Living Happily Ever After


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The Real Measure of Wealth

“They say it is better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable, but how about a compromise like moderately rich and just moody?” (Princess Diana)

I’ve been what some might consider “rich” once or twice in my life, and I’ve been poor a few times too. But I’ve never held with defining “rich” in terms of money.

“The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.” (Unknown)

Most people never get to learn how much they’re ACTUALLY worth. Lucky me, I guess. And I have a Ponzi scheme and my unexpected life to thank because although they served up my financial devastation on a platter of crime, they reminded me of something I’ve always known: I’m rich.

“There are people who have money and people who are rich.” (Coco Chanel)

I don’t have money.

But I’m rich.

If you want to feel rich, just count the things you have that money can’t buy. And you’ll realize you’re rich, too.

Easy To Speak

When I was a girl, my dad had the irritating habit of bursting into song when we weren’t being kind.  ”Let us oft’ speak kind words to each other, at home or where’ere we may be…” he sang–in his best opera voice. 

It did the trick. I absolutely hated that song and how he sang it. I changed my behavior ASAP just to get him to stop singing. His message was clear: my parents expected us to choose kindness, no matter what.

I had no idea what was in store for me, in my life, when I was a girl. I’ve lived through horrific shock; unimaginable loss; personal devastation; grief. I’ve been falsely accused and wrongly judged by people who know me (and thus should have known better) and by random strangers (who don’t know me at all) a few times. Sometimes it seemed like my situation couldn’t have gotten much worse. But I’m thankful I was taught to be kind, because I firmly believe and I’ve seen for myself that the only thing that can make a bad situation worse is anger, contention, venom, hatred, rudeness, hostility, vilification, an unwillingness to forgive…in other words, a lack of kindness and charity.

Regardless of what happens to us, I strongly believe our reaction to every situation, unexpected or otherwise, continues to be a choice and, “Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.” (Samuel Johnson) I’ve seen for myself that, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” (Mother Teresa) I’m reminded of that each day when someone chooses to act or speak with kindness toward me. I was reminded of that even today when a stranger named Mark offered a kind comment on my blog. And when my former spouse was sentenced and a Ponzi scheme victim I don’t know offered a kind word on my blog. I have been uplifted by the kindness of strangers countless times in my life, especially in my unexpected one.

Now I sing that song, my dad’s song, to my own kids. In an opera voice, too. And I’m pleased to report it’s working just as well for the next generation of my family. We’re not perfect, but we’re trying to be kind. Always. And we’re singing about it.

Just a little something in addition to the dance moves we’ve developed…in our unexpected life.

“While I dance I cannot judge, I cannot hate, I cannot separate myself from life. I can only be joyful and whole. That is why I dance.” (Hans Bos)

I Want A Man

“I want a man who’s kind and understanding.  Is that too much to ask of a millionaire?” (Zsa Zsa Gabor)

As a teenager, I compiled a list of everything I wanted in a man. I found that list after my divorce…and laughed. In many ways, it was a bit, as #5 would call it, “Twilight-esque.” (In other words, unrealistic and total, imaginary romanticism that exists in the fictional world of vampires and werewolves, Edward and Bella. Ah, the emotional depth of teenage girls!) Here are a few important qualities from the early 1980s: tall, brown hair, tan skin, hard working, handsome, good at sports, funny, nice, good dancer, smart, good singer, polite, straight white teeth, opens doors for me, rich, writes romantic things to me, fun, spiritual, honest, hairless chest, sends me flowers, loves me more than anything, romantic, wears good cologne, stylish…let’s see, did I leave ANYTHING out?

When I grew up, I was self-aware enough to know looks and athletics alone might be fine for some women, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough to keep me “in love” for the rest of my life and into eternity so I decided long term (what I would most appreciate as a married woman in my 40s) was a smart man who treated me well. I married the first guy I felt was smarter than me. And boy, did he turn out to be smart! A lot smarter, more clever and cunning, than I’d ever imagined, in fact! I was happy and in love, until I found out our 20-year marriage had been built on 14+years of deception and lies. (Ironic, isn’t it, that I based my choice on what I’d want 40-something, and that’s when it all ended and I was alone and single anyway?)

It was the personal loss that caused me the most pain. My childrens’ loss of their dad, their childhood, their innocence, their life, their family, everything as they knew it, was the worst; followed closely by my loss. I had lost the man I had loved, relied on and built a life with; the man who should have been loyal to me and my biggest protector. I just knew I was destined to be alone the rest of my life. I felt those losses powerfully.

I remember standing in my Colorado kitchen one day, my heart literally breaking over those losses. And mother that I am, this is why I cried that time: “Even if someday when I’m 80 years old and some man takes pity on me and marries me because his wife died and he needs a housekeeper, I’ll never have a whole and complete family. Even if a one-in-a-billion miracle happens and a man ever loves me again, no one will love my children. My kids will never again run into my room, jump on my bed, and wrestle with a dad.” (It may sound crazy, but out of everything I had lost that was a big one for me.)

I began dating less than 3 months after my divorce, and I realize now, I entered into it without a lot of thought. I was reeling from the shock of what had transpired in a matter of months; I didn’t know what I was doing because everything related to singles and socializing had changed so drastically since the 1980s (it was sort of like entering the playing field without a game plan.) I was lonely. However, after meeting my first single man, it didn’t take long to list the things I couldn’t live without: spiritual depth, integrity, emotional stability, family-oriented focus, employed, a good father to my kids, a man who loves ME. Oh, and good credit. (The crimes of my husband and his incarceration destroyed MY credit. I didn’t need a man with money because I’ve never needed money to be happy, but I had to have a man who could at least qualify for a rental lease, a home loan, or a car loan because I can’t–and I can’t ask friends and family to do that for me for the rest of my life! The Catch-22 is that what man with good credit would want me and my financial disaster? But that’s a blog for another day…)

Cut to the other night.

Mr. Awesome (aka. #5/Agent M) and I were sitting on my bed talking. The door was locked. (With a small house and many children around, it’s what we’ve occasionally had to resort to when we need to discuss something important.) In the middle of it, my youngest knocked on the door. I didn’t open it, but told him I’d be with him as soon as my discussion was over. He went away for awhile and then knocked again. I repeated my instruction, he went away for awhile and then knocked on the door again. The third time he knocked, #5 looked at me and asked, “Do you think we should open the door and let him in now? I like it when he runs in and jumps on the bed. I love his hugs. And it’s fun to wrestle him.”

He opened the door and their wrestling match began. Pillows were flying, tickles were traded (along with a few karate chops) and all I could do was remember that moment I stood in my Colorado kitchen, sure that my youngest would never know what it was to have a dad, much less wrestle with a dad.

Can you believe it? Dreams really can come true.

Every single one of them.

“I tell people I’m too stupid to know what’s impossible. I have ridiculously large dreams, and half the time they come true.” (Debi Thomas)

Junk Vs. Joan

“Buy, buy, says the sign in the shop window; Why, why, says the junk in the yard.” (Paul McCartney)

My life, my focus, has never been about “things.” In fact, if I’ve ever been consumed by a quest to acquire anything, it’s memories. Making good memories with my loved ones. Because I’ve never believed you can take “it” with you. I believe the only thing I’ll leave this life with is my spirit–some would call it my soul, my memories, my intelligence, the things I have learned and the knowledge I’ve acquired.

However, I was married to a man who looked at “things” differently than I did. He talked all the right talk, of course. He would nod his head and look sorrowful (I thought, in agreement with me) when we’d talk about how sad it was that some people chose to sell their soul for things. He was generous with his means (although now I know he was generous with what was never actually his.) And he acquired a lot of “stuff” in the process, though I never actually knew exactly what, or how much, because he stored it all in the building behind our home, where his “office” was, and I rarely went back there. It was his “manspace;” really cluttered and filled with all manner of junk and disorganized chaos, not the way I lived or operated, so I stayed out of it!

When my unexpected life began, there were things that needed serious purging. Namely, contents of a household that was downsizing. As featured on news reports about the Ponzi scheme my former husband perpetrated, I had ties to some material things. (I don’t know if those broadcasts are still around, but feel free to check them out if you’re curious: watch the motor home driving away towing the boat; see the “mansion” nestled in the trees; hear about the cabin in Idaho and the fine art; learn about the trailer loads of “things” that were hauled away over several days when the asset seizure began.)

In criminal/fraud situations, the government seizes everything of value from the criminal (my former husband) so victims can receive some compensation for their losses, which is all as it should be. The hard part, however, is what to do with everything that has no value. Everything the government doesn’t want.

Like the 9 crockpots–four from my home and four  my cabin (we frequently hosted large group gatherings) and one from the motorhome.

A yard sale wasn’t an option. I had seen my home and property featured on the news enough; my neighbors were stalking us with cameras as my children and I came and went, when we were outside, if we left the garage door open, and through the un-curtained windows of our home. Our neighbors gathered in front of our home to talk and trade notes of what was going on, what they had seen or heard, and they sometimes made it difficult to get to my home if they weren’t in the mood to allow anyone to pass their human barricade.

Case in point. One day a pastor attempted to go to our home to retrieve a set of scriptures from inside. Our neighbors were standing in the cul-de-sac we lived on, our driveway and all around the property and refused to let the pastor through. He explained who he was and the one simple thing he wanted from the house but they wouldn’t let him pass. Their crowd mentality, their hostily and venom, made him apprehensive so he called another neighbor, a mutual friend of his and the neighborhood crowd, and asked that friend to vouch for him so the neighbors would let him pass. The friend refused.

Those were crazy times, but a reason why a yard sale wasn’t an option–I didn’t think neighbors would allow anyone to participate in a yard sale at my home, IF anyone even tried to show up or buy anything!

So the crockpots met me in Utah and now sit on a shelf in my garage awaiting the someday I host a large group gathering again (if that day ever comes) or, alas, finally part with them in a yard sale!

Junk, leftover from my previous life, taking up space in my unexpected new one.

I’m hoping it’s true that, “Junk is the ideal product… the ultimate merchandise. No sales talk necessary. The client will crawl through a sewer and beg to buy.” (William S. Burroughs) Someday.

Or maybe I’ll become an inventor. “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” (Thomas A. Edison) If that’s the case, I may qualify for a patent yet.

Regardless, I try not to worry about it too much. (A key to living an unexpected life: don’t worry, be happy.) Because, “You sometimes see a woman who would have made a Joan of Arc in another century and climate, threshing herself to pieces over all the mean worry of housekeeping.” (Rudyard Kipling)

Junk vs. Joan.

I’m going with Joan.


If “Life itself is the proper binge,” said Julia Child, I guess you could say I’ve been on an unexpected…binge the past 1 1/2 years! And I confess, I’ve been a bit of a glutton. None of that “taste one thing on your plate at a time.” I’ve crammed (or had forced upon me) many unexpected life experiences, all at the same time. My plate has been filled to overflowing.

Although it was overwhelming, looking back, it may have been a blessing. Rather than experience one devasting loss, and be temped to dwell on it for longer than was good for me, it seemed like each day brought a new realization or revelation of a new devastation–it was always “on to the next one!” There wasn’t time to mourn the losses individually, too many were thrust upon me at once.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of life, if it’s “pouring” on you or your plate is heaping with adversity, look on the bright side. And dig in. Because at some point, possibly even sooner than you think, your binge will end. You’ll have to explore something other than your unexpected life. And hopefully, if you ingest it right, you’ll have learned some valuable secret recipes.

“I am not a glutton, I am an explorer of food.” (Erma Bombeck)

The Cure for Insomnia

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” (Ernest Hemingway)

Not too long ago, a blog reader said she noticed I do my posts in the wee hours; she wondered if I had trouble sleeping.

I thought it was interesting that she had noticed that. But I’ve noticed it too. It seems like such a little thing, yet it is one of a few big changes brought on by the unexpected life.


I remember the good old days, pre the unexpected life, when I could sleep at night, as well as the last night I slept: March 17, 2009. It was the morning after that night, when I woke up and my life fell apart.

Since that time, I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights. I don’t know the sole cause for my insomnia, but it probably had something to do with shock, trauma, grief, stress, strain, worry, fear, financial devastation, life loss, divorce, sleeping alone for the first time in 20 years, and feeling so alone. At first, I couldn’t help but count my troubles like I had once counted sheep. However, that type of score keeping is not sleep inducing. In fact, it is not conducive to anything.

Life’s too short to engage in unproductive activities or behaviors. Time is too precious. So I had to let that go.

Now, instead of counting my worries before I attempt to rest, I count my blessings. I keep a little notebook by the side of my bed and try to take a few minutes at the end of each day to write something I’m grateful for. Every day there is something. You just have to look, and let your eyes see what is right in front of them.

For example, “When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time.  Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?” (G.K. Chesterton)

Most days, I have to stop myself because my hand gets tired from writing so much, or because my eyes begin to blur or because I’ve fallen asleep for a few minutes with the pen in my hand.

And now you have it.

My cure for insomnia, developed under the tutelage of the unexpected life.


“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” (Brian Tracy)

The Unexpected Life We Call Halloween

“Charlie Brown is the one person I identify with.  C.B. is such a loser.  He wasn’t even the star of his own Halloween special.” (Chris Rock)

Sometimes the unexpected life feels like Halloween.

You’re thrust into a situation that feels strangely akin to a nightmare. It’s dark. You’re afraid. You can’t figure out how you got there. You wonder how you’ll ever overcome all of the scary things that jump out at you around every corner. And the best part? You feel like such a loser.

I wish I had all of the secrets and answers to dealing with the unexpected life. A magic formula that takes the fear away, boosts self-esteem so no one feels like the loser I did and makes success despite the unexpected obstacles guaranteed. Unfortunately, I don’t think anything like that exists. If it did, there would be no unexpected life.

But here’s one thing that helped me: despite my unexpected life, I didn’t change my goals. I had to adjust my expectations regarding my starting point, how long it would take me to achieve them and I had to acknowledge I would be reaching my goals in entirely different ways; but I didn’t abandon them.

My mom taught me that. She said unexpected things happen, but you have to keep living and striving to reach your goals. For example, you might be a college student with a “scholarship” funded by your father–when he dies unexpectedly in an airplane crash and you lose not only your parent, but your source of advice, your biggest fan and your financial backing for everything. In the unexpected life, it’s vital that you don’t quit; you can’t abandon your goal. You just have to figure out new ways to achieve it. You sell your car, you get a job, you get a second job, you take as many credit hours as you possibly can and go to classes year-round to finish faster, you don’t take a vacation, you quit shopping; you do whatever it takes to graduate with your degree. (I promise, it will serve you well when the next phase of your unexpected life hits decades later! So NEVER abandon your goal.)

By not quitting, you are on the path to eventual greatness. “Greatness is not measured by what a man or woman accomplishes, but by the opposition he or she has overcome to reach his goals.” (Dorothy Height)

When my unexpected life hit last year, quitting wasn’t an option. As much as in some moments I felt like walking off into the sunset alone and dropping off the face of the earth, I couldn’t let myself do that. I knew what was expected of me, I knew the right response, I had children who needed me, I had my children to set an example for, so I had to carry on. My goals remained the same: raise a strong and united family; help my children grow to become law abiding (o.k., so I added that to my goals–I hadn’t considered any other course was an option prior to my ex-husband breaking the law!) productive, capable, self-reliant adults; educate my children; and achieve happiness, seeking to be happy all along the way. In other words, create a “happily ever after.”

Doing all of that can be difficult. Scary is an understatement. Some days you don’t know how it will be possible, how things will fall into place the way you need them to. In fact, sometimes they don’t, and you have additional challenges to overcome. But you press forward anyway, power through the hard stuff, try to smile along the way and hopefully, eventually, walk out into the light!

It’s no secret. Some moments all you can do is pray, seek to find something to be grateful for, “go to work” and endure the rest until you overcome.

But I promise it’s worth it.

Like the end of every episode of “Scooby Doo,” when the ghosts and monsters have been quashed and Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby are rolling down the highway in The Mystery Machine and everything’s groovy again, it will be that way again for you, too. One day you’ll have employment, a roof over your head, food on the table, you’ll see your children thriving despite everything and that they’ve learned important things that will serve them well the rest of their lives, that the smiles are real again and that you’re happy. Possibly happier and more content than you’ve ever been. (And if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even have a Bachelor #5 or an Agent M to boot!)

Who knows? In the unexpected life, EVERYTHING is possible!

“Hold on, man.  We don’t go anywhere with “scary,” “spooky,” “haunted,” or “forbidden” in the title.”  (Scooby-Doo)

Except…in the unexpected life.

My Children’s News Story

I realized, last night, why I had kids.

“I brought children into this dark world because it needed the light that only a child can bring.” (Liz Armbruster)

Of course that isn’t the only reason, but last night’s news story featuring my teens showed me that isn’t a bad one! They sat and talked with Cheryl Preheim, of the NBC affiliate Channel 9 in Denver, CO, and shared their experiences and things they’ve learned as a result of their unexpected life–and I couldn’t be more grateful for what they’ve gleaned.

Click here to see their news story.

“From out of the mouth of babes.” They’re not babies anymore, but I’m so glad they’re mine.

And although I’m not going to be here, forever, sharing the life lessons I’ve learned about living, what is truly important, and what you do with the unexpected things that happen…thank goodness they might be.

“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” (Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood(introduction), 1982)