By Cristin Whiting

Recently I was reminded that it is the simple things that count…

When it comes to giving and receiving gifts, I have always been partial to the gifts that make memories over those that are held in the hand. My kids have birthdays that are in close proximity and so every year we plan some kind of “experience” or trip to commemorate their entry into our family. We have taken exciting vacations to NYC, to Disney World, and for more times that I can even recount, to the kid-favorite, Great Wolfe Lodge. This year though, we opted for something simpler.

A couple of Saturdays ago, we piled into our car with our dog, Molly and our pet frog Skittles and drove to Cloud 9 Farm in the Great Smokey Mountains. Cloud 9 Farm is a beautiful place tucked off the beaten path in Fletcher, NC. In our less than twenty-four hour stay, my kids toured the farm, fed chickens and collect their eggs. They fed and cared for “Hamburger”, “Sir Loin”, and “Stew”, the three cows that were being raised for food. They harvested vegetables from the farm’s garden and together we climbed to the top of a barn piled high with hay bales. We built a bon fire, road bikes, and ate great meals together.

Despite all of the travel that my kids have had the opportunity to do, they tell me that this trip was their favorite.

Then over this past weekend, we were all together again. My son spent the afternoon with a dear friend who has become more family to us than anything. Together they built a model rocket he had given my son for his birthday. When they were finished we all went to a close-by field and shot the rocket high into the air. The kids ran around trying to catch the separated rocket parts that parachuted back to earth. We shot the rocket again and again hooting and laughing as we watched it fly.

Putting my son to bed that night, he had the rocket in bed with him, hugging it. He smiled with his whole face remembering the fun from the day. When I woke up the next morning, I found him sitting on the couch, again with the rocket in his lap.

When I look at those two experiences, what I see is that mattered the most was not just the exact activities we did together, or the gift that was given (although the activities and gifts themselves were pretty unique and fun). What seemed to matter most was the time spent together. At Cloud 9, we had the company of each other and the simple tasks of life on a mountain farm for our entertainment. We didn’t plug into video games or get pulled away from each by our cell phones and Facebook, as is so easy to do with our casual relationship with technology. With the gift of the rocket, it wasn’t the rocket itself that was the treasured gift. The real gift was time spent with an adult my son adores working on a project together and time spent as a family playing in a field celebrating what they had made.

With these two experiences, I am reminded again of the simple truth that we show people we love them by the time we spend with them. It really is that simple.