Wanderlust, discovery and a sense of identity: my thoughts on travelling to Croatia during the pandemic

Hans Christian Anderson once said that “to travel is to live.” I’ve been very fortunate to travel to many different places around the world since early childhood. The anticipation prior to boarding a flight is something that never gets old for me. But there is something special to be said when I go to Croatia where my family is from. There are no words that can fully describe the feeling I have for the country that I love so much. Croatia, a small country of just over 4 million people, lies at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe and boasts a beautiful coastline, national parks and is home to many historical monuments.

Last year, our travel plans were placed on hold due to the pandemic. A part of me died that day in 2020 when we had to cancel our trip to Croatia. We actually had three trips planned for 2020 which all had to be cancelled. I didn’t think anything would be worse than my personal 2019 “annus horribilis” but 2020 ended up taking the cake.

Although travelling with small children can be rather difficult, we still wanted to continue to this beloved tradition to our homeland. We wanted to show our kids where their ancestors are from and to show them an appreciation for the world itself. Fast forward into 2021: my husband and I are next to one another and are staring at Google Flights. We went back and fourth for a few days whether or not to book and then just one day…..

….he hit enter.

We did it! Now what?

Was this the right choice to make?

Too late by this point because we just booked it and there was no looking back.

The following days went by quick. Asides from the usual packing, we also had to organize all our travel documents and COVID-19 requirements to enter Croatia. At the time, either proof of full vaccination or negative antigen test was required to enter the country. Fortunately, in many places in Europe, children under the age of 12 were exempt from such requirements.

We had a connecting flight into Amsterdam and immediately it felt much more relaxed than Ontario. Even in the best of times, the European lifestyle is way more relaxed than North American culture. We had a few hours layover and then we made our way to Split, Croatia and I immediately felt a sense of “coming home.”

Being Croatian-Canadian, I’ve always had a sense of a dual identity. Essentially, my heart has always been split into two: the person born and raised in Canada and the person whose heart belongs in Croatia. Almost a dichotomy in of itself, this is who I am and this is something I fully embrace.

Going to Croatia this year was very important for us. Many of our cultural events here in Canada have been to a halt for most of the pandemic. Croatian folklore was paused (it has since resumed but with COVID protocols); Croatian school was done virtually and a lot of our cultural events were either postponed or conducted over YouTube. The days of 600 people at weddings have downsized considerably due to pandemic restrictions (and I don’t see them coming back anytime soon). Although I can appreciate everyone’s efforts putting together virtual events for the sake of keeping things together, it’s not organic in a sense where you can properly learn and retain language for example. As a result, I started to feel isolated, sad and alone. For that reason, this trip was so important for us and quite frankly for me because I missed so much of this. In 2019 I had a close relative pass away and that sense of grieving lingered around for most of 2020. I didn’t realize how much I missed being around people until we were in Croatia.

With that being said, we spent the majority of our time at our family home in Vodice, Croatia, which is just north of Šibenik, approximately 45 minutes to one hour away from the Split Airport. We spent most days on the beach; the children happily playing with their beach toys and swimming in the waves. We had our routine everyday; breakfast, beach, lunch, dinner and repeat. This was as good as it can get with travelling with kids and this was by far the best trip with them. They loved the beach and they had their spot by the same cafe we went to. They knew which crepe (palačinke) stand to go to.

I developed a new-found appreciation for Debit and Dingač during this trip. We were fortunate to check out some restaurants, both new and old. Some of the restaurants we really enjoyed around Vodice were Strikoman’s Bistro and Karmelski Dvori – Konoba Okit. My husband and I also went back to Pelegrini again in Šibenik for a date night. Following a day trip to Primošten, we took the magistrala all the way up to Konoba Vinko, which is a Michelin Star recognized restaurant in Lozovac, just 15 kilometers away in Šibenik. My youngest son said that was “the best meal he ever had” and he was not kidding! We also had a chance to meet up with a good friend of mine at a newer restaurant called 4 Kantuna in Zadar. We also spent time with our families, did some day trips with the children and I was able to visit my late-uncle’s grave and pay my respects.

Overall, it was so worth it and fortunately we didn’t experience any issues. I don’t think things will change with the pandemic anytime soon and life is way to short to continue putting things on hold. I do not regret going at all; it was the best decision we made for our mental health, especially for the kids who have already given up so much. Travel in of itself is a very valuable education, one that I will always appreciate.

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.

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:

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.

How COVID-19 got to me: stress, fear, uncertainty and self-care during a global pandemic

Friday was the first day that I cried….a lot.

I felt exhausted from homeschooling the kids, trying to get some work done as well as regular chores and I just couldn’t handle it anymore.  I buried my head into a sea of tears and had to walk away into a different room in my home to be alone.  I felt guilty for doing this, because I did not want my boys to see me cry.  My husband told the kids that mommy needs a few minutes to herself.

Before the pandemic, if I was ever stressed, I would go to the gym or go out to a local coffee shop to diffuse, but due to the current lock-down there is no where to go, which adds an extra layer of stress.

I never in my life imagined that we would live through a global pandemic, yet here we are.

It is currently week 6 of the lock-down here in Ontario and everyone is starting to feel it in different ways.

Up until this point, I was making the most of this situation.  I embraced the idea of slowing down.  I even wrote a blog post about it.  I started to do things that I normally wouldn’t have time to do:  participating in the wave of baking bread and sharing it on Instagram; drinking fancy wines on the weekends, pinning arts and crafts ides for the kids on Pinterest and purged a lot of old clothes and toys for donation.  I started watching foreign dramas on Netflix for fun and even contemplated downloading TikTok and get in on the bandwagon, but changed my mind because I am too old for it.

For the first time in years,  I had a break from rushing home from work to soccer practice and I really enjoyed this idea and yet, time went on…..

There is still that fear of catching the virus itself.  As my oldest has asthma and was born with a heart condition, I am extra vigilant.   I barely leave the house and if I do, its just for necessities.  On top of all this, I still worry that my husband may bring it home from the hospital where he works at.

As the lock-down here in Ontario continues on, it started to hit close to home for me.  Knowing that it will be months until I see my parents, my friends and colleagues again started to weigh heavily on me.  2020 was supposed to be our year.  Our family has been through so much over the past 6 years- premature birth, high-risk pregnancy, my husband’s residency and a sudden family death to name a few.  I know, many of you had plans cancelled too, so we aren’t alone, but I just felt like this was a big and crewel joke.

Now, I am starting to worry about the financial implications of the pandemic too.  Like you, many questions are going through my mind:  will there be massive job loss?  Will our taxes increase to support these benefits?  Will we ever recover from this?  

This created a perfect storm which culminated in me breaking down on Friday night.  However, this in of itself brought a huge relief as I let all that fear, worry and guilt out.  I’ve been positive throughout this whole process and on Friday night, I was extremely overwhelmed.  Trying to balance everything at home just got to me and I reached my boiling point. I needed that release.

What I can tell you is that I am learning more about myself and how to cope with such situations.  This time has also given me time to self-reflect and I gained a new perspective. My grandfather lived through three wars, Spanish flu and communism, yet he lived a wonderful life and passed away at age 101.  He endured and saw a lot in his lifetime but he survived.  He had hope and appreciation for life.

What I have found helpful during these times is reflection and mindfulness.  I have been journaling since I was 8 years old and I have found journaling so helpful during this time.  Staying connected on social media has become a blessing and watching all those good memes (the guy toasting to himself in the washroom is my all time favourite).  Self-care and taking breaks from homeschooling and work is so important too, I’ve had a few nights where I just had a face mask on while reading a good book.  I also find exercise quite therapeutic.

My advice if you are feeling overwhelmed, upset or frustrated, take that energy and turn it into something positive.  Find your niche.  Find something that sparks you, that makes you feel like you, no matter how difficult the circumstances are.

If you feel overwhelmed like I do, I want you to know, it’s okay, because you are not alone.  It’s okay to cry and let your feelings out.  We are all feeling this and is even getting to the strongest of us……and it’s okay to feel vulnerable.  I keep reminding myself to count my blessings and that this will not last forever.

As I have learned with experience, the human spirit is resilient, but this is a choice:  you have to choose that path and firmly believe in it because your mindset is what will get you through this.

Quarantine and chill: What slowing down has taught me

We are now entering week three of self-isolation here in Ontario, Canada and I must say that despite all the insecurity and fear surrounding the pandemic, for the first time in a long time I feel peace.

I feel peace away from the traffic.
I feel peace in the neighbourhoods and in the streets.
I feel energized.

For the first time in a long time, I don’t have to worry about rushing home from work to get supper ready on time.  I don’t have to worry about planning my day around the kids’ activities and worrying if I’ll be on time or not because of the traffic.  I am no longer exhausted from staying up  late at night to finish chores as I have a bit more extra time during the day.  I can finally enjoy that cup of coffee warm in my own home, in my pyjamas while cuddling with one of the kids.  It’s great.  img_6792Although the implications of the pandemic are scary, I feel somewhat at peace knowing I am at home, safe, with my little ones.  My anxiety levels have definitely decreased knowing that we don’t have to rush to go anywhere.  It’s a welcoming break.

I must say, its not perfect:  homeschooling the boys has not been easy; we have meltdowns and we have tantrums.  Sometimes they just aren’t that into it.  I am currently in the process of trying to get set-up to work from home. Like everything though, I’ll figure it out. With that being said, the kids’ bedtime routines have been a bit off, and I am working on creating some type of routine.  But overall, the big reward to all this is that we are spending more time together.  We are doing things that we would not otherwise have had the time to do and we are starting to get creative.  We spend time exploring the backyard in search for nature’s treasures.    We started baking almost everyday and it’s been a delight and sense of pride for the kids.  I made bread for the first time and a decent Croatian apple strudel.  Not bad for a novice baker.

In an odd way, the pandemic has taught me a bit more about myself and how stressed I really was.  Trying to balance a career and motherhood is exhausting.   But for the first time in a long time, I feel as if I am finally in tune with myself.  I adapted a more gentler and slower lifestyle, which is the complete 360 to the life that I was used to.  I found that since the pandemic started, I am exercising even more, despite the fact that the gym is closed.  The fact that I am getting an extra hour or two of sleep as well is another added benefit.  In addition, with malls being closed and whatnot, I found that I am less tempted to shop and waste money unnecessarily.  Since being at home, I’ve adapted a minimalist wardrobe and I actually think its suitable for me and my taste.  Perhaps living simply is the way to go.

Slowing down is a blessing in disguise.

We all need it from time to time.

 

 

 

 

 

Fear, resilience and hope: reflections as we enter an unknown world

Since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 virus a pandemic, I was silent.  I did not know how to process this information.  A few of my close friends described this as a real-life “Contagion.”  I am not a medical expert, but what I do know is that the worst here in Canada is yet to come.  I also know that it will be a very long time until things are back to “normal” again.  Like many of us, I entered a state of shock.

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Photo by YURI MANEI on Pexels.com

The hardest thing for me to process was watching my husband’s demeanor change over a course of a few days.  My husband is a respirologist and like his colleagues, has been monitoring the situation quite closely.  When I asked him what this all meant, he looked at me and said that life will be different for a very long time.  The events happening throughout China and Italy paint a grim picture of what could happen if we don’t act fast to “flatten the curve.”  Within a week the number of positive cases in Canada have jumped to just over 1000.  

Not only are there an array of health issues and questions surrounding the management of the virus itself, but it touches upon so many other facets of life:  the economy, the workforce, the way government works, education and overall, our lifestyle.  Schools across the country and around the world have closed down.  Employers are asking their employees to work from home if at all possible.  Places of worship have asked their membership to pray/reflect at home; restaurants and bars have closed down, although some are remaining open for take out or curb-side pick-up just to keep afloat.  People are asked to self-isolate and keep their distance until medical professionals and governments can come up with a solution.  Life as we know it has stopped for a while so we can self-isolate in hopes of containing the virus and give the medical system some more time.

Probably the hardest thing society will face is not just the virus itself, but the financial implications that come with it.   In addition to that, I fear a mental health crisis is to follow

Humans are social beings and I know from experience that being on lock down is difficult.  I’ve had some experience on being on some sort of lock down:  my oldest son was born prematurely and the first winter home we could not leave the house (except for medical appointments) as his immunity was compromised.  I remember screening all visitors for colds because a common cold could harm his premature lungs.  He obtained an antibody shot called Synagis every month during cold and flu season to protect him against RSV.  As parents, our goal was to keep him safe.    

When I was pregnant with my youngest child, I experienced a form of isolation again. I was considered high risk due to my history of preterm labour.  This meant extra medical appointments and physical restrictions.  I  was placed on strict bed-rest for 2 months following a one-week hospital stay for short cervix.  I remember how difficult those times were-  not being able to go out, not being able to go to work, to pick up my toddler son, I couldn’t do anything….it was hard, but I had one goal in mind:  to keep my pregnancy safe and deliver to my baby to full-term

You see, there is a common theme here with this isolation- being safe.  In this present moment, our duty is to keep our loved ones safe; to protect our grandparents, our parents and our children.  It’s our duty to stay home and to protect the elderly and the vulnerable.  Our governments are asking us to do this and our medical professionals implore us to do it.  I don’t have a crystal ball, nor will I speculate on what is to come, but I do have hope that we can get through this.  It won’t be easy, but we have to stay positive.

It is clear, the effects of this pandemic will last years to come.  I’m sure our children and our children’s children will be learning about it in their history classes.  But as history has shown us, humans are resilient, time and time again.  We will grow strong and learn from this experience.   I am sure the best and the brightest are working on different treatments and solutions to bring this pandemic to an end, because there is hope.

We all have a role to play in this, by self-isolating, by helping the elderly, by being connected with our loved ones virtually, by staying home when you are sick and by washing our hands.  In the meantime, lets show our gratitude to all of those on the front lines:  doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, hospital staff, custodians, grocery store workers, delivery drivers and so on.  Together we can overcome this virus.  Together we are stronger, for our future depends on it.

silhouette photography of grass
Photo by Darwis Alwan on Pexels.com

 

The secret of happiness

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” – Dalai Lama

What is happiness?

The past few years I’ve been on a journey to figure out what true happiness is.   Over the course of 7 years I’ve went through some pretty big transitions from being me -> to wife -> to mother.  If you think about it, that’s a lot change a person can endure in such a short period.  You go through many different changes: the stages of pregnancy, the hormones and sleep deprivation that comes with it, the stress of finances, parenthood, work-life balance and so on.  These challenges can certainly catch up to you!

For a while I was not feeling like myself and really started to ask myself some hard questions about life, namely what is true happiness.  

I’ve definitely endured some of my own challenges which affected my perspective on life.  We live in a world where things are becoming more and more materialistic, where we spend more time on our phones and less time talking to each other.  We are surrounded by images that mislead us to believe what happiness is – a designer handbag, a luxurious vacation abroad, a Friday night out and so on.  It seems as if today’s society is defining happiness by the amount of money we make or the the type of car we are driving.  Over the past few years this topic started to fascinate me and as a result, I started writing about it more and more.  It’s no wonder why so many young people are depressed- we have created for ourselves false expectations because of what we see on social media and television.

woman wearing grey long sleeved top photography
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

Following my uncle’s sudden passing last April, I started to go through the many stages of grief and began questioning my own purpose in life and what is truly important.  I slowly began to realize that happiness isn’t the designer handbag I am wearing, but the people that surround me and the one life I have to embrace.

After my uncle’s death, I started to go through every memory I had of him because I did not want to forget anything about him.  It then dawned upon me what the true meaning of happiness was because he knew the secret.  What was it?  He valued life and lived it to the fullest.  He was kind to every person he met and valued each person for who they were.  He was extremely generous because he enjoyed seeing people happy.  He was always one of the first people to help- be it on a house renovation, a car repair, or volunteering at an event, he was always the first in line and he enjoyed it.   He laughed, enjoyed dining at fine restaurants and was very sociable.   He had an infectious smile that everyone loved.  My uncle lived for today, he lived for the moment.  In my homily dedicated to him I stated that “our world would be a much better place if we were more like him.”

The months following his passing, I started to realize what is truly important in life.  I realized that a lot of these material things that surround us, don’t really matter.  They are just that- things.  You can have a lot of things, but if you aren’t surrounded by people who love you, then you don’t know what true happiness is.  If you don’t have anyone to create memories with, then you are losing out on happiness.  If you don’t do things that are fulfilling, then you can’t find happiness.

I began reflecting with my kids every night the good parts of our day and the bad parts of our day.  We would discuss some things we enjoyed doing, and if we made poor choices, how we could have handled the situation differently.  I started to laugh more when they goofed around before bed time, because I realized that stressing out before bed time is not worth it.  Sometimes parenting can be hard- there are highs and lows, so I started to tell myself to enjoy this time because time is going by too fast!

I slowly started to realize it’s okay to not have the “most expensive” wardrobe or the “perfect” body and instead, to embrace the one I have.  Now, I am thankful for my health-  I feed my body with healthy food and exercise because that is what makes me feel good on the inside!  I also enjoy a nice glass of red wine on the weekends (that’s what my uncle used to do!) and have a glass with my husband or some friends.

I started to live my life a bit more slowly.  I began to count my blessings and not focus on my shortcomings.  I slowly started to accept what I do have – and what I have is precious.

You see, my uncle knew the secret to happiness and lived it every day.  I realized that the secret to happiness is CHOICE.  You can create your own happiness.  You can continue to be miserable, to complain, to loathe and to be jealous of others….or you can choose to be happy.   You can appreciate the things you already have, embrace the good moments and reflect from the bad.

I have chosen to live my life in happiness.  What will you choose?

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“Seven year itch” only got me itching for you

Reflections as we enter year seven of love and marriage and some babies in the carriage

I will never forget when I first got engaged my Strina Ika told me that “marriage is not all roses.” I couldn’t help but laugh at that statement.  For those who know my beloved aunt well know she gives the best advice.  Perplexed by her comment, I didn’t quite understand what she meant by that statement. But what I can tell you for sure is that she always has the best intentions.   At the time I thought, ah, she’s just being a little silly.  Little did I know then….

Back “Then”  Photo credit: Signature Design Photography

And then over the course of my marriage, I slowly started to understand what she meant by those words “marriage is not all roses.”

It was her way of telling me, it’s going to be hard work.  Like super hard work. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to scare you out of marriage, but I’m letting you know now that marriage isn’t easy:  it comes with ups and downs, highs and lows.  Once you get married, your life changes dramatically, especially when finances and children are involved.  Marriage takes a lot out of you and it consists of a lot of sacrifice and a ton of compromise.   But in order for it to work, it has to go both ways.

In the many conversations I’ve had with my close girlfriends over the years is that marriage is tough.   I mean, whenever I talk to my girlfriends it’s always the usual complaining about our husbands (and I’m sure they complain about us too).    However, I do believe that there is a way to survive all these little things (i.e. complaints, bickering, etc.) and still love each other and be a couple at the end of the day.  Perhaps that’s the romantic in me but I do strongly believe that.   With that being said, I know marriage is not for everyone and that’s okay too.   I also understand that some marriages can’t continue through (for an array of reasons) and that is okay too.  Please know that I am just speaking from my own, personal experience.

I do consider myself extremely blessed because I did marry my best friend; we are so different and yet so alike in many ways.  We do push each other’s buttons, we do have our disagreements…but at the end of the day, we mesh together so well!

I don’t believe in perfect.  I don’t think any relationship is perfect.  It can get messy, it can be hard.  I admit, we do butt heads time to time, but over the years, we’ve learned how to talk things out and find a common ground.   We still know how to have fun together. We still laugh, even when things get tough.   Life throws you many curveballs at you and that can cause stress on a relationship.  We’ve definitely had plenty thrown our way- residency, premature birth, high risk pregnancy, moving multiple times, major house renovation and a sudden death in our family, to name a few.  We went though a lot  in such a short period of time…. but we got through it together.  

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Despite all the ups and downs, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Nor could have I gone through all these obstacles if he wasn’t by my side…and even though we get on each other’s nerves, we get through things together.  We still hug each other every day; still kiss each other goodnight every day and make an effort to be ourselves around each other.  It’s not easy, but what I’ve learned from seven years of marriage is that couples need to find a common ground:  it’s about building trust, showing forgiveness and humility, and most importantly establishing good communication with one another and above all, being good role models to our children.  I also think tons of vino after a long day and cuddles on the couch helps too!

The other day we met up for lunch and I couldn’t help but look at him the same way I did during that first encounter we met well over 15 years ago.  It’s that fire that still ignites in us and despite many challenges that come our way, we’ve become stronger together.

Živjeli sto godina…i više…

“Now” Photo credit: Yellow Pear Studio