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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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

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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Photo by Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com

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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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 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

 

 

Konoba Pelegrini: An experience of a lifetime

One of life’s greatest pleasures is enjoying good food and better wine.  I wouldn’t describe myself as a foodie per se, but one of my favourite types of date nights is exploring new and different restaurants.  My husband, his cousins and I decided to go out for dinner at Konoba Pelegrini, located steps from the Cathedral of St. James (Croatian: Katedrala sv. Jakova) in Šibenik.  Pelegrini has been rated 1 Michelin star for the past two years in a row.   Both the menu and the views are beyond exquisite, making Pelegrini more than just a restaurant.  It’s an experience of a lifetime.

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I found the service to be extremely pleasant and very well coordinated.   Our Sommelier provided an excellent interpretation of Croatian wines and I found that he mastered his craft well in the way he presented our wine.  We started our evening with a bottle of Saint Hills – Sveti Roko Plavac Mali.   Plavac Mali literally means “little blue” in Croatian.  This is in reference to the type of grapes commonly found in vineyards across Dalmatia.   I thoroughly enjoyed this wine and found it to be very smooth.

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As a restaurant that serves a tasting menu, I was a bit nervous that I would leave feeling hungry.   I was completely wrong.  You basically have three options, a 3-course menu, a 4-course menu or a 5-course menu.  I opted for the 4-course menu.  I decided to mix it up with my selections, starting with octopus as my first course, rooster pasta as my second, lamb and eggplant as my third and then ending with the apricot caramel for dessert.   I was pleasantly surprised to find that an appetizer was served at the start of the meal and a dessert was given at the end.    With non-stop bread in-between courses, you will leave feeling very full.  This restaurant aims to please and much, much more.

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We choose Milos Stagnum as our second bottle of wine for the evening.  My mother-in-law gifted us this wine a year ago so it was nice to enjoy it again.

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Another feature of the restaurant which caught my eye was it’s close attention to detail as well as the coordination of the staff.  I found that our evening flowed in a well-choreographed manner.   It just seemed as if the food kept coming….and coming!

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After a few days of rain, the weather was finally back to normal temperatures again.   The sun in Dalmatia is much different than the sun in Ontario; there is no humidity and you can tolerate the heat.   I found the overall mood in the restaurant to be that of a perfect Dalmatian night.   Coincidentally, a klapa festival was taking place at the Cathedral while we were enjoying our meal, making the experience much more wholesome.

If you are looking for a restaurant that is decadent and unique; for presentation that goes above-and-beyond; and for something that excites your sights, sounds and tastebuds, look no further than to Konoba Pelegrini in Šibenik, Croatia.

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Zagreb: a city where memories are made of

While planning our upcoming trip to Croatia this past January, my husband and I were looking at different routes from Toronto.   We had the option to either fly direct to Zagreb or fly with a connection to Split.   When my husband and I were younger, we used to start our trip in Zagreb and stayed at Hotel Dubrovnik, which is in the heart of Ban Jelačić Square.   I have fond memories of those carefree days where we would walk around the city and enjoy some coffee.   My choice was clear:   we had to start our trip in Zagreb and continue our tradition.

My husband on the other hand was not quite sure.  He considered driving straight to our family home in Vodice following the flight.   I quickly vetoed that as my rationale was we will all be hungry and tired.   But, deep down inside, I just wanted to stay in Zagreb and reminisce about a time before we were married and had kids, a time when it was just the two of us.  I wanted to simply walk around the streets of Zagreb with the kids and just take all the sights in.   In other words, my husband had no choice but to book a hotel in Zagreb.  We decided to book Hotel Dubrovnik, where we have previously stayed.   We love Hotel Dubrovnik and it is our favourite hotel in Zagreb due to its close proximity to Ban Jelačić Square and Ilica Street.   The staff there is incredible, especially with kids and their complimentary breakfast is second-to-none.  We booked two nights there knowing the first day would be a bit of a right-off with the travel.

Day 1
Following check in we got settled into the hotel and let the kids rest a bit.  We decided to venture outside for an early dinner and walk around Zagreb.   We made our way to Tkalčićeva Street and had pizza at Nokturno, which was recommended by the hotel staff.   Pizza sort of is the theme of this trip as that’s all what my kids have been eating.   You would think that Italians are only known for their pizza, but Croatians make a pretty good pizza if you ask me.  We thoroughly enjoyed our first meal and the kids were enamoured by the sights and sounds of Tkalčićeva Street.  We spent the rest of the evening walking around the city, namely towards Kaptol where we saw the Zagreb Cathedral (Cathedral of the Virgin Mary) and passed by the market, which was closed by the time we got there.
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Day 2
The kids were extremely jet-lagged so we let them sleep.   They slept probably for a total of 15 hours.   My husband and I took turns going out for breakfast so he went first and then I second.  It turns out that this day was a holiday, Croatian Statehood Day (Dan Državnosti) so most stores were closed.  The city felt quiet as most people went to the beach for the day.   By the time my husband returned to our room, the complimentary breakfast was closed, so I made my way outside towards the Ban Jelačić Square and purchased a fresh croissant from a nearby bakery and enjoyed a cappuccino at the Hotel Dubrovnik Kavana.  This moment felt like pure bliss.  Peace and quiet while I did some writing in my journal.   Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Once the kids woke up we fed them some yogurt and krafne for breakfast and made our way outside. We walked towards Zrinjevac Park where the kids thoroughly enjoyed splashing in its many fountains. We eventually made our way to Kralj Tomislav Square where the kids were in awe of such a impressive monument to Croatia’s first king.

img_1952We spent most of the day walking around the city, namely to the Gornji Grad (Upper City) where we walked by the Croatian Parliament and St. Mark’s Church. To get to this part of the city, we went underground through the Grič Tunnel, which the kids found very interesting!

 

As written previously, pizza has become a favourite meal on this trip. We asked the kids what they wanted to eat and they cried “pizza!!” So we made the trek all the way to Karijola which is located directly across from Galleria Importane. The rooftop patio was lovely and instead of gemist I opted for a glass of rose which from my understanding is making a huge comeback this year.  I find the taste of rose crisp, and subtly sweet and when served cold it is the perfect summer wine.

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Following this we returned to King Tomislav Square where the City of Zagreb threw a free concert in honour of Statehood Day.  The performer was none other than the remarkable National Folk Dance Ensemble of Croatia, LADO.  Nothing is more Croatian than LADO, who performs traditional Croatian songs and folk dances.  As my husband and I were both very active in Croatian folklore in Canada, we were delighted to attend this show and share our love of Croatian culture with our children.   The  kids enjoyed it thoroughly and we managed to last the first hour of the show, until they got tired.

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Day 3
The following day we checked out of our hotel and walked around Ilica and Ban Jelacic Square.  We took the kids to the Budi Ponosan (Be Proud) soccer museum.   It’s a little museum located on Petrinjska off of Ilica which is dedicated to the Croatian National Soccer Team.  The kids enjoyed looking at all the jerseys throughout the team’s history and some of the displays.

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After our visit to the museum, we stopped for coffee and juice at the trendy La Bodega before departing to our next destination.   The first few days of our trip were a success, the kids enjoyed themselves, and for a small moment in time, I felt as if I was living a dream.    As a family, we created magical memories to last a lifetime and I am so happy that we started the trip how I wanted to, in Zagreb.

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Preparing for our trip to Croatia: summer vacation hawl

Okay, I realize I am a few days late posting this, but I figure it’s better late to post than never.  Originally I was going to post this before our trip, but as life goes on, things get in the way and some things have to take the back burner.  On top of last-minute errands and packing, I also fit in some last minute cleaning.  The kids also needed a haircut and I needed a pedicure desperately.  The kids also had a birthday party the day before we departed for Croatia, so as you could imagine, it was pretty hectic.  As I am writing to you from our apartment in Vodice, here are my thoughts on what essentials you need to pack for your summer getaway…for yourself and your kids.

The “Essentials”
Lets start off with the essentials.  Whether its packing for Croatia or a camping trip, you need to pack the essentials.  For me that consists of sunblock (for you and your kids), Tylenol/Advil (again for you and your kids), aloe vera, mosquito spray and After Bite, in addition to other regular medications or vitamins you may require.   In Croatia a few of these things are readily available, but I’d rather be safe than sorry and just have these things packed in advance.  For instance, we landed in Zagreb at about noon, by the time we got out of the airport and made it to the hotel, it was already 3:00 pm.  At this point, the kids were  really hungry.  It was over 35 degrees out and so there was no time to stop at the store and buy sunscreen, as we were all starving.  Before we left our hotel room, we lathered ourselves in sunscreen and just made our way to the city centre for a late lunch.  I always say that its better to have some of these things on hand.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Makeup/Toiletry Bag
I love nothing more than a good makeup bag and whats in it.  A good makeup bag consists of a moisturizer, tinted moisturizer and/or foundation, eye brow pencil, mascara, lip gloss, blush and bronzer.  Scrunchies are very in this season so I threw some in my bag, along with some cute bobby pins and tortoise hair clips.   I also love dry shampoo for in-between hair washes and a nice, light, summer-time perfume, such as “Chance” by Chanel.  Some of my favourite products for this trip have been Benefit’s “They’re Real!” mascara, Dior Lip Maximizer, Kosmea’s Rose Hip Oil, Biossance moisturizer, Revlon Kiss Lip Balm and Pur’s tinted moisturizer.

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Kid’s Capsule Wardrobe
For summertime, I love shopping at Zara and H&M for the kids.  The styles are great and the prices are just right.  I bought a mix of dressy clothes and basics.  I picked up some cute swimming trunks from Zara, as well as Hawaiian shirts which are very in this season.   I also picked up a few t-shirts and cotton shorts from H&M as well.  A rule of thumb is that I pack a few neutral coloured bottoms and different variety of t-shirts/dress shirts and basically mix and match throughout the trip.
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Nothing says summertime more than linen.  I found some really nice linen shirts at Massimo Dutti.  The quality for both adults and kids are excellent and I always happen to find pieces there that reminds me of the things my husband peruses on Style Forum.  
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I couldn’t help but buy these shirts for my boys at H&M….I thought that these shirts couldn’t be more fitting when walking through the streets of Dalmatia…

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Your summer capsule wardrobe
Before, I used to pack a ton of stuff, not wear half of it and be frustrated why nothing worked.  It took me 30 plus years to figure it out, but you just need to pack a basic capsule wardrobe when travelling.  I am so grateful for Pinterest to teach me this.  Your sanity and your luggage will thank me for this.  For me, my capsule wardrobe consists of a few cute summer dresses, one pair of white distressed pants, a few dressy tops, a few tanks and t-shirts, one pair of jean shorts, one pair of black shorts and one pair of high-waisted linen shorts, along with two bathing suits and two bathing suit coverups.  I always pack two neutral pairs of shoes (one black and one neutral) and a cute shoulder bag.  I also bring my tote along as I use it as a carry on and throw in a nice pair of shades and accessories.   Basically the same rule as my kids applies, but a few neutral colour bottoms and different tops creates a lot of variety for your vacation getaway.

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A few days into our trip and I can say that I am really happy with the way I packed this time around.   Between four people we managed to fit everything into two large suitcases and one carry-on, along with what was in my tote.  I believe that packing smarter, as opposed to over-packing, works way better.