It’s been a couple years since we’ve been to my sister’s house in Concord, Massachucetts, but this past visit may have been the best yet.
Now back for a couple days, I’ve been able to wrap my mind around what makes family get-togethers most memorable.
(And when kids are involved – it’s often the simplest things that resonate the most.)
So with summer looming, here are my top tips for family reunions with kids in tow.
If possible, host it at one of your homes — or at least somewhere you can cook.
Family meals eaten in a casual environment means that meal times can be as short or as long as you’d like, and they can easily incorporate dietary restrictions or family favorites.
(Or your favorite tabletop accessories.)
Every day Polly would make a huge breakfast for us — usually eggs, sausage or bacon, smoothies and some other treats.
She’d fuel us up for the day ahead, and a few nights I offered to make dinner for all of us because cooking for a crowd is my dream.
Living in Concord, MA means they don’t have the easy access to ethnic cuisines that we do, but my sister and her family love Indian, Thai and Vietnamese flavors.
With just a couple trips to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, however, I was able to whip up some spicy, interesting meals for ten pretty easily.
Like the Indian Butter Chicken you see here (I think I’m going to do a post on this soon– it’s so easy and crazy-delicious).
Or the Turkey Larb with Peanut Sauce, Roasted Vegetables and Basmati Rice.
I also made Vietnamese Sticky Chicken for almost thirty people when she threw a dinner party of her favorite couples in town and I offered to make the main dish.
Leftovers made for Vietnamese Soup Night — rich with homemade chicken stock, herbs and lime juice.
Not only is it more comfortable to enjoy some meals at home, this will save you boatloads of moola, too.
If possible, get to water: a beach, a lake, or a river.
The views and outdoor space will be entertainment in itself, and there’s no need for big plans.
Just go and see what you find.
On one of our two weekends together we took a drive up to the North Shore, stopping first at Rockport, Massachusetts, a town I’d never been to before.
What a lovely town.
And the jetty is pretty spectacular.
Afterwards we went to Manchester-by-the-Sea, a lovely posh town
with gorgeous homes
and the spectacular Singing Beach (apparently named after the squeaky sound the sand makes on bare feet).
We spent hours here with nothing more than a football
making some new friends
and just enjoying one another.
I don’t know what it is but I’m always happiest when surrounded by water and loved ones.
Make Things Easy. Eat out all lunches whenever possible.
Who wants to be tied up midday with the logistics of shopping, preparing and cleaning up after lunch?
Price wise, lunch is rarely more expensive than a big breakfast out and it gives both a break to the cooks and cleaners and gives you a delicious focal point to your days.
Like Woodman’s in Essex on that trip to the coast.
It may not still be the best place for seafood in this neck of the woods, but it’s sort of a tradition for our family (we’ve been going since Oliver was a baby) and there was no shortage of goodness on this trip.
Ah, fried clams.
And lobster rolls!
If I could eat that lobster roll three times a week I’d die a happy woman.
We shared more notable lunches at Eataly in Boston (I’ll tell you more about that place in a later post).
And another at Dumpling and Daughter in Weston.
And another at Not Your Average Joe’s in Acton.
It’s rare a salad at a restaurant wows me, but this Cobb sure did.
The other fun thing about lunches out is it tends to mix the dynamics up, and you can find yourself sitting next to someone you don’t usually get to, and not having to do any work other than stuff your face allows you to concentrate on the fun at hand.
Or time to plot the next meal.
Play games together as much as possible, and if you can play pranks on one another too, all the better.
We are an avid group of game players, and there are a number we always like to play together.
Charades. Family. Celebrity. Scrabble. A number of different card games. Tabu. Apples to Apples.
And man are we competitive.
And love to laugh.
So when April Fool’s Day found us all together, my sister and I went to work.
We hid beets in the boots of the youngers (the long tip looks just like a rat tail) and overly ripe bananas in the beds of the smush-phobic.
Those who have a sweet tooth were unhappily surprised when they bit down on an offered cake pop only to realize a frozen cooked meatball was inside.
I made a special cocktail for my brother-in-law Christian and had fun swapping it out twice for its evil twin (apple cider vinegar and soda).
But my favorite prank of all was the one we played on Cooper and Oliver.
Oliver in particular is an avid Scrabble player and a damned good one; this fact becomes annoying because I’m pretty good but he’s better and usually beats me.
What he couldn’t know is that afternoon we borrowed some Scrabble tiles (only vowels) from one of my sister’s friends and we rigged the pile of letters. We actually had the official bag (now filled just with vowels and a few consonants) plus an eyeglass case full of the very best letters that only Charlotte, Ben and I could reach under the table.
So while they were picking mostly vowels and the occasional vowel, we were routinely picking s’s, z’s, blanks and all the rest of the good letters.
This charade went on for an hour, and it was all we could do to keep a straight face as the two of them fumed and fussed and freaked out about their bad luck.
I’m not sure if your device can download the big reveal, but if you can, check it out. It’s an instant family classic.
Click on this IMG_3413
and the video should come up. I thought it was hilarious!
Whatever your crew enjoys doing for kicks, be sure to allow plenty of down time to indulge — chances are they will be the most vivid memories of the whole trip.
Every family reunion make it a point to get to know one of the family members you know least — or the youngest or oldest in the group.
The time for making memories is right now.
I was so happy that Polly and Charlotte had time together as they adore one another and they both needed some girl time.
And I was really happy to spend a lot of time with Griffin, my musical nephew, listening to him play piano and talk about movies.
I also loved my time with Christian, my sister’s youngest of four boys, and we discovered that we are both in love with football right now.
We spent hours talking about the sport and doing mock drafts with his brothers and I loved checking out his favorite football cards, including ones he’s drawn until he can find an original.
We were happy to send him a few new ones after the trip
and the memories from this trip will carry us through months of draft and football to come.
And while we’re on the subject of spending time with family members during reunions, best of all are those that involve at least one family pet.
See if there’s any way you too can make that happen.
This trip we really got to know my sister’s dog, Riley.
He’s an adorable and chill three year old golden retriever and he’s so loving and sweet.
Wherever the cousins were, Riley was a foot away, whether it was playing in the freak snow storm
running around the backyard and around the tree house
watching a movie together
or just hanging out in the kitchen while my sister and I were cooking, Riley was always right there.
So thank you, Meyers — we had the most amazing time with you all.
And we are counting the days until our next adventure in Chicago and Wisconsin this summer.
Love you madly!