Heading to Japan

In a very short time, my husband, our girls, and I will be heading for Japan to meet Kiko, my new and only granddaughter.  Most grandparents experience this moment a bit sooner than international grandparents.  Quite often, they can even visit the hospital when the baby is born.  It’s not quite the same for those of us whose children choose to live outside of their native countries.

Kiko will be five months old when we arrive in Japan.  I’ve had five months of loving this beautiful little girl from afar.  I’ve watched her coo, smile, giggle, and cry, and even scoot her way across the floor without using her arms, thanks to video chats on What’s App.  I end every call with “Grandma loves you, Kiko.”

But to hold her in our arms, feel her soft baby feet, smell her luscious baby scent — these elusive moments are finally upon us.  My heart has been aching for this since before she was born, and I’m a bit terrified.  Will she like us?  Will we frighten her?  Will she let us hold her, kiss her, treasure her?  Will she cry?   Will she love us back?  Will she understand English?

For now, my family and I are packing our suitcases, preparing gifts for our Japanese family, confirming reservations, and making plans for what to do when we arrive in Japan.  I’ll be armed with lots of baby books and baby clothes for Kiko.  And I am experiencing the sweet anticipation of holding family in my arms.

We will be there soon, and I can hardly wait.  Grandma loves you, Kiko!

© Maryanne Zawlocki – The International Grandma

Everyone Needs Their Peeps

In one of our village parks, there is a grove of trees that serves as a gathering place for turkey vultures migrating through our area. My husband Mark and I stumbled upon this unexpected sight a few years ago while riding our bikes through town. There must have been forty vultures stoically ensconced on the branches that day – like macabre ornaments strung on a lifeless tree. A little creepy, but stunning!

Recently, when I noticed a kettle of vultures circling the sky, I knew they were back. We hopped on our bikes and hurried to the park. This time, there were almost a hundred vultures, slowly waking and preparing for the day’s search for food. We marveled as they unfolded their wings, holding them open to capture the warm morning sun as it dried the moisture accumulated overnight.

I have been thinking about these magnificent birds since we saw them. Community and camaraderie are so important, regardless of our species. Vultures need one another for companionship, protection from predators,  and to find their mates. Maybe they need a little vulture gossip to keep things spicy.  Perhaps they love to share the joy of flying with their friends. They somehow find each other as they head south for the winter and north for the summer.

As people, we need to feel valued, appreciated, loved –be that by family, friends, co-workers, caregivers. Our souls need that connection with others to thrive. When we are loved, we soar. When we are hurt by others, we shrink. We all need to know that no matter what life throws at us, there is somebody in our corner, cheering us on and helping us through our most difficult days.

Those vultures have figured it out! The rest of us just need to pay attention.

© Maryanne Zawlocki – The International Grandma


Preparing for Baby’s First Visit on a Budget

Recently I received the best news that any International Grandma could hear – my daughter Christine and my granddaughter Kiko are coming to America for a visit during the month of December!  Kiko will be turning 7 months old during this time – a great age.  My brave, wonderful daughter will travel over 6,000 miles with a baby in tow—just to spend time with us.

Suddenly, we needed to purchase baby equipment, so Kiko’s stay is comfortable and safe.

When shopping for baby equipment, we International Grandmas sometimes need to stretch our dollars while keeping safety first.  This is a challenge that is right up my alley.  I like bargains.  I also appreciate quality.  When the two meld together, I’m a happy camper.  The thrill of the hunt is a nice bonus!

I was lucky enough to find an excellent and relatively new $300 car seat at a local garage sale for $25.  It was used by another set of grandparents very sporadically, hadn’t been recalled or in an accident, and had an “expiration date” of 2026.  (Did you know that car seats now have expiration dates?  They have a life span of 6 years.)  Of course, it isn’t always a good idea to buy a used car seat – you really need to be careful.  This is one case that purchasing new might be best.  However, we saw very little risk with this car seat, so we snapped it up and checked it off the baby equipment list.

After several weeks of serious garage sale shopping, I was coming up short looking for a highchair.  Enter Facebook Marketplace.  In a matter of days I found a great highchair for $30.  When I went to pick it up, I met another International Grandma who lived with her son’s family and didn’t speak English.  We worked through the transaction with a lot of smiling and nodding!

Last on the list was a travel crib/playpen.  Once again, Facebook Marketplace came to the rescue.  I found a beautiful, barely-used-by-grandma model for $30.  SCORE!  Now Kiko will have a safe place to sleep and play.

For a total of $85, we found very nice, gently-used baby equipment for incredible prices.  After a good scrubbing and a little laundering, our like-new baby equipment is ready for Kiko!

© Maryanne Zawlocki – The International Grandma

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