Living Happily Ever After


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The Greatest Bit of Wisdom

“To help my muscles rebuild after I work out, I have a small serving of cottage cheese.” (Brooke Burns)

Cottage cheese. Great for rebuilding muscles after strenuous physical activity, but what do you utilize when your task is to rebuild a life after the one you’ve always lived (and quite enjoyed) is destroyed?

Some choose to utilize the “Q” word—quit. But I say: have the courage to take stock of what you’re left with. No matter your loss, you’re still going to be left with SOMETHING. So choose to be grateful for what you’re left with, no matter how insignificant it looks at the time, and use it, whatever it is, to rebuild a new life. One you can find happiness and absolute joy through…if you choose to.

Remember, “Luck exists in the leftovers.” (Japanese proverb) And thanks to Mr. Hannah, my amazing 4th grade teacher, I know what luck is: preparation meets opportunity. You can make your own “luck” out of the “leftovers” you’re left with. With preparation (the life you’ve lived, everything you’ve learned and know, the talents you’ve been blessed with, a LOT of hard work and endurance) and opportunity (the unexpected life you’ve been handed) you CAN create a happily ever after. One you never EVER would have imagined for yourself, one you may not have chosen if given the chance, for sure one you never saw coming, but if you’re “lucky,” you’ll realize you’ve one day arrived at.

The unexpected life.

And my guess is…at that point…you wouldn’t choose to have it any other way.

“What we call the secret of happiness is no more a secret than our willingness to choose life.” (Leo Buscaglia)

The Key To Everything

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

Recently, my youngest found a bird nest with an egg in it. I love birds, nests and imagining the possibilities in an unhatched egg and looked forward to checking the egg’s progress (from a distance) in the coming days—watching for a baby bird to hatch—with my son. I explained the plan and reminded him to leave the nest and egg alone so that nature could continue its course. He provided nest-and-egg updates for the next several hours until an “accident” occurred: the nest, and the shattered remains of what had once been an egg, lay on our front porch. My son attempted to blame the tragedy on a “strange bird that appeared out of the sky and then mysteriously disappeared” (coincidentally, never to be seen or heard from again after moving the nest and cracking the egg open) but the real culprit was my impatient six year old!

Impatience. Patience. The potential threat as well as the key to the success of an unexpected life. I remember thinking, when thrust into my unexpected life of extreme losses in every category, how is this all going to work out? How will any of this ever be made right? How will it be possible to ever be happy again? And the question of timing—when, how soon, how long will it take—was an even bigger unknown. Yet none of those questions are answered, or ever can be, without the important quality of patience because, “…all things are difficult before they become easy.” (Saadi)

It takes patience to master the difficult before it becomes easy. But with enough patience, every challenge can become a triumph, every time. Patience is the key: the key to endurance, the key to success, the key to triumph, the key to happiness. The key to everything? Patience. In fact, patience is genius.

Yes, “Genius is eternal patience.” (Michelangelo)

He ought to know.

Dandelion Death

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” (Charles Darwin)

While doing yard work and weeding a few weeks ago, my middle son surprised me with a bouquet of dandelions. I was thrilled, delighted and quickly rushed to put them in water to preserve them for as long as possible. For that day, they sat in a vase on my kitchen windowsill. Soft, puffy, cushions of yellow sunshine. The next day they were dead.

I confess, I was a little surprised. It has always seemed to me that dandelions, creeping into grass, springing up unbidden, are hardy plants. And although I’m not a weed, flower or gardening expert by any means (as evidenced by the many plants and flowers I’ve managed to kill), I think there’s a life lesson somewhere in their short life span.

From my perspective, dandelions have it pretty easy. They bloom into being uninvited and there they stay. Cheery, yellow, WEEDY; rain or shine. They don’t need water, they don’t need fertilizer and it seems like lawn mowers even have difficulty making an impact on them! It’s an easy life, as long as they remain in their expected and “natural” habitat—outside. But pluck a few, put them in a vase full of water, and they’re dead by nightfall (or at the very latest, the next morning.) I expected them to last at least as long as flowers do in a vase of water!

With such an easy existence, dandelions haven’t had to learn to be hardy, to adapt to change or to challenge. They don’t appear to have ever had to “hang on” when times get tough. They haven’t had to develop roots. Hand them an unexpected new life—indoors, in a vase of water—and they wither and die faster than anything I’ve seen.

Makes you grateful for the unexpected life, YOUR unexpected life of growth opportunities, doesn’t it? Because it’s through our trials that we become stronger. Our challenges strengthen us (if we let them) and by triumphing over them, we become stronger. Better. More than we would otherwise have been. Draught, hardship, the unexpected life…cause us to develop roots and to sink those roots deep to survive. The character-conditioning program called life, especially the unexpected one, makes us more than we ever could have become on our own. And in the end, we master not just surviving new circumstances or new challenges, but blooming wherever we’re planted.

We can find happiness and joy in whatever garden, or yard, or patch of dirt, or pile of manure we’ve had the good fortune (or misfortune!) to land in. Life is good regardless of where life transplants you to. Sink your roots into the soil of your unexpected life, look for the beauties of it, count your blessings and strive not just to survive but to bloom.

“I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and you laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” (Clarissa Pinkola Estes)


“When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.” (Barbara Bush)

In conjunction with my Las Vegas business trip, I was asked to speak at our corporate event there regarding the philanthropic effort of our company (one of the areas I manage.)

Service is something I’ve always been passionate about, particularly since there were moments upon entering my unexpected life I wasn’t sure how my children and I would have survived without a little help from our friends (and even some strangers) who delivered food to us, made meals for us, gave us cash, sent gift cards, left a thoughtful treats on the porch, wrote notes of encouragement, smiled at us (when it felt like nobody was), made my first Mother’s Day post-Ponzi scheme not just bearable but beautiful and joyful, tended my children while I attended to the details of wrapping up a life…I can’t even list all the ways we were blessed by (and continue to be blessed) by service from others!

For that and many reasons, I was happy to do it and was grateful for the opportunity to talk about making a difference in the world. I am certainly the grateful beneficiary of so many people who have had an influence for good in my life.

I was thankful to do it, that is, until they announced my name, I walked out into the glare of the lights, on stage…and faced over 4,000 people! That’s a pretty big crowd. I don’t think I’d ever spoken to more than a crowd of 1,200 or so people prior to that in my life! Whew! In moments like that, it’s nice to have a monitor prompting you (reminding you) what you had planned to say before your mind went blank at the sight of so many people.

However, despite the emptiness of thought I temporarily experienced, I did have the presence of mind to think this, like I have so many times: “If someone had told me in 2009 that THIS was an experience that would be coming to me just a few years later and courtesy of my unexpected life, I’d never have believed them! Like the Ponzi scheme my former husband perpetrated, I never saw it coming.”

There is a LOT of good in my new life. SO MUCH happiness and joy. So many unexpected opportunities I’d never have had. Tender mercies I’d never have known. Things I may never have learned and certainly things I’d never have known I was capable of surviving, much less doing and accomplishing. I realized something:

I’m grateful for the detours.

“…Believe in your destiny; that you will succeed, you will meet a lot of rejection and it is not always a straight path, there will be detours – so enjoy the view.” (Michael York)

It’s a pretty nice view in the unexpected life. How’s yours?

Over And Over And Over Again

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” (Michael Jordan)

I love this quote. I’ve raised my kids on it. It’s a reality in my life, as well as Michael Jordan’s. Because every life, especially the unexpected one, is comprised of more than its fair share of misses, losses and failures.

We each fail, in one way or another, over and over and over again in our lives; all of our lives.

So what do you do?

I think it’s what you choose to do with all of that failure that counts.

When we choose to keep rising from the ashes of failure and defeat, devastation and destruction, grief and pain and loss, THAT is success. And that “one more try, one last time” is very often the moment when success (finally!) comes.

And when we learn to find happiness and joy amidst it all, failure or success, THAT is when we have it made!

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” (Winston Churchill)

Even On July 13

“If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.” (Edgar Allan Poe)

Two years ago today, July 13, 2009, I thought my world had ended.

As I drove from Colorado to begin a new life in Utah (crying as discreetly as possible so my children wouldn’t realize tears were uncontrollably rolling down my cheeks), I could not comprehend ever healing or feeling whole again. I anticipated that date, July 13, would be burned in my memory forever and would always haunt me, as a day of personal infamy, never to be forgotten.

Cut to 2011.

A few days ago I realized (only because my middle child reminded me) that July 13 was approaching. I marveled at the healing that has taken place in just two years. I can’t believe all that has transpired in my life and in the lives of my children since 2009. We’re living a completely different, yet still unexpected, life. And honestly, this isn’t a painful date any more.

But I decided I needed to at least attempt to give it the respect I had once thought it deserved, to remember it and to mark the occasion by doing SOMETHING, so I made a plan to dispose of the dead hanging basket of flowers previously mentioned today—July 13.

This morning I got up, went to work, had a lunch meeting, worked all day, came home, did some work from home, enjoyed my children, made dinner, ate dinner with my family, sent #5 off to rehearsal for Sundance Resort’s summer theater production of “The Sound of Music,” and on my way back into the house happened to notice the basket of dead flowers hanging on the front porch. It brought me to a screeching halt. July 13!

Today was once THE day! I was supposed to have remembered it, wasn’t I? I had a plan to carry out! And here it was, almost 6 p.m., before I even remembered today. Just two years from the day I thought my world had ended, and already, I have completely forgotten July 13!

But never let it be said I don’t follow through with my plans. I asked my oldest son to throw the basket in the outside trashcan, he grabbed it and went to toss it out, and I turned around and went back into the house without a second glance or another thought.

How did it happen? How is it possible to have suffered such tremendous loss, to have endured such devastation and grief, only to forget such a landmark date just two years later?

I think it’s one bonus of not just living the unexpected life, but choosing to embrace your unexpected life.

Accept what you’ve been dealt. Take stock of what you’re left with. Use it to rebuild. Count your blessings. Laugh. Choose to find happiness and joy in your new realm. And guess what? You will. Each and every time. If it happened to me, it can happen to you. I know it. And then at some point, you realize the pain is gone. If you hang on long enough, choose to let go of it and focus on your new blessings, at some point, the pain is gone.

“My focus is to forget the pain of life. Forget the pain, mock the pain, reduce it. And laugh.” (Jim Carrey)

Even on July 13.

A News Story

It’s official.

Another opportunity for me and my children to share some of what we have experienced and learned in our unexpected life.

Jennifer Stagg, a news personality on NBC affiliate Channel 5, in Salt Lake City, Utah, did a story on our family which aired last week.

Here is the link to see the news story, if you’re interested:

What I noticed most about this opportunity was the continued healing that has taken place in myself and my children, especially my middle son. He was just 9 years old when his world shattered; too young to understand a lot of what was taking place and to understand why it was happening. However, last week’s interview reminded me that a lot of growing up takes place from 9 years old to 11 years old!

Although this particular child didn’t want to participate in the interview, he agreed to stay in the yard and play while it was taking place. And then, unexpectedly, before the filming wrapped, he came in the house and hung around the film crew. I asked, “Is there something you want to say?”  He replied, “Yes.”

So Jennifer sat down and asked him some questions, including things about his old life, things about his new life, what he had learned and how he felt about it all.

As for what he missed about his old life? The fields behind our Colorado home that he played and rode his dirt bike in–and his friends. “If you have friends and family, that’s all you really need to be happy though,” he explained. “And I’m happy in my new life. My new life is just as good.”

“Really? What do you like about your new life?” asked Jenn.

“That I have a stepdad who is really nice, nice to me, who really likes me and who I really like.” (Too bad #5 was out of town on a business trip and didn’t get to hear that, huh? I shared it with him when he got home!)

He concluded by offering his wisdom: hard things happen, you just have to carry on.

Count his emotional well-being and healthy outlook and happiness in life as yet another miracle we’ve been blessed with, thanks to the triumph of living…the unexpected life.

“We are all broken and wounded in this world. Some choose to grow strong at the broken places.” (Harold J. Duarte-Bernhardt)

He sure has.

If They Could Read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THAT is life.

Every single one.

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

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

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

In fact, we made it, thanks to you.

We’re going to live happily ever after.

The End.

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

Happiness Again

“If suffering brought wisdom, the dentist’s office would be full of luminous ideas.” (Mason Cooley)

My dad was a dentist when I was born.

One of my earliest memories is getting my teeth checked at his office when I couldn’t have been more than three years old: an all-inclusive service he was happy to provide me, complete with the old-fashioned flouride treatment—giant metal trays filled with the most vile tasting goo he insisted would make my teeth better, but the whole time I stared, big eyed, at an alarm clock and watched the seconds S-L-O-W-L-Y tick by as I tried not to throw up yet breathe.

Oh, I love the dentist.

I love the dentist so much I’d rather have a C-section than my teeth cleaned.

Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with good teeth (probably a result of the great dental care I received from birth!) so I haven’t had the opportunity to develop too much wisdom courtesy of my teeth.  I’ve never even had a toothache, that I can recall. I know, I’m lucky.

My middle son, however, is not.

He was struck by terrible tooth pain tonight and is miserable. We called our dentist who is meeting us at his office first thing in the morning to see what he can do to help. And of course, in the morning the rest of the 5th grade will be departing on a special, talked about, hyped-for-months, overnight camping trip. My son, of all my children, gets so excited about things like that. He has been looking forward to participating, and has been writing in his journal about it, for months. He is packed and ready to go have fun with friends, but instead may be sidelined by a toothache and dental work.

Very unexpected.

But life is like that.

I’ve learned, and I’m trying to teach my son, that you’ve got to roll with the unexpected adventures life throws your way, grit your teeth if necessary, endure the pain until it lessens (or you get accustomed to it—your new unexpected  life), and seek the relief that comes as you eventually overcome your challenge. Even if it’s “just” a toothache. And if you do all of that, in time, you’ll find happiness again.

“Happiness is your dentist telling you it won’t hurt and then having him catch his hand in the drill.”  (Johnny Carson)

Manner of Travel

“Driving a brand new car feels like driving around in an open billfold with the dollars flapping by your ears as they fly out the window.” (Grey Livingston)

Not that I know a heck of a lot about driving a brand new car these days. However, when in one moment you discover all of your possessions (including your money, your home and your automobiles) have been seized by the government, and you’re visualizing being left alone as a single mother to raise your four children in a cardboard box on the street, you’re grateful for ANY vehicle to drive, regardless of how used it is.

At least, that’s how I felt and what I was telling myself the day the passenger window of our little, used, red car unrolled itself for no reason as we drove down the street—and unfortunately, wouldn’t roll itself up again. We tried everything we could think of to “fix” it, but to no avail. We consulted a car dealer who estimated it would cost between $200-$300 to fix. So we taped up the gaping hole with garbage bags and hockey tape (no duct tape for the Merrimans, we’re a hockey family!) and drove the car as it was while my children and I contemplated what we were going to sacrifice to be able to afford to fix the window.

It was a chilly, unforgettable experience that resulted in having to keep a close eye on Utah weather, to ensure our little car was in the garage when it rained, or snowed.

“…that’s the wonderful thing about family travel:  it provides you with experiences that will remain locked forever in the scar tissue of your mind.” (Dave Barry)

As the temperature dropped and the precipitation increased, and as I experienced the unforgettable memories that come with driving a car in the winter with no window, buried under blankets and blasting the heat in an attempt to stay somewhat comfortable as I drove around town…I had to shake my head and laugh at another unexpected adventure that was now mine! How far I’ve come from my previous life! (It was a chilly reminder of some not so subtle differences between my old life and now.)

And then, safety reasons aside, it simply got too cold. There was no other choice; we had to fix the window. And as in more times than I can count since moving into the cul-de-sac with the greatest neighbors in the history of Utah and the world, once again, a neighbor came to my rescue.

One neighbor noticed the “garbage bag window” and suggested we have her husband look at it. Her husband followed up on her offer before I could even call him. He recommended a repair place, we dropped the car off, and when my son went to pick it up, the repair shop wouldn’t let us pay for it because my neighbor had taken care of it. I called my neighbor, asked how much I owed him, and he wouldn’t let me pay him. When I tried to argue against that, he hung up on me. (Just kidding. He said the call dropped for no apparent reason.) But the bottom line was, my neighbor took care of our car problem for us. (Not for the first time, I might add.)

Scar tissue. It comes with the territory of an unexpected life. But the above is an example of the kind of “scar tissue” I’m experiencing. The kind that covers everything. And heals.

Thanks to our neighbors, we’re traveling in style (with all windows in the car) again. And we couldn’t be happier.

“Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling.” (Margaret B. Runbeck)

Isn’t that the truth?

And many thanks, again, to all those who exemplify traveling in such style and who help us make happiness our manner of traveling, as well.