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Keeping in Touch with Long Distance Friends and Relatives

Ann E. Butenas


While I was sitting up by our neighborhood pool today, watching two of my boys take swimming lessons, I noticed the woman next to me taking photos of her young son swimming in the pool. I took careful notice of the camera she was using. After she put it down, I began my lengthy interrogation:
ME: "What kind of camera is that?"
HER: "A digital one."
ME: "I thought so. Do you like it?"
HER: "Oh, yes. It is great. You can take dozens of pictures with it and delete the ones you don't like. You can crop and edit photos and then prepare them on disc to send to relatives over the computer. We do that all the time."

As we discussed the camera and all of its benefits, she told me that she mainly uses it to send updated photos of her two children to her family back on the East coast. She told me it was so much easier to do it by that method than to write a letter, get postage, and mail it out. She liked the instantaneous nature of it.

Later today, while perusing my e-mail and thinking about all of the people, both friends and family, with whom I maintain an "on-line"relationship, I got to thinking about ways to stay in touch with those we love who live so far away -- and even not so far away. I find it quite amusing that I often use e-mail to communicate with friends and family who may only live a block away or even across the street. It is so easy, convenient and quick.

However, I have taken to more tedious methods of keeping open the lines of communication, and have found them to be quite rewarding. Last spring, feeling unusually ambitious, I decided to create a most unique and from-the-heart Mother's Day gift for both my mom and my mother-in-law. As a fanatical video camera user, I take cameos of my boys via video every day. It sounds absurd, and, admittedly, somewhat obsessive, but that is another story. Along with my husband, I took several portions of video I had made and transferred them to a VHS tape. We spent countless hours dubbing in the right music to different segments of the video. The result? A lengthy "music video" of three little boys which my mom and mother-in-law could watch repeatedly. It reportedly brought tears to their eyes. In conjunction with that video, I created a book of diary compilations on my boys.

Like my over-zealous video tapings, I keep a daily (yes, daily!) diary on the computer of my boys. I write down what they did or said that was amusing, or where they went, or how they behaved, etc. It is quite interesting to read. I have compiled several thousand pages in the last 5 years. I took portions of that diary, printed it out, scanned various still photos, and had them all bound into a book that I presented along with the video. The box which held the videotape had a photo of my three little boys all dressed in jeans and t-shirts, wearing sunglasses. The title of the video was "Shades of the Butenas Boys," sort of a play on words. I entitled the book in the same manner, using the same photo on the front of the book. On the back of the video cartridge, I wrote up a synopsis of the tape, along with made-up commentaries from newspapers and magazines: "A true family hit!" "Sure to delight Grandmas everywhere," etc.

It has been over a year since these gifts were given; yet they still bring joy to the faces of the recipients. I am so glad I made the effort to do that. Of course, I made copies for myself, and my boys treasure watching themselves "on TV."

Further, to complement my compulsive record keeping, I love to write a detailed account of special days in my boys' lives, such as Christmas, birthdays, Easter, etc. I will make the whole document amusing and even add photos. I will then print it off and place it in one of their many "Memory Books." For those friends and family who live out of town, I will either e-mail a copy of this to them or mail them one. They love to read all about it. Even though they could not personally be there for the special day, due to vast geographical differences, they can relive the fun by reading my story.

Further, I can see where all this journaling will make for great reading fun in about 20 years, when I pull one of the Memory Books out and read it to one of my boys' girlfriends!

I am now considering branching out this love of writing and creating "Front Page News" for others. I hope to "interview" customers about special days, much like a journalist would interview someone, and then write the story and get photos to complement the story. I would then make it suitable for framing or mailing to loved ones. It is such a unique way to bind the distant ties and make those people feel close to the action, if only for a moment.

Granted, most of us do not have the time, energy, or desire to create such lavish items. That is where our good friend, Mr. Internet, comes in handy. It is so easy now to just create a personal web site, update it with news, information, and photos, and, with a click of the button, send it off to as many friends and family members as desired. I enjoy receiving photos and letter this way.

A couple of months ago, while perusing a magazine while waiting for a doctor's appointment, I came across an advertisement highlighting a unique photo frame. I apologize for not remembering the name of the company which produces these, but the gist of it was the frame could be given to someone as a gift. They just need to plug it in, and the giver of the frame could electronically transmit updated photos to be in that frame. For instance, Grandma in Lost Angeles could have the frame sitting on her nightstand, displaying a picture of young Johnny playing at the beach in North Carolina, and, when she awakened in the morning, there would be a new, updated photo of Johnny. I think that is such a neat idea. I only wish I could specifically remember the company who makes these frames. It would make a wonderful gift for a family member or friend who did not have access to, or use, a computer.

Nonetheless, a a recent weekend visit to my 95-year-old Grandmother who lives four hours west of us, reminded me of just how special that old, familiar, pen-to-paper sort of communication can be. As my husband and boys and I were departing her home, Grandma handed me a large envelope stuffed with various cards and letters I had sent to her and my grandfather, now deceased, over the last three decades. I could not believe she kept all of them. On the long ride home, while my boys napped and my husband drove, I pulled out these precious items and read every single one of them. There was the thank-you note for the doll written in 1970; the get well card to my grandpa who had heart surgery in 1978; the "my first date" revelation letter in 1981; the "please send money - - I'm in college" plea in 1982; and more. It was so neat to read all of these things.

In writing them over the years, I kept in touch with my grandparents and created a tie that, to this day, despite my grandfather's absence, is very strong. In reading them, I got in touch with my younger self and rediscovered the beauty of just letting someone know you care.

Sometimes, we have to step away from our computers and grab that pen, paper, and stamp. Take the time to go to the post office (it's that brick building down the street with the American flag in front of it, in case you forgot!). With our computers, it is so easy to read our e-mails and then hit that "delete" button.

Grandma did not have a "delete" key. Sure, she had a trash can, but how could she part with a tangible form of loving communication that read: "I miss yu, gramma and grampa. When will yu bee bak to sea me?
Luv, Ann Elizabeth Hollinger."

Ann E Butenas is a stay-at-home mom of three preschool-age boys. She has an undergraduate degree in Communications, a post-bachelor paralegal certificate, and a Master's in Business Management. She earned the latter during her first two pregnancies while running an at-home business at the same time. She has been professionally published as a writer since the age of 12.

Ann currently owns and operates ANZ Publications, a publications business specializing in family-oriented projects. Her most recent project includes a very unique medical and dental records binder.a great way to keep track of a child's complete medical history from birth through adolescence. Visit the site at ANZ is an acronym, by the way, for her son's Alec, Noah, and Zach. It is pronounced as "Ann's," for her first name, but spelled as such to include the boys!

Her website showcases her new book.

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