The Final Piece of Me/Meeting My Brother After Five Decades and Other Adventures on My Book Tour

 

I mopped my floor with zeal.

This was how I knew my recent two week trip to Kentucky and Indiana, a combined book event and family reunion, was a success. Moments after getting home after sixteen hours of travel including layovers I was home, diving in to chores I often dread.

What a trip it was. I wish you could have been there. First, there was time with my niece and her kids, and with my sister, her mom. Then Great Day Live with the amazing Rachel Platt. What a terrific opportunity, and how lucky was I that my brother Danny encouraged me to reach out to her.

Great Day Live

Then time with my brother, more nieces and nephews, a cherished ritual of driving to family reunion with my favorite aunts, family reunion, and more sister/ brother time. And a trip to Berea, a place I’ve felt a magnetic pull to, was the icing on the cake.

But the single thing I’ll never forget was my book event itself at Barnes & Noble. The arrival of family, one by one. Some I knew. Some I’d never met. And I finally got to meet my brother Bill.

It had been five decades since I’d seen Bill. I was a wee one when we were separated, and don’t remember he and I hanging out as kids. But he did.
And then on June 8th, thanks to the intervention of my sister Maddy, I got to meet him. The final introduction. No more missing pieces in my sibling puzzle. Sure, I blubbered as I read from my memoir about a time when I was looking for my little girls in Greece without the benefit of family. But they were good tears. Tears of appreciation for the family Alaska was to me, and tears of joy for the family I later fell in love with. My big, loveable, sometimes dysfunctional, always colorful family.

Never did I believe I’d meet all of my missing siblings. We’d been scattered across the country growing up. But it happened. And it was spectacular.

Returning to Alaska, I tackled my little life with gusto. I mopped. Slept a bit. Went to a memorial service of my daughter’s old kindergarten classmate. And slid in to my first tango lesson. More relaxed and centered than I’ve been in a long, long time.

Thank you for  joining me today. Thank you always for the Facebook shares and online reviews also.

Next stop: Washington, then Sitka after a summer break.


Smile Before It’s Over

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Dr. Seuss

Just as I was packing for my Portland book event, I got the call that a friend died. Jim was more than a friend. To my little girls, he was a hero that defended their right to safety when they were in Greece, a rare rescuer who tried to stay in regular touch with them as they grew to be women. A great lawyer. An even better uncle. We will miss him, and will always be grateful for his love and support.
Portland was a comfort. From my hostel owners to the bookstore owner (thank you, Elisa at Another Read Through!) to the community at large and the other authors from She Writes Press, I couldn’t have had a more restful/low stress venue.
Me with memoirists Marianne Lile, Karen Meadows, and Nadine Kenney Johnstone.
This May I joined Zonta International, and am excited at the many people and possibilities that membership will provide to work empowering women and children around the globe. Since Zonta has chapters virtually everywhere, the opportunities will follow me into retirement, wherever I am.
Just when I was sure books sales would climb with time, Amazon has found a way to sell books without compensating authors and publishers. If you Google it, you’ll read about the crushing news this is to the publishing world.  Deep sigh.
Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters is a finalist for the International Book Awards! That, and a finalist for the USA Best Book Awards and a silver medalist for the IPPY’s in memoir/personal struggles. If I had endless personal leave and cash, I’d be flying to New York right now for the fancy IPPY ceremonies. Instead I’m plugging away at work and other writing projects, excited about next week’s event in Louisville Kentucky, the city of my birth. I’ve not ever had two sides of my family under one roof. I’m sure I’ll be a nervous wreck in the moment, but for now, it’s exciting to think about.
And that’s life in a nutshell. Still loving book groups and other events, but finding time for rest. Eight months after publication, I’m able to finally take a deep breath and look at both my book life and my regular life with calm energy. I stayed in my PJ’s last Saturday until 3PM and made myself an amazing smoothie, and was mindful to appreciate each ingredient-the spinach, the avocado, the raspberries, and the chia seeds. I let myself listen to my cats purr and didn’t worry about the messy house.
If you have friends or family in Louisville, Kentucky, please tell them I’ll be at Barnes and Noble-Hurstbourne soon! And I’ll speak with Rachel Platt at Great Day Live! even sooner.
 Life zips by quickly. It will forever be a mixed bag. It is so important to make a point of smiling before it’s over.
Thank you for your support.

Five Things I’m Grateful for in 2015

10509679_10204682674124685_4537211730364252991_nToday is winter solstice, the longest and darkest day of the year. Nowhere is it felt more powerfully than here in Alaska, near the top of the world.

I’ve spent years loathing this time of year, which regrettably falls right on the holidays. This has been an especially great year for me, and I’m more than a little sad to say goodbye to it.

Do you ever look back at the things you were most grateful for before the New Year? Doing that, rather than making lots of resolutions, has been a boost.

So for the chart toppers on my 2015 gratitude list—

koala

  • Facebook helped me to reconnect with two young men I knew and loved as children, and I missed them after their dad and I broke up fifteen years ago. So what a surprise to hear from them, and to have them back in the fold.
  • My family reunion in Kentucky and Indiana is always a hit. I have eleven siblings, plus aunts and uncles and cousins, and see most of them ever two years. I actually rented a car and drove on an interstate for the first time. Yay, me! And learned my anxieties are too strong to repeat that effort.
  • I loved spending time with my grown girls last January in Mexico. It’s rare that our schedules sync any longer for vacationing, and our trip was filled with sun, silliness, and no family irritations.
  • rs when I make the journey. This time, I was able to see my old dear friends in Ohio and squash 30 years of catch-up in the space of a couple of days.
  • I adore traveling alone, and this October, I zipped over to Australia for a long-planned trip. What I didn’t plan was getting ill on the way over. I chit-chatted with an Aussie couple at my layover in Los Angeles, and they invited me to train over to see them the following weekend. When that weekend came, I was sicker still and wondering if they’d hate me for bringing sickness to their door. It turned out, the wife was a medical doctor. I got the best treatment and company and hopefully, lifelong friendships. I met a new friend, artist Will Stackhouse at a train station, and spent time with several other Aussie friends I’d made over my years of traveling.
  • And then there’s my book. My baby! Pieces of Me is due on September 20, 2016 for publication with She Writes Press.

My year, probably like yours, was also filled with normal life stuff. Disease and car accidents, unexpected expenses and unexpected losses. But on rewind, it was still a banner year.

So goodbye 2015, and thank you endlessly for the new and  the old connections.

And I do resolve to stop slouching in 2016!

What are you grateful for today? Leave a comment below.

The Process of Progress/Three Projects plus Platform

Do you keep a journal?  Have you ever heard of a writer’s process journal?

 

It’s essentially a  writer’s diary noting the progression of their project.

My challenge in keeping one is that I’m currently working on three projects.

  •  My memoir is in the many-eth draft, and I’m now re-writing it in the present tense, hoping to give this great story a breath of life and real emotion.
  • My novel Facing the Odds, One Man at a Time is complete! I’ve worked on this  book with a writing coach from the jump, and now it’s time to go back from the start and add dimension.
  • And I’m doing research for my third book about Alaskan socialite Muriel Pfeil, who died in a car-bombing incident in 1976 after a tumultuous marriage and custody battle with her former husband, real-estate developer Neil Mackay.

Given that I’ve never written a murder-mystery before, it’s been quite a journey. I’ve spent four months following up on one lead after another that ultimately fizzles. Then my luck changed. This past month, I’ve met with a retired judge who helped coordinate Anchorage’s first battered women’s shelter, a colorful lawyer/author who was Muriel’s son’s guardian ad litem, and spoken with some of her school mates. There’s hope yet.

I can’t recall the first time I heard the name Muriel Pfeil.

I was a girl of twelve the day she was blown to bits, but I didn’t hear of it then. That was during the pre-internet times, and I lived 25 miles away, part of a family that didn’t follow the news.

I was a young woman of twenty-one, just on the verge of stepping off a cliff and marrying the man who would soon try to take my life the day Muriel’s brother Robert was executed on the way home from his job as an airline pilot.

I was an earnest professional of twenty-eight, fresh out of college and off food stamps with two little girls, working at the very battered women’s shelter my daughters and I took refuge in when I began hearing other women’s fear about Muriel. It had been sixteen years since the bomb had detonated. “My husband tells me if I leave, don’t dare turn the ignition,” or “How would you like to be the next Muriel Pfeil?”

No thanks.

I was a middle-aged woman attending a Christmas party when I overheard a few people talking about the abduction of Muriel’s little son to the Marshall Islands, and a whispered comment about the judge there who heard the interim custody proceeding who died under suspicious circumstances.

Too many days in my adult life have been haunted by the story of Muriel Pfeil. A finer writer would take the high road and stay out of the story, but I want to be up front with you about why I need to tell her story.

We couldn’t be more different, Muriel and me. She was well-bred, expensively educated, and enjoyed all the privileges forthwith. By all accounts, she came from parents who loved one another and were protective of their children. I am the daughter of two high-school drop outs who likely meant to.

I’ve dined with some of her high school mates, now in their seventies, who have assured me in so many words that Muriel and I would have never been friends. “She was too good for me,” one man said. “Her nose was always up in the air.” Others described her as aloof or reserved.

Whatever the case is, we’ve been together for too long. I waited for someone else locally to tell the story of Neil Mackay and Muriel Pfeil. And now I’ve stopped waiting.

My hope with this venture is that I can introduce you to the real Muriel Pfeil and to Neil Mackay. That we can see what life in Alaska was in the 70’s for women who left their spouses. I hope to explore some of the alibis given in this yet-unsolved murder involving a beautiful socialite and her older, less-beautiful, attorney ex-husband.

I also hope to ensure that Muriel’s memory is eternal, and that in turn, she will let me live the balance of my life in peace.

Last but not least,  I’ve done a few things to promote my platform.

I was interviewed as one of the audio-portraits for the national Futures Without Violence Conference this month.

I released my handbook on Amazon–Online Dating Safety: Get Ready, Get Set, Let’s Go! for a mere 99 cents!

 

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00U809YTU

And I was invited last-minute to give a reading of my essay Healing from A Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone at a gathering. Another writer had cancelled, and I’m thankful for it. What a fun way to connect! Thank you to my dear friend Susan for giving me the chance.

The seasons are changing. I’m looking forward to getting more serious about my writing. How about you?

What’s on your to-do list these days?

Three Lessons I Learned from Mike Dominoski/What’s Luck Got to do with it

Some people have all the luck.

403202_304172969624299_581089741_nmikedThat’s what I  thought when I met my friend, Mike Dominoski.

I met him in the dorm cafeteria at Western Washington University in the fall of 1982. You could tell he was fun by how he held himself. Wearing a pinstriped, button up shirt with grey parachute pants and a matching fedora covering his curly brown hair, Mike had a nose that can only be described as a Karl Malden knockoff. (For those of you who are too young to know who Karl Malden is, click the link.) And he seemed so very comfortable in his own skin.

I went to college thanks to decent grades and a decent interest rate on student loans. Born of two high school dropouts, there wasn’t a lot of role- modeling or planning for a higher education.

Mike, on the other hand, seemed to ooze money. After we became friends, he was the first to offer to pay for pizza. Coffee? Mike bought a round for all of us. He must be loaded, I thought.

He explained it simply. “I was born with a lot of health problems, and no one expected me to live, so I’ve inherited a lot of money at different times.”

Score! All I could think was how great it must be to go on vacations. Buy a new car. Go to college perhaps debt-free. (I know none of this to be true about my friend, but these were my youthful assumptions.)

970343_10201224373832400_36313353_nmikesmessageOf course, back then my young mind just processed Mike’s words in relation to what I’d never experienced. I didn’t give much thought to what it would be like to have a life that began with incurable and debilitating medical issues. That all became clear with time.

What I could see was that although Mike’s scoliosis made him look and walk differently, he was never self-conscious. Mike loved performing. He did air band at talent-shows (known as lip-syncing to other people’s music today). Every day, Mike happily escorted my roommate Erin and I to meals, studied with us, and showered us with attention. He went to church with us, and always impressed me with his abiding faith, which was much more about unconditional love and compassion than excluding others who were different or didn’t follow the rules.

When Mike inherited a caboodle of money two years after we met, he asked me to go to Switzerland with him (“I’ll pay!”) to visit a mutual friend attending college there. I said no. I thought he should invest his money for the future, and I wanted no part of the indebtedness I would feel if he gifted me with such a luxury.

Did he invest or save his money? Absolutely not. And within a year, it was all gone.

This worried me endlessly. Where would Mike live? What if he couldn’t work some day? What if bad opportunists took advantage of him? Mike seemed unconcerned, but I worried enough for the both of us.

Given that he was a few years older than me, Mike finished college sooner. We said our tearful goodbyes after I turned twenty, quit school, and found my real dad through a lawyer.I moved back to Alaska. Mike couldn’t find work with his degree in marine biology, and settle for one as an elevator man in Seattle while I married the first man who showed interest in me in Alaska and had two daughters in rapid succession.

It’s funny, the things that you remember later. Most of us in college felt we would definitely meet someone to love us and settle down with. Mike hoped for love, but had no air of entitlement about it. Love wasn’t a definite.

We stayed in sporadic contact. These were the pre-Facebook, pre-cell phone days, after all. The days when a husband bent on controlling his wife’s social interactions were made easy by the absence of technology.

After my husband tried to wring the air out of my neck, Mike let me and the girls stay with him for a few days in Seattle. And then the matters of life separated me from my buddy. I became consumed in legal matters, my daughters’ eventual abduction, and finishing college.

Mike’s issues were at least as critical. After serving as a missionary in Kenya, he landed a teaching job in the Dominican Republic. He suffered many health setbacks and professional disappointments, but he kept pushing forward.

When we communicated by written letter or occasional phone call, I tried not to ask whether or not he’d met a woman. Mike was at times discouraged, but always funny, and always sure of one thing. “I think God has a plan for me,” he would say with conviction. I couldn’t help but believe him.

Mike and Sita and Me/Jan 2012
Mike and Sita and Me/Jan 2012

It was New Years of 2012 when I last saw Mike during a long layover I had in Seattle. We’d connected through Facebook, and he was recently married at fifty years of age. Mike and his bride picked me up in his pick-up truck. One of the doors was smashed in his truck, forcing us to all cram in on one side. Mike was unemployed and looking for work. I would have been crushed at the setbacks. Mike never looked happier. And as always, he was making jokes about his job loss on Facebook.

A beloved teaching  job would come after a forced move across the state. But love had arrived, and Mike and his wife lived out loud, recording their joy in their Facebook posts, taking endless selfies, and making the most of every opportunity to demonstrate love.

Mike passed away when I was out-of-town last weekend. Cancerous tumors had ravaged his already challenged body, but he didn’t die alone. Mike was surrounded by his loving wife, and honored by the many students whose lives he touched. And since he lived keenly aware of his vulnerabilities, Mike may be one of the few people I’ve ever known to celebrate each day, playing practical jokes, savoring a good cup of coffee, and generously offering love to his friends and family.

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What a lucky man he was. He knew from the beginning what most of us learn towards our ending:

  • Life is short, and we are all living on borrowed time, so be brave! Be uninhibited! And be thankful.
  • Faith is an anchor. It should connect us to one another and to God. Not divide us or exclude.
  • Love is a gift, not an entitlement. It is to be celebrated, and even shared.
  • Today, the world is a little less funny without my buddy Mike in it. But his is an easy life to celebrate, and he will never be forgotten.

    Celebrating the Unexpected: You Can Find Love Online

    Courtesy of Alaska Dispatch
    Courtesy of Alaska Dispatch

    How many times do we envision one outcome and end up with another?

    Lately, that’s all I’ve got going on.

    There are the little things.  My long awaited Memorial Day weekend went wonky when a wildfire made breathing for all of us Alaskan’s a bit more challenging.

    Goodbye, rafting plans. Hello, cable television. Fortunately, there were some great films on, and I know I’m fortunate that my home is not in the line of fire.

    My heater broke (frankly, what better time in Alaska to have your heater break than in summer?) and one of my daughter’s relationship ended when her boyfriend’s cat pooped in her shoe.

    LuLu and Oliver
    LuLu and Oliver

    Didn’t see any of that coming.

    The bigger news. After two solid months of my modest effort on Match.com, I’m happy to shut down my account and return to my quiet life. Quiet, but not entirely solitary.

    I had expected I would get out of the house a bit, and I did. I expected I would meet some characters, and I did. I had hoped to hear some great stories, and I definitely did. But I also did make a worthwhile connection worth looking into.

    But who knew it was Craigslist that would provide me with nearly instant and unconditional love? A love safe enough that I would throw caution to the wind and share a ride in the same car on our very first meeting?

    I now am a true believer: It is possible to find love online. And I definitely did not see that coming.

    Outsmarting First Date Jitters/ A Few Rules to Bring to the Table

    Do you believe in self-fulfilling prophecies?

    I do. I definitely do.

    When I wrote last week about a few reasons I stink at first dates, I mentioned my history with behaving badly on first dates, especially when it comes to answering what should be easy questions like-Tell me about your family? –or Where is your children’s father?- or even Why did your marriage end?

    Had my date read my blog? Because on our second meeting, he began the evening with exactly these questions.

    I answered the questions head-on, and soon turned into a hot-flashing giggly mess.  I haven’t felt so unsure of who I am or what I want in a very long time. When I left after two hours, I blamed myself entirely for the fiasco, but when I performed the date’s autopsy later, I realized that wasn’t entirely true. I had made a number of efforts to divert the conversation to tamer subjects. “Tell me about your job?” I’d asked. “Really? You want to talk about my business? Why?”When I asked about his family (after dissecting mine at great length)his answers were short and clenched, and I felt like I’d been a very bad date.

    Question: What are your must-have’s when you’re meeting someone new?

    For me, I try to be conscious of how I feel about myself when I ‘m in their presence. By the end of the evening, I was feeling small and stupid. Do I think my date was to blame? Absolutely not, but I certainly didn’t like the feeling, all the same.

    In relationship guru Bobbi Palmer’s blog Date Like a Grown-Up, she works with a client to come up with a list of rules the client would use to govern her dating musts. I love them!

    • I will take my time getting to know a man. I will not allow him to rush me into a relationship, rush me into being sexual or anything else.
    • I will “be present” on dates by listening to what he says, asking questions or commenting on what I hear, and not be afraid to do so.  I will be open about myself (within reason) and my interests.
    • I will not allow a man to snap at me or be judgmental towards me without me calling him on his behavior.
    • I will not retract into my shell if he disagrees with what I have to say or want to do.  I will no longer go along to get along.  I won’t disagree disagreeably but I won’t be silent either.
    • I will think about whether I like him and use that conclusion to decide whether I want to see him again.  I will no longer focus entirely upon whether he likes me and be insecure about him breaking up with me.
    • I will not be afraid of disagreements or feel threatened by the idea that he won’t like me if I don’t do what he says or don’t agree with him.
    • I will no longer be afraid if the relationship does not work out at any stage and I will feel free to end it if I don’t feel it is working for me.

    My question to you: How do you respond when you’re asked questions you aren’t ready to answer without getting defensive or seeming untruthful?

    I could use your help.  Email me at Liza8m@gmail.com. Thanks for stopping by.

    Zen-ing My Monster/How I Calmed My Nerves and Enjoyed a Date

    Am I the only person who becomes a monster when it comes to matters of love and dating?

    Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you: I like people. I love their stories and quirks and cultures. I may not be consistently outgoing, but I always love me a new friend. I really do.

    photo-60-

    Until it comes to dating. The planning of it, the executing it, the whole nine yards.  Then my judgements are never-ending.

    Is it that I don’t like men? I don’t think so. Is it that I prefer being alone? Not always.

    “Why are you so mad at men?” a friend asked me recently when I groused about a man asking me out.  It stopped me in my tracks.

    I don’t like to be mad, and certainly at a whole gender, but she was right. Even when I joined Match, I’d look at rows of pleasant faces online and make snarky comments. This guy’s nowhere near this stated age or Good luck with that, Buddy.

    After much deliberation, I’ve come up with my top three reasons to avoid first dates.

    unnamed*Dating messes with my sense of control, and though I enjoy other types of adventure in life, I could live without first dates.

    *Dating forces me to answer everyday questions about myself in which the answers are anything but normal, i.e. Are you close to your parents?  Do your kids see their father much?  If you knew my weird life, complete with a parental child abduction as a toddler, and my daughters’ international abduction later, you’d understand how this could kill early dating pleasantries.

    * Dating requires a certain vulnerability to be authentic. I don’t do that well. Instead, I cover my nervousness with humor and hold my date hostage by asking all the questions. I get to be like a stand-up comedian.  Take my children, please!   At the end of the date, I’m worn out, and my date has turned into a raisin.

    This past Sunday, as I made the mad dash for the coffee shop I arranged to meet an gentleman at, I was a hot mess. My curls even got nervous and I looked like Albert Einstein. I tried to dust my shiny (sweaty) nose with loose powder in my car and spilled it all over me.

    I immediately lapsed into negative thinking. This will never work. I’ll bet this guy’s another jerk. He probably won’t even show.

    Then I stopped myself and pictured a better outcome for my Two -Hour Date. That he would be there in the coffee shop. That he would be fun to talk to, and that I would be glad we met.

    This week, Leo Babauta wrote in Zen Habits :

    2012-07-21 21.30.43You worry about how you look, about how you’re perceived, about how you’ll do, about whether you’ll fail, about what you don’t have, about what you’re missing out on, about how you compare to others.

    He goes on to say that if you start to build confidence, you can let go of the worries and feel good rather than anxious.

    You will walk down the street, relaxed with a smile on your face.

    And so I did. I walked in to the cafe with a smile on my face, and was greeted by a handsome and very kind man. I enjoyed a killer cup of coffee and lively conversation. The time was well spent, and I added a new friend into my life. And I never saw the monster-me the whole time.

    How Do You Measure a Good Vacation? My trip to Italy and France

     How do you measure a good vacation?

    Is it the sights you’ve seen?

    The friends you’ve made?

    Or is it that you’re positively thrilled to return to your own routine of work, chores, and friends?

    Reconnecting with a dear friend made in Laos

    However I measure it, I had a great time. I’m tickled to be back.

    After spending three weeks on a frugal trip to Italy and France, I can honestly say it was an unforgettable trip.

    Given my propensity to get lost and to break things, travel far away is always a particular risk for me (or the people around me).

    Thank you to my hostel mates for filling in the gaps. To the wonderful Costa Rican young man who set aside time to show me the ropes of Paris subways and navigate the way to all the best sites.  To Hakan in Rome who intervened when a creepy staff member starting following and  harassing me. To the gentle, elderly Parisian woman who must have sensed my loneliness and sat with me on an empty subway to share her life story. To my old and very dear friend Popi for bringing me into her life in Trieste, Italy. And to the many, many others.

    Venice, Italy

    Everyone has a story worth hearing.

    For me, it takes removing myself and going far, far, away to make the time-from work, from family, from hobbies, even from writing, to really focus on hearing those stories.

    And guess what? I returned under budget, two pounds lighter (no small feat given the countries at hand, and couldn’t wait to re-connect with you.

    –Liz