Although most of the following ideas can be used to strengthen ties with anyone you miss, they are especially good for family members, young and old.
Create a Cookbook
“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I thought, the kids will never know how to cook my special things,” says Lynne Gordon of Hartford, Connecticut. It took her about two years to compile her favorite recipes into books for her two daughters, but the result is a treasure that she hopes will last for generations. “I want my daughters to be able to carry over traditions that are true to our family and that will connect us with my parents and grandparents and the family that will come after,” says Gordon. “When my daughters use my recipes to entertain their friends and new families, I feel a tremendous sense of pride in their desire to stay close.”
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More Ideas for Family
Make a recording of yourself reading a favorite children’s book for a niece, a nephew, or a grandchild―or for your own child, if you’re leaving for a long business trip or a hospital stay. End the recording with a sweet good-night message for the child.
Give your long-distance grandmother a window into your family’s daily life by assembling an annual scrapbook of your adventures. Include Polaroids, postcards, newspaper clippings, travel brochures, and handwritten anecdotes you’ve collected over the course of the year.
For computer-friendly family members who are far away, create annotated online photo albums on kodakgallery.com, shutterfly.com, or snapfish.com, adding pictures from birthday blowouts, weekend trips, and impromptu dinner parties so they can put faces with the names of all the friends you regularly mention over the phone. Or share personal video clips of these occasions on sites like vimeo.com and dropshots.com.
Send someone who may be homesick a few clippings from or a subscription to her hometown newspaper.
When you move into a new home, create a video tour of the house. Show folks around room by room, describing how you’ve decorated and where all the furnishings came from. If the video recipient sent you a housewarming gift, be sure to point out where you’ve put it and how much you’re enjoying it.
Embark on a joint project. If you and your mother share a passion for crochet, make a blanket together. (Select a pattern and yarn, then trade off on the job every week or two.) Or work a tough puzzle with your sister: When one of you gets stumped on that Sunday New York Times crossword clue, mail it to the other, and continue until you have completed the whole puzzle together.
3 of 6Robyn Lehr
With jobs, families, and time zones standing between you, maintaining long-distance friendships is challenging. A few stay-in-touch tactics can make a world ofdifference.
Share a Running Joke
Sometimes the best way to remain close with a group of friends is to share a laugh, as Stefanie Reinhorn of Sudbury, Massachusetts, and Lynn Hufnagel of Stratford, Canada, have discovered. Since the two were in college, Reinhorn and other friends have been “kidnapping” Hufnagel’s toy giraffe, Jerry, and photographing him all around the globe, from Venezuela to France, then returning him to her with photos of his exploits. As whimsical as they are, the pictures carry more meaning than ordinary vacation postcards and help keep this group of friends connected. Further proof of Jerry’s role in their relationship? “He most recently appeared at Lynn’s wedding―unbeknownst to Lynn,” says Reinhorn. “The day after the wedding, she received a photo album of shots of Jerry there―in a champagne glass, on the wedding cake, with guests."
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More Ideas for Friends
Start a long-distance book club with a friend. Mail each other books you’ve read, with your thoughts, insights, and analyses written in the margins.
When you send a letter or a card to a friend who’s notoriously bad at responding, try including a blank, stamped postcard, addressed to you. Even the laziest writer will find it easy to scratch out a response and drop the postcard in the mail.
When all the critics assemble their year-end best-of lists, compile your own top-10 lineups of books to read, movies to see, and music to hear, then trade lists with a group of people whose taste you appreciate.
Share a lazy Sunday morning. Simulate the experience of hanging out at a café together: Brew a fresh pot of coffee, toast a bagel, and settle in for some good conversation―and caffeine―over the telephone.
Start a clothing swap with a same-size friend and mail wardrobe pieces that you know you’d both like back and forth.
Go to the movies “together.” Each person sees the same film in her respective town on the same evening. Chat about it on the telephone afterward.
Ritualize your visits with good friends so that scheduling problems and procrastination never cause you to miss a meeting. Choose one day a year and plan to get together on that day, every year, no matter where each of you is currently stationed.
When keeping in touch with a large group of friends, from summer-camp pals to sorority sisters, set up a rotating schedule: Assign each person a month of the year to write a single letter to the rest of the group, photocopy it, and mail it to everyone.
5 of 6Robyn Lehr
Odysseus and Penelope. Abélard and Héloïse. For centuries, stories of lovers kept at a distance have figured in history and literature. Here are ways to keep your own remote love a heartbeat away.
Employ the Surprise Note
Just before Regan Kelly's fiancé, Victor Deal, shipped out to Iraq for his tour of duty with the Air Force, he planted notes and surprises all around her Los Angeles home, to be discovered while he was away. "He put one of his T-shirts on his pillow in the bed, with a note on it that said, 'This is the first night you won't have me to sleep next to. I'll be back―you have that in writing,'" says Kelly. "He also left notes in a plastic Easter egg and in my jewelry box, and a spa gift certificate taped to the back of the television, which he told me about on the phone when I was having a rough day."
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More Ideas for Lovers
Send your partner a custom-made photo calendar, with each month featuring a different image of the two of you together at one of your favorite places or celebrating a holiday that lands in that month. Highlight special occasions―your anniversary, your children's birthdays―and mark the dates you have planned to spend together.
Write an old-fashioned paper letter, and include souvenirs from experiences you would have shared had you been in the same place: playbills, photo-booth pictures, and concert-ticket stubs.
If writing letters is already a part of your repertoire, keep copies of all your correspondence with a long-distance lover―the letters and cards you've sent and those you've received―and paste them into a book to document the history of your love.
Send plant cuttings or half the seeds from a packet, then trade notes and photos as your gardens grow. While a plant is no stand-in for a partner, it's nice showering attention on a living thing, which is a vivid metaphor for keeping a relationship in bloom.
Simulate the feeling of a face-to-face conversation by setting up your own personal video-conferencing system. Purchase a webcam (like Apple's iSight), install conferencing software (like Apple's iChat AV), and start getting your lover's stories in living color―with hand gestures, smiles, and all.
Make a first-aid kit for your loved one to address all the minor crises that may come up while you're gone. If you know he can never figure out how to work the DVD player, leave him a detailed list of instructions when you go away. Or if she loves your chicken-noodle soup whenever she gets a cold, make a couple of batches before you leave and stash them in the freezer.