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The family that travels together …

Exploring the world helps bring unity to the Mentz family

By: Viola Pruss

  |  Posted: Monday, Feb 17, 2014 06:00 am

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  • STILL TOGETHER – The Mentz family, left to right: Jake, Robin, Nick, Christie and George.
    STILL TOGETHER – The Mentz family, left to right: Jake, Robin, Nick, Christie and George.
    Supplied photo
  • WORLD TOUR  The Mentz family (L-R) Jake, George, Nick, Robin, and Christie pose for a photo during a visit to  Stonehenge around 2005, when the family spent nearly a year travelling the world.
    WORLD TOUR The Mentz family (L-R) Jake, George, Nick, Robin, and Christie pose for a photo during a visit to Stonehenge around 2005, when the family spent nearly a year travelling the world.

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In recognition of Family Day, the Gazette interviewed two local families – the Mitchells and the Mentzes – about their approach to achieving a strong family bond. Here is the story of the Mentz family.

To the Mentz family, the most important element in family is time.

For now, George Mentz sits at the kitchen table of his St. Albert home, a warm pot of tea steaming the air, a wood stove heating the room and framed photographs on every wall reminding him of some of his most precious family times.

One picture is of a trip to Stonehenge. In an attempt to get both family and monument in the picture, the photographer has barely managed to squeeze in the head of the youngest son Nick at the bottom of the photo. Another photo shows the smiling family posing next to the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt.

The Mentz family loves to spend time together. And the best way to do that is through shared activity, George says. That’s why you’ll often find him camping or hiking in the mountains with his wife and children, rather than sitting at the kitchen table like he is now.

“When you have children you have conversations,” George says. “And we had a pretty firm belief that we wanted to make sure that we had a lot of time with our kids.”

The pictures on the wall are years old now. The kids were between 10 and 14 then. Today they are 17, 20 and 21.

When George and Christie Mentz married, they were both elementary school teachers. Christie took a leave after their first child, Robin, was born in 1992. George says they wanted someone to stay home with the kids but it wasn’t ideal.

“I was pretty jealous of her staying home with the kids because I had gone teaching all day and late in the day and then things in the evening,” he says. “And I wouldn’t see the kids a whole lot. You do, but not as much as I wanted.”

In 1994 George took a sabbatical so the family could spend a year together.

They didn’t do anything fancy, he says. They visited Seattle and Vancouver, or he went camping with Robin on the weekends. But for most of the year they simply stayed home, he says.

A year later he returned to work. Nick, their third and last child, was born the next year in 1996.

“And I really missed the time with the kids so we planned on doing it one more time,” George says.

That one more time came in 2005. They travelled the world, returning home exactly 316 days later.

They split the year between British Columbia, Hawaii, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and Egypt. Towards the end, they crossed over to Europe, where they spent two months. That trip accounts for the pictures on the wall.

The family lived in youth hostels and camped on beaches, often squeezing together into one small room for the night. Relatives and friends visited them but most often they travelled on their own.

They didn’t really have much choice but to get along, says George.

“We remember in England it was so cold in the building and you had to pay (for heat). Every 20 minutes you had to put a pound in the machine or it would shut off the heat,” he says. “So we just curled up in blankets and read … it just drew us close.”

Back to the grind

After returning home they picked up their lives where they’d left off but that didn’t stop them from travelling together.

Now the family gets together for one or more trips every year. Sometimes they climb mountains or ski for a week. Sometimes they take a weekend to camp, hike or canoe. They also plan movie nights or eat out together in town, says George. And once a month they bring their extended family together for a meal.

Christie admits that it’s not easy making time for these get-togethers. And as far as taking extended breaks from work, not everyone has the financial means to do that the way they did.

Family sizes are shrinking, making it harder for many parents to fall back on extended family to help out with the children, she says. So you have to create your free time, and that’s difficult, she adds.

“People are having to work more. The less time you have, the less you have with family and the less time you get things done,” she says. “The slowing down and the simpler life is a challenge you have to create.”

Their children all agree that they’ll continue their travels with the family.

Nick is in his late teens now, finishing high school. And Robin and Jake have moved on to university. She’s working on a teaching degree here at home while Jake is attending the University of Victoria.

The trips bring them back together especially now that Jake has moved away, says Robin.

“It brings me back to when I was younger and all the fun memories I have from that. When we were all together, I really like that,” she says.

Jake adds that family is where he gets most of his support.

“In a lot of countries we were the only people who spoke English, so you only have four other people to interact with,” he says. “We all support each other and we know each other’s strength and weaknesses.”

Jake and Robin agree that when they have their own children someday, they want to bond with them the same way they bonded with their parents, even if they don’t do the around-the-world tour.

“It’s different when you just went out for a ski together and then talk about it after. It just makes you closer,” says Nick.

When they first thought about their second year off, they had considered running a youth hostel in Jasper, rather than travelling the world, says George. But that might have limited their children. He and Christie wanted to give the children a feeling for the world, let them experience different cultures and broaden their horizons, and learn about the things that happen around them, he says.

Both George and Christie know that this experience may result in their children moving away one day.

“We put in them the love of travel … so we knew pretty early on that we were giving our kids this sense of the world is wide open to them. And with that comes the risk that maybe they leave and we have to accept that,” George says.

“We opened the world to them but we always know we’ll be close.”

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