Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for Zoo

The Zoo is a place that your whole family can enjoy. I recall a time not long after I had learned how to drive, and my parents gave me the keys to the car and said to take my two younger sisters to the zoo. They weren’t that much younger than me, two and five years younger to be exact, and I remember us having a great time looking at the animals, eating ice cream bars and feeling very grown up.

My Mom always enjoyed going to the zoo, even when she couldn’t walk very far. We’d get a wheelchair so that when she tired of walking, we could push her down the paths. She loved seeing the animals.

I think this is a universal enjoyment that everyone has, watching other species and exclaiming over their beauty and diversity. Going to the zoo would make a wonderful group event at your reunion if one is nearby. Either order a catered lunch, or cart it in yourselves, and make a time to meet up at midday for a shared meal. Reserve a large picnic area for your group if that is possible.

Strolling amongst the trees and animal enclosures will provide visiting time, and people can go on a train ride together around the property. You can even pose for group photos together. Just set a specific time and place for gathering.

If a zoo is not close to the site of your reunion, pick a different outing. Just be sure to schedule one group activity that makes a shared memory. Rent a huge dune buggy and go for a wild ride together. Go to a water park and float down a lazy river. Hike through a beautiful wooded state park. Try horseback riding on a local trail. Whatever is chosen, remember to include all ages and ability levels in the activity, so no one feels left out.

If you’re near a large body of water, go for a boat tour. In the Midwest, a land of lakes, there are tour boats that will cruise around the lake, the guide pointing out the sights in the case of mansions built as summer homes years and years ago, or if in more of an unspoiled setting, the plants and wildlife along the shore. If everyone chips in for the expense, you can get a sailboat to take people out on a lake.

For those even more adventurous, take rides in a hot air balloon over the countryside. There are more of these adventures across the country, and I am very familiar with the sight of hot air balloons overhead living in Albuquerque, home of the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. That would make quite a memory for reunion guests.

A place to record the memories of your reunion can begin with the Family Reunion Keepsake Book, which is sold on this blog by clicking on the icon on the top right of the page.

Thanks for reading my blog. Comments appreciated!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for Young Children

Young children are harder to entertain than older ones who may want to just sit around and talk to their peers and play on their I Phone. So give some consideration as to how you will find ways to occupy the younger children’s time.

Arrange crayons and photocopied pictures on low tables for younger children to color when they get bored with adult talk, or if it rains and outdoor games have to be postponed. Make an outline of a family tree on sheets of paper, and the children can fill in the blanks with people’s names, using the main family tree for reference.

Sometimes younger children get tired more easily of an activity, and so you may need to have several on hand to give them as boredom sets in. Creative projects are always a good choice. What to do with all those extra photos you have in shoeboxes? Give them to the kids to sort through, allowing them to keep three, and then toss the rest away.

Have mini easels you can get from a crafts store and display small pieces of art they’ve created with watercolors. These can be centerpieces along the length of a table when it comes time for lunch or dinner.

Make homemade play dough ahead of time in several colors. Demonstrate how to sculpt with play dough and after they dry out a bit, display them on a crafts table.

Another way to occupy small children is to have a story hour. Get a volunteer of an older child to read stories to the younger ones. Afterwards, have craft items available to make drawings or cutouts on construction paper of the characters in the story. Your display table should be up and ready by now!

Select a good animated movie and pop it in a DVD player. Have lots of pillows on the floor for lounging. It could be that some of them will fall asleep during the movie. A little naptime without being forced to do so is a good thing.

Organize a walk to the park and let them play on the merry-go-round, swings, jungle gym and whatever installations they have available. Ask for a couple of volunteers from the teen age group to supervise. If someone gets a skinned knee, then there’s an older person to tend to the trauma. Fill a small ice chest with frozen popsicles and after a reasonable length of time, distribute them to the kids. After that snack, they should be ready to start playing again.

For the girls, set up an afternoon tea party complete with treats and dolls. That will keep them busy for a long time. For the boys, organize a rough and tumble game of kickball.

If you’re in a place with a swimming pool, make sure there are plenty of pool toys and floats for them. Adults may want to cool off in the pool too! With a little organization, younger kids can be kept occupied and happy for hours.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for X-factor

The X-factor is defined as a variable that could have a significant impact on the outcome. Money is the X-factor that can make or break your reunion trip.

Encourage your children to save money during the year for their reunion/vacation adventure.  Label the savings so each child has their own spending money for the trip.  Parents, save your own money for hotels, airfare, etc. Depositing money each paycheck into your vacation savings account makes for ease in attending an important family event.

I remember my mother faithfully putting aside a portion of money each payday for Christmas, our college education, and for a two-week vacation “out West” every year.  Those weekly deposits add up fast and will make your trip easier if you have planned in advance and saved for it.

This may be elementary to some of you, but for those of you for whom it may be a new idea, estimate your expenses for the reunion trip.  Don’t forget transportation, hotels, meals, and souvenirs.  Take this amount and divide it by the number of paychecks you have between now and your reunion event.  Deposit that amount of money into your vacation savings account each time you get paid and by the time the trip rolls around, you’ll be all set!

Have your children take a scheduled amount from their allowance and either deposit the cash in a literal piggy bank, or get them their own account at the credit union.  They’ll be happy when they have their own money to spend on the trip without having to ask you for every extra piece of candy or just one more souvenir they can’t do without!

If money is tight, make it a family group effort to adjust your spending and put those extra dollars in your reunion savings account.  Instead of marching out to see the latest new movie, stay at home, rent a DVD, and serve popcorn and sodas.  Forgo trips to the ice cream shop and buy all the supplies to make your own chocolate sundaes.  Instead of stopping at the food court in the mall, pack a picnic lunch in a cooler, and take the kids to the park to eat in the shade in the middle of the day.

Enlist your children to help think up ways to save so you can have more in your reunion/vacation savings account.  Kids can often come up with unique ideas that just might work!

If you drive around running errands on the weekends, pick one day that you will not drive anywhere.  Save those errands for a quick trip after work when you already have the car out, or group them all together on the same day.  You’ll be amazed how much gas and money you can save not driving one day a week.

Be creative with your efforts to find ways to cut expenses, and deposit those savings in your reunion/vacation savings account.  All your hard work budgeting and saving will make your reunion trip one to remember.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W is for Why?

Why have a family reunion? A mother’s prayer is that her children will love each other long after she is gone (from Facebook).

If the matriarch of your family has passed on, this is reason enough. Someone once told me that after parents die, the siblings lose touch and don’t communicate anymore. A conscious effort would need to be made to not allow this to happen. This quote gives a reason not to be negligent in getting a reunion scheduled.

During the A-Z Blogging Challenge, I have met bloggers from all over the world:  Australia, Canada, India, France, and Singapore, among others. Distances across America are great, not to mention traveling to and from international locations. That’s why a family reunion should be planned in advance so family members can place it in their schedules, figure out the cost, and make the commitment to the event so that it is well attended.

Family traditions may have gradually been discontinued, due to time commitments to other things. Those Thanksgiving and other holiday celebrations are now taken up with the demands of the immediate family, and don’t often include extended family members. But it matters to your parents who are gone that their children continue contact. Their spirits want this! Perhaps that is why people do genealogy charts on their families; to maintain that sense of connection to what has gone before.

If you are fortunate to still have your parents on this planet, a family reunion is a very special event for them. They want to see their children, the spouses, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren mingle and have fun together. Even if they are sitting in a wheelchair and can’t participate much, you can be sure they are watching and observing the festivities and having fun.

Another good reason is so that cousins can get to know each other. When I was growing up, there were two uncles’ families that we visited with often. As we got to high school age and older, the frequency of those visits dropped off, but I think we have a sense of family that extends beyond the nuclear families we grew up in because of that contact.

Another good reason for a family reunion is that you get to have a vacation! If you are lucky, you can travel somewhere exotic you’ve never been to for the event. Even if you just have to go back to your hometown, chances are the environment has changed. Some people like to drive by their childhood home to see it one more time. Others like to drive by old hangouts, their high school, and other special places they frequented when younger. Don’t be surprised though if those places don’t even exist anymore. My husband wanted to go by the farm where he was raised as a very young child, and the clear-cut farmland was now a thick forest of trees! Time changes things.

So don’t allow too much time to pass before you schedule your family reunion.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V is for Volleyball

Volleyball is a great place to start when thinking about games to arrange for reunion guests. Arrange for games that appeal to all ages, from small children to elderly family members. Croquet and badminton will appeal to those who are less active, and to satisfy the most active of the group, set up a volleyball net, away from windows! A board game tournament can involve many of the reunion participants. Draw an outline of the players who are competing on a poster board or a chalkboard, with successive eliminations leading to the winner.

To make the reunion feel less a circle of group therapy and more of a free flowing event, with people streaming in and out of the main visiting area, have activities that can make it easy to form small groups. A tournament works very well.

Not everyone can play chess, and checkers is too elementary, so pick a game like Jenga. Pair up opponents, and then have an outline that progresses each winner to the next round with someone else, until you get the two remaining players to battle it out for champion! It can be very loose with the timing, as long as the competition is progressing within the space of a day.

For very active teens and young adults, a volleyball tournament, best two out of three, depending on how many participants you have, is a good activity for those with lots of energy and a strong arm.

Older adults may enjoy playing croquet, a game that is relaxing and that may bring back memories from other gatherings in their childhood. Have a badminton net and equipment handy, as not everyone wants the intensity of volleyball. This is a good game to play as doubles.

A run off championship can be utilized here also. There is nothing wrong with a little good-natured competition, and it will keep people from feeling sluggish. They can visit in between the games and playing together can create memories and also get them sharing about themselves regarding current things in their lives. It’s a way to learn about others as they play.

Have some rainy day activities available too. Twister is a good game, along with some not so retro toys like hula-hoops, jump ropes and a hopscotch grid on your garage floor. It can rain all it wants to outside, but kids can be in the garage or basement enjoying the simple pleasures of playing.

For adults, make a crossword puzzle using clues that they would remember from their years growing up together. A crossword puzzle is not that difficult to create; there are sites on the Internet that can give you printouts of ones you come up with yourself. Print them out on brightly colored paper and pass them out one afternoon when conversation is lagging. It can serve as a reminder of memories and stories to share.

By having both sedentary and active games planned in advance, no one will be sitting around asking what’s next.

Monday, April 25, 2016

U is for Under the Stars

Build a campfire at night. Allow the kids to stay up late for storytelling. Under the Stars and around the glow of the campfire, take turns telling funny stories from your childhood. If space allows, have tents set up so cousins can sleep outdoors together. The move from campfire and storytelling to bed will be easier when bed is a tent in the backyard!

If you can get lodging in a resort that has access to a lake, forest, sand dunes, rivers, and cliffs, it will make for a memorable experience. Taking a walk under the stars in the light of a full moon will be a rewarding experience. The shadows of grasses and trees cast by the full moon, and the animated shadows of those walking along make for special memories.

If someone in your group has a telescope, have them bring it along. If you’re far enough from a city, the number of stars in the night sky will be enormous. An amateur astronomer in your group can point out the Big Dipper, the North Star and other constellations. A trip to a planetarium for some education and viewing of the sky with even bigger telescopes is a not to be missed experience if you are near one.

Chances are, when you were children, you spent a lot of time outdoors, even if you grew up in the city, and nighttime activities always seem fresh and special. Does the location of your summer reunion coincide with the activity of lightning bugs? Children from another area of the country may have never seen any, so if you’re lucky enough that they are active, take an after dusk walk in the humid summer to go looking for them.

If you are taking a walk at dusk, especially if it’s in a natural area, be sure to have flashlights along. It can get very dark, very quickly out in the forest, and you will want to be able to see on your return trip if you have miscalculated the time or distance involved.

Other animals that come out at night are bats. Bats really will not harm you unless you disturb them, as with any animal. I recall a trip to Death Valley, Nevada one June, and at night, in the natural spring pool, bats swooped down from their hangouts to catch bugs on the surface of the water. It was beautiful, never frightening, and an experience that we all remember fondly.

Telling stories always seems more fun around a campfire, roasting marshmallows to make s’mores, and keeping warm if the night is chilly. Break into some ghost stories too. Perhaps there is a haunted house nearby you could take a tour of one evening. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, the hosts are sure to put on a good performance for you, one that may carry over once you get back to your reunion, perhaps prompting memories of other strange occurrences that you can elaborate on for one another.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is for Treasure Hunt

Arrange a Treasure hunt for the kids. Give them a written clue for the hidden location of the next clue. Continue with a series of hidden clues that eventually leads to the treasure of treats and prizes.

This game will keep them occupied for as long as a trail of clues can be extended. Written clues can be as simple as a message telling them to proceed to a specific place, or can be written in poem form where figuring out the clue is an added task. It really depends on the ages of the children who will be participating. If they are older, figuring out the meaning of a cryptic message will be half the fun. If they are younger, simple directions to the next location are all that will be needed. You could also pair the youngest child with the oldest and make teams in that manner that can help each other in figuring out the clues.

Be as creative as time allows with the clues, writing them on heavy construction paper and adorning them with color and bright stickers. Leaving objects at each location instead of a written message to indicate where the next stop is can also be a good way to structure the game.

This is a great activity to get kids to run off some energy. My husband and his brother recall that when the aunts, uncles and cousins came for a visit, this activity would keep them crisscrossing the farm for a long time. This kept them out from under the adults who were visiting or making preparations with food. The older cousins helped interpret the clues for the younger ones as they huddled over the written clue.

Placing some small treats, not enough to ruin a meal, at each successive location can encourage them to move ahead and keep going forward with the goal of getting to that last hidden treasure. The treasure at the end could consist of small paper sacks, one for each child with their name on it containing small age appropriate toys.

Another idea would be to have a piñata hanging from a tree at the final stop along with a plastic bat and blindfold. As long as there is at least one responsible, older teen there who can be trusted that no one will get hurt, that would be a great finale when toys and candy come spilling out of the papier-mâché animal or figure.

If the reunion is not being held at someone’s home, you could modify the game by bringing the board game Clue with you. It would make a great rainy day activity if you were stuck inside for hours on end while a downpour pelts the playground and water park. Typically played with 3-6 players, ages 8 to adult, if you again put teams in place, this could keep them occupied for some time. Bring the individual treasures out at the end of the games for each of them.

Enjoy hunting for treasure!

Friday, April 22, 2016

S is for Souvenirs

Assemble small Souvenirs for the children to take home with them as a remembrance. For a swim party, give away water-spouting frogs they’ve played with in the pool. Order temporary tattoos (they can even be personalized) ahead of time so the kids can have fun accessorizing! The kids will remember the reunion more clearly if they have something to take home with them.

Look to the theme of your reunion for tie-in souvenirs (see my blog entry on 4/11/16, I is for Imagination for thoughts on theme). They don’t need to be expensive or elaborate, and if you wish, ask for donations from the guests to take care of the cost.

The ages of the children make a difference in what type of souvenirs to have on hand. Letting the child or teen make their own choice out of several items will give them more satisfaction. That way they’ll be taking home something they will enjoy, even if it is a small item.

Another way to handle it is to ask participants to bring something to use in a type of white elephant gift exchange. This would be for the older guests, as little ones might not understand the taking away of a gift they’ve picked out.

You may have played this game at a holiday party. Everyone brings one item, often a hideous knick-knack or something they just don’t want to use anymore. Each person draws a number and picks one of the wrapped items off a table. They open it and the second person either takes that item away from them, or takes a new item off the table. The game progresses in this manner until all the gifts are spoken for. The last person gets to choose out of all of the gifts.

At one reunion I went to, grandma was downsizing and brought a lot of costume jewelry and small items from her travels to the reunion. The children got to pick through the display and take what they would like home with them. It’s a way for grandma to feel good about her things going to someone in the family, and the children know it belonged to grandma, so that gives them a sense of connection and memory when they use whatever they have chosen.

Any way you plan it, it comes down to making the memories last. I have a friend who says that she likes to buy something from every place she visits, even if it is a small item, because it helps her remember the trip and what she saw or did. The same goes for souvenirs from your reunion. The white elephant would be great for adults, and if you don’t want silly, hideous things like at the holiday party at work (where I actually picked a white elephant that looks like it came from India), specify that the item is to be something unique to the city or state where they live.

Above all, have fun and be creative!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

R is for Respect


I’ve seen a few movies about families coming together for the holidays or other occasions that portray family members as eccentric, difficult or just different, and then create a lot of conflict between them. Screenplays often have conflict, otherwise it would be boring, so they say. I really hope your family reunion doesn’t have the conflicts that these movies often portray. Instead, think early about how to create a space for tolerance and acceptance and respect.

A friend of mine once said to me that my Mom seemed to her to be very accepting of diversity, loving each of her children for the unique individuals they turned out to be as they became adults and matured (and we are very different from one another). Perhaps that is where I got my strong convictions of tolerance and the honoring of diversity; from my Mom.

My Mom also had a rule she insisted be followed:  No talking about religion or politics at the dinner table. Enjoy your food and let it be digested without upset. Good advice in an election year, and with tensions over those seeking safety in other countries for political and religious reasons.

What kind of atmosphere do you want to foster at your reunion? Everyone has a story, likes and dislikes, a preferred way of dressing and conducting themselves. Is your reunion gathering going to be accepting of a gay person, a transgender person, adoptive children, adoptive children or spouses of another race? People who have changed faiths? Add anything to this list that traditionally your family would find controversial.

When people get into heated arguments, red, angry faces blustering away at each other, the saying goes:  take it outside. Now you don’t want any fistfights or embarrassing altercations at your reunion, but the thought of taking it outside gives pause to reflect on where and when disagreements could occur. A family reunion is a time to reflect on family history, where people came from, and if you design it right, where they’re going. That can’t be created in an atmosphere of tension and arguing. So leave the heated discussions for some other time.

If you choose to include some of the activities I have covered in my blog these past couple of weeks, I think you will create a more sharing and caring setting for everyone present. You no doubt have many great ideas yourself, or the brain storming of a family reunion-planning group will help develop the kind of activities that your unique family will embrace and remember for years to come.

I will close today’s blog post with a thought from my Family Reunion Keepsake Book, the Family Reunion Idea Library section:  Be mindful that not everyone will share the same customs as the family grows and develops. For example, not everyone will share the same daily practices or religion. Respect and honor all present by giving each family a turn to share their own way of giving thanks before each meal.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q is for Quiet

Provide Quiet areas for people to relax or take a nap. Set up some tables in the shade or under a patio umbrella for those choosing to visit rather than play games. If the reunion is held in someone’s home and there are rooms that are off limits to guests, close and lock the doors. Designate one room for napping babies or grandparents, and place a sign on the door:  QUIET.

Not only does age play a role in who needs a daily dose of quiet, but introvert-extrovert does too. Babies and older folks may need a quiet place with a bed to take a nap, whereas those people who are more of an introvert and need some solitude to regenerate after being in a crowd for most of the day, will need a space as well. A garden area makes a nice place for someone seeking solitude.

How about those who like to meditate or practice yoga? Perhaps you have a room in the house already set up for such activities with a meditation pillow to sit on, or a yoga mat to spread out on the carpet. Make it known these things are available to those who need them.

If you have a reading nook or a sunroom with a chaise lounge, this can be a welcome hideaway for someone who just needs to regroup. Perhaps an important call back home to the house sitter or pet sitter (hopefully not to work!) needs to be made where it is quiet. Having this space can help that person be heard and concentrate for the brief time they need to be on the call.

If there are activities that need to be planned during the reunion, the planning committee will need a place to gather, spread out materials and have some space from the hustle and bustle of all the kids and the demands of other family members. Again, provide space for them to meet that is off limits to the others for that period of time.

Ask who would like to be babysitters for the younger ones. Older children would likely treasure the time spent watching and playing with a younger cousin. Set it up so that they are aware of the restrictions for that child, and during that time period, parents can have their own quiet time alone to regroup or just to visit with siblings or grandparents without the demands of small children interrupting.

If the host or hostess is in the kitchen baking or cooking something special, they may want their own quiet time. Frequently, cooks really don’t want anyone else to disturb him or her when they are creating in the kitchen. Have a sign posted on the kitchen door letting others know this area is now off limits!

Be assertive about getting your own needs met for quiet and solitude during the event. All those people milling about can be draining. Acknowledge it and don’t pretend the need doesn’t exist. Everyone will be grateful for your efforts.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

P is for Photo Play

Take individual Photos of younger children with their mom and/or dad.  Have these photos printed and available at the beginning of the reunion.  Write their names on the photo and punch a hole in the top, stringing a piece of yarn through the hole.  Tie the yarn and hang the photo around the child’s neck.  When a child is upset and the parents need to be found quickly, the photo helps to identify “who belongs to whom.”  The photo is a helpful tool (and a great memento) especially at a large reunion with many children in attendance.

My niece had this great idea at a reunion I attended a few years ago.  It’s unrealistic to think that everyone will remember all the names and faces of every family member in attendance, particularly if your extended family is large.  People have likely traveled long distances just to get to the reunion, and may not have seen each other in years.  Christmas card photos once a year will not have everyone remembering each other, especially as kids and even adults, grow fast and change quickly.

The kids too will proudly wear their photo/nametags and you will find it helpful if a child should come running up to you for any perceived emergency, from skinning a knee to not remembering where the bathroom is to needing some water.  You will readily learn their name, and if they are just plain scared or upset for some reason, you will know whom to ask for should they really need their parent to attend to them.

The teens and adults may want to get in on a version of the photo identifiers too.  Ask family members to bring their baby photos.  Have a large easel pad of paper set up and tape the photos to the paper with numbers for each one.  A ballot box should be on a table next to it with premade ballots for filling in the names of who belongs to each baby picture.  You can have a prize for whoever gets the most correct.  Good quality photo frames would make a nice prize.

Yet another variation is to have the older folks bring photos of when they were teenagers.  Have the same sort of game with a prize for the winner, perhaps a photo album.  Everyone will enjoy the memories that are sparked by the dress and hairdos of earlier years.  It will also provide an opportunity for stories to be shared with young and old alike.  Stories of your family are important, not just to share history, but to build that sense of belonging.  Telling your story has also been shown to be healing, so a reunion where people tell their stories is not just fun, it’s therapeutic as well!

Brainstorm with your reunion planners other interesting games with your own personal family twist to them utilizing photos and other memorabilia.  An active reunion builds memories.

Share your best ideas here for all my readers to enjoy!

Monday, April 18, 2016

O is for Organize

Organize your family reunion, and post a daily schedule for family members. Include maps of the area in case someone needs to go to the drug store, grocery store or gas station. Your schedule should include mealtimes, times for any group activities, and most importantly, for the shooting of the group family photo! A hired photographer can take as many family photos in all the different arrangements you desire for purchase later online.

Include travel time on your schedule if you are going for an outing at another location. Figure in potential delays if you have to travel when there are commuters on the road, and challenges navigating the route. Think about how you’re going to transport everyone. Not every family may have secured a rental car if they flew in. Who in the immediate area has a larger vehicle and can take extra passengers? Or suggest that families arriving via air secure one very large rental vehicle and split the costs. That will give extra visiting time while sharing the ride.

Having maps of the area with handy services listed will be valuable for anyone who may have forgotten something at home and needs to get a replacement. Gas stations with reasonable prices will be welcome as well.

If your meals are at one location, list the beginning and end times for dining. If you are gathering at a restaurant, it is important to arrive at the scheduled hour so that all goes efficiently. If ordering at a restaurant, have the menus displayed so people can choose in advance what they’d like. Call in an advance order to speed the process along, and that way you won’t have to wait as long for your food.

Include free times in your schedule so that people can do their own thing once in a while. Not everyone may want to go shopping, visit a particular site, or go bar hopping. That way, the group is together for the really important group activities and can also go their separate ways occasionally during the gathering.

Hiring a professional photographer can be a great asset to your reunion. They may bring props, have suggestions about background and ways of grouping people for photos, and provide the kind of expert care you need to make your photos shine. They may bring an assistant to help organize the groups of people getting their photos taken. You can be of assistance as well, making a list of suggested groupings and pre-scheduling the order in which the sittings will occur.

Consider the time of day the photographer is coming so it doesn’t conflict with babies’ or grandma’s naps. If little ones are having a grouchy time of it, switch them out with a group that doesn’t have a small baby in need of milk, a clean diaper or just some time away from the crowd. This will all help the event progress smoothly and efficiently.

With a little bit of pre-planning and organization, there will be very few delays or frustrations.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

N is for Not forgotten

Bring photos of any family members who have passed on, and thus can no longer be with the group other than in fond memory. Display the photos on a table decorated with flowers and candles, and any other significant objects you would like to display. “They are Not forgotten,” is the message this gives to the children, and the adults in your family as well.

I had this idea after seeing the elaborate altars displayed here in the American Southwest at the time of the Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos). The altars are called ofrendas (translation: offering), and in that tradition, people place bright orange and yellow marigolds, decorated candied skulls made from compressed sugar, and the favorite foods and drinks of the departed on the altar (sometimes including alcohol for an adult; toys for children). These offerings encourage their spirits to feel at home and welcome. They also place on display objects that belonged to the deceased. Lit candles are placed on one tier of the altar. Religious objects are often included on the altar.

This creation is intended to welcome the deceased. For you, this description may be the starting point in your creative process to develop your own way of honoring the departed. The point here is to allow an opportunity for your family to reflect on the life of the deceased and remember them. Encourage other family members to contribute, and let participants know in advance that you’ll have a space for constructing the display.

You may want to suggest that people write poems, letters, and messages to the person to place on the table. They can always pick them up when the altar is disassembled at the end of the reunion, so that their message remains private. Supply pens and paper for anyone who would like to do this while at the reunion if they haven’t brought any writing with them. You could have a ritual at the end of the reunion where you have a bonfire or a fire in a fireplace inside the house, and people who brought written messages can throw them in the fire, releasing them on the tendrils of smoke. This can be a healing activity for people.

Have crayons and paper nearby so children can join in on the activity and write or draw a picture for the person. Have their favorite music playing softly on a wireless speaker on the table. Above all, be creative. You can have more than one person remembered on the table as well. Have sections if you have to so that no one feels slighted. It can be a place to bring shared memories or individual stories about the person to share with the other family members. It can be as formal or casual as you like. It can be a place of remembrance and story and positive energy.

Have a photo taken of the display that you can all keep with your other family reunion photos. Not forgotten.

Friday, April 15, 2016

M is for Mixer Games

After all guests have arrived, bring them together in a group for “Mixer games.”  The leader instructs everyone to stand in a circle, then asks everyone with birthdays in January to stand together, those with birthdays in February to gather in another group, and so on.  The activity gives people a chance to connect and share.  After a few minutes, reform the groups into where people were born by city or state.  Be creative!  Come up with your own ideas for mixer games and learn about each other.

The above idea is just one of many I have at the back of my book in the Family Reunion Idea Library.  I share ideas for making your reunion the special event it is in that section of the book.  I’ll explain more about this mixer game for you.  Once you catch on to the concept, I believe it will inspire you to create your own mixer games.

These group games are a great way to get people to mix it up and get to know one another better, all in a fun and unusual way.  We did this at one of our family reunions and the groups formed entertained people.

Pick an area of open space, outdoors is ideal, but if indoors, you will require a large room depending on how many family members are in attendance.  Have everyone congregate together and then explain the following:

This is a way to get to know each other in a fun and entertaining way.  First, we will be breaking up into groups based on what month of the year you were born.  Everyone born in January, stand over there, everyone in February there, etc. until everyone has found the group they belong to.

Once everyone has found their birth month group, give them a few minutes, long enough to chat amongst themselves about what day they were born and anything else they want to share.

Then announce the next activity, which is to form into groups based on where they were born.  If you are gathering in a state where you know many of your family members were born, then also give the option to break up into which city you were born.  In my family, people were born in many different states, and we had forgotten that at certain times, different families lived in one state and their children were born there too.  Help the kids find which group they belong in.  Then have the group shout out in turn what state or city they represent.

Another one we did was form a line from oldest member to youngest member of the extended family.  Grandma was on the left and the line wound its way down to the youngest family member in their little baby carrier.  If they are willing to state their age, do that in turn with the oldest starting off.

Think up your own unique formations of groups.  Your family will enjoy the chance to move around and establish new and renewed relationships through this activity.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

L is for Location

Location! Now that you’ve made a decision to have a family reunion, the question becomes, where do we meet?  Perhaps you have a large house with a couple of bathrooms and a big backyard.  That could be the perfect place to start.  My sister hosted our first family reunion using her home as a gathering place.  The swimming pool was an added plus and certainly helped keep everyone occupied!  Offer your home for the festivities as one choice if you can, especially for the first year.

It will be easier for all involved to make a decision on the location of the reunion if you do a little footwork before polling them.  List your own home as a location if that is an option, and then provide information about other choices.  Think carefully about travel distances and what the potential guests’ likes and dislikes might include.  That will help narrow down your suggestions.

For example, if your family members are outdoorsy types, meeting at a campground would work well.  One year my family met at a campground on a lake.  Some family members chose to camp in their tents, and others rented small trailers in the campground.  There was lots of space for the kids to run about and play, as well as areas for less active adults to rest in the shade and visit.

A resort area makes an excellent choice for a reunion.  I’m originally from Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Dells is a beautiful place with lots of activities to choose from.  There is sure to be a similar location in your own state that people will look forward to exploring and that will be central for most to attend.

If your family is spread out over the whole country (or world) give several choices of places to meet.  Resorts near a train station or an airport will make attendance for the greatest numbers of people much easier.  How about the Grand Canyon?  Disneyworld?  Or a trip to New York City complete with Broadway plays? 

Another good choice, particularly if family members no longer live in their original hometown, IS your hometown.  They may be interested in driving through the old neighborhood, passing the places they used to hangout, and trying favorite restaurants or the new ones now occupying that space.  Nostalgia will appeal both to the older family members and to the children who will enjoy hearing Grandma and Grandpa’s stories.  And seeing where their parents lived will impart a sense of family history.

Include your suggested locations in your questionnaire and ask respondents to order them from their number one choice down to their last choice for location.  You can tabulate these and make the final decision with their input.  Send out invitations well in advance so everyone can mark their calendars and ask for annual leave from work.

At the reunion, do not hesitate to plan for the next one by having all present decide on the next location.  Someone is sure to volunteer to be the location scout after your fine example!

Happy planning!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

K is for Keepsake Book

K is for Keepsake book. I’m a writer, so it should come as no surprise that I love journaling, and have kept various types of journals throughout my life. Diaries when I was a preteen, The Artist’s Way journal when I first started creative writing as an adult, and many travel journals of my adventures.

One year I found a great little keepsake book, Christmas Memories Book. It had space for entries of 20 years of Christmases. I got to thinking about how attending a family reunion and having a journal to enter details of the event would be a special undertaking too.

So I designed the Family Reunion Keepsake Book. My husband and I published it and it is available for sale on this website via Amazon. What I like about it is that it allows for 12 family reunions to be documented with everything from a group photo to autographs and details about the reunion.

There are seven pages for each reunion with the following room for entries:
1.       Record details about the reunion, such as date and location
2.       Paste a copy of the invitation and a group photo
3.       Record transitions in the family (births, deaths, marriages, etc.)
4.       Guest registers (2 pages)
5.       Maps to record location and places traveled from
6.       Space for your own journal entry
It’s a great lasting memory book.

One of the reasons I made it for 12 reunions is that if a child has one for his or her own, it will take them from age 6 through 18 if it’s held yearly. Or you may just want to use it for yourself.

One of my friends has a big yearly family reunion, and the hostess always has a raffle for a Family Reunion Keepsake Book at the event. They make great gifts for any time of year prior to a reunion. What I have found about photos these days is they’re always digital, and how often do you really sit down in front of your computer and look at your photos? I know I seldom take the time to do that. But if I have a photo album out on the coffee table, when I’m relaxing with a glass of wine or a cup of tea, I will pick it up and thumb through it. It makes the memories more accessible that way. When a moment for nostalgia hits you, there it is.

It can also be a great place to record family history for budding genealogists. In years to come, when individuals are more spread out over the planet, it can help track people, as there is room to include email addresses, and other contact information.

I am curious what type of information you’d like in a keepsake book. Feel free to comment below and let me know what would be important to you to keep a record of. What do you think your kids would like in such a book? Above all, be creative and have a great reunion.