The pressure was on when I got this assignment: Capture the highlights of what makes Wisconsin great in 48 pages at a 4th grade reading level.

But I rose to the challenge and the results just arrived courtesy of my friendly UPS driver. If you need any fun facts about Wisconsin, I’m your (wo)man for at least a few days until my brain is filled with other random facts about who knows what.

Thanks for the opportunity Scholastic!

Want to see what else I’ve written for kids? Check them out here or at my favorite place for books—your local library!

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No, it’s not a dunk tank—which I intend to NEVER subject myself to unless it would deter a national incident of some kind—it’s Madison Reading Project’s READ(Y) To Wear Fashion show on Feb. 10 at the Concourse Hotel.

Participants create and model a garment made out of paper—sort of the local version of Project Runway famous “unconventional materials challenges. 

I’m playing a very small role in designing a garment—local graphic designer extraordinaire Corin Frost is doing the heavy lifting there (thank you Corin!). But I will be subjecting myself to the potential of long-term embarrassment because I’ve offered to be the model. (A big “thank you” to my sister for attempting to help me learn how to “model walk,” although she was completely unsuccessful at helping me avoid bursting into laughter).

Want to experience this for yourself? Get a ticket today! You’ll be helping a great local charity (who doesn’t love to help get books into kids’ hands???) and sharing a memorable (but, hopefully, not too memorable) experience with me! 


Practicing my twirl.

Skirt prototype (my design contribution).

Thank you technology—courtesy of my lovely husband—for enabling production consistency.

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As someone who makes their living because people still believe there’s value in using words to communicate (thank you clients!), I should probably be bemoaning the increasing tendency to use graphics instead of words.

But I couldn’t help but think this article (from a 2002 issue of Martha Stewart’s magazine—an “artifact” courtesy of the library’s magazine recycling box) could have benefited from a few well-placed photos.

Please Martha, just a couple pictures!

I don’t love to iron in the first place and the idea of keeping this article handy while I attempt to get the wrinkles out of a dress shirt? Just not gonna happen!

Of course, who even needs photos when you can just jump right to video? I plan to only wear no-iron-required sweaters for the next six months, but once it warms up again, I’ll be all set with this:

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

In the spirit of the season…

This caught my eye during a cold Sunday night walk down State Street with my dear husband. 

I love the little random acts of outreach that occasionally cross our paths if we keep our eyes open for them.


What could you use a little more of?

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Democracy in action…Part 2

Earlier this year I shared my experience with the City of Madison and the process of adding a sidewalk to my front yard.

Well, it’s here. Although I’m not too excited about losing a lot of flowers and a good chunk of driveway parking—and am already whining about the shoveling that will soon commence, though, thank you Mother Nature for the recent amazingly nice weather—the sidewalks have proven to be a hit with the neighborhood.






There seem to be a lot more people walking themselves and their dogs and children down my street of late—though I’m not entirely sure if the traffic count has gone up or if I just notice it more because pedestrians are closer to my house, instead of on the other side of parked cars.

Overall, I think it’s been good change and—hey!—I even met new neighbors. Plus it gave me a chance to see how government works in my town, which proved to be a mostly positive experience, and to be part of something that was about more than me (even if there was, yes, some grumbling along the way).













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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The real cost of that avocado toast

Yes, I’ve succumbed (many times) to the joys of avocado toast. But now, after hearing a piece on the BBC about the many challenges Mexican avocado growers face—including kidnapping, extortion and having to create their own police department to protect themselves—I’m  looking at these tasty green globes in a whole new way.

Criminals certainly have a track record of turning anything into currency—think of the Mafia’s takeover of garbage collection in Naples and, who knew!, olive oil.

But I was still a bit surprised and certainly disheartened to learn that hardworking farmers were putting their livelihood, and potentially lives, on the line to keep those avocados heading north. And, oh look, there’s more bad news: avocados are also causing deforestation and water shortages.

I currently have 3.5 avocados in my fridge but after that??? Maybe I need to switch to kale. 




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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Utopia? Bring it on.

I confess: I mostly gobbled up (oops, that pun was not intended!) the Hunger Game series right along with my kids and attempted to get into the Legend series (heavy skimming on that one). But whenever I’ve read one of those books I’ve frequently found myself wondering why we’re so obsessed with dystopian fiction.

This recent article in Time Magazine wonders the same thing. Their short answer: there’s no tension in Utopia and earlier books that imagined ideal worlds typically had little exposure to the reality of technology’s impact.

Fair enough. But I would still love to read something where everything works out more or less, instead of technology = horror. There are a few options in the Time article, but I confess that I probably won’t be picking up the 1516 classic that started it all any time soon.

My own vision of Utopia can be found in the 1940s books by Elizabeth Enright about the always intrepid Melendy kids. 

Who doesn’t want to be a Melendy???

I read those when I was a child and then again to my own kids. And although their lives were far from perfect—they are set in WWII-era New York City and upstate New York and do (though rather lightly) acknowledge things like the war and child abuse—they captured a relatively carefree childhood where strangers were just friends you hadn’t yet met and a babbling brook was a great place to spend a sunny summer afternoon. 

With the hurricanes, fires and mass shootings of recent months, a little Utopia is right up my alley. I know what I’ll be (re)reading next.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

I guess this is one way to make reparations

As someone who gets to stick a couple drops of Restasis (a dry eye medication) into her eyes twice a day, I was very interested to hear an NPR story about that Allergan (the drug giant responsible for bringing me daily, but expensive, eye relief) has passed their patent along to a Native American tribe.

Allergan is giving the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe $14 million, some royalties and the Restasis patent. Then the Mohawks are leasing the patent back to Restasis so Allergan can avoid losing patent protection. It’s a pretty slick—and apparently legal—way to get around those pesky patent expiration laws based on the fact that the tribe is a sovereign entity

On the one hand, this means an ongoing revenue stream for tribe members, many of whom live in poverty (though I have no idea how the money will be shared with them). On the other,   it blocks generics from the marketplace. Clearly the biggest overall winner is Allergan (who will be protecting an annual revenue stream worth $1.5 billion). 

Just another example of big pharma sticking it to the consumer? Or a great way for Native American tribes to have a new income stream? I’ll let you be the judge.

Read the whole story here.


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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Happy autumn???

With the temps hovering around 90 much of this past week, it’s not too surprising that I’m struggling to identify which season we’re in. But the pumpkins we harvested on Saturday, the straggly tomatoes in my garden and the growing collection of brown leaves in my yard are all proof that, yep, the calendar is right.

I will confess to being thrilled to have these extra days of summer to tuck into my memory banks when the weather turns chilly. I chatted with my mountain state daughters yesterday, who had spent many hours on a 10-mile hike that included seven inches of snow. They were quite envious of our good fortune but I reminded them there will likely be a day in the coming months when the tables are rudely turned.

For now, I’ll just send up a “thank you” for this beautiful day, turn on the fan and pour myself a glass of iced coffee.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Democracy in action

You might be wondering what this picture of my very shady front yard has to do with democracy. Well, I’ll tell you!

About two months ago I noticed that a bunch of MGE flags had popped up in my front yard. You know, the kind that mean some sort of digging is imminent. No one quite seemed to know what was happening (the flags were in the adjoining yards too) but I started to hear rumors that we might be getting a sidewalk.

Now, as someone who a. loves to walk and b. lives half a block from a school, I should be thrilled at the prospect of sidewalks. Sadly, these sidewalks mean that a big chunk of my front yard will shortly be torn up (much of the myrtle, hostas and springtime tulips and daffodils that I’ve planted over the past 20+ years will soon disappear. Sigh), I will have a double sidewalk to shovel (as we also own the adjoining plot) and my husband and I will have the pleasure of paying for most of it.

But here’s where we get to the democracy part of this story.

Throughout most of this process—which somewhat disappointingly didn’t start until I started poking around looking for answers—my neighbors and I have had the chance to attend meetings, share our concerns and offer suggestions. A big “thank you” to Chris Dawson, a city engineer, who has faithfully guided us through the process and, I’m sure, spent a lot of time trying to be as accommodating as possible. My neighbors and I haven’t quite landed where we’d hoped (a more narrow terrace for one, but the terrace IS narrower than originally proposed) but it was a good feeling to see various Madison alders (including mine, Maurice Cheeks), who appear to take their roles quite seriously.

I’ll try to remember to post another shot when my sidewalk is installed and will likely complain a lot once the snow falls and the assessment comes due. But for now I’m (mostly) cautiously pleased that my voice was (sort of!) heard.


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Knowledge junkie. Raconteur.

Vicky Franchino

I love to learn about new things. And I love to tell a good story. Let’s get together and tell yours!

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