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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Seaweed Art Cards
  • Published on April 10, 2013

    PriusWe’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 October 31, 2012

    My husband took me away for my birthday last week. We went to a small island off the coast of Long Beach, CA called Catalina. I had always heard of it, even when I was growing up on the East Coast. It’s famous for its pristine beaches, crystal clear blue water, exquisite dining and European-esque mountainous cliff side homes. When we pulled into the harbor I told my husband it reminded me of Sorrento, Italy and Malaga, Spain, two cities I have had the good fortune to visit.

    To get there we had to take a ferry from Long Beach, but the night before we stayed on the Queen Mary, a retired cruise ship that is now permanently anchored and operates as a hotel. It was very magnificent and stately. Built in the ’30’s, it still has the original art deco wood paneling and lighting fixtures. We enjoyed sunning ourselves on the deck and touring the helm. Very cool. We stayed there a second night when we returned from the island.

    Then we arrived in Catalina– the island of romance. Not only was the place incredibly beautiful, I basked in my husband’s attention and the knowledge that he planned the trip down to the smallest detail, including a massage at the hotel spa (which I declined in favor of sunning myself on the roof top deck of our hotel.)  We rented bikes and toured the island, dined in fabulous seafood restaurants and relaxed.  We discussed our future plans and what our life would be like once the kids are all moved out of the house (more trips alone like this come to mind). We also patted ourselves on the back for making such a great go and success of blending our families and noted that we pretty much did it all on our own. We really didn’t have much outside help.  We stuck together. And for that we are very thankful.

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  • Published on March 1, 2012

    "image of the Eiffel Tower"Eva, my world traveler, is heading to France this summer for 6 weeks. We just booked her ticket. She will be traveling with a friend who is visiting her older sister who attends college in Tours. They will be staying in a small town about an hour’s train ride from Paris. She is so excited. She and her friend are planning their itinerary, which includes visits to the Louvre, the Loire Valley and dining with some local families.

    As you may recall, last summer Eva spent a month in Spain, where she studied at the Segre University in Granada. Her father and I find it remarkable that she has developed such a zest for foreign travel at such a young age. She once told me, dreamily, “Mom, I want to see the world.” She also said when she hears people speaking in another language she gets frustrated when she can’t understand them. Her Spanish is getting pretty good and she is now learning French from an App she downloaded onto her iPhone. She plans to graduate from high school a year early and apply through Rotary to be a foreign exchange student in a Spanish speaking country.

    You go girl. And to think my mother freaked out when I moved from Philadelphia to New York City. Times sure have changed.

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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

    A trip to L.A. is not complete without a stroll along Venice Beach, also known as Muscle Beach, where scores of body builders train daily with the dream of becoming the next Jack Lalanne or Arnold Schwarzenegger. There are also trapeze artists, jugglers, clowns, unicyclists and much more. And you can buy just about anything you want there. It’s one stop shopping.

    In short, it is a veritable freak show. Our friend who lives in Venice Beach told us that it is the largest tourist attraction in California. Even bigger than Disneyland, if you can believe that. There is definitely a lot to see.

    On the day we were in town, we happened by a group of entertaining break dancers, although their shtick was a bit dated with stale racist jokes reminiscent of a 70’s SNL Eddie Murphy routine. I considered putting a tip in the jar, but I didn’t want to be referred to as “the honky white lady.”  I’m glad we stuck around in time to see this guy jump over a human chain of people. Watch.

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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 June 24, 2011

    Paul took some of the kids with him last week to visit his sister who lives in Grass Valley. Her deck was filled with bird nests with little, teeny baby birds looking for their mamas.

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  • Published on June 19, 2011

    Eva's plane as it taxies away from the gate on its way to Newark, NJ and then to Madrid, Spain.

    Eva left on Friday for a month long Spanish immersion program in Spain. She flew alone from San Francisco to Newark, NJ to Madrid, Spain. Did I mention she went alone? She turned 15, yesterday, the day she arrived in Madrid.

    Her father and I had made the decision sereral months ago to send her to Spain this summer because of her increasing love of the culture and language. She has expressed an interest in spending a year abroad her junior year of highschool as a foreign exchange student. We thought a summer month long visit would give her an excellent taste of what to expect in order for her to decide if this is something she really wants and is ready for.

    Jared, her dad, Sophia and Cheryl and I took her to the airport on Friday. There were lots of tears. I think I did pretty well considering my extreme anxiety leading up to the big departure. Only Jared and I could take Eva to the gate, so Sophia and Cheryl had to make their tearful goodbyes at security. (Harried travelors have no sympathy for weepy teenagers who are in their way.)

    Once at the gate, Jared went over the map of the Newark airport with Eva so she could see how she was to catch her connecting flight. Fortunately it was only three gates away. We reviewed the final check list. Passport, camera, Dramamine, cell phone, money, gum. Check. Then it was time to board. The moment of truth for any parent is the time when you set your child free.  I can now  tell you from my own personal experience… you are never fully prepared.  I watched, clutched with masked anxiety, as my brave, tearful daughter walked down the boarding hallway. Alone. I couldn’t believe that I was letting her do this. (She would later meet up with her tour group in Spain.)

    I told Jared I couldn’t leave the terminal until her plane took off. I wanted to see it taxi away from the gate so I could compose myself. And you know what? It really did me good. I needed the closure and the time to collect my thoughts. I likened the feeling to stories I’ve read about astronauts who recall the sense of peace they experience just before takeoff when they surrender to a higher power and know that from now on, their destiny is out of their hands.  I’m not a religious person, so you would never hear me utter the words, “It’s in god’s hands. ” But I do know, it is no longer in my hands. It’s in Eva’s. This is Eva’s experience. Her life. Words cannot fully express the emotions I felt as I watched my daughter’s plane taxi away from the gate. Fear. Apprehension. Anxiety. Sadness. And gratitude. Thankful to my ex for making this all happen.

    Later, as I was coming off my philosophical parental high, Eva texted me from her connecting flight to Madrid to tell me she discovered three other kids on her flight to Madrid who were part of her tour group. One was from California and, get this, she had tons of movies, including Justin Beiber’s,  “Never Say Never!!” Awesome.

    That’s when I knew my daughter was going to be OK.

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  • Published on May 16, 2011

    After Paul and visited an abandoned gold mine on our anniversary trip to gold country a few weeks ago, it really got me thinking about bullion. And I don’t mean the kind you mix in hot water to make soup. I mean gold bullion. I couldn’t help but wonder, where do you buy gold bullion? They don’t exactly sell it in stores. I really had no idea.  So I did some research and I found out you can actually buy bullion online at many reputable places and in doing so, you are making a solid investment that is safe, secure and has historically always increased in value. If you have a 401K you might want to consider a gold IRA.  Investors are actually placing physical gold in IRA’s. I read that if you purchased gold bullion in the early ’70’s and held onto it you could sell it today for over half a million dollars. I also wish I had  bought stock in Microsoft, but you get my drift. There’s just something very solid and tangible about holding on to a weighty, gold brick.

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