In the last 17 months, I have learned that there is almost nothing more rewarding than a child who is napping from sheer exhausted joy.  That's what JR is doing right now....bliss...

The day started off rather drearily...after a late night, JR decided to wake up earlier than usual and the sky had been threatening rain since the day before.  After lunch I saw some sun poking through the gray clouds.  I perked up at the sight and decided that we needed to get out of the house.  

One of the great things about living in a city like Toronto is that you are never short of things to do.  JR is now at the age where animals and animal noises are fascinating to him.  His vocabulary is still pretty sparse, but he can moo and squwak like a champ, so I figured that a return trip to the fabulous Riverdale Farm was in order.
Riverdale Farm is a true hidden gem.  Nestled in the middle of the Victorian neighbourhood of Cabbagetown (so named for the poor Irish immigrants who dug up their front yards to grow cabbage), this compact farm in the city is a working farm with all the animals you'd expect: cows, donkey, chickens, pigs, goats, sheep and a beautiful Clydesdale horse.  (Sadly, "Dolly" the other Clydesdale passed away last week due to old age.)   

Just inside the entrance is there's a small tuck shop which sells fresh baked goodies (I can't resist the oatmeal raisin cookies), and, if the stars align and you're there at the right time, you can even score some fresh farm eggs.  Having just filled up on lunch - and noticing that the ray of sun I had seen earlier was now hiding behind some menacing-looking clouds - we by-passed the cookies and headed straight for the animals. 

As it wasn't yet raining, most of the animals were outside and the look of excitement on JR's face as he saw the sheep and goats was priceless.  He was practically jumping out of my arms, frantically "baa-ing" and pointing.  He dutifully made each animal noise as we went from pen to pen.

Once we'd seen all the animals, we wandered down the stroller-friendly pathway, which leads to two buildings.  One is a volunteer-run museum, housed in "The Residence", and details the history of Cabbagetown and the Farm.  Across from the museum is "The Meeting Place" where events are held all-year round. In front of The Meeting Place are a few toys for kids to play with when they get bored of following mom and dad around the museum.
And if you're just not ready to head back to the car yet, just behind both buildings is a pathway which connects to the Don Valley Hills & Dales Discovery Walk (click here for a map and more info).  The path is well maintained and is not strenuous at all.  Within minutes you'll forget all about the busy city around you and find yourself enjoying the butterflies flitting about, and even stopping to smell the roses.
Still not convinced that you should hop on a streetcar and visit the Farm?  I've been saving the best for last:  It's open year-round and admission is free!* 

Because this amazing resource is free and so accessible, it means that you can pop in for a quick visit any time, or you can while away a whole afternoon if you like. Riverdale Park is adjacent to the Farm and is the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic or those fresh-baked cookies from the tuck shop. The farm is located at 201 Winchester Street (east of Parliament, south of Wellesley and north of Carlton/Gerrard Streets) and is easily accessible by TTC.

For more information on the Farm, visit The Friends of Riverdale Farm website.

*For now anyway: the Farm is currently on the Mayor's chopping block since he made campaign promises to 'cut the gravy' from City Hall and couldn't find any.  He's now looking for ways to find all that money he promised his voters.  For more on this, click here - and sign the petition to keep Riverdale Farm accessible to everyone!  Political rant over.  :)
But what if that journey involves a 1 year old, two flights totalling almost 18 hours and a 7-hour layover?  Is it still about the journey?  Um, maybe not, but you better be prepared unless you cherish the idea of a confined, grumpy toddler on your lap for 25 hours.

Last month my husband and I arrived at the airport, toddler in tow, to begin our 25-hour journey from Toronto to Vietnam.  Every person we spoke to about our trip said "you're so brave!"  To be honest, I hadn't really thought about it.  We'd been to Southeast Asia only three years earlier, so we knew the lay of the land and there was never a moment when we hadn't considered taking our son.  (Okay, time for full disclosure already:  there was *one* moment when I asked "should we leave JR with Grammy and Grampy instead?"  My husband wouldn't even entertain the thought, so that was that.)

And you know what I learned?  That we often underestimate our children. My son cried for a total of 15 minutes in the 14th hour of our first flight.  And only then because he had finally fallen asleep to be woken up by turbulence - enough to make any of us cry!  And I would venture to say that, as long as you come prepared, the journey can be half the fun. 

Top Tips for ENjoyinG the JourNey

Chillaxin' with Daddy en route to Hong Kong
1. Now, I'm a self-professed gear junkie, so maybe I go a bit overboard, but trust me when I tell you that sometimes, that gear will make the difference between calm and chaos.  The two pieces of techie stuff we bought in anticipation of this trip were an iPad (my son already knows how to use it better than I do!) and the toddler headphones by Califone, pictured here.  We got several compliments from flight attendants on these headphones and they helped keep JR engaged in the in-flight entertainment. When your mini globetrotter gets bored of the airline's movie selection, break out your fully-loaded tablet. There are tons of great apps for kids out there - click here for a list of some great ones.

2. If your journey involves a long flight, believe me when I say that those bulkhead seats are worth every. single. penny.  My husband is 6' 3", so we've been finagling those seats ever since we started travelling together.  Throw a toddler into the mix and those few extra inches quickly become essential.  The extra space meant we could spread out our belongings and set out a little play area for him.  He even slept on the floor at our feet when it was nap time.  Another bonus of the bulkhead seats is that the touch sreen TVs are either mounted on the wall or the arm of the seat -- which means that those pudgy fingers won't be pounding on the back of someone else's seat, and that's one less dirty look you have to endure.  Lord knows there's enough controversy these days about kids even being allowed on planes in the first place!

That bulkhead seat is worth every penny!
3. How you board the plane will set the tone for the rest of the trip.  Families with small children are usually allowed to pre-board.  If you're flying with another adult, the best solution we've found is to get one person to go ahead with as much of the luggage as they can handle and set up the seats, while the other person lets the child(ren) run off as much energy as possible before boarding the plane.  (And don't forget a last-minute diaper change too!)  When you do board, talk to a flight attendant as soon as possible to get the low-down on the lavatories.  Some airlines require you to put the diapers in airline-issued bags and then handed to a crew member for disposal.  Others just tell you to put them in the bathroom garbage.

4. Never underestimate the power of the treat.  Most airlines are good about bringing snacks, drinks, and small toys for the kids, but packing your carry-on with treats means you're not relying on a (hopefully) empathetic (and available) flight attendant.  Before a long flight, I visit the local dollar store and find a few toys that I think JR might enjoy.  I also pack his favourite lovey, a roll of painter's tape, some stickers, juice boxes and a few never-fail snacks (rice crackers, puffs, etc.).  I wrap the toys and hand one over whenever he seems to be getting restless.  The painter's tape was probably the smartest item in our bag of tricks.  JR loved ripping pieces off the roll of tape and sticking them all over us and the seats. It served a dual purpose as we soon discovered:  after JR had pressed the "Call Attendant" button a dozen times in five minutes, a piece of tape nicely covered the button, erasing that innate toddler need to press all visible buttons.

5. Go with the flow.  A detailed plan for the journey will end up in the same place as your birth plan: lining the bird cage.  Be prepared, but don't have expectations.  The best strategy is to be flexible, because you may find that your mile-a-minute pre-schooler wants to do nothing more than sit on your lap and watch cartoons, while your normally sedate 11-month old wants to run up and down the aisles.  Your fellow passengers aren't the enemy and are usually happy to smile and coo to your children as long as they see that you are genuinely making an effort to make the journey as comfortable as possible for your family.

When you're relaxed, your kids will read that and take their cues from you.  Remember - a journey of a thousand miles...begins with a little preparation.

Do you have any secret travel tips you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear them!

A version of this post appeared on the Suitcases and Sippy Cups website as part of Wanderer Wednesdays!

Right now my nieces and nephews are too young to know any better, but I'm willing to bet that between the ages of 7 and 15, I am going to be their least favourite aunt. I refuse to buy them presents. Because, really, what kid actually needs more plastic toys or wants more underwear?

Instead, my husband and I opened bank accounts for each of them in the year they were born.  We discussed how much we thought we would spend on gifts in an average year and deposit that amount into their accounts every January.  They'll get access to their accounts when they're 18 and there is only one string attached:  the money must NOT be spent on something "practical" like school or a car.

My husband and I are the only ones who travel in our families, so we know that the chances of our nieces and nephews getting firsthand exposure to other cultures and landscapes are slim.  That's just not a priority for their parents and that's fine.  But we know how amazing international travel is and want to foster that curiosity and desire to see what's beyond their borders, and extend their education beyond the classroom walls.

We haven't stipulated that it *must* be used for travel, but the bank accounts are labeled "Adventure for [insert name]", so we're hoping that each of them will decide to use it to see some far-flung corner of the world that they've always wondered about, or seen on TV or in a magazine.  Hopefully, when they open their birthday card each year and look at the growing bank balance, it will kick-start their dreaming...

Do you encourage your extended family members to explore?