Living Happily Ever After


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There’s Nothing Like Halloween To…

“Charlie Brown is the one person I identify with. C.B. is such a loser. He wasn’t even the star of his own Halloween special.” (Chris Rock)

There’s nothing like Halloween to…make you feel like a loser.

That’s how I felt last night anyway. I’m past the Ponzi scheme, past the divorce, past the complete world and life change, etc…but as I sat home alone on Halloween for the first time in my life and passed out candy to trick-or-treaters, I think I was was a little sad not to be “the star” of Halloween this year.

Every other year since becoming a mother I’ve planned the costumes, purchased the candy, made a festive dinner, and taken my children trick-or-treating. This year my oldest was at college; my daughter was working at Cold Stone; and my husband took my two youngest trick-or-treating at their request. I don’t know if it was being home alone on Halloween night for the very first time in my life or if it was the result of all the chocolate I ate (you know, the low that comes on the heels of a sugar high from eating WAY too much candy!) but I some serious orange and black nostalgia.

I missed my dad, who always took my siblings and me trick-or-treating as children. Those thoughts led to nostalgia for the carefree, innocent days of childhood.

Then I missed the Halloweens I’ve celebrated as a mother. Those thoughts made me miss my old life, just a little bit.

And then THOSE thoughts made me realize 2011 was my 18th Halloween as a mother! A milestone of sorts. And I realized: I’m not just a Halloween loser, I’m a middle-aged Halloween loser! Aaaauuggghhh! (Isn’t that what Charlie Brown always said?)

I remembered my first Halloween as a mother, 1993—my cute six-month-old baby, dressed like a clown, crawling to the trick-or-treat candy bowl and helping himself to lollipops. He didn’t know what to do with them at that age, but he loved the crinkly sounds the wrappers made! Skinny little Dum-Dum sticks grasped tightly and awkwardly in chubby baby fingers and tight baby fists. I’ll never forget that.

Halloween, and life, was very different then. In 1993, I had the world by the tail and thought my biggest challenge was going to be my attempt at motherhood, trying to be a good mother to my children; I had NO IDEA all that life would deliver to my door, and that not all of it would be as welcome as the continuous “ding’dong” of a doorbell on Halloween night.

I guess life is like that for all of us, huh?

Well, that baby clown is grown and gone. And there I was, home alone, crying as I passed out candy to trick-or-treaters, thinking about that, how fast the past 18 years have gone and all that my family has lived through.

Rest assured, however, that grown baby clown did nothing of the sort. Nostaliga? Heck no!  He was too busy making the rounds at university Halloween dances this year, dressed as a giant Whoopee Cushion, solo dancing on stages around BYU’s campus, performing some awe-inspiring, “shuffle” dance moves that are currently all the rage. I confess, picturing a giant Whoopee Cushion busting dance moves to which college crowds gathered around to watch wiped away some of my melancholy—as did the realization that I have only myself to blame.

I mean, what do you get when you use, as a disciplinary consequence, dance parties in the kitchen? Worse, what do you get when you make your children dance to the song of your choice if they misbehave…and if you make THEM watch YOU dance if they’ve been really, really bad?

Ironically, a pretty well-behaved mostly grown up Whoopee Cushion. With some pretty excellent dance moves.

“Whoopee Cushion (noun): a type of cusion or pillow used as a practical joke that when sat upon, produces a loud noise resembling flatulence.” (

You Glimpse Tomorrow’s Embarrassment

“Every day, I have a most embarrassing moment.” (Steven Hill)

Upon entering my unexpected life, that was certainly true. Over and over again, day after day, I lived under intense scrutiny and through the utmost humiliation. (To me, in my world. There was nothing like losing my entire life, and so publicly, and for so many wrongs perpetuated.) But some days, some times, are like that. And eventually, they pass.

The good news? I survived the embarrassment. (We always do, don’t we?) Not to mention the added bonus that the whole thing certainly put humiliation into perspective for me: not much mortifies me any more, and there is a certain comfort and sense of security in that.

I was pretty sure I was “unembarrassable” after 2009.

And then I got remarried.

I think it was Jasmine who sang, “It’s a whole new world.” And it has led to a few memorable moments I might once have considered embarrassing. (Thank goodness nothing embarrasses me anymore, huh?)

“Have you ever gotten the feeling that you aren’t completely embarrassed yet, but you glimpse tomorrow’s embarrassment?” (Tom Cruise)

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.

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.”


“There must be millions of people all over the world who never get any love letters… I could be their leader.” (Charlie Brown)

Going from happily married for 20 years to what I discovered was traumatic. The idea of divorce, alone, was very traumatic to me, not to mention everything else. So to ease things for both of us in that moment on that day when everything was so shocking, new and unexpected (remember, my marriage never disintegrated over time, my reality simply shattered in a moment; I had yet to “fall out of love” with my husband) I said, “I see no other consequence to what you have done than divorce. The consequence of your choices IS divorce. It’s not something I’ve come to decide lightly. But that doesn’t mean when you get out of prison and I’m single that we couldn’t try to rebuild something–IF we decided we could love or trust each other again. But who knows? You may not even be interested in me at that point.”

I was married to a stranger who terrified me in the way finding out someone you have trusted and loved for two decades has been living not just a secret/double life, but a criminal life, and you NEVER HAD A CLUE. And when he didn’t think divorce was necessary…sometimes it just didn’t seem to me that he understood what he had done was as terrible and reprehensible as it was.

We divorced.

I moved to Utah.

He was taken into custody.

And our relationship transitioned from husband and wife, companionship, friendship and everything else we’d had to friendly former family members with the occasional strained relationship of what I assume is typical of divorced couples.

He wrote letters from jail. His letters expressed his sorrow for what he had done (that was appreciated) but they also contained expressions of love. To me.

I think he did that because he felt that way toward me, but also probably to build me up and to help me at such a hard time and when I was so shattered, so humiliated, felt so worthless and thought everyone could tell just by looking at me what a loser I was. But after our divorce, my move to Utah and my progression through the process of grieving and healing those expressions of love became a problem for me.

With each passing day and with each new realization I came to as I worked through the mess he had created and left for me, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with his expressions of love.

Some days they bothered me, as in irritated me.

Some days they hurt me, as in made me cry.

Some days I just didn’t want to hear them.

Some days they made me mad.

And around that same time, the fall of 2009, I realized I would never remarry him.

I’ve said it before: I believe in repentance and forgiveness. I just didn’t think I would ever be able to trust him completely, 100%, again–regardless of the changes he had made. And trust, to me, is a huge part of marriage. I didn’t want to wonder at any future date if my husband was telling me the truth; to wonder when he headed out the door to go to work, if that is really what he was doing and where he was going; or to live in fear of, heaven forbid, another Ponzi scheme or other such crime.

I was also afraid that regardless of the changes he made and the man he became, a part of me (if I stayed with him) would never quite feel he deserved me. And that isn’t right. If he changes and somehow through all he is enduring as a result of his choices finally becomes the man I always thought he was and that he always represented himself to be, he deserves to have a wife who completely loves, trusts, and feels he deserves her.

That will never be me. (I’m not a big enough person, I guess.) One day, while talking to a Colorado friend, I realized I would rather be alone the rest of my life than remarry Shawn Merriman. As soon as that came out of my mouth she stopped me and said, “Do you realize what you just said? That says a lot to me about how you feel to know that you would rather be alone the rest of your life than remarry Shawn.”

I guess it did.

It was an epiphany. I realized, truly, how I felt and what the future held for me: nothing.

I was going to be alone the rest of my life. Because I preferred that option to remarrying, someday, the man I had loved for 20 years. (Amazing what a Ponzi scheme, betrayals, and decades of lies can do, huh?)

I realized then and there that I had to put a stop to his confessions of love. I didn’t want to hear them. I didn’t want him to have any false hope, I felt that would be dishonest of me. So I told him how I felt, but he didn’t stop telling me what a wonderful wife I had always been, that he still loved me and always would, and that someday he was going to win me back.

I felt I had to put a stop to that, too. It made me feel uncomfortable. And I couldn’t let him believe one thing when I felt another. So to show him how completely serious I was, and how real my feelings were, I asked him to write a letter authorizing me to apply for a cancellation of our marriage/sealing that would allow me to remarry and be sealed to someone else in a L.D.S. temple.

I don’t think he expected that.

It’s Grand

“A man begins cutting his wisdom teeth the first time he bites off more than he can chew.” (Herb Caen)

Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew through choices we make and sometimes we’re thrust into overwhelming situations through no choice of our own that can leave our jaws flapping! That’s the unexpected life, regardless of how it comes. But I can’t emphasize this aspect enough: if we handle it right, we gain valuable life experience, we learn important lessons and we increase in wisdom. And we can do great things with what we’ve learned.

Like Walt Disney, who rose above his own setbacks to create a magical legacy and impact millions even after he was gone: “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” (Walt Disney)

Speaking of wisdom and teeth, my daughter had her’s removed a few days ago. Prior to her surgery, the oral surgeon walked into the room, looked at me and asked, “You’ve been here before, haven’t you?”

I replied, “No.”

He looked puzzled, stared at me and said, “Really? You look so familiar. I am trying to figure out where I’ve seen you. I’m just sure I have met you before.”

I joked that I have blonde hair, blue eyes and we live in the state of Utah where it seems like the majority of the state’s residents look like I do, so no surprise that I look familiar. He laughed and walked out of the room to get what he needed to begin the procedure on my daughter. When the door closed, I realized how far we’ve come…and yet how some things haven’t changed much.

When the door clicked shut, the first words out of my daughter’s mouth were, “Mom! You’ve GOT to be kidding me! Don’t tell me you dated HIM too?” (That’s the part that hasn’t changed!)

Yet I realized how far we’ve come when it dawned on me after the doctor had left the room (and after I had defended myself against my daughter’s accusation—and for the record, NO, I did not date that doctor!) that when he commented that I looked familiar, I didn’t cringe; I didn’t inwardly cower in fear that he might have seen me in the media, connected to a crime I had no part of (other than that I happened to be married to the man who perpetrated the crime.) Honestly, and surprisingly, for maybe the first time in my unexpected life, that hadn’t even crossed my mind—it was almost as if I’d forgotten about it and hadn’t even realized I’d forgotten, that’s how natural the process of forgetting, aka. healing, has become.  I was sure I seemed familiar to him because I live in a state where a large percentage of the population descends from Scandinavian immigrants!

Apparently, I’ve developed something. Unexpected amnesia, occasionally, regarding the trauma that led to my unexpected life. I anticipate as we move further and further from 2009, I’ll forget what led to my new opportunities more and more. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “I’ve a grand memory for forgetting.”

And isn’t THAT grand?

My Children’s News Story

I realized, last night, why I had kids.

“I brought children into this dark world because it needed the light that only a child can bring.” (Liz Armbruster)

Of course that isn’t the only reason, but last night’s news story featuring my teens showed me that isn’t a bad one! They sat and talked with Cheryl Preheim, of the NBC affiliate Channel 9 in Denver, CO, and shared their experiences and things they’ve learned as a result of their unexpected life–and I couldn’t be more grateful for what they’ve gleaned.

Click here to see their news story.

“From out of the mouth of babes.” They’re not babies anymore, but I’m so glad they’re mine.

And although I’m not going to be here, forever, sharing the life lessons I’ve learned about living, what is truly important, and what you do with the unexpected things that happen…thank goodness they might be.

“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” (Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood(introduction), 1982)

Lemonade That’s Real

“We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.” (Alfred Newman)

When my ex-husband went to prison, I told him I hoped he used the time to learn what he needed to learn; to grow and change in the ways he needed to; and that I hoped he chose to make the best of the experience, whatever it might be. In other words, make lemonade. Even in prison.

I LOVE lemonade, but it’s also how I believe in living life. However, the fact it has to be easier said than done in prison is not lost on me. I knew what I was asking of him. So lest I have painted too rosy a portrait of prison, let me share some reality.

About his environment he wrote, “This is such a harsh place. There is nowhere to go for peace. Nowhere to be alone or even escape the constant barrage of foul language. Just for kicks one day I decided to count the number of cuss words I heard in a single hour–I stopped at 1200! It is a daily onslaught from which there is no escape. I think we have every kind of degenerate scum bag in this place. Every day I wake up refreshed, feeling clean, and by the end of the day I feel like I just can’t take the filth any more. A deputy summed it up this way: ‘I view my pay not as income, but as worker’s compensation, because every time I come through that door I feel millions of brain cells commit suicide.’ It’s the shallow end of the gene pool to be sure but there are a few gems in here, and I consider myself to be blessed with the friends I have here.”

Rather than dwell on the negative, I was happy to see he focused on his daily routine and tried to make the best of his situation. He kept busy exercising, playing games, tutoring men for the G.E.D., reading, writing, making friends and trying to make the most of his incarceration. Not bad lemonade, especially for prison.

“When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. I have several stands around here.” (James Brady)

You can make lemonade wherever you are. All you need is lemons (abundant in the challenges and trials of life), water (which is everywhere) and a little sugar supplied by you–the way you choose to look at things and rise above them, the blessings you acknowledge and are grateful for, the positive things you focus on and the happiness you choose to create from your fruit regardless of where it comes from.

Make the best of what you have, regardless of how sour it is, and somewhere along the way the bitterness is overpowered by the sweet. It happens every time.


Wounds And Healing

“It’s like trying to describe what you feel when you’re standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon or remembering your first love or the birth of your child. You have to be there to really know what it’s like.” (Jack Schmitt)

I don’t think you can describe the moments that come after a MOMENT like that, so I won’t even try–anyone who has ever experienced “a moment,” will understand why. But you get the picture.

Bachelor #5 proposed. I said “yes.” And we continued our walk on the paths at Sundance Resort, eventually stopping and sitting on a bench, talking, gazing up the mountain at the beautiful scene before us. I don’t know about Agent M, but I felt very at peace with the world. With everything. It was the greatest sense of peace, such a feeling of calm, a sense of complete and total healing like I hadn’t experienced since…prior to March 18, 2009.

Eventually, the sun began to set. He stood up, reached for my hand and suggested we head home. We had children to share our news with. I gave him my hand, and took one last look at Sundance, the mountain, the flowers, the evening light. I took a deep breath and inhaled the fragrance of the mountain air. I tried to memorize everything about that evening and its many moments, how I felt at that day’s end.



“When I stand before thee at the day’s end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing.” (Rabindranath Tagore)

I had my wounds. I had healed. And I had a fiance.

The Unexpected Life.

Therapy Is Kinda Like…

“Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder how I do these things. I can embarrass myself so badly that I literally get a hot prickle down the back of my neck.” (Daisy Donovan)

That used to be me thanks to some unforgettable experiences, like once having my skirt fall off me as I stood talking to a man, and a few other embarrassing moments which should probably be blog posts in and of themselves someday. But my unexpected life, and the criminal behavior of my former spouse related to his Ponzi scheme, the public downfall of my family and my divorce, all took care of redefining what humiliation and embarrassment mean to me these days. I don’t sweat the small stuff, like “embarrassing moments” anymore.

However, that evening, sitting in the counseling office, realizing I had dated the therapist’s brothers and NOT married them and was now seeking counsel to avoid a second divorce if Bachelor #5 and I tied the knot, I fought a slight feeling of mortification. “PLEASE don’t tell your brothers I’m divorced and seeking remarriage counseling from you,” I begged. He assured me he wouldn’t say a word.

However, because he wasn’t really a stranger anymore, for some reason I felt a little more comfortable with him and opened up more. After the session ended Bachelor #5 commented on how interesting it was that I was so close-mouthed toward a stranger, yet when I made a connection with him, I was a lot more willing to talk. (Just one more thing to love about Bachelor #5. He “gets” me. I’ve had more epiphanies about myself, things I do and why I do them, since knowing him, than I feel like I had the entire rest of my previous life. He’s observant, smart, and puts 2 and 2 together to equal four– when I don’t even realize there’s an equation to be solved.)

As we left the appointment, I couldn’t believe what a small world the realm of counseling made it. I was filled with disbelief about my connection to the counselor, too. Bachelor #5 simply replied, “Well, what do you expect when you’ve dated, or attempted to date, the entire world?” And he laughed.

“Being in therapy is great. I spend an hour just talking about myself. It’s kinda like being the guy on a date.” (Caroline Rhea)