My sister was "unable" to come to our Cheney Family reunion two years ago because of a bit of skin cancer that had to be removed that very weekend. Last year the excuse for not attending was getting a molar implant.
Before she informed me of this year's summer surgery schedule, I told her to knock-it-off and come to the family reunion already. "This year," I said, "will be different."
No stress - that's going to be the difference. I have to plan better. Whether I succeed or not will be in how well I plan.
But wait! I don't want to spend my whole summer planning. I have work and a family. And I have precious little time.
Stress free ... (no such thing) ... Almost stress free family reunion-ing ...
Don't do it all yourself
Get help where you can. Divide up the responsibilities and keep a handy list of these assignments and who claimed them available.
Make technology do some of the work
Some websites such as Triporama.com allow family members both near and far to have a say on key decisions and even vote for their favorite option - such an easy way to avoid hard feelings when Grandpa wants to go hot tubbing and Ethyl Ann wants to visit museums. E-mails, media pages and websites keep everyone - who wants to be - in the loop.
Let family members vote online concerning dates or even submit their own ideas. They can make comments on the proposed schedule or submit cherished photos.
Figure out the money issue right off
And don't stick yourself with a big bill. Remember that everyone loves big ideas - until they are handed a check.
Look online, searching "family reunions" and your state
There are a lot of options, from private mansions to national park lodging. Search early enough and you'll find there are specials and discounts available. Ask for a family discount every time you set up a reservation. Everyone will appreciate you saving them money - much better to ask family members with more money to spend less of it than to put those with a limited budget in an awkward position.
Check with the local visitors' bureaus or tourism organizations
They may have information that will assist you in planning activities or choosing restaurants. They will know the best ways to save money as well.
Keep it simple, and let family members know the cost upfront
If possible, post a Web address to the hotel or the campsite, so everyone can reserve their own room or space. There may need to be a reunion fee to help cover other expenses.
T-shirts, hats or other souvenirs are nice, but they are extras that can be eliminated if money is tight. If the bills start to pile up, post the costs online or as an attachment on an e-mail so Aunt Helen doesn't question the cost of the ice sculpture or the T-shirts. Transparency keeps the peace.
There is no need to be the neigh-sayer or the bad guy
If cousin LaRue wants to play her juice harp, let her do it as a delightful interlude during dinner. Or, if Norma wants to bring her Cricket in Jell-O salad, tell her to go ahead - but put a label on it for the unwary.
Don't over plan
Allow for spontaneity and down time. As cute and charming as I am, even my family needs a break every once in a while - if you get my drift. A reunion is also a vacation, so let everyone relax and take it easy.
Understand that where groups, cars, hotels and families combine, the unexpected will happen. Plan on being cheerfully flexible, and have a back-up plan or two because weather will happen.
All families have their pressure points (read, drama)
If something unsavory should start-up, send the offenders to their corners. Have a joke ready, or, (my favorite trick), hand the troublemaker a baby. Uncle Harmon can't whine about not getting great grandmother's china set while he holds a small, adorable baby. And if you have any luck, baby will exact his own revenge.
Reunions are not the time to vent past frustrations. If negativity ensues, change it the best you can and don't beat yourself up over it. Everyone has their agency, and the rest of the family won't blame you. Again, it's OK to relax.
Take lots of photos
Online services such as Blurb can help you record the events, and allow family members to tell their own stories and post their own photos. Ain't modern technology great?
There is a happy ending
Family reunions are about spending time with each other and creating those memories for your children. I look at reunion photos from when I was 7 - color faded photos of people I will never see again - and I smile as I remember.
I remember the green Cricket in Jell-O salad (what was she thinking?), the vocal solos, the arguments, my mother's big hair, and I smile at these as well. They are part of my family reunion memories.
Even my sister, who has been predicting an appendectomy for this August, would agree.