My dear daughter, this has been an unusual time. I’ve tried to keep things as ‘normal’ for you as possible, but I’ve got to be honest: things are not normal. I feel fortunate that you just turned 5 years old, and being able to play daily is what ranks as a great day to you. I do hope there are some key things you will remember when this is all over (if it is ever really ‘over’?).
The school shutdown coincided with your 5th birthday. We had to pivot quickly, to cancel your much anticipated party, and make this day special for you. Your birthday was days from the beginning of shutdown, so we hadn’t thought of ‘drive-by parties’, but you’ll remember how special you felt when you received multiple presents dropped off at our door ‘in secret’, and dozens of messenger calls from friends and family thinking of you. I hope you’ll remember that Nanna was here, and we got to celebrate your birthday together as a family, with all the focus on you.
I hope you don’t remember we had to cancel going to Disneyland with your friend.
You will hopefully remember hours and hours of my undivided attention. Wandering seemingly aimlessly, finding treasures or ‘hunting’ for unicorns. You might remember we came really close to finding a unicorn, too. We found their village and followed their ‘droppings’ for quite some time, but never quite saw one.
I hope you remember how happy you were. You rested, you played, you weren’t rushed to move from one activity to the next. We lingered, we examined, and left room to be curious. Giving that room to breathe made everything easier. We didn’t argue or fight. There were fewer tears. I can honestly say, you’ve never been happier.
You might remember that you missed your friends, but only a couple of them will stand out. I don’t think you missed school, honestly, but the child interaction is what you crave. You might remember how awesome it has been not to be dragged to school early in the morning and picked up later that night, spending hours and hours outside the home.
I hope you don’t remember how truly painful the bi-weekly Zoom meetings with your kindergarten class were. Despite your teacher’s best efforts, those are a memory I hope we both forget.
Most of all, I hope you remember you were happy and loved. While the world crumbled around us, we were together and enjoying the little things in life. Nothing else mattered as long as we had our home and each other, and I like to think you will remember that most of all. That this wasn’t a stressful time, it was an ‘us’ time, and those moments in time are so rare.
Things have changed in the world…have you noticed? Covid has pretty much turned everything upside down, and I feel like I am adjusting daily. While trying to keep our family safe, we also strive to keep a sense of ‘normal’, and a good dose of ‘fun’. Without the ability to go to school or see her friends, it’s been tough to keep things positive around here.
Most recently, my husband has been busy building a deck at our house, which has meant he has been busy doing back-breaking labour, but family time was at an all-time low. So one weekend, when Chris had an extra Monday off, we decided to go for a drive to one of the best local beaches we know in Ontario: Grand Bend.
Beaches everywhere across Ontario only opened a week or 2 ago. They were shut down to visitors to avoid COVID transmission. As many regions across Ontario were permitted to open up to Phase 2, that meant beaches were a go! We cautiously ventured out to the beach on a Monday that would typically not be as busy as they would be on a weekend.
Let me tell you, there’s not much I love more than a good beach. I’m not a person who enjoys tanning, per-say, but I love the heat (under the safety of a beach umbrella!), and I love the water. It’s soothing to me, and I find, in the summer especially, I crave it. Grand Bend, on Lake Erie, is one of the most beautiful beaches around. I hadn’t been there in years. So going to this beach in the middle of a world pandemic with our 5 year old child was a special, first time experience, I guess!
So when we got there, parking was easy. It was evident it was a less busy day than usual, but tourism was still booming in this popular Ontario beach town. Chris and I agreed, getting out of the car in Grand Bend was like stepping back in time, like COVID wasn’t a thing. Almost. Some people were wearing masks, but everyone was spread out enough that social distancing wasn’t a big concern. All of the stores and restaurants had directional markers, and plexi-glass covering all of the tills. The stores didn’t seem to be requiring masks, so we generally stayed away, but we did our part to stimulate the local economy by buying lunch at a local restaurant (which had a great take-out menu as well as booze to-go, which we didn’t take advantage of this time!). Once we hit the beach, it was a beautiful oasis that allowed us to just be a family and not worry about that crazy bug.
Despite some of the pictures and reports coming from the first open weekend of Grand Bend (I’ve heard they have since closed down part of the beach areas because of overcrowding https://www.narcity.com/news/ca/on/toronto/grand-bend-beach-was-slammed-with-people-this-canada-day-photos), we felt quite safe there on a quiet Monday, and people respected their distance. From those picture angles, sure, the beaches look slammed, but during our visit, we found everyone kept their distance and we had 0 concerns. We were able to easily access the beach, and make some great summer memories. I’m glad we went when we did, because I have a feeling many of these beaches are headed for a shut-down as more out-of-towners flock to the outdoors for the only summer escapes available at the moment. Keeping the tourists coming to these locations is both a blessing and a curse at this time, while businesses struggle through a raging pandemic.
We were looking for an affordable Caribbean vacation for the family. I have to admit, I simply typed into google flights “Caribbean” and San Juan, PR came up as the most affordable rate for May 2018. Travel to San Juan was cheap because they had suffered the wrath of Hurricane Maria in September 2017. While recovery had begun, even while we were preparing to leave on our trip, the electrical system on the island was weak, and the entire island was without power for 2-3 days. Needless to say, we were beginning to wonder if our travel plans were a mistake. While we had done our research, and the San Juan tourism industry was begging for people to come back to visit. Boldly, despite our hesitancy, we took the leap to finally visit this beautiful Caribbean city.
San Juan, PR, as it happens, was a great getaway for the whole family. There was little evidence in the main areas of the devastating hurricane, though there were areas near the beach where we were told entire rows of palm trees were missing. While it wasn’t uncommon to see trees without tops, or damaged roofs on buildings, there had clearly been a lot of clean-up done. Essentially, if we hadn’t known there had been such a huge hurricane just 6 months prior, we might not have noticed. It was clear the region had come a long way since the devastation, and people and businesses were quickly rebuilding their lives. It was very humbling to be there in the aftermath, as a tourist simply looking to visit the many beautiful sights and sounds of the area.
We managed to find some really great spots around San Juan and beyond that were perfect for children and adults alike. Uber had started service on the island just the year before, so we were able to seamlessly get around without a rental car. Our Air BnB, in the Ocean Park area, was just 1 block from the beach, though, as we discovered the first day there, our closest beach was renowned for kite surfing and heavy waves, hence not safe for a 3 year old. We had fun in the sand anyway, and found a couple of great parks where Miss E preferred to play anyway. Part of the fun became trying out different beaches each day. I could write an entire post about beaches in San Juan…stay tuned.
Old San Juan
A visit to Old San Juan is a must while in PR. The buildings are absolutely stunning in their old Spanish style, and the El Morro Fort has an incredible history and some of the best views in the city. We also found a small water fountain just up the street from El Morro which proved to be a much needed refreshment from the sun (it’s the simple things when travelling with kids, isn’t it?).
Old San Juan is really a place you could wander and shop through for the whole day. Given that we were travelling with a little, we spent only a short time shopping between food stops 🙂
We ended up in Isla Verde in search of a good swimming beach. While the waves were still high for a toddler, it was the perfect spot to hang-out for the day. The first day I visited this beach, my sister and I had taken a long walk from Ocean Park area to Isla Verde. We had a great walk through town, until we could join the beach. Then we sat on a patio at the Intercontinental San Juan to enjoy a drink and the view of the Atlantic. We didn’t stay at the Intercontinental, but it looked like a fantastic resort for future travel. Up the beach you can also rent beach chairs and umbrellas for a longer lounging experience. There are tons of restaurants in Isla Verde that we didn’t even get to experience. Next time we’d probably stay closer to this area, with easy access to downtown San Juan by Uber.
Playa La Pocita de pinones
This beach was recommended to us by one of our Uber drivers, and it did not disappoint! He described this beach where the water is calm due to an inlet from the ocean, making it perfect for small children to swim. This is such a cool place where all the local go! It was maybe a 20 minute drive out of San Juan, but oh so worth it. We were able to wade into the shallow, warm water, while just over the natural barrier/breakwater, waves came crashing in. We were shielded from the intense waves of the Atlantic in this shallow pool. I would recommend water shoes, though, as it is rocky. Our water excursion ended a little early when Miss E stepped on some coral.
There were vendors selling ice cream on the beach, and across the street, an awesome food market where they sell all sorts of delicious meals and treats for the best prices we had found anywhere near San Juan. There were also some wild dogs that were hanging around that provided some entertainment after lunch. The dogs were in some rough shape from the sun, but they were frequently fed scraps and water in the short period we were there.
I realize this is a chain restaurant, but we were travelling with a rambunctious toddler and this was just the kind of fun, distracting atmosphere we were in need of at this point in the trip. It was bright, happy, and air conditioned for everyone to enjoy. The balloon hats and shots for Chris straight out of the bottle didn’t hurt either.
Parque de Las Palomas (Pigeon Park!)
Ok, this was a very fun experience for our daughter, if a little unnerving for us adults. The Pigeon park is within the walls of Old San Juan, and there is someone selling bird seed for $1 USD near the entrance. Once inside the park, there are HUNDREDS of pigeons vying for food, or nested in the pigeon ‘apartments’ along the wall. It probably goes without saying: watch where you step, and be careful walking under the giant tree in the centre of the park!It was still a lot of fun and an interesting experience that Evey still talks about!
Museo de arte de Puerto Rico
This was a cultural trip for the parents, on a rainy day. At 3 years old, the art galleries were interesting to Miss E for first 20 minutes, but the highlight of the visit for her was most certainly the big open-air area at the centre of the museum. She and Chris ‘hunted’ for geckos in the big space, while my sister and I explored all the floors of the museum. It was a nice balance. Visiting here maybe took 1 – 2 hours total.
Miramar food truck park
Located at 1006 Avenida Juan Ponce de León, San Juan, we stumbled across this gem of a food park while wandering home from the museum. There are a bunch of food trucks with varying menus, and, as a bonus, a covered eating area. The covered eating area came in handy as the skies opened-up while we were eating our food. We arrived here by foot following a long and loud emotional fit from Evey, who was probably tired and hangry because she ate well and then fell asleep on the way home.
There were so many fun places to see in San Juan, it’s difficult to name everything. I think we found the perfect balance of beach lounging and entertainment. Next time we agreed we would want to stay further away from the city centre, because overall the biggest challenge was how expensive the tourist district was. While our flight and Air BnB stay was quite reasonable, we paid for it in the exchange rate from Canadian to US dollars in a tourist area. Overall though, it was an incredible trip that I could see us doing again and again.
I’ve been struggling to come up with the words to describe how I’m feeling following the suicide of Anthony Bourdain. It’s not a dissimilar feeling to when Robin Williams took his own life. Celebrity suicides. Not so uncommon anymore, it seems. But somehow we grow to love these characters and their love of life, their passion. It actually hurts when they are gone, as though I knew them personally.
Of course, I didn’t know Bourdain, but I knew his stage presence. I loved his passion and the person he chose to show the world. And whether the stage presence is even a morsel of the person he actually was, it saddens me to know he suffered so much with his demons. May he rest in peace.
Anthony Bourdain contributed greatly to my travel itch. My husband and I would watch his shows (Parts Unknown particularly, but also No Reservations, the Layover and a few others like the Mind of a Chef, Executive Directed by Bourdain). We would watch and dream of travelling to far off places and tasting all of the interesting dishes. Some not so far off places, too, as there were many episodes set in Québec. He had a thing for Québec cuisine and culture. How do you thank someone for helping to broaden the world for you with a sense of adventure?
We eventually visited some of the places he highlighted, like Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we ate from the food truck with the lady wearing a cowboy hat.
There were even other places that were added to our bucket list of destinations that we probably wouldn’t have considered:
Puerto Rico (we recently got to see!), Columbia, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Jamaica (to name just a few).
His perspective was raw and authentic. It gave us the confidence to travel without a tour guide or an all-inclusive, 5-star hotel. It showed the good and the bad of a place, and that was ok. It was all part of experiencing a place. The food looked great, but the entire experience was rich and thoughtful.
What saddens me is knowing that this man, who clearly meant so much to so many foodies and travellers, a man who had a full life, a woman he was in love with and a young daughter, still couldn’t find his happiness. Suicide is so hard because that person literally doesn’t see another way out of their sadness, or believes the world would be better off without them. It seems like the absolute darkest, loneliest and saddest ways to leave this world. I wouldn’t wish that deep sadness onto anyone.
So many people have been ending their thoughts for Anthony Bourdain mentioning suicide hotlines and that you should reach out if you need help. Of course this is true, and it seems the most natural way to end this.
Call your local suicide helpline and just talk to someone. Talking can help tremendously to relieve some of those feelings, provide hope, and just feel heard. And in the words of rapper Royce da 5’9: Check up on your strong friend. Because often it is the strong friend you don’t suspect who is suffering silently.
They say scent is the most powerful memory trigger. Today I was faced with this very trigger, seemingly randomly. While taking a stroll with my dog, I walked by this old building turned antique auction house. Somebody from inside called to me and said ‘Hey, I have something for you’. I said ‘Oh?’ and followed him (maybe against my better judgement, but I live in a small town). The man had some dog treats for my dog, which basically meant he was my dogs best friend now.
Still, as I entered this old building, I was hit by this peculiar scent. I immediately thought of my Mamagan (my maternal grandmother). How to describe this scent? Thinking of it logically, it was the smell of cigarettes and dated furniture. Maybe an old wood drenched in the scent of cigarettes, really. But actually, when I smelled this scent, I didn’t think of it as wood/cigarette smell. I thought of My Mamagan and her house. My Mamagan’s house was this little cottage-like home wrapped in wooden shingles and, from what I remember, a lot of wooden furniture and accents. Plus, as the other scent would suggest, she smoked. A lot. Of course this antique auction building is filled with all such furniture. Old furniture and a man who likes to smoke and give treats to the neighbourhood dogs.
I left this encounter thinking of the correlation between scent and memory. I was taken back to that home my Mamagan lived in that seemed to be a castle to me as a child. I’m sure, though, that it was not much bigger than a few rooms. I always found that place to be so magical, with it’s nooks and crannies. The kicker to all of this is that, not only is that house long gone (burned down in a fire years after we moved away), but my Mamagan has also been gone for over 18 years.
That such a specific scent (despite sounding so unpleasant) can bring back these vivid memories of a period of time. Stuck in time with this scent that cannot be bottled or easily recreated, but every once in a while appears out of nowhere, just as quickly fading away as if it never was.
In March 2017, we sadly said goodbye to my Uncle. While he had been sick with emphysema, his passing was both a sad yet peaceful one. Shortly after his passing, my husband had to travel for work, before we had news of the funeral. As a result, I found myself needing to travel to attend a funeral in Montreal with my daughter by myself.
Have I mentioned how much my child hates car rides? Since she was about 6 weeks old, she has spent many car rides crying and screaming. She doesn’t always do this, but when she does, it can be very stressful and tiring (for BOTH of us). As with many children, trains have been the source of awe and inspiration for my child for a long time. So, when it came to choosing whether to drive or take the train, we chose to train in.
Mind you, there are some specific challenges to travelling with a 2 year old on a VIA rail train across a portion of Canada alone. Firstly, we needed to bring our car seat, because she would need one for the car when we got to the other end. Further, we were going to have a transfer at Union station in Toronto, so everything had to be easy enough to move on my own, while holding baby (if at all possible). Still, the benefits of being able to focus all of my attention on little one while we meandered to our destination was more than worth it.
Here are the benefits and drawbacks to long train trips with a toddler, (in my humble opinion):
Benefit 1: Trains are exciting to kids. Seeing them approach and then climbing on and watching the scenery move is also a nice experience.
Drawback: the excitement and novelty wears off after about 10 minutes. Then there are the other 6 hours to figure out what to do…
Benefit 2: In the event of a tantrum, it is very easy to find a distraction and provide soothing. Plus, the staff on the train do everything in their ability to help (I’m pretty sure they just didn’t want to ruin the ride for the other passengers, but whatever).
Drawback: It’s not a relaxing trip like it would be when travelling on your own. I was constantly playing, entertaining, distracting and following up the aisles. I was less tired than if I had been in a car with a crying child for 7 hours, though.
Benefit 3: You can request assistance at stopovers to aid with your luggage and car seat.
Drawback: if it’s not a direct transfer (it often isn’t), they will presume you will then keep your luggage (and yourself) in one spot while you wait for the next loading time. Unfortunately, with a toddler, sitting in one spot for 2 hours was NOT going to be possible. I convinced the baggage handling station to hold onto our car seat until we were ready to board.
Benefit 4: Sometimes your child will fall asleep long enough for you to order a beer and start to drink it.
Drawback: Sometimes your child will wake up 2 minutes after you’ve received said beer and want to play. But drinking that beer would not have been possible if I had driven down!
To train with toddler, or not to train?
All in all, taking the train was a peaceful experience. There were times, especially on the trip home (when the novelty of the train had worn off), that 2 year old tantrums abounded. But, overall, the train was painless, though a little stressful with luggage and car seats and keeping a human alive. The benefit of the car would have been loading all those things up and not having to unload them until we reached our destination. I would probably do that trip again if a car seat were not required.
I love most everything about it, from decorating, to baking, and most especially christmas music. One of the great things about having a young child in the house is the ability to enjoy christmas with the new, exciting fervour that makes the season so magical.
So yesterday we started a new christmas tradition. We went to a local farm and picked our own christmas tree. It is a wonderful tradition because, not only is cutting your own tree more environmentally-friendly than a plastic one (especially from a local, no pesticide tree farm!), but the entire experience is special. PLUS, we get to pick a tree in the middle of a field and make my husband saw it down and carry it for over 2 km. So, it’s a family affair 😉
Nothing beats that fresh pine smell and the endless pine needles lingering around the house until you have to drag the dead tree out of your house to be burned in the firepit next summer.
Here’s to a happy, healthy and tradition filled holiday season spent with family and the many happy shrieks from delighted children.
We read a lot of things about Thailand before visiting. This was really a trip 5 years in the planning until we could afford to go. Now that we have traveled around different areas of Thailand (Bangkok, Kata, Rawai, Chiang Mai), I’ve accumulated a list (in no particular order) of things we noticed:
– Metered Taxi drivers will inevitably try to avoid using their meter and charge you a flat rate that will be considerably higher.
When we arrived in Bangkok, for example, the taxi driver offered to drive us to our hotel for 200 Baht. I insisted on the meter, and the ride ended up costing only 100 Baht.
– Chartered taxis and tuk tuk’s alike will make an extra stop at a jewelry shop because they get a commission for bringing people. The drivers collect stamps and get paid when they fill the card. This happened to us a couple of times. We went in to look around and didn’t buy anything. The driver was thankful. We’ve been told the jewelry is a scam, but not all the shops had terrible prices. The shops were clean and air conditioned, so not too bad.
– Thai people love babies. It is a daily occurence that we walk down the street and people get excited and run over to say ‘hi’ to Evey and smile at her. If my daughter has learned nothing else on this trip, she is awesome and worthy of worship 😉
– Bartering is expected for shopping, taxis, boat rides, etc. We found it best practice to not barter at the food stalls or places with small prices, because it’s so cheap already. Also, it seems like restaurants are set prices, too. Canadians are not known for bartering well, apparently, but we did our best. Ultimately, you pay what you feel comfortable paying and what it’s worth to you.
– The image of Buddha should be respected: you can photograph it, but don’t use it as decor, get it as a tattoo, or deface it in any way
– The Thai national anthem is played once a day. It’s respectful to stop what you are doing and stand.
– Papaya salad is way hotter than you would think. Way.
– Most places we encountered took cash, not Visa. But there are ATM’s everywhere, and especially in front of 7/11’s, which are equally everywhere. We take out cash every few days so that we aren’t carrying large amounts around.
– A lot of products like soap have ‘whitening agents’ in them. This is because Thai people see white skin as esthetically pleasing. As a result, we had difficulty finding soaps without these ‘agents’ at small shops.
– There are tons of places to get your laundry done. They charge by the Kg, and a load costs only a couple of bucks. I will begrudgingly do our own laundry now that we are back in Canada.
– There are tons of places to eat, and so cheap there is no point cooking yourself. For even cheaper meals, street meat abounds. We had this wonderful kitchenette and used it to make instant coffee and store our empty beer bottles 😉
-People are very entrepreneurial. This may be by necessity (few jobs available). Many places are family-run businesses, and it’s easy to support local. Many places provide several services to pay the bills (tattoo shop/currency exchange, tour agency/ laundry/gas sales, restaurant/internet cafe/ motorcycle rental).
– Quite recently (within the last 5 years), it has become very easy to fly all around Thailand to the major cities. We are told that prior to this, there were not many flights and you had to take the train (slower, but enjoyable), or drive. The opportunity to fly allowed us to get all over Thailand in very little time, and this was the easiest and most convenient method when travelling with a baby.
– There is a saying about the ‘Thai Smile’ in Thailand. It refers to how friendly Thai people are. We truly found this to be right. Everyone was welcoming, kind, and helpful. We always felt comfortable chatting with folks and getting around. When we came back to Canada, we missed that warmth! (and not just the weather)
That’s all I can think of for now. Reading through this list, I can’t wait to go back!