We left a yard of maples, pines, and an elm tree in New York for a yard of mesquite trees in Arizona. In fact, we have three acres of mesquite trees. The mesquite is a tough, drought-tolerant tree. Famous for its wood that smokes meat to a delicious flavor, the tree averages about 20 feet in height. Its leaves are delicate and lacy looking, but watch out! Most mesquite varieties have thorns--along the same lines as thorn apples back east. They are deciduous trees and when they leaf out in April, it's about the only green we have until the monsoon.
There are several varieties of mesquite and the ones on our property are velvet, honey, and a hybrid of the two. The mesquite flowers in May with long, fuzzy yellow blooms and then long bean pods form once the flowers are gone. We discovered that these pods are sweet and have been used in the Southwest as a food source for a long time. Once milled into flour, the humble mesquite beans are quite pricey--$7 to $9 per HALF pound.
Here's the process we followed to collect the pods:
1. We picked dry pods from the trees and NOT off the ground. Using beans that have dropped on the ground is not a good idea because of bacteria. Pods with black mold are to be avoided for obvious reasons.
2. We tasted the beans before picking from individual trees. Only those with a sweet, pleasant flavor were the ones we picked. Not all trees are equal.
3. We dried them in the sun to get every bit of moisture out of them over a period of a few days. There are bugs which bore into the pods, so you keep the buckets of pods outside. If you take them in too soon, you'll have a buggy house. The pods are really dry when they snap easily in half. If you want to kill off all of the bugs, spread the pods on baking sheets and bake at 175 degrees for an hour or two. We decided that drying and sorting over several days got rid of the majority of bugs. A little extra protein never hurt anyone.
4. We stored the pods in airtight food safe plastic buckets to await milling day which was this week. The pods had been in the buckets for a couple of months, so we spread them out in the sun one more time to make sure they were good to go.
Wonder of wonders, I managed to be first in line with my beans, which were rated as excellent by the ladies who sort them before they go into the milling machine. A lot of time is spent in the final sorting by Baja Arizona volunteers, who are looking for things that shouldn't go through the milling machine, like rocks, sticks, moldy pods, etc. Baja Arizona is an agricultural organization working to promote sustainable, native foods in southern Arizona. It was fun to talk with these friendly and knowledgeable folks about the interesting native foods in our area.
Our little harvest yielded a little over five pounds of beautiful mesquite flour from about four gallons of pods. When you open the bag of flour, the aroma of nutty sweetness wafts up to tickle your nose.
Substituting a small portion of regular flour with mesquite seems to be the way to adapt recipes. So, a recipe that calls for a cup of flour adjusts out to 3/4 of a cup of all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup of mesquite. It’s excellent in pancakes, waffles, scones, and cookies.
For those who may be interested, the flour is gluten free and is full of good stuff for us. It does need to be mixed with other flours since gluten is what makes bread hold together. Otherwise you’ll end up with a pile of crumbs. Because of its high sugar content it also burns easily, which is another reason to go easy on the amount you add to a recipe. It has a strong flavor, so some experimentation is required to find the correct ratio for your taste buds.
Enjoy the photos of the mesquite flour process. As for me, I’m off to the kitchen to whip up some mesquite delicacies.
Cooking with mesquite flour link: http://www.desertharvesters.org/mesquite-in-the-kitchen/cooking-with-mesquite/
With Halloween just a couple of weeks away, it seemed appropriate to do a little hiking around the ghost towns of Charleston and Millville. The BLM trailhead is just across the San Pedro River on Charleston Road, a short drive from Casa Wallace. We haven’t explored the trails in this area, so it was time to check out a little Old West history and enjoy a beautiful fall day.
The trails are well maintained and marked with numerous historical markers about the two short-lived boom towns of the late 1800s. The area’s economy was driven by the Tombstone silver mining business which sprang to life in 1878. The Schieffelin brothers, Edward and Al went into partnership with Richard Gird forming the Tombstone Mill and Mining Company. Gird began construction of a ten-stamp mill that same year and the town of Millville was born a few miles from Tombstone. Ore taken from the Toughnut Mine and several others the company owned in Tombstone had to be crushed to recover the silver. Huge stampers pulverized the stone to extract the bullion. A canal was dug from the San Pedro River to divert water to power the mill. In those days, there was abundant water in the river. Reports are that 13-million gallons a day were available to power the mill and irrigate the many gardens near the San Pedro which were tended by Chinese farmers.
Gird built his home right next door to the mill which ran 24/7. The noise must have been incredible. So much for peaceful rural living. He married shortly after building the house and the wealthy couple’s large home became the social center of the area. In its heyday, the mill produced more than $1.3 million in silver in 1881-82. It would soon come to an end, however. The terrible earthquake of May 3, 1887 leveled some of the adobe buildings in Millville and damaged many others. Close on the heels of the earthquake came severe flooding in the Tombstone mines which brought about the closure of the mining enterprises. Within 10 years, the town evaporated into the desert dust. Only a few foundations remain to hint at any town in the scrubby creosote bush and mesquite hillsides.
However, an added bonus to hiking out to the Millville site is another trail that takes you to the petroglyphs. Early native residents in the area, the Hohokam tribe left some of their artwork on the rocks. The trail leads toward the river and the old railroad bed that helped Millville and Charleston thrive for a decade. The river was trickling along today, yellow leaves on the cottonwoods that line the banks.
The glyphs were visible from a distance, but we managed to scramble up a few rocks for a closer look. We didn’t have time to add in an extra mile to Charleston, and according to our information, there’s not much to see. Ft. Huachuca used the old adobe ruins for target practice during WW II, which pretty much took care of the remaining buildings. Charleston grew quickly after Millville was birthed. It managed to take the post office away from Millville and had a thriving retail trade with Sonora besides the milling business with a 15-stamper mill running around the clock. Records indicate that there were 62 different professions in Charleston with restaurants, stores, livery stables, saloons, bakeries, but no bank. For all the wild tales of armed robberies, the town never lost a payroll or a load of silver bullion.
We encountered nothing spooky other than a snakeskin lying under a bush. Fortunately, the occupant was nowhere in sight nor did we spot anything else venomous along the trail. All in all, a good Saturday morning hike exploring the history of the San Pedro. For a more detailed history of Millville and Charleston visit BLM website and Arizona Ghost Town Trails.
G.K. Chesterton said, “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese,” but as a serious cheese fan and certainly no poet, I must compose some prose about my latest cheese experience. Cheese, in my opinion is one of the greatest foods out there. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dessert, cheese has something to offer: mac and cheese, cheese omelet, cheesecake, or a wedge of extra-sharp cheddar with apple pie. I could end up with a list like Forrest Gump’s when he went on about shrimp.
My cheese-loving heart was thrilled when I recently visited the East Hill Creamery in Perry, NY and spent some time with the owners, Betty Burley, and her husband, Gary. I’d been following the progress of the creamery since last year’s visit to Wyoming County and was intrigued with the artisan cheese concept coming back to dairy country. The county’s history is full of creameries from the mid-1800s right through the early 20th century. In fact, a cheese factory was once located near the small farm I grew up on in East Koy, NY. Cheese making was the best way to use all that extra milk when refrigeration was a challenge. Now it’s making a comeback in a beautiful, new Swiss chalet-style building with a manmade cave.
On the off-chance that someone was around to chat with, I talked my husband into stopping at this new facility as we were driving out of Perry. A serendipitous encounter on the sidewalk with Betty brought a couple of surprises. When I introduced myself, she reminded me that we knew each other from years ago. She was working in the Wyoming County courts, and I was a young paralegal for a law firm just across the parking lot from the courthouse. After catching up on a “few years” in between, she graciously offered to give us a tour of the almost completed creamery.
Entering the building, you are welcomed by the fragrance of milk, rich and heavy in the air. It’s the promise of cheese beckoning you into the inner workings of the creamery. The Burleys are producing Alpine-style cheeses that have been made in the French Alps for centuries. They engaged a French consultant, Alex Pellicier, who has guided their process, the purchase of French equipment, and even the building of the structure. Betty and Gary are starting with raclette cheese, which requires attention to every detail from what the cows eat to pouring fresh milk into two 500-gallon copper vats when it’s delivered every morning by the milk truck. The cheese requires a precise temperature of 50 degrees and 90 per cent humidity, and it needs a cave. This raw milk cheese that forms a natural rind must hangout for 60 days in the cheese cave. Every wheel is hand-turned throughout the aging process. The plan is to produce about 120,000 pounds annually and there are already 35,000 pounds in the cave.
The man-made cave is fascinating. Large windows on the upper level give you a spectacular view into the underground cheese world. Basswood shelves timbered from the Burleys' woods support the beautiful rounds of raclette which are waiting for the perfect time to be packaged. The basswood is also being made into bowls and serving utensils. The upper level of the post-and-beam building will have a tasting room, and eventually be available for events sometime in 2017. Their downstairs retail store will open at the end of September 2016. Amish-made red oak beams hewn in Belfast, NY are overhead. The handmade touches, along with lots of natural light make this a beautiful building.
Four of the Burleys' five children are running the dairy operations so their parents can focus on cheese production. The herd of 700 at the Warsaw farm is New Zealand genetic-based, grass-fed on a rotational basis, and milk production is seasonal. It’s picky and yes, it matters. Grass-fed cows produce the type of milk necessary to make Alpine cheeses. They’ll add a second cheese which is even more labor intensive, a Gruyere, which will be called Silver Lake Cheese (for nearby Silver Lake for those who aren’t familiar with the area). The Gruyere requires six months in the cave. The raclette currently being made is called Underpass Cheese. Now, if you’re wondering about the name, I'll let you in on the story behind it.
The Burleys began dairy farming in the early 1980s and their land is on both sides of NYS Route 20A. They’ve been grazing their cows rotationally since they started their operations. Shuttling cows across a busy highway to another pasture has a lot of issues. Several years ago, they finally received permission to build a cow underpass, a tunnel directly under the highway. The cows are happier, as are the Burleys, and drivers aren’t inconvenienced.
Once back downstairs, we were invited for a little cheese tasting in the employee breakroom. The cheese is wonderful. Buttery, tangy, melty … sigh … delicious. Underpass Cheese is already available at several local stores, and since we were on our way to shop at Lantz’s Bulk Food store in Warsaw, we purchased a wedge to take home to Arizona. We’ve enjoyed it on crackers, in grilled cheese sandwiches, melted into grits (shrimp and grits), and all by itself. The experts say a crisp, white wine such as Pinot Gris pairs well with the semi-firm raclette, or Pinot Noir for those who prefer a red. It's all good. I can’t wait for East Hill Creamery to begin internet sales. I’ll be a regular customer.
Enjoy the slideshow tour of the creamery and dairy farm. And remember to eat local.
Visit East Hill Creamery website
Like them on Facebook
My husband, David and I just spent some time back in our hometown of Castile, NY for family reunions. An added bonus during our stay was the start of the Wyoming County Fair, or as the natives call it –Pike Fair. It’s been held in the small hamlet of Pike for many, many years. The fair began in 1843 and moved around to a number of different towns, but finally became a permanent fixture in Pike years later.
Nothing much has changed at the fair since I was growing up, or when our daughters were young. There are some new rides—The Tornado is one of them, which would probably ruin my day if I attempted to ride it. But, overall, it’s the same. I know where to find the maple syrup booth, where the school exhibits will be, and that there will be plenty of livestock in the barns. Walking the fairgrounds will connect you with people you haven’t seen in years, and much time will be spent catching up. Childhood neighbors, classmates, longtime friends are all part of the social scene.
The barns are noisy with mooing cattle, huge fans moving humid air, sheep and goats bleating, along with horses stomping impatiently in their stalls. Watch where you step or you might be sorry. Cattle judging was in progress when we entered the cow barn. Lots of 4-H kids were wrestling reluctant heifers into place for judging. Others were clipping their bovine charges to get a smooth look for the ring. The horse barn was busy with riders and mounts making their way to the show ring. There’s a lot of hurry up and wait for these shows. You have to be prepared to be at your best after putting your horse in neutral for a spell outside the ring. It’s not always easy, and the horse may not be very cooperative about cooling its hooves.
The smells of the fairway are tantalizing. Catch a whiff of the waffles, sausages with peppers and onions on the grill, cotton candy, candy apples, fried dough … and the list goes on. Bells ringing and the pop of balloons punctuate the afternoon with the music of the merry-go-round in the background. Milling families line up for the rides, others check out the huge tractors for sale in the front of the fairgrounds, and there’s a steady stream of visitors to the Pioneer House. Women in pioneer garb cook all manner of 1800s fare. Sally Lunn bread and Esau’s pottage were just two of the dishes they were preparing when we visited.
Evening parades, the Fair Queen competition, the Talent Show, and tractor pulls draw the largest crowds. It’s the country experience. Enjoying summer with the richness of farming traditions, and celebrating the rural lifestyle. Pike Fair—still going strong after 173 years, still making great memories.
And Peter had followed him at a distance … Mark 14:54
Do you ever have a lightning bolt moment when you’re reading your Bible? I did this morning, as I was finishing up Mark 14. This chapter in Mark's gospel is filled with so much action, I've been taking my time to read through it.
Jesus had been arrested earlier in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Mark 14:46) In a flash, Peter’s life was in chaos. His teacher, friend, master, the One he’d declared was the Christ now stood as a criminal before the high priest. Peter, who’d stubbornly insisted he would stay with Jesus through thick and thin was sure he could take what was coming. He'd even whacked off the ear of the high priest's servant. Peter was serious. Then he ran away, like everyone else.
After his initial flight, he changed his mind. He turned around and began following from a distance. Afraid to commit to Him all the way. Afraid of what might happen. He could be arrested or worse. Peter had already forgotten the teaching he’d heard from Jesus a short while before His arrest.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
Abiding is staying close. Really close. And Peter was now following from a safe distance, or so he thought. Not too involved. On the fringes. He was afraid to abide … remain … sojourn … endure with Jesus. That decision brought him to probably the lowest point in his life. He denied the Savior three times, refusing to acknowledge he knew Him or was associated with Him in any way. And the rooster crowed, a second time just as Jesus had told him. Peter realized his folly too late. He’d distanced himself physically and spiritually. No longer brash and confident, he was a traitor and a coward.
The good news is that Jesus forgave Peter and restored him to minister. (John 21:22) What lavish love! Jesus does the same for us, time and time again. But His words to the disciples are just as true today. We must abide in Him. The abiding life is full of good fruit, despite the chaos around us. Following Jesus at a distance gives us a lot of space to fill. We stuff it with pride, fear, self-sufficiency, control, doubt, and anger. Bitter fruit. The fruit that Jesus had in mind is so much better.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23.
Little did I know when I was babysitting a young brother and sister, who lived across the road from me in 1969, I’d become their aunt in 1976. They’d have another brother by the time their uncle and I spoke our marriage vows in our country’s bicentennial year. Before I knew their mother, Robyn as a sister-in-law, she was my neighbor. She and her husband, Carl had purchased a rambling 19th century inn that had been transformed into a farmhouse. They had a lot of work ahead to manage not only the house, but barns and over a 100 acres of farmland. And they did, a little bit at a time, making a life in the hamlet of East Koy. We moved away in 1970, but within four years, I was visiting as her brother’s girlfriend. It’s funny how those things happen isn’t it?
In the years after David and I married, there were countless holiday celebrations at Robyn and Carl’s, the house bursting at the seams with not only family, but friends, the college student who couldn’t go home, random friends of friends. Everyone was welcome and there was a place at the table for you.
Those dinner preparations were chaotic. Sometimes, there were way too many people in the kitchen, kids underfoot, cats and dogs running everywhere. Through it all, Robyn retained her sense of humor, lugging massive turkeys from the oven, while our brother-in-law Bill carved it up with surgical precision. Many hands pitched in. Gravy stirred on the stove, potatoes whipped into fluffy white clouds, another card table set up with more place settings—we were still trying determine the exact headcount. The refrigerator finally had no more space to give—the Jell-O salad, and cream pies went to stay cool in the unheated backroom. After dessert, inevitably the Rook cards appeared and the Scrabble board was set.
Kids grow up, weddings come, as well as funerals, families move away, grandchildren come along and the faces at the table changed. Robyn welcomed more changes in her life and pursued a doctorate successfully, graduating at the age of 62. She embraced new work, becoming part of a cutting edge education method. Based in Rochester, NY, she and her business partner, Ellen, traveled the world to speak and teach. She was passionate and committed to what they were doing to help teachers and businesses take full advantage of this creative learning process. She wasn’t about to retire, even though we often thought it must be time she slowed down and spent more time relaxing. Robyn—you’re past 70 after all. She smiled and worked on.
While her plans for this week included surgery to help with debilitating tremors in her hands, our most gracious Lord took her home on Wednesday morning, July 6. Our hearts are broken. It was sudden and so unexpected. But as I look at how so many kind hands and loving hearts took care of details, provided beds for family, meals, rearranged schedules, traveled, prayed, gave hugs—God is good. His plans are perfect. In the midst of life’s changes, He is unchanging. Psalm 46 has been replaying in my head since that early morning phone call last Wednesday.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging
This is truth. This is hope. Because, the psalmist continues:
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Robyn is in the city of God because she placed her trust in Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on the cross long ago. She lived a life of faith, not perfectly, but struggling as we all do with doubt, circumstances, failures. Robyn joyfully followed Jesus as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, friend, teacher, mentor, entrepreneur, writer, traveler, and an expert roaster of turkeys.
John 14:6: Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.”
She’s safe, well, reunited with many friends and family, and most of all, rejoicing in the presence of our great Savior, Jesus Christ.
For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. I Cor. 15:53
And there will be a day when we are all around the table again, where Jesus Himself has prepared a great feast for us. “Even so come, Lord Jesus.”
Five years ago a fire that started in Mexico tore through the Huachuca Mountains and in a week's time we were told to evacuate. It's a strange and scary experience to have a deputy knock on your door and tell you to leave your home--now! The weather conditions were tinder dry, 11 per cent humidity and lower, and 40 mile an hour winds. We were thankful the fire was stopped less than a mile from our house. Evacuation is not a lot of fun, but I learned about the importance of the "Go Bag." I'll share some tips to get organized in case you ever have to evacuate for any reason--hurricane, flood, tornado, fire, earthquake, etc.
Here’s a breakdown of necessities for evacuation:
· Insurance policies (house, car, life)
· Wills, trust documents (originals)
· Vehicle titles
· Real estate documents
· Birth certificates, marriage license, passports
· Pet documents
Although some of the documents aren't irreplaceable, some are a real pain to replace and can be expensive. If you have originals of wills and trust documents, they are irreplaceable and you’ll have the expense of redoing them if they’re lost. Maintaining a good filing system where these important papers are categorized properly in file folders will make your life a lot simpler if you have to grab them and run.
We were fortunate to stay with friends while we were evacuated, so we didn't stay in a shelter like hundreds of others. If a shelter is your only option and you have a few more minutes to prepare the list below will help ease the stress:
The above lists aren’t exhaustive, but they give you the basics of preparation. Other sources are the FEMA (fema.gov) and American Red Cross (redcross.org) websites. Check with your local sheriff’s department or emergency services department for more information unique to your location.
For #TBT This devotional has been one of the most viewed when my blog was on blogspot.com. I thought I'd share it again.
Here are a few of the well-used excuses: "I'm a victim of circumstances. "The situation is impossible." "The circumstances are beyond my control." "Under the circumstances"...fill in the blank.
Funny how principles, self-control, and positive thinking can go out the window when we're "under the circumstances." And lest you think the author is above blaming circumstances, she is not. I've used most of the excuses above, whether spoken or unspoken.
An imprisoned and wrongly accused Jewish Christian talked a lot about circumstances in a letter to some men and women in the ancient city of Philippi roughly 2,000 years ago. If there was ever a situation you could get upset about or bitter over, this was it. He was a Roman citizen, awaiting trial that for one reason or another didn't materialize for about two years. His rights had been trampled upon. He'd been bad-mouthed by so-called friends and beaten.While writing the letter he was under house arrest, at the mercy of the Roman government, dependent on friends for housing, food, everything. Life itself was uncertain and he knew it. He'd had a lot of bad circumstances before that and more would follow after the writing of the letter.
He was surprisingly unaffected by what was going on, demonstrating confidence and peace. Here's what he said about the situation:
I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4 NLT
He encouraged the men and women to do the same:
Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4 NLT
I think this was Paul's secret of living in "every situation." I'm still learning that secret. God is never under the circumstances and He is the Source of peace, who guards our hearts and minds. With Him, the circumstances don't have to matter. That's good news because unknown conditions are ahead.
It's that time of year! Vacation plans are forming like clouds over the mountains. With travel comes some stress, so here's a list to follow when you're closing up the house and hitting the road. There's nothing more annoying or frightening than forgetting some essential task, only to remember it when you're 20 miles down the road.
Inevitably my husband will turn to me on the way to the airport and say, "Did you pack...."(fill in the blank) or "Did you remember to..." (fill in another blank). Agghhh!!! Sometimes one of us has forgotten something we'll desperately need on the trip. Other times it's been a household task. To help others avoid frustration, stress, and getting off to a bad start on vacation, here's a handy list to check BEFORE you leave home.
1. Stop newspaper and mail delivery.
2. Lock the windows.
3. Turn down the hot water tank to "vacation" mode if you'll be gone for several days.
4. Adjust A/C or heat to vacation mode too.
5. Turn off power strips to electronics or unplug them during summer T-storm season.
6. Take out the garbage.
7. Have a light on a timer which will turn on for a few hours in the evening. Your home won't look vacant while you're gone.
8. Let a neighbor know you'll be away. If you're in a Neighborhood Watch area, notify the local police of your vacation dates. Exchange cell phone numbers with the neighbors for emergency contacts.
9. Make sure all passengers are in the vehicle before leaving and that the dog is at the kennel.
Vacation Prep and Packing Tips
1. Lay out all chargers for electronics where you can see them and then pack in the same suitcase. It's so much easier than tossing them in randomly.
2. Meds should be double checked before going out the door. Make sure you have a couple of extra days of prescription medicines--just in case. Keep those meds with you and not in checked luggage.
3. Make sure your camera battery is charged before departure.
4. Be certain you've then packed your camera with the battery inside.
5. Use a white noise machine for sleep? Pack it!
6. Have some ready cash in your wallet with smaller bills. You'll be prepared to tip the luggage handler or the the airport shuttle driver.
7. Throw some gum or breath mints in your bag. Traveling makes your mouth dry.
8. Individual snacks are always welcome. Crackers, baby carrots, apples, fruit and nut mixes are perfect for munching.
Walk through the house before you leave to double check that you've done all of the above. This saves a lot of questions in the car.
Lock all the doors. Watch the garage door go all the way down before you leave the driveway. You don't want to wonder if you left it open when you're almost to the airport.
Bon Voyage! If you have any travel prep tips, please share them in the comments.
We're preparing for a visit to see our eight-year-old twin grandsons soon. It's tough living more than 2,000 miles away and I really wish the Star Trek transporter was a reality. Since the birth of the boys, our priority has been to build a strong relationship with them even if we couldn't be physically present on a regular basis. Technology has made it a whole lot easier, but that's not the only means to building close ties with those boys who are growing up way too fast.
Since today's families tend to be scattered, here are some things I've learned along the way as a long distance grandparent.
1. Consistent Contact - You can do this in a number of ways and the variety is enjoyable. Phone calls, Skype or Face Time, cards, email. Use them all. What a great gift to video call grandkids! We can do that for free, and what fun to see their school work, new shoes, or anything else that's happening. We've set aside Sunday afternoons for many years to connect with family.
2. Memory Books - Keep those memories of being together fresh by assembling little photo albums. It's so easy to print out photos of visits in any size and put together a story of your last visit. It's a fun gift to send by mail as a reminder of your good time, along with a note talking about the next visit. I've done them as mini scrapbooks, photo books through Shutterfly, or I've created virtual albums using Smilebox. This is a free program you can download to your computer. Our grandsons are hooked on the collection Smileboxes I've created since they were born. They love all the stories we recount as we view each album--several times.
3. Special Activities - There are certain activities we just have to do when we visit. The boys can hardly wait to bake bread with me or go treasure hunting (geocaching) with Grandpa. A visit to Dunkin' Donuts after treasure hunting is also expected. We have exciting games of hide-and-seek in a local park, play Go Fish, and read piles of books. We don't do exotic or expensive outings, but we sure have a bunch of fun. We're building special traditions and many fond memories of our adventures whether inside or outdoors. The ordinary is special if you're doing the activity together.
4. Presents - Of course gifts are a part of grandparenting. Birthdays and Christmas go without saying, but little gifts throughout the year help stay in touch. Gifts don't have to be expensive, and books are favorites of mine to send. Rewards for milestones like potty training, or a good report card, or a "just because" gift keep you involved in their lives.
Everyone's style is different, but don't let distance keep you from a close relationship with your grandchildren. Learn the technology, work at staying in touch, and building great memories. It's an investment with big returns.