasted hours—and once a day and a half.

Movie of procedure.

Want TMI? Here it is!

It was completely unpredictable, I landed in the ER more than once, and it made it pretty difficult to maintain normalcy. The docs and I tried some things, including medications. Nothing worked.

So, last Wednesday I checked into Northwestern hospital, and I was prepped—I’m on the hirsute side so now my chest looks like a tic-tac-toe board after shaving for all the adhesive electrodes and other stuff they had to stick on me. I was sedated but not put completely out, so I could kind of hear things but simply didn’t care. Wish I could just conjure that up on demand.

A team inserted a tiny tube in a hole they made and then snaked it into my heart. Then, a tiny balloon was deployed through the tube, a balloon that was chilled to around -40 degrees via liquid nitrogen. (I was warned that I might have “ice cream headaches” and indeed I did.)

The balloon froze the area of cells responsible for the bad electrical signals to put them out of commission. In all it took about three hours, but they kept me overnight. And I was happy to stay.

We won’t know how well it worked for a couple months—everything has to heal up and calm down—but so far so good.

It all made me think of a movie from my childhood, Fantastic Voyage, without the submarine. All in all, pretty amazing.

I told some people about all this in advance; some by design—I made sure my nephew knew, for example. But otherwise if was more about circumstance. In some cases it sort of came up naturally. But when it didn’t, I felt kind of funny bringing it up—I mean, when I’m talking to friends about baseball or politics or a play we saw—there’s just not a natural opening to say, “Hey, have I told you about my upcoming ablation?”

It’s funny these things. A couple we know who are in their 80s were talking about this. Our friend Jim would never utter a peep about any of his own medical issues. But Kathy, his wife, is the polar opposite. “I want everyone in the world to know about mine!”

I get both of them. And I completely understand being miffed at finding out about friends’ health issues after the fact.

But. Is there etiquette for this stuff? I don’t know.

Beth and I have had our share of medical issues and we learned long ago that, well, they can come to define you if you let them. And as we attain a certain age, there are only going to be more.

So it’s bad enough you spend time at the doctor, getting tests, waiting for results, having treatment. And then you spend your free time talking about it?

Or writing about it. Like I just did.

P.S. Though I’d love to take credit for cel-ablation, it’s the creation of Steve Ferkau.