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Go Pack.
Go Pack.
Seasons greetings.
Seasons greetings.
Plenty warm inside.
Plenty warm inside.

Lighting up winter break

I remember vividly how hard school was. Not just the homework, but the routine of waking up early, navigating its social intricacies. Granted, my daughter is only in K-5, but still, she works hard – so I like to reward her with plenty of family fun when seasonal school vacations come around.

That’s why I jumped at the invitation from long-time advertiser Country Springs hotel to visit again this weekend, to kick off winter break with a unique visit to this close-to-home water park. We took advantage of the "Country Christmas Getaway" package, and even though we don’t celebrate that holiday, all of us could enjoy the revelry.

It starts with a trip through the biggest lights display I’ve ever seen. With more than 1 million lights on a mile-long trail, you just idle through it in your car and enjoy. At the end, you can stop in for included cookies and hot cocoa in Christmas Village, or marvel at a life-size nativity scene (we skipped that). Country Christmas gets super packed, but we arrived right at 5 p.m., and smiled through the entire 20 minute self-guided tour. The colorful bridge at the end is awesome, and I, of course, loved the Packers display.

Of course, the lights are just part of it. We’ve already visited Country Springs’ water park a few times, but never in the winter. There’s something very nice about splashing around in warm water when it’s cold outside, and I’m a big fan of an outdoor hot tub, where your head stays cool and your body stays hot.

The hotel, itself, is dated but spacious – but décor isn’t something a 6-year-old would notice. Rather, she was excited about the huge bathroom and suite, and the idea of getting room service for a pizza, garlic bread and drinks (included in the package). Starting at about $140 for a family of four, it’s a very complete package.

No water park is perfect, mind you. Like every one I’ve visited, we dealt with screaming children and boisterous adults in the hallway until …

Dretzka's opened in 1902.
Dretzka's opened in 1902. (Photo: Royal Brevväxling)

Hello again, Cudahy

Yesterday, I walked around Packard Avenue in Cudahy for the first time in a long time.

I mean, I drive through or around Cudahy all the time, but yesterday was different. I stopped to smell the roses.

Every real Milwaukeean should pay a visit to downtown Cudahy every now and then. It’s like a window into our past, and it’s still alive and kicking today.

I found myself on Packard to do interviews for an upcoming article on South Shore Cyclery – which is a great place, by the way – but looking around that block of 4700 S. Packard Ave., I was reminded of a whole bunch of stuff.

There’s Dretzka’s, an old-school one-off department that sells pantyhoes and sewing equipment and dry shampoo. There is Mirror Mirror, where I used to get my hair cut. There are three Chinese restaurants in a tiny radius. I found a brand new chocolate store (Jen’s Sweet Treats), a magic store, and the bowling alley I rolled one of my highest series ever (now apparently called Motion Lanes?), and all sorts of other one-off stores. A bit farther north, of course, is my favorite Polish restaurant, Polenez.

And there are bars. Lots and lots of bars.

In my mid-twenties, I heard about something called the "Packard Ave. Death March." The gimmick was to stop at every bar on Packard and have one beer. At the time, there was at least 20 taverns packed into a tiny circumference. At several of these neighborhood bars, the patrons I assumed I was a cop, but I beat the challenge. That’s the kind of stuff I would never even try at 40.

But my most significant memory of Cudahy comes from a little building just off Packard. Back in the ‘90s it was a toner replacement shop called Precision Media Products, and it was owned by my old boss from Johnson Controls and his wife. Early supporters of, they kindly offered to process credit card transactions for our first advertising customers – because in 1998, we didn’t have the wherewithal to do that.

While legend is that we s…

Settle down, everyone.
Settle down, everyone. (Photo:

Bombshell: You know Walker didn't write that letter, right?

We all had a good laugh when the word spilled that Scott Walker substituted "Molotov" for "Mazel Tov" in his undated menorah letter to Frank Gimbel – who, by the way, is my dad’s first cousin.

It’s fun to laugh at politicians, especially ones with potential presidential aspirations. And I’m usually the first to do that. They need to be on point, all the time, and when they’re not, well, bring on the snark.

But you know that when Walker was county executive he didn’t write that letter, right? He didn’t even sign it.

How do I know? I used to have the job of the poor intern who probably made that famous typo, except at the national level. I was a White House intern in 1996 for Bill Clinton in the Presidential Letters and Messages office. As probably one of only two Jews in the office at the time (the place was filled with Arkansans), I would’ve been the one to write that kind of letter. And I guarantee that Clinton would’ve never seen it.

Here’s what would’ve happened in the White House, which is probably a little different than in the county executive's … but not by much: the letter from Gimbel would’ve been flagged by one of the elderly volunteers and sent to our dingy hovel in the Old Executive Office Building.

Because it would’ve been considered as written from a "more important person," it would get a slightly less form-letter response (there were about 500 form letters in rotation). Someone would decide whether to give it to a staffer or to an intern to reply to. Because it was an unimportant throw-away letter from a non-donor, it probably would’ve gone to an intern. Maybe me. In six months at the White House, I think I wrote about 90 of these types of letters. It was demeaning, unpaid work and much less glamorous than I thought it would be.

After spending about an hour on composing something in the voice of the president, a 20-something staffer would take a look at my draft, along with the dozens of others that came across his…

Change a Child's Life. One Dollar at a Time.
Change a Child's Life. One Dollar at a Time.

Penfield Children's Center takes unique approach to Giving Tuesday

Black Friday and Cyber Monday were good fun, but Giving Tuesday is all about giving back to our community.

It’s a relatively new concept, but several Milwaukee nonprofits participate, including Discovery World, UPAF and Pathfinders. One local organization, Penfield Children’s Center, is making Giving Tuesday work through crowdsourcing.

Penfield has successfully completed four crowd funding campaigns, according to my old friend, Jason Parry, the center’s vice president of development and communications.

This is the second year in a row where Penfield has participated in Giving Tuesday with a fundraising campaign.

In 2014, Penfield Children's Center launched its first Crowdrise campaign -- "Change a Child's Life. One Dollar at a Time."

They set a very reachable goal: $1.

"We took a slightly different approach to Giving Tuesday only asking people to consider a $1 contribution," said Parry. "From CEOs to children with piggy banks, we wanted to make supporting Penfield's Giving Tuesday campaign easily accessible to everyone."

"Ultimately, our focus was to encourage people to make a philanthropic gift and encourage their friends, family and colleagues to do the same," said Parry.

Of course, I don’t expect Giving Tuesday to catch fire quite like Black Friday, but donating a buck to a good cause is easy. Milwaukeeans have big hearts. Today’s a great day to open them wide.