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!

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!


Taxes and Time Capsules

Taxes. Is there anything that fills the heart with more dread than dragging out the files (or shoeboxes) of receipts and putting together a coherent story for your accountant?

I’ve been in the thick of my tax prep today, with three bins of documents headed for the shredder dating back to 2007 (why am I keeping ten year old documents? I have no answer.)

Having been self-employed for a good bit of my life, I tend to keep all receipts, even ones that I probably don’t need–just in case. And after a decade, some of the receipts are pretty well worn, and I have no idea what they were for.

But a lot of the receipts are still clear and easy to read, and I find it is taking me ten times longer than it should to get them to the shredder because it’s as if I’ve opened a time capsule as I look at them. Who knew doing taxes would be like reading old pages of your diary?

I know that I traveled a lot those years, because I’ve got every boarding pass ever used. See what you’re missing out on, those of you who do the mobile boarding pass thing? How many of your trips do you remember?

I can tell you that I went to New York in 2006 and again in 2007, because I have boarding passes for flights from O’Hare to LaGuardia and receipts for the Helmsley Hotel. Those trips? For meetings at the UN I was attending while working on getting the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities passed.

Boarding passes for flights to Doha, Qatar in 2008 and 2009? I was invited to attend the Shafallah Forum, an international conference on disability issues hosted by the Shafallah Center, a center created to provide education for children with disabilities in Qatar. And the best memory of that trip? That it was my husband’s first trip out of the country, and we took it together. I remember thinking how brave it was of him to jump on a 15 hour flight no questions asked just to be with me. I don’t think he slept a wink the whole flight. Me? Dinner, glass of wine, lights out. Not the best travel companion for a nervous traveler, but he made it through and we had a fabulous trip.

A hotel receipt for LaFonda in Santa Fe? That’s where I spent my first wedding anniversary.  Wandering the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, drinks at the Inn of the Anasazi on their lovely heated outdoor patio, breakfast at Tia Sophia’s where I get my huevos rancheros “Christmas” style, with both red and green chile.

Receipts from the Silk Market in Beijing. I was there during the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Jesse was with me again, by this time a veteran international traveler. In addition to seeing the Games, visiting the Great Wall, and the Forbidden City, we learned all about how to shop like a pro at the Silk Market, how to haggle with the vendors like we belonged there.

United Airlines receipts for Copenhagen. That’s where I went for the Chicago 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid presentation to the International Olympic Committee. There, I got to share the stage with President and Mrs. Obama to make the case why Chicago should get the Games. We were not successful in our pitch, but it is a day in my life I will not soon forget.

Wonder what memories next year’s time capsule will unlock?

Johnny, Jeffrey, Lyle

Johnny Carson, Jeffrey Osborne and Lyle Alzado. An unlikely trio, forever entwined in my memories.

It was late December, 1983, and me, my twin sister Laura, and four fellow Illini fans were on the red eye to LA to see Illinois take on UCLA in the Rose Bowl. We had tickets for the game on January 2, but decided to make a longer vacation out of it since we were on semester break.

We got off the plane at somewhere around 6 a.m., and headed straight for the Burbank Studios to get in line for Johnny Carson tickets. There was already a long line of people assembled, but even though it was early in the morning, there was a party atmosphere to the crowd. We were there to see Johnny, after all!

Somewhere around 10 a.m., bleary eyed and tickets in hand, we headed to our hotel where 6 of us were sharing one room for the week. Don’t judge….we were college students! Naps, showers and some food later, we were headed back to the studios to stand in line for round two. I can’t imagine why you’d go through the trouble of standing in line at 6 a.m., only to not show up later, but what do I know?

So, we stood in line again, got in the studio sometime between 2-3 p.m., got to our seats and had to sit and wait. The studio was freezing cold and we were in shorts and tee shirts.  But we had our tickets and we were going to see the king of late night, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. We were all so excited!

Soon enough, the man himself was on the stage delivering his brand of pithy humor with Ed McMahon, his forever sidekick there on the couch and Doc Severinsen leading the band. This was my first brush with celebrity like that, I have to admit I was a little starstruck.

The first guest? Some guy, can’t remember his name, who did an act twirling plates to music. Might have had a Vegas act or something, Not something anyone would pay to see today, but then it was kind of a thing.

Next up? Jeffrey Osborne. His song, “On the Wings of Love,” was recently released, and we got to hear it live and in person. I liked the song already. Getting to hear it live? Icing on the cake.

So where does Lyle Alzado fit in? For those of you too young to remember, he played football with the Denver Broncos, then Cleveland, then LA. He died of brain cancer in the early 1990’s which he ascribed to his lifelong steroid habit. He wasn’t a guest on Carson that night, but he was in the audience. He was actually sitting right in the row behind me. When the camera panned to him as Carson introduced him to the audience, you could see me on the screen. My five seconds of fame! Friends at home who were watching saw it; unfortunately, I never got to. But hey, I was there, right?

The game? Unfortunately, the Illini left their best back in Champaign, and lost big to UCLA in the Rose Bowl that year. But that loss didn’t overshadow the highlight of the trip for me–I got to see Johnny Carson!

In Pursuit of Healthcare

As a child, I had no idea. No idea that because I was born with cerebral palsy, that I would spend the rest of my life making decisions because of access to (or lack of access to) health care.

As a child, I had health insurance through my parents. Never gave it a second thought. My parents always worked and one or both of them had health insurance. I knew when I went to the doctor, we could afford it. I knew when I had the first of a handful of orthopedic surgeries that I had over the span of nearly a decade from my teens to twenties that we weren’t going to be forced to choose between keeping the lights on or getting me the surgery I needed. I needed it. I got it. Done.

After college, that all changed. During my first job, which, as karma would have it, was selling individual health plans for a small HMO, I was rudely introduced to the real world of health care. The world where “pre-existing conditions” existed, and where cerebral palsy was considered one. Where, even with that, I could get the health insurance we were selling because I worked for the company, but I couldn’t sell it to anyone with a family member with a disability because of their “pre-existing condition.” The one piece of that experience I’m grateful for is that it lit the advocacy fire in my heart. Other than that? Not so much.

They did me the favor of laying me off with 35 other people the Monday after Christmas one year. There was no COBRA back then, and I had no insurance for the first time in my life. I was a pretty healthy 20 something year old with no more surgeries, procedures or medications on the horizon, yet simply because the words “cerebral palsy” were attached to my medical file, I could not get an individual health insurance policy.  I spent most of the next trying to get a job, taking one at half the salary of my first job because–you guessed it–I got health insurance again.

This scenario has played out again and again in my life and it pains me to think that with the attacks on the Affordable Care Act we’re about to return to that time and place. Where me and people like me will be defined and excluded by a diagnosis. Where people with disabilities will be forced to choose between health care and rent. Prescription drugs or electricity.

Access to good, affordable health care is not a luxury–it is a necessity. And it should not be tied to a particular size employer or a particular job. Why? It’s simple.  If we aren’t healthy, we can’t go to school, learn and grow. If we aren’t healthy, we can’t work and contribute to the economy.

The anewer? We must have access to good, decent, affordable healthcare for each and every one of us, from the tiniest baby to the oldest living American. No one should have to make the choices we are forcing people to make in the name of health care. Not me. Not anyone.

The Affordable Care Act was a start in the right direction. Not a perfect piece of legislation, but a good start. It provided millions more people with health care than ever before. So why the rush to gut it? Who does that serve? Stripping away Medicaid coverages that allow people with disabilities to remain independent in their homes and contribute to society instead of being warehoused in institutions. This will make us “great again”? I don’t think so.


Well Adjusted

Today, I’m incredibly well adjusted. Not in the emotional sense, although I’m doing pretty good there. I am feeling well-adjusted because I just went to my chiropractor for the first time in four or five months.

I can always tell it has been too long when I start feeling my shoulders up around my ears, when I can’t bend forward very far or very well, and when my chest feels tight and my breathing gets difficult.

I didn’t mean to go so long, but I’ve been traveling for work for a month or two at a time which has made it challenging to say the least to try to schedule things like this.

Yes, I’m sure there are chiropractors in the places I’ve traveled. I haven’t exactly been in the jungle somewhere, you know? But I couldn’t bring myself to try someone new. My chiropractor knows me, knows my body and how it works. I couldn’t imagine starting again with someone new..

I have been seeing him for at least ten years, maybe twelve. The first time I went to see him, it was because I bent over while sitting in my chair to get dressed. Something went “snap!”, and I couldn’t sit up. I was home alone and spent several minutes doubled over thinking “what the hell am I going to do?”

Somehow, I managed to crawl out of the chair onto the bed, jeans still around my knees. I could barely breathe it hurt so much. Lucky for me, though, my cell phone was on the nightstand next to the bed. I was able to call my husband, who came home as fast as he could.

My sister recommended I see her chiropractor. Though I’d never been to one, I figured it couldn’t hurt and might even help, so I went. Literally, after the first treatment I was upright again and my back pain was gone.

I was an instant fan. I have been many many times since then, to keep my back, neck and shoulders in shape, to open up my lungs so I can breathe better and stave off asthma attacks,  and to help with allergies and sinus issues. It is amazing how one adjustment releases so much tension in your body that you didn’t even know you were holding onto.

So, now that I’m back home, I realized it was time to get reacquainted with my chiropractor. He has a new satellite office in the city, in a cool building attached to a training gym, and it is less than half the distance I was traveling to his suburban office.

We start with a little catch up. Work. Vacations. Family. Then, I tell him what’s hurting, stiff, sore, uncomfortable. And, he goes to work. He finds points I didn’t even know were sore on my back, neck, shoulders. I feel the muscles release, my shoulders relax back down away from my ears.

I leave feeling refreshed, relaxed. Almost like I’ve had a spa day. Happily well adjusted–that’s me.

Twist or Dunk? How to Eat an Oreo

Black and white Oreo cookies one being dunked into a glass of milk on a blue background

The question of the day? Dunk or twist. Nope, not a dance move or a basketball maneuver. Today, in celebration of National Oreo Cookie Day, I pondered both the meaning of life and the answer to the question burning in my mind…just how do you eat an Oreo?

As a little girl, I can remember always having a package of Oreo cookies in the pantry. My father took four in his lunch every night. Not two. Not five. Exactly four. Every single night.

So, lucky girl that I was, I often had Oreo cookies and milk for an after school snack. Once in a while, my mom would make them extra special by putting chocolate frosting on them when she had leftovers from making a cake. Yum!

But I digress. Back to the question of the day. How do you eat an Oreo? It seems there are two distinct camps–the twisters and the dunkers. As a kid, I was absolutely in the twister camp. Take the Oreo in both hands, twist open. Eat the filling first, usually scraping it off with your teeth. Then, take each side of the sandwich cookie one at a time and eat.

My father? Squarely in the dunker camp. Take your Oreo, dip carefully into a glass of milk, or, like my Dad, a cup of coffee. Bite off the dunked piece, enjoy and repeat, bite after delicious bite, until the cookie is gone.

Twisters usually don’t like dunking for a couple reasons. One, because it leaves crumbs in your glass or cup. My Dad the dunker? Not bothered. He’d dunk his Oreos and then drain the cup of coffee, crumbs and all. Two, because they like the cookie to stay crunchy, which it won’t particularly if it is dunked in hot coffee.

Dunkers, on the other hand, tend to like the fact that dunking makes the cookie soft, edible in one or two bites. They like the extra flavor from the milk or coffee, too.

There is also an age difference between the two camps. Twisters tend to be younger, kids and teens. Dunkers tend to be older, more mature adults. I’m sure that doesn’t hold true 100% of the time, but at least in my family it did. Plus, since I’ve gotten older, I’ve joined the dunker camp, though I prefer coffee to milk (and I have to admit I do enjoy a twist every now and then.)

I am not going to address the new flavor varieties in this post. Why? Because they aren’t Oreos. The only Oreo that I acknowledge is the chocolate sandwich cookie with the vanilla flavored filling. Not chocolate frosted (though I did love the ones my mom frosted). Vanilla? No. Mint? Definitely not. Birthday cake? Ugh. Don’t get me started on that one.

I know that some of you will disagree with me, and that’s ok. That’s what makes the world go ’round, isn’t it? But me? Give me a plain old original chocolate Oreo cookie, and a cup of coffee to dunk it in. Mmmm!

So, how do YOU eat an Oreo?