Tuesday November 21st 2023, 9:06 pm
Filed under: Family,History,Life

When my husband and I were young children, we went to the Chevy Chase Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a beautiful old brick building on the dividing line between DC and Maryland.

If you were Mormon and political in DC you went through that building at some point. I remember a whispered wave of sound washing over the staircase one time as we were going up it and later asking my mom about it; she told me it was George Romney, a Presidential candidate at the time and the father of Mitt, steps ahead of us.

My grandparents attended there when the Senate was in session, Eisenhower through Ford.

About twenty years ago we were visiting the folks, who by then were attending a newer ward closer to home but for reasons I don’t remember, for that week everybody was sent to the old Chevy Chase building and we just happened to catch the right day.

When church was over I said I just wanted to look around; I’d been twelve when we’d started attending in Potomac. The Mormon Church likes to keep congregations small enough that people have a chance to meet and make friends and feel included, so when one ward gets too big they often divide it.

Which means that when my husband and I got old enough to turn into teens who might have gotten on each other’s nerves, both our towns got spun off into new wards.

Anyway, one of the fun quirks of that building–which my father-in-law and his father helped build–is that between the chapel and the overflow area that is sometimes used as a small basketball gym, there is a wall. The original pop-up add. It comes up slowly, noisily from below when you push a button. I never did find where that thing hid down there when we couldn’t see it. I always wanted to know what the building did with it. It looked so thick and it went clear up to the tall ceiling or slowly disappeared and left just a level floor there and nowhere else I knew had anything like it. I loved that: when you needed it, it was just there. And it was all ours.

So I walked into the gym now that my own kids were growing up and was looking over at that wall, trying to figure out if it was as thick as my childhood had made it and where had that control button been all this time, when I realized that someone else was across the room. After all the people packed in for the meetings, it was somehow just us two. We smiled at each other and he said something about wanting to see his childhood ward again while he was in town.

It was Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon. Which is how I found out that that Senator was in fact a member of the family I knew growing up and Jessica’s big brother. I could add a story here about his dad being in a plane crash in Alaska and surviving for two weeks on a Hershey bar that he and another guy found in the snow before their rescue, and how he then adopted his brother’s kids because their parents had died in the crash. Ten kids plus eight. Yes Gordon’s dad had a big house.

In the chapel, there were–I want to say six? There were big, glorious chandeliers hanging down, and many a time when I was a kid I would watch all those tiny crystals shimmering and listen to them sing when I was bored–and what little kid having to hold still that long isn’t bored at least a little bit. “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam to shine for Him each day,” hey, I could definitely get with celebrating sparks of light from the windows on those.

Wisps of air above our heads, only just moving. But the crystals knew and they sang for joy.

With all the hearing I’ve lost since then, if I am perfectly still in a quiet room with no distractions and look up and watch a crystal chandelier, my brain fills in those sounds. I can hear them again. They’ve been gone from me for so long. There is no other source of very high pitches that my brain remembers–except those and in that context. That is the gift Chevy Chase Ward left me with for life–well, that and the little boy I’ve now been married to for 43 years.

That room is where the fire yesterday took out the roof.

That would probably have been where the firemen who were inside were; there were about a hundred on the scene, they said. I could just picture those chandeliers falling, shattering, ending, sharp shards stabbing everywhere, and it was horrifying to know someone could have been underneath that.

And yet the initial reports were, no serious injuries. No deaths.

Loss, absolutely.

And now, or at least hopefully soon…other people’s work and lifetime memories will go into our families’ building’s renewal.

But man, it’s hard to see those flames.

Circa 1962
Friday November 17th 2023, 10:53 pm
Filed under: Family,History

Even my mom had never seen this picture before. The cousins are all passing it around to each other, going, Did you see this?! This is so cool!

One of them had spotted it first at MSNBC, when they were showing some previews from the LadyBird Johnson documentary. Another cousin watched the documentary and didn’t see it there and wondered if it had made it past the cutting room floor, but MSNBC had it and now we do and there you go.

Jackie Kennedy on the left, LadyBird Johnson on the right, and the woman who was head of the Congressional Wives Club, whose luncheon they were attending, in the middle: Frances Bennett. My grandmother. Properly wearing her hat and white gloves in respect towards the First Lady and the Vice President’s wife.

Jackie Kennedy, Frances Bennett, and Lady Bird Johnson

Into their arms
Monday November 13th 2023, 11:23 pm
Filed under: History

I finished reading Two Roads Home this evening.

That moment when the three now-motherless young sisters who had just been released from a concentration camp laid eyes on their father for the first time in–was it four years?–with none of them knowing they were going to yet: the immigration authorities had wanted to verify by their reactions that they were the nuclear family they said they were.

Just the reading of it will stay with me for a long, long time.

Two Roads Home
Thursday November 09th 2023, 9:56 pm
Filed under: Friends,History

A surprisingly few years ago for all that has happened since, my friend Nina was telling me of her efforts to help her mom close out her house to get it on the market. It had taken so. much. work.

In the far back of where some old stuff had been stored for many decades, she came across a box she had not known about.

Inside were old handwritten letters. A lot of them. But they were in Polish so there was no way to know what was in them. (Possibly others in German, too; I did not know when she was telling me about them after her trip to her childhood home that I was someday going to want to ask.)

She’d lost so much family in the Holocaust and there was so much she had wanted to know of who they had been–and how the ones who had survived had done so. She was suddenly so close yet so far.

And then one day it hit her hard: of course she knew someone who could translate those! That lady at the pool was Polish!

Tonight, flipping from page 69 suddenly to the Acknowledgements at the back of the book, the lady at the pool has a name to me.

Nina connected with cousins all over the world and one is a journalist in Britain and those letters became the backbone of his new book, and if you’ve heard of “Two Roads Home: Hitler, Stalin, and the miraculous survival of my family” by Daniel Finkelstein that made the front page of the Washington Post, well, my one little hanger-on claim to fame is that the first lace shawl in my book in 2007 was designed and named for the author’s cousin who found those long-lost letters.

So if you are reading this you are three steps removed from Mr. Finkelstein yourself.

Their grandfather pleaded the Jews’ cause in a meeting with Goring himself, while he still thought that might make any difference. Wow.

Virginia don’t make me wait
Tuesday November 07th 2023, 11:24 pm
Filed under: History,Knit,Politics

I wanted to see the moment that number hit 21, sealing the Virginia Senate for the Democrats. My yarn was red, my hopes were blue.

I glanced down at the next stitch, quickly back up, and in that amount of time there it was.

Their Senate and House both have a one-vote margin on the Democrat side as I turn in for the night and I have 6.5″ of a new cowl to show for it.

Monday November 06th 2023, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Family,History

The story of Jim Mattingly’s role in Apollo 13 was in the news again with his death: the astronaut who got exposed to Rubella just before the flight, found himself grounded for it, and then from mission control helped work out a way to rescue the men who did go up after one of their oxygen tanks exploded and damaged the module.

Which got me searching: I knew it was Apollo and I knew the summer it happened because I was sixteen but that they didn’t land on the moon. No, I wanted to argue with my screen, 17 was NOT the last mission with the Apollo name on it.

Found it. The Apollo-Soyuz flight in July ’75.

My aunt had married into the family that included the man who would become head of NASA at that time.

Which is how my father, my little sister, and I, however improbably, somehow found ourselves with invitations to attend that 1975 launch in Florida. In person.

There were bleachers set up just like any bleachers anywhere. You had to get there way early. You had to agree to go absolutely no closer and no exploring (I remembering looking longingly at the shade under the trees over yonder), and we were a mile away from the actual launch pad for the sake of our safety.

The Florida heat and sun were something else and I remember the intense sunburn–and wondering whether some of it had come from the intensity in the flames at takeoff. We were surrounded by actual VIPs, but I have no memory of recognizing anyone’s faces, just that I still couldn’t believe we got to do this.

But I do remember the sound and then our necks craning up, and up, and up, and up… till at last it was gone from us.

And then the kicker: there was a toll road with two toll booths along it to get to NASA. On the way back out, all those I assume hundreds of cars (that’s a guess, it felt like thousands) were all lined up to pay those two silly sets of tolls with my dad grousing, Why don’t they just make everybody pay both at one booth and then open up the traffic and let it go? It made no sense.

But we’d been there. We got to go. We got to see it. We were there.

Well, somebody!
Saturday November 04th 2023, 9:38 pm
Filed under: History,Knit

The Washington Post, owned these days by Jeff Bezos of Amazon, announced its new CEO and Publisher today: a guy who worked for Rupert Murdoch the last ten years.


Well, meantime. I needed a carry-around project and looking at the vastness of the yardage in that stash of mine, just had no idea. So I found myself saying a prayer: please direct my needles to where you want me to take them.

Next thing you know I two small but thick balls of Debbie Bliss Alpaca Silk in my hand that were a mystery to me: maybe a Webs sale? ( for a URL was pure early-internet-adopter genius.) Stitches 2018?

The first one got me to 6″, blocking will increase that, and two balls will be just right. I should be able to finish this Sunday.

Okay, so that answered the what, now we just need the who.

A cliffhanger of a day
Tuesday October 17th 2023, 10:05 pm
Filed under: History,Politics

President Biden is en route to Israel as I type.

I can only pray that his statement of unwavering support after the Hamas attacks and his compassion for the innocents, so rightly spoken, will continue to resonate there as he makes a plea for other innocents: the children. Learn from America’s failures after 9/11–for the love, literally, of all things holy, don’t repeat them.

Also: Gym Jordan, accused by the Jan. 6th committee of helping mastermind the attack on the Capitol, lost his first try at getting elected Speaker of the House. I can only pray that that gives courage they didn’t have today to those Representatives who are still looking for a way not to vote for a man who actively worked to overthrow our democracy.

C’mon, people, do the right thing. Make your time in power something your descendants are proud of. This granddaughter of a Republican Senator who voted for the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act can tell you, it’s just not that hard to do something you will feel great about for the rest of your life. They will, too.

Saturday’s lizard
Sunday October 15th 2023, 7:59 pm
Filed under: History,Wildlife

Movement caught the corner of my eye yesterday as of a bird landing but then it was moving very unbirdlike and I turned to see.

What had apparently dropped out of the sky was a lizard. Dunno if it was my usual one, but definitely that size and type.

Was it okay?! I went to the window and had another moment of me looking at it while it looked at me. It seemed perfectly fine; after awhile it scooted to the edge of a leaf’s shadow but not quite under it, ready to dart into a gap below the patio if need be. No bird came after it. It sunned itself.

No blood and no injury, as far as I could tell, just a good, whoa.

While I silently sent out an ‘if only’ towards the hearts all the people facing war in this world of ours.

The roiling stones of Death Valley
Thursday August 31st 2023, 8:40 pm
Filed under: History,Life

This is so cool. And the fact that it’s a four hour drive over a terrible road inside a national park that’s not close to population centers means they’ve mostly been left alone.

Rocks move across the dried landscape there. Boulders. Nobody’s ever seen them do it, though people have certainly tried for forever, and yet they do it and they engrave their everlasting path across the desert and it was clearly a natural phenomenon.

Just how do stones play Scottish curling games of their own?

Someone finally figured it out.

Georgia’s on my mind
Monday August 14th 2023, 9:41 pm
Filed under: History,Politics

It’s been a long wait. Go Fani Willis!! It was a thrill to watch her giving her press conference, reminding a questioner that this is about following the law, not politics, the same as all her other thousands of cases.

Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia had been under a lot of pressure to fire her, and at one point he actually said he was going to–he just never said when, and it just somehow never happened, while she simply continued doing her job.

I’m sure he knew the Watergate phrase “Saturday night massacre” as well as anybody, when public servant after public servant resigned rather than fire that era’s Special Prosecutor. The guy who said sure, he would? Robert Bork, whom Reagan later failed at nominating to the Supreme Court. But I digress.

Had Kemp done so, the next Fulton County Attorney General could well have added his name to the list of co-conspirators, and why would he agree to be one more fall guy abused by the former president? He was on to him.

So. Nineteen co-conspirators. RICO charges. T*** instantly erupting in rage at a Black woman daring to hold him accountable, while trying to profit off that rage.

As one meme queries, Why is a billionaire asking you to give him your money?

A hundred sixty-one criminal acts.

Justice for election workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter, who fled their homes at peril of their lives for telling the truth and refusing to cave.

By people who couldn’t bear that people who were Black had integrity when they themselves did not.

Go get’em, Fani. And thank you.

Sweet solace
Saturday August 12th 2023, 9:50 pm
Filed under: Food,History

Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco is where we learned about Manoa Chocolate in Hawaii: they were cheering on their friends at the new start-up and highly recommending what they were creating and the cacao farms they were helping get established there.

Manoa was in my inbox this afternoon. Like Dandelion, they email quite sparingly so it is notable when they do.

I’ve never tried their mango chocolate bar–but I’m going to now, because they are donating 100% of its proceeds to Maui relief. 

I ordered a few other bars to help with their shipping costs, particularly given that it’s August–I know how careful they are with that process. I’ll also just mention that, as someone who likes dark chocolate, their chocolate hazelnut spread is better than anybody else’s anywhere–we have done side-by-side, spoon-by-spoon taste tests to verify that, with calories and much mother/daughter glee and laughter–and it is always asked for for Christmas now.

I don’t know if it’s the volcanic soil or what, and granted, I normally only order the plain bars without additions so that’s the context to take this from, but man, their chocolate. It is the best.

(I wonder if the mango powder came from Haydens. Our Pearl Harbor survivor friend Jean is from Hawaii and misses her perfect Hayden mangoes, which grew there. I’ll have to ask.)

And that was who
Friday August 04th 2023, 10:01 pm
Filed under: Friends,History,Knit,Life

The email from Cottage Yarns said that starting next week the shop will be closed for two weeks for their vacation.

I had been meaning for over a month to get up there to replenish my Mecha supply for Zoom hat knitting.

There was this persistent thought…and I wondered, Is this just me? Or should I? So I did what I do and said a prayer: if You want me to do this, then please make it so obvious that I will never question whether I got it right or not. Help it be unmistakeable. Either way, please bless my friends, separate from any of that–they’re such good people.

I pictured her needing to attend to customers with questions, and thought in no way do I want to do anything that would distract her from what she needs to do to earn a living (I know the rent there is crazy) and sometimes it gets pretty busy, especially right before a long break like that. I put it in G_d’s hands to handle the details and I would try to take my cues from that.

I got ready and headed on up there, hoping.

There was no other customer in there the whole time:

I walked in that door and Kathryn’s face lit up, delighted to see me, and then she immediately exclaimed over my gerdan. What was that? I told her how to spell it: like garden, only with the e and the a switched. Her husband wanted to know, How was it made?

Glass beads woven on a small loom. Made for me by a woman in Ukraine, where these are traditional.

They follow the news on Ukraine closely, they told me, and we talked about today’s developments. The listing warship that was towed away by the Russians after Ukraine’s successful drone.

Kathryn is far from the gushing type, but wow, that necklace: the flowers that looked so realistic, the wheat at the top, the sunflower at the bottom. So pretty. She just couldn’t get over it.

I showed her the picture of my sister’s afghan so far, and turns out they’d been watching the Little League games. They might even have seen Parker, and even the possibility delighted us all.

I waited till she’d rung up my yarn.

“I planned this,” I told her, pulling out the little box that the gerdan had come in inside the shipping box. I quickly took it off my neck and held it out to her along with its box. While she stood there speechless, I took out an identical box from the same artist, took out the big sunflower gerdan and put that one on me.

I have several, I told her, and every time I’m out and about it makes someone’s day to see me wearing one. Ukrainians know what it is and they feel the support it conveys. You see more people than I do. You can do more than I can alone. This was meant for you.

I told her that I had felt strongly to give one to a friend, a retired NASA rocket scientist I kid you not, and ordered this one made–but she had picked a different one. Which is fine. What I didn’t know was that she was teaching classes to help Ukrainian refugees assimilate and they took one look at her walking into class after that wearing a gerdan and they knew exactly what it was and what it meant and how much their teacher loved them, visibly loved them.

And yet I still I had this other one. I have always really liked it–but I had wondered who it was meant to be for, because it had always felt like it was waiting, somehow. And today I finally knew.

I knew it was just her colors.

What I didn’t know is that all her childhood she had declared that she was going to be a florist when she grew up. “And look at me,” she laughed, holding her arms up, taking in the sweep of the room, embracing it all: “I’m a yarn store owner!”

Wearing flowers so beautifully created? To support Ukraine and her people?

It meant the world to her to be able to. She had never known such a thing existed.

I told her I had promised Oleksandra that I would wear her sunflower gerdan in celebration the day Ukraine wins the war.

“I will wear mine, too,” Kathryn promised. She laughed again, adding that she would on her vacation, too! And a whole lot of other days! She loved it so much.

They’re going to visit the area where she grew up, near my oldest, and near one of their children.

I came away from that conversation thinking, and I bet you’re going to find the perfect place, buy it, be done with your unpleasant LYS landlord and move away and my favorite yarn store will be gone forever. I selfishly hope not.

But wherever they go, love will be there because that is who they are and what they do.

Sunflowers and baby’s breath
Friday July 21st 2023, 8:51 pm
Filed under: History,Life

I was walking into Trader Joe’s yesterday when my eyes met those of an older woman looking into mine with clear and delighted recognition on her part. Ukrainian Orthodox, was my guess. I noted she did a quick glance at my chest, but no, I was not wearing a gerdan this time.

My mistake and one I instantly felt a pang at. I try to put one on before any outing around here for the sake of the refugees, if I’m not wearing an embroidered blouse from there, and instead she was the one smiling and putting me at ease.

I had not been planning on buying more of either for the moment.

She’ll never know it but I’m sure the impact on me of that, of how it made me feel that what I’ve been trying to do is actually more important to the community than I’d had any idea–and not just to me–is part of how the following happened.

What I wrote this morning to a Ukrainian artist I had not previously actually interacted with but whose page I had followed for months:

This is a beautiful necklace and I have admired your skill and art, but had not done more than that.

I woke up this morning with the surprise of a sense of certainty that was completely unexpected that I needed to buy this necklace: for me, but especially for you.

I of course cannot know your specific circumstances at all. I pray for Ukraine and its people every day, and somehow this morning it felt like God was saying, this daughter of mine needs to know that she is not alone. Go be with her. Share the love of her work with her out loud where she can hear it.

And so I bought it and am very grateful for the privilege of doing so. Thank you for making this. I will wear it with pride and love and much gratitude, and I wish you all my very best from across the world.

Such a beautiful letter I got back. It will stay with me a long, long time.

All in it together
Tuesday July 18th 2023, 8:28 pm
Filed under: Friends,History,Life

He’s a fellow gardening and fruit tree enthusiast, so I wore my beaded cherry tree necklace to the doctor’s today. Besides, it’s pretty and I’m a relentless showoff for other people’s art.

He liked it, and I told him a woman in Ukraine had made it for me. In Kherson.

He took a deep breath at that one. Then a quiet, “Wow.”

She had sent me pictures of her apartment, I added, nodding, and had declared, We will repel the invaders. We will rebuild.

We quickly got on with what was supposed to be the point of the appointment, tests, lupus, meds, etc.

But as it was time to leave, he suddenly stopped and turned back to me. He’d clearly been thinking about it because he said, “Please give her all my best.”

He paused a moment, then added with maybe more emotion than he’d intended, “Please tell her we’re all with her.” He wanted so much to convey that. I promised him I would.

And I remembered the time he had had to cancel an appointment with me to fly to his elderly widowed mom in Hong Kong when she had been ill. He had never outright said it but I knew that that was while the mainland authorities were violently putting down large pro-democracy protests. But his mom needed him. He came. Her whole country…

Please tell her we’re all with her.

That I did, and why it was especially meaningful to me to hear it coming from him.