Living Happily Ever After


Blog Articles

The Conditions for Beauty

“No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.” (Oscar Wilde)
My mom emphasized true beauty, what she called “inner beauty,” and taught me it’s what is on the inside of you that counts. I believed her. And  then my unexpected life hit.
Although it happened five years ago and much of it has become a blur, I’ll never forget what a scary and dark time it was. Overwhelming. All I can say is that I did the best I could given the circumstances. I probably made some mistakes. But one thing I stand by was my intentional refusal to indulge in the vicious hatred and negativity that came my way. (I’d like to say it was a soul perfection that allowed me to take the high road. But the truth is probably closer to the fact that I was so afraid if I allowed myself to indulge in ANY hatred or anger toward anyone who treated me unjustly or betrayed me during those dark days, I might have never been able to rise above it.)
So time passed, I recovered, and I’m still living. I moved on, minus most of the trappings (and some of the friends) who chose to not remain with me. And I’ve become o.k. with all of it. And then earlier this month I had an encounter that reinforced to me, again, that I made the right choice.

One of my biggest losses from my previous spouse’s crimes and Ponzi scheme was the loss of a few friends I’d know even longer than my ex. We weren’t just friends, we were like family. They were some of my heroes–and the first phone call I made when I found out I was married to a criminal and he’d destroyed not just our family, but countless other lives. However in the waning months of my ex-husband’s crimes, their relatives had invested money with him. And he had taken it. So at my greatest time of need (and in all of the years since), they couldn’t be there for me due to the depth of destruction.

And then earlier this month, I unexpectedly ran into one of them. That friend I once knew so well was a literal stranger. In fact, I almost didn’t recognize her. Our encounter was so brief but I was shocked. She looked so different to me. Maybe I just caught her on a bad day…or maybe my mom was right: inner beauty is the only kind of beauty that matters.

It isn’t easy to develop and it certainly isn’t easy to maintain–to rise above the destructive choices of others and the events of life that can be so difficult. But it’s so worth it.

Because in the end, and despite our losses (or perhaps because of them), we will each be truly beautiful.

Dandelion Death

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” (Charles Darwin)

While doing yard work and weeding a few weeks ago, my middle son surprised me with a bouquet of dandelions. I was thrilled, delighted and quickly rushed to put them in water to preserve them for as long as possible. For that day, they sat in a vase on my kitchen windowsill. Soft, puffy, cushions of yellow sunshine. The next day they were dead.

I confess, I was a little surprised. It has always seemed to me that dandelions, creeping into grass, springing up unbidden, are hardy plants. And although I’m not a weed, flower or gardening expert by any means (as evidenced by the many plants and flowers I’ve managed to kill), I think there’s a life lesson somewhere in their short life span.

From my perspective, dandelions have it pretty easy. They bloom into being uninvited and there they stay. Cheery, yellow, WEEDY; rain or shine. They don’t need water, they don’t need fertilizer and it seems like lawn mowers even have difficulty making an impact on them! It’s an easy life, as long as they remain in their expected and “natural” habitat—outside. But pluck a few, put them in a vase full of water, and they’re dead by nightfall (or at the very latest, the next morning.) I expected them to last at least as long as flowers do in a vase of water!

With such an easy existence, dandelions haven’t had to learn to be hardy, to adapt to change or to challenge. They don’t appear to have ever had to “hang on” when times get tough. They haven’t had to develop roots. Hand them an unexpected new life—indoors, in a vase of water—and they wither and die faster than anything I’ve seen.

Makes you grateful for the unexpected life, YOUR unexpected life of growth opportunities, doesn’t it? Because it’s through our trials that we become stronger. Our challenges strengthen us (if we let them) and by triumphing over them, we become stronger. Better. More than we would otherwise have been. Draught, hardship, the unexpected life…cause us to develop roots and to sink those roots deep to survive. The character-conditioning program called life, especially the unexpected one, makes us more than we ever could have become on our own. And in the end, we master not just surviving new circumstances or new challenges, but blooming wherever we’re planted.

We can find happiness and joy in whatever garden, or yard, or patch of dirt, or pile of manure we’ve had the good fortune (or misfortune!) to land in. Life is good regardless of where life transplants you to. Sink your roots into the soil of your unexpected life, look for the beauties of it, count your blessings and strive not just to survive but to bloom.

“I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and you laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” (Clarissa Pinkola Estes)

The Way The World Laughs

“The world laughs in flowers.” (E.E. Cummings)

Despite my experiences of 2009 and my entry into an unexpected life (when many voices of the world weren’t quite so jolly and the tragic situation many of us found ourselves in as a result of the crimes committed by my former husband was anything but humorous) I love that thought. I love the thought of sharing laughter (aka. happiness and joy) with others through flowers—must be why I always loved May Day and secretly leaving fragrant bouquets on neighbors’ doorsteps. I also love the visual imagery of the earth, itself, blooming with flowers (aka. joy and “laughter.”) What a beautiful time of year it is as the world laughingly leaves winter behind and blossoms into spring.

Last week my husband got us all out into the yard to do some general spring clean up and weeding. I noticed it was a lot easier to see what I was doing in the sunlight this year compared to last year’s weeding and garden planting in the dark of night—but I didn’t expect it to be as memorable.

And then, when we were almost finished, my 12-year-old son walked up with a bouquet of dandelions clutched tightly in his growing hands and gallantly presented them to me with a smile. I thanked him, ran into the house, put the “flowers” in a vase of water in the kitchen windowsill and returned to my work in the yard—pulling growing things, “weeds,” that looked suspiciously similar to the bouquet on the kitchen windowsill.

“A weed is but an unloved flower.” (Ella Wheeler Wilcox)

It’s all in your perspective.

I believe it’s all about how you choose to look at it, whether it’s weeds, the world or an unexpected life. There is beauty in “weeds” just as there can be great beauty in an unexpected life. It’s up to you to see it that way. It’s up to you to take what you’re handed, look for the good and make the most of what you’ve been given; to find joy and to live after the manner of happiness despite, or perhaps because of, the unexpected life.


“Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin.  That, or a [striking] red lipstick.” (Gwyneth Paltrow)

When my sister and I were young, we went through our own unique awkward stages. My sister’s was a particular challenge given her poor eyesight and her good fortune to land the position as my dad’s chief orthodontic experiment on a new appliance, the Frankel. (Don’t ask. Lets just say it was a giant box-like, retainer-type contraption with wires and pink material galore that when worn, made my sister’s lips and cheeks bulge out to contain her mouthful!) Thankfully, her natural beauty and her great personality saw her through those times because she always seemed to have boy friends, and boys with crushes on her, way more than I ever did and even using those “awkward” years.

They led to some pretty romantic moments. For example, once, while riding from Denver to Grand Jct., Colorado in the late 1970s, with their moms chatting in the front seat, a boy serenaded her with, “You Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker. Picture it: two kids in the backseat of a car on a road trip with their moms, and the boy sings his devotion along the Colorado highways! I was pretty uncomfortable with romantic gestures at that point of my life, so when she got home and told me about it, we had such a laugh over that one! I’ve never been able to hear that song again without thinking of my sister’s romantic experience, her first serenade.

Then I married #5, my husband Mike, a self-described “crooner.” I’ve already documented my experience when he first sang me a song—it turned out MUCH better than anticipated, for me! Lol. And then one night, while sitting at the piano and singing, he started that song, “You Are So Beautiful.” I cringed, bracing myself for a song that had never been my favorite, particularly after my sister’s experience with it…but something unexpected happened. (As usual. I ought to be getting used to that by now, huh?) Turns out, it was a VERY different experience than my sister’s romantic rendition of the 1970s.

There I sat watching and listening to the man I love sing it to me, smile at me as he sang, raise his eyebrows at me during key passages in the lyrics, and with his own voice (which I love—it’s my favorite!) rather than Joe Cocker’s hoarse, grunting style (my apologies to any Joe Cocker fans out there), made me feel like he meant every word. It was quite a moment. Unexpectedly romantic. And guess who actually likes that song now? Me. After more than three decades of abhorring it!

“You Are So Beautiful.” (Kind of him to sing, especially after 44 years of wear and tear and four children resulting in wrinkles, sags, bags, and everything else that blesses your life in middle age. He’s either blind or, as I suspect, the kindest and nicest man on the planet.)

But while we’re on the subject or beauty, here’s a tip from Audrey Hepburn (who knew what she was talking about!): “For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”

Remember that, and you’re beautiful. No matter who sings it.

The Morning After

“You will never have buyer’s remorse with wood. You can change your furniture, window covering or color scheme, but the wood will always be there and most important, be appropriate. Look at Monticello–the original wood floors there are still magnificent.” (Ellen Paris)

The last hurdle to clear, the last bit of lunacy to confront following my remarriage, was the “morning after.” The very tiny part of me that feared I’d wake up, married to #5, and be seized by thoughts of, “Uh-oh. WHAT have I done?”

I never shared that with #5 though. I thought I was the only one with anything to fear upon awakening. However that night, our wedding night, before we fell asleep #5 looked over at me and expressed a fear of his own: “I have to warn you, with my hair this long, it’s not going to be pretty in the morning. I can’t guarantee what you’re going to see, crazy things happen to it while I sleep, brace yourself.”

Sometimes men and women are from different planets! There I was worrying about the possibility of major “morning after” regret–and #5 was warning me about his morning hair.

The next morning, I woke up. I hesitated for just a moment, a part of me was afraid to lift my eyes from the pillow and face my fear. But then I felt #5′s hand on my arm. I looked over at him. He was smiling, and he got right to the heart of the matter as he asked, ”Well? What do you think? How do you feel? Are you still happy?”

I’d never verbalized my fear, but he always seems to know what I’m worrying about anyway. And in that instant, a wave of peace and calm and happiness with #5 and my choice and the events of the day before washed over me. I detected absolutely NO REGRET. I replied, “I’m happy! And even happier that I have NO buyer’s remorse whatsoever!”

We had a great time in Las Vegas; we had a fabulous honeymoon; and we thoroughly enjoyed our time together. That “morning after” was the last little issue to resolve.

I’ve come to realize that, for me, anyway, ”The things which we fear the most in life have already happened to us.” (Robin Williams, One Hour Photo)

Another beauty of the unexpected life.

You Can Call Me

“It’s strange but true. Fat chance and slim chance mean the same thing.”

When my unexpected life began, and in the real world, there were probably many (myself included, on occasion) that believed the reality of a wonderful life ever working out for me again was a slim chance or a fat one. However, the beauty of an unexpected life is that it does work out. With enough faith, hope, hard work, optimism, endurance and some miracles, in fact, it always does. Every time.

Another highlight of my engagement, for me, took place shortly after the driveway conversation with my youngest and the neighbor boy. One day I received the following email from #5:  ”Hey, Just wanted to let you know that last night in the car Jake asked if he could call me Dad. I told him he could call me anything he wanted–Dad, Fatty, Mike…Later he called me Mike, but at least he knows that it will be ok.”

Things were changing in our unexpected life; they were definitely looking up. Mr. Awesome was proving himself truly awesome time and again, but there were still a few unusual conversations ahead. Especially those that involved a four-year-old.

“The difficulty with this conversation is that it’s very different from most of the ones I’ve had of late. Which, as I explained, have mostly been with trees.” (Douglas Adams)

The First 24 Hours

“The beauty, the poetry of the fear in their eyes. I didn’t mind going to jail for, what, five, six hours? It was absolutely worth it.” (Johnny Depp)

Jail. According to Hollwood, criminals get to make a phone call. But I never got one that day from the only criminal I’ve ever known: my ex-husband. He told me later, “I didn’t call anyone with my call. I couldn’t remember your number. I just froze.”

He sent a letter to my children and educated us about his new life and summed it up by saying, “Well, I finished my first 24 hours in jail and…I don’t recommend it!”

He had spent seven hours on a concrete bench waiting to go to the Evaluation Mod, a medium security block/area: a 7 x 12 room with a combination sink and toilet and two mats–for two men. The men were released from the cell three hours each day and could use the time to watch t.v. or shower.

“Locks reset every hour, so it is very loud. The first time I heard it I thought someone shot a gun. It goes on all night, 24/7. They don’t shut the lights off, so you sleep in the light.”

He was later moved to a minimum security Mod: one big room with 64 beds on one side, a large common area with two 24″ t.v.s (but the men have to purchase headphones to listen to the t.v.) Also in the room were six round stainless steel tables with attached metal stools, with a chess/checker board etched into the top (but the men have to purchase the game pieces.) Breakfast was served at 5 a.m., lunch at 11 a.m. and dinner at 5 p.m. Breakfast consisted of a hard boiled egg, “mystery meat” and a biscuit. Lunch was a piece of pastrami, a chunk of “smelly black bread,” a cookie and orange jello. Dinner was chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and mixed vegetables.

He spent a lot of time describing his new life for one reason. “I want to make sure you guys know what can happen if you mess up and don’t take care of it. I don’t get to make many choices. I get to choose to eat or not to eat and when to shower. Everything else is chosen for me. I am all alone. In a cage.”

I have a new perspective on prison: “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.”

I’ve seen for myself that life goes on, even on “the inside.” You simply have to choose to live it. Whatever you’re handed, wherever you are.

The Caterpillar Phase

I met one of my “oldest” friends for breakfast this morning. I have known her since I was 15 years old, and although we only lived in the same town for a little over a year, our friendship has endured all these years. She was my college roommate for almost three years and has been with me through thick and thin. No matter how long it has been since the last time we’ve seen each other, we are always able to pick up right where we left off. Today was no different.

We chatted about me. We chatted about her. We discussed our children. We talked about our jobs. We talked about life and the unexpected things that happen. We laughed as we reminisced about some of the good times we have shared. The time passed all too quickly (three hours just didn’t seem that long!) and then we had to part ways to attend the activities of our children. As I was partway home, she called my cell phone and asked if I was heading home. When I told her I was, she said she had something for me that reminded her of me, and was going to meet me at my house and give it to me.

She arrived a few minutes later and handed me a cute wooden plaque that said, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” She told me as we sat and talked, and then when she saw that phrase, it reminded her of me. I was so touched by her thoughtfulness. We’d spent the morning together, and she thoughtfully added an extra 1-2 hours to her trip to share that gift with me.

I LOVE that statement on the gift she gave me! (And not just because it is true.)

Maya Angelou said, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

If you think about it, we are all caterpillars journeying through life. Each experience adds to what we are and what we are becoming until…we become butterflies. Beautiful butterflies!

My mom focused on inner beauty with her children. She’d always say it’s great if you have a beautiful appearance (and to some degree, we don’t get to choose that. If we have it, it’s because we inherited it from someone else!) but true beauty, the important beauty, the beauty that means something is inner beauty. She always encouraged us to be as “pretty on the inside” as she thought we were on the outside.

Inner beauty is not without price. Life happens, we endure challenges and the changes it brings, and if we handle it right, the changes can positively impact our inner beauty. My mom always told me we can use the challenges that come our way to help us become better than we would otherwise have been; we can let the bad things that happen to us refine us, and help us develop real and lasting beauty–inner beauty–or we can allow them to canker our souls and destroy us.

I truly believe THAT is the most important thing we can do when the going is rough: use the terrible experience to help us become better people. It isn’t easy, but it IS possible.

When the unexpected events of 2009 began, a friend called and reminded me that no matter how bad everything looked at the moment, and no matter how terrible I envisioned my future would be, she wanted me to know it was not going to turn out to be QUITE as bad as I feared. And she was right. On March 18, 2009, I absolutely thought my children and I were headed to live in a cardboard box somewhere. Today we live in a home. I thought the huge, gaping hole in our hearts would never heal. But they are. But we’ve had to look for the good; look for the beauty. And have tried to create new beauty out of a very different set of circumstances.

Life, even an unexpected life, can be beautiful. We just have to endure the caterpillar phase, and the chrysalis stage, and look for the beauty that unfolds as we endure and then triumph over our challenges.

And we must never forget this truth: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”

Bookmark and Share