Living Happily Ever After


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Time Capsule

“And yet, I suppose you mourn the loss or the death of what you thought your life was, even if you find your life is better after. You mourn the future that you thought you’d planned.”  (Lynn Redgrave)

Later that same day of the unexpected dream, the mail came, and in it, a very unexpected delivery: a time capsule.

I had completely forgotten about it. My oldest created it in 1999 as a first grader at Creekside Elementary in the Cherry Creek School District in Aurora, CO. It contained newspaper clippings, pictures, letters from his parents and other things that represented our life then, as well as plenty of our hopes and dreams.

I was shocked to receive a communication from an elementary school in Colorado several years after any of my children had attended there. I was surprised they’d found me. And I was very touched by the effort of many good people who have taught my children over the years, who have helped my children learn and create meaningful things, and who went to the effort to find us in Utah so we could have a memory and appreciate the contents of our time capsule.

I stood in my Utah kitchen, read through the contents of the time capsule, and once again, tears I couldn’t control streamed down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed by the contents of the time capsule compared to the reality we had actually lived through and had finally settled into. How was it all possible? How could it all have taken place? I’d never had ANY idea of all that was in store for my oldest and our family at the time he created the time capsule.

Not only was it finally, really, hitting me that my oldest is graduating and leaving home, I think I cried about all we have lived through and experienced since that time capsule was created. When I helped him compile the items for the time capsule, when I wrote my 1999 letter to him, life was very different. I was a stay at home mom; my mom was still alive; I only had 2 children; I’d never experienced grief and pain to the extent I did in 2009; back then, divorce was not even in my vocabulary (neither were Ponzi schemes, by the way, I had no idea what those even were at that time!); and the letter to my son from his father was written by a man now residing in prison for the next decade or more. Looking back, like was very simple then in 1999. It almost overwhelmed me that the expectations for the future as seen through the eyes of 1999 was very different than the reality we actually lived, and I felt additional sorrow at all my son has had to endure as a result of the choices his father made.

But I pulled myself together again, for the second time that day, and went on about my business. I was feeling emotional, but I was going to make it through the day with flying colors, including smiles and laughter. If only I could quit crying.

“Anyone can carry his burden, however hard, until nightfall.  Anyone can do his work, however hard, for one day.  Anyone can live sweetly, patiently, lovingly, purely, till the sun goes down.  And this is all life really means.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

At least, that was my goal. But would you believe it? ANOTHER emotional breakdown…to come.

If They Could Read

“In Hollywood, the woods are full of people that learned to write but evidently can’t read. If they could read their stuff, they’d stop writing.” (Will Rogers)

I live in Utah now, not Hollywood, and I enjoy the woods up Provo Canyon my fair share.

Just two years ago I lost everything I thought was my life, except my four children, and had to make sense of the unexpected events handed me. I had the world’s share of shame, humiliation and unwanted publicity; my fair share of ups and downs, failures and successes; but I realized again, with each passing day, that life is always a choice and your life will be exactly what you make of it. (Granted, sometimes you’re blessed with better material to work with than at other times, but you can always choose to find happiness and to experience joy regardless of your life conditions. You can always strive to look on the bright side and to treat others with kindness despite the misery of your current situation. )

In this blog I’ve explained some of what I’ve lived through, how I’ve chosen to respond and why I’ve done the things I’ve done and any and all mistakes that I have made. I’ve shared all that I’ve hoped for and worked toward, the unexpected experiences I never imagined I’d have, the things I’ve learned and their outcomes. And while I know not every unexpected life results in a happy ending of complete and utter perfection, I believe you can choose to create your own fairy tales and live happily ever after.

For example, Cinderella lived through a lot of hard stuff. It’s not fun being left penniless (been there, done that!), orphaned (I can relate to that) and at the mercy of a wicked stepmother. Cinderella, with the help of her fairy godmother and her friends (mice and other farm animals) did find her handsome prince, yet she never got her mom or dad back in this life–not every thing, not every aspect, of Cinderella’s unexpected life became total perfection at the end of her story, but she did live happily ever after.

I’m grateful for that example. Fairy tales are magical. They’re great stories. They’re a wonderful escape. They give us hope. And they can teach us important things. As I look back at my life and the countless hours I spent in the nurture of fairy tale fiction, I realize fairy tales helped give me dreams; they gave me something to set my little girl sights on, so that when I grew up and and was thrust into the worst nightmare I never imagined possible, I had all of those fictional examples of triumph over tragedy, all of those imaginary happily ever afters, to help me hold on and cling to the real dreams I’d once had. They gave me courage to press forward and keep going, to create a new chapter of my story and to live a new version of my happily ever after.

A happy ending doesn’t mean complete and total restoration of what you had before. Instead, I believe it is embracing what you have now been given, looking for the good, and choosing to be happy in your new story while working to create a new and continuing happy ending for yourself and your loved ones.

It was the same with Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rose Red, Thumbelina, The Goose Girl and every other fairy tale heroine. Not necessarily a “perfect” ending, but a fairy tale perfect for them.

THAT is life.

Every single one.

Every unexpected one, because I believe we all have one.

But enough of that. Never let it be said that I can’t read–or understand Will Rogers’ wisdom–so I’ll close with this:

My undying thanks to everyone who was there for me in my old life, when my mostly-perfect world fell apart, during my divorce, and as I began a new life. Thanks to all who helped my children, who helped me, who shared our journey in person or via this blog, and for every single person who reached out to me and my family and shared their love and kindness with us. Every single one of you is known and remembered by us. Every single kindness will never be forgotten. We are better because of each of you.

In fact, we made it, thanks to you.

We’re going to live happily ever after.

The End.

As in, that’s the end of this portion of my story. Feel free to check in for occasional posts about life and my entirely new and unexpected life experiences in remarriage and as a stepmother. Like every other aspect of the unexpected life, it’s completely uncharted territory. I’m sure I’ll make my fair share of mistakes along the way, the only thing I can promise about all of it is that I’ll NEVER intentionally be a wicked stepmother! And I have a feeling, if it goes the way everything else has, it’s going to be quite another unexpected ride!

Marital Advice

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” (Winston Churchill) 

The official honeymoon, the part where we went away just the two of us, came to an end just four days later. It was time to get back to our children, our jobs and our new life. I confess, I’ve never been one to leave my children, but strangely, this time as much as I missed them, I could have stayed a few more days with #5:)

We drove back to Utah, enjoying every moment of the drive and the last few minutes of one-on-one time together.



And desirous to remain so. I found a fun suggestion: “Happiness consists of living each day as if it were the first day of your honeymoon and the last day of your vacation.”

Not bad advice, huh?

Anyone else have any marital advice for the newlyweds? We’re open to any and all suggestions…

“Over the next four years, I will continue to listen to different views and accept different suggestions.” (Chen Shui-bian)

No Refunds, No Exchanges, No Returns

“The good Lord gave me a brain that works so fast that in one moment I can worry as much as it would take others a whole year to achieve.” (Unknown)

As I drove to get a marriage license, I didn’t plan to think. But there I was, in the car, driving down the highway…it’s kind of where most of my thinking has taken place since entering my unexpected life. I just can’t seem to help myself. And wouldn’t you know it? I had some unexpected thoughts. They came, unbidden, to my mind.

First I thought, “This is kind of weird. I am driving to the very office I drove to the last time I married.” Try as I might, as focused as I attempt to be on the future and moving forward, I couldn’t help but reflect on the past experience and everything I remember about it. I remembered what I was wearing that day. I recalled how relieved I was I didn’t have to get poked with any needles (Utah doesn’t require blood tests; one of my roommates, who got married in California, said she had to get a blood test to get a marriage license and in the 1980s, that didn’t thrill me–I still had an aversion to needles back then!) I remembered how hot it was (I married in August the last time.) I recalled how nervous I was about the whole  marriage thing back then. And I remembered that I’d thought I was way too young to get married (I completed my fourth year of college, turned 22 and got married the same month–my parents had married when they were 25; one set of grandparents had married when they were 25; and the other set of grandparents had gotten married when they were in their 30s. So I was a lot younger than my family members had been.)

And then as I drove, I looked at the snow covered mountains, remembered how cold it was outside, and thought, “Everything is different this time. Last time it was hot. This time it is cold. Last time I was nervous. This time I’m not. Last time I was so young, this time I’m not. I have so much life experience behind me now, too. This is a whole different experience. Let’s not think about the past, Andrea, let’s keep pressing forward.”

To save myself from my thoughts, I turned the radio on. I never listen to the radio. But I couldn’t believe what I heard.

First up? A commercial. For…DIVORCE INSURANCE! I didn’t even know there was such a thing, but there I was, heading to get a marriage license, listening to everything I never wanted to know about divorce insurance and how it can help you when wedlock goes awry. The commercial even touted that divorce insurance will pay all of your attorney fees AND the deposit on a new place to live when you’re newly single again!

What are the odds I’d hear a commercial for that on the way to doing what I was going to do? So despite my best efforts, I arrived at my destination, thanks to my thoughts and the commercials I heard, a little…unsettled. But least it didn’t show. Or so I thought.

However, you have to love #5. He took one look at me as I stepped out of my car to greet him and asked me if I was ok. It freaks me out how in tune he is with what I think and feel without me ever having to say a thing. I told him I was fine. He searched my eyes and asked again, “Are you sure?” I assured him I was fine (and attempted to keep breathing and not think about what I was doing) as we rode the elevator up to the third floor.

But instead, I thought, “Am I REALLY doing this? Is this really real? I sure hope I know what I’m doing. Why didn’t I worry about all of this before–the previous 9 months?” Suddenly, I was scared. I considered turning. And running. Yet then I’d look over at #5 and realize I couldn’t do that. I was looking at the only man who has ever made me throw up (and more than once!) I was looking at the only man I’d ever thought I couldn’t live without. And my children loved him, too.

We stepped out of the elevator and walked into the office to obtain a marriage license.

And there it was.

Staring me in the face.

A lovely sign, prominently displayed, and the first thing you see when you walk into the office: “No refunds. No exchanges. No warranties.”

That’s when I  knew I had to get out of there. Maybe the state of Utah finds their sign funny, or maybe it is simply a way to legally protect themselves from frivilous lawsuits, but I wasn’t laughing. I was getting more and more nervous, bordering on terrified, and struggling to breathe.

“I have the right to breathe; everything else is a bonus.” (Unknown)

When It Rains, It Pours

“However long the night the dawn will break.” (African Proverb)

Sometimes in life, especially the unexpected one, it seems like you just can’t get a break. I remember in the revelations my former husband made in March 2009, every new fact that came to light each day was worse than the one before–and it seemed to happen all day, every day, for awhile.

When it rains it pours.

And when it does that, umbrella or no umbrella (I NEVER have an umbrella!) you just have to hang on. “When it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.” (Gilbert K. Chesterton) Eventually things calm down, even in the most unexpected of lives. Even in the one I’ve lived.

As I progressed in my unexpected life, met #5 and continued to heal, life REALLY calmed down. Friends and family called to check on me, and I felt like, eventually, I didn’t have a lot to report; I didn’t need much, if any, help. I didn’t have a crisis I needed counsel about. My children were thriving. My job was going well. In fact, even coming up with entries (things I’d learned, things I’d experienced) for blog posts became difficult. I took it as a sign I was getting back to “normal,” as was my life.

And then not too long ago, it began to rain again. This time in earnest. But THIS time…for the good! (By this, I mean that everything that “rained” on me and my family recently was welcome and “easy” to accept and experience. I still believe the rain, even the “acid rain” of an unexpected life, can turn out to be for the good; it provides certain “nutrients” that help us grow and become so much more than we would otherwise have been. From mine, I’ve learned things I never would have learned any other way. I’ve grown in ways I didn’t necessarily want to, but I believe my growth has made me better. It’s just not always easy when you’re being showered upon with growth experiences!)

Here’s what poured out upon us recently, in less than a 2-week period:

My son got his acceptance to BYU.

The home #5 had listed for sale at the beginning of our engagement (which due to the housing slump in Utah had hardly been looked at by prospective buyers) got an offer.

The production company casting a role #5 had auditioned for and was growing his hair for contacted him and told him NOT to cut his hair, he was being considered for a speaking role (out of the almost 3,000 people that had auditioned in Utah, Europe, Africa, South America and Israel.) Even if he doesn’t end up with a part, it was exciting to be considered for a role out of so many actors who auditioned.

My middle son was selected to participate in his school district’s Science Fair, one of a few students chosen to represent his elementary school.

And so much more.

There really was only one thing missing.

And then, finally, it came too.

“So, do I think I’m missing something? I really don’t, and I think that comes with age.” (Jami Gertz)


“There must be millions of people all over the world who never get any love letters… I could be their leader.” (Charlie Brown)

Going from happily married for 20 years to what I discovered was traumatic. The idea of divorce, alone, was very traumatic to me, not to mention everything else. So to ease things for both of us in that moment on that day when everything was so shocking, new and unexpected (remember, my marriage never disintegrated over time, my reality simply shattered in a moment; I had yet to “fall out of love” with my husband) I said, “I see no other consequence to what you have done than divorce. The consequence of your choices IS divorce. It’s not something I’ve come to decide lightly. But that doesn’t mean when you get out of prison and I’m single that we couldn’t try to rebuild something–IF we decided we could love or trust each other again. But who knows? You may not even be interested in me at that point.”

I was married to a stranger who terrified me in the way finding out someone you have trusted and loved for two decades has been living not just a secret/double life, but a criminal life, and you NEVER HAD A CLUE. And when he didn’t think divorce was necessary…sometimes it just didn’t seem to me that he understood what he had done was as terrible and reprehensible as it was.

We divorced.

I moved to Utah.

He was taken into custody.

And our relationship transitioned from husband and wife, companionship, friendship and everything else we’d had to friendly former family members with the occasional strained relationship of what I assume is typical of divorced couples.

He wrote letters from jail. His letters expressed his sorrow for what he had done (that was appreciated) but they also contained expressions of love. To me.

I think he did that because he felt that way toward me, but also probably to build me up and to help me at such a hard time and when I was so shattered, so humiliated, felt so worthless and thought everyone could tell just by looking at me what a loser I was. But after our divorce, my move to Utah and my progression through the process of grieving and healing those expressions of love became a problem for me.

With each passing day and with each new realization I came to as I worked through the mess he had created and left for me, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with his expressions of love.

Some days they bothered me, as in irritated me.

Some days they hurt me, as in made me cry.

Some days I just didn’t want to hear them.

Some days they made me mad.

And around that same time, the fall of 2009, I realized I would never remarry him.

I’ve said it before: I believe in repentance and forgiveness. I just didn’t think I would ever be able to trust him completely, 100%, again–regardless of the changes he had made. And trust, to me, is a huge part of marriage. I didn’t want to wonder at any future date if my husband was telling me the truth; to wonder when he headed out the door to go to work, if that is really what he was doing and where he was going; or to live in fear of, heaven forbid, another Ponzi scheme or other such crime.

I was also afraid that regardless of the changes he made and the man he became, a part of me (if I stayed with him) would never quite feel he deserved me. And that isn’t right. If he changes and somehow through all he is enduring as a result of his choices finally becomes the man I always thought he was and that he always represented himself to be, he deserves to have a wife who completely loves, trusts, and feels he deserves her.

That will never be me. (I’m not a big enough person, I guess.) One day, while talking to a Colorado friend, I realized I would rather be alone the rest of my life than remarry Shawn Merriman. As soon as that came out of my mouth she stopped me and said, “Do you realize what you just said? That says a lot to me about how you feel to know that you would rather be alone the rest of your life than remarry Shawn.”

I guess it did.

It was an epiphany. I realized, truly, how I felt and what the future held for me: nothing.

I was going to be alone the rest of my life. Because I preferred that option to remarrying, someday, the man I had loved for 20 years. (Amazing what a Ponzi scheme, betrayals, and decades of lies can do, huh?)

I realized then and there that I had to put a stop to his confessions of love. I didn’t want to hear them. I didn’t want him to have any false hope, I felt that would be dishonest of me. So I told him how I felt, but he didn’t stop telling me what a wonderful wife I had always been, that he still loved me and always would, and that someday he was going to win me back.

I felt I had to put a stop to that, too. It made me feel uncomfortable. And I couldn’t let him believe one thing when I felt another. So to show him how completely serious I was, and how real my feelings were, I asked him to write a letter authorizing me to apply for a cancellation of our marriage/sealing that would allow me to remarry and be sealed to someone else in a L.D.S. temple.

I don’t think he expected that.

Letting Go

“Time heals what reason cannot.” (Seneca)

Tonight I had the opportunity to chat with a Colorado friend on the phone. We’ve emailed occasionally, back and forth, since I moved to Utah but I can’t remember the last time we talked. She told me I sounded like my old self and asked, “Tell me, are you really as good as you sound?”

I assured her I was.

She then said, “O.k., then tell me how you’ve done it.”

I’m not sure I had an answer for that.  How do you heal from the wounds and trauma of a very unexpected life?

In the beginning, I was overwhelmed with trying to make sense of anything and to reason through it all. Everything was of such a magnitude, and so shocking, reason alone didn’t heal me. There’s no way it could. So I have to credit my healing to time–it has been 23 months since I was thrust into a life I didn’t plan for or expect, but I’ve seen for myself that there really is something to the old adage that “time heals all wounds.”

I’ve done it through reason, time…and due to a great big miracle. It’s a miracle to me that I have healed. I remember wondering if it was possible to recover from losses like mine. I remember doubting I’d ever heal or feel whole again in my life, but I honestly do.

I think the key to recovery is this:  what reason doesn’t take care of, what time cannot heal, and if there’s anything not covered by your miracle…the rest you simply have to let go.

“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” (Author Unknown)

I recommend this course of action to everyone. Moving forward is a whole new adventure in itself. At least, it was for me. It even led to falling in love, getting engaged…

O.k., so that is really all it has led to because I haven’t moved forward beyond being engaged–yet. The love update, for anyone who has been with me for awhile and to any newcomer, is that I’ve been engaged for over 9 months now! I NEVER expected that. But just in case that should change any time in the near future, I think it’s time to share some highlights of the past 9 months.

“I recorded my hair this morning, tonight I’m watching the highlights.” (Jay London)

Here we go…

The Key To Everything

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.” (Arnold H. Glasow)

When I was 3-4 years old I learned an additional lesson for the unexpected life. It came from another feathered friend, a duck.

At the time, my family lived in Arizona on a golf course. One of my favorite activities was to visit the ponds on the golf course and feed bread to the ducks. I loved the ducks! In fact, I loved them so much I wanted one of my own. Every time we fed the ducks, I wanted to take an egg home with me.

My mom always kept me carefully away from the nests, but one day our cousins from Utah were in town visiting, and my cousin Athena and I decided that together, we were going to get a duck! We rode my bike to the pond, stealthily crept to a nest when the mother duck was swimming, grabbed an egg and pedaled home as fast as my little legs could pump! The whole way home I felt like we’d robbed a bank.

And then there was the threat of dogs. We were sure if a dog caught a whiff of the egg in our possession, the dog would be after us too! Home we raced, hearts pounding, legs pumping, dodging dogs and other dangers in the quest for a duckling. Finally, we arrived back home and I snuck a table knife from the kitchen to help us crack the egg open.

Imagine our disappointment when we cracked the egg and out came…absolutely nothing.

I was stunned! I remember wondering how an egg that was supposed to contain a baby duck actually contained nothing different than the eggs my mom scrambled for breakfast.

It was one of my earliest lessons in life. And patience. It showed me, for the first time, that as much as you’d like to, you can’t rush life or its challenges OR its blessings. How many times I have impatiently wished I could fast forward through the hard stuff I never expected to face or planned on being a part of my life, unexpected or otherwise.

Then I remember my first failed effort to attempt to do that and realize, again, that  in life you can’t always go over or under or around it. You can only go through it. And you can’t get birds by smashing eggs. You have to be patient. You have to wait for things to hatch. And you have to have faith.

“Faith is putting all your eggs in God’s basket, then counting your blessings before they hatch.” (Ramona C. Carroll)

My Own “Hall of Fame”

“I’m not proud. I’m willing to go in on my hands and knees if I have to.” ( Luke Appling, asked whether he resented entering the Hall of Fame on the second ballot)

Yep, that’s pretty much how my unexpected life is for me. Not proud, willing to do what must be done. It has provided some memorable, head shaking moments for me; not head shaking in a bad way, more like a “I NEVER expected to do THIS or have this be my life” sort of way!

“Hall of Fame” moments of The Unexpected Life (in no particular order):

1. Not being able to give my children even $1 for new school clothes. Last year, we made due with ALL of the old. (Quite an unexpected change from every previous year’s shopping trips to Nordstrom or Abercrombie! I never imagined not being able to purchase ANY school clothes for my children prior to entering my unexpected life.) But this is the good part: My kids have learned to shop thrift stores first when they need something and have scored some deals—like the time my daughter found a brand new J. Crew blouse with the tags still attached…for $6!

2. Encouraging my middle son to wear shoes with holes. I never imagined I’d do it, or have to do it, but it’s an attempt to make them last longer and to give us extra time to save up money for a new pair. I like to think of them as “stylishly tattered” (like the hole-y jeans everyone wears) and frankly, we’re just thankful he has SHOES! Period. March 18, 2009, we weren’t so sure we’d even have shoes, so we’re thankful for what we’ve got. Besides, someday when he’s grown and a father himself and needs a good story for his children, he’ll be able to tell them how he had to wear shoes with holes in the winter when he was in 5th grade.

3. Driving a used car, in the middle of winter, with a broken window. As mentioned in a previous blog, driving in the freezing winter air, heater blasting, buried under blankets in an attempt to stay warm is definitely a memory I never expected to make! What a sight I must have been! In my 40s, driving a car without a window, in the winter. Welcome to my unexpected life! (Endless thanks to a good neighbor who fixed the broken window for us, and every time I drive I’m so grateful for all of the windows in the car.)

4. Driving my car’s gas tank past empty, well beyond the moment the “empty” light turns on, EVERY time it runs low. I’m just trying to go as long as I can between payments to the pump. (In my old life, my former husband didn’t like me to let the gas gauge get below half-full. But things are very different for the Merrimans now!)

5. Living with a giant pot under my kitchen sink for 4 months, emptying the pot 3-4 times a day (and sometimes cleaning up a flood when my kids ran water in the sink and forgot to check the water level accumulating in the pot underneath) when I got a leak, tried to fix it, probably made it worse, had my Eagle Scout son try to fix it, he couldn’t, and we couldn’t afford a plumber so we lived with a pot under the sink while we tried to save up money for a plumber. However, when you’re short every month, savings never really materializes.  We’ll never forget our friend who flew over from Denver, Colorado, and fixed our leak for us one Saturday. His service to our family will NEVER be forgotten!

6. Handwashing dishes. Our dishwasher broke several months ago, so we hand-washed our dishes for financial reasons–it was just impossible for me to justify going into debt for the purchase of a new dishwasher (even the “cheap” ones are expensive in my world!) when we had plenty of dish soap, dish rags and hands that could do the job just as well for a lot less money. Besides, I didn’t think I could qualify for credit to purchase a new one, anyway! (And I wasn’t up for an additional embarrassing financial situation, I’ve had a few of those already in my unexpected life.)  And then just last week, a new dishwasher was purchased, delivered and installed for me, courtesy of #5. Thanks, Mr. Awesome! (I don’t think any of my children will ever complain again about having to unload a dishwasher! We’re just so thankful to have one and to not have to hand wash dishes anymore.)

6. Not eating out but making a memorable attempt at breaking that status at Red Robin. I decided to splurge on a family meal “out” during the holidays because we hadn’t all gone out to eat together since our unexpected life began almost two years ago. I calculated that we could afford Red Robin if we ordered 3 of their $5 burgers and split them. We drove to Red Robin, sat down, picked up our menus, and I couldn’t find those $5 burgers anywhere on the menu. The waitress informed me they’d been removed from the menu one week earlier and weren’t available anymore, “But our burgers are only $8 each, that’s still a good deal and they’re really delicious!” There was only one thing I could say to that:  ”NOT for a single mother with 4 kids. Thanks, anyway.” And we got up and left! We had to. There’s a big difference between $15 and $24 in my unexpected life. As we were walking out without ordering or eating anything, my youngest started throwing a temper tantrum and had to be carried out as he screamed. I’m sure we appeared to be the trashiest customers to grace Red Robin that day. I NEVER imagined I’d choose to exit a restaurant because I was unwilling to go into debt for a burger, but that’s what I did. (I’m laughing about it now, I hope Red Robin can, someday, too!)

7. Doing anything for free groceries. (I never imagined the lengths I’d go to to save money in my unexpected life.) My daughter had her wisdom teeth removed, three prescriptions were needed, I took them to Rite Aid to be filled, drove away and then found a coupon for Smith’s grocery store’s pharmacy that offered $25 in free groceries for each new prescription filled, good for up to 3 prescriptions. That was $75 of free groceries–and all it cost was the humiliation of returning to the original pharmacy and asking for my prescriptions back! I hurried back to Rite Aid and asked for the written prescriptions back before they were filled. At some point in my life I might have been embarrassed to do something like that, but after living through REALLY humiliating experiences (like being married to a man who perpetrated a Ponzi scheme without my knowledge, having the whole thing unfold in national media, having my divorce reported in the media, having my neighbors offer commentary on my life and living situation to the media, and a few other things) I’m not easily embarrassed anymore.  And the next time when we needed food, and my entire purchase at Smith’s was free, I wasn’t embarrassed at all, I was grateful! Grateful I hadn’t been too proud to save some money.

8. Attempting to save money and make the old tire on my car last longer before I bought a new one, and ending up, instead, with a flat tire in the desert in July and had to pay a tow truck $100 to help us when we couldn’t get the flat tire off to put the spare tire on! Yes, that one didn’t turn out QUITE like I expected it to. Worst of all, it didn’t save me any money! Lesson learned. ”Fame and riches are fleeting. Stupidity is eternal.” (Don Williams, Jr.)

10. Returning to work full-time and putting one of my children in daycare. I know many people do it, and I’m used to it now–it’s our life–but it was a momentous (not in a good way) experience for me.

11. Taking my children to two new movies, in an actual theater, this past holiday season. (Our thanks and gratitude to a very generous Denver man who sent us a gift card to Cinemark! We LOVED it!) It was the first time we’d been able to go to a current movie, as a family, in our unexpected life.

12. Returning my violin to its original owner–the same week my former possessions went to new ones.

13. Taking my kids out to eat at a restaurant for only the 3rd time in almost two years, my treat, thanks to the violin money. And although I faced quit an inner debate about doing something “frivolous” like that when there are talents to be developed, when my 17-year-old furnace broke the very next week and all of the violin money had to go to paying for a replacement furnace, I was glad we’d done something fun, like dinner! Note to self: need new plan for talent development. (Still awaiting inspiration on that one!)

There you have it. The Unexpected Life “Hall of Fame.

Interestingly, ”Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember.” (Seneca)

I mean that.

A Table, A Chair, A Bowl of Fruit and a Violin

“The woman gets the ring–unless it’s an heirloom.” (Vanessa Lloyd Platt)

Or in my case, in the aftermath of a Ponzi scheme. You don’t get to keep your wedding ring if it’s an upgrade–and paid for with tainted (ie. stolen) money. Oh well. I only wished I could have had it to sell for cash to provide for my children anyway. But like I said, I did get to keep my violin.

Paid for in 1982 by Dr. Andrew H. and Sandra Christensen, a Colorado orthodontist and his wife, my parents, with money legally acquired straightening crooked teeth and turning them into beautiful smiles. They purchased my violin from a very well-known master violin maker named Peter Paul Prier, originally from Germany but living and operating a store and violin making school in Utah.

I had begun taking piano lessons when I was 7 years old and in 6th grade, at 11 years old, I began playing the violin. I tried it because all of the neighbor girls older than me were in orchestra and it seemed to be the thing to do, at a certain age, in Grand Jct., CO. Plus, it didn’t look that hard. I took to the violin pretty well. In my last year of junior high, I was asked to walk to the high school from my school and participate in their orchestra class and play with them. By high school, when every serious violinist seemed to be upgrading their violin for a better one, that seemed like the thing for me to do too. I mentioned it to my parents. And true to form, just like everything else in my life, they came through for me.

They checked around, learned Peter Paul Prier was THE place to get the best violins, and without telling me flew to Utah, made a purchase, returned home one evening and surprised me with my new violin! They told me it was a very good violin, that I needed to take care of it–and that if for some reason I ever needed to sell it someday I should return to Peter Paul Prier and sell it back to him. That’s what Mr. Prier had told them.

What my parents didn’t tell me, was that they’d paid $2000 for my violin.

I enjoyed playing my new violin. Things went without a hitch until the weekend the band room at my high school caught fire or was robbed (I can’t remember which) and I happened to admit, “Oh no! My violin was in there!” My parents almost had a heart attack. I got a lecture about taking care of valuable things, which I completely deserved, and I was on pins and needles all weekend and into Monday morning until I could get in to the school and discover that my violin was ok.

I grew up, went to college, got married, had children and eventually played my violin only on very rare occasions. But I held onto it for sentimental reasons and in case any of my children chose to develop that talent. And when my former husband’s Ponzi scheme was revealed, my violin was one of a few “valuable” items I was allowed to walk away with–thanks to my generous parents and their support of the development of my talents.

“A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?” (Albert Einstein)

After entering my unexpected life, my mom’s words from 1982 haunted me: “Mr. Prier told me to tell you that someday, if you ever need to sell your violin, take it back to him and he’ll buy it from you. It’s a good violin.”

I just NEVER imagined a day like that would come.