Saturday, 27 September 2014

The gift of experience

Both my children celebrated their birthdays early September and in the weeks prior, M and I had many discussions on what to give them. We found making a choice difficult, since our children are already well endowed in the toy department. And in the books department. And in the games and puzzles department. On top of that, we have been trying to declutter and simplify our lives - instead of bringing things into the house, we prefer taking things out. Besides which, there is also our desire to be more conscious of how we spend our money and not to lose ourselves in consumerism. 

So we did something radical: we agreed not to give them any presents (!) and instead give them... an experience. For quite some time, they had been asking to go to a particular theme park: one that is at least two hours' drive from where we live and quite expensive at that. The perfect gift on a platter, we felt, with which to give them few priceless things: excitement, adventure, a whole day of fun, our undivided attention, and some lovely memories. The only downside to this plan was actually breaking the 'there will be no presents on your birthday' news. In fact, I was dreading their sad and disappointed little faces. The trembling bottom lips. The silent tears. 

But as I mentioned in my last post, life (and particularly children) can be full of surprises. And thank goodness for that. Let me explain. I broke the no-presents news to them gently, explaining our motivation, and pointing out that they have so much already (being careful not to make them feel guilty, of course), and that it's not always good to keep buying more stuff etc. To my surprise, they seemed to get it. Especially when I told them there would be a special surprise, an experience of sorts, something fun waiting for them. With that last bit of information, they went from solemn and understanding to downright happy and excited. (And, as daughter N pointed out, not getting presents from us was no big deal as they would be getting lots from friends and family at their party anyway - something I'd entirely forgotten).

On the morning of their birthdays they each got a card with five euros for their piggybanks and an announcement of the upcoming trip, which we'll be making in the autumn break. We've also decided to include an overnight stay, making it extra special and holiday-like.  "That means we'll be celebrating our birthdays AGAIN in the holidays!" son S figured.

Honesty would have me admit that I did give them an arts & crafts box each on their birthdays after school, to make the transition from 'some presents to none' a more subtle one.  And because the boxes looked so cute. And because I sometimes just can't help myself. But, this little indulgence aside, I have a sneaking suspicion this experience in lieu of presents might become a new tradition in this house.


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Now for this week's snack boxes. They involve a crispy on the outside/chewy on the inside biscuit full of healthier-alternative stuff. I've been making these for a long time and everyone loves them. I had planned to make a better photo of them, but by the time I got round to it, the poor fellows were long gone.




Chocolate Oat Biscuits

75g butter
150g rolled oats (I use ones that are gluten-free)
75g palm sugar
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon good quality cocoa
50g spelt flour
pinch of fine (sea) salt
4 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons (full fat) milk
yields 12-15 biscuits

  • melt butter in a saucepan on low heat, add rolled oats and roast lightly
  • stir in the sugars, then the cocoa; remove from heat
  • put mixture into a large bowl; add the rest of the ingredients and combine thoroughly with a wooden spoon
  • allow mixture to rest in the fridge for a half hour
  • preheat oven 175 degrees Celsius
  • line a baking tray with baking paper
  • scoop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the tray
  • moisten your hands with a little water and shape the biscuits, pressing them down slightly
  • bake for twenty minutes


35 comments:

  1. A great idea, and the children will probably remember that birthday trip longer than any presents they receive :-) thank you for sharing your biscuit recipe too xx

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    1. Thanks, Ali! That's exactly what we figured; we want to see their birthdays as an opportunity to do something really special with them, something they will remember.

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  2. An inspired idea. I bet you'll have a brilliant time!

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    1. I hope so - we're definitely looking forward to it!

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  3. Now I might just have to pinch that idea from you, I have the same dilemma and a birthday for a young person soon. I hope that is ok? Another wonderful recipe which will not be good for my waistline............we made the almond biscotti this week and they were so easy and very yummy.

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    1. More than ok! I have a friend who has just done the same by giving her nephew cinema tickets for his birthday; how cool is that!

      I'm absolutely delighted you enjoyed the biscotti, Sustainable mum. The chocolate oats are so nice - everyone's always asking me to make them over here!

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  4. What a wonderful idea. I hope that you all have a really great time!!! xx

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    1. I will certainly be taking photos to share with you!

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  5. Ik vind het bewonderenswaardig hoe je dat hebt aangepakt, de geen-cadeautjes-verjaardagen. En nog beter is dat je kinderen het zo positief hebben geaccepteerd ! Want het gaat verder dan alleen maar het overmatig consumeren... Ze moeten ook leren dat ze later zullen moeten wérken voor dingen, dat niet alles zomaar in hun schoot geworpen wordt...
    Want tegenwoordig zie je veel... Ik ken een vijf-jarige die een Ipad éiste voor zijn verjaardag. Een tien-jarig meisje dat haar moeder terroriseerde voor een Iphone. Waar stopt het dan nog...

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    1. Ben het helemaal met je eens, Ingrid. Wij hebben niet eens een I-pad in huis - mijn kids associëren i-pads en dergelijke met school, want ze werken er daar mee. Tot nu toe accepteren ze het dus dat wij er geen hebben - en dat geldt ook voor Iphones en dergelijke. Ik krijg wel eens het verwijt dat ik ze benadeel omdat ze er dan niet genoeg mee oefenen, maar ik denk dat dat wel meevalt. Ik vind (buiten) spelen en sporten veel belangrijker. Ik moet er ook niet aan denken dat ze op de achterbank van de auto alleen maar naar zo'n ding zitten te staren - lekker naar buiten kijken, zeg ik altijd, rode auto's tellen of zo.

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  6. Brilliant. Nothing can replace time spent with family having a great time. We tend to do the same here too, esp as the children get older; tickets to events etc go down well! X

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    1. And that's such a lovely gift, isn't it - I was given theatre tickets for my birthday once and really loved it.

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  7. Have a fantastic time - it's a great idea! Those biscuits look really good!!

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  8. Sounds like a good plan - I am sure the children will love their experience. Although I'm thinking it may have been cheaper to buy them a present in the end - haha.

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    1. Yes, that's the irony, isn't it. But I'm sure it will be worth it :-)

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  9. I think your approach is fresh and I hope the children will appreciate it and remember it when they are older. There is just too much "stuff" in the world. My husband and I always say that we would rather give our children experiences than things. Both birthdays and Christmas are relatively lean on the "things" we give to them and to each other. When my son turned five, I gave him a birthday party with friends and asked them not to bring gifts. I was surprised that some of them were actually offended and brought a gift anyway. I was just trying to help my own kids, and everyone, have fun without spending money or acquiring more things. I'm still glad I tried, even if it didn't work well. I think that the more we try to effect this kind of change, the more it will stick. Ripples into eternity, as they say. :)

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    1. Asking them not to bring presents: what a bold and applaudable thing to do, Jennifer! (It's giving me ideas). There really is too much stuff in this world (certainly in the west) - most of which we don't need. My aim is to make my kids aware of that, and to show that's it's much nicer to go out and do something new together instead.

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  10. Hey Isabelle,
    I make these biscuits minus the cocoa powder. We call them Sunshine Shorties. The boys love them. They are good tea dunkers too.
    I think the idea of a treat instead of presents is great. I must admit that mine have never had lots for their birthdays, but we always try and do something nice on the day. I stopped the birthday parties when they reached ten. Alfie has had a chum to sleepover since then. Sam wasn't fussed either way. Olly will have his first birthday party when he is five (!) next year. I like the traditional kind - party games, party food, piece of cake. I don't do party bags, which is seen as very radical in St Ives. I have two distinct memories of my own childhood birthdays; one was my 11th joint party with my friend Joanna. The highlight was dancing to 'Stand & Deliver' by Adam and the Ants with Derren Wright. The other I can remember my long brown party dress. I couldn't tell you what presents I had.
    Leanne xx

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    1. My kids had their party together and we did traditional games too: pass the parcel, musical chairs.
      I don't do party bags either; you wouldn't believe what my kids come home with after some parties though - so over the top!
      Dancing to 'Stand and Deliver' would be the hightlight of any party :-)

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  11. It's a lovely idea, and having often done something similar with our children I can tell you that it works. We encouraged them to think outside the box when it came to what constituted a present. it certainly didn't have to be wrappable. Some of our best family memories arose from that. One year we went caving!

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    1. Totally agree, Annie! This is exactly our aim - to think outside the box and make them conscious of the fact that a present can take on different forms. And family days out are just the best.

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  12. Something else - like a great day out - is a brilliant idea instead of giving a present. It actually IS a present but just can't be wrapped up. They'll have their memories for a lot longer than another toy would last.

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  13. This is a real great idea. Especially in our times where most children are overloaded with things they can't really appreciate anymore because it is just too much what they get. We've done the same a couple of years ago. We decided that our children only get one present for their birthday and a great birthday party/ event, of course. It works fine. Your recipe sounds good. Maybe I'll try it next weekend. We're planning to work in the garden and it is good to have some bisquits for short breaks, I think. Have a nice week, Viola

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    1. One present and a party or event sounds perfect to me.
      Enjoy your work in the garden - ours needs work too!

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  14. I'm with you on cutting back the consumerism thing. L has reached an age where he isn't so interested in presents unless there is something particular he wants. This Christmas will be largely about books, and his stocking will have useful stuff in. M and I do a themed stocking- usually things for the garden or interesting and unusual food. A trip out and especially an overnight stay is a lovely idea and I bet they will remember it far more than presents. I also rebelled against party bags when L was younger- I used to have a big tin of chocolates and the children chose 5 each and a piece of bd cake. They seemed to like that and it meant I wasn't contributing to mountains of unwanted plastic choking up landfills. xx

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    1. A themed stocking sounds great - will keep that in mind. And I love your alternative to party bags.

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  15. This is such a good idea. Every Christmas and birthday I feel overwhelmed by the gifts my kids receive from family, it just feels a bit obscene. I like this idea a lot, and it sounds like your children do too. And you have a mini holiday to look forward to now!

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    1. That's exactly what I find - all those presents are so overwhelming! Son S once even told me he feels exhausted when he's given to much. Isn't that interesting?

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  16. I think it a great idea and something they will remember for a long long time. Your time together is the most precious gift they can have.

    The biscuits look lovely :)

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    1. Absolutely - time spent with the family is what kids will remember most later.

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  17. This is an excellent idea. I don't like to buy too much stuff either, it can easily become overwhelming. CJ xx

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  18. I don't know how I missed this post! We have always been on the stingy side with presents. Memories are so much more important and how many toys are cast aside after unwrapping, never to be played with? I can't wait to hear about the trip to the theme park (unless I missed that post, too. Better go and check.) Cx

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