Authentic Tosa Notebooks

“How well do you know your neighbors?” was the question Julian asked in The Authenticity Project. We decided to ask Tosans the same question and invite them to tell their story, whatever that might be. We put Authentic Tosa notebooks in cafes, restaurants and other public spaces around Wauwatosa from October 2021 through January 2022.*

Here’s what our neighbors had to say. If you have a response or want to tell your own story, email us at 


I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but I struggle with mortality. I’m nearly 68, though physically I still feel 40. That’s good, but whenever I think about my actual age, I realize at best I have 32 years of life left—and that’s if, and only if, I live to be 100. Two of my grandparents nearly made it there, and I have a 98-year-old aunt who’s still sharp, lives at home, and drives, so it’s possible…

But of course, there are no guarantees in life. And even 32 years isn’t that much time, and time passes so much more quickly now.

I do believe in the age-old piece of wisdom that we should live life one day at a time… but as a lifelong planner I find that immensely difficult to do.

What do I want to do most with the time that I have left? That question plagues me each and every day. Can anyone share any advice on how best to figure this out?

               -A neighbor

I’m not from Tosa, but I live and grew up nearby in MKE, and I sing near here in a church every Sunday. There’s something cozy and genuine about this place. It’s special.

Grew up in Milwaukee spending much of my childhood in the Tosa neighborhood with friends. So may fond memories at Hart Park and in the Tosa Village. Moved out of state for college and never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I’d be where I am today—a homeowner in Wauwatosa, WI! Love it here! Life has a funny way of bringing you back home.


First… if you haven’t read the book this notebook is based on… you should. I am 2/3 of the way through and I love it. My name is Shelly. I am a mom of 2 sons (16 & 22) and work in ophthalmology. Divorced twice. It’s funny how we define ourselves by these statistics. It’s superficial. And really never tells much about the person. This journal is about authenticity… so here goes nothing.

I found my passion a year ago in pottery and joined the studio across the street in April. I never saw myself as a creative person artistically, but in clay I found my voice. It’s meditative for me, let’s me get out of my head. Challenges me in ways I never would have imagined. And I found “my people” in a group of people I would have never met before. If money were no object, I’d do this full time the rest of my life. Considering I frequent the studio on average 30 hours a week, it’s almost a second full-time job. LOL. Most of all, it has taught me the beauty in imperfection, to be kind to myself. And in turn encourage others to do the same.

Everyone deserves to find something that makes them feel this way. I found it at 45 years old. Hopefully you find it sooner.


Your turn!


I’m not from Tosa, but I got to spend some time at a wonderful rehab here. The rehab is Wauwatosa Behavioral Health, aka the Dewey Center. They have the best staff and therapists, and I truly feel that if it wasn’t for the staff I wouldn’t be here today. Not only is the staff great, the scenery is beautiful. If you are a struggling addict and thinking about bettering your life, they are the place to call! Believe in yourself, I know I do.


Hey! This was left at the place where I work, and thus I am now writing in it. I live in Tosa and things are going well. My friend’s birthday is today, and my partner is finally getting a breather from a stressful week. Along with that, I got free breakfast! Score!

I don’t know who left this (notebook), but I find the concept interesting. To whichever stranger is actually reading this, I hope you have a great day.

Arachibutyrophobia is the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. A completely useless fun fact. You’re welcome.  🙂

I’m pretty new to the Senior Center, and I have to start by saying I’m so impressed by the many smart, accomplished and interesting people I’ve met. I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone better—maybe even through your entries in this notebook.

As a slightly younger senior, I’m curious what people think about a subject that’s been on my mind lately—how fast time is passing by! I feel like there are too many things I want to try in the time I have left—books to read, places/countries to visit, hobbies to try, etc. I think this is top of mind for two reasons: 1. My husband just retired and I’m semi-retired and 2. Covid has kept us from traveling and doing everything we’d like to do.

Anyway, this is always on my mind, and I’m wondering how others feel about this, or am I the only one panicking about it? There’s a lot of pressure (self-inflicted) to make every moment count! Thanks in advance for your thoughts.


Love what M wrote, as I’m one of the older ones that frequent these “hallowed halls.” Time keeps moving on faster and faster, so we’ve got to keep moving… so nothing catches up to you!?!

My husband loves the Pickleball group from here, while I love the book people and the music and (am) open to just about anything. Everyone has their story to tell and I need to work on “shutting my mouth.” Listen more—talk less. -Hamilton 🙂

We were able to take our small motorhome to Alaska this year so we’re still able to enjoy our wonderful country and Canada. We are so blessed but our family motto is Carpe Diem while you can!


Love this idea!
Hello! My name is Audrey B and I am here at the lovely Big Head Brewery with my boyfriend, Austin! We just happened to stumble upon this place after a delicious meal at Hector’s, and I think we will frequent it a lot more often. My only regret is that our pup, Boris, is not here with us. Boris is a half Boston- terrier-half-pug-ball-of-grease that we adore. We just bought our first home together in the Glenview Heights neighborhood a few months ago (can you say inflation??), but are settling into our new home great!
Wauwatosa does this incredible thing where it reminds me of exactly everything good about growing up in my South Side Chicago neighborhood. I love the Village, a long run on the Menomonee River Parkway, walking Honey Creek Parkway with Bor-bor, and the way Austin’s super-suburban-raised nephew loses his s*** whenever he sees a bus (“CITY BUS”) or train around here! To me, Tosa is home and I want to get to know all the wonderful people around us! I’ll check back soon next time we are here, but just know we’d love to make some new friends and our neighbors are always welcome for a beer!
          Audrey, Austin, and Boris

Always remember we are here (our lives) for a purpose. To teach and learn from one another. To love, respect and be kind to each other. What you give you get back in life. You do not deserve what you do not earn. Enjoy life—you get one chance only.

I’m having a hard year but knowing there is love in the world brings me peace. Be kind to everyone you encounter. You could make their day. 


What a fabulous idea this is!  A “group” journal/book. Technically, I shouldn’t be writing in here, as I am not a Wauwatosa resident; but I am a denizen of coffee shops and restaurants in Tosa. In fact, it was coffee shops that got me through the pandemic!

I read your story, “Mimi” – and relate to your feelings of anxiety; although your year seemed tens worse. We all respond to things based on our situations, personalities, stress, life, everything. My anxiety as mostly being in grocery stores, there the nervous energy spread through faster than Covid. I felt “buzzy.”

The Covid year for me was Early Retirement. A musician by profession, some 43 years, I was forced into retirement 10 months sooner than I was planning, which wasn’t a bad thing for me really… except I was hoping to play a few concerts in the new MSO concert hall, the Warner Theater, on Wisconsin Avenue. The MSO, and all convert and theater venues shut down in March of 2020.  The world went to sleep.

The worst of it was….no restaurants!!

My husband and I were having dinner in the bar at Buckley’s in downtown Milwaukee, on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, when the owner announced to us that they were closing down “tomorrow” for an indefinite time. This couldn’t be happening.

My only solace for several months after Covid (and indeed, it still is a treasured routine) was to go to my coffee shops. Even though we couldn’t stay inside, I’d have the chance to speak with a live human being for a few minutes; and, if there was outdoor seating, I’d stay for a bit and drink coffee.

I’m at La Tarte now (68th and Wells), where I found this book. The regulars (oops… I guess I am too) are sitting at the other table. I haven’t brewed a cup of coffee at home all year!  This became my new community—the café crowd.

 More later….



Hello again.  A month has gone by??  Today is Tuesday; it’s quiet in the cafe; just myself, and Sherry back in the kitchen. It’s the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. It is 9 degrees outside – prematurely deep cold for this time of year. Beatles music on the player.

I’m on my third cup of coffee (decaf this round) and I’m waking up little by little. Thinking about Christmas plans, and our upcoming holiday trips (both past New Year’s). There wasn’t Christmas last year—that is, not in the traditional sense. Don (my husband) and I stayed home, and it was quiet. All of our daughter’s family (including grandchildren) caught Covid last year, so Don and I enjoyed hunkering down at home. In fact, I didn’t remember what we did!!!  I’ll have to look it up in the Covid Journal I had in 2020. If I don’t write things down, I forget.  

We love to travel, and the past year it’s been regional (accessible) places – Door County, Spring Green, Madison. We used to go to New Orleans in the Spring (sometimes Fall) but I cannot stomach the idea of flying.



It’s still me… Karen. Tuesday, December 14

Having coffee at La Tarte. The days are growing shorter… I love driving over here in the dark and seeing all the Christmas lights on people’ homes. I ordered a broccoli/cheese quiche from Sherry for Christmas Eve day.

These days I take one day at a time. I don’t know what I want to do, or be, over the long haul  Maybe ice cookies here?  One thing about not working is that there is a lot more time to think  Also time to waste. Is it “wasting” time? Or enjoying time? I am split between those concepts—anxiety for not being productive-occupied-busy (American-Protestant-work ethic), and elation/peaceful feelings—for the open spaces, of the days and nights, the opportunities that come up.

People tell me it’s about opportunities—that it’s ok to not jump into something, just to fill the empty space of time. Maybe I am afraid to be alone in my thoughts—because where does that go? With no outside distractions (aka-LIFE!), where could I go, deep inside myself?  Maybe I could learn “emptiness”—peace?


Not many people know this about me, but I have synesthesia.

Synesthesia is a phenomenon found in something like 2% to 4% of the population, though it might be higher. It basically means that you experience one sense through another. Some people see color in music. Others see emotions in numbers. For others, words have tastes. It’s weird, I know.

I have two kinds. For me, letters, numbers and words all have distinct colors in my mind. They always have, from early childhood on, and the colors associated with each symbol never change.

I also have something called time-space synesthesia. I visualize time—seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, centuries (past, present and future)—as a “spatial construct.” It’s hard to explain, but it involves a giant racetrack for each year that changes shape depending where in the calendar we are; a piano keyboard of sorts that organizes centuries (it takes a sharp right turn at 0 B.C.); and another mental graphic that organizes days of the week and hours within those days. And I myself occupy a fixed place inside all of these visual diagrams.

One of my daughters has this kind, too. But no one else my family has any form of synesthesia, and I have yet to meet anyone else who sees letters and numbers in color. I would so love to compare notes with such a person to see if their “A” or their “11” is the same color as mine!

          -Nancy Stohs


It’s 11 degrees!  Does anyone really like this weather?  I mean Really Like It?  I can’t imagine liking weather this cold.  But the sun is out and the sky is blue for the third consecutive day, so there is a bright spot in this frigid day.

La Tarte.  I’ve been coming here for so many years.  The beginning years here when I was still working.  I would order to mochas-one for the drive to Waukesha and one for me once I got to my office.  Now, having been retired since 2014, my mochas have changed into non-fat hazelnut lattes—iced ones in warm weather.

But as much as I love the drinks and the food at La Tarte, it’s the camaraderie that draws me in.  I have made new friends here, run into old friends and greeted many familiar faces.  I love supporting the neighborhood business. I often wonder how many other stories of friendship or even romance may have started here!


Traveling through Wisconsin from Chicago, thinking of the possibility of making Tosa our home. Love it here. 

Fears include FOMO (fear of missing out), very real for someone who’s 62 and nearing retirement.

My SO (significant other) has a fear of spiders and snakes.

New Year’s Resolution? To be my authentic self.

Great donuts and coffee.

          See you soon,
          -A soon-to-be Tosan

May you all find a little comfort and peace in each and every day. You never know what someone else is going through. Be kind. ALWAYS. 

“Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road.
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go.
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why.
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time.
It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right.
I hope you had the time of your life.”

            – Green Day, “Good Riddance”

Seriously though, high school isn’t the best time of your life. I hope it contains some fond memories and good times—and some trial and heartache—but there are so many better times to come. I hope you have many “times of your life.”

Always remember you are a king or queen. Hold your crown high and never drop it.

In high school, I didn’t party. I mean I went to them, but I abstained. It was really hard to not give in to the peer pressure. I would also sometimes just stay home rather than put myself in a situation when I had to say no—or explain. I didn’t enjoy those times. I would sit home having FOMO (we didn’t call it that) and feel kind of lonely.

Looking back, I realize I was just being me, I didn’t need to do things to make me fake popular. I went on to be student council president, Homecoming Queen and I was a 3-sport athlete. I had goals and substances were not part of them.

          -Class of ’93

I have always struggled in social environments where I have to interact in large groups, especially when I do not know most of the people. I feel very anxious and overly self-aware. This is still an area of struggle, but I try to remind myself that others may be feeling exactly the same way. If you suffer from the same anxiety, just remember to be yourself and trust that others will treat you with kindness and respect!

          -Mr. B

I moved to Milwaukee from NYC mid pandemic. I’d just gotten serious with my (now) husband and soon after I became pregnant with our first child. Moving to Tosa has been one of the BEST decisions of my life. I’m a New Yorker 100%, but my heart is here now. I feel, however, a bit out of place and like I have to conceal a bit of my ‘city vibe’ so I don’t put people off. I wish people knew—or could give me the benefit of the doubt—that I’m really happy here, don’t compare it to NYC, or think I’m special just because I’m from NYC. It’s home but it’s not everything I am. I’m a lot of things and I’m very interested in others, what they care about, and how they see themselves. I love you, Milwaukee!

Welcome to Milwaukee, Erin. Thanks for sharing your story. I like your reminder to give the benefit of the doubt to folks. I’ve lived in Milwaukee all my life and most recently nearby in Wauwatosa. It’s a nice city with lots of people in it that are trying to make it even more welcoming and inclusive. Lots to do, I’m glad you are here to help with that!

Be kind to yourself. You’re doing great. You go, girl or boy or person!         

Hello, I am a dreamer. I love to wonder what is out there, beyond reality and in universes unexplainable. An idea, certainly bound by society’s shackles, but I prevail and dream countlessly. I hope, to all those like me, you can look past normal and be true. Be a lover and fighter and dreamer. Be you.


Here with a dozen or more Santas for the Santa Rampage. Ho ho ho!


Here we are, three friends all on the precipice of ~new~ that is the constant shifts of change the years post-college have brought. We are about to look at an apartment next door, yet it’s unclear who it’s for. I’ll be leaving for Zambia for two years if the pandemic doesn’t throw another curveball. One of us just started med school and the third is searching for a place to land.

Six of us, together for the first time in a while for an extended visit. Some of these friendships are more than 30 years old. Some are newer. Many different personality types… and that’s what makes it so great. Lots of great conversations, lots of laughs… and, most importantly – LOTS OF LOVE.

I have learned a few lessons in life I would like to share. Always be humble and kind, always be honest, always be grateful and always be yourself.

I am very grateful for the talents and gifts God has blessed me with. I am grateful for my family, my friends, my pets, my coworkers and every stranger that has been kind to me.

I appreciate self-awareness I have gained. Growth is not easy, but it is worth it.

I am not always easy to deal with, mainly because I am shy and have been through some things… but I know I can also be a joy to be around. I love to help people and make others smile. I have the best mom in the world, and sister, they keep me grounded and are always real with me.

I appreciate my mom’s patience and my sister’s tough love. When I have kids one day, I want to have characteristics of my mother. ?

I am an artist. I sing, dance and enjoy cleaning and organizing art galleries and DIYs. I believe we all have something cool and unique about us and we just need the right opportunities to open up and show our real, authentic selves. Yes, there is so much more I could share, but aren’t enough pages. LOL Ha

I hope you take from my small story that even through the good and the bad, there are always things to be grateful for, but you have to look yourself. Only you are in charge of your happiness and have to make the most of your life. Trouble won’t last always, so keep your head up and stay hopeful. ?

God is on our side.

Times may be hard, but nothing easy is worth having. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You have a beautiful life ahead of you.

Dear Strangers/Friends –

Driven for an amazing cup of coffee and sugary delectable—two former corworkers, now friends, are catching up on life, kids, gossip and everything in between.

May the season bring you closer together just as this book is.

          Happy holidays
          -Kristi and Donna

I used to be a nice, shy person. Now as others claim, I’m mean and have unnecessary attitude. I’m aware, and I have every right to be. This is what happens when a nice person has had enough. This is what happens when someone is pushed over their limits. This is a perfect example of mental exhaustion. I’m tired of it all, the mental abuse, bullying, harassment, being used, the deep abyss of loneliness. I can’t get anything to go my way. I can’t have the one I love the most. It hurts so bad.

I’m tired of trying and trying and getting nothing. I’m giving up and I’ve lost hope long ago. I’m done with my life, now I wait until it ends. I don’t care anymore.

          -A lost soul


Reply: Every person is valuable and unique. Reach out to a teacher or school counselor. Reach out to someone you can help.


Not even in school anymore, been graduated. Even then, the teachers and counselors did not care about me or how I felt.

          -A lost soul


Reply: I care about you. I haven’t met you, but I care. Keep hope in your heart. You will find people who care if you care.

I really try to make it seem like I have it all together, but man… inside it always seems like an inch from falling apart. ?

New to Tosa this year, I moved from out of state! It’s great to be in the area, and I love all the positive messages in this notebook.

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!


You are so important!! Take care of yourself, you deserve it.

Success is an option.

There are going to be times you don’t understand, but if you put your trust in God, all things are possible.

My father wasn’t in my life much, but my father God was there.


I would like to write about dreams. I’m one of those people who typically remembers her dreams. I think I need dreams. They’re an alternate life that adds richness to my real life, but they’re so much more. In fact, I think they help me cope with life.

I’ve found my courage through dreams, I’ve discovered ways to perform a task or scale a hurdle, I’ve “met up” with long-gone loved ones (and felt comforted, once awake, by the encounters).

I’ve had the so-called “college dreams,” of course. And dreams where I’ve got a big pile of money in my lap. Those seem so real—and then I wake up, I’m so disappointed!

A funny thing: My dreams are never set in the house I’ve lived in in Wauwatosa since 1990. Occasionally, it’s some very altered version of that house, but more often than not, the setting is either the house I grew up in (in another state) or my beloved grandparents’ farmhouse.

The power of imagination within dreams continues to amaze me. I’ve found myself in fully furnished rooms with intricately patterned wallpaper, richly detailed furniture, art masterpieces that aren’t copies of real works. I so often wish there were a special camera that could take pictures of scenes we see in our dreams…

        -A fellow Tosan

*Thank you to Anodyne on Harwood • Café Blue on North • Civic Center Senior Club • Cranky Al’s • Daddy’s on Bluemound • Drunken Cobra on North • Grey House on State • Golden Nest at Mayfair Collection • Hart Park Senior Center • Harwood Place • Highlands Cafe on Vliet • Lucky Joe’s on Underwood • Starbucks – Village • Starbucks – Mayfair and Center • Miss Molly’s • Stockhouse Brewing on North • Stone Creek Coffee on Harwood • La Tarte on Wells • Tosa Block Party • Wauwatosa Library • Wauwatosa East Library • Wauwatosa West Library • Vendetta Coffee Bar on State • Vennture Brewing