Howard County woman launches quarterly magazine to aid couples and families of those who try 'I do' again

The Baltimore Sun

The minute Paula Bisacre decided to remarry after a divorce, she was overwhelmed with questions: What to wear for her second sashay down the aisle? What was the best way to include the former in-laws of her future husband, a widower? How do you manage a honeymoon with their combined brood of five kids? Where would they live? Would Buster, her 5-pound miniature Pinscher, and Hunter, his 100-pound golden retriever, ever become friends?

Bisacre bought a bunch of wedding magazines, but quickly found they had little for her. "I wasn't looking for a long, white, poofy dress again," she said. "Between us, we had 30 years of marriage and three blenders."

And thus, of desperation and hard-won -- and sometimes painful -- experience, a magazine was born. In early April, Bisacre, an upbeat former intelligence analyst, launched reMarriage, a cross between a women's lifestyle magazine and a wedding glossy that is full of tales from the relationship trenches and cheery advice for those planning and living through second (or third or fourth) marriages.

"I'm not pro-divorce by any means, but what I want to do is be a resource for successful marriages," said Bisacre, 41, who lives and now works in a capacious Howard County home she and her husband built to accommodate their blended family. "[I want] to help people feel like, 'Hey, I'm not the only one out here facing these issues.' "

The first issue includes front-of-the-book living tips ("Set up a calendar system right away ... Be aware of the balance of photos around the house"), an advice column by family counselors Chuck and Jae Semich, a profile of the Stepfamily Association of America's founders and a feature about how members of newly formed families should address each other. One story examines the lurking "dust bunny of contention" that remarried couples and their families face once they share bathrooms and kitchens. In a piece about second-marriage wedding outfits, one woman writes about the hiking gear and matching tie-dye shirts she and her husband wore; Bisacre writes about the buttery silk dress she settled on.

The magazine will touch on everything from relationships with ex-spouses to finances, legal issues, vacations, holidays and wedding planning, said the editor, Kathy Ely.

"It's for the thinking individual who is looking for resources both emotional and practical," Ely said. "There's a lot of divorce information out there that focuses on that -- the ugly part of their lives. We're talking about a fresh start."

It's a niche -- true -- but a large niche, considering how many people out there are remarried or are thinking of finding another mate, Bisacre said. She commissioned a study that determined that 103 million people in the U.S. match that description. About half of all marriages in the U.S. will end in divorce, said Andrew J. Cherlin, a sociology professor at the Johns Hopkins University. Second marriages are less likely to succeed than first ones, he said. A government study showed that among women ages 18 to 44, 39 percent of remarriages dissolve in 10 years.

In other words: A remarriage magazine is not such a bad idea.

"Considering how common stepfamilies are, the media images are limited," said Norman Epstein, director of the marriage and family therapy program at the University of Maryland, College Park. "There isn't much out there to give people some sensitivity to the dynamics that go on."

Elizabeth Einstein, a New York-based marriage and family therapist who has written four books on the topic of stepfamilies, hasn't seen the magazine, but gushed when she heard about it.

"I think it's a great idea," she said. "My heavens, people need this information desperately."

After Helene Penn Dorf met Bisacre at a reception, she said she read a copy of the magazine from cover to cover. "I think it answered a lot of questions that people think about and don't know where to go for the answers," said Dorf, 72, who was widowed for 10 years before remarrying in February. With grown children, Dorf said she feels in a different category than some second-time newlyweds, but was still intrigued by articles about finances and kids and wedding wear.

Many of the ideas for the magazine come straight out of Bisacre's family files. When she met Michael Bisacre at work in early 2002, she was divorced with two children and he was widowed with three. At the time, he was a lieutenant colonel in the Army; she worked for the Department of Defense. They married and merged their households of dogs and children, now ages 22, 20, 16, 15 and 11.

Then came the hard part.

Vacation planning, the Bisacres quickly realized, could be touchy when her kids were used to beach trips and his to ski trips. Bisacre agonized over how to deal with the Christmas keepsakes that had belonged to her husband's first wife. Household chores and food and college costs all became fodder for "tense discussions."

She started making notes in a black, maroon and gold notebook. Often, when she was at one of the kids' many sporting events, she'd scribble ideas and lists into her little book: advice she wished she had gotten, magazine names. ("Clean Slate" and "We Do" were eventually jettisoned in favor of a cut-to-the-chase title.)

It seemed like a distant dream, but then her youngest son was diagnosed with diabetes and it became difficult to juggle a full-time job and his health care. She left her first career and began a second one, seeking out advice and soliciting seed money for the magazine from family and friends.

She has printed 13,000 copies of the first issue, which she is selling through the Web site (www.re marriagemagazine.com) and at various area shops.

Eventually, Bisacre -- a power-of-positive-thinking acolyte -- wants a remarriage empire: conferences, seminars, books, blogs and message boards. The magazine is quarterly for now, but she envisions ramping that up as the national remarriage "community" catches on.

In the meantime, she still has her own family integration to tend to. Psychologists, Bisacre likes to point out, say it takes an average of seven years for families to blend. The Bisacres are on year five and she thinks they're doing swimmingly.

Household affairs are slightly less chaotic now that only three children live at home. But only slightly. On a recent evening, Bisacre strained pasta while talking to her ex-husband on the phone about their children's schedule for the week. Buster yapped mercilessly.

The dogs, the Bisacres sometimes joke, learned to accept each other more quickly than anyone else. It took them a few weeks to work out their differences but the tiny guy fashioned himself into the boss and Hunter plodded along agreeably; they've been pals ever since. She said Buster frequently crawls on top of Hunter and sleeps perched on his mountainous back.

"I think the lesson is with time," Bisacre said. "It just takes time."

rona.marech@baltsun.com

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