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As usual, the GTA has more festivities than you can shake a stick at this Canada Day.  Below are some of the highlights - and all of them are free!  So pack up the brood and go celebrate!

1. Scotiabank CHIN Picnic -- this event is a Toronto institution.  It's now in its 45th year and touts itself as "the largest free multicultural picnic in the world".  It takes place at Exhibition Place over three days: July 1st, 2nd and 3rd.  There will be thousands of singers, dancers and performers from all over the world, as well as oodles of activities for kids of all ages (including a bikini pageant for those of you who are into that sort of thing).  Getting there by public transit is easy.  The Lakeshore GO train stops right in the grounds and there are lots of options by TTC.  Click here for more info on transit.

2. In case you didn't get your fill of ribs on Father's Day, now is your chance!  Don't miss Toronto Ribfest, happening all weekend at Centennial Park in the city's west end.  With live music, appearances by NHL players and even a haunted house, there's something sure to please everyone.  There is a large parking area available, but it can get pretty hairy, so get there early or consider taking public transit.  A bus from Royal York Station will get you right there.

3. Harbourfront Centre -- Okay, if I didn't already have a poolside reservation at Grammy's house, I would definitely be all over this festival.  The highlight will surely be the attempt to break a Guinness Book of World Records for the most layers in a layer cake with a THREE HUNDRED LAYER cake.  They'll be building it throughout the day and the delicious tower of goodness will be served to all attendees at the end of the day.  There's also some music, canoeing in a pond, a strawberry festival and Canadian-themed craft tent for kids. But really, who needs any of that if you have a THREE HUNDRED LAYER CAKE!

4.  I would be remiss to leave out PRIDE - a festival celebrating Toronto's LGBTTIQQ2SA communities.  Although PRIDE week started last weekend, the biggest events are held this weekend.  Some of the highlights are:  The Dyke March (July 1st) and The Pride Parade (July 3rd) - the parade which is the largest of its kind in North America, will be celebrating its 31st year!  Click here for more info and a schedule of events.  Most events happen in the downtown core, so get a daypass and hop on the TTC to attend as many events as you can handle!

5. Finally, no Canada Day celebration would be complete without fireworks.  Most areas of the city will have displays to watch.  Some of the bigger ones are:  Ashbridges Bay, Ontario Place, and Canada's Wonderland.  The shows don't start until it's dark enough, which will be around 10pm. 

A (more) complete list of what's happening in and around Toronto can be found on the 680 News site here.

And for all you ex-pats or Canadaphiles living around London, Trafalgar Square will once again host the largest Canada Day celebration outside of Canada.  The line-up of activities is impressive:  hockey matches, yoga classes and a concert that ends with that quintessential Canadian band, Blue Rodeo.  Click here for more details: http://www.canadadaylondon.com/


Happy 144th Birthday, Canada!

p.s. What are you doing this year to celebrate?  Send me photos of you and your family celebrating and I'll post them here with a link back to your site.
 
Here's an oldie but a goodie from our trip to Costa Rica several years ago.  Reading this again made me want to run out and book another flight to Central America...it's a long one, but I didn't want to leave anything out -- hope you enjoy reading it too!

Sitting on the bus back to San Jose from Turrialba, I was trying to figure out what the strange feeling in my stomach was. It couldn’t be homesickness, my husband Bruce and I had only been in Costa Rica 3 days and we definitely weren’t anxious to return to the bitter weather that certainly awaited us in Toronto. I hadn’t overindulged on any soft cheeses or ceviche, so it wasn’t an upset stomach…

As I fought sleep, I realized it was a strange brew of regret and excitement. Regret that we couldn’t stay longer because we were meeting friends in Liberia two days from then and excitement because we had just done some incredible things and the rest of the trip promised to be equally exciting.

Turrialba, only an hour and a half bus ride east of San Jose, is a sort of kayaking mecca in Costa Rica. It’s a small town that offers easy access to some of Latin America’s best rivers. The names of these rivers are whispered with reverence by those in the know: Pacuare, Reventazon, Pejibaye.

We arrived in Turrialba late on a Tuesday night, nearing the end of rainy season, thinking it would be the perfect compromise between decent water levels and little tourist activity. One out of two ain’t bad, I guess. There weren’t too many gringos roaming around Turrialba, but it had been raining non-stop for days, making the rivers unrunnable and dangerous. Normally, hearing this sort of information after traveling for 12 hours and across 6 countries, would make any paddler dejected, to say the least. But in Costa Rica the Ticos (locals) have a saying: “Pura Vida”. It’s a catch-all phrase meaning everything from “You’re welcome” to “Relax, chill”, but mostly it means, “It’s all good”.

We had decided to paddle with a company called Costa Rica Rios. Someone had recommended them to my husband, and then when he met Stacey, one of CRR’s guides on the Ottawa earlier in the season, that clinched the deal. When we arrived at CRR, Skip, one of the three American owners, ran out to greet us and help us with our luggage. CRR is a full-service company offering guides, equipment, lodging and food. They have trips that offer mountain biking, surfing, hiking and canyoning, but their specialty is the rivers.
Once we’d settled into our modest, but spotless, room, Skip told us the bad news. There wouldn’t be any kayaking the following day, or anytime soon if it didn’t stop raining immediately. But we only had two days to kayak! All at once I was disappointed and relieved. Having just completed my first full season of kayaking I wasn’t even sure if I
was ready for the “big water” I’d heard about down here anyway. Skip offered an alternative: go canyoning tomorrow and check the levels over dinner. The waters rise quickly this time of year, but they drop equally quickly once the rain stops. Stacey and her team took my husband and I, plus two other stranded paddlers, canyoning the
following day. We rappelled down waterfalls, tried our hand at ziplining, survived a suspension bridge, had lunch at a local “soda” and followed it all up with a visit to a Serpentarium, where we learned how to run away from all the venomous snakes found in Costa Rica.

After an amazing meal, prepared by resident chef Flor, we relived the day’s events by looking at the pictures that Stacey had taken and evaluated the paddling situation. It was decided that the next morning we would skip the Pacaure and run the Pejibaye instead. Although we had our hearts set on the Pacaure, safety was foremost in our minds and the Pejibaye was certain to have some exciting moments because of its high level.

Another paddler joined us at the last minute because he wasn’t willing to offer himself as a human sacrifice to the Pacaure after 4 days of heavy rain. He knew his window for getting any paddling in at all during his stay was closing, so he jumped on the chance to run the Pejibaye with us. Three paddlers plus three guides was a pretty comfortable ratio for me. We had decided that Stacey and I would take the “Shredder” (a two man “cataraft”) instead of kayaks, in case the levels were too high for my comfort level.

It was on the Pejibaye where I finally understood what people meant when they said “there are no flatwater stretches, it’s rapid after rapid”. There really were no flatwater stretches and one rapid quickly crashed into the next. I thanked the gods above that I hadn’t put on any false bravery with my underwear that morning and tried to kayak the river. Just as I was getting the hang of the Shredder we stopped for lunch. Stacy, Skip and Crockett prepared a feast for us and I learned how to make “River Cheesecakes”. My trips down the river will never be the same. We packed up from lunch and headed to the top of the Pejibaye. As I was shoving my feet in the grips and muttering “pura vida” under my breath to calm myself, Stacey asked me if I was nervous. Was it my stunned
deer in headlights look that gave it away? There were some pretty wild moments on the Pejibaye that afternoon, but thanks to our expert guides, there were none that we couldn’t handle.

Two weeks later, as we were preparing to take-off for the journey home, Bruce and I were going over all the amazing moments of the past two weeks and agreed that our stay in Turrialba was definitely the highlight, and almost in unison, we asked each other, “Where next?!” Pura vida…
 
In my BB life (Before Baby), my husband and I were fairly adventurous travelers.  Well, adventurous in the eyes of our families, but my mom also thought I was 'adventurous' for riding the subway by myself. In University.  That said, we've done some pretty amazing things during our travels and now that we're traveling with our toddler, our trips are decidedly less adventurous - for the time being.  
So, in honour of my pre-parent life (Did I have such a thing?  Did I actually exist before JR was born?  Some days I wonder.  Perhaps its the sleep-deprived haze I walk around in that's affected my memory...), I dedicate Mondays to all those adventures I had that didn't involve a sippy cup.  Because what are Mondays for if not dreaming of escapes past and future?

FIrst


 
When friends from England come to visit us in Toronto for the first time they are always amazed by the size of Lake Ontario.  Toronto is blessed to be built on the shores of this huge lake that looks more like an ocean to the unitiated.  Although it's not the largest of the Great Lakes (I grew up on the shores of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world), it is clear, clean and cool, and actually has some great beaches. 
During our recent trip to Singapore, JR found his swimming groove and now can't get enough of the water.  Thank god we leave near one of Toronto's best stretches of beach.  We're a 10 minute walk to the lake and the Balmy/Kew boardwalk. 
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The overcast skies kept the crowds at bay today, which was perfect.  There were just a few families playing in the sand, which meant that we had a nice space to ourselves. 

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Mama and son - Balmy/Kew Beach Toronto
The boardwalk and beach is easily accessible by transit -- the 501 Queen Street streetcar, which runs 24 hours a day, drops passengers off one block north of the boardwalk admist a bustling stretch of trendy shops, cafes and restaurants.  The Beach is a great family destination any day of the week, but gets especially busy during the weekends, forcing you to dodge strollers and dogs.

It's always easier to just hang around the house - especially on days like today when the weather looks uncertain, but moments like these are worth whatever extra effort is required to get out and explore!

Now if only he'd wake up from his nap so we can check out the outdoor pool in our neighbourhood park!  Have a great Sunday, everyone...
 
I swear, there ought to be a course somewhere about going to the loo.  Because not all "bathrooms" are created equal.
You'd think that for someone who has been exposed (pardon the pun) to pretty much every type of toilet out there, that I'd be a pro by now.  Not so, not so.  Of course, my lack of expertise will not prevent me from sharing with you my top 5 tips for using a toilet while traveling.  I should clarify this is really more pertinent for women.  Count your lucky stars, guys!

1. Never look down.  Really, NEVER look at the floor.  Some things are better left to your imagination.  I recall having to go to the bathroom at one of the designated rest points along the Inca Trail and wishing I had just dug my hole and gone in the bush as advised.  The "squish" I heard and felt as I stepped into the outhouse still rings in my ears.

2. Never look in the direction of the person calling your name.  It will inevitably result in you wearing pee-stained trousers and sandals for the rest of your safari.  My husband thought it would be funny to pretend that one of our safari-mates was coming over while I was crouching next to a bush wearing my only pair of clean trousers.  I have since explained to him the difference bewteen men's private parts and women's private parts and why forcing a woman who is squatting to whip around is not a very nice thing to do. 

3. Don't pee on a Thai train.  Or any train that doesn't have a western toilet. Trains tend to rock back and forth quite a bit, you see.  It will inevitably result in you wearing pee-stained trou...hmmm, wait a minute...what's that saying about learning from your mistakes?  Nope, don't seem to remember it... Okay, okay, I'm ordering my She Pee right now!

4. Always carry toilet paper with you.  I know, it's a no-brainer.  But it needed to be said.  I take the cardboard roll out of the center, then squish it down as flat as possible and shove it in a ziploc bag.  Believe it or not, I am still working on the same roll of toilet paper that I packed for my first solo trip 10 years ago!  (Too much information?) I will clarify and say that I've been extremely lucky in that department and haven't needed to use the emergency stash too often.

5. Master the art of Mouth Breathing.  This is basically breathing in and out of your mouth and closing off your nasal passage.  Like the opposite of gym class.  It makes the throat feel a bit raw if prolonged use is necessary, but your olfactory memory will thank me, I promise. 

BONUS TIP!
6. And, since this is a family blog, here's one for the kids: potty train your kids early...because the only thing worse than having to use one of the above-mentioned toilets is having to change your kid's diaper in one! (And, if you can spare the space, bring along a portable potty seat so they don't fall into any of the cesspools you may encounter.)
 
Even though I live in the 4th most livable city in the world (according to The Economist), when weekends come, we're always thinking of things we can do either outside of the city, or in our backyard (literally, the 25x80ft patch of grass attached to our house, not "backyard" in the figurative sense).  

Since I've started writing this blog and reading other family travel blogs, I've decided to try and explore my city as if I were a tourist and take advantage of all the wonderful festivals and events that are happening around Toronto this summer. 
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Do not believe the pout. He LOVED the corn.

This past weekend, I took some of my own advice and visited this year's Totstock festival.  The festival is in its third year and caters to the young and young-at-heart.   We arrived shortly after the festival opened at 2 pm, parked our stroller in the unofficially designated area and quickly explored the compact festival. In addition to a play area loaded with empty cardboard boxes for all the aspiring architects and engineers, there was a bandstand with some fun local acts (we listened to Hooded Fang, a great band that managed to get kids and adults dancing together), a Story Tent, lots of fun games and crafts, and a few yummy food stalls.  Our favourite was the Barque Smokehouse booth.   We loved the sliders and JR devoured not one, but two, cobs of corn.

We only spent an hour there but were so glad we made the effort to explore outside of our neighbourhood and have already made plans to return next year. Totstock is a great community event in a highly accessible and friendly neighbourhood (read: hipsters with kids) and should not be missed if you find yourself in Toronto next Father's Day weekend.
 
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While I've already been up for 6 hours and my husband has made his own father's day breakfast (crepes with whipped cream and fresh fruit - thanks hon!), some of you may have been lucky enough to sleep in on this gorgeous day and are wondering what to do to celebrate dad!  The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) offers tonnes of (free) choices. And none of them start before noon - so you haven't missed a thing!  Here are my top 5 picks:

1.  Totstock: A celebration of tots complete with music, stories, food and games in Toronto's trendy Roncesvalles Village at Souraren Park from 2-5pm.  To help celebrate it's third year, the creator of the popular children's series, Franklin the Turtle will be in the Story Tent and rumor has it that Winnie the Pooh is going to make an appearance.  This community-driven event drew more than 3,000 people last year, so be sure to get there early!  Sponsored by Little Paper, you can get more information here: http://www.littlepaper.com/totstock

2. Beach BBQ & Brews Festival:  Over in the east end, the Beach BBQ & Brews Festival (formerly Beaches Ribfest) is the ultimate place for those carnivore dads.  Held in Woodbine Park, the festival sees more than 10,000 people licking their chops each year. This festival showcases the best in BBQ and has an amateur competition and a firefighter's cook off for the best ribs. With over a dozen food vendors to choose from, you made need to go back for seconds, so pack the sunscreen and come hungry!  12-8 pm http://beachbbqandbrews.com/

3. Sound of Music Festival: This 4-day festival closes today with a headlining act that is sure to excite all dads who remember Coleco Vision and You Can't Do That on Television with fondness:  Men Without Hats is playing on the mainstage at 5:15 pm.  Don't miss this opportunity to see a classic '80s band live (and for free!).  And for those die hard New Wave fans, Devo is playing at 3:30 pm.  http://www.soundofmusic.on.ca/

4. Steamwhistle Steam Brewery Tours:  This popular brewery is offering free tours from 1-4 pm and dads receive free samples and a bottle opener or souvenir cup.  And if your pop is tops and answers the skill-testing question correctly, he may even get to blow the famous whistle after which the brewery is named!  www.steamwhistle.ca

5. Movies in the Park:  What better way to wind down an action (and beer/meat-packed) day than chilling under the stars in Riverdale Park to watch a movie.  Movies in the Park and Art City host this summer tradition at Riverdale Park each summer and this year's series opens tonight with Edward Scissorhands.  Movie starts at dusk.  The event is free, but donations are appreciated and support local kids' organizations.  http://moviesinthepark.wordpress.com/about/

Happy Father's Day to all those wonderful dads and dads-to-be! 
 
Just a quick note to say that we survived our epic journey to Vietnam and Singapore with our son.  After more than 38 hours on planes in less than two weeks, I have to say that I am more in awe of my little guy than ever before.  He was such a trooper and I've learned so much about traveling with young children - and can't wait to share all the tips and stories with you...so stay tuned!