Living Happily Ever After


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Changing Directions

“One might as well try to ride two horses moving in different directions, as to try to maintain in equal force two opposing or contradictory sets of desires.” (Robert Collier)

Two contradictory sets of desires. I daresay that is probably what leads to most, if not all, divorce. I see it in the aftermath of the final divorce, as well. Regardless of the desires of either party, there are moments that it feels like trying to ride two horses moving in different directions. Sure, both parties may say they want the same thing (the well-being of the children they had together) but the approaches to achieving that are usually vastly different.

When I met my husband, his youngest child lived with him. “But I know, at some point, he will choose to live with his mom again,” he explained, and added how sad he would be when that day came; he loved the daily interactions with his son that came with living under the same roof.

His son continued to live with him as the parent’s lives transitioned: his mom remarried and divorced; his dad fell in love, remarried and they moved in with my family; his mom married again and divorced again; and shortly after our marriage, moved just down the road from us. (Lets just say I NEVER expected that!)

The changes were hard for my stepson—going from an “only child”/center of his dad’s universe to one of five children living in the same house; a new family culture and a completely different set of house rules; moving to a new school and leaving old friends; knowing his mother was alone; and, I’m not going to lie, I’m sure his dad’s new wife was a challenge for him, too! We straddled those opposite horses for six months, all parties probably felt they compromised as much as they could but in the end, none of it was enough.

Another horse, another option, another direction, was on the track and my stepson chose to ride it.

Second marriage moment #29: my husband’s son moved back in with his mother.

My husband had known it would happen even before he met me, and he’d seen the signs of it coming for a few months, so when it finally happened I was grateful he could say, “I’m at peace with my son’s decision.”

And in my objective, somewhat outside opinion, my stepson appears at peace with it too.

“A peace is of the nature of a conquest; for then both parties nobly are subdued, and neither party loser.” (William Shakespeare)

As for me?

“I happen to dig being able to use whatever mystique I have to further the idea of peace.” (Garrett Morris)

Second Marriage Moment #24: Spawned By Grass

“The thing I love is that my home life hasn’t changed. I still help out with the garbage. I still help out with the lawn.” (Taylor Lautner)

You know what’s amazing about remarriage? It doesn’t change your life one bit. Seriously! (At least, that’s the sarcastic thought I had one day last summer shortly after lawn mowing season began.) The truth is, remarriage even complicates…lawn mowing.

I remember the days when mowing the lawn was simple. The lawn needs mowing? You do it— or assign one of your children to do it. Ah, the good old days.

One day earlier this year, the lawn at the Merriman-Ramsey house needed mowing. In an attempt to bring the children together and to give everyone an opportunity to contribute to the running of our household, a child from each family (one Merriman, one Ramsey) was assigned lawn mowing duty.We divided the assignment into two section, the front lawn and the back lawn. Simple, right? You’d think!

We’d been told by remarriage experts that (at least in the beginning of the relationship) the biological parent of each child in the family should be the parent to correct behavior, make assignments, etc…My husband was very good to follow this counsel (better than me, of course, but that’s a blog post for another time) so one day my husband called to request I remind my son to empty the grass bag when he was done mowing the lawn.

I obeyed, called my son and reminded him to empty the grass bag attached to the lawn mower. He argued about doing it, pointing out that the other lawn mower in the family didn’t do it after HE mowed, why should my son? He added that he was tired of cleaning up after the other lawn mower, too, but my son emptied the bag despite his grumbling.

I got another call to report the grass bag had been emptied—of the grass left by the other lawn mower. I remained calm and endured the comments, thinking the other lawn mower could probably say the same thing and hung up the phone thinking the lawn situation was taken care of. My son was hard at work mowing the lawn.


My son called a few minutes later and requested to mow the front lawn. Unfortunately, I had to deny that request. The other lawn-mowing son had already told his dad he wanted to mow the front lawn, his dad had called me and informed me of that already, so I told my son that job was taken and assigned him to mow the back yard. Grumbling, he hung up the phone and went to work—I assumed.

That assumption was corrected when I got another phone call. Apparently, my son had taken the initiative to inspect the front lawn! He reported that it was not up to par: patches of long grass were visible to the naked eye at every turn and periodically on the straightaways. He requested to re-mow the front lawn for his assignment.

Request denied.

He wasn’t a very happy lawn boy as he hung up the phone to go to work mowing the back lawn. I went back to work, assuming, again, everything was taken care of.


There were follow-up phone calls about fuel for the machine, the length of the grass, slope of the backyard and my son’s lack of enthusiasm for his assigned duty. When the back lawn was finished, I got another call to report its completion, along with a question, “Have you called to make sure the front lawn gets taken care of?”

“No, I’ve been working, or trying to work,” I replied. But I told him I’d pass that request along as I felt it appropriate. We hung up the phone. Later that day I got another phone call: the front lawn still looked terrible, what was going to be done about it? In a bold move (or out of pure, green desperation) I took the situation into my own hands. I told my son we weren’t going to worry about anyone else or their assignment, we were going to worry about him, his assignment and making sure he always does an excellent job and takes pride in his work. Situation resolved, I thought, as I hung up the phone at the conclusion of yet another conversation about the lawn!

I got a final phone call about the lawn later that day. I finally laid down the law: “We’re not going to worry about it. The person who mowed the lawn OR THEIR PARENT will be responsible to make sure the job is done well.”

Second marriage moment #24: the memory of the days when life was “simple” (or at least lawn mowing was!) In that moment remarriage brought this renegade thought to mind: “I mow my own lawn.” (Ron Reagan) It sure might be easier! But then just as quickly I was reminded of the myriad of ways life was a lot more complicated for me prior to remarriage and counted my blessings that my unexpected life had taken that unexpected twist of getting to marry again.

Tim Allen’s mom only had it part right. “My mom said the only reason men are alive is for lawn care and vehicle maintenance.”

I think they’re for marrying, too!

LOVE #5! Married to him for 8 months now and together, we’re bravely tackling (and finding joy) in all aspects of the new frontier called marriage/remarriage that we’re exploring, including…mowing the lawn.


“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” (George Bernard Shaw)

I’ve been remarried five months now. And as a parent and stepparent, how grateful I am for progress and change!

Progress since the wedding day one child cried through the love song the bridegroom sang to the bride; progress since another child told the bride their life had ended, their world was ruined, because of one wedding—mine.

We newlyweds returned from our honeymoon and went to work trying to effect some change, our sights set on progress, as parents blending families.

For example, I hug my kids each day as they depart for school. I added all children in the household (despite their initial lack of enthusiasm) to this daily tradition. And for the most part, it has worked. Only one day did one child treat me rudely, flat out refuse contact with me and departed for school with an air of hostility. (But in his and my defense, I wasn’t the only person he treated rudely, so I didn’t take it personally. I gave him some space that day. In fact, I believe that is key to parenting AND stepparenting: don’t take things personally, refuse to get offended; give the child some space “that” day, and try again tomorrow!)

Cut to present. Said child left town for two weeks to visit out-of-state family members. Prior to his return, I sent him an email, told him I had missed him and that I had a huge hug waiting for him when he came home. He arrived home, I said his name, he smiled at me, walked from behind his suitcase and toward me, opened his arms and…hugged me!

Soon after, that same child spent time with other family members. I didn’t see him for a few days but the next time I saw him I said, “Hey! You haven’t seen me for a few days, do you have something for me?” Give him credit for being a quick learner. (Either that, or he has given in (aka. given up! haha!) to my traditions; he smiled and hugged me.)

So…hope. Always hope. Hope for change. And see how you can effect it. Even in one tiny little thing.

Work for change. Remember that it’s possible to change any thing, any situation, with effort, work and time. (Very handy to remember in the unexpected life when certain situations, like 2009, or a new life, or a new job, or a health challenge, or a financial adversity, or taking on a new family would be overwhelming if you thought they were permanent!)

Look for progress. Seek to be positive and look for the good. Recognize every little baby step forward and be grateful for it—just don’t be surprised by the attendant slide backward despite the progress, either. It happens.

Keep your eye on the distant, long-term goal and don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by every single aspect and occurence of the journey required to get there!

Because, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.” (Barack Obama)

Especially in the unexpected life.

“Idiot” To Awesome…In 18 Years!

“Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.” (Marcus Tullius Cicero)

I’ve seen it over and over again in my life: when you live with someone, some adjusting and compromising is required for a happy home life. This is true for roommates, newlyweds, brothers and sisters, families and especially, blended families.

If you’re smart, you learn this natural law early and skip some of the strife failing to humble yourself and compromise with those you live with (and love) brings.

However, some accept change more willingly than others. Some adapt to the living arrangements more easily than others. Some seem more willing to compromise than others. And then there are a select few that seem to think if they resist long enough, if they refuse to compromise, said change (ie. life) will not be required!

Boy, wouldn’t that be nice? Like a cocktail party, to be served life on a platter prior to living it? To be able to say, “No thanks, I’ll not have some of that!” or “No thank you, I’ve had enough” or “I don’t want that change, so I don’t have to accept it!” or “I’m full. No more for me!”

Instead, we are blessed with life and change and unexpected lives and situations. Like everything else, though, I believe living together peacefully is a choice. It simply requires patience to wait (and endure) until others in the household choose to accept, adapt, adjust, compromise and settle in.

One day my oldest and I were chatting. He, as the oldest child in our household, has been very helpful and patient in helping younger children settle in to the new family situation. That day he commented on the struggle he observed one child having with some aspects of the blended household. I agreed with his observations and told him I had noticed the same thing but didn’t see any solution other than to continue to cheerfully and patiently endure the transition.

My son laughed and said, “Mom, sometimes I just want to make it easier for them and say, ‘Dude, give it up. You’re never going to win this one.’”

I asked, “What do you mean, ‘win’?”

He explained, “You know, get away with things that are wrong, inappropriate, disrespectful or against the house rules. It’s never going to happen.”

I clarified, “Oh? How do you know?”

He exclaimed, “Because you raised me! Mom, you’re one of THE strongest people I know. It’s a battle that can’t be won. I know, because I tried to ‘break you’ for 18 years and you never once ‘cracked’!”

I wasn’t sure how to take that, but before I could respond he added, “And I’m so glad and grateful you didn’t—because look how awesome I turned out!”

“Awesome: extremely impressive; inspiring great admiration; extremely good; excellent.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Yes, he is. And it only took…18 years. (Just kidding! Children are born “awesome,” they simply increase in “awesomeness” over the years. And if I haven’t said it lately, I’m grateful to be a mother:)

Speaking of Adjustments

“If you can sell green toothpaste in this country, you can sell opera.” (Sarah Caldwell)

You have to love marriage. It teaches you things, and shows you things about yourself, that you never ever knew. But here’s the difference between first marriage and remarriage (or maybe it’s the difference between youth and experience): you learn not to sweat the small stuff.

For example, in addressing the reality of marriage let us not neglect the infamous tube of toothpaste episode. We can’t!  I mean, doesn’t EVERY marriage have one?

Lest anyone has received the mistaken impression that #5 is walking male perfection (although he is very close), know that while brushing his teeth one day, he looked at me, held the tube of toothpaste we shared, and made a comment not just about which part of the tube had been squeezed…but about the tightness (or lack thereof) of the cap.

“Huh?” I asked. I had no idea what he was talking about. I confess, it has been years (probably 22 of them) since I’ve given any thought to squeezing a tube of toothpaste and where–and I don’t think I had EVER given any thought to the tightness of the cap on the toothpaste tube!

In first marriages, said incident has caused many a “first fight.” However, in remarriage, it is more like this:

The offending party (me) realized something about herself she had never known before; determined to pay more attention to the little details of toothpaste tube squeezing; and resolved, then and there, to work to always put the toothpaste tube cap on completely. A little thing on her part that would make such a difference to #5. No offense taken, just rational analysis and a determination to improve. No big deal.

The offended party (#5) knows there are easy solutions to the little irritations of life and relationships, ways to avoid potential problems (especially if you tackle them before they actually become problems) and he was willing to take action then and there. “Or should I just buy my own tube of toothpaste?” he asked. No big deal.

I warned him in advance that I might forget my new resolution and asked for his patience with me as I changed. He told me no problem, when I forgot to put the cap on or didn’t properly attach it, he would attach it VERY tightly when he put it on for me. And that was the end of that.

Both of us know there are a lot bigger issues to worry about in marriage and life than toothpaste tubes and caps; you have to pick your battles, and most aren’t worth the hassle or the fight. (Just “little” things like nurturing love, companionship, friendship, unity, kindness, respect, working together, cooperating, compromising, health, employment, raising children, blending families, serving others, making a difference in the world for the better and a host of other things.) Who really cares about toothpaste?

We also know this: ”You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.” (H.R. Haldeman) There’s no sense crying over spilled milk. “The course of true love never did run smooth.” (Williams Shakespeare) And, “Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.”

You’d Think I’d Be Getting Used To It By Now

“It is best not to swap horses while crossing the river.” (ABRAHAM LINCOLN, reply to National Union League, June 9, 1864)

Given that wise counsel, I didn’t rush to change my name as soon as I remarried. Instead, I remarried and gave myself some time (several weeks!) to adjust to the big change of marrying again before making lots of other changes that typically accompany a life-altering event.

After a long engagement that felt like “living in limbo” in many ways, life was finally moving on–sometimes at the pace of warp speed–or at least that’s what it felt like, to me. Combining households, lives and everything else required official documents in many cases, and some of those changes required the use of my official name. So finally, as a matter of convenience, it was time for that too. Time to change my name.

To be honest, it was a little traumatic. I’ve chronicled some the thoughts and events leading up to that decision; I (still) wondered about its impact on my children; and it wasn’t something I was doing entirely (or even mostly) for me.  In the end, like facing anything uncomfortable or hard or difficult (although compared to that list, it wasn’t TERRIBLY uncomfortable, hard or difficult), it came down to the fact that sometimes you just have to do it: face it, do what must be done, and continue pressing forward. So I left work a little early one day and headed to the Social Security Administration.

I had all the necessary paperwork and required documents. I arrived to find a parking lot full of cars, walked in, the guard took one look at me and announced, “We’re closed.”

I thought he was kidding. It was 4 p.m. on a Thursday! You can’t believe what it had taken for me to get there, to that location, at that time, with everything I needed to make that huge change. It HAD to be a joke. “You’re joking, right?” I asked.

The guard told me he wasn’t kidding, they were closed. When I asked what time they had closed, he told me four o’clock. I said, “Well that’s what time it is now.” He replied, “Nope, it’s now 4:01 p.m. Come back another day!”

I could have screamed. (Not literally.) But I walked away, I confess, just a little bit frustrated. However, that moment, second marriage moment #5, was not lost on me. I’d been through remarriage counseling and had been remarried long enough to see that my first attempt to change my name was simply representative of the entire remarriage experience: it’s not simple or easy. It’s different than marrying the first time. It’s more complicated than you think it’s going to be. Why was I surprised that even changing my name went right along with the rest of the experience?

That’s not to say it’s not worth it. I believe that it is, it’s just not simple or easy all of the time. Pretty much like life. Especially the unexpected one. You’d think I’d be getting used to that by now…

“Issues are never simple. One thing I’m proud of is that very rarely will you hear me simplify the issues.” (Barack Obama)

A Brief Wave of Nausea

“Bob Marley isn’t my name. I don’t even know my name yet.” (Bob Marley)

The screeching halt of shock. Then silence. A brief wave of nausea (but at least I didn’t throw up!) and then I was excited again. I guess that question just caught me off-guard for a moment and I couldn’t help but notice #5′s face change from his initial joy, manifest in a huge smile, to worry and concern (in the brief time it took me to work through my shock and nausea) then back to a smile as I looked up at him and answered his question with a resounding, “YES.”

And honestly, I mostly meant it.

I was simply having a moment of deer-caught-in-headlights. A lot of changes were coming. FAST. In less than one week. And suddenly, I didn’t feel quite as ready or prepared.

I wish I didn’t unintentionally worry about things like that, occasionally, but I’m realizing it’s what I’ve always done when big changes come.

The remedy? All I had to do was think back to the night #5 dumped me and remember how I felt and that I wondered how I was going to live with out him, and I was calm and peaceful about the whole thing again. (Once again, the hard things can be a great help to us in ways we don’t expect!)

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” (Anatole France)


“Do it, dump it or change it.” (Jim Janz)

I couldn’t believe it!

It was SO unexpected.

After all of the time we’d been engaged, after all we had resolved or overcome–even a flat tire in the desert, after everything and despite his complete commitment to us that had never wavered, unexpectedly…one Sunday night, Bachelor #5 broke up with ME.

There’s a part of me that thinks it was for the best. I mean, “Giving up doesn’t always mean you are weak; sometimes it means that you are strong enough to let go.” (Author Unknown)

There was a tiny part of me that was glad some of the frustration had ended. I hoped I could be like Phyllis Diller who said, “My recipe for dealing with…frustration: set the kitchen timer for 20 minutes, cry, rant, rave, and at the sound of the bell, simmer down and go about business as usual.”

Besides, I was tired of knowing that every couple we knew who got engaged the same day we did had already married; every couple we knew who got engaged after we did had already married; and that even couples we knew who met each other after we got engaged were already married. Sometimes I felt that, “If  I hear about one more couple who marries before I do, I’ll scream.”

Well, #5 took care of that. He dumped me. And I wasn’t feeling the urge to scream. I was devastated.

WHAT was he thinking?

“I’ve always been a fella who put most of my eggs in one basket and then take a dump in the basket, but I really don’t know.” (Robert Downey Jr.)

The Look of Love

“When your world is full of strange arrangements
And gravity won’t pull you through
You know you’re missing out on something…
Yes one thing that turns this gray sky to blue
That’s the look, that’s the look, the look of love…
Who’s got the look? I don’t know the answer to that question.
Where’s the look? if I knew I would tell you
What’s the look? look for your information…
That’s the look, that’s the look, the look of love…
That’s the look, that’s the look, Be lucky in love
Look of Love.”
(ABC, “The Look of Love” lyrics, by Martin Fry, David Palmer, Steve Singleton, and Mark White)

I danced to that song in the 80s. And I guess I took “the look” for granted. I assumed everyone looked at their love with “the look of love.” It took my unexpected life to show me that isn’t always the case.

Just prior to my entire world falling apart, I saw the first of the “Twilight” movies and was particularly struck by the way Edward looked at Bella. I don’t know if everyone else noticed it, but I sure did, and it made me feel a little crazy: forty-something woman struck by the way an actor portraying a vampire simply LOOKED at another character in a story geared toward teenage girl fantasies and dreams of love and romance! I didn’t know why I noticed that specific aspect of the fictional relationship and why it had such an impact on me. Until March 18, 2009.

That day my then-husband, Shawn Merriman, sat me down and shattered my world. To anyone just joining us, that was the day he revealed his investment company, Market Street Advisors, was “a sham;” that he had been running a Ponzi scheme for 15 years; that he had already turned himself in to government authorities and anticipated being charged with crimes in the next week and incarcerated within the next 30 days for approximately the next 5-7 years; that all of our assets, money, home, vehicles and possessions had been seized by the government; and that I would be left alone to parent, provide for, and raise our four children.

That was also the day I realized why I found Edward’s intense look at Bella so compelling.

As part of his confession, my then-spouse expressed the guilt and shame he had lived with during the entire course of his Ponzi scheme. He felt so bad about what he had done, and so guilty, he said it became difficult for him to even look at me. “I haven’t looked you in the eye in years,” he revealed.


I argued with that. We had laughed, talked, joked, communicated and discussed things, ate dinner together, prayed together, interacted on a daily basis and lived as a happy, loving couple, married and raising our family for 20 years. He had looked at me all of the time! At least I’d thought he had. It seemed like he had. I was about to learn Shawn Merriman’s biggest deception of all relative to his life of crime.

It wasn’t the lies he’d told day in and day out, as he’d come home from work and report the usual business-related events of the day like all husbands do, conversations he’d had with this person or that client, stocks he had bought or sold. I found out he hadn’t bought or sold any stocks in years.

It wasn’t the fraudulent monthly statements he created and mailed to every investor, including me, each month. I found out he made all of those up.

It wasn’t the hypocrisy he exemplified to our children and the rest of the world, preaching one way of living and secretly choosing to practice another.

It was the way he had looked at me. Or intentionally had not looked at me.

He explained, “No, you only THINK I’ve looked at you. But I haven’t. Not once. I have looked at the tip of your nose every single time I’ve looked at you, and when I do that, you think I’m looking at you and can’t tell I’m not looking at you, but I promise you, I haven’t looked in your eyes in years.”

How long?

Most of our children had been born during the years he hadn’t looked me in the eye. I couldn’t count the number of events we’d shared, the memories we’d made and the daily expressions of love he had uttered to me…all while never looking at me. And I’d never even seen it. I had never known.

How could I not have been able to see that my husband was looking only at the tip of my nose instead of my eyes? How did no one else notice he didn’t look them in the eye either? And actually, how did I never know there were people out there who intentionally didn’t look people in the eye?

In a way, it was a fitting end to a relationship that came to a screeching halt due to crime, betrayal and other wrongs perpetrated by one man.

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.” (Gilda Radner)

With Change Comes…Shrek

“Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.” (Robert C. Gallagher)

Change is inevitable. The new level changed things, like disrupted Bachelor #5′s “schedule.” I saw him just three days later, instead of the usual week between dates. We went for a drive and then to a park to talk. In the middle of our conversation, he looked at me and asked, “By the way, when is your birthday?”

I replied, “August 25th.”

He didn’t respond the way I expected him to. Instead, his eyes got big and he said, “NO WAY! Did you google me or something?”

Did I google him? No! And I hadn’t even thought to. When I asked why he’d asked me such a thing, he replied, “August 25th is my birthday too!” I had known we had a lot in common. I just had no idea how much–even the same birthday! (Although mine was several years later, in case anyone hasn’t been paying attention. Lol.)

Our conversation continued. During the course of the evening, we covered a gamut of topics, including some shallow (I admit it) concerns I expressed. Bachelor #5 responded optimistically to every one of them.

I told him I thought he was too old for me. His response? “Don’t worry about it. You’ll be amazed at how 38 years old I can look with Botox and by covering the gray in my hair.”

I’d been told it is very characteristic for men to date “down” a decade when they’re single, especially after a divorce, and in my experience, that was true much of the time. Men in their 30s, dated women in their 20s. Men in their 40s, dated women in their 30s and so forth. I replied, “Well, if you look 38 years old, then you might want to date someone who is 38 years old–or even younger. You probably ought to consider that.” Bachelor #5 shook his head no and said, “I’ve found the age I want.”

So I brought up height. I told him I thought he was too short for me–that I had some really high heels I loved and wouldn’t be able to wear around him. He said, “How tall are you? I’m taller than you. Wear whatever shoes you want; I’ll be Tom Cruise, you can be Katie Holmes!” And he laughed.

I mentioned some other “issues” as well, but he had an upbeat answer for every one of them. He even told me he appreciated knowing exactly how I felt and exactly what I thought; he said he found it refreshing! (Not many men can say THAT.)

The final “issue” of the evening concerned his piano playing. We had different ideas about it. He thought it was a positive thing; I wasn’t so sure. Piano had always been my thing, I’d never shared it with any man. When I told him that, he looked at me in shock. In his experience, women enjoyed men who could play the piano (and sing), and there I was telling him it was a strike against him! He probably shook his head and thought, “I just can’t win with this woman.” But instead he said, “Never mind then! YOU can have the piano, I won’t play the piano any more. I’ll play the guitar!”

He played the guitar too?

I never knew that.

And in that moment it became clear to me. I was not just dating a grandpa, I was not spending time with simply a reformed Santa (thanks to his shave), and I was not just chatting with a very nice, patient, good man–I was dealing with Shrek! This man had layers. Every single time I was with him, I learned something new about him. And every time I did, it was something I liked. Quite a different experience from the dark and destructive revelations of 2009 that led to my divorce and unexpected life, when everything new thing I discovered was even worse than the revelation before it.

I was dating Shrek! I never expected that.

“Ogres are like onions…Onions have layers. Ogres have layers…You get it?” (“Shrek”)

I was beginning to.