Getting in tune with our learning cues – my experience with home schooling my children thus far

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we in Canada are basically adjusting to a new way of life as we navigate through self-isolation.  Because of the pandemic, most non-essential services are closed, including schools and day cares.  In Ontario, school is currently postponed until April 5th (although this is subject to change) and now parents are left with the seemingly daunting task of home schooling their kids.  Last week was a bit of an experiment in terms of home schooling the boys as I tried out different methods to see what works best for them.  I was pretty relaxed considering I don’t believe in forcing kids to do something when they really don’t want to.  Furthermore, as it was technically their March break, I didn’t want to push them too much with home schooling.

What I learned from that first week is that my boys need structure and simply put, thrive under a structured day.  I also learned that I have to tailor their learning based on their age and needs:  T, my oldest, is in senior kindergarten and can start to recognize words , read books for his age and is really good at math.   Whereas, my youngest I, is 3 and a half; he knows his 123s and ABCs and loves to draw.

Here is a little glimpse of our homeschooling routine.

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Please note, what works for my kids does not necessarily mean it will work for you as every child is different.  In addition, I am not an educator (although I did get into teacher’s college but rejected the offer because I got my first job in Toronto and went there instead) so I am basically putting together what works for my kids from the resources I have available to me.  My educational background is in Political Science (I have an MA and a BA) in case you are wondering (and no I won’t be teaching them public policy or the foundations of classical political thought yet!)  

The key is being in tune with

their needs and following their cues.

The first thing I did was create a schedule for the boys and placed in on the fridge directly across the island where we eat so its in plain view.  I figure the island is the best place to conduct our home school as they can enjoy a snack while learning plus we have a lot of space.   With that being said, the schedule is in no way strict, its more of a guideline for me and if they aren’t into it, we move on to the next activity or have some free play time instead.

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Play is so important for kids as it promotes their development and sense of imagination.

Based on my research, preschoolers and kindergarteners only require 1-2 hours of learning a day.  I also learned early on that you can’t force them to learn as you do not want to create a negative association with learning.  At this age learning just needs to be fun!

We typically start our day like we would on a normal school day:  we get dressed, we brush our teeth and we eat breakfast and get started with our day.    Usually I will start Kumon first as my oldest is in Kumon and his teacher gave him work sheets until the end of April.    For my youngest,  I found a Kumon workbook at Costco called Are You Ready for Kindergarten? so that he too can try out Kumon.

My biggest challenge is since I am at home  while M works, I have to home school them at different times.

This can be challenging homeschooling two kids who are at different levels.  What I started doing is that I’ll focus one activity with one child and then switch.  So far this method has been working for me, although some days it can be challenging as one may be more interested in his toys for instance.

I also found that there are a lot of great resources available online for children, such as the Scholastic Remote Learning and the School Age Program with TVO.   I really like the Scholastic Remote Learning because every day there is a new lesson theme (i.e. bears) and comes with free printable worksheets.  There is a quiz at the end of each lesson so it gives us time to recap what we learned for that day.  Both my boys seem to enjoy this program the most.  My cousin, who happens to be a teacher, set my kids up with a Raz-Kids account to get them ahead with reading.  She tailored the program to each of their levels.   I also downloaded the Math Story Time App and Go Noodle on the iPad.

With that being said, I try to stick to the guidelines surrounding screen time as set out by the Canadian Pediatric Society as much as possible.  I also find that if my kids have too much screen time, they become really wired (as do we when we spend too much time in front of a screen!)  This is where free play and going outside comes in handy.

Our kids need a break from all this stimulation (be it from technology and what not) and sometimes we just need to let kids be kids!

…so we go outside, be it in the backyard to run around and play soccer, or to take the scooters out for a scooter ride (since parks are off limits due to the pandemic).  Fresh air is good for everyone and getting my boys moving makes for a much happier day.  Going outside promotes both physical activity and wellness in children.

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I decided to create an arts & crafts board on Pinterest to get ideas on how to help the boys with their fine-motor skills. For instance, tomorrow we will make crocodiles out of green popsicle sticks.  Considering that Easter is around the corner, we’ll make some Easter-themed art such as paper plate bunny masks.  I also love to get my kids involved with baking.  It’s a good opportunity for them to learn basics such as measuring and counting.  Last week we baked muffins and earlier this week we made Croatian crepes (palačinke).  I happened to have a gingerbread cookie set left over from Christmas so we spent one morning decorating gingerbread men.  The kids are always so proud with how tasty their creations turn out!

Luckily, I stocked up on flash cards and workbooks from Costco last summer so we can work on different things such as basic math, counting, alphabets and sight words.  My oldest can read and is slowly starting to write words, but my youngest still knows only his 123s and ABCs, so I would sit specifically with him and go through each flash card together.

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

My oldest son’s kindergarten teacher also posts different activities to do at home on the classroom Twitter account, so I get both my boys involved.   Today’s activity was to take out utensils and create patters and do some basic addition and subtraction.  Tomorrow we will have an alphabet scavenger hunt where we will look for letters and then put together to create words.

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By that point, it brings us to about noon (keep in mind I throw a snack or two in during the morning learning fun).  After lunch I basically just let them unwind or play.  My youngest still naps so I try to get him to sleep while the other will watch a show or play quietly.  The afternoon is also a good time to read a book or two.  Fortunately, my boys love being read to so every day we pick a different book to read.  Other than that, the afternoon is pretty open and I basically let them control what they want to do for that part of the day.

As each day passes, I find that I am learning more and more about them; what their likes and dislikes are; what their strengths are and what skills we need to work on.  I also have a new-found appreciation for teachers and early childhood educators.

Overall, I learned the key is to have fun otherwise it won’t work.  Home schooling, when done right, can be a great experience for everyone.

 

 

 

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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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.

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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.

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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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Natalie’s beauty insider for 2020

If there is anything I enjoy more in life is trying out new skin-care products and cosmetics.  I have always been a “girly girl” in the sense that I love a nice, sheer lip gloss and an even better moisturizer.  My signature look is simple:  clean, classy and polished.  I think self-care is so important; not only does it make you look good on the outside but it also makes you feel good on the inside!

I wanted to share with you some of my top picks for Winter 2020.   I like to try a range of products that are available from department stores to your local drug store.  Sometimes you can be surprised with the things you can find at places like Shoppers or Rexall.

I also wanted to reiterate that this is in no way an advertisement, nor was this blog post sponsored by anyone.  I am simply a girl sharing with you some of my favourite products and essentials from my make-up bag that I have been using this season.  Consider this tried, tested and true!

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From left to right:

  1. YES Studio Lip Balm “Uh Huh Honey” – I happened to find this at Indigo over the holidays and picked it up as some stocking stuffers for some friends.  I thought why not try it out myself?  It’s probably one of the best lip balms I have tried to date.  It feels like you are putting a serum on your lips and is very moisturizing and not too balmy.  Approximately $10.00 at Chapters/Indigo.
  2. Bobbi Brown Skin Long Wear Foundation – I thought nothing could top Lancôme’s Teint Idole Ultra Long Wear Foundation but then I happened to find it.  My brother gifted me Masterclass for Christmas this year and I chose Bobbi Brown’s make-up class.  What I have learned thus far from the class is that beauty comes from within and Bobbi’s take on cosmetics is to enhance your beauty; not to alter your beauty.  Well thats basically what this foundation does is enhances your skin and just gives it a nice finish.  You can find it at the Bay for about $58.00.
  3. NYX Precision Brow Pencil – sometimes I love a good drugstore find and this is definitely one of them!  I love the flat tip on the applicator and makes for a smooth and easy finish.  It also comes attached with a brow brush on the other end.  I would think this is somewhat comparable to other brow pencil’s I’ve tried in the past such as MAC and Anastasia.  For $12 bucks this product is great for your brows!  Available at most drug stores such as Shoppers.
  4. PUR 4-in-1 Tinted Moisturizer with SPF 20:  I do not like heavy coverage and some days all I want is a nice, clean, sheer finish.   I also suffer from seasonal allergies to the point where my skin does not tolerate products with heavy ingredients well.  The beautician at Shoppers Drug Mart suggested I try PUR.  I absolutely love this product and wear this on most days.  It’s light and easy and a little bit goes a long way.  Available at Shoppers Drug Mart.
  5. Christian Dior Lip Maximizer Hyaluronic Lip Plumper – nothing feels more luxurious than this!  This product really does deliver good results.  I am not much of a lipstick person, but I do love a good gloss and this one does not disappoint.  In addition, I find it does not get sticky and it also does give that plumping effect.  I picked this product up at Sephora.
  6. Vichy Mineral 89 Skin Fortifying Daily Booster – as stated in the previous paragraph, I have really sensitive skin, especially around the eye area and for years I have been using Vichy’s skin care line.  I love this product and it really does deliver and make your face nice and plumped.  One to two pumps of this product is all what you need followed by some rolling motions from my Hadaka Quartz Face Roller that I picked up at Angel’s Beauty Bar in downtown Hamilton.  I do this routine twice a day and I have noticed some pretty good results.
  7. The Colossal mascara by Maybelline – I also suffer from eye allergies so I have to clean all my brushes and change mascaras quite regularly.  It can get quite expensive.  One day I was in a rush and stopped at a nearby Rexall and came across this mascara which was on sale.  I thought I would give it a try.  I was quite pleased with the results.  I like that it is not a plastic brush.  When I applied the mascara to my eye lashes I truly thought they looked pretty real (the jingle “maybe its Maybelline” came to mind!). I also like that it is not clumpy. Maybelline is known for making pretty good mascaras, specifically Great Lash, but I personally think this one is better.
  8. Aveeno Absolutely Ageless Moisturizing Cleanser – I literally just started using this yesterday and I love it.  My skin felt nice and smooth and did not dry my face out like most cleansers do.  I found it to be quite gentle and it basically did the job.  Available in most drug and grocery stores but Walmart has the best price for this product online.

What are your favourite cosmetic and beauty essentials?  Share in the comments below!

Much love,

N.

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 pšenica bowls during these events.

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Baking
It is quite common for Croatians to bake traditional bake goods during the holidays, specifically štrudla od jabuka (apple strudel), breskvice (peaches), Mađarica  (Hungarian lady) and orahnjača (walnut roll).  My mom’s orahnjača 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 (pšenica) 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 (polnoćka) 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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Christmas Day – “Božić “
The big day arrived, it is Christmas day or Božić!  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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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 Prvomučenika) and the Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist (Blagdan Sveti Ivan Apostol i Evanđelist) 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.

Exploring new places, starting new traditions

A wine tour of Twenty Valley, a hidden gem in my very own backyard

When it comes to wine, places like Burgundy, Tuscany and Napa Valley come to mind.  I am not necessarily a wine-connoisseur but I do enjoy some good wine.  I’ve been fortunate to travel to places like Napa Valley and Italy where I’ve gone to wine tours and tastings.   Growing up in Windsor, Ontario, I was well-familiar with Pelee Island and all it’s glory, but I never really thought about Niagara on the Lake or the surrounding areas.   Perhaps because I was so far removed, or never really took some time to consider visiting there.  Since moving to the GTHA, I started to explore various restaurants in the surrounding areas.   It didn’t take me long to realize that you don’t have to travel too far to find good restaurants and wineries, and I am not even talking about going to Toronto!

I’ve been to Niagara on the Lake but I haven’t done it properly, like gone on a proper wine tour.  It all started one afternoon at my niece’s 8th birthday party back in October.  I was talking to a few of my husband’s cousins on how we should get together and what not and how we always do something with the kids, but never just us.  I then said, “I think it would be nice if we all went on a wine tour.”   And like magic, it just happened.  We organized our first ever cousin’s wine tour.

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Just a bunch of cousins hanging out at Westcott Vineyards

We spent a few weeks figuring out where to go, how many wineries to visit and booking a bus.   I booked the restaurant and my cousin-in-law’s husband looked after the wineries.  Luckily, my cousin-in-law’s husband is an expert when it comes to wine, so he put together a lovely roster for our tour.  It worked out that all the wineries were located in Niagara’s Twenty Valley region instead of Niagara on the Lake.

Twenty Valley is located right in between Grimsby and St. Catharine’s and consists of Beamsville, Vineland, Jordan Station and the Town of Lincoln.  Not only is the region home to many world-class wineries, but to breweries, restaurants, markets and much more.  I’ve actually been to Christmas urn-making parties at the Watering Can in Vineland a few times and have been impressed with the beauty it surrounds.

I ended up making a reservation for dinner at Edgewater Manor in Stoney Creek, as it made sense to dine closer to home.

The weather couldn’t have been better for a late-November day as it was sunny.   We started our tour at Hidden Bench Winery, a lovely winery located in Beamsville.  It is a quaint area surrounded by a few barn-houses.  There were 11 of us total in our group and we had our own private tasting room, where we were greeted by some friendly creatures! As we entered our room, a flight of four wines were waiting for us.  We started with their riesling and made our way to the pinot.   It was a nice start to our tour.img_4646
Our next stop was at Tawse, an organic winery with some French flair to it.  This winery is a larger and more-commercialized winery.   We had an hour walking tour of the winery and a private tasting in the cellar.   img_4631I would say the pinot noir was my favourite at this one.  This winery also makes various spirits as well.  The grounds were lovely and had a nice view of the lake from a-far.
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Following this we stopped at Cloudsley Cellars, a smaller, more boutique-style winery.  We had a tasting with the owner, right in the cellar, which made for a more intimate setting.  I would say the chardonnay was my favourite here.

We concluded our wine tour at Westcott Vineyards, a family-owned and operated winery with a beautiful view and equally lovely rose!  I really enjoyed the story behind their “Temperance” wine, inspired by two women who were feminists for their time.  We tasted four wines here and I think the rose was my favourite at this one.
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We had a bit of time in-between the last winery and the restaurant, so we made a quick pit stop for cappuccino and drinks at Cappola’s Ristorante in St. Catharine’s.  My husband’s cousin-in-law grew up in the area and is friends with the owners.   We were greeted with friendly smiles and some Louis Martini!

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Drinking a much needed coffee after a long day of wine touring

We concluded our evening at the historic Edgewater Manor, located on the shores of Lake Ontario in Stoney Creek.  The manor is absolutely beautiful and is well-decorated for the upcoming holidays.   The food was phenomenal and our service was second-to-none. We were surprised by a guitarist who played some lovely flamingo music to us.
img_4703It was overall, a magical experience which made me realize you don’t have to travel too far to experience good food and good wine.  But most importantly, we created a new tradition for us to carry for years to come.  

 

“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

Natalie’s easy pasta sauce

A few weeks ago, one of my friends asked me when I learned to cook. I told her “not until I got married, and before that I was awful.”  She was stunned by my admission.  Truthfully speaking, my mom did most of it growing up, so there was no need for me to even try and when I did, it was awful. I couldn’t even make Kraft mac n’cheese.  It would turn out so watery that my brother teased me and called it “water n’cheese.”  I couldn’t crack an egg properly and my pancakes always burned.  But that didn’t mean that I didn’t love food.

Growing up, I lived in a very unique family setting a la Full House: it was me, my brother, my parents and my late uncle.  My late uncle loved to cook, dine at fine restaurants and to entertain.  For a long period of time, I was his partner in crime.   He took me everywhere and treated me to the finest Windsor had to offer:  Erie Street.  He was a class act and his passion for food and wine was a great influence on my life.  I was always amazed by his love for cooking, entertaining and being social.

Although I didn’t learn how to cook until I was married, it is definitely in my blood: my aunt and uncle run a restaurant in Germany and my late grandfather made an amazing Hungarian goulash.  But it was my very own “Uncle Jessie” who made me a foodie from a very young age.

My passion for food grew even larger when I met my husband.  His mother is the queen of entertaining and my sister-in-law is an impeccable cook and baker.  In my mid-twenties, my husband and I were living in Toronto and we thoroughly enjoyed city life.   He had a list of Blog TO’s top 50 restaurants in his wallet, making it his mission for us to visit every one…and was it fun!

It was not until I was on my first maternity leave that I realized my true passion was for cooking.   Early mornings feeding the baby introduced me to some of the “gods” on Food Network:  Giada De Laurentis, David Rocco, Laura Calder, Michael Smith, to name a few. I was inspired to try different things out, explore different cuisines and cookbooks and basically practiced my way into cooking.

I wouldn’t consider myself a master chef but I am miles away from making that watery Kraft mac n’cheese I did many moons ago.   Today, I love cooking and find it very relaxing.  I also enjoy entertaining and love having company over a nice meal, some meze and vino.

Being a busy mom,  it’s nice to make something that everyone will love, that can last a few days and something you can freeze for another day.

Here is my easy pasta sauce that has taken me a few years to master and perfect.  It was influenced partly by how my mother makes bolognese and how my mother-in-law makes it.   It’s not a real bolognese in the sense because I don’t add milk to mine and I add a ton of veggies to it to make it more flavourful.   Is it authentic? No because I add premade tomato and basil sauce to it.  But it works.  This recipe has become a hit in my household and is great on top of penne or in-between lasagna sheets.

Natalie’s Easy Pasta Sauce

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Ingredients

1. One cooking onion, chopped

2. One large carrot, chopped

3. One celery stalk, chopped

4. One yellow zucchini, chopped

5. One garlic clove, minced

6. 1 small package of lean ground beef and 1 small package of lean ground pork (or: two mixed ground beef, pork and veal packages).

7. 2 jars of tomato and basil sauce (any brand; I usually buy what’s on sale).

8. 1 small can of tomato paste (to thicken it).

9. Salt and pepper; to taste

10. Dash of sugar

11. Olive oil

Optional: Podravka Vegeta (to taste); chilli flakes (to taste)

Directions:

1. In a large pot, drizzle olive oil to have bottom of the pot evenly covered (about 2 tablespoons) and heat pot on stove to about medium. Add onions, minced garlic, carrots, celery and zucchini and sauté until a nice golden colour.

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2. Add your ground beef/pork/veal and cook until brown.  I break up the meat with my spatula so it’s not clumpy.

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3. Once meat is cooked, add the jars of tomato and basil sauce, dash of sugar (to get rid of the acidity) and bring to a boil.

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4. Reduce heat to about medium-low; add tomato paste and salt and pepper to taste. Vegeta and chilli flakes is optional.   Let cook for about 30-45 minutes and enjoy on top of your pasta of choice or use for lasagna.

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Enjoy!  Dobar tek!

***Notes: if you do not want to be your sauce to be “oily,” drain the meat/veggies through a strainer and store all the oil from the meat in a separate container and disregard.  Then add your tomato and basil sauce, etc. and continue cooking.

This recipe is great for freezing for another day so my rule-of-thumb is to keep it in the freezer up to one month.

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