Living Happily Ever After


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Of Victory, Defeat…and Birthdays

“Time is everything; five minutes make the difference between victory and defeat.” (Horatio Nelson)

I celebrated my birthday yesterday. It was a WONDERFUL day, for many reasons and thanks to so many people. It was a happy day, all day, for me (and my husband, who shares my same birthday.) But then, unexpectedly, there came that moment.

That one moment when I couldn’t help but acknowledge the miracle of having such a wonderful 47th birthday…as I remembered how absolutely terrible turning 42 had been.

That lovely birthday that hit about a month after my extreme life losses and divorce in 2009, amid of a LOT of change, challenge, trauma and turmoil. I felt terrible, I looked awful, and I can’t describe the misery I experienced–feeling like a total failure in my 40s! (I don’t recommend it, haha.)

But I DO recommend hanging in there. Choosing to live anyway, despite your losses, burdens and adversities. Never give up. Get out of bed every day and accomplish something, even if it’s just getting out of bed!

Because time really is everything. And those ensuing minutes (or years, in my case) really do make the difference between defeat and victory. And victory feels so good and is literally, so SWEET.

“Victory is sweetest when you’ve known defeat.” (Malcolm S. Forbes)

Taste it.




“We are the hero of our own story.” (Mary McCarthy)

Speaking of birthdays, my husband and I spent part of ours (yes, we have the same birthday, six years apart) floating down the Provo River on inner tubes with my children. And with Elizabeth Smart.

In her defense, Elizabeth didn’t know it was our birthday, she didn’t even know we were tubing with her, but we noticed her and entered the water behind her. We floated for several hours and as I finished my ride and  the river guides helped me out of the water with my tube, I heard two of them talking.

“Dude, did you see who that was?” asked #1.

“No, who was it?” replied #2.

“Dude, that was Elizabeth Smart!” said #1.

“Elizabeth Smart, DUDE, seriously?” asked #2.

“Yes, dude. Elizabeth Smart.” #1 exclaimed. And then followed something I didn’t expect: “She’s my hero!”

If you’ve ever participated in guided adventures, such as river rafting, you’ll know what I’m talking about and trying to describe when I say I never expected to see two scruffy, scraggly, unshaven, barely clothed, rough, weathered, outdoor enthusiasts resembling mountain hippies more than anything else, absolutely in awe of and express their admiration for a twenty-something, smiling, pretty young woman minding her own business, tubing down a river. But they did. And they were touched to have been in her presence for a even brief moment.

She, the way she handled her unexpected life experience with grace and dignity, and the life she has gone on to create and live, was absolutely inspiring to many, including River Guide #1. I wish Elizabeth could have heard him gush about her. He truly loved and appreciated her and for all she has overcome and is inspired by her. What a great example she has been to many. A hero.

It reminded me that we can each be that in our own lives, through the triumphs over our challenges. We each have a story. We each have the opportunity to be the hero of it. And we never know who’s watching us overcome our challenges and who will be inspired, and be better themselves, because of our good example.

Be a hero.

An Opportunity

Life, regardless of the unexpected circumstances you find yourself in, is a constant reminder of one important principle: hang in there. And nowhere am I reminded of this more than in my life as “my dad’s wife,” aka. stepmother, to mostly grown children. So for every woman married to a man who has children from another mother, this post’s for you.

Hang in there.

Acknowledge that, according to experts and professionals, the role of “stepmother” is the most difficult of all positions in life. So whether everything related to your opportunity (and it is exactly that, an opportunity) is a dream come true, whether it’s a work in progress, or whether it’s a situation in need of MUCH work and progress, hang in there! Because in this as in everything else in life, if you hang in there long enough and do everything you can to triumph, I know you eventually will. You’ll also learn important things and help others learn things along the way, too!

Case in point: the other day, my husband and I were reading a version of the story of Snow White to our youngest when, at the story’s completion, my husband looked at me and said, “Wow, I never knew that!”

“Never knew what?” I asked.

“That the wicked queen who hated Snow White and tried to kill her had been married to Snow White’s dad…” my husband began, but didn’t quite dare finish. “And…was…her…stepmother.”

Unfortunately, some of us haven’t had the luxury of remaining so blissfully ignorant. Not only was I raised on fairy tales and consider myself somewhat expert in their storylines, I am reminded of the whole stepmother thing at even the most unexpected times. Like last month.

My husband’s birthday was approaching so I texted his children: “You are all invited to dinner to celebrate your dad’s birthday. He will be thrilled to see you. Please let me know if you can come so I can plan the food,” and I listed the date and time. Within seconds, I got a response from our married son, “Yes! We will be there!”

I didn’t hear back from two of the children, which I’ve learned is typical; one never responds, but always attends and is cheerful and happy to be there, and the other usually responds at some point prior to the event, hasn’t missed a special dinner yet and is friendly and talkative while there. I’m grateful for their willingness to participate in family things.

The final response, from another, came a minute or two later: “Who is this???”

Lets just say that was the kindest and most respectful of the texts that followed from that particular child, and ALL the result of a simple invitation to dinner and dessert! It’s not like I was texting to hire a hit man (I mean, woodsman!) or to express a willingness to provide a poison comb or apple—just a simple home-cooked meal I’ve been told is in short supply in the kid’s life and I was happy to provide.

Such is the life of “a dad’s wife.” Franklin D. Roosevelt had some great advice for that position:  ”When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” (Franklin D. Roosevelt) That’s my plan, and I recommend it—hanging on—to everyone in any position or unexpected life situation.

Because maybe someday the cuisine you prepare will be so delicious and so memorable that everyone who partakes of it will at least remember who prepared it, cooked it, served it, hosted it, paid for it, cleaned up after it, and never asked for anything in return. And if not, if that day never comes, imagine the amazing culinary talents you’ll have developed thanks to your opportunity. And that’s exactly what it is. An opportunity—to hang in there AND to forgive. Hmmm…sounds a lot like life itself.

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” (Oscar Wilde)

Proma Drama

“I get letters from all over, all sorts. It’s really cool. I get a lot from inmates, which is kind of scary. But the best was the guy who wanted to send me a plane ticket to fly me to his prom.” (Laura Prepon)

Prom (at our house) is 10 days away and the drama continues. In fact, it has resulted in modifications to the English language: Proma Drama (say it like it rhymes with drama). Although my husband coined the term, if it were in any dictionary you could find it defined as, “anything having to do with the events leading up to the high school ritual known as Prom.” Or something like that.

Date to prom? Check.

As reported earlier, my daughter was asked to prom. A boy she works with and goes to school with asked her. (The invitation itself caused drama, as I’ve mentioned earlier, because the boy asked my daughter and another girl at the school walked around school for days crying in the halls and all of her classes and told everyone it was because the boy she wanted to go to prom with asked my daughter!)

We live in Utah, where “creative dating” is practiced by teens, so the boy didn’t just ask my daughter in person or text or call with his invitation, he did it in a creative way. Late one night our doorbell rang, I opened the door to find no one there, looked down and there sat three goldfish swimming in a container with the message: “If wishes were fishes and I had three, I’d use them to ask, ‘Will you go to prom with me?’” (Cute, huh? They even came with fish food!)

Due to my daughter’s busy school, work and spring track schedule she didn’t have time to answer for a few days. In the meantime, everyone enjoyed the fish. And fed them. Until sadly, I don’t believe any were actually alive by the time the reply was delivered. Oops!

Prom dress? Check.

Believe it or not, we found it online—a far different prom dress shopping experience than mine were in the 1980s. I never actually did find one that was “perfect,” which resulted in my mom designing and sewing me the perfect dress for prom my junior year (she was a fabulous seamstress, as good as any professional anywhere)—and then flying to another state the following year in quest of the perfect prom dress so she wouldn’t have to EVER sew another one!

Referencing prom throughout the days and weeks leading up to it? Check.

For example, my daughter’s birthday came a few weeks after the “fishy” prom invitation. Her birthday incorporated a bit of Proma Drama when her best friend sent her a beautiful bouquet of roses with two wishes: “Happy Birthday! I hope these flowers live longer than the fish did!” (For the record, the flowers are still thriving and looking beautiful.)

And then the moment came when my daughter’s date had to be told what color her dress is so their attire could be coordinated.

Stay tuned.

Oh. And speaking of dresses: “Some women hold up dresses that are so ugly and they always say the same thing: ‘This looks much better on.’ On what? On fire?” (Rita Rudner)

The Blunders I Make

“I’m more financially successful, but it just means the shopping blunders I make are bigger now.” (Cathy Guisewite)

I’m not more, or even successful at all, financially, now—in my unexpected life.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not capable of a shopping blunder on the rare occasions I venture into the retail arena, I proved that on my husband’s 50th birthday cruise. You can count the number of times since 2009 I’ve “gone shopping” on less than 10 fingers. (Why shop, or even “look” or window shop, why tempt yourself to spend money you don’t have, when you have no money?)

It happened after the candy store incident. (The moment in a store my husband accidentally called me by his ex-wife’s name. Poor guy! He’s only done that once but he’ll probably never live it down, especially since I’ve immortalized it in this blog:)

We were strolling along the sidewalk of a quaint eastern town when I glanced in a window of a store that looked like it sold all kinds of fun, unique, interesting, vintage, boutique-style items. I announced to the group, “I’m going in here. Does anyone want to come?” Everyone kept walking so I told my husband to tell the group to go ahead, I’d catch up, I just wanted to look in the store for a minute, and I headed inside.

To my surprise, my husband followed me. I thought, “Ah, new love! I’ve forgotten that the newlywed phase of marriage is so nice! How wonderful it is that my husband will follow me into a store simply for the sake of spending time with me. How nice of him. How patient.”

A few moments later, his brother joined us. I thought, “Wow. What nice men in this family—to follow their wife, or their sister-in-law, into a store so they won’t be alone. How chivalrous.”

I started to look around at the merchandise for sale and then suddenly it hit me. Just WHAT kind of store had I ventured into? Lets just say the items for sale were…inappropriate. Of a…suggestive nature. And the theme underlying everything appeared to be nudity and…private parts. OOPS.

“Oh my goodness!” I exclaimed. “What kind of store is this? This is NOT what I thought I was going to find in here!”

My husband laughed. “I wondered what you were doing shopping in a place like this,” he said. His brother agreed. “Yes, I didn’t expect you to shop in a place like this, but I was even more surprised that you announced to everyone where you were heading, so I had to come and see this for myself.”

Leave it to me to unknowingly stumble upon a store like that and to unwittingly go inside to shop. Only I would do something like that—and announce it to my mother-in-law, her sister, friends and other relatives, some of whom I was meeting for the first time! I quickly made my exit and caught up to the group. There were many an eyebrow raised in my direction, lets put it that way!

I’d finish this tale by saying, “Andrea Merriman does it again.” Only it’s Andrea Ramsey now. But apparently, I’m still blundering. You know what they say: ”A blunder at the right moment is better than cleverness at the wrong time.” (Carolyn Wells)

I guess.

Did I Say Strange?

“Let your mind start a journey through a strange new world. Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before. Let your soul take you where you long to be…Close your eyes let your spirit start to soar, and you’ll live as you’ve never lived before.” (Eric Fromme)

Before I go any further I have to reiterate, again, that remarriage is a journey through a strange new world.

It’s unsettling, after living four or more decades of your life and doing things a certain way for specific reasons…to change it all up and do everything differently. But it’s also exciting, not to mention occasionally entertaining. You certainly have new experiences you never expected to have; you learn new things; and I like to think (or hope) that all of it will help keep me young!

Now back to the birthday cruise for my husband.

We both had prior cruising experience prior to our first one together. My husband had been on several cruises and I’d been on 10 myself (I had been married for 20 years to a man who did everything to excess; now that I know what was REALLY going on all those years, I see that he certainly lived up to Ponzi scheme criminal stereotype/reputation for “living the high life.” Bummer that I, like everyone else, simply thought he was just very successful and good at his job!)

We brought to our 2011 marriage our own (different) travel habits and expectations. But since this cruise was with in celebration of my husband’s 50th birthday and we were  traveling with his family and friends,  I told him not to worry about me; we were doing it his way—and while I don’t think we did the whole trip “his way,” (my husband is too considerate for that) I pretty much went along with everything my husband suggested (like karaoke) and had a lot of new adventures (like karaoke) that were part of his previous experience but had never been a part of mine.

It was a very different cruise than any I’d ever been on before, but it was also a LOT of fun!

“Old and young, we are all on our last cruise.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Make the most of it.

Happy Birthday

“Brilliantly lit from stem to stern, she looked like a sagging birthday cake.” (Walter Lord)

Last week, I turned 44 years old and my husband turned 50 years old. On the same day. I remember the night I found out we shared the same birth date…and how I wasn’t sure I was thrilled about that. Second marriage moment #23? I changed my mind!

It happened like this.

My husband came home from work one day, said he found a great hotel deal in Las Vegas and that he thought we should take advantage of it to celebrate our birthdays. It immediately hit me like a ton of bricks: sharing a birthday with my husband just might not be too bad! I agreed to go.

But sadly, as the birthday approached, I began to have second thoughts: we shouldn’t spend the money, I’d never not been with my children on my birthday before, work was busy, who would supervise the children while we were gone? Then shortly before the trip, an extended family member scheduled a wedding we needed to attend and my husband announced, “I don’t think we can do both. Maybe we shouldn’t go to Las Vegas.”

As he voiced what I had been thinking and feeling all along, I suddenly realized how much I wanted to go. How important it was, to me, to go. (I’m not sure why. But I will say in a remarriage, in my experience, there are so many things already decided for you. It is never just you and your husband, alone, and deciding what you want or what is best for you and then doing that. You begin your marriage and attempt to build a new family, with two other already existing families, and children, in place. You never, or rarely, have the luxury of considering only your needs—not to mention you start out your marriage with so many things you can’t control, or do, due to the choices of others.) Maybe it was just a moment of stubbornness where I couldn’t have one more person make one more choice and decide something for me, or have one more person’s choice affect my plans and my life, but for some reason I felt it was important to get away to Las Vegas with my new husband.

So I said, “It’s my birthday. It’s your birthday. It’s our six month wedding anniversary. You got a great deal on a hotel. There isn’t a present or gift I want. And although every remarried couple we know told us the most important thing we should do as a remarried couple is to get away alone, without children, as often as we can—even every month—we haven’t done it once. I think I’m going to Vegas, and I hope you’ll join me!”

We went to Vegas.

We went cheap. We ate inexpensively. We didn’t see any shows. But we enjoyed all our hotel had to offer, and especially enjoyed our time alone together and the chance to talk and laugh together, for 57 hours, uninterrupted! Turns out, sharing your birthday with your spouse has its perks, too. When the hotel spa found out it was our birthday, they gave us a complimentary visit. And unexpectedly, my husband’s boss called and told me take my husband out to dinner for his birthday—on him. So I had crab legs (my favorite thing in the world, next to lobster) for the first time in two years—since beginning my unexpected life.

Who cares if you or your birthday cake is sagging with age or years…as long as you’re sagging on a birthday getaway with your husband? Not me.

“I should be committed to an institution immediately for even thinking I could get away with that…” (Johnny Depp)

Where’d You Go?

“And remember, no matter where you go, there you are.” (Confucius)

A day or two after we returned from our honeymoon, one evening #5 came home from work, excited about his new plan for his 50th birthday:  he had put a deposit down on an east coast cruise in the autumn. He gave me the sales pitch about how wonderful it would be to celebrate his birthday that way and told me we’d only have to be gone from the kids for one week.

I replied, “One week? That is a long time. I’ve only left my children twice, their entire lives, for that long.”

He said, “I know, and I know you always used to take your children everywhere with you, but you’ll be amazed at what it’s like to travel without kids. It’s a completely different experience when it’s only adults. You can do totally different things. It will be a great trip for us!”

I answered, “Yes, I’m sure it would be fun and I know it’s fun to sometimes get away without children. I went on my honeymoon without children and had a FABULOUS time!”

He smiled and asked, “Oh, you did? Where did you go?”

He HAD to be kidding, right? I mean, we’d only been back from our Las Vegas honeymoon for two days! I clarified, “My honeymoon–to Las Vegas? Just a few days ago?”

You’re probably asking, “How could you have had such a wonderful time…and #5 doesn’t even remember it?” I was wondering the same thing!

“OH!” he responded. “I thought you were talking about your FIRST honeymoon—I thought you were going to tell me something nice about your first honeymoon!”

THAT was second marriage moment #2. And THAT was when I realized there were probably going to be a few of them. And I was right, so I’m thankful I’ve at least found them entertaining to one degree or another since I have to live them!

“Everything is ironic to me. There are moments I find hysterical, but I’m probably the only one who would find that, except for a few people.” (River Phoenix)

Today’s Crisis Is Tomorrow’s Joke, I Hope

“I don’t know how to drive a car.” (Javier Bardem)

However, my daughter is learning to. She’ll be 16 in two months, so despite the fact she’s had her learner’s permit for almost a year, we’re feeling the pressure to get her as much experience behind the wheel before her birthday as we can. Easier said than done, though. Especially when I work full-time in another city.

So tonight we combined a driving lesson with a quick errand. Note to self: it would probably be wise to never attempt teenage daughter driving lessons after working all day and commuting both directions in traffic!

She drove. When I instructed her to turn right, she turned left–like she didn’t know her left from her right. (She really does, and she’s a smart girl, but I think she gets a little flustered behind the wheel.) One time when I instructed her to turn left, she hesitated so long the car behind her got in the turn lane, pulled up beside her and she nearly hit them when trying to get in the lane to turn.  After taking the LONG way to our destination, and experiencing her struggle to both use the turn signal and to change lanes, I admit it wasn’t my finest 20 minutes as a mother.

So by the time she ran a stop sign, cut off the car who actually had the right of way, forced them to slam on their brakes to avoid an accident, which apparently angered them because they tail-gated our car all the way down the street until they could whip around us, cut in front of us and slam on their brakes (to reinforce their anger at the way our driver was driving, I guess) I was completely out of patience.

I lectured her thoroughly (and loudly.)

Upon arriving home, my daughter went straight to her room, crying, committed to never getting behind the wheel of a car again. I make an impressive driving instructor, don’t you think? Or at the very least, an impressive mother. (Not.)

Ironically, tonight a friend told me that I have a very nice daughter and that I’m a good mother. Of all the days to tell me that! I had to confess how not true that is today. I can only hope that, “The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow.” (H.G. Wells)

Or that she’s at least speaking to me by then, so we can laugh about it!

I apologized to her several times tonight, but I’m thankful “tomorrow is another day,” a new opportunity to stand up and do things better as a mother and as a driving instructor–if my daughter will consent to drive again.

“If you fell down yesterday, stand up today.” (H.G. Wells)

Just don’t run any stop signs.

Full Circle

“I don’t have to look up my family tree, because I know that I’m the sap.” (Fred Allen)

I could have died. Did I really say that out loud?

Thankfully, she laughed, opened the door and invited me into her home. And then, like a total mother, she said, “Let me look at you!” and had me turn all the way around in a circle for inspection.

She was friendly, kind, loving, accepting and interesting to talk to. She was also very open with her thoughts and feelings. I quickly learned she was not about judging others or making judgements. She had counseled me not to judge her, and the sign at her door was a good reminder: “Please leave your judgments, and your shoes, at the door.”

I think it was an exciting moment for both of us.

I apologized for my tacky first words, but maintained that they were true. She laughed and said at her age, it was a huge compliment. She didn’t mind them one bit!

There were no tears, just smiles, until she expressed her gratitude for my parents and the way they had raised me. She told me she felt that although they weren’t here any more, they were still very aware of me, that they were supportive of our meeting and that she could be here for me now. THAT is what made me cry.

It was a tender moment.

I remembered every single birthday of my entire life, when my mom would look at me funny and start to cry. (It was almost a ritual.) I’d ask her why she was crying. And she’d say, “I’m just thinking of your biological mother. I wonder what she is thinking today? And I am just so grateful to her for bringing you into this world!” And there stood the woman who had brought me into the world expressing gratitude for my parents. It was as if some part of the adoption process had come full circle.

She hugged me.

And then we sat down to begin to get acquainted.

“Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.” (Anthony Brandt)