There’s No Place Like Home “ish”…

My husband Mark and I recently took a vacation.  We live in Wisconsin and for the past few years we have been tourists in our own state.  I recommend doing something similar where you live, so you become an expert on amazing activities to share when your family visits!

The idea of becoming a local tourist was a brainstorm of my older sister Cindy.  Due to her husband’s job demands, Cindy and her family moved many times while her kids were growing up.  They took advantage of the unique opportunity to explore and experience each new place surrounding them whenever they moved.  They often found that they knew more about things to do in their area than their neighbors, who often spent a lifetime in one place.

For those of you unfamiliar with Wisconsin, it is one of 50 United States – located along the southern border of Canada.  It is in the middle of our country, surrounded by four other states — Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan.  It is home to portions of legendary bodies of water – the Mississippi River to our west, Lake Superior to the north, and Lake Michigan to the east.  We have four very distinct seasons.  Although winters can be brutally cold, the snow and ice can be breathtakingly beautiful.  And you can build a snowman to brighten up the day!

On our vacation, Mark and I headed to southwest Wisconsin, known for its breathtaking topography of rolling hills, forests, lakes, and rivers.  It is in the heart of “the driftless area” – land untouched by glaciers during the Ice Age.  Included in the driftless area are portions of Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois.  The name “driftless” comes from the fact that no glacial “drift” (soil material from other places) was deposited on this pristine area.  Hills and caves that formed millions of years ago remain intact.  It is a geologist’s dream!

Aside from the fact that getting a cell phone signal was an occasional challenge, we had a great time!  Here are some highlights:

We hiked in some fantastic state parks in Iowa and Wisconsin.  Lots of hills = lots of butt burning!  Gotta stay in shape to keep up with grandchildren!

We visited Spook Cave in Iowa – where we rode a boat into a cave.  The young captain was entertaining and adorable!

We visited the Driftless Area Wetlands Center, scooping water into buckets and marveled at the swimming creatures captured.  We even looked at them under a microscope.  None were harmed during this activity, and all were returned to the water after viewing.

We rode a boat down the Mississippi River while listening to bluegrass music until we had to race a storm back to safety.  Although we all got wet and the ride was cut short, seeing eight bald eagles made the trip worthwhile!

We stopped at a riverboat casino for about 5 minutes and walked out with enough cash to pay for a nice dinner.  Luck was a lady that day!

We visited Taliesin – Architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate and a UNESCO World Heritage Site– and bought a souvenir lamp.

We happened upon the once-a-year Lands’ End Warehouse Clearance Event in Dodgeville, Wisconsin and found some great deals!

We stayed at The Silver Star Inn,  a lovely bed and breakfast where we pet friendly chickens that roamed the property, met interesting people, watched the hummingbirds battle for food, and ate delicious breakfasts prepared by owner Elise.

The more we discover about our area, the more excited I become to share it with our granddaughter Kiko.

Consider expanding your world at home to help your grandchildren expand theirs!

©Maryanne Zawlocki — The International Grandma


I’m Addicted to a Phone App…

Yes, I am addicted to an app on my phone called Family Album.  It’s the first thing I turn to when I wake up and it’s the last thing I look at when I go to bed.  How can one app have so much power over me?

It’s because every single day, my daughter posts pictures and videos of Kiko, my first and only granddaughter, from Japan.  Say what you will about technology, but I am forever an uber-fan.  Our whole family, in the USA and in Japan, has access to this treasure trove of Kiko-dom.  Who would have thought that my daughter’s obsession with selfies would someday become one of her best features?

When I see the daily photos and videos of Kiko, it feels like I am right there with her.  It is as if those little smiles, coos, and cries are not directed at a camera, but at me — Grandma.  I watch those videos over and over.  They never get old.  With a little imagination, I am right there with her — not 6,446 miles away.  As The International Grandma, I must grab hold of whatever keeps me sane while I long to hold that little girl.  Right now that sanity comes in the form of a phone app.

By the way, I am not getting paid to endorse Family Album.  I’m just grateful to Kenji Kasahara, the Founder of Family Album.  Spreading the word to other International Grandmas is my way of expressing gratitude for providing us with a window into the daily world of our precious grandchildren!

©Maryanne Zawlocki –




She Flew Away

As a new grandmother, I took some time to reflect on how the heck my only grandchild ended up living in Japan — while her mommy’s family is settled firmly in the Midwest of the good ol’ USA…

The moment my first born Christine was placed into my arms, she looked at me with such intensity, it took my breath away!  That newborn baby looked at me!  Like she was finally able to connect a face with the voice that surrounded her during her time in the womb.  And those eyes!  That face!  Magical!

And then she was gone.

Oh, not GONE gone.  My little angel pooped while she was still in the womb (a family joke to this day), so they whisked her away to the NICU overnight to make sure she was okay.  I ached for my baby when she was away.  It was the first time we were apart from each other, and her little wings began to sprout.

When she was about 3 years old, we stopped at a local rummage sale.  As we drove away, I noticed a toy in her hand that did not belong to Christine.  I explained to her that she was not allowed to take something that was not hers and we returned to the scene of the crime.  I gently took her hand in mine and we walked up the driveway to speak with the rummage sale owner.  Christine handed her the toy and apologized for taking it.  Those wings grew bigger.

In preschool, she had a way of stirring up the little boys.  Christine’s face glowed with joy as the chosen “boy of the day” chased her down the hallway after class.  Although I had to stop this behavior, I secretly admired her powers of persuasion.  Those wings grew bigger.

In kindergarten, she began taking piano lessons.  She had a real talent for music.  She became a percussionist in her middle school and high school bands.  With every concert and competition, those wings grew bigger.

At age 16, she joined “Team Cream Puff” at the Wisconsin State Fair, her first job.  Her father and I marveled as she worked — confidently waving down the “next in line” and providing what I consider some pretty darned good customer service!  Those wings grew bigger.

In the blink of an eye, she headed off to the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where she made new friends, worked a few jobs, dated some boys, hosted some parties, and majored in Japanese.  When we were able to see her, she was the same — but different.  Oh, she was still smart and funny, but somehow she was now a more mature, more adult Christine.  Those wings grew bigger.

When she finished college, she told us that she wanted to go to Japan for a year to teach English.  One year.  We encouraged her to go.  It was a great opportunity.  We dropped that frightened, brave young woman at the airport and watched her fly away–all alone to a foreign country.  Those wings grew bigger.

One year in Japan turned to two.  Then three.  Then six.  Christine met and married her wonderful Japanese husband.  They bought a home.  And they started their family.  Those wings grew bigger, and boy, did she fly!

As parents we did our job–we allowed Christine’s wings to grow.  We encouraged the growth.  I sometimes wonder where she would be if we had clipped those wings ever so slightly.  Altered the course of her history.  Would she have settled into her life so far away from us?  Maybe.  I guess we will never know.

But maybe by giving Christine wings, she is now providing an opportunity for us to dust off and spread our wings, as we begin our adventure as international grandparents.  Japan, here we come!

I think I feel a feather growing…

© Maryanne Zawlocki — The International Grandma