Creating Immortality Through Memoir

“Who do you think will play my part?”

My dentist, Dr. McBratney, was helping me envision my happily ever after, just days after my children had been kidnapped and taken out of country after I’d arrived for my scheduled check-up. I had just wept a puddle of tears and mascara onto his white jacket.

He had his own relationship with my girls, proudly letting my oldest know she was “an anthropological mutant” when she was a pre-schooler since she was born with too few tooth buds, and warning my youngest at 18 months that he would refer her out if she didn’t stop tantrumming. He coached the girls to charge the tooth fairy more when he heard how little they got for their pulled baby teeth, resulting in me getting a handwritten bill slipped under my pillow from my little one, billing for arrearages. So by the time the girls were abducted, he’d grown to love them, and vice-versa.

It was 1994, and the future looked bleak. Less than half the kids of internationally abducted children were recovered back then.

But Dr. McBratney was nudging me to believe that things would get better. That maybe this story would resolve and become a movie. And he was teasing, letting me know he needed to be a central cast member.

I made a mental note then to include him in the book I planned to write. And we agreed that actor Donald Sutherland made the most sense.

And twenty-two years later, there he sat at my book launch at the local university, so proud to be on page 30 of Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters. 


By then, our families were friends. I’d watched him become a father. We’d swapped triumphs and tribulations as parents. Enjoyed a friendship that grew for three decades. My oldest daughter was his cat-sitter once or twice. We made a commercial at his request for his dental office.

When you publish memoir, you’ve granted your characters a sort of immortality. And if they were good to you, or you remembered them fondly, it’s a beautiful thing.

It was a year ago when a movie company in Canada contacted me through my website to ask about optioning my story for television adaptation. The wrangling back and forth took longer than I’d expected, and I was told not to announce it too publicly until we received certain confirmation by mail.

I was at my monthly Writer’s Guild meeting a few weeks ago when I got the call. Doc had an emergency illness at work and passed away shortly afterward. Life is fragile like that.

I checked the mail on the way home that incredibly sad night. And there it was.  The confirmation that indeed, Cineflix optioned movie rights.

If he were here today, I’d tell him my vote would be Kiefer Sutherland. Not Donald.

And in a way, he is, and always will be.

Thank you always for stopping by.

Supplemental Mothers

My girls, mom, and me.

Our mothers are our first homes, and that’s why we always trying to return to them. By Michele Filgate in What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About.

I emailed a friend in recently to bid her Happy Mother’s Day. Normally sunny, her response caught me off guard when she mentioned how sad this holiday made her. I’d grown accustomed to being the maudlin one about moms and Mother’s Day.

But when I checked my Facebook feed, there were numerous tributes to moms lost due to death or alienation. A few brave moms of deceased children posted their grief. Others were caring for their elderly mothers who now no longer remembered them.

The day evokes a lot of emotion for so many of us.

I’d been thinking about my own mother that week, and about some of the good things she instilled. My mother fostered a love of reading, which sparked my interest in stories and in writing. If I asked for a book, I nearly always got it. (I was lucky to have older siblings who read to me and taught me to be an early reader, too.)

My mom promoted a love of animals to us kids which is a huge part of my life to this day. She didn’t easily sustain relationships with pets, or with people, for that matter, but it was a nice start. And she was a believer in volunteer work, which I have subsequently embraced.

True, I’ve written about my mom’s tendency to dislike the mother role enough to seemingly dispense of her kids, leaving us later in life to scout one another out as if on at Easter egg hunt.

Clearly, not every woman is cut out to be a mom.

It doesn’t help that we expect so much from them. I can think of no other role so important, or so scrutinized. The impact of the mothering we receive during our early years lingers throughout our entire lives, and far into the future if we have kids, and if they do, too.

Mothers are idealized as protectors: a person who is caring and giving and who builds a person up rather than knocking them down. But very few of us can say our mothers check all of these boxes. In many ways, a mother is set up to fail.-Lynn Steger Strong in What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About.

 I’ve been fortunate to have so many different women in my life who’ve given me guidance and motherly love. I’ve appreciated that there were limitations to it, and conscious not to overstay my emotional welcome since these women had their own children and their own lives. From grade schoolteachers and a college professor to a former roommate and friends’ moms, and later in life, my newfound aunts, I have benefitted from random gifts of maternal love.

 As for me, I’ve made lots of mistakes with my kids. They relied on their own supplemental moms at times to fill in my gaps. And after watching me struggle as a single mom, neither of my kids were moved to become parents themselves, though they’ve provided me with numerous grand-pets.

A few days ago, a crisis call from one of my daughter’s friends, whose mother passed away, brought it full circle. She needed someone to just listen, and I got to be the stand-in mom figure, even for just a little while.

How wonderful it is to know that we can help fill in parenting or mentoring gaps for others. And equally fabulous to think about spending time with little kids one day who may not have a grandparent in close proximity. I like the idea of being a supplemental mom and grandmom.

Expanding the definition of family can be a beautiful thing. It can reduce pressure and feelings of isolation. I felt insecure when my own kids relied on other moms, but I came to understand the great benefits to all involved down the line.

Moms (and dads) are the original influencers, but we can all choose to have or to be supplements to help along the way. It can ease the pressure we put on our parents or ourselves.

A humble thank you to dear Fay for the incredibly generous and unexpected gift to my oldest daughter after reading my last post. My daughter is now the proud owner of a reliable and safe vehicle again.

Thank you for stopping by.

In case you missed it, here’s the lovely and in depth conversation between mom writers I’ve come to adore and admire. Thankful to be a part.

How My Daughters Are Today/The Question I’m Asked Most at Author Events

It’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

As I prep for a few book events, including a FaceTime conversation with a Florida book group,

The question I get asked the most is always How are the girls now?

And just after that, Do your daughters mind you writing and talking about them?

They’re fair questions with dynamic answers.

At the moment, both my grown daughters live in the same city as me.  Neither have married. Neither have children. Neither appear interested in getting married or having children.

My oldest daughter, recently back in Alaska after a year in Mexico, is presently taking seven classes at the local university to finish her degree in psychology. I don’t know what kind of work she’ll go in to, but I’m so proud that she will have options, thanks to her hard work.

Life has been incredibly challenging for her, not simply because she was a child-witness of domestic violence or because she and her sister spent two years living in hiding in Greece. She manages anxiety and significant mental health problems that threaten her quality of life. This has been compounded by losing a shocking number friends to early deaths.

Still, she persists. She has a long-term relationship, adores her pets, and even at times when she’s shut off from other, she remains in close contact with her sister and me.

My youngest daughter finished college some years ago and works in finance. She too has a long-term relationship. She is athletic and busy, volunteering in the community and on a board of directors. She has a thriving dog-walking, pet-sitting business on the side. While her sister’s emotional wounds were deep from being the oldest child who shouldered adult responsibility early, my youngest has had medical leftover concerns.


Still, when I read the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study and compare their scores to the potential outcomes, I’m awestruck at how very well they’re doing.

Some of the resiliency factors after the kidnapping were having stable housing and kind neighbors, good schools, involved family friends, access to community mental health providers, team sports, and knowing they had family-far away-that loved them dearly. And their pets were a healing balm that reduced their stress levels every day.

All things considered, my daughters are doing exceptionally well. Funny and feisty, lovers of hiking and Greek food and good people, and able to incorporate old traumas into their lives while embracing new joys.

 I’m sure at times they mind the invasion of privacy of having a mom who’s a writer, but they’ve not said so. I’ve tried to minimize it by not using their names in essays and in local talks.

More often, they sincerely appreciate that people care to ask about how they are.

So do I.

Thank you for stopping by.

A Missing Girl/ A Found Helper

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”—Fred Rogers







“Do you remember me?” came the message from Greece this week from a man I hadn’t heard from in more than 20 years. “…You were here (in Greece) for your daughters.”

And the heaviness of the days before began to gently lift.

Two weeks earlier, I’d seen the movie Searching about a kidnapped girl. (Mothers of abducted children would be wise to avoid such movies, but I gravitate toward them.) As I left the theater and turned my phone on, I read that little girl in the neighboring community of Kotzebue, Alaska had disappeared.

Over the next week, the local news reported the growing search. The family’s reaction to their missing girl. And the support that flooded in from all over the state, evidenced by food shipments for the search crew, Facebook shares, and volunteer searchers.

How excruciating it must have been. And yet, through their grief, the family expressed their gratitude daily as in this KTUU article:

“I want to thank them so much for doing the walks, like we’ve been doing here, and them getting us prayers and hope still,” Barr (the father) said. “I can’t imagine anything else, I have a loss of words of how many people around the state, as well as Lower 48, that are 100 percent behind us.”

And on September 14th, when the body of young Ashley Barr was found in a remote area and the man associated with her death arrested, again her family gave thanks to all who helped find her.

Given to KTUU by Scotty Barr











In 1995, I made my first trip to Greece from Alaska to bring home my kidnapped daughters. I was crushed when I couldn’t bring the girls home, not realizing that all the wonderful helpers I met in Greece would be critical in our eventual reunification. Like my friend Poppy and her group of young lawyer friends in her theater group.

The following year, I returned to Greece, but was stationed in a different city this time. There would be no easy resolution. Court hearings and private investigators and even police were involved. And at one point, my daughters’ father contacted my lawyers in Greece and promised I could visit the girls. And then cancelled the visit. Then he called and set up a visit last-minute, so long as I could find people to supervise the visit.

Who on earth did I know in Greece who would give up their Sunday to supervise a visit an hour’s drive away? It was sure to be emotional, unpleasant, and potentially unsafe for them.

I called on two of the Greek friends I’d made the year before, who immediately pushed their own weekend plans aside and took a long bus ride with me to a nearby village to give me the chance to see my daughters.

Days after, I was arrested in Athens when leaving with my daughters for Alaska, and these friends offered shelter, support, even legal consultation should I need it.

Eventually, I left Greece with my daughters in a hurry, losing contact with a few of the many heroes who made it possible.

And now it’s September 2018. My daughters are grown. And I get this lovely message from my old friend, who gave up law to become a pianist in Greece.

A second glance at the news showed little Ashley’s father dispensing hugs in a receiving line of friends and strangers who’d gathered at the airport.


There are no words to make such an unimaginable tragedy better. No silver lining to make it go away. But I am convinced that this family’s ability to lean in to the community support and find their helpers will propel them on the journey toward healing.

For information on preventing or addressing child kidnapping, contact 1-800-THELOST.

To aid the family of Ashley Johnson-Barr, a GoFundMe has been established.




Pieces of Me Turns One/Looking Back and Moving Forward

Today it’s been a year since my memoir was officially launched.

More than 65 events, 103 online reviews (and counting), and three awards later, what a year it has been.

Thanks to your support, Pieces of Me has enjoyed national attention, and has garnered international fans as well.  None of this would be possible without your support. There just are not enough thank you’s to go around.

The gifts that followed after publishing my book are the relationships that have been strengthened, the new friendships made, and the opportunities to talk with family, friends, and strangers  about issues that have been traditionally have secret. Like family violence. Parental child abduction. Intergenerational trauma.

When giving presentations to high school and college students, I love recalling that pre-internet time when people across the community united to help me bring my kidnappped daughters home. What a diverse group my support network was made up of, and their generosity was duplicated in  beautiful Greece.  And what a special time it was in history in general when people actually spoke to one another instead of at each other.  It reminds me that together, we can accomplish most anything.  It reminds me that when we are divided, we accomplish very little.

There have been some stressful times promoting the book. I ruffled a few feathers. I got very tired. And I relived some very horrible moments in my family’s history.  But the good has far outweighed the negative.

I have some more events coming up. Indeed, I am about to get on a plane and speak at it conference this weekend.  But after October, it is time for me to slow down and work on my next book.  I’m excited about it, having pitched it to  a literary agent at a writer’s conference last weekend, who deemed it the “most promising manuscript,” of those pitched to her in that event.

I plan to begin charging for book trips that cost me both money and personal leave time so I can break even financially. But I have treasured this year and these moments together.

I will continue to work toward getting my memoir into universities, and welcome any help to that end.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me.









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.




Remembering Grace and Making New Memories/The Bright Spot of My Daughters’ Abduction

I’m in Italy this week, spending time with a cherished friend.

Have you ever been the beneficiary of uncommon kindness from a random stranger?

There is something special about going through a brutal time and finding that you have guardian angels who pop up out of nowhere. 

Such was the case for me in 1995 when I found myself alone in Greece without two dimes to rub together, looking for my abducted daughters.

On my first trip to Greece after they were kidnapped, I met with a lawyer I had retained there. Two young women attorneys worked in his office, and after our initial meeting, they invited me to lunch with them.

They weren’t involved with my case. They were not being paid. They simply extended their hospitality, and they were only too happy to practice their English skills.

One of the women, Popi, inquired about my living arrangements while in Greece. When I told her I was staying at a hostel, she piped up. “It is settled, then. You will come stay with me in my spare bedroom.”

And I did. 

At the time, I had long been a motherless child, and was now a childless mother.  Popi’s nurturing presence was medicinal to me. She taught me to read and speak Greek after work, something that would come in handy since my daughters no longer spoke English. Popi took me on outings with her friends, and when my lawyers quit my case temporarily due to non-payment by me and due to the fact that I second-guessed them constantly, Popi stood in the line of fire with them to help me find a private investigator. In turn, her job was threatened.

What do you say to someone who has done so much and asked for nothing in return?

Thank you, Popi. I said I would never forget  you, and I have not.

We’ve all faced hard times and have been the recipient of uncommon grace.

Who in your life has stepped up to help you?

With luck, I’ll post next week. Otherwise, I’ll return to you at the end of the month.
Take care.


Redefining Normal: The Headline Regarding Savanna Todd

Savanna Catherine Todd

There’s something strange about this headline found in NBC news: Woman found living ‘normal life’ in Australia 19 years after abduction as an infant in SC.

When an infant is taken from her home in the U.S. by her non-custodial mom and raised in another country, away from her custodial parent and her country, I don’t know that I’d call her life normal. The definition of normal is

a)conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.
serving to establish a standard.

b)approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional from any mental disorder; sane.

Then today I saw the story of a man reunited with his mother for the first time over thirty years.

Thirty years! Can you imagine?

David Amaya no longer speaks his mother’s language. Raised in Mexico after his father took him, he was told that his mother hadn’t loved him and had left him in an orphanage. It’s troubling that when an abductor is a family member there is an assumption that the results are less devastating to the child.

It is not normal to have a forced separation from family, no matter who the culprit is.

It is not normal to be lied to by a parent about the family’s history.

It’s not normal to have missed all of the birthdays and other holidays because one parent thought more of themselves than the well-being of their child.

Parental child abductions are on the rise. The impact of it is crushing to left-behind parents, family members, and friends. It’s anything but normal.

If you’re interested in hearing first-hand accounts of the what it’s like to be a recovered child, take a look at’s site.

The Tiffany Rubin Story/ New Solutions to International Parental Child Abduction

Q. What happens when your child leaves for a visit with their other parent and ends up on the other side of the globe?

A. Nothing good.

Just ask Tiffany Rubin, a school-teacher from Queens, New York whose son Kobe was abducted by his non-custodial father and taken to Seoul, Korea in 2007.

Tiffany Rubin and her son, Kobe

I watched Tiffany’s story with great interest on Lifetime television this evening. My own daughters were also snatched and taken to a foreign country in 1994, and in some ways, our stories mirrored one another.

Our kids were taken to a country whose language they didn’t speak and immediately surrendered to relatives who didn’t know of the child’s existence.

The teachers in the school where the child(ren)were taken to begged for them to be returned to their home land due to the maltreatment they experienced by their abductors.

But in the thirteen years between our children’s abductions, much has changed. Though the incidents of international parental child abduction have increased with the ease of global travel, the recovery from abduction is also enhanced by this age of technology.

Tiffany Rubin smartly posted information about her son’s disappearance using social media, and sure enough, a resident in South Korea eventually reached out to her with her son’s current whereabouts. She also connected with a non-profit organization that didn’t yet exist when my daughters were taken, The American Association for Lost Children.

(I, on the other hand, went into obscene amounts of debt, traveled overseas twice by myself, and was arrested when attempting to leave the country with my girls. Can I just admit that Tiffany’s story gave me child-abduction envy?)

Fueled by the love of her son and supported by the help of many around her, this mother flew to South Korea and reunited with her son at his school within a year of his disappearance.

Tiffany Rubin’s story is available on instant view at Amazon. It’s positively inspirational.

Do you know someone who worries their child will be kidnapped by the other parent?

Refer them to the the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-The Lost for prevention tips.

The problem of parental international child abduction is growing, but the solutions to the problem are more accessible than ever.
Please feel free to Like my author Facebook page by clicking. Thank you!

The Power of Love / Mother Hides Under Burqa and Rescues Son in Egypt and other sweet examples

Love is a force to be reckoned with.

This week, I was mesmerized with the story of the mother who went to Egypt, currently one of the most treacherous places for Americans to travel, donned a burqa, and rescued her kidnapped son.

Image from

Pennsylvanian Kalli Atteya had spent over two years and $100,000 to seek the return of her son, kidnapped by his Egyptian father, without success. Rather than give up, she took matters into her own hands.

Love can cause you to spend money you don’t have. Ms. Atteya spent $100,000. I did too, and I can tell her from experience, that’s just the beginning of the resources it will take to help her child recover from the kidnapping.

On a much smaller scale, I’ve been at it again, spending money that should go towards getting a 4 wheel drive to combat the Alaskan winters, or a flat-screen TV that my kids would love. On what? More writing classes! By the time my book’s ready for sale, it will need to be a best-seller to recoup my losses. But it’s been so much fun.

This weekend, I took a First Ten Pages Bootcamp from Writer’s Digest and the Anatomy of a Scene Workshop from  author Andromeda Romano-Lax at 49 Writers. Both were fabulous. I discovered I would have to dump my manuscript’s first page. Ouch. I had worked so hard on it. I loved it so. But for the love of the story, the love of learning to write, and the hope of publication, it’s gone. Ode to my preface. Here it was:

Sixteen years have passed since I brought my kidnapped daughters home from Greece. That’s just over a third of my life. My girls have re-learned to speak English, finishing grade school through high school. One graduated from college, and the other is closing in on her degree.
So why wait so long and tell the story now, when the crisis ended in 1996?
I didn’t want to share my story until I was comfortable that each of the three of us was doing well enough in our healing that we’d learned to incorporate our experiences into the present without imploding.  All that took time, and was even more work than making our way back to Alaska from the other side of the world.
 I believe that sharing my story will lift the intergenerational curse. My past will no longer be my daughters’ future.
           My daughters may choose to tell their own stories one day, but this is what I remember of mine. How I, an abducted child myself, grew up to experience my own children’s abduction. It’s about how I found my children, all by myself, and with the help of many.  And how during that journey, I found that underneath my layers of self-doubt was the capable person with the ability to 
endure that had been there all along.
Goodbye, Dear Preface.
And to end on a happier note, here’s evidence that love can push us to bravely moving out of our traditional roles. Here’s my kids’ friend and his family. If I knew where he lived, I would kidnap his cat.
All photos by Nicole Gaunt Photography
What crazy things has love inspired you to do?
Thanks for stopping by.