Vision Forward’s Dining in the Dark fundraiser offered insight into vision loss

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Vision Forward, celebrating 100 years, hosted its Dining In The Dark dinner at Bacchus on Sunday, Nov. 3. Proceeds from the dinner help Vision Forward fund training, therapy and education options for children, youth, adults and seniors impacted by vision loss. 

The dinner was quite the unique experience. Have you ever tried to navigate a situation with your eyes closed? Well, we ate a four-course dinner completely blindfolded.

There was a sea of various sized tables throughout Bacchus and my husband and I were ushered to an intimate table of four. Our dining companions Mellissa and Steve were already seated and, after our introductions, we were instructed to put on our blindfolds. I hadn’t really studied the table that closely yet, but did observe there were a lot of tall stemmed glasses. Yikes. I started to feel a bit nervous; I didn’t want to be “that” person who knocks a glass over and creates the domino effect.   

We put on our blindfolds, and the first thing I noticed was that the sounds in the room intensified. I also felt like everything slowed down, and my other senses started to strengthen.  

It was so weird that even though I was blindfolded, I closed my eyes.  Out of the four of us, only Melissa kept her eyes open. 

Our first course was served. I used my fingers to lightly touch the surface of the plated food to try and figure out what it was and how to go about eating it. It was some kind of salad with a chewy protein, crunchy round bits, a veggie that I thought was broccoli and a creamy base. Once we finished this course, we heard clinking on a glass that brought the room to a hush. Our MC Mark Baden encouraged us to guess what the first course was. People threw out many guesses, and it was discovered it was a squid salad with crunchy chickpeas, pickled cauliflower and humus. Yum!

I was delighted by the various textures in each dish. I understand the importance of having texture components in a dish but had never stopped to chew and deliberate on each morsel.  

The second course was butternut ravioli with hazelnuts and after a couple of hit and misses, I got the hang of cutting the pasta and getting it on my fork.

Between each course, a clink of the wine glass would signal us to quiet down and throw our guesses in the ring. There was always a surprise element in each dish that we hadn’t identified.  

The wine kept flowing and we noted that it is important to keep your hands low and move upward slowly. We all did really well with this, and I didn’t hear any glasses break throughout the whole meal.

I smelled the third course before it arrived and felt the sharp steak knife to my right.  I felt the food on my dish with my fingers and determined it was steak and went in for the first cut.  The piece I stabbed and put in my mouth was way too big. I admit I gagged a bit, but it was so delicious, I suffered through it. I took great care to cut smaller pieces from that point forward. Steve mentioned eating kale. Kale? Where’s the kale? The plate seemed so vast that I couldn’t locate all the different elements. In fact, when the server came to clear our dishes, Melissa asked how we had done, if we had all finished what was on our plates. The server said I had the most food left on my plate. What!? That sure doesn’t sound like me. I’m from the clean plate club. Maybe this is a new diet plan to try. Perhaps I should eat each meal blindfolded. When my husband heard that I had food left on my plate, he made a “hmmpf” sound, so I stabbed him with my steak knife!  

Our final course arrived and was a luscious chocolaty dessert — warm, gooey and topped with hazelnut ice-cream. None of us struggled too much with this one.  

This experience reminded me to slow down and participate in life using all my senses. Sight is just one of them and if we only pay attention to what we see, we are missing out on all the textures, smells and sounds that surround us everyday. I challenge us all to take a moment each day, close our eyes and hone in on what else is waiting for us to notice

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Can Milwaukee win another world championship?

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The past two or so years have truly been a roller coaster for Milwaukee sports fans. The Brewers made it to the playoffs for two consecutive years for the first time since the early 1980s, only to lose in game seven of the National League Championship Series last year and the National League Wild Card game last month. Then there are the Bucks; making it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in nearly 20 years only to lose to the Toronto Raptors despite having the best record in the entire NBA by season’s end.

And yet, the zeitgeist of Milwaukee coming out of these years is arguably more optimistic about these teams than they have ever been. Both Christian Yelich and Giannis Antetokounmpo won MVP awards in their respective leagues (with Yelich eligible for a consecutive award for his performance in this last season) and the gap between the city and it’s rivals in the MLB and NBA is almost nonexistent.

But we’ve been here before. The 2000-2001 Bucks, the 2008 Brewers and both teams during the 1980s seemingly were on a path to the top, only to fall short of a world championship every time, whether that was an NBA Championship or a World Series victory.

So, while we are all aboard this hype train that is currently carrying the Bucks to the NBA Finals. Let’s take a step back to analyze the Cream City’s playoff history, our place in the current sports landscape, and whether or not we can overcome the hurdles in front of us so “Is this our year?” can finally become “This IS our year.” for the first time since the Bucks NBA Finals win in 1971.

Buck-le up. (I will not apologize for that)

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Former Riverwest tannery to reopen as creative workspace

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Plans are advancing to create a “creative district” on Fratney Street in Riverwest, thanks to a new development. Look for new artist studios and an event venue opening in 2020.

The plans center around a pair of buildings near the intersection of Fratney Street and Vienna Avenue. One building is a former tannery, and the other used to be a foundry.

The 52,000 sq. foot former tannery, 3738 N. Fratney St., is being converted to a shared workspace for artists, creatives and makers. Meanwhile, the old foundry — branded as the Goat Palace — is actively being developed into an event and entertainment venue.

You may have already noticed a massive difference passing the tannery building. Its exterior was covered with white sheet metal until recently, obscuring beautiful brickwork and ample windows.

The tannery building “before.” Photo: Jon Krouse via OnMilwaukee.
And “after.” Photo: Jon Krouse via OnMilwaukee.

That metal has been removed in preparation of the remodeling efforts, and the exterior transformation alone is worth checking out if you’re passing through the neighborhood.

This week on Urban Spelunking, OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo fills us in on the plans to drive the new creative distract forward.

A look inside the tannery building. Photo: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee.
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Life as a second generation Hmong American

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Originally from the mountains of Laos and Thailand, the Hmong people came to the United States in the mid-’70s as political refugees. Roughly more than 130,000 refugees settled in the States after being sponsored from schools and churches.

Milwaukee hosts the fourth largest Hmong population in America.
E Her Vang is one the city’s many second generation Hmong Americans. After I was warmly welcomed into her home, we had a conversation about what it means to be Hmong and maintaining her identity.

Her Vang was born in Fresno, Calif., and lived there until she was four. She remembers her cousins raising pigeons in their garage.

“We went back a couple years ago because my grandma passed and they still raise pigeons in their backyard,” said Her Vang.

Her Vang with her siblings in the 2000s | Courtesy of E Her Vang

Before Her Vang went to UW-Madison for undergrad, she was transferred to Franklin High School from an MPS school. That was when she began to feel that she was different from other kids.

“That was kind of a culture shock because when I was in MPS it was a lot more diverse so I felt more comfortable,” said Her Vang. “When I went to a suburban school it was kind of like, ‘Oh you’re kind of in a lower class and everyone seems ahead.’ You start wanting the same things that you’re surrounded by, so it was kind of difficult for my mother to balance that, too, because I wanted to wear what the kids in that school were wearing and we couldn’t really afford that.”

Her Vang with her family on graduation day | Courtesy of E Her Vang

Her Vang said she recalled that other kids confused her ethnicity and didn’t understand what being Hmong was. She constantly faced questions such as “Where are you really from?” throughout her childhood. Although she may have unaccepted, her family always prided themselves on being Hmong.

When Her Vang’s mother was growing up, within Hmong culture women were supposed to prioritize a domestic role and education wasn’t valued. Although this mindset isn’t as common now, Her Vang’s mother always championed getting an education.

“My parents may feel like it may be too late for them,” said Her Vang. “They were pushing us to do better in this country so that we would have a better life but they would always tell us that we were Hmong and proud of that.”

One Hmong tradition is clan names. In Hmong society there are roughly 18 clan names that trace back to each family’s earliest ancestors. In the case of E Her Vang, her maiden name is Her and Vang is her husband’s last name.

Her Vang on her wedding day | Courtesy of E Her Vang

Beyond Her Vang’s appreciation for Hmong tradition and food, Her Vang says family ties and closeness to her community is the heart and honor within Hmong culture. Home are those who around you.

“If I went to a different state and there was a Hmong family there and I don’t really know who they are and I’m like ‘I’m Hmong, these are my parents’, then they will just welcome me in their house and feed me and find a place for me to sleep,” said Her Vang. “So that hospitality thing is really great in our culture.”

Hmong Americans are the largest Asian ethnic group in Wisconsin and although it is nearly impossible to highlight everything about what it truly means to be Hmong, Her Vang’s story is just one of the many perspectives on living in Milwaukee as a second generation Hmong American.

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‘On the Wings of a Mariposa’ introduces loss to kids

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First Stage debuted its production of “On the Wings of a Mariposa” by Alvaro Saar Rios on Oct. 18. The play is an adaptation of the children’s book “Ghost Wings” by Barbara M. Joosse and follows 10-year-old Pilar as she copes with the passing of her Abuelita. Pilar uses the scent of her grandmother’s scarf in order to keep her memory alive.

Director Karen Estrada said the production is bilingual for two main reasons, so everyone in the audience can understand and because the dialogue was treated as poetry.

“The children’s book is written in a very lyrical style as well and he (Rios) wanted to keep that sort of lyrical nature,” said Estrada. 

Paul Ruffolo Dayanara Sanchez and Laura Crotte | Courtesy of
Paul Ruffolo

The play is centered around Dia de Los Muertos, known as Day of the Dead. The theme was meant to remind family, specifically children, to gather and remember loved ones.

“What is lovely about the play is that it introduces kids to death in this really gentle, generous manner,” said Estrada.

One of the greater lessons was understanding that death is a natural part of the human cycle and ones’ spiritual journey. Estrada said one element within the production that tied perfectly with the Day of the Dead was the Mariposa, the Spanish term for butterfly.

“When the butterflies come back to the mountains in Michoacán over winter, that is the same time as Day of the Dead,” said Estrada. “That is why the pre-Colombian people of Mexico believed that the butterflies carried the souls of the ancestors and that’s why they would celebrate the Day of the Dead during those times.”

The concept of butterflies migrating is essential to the entire production. Every time Pilar’s grandmother would appear on stage, she would be surrounded by butterflies which signified that her spirit is carried through the wings.

To dig a little deeper, Estrada even explains that a Mariposa’s journey is generational.

“The butterflies that return from Canada and the Northern United States to Mexico have never taken that path before,” said Estrada. “It’s just somewhere in their genetics, and the ritual of sameness gets passed on in this crazy way that we don’t entirely understand.”

Paul Ruffolo Trinity Escalera, Laura Crotte, and cast | Courtesy of
Paul Ruffolo

The entire production was created with such care and attention to detail. The design of the set was transformed into a circle, to symbolize a life cycle. There was a grand backdrop of a forest covered with butterflies, audience members sitting in the back could see the rich texture and colors. The playbill even contained a recipe to make your very own sugar skull cookies.

Paul Ruffolo Rána Roman and Abby Hanna | Courtesy of
Paul Ruffolo

I saw the production on opening night and was left with a deeper understanding that mourning the loss of a loved one is completely valid and natural. Just like the butterflies migrating back to Mexico, however, loved ones can meet again.

First Stage collaborated with Latino Arts and United Community Center to create “On the Wings of a Mariposa,” which runs through Nov. 10. Tickets are available here.

The original music and lyrics used in the audio segment courtesy of Dinorah Márquez.

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The Hop will remain free to ride for at least the rest of the year

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Milwaukee’s streetcar The Hop will remain free to ride for the time being. Under a new sponsorship that begins tomorrow, the business-only fiber network Everstream will provide free fares to Hop riders through the end of the year, while also partnering with The Hop on a “festive, holiday-themed streetcar” that will debut later this month in conjunction with Milwaukee’s annual tree-lighting ceremony.

Mayor Tom Barrett announced the sponsorship at an event today celebrating The Hop’s first year of operation. Barrett announced that there were 802,541 rides in The Hop’s first year, exceeding the city’s goal of 600,000. “Surely, part of that success is due to free fares,” he said. “Free fares make the streetcar more inclusive to the entire community.”

The Hop | Photo courtesy

There’d been some question about how long the streetcar would remain free. Mayor Tom Barrett has indicated he would like to keep The Hop free for as long as possible, even after an initial one-year sponsorship with Potawatomi Hotel & Casino to cover fares came to an end.

In a sign of Barrett’s belief that The Hop will remain free, the city never installed equipment that would allow the streetcar to collect fares. Under a scenario where streetcar were no longer free, passengers would buy passes before boarding. Fare inspectors would occasionally check for those passes, but no money would be collected on the streetcar.

In a statement today, Barrett celebrated The Hop’s partnership with Everstream. “I’m thrilled to welcome Everstream to the Milwaukee community and The Hop family,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. “We’re proud to partner with a company that shares our vision for a more connected and forward-thinking city, and we’re thrilled that our streetcar riders will benefit from their investment in Milwaukee. The holiday season is packed with wonderful downtown events, and thanks to Everstream, The Hop will continue to be a fun and free way to access all that our city has to offer.”

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Want to buy a stunning Milwaukee mansion? You can for only $1.2M!

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This week on Urban Spelunking we’re visiting a distinctive East Side mansion, and it’s for sale! If you’ve got $1.2M burning a hole in your pocket, it could be yours.

Photo: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee

It’s known as the Goldberg Mansion and dates back to 1896. It sits on the corner of Summit and Newberry and boasts incredible French gothic architecture, both in the main residence and the carriage house.

As you’d expect in a mansion of the era, expert craftsmanship abounds in the wood and brick work. There’s also an original turret — which you can step into from the inside — plus a ballroom and finished basement. Ornate is an understatement.

Photo: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee
Photo: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee

So, who was Goldberg?

Turns out he was a hot-headed attorney and never actually lived in the property. Learn about the explosive story that led to the lawyer being disbarred and who eventually took over the property in this week’s podcast.

Like what you hear? Subscribe!

Get all of 88Nine’s podcasts delivered right to you weekly at We’ve got podcasts about music, food and film, with fresh episodes dropping every week! And don’t forget to check out our new podcast “Backspin: The Search for Milwaukee’s First Hip-Hop Song,” a six-part exploration of the birth of Milwaukee rap. All episodes are streaming now.

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Milwaukee Public Library continues to create social impact

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Libraries are an integral part of a community. Beyond just storing thousands and thousands of books, Milwaukee Public Libraries, across 13 branches, have programs that cater to everyone.

These programs include job assistance, resume building and even tutoring. Kristina Gomez, events and programming librarian, said an example of recent programs was partnering with the Milwaukee County Historical Society to give an informal pictorial tour of Milwaukee’s Historic South Side at the Mitchell Street branch.

“It focuses on the South Side of Milwaukee, the history of the South Side, and really informing attendees on what this neighborhood used to look like, major events that happened in the space and then all of the people who moved to that area and made it what it is today,” said Gomez.

Mitchell and Muskego pre-1960 | Courtesy of Milwaukee Public Library photo archive

The Oct. 23 event was the second time that the Milwaukee Public Library partnered with the Milwaukee County Historical Society to showcase the history of the South Side.

“People are really interested in learning about the place they live and our city as a whole,” said Gomez. “Maybe its stuff that you just didn’t learn in school or as we try to understand our current community and society its important to look back at the history of a place.”

Intersection on Chase and Oklahoma without traffic lights | Courtesy of Milwaukee Public Library photo archive

Public libraries have always played an important role in society. Even so, some programs felt close to home for Gomez. 

“I have family members on my father’s side that came to the U.S. as adults and they used their local library for language learning opportunities and that made a drastic impact in their ability to become U.S. citizens and obtain jobs,” said Gomez.

Even if one’s relationship with the library might not be life-changing, it’s a place that’s for everyone. Whether it’s for the smell of old books, the free Wi-Fi or a presentation on the history of a neighborhood, the library provides opportunities for life long learning.

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Helium delivers library books to Milwaukee doors

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Helium books, co-founded by Jacob Carlson and Ian Buchanan, is a library book delivery service here in Milwaukee. Just like the name Helium, its mission is to uplift readers through the power of reading.

“Part of the idea and genesis of Helium is really just bringing convenience to reading books,” said Carlson.

Co-founders Jacob Carlson and Ian Buchanan | Courtesy of Jake Hill

Getting a book delivered to you is a straightforward process. Every book that is delivered is from the Milwaukee Public Library. Through the Helium website, you type the name of the author and book title, and after a few clicks plugging in your information, your selected book is set to be delivered to you by a Helium staff member. A couple of sweet perks are the extension of your rental and having your book returned back through Helium.

As a celebration of Helium’s launch this past September, delivery services are currently free, however they intend to charge in the future. Buchanan said the idea of creating this business started after a visit to the library.

“I would have a list of books and a lot of them weren’t at the library I was at,” said Buchanan. “I figured other people might have this problem as well. The library has this holding system where you could request books to be brought to your home library but I figured why not take that middle step and have someone deliver it for you?”

Carlson says although in recent years he couldn’t find the time to read before starting Helium, he remembers his childhood where he first began his love for reading through his local summer reading program. 

“We were blocks away from the library, my sister and I, so every summer there was that list of 10 or 15 books,” said Carlson. “We would walk over with our library card, with our signature on it, we felt like the cat’s meow and we would get our book.”

Not only does Helium deliver books to you, but they also give back to the community. Since this month is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Helium is donating a dollar from every rental order placed through Helium.

One thing to consider here is how some individuals have limited access. Whether they’re busy with school, work or simply can’t get to their local library, Milwaukeeans now have another way to explore the endless realms that can be found in stories.

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‘Portrait of Milwaukee’ exhibit gives intimate view into decades of local history

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When you visit the Milwaukee Art Museum, where do you usually start? The featured exhibition? The permanent collection? It seems those typically get the most attention, but somewhere in the middle is another tier of exhibit: the smaller, temporary shows that make their way into the galleries. 

One in particular — on view now — is worth checking out, especially if you love Milwaukee history. It’s called Portrait of Milwaukee and features more than a 100 original photographs from 20th century Milwaukee. I recently went to MAM for a tour.

Listen to the story and check out photos below.

The exhibit is organized by theme rather than by time. There’s a whole section dedicated to the civil rights movement in Milwaukee, a section on photojournalism, a particular kind of flash photography invented in Milwaukee, industry at the confluence of water, and familiar faces and places.

Ariel Pate, assistant curator of photography, takes me to a case full of faces, a collection that tells an unbelievable story. Skip to the 1:00 mark to get right to it.

Portrait of Milwaukee is on view now at the Milwaukee art museum through March 1.

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