I don’t know about you, but I’m done with 2020. Here in California, 2020 has delivered us a special kind of crazy. Despite that, I feel more connected than ever to friends and family across the globe.

I’m not a big fan of “that’s just the way it is.” When stay-at-home orders went into effect, I looked for ways to stay connected. 

What’s great about the digital space is that it doesn’t have any borders. It doesn’t matter if your loved one is in the next town or in another country, you can connect with friends and families in a meaningful way. You just need to get creative.

Set a place for your smart display during dinner.

Photo of a video chat on a phone.
Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

Celebrating Thanksgiving is difficult. My mom and my sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews live in Tucson, Arizona. It’s about 940 miles away from our home in Folsom, California.

I missed the commotion going on in the kitchen, while some talk outside and others hang out around the tv. 

This year, we tried something different. One of our guests for dinner was Echo Show 8. We bought ours at Best Buy.

My step-dad passed away in August from cancer, and even if it was safe to travel, I couldn’t drive home for the holidays after recently going to his funeral.

“Alexa, call Kathleen’s Alexa device,” I said to our Echo Show 8 as we sat down for a pre-dinner conversation. A few seconds later, I was watching my sister, Kayce, washing her hands with my mom next to her cooking something on the stove. My aunt Ellen walked by and said, “Happy Thanksgiving!” in her loud, bubbly voice while my sister Laura caught me up to speed on what happened earlier in the day. Over the next couple of hours, my mom, sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles took turns sitting at the table to talk to me.

Once dinner was ready, they took Alexa to the back porch so I could talk to my mom while we ate and listen to my uncle discuss with my brother-in-law how to upgrade Aunt Ellen and Uncle Cary’s porch to improve the already gorgeous view they had of the desert.

Once everyone went home, we said our goodbyes and watched TV with that relaxed feeling you get from having a great visit with your family.

Play board games together online.

My husband, Brian, is a game designer. He’s worked on games like Fallout and Minecraft: Story Mode. For the past couple of years, he’s worked on Ozaria, a game that teaches kids how to program in JavaScript and Python at CodeCombat.

Before everyone at CodeCombat went remote, every other Friday, I’d join them at the office and play board games like Codenames. It’s a great party game with teams. Playing it online is fun too.

One of my favorite games to play online is Dice Forge on boardgamesarena.com. It’s as addictive as Yahtzee and is a great game to play when you have a limited amount of time. There are plenty of other games like 7 Wonders on boardgamesarena.com too.

Getting a paid account ($24/yr) gives you more options to play, but I’ve played for free with someone who had a paid account. We use Zoom or Discord to talk to each other while playing. Zoom is great if you have two screens. Once, I had an internet connection problem and used my cell phone on speaker to talk with people.

There are online “host a murder” games online too. I dressed up as an emotional socialite over Zoom with them. Brian was an oil tycoon. By chance of a pre-written script, his character and my character hated each other. We had fun having “arguments.”

Host a Zoom party.

I was Brian’s plus one for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Halloween party. We dressed up in our costumes and logged in to Brian’s computer (once again at our kitchen table).

There were dozens of guests at the party. SFWA solved the problem of too many people at a time by having Zoom Rooms. There was a room to listen to ghost stories, a room to learn how to make cocktail drinks, a room to dance, and several others.

In some rooms I simply people watched, while in others I talked with other writers and made a few new friends.

All you need is a paid zoom account and the knowledge of how to set up rooms and you can host an online party.

It doesn’t have to be elaborate. I use Zoom to talk with my international friends I made in college. Last month we talked with friends from the Ivory Coast, Colombia, and Pakistan, each of us sharing how Covid was affecting our community. We’re meeting on Christmas morning.

Attend an Airbnb online experience together.

Last January, Brian and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary in Paris and fell in love with the City of Lights. While we wait for our ability to return, we’ve attended online experiences with people from Paris.

So far I’ve learned about the French Revolution and talked with a Parisian about hidden gems that only locals know. I plan on taking a cooking class too.

For less than a movie and popcorn, you can meet your loved ones in one of these experiences.

Attend a webinar together.

Webinars aren’t just for business anymore. Next month, I’m attending a webinar by National Geographic photographer, Ami Vitale.

She’s an amazing photographer and storyteller. Did you know that the reason pandas were having difficulty getting pregnant in captivity was female pandas were particular and only have a brief window of fertilization per year? Zookeepers literally have to play matchmaker.

She uses her cameras to help create change for both humans and animals. Her motivations changed when she stumbled upon a wedding in a war-zone right after the building she was heading towards exploded.

Ami Vitale isn’t the only one hosting online events. Eventbrite.com has cooking classes, shows, and other entertainment.

Until the pandemic ends, visiting friends and family is going to be tough, but with a little creativity, we can still make cherished memories with our loved ones. And use our new ways to connect to continue to stay connected no matter where they live.

Juliet is the author of Mind of the Beast and runs Trust You Can, a blog that shares resources she finds to make creating easier. She writes urban fantasy novels with her husband, Brian, designer for games like Fallout, Minecraft: Story Mode and Ozaria. They love to try new things and travel the world.

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