Living Happily Ever After


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Of Victory, Defeat…and Birthdays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taste it.



One Grand Sweet Song

“Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music.” (Ronald Reagan)

Last month my husband took me to see Olivia Newton John in concert. Even if I hadn’t loved her music or aspired to be her during my childhood and teenage years (yes, I had the white dress from Xanadu and wore my hair like hers!) that concert was a trip down the memory lane of my childhood and life.

It was also there that something very unexpected happened—and I’m not talking about the Olivia enthusiast next to me who didn’t sit down once during the entire performance, who had what appeared to be choreographed danced routines he performed to every song and who didn’t miss an opportunity to call out “I love you, Olivia!” every time there was a pause or break in singing. (For the sake of my husband’s reputation and honor, I should probably clarify that although I love that he knows every word to every song, sang along with Olivia and I and enjoyed the evening as much as I did…I’m talking about the man on the OTHER side of me!)

While sitting on the grass and enjoying the concert, I was unexpectedly struck by the most powerful sense of complete and utter satisfaction and contentment; a feeling of  joy, gratitude, happiness and a love of life. Not just about life itself, but about the life I am living today.

Honestly, it surprised me.

Because I still have an occasional moment of trying not to compare the “then” with the “now.” Yes, a materially blessed life with a beautiful home, a house cleaner, a gardener, luxury cars, vacations and everything else that was mine in a former life was easier, in some ways, than the life I struggle to provide for myself and my children now. Yes, I lived one life I loved until 2009 at which time I began living a new and very different life in which I’ve found much unexpected happiness, joy and satisfaction. But it surprised me to be struck, unexpectedly, by such a powerful sensation that despite its many, many losses and the heartache and grief I’ve passed through, despite the challenges of the past and present and the extreme changes in every aspect of my life including lifestyle, I not only have incredible peace and joy but also total gratitude and contentment in and for my new one.

It made me realize that not only do you have to triumph over your challenges, you must embrace what has happened to you, accept it as a part of you and your life experience, own it (make it yours) and the triumph will be that much sweeter. It was an epiphany for me to realize that is what I had unintentionally done and that the happiness and joy that is yours, when you do that, is indescribable.

Really, it is. I highly recommend it to everyone living an unexpected life. Because when you get to that point, I believe you really ARE experiencing, living AND FINDING JOY in your unexpected life. You’re living your “happily ever after.”

“Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” (Toni Morrison)

Speaking of Battles

“Americans love to fight. All real Americans love the sting of battle.” (George S. Patton)

Ok. So it’s time for a little too much information. About #5. And the way he “fights.” Get this:

1. He doesn’t yell. He discusses issues, calmly and patiently, in a rational manner. I appreciate that. (It’s how I’m inclined to resolve things, as well.)

2.  He is loving and affectionate, even in the face of a disagreement. For example, when we’re discussing an “issue,” he is touching my shoulder, holding my hand or has an arm around my waist. (I have to say, I love this one. I’ve never seen anyone “fight” like this, but I appreciate it!)

3. The one or two discussions we’ve had since the infamous conversation pre-marriage when he “dumped” me and that I would consider a “fight,” #5 either doesn’t remember them or he doesn’t consider them “fights.” I think three times now he has told me,” “Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever been mad at you before!” (I appreciate his short term memory in this regard!)

4. He’s got the “kiss and make up” part at the end together! (SORRY! Just had to throw that in there– I’ve already shared TMI in this post, what’s a little more?) I guess you could say he has learned what Bob Marley has: “The harder the battle the sweet of jah victory.” Whatever that means.

However, if, “The ultimate test of a relationship is to disagree…but hold hands,” (Unknown) then #5 and I have passed the test. Each and every time.

My Own “Hall of Fame”

“I’m not proud. I’m willing to go in on my hands and knees if I have to.” ( Luke Appling, asked whether he resented entering the Hall of Fame on the second ballot)

Yep, that’s pretty much how my unexpected life is for me. Not proud, willing to do what must be done. It has provided some memorable, head shaking moments for me; not head shaking in a bad way, more like a “I NEVER expected to do THIS or have this be my life” sort of way!

“Hall of Fame” moments of The Unexpected Life (in no particular order):

1. Not being able to give my children even $1 for new school clothes. Last year, we made due with ALL of the old. (Quite an unexpected change from every previous year’s shopping trips to Nordstrom or Abercrombie! I never imagined not being able to purchase ANY school clothes for my children prior to entering my unexpected life.) But this is the good part: My kids have learned to shop thrift stores first when they need something and have scored some deals—like the time my daughter found a brand new J. Crew blouse with the tags still attached…for $6!

2. Encouraging my middle son to wear shoes with holes. I never imagined I’d do it, or have to do it, but it’s an attempt to make them last longer and to give us extra time to save up money for a new pair. I like to think of them as “stylishly tattered” (like the hole-y jeans everyone wears) and frankly, we’re just thankful he has SHOES! Period. March 18, 2009, we weren’t so sure we’d even have shoes, so we’re thankful for what we’ve got. Besides, someday when he’s grown and a father himself and needs a good story for his children, he’ll be able to tell them how he had to wear shoes with holes in the winter when he was in 5th grade.

3. Driving a used car, in the middle of winter, with a broken window. As mentioned in a previous blog, driving in the freezing winter air, heater blasting, buried under blankets in an attempt to stay warm is definitely a memory I never expected to make! What a sight I must have been! In my 40s, driving a car without a window, in the winter. Welcome to my unexpected life! (Endless thanks to a good neighbor who fixed the broken window for us, and every time I drive I’m so grateful for all of the windows in the car.)

4. Driving my car’s gas tank past empty, well beyond the moment the “empty” light turns on, EVERY time it runs low. I’m just trying to go as long as I can between payments to the pump. (In my old life, my former husband didn’t like me to let the gas gauge get below half-full. But things are very different for the Merrimans now!)

5. Living with a giant pot under my kitchen sink for 4 months, emptying the pot 3-4 times a day (and sometimes cleaning up a flood when my kids ran water in the sink and forgot to check the water level accumulating in the pot underneath) when I got a leak, tried to fix it, probably made it worse, had my Eagle Scout son try to fix it, he couldn’t, and we couldn’t afford a plumber so we lived with a pot under the sink while we tried to save up money for a plumber. However, when you’re short every month, savings never really materializes.  We’ll never forget our friend who flew over from Denver, Colorado, and fixed our leak for us one Saturday. His service to our family will NEVER be forgotten!

6. Handwashing dishes. Our dishwasher broke several months ago, so we hand-washed our dishes for financial reasons–it was just impossible for me to justify going into debt for the purchase of a new dishwasher (even the “cheap” ones are expensive in my world!) when we had plenty of dish soap, dish rags and hands that could do the job just as well for a lot less money. Besides, I didn’t think I could qualify for credit to purchase a new one, anyway! (And I wasn’t up for an additional embarrassing financial situation, I’ve had a few of those already in my unexpected life.)  And then just last week, a new dishwasher was purchased, delivered and installed for me, courtesy of #5. Thanks, Mr. Awesome! (I don’t think any of my children will ever complain again about having to unload a dishwasher! We’re just so thankful to have one and to not have to hand wash dishes anymore.)

6. Not eating out but making a memorable attempt at breaking that status at Red Robin. I decided to splurge on a family meal “out” during the holidays because we hadn’t all gone out to eat together since our unexpected life began almost two years ago. I calculated that we could afford Red Robin if we ordered 3 of their $5 burgers and split them. We drove to Red Robin, sat down, picked up our menus, and I couldn’t find those $5 burgers anywhere on the menu. The waitress informed me they’d been removed from the menu one week earlier and weren’t available anymore, “But our burgers are only $8 each, that’s still a good deal and they’re really delicious!” There was only one thing I could say to that:  ”NOT for a single mother with 4 kids. Thanks, anyway.” And we got up and left! We had to. There’s a big difference between $15 and $24 in my unexpected life. As we were walking out without ordering or eating anything, my youngest started throwing a temper tantrum and had to be carried out as he screamed. I’m sure we appeared to be the trashiest customers to grace Red Robin that day. I NEVER imagined I’d choose to exit a restaurant because I was unwilling to go into debt for a burger, but that’s what I did. (I’m laughing about it now, I hope Red Robin can, someday, too!)

7. Doing anything for free groceries. (I never imagined the lengths I’d go to to save money in my unexpected life.) My daughter had her wisdom teeth removed, three prescriptions were needed, I took them to Rite Aid to be filled, drove away and then found a coupon for Smith’s grocery store’s pharmacy that offered $25 in free groceries for each new prescription filled, good for up to 3 prescriptions. That was $75 of free groceries–and all it cost was the humiliation of returning to the original pharmacy and asking for my prescriptions back! I hurried back to Rite Aid and asked for the written prescriptions back before they were filled. At some point in my life I might have been embarrassed to do something like that, but after living through REALLY humiliating experiences (like being married to a man who perpetrated a Ponzi scheme without my knowledge, having the whole thing unfold in national media, having my divorce reported in the media, having my neighbors offer commentary on my life and living situation to the media, and a few other things) I’m not easily embarrassed anymore.  And the next time when we needed food, and my entire purchase at Smith’s was free, I wasn’t embarrassed at all, I was grateful! Grateful I hadn’t been too proud to save some money.

8. Attempting to save money and make the old tire on my car last longer before I bought a new one, and ending up, instead, with a flat tire in the desert in July and had to pay a tow truck $100 to help us when we couldn’t get the flat tire off to put the spare tire on! Yes, that one didn’t turn out QUITE like I expected it to. Worst of all, it didn’t save me any money! Lesson learned. ”Fame and riches are fleeting. Stupidity is eternal.” (Don Williams, Jr.)

10. Returning to work full-time and putting one of my children in daycare. I know many people do it, and I’m used to it now–it’s our life–but it was a momentous (not in a good way) experience for me.

11. Taking my children to two new movies, in an actual theater, this past holiday season. (Our thanks and gratitude to a very generous Denver man who sent us a gift card to Cinemark! We LOVED it!) It was the first time we’d been able to go to a current movie, as a family, in our unexpected life.

12. Returning my violin to its original owner–the same week my former possessions went to new ones.

13. Taking my kids out to eat at a restaurant for only the 3rd time in almost two years, my treat, thanks to the violin money. And although I faced quit an inner debate about doing something “frivolous” like that when there are talents to be developed, when my 17-year-old furnace broke the very next week and all of the violin money had to go to paying for a replacement furnace, I was glad we’d done something fun, like dinner! Note to self: need new plan for talent development. (Still awaiting inspiration on that one!)

There you have it. The Unexpected Life “Hall of Fame.

Interestingly, ”Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember.” (Seneca)

I mean that.

A New Family Picture

“Life is a rough biography. Memories smooth out the edges.” (Terri Guillemets)

Prior to my 2009 nightmare, I won a free 16×20 portrait at a charity auction. I had forgotten all about it, but as I packed to move, I found the coupon. I thought it was a timely discovery: I was moving and wouldn’t be able to use it after I moved away–at that time, I couldn’t imagine when, or if, I’d ever come back, if even for a visit. I was divorcing and didn’t have one picture of just my children and I to hang in our home. So I booked an appointment for a new family portrait.

We all got ready, wearing coordinating clothes, and drove to the portrait studio. It actually wasn’t any different, up to that point, than getting any other family picture taken had been. Except that even the youngest child was happy and in a good mood. (I had always been the one to schedule the appointment, choose the clothes, get myself and all of the children ready, and then He would show up, change, and go with us to the appointment–although He was usually stressed out about something and his stress would rub off on some of the children as we drove so that by the time we got there, things were a bit of a challenge. Then He’d do something to help everyone feel happy again, usually the promise of a treat afterward took care of it, so our picture experiences ended up being good memories. But His behavior was the reason we needed a treat afterward!)

I was excited that the picture was not going to cost us a thing at a time we had no money. I was excited to have a picture appropriate to hang in our home as we began a new life. Everything was going off without a hitch…until we were walking in the door of the studio.

My middle son, who was nine years old at the time, stopped, turned to me, and asked, “Wait. Where is Dad? Why are we getting a picture taken without Him?”

How do you answer that, at a time like that?

My poor boy. Every little thing about our unexpected life was so sad for him and hurt him. We couldn’t even get a picture taken without causing him pain!

It reminded me of something my oldest wrote in an essay at about the same age, only life, for him, was a lot different then: “I am like a camera taking pictures with my mind.” He was referring to happy memories, I think, and I couldn’t help but wonder what my middle son’s life camera was documenting for his future reference.

My challenge then, as it had always been, was to help my children create happy memories to record in the cameras of their minds. Only the material they were working with, the life they were documenting, had dramatically changed–and not for the better, I thought at that time.

But I had to help them do the best they could with what we had to work with. For them. And for me.

I had to hope that somehow, I could help them realize that, “Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember.” (Seneca)

If you handle them right.

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