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Oh To Be Nineteen Again...

If you’re a certain age, you remember the Kooky Cooky House at Capitol Court Mall. (now known as Mid Town Center)  The Kooky Cooky House was the place where Santa set up shop, right in front of Gimbel’s Department Store.  Every year, the line of kids who snaked up to the entrance would be led inside to where Santa was seated, ready to hear their annual wish list.  The whole placed smelled like gingerbread; and after you told Santa what you wanted, you got a big gingerbread cookie.  Some kids thought the Kooky Cooky House was scary (Jamie, I’m looking at you here), but I always looked forward to my annual visit with Santa.  Until I was nine years, old that is.  I clearly remember telling my mom that “Well, I think I’m too old. . .I feel like I’m nineteen around all those little kids.”

GG’s had six Christmases and for each one of them, we’ve visited Santa, taken the obligatory picture that I plan to send out as Christmas cards (but never do), and on Christmas morning, GG awakens to the presents she’s requested (at least one of them anyway).  But I’ve got this sinking feeling that GG’s onto this whole Santa business, and she’s playing along just to keep us happy.  She’s a smart, inquisitive kid so I find it very suspicious that all of her “real versus imaginary” questions tip-toe all around Santa, but never quite find their way, to or about, him.

It certainly doesn’t help matters that Jamie and I are terrible liars.  Last year, it went something like this:  “Well…Santa uses the door since we don’t have a chimney.” and, “ I can’t believe Charley wasn’t barking when Santa got here!”  All the while, I knew GG was looking right through us thinking “I can’t believe you expect me to believe that load of….”  To corroborate last year’s lie even further, Jamie left GG a thank you note for the milk and cookies signed by Santa.  The only truth of that note was that somebody ate the cookies; and it wasn’t Santa…or me.

So we’re terrible liars.  Could anything be worse for the existence of Santa in a child’s mind than that?  People who are terrible, forgetful liars, that’s what!  With every passing day, Jamie and I are becoming more forgetful: on more than a few occasions, we’ve forgotten which toys were actually presents from mom and dad or presents left by Santa. Or which were presents that Santa left for her at Auntie Becky and Uncle Ron’s house or which presents at Auntie Becky and Uncle Ron’s house were actually from Auntie Becky and Uncle Ron. Or the confusion about presents that Santa left at Grandma’s house and presents at Grandma’s house that were actually from Grandma.  See what I mean?

Poor Santa doesn’t have a chance with GG as long as we’re her parents.  But I hope she keeps on letting us believe that she believes…. until she’s at least nineteen.


Lights out! Again?

"I don't want a lot for Christmas, there's just one thing I need. I don't care about the presents, underneath the Christmas tree...

I agree with Mariah Carey.  I don't want a lot for Christmas either.  But when I'm getting ready for the holidays, there are a few things on my wish list.  Here are just a few:

I would like strands of Christmas lights to work when only one bulb is out. 

And if that's not possible, I would like them to work after I change that bulb and then the fuse, too. 

If that is not going to happen, and I purchase a new box of Christmas lights, then after I've tested them and they work--and I put them on a Christmas tree or in a wreath-- I'd like them to continue working.

I realize I'm asking a lot, so if that is not possible, then I'd like the strand that goes out to be on the bottom of the tree or the outside of the wreath.  I'd like it not to be the strand tucked tightly into the middle.

Unless of course it is a strand of lights that burns out on a tree outside.  Then the middle can sometimes be easier to reach then the lights at the top of the tree.

Also, if the Christmas tree is going to fall down, I'd just assume that it looks a little wobbly, or gives some other sort of head's up before it comes crashing down in the middle of the night or wee hours of the morning.  I would also prefer that if it is going to fall, that it does so before all the ornaments are on and the tree stand is full of water.

Finally, if the neighbors are making fun of me, because the lights on my deer are burnt out (after I've restrung the whole darn thing yet again), that they say it to my face and not laugh behind my back.

Truthfully, that last concern really isn't an issue anymore.  After my neighbor told me last year that they laughed at my deer because it looked like headlights (I'm guessing she meant a deer in the headlights) I put it on the curb and one of the neighbor kids took it.  I heard he brought it to a big bonfire party and threw it in.

Oh dear!  I mean, oh deer!

And on the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

You know the words, we all do. I am sure it was a classic back in the day when maids were milkin’ but now the repetitive droning on and on and on of that song is enough to make me crazy. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that I dreaded Christmas altogether. The stockings, the knick knacks, the garland, the lights, the ornaments.

My daughter Madeleine died twelve days after after Christmas of 1995. She was pronounced dead shortly after midnight early on a Saturday morning. It is hard for me to remember that it was a Saturday because we spent the greater part of Friday knowing that she was going to die soon.  My mind has put a Friday feeling to the memory more than a Saturday.

Madeleine was born a few minutes before six in the morning on November 7, 1988, and died a few minutes after midnight on January 6, 1996. This year she would have been twenty-one.


Madeleine’s first Christmas. I had a different husband, a seven year old son, and six week old twins. A hectic holiday, yet medically uneventful.

The Christmas of 1989 bore no resemblance to the preceding year. Madeleine had twenty-four hour per day nursing care, she had gastro-intestinal tube and was fed and medicated every two hours. She had a tracheotomy tube, and by the following Christmas oxygen had been added to the mix. It’s funny what details I remember, I don’t know what I had for breakfast yesterday but I know on the day the first oxygen tank was delivered to our home she was on .25 liters per minute and on the day the tank was removed from our home she had been on 6.5 liters per minute.

We had a great crew of nurses, generous with their time, talent, and treasures. After all, there were three eight hour shifts a day, a revolving door of nurses. Our dogs knew when shift change was going to occur and they start to watch out the front windows for the nurse’s vehicle to arrive. They became family.

I had never been a fan of real Christmas trees. They’ll dry out and drop needles and drip sap on the carpet, they’re a fire hazard, they’ll bring in bugs … I had more excuses than you can imagine. I was pro-artificial tree and stubborn. One night in early December our third shift nurse, quiet as a mouse, brought a real tree through the front door and set it up in the living room. I swear the tree was as tall as it was wide, easily six feet in both directions.

And I could smell the tree the moment I opened my bedroom door. It looked prettier than it smelled. I became a pro-fresh Christmas tree lover that year. I refused to put any lights on the tree because of my fear of fire, but we had our first real tree.

Most of the ornaments that filled the tree were Madeleine-related. I was pregnant when I got married in March, twins arrived in November. In addition to a brigade of ornaments that come along with my then seven year old, we had twin ornaments and matching boy/girl ornaments. Everyone gave Madeleine ornaments for Christmas. I mean everyone, even the mailman. Name an ornament, we had it. Crayola, Disney, Marvel, Precious Moments, Hallmark, Coca-Cola, Barbie, seriously you name it we had it.

One year Madeleine was in Milwaukee’s Children’s Hospital over December 5th, which is the evening St. Nick came. I stayed at the Ronald McDonald house across the street. When I opened the door of my room, there were two stockings hung from the doorknob. They were full of Cracker Jacks, fruit, candy canes, gum and ornaments. I stuffed the Cracker Jacks and gum into my giant purse and took the shuttle to the hospital only to find MORE ornaments surrounding her hospital bed.

And for as long as we had Madeleine, we had real trees stuffed with ornaments. Oh, eventually I became brave enough to add lights but I kept a fire extinguisher on the coffee table just in case of spontaneous combustion.

And twelve days after the Christmas of 1995 Madeleine died. She had chronic lung problems and we knew her illness was degenerative. The way I like to tell the story is that she had a regular Madeleine Monday. I love how that sounds, Madeleine Monday.  Anyway, she was gone by Saturday. Her body was exhausted and her renal system was already starting to fail. She was ready to go. Her lungs were compromised from years of scarring, they didn’t have the elasticity necessary for effective respiration. We were all exhausted.

Friends and neighbors brought food. Our front doorbell never stopped ringing. Hugs, tears, memories, coffee, cookies, everything became one big blur. And somewhere in the midst of all this Madeleine’s last Christmas tree was dismantled. Ornaments were taken off, lights were removed, the tree was dragged out and tossed in someone’s pick up truck, the living room was vacuumed, Christmas was over and I was, as usual, grateful for all the assistance.

To have your family count decrease takes some adjusting. Madeleine had been home bound for so many years that not many people knew we even had a daughter at home. I used to always recite a sentence in my head when we were out to eat at a restaurant. The waitress would say “table for four?” and I’d repeat “table for four, family of five” inside my head. Even when she wasn’t with me, she was with me. And now she wasn’t with me except for the rhymes in my head.

I think one of the worst things about losing a child is still having more children left. I mean, you just have to keep going because you’ve got more kids that still need you. So maybe it is one of those bittersweet things where the worst thing is also the best thing.

I muddled through life. I grew and got stronger. It didn’t happen over night, but I learned how to cope. I had two healthy active boys, life had to keep going.


I promise I will continue tomorrow, I know this is a tough read for some. If you would like more background on Madeleine, I’ve posted most of it at based on a true story … at MilwaukeeMoms.com, more specifically entitled:

How I Became A Wife, A Mother and Divorced

And Then There Was The Time I Had Twins

On A More Serious Note

And If You Were Here I Would Kiss You

Her Funeral

I knew Christmas would always be a rough time. Holidays are tough when you lose someone you love. Even if the your great uncle twice removed was reincarnation of Scrooge himself, you could still raise a glass in toast “To Great Uncle Bif, may you rest in peace knowing that you don’t have to spend money where your sitting right now!”

When you lose a child, life must go on for the rest of the family for the rest of eternity. It isn’t easy. It just is what it is. Christmas of 1996 was different than any of us expected.

Now here’s the deal.  I am a “piler” which is much different than a “hoarder.”  I make little piles through the house of stuff that I need to put away. I know what is in each pile at any given time. I don’t put anything away until I can put it away until I can put it away the right way.

I’ve got piles in my office and piles on my kitchen counter.Maybe there is one in the dining room, too.  However you can open my file cabinets and you will find color-coordinated machine generated labels with every product manual you could want in perfect, logical alphabetical order. Sure, my desk top looks like a cluttered mess but to me it is just stuff I haven’t put away properly.

Towels are folded a certain way and it must be while they are still warm from the dryer so they crease easier. Dishclothes have the same story. Someday I’ll snap a picture of my rag drawer for you. Oooh, envy.

I’m not any different with the Christmas decorations. Hallmark ornaments go in tiny baggies along with the original box. I don’t put them back in the box because (heaven forbid!) I may cause that box to wrinkle and depreciate in value (eBay alert! eBay alert!). Breakable ornaments are wrapped in tissue paper and then put in a plastic baggie. Bigger items are wrapped repeatedly in platsic grocery bags and put in labeled totes. The amount of effort the elves put forth to help Santa’s magic happen … well, that’s the way I pack away Christmas. What can I say, those quirks are my quirks and they aren’t going to go away.

The Friday after Thanksgiving of 1996 had me hauling my Christmas boxes down from the attic and organizing them in the proper order as I got ready to decorate the tree.  I cannot remember anything unusual about my presence of mind up until that point. Another year, another tree. Same old, same old.

I opened the RubberMaid tote that contained the lights. Hold it, the lights weren’t in their individual ziploc bags. Alright, I was mildly pissed. I decided I was going to skip the lights. After all, it was a lot of work to put them up. It wouldn’t be the first time I skipped lights.

I grabbed my Tupperware container of ornament hooks and reached for the first bin of ornaments. I popped open the lid and it the contents of the container just blew my mind and every emotion I had stuffed inside of me for the past three hundred and thirty some days came flooding back to me. All the ornaments were jumbled together in this one bin. They still had the hooks attached! This was, in my mind, a catastrophe. I was blinded by my emotions. Literally, blinded. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t stop crying. I wasn’t crying about the fate of the ornaments. This was the shove I needed so I could finally cry, sob, even tantrum.

Until I opened that tote I accepted Madeleine’s fate, her undiagnosed degenerative neuro-muscular disorder. I accepted our loss, I knew it was coming.Me. Pro-active and not re-active. That’s me.

And now I was reacting to this newly opened RubberMaid tote by crying? I never cry.

I remember the gut wrenching feelings that came over me. Gut wrenching. We’ve all used the term, who hasn’t? But I felt it, I literally felt my gut wrench. Never in my life had I experienced this sadness or woe. This type of grief doesn’t come in waves, it is a tsunami of emotions and I was drowning fast.

That was the first Christmas that we had a naked tree. No lights, no ornaments, just a naked tree.

The cardboard holiday storage boxes and green and red plastic totes sat in the hall untouched until the kids went back to school the first week in January. I carried the boxes up to the attic and locked the door, I didn’t return to the attic until the following year.

Each Christmas I grew a little bit stronger and did a little bit more, but I still dreaded every moment of it. We did the same stuff every year, traditions must be upheld because after all life goes on. Oh, and did I mention each year I got a little bit bitchier? I dreaded anything and everything that had to do with that damn tree. I was fine with the cooking, the baking, the shopping, the wrapping. In fact, the shopping helped more than I could have ever imagined.

With two boys remaining, I missed the “pinkness” that goes with a daughter. Although Madeleine was disabled beyond the point of playing with dolls I didn’t realized I had been “ripped off” by her not needing the toys and trinkets that go along with little girls until she was no longer here. So I bought. And I bought. And I bought.

And I sat at home and studied everything in great detail. The painted on eyes of The Little Mermaid, the plastic smell of baby dolls, and the jeweled crowns. After scrutinizing these girlie girl items, I returned most of the stuff I had bought and the rest I donated to Safe Harbor, a shelter for domestically abused families in our area.

I was healing. If I could just move past this sticky situation with the damn tree.

By this point I had become a foster parent and our Christmases were no longer traditional. In fact, our holidays became downright unconventional. I preferred to foster children that were going to be long term placements. For three consecutive years, our Christmas pictures each featured a new infant or toddler that stayed with us on their journey to their forever home.

Our families size changed constantly and our traditions changed just as fast, too. Some of the children we had with us didn’t use stockings at Christmas, they used shoes because, well … that was their families tradition. When I went upstairs to bed that night, our upstairs hallway was full of shoes, easily twenty-five pairs and maye even more. My children and the children living with us at the time thought if one pair of shoes brought treats, why not put out ALL of your shoes and see what kind of loot will be produced.

Incidentally, the year of the “shoe incident” was also the year I made some of my greatest strides in my life. I abandoned the tradition of a real tree. If I really wanted to live in the here and now I had to let go of pieces of my past. For me, that big ol’ tree decorated with oodles of ornaments from years gone by was more than I could handle.

I’ve never re-opened the totes. I have them, I’ve moved them twice. Someday I’ll open them. Or then again, maybe not. We still have a tree, but it is artificial and I decorate it alone. The lights are white and sparse. The ornaments are red and there are a ton of them. I spend a full day on the tree, shaping the branches.

I tried to compromise, I tried to put other ornaments on the tree but I couldn’t handle it. Sometimes I feel selfish that theornaments my kids made in school end up taped to their bedroom doors and not out in the living room. I still struggle with my emotions I am proud that I can look forward to putting up a tree.

To be continued tomorrow.

gifts, booklist

Gift Suggestions

I’ve always made a point of giving books during the holidays.  Although sometimes underappreciated during the flurry of activity on Christmas morning, books stand the test of time.  At some point during winter break or during a long, cold January, I know a book will be picked up, read and enjoyed.  There is great satisfaction in seeing someone enjoy a book they received as a gift.  There is even greater satisfaction in enjoying a book over and over again—as is the case with so many picture books for children.

Each year the Milwaukee Public Library puts together a book list of titles that make wonderful gifts.  Check out this year’s More Books Please booklist .   No matter the age or interest, you are sure to find the right book for the young people on your gift list! 

milwaukee montessori, school

The Coat Flip


Heal Your Heart This Holiday Season

I grew up as the youngest of five siblings in a poor, working-class, Hmong family as a second generation American. Assimilating to the American way was indeed our family's goal, but quite the challenge as cultural differences, language barriers, and poverty presented conflicts for us.

I remember vividly, in second grade, attending a holiday event where my family stood in line to receive food, clothing, and Christmas gifts. One of the volunteer families included a kid in my class who handed me my donated gift. I had ambivalent feelings about that experience as a kid: should I have been grateful for the support of the community or embarrassed that my classmate knew my secret – that I was poor? That was one of the pivotal moments in my life where I knew I wanted to grow up to be somebody impactful.

Fast forward to my adulthood, I had overcome the barriers I encountered as a child and began earning a good living and education. Only this time, there was trouble in my marriage and I was facing much distress. After a decade of endless attempts to fix our failing relationship, my marriage ended on Mother's Day weekend.  My heart just crumbled having to tell my son that Mommy and Daddy were breaking up. 

As one can imagine the ripple effect that occurred, my financial situation deteriorated, education suffered, and career outlook became blurred. My world came tumbling down on me leaving me to feel as though all that I've worked so hard for all of those decades had been lost in a blink of an eye. I questioned why this had to happen when all seemed to be going so well. I fell into a depression and became ill; but, I never gave up.

Shortly after hitting rock bottom, I broke out of my cocoon and made a choice to transform my life. I began to uncover the secrets to achieving a more meaningful and purposeful life letting nothing get in my way. As I had rebuilt my emotional health and recovered, it hit me one day and then I understood with great clarity. This HAD to happen to me so that I could stand here today and share my story with others.

Having a positive and inspirational support system is what helped me to survive the most difficult years of my life.

With that, I offer you a special holiday event that can help you heal your heart. When we are smiling, laughing and enjoying ourselves with other positive influences, it sparks something within us that cannot be suppressed.

Please join us at a MilwaukeeMoms-sponsored event on December 19th any time between 2 and 5pm to help us launch a special holiday event “Healing Your Heart: A Hopeful Holiday Event” at IndepenceFirst.

Bring your kids! This is a family-friendly event!

Register online at http://www.meetup.com/Coachbx/calendar/12000979/

Pink or blue? The many ways to know ...

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I always envisioned a magical moment after my baby was born. The doctor would hold him or her up and say, “It’s a (insert gender here)!”
That scenario didn’t happen. I anxiously waited eight months to know the gender of my unborn child, but after 12 hours of labor with a newborn in distress, the doctor was more concerned with checking her health than informing me of her gender.
Of course, I’m glad her health was the first. But after she was born, it dawned on me that I had no idea if the crying newborn a few feet away was a boy or girl.
When one of the many nurses checked on me, I just had one question: Is my baby a boy or girl? “No one told you? Oh, it’s a girl,” she said.
I thought I’d have a rush of emotion, but I didn’t. Nothing mattered other than her health—and my healthy baby girl and I went home four days later.
Now that I’m in the second trimester of another pregnancy, I’m debating on whether or not to find out the baby’s gender in advance. It might be fun to have a little celebration when we know, rather than when we are concerned with other things—like labor, delivery and health.

The big debate
I’ve encountered two schools of thoughts with my friends. One friend said knowing in advance helped her introduce her 2-year-old son to the concept of having a new baby brother.
My other friend said she felt a little cheated when she found out with her second child. There’s no going back; once you know, that’s it.
In our house, we have two girls: my step-daughter Mia, 5, and Anika, 2. Most people think we want a boy, but, honestly, it doesn’t matter to us. Another girl would be just as fun—and I wouldn’t mind the chance to use those pretty baby dresses one more time!
Either way, we are already prepared with gender neutral newborn clothes, a green and purple kids room.
Boy or girl, pink or blue, all I want is a healthy baby, but the girls have their own opinions. Mia has specifically requested a boy, since she already has a sister. (I told her to ask her father since it’s his call.) Anika runs around the house yelling, “girl baby, girl baby.” So either way, we’ll make one sibling happy.
Since I’ve been at a firm “maybe” for months about finding out the gender of the baby, I thought I’d consult the gender predictor tales of old and leave it to the old wives’ tales. Here are the results.

Highs & lows
This tale says the gender is determined by whether you’re carrying high (girl) or low (boy).
Experiment: With Anika, I gained everywhere, a whole layer from head to toe. I wore my favorite pair of jeans through my second trimester, unbuttoned. This time, I have more of a belly already, but I had to consult metroparent assistant editor Amanda for this one. She said I’m carrying in the middle, but leaned toward saying low.
Conclusion: Undetermined, with leanings toward boy. Repeat test in a few months.

Hear the heartbeat
If a baby’s heartbeat beats less than 140 beats per minute, it’s a boy.
Experiment: At each checkup, the heartbeat has consistently been in
the 160s.
Conclusion: Girl.

Sweet & sour
If a pregnant woman craves sweets, it’s a girl. If the craving is sour or salt, it’s a boy.
Experiment: This old wives’ tale is hard to determine, since I crave salt and vinegar chips all the time, pregnant or not. But I will admit I cave into a Milky Way bar more often than I usually would, so I’ll give this one to the girls.
Conclusion: Girl, by a slim margin.

Check the Chinese calendar
This ancient birth chart determines a baby’s gender by calculating the age of the mother with the month of conception, with a supposed success rate of 93 to 99 percent.
Experiment: Even though this predicted Anika would be a boy, I gave it another chance and computed my answer.
Conclusion: Boy.

Drain the answer
Pee in a cup and add a tablespoon of Drano. If the mixture turns green, it’s a girl; blue, it’s a boy.
Experiment: I was skeptical, but played along in the name of science. There are many types of Drano, so I chose a generic. I saved two bucks, and was left without the answer I was looking for.
Conclusion: User error.

Odds & evens
The Mayans compared the mother’s age at time of conception with the year of conception. If both numbers are even or odd, it’s a girl. If one number is even and the other odd, it’s a boy. (By the way, this test says Anika would have been a boy.)
Experiment: I had a birthday near the time we conceived, so this one is close. But my guess is that the year is odd and my age is even.
Conclusion: Boy, probably.

The answer key
Place a key in front of a pregnant friend. If she picks it up by the narrow part, it’s a girl; by the round part, it’s a boy.
Experiment: Since I did my own research here, I couldn’t test on myself. I asked someone to catch me off guard with this, but it hasn’t happened yet and I’m not sure it’s even possible. That’s what I get for doing my own research.
Conclusion: Undetermined.

Break out
If your skin is breaking out, it’s because “a baby girl steals her mother’s beauty.”
Experiment: No break outs as of yet. Sometimes people tell me I’m “glowing,” but I know it’s only on the days I wear a lot of makeup to hide how tired I am.
Conclusion: Boy.

Ring & swing
Tie your wedding ring to a string and hang it over your belly. If it swings in circles, it’s a girl. If it swings back and forth it’s a boy.
Experiment: I tied my wedding ring to a piece of yellow yarn and watched it.
Conclusion: Boy.

Queasy does it
A lot of morning sickness equals a girl.
Experiment: I’m not sick at any time of the day. (But, for consistency’s sake, I should mention I wasn’t with Anika, either.)
Conclusion: Boy.

Italian tradition
The Italian legend says to look at the hair line along the back of your last child’s neck. If it’s straight, the baby will be the same gender as the last. If it comes to a point, the baby will be the opposite gender.
Experiment: Anika’s hair line on the back of her neck goes perfectly straight.
Conclusion: Girl.

Family tree
Look to the father’s side of the family. If there are more boys, it’s a boy. More girls, it’s a girl.
Experiment: Nate is adopted, so we can’t determine much here. But his personal track record is all girl ...
Conclusion: Girl.

There you have it. We’re solidly, sort of having a boy by a slim margin. I guess we’ll just have to wait until April to know for sure.


I am a Christmas-making MACHINE! Once I set my mind to something I tend to overdo it and holiday preparations are no exception.  It's not that I'm necessarily trying to be Supermom but once I get in a particular mode I just go into ultra-mega-overdrive. This week I decided that Thou Shalt Be Christmatized and attacked my surroundings appropriately.  Christmas lights up on the porch? Check.  Candied pecans in the oven? Check. Christmas card photo and 2010 calendars printed, gingerbread house decorated and Christmas tree bedazzled?  Checkity-check-check.  Mom: 1 Christmas: 0.  Wait. That doesn't sound right.  Let's just say we are all winners!  Oh and did I mention that I ordered almost all my gifts online already? Double win!  I'm not trying to gloat, I just figure that I'm going to be coming down from this high soon and I want to remember this feeling when my cats have torn down the tree and I haven't wrapped a single item at midnight on the 23rd.   Until somebody invents a way to bottle efficiency I'm savoring the moments I can get.  Now if you'll excuse me I have some peanut blossoms to bake.

"Well, hello there handsome"

I don't know why I get irritated when people mistake my little darling for a boy. It really isn't a big deal but it does annoy me. I mean, I understand she has little hair, but the fact that she is normally dripping in pink doesn't explain her gender?

I have heard many "hey little man" comments (yes even when she is wearing her hot pink sweater with a cupcake on it) and the best was the other day when we were at the grocery store and some lady said, "Well, hello there handsome." Hmph. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the nice comments, just wish people would take note of clothing color first.

Ok, so, do I tell them they are wrong? I never do. I almost feel embarrassed correcting people because I know they will feel bad. But the handsome comment put me over the edge. I don't think I can keep my trap shut any longer.

I have tried little barrettes but  A) she freaks out when I put them in and B) they look pretty ridiculous with the small amount of hair that she has.

Her hair is finally steadily growing but I know we will continue to run into this for some time. I even go to the length of avoiding any clothing that contains confusing colors such as brown, orange, and green.

I do elevator eyes when I see a baby I don't know (take note, top to bottom). I ALWAYS make sure I do a full investigation of their apparel  before making a he or she comment to the parent.

Moral of the story: In this instance, please judge this book by it's cover/clothing color.

"Leaked" the news

Recently my favorite movie critic wrote an article about Alison de Castro and why she left The Morning Blend. In it, Duane Dudek mentioned that I "leaked" news of Alison's pregnancy in my blog. Alison and I are friends and started the show together 3 1/2 years ago -- do you think I'd blab if it wasn't okay with Alison?

It was good gossip though, I have to admit - especially because most of our viewers don't know that Alison is expecting. I'm super excited for her. I relish that idea that I exposed the news!

I love Dudek and liked his article, so don't get me wrong - we're cool. I think it just added some fun hype to the news I shared in this blog. Does anyone ever read my blogs? I guess he does! And, my parents do.

Now I want to find out if my bosses read my blog.

I think we made a mistake as a staff by not letting viewers know on our website about Alison's departure and why she was leaving the show. People still ask me about it. We still get emails about it, too, from viewers. I think it's a public service to let people know about stuff like that. Afterall - she left on good terms and still visits the show sometimes. I think we should've been more proactive -- we should've put something on our homepage for at least a few months. Something like a, "Where's Alison?" button.

What do you think?

I guess I'll soon find out if they read this stuff.


Q: What kinds of things can I do to bolster my kids’ immune systems to help make them less susceptible to all the winter illnesses that tend to go around?

A: First, let’s start with the basics. Prevention is the key to keeping your children their healthiest. So do what you can to limit exposure to germs. To keep children and their immune systems ready to fight those winter illnesses, try these tips:

  • Wash hands with soap and water frequently.
  • Cover your child’s nose/mouth with a tissue or sleeve when she sneezes or coughs, then wash her hands again after disposing of tissues.
  • Encourage children to keep their hands off of their faces (discourage behaviors such as nose picking or finger nail biting).
  • And keep in mind that if your child is sick, it is best to keep her home from daycare or school until she is feeling better or has been free of fever for at least 24 hours.

If you are a nursing mom, you are giving your baby an advantage in preventing some of the more common respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses. If your child is older, encourage him to eat a well balanced diet that incorporates fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products on a daily basis.

You should also ensure that your child is getting plenty of sleep every night (some kids easily require 9-10 hours per day). Encourage exercise every day.

And finally, get your kids vaccinated. Sticking with the recommended schedule that your doctor provides will help to ward off whatever infections cross your child’s path.

I wasn't really worried about getting H1N1. I'm generally pretty healthy and had just finished a bad three-week cold a few weeks earlier, which I figured was my share of illness for the season.

Besides, my two oldest daughters probably had swine flu when it was going around their school in Milwaukee in late May, and it was the mildest flu they ever had. And none of the rest of us got it.

Boy was I in for a surprise when I got laid out for almost a full week right after Thanksgiving with the worst flu of my adult life.

Maybe it was the stress I've been feeling lately about so many things, but whatever the case, my body was ill-equipped to fight off the bug, and I spent the better part of four straight days in bed with a fever, drinking tea and Emergen-C. The good part? The kids didn't really seem to get it.

Except for one Tuesday afternoon spent with my 3-year-old where I was pretty certain she was coming down with it (though she was fine and playing again by the evening), I was amazed by the fact that the girls just went about their daily lives without even a blip.

My husband wasn't so lucky, though. The two of us spent the week ill, with four mostly healthy and rambunctious kids. Imagine how fun that was!

A few kind friends brought over some meals, but as you might guess, it was a little hard to keep up with the regular cleaning, laundry and other things we're usually both busy with.

I woke up this morning, for the first time in days, feeling some actual energy coursing through my body. Ahhh. I'm still catching up, but it's good to be back.

If you're looking for ways to stay healthy this season, check out Dr. Amy Thrasher's tips.


An essay I wrote regarding my relationship with United Way appeared in BizTimes.com. You can read it by clicking www.biztimes.com/blogs/milwaukee-biz-blog/2009/12/7/my-lifes-journey-has-been-touched-by-the-united-way.  Special thanks go to Steve Jagler for giving me an opportunity to let readers know my "behind the scenes" story regarding my United Way involvement.

I also debuted on The Morning Blend.  Thanks to MilwaukeeMoms.com SJK (which is what I secretly call Sonja Jongsma Knauss because I don't want to pronounce any of those names incorrectly!) I had an opportunity to meet Molly Fay and Tiffany Ogle to discuss grieving during the holidays. Here's a direct link to the Morning Blend segment. 

And I had this entertaining conversation with my little girl.

Six year old daughter: Mom you spilled something on Monday.

Fifty-one year old me: What? How do you know?

Six year old daughter: Actually, it was Monday afternoon.


She was right.

I spilled chocolate pudding.

On Monday afternoon. 

How was your week?

Right now, the buzz in the media is about A-List infidelities. Now, I don't follow the tabloids. However, it is hard to miss when stories are on newsstands everywhere and people are tweeting like crazy about it! Frankly, I'm tired of it. I understand it is a hot topic on people's minds; however, there are greater issues in the world to solve than someone's personal and private life of which we have no business intruding upon.


That is why I choose to focus my time and attention on the stories we should hear more about that often get overshadowed by Hollywood gossip. But wait, who cares about the ordinary people? Who cares about the positive stuff? That's boring, right? So be it. I'm going to be boring then.


I was reading an article on One Wisconsin Now and learned that MPS's graduation rate was only 69% for school year 2007-2008, which was under the national average. I heard recently somewhere that on a national average, one in every four high school students drop out of their graduating class. I hope you are thinking to yourself that this is not acceptable, because it is not acceptable in my opinion. There are other organizations that would agree.


Take COA Youth & Family Centers for example. This organization exists to support children and their families in reaching their greatest potential through a continuum of educational, recreational, and social work programs in the Milwaukee region. Most recently, COA was featured in the news for creating and launching a parental engagement program that, according to a study conducted by UW-Milwaukee, showed a correlation between parent attendance and improved math and reading scores of those parents' children. Supporting organizations like COA where its work can directly impact the growth and development of a person while they are still impressionable has priceless rewards for the community and global economy.


To learn more about COA Youth & Family Centers, visit http://www.coa-yfc.org/indexold.htm.


Join COA and other great organizations as they celebrate a special holiday event with those in and around the community: http://www.meetup.com/Coachbx/calendar/12000979/


Who should come: those simply seeking smiles and support to survive a stressful time and season and wanting inspiration to launch a hopeful, happy new year.


Now that wasn't so boring after all, was it?


To a Balanced Life,


Bernadette Xiong “Coach Bx”

I get asked this question weekly by a friend or parent and there are many, many things you can begin to do to get speech moving forward!

Should you be concerned if your 2 year old has no words? Well, he should be beginning to say some words or approximations, so try a few of these ideas for a month or so, and if you do not hear any improvement or increase in the variety of sounds, then call a speech-language pathologist in your area. Your child may just need a boost to get their speech and language moving forward.

First, write down what your child does say. This is usually /ah/ /oo/ and some simple things like /mama/ /dada/ or whatever he calls the family pet! I give total credit for a word if your child says /ju/ for /juice/ or /ba/ for /ball/. You may be pleasantly surprised that your child has more words then you think when you begin to write them down.

The second thing I would begin doing is helping your child move his mouth. Use some whistles, blow some cotton balls across the table, and start talking to your child using a TON of exaggeration! Physically give your child some input/touch on his face with a washcloth and move his lips down, up and back and forth. Children love to blow raspberries with their lips! Blowing bubbles is a great way to get increase breath support.

A great way to get language flowing is to pair simple sign language with an easy word.  Focus on easy, frequently occuring (the more it happens the more you can practice!) words: me, more, and all done. 

Don’t be scared of using sign language! Your child will drop the sign when they no longer need it to communicate. 

Start with more. Simply put both of your hands together in front of you and show your child the sign with VERY exaggerated speech “MMMMOOOORRREEE.” Your child will think you are very silly, and you are -- but it works, and he is now watching you. 

Set up situations when your child has to say/sign “more” to get a desired object. I love to work on speech during meals, and this is why:

1) you are looking at each other face to face
2) you are working your mouth each time you eat
3) most people typically eat at least 3 times a day so that means you will practice 3 times!

So, give your child a small amount of foods they love, and then model and say “more”.  Each time you give more food, remember to give small amounts so that he will have to ask for more. You will be shocked when your child begins to sign it back to you! Do the same thing with /me/ (tap your palm of your hand to your chest) and /all done/ (both hands open at sides with palms facing upward).

Another way to get children to start labeling items and talking more is to practice on some words. I know, I know. Many books say “do not practice flash cards,” but many times they do work to promote some words into a child’s language repertoire. 

Look at the list of what your child says and try to build on that repertoire. Does he say /baba/ or /mama/ or /papa/? If he says any of those sounds, take the sound that he does say and go with that sound.

For example, if your child says mama, then pick three to five EASY, ONE SYLLABLE /m/ words to practice.  Yes, I mean make some /m/ cards!  Make a card of me (with child’s photo); mama, milk, more.  Do the same thing if your child say the /b/ sound or the /p/ sound.  (example, ball, bath, boat, bee, bug, baby or pop, pig, potty)

IF your child does not say any consonants, than begin with the sign language info above emphasizing me, more and all done. 

Let me know how this works for your child. Your child will be so proud of himself the first time he signs or says a new sound. Make sure you are overly excited and make a huge deal of it!

Wardrobe Safety Zone

Today on The Morning Blend, I suggested that this would be a great time to resolve to shake your old style -- you know, the style that's as stale as an old fruitcake!!!

Here are some suggestions I found -- they're all pretty good.

1. Clean out your closet -- Make three piles. 1 is for things that fit well and make you feel great. 2 is for clothes that need cleaning and/or tailoring. 3 is for things to donate or toss. Ask a friend to help - someone who will tell you the truth about what to toss!

2. Find a fashion mentor -- This is a key concept. It really helps. I found one (actually two), and it has made a big difference. I still need a lot of style help and I'm not totally satisfied yet, but it can really change the way you see yourself and your clothes. Have this person share secrets -- such as where she shops, what styles she thinks look good on you and even ask if she's willing to do some shopping with you and provide guidance.

3. Look in the mirror -- As yourself: Am I doing this for me or to please someone else? How do I want to present myself? What do I feel good about/what looks good on me? What do I want to update? Try bolder colors!

4. Experiment -- Give yourself permission to try a look that "isn't you." Step out of your WARDROBE SAFETY ZONE! Just do it! You might find that things do work. You may even find a new element to make your own. You might find something that makes you feel great.

5. Don't give up -- The best thing about a style change is that if you don't love it, you can leave it. As you develop your look, you'll see what clothes bring out the best version of you -- and build confidence along the way.

I'm not an expert - I'm a work in progress. I like these tips and hope you do, too!


Like many of you, I'm really looking forward to the Holidays. It's especially enjoyable to watch our two young children relive a lot of that "Holiday magic" that gets replaced with the hustle and bustle of gift giving as we grow older.

One thing that isn't as desirable around the Holidays is having the kids home from school with nothing to do. So if after the first few days of break you're out of ideas for entertaining them, or they just need to get out of the house, think about checking out some of the fun activities in our County Parks.

It may be cold outside, but that doesn't mean the Parks are shut down for the season. Quite the opposite in fact! There are lots of enjoyable activities for the whole family in your County Parks throughout the winter and they may help fight off the "Holiday Break Blahs".

Consider going ice skating at Red Arrow Park's "Slice of Ice". Skating is free if you have your own skates, but they do rent them out (come early for toddler sizes) for $6. More info here.

There are also several sledding hills throughout the County, including the tobogganing track at Whitnall Park. Several sledding hills also have lights for fun nighttime sledding! There are sledding hills at LaFollette, McCarty, McGovern, Sheridan, Columbus and Mitchell Parks among others. Check out the County website to find the sledding hill closest to you.

Emerson and I had a great day at the Slice of Ice last year, spending a few hours on the ice then going in for hot chocolate a few times throughout the day. Pack a lunch and dress warm, but most importantly enjoy the wonderful options we have for outdoor winter recreation in Milwaukee.

Think about taking advantage of all Milwaukee's County Parks have to offer - even in the middle of winter!

An Introduction to EcoLogical Mom

Hello, I'm the editor-in-chief of EcoLogicalMom.com, and am excited to be here to bring you some content about living a healthy and meaningful lifestyle.

Within the next couple of months, we'll be discussing topics about raising kids with an eco-friendly and logical mindset. I'll bring some healthy recipes for the family as well as suggestions for toys and products that are not harmful for kids' little sensitive bodies, and the environment.  I'll also talk about fun ways to exercise as a family, motivating kids to develop an active lifestyle.

I invite you to participate, and make this content very interactive. Welcome to EcoLogical Mom!

Organic Ingredients, Not Always Necessary

We all know that pesticides are not good for our bodies. The exposure to toxic chemicals can have an even more adverse effect in children. The metabolism of a fetus, infant and child is less able to metabolize and inactivate toxic chemicals, being more vulnerable to the harmful effects of pesticides.

Consuming organic food minimizes the problem, but it is generally expensive, and not accessible to everybody. The Environmental Working Group developed a list of vegetables and fruits that contain the highest amount of pesticides, and the ones that are generally clear. So, be wise and don't spend the extra cash when not necessary.

Rank starting with the fruits and veggies with the highest load of pesticides:

  1. Peach {highest load of pesticides}
  2. Apple
  3. Bell Pepper
  4. Celery
  5. Nectarine
  6. Strawberry
  7. Cherry
  8. Kale
  9. Lettuce
  10. Grapes - imported
  11. Carrot
  12. Pear
  13. Collard Greens
  14. Spinach
  15. Potato
  16. Green Beans
  17. Summer Squash
  18. Pepper
  19. Cucumber
  20. Raspberry
  21. Grapes - domestic
  22. Plum
  23. Orange
  24. Cauliflower
  25. Tangerine
  26. Mushroom
  27. Banana
  28. Winter Squash
  29. Cantaloupe
  30. Cranberry
  31. Honeydew Melon
  32. Grapefruit
  33. Sweet Potato
  34. Tomato
  35. Brocoli
  36. Watermelon
  37. Papaya
  38. Eggplant
  39. Cabbage
  40. Kiwi
  41. Sweet Pea
  42. Asparagus
  43. Mango
  44. Pineapple
  45. Sweet Corn
  46. Avocado
  47. Onion {lowest load of pesticides}

Source: Environmental Working Group