Living Happily Ever After


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What I Miss

“Dogs need to sniff the ground; it’s how they keep abreast of current events. The ground is a giant dog newspaper, containing all kinds of late-breaking news items, which, if they are especially urgent, are often continued in the next yard.” (Dave Barry)

Speaking of yards, I had a yard sale last weekend. A neighbor perused my junk, pulled me aside, and said, “Tell me. You’ve had a lot in your life and now you have a little. Is there anything about the old life that you miss?”

I didn’t even have to think about it.

Yes, I miss something. I know what it is and it crosses my mind every single day try as I might to not dwell on the past or think about my losses.

It’s true. I used to enjoy a lot, materially, in life: a decent-sized home with custom travertine stone floors, granite counters, custom cabinetry, Rembrandts and other fine art and etchings adorning its walls; art sculptures in the yard along with a Sportcourt, a swimming pool, ponds filled with expensive and unique Koi fish and water lilies, tetherball, a in-ground trampoline; world travel; cruises; fine dining; luxury cars; a boat; ATVs of all types; a motorhome (although I never loved that one!); shopping at Nordstrom; a house cleaner; a gardener; money in the bank and absolutely NO financial worries or concerns; and a plethora of other privileges, to name a few that quickly come to mind. All of it was once mine—or so I thought.

But do you know, out of all of it, what I miss? (And this is the answer I gave to my neighbor.)

Just one thing.

And it’s actually not a “thing.”

The only thing about the old life that I miss is…being a stay-at-home mom focused on raising my children and taking care of the home they live in full-time. Being there when they are sick. Greeting them when they arrive home from work or school. Allowing my little one to sleep in if he is tired.

That’s it.

“I’m a very lazy, stay-at-home kind of girl.” (Jerry Hall)

Except now I’m a full-time working one, grateful for a job that allows me to provide for my children.

“Not only is women’s work never done, the definition keeps changing.” (Bill Copeland)

Such is 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.”

Time Capsule

“And yet, I suppose you mourn the loss or the death of what you thought your life was, even if you find your life is better after. You mourn the future that you thought you’d planned.”  (Lynn Redgrave)

Later that same day of the unexpected dream, the mail came, and in it, a very unexpected delivery: a time capsule.

I had completely forgotten about it. My oldest created it in 1999 as a first grader at Creekside Elementary in the Cherry Creek School District in Aurora, CO. It contained newspaper clippings, pictures, letters from his parents and other things that represented our life then, as well as plenty of our hopes and dreams.

I was shocked to receive a communication from an elementary school in Colorado several years after any of my children had attended there. I was surprised they’d found me. And I was very touched by the effort of many good people who have taught my children over the years, who have helped my children learn and create meaningful things, and who went to the effort to find us in Utah so we could have a memory and appreciate the contents of our time capsule.

I stood in my Utah kitchen, read through the contents of the time capsule, and once again, tears I couldn’t control streamed down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed by the contents of the time capsule compared to the reality we had actually lived through and had finally settled into. How was it all possible? How could it all have taken place? I’d never had ANY idea of all that was in store for my oldest and our family at the time he created the time capsule.

Not only was it finally, really, hitting me that my oldest is graduating and leaving home, I think I cried about all we have lived through and experienced since that time capsule was created. When I helped him compile the items for the time capsule, when I wrote my 1999 letter to him, life was very different. I was a stay at home mom; my mom was still alive; I only had 2 children; I’d never experienced grief and pain to the extent I did in 2009; back then, divorce was not even in my vocabulary (neither were Ponzi schemes, by the way, I had no idea what those even were at that time!); and the letter to my son from his father was written by a man now residing in prison for the next decade or more. Looking back, like was very simple then in 1999. It almost overwhelmed me that the expectations for the future as seen through the eyes of 1999 was very different than the reality we actually lived, and I felt additional sorrow at all my son has had to endure as a result of the choices his father made.

But I pulled myself together again, for the second time that day, and went on about my business. I was feeling emotional, but I was going to make it through the day with flying colors, including smiles and laughter. If only I could quit crying.

“Anyone can carry his burden, however hard, until nightfall.  Anyone can do his work, however hard, for one day.  Anyone can live sweetly, patiently, lovingly, purely, till the sun goes down.  And this is all life really means.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

At least, that was my goal. But would you believe it? ANOTHER emotional breakdown…to come.

When You’re The One Who Has To Fix It

“The fellow that owns his own home is always just coming out of a hardware store.” (Frank McKinney Hubbard)

I’m pretty sure that’s how #5, my new husband, feels—especially since moving in with me and my four children! Gone are those carefree days he enjoyed as a single dad with one self-sufficient 12-year-old son, living quietly together in a townhome, retired from yardwork and a plethora of other things that now keep him busy! Like trips to Home Depot. Out of necessity. I’m pretty sure his new mantra is, “Well, I’m off to Home Depot!”

In the two months we’ve lived together, I’m embarrassed at the extra work I’ve caused #5. And I’m not just talking about the myriad of little things around a house that have needed to be taken care of—like the kitchen pantry door that broke and needed to be painted and replaced; the holes in the wall my youngest and his neighborhood friends made when trying to hang off shelves that used to be bolted to the wall; the hole in the wall caused by a child throwing open a door a little too fast with a little too much energy; toilets; clogged drains; doorknobs; garbage disposal issues; smoke detector batteries; and lots of burned out light bulbs that need to be replaced!

I’m talking about the day I stood and flushed the toilet at the exact moment a bottle of lotion fell off the shelf above it, STRAIGHT down the hole, at the exact moment the swirling water went with it. GONE! And then the toilet didn’t work anymore. (It had to be completely taken out of the bathroom and the lotion bottle practically surgically removed from its innards before replacing the toilet again.)

Or the day a decorative painted bowl, of its own free will, spontaneously fell off the shelf above the kitchen cupboards onto the Jenn Air stove top and shattered not just the bowl, but the entire stove top! (Not only was that one a lot of work for #5, but it was expensive, too! Oops.)

He has fixed it all without comment or complaint. He just smiles at me and goes to work to take care of it despite the fact he is NOT a home repairman. (I think he’d much rather be singing, playing the piano, acting, working out, dancing, or even reading instead.) In fact, he uses it so often, he has taken to keeping his toolbox at the ready beside his side of the bed!

And then one day, he broke something. Or at least, I thought he did. He looked at me with a stunned expression, and I started celebrating. “Yes! You finally broke something! I am SO glad! Think of everything I’ve broken and all of the extra work I’ve caused you, now I’m not the only one! I’m so relieved you broke something!” But no. I celebrated too soon. Turns out, #5 hadn’t broken anything after all.

But he remains a trooper and continues to fix, without complaint, all of the little things. He inherited a yard when he thought he’d never have to maintain a yard again. And, most importantly, he took on four additional children, including a four-year-old, when he had mostly raised his family. The impact he has made and everything he has helped “fix” around the house and in our lives astounds me.

Second marriage moment #9.

“There are a [heck] of a lot of jobs that are easier than live comedy. Like standing in the operating room when a guy’s heart stops, and you’re the one who has to fix it!” (Jon Stewart)

My Ellis Island

“Choose your new name carefully. Practice signing with it. Have a few people close to you call you by that name, and see how you like it. You can change your first name, middle name, last name, or all of the above. Just make sure your new name doesn’t imply “fraudulent intent” or is not in the public interest.” (wikiHow)

I took more time off work and returned to the Social Security Office the very next morning. I thought, since they closed at 4 p.m., that they’d open at 8 a.m. but I was wrong. I waited an hour for the doors to open, took a number (I was first in line and got the first number of the day), and stepped forward to wait my turn.

As I stood there waiting for my number to be called, the only clerk helped someone. Then another person. Then another. I finally stepped forward and asked, “Excuse me, are you calling numbers?”

The clerk looked at me with a blank expression. I explained, “The guard told us to take a number as we walked through the door, you have several signs posted that direct us to take numbers, but I haven’t heard you call any numbers…”

Despite the full waiting room, they hadn’t been calling numbers. But they decided to help me next anyway. I stepped forward, thoroughly prepared for the name change (after all, it was my second attempt to change my name at the Social Security Office; I’d had an additional wait I hadn’t planned on which gave me time to make sure I’d filled everything out correctly) and handed the clerk my paperwork. The paperwork to add “Ramsey” to my name, to make it my new and official last name.

Unfortunately, the clerk had a problem with it. “It’s too long,” she said.


She showed me that her computer screen had three boxes: first name, middle name, and last name; with a limited number of characters per box. My proposed name was too long for the Social Security Administration computers! She told me I could have three names. I asked, “Wait a second–what about the famous people and movie stars who name their children 5-6 names? How do they do that, if my 34 letter name is too long?”

She said she didn’t know, but I had these options: my maiden name with the addition of “Ramsey,” “Andrea Merriman Ramsey” (without any part of my middle or maiden names),  ”Andrea Merriman-Ramsey” (but I’d have to sign that long last name every time I signed my name, not to mention it would give me a last name different than my children AND my husband!), Andrea L.C. Merriman Ramsey,” “Andrea L.C.M. Ramsey,” and a few other options. I stood at the counter, suddenly unprepared, facing a huge decision that was going to follow me every day of my life, and feeling pressure to hurry because I had to get to work and I knew other people in the room were waiting!

It was my own, personal Ellis Island.

But there wasn’t time to choose my name carefully because I had already carefully chosen my name and it had been rejected by the government, I had to get to work and people were waiting for me to make a decision and complete my business. I never thought to practice signing it. And at that point in my life, I was being called by pretty much anything and everything–no one was sure what I was going to go by. In fact, one Sunday the program at church one listed me by one name in one spot and a different name in a different spot!

Basically, it came down to the fact that I could use my maiden name (the name my church records used and the name of my parents, my ancestors and my heritage) or Merriman (the name of the man I wasn’t married to anymore.) In that moment, that spur of the moment, I chose my heritage. Merriman was gone.

Second marriage moment #6.

“I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.” (Lewis Carroll, Alice In Wonderland)

Wake Up Fresh And Continue

“The day before is what we bring to the day we’re actually living through, life is a matter of carrying along all those days-before just as someone might carry stones, and when we can no longer cope with the load, the work is done…” (Jose Saramago, “The Cave”)

And then it was the day before my wedding.

Those months of soul searching following the revelations that led to my unexpected life; the shock, grief and loneliness that had once been mine day in and day out during the aftermath of an unexpected divorce and move to a new state; the dating, the bachelors, the going it alone without parents or a partner came to a screeching halt.

I was getting married the very next day–if all went well.

It was a bit more complicated than the first time, though. I didn’t just have to show up at the ceremony, packed and ready to depart on a honeymoon afterward, without a care in the world.

I had to finish my work and meet some deadlines. I had grand plans to make a wedding gift for #5 and had procrastinated finishing it, so I had to get that done. I had to arrange for childcare while I was gone. I had to make sure my house was clean enough for someone to stay in during my absence and for #5 to move in to when we returned from our honeymoon. I had to make sure financial details were taken care of and that there was food in the house for my children while I was gone. I had to make sure I had not just my wedding dress and was packed for a honeymoon, but I had to make sure my children’s wedding clothes, etc…were clean, and packed, as well! LOTS of details to remember and attend to.

But I did it. I worked all day, rushed home, went to the bank, went to the grocery store, did laundry, packed, loaded the car with everything I needed to take to Ephraim, Utah, including my younger children, drove there and arrived safely that night. My sisters and their families helped with final wedding preparations. I even finished #5′s wedding gift that night, thanks to help from my sister. And after all of that, I was still in bed by midnight or 1 a.m..

My last night as a single woman was also very different than the first time. The first time, in the 1980s, I was in a hotel room with my mom and my sisters, so nervous I couldn’t sleep. My mom gave me a tranquilizer to calm me down but it didn’t help and my sister and I lay awake in bed, talking and laughing, until the wee hours of the morning. (Actually, we didn’t go to sleep until my mom reprimanded us, just like she had when we were little girls!)

But in 2011, the night before my wedding, I slept alone. In my sister’s basement. (Although she came to check on me once or twice through the night.) And I was so relaxed and calm I couldn’t believe it. I went to sleep and actually slept! However, I woke up unexpectedly at some point in the night.

I couldn’t sleep.

And then I couldn’t quit thinking. Even worse, I was thinking about things I never expected to think about–and it was hard to think about some of it: dreams I’d had as a little girl; experiences I’d shared with my parents, knowing they weren’t alive to share one of my most important of experiences, marriage to #5; everything that had led me to the new marriage opportunity, including the shocking revelations, the Ponzi scheme, the divorce, the move, the aloneness, everything I had been through and everything I had learned.

It was sort of a life in review. I think it was me, Andrea Merriman, doing some introspection on the eve of one of the most important events of my life. Allowing myself to look back one final time. I had forgiven, I had healed and was continuing to heal. I guess I was making sure I’d made peace with it all; getting ready to take a major step forward. I couldn’t help it; I had one final, brief, cry. And I went back to sleep, knowing the next time I awoke, it would be my wedding day.

“But the important thing is to lie down and fall asleep. That little nap means you wake up fresh again and can continue.” (James Levine)

Are You SURE?

“Madam your wife and I didn’t hit it off the only time I ever saw her. I won’t say she was silly, but I think one of us was silly, and it wasn’t me.” (Elizabeth Gaskell)

When you have children, meeting the other parent of your fiance’s children is part of the engagement leading to remarriage experience. It sort of snuck up on me. So although I don’t know what I was expecting that meeting to be like, it wasn’t what I expected at all.

We were at an event for #5′s oldest son. I didn’t know anyone, but #5 had been very good to introduce me to everyone. At some point he asked me how I was, if I was having fun and if I’d met everyone yet. I said, “I think so. But there’s an older woman here who looks a LOT like your oldest daughter that I haven’t met yet. Is she your ex-wife?”

He gazed in the direction I was looking and said, “Yes, that’s her. Come on, I’ll introduce you.”

We walked over to where she stood, #5 introduced us and then he got out of there! My conversation with his ex-wife was brief. She told me #5 is a really good person. She thanked me for being kind to her children. And then she said something about wanting me to know she would never do anything to cause a problem or come between us.

I appreciated her positive comments, but it was all a little surreal for me. I’d never expected to be divorced, much less getting remarried and having a conversation with someone’s ex-wife! And to have to discuss the drama ex-spouses can be (when I’m not a drama queen AT ALL) almost mortified me. I didn’t quite know what to say, so I agreed with her that #5 is a really good person; I told her how much I loved her children; and then said something like, “Oh, I’m sure you would never do anything–especially when there’s no reason to as I know I came around long AFTER your divorce–we don’t even need to talk about it, but thanks for saying that.”

Here is what I remember thinking:

“Am I REALLY having this conversation?” (The drama potential is SO NOT me.)

“She’s older than I imagined.” (I later found out she is older than #5; I don’t know why I didn’t expect that.)

“Wow. She is SHORT!” (I think the top of her head hit somewhere between my elbow and my shoulder. I don’t know why I didn’t expect that, either.)

“I really like her.”

Afterward, when we were driving home, #5 asked me for my thoughts about the day. I told him my feelings and then said, “But you’ll be amazed who, of everyone, I really liked.”

“Who?” he asked.

“Your ex-wife,” I replied.

And since I’ve always been a big believer in marriage and families, especially intact ones, I couldn’t help but add, “Are you SURE you shouldn’t see if you can put your original family back together? Your ex-wife seems nice. Your children could have their parents together again. Your ex-wife wouldn’t have to struggle… We could take a break while you see what you could work out. I would completely support you in that.”

I thought it was a very kind, generous offer on my part–I knew what I felt about #5 and what I would be giving up for him to do that, but I felt I had to suggest it, to do my part to see if there couldn’t be one less broken family in the world. Instead, #5 looked at me like I was completely looney. And in the interest of being concise and discreet,  I’ll sum his response with two words: “No, thanks.”

“Well, whaddya expect in an opera, a happy ending?” (Bugs Bunny, “What’s Opera, Doc?” 1957)

I sure do. Which is why on one other occasion during our engagement, I made the same offer to #5 again and asked, “Are you SURE you shouldn’t see if you can put your original family back together?”

To which he replied, “Andrea, you can decide you don’t love me. You can decide you won’t marry me. But no matter what, and even if it means I’m alone the rest of my life, the option you’re suggesting is not something that will ever happen.” And then, with a smile, he told me if I suggested such a thing again he might get really, really mad.

I may be slow, but I got it.

I decided I had done all I could do on that front, so I’d just enjoy the opportunity that was mine and continue to work toward my own happy ending.

“I’ve always felt that life is a novel, and part of it is written for you, and part of it is written by you. It’s up to you to write the ending, ultimately.” (Lynn Johnston)

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)


“Her godmother simply touched her with her wand, and, at the same moment, her clothes were turned into cloth of gold and silver, all decked with jewels.” (Charles Perrault)

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I was a girl raised on fairy tales. My mom read them to me every day. In fact, my earliest recollections of “art” are the illustrations that were in my fairy tale books. I loved every magical ending to every magical story. And I confess, I think fairy tales contributed a little bit in the formation of my dreams.

Ah, happy endings and fairy godmothers!

Have you ever wished you had a fairy godmother?

I have—on more than one occasion. As a little girl, I dreamed of a fairy godmother who would instinctively know when I needed her (aka. when I was alone and crying in my garden, let’s say), who would show up in the blink of an eye, transform me into a beautiful woman with a dazzling wardrobe, jewels and even a pair of my very own glass slippers; and then would vanish with a “poof” and maybe a little trace of glitter. But everything would be all right again. (Translation: easy.)

As I got older and life got a lot more real, visions of a way out of some of my challenges with a simple wave of a wand overshadowed any childish fantasy of fashion. Wouldn’t it be a dream to escape a trying circumstance without having to pass through it, via a magic wand? Bummer to not have a magic wand when you really need one!

The reality of life, especially the unexpected one, is that “There is no magic wand that can resolve our problems. The solution rests with our work and discipline.” (Jose Eduardo Dos Santos) Our magic wand is actually our labor. The “magic” we put to work to better ourselves or our situation; what we do to help create our fairy tale ending despite the loss of our prince, castle or pumpkin coach.

And as I think about that, and what my unexpected life has taught me is…that’s really all you need. A willingness to work hard, carry on and to never give up despite the setbacks.

Oh. And maybe a little bit of pixie dust.

That’s Real Glory

I called my sister today. She asked, “So what’s up?”

“Nothing,” I replied. And almost at the same time we both said, “That is a nice change! Isn’t that wonderful!”

We chatted a little bit about everything good in our lives and then my sister said, “This is terrible, but it makes me wonder when it’s going to end.”

We’ve had that conversation before, several times, over the course of our lives.

It reminded me of when we were teenagers and we’d lay in bed at night, talking, as we drifted off to sleep. I remember one conversation in particular. The night we discussed how great our life was. It seemed like all of our friends had major challenges and struggles, and we couldn’t really even think of any small ones. We had it pretty darn good. Almost perfect. Nearly too good to be true. And even though we were teenagers, we both knew how good our life was. (I believe we thought it bordered on perfection, marred only to a tiny degree because we’d been blessed with twin brothers who were overly…rambunctious, you could say.) One of us wondered when our fairy tale was going to end.

Turns out, 1986. (When our dad died unexpectedly in a plane crash, we lost everything, our widowed mom moved the family to Utah and our mother returned to work to support her five teenagers she was left to raise alone.)

It was glorious, let me tell you. But not in the way you might think.

“The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory. That’s the essence of it.” (Vince Lombardi)

That experience knocked us to our knees. But our mom led our family in a comeback that changed my life forever and prepared me for my unexpected life, and my divorce, better than I ever could have imagined.

So in 2009, when my unexpected life hit and I got divorced, when I not only got knocked to my knees but felt as if my legs had been amputated at the knees, I knew a comeback was required; that somehow, some way, I was going to rise up again. I was going for the glory. I had to–because of the way I’d been raised, and for my children.

That’s one thing I’ve learned: No matter what knocks you down, no matter how far you fall, it is possible to come back. It is glorious to come back. In fact, there’s nothing like a comeback!

“There’s nothing as exciting as a comeback – seeing someone with dreams, watching them fail, and then getting a second chance.” (Rachel Griffiths)

Comebacks are real.

And while you’re making a comeback, don’t forget to note what you’ve learned because, “If you’re going to go through hell…I suggest you come back learning something.” (Drew Barrymore)

In other words, don’t waste your experiences. We’ll all get our feet knocked out from under us (multiple times throughout our lives, probably.) And when we think we’re down for the count, we have two choices: stay down or get up. (It can be a bummer that there are only two options. I remember in the midst of my unexpected life experiences in 2009 that neither of those options were my ideal and I SO wished there were more to choose from! But there aren’t.) The additional options come AFTER we pull ourselves up, after we work through the hardship, misery and pain, AFTER we don’t quit and decide to try again.

That’s what makes a comeback what it is.

Glorious glory. Courtesy of our unexpected life and resulting from things we possibly brought upon ourselves (aka. things that can be considered our failures) through choices we made and occasionally, from nothing we did. It really doesn’t matter how they come to us, it’s what we choose to do with them that counts. Our comeback.

“Our greatest glory consists not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.” (Oliver Goldsmith)