Archive for November, 2007

Dry Run to Andersonville

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

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!

Walking on Air

Walking on Air LogoThese two beautiful ladies left me walking on air!Hanni and I were interviewed on a radio show called “Walking on Air” today. The show’s title turned out to be the theme for the rest of the afternoon.
I checked my email once Hanni and I got home from the radio interview. Dee ding! A message! I opened it. For a moment I thought I was misunderstanding the robotic voice on my talking computer. I hit the keys to listen again, and sure enough:
“The following book has been nominated in the Fiction Picture Books category:

Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound by Beth Finke and illustrated by Anthony Alex Letourneau

Congratulations on your nomination!”
Yes! It’s true! Safe & sound has been nominated for a CYBIL Woo hoo!
What’s a Cybil? You mean, you don’t know?
Okay, I’ll be honest, neither did I.
I know now, though! The Cybils are a series of book awards selected by a panel of children’s and young adult bloggers, “the only literary contest that combines both the spontaneity of the Web with the thoughtful debate of a book club.”
According to the email message, nominated books will go through two rounds of judging, and the winners will be announced on Valentine’s Day 2008. Stay tuned.
But speaking of being tuned in, our interview on Walking on Air was swell. If you have never heard “Walking on Air,” it’s Syndicated on WLBK, DeKalb, IL; KWPC, Muscatine, IA; WLRB, Macomb, IL; WBYS, Canton, IL; and on WRAM in Galesburg, IL.
If you don’t live near any of those cities you can hear “Walking on Air” streamed live, weekdays from noon to 1 pm (central time).
To hear Hanni and me from today’s show, though, you’ll need to link to the podcast.
The “Walking on Air” hosts are Betsy and Sal. They’re sisters, and the show’s title comes from their uncle. Every morning on his drive to work he passes pairs of women walking together. These women walk every day and never seem at a loss for topics. What, he wondered out loud to his nieces, do these women talk about day after day? Since Betsy and Sally walk together all the time, they know what gets discussed. They are tons of fun, and our half-hour together flew by. I’m still walking on air.

Sit, Stay, Read

Sit Stay Read LogoBook coverBarnes & Noble reading.  That’s me at the podium!The presentation went well.Hanni surrounded by a throng of adoring fans.Hey, I have some fans too…It’s official. Hanni and I are dogblog maivens. Another dogblogger blogged about us today.
Here’s the skinny: A woman named Mary Ellen was at the presentation Hanni and I gave earlier today at the Old Orchard Barnes & Noble in Skokie, Illinois.
Turns out Mary Ellen is the Executive Director and co-founder of “Sit Stay Read! Inc.” SIT STAY READ is a Chicago-based volunteer literacy organization that brings dogs and kids together to make reading fun. Mary Ellen’s dog Shandy is one of Chicago’s first Sit Stay Read dogs, and they dogblog about their experiences on the Shandy at Work dogblog.
The Sit Stay Read web site explains the program like this: “Reading aloud is a critical component of early childhood literacy. Children who have difficulty reading have an especially hard time reading aloud in front of peers and adults. SIT STAY READ programs allow children to read aloud to specially trained therapy dogs. The dogs increase confidence and generate excitement.”
After our presentation this afternoon, Mary Ellen asked if Hanni and I might want to be Guest Readers/Listeners at a Sit Stay Read school program in Chicagoland sometime. “Our kids would be thrilled to hear you,” Mary Ellen said. They’ve had opera singers, firefighters, poets and other professionals as guests. “You and Hanni would be a wonderful addition.”
Hanni and I would love to give this a try. It was great to meet Mary Ellen at the bookstore today, and we look forward to meeting Shandy in the future. In the meantime, we’ll keep track of them by reading their dogblog.

Move Over, Brangelina — Here Comes Hanni

Heeeeeeeeeeere’s Hanni!A reporter met Hanni today as we came off the train. He shot pictures while we walked along the platform, then escorted us to our speaking event. There, waiting in the wings, was a filmmaker ready to videotape Hanni for a small bit in a documentary. A photographer from another newspaper was there to shoot pictures during the presentation.
The way Hanni was acting – hamming it up for the photos –you’d think she was in Hollywood posing for People Magazine or Entertainment Tonight. But the heavy coat I’m wearing in the background gives her away. We were in Elmhurst. It’s a suburb of Chicago.
I was born and raised in Elmhurst. So was my mom. Flo is 91 years old now, the matriarch of her church. Her Lady friends at Messiah Lutheran Church in Elmhurst asked Hanni and me to come to the church to give a presentation. And when the Lutheran Ladies call, I respond.
So, apparently, do the local newspapers. The paparazzi were from the Daily Herald. And the Elmhurst Press.
The stories – and Hollywood-style photos of Hanni – are scheduled to appear in the local papers in the next couple of weeks. I’m not sure she’ll even make it into the documentary — it’s called A Hero on Every Block and I have no idea when — or if — it ever will be released. But maybe i shouldn’t be so skeptical. The filmmaker videotaped my mom, too, and if ever there was a hero in this world, it’s Flo.
If any of the newspaper stories, photos, or videotape is available online, trust me, I’ll link to them in future posts on the Safe & Sound dogblog.
All right, gotta go. Mr. DeMille? Hanni’s ready for her close-up.

Champaign Bubbles

Book CoverMemoir Book CoverHanni’s breed may have been important to the Amtrak reservation agent last week (see my previous post) but my fellow passengers Thursday night couldn’t have cared less. The City of New Orleans train was sold out. Everyone was more interested in finding a place to sit than checking out the dog at my feet.
The ride went quickly. We got to Champaign on time. It was a good omen.
Every single thing Hanni and I did after our arrival in Champaign-Urbana went beautifully. We breezed down the sidewalks, crunching on fallen leaves, Hanni remembering all our routes. We ran into old friends everywhere we went – at WILL Radio, at Edison Middle School, at Urbana Free Library, and especially at Jane Addams Bookstore.
Hanni and I signed and Brailled my name – and rubber stamped Hanni’s paw – onto 40 books. We sold out. People were still waiting in line. What to do? Sign and stamp book plates instead!
Customers brought the autographed plates to the cash register and paid in advance for their copies of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound. They’ll affix their bookplates into the front page once the books arrive.
I signed and stamped 39 book plates. My friend Judy, who assisted Hanni and me, joked that now people are paying just to have me sign slips of paper.
Forty books sold, 39 books promised. Plus I even signed six copies of my first book, Long Time, No See. That makes a total of 85 books! It was all extremely flattering. And great fun.
To top it all off, the weather in Champaign-Urbana was absolutely sensational. Mike drove down from Chicago to join Hanni and me Friday night. He still stores his motorcycle in Urbana, and he was able to take Buster the BMW out for a spin to the forest preserve Saturday while Hanni and I were buzzing around town on foot. Just like old times!
An excerpt from that first book, Long Time, No See helps explain:
“I’d fallen in love with the twin cities of Champaign-Urbana back in my freshman year at the University of Illinois. It didn’t matter that there was nowhere to hike or canoe, or that the campus was surrounded by, even included, corn and soybean fields. It seemed a vibrant place. I was caught up in the rush of thirty-five thousand students hustling from class to class. Now, working full-time there, I was every bit as fond of it….Champaign-Urbana may lack a striking natural beauty—it defines the word “flat,” and the creek that trickles through it, more of a drainage ditch, is known as The Boneyard. But what the two towns have, especially Urbana, is trees. Huge, magnificent old maples and oaks with an unearthly gift for turning brilliant scarlet and sunset yellow. A few white clouds set against a deep sky on a fall afternoon—we could watch them indefinitely from our vantage point on the porch swing.”
Hanni and I didn’t find much time to rest on a porch swing this visit, but boy, we sure enjoyed Champaign-Urbana. Thanks to all of you who greeted us on the street, listened to us on the radio, joined us for a lunch (or a beer or wine!), chauffeured us around, or stood in line for books. We are two very lucky gals.

All Aboard: Urbana

Hanni and I at the University of Illinois quad.Mike and I met in Urbana. Our son Gus was born in Urbana. My first Seeing Eye dog, Dora, retired in Urbana. When Hanni first came home to live with us, we lived in Urbana.
We love Urbana.

Our son Gus moved to the Bethesda Lutheran Home in Watertown, Wisconsin in 2003. That’s the year we moved to Chicago. We go back to Urbana often. We have lots of friends there, Mike’s sister Kris and her husband Ed live there, and so do Kris and Ed’s kids and grandkids – our great nieces and nephews.
So it only seems right to return to Urbana to celebrate the publication of this new childrens book. On Friday I’ll do an interview on WILL Radio, the NPR affiliate down there. Hanni and I will visit a Champaign middle school that afternoon. Saturday morning we’re slated to do a presentation at Urbana Free Library. To cap it all off, I’ll sign copies of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound at Jane Addams Bookstore in downtown Champaign from 2 to 4 pm Saturday afternoon.
Hanni and I will embark, excuse the dog pun, on this trip tomorrow night on the City of New Orleans train. I just got off the phone with Amtrak. Now I know why I kept procrastinating when it came to booking the ticket.
When I phone Amtrak to make a reservation, I always tell them I’ll be traveling with a Seeing Eye dog. This is not a requirement –they’d have to take me with Hanni whether I told them ahead of time or not. I just let them know as a common courtesy.
But geez, the commotion it creates in the reservation process.
“Is it a big dog?”
“Well, yeah. She’s a Seeing Eye dog.”
“How much does it weigh?”
“Sixty pounds.”
I was put on hold. When the Amtrak employee came back on the line, he had more questions.
“What kind of dog is it?”
“A Seeing Eye dog. A guide dog.
“Yeah, but what kind?”
“A cross between a Labrador and a Golden Retriever. Is that what you mean?
“Yes, we need it for our records. So it’s a Yellow Lab?”
“Yes.” Forgive me Hanni, for lying.
I was put on hold. He returned with another question.
“So you are visually impaired?”
“Will you need any assistance?”
I thought about it for a second. Mike is taking me to Union Station in Chicago, and the Champaign-Urbana station is small enough that Hanni and I can navigate it on our own.
“You don’t need any assistance?”
“No, thanks.”
I heard laughter in the background. I didn’t want to think the joke was on me, so I started chuckling, too.
“You guys are funny, “I said.
I was put on hold.
The Amtrak employee finally came back on line, repeated my reservation information, and told me to enjoy the ride. I thanked him and hung up.
People who never ride Amtrak fantasize that a train ride might be romantic. Those of us who regularly ride Amtrak fantasize that our train will arrive on time.
I’m not taking my laptop along with me to Urbana, so you’ll have to wait a few days to find out whether this fantasy comes true. And whether Hanni can impersonate a full-bred Yellow Lab.

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November 2007
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