Archive for the 'Family' Category



No, not this one.

This one:


Sylvia has inherited her dad’s superpower: they’re both really, really good at finding four-leaf clovers!





Farewell, Beowulf

Yesterday we said goodbye to our remaining cat, Beowulf. Her sister, Britty, died in March 2008, and we still haven’t fully gotten used to that loss.

Beowulf’s decline wasn’t quite the mystery that Britty’s was—she had recently developed some age-related (she was nearly 16 and a half) health problems that were clear contributors. She’d not been doing well for two weeks took a sharp downturn over the weekend. When the vet saw her yesterday, he told us that her systems were basically shutting down.

Jan and I had already discussed this possibility (with each other and with Sylvia), so we were ready to tell the vet our decision. The three of us went back to the vet’s office to say goodbye to Beowulf (we did not stay for the procedure, but we knew she was in caring hands), and Sylvia really lost it. She was closer to Britty, but now she’s old enough to really comprehend loss and grief, so she was having a hard time.

But even though she’s sad about losing Beowulf, Sylvia does understand why this is the right choice. Jan and I explained to her (as we did with Britty) that if you have pets, one of your jobs is to help them die when it’s time, because they can’t do it for themselves. As I mentioned last spring, this is something that Jan and I very strongly believe, and it’s a lesson we want to be sure to impart to Sylvia.

It’s strange to be in cat-free house (I keep looking for the water dish to see if it needs a refill). We may very well have other furry friends with us in the house one day, but not just yet. For now, it’s just the three of us and the fish in Sylvia’s room.

We’re all sad, but doing all right. I have some thoughts for other posts—maybe in a few days or next week. In the meantime, I leave you with one of my favorite photos of Beowulf. Yes, she is indeed doing what you think she’s doing!*


*This was taken in our apartment. Unfortunately, when we moved to our house, Beowulf completely forgot how to use a toilet and went back to the litter box.


How I celebrated Valentine’s Day

I have never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day. (This opinion has been true regardless of my relationship status at the moment.) Fortunately, my husband feels the same way, so neither of us expects any super-special display of affection on that day. (We have a private joke about it. I ask him several times during the day, “Where are my diamonds? And my flowers? And chocolate? And balloons with a stuffed animal—ideally a teddy bear? Don’t you love me?” and he rolls his eyes. Heh.)

p2136239allcookiesftf.jpgMost people in our society do engage in a “traditional” celebration of Valentine’s Day, though. As Sylvia has grown into a fully talking-thinking-soaking-it-all-in individual, Jan and I have realized that the two of us, as adults with a lifetime of experience and some ability to analyze popular culture, can critically examine and resist the consumerism-driven aspects of Valentine’s Day, but that she doesn’t yet have the tools that we have—and that her own life experience will involve exposure to all sorts of cultural concepts and practices. We can’t shield her from all of the ones we dislike, but we can try to mediate their impact on her by discussing them and, we hope, teaching her how to think critically about them.

Last year we started explaining to Sylvia that Valentine’s Day is a special day when people like to tell people they love them (taking care to point out that that’s a nice thing to say to people on any day you like). We talked about valentines, too, and the idea that people often do special things on that day.

Now that she’s in preschool, she had her first-even valentines swap on Friday. It was rather sweet (even though nearly all of the cards given were character-branded items that are basically advertisements for the latest Disney/Pixar/Barbie endeavor), and she really enjoyed making cards at home and passing them out at school. She made a card for her dad, too, a few days ago—and could barely keep the secret. (Example: “Daddy, don’t look on top of the bookcase, okay? It’s a secret!”)

p2136242cookiesftf.jpgThe best part was when the three of us made these shortbread cookies together. As a vegetarian, Sylvia can’t eat traditional conversation hearts (they contain gelatin), so these are a nice substitute. As a future geek (she has two geeky parents, so she doesn’t stand a chance; she already has her own dice bag) we figured we should give her some early lolcats exposure. And of course she just loved seeing her name on several cookies!


Quick change

pb214935treesftf.jpgSo those purple coneflowers I wrote about a few days ago? Brown and whithered the day after I posted that picture. In a “holy shit, winter is almost here” the trees all dropped the rest of their leaves, which then went into bags for the compost-truck pickup. (Our three-bin composter is huge, but we can cram only so many leaves in there.) A hard frost three days ago burst the cells in the Swiss chard remaining in the garden, so now it’s all sad and droopy. And yesterday we woke up to the first snowfall of the season.

pb215004daddysledftf.jpgAfter Sylvia came home from school, we suited up and went outside to play. Jan was working from home yesterday, which was very fortunate. Daddies wearing slippery nylon parkas make great sleds for three-year-olds.
pb215005snowcastleftf.jpgWe threw snowballs, built this “castle” (at Sylvia’s insistence), and had a lot of fun. A huge grin spread over Sylvia’s face when she remembered our family’s post-play-in-the-snow tradition: having homemade hot chocolate inside afterward. Before we went back in for this treat, though, she just had to make a snowman.



Autumn is my favorite season


p9033311csa0903.jpgMy blogging has been derailed for the past month a half—first by our trip up to Vermont, then by the Nigerian State Security Services arresting my brother-in-law. Andy is back in New York now (Jan, Sylvia, and I took a day trip up to Brooklyn to see him today), so things can start to return to normal around here.

p9103349csa0910.jpgFirst up, two weeks of CSA boxes. We’ve been getting a lot of potatoes, nectarines, green beans (we ate the last batch smothered in mayonnaise and garlic—yum!), and tomatoes lately. We’re in the end-of-summer phase now; two weeks ago we got what is likely the last watermelon of the year, and last week we got what is probably the last of the season’s sweet corn.

So what else has happened in the month since we returned from Vermont? Sylvia started preschool (for the first time ever) nearly two weeks ago. That’s a biggie that warrants its own post—not one of mimsy musings about how my little girl is growing up so quickly (even though she is), but one about our commute to school.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of knitting.

And pickle-making. (What else am I going to do with all of those CSA cucumbers?).

And game playing. (The cake is a lie! Bonus points to the person who knows that reference.)

And just enjoying the end of the summer. (I hope you are, too.)

More on all of that later…


The view at JKF this afternoon



Happy news indeed!

Jan’s brother, Andy, was released from detention today. He boarded a plane out of Abuja, Nigeria, earlier this evening and is currently en route to Frankfurt. He should be home in New York tomorrow afternoon.

Jan and I are both very grateful for all of your efforts on Andy’s behalf. Thanks so much for your communications with senators (ten of whom issued a public letter to the Nigerian president today calling for Andy’s release), congressional representatives, people in the media, and the U.S. State Department. Every e-mail and phone call helped, I’m sure.


Some good news about Andy

We are cautiously optimistic that Monday’s scheduled “routine final processing” will be just that. Please continue contacting your legislators, encouraging them to monitor the situation and take any appropriate action until we know for sure that Andy is safely out of Nigeria. Ask that they not forget to mention his translator, Samuel George, who has also been provisionally released in Port Harcourt.


*****************CONTAINS UPDATES***********************

CONTACT Aaron Soffin, Storyteller Productions Phone: 917.887.4063
/ 212.712.2781 Email:

American filmmaker provisionally released from Nigerian custody to US embassy personnel

NEW YORK, September 5, 2008 – American filmmaker Andrew Berends is being provisionally released to US embassy personnel late Friday night, but is required to return to the State Security Services on Monday for what is expected to be routine final processing. Berends was moved Friday from the SSS offices in Port Harcourt to the Nigerian capital of Abuja. His translator, Samuel George and a Port Harcourt businessman have apparently also been provisionally released in Port Harcourt and must return to the SSS there on Monday.

“Andrew’s family, friends and colleagues are relieved and happy to hear of this progress and appreciate the hard work on many fronts to get to this point,” said Aaron Soffin, Berends’ colleague and coordinator of the release efforts. “We trust that his final processing on Monday will be expedient and routine. We are anxious for confirmation that he is safely on his way out of the country.”

When she heard the news Polly Berends, his mother, said, “Nothing will make me happier than to hear his voice, except to hug him.”

Hearing of Berends’ arrest Senator Charles Schumer, D-New York and Senator Hillary Clinton, D-New York, each responded with a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling for Berends’ immediate release. Several other US lawmakers, including Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, have also been actively engaged in advocating for Berends.

Berends was arrested at approximately 6 pm on Sunday, August 31st, by the Nigerian military along with his translator, Samuel George. Andrew entered Nigeria legally in April 2008 to complete a documentary film.


Latest update on Andy

He’s still being detained in Nigeria. He has just been moved from Port Harcourt (where he’s been all week) to Abuja, the capitol. This is good news, as he will be closer to U.S. consular officials. It’s been six days since his arrest, and no one from the U.S. consulate has visited him yet, which is highly irregular in a situation such as this.

Senator Clinton and Senator Schumer have both issued statements urging the U.S. State Department to press the Nigerian government for Andy’s release. Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent and a board member of the Committee to Protect Journalists, has also issued a statement calling for Andy and his translator, Samuel George, to be released.

Updates are posted here as we have them.

Here’s the latest:


Day 6, and still no action

Day 6 of Andrew’s illegal detention by the State Security Services of Nigeria. The U.S. State Department has been aware of Andrew’s detainment since Day 1, and he has still NOT been visited by a US consular official. This is highly irregular, and not the treatment we expect for a US journalist held in Nigeria — a country the US affords full diplomatic relations.

It’s time to take strong action NOW to advocate on Andrew’s behalf. With the weekend approaching, our ability to reach the State Dept. is diminishing.

Please take a few minutes out of your day to call the State Dept. and demand action for Andy:

We need him to be visited by a US consular official immediately. No more delays.

Please pick up the phone and make this call NOW.

What to say:

* As a constituent and a concerned citizen, I wanted to bring your attention to the news that it is the SIXTH DAY that American journalist Andrew Berends has been detained by the Nigerian government while working on a documentary.

* Nigeria enjoys the highest level of diplomatic relations with the United States, and for an American journalist to be detained without representation for such a prolonged time and continually subjected to coercive questioning is both highly inappropriate and illegal.

* We ask you to work to ensure the good treatment and speedy release of Andrew Berends, his interpreter Samuel George and Joe Bussio from Nigerian custody. Someone from the State Department in Nigeria needs to see him immediately.

Washington DC

Andrew Silski is at the Nigeria desk: 202-647-0252
Stuart Denyer is in charge of the case in DC: 202-736-9163


Call the main consular line in Abuja 011 234 9461 4262
Call the main consular lines in Lagos: Telephone: 011 234 1261 0050 or 011 234 1261 0078

We know that many of you have been in contact with your elected official, both your Congressional Representative or your Senator. We encourage you to continue to contact them towards Andrew’s release. If you have not contacted your Congressional Representative or your Senator, please do so today.

To get your Representative or Senator’s contact information, click here.

Senators from New York:

In addition to calling your local representative, we would like everyone to call the two Senators from New York State, Andrew’s home state. When talking with the New York representatives, please make sure you mention that Andrew is a New Yorker.

You can reach them here:
* Senator Charles Schumer (D- NY) 212-486-4430
* Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D- NY) 212-688-6262
Please forward this call to action to anyone you think could help by making a call to their representatives and the NY senators.

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