There’s not many morning TV shows in America where you can get your traffic report and learn the proper pronunciation of the Polish word pączki. That’s because there’s not many on-air Polish traffic reporters like Jenny Milkowski.
Jenny brings a uniquely Polish personality to the weekday morning show at FOX-TV Chicago, “Good Day Chicago.” Aside from sprinkling informational tidbits about Poland in between her traffic reports, she serves as an on-air Polish guru. That’s right. Whenever anyone at the station is covering anything involving Polish culture, you can probably bet that Jenny will be involved. Her Polish pride shines through the TV camera lens, making her among the most passionate and visible proponents of Polish culture in the Chicago metropolitan area.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jenny to discover more about her Polish background. Here’s the full interview:
What is your connection to Poland?
“I was born in Chicago, but my parents where born in Poland. My mom came to Chicago in the seventies when she was 20 years old. She had just finished nursing school in Poland and came for a touring visit. Her mom, my grandma, was already in the states and convinced her to stay. My mom eventually met my dad while shopping at his father’s store, and they started dating shortly after and got married. Both of my parents are from the Tarnow area. My mom is from Miechowice, and my dad is from Wietrzychowice. My dad came here on a boat with his mom and some of his brothers when he was just seven years old!”
Did you grow up more Polish or American?
“I was born on the northwest side of Chicago, which is a heavily Polish neighborhood. My younger sister and I grew up in a very Polish household and didn’t speak English until we went to school, and even in preschool I didn’t know English that well.
When you’re a kid, you learn languages quickly, but I was very shy…so that didn’t help! So because I was shy and didn’t know how to ask my teacher if I could go to the bathroom, I would pee myself! Almost every day my mom had to bring me a new pair of pants to change into, but by first grade I was fluent in English so it wasn’t a problem anymore. In addition to going to “regular” school Monday through Friday, we also went to Polish school on Saturday mornings!”
How can people tell you are Polish?
“Being Polish has always been a huge part of who I am! Not only did I grow up with parents who came straight from Poland, but I knew the language. People can tell I’m Polish because I’m always sure to tell them, haha! I am proud of where I came from and my culture. Growing up and living in Chicago and being Polish is great because there is such a huge Polish community that makes you feel welcome!”
“I LOVE talking about the Polish culture and my Polish upbringing on TV! I think sometimes anchors on television can be a little stiff and don’t show the audience where they truly come from. I believe that I should be myself–which is Polish and quirky! I want all the Polish men and women and children who watch at home to say ‘wow, that’s really cool! She’s like me, and she’s on TV, and she is proud of who she is!’ My coworkers enjoy my stories, and they love to learn about how it was growing up Polish.”
Ok, most important question: What is your favorite Polish food?
“That’s a tough question! There is SO much good food! and get this, my family owns a Polish store! It’s called Bristol Deli on 5205 West Belmont in Chicago. We have an amazing chef that cooks delicious Polish salads and dinners! We call it Meals By Babcia! We also have tons of wonderful Polish candies and desserts. I think my favorite has to be pasztet, kielbasa and zurek!”
What’s the best part about your job in television?
“My favorite part of my job is being able to connect with Chicagoans and Polish Chicagoans and Polish people from all over the world! I am on Facebook almost all the time. Please see my videos and talk to me at Jenny Milkowski TV!”
Here’s some more videos/photos from Jenny:
One of the things my friends always ask me is why I’m so crazy about Poland when I wasn’t even born in that country. Some of them just don’t see why Poland matters. “What contributions has Poland made to the world?” they ask.
The answer is more than they think. I have compiled the following list to BEGIN demonstrating what Poland has to offer. There is no particular order to this list (So, no, I’m not saying that pączki are better than Saint Pope John Paul II).
Pączki are one of those foods that have transcended cultural borders to become a staple of universal cuisine. Whether you’re American, German, Australian or Dutch, chances are you’ve sunk your teeth into those fluffy balls of fruit-filled delight. Just remember that you have Poland to thank.
Do you take Vitamin C when you feel like you’re getting sick? Perhaps you take a daily multivitamin to supplement your health. You can thank a Pole, Casimir Funk, for discovering the concept and existence of vitamins in 1912. Although, I’m not sure if that’s the reason some vitamins have such a funky taste.
The earth revolves around the sun. Duhhhh. But we wouldn’t have known that if it weren’t for Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who proved this phenomenon in the 16th century. For centuries prior to this, the accepted theory was that the earth was the center of the universe and the sun revolved around it. Not only did Copernicus discover the opposite (heliocentricity), but this discovery helped spur the Scientific Revolution.
4. Saving Europe…TWICE:
In its history, Poland fought back two invasion forces that had the potential to completely change the social and political fabric of the European continent. The first was in 1683 when King John III Sobieski repulsed a massive Ottoman invasion at the gates of Vienna. The second occured in 1920 when Poland miraculously defeated a Soviet onslaught into the west during the Battle of Warsaw.
Next time you’re getting your tooth X-rayed at the dentist’s office, remember Marie Skłodowska Curie, a Polish female scientist who helped develop X-ray technology and was the first woman ever to win the Nobel Prize. She also discovered a new element and named it Polonium, after her home country.
6. Big, Beautiful Castles:
OK, OK, many countries have castles. But Poland has the largest castle on the planet at Malbork. Built by the Teutonic Knights in the 14th century and later captured by the Poles, the massive fortification stretches for 52 acres. Still, I must note that there is some friendly competition between Malbork Castle in Poland and Prague Castle in the Czech Republic, which many sources also claim to be the largest castle in the world.
7. Polish Women:
In my experience, Polish women are intelligent, resourceful, tough, moral and beautiful. Sure, you find these qualities, and lack thereof, in all nations, but I will always have a special place in my heart for women of Polish descent. Maybe it’s just the ones I’ve known, but I doubt it.
8. Polish Chocolates:
Forget Butterfingers and Hershey Bars. Poland offers a celestial collection of delectable confections that will leave you addicted and begging for more. From Wawel, to E. Wedel, to Prince Polo, you can’t go wrong with any Polish chocolate.
9. Kiełbasa Sausage:
I just know I’m going to get comments asking me “Why didn’t you make Kiełbasa number one, two and three on this list, Crazy Polish Guy?” Well this list has no particular order, so maybe this is number one. Honestly, though, how could I make any list of fantastic Polish things without including kiełbasa? For some people, Poland’s whole purpose is kiełbasa.
10. Polish Grandmothers:
They’re kind, loving and willing to force-feed you in ways that would make any CIA interrogator cringe. Everyone loves their grandma, whether she’s Polish or not, but we people of Polish descent have a certain image that comes to mind when we think of our Polish grandmothers; God bless them. Check out how to tell if your grandma is Polish.
Żywiec, Tyskie, Krupnik, VODKA. What would the world do without them? And they’re all Polish (Yes, Russia, we’re claiming the Vodka). What would you do without Poland? Give thanks, my friends! Give thanks!
12. The Lato Font:
Lato, that font style that everyone is using these days on new business presentations and school projects, is a Polish invention. The typeface, which is the Polish word for summer, was developed in 2010 by Warsaw designer Łukasz Dziedzic.
13. Legendary Classical Music:
You may recall the famous funeral march song that they always used to play in cartoons. That happens to be one of the most widely recognized musical pieces by Polish composer Frédéric Chopin. Not only is he the most famous Polish musician of all time, but he is right up there in the same league as Ludwig van Beethoven and Peter Tchaikovsky when it comes to legendary composers.
14. Saint Pope John Paul II:
One of the most cherished figures in Poland, Saint Pope John Paul II, born Karol Wojtyła, is beloved and respected worldwide for having lead an exemplary life of piety and forgiveness, while simultaneously helping rip apart the fabric of communism in Eastern Europe. Among his most saintly acts was visiting the person who tried to assassinate him and offering him forgiveness. All across the world people revere his name, and Poland gave him to us.
15. Polish People
The world’s estimated Polish population is 60 million. Those 60 million people can be found anywhere from Albania to Zambia, and if you count the people who are part Polish and part some other nationality (which I do), the number is likely far higher. Poles and people of Polish descent make important contributions to all aspects of global society, from politics, to coal mining and from sports to scientific research and development. I can assure you that this 0.8% of the world’s population packs a powerful punch.
On the northwest side of Chicago, near Milwaukee Avenue and what locals often call the “Polish Triangle” for its strong Polish roots, stands a gorgeous baroque church, known for its traditional liturgies and sacred atmosphere.
Resting amidst the ornately decorated High Altar is a painting of an old man, adorned in scholarly black robes, handing a kneeling girl a jug. In the background, bystanders observe the man and girl, seemingly with awe and wonder, and behind them two princely church steeples overlook the entire scene. Those who have visited Krakow will immediately identify those steeples as belonging to Saint Mary’s Basilica.
Why does this very Polish painting hang above the altar of a Chicago church? Even the name of the church—Saint John Cantius—doesn’t sound particularly Polish. When one learns that it was founded in 1893 by Polish immigrants, however, and that the name John Cantius translates to “Jan Kanty,” the connection becomes clear.
But who was Jan Kanty, why was he so revered, and what’s going on in the altar painting? In the spirit of All Saints’ Day, let’s learn a bit about this Polish Saint.
His Life and Works
Born to a wealthy family in the small Polish town of Kęty, near Auschwitz, in 1390, Kanty was christened after Saint John the Baptist. Little is known of his childhood. Indeed, he first appears in the historical record as a student in Krakow’s famed Jagiellonian University in 1413, where he studied philosophy before entering the priesthood.
After ordination, he spent eight years as rector of a clerical school in Miechów. During this period in history, priests and monks dedicated much time to quiet study, and, most of all, copying manuscripts. In this age before the printing press, the only way to replicate anything, was to manually write it out. Kanty spent many hours of his life copying down Holy Scripture and other theological writings. Today, 18,000 hand-written pages survive, and that’s only believed to be a small fraction of his life’s work.
In 1429, he got a job in the Philosophy Department at Jagiellonian University and worked on earning his doctorate. Soon after, he became director of the school’s Theology Department.
Kanty’s intellectualism was matched only by his piety and dedication to his parishioners and fellow priests. He developed a reputation as a great listener and mentor, and as one who “lived the Gospel.” He rejected material desires, living in a small room and fasting often. In one story, he was hosting a dinner when a beggar entered the room. Kanty rose from his seat shouting “Christ is coming!” and offered his seat to the guest. As a priest, among his holy passions was cultivating the Sacrament of the Eucharist and encouraging the faithful to adore and partake in it.
The Miracle of the Jug
One of the most famous stories surrounding Kanty is the supposed “Miracle of the Jug,” depicted in the painting hanging above the altar in Chicago’s Saint John Cantius Church.
In June of 1464, an elderly Kanty was walking through the market square in Krakow when he observed a weeping girl with a broken jar. It was a servant girl who had been carrying a jug of milk for her stern mistress when she had dropped and broken it. She was crying for fear of punishment. Moved with compassion, Kanty took the broken jar from the girl’s trembling hands and prayed upon it. Miraculously, when he fitted the pieces together, they remained whole and the jug was fixed! He then told the girl to fill the jug with water from a nearby spring. When she did so, Kanty again took the jug and prayed upon it. When he returned it to the girl, the water inside had turned to milk.
Other miraculous tales surround Kanty. In one, as he was walking the streets of Krakow on a cold winter’s night, he saw a beggar freezing on the roadside. Without thinking, Kanty threw his robe over the shivering man. Later, when he arrived home, he found the same robe back in his room. Had the beggar been Christ in disguise?
Kanty died on Christmas Eve in 1473 and was interred in Jagiellonian University’s Collegiate Church of Saint Anne. In 1767, he was canonized a Saint by Pope Clement XIII. Today, he remains a very popular Polish Saint, in the same league as Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Saint Pope John Paul II. His feast day is typically celebrated on October 20.
We’ve all heard of vampires and werewolves. BORING! Few people realize that Polish and Slavic mythology has its own collection of horrific creatures straight out of your worst nightmares. If you dare, keep reading to discover why you should probably avoid walking deep in the Polish woods alone.
You’re taking a peaceful autumn stroll in the woods. As you approach a calm little creek, you observe a beautiful woman playing with her hair. Turn around. NOW! It could be a Rusałka, the ghost of an unmarried girl who drowned. Rusałki have long light-brown, red, or green hair and often wear white dresses with flowers on them. Although extremely pale, they are very beautiful and completely irresistable to men. If a man happens across one, she will seduce and try to drown him. Learn more about the Rusałka
When it comes to Polish monsters, you’re not even safe during the day. Meet the Południca, also known as the Noon Witch. She appears amidst whirling dust clouds during the hottest part of the day, carrying a scythe. Oftentimes, she will ask people very difficult questions or quiz them. It’s a high stakes game because if they answer incorrectly, the Południca gives them a haircut down to the neck. In centuries past, peasants used to blame the Południca for heatstroke.
Although not the meanest monster on this list, you would still be well advised not to cross paths with a Leshy. It’s a giant woodland spirit who can shapeshift into anything. Oftentimes, Leshy leave people alone, although they are known to lead travelers astray and sometimes abduct children. Some people believe they are evil, while others just think they are moody. I wouldn’t take the chance to find out.
If you are ever stuck wandering the woods at night, be wary of this vampire-like creature that can transform into an owl to appear unnoticed. When one does meet a Strzyga in its true form, it may be too late, as the undead being sucks the blood of humans and sometimes even devours their insides. Strzyga are born human, but die prematurely and return to haunt the living. Polish peasants once believed that if a child was born with teeth, it would become a Strzyga.
Common throughout Poland and other Slavic countries is the tale of Baba Yaga, an old witch who lives in the forest, waiting for someone to get lost and stumble upon her hut, which sits on chicken legs and is surrounded by a fence composed of human bones. The keyhole on her door is filled with sharp teeth. When she catches you, she will kill and eat you, adding your bones to her fence. Her favorite meal? Small children.
Wila are nymphs who inhabit the winds. They are the spirits of women who acted loosely or frivolously during their lifetimes. Now they are forced to haunt the night, leading young men astray with their seductive charm. If the wind is heavy, it means the Wila are dancing; if it’s loud, they are singing. So watch out, because those thin wispy clouds under the full moon on a chilly autumn night may actually be the vague outlines of the Wila.
Beware of the Nocnica, or night hag, who is probably the most frightening monster on this list. Composed of shadow, the Nocnica is an evil spirit who visits people during sleep to draw their life force. Those who sleep on their back are especially vulnerable, as she will sit on their chest while slowly sucking their life out over the course of many nights. Her favorite victims are defenseless infants. In fact, she is to blame for babies having trouble sleeping at night. Their cries are due to the night hag tormenting them….
Czernobog is the king of all Polish and Slavic monsters. His name literally translates to “black god,” and in Slavic mythology, he was the accursed brother of Bielobog, the “white god.” The source of all evil in the world, Czernobog regularly enjoys stealing and devouring souls. He is also responsible for the most creepy Disney cartoon ever made called “Night on Bald Mountain.” Don’t be too afraid, though, as he hides like a wimp from the sunlight.
My last trip to Poland was slightly more than one year ago, and sometimes I find myself reminiscing and missing my time there. Today, as I walked into a large Polish store in the Chicagoland area, I was struck with “the feels” for Poland. It was a full force collision with the nostalgia train, or, shall I say, the nostalgia pociąg.
In any event, I thought I would share short phrases of things I think about when I miss Poland. I hope that some of you identify with a few of these thoughts as well. Although many are very specific to me, others are more universal. Even if you’ve never visited Poland, perhaps they will trigger memories of your busha growing up or of those delicious pierogi your mom used to make.
Here are 50 things I miss about Poland (no particular order)
…my grandma looking out the second story window as I play in the backyard.
…Polish Nesquick cereal in the yellow bag
…the small kiosks on the street corners
…walking, instead of driving, to the town center
…encountering random stray animals
…a kotlet dinner
…having a different soup for “pierwsze danie” every day
…grandma listening to Msza Święta on the radio
…medieval churches and cathedrals
…picking cherries in my grandma’s yard
…picking raspberries in my grandma’s yard
…picking red currant berries in my grandma’s yard
…picking gooseberries in my grandma’s yard
…picking plums in my grandma’s yard
…shelling peas with my grandma
…walking in to visit neighbors or relatives at a moment’s notice
…neighbors or relatives visiting me at a moment’s notice
…taking the bus to town
…grandma bringing me a large, delicious loaf of bread, freshly baked, before a long trip
…helping my grandma walk to the kiosk down the street
…deciding whether to watch TVP 1, TVP 2 or Polsat
…feeding chickens on my relatives’ farm
…having a goat try to eat my clothes
…walking all day
…riding in my uncle’s Fiat
…buying fresh vegetables from an old lady on open market day, aka “na targu”
…Kinder eggs with the surprise toys inside
…watching Dobranocka before bedtime
…walking up the stairs of an old kamienica (tenement)
…being struck by how beautiful Polish girls are
…listening to that Polish narrator that seems to dub every foreign film
…watching the rural countryside while taking a train
…seeing rolled hay on farmland
…lying in a hammock near my grandma’s garden
…that feeling after exchanging dollars for złoty at the Kantor
…playing with the latest kitten at my grandma’s house
…buying a Prince Polo
…reading Kaczor Donald magazine
…hearing the legends surrounding a local castle
…watching the old Godzilla movies, dubbed in Polish, with my grandma at night
…getting up early because I couldn’t sleep but not being able to watch TV because it was still off the air
…giving and receiving gifts with friends and relatives
…the reklama announcement before a set of television commercials started
…that moment I step off the airplane onto Polish soil
I’ve said before that Polish women are among the most beautiful on earth. The million dollar question is: how do you land a date with one?
Perhaps these 10 pick-up lines will work. The other possibility is that you’ll get a pączek in the face and never go on a date again. Whether you try these or not, I hope you find them amusing.
1. Girl, life without you is like a pączek without jelly.
2. Baby, I’m falling like communism for you.
3. Poland must be heaven, because it sent me an angel.
4. You and I go together like kapusta and pierogi.
5. You Polish? Because my heart longs for Solidarity with you.
6. Hey girl. Let me Chopin the door to your heart.
7. Roses are red, violets are blue, I’d save Poland from 123 years of Russian occupation for you.
8. Wanna [Polka] Dance?
9. I know why they say Polish is the hardest language to learn. Looking at you makes me speechless.
10. Knock Knock.
Krak OW! You’re gorgeous!