Just Checking In

I have a writin’ buddy living in Louisiana, and when the deep freeze hit, she ended up without power for TWO WEEKS in a part of the world that is a stranger to insulation. When I saw Ida bearing down, I shot off  a quick email, “Writin’ buddy, CHECK IN SAFE as soon as you can!” (She did, she’s fine.)

Another writing buddy living in the mountains of Virginia also ended up without power for a couple weeks one recent winter, and big storms would see me pinging her too. (She’s back from the wilderness now, safely biding where storms mean stocking up that e-reader and waiting for the plows to come through.)

My nephew has been living in Lake Tahoe for the past few years, a very special place that’s gone through some very special wild fire hell. Same thing, “Nephoo, CHECK IN SAFE!” Though he beat me to it, and he’s fine… If you can call heartsore and exhausted fine.

I’m fine too, but I’m also noticing a pattern. First, my family needs better disaster preparedness, in the sense that all we have is a text thread among my siblings. How to get in touch with adult nieces and nephews, their spouses, my sibling’s spouses… pretty patchwork. My mother’s old, falling apart address book used to be the bible for points of contact. Mom has been gone for four years and we have not found a means of replacing that central node of connectivity.

Second, why “check in” mostly when my loved ones face a disaster? My daughter and I are pretty good about keeping a casual line of communication open, and my sisters and I have gotten better at Zooming, but there are a zillion authors I could email with a quick, “Hope the words are treating you well. Been thinking of you…” Or, I could Zoom with them for the heck of it…

If I’m only going to send up a flare when hurricanes and wildfires inspire me to appreciate my friends and family, it’s no wonder my middle-distance relationships tend to languish. I think some of this tendency is because the wildfires and hurricanes are getting so much worse, and some of it is social media sucking away our impulse to initiate communication with people we know casually.

Windham Family Duet by Grace BurrowesBut some of it is just me, being oblivious, because it’s Xavier’s Fournier’s turn to fall in love, and I will walk into walls and lose my glasses until I get him figured out. That is no excuse, though, for my lax attention to friends and family. (Though if anybody knows what’s going ON with that guy, please do let me know… I’m thinking of titling his book, Monsieur Disaster.)

How are you managing lately with the keeping-in-touch challenge? Does your family have a central address book? Are there friends you only hear from during hurricane/snowstorm/wildfire season?

This week, I’m sending some love to Baldwin and Co. a New Orleans bookstore and coffee shop, and to Tubby and Coos, another New Orleans independently owned bookstore. If there’s a charity you are particularly attached too, feel free to leave the link with your comment.

(And PS–finally got the last of the previously published  Windham novellas back into circulation. That only took me a year…)


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24 comments on “Just Checking In

  1. My sister and brother and I text. Brother texts with info on my Mom ( almost 89 and lives with him) and sister and I text about our kids, dogs and her grand daughter. Sister and I make more of an effort to stay in touch. Is it because of the pandemic? Because we are older? Not sure- am glad it’s happening!

    I am info central for my family.

    I text with two friends from work during the week. It’s good for us to catch up, share recipes and talk kid stuff.

    I walk with my neighbor on the weekended…..it’s so nice to see someone in person and talk to them!

    I do have 2 friends who keep in touch when there is there’s a northeaster or hurricane.

    The pandemic has made me re evaluate the importance of communication. I realized that’s is key to keep in touch, share feelings and to laugh with friends and relatives. It’s important for me to feel connected.

    • For some reason, it does not surprise me that you are com central, Susan, and it sounds like you keep a cross-section of connections going–family, work, friends, neighbors. I wish we had more Susans in the world, especially at times like these.

  2. One of my brothers and I have, in the last 20 years or so, developed a regular touch-base system. We call each other regularly and he stops in, once a month, when he is on his IT monthly service call rounds. He stops in the first Friday of the month (he was here yesterday)and we catch up, compare notes with what is happening with our 93 year old Dad and talk about the upkeep of family owned property. We text and email, especially if one of us is busy and things (like with Dad’s health) are happening but we like to TALK, whether in person or by phone, if possible.

    Do our other siblings join in on the conversations? NOPE! Why? Good question but we think it’s because, unless something bad is happening and they can come in and save the day, they don’t care. January blizzards cause our sister in Orange County CA to call and scold us for allowing Dad to stay in cold and snowy Chicago. A power outage means our other brother barrels in with a generator, no matter if no one wants it. Another sister will help in a pinch but needs to be asked and preferably begged. And ANOTHER sister puts the ‘sanc’ in sanctimonious with her opinions. Checking in has become a chore with my sisters, so I no longer do so and no longer feel guilty. The Pandemic has made no difference in their behaviors so we just keep on, keeping on.

    I have long time friends I’ve gotten even closer to during the last five years due to the shared opinions of our last president. It’s been comforting and another example of the ‘child is father of the man’….we were close as teenagers and now are closer as NOT teenagers! 🙂

    I hope the weather settles down as September progresses….it’s been exhausting and so, so sad for those affected. I still don’t understand what happened with East Coast floods. 🙁

    • Part of what happened was just a LOT of hard rain in a short period. Aging infrastructure doesn’t help either.
      It’s interesting that my sisters and I Zoom–the three of us–but we aren’t chomping at the bit to add the four brothers. My attitude, which does not particularly flatter me, is, “If they want to Zoom, they can take the initiative to tell us that.”
      Now, I did not take the initiative on the sister Zooms. My middle sister did, and I’m very glad she made that overture. Part of what holds me back with my brothers is that we three sisters just seem to click in our sessions. It’s not broke, and I don’t want the bros fixing it. I might have to rethink this, depending on what the variants do, but so far…

      • HI! We do a WhatsApp group, brothers too and… nieces, nephews and spouses. Works great! People post inane and sentimental thoughts, whimsical musings and congratulations on special accomplishments. It works fantastic and people can read and post at their own pace or desire
        It was so good to see you!

  3. I have no living family, but I’ve been informally adopted by a best friend locally who’s been more family than the blood kin ever was. She pings me daily on one tech or the other to check I’m still alive if I haven’t pinged her first.

    We’re the sort of informal “family” that shared soap, bleach, TP, & assorted foods when the lockdown shortages hit.

    Then there’s the loosely knit neighborhood gang from the saint who handles my yard work for way less than a cut & run would charge to the flight attendant whose parcels I’ll grab for her at her request when she’s on a long haul. We even know who’s on which network when the cell service or internet goes out to check if it’s our side of the road or the whole street.

    Finally there’s the folks I can’t do much for as they’re too far away, but might need a sympathetic ear to brainstorm what to do about their MIL with dementia or flooded basement. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes on a problem can be what’s needed as much as a helping hand.

    • I really, really admire how fluid and inclusive your kind of community is. In person if that works, intermittent, or internet. Sounds like a great way to weather a pandemic and life in general.

  4. With everyone’s busy lives today, I do find that I am less in touch with family than I wish I was. My daughter (who has a demanding and stressful full time job AND teaches at the local community college AND bakes the most delicious vegan cupcakes for family, friends and recently a wedding!), will text now and again to arrange a FaceTime just to say hi, or to share some good news about how her new class went. My son will contact us when he needs us to watch the kiddies (which we are ALWAYS delighted to do) or when there’s a weather event, just to check in with the old folks, but calls or emails just to say hi…not so much. I, on the other hand, hate to interrupt their busy lives (both my son & his wife work full time, plus shuttling the kiddies to dance, Girl and Boy Scouts, doctor visits, etc.) unless it’s something really critical. I always feel that when I reach out to them just to chat, that I am interrupting something more important. I guess that’s my own ingrained insecurities rising to the surface. I was better with my Mom than I am with my kids, strangely. I used to phone her every day at exactly 9:00 am just to see how she & my Dad we’re doing. Of course, as she descended into dementia, she didn’t always remember that I had phoned her, but at least I did try.

    • I share that sense of not wanting to intrude. My daughter works a horse barn job, which means she can’t just drop what she’s doing and spend 15 minutes listening to me gripe about a cat with a tummy bug. She’s also starting grad school, and has a social circle about which I know very little. I’m an intrusion, and so I try to keep it light and low. I’m there if she needs me, and I hope she knows that. Hope, hope, hope…

  5. My extended family and friends uses FB (I’m in Canada, they are all in the states plus a cousin in Japan). My friend and I (in town) text each other every morning at 9:00am to let each other know we’re fine. My son and daughter and I text on our phone when necessary. I wouldn’t know how to Zoom, I’m a bit behind on that. Thanks for keeping your readers reading. I love your books and look forward to each new one. Xavier, get it together. It’s time to move on. Your lady awaits. Much love to you.

    • One thing about being a published author I had not anticipated is… I can’t indulge my tech-averse nature. I’ve had to learn how to use formatting software, social media, Zoom… all things that in my lawyer world were unnecessary.
      This forced acquisition of skills I don’t enjoy has been good for me, in the sense that I’m not acquiring new skills in any other arena. If I’m to enjoy the neuroplasticity that comes from learning in my dotage, it’s tech that going to do it for me.
      Or, I guess I could…. learn a language?

  6. Zoom has been working well for family
    and phone calls and emails for friends
    My family does not have a central address book, so it’s sort of catch as catch can for communication!

    • I haven’t used Zoom as much as I could for staying in touch with friends and family, but it has a been God send in terms of keeping me connected to writers’ workshops. For THAT purpose, it works really, really well. Which is a good thing, when certain characters are being utterly uncooperative. Vous m’entendez, Monsieur Fournier?!

  7. My grandmother kept a “birthday book,” kind of like a perpetual diary. My dad sort of maintained it, also adding RIP with the dates as they came up. I’ve tried to add some to my computer calendar together with an “address” of some sort, but it isn’t always accurate. I’ve shocked people by sending maybe just an emoticon on their birthdays. Helps, though.

    When covid hit and the churches closed my immediate family started a Sunday text thread with something spiritual we’d appreciated the previous week. That’s been nice, too, and I hope we can keep it up in some fashion. Like Grace Burrowes’ blog, maybe? Something other than the news to think about.

    My niece who writes and some of her writing buddies have organized 20 minute writing sessions online. I don’t know what platform they use, but they talk about it afterwards. They don’t share their writing, but more how the experience went. She’d said it is very useful and is also hoping they can keep it up. She said it is a half hour, more or less, that had paid dividends for all of them.

    There are enough people in my extended family with interest in genealogy that I can probably access contact information for heads of family, anyway. My biggest issue with connectivity is the black holes of depression where I have lost contact with a number of people I otherwise would enjoy the middle distance relationship. And I am too embarrassed, reluctant, whatever, to hunt them down to just say hello.

    My charity of the moment is our local music teachers’ association. The brilliant woman who taught so many of the local little ones about music and the older ones their theory lost a brief, violent, bizarre struggle with cancer this last week.

    • I do have author friends who do online writing “sprints” with other authors. They are all moms with school age kids, they all get up at 5 am, join the session, and get right down to work. All they share about the writing is the word count for that day, but I’m sure they also check in, kibbitz, and encourage each other. Reminds me of visiting with the other moms around village well, and suspect they will keep it up regardless of any old pandemics.

  8. About those novellas, I know I have them both but what collection they were in I have no idea. I’ll enjoy finding them.

    I call two sisters (occasionally) and swap emails almost daily with another one. My brother is hard to reach on purpose so I depend on the grapevine to let me know how he is.

    I have another sister who really needs to be closer to her family as her capabilities have taken a nosedive in the last couple of years. Her phone is not operational right now, and one of my sisters has had two wellness checks made on her. I sent her a phone earlier this year (she doesn’t know where it is), and am sending her another one this week.

    Facebook helps tremendously to keep me in almost daily touch with at least some of my many cousins and a few nieces and nephews. And we share family news.

    • You wonder how people managed in the 1918 epidemic, when so few had even a telephone or a car… In a lot of ways, we’re pretty lucky. I’m at the top of the lucky list, being able to do a job I love, from home, and pay all my bills. Not a day goes by that I’m not grateful for that miracle.

  9. As I’ve said before, as an Air Force brat, I grew up knowing I would be leaving in a couple of years and that I would never see these people again. So I’m Terrible about keeping in touch. And that includes my own family! I did call my Mom every day (unless I saw her in person) to check in due to her age but since she’s been gone 9 months now, there isn’t anybody I keep up with that often. I have been thinking of calling one of my sisters this evening so probably will. But this is the sister with whom I shared a campus for 10 years (different offices) and somehow never met for lunch, though we talked about it once in a while. But she’s no better than me and she has a phone, too. I guess I’m just too selfish and would rather immerse myself in the lives of fictional people (whom I can always close the covers on) than real people. I should probably work on that since the experts say personal connections are good for your help as you age. We’ll see.
    Anyway, some of our West Coast friends and relatives contact us when there’s a hurricane anywhere in Florida just like my relatives here in Florida used to contact us when there was an earthquake anywhere in California. Mostly my partner looks at Facebook and keeps me apprised of what’s going on with our relatives who live elsewhere.

    • I am actually skeptical of the studies that say we need connection in old age. First, many of the studies are studies of men–like the Harvard “Happiness” study. It’s a study of MALE happiness, not happiness as women define it and experience it. For the first 70 years of the study, not a single woman was included in the interviews.
      Thanks for that, Harvard.
      Men, who typically get to the end of life wishing they’d spent more time on relationships, are in a very different posture from women, who have often carried the relationship load for their whole families (my mom’s address book…). At the end of a woman’s life, she might want very different things from the guy whose social calendar she’s managed for decades.
      Then too, I think we get more selective about relationships later in life. A less-talked about phenomenon in later life is social pruning. We cut loose the low-net-worth or high maintenance relationships, gain in self-entertainment skills, and simplify, simplify, simplify.
      I would rather have three good friends than thirty casual friends. Some people are good at both, but so far, I’m not one of them.

  10. I only have my sisters as immediate family and we are in the same area, so we are ok for checking on each other. My far flung friends are the ones I check in with every day or two, Texas, Iowa, England, etc. I find that I need groups of semi-casual friends, since one talks to different people about different topics. My atheist friends want to drink wine and rant about politics, but they scoff at anything having to do with the eternal issues of the human soul! My church friends of course, have a completely different perspective on politics, social issues, whatever. I need both groups because sometimes I want to rant too, and other times I want to be reflective.

  11. My brothers and I are all in the same place now, where we grew up and our mom still lives. So we end up focusing our casual meet ups and bigger celebrations around our mom’s place. She has always been the central collector and distributor of information etc. but as she ages that will need to change. I suspect my brothers and I will drift apart after my mom dies then retirements start. Hopefully, we will adapt and stay in contact using technology if we spread out geographically. We have been really spoiled since we could meet outside distanced and masked and are now all vaccinated.

    Friends, on the other hand, have been more complicated. I struggle to keep in contact with more than my closest friends, but I am pretty ok with it. I am happy to hear from folks if they reach out, but I don’t have enough energy to prioritize reaching out myself.

  12. I admit my family does better touchiing base when things go wrong. The same goes for a set of friends. As far as a central address book, my step mother tries to keep things updated, but in the case of my brother it is difficult. He is constantly changing phone numbers.

    There are a several great charities I’ve worked with. The ones I have spent most time with are animal centric – especially cats since the petstore I worked with had cat adoption rooms and cat ‘condos’ in many stores after some of us pushed for adding them to help raise awareness and find homes for cats and kittens. I can actually take credit for suggesting the founders of Ferallife Guards https://ferallifeguards.com/ to become a 501c since they had spent years and most of their money and a lot of their time helping feral cats by TNR (trap, neuter, release), socializing the kittens and some cats, and finding them homes. These ladies have worked to develop methods to more easily trap feral cats for both TNR and medical treatment. They have also learned to recognize cats who will do well in homes instead of being returned to the streets.

    I love that the rescues and shelters in my area are willing to help each other out whenever possible. The county rescue http://pets.wilco.org/ is an open intake rescue and often becomes flooded with animals. They provide low cost spay/neuter and medical clinics for local pet owners (& TNR groups), as well as maintaining a fund for pet owners in need to help care for their pets so they can keep them. They do their best to remain a no kill shelter, only euthanizing the animals who are in pain and have no hope of recovery. When the population becomes dire, they put out SOS calls for help so they do not have to ‘make horrible choices’and the community has come through every time the past few years. They do everything they can to help animals in need both medically and in finding them great forever homes.

    I could list more shelters/rescues and other animal care groups – including wildlife ones and one that provides medical care for cats & kittens who need more than the shelter can provide. This last group was started by foster parents from the county shelter who saw a need for an additional fund and got veterinarians to volunteer their time & resources. However, I’ll stop here.

  13. I don’t do as good a job as I could keeping in touch with some friends and family, others I stay in contact with and often touch base. As far as a family database, my stepmother keeps track of extended family addresses and phone numbers. My brother is the most difficult to keep track of since he ends up moving often and changing his cell phone number often as well.

    I have worked closely with quite a few animal shelters and rescue groups – mostly for work when I was with the pet store. I became friends with several people from some of the groups and remain invested in their work. I can’t say enough good things about the fosters and volunteers for most of these groups. I could easily list 10 worthy ones, but I’ll limit my links to 2 of them.

    The first Ferallife Guards – ferallifeguards.com – was started my 2 ladies who have spent many hours, dollars, and emotions caring for feral cats. They finally started up a 501c and have been able to raise money and gain volunteers to help TNR (trap, neuter, and release) feral cats. They also are wonderful about fostering the cats and kittens who will be successful pets.

    The second is a county shelter that goes above and beyond what many shelters do when it comes to caring for animals who are taken in to the shelter population. Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter – pets.wilco.org – has done a great deal for animals and pet owners in the area. They started a fund to help pet owners facing financial difficulties so they could keep their pets many years ago. They have saved countless animals that other shelters and rescues would have quickly given up on because of temperment or medical conditions.