Mondays with Mike: The House in Prague

June 6, 20166 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, Uncategorized

Some people talk about Holocaust fatigue—I’ve felt it myself.

Anna Perlberg reading-8

Anna Nessy Perlberg reads from The House in Prague. Photo by: Diana Phillips, courtesy Lincoln Park Village

And then I found myself in a beautiful apartment, on the 49th floor, with glorious views of Lake Michigan, noshing and celebrating the publication of The House in Prague, by Anna Nessy Perlberg.

The event was sponsored by Lincoln Park Village, and the fantastic space was provided by one of the Village’s generous members. Lincoln Park Village sponsors many of the writing classes Beth leads for older adults. That’s how Beth—and eventually I—met Anna: She is in one of Beth’s classes.

Beth’s posted about Anna before—and she’s heard, in person, Anna’s stories about her family being forced to uproot from a lovely home and a lovely life in Prague during the early days of Nazi occupation. Beth’s retold them to me.


Golden Alley Press published The House in Prague.

I’m inclined to say, here, “And you know the rest of the story.” I thought I did. And I did in a clinical sense. But hearing Anna read her accounts from The House in Prague—clean prose in the clear voice of Anna recollecting her nine-year-old self, describing what it was like to wake up in a great city that was stolen from its inhabitants. Soldiers outnumbering citizens on the streets. Cafes and other once-bustling hives of culture empty. Anna kissing the family home goodbye. Hair-raising brushes with the Gestapo. A stop in London. Ellis Island.

And a new life in New York City. Her father, a distinguished attorney who’d worked for President Masaryk in Prague, never practiced again. Her mother, an accomplished opera singer, lost her career. And little Anna saved up for a radio that she could tuck under her covers, to listen to the Hit Parade at night, trying to become an American girl just as fast as she could.

She did a helluva good job.

I could tell you more—the house itself is a story—but I recommend you get a copy of the House in Prague. I can’t really do it justice.

Moreover, hearing Anna tell her first-person stories of her idiyllic life in Prague, I was reminded that we’d like to think the forces that drove the Holocaust, modern day atrocities like Rwanda, or even our own history of slavery, are behind us.

But I don’t think anyone or any nation is immune. And so, maybe especially in the middle of some especially volatile election year rhetoric, it’s best that we all heed this passage from The House in Prague, recalling Anna and her mother sailing into the United States in 1939:

We stand together at the railing and watch as the harbor comes closer and closer. Mother lifts me up high to see the Statue of Liberty as clearly as possible. She says with a kind of fierceness, “Don’t ever forget this.”


I know just how she feels

June 4, 20167 CommentsPosted in blindness, careers/jobs for people who are blind, Uncategorized
Frank Lloyd Wright played here, and so have I.

Frank Lloyd Wright played here, and so have I.

Guess who spent a Saturday afternoon last year playing the very same piano architect Frank Lloyd Wright practiced on 100+ years ago?


The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust was one of 31 cultural organizations that partnered with Chicago’s ADA 25 for 25 Cultural Access Project last year. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2015, the trust offered special ASL and touch-tours of its historic sites.

The goal of the 25 for 25 Project was to help at least 25 cultural organizations in Chicago commit to improving accessibility for visitors with disabilities in 2015 in some concrete way, and then put plans in place to continue to take steps to improve accessibility after the 2015 anniversary year.

The success of last year’s tours motivated the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust to continue offering accessible programming, and last week Laura Dodd, the trust’s Director of Operations and Guest Experience, emailed me and forwarded a thank-you letter she’d just received from an exchange student from Poland who is blind and got to tour some pretty special houses. “I want to share a proud moment,” Laura said, and I was glad she did

Monica also visited Robie House in Chicago, in addition to taking the Oak Park tours.

Monica also visited Robie House in Chicago, in addition to taking the Oak Park tours.

Here’s the back story: Monika Dubiel had contacted Laura Dodd after completing a semester at University of North Carolina. She’d be visiting friends of her parents in Oak Park, Illinois when the Wright Plus house walk (an annual event where private home owners open their homes to visitors) would be going on and wanted to know if there might be some way she could take in the house tours, too.

Laura told me that in the past she wouldn’t have been able to make this kind of accommodation with only a weeks notice — or even a month’s notice. “But with all the things I learned {from 25 in 25} and the confidence I have gained, we easily said yes to her request.”

I was so moved by the thank you note Monica wrote to Laura afterward that I contacted the young woman directly to ask permission to share her note with you Safe & Sound blog readers. Here it is:

Dear Laura,

I write to you to thank you for the marvelous opportunity that you
gave me to enjoy the Frank Loyd and his friend’s architecture. The
house walk on past saturday was for me amazing and unforgettable

I especially would like to say thank you to the Rubby,
the trainee who helped us all the day by telling about the places
which we were visiting. She spent with us whole day navigating us from
house to house and dealing with house captains private tours.

Also all volunteers in houses ware very nice and open minded. In some houses I
could touch whatever I wanted because the owners were there and they
gave their personal permission to me. It was incredible to fill all
these furnitures and decorations.

I’m so glad that I could do that.

You can’t imagine how grateful I am.

I also would like to ask about visiting Frank Loyd house and Studio
& the Robie House. We talked about me coming on upcoming Saturday, but
it turned out that I will be on Thursday in Hyde Park, next to Robbie
House So I would like to ask if I can visit it on thursday?

I hope you have a good day.

Best regards,

Monika Dubiel

Monica did indeed get a chance to visit both the Robie House and the Frank Lloyd Wright House and Studio. Those are two locations I was able to experience first-hand, so to speak, last year thanks to the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust’s willingness to join 25 in 25. Now Monica is off to Washington D.C. to do an internship at the Polish embassy, where she’ll probably know more about Frank Lloyd Wright than anyone else working there. zpiecznej podróży!

A version of this post appeared on the Easterseals National Blog June 3, 2016.

Throwback Thursday: Road trip!

June 2, 201616 CommentsPosted in blindness, guide dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, travel, Uncategorized, Whitney

The three days I spent In New England over Memorial Day reminded me of trips I used to take in my college years. Only difference: Back then I would have found a ride on the “ride board” at the U of I snack bar and sat in the back seat of a stranger’s car to get there. This time, I flew with friends: Whitney and Mike.

The three of us glided relatively easily through TSA lines at Midway Airport, and our travel good karma continued when what might have been a fiasco in Cambridge unexpectedly turned into a bonus.

Here’s what happened. The manager of the bed & breakfast we’d booked in Cambridge told us we couldn’t stay there with Whitney. “No dogs, “ she said. I told her Whitney is a guide dog. “I need her to get me around safely,” I explained. “No dogs,” she said. I quoted regulations from the Americans with Disabilities Act. “No dogs,” she repeated. I didn’t want to waste our short time arguing with the manager, and I didn’t want to waste my good money on a room where we were obviously unwelcome. We cancelled our room and Mike found a last-minute deal at a hotel on Copley Square.


The blues sound a little spooky on a harpsichord.

I was as giddy as a schoolgirl when we checked in. Our room was cheaper than the one at the @*)! B&B would have been, and for some odd reason, we’d been upgraded, too. We landed a room on the swanky 36th floor.

The concierge recommended a good joint for oysters nearby. “They have a really long bar there,” he said. “You should be able to walk right in and find a couple seats.” He was right.
We took our bartender’s recommendations on which ones to order. Oysters taste different in Boston than they do in Chicago. I had six.

A friend met us there half way through our first dozen oysters. Lydia moved from Chicago to Boston last year to take a job with Harvard Magazine, and visiting with her Friday and Saturday morning marked the first throwback to my college and post-college years: I got out of Illinois to see a friend who’d just left for a new cool job somewhere else.

Saturday afternoon our friend Siobhan Senier picked us up at our hotel and drove us to the lovely place she and her husband Greg live alongside the Lamprey River in Epping, New Hampshire. Mike and I knew Greg and Siobhan when they lived in Urbana, Illinois. They left town after Siobhan received a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, and now she’s a literary historian at University of New Hampshire. Siobhan gathers Native writing from New England and works to figure out why that writing isn’t more widely read — or understood. She’s building a digital archive of that literature, and you can read more about it on her Indigenous New England Literature blog — pretty cool stuff.

We spent Saturday afternoon and evening sitting on the patio behind Siobhan and Greg’s house — who needs to leave home when its sunny outside and there’s a charcoal grill nearby? Surrounded by a little grass and a lot of forest, Whitney chased a tennis ball, ran it back to us, chased a tennis ball, ran it back to us, chased a tennis ball, ran it back to us, chased a tennis ball, ran it back to us…you get the picture. We humans ate delicious food — including local swordfish — from the grill and caught up and just hung out and laughed and laughed and laughed — like we used to do in our twenties in Urbana. In a morning walk the next day, Greg — an avid birder — identified the birds we heard by their calls.

On Sunday, we had a two-hour drive with Siobhan to the farm where our friends Mim and Kin live in northern New Hampshire. Again, the nostalgia: a road trip! Siobhan would be staying overnight with us at the farm house, and Mim’s mom was coming in from Vermont to see us, too.

I met Mim when we were both dopey college students — we were on the same study abroad program in Austria. She’s Dr. Miriam Nelson now, author of a best-selling Strong Women series of books about the benefits of strength training. Mim is the one who got me an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. She was on Oprah touting her books, I stood in the audience to ask a question, mentioned my job modeling nude for art students, and Oprah used the clip in a special “Best of After the Show” segment the next year. So thanks to Mim, I had a moment of Oprah fame myself!

Mim recently accepted a new position at University of New Hampshire where Siobhan teaches. Mim and her husband Kin inherited Kin’s family farm in northern New Hampshire some years ago after his parents died. Their three children are all grown now, so the two of them moved permanently to the farm in March when Mim started her new job.

Yet another beautiful place surrounded by trees and fields, but this time, a working farm, too. As baffled as Whitney was by the cows and sheep on the other side of the fence, she was more taken by the tennis ball she uncovered in the field. Kin threw the ball, she chased it and ran it back, Kin threw the ball, she chased it and ran it back, Kin threw the ball, she chased it and ran it back, Kin threw the ball, she chased it and ran it back, Kin threw the ball, she chased it and ran it back, …you get the picture.

Mim and Kin have been married more than 25 years now. Mike and I went to their wedding, I catch up with Mim in New England any time I’m up that way, her mom and brother visited while driving through Chicago way back when  — we went to the Checkerboard Lounge when it was the real deal. Mim’s met up with me here in Chicago many times while on business trips. With all that, until this visit, I’d never had a chance to really get to know her husband Kin. Another throwback to my college days. I felt like I was meeting a friend’s boyfriend for the first time. Kin passed the audition — in one short overnight stay, we bonded! (He makes a mean cappuccino, which didn’t hurt.)

Aside from short walks around the farm, we never leftthe Mim and Kin’s farm house. After a traditional Memorial Day dinner –hamburgers on the grill — Kin led us upstairs to their music room. He’s an accomplished musician and treated us with some tunes on his  violin. I played blues tunes on a harpsichord Kin’s father had built (think Addams Family). Mostly, though, we laughed and talked over meals at the kitchen table.

Siobhan was sitting next to me once when none of us could remember an actor from some movie or another. “If I had my phone with me, I could look it up,” she said. That’s when it dawned on me. All weekend long, not a single conversation had been interrupted by the ding or ring of a phone. None of us seemed to need to take a phone out to entertain ourselves.

Another throwback.

Something you should throw away…but you probably never will

May 28, 201611 CommentsPosted in blindness, memoir writing, Uncategorized

A ratty old handmade afghan. A Tunturi Executive Ergometer W Original stationary bicycle. A batik flamingo. A collection of broken watches. A 49-year-old steam iron. That list is a small sampling of the precious items the writers in my memoir classes wrote about when I assigned “Something I own that I should throw away…and probably never will.”

There's the Tunturi Executive that lives on. And on.

There’s the Tunturi Executive that lives on. And on.

Writers had all sorts of reasons for keeping their treasures. Kathy grew up in Kentucky, and when she moved to Chicago as a young adult she realized she was afraid to ride her bicycle in city traffic. “But a stationery bike! A Tunturi Executive Ergometer W Original! That could be the answer!” With a convenient bookrack on the handlebars, she was sure she could shape up her “post-4-pregnancies-body” while simultaneously upgrading her “literary bona fides.”

You can guess the rest. For nearly 50 years now, Kathy’s Tunturi Executive Ergometer W Original has sat idle in one room after another. eBay calls the Tunturi Executive Ergometer W Original “vintage” and offers one for $50. “But eBay will never get mine!” Kathy declared in her essay. “It isn’t exactly new, but it certainly isn’t used! I will use it someday. Just call me a cock-eyed optimist.”

After going on a special tour of Chicago’s Field Museum and seeing thousands upon thousands of relics stashed away in “huge mausoleum-like chests of drawers where no human is likely to accidentally see them,” Al reasoned it is absolutely fine for him to squirrel away dozens of old dead watches in a drawer at home. He wears his father’s elegant Bulova Watch from time to time. “It’s accurate at least twice a day.”

Mary Lou’s brown, rust and orange-colored afghan was made by a cousin who contracted polio when the two of them were ten. Her cousin Susan wore a back brace and used a wheelchair, but she had enough mobility in her hands to take up crocheting. Susan was especially fond of Mary Lou’s father, and he was the first to receive one of her handmade afghans. “A great fuss was made at the presentation,” Mary Lou wrote. “So now you understand why I will never discard that raggedy afghan.”

Lorraine’s essay described the two-foot tall shocking pink flamingo on black silk her husband gave her when their first baby girl was born and said it still reeks of the ‘80’s, cigarette smoke and all. “If it had been a jacket instead of a wall-hanging, it would be on sale at Etsy Vintage for $32.” Lorraine’s husband died when their baby girl was seven years old. “Flamingos no longer decorate cool bars and chic eateries or loft apartments.” Lorraine wrote. “They are as scarce as they are in real life. I still have one.”

When Regan’s baby Joe was born, her mother gifted her with an iron so she could iron the baby’s clothes. “My mother, Agnes, went to church at the ironing board,” Regan wrote, describing how ironing had calmed her mother’s nerves – and relieved her mother’s hangovers – when Regan was growing up. “As she conquered the wrinkles at hand her furrowed malcontented brow smoothed out,” Regan wrote. Wondering why she’s held on to the iron her mother gave her all those years ago? Find out by reading Regan’s essay in its entirety. Regan publishes her essays on her own Back Story blog.



It's not rocket science — it's better.

May 25, 2016CommentsPosted in blindness, guest blog, Uncategorized

I was a terrible cook when I could see, and a miraculous change didn’t happen when I went blind.

I’m still a bad cook.


That’s Mr. Loellbach. You won’t see him on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

Our neighbor and friend Jim Loellbach is a chef, and before attending Le Cordon Blue, he was an aeronautical engineer at NASA. Proves what I’ve known all along. Cooking is rocket science.

Mike threw a spectacular birthday party for me last year, and one (of many) highlights was having Chef Jim there to create scrumptious appetizers for all the guests. Mike knew Chef Jim would not disappoint: The two of us have had the privilege of enjoying many magnificent homecooked meals with Jim and his wife Janet (a good cook in her own right) ever since we moved to Chicago’s Printer’s Row neighborhood in 2003.

I love hearing Jim’s stories about summers at his grandparents’ small farm in Wisconsin and how he, his sisters and their cousins all helped with growing, preparing and preserving food there. He says back then he never considered cooking as a career, “but a seed must have been planted.”

Over the years Chef Jim has worked as a cook and sous chef in several Chicago restaurants and hotels — including the Four Seasons and the Pump Room. Late last year he opened Custom Provisions, his own business offering personal chef service and culinary instruction. This week a guest post Chef Jim wrote about his first clients was published on the American Personal & Private Chef Association’s official personal chef blog.

Jim opens his guest post acknowledging he’s new to the personal chef game and recently landed his first regular clients. “They’re a busy couple with a one-year-old child and another due in about six months,” he wrote. “In addition to the normal challenges that face any new personal chef, I’ve had to face one more: My clients are vegans.”

Chef Jim’s guest post explains what the vegan diet involves and outlines some of the substitutions for animal products he’s discovered and how he went about developing a “robust menu” for his new clients. Vegan doesn’t sound so bad his way. Read the guest post in its entirety here and you’ll be rewarded with Chef Jim’s own recipe for mushroom Bolognese.

And here’s the pitch, which isn’t a pitch so much,as a recommendation to do it for yourself: For more information about Jim’s personal chef service and culinary instruction, link to the Custom Provisions web site. For pricing information or to schedule a consultation, contact Chef Jim directly.