Posts Tagged ‘family’

Four Ways to Keep Distant Family Members from Being Strangers

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Growing up, I lived within an hour’s drive of all my cousins. So I grew up really knowing them, and my aunts and uncles. They were a regular part of my life. I saw them at nearly every holiday and even ran into them at concerts and sporting events. I loved it! We all did. I think I took this for granted — that this is how it is for everyone, and how it would be for my own little family.

For my children, getting to know their extended family will be different. I am one of six kids. The last 10 years have brought a lot of change for my family: 5 marriages, 13 babies born, and a lot of moving around! We are literally scattered from sea to shining sea, from the coasts of Oregon to Virginia, in Texas and a few spots in between. In fact, no two of my parents’ children are closer than 9 hours by car. Even Grandma and Grandpa now live 12 hours from the closest grandchild.

This is not what we had envisioned for our children. How would they get to know their cousins? We will not be attending each other’s school plays or trick-or-treating together. Family reunions are definitely in the plan, but one week every other year doesn’t feel like enough.

Here are a few of the things we have tried, with much success.

Family YearbooksFamily Yearbooks

These started out as a personalized gift for the grandparents about 6 years ago. Everyone submits pictures of their families celebrating a list of holidays (St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July, Christmas, birthdays, etc.), plus any major events in the family (big trips, a new baby, career milestones). The first year we filled and printed one book. The next year we filled three. Now we fill seven, and we print one each family. This series of books has become a treasured piece of family history and a favorite story book for my children.

Family QuestionnaireFamily Questionaire

We recently had a family reunion. All 25 of us crowded into one snug little beach house. My sister sent out family questionnaires in advance by email to all the families. She collected all the answers, one page per person, in a little binder and sent a copy to each family. Each page had a photo, name, and age, and then listed 10 of the most interesting answers from the questionnaire for each person, such as phobias, favorite TV show, favorite book, and recent accomplishments. It has been fun to read and a fun reference book for my kids. It occurs to me now that this is a great way to capture a moment in our families’ history. In 10 or 20 years we can look back and get a very personal look at how we all were in 2011.

It also made for a fun family quiz game at the beach house reunion. “For 10 points, who sleeps with a stuffed raccoon named ‘Rowdy’?” You would have to read the binder to know.

Face Time

This one is a little more pricey, but you may already have the equipment. At Christmas we exchange gifts between families. Grandma and Grandpa give to all the grandchildren. It is always good to give, but it better to give and watch them open it. Last Christmas we worked out a schedule — which in hindsight was way more complicated than necessary. Everyone had an iPod Touch with FaceTime. (There are lots of other options). We set aside certain gifts until the appointed time. Grandma and Grandpa were able to tune it to watch all their grandkids open at least some of their presents. This was actually made easier by the distance. Since we were in different time zones, my kids were only just waking up in the Mountain time zone as their cousins on the east coast were finishing up.

Family CalendarsCalendars

For years we have been making family calendars, which include everyone’s birthdays and anniversaries. This used to be a tedious job for me. Rounding up all the images and all the dates took days. I would then do custom layouts for each month. (After all, I’m a graphic designer.) They turned out great, but took me hours! But that was then. This year I logged on to MyHeritage.com and had a calendar done in just minutes! I wish that product had existed 6 years ago. It would have saved me a lot of headaches.

None of this is quite the same as piling into the car for a short drive to visit aunts, uncles, and cousins. But for us, scattered as far as we are, it keeps distant family members from feeling like strangers.

Ice Cream Rules

Monday, July 16th, 2012

There’s a 1922 Wallace Stevens poem called “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” In it an old woman has died, and there is to be a wake. Death itself gives occasion for the survivors to party, with the help of “concupiscent curds” of freshly made ice cream. Both stanzas end with the same line: “The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.” Whatever else it means, the poem suggests that life goes on, that ice cream really helps the process, and that families and homemade ice cream are natural allies.making ice cream

It’s National Ice Cream Month in the United States. In Utah, where MyHeritage (USA) is headquartered, we’ve had a bout of hot days, with temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). We’re also caught up in family reunions and summer holiday gatherings. Many of these celebrations involve ice cream, and it’s often homemade. I’ve been asking around; I’m not the only one for whom homemade ice cream conjures happy family memories.

At home we’ve been using a hand-cranked ice cream machine. It’s on long-term loan from my father, who hasn’t used it himself since my mother died several years ago. I remember her making strawberry ice cream with it, using home-grown strawberries. We’ve tried a few other flavors at my house, but we keep coming back to a simple recipe for lemon ice cream. We first experienced it at my brother-in-law’s home in California a few years ago, at a memorable family reunion. He got the recipe from a distinguished family friend in Massachusetts, so it has a worthy pedigree. We threatened to hold a niece or nephew hostage, or something like that, until my brother-in-law shared the recipe.

The formula is still closely guarded, rather like the secret recipes of major cola drinks and fried chicken franchises. My mentioning it in connection with this article caused my teenage daughter to threaten my life, if I published the recipe. So if you want to try it, I guess you’ll have to get yourself invited to one of my family’s celebrations. My unscientific homemade ice cream poll of Facebook friends yielded the following results:

  1. Vanilla is very popular, in part because of all the fun things you can put in it or on top of it.
  2. Fresh peach, fresh raspberry, and fresh strawberry ice creams get high marks.
  3. Hand-cranked wins by a nose over electric, but electric is better for — swoon! — “keeping the freezer full,” which is a cherished and enviable tradition in the family of a young lady to whom I used to pass notes in my tenth-grade English class.
  4. I hesitate to report that, apparently, the right combination of bananas and strawberries, blended and put in the freezer for a couple of hours, has the texture of ice cream “without the calories or the lactose.”

Ice cream purists, please don’t judge the source of that last item harshly. She’s a very good person.

ice cream makerLook up the history of ice cream at Wikipedia, and you’ll see that they trace it to a grape snow cone that was popular in the ancient Persian Empire. Many centuries later, it may have been the Arabs who pioneered the use of milk and made ice cream a commercial product in the 10th Century. In my hemisphere, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson are known to have served and eaten ice cream regularly.

My other favorite summer flavors are travel and a good book, not necessarily in that order. So here’s a concluding scoop of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, a rather jaded account of visiting Odessa:

We were only to stay here a day and a night and take in coal; we consulted the guide-books and were rejoiced to know that there were no sights in Odessa to see; and so we had one good, untrammeled holyday on our hands, with nothing to do but idle about the city and enjoy ourselves. We sauntered through the markets and criticised the fearful and wonderful costumes from the back country; examined the populace as far as eyes could do it; and closed the entertainment with an ice-cream debauch. We do not get ice-cream every where, and so, when we do, we are apt to dissipate to excess. We never cared any thing about ice-cream at home, but we look upon it with a sort of idolatry now that it is so scarce in these red-hot climates of the East. (Chapter 36)

An “ice cream debauch” would definitely win points with my family. I may have to pick up some cream and a bag of ice on my way home tonight.