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 April 25, 2012
I’ve written a lot lately about how I am “getting my groove back” so to speak now that the kids have either moved out of the house or are so independent they really don’t want us around. Paul and I are approaching the empty nest phase of our lives quite rapidly and with relish. We’ve spent the last few weekends cleaning up the yard and planting a garden and I am so thrilled to have the time and energy once again to devote to a long neglected passion. I love to cook with fresh herb and vegetables from my garden, but I also like to create art with pressed flowers.
Before I married Paul I used to have a business decorating glassware– bottles and wine glasses, with pressed flowers. I mentioned to Paul that I would like to get back into again, not as a business, but more but as a creative outlet. I could sell them on Etsy, where I’m currently selling my original pressed seaweed art. It is obvious that I love to press things as keepsakes in order the capture the sometimes fleeting nature of the natural world.
Published on October 18, 2011
Friday marks my 50th birthday and I have a lot to celebrate. Not only did I get carded while buying wine last week, I can honestly count that in the course of my 50 years, I have made at least 50 very dear, close friends. How many people can say that?
I threw myself a girls only party last week and I invited my 50 friends. Not all of them could come, because they either live too far away, or they had other commitments, but I can’t even begin to describe what it felt like to be surrounded by so many wonderful, intelligent and loving people whom I have come to cherish, love and respect all of these years.
My dear husband Paul, the only male in attendance, acted as our host, pouring drinks, serving food and entertaining. Toward the end of the evening, after we cut the cake, he asked everyone to speak about how they got to know me. My friends responses moved me to tears because over the course of the years, I’ve often only considered what my friends have meant to me, and not so much what I have meant to them.
My best friend told me how much she loved me because I was always so kind to her daughter. We met when our girls were in kindergarten and her daughter had a difficult time making friends and I invited her over for a play date. Another friend, who is going through a nasty divorce, said she was inspired by my ability to “always keep going.” And my newer set of friends, the ones I made through Paul, told me how much they appreciate me for how good I am to him and his children.
These are accolades everyone needs to hear once in a while, because believe me, I’m not always so upbeat. I have my moments of self-doubt, regrets of what I should have done etc.But there is one thing I am assured I always got right– I surrounded myself with the best group of girl friends anyone could ever hope for.
Published on October 9, 2011
Today is my best friend Cindy’s birthday. She would have been 53. She died 8 years ago from a brain tumor. In honor of her memory, and in celebration of her life, I am reposting an essay I wrote shortly after her death that was inspired from a conversation I had with her months after she learned her diagnosis.
To Cindy, and to all of the wonderful, creative, loving people who died too young…
I miss my children being young and I miss being young with them. I have age spots. Some of my parts are wearing out and starting to sag. I used to scoff at the aging process by reassuring myself, “I won’t mind looking old so long as I don’t feel old.” I was delusional. Getting old sucks. I’d have a midlife crisis about this if I had time. My second greatest fear after getting and feeling old is becoming a cliche, like an aging movie star with way too much “work”. I am here to tell you that the alternative to getting old is dying young, and that sucks more.
My best friend Cindy and I met in the park when our oldest children were babies. She was my first friend here in California and my savior when I went through my divorce. We clicked immediately and from the first time we met, we either saw each other or spoke on the phone every day.
One of the many things we had in common was our birthdays , which were only a few days apart, except she was three years older. What we didn’t have in common was that I always looked forward to my birthday and celebrated for days before and after. Cindy, on the other hand, did not. When our birthdays rolled around I would always call her and say, “Hey, let’s go our for lunch and celebrate our birthdays.” She would always decline. She never wanted to go. At first I thought her hesitance was due to the fact that she didn’t like being the center of attention, which was true. She was a very private person. Over time I realized the true reason for her reluctance. Cindy saw birthdays as an acknowledgement that she was getting old. Once I realized this, being the sensitive, compassionate friend that I was, I mocked her. Every year, a few days before her birthday I would call her and say, “So, your birthday is coming up. How old are you going to be? Let’s see. I’m 37 so that must make you 40!” She’d groan, “Don’t mention it.” With persistence, I’d eventually convince her to have lunch with me and I would chuckle when she held the menu at arm’s length so she could read it, since she refused to be seen in public with reading glasses.
When Cindy was 43 she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and a year later, after an horrific fight to live, she died. She was 44. She left behind her only child, Molly, who was 10. A few months before she died I went to visit her. I remember thinking that in spite of her illness, how beautiful she was. She had been reading a women’s magazine and it was opened to a page with ads for Botox. Gesturing to the magazine and with profound irony she said, ” All of this fear of getting old stuff is such crap. Botox, liposuction, plastic surgery. It is all such crap. I’m never going to have wrinkles. I will never experience the luxury of getting old.” Later, upon reflection, I was taken aback by her choice of words. The “luxury” of getting old. Who knew getting old was a good thing? A luxury. I was so relieved. It was a defining moment in my life and one I promised her I would always remember. When her next birthday rolled around Cindy wasn’t up to many visitors. I bought her a bouquet of flowers and card and left them on her doorstep. I wrote in my note: ” Dear Cindy, I want to see you get old because for as long as I live I want to take pleasure in knowing that no matter how old I am, you will always be older.” She called me later that day and said, “So do I.” We had a good laugh. A few months later she was gone.
As a tribute to Cindy I made a vow to myself to not only age gracefully, but to accept it with pride and gratitude. Now when I look in the mirror I no longer bemoan my wrinkles, age spots or bulging middle. Instead I am grateful that I have lived long enough to experience them in the first place. To Cindy– the most beautiful, natural beauty there ever was.
Published on October 4, 2011
My birthday is at the end of this month and this year I will be the Big Five O. Yes, 50. I know. I don’t look it. That’s what everyone tells me. My secret is good genes and never leaving the house without sunscreen. I do have to say there are days when I sure feel it. The teenage years almost did me in.
I’ve decided to mark the occasion by celebrating all month. This weekend Paul and I are headed up to San Francisco to stay at our friend’s boat in South Beach.
Love it. Can’t wait.
And then next weekend I am throwing myself a party. I’ve invited all of my girlfriends to a girls only potluck. I think we are going to play pin the tail on the donkey or maybe punch a pinata, which should all be very entertaining after a few cocktails. And the following week, my sisters are flying in from the East Coast and we are headed to Monterey for a spa weekend.
I deserve it. My sisters feel they deserve it too, which is why they are coming. Lucky us.
Published on August 21, 2011
Sophia left for college yesterday. We packed the car Friday night and Saturday morning she drove up with her dad, his partner Keith, Eva and Cheryl for the 14 hour trek to Lewis and Clark in Portland, Oregon. I will fly up and join them on Tuesday. After weeks of flurried activity and anticipation, the house now seems achingly quiet.
After I watched them pull away, I went into the house, shut the door and cried. Tears of joy, sadness? Not sure. Probably both. It was like my whole maternal life flashed before me. As I pondered my feelings, I realized my sadness wasn’t just because I was going to miss her, (I am) it was more because I was grieving for the loss of time that has passed that I can never recover. Sophia will never be a little 3-year-old excited about her new doll for Christmas. I reminisced about all the happy memories. Those American Girl Doll collections, the family vacations and the look of wonder and awe on her face that time when we visited the lorikeets at the zoo.
Did I enjoy them enough? Did I savor the moment? I was at a loss as to how to come to grips with my feelings. I knew I had to accept the inevitable and move on. My baby was no longer a baby. She is a mature adult, excited and happy about her own future. I have to let go, but how?
I busied myself with mindless tasks — laundry and housework ( I vacuumed under her bed and dusted all of her knick knacks.) I needed to get a grip. I decided to go into work for a few hours. I knew my coworker was going to bring in his 2-week-old infant son for a visit. I walked into his office and watched while he changed his squrimy baby on his desk. Poopy diaper. Lots of tissues and baby wipes strewn about. Oops. Not fast enough. Projectile pee straight up in the air. All over him. All over the baby. All over his desk.
My coworker looked up at me in distress. “I don’t think I am cut out for this!” he exclaimed in exasperation.
“It’s too late now. There’s no turning back. You’re a parent. Get used to it.” I reminded him.
I thought to myself, “Maybe Sophia going off to college isn’t so bad after all?” And it was in that epiphanous moment that I was cured. My empty nest doldrums evaporated in a snap. I finally remembered the not-so-good times– the fevers, the runny noses, the tears over acne, the mean girl dramas at school, and yes, those occasional mind numbing temper tantrums.
I finally rejoiced that it was all over. I survived.
Sophia is an adult now. When she has a child and it screams from colic, I can hand it back to her mommy.
I can’t wait.
Published on May 31, 2011
I have always believed that there’s no time like the present to learn a new skill or develop a new hobby. It keeps life interesting, challenging and staves off boredom, and dare I say, the empty nest syndrome. I think this is especially important when one reaches, ah hem, the middle-aged years, when our lovely children leave their nests and move on to greener pastures and greater opportunities for themselves.
It’s time. Not just for them, but for me too. Read the rest of this entry »
Published on June 26, 2010
This past week marked two great family gathering events in the Shwanda household. Paul’s brother and five sisters all flew or drove into Santa Cruz (from as far away as Alabama and Ohio) for a family reunion to celebrate Pop Pop’s 90th birthday. In addition, my ex-husband, Jared, took our two daughters, Sophia and Eva, to his niece’s wedding in New Jersey. Sophia and Eva got to spend the first part of the week with their step dad’s family and the second part of the week with their dad’s family. (Jared’s family is also rather large in that he has one sister and four brothers.)
It was a fun filled, busy and joyful occasion filled with lots of activities during the day with surfing, sailing and kayaking, and in the evenings at each other’s homes playing charades, board games and reminiscing over old photos of Pop Pop in the army and on his wedding day. Those were the moments when I looked at my girls blending in with their “step” aunts, uncles and cousins, enjoying themselves and feeling included, even though they don’t share the same heritage, history or genealogy. After Sophia and Eva left for the wedding in New Jersey, where I heard reports that they ripped up the dance floor with their East coast cousins, we had one final big party at our house on the last day of the reunion.
I had planned a menu of grilled chicken kabobs, homemade potato salad and coleslaw. It was a pot luck and everyone brought their contribution. Paul’s older brother decided he wanted the family to take a trip down memory lane and asked his wife to prepare “bun burgers,” a dish their mother made for them as children. It stirred some fond and not so fond memories. (Apparently not everyone liked the bun burgers.) I didn’t quite get the recipe, but I watched them being prepared. Basically, you prepare ground beef like you are making hamburgers. Throw in some spices and some chopped onions, but instead of adding bread crumbs, pick out the bread from the tops of hamburger buns, which leaves a big O, tear it into pieces and add to the mix. The top of the bun is placed on the bottom half of the bun and then on a cookie sheet. Next, scoop up a generous dollop of hamburger meat and place inside the opening of the top bun. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees and just before they are done, top with strips, in an X shape, of Kraft processed American cheese. Place back in oven until melted.
I have to say they were pretty darn good and could easily be adapted to something healthy and rather gourmet if using, say, ground turkey, whole wheat buns and perhaps some goat cheese, instead of the fatty beef and fake cheese. The culinary nostalgia didn’t end there. No. There were fish sticks too! You know, the frozen kind that comes in a box with lots of fillers and mystery ingredients. They were a once-a-week staple in Paul’s family’s house. Paul’s brother felt that no family reunion was complete without fish sticks and bun burgers. As we were standing around the kitchen, noshing on the retro delicacies, he lamented, “Too bad we don’t have fake milk to go with them.” Anyone who grew up in a large, budget stretching family in the 50′s and 60′s would know what fake milk is. I do. My mom used to take powdered milk, mix it with water and add it to the real milk to make it last a little longer. It was gross, but we accepted it because that’s just the way it was.
As Paul’s family reminisced about their childhood memories, I reflected on my own (I’m one of five kids.) and realized that big families are pretty much the same. It isn’t just the food, the family vacations, the sibling squabbles and competition for the bathroom that they have in common, but rather the inherent bonds, life lessons and experiences that go with the territory. I’ve always said being part of a big family prepares you for life’s greatest challenges: To be able to get along with anyone, to know how to wait your turn, to accept delayed gratification and to tolerate things that can at times be somewhat unpleasant.
My thoughts wandered to the future as I pictured myself at Sophia’s or Eva’s wedding and imagined all the guests who would attend. There would be my family, Jared’s family and Paul’s. It would be a blended family wedding… and one hell of a party.
Published on May 21, 2010
There was a spring fair at Eva’s school today and I had no idea. She called me at lunch to ask me if she could go. I vaguely remember getting some emails about donating cookies to a bake sale or buying raffle tickets, but I didn’t pay much attention. Why? Because I don’t care. I’m burnt out. I’ve become one of those moms, the kind I used to deride for “not doing their part.”
I have no guilt about this what- so- ever.
This is a very timely topic for all those 30- ish moms with young kids out there who are still killing themselves to be power moms. I recently had a conversation on this very topic with my newly found cyber mom friend, Carley Knobloch of Mother Craft Coaching, who specializes in helping moms simplify their lives. She teaches busy moms how to apply her “ADD” formula to prioritize their daily tasks. The “A” stands for act, as in act on things you should do right away, like opening and sorting mail before it piles up. The first “D” represents those things you should delegate, like buying the cookies for the spring fair instead of baking them yourself. The final “D” stands for delete and these are all the things you really don’t need to do, like volunteering for everything. I’m in the delete parenting phase of my life right now.
As I told Carley, your lives get much simpler as you and your kids get older. First your kids start to feed themselves, then they go to the bathroom alone, followed by bathing themselves, putting themselves to bed and finally driving, getting jobs and supporting themselves. Along the way you stop obsessing over every activity. You come to terms with the fact that your child is not going to be an Olympic gymnast or professional soccer player after all, and you eventually lose that drive to have it all, do it all and be it all. This usually happens around middle school when your kids don’t want you hanging out at their school anyway. So all you young moms out there, chillax. Take a breather. Savor your babies now because it goes by so fast.
Published on March 14, 2010
Eight years ago, when I first became a single mom, I was in a wine shop and spotted a picnic backpack filled with all the essentials for a romantic picnic for two: plates, silverware, a cheese board, a wine opener (can’t forget that), wine glasses, cloth napkins and a tablecloth. I bought it and dreamed of a day when I would use it on the beach with a romantic partner. We’d ride our bikes along a path by the ocean, stop at a gourmet deli and pick up some local wine and exotic cheeses, find a cozy, sunny spot on the beach and enjoy the fine food and company. So romantic.
I never used that picnic backpack. I put it on a shelf and forgot about it. Until today. I spent most of the morning working on homework and when I was done I announced to Paul that is was time to HAVE SOME FUN!!! It was his idea to go for a bike ride and have a picnic on the beach. “Hey,” he reminded me, “Don’t you have a picnic backpack thing that we’ve never used?” He retrieved it from the laundry room shelf where it had been gathering dust. I cleaned it off and while Paul loaded the bikes into the car, I ran to the store to get some indulgent, decadent noshing foods like Humboldt Fog goat cheese, tapenades, crusty bread, wine and dark chocolate. Yum. We drove down to Pacific Grove to a park called Lover’s Point and rode our bikes to Monterey. The weather was gorgeous. It was so relaxing and romantic. We found the perfect spot, a “rock” table and while I set out the food, I thought about how far I’ve come since I first bought this backpack and how happy I was that I finally got to use it.
Then it got kind of cold and windy. Paul spilled his wine all over the table and accidentally sat in it. He had this pee like stain on his butt. A homeless person wandered by and I felt kind of guilty that we were indulging and thought about offering her some food. We forgot the bike lock so I worried the bikes would get stolen. And then my lactose intolerance started to kick in. But it was very romantic. I swear. Not exactly as I pictured it, but then nothing ever is.
Published on February 2, 2010
Whew! Wow, what a month this has been. It flew by. I cannot believe it. I just finished my first course, Media Literacy, for my master’s degree in Internet Marketing and I ABSOLUTELY loved it. I think going back to school was the best decision I ever made. I am learning so much my brain is bursting with creativity. I made my own website on iWeb, a movie about myself on iMovie, set up an iGoogle page and created an avatar in Second Life. The latter of which was way cool. If you have never been to Second Life I highly recommend it. It is virtual reality at its best.
The greatest part of all of this is that this whole experience has brought Paul and me even closer together. We talk endlessly all day (we work together, remember) and into the night about how we can work what I am learning into our current and future business plans. I have to create a marketing plan for my master’s thesis on a company of my choice so I am doing mine on our business. Paul tells me he has never seen me so happy, energized and creative. I agree. Going back to school at 48 , with five children has been an amazing experience. Everyone chips in to help out and whatever doesn’t get done I am learning to ignore. My standards of cleanliness have gone lower than ever before but who cares? I am a vessel of knowledge now and nothing is going to stop me.