When I think back to all the wonderful Christmases I had with my family, I can’t remember a single present I received. Rather, I recall that my Dad got the BBQ going through science gadgetry when it was -30 degrees for our “surf and turf” meal, that we often sang at the table, and that we jived in the living room after dinner.
According to this article, “The science behind why you should spend money on holidays not toys,” I’m not alone. Most adults remember moments from their childhoods more than the things they had. I wonder what percentage of toys are unused, unwanted, and end up percolating in landfills?
My husband and I have been asking this question: will our children have a more or less happy life if we put our funds into travelling rather than presents? Some really interesting things have happened since we decided to try shifting present money into trips. Our kids aren’t missing the gifts!
I believe this urge to spend less on presents started from a LEGO “situation” we had. We were frustrated to spend a great deal of money on something like a huge LEGO set for our kids, only to see it get built once, then deconstructed into the assorted pieces chaos that took over one of the rooms in our house. My husband would sigh as he walked past: “It’s like we opened thirty puzzles and threw them all together.”
One day he declared that we were putting the sets together, then getting rid of most of them. We decided to keep some of the beloved sets (Star Wars) and have a big sale to get rid of the rest. Over the summer, our family actually put 90% of the sets together and sold them for almost $800! The former “LEGO room” is now a cozy bedroom for our youngest son.
Last year we gave our children a choice between having Christmas presents and getting a trampoline. They decided on the trampoline, so we were curious to see as Christmas Day approached whether or not they’d be sad to see a bare spot under the tree. They did get some money from the grandparents and gifts from some Aunties, but only a handful of things. I’m not sure why I’m surprised, but the small number of presents didn’t phase them (they are seven and nine-years-old). There were no tears and no begging for more.
This year we’ve asked the same question, but now the two options are: presents or a trip at Christmas time. They picked a trip! We’ve told them that from now until November, we’ll all put a little bit away into a separate bank account instead of spending money on things. We’ll see how much is in there later in the year and determine where we can go on that amount of money.
As a fan of the minimalist approach to life, we’ve been enjoying our family experiment where we seriously consider what items come into our house. I suppose the fact that we’ve moved several times has put a spotlight on how much we really don’t need. We’ve enjoyed clearing out our things to include on that which we really love and use regularly.
I asked some writer-friends who travel what their opinion on the “travel instead of toys” was. Jennifer Powell, who is currently in Australia as part of her family’s around-the-world adventure, had this to say:
“We remember very few toys that we had growing up. We decided that the best gift we could provide our children was not only experiences but moments that taught them something. Whether that is compassion, history, and/ or cultural respect, these gifts will last their lifetime. These will be the foundation that makes them who they are as adults.”
I admire Jennifer’s courage and wherewithal to take her family on an exciting travel journey. You can read more about here travels here.
According to Whit Honea, “Toys are things that come and go. Travel is a social good, making the world smaller and increasing the capacity for empathy. Toys change a child in a moment, travel changes them forever.”
When I think about the trips our family has taken - which have ranged from going to Italy to attend the Canadian Island and Me & Mom in Tuscany programs to packing the car up for a five hour drive to North Bay, ON to experience a winter wonderland adventure - it appears to me that our children haven’t cared about where we have gone or how much we have spent. They were just as thrilled to go sledding in tons of snow and see ice fishing for the first time as they were to stand in the Coliseum in Rome.
“Travel” doesn’t need to mean “expensive.” I took my boys to explore northern Manitoba for two weeks for under $1,000 (we flew on points and cabin rental costs are much less than in Ontario). Among other exciting parts of being up north, they constantly talk about not seeing darkness while we were there: the sun sets after 10:30pm and is up before 4am. This picture was taken close to 9pm!
I’ve learned from my children to let them lead the way during our travel time. I don’t drag them through adult-oriented places or make them stand in long lines. Actually, a trick I use is to avoid line-ups at a tourist attraction, like the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC (did you know Smithsonians are FREE), is to be there first thing in the morning, go straight to the farthest point away from the entrance, then work your way back to the front gate. This has saved us from standing in lines at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Zoo in Brownsville, TX, and at LEGO Land.
It’s apparent that what our children are enjoying isn’t the location or activities on our treks, but more just being together as a family in a light-hearted, playful way. We are silly, smiling, and all playing together. Travel puts us in the same space rather than what can happen with modern toys: being in different rooms in our own worlds, and/ or getting sucked into screens.
We don’t take screens to eat at restaurants when we’re on the go. We take hand-held games and even a mini etch-a-sketch. It is so valuable to learn how to wait for the food to be served, chat with others at the table, and not always be entertained.
Family holidays are certainly loved by children. They enjoy them when they are happening and as memories when they get older. We’re happy with our decision to spend money on experiences rather than things: that’s a better investment for us.
Last year during a particularly cold winter day, as I curled up with the afghan my mother had made for me about forty years ago, I had a sudden urge to make a blanket for each of my children.
At the time, the book The Year of Living Danishly was all the rage, which encouraged us to hunker down into blankets and pillows with candles burning nearby. I imagined having an afghan in progress draped over me all winter was a wonderful way to get through another period of cold.
I had crocheted afghans and dishcloths before, but it had been at least a decade since I had done that. I wasn’t sure if my hands would remember what to do. Feeling a little like I had gotten in way over my head, I sheepishly walked into our neighbourhood Michaels store, heading for the yarn section.
The first thing I did was find a how-to book with “easy” ripple afghan patterns. I managed to find a good book and selected a pattern to use for my boys. Thankfully a lovely woman could see my confusion with knowing what kind of yarn and hook to get and spent time explaining that to me. A short time later I walked out of the store with a huge bag with enough yarn to make two full-sized afghans. I was committed!
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it wasn’t terribly hard to follow the pattern. There were links to youtube videos with really clear how-tos of each of the stitches and I could watch those all I wanted in order to understand what I needed to do. There are also many articles online that have diagrams and clear explanations of each of the different kinds of stitches. I also had a pattern, which my mom had written out for me back in 1991. I didn't use this one for my boy's afghans, but will certainly use it in the future.
After a short time, I was able to remember the pattern and could take the afghan out of my house to work on during my kid’s soccer practices. Often I’d look up to see several people watching me, smiling. I’d smile back, which usually invited them to come ask me about what I was doing. It was a nice way to chat with the people around me.
The whole process of getting started and launching into the project was actually much less stressful than I was expecting it to be. As I carried on with these two afghans, I discovered something lovely: I was feeling relaxed as I got the hang of it. Taking an hour to sit down with my crocheting was becoming my new meditation.
My favourite side benefit was that I was using the afghans as my new “when/ then” with the kids! This was my new line: “Sure! I can definitely help you when I finish this row. You know I can’t leave it in the middle – have to go to the end.” And as it turned out, by the time I finished a row, they usually had sorted out whatever they had asked me to get up to help them with. Soon enough, my children started seeing that I was working on their afghans then LEFT ME ALONE!
While making the two afghans last year, an editor from The New York Times parenting blog who I’m Facebook friends with started posting all her knitting projects online followed by this revelation: There are many positive health benefits to crocheting and knitting. I nodded in agreement as I read through their post on the topic – I could feel the benefits in my bones and my mind. Crocheting gives me an opportunity to sit with my thoughts. I’ve worked out a lot of big feelings and challenges with a hook and yarn in my hand.
According to the author, “Once you get beyond the initial learning curve, knitting and crocheting can lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.” These types of crafts also can improve our moods and stave off brain functioning decline as we age.
Of course, at the end of a project, in addition to all of the positive health benefits, you have something to snuggle with, wear, or give to someone you love. I like meditating and feel the benefits of that, and love that crocheting gives me the same positive effects of meditating but with a blanket at the end of it.
If you are interested in trying crocheting or knitting but aren’t sure where to start, I suggest seeking out a local craft store or crafting group. Most cities have weekly groups where experienced crafters are very happy to help beginners. I have relied on the staff of our local Michael’s store as well as the people standing in those aisles! I have to say that I do love the support and camaraderie of experienced crafters taking a newbie under his or her wing.
I did finish the afghans for my boys and this year I'm making another two for my nieces. My children sleep with theirs every night and take them along on all our road trips. Each has told me how special their afghans are and that they feel more comforted at night having them with them.
I haven’t had the opportunity to get away for a vacation for quite sometime because of a new business venture, so I decided to visit Ste. Anne’s Spa with my dear friend, Erica Ehm, as a mini-vacation of sorts.
Ste. Anne’s Spa is about ninety minutes east of Toronto along the 401 Highway. Situated on 500 acres of beautiful farmland and forested area, this all-inclusive destination spa seemed like just the right place to spend a weekend away. I packed my yoga gear, flip flops, and a bottle of wine and prepared to be taken care of for twenty-four glorious hours.
As a first-timer, I learned some valuable tips about visiting Ste. Anne's Spa, which I'd like to share with you:
You can arrange ahead of time to arrive there earlier than the check-in time. The staff will hold onto your bags and take those into the room when it is ready. Be sure to pack a separate bag with what you'd like to have to visit the pools, steam room, and lounge areas -- they've got lockers that you can put your valuables into while your room is being prepared. We got there around 2pm, which I found I needed to decompress from the earlier part of the day but also to have extra time to experience everything. There is quite a lot to do (or not do!) so having more time is better.
Ste. Anne Spa is along the 401 Highway between Toronto and Kingston, so I suggest thinking about a good time of day to travel when traffic through the GTA (if you are in that area) is light. I live in London, ON, and because of a surprising stretch of good weather in January, we decided to drive there – I picked my friend up in Toronto along the way. You can actually take a VIA train to Ste. Anne’s Spa, which I know some of my friends from London have done. The spa staff picks you right up from the train station! Next time I'm going to take the train because I felt the three hour drive Sunday night didn't help me hold all the rejuvenation and relaxation I had accumulated from being there.
When I first walked in the door, the sight of adults wandering around in robes and slippers surprised me. There were robed people in the lounge rooms, boutique, and even the dining area. Seeing that set the tone for a wonderfully relaxing two days. They handed us a robe and information in a tote bag, which was a helpful thing to have. I used that bag the whole weekend and love looking at it here at home. The Ste. Anne’s Spa experience isn’t pretentious one: it has more of a country-feel. The motto, spa hair, don’t care was certainly being upheld by us and the majority of the other guests. I loved that I could roll out of my massage treatment with a hilarious massage-face right into dinner.
Do make sure you bring your slippers or sandals and a bathing suit.
Erica caught this picture of me heading down to the locker room area just after we arrived:
The food at Ste. Anne's Spa was absolutely amazing! There wasn't one thing that I ate that I didn't love. Erica and I decided to have afternoon tea at 3pm before our spa services, which was a wonderful idea. Sitting in a restaurant in a robe feels like such a silly and rebellious thing to do! I remember looking around and seeing smiling people everywhere in this restaurant, which was so lovely. This is certainly a place with a positive feel.
The property is not a licensed facility, but you are able to walk around with and consume alcohol on the premise. The staff were so good at offering fridge space and table-side chillers for our white wines., which was very much appreciated. We didn't need any snacks at all because we ate so much at meals times but I imagine that if you'd like some popcorn or chips at night, you'd need to remember to bring those with you.
We stayed in the Main Inn, in the "Cathedral Room."
There are a large number of services, treatments, relaxation areas, wellness classes, and excursions available. Some of these like the yoga or stretch classes need to be booked ahead of time. I made the mistake of not reading through the site well enough before my trip and was surprised on the day I was leaving that I had missed out on some things I would have liked to try (like the guided walk).
Erica and I spent our two days moving from one lounge area to another in between booked spa treatments, yoga classes, plunges in the various pools, and visits to the eucalyptus steam room.
Both Erica and I had a signature facial, which we highly recommend. In addition to receiving a facial treatment, we got a hand, foot, and scalp massages. I loved how my entire body felt after that experience.
The spa has created a line of skin care products based on plants they actually grow on the premises, which they use in the facial treatments. It’s wonderful knowing that plants, like the roses, in the products come from their beautiful gardens. These skin care products are actually given to you in the rooms to use while you are there. I loved the body lotion (called “hydrating lotion”) so much, I wanted to eat it! I bought a 1L size of that to take home with me along with most of the facial products. The products are available online so you can replenish them when you run out!
I have already been using a high quality skin care line because keeping my forty-six-year-old face (mostly) wrinkle-free as long as I can is important to me. The immediate difference I’m noticing between my old skin care system and the one I brought back from Ste. Anne’s Spa is the beautiful aromas and how nourished my skin feels. One of my friends was looking at a bracelet I had on and said, “Wow, you’re skin is so soft!”
The aromas are different than a smell or fragrance: rather the natural scents in the Ste. Anne’s products are so lovely, they invoke a feeling of relaxation. It’s good knowing these products are free of fillers and ingredients that are hard on the environment.
What was interesting was that after I got home, the calm environment that I had just left was remembered deeply in my body from putting the body lotion on – the one they had in all our rooms. It was like my system was conditioned to relax with the aroma of the lotion. I bought a little jar of eucalyptus oil to put in my shower so I can take spa-moments in my house until I can take another weekend away.
Sign up for their email list because I’m seeing great deals for services, products, and accommodations coming through those emails.
You won't see TVs at Ste. Anne's Spa, but you will see fireplaces, Scrabble boards, and massage chairs. Bring your favourite book, crocheting, or anything else you like to do in front of a fire.
I found the weekend was that much more special because I was there with a close friend. Being able to chat, laugh, and even vent helped me clear out what I needed to let go and take in the full spa experience to reset and step back into my regular life.
Note: I was provided with no-charge food and accomodation at this location: all opinions are my own.