“There’s nothing that makes you more insane than family. Or more happy. Or more exasperated. Or more . . . secure.”
― Jim Butcher,
There are a myriad of quotes on families when one peruses the internet. Many are full of love and depth of feeling and many are disparaging in their content, created by the writers who are shaping their words based on their experiences or the way they have created these experiences in their own mind. Either way, the perception of families can vary and the gathering of the family can mean different things for many. The gathering of family in my world is awesomely crazy and I hope it is in your world as well.
The above quote resonated with me the most in my search. I find it is true and it is the ending word that is the most important… secure. We all need to feel secure in this world and family or friends that have become family make that feeling come to fruition. In gathering with family, the insanity, happiness, exasperation and security are combined, balancing and feeding off of each other to create memorable, “want to do it again” experiences. We just celebrated one of these “want to do it again” experiences which we call our Parilla Family reunion on my mom’s side.
This reunion was started 17 years ago by our incredibly energetic, talented and loving Aunt Janet. Having a small family of her own, she relished the craziness and closeness of her husband’s (my uncle’s) and my mom’s large extended family whose number rises over 100 people these days.
She passed the torch this year to the third generation of this family… myself and two other female cousins. Growing up with these cousins on holidays, summer vacations, road trips to see our grandparents, trips to Disney Land, the lake and various other locations, the memories I have of these gatherings are some of the best.
Although the clothes that our parents used to dress us in as well as the haircuts that we endured are some memories I would rather forget!
When your reunion attendees are scattered around the country and you are planning the reunion from afar, I would like to share some tips that were first generated by my aunt and then added to by the family reunion team this year. These tips are listed in order from what you should do first and then down the line.
Tip # 1: Establish a location, the Date and Length of Time (most important tip!)
Obviously without this, the rest of it cannot happen. When choosing a date, the summer is often a great time to plan for the reunion to be held for obvious reasons. Other times of the year can be chosen as well, such as Christmas/ Winter Break or Spring Break but not every family has those at the same time and the travel costs can be higher at this time of year. When choosing a location, consider places that are fairly accessible to all of the attendees. If your family is spread far and wide and many attendees have to travel a distance to get there, then your festivities should be over the span of a couple of days. If they are local then you could probably get in all of the festivities in one day. Odds are that you don’t get to spend much time together if you are spread across the country so you need much more time to catch up and have the cousins and younger ones establish their own memories. If you live close by each other… you most likely only want to do one day for you see enough of them! 🙂 Sorry! Had to throw that in there!
In choosing a location, there are a couple of things that are important to keep in mind. Does your reunion entail a small or large group of family members? You might have quite a large gathering so you need facilities to accommodate that. If holding a weekend reunion, it is also good to have a couple of various places to gather based on the activities that are to be held. If being held in the summer, consider a place with a pool, beachfront or lakeside for water always creates a wealth of activities without you having to plan much and beats the heat that can be part of a summer reunion.
Cost is a very important factor, for families have to consider the cost of travel and lodging when coming a long distance, so you don’t want to break the bank when they arrive.
Some locations to consider when holding a weekend reunion:
- If someone lives in a planned community that contains a pool, gathering space, clubhouse, golf courses or the likes, that rents out condos or apartments than that is a great option. Our maverick in reunions, Aunt Janet, lived in just such a place in North Carolina that also happened to be near the ocean and it was a great location. For those of us coming from afar, it was a perfect spot to plan an extended family vacation around.
- You can also pick a location that is near or IS a destination spot. We have heard of many family reunions at places such as Walt Disney World. It is my guess though, that hosting a large group there might be logistically challenging as well as a distraction, for the kids would most likely rather spend their time on the rides than talking to Great Aunt May, which is an important part of the reunions. Fostering relationships, getting to know your relatives and creating memories WITH those relatives is really the goal. As an alternative, you could pick a place near Disney World and go in for an activity during the day.
- If someone lives on a farm or property with a little bit of acreage where people can park and then activities can be held in various spots on the farm, than that might be a good choice… ahem… that’s why we held it on our little farm this year. All activities can be held at that one spot or day trip options can be planned so that the guests can see sights in the surrounding area.
- Cruise ships are another option that can be combined with a family vacation reunion. A much higher cost factor but no one can leave!
- If your family reunion is a smaller gathering than it opens a few more doors and you can look into someone’s back yard for the bulk of the activities.
Tip # 2: Book a block of rooms or look into alternate lodging plans for the weekend if you have a lot of people coming in from out of town that is close to the central location where most of the activities will be held.
It is much more fun to have everyone staying at the same location to maximize the time together before and after the scheduled activities. You might even be able to use the hotel for your gatherings. You could use various Air B and B’s but that can be a bit more challenging.
Tip # 3: Establish a central command person
This person or duo of persons (there is a lot of communicating to be done) will be the main communicator to the extended family. They can create an email list of contacts and/or a Facebook page or group for the reunion if so desired. They will send out an itinerary (which will be another tip) and manage the responses to that itinerary. Our central command person was a duo of Julie and Nina this year and they did a tremendous job! They created both a Facebook page, which had been created in earlier years for the purpose of the reunions and keeping in touch, as well as a group email list. They also created an interest survey that they sent out to the family to get an estimate on when people would be arriving and any activities they were particularly interested in participating in.
Tip # 4: Create a theme (optional)
This is not necessary but it can be a great jumping off point for decor, activities, a menu, drinks, and even tee shirts.
Our theme was Sass- Parilla ~ The patriarch of this family on my mom’s side was Bill Parilla who had the nick name of SASS Parilla so we ran with that. Nina, one of my cousins and organizer extraordianare… had her friend who is a graphic designer create these tee shirts that were worn throughout the weekend. See the little sarsaparilla wooden beverage barrel on the top of the tee shirt?
I asked Aaron, craft cocktail maker extraordinaire from 13th Street Cocktails to create a drink for us to be served at the final dinner that involved sarsaparilla, which was a popular soft drink similar to root beer that was originally made from a native Central American plant.
He knocked it out of the park, as always, with this drink that he bottled and we served.
Clay’s Bakery had the task of copying the tee shirt graphic onto a cake…
as well as to create cookies…
celebrating the most recent birthdays and the birthdays happening over the weekend. These made for great take home favors that could be nibbled late into the night back at the hotel. All you have to do is put some glassine bags out with them when you serve them and guests can tuck one into the bag to take home. I also had Clays create a couple of extra cakes that celebrated birthdays happening during the weekend event so the birthday boy/ girl felt special.
Being that I am a stickler for decor, and always have been, it’s a nice touch to pick up the colors of your reunion tee shirt or pick your own color palette that you work with throughout the weekend. It also makes it easier to pick out your paper goods and any other decor items for your meals and create an aesthetically pleasing environment for your gathering. A safe bet for every family reunion in regards to decor and to create topics of conversation are to use past family photographs.
Simple clotheslines of photos can be hung anywhere with the old photos. Here the Parilla siblings look at photos from their childhood which invoked a whole lot of reminiscing!
I also used copies of old family photos for the table centerpieces for the final dinner on Saturday night.
We carry these nifty little iron stands in the barn that we have sold at Christmas. To make the centerpieces, I gathered twigs and sticks that I found on the property that were narrow enough to be mounted in the stands and that also had forks or other little branches on them. Upon those branches, I used clothes pins to pin back to back photos on the branches so they could be viewed from either side. Babci, my mother in law, was a godsend and patiently cut out each and every photo. This could be something you could employ little hands to do!
Combined with a simple burlap runner on top of a farm table, fresh florals from the garden, and votive candles, it made for a pretty presentation.
Keeping with the natural burlap theme and black, gold and white color palette that was steered by the vintage photos, everything else that we displayed and used for serving fell into that theme.
I love using these natural bamboo plates for events coupled with this bamboo flatware as well. They are not only pretty but environmentally friendly.
All in all… whatever works for you and your event is perfect for you!
Tip # 5: Create an itinerary and activities for the gathering
This is extremely important for a few reasons.
One is that you want to give your guests a heads up on what they will be experiencing when they are at the reunion and what to pack.
Another reason is so that you have fun options and activities for the weekend that will help make your guests want to return! It always helps the planners to organize what they need to do as well.
The third reason is so that you can plan out the cost of each event and who will be paying for what. In past reunions, Aunt Janet was phenomenal in setting up the activities/ meals, etc and sent out response sheets beforehand that each family had to fill out and pay a per person charge for each event. Not being as organized beforehand as Aunt Janet, we sent out an itinerary the week before the event with no costs attached. The itinerary included a list of each days’ activities that were scheduled as well as the location of the meals and activities. Since the weather was not looking good for as many outdoor activities as we had planned, we also listed “in the area” activities and alternative sites to see for when the guests had time on their own to fill.
Many took in the sites of Philadelphia!
Some got caught in the rain while hiking at Valley Forge Park but had fun never the less!
Activities were planned and set up and when doing this, there are a ton of websites for coming up with family reunion games and other activities. If the venue you are holding your reunion at has activities that can be utilized on site, that is even better. For example, since many of our family reunion attendees are golfers, a golf tournament is always included in our reunions. A course is chosen, tee times are made and then booked depending on how many golfers want to participate. Some of our activities that we had planned on having got rained out which leads to another tip – allow room for flexibility and a have a back up plan! Some ideas for fun activities are:
- fun family team games
- the showing of family movies, slideshow or any movie either indoors or outdoors ( Julie, one of our phenom communicators, created a slide show of photos from past reunions that we were going to show outdoor on the inflatable movie screen but when rain moved in, we moved the activity indoors)
- Book a local Escape Room, Bounce U or Trampoline type place if kids will be involved and there is rain in the forecast
- Corn hole, horseshoes, lawn Yahtze, life size Jenga and Connect Four as well as others are awesome lawn games to have on hand to both foster teamwork and fun
- If little ones will be attending, it is a good idea to have items on hand that can entertain them. Some such items are:
- Craft table with paints, markers, chalk and chalkboard paper on it
- Sidewalk Chalk and bubbles
- Bikes or skateboards to ride
- Basketballs/ baseballs/ gloves, and other sports equipment
Music and Karaoke are always a part of our gatherings and our Uncle Bill (Aunt Janet’s husband) entertained the masses with some little ones getting into the act with karaoke at the end of the evening. We have had some pretty serious karaoke battles and dancing break-outs over the years.
Tip #6: Decide who is providing the food for your event
Are there going to be group meals and if so how is that going to happen? Are most meals happening together or some together and some separate? The questions that have to be answered on this front are the following:
- Where are they going to be held? Do you need to book any space ahead of time in order to do so?
- Is the host or are the guests providing any of the food? And if so, who is shopping for it and who is buying what? Do you need snacks, beverages and water bottles?
You know that people are going to be fighting over the Costco or BJ’s run!
- Are you using a caterer or a restaurant and if so, who? Who is planning the menu and getting costing?
To kick off our reunion on Thursday night, Aunt Janet had started a tradition of having a pizza night for those that were arriving on that night which is typically half of the reunion. We continued that by having it at the hotel where most of the attendees were staying. Friday night we held a cookout in our backyard where we purchased or made all of the food with my dad as the grill man. Saturday night, also going with tradition, we held a more formal styled dinner with a caterer in our barn courtyard. Our caterers Brian and Terrance of B & T Catering, who do many of our events in our barn created masterfully smoked meats and side dishes to serve buffet style with their smoker, Lilly. Our lunches were held wherever you were participating in your activities for the day and breakfast was served and included in the hotel cost.
Tip #7: Designate a set up and clean up crew
This is a very important tip and often overlooked. I am shocked at how overlooked this step has been in our reunion planning for I am pretty sure that my aunt and uncle and their daughters, took on this daunting task at every reunion as we all headed off back to our prospective homes or to hit the road to head to our next destination on our vacation travels. Shame on us!
Tip #8: Get a professional photographer at some point during the reunion
Here again, we continued on with a tradition that our Aunt Janet started by hiring a professional photographer to come and take family photos prior to the last dinner together on Saturday evening. We typically were the most “put together then” so it was a good time to get that possible Christmas card photo… one can always hope! We brought in our friend and phenomenal photographer http://www.brendacarpenter.com to come before our Saturday night dinner to get family photos. She always does a large group one. Unfortunately we were missing a whole side of the Johny Parillas who had not checked their calendars before having babies this year! Congrats and beautiful blessings to all of them!
Tip # 9: Plan for the unexpected and have a back up plan!
This is a seriously important tip! As I have written about in past posts, I am a Murphy and that pesky Murphy’s Law truly does show up when least wanted or expected… this time in threes. Thursday morning upon waking, we were greeted by a silent house and no power. Sometime during the night it had gone off and did not go back on until approx 4 pm. The pizza kick off party was to start at 5… at our house. Let’s just suffice it to say that it was a bit stressful for while we had planned to hold everything inside if it were to rain, which was in the forecast, there was no forecast for a power outage. Power outages in our house include no water which meant no showers, no air conditioning and only a few lights that were powered by the generator. We scrambled to figure out whether to still hold it here or move it, but where too? Luckily, the hotel was not full and they let us use their multi purpose room, lobby and outdoor patio to hold our kick off. Phew!
With heavy storms predicted in the forecast for the entire weekend, we had made alternate plans to move things indoors and we rented tents to cover the eating areas. We were prepared and had made back up plans. We did not count on a tree falling at the end of our driveway that fortunately for us did not fall across the driveway but across the main road our driveway enters onto. It was fortunate in that it only blocked the main road so the police had to send someone out to clear the parts of the tree covering the road, thus we did not have to scramble and break out the chain saws just yet. This is what was left of the offending tree which actually had fallen on two others which took them down as well. Luckily, the tree only trapped us inside on Friday morning from making pick ups of items we needed for Friday nights gathering. Whew!
Friday night, we had blown up the outdoor film projector, set up chairs in front of it and right after dinner a down pour and strong winds moved in quickly. Those under the tent, sat there for the first few minutes as rain drops hit the tent but as they began to come down harder they ran inside. We had set up outside the dining room instead of the intended site of the pool due to the threat of heavy rain. Thank goodness we did for the sprint in from the pool would have been a lot farther! As the rain and wind began to whip up, my husband ran outside to put the umbrella down so as not to become a projectile in the winds that were whipping up. Before grabbing the offending umbrella, it decided to leave its mooring and blew out, heading towards one of the young guests. He grabbed it, and in doing so the umbrella end caught the burlap table runner launching it airborne to land quickly on the candles that were still lit on the table. Do you know how fast burlap catches fire? Even in the rain? From my vantage point by the dining room door, I sprinted outside to pick up the burlap and throw it onto the puddled patio. Out went the fire and upstairs we went to change our totally soaked clothes. Wow!
This trio of events ended the string of Murphy’s law and the rest of the weekend went off without a hitch! Back up plans were a necessity!
Tip # 10: Have fun! Have fun! Have fun!
This is the most important part! Our reunions have become standards in my family’s growing up years and there is no other way I would have it.
The cousins I have had in my life throughout my years are my people, who even though I might see them only once a year and sometimes even less
often in large group gatherings,
they are the people I can let my hair down with, who have known me since I was a wee one, dressed in those funny clothes and for some reason… we can always make funny faces with
year… after year… after year!
My wish is that this insanity continues and I mean that in the best of ways! Our gratitude to our Aunt Janet who started this massive group gathering and to all of my Parilla family who came from far and wide to join in on the festivities! To the readers… may you relish in the importance of family and envelop them in your arms, the differences put aside, the imperfections ignored and celebrated, and the chance to spend time together valued.