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.
Let’s hear from you.
Must Reads for Today’s Successful Blended Families
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 March 7, 2013
Cheryl and Sophia are headed to Europe this summer. They are going for a month and planning to stay with my dear friend who lives in Germany. If you’ve been following this blog, you may recall that Eva, my middle daughter, has spent the last two summers in Spain and France. Paul and I decided that this year it was the other girls’ turn to experience an international adventure.
Needless to say they are both thrilled beyond words. They’ve been plotting their itinerary, which includes a few excursions to Italy and France, and Skyping each other frequenly, since Sophia is still away at college. I’m a strong supporter of travel, particularly to foreign countries, because I know from my own experience that it is a life changing event. I went to Italy and Greece when I was 17 and I will never forget it.
Originally Sophia was going to go alone. I wanted her to have the worldly experience of staying with my multi-lingual friend, who works as a translater, to give her an edge in her chosen field of study, which is International Affairs. I considered sending Cheryl too, but I was worried it might be an imposition to send two kids to visit. My friend, however, did not seem to think so. When I contacted her to ask if Sophia could come visit she said an emphatic yes!, and then asked if Sophia would like to bring a friend. Sophia, knowing how much Cheryl has expressed an interest in travel, immediately asker her to join her.
And there you have it. Our house is very happy and buzzing with excitement.
Very soon we will find out what country Eva will be visiting next year for her Rotary study abroad program. I’ll keep you posted.
Published on March 7, 2013
A few weeks ago, in an effort to promote my Farmers Insurance Agency, I decided to enter my award winning Manhattan Clam Chowder in the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Clam Chowder Cook Off. It is an annual event on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk that benefits the Santa Cruz Parks and Recs and it is a terrific fundraiser and community event.
Paul and I went all out. We dressed up as farmers (get it), decorated our booth with hay bails and dragged the kids down to help us with the prep work. We had an absolute ball and it was a huge success in more ways than one. Here’s why.
About 8 years ago, when I was a single mom, I entered the cook off on a lark, and lo and behold, I won first place. I was thrilled and stunned. Yet the victory was bittersweet as I walked up to the podium to accept my victory plaque alone. I had no one to share my pride and joy with.
But now I do.
When I told Paul my plan to enter the contest he was gung ho. In fact, he did most of the work. It was his brilliant idea to create recipe cards with my business information on them. We gave out one to each of the 500 tasters who came to our booth. He designed our booth, created wooden signs and did all of the set up. And of course he bragged about me, my chowder and my insurance savvy to anyone who was willing to listen.
I was touched beyond words. So much so that when I fell into bed, exhausted, at the end of the evening, I snuggled in his arms and cried. Tears of joy that is, because I am so lucky to have him. What a guy.
Published on March 7, 2013
I’m a strong advocate and believer in the importance of personal growth and fulfillment. I believe it is both the basis for inner peace and happiness and the cure for insanity. Besides that, I’ve always thrived within the framework of intellectually stimulating challenges. (Just a few years ago I worked full-time while raising five teenagers and getting my masters degree.) I firmly believe in following one’s own personal path, which is defined outside of the parameters of raising children. (Besides, I could never bear to be one of those embarrassing cringe-inducing helicopter moms who still attends everyone of their college-aged children’s club sport tournaments and then posts 300 pictures on Facebook.)
Now that all but two of my five children have moved out of the house, I’ve a lot more free time to devote to my own professional and personal endeavors, which is why I decided to return my previous profession, the financial services industry. And I absolutely love it. I renewed my license to sell insurance and started my own insurance agency with Farmers Insurance– the. best.insurance.ever. The whole experience has been challenging, prosperous, invigorating and I get the added bonus of working with a fabulous group of people. It was the best decision I ever made.
But I digress.
My point is to get a life. Your own. Don’t be an empty nester wandering the house looking for a purpose, or worse, skittering about filling up your days with a false sense of “busy work.” Go back to school. Learn a new craft or trade. Do something to make yourself proud. You won’t regret it. And you will feel so good.
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 25, 2012
Paul’s Christmas gift to me this year was a mother’s ring– five diamonds set in band of gold. I loved it. When he presented it to me, everyone, myself especially, was breathless with anticipation. Let’s face it, a small tiny box with a bow on it has gotta be good. I really didn’t expect it. It was like his proposal to me all over again, only better. He told me it was my reward for being such a wonderful mother to all five of our children and his re-commitment to me to spend the rest of our lives together. If the kids were gagging over the corniness of it all they didn’t let on. In fact they seemed kind of pleased. After the gift opening was over, Cheryl, my youngest step daughter threw her arms around me. And that was the best Christmas present of all.
Published on December 25, 2012
We had a lovely Christmas Eve celebration last night. All of the kids were here for dinner, along with Paul’s 92-year-old father, who was recovering from recent hernia surgery. As we were about to sit down to our traditional Italian dinner of seven fishes (although we only had three kinds this year), Paul left the table to assist his father in the rest room.
It took quite a while.
Paul came out a few times to get some things for his dad while the rest of us patiently waited for them to join us. The kids were all chattering animatedly, cutting jokes and excited about the fact that I let them drink wine, all the while too aware that Pop Pop seemed more feeble and frail than usual. The thought that this might be his last Christmas was a sentiment left unspoken.
I can’t remember who spoke first, I think it was Cheryl, who jokingly commented to her brothers, “That’s your job when Dad gets old,” referring to the toileting assist process that was going on in the bathroom. Mark replied, “Happily. I would be proud and honored to take care of my Dad when he gets old.” The conversation evolved into a discussion about caring for aging parents and how each child would be honored to care for us in our old age.
I started to cry tears of joy as I recalled spoon feeding my bed ridden father as his health declined after several strokes or changing my mother’s bed pan after her heart surgery. These are things a child does for a parent as pay back for all the years they tended to our broken hearts and skinned knees. It’s not an obligation or a chore, it’s a privilege.
Pop Pop finally joined us for dinner and enjoyed his meal. He loved the pecan pie, but couldn’t eat it because the nuts were too big so Paul chopped them up into tiny little pieces. Afterward, Paul and Mark took Dad home. They stayed to help him get his pajamas on and tucked him into bed.
When Paul returned home to me he told me, “I think this might be my dad’s last Christmas.” I hugged him and whispered in his ear, “You’re a good son.”
Published on December 23, 2012
Paul and I hosted our annual holiday open house yesterday. (For those of you who couldn’t make it, you missed a good one.) We haven’t thrown the party in a few years and this year we decided it was time to get back into the swing of things. We are both very social, love to entertain and we see these once year gatherings as a way to maintain our friendships and stay in touch with those who mean so much to us.
We had a wonderful time. Guests arrived laden with delectable pot luck dishes, wine, desserts and other goodies. Someone brought homemade kalua. We sat outside in our outdoor kitchen by the fire sipping mulled wine and cider, listening to our son play the guitar and basked in the glow of our successful blended family. All of the kids were home and participated in the party. They helped set up, clean up, serve and entertain. Sophia and Eva orchestrated the decoration of a homemade gingerbread house. (Every year we make a gingerbread house from scratch using a mold. It is one of our family rituals.) It was a wonderful party and afterward Paul and I thanked our lucky stars for building such a strong, successful blended family.
At the end of the evening, after the guests had departed, all of the kids cleaned up the kitchen. (I was exhausted from days of party preparation and lounged on the couch.) Sam and Sophia, the two oldest, took charge and directed the other kids. All of the children have a nice rythym of working together. They were actually singing! I think Sam summed up the sentiment of the evening best when earlier someone asked me if the kids all get along and he chimed in, “We do now!” Seeing them work together as a team makes the past seven years of sometimes pure hell somehow all seem worth it. And that’s the present Christmas present ever.
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 December 11, 2012
My kids are so lucky to have my sister Jill in their lives. She lives nearby, just a few miles from our house and has always been wonderfully doting to my kids. Now that I have been married to Paul for almost 7 years and the step mom to his three kids, Jill has warmly embraced her step niece and nephews as well. This is important not only for them, but for me too. She’s supportive and helpful to me, which over the past several years has been a god send, believe me.
Recently Jill had the opportunity to bond with Cheryl over her photography and has been unbelievably supportive of Cheryl’s decision to go to Ecuador. Cheryl and I have been fundraising like crazy to raise money for her trip. We started a little photo art card business and have been selling her cards at local holiday craft fairs. Not only did Aunt Jill fill in for me at one of the fairs, she has taken Cheryl’s cards to work to sell them to her co-workers. Jill jokes that they all owe her for all of the Girl Scout cookies and candy bars she’s purchased from them over the years.
Cheryl was most appreciative. She and her Aunt Jill have formed a photography club of their own (Jill’s a fab photographer too) and that is their special bond.
Below is a sampling of Cheryl’s fine photography. I’m partial to the beach scenes.