The Gift that Keeps on Giving

If you are not one of those people who purchase Christmas presents all year long, October is the month you start to think about what you are getting those you care about for Christmas.

A few years ago, in about October, I started re-thinking my approach to gift giving.  I was thinking back to gifts I had been given as a child – either for Christmas or for my birthday.  I knew I got gifts – I saw pictures of me at Christmastime or my birthday opening presents, but my own personal memories of what I got during those special times is faded.

I DO remember ONE singular gift I received as a child – I remember waking up on the morning of my 10th birthday to find staring at me an adorable Cabbage Patch Kid.  Her name was Diana Mindy and I was SO excited to get her!!!!  But she is the only gift I can actually ever pinpoint.  Isn’t that strange?  What do you remember getting as a child?  I remember gifts I DID NOT get as a child – I wanted an Easy Bake Oven and a Lightbright but never got those.

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This is Diana Mindy – still looking good after all these years!

 

Do you know what I have specific and a multitude of memories of?  Things I DID with my family – learning to ski with my dad; going camping; going on road trips with my mom; going to Disney with my mom; going to Aruba with my mom as a senior in high school.  I could tell you a handful of details about each and every one of those experiences, and THAT is what changed my mindset about gift giving.

Experiences change our brain.  Encountering NEW situations and taking on new adventures rewires us, renews us, re-entwines us with our loved ones.  It reconnects us to ourselves, to each other and to this life.  What better gift is there?

The giving of experiences doesn’t have to be a big trip somewhere…although it could be!  Last year we gave our children a short trip to Quebec (we live within driving distance and went between Christmas and New Years last year), a concert experience, season’s passes to a local water park, a  2-week high adventure Boy Scout summer camp for my son and my daughter and I took a super cheap flight to Paris in January and spent 4 nights in an AirBnB and explored the city.  It was the BEST Christmas we have had in a long time!!!  We still talk about every single one of those adventures and will continue to do so.

Life is short.  Take the trip.  See the concert.  Go to the show.  Get the pass.  Bypass the mountain of gifts that get forgotten by January 15th and give the gift that keeps on giving…memories to last a lifetime!  Don’t miss out!

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I didn’t know she stuck her tongue out until I looked at the pictures that night!!! Notre Dame in the background.

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Lined up for the toboggan ride! Quebec City, Quebec.

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My daughter and her BFF meeting their favorite musician, Jon Foreman from Switchfoot – he signed my daughter’s Ukulele!

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Fabulous concerts at Soul Fest 2019!

 

Quebec – Day 3

This was our final day in Quebec and on our big adventure north.  We decided to stay in the city this day (Friday) and really enjoyed the festive feel of freshly fallen snow and had a wonderful time out and about all day!

We all slept in and got our start after a nice breakfast at our hotel.  We stayed at the Hotel Royal William – this is outside the old city and maybe a 15 minute walk (uphill) to the walled city, but for the fabulous cost for  two rooms for three nights, we couldn’t pass it up!  The rooms were spacious, well kept and the included breakfast was adequate (cereal, pastries, yogurt parfaits, fresh fruit and cheese, coffee, tea and juice).  I would absolutely stay there again with pleasure and we enjoyed the walking each day.  Anyway – at the end of the day, it’s all downhill!

So, the snow – I mean, could it have been more gorgeous?  Maybe if it would have been a tad warmer, but if you’re embracing winter, you WANT a winter wonderland and we got one!!

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On our way to the old city – our hotel, the Hotel Royal William, was two blocks behind us and to the left!

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One of the old city gates. Did you know that Quebec City is the only walled city north of Mexico City? Pretty cool place for this history buff to visit! It was seriously like visiting France in my back yard!!!

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That’s the Chateau Frontenac far in the background!

We strolled to the city and stopped at all the shops – my daughter loved poking around shops and her money always burns a hole in her pocket!  We got some trinkets and moseyed up to Chateau Frontenac to toboggan again, then found our way to Chez Ashton – a chain of fast food restaurants that specializes in poutine.  Thanks Marie-Andree, for the recommendation!  We enjoyed the Quebec must-eat then scooted on our way again!

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Traditional poutine at Chez Ashton.

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Lined up for the toboggan ride!

The afternoon saw more walking around and touring, including Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec.  We hit the lower city again, rode the Funicular UP (we got smarter as our visit went on) and HAD to toboggan one more time – and by this time, it was freezing rain so the operators had to spread salt and sand at the bottom of the run because people were sledding OVER the barrier!

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The Lower City was bustling! We had a great time exploring this unique, European feeling Petit-Champlain section of Quebec

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I took this on the way UP the funicular – it reminds me of a Thomas Kincade painting.

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A good icing on top of the cake!

Before we left the Lower City, we HAD to try this classic Quebec maple masterpiece.  It was SO good!  Check this out!

My friend, Marie-Andree – who happens to be from Quebec, asked her dad about some fondue recommendations and we got a great one!  We had some amazing Fondue at La Tyrolienne and were so full we could hardly drive back to our hotel!  Fondue = FUNdue!!!!

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Our appetizer..bread dipped in cheese!

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Everyone got a platter of thinly sliced beef, then there was shrimp and chicken to fondue as well!

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Dessert – chocolate and maple fondue with fruit!

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My favorite – banana dipped in chocolate.

Our three night escape was the best ever!!!  It went by so fast and we all had a great time!  The drive home was long but we reminisced about the great experiences we had – our favorites were the Siberia Station Spa, tubing, the ice hotel, the toboggan ride and fondue!  Thanks for taking this journey with us and we HIGHLY recommend Quebec City for families, couples and friends!  In a few weeks I’ll share our next “experience” trip – hold on to your hats because we are going to Paris!!!

Check out a short video of our second toboggan run!

 

 

Quebec City – Day 2 – Part II

The second half of our day today was spent at Valcartier Resort.  This place is super cool – COLD, in fact…still about 12 degrees – but hey, we said we were embracing winter with this trip and did we ever!!!

This resort is HUGE!  They have a very cool themed hotel lobby/bustling hub with tickets for activities, restaurants, shops and more!  The resort boasts an indoor water park (we did not do this, much to the two 12 year old’s dismay…since we ARE embracing winter, an indoor water park just didn’t seem right!), two dozen tubing runs, an ice skating path THROUGH their ghost town of summer delights (outdoor water park) that you begin right from the central hub building, and Valcartier is the home of Quebec’s own ICE HOTEL, or Hotel de Glace!

OK – so here is the focus of this short story…the ICE HOTEL.  It was open for tours, and drinks, but not yet for guests – that starts on January 4th.  And as fabulous as it might have been to stay there, the hotel is kept at a balmy 13 degrees, so aside from being pretty pricey, I just don’t think it’s my thing!  But, I have never seen anything quite as amazing!  There is a chapel, the main hotel building boasting a gorgeous lobby, grand hall, ice bar WITH ice seating, a discotech and four rooms were on display – more under construction down the hall!

Check this out…..

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Here is the link to Valcartier if you want to check it out!  https://www.valcartier.com/en/  On tap for tomorrow….well, it will be snowing in Quebec City, so get ready for some amazing pictures of the old town and lower city!

Quebec – Day 2 – Part 1…The Siberia Station Spa

OK.  Raise your hand if you remember that Warrant song, “Heaven Isn’t Too Far Away”?  Well, today I think I found it.  This morning, we visited the Siberia Station Spa for their morning “family hours” (special hours from 9am-noon during holiday break to include families) and I am pretty sure I found winter heaven on earth!

I am not going to waste a lot of words here because in this case, a picture speaks a thousand words and I have a lot of pictures!  Let me just briefly explain the Siberia Spa concept and then include a few of my observations, then let the pictures tell the story!

The Siberia Station Spa is modeled after Scandinavian spas – the magic takes place in three acts; hot, cold, relax.  It’s THAT simple – go somewhere hot, partake in something cold, then find a place to relax….then REPEAT!

The hot option……there were plentiful options for everyone – hot tubs, infrared saunas, traditional saunas and a eucalyptus infused steam room (OH MY GOODNESS!!!)

Cold….well, since today was about 11 degrees, the COLD portion of this adventure could simply be walking from a hot spot to a relaxation spot, but I am proud to say all my people took full advantage of the ice cold plunge pools more than once and benefited greatly from them.  They were AWESOME!!!  There were a number of ice cold pools in the vicinity of each hot offering and from time to time, you can even dip in the gorgeous babbling brook that abuts the spa (this was closed today).

Relaxation – the options were fabulous.  There were a number of yurts – all with swinging chairs and warmth – one had windows facing towards the river and my favorite was toasty warm with a huge wood burning fireplace in the middle!  Other relaxation offerings were a beautiful windowed-in pergola and a dream zone – a huge barrel dug into the hillside (Hobbit-like) with cushioned bench seats and relaxing music.

Some important details…..the Spa is about 15 minutes from the old town of Quebec City.  We paid $27 Canadian dollars each for this special family time.  Typically, children are not allowed and with good reason – the whole point of this place is to relax!  I have kids – and they are not relaxing!  Bathing suits are MANDATORY as are footwear – think flip flops.  You may bring your own robes and in this weather, I highly recommend it!  You may also rent them for $7 Canadian.

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I cannot rave enough about how amazing this place was!!!  I cannot wait to come back here with just my hubby, a book and more time!   We are scheming ways we can make one of these places at our house!!  hahahahaha

Here is the website if you want to check it out on your own – http://siberiastationspa.com/home/

Quebec City – The arrival!

This year for Christmas, we tried to make a point to tone down the “things” and focus more on experiences and memory making opportunities.  Our first family experience is a road trip to Quebec City, Canada.  We left today, the day after Christmas, and I would love to share a bit of our day to day with you as we go!  Here is a snapshot of our our travel day and first experience walking around when we arrived!

We left our house in southern Maine around 8:15am.  My husband, daughter, son, my son’s girl friend and my daughter’s BFF were in for a 7 hour ride!  It was a great ride – we stopped once outside of Skowhegan for lunch, gas and a potty break, then stopped once more for a coffee break once we got into Canada.  The border crossing was easy (5 passports and 1 birth certificate and government issued ID) and we thought we made great time!

We arrived at our hotel – the Hotel Royal William – and checked into our two rooms (girls and boys)!  Note: when traveling to Quebec Province, make sure you know a little French!  We all know a bit and do our best to ingratiate our hosts by trying to speak French, but everyone here also speaks English, so a happy Bonjour goes a long way!!

We got settled then hit the road to explore!  We are staying about a mile outside of the Old City and it was 13 degrees when we left the hotel this afternoon around 4pm, so we bundled up and started our hike up hill!  And I mean UP HILL!  Walking around Quebec City isn’t for the faint of heart – but we enjoyed the brisk air and exercise after being hold up in the car for 7 hours!  The walk was lovely since we were hitting it at sunset and we reached the Old City in no time!

The city is so beautiful all decked out with lights for the holidays.  This is our first time in Quebec and so far, we love it!  We found an adorable little restaurant for dinner and had bison burgers, meat pie, lobster bisque and a plethora of maple desserts!  After dinner, we headed towards the Chateau Frontenac, where we spied the boardwalk, funicular and toboggan run!  Check out these fun pictures!

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After the toboggan run (with a lot of screaming, praying and our lives flashing before our eyes), we headed down the funicular to the Lower City to wind through some gorgeous old world streets!  We checked out a few shops, tasted some macarons and took some more gorgeous pictures – then we started our walk back UP to the Chateau area, then back to our hotel.  Check out these gorgeous night time pictures of this magnificent riverside city!

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Tomorrow, we are headed first to the Siberian Spa (woot woot), then perhaps tubing?  Skating? Cross country skiing? More city walking??  Who knows!  Until then – good night; bon nuit!

PS – Can I just say that I love the word, “funicular”!  I mean, the word starts with FUN!!!!!