Remembering the Magic of When a Community Unites

March used to be one of those months for me that held dreadful anniversary dates.

We all have those dates. Whether it’s the dreaded anniversary of a death, or a divorce anniversary, or maybe even a natural disaster like a hurricane, there are the dates that split our lives in two. There was life before the traumatic event, and life after the traumatic event.

I left my husband on March 5, 1990. He abducted our daughters on March 13, 1994.

There was life before the abduction. There was life after the abduction.

This March, I’ve been busy with book events related to my memoir. The events have given me time to think not just about those anniversary dates, but the phenomenal amount of kindness my family was gifted that helped put trauma back in our rear-view mirror.

My coworkers at the battered women’s shelter donated their leave. Friends threw every kind of fundraiser imaginable to help with expenses. My Alaskan lawyers donated their time and resources, and then my Greek friends donated their time and opened their homes to me. People of diverse backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, sexual orientations, and ages worked along one another to help us achieve the impossible. When I look back on that awful period in my life, I am filled with gratitude.

What is it about a disaster that brings out the best in people? And would I have the same experience today, in this age of social media where too often we camp up and talk about each other rather than to each other?

Often, people do show up when help is needed. Think of a car accident with people inside a smoldering vehicle.  A human is in peril. In that moment, it’s all that matters.

Alaskans have long had a rich history of helping one another, especially in the 90’s when my daughters were kidnapped. The weather, the location, the physical isolation serve as reminders that we need each other to survive.

After the girls and I returned from Greece in 1996, we resumed living small, quiet lives. And then two decades later, as I began promoting Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters, all the memories came back. Not just the bad memories, but the beautiful memories of all the grace and love we’ve received.

I wish we didn’t need to go through hard times or traumatic events for people to unite for a common goal. But I’m so fortunate to have once been witness to the miracle of unity inside my community, both in the states and overseas. And to have commemorated that period in my book makes me both humbled and proud.

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of my daughters’ kidnapping. A reminder that I am one of the lucky parents whose kids returned.

Thank you for being a part of my story.

 

 

 

Four Thank You’s and An Apology/Publishing My Memoir

 

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Next month, my memoir will be published, and just after that, I’ll have my book launch.

It may not seem like much, writing 80,000 words (give or take) and getting them published, but for me, it’s been monumental. And while I went to great effort to thank people in my Acknowledgment section – those who helped me find my kidnapped daughters, the people who later helped me to raise them, and who were above-and-beyond supportive as I wrote my story- it turns out that it doesn’t come close to a complete list.

Four Thank You’s.

Thank you to my family, near and far, from daughters to siblings, aunts, nephews, nieces, and cousins, I’ve been so fortunate to have your support. The book covers my childhood and young adulthood when family dysfunction ruled, when I felt all alone and believed I always would be. Each of your social media shares, every text, email, or contact through my website has positively made the stress of this effort so worth it, and I hope in the end, you’ll be proud.

To my fellow She Writes authors, thank you for connecting daily on our Facebook page. I’ve loved learning from your experiences, getting to know some of you and exchanging our books for blog interviews or reviews, and sharing the journey on our path to publication. It’s become a sisterhood I will always treasure.

Thank you also to the non-profits and other sponsors partnering with me to launch Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters in October:

  •  The University of Alaska, Anchorage’s (UAA) Consortium Library
  • UAA’s Pre-Law Society, Alaska Book Week, Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC)
  •   Green Dot Anchorage
  • Victims for Justice Eva Project
  •  YWCA Alaska

Thank you for joining my effort to kick off the launch during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Together, we’ll make a positive impact on our community.

To my friends, old and new, thank you for your excitement about Pieces of Me. It’s contagious. Your shared enthusiasm has resulted in two gift shops asking to consign books, a radio interview, book clubs, and more speaking engagements. Finally, I have confidence in my book.

An apology.

I was so tickled last week to get a late night message through my website’s Contact button from the Republican Women’s Group in the MatSu Valley, requesting I speak about the late Senator Steven’s efforts to aid me in rescuing my daughters in the mid 90’s.

And then it hit me: I’d completely forgot to thank Senator Stevens in my Acknowledgments section.

photo courtesy of UAF

Alaska’s Senator Ted Stevens was haunted by my Alaskan support network from 1994-96, especially by my former supervisor and now dear friend, Heather Flynn. At one point, Heather arranged a calling tree to his office. My friends at Faith Daycare and Learning Center took turns ringing his DC number all day long when my case heated up. After my arrest in Greece, he called the American Embassy to make sure the girls and I were safe, reinforcing to the Embassy staff that we were important to Alaska.

I’m sickened by the omission, and will do what I can to get this error corrected in the second printing.

Thank you, always and forever to Senator Stevens and his talented staff.

Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters is available now for pre-orders through your local bookstore, library, or on Amazon. The first launch is on October 5,2016 at the UAA Bookstore upstairs in Anchorage from 5-7PM.

Click here to find out what others are saying about my book.

Thanks for sharing the journey with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Discipline of a Grateful Life

This week, I enjoyed reading Sam Gentoku McCree’s piece on Ten Steps to a Grateful Life.

Having a grateful life is a discipline.

photo 1It’s not difficult for my mood to tumble this time of year. It’s dark in Alaska for much of the day. My energy dips just as my work chaos soars. And then there are upcoming social functions associated with the holidays that I loathe given my crowd-averse nature.

But I’ve made a point of penciling in times of gratitude in my day to day life. I wake up ten minutes early each day to give thanks, and in doing so, realized how much I appreciate the surprise sources.

Case in point: I am naturally drawn to darker topics, so after much consideration, I decided to piece together the life and death of Muriel Pfeil, who died in 1976 in Anchorage. The story is everything I write about already: domestic violence, international child abduction, the works. The trouble is I don’t know her family or friends.

I got a couple of names through a friend of mine. Two lovely women who have been friends for sixty-plus years were gracious enough to take me to a Thanksgiving party hosted by the Alaskan Pioneers yesterday to do some digging around.

Yes, I actually signed up to hang out with a group of strangers and socialize.

Two hours later, I felt like a part of a great new supportive family. I’d been tentative when it began. ”I’m thinking about writing the story of…” but with the encouragement of my dear hostesses, I left with many new contacts and a greater conviction. I’m not thinking of writing the story of Muriel Pfeil. I am in the process of writing about Muriel Pfeil. And I so appreciate the support and enthusiasm of my new friends.

My daughters with cats
My daughters with cats

There are always the typical things I’m grateful for, like my wonderful daughters. They’re happy (mostly). They’re healthy. They’re working. I even managed to get one of them to move out of the house. I’m grateful for my kittens. My extended family and friends. My work. My health. My volunteer work.

But I’ve scaled back on some things and it’s given me time for a bit more rest, and for writing workshops and coaching. I have created space again.

Thanksgiving is here. What are you thankful for?

I’m always thankful to connect with you here.

PS– I learned that A Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone by Gemma Thompson is now available on Amazon. I’m pleased to have my essay  titled Healing included.

Weekend Roundup

How have you been filling your summer days?

I took an impromptu trip to Talkeetna, Alaska this weekend and stayed at a charming  youth hostel there.  I love the connections and conversations when I’m in a hostel, and caught up on reading and writing.

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House of Seven Trees in Talkeetna, Alaska

Here’s what caught my eye this weekend in the topics that matter to me:

Domestic violence

How to Save Your Kids from Future Abusive Relationships– author Lois M.Collins draws a correlation between children who are bullied or bossed later becoming susceptible to becoming victims.

“Parents should help children build “extreme self-esteem.” Kids who see themselves as capable and loved more often avoid abuse.

Conversations with children about bullies and bossy friends can reinforce the idea that people don’t get to control others.”

International Child Abduction

New legislation to help victim-parents recover their kidnapped children has passed handily in the Senate.

The “Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act,” designed to bolster the government’s ability to help parents rescue abducted children taken overseas, now goes to the House for approval.

(For those of you who don’t remember, David Goldman is the dad whose son was taken illegally to Brazil to live with his mother, who then subsequently died. Five years passed before David Goldman was able to reunite with his son.)

“As a parent, I cannot imagine the emotional toll of having a child abducted and taken abroad and feeling helpless to get your son or daughter back,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who introduced the bill with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “I encourage my colleagues in the House to act swiftly to protect our children.”

Author’s comment:  As a parent of internationally abducted children, I can’t imagine that the government’s efforts towards anything other than kidnapping prevention will be useful. The government isn’t smart enough, rich enough, or powerful enough to manage such a complex issue. My past experience taught me the more government inserted itself, the more problematic finding solutions became. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

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Reuniting with Lost Family Members

Always my favorite subject, I love this story about a brother and sister reuniting after 50 years.

Their recognition of each other was immediate as they walked toward each other with open arms. After a long embrace, Roger leaned back and looked at Susan.

“She’s the best thing I ever saw,” he said, planting a brotherly kiss on the top of her head. “She was always my girl.”

And today,  I listened to July’s podcast from the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW) Roundtable event about PubSlush, the crowd-funding site specifically for writers. It’s an interesting concept that, according to their website, combines “a global crowdfunding and analytics platform for the literary world.”

If you’re a writer, or thinking about starting to write, do consider a membership at the NAMW. I learn something new every month.  On the column to the right, you’ll find a link I have on my site. It was a great, yet modest investment!

Thanks for connecting with me.

Finding Your Other Half/ Cheryl Strayed and Other Lost-and Found Sisters

I would like more sisters, that the taking out of one might not leave such stillness– Emily Dickinson


Today, I got a Facebook message from a friend sharing the story of  Wild author Cheryl Strayed finding her long lost half-sister as reported to the National Public Radio.

I’m a sucker for stories about reuniting with long lost family members.


For those of you who haven’t had the chance, I encourage you to read Wild, an adventure-filled and unforgettable memoir. One reader of the book recognized that she and Strayed share a father, and sent her a message online. While the sisters have continued communication online for the past couple of months, they haven’t made plans to speak by phone or meet.
Shortly after reading the story, I got a text from my adult daughter who had just been found by her 12 year-old half-sister from Greece on Facebook. She was thrilled, and they communicated online back and forth, exchanging email addresses, favorite colors, hobbies, and hopes.

Both of my girls lived in Greece for two years in 1994, when their non-custodial father abducted them on a visitation and disappeared.  
Did you know about me was one of the first questions my daughter was asked by her sister today.

I asked the same question of my newly-found younger sister in 1985. She and I were also separated by a parental kidnapping, and I found her and my brothers with the help of a lawyer when I was 20. Did you know about me?

My younger sister and I /2013


In other words, is it okay if I intrude on your life?  Can you please put aside why we didn’t grow up together and move forward? Would you be willing to create some space for me in your future?

It’s a vulnerable position to be in when you’re reaching out to a newly located loved one, no matter what the reason was for the initial separation. But it can be the start of a wonderful new beginning.  It was for me. I  sure hope it will be for them.

Do you have family members you’ve considered re-connecting with? What’s prevented you from doing it?

Thanks always for your commenting and sharing.

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Looking Back and Looking Forward/What I Wish I Had Known

Do you ever look at old pictures of yourself and feel compassion for the younger you?

I’d been thinking of my youth this week even before my sister posted this picture on her Facebook account from 25 years ago.

Me with first daughter, 1987.

March is always a reflective month with important anniversaries for me.

*March 5, 1990– I fled my marriage with two toddlers in tow and stayed at a battered women’s shelter.

*March 13, 1994– my little daughters left to see their father for a weekend visitation and disappeared to Greece.

Precisely two years later, I journaled from my hotel bed in Greece.

*March 5, 1996

 Today it is six years to the day that I left my husband. Since then, I’ve been on welfare, raised two children through diaper hood, got my head screwed on straight, earned my degree, found a niche in my job, got a  promotion, bought a fixer-upper home, fixed it up, made incredible and interesting friends. And had my children abducted.

*March 27, 1996– I was reunited with my now non–English speaking daughters in a small village in Greece.

No, I can’t say I miss much about being young.

While it’s true we’re genetically superior in our youth, with more vitality, more hair, less weight, less wrinkles, it doesn’t translate to anything useful as far as I’m concerned.

 

In the documentary I’m Your Man it, a now-old  Leonard Cohen says that it’s the acceptance of what we hoped for ourselves in our youth versus what actually happened in our lives that is the essence of grace (paraphrased).

My daughters are now in their mid-twenties. More educated that I was, more sure of themselves, I still see the angst that comes from being newly grown, living in a big mean world that threatens to eat them up. Disappointments with relationships or disappointment with not having one. Anxiety about finances, education, jobs, peppered with the inevitable heartbreak of an unexpected trauma here and there. Things we’ve all faced.

I find myself wanting to tell them and their young friends what I wish someone would have told me.

Dear Young Person,

Though your circumstances appear dire at times, they will inevitably improve. Those things you feel are awful impediments to your dreams? They’ll be what shapes and reveals your character, flaws and all. And those dreams that have come true for you?  Count them as blessings, not entitlements. Remember, life’s a marathon,  not a race. Slow down. With a little time, some faith, and a lot of hard work, it will all come together. You’ll be fortunate if you can become the old, saggy person you’ve secretly dreaded being. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from the elders in your midst. We’ve been there.

Sincerely,

Another Old Saggy Person in Training

What do you wish you had known when you were young that might have made a positive difference? I’d love to hear from you, but if you don’t share it here, share it with a young person in your life.

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