6 Ways to Hold Family Together: Staying Connected with Tools and Routines

 

My family is very spread out. I have three sisters in Spokane, Washington, my mother, father and four siblings in Port Orchard, many extended family members including grandparents in San Diego, as well as friends and family around the world. Keeping up with everyone, especially the over fifty crowd, can be a bit challenging. We’re very close though. Here’s how we do it.

1. Smart phones. 

All my siblings except the baby of the family have smart phones and we use them, constantly. Chain texts get passed around, often several times a day. We encourage each other before a test, doctor appointments or a date and it only takes a moment to have a chorus of people cheering you on.

2. We gave Grandma an iPad. 

Not kidding. My grandmother is over seventy and it was a bit of a learning curve but now she’s on it every day, sometimes for several hours. She can blow up her reading material until its easy to read and she can instantly watch short videos and see pictures of everyone from wherever they are. Even though we’re far away, she sometimes know about things before my mother and father. The start up effort with this was some what significant but the pay back has more than made up for it!

3. Google Docs

When we were planning my wedding, this was an invaluable resource. We passed plans, kept everyone updated and everyone could get to it from their smart phone and handles things in real time, generally. Some of us also use it to help the younger kids with homework. Mom and Dad don’t always have time, so the rest of us pitch in. I tutored my brother from my smart phone on a bus in Japan while he was studying and commenting in Port Orchard. The chat feature is really helpful.

4. Facebook 

We were all reluctant to get on this and it remains a “kids” only domain but we have given in and done it. Not our primary interaction but more like general socialization. We keep personal matter more private, which has been healthy.

5. Photo streams. 

This has been most popular with sharing with older relatives. We pop out an invitation for a new stream and suddenly Grandma or Auntie can see our whole hiking trip, or salmon fishing adventure.

6. We make it a priority but hold loosely.  

Honestly, you can talk tools forever, but it comes down to making it a priority. So if people aren’t paying attention to you, just drop a line, include them. We’ve learned to give everyone their space even with all these forms of connection. If someone drops off the map too long, we’ll gang up and message them or physically try to locate them, but we don’t take silence after a text as a cause for worry. Holding loosely is the best way. Even the unsocial members can participate this way, without feeling the requirement to participate all the time. We all have days we don’t feel like talking. I know I have!

Do you have any routines or tools you use to keep family together, even as life seems to go faster and faster? Please drop in the comments and let us know!

 

Give the Gift of Communication

Walking in the Park

Last year when my husband and I really started becoming serious about planning our wedding, we knew the communication would be paramount for success. We both lived in Japan at the time, the wedding would be in the Puget Sound area of Washington State and family and friends would be coming from San Diego, Memphis, and New York, D.C. and beyond. Our wedding, we also quickly realized, was going to defy expectations of what a wedding is typical conceived as being in the average American mind. Our budget with travel to and from Japan simply didn’t allow for the big white wedding.

We literally planned a campaign. It was like a battle plan. We started with our parents and tasked them with easy to communicate messages, which we repeated ad infinitum for months, while asking them to repeat it to their friends and the family members talking to them about us. We laid out the base fundamental concepts we needed to communicate in the wedding invitations. We clarified the messages with siblings and wrote regular propaganda packed emails to the wedding party. Then as time grew closer, we set up a website.

Louvie Tucker at Starbucks in Takasaki Japan

Why did we do all this? Because we were not only bringing together a diverse and potentially difficult group, but we wanted it to be a success. It took ten months of planning and countless hours of writing and talking. It took clarification and a simplification of our vision. We chose people to help us who “got” the vision.

It would have never had worked if we hadn’t had two things. First, we knew,  very clearly, what we wanted, what was important and what wouldn’t matter. We made our requirements simple and were excited about anything else that came together. Secondly, we said it more than once. We repeated the vision until we felt like we were blue in the face. We pointed out the benefits not only to ourselves but to others and we answered questions and objections before they were raised.

If this was a letter to friends and family, I would go on about everything everyone did to help us and thank them, at length. They deserve it. But this is an article about communication. It meant everything to us. When people are stressed, when something as delicate as a wedding and bringing together strangers is at stake, clarity means more than good fuzzy feelings. The morning I left my parents house to meet the wedding party and go out to the location, I taped one last two page printed list to the front door with everything that everyone leaving before me needed to bring. I handed my father and every other member of the direct family a script, detailing not only where they needed to be and what they were doing but where everyone else was. I will not forget the look my father gave me holding the script. He said thank you and I hugged him. Communication can be such a precious gift.

Clarity yanked the stress out of the nuclear zone down into a general tolerance range. People weren’t afraid of offending me. And because the simple basics were known, so many people took initiative and over performed in their own areas.

Wedding Day

My wedding was amazing. There were little issues but nothing that marred the day, even when the site was rained out and we had to move it at the last minute. Everyone is still talking to each other. I’ll be forever grateful to so many people who helped and celebrated. And I’d like to think other people in the family will use the model for future events.

Plan a campaign. Simplify the message until its repeatable. Then repeat and repeat.

When Nice is NOT Nice

Most of us understand that  “no means no” when it comes to our bodies. We’re taught to speak up. However, too many of us do not have the same respect for our time. You’d say no if someone was trying to molest you, right? Or steal your purse? So, why is your time or self respect any different? Just because it’s an intangible doesn’t make it any less valuable. You life is counted in minutes. When someone takes your time and wastes it, they are literally taking portions of your life!

Cat outside the Mosque

No doormat here. Tread at your own risk

Many of us simply don’t say no to these violations that waste our time. They come in all shapes and sizes. The worst of them usually get offered up with a smile and that horrible phrase, “You understand, right?” That’s what I have been told so many times. “Oh, so-and-so is so busy. We very sorry for the miscommunication”, or, “It’s just so confusing these days, getting everything together.” And of course, you’re supposed to smile back and say yes, of course you understand. But why? Why should you just lie down for the muck that’s about to be tracked over you? As soon as you smile back and agree, be prepared to be someone’s well used doormat. And doormats do not get respect or good return on their investments.

Let me illustrate. I responded to a want ad for a job in another city a few years ago. A man from the company called me, and from his conversation, I thought that I was possibly dealing with an intern. They represented themselves as an establish international school online. I knew I was quite qualified. He didn’t have his information ready, so he said he would email me. I let him know that I was several hours away but still happy to accommodate. He told me to arrive on a particular afternoon. That morning, as I left for the interview, I messaged and called the front desk, his personal number and his desk number to let them know I was coming.

He did not see me, though he did see someone else who arrived. A woman who appeared to be acting as an assistant pulled the decision out of thin air. Then, after leaving me waiting for 45 minutes, she sat down and talked to me for five minutes. I realized as I said goodbye that she considered that my interview. I drove home, trying to be generous, but in many ways, simply regretting that I had given the guy the benefit of the doubt and shown up. Especially now that I had learned a few things, such as the job was a 24/7 position, that the company was incredibly unorganized and that no one I met had been giving me straight answers.

When the assistant called back two days later, asking if I couldn’t just stop by for another interview. I let her know it was not possible for me to drive all the way over again. “I can understand if it is easier for you to work with someone locally,” I told her. I did not apologize. “I also have a few questions about what the position actually entails and the posted salary.” She became flustered and got off the phone.

I keep tabs on the industry, since I still have ties to it and funny enough, that school has to advertise regularly for new instructors.

Hopefully, I’m a little smarter next time someone asks for an interview. I’ll expect them to be as on top of their game as I am. And hopefully, someone learns a little from my lesson. The pay, when I crunched the numbers, was going to work out to be around 2.78 an hour, since I would be on call 24/7, on site and on duty. How they treat you at the start, is likely the best they’ll ever treat you.

No thank you. I’d be better off in my local library learning a new skill than working for that wage. There’s definitely no respect there. I wanted to be ‘nice’ and give the the ‘benefit of the doubt’ but there is a price tag to ‘nice’, especially when others are assuming you’re going to be ‘nice’.

I’d rather be ‘professional’, ‘dependable’, ‘forward thinking’, and ‘efficient’ than ‘nice’. It will take me farther and ultimately, take the people I partner with farther. I’ll be helpful, open to opportunity, willing to mentor, and ‘passing it on’ but I’m done with being ‘nice’.

National Story Telling and the Museum Medium

I’ve had the privilege of living in The People’s Republic of China, South Korea, and Japan in the past four years and visited national museums in each. The true impact of these experiences gain value as you add one countries national historical account along side another.

One of the major events of my year studying in China, was the visit to the Nanjing Massacre Museum, also called the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall. Placards and notes on the exhibits are written in at least three languages: English, Japanese and Chinese. It is a site designed to be seen by the international eye as proof of China’s suffering. For the native viewer, the impact strives to assure that the gaping wound of resentment will never be closed. From the white bones showing through the open mass grave to notes on the heroism shown by German and American expats, its sculpted to leave an indelible mark on whoever experiences it.

Two years later I visited the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, South Korea. Read that again carefully. Not the National Museum of South Korea but the National Museum of Korea. Words really do mean something. Inside the exhibition halls the ideal of a single Korea is carefully presented.

I came to this museum having a degree in East Asian Studies and living a year in China. From my first week in South Korea, I was able to see influences from dynastic China on the local history, much the same way that one can see influences from Rome in Washington D.C. Inside the the National Museum strong nationalistic decencies shied away from attributing significant culture or heritage to the historic Middle Kingdom of Asia. Korea was Korea, the line seemed to be. Korean was Korean because of indigenous Korean capacity.

History is always more complicated than politics would desire, especially nationalistic politics. When I walked down a sidewalk in Seoul, the manholes leading to drains had the Chinese character for water stamped into the metal, not the Korean word. The Korean writing system is about 400 years old. I walked away from National Museum with a sense of how fiercely Korean have had to struggle to keep their peninsula state and an appreciate for much of the grace and art of Korea. But I was also left scratching my head about the idea of a continuously sovereign Korean. Where my textbooks said Korean had paid fealty to this Chinese Emperor or that one, the museum preferred to lay out a gray area of of “mutual benefit relationships” and other kinds of arrangements on display at the museum.

Not that I’m faulting them for it. China does much the same, as do other countries. The idea of a unified dynastic China marching strong down through the pages of history is exactly that, an idea. There have been plethora of civil wars, break away regions, separately ruled Chinas and periods where the Emperors controlled much less territory than China holds today. Even the ethnicity of the rulers changed. It’s a fantasy the Chinese like to tell, much like we like to think that the first thirteen state of the United States were all excited about becoming a unified country.

Later I made my second visit the Yasukuni Jinja Museum in Tokyo. The entire display flows beautiful. Dates and artifacts mix in imaginatively designed rooms that maintain a traditional sense of Japanese value for simplicity. Readings about the Nanjing Massacre or even Hiroshima were noticeable missing. Like in other nationalistic museums, I left with a sense of the courage and resourcefulness of the people of the nation. A Japanese friend I ran into in the museum asked me afterwards, “How does it feel to go through the museum as an American? Isn’t the language very strong for Japan?”

I had to think about my answer. After all the national museums I’ve experienced, I could claim no surprise at the tone of the language. Actually, I wondered aloud to my husband recently on what the national museum in Afghanistan will look like in sixty five years or so. What will the U.S. look like in that museum performance? I don’t know. Honestly, I’m fairly sure it will be more honest with our faults and less honest with our virtues than we would wish, depending on what displays Afghanistan in the best.

I answered my friends question by referring to the hall displaying letters written by men and women to their families before they died. Many of them knew they were about to die. They are moving and powerful in their frequent simplicity. How much do any of us have to say, when we know its the last thing we will say? I’ve read these kind of letters in China, Korea and the U.S. I told my friend, “They all say the same things. They all love their families. They all thank their mothers and fathers and express hope for their siblings or beg those left behind to take care of their children.”

My friend waved her hand between us. “You’re American and I’m Japanese. Look how we are now.”

I agreed with her. Either none of us are the monsters these museums want to make us out to be or we are all monsters in our own turn.

Defining the enemy to create an “us” is easy. Leave the embarrassments on the cutting room floor. Highlight the triumphs and explain away the glaring failures with expressions lack of resources or unfortunate events. Each successful national state will eventually, if not immediately, create a powerful and moving argument for itself.

It’s not in the advantage of anyone drumming up national pride to confront complicated relationships, failed campaigns or what a nation has done when driven to extremes. It requires compassion, mortal fiber and a belief in a nation’s cause that is not based on its shiny image.

Governments need solidarity and power. Individual people need connections and relationships. I think we’ll be chipping away at these blocks of irrational nationalistic pride and hate for years. That’s how thick they are. But I do believe it can be done, since I’ve been experiencing it myself, one cup of tea, coffee, beer or soju at a time.

Communicating Through Barriers

More and more of us are finding ourselves in a position where we are trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t’ speak our language, or doesn’t speak it well. As we race into an ever increasing global 21st century, this isn’t a situation that’s going to change any time soon. Even with the massive amounts of English classes being pushed by governments and private companies around the world, language acquisition is a slow process and the quality of English spoken by non-native speakers is extremely variable, as are our own second language abilities.

Communication is still possible. Here are a couple of ways to approach situations with language barriers if an interpreter is not readily available.

Smile:

This is the best possible advice anyone can give you. People are more willing to work with someone who is relaxed and pleasant. They’re probably as worried as you are.

Whatever you do, raising your voice, using baby talk or getting angry will not help. Keep it light and treat the person your speaking to with respect. Language barrier or not, people will know when you’re treating them badly. Even though their language might sound childish or naive to you, they’re likely mature capable adults and sound like that in their own language.

Use sign language:

This is actually pretty effective. Sound effects, pictures, facial expressions and miming are all useful tools that we’ve used before entertaining children and making jokes with our friends. These are skills we already have, at least nascent.

Pictures:

If you know ahead of time that you will be in this kind of situation, whether for social reasons etc, preparing a simple slide show of pictures and clip art can fill in the awkward gaps in the “conversation”. Alternatively, you can upload a drawing app on your device or go old school and keep a pad of paper or a pencil to help you describe things or ask questions as you go along.

Finally, think about investing in an electronic dictionary. You can also download dictionary apps to your computer or other portable electronic device. There are even apps being advertised now that allows you to carry on a verbal conversation with your smart phone translating as you speak. I can’t speak for their accuracy but  in a pinch, it probably works.

Keep a sense of humor.:

You might just find yourself having the time of your life miming eating long noodles or finding the entrance to Tokyo Tower. Don’t be a afraid to look a little silly! It’s worth it.  Besides, half the time you’re probably in a country where nobody knows you. Who’s going to make fun of you in twenty years, or even the next five minutes, unless you tell on yourself, of course. And even if you are in your home town, you’re probably a hero, because everyone else is too self conscious to try to communicate with the “difficulty”. They’re all secretly glad you stepped up to the plate. Remember, someday, you could be the difficulty for someone else in the future, or maybe your son or daughter is miming their way through buying fruit in some car away country hoping someone will take the time to understand them.