Our Kids are Scattered

We are the Harbertsons - Lynn and Loretta. We married a few years ago and each brought a few children to the marriage. The kids were all grown and on their own and scattered all over the country. We have kids in Minnesota, Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, and Alberta, Canada. Amongst those scattered families are 49 grandchildren. We had to come up with some ways to connect to them from our home in Michigan. Listed here are some of the fun (and crazy) things we've done over the years to do that kind of connecting.

If we had to categorize them we'd say we had three goals: 1. Keep the present family connected; 2. Pass along our family heritage and 3.Pass along our values and beliefs.

If you are also doing this long distance grandparenting, you probably are working on those areas, too. Perhaps our ideas will get you to thinking of what you might do to create meaningful connections with your grandkids.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Get Them to Come Visit You

We don't know what your experience has been, but since we don't live close to our children and grandchildren we find ourselves on a plane heading to their homes for various occasions.  We are always happy to see them and they are delighted when we come.  But this generation of young families is a very busy generation.  When we visit, their lives do not stop to entertain us.  We just join in whatever is going on.  We help deliver kids to lessons and sporting events.  We have been to recitals, gymastics, church events, etc.  It is busy and we have seen some mighty talented grandkids "do their thing".  If there are preschoolers, we have time to play games and read books.  But with the older kids, we often just seem them coming and going.  They lead very busy lives.

So our strategy has changed.  To what ever extent we can and with whatever means we can chip in and help with the costs, we are inviting our families to come and  visit us.  We would like to have their undivided attention and make memories together and feel like we got to really know them.

We've just started this strategy so we'll have to report back on how it works but our first family came this spring and we had an awesome week.  Here are some photos of that visit.  It was a wonderful week1

Staying Current with the Kids

Kids always are into the latest movies that are out there.  Last year it was the Avengers.  My husband and I did not even see it but we knew it was very big with the grandkids.  So a couple of birthdays were coming up and we did a little photoshop fun for those birthdays.  We hit the jackpot with these pictures!  We know for sure that if we stay current on what is going on in their world, we have a better chance to connect.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How Can We Connect?

The whole ability to stay connected when our family lives so far away has generated tons of ideas.  My sweet husband is almost as bad as I am at thinking up these things.  We want the kids to know us, knowing it will never be the same as being there with them.  But we hope they will look back at all the things we did and know that we really cared and loved them.  We'll try to post snippets of all the things we have done.  For all of our creations we have the original files and would be glad to share them with anyone crazy enough to try them out.  We have had lots of fun!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Kool Catz Klub

One of the fun things we have done with the kids over the years is to create a club that they all belong to.
It began because the upper part of our garage was designed to be a place where the kids could hang.  It was designed with desks and white boards and dress up clothes and lot of art supplies.  It was place where they could be creative.

They decided it needed a name and they came up with the Cool Cats Club.  Over the years that evolved to the Kool Catz Klub.  You can see they were getting older and even more creative.

Then that terrible thing happened - they all moved far away.  We didn't want the fun to end so we created the club materials and sent membership cards and information packets to each of them.   Last summer, we had some come and visit and where did they hang?  In the garage upstairs.  They were now 13 and 14 years old and there they were donning dress-up clothes and writing a play. Of course, it was video taped and edited by some very sophisticated grandkids who made it into an old fashioned movie with background music of the silent movie era.  Having a magical place causes magical things to happen.

Here are the materials we created for the club plus a couple pictures of the room and pictures the kids drew to decorate the room.  You'll see there is nothing fancy about it.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Family Song Book

Every family has a bunch of songs that you all sang.  We sang all the time - especially on vacations because we traveled back when you got in the car and drove wherever you were going.  We also liked to camp and had a bunch of friends who also camped with us.  So we had tons of songs ranging from Bingo, Down by the Bay, and John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt to Bye, Bye Love and Where Have all the Flowers Gone?  As the kids grew, we added some of their favorites and made CD compilations for the car.  That included a lot of Simon and Garfunkel and Peter, Paul, and Mary from the parents.  The kids added Billy Joel, U-2 and Aerosmith.

While the Grandkids were still in the "young" stage, we created a book with just the fun sing-a-long kids songs to be sure they got passed along.    Here's our list.  Yours will probably be different.

A Sailor Went to Sea Sea Sea
The Bear Went Over the Mountain
Comin' Round the Mountain 
Down by the Bay
He's Got the Whole World
Hey, Lolly
I Love the Mountains 
I've Been Working on the Railroad
John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt
Nobody Like Me
Oh, Shenandoah
Oh, My Aunt Came Back
Once an Austrian Went Yodeling
One Bottle of PopPeace Like a River
Rock-a My Soul
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
This Old Man
Tom Dooley
Upward Trail
Wheels on the bus

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Original Birthday Cards

Just remembering a birthday when you have a large family is a task in and of itself.  But add to that the task of creating original birthday cards and you really start to have fun.  The best part of this is that the kids comment on how they have saved so many of these original creations.  So that encourages us onward as we face the 61 birthday we will celebrate each year.

To be truthful, if we lived next to our children we would spend more time buying gifts, driving to their homes for the parties and celebrating with them.  The time it takes to create a card is just a drop in the bucket.

PS:  We long since gave up on birthday presents.  We live too far away to do meaningful gifts at a reasonable cost considering that we would have to add shipping onto the cost of the gifts.  So we give each child one dollar for each year of their age.  They know exactly what will come in the mail and they look forward to it.

Here are some same cards.  You don't have to do crazy things all the time so I will share some normal as well as really creative cards.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Create Your Own Versions of Favorite Stories

We love to make books for the grandkids.  You have already seen Millie the Monarch.  Another favorite is the Night Before Christmas.  I need to introduce you to three products that have made all of this easy and affordable for us.  First, you have to have a good printer that doesn't use an enormous amount of ink and prints quickly.  Do your research and find one that will do it for you.  We use a Canon Pixma.   Second, you have to have good paper.  Some things are okay on 30 lb paper or on cardstock.  But if you want really nice looking pages you really have to use photo paper.  We purchase Kirkland brand at Costco.  It's about $18 for 150 8.5 by 11 pages.  It is perfect for these projects.  The third thing is a booklet in which to put your photos.  We use Avery Classic Presentation Books with 12 pockets.  They have a window on the front for your title page and use acid free, archival safe pages.

With those in hand we created a book for Christmas one year.  We got the house all decorated so we could use original photos and went to work.  Again, we used Photoshop Elements to create many of our pages.  We pulled this book together using Print Shop. The advantage of using Print Shop was that after pulling all the pages into Print Shop you can save the whole story as a pdf.  (You could do that with Word, also.) There are certainly advantages of creating the book as a pdf file.  With the pdf you could just send the book digitally instead of printing it out.  That would certainly save money. 

Creating the pages of the book was only half of the project.  We then hooked a microphone to our computer and recorded ourselves reading the story and singing some Christmas songs that we included.

Here are some favorite scenes from The Night Before Christmas.  You can see we used both photography and clip art.  You can hear our Audio version that was included with the book at: http://www.4shared.com/dir/UWfS9-FU/Christmas_music.html

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Grand Gifts for a Grand Kid

This is one of our all-time favorite things to do for our grandkids.  We were watching TV one night and happened upon a movie called The Ultimate Gift.  Here is the synopsis of the story from IMBd:  

Jason thought his inheritance was going to be the gift of money and lots of it. Was he ever in for a big surprise. Based on the best-selling book "The Ultimate Gift" by Jim Stovall, the story sends trust fund baby Jason Stevens on an improbable journey of discovery, having to answer the ultimate question: "What is the relationship between wealth and happiness?" Jason had a very simple relationship with his impossibly wealthy Grandfather, Howard "Red" Stevens. He hated him. No heart-to-heart talks, no warm fuzzies, just cold hard cash. So of course he figured that when Red died, the whole "reading of the will" thing would be another simple cash transaction, that his Grandfather's money would allow him to continue living in the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed. But what Red left him was anything but simple. Red instead devised a plan for Jason to experience a crash course on life. Twelve tasks, which Red calls "gifts," each challenging Jason in an improbable way, the accumulation of which would change him forever.

Watching this movie triggered an idea in our heads.  You have to watch the movie, though.  Get it.  Buy it.  Make your whole family watch it.  It is wonderful.   So what did it trigger:  Hey, we can do this with our grand kids.  We'll give them some challenges and at the end they get a gift.

We decided this was perfect for our twelve year old grandchildren.  They are just graduating from Primary (Junior Sunday School in LDS church) and moving into the young men and women's programs.  They are at the age where they still have time to do this kind of thing and the excitement to do it. 

So we wrote a script - a very long script that introduced the idea and then gave each of 3 challenges.  Those challenges were decided by both us and the parents of each child.  We looked at areas of each child's life where they needed to improve and issued a challenge that would take 1-4 weeks.  Most were just for a week or two but if needed up to a month seemed reasonable for that age.  Our challenges have ranged from getting along with a sibling for a week to reading scriptures every day for a month.  We have challenged kids to be completely responsible for everything you do for one week.  If you wear clothes, then you get to wash them.  If you eat dinner, you must help prepare it.  We asked them to make a new friend.  One had to learn to be a better friend by doing less talking and more asking questions and listening.  Another had to take out the garbage every day for one week without being asked. 

Then we created a DVD of ourselves talking to this child and issuing the challenges just like it happened in the movie, The Ultimate Gift.  They get the DVD in the mail sometime around that 12th birthday.  We had to decide on rules like reporting daily to one or both parents.  Emailing us at the end of each challenge so we know how they are doing.  If they cheat or forget to do something they can start again.  If they repeatedly mess up, the challenges are put away for a few months and then if they want to, they may try again.

We have seen some remarkable things happen.  Here are a few responses from our grandchildren so you can see what they themselves have said:

I’ve finally finished my third grand gifts challenge! I learned that it’s not only important to have friends, it’s also important to make new friends. I had a lot of fun doing grands gifts even it did take me a really long time!

I finished challenge #2.  This was a lot harder for me than the first one.  On the 3rd day I forgot to help with the meals and to help my brothers clean up.  So, me and my mom decided that we would add on an extra day and I would work a lot on that to make up for that.  I learned how much my mom does for me everyday.  I didn't realize until I started this.  I found out it felt really good to help out around the house because it helped my mom get her stuff done.  

Hi! I wanted to email you about the third grand gift. It went well, Being good at school and doing my home work. I’m now working on my second grand gift being nice to my siblings and only have one more day to go!

We have now done this program with nine grandchildren.  We have two working on it right now.   It has been a great way for us to support the parents in helping the children develop some important habits and life skills.  
We have seen siblings who previously fought all the time become friends because just one of them changed.  We saw a grandson move from being a C student at school to an A student.  We have heard that some of them became scripture readers that year and have continue on since then.  Just all kinds of wonderful things have happened.  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Millie the Monarch

One day my husband and I were kayaking down the Huron River in Milford, Michigan where we live.  Somedays we're in the mood to exercise and move quickly.  Other days we meander down the river enjoying the flowers and plants that grow along the banks and in the water.  This was one of those days.  We were just gliding along when we spotted a caterpillar on a plant along the riverbank.  We took one look and knew it was a monarch caterpillar so we paddled over and broke off the branch of the plant it was one and brought it home.  We were like kids with that caterpillar.  We scoured the neighborhood for milkweed plants so we could feed it.  Then we got twigs and fixed up a home.  From the moment that caterpillar came home with us until the day it flew out of the window and was off on it's next adventure, we were enthralled. 

We took photos every hour or so.  Didn't want to miss anything.  Of course, it built it's cocoon while we were at church one Sunday and then came out of the cocoon during the night.  But we got lots of good photos anyhow. 

Then we wondered how we could tell our grandchildren about this and so we created Millie the Monarch.  By then we knew it was a she.  We used Print Shop to create the book and then printed and put in booklets for all the grandkids.  We read them the story and gave them their own copies at our family reunion that year.

The fun wasn't over, though.  One of the grand-kids took his book to school and shared it with his 4th grade teacher.  She then shared it with the other 4th grade teachers and the whole group of them decided to order monarch caterpillars and raise them in the classroom.  Our grandson's class had all the same fun we did, and then at last came the day that they needed to open the window and let their butterfly take off on its own.  The whole class was at the window watching.  And what should happen, but as soon as the butterfly took off, a bird swooped down and caught it and flew off.  And this after we had made a big fuss about telling them how birds don't like to eat Monarchs.  They were of course devastated but got to learn another important lesson about the world of birds and bugs.

Here is Millie the Monarch:

Family Recipe Book

Because we like to digital scrapbook, we decided one year for Christmas to make a family cookbook.  Each page represented one person in the family and had a photo of that person along with one of their favorite recipes.  The recipes were a hit because these were tried and true recipes that were favorites.  Often we had sampled those recipes at each other's home or had at least heard of them.  Now we had the recipe in a book.  But just designing the pages what really fun, too.  We purchases 8"x8" scrapbooks at JoAnns.  We worked on this project over quite a long time so we just saved our JoAnns coupons and got all the books at a discount price.  We had so many recipes that we had to purchase extra pages for the books, too.  If you watch the ads and use your coupons you can get good prices both at JoAnns or at Michaels.

Here are some sample pages to get you thinking.  We used the internet to find clip art and quotes, etc to decorate with.  We do all of our designing in Photoshop Elements. 

Spring Seeds

Our family celebrates Easter and so when the Easter season is coming we make individualized seed packets for each of the grandchildren.  My husband writes a poem each year using the coming forth of new plant out of the ground as a reminder of the Resurrection.  The kids love getting the seeds.  We actually keep track of who gets which seed type each year so that they don't get the same thing each time.  We have to do this because there are so many grandchildren, we can't remember if we don't write it down.  Here are some samples of the seed packets and the poems that we send each year.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Meet the Grumpies

Meet the Grumpies is an old maid card game that features the family!  We used Photoshop to create funny pictures of the grandkids on the Ackroyd side of our family.  Each person was created to be a occupation that went with the first letter of their name.  So we have Norm the newsboy, Leah the Librarian, Kimball the Kayaker, etc.  The Grumpies were us!  So the deck of cards has two Grumpy cards.  The game is played just like old maid so the kids  already knew how to play the game.  Since their cousins live far away from them, it gave them a way to be thinking of each other in-between visits.  Here are some samples from our version of the game.