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 February 17, 2011
Recently I had coffee with a friend of mine, Sara, and I asked her to review some marketing material I has written for a new business I am forming. It is copy for the back of greeting cards I am creating for my seaweed art pressings. Sara is a business owner herself, and a very smart, creative person, whom I have often relied upon for advice and guidance, both personally and professionally. She’s the kind of person who always strives for the best. She is in many ways, an advanced achiever. I admire and respect her judgement and am grateful to have her as a friend. The copy in question was something I had been muling over for weeks. Paul, another person with high standards, had edited it too and thought it looked great. My dear friend, however, offered some more suggestions, a few tweaks here and there, and what we came up with I think is fantastic!
I couldn’t help but feel lucky to have Sara in my life. This was not the first time she has come to my “creative” aid. When I married Paul, she came to my house a few days before the wedding to see what she could do to help. I had wanted to decorate the baskets the flower girls were going to carry and my effort would have consisted of attaching some bows and leaving it at that. Sara took over, adorning the baskets with color coordinated ribbons and dried flowers. Her version was so much better than anything I could have come up with. I still have the baskets, which are displayed prominently on a shelf in my art studio.
Having friends like Sara are the best kind, because they elevate you to achieve more and inspire you to do your best. They raise the bar. Read the rest of this entry »
Published on February 17, 2011
Cheryl and I had a stepmother/stepdaughter lunch yesterday. I had been promising her for weeks to take her to lunch and shopping as a belated birthday present. She turned 13 in November and with my graduation, the holidays and her soccer schedule, we just didn’t get around to it. We went to a fantastic barbecue restaurant called SmoQe, which we had been wanting to go to for some time. Cheryl loves anything barbecue and the pulled pork sandwich she ordered yesterday was, in her words, “The best sandwich I have eaten in a long time.” I had a bbq chicken, bacon and apple pizza and for desert, we toasted marshmallows to make s’mores at our table.
The food was great, but the best part was the conversation. Read the rest of this entry »
Published on October 15, 2010
Paul is away on business and just left me a text that he pulling out of the gate and on his way home. This is his third trip this month. Even though we stay in close contact, talking and texting several times a day, I still really miss him. Don’t get me wrong, we have a ball when he’s gone. We order take out and watch chick flick movies in bed. It is nice to have some separation every once in while, especially since we both work from home and are together a lot. Still, we’re pretty attached to each other and living proof of the old adage: absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Published on August 5, 2010
Today is our anniversary. But not really. We actually officially got married on April 25th, that is legally. We eloped. But today marks the 4th anniversary of our public family blending ceremony and we are alone. We’re going out to dinner. I can’t believe it has been four years already. In some ways it feels like 14 years. We’ve accomplished a lot except the house is still not finished!!&(*#$@@$!!! I have slowly come to realize that it never will. I guess life is just one long work in progress.
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 13, 2010
One of the most sensitive issues in the whole blended family situation is the name thing. My kids have a different last name than my step kids and I now have a different last name than my children. Which is the dominant name in the family? We sort of solved that problem by combining the two names into one, Shwanda, which is the name of this blog. (To read more about the transformation click here.)
I changed my last name when I got married to my first husband because I wanted to have the same last name as my children. Maybe not the feminist thing to do, but it was my decision. When I got married to my second husband he was sensitive to the fact that I had my first husband’s last name. Go figure. He told me he wouldn’t have minded if I had kept my maiden name, but the first husband’s last name kinda bugged him. I debated a bit because then my children would be offended and they were, but I changed my last name to my Paul’s anyway and my kids eventually understood. I explained to them that their last name would always be their tie to Daddy and that I wanted my last name to be my tie to my husband. So it was settled. But not quite.
Sophia, my oldest daughter, wrote about this very subject in her blog Stepkid Stories. In her post titled The Name Game Sophia revealed that she has often been asked if she has any plans to change her last name. She considers this a bizarre and intrusive question and so do I. Why would she change her last name? Even if her father were dead, I would never change my children’s last name. I could see if her dad were a dead beat and not in the picture, but anyone who knows us well knows that Sophia’s dad is a very active part of her life. Even still… it is NO ONE’S business and is a question that should never be asked.
Published on May 4, 2010
While I was out dress shopping with Eva on Saturday, Sophia was at the high school taking her SAT’s. When she finished around 1pm she was starving so she came home and picked up Cheryl to take her to Burger King and then for a ride down to the beach. Sophia treated Cheryl since Cheryl has no money and Sophia has some money from her babysitting job. Sophia is very generous that way. She doesn’t ask to be reimbursed. She is a wonderful big sister. She often treats both Cheryl and Eva to movies and Starbucks. She reminds me of my big sisters, Nina and Pam who were also very good to me. The difference, of course, is that I was born into a family of older sisters. Cheryl was not.
Cheryl once told me that she cried on our wedding day. When I asked her why she said, “I cried tears of joy that I finally had sisters.” Sophia and Eva were not so cheerful that day because at the time they often considered Cheryl to be ”INSANELY ANNOYING!!!” All that has changed. Now, they wear each other’s clothes, trade makeup, ride bikes to the beach, go to the movies, hang out talking in their rooms and do just about everything together. Eva and Cheryl have this ritual every weekend when we are altogether. They pull out Eva’s wipe board and write a weekend “to do” list with tasks such as: (The spelling and parentheses are theirs.)
1. Put lemon juice in our hair and lay out in the sun.
2. Work on our tans.
3. Go to da beach.
4. Partay (not really)
5. Go to D.J.’s and get candy.
6. Create a dance routine.
7. Make a movie of our dance routine.
8. Get a samich at Joe’s
9. Wash Joey
10. Have a picnic on the trampoline.
This is the life of a 12 and 13 year-old. And what a life it is. I always tell them, “Do not ever tell me you didn’t have a wonderful childhood.”
Published on April 26, 2010
Yesterday was Paul and mine’s fourth wedding anniversary. For those of you who are not up to speed, we got married twice. We eloped in secret on April 25, 2006 in front of the Santa Cruz lighthouse and had a public ceremony later on August 5th at a winery with our friends and family. Why two ceremonies? Find out why by clicking on blended family finances.
It was a kid free weekend and I had hoped to spend the day yesterday with my hubby, but I was slammed with homework and finally came up for air around 3. Paul worked on the outdoor kitchen, which he’s been working on for about four years now, while I finished up my paper. Earlier in the day, we had made plans to go down to the light house and sit on the jetty while we sipped some champagne, but first I had to go to the store to get some champagne… and bread and toilet paper and stuff to eat for the week. I left the house and told Paul I would be right back. I was gone maybe half an hour. I was stopped at a red light as I was heading home when I saw him on his bicycle. He was waving his arms excitedly like he hadn’t seen me in years and smiling with a grin from ear to ear. I thought to myself, “Where is he going? And why? He knows we have plans?’ And then it dawned on me. He’s getting me flowers. Sure enough, as I was unpacking the groceries in the kitchen I saw him zipping down the driveway with a colorful bouquet tucked under his arm. For as long as I live, I will always remember, and savor, that look on his face. That was the best anniversary present of all.
Published on April 23, 2010
My daughter Sophia has recently started her own blog called Stepkids Stories, which is her account of her experiences as a daughter, stepdaughter sister and stepsister in a blended family. Many of her stories bring tears to my eyes, tears of sadness and joy, when I recall, through her perspective, all the struggles, challenges and changes we faced in becoming a blended family. I am happy to report that it appears that we have come out on the side of success and happiness, but for a while there it did not always seem that that would be the case. I welcome you to read her stories and to share with others, especially all the kids and stepkids in your life. Sophia is also looking for comments and contributions, as she is very anxious to hear your stories too. You may contact Sophia via email: Sophia(at)Shwanda(dot)com.
Published on April 22, 2010
This is the first in a series of Blended Family Stories in which I or one of my fellow moms and stepmoms will recount their experiences, challenges, frustrations and joys being the female head of a blended or stepfamily. If you or anyone you know would like to participate in my video log, please contact me at Carol@shwanda.com.