Northwoods Journal: July 15, 2022

Up north where summer is cool (except when it’s 100 degrees F.).

We are having a family reunion in, roughly, two weeks. This time we number around 45 individuals from the east coast, the west coast and in between. They are coming from Alaska, and Florida, from Washington, Georgia, Michigan and North Carolina. By plane and by car. The meeting place is Hayward, WI and thankfully that is close to the middle, however it is also over two hours from the nearest airport. Everyone flying in has to shuttle, rent a car, or find someone to give a ride. Travel arrangements are getting wildly complex.

Family reunions are somewhat about food, since we all need to eat. But it’s not that simple. Everyone has favorite meals and food traditions that we like to recreate. Like most families, we love grilling outdoors, pizza, good coffee for breakfast and cinnamon rolls. We love popcorn and ice cream. We love a meal out at an interesting restaurant. We have kids who only eat one food. We have adults on special diets. Food arrangements are getting complex.

We love to sit around and talk, and for some of us that is the most physically active we can be. We have others who would add a silly game, a movie night, or a campfire to their talk environment. There are some of us who have to float the river for four hours or it’s not a real reunion. There are some who have to be on wheels, or boats doing something potentially dangerous. And all of us care about sharing worthwhile, memorable experiences with each other. And although I have never felt that boredom is a fatal condition, I would prefer that no one remember our time together as BORING. It’s getting complex.

The next couple of weeks this reunion is going to be on my mind pretty regularly. My four brothers and I, along with Mom, are the linch pins of the event and are talking, calling each other, and figuring out all these complexities. I appreciate how it draws us together, joining our particular skills, taxing our creativity. It’s work, but good work. It’s going to make some interesting journal entries and I hope I have time to write them.

I love that our complex family cares enough about these periodic reunions to consider planning, spending for them and coming to them. I know it probably will not always be possible. Our families are getting larger and developing groups within groups and that will change the when, the who and the where for our future get-togethers. That is okay, because no matter the size of the gathering, we are teaching the tradition to the next generation. We teach cooperation. We teach sacrifice. We teach commitment. We teach fun. We teach family.

All photos are from past reunions. This one in 2018.

Do you have family reunions? If so, do you look forward to them? Are there special traditions or ways of handling complex arrangements that you can share?

The Family Vacation

Let me say first of all that I am very understanding of people who take vacations and go someplace where they don’t know anyone. That is a very healthy thing (not that it’s my experience but I’ve heard it said…). I, however, am blessed with family, all of whom on occasion choose to give up some “alone time” to bond and connect with other family members. I am also blessed to live in Florida. Like, who wouldn’t want to come visit this?

Yes, I live here.  It's great.
Yes, I live here. It’s great.

Those of you who don’t get to have family vacations with other family members really need to see how it works. One of my brothers and his family decided to escape four months and several feet of snow and spend some time in my sunshine. The five of them arrived for the one week this year when there was fog and grey skies pretty much every day. This is a weather phenomenon that you can expect to happen.

I love my family and don’t want them to get sick on their vacation so I do clean my house (sort of). But I will say that if you don’t have time, just forget cleaning the floor, because after the group arrives you can’t find it anyway. Get people tired enough from their traveling and they will sleep anywhere, on the floor, on the couch, on weird mattresses. “Just find a place that looks good to you”, I tell them. And from that point on, don’t ask people how their night was and if they slept well. Don’t do it.

Refugee camp decor...
Refugee camp decor…

Blankets, pillows, bags, shoes, stuff X 5 = no visible floor.
Blankets, pillows, bags, shoes, stuff X 5 = no visible floor.

Maybe your family will need some down time after being in airports and cooped up in planes for a day, but maybe not. We went to the beach the first day. Nobody came here to sit in the house. The fog was thick but we found our way. The squirrels were plentiful, the waves were big, it was surprisingly warm and peaceful on the beach and we big people might have taken a short nap. There were a couple minutes of sunshine. I had a great time and learned that I can indeed carry two kayaks on my small car. Yay.

At least the white stuff isn't snow.
At least the white stuff isn’t snow.

Only people from up north go swimming in 65 degree water.
Only people from up north go swimming in 65 degree water.

The moment of sunshine.
The moment of sunshine.

The second day of my brother’s family vacation was also his wife’s birthday. She did not mind at all that the activity planned for that day was a zip line/ropes course high above the ground. Wouldn’t you like to test your youthfulness and defy aging in such a challenging way? Of course you would. It was awesome (watching them from the ground and taking pictures). That evening, in spite of terrorist mall threats, we had a superb evening meal at the new University Town Center – to celebrate the birthday and the fact that we had no significant injuries from the day’s activity. A fun, fun night.

Gearing up for hanging from high places.
Gearing up for hanging from high places.

High places.  Yep.
High places. Yep.

More "down to earth" activity - at dinner after an exciting day.
More “down to earth” activity – at dinner after an exciting day.

The third day of family vacation, my daughter and my sister-in-law ran away to the shopping outlet for some quality girl time. The rest of us “elite” shoppers went to the flea market. But on the way, just to make it an educational outing for the homeschooling teens, I took them to lunch at the local Hispanic grocery store/deli. I find that this is one of the most fascinating places to experience a different culture. I will say that most American kids are not used to seeing whole cooked fish, with eyes and scales. It is so exciting to order a meal and not know exactly what you’re going to get. Who knew that “Fajita Mix” was a plate of meat big enough to feed all five of us? At the flea market we had excellent success getting the things on my nephew’s list – a watch, sunglasses and an antique teapot. He is a guy with very eclectic interests. That night we sat out in the yard watching a bonfire and dodging the sparks and smoke. For some reason this is a favorite activity with my family and they ask for it all the time. Go figure.

Humongous plate of meat.  We took it home for another whole meal.
Humongous plate of meat. We took it home for another whole meal.

Day four. Did I mention my nephew has eclectic interests? One of his goals for me (bless his heart) was that I should help him sew a cape that he could wear to the Renaissance Festival. Because he might actually have picked up some sewing skills it was classified as a school activity. So, that day’s drama had a lot to do with floor sweeping, black velvet, hooded clothing. We did however take a break and a ride to Apollo Beach to see the manatees gathered at the electric power plant. The water was full of the large, gentle creatures just trying to stay warm. There were so many of them that I couldn’t help but wonder what they were all finding to eat. It was like a big family reunion where no one planned any food. But maybe I was just projecting some of my own anxieties, yeah, that was probably it.

Me and my sister-in-law with our manatee friend, appropriately blue with cold.
Me and my sister-in-law with our manatee friend, appropriately blue with cold.

Brrr... poor manatees.
Brrr… poor manatees.

And finally, the last day of their visit with me was today. We invited some more family over for breakfast, waffles and strawberries, conversation and reminiscing. They packed up their things in their rental car and headed off to spend time with another brother several hours away. They will come back briefly to spend the night before flying back to the cold,snowy north.

I love my family. We plan together, work together, play together and want to stay together. Because we live in such scattered places, sometimes that “family vacation” is the way we do it.