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

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.‚Ķ.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‚Äôs 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.

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 vrtińá (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 ‚ÄúSolving Healthcare,‚ÄĚ 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.

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 PoŇ°ip 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 Ros√© and Plavac Mali, Saint Hills “Sv. Roko” Plavac Mali and “Posh” PoŇ°ip 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.

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.

woman looking towards the sky
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 Рand 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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A Croatian Christmas in Canada

To me, Christmas is more than opening presents and decorating a tree.¬† For me, it has, and forever always will¬†be about tradition.¬† Being Croatian, it was important for my parents to pass down their traditions from their homeland to my brother and I.¬† It’s about getting together with friends and family.¬† It’s about faith,¬†charity and spreading love.¬† It’s no joke when they say that Christmas is the most wonderful time of year because it truly is.¬† Christmas is a very special time of year, not just for Croatians but for Catholics and Christians worldwide.
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As I child, I was always amazed by my parents’ stories of¬†¬†their Christmas celebrations in Croatia.¬†¬†My parents grew up in the inlands of Dalmatia, in a small village called Ruda in the municipality of Otok, located by nearby Sinj.¬† The Christmas my parents experienced was very different than the one I had:¬† there was no tree, there were no presents, but there was a home full of family, faith, food and love.¬†¬†¬†During the Christmas season, hay would be laid throughout the house and children would receive special treats such as oranges, figs and if they were very lucky, chocolates.¬†¬† Certainly this was a humbling experience!

Advent
The Christmas season officially begins four Sundays before Christmas, called Advent.  Most Croatians will place a wreath in their homes with four candles which symbolize hope, faith, joy and peace.

Feast of Saint Nicholas – December 6
On the Eve of Saint Nicholas day, children will leave boots by their front doors in hopes that Saint Nicholas will visit them and bring them a treat.  However, if the child was naughty, then they will receive a lump of coal from Krampus instead!

In the Croatian diaspora, it is common for local Croatian Catholic parishes to present¬†a Saint Nicholas luncheon or banquet, with children performing a special Christmas recital for their loved ones.¬† Other traditions ¬†include the sale of ornaments, baked goods and pŇ°enica bowls during these events.

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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Baking
It is quite common for Croatians to bake traditional bake goods during the holidays, specifically Ň°trudla od jabuka (apple strudel), breskvice (peaches), MańĎarica¬† (Hungarian lady) and orahnjańća (walnut roll).¬† My mom’s orahnjańća is my absolute favourite (and I promise to share her recipe and test it out again!) and is great with coffee in the morning.
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The Feast of Saint Lucy – Blagdan Svete Lucije
Another special ¬†Croatian tradition is the planting of wheat (pŇ°enica) in commemoration of the feast of Saint Lucy.¬† The planting of wheat during the Christmas season symbolizes new life.¬†¬† Once the wheat has grown, most Croatians will tie it together with a red, white and blue ribbon (the colours of the Croatian flag) and/or place a candle in the middle.¬† Typically, this plant is then the main centrepiece for the dinner table on Christmas day.

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Christmas Eve – “Badnjak”
I remember the sight of a bakalar (cod fish) ¬†hanging in my parents’ fruit cellar.¬† Its basically a dried-up cod fish used to make a bakalar stu with potatoes.¬† This tradition is specific to Dalmatia as well as parts of Istria.¬† Croatians, like most Catholics in Europe will enjoy a special fish dinner on Christmas Eve.¬† Although fasting on Christmas Eve is not mandated by the Catholic Church, it is a tradition Croatians, and other Europeans, share.¬†¬† One of my fondest memories growing up is my mother and my late uncle cooking this wonderful bakalar stu together.¬†¬† We would then attend midnight mass (polnońáka) together and enjoy Croatian Christmas carols.¬† Following this, we would come home to the smell of sarma (cabbage rolls) and fresh figs.¬†¬† Sometimes, people will get together after midnight mass to celebrate over drinks and music.¬†

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Photo by Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com

Christmas Day – “BoŇĺińá “
The big day arrived, it is Christmas day or BoŇĺińá!¬† It is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.¬†¬† If you did not make it to midnight mass, then most Croatians will attend mass on Christmas day.¬† For most Croatians, Christmas day is the day when we get together with close family and friends over¬†a big feast of cabbage rolls, schnitzels and much, much more.¬†¬†¬†On Christmas day, presents are exchanged with loved ones and stories are shared with young ones.

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Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

The days following Christmas…
The Christmas season does not just end on Christmas.¬† For many Croatians, the Feast of Saint Stephen the Martyr (Blagdan Sv. Stjepana Prvomuńćenika) and the Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist (Blagdan Sveti Ivan Apostol i EvanńĎelist) is celebrated on December 26th and December 27th, respectively.¬† If your name is a variant of Stephen or John, traditionally, a celebration would be held in your honour of your name-sake day (or imendan).¬† I like to call it Christmas day parts 2 and 3.

The Christmas season traditionally ends on January 6th – the feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day, to commemorate the day when the Three Wise Kings visited baby Jesus.

“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.

ŇĹivjeli sto godina…i viŇ°e…

“Now” Photo credit: Yellow Pear Studio

Who has it better? Stay at home moms or working moms?

From a mother who has done both

I’ve been very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to stay at home with my kids over the past summer. ¬†I am also very blessed to have been on a full-year’s maternity leave twice. ¬†I’ve enjoyed my time away from the office and staying at home with the kids. ¬†It was nice to wake up and hang out in my pyjamas for a while and to spend some quality time with the kids. ¬†But needless to say, it was pretty exhausting. ¬† There’s this huge misconception that staying at home is a paid vacation and the bottom line, it isn’t.

As much as I enjoyed my time off, there were times that I felt like that meme you see on Instagram- you are the chef, event coordinator, cleaner, driver, nurse and so on and so fourth. ¬† It’s exhausting! ¬†Staying at home takes a lot out of you and sometimes you are left wondering if going to work would be a break in of itself. ¬†I definitely drank my coffee cold most days!

When I returned to work, I was briefly excited to “dress up” and to put some make-up on. ¬†I finally got to enjoy my coffee warm. ¬†I was excited to be around some adults and to have some intellectual stimulation. ¬†Then the guilt started to sink in….I felt guilty knowing my youngest would be going to daycare and that someone else would be looking after him during the daytime. ¬† I felt guilty knowing that I would be missing some field trips with my oldest as I couldn’t take a lot of time off. ¬† I then started to experience some anxiety knowing that I had to manage being a mother all while having a career. Did I mention all the other things I have to do?!

It’s hard isn’t it? ¬†This motherhood thing? ¬†

But what I came to realize is that motherhood is hard, regardless if you work or stay at home. ¬†I started to come to the conclusion that it’s¬†all about perspective. ¬†The bottom line is…..regardless if you are a stay-at-home mom or a working mom, it’s tough. ¬†There is no easy way out.¬† Motherhood isn’t easy and that’s the truth, whether you are a working mom or a stay-at-home mom.¬† I don’t think working moms have it easier than stay-at-home moms and vice-versa.¬† They both come with their challenges and rewards. ¬†Ultimately, you have to do what’s best for you and your family. ¬†In some families, the mother is the breadwinner and she needs to return to that job and for other families its just not financially worth it for the mother to go back to work for a while….and that is okay!

What I realized that is that what works for one family, does not work for another. ¬†We need to end this “working mom versus stay-at-home mom” debate once and for all, because doing what is best for your family takes precedence and that varies for everyone.

Photocred:  Yellow Pear Studio 

Travelling with children: survival or enjoyment? One mom’s thoughts

We always receive a mixed response when we tell friends and family that we are going to Croatia with our boys. ¬†Some people respond by saying “that’s awesome” and others say that we’re “brave.” ¬†More often than not, you hear that travelling with children is more of a trip than a vacation. ¬†I can see how that is, especially if your children are challenging (or lively) like mine. ¬†But on the other hand, knowing that it’s not easy, is simply half the battle. ¬† What I can tell you for sure is that even the most uptight of parents, with the most spirited children, can still enjoy a vacation abroad.

We’ve travelled in the past with the kids before, where some trips went off without a hitch and others have been so bad to the point where we say “we are never doing this again!” ¬†However, my husband and I both have that travel bug in us and we so badly want to instil that same love of travelling in our kids. ¬† In January we decided to give it a try again and booked a trip to Croatia for the end of June.

We spent three glorious (well depends on who you ask…) weeks in Croatia. ¬†The first week went without a hitch. ¬†The kids loved staying in Zagreb and at Hotel Dubrovnik. ¬†They were overall, very well-behaved. ¬†They climatized to the time change and to the food well. ¬†Heck, they loved the food. ¬†With that being said, we weren’t strict at all when it came to diet because we knew that this was the time to indulge. ¬†We all deserved it! They really enjoyed the sights and sounds of Zagreb and were amazed at all it’s lovely buildings and landmarks. ¬† Our kids enjoyed the three-hour car ride to our family home in Vodice, where they were enamoured of the mountains along the way. ¬† They were so excited to arrive at¬†dida’s house and to go swimming on the beach.

Week two is when things started to become tough. ¬†The older child wanted to go home to his bed and the younger one refused to sleep at night. ¬†This resulted in some cranky kids. ¬†Perhaps they were overstimulated by all the sounds and sights of the beach. ¬†Perhaps it was from all the sugar they were intaking. ¬†Who knows? ¬†Some days they were upset that the water was too cold or that their ice cream was melting funny. ¬† It was hard as parents to not get frustrated, but that’s kids though. ¬†They have their moments; some days they weren’t too into things and other days they were great.

Our oldest is a screamer and it’s been challenging with him, and when he would scream, I just step away and remind myself, he’s just a kid and I just need to shake it off, I want to enjoy this vacation. ¬†I spent a lot of time reading “Raising Your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka over this trip and boy, did it really help me get through those tough moments. ¬†During those moments when he would get upset at the beach, I would take him to a quiet area and say “I know you are angry, what is it that you need?”

There were some days that we just didn’t go anywhere, and that was okay, because little kids get tired and sometimes you just have to roll with it. ¬†Does that mean I did not enjoy myself? ¬†Absolutely not. ¬†I enjoyed not having to do chores and errands, or going to work everyday. ¬†While they watched a show, I would read a book in one hand, and drink a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine) in the other.

You see, it’s all about perspective. ¬† Going into a vacation and knowing there will be obstacles makes you better prepared for how to handle them. ¬† This is where we failed during our last trip. ¬†Some children have a calmer temperament and others are more challenging. ¬†Ours happen to be more challenging so we decided to just roll with it this time around, and in the end, we did find a way to enjoy this vacation.

This is not to say that the whole trip was full of tantrums and meltdowns, there were lots of good parts as well, such as: going on mini road-trips and visiting family; going to the children’s waterpark at the Solaris Resort, and so on. ¬†We got to spend a lot of quality time with family and friends, be it on the beach or at a restaurant. ¬†My husband and I managed to get some alone time over dinner or coffee, which was a nice treat. ¬†On our last night, my husband and I went out for dinner and got to enjoy some tamburica at a local restaurant. ¬† The point is, that is what a vacation is about: ¬†it’s about making memories and making the most of that special time together.

Yesterday, someone at soccer practice asked me how the trip went. ¬†I smiled and replied: ¬†“as good as you can get with kids.”

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An evening in Trogir; we somehow survived