About Carol

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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I would like my blog to be a forum for my readers to share their stories and experiences and express their views and opinions about being a part of a blended family. I am working on a book tentatively titled:Blended Family Stories. It will be an in depth look at the real life challenges and joys of successful blended families. If you would like to be part of my research I'd love to hear from you.Take my Blended Family survey

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  • Published on March 19, 2012

    Below is an except to a follow up piece I wrote for Parent Society called My Gay Ex-Husband about why I think gay people can and do make good parents, and why I am in favor of same sex marriage. Although the original title was called, Do Gay People Make Good Parents?, I now think a more apt title would have been, Can Gay People Make Good Parents? because as one of my readers pointed out, it doesn’t really matter if you are gay or straight, you could be a great or lousy parent regardless of your sexual orientation.

    When my oldest daughter turned 16, my ex-husband, “J” bought her a car. He asked me for a ride to the dealership so he could pay for it and pick it up. As I drove away from the parking lot, I glanced bank and watched him as he sat down at the salesman’s desk, pulled out his reading glasses from his pocket, put them on and took out his check book. I couldn’t help but think, “How dad-like.” Yes, my ex-husband has turned into his father. Aside from the divorce, this could be a modern Norman Rockwell story, an all-American rite of passage. Dad buys his daughter a car. What a guy. The difference here of course, for those of you not up to speed, is that my ex-husband is gay. Read more…

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  • Published on March 19, 2012

    Below is an except of an article I wrote for Parent Society about how I coped when my ex-husband of 10 years came out of the closet as gay.

    Do you remember when former New Jersey governor, James McGreevey, announced he was gay? I sure do. I recall smiling ruefully to myself when I heard people talking about the scandal and wondering, “How could his wife not know? Can you imagine being married to someone and not knowing he’s gay?” Yep, I can, because it happened to me. Read more…

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  • Published on June 5, 2011

    It really warms my heart to see the genuine love and affection between my two girls, Sophia and Eva, and Paul’s daughter, Cheryl. There is definitely a very strong bond between them. For instance, last week I took all three girls to the drug store (stay tuned for my next post on condom buying research for health class) and while I was immersed in what I was shopping for, I looked over and saw Cheryl put her arms around Sophia. She needed a hug and Sophia complied and there they stood in Walgreens, embracing. It struck me as very dear. But the next story is even more special.

    As I have mentioned previously, Sophia is going off to college in Portland, OR this fall and her dad, my ex, Jared, is planning to drive her and Eva up the coast on a road trip. (I will fly up separately.) He’s talking about renting a car one-way and possibly taking the train home. It should be a wonderful end of the summer trip and a great send off for Sophia. Both girls are lobblying their dad to take Cheryl too. As Sophia opined to me, “Cheryl really, really wants to come.”

    After Sophia’s birthday party dinner Jared, Sophia, Eva and I were alone and talked about the planned trip. Both Sophia and Eva piped in, “Dad, can we pleeease bring Cheryl with us???”  I assured both girls that we would fine a way to make sure that Cheryl would be able to join them. The next day when I spoke to Jared on the phone he said he would be happy to include Cheryl in his plans. What a great dad!!! What a great guy!!! And what great sisters three girls are!!! The trip is going to be so much fun and something great to look forward to all summer.

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  • Published on May 21, 2011


    There have been a lot of public service announcements on TV lately raising awareness about the hurtful anti-gay expression “That’s so gay.” My favorite is the one with Hilary Duff where she overhears some teenage girls in a clothing store and  corrects them by explaining that the remark is actually derogatory. The girls are mystified and ultimately ashamed to be admonished for something they had no idea was bad.

    We had a similar situation in our house a while ago where Paul had to correct the kids from using that expression. He pointed out that this is a particularly sensitive subject since my girls’ father is gay. I don’t think people really get it until they have had a personal relationship with someone who is homosexual. And in an anti-gay society where many gay people are still closed, it’s a wonder how many people we actually know who are gay.

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  • 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.

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  • Published on February 17, 2010

    When I found myself a single mom at 40 with two young daughters, (ages 6 and 9) after 12 years of marriage, to what turned out to be a gay guy, I have to confess that I found myself in a state of total dating anxiety. I hadn’t dated in 15 years and quite frankly I wasn’t sure I remembered how. I was insecure for sure and worried that men would no longer consider me attractive.  I had been a wall flower in high school and then went on to a college where the ratio of men to women was one to eight. And then there was the marriage to the gay guy, so you can see that not only were my dating skills rusty, they had sucked to begin with. Read the rest of this post on Momversation.

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  • Published on December 4, 2009

    I watched this and it brought tears to my eyes. I am so proud of Ms. Baxter for her courage, bravery and articulation of a very serious, private and personal issue. Her story reminded me of our own personal story.

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  • Published on October 16, 2009

    I caught Paul’s cold and I’m miserable. Last night my tonsils felt like they were bursting out of my throat. Some people actually welcome the opportunity to stay in bed with a box of tissues watching I Love Lucy reruns (which is what I did as a kid and what I did last night), but I don’t. As an adult with kids I dreaded getting sick because I always had to take care of the kids by myself. My family was on the opposite coast and my first husband was a work-a-holic who was never home. I can remember having swollen glands and a temperature of 103 with an infant and a toddler and still he would work until 11PM. It was awful.

    That was then. This is now, and Paul is sooooo much different. When I’m sick, not only does he act and look concerned, he actually takes care of me.  He cooks dinner. He makes me tea and he will go to the store and buy me soup if I asked him to. What a guy. What a difference. I shouldn’t bash my ex because he was going through his own sexual identity turmoil, but I didn’t know that a the time.

    I feel much better today not only because I am tanked up on Sudafed and Tylenol, but because my hubby is in town and I have the comfort of knowing that  when he gets home tonight he will make dinner, clean up the kitchen  and bring me tea.

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  • Published on August 12, 2009

    Statue of LibertyNY harbor where WTC used to beThe fourth leg of our trip was spent in Central New Jersey in a town called Middlesex which is where Jared, my ex-husband’s father, Tony lives. My late mother-in-law, whom I adored, passed away about four years ago. She was a lovely woman and a doting grandma. This was my first trip to their house in seven years, which was right around the time Jared and I separated. I had seen both of my in-laws five years ago when they came to my mother’s funeral, but I did not visit their house and it has been years since I had seen Jared’s siblings. My girls were really anxious to see their grandpa so I called him a few months ago when I was planning this trip to see if we could spend a few days with him. I told him I was also bringing my stepchildren with me and he was very receptive to meeting them. He assured me he had plenty of room for all of us.

    I really lucked out in the in-law department. They always treated me like a daughter and when Jared and I divorced, my mother-in-law told me, “You’re still one  of us. ” I miss my mother-in-law terribly. She died 10 months after my mother died and I was totally unprepared. She was only 72 and her death was unexpected. I wondered how I would feel walking into her house with her not there. I did not go to her funeral because she died in September just when the kids were starting school, and because of that I never felt like I had closure. Read the rest of this entry »

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  • Published on July 12, 2009

    Jared, my ex-husband, took our daughter Eva and Paul’s son Mark to the  Giants game last night.They had a great time. Mark was delighted to be included and Eva was thrilled to have the company. Sophia did not want to go. Baseball is not her thing and she had other plans.

    It is interesting to see how my ex-husband has become my step children’s sort of uncle. Read the rest of this entry »

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