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On The Run

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This is an excerpt from my memoir, More Than Everything.

In this part of the story, Shane and I are on the run from the FBI and we have made our way to Alaska. Shane has just picked up a hitchhiker…against my better judgment. It is the summer of 1985.

This is me in 1984

This is me in 1984

The drifter and Shane exchange fake names and after looking through him for a second or two I turn my attention back to the countryside outside my window.  With a southern accent the guy says he’s from Tennessee.  I don’t like his long, greasy dishwater blond hair, his cold dark eyes, his large biceps, or his quiet, guilty manner.  My mind races through one bad scenario after another wondering what brought him to the side of the road between Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska.  I think to myself that he has surely committed far greater crimes than those that have landed me and Shane here.  He doesn’t talk much and I’m convinced that what little he does say must all be lies.  I catch him staring at me once or twice and it makes me nervous.

Shane is calling himself Roy.  It is hard for me to call him that but I have no choice.  In my mind he does not look like a Roy.  He should have let me pick the name I was going to have to call him.  Chase would have worked because he is on the run, or Mark or Steve or anything but Roy.  But he didn’t ask me.  He just makes me call him Roy, which ironically, means king — another reason for me to hate calling him that.  When you’ve been with a man named Shane for seven years it is not easy to suddenly start calling him Roy, but I do it, and I’m proud of myself for not slipping up so far.  I don’t get to pick an alias for myself.  I think I would like to have been called Grace for a while, but Shane knows he would slip up, so he doesn’t even try.  I am still Vanessa, but only a wrung-out, tired version of myself.

There isn’t much talking as we drive north through the middle of the night, the Alaskan summer night that doesn’t grow dark.  It just grabs onto the smudgy end of the daylight and holds onto it like a blanket until morning when the sun burns it away and the world is bright again.

The three of us eat cheeseburgers at a picnic table in the 80° Fairbanks sunshine sometime the next day.  When you don’t have a clock or wear a watch and it doesn’t get dark, it’s impossible to know what time it is.  There is no routine to help keep you grounded.  No time clock to punch.  No dinner to cook.  No alarm clock to ring.  There is just a nagging feeling of impending doom as the hours come and go unnoticed.

We drive around town all day.  From my backseat perch it disappoints me to see that Fairbanks looks like just any other city.  These people don’t look any different than people anywhere else I’ve been.  When you say you’re from Texas people ask if you live on a ranch and ride a horse to work.  They expect you to say yes.  I am in northern Alaska and I expect to see Eskimos and igloos.  These are just normal people with alarm clocks on their nightstands, milk cartons in their refrigerators and clothes in their closets; moving through their days, driving Fords and Chevrolets and living lives that I know are better than mine, safer than mine; normal.

Mr. Tennessee is behind the wheel of the Bronco!  I wake up from another bad dream and it is the back of his head I see on the driver’s side, not Shane’s and I am outraged.  Shane is curled up in the passenger seat, sawing logs.  I shoot darts at the back of both their heads with my incredulous eyes.  What in the world is he thinking, letting an ax murderer drive us around while we both sleep?  We have almost $20,000 cash in a bag here, not to mention my jewelry.  I’ve caught Mr. Tennessee eyeing my 2 carat diamond pendant more than once, so I’ve taken it off and hidden it in the inside zipper pocket of my bag.   There is no way I can go back to sleep now with this new anger inside me.  One more bullet in the arsenal of anger tools I have been collecting; the tools that chisel away at what’s left of mine and Shane’s relationship.

Shane soon wakes up, seemingly refreshed.  He and Mr. Tennessee start talking and laughing like a couple of old Army buddies sharing a beer at a neighborhood bar.  I can’t believe how Shane is opening up to this guy.  He’s telling him too much.  Careful, I say over and over in my mind, hoping Shane will intercept my silent warnings.  But it doesn’t work and he just keeps talking.  He’s always been like that. He doesn’t catch on to things normal people perceive.  He’s oblivious to other people’s stares.  Now he’s either trying to gain Mr. Tennessee’s confidence, or he has totally lost his mind because he practically tells our whole story.  More anger bullets for my arsenal.

We are on our way back to Anchorage now, somewhere south of Fairbanks in the middle of some of God’s most gorgeous country.  I am mad, tired, confused, and I need to pee.

It’s not long before we pull off the highway.  The rest stop is on the left side of the highway, up on a hill, with a little outcropping overlooking the road like a scenic turnout.  There are no other cars around – probably because it’s most likely three o’clock in the morning.   I jump out of the Bronco and head to the ladies room.  Shane gets out and stretches.

Nothing could have prepared me for what happens next.

I come out of the ladies room at exactly the same time Shane is walking out of the men’s room.  Walking toward each other, our eyes lock and we stop dead in our tracks.  We look over to where the Bronco had been parked, look back at each other and then run to the scenic turnout.  Desperately, our eyes search the highway; first north, then south, and together we catch a glimpse of the Bronco’s red tailgate as it disappears over the horizon.

HE’LL COME BACK, I scream.  It’s just a joke.  He’s gonna turn around and come back for us.  HE HAS TO COME BACK.  He wouldn’t just leave us here on the side of the road. . . WOULD HE???!!!

My fists are full of the front of Shane’s shirt.  I am pulling and twisting, barely able to stand, barely able to breathe.  Then my eyes meet his and I know.  In a split second, my mind bends, expands, turns a new corner, makes a quantum leap, and finally acknowledges the dire truth.  Mr. Tennessee is not coming back for us.  This is not a joke.

To find out what happens next, you can buy the book here!

Thank you.

When Your Ghost Has Worn Out Her Welcome

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When Your Ghost Has Worn Out Her Welcome

The cloying aroma of too much perfume clung to the air as I came through the back door. I enjoyed being the first one to arrive at work in the mornings, but I did not like being bombarded with the sickly sweet fog of the resident ghost’s perfume. It was as if she were standing right there spritzing me in the face with it – maybe she was.

Before taking the job, I had been warned that the building (a two story house that had been converted into an office) was haunted. In my interview, I was told, “The house was built in the 1920’s and, among other things, was once a brothel where murders occurred.” Oh boy.  My boss joked that he was more worried about what kind of bad karma the previous tenants (lawyers) had possibly left behind. Ha. Ha. He continued by saying that, “To date, the worst thing anyone has experienced is an odd occasional noise, and cold spots that send chills up your spine when you walk through them.”

While the daily perfuming continued, I began noticing another strange occurrence. After a client meeting I would clean up the conference room and push in all the chairs. A few minutes later I would walk past the conference room door and see that one chair was pulled away from the table and turned to face the east wall. I’d push it back and it would pull away again, over and over. While I never actually witnessed the chair move on its own, it would always be repositioned the next time I passed by. Finally, I started leaving the chair in its eastward-facing position. It seemed happier that way.

Sometimes I’d be upstairs in my office and I would hear the back door open and slam closed, which usually indicated a co-worker had arrived. But no one was there. I’d wait to hear footsteps on the stairs, or for someone to say, “Good morning!” and there was nothing. Often, I’d get up and go look out the window, onto the parking lot below, only to find my car the only one in the lot.

Just your average work-place ghost having a little mischievous fun. No big deal. None of this activity really bothered me. I’d even talk to her sometimes. I assumed it was a female because of the perfume, and because of ‘a feeling’ I had. We co-existed and got along as well as a human and a ghost can when occupying the same space, until the day the microwave oven talked to me.

As usual, I was the only one in the office one morning around eight-thirty. The kitchen is at the top of the stairs. Past that, down a hall, are five offices. Mine is the first one on the left. After stopping in the kitchen for a glass of water, I made my way to my desk and began checking email, looking at the calendar, preparing for the day. I had been there for a few minutes when I heard the microwave begin beeping – like when it’s finished cooking whatever you put in there. Only I hadn’t put anything in the microwave. I hadn’t touched it, and I’m pretty sure I hadn’t even looked in its direction.

I left my desk and slowly made my way down the hallway. When I got to the doorway of the kitchen I stopped, the microwave beeping the whole time. My heart rate was quickened and my palms were sweaty. I stole a quick glance out the window and saw that my car sat alone in the parking lot. When I turned back to the kitchen and looked at the microwave, I saw that words were flashing on the display. I had to step closer to make out the words because I hadn’t brought my reading glasses.

Nothing could have prepared me for the word I saw flashing on the microwave display that morning.


The microwave said ‘child’.

How on earth is that even possible??

My heart rate was suddenly through the roof. My hands flew to my mouth, covering it in disbelief. To silence the incessant beeping and to make it stop flashing the word child, I unplugged the microwave and ran back to my desk.

I called my husband and told him the whole story. First, he instructed me to just breathe and try to calm down. “Do you want to leave?” he asked. “I don’t know!” I replied. “I just want it to stop.”

“Then tell it to go away and leave you alone,” he suggested.

“Do you think it would leave, just like that?” I cried.

“Well, it’s worth a try,” he said. “What do you have to lose?”

“But I’m afraid,” I said.

“What are you afraid of?”


“What has it done to you?” He reasoned.

“It scared the crap out of me! It made the microwave say child! Isn’t that enough?”

“That is weird.” He agreed. “But, you’re in control. This is your world. Just calm down, and tell her it’s time for her to leave, that she has worn out her welcome and you’re not interested in communicating with her.”

And it worked! I pulled up my big girl pants and told her to go away.

It’s been five years of no perfume, no wayward chairs, slamming doors, or talking microwaves. Sometimes I wonder how far she went – there are old houses on either side of us. But I don’t spend as much time thinking about that ghost as I do marveling at how smart my husband is.

Do you have a ghost story you’d like to share?

Wordless Wednesday

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Beach Girl

In Pie We Trust

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In Pie We Trust

Tess added a pinch of lavender into the bowl as she stirred. A quick glance at the old train station clock over the front door told her that Johnna would be in any minute to open the shop. Tess felt a sense of urgency to get the pies into the oven before Johnna arrived so she wouldn’t have to listen to another lecture about her less than stellar time-management skills.

Right on time (ten minutes early) Tess heard the back door open and close.

“What’s up, buttercup?” Johnna chirped as she sidled up next to her younger sister and sniffed the days’ special flavor being mixed, a large bouquet of fresh flowers in one hand.

“Mmmmm….is that lavender I smell? What are we calling this one?” Johnna asked.

“I’m still thinking,” said Tess.

“Well, I can’t wait to taste it,” replied Johnna. “I suggest you hurry and get those in the oven so they’ll be ready.”

Tess stuck her tongue out at her sister’s back as Johnna made her way toward the sink where yesterday’s Ball jar vases sat clean on the drain board, ready for today’s flowers.

After the fresh flowers were placed in the center of each table (that their brother, Mitchell, had made from reclaimed barn wood) Johnna grabbed her apron off the hook by the cash register and finished readying In Pies We Trust for opening.

The sisters had been very lucky to find and lease the space on Main Street that had once been a Red Goose shoe store. In the 1980’s it had been converted into a women’s boutique for a short time, and most recently an artist, who was a relative of the owner, had used it as a painting studio. The original black and white hexagonal tiles still graced the front entryway, and in their remodel, the sisters exposed an original red brick wall on the east side that runs the length of the shop. Lots of natural light spilled in through the large front windows, casting bright shafts of sunshine all the way into the kitchen.

Tess had just taken the last pie from the oven when the bell over the front door chimed with the arrival of their first customer of the day. The mouthwatering aromas from the baking of so many pies permeated the premises. They both agreed, on a daily basis, that the extra money they had spent on the exhaust fan that blew those mouthwatering aromas out onto Main Street had been well worth it. With all their sales, it had more than paid for itself.

Opening their specialty pie shop, in Wimberley, Texas two years earlier had proven to be the best decision the sisters had ever made. Neither one of them had been happy about landing back in their hometown, single and jobless in the same year, but, they had put their heads together and found a viable solution to their problems. It seemed that everyone loved pie and that was one thing they were both good at.

Johnna had perfected the pie crust, adding a secret ingredient (crushed toasted hazelnut) in place of a portion of the flour, and Tess, with her creative flair, found boundless energy in coming up with delicious, unusual flavors – and the fun one-of-a-kind names she gave them – to keep a steady flow of customers coming back for more.

Some of the town’s favorite pies had been: raspberry tart with lemon zest, peach and gingerbread, orange peel and mascarpone, and ruby red grapefruit with cream topping, all with fun, unique names that only Tess could come up with.

“Good morning, Mrs. Henry,” Johnna said with a smile. “Tess has just finished today’s special.”

Johnna looked behind her to read what Tess was writing on the blackboard.

“She’s calling this one…” Johnna leaned around Tess’ body so she could make out the words as Tess finished the last letter with a flair…”A French Affair!” Johnna gave Tess a sharp look conveying her irritation to Tess for having waited until the last minute. Again.

Tess presented their most loyal customer with a sample before Johnna could blink.

“Mmmmm. That’s very good! What’s that I taste in there with the blueberries?” Beulah Henry asked.

“Now Mrs. Henry, if we told you our secrets, we’d never see you again.” Tess winked.

“Would you like a slice and a cup of coffee?” Johnna asked.

Mrs. Henry came in every day. And every day she asked questions she knew would not be answered.

As the front door chimed again, signaling the arrival of another customer, Mrs. Henry replied, “Yes! And why don’t you go ahead and box up a whole one for me. It’s my turn to bring snacks to Bridge this afternoon.”

Johnna and Tess looked up to see a steady stream of familiar faces lining up at the counter, and they shared a knowing smile.

Wordless Wednesday

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Pretty Table

Wordless Wednesday

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photo 1

Wordless Wednesday

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Tree Extra


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