Archive for the 'Hanni' Category

Teaching children about blindness

I’ll be showing off my children’s book in Orlando this week.

Tomorrow afternoon Whitney and I head to Orlando to give a presentation about ways to teach children about blindness for the Florida Association for the Education of Young Children. Part of my presentation includes ways to use my book
Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound in the classroom, and as long as I’m gathering resources to share at this conference on Friday, what the heck, why not share them with you, too?

An entire lesson plan devoted to Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound is right there for the taking on a web site called Learning to Give. The site suggests “Reading Experiences to Inspire Acts of Kindness,” and features lists and lists of activities for kids who read our book. Example:

During Reading

ASK: How does Hanni keep Beth safe during the day? What senses does Hanni need to use to help Beth?

SHOW: Look at the pictures of Hanni guiding Beth.

CONNECT: How is the way that Hanni takes care of Beth similar to how your parents or friends take care of you, or how you help others? For example, have you ever helped a younger child or elderly person cross a street or perform a task? Imagine what kind of help you would need if you could not see or hear or if you could not move easily.

The site also mentions Braille:

“In addition to having special dogs to help them get places, those with a visual impairment also have a special alphabet that helps them read.”

marthaAnd here’s another idea for you: Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound is one of the books on the Martha Speaks Read-Aloud Book Club list. Martha Speaks is an animated show on PBS, and each book selected for the Martha Speaks Book Club is coordinated with a Martha Speaks episode. For Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound, PBS suggest kids watch an episode where Martha wants to pursue her dream of becoming a real firehouse dog, but then realizes the job is not as easy as it seems.

You can download this episode from the PBS Kids site here.

The Martha Speaks Read-Aloud Book Club resource guide is three pages long so I can’t go into all the details here. It does suggest inviting a special guest to read-aloud sessions, so if any of you teachers or librarians are thinking ahead about special events for the next school year, please know: Hanni has retired, but my current Seeing Eye dog Whitney and I would love to come.

And finally, you can download four lessons at Teachers Pay Teachers to use with Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound at home or in the classroom. The total cost for these four lessons is five dollars, and right now anyone can download the one aimed at third graders free of charge – you don’t have to be attending the Florida Association for the Education of Young Children conference to take advantage of this deal, and you don’t even have to be a teacher! I think you do have to register to download that lesson, but it only takes a minute, kids seem to really like the fun activities suggested in that lesson, and hey, it’s free!

Okay. Enough. I’d better get packing.

Adaptability, resourcefulness, and a little luck

Hanni and I making our exit from a classroom at Fairview Elementary School back in 2010.

Back in 2010 I wrote a blog post about a visit to Fairview Elementary School in a Chicago suburb called Mt. Prospect. A first-grader there asked one of my all-time favorite questions:

“How do you know if you picked a four-leaf clover?”

That little girl must be in fifth grade now, and I’m hoping she might show up at our presentation at Mt. Prospect Public Library this Sunday afternoon to ask even more fun questions like that one.

Our presentation starts at 2 p.m. this Sunday, September 28 in Room 154 at the Mt. Prospect Public Library, 10 S Emerson St., Mt. Prospect, Ill. From the library web site:

Beth Finke is an author, teacher, journalist, NPR commentator, and recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant. She also happens to be blind. Her children’s book about Seeing Eye dogs, Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound is featured on the Martha Speaks Read Aloud Book Club on PBS and won an ASPCA Henry Berg Award for children’s literature. Come meet Beth and her dog and find out more about the job of a Seeing Eye dog. Beth’s heartfelt and funny stories will leave you smiling and knowing a lot more about adaptability and resourcefulness.

The presentation is free, and the library recommends it for children in kindergarten through grade 5 and families. Registration is not required, but if you know you’re coming they’d appreciate you registering just to get a read, ahem, on how many to expect. Ellen Sandmeyer of Sandmeyer’s Bookstore in Chicago is driving Whitney and me to the event, and she’ll be selling copies of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound and Long Time, No See for me to sign for anyone interested afterwards.

I’m really looking forward to all of this, I just wish I’d checked the NFL schedule before we booked, ahem, this gig. Earlier this week I found out we’ll be giving our presentation right when the Chicago Bears are playing the Green Bay Packers. Rats. With so many Chicagoans glued to their T.V. sets, I wondered if anyone would show up at the library.

Eyebrows up! I just talked with a youth services librarian, and they have 30 people registered already! See what can happen when you have to feel a four-leaf clover over and over again to make sure you have the count right?

She’s 98 in dog years

And now, an update on a few favorite female friends.

Eliza Cooper ended up not racing in that Brooklyn Bridge Swim after the NYC Swims director decided that athletes with disabilities would have to pay an extra fee to participate. A few weeks later, Eliza and her volunteer guide from Achilles International swam 1.2 miles in the ocean, rode a tandem for 56 miles and ran 13.1 miles – they completed a Half Ironman Triathlon, and they finished one hour earlier than they’d anticipated. But wait. There’s more! This past week Eliza started her first day of graduate school –at Columbia University.

Our sensational sister Cheryl was there to visit Flo every single day for the past couple years, whether Flo was still living alone in her condo, or in the hospital, or in a rehab facility. Cheryl went with Flo to doctor visits, she helped Flo with paperwork, and she was there with her kids and grandchildren at Flo’s side the day she died.

Cheryl flew to the Pacific Northwest last month for some well-deserved quiet time on her own, but before she left she went through Flo’s things and divided them into boxes for the siblings. She returns next week, and before then I’m heading to Blind Service Association (BSA) in downtown Chicago with a bag full of papers from my Flo box. Many of the papers are letters I wrote that Flo saved, and the generous readers at BSA have volunteered to read everything out loud to me. I’ll supply the Kleenex.

Nancy Faust just signed a contract to play for the Kane County Cougars again next season. The Cougars are a minor league team in Geneva, Ill., and when I say Nancy is playing for them, I of course mean she’s doing that on her Hammond B3!

I’ve been a fan of the Kane County Cougars ever since they hired me to work in their ticket office in 1994, and now that they’ve rehired Nancy to play every Sunday home game between May and September next year, I’m up for season tickets. All they need to do is come up with a “Nancy Package”: Sunday games only.

This season The Cougars have the most wins of any major or minor league baseball team in the country — the last time they had a championship season like this was back in 2001, when the team was led by Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez. The first game of that series was on September 10, 2001. The Cougars won that game, but everything was cancelled after that.

Myrna Knepler is a writer in my memoir class. In a guest post here called when your birthday falls on September 11 she describes the reaction she gets when people at banks, at airports, or at doctor’s offices ask her for her date of birth. “They always comment,” she says. “And sometimes, they commiserate.”

Myrna has learned to refer to the date as “the eleventh of September,” but says figuring out how to commemorate it is still a conundrum. She’ll be 80 years old this year. I say we celebrate the entire month.

Which one is 4, and which one is 14?

Hanni is still going strong, and her human companion Nancy Bollero reports that The 14-year-old star of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound is getting creative in her old age: she taught herself to turn the quilt she sleeps on inside-out so she can shape it into a giant ball. “She rolls the ball to a new spot every day,” Nancy told me, describing the artful way Hanni arranges her favorite toys and bones once the ball reaches its new destination. ”And she still wags her tail like mad, thwomping it against the hardwood floor to let everyone know she’s proudof her work.”

Mondays with Mike: You may find yourself in a beautiful house…

That's 14-year-old Hanni on the left, 5-year-old Harper on the right, and Whitney with her back to the camera.

That’s 14-year-old Hanni on the left, 5-year-old Harper on the right, and Whitney with her back to the camera. (Photo by Larry Melton.)

Sunday was dogapalooza in the suburbs. Beth and I and Whitney took the train to Wheaton, where our friends Steven and Nancy, with Hanni in tow all the way from Urbana, picked us up. From there, it was on to Chris and Larry’s, where Hanni, Harper and Whitney—Beth’s last three Seeing Eye dogs—met and rollicked until they and we were exhausted. Continue reading ‘Mondays with Mike: You may find yourself in a beautiful house…’

Here’s what worries me about ride-sharing services

An op-ed piece I wrote for the Chicago Tribune called Should ride-sharing services adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act? was published today — I’m not fooling!

Billy, who first told me about ride sharing.

Billy, who first told me about ride sharing.

Our bartender friend Billy Balducci is the first person I remember telling me about ride-sharing. Billy can Continue reading ‘Here’s what worries me about ride-sharing services’

Mondays with Mike: Time begins on opening day

Right now, on a Sunday morning outside my window on Harrison Street, thousands of hearty runners are streaming east toward the finish line for the annual Shamrock Shuffle. Not sure why it’s called the Shamrock Shuffle two weeks after St. Patrick’s day, but … whatever.

Mr. Bones, comin' at ya.

Chris Sale, a.k.a. Mr. Bones, comin’ at ya.

It’s sunny, and the forecast says we’ll get to 58 degrees today. We just about have turned the corner on winter…and Monday we will. Here in Chicago, on March 31, the White Sox will open their season against the Minnesota Twins. And whatever the weather, things will be right again. Baseball will be back. (For the record, the season officially began with a goofy game played in Australia between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers, and Sunday Night baseball had the Dodgers and Padres—none of which counts for me.)

Chris Sale will be the White Sox starting pitcher, all 6’ 7” and 180 lbs. of him. We’ll have a Cuban import, Jose Abreu, at first base. And a new centerfielder named Adam Eaton we filched from the Diamondbacks in a trade. And Avisail Garcia, a 6’4” 240 lb outfielder who runs like a track star.

I don’t know how it will go, but as always at this time, I’m inclined to think the White Sox will reach the World Series, as they did the only time in my lifetime, in 2005. And win it, for the second time in my lifetime. And if the planets align, they will best the St. Louis Cardinals, forcing Cub fans to root for a real baseball team against their hated enemy.

Others have waxed poetic about baseball. There’s Roger Angell, of course. And the lesser known but totally worthwhile Tom Boswell whose books include “Why Time Begins on Opening Day” and “How Life Imitates the World Series.” I’m just here to say, Hallelujah!

Baseball is better than football. Than basketball. Than that ridiculous European football. About this, no arguments.

OK, well, to me it is.

And, as trite as it sounds, baseball has been a constant part of the fabric of my life. As a patrol boy in grade school, I got to go on school trips to the old Comiskey Park. When I lived in Washington, D.C., I adopted the Orioles but tracked the White Sox best I could via box scores and roundups in the pre-Internet days. Back in 1983, I introduced Beth to my parents at a game at Comiskey Park, and the Sox made the playoffs that year. The day after our wedding in 1984, Beth and I and some dear friends who had traveled from Washington, D.C. for our nuptials went to a game.

In July of 1985, three days before our first wedding anniversary, Beth and I visited her eye doctor for a follow-up visit after a last-gasp surgery to save her eyesight. We learned that she would not see again. Before heading back to Urbana to face our new reality, we drove to Comiskey to have a Polish sausage with onions (“wit” onions is the correct pronunciation), and take in a ball game. Twenty years later, in 2005, Beth and I and her Seeing Eye dog Hanni got seats in the handicapped section for the playoffs against Boston. Later, I sprung for game 1 of the World Series.

And so, here we are, after the longest slog of a winter in my memory. Not much is expected from the White Sox. Detroit’s the prohibitive favorite in the White Sox division—and in the American league. They’ve got 8-1 odds of winning the World Series. The White Sox are 40-1.

Who cares?

Play ball!




Job satisfaction

Whitney and I are taking a train to Champaign this Wednesday — I’m speaking to an animal sciences class at the University of Illinois, and while we’re there we’ll visit an old friend, too: retired Seeing Eye dog Hanni!

There’s Whit with Hanni’s bone during a previous visit to Urbana.

Whitney has been guiding me over two years now, and I’ll share some stories with the students to explain how confident and comfortable she seems with her work. After that I’ll go over some of the qualifications necessary to become a guide dog instructor. And this time I think I’ll tell them the story of Jim Kessler, one of the Senior Managers of Instruction & Training at the Seeing Eye. Jim supervised Chris Mattoon, the superstar who trained Whitney and me back in 2012.

Jim Kessler left Wall Street for The Seeing Eye.Seeing Eye.

Jim phoned me before I arrived in November, 2012, he read my paperwork and helped Chris size me up and determined that, of all of the dogs Chris had ready to be matched with a blind person, Whitney would match up best with my living situation here in Chicago.

During the last week of training at the Seeing Eye School in Morristown, NJ, students do “freelance” work with their Seeing Eye dogs –-  instructors expose teams to some of the specific things they’ll be facing once they return home. For my freelance trip with Whitney, Jim Kessler chauffeured us to Warren G. Harding Elementary School in Kenilworth, NJ. His daughter Emma was in third grade there, and his daughter Maeve was a first grader. The school visit taught me a lot about what to do when Whitney couldn’t sit still during a presentation, and the rides back and forth to the school taught me a lot about JimKessler, too.

Turns out Jim hasn’t always worked for the Seeing Eye — he’d worked for Lehman Brothers before it imploded, and then he worked at the Federal Reserve. “And I can tell you the very last day I ever went to work in Manhattan,” he told me. ”It was September 11, 2001.” He’d been contemplating a career change before then, and 911 cemented the decision. An article I found later in the North Jersey Record

The position requires a college degree, Kessler said. He worked for an investment bank and was considering a career change when the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, made him switch jobs. Kessler said he chose this position because it combined his interests in teaching, working with dogs and helping people.

After passing a three-year apprenticeship, Jim became an instructor in 2004. He was promoted to Senior Manager of Instruction and Training in 2012 – we were the very first class he supervised. That North Jersey Record article reported that salaries start in the $40,000 range for those in the Seeing Eye’s three-year apprentice training program, and that the salary for full instructors ranges from $50,000 to $85,000. Odds are that Jim Kessler took a significant paycut to work for the Seeing Eye, but he doesn’t talk about that. He talks instead about his pride in the instructors here, his love for the dogs, and his family at home. Jim and his wife have three beautiful daughters, and it was a privilege to be with him and two of those daughters at their school back in 2012. I look forward to telling the undergraduates in that animal sciences class at University of Illinois all about Jim and his inspiring career change during my talk next week — and then playing with Hanni afterwards!

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