Netflix Documentary Review: Audrey

The inspiration behind my engagement shoot was the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Audrey Hepburn’s classic style is not only of elegance, but transcends all generations. I remember excitedly planning for this shoot with Ahmad and Farah Taam of Signature Design and Photography. She was the muse of our shoot: I wore a modern twist of the famous black Givenchy dress (mine was from Zara) and donned my mother’s pearls. Although we weren’t in New York, the Detroit skyline served as our backdrop. We took pictures in front of the historic Paul Martin building in downtown Windsor and some other notable hotspots, including restobar Panache.

Director Helena Coan examines the life, the struggles and the triumph of Hollywood actress and humanitarian, Audrey Hepburn. Although Audrey Hepburn was a mega-star, she endured many hardships in her life, including malnutrition, divorce and war. Audrey Hepburn first rose to stardom after her role in the film Roman Holiday alongside Gregory Peck. Her timeless style rose to prominence as she famously collaborated with French designer, Hubert de Givenchy, who became one of her closest friends.

The life of Audrey Hepburn was told through the lens of her son, Sean, as well as many close friends and people she had worked with, making it for a genuine yet candid account of the starlet’s life. Director Helena Coan eloquently tells the story of Audrey Hepburn’s life in such a beautiful manner that as a viewer, you are left intrigued and inspired.

My greatest takeaway from this account of Audrey Hepburn’s life was her dedication towards humanity. Her story was extremely moving and and provides us with a teachable moment: to never stop caring for one another. Her exemplary dedication towards the welfare of children (as made evident with her many missions with UNICEF) is a testament of her love for humanity. Audrey’s own childhood experiences most definitely influenced her passion for advocating for the world’s poorest children. Although she is predominantly known for her classic beauty, I would argue that her compassion, kindness and generousity are her most prominent features.

Audrey had once publicly stated that “taking care of children has nothing to do with politics. I think perhaps with time, instead of there being a politicisation of humanitarian aid, there will be a humanisation of politics.” Although Audrey Hepburn will forever be remembered as a Hollywood icon, she is most importantly, a role model for each one of us to follow.

Audrey the documentary by filmmaker Helena Coan is currently available on Netflix. Enjoy!

Reflections On International Women’s Day: MOTHERHOOD, WORK-LIFE BALANCE IN A PANDEMIC WORLD

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.….It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
-Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would become a full-time employee and homeschool teacher at the same time. I am not going to deny it, but this was probably one of the most difficult things I ever had to endure. I was exhausted and anxious to say the least. It was definitely challenging trying to work and navigate online learning, but somehow, we survived it. As much as I was frustrated with the situation, I was fortunate in a sense where I had a very supportive spouse, employer and a network of friends online to talk to. The majority of people that I talked to regarding the school closure situation were actually women and I think everyone had the same feelings that I had. We all shared the same worries about our children’s future, we all vented to each other with how challenging it was to teach and work at the same time and how we were all worried about the mental health of our children and ourselves. At the time, I felt it was so important to advocate for the safe return to school and in doing so, I realized it was a very empowering and meaningful experience.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has brought out many inequalities within society, namely within racial, ethnic and indigenous communities, refugees and women. Women, who bare the burden of most household responsibilities, have been negatively impacted as a result of school and daycare closures. This in turn negatively impacts the workforce, creating an even greater gender divide on the economy. But the silver lining in all this is that women’s rights and equity have come to the spot light and change is happening: the conversation has started. In a post-pandemic world, we really need to ask ourselves how can we better support women? I believe the answer is simple.

Everything starts in the home:

I truly believe that any conversation must start within ourselves and within our homes. As parents, we need to start having conversations with our children regarding the value of women within society and provide them with the perspective of the world through the lens of a woman. Education is a key element in teaching our children about the values of gender equality as an important role within a democratic society.

Advocacy and support:

Continuing to advocate for things such as paid leave during an emergency for example or more equitable workplaces are important policies that would help women. Providing women with support, for example, during motherhood, could be extremely beneficial towards women who, for instance, want to further themselves in their careers. Today there is an array of online support groups and outreach services available within many communities to help serve women in such situations. I am also seeing more and more platforms on social media supporting women in various roles of society. It’s important that we continue to advocate for things such as parental leave, child care leave, flexible work schedules to help women move forward.

Supporting women through business:

Today, many women are taking on the roles of becoming business owners and entrepreneurs, however, only a small percentage of women are CEO’s throughout the world. According to Catalyst, although the number of women CEO’s have gone up in 2020, “there are still nearly 13 companies run by a man for every company run by a woman.” However, more and more women are stepping up to the challenge and starting their own business ventures. Today, I ask you to look around in your own communities and go out and support businesses owned by women. Even doing something small, such as tagging a female-owned business on Instagram or picking up a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop run by women, can go a long way in showing our support for women in business. Women supporting women is a very powerful thing!

Celebrating women:

Celebrating women’s empowerment doesn’t have to be only on one day, but rather should happen everyday and there are small things we can do to help celebrate women. Maybe its contributing towards a charity that is geared towards the empowerment of women or learning about an important historical figure within the women’s rights movement. We can also honour the women in our own lives, such as a parent, grandparent, a teacher or a friend.

In summary, given all the hardships that we have been through this past year, if anything, I have learned that as a woman and as a mother, I am strong, I am resilent and I am fearless. Not only will I continue to advocate for my children, but I will advocate for all women, to help create a more just society.

Book review: the alice network by kate quinn

War. Espionage. Feminism. Need I say more?

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is a historical fictional novel, losely based on the pursuits of Louise de Bettignies, a female spy in World War I. The novel intertwines the courageous story of two women, Eve and Charlie, who essentially live parallel lives to one another. Their experiences in upholding justice and finding the truth are intertwined when the latter is searching for her missing cousin in a post-World War II era. The novel addresses topics that were considered taboo for women of that era, specifically pregnancy before marriage and a women’s role in society and war. Deliciously written, Quinn eloquently ties together themes of war, espionage and feminism all in one book. A novel that I could not put down, its no surprise to me why this is a New York Times Best Seller and a Heather’s Pick at Chapter’s Indigo. I highly recommend reading this book, especially if you are searching for something with a sense of purpose.

Why the kids need a village: thoughts on reopening schools in ontario

Schools throughout Southwestern Ontario have remained closed since the Christmas break. The original plan was for students to return to in-person instruction on January 11, 2021. However, statistics from the Ministry of Health released just days before the return to school indicated a spike in cases as a result of “holiday gatherings,” (which in my view was negligible because the amount of children being tested decreased during over the holidays and therefore the denominator was less). As a result of this, the provincial government made the agonizing decision to extend online learning for most parts of Southern Ontario until February 10th. Although I believe this was a difficult decision to make and as much as I appreciate efforts to curb the spread of the virus, this left many children and parents heartbroken, upset and confused.

I can see that heartbreak in my kids, everyday. My 4 year old son, cries almost every day and tells me “mama, I miss real school” and finds it very hard to stay engaged. My oldest son who is 6, sometimes gets frustrated because he feels as if he can’t keep up with the rest of the class. We are now into week three of virtual learning and my children are really starting to feel it. The stimulation from the screen time coupled with the frustration of navigating online learning is difficult for children in their primary years.

Don’t get me wrong: both of my children’s teachers have been phenomenal and very understanding of the situation. They have gone above and beyond to help my kids cope during this time, including one-on-one meetings, encouraging us to use meditation and breaks when needed. We really need to give our teachers a show of appreciation right now because they themselves are adapting to a new learning environment. Despite all of our efforts to make online learning a positive experience, I am worried about the impact of continued online learning in young children, specifically:

-The lack of interaction with their peers, especially during the formative years of development;
-The long-term effects of disruption in the school year and finally;
-That we are inadvertently creating a mental health crisis in all our youth.

I have been communicating with my MPP’s office on and off since the summer, writing letters and voicing my concern for my children’s well-being and quality of education. I understand that we are living in unprecedented times and I truly believe that they are trying their best to help protect a vulnerable health care system and the elderly. However, based on all the literature and data about schools, closing schools is the wrong policy choice. UNICEF recently came out with a statement and declared that children cannot afford to miss another year of school. The CEO of Sick Kids Hospital even stated that schools should be “the first to open and the last to close.” But even more disturbing are stories such as the New York Times report on the decision for schools in Las Vegas to reopen as result of increased suicides in youth.

This should frighten every parent.

I have come to the conclusion that despite all the academic evidence, children’s voices have not been heard at the decision-making table. This is where we as parents must come in and this is why I have been advocating for a safe return to school since the summertime.

Please don’t misunderstand me and I have to be explicit when I state this: I know first-hand how serious COVID-19 is and personally have friends and family on the front-lines of the COVID-19 crisis, but something in my heart tells me that keeping children away from the classroom is also wrong. When every peer-reviewed journal has indicated that the spread of the virus is extremely low in school-aged children and that schools are in fact, the safest place for children to be in right now, why are the schools still closed, knowing that the risks greatly outweigh the benefits?

It’s just plain wrong.

I recently read a tweet from the the CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) which stated that Ottawa had the second-highest rate of distress calls to the Kids Help Line. That tweet really resonated something inside me. As an NICU parent, I have my own appreciation around mental health awareness and as such, I decided I could not stay silent no more. As an NICU parent and navigating our journey through prematurity, I learned early on, that a parent is a child’s greatest advocate. Considering too that we are also approaching Mental Health Day here in Canada, I believe this conversation is appropriate. So last week, I reached out to my friends on my private account on Instagram via my stories to see if any one else felt the way I did.

The response was overwhelming and the consensus was…..children need to be in schools.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

The conversations I had with many of my friends inspired me so much because every person I spoke with was in a different situation, or they had a different view of the pandemic. But despite all these differences, I was able to engage with each person in a meaningful and positive way. I believe that engaging in this manner is what should be the foundation towards positive change and sound policy-making.

In summary, the response was overwhelmingly positive but also revealed a lot of sadness, fear and frustration. I spoke with people from all walks of life: from health care providers, teachers, early childhood educators, business owners, parents and non-parents, stay at home parents and working parents. Overall, everyone agrees that children need to be in school. Many parents told me that they have noticed a negative change of behaviour in their children, others said they felt tremendous guilt for leaving them to watch television while they had to work and others were concerned about the amount of screen time as a result of remote learning. Some individuals reached out to me and told me that they kept their kids home for the year, not because they were afraid of coronavirus, but they were more concerned about the possible interuptions to their child’s learning.

It was interesting to note that in other places in the world, like Croatia for instance, kindergarten is not mandatory, rather there is vrtić (daycare,) which is optional and is more for young children to socialize. A close friend of mine who lives in Paris, France told me that children have been going to school the whole time, while another friend in Australia told me that the measures were just too much.

Many teachers disclosed to me that online learning, especially for children in their formative years is not ideal and rather this was created more as a response for the demand for live learning at home. As pointed out by one teacher, the amount of time for synchronous learning also has no bearing on pedagogy. Another close friend who works in occupational therapy told me that the amount of distress calls, specifically with families who have autistic children, went through the roof.

Although I am not disputing the severity of the virus and agree that there must be an effort to slow the spread of the virus as a means to protect our vulnerable and our health care system, there also needs to be a balance, in my view. I too was for lockdown back in March when we knew very little of the virus. Images of Wuhan, Iran and Northern Italy frightened us and we had to do something about it. However, 10 months in, countless studies and research, vaccines finally arriving, we still aren’t doing any better for our kids. This is leaving many parents afraid that schools will be closed until March.

We know already that the results of prolonged lockdown policies are disproportionately affecting low-income communities, ethnic minorities, women and children. My question is, despite all the research regarding children and schools, why aren’t we doing any better? How come no one else has proposed a more sustainable solution?

But there is hope!

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

Slowly, the ideas are starting to come in. One example of an innovative solution was on a podcast I listened to called “Solving Healthcare,” hosted by Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng. This particular episode that I listened to consisted of a panel of experts ranging from infectious disease, communications and public health. They discussed possible solutions to the pandemic and addressed areas of concern. I was particularly impressed by some of the ideas that they proposed such as:

-going back to the core values of public health;
-having a clear and consistent message;
-the need to address target areas that are greatly affected by COVID-19 such as workplaces and long-term care homes;
-making more use of available tools such as rapid testing and finally;
-paid sick leave for essential workers.

You can listen more to the podcast here and decide for yourself, but from my point of view, this was an excellent start for changing policy. Listening to a dialogue such as this one reminded me of the core values I learned as a graduate student in political science many years ago. Creating good public policy means coming up with sustainable solutions to handling a crisis, without harming other aspects of society. It’s about being efficient with the tools you have available for everyone to benefit from.

But going back to my main concern of keeping schools closed, please know, that I am not by any means undermining the severity of this virus. However, I am speaking as a concerned parent who wants what is best for her children. Its what we as parents, educators, health care providers alike want and should strive towards: a safe, loving, nurturing and warm environment for all children. Like the old saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. We need to support our children during this time and come up with ways to help them not just cope, but to thrive, for they are our future!

Let’s be that village and let’s support our children!

Some of the conclusions I came up with during my Instagram conversation to help navigate during this time (and for you too):

  1. Remember that we are ALL doing our best;
  2. Remind your kids that they are doing their best too and give them breaks when they need it (i.e. outdoor play, going for a walk or bike ride, puzzle time, colouring sheets or watching a movie;)
  3. Be kind to yourself and remember that you can only control how you feel;
  4. Know that support is available if you need it (i.e. call a friend or a family member for mental support; know that there is also support available in your community;)
  5. Talk to your child’s teacher and come up with a plan of action if your child is struggling with online learning;
  6. Stay healthy mentally, physically and emotionally and stay safe.


With much love and gratitude,

N.

Book review: The Grace Kelly Dress by Brenda Janowitz

As a young bride-to-be back in 2012, the inspiration behind my dress was the lace detailing from Princess Grace of Monaco’s wedding dress. I remember being captivated by the idea of having a lace wedding dress as it reflects my personal style of classical elegance. Next to Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly’s style is one of the most iconic styles in history and this was a look I wanted to emulate when I got married.

Me as a young bride in October 2012.
Photo credit: Signature Design & Photography

Back in August, while pursuing the shelves of Indigo, the title of Brenda Janowitz’s seventh novel, “The Grace Kelly Dress,” caught my eye. When I first picked up the novel, I thought it would be about the actual Grace Kelly wedding dress, but to my surprise, it was not. To be honest, it took me a few chapters to get into this book. At one point, I would say maybe a couple of chapters in, the plot thickened! The stories of three different women from the same family were intertwined: Rocky, an unconventional bride-to-be; Joanie, a young college girl questioning her purpose in life and finally, Rose, a struggling French seamstress. The story’s main themes revolve around love, loss and the importance of family tradition.

On a broader scale, the book was just more than about a dress. It was about three women, spanning from three different generations, and their experiences with loss, love and discovery of self. It was about how the dress made each one of them question their purpose in life and look deeper into themselves. In general, the book made me think about what traditions in my family that I value and want to pass onto my children. It also made me think more about how traditions can adapt with ever changing norms and conventions.

The book had a wonderful ending, although I personally felt as if some questions left unanswered for me, specifically with Joanie, Rocky’s mother.

I could definitely see this book becoming a film at some point. This book is definitely a weekend reader over a glass of wine! Despite a slow start, I highly recommend reading this novel as it will leave you curious to learn more about the dress that bonds three generations of women together.

Wine pairing: I enjoyed reading this book it over a glass of Peller Estates Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2018. You can find this at your local Wine Shop.

It’s okay to cry: why it’s okay if you have to sometimes

One mother’s perspective on the challenges of raising spirited children and debriefing after a challenging situation

Parenthood is full of ebbs and flows, and on this particular night, I was done. I walked away to a dark corner and needed that space to be alone. When I went down to the floor, so too did the tears.

I had used all my energy to try and calm an inconsolable child down, and I couldn’t anymore. I tried so hard to console him, but the tantrum sucked every ounce of life out of me. Despite all my best efforts to try and calm him down, using all the strategies I learned from books such as the Whole Brain Child and Raising your Spirited Child, nothing was working. I tried our breathing exercises, which he flat out refused and then counting down to ten, but nothing worked.

So I had to turn around and walk away.

Let me back track the scenario: He was upset because he was asked to go to bed early. He started to be a little cranky and my husband said it was time for bed. He then started to cry and scream. My husband simply ignored all this and kept saying, “I think you are tired, let’s go to bed.” The screaming escalated as my son did not want to comply, so he started to bang the floor with his feet and hit. My husband said “hands are not for hitting,” but it didn’t work.

After some time, I stepped in to relieve my husband. I went down to my son’s level and said, “you seem really frustrated that it’s bedtime, don’t you? I know it’s fun to stay up late, but it’s time to get some rest.” He obviously did not like that answer. I then asked him to count to ten and he yells back at me “NO!” I said, “let’s breathe out the angry moster three times,” which he kept screaming “NO!” I then said, “I can’t understand you when you talk like that..” Normally, these strategies would have worked, but tonight, nothing seemed to have worked. Perhaps it was because he was overtired that made the tantrum even worse, or the fact that we have a full-house right now (our in-laws are living with us temporarily). He did not want to give up his fight and towards the end, I had to walk away.

Eventually, it was my father-in-law who was able to calm him down. They had a little chit-chat about what happened and he was able to emotionally regroup himself. They talked it out and he came out of his room. He looked a little sad and almost embarrassed for how he behaved. He apologized to both my husband and I for how he treated us. He said he just wasn’t ready for bedtime yet. I explained to him why bedtime is so important, that sleep is healthy and we need sleep to help us grow. I told him that I forgave him, but then said that for your consequence, you get no TV privileges tomorrow. He accepted his consequence gracefully and I ended the moment by telling him that “I love you, no matter what. Tomorrow is a new day and a fresh start.” He agreed and finally fell asleep.

When he went to bed, I sat towards the end of the hallway, I found a dark corner and I started to cry. I felt as if all the energy I had was completely sucked out of me. I also felt like a huge failure because I wasn’t the one who was able to calm him down. During that moment, I felt defeated because I tried everything I could to help him and it wasn’t me who was able to calm him down, but someone else.

So I needed that moment to cry and let all my emotions out…..and you know what? That is totally okay.

Why?

Because over the years I learned the following three things when it comes to motherhood:

1. To acknowledge my feelings and to own up to them;

2. To accept that sometimes its okay to ask for help;

3. To remind myself that I am human, too.

Raising kids, let alone spirited children is hard, especially when kids are experiencing huge emotions. It can be challenging navigating how they feel during those moments. But as I have learned, sometimes we as adults forget that children too have good days and bad days and that on the bad days, they may have a more difficult time expressing how they feel. During this scenario, my son had a hard time communicating that he was just not ready for bed. Definitely we could have all done things differently, but in the end, it worked out because we as a family worked as a team to resolve the situation.

For a long time, I had a hard time accepting that it’s okay to ask for help, but in a situation like this one, sometimes it’s good to have extra hands on deck. Whether its the other parent, or a grandparent, or whoever, sometimes we need that extra person to help turn the situation around. No wonder why experts often say that it takes a village to raise a child.

On the other hand, knowing that as much as parenthood is rewarding, it is also requires a lot of hard work, sweat and tears. The other thing that took me a while to accept was knowing that it’s okay to walk away and cry if you have to, or to debrief in some other form (sometimes I will jot my feelings down in a journal, which is also very helpful). Sometimes we as mothers (and parents in general) need to let our emotions out. Parenthood is difficult and accepting that it is healthy to let our emotions out is a physically and emotionally good thing. Whether its a good cry, a good laugh or a good run….whatever it is, just do it. It’s all part of that process of coping with a difficult situation.

Overall my message is, that we as parents are human like anyone else. Accepting that it is okay to walk away and cry after these challenging moments is totally okay. Crying isn’t a sign of weakness, but rather of humility and great strength. According to Medical News Today, crying has some soothing benefits and can help relive stress during difficult moments.

My advice to all you mom’s out there: if you need to cry, just let it out. If you need to go outside and get some fresh air, do it. If you need to fill up a tub and soak in some epsom salts, just do it. I can’t stress enough that it’s okay to feel frustrated sometimes when things don’t work out how you wanted them to. It happens to even the best of us. I think it’s always good to regroup after a difficult moment. After all, as I tell my children after a challenging moment, tomorrow is always a new day.

Photo credit: Three Little Birds Photography

Reference: Medical News Today, “Eight benefits of crying: Why it’s good to shed a few tears.”

One mom’s perspective: igniting that spark in your children’s mind through reading

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”— Dr. Seuss from the book “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”

I grew up in a humble, middle class home to Croatian immigrants in Windsor, Ontario.  Both my parents worked in the auto industry.  We grew up simply and I had a wonderful and modest childhood.  We didn’t have anything extravagant growing up, but the one thing I do remember was that monthly order from Scholastic Book Club. My parents felt it was very important to expose us to books as they believed it was vital towards our education and development.  I remember the pure joy and excitement when that monthly book order would arrive. My father, with his best efforts in his broken English, would read to my brother and I every night before bed when he worked days’ shift.  It was during these precious moments where I developed this love for reading.  “Corduroy” by Don Freeman remains to this day one of my favourite children’s tales.

When I became pregnant with my first son, I started putting together a little children’s library.  I remember starting it with a Croatian alphabet book that we had purchased in Croatia during our “babymoon.” Books such as “I Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch and “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney filled the shelves. However, my oldest son surprised us nearly three months early and spent some time in the NICU.   During his NICU stay, we were made aware about the benefits of reading and singing to premature infants. Various academic studies noted the following benefits of reading to premature infants, namely, increased bonding between parent and child, decreased stress levels, language and overall brain development in premature infants. For those reasons, I made it my life’s mission to read to him every day during our NICU stay….and to this very day, I still do. In general, padeiatricians and early childhood educators have recommended that reading should start during infancy. According to the Canadian Paediatric Society’s website, reading to children can “help prepare them for school and set them up for success later in life.”

As a parent, I think its so important to take the time to read to kids, especially in this age of iPhones and tablets. Although I understand that technology is now a normal part of society, I also believe in balance: in teaching kids the importance of reading and being read to. This means not just simply teaching children how to read, but to help them formulate ideas, comprehension, imagination and most importantly, to appreciate the value of a good book. The goal is simple: using reading as a tool to spark their little imaginations and to help them grow.

It makes me proud knowing that my boys enjoy being read to, sometimes multiple times a day! My oldest son is now in grade 1 and he just started reading; while my youngest who is now in junior kindergarten, is trying to read as well. It’s been amazing to us as parents to see how reading has sparked that curiosity inside of them not just through story time, but through imaginative play and art.

The boys definitely have some favourite books who are constantly on rotation- Dr. Seuss and Robert Munch, to name a few. They also enjoy the many books we brought back from Croatia, such as Moje Male Molitve za Svaki Dan (Everyday Prayers,) or Gdje si, mala maco? (Where are you, little kitten?) Pre-covid, we used to spend many weekends venturing out to our local library, exploring all the books on the shelves and checking out new releases. Story time has overall fostered a positive impact on their lives and have formulated fond memories for all of us. For instance, whenever I see the book, “On The Night You Were Born,” (by Nancy Tillman,) it always brings me back to those early days when we brought our oldest son home from the hospital.

Story time has certainly strengthened our bond as a family and it’s something we look forward to after a long day. Life has definitely come full circle: to that time way back in Windsor when my father, in that very broken English, used to read to me, to the present day where I now read to my two small boys. It is my hope that one day, my boys will read to their future children too. Reading and appreciating books is a gift that we must never take for granted.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Some of my children’s favourite books:

  • “Say Something” by Peter H. Reynolds
  • “I am Human” by Susan Verde
  • “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss
  • “Oh The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss
  • “I Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch
  • “Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons” by Eric Litwin
  • “Icky Little Duckling” by Steve Smallman

References:

Book Review: The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnbull

Long before Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Diana, Princess of Wales, there was another controversial Royal that caused a stir within the house of Windsor: Wallis Simpson, also known as the Duchess of Windsor. Wallis’ relationship with Edward VIII (also known as David,) led to his abdication to the British throne and in the words of David himself, had no choice but to “discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.” David’s abdication prevented a constitutional crisis from occurring in Britain and was a story that rocked the entire world.

However, this particular novel is not about Wallis, but the woman who introduced David (then the Prince of Wales) to Wallis: Thelma Morgan, the Lady Furness, who is the protagonist in Bryn Turnbull’s debut novel “The Woman Before Wallis.” Thelma was a American socialite, and twin sister of Gloria Vanderbilt, who was married to Marmaduke Furness, the 1st Viscount Furness, at the time. Through the Viscount Furness, Thelma met many prominent figures within British high society, including some members of the British Royal Family such as Edward, the Prince of Wales.

The book highlights the many scandals that rocked the house of Windsor throughout the 1930’s and high-class society at that time. It discusses topics that were considered controversial during that period of history, such as divorce, homosexual relationships and extramarital affairs. The story is loosely based on Lady Furness’ life and goes into detail about her relationship with the Prince of Wales. During this period, her twin sister, Gloria, was also entangled in her own scandal as her relationship with Nadejda Mikhailovna Mountbatten, the Marchioness of Milford Haven, was up front and centre during her custody battle over her daughter, “Little Gloria” in New York. The trial is known as one of the biggest and most scandalous custody battles in U.S. court history.

Some of the prominent themes throughout the novel are the need to be accepted and loved; the balance of rank and power within high society and the importance of family. Thelma in my view, is a strong character of principle who is completely devoted towards her family and makes all her choices by following her heart. Author Bryn Turnbull describes her quite exquisitely and does not miss a beat. Turnbull proliferates the importance of family throughout the novel, as made evident between the relationship with her twin sister, Gloria, and devotion towards her ex-step-daughter, Averill. Finally, Thelma’s previous marriages heavily influenced her decisions regarding her journey towards finding true love by which the author describes very eloquently all throughout the novel.

An excellent debut for author Bryn Turnbull, I could not put this novel down. If you enjoy reading about royal history with a bit of a twist, then this book is just for you.

Photo by Romu00e9o on Pexels.com

Was it really a cruel summer? My recap of summer 2020

A parallel universe

The summer of 2020 will go down in history as one of the most difficult summers our generation has ever had to endure. Typically, my family and I spend our summers in Croatia, however, we (regrettably) decided not to go due to the pandemic. As you may recall in earlier blog posts, 2019 was a very difficult year for me after my uncle’s sudden passing and 2020 was supposed to be a breath of fresh air. Like many of you, I experienced both emotional highs and lows, but at some point I told myself to not give in to negative feelings and try to make the most of this summer.

Was this the worst summer to date? Looking back, it wasn’t really that bad at all. It was very strange in the sense where we did some “normal” things but within the realm of social distancing. In other words, I felt as if we were living in a parallel universe. But for the sake of our kids, we tried to keep things as “normal” as possible: attending Sunday misa (church) at our parish in Oakville, weekly soccer practice in Hamilton, getting together with friends at the park on play dates, going to the zoo, visiting my parents in Windsor and so on. M. and I went out for a few dinner dates as well. As strange as this summer was, we found things to do and made the most out of it the best way we know how: through good food, wine and company.

The holy trinity of food- steak, pizza and fish

In our household, we are definitely foodies and no one can describe it better than my oldest son, T. At his annual check-up at the doctor’s office recently, the doctor asked T. what his favourite food was and he proudly replied “steak!” The doctor was delightfully surprised and sort of taken aback that a six-year-old’s favourite food is steak done rare. Fortunately, our kids like everything we make, from mahune to fish. Growing up in a Dalmatian household, my mother would always ask what we would eat the next day; my aunt used to own a restaurant in Germany, so food is definitely in our genes.

When the lockdown started, my husband made it his life’s mission to re-create the perfect pizza Napolitana as pizza is his all-time favourite food. He spent hours researching the best outdoor pizza oven for it’s value, so low and behold he purchased an Ooni Koda Gas-Powered Outdoor pizza oven. He justified the expense by stating that within 6 months the oven will pay itself off and so far it definitely has (nb: we used to order Pizza Nova like every Friday). During the first few weeks of lockdown, my husband would spend his spare time visiting various local Italian bakeries to find the gold standard of pizza flour- Caputo 00. We even planted Roma, cherry and hothouse tomatoes as well as basil for our pizza in our garden this year. Gardening in of itself was a very worthwhile and memorable experience. We got so into pizza making that we spent hours watching different dough recipes on YouTube. After testing a few different recipes, we decided that the one from Vito Iacopelli’s YouTube channel was best for us. How it works is that I make the dough and M. makes the pizza. This recipe from Vito makes approximately nine 12-inch dough balls; we make about 3 pizzas a week so the rest I just store in the freezer. Weekly pizza making is definitely a family affair as our kids get involved too. Overall, pizza making has become a newfound family tradition for years to come.

Another tradition we started in our home was fish Sundays. We decided to bring the shores of Dalmatia closer to home by making seafood and blitva on Sundays after church. If we remember, we order brancin from the local market and M. grills it on the barbeque; but if we don’t get an order in on time, then its either salmon or scallops. Definitely a nice, light lunch to end the weekend paired of course with my favouriite Pošip from Saint Hills.

good things grow in ontario

The pandemic sort of forced us to “think outside of the box” without really going too far. Being a little bit of a wine snob (Brunello being my all-time favourite,) I must say that Ontario wines really surprised me this year. There truly is a pleortha of wineries, markets and restaurants to discover in the Niagara Escarpement and Niagara-on-the-Lake regions. In July, a few of us embarked on a small wine tour with dinner at Treadwell to end the day. Simply put, just being out on the property brings a sense of peace and tranquility. In a COVID world, many of the wineries and restaurants that I have visited have taken the proper steps to ensure safety but still provide an enjoyable experience. Some notable wines/wineries that really stood out to me and worth checking out are Five Rows, Domaine Queylus, Westcott Vineyards, Kabaca, Leaning Post and Pearl Morissette.

Pjesma i vino

Croatia has a long-standing history of producing wines dating back to Ancient Grecian times. In today’s world, Croatia is home to many world-class and unique wineries. Although Zlatan Plavac Sveta Nedelja Plavac Mali will always be my favourite Croatian wine, some notable favourites of mine that were imported from Croatia Unpacked are Korta Katerina’s Rosé and Plavac Mali, Saint Hills “Sv. Roko” Plavac Mali and “Posh” Pošip and finally Stina’s Plavac Mali. Try one of them and you may be pleasantly surprised!

krv nije voda – keeping it in the family

My parents always told me, friends may come and go, but in tough times, we always can rely on family. Although the last six months have been very difficult, there have been moments of complete joy. No one can ever take away that precious extra time I got to spend with my two little boys. This summer was definitely a memorable one, where we became closer as a family and got to explore a bit of Ontario and try some new things out. We visited my family in Windsor a few times and explored Windsor’s Via Italia. Daytrips to zoos were worthwhile, but I found with kids, sometimes the most simplest of activities are the most enjoyable. Walks throughout downtown Burlington over ice cream and exploring new splash pads and parks were probably the most memorable for us.

In summary, although this is a strange and albeit difficult time, the key to making memories are the ones with the people that matter most to you – your loved ones.

Spa-day any day: my top picks for a spa-day experience at home

Disclaimer:  This post was initially written in June.  Although spas in Ontario have opened, not all services are available in stage 2 of the reopening process.  However, these are great things to try when you want a spa day any day at home.  Enjoy!

On Mother’s Day, a few ladies and I were supposed to go to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a spa day.  We had booked it months in advance and were looking for some time away from our kids and husbands.   Then the pandamic rolled around and decided to cancel most activities for 2020.   Sadly, we did not go as planned as lockdown is still under effect, but I did not let it stop me from having a spa-day.   So I decided to bring the spa home.

I want to start off by disclaiming that I am not an esthetician or a skin expert, but these are some of my “must-haves” for a spa day in the comfort of your own home.

1.  Setting the mood

I think its really important to set the tone for your at-home spa day to feel completely relaxed.  You may even want to “schedule” a time of when to do it around your kids’ schedule.   I typically have my “spa nights” in the evening when my kids go to bed.   I start off with diffusing some lavender oil or Balance essential oils (from Doterra) into my diffuser.  I have the Petal Diffuser from Doterra which lights up.  Sometimes I’ll even put on relaxing music to set the mood along with a glass of water with lemon slices or a glass of wine!

Wine pairing: Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio or Gérard Bertrand Côte des Roses Rosé. 

I love face masks but prior to putting one on, I like to give my face a good cleanse with a facial brush.  There are tons of different facial brushes on the market at different price points but I like to keep it simple.  I use the Dual Action Facial Brush by Quo Beauty and its available at Shoppers Drug Mart for $12.00.   One side is for cleansing and the other side is for scrubbing, so I’ll start by cleansing my skin with a cleanser on the cleansing side and then scrub my pores on the other side.

composition of cosmetic bottle with pink rose petals and wooden plate
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

3.  Mask up

Following my face scrub, I’ll proceed to placing on my facial mask.   There are tons of different facial masks available on the market for every skin type.  You can use the traditional face mask or a sheet mask, but this comes down to personal preference.  I have used both and had the same results.   I typically like a nourishing mask or a mask with hyaluronic acid.  While I wait for mask to set, I’ll take a warm a bath or relax on my bed with a heating pad on.

SEPHORA COLLECTION Face Mask
Coconut facial mask from Sephora

5.  Final steps

Following the face mask, I’ll place face serum and eye cream on my face and then use a rose quartz facial roller for lymphatic drainage.  Whether or not it works, I find it a very relaxing way to complete this skin-care regimen.  I then conclude my mini-facial with a good moisturizer.  For my eyes I use AluminEye eye cream and HydraCalm face moisturizer by AlumierMD Canada.  I just recently started using these products and I have already noticed a difference!

Herbivore Facial Roller