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 January 8, 2017
It’s been a while since I’ve written an update here and for those who are still following and want to know how things turned out for us I thought I would fill you all in. All five of our children are launched and are either away at college or living independently, and my darling husband Paul and I just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. Hard to believe that so much time has passed and that we actually survived. Yes. We survived and thrived, which is amazing considering that second marriages have a 67% chance of ending in divorce.
Now that all of the kids are gone (the pets too) it’s just the two of us and we are focusing on our future together by downsizing from our big house and moving into the smaller house, which we call our “casita,’ that is adjacent to the main house. For years we rented out the smaller house to outside tenants (remember Jonny Prynce?) and we decided instead to live small and simple in our little house and rent out the main house. We have discovered that remodeling and decorating our new home has been extremely romantic. It’s like we are newlyweds and this in our first home together. It’s just us making the decisions, so there’s no stress worrying about pleasing anyone else. And it’s FUN! We are carrying over the nautical and craftsman style look of the main house, with a lot more whimsy and humor. Paul, my sea captain and brilliant engineer husband, has drawn up the plans and has given each room a name that corresponds with a part of a ship. There’s the “Captain’s quarters,” which is our bedroom, the “galley,” the kitchen, the “crew’s quarters,” the guest room when the kids visit, the “pilot house, “ which happens to be an upstairs loft, the “map room,” my office and a “poop deck,” which Paul will turn into a rooftop garden for me. Yes, I married a guy with a vivid and wild imagination. I think it is our senses of humor that have kept us going.
We’ve weathered some serious storms and navigated some rocky seas, and after ten years of grappling with so much stress we feel like we finally landed on a tropical island and it’s time to relax and drink cocktails out of a coconut. (Our Christmas tree this year was a palm tree. No kidding. Paul plans to plant it in our yard.) It’s now time to have fun and devote our time and energy to pursuing our passions. If you would like to follow along and see updates on our remodel and empty nester life, you can visit SeaweedArt, my sea-inspired lifestyle blog featuring home decor, beach scenes, crafts and coastal cuisine. You can also visit my Etsy shop, where I sell some of my crafty creations.
Namaste dear ones. May you all have a healthy, happy, prosperous new year filled with love, laughter and joy!
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 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 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 January 3, 2013
Paul and I celebrated the New Year weekend by attending a wine tasting at The Windy Oaks Estate Winery where we got married. Our wedding was in August when the grapes leaves were in full bloom and the dormant vines we saw on an overcast winter day the last weekend in December were just as beautiful and majestic. We poured ourselves each a glass of their outstanding premium chardonnay (which you can only purchase if you are a club member) and hiked the short trek up to the windy oaks where we said our vows almost 7 years ago. It was peaceful, serene and relaxing. As we stood at the top of the hill and looked down at the vineyard, we reminisced about that day and re envisioned where we stood, where the tables were set up, and imagined the sound of the music, the laughter of our friends and family and the joy we felt and continue to feel that we found each other. It was a great day.
Published on December 23, 2012
I love Christmas. As a mother of five children who works full time this can be a very busy time of year for me, but I embrace it wholeheartedly because I have learned how to relax and enjoy the holidays by being being efficient and by delegating certain tasks to others. (Paul wrapped all of the presents and I hired a house keeper to clean the house.) It saves my sanity and I get to focus on the things I really enjoy.
I shop online as much as possible and Paul and I have a brilliant time saving idea that has become a family tradition: we give the kids money to buy each other presents. They know what each other likes and wants and we don’t have to worry about it. What’s more, they get to experience the joy of giving. Yesterday Eva and Cheryl went Christmas shopping and when they came home, Eva announced, “I’m so proud of my gift choices. I really put a lot of thought into them and I just can’t wait to give everyone what I got them!”
Here’s a Shwanda family Christmas story that always warms my heart. Every year Paul gives his kids money to buy their mother a Christmas present. One year Cheryl was in charge of holding the money and she lost some of it. It must have fallen out of her pocket. She was crushed. She started to cry because she could no longer afford the present she had picked out for her mother. My girls, empathizing with her, gave her some of their money so she would have enough to complete her purchase. What wonderful sisters and I’m sure their act of kindness and generosity meant the world to Cheryl.
Published on October 31, 2012
My husband took me away for my birthday last week. We went to a small island off the coast of Long Beach, CA called Catalina. I had always heard of it, even when I was growing up on the East Coast. It’s famous for its pristine beaches, crystal clear blue water, exquisite dining and European-esque mountainous cliff side homes. When we pulled into the harbor I told my husband it reminded me of Sorrento, Italy and Malaga, Spain, two cities I have had the good fortune to visit.
To get there we had to take a ferry from Long Beach, but the night before we stayed on the Queen Mary, a retired cruise ship that is now permanently anchored and operates as a hotel. It was very magnificent and stately. Built in the ’30′s, it still has the original art deco wood paneling and lighting fixtures. We enjoyed sunning ourselves on the deck and touring the helm. Very cool. We stayed there a second night when we returned from the island.
Then we arrived in Catalina– the island of romance. Not only was the place incredibly beautiful, I basked in my husband’s attention and the knowledge that he planned the trip down to the smallest detail, including a massage at the hotel spa (which I declined in favor of sunning myself on the roof top deck of our hotel.) We rented bikes and toured the island, dined in fabulous seafood restaurants and relaxed. We discussed our future plans and what our life would be like once the kids are all moved out of the house (more trips alone like this come to mind). We also patted ourselves on the back for making such a great go and success of blending our families and noted that we pretty much did it all on our own. We really didn’t have much outside help. We stuck together. And for that we are very thankful.
Published on October 11, 2012
Yesterday I wrote about how I was coping about my pending empty nest. It’s hardly an empty house when you consider that I still have two kids living at home and most people I know with kids have only two to begin with, but you have to factor in my perspective. It was a whirlwind these past 6 years and Paul and I are still in amazement that we not only tackled the blended family challenge, but that we survived and flourished. This is a staggering accomplishment in light of the odds stacked against blended families. The divorce rate in first marriages is 50 percent and in second marriages it is close to 67 percent.
I wish I could say that I had a magic formula for how to successfully blend five kids, four cats, three dogs, two fish and a bird, but I don’t. I just followed my instincts. I went with my gut. Read the rest of this entry »
Published on October 10, 2012
Last night I made meat loaf and mashed potatoes for three people– Paul, Eva and myself. It felt very odd. Now that the three oldest kids are out of the house (Sam is in the Navy, Sophia is in the second year of college in Portland and Mark has move to San Francisco “to spread his wings”) and Cheryl was at her mom’s, our dinner table seemed kinda empty with just the three of us. Read the rest of this entry »
Published on July 31, 2012
Eva is on her way back from France today and her flight should be landing in Chicago any minute. She has a four hour lay over, will clear customs and then catch her connecting flight to San Francisco later this afternoon. She was gone six weeks, had a whirlwind trip, visited the Eiffel Tower twice, saw the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, traveled to Versailles and then to Spain for the final two weeks of the trip.
She almost didn’t make it home.
Yesterday, around 3pm, she sent a frantic Facebook message telling us she was out of money and did not have the funds to purchase a train ticket from Barcelona back to France for her flight home. Oy. (How she let this happen and did not keep track of her expenses is an issue I will address with her when she returns.)
I was frantic. Wiring money would not get there in time. Her father is the one who handles adding money to her TravelEx card, but he was unavailable for three hours with his cell phone turned off, watching a play.(Twelfth Night at Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Go see it!) I learned that the only way to add “instant” money to TravelEx card was to drive to San Jose, usually a 30 minute drive from our house, to the TravelEx store in the mall to add the funds in person. I finally reached her dad at 5:45 and he drove, frantically, through beach traffic, and arrived at the store just as it was closing. He convinced them to reopen the store for him and he was able to add the money. Whew! What a dad.
My heart just started beating again.