Identity Formation

My mom and brother picnicking by the Bow River in the early 70’s. “Is it ready?”

The value of the knowledge we get from elders is beyond measure. It’s their time and energy invested in perfecting how to do a thing, then passing it down for us to apply and adapt to our own needs and desires.  These customs keep us healthy and happy while raising us and forming who we are. Baking a loaf of Mom’s crusty bread, embroidering a tablecloth with Grandma, and building a birdhouse with Dad are just some examples of how we nurture relationships while learning from the experience of loved ones. Intentionally or not, we put these skills into practice and pass them on.

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My grandma knew this before Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

Some customs are carefully taught, “Fold your laundry with care putting everything away like books on a shelf.” my Baka would demonstrate. Others happen by diffusion. I learned many a family recipe by being around when the cooking (and eating!) was getting done. This was never set up as a formal lesson yet it all filtered into the files of my brain. I am grateful to have in my arsenal these healthy, delicious recipes, and wisdom to make and care for stuff.

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Learning about fire safety with my dad.

I learned numerous valuable skills from elders:

  • House painting earned me many summer jobs and beautified my homes over the years;
  • Sewing has served me well in making and altering garments, upholstering, and fixing busted clothing; and
  • Using power tools safely has helped me in my art career as well as helped me to re-use and recycle a lot of old things.

Knowing how to  make and repair my own stuff has molded me into a creative person who sees potential in things which might otherwise be trash. I have the ability to fulfill all my needs and have so much more, which I could not afford to purchase otherwise!

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In Yugoslavia at my Grandma’s donning the traditional dress.

The unfortunate result of not passing down our traditions is simply a loss of knowledge. Like a lost language it dilutes the richness of our world, leaving everyone with less to be inquisitive about. This knowledge is key to identity formation and adds purpose to our lives so it must be used and passed on.

People love great food but cooking is one of the first things to cut from busy schedules. It is framed as an undesirable chore which we thoughtlessly trade in for the easier option of ordering-in or instant meals. Those ways of feeding people are easy, and profitable for large food production corporations but really unhealthy for people and robs us of two of the most essential joys in life – cooking and eating real food.

Check out my mom and the size of her garden! I can’t remember a time when we didn’t have one and I am eternally grateful for all she continues to teach me about Gardening!

To be fair, I know that cooking cannot bring joy when we are stressed-out and pressed for time. Pre-Coronavirus I was in high demand at all times, so I live and understand this. But armed with the desire to be healthy and a love of planning ahead, I have made cooking a part of each day, it’s a habit. We never buy ready-made food and order in maybe twice per year. Luckily my partner, Jack, and I both have the ability to make quick, healthy meals when we need them. Ana is learning too! We feed our family well with healthy, real food we cook every day. We eat whatever we want, which is largely home-made.

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Ana bakes a lot and has been doing it with me and with my mom since before she started school.

Making is not drudgery! In fact, I believe it to be the most valuable way to spend time.

Creating something that:

  • brings happiness to someone who must own your work;
  • makes a person laugh (or feel something powerful);
  • a kid loves to eat and wants to learn to make; or
  • makes someone’s life a little easier/better

is gratifying on a very deep level.

I am nostalgic for times at both my grandparents homes for memories that go back as far as when I was 3 years old. While my Baka Dragica was making soup she let me make my own in a tiny enamel pot. I still remember the hot Zagreb sun beating in through the open terrace door. I stood on a chair so I could reach the counter. This was chemistry and creation and I was hooked. Working with my dad as a young adult building, painting, and helping in any way I could was the best job ever, my dad being the No. 1 boss and teacher! Anytime I get a chance to do this type of work today, I feel intensely contented.

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In my grandparents kitchen with my uncle, aunt and cousin. This is where my love of Turkish coffee comes from. That cezve was used by my grandma every day. I am happy that my cousin, Tatjana, claimed it when we visited the house last summer so it can continue to be used and loved.

The desire to relive past moments is insatiable yet I can’t put them out of my mind. They cannot be re-created but it doesn’t stop me from dwelling on how I can come close. These moments and memories build my identity and the more I think about them the more I am in touch with who I am. To practice and pass these down is to help to form a person,  providing them the knowledge to survive anything. Long live the passing of traditions and the nostalgic perceptions that accompany them.

My Baka Dragica came to Canada when I was born. Family as a priority is something I was taught and plan to pass on.


One Reply to “Identity Formation”

  1. Your mom garndeing in a bikini is awesome. You should do the same! The whole cooking issue can be resolved by planning and then prepping on the weekend for an hour. Then you can have great food. I always prefer eating out to take away anyway.


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