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For the record: a roll of tape is a crappy Hanukkah present, on the first night or the last.
For the record: a roll of tape is a crappy Hanukkah present, on the first night or the last.

Hanukkah gift giving generates confusion

Velia Tarnoff -- wife of publisher Andy Tarnoff and a friend of mine -- recently posted a link on her Facebook page to a list of "Eight Questions Gentiles Love Asking About Hanukkah."

One of the questions on the list asks, "Do you really get a present every night, and if you do, is it just like socks?"

I am no expert in the Hebrew Arts, but because my father was Jewish -- making me what Andy Tarnoff and I refer to as Jew-ish -- I am still often the go-to girl for anything related to non-Christian holidays, the teachings of The Torah and even once, the spelling of the word "yarmulke."

That said, I particularly appreciated this list because an acquaintance -- in a bar, no less -- asked me about the rules of gift giving during Hanukkah. Before I could really answer, she proceeded to tell me that she had heard that Jews give small gifts on the first night "like a roll of tape" and a bigger and bigger gift every night, until the eighth and final night, when they get "something like a Wii."

Um, sure? This is possible -- well, except the roll of tape part, that’s a lame present for any of the December holidays -- but the truth is, not surprisingly, that every family has its own rules, usually not hard and fast, about giving presents at Hanukkah.

I particularly liked Velia’s comment, after I told her, via a Facebook  post, about my friend who thought the gifts had to gradually increase in value.

"Personally, I think (Hanukkah) gift-giving should have a certain rhythm. Start off big. Bring it down. Maybe spike in the middle. Bring it home on the last night. Kinda like a DJ," she wrote.

And it's the last night of Hanukkah, Milwaukee. Light 'em if you got 'em.

My dad at Leon's custard, summer of 2009.
My dad at Leon's custard, summer of 2009.

Dad loved Milwaukee

When I was about 8 or 9, my dad -- a professor of American history who passed away last week -- played for me a 1937 recording of reporter Herbert Morrison’s response to the Hindenburg zeppelin bursting into flames. Morrison’s description of flaming bodies and debris falling from the sky was gruesome and his response was highly emotional. I will never forget hearing this recording, although, as an adult and a parent, I often found it humorous that my dad thought this was an important -- and an appropriate -- sound recording to share with a kid. But really, I am so glad that he did.

My dad loved this recording because it was a dramatic piece of American history, but also because it was a moment of raw emotion and truth. For my dad -- a guy that was named "Most Sincere" by his high school class -- this kind of very-human reporting really meant something. And it did, later in life, for me, too.

Sincerity in writing is something I hold near and dear to my heart, but that’s not the only passion I inherited from my dad. I also got his deep love for Milwaukee.

My dad was born in Louisville, Ky., but he moved to Milwaukee in 1968 to attend graduate school at UWM. Within a few months, he declared Milwaukee his favorite city in the country and for the next 40-some years spent all of his free time attending local events and destinations like Summerfest (he went every year from the year it started in 1968), the Holiday Folk Fair and concerts of all kinds. He made frequent trips to libraries and museums -- often by bus -- and was a season ticket holder for the Milwaukee Brewers.

My dad told me that when I was born, he was extremely proud to have a child that was born in Milwaukee. During my entire childhood, he reinforced his Brew City adoration by reminding me of our strong public school system, reliable public transportation system, proximity to the greatest of the Great Lakes, the city's Socialist roots and the beauty of never-ending outdoor summertime activity. (Sa…

Looks like I'll have to fry my own rice on Thursday.
Looks like I'll have to fry my own rice on Thursday.

No Turkey Day moo shu for me

My Jewish friends, including my co-worker and chum Andy Tarnoff, tipped me off to the fact that Jews often eat in Chinese restaurants on Christmas Day. I decided this sounded like a good plan for Thanksgiving Day, since I already decided I was not going to have a traditional white-meat-and-pumpkin-pie experience this year.

I sat down on Saturday afternoon and called four local Chinese restaurants: Yen Ching, East Garden, Emperor of China and House of Fong. None of them is going to be open on Thanksgiving.

This morning during our editorial meeting, my coworker and friend, Tim Cuprisin, suggested William Ho’s in Shorewood, but I gave ‘em a jingle and Ho’s, too, will be closed in recognition of the folks in funny shoes who docked on the big rock.

Anyone know of a Chinese restaurant that’s open on Thursday? Hell, at this point I’ll go for just about any Asian restaurant in the Metro Milwaukee area. Although I really do want to spend my meal of thanks with greasy egg rolls. And messy moo shu. And that bland, crack-able cookie with a fortune inside reading, "A tryptophan-induced nap is not in your future."

Lil' ol' me on a big ol' stage.
Lil' ol' me on a big ol' stage.

Humans are often meaner than animated cows

Last Thursday, I had the honor of reading in a performance showcase called Verbatim. Milwaukee club owner, novelist and spoken word artist Dasha Kelly organized the event. It took place in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s intimate Stackner Cabaret and was really successful on many levels.

I was intrigued with the invitation because, these days, I rarely share my writing outside of my articles and blogs. And there’s a lot of it. I keep a personal blog and write a lot of poetry, letters and creative non-fiction.

It was interesting -- and a little unnerving -- to share my "private" writings. In the end, I really enjoyed the experience and I received very sincere, positive feedback. Hence (God, I love the word "hence"), I thought I would take it a step further and share the piece I read for Verbatim here, too. Have at it.

Humans are often meaner than animated cows

In 2002, I adopted a baby boy from Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Unfortunately, the reality of international adoption boils down to money and whether or not one can cough it up. It cost $28,000 to adopt my son -- almost all of the money went to lawyers -- and the only reason I could afford this was because I accidentally made a couple of lucrative real estate investments in the late '90s.

I start off by saying this because I want to share what it is like to be a white mother with a brown son, but I want to make it clear that by no means am I suggesting it is a hardship. It is, indeed, a privilege.

And yet, my experiences -- I am not sure what else I might also call them -- are undeniable. They are perplexing, infuriating, heartwarming, comical. And so I write about them; here are six vignettes:


We are at a family reunion in a small town in northern Wisconsin. I am straddling on my hip my 13-month-old-son and have my newborn son strapped to my front. I am standing in the garage, drinking a beer (no judgments, por favor) and a distant family member saunters over to me.

"You got q…