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by Eric McKinley-Brewer and Judy McKinley-Brewer

Summertime is family time. As your family spreads its wings and settles all over the globe, a family reunion becomes something to cherish. And from the party's initial planning stages right through to when the last guests pick up their keepsakes, your family computer can play a key role in the event. What's more, your family will have hours of fun at the computer before the party even starts.

For our family reunion we used our computer to create a logo, make invitations, organize the guest list, manage an online reunion, make a family tree, decorate, play party games, and make prizes. The 13 activities and projects that follow cover everything from advanced planning to reunion activities to ways to keep your family in touch well after the reunion is over. Of course, you may want to add your own touches to our reunion plan. No matter what approach you take, make sure you include your family computer on your reunion committee.


WHEN: One month before the event
WHAT YOU NEED: A paint program

A fun logo for your family reunion lends pizzazz and a common theme to everything from invitations to party decorations. Ask your kids to use their favorite paint program to draw a few (we did six) full-page caricatures or drawings of some of your family members (you'll also use these for party decorations later). Encourage your kids to include identifying details like hairstyle, glasses, and typical attire. Provide old photos or brief suggestions for people your children don't remember. Pets are OK subjects, too. Let the kids have fun, and don't worry about the particulars -- if lanky Uncle John turns out short-legged, that's part of the fun. Don't forget to save each caricature.

Next, sketch a well-branched tree for the logo, and then shrink down all the elements and arrange the caricatures around it. If you prefer, you can skip the tree and place the characters in a cozy circle. If you are using a paint program like Paint for Windows95, import the caricatures by selecting Paste from File on the Edit menu. In ClarisWorks, use File, Insert.... If your program has no menu choice for inserting pictures, you can always open the character file and copy it to the Clipboard, open the tree file and select Paste, and then scale the image. Repeat this process until all the characters are in place.

Make sure the logo is something you and the kids both like. You'll use it again and again throughout the party, so you and your guests will be seeing a lot of it.


WHEN TO DO IT: One month before the event
WHAT YOU NEED: Old family photos, family reunion logo, paint program

Use a paint program to import your family logo to a blank document, opened in landscape mode. Center the logo near the bottom margin, which will be the inside of your card, and use the scaling tools to adjust the logo's size to approximately three inches in diameter. The blank spaces to the left and right of the logo will carry your party details.

Select an old-fashioned font (such as Americana) or a casual handwritten font (Signature). In the space to the left, type in party particulars: "Come to the gathering for fun and chatter; Sunday, July 21..." On the right side of the page, indicate RSVP and request that guests bring along a traditional or favorite recipe, an anecdote to share, or a photo. Of course, include your email address and phone number for RSVPs.

Divide the upper half of a horizontal or landscape page into quarters lengthwise. When you assemble your invitation, you'll fold the top half of the page backward, and then the two ends will fold forward to create the front flaps of the card. These two flaps will create a barn door-style opening that will be the cover of the invitation. An old family photo is perfect for the cover.

Import the family photo to the top half of the card. Scale it to fit in the center two quarters, and save. Add your party slogan, "We've Been Apart Too Long, Get Back to Your Roots," or "We've Branched Out a Lot." Use the same font you chose for the inside message, in a larger size, and place the slogan under your photo. Make a duplicate of both the photo and the text by using the copy feature of your paint software. Now rotate one copy of the photo and text 180 degrees and move it to the left, so half the photo and text hang off the left edge of the sheet. Repeat the process with the other copy, moving the photo and text to the right. When the card is folded, the left and right halves of the photo will come together to make a complete picture. In a drawing or paint program, the edges of the photo will not print, even though you'll see them on the screen.

Print a sample, trim, fold, and make adjustments to your template accordingly. Print the invitation on heavy paper (about 60 pounds; make sure you check your printer's manual, because some printers require a manual feed for this weight). If you are having a large gathering (say, over 40 invitations), take the original to a copy service -- your old photos will look great in black and white, and it's a lot cheaper than printing in color. The invitations will fit in a standard card envelope, no. 5H, available in a variety of colors in large office-supply stores.

You can buy programs that specialize in making invitations -- for example, Hallmark Connections Card Studio (Windows CD-ROM, $50 street; Micrografx, 800-676-3110) and CardShop Plus Deluxe (Mac and Windows CD-ROM, $59.95 street; Mindscape, 800-234-3088 or 415-897-9900).


WHEN TO DO IT: One month before the event
WHAT YOU NEED: A spreadsheet from a works program

If your reunion invitation list includes far-flung family members, consider setting up a spreadsheet to help you stay organized. ClarisWorks 4.0 and Microsoft Works both offer good, simple spreadsheets. Start with columns for name, address, phone, email address, and check-offs for photo, RSVP, recipe title, and anecdotal information.


WHEN TO DO IT: One month before the event
WHAT YOU NEED: An online account and email

A unique way to prepare for your reunion is to invite your relatives (or those who can participate) to join in an online family chat. It's easy to set up a private chat room on America Online just by going to People Connection and selecting Private Room. Tell everyone the name of your room and when you plan on "talking." Use the chat to plan the event and the details of travel. Roundtable chats are also an excellent way to keep in touch after everyone returns home.

While not everyone you're inviting will have an AOL account, they still may have some type of email account -- either at home or at work. You can go the simple route of emailing each other with messages and news.


WHEN: One week before the event
WHAT YOU NEED: Iron-on transfer printer paper, ink-jet printer, cloth or bedsheet

The new iron-on transfer papers that work with ink-jet printers make it a breeze to add computer-generated artwork to items that don't fit into a printer, so you can create all sorts of unique items. To make a tablecloth, for example, use iron-on transfer sheets and an ink-jet printer to place the caricatures that you created for your family logo around the edges of your cloth or bedsheet. If you own a Canon printer, you can use TR-101 T-shirt transfers (a special paper available from Canon for Canon printers only). If you own a printer from another manufacturer, you can use the new Awesome Iron-On Kit from PrintPaks, which contains everything that you need to create iron-on images and will work with any ink-jet printer.

Size the images that you and your kids created for the logo, arranging them in pairs, touching hands, to fit sideways (landscape mode) on the transfers. Print several copies of each pair, and space them around the edges of the cloth. You can use these iron-ons for future reunions -- they are washable and made to last.

For a less permanent tablecloth than the one we describe in the main text, print your characters onto full-sheet label paper and apply the designs to a disposable paper tablecloth.


WHEN: One week before the event
WHAT YOU NEED: Foam board, 8 1/2- by 11-inch Avery #5156 label paper, digitized photo (optional), caricatures (from logo project), dowels for standing the dolls up

Print each of your favorite caricatures as large as will fit on a sheet of 8H- by 11-inch label paper. If you can, make your caricatures even more realistic by first substituting photographs for the hand-drawn faces you created for your logo.

Now use Flip (or Reflect, depending on your program) to make a mirror image of your character. Stick one of the images to foam board and cut it out with a craft knife. Cut and position the mirror image, and touch up the edges as necessary. Use colored tape or permanent markers to fill in the white cut-foam edges. Carefully make a hole in each foot for a pencil or five-inch section of dowel.

To substitute a face from a photo into your drawing, use a photo-retouching utility. Circle the photo face with the Selection tool and copy it to the Clipboard. Switch to your drawing program and click on Paste. Resize the photo face, and position it over the cartoon figure.

An outdoor party is likely to have water and beverages flying about, so it's a good idea to seal all your paper projects that involve inks. We recommend Design Master Super Surface Sealer #656, available at craft stores. Make sure an adult does the spraying, in a well-ventilated area.


WHEN: One week before the event
WHAT YOU NEED: Muslin or jersey fabric, family logo, fabric transfer sheets, or label paper

Transfer your family reunion logo to an 18- by 30-inch piece of jersey or muslin fabric, or a piece of bedsheet using iron-on transfer sheets. You can add text, such as the family name, the word Reunion, or simply a phrase like The Party's Here.

Again, fabric transfers will look best, but sticky label paper is an acceptable substitute. An 8H- by 11-inch logo is fine, but for maximum effect, use the tiling feature in your drawing or paint program to print a larger image to several transfer sheets. Tiling lets you create a large printed image by breaking it up into tiles that you print on standard-size paper. You then line up the tiles to create the oversize image. In our case, the banner was tiled into six 8H- by 11-inch sheets. The trick to making this look neat and professional is to trim and place all the transfer sheets at once, before you iron. Then heat the iron and transfer the sheets in sequence, being careful not to touch the iron to places on the cloth that have already been transferred. For a longer-lasting banner, use pinking shears or turn the edges of the material.

If you live in a rural or suburban setting, consider draping the flag over your mailbox. The fabric we used is 15 by 40 inches; you may need to size yours proportionally for your box. Turn the narrow ends back to form pockets three inches deep, to hold small weights that will keep your flag in place. Apply a transfer to each end of the fabric, which hangs like a saddlebag over your mailbox.


WHEN: At the party, as the guests arrive
WHAT YOU NEED: Family photographs, scanner, family-tree software (either Family Tree Maker from Broderbund or Family Gathering from Palladium)

Remember those photos you asked all your guests to bring to the reunion? As the guests arrive, help them scan in their photo and fill in information in either Family Tree Maker or Family Gathering. Guests will need to enter their birthdates and indicate who their parents and children are. You can also get them to add an anecdote or memory about the family if they've got the patience (and a story worth telling). You can either print the entire family tree at the party or "doctor it up" after the party and send a copy to each guest as a memento. You can add to the family tree during the course of the year.


WHEN: Before the party
WHAT YOU NEED: White or light-colored T-shirts and plain hats, your family logo, iron-on transfer paper

Putting your family logo on T-shirts and hats is a great way to create lasting party favors. If you get two colors of T-shirts or hats, you'll also be able to use them as team markers for your family reunion games. Instead of defining teams by family membership, try to equalize the sizes, ages, and skill levels of the teams -- teaming young kids with a parent or big brother or sister will guarantee fun for all. Iron-on transfer papers make it relatively easy to print your logo onto many kinds of fabric objects. The idea is to print the logo on the iron-ons and then iron them onto the T-shirts and hats.

Reunion games are a great way to shake off the effects of all-too-good eating. Remember all the favorites? Capture the Flag, Blind Man's Bluff, Red Rover, Simon Says, Red Light/Green Light, Mother May I? Kids love the movement and activity of these classic games.

If you want to add an official look to your games (from wheelbarrow race to sack race to three-legged race), add a special touch with those big pin-on numbers that marathoners and bike racers wear. You can use any word processor. Just select an easy-to-read font like Helvetica and the largest point size your word processor can produce, up to 400 point. Type in a number, and surround it with wingdings, mini-logos, or other decorations. Save the file and print in black and white. Select the number, replace with another, and print again. Use safety pins to attach the numbers to the game participants' clothes.

If you're tight on time or budget, just make badges or name tags with your family logo and forgo the T-shirts and hats. Use your logo and print the badges on two colors of card stock, one for each team. Seal the card stock between sheets of Avery self-adhesive laminate. Use a paper punch to make holes, and use large brass safety pins or diaper pins to fasten the badges to hats (the way you do fishing licenses) -- or pass the badges out for people to pin where they choose.


WHAT YOU NEED: A word processor, desktop publishing program, glue, paper plates

Even those of us who want to encourage cooperation rather than fierce competition love to win "prizes." Use the computer to create some one-of-a-kind prizes.

One idea is to create silly awards, such as "Giggliest," "Most Energetic," "Most Relaxed," "Best Sport," "Best Party Spirit" -- whichever are relevant to your family members. Be sure to select some categories that kids or older partygoers are likely to "win."

Again, use your family logo. Purchase paper plates in a solid color, any size, to match your decor and logo. Use your paint or drawing program to create a circular golden medallion outline that will fit the base of the plate. If your program has a symmetry tool, use it to make a multipointed star or pattern. Size your logo to fit just inside the emblem's border, and save it as a template.

Then, using a font like Calligraphic, type in "Presented to the Most Graceful Jumper," draw a line for the winner's name, and add your party particulars ("Sunday, July 21, in the Year 1996"). Save the file, print it, and keep making new awards by substituting the title for the new award each time you print. Take each printout, cut out the award medallion, and glue the medallion to the center of a plate. For extra flash, take an 8-inch piece of ribbon that you've doubled and stick it under the edge of the medallion as you glue it on.

Create "funny money" for race and game winners. Draw a rectangle and place the party logo in it, framed by decorations or denominations. At the end of the party, use the money to auction off leftovers or decorative elements you're willing to part with -- the tablecloth, table decorations, puppets, and so on.

Purchase preprinted certificate paper and print ready-made awards. You can use a desktop publishing program like Microsoft Publisher CD Deluxe for Windows95 (Windows95 CD-ROM, $74.95 street; 800-426-9400 or 206-882-8080), or you can go with less powerful but easier-to-use programs like Print Shop Deluxe Ensemble II for Mac and Windows (CD-ROM, $80 each; Broderbund, 800-521-6263 or 415-382-4400).

If you just want to make a few quick certificates, look in the Borders section of your clip-art collection. Print your selected border as large as possible on a full sheet, type in the presentation information, save as a template, and then re-enter just the award title for each prize.


WHEN: At the reunion
WHAT YOU NEED: Dolls from table decoration, impromptu puppet theater with sheets

It's time for the foam-board characters you made for table decoration to do double duty as fantastic puppets. For an impromptu theater, tip a table onto its side or stretch a bedspread between trees. Suggest a familiar fairy-tale story line to be acted out by your family puppets -- Grandma playing Red Riding Hood and little cousin Will as the Big Bad Wolf.


WHEN: Prepare questions one week before the event
WHAT YOU NEED: A word processor, printouts of documents, some pencils

Think of some things that would really get the relatives talking to each other and finding out things about each other's lives. What piano piece is cousin Julie studying now? What colleges did Harry apply to? Who's the youngest in the room? Who's the oldest? Who's lived in the most places?

Type your questions on a page, leaving room for answers, and print a copy for each guest. Give each person his own sheet and send the guests off to find the answers. (Read the page aloud once for young ones or pair them with a reader.) You can give everyone a sheet at the beginning of the party and have guests work on the answers throughout the party, or you can set aside a specific chunk of time to complete the contest. Make sure to review the questions aloud once the contest is over, as everyone will be interested in the answers. This is a great icebreaker if your relatives haven't seen each other in a while.


WHEN: After the party's over
WHAT YOU NEED: Desktop publishing software, binding tool, family recipes

Remember those recipes you asked for in the invitations? Use them to create a family cookbook, with photos and family anecdotes. Decorate it with clip art, too, and take it to a print shop for professional binding. Your family can add to it every year.

Back to the Reunions page.