10 Tips for a Long Distance Grandparent

When we announced our pregnancy to our families they were thrilled. However their excitement was quickly followed with concern. How would they as grandparents in Ohio, Alabama and Georgia be able to have the kind of relationship they had always dreamed off with their Texan granddaughter?

I know this is a challenge for many families so I wanted to share some ideas that have worked well for our family.  Zenie’s grandparents have worked hard at establishing and maintaining a relationship with her and it is paying off. She loves them and talks about them daily even though she only sees each of them a few times per year.  Here are some tips.

1.   Skype: Between Skype and Facetime and all the other options Zenie does get to see and talk to her grandparents on a regular basis. It isn’t the same as being there but it sure helps. We always try to do a few virtual visits before an actual visit to help her warm up to everyone, this helps reunions feel smoother and the adjustment period is quicker when we visit.
Send a special gift:

2.  Gifts don’t have to be expensive. Try to pick something you can give again and again. My mom likes animal cookies. She sends a box a few times per year. She will have me hold the package until her and Zenie are on Skype together. Then she will open a box and Zenie will open her box and they can have a cookie together. Plus every time Zenie sees a box of animal cookies she thinks about her Yiayia.

3.  Make your Skype time interactive. Turn on music and have a dance party or read a book. My mom plays Dancing Queen via Skype and then when Zenie and her get together they turn it on and have a real life dance party. Read a book together when you are visiting, then read it a few times via Skype, then mail it or a copy of it. Zenie has a few books that she associates with her Yiayia because they read them together so many times.

4.  Make a special book or photo album.  My mom will takes photos of her visits with Zenie and laminates them or puts them together to make little books. Zenie loves getting these in the mail, and they keep her thinking about her Yiayia all year long.
Make the most of your time together. Try to plan a visit at least once per year if you can.

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(A sample of laminated pictures and photobooks that Zenie has from her Yiayia)

5.  Plan special outings. They don’t have to be expensive. Something simple like going to the park or library even the pet store can be memorable to little kids. If you don’t like to go out get a special book, puzzle or game that you can do together. Then send it how with the grand-child so that it will be a special memento of your trip. Or make something together, paint pottery or make a craft, the child can take home. During our last trip to my Dad’s house they painted pottery. Now she has this painted puppy to remind her of their time together.

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6.  Emphasize what is special and unique about your space.  Zenie loves to go back to Ohio to see snow. Before her visit my mom will send pictures of snowmen and other things to get her excited. Zenie also loves playing in basements, something that we don’t have in Texas. When in Ohio we always get excited to go down the basement and play with toys some old toys that my parents have saved. This last trip my dad got a used plastic car that Zenie could ride in for $6 at the Goodwill. He sent a picture of it to us before our trip. By the time we got there Zenie was beyond excited to play.  This made for a fun time and great memories for Zenie. Often she will say “Remember that car down in Papa George’s basement.” There is something unique to every geography and home that kids can get excited about.

7.  Send a video. We don’t do a lot of videos for Zenie but we do let her watch little video clips that her grandparents send. Thirty second clips of the dog, a snowman  or whatever help her to get excited about visiting, help her to understand who her grandparents are and remind her that they are thinking about her.

8.  Keep family photo albums. Zenie loves to look at pictures. We let her do this on the phone occasionally but try to put them in an actual book that she can get down and look at by herself. She quickly learned the names of lots of family members who she had only met once or twice. You can also put photos in calendars or puzzles too or make a special cup or other item that your grandchild can use regularly.

9.  Say family prayers and write cards. Every night before bed we recite a prayer together we ask Zenie if she would like to pray for anyone. We may ask specifically if she wants to pray for her Yiayia or Lollie. She often does and this helps her to remember them and remember that they are special to her.  I also sit with her regularly we write out letters, thank you cards and draw pictures to send to her family who she doesn’t get to see.

10.   Pick a theme. Themes help children build associations. When my mom went to Peru she brought back a little llama for Zenie. It turned out that there was an actual llama living nearby which Zenie thought was very fun. My mom has since sent a book and shirt with a llama. Now every-time Zenie sees a llama she thinks about her Yiayia.

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As parents we want Zenie to have good relationships with her grandparents. We try to visit as often as we can and we talk to her often about her grandparents and extended family. These ideas have worked well for us and there are certainly many more.  We would love to add your tips and experiences if you want to share.

Aimless Happiness

Reading Beginning to Pray, I was struck by this passage:

“When I found myself confronted with perfect happiness, a quite unexpected thing happened. I suddenly discovered that if happiness is aimless, it’s unbearable. I could not accept aimless happiness. Hardships and suffering had to be overcome, there was always something beyond them. But because it had no further meaning and because I believed in nothing, happiness seemed to be stale.”

I relate to this. I find myself always eager for the next thing.

“If I could only finish medical school. If I could only find an amazing husband. If I could only have a child. If I could only be a stay at home mom.”

Desire after desire have been satisfied. Each one is pleasing. But none of them really makes me content. There is joy, but not fulfillment.

I don’t think I am alone here. In America we have so many options to entertain ourselves and occupy our time. We are encouraged constantly to keep up with the latest fashions and trends. With each new desire there is the hope that this will really make me happy.

I wonder what it looks like to seek contentment in each moment. To say “I know I don’t have what I want but I am going to set my heart of being happy with what I have.”

I think Bloom would say that, in itself,  probably is not enough. That just having a good attitude will wear us out. But that we are able to be happy at all times only because God is in all things and as we know God our happiness continues to grow because God is infinite.

Unexpected Conversions

In the introduction to Beginning to Pray Bloom tells a story of his own conversion to Christianity.

“I suddenly became aware that on the other side of my desk there was a presence. And the certainty was so strong that it was Christ standing there that it has never left me. This was the real turning point. Because Christ was alive and I had been in his presence I could say with certainty that what the Gospel said about the crucifixion of the prophet of  Galilee was true, and the Centurion was right when he said, ‘Truly he is the Son of God.’”

He goes on to say “. . . the impossible event of the Resurrection was to me more certain than any event in history. History I had to believe, the Resurrection I knew for a fact.”

In many ways I share this story.  Like Bloom, the liturgical seasons played a role in my conversion. He was brought to a talk about Christ during the season of Lent (the season a few weeks before Easter). For me it was during Holy Week (the week of Easter).  That season, a time of preparation for the church, was for me, a time of preparation for my own change of heart.

My parents divorced while I was a teenager and my world view began shifting. I no longer relied on anything that I had been raised to believe. My thoughts were consumed with skepticism and doubts.  At the same time, I had good friends who were concerned about my spirit.  They were praying for me and bringing me to their church services. But I was distrustful of both of the Orthodox faith I had been raised with and the evangelical teaching I was now coming into contact with.

Seeking to explore all this more I began to read the Gospel of Luke.  I was struck first by how much of what I had heard in both churches was there, written down, 2,000 years earlier. And also with how powerful I found it. Something was stirring in my spirit, though at the time I was only reading out of interest and did not at all desire to be converted.

Alone in my room one Thursday afternoon, a totally ordinary day, I was struck with a sense that I wasn’t alone. In fact I was certain that God was there. I felt like I was on the edge of a cliff. To jump was to fearfully accept God. To decline was to stay on the cliff, to stagnate and die. It didn’t feel like I a choice anymore than it is a choice to breathe. I had to jump.

That night I went to my Orthodox church, and as they always do on the Thursday before Easter, they read the stories that lead up to Christ being crucified.  I was teary eyed and trembling. The story had become real. Now I was part of it.

It has stayed real. In all my doubts I return to this moment. An encounter that I can’t explain but that changed completely the trajectory of my life.

It is at the same time comforting yet uncomfortable to make decisions everyday based on an experience and an understanding of the world that I can’t explain.  But like Bloom says, I am certain that something happened that day and is still happening in me. It is undeniable and so for me Christ in me in undeniable.

Croutons (aka how to turn stale bread into an irresistible treat)

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Once I started baking my own bread I began to get very sentimental about the slice or two that got stale before it was eaten.  I would try my best to use it up, which resulted in a freezer full of French Toast pieces that still haven’t been eaten.

Recently I was making a family recipe for Italian Wedding Soup (recipe to come) which is our traditional meal for Christmas eve.  As I was putting the finishing touches on I remembered that my aunt would always serve it with homemade croutons.

An hour before dinner was to be served I called my Yiayia to get the recipe and twenty five minutes later the croutons were done. In fact they smelled so good and were so tasty that half of them were eaten up by family walking through the kitchen before I could serve them.

I find store bought croutons to be too hard and crumbly.  When you make your own you control the texture.  You can take them out of the oven while they are still a little chewy (my favorite) or you can bake them until they are good and crunchy (my husbands preference).  Croutons hot from the oven smell and taste great. They are a favorite finger food of my daughter and we often take them with us as a snack in place of crackers or other savory snacks.  When served along with a bowl of olives and a few cheese slices they can make for a quick and delicious appetizer. And they can turn a simple soup into a heartier meal.  All this with an end of bread that was about to be thrown away.

So here is what you do according to my Yiayia.

Start with bread. Here I have several different types of bread, and baked them all together.  I tried left over beer bread, sandwich bread and a light wheat bread that I make. This was sort of an experiment for me and if it is your first time you may want to start with one kind of bread as the cook time can vary depending on the bread that yo start with.

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Set oven to 400 degrees.

Slice and dice the bread. Keep in mind that smaller croutons will bake faster and get crunchier more quickly.  Larger ones will stay chewy longer and take longer to bake.

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Season.  I usually use a garlic powder and Italian seasoning. I’ve also added grated Romano Cheese. I season pretty heavily (as in I hand my daughter the bottle and let her shake and pour for a few minutes).  You can make them as flavorful or as mild as you like and there is a big range of what tastes good here so experiment to see what tastes good.

Pour seasoning over diced bread and mix with a spoon or with your hands.

Melt butter. You can use olive oil alone but I usually start with butter and then add some olive oil if they still feel dry.

Recipes I get from my Yiayia are always a bit vague.  When I asked her how much oil or butter to add she says simply “You just go by the feel.” And though this is a bit intimidating,  I followed her advice and was able to do this successfully. So I’ll give the same advice to you. Slowly pour butter or oil over diced bread. Stir with a spoon or with your hands. You want the bread to feel coated with butter or oil but not soaking. Sort of like buttering popcorn.  For this batch I used a whole stick of butter plus a few splashes of olive oil.  Experiment to see what you like.

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Spread evenly on parchment and bake. I stir and turn them two or three times throughout baking. This large batch took about 40 minutes, smaller batches with smaller croutons will take less time.  Test one every few minutes and see if you are happy with the texture, if you want them crunchier then keep baking.

 

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Remove them from the oven, let cool a minute so you don’t burn your fingers and then enjoy.

Of the varieties I made here the beer bread croutons turned out chewy with a great texture. The wheat bread was also good with a heartier and crunchier result.  The sandwich bread in this batch was quite thin, I over cooked it and it became too dry. The lesson here was, try to keep your croutons equal in size or some will be over done.

 

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If for some reason you don’t use them all up smash or grind them and keep as bread crumbs.

 

Baked Croutons

Ingredients:

Bread

Olive Oil or Butter (melted)

Seasoning (Italian Seasoning, garlic powder, grated cheese, or anything else you like)

Directions:

1. Set oven to 400 degrees.

2. Dice bread into crouton size of your choice.

3. Mix in seasoning

4. Stir in melted butter or oil until coated.

5. Bake on parchment paper until desired texture usually between 20-40 minutes.

6. Cool and enjoy.