Long Distance: Keeping Connected to the Cousins

Do you live near your parents? Near your brother or sister? Your favorite cousins? Your grandparents?

I (mostly) do not. Things like graduate school and work have taken us far from home. And who knows where home is anyway? My parents are no longer in my hometown of St. George, Utah. Two out of 8 siblings live there, but before recently settling down, they moved around too. Here in Denver, we have some cousins — and we can’t believe how lucky we are to live near (a tiny fraction of) our family.

Ben Blair and I both love the families we come from, and I would expect that living away from them would be pretty darn emotional. Every once in awhile it is. But for us, technology mostly solves the geography problem. Cheap long-distance service and the world wide web have allowed us to figure out our careers, while moving across the country and back again, without sacrificing our relationships. It’s incredibly easy, and incredibly inexpensive, to stay in touch.

Some of my favorite examples:
-A dozen years ago, we were living in Greece and I announced the fact that we were having a baby boy via email. I remember being delighted that I could tell all those people at once (we have BIG families) without paying more than a small internet café fee.
-More recently, Ben Blair texted the safe arrival of June to our siblings and parents in an instant.
-I like feeling connected to my teenage nieces and nephews on Facebook (and really, why would they have reason to communicate with their stay-at-home aunt otherwise?).
-My kids share a group blog with their cousins — they take turns updating it whenever the mood strikes — no grownup contributors allowed.
-We loved Skypeing with my mom when she was recently living in Russia — I talked to her as often as if she still lived in the states. And it was free. Which continues to blow my mind.
-I love using Flickr to share lots of images from birthday parties or other events so Grandma and Grandpa don’t feel like they’re missing out.

Technology has advanced quickly enough in my adult life that I still find it pretty miraculous. I wonder if I would have had a harder time leaving my home and family if writing letters and an occasional long-distance phone call was the only way to stay in touch?

What about you? Do you use technology to stay connected to your family and friends? What are your favorites for staying in touch — Facebook? Texting? Skype? Also. Do you remember typewriters? I think the last time I used one was to type up my college applications. Now I want a vintage red one, just because they’re so charming. Also. Do you remember futuristic movies when you were a kid where people could talk to others on a screen?


53 thoughts on “Long Distance: Keeping Connected to the Cousins”

  1. Facebook has been great for me also for connecting with long distant family members etc….and I know texting is the quick and easy way to communicate…..but I love hand written letters, cards with a personal message and talking on the phone if I can’t see the person for real…..

    love your blog!
    have a great day!

    1. I hear you Jill. Hand written letters a such a pleasure to receive. I don’t write them very often, but I sure love adding to my stash of pretty stationery.

  2. Gabrielle, we have done nothing but move since we were kids. And guess what I still don’t think we are done moving ! Counting sydney, australia, I have lived in 15 different cities from 4 countries – 3 continents.
    At the moment, my hubby’s brother is our only nearest relative in sydney. My parents live in the Middle east, my sisters live in the US and my in-laws live in India. Luckily, all of us know all the time zones well enough to call each person at the right time !
    We use JustVoip, Reliance , Skype, GTalk, Facebook and of course email to stay in touch . When I moved from Madison, Wi to Sydney in ’08, I was heartbroken that my friends wouldn’t stay in touch with me , since I was in whole different hemisphere…lucky for me – facebook caught on :) Its interesting how times have changed and keeping in touch has a whole different meaning.
    Have a wonderful day ahead of you :)

  3. I use all of the technology you mentioned. It is amazing and I am soooooo thankful for it. I feel much more connected to my family, but also my friends. Facebook is great because I feel I get to see my high school/college friends and their children grow up right before my eyes

  4. Typewriter – yes it’s my daughters fun toy!

    Skype – it’s our love especially with a husband who frequents other countries. What once cost almost $100 to call is now free & has video! We just talked last night … He’s in Dubai & I’m in Idaho.

    P.s. Did you happen to get the latest ensign; it’s all about technology. :)

  5. We don’t have much in the way of family, but texting and facebook have been awesome for us.
    P.S. Not only do I remember type writers, but I got through college and most of grad school using a word processor. Oh my….I am old.

  6. I’m fortunate to have my all my immediate family within 15 minutes of where I live. There’s nothing like family. For long distance family and friends, our most effective way to keep in touch is through facebook. My daughter, 11, calls it “the power of facebook”. I love being able to stay in touch and see pictures of those far away. Technology blows me away!

  7. Because we’re in different time-zones, the best way to connect with my sister is texting. It’s usually “call me when you get off work” – but we still play phone tag. When she moved to NY, all of the family got Skype and web-cams but she works such long hours, we never get around to using it.

  8. I’ve been living abroad for almost a decade now in Germany with my husband and both our parents live far away in other countries and time zones. Keeping in touch isn’t easy.

    Last year we bought our parents AppleTVs which we synced with a Flickr account that we share with our siblings. When they’re home, they can turn on the TV, tune into the Flickr stream and their wall-mounted flatscreens become huge digital picture frame, broadcasting all the recent photos from kids and grandkids the world over. It’s proven to be a good high-tech solution for low-tech people.

  9. WOW – how timely is your post? We are finalizing an offer (today!!) to move to Switzerland for two years, and I am thinking about how we will keep in touch with our family and friends back here in Canada! So, your post, plus all the other wonderful suggestions in the comments are SO helpful!! WOW!

    I also remember as a little girl, I had an Underwood 300 and I had a penpal named Vivienne who lived in Montreal, and I would type her page after page of news and ‘stuff’ (drawings etc.) and put it in the mail and then wait for her long, typed letter to me – I LOVED it… we kept in contact for a few years, but I never met her (she was the neighbour of my aunt, but I never managed to arrange a meeting -MTL was 9 hours by car) – how times have changed… I imagine my kids arranging ‘virtual playdates’ with their friends via skype… but I hope to get them hooked on snail mail – something so tangible about a letter, the paper, the stamps, decorating the envelope – I’ll always remember that!

    ps… have you done any posts about how you move your family? I’ll have to have a look… would love some suggestions/ your best tips…

  10. We have family all over and it’s so easy to keep in touch with skype! What amazes me is how my daughter will ask to watch a youtube video on my camera. Or she’ll start touching the laptop screen to try to flip through my photos like she does on my iphone. She will never know a world where it’s “futuristic” to talk to people on screens!! Crazy.

  11. Unfortunantelly my family is not into the internet (not talking about my cousins in my age. I’m 32). As a mather of fact, my mother can only read texts but can’t write them herself. So we stick to talking on the phone and writing postcards.

    It’s nice to get something other than bills in the mail…

    Would you please tell us more about the blog your kids share with their cousins? That sounds like a wonderful idea.

    GReetings from Hamburg, Germany


    1. Hi Yvonne. The cousins blog is a free Blogger blog where they’ve added lots of users/authors so that any of the cousins can log on and write something.

      The content is pretty silly. They tease each other a lot. Talk about new movies they want to see. Make plans for the annual cousins week. That sort of thing.

      It’s totally free. And if they’re old enough to read, they’re old enough to participate.

  12. Skype and Facebook are my favorites. My parents and sister are in Chicago and skyping gives them a great opportunity to watch my son grow up. I think the fact that they get to see him everyday, even though it’s only a jerky computer image, makes them feel more connected to him.

    Facebook is great for keeping in touch with my cousins. I came across this cool site recently, I’m not affiliated with it in any way, but it allows groups of people to create a photo book. My cousins are spread across the country – I’m going to see if each family wants to take a page or two and upload images that chronicle the past year or two. If we could get it ready by Christmas, it would be a fun gift that we could all share even if we’re not together.


  13. my husband is deployed, and we skype with him almost every day. i think, for our family, it has saved us. he is able to see when my son lost his front teeth. he can see my daughter in her fashion creations (when you’re four everything matches). and he can see their art work, spelling tests……it is a huge blessing to have that. he has called us a few times, but we mostly use skype.

    and since we are military, we do not live any where near family. we have used skype for my kids to talk to grandma and grandpa in california. my niece will call my phone just to talk to my son. when my husband came home for R&R i could immediately take a picture with my phone and send it to our family and friends.

    we’ve used skype to talk to friends that have moved to germany. we use skype for my kids to talk to my best friends kids.

    without technology, i just might shrivel up. i think it has saved me.

  14. We love Ceiva frames for the non-techy folks in our lives. The whole family can e-mail photos of grand- and great-grandchildren to the digital frame in our grandmothers’ apartments, and they don’t have to do a thing but sit back and watch new photos appear. It’s made my Grammy so so happy. And that makes me feel slightly better about moving so far away.

  15. Hi there,

    I moved from the US to England almost 6 years ago to be with my husband, who is English. Since then I have had two children, the youngest only 12 weeks. I can’t imagine living here 10, 20, or more years ago. Things like email, Facebook and webcams have been a lifesaver. Funny though, I still love buying lovely stationery and spending a precious few minutes to write a letter to someone. I like admiring my nice handwriting, something I don’t get to see very often, kind of like an old friend.

  16. I am grateful for the new technology, even though I don’t do much more than email and telephone. Sometimes I fear that my children and grandchildren might feel that I can’t let go of them–well, I can’t! I love being in touch with each one–and they are all over.

    I attended a lovely outdoor wedding reception last Friday. At the entrance was an old Royal Typewriter which guests used to sign in.
    Very Fun! Julia b I Love Design Mom!!

  17. Definitely Facebook and Skype are what keep us connected. That, and free long distance on our cell phones. We just started Skyping with our little one, and it’s been so nice that when we do go visit family, he doesn’t have to go through that hour phase of being shy and reacquainting himself anymore before having fun.

  18. Each time I use Skype (and I’ve only done it a handful of times), my mind can’t seem to wrap around the idea that I’m ACTUALLY TALKING ON A VIDEO PHONE.

  19. I really want a typewriter. :) I just had phone calls with three of my family members YESTERDAY. I deleted my Facebook page and they all called asking why. Looks like my plan worked :)

  20. Skype, yes yes yes yes. It’s so very much fun to Skype with my nieces and nephews. Pretty much the next best thing to being with them. You can be a lot goofier via Skype than over the phone where so much is lost. Body language, facial expressions, plus tours of current house projects and kids artwork thanks to wireless and laptops! FREE?! Still can’t believe it.

  21. I use emailing, texting, facebook, skype and iChat. iChat is our favorite because 4 of us can video chat at the same time. I can talk to all 3 of my siblings on one screen!! It is hard being away from home but technology is making it easier!

  22. My husband is currently on tour (he’s a guitarist) and I am so thankful for all the ways technology allows us to stay in touch. We text frequently throughout the day, talk at least once on the phone and we skype (video chat) once or twice a week. Not as much fun as being together but it helps A LOT! :)

  23. My husband travels a LOT for work, and with a six month old daughter, being away from home is easier for him since we get to skype each evening. I also use my iPhone to send pictures of us throughout the day so he can follow our day. It’s amazing how special a picture of a bath, or a smile on a swing, or walk in the neighborhood can be.

  24. The cousin blog is a wonderful idea! I am not comfortable letting my children roam free on social websites, but that would be something fun to do with the cousins. My only sibling (sister) lives 6 hours away. Thankfully we are 15 minutes from my parents and only an hour from my husband’s family. We were in FL for many years (before babies) so it makes us appreciate the close proximity even more!

  25. Skype is great. I’m from Iran and have aunts and uncles there and some cousins in Dubai. This year during Norooz (Persian New Year), for the first time since my family moved to the United States (1988) we were able to celebrate the arrival of our new year with everyone via Skype. We had two computers going one for a cousin who was all by herself in Dubai and one for our extended family all gathered together in one place in Iran. It was the most surreal experience but also amazing b/c my 3 year old twins got to experience (although virtually) what an actual Norooz celebration can be like when you have a VERY large loving family. We are so fortunate.

  26. We haven’t lived near family in over a decade and we use Skype everyday to stay in touch with one relative or another. I have to recommend Vizit and Ceiva frames for less techy folks because they don’t really have to do anything, the digital photos you send them just appear in their frame at home. It’s magical – yet so simple!

  27. When my nephews lived in Ohio, we Skyped and it was great. I still remember the day they called us on Skye and told us they were moving back. Such great memories!

    I also do a lot of text messaging and sharing pictures that way as well as Flickr (both videos and photos).

    @Jules22 I’d love to hear where you’re moving to in Switzerland! I lived there for a couple of years and fell in love—can’t wait to move back someday. Do you have a blog we can follow your adventures by?

  28. My daughter and her husband were deployed to Iraq at the same time, so I became their 18-month-old daughter’s caretaker. Every Sunday afternoon after her nap, we would hear “the ring” and my granddaughter would say, “It’s Mommy and Daddy!” and run to the computer room. They would carry on an hour love-fest via the computer. Even if she didn’t perform or talk much, they loved just watching her play with her doll or doodle in her coloring book. Our whole family was fearful as to what would happen upon their return… what her reaction would be after they had been gone over 12 months, but we shouldn’t have worried at all. I believe it was those Sunday afternoons on Skype that helped make the transition so smooth.

  29. Tes, I use Facebook and IChat to communicate with family. We live in Portland and most of my husband’s family is in the UK. Sunday IChat is a weekend ritual and keeps the kids connected – no funny warm up periods when we see the family every 6 months. So great!

  30. I feel so lucky that we live close to our families. In those first weeks after I had my daughter, I learned firsthand how it DOES take a village!

    My parents recently moved to within walking distance of our home, which took some getting used to, but for the most part, it’s wonderful. And my sister and her little family live just across town. I especially love that our girls will grow up close to each other. They’re only 18 months apart, so they’re already close (at age 1 and 2 1/2). BFFs, I hope!!

    To keep in touch with family who don’t live nearby, we use Skype. It’s amazing. Lily’s grandparents and auntie can see and hear her, and she’s really getting to know them. Can’t believe that service is free!

    What a nice post! Makes me realize how fortunate we are to have family nearby.

  31. When my sister went to Beirut for two years, I joined myspace so we could keep in touch and I could see her photos (which she also posted on SmugMug at the time). Now I live in Nevada and she lives in D.C., but we keep in contact through e-mail, g-chat, facebook, texting and phone calls. I’ve been joking that we need to start skyping with her so that our puppy will know who she is when she comes to visit :-)

    Many of my friends keep blogs, which is a great way to keep up on their lives and see their kids grow. For friends stationed in Okinawa, we also Skype and talk to on the phone, but that’s more difficult because of the time difference and because we both work. It takes some planning/scheduling to catch each other at home.

  32. Great topic! I married and moved to France six years ago (originally from Miami, Florida). When we had our first son, my parents came to visit and my dad installed what it now know as “magic phone.” It’s an internet phone line (we use a company called Lingo) with a US phone number. It means that my friends and family in the US call a local number and it rings in my house in Toulouse. I talk to everyone across the pond on a regular basis. Only thing we have to keep in mind is the six-hour (or eight depending on which state I call :) time difference.

  33. I admit, I’m rather blessed. We live in the town my husband grew up in. His parents still live here. When we built a new house last year, my mom bought our old one and moved here from Chicago. My hubby has 1 sister still in the area, 1 a few hours away and the other in California. Many of his relatives are in South Dakota, although many are the other side of the state (5 hours away). Unfortunately, my brother and the rest of my family are still in the Wisconsin/Illinois area. But 2 free babysitters, er, I mean grandmas, 2 minutes away? Awe.Some.

  34. Love this post! I’m going to speak with my sister-in-law about doing a blog for the cousins. They are too young right now to write themselves, but I know my three year old would love sharing art projects with her cousins. We use skype with grandparents and cousins. Its also been a great way to introduce great-aunts and uncles that we almost never see in person. I have been connecting with my younger cousins through facebook. My father is one of 16 and near the top of the deck so I have younger cousins that I know by name but we didn’t grow up together because I was already in college. Its been great to be able to see pictures of their spring break and they love seeing pictures of my kids.

  35. I’ve been thinking about this recently: My grandparents couldn’t physically make the trip to my sister’s wedding last month, so we Skyped them in for the ceremony (my cousin held the laptop)!! It was very sweet.

  36. Both sides of our family live in varying parts of Florida – where my husband and I grew up – but we moved to Tennessee after I finished school. Facebook (for sharing pictures and videos) and Google video-chat have been such a blessing, since we started a family almost immediately after moving here. My daughter is so accustomed to talking to her grandparents on the computer; even my parents’ dog will come running when he hears the chime that they have an incoming video call!! My husband and I have joked about doing a live web-cast of this next baby’s birth for all the family that won’t be here. It’s just a joke though…..mostly. (We’ll probably get online very shortly after his arrival to show him off though.)

  37. I also live far from family. While I have cousins in our town, my closest siblings live 2 hours away. My parents and other siblings live 7 hours away, and yet 2 more siblings live 8 hours away (all in completely different directions). We visit as often as we can which isn’t very often. We rely on email, blogs, facebook, and skype to keep in touch. I would never have imagined myself living in a town without any siblings but it has been a suprisingly easy transition when we can keep in touch in so many ways!

  38. I can hear the “clack-clack” noise of my Grandmother’s blue typewriter, that is now mine (I also used it in college, but for installation art projects and gallery show invites). It is good to keep that tradition alive and well. In terms of the future (Epcot Center Future World comes to mind) I keep in touch with my large family via blogging, email, Facebook, texting, and Skype. We still do a great job of writing letters and sending little care packages, but instant communication is golden. We share family moments within seconds of them happening. We are there for one another when we fall down. And most of all, we share our love for one another on a daily basis. I miss them so much, but I’m happy to know that I’ve got them so close, while living far away.

  39. We moved to a different country shortly after being married and now five years later find ourselves with two precious babies and siblings spread across the globe. At times our hearts ache at the once so easy decision to move away. Becoming parents has greatly changed our perspective on family and the importance of their role in our lives. Thankfully, oh so thankfully, we’ve discovered and come to rely on Facebook and Skype (and the delight to think it’s free!!) Just last night Nana read multiple bedtime stories to my 2-year-old son and to think that this may well be “normal” for him, well it makes me smile!!

  40. I use them all!! We just recently (a month ago to be exact) moved from our home state of NJ to TN for my fiance’s job promotion. My family had moved out of NJ when I was younger so I was already used to how I communicated with them but my fiance’s family and I had become increasingly close, especially with the birth of our son. It tore my heart to pieces when I realized we were moving but I had to support my fiance’s job promotion. So I do it all…I Facebook and keep everyone up to date with pictures and posts, we Skype and our 14 month old lovesss seeing people on the computer (and himself) and the best it’s FREE! Texting is big and was big before we moved so of course it’s another form of communication and phone calls have picked up as well. I blog as another source of getting ideas and creating another source of support and friends! I miss our family but it’s doable with the technology we have. I probably wouldn’t have been so inclined to leave a big support system if we didn’t have it.

  41. Hi! Came through a friend’s google reader. My youngest and family are in the US and I’m in India. There’s nothing like Skype for getting up close and participating in each other’s lives. But I use all the others too, Facebook, e-mail and a family blog:-) How wonderful is technology. When I think of folks who went off to far away continents, with no other communication available than sea mail (really snail mail!) or the very occasional telegram, I think how lucky we are.

  42. I realized not too long ago that I can take advantage of the amazing technology that surrounds us today and do what I love to do, which is travel…. and work at the same time. I quite my job a few months ago in pursuit of working for myself from anywhere. My hope is to build enough trust in my clients that within the next year, I can be in Europe for 3-6 months and work remotely… using Skype, email and phone to connect with one another. We’ll see how it goes!

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