Living Happily Ever After


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A New Year, A New Life

It’s a new year–a time to reflect on the past, learn from it, and also to look forward to the new adventures, opportunities for growth and the many other “unexpected” things life brings. As such, I have reflected lately on many things. (After all, it has been almost five years since I began this blog and nearly six years since I began my unexpected life–a life I’m so busy living that I hardly have time to write about it much less share the lessons I’ve learned from it!) And after all is said and done, one memory stands out in my mind.

It was July 2009. I had just moved to Utah and was getting things settled in my new home. I entered the laundry room, closed the door to sweep behind it and came face to face with a poster left by my home’s previous occupants. (It was so perfect for my situation at that time, I wondered if they knew about me and had intentionally left it for me.) It said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Wisdom from Dr. Seuss.

I couldn’t stop the tears. (They came easily and frequently back then.) And as I stood there sobbing because of everything that had happened, crying because of everything that was over and wondering how I would ever smile again much less smile because anything had happened, I realized that should be my eventual goal and the eventual outcome for everyone living life, unexpected as many of those lives turn out to be.

Reflect on the past, learn from it, and then move forward (with a smile!) choosing to use the experiences that come to become better. Perhaps Jeffrey Holland said it best: “As a new year begins and we try to benefit from a proper view of what has gone before, I plead with you not to dwell on days now gone nor to yearn vainly for yesterdays, however good those yesterdays may have been. The past is to be learned from but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from glowing experiences but not the ashes. And when we have learned what we need to learn and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead and remember that faith is always pointed toward the future. Faith always has to do with blessings and truths and events that will yet be efficacious in our lives.”

Welcome, 2015.

Welcome, unexpected life, whatever it turns out to be.

I’ve learned for myself that every end is also a new beginning. That every life, even the unexpected ones, have the potential for joy and happiness–all it takes is moving forward, carrying on through the difficulties, never quitting, being thankful for what you DO have, and continually striving for happiness and joy no matter what happens.

Life “ain’t over till it’s over.” (Yogi Berra) So hang in there, this year and in every year to come.

And now I end this in the manner of every good story and with what I hope will always be said of me:

She lived happily ever after. (After the hard times, after the difficulties, after everything and even sometimes, despite them! Haha.)





The Speech Continued: ‘L’ is for Laugh

L: Laugh

In my opinion, if you’re going to survive any life, especially an unexpected one, a sense of humor is indispensable! There are certain shades of limelight that can wreck a girl’s complexion…I know! I lived them! National media attention, public speculation, criminal trials, hatred, vengeance, shock and grief and horror and betrayal can all take their terrible toll on your appearance!

Sometimes the only thing you CAN do is to laugh.

“No matter what your heartache may be, laughing helps you forget it for a few sounds.” (Red Skelton)

Studies show:

Laughter combats fear (it changes your perspective), laughter comforts, it’s a healthy reaction to stress (it reduces three stress hormones), it reduces pain (releases endorphins, it boosts the immune system and bodily functions (like exercise, it improves muscle capacity), and it makes you feel good–even if only for a few invaluable seconds.

In life, you can choose to laugh or cry–I choose to laugh!” (Marjorie Hinckley)


The Rest of…the Trip

“That ends this strange eventful history…” (William Shakespeare)

I was in Colorado  less than 48 hours. But I conquered all the major hurdles:

1. I drove the streets of Denver, Aurora and Centennial, Colorado (all the areas of my old stomping ground and life) and I felt great! I didn’t feel homesick, I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong there, I didn’t have an urge to cry…I just felt like I was in a place I knew very well and enjoyed. I felt welcome!

2. I drove to my former home. And I felt…nothing. I didn’t feel homesick, I didn’t feel loss, I didn’t have an urge to cry… I felt nothing but peace.

3. Although I didn’t get a chance to see a majority of the friends I would have loved to have seen, I got to see several people I love and have missed.

4. I even had the privilege of seeing and speaking with a few victims of my former husband. They could not have been kinder or more gracious to me. (There are some really good people in the world!)

5. I realized that I can, and want, to return for a visit again someday. (And I want to bring my children, too!)

And then, all too soon, it was off to the airport again and a quick flight back to Salt Lake City. I arrived home–everything looked the same yet everything was completely different. I went to work the next day–everything looked the same yet EVERYTHING was different.

I was different. I had conquered the last hurdle from my unexpected life. Consider me recovered!  But I’ll refrain from adding “The End” to this story. Because there never is one to…the unexpected life.

“Now 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)

Find Humor in Anything

“You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything, even poverty, you can survive it.” (Bill Cosby)

Step three to surviving anything and living a thankful life: look for the humor in your misery—it will be there.

As Marjorie Hinckley said, “In life, you can choose to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh!”

Me too.

For example, the very night Shawn Merriman destroyed not just my world but our children’s world and we found out everything we’d thought was ours was gone and we’d be moving who-knows-where to rebuild a new life from scratch as the Five Musketeers (me, the mother, and my four children), my oldest son went downstairs and found a live mouse on the floor of his bathroom. (We lived on 3 acres, surrounded by fields; pests from the outside trying to get inside our home were an on and off again battle.)

He came upstairs to report the discovery and how he’d handled it—he’d scooped it up, dropped it in the toilet, and flushed! I brushed aside worries of what something like that does to the plumbing of a home—who knew how much longer we’d be inhabiting our home, anyway—and we looked at each other, laughed and said, “That’s one thing we won’t miss about this house and our life—MICE!” And chose to laugh at the “bright side” of our loss.

I also laughed several weeks later when my daughter gave her soon-to-be-single mother some advice about love and marriage. She told me I needed to get married to a good man so I “wouldn’t be alone forever.” Honestly, at that stage of the nightmare game we’d been forced to participate in, love was the least of my worries.  I told her I wouldn’t marry again because I was an ‘old bag.’ She helpfully said, “Mom! Botox!” No disagreement with my assessment, just a helpful suggestion. I’ll never forget that one. In fact, I’m STILL laughing about it.

Turns out, we survived. And Bill Cosby was right: “Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.” (Bill Cosby)

Keep laughing.

New Friends: The Same Question

In my unexpected life, even three and a half years later, I meet new friends all the time. Some I become acquainted with in person, a surprising number of them contact me (sometimes anonymously) in the throes of their unexpected difficulties; reaching out to someone, anyone, who might have even a slight empathy or understanding of what they’re facing in the immediate future. A cry for help.

I cried in 2009 too. I remember how alone and scared I was, especially when I was thrust into mu unexpected life. How I wished for someone, anyone, who had been through something similar to what I faced that I could share my questions and concerns with. I always make sure I respond to each new email friend because of that because if ANYTHING I’ve experienced and learned as a result can help someone else, I am happy to share!

A few contacts I’ve received may have been frauds but most, I believe, are real people facing really unexpected and really hard thing in their lives. They’re terrified. But ALL have asked the same question:

How did you do it? How did you survive it?

And my answer is always the same.

To lay down and die, quit, give up, fall off the deep end or any other similar reaction was NOT a choice for me—personally, or for my family situation. That isn’t the way I was raised; that isn’t what I believe the correct response to tragedy or hardship is; and I was a mother with children who deserved a life, and to live (they had their whole lives ahead of them) so I had to make sure they got to live their futures despite the bummer it was that we hit a nightmare of a rough patch in 2009!

In addition to all of the above, fairy tale fan that I always have been, I couldn’t stand the thought of anything but a “happily ever after,” for me, my children or any other life.

As difficult as it may be, you can’t quit or give up when hard things happen. You have to carry on AND LIVE; seek a “happily ever after” no matter the antagonist to your personal story.

After all, “If you can see the magic in a fairy tale, you can face the future.” (Danielle Steele)


Such a Sappy Mom

“I’m a sappy mom now. I didn’t think I would be. I thought I’d be a cool mom who keeps everything in perspective.” (Katherine Heigl)

Not me! I’m such a sappy mom I had to step away from this blog for almost 3 months to get some perspective! And even when I did return, I couldn’t blog about the reason for my absence the first few posts. What  in the world happened? My oldest left home.

For real.

Yah, sure, he went “away” to college last year (as in lived in the dorms of Brigham Young University so he could have the complete college experience) but I live 20 minutes away and could drive by his dorm and look at the window of the room he lived in whenever I wanted, talk to him on the phone, text, help with his laundry, see and feed him once each week at Sunday dinner and ask him for help when I needed him. All of which I did.

But no more. And now that the Band-Aid of his departure has been ripped off what seemed like emotional millimeter after emotional millimeter, and my heart has had 3 months to heal, I’m ready to talk about it. Or at least explain why I haven’t been around: my son, Elder Merriman, is serving a two-year Christian mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And although his missionary service is something I believe in and raised him to do, it didn’t make it any easier for this sappy mother to let him go.

I cried every time I even thought about him leaving. Even the day before he left when we were packing up his bedroom and had one of our infamous and impromptu dance parties, I broke with tradition and bawled while busting my finest moves, the memory of which had to last two years. My missionary son said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Don’t EVEN tell  me you’re crying again!” But I was.

Thankfully, I’ve got the sap under control these days. Now I live for Wednesdays, the one day each week when Elder Merriman is able to take time out of his busy missionary labors to contact home and let us know what he’s been up to during his current assignment in the Canary Islands. Every week’s report is filled with a new adventure, fun fact of information I didn’t know before, or a growing experience; I’m so grateful he is where he is, doing what he is doing. (I just don’t think about the fact that last time I saw him in person was June 20, 2012 and the next time I’ll see him, in person, will be some time in June 2014! I don’t need THAT MUCH reality or perspective! Lol.)

What a privilege has been mine to to be a mother. What a joy that son, now Elder Merriman, has been every day of his life. (Despite a few moments isolated moments in 7th grade during his long hair and “skater” phase where his, or my, behavior may have given the illusion of something to the contrary! Lol.)

Love your kids.

And if you have a child, and if you have the good fortune to see them in person or to be with them today, give them a hug. From you, their mother…and from me.

“Son, you outgrew my lap, but never my heart.” (Unknown)








“Whenever a thing is done for the first time, it releases a little demon.” (Emily Dickinson)


I’m living a lot of them lately.

My first child, my oldest son, “moved out” (just a few miles away) last weekend to attend Brigham Young University. He went to his first day of classes yesterday, called me as soon as the first one was over and said, “THIS IS GOING TO BE AWESOME!” (That was a first, too; to have him so excited about…school. He was my child who returned home from his first day of kindergarten to announce he didn’t need to go back, he’d learned everything there possibly was to learn that day!)

My middle son is playing his first football game of the season tonight. (Go, Timpanogos!)

My last child started a new daycare last week and begins kindergarten today. He is excited to go to school for the first time despite his oldest brother’s warning that said youngest brother’s life “is about to end.” (That’s how the oldest brother viewed school:)

As for the mother, I’m counting my blessings that I treasured every moment of childhood and motherhood since it all began over 18 years ago; and I’m trying hard not to cry too much too often (although I’m sure my boys would say I’m failing miserably at that one!) as I release my beloved “demons” to experience some firsts of their own.

Exciting times.

“Whenever I held my newborn baby in my arms, I used to think that what I said and did to him could have an influence not only on him but on all whom he met, not only for a day or a month or a year, but for all eternity – a very challenging and exciting thought for a mother.” (Rose Kennedy)


“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.

A Warning

“I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.” (Benjamin Franklin)

When I was a girl, I remember my dad telling me many times, “We’ve never been parents before. Please forgive us for any mistakes we may have made. Believe us when we say that every mistake has been made out of love.”

Then I grew up and became a mother. Believe me, I’ve shared that sentiment with my own children, many times, over the years, as well.

And THEN I became a stepmother. Or as some would say, “Better a serpent than a stepmother!” (Euripides) Completely new unchartered territory.

Despite their “fairy tale portrayals,” let me set the record straight. Stepmothers actually are human beings. They’re women. They’re mothers. They’re imperfect, like everyone else. Odds are, they’re bound to continue to make parenting mistakes. Even with stepchildren. Especially if they’re me.

I made my first one before I even married my husband. I apologized, my future stepson forgave me, and I realized something would be very handy in the remarriage/blending a family situation: a disclaimer.

Yes, I think parents, especially stepmothers, should come with a warning to the children they love and will parent. Something like, “Please forgive me. I’ve never been a parent before. I’m bound to make mistakes, but every mistake I make will be out of love as I seek to do what is best for you to prepare you for life.”

And along with the disclaimer, a guarantee: “I promise I won’t quit, I won’t let myself fail you, but I may find several ways to do it wrong in my quest to get it right.”

Maybe even 100 ways.

Consider yourself warned.

“One timely cry of warning can save nine of surprise.” (Joshua Thompson)

The New Feel of Darkness

“I wondered vaguely if this was when it would end, whether I would pull up tonight’s darkness like a quilt and be dead and at peace evermore.” (William Manchester)

When I was thrust into my unexpected life two years ago, it felt dark and very overwhelming. I confess, I probably had a moment or two where I could absolutely relate to William Manchester. Several nights I went outside in the backyard of my Colorado home to be alone, mourn my losses, cry, pray, and to try to figure out a plan: as in, how was I going to feed and shelter four children? By myself? And how was I going to not just start over, but start over “from a hole?”

Although, “There’s nothing like a nighttime stroll to give you ideas,” (Mad-Eye Moody, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2000), I was short on ideas and options back then! But at least I knew, “When the darkness comes, keep an eye on the light…no matter how far away it seems.” (Jan Berry) I’d been raised to believe in and have faith that “For every dark night, there’s a brighter day.” (Tupac Shakur) And it’s true. I know it now, just as I knew it then, as hard as it was to always believe it.

So I didn’t succumb to the night’s darkness. Despite the black hole that was my new world, I didn’t quit. I may have ended every day in tears by crying myself into a fitful sleep (what little I slept), and I woke up and cried when I opened my eyes to my new reality and realized it wasn’t a bad dream but my new life (THAT is something–when your reality is worse than a nightmare! LOL), but I carried on as best I could.

Last night, I was out in the backyard of my Utah home. It was late, close to 11 p.m., but I wasn’t alone or mourning anything; I was planting a garden with #5!

With our busy work and family schedules, that was the time we had available to do it–so I kept the dirt moist with water and held the camping lantern so we could see, and #5 dug the holes, placed the plants in the earth, and covered them with soil. We talked, laughed, worked side by side and enjoyed one another. And when we finished, #5 went to put the tools and equipment away. I was left, alone, in the late night blackness of a summer night.

It has been awhile since I’ve thought about the dark summer nights alone in my Colorado yard, but brief memories of that time came unbidden. I indulged in them for just a moment, wondering if I’ll ever experience dark summer nights alone without remembering that traumatic time in 2009 but also marveling at the difference time, and light, can make.

“I guess darkness serves a purpose: to show us that there is redemption through chaos. I believe in that.” (Brendan Fraser) So do I. Because I’m living proof. Out of darkness and chaos came redemption…in the form of a very unexpected life. Time and again I’ve seen it happen—in this century, in previous ones, to every person, everywhere, regardless of the challenge or struggle.

There is ALWAYS light, and life, at the end of the tunnel, your tunnel, whatever that challenge may be.

That’s life. And since that’s life, while we’re here, we ought to experience it and remember that, ”Only the person who has experienced light and darkness, war and peace, rise and fall, only that person has truly experienced life.” (Stefan Zweig)

And if you’ve never planted a garden late at night by the light of a lantern, I recommend you experience that too.

“See you in the darkness.” (Gary Gilmore)