Empty Nester – Extraordinaire

creating, living, loving – all in a long black skirt

Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Oh Canada

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May 15th, 2012 Posted 9:07 am

Alek's first headshot, 2012

If you know us, have seen our Wife Swap episode, or have seen any of our Facebook pages, you know that dance [and the arts in general] play a huge role in our lives. All of the kids have studied ballet; most of them added tap; the boys studied modern and jazz. Jordan dropped classes when he turned 13, but was happy to rejoin the cast of the Nutcracker this past year as my partner, “Party Dad – Family One.” Alek, though, has really taken an interest and I’m excited about the opportunities that are opening up for him.

At the barre in Pittsburgh, 2011

Last spring, he spent a week in Pittsburgh with Regional Dance America and had a great time. While he’s been fortunate to study with great teachers, his exposure to other dancers [outside of his company] is limited.  Pittsburh brought new teachers and classes with other male dancers – something I think he can greatly benefit from.

This year, an opportunity for a week-long trip to Montreal, Canada was presented.  Also with RDA, this was a national festival unlike the regional festival in Pittsburgh.  He had a lot of new experiences with this trip: rerouted planes, lost luggage, foreign currency and exchange rates, and choices between tours of the city and a men’s class with a well-respected teacher from France.  He chose the class; I would have chosen the tour, but my absolute love for Montreal is not undocumented.

Alek during a solo in a Latin piece.

His company performed a lovely modern piece [their fist opportunity to perform before an international audience] during one of the sows. I was lucky enough to sit in while this choreography was adjudicated and was incredibly impressed. I’ve watched several of these kids dance since they were tiny, so watching them grow is a gift in itself. 

One of the most fun events of the trip to Montreal was a chance to perform in a  huge flash mob.  Guinness was on hold to count participants as there is a chance this was in fact the world’s largest.
A video of the flash mob has been posted to the RDA facebook page.  Alek is in a red shirt with the girls in the AYBT track suits.
Dance has given us incredible opportunities.  It may not be for everyone, but I encourage you to find some artistic endeavor to include in your life – it’ll brighten your day 🙂

Happy Mothers Day!!

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May 13th, 2012 Posted 8:58 pm

I was treated to a lovely breakfast – made especially for me by the two wee princesses – as well as a morning of lounging on the sofa and clearing out the DVR. Relaxation… ahh!  The afternoon will be a little more active – well, at least we have to leave the house.  Alek has a lead role in the HJHS production of Willy Wonka, Jr, so we’re going to head over to watch and embarass him during curtain call.

Several months ago, his English teacher called to get permission for him to audition.  Because he hadn’t mentionned anything about it, I worried that he was just flinging excuses her way to get out of it. Stuck on the phone needing to give an answer while he was at school, I couldn’t check with him.  Crossing my fingers, I deflected back to him.  “If he wants to and is sure he can manage his dance and school schedules, we can make it work.”  As it turned out, he wanted to do the show, but didn’t ask because he thought there was no way to fit it all in.  So… good mama. I hear he’s an amazing Candy Man. I can’t wait to see the performance.

I could hear whispering and giggling coming from the kitchen as the girls worked together to make eggs, toast, sausage, and tea and solve the problems of the universe [or at least of the little girls in the neighborhood]. Breakfast was served with a vase of flowers and a steamy cup of Earl Gray with bergamot.  Cards and homemade pictures = the best!

All of this means I’m doing something right.  That’s not always as evident as it is today, but I did have some really great role models.  My own mother was just short of an angel and her mother was a saint.  I’m sure that’s not entirely true; everyone has their faults, but I don’t have to focus on that if I don’t want to. And I don’t. In addition to Mother and Grandma Rounds, I had lovely aunts, cousins, and sisters who have taught [and continue to teach] me a lot.  I am thankful for them daily.  Aunt Lois, Aunt Margie, Judie, Bindy, Penny, and Aimee: Thank you.

Like most women who grew up in an age when the television was as much a member of the family as the humans, I learned from mothers who weren’t my own. On my personal FB page and on our fan page, I asked friends to tell me who is their favorite TV mom.

Roseanne was the clear favorite [she makes my list too], with me coming in second [although I insist I don’t count since I’m a REAL person]. Tied for third were Peg Bundy and Claire Huxtable. Michelle Duggar [also a real person, so…], Elise Keaton, Kitty Forman, and Sophia Petrillo also pulled in multiple votes. Everyone else on the list drew a single vote. 

The usual suspects appeared: June Cleaver, Caroline Ingalls, Carol Brady, and  Marian Cunningham; yet, no love for Shirley Partridge

The not-so-expected appeared: Morticia AddamsEdith Bunker, Olivia Walton, Ann Romano, and Florida Evans.

The modern appeared: Judy Miller, Jill Taylor, Debra Barone, Lorelai Gilmore, and Meredith [Castle].  Honestly, I had to Google most of them.

My personal Top 5 is uniquely me. 


Lorelei Gilmore//Gilmore Girls:

Love her relationship with her daughter. Love her style. Love her wit.  Not only is she a great mama, she’d be a great bestie too.

Roseanne Connor//Roseanne:

I’m sure she made her kids CRAZY – heck I’m glad she’s not my mom [or my mother-in-law], but as far as doing and saying the right thing she had it.  Plus, Dan Connor = best TV husband EVER.

Lynette Scavo//Desperate Housewives: Love that attitude. She’s always got it under control – even when she doubts herself. She’s not afraid to show her vulnerability, but has amazing power to pick herself up.

Claudia Finnerty//Grounded for Life: Surprise after surprise and she’s still going.  Those kids are difficult; her husband needs a babysitter.  She holds that family together and does it with style and sass.

Cindy Walsh//Beverly Hills 90210: Umm… does this really need an explanation? Perfect.  Just perfect. 

I see these women as parts of the puzzle designing the the kind of mom I want to be. Someday, I may get there. Probably not. Being a good parent is a work in progress – my expectations keep changing. Because they should.


Familiar Faces


August 2nd, 2011 Posted 10:39 pm

“Do I know you?”

That question and other similar comments have been incredibly common this past year – at the park, the grocery, at the bank.  Ever since our family was featured on ABC’s “Wife Swap,” everyone in town seems to recognize us, which can be very interesting.  Most of the time, people are incredibly kind and curious. It’s nothing for us to spend an extra 45 minutes [or more!] in a store we just dropped into for an item or two, talking about the show to a friendly stranger.


One aspect that isn’t nearly as enjoyable is the idea of being KNOWN to strangers.  Strangers who often refuse to consider the difference between fiction and reality where reality TV is concerned.  “But I saw it on TV,” is a common response.  It becomes tiring to explain how not everything was how it appeared.  It becomes tiring to explain, “I did say that, but not in the conversation you think.”  It’s tiring to explain our parenting choices.

Throughout the month, I’ll walk you through my side of the swap. I’ve asked Eric and the kids to offer up their narratives as well. Friends may guest post.

Post your questions and we’ll answer what we can.




Posted in Family, Media, Television

Spiders and bats and ballerinas. Oh my!


January 18th, 2011 Posted 12:20 am

Welcome back to the tour.  We had company yesterday afternoon, plus two kids needing transportation to and from birthday parties.  I was able to photograph the new areas of our home, but didn’t find the time to guide you through.   

 As Scarlett O’Hara said, “Tomorrow is another day,” and well, here it is.    

Welcome back to our home. While last week, we showed you the initial entry way to our home, this week we will journey down ‘the hall’ to the kids’ rooms. Next week, Eric’s and my bedroom will be featured.    

Follow me down the hall to see where the gothlings dwell.



A Unique Marvel

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January 15th, 2011 Posted 10:02 pm

Like many parents, we focus on report cards, conduct, manners, social skills, abilities… All the things we’ve learned make us good and successful people.  At the same time, we DO NOT judge the value of humans on their net worth or on the title attached to their profession [despite my fashion preferences, I do have the heart of a hippie].  We teach our kids that while being financially sucessful is not a bad thing, true success is determined by your happiness and the relationships you value, by measure of inner peace and character.

Sitting with the kids tonight, I asked them what they think makes a successful adult.  Ravynn stated “someone who is polite and speaks nicely to people,” while Whisper’s definition was “someone who is loving and kind.”  I was pleased that they are absorbing what I want to teach them and hope we continue along this road together. 

This advice from Thoreau sums up many of my hopes:

Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again  And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are?

We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

– Henry David Thoreau

I sit now, wondering how to teach someone WHAT THEY ARE.  Not easy, but I’m committed. At least to leading them to the path of discovery and allowing them to find the truth for themselves.

I hope to see more parents with the same concerns.





January 9th, 2011 Posted 4:54 pm

Since our family appeared on the April 30, 2010 episide of Wife Swap, I’ve fielded many questions about our home – most focussing on “What does it REALLY look like?” It seems the perception from the general public is that we gothed it up for the show. Not the case. If anything, it lost some of it’s personality during filming.  Much of the art and decorations we have didn’t get media clearance and had to be pulled down and stuck in the den or the garage until the cameras were shut off for the last time.  It has been my intent since that time to offer a photo tour of the house, but I just never got around to it.

Naughty, Sheila.

For the next several weeks, I will invite you [each Sunday] to explore a new area of the house.  This will give me time to photograph each part adequately, but will also save you from sifting through a dozen photos in each sitting.  That does get old and, depending on your internet connection, could become really tedious.

PART 1: Welcome to the Schroeders

Friends at the front door welcome guests. Come on in.



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Posted in Home Tour

Cold and Dark

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January 3rd, 2011 Posted 10:06 am

Monday. First one in the new year. Kids back to school.  Grownups back to work. 

After we’d celebrated Yule in December and anticipated the days growing longer and after we’d gone to the grocery on Saturday in long sleeved shirts instead of winter coats, I was completely unprepared for how cold and dark it was at 7:30AM when the girls stepped out to wait for their buses.  I think I should have taken coffee with me.  I should have also taken coffee with me when Eric and I trekked across town on foot [really, it was only a few blocks] for a scheduled 9:00AM appointment in the courthouse only to find a note posted informing us that the courthouse is closed for observance of the NY holiday.


At least I had this gorgeous face waiting outside with me.

The cold walk back to the car instead of sitting down in a nice warm office got me thinking about yesterday’s post, though.  The ‘roll with the punches’ aspect of acclimating to the change around me.  As a DM, I’m responsible for many of them, but sometimes a player with throw a weird decision my way or a random question will throw me into a tangent of new creative options to test the players. 

Today, in the cold, I wondered about new creative options to test me.

We all become lazy and comfortable in the roles we build for ourselves: wife, mother, sister, friend, business owner. And shouldn’t we all want to be the best of them that we can?  Maybe we all need a random dice roll to move us in another direction?

I think I’ll try it.



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Posted in Immediate

In Good Company


January 3rd, 2011 Posted 12:37 am


I found my Christmas stocking FULL of items suited to being a DM.  For those of you not in the know, a DM is a dungeon master. Sort of a tour guide in the world of Dungeons and Dragons.  I’d played a bit shortly after Eric and I got married and moved to Orlando, Florida.  I was hooked. After we moved, we tried to get groups together every now and again, but nothing stuck.  A couple months ago, we tried again to get a group together.  It worked!  I’m sure it helps greatly that three of our four kids are old enough to play and the youngest already shows an interest. Even if we can’t find friends to come over and join us, we’re set! 

Truth:  I greatly dislike DMing.  Judge, jury, executioner.  Yes, it all sounds like something I should enjoy.  Storycrafter, dreamer.  More like me.  Organizer, task-keeper, manager.  Even more like me.  However, there is something about the job that drives me up a wall.  A weathered, gray stone, stained with the blood of orcs, wall.

Truth: I shouldn’t complain.  My family likes playing together and they claim I’m good at it. 

As it turns out, I’m in good company as a DM and player.  Many people I respect greatly are known to play. Kevin Smith, Jon Favreau, Matthew Lillard.  Even Judy Dench!

So, as a part of my preparations for 2011, I’m embracing what D&D [DMing, especially] can teach me. 

  1. Planning
  2. Updating those plans on the fly
  3. Enjoying the journey
  4. Accepting help
  5. Always using a critical and creative eye

Although, I also need to keep in mind that it’s not all about the loot or the XP.



Happy 2011

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January 1st, 2011 Posted 8:59 pm

baby batSo often New Year’s celebrations focus more on wishing good riddance to the year just ended than to looking ahead to the year just begun.  We look at [and routinely list] the changes we want to make in our lives to make them better, but rarely look at the personal changes that will make us better people.  Losing weight is good; living a healthier lifestyle is better.  Making more money is good; being happier in our chosen profession is better.  At least from where I stand.  🙂

My goals -including my business goals- will be made with personal improvement in mind.

Our celebration was very low key.  Kids and I watched a movie while Eric played a game on the computer.  About 10 minutes before midnight, we switched the TV to the FOX NY party and counted down the last 30 seconds to the new year together, then toasted with champagne and sparkling juice.  A birthday wish to my dear Mother rang out in our home as fireworks echoed down the street.

A toast to Mother

For many years, my NYE plans included a midnight call to Pennsylvania. This year, though, it was spent explaining to our kids why Grandma doesn’t read the birthday cards we send.  That renewed my interest in completing our family tree project.  Keeping everyone connected, you know 🙂  And made me promise to take a photo a day throughout the year. Hone my skills and keep me blogging.

Best wishes for health, happiness, and prosperity to you in this new year.

The next week will move us closer to a solid plan for the year.



Nice Day for a Picnic


April 2nd, 2010 Posted 12:48 am

Yesterday was a difficult day for the kids.  We had unexpected guests who will likely bring Bats! meow… additional traffic, but brought up some unhappy memories that affected our youngest. Newspaper reporters = good.  Certain topics of convo = bad.  It’s not that they even talked to her, but the experience of them being in the house was too similar.

So, as she sat on my lap last night crying and trying to curl up into as tiny a ball as possible, I asked what would make her happiest.  The kids are on spring break through the weekend, so today could be used to spoil them just a bit.  Her request was simple enough – a picnic at the cemetery and a trip to the park.  Yes, the cemetery.  It’s quiet with big trees for shade and no noise or fear of someones child stepping on your food. Truth be told, mama needed a little pick me up too 🙂

When I got up, I feared I heard rain.  But no, they promised a bright and sunny day – with record-breaking temps.  I’m no big fan of the high temperature, but a promise is a promise.  So, right after breakfast we started packing.  “Peanut butter &” sandwiches: two requests for plain PB, two for PB&J, and one for PB & Miracle Whip.  We packed blankets, “fancy” cups, plates, and then headed to the store for the extras – oatmeal date cookies, strawberries, whipped cream, and a couple kinds of chips – oh! and flowers. Then straight to Maplewood West and our favorite picnic spot under the big tree and a bit away from the headstones.  Of course, we’re still surrounded by them, but we’re not ‘on’ anyone.

Ravynn and Whisper perked right up after we got settled.  It was so good to see Whisper smile 🙂  The fact that she got to pick her own chips and strawberries was a key factor, I’m sure.

The boys had a good time too.  Doritos with Cool Whip [eww!] and good sandwiches kept them happy and in a chatty mood.  It’s nice when the teen-aged sons still like to hang out with the family.

Ravynn and I shared a special moment toasting “weirdos and freaks.”  We caught the first one on camera, but there were many many similar moments – trust me 🙂

We all enjoyed the fresh strawberries, although some of us [ahem… Jordan] made a much bigger mess than the rest.

And the picnic ended with delivering flowers to a very special girl.

After that we ran over to Shadyside Park where I sat and read Practical Magic while the kids played. Together.

It was a lovely day and a nice part of our spring break.

~ sheila