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Happy birthday eve Kathy, we’ll see you at Lambeau!

It seems appropriate that more than 80,000 people will be on hand tomorrow to celebrate my sister Kathy‘s birthday.

There will be beer toasts and brat fries, an F-16 flyover and a chicken dance. The whole Badger band will be at the shindig.

I’m told there will be a football game as well.

And, in the center of it all, at Lambeau Field, one of her favorite places in the world, Kathy will mark her 48 hard-fought years with her trademark grace (of character not necessarily of foot), humor, kindness and joy.

Many of us will be with her at Lambeau tomorrow, but we’d all like to take a moment now to wish her a happy birthday.

Please feel free to add your own birthday wishes…

Kathy, Molly and Mom

Thank you so much for the book talks, Badger talks and Milwaukee trips. You have truly shaped the person I am today, and I’m so grateful. Have a great birthday! U rah rah Wisconsin! Love, Molly

Kathy and mom in Hungary

Hi it’s Kathy. Laughing Kathy. With eyes of blue and lashes made of lace”…Kathy, my 2016 goal is to finish these lyrics and I have great news! Sam Winch is going to help me. Let’s celebrate in style on Saturday. Unfortunately, I don’t think the song will be finished by then. But soon. Stayed tuned…

Kathy and Vince

Kathy, I am thrilled to be spending your birthday with you at Lambeau. Let’s make it a birthday and Badger win for a special day on Saturday. We can show those Cajuns how to party. Love, Vince

Relay for life Katherine and Kathy

Happy birthday wonderful godmother and (semi) namesake. Thanks for being such an incredibly supportive aunt and fun travel buddy. This year is sure to bring more adventures and blessings. I can’t wait to celebrate this weekend with a fellow Badger. You Rah R-ock and I love you so much! Love, Katherine

Brian and Erin

Kathy, I think you are next in line for a miracle. Happy birthday, Brian

Chickens and Kathy's shower 031

Kathy, all our lives we’ve been the “little girls”. If I could find your favorite doll Angela Amy, I’d bring my doll Becky to your birthday celebration, where we’d toast to sharing closets, canopy beds, princess phones and am/fm radios with antennae so long they’ll poke out your eye. We could use a little more Shawn Cassidy right about now. Love you, JJJHigh

Kathy Keith Traveian and the mascot

Kathy, I love you as you are and I love celebrating you today and always. Happy birthday! Your husband, Keith


Dear Auntie Kathy, I hope you get better. And I hope you stay strong. I love you Auntie Kathy. Happy birthday. Love, Erin

Mom, Charlie Kathy in Egypt

One of my earliest memories of you is getting to visit you when you were living in Milwaukee. I remember eating Chinese food in your super cool apartment and being flabbergasted that you lived in such a big city, in such a tall building, so far from home. It seemed impossibly brave to me. I now live much further away, in a much bigger city, but your impossible bravery hasn’t faded at all. Over the past three decades I’ve never seen your kindness, joy or sense of humor waver despite facing adversity that would easily break the spirit of most people. Kathy, I hope you have a fun-filled weekend with family and friends. I wish I could be there. Go Badgers and Happy Birthday. We love you very much! Love, Charlie

Relay for life Kathy and Vinnie

On the eve of the first UW game day of 2016, Happy Birthday to our OB (original badger), Kathy Finley! Thank you for creating a legacy at the University of Wisconsin that continues today! You’re a constant inspiration with your keep-calm-carry-on attitude. Also, thank you for opening my life to State Street Brats bar specials…That had a profound effect on my college experience. Love, Vinnie

Kathy and I at Dave Robinson

Happy birthday Kathy and thanks for blocking the south wind for me in section 117 all these years. I’ll keep blocking the north for you. Of course, you’d celebrate your birthday at Lambeau. On Wisconsin! On Kathy! and, of course Go Pack Go! We love you.

Baseball, Cracker Jacks and mom

My sister’s brain

I told my sister Kathy her brain should have its own Instagram account. It’s been photographed more often than the Kardashians, and it’s far more interesting.

Six times, Kathy has had surgery on it, and six times that beautiful, complicated, challenging organ has survived.

If you look inside my sister’s brain, you’ll see a working shunt system on one side, and a broken catheter stuck in the middle. You’ll see a ventriculostomy, which allows fluid to move from one ventricle to the next. You’ll see a resection scar from a recent tumor removal.

And here’s what else you’ll see:

You’ll see fierce love for friends and family, especially her stepson, the charismatic Traveain. Woe to any facility ill-equipped to handle Traveain’s electric wheel chair. Kathy has fired off many a stern letter, including one to her alma mater, to rectify that situation ASAP.

You’ll see devotion to her students (which nearly gave us all a heart attack).  As promised, Kathy texted us updates when she and her husband Keith made their way to Mayo Clinic for a critical consultation following her most recent brain surgery. “Disaster!” she wrote and we all clutched our phones. “The pizza delivery guy arrived right when the high school was having a fire drill.” The message left us all understandably confused. “I ordered pizza for my Geek Squad students and that delivery guy better find them. His tip depends on it.” I mean, really, who orders pizza for their students while enroute to Mayo Clinic with 34 staples in her head? As I may have mentioned, in 2007 Kathy was named Wisconsin’s Teacher of the Year, not only for her tech program but also for her mentoring of at risk students.

You’ll see peace from a daughter and a sister who has been since birth the family touchstone. She calls herself Switzerland (one of the few countries she and my mother have not been to among their many global travels) because she rarely takes sides in family squabbles. She is the mellowest among us, quick to remember birthdays and anniversaries and faithful in her attendance at important family functions. She has seen every play her goddaughter Katherine has ever been in, and that’s saying something.

You’ll see a little disdain for undereducated Packer fans. I’ve gone to games with Kathy for more than three decades. She knows her stuff. One game, we sat next to a local celebrity who prattled on to his companions. He was loud and he was wrong. Eventually, a squirming Kathy couldn’t take it anymore. She looked at me and said, “Good God,” then leaned across and spoke directly to the gentleman. “That’s not Dorsey Levens. He hasn’t even been on the team since 2001,” she said. Though momentarily stunned, the gentleman recovered admirably and he and Kathy chatted easily for the remainder of the game.

You’ll see strength. You’ll see it oozing from every pore. I was with Kathy in her hospital room not long after she’d learned the tumor they’d just removed was malignant, metastasized breast cancer. We were alone for a little while and I, channeling all of the medical knowledge I’d acquired through years of faithful George Clooney watching, ran her through some tests. “Ok, squeeze my hand.”  She did. “Follow my finger.” Her eyes followed my hand. “Lift your right leg. Good. Good. Now your left.” I was just goofing around a little and testing whether her little sister obedience was still intact (it was). I also had a serious question. “What are you thinking about your diagnosis?” I asked. “It is what it is,” Kathy said, and paused a minute. “And we’re going to fight the hell out of it.”

Of course, we’re grossly offended that any cancer cells at all would have the nerve to invade that beautiful brain, but we also know Kathy and our money’s on her.

Next week, she’ll be back at Mayo for Gamma Knife Radiation after which, she and her husband Keith are looking forward to resuming their regular summer activities. She and my mom plan a July trip to Cuba.

Today, we’re walking with Kathy and her team, Holy Walkamoley, in the Menomonee Falls Relay for Life. She’ll take that remarkable brain of hers around that survivor lap and, once again, we’ll all stand and applaud.

Kathy and I at Dave Robinson

Kathy and I have been loyal Packer fans through all kinds of weather. She’s pretty good natured, until you start talking smack about her Packers, especially if you don’t have your facts straight.

Kathy's wedding! 152

Here is Kathy on her wedding day in 2012, six months before her breast cancer diagnosis.

Kathy and Molly at Molly's orchestra concert

A very loyal aunt, Kathy goes to great lengths to come to just about everything. Here she is at Molly’s most recent orchestra concert.


My mom and Kathy went to Door County last week and twinsied themselves. 

Kathy, Molly and Mom

Kathy, Molly and my mom at the Appleton North graduation last night.

Kathy post-op

Would you be smiling just after brain surgery? Kathy did. She winked a little too.

Kathy the survivor

These are some members of Team Kathy at her first Relay for Life two years ago. We’ll all be there tonight too, cheering her on as she takes her survivor lap.






Anti cancer brownies

I had the best of intentions when I whipped up a batch of anti-cancer brownies for my dinner guests yesterday.

I believed the recipe when it told me brown rice syrup was a healthier alternative to sugar, and that cocoa was healthy, but that that consuming milk or dairy products such as ice cream together with cocoa may inhibit the absorption of flavonoids from cocoa.
I even complimented Festival Foods on its excellent variety of healthy alternatives to sugar when I shopped there ahead of my baking afternoon.

Brown rice syrup, I said to myself as I drove home from the grocery store triumphantly, who knew? I thought about all the ways I could use it to make all my recipes so much healthier.

But, I live with a co-blogger who debunks my research on a regular basis and she had a few things to say as I arrived home and began to assemble my treat.

“You know, it all gets broken down as sugar anyway,” she said as she read the label. “This has 22 grams of sugar per serving. How is that healthier?”

“But it’s brown rice,” I said sort of weakly as I considered the fact that she may have, once again, been absolutely right. “It has nutrients sugar doesn’t.”


I had some time to do a little more research as my super healthy brownies baked.

Turns out the extra nutrients in the brown rice are basically cooked out during the sugar making process. The brownies, chock full of dark chocolate cocoa (another item my co-blogger rolled her eyes at months ago when I first bought it. ‘Cocoa is cocoa, mom. You just paid extra for the words “dark chocolate”‘), smelled delicious.

But they looked ridiculous, dark, crumbly and really dry.

I served them, and we all chewed politely for a while.

“These would be delicious,” I said. “With a big bowl of ice cream.”

Anti cancer brownies

I’m all for healthy eating but I think the key is actual sugar in moderation, rather than modified food masquerading as sweetener. My next low sugar dessert is going to be chocolate covered frozen bananas. These brownies were a fail.


What will you do with your one extra day?

Blinded by the light

I had a parental epiphany during a breast cancer fundraiser, and it became a metaphor for the fight against the disease.

Asked by my daughter Katherine to perform a reading, I stepped on a stage, looked out into the audience, and saw absolutely nothing but a blinding spotlight.

Rookie revelation.

Did you know this? Did you know that you can wave enthusiastically from your seat in the audience, give a thumbs up, think you made eye contact with your beloved artist and he or she won’t have seen you at all?

Good lord, I thought, 29 years as a parent, a lifetime as a fan, and I never knew this.

My sister Kathy is here tonight,” I read from my script, and then I looked up and squinted. “I think she’s here. I can’t see a thing.”

Kathy was in the crowd (front row!), which was a good thing because her brutal battle inspired the event, Based on a True Titty.

All proceeds went to the Trina Fund, founded by my friend Trina, who, though she ultimately lost her own fierce fight against the disease, left a legacy of love in the form of her fund, which provides monetary support for women to seek treatment and second opinions.

As I stood myopically on that stage, I spoke about Kathy, Trina, and many of the other women I know, including my mother in-law Mary Jane, who has been so sanguine about her diagnosis that we sometimes forget she has the disease.

All of the performers donated their time, including Trina’s daughter, Hillary Reynolds, and comedian Amy Haeussler, whose mother Julie, a breast cancer survivor, sat in the audience.

I watched them dance, sing, tell jokes, share poetry and perform sketches, and each one told a story of passionate support through their lyrics, rhymes, movement and lines.

It seems to me that having cancer is sometimes like standing in a spotlight. You aren’t always aware of the support you have, because you can’t see it. We’re all right here, though, praying, baking, donating, honoring, and sending love.

They can’t see me, but I am also giving an extended standing ovation to Pure and Weary for conceiving, producing, and hosting this great event.


A view from the stage

I took the stage for my debut, and this is what I saw. There are plenty of people out there, including my sister Kathy, her husband Keith and step-son Traveain, but I could not see them.

Ariel Atkins

Slam poet Ariel Atkins.

Atra Amy Kristen

Ta da for the Ta Tas! Comediennes and actors, Atra Asdou, Amy Haeussler and Kristen Tallon performed a sweet and funny set that honored Haeussler’s mom, Julie.

Green room photos

A couple of pre-show photos in the purple green room.

Purple green room

I’ve never been backstage before, it’s a busy place…

Green Room

…especially during the show.


Hillary performed in honor of her mom, Trina.


Jimmy Hibbard, a fellow Appleton North grad, danced a poignant tribute.

Seriously Unprepared

This hilarious scene outside a doctor’s office was performed by Seriously Unprepared.

Kathy and Me

My sister Kathy and me, post show.

The whole group

Here’s the family shot — Katherine, Keith, Kathy, Traveain. Molly, me, Donna, Vinnie.

Leah and Katherine

Brava! to hosts Pure and Weary.

Based on a True Titty