By KAREN CIMMS

kcimms@tnonline.com

I love Facebook.

I admit, I probably waste a lot of time online checking my friends' updates and looking over their photos. I also enjoy a good game of Scrabble and play regularly on the site.

But what I like most is the ability to keep in touch or reconnect with friends and relatives I haven't seen or spoken to in years.

I became a member almost two years ago. Most of my Facebook friends were coworkers at the time and of course my kids, who somewhat grudgingly (I'm sure) accepted my friend request.

Every now and then I'd do a search and look for different friends or family members. I was able to reconnect with a cousin I hadn't seen since her parents had divorced. Through her I reconnected with other cousins and second-cousins, some of whom I've never even met, but with whom I share family history as well as DNA. Through pictures I can see how much a cousin's daughter looks just like her mother, and her granddaughter looks just like my aunt.

Over the holidays, my cousin Tracy posted a status update saying she was "baking the S cookies." Well, S cookies are my favorite Christmas cookie, and if I could make just one batch, it would be that one. My mom always made them, and apparently, so did Tracy's mom, who was married to my mother's brother.

That posting made me ask my mother about the cookies, and she told me it was a recipe her mother always made for Christmas. That was a little bit of family history I would never have known were it not for Facebook.

In addition to family, Facebook has also brought me back to my hometown. I've reconnected with about a dozen friends from high school, most of whom I had not seen in over 30 years. In November I got the opportunity to return to my hometown and was able to visit with four of my old friends while I was there. It was wonderful and none of that would have happened without Facebook.

It also helped me renew my friendship with a dear friend, who moved back to her hometown. We kept in touch for awhile, and then life just got in the way. Since we've found each other again, we've been to visit her family and she and her husband have come to stay with us. We even renewed an old tradition of making a special Christmas craft and plans are in the works for next year's project. Through Facebook, I speak to Janet just about every day.

Facebook has even brought me new friends. Because I play a lot of Scrabble, I will often log on and opt for a public game if I feel like playing a few quick rounds. Two women I regularly played with "friend requested" me after a few rounds. Initially, I was a little skeptical. Up until then the only friends I had on Facebook were people I knew. I hesitated at first, but I enjoyed the little conversations we would have while playing.

Over the next year we became good "friends." She is a high school English teacher and we both love to read. She also lives in Maine, my favorite place in the whole world.

Last summer, when I went to Maine to visit family, Liz offered to come meet me. Despite living almost two hours north and inland of my cousin's coastal town, she and her 3-year-old son Liam drove down to have dinner with us. She is one of the sweetest people I have ever met and we had a great time. It turned out she and my cousin, who is also a teacher, even had acquaintances in common.

Lastly, Facebook has been a great way to keep up with people I have met through my job. I actually first created an account in order to see photos of cakes made by Candy Knappenberger while I was working on a story about her. I keep in touch with Candy on Facebook as well as follow others I've written about or am currently working with.

It's become a great networking tool and when I'm not busy playing Scrabble or chatting with old and new friends, I can always post an embarrassing picture of one of my kids, just for laughs.

LOL!