“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.

Work-family-life balance: myth or reality?

As a parent, I often wonder if work-family-life balance exists.  It’s no joke when I say I feel like I am a chicken running around without a head.  From the start of my day to the end, I don’t stop.  Ever.   Lately my days have been commencing at about 5:30 am and I am lucky to be in bed at 11:00 pm the earliest. My days typically consist of me preparing the kids’ outfits and bags before I head out to work, planning their schedules around mine and trying to stay on top of chores and meals. All while working a full-time job…and have some sort of relationship with my spouse (I didn’t forget about you!)

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Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

I often wonder how other parents do it.  How do they manage to get their kids to their activities on time? When do they have time to fit in a workout between kids and work?  Do they get any sleep?  Do they clean their house or do they hire someone to do it?  Do they have any help? I find myself exhausted on most days. Between the kids waking up in the middle of the night, trying to get them to sleep on time, all while trying to be a good employee at work, I’ve been finding it difficult. Lately I’ve been having a hard time trying to manage it all. It got to a point where I even doubted that balance actually existed.

Until one day it hit me.

I had to change my expectations.

You read that correctly. Change my expectations. Not lower them.

I had to stop for a moment and reevaluate what my goals and priorities were. That started by changing my mindset on life. I had to accept that my life is different now than before kids and that little things like going to the gym for an hour every day was not realistic. I accepted I won’t have my 20-something year old body anymore. I accepted that my house and car won’t be in pristine condition.

I had to create what was realistic for my life in this very moment, which is motherhood.

I found that making little modifications to my life style helped immensely, namely diet and sleep. I realized that between work and my kids, it’s not possible for me to get to the gym every single day, so there are other ways to stay active, like take the kids out for a walk or play with them outside. My husband and I alternate nights on which we go to the gym and it works for us. I also made some modifications to my diet that I found helped a lot.

Another aspect to achieving balance is prioritizing what is important and what can wait. Picking up the toys in the basement can wait (kids will throw it again tomorrow anyways). Putting the laundry away tonight can wait for tomorrow (I am better off reading a book to myself or getting an extra hour of sleep). We created a cleaning schedule at home so for instance, the kitchen and family room is tidied up every night and the washrooms are cleaned weekly. I realized that making things that are valuable for my time such as going for walks with the kids or having a date night with my spouse also helps me attain a sense of balance. Some of my favourite things to do are taking the kids to the park or a local Chapters, or unwinding over a glass of wine after a busy week with my husband, or having a girls’ night out. The point is, making time for things that make you happy should be number one priority. Not picking up those toys for the one millionth time.

Some days are trying and yes that will always be there. But I’m slowly letting go this idea of “perfect” motherhood, body, household and so on. Overall, I really do believe that achieving work-family-life balance is possible, you just have to make it happen.

 

 

Memories of Montreal

It feels like yesterday I was getting ready and packing for my first trip in 4 years….alone. Yes, you read this correctly.  Alone.  Alone meaning  sans husband, sans kids.  I went to Montreal for my best friend’s bachelorette.  Looking back, the timing couldn’t have been better as we were in the midst of moving and I desperately just needed a break from the demands of being wife, employee, mother, planner, referee, cook, nurse, janitor, artist and so on.

I remember the excitement of going to the airport.  Yes, the airport.  For the first time in years, I got to sit and enjoy a cappuccino uninterrupted and to make it even sweeter it was free (I flew out of Billy Bishop airport).  I felt like I was 25 again and jet setting as I once used to.  It was exciting yet at the same time I couldn’t help but feel so guilty.  Was it wrong to feel solace knowing I wouldn’t have someone crying or whining towards me? I knew my husband would have a hard time with the kids, especially my oldest who is quite spirited.  But, I also told myself, he can survive.  If I do everyday, so can he for one weekend.

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Photo by Nancy Bourque on Pexels.com

This particular weekend was absolutely beautiful.  It was Canada Day weekend, World Cup excitement was in the air and I was going to be with my best friends.  I remember arriving to our air b&b situated in the trendy Plateau area of Montreal.  Our apartment felt quite Parisian with a bit of Montreal flair.   We had a lovely balcony that overlooked the street.  Everyone was excited to party but I was mostly excited to sleep uninterrupted!

Going out, I had mixed feelings,  I felt as if I could go out like nothing has changed from before.  But at the same time, I felt a little out of place, as if everything about me was screaming “mom.”  Over the course of the weekend,  I found that I just kept talking about my kids, over and over again and that I missed them too much.  I had to mentally remind myself that this was my break from everything and to just relax and let loose.  But it was hard to not feel that way.  On the other token, I got to do something that I haven’t done in years and that was having some serious girl time:  shopping and dining out!  I will proudly admit that I did have that mimosa for breakfast along with my omelette, and it was pretty damn good.

My highlight that weekend was of course watching the Croatia versus Russia game.  We walked around the streets of Montreal with our Croatian jerseys on.  The six of us went into a pub, sat and cheered our Vatreni on over some sparkling wine.  Croatia dominated the game and won in overtime.  People from all over came up to us, cheered with us and even gave us hugs and congratulated us for our win.  Montrealers were definitely feeling World Cup fever and relished that moment with us.

Old Montreal is my favourite part of the city and we couldn’t have ended the weekend on a better note than enjoying brunch at Terrasse Nelligan, overlooking the St. Lawrence River.  For a moment in time, I felt like I was somewhere in Europe again, the sun shining, while we indulged in crepes and omelettes. For the first time in a while, I felt more like me.  At this moment, I came to the realization that I really did need this weekend and that my husband needed this time to be alone with the boys.  Towards the end, I was able to let go any sense of “guilt” for not being there or for being “selfish” to having two days of my own.  In motherhood, sometimes we get lost on striving to be the perfect mom, trying to be perfect for our kids and our spouses and so on.  Its kind of like being lost in translation.

Although I went to celebrate my best friend’s bachelorette, this weekend gave me the greatest gift of all:  it gave me an opportunity to feel more like the old Natalie again….but not the old one, rather just a small reminder of the Natalie that was always there.

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Our view of the St. Lawrence River…photo cred moi

Perhaps its time to plan another girls weekend getaway….

Snow days and busy, busy bumblebees (aka toddlers and preschoolers)

The past few weeks we’ve had some wild weather here in Southwestern Ontario and for the first time in years, local school boards have cancelled school due to inclement weather conditions. The weather has been so bad that everything from government offices to your local coffee shop have been closed. I personally don’t remember there being this many snow days when I was a kid, but I’m glad that the boards did declare today a snow day because safety comes first.

It’s been nice having that extra day off with the kids. Getting an extra hour of sleep, watching some movies and staying in pj’s until noon is awesome. That’s all great and dandy, but if your kids are like mine, they get bored, easily.

I’ve learned with time that kids at the toddler and kindergarten age need structure. They thrive on it. They also want your attention and want to interact with you and their peers. Over time I’ve learned that simple activities can intrigue even the youngest of minds. I thought I’d share with you some of my kids’ favourite snow-day activities.

A little disclaimer: I’m not a parenting expert or an educator. I’m just a mom who is speaking from her own experience on what works with her kids. Keep in mind too that it’s never perfect and sometimes they don’t want to participate in the activity, but the point is to give them the opportunity and try.

1. Create in the kitchen: I started this with my oldest when he was about 3 years old as I noticed he was always following me in the kitchen. It’s usually something simple, like sprinkle cheese on a pizza or mixing pancake batter. Today they helped me prepare soup by placing all the ingredients in the pot. It’s a simple activity which is easy, a little messy and lots of fun.

2. Building: my kids love Mega Blocks, train tracks, Lego Duplo and Magformers. For instance, I’ll bring out a bin of Lego Duplo and place it on the coffee table and see what they do with it. Even if they just play for 5 or 10 minutes building things, then that’s great! This too gets messy but the idea is to present them with something and see if they roll with it! Today my boys made a farm with stables until my youngest started to chuck the Lego.

3. Worksheets, colouring books, Boogie Boards: yes! I’m old school and love worksheets. My oldest is in jk and is starting to learn how to write and enjoys the worksheets with traceable letters. You can find them at Costco in the books section or online via Pinterest. Colouring books are great too and inexpensive. Boogie Boards are also a great alternative to traditional paper and crayon because they are erasable and clean (say goodbye crayon marks!)

4. Reading: this one is pretty self-explanatory, but reading is so important for child development. Research has shown that reading to children early on promotes imagination, establishes concentration, and exposes children to literacy and language. For me, it’s a great time to bond with my kids. I was an avid reader growing up and it’s my hope that my kids enjoy reading too. Experts recommend that parents read to kindergarten age children for at least 20 minutes a day. What we’ve done is included it in their bedtime routine. My kids are really into Dr. Seuss at the moment so we went through “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” a few times today. The point is, pick up a book and read.

5. Flash cards: this one is pretty self-explanatory but flash cards are a great way to engage with kids and teach them how to count, how to recite their ABC’s and recognize colours and words. My boys also enjoy Brainquest, which is a quiz-type or flash card. Again, even if you get 5 or 10 minutes out of it, it’s great!

6. Last but not least- play in the snow! If it’s not too cold and it’s safe to play outside, take the opportunity to build a snowman or make some snow angels with your kids and create winter memories for years to come. Following that, hot chocolate is in order!

I hope these are things you will consider to do with your little ones for the next snow day.