While there were only three people physically at Lodi residents Guy and Linda Marquardt's dinner table in Lodi, there was a hodgepodge of faces smiling at them through a computer and wishing them a happy Thanksgiving.
Guy Marquardt, the pastor at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, and his wife, Linda, planned to use Skype to connect with their son who is at Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minn., and their two daughters who are in high school at Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis.
The couple's children would be having dinner with Guy Marquardt's mother, and they planned to use Skype to connect.
"We talk every weekend, whether it is on Skype or phone. Definitely on the holidays, it's nice to see them and their faces," Marquardt said.
Parents around the country with children in college or in the military will use some type of video chatting software to connect with their children this holiday season.
The most popular video chat service is Skype, which allows people to sign up and then make free video or phone calls to anyone else who has the service anywhere in the world.
But there are other services too, like Vonage, Google+ Hangout and FaceTime, an iPhone app, that allow people to see their loved ones.
For Marquardt, the issue was that plane tickets are expensive, and they did not have money to fly all three of their children home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Also, as a pastor, it is hard to get time off to visit them.
"With travel costs going so high, it's hard, especially when you have a family of six," he said.
The family has been using Skype for years as missionaries in Brazil.
Marquardt grew up mostly in Wisconsin. After finishing seminary in 1994, he was assigned as a missionary in Brazil.
He and his wife spent their first year in Sao Paulo, the second-largest city in the world. The rest of his family's 14 years in Brazil were spent in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul.
He served at different times as evangelist, church planter, parish pastor, field coordinator, seminary instructor and counselor to the national church in Brazil.
The family started using Skype shortly after it came out in 2003 to allow the couple's four kids to chat with their grandparents. It took a while for their grandparents to get the hang of chatting through the computer.
"It was nice when they finally started to get the Internet and telephone capabilities. It made a huge difference. It really shrinks the world," Marquardt.
Since getting the job in Lodi, he has been able to use the Internet to check in with the churches he started in Brazil.
"Even through we've left, we can keep in touch with them through Skype and Facebook," he said.