Carol Shwanda chronicles her blended family's lives and experiences offering hope, guidance, wisdom, inspiration and humor to anyone who is in or about to enter into a blended family.
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Must Reads for Today’s Successful Blended Families
Published on March 18, 2014
As I write this post my oldest daughter, Sophia, is watching a soccer game in Barcelona and my youngest daughter, Eva, is skiing in Austria. I am so proud of my world traveling daughters and the adventurous, sophisticated and polished travelers they are. It’s not surprising since they have been on airplanes, trains, buses and subways since they were infants. Not to mention numerous road trips in the car including one 3 week cross-country trip with their dad. Living on the “Left Coast” of California with family back East, the girls got used to long airplane rides and because they were exposed to other cultures and lifestyles, it fostered their passion for travel and their ability to navigate an airport, train, bus and subway station.
What makes their father and me even more proud is that they are both born leaders, which is a sign of true independence. It’s hard to believe that they will be 18 and 21 this summer. I will be in Europe with them to celebrate. I leave at the end of May and return mid-June. I can’t wait.
Published on March 5, 2014
It’s been ages since I’ve taken the time to write here, partly because my focus has been more on my SeaweedArt blog, but mostly because I’ve been so incredibly busy with my career. For that past few months I have been studying furiously for my license to sell securities. I had to take two tests and both were brutal to say the least. I studied every waking hour at night and on weekends, which left little time for myself, let alone couple time. I am overjoyed and relieved that I was able to accomplish this feat and that it is now over.
To celebrate my success and achievement, my dear husband whisked me away for a restorative retreat in Big Sur. He booked reservations at a cozy little cabin we once stayed in 9 years ago when we first met. It was sooo relaxing. And romantic. We had dinner at Nepenthe and lunch at Ventana’s, two well known and fabulous restaurants. Since I’m such a foodie, I especially enjoyed the treat. We hiked down to the falls at Julie Pfeiffer State Park. We stopped along the way to have a beer at a road side pub where I tried deep fried pickles. They were surprisingly delicious.
It felt good to get away. It was the first for a while because we have a house guest, a German exchange student, I’ll call her Reva, living with us while my daughter, Eva, is studying abroad in Germany. She is a delightful child and we are really enjoying her. She went on a ski trip, which allowed us the opportunity to get away.
Reva will not be with us much longer. She leaves in a week to go to Hawaii, (she’s so cute, she keeps counting down the days) and then she’s off to Yosemite and before you know it, she will be headed back to Germany. Now that I have more free time, I’m spending as much time with her as I can. We bake cookies and cook together, go for hikes and watch Glee. She’s such an easy kid. Nothing phases her our ruffles her feathers. I’ve never seen her cry. She’s so agreeable. It’s so refreshing.
Both of my daughters are studying abroad and I miss them very much. Eva is in Germany and Sophia is in Spain. I am going to visit them both in May and I’m thrilled. In the meantime, I satisfy my maternal urges by doting on Reva. While I was taking her to school I told her I was getting attached to her and she said she felt the same. I imagine Eva has similar feelings for her host parents. I’m glad she’s so happy. It gives me peace of mind. But I digress.
Now that my children have flown the proverbial coop, I am free to focus my energies on myself and my career and I am here to tell you that from where I sit, the empty nest is awesome!!!
Published on October 11, 2013
The wonders of modern mobile and digital technology never cease to amaze me. Now that my daughter Eva is studying abroad in Germany through a Rotary Youth Exchange we have been able to communicate virtually almost daily through Skype, texting and snap chats. This enables her to share her amazing experiences with me and all of her friends and family here in the U.S. The interactions are often short, but sweet and always welcome. I’m so glad she is having such a great time and able to chronicle her experiences beyond the traditional journal and photo albums. This also allays my fears and worries that she is safe and doing well.
In exchange, we have a German student living with us and she is able to do the same thing with her friends and family back home in Germany. She Skypes with them and sends emails telling them about her experiences living with us. I’ve been in contact with her parents, answering their questions and easing their concerns too. This makes communication so much easier and I wonder how we ever lived without it. I can still remember my mom giving me a dime for a pay phone and telling me to call her when it is time to get picked up from somewhere and then getting a busy signal because someone was on the phone and we didn’t have call waiting. Times have sure changed.
Published on October 3, 2013
I won a prize at work for reaching a life insurance sales target, which puts me in “The Topper Club.” It is the first achievement award I could earn in my insurance agency and the reward is an all expense paid trip for me and my husband to the Topper Club convention next June. The venue is usually in Las Vegas, but this year they changed it to San Antonio, Texas. Woo hoo! This is especially rewarding to me since my stepson, Sam, is stationed in Lackland Air Force base, which is in San Antonio. When I called Sam to tell him he was thrilled. Paul is pretty excited too. Needless to say, I am feeling a very strong sense of accomplishment.
As an additional bonus, my district manager rewarded me with a free trip to a convention in Reno, Nevada, which I am attending right now. Paul is holding down the fort while I am away. He’s very proud of me. It feels really good to have this sense of accompliment under my belt and especially gratifying because the Topper Club is not an easy mark to make and I’ve gotten a lot of high fives and “atta girl’s” while I’ve been here.
Paul keeps telling me this is my time to shine. After years of raising kids it is nice to finally be back in my element. I love sales and I’m good at it. It comes naturally to me because I am a people person. And I’m very determined. The next big prize is the President’s Club and the reward is a trip to Hawaii. I’ve got my sights set on that for sure.
Published on September 11, 2013
One of the most frequent and sadly all to common complaints I hear from fellow step moms is that they are the brunt of a lot of trash talking about them. What’s worse is when the source of these hateful, vitriolic lies is the step children’s own mother.
This puts kids in awful situations where they feel they must hate you and commiserate with their mother in order to gain their mother’s love and attention. This can be especially frustrating and disheartening to step moms who bend over backwards to give their step kids the same opportunities their own kids have only to have her efforts met with scorn and disdain.
Why? Usually it is because the birth mother feels threatened or inadequate in some way. Perhaps she’s struggling with issues of low self-esteem, financial woes, frequent job changes and moves etc. She needs to lash out at her ex and his new wife in order to validate herself and tragically the kids are the real victims. They are forced to pick sides and even worse, take care of their mother’s feelings.
What can you do when this happens to you?
1. Don’t lash out at the kids. By doing so you are simply stooping to her level.
2. Don’t trash talk the mom to your step kids because once again, you would be stooping even lower. (This is divorce co-parenting 101 and if you are guilty of bad mouthing your children’s father to them, shame on you.)
3. Take the high road. Always show grace, class, dignity and compassion. Have faith that your step kids will mature, move out of her house and eventually see the light. Choose love even though it is shocking how mean and hateful some people can be.
4. Most importantly, stick by your man. Keep a united front and model and demonstrate to your children what it means to be a mature, healthy and well-adjusted adult, so hopefully someday they will become one too.
Published on August 13, 2013
I just lost 25 pounds and as a gift to celebrate my success, my adoring husband bought me a whole new wardrobe. And boy did we have fun. He actually sat in the dressing room with me while I tried on assorted dresses, pant suits, blouses and designer jeans. I love all the clothes I bought almost as much as I basked in the glow of his admiration. What was most remarkable and surprising to me was that I ended up buying items that I probably would not have chosen had he not been there to encourage me to try something different.
My favorite piece was a slim fitting Rachel Roy hot orange dress that I purchased to wear to my niece’s wedding in a few weeks. But the most shocking (because it was so out of character for me) was the Miss Me skinny jeans adorned with sparkly rhinestones. Later that night when I modeled the outfits for my sister and two daughters they looked at me with such amazement as if they didn’t recognize me. My sister summed up the sentiment the best by exclaiming, “Wow, you really are dressing outside the box.”
Now there are two lessons to be learned here. Actually three. Number one– yes, girls, I was hot once. Number two–It pays to really spice things up once in a while to offset the “momness” of our lives. And finally, it feels really good to have a loving partner to encourage me to not only look my best, but to be my best. That’s the biggest blessing I get from my marriage. Paul and I just celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary and we have not only survived, but thrived because we have always been there for each other to offer support and encouragement. You really need that in a marriage.
I recently embarked on a new career (more on that later) and so far it is going really, really well. During the transition period Paul has been my rock and my sounding board and always, always my support system. And now, not only has he (proverbally speaking) encouraged me to “think outside the box,” he’s helping me to dress that way too.
Published on April 21, 2013
For those of you who’ve been following along, you may recall that my stepdaughter, Cheryl, has the traveling bug. She recently returned from a trip to Ecuador, where she planted trees in the rain forest. We financed her trip in part through the sale of her photography. She and I started a little business using her photographic prints to make cards. In the past I have featured her photography on this website and on my SeaweedArt site. One photo in particular, “a footprint in the sand,” has been picked up by some people who have contacted me asking for permission to use it. One inquiry was from a student from MIT, who asked to use the image as a screen saver for a website he was creating for the study of feet maladies. The other request was from an elementary school teacher for inclusion in her school’s yearbook. Cheryl was thrilled. She gave her permission and I made sure she got the credit. It’s only a matter of time before we see her work in travel magazines.
Her father and I are very proud of her and we are committed to supporting her art and her love of travel. This summer she is headed to Germany for month with my daughter Sophia. Their home base will be with my dear friend who lives in Bonn, but they will make a few excursion trips to other countries. Can’t wait to see the photo journal from that trip.
Published on April 10, 2013
We’re downsizing. Not the house. The car. We bought a Prius last week and we’re selling the Suburban. Now that our big brood of kids is mostly out of the house we don’t need such a big car. When we told the kids they all said, “That’s the end of an era.” It sure is. I love the springy pastel green color. And the gas mileage is pretty good too. It’s our new road trip car. Paul and I took it to San Francisco over the weekend and we’re headed to Santa Barbarba in a few weeks to celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary. It’s the beginning of a new era. Woo hoo!
Published on April 7, 2013
Paul and I spent the weekend in San Francisco on our friend’s boat at South Beach Harbor. We go there quite often. It is an extremely relaxing respite for us since we both love sailing and just hanging out in the harbor. Saturday night we attended a special dinner and presentation on the America’s Cup at the St. Francis Yacht Club. Some of the members of the America’s Cup teams were there to talk about the world renowned race that is coming to San Francisco this summer. Thanks to our friends, we will have front row seats.
An added bonus for us is that we get to share this passion with Mark, Paul’s son. He lives in San Francisco now and enjoys spending time at the harbor with us whenever we are in town. Our friends hired him to help with some work on their boat and when word got spread about how handy Mark is (he takes after his dad on that front) he got some work from other boat owners as well.
Mark is so adorable. He called Paul yesterday to see if we were in town so he could come hang with us. We took him out to breakfast at our favorite spot, The Townsend Cafe, and afterward he stayed to help Paul work on the boat. We had a nice visit. He is looking forward to the America’s Cup when the entire world will descend on the city. What an amazing experience for a young man just striking out on his own in the Big City. It reminds me of my own youth in the 80′s when I lived in New York City during the centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty. I remember going to Battery Park and watching the flotilla of ships from around the world. It was spectacular. I wish the same awe inspiring joy for Mark.
Published on March 13, 2013
Even though he got a flu shot, my husband came down with the dreaded bug. His symptoms started on Sunday afternoon on our way back from Tahoe so I took over driving. For the next two days he was wiped out, horizontal, either in bed, mostly, or on the couch. I don’t mind taking care of him because he is a very good patient. He doesn’t complain, he just sleeps.
Each morning for the last two days, I made his breakfast (actually I pretty much do that every day), gave him his swig of DayQuil and put him back to bed. Since I only work five minutes from home, I came home at lunch to make him soup and check on him. Eva, who gets out of school at 1:30, looked after him the rest of the day until I got home for dinner. All of this was hardly necessary since all Paul did was sleep.
He’s better now. Just a bit of a cough. Perhaps the flu shot he got helped because his illness did not last that long, or he just got a weaker strain of virus. He’s now vertical and back to work. Even though I didn’t really do that much for him, he said he felt so much better just knowing that I was there. How sweet. I just hope I didn’t catch any of his germs.