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 April 16, 2012

    "image of Parent Society Badge" For those of you who read this blended family blog on a regular basis, you may have noticed that I have not been writing too many posts lately. It’s not because I have nothing to say. No. That is never the case. It’s more because I am having my say other places besides here. I have become a regular contributor for a parent focused blog called Parent Society and I love it. I get to write about all kinds of things, (not just about being a step parent), like vegetarian cooking and eco/green living, as well as imparting my wisdom and insight into being a parent.

    Although I love being a mom and step mom in a blended family, it is no longer my main focus. Our kids have adjusted and the hardest part is over. Paul and I will be married six years this month and we cannot believe how quickly the time has whizzed by. We’ve weathered a lot, believe me, and both of us are in agreement that if we knew then what we know now, chances are we probably would not have embarked on this journey of blending five kids, four cats, three dogs, two fish and a bird. Ignorance is bliss. Good thing. Do either of us have regrets? Hell no.

    Now that our two oldest kids, Sam and Sophia, have moved out to (Sam to the Navy and Sophia to college) and the youngest three are not far behind them, Paul and I are focusing on ourselves and each other. It has been an interesting transition and one met with complete exhilaration and joy. Hallelujah. The kids are grown and moving out. Let’s go have fun! Alone.

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  • Published on February 22, 2012

    Paul and I rarely make any special plans for Valentine’s Day because often times we have the kids with us, but when we don’t, we always make time for romance. That’s the way it is with remarried couples with kids from their previous marriages. When the kids are with the other parents, we are alone. In addition to every other weekend sans children, Wednesday nights are our date nights because it is a “no kid” night.  Either we have a candlelit dinner at home or we ride our bikes to the local eatery.

    Last Wednesday, the day after Valentine’s Day, Paul surprised me. He picked me up from work on a glorious, sunny day and took me for a drive along the coast. Afterward we stopped in at the tasting room/restaurant of one of our favorite wineries, The Bonny Doon Vineyard  Cellar Door. By sheer chance, the wine maker Randall Graham, a rather pleasant, yet eccentric sort, who bills himself as the Rhone Derranger, was standing behind the bar. We got a chance to talk with him Paul purchased his book for me Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology which he signed. I am thoroughly enjoying the book, which has been reviewed as, ” an iconoclastic send-up of the wine industry and a celebration of unsung grape varieties, the book features, among other things, Grahm’s hilarious literary parodies–Joyce, Kafka, Pynchon, Salinger, and others–together with song lyrics, other snarky satires, poems, lectures, and more. Subtle undertones of gravitas with faint suggestions of earnestness lie beneath the humor…

    The best part of all, aside from sharing time alone with my hubby, was being the recipient of Paul’s spontaneity and intuition for what would make me happy. That’s the best Valentine’s gift of all.

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  • Published on February 7, 2012

    Before the Super Bowl on Sunday, Paul and I took a ride up a country rode into the mountains to stop by a store I’ve been meaning to visit for a long time, the Ben Lomond Mountain Feed and Farm Supply. What a charming and inviting country store. A series of stores, actually. A gift shop, a cooking store (where I tasted basil and garlic infused local honey) and a feed shop.  Plants and gardening supplies along with really neat lawn decoration. Paul and I have plans to clean up our side yard and turn it into a vegetable garden this spring. I loved the stores, and I especially loved the private little getaway with my husband.

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  • Published on October 10, 2011

    Paul and I had a fabulous weekend in San Francisco. It started Friday afternoon around 3 when I got home from work and Paul already had the car  packed, including our bikes on the rack on the back of the car. He left my suitcase, opened on our bed, waiting for me to toss in the weekend’s essentials. I packed in about 10 minutes and we were outta there.

    We drove up the coast and stopped in Pescadero at our usual pit stop, Arcangeli’s Market, where we purchased a bottle of local wine, artisanal goat cheese and Arcangeli’s signature artichoke bread. It was still warm. This is something we have been doing since we first met and the ritual of the routine always gives me a sense of comfort. I’m brimming with love for this man. He’s sooo romantic.

    We arrived at South Beach Harbor at about 6, opened up the boat, noshed on our goodies and took a moonlit bike ride up the Embarcadero along the waterfront to the Ferry Plaza Building. It was so peaceful and relaxing. Paul and I love  boating, sailing, harbors, seaports and anything to do with water. We were in our element.

    It was Fleet Week in San Francisco and the waterfront was loaded with sailors, in their pegged legged pants and white cupped caps. Paul couldn’t help but feel supreme pride in his son, Sam, who is currently in Naval basic training. I’m sure he imagined seeing him in uniform. I couldn’t help but feel that Paul’s nautical influence has rubbed off on his son, who was a seasoned sailor at a very young age.

    "image of a crab Ceasar Salad"

    The Blue Angels were in town so we biked over to North Beach to watch the show, which also included appearances by the Royal Canadian Snow Birds and the Stealth Bomber. The rest of the weekend was taken up with dinner with friends, lunch at  Ferry Plaza Seafood and quiet, romantic evenings alone. As I mentioned before, we are not going to have any trouble adjusting to an empty nest.

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  • Published on September 26, 2011

    When Paul and I weren’t sailing in Marina del Rey or biking along Venice Beach, we were savoring seafood at some of the best restaurants in town– most notably, one aptly named Killer Shrimp.

    Our waitperson told us that they simmer the shrimp in a special seasoning for ten hours. We could smell it from the harbor. It’s killer. Trust me. I was so enamored of this delectable brew, that I Googled the recipe and found the “unofficial version” at Epicurious. Here it is.


    • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
    • 1 teaspoon celery seed
    • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
    • 1 teaspoon black pepper
    • 2 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 2 tablespoons dried rosemary
    • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
    • 3 ounces tomato paste
    • 8 ounces clam juice
    • 1 stick butter
    • 1 cup white wine
    • 2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
    • 1 1/2 pounds peeled shrimp, with tails
    • French bread for dipping.

    Partially break up the rosemary, thyme, and fennel seed with fingers. Place all ingredients, except wine and shrimp, in a large pot.
    Simmer for about 30 minutes and add wine. Continue to simmer for a total cooking time of no more than 2 hours. Just before serving, add raw shrimp. Simmer until shrimp is done, stirring, about 2 minutes.  Serve. Each bowl should contain a serving of shrimp and a lot of broth, which should almost completely cover the shrimp.

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  • Published on September 26, 2011

    Paul and I were in Southern California on a business/mostly pleasure trip for the past five days. We stayed on his brother’s sail boat in the Marina del Rey harbor and it was absolutely the most relaxing and wonderful respite from a busy, hectic blended family life.

    Paul and I both love the ocean, marinas and sailing and on this vacation we got to experience all three. The whole time we were gone I couldn’t help but think, “This is how we do it! If we didn’t have this time alone, we would never survive.”

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  • 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 »

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  • 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 May 8, 2010

    Snow covered mountainsJelly fish decorReno hotel roomPaul and I are on a business trip in Reno, NV, a town that bills itself as the biggest little town …or… the smallest big town. I can’t remember. Something like that. Unlike their sister city, Las Vegas, also a gambling town, Reno has a more comfy, Wild West feel to it. (Note the Italian restaurant named Romanza. Is that a cross between romance and Bonanza??) It is closer to our home so we drove the five hour trip  past snow covered mountains through Truckee and Tahoe. We are here for a conference in which both Paul and I were guest speakers. More on that later. First I have to tell you about the hotel. If I were searching for words to describe it, ” tasteful” would not be one of them. However, this place is a riot and we are having a ball.

    The casino, with its  tall ceiling, flashing neon lights and  popping sounds of slot machines can best be described as  walking through a life size pinball machine. That was the image that came to my mind. The Oceano Restaurant, complete with hanging jelly fish chandeliers has to be experienced in order to be fully appreciated.  The hotel room itself, however,  conjures an entirely different image. There is  a large Jacuzzi tub (for two)  in the center of the room with mirrors on the ceiling, naturally, and get this… there is a double strand of rope lighting  surrounding the perimeter of the ceiling that when lit up in the evening resembles an airport landing strip. Who designs these places I want to know? The trip was very successful but I am anxious to go home. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and I miss my children.

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  • Published on April 15, 2010
    One of the many swimming pools at Bellagio.

    One of the many swimming pools at Bellagio.

    After my wonderful four days with the girls touring colleges, shopping and sightseeing  in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, I headed home Tuesday night only to unpack and repack to head out to Las Vegas with Paul for a business conference. We stayed at the opulent, over-the- top hotel, Bellagio.

    I had only been to Las Vegas once before, a year ago, which was also a work related trip. From a business perspective, the trips were both  huge successes. From a personal perspective, I have to say, Vegas is not my cup of tea. Or martini, or vodka tonic or whatever they drink in Sin City.

    The town simply offends me on so many levels. I don’t know what bothers me the most, the manufactured ambiance, (fake oceans for instance), the cigar/cigarette smoke everywhere (Paul requested a non-smoking section in a restaurant and was informed there is no such thing.) the over-stimulating excess (re-touched posters of Cher) or the Frank Sinatra/Julio Iglesias/Celine Dion music blaring from the sound system.  Just in case you haven’t heard, Frank Sinatra was a member “the Rat Pack” and he and his buddies, Dean, Sammy and Joey, used to play a lot of gigs in Vegas. Lest we forget, his image and voice are everywhere. So are impersonators of Marilyn and Elvis. The best comparison I can make is to say  visiting this town is like sitting through a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show … on steroids.

    But I was never a party girl. I like dressing up for maybe an hour and then my feet hurt from the high heels and I want to kick them off, put on some sweats, crawl into a club chair and read a book. OK, so I’m boring. I missed my kids. We are already planning our next college tour.

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