Real Simple readers share their strategies for staying in touch.
My oldest daughter just moved to Rome, and I miss her terribly. When she was home over the holidays, we loved to watch our favorite TV show while sharing a cup of hot tea. When she returned to Rome, we connected Skype, a software that allows users to make video-calls over the Internet. We also bought a Slingbox, which is a device that lets her remotely access our home TV through her computer. Through what we have installed, my daughter and I can sit and watch a show together while still enjoying our cup of tea and each other’s company―even if I’m in Texas and she’s in Rome. Of course, her nighttime is now my afternoon time, but it still works and keeps us connected.
I print and send snail-mail postcards made from snapshots of everyday events in my life. Maybe it’s a photo of my nails sporting the new color I love. Or perhaps it’s a glimpse of a pretty winter sunrise, glittering across the frosty lawn. It’s like sending a quick e-mail, but with a personal touch.
Almost everyone―my mom and dad, my three siblings and I, and some of my nieces and nephews―have cell phones with cameras. We all live far apart, so we keep in touch by sending humorous and cute pictures of our kids, special occasions (like school plays), and what the weather looks like outside. We even send photos of any great new items that we buy. It makes you feel as if you aren’t missing out just because you aren’t there to share it with them in person.
Citrus Heights, California
It’s the small things: remembering your friend had a doctor’s appointment and asking her how it went, popping in for a surprise random visit, picking up their favorite drinks while at the store, or leaving goofy voice mails that only they would find funny.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Our family started a website. Now we can all share stories, news, recipes, and pictures from across the country. It’s like a family reunion every time we log on.
San Anselmo, California
I reach out in a consistent but random manner. I’m not good at keeping up with birthdays, anniversaries, etc. So I just send out a “happy whatever” card, e-card, or e-mail with pictures attached. This way, there is no required response or marathon catch-up sessions. It keeps us in touch and lets loved ones know I care.
Carol Chambers Crumley
Because I’m extremely busy and live far away from family and old friends, I actually schedule catch-up time into my planner and look forward to it. This way, I can use my time and energy for long conversations on the phone or to write thoughtful letters or e-mails without interruptions.
Our family is spread out throughout Oregon and Washington, so it’s difficult to get everyone together. We rented a house that is central to all our homes, and we enjoyed one another’s company there all weekend. We played games, watched old movies, and stayed up all night talking. We plan to make this an annual event.
I am still an avid note and letter writer, using stationery I have crafted myself. I include recipes I know a good friend will enjoy cooking (chocolate lava cakes), or I send book reviews to another reader friend. Other friends get coupons, trip recommendations, news stories, or a simple hello. At the end of the day, electronic chat is not my choice. I think a handwritten note goes miles toward making someone know he or she is cared about.
New York, New York
Photos! I love photography, so I take photos of anything going on with my family. Then I send them to my loved ones, whether they live near or far. It keeps them up to date with my life, and the next time we see or call each other, there’s always something to talk about.
My son has significant developmental delays because he has a mitochondrial disease. He began having seizures at 2 1⁄2 months (he turns three in January). I met a group of moms, all with children who have seizures, through the pediatric epilepsy unit at Children’s St. Paul Hospital. These women have become an integral part of my support system. We stay connected through our CaringBridge sites (caringbridge.org offers free, personalized websites for anyone going through a critical illness, treatment, or recovery). It is a place where we can update how our children are or how we are doing, and it’s a place for us to leave messages of encouragement or just say hello. Many of us do not live close enough to meet up, and our busy lives don’t allow us to stay connected by phone. These sites, and these women, have become an extremely important part of my life in the past two years.
A rotating gift box. My three best friends from college and I live in the far corners of the country, but we keep connected like this: I started by putting three low-cost, locally made items in a plastic box, wrote a note, and mailed the box to the first friend. She took one of my items out, put in three more, added to the note, and sent it on. About a year went by before the box came back, having made it to everyone. But what a fun surprise it was, after I had forgotten all about it! We are still going, despite children, career changes, and moves.
When my grandmother passed away, I found it almost unbearable not to be able to speak to her. I found a memorial wall to write on at the American Lung Association website, and I used it as a way to stay connected. Whenever I had a bad day or a great moment, I logged in and wrote Nana a message. It didn’t matter that I never got a response; I still felt connected somehow.
The Margarita Club (so named because we meet at a neighborhood Mexican restaurant) meets about once a month. Four girlfriends catching up over margaritas “on the rocks with extra salt.” Need I say more?
It appears the technology age has passed most 62-year-old men by, but not me! One son and I text-message regularly over the 31 miles that separate us. Another son who lives more than 2,000 miles away and my five-year-old granddaughter keep up with each other on Facebook. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
I’m doing this thing called Reach Out ’09. Each day I choose someone in my life to e-mail, phone, visit, or write a letter to. It really helps me stay connected.
Bowling Green, Ohio
A couple of friends and I have a shared journal. We each keep it for a few days, filling it with whatever moves us (letters, paintings, ticket stubs, etc.), then we mail it on to the next person.
I often tuck notes of encouragement into my sons’ lunch bags to brighten their day. My husband might find a message in his briefcase or on the bathroom mirror.
Throughout the year, I collect small trinkets that can be slipped into envelopes. Then, when a birthday comes up, I have a personal gift ready to send―not a text or an e-mail, but something a friend can have and hold.
My 19-year-old daughter is away at college and isn’t always great at returning my phone calls. When texting doesn’t get her attention, I resort to sending packages with funny random contents, like canned sardines, a Band-Aid, and a stick of gum. She then has to call me to find out what the heck it all means (usually nothing but “Phone home!”) and to share a good laugh.
Long Beach, California
The Nintendo Wii. My brother and I loved to play games when we were growing up. Now he lives 800 miles away, but we can still play long-distance via the Wii online. Who would have thought two kids in their 30s would stay close via video games?
Falling Waters, West Virginia
I send care-package piñatas. The best part? You can stick stamps directly onto the piñata with the address. It’s fun to imagine the faces of loved ones as they break into their special surprise.
When my best friend moved 1,100 miles away a few years ago, we decided to start seeing movies together―each in our own city. We’ll pick a film showing in both places at approximately the same starting time, then talk on our cell phones before and after the movie (never during!) and share our reactions. It’s a great way to feel close and do something fun with each other, even when physically apart.
Monica Romig Green
After my husband’s parents died, I became the curator of their family trinkets―things like World War II souvenirs and kitchen supplies. I select mementos from the stash to give to other family members on special occasions. Now our niece blogs about pies made from her grandmother’s 1940s cookbook, and Grandpa’s treasured knife collection was divided among his four grandsons. I truly enjoy being a conduit for love that is passed down through the generations.
I mail mix CDs of memorable songs to close friends. The last time I sent out one of these, I received a voice mail with Kenny Chesney blasting in the background and my friend screaming the lyrics and then saying, “That was the best night ever! I miss you!” We were both taken right back to that summer evening in California, beers in hand, professing our love for Kenny. It was almost as magical as being there the first time.
Soraya van Dillen
San Jose, California
I purchased family memberships to a fitness club for me, my children, and my grandchildren. We all get together at least twice a week and work out, swim, or do whatever else we please. Afterward, we sit down at the club’s café and catch up on one another’s lives. It’s a great way to spend time with each other.
During her teen years, it seemed as if every conversation with my daughter ended with one or both of us being angry. Then one day I suggested we use a note system to express our feelings about topics that were too controversial to discuss in person. The first note went under her pillow with instructions to place any reply messages under mine. The existence of the notes were never discussed in person, nor did anyone else in the household know about them. This “pillow talk” gave my daughter the freedom to disagree while allowing me to understand why she felt the way she did. Many issues were silently resolved, and our relationship improved immensely.
Kansas City, Missouri
My two closest girlfriends from college live 300 miles away, so we made it our mission to find the world’s worst postcards and send them to each other every week. No matter how horrible a day is, checking the mail always cheers me up.
My cousins and I all have blogs that we update regularly just for our grandfather. Since he is too sick to travel, or even talk on the phone for more than a moment or two, being able to hop online and read through our blogs has been a wonderful way for him to feel involved in our lives.
I live apart from my mom and sister, but I speak to them regularly, and the details that we share about our lives really keep us connected. When we talk on the phone, I make sure I ask them about their daily routines, their friendships, and any office gossip. I also make sure to share the same information with them. Our chats are reminders of the little things I miss by not being around them: things that have made them laugh out loud, things that have gotten on their nerves, their newest favorite drinks at Starbucks. Knowing those small details makes me feel closer to them.
I resisted Facebook for the longest time, assuming it was yet another teen or college fad. When I finally joined, I was amazed at how quickly I was able to connect with old friends whom I had not seen or spoken to for decades―some in other parts of the world! Now I have my old circle of friends back, and we share stories, photos, and recipes. It’s one thing to get a monthly e-mail here or there. It’s another to be able to see what your loved ones are doing and thinking on a daily basis in real time. The Internet may not be as personal as meeting face-to-face, but for those of us with friends spread across continents, it’s a fantastic method for keeping in touch.
I prepare a meal with the special people in my life. We laugh and joke while we’re chopping and sautéing, and as we share stories about the food, we learn family histories and make new memories.
Chatham, New Jersey
I remember to take some time out for some good, old-fashioned fun. I hosted a girls-only slumber party this past weekend with my three cousins and my sister. Movies, games, chips and dip, and a good time!
Blue Point, New York
I live with them! My husband and my children are the most important people in my life.
Huntersville, North Carolina
I send out a daily inspirational text message to my closet friends. And on Fridays I send out a thought-provoking question and they have to respond. I get to know a lot about the people I care about and also add a smile to their day.
Good-quality stationery and a favorite fountain pen keep me in touch with people I love, both near to me and far away. Sometimes my letters are notes to my husband to say, “I love you.” Sometimes they are handwritten thank-yous to friends for a lovely dinner party. Some are letters back and forth between my best friend or my grandmother and me. Ink and classic paper make every little bit of correspondence seem more special.
Panama City, Florida
Sister Night. I am the youngest in a family of 11, and my six sisters are my very best friends. Our busy lives don’t afford us as much time together as we want, so each month we join up for an evening out. Our four brothers are not allowed out on special Sister Night, but our sisters-in-law are. It’s a really great opportunity for us to catch up.
East Moriches, New York
Humor keeps me connected to my boys. My sons are both in their 30s but are polar opposites. One is artsy, while the other is staid. The elder, Mr. Artsy, and I send each other bizarre cards throughout the year. To the younger, Mr. Staid, I once sent a piece of sod. A note was enclosed: “I cherish the ground you walk on.” P.S. Don’t send sod. What a mess it made.