Living Happily Ever After


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The Speech Continued: ‘H’ is for Hang On

H: Hang On.

Don’t walk off into the sunset, disappear into the horizon and drop off the face of the earth as much as you may want to! Don’t lay down and die (like I really wanted to!)

“The best way to guarantee a loss is to quit.” (Morgan Freeman)

So hang on!

The reality is: if you hang on long enough and hang in there strong enough, eventually you’ll see light again. And when the dust settles, it USUALLY doesn’t end up QUITE as bad as you initially think it will. For example, I seriously believed at worst case scenario, I was innocent but would be sent to prison anyway; and at best case, I would be homeless–living in a cardboard box somewhere under a bridge. (It was me and my four kids, so I was envisioning a refrigerator-sized box!) The reality? Yes, I lost my life, my home, my husband, my intact family, many friends, my reputation, every material possession of value (including my wedding ring and most of the gifts my husband had ever given me); yes, I had to go to work and will have to work until the day I die; yes, I WILL be living paycheck to paycheck the rest of my life…but there IS a paycheck, there IS a roof over my head and there IS food for my children. We’re ok!

You CAN do it.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror, I can take the next thing that comes along!’ You MUST do the thing you THINK you cannot do.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Embrace your horror! Really, what else is there to do?

Own your story, whatever it is, and I promise you, someday you’ll be living with happiness and joy. Again.

One Grand Sweet Song

“Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music.” (Ronald Reagan)

Last month my husband took me to see Olivia Newton John in concert. Even if I hadn’t loved her music or aspired to be her during my childhood and teenage years (yes, I had the white dress from Xanadu and wore my hair like hers!) that concert was a trip down the memory lane of my childhood and life.

It was also there that something very unexpected happened—and I’m not talking about the Olivia enthusiast next to me who didn’t sit down once during the entire performance, who had what appeared to be choreographed danced routines he performed to every song and who didn’t miss an opportunity to call out “I love you, Olivia!” every time there was a pause or break in singing. (For the sake of my husband’s reputation and honor, I should probably clarify that although I love that he knows every word to every song, sang along with Olivia and I and enjoyed the evening as much as I did…I’m talking about the man on the OTHER side of me!)

While sitting on the grass and enjoying the concert, I was unexpectedly struck by the most powerful sense of complete and utter satisfaction and contentment; a feeling of  joy, gratitude, happiness and a love of life. Not just about life itself, but about the life I am living today.

Honestly, it surprised me.

Because I still have an occasional moment of trying not to compare the “then” with the “now.” Yes, a materially blessed life with a beautiful home, a house cleaner, a gardener, luxury cars, vacations and everything else that was mine in a former life was easier, in some ways, than the life I struggle to provide for myself and my children now. Yes, I lived one life I loved until 2009 at which time I began living a new and very different life in which I’ve found much unexpected happiness, joy and satisfaction. But it surprised me to be struck, unexpectedly, by such a powerful sensation that despite its many, many losses and the heartache and grief I’ve passed through, despite the challenges of the past and present and the extreme changes in every aspect of my life including lifestyle, I not only have incredible peace and joy but also total gratitude and contentment in and for my new one.

It made me realize that not only do you have to triumph over your challenges, you must embrace what has happened to you, accept it as a part of you and your life experience, own it (make it yours) and the triumph will be that much sweeter. It was an epiphany for me to realize that is what I had unintentionally done and that the happiness and joy that is yours, when you do that, is indescribable.

Really, it is. I highly recommend it to everyone living an unexpected life. Because when you get to that point, I believe you really ARE experiencing, living AND FINDING JOY in your unexpected life. You’re living your “happily ever after.”

“Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” (Toni Morrison)

Or Maybe?

Or maybe the secret to life is…simply facing your fears.

My unexpected life was replete with ALL of my lifelong fears and many more I’d never even dreamed of, not even in my worst nightmare, all combined into one fantastically devastating, horrific experience that included, all at the same time, betrayal, crime, a double life, negative publicity, divorce, single motherhood, poverty, loss of home, loss of pretty much everything of worldly value, unemployment, financial devastation and a few other things I shall refrain from detailing.

What do you do when you’re handed your nightmare on a platter of poverty and publicity?

Accept it. You can’t escape it, so deal with it.

Conquer it. Keep at it until you overcome the mountains in your path. (Work at it every single day for as long as it takes to find happiness and joy, to live, again.)

I think THAT is the secret.

“He who is not every day conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)


Make the Most of Them

“Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.” (Albert Einstein)

Not too long ago my husband and I arrived home late at night within minutes of each other after attending to separate duties. The house was quiet and dark. My husband remarked, “It sure it quiet around here.”

I agreed, and explained the itineraries of our children that had resulted in such silence in our home. As I talked, I realized that, for the first since our marriage, we were alone in the house. Without any children—an event so monumental in our mid-life newlywed state that I think it bears repeating! Alone. In our house. For the very first time. In nearly 18 months of marriage.

My husband looked at me and exclaimed, “Wow, we’d better make the most of it!”

So we did.

Enough said.

But it’s a good lesson for marriage AND life: Open your eyes. Look around. Comprehend the gift/s you have been given. Learn to celebrate the little things. And make the most of them.


Life Happens

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” (John Lennon)

Remarrying mid-life is an interesting experience in so many ways and on so many levels, not the least of which is constantly feeling like I’m trying to catch up, or make up, a few decades—getting to know my husband’s family, his history and everything else. That, combined with raising children, working full time, household duties, hobbies and life in general, keeps us pretty busy!

Recently, as part of the getting to know one another’s history, I found myself at a little cemetery in Snowflake, Arizona, seeing grave sites of Ramsey family members (including my father-in-law) I’ve heard many stories about but have never met. While there, I was particularly struck by the dates engraved on the stone monuments to row after row of lives lived.

Reminded, again, of the importance of making the most of the life you’ve been blessed with—whether you chose it or not. And that while to every life there is a beginning date and at some point there will be an end, what truly matters is all of the time in between: what you choose to do with it, what you make of  it, the positive impact in the world (even if it’s only in your little corner of the world) you have, the memories, the friendships and the happiness and joy you cultivate throughout it all.

Standing there in the green of a quiet and peaceful resting place I thought about the hopes, dreams and aspirations we’re all working toward; and how we each have our share of those that don’t work out for one reason or another: death, divorce, sickness, war, Ponzi schemes, accidents, betrayals, employment disappointments, natural disasters, way too many “man made disasters” and everything else no one plans to experience or wants to experience…but it comes to each of us any way.

Life “happens.” It’s what you do with it that counts.

Make the most of your moments.

Revise your plans, if necessary, due to the things that develop in your personal story.

And then choose to live happily, ever after, in YOUR unexpected life.


Humpty Dumpty

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” (Lewis Carroll)

It’s nursery rhyme day in my son’s kindergarten class. All kinds of fun is planned—including the opportunity for each child to recite their favorite nursery rhyme! In helping my son prepare for his big moment of recitation, I was surpassed to learn that Humpty Dumpty is his favorite nursery rhyme. (Don’t ask me why I thought one about a spider or rolling down a hill or dogs and bones might appeal to him more, lets just say I was wrong!)

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

You can learn a lot from Humpty and his unexpected adventure; his fall. Who knew nursery rhymes could be such great life lessons?

It’s like this. We all take a “fall” or experience at least one failure in our lives. (Lucky me, I’ve had many! I’ve survived some big ones!) Some falls are self-inflicted by the poor choices we make, others are thrust upon us through the choices of others. Some falls occur because we tried our hardest but sadly, still fell short. Others occur by “accident” or in the natural course of life or living. But regardless of how we get them, we still get to experience them—to lose someone or some thing (or in extreme cases, pretty much everything!) That falls happen is a given, it’s what you do with them that counts. And that’s the key to every fall: YOU.

Humpty fell off the wall and no one could do one thing about it. Nobody else could put him back together. It was up to Humpty to decide his fate: cracked, forever fallen or rebuild. Sure, others would be there for him and his friends, I’m sure, would do everything they could to support him and be there for him; but it was up to Humpty to do it. Just like it’s up to each of us to pick ourselves up and carry on after a fall.

I’ve learned for myself that you can survive anything if you choose to. I’ve seen firsthand that total devastation doesn’t have to mean absolute ruin forever. I believe there is darkness, but I also believe that after even extreme darkness and heartache and devastation can come dawn—light, life, healing, happiness and joy! If you think your dreams are shattered, pick up a broken piece of one and work to put something together again.

If you do that, I firmly believe you’ll succeed. Just don’t be too surprised when the outcome of your effort, the ending, the “happily ever after” you create from the shard shard of devastation you’re left with is every bit as good (and sometimes even better!) than your previous dream.

“If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces,  never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again.” (Flavia Weedn)

It’s the unexpected life. Full of adventures you never dreamed of, but that add to the rich tapestry of your experiences, as you weave a life story even Humpty Dumpty would envy.

The Greatest Bit of Wisdom

“To help my muscles rebuild after I work out, I have a small serving of cottage cheese.” (Brooke Burns)

Cottage cheese. Great for rebuilding muscles after strenuous physical activity, but what do you utilize when your task is to rebuild a life after the one you’ve always lived (and quite enjoyed) is destroyed?

Some choose to utilize the “Q” word—quit. But I say: have the courage to take stock of what you’re left with. No matter your loss, you’re still going to be left with SOMETHING. So choose to be grateful for what you’re left with, no matter how insignificant it looks at the time, and use it, whatever it is, to rebuild a new life. One you can find happiness and absolute joy through…if you choose to.

Remember, “Luck exists in the leftovers.” (Japanese proverb) And thanks to Mr. Hannah, my amazing 4th grade teacher, I know what luck is: preparation meets opportunity. You can make your own “luck” out of the “leftovers” you’re left with. With preparation (the life you’ve lived, everything you’ve learned and know, the talents you’ve been blessed with, a LOT of hard work and endurance) and opportunity (the unexpected life you’ve been handed) you CAN create a happily ever after. One you never EVER would have imagined for yourself, one you may not have chosen if given the chance, for sure one you never saw coming, but if you’re “lucky,” you’ll realize you’ve one day arrived at.

The unexpected life.

And my guess is…at that point…you wouldn’t choose to have it any other way.

“What we call the secret of happiness is no more a secret than our willingness to choose life.” (Leo Buscaglia)

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)

Blue Train

In my old life, world travel was a part of the perks. Once we even rode The Blue Train in South Africa. (The Blue Train is a luxury travel experience, I’ve heard it compared to The Orient Express.) The personal butler was fun, the scenery (like watching ostriches race alongside the train during parts of the journey) is unforgettable. My children loved hanging out at the bar and having friendly bar staff in jungle-themed tuxedos prepare unlimited milkshakes and specialty non-alcoholic drinks. But mostly, The Blue Train is less about the scenery and more about the experience of the train itself. And the more I ponder that travel memory, the more I realize it’s a lot like life.

The book on my nightstand reminded me of that.

“Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long trip that spans the continent. We are traveling by train. Out the window, we drink in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at the crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of mountains and rolling hillsides, of city skylines and village halls.

But uppermost in our minds is the final destination. On a certain day at a certain hour, we will pull into the station. Bands will be playing and flags waving. Once we get there, so many wonderful dreams will come true, and the pieces of our lives will fit together like a completed jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the minute for loitering—waiting, waiting for the station.

‘When we reach the station, that will be it!’ we cry. ‘When I’m 18.’ ‘When I buy a new 450 SL Mercedes-Benz!’ ‘When I put the last kid through college.’ ‘When I get a promotion.’ ‘When I reach the age of retirement I shall live happily ever after!’

Sooner or later we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly outdistances us.

‘Relish the moment’ is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24: ‘This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it…’

So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more, and cry less. Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough.”

(Robert J. Hastings, “A Penney’s Worth of Minced Ham: Another Look at the Great Depression,” [Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986], 90-91)

Celebration of Life

One day I found the book, “The Barber’s Shop,” by K. Douglas Bassett (published by Cedar Fort books in 2005) on my nightstand.

In the book the author shared an experience he had getting his hair trimmed by an elderly Utah barber when he was a young married man and father. He shared something special that happened with every hair cut—and it had nothing to do with cutting hair.

“As this old gentlemen trimmed our hair, he would sing the songs of his youth. Occasionally as he would sing, he would weep ever so slightly and sometimes even chuckle but never enough to interrupt his singing. As he sang I thought: ‘When I grow old, I want to feel as deeply about my life as he does about his. I don’t ever want to forget the events that have touched and shaped me. But most of all, I always want to feel a passion toward life that supplies the very kind of depth that gives joy and hope, even admidst adversity and pain.’ I didn’t want to devalue my life with the passing of time by forgetting the intensity of life’s moments. My old barber friend had felt the pain and tragedies of life, which accompany anyone who has lived a long time. Yet, his was not the expression of regret or remorse…but a celebration of life.”

Feel deeply.

Remember the events that shape you.

And celebrate all of it.

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” Oprah Winfrey