Your Family Reunion – a time to make memories

This blog is about our family reunion and the importance of making memories while you can.

I grew up in a large family in St. Louis but when I was in my early 20’s I moved west and started working in the National Parks.   I have remained on the west coast my entire adult life.  As a result, I haven’t had family geographically close to me, and we never had an official “family reunion” on any regular basis.   I felt the loss of close family most keenly when my kids were little and their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles were a thousand miles away.  So many milestones in their lives were without extended family.  There were so many milestones of my nieces and nephews lives that I was not a part of.   

I’ve been an empty nester for over ten years now and so much has changed during this time.  Both of my parents are now gone. My two grown sons are each living their own amazing lives. My nephews and nieces are also all grown up and having kids of their own.  My brothers and sisters have taken on different lives and adventures that I have not been a part of. The cliche about “time flies” is so true.  Before you know it you are in a new chapter of your life.  It’s easy to become preoccupied with your own life and you miss out of some of the most exciting and valuable chapters in the lives of those you love.

Family gathered on bridge over Yuba River

“Chapter 60” of my life started in an interesting way! My husband planned a big surprise birthday party where all my siblings and various nephews/nieces were invited to CA for a week-long family reunion here at Willow Springs in August 2022.  The surprise was a nice thought, but I can be pretty curious and persistent about things.  His vague answers to my questioning about birthday and summer plans kept forcing him to lie – which he didn’t like.  (“Oh what tangled webs we weave”)  He finally broke and it all came out that my family was coming!  Mark was gratefully relieved, and we could start planning.  There was so much to figure out – “Where will everyone sleep?  What will we eat?  Who gets here when and what will we do?!”  Most of my family had only heard of our stories but had never been here, and we were excited to share with them the result of our five years of continuous hard work building our retreat center.   I was so incredibly honored that ALL five of my siblings traveled great distances to be here!  And for siblings with kids there was at least one of their kids here, too.  All told, we had 30 family members gathered from toddlers to my oldest brother, a Catholic priest.  And the week was amazing! Most stayed in the newly renovated lodge, one family stayed in a cabin, one family in an RV, my brother camped in his van, and a few scattered in random places like the yoga studio.  We now have a group campground with multiple RV sites to accommodate more people with ease, but at the time the campground wasn’t yet complete.  

Family playing cards around table

One thing I realized, when my parents were still alive, they were the family center around which the siblings gather at holidays.  I think for most of us, after our  parents are gone, things change.  Each sibling has their own family and it is harder to get everyone together without the foundation of your parents.  This was the first gathering of all the siblings since my father had passed (not counting the funeral), and so that made this family reunion all that more special to me. I was nervous, but what developed was an incredible opportunity to re-connect, to bond, to laugh and to cry.  I learned it is not about the events that are so important at a family reunion, it is the quality time you have to be with each other. I still get a lump in my throat writing about it almost a year after the event! Mark and I are proud of the environment we created at Willow Springs that offers great places to sit and converse, one on one or in small groups. We did a lot of that.

family gathered at weeping willow bar enjoying margaritas

I treasured the time  getting to know my nephews and nieces as adults, and seeing them parent their own children!  Every morning the kids were excited to let the chickens out of their coop and collect the eggs.  Breakfast was prepared each morning by a nephew/niece team, while each sibling took a turn on dinner.  Our family enjoys card and board games, and every night was a game night that guaranteed to bring laughter and intense competitions. It was also great for us as the owners of the lodge to actually host a large gathering so we could see how the space worked.  I’m happy to say that the space was even better than I had hoped for.  It was fun preparing meals in our chef’s kitchen, hanging out at the bar and fixing margaritas with my sisters and nieces, enjoying dinners outside on the patio and gathering in the evening on the comfy sofas in the living room.

We did so much in a weeks time and I was extremely grateful that the weather was perfect.  One morning we all did yoga.  We went hiking at Bridgeport with kids in backpacks and spent most afternoons at the Yuba River, swimming in refreshing pools of water surrounded by huge  boulders.   Mid-week we rented a pontoon boat and had a blast water skiing and inner tubing in the warm water of Bullard’s Bar.  I remember how we debated back and forth about spending the money on that boat, and in retrospect I am SO glad that we did!  The memories of that day are so much more valuable and precious than the money we paid for the boat rental.  We also spent an afternoon walking around Nevada City and checking out all the shops while others went to the Empire Mine Museum. But quite frankly, most of the time we hung out at Willow Springs and we just together.  It was so much fun. 

family gathered and playing guitars

The week was going by fast when a real surprise happened, an actual birthday party! My family set up a long table in our pavilion where we ate dinner and held our informal white elephant gift exchange.  I thought that everyone being here was the gift, but no, everyone brought real presents!  My oldest brother somehow brought on the plane 2 HUGE walnut bowls he had carved  on his lathe.  One is at the lodge kitchen and the other is used as a ceremonial centerpiece in the yoga studio.  My sister brought a metal “Willow Springs Lodge” sign you’ll find on the front door.  There were LOTS of sweet gifts, My other brother BBQ’ed all the steaks for my  special birthday dinner, and my son Evan sang the song he wrote for Mark and I when we were married (but since it was Covid and we just went to the courthouse, no one had the chance to hear it).  And the coolest of all, my brother, son and nephew composed the song “What it means to be a Means” (my maiden name) for the occasion!  

I loved being surrounded by family for a week.  We all missed our parents, but knew that they would be happy to see us all together and having a good time.  I had created the Mean’s Memorial Herb Garden in my parent’s honor (see my blog “In Loving Memory”), and so we gathered for a small dedication ceremony and remembered them.  One of my sister’s gift was the memorial chime now hanging in the garden.  We are only here on this earth for a relatively short while, so it’s important that we spend our time wisely.  My advice to anyone reading this blog is to spend time with those you love while you can.  Buy that plane ticket or organize that family reunion.  Don’t put it off!  Visit your friend you haven’t seen in years.  While spending the money to rent the pontoon boat was a great idea, I was reminded of an important fact. It is not what you spend, it’s who you spend time with.  Make it memorable by just being together.

A special thanks to all my family who came out to make my 60th birthday one I will always remember.   I love you all!

group photo of extended means family