Afterthoughts About the Earthquake of 2018

My return from South America was promptly eclipsed by the massive November 30th earthquake here in Alaska.

I’d landed in Los Angeles from a brief layover in Peru when I turned on my phone to find a flood of texts. The first was from my youngest daughter, giving me a heads up that something “big” had happened. Many others were check-ins from family and friends.

While I felt a little guilty for not being in Alaska when it happened, and a splash jealous for missing the experience, it’s been a fascinating event to witness through the eyes of others.

 I’d never been through a natural disaster, so returning home from a 3 week-long trip just hours afterward was memorable. While we Alaskans are accustomed to our fair share of earthquakes and aftershocks, this one was a doozy at 7.0.

Supermarkets ran low on food and water. Electricity was out in much of the city when I returned. So was cell phone service. Some roads and schools were destroyed. Yet no one died, a great tribute to careful city planning and building codes in Anchorage. There weren’t reports of opportunistic thefts. 

A few things stuck with me.

Each person’s reaction to the same event was unique.

 This reminded me of the birth order conversation I often had during my book tour.

 If a family of four was home together in the same room during the quake, their reactions varied widely, from getting under a table, crying and shaking, or running outside. Their ability to deal with the trauma long afterward was as varied as their responses, often due to their age and role in the family, past experiences, genetic makeup, and other traits and quirks.

Pets were/are and are as impacted by the earthquake as their humans.

Many dogs and cats ran away from home shortly after the big shake. They lost control of their bowels, and some continue to have problems. A doggy daycare staff member told me more dogs have to wear anxiety jackets, and have a compromised immune system from the stress, developing kennel cough at a higher rate. And a friend’s 15 year-old bird died soon after the quake, not due to injury, but due to strain.

Only the worst images were replayed by the media and were then shared in social media, though many people experienced no damage to their belongings or homes.

Don’t get me wrong; there was a lot of damage done. Most everyone I know sustained loss of belongings due to the earthquake. 

Yet it reminds me how scared we become after watching news images, whether it’s on television or the social media shares. Perhaps it’s about an American tourist who died overseas. Or an image of violence, played and shared, over and over.  We become fearful and wary.

We might forget to mention who all emerged safely from this earthquake, who all helped one another, and how grateful we are that no one died as a direct result of such a seismic quake.

After I called my daughter from Los Angeles, and she told me that she and her sister were fine, as were my pets, I wondered about my newly renovated kitchen. Twenty-three years of ugly had been replaced by beauty just before I left on my trip, and I had been over the moon about it. But I knew what a complete jerk I’d be for asking about it long distance.

My plane landed in Anchorage several hours after the shake, and I hailed a taxi. My driver was an African immigrant, small yet loud, and hidden under his oversized red wool hat with a pompom on top.  On the way home, he told me about how it was for him, a relatively new citizen, to be jarred awake from a deep sleep. How he ran outside and fell to the ground, and how he calmed himself, realizing there was nothing he could do to control the outcome.

“We can replace things,” he told me,” We cannot replace peoples.”

It was just the message I needed to hear.

 I opened the door to my place, and looked at each room, saving my new kitchen for last. And though it appeared someone held a raucous party on the second floor and left the mess afterward, my kitchen, my long-awaited kitchen, was undisturbed.

I am truly thankful. 

I’ve heard a number of people say they wanted to leave state after this earthquake. It came without warning. The aftershocks still continue. It was too much to deal with. 

But for me, showing up just after to witness the inspiring recovery efforts, Alaska still feels like a soft place to land.

Thank you for visiting.  

 


The Storm before the Calm/Readying for South America, Solo

 The reasons I get so nervous are many. 

I’m about to leave for South America in a few days. By myself. It will be continent 6/7 for me, and I’m nearing my goal of finishing the research for a travel memoir and companion guide book for older, non-wealthy women who want to get out of their comfort zone and see the world on their terms.

I’m frightened of flying. I won’t know the language, despite my efforts to learn. And I’ll be on a clenched budget, especially since I just got my kitchen renovated.

But there is something truly humbling about leaving for a new adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As soon as I fasten my seatbelt, I nearly always start to cry. Partly because I’m exhausted from my work and because I’m excited and scared, I’m flooded with thoughts of friends and loved ones who’d wanted to travel more but didn’t get the chance. Early deaths or bad circumstances. And yet, here I go. And I take none of it for granted.

Traveling alone away seems to bring out my best.

 I’ve worked really hard to engineer a future for myself, one that looked unlikely early on. In my struggle to attempt control over my environment, I’ve become an over-anxious control freak. 

Nothing crushes the false sense of control like travel. And traveling to someone else’s country, playing in their playground without officially having been invited, it’s clear that I have little influence or control. Feeling small and powerless can be exhilarating.

 So away I go. Far from responsibility of house and home, away from the security  friends and family, away from social media and television. I hope to meet new friends see some animals and sights. I hope I get lots of exercise and sleep. And on Thanksgiving, I will see with a new lens how grateful I am for all that I have waiting for me right here at home.

 Have a wonderful day. Thank you for stopping by.

 

 

 

 

 And thank you to Charlene at Soul Sciences podcast for the talk about writing.

    

 

     

 

 

Snippets of Beauty

I’d like to share some moments of beauty in my weekend.

I joined friends for a gorgeous kayaking trip for several hours in Prince William Sound this past weekend. Paddling through cool waters with nothing but the sound of glaciers calving was as calming as a massage.

Returning home, I spent time with my oldest daughter and her boyfriend for her birthday. (Thank you for the many of you who wished her well!). I’d love to report that she’s doing brilliantly and is finding her place in this chaotic beautiful world. But it isn’t so.

I think all parents have times where they struggle with how to let their grown kids be themselves and to celebrate them just as they are. To let go just enough. Enough so their adult child feels the love and support and pride from their parent. Enough to let the child be accountable for their choices without too much buffering from the parent. Enough to continue hoping without judgment and expectation.

My oldest daughter, like firstborns everywhere, has absorbed so much more of my missteps than her younger sister. When she hurts, I feel a stabbing pain, accompanied by defensiveness.

Self-care, like spending time with friends, kayaking, with a splash of detachment and a good bit of faith that things will turn out as they should, all help. That, and writing.

So that’s what’s up in my neck of the world this week.How about you?

If you have a favorite picture I’ve posted in this, please let me know. I’ll send it to Holland America’s photo contest.

Thank you. I’m always glad you’re here.

 

And Contentment for All/Reflections from a Protest-Weary Woman


I surprised myself by getting a little protective of my estranged mother at a book event recently as I answered  readers questions. While my mother made a complicated and fascinating character in my memoir as she did in life, I know it wasn’t only her children she made miserable.

By the time my memoir Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters was published, I was years past being angry with her for her wackadoodle and sometimes sadistic parenting. It helped to assume she was mentally ill, and to look at the time from whence she came.

Being stuck in a trailer full of their unending demands threatened to choke the life right out of her. She fancied herself a Hollywood starlet waiting to be discovered. But the discovery never happened, and her home became littered with ungrateful children.—page 78.

My mother was born in a time when women’s choices were defined by gender. The expectations of women were, in short:

To marry. To have children. To be satisfied with being married and having children. To turn the other cheek when struck by the father of those children. To accept having as many children as she became pregnant with.

That didn’t turn out too good for those who had different wants.

Not everyone is cut out to be married, and not all people are built for parenting. Just ask my mom. Better yet, ask any of her children.

When I went away to college in my late teens, I first heard the term feminism. It surely didn’t fit into my then-conservative belief system. Sure, I was pursuing an education to do something beyond having children, like working, but I was no feminist. Or was I?
When I looked up the definition of feminism in the dictionary, I found it to be pretty simple:

The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.

Oh. That’s it? Nothing in there about not liking men or rejecting God like I’d been told feminism was. Just a simple belief that we should have equal rights and opportunities.

Today, I shudder when I hear young women today disavow feminism. “I’m not a feminist, but…”

Do you enjoy the right to vote? I want to ask them. Are you glad you can work and have kids, or not have kids? Or have kids and stay home with them?  Are you tickled that you can stick with having pets instead of children? Pleased not to replicate 19 Kids and Counting unless you want to? And are you grateful that it’s no longer legal in the US for a husband to beat his wife?

In this loud and divisive time in history, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the constant images of protests. Then I’m reminded of role protesting has played in our nation’s history, and that those who’ve historically risked their lives for our freedoms weren’t only soldiers. They were also the soldier’s brave and sometimes unruly wives and mothers and sisters who wanted better for us all.

I like to imagine who my mom would have been had she been born a generation or so later. I picture her as an artist of some sort, living a quiet yet contented life, although given some of  her other issues, that’s  unrealistic.  Still, I remain committed to appreciating mine, a most imperfect life filled with more work than I can  accomplish balanced with a spectrum of friend and familial relationships and hobbies of my choosing with no pressure to get remarried.

And I want nothing less for my own daughters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks always for stopping by.

 

The Collateral Beauty of This Christmas Season

It’s deep December, and I’m a bit late in checking in.

Then again, I’m also late on Christmas shopping and cards and decorating and the like. But I’ve found my Christmas cheer and am enjoying myself silly instead of feeling engulfed in guilt about my failings.

Yesterday, I saw Collateral Beauty at the theater with a friend. It’s a sweet film with a not too subtle message that has always resonated with me: In the middle of a tragedy or even a prolonged period of bleakness, don’t forget to look around for the splendor that’s right there in the middle of it.

I’m pretty good at finding collateral beauty in the midst of tragedy, having had much practice. But when life is simply too busy, or when it’s dark out around the clock in Alaska, or when my car stops working, it’s a different story. The little stuff bugs me. A lot.

But lately, I’ve found myself at so many events related to my memoir this season, recounting the endless acts of collateral beauty I’ve experienced. I can’t remember a time when I’ve cried more or felt so vulnerable. And so grateful.

Just this  week, I met with two classes of high-schoolers for a discussion about the book and on recognizing signs of unhealthy relationships. Their insights were both sharp and gentle. I was in a daylong online dialogue on We Love Memoirs, and  finished the week with a book signing at Kaladi Brother’s Coffee, my second home and the place where I logged many hours of evening writing. New and old friends joined me and settled in for a relaxed talk about our community, twenty or more years ago to now, and where they were when my girls were abducted, and the role they played to aid the recovery.

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Holidays can be tough. I remember feeling stung in years past when I’d look at social media posts or holiday letters from what appeared to be closer or wealthier or just happier looking families than my own here in Anchorage. My friend and blogger Jen Singer wrote a beautiful post about her similar sentiments here in The Holiday Card No One Ever Sends.

Isolating during the holidays is a tradition for some of us. I don’t enjoy big groups, especially when I’m feeling blue, but this year, there’s been no time for that. Whether it’s been through book events or my day job, volunteer work or time spent doing nothing in particular with my girls, I feel a part of something great. And I can’t even begin to say how much love I feel with every email or post on social media and Christmas cards I’ve received. Thank you.

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Truth is, I still live an imperfect life, but so long as it’s filled with love and connections and purpose, I wouldn’t trade it.

I wish to you that same feeling of connection. I hope you know that if you are alone, you don’t have to be. I recognize that just you stopping by to check in with me here is a wonderful effort. There are volunteer opportunities and other people around, looking for connection and meaning, looking for you.

Later today, I get to meet up with a woman who phoned me after a book signing a week ago. She reminded me that in 1990, she’d sold me her TV at a garage sale. I was in my mid-twenties then and was already on my own with my little girls.  It took me a moment to place her, now nearly 30 years later.

“Don’t you remember?… I let you pay me for the TV in installments.”

I can’t wait to see her. Anyone who is kind enough to allow a broke young woman to essential rent-to own a garage sale item is definitely a part of my collateral beauty.

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Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Thank you for being here with me. I’m happy to report that Pieces of Me:Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters has been a popular Christmas gift this year. Thank you!

Channeling Gratitude

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I really have to work hard  this time of year at being grateful .

It’s bitter cold outside here in Alaska at the moment.  My lips are cracked and bleeding, my refrigerator is empty since it’s too frigid to shop, and I find the constant darkness to be oppressive.

Add to that the holidays-something I loathe-and the pre and post election fallout and I’d say it’s been a stressful and overwhelming time. It feels like the world has gone crazy and we’ve stopped listening to one another.

I’ve been forced out of my shell the past many weeks  with my book events. I’ve met a lot of new people and attended several book groups already. I’d  spent enough time alone the year before that my social skills had atrophied. How refreshing it has been to see people choose  to congregate, to agree, to disagree, and to do it with respect and often with affection.

Hopefully, I’ll keep my new social chops after the book events wind down. We’re all navigating this sometimes ominous-looking future the best we can, something I lose sight of when I spend too much time alone,  scrolling through social media, reading instead of relating.

Here are some key players who make my life enough.

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I have gratitude. It just needs to be defrosted.

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—

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  • 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.

My Favorite Distractions/Memoirs I Love

I cannot tell a lie.

I’ve been a slug lately in regards to writing. Ever since I committed to publishing my memoir, I feel frozen. While I should be working on getting updated pictures for my book cover, or writing the information that will appear on the back of my book, I’ve been reading and watching TV and indulging in any number of distractions after work.

imageSo before I leave for a few days of work in mystical Barrow, Alaska, I will at least share with you some of my favorite memoirs I’ve read this year while avoiding my own writing:

 

FINDING BETHANY by Glen Klinkhart

A DIFFERENT KIND OF SAME by Kelly Clink

COMING CLEAN by Kimberly Ray Miller

THE CRAGGY HOLE IN MY HEART AND THE CAT WHO FIXED IT by Geneen Roth

and my favorite find during my trip to Australia–THE ANTI-COOL GIRL  by Rosie Waterland

The first two cover sibling tragedies, the third is about growing up with hoarders, the fourth covers the healing power a pet’s love provides, and the last is an Aussie woman’s meteoric rise from neglected and abused child in foster care to talented writer with a strong sense of purpose.

What memoirs have you enjoyed recently?

A Few of My Favorite Things in 2014

2014-01-03 20.22.23-2Happy New Year!

Every New Year, I like to recap one thing I’m proud of that happened over the past year.

On New Years Day in January, 2014, I made a bucket list item come true. I went to France  and Italy alone and made memories, some of which were transformational.

Then I came home and wrote about them, and my essay got published in A Girls’ Guide to Travelling Alone by Gemma Thompson, which instantly became a Kindle bestseller in the UK! And through that book, I made more lovely connections with other contributors that were equally transformational.

Yes, 2014 was punctuated by many deaths of family and friends and professional challenges. It was also a year of home renovations, and the year I turned 50! But what I love so much are the connections- old and new- that have been solidified.

My 50th Birthday party!
My 50th Birthday party!

Those, and some awesome books I read.

My four top favorite books I read in 2014  were:

1) Swimming with Maya by Eleanor Vincent

2) The Removers by Andrew Meredith (no relation, but I wish!)

3) A Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone by Gemma Thompson

4) My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger

Truth be told, if someone would have told me in 1990 when I was filing for a restraining order and signing up for food stamps, or in 1995, when I went on my first solo trip overseas to find my kidnapped daughters, that my life would ever be this rich with family, friends, work, and adventures, I would have told them they were hallucinating.

It’s been a far from perfect life,  but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What did you accomplish or live through in 2014 that  you want to remember? And have you read any great books lately?

Thanks always for stopping by!

What The Body Remembers/Help for Healing from Trauma

Trauma is a universal theme, sadly.

Sitting next to my daughter in the emergency room for several hours turned out to be invigorating in a strange way recently.

I have a day job working on the front lines with abused children, and this year, I’ve been a staff trainer for interventions in addressing the Adverse Childhood Experience Study, the largest study that directly correlates childhood abuse and trauma with significantly compromised physical and mental health in middle-aged adults.

My daughter, nearly twenty-six, should be the picture of health. She exercises daily, eats a clean diet (for an American, surrounded by fast-food, preservatives, and all things processed), and has a solid support system, but she lives in excruciating chronic pain.

Her team of doctors finally rendered her diagnoses:

Fibromyalgia, irritable bowel with possible Crohn’s disease, Celiac Disease, all complicated by a vagus nerve disorder.
Life gets scary quickly for her, and the conditions pit one issue against the other. And then her heart stops beating altogether.

The doctors have been clear that nearly every issue is related to her exposure to domestic violence and later being a kidnap victim as a pre-schooler.

The up-side to having a smart daughter in chronic pain is that she’s open to all types of healing. Just because trauma gets trapped in the body doesn’t mean it has to linger there forever.

Here are a few proven methods that we’ve added to the list of traditional supports like therapy, physical therapy,  and medication management that have resulted in less pain and more peace in her life.

For instance:

pureyogaworkshopYoga is an amazing salve for emotional (and some kinds of physical) wounds, especially ho’oponopono yoga. The link has a wonderful post by blogger Stacey Shanks that gives more detail.

Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE)  are new in our world. Our amazing friend Dr. Linda Chamberlain, added TRE to her bag of tools, and led my daughter and I in an easy but impactful hour. Picture this: a zebra in Africa is chased by a lion. The zebra survives, but after the case is over, shakes uncontrollably for ten or twenty minutes. As humans, we’ve learned to stifle those shakes, and in that stifling process, the trauma gets locked inside us.

Massage has been a godsend for my daughter for help living more comfortably in her body.

Trauma leaves an indelible mark on it’s victim, but the symptoms can be both managed and even lessened by embracing the tools available to us. We may not have a choice on some of our experiences, but we always have choices in how we address them.

What have you done to heal from trauma? Leave comments below.