I'll admit it, I'd rather be a hundred other places than Toronto in the wintertime.  The damp and cold and lack of any close-by outdoor activities can sometimes get a little boring.  But in the summer, things really heat up.  Literally and figuratively. A few days ago, we had the hottest day on record.  Ever.  With the humidex we reached an all-time high of 50 degrees (almost 120 Farenheit)! 

Fortunately, by the time the weekend rolled around, the weather gods relented and gave us the most perfect summer day.  Hot, not too humid, and a beautiful breeze to boot. It couldn't have been a more perfect day to hang out on the beach and listen to some great music at the Beaches Jazz Festival.  Now in its 23rd year, this free, 10-day street festival draws close to 1 million people every year.  And it's easy to see why.

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The location is truly unbeatable.  With six stages scattered throughout the Beach neighbourhood, you could relax on the beach, nap under a tree in Kew Gardens or take your kids to the splash pad, all while listening to some great jazz.  There were even three different bouncy castles set up with an "all you can bounce" day pass available - and it was within ear and eye shot of the beer garden (for better or worse).  Clearly some deep thinking went into this.

And all the bands we heard were fantastic.  Each stage had a different "theme":  Latin, Big Band, Youth, etc. Our favourite performers were The Boxcar Boys -- see the video below for their interactive closing number.

So, although winter in Toronto can be a bit of a tough slog, summer days like this can (almost) make it worthwhile!
 
Nancy Vogel's family did what most of us could only ever dream of doing (or maybe nightmare of doing - depending on your outlook on phyiscal activity):  stopped living their routine, normal life and took to the road for almost three years to travel from Alaska to Argentina.  On bikes.  With two 10 year-old kids.  For real.

In 2008, as the Vogel family was preparing for their adventure of a lifetime, Nancy decided to add a fun incentive for their two boys on what would surely be a trip filled with challenges and long, grueling days.  She contacted Guinness World Records (GWR) for guidelines to qualify for "Youngest Person to Pedal the Length of the Americas".  That's 17,300 miles, or 27,841 kilometres for us metric nuts.  Or 304,000 NFL football fields for you sports nuts.  Or, more miles than most people will travel in their cars every day for a year.  You get the picture.

GWR happily sent her the guidelines and they were off, with a new goal in mind.  Her sons were excited at the possibility of being internationally recognized for their extraordinary effort, and used it to motivate them on those days when all they wanted to do was hop on that ferry or in a minivan that would have gotten them to their destination a little sooner and a little less tired.  They chose the long way down in order to keep with the guidelines provided to them by GWR.

Fast forward to July 2011.  The Vogel family is back home, a little leaner, a little wiser and ready to formally submit their application to GWR.  Nancy receives an email stating that Guinness World Records recently decided to do away with the category and will not be recognizing the boys' effort. 

While recognition from GWR certainly isn't the reason they embarked on their life changing adventure, it did help them get through those tough days on the road.  GWR has stated that they no longer recognize the category "due to the fact that the record would reach an age where a person would no longer be able to break it or attempt (i.e. a two-year old attempting to do it) and as it would become limited under these terms, we choose to to no longer recognise it".

I get it.  Unfortunately, there are people in this world that are driven to do things for the wrong reason and don't hold safety at the forefront (and would possibly endanger a child's life for the sake of a record). Nancy Vogel and her family aren't these people.  And, the fact of the matter is, the category existed when they left, they notified GWR of their intent to pursue this record, they contacted GWR during the journey and never were they told the category was in danger of being eliminated. 

Therefore, I think they deserve the recognition.  I understand the GWR likely didn't know that the category would be dissolved when they first heard from the Vogels, but GWR must also acknowledge that, in order to accomplish such a feat, it will take considerable time to complete and should grandfather in any attempts that were started prior to the category being dissolved.

What do you think?  If you agree, click here to see how you can help. 

 
Anyone who's been to Southeast Asia understands the draw of a night market.  It's where you'll find the best - and cheapest - local food. 
Ever since we returned from our trip to Southeast Asia three years ago, we've been trying to recreate the grilled fish we had at the Luang Prabang night market (anyone out there know the secret recipe??).  So, after a few failed attempts, I was really excited to hear that one of the local Asian supermarkets was hosting its own 4-day night market. 
Clearly, we weren't the only ones craving some authentic SE Asian street food, because the place was jam-packed.  While the ambience wasn't exactly reminiscent of the famous markets in Thailand or Taiwan (it was held in the supermarket parking lot, in a rather industrial part of town), the food certainly was.
The spicy noodles and squid balls brought us back to the excitement of experiencing our first night market in Cambodia.  We cautiously approached the first stall we saw and, after inhaling our bowl of delicious $1 noodles, we became night market converts. So it was a real treat to have even a little taste of SE Asia in our own backyard. And an even bigger treat to expose JR to some of those amazing flavours of our trip...even if he did prefer the taste of his own toes.
It seems that most of our vacations end up revolving around food, then when we return home we spend countless hours trying to recreate the newly discovered flavours.  We've nailed sticky toffee pudding and homemade pasta with cinghiale sauce, but those night market meals remain elusive...what vacation food do you crave?
 

suitcasesandsippycups.com

You can read my first guest post on Suitcases and Sippy Cups, titled "It's not the Destination, but the Journey...Right?"   Read about our 25 hour journey with a toddler from Toronto to Vietnam -- and my top tips for surviving!  A huge thanks to Jessica at Suitcases and Sippy Cups (a great site with so many fabulous ideas for keeping your children entertained on the road or in your backyard)!
 
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99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beeeer!
Growing up in the country meant going anywhere was a "trip": to the grocery store, church, grandparents, which meant I became a pro at reading in the car and playing car games. My favourite car game was "Geography".  It goes a little something like this:

Someone starts by naming a place (city, town, village, province, state, country, continent, and so on), the next person must name a new place starting with the last letter of the previous place. For example:
Toronto
Oxford
Denver
Rio de Janeiro
Osaka
...you get the idea.

The game ends when someone can't think of a new place within a reasonable time.  The only hard and fast rule is that you can't repeat place names.  As I got older and realized it was really easy to stump people if you said "Ajax", I also added the rule that you weren't allowed to say places that ended in "X".  I just had too much fun playing the game and never wanted it to end!

Then, on a bank holiday weekend a few years ago, we decided to drive from Oxford to Cornwall with some well-traveled friends.  We started playing the game and decided to play it as long as possible. Much to my husband's chagrin (who had been tasked with driving as the only one with a UK licence), the game lasted the entire weekend and he has refused to play it since. 

Once JR is old enough, I plan on secretly teaching him the game, because I know that daddy won't be able to refuse his son's sweet puppy dog eyes when he begs to play!

What fun car games do you play with your kids?


 
I have an illness.  It's called OTD.  Obsessive Travel Disorder.  It's a very serious illness whereby the afflicted person cannot stop planning or thinking about travel: past, present and future.  Most days she can think of nothing else and finds it difficult to execute seemingly easy tasks such as:  the job she is actually paid to do, house cleaning, feeding her family and even sleep.

We haven't even been back from our trip to Southeast Asia a month and I'm already wondering where I'm going to get my next "hit"!  We have a few small trips planned to visit family, but my sights are locked on next summer when we're planning to take a few weeks to introduce our son to our friends in England and Italy.  I've even managed to sweet-talk some friends and family into joining us.  Because if there's something I love more than planning trips, it's planning trips for lots of people!  I just don't know how I'm going to make it through the next 372 days...
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Tuscany: Host of 1st OTD Group Therapy Session

Now, I'm not a doctor, but I'm pretty sure the only known cure is. . . to travel.   Maybe all my fellow sufferers and I could plan a group therapy retreat...in Tuscany? Or Sydney? Perhaps we could hike the Cabot Trail and have a post-hike therapy session in a lakeside cabin?  Who's with me?

Here's to memories in the making...

 
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I fully admit to being one of those people that spends an inordinate amount of time researching...stuff.  I will spend days online, hunting down reviews, comparing items, looking for the best deals and trying to optimize air miles programs.  My husband just rolls his eyes when, for the fourth time that week, I start a conversation with "So, now I'm thinking that the Canon camera is the one we should go with instead of the Nikon because..."   I usually change my mind a few times before making a final decision because, in reality, I may be a gear junkie and crave the best of the best, but I'm also cheap, errr...frugal too. 

Fortunately for you, this means I've done my homework on most baby travel-related items and I'm willing to share!  If you don't anticipate using (or flying with) a stroller very often on your travels, then any umbrella-style stroller will probably suit your needs and you can stop reading this post right now. (But don't blame me if your umbrella stroller disintegrates en route and you end up spending your vacation looking for a baby gear store - I'm not beyond saying "I told you so!")

If you are planning a vacation that will include activities that require walking about for more than 20 minutes at a time, or any amount of waiting in an airport or train station, then you will want to read on...

Know Before You Go!

Most airlines have stroller policies, some of which (like Air Canada) state actual dimensions (none of which are the same, naturally -- so make sure you check your airline's website before departure), but generally speaking -- and for the purposes of this post -- a travel stroller is defined as any stroller that fully collapses and weighs less than 20 lbs.

Top 5 Things to Consider When Buying a Travel Stroller

1. Reclining Seat: This is the big differentiator between basic and "premium" umbrella strollers.  If you don't want to be at your hotel for nap times, make sure you have a stroller that reclines at least partially, allowing your mini globetrotter to nap more comfortably (i.e. longer!).

2. Extended canopy: Most umbrella strollers have a very small sun shade, which barely covers a child's face.  The premium strollers tend to have extendable canopies, saving that precious baby-soft skin from nasty sunburns.

3. Quality wheels: Cobblestones, gravel and sand don't make for easy strolling, so look for good, sturdy wheels. Not many umbrella strollers will offer the nice, big wheels that full-sized strollers offer, but you can usually get better quality wheels if you look for them.  Our Guzzie + Guss travel stroller even has suspension and slightly bigger rear wheels - all four wheels are also wider than the average umbrella stroller, resulting in a much smoother ride.

4. Storage: Look for a stroller that has a decent-sized basket that is not obscured by any bars, straps, etc.  Also look for extra pockets and nooks to carry those small items that you want easy access to (wallet, camera, etc.).

5. Folding mechanism: The constant in and out of cabs, trains and stores means that a simple folding mechanism is key.  You don't want to waste your time fighting with the stroller as your mini globetrotter wanders off into the middle of a busy square.  Our stroller has a strap that you yank to lift a latch then, with the press of a button, it collapses and the strap becomes a shoulder strap, allowing for easy handling when folded.  Make sure you test this several times in the store to see if there are any catches or easily breakable parts.

Always, always, always test the stroller as much as you can in store -- especially if the store has a strict return policy. 

If your stroller cannot be checked at the gate, be on the lookout for complimentary strollers in certain airports.  Emirates offers this service at Dubai Airport, as does Singapore's Changi Airport - look for the cubbies housing strollers and wheelchairs as you exit the plane.  We found it extremely handy as we were waiting for our own stroller to tumble down the luggage carousel!

Have you found a great stroller for your travels?  Tell me about it!  I'd love to add it to our Stroller Review page.
 
I know that when thinking about memorable meals and traveling, it usually conjures up images of crammed night markets with all manner of protein on the grill in Souteast Asia, or a steaming, gooey pot of cheese fondue in the Alps, or a romantic candle-lit Mediterranean dinner overlooking the ocean...but I've also got some vivid memories of air "fare" - and not all of them are horrendous.

I'll never forget the first time I did a solo backpacking trip to Europe and was given a gift of enough air miles to fly first class!  I flew Alitalia and, let me tell you, they fed me nonna-style:  constantly.  And it was divine.  And that was AFTER I had spent three weeks in Italy eating some of the freshest most amazing food I'd ever tasted.  To this day, every time I step on a plane I have my fingers crossed that we'll be served some of that delicious pasta.

Or the time I took a short-haul flight on Air Canada during Oktoberfest season and had a tasty sausage and spaetzle meal.  It took me years of asking my German friends what that "kinda crunchy, tiny, kinda pasta-y" dish was.  I now own a spaetzle maker, thank you very much.  I know what you're all thinking: "Food - a HOT meal - on a short-haul flight??  No, no, my friend. You are mistaken."   Trust me, it was nearly 15 years ago when times were good. 

I realize that those two experiences may be unbelievable exceptions to the rule, but last month when we flew to Vietnam on Air Canada, we experienced a new low in air "fare".  The first leg of our journey was a 15 hour, non-stop flight from Toronto to Hong Kong.  We departed at 10am and about an hour in, they served lunch. 

My 1 year old son, who is a fantastic eater, gobbled his with gusto. I sat back and began to relax, thinking that the next 12 hours or so would be just fine if the rest of our meals were like that.  A few hours later the flight attendants started wheeling out their carts and I heard them say to the passengers across the aisle "Soup and sandwich?" Huh.  Soup on a plane?  An odd choice, I thought, but JR was getting antsy so the timing was perfect.  Just then, the flight attendant looked over at me, with JR on my lap and as I nodded to her,  she gingerly placed a . . . CUP NOODLE . . . on my tray. Um, I was about to object, but honestly, what choice did I have?  Now, I know I didn't pay as much as the people in Business Class, but over-processed, MSG-laden Cup Noodles in a styrofoam cup?! The same Cup Noodles that desperate university students by at the dollar store?? I was handed a pair of chopsticks and left to my own devices.  My son thought me trying to feed him impossibly long, curly noodles while he sat on my lap was a riot.  So too did my fellow passengers when he started wearing the noodles. Meanwhile,  I was silently outraged and furiously wrote a strongly worded letter to the CEO in my head. 
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The opposite of Cup Noodles.
Now, I'm not expecting filet mignon in my economy seat or anything.  But is it really too much to ask that a little thought and consideration go into menu planning?  It would seem to me that serving hot broth, filled with noodles and questionable "meat" products in a large styrofoam cup to people squeezed in to a very tight space would not be a good idea for obvious reasons, not to mention the complete lack of nutritional value and the horrible taste.

I would have loved to pack my own meals, as this NY Times article suggests, but "pack 24 hours worth of meals for two adults and 1 toddler"  just didn't make it on my to-do list...I'll know better for next time!

Misery loves company, as they say, so tell me about your worst air fare!

 
When I think back to all the places I visited BB ("Before Baby"), and would love to re-visit with my son, South America tops the list.  It is rare to find a place with such beauty, tranquility, kindness and flavour!  My husband and I spent almost a month backpacking through Ecuador for our honeymoon and, even when I was stuck in a hut in the Amazon with the worst stomach flu I'd ever had, I still enjoyed every moment -- okay, maybe not every moment, but I don't hold a grudge against the Amazon and have even managed to make it into a funny and entertaining story.

In our guidebook was barely a passing mention of a lodge in the Amazon, called Liana Lodge, that turned out to be the highlight of our trip.  It was accessible only by water (after a 2-hour bus ride from the nearest town) and had no electricity.  But it was the perfect spot for us honeymooners.  The lodge had been created as a revenue source to help fund the animal rehabilitation centre the owners had built (called AmaZOOnico, open to guests of the lodge).  The construction of the lodge was very thoughtful: all the lumber used had been cut down by the government to build roads and no trees were cut down to build the huts and common areas - which means huts were built only where a natural clearing existed.  This gave each hut a real sense of privacy. 
We arrived in the middle of low season (late February), and the morning after we arrived all the other guests checked out, leaving just me and my husband to explore the jungle with our local Quechua guide by ourselves. A stay at Liana Lodge includes as many activities as you can cram in:  jungle tours (including some Tarzan vine-swinging), boat rides, AmaZOOnico visit, panning for gold, fishing, etc.

The day before we were supposed to leave, I became violently ill.  The kind owners used their single generator to run the blender to make me a jungle ginger cocktail to settle my stomach.  It tasted awful, but it worked.  We ended up staying a few days more so I could recuperate.  Our extended stay also scored us an invitation to a Quechua wedding of one the employees as they felt badly leaving us all alone.  All the old ladies ladling out the communal chicha (masticated, fermented yucca) had a great laugh at the tall gringo getting chunks of the "beer" in his goatee.  Fortunately, my stomach ailment allowed me a polite refusal of the drink. What an honour to be included in such a personal, intimate event.

We spent almost a week there and as we were boarding the canoe to go back to civilization, the resident monkey (whom I had christened "Manolo") bounded down the stairs to say goodbye.  Now I have my own little "monkey" and can't wait to introduce him to Manolo and all the wonders of the Amazon jungle.

Have you relived any of your "BB" travels?  How did it compare to your first visit?