The Minty Middle

Many storytellers have been taught that the skeletal sustenance of plot is what guides and shapes a story; plot builds character development; plot moves like the waves within a tide, builds climax, finds resolution and voila! Reader satisfaction – if the story is the desired cup of tea that is. Not every cup of tea is good, even if there is a quote on the tea bag telling you your soulmate is only a sip away; neither all tea is good nor is every soulmate. John Hughes, birthday cakes on glass tables and mediocre pink dresses are now being dissected like a high school frog – we can no longer or should no longer love Jake or root for the passive aggressive nerd. Whatever. I loved Jake, he was like the Pickle Guy, just not the Jewish kind. 

I digress; however, we all know that many of these stories are forever embedded in our brains because we will never forget the titles. My point – the title of this little ditty came first; not the other essential ingredients that make up a story. May this be my 16 Candles without the Jake.

I love the minty middle.

A little over a month ago I went out to a very fancy place for dinner to celebrate a special birthday girl and friend. This was a place one only goes with a gift certificate or once a year, MAYBE. The appetizers and drink order became a novella in itself, and there was a bit of pressure to remember every bite, chew and swallow of our meal to help justify the price tag. As we left the restaurant saying goodbye to a line of employees, one of whom helped put my coat back on, I saw a bowl of Andes Candies. I shrieked, grabbed a handful like a five year old on Halloween and plopped an unforgivable amount in my coat pocket. I am sure the restaurant employees were all thrilled to have me as a patron; my “oohs and ahhs” over roast duck no longer resembled a reasonable palette. Had I not just eaten a banana that had a hairdo of flames only moments prior? No matter! I plopped a candy in my mouth and let the chocolate edges slowly dissolve in my mouth; this time I would get it perfect! I would so very gently and systematically use the exact amount of pressure and saliva to melt the chocolate in order to leave the slither of mint intact. – and then, eat it!

I first met Mr. Andes Candies at Marshall Fields – in the china department to be exact.  I spent a lot of hours in Marshall Fields as a kid. My Grandma Mickey brought me with her to work with some frequency while she delicately talked a poor engaged couple or savvy housewife into buying a plate that possibly cost more than a year’s salary. Sometimes my grandpa would pick me up at the bottom of the escalator that went to the Junior, mens and dress departments and sometimes I would stay at the department store until her shift was over. What’s a girl to do once every manikin has their head turned backwards and wearing a different outfit?!! What was I supposed to do after putting pants in the skirt section and undies in the bra section?? I got BORED!! This is when and where I learned the skill of not only catapulting my body into a potential diabetic state, but also when and where I learned how to melt down and swallow the creamiest of milk chocolate every so gently so that there was only the thin sliver of mint green  left on my tongue. I was a professional! Hours and hours were spent sitting in tucked away corners finding the perfect mix of spit and cheek/tongue pressure. I won the bronze medal for best minty middle in the bedding department, the silver medal in the make-up department and the gold medal in the china department; because, that is where I had to end up at the end of my grandma’s shift or she would lose her ever loving mind and I would hear over the intercom, “Jessie Kniaz,” please report back to the china department immediately!” Ahhhh, those were the days…

I spent so much of my childhood waiting for adults; waiting for them to stop talking, stop saying goodbye (saying hello), stop eating, stop working, stop fighting, stop shopping, stop telling me to wait a minute and start paying attention. On the other hand, because so many of those adults sacrificed everything to keep me safe and happy and functioning, I needed to meet them… in the middle. 

The phrase “Old Soul” is something in which I truly believe. I do not necessarily believe it means spectacularly bright beyond years (says the girl who put boxer briefs on a manikin baby), but I do believe it means there is a knowledge somewhere deep that comes from pain, experience and/or resilience of some kind. I always knew that the adults in my life were working overtime to take care of me while they also had to navigate through their own grief and busy lives. That did not mean I stopped running off, making a mess, telling a white lie or two; I always came back, cleaned up and told the real truth (when I was ready!).

It is okay to meet our kids in the middle. We are in charge because we are adults and we know better, but our kids know more than we may think they do. So when you find your granddaughter, grandson, son, daughter, niece or nephew covered in the fall season’s full palette of rouge, lipstick and eyeshadow and balancing every vintage painter hat he or she could find on top of his or her head……find an Andes candies and a corner!

Well, Excuuuse Me For Living!

Yes, that came out of my mouth last week. It was a busy morning as every school morning usually is – three kids, husband, lunches, Where’s my coffee cup, breakfast, schedule check-in – Wait, it’s Thursday?! -, ‘Mom, I can’t find any socks !’, bathroom ‘I was here first!’ battles, two dogs really have to pee….

For those of you who know me, morning time is my jam! I am up – at em’ – most likely very annoying and have been told once or twice that I “Do too much;”  ‘Mom, I am full, please stop.’ And things of that nature…

So, I was standing in front of the fridge staring at a diminishing collection of food and strategic unorganized organization and through the flurry of shenanigans, conversation, inquiry and peanut gallery squawking from the kinder somehow I shouted, 

“Well, Excuuuse me for living!”

I froze. My husband stopped what he was doing and stared straight at me in comical fear and confusion; I channeled my bubbe as if my soul was suctioned out of my body allowing room for hers to take over in that split second.

All I needed was a housecoat with one long zipper.

Why is this story worthy? Hear me out.

My bubbe lived with me and my father for a while when my dad was trying on his single-parenting shoes and though I am sure my father appreciated that his mom helped me with my homework, brushed my hair, made me wear pink (blach!), cooked us the best tomato soup ever placed in a bowl, she was, by far, the reason there is a definition of “Jewish Mother” in the dictionary. My dad never really learned how to swim because water was dangerous and we were never NEVER dressed warm enough!

. One of the funniest memories for me now is what I call bus stop gate. The school bus picked me up at the end of my driveway every morning around 8:06 a.m. My bubbe made it her job to get me dressed and ready for that bus so my dad could do what he needed to do for his job making sure every tooth in Milwaukee was securely in its spot without deteriorating nerves and/or an inflamed gum line. This woman could have run this country – with a housecoat and a cup of hot coffee, “filled to the top.”

My bubbe’s first go at POTUBS (President of the United Bus Stop) went into the books this particular morning. The weather was questionable, but not terrible. Gorgeous, damp, temperamental fall was flirting with Wisconsin’s last try for a mediocre summer day and the clock was ticking – 7:30 a.m. I was outside standing ready and dressed for the ultimate hurricane/ snow storm/ vortex at the end of my driveway; I looked very similar to Poppin’ Fresh DoughBoy. My bubbe was standing behind me in her housecoat because she was fine, don’t worry about her, she’s not cold! We stood there for 36 minutes. I could have entered my Alpha weight and joined a wrestling team after sweating through the layers of poof!

My father burst out of the housejust as the school bus peered its yellow head around the corner,

“Mom! Jessie is dressed for winter, why are you in your nightgown AND have you been out here for over half an hour?!!”

“Well, excuuuse me for living!” My Bubbe Harrumphed up the driveway as I climbed the bus steps.

I found a seat with a nice friend who didn’t judge me for looking a bit ridiculous and I unwrapped myself. This seemed to take the entire trip to school. 

When I got home later that day bubbe was waiting for me with peanut butter cookies and hot chocolate, because it was 54 degrees outside. When my dad got home she made us both dinner and we sat together in silence.

My dad stopped eating at one point, looked at his mom and said, 

“Thanks ma.”


It makes us do and say crazy things, but why in the world would we do or say anything different?

You Can Go Home Again…

You can go home again…Even if it means driving past your old house all creepy like. 

I live in Madison which is really close to Milwaukee; however, Milwaukee could be another state or country considering how many times we go back for a visit. This past week I had an opportunity to visit my old stomping grounds in full force. My youngest was invited to a Bar Mitzvah of a really good friend from camp. Aside from the fact that camp friends are special and we had nothing going on that weekend, the Bar Mitzvah itinerary was too good, too sentimental and too close to home to be true! So like Dora without the bangs I took the map embedded within my heart and soul, my backpack –  which will always be insatiably full and somewhat of a nudnik– and drove my son and his buddy into my past.

The Bar Mitzvah Service took place in what is now a Jewish place of worship, but what used to be a restaurant where I bussed tables and hosted hungry customers for three out of my four years in high school.  After embarrassing my son with the stories I told the security guard we entered the building. Like in a sci-fi film the rewind button went haywire. I was dressed like a penguin in suspenders and a pleated, white starched button-down shirt holding a tray bigger than my whole body and praying I would not pour lipstick stained water with drenched lemons all over the tables in section one. I remembered the college age hostess with great legs who always hated her boyfriends and the hilarious sous-chefs who always gave me samples on the sly; I remember telling my dad I was working a night shift so I could go out with friends without parental supervision (very very grounded after that!) and I remember coming home at night with feet as swollen as a Scotch-Brite heavy duty kitchen sponge! I loved that place as much as I hated smelling like a moldy dish rag after a long shift. The woman greeting guests and guiding men to sit on the left and women to sit on the right was not impressed with my superfluous gushing..Time to move on.

The house in which I grew up was right next door, and though the residents of the home did not respond to my letter requesting short term access to their privacy and life I drove by anyway – very slowly. The walls of this home saw, heard, listened, comforted, hurt and protected every inch of who I am today. After lap three I stopped at the foot of the driveway and stared hard at the globe, the beacon, that was my night light for almost 18 years. I thanked the globe for keeping my head on straight and drove down the long, winding path of Lake Drive. I could drive this road with my eyes closed. I drove past the homes of my childhoodfriends one by one and let the memories of our youth flood my head. From Bayside to Shorewood the documentary of “The Ghost of Suburbia Past” was written in full force – onward I went – footsteps on the map.

I went directly to a hotel called Drury Plaza Hotel – (I mean, Come on!) where I scooped up my adorable camp friend coincidentally visiting during the same weekend and doused our eggs and coffee with tears and laughter.  I loved visiting my sister and chatting amongst the hipsters next to the gorgeous theater where I had the honor of singing “Matchmaker” 19 times in a row and decided I almost had enough of the ghosts; my head was getting dizzy. I don’t know if Dora ever jumped off her map, but I was ready to catapult myself like Mary Poppins – outta there!

The finale of the evening was dropping the kids off at the party in the club where my father was Doc, Bumi and golfer extraordinaire. We never got two steps inside before my dad was greeted with a smile and a hug or handshake. One of my last memories of my mother came from inside this place where she was all decked out in fishnet tights and a top hat singing “Magic To Do” from Pippin in a talent show. Before she began her song she stopped the band, looked into the audience and said, ”Hi Jessie” and waved. I am still giddy from that moment. So as I walked the hallways of this old building, still smelling as it did when I was young and very much in need of an electrical cultural cardioversion, I caught tears on my tongue missing everyone.

We are the map makers now.

Will our children come back to the house in which they were raised and drive creepily past with heart strings pulsing? I hope so, and then I hope they drive back home.

On My 10th Birthday I Wore Leather Pants

I did. I swear. They were red faux leather. They were my ‘Red, it’s my 10th birthday party, I am the birthday girl faux leather pants!’

On the morning of my 10th birthday I woke up on fire! (I mean I had red leather pants, of course I was on fire!) My dad was the master of ceremonies and the house felt festive; soon I would have a large gaggle of friends over for games, movies, pizza and cake. My chest was bursting! Double digits – I couldn’t wait to be ten and rock my new threads!

Soon the driveway filled up and the good times began to roll. 

There was lots of running around my house in a circle; I am sure I ran the fastest!

There was a movie in my basement; I am sure it was the best movie anyone had ever seen.

There was pizza; I am sure it was the best pizza Ferrante’s ever made ever.

Then there was cake; the sweetest, prettiest and yummiest of confection.

I made my wish and blew out the flames hovering gloriously over the numbers one and zero. Immediately thereafter I told my father I wanted the biggest piece with the “J” on it. My dad took a deep breath, looked at me and quietly said, in his I have had just about enough, voice – “Your guests will get cake first and then it is your turn.”

The abrupt lack of wind deflated my sails quite a bit, and the sweat that began to drip from my hot head ran slowly down my back and created a tiny puddle in the seat of my waterproof pants. I had a game of statue maker going on with myself as I sat in paralysis watching all my buddies shove fantastic pieces of high fructose corn syrup in their faces shrieking with glee as the vanilla ice cream only perfected the masterpiece on their plates. When it was my turn my dad slid a big piece of cake with the letter J on my plate, kissed my head and gave me a wink. He had the best wink in the world by the way, and I will always be convinced the 007 character was based off of my father. 

We parents have to tread a delicate line between building the courage and confidence we want to see in our children and what happens when we have gone too far with the endearments. We want our kids to be proud and sure of themselves, bold and brilliant, but we do not want them to poof up like a pompous peacock. 

I learned two very important things on my 10th birthday; one, never spill Hawaiian punch on your red, faux leather pants because it may take a week to get them off; two, no one likes a braggart!

Next week I am turning 45. For some reason the memory of my 10th birthday keeps popping up. Is it because I am a little freaked out to be in my mid 40’s? Is it because I will always miss that wink? It definitely has to do with both of those things, but I have decided that what I really need to do is buy some leather red pants.  

Please Step Away from the Wallpaper…

I had just re-entered my house after being away half the summer at camp. Coming home from camp felt a little like that scene with Tom Hanks after he gets rescued off that island while he waits in some sort of a conference room for his wife; he can’t eat the food because it is so foreign and offensive and as he contemplates the roast beef he stares wildly at the television as if that is also a foreign object never seen before. The only differences between this scene and my homecoming is that he is clean both in body and dress and picky in his culinary choices – I would eat an entire pantry of food in one gulp and I would wear the same jeans and t-shirt as long as I could to preserve the scent of the North Woods.  I do understand, however, Tom’s (we’re on a first name basis) shock and awe and feeling of misplacement. 

That is what I could have said – but I didn’t.

You may be reading this and think, ‘Wait, Tom Hanks was close to death, lost his wife and suffering from PTSD’ – that is true. Instead of losing my whole life and having to start over I was returning from the happiest place on Earth; this only enhances the next segment of this story – drama, drama, drama! My dad gave me three days to cry and slobber all over myself when I got home and then after 72 hours I either had to scrape myself out of gloom and doom or I was grounded. Such drama.

After this particular summer before my freshman year of high school, I came back to my house to find my room had been completely redone. My carpet was some kind of salmon hue, there were two white wicker chairs (as if I was going to be drinking mint juleps while doing my homework), my bedspread had flowers on it and my oak desk was now cream with a touch of  marblesque. Though the most monumental change, the change that cracked my brain in half, the change that caused me to lose my utter adolescent mind was the wallpaper. My rainbow wallpaper was gone and in its place was just a wall repainted in some sort of grey, blue.

I remember screaming and crying and shouting and throwing myself on my bed while bubbling, scorching tears ran out of my eyes onto my stupid bedspread. My dad walked into the doorway of my room, “What the hell is going on Jessie?!” I gathered up the strength I had left to raise my head and look at him – standing behind him was my step mother, crying as well.

I knew why she was crying – I understood right away that I hurt her feelings. She was the only human being who would ever think that I would have liked white wicker furniture and I knew she was the one who changed everything. The thing is –  that wallpaper was one of the last memories I had of my mother. I have so few – they come and they go, but this one sticks.

Come with me for a moment – it is a beautiful one. 

It was the weekend before I was going to start Kindergarten. My mom said I could pick out my own outfits and that I was a big girl and that it was time for a big girl room. She asked me if I trusted her (I remember her asking me this, I really do!) and of course I said yes. From downstairs I could hear her singing with the soundtrack of The Fantasticks. I could hear her belt out her favorite song Try To Remember  (which she knew by heart because at one time she played the lead, Luisa) so I went upstairs to listen and see what she was up to. One never knew what my mom was up to – it could have been just about anything, honestly. 

I saw her standing on a small ladder and stretching her long thin body up to the ceiling with a wallpaper roller. Her strawberry blonde, wavy hair was tied back with a red durag and I could still smell her White Shoulders perfume through the tarnish and glue. Walking into my bedroom was like walking into the inside of a rainbow. Stripes and colors swallowed and surrounded me and I remember thinking my heart might explode and make a mess of the paper – I was so happy! I loved that paper, I loved her wavy hair in a durag and I loved the sound of her voice – smokey and sweet. 

Back to the drama.

I lived and floated in between guilt and anger for a long time after that. Did I need to carry on as if I was a cast member of My So Called Life?  I never knew how to explain what I really felt and my step mom just didn’t talk to me for a while. We finally trudged our way past wallpaper gate and moved on to high school gate, into college gate and eventually divorce gate. 

Now that I am a mother, take care of mothers and teach mothers I think about The Stepparent and his or her role a lot. If we think being a biological parent is difficult,  imagine what it would be like to parent a child who thinks their step parent had something to do with global warming or algebra or even the reason why her father is wearing weird sweaters all of a sudden – all of it is complicated.

My mother asked me if I trusted her. She needed to know that first before she changed what I already knew to be normal and comforting. No matter who we are, birth mom, the “Cool Stepmom,” Cruella De Vil, etc. children need to trust you before you change their wallpaper; they just do,  so ask them first!!

Worthy or Not Worthy, That is the Question…

Oh Elaine – always up to something; causing a raucous, the catalyst for conflict and catastrophe; such shenanigans! 

My dad introduced me to comedy. He loved Lenny Bruce, Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Gilda Radner, everything SNL and then some! One night when I was in high school, my dad yelled,

 “Jess, get down here, you have to watch this right now!” 

That was the beginning of our love affair with Seinfeld, Larry David and the whole gang! Some of my favorite memories were of us eating very stale black licorice drops and laughing our heads straight off! He especially loved Elaine’s character and always said she was, “Such a nudnik.”  My dad thought everything was funny or absolutely not funny – there was no grey area in the funny department with him. There were a few things I remember that he did not find funny at all.

 I was kicked out of a Montessori preschool.

The classroom was on ground level and I guess I decided I was going to leave through the window. Though there was no real threat of imminent physical danger because there were soft lilies and organic parsley close by to catch my fall,  after my third attempt to escape my father was called in and we were asked to leave and given clear guidelines that I wasn’t allowed back. My dad was not laughing.

In kindergarten I threw a fork from a doll house at a peer of mine that barely missed his cornea, leaving a slight scar on his right temple. My parents had to leave work to get me and my dad was not laughing.

In first grade I got caught stealing Twinkies out of a girl’s lunch and once again my father had to leave his dental practice to scoop up his daughter. NOT laughing. 

Years later when I was visiting him in Florida my dad was watching me chase my youngest child while he continuously tried to catch a very perturbed Great Egret.  Once I finally grabbed a handful of shorts and body parts I turned to see AND hear my father laughing so hard he could barely breathe. Tears were streaming down his face; he was hunched over in his favorite leather chair holding his gut and cackling like a hyena. 

“I wish I could have taken a picture of that! You better watch out with that one – he may decide to climb out of a window some day.” He winked and then scooped up his grandson.

Just recently I was sitting on the couch enjoying one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, The Sponge. After all this time and so many reruns I still love watching Elaine hem and haw and drive herself crazy over whether or not her boyfriend of choice is sponge worthy; it always cracks me up!During the commercials I scrolled through all the pictures I took from the first day of school on my phone and started to think about my dad and about what it is that makes something really funny and about all the reasons why we, as parents, choose to post some pictures and not others. Why do we click and post for one smile and not the other? There are so many moments worthy of pausing time, even for just a second. 

 The pictures I took of my kids did not even closely resemble all of the personality and perseverance it took to get those three lined up on our front porch before the bells rang. I looked deeply into the photo, into my children’s eyes, and realized the hour before that picture was taken was the true gift – or punishment – depends on your perspective! The sweat, the grit, the angst, the nerves and frustration that child number three put only Hershey kisses in his lunch or the madness of our new puppy potentially destroying the only copy I had of a receipt needed to retain a chrome book – those are the moments worthy of our attention and memories because we would not get through the whole alphabet without starting at letter A. 

When I was four years old my dad probably thought his future parenting goals were going to be paying my bail or retracting me out of a juvenile detention center and when I was thirty-four he thought my Montessori getaway was the funniest thing in the world.

It’s hard not to panic when our kids struggle and face fears. Watching our children make mistakes and pay the price is one of the hardest jobs a parent has to do; but, Maybe what makes something so funny and all around WORTH IT are all those things that happen between ‘I love you’ and ‘You’re grounded!’

Captain Marvel and the 4th Grade Bully


     The bully. Parenting and the bully. This can be a doozy for all of us; the forever continuing conflict over time; the thorn in our parenting side; the papercut of all childhood papercuts; the Oscar the Grouch on our very own streets – the bully.

     I will never forget my first bully. Oh sweet nostalgia.

     One sunny fall morning of my 4th grade year I woke up and greeted the day like I was the lead in a Sunny D commercial. Arms outstretched with an I had a great night sleep yawn I was ready to tackle the day and see the man I believed to be the very best teacher ever! He was so nice, so old, so funny and so forgiving; his smile made me feel as if I curled up into a warm cherry pie and school was good again. I remember bouncing out of bed, picking out my terrible neon outfit,  skipping a Lou downstairs for breakfast and watching The Great Space Coaster. I had a note from my dad to get on the yellow bus after school with my best friend and Doritos in my lunch -This day was going to win the award for the best day in our planet’s history!

     Unbeknownst to me there was a disturbance in the force – I know this is not a reference from Marvel but it works! I have done my research and have a son who is a professional Marvel and DC master; I will let you decide if I wrap this up with Comicon perfection! Now back to the disturbance. 

     After I squished my backpack in the narrow locker and nervously waved a hidden pinky finger at my crush (nailed it!) I walked into the classroom towards my desk. I smiled at my buddies who all sat in a row next to me and as quickly as a lightbulb burns out every familiar  face looked down at their desk and pretended not to see me. The blood in my body went straight to my feet and so I was paralyzed. I was confused. I said hi one more time and still the silence seemed to get louder and louder as if I had a thunderstorm in my brain. I began to turn so red and my skin felt so hot I assumed what people saw was a 9 year old going up in flames and not the proud 80’s vision of Punky Brewster I thought I brought into room 22. I then looked hard at my best friend until she looked back up at me; she moved her eyeballs to the right and mouthed the words ‘She made us do it. I’m sorry.’ I understood. We all understood. I sat down in my seat completely defeated.

     I tore up the bus note and rode my own bus back home. I stayed in my room until my dad got home and then sobbed the Pacific all down his crisp work shirt.

     “ACH! Pay no attention to her Jessie; she is not worth your time and that’s not a true friend.”

     He could have told me the sky was blue and the grass was green and still the logic and truth was as blurred as my vision through the salty ocean in my eyeballs.

     The next day I woke up, stubbed my toe, forgot to snap buttons on my shirt and didn’t brush my hair. I told my dad I had a fever of 300 degrees and therefore could not attend school and probably needed to stay home for the rest of my life.

     My dad got on his knees, put his hand under my chin and lifted my face upwards as if we were in a Hallmark movie, and repeated, “Pay no attention to her Jessie; She is not worth your time and that’s not a true friend.”

      When I got to school my best friend grabbed my hand and said, “She’s stupid” and we walked into class together.

     That day I found my Captain Marvel; justice was served. In every DC and Marvel movie the bad guy never really goes away; hence, the continuous success of the multi billion dollar franchise of the SuperHero Movie. Nonetheless, there will always be a Yon-Rogg; there will always be a bully. As a parent we need to teach resilience through what will be unavoidable. I wish we could all put the Incredible Shrinking Captain Marvel in our children’s pockets, but we can’t. What we can do is help them find their own Captain Marvel, in whatever shape or form that may be, and continue to tell our kids that good will always win over evil. That is the reason the bad guy always falls off a cliff or disintegrates into thin air at the end  – he/she is never worth our time.

Captain marvel drawing pic

My First Summer at Camp and the New Yorker

Oh summer camp. The reason parents take a long time researching the perfect summer experience for their child’s emotional and social psyche; the time when parents download the website’s packing list and pack extra of everything and something “special” just to be safe and just because  “you never know;” the time between school’s end and flitting freedom when parents disregard the package rules of the camp and send loads of crap to make sure their child knows they are loved –

Wait, I apologize, please let me jump out of the time machine in which I travel.

I remember minding my own business all of 5th grade. Shortly before the school year ended my dad sat me down, looked me straight in the eye and said , “Jessie, you are going to overnight camp with Heather. Her mother says it will be good for you and you will have a nice Jewish experience. It is three weeks long, okay?”

Arguing with my father was like trying to argue a summer storm away; it was impossible – just let it come, get wet, dry off later!

The two of us shlumped on the bus at the Milwaukee Jewish Community Center on Santa Monica BLVD with our Subway subs, water bottles and waved in shock and awe as the tinted glass made our parent’s faces more and more blurry and distorted until they finally disappeared.

I will wrap this up with some swift fury –

The two of us carried on, kvetched and were homesick for a few days. I sent letters home describing utter culinary horror and loneliness and a message of impending death. What I also remember about my first summer at camp was the impeccable simplicity; I was happier than I had been in a long time. I remember laughing so hard I peed in my bunk bed; I remember playing cards until the sun came up; I remember feeling free and proud of myself; I remember coming home with friends who I now call my family – literally and figuratively. My dad didn’t know what I looked like or how many bug bites I had on my body and I did not know if he was happy or sad or dating anyone new. What I did know was two things: one, camp was good for me – it was really that simple; two, my dad loved me crazy. He let me know this through the inside of a 4-⅛” x 9-½” envelope. Twice a week I opened a crisp white rectangle filled with articles from the New Yorker Magazine. He would cut out an article, write something on top like, “Jessie, John Updike is a great author. I like reading his stories and someday you will too. Give this a try. Love, dad.” Who??! I was 10. Dad –  I was 10!!

We all love our children crazy and we all need to love them the best way we know how.  Love is individual; love is unique; love is primal. It is not our place to judge how others love; but, what I do know is – summer camp is good!

Fly little bird, little Chavelah, find yourself… New Yorker 1985

A Cigar and the Chain of Lakes

Traipsing around with my dad was like being with a rock star.  I felt like a groupie with a one man band. My father was like 007 without the eclectic weapons and the skill to destroy; he was charm and class, smooth as silk and handsome and kind without the overflow of words – calm and crisp as a cucumber.

When we walked into school events, a bookstore, a grocery store and especially restaurants, whether they would be the culinary favorites of the North Shore Jews or the seedier, downtown Milwaukee, mom and pop joints, we were always greeted with,

“Hey Doc!”


“It’s Dr. Kniaz! How ya’ doin?!”

Every hello was infused with sincere, genuine enthusiasm, joy and a handshake; my father always mirrored back a paralleled excitement – people loved bumping into my dad.

With my hand curled into this, I had the VIP pass to all events.

Of course now I understand the VIP pass was, well, not necessarily a voluntary choice on my dad’s part; he had to take me with him most of the time or risk every bottle of liquid in the house being part of an experiment to see whether or not dish soap and toothpaste would create an explosion or even worse he would find me on the roof trying to connect with some alien presence I swore I saw on the cusp of the earth’s atmosphere and space; I was a handful. I know this because, as examples, when a detective is trying to solve a mystery or an attorney is trying to solve a case and ALL stories line up from all the witnesses that is usually a good sign that the truth is laid out as sharp as a lightning bolt in a storm; guilty – our friends and relatives will attest – handful.

One of the things we loved doing together was spending time in Eagle River, Wisconsin in the late summer. My dad loved fishing, peace and quiet, his cocktails, prime rib, a good cigar and The Chain of Lakes.

You may be wondering – how did he get that peace and quiet part if I came along? I always was allowed to bring a friend. We would spend hours on a pontoon boat during the day squirting worm goo onto the boat rails watching glittery fish line glimmer in the sunlight as the bobber played hide and seek. We would usually dock the boat at a supper club when it got dark and climb our way up a hill to plates of veggies and cheese dip, jello and and an Old Fashioned – my friend and I had Shirley Temples – someone had to drive the boat home!

After one of these long days and nights it was time to park the pontoon at our cabin site. The routine was that my buddy and I would jump off the boat before we securely hooked line to dock. We would be my dad’s eyes and ears in the darkness as he went in reverse, straightened out and slid perfectly in place.

On one particular evening before the sun was completely set we went about this routine like well versed pirates without the scurvy or the thievery. The boat seemed to be sidled perfectly next to the dock. My father was still gathering his things as we were making our way back to the cabin when I heard muffled words coming from behind that sounded very much like profanity. We turned around to find my father with one leg on the dock, one leg on the boat and the space between his legs growing larger and larger as the ropes began to unwind at a very unfortunate pace. I looked at my dad with eyes as big as the moon rising and above the cigar burning ever so spicy and smokey in his mouth his eyes looked about as big as mine.


What I saw next is the reason for this story, this memory; may dad’s whole body, fully clothed,  went under the chilly Northwoods waters except for his right hand and a half smoked Avo. This moment took seconds though it felt like years and years until I saw his head pop up.

He looked at me, looked up at his cigar and gleamed,

“Ah Ha! I saved it!”

What is silk, class and charm without the ability to laugh at oneself?

I learned so much about life that night. This man who never seemed to ever make a mistake, or ever get messy or ever get wet for that matter – taught me how to have a sense of humor.

Happy Birthday Daddy! I miss you.

May 4thBumi

Wishbone on the Windowsill

The Jewish holiday of Passover has just ended. With the conclusion of this holiday also comes the disposal of every matzo, cake meal, farfel infused item in the house, a prune smoothie down the hatch and bagels lined like soldiers back in the fridge. As I was cleaning the counters and organizing the kitchen my eyes fell upon the wishbone I placed on the windowsill above the sink. I found this sucker after hours of simmering my chicken broth; floating directly to the top of the pot I rescued it, washed it and set it out to dry. A week later it was perfect for a wish and ready for snapping.

“Why do you always put the wishbone on the windowsill?” Child number three was questioning.

That’s just where it goes I guess, and then I remembered.

Along with the avocado pits balancing on the edge of a glass of water with the help of three toothpicks as its purposeful prop, every now and then a dried wishbone would show up by its side. As a child I remember both of these objects randomly popping up on our windowsill.The best part was the wishing. My mom, in her soft pink robe and freshly washed strawberry blonde hair, would tell me it was time to make a wish; then, with her creamy hands and lovely nails directly opposite of my tattered and chewed up cuticles we would close our eyes, count to three and SNAP! I always got the longer piece and if I didn’t my mom always told me I could have her wish.

Memories are sneaky, suppressed little devils, or angels, that like to follow you around constantly like a shadow in the darkness. I have been putting wishbones on the windowsill for years and years and before my son asked me why I do this my motivation for doing so was being navigated like a veteran captain at the helm in a well known sea.

My father took me to see the musical CATS when I was about fifteen. After Grizabella sang her hit song, Memory, I remember a flood of slithery, gorgeous actresses meowing and purring up and down the aisles. One of them stopped next to my father and licked his face with her real live tongue!! She purred her way onto another audience member and my dad and I just laughed hysterically staring at each other with shock, amusement and maybe a little embarrassment. I was a teenager for goodness sakes, she licked my dad!

Memories. Like Grizabella how can we want so desperately to search for and remember what was, while at the same time be at peace with our present and desire for new, plentiful beginnings?

Snap a wishbone.

You can be in all three places at onceWishbone Windowsill