Coffee and Cake


Coffee and cake belong together, don’t they? Sure, you can have one without the other, but why would you?

Growing up, my family always had a cake waiting in the wings in case we had company. It might be an Entenmann’s cake, a Sara Lee pound cake, a Jewel almond braid or cheese danish, or my mom’s homemade Bisquick cake. But I can’t recall a time when there wasn’t cake.

And the thing is, it wasn’t for us. It was for company only. Some of you might be familiar with the comedian Sebastian Maniscalco? He grew up in an Italian American family in the Chicago suburbs much like I did (Italian on half and Scottish and Irish on the other), and he talks about this very thing in one of his shows.

There may be days when no one came by, and there’s this lonely little cake sitting in the box, and you think you’re going to just have a little piece? Just wait until Mom sees you trying to dig in. Not a chance…it’s for company!

Today, we’re more likely to have a fruit salad in the fridge instead of a cake. Which to me, is kind of sad.

Sure, I’m on board with eating healthy and doing all the things you ought to do. But to me, cake and coffee is medicine. Think about it. You don’t usually eat it alone, right? It involves people. Usually people that you love. Or at least like. A little.

It involves conversation. Sitting around a table, telling stories, laughing. You can’t have serious conversation over cake. It just doesn’t happen. Try talking politics over cake and coffee. They just don’t mix!

Cake and coffee is about love. About family and friends connecting. Enjoying a moment. Slowing down and savoring–the cake, the coffee, the conversation and the company.

So, who’s coming over for some cake and coffee? I’ll be ready.

Bay City Rollers–My First Concert

Bay City Rollers–My First Concert

I was 11. My twin and I were “mad for plaid” as were millions of other teens and ‘tweens at the time.

The Bay City Rollers were one of the original boy bands. They were a pop group from Scotland whose adorable accents and easy to listen to songs (and did I mention they were also cute?) made them one of the top bands of the mid to late 1970’s. Sone of you might even remember their hit “Saturday Night?”

They became one of our favorites. We had the photos from Tiger Beat and the other magazines plastered all over the walls of our bedroom.

My brother’s girlfriend and one of her friends took my sister Laura and I to see them at the Arie Crown Theatre in Chicago. It was our first concert ever. I remember getting dressed in my jeans with the plaid sewn down the sides (just like the band wore), and hoping to get a close up glimpse of Les, the lead singer, who was my favorite.

We went to Dianna’s on Halsted, a famous Greek restaurant for dinner before the show. The waiter served us wine (hey, this was the ’70’s, no judging!) which I thought tasted horrible. How times change, right? We had saganaki for the first time, learning to say “opaa” as the waiter flamed the cheese at the table.

After a wonderful dinner, we were off to the Arie Crown for the show. I remember the moment the band took the stage, and for a few minutes it was nearly impossible to hear them over the screams of delight from the young fans, myself included. For the next hour or so, I imagined that Les was singing just for me. Yes, I’m sure every other girl in the place was thinking the same thing, but don’t ruin it for me, ok?

I’ve seen probably hundreds of concerts since that first one, but just like a first love, the Bay City Rollers and that concert will always hold a special place in my heart. How about you? Who was your first?



April Fool’s Day and My Coach Norm

April Fools Day. I don’t know where the custom originated, but there have been some elaborate pranks played in the name of this holiday if you can call it that.

The one that stands out in my mind is the one I played on my track coach Norm on April Fools Day 1991. I was on target to make the Barcelona Paralympic Team, turning in performances that were almost certain to get me selected.

We had an indoor roller workout that evening, an hour of solid pushing on the stationary training tool. After practice I told Norm I needed to talk to him. I told him that I had not been feeling well, had gone to the doctor, and I was pregnant. I told him I was keeping the baby and not going to pursue the Paralympics. My whole team was in on the gag so they went along with the story, feigning shock and surprise.

Norm completely blew his top. This usually level-headed, calm and rational guy was yelling at me about how I was blowing the biggest chance of my life, ruining my potential. You get the picture. I was amazed he wasn’t thinking what day it was, and I didn’t let on just yet. I gave him a hug and told him everything would be ok. It wasn’t until later that night when I called him at home, and said, “Norm, it’s Linda. April Fools!”

He couldn’t decide whether to be angry with me or whether to laugh at how well he’d been played. Lucky for me, his sense of humor came through!

I’ve never been a big April Fool’s prankster, I’m honestly not sure what inspired that one. But every year, we remembered. And we laughed.

I still think about that joke. I think about Norm, who has now been gone for ten years. I miss him, and I’m so grateful to have shared such a special silly moment with him.

On Becoming a Yogi

For so long, I admired people who could “do” yoga. The twisty, pretzel-like poses that seemed to be fashioned out of rubber limbs, not real ones. That’s what I thought yoga was. And I wished I could do it; but, I knew I could not.

I am not flexible or bendy. I have spasticity in my legs, hips and feet. For a long time, I had to be content with admiring the yogi body and hoping that if I were to be born again, I would be able to have that.

Then, about 15 years ago or so, my whole thought process on the topic was shattered. I was reading the paper (the actual paper that bleeds ink onto your hands, that kind), and there was an article about this woman Sonia, from Brazil, who was teaching children with disabilities yoga and doing great things with it. She developed a program called Yoga for the Special Child, and she teaches people all over the world how to teach yoga to children with disabilities.

I tracked her down and called her. I introduced myself, and I said, “I know I’m not a kid, but do you think you could show me?” And she said, “Of course!”

So, I met her for the next several weeks and she worked with me. And things started to happen. My legs started to stretch out. My chest opened up. I could go in upside down poses when my whole life I could not be upside down because it did crazy things to my brain.

Finally, she said, “come to class on Tuesday night. I’ll tell you how to modify things.” So, I did. And for that hour and a half, I was doing yoga like everyone else in the room. And I came back again. And again. Over the course of a couple years, I gained 2 inches in height, and got more flexible, better posture, and even found myself in a better mood much of the time.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve practiced yoga daily or weekly for the last fifteen years; but if I did, I’d be lying. What has happened, though, is that I’ve come back to it again and again. And when I return to yoga and meditation, it feels warm and welcoming, like coming home.

Yesterday, I found my way back to the mat for the first time in a while. I took a Yin class at the studio where my chiropractor has office hours. It was the perfect reintroduction, slow, long held poses with props and support, leaving me feeling relaxed and ready for the rest of my day.

And today, as serendipity would have it, my beloved Sonia (who moved away to Florida several years ago) is back in town teaching a course. So, I got to complete my reintroduction to my yogi self by having dinner with the woman who is responsible for putting me on the path of this knowing. Today, I am reminded that I am truly blessed.

Bagels and Jams

Today, I had bagels and jams for breakfast. No, not the jam you put on the bread, the musical kind. With guitars. And vocals.

My friend Pat invited me to the Bagel Art Cafe, a cute little spot in Evanston, IL, where on most Tuesdays, he and two of his friends can be found entertaining commuters who stop in for their morning bagel and shmear and coffee to go. Or people like me, who’ve been invited to hang out and enjoy the hour.

This morning, at the time when I’m usually still in my pajamas at my kitchen table, I made my way over to the cafe. For an hour, I sat with my coffee and egg sandwich and got serenaded by three guys singing Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby Stills and all kinds of great tunes.

I can’t say that I’ve ever thought of bagels and jams going together, but it is really a perfect way to start the day. How can you not be happy rocking out to the Beatles Here Comes the Sun?! Especially on a mid-March Chicago morning where the sky is blue and the sun is actually shining?

I’ve been thinking about it all day, and I think companies should start their day off this way. Imagine what a good mood you’d be in if you spent the first hour of the day drinking coffee, tea or hot chocolate and singing your lungs out to great music? Productivity would be through the roof, complaints would decrease, and workers would be delighted to spend the day in such a place.

With all the emphasis on corporate wellness these days, why not add song to the program? It seems like mixing in a little music would be the perfect prescription for good health. We already know that music improves mood and memory recall, and studies show it even helps people with Alzheimer’s improve their ability to function.

Maybe you’re thinking, “but I don’t like the Beatles.” That’s ok, it doesn’t have to  be John, Paul, George and Ringo. Whatever music gets your toes tapping and puts a smile on your face will do.

Or, you’re thinking, “Are you goofy? My boss will never go for that. We’re a serious business.”

That’s ok too. If you can’t get your bosses on board, that doesn’t mean you can’t have your own music fest right at your desk. Whether you’re IPhone or Android, Spotify or Pandora, there’s a way for everyone to enjoy music at their work place. Just put in your earbuds or put on your Beats, hit your playlist and you’re there.

Who’s with me? Everyone who has checked in here, try it out for the next week. Headphones, speakers, in your office with the door shut, in your home office through the surround sound. However you listen, just listen. Play some music to start your work day every day for the next week, come back and tell me what you thought. Were you happier? Did you smile more? Get more done? Did other people notice and comment? Let me know….maybe this can be the start of a new workplace music revolution!


Making Art

Woman with dark brown hair in blue sweater and blue jeans holding painting painted on LP record. I haven’t taken an art class since sometime around 5th grade. I wasn’t any good at it then. I couldn’t color in the lines. I couldn’t cut a straight line. Or draw one. Even my stick figures weren’t quite right.

So, I let my sister talk me into a Sip and Paint party tonight. Notice that the Sip comes before the Paint? That’s the part I was most looking forward to. Me and paint? Not so much.

So, I get there, to a cute little record shop in the suburbs. Yes, I said “record.” For those of you who don’t understand what that is, it is a vinyl disk that when you put it on a turntable with a needle, produces amazing sound far superior to anything you can get off a CD or MP3. But I digress.

The owner of the shop hosts fun stuff like the Sip and Paint parties, and my sister is friends with her so we got invited. After some internal dialogue I decided I really didn’t care if I suck at art, it sounded like fun and so I decided to go.

I met my sister there and after we got snacks and drinks, we were led to tables that were set with paint palettes, brushes, smocks and cloths for cleaning your brushes.

We each received an old vinyl record, which was going to be our canvas for the evening. Mine was the soundtrack from The Graduate. Kind of funny because the song Mrs. Robinson has been on a near continuous loop in my head for a couple months for no apparent reason. But again, I digress.

So, we got to pick from a couple different templates, and I chose this moon setting over the ocean kind of thing. The instructors talked us through each step, and made it sound super easy.

But when I drew my moon? It looked like a big mound of mashed potatoes! And my waves? Not very wave-like.

The instructor talked me through how to fix things and make them look like what they were supposed to be, and after her help, I have to admit they were pretty close.

The best part of all? It was hilarious. I felt like a kid with finger paints, and it really didn’t matter a whole hell of a lot if my moon was mashed potatoes and my waves were smudges. Just creating the thing even if it wasn’t a Picasso was a blast.

It is hard to take yourself seriously with paint all over your hands and a mashed potato moon on a 33 LP, you know? What could I do but laugh? I laughed a lot. And it felt good.

I’m sure I’m never going to win any contests with my art, and I’m pretty sure that I won’t display any of it ever, either. But I am glad I didn’t let 5th grade Linda get in the way of having what turned out to be a fabulous time tonight painting and making art.

Of Corned Beef and Cabbage

Thinking of my Mom on this St. Patrick’s Day, and corned beef and cabbage. I don’t know that we had it every year for St. Patrick’s Day, but often enough that I remember it. Mom was an excellent cook, she took on Italian, Filipino, Chinese, didn’t matter, she’d try it. But St. Patrick’s Day dinner with corned beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes, some good rye bread, today that’s the one that’s standing out in my mind. There isn’t a lot that is associated with Irish food that we think of as really tasty, the first thought most people have is of potatoes, right?

And I don’t go out of my way for corned beef any other time of the year, though I do remember corned beef hash in a can that my mom would make from time to time for breakfast with some eggs.

But the real deal, the meat that she’d buy from the butcher and cook in all the right spices with big wedges of cabbage and potatoes, that was something special. I guess because it was really a once a year kind of a thing that made it more so. Not like the spaghetti we had every Sunday, which I still never got tired of, by the way.

Corned beef and cabbage dinner was a sign. That winter was over, spring was on the way. Easter was just around the corner. Days were getting longer, and temperatures warmer.

It was never a big party, never the big drunk fest that St. Patrick’s Day has seemed to become here in the states. Instead, we would just have dinner. As a family. My parents, brothers and sisters, and whichever relative or friend had set up temporary camp in our home for the time being.

And we were sitting in our own kitchen, around our own dinner table, not at a restaurant. And there was no whiskey involved, either. My parents were not much about drinking, only occasionally when they had friends over for a party, but on a regular basis, I don’t remember much at the dinner table except water, milk and pop. Yes, we called it pop. Still do.

But back to the dinner. It was something special not only because it was a once a year feast, but it was one thing we did as a family that represented my mother’s heritage. She became such a part of this big noisy Italian family on my dad’s side that it was easy to forget she was an Irish-Scottish girl from a small farming town in the middle of the state.

This feast once a year allowed us to tune into that side of our family, to honor our mother’s ancestry. Her father who came from Scotland to work in the coal mines,  ultimately settling in that small Midwestern town, dying young from black lung disease. Her mother, who was raised in a house with no indoor plumbing or heat, who had a phenomenal garden, a knack for sewing, and could run a bar like nobody’s business.

I’m grateful to reflect on them today, grateful they are part of who I am. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

On Playing the Violin

In The Phantom Tollbooth, author Norton Juster wrote … “So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.”

I think back to when my now 18 year old nephew was 3. I wanted to buy him music lessons for his birthday because he showed a huge affinity for music, staring at the band at my wedding the whole night, watching the hands of the piano player at Nordstrom when we’d go shopping.

I called a community music center near my sister’s house and told them what I wanted to do. They said they had violin and guitar for kids that age, and asked what I preferred. I said I really didn’t know, did they have a recommendation? The woman I spoke with said she’d recommend violin. She said “it’s pretty much the hardest instrument to learn but kids don’t know that. And once they learn to play it, they can play anything.”

So what if we did the same thing as adults? What if we picked the hardest language to learn not knowing it was hard, and just did it? What if we quit our day job to pursue our dream of being a singer in a jazz club even though the odds were overwhelmingly not in our favor? Or packed up everything and moved across country to run a farm even if we’d never lived on one a day in our lives? What about if we decided to train for a marathon even though we were the kid always picked last in gym class? Or left a good-paying job to go to law school?

There’s so many limits placed on us, aren’t there? There’s the ones we place on ourselves. I can’t. I’m too old. Too slow. Too fat. Not smart enough.

The ones our families place on us, without even realizing what they’re doing most of the time. “She’s the smart one; he’s the athletic one.” “She’s the wild one. He’s so well-behaved.” “She’s our perfect girl.”

The ones society places on us. Grow up. Get a real job. It’s hard to learn a language when you’re an adult. You’ll throw your pension away.

Don’t you wonder what is at the bottom of all this limiting and defining? And why is it that kids don’t know about it until adults telk them they should?

I do. Wonder about that, I mean. But I also wonder if it is possible to stop. Stop the judging. And limiting. And criticizing. And just be whoever and whatever we want. At whatever age we want. No excuses.

I’d like to think it’s possible. And when I start to think it’s not, I remember a little three year old boy, dressed in a pint sized suit. Blond hair brushed. Cheeks scrubbed rosy. His name is called. He walks to the front of the church, teeny tiny violin in hand. He looks out at the audience, including his parents, aunts, uncles, grandma. A deep bow. A smile lights up his face. He lifts the violin to his shoulder. And he plays.


Thanks Nancy!

Nancy Drew was my heroine as a little girl. I loved reading about the “Titian-haired” teenage detective and following along on her adventures with her cousins and friends Bess and George, and her boyfriend Ned.

For every birthday, Christmas, and any other occasion when receiving a gift was appropriate, my twin sister and I would always get Nancy Drew books from our parents and our godparents. They started at the beginning of the series and worked their way along, usually getting each of us two at a time. They’d make sure not to buy us the same ones so we could share.

This was long before the days of seatback DVD players, IPods, IPads and everything else; so, my sister and I had Nancy Drew as our car ride companion. Her adventures got me from the Chicago suburbs to a small town in downstate IL where we’d go visit our grandmother and family on my mother’s side. And, from that same suburban home to family on my dad’s side, who were in all parts of the city. Anytime I was in the car, a Nancy Drew was in my hands.

I couldn’t get enough of her. Nancy had all the qualities I wanted in myself. She was independent. She was smart. She was fearless. She was adventurous. She drove a convertible!

In the space of a couple hundred pages, she’d survive near death experiences using just her intelligence. She didn’t carry weapons. I don’t think she ever took a self-defense class. She was just a badass girl who would save the day. Every. Single. Time.

Nancy inspired my love of reading, and of writing. My first attempts at fiction, handwritten on note pads in my grandmother’s kitchen, were filled with heroines who looked and acted a lot like Nancy. I never tried to publish one of them, though they’re still in a box somewhere.

Nancy was a wealthy only child, as far from me socioeconomically and culturally as you could get. My background? Solidly middle-class Italian-Scottish-Irish family, youngest of five kids by four minutes.

But when I picked up The Secret of the Old Clock or The Message in the Hollow Oak, I became Nancy. I was behind the wheel of that convertible, strawberry blond hair flying in the breeze with my sidekicks Bess and George there beside me. I was the one following clues and solving mysteries.

Nancy showed me what it was like to dissolve into the world of a book, finding myself living the characters, feeling their emotions, experiencing their experiences. She introduced me to the magic of the written word, something that has remained a powerful influence in my life.

I’ve read that Nancy Drew was a favorite of some of my real life heroines, too, like Sandra Day O’Connor, Sonia Sotomayor, and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Women who understand the value and power of words.

Like most people who love to write, I also love to read. I’ve expanded beyond Nancy Drew now, but I still love a good mystery, a biography, a memoir or a comedian’s take on the world. If I’m not reading? I’m writing.

Diaries and journals. Blog posts. Legal briefs. Brochures. Fiction. Nonfiction. Doesn’t matter. I love to write. She may not be the only reason for my love of reading and writing, but I give her most of the credit anyway. Thanks Nancy!


It won’t be long before we’ll all be there with snow
I want to wash my hands, my face and hair with snow
I long to clear a path and lift a spade of snow
Oh, to see a great big man entirely made of snow
Where it’s snowing
All winter through
That’s where I want to be
Snowball throwing
That’s what I’ll do
How I’m longing to ski
Through the snow-oh-oh-oh-oh
Those glist’ning houses that seem to be built of snow
Oh, to see a mountain covered with a quilt of snow
What is Christmas with no snow
No white Christmas with no snow
I’ll soon be there with snow
I’ll wash my hair with snow
And with a spade of snow
I’ll build a man that’s made of snow
I’d love to stay up with you but I recommend a little shuteye
Go to sleep
And dream
Of snow
Songwriters: Guy Davis / Mark Olsen / Mike Williamson
Snow lyrics © Imagem U.S. LLC

Woke up this morning to the lyrics from this song in my head. Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney sang it in the movie White Christmas–one of my all time favorites.

Who knew I’d be thinking about snow in the middle of March after the driest January and February Chicago has ever seen? I can’t say I appreciate it with the same romanticism Crosby and Clooney do, in fact, just the opposite.

Sure, there’s something pretty about it, blanketing the ground with clean, sparkly whiteness that makes even the darkest nights look brighter because of the reflection.

But after the pretty, it just gets in my way. Plows go down the streets shoving all the snow into the curb cuts, which means streets become impassable for me and other people who use wheelchairs or mobility devices. The accessible parking spaces in many parking lots become the de facto dumping ground for the snow cleared out of the other areas of the parking lot leaving me unable to park and exit my car. Business owners and neighbors alike forget or choose not to shovel, limiting the places I can go.

I suppose if I was an outdoor winter sports kind of person I might feel differently about it. But the few forays I’ve had into the downhill ski world did not go well, and just left me frozen and frustrated. So, what’s a girl to do?

I suppose I can move somewhere that it doesn’t ever snow. But that isn’t the easiest choice to make, or probably the best choice at this time in my life.

Or, I can pretend to be a bear and hibernate for a few days until the inevitable warm-up and melt comes, order in some food, make some hot chocolate, put White Christmas on the DVD and pretend to be on that train to Vermont with Bing and Rosemary and Danny and Vera  singing happy songs about what we can do in the snow. I think that’s what I’ll do instead.

See you after the thaw!