Living Happily Ever After


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The Speech Continued: ‘H’ is for Hang On

H: Hang On.

Don’t walk off into the sunset, disappear into the horizon and drop off the face of the earth as much as you may want to! Don’t lay down and die (like I really wanted to!)

“The best way to guarantee a loss is to quit.” (Morgan Freeman)

So hang on!

The reality is: if you hang on long enough and hang in there strong enough, eventually you’ll see light again. And when the dust settles, it USUALLY doesn’t end up QUITE as bad as you initially think it will. For example, I seriously believed at worst case scenario, I was innocent but would be sent to prison anyway; and at best case, I would be homeless–living in a cardboard box somewhere under a bridge. (It was me and my four kids, so I was envisioning a refrigerator-sized box!) The reality? Yes, I lost my life, my home, my husband, my intact family, many friends, my reputation, every material possession of value (including my wedding ring and most of the gifts my husband had ever given me); yes, I had to go to work and will have to work until the day I die; yes, I WILL be living paycheck to paycheck the rest of my life…but there IS a paycheck, there IS a roof over my head and there IS food for my children. We’re ok!

You CAN do it.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror, I can take the next thing that comes along!’ You MUST do the thing you THINK you cannot do.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Embrace your horror! Really, what else is there to do?

Own your story, whatever it is, and I promise you, someday you’ll be living with happiness and joy. Again.

Sitting (or Standing, as the Case May Be!) Happy

“But I learned that there’s a certain character that can be built from embarrassing yourself endlessly. If you can sit happy with embarrassment, there’s not much else that can really get to ya.” (Christian Bale)

What happened next is kind of…perfect; completely fitting for a first return to the state I’d left four years ago in total shock, grief, fear (even though I tried my best not to fear) and yes, complete humiliation.

First stop after DIA was to a restaurant for dinner.

As we drove, I was surprised to feel so calm and normal. I must have expected to feel the last feelings I’d had in Colorado (shock, grief, devastation, horror) or even worse, at this stage of life, to feel homesick for the city, state and life I’d loved so much (knowing that chapter of my life has closed and a permanent return to Colorado will never be a possibility) or worst of all, to feel like I didn’t belong there any more. I mean, Colorado had been my home since 1974. I was terrified to feel out of place there because if I didn’t feel I belonged in my home state, where would I EVER belong?

We had a nice dinner and at the end of dinner, I stood up to leave and instantly felt a freezing cold blast across my…nether-regions, looked down to determine why I suddenly felt so cold, only to see my maxi skirt puddled on the floor!

There I stood in a restaurant, on a Friday night, wearing–from the waist down– only my underclothing! I quickly bent down, pulled my skirt on again, and exited the restaurant!

Believe it or not, I could not stop laughing.

Leave it to my unexpected life to come full circle in the most unexpected of ways: depart in embarrassment, humiliation and mortification and  the VERY FIRST THING that happens to me upon my return most would consider embarrassing. (Except, I realized, me. As I’ve said before, it’s pretty difficult to be too embarrassed about anything given the “embarrassment”–revelation of crime, loss of everything, demise of family, divorce, and all of it played out on a very public stage– I’ve lived through! Haha)

Consider me filled with character. And sitting happy with it all. In my unexpected life.

Who EVER could have imagined that?

Not even optimistic, filled-with-hope, determined-to-create-and-live-a-happily-ever-after, little old me!

If a Tree Dies

Sometimes, I confess, I’m struck by how different my new life (aka. the unexpected one) is from my old one. The losses have been substantial in every category. But, three years into it, so are the gains. I’ve seen over and over again that in any loss, despite your losses, you’re still left with SOMETHING; and you can use whatever you’re left with to rebuild.

Yes, old dreams die. Yet I’ve learned for myself it is possible to resurrect new dreams from the ashes of the old. So if the rug of your proverbial life has been ripped out from under you, unroll a new one in its place. Carry on. Look for the good. And eventually, you’ll find it. It’s never too late to begin again, to rise, to live.

“If a tree dies, plant another in its place.” (Carolas Linnaeus) And with enough faith, hope, hard work and endurance it will take root.

Celebration of Life

One day I found the book, “The Barber’s Shop,” by K. Douglas Bassett (published by Cedar Fort books in 2005) on my nightstand.

In the book the author shared an experience he had getting his hair trimmed by an elderly Utah barber when he was a young married man and father. He shared something special that happened with every hair cut—and it had nothing to do with cutting hair.

“As this old gentlemen trimmed our hair, he would sing the songs of his youth. Occasionally as he would sing, he would weep ever so slightly and sometimes even chuckle but never enough to interrupt his singing. As he sang I thought: ‘When I grow old, I want to feel as deeply about my life as he does about his. I don’t ever want to forget the events that have touched and shaped me. But most of all, I always want to feel a passion toward life that supplies the very kind of depth that gives joy and hope, even admidst adversity and pain.’ I didn’t want to devalue my life with the passing of time by forgetting the intensity of life’s moments. My old barber friend had felt the pain and tragedies of life, which accompany anyone who has lived a long time. Yet, his was not the expression of regret or remorse…but a celebration of life.”

Feel deeply.

Remember the events that shape you.

And celebrate all of it.

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” Oprah Winfrey

Garden Report 2011

Neighbors have begun sharing the bounty from their gardens. My co-workers are bringing their home-grown produce for lunch. Looks like it’s time for a report on my attempt at gardening this year. (Note the foreshadowing.)

Of the four almost two-year-old fruit trees I began the growing season with…two were chopped down by my youngest and his friend wielding toy swords. The third tree, loaded with approximately 30 little apples when I left on vacation earlier in the summer, was stripped bare 10 days later when I arrived home. (No sign or trace anywhere that there had once been the hope of fruit. I don’t know if little neighbor boys, birds or some other force of nature deserve the credit!) The fourth tree currently has 5 small nectarines clinging to two of its delicate branches; my husband is considering offering our youngest a cash reward if the fruit is allowed to remain there until it ripens!

The surviving peony bush (one of three hauled to Utah in orange Home Depot buckets from my Colorado yard in 2009 and transplanted in my Utah yard shortly after my arrival) still hasn’t bloomed. It has now been two years. I cut it some slack last year, wondering if perhaps it was still in shock at the upheaval and turmoil it had endured (I could SO relate!), but no fluffy pink flowers yet.

Of the flowers purchased by me and my husband at a local nursery earlier this year, the hanging basket (as I reported earlier) died within weeks; the rest were planted in three different pots and placed on the front porch. One pot died within a month, one is half dead, and the last bunch, though struggling terribly, is still hanging on.

Our pumpkin plants grew huge, beautiful leaves and approximately 75 blossoms (more blossoms than I’ve ever seen on anything.) The bounteous green vines are mounding and spreading…yielding, so far, two small light orange pumpkins and one tiny green one!

The zuchini starts we planted never did anything—in fact, they look about the same as when we bought them. The 8 tomato plants are all still alive, although two never blossomed or grew anything, one we harvested 4 small tomatoes from and the rest appear to be loaded with green tomatoes. Of the 6-7 lettuce plants, we made salad out of 3 of them before the rest died.

You know, life is like a garden. Some years, the growing conditions are easy-breezy; other years are more challenging. Some years plants thrive. Some years, not much appears to survive. The point is to keep watering and weeding, acknowledge every bit of growth or progress and to never quit planting. Always make the best of the plot you’re blessed with.

“I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.” (Abraham Lincoln)


“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.

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.”

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!

Do You Think It Might Be The Wedding Ring?

“By persistently remaining single, a man converts himself into a permanent public temptation.” (Oscar Wilde)I’m thinking it might be an attractive combination. Single man, fit, hair long enough to make him look like a liberal college professor…and the women are beginning to like it! The other day #5 came home to tell me how nice women have been to him, especially lately, and that he thinks it might be the longer hair.

I asked, “Do you think it might be the wedding ring?”

He explained, “No, it was starting to happen a little before that, I think it must be the hair!”

Thank goodness he is married again, I guess, so he won’t be SUCH a temptation. He’s off the market, as am I. I have exited the single phase of life. For the second time. I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go. It was devastating to become single after 20 years of marriage and to re-enter the singles scene in my 40s, following an unexpected divorce and the trauma of a VERY unexpected life; the single life sure took some getting used to. In fact, I couldn’t imagine ever getting used to it. But I did.

In the beginning, I remember feeling so humiliated. I seriously thought everyone could tell, just by looking at me, what a loser (ie. single, a.k.a. divorced) woman I was. I was sure everyone thought I had terrible judgement, lacked intelligence, was impossible to live with or did any myriad of negative things that made someone not want to be with me and that caused my divorce.

Divorce was so contrary to anything I’d ever imagined for myself, I could hardly imagine, truly, ever being satisfied with myself and my status, but eventually I was. I wasn’t humiliated. I didn’t feel like a loser. I was just me. Andrea Merriman. Divorced single mother of four. I wasn’t embarrassed by the word “divorce” or to say it. It was my unexpected new “normal.”

Then I remarried.

And believe it or not, THAT has taken some getting used to. Again! For #5 and for me.

I’m calling them…second marriage moments. And the first one hit on the drive home from the honeymoon. Lets just say MOST of them have made me laugh:)

“Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.”

You Can Call Me

“It’s strange but true. Fat chance and slim chance mean the same thing.”

When my unexpected life began, and in the real world, there were probably many (myself included, on occasion) that believed the reality of a wonderful life ever working out for me again was a slim chance or a fat one. However, the beauty of an unexpected life is that it does work out. With enough faith, hope, hard work, optimism, endurance and some miracles, in fact, it always does. Every time.

Another highlight of my engagement, for me, took place shortly after the driveway conversation with my youngest and the neighbor boy. One day I received the following email from #5:  ”Hey, Just wanted to let you know that last night in the car Jake asked if he could call me Dad. I told him he could call me anything he wanted–Dad, Fatty, Mike…Later he called me Mike, but at least he knows that it will be ok.”

Things were changing in our unexpected life; they were definitely looking up. Mr. Awesome was proving himself truly awesome time and again, but there were still a few unusual conversations ahead. Especially those that involved a four-year-old.

“The difficulty with this conversation is that it’s very different from most of the ones I’ve had of late. Which, as I explained, have mostly been with trees.” (Douglas Adams)