Monthly Archives: May 2013

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SKLONIŠTE means bomb shelter. Oh.

SKLONIŠTE means bomb shelterToday, I woke up to a beautiful, sunny day in Split, Croatia and thought it was a good day to go take some photos for a style post.

OF COURSE the second we headed outside, rain started pouring down.

Ah well…

Change of plans! We took some photos in a dry doorway instead. More accurately, I made Aki take some photos while Mateo danced around me and jumped in the rain.

At the end of our “photo shoot,” Aki mentioned that the word behind me (SKLONIŠTE) meant “shelter.” Perfect! Right?

Although later it dawned on me that it must actually mean “BOMB shelter.” Aki thinks I’m funny. He just laughed at me and said “Well yeah…what did you think, bunny shelter?” :)

Sigh. Little traces of a sadder time. As I was writing this post, I suddenly wondered if Aki was ever in that very bomb shelter. Sure enough, he has memories of being down there as an 11 year old boy with his family and neighbors.

Croatia is such a beautiful country. It’s all coast with wild nature, clear sea, and lots of islands. These days it’s filled with tourists, cruise ships and yachts from all over the world. It’s moved on, Aki has moved on.

I’m such an emotional person though. Just being here, my emotions well up when I see these glimpses of such a recent war. It’s hard for me to imagine being a child in that time. Or maybe more impossible, to have children during a war. It’s so hard to make sense of these things. I guess it always is.

PS  Aki says the “sklonište” is probably used as communal space to celebrate birthday parties these days.

PPS  My full (silly) style post will be coming up soon

water worship: Dubrovnik edition

dubrovnik-water-boyI’m trying to steal away a few moments before Mateo wakes up from his nap to sort through photos from our trip to Dubrovnik over the long weekend. Something that made me laugh is that I have quite a few pics that are a version of ^^ that above. That boy!

You guys saw this reaction to the BEACH from my post on facebook over the weekend. haha. I think we have a mini water worshipper on our hands. Aki loves it. He grew up by the sea and it’s something he wants to share with his son.

CHEERS! to family!

Did you MISS me?

Pretty sure  you have your own busy life to mind to, but I’ve missed you (whether you noticed or not!). And I really have been feeling bad about being so quiet over here. I can do better. I’ve been taking notes in my head of all the little things I want to tell you!

We’re still in Split, Croatia. Although if you follow us on facebook you know we ducked out to Dubrovnik (what a beauty!) for the weekend. We’re coming up on two weeks away from home. Still two more months until we return to Chicago, but we’re noticing how fast the time is flying already.cousins-yellow-beachWe have a pretty regular daily routine now. Mornings together, then lunch at Aki’s parents (Mateo’s baka & dida), nap time for Mateo at our apartment and then Aki starts his work day. Mateo and I spend the afternoon with his cousins and aunt (they’re visiting from the gorgeous Istrian region of Croatia), then dinner and bed. Rinse, repeat. The truth is, day to day life isn’t any more exciting or interesting than being at home. Just a bit less space, a bit less babysitting, and a bit less clothing options. Jealous? :)

Still, whenever you are away from home, and in my case, away from your “comfort zone” it makes you notice new things. There are new thoughts, new reflections, new challenges, new tastes, new entertainment, new scenery (I never get sick of it!), new language, and sure, new annoyances.

Problem is, OH MAN, I’m so tired all the time. I should have so much to share but when Mateo is napping or sleeping, I find myself doing the same.

I need to get over it and make the time. At home I thrive on my creativity and getting things done, but I’ve been a bit lazy here. There really is something to talking out loud (or typing) that makes the daily nothings add up to something. Yes, daily-life is just daily-life no matter where you are but it’s still worth paying attention to. One thing that we have been enjoying is a bit more family.

Our little family of three is together so much more. Mateo doesn’t have a babysitter, Aki doesn’t have an office, so we are together. A lot. Luckily,we like that (most of the time). And really, one of the biggest reasons that we are here is to be with family. It’s been so great to see Mateo bonding with his cousins and aunt Žeki. He asks for Žeki and Baka (grandma) all the time and gives them biiiiig hugs (he gives the best hugs). :) Whenever I see that, I think “THIS is why we’re here.”

cousins-bondingMateo is really bonding with his cousin, Natan who is seven months his senior.

Yesterday I was watching them and thought, you know, two pre-verbal (or at least two not yet fully verbal) toddlers aren’t so different than any other two (open) people of different cultures (and languages) bonding. Yesterday I watched them with a HUGE smile on my face. It got me thinking. I guess some things are just universal and don’t require words. You know, like laughing, art, group sports (so I hear), and well, drinks!

Yesterday the boys drew pictures together with colored markers [ART], played “crazy ball” (essentially throwing balls, kicking balls, yelling, and running in circles like mad men) [SPORT & LAUGHING], and after all the intense activity both gulped down big glasses of water [DRINKS]. ;) As usual, Mateo takes it to the next level. After his first gulp, he put his glass out to his cousin, Natan and said “CHEERS.” They clinked glasses and laughed. How ridiculously cute is that?!! Moments like that I wish my eyes could take video. Yes, it was that moment where I was thinking, YEP, these toddlers know how it’s done. Who needs to share the same language? Some things are universal, No words required.

cousins-trucksApparently cars are a big deal as well…

this is how we stroll: Split, Croatia style

Split, Croatia at Night: Traveling in Europe with a Toddler

So here’s the thing. Toddlers go to sleep between 7:30 and 8:00 pm. At least this one does. At home, that’s a beautiful thing. At home that leaves hours of evening free-time. Hours of necessary decompression (from toddler) time laid out on the sofa. ;) But when you’re away  from home, the sofa is just so much less attractive.

It’s hard to stay inside on these warm nights when you know that the cafes are buzzing, the sea is so calm, and candles are flickering on restaurant tables.

So we don’t stay in.

We’ve learned from traveling, that the stroller is our friend. Strollers are beds on wheels.

Our strategy is to take a quiet route in the evening and put Mateo to sleep. From there we either continue walking (I can’t get enough!), grab a drink, or even have a meal at a quiet restaurant. If we go to a restaurant we just choose a table that has an easy (roll away) escape route in case Mateo stirs.

We’ll see if the same strategy will work this year. Last year in Croatia we only had one dinner cut short, and maybe a handful of times where one of us had to take a quick shhhhh-ing round with the stroller for a minute or five. Of course there was that one day in Venice, Italy where the stroller strategy was a complete no-go. Not bad stats overall though!

This year we’re lucky. My sister will be joining us in a month (hello babysitter), and as soon as Mateo adjusts, his grandparents have volunteered to watch him every once in awhile at night as well (when we’re in Split).

Last night we put Mateo to sleep in the stroller and had a really lovely walk by the sea and through old town. Like I said, I can’t get enough. It always amazes me that Aki grew up steps from the Adriatic Sea and all of this HISTORY. Split is built around the walls of an old Roman palace!

At home, we always opt for a babysitter. But it’s nice to know that (although we have to be flexible), we aren’t prisoners to the toddler schedule. It’s just good to know!

Guys, I have more photos but Mateo is jumping on me yelling “outside, outside, goooooo!” (literally). So, we’re going to go outside.

Let’s catch up later! xo

PS  Did you know we’re on facebook now? We are! Come hang out! If you aren’t already following our facebook page, go on and “like” us. (please and thank you). :)

coffee and trucks: just an ordinary day in Croatia

happy toddler - day 2 Split, Croatia : summer in EuropeDay two and we’re settling in. Right now Aki’s working, Mateo’s napping, I’m blogging. We’re figuring out a routine. We’re going to try to spend the morning/early afternoons out and about together, and our late afternoons taking care of “normal life in a different place.”walking-to-gingolaThis morning we hung out at a local café which caters to families. They have a little play lot and lots of toys for the kiddos to explore and well, essentially leave their parents BE. :) I immediately noticed a few things that I found interesting. Little things that made the experience a bit of a cultural study.

In Chicago we have a variety of adorable kiddie cafés. Same idea: happy, distracted kids equal happy (more relaxed) parents. These types of places also fulfill city kids’ need for free range play. The difference is that in Chicago, all of the kiddie cafés/play places cost $12 to walk in and the whole environment and experience is set-up for the children. That’s the point, right?

In contrast, this café was definitely geared toward parents. There is nothing on the menu for a child; the offerings include a variety of coffee drinks and alcohol (like any cafe around). The café is for adults. The toys are for the & espresso in Split, Croatia: play cafeI find differences like this really interesting. Subtle differences which speak to a cultural variance. I rather like the idea of catering to families as “adults with children.” That’s what we are, right? So often in the U.S., once you become a parent, you are no longer an “adult,” you are now a “parent.” New category. I think you can wear both hats at the same time.gingola-play-cafeAnother difference is that this play space is not slick, bright, “safe,” or sterile. Quite honestly I’m guessing that there would be about 37 health and safety violations if the same space existed in Chicago. But maybe  Americans could benefit from relaxing a little bit. ;)

Funnily enough, in our family, Aki (the Croatian national) is the hyper-vigilant “American” parent and me (the American national), I’m of the “he’ll figure it out” and “a few bumps and bruises are no big deal” philosophy. Okay, I know I am generalizing. Yes, there are something like 105 million American families, so of course “the American parent” spans the entire map. yep, yep.

Today is just an ordinary day. But it made me think about why it’s so important to travel. It’s not always about seeing amazing things. Sometimes it’s just about seeing a different perspective or a different version of ordinary. This is why I try to experience the local “daily life” when I travel. The simple activity of having a coffee at a local café can make you stop and consider the different ways in which we think and live. There is always a benefit to that.gingola-rocksgingola-playgingola-shoesgingola-cargingola-smileI know Mateo had a great time (while building his immune system, ha kidding) and Aki and I absolutely enjoyed our coffee and espresso with cream in peace. Best of all, the café is just a street over. Trucks, gravel, and coffee is a formula that works for us. We definitely plan to be regulars.croatia-day-2-editAnd in other news, Mateo fell down today and yelled, “Opaaa!” haha, looks like he’s feeling his Croatian roots and already becoming a local. ;)


It’s Friday, right? Yeah, pretty sure it is.


jet lag ain’t got nothin’ on Mateo. mama could use a nap.

toddler - first day in Split, CroatiaHello Split, Croatia! We’re HERE. We left a warm, bright and sunny Chicago day and arrived in Split on another warm, bright, sunny day 12.5 hours later.

We were met at the airport by lots of waving, hugs and kisses from Aki’s parents, Mateo’s “baka” (grandma) and “dida” (grandpa). Smart ones they are; Mateo was greeted with a little toy train. He was “choo-choo-ing” until the very moment he finally gave in to sleep (on the way home from the airport).

We’re settled into our apartment for the next couple months. (If you can call open suitcases “settled”). We’re just down the street from baka and dida and two blocks from Split’s Old Town. I’m anticipating lots and lots of visits and daily walks and exploration.

Knock on wood, little Mateo seems to be on Croatian time already. He fell asleep on the way from the airport (5:30 pm) and slept until 8:30 am (with a little play session/sleep-break at 11pm). He took his afternoon nap at his normal time and has been eating meals on Croatian schedule. I donno, if you want advice on instantly beating jet lag, don’t ask me. Ask Mateo. Although pretty sure he’d rather talk about cake, trains, monkeys, giraffes, BIG airplanes, and/or elephants.

Mama on the other hand, I’m a lil’ jetlagged. The boys slept like champs, but I was awake most of the night. It was nice to be greeted by palm trees and sun yesterday. Today is rainy and overcast. And that is okay by me. Today is a recovery day.chubby, rainy toddler knees. Split, CroatiaWhen we were in Chicago, Croatia felt like a world away. It felt like ages since our last visit (eight months ago). Funny though, as soon as we entered town it felt like yesterday. It was like no time had passed at all.

I’ll be back with a clearer head and lots more photos soon. I’m in a bit of a haze at the momento. I think I better ask Mateo if he has any advice for me.first day of jet lag in croatiaPS  Aki deserves an award. He’s already back at work today, working remotely. (!!) His reward will be a date with his zombie wife. We’re thinking to go get some local mussels tonight. Baka and dida have already agreed to babysitting duty. :)

travel day

This day sure did sneak up fast! And we’re off to Croatia! We aren’t leaving until this evening but it’s a hustle and a bustle of last minute packing over here. You know, that last minute shuffle of trying to find chargers and sandals and wondering just HOW many pairs of shoes is TOO many pairs of and I meant to wake up early but we were just too exhausted. Instead we were awakened by a happy voice yelling over the baby monitor:

“Henna! Henna! Henna? All Done, Henna! Hennaaaaaa!” coming from a certain toddler’s bedroom.

THAT KID! Not “mama,” not “Mommy,” not even “Mom.” Just Henna. I donno, he must have woken up and thought, I’m about to take an international trip. I’m a man of the world now, enough with this “mama” business. Silly boy. It was definitely the comic relief we needed. We both got out of bed laughing. Love you, Mateo! :)international-man-of-mysteryI had every intention of packing light, light, light but somehow I managed to fill my whole suitcase. Do I really need everything? Maybe. We’re going to be gone for almost two and 1/2 months. And to be fair I am sharing my suitcase with Mateo. But to be fairer, I could have done more editing.summer-packingI still need to sort out a few things on my laptop  before we leave and I’m a little nervous thinking that I must be forgetting things, but so far the biggest catastrophe has been that I can’t find Mateo’s clip on suspenders. Catastrophe in my world, but not such a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

I think we’ve got the main things covered.spicy-packing


Those of you who check in with us on facebook know about my little “talk” with Mateo last night.

me: Mateo, want to go on an AIRPLANE tomorrow?!!

Mateo: yeah!

me: are you going to be good on the airplane?


Mateo: nope

Oh dear, he’s not giving us much confidence. Hopefully he’ll be a flying champ like our last trip. (below). Next time we check in, we’ll be in CROATIA! Wish us luck! :)blog-traveling

my mother is beautiful


My mother and I are very different people. We think differently, we grew up differently, we care about different things. It’s okay. I love that woman. She is ridiculously proud of me and so in love with her grandboy, Mateo.

I’ve been told that I took more energy to raise than my other three siblings combined. I’ve been told that I was an easy baby and an intense, spirited child. And no one needs to remind me of how much I struggled to grow up.

After I became a mother myself, I had an immediate, newfound understanding and appreciation for my own mother. It’s only grown since then. We may be different but she has felt my pain and my joy like no one else.

My mother is brave, tenacious, and beautiful.

I love you mom. Thank you for never giving up on me.


Chicago by foot, by train, by storm

Toddler newspaper boy - Chicago newsstandYikes, we’re leaving already. (Next week!). On my “TO DO” list was: Get Mateo some summer clothes! I wish he could still wear his sweet clothes from last year but the kid won’t stop growing! Aki needed a few T-shirts as well.

Of course there are clothes in Croatia, but it’s such a bother to HAVE TO  go shopping. As much as I love clothes, I don’t love shopping. I’d rather shop when something strikes my fancy. So I prefer to deal with our list here and leave fun extras for when we’re in Croatia and elsewhere.

                              .  .  .

Errands in general are a little trickier these days because we don’t own a car. What?! Yep, we sold our car a few months ago and have been taking public transport since. Busses and trains are a part of Mateo’s daily vocabulary. We’ll probably get another car when we get back from our trip, but these few months sans wheels have gone surprisingly smooth. We miss it, but we get by. Aki has always taken the train to work (faster, cheaper, and more relaxing than sitting in traffic and then paying $20 to park). I don’t care for driving much, but I was the main driver in the family during the week.

We live in a city (Chicago), so although cars are super convenient, it is possible (even with a young child) to get by without one. Busses, trains, taxis, zipcars, bicycle, rental cars for weekends, FEET. If I have to get somewhere that hovers around two miles, I usually choose to walk it. It’s been nice to do so much more walking. I like walking. When we lived downtown I walked everywhere.mateo-on-mapIt’s been a compromise but worth it. If it was up to Aki, he would have bought another car as soon as we sold the last one. I really wanted us to try it out for a bit though. I know we’ll get another car soon, but it’s been an interesting experiment. I also think it has freed us up a bit and made it possible for us to live/work from Europe for the summer. Imagine if we got rid of our house! just kidding. :)stroller-map-wheelsWe took our TO DO list and had a little shopping adventure this past drizzly Thursday afternoon. First Gap Outlet in the city (eek got some adorable PJs and Mateo’s first tank top, ha) and then decided to take the train downtown to meet Aki after work for dinner. And then Zara!

My boys, My city! <3rainy Chicago - happy toddlertoddler holding hands downtownChicago city walkrain-sidewalk-toddlermateo-pointpuddlebuildingrainy-citystreet-smallMateo loves trains. He loves how the doors open and close, seeing them WHOOSH past in the opposite direction, and well, flirting with passengers. Oh boy.waiting-for-trainpointing-traintrain-doorstrain-gifmateo-feet-trainShopping was a success! If you follow us on Facebook, you already know I made the best shopping purchase of my ENTIRE life. Pretty sure. Oh man, cannot wait to see Mateo’s chubby little thighs on the beach in his new Euro swim trunks! :) Yep, I think we’re SET. Let’s GO already! :)


Venetian memories

Venice, Italy with a toddler - baby suspendersI’m in panic-attack mode because I’ve been saying that we’re leaving “in two weeks” (plenty of time  to do…well, whatever needs to be done before you leave the country for over two months. Right?). But time isn’t static, and I’ve been saying “two weeks” for over a week now. (Of course I’m also prone to procrastination and dramatization of my feelings).

Oh funny thing TIME — yes, it keeps marching on…and WHOA, we’re actually leaving in LESS than a week. What??! And most of our days are already spoken for until we leave. And I still have to pack. And I still need to get summer clothes for Mateo. (he grew! what?!). And I still need to organize my laptop. And is there still time to get in shape for summer?? ha. There’s still LOTS to DO. I feel like a chicken with its head cut off. Except that I’m not running around, I’m kinda just sitting on the internet trying to breathe because I’m not sure where to start. I’m pretty sure it’ll be okay.Venice, Italy with a toddler / traveling with a baby (eek, baby suspenders)Our last big trip (out of the country) was last fall when Mateo was 12 months old. It was new territory. We didn’t know how we would manage “the baby schedule,” the actual travel, his food, his napping, jet lag, all that. It was new territory. Did I say that already? New.

Travel is one thing; travel with a baby companion is another. It could have gone well, or it could have been incredibly stressful. We were gone for three weeks in Croatia (plus a day-trip to Venice, Italy). In those three weeks we shuttled through two days of flights (including an overnight stay in Stockholm on the way home), a road trip, and a ferry boat. And you know what?! It was FANTASTIC! It ended up being one of our favorite travel experiences EVER. Yup, with a one year old. So much so that this year we’ve decided to go for two months + 10 suspenders. Venice, ItalyBut yeah, I should get on the packing or at least list making. I spent yesterday afternoon listening to Spanish talk radio and looking through photos of that trip. That was the formula to calm me down. It’s so fun to relive memories. Wow, I can’t believe I never went through the photos! I do that.Mateo & Tata in Venice, ItalyYou know how I said that the trip was all super fantastic? Well it was, EXCEPT FOR THAT ONE DAY IN VENICE. Oh Mateo. The little man did not find Venice romantic at all. And made sure  that Aki and I didn’t either. :) There was no napping that day. There was no sitting at cute cafes like we normally did. There were no slow gondola rides. Instead we ate on the go and tried to stay away from the rest of the tourists. Mateo was a grumpy little bear.Venice, Italy with a toddlerOH that boy tried my patience! But you know what’s funny? I love the few photos that we took that day. It reminds me that there were some good times. And distance makes the stressful moments kinda humorous. Anyway, we definitely got some great photos. That’s important, right? :)

Ya gotta have a sense of humor. Especially when you’re raising a toddler. ;)Grumpy toddler. Traveling in Europe.napping in Venice, Italy. no way!Venetian highlights according to Mateo:

Marching through the stone streets was amazing (he had only been walking a couple months).

He loved the bakery pastries and sandwiches (even if we would have rather been eating fresh pasta at a restaurant with a glass of wine).

He was fascinated by the local boys playing soccer in a little square we wandered into (and even tried  to join in, ha. No luck though. One day!).

Trying to reach the canals was a fun challenge (even if it nearly gave Aki a heart attack).

The bright red fire hydrants were awesome (even if in hindsight, they may have been awesome to local dogs as well).

The boats were fascinating (as long as he didn’t have to be stuck on one).

And really, he was happiest at the local parking garage. Did you know the Venetian parking garage is super fun? Almost like a playground. Playgrounds are better than Venice. Mateo knows this.traveling with a toddler in Europetraveling with a toddler. Venice, Italyvenice-parking-garagetrying-to-get-a-photo-veniceYOU WIN SOME, YOU LOSE SOME. And guys, it’s worth it.

Sure, when it’s VENICE….you know, VEEEENNICCE (Venezia!), it’s hard not to anticipate candle light, gondolas, and old world charm whispering to you softly around every corner. But friends, when you have a babe in tow you have to let some things go, and just go with the flow. We learned Mateo’s limits with that day trip. Our original plans included a drive on to Rome or Vienna (weren’t sure which) but we nixed those plans. You have to be flexible. Instead we stayed a few more days in the Istrian region of Croatia (wine country! truffle country! yes please country!) and had an amazing visit with Aki’s sister and family and even ended up being there for the birth of Mateo’s youngest cousin! Right decision.venice-smileWhenever I travel, I try not to stress myself. I try to enjoy the moment. Travel is your time to enjoy the moment and be present. Sometimes that means letting go of your plans and if everything doesn’t fit…there’s always “next time.” I’d rather believe that there is a “next time” than stress myself out. I’ve been to Paris and never to the Louvre. I’ve been to Vatican City and never seen the Sistine Chapel. Next time! :) PS, woulda seen the Sistine Chapel but turns out we were standing the wrong line. Oops. Yeah, next time.Henna and Mateo in Venice, ItalyThe moral of the story is, not every moment of traveling with a baby is going to be stress-free. But if you hang out with babies with any regularity, you know that “real life” with them isn’t stress-free either. So if you have the chance to go away to somewhere beautiful, DO IT. Don’t be afraid to travel with a baby companion! :)

One bum grumpy day out of three weeks isn’t a bad average. If you have to be grumpy, Venice isn’t a bad backdrop. :)toddler suspenders! the boys in Venice, Italy

**if you haven’t already, GO ON and “LIKE” our Facebook page. Let’s hang out. It’s a place to share extra photos, stories, and keep in touch!

PS  I should take my own advice. Although I do TRY not to stress when I travel, sometimes I put too much pressure on myself to “have an experience” or to capture “the” photo. I want to try to just “be in the moment” and “go with the flow” this trip. I said try. :)

PPS  Ha, anyone notice? I’m wearing the same pants as this style post, and that one. Plus the purse I showed off in the first style post. Totally my go-to travel bag. And yeah, I wear the same clothes all the time guys. And now you know.



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