Archive for the 'Family' Category

This just in from Andy’s editor, who is coordinating the effort to get him released:

We’ve engaged the help of Senators Schumer and Clinton, and we suggest you contact them to urge their continued involvement toward a speedy end. We also suggest you get in touch with your local congressperson and your U.S. senators to inform them of the situation and of the New York senators’ role. You can also call the state department and the embassies directly to voice your concern. I urge you to include Samuel George in your inquiries. He is Andrew’s translator and was arrested with him but has not seen the privileged treatment afforded to Andrew as a U.S. citizen.  We must make sure that our efforts work toward his safety and release as well.


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

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

Senator Charles Schumer calls American filmmaker’s detainment by the Nigerian government “untenable”

NEW YORK, September 4, 2008 – Hearing of the arrest of Andrew Berends, an established, award-winning American filmmaker and journalist, Senator Charles Schumer, D-New York, responded with a letter on Wednesday to Secretary of State Condelezza Rice calling for Berends’ immediate release.

“This situation is untenable,” said Schumer. “Mr. Berends, an award-winning journalist, was making a film about the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s oil-producing area, where government forces and armed separatists have been fighting for years. Unfortunately, it seems that the Nigerian government thinks that it can conceal the economic and ecological disaster in the region by harassing and intimidating foreign journalists. This is unacceptable.”

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.

At the time of his arrest Andrew Berends was filming women going to market at the Nembe waterside in Port Harcourt, a public place. Andrew received verbal permission to film in the area from the Sargeant in charge at the waterfront that day.

After Andrew’s initial arrest by the Nigerian military, he was transferred first to the police and then to the State Security Services. He was interrogated by all three groups for 36 hours without access to legal representation, and without being allowed to eat or sleep. Andrew stated that the interrogation was coercive, and that all of his statements to the SSS were involuntary.

There has been no news of his translator, Samuel George, since Monday, and there is concern that he may be undergoing poor treatment at the hands of the Nigerian Government.

The State Security Services confiscated Andrew’s personal belongings, including his passport, notebooks, camera, hard drives and laptop computer. Andrew remains under the custody of the Nigerian State Security Services.
Two-time Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker James Longley, who has known Andrew Berends for the last 16 years and worked side by side with him on documentary films in Iraq, added: “Now that more information is available to the highest levels of the Nigerian government about Andrew’s situation and the circumstances of his arrest, I am optimistic that this unfortunate matter will be resolved immediately.”

The US State Department continues to work on the situation, as does a private lawyer retained on Andrew’s behalf. Reporters without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have issued statements condemning Andrew’s arrest. We, Andrew’s friends, family, and colleagues, are deeply concerned that he has been held without cause and are calling for the safe treatment and immediate release of Andrew Berends and Samuel George.

“Of course I am devastated by what my son is going through,” Polly Berends, Andrew’s mother said. “I’m terribly worried about him, and want him home as soon as possible. Throughout childhood and adolescence in Hastings-on-Hudson, Andy was always passionate about fairness. His work as a filmmaker reflects the same dedication. His films reveal untold stories of injustice objectively, letting facts speak vividly for themselves. I am hugely proud of him. I am also profoundly grateful for all the people working to get him released, and for the efforts of Senator (Hillary Rodham) Clinton’s and Senator Schumer’s offices on his behalf.”



Update on Andy

Thanks so much, everyone, for your kindness. It really means a lot to us.

News of Andy’s situation has been picked up by a variety of news outlets. Here are a few:

New York Times
Le Monde
Gulf News

A blog has been set up, but it looks like for now at least most updates are going through e-mail and forum channels.

He was temporarily released again last night (with orders to report back to the police this morning). Last night he spoke directly with his editor in New York (the person listed in the press release as the contact; he’s coordinating all communication and efforts among family, friends, and the documentary/journalism community), who sent out word to everyone about this communication and said Andy was doing all right.

An action alert was just issued a few moments ago. I’ve attached it below. Please take a look at it and take whatever action you can to help Andy. Thank you!


*************ACTION ALERT!**************

We would like everyone to contact their congressional representatives to raise political pressure on this issue.

Phone Script for Elected Officials:

* As a constituent and a concerned citizen, I wanted to bring your attention to the news that American journalist Andrew Berends has been arrested 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 and subjected to coercive questioning is both highly inappropriate and illegal.

* We ask you to make known your awareness and concern about this matter, contact your colleagues, and work to ensure the good treatment and speedy release of Andrew Berends and his interpreter from Nigerian custody.

We would like everyone to call both their own local representatives and also the two Senators from New York State. When talking with New York reps, please add that Andrew is a New Yorker.

The contact information for NY senators Clinton and Schumer is:

* Senator Charles Schumer (D- NY) 202-224-6542
* Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D- NY) 202-224-4451

Your local representatives contacts may be found here.

Please forward this call to action to anyone you think could help by making a call to their representatives and the NY senators.

I think I’ve mentioned here before that my husband’s brother is an independent documentary filmmaker. Since April he’s been in Nigeria, working on a film about conflicts in the Niger Delta. Two days ago he was arrested on a spying charge.

Here is the official press release:

Aaron Soffin, Storyteller Productions
Phone: 917.887.4063 / 212.712.2781

American documentary filmmaker detained in Port Harcourt, Nigeria

NEW YORK, September 2, 2008 – Andrew Berends, an established, award-winning American filmmaker and journalist from New York, was detained Sunday August 31st by the Nigerian military along with his translator, Samuel George, and Joe Bussio, the manager of a local bar. Andrew entered Nigeria legally in April 2008 to complete a documentary film.

Andrew was held in custody without food, sleep, or representation, and with limited water for 36 hours. He was questioned by the army, the police, and the State Security Services in Port Harcourt. He was then temporarily released, with an order to the SSS office at 9AM Tuesday morning. The State Security Services has confiscated his passport and personal property. Andrew’s translator, Samuel George, remained in custody over night.

The US State Department is aware of the situation, and an attorney has been retained on Andrewʼs behalf. We, Andrew’s friends, family, and colleagues, are deeply concerned that he has been held without cause and are calling for his safe treatment and immediate release.

Reporters sans frontieres (Reporters without Borders) has issued a similar statement.

Andy was released for the night yesterday but ordered to report back to the police this morning. While he was out he was able to communicate with my husband via e-mail. It sounds like he’s okay for now, but it’s unclear what will happen next.

Whatever you have that might help him—media contacts, high-level political contacts, happy thoughts, good karma, whatever—please use it now. And please spread the work about this: the more attention it gets, the better.

Thank you.


Another birthday

p5230771meadow.jpgAll three of us have birthdays in May. Sylvia’s is on the 6th, mine is on the 8th, and Jan’s was yesterday. He and I are the same age for fifteen days, and then he leaps ahead again.

Jan always takes Sylvia’s birthday and my birthday as days off of work, but yesterday was the first time in a long time that he took his birthday off, too. We celebrated by heading to Longwood Gardens (which is where we’d spent my birthday, too).

It was one of those perfect spring days: sunny, clear, breezy, neither too warm nor too cold, not humid. The garden wasn’t very crowded, and the flowers put on a great show. The best part for me was just watching Sylvia be happy there. She loves that place, and it’s such a wonderful location for roaming and exploration and just being.


Update on the cupcakes

p4300124cupcake.jpgThanks so much for the happy birthday wishes, everyone! (And yeah, Jan is really great!) Here’s a photo of one of those cupcakes. To answer the question Chris posed on a comment on the previous post, Jan did not manage to hide the tell-tale smells. I just didn’t figure out what they were.

After I got Sylvia up and dressed on Tuesday morning, we were ready to head downstairs when I thought I smelled some sort of baked goods. I called Jan and asked him if he’d had cinnamon-raisin toast for breakfast that morning. He, of course, denied this and added that I must be imagining things and how weird it was that I would call him to inquire about his breakfast.

There were other signs, too. In the kitchen a little later, Sylvia pointed out a brown smudge on the floor near the dishwasher. “That’s from the cream puffs,” she announced. (She and Jan had made chocolate-covered cream puffs a couple of weeks earlier.) I thought, “I can’t believe that chocolate spot has been there for two weeks, and I haven’t noticed it until now.” Yup, I had no clue whatsoever.


An early celebration

Last night, my local knitting group met at 7 p.m. for our weekly get together. At about 7:45, I felt someone poke me on the side and looked down to see Sylvia standing there. I did a double-take. Maybe it was a triple-take. She’s usually in bed by 8. What was she doing there?

Then I saw Jan appear with some boxes in hand. My friends were grinning madly, and Jan said, “Happy birthday!” Sylvia, unable to contain the secret any longer, shouted, “Cupcakes! Cupcakes!”

With help from Gina (who communicated with the other knitters), Jan had planned a surprise birthday celebration for me. My birthday is still a little over a week away, so I had no idea this was coming. He woke up at 4 a.m. yesterday morning to bake (and clean up afterward, to hide the evidence), and I slept through it all—even the KitchenAid mixing!

We enjoyed the chocolate cupcakes with chocolate glaze and mascapone icing (Jan is a terrific baker, and everything he makes both looks and tastes great), had a little video chat via Skype with one knitting friend who’s in Belgium for a couple of months, and (once Sylvia headed home to bed after inhaling her cupcake) even did a little knitting. I had a great time!


Farewell, Britty

Nearly fifteen years ago, Jan decided it was time for him to have some cats of his own. One of his mom’s neighbors was looking after a feral cat who’d recently had kittens and was trying to find homes for them. Jan bought a cat crate (what Sylvia calls “the cat car-seat,” because we use it only when driving the cats to the vet’s office), took it over to the neighbor’s house, and put it down. Two cats walked right on in. Jan figured they’d chosen him, so those were the ones he took home.

As a medievalist, he named them Britomart (after a female knight in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, who, in pursuit of her sweetie, Artegal, proceeds to kick some serious ass) and Beowulf. Not too long afterward, a vet told him that the latter was actually a girl, but the name stuck anyway.

By the time I met Jan, these two cats were well into adulthood. I’d never had cats of my own before, but I took to these two instantly. It endlessly fascinated me how two littermates could have such different personalities. Beowulf always was the crabbier of the two, preferring mostly to be alone and, once Jan and I became parents, usually not in the same room as Sylvia.

Britty, on the other hand, seemed to be part dog at times. She was relentless in her pursuit of food, for example. One friend who watched her for two weeks while Jan and I got married and went on our honeymoon called her “a food-seeking missile”; when Sylvia started eating solid foods, Britty very quickly learned to circle the drop zone under the high chair like a shark.

She was also sweet—oh so sweet. She’d clamor for cuddles and attention. And when Sylvia came along, Britty became her very patient teething ring (ears and tail), occasional pillow, and all-around best friend. We dubbed her “St. Britty.”

A little over two weeks ago, Britty became seriously ill. It happened suddenly: one day her back legs looked wobbly every few steps, the next day they were regularly giving out from under her, and two days later she could no longer walk. She meowed when she wanted something, and we’d carry her to her water, food, and litter box, trying all the possibilities until we found the one that gave her comfort.

Our awesome vet did various tests (diabetes? potassium deficiency? stroke?) but ended up stumped. Last week, a shot of prednisone seemed to work wonders: for two and a half days, Britty was supporting her own weight on her legs and even walking (though still needed help at the litter box). But those glimpses of the old Britty were fleeting, and she lost those gains.

Two days ago, the vet suggested trying another shot of prednisone. If we saw significant improvement again, he said, we could try oral prednisone administered daily. An hour after the shot, Britty seemed to be doing better. She was raising her head and putting some weight on her legs when supported. Jan and I went to bed that night hopeful that we’d see big improvements in the morning, as we had the week before.

But the next day, yesterday, she was once again immobile. And that’s when we knew it was time to let her go.

There are people out there who think it’s wrong to euthanize a pet. I cannot imagine how they can think that. As a pet owner, you are responsible for your pets—responsible for making sure they have a good quality of life and for making the decisions that they can’t make themselves. And if you’re unwilling to assume those responsibilities, then you shouldn’t have pets. Jan and I didn’t want to lose Britty, but at this point it was obvious to us that keeping her any longer and prolonging her suffering would be only cruel.

This morning Sylvia and I said goodbye to Britty. Sylvia understood that Britty was very sick (and over the last couple of weeks had, on her own initiative, written lots of “I hope you feel better soon” notes to her and sang to her several songs she made up on the spot as lullabies), and Jan and I had talked with her about how Britty was going to die and we weren’t going to see her any more. Does she get it? Sort of. Maybe.

Then Jan took Britty to the vet’s office for the last time. He couldn’t stay with her (the vet is leaving town for a week and was overbooked for the day; in order to be able to stay with Britty, we’d have to wait until next Friday), but she’s never been afraid at the vet’s and the staff there adored her, so we knew she’d be in good, loving hands.

The vet called us later. “It went peacefully,” he said. “This is what I would wish for everyone.” The anesthesia he administered to Britty usually takes one to two minutes to have its effect. She was gone in four seconds—a clear indication of just how ill she was. He suspects it was cancer, possibly something that struck her lymphatic system or kidneys; the latter are very close to her spine, and if the cancer spread there, that could explain her loss of limb function.

We miss her already. I’ve held it together pretty well for two weeks, but even though I know that she’s better off now than she was over the past two weeks, I’m weeping as I write this. It’s funny how these little creatures can touch our lives and teach us so much.

We have memories and stories of Britty. And lots of pictures, too. My favorite is this one, taken in October 2005 when Sylvia was five months old.



Special delivery

As I’ve mentioned before, Jan and I aren’t big on getting gifts for each for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. This is especially true of Valentine’s Day. Now, I appreciate having an occasion to tell people that you love them (but really, shouldn’t we do this every day?). But the gift aspect of this holiday drives me nuts. Especially the woman-focused gift aspect. Especially the idea that a man should read a woman’s mind and get her the “perfect” gift on this day. And especially the idea that the “perfect” gift is defined by roses, chocolate, and diamonds. (I really hate that sexist crap.)

p2139218roses1.jpgSo I was a little surprised when a FedEx driver left a rather large box on my doorstep yesterday afternoon. As soon as I saw it, I thought, “Hmmmm. I wonder what’s going on.”

(Note the toys under the piano. The collection includes sit-and-push-with-your-feet vehicles [car, tricycle, and bike] as well as two toy lawnmowers. We call that space “the garage.” The front hall, kitchen, dining room, and living room are all connected to each other, so Sylvia can ride/push one of those toys in a circle around most of our first floor. When her friends are over, there are enough wheeled items for everyone to get one, and it’s like a parade.)

p2139220roses2.jpgI opened the box to discover a dozen beautiful roses in different colors.

(These flowers were sent direct from the grower in California. Each stem is stuck into a water-filled plastic test-tube with a rubber stopper at the top, and there’s one of the refreezable ice packs in the box. The arrived in perfect condition.)

p2139227roses3.jpgDon’t they look lovely?

The card (handwritten!) was the best part: “For the three of us…because we rock!”

(After dinner last night, Sylvia got to choose any rose she wanted—she zeroed in on the one that looked most purple, of course—to have her own little vase.)


Gift knitting

p2039174tam.jpgAfter the holidays, I was on a gift-knitting roll, so i just kept going. This tam is my first finished object of 2008. It’s a gift for my brother-in-law, for whom I knit mittens in the same yarn (Patons SWS) for Christmas. His Christmas gift to me was Ann Budd’s Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns. As I flipped through it, he mentioned that he really liked the tam. “If I knit one for you, would you wear it?” I asked. He assured me he would, so a few days later I picked up the yarn for it and cast on. This was a very fast knit and a lot of fun, too. I intended this as a birthday gift for him, but since his birthday is in March and he may be heading to Nigeria to shoot a film any day now, I should probably get this in the mail to him pronto. (By the way, I don’t have a photo of him wearing the mittens yet. But if you’d like to see what he’s done with other handknits I’ve given him, look here.)

p2039183banket1.jpgMy next project was a baby blanket for a neighbor whose second child was due in mid-January. I had some Bernat Cottontots yarn in a neutral color (light cream) and figured its machine-washability would make it a good candidate for baby gear. I’d always been sort of interested in the log cabin blankets in Mason-Dixon Knitting but really put off by the garish color combinations the book’s authors seem to favor. So I decided to give log cabining a try—in monochrome.

p2039186blanketclose.jpgI really, really like how this turned out, even with a few mistakes here and there (which weren’t discovered until well after I’d turned the next corner). The next time I do this, i think I’ll try a “smoother” yarn (the Cottontots has a twist to it that makes it appear a little textured), and I’ll be more careful when picking up stitches at the corners—something I didn’t figure out how to do properly until the blanket was halfway finished. Even though this blanket consists of miles and miles of garter stitch, the fact that every eighteen rows I’d bind off a section and pick up stitches to start another kept the knitting interesting.

p2039178babyhat.jpgI had five skeins of the Cottontots yarn when I started, and when I was near the end of the last one I called it quits on the blanket. It wasn’t quite 30″ on each side, but it did have symmetry (each side had six blocks), and it seemed a good size already. And I was ready to be finished with it. I used the rest of the Cottontots (plus a little bit of green dishcloth cotton when the Cottontots ran out) to whip up this little hat from Baby Knits for Beginners, by Debbie Bliss. I really love this pattern—it’s one I’ve knit many times before.

(Sylvia was napping when I took these photos, so I had to find a different model. And no, the stuffed emperor penguin chick did not sign a release form.)


My new favorite yarn

As with our anniversary, Jan and I generally don’t buy each other birthday or Christmas gifts, either. When Sylvia turned two last May and really “got” the idea of getting (and opening!) presents, we decided it was time to modify this practice a bit in order to teach her about gift giving, too. So for my birthday (also in May), Jan took Sylvia out shopping for a gift for me, and for his birthday (later in May—yes, we are all three born in May) I took her out to find something for him. In both cases, we asked for specific gifts, and Sylvia helped purchase them at the store and wrap them.

For Christmas this year, we decided to expand her participation in this process and let her choose the gifts herself (within some parameters, of course), both for us and a few other people. This was an interesting experience, because she often gravitated toward stuff that she liked, which offered opportunities to discuss how gift giving is all about choosing something that the recipient might like. She’s not an expert at this yet, but after a while she definitely got a sense of how it all works. Some of her choices were quite charming, such as a carved, blue, wood tree ornament for her grandmother, “because Nana likes blue!”

I suggested to Jan that he take Sylvia to the yarn aisle at Michael’s and let her choose a skein or two or yarn for me. She’s well accustomed to my knitting and knows that I like it. I told Jan, “If you can, try to gently steer her away from the Fun Fur…but you know, if she really wants to get that for me, that’s fine.”

So late last week, the two of them went out to the store in great secrecy. In this case, “great secrecy” is defined as Sylvia loudly promising, as she and Jan are putting on their coats and I’m in the next room, that “We’re going to get Mommy a present, and it’s a surprise.” They came back with a puffy-looking bag, and Sylvia was fairly bursting with the news. But she didn’t tell me! Well, not quite…

As we opened our gifts on Christmas morning, Sylvia chose her two gifts for me to open first. I picked one up and said, “I wonder what this is!” She replied, “It’s yarn!” then looked at Jan and said, “Is it okay if I tell her?”

pc258918yarn.jpgAnd here is the yarn she chose for me. Jan tells me that when they got to the yarn aisle, Sylvia quickly picked out the Wool-Ease, announcing, “Mommy likes brown.” (Brown does indeed happen to be my favorite color.) Then she saw the Jiffy Thick-and-Quick, and its bright colors (including purple, which happens to be Sylvia’s favorite color) instantly captivated her. She declared that I would like that yarn, too, and so they bought both.

Yeah, I hate pretty much all acrylic yarn. Loathe it. But this stuff? It’s my new favorite yarn.

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