Western Family Reunion

I am having a potluck Family Reunion. I need frugal ideas for decorations for the tables, games, etc.
Thank you.

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Tess - August 5, 2010

Pry off the boys western boots, add a quart jar inside the boots, add flowers, scarves, tree branches, grass, you name it, adds a real conversation piece to the whole table. May have to clean the boots first though if used

Virginia Adams - August 5, 2010


We have a cowboy themed reunion every other year. We meet where the family line began–tromp around the old homesteads… Marvel at how our ancestors not only survived, but even thrived in that barren desolate area. Our families were miners and ranchers. Horses and cattle plus ranchers means COWBOYS. Lots of fun to go there and imagine how life must have been way back when. We gather in an RV park for the event over the Labor Day weekend.

Camping’s cheap.

We have a “chuck wagon” meal one day. That is the big meal of the event. The initial cost was big. Different family members “footed the bill” for different things. But we reuse so many things that it’s cheap to do now. We found an old wagon and converted it to give it the appearance of a covered wagon. This wagon actually belongs to the RV park owners, and they now keep it sitting in the park. It adds some fun to the RV park year-round. With a make-shift drop-down type table attached to the end, it passes for a chuck wagon. We dig a trench for Dutch oven cooking. A tri-pod and enamel ware coffee boiler add to the “look.” Old crates, tree stumps, etc serve as places to sit. Over the years we have purchased the enamel ware plates and cups for the meal. But the first year, we just had folks bring a bunch of old pie tins to eat off of. Someone purchased a bolt of checkered fabric and made gingham tablecloths. Someone else purchased a bunch of bandanas that are used as napkins. Table decorations are jars of pickles and preserves. We always make up souvenir jars of some type of mix in a jar. Cookies, Apple cinnamon Flapjack mix, Cowboy beans, etc. This year it will be “Tumbleweed Tater Soup.” Those jars are set out on the tables for decoration. Then each family takes one home. One year a reunion attender found some picked some apples from an abandoned, yet productive tree and made apple butter. She brought it to the next reunion and passed out jars of the yummy apple butter to the attendees. But first, they were table decorations. You can use small canning jars as vases and pick some of the local wild flowers and weeds to adorn the tables. Wild sunflowers look quite charming. Perhaps put the jars in a brown paper lunch sack and tie some raffia around it.

Try old family pictures (copies of them) printed up, then printed up again, only reversed or mirror image. Then glue them together-holding them up to a light to see that the lines are evenly matched up. When the glue has dried, you can cut around the person or horse, or whatever, in the double-sided photo. Take a black or brown marker and cover up the white cut edges of the photo paper. Now, make a little stand for the photo, and you have a fun stand-up table decoration! Be sure to weight the stand if the event is held out of doors. Any breeze will cause the unweighted photo to tip over. Do this with as many photos as you can. The guests will LOVE looking at all the decorations.

The chuck wagon meal is easy–done weeks ahead of time. Chuck roast cooked in a slow cooker with a touch of liquid smoke is cooled, pulled apart and then frozen in freezer bags along with the juices. This is done several times until you have accumulated enough to feed the size of crowd you expect. The meat is taken to the reunion site (a several hour drive) frozen and in ice chests. It thaws in time for the meal the next day or so. Then the meat is put in Dutch ovens and heated in coals. It looks like you cooked it cowboy style. But much easier, when you’d rather be visiting. Ranch style beans from a can are heated up, cole slaw and dressing from Smart & Final and assembled on site, Costco dinner rolls and butter finishes the meal. A cousin usually brings fresh corn which is put on a grill. Someone else produces a watermelon or two. Cake is actually cooked in the Dutch ovens sometimes just for fun. Other times, someone brings cookies, or the dessert is pot-luck style. The drink is usually lemonade.

The following day we have chuckwagon meal leftovers, plus we BBQ hot dogs, burgers, and the group brings pot-luck items. This time, no enamel ware, no gingham tablecloths, etc. Those have been collected and will be cleaned up, laundered, etc for the next year.

Keeping the children happy at such events is not always easy. We have activities just for them. Story time, prizes that are cowboy and camping themed keep the kids content, and also eager to see what will happen next. Squirt guns and inexpensive cowboy hats are given out to the kids. There are specific times through the weekend where there is a craft project for the children to do. We have a bonfire each night and make smores. Root beer floats are served one of the nights. During the day, horseshoes and croquet sets are available for use.

One year my daughter took a photo of our chuck wagon area and turned that photo into souvenir refrigerator magnets. They were a huge hit. We plan to do something similar this year.

One year the weather was horrible–very hot. The next time we met, we planned for the heat. You know those Coolies you can buy to tie around your neck? They are a small bandana type thing with something inside that swells up with water when you soak them about 30 minutes in a container of water. I had one, and used it as a pattern. They are easy to make. The granules that soak up the water can be purchased in the garden section of your local OSH. The stuff is called “Soil Moist.” One teaspoon of those granules is enough. Those homemade coolies are wonderful tied around your neck when the weather is hot. Very inexpensive. I’ve made them out of bandana print material, and horse and cattle material. They are appreciated by all, are reusable, and make a good souvenir, as well.

Other items for a cowboy feel might be barbed wire, or fake barbed wire. Check out Oriental Traders. I’ve even seen grey yarn turned into “barbed wire.” Get creative! A bale of straw or hay sitting around adds to the feel. Galvanized buckets can have all kinds of uses. Bring out the lanterns. Hang some saddles, bridles, and other horse equipment around. Calico and ginham fabric here and there are good. And don’t forget the cowboy music. NOT the country/western stuff. But the old tumblin’ tumble weed type of stuff. Cool, cool water, Red River Valley, etc. Music that has lots of good harmony and is soothing. Cowboys sang soothing music to calm the “dogies.”

Games: Go old fashioned

Potato sack races
Three legged races
Egg toss
Cow pie toss (really stale cinnamon buns from the donut shop)
Watermelon eating contest
Pie eating contest
Pie baking contest (a good way to get lots of pie for dessert)
Watermelon seed spitting

The very last game of the reunion should be this:
Give each child a small sack. On the count of three, they are to race around the reunion site and pick up every scrap of trash. After a set amount of time, they all bring their trash in for the judging. The one who has the biggest amount of trash wins the grand prize. All the rest get something too, because they participated. Now you don’t have to clean up. The kids did it for you!

Have a great reunion!

Virginia (AKA Calamity Ginny!)

Mickey - August 5, 2010

Wow, Virginia has so many awesome suggestions! I am going to save this blog for my future reunion as well as just fun party ideas!

I just had to throw this out for decoration ideas – we got married 2 months ago and never wanting to waste money on frivulous one-use items but still wanting the tables and area to look good and carry some sort of theme, I went to the Dollar Tree and bought bowls, glass beads, vases, serving ware, candles, etc. They have a ton of childrens toys and theme items, depending on the year but I’m sure they carry cowboy appropriate items year long. You can also shop on their website, their shipping rates are pretty good. You can get checkered table cloths, bandanas, hats, all kinds of stuff! And a great thing we did due to space and knowing I wouldn’t need it all again, I listed on craigslist and sold over 50% of the stuff I bought!

Patti - August 7, 2010

Did you happen to read the newsletter this week? There’s a Cowboy Theme Cookout featured in the editorial section. Here’s the link to the newsletter (hope it works) http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/newsletter08-04-10.htm

If not, you’ll find the link on the left. The Cowboy Cookout has lots of food ideas and recipes and decorations. Even a grownup drink recipe. It’s pretty cool. Check it out. 😉

jd in st louis - August 8, 2010

bandanas can be used effectively for table decorations, napkins, or part of costumes. they can be had for $1 or less for a large 18X18 in bandana. after the festivities, use the bandanas to make quilt tops or throws as a remembrance of the family reunion. have a permanent black marker on each table and encourage everyone to sign and date a bandana. you’ll have a great reuseable reminder of your reunion.

jd in st louis

Lorraine - August 11, 2010

Hi Loretta,

I’m a real fan of dollar store white paper or plastic table covers set with crayons, markers… whatever. Everyone simple writes their own names & doodles at their seats. We’ve even kept them for reuse another time. It’s fun & personal.


Donna - August 12, 2010

Sprinkle small toys in the bottom of a small swimming pool then add a bale of hay. The children love digging for “a needle in a haystack”.

Make a cardboard or wooden cutout of a cactus with several “arms”. Then use a several cowboy hats to toss onto the cactus.

Window treatments: If your event is inside, use bandanas (usually around $1.00) from Hobby Lobby and sticks, long enough to span your window, turning the bandana on point. Makes a really cute window treatment. You can add jute tassels on the side for a rustic look.

Use a rocking horse and a lasso for the young ones to rope the pony. Also, the Dollar Tree has small stick ponies for $1.00. The younger children love to ride these all over. We gave each pony a nametag like Shadow, Dusty, Midnight, Chief, Nibbles….you get the idea.

For a cute snack, use Rice Krispy treats and tie a piece of black licorice around the middle for a “hay bale”.

If you can get some brown grocery sacks, stuff them with newspaper, then crumple them to look like rocks. Spray them grey or brown. Home Depot also has some spray paint that looks like a pebble finish for a nice touch!

Hope these help!

dbm in Chattanooga

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