A Mother’s Day Thank You to the ROSE Fund

 Mother’s Day last weekend was especially terrific.

 My youngest daughter graduated from college in New Mexico the day before, so I was there to spend it with her.  It’s been at least five years since we were together for Mother’s Day, and she went to great lengths to make it special. We agreed it would be more convenient to celebrate in advance of the actual day, when restaurants and the like are over-crowded.

The morning began with coffee. Then pedicures. We got a massage together, followed by an ionic cleanse, and lunch at a Turkish restaurant. Such fun.

On the actual Mother’s Day, we drove to my sister’s gorgeous farm in a nearby town and relaxed with her and her husband. Again, so special.

That night, back at the dorms, I caught up on emails and blog links. I read about the R.O.S.E. Fund’s success in helping Crusita Martinez reconstruct her entire face after a former boyfriend threw battery acid on her face as a punishment for leaving her when she was just 18 years old. Now, seven years later, she is mother to a little girl who understands that her mother’s strength is her beauty.

http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/lifestyle/2012/05/13/mother-day-mom-fights-back-against-domestic-violence/

What a wonderful story of survival.

I’m partial to the R.O.S.E. Fund.  They helped me reconstruct my life, and, as their acronym indicates, they’ve helped scores of survivors in Regaining One’s Self Esteem.

Founded it 1992,  the New England-based  non-profit has directed resources to helping survivors of domestic violence while raising public awareness about the issue. In the 90’s, the R.O.S.E. Fund gave awards to a few nominated women a year, and in 1998, I was one of those lucky few.

At the time, I worked as a domestic violence advocate full-time, but couldn’t afford  medical insurance for my daughters. I hoped to complete a graduate degree in psychology and write a book about my experiences.

Then came the call. I had won a $10,000 R.O.S.E. Award. The girls and I were flown to Boston, where we were presented with the award at a banquet. I gave a talk in front of 500 attendants, including the entire team of the New England Patriots. It was a dream come true.

Thanks to the award, I finished my degree in psychology, which allowed me to get a job that provided medical benefits for my daughters. That allowed me to give up my paper route and focus on writing. Which allowed me to complete my book.

Today, the R.O.S.E. Fund focuses on helping victims of domestic violence who need reconstructive surgery,    and assists educators with tools they can use in high schools to prevent and/or address teen dating violence.

To me, their gift was enough to give me a leg up without promoting any kind of dependency upon them.

Thanks to the R.O.S.E. Fund, I had the courage to chase a dream. And watching that transformation  helped my daughters chase theirs.

Would you like more information on how you can help?  Feel free to peruse the link below.

http://www.rosefund.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7&Itemid=18

Happy Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to all.

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A few of my favorite blogs

This week, I’m a bundle of nerves.  I don’t know if it’s information overload about all that is wrong with the world today, upcoming travels, or just too much caffeine. 
What I do know is there are certain blog links I read that help pacify, even inspire me. Below are a few examples. 

How to Quit Your Job, Move to Paradise and Get Paid to Change the World

http://www.problogger.net/archives/2011/05/18/how-to-quit-your-job-move-to-paradise-and-get-paid-to-change-the-world/

How to Get Great Blogging Clients…Even if You’re a Teenage Nigerian

http://www.makealivingwriting.com/2012/02/29/great-blogging-clients-teenage-nigeria/

How to Live Well
http://zenhabits.net/live/

What have you read lately that’s caused your heart to dance? I’d love to hear from you.

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International Parental Child Abduction, Then and Now

Did you have the chance to watch young Sean Goldman on television Friday night on NBC?  He’s the adorable little boy who was snatched from the states by his Brazilian mother in 2005. She died four years later. Still, her family refused to return Sean home to his heartbroken father, who’d been fighting all along to have his son returned to his place of habitual residence. 
Through legal means, the Brazilian courts ordered the return of Sean Goldman in 2009, and NBC kindly chartered a plane that skirted them both out of Brazil and safely home. He wrote A Father’s Love, and has a website, http://bringseanhome.org/
After the show, I looked at author Peter Senese’s site. http://www.chasingthecyclone.com/CHASING_THE_CYCLONE_Home_Pa.php 
He wrote newly released Chasing the Cyclone, a work of fiction based largely on his own experience of parental international child abduction. Again, after a long struggle, international law supports the single father whose son is safely returned home.
And I couldn’t help but wonder, Did I do it all wrong? What dramatic changes have occurred since the mid-nineties, when I sought the legal return of my abducted daughters, only to go for broke, have my legal custody overturned, get arrested, and sneak out of Greece like a thief in the night with my girls.
I spent the weekend inventorying the factors that may have contributed to their success
Gender   Had I been an American man seeking custody of my stolen daughters in Greece, would that have helped?     It horrible to think about, but I wonder.
Class        I didn’t have any. These gentlemen both appear to be well-bred.
Wealth     I had even less cash than class. 
Internet   In the mid-nineties, information was much less accessible. Other countries didn’t have internet available in their homes, and search engines were useless for a layperson’s investigation. Now, it’s so much easier to get instant information, rally supporters, and lobby for change.
Passage of time  Each parent’s experience of international parental child abduction paved the way for the next hopeful searching parent. Legal precedents are set. Attorneys build their new cases on old ones. My failing may have been a tiny bit of help for these current happy endings sixteen years later.
 If you had to guess, which factor would you give the most weight?
Take a look at their websites and books if you get a chance. I’m impressed with their stories of survival, but the greater systems changes that both Mr. Goldman and Mr. Senese have made for other victims of international parental child abduction.  

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Web of Friendship

Editor’s note:

The connections I’ve maintained with my childhood friends taught me how a lot about how family could be, and equipped me to find my missing family. I met Susan Sommer when we were in grade school, and am so pleased to have her as my first guest blogger.

By Susan Sommer

I’ve done battle with my share of remote controls, new TV set-up instructions, and computer software glitches, but I have to say, technology is my friend—especially the internet. Yep, I’m Googley-eyed and face Facebook daily, I’m LinkedIn and loving it, I cheer along other “losers” on LoseIt!, I read blogs from A to Z, and my comments are scattered across the globe.

Now, I’m not some loner dork who sits all day at the keyboard and doesn’t know how to converse at
parties. I have plenty of real-world friends and do get out enough to know, for example, whether it’s still winter or not.

Seriously, though, the internet is a thing of beauty, IMHO (and just a few short years ago I didn’t
know what that stood for). I’ve reconnected with people from my past who I thought I’d never see or
hear from again. And not just old boyfriends either, but true friends—people I’d traveled with, a
childhood pen pal, high school classmates who are now as (gulp) middle-aged as I.

I treasure my family and friends who live near enough to see on a regular basis—these are the people
who know me best and who I know I can always rely on no matter what. They are the base of my days, weeks, months, and years. Without them, I would be the loner dork. But getting reacquainted with old friends online—as well as making new ones who I might never meet, but could, if one of us happens to be passing through the other’s town or attending the same conference, and you never know who is destined to become your next old friend—has broadened my world.

I grew up in Alaska, sometimes in the far reaches of the Alaskan bush. I always felt sheltered. I remedied that by traveling as a young woman, but now that I’m married and stable and I work from home, I’ve once again become somewhat cut off from new experiences. The internet offers me the web of friendship outside my immediate sphere of existence. I trade thoughts on editing with LinkedIn members; I learn fascinating tidbits about farming from a Facebook group (like the best way to kill a chicken before plucking and processing, and that you can use goat placenta in a facial mask); I receive encouragement to keep shedding those extra pounds from my LoseIt! friends, only one of whom I actually know in person; and as a member of our 30-year high school reunion planning committee (which I sucked myself into by being the first to open my mouth online about the upcoming event), I can’t imagine trying to find old classmates by perusing the telephone book (you now, that big heavy paper tome plopped unceremoniously at the end of our driveways each spring?).

Despite the fact that for some reason my husband seems to think I’m just goofing around on Facebook all day (not ALL day, I tell him when I stagger down from my office and open the fridge and think hmmm, what am I going to make for dinner?), social media and search engines have changed my life for the better in unique ways. Our rural-ish neighborhood has drawn closer through use of a handful of closed Facebook groups—one for wildlife sightings, one for bartering, and another for general ramblings. I recently, finally, found my old pen pal from when I was ten years old. We’d met once, traded a few holiday cards over the years, then lost touch; turns out we’re leading very similar lifestyles, right down to how many and what type of pets we have. And just this week when I was doing research online for a freelance article, I “met” a woman who had visited Alaska several years ago and was familiar with my parents’ old trapping cabin from the 1950s.

It’s a small world out there. I don’t panic when I go off-grid for a few days like some people do. My
phone is dumb so I can’t check email. But if the internet ever disappeared, for whatever reason, I would surely miss its power to connect.

Susan Sommer is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Alaska.  She holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing & Literary Arts.  Visit her at www.akwriter.com
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Celebrating a Gift

Today is cause for a celebration.

Exactly twenty three years ago, after nearly 70 hours of labor, my youngest daughter Meredith was born. At home.  The only attendants were her toddler-sister and her alarmed father.

The midwife set to deliver her had left to refill the oxygen tank and was side-tracked by a lunch offer.  I waited for her as long as I could, until the pain in my back took a sudden turn, and very quickly, Meredith was born.  The eight pound, bruised and battered baby looked up at me, and it was love.

Other mothers assured me that I wouldn’t ever remember the pain of labor.

I remember.  Like it were yesterday.     

But what I remember more was how quickly my squalling baby turned into a feisty toddler that turned into a rebellious teenager that turned into a kind, ambitious,  and gracious young woman.

Motherhood (parenthood) is a gift. There’s nothing I’ve ever wanted more, or been less prepared to do.  No job I have worked harder at, and still fumbled.   And there is absolutely nothing that has given me greater joy.  I’m so fortunate to have been a part of this child’s life.

Happy Birthday, Meredith Eleni.

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Three Reasons to Locate Your Missing Family Members

Did you get a chance to watch the television show The Locator on We TV before it went off the air?  The one where investigator Troy Dunn found missing loved ones and filmed the reunions?  His tagline was You can’t find peace until you find all the pieces.

That was true for me. One of the best decisions I ever made in my youth was to find my missing father.  I was still young enough that I didn’t fully realize how much growing up without him hurt me. Or how growing up hearing scary stories about him shaped not just the way I felt about him, but how I felt about myself.

Of course, when I located my father (thanks to my attorney friend Ira) in May of 1985, I found out I had a whole passel of siblings I hadn’t known about; five brothers and one sister.  I had more aunts and uncles than I’d ever imagined, and cousins galore. And I learned that much of what I’d heard about my father and why my parents split simply weren’t true. I also learned that despite what my mother told me, my father had wanted me,  and didn’t know where I’d disappeared to the day he went to exercise his visitation and I’d gone missing.

Years later, I met a brother on my mom’s side I hadn’t seen since I was a toddler. Again, it was magic. I followed up by contacting family I’d lost contact with for one reason or another.  Each reunion was a gift all its own.Twenty-seven years after my first family reunion, the connections I’ve made with family continue to add color and dimension to my life, and I often tell others with missing family members, “Look him (or her, or them) up! What are you worried about?”

In truth, locating missing family comes with inherent risks of rejection, disappointment, and the likelihood that unsavory family secrets get revealed. But the reasons for finding missing family trump those, in my experience.
Wanda and Me 003
Sister Wanda in Anchorage
Aunts and Uncles, Kentucky
074

Vincent, David, LauraGrace, Gardnar, and Danny Meredith
Tana and Mere 024
Sister Maddy, brother Harold, and daughter Meredith


Three Reasons to Find Your Missing Family

  1. Because you want answers- to your family history, health history, and to know what part of you is due to nature vs. nurture.  For me, getting to know my whole family helped me know and accept myself easier.
  2. Because we all need connection. Without them, we become prickly, weird, and depressed. You might unearth more weirdness by finding your missing family. But you may very well expand your capacity to love.
  3. Because you’re dying. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we all are, beginning the process as soon as we’re born.  With your days being numbered, don’t you want to know who’s out there with your DNA?

When my oldest daughter began dating Vince, an old friend of hers from high school, I learned two things about him. He had cancer. And he grew up in a splintered family like I had. He told me his mom had been a young Filipina immigrant when she married his father, a tall and rough American soldier.

Vince had vivid memories of his father terrorizing his mother after they separated. He remembered her not being allowed to exercise her custody rights, and remembered her moving out of state.
“I want to know my family,” he told me. “I want to know them all, the Filipino side, my siblings, all of them. Can you help me?”
I was thrilled to be asked.

But before I got very far, Vince’s health took a sharp turn for the worse. In February of 2010, he told me he thought he was dying.  Within the next eight weeks,   his body was ravaged by tumors.  He lay in the middle of his family’s living room while they smoked cigarettes and played the television loudly. Unable to eat or speak, his face hallowed and his eyes sunk.  He was in much pain, and I privately wondered why he fought the inevitable for so long.

It turned out that his mother had been granted permission by his father to see him one last time. A dozen years had passed since she had seen him. Vince’s mother hadn’t been permitted access to Vince was a small boy, and though she called and sent packages irregularly, it wasn’t the same.

vinceandcass
Vince’s mother arrived in Alaska on May 14th and was given an hour or more to visit. Though he could no longer communicate verbally, Vince relaxed into his mother’s embrace. He died many hours later, on May 15, 2010.

http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR/RelayForLife/RFLCY16GW?pg=entry&fr_id=75351

If Vince had some assurance he’d get to meet his Filipino family, be they good, bad or indifferent, would he have lived longer?  Lived happier?  We’ll never know.  I do know that finding mine changed everything, and like Troy Dunn promised, I found peace.

Do you have stories of finding missing family members that you’d like to share?  Or have family that you’re thinking about finding? Leave a comment below.

Not Judging Amy/ An Employer Responds to Domestic Violence

Tonight, I went to the University of Alaska, Anchorage’s (UAA)  screening of Telling Amy’s Story, a documentary sponsored by Verizon Wireless after their long-time Pennsylvania employee was shot at point blank range in her home by her husband while her parents and her children waited for her outside in an idling vehicle.

Long before Amy’s murder ten years ago, Verizon invested in employee trainings on family violence, teaching their managers the three R’s:

            1) Recognize the signs of domestic violence.
2) Respond in a manner that promoted respect to the victim and safety to coworkers.
3) Refer the victim to a local domestic abuse agency.

That’s more than most companies do, but it wasn’t enough to save thirty-three year-old Amy Homan McGee. After her life ended abruptly, her safe and sheltered Pennsylvania community was stunned. It wasn’t until police completed a fatality review in 2005 that family, friends, and coworkers interviews pieced together the pattern of control and intimidation she had been subjected to by her husband.

It’s surprised me that the film attracted more than fifty people in the Anchorage showing. It started at 5:30 at night, after work or school for most of us. But in Alaska, the prevalence of domestic violence is high in a state with otherwise relatively low crime rate.

Nationally, 1 of every 4 women in the United States has or will experience domestic violence, according to the Center for Disease Control’s 2008 data.

In Alaska, it’s 1 out of 2 women, according to UAA’s Justice Center figures from 2010.

Of all the women murdered in America, 50% were killed by their current or former husband or lover, according to the Department of Justice in 2007.

For murdered men, that figure is 5%.

Telling Amy’s Storygives those in her life who outlived her a chance to process their devastation as they struggle to find where missed points for intervention occurred.

Most of us will have a friend, a daughter, a mother, or sister who will experience interpersonal violence within their lifetimes. Do you know what local resources in your community can help?

Pennsylvania Detective Deirdri Fishel said it best; “If you can’t be safe in your own home, does it matter if your community is safe?”

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To Eat or Not to Eat: The End of a Troubled Relationship

Not all bad relationships are between people. I’ve limped along my negative relationship with food for decades, carrying the associated emotional and physical baggage. 
My old diaries from ages 13 and 14 are missing the cursory teenage angst about boys and mean girls at school. Even the fact that my mother disappeared with her last husband, leaving me and high dry with a barely- adult sister.
Instead, the journals contain page after page of what I ate:
         
          Monday- cornflakes with skim milk.
     Tuesday-same.
    Wednesday-same.  
    Thursday- one box of Suzy Q’s, one pound M&M’s, cornflakes with whole milk.
You get the point. Starve, starve, starve, and binge.
When I was in my mid-twenties, already a single mother of two girls and on food stamps, a friend set me up on a date. The date wanted to meet for lunch at Simon & Seafort’s, an Anchorage landmark known for its fabulous seafood and steaks. I spent the next few days fantasizing about what I would eat. Should I order something I knew I’d love, like a burger and fries, or venture into new territory and order a shrimp louie?  My poor future date.  I never thought a lick about him.
Just as well.
We met for lunch a few days later. My date was a portly brunette at least twenty years older than me with a mustache that covered his upper lip. He didn’t smile much, but talked a lot. He was a museum curator, and he assured me he had LOTS of money. “Order anything you like,” he said. Seeing my look of surprise, he said, “I’m serious. Anything.”
He didn’t have to tell me twice. But since he did, I went wild with the appetizers. Calamari, potato wedges with gruyere, beef tips, and crab and artichoke dip on bread. Yum!
My date? I don’t know what he ate. He just talked and talked and talked. But I didn’t mind. I was self-medicating. Our waitress circled the table repeatedly, trying to take away baskets with food still in it. Since my mouth was full, I had to shoo her away by waving my free hand.
When the bill came, my date finally got quiet. “I’ve never had a lunch cost so much,” was his only comment.
Another one bites the dust.  Although it was a great temporary departure from poverty, the food hangover lasted for days.
As much as I adore eating, I don’t love the feeling of being that out of control.  I want to eat food that’s kind to me, and eat what I need, not everything I can swallow.
It’s important to be intentional about all relationships. I don’t hang out with people who bring out my worst qualities or encourage me to abandon goals and core beliefs.
 And the same is true with food.

Recently, I’ve come to love the show Hungry Girl on the Food Network.  I’m confident Lisa Lillien and I would be friends if she lived in Alaska.  The food is fun, with respectable portions thanks to some innovative substitutions. I haven’t tried a recipe of hers that I didn’t love.  A close second is Not My Mama’s Meal’s by Bobby 
To Eat or Not to Eat: Three Questions I Ask Myself When Deciding
  1.       )      Is this food good for me?
    2)      Will I like myself after I’ve eaten it?
    3)      Have I exercised enough to burn the energy it will give me?

Pretty simple, but I’m used to telling myself I deserve to eat this cake, French fries etc., instead of I deserve to feel healthy and fit.  And I do deserve to be healthy.

You do, too.

Any recipes or tips you’d like to share, Dear Reader?

Turkey burger with Hungry Girl Onion Rings

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3d Book Group/AfterImage by Carla Malden

Every six weeks or so, I get together with some of my favorite friends and talk books.  Until now, we’ve met at a coffee shop, spoken about our impressions of the book, and let conversation morph into one about our lives and loves.

(1/2 the group at Cafe Del Mundo




This time, we tried something different.
I selected the book AfterImage by Carla Malden. It was recommended to me last summer at a writer’s conference as an example of a memoir that seamlessly moves from the past to the future while telling a beautiful love story.
Normally, books about women whose husbands have died make me jealous. My marriage was heinous, and I really wanted my husband to die. I prayed for it to happen. It never did.
But this book tells of an enviable relationship that began for the writer as a teenager and led to a personal and professional partnership (the two were screenwriters) that ended too soon. The author had me hooked in the first paragraph:
“Mrs. Starkman,” said the doctor, “sit down.”
          Ten months, three week later, my husband was dead.
           Cancer is an awesome opponent. Sometimes it wins. Even when it most should not. Even when all goodness is on the other side.
I wasn’t the only one who loved AfterImage. We all agreed that it was lyrically written, universally relatable, and pretty funny in spots for a book of its kind.
I saw on the author’s site that she attends book groups in person or via Skype when possible. She responded immediately when I submitted a request. Due to the time difference between Alaska and California, we settled on a Q and A format. The group submitted their questions and comments to me which I forwarded on to Ms. Malden.
What was it like, writing this without your husband who you wrote with for ages?
It was the only type of writing I could do without him.  I could not return to screenwriting (and still              have not).  This was a completely different type of writing — more individual, less dependent on a particular structure.  I found I could access that voice, whereas I didn’t feel I had the confidence or the inclination to write a screenplay without him.  We had developed a rhythm as to how to do that together over the years that I didn’t feel I could re-invent.  This book took on a method of its own.  I had to write it, in a way, even though it was agonizing.  
  Was it a cathartic experience? 
   “Cathartic” isn’t precisely the right word.  But it was a learning experience.  I learned that I really                    love writing prose which I hadn’t done in a long time.  In retrospect (as it’s been a few years now since I finished the actual writing), I realize that it was important for me to turn the events of that year into some sort of narrative that I could wrap my arms around, to make it less surreal.  Writing the book helped me understand that this had really happened… and, at the same time, turned it into a “story” that I could somehow contain (or, at least, have the illusion of containing).  Maybe it helped stop that “story” from subsuming the rest of my life because for a while there, I really felt like I would never come up for air.  Wasn’t sure I wanted to — which I think is necessary part of the process.  I now believe you have to make that daily choice to live — in whatever limited way you can — when you’re in the darkest depths of an experience like that.
  What are you reading now?
  Right now I’m reading “Defending Jacob” which is a courtroom best seller — the kind of thing I very  rarely read, but it happened to be on a Kindle that was given to me.  (I rarely read on the Kindle either — I prefer the old-fashioned way!).  Before that, I read a book called “Heft” that I found enormously inventive and compelling.  Within the past year I was on a Meg Wolitzer kick — caught up with everything of hers I hadn’t read before, and then, coincidentally, her mother, Hilma Wolitzer, just came out with a new book called “An Available Man” which I really enjoyed (though it kind of freaked me out because it’s about a widower and parts of it were so much like a fictionalized version of my book).
There were a few more questions she answered, but you get the drift, Reader. Suddenly reading a touching story became a real conversation, and our book group was so thankful that our author provided insight. And the author was sincerely touched that we chose her book to read and spent time discussing it.
Our 3d book group was a great success. Next group, we’re hoping to have local author Bong attend with us and tell us about writing Escape to Survive.
What tips do you have to keep your book group fun and relevant?

 AfterImage will soon be available in paperback.

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Child Abduction’s Anniversary

Eighteen years ago today, my daughters were snatched and taken to Greece.

There are certain details I’ll never forget. I remember waving goodbye to them as they climbed into their father’s jeep for their two day visitation.   I remember meeting my friend Julie for lunch that day to celebrate her birthday. I remember feeling slightly guilty for enjoying the much-needed break from the constant demands of single motherhood, not realizing that this break would last just over two long years.

March 13, 1994 is one of my life’s uglier anniversaries.

But there is much about the next many months and years that are important to remember. Important enough that I’ve written them down so that our history will not be erased.
I remember the support from my friends, my coworkers, and the Anchorage community at large. The tireless work of local attorneys Michael Schneider and James Gorton. And I remember the trips to Greece which led to new and lasting friendships, and to finding my daughters. Only to be arrested.
International parental child abduction is on the rise. Less than half of the parents whose children are taken from home countries ever see them again.

But thanks to the help of so many, I became one of the luckier ones.
So what’s the anniversary I do celebrate?

May 24, 1996. The day the girls and I returned home to Alaska.

 In truth, I celebrate just a little every day that this crisis from our past could not prevent us from enjoying a fabulous future.



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