Living Happily Ever After


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Name Change

“There was my name up in lights. I said, ‘Somebody’s made a mistake.’ But there it was, in lights. And I sat there and said, ‘Remember, you’re not a star.’ Yet there it was up in lights.” (Marilyn Monroe)

When I married the first time, it was the 1980s and I liked my name; I didn’t plan to change it. That turned out to be possibly the only “fight” I had with Shawn Merriman before I married him. I ended up changing my name. I became Andrea Merriman.

Twenty years of marriage and four children later, when I divorced, I kept the name Andrea Merriman. I laughed to think that as much as I hadn’t wanted to become “Merriman” when I married, it was the one thing I kept when I divorced! My decision to keep my name surprised Shawn Merriman, but I did it for my children: their dad was going to prison; their paternal grandparents hadn’t contacted them or their father through the whole Ponzi scheme nightmare (other than to send my two oldest birthday cards in which they didn’t mention our troubles or even offer a word of encouragement beyond what had been generically, pre-printed on the birthday card and then to send the judge sentencing their son a letter encouraging her to “give him the maximum, make him pay for what he did.”) I felt like my kids needed family; family that shared their name, at that difficult time. I didn’t want my children to feel they were alone; the only four Merrimans in the world. At least with me, their mother, there were five of us! The Five Musketeers, in our own way.

However, my children, initially, didn’t appreciate my decision. (Believe me when I say that back in 2009, I couldn’t seem to please anyone! It wasn’t just angry neighbors or victims that weren’t happy with my choices to put my children first! Even my own children didn’t always appreciate my reasoning or the decisions I made.) Several times they asked why I didn’t change my name to Christensen and why I didn’t change their names to that, too! It’s hard to describe or understand, but lets just say it was a difficult and humiliating time; we cringed every time the name Merriman was spoken, wondering who would realize we were related to Shawn Merriman if they heard it, what others might think of us, and how we would be judged, or treated, once the connection was made. In fact, my older children were pushing so hard for a name change I wrote it into my divorce: that I was free to change my children’s names, any time I wanted, without permission or consent from their father.

However, I refused to let my children make the decision to change their entire identity in the heat of a hard moment. They had lost their entire world as they knew it, and if they lost their name, their identity, in addition to everything else, they truly would have lost absolutely everything and I didn’t know what the ramifications of that might be in the future. So we held on to Merriman for the time being.

And then we healed. And then I got engaged. And we all continued to heal.

Shortly after our engagement, the first time #5 mentioned–assumed–I would change my name when we married I was surprised. I was almost 43 years old and had been who I am for a LONG time. Even through the trauma of my unexpected life. I had become ok with being Andrea Merriman again. I wasn’t ashamed or humiliated by the actions of another any more. I remarked, “Oh, I didn’t think I would change my name, I wasn’t planning on it.” From the look of surprise on #5′s face, I realized he had an expectation contrary to mine so I added, “Unless it’s important to you. Is it important to you? If it is, we can talk about it.”

He graciously said no, whatever I wanted to do was fine with him. I thought that settled it, except every few months of our engagement #5 would occasionally question, “So what about your name? Have you thought about what you’re going to do when we get married, if you’re changing your name or not?” My answer was always the same: no, I hadn’t thought about it. I actually thought our initial discussion had settled it, but after 2-3 such conversations I realized despite what he said, it was important to #5 that I change my name or he wouldn’t keep bringing it up. However, I appreciated the fact that he was very willing to accommodate my unwillingness to change my name. He didn’t pressure me, didn’t tell me he wanted me to change my name outright, he just “subtly” mentioned it occasionally!

Then one night we went to Costco. That evening sealed it for me.

We both had memberships that were expiring. Since we were marrying, we wanted only one account. I was digging through my purse looking for something while #5 took care of the membership. By the time he finished with the clerk, I’d found what I’d been looking for, he handed me my card without a word, and I put it away as we walked out. It was just an ordinary Costco card. But something about it caught my eye as I slipped it into my wallet. Could it have been the name “Andrea Ramsey” printed on it? I didn’t comment, but shook my head and laughed. The name change issue was resolved without another word. It CLEARLY was important to him. So I decided I needed to do it.

I just had to prepare my children.

At first I don’t think they were thrilled. I’d given them a very good P.R. pitch about Merriman and why I was keeping that name when I divorced. They even suggested I hyphenate: Merriman-Ramsey. But that is a mouthful, not to mention a lot to write, and it didn’t give me the same name as anyone–#5 or my children. When I explained I was doing it because I would be married to #5 and I sensed it was important to him, they didn’t say another word. (They have been incredibly supportive of every change that has come as a result of joining our lives together.) They only had one concern after that: did they have to change their names too?


From the relief in their eyes and on their faces I saw just how much they had healed in the two years since our unexpected life began. Their humiliation is gone! They are Merriman and want to remain that. I bet they don’t even remember the days they begged me to change their names. Their passion for their name showed me just how thoroughly and completely they are healing, and I am grateful.

So while I never ever expected my children would ever have a different name than mine, we’re learning it’s just one more unexpected aspect of…the unexpected life. So we’re rolling with it.

But just in case you’re considering a name change for YOUR children, for whatever reason, here’s a handy tip from Bill Cosby I thought I’d pass along: “Always end the name of your child with a vowel, so that when you yell, the name will carry.”


No Dynamite

“In the 1950s in Columbia, South Carolina, it was considered OK for kids to play with weird things. We could go to the hardware store and buy 100 feet of dynamite fuse.” (Kary Mullis)

Thank goodness it’s not the 1950s, huh? That seems like a little too much unexpected potential–even for the queen of The Unexpected Life, Andrea Merriman.

But here is something unexpectedly refreshing. I’ve learned, during November 2009-February 2011 as I’ve dated and been engaged to #5, that he is all he has professed to be. Although when we got engaged we never expected to be engaged 9 1/2 months, it has been a great opportunity to REALLY get to know one another; to resolve any issues prior to marriage and especially (for me) to see if #5 is as genuine, real and honest as he seems. (Why would that even be a concern in my world? But it was, especially in the beginning of our relationship–something about 15 years of deception, lies, betrayal and a big Ponzi scheme that can do that to a gal, I guess.)

A highlight of our engagement, for me, that really demonstrated this was a road trip #5 and I took our children on last summer–and the flat tire in the middle of the desert one of the cars got. (You see, we have so many children we don’t own a car we can all fit in (yet.) Everywhere we go, we have to drive at least two cars!) So we’re driving in the middle of nowhere last July and we get a flat tire. The cars were packed with two adults, 7 children, suitcases, sleeping bags, bikes, and all kinds of other stuff. We unloaded the trunk to get the spare tire and jack out; couldn’t get the flat tire off; unloaded the entire cargo area of the OTHER car, too, to find a jack that worked better; and after working on the tire for awhile, we still couldn’t get the flat tire off. So we had to call a tow truck for help.

While waiting for the tow truck, I apologized to #5 several times for the inconvenience. It was my car and the tire was an older one I’d planned to save money on by not replacing until the fall. But #5 just looked at me, smiled, and calmly said, “It’s ok, Andrea. These things happen. They’re minor inconveniences. This, too, shall pass.”

An hour or so later and $100 poorer, we had the old flat tire off, the spare tire on, had repacked everything back into two cars, had loaded the 7 children back in, and were driving down the road again. And #5 was still as patient and calm as he always had been–despite the fact we were trying to get back in town by a certain time because #5 had a meeting he was in charge of.

This, and many other situations and experiences the past 16 months, continued to demonstrate to me that #5 is the real deal. Honest, true, genuine, not perfect (but has never represented himself to be so)–what you see is what you get. Couple that with humility, patience, kindness, thoughtfulness, spirituality, caring and love for his fellow man, brains, talent, work ethic, a sense of humor, good looks and a host of other things (including dance moves!) and you can see why I’m with him!

WHAT a relief.

There is no unexpected dynamite or surprise revelation from the man in my life that I love that is going to gut my world anymore.

“A good way to threaten somebody is to light a stick of dynamite. Then you call the guy and hold the burning fuse up to the phone. ‘Hear that?’ you say. ‘That’s dynamite, baby.’” (Jack Handy)

Smarter Than You

“Girls have an unfair advantage over men: if they can’t get what they want by being smart, they can get it by being dumb.” (Yul Brynner)

Except where preschoolers are concerned, if you happen to be their mother.

My youngest was chatting with me over dinner when out of the blue he said, (and I promise I didn’t say or do anything “dumb” before he shared his observation),”Mom, my teacher is smarter than you.”

“Really? How can you tell?” I asked.

“My teacher knows ALL her ABCs!” he replied. “And can count to 100 and 80…even a thousand!”

“Wow, that IS smart,” I commented. But try as I might, I could not convince him my intelligence level was anywhere close to that of Miss Wendy’s.

The irony of my debate with my youngest regarding my intelligence is that when I was thrust into my unexpected life, I took a lot of heat from many people who insisted I had to have known a Ponzi scheme was taking place because “I was TOO SMART not to have known!”

You can’t see what is intentionally hidden from you through layers of deception and lies carefully crafted for more than a decade. And sometimes, even the brightest of people, can’t see what isn’t right in front of their eyes. Even Andrea Merriman, with all of the intelligence, genius, brilliance and “smarts” I’ve been accused of possessing!

You win some, you lose some, I guess. As evidenced by my unexpected life…and motherhood.

“I am so smart! I am so smart! S-M-R-T! I mean, S-M-A-R-T!” (Dan Castellaneta)

I Didn’t Sell My Soul

“I’d have a whole lot more money if I lied, but I wouldn’t enjoy spending it.” (Martina Navratilova)

I know what you mean, Martina. But not only would I not have enjoyed spending it, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself either.

“One of my proudest moments is I didn’t sell my soul for the sake of popularity.” (George W. Bush) Or things. Or money.

I’ll always be glad it’s the way I’ve chosen to live. But it does mean shortage of money is a reality in my unexpected life. Not just that things are tight, but that like many people, I assume, especially single mothers or people in the throes of an unexpected life and in an economic downturn, I’m short. Every month. Some might say “My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income” (Errol Flynn) but in my case, it’s more a result of starting over in my 40s (not just at zero, but in the hole thanks to the financial morass created by my former spouse), with four children and no alimony or child support, on the heels of complete and total financial devastation!

So I’m always looking to economize. This quest has led to a few special memories, experiences I’ve listed in the Unexpected Life “Hall of Fame” of Andrea Merriman. Things I NEVER imagined I’d do, or that would be the reality of my life.

There’s quite a bit  I never expected.

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.

Just Be

“I never wanted to be the next Bruce Lee. I just wanted to be the first Jackie Chan.” (Jackie Chan)

I was talking to a friend the other day who said she has watched me blossom the past year. (Of course, she gave #5 the credit. And in part, she is probably right.) But I also have to give my acceptance of my unexpected life its due as well.

When my unexpected life hit in 2009, I felt like I lost not only my world and my life, but myself. I was humiliated, I was devastated, and even the most basic aspects of “Andrea” (like laughter) were gone. I seriously doubted I’d ever be able to smile and mean it again. I wondered if my former husband’s Ponzi scheme hadn’t stolen “me” too. Thank goodness I was wrong.

I moved to Utah under the guise of trying to live an anonymous life. But the life we tried to live when we arrived, carrying the burden of our secret, just wasn’t us. I’ve never been one to hide anything, and I wasn’t able to do it despite the humiliation of publicity, a former family member’s sentencing and incarceration and everything else that came with my unexpected life. At some point, trying to live that way became equally as burdensome as my unexpected life itself.

I actually lasted six months attempting to live that way, and then I had to come clean. I couldn’t take not being Andrea Merriman any more.

So I shared my story, my dreadful secret, with a friend and co-worker. She didn’t run or ostracize me; she cried for me and with me…and then shared something horrific she had lived through. My burden began to lift. I opened up to other new friends about my “real” life, all of it, and not only did they accept it and me to some degree, I think it fascinated them! It’s certainly not the typical life experience of many people.  Eventually, my effort to become the real me again morphed into this blog and I put myself out there for the world.

And I blossomed. I became me again. Normal.  (Whatever that means.)

“Normal is in the eye of the beholder.” (Whoopi Goldberg)

One masterful secret of the unexpected life? Just be. You.

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)

Life is SOME Book

“Ideally a book would have no order to it, and the reader would have to discover his own.” (Mark Twain)

I began college as an English major. Somewhere along the way, I realized I just wasn’t deep enough (make that insightful enough) to compete with my peers; and at the same time, I realized they were ruining literature for me.

Here are just a few examples.

One class required we recite a poem. I opened a book, picked one that began “Tiger, tiger, burning bright, in the forest of the night…” (You’ve probably heard of it, it’s a pretty famous one.) I was prepared to recite it, but I confess it sounded comparable to how an elementary school student might have done it.

I knew I was in trouble when a young woman in my class stood to recite her poem, and began, “I’ll be doing such-and-such poem in a Meryl Streep, ‘Out of Africa’ accent because…” She went on to explain her deep rationale, but I completely missed her poem because I was so blown away by the fact she had even THOUGHT to do an accent! And that she COULD do an accent! And that she was up there DOING an accent, and didn’t appear to be mortified at all!

Other times we read poems and other literature as a class and discussed them. The things my peers inferred from what appeared to me to be an ordinary story about an ordinary event made me realize English wasn’t for me. Where were they getting their deep thoughts and all of that meaning? I had spent my life getting lost in stories, and simply enjoying the escape into whatever book’s reality I was reading at the time, NOT looking beyond what was right in front of my face for…meaning. Their “meaning” began to ruin it for me.

I found myself beginning to dislike the classics because of the analyses that took place in my college English courses. I started to dread reading (something I’ve always loved to do–I never dreaded reading, reading assignments or writing research papers. I had always enjoyed everything associated with reading and writing.) So I knew it was time to make a change.

I got out. I changed majors.

I tried interior design for a semester because I liked decorating things. Little did I know how much artistic talent was required for a career in that, and unfortunately, I had zero practical art background and no  skill. (I drew like a preschooler, and still do.) THAT was a tough semester, with a very benevolent end, when my professors basically gifted me with “C”s–as long as I promised to change majors!

About the only thing I did somewhat decently as an English major was write. As often as not, my papers would be returned to me with lots of red markings and notes by my professors encouraging me to submit the piece to a magazine or newspaper for publication. I finally took an aptitude test. It recommended public relations. I’d never heard of such a thing, but I was told strong writing was necessary for that career, so I signed on. And I never looked back. I had found my thing.

It was very unexpected.

One of the most valuable things I gleaned from my PR education was the counsel, “Don’t be afraid of getting fired.” Fired? I’d never been fired, but I knew enough to dread it and consider it a failure. Instead, my professor taught us getting fired can be the best thing that ever happens to you. In fact, he encouraged us at some point to “fire ourselves” if no one else ever did. He said it was good for every career, and every person, to make a big change at least once in their life. He said oftentimes, the situation you end up with after being fired (voluntarily or involuntarily) is often better than your previous one.

I never forgot that. And I’ve been amazed how well it correlates to the unexpected life. Especially mine.

I was living life, loving being a wife and mother, serving others in my own small ways and trying to contribute to the world…and then one day the bottom fell out of my world. Shawn Merriman revealed the lies and crimes he had been perpetuating for 15 years, he went to prison, and I was left alone to provide for and raise our children; forced to re-enter the workforce. I got fired from my life. And had to find, or create, a new one.

Like networking in the business world that leads to job placement, I didn’t find my new life on my own. I was blessed with tender mercies, miracles and a friends (old and new) who stood by me, encouraged me and helped me begin again.

And now, on this side of it, just 18 months later, I wonder if my unexpected life isn’t one of the best things to ever happen to me? Not because it’s easy, it’s not. Not because it has been fun, it hasn’t always been–especially in the beginning. But because of all that I have learned, the many ways I have grown and the good things that have come to me and my children because of it.

An unexpected life is an abrupt plot twist filled with antagonists that threaten to overwhelm. Sometimes it seems its chapters goes on far too long. Yet if you keep pressing forward through the drama, you’ll make it through some difficult chapters, and the NEW story directions that come unexpectedly into your life can amaze and overwhelm you, this time, in a good way. I believe you can actually end up with a story (and a life) better than it would have otherwise been.

Life is SOME book.

You just can’t put it down.

And like the few special books that have touched me deeply, enough to make tears roll down my cheeks as I read them, I think I’ll cry when it’s over.

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!’” (Robert Browning)

The Unexpected Life.

My News Story

It’s official.

The “exciting” event I foreshadowed in a blog last month actually became an “exciting” event for my middle son yesterday–he got to see himself on t.v.!

Cheryl Preheim, a news personality on NBC affiliate Channel 9 in Denver, CO, did a story on our family’s experience which aired, for the first time, last night.

Click here to see the news story.

But to keep it all in perspective, I’m reminded of some wisdom Abe Lincoln shared, “What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.”

Just don’t call me Flower.

In Charge

The day we met Cheryl Preheim we spent time in our home and in the canyon not far from our home. Eventually, I had to leave the canyon and take my middle son to football practice.

Cheryl asked, “How about if your older two children stay here with Ken and I, we’ll talk to them alone and take them home when we’re done?”

I hadn’t expected that, for some reason. I hadn’t prepared myself, or them, for that experience. I have amazing children, but still, it’s kind of huge to leave your teens alone, in front of a camera that’s recording–who knows what they’ll say? But in life, especially the unexpected one, you’ve got to improvise. I’ve flown by the seat of my pants a lot since March 18, 2009. So I drove away.

When we were back at my home, Cheryl caught me alone and said, “I have to tell you about our interview.”

I died inside.

I sort of panicked. And I’m ashamed to say, I imagined the worst.

“What?” I asked. “They didn’t argue or fight did they? They weren’t rude, were they?” That would be just my luck to display, not for the first time (please see 2009′s media reports on Shawn Merriman and the revelation of his Ponzi scheme if you don’t know what I’m talking about!) the finest aspects of our character, our finest moments, publicly, in the media.

Cheryl laughed and said, “Don’t worry! Your children are amazing. I just sat and heard your teenage son tell me life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% what you do with it. I can’t believe it.” She shared something inspiring my daughter had said, as well, and the mother in me calmed down.

Instead, it was one of those parent paydays. You parents out there know what those are. You love, labor to teach, serve, and expend your energies helping your children grow and develop and learn all they need to…and you don’t always see the fruits of your efforts right away. But if you’re lucky, every now and then, you get glimpses of the amazing adults they’re on track to become. It reminds you how worth it all is, how much fun it has all been. That’s how that day turned out for me.

Coincidentally, the thought about attitude my son referenced is part of a quote Cheryl had heard before. She loved it so much she carried it with her. And she left that thought, in the form of a fridge magnet, for us when she left. Here it is:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.” (Charles R. Swindoll)

Thanks, Cheryl. (And Charles.)

I believe the only way you’re going to get through life and rise above your challenges is to take charge–and keep a good attitude. It is something I’ve come to realize the longer I’VE lived. And when you can’t control the the unexpected events that become your life, it’s comforting to be in charge of something.

Thank goodness we’re always in charge of the most important thing.


“I am more and more convinced that our happiness or our unhappiness depends far more on the way we meet the events of life than on the nature of those events themselves.” (Karl Wilhelm von Humboldt)