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The seasons are beginning to change and the cool crisp air of autumn is on the horizon (or so I’m told), and as someone who works with the homeless, I am immediately concerned about their safety and health as the cold-weather months approach. This reminded me of a situation on the South Shore last year which showed how heartless one can be towards a fellow man as well as a community circumventing its officials.

Last winter, a group of South Shore churches wanted to join forces and setup a rotating homeless shelter—the Cudahy planning commission denied the request by citing that it was inconsistent with zoning codes. If that wasn’t heartless enough, they then went on to suggest that the homeless population would be better served in Milwaukee. An official on the committee described the homeless as “stinky” and “drunk.”

The message was very simple: not in my backyard. It’s okay for Milwaukee to deal with the homeless population but Cudahy wants nothing to do with it. I hate to break it to Cudahy but these aren’t homeless individuals who happened to take the bus out to the ‘burbs…these are South siders. These are not just people with drug and/or alcohol addictions; these are people desperately looking for work (or in some cases MORE work) in extremely tough economic times. These are people that most likely lived on the South side for years in homes or apartments and now, at their weakest point, the Cudahy planning commission has turned its back on them.

Now, before we light the torches and gather the pitchforks, we should look at the silver lining of this story: the churches. After this request was denied last October (after it had already been in the works for a year going back and forth with the coalition of churches and the planning commission), the churches fought back: when news broke in December that overnight temperatures were going to hit ten degrees or lower, churches began opening their doors to host “all night prayer vigils” in which individuals could show up, have a hot meal, rest their weary bodies and most importantly—stay warm.

One such location was a Bay View area church. I should mention I live within blocks of this church. I read a news story about what the church was doing. Wait, homeless individuals in MY neighborhood? Around MY one-year-old daughter? Those thoughts never went through my head. These are South siders; they could be me or my neighbor or my best friend. How could I say “not in my backyard” when my backyard WAS their backyard? While I’m still angered that Cudahy would treat these people worse than they’d treat animals (after all, we have shelters for animals—you can even sponsor them off of TV commercials featuring sad Sarah McLachlan songs) I was elated that these churches and their members cared enough to ensure that their neighbors were provided for, with or without the approval of the City of Cudahy.

infertility, hope

$4.00 Hope


These are my favorite baby purchases ever. No, it’s not because they’re the cutest things I’ve ever seen. Not because I got them for $2 a set at Old Navy the day after St. Patrick’s Day (although that was a bonus!) Not because they are for little Irish babies like mine, but rather, because of the hope that they brought me during one of the darkest times in my life.

It was March of 2007. I’d been married for almost a year to my wonderful husband, Sean. Sean is 13 years older than me. He also happens to have had a kidney and pancreas transplant (which occurred prior to our marriage). So with Sean being much older than I was when we married, his health conditions, etc. we decided we wanted to start trying to have children immediately. Each month we tried, each month my excitement soared at the possibility that this was the month, and each month my hopes were dashed. We tried tracking ovulation, charting basal body temperature, every “guaranteed” method to be found on the Internet- nothing worked. At a regular OB checkup I asked my doctor, a few tests were completed and they all came back saying the exact same thing: I was okay. So we turned our attention to Sean. I will never forget the way I felt the moment she told us that she didn’t think Sean would be able to have children. All of my hopes and dreams for our family, our life together were destroyed in a single second when that doctor uttered the words. Sean was upset as well, but he just kept telling me to have faith, that doctor wasn’t sure and we were being referred to a fertility clinic for additional testing/fertility options. He seemed so sure of it; it was as if he knew something that the doctor had overlooked.

A few weeks later I was in California visiting my family when I saw these pajamas in the store. I was heartbroken-I’d never get to have a baby, dress them up in silly clothes, teach them about our Irish heritage, and pour my heart and soul into them, nothing. Sean wasn’t with me and I was beginning to tear up at this life I’d never have when Sean’s statement from the day we’d found out (and basically every day thereafter) came to mind: have faith. For some reason I just felt compelled to buy these pajamas, as if not doing so was conceding that this child would never be. So I bought them and immediately called Sean to tell him I’d done so (thinking he’d totally say I’d lost my mind). He said “that’s a great deal; I hope they don’t have leprechauns on them.” It was as if I was already pregnant and buying baby clothes was a normal occurrence given the situation. This comforted me and gave me hope in the possibility of what was to come.

Months later we started fertility treatments. Prior to us starting these we decided that for my sanity and our pocketbook we were only going to try for six months. After that point we’d take a break and re-examine. The first few months were horrible—given the fertility medications I was taking my rollercoaster became much more intense, each month ending with me in the depths of despair, crying myself to sleep and looking at those pajamas, almost hating them as they appeared to be mocking my dream. After three or four months of this I finally let go—I stopped making my treatments what I focused my life around, I started sleeping the night before I had to take a pregnancy test, I stopped worrying in the in between, looking for signs I was pregnant. I put the pajamas in a bag and put them away—if it happened, it happened.

Month six came, and instead of the deal we’d made looming over me I felt relief. Relief that even if this didn’t work I’d be getting off the rollercoaster. I’d begun to make headway in talking to my husband about becoming foster care parents. I hadn’t looked at those pajamas for a while. I had landed my dream job and almost forgot to even go to the clinic on the date my final treatment was to take place. So when I woke up the morning I was supposed to test, it took me an hour or two to remember to do so. I did the test and went about getting ready for my day. I almost didn’t even look at it; rather, I was going to just dump it in the trash when I suddenly realized the moment I’d been waiting 2 ½ years for had come to fruition—those magical, life-altering two little lines had appeared. I of course was so thrilled I wanted to see them over and over again—so three pregnancy tests later I was in heaven. I called Sean at work to tell him and he said “Oh, okay” as he was too shocked to actually believe it. I pulled out the pajamas and looked at them realizing that all of my hopes and dreams would be inside them in nine short months.

Someone close to me is now dealing with her own fertility issues and one day she saw a onesie that she was just absolutely in love with. She asked me if I thought it was silly to buy it and needless to say I said “absolutely not, the hope it will give you is worth every penny on the price tag.”

bed, birthday, spoiled


A few weekends ago my husband decided that it was time to buy our recently turned two-year old a “big girl bed.” We went to a children’s furniture store, expecting just to look, when we found this bed:


Yes, it has a princess tower, and a play house underneath and a slide (for quick getaways). My daughter immediately fell in love with this bed (after all, can you blame her)? I personally fell in love with the amazing sale they had going on. So, we bought it. I snapped a picture of my daughter and the bed and posted it on Facebook. As you can imagine, the word “spoiled” was brought up quite a few times.

Now, since Rory (my two-year old) has been alive, I’m pretty sure I’ve been accused of “spoiling” her on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Most of the accusations revolve around holidays/birthdays. The biggest issue is always with her birthday.  As mentioned in a previous post, we suffered with infertility for quite some time. This of course gave me plenty of time to think and daydream about the kind of 1stbirthday party I wanted for my child, and before I ever became pregnant I knew it would be a “Candyland” themed event.

So fast forward a few years and you have last August when I had a Candyland bounce house, candy buffet, Candyland-board birthday cake and large party for Rory’s first birthday. Instead of gifts we asked people to bring school supplies to donate to Children’s Society for foster care kids. It was a great time and much of my family from California flew out to be there for the event. 

This year, because of Rory’s obsession with everything Sesame Street, the theme was a no-brainer. We had a birthday party brought to you by the letter “R” and the number “2”; we had cupcakes featuring Sesame Street characters; a make your own puppet station; piñata; decorate “R” and “2” sugar cookies; and coloring pages. It was an absolutely wonderful time. 

So, the bigger question: why do I do it? I found myself thinking about this question after the comments posted regarding our choice of beds. Is it because I have this need for my kids to have “the best?” Don’t get me wrong -I want Rory to have everything she needs and wants out of life, but I’m aware that it’s not going to happen. Is it because I want to show off how “great” of a parent I am? I don’t really define “great parents/parenting” by the stuff I buy her. I realized the answer was rather complex. Sure, as a parent I want my child to have everything—I also want world peace and climate change to fix itself and to live forever. That is all wishful thinking and it’s more than that. Part of it is about the fact that I don’t have a lot of happy memories from my childhood. I wasn’t lucky enough to be born into a family with a mom and dad that loved me—I was born to a severely mentally ill mother, a father that I wouldn’t see until I was almost 17 and a family that was broken. Most of the happiest memories I have as a child revolve around holidays. Holidays were always huge in my house—in part because my mother’s bipolar disorder, combined with her amazing artistic abilities, caused her to turn our holidays into a fantasy land that other children were jealous of. The joy of watching Rory does make it worthwhile. I want her to be able to look back on her childhood and have these distinct, amazing memories of each birthday, each holiday and how special they were made.

I still felt like there was more to this than just wanting it to be special and I didn’t realize I even thought this until just a few weeks ago. A dear family friend (and my co-worker) named Heika came to Rory’s party. That was Saturday—by Friday, Heika collapsed for no apparent reason and died. Her death at a young age was quite a shock to everyone around her. Life is frail; it can end in a split second for no apparent reason and therefore I am going to spend my time making each day count, each day “special;” if what I do to make my daughter’s life special is considered by others to be “spoiling” then so be it.

The last and final reason was easy: Rory is grateful. Everything is please and thank you with her. She is required to ask nicely for anything she may want (be it a glass of milk or a toy while in Target). If she doesn’t ask politely, she simply doesn’t get it (not to say she always gets it when she asks nicely). If she uses good manners to ask for something but doesn’t say “thank you” when she receives it—it’s quickly taken away. Manners and gratefulness are two of the things we work really hard on (and two of the only things I won’t budge on). She got just as excited about a simple $1 toy for her birthday as she did for the crazy rollercoaster we bought her (that’s a WHOLE other blog entry)! When grandma brings over rummage sale clothes she’s purchased for Rory she’s known to say “Wow! Beautiful! Thank you Grammy!” My husband and I both agree that as long as she’s grateful we will continue—no matter what the Jones’ may think.

This past week an accident occurred on the freeway right in front of me. I drove past the scene less than a minute after it happened and I was in shock—a car and a motorcycle had collided and the man riding the motorcycle lay next to the concrete wall in agonizing pain; I assume he was on his way to work as the contents from his motorcycle (water bottles, snack items, etc.) were strewn across the freeway. Now, I will say that it was a split second and I wasn’t in my clearest state of mind, but there was no helmet that I could see (not on the man or near him at least). Now, I will be the first to say that it does not mean that he wasn’t originally wearing one. My mother was hit while on a motorcycle by a car and the force of the accident caused her helmet to come off. My issue isn’t with the poor man that was hit (whom I’m assuming is on the mend as the newspaper hasn’t seemed to print anything regarding the accident). My issue, rather, is with the state of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin only requires riders 17 years and younger to wear helmets, a law which the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates as poor. I should point out that our state also has no bicycle helmet laws. In fact, only 20 states and the District of Columbia require all riders to wear helmets. This is absolutely appalling to me. I should point out that all states have safety belt laws (although some are only for front-seat occupants), but basically what I’m hearing is all states saying it’s unsafe to ride in vehicles without seat belts, but 27 of our 50 states don’t feel that it’s unsafe to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, or that it’s only unsafe to certain motorcycle riders (mainly those 17 and under). Does that seem illogical to anyone else?

Now, with or without a state law, I feel that you’re crazy not to wear a helmet or seat belt - be it in a car, motorcycle, bike, etc. Of course, this topic hits rather close to home for me because I’ve seen the damage that can be done in motorcycle vs. car accidents through the accident my own mom was involved in during the spring of 2002. She was riding on the back of a motorcycle when it was hit by a car. My mom was tossed from the cycle and landed in the freeway, her helmet coming off in the process. The injuries she sustained were horrific at best: broken back; two ribs had to be put in her back with a metal cage; 2 ½ -inch hole in her head (which was so deep the doctors were unable to close it and as a result she still has a dent in her head); broken scapula in two places; her left eye required repair as it was sagging; permanent brain damage; seizures; chronic pain-all of which left her disabled. I was the first family member called that night and the message was simple: if you mom isn’t dead yet, she will be soon. It was a miracle that my mom survived; the highway patrol officer that first arrived on the scene ran into my mother years later and reiterated those words: I was sure you were dead. This crash altered my family forever, and we were lucky enough to have my mom survive.

State lawmakers apparently have more important issues to discuss and debate than the lives of Wisconsinites riding on Wisconsin roads—such as unpasteurized milk-(insert eye roll). 

We’ve all been there—especially when pregnant or caring for a newborn: dealing with other people’s advice. When I was pregnant I actually only had a few instances in which I was given unsolicited advice where slapping them would have been justified.  I must appear as completely incompetent because once my daughter was born everywhere I turned I was being given (mostly lame) advice. This was particularly true about one choice I made, co-sleeping.

Now, co-sleeping has received a pretty bad reputation, especially in Milwaukee in the past few years, because of media attention regarding infant deaths that were attributed to co-sleeping. If people cared to pay attention to those stories they would have also heard that most of the times people hadn’t followed “the rules” of co-sleeping: don’t sleep with the baby if you’ve consumed any medications or alcohol that diminish your senses, if exhausted from sleep deprivation, etc.  After Rory was born I remember going over to someone's house one day and the person deciding to tell me that I was going to kill her by accidentally rolling over on her. Obviously this upset both my husband and I because we still remember this clearly over two years later.

The co-sleeping comment was the extreme, I’ve received advice criticism for everything from how I dress my daughter to how I discipline, what I feed her, how we celebrate holidays to how her hair is done. Probably 95% of it is unsolicited. At first I kept reminding myself “they just care” but quickly I realized it wasn’t that they cared—they thought they knew best and their way was the ONLY way. They had read all the books (I only read one and it was after Rory was born), they took all the classes (again, the only one I ever took was infant massage after she was born) and therefore they knew everything.  I received advice from people that didn’t even have kids. I remember posting a status on Facebook when Rory was an infant and two people responded “Well you know I worked in the church daycare and we…” and “I babysat my neighbors 12 year old once and…” I have to say, quite a bit of it actually really hurt my feelings—like the woman who told me that my child was going to have tons of issues because I had to stop breastfeeding at nine weeks (which is a whole other post). She told me my daughter would constantly be sick because of it (btw—my daughter is rarely ever really sick and I know plenty of people that breastfed the entire time their babies were little and they’re constantly sick—so thanks a ton on that one jerk face).

News flash: I don’t want your advice -If I do, I’ll ask you and there’s an 80% chance I won’t utilize it even then; rather, I’ll use it to confirm my original decision. I’m a believer that more parents should chill out—I didn’t read the books or take the classes or watch the videos and Rory is a bright, healthy, happy child. Generations before us didn’t have all of these options—they had to learn via on-the-job training. My best friend, Missy, is expecting her first child in November and has asked me a few tips here and there, and I remember one day telling her something that our amazing pediatrician told us when Rory was a newborn: it is very, very hard to permanently injure a child or scar them for life. If you have their best interests at heart you are doing something right. My child gets dirty, eats stuff she shouldn’t, performs death-defying feats that I cringe over but still let her do because it’s a learning process, throws fits, is disciplined and sometimes even gets yelled at (gasp!). I’m also constantly being told by people that she is one of the most polite, friendly, verbally advanced two year olds they’ve ever met—I must be doing something right. So please, think about the advice you give and the reason you’re giving it.

As has been mentioned in previous posts, I work at a men’s homeless shelter in the inner-city of Milwaukee. One day- a few years ago, I called a client to see what he was doing. He was somewhere with a lot of noise in the background. I asked him “What are you doing?” He responded “I’m grocery shopping.” It didn’t sound like a grocery store so I asked “Where are you shopping?” His response: “Burger King.”  In my position I deal with the ills of the inner-city on a daily basis: lack of education, jobs, resources, adequate health care, etc, but an issue that isn’t taken on often enough is the lack of good nutrition/access to healthy eating.  Personally, I consider obesity the greatest epidemic facing our nation. Closer to home, nearly 1 in 2 African Americans in Wisconsin are obese.

The Guest House of Milwaukee (the homeless shelter where I work) has joined forces with Friedens Community Ministries (a ministry in Milwaukee that has multiple food pantries around the city) to form Cream City Gardens. These gardens are based across the street from The Guest House on land that sat vacant and abandoned for several years. Its goal are simple: provide healthy, nutritious, locally grown food for clients and other low-income food programs in order to improve healthy outcomes; provide a meaningful way for clients staying at The Guest House to give back to the community/shelter that support them; create a job training program, thus improving guests marketability in the employment field; further educate clients on nutrition, agriculture, and self-sustainability; and improve community aesthetics.

Not only is this a garden; it’s also a training program. From the Ground Up is a five week, hands-on training program to help clients learn about working in green industries, with classes such as- Introduction to the Green Industry, Plant Basics, Soil and Fertilizers, Insect and Disease Management and Harvesting and Storage. At the completion of the program, the client gains a certificate of completion, letters of recommendation and the ability to add this experience to his resume. Currently, there are seven clients from The Guest House utilizing this training program and on track to graduate this Thursday. The graduation will coincide with the Cream City Gardens Harvest Festival—celebrating its first harvest; local chefs will be using fresh food from the garden to create an amazing meal.

Whether you are involved in the inner-city daily or not at all, we should all commend this effort and be grateful that people are taking ownership in this city and making a difference. If you’d like more information on Cream City Gardens, a list of needs or to volunteer please visit their blog.   

September 24th – October 1st is Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week was started in 1982. It is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the American Library Association; American Society of Journalists and Authors; Association of American Publishers; and the National Association of College Stores, National Coalition Against Censorship; National Council of Teachers of English; and PEN American Center.  It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. The week is meant to highlight intellectual freedom, the ills of censorship and spotlight the works that are being (or have been) banned in parts of the United States.

This week made me think of one of my all-time favorite movies, Field of Dreams, and the part in the movie where Kevin Costner’s wife becomes upset at the fact that the local PTA (particularly another mother) was contemplating banning books they felt were “inappropriate.” Even as a child (I was seven when the movie came out) I always felt that it was such a powerful moment in the movie- not because it was a critical for the plot, rather, because it showed how both mothers loved their children and were trying to do what they felt was best for them.

As a child, I was a voracious reader. While my siblings were playing with their toys or watching television I was off in my room reading. My stepdad one summer offered a deal to my sister and I that each book we read and wrote a one page report about he’d give us $5…that deal quickly was reduced as his wallet was empty thanks to speed reading abilities. When I looked at this list of the top 100 banned/challenged books of the last decade, I realize how if I had come from a different family, different school, different part of the country I may have never been allowed to read some the of the books that helped shape my adolescence, my thoughts, my dreams, my worldview and ultimately—my life. Off of that list, I read 24 of the 100 books while I was under the age of 16. My two favorite books of childhood, The Catcher in the Rye and The Giver have both made this list. Many of the books on this list are ones that personally; I feel all children should read (including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men and To Kill A Mockingbird). All of which, I should point out were requirements of my honors English classes and haven’t (yet) turned any of us into serial killers. Nothing within the pages of these books are any worse than the playground banter of thirteen year old children. Trying to “protect” kids from these works will do nothing but cause them to miss out on fantastic journeys with Jim & Huck floating down the Mississippi, dealing with teenage angst with Holden Caulfield and hope that Lennie finally obtains his dream of tending rabbits.

While I can understand (although I do not agree) with the reasoning behind some banned books, others are absolutely absurd. The Merriam Webster Dictionary was banned in a California school for its definition of oral sex. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was banned in 2010 by the Texas Board of Education because the author has the same name as a Marxist theorist, and no one bothered to check if they were actually the same person.  Anne Frank’s diary has been banned on multiple occasions, including a Virginia school in 2010 for being “sexually explicit” in its themes.

When my child is old enough to read I hope that I allow her the same respect that my parents did in allowing me to read whatever I felt called to. Will I ask her questions about her book choices and possibly read them at the same time? Sure. Will I answer the awkward questions about some of content within the books? Absolutely. In the end I feel that whatever the issues people may have with these classic works cannot diminish their value in teaching and molding my child.