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Maryland Avenue School has been an East Side fixture since 1887.
Maryland Avenue School has been an East Side fixture since 1887. (Photo: Bobby Tanzilo)

School's green yard earns MMSD honor

It's no secret I'm a fan of the greening of school playgrounds. I wrote about the project at Milwaukee Public Schools' Maryland Avenue Montessori, 2418 N. Maryland Ave., where I am a dedicated volunteer, before it happened and when the first phase was complete.

It was also mentioned in this argument for more green schoolyards and this one, too. In these, I talk about greening projects at Parkside and Fernwood Montessori in Bay View, Brown Street Academy on the North Side and Whittier on the far South Side.

Today, I received word from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District that Maryland Avenue Montessori (where, in full disclosure, I am chair of the School Governance Council and a member of the building expansion planning team) has won the district's monthly Green Luminaries award for the rain garden that has greened a large chunk of the school's more than three-acre site.

"It takes vision and foresight to sustainably manage water where it falls," reads the Green Luminaries web page.

"Green Luminaries ultimately help protect our rivers and Lake Michigan by adapting practices that harvest rainfall for other uses or mimic nature by draining it into the ground to reduce water pollution.  Green luminaries like the projects highlighted below are led by true champions who recognize not only the need to manage stormwater, but also the need to innovate and grow, to create lasting good works that connect people and prosperity to the environment."

The award will be presented at Monday's MMSD commission meeting. Previous winners have included Shorewood Natural Lawncare. the Clock Shadow Building and Mitchell Park Domes.

Kudos to principal Joe DiCarlo, Angeline Malkowski Koch, everyone who has served on the Maryland Avenue Montessori Fund and everyone – countless students included – who has donated to or worked in any capacity on the garden, which is a real testament to the tireless dedication of these folks and to teamwork.

It's true, Milwaukee loves PVC.
It's true, Milwaukee loves PVC.

Milwaukee is a top 5 town for vinyl lovers

As Record Store Day approaches (it's this Saturday), Foursquare and real estate brokerage Redfin combined forces to create some interesting data on the top 10 U.S. cities for fans of record stores.

Milwaukee, whose vinyl shops I wrote about in February, clocks in at No. 5, below Portland and Chapel Hill, but above New York and Philly. Not bad.

The cities were ranked by most record shops per capita. For funsies, Redfin also worked out how many new vinyl LPs (at $20 each) you could buy with the money that equals the median price for a home in each city.

While today's New York Times noted that online music surpassed sales of LPs and CDs for the first time ever last year, Nielsen also tracked a nearly 52 percent increase in vinyl sales in 2014. So, recorded music pressed into PVC is definitely not dead.

Here are the top 10 cities on the list of Cities Keeping Vinyl Music Alive, in order:

The top three finishers in Milwaukee in terms of Foursquare ratings:

  1. Exclusive Company, 1669 N. Farwell Ave.
  2. Acme Records, 2341 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
  3. Rush-Mor Records, 2635 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

And, finally, some Redfin data:

  • ZIP Code with the most record shops per capita: 53202 (interesting, considering two of the top three shops listed above are in Bay View)
  • Median home price in 53202: $216,900, which equals 10,845 records (at $20 each)
Sconnie milk in Beijing.
Sconnie milk in Beijing.

Milwaukee's image problem in China

Working as I do at, it’s easy for me to see Milwaukee as the center of the universe. It’s where I live, it’s where I work and it’s what I write about every single day. It is pretty much the center of my daily universe.

And even if the "flyover zone" doesn’t get the respect it deserves from the coasts, Americans know of Milwaukee and can make quick associations upon hearing the name, be it Fonzie, Harley, cheese, beer or Dahmer. (I still chuckle, however, about the major New York City-based publishing house employee who once asked me if Milwaukee was in Minneapolis.)

So, I found it a little disconcerting when I recently spent a week in Beijing and came across not one person who seemed to have even heard the name "Milwaukee."

"Where from," folks would ask with a friendly smile. I’d tell them, and upon seeing the puzzled look, I’d add, "near Chicago," for some sort of geographical context, at least.

"Oh, Chicago," they’d say, their faces brightening with recognition. "Yes, Chicago!"

On one occasion, I attempted to clarify my response with a sure-fire international cultural reference. "Milwaukee," I told the driver who took us to see the Great Wall. "Where they make Harley-Davidson motorcycles."

He responded with that uncomfortable look of someone who sensed he ought to recognize the reference, but clearly didn’t, and an uncertain, "okay."

The answer likely lies in the numbers. Milwaukee is 31st on the list of U.S. cities by population, clocking in just shy of 600,000.

There are 40 – that’s not a typo – cities in China with populations over 1 million. There are five with more than 10 million people (New York, our largest city by far, has 8.5 million). Beijing, with more than 19 million residents, is the second largest city in the country after Shanghai, which is home to more than 22 million people.

Milwaukee is but a blip on a radar of such astronomical scale.

That’s not to say I didn’t see the odd Sconnie sight.


This East Side pizza is simply divine. And one of my Milwaukee food traditions.
This East Side pizza is simply divine. And one of my Milwaukee food traditions.

My Milwaukee food traditions

Foodways have long been acknowledged as a key to understanding a culture. Long-standing traditions can show how people have preserved or lost cultural traditions in their communities.

But, most of us also tend to have more modest food-based traditions – we like to have pizza on Tuedays, or we get ham and rolls on Sundays, etc.

Over the years, some of my habits have turned a little ritualistic. They’ve become unspoken traditions. Here are a few of them...

Cranky Al’s

We forgo breakfast on the first and last days of school and head instead to this Tosa doughnut hotspot for a sweet meal that would make Homer Simpson drool.

Rocket Baby

One morning each weekend, I walk to Rocket Baby with a kid (or kids) to get some delicious pan de mie (sliced, if it’s not too hot to cut) and a sweet treat, which serves mostly to negate the calories burned on the walk. In our pre-kid, Bay View days, the walk was to Canfora.

Divino Wine and Dine

We feasted on pizza here on our wedding day (it was Palermo Villa back then) and have done the same every year since on our anniversary. Some of Milwaukee’s best pizza and owner Dean Cannestra’s a gem.

Emperor of China

This one is an tradition. Everyone goes to lunch when they get hired in this great Milwaukee Chinese restaurant.


Once a month I have a meeting with folks at school and typically, a couple of us adjourn to McGinn's for wings afterward. Especially the jerk, Buffalo and maple bourbon varieties.


I remember childhood visits to the Usinger’s shop with my grandparents and once my kids were born, I started taking them there regularly to see the tiny houses, the paintings of the elves, the free beefstick ... the pure Milwaukee experience.

Do you have some informal Milwaukee food traditions? If so, share them using the talkback feature below or on Facebook.