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.

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.

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!

Snow

Snow
It won’t be long before we’ll all be there with snow
Snow
I want to wash my hands, my face and hair with snow
Snow
I long to clear a path and lift a spade of snow
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
Snow
Oh, to see a mountain covered with a quilt of snow
What is Christmas with no snow
No white Christmas with no snow
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!

 

Disaster and Disability

Wow, what a day! Up at 3:30 a.m., to catch a flight to D.C. Seems to be a travel theme to my writing these days, right? Drove myself to the airport, no traffic to speak of at 4 a.m. Parked the car, got to the gate with an hour to spare until takeoff.

Full day of meetings, got to see old friends and meet some new ones. The focus of the day? Emergency preparedness and people with disabilities, and coalition building to ensure that no one is left behind when disaster strikes.

Heard from people all over the country about their experiences, both positive and negative. The negative? A man with cancer evacuated from a nursing home only to be kept in a closet in a second nursing home until he died two months later. The positive? Two moms of toddlers who are technology dependent to live became the heroes of the disability community after the floods that ravaged Louisiana last summer, becoming the go-to for supplies, resources and support for families of other kids with disabilities.

The point? To learn from each other. To organize. To plan for the future. It isn’t a question of if Louisiana will flood again. It is a question of when. It isn’t a matter of if Oklahoma will get hit by a tornado. It is simply a matter of when.

So the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, a newly formed nonprofit, hosted today’s meeting, inviting stakeholders from the disability community, government, and other nonprofits to share the room, learn from each other and chart a way forward.

I never knew I’d be so enthralled with weather. I used to laugh at my husband whose cocktail party conversations often centered around the water shortage in New Mexico or the earthquake that was sure to hit California. Now, I’ve become that person, a regular Weather Channel junkie. I know about weather patterns. I know who is getting rain. Where the wildfires are. The latest tornado touchdown. I could jump into the anchor desk on any day or night without batting an eye. Who’s laughing now?

It is amazing that there’s so much to learn from how we prepare for and respond to disasters. Who is at the table, and who isn’t. We learned that in California with the recent evacuations due to the potentially overflowing dam, people with disabilities had trouble evacuating because the paratransit providers who were supposed to be the first line of evacuation assistance for them had no idea. They were shut down and evacuated themselves.

So, the whole point of today? To underscore the need for communication between emergency managers, people with disabilities and disability organizations. To ensure that we work together NOW so that when there’s a disaster in the not so distant future, people with disabilities who are affected can be safely evacuated, sheltered, and ultimately returned home.

For the Girls

There’s this perception that women are critical of each other, unsupportive, backstabbing, judgmental, catty. That we’d sooner step on each other than lift each other up. I disagree one hundred percent.

Today is International Women’s Day. I can think of no better way to dispel those myths about women and how we relate to each other than to point out some of the wonderful women who are part of my life and how they’ve helped me to become the woman I am today.

My mother, Dorothy, who not only shaped my life, but gave me life. She was one of the most genuinely kind and loving, nonjudgmental people I’ve ever known. She made our home into the place all of our friends wanted to be, with her warmth, her infectious laugh, her wonderful cooking, and her love of having a house filled with the noise of youth. I miss her every day.

My twin sister, Laura. Sharing a womb with someone definitely creates a bond that is different than any other. Though we don’t see each other every day like we did growing up, she was and is my cheerleader, my protector, my confidante, and my friend. We have that twin thing going where the phone rings and I know it is her. We’ve checked out the same books from the library at the same time without knowing we’re doing it. Though we aren’t identical, our voices are a really close match, especially on the phone. We’ve played some fun pranks with that! We share a love of travel, of music, and of family and we always have a great time together. We’ve shared a whole life together, big moments, little moments and everything in between. So grateful to share it with her.

My older sister, Donna. At 16, she became a big sister to me and Laura. Some teens would think it was horrible that their older parents were having more children, but not Donna. She loved her big sister role and really enjoyed spoiling us. She’d buy us cute clothes and nice toys all the time. I remember at age 8, she bought us these adorable mini skirt outfits with white gogo boots. She also loved music, and listened to a lot of Motown when we were young. I picture her dancing in the living room whenever I hear a Supremes song. She is always there to lift me up when I’m down, to listen when I need to talk, and to catch a movie and a coffee for some sister time. How lucky am I?

My sister Judy. So grateful that she found me and that we are getting the chance to know each other, that we’ve had the chance to spend a few holidays together, and that she was there to celebrate 50 with us.

My friend Ellen, who I knew from 6th grade, who left us way too soon last September. Junior high and high school dances, sleepovers with all three of us in one twin size bed. First kisses. First boyfriends. Going to college together. Weddings. We shared so many moments of our lives together; there’s a piece of my heart reserved just for her.

Cindy, a friend from college, who is one of those people I now see once or twice a year but it is as if no time has passed at all when we do get together again. She is raising two adopted girls as a single mom and has built a successful business, too. I can always count on her to remind me of my good qualities and push me to live up to my potential.

My friend Stephanie, who I met through wheelchair sports over twenty years ago. She’s also a single mom raising a beautiful daughter, and a fabulous friend. She is absolutely loyal and devoted and I can trust her with anything.

My friend Linda who I met living in Virginia. Who knew that we’d both leave the nonprofit world to pursue careers in law within years of each other and remain fast friends all these years later?

My law school friend Kee Kee. We might see each other once every couple years, but like with Cindy, there’s a deep connection there that transcends time and space.

My college wheelchair basketball teammates Ann, Sharon, Sherry, Barb. Without them pushing me to look beyond my self imposed limits, I never would have gone the places I’ve gone and done what I’ve done.

My friends Gloria, Taina and Estela with whom I’ve shared many wonderful Mexican meals, a margarita (or two), salsa dancing and beautiful friendship.

Another friend Cindy who I met through my husband. We hit it off like we’d been friends forever. Cindy helped me every step of the way when I was running for judge–couldn’t have done it without her.

On this International Day of Women, I salute each and every one of these women, for their fabulousness, their fierceness, their beauty, inside and out. Thank you for being in my life–I love you all.