Saturday, August 22, 2015

Welcome to the Future

As I get older and amass more Life Experience, there are some things I've done before and like doing, and other things I've never done and hope never TO do. And until recently, this latter category included planning Family Reunions. But then, somewhat inexplicably, last year I felt that I ought to volunteer to plan one for Sam's side of the family. It just…seemed like one of those things where if you're going to do it, you might as well be in charge so you can tailor it to your tastes and delegate much of it out (which was much my feeling about being president of the Young Women's organization at church some years ago, come to think of it).

And, of course, I knew Sam would help and I flatter myself, based on other projects we've tackled jointly, that when we do something together it can't help but be a success! :)

So. Last year right after Christmas (which was really leaving it too late; I ought to have done it in the Fall) I scoured VRBO and airbnb for places not-too-far from here that would hold about 50 of us. (The official count is, I believe, 58. Thirty-three of whom are under the age of 18.) It was not a very large pool to choose from! But we found one that looked good, and booked it, and then the real planning could begin.
Sam and I brainstormed ideas during many, many walks around the neighborhood. We lean toward the laid-back in our vacation style, but we knew we had to have SOME kind of structure around which to hang ideas, or we'd never get anywhere. And as we get older, we have also gained appreciation for the intentional, spiritual side of family life: things that we may not have prioritized ten or fifteen years ago. :)

We kept coming back to the idea of what we wished for our own family: the ability to integrate current technology and the pace of modern life into the simple, fundamental values of faith and family that our parents and grandparents have taught us.

And then it dawned on us that it was 2015. 2015! The "Future" visited by Marty McFly and Co. in the Back to the Future movies! And so our theme became obvious. "Welcome to the Future."
We didn't spend all that much time talking explicitly about this theme during the reunion itself, but it was cause for a lot of conversation between Sam and me as we planned activities. For one thing, we thought it was really interesting to think about how quickly and inevitably "the future" becomes "the present." When we first got married, we looked wonderingly at Sam's siblings that had toddlers and school-age kids. We felt like they were so wise and experienced. And Sam's younger siblings looked at us, newlyweds, and dreamed of when they too would get married. Now, we're watching the older siblings send their kids out on church missions, off to college, and into marriage, and thinking about how we'll be in that stage ourselves soon. The younger siblings are married with families of their own. And Sam's parents are looking at their aging parents and wondering what the next ten years will hold for them. It's not that profound of a sentiment, perhaps, this "Time Marches On!" business—but it certainly feels relevant.

"Welcome to the Future" also prompted us to look back at 1985 (which as you know is the year the Back to the Future movies are set in) and what we were doing then. We had all the adults send in stories about what their lives were like in 1985 (Sam's youngest sister was born that year!) and we posted those stories up for everyone to read at the reunion. It was so interesting to see that glimpse of how we were very literally living in "the future" of those selves we were back then!
And we also thought it was kind of a funny juxtaposition, to be talking about "the Future" while staying out in the middle of nowhere at this rustic old lodge out in the woods. To highlight our theme, I spent considerable effort trying to replicate the kind of banner I used to make in "PrintShop" on our old IBM computer, complete with dot-matrix printing and fancy "graphics." :) Those were the days!
Before the reunion we sent out a schedule and meal assignments and so forth (each family was basically just in charge of one meal, which worked well—cooking for 50 isn't easy, but only having to do it once felt doable, and there were always lots of helping hands), and included a cover page (Sam made it, and it was perfect, of course) and a short explanation of the theme, so people could be thinking about it.

I'm probably including way more here than anyone will be interested in, but I'm sure we'll be doing this again someday ("Welcome to the future," you know) and I want to remember how we did it and what worked!

So, onto the reunion itself. Here are some of my favorite moments it included, and how they transpired.

We talked about making T-shirts, but we ended up getting everyone these watches instead:
(Also awesome would have been these sunglasses.)

We forgot to give them out at the beginning of the reunion (Gaaa!) but at least I had the opportunity to tell people, when we finally remembered to distribute them, that when they looked at their watches or someone asked what time it was, they were to say "now is the time and the day of my salvation" (from Alma 31:34). Oddly, I didn't hear anyone actually saying this. :)
Sam and I had talked a lot about our "family stories," things that could help connect the generations and make them feel closer to each other. Taking that idea quite literally, we invited each family to bring some children's books, and every night before bed we had Story Time for the little ones (though plenty of older kids were lingering around the edges, too). It was awesome. We had the best readers ever (primarily Uncle Abe* and Aunt Liz, and we must not forget Aunt Jane's supremely creepy rendition of Love you Forever) and the little kids were totally absorbed—gasping with surprise, and giggling, and just generally having the best time ever. I loved watching it.

*I'm not sure what to call people here. They aren't MY uncles and aunts. But we do have some repeated names, and when I say "siblings" I could mean either generation…so, we're going with Aunt and Uncle for Sam's siblings and their spouses. And Grandma and Grandpa for his parents.
Abe leads the music for Family Home Evening
Grandma and Grandpa's Family Home Evening lesson: "How we met"
I told Sam he should be in charge of games, and in a stroke of total genius, he came up with the idea of doing "game stations" which could be visited independently and entirely optionally. Neither he nor I enjoy making people do things they don't want to do, and we knew some people would just want to sit around and talk and not worry about anything during this reunion. But others would want something to do. Sam thought of a bunch of games, with various commitment and activity levels, and posted the instructions for them around the lodge and cabins. You could earn stars for participating, and we had a few prizes at the end for people with the most stars. (We also gave stars for people who were helping out in the kitchen, etc., and took away stars for fights and bad sportsmanship.) Some people got really into it and did everything several times. Others, like me, preferred to just relax, and only did a few activities here and there. It was perfect.
One of the most popular games was this "Lasers and Indians," which was sort of a drawn-out game of tag with a bow and arrow. You had to hunt other people on the list (you could only shoot those who added their names to the list) and hit them with an arrow without them seeing you coming. This was going on throughout most of the four days we were there. There was always someone creeping around the corner, bow in hand, ready to strike. It was great. (Also, my name was never on the list.)
Another popular game was composing futuristic music on the iPads (we had a couple older iPads there for people to use). 
And there was this add-a-chapter story game, with three stories to choose from (a cyborg romance, a children's story about a Space Fish, and a western-style Space Frontier story. Sam wrote the opening paragraphs of all of them. They were brilliant). 

There were a bunch of other stations: one of my favorites was a place where you could write a letter to yourself in 10 years. I think almost everyone did that one at some point. We collected the letters and we'll mail them to people in 2025 (I put a reminder in my phone!).
There was also horseshoes, and a sort of leapfrog/tag game for the little kids, and a guessing game where you had to read stories from the lives of family members and guess who it happened to. And people could get points for playing foosball, ping-pong, board and card games too. Really, the game situation was ideal. Good work, Sam.

Oh! And, for the most points of all, we had a station with two laptops set up, and you could find names for FamilySearch or do Indexing. (You could also earn stars for teaching someone else how to use those programs.) It was a popular station. Uncle Mike did a ton of indexing and won the Grand Prize because of it. Which was fitting, since indexing and family history have definite and lasting real-world value as well as being fun to do. :) Wondering what the Grand Prize was? This:
And the second prize, which our Abe ended up winning (and deserved, because he did everything, and so enthusiastically!) was this shirt:
So…pretty awesome.

Besides the games, we had a couple of whole-family activities. And these were actually my favorite times of all. First, I really wanted to have a Family School time where we could learn something together. I have discovered in the last few years homeschooling that there's nothing I like more than learning something new and interesting with my kids. So, again making attendance optional, I asked a few people to prepare presentations about cool technologies of the future. I tried to ask people who would be interested in that sort of thing anyway, because I didn't want it to be a burden for them. And the presentations turned out amazing. SO good.
We had Family School time in four half-hour sessions on two different days. Not everyone attended, but everyone who did loved it. Uncle Dave talked about Gadgets of the Future, Uncle Abe talked about The Future of Communication, Uncle John did Interactivity in the Future, and Sam covered The Future of Artificial Intelligence.
Uncle John worked on developing the Xbox Kinect when he was at Microsoft, so he talked about that during his school presentation, and then brought a game for the kids (and any willing adults) to try. They loved that and got really into it. We all enjoyed watching them. :)

The other thing we did that I really loved was our Family devotional on the final night. We had considered having a testimony meeting, and it sort of was that, but I read a quote from this talk by President Russell M. Nelson that says, "All that the future holds in store for each sacred child of God will be shaped by his or her parents, family, friends, and teachers. Thus, our faith now becomes part of our posterity’s faith later." And I also read this scripture I love: "Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand."

And I thought about how one of the things that lets us look toward the future with faith is when we remember how the Lord has blessed us in the past. The more we remember these things, the more we can be confident that they will happen again. And it can help to hear about how God has blessed others, too. So, I asked everyone to come prepared to tell stories of some experience where, in the present they didn't feel they were being blessed, but once they reached "the future", they could look back and see how that thing had blessed them. It was a way for us to talk about how the promise God gives us that "all things shall work together for our good" is fulfilled.

And it was amazing. Powerful. I loved hearing everyone's stories about the hard things, scary things, painful things they've faced—and then how those very things have turned out to be blessings from a loving Heavenly Father. Some stories were deeply spiritual, and others funny and lighter, but hearing them gave me a greater appreciation of our family members, as well as a brighter hope for my own future. It was inspiring.
We were in Southern Utah close to a lot of cool National Parks and so forth, so we allowed one of the days for each family just to explore on their own (we went to Canyonlands), but we didn't organize anything specifically. That actually worked out quite nicely, I think, since it gave the families time to themselves if they wanted it.

Other than the more organized things I've mentioned, the days were just filled with little moments of connection. I liked seeing my kids make friends with their cousins, but even more I liked watching them with their aunts and uncles, talking and having fun. It made me happy to see the generations mixing like that. 

Daisy and Junie were totally in love with Uncle Michael. He did magic tricks for them…
(Oh my goodness, I LOVE Daisy's face in these pictures. She is so overjoyed!)
And he hopped them up into the air…
They were in heaven.
And then there was Goldie with Aunt Kari and Aunt Pam. She adopted them as her Very Own People. They were so sweet and patient with her, putting up with endless prattling conversation and lap-climbing and asking for drinks and so forth. It was the cutest.

We were in the most beautiful place. Near Monticello, Utah. Who would have thought? I never knew it was so gorgeous there, but the cabin was up in the mountains, and the clouds and the view were amazing.
The weather was gorgeous while we were there—rainy and cool some of the time, with sun through most of the days and cool misty clouds in the mornings.
Goldie and Esther
There was a big wrap-around deck where we could sit and look out over the forest.
There were also two VERY friendly dogs (they belonged to the property owners, who lived nearby) who were always wanting to hang around the kids. The owners told us to feel free to yell at the dogs and send them home, but we didn't want to because they were so sweet. My kids don't even like dogs very much, but I knew these dogs were special when I looked out the door and saw this:
Goldie's precious Taggie draped lovingly over the dog's back
A random picture of Esther. She is so darling!
Teddy slept in a little closet. He seemed quite content there.


Looking up toward Blue Mountain from the barn. I think this barn actually has a little apartment you can stay in, but it wasn't part of our rental. We did have three smaller cabins as well as the big lodge.
Aunt Liz brought her face-painting stuff, which made the kids very, very happy.
Little Sunshine Goldie. She loved it all so much.
Spaghetti sauce for 50!
I always like seeing vast quantities of food being enjoyed.
Sam and I put ourselves in charge of all the breakfasts, since we like breakfast so much. They were all delicious (if I do say so myself).
We had a campfire one night, which was of course a big hit, but the best part was watching the stars! We were lucky enough to be there during the Perseids, so we saw lots of meteors, and the Milky Way was so bright and beautiful! I've always wanted to be out in a dark place during a meteor shower. Sam and I went to bed after the campfire and then woke up at 2:30 a.m. and dragged chairs and a blanket outside, and between 2:30 and 3:30 we saw 107 meteors!! It was wonderful. Everything I've always dreamed of. :)
So. All in all, it was such a lovely time. I think everyone got along as well as could be expected, and if people weren't having fun they at least did good approximations of people having fun! :) People kept asking if we were exhausted when it was all over, but honestly, it never felt overwhelming. It took quite a lot of preparation, but it was mostly fun or at least satisfying preparation, and Sam and I were doing it together, so neither of us got too burned out.
Eating in Moab on our way home—the universally adored Baby Theodore is the center of attention, as usual
We were sad to say goodbye!

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