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Jessica Buchanan, an Alexandria-based author, podcaster and motivational speaker, will publish her second book on Jan. 25, 2023. Buchanan was held captive for three months by Somali pirates rescued by SEAL Team Six. (Courtesy photo)

Getting rescued from Somali pirates by Navy SEALs is one thing, but at the end of the day Jessica Buchanan had to save herself.

An Ohio native, Buchanan was an aid worker in northern Somalia when she and fellow aid worker Poul Hagen Thisted were kidnapped in October 2011. With an untreated thyroid condition worsening, she was kept on a starvation diet and slept in the open desert for 93 days. She was rescued by a team of 24 U.S. Navy SEALs, and President Obama phoned Buchanan’s father to inform him on the news of her release.

In the 11 years since her rescue, Buchanan became a mother of two, a New York Times best-selling author, motivational speaker and podcaster. Now with the anniversary of her rescue approaching on Jan. 25, she’s celebrating with the release of her second book, “Deserts to Mountaintops: Our Collective Journey To (re)Claiming Our Voices.”

The book tells aspects of Buchanan’s story, as well as those of 21 other women.

“I think I’ve learned how to rescue myself,” Buchanan told ALXnow on a Zoom interview. “It’s like the hero’s journey, right? Like you go through the whole thing and you learn your lessons and then the last stage of the journey is to complete that cycle and share them. Yes, I was rescued, then I had to figure out how to rescue myself. Now I’m helping other women figure out how to rescue themselves.”

Buchanan hosts We Should Talk About That, a podcast for women that broadcasts from ALX Community in Old Town. She and her husband and two children live in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County.

The book will be available online and in bookstores on Jan. 25.

The anthology “Deserts To Mountaintops” will be release on Jan. 25, 2013. (Courtesy image)

ALXnow: When were you last in Africa? 

Buchanan: At the time of the kidnapping, my home was in Nairobi (Kenya) and afterward my husband and I went back there for a year. My son was born there in 2012, and I got pregnant with him about three weeks after the rescue. We moved to Alexandria in 2013 with the intention to move back, but life had other plans for us. We also have an eight-year-old daughter.

ALXnow: How have you talked to your kids about this? 

Buchanan: We always thought that when they were ready to hear about it that they would come to us with questions. It’s probably been in the last year that we’ve talked about it more. I do a lot of fundraising for the Navy SEAL Foundation. In February of last year, I brought my family with me to one of their fundraisers and it was the first time they’d heard me speak. It was really difficult for them. They knew about it, of course, they’ve seen the book laying around.

ALXnow: But this was the first time they witnessed you holding court and openly talking about your story.

Buchanan: It was. My son was fixated on the men with guns, and my daughter, who is very empathetic and sensitive, felt a lot of sorrow. She understood that this was something that was super hard.

But it was a teachable moment, too, because I could say to them that this was the hardest thing I’ll ever go through.

“Look at me now,” I tell them. “I’m okay, and I’m strong and you’re a part of me, and that means that you’re strong, too. So, whatever you’re gonna face in your life, because you’re gonna face hard things, you go back and know that you’re made out of tough stuff.” That’s kind of the message that I try to portray to my kids.

ALXnow: Can you tell me about that folded flag behind your desk in the case?

Buchanan: This is the flag that SEAL Team Six presented to me on the plane on the way out of the desert.

ALXnow: It must have been dramatic holding that.

Buchanan: I couldn’t talk. Like, I couldn’t form any words for hours (after the rescue). Nothing would come out of my mouth. I would open it and nothing would come out. I was just in so much shock… I was sitting on a bench on the plane, and I’m wearing rags. The whole thing, it’s just so bizarre, and then the SEAL handed me something and just put it on my lap and I looked down and it was this flag and he said, “Welcome home, Jessica,” and I started to sob uncontrollably. Then I could start talking. Then the words came.

ALXnow: How have you been able to overcome this trauma? Therapy, antidepressants, saunas? 

Buchanan: All of the above, and you don’t get over it. You just learn to carry it. It’s with me every single day. It’ll never not be with me. I will always think about it. It will probably be one of the last things I think about before I die. It changed my life trajectory. It changed me on a cellular level. I think that’s what parlays into the work that I do now. It’s like I had to make it mean something in order to bear it.

ALXnow: To be rescued by Navy SEALs is one thing, but ever since then you’ve been on the mission to rescue yourself from the depths of trauma and depression.

Buchanan: I think that that’s a really interesting way of putting it. I think I’ve learned how to rescue myself. It’s like the hero’s journey, right? Like you go through the whole thing and you learn your lessons and then the last stage of the journey is to complete that cycle and share them. Yes, I was rescued, then I had to figure out how to rescue myself. Now I’m helping other women figure out how to rescue themselves.

ALXnow: Now you’re publishing a second book, “Deserts to Mountaintops,” an anthology of stories from 21 other women who faced challenges in what you describe as reclaiming their voices. What does “reclaiming their voices” mean?

Buchanan: It means that you know your boundaries and that you stick to them, that you don’t feel pressured or guilted into doing things that you don’t want to do. It means that you not afraid to be yourself. It’s about showing up in the world unapologetically and not trying to make yourself small, not trying to fit into somebody else’s idea of who you should be, not being embarrassed by the things that you want, the things that you like, the things that you say. It’s about self-love and acceptance.

I’m the lead author on this book, and in my story everybody always thinks that it started for me on the afternoon of the kidnapping when our car was taken over. But it really starts several hours before then. I knew something was off, that something bad was gonna happen. My intuition was screaming at me so much so that I had nightmares all night long that I — I kid you not — that I was going to be kidnapped by pirates. I chose not to listen because I would let too many people down. I was afraid I would look stupid. I was afraid I would lose my job. I had been bullied into the situation in the first place.

ALXnow: You thought you would be fine.

Buchanan: Right. I was a girl from America in her early 30s. I’m a school teacher from Ohio. And I think that that’s the hardest thing to carry, that I have to really work and manage, that bad things happen. Life is really hard. None of us are exempt and none of us are immune. But what I know now is that is that things are survivable.

ALXnow: You’ve become a hiker.

Buchanan: So, the inspiration for “From Deserts To Mountaintops” is metaphorical and it’s also literal for me. I spent three months living in a desert, and part of my therapy and healing has involved hiking. My dad lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains and he’s an avid hiker. We lost my mom really suddenly the year before the kidnapping happened, and he really got through his grief through hiking.

So, I have spent the last 10 years putting one foot in front of the other. A lot of times I don’t listen to music, either. I hike a lot of times with my kids and my family, and then when I do get to be alone, it’s sacred, beautiful healing work. It took me a long time to learn how to trust and love the outdoors again, because I was so traumatized by living outside for so long.

ALXnow: Jan. 25 is around the corner. Is that a big day for you? 

Buchanan: It’s my rescue day. It’s a huge day for me. I’m never really sure how I’m going to react to it. This year is going to feel like absolute celebration and reclamation. Next up is volume two of “Deserts To Mountaintops: Our Journey To (re)Claiming Our Bodies.” I am looking for women who want to write about their journey to reclaiming their bodies, whether it’s their health or self-image, and I would love to have a story of someone who has transitioned for their outsides to match their insides.

ALXnow: What’s the unifying thread in the stories in your new book? Your writers have all faced adversity. Is it about the moment they decided to change?

Buchanan: It’s the moment when they decided to love themselves. They decided to rescue themselves, and no one can really do that for you. You have to do it for yourself.

ALXnow: Are there any aphorisms that you live by?

Buchanan: Things don’t happen to us, they happen for us.

ALXnow: Did this event happen to you so that you could help people?

Buchanan: I think it happened so I could learn to love myself and then help teach other women how to do that.

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A magical apothecary tour will materialize in Old Town next week, just in time for the holidays.

The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum (105-107 S. Fairfax Street) is hosting the annual event on Friday, Dec. 16, and fans of J.K. Rowling’s books can learn about her inspirations in the muggle field of botanical science. Visitors will learn about fumigating pastiles, sweet marjoram and cuttle fish bone, among others.

The tour explores the apothecary and “the historic muggle medicines that inspired the Herbology and Potions of Harry’s wizarding world,” according to the City.”

The event sells out quickly and is recommended for adults and kids eight years old and up. It will be held on Friday, Dec. 16, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $15 per person, or $10 for Office of Historic Alexandria members.

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Fully stocked bookshelf (image via Old Town Books/Facebook)

As Alexandria moves into fall, it’s likely locals will want to nurse a cup of hot coffee at their local shop or curl up at home on the couch with a good book. If you’re not sure what that book should be: Ally Kirkpatrick has a few ideas.

Kirkpatrick, owner of Old Town Books (130 S Royal Street), said in some ways Alexandria follows national trends on what’s popular, but there are other titles that catch on specifically with the local clientele.

“Something that’s a best-seller everywhere doesn’t always translate to local stores,” Kirkpatrick said.

While the assumption might be that political books are the hot commodities in a D.C.-area bookstore, Kirkpatrick said there’s a bit more nuance to what will take off. Readers got burned out on books about the Trump administration, for instance, but New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman’s book Confidence Man was released around the time of the Jan. 6 trials and proved to be a best seller.

Other popular books have more of a local connection.

“We sold so many copies of [Matthew Cappucci’s] book,” Kirkpatrick said. “I think that’s specific to our area. We did an event with him and he was so charming and wonderful and we sold out. We probably sold more copies than a Barnes and Noble a few states away would. When we get a connection like that, it’s more location specific.”

Another recent example was Uncultured by Daniella Mestyanek Young.

“Normally with a memoir, we’d buy a couple of copies, but she’s local so we bought two cartons,” Kirkpatrick said.

Kirkpatrick said Old Town Book stocks books across the political spectrum, though there’s some curation involved.

“The younger generation skews more liberal stuff, but I also know older dudes who like more middle-of-the-road conservative stuff,” Kirkpatrick said. “[There’s a] difference between censorship and curation. We sell anything, but we try to make it more [in line with] what our values are. We also listen to what anyone across the spectrum is listening to and buying. We had the new Henry Kissinger book out on the table for a week, but after that week it was like ‘alright, that’s all Henry gets.'”

Kirkpatrick said while visitors from outside of the region will stop by and buy a water bottle or t-shirt, most of the book sales are either to neighbors or to local tourism — visitors from D.C., Maryland or other parts of Northern Virginia.

“The local tourists, they’re cool,” Kirkpatrick said. “They buy six books at a time.”

One of the recent best-sellers was Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died.

“It’s a really powerful book,” Kirkpatrick said. “It really hit that zeitgeist moment, especially when there’s social media sharing about the book. You could tell when it blew up on TikTok because we’d get calls asking if we had it in stock.”

Predicting what will be popular with readers can be a gamble, had Kirkpatrick said there have been a few times where something she thought would be big didn’t take off.

“There was a novel called A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara,” Kirkpatrick said. “It was a huge literary sensation. It sold well because it got picked up on social media. It’s a brutal book, hard to put down. Her new book came out and we bought a lot, but people weren’t into it. It was too far apart from her first book and people forgot about it. It had a big section about a pandemic and I think people were over pandemic stuff. It’s too soon, it didn’t sell as much.”

That’s not to say pandemic topics are completely toxic to readers, Kirkpatrick said there are a few that have managed to stand out.

“I actually really loved the latest Michael Lewis, The Premonition, and we sold three cartons of that because I was like ‘no, it’s a good pandemic book, it’s about bureaucracy and the flaws in the public health system,'” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s fun because it’s sort of a chicken and the egg question: did we sell a lot because it’s popular or because we liked it?”

Kirkpatrick said she enjoys seeing parallels between what people are discussing online and what they’re buying in the store. With the release earlier this year of Dune, Kirkpatrick said the book has been flying off the shelves.

“We sell so much of Dune,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s amazing, we sell so many copies. We keep a stack of Dune upstairs because we know we’re going to sell it. There are like four different editions and we stock all of them because we love them and people by them. The movie came out too and that gave it a boost.”

Kirkpatrick said genre classics, like Dune or The Hobbit, always sell well and are frequently purchased as gifts. Read More

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Children and adults who missed their Hogwarts letter can celebrate Harry Potter’s birthday with a special tour of the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum.

This July 31, the Apothecary Museum will celebrate its annual Harry Potter guided birthday tour with the 25th anniversary of J.K Rowlings’ first wizarding book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

The tours explore the apothecary and “the historic muggle medicines that inspired the Herbology and Potions of Harry’s wizarding world,” according to the City.

The Harry Potter tours have been popular for potions-masters-in-the-making for several years. The museum still has all of the original ingredients that were in the pharmacy when it closed in 1933, including cannabis, opium, Dragon’s Blood, Mandrake Root and Wolf’s Bane.

Tours are every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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(Updated 4:50 p.m.) Under President Donald Trump, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch says that America resembled repressive regimes she’d seen overseas.

On Monday (May 9), Yovanovitch spoke about her memoir “Lessons From The Edge” at Pat Miller Square in the heart of Del Ray. The book documents her 33-year Foreign Service career that culminated with her being fired by Trump as the ambassador to Ukraine and her congressional testimony during his first impeachment.

“When I came back to the United States, I experienced… the smear campaign that was launched against me and other things,” Yovanovich said, “that felt like I was seeing some of the same things in the United States that I’d seen overseas, that we had a president who was using his office for personal gain, and the presidency is the highest office in the land.”

Yovanovitch worked for five presidents throughout her career, and began her ambassadorship of Ukraine under President Barack Obama in 2016. She served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, and retired from the State Department in 2020. She is now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a non-resident fellow at Georgetown University.

“Fast forward to the insurrection on January 6, and it was really very sobering that one of the things that I realized was we do have strong institutions, but they need us as much as we need them,” Yovanovich said. “We need people who are not just smart and competent, but people who are ethical, who work with integrity, and who will do the work of the people in the United States. And again, do it with integrity. When asked to do something that is wrong, they will say no, not because they are just loyal to the president of the the United States, they’ll say no because they are critical thinkers.”

Despite her disbelief over Trump’s election, for two years under the Trump administration she was largely left alone, she wrote. That was until 2019, when she said she became the target of a smear campaign by the administration to get her fired. She wrote that oligarchs and corrupt government officials will use disinformation to destroy competitors so effectively that the lies become more believable than the truth, and that the same tactics were being employed against her from Washington, D.C.

“I was being hung out to dry,” Yovanovitch wrote. “I had served five previous administrations, both Republican and Democrat. I had never seen anything like this.”

Five months after being removed from her post, Yovanovitch testified before the House Intelligence Committee during Trump’s first impeachment. As she testified, then-President Trump tweeted about her disparagingly, and Yovanovitch said it was “very intimidating.”

In her book, Yavonovich describes herself as an introvert, a behind-the-scenes operator who, before 2019, “never would have believed that anyone other than my family would find my story of interest,” she wrote. “But the reaction to my testimony changed that, and so I started writing, thinking that perhaps others might have something to gain from the story of my Foreign Service journey.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said that Alexandria is lucky to have public servants like Yovanovitch as a resident.

“The fragility of our democracy requires it that women and men are willing to stand up and defend it and defend it with courage,” Wilson said. “Oftentimes that integrity and that courage is buried somewhere deep in a bureaucracy that never sees the light of day. Nobody ever understands what actually happened. But sometimes that courage is required, not only to stand up to some of the most totalitarian regimes in the world, (but) sometimes even to the leader of the free world.”

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(Updated on Feb. 11) Fans of the “Goodnight Moon” classic children’s book are in for a treat, as there’s a new Goodnight Moon Room installation at the Torpedo Factory Art Center.

The project in Studio 9 is led by longtime Torpedo Factory artist Lisa Schumaier, who said she wants to give visitors a literary hug.

“When your parents get you on their lap or at night when you’re ready to go to bed, they’ll read a book to you, and it just gives you this cozy feeling,” Schumaier told ALXnow. “For me, when I have something bad happen, I can pick up a book and I feel that snuggle from my parents. I feel that snuggle from the book.”

The installation, based on the book by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd, includes the painting of the cow jumping over the Moon, the bunny, the red balloon, and even a fake fireplace.

“I have this weird love of fake fireplaces,” Schumaier said. “People just give them to me.”

As a mixed media artist, Schumaier said that she ordinarily gets odd gifts from friends and art fans.

“People give me weird stuff,” she said. “Like, I recently got a kimono. And bottle caps. Most people just give me bags and bags of bottle caps.”

The paintings in the installation were created by Torpedo Factory artists Tracie Griffith Tso, Judy Heiser and Chris Cardellino. On the bookshelf are banned books, including “The Catcher In The Rye”, “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Beloved”.

The installation opened on Saturday, Dec. 4, and closes on Sunday, February 20.

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Morning Notes

The fight to preserve Douglass Cemetery — “While the location’s rich past and personal connection served as an emboldening force for Johnson, he said he’s sorry that anyone’s final resting place could wind up in such a dilapidated state.” [Alexandria Times]

Advice from Old Town Books’ Ally Kirkpatrick — “We talked to Ally Kirkpatrick, founder and owner of Old Town Books, about curling up with a good read when the weather gets cold and finding the perfect book to give as a gift.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

City of Alexandria Receives Perfect Score on 2021 Municipal Equality Index — “The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation and Equality Federation Institute have announced that the City of Alexandria is one of 110 cities in the U.S. to receive the maximum possible score of 100% on the 2021 Municipal Equality Index (MEI)” [Zebra]

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Morning Notes

Old Town Books to open ‘Juniors’ pop-up shop — “Old Town Books is opening a winter pop-up shop called Old Town Books Juniors this month.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

Public invited to help lay wreaths at Alexandria National Cemetery Dec. 18 — “On Saturday, Dec. 18 — the same day as the wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery — there is another gathering planned for Alexandria National Cemetery.” [Zebra]

Lindsay Volvo development project starts — “Heavy equipment was hard at work destroying the remainder of the former Lindsay Motor Car Company Cadillac dealership on Quaker Lane Tuesday afternoon.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

COVID precautions urged for holidays in Alexandria — “Northern Virginia’s health directors anticipate a winter surge in COVID-19 cases and are recommending certain precautions for the holidays.” [Patch]

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Morning Notes

Alexandria seeks input on phase II revision of noise ordinance — “On May 15, the Alexandria City Council adopted phase I technical revisions of the City’s noise ordinance. The City is now seeking public input on a phase II revision that would address policy issues associated with land use, noise levels and changes with noise sources. The objective is to finalize this revision for Council consideration by the end of 2021.” [City of Alexandria]

Alexandria author writes book on 19th century Scottish migrant — “First-time author Ellen Hamilton has spent years working on the story of William Gregory, who settled here in Alexandria in 1807. Now, her first book, ‘A Scottish Migration to Alexandria’, is going into print.” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria Health Department to offer free flu shots — “In an effort to ensure that the community has access to the influenza vaccine, the Alexandria Health Department is hosting a free clinic on Saturday, Oct. 2 at Hammond Middle School from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.” [Zebra]

Today’s weather — “Rain showers in the morning with scattered thunderstorms arriving in the afternoon. High 79F. Winds SE at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 60%… Scattered thunderstorms in the evening, then mainly cloudy overnight with thunderstorms likely. Potential for heavy rainfall. Low 68F. Winds SSE at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 90%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Temporary bilingual COVID-19 vaccine promoter — “. The Vaccine Promotor(a)/CVN will engage with residents of underserved communities to provide education about COVID-19 and the importance of vaccination. The Promotor(a) will work with Neighborhood Health’s COVID-19 Outreach team to plan an overall outreach strategy and provide support to other vaccine-related activities.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Del Ray Italian restaurant to close — “Rosemarino D’Italia will close its doors after Wednesday, July 28 at its Alexandria location in Del Ray, after serving up Italian cuisine to its customers for the past eight years there, according to manager Edward Camacho.” [Alexandria Living]

Work starts on new Athleta store in Old Town — “Construction has started on the former La Tasca restaurant on King Street as the building owners make space for a store for Gap, Inc. athletic brand Athleta.” [Alexandria Living]

Harry Potter birthday tours this Saturday at Apothecary Museum — “In honor of Harry’s birthday, the Apothecary Museum is offering a special tour for families (and adults who missed their Hogwarts’ letter) that will explore the old Apothecary and the historic muggle medicines that inspired the Herbology and Potions of Harry’s wizarding world. Tours are every 30 minutes from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Recommended for fans ages 8 and older.” [City of Alexandria]

Today’s weather — “A mix of clouds and sun in the morning followed by cloudy skies during the afternoon. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 91F. Winds W at 5 to 10 mph… Some clouds early will give way to generally clear conditions overnight. Low 71F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Temporary enrichment and fitness instructor — “In pursuit of service excellence the Enrichment and Fitness Instructor provides youth, adult, and senior leisure classes at various recreation centers through the City of Alexandria. In this role, you will have the opportunity to ensure that the goals are met to provide a safe, fun, structured and engaging atmosphere for all our customers.” [Indeed]

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