Posioned Cookies for Christmas

What does Christmas mean to you? No, I mean, what does it really mean to you?

This question has been swirling in my mind since early November and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how differently we all look at this season/holiday/festival.

For some of us, it’s a time to unwind, take a holiday. For others it means more work, more family pressure and more stress. Or simply a combination of all of the above.

Of course, I know what Christmas is supposed to mean. My strong catholic upbringing took care of that- The birth of the child Jesus, the saviour of the world.

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What Christmas actually meant to me, seems to have taken on different forms every couple of years.

As a young child, my biggest thrill was the presents Santa left me on Christmas morning. Savagely tearing them open was an instant ticket to the top of the world!

Come my pre-teen and teeny years, the season was peppered with my desire to socialize at one or more Christmas dances; after midnight mass (also a matter of great fashion and social concern). Shaking a leg until the wee morning hours and then brunching with friends always made me feel great. Still does. 16-year-old me detested having my parents chaperone my Christmas specials, but today, I’m glad they did.

My early 20’s were a constant tug of war between career, relationships and wanting to have the perfect Christmas. It usually played out with a very groggy, hungover me, dragging myself out of bed to Christmas lunch at grandma’s. Oh, and not before fulfilling the Goan tradition of Konsuar- distributing and exchanging homemade sweets with neighbours and family in the vicinity. Awoken by nagging requests from my parents to be the delivery girl; I wasn’t the friendliest face around.

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As my 20’s progressed, so did my thinking. I started asking uncomfortable questions about religion, politics, family and life in general. The answers I got were even more uncomfortable. The rebel in me broke out; I met and married a German and at 29, moved to Hamburg.

This may sound fairly non-rebellious. But for me, a Goan, Indian catholic girl, an only child; marrying a non-catholic, European and moving halfway across the world; was not the expected course of events. Suffice to say I have been and still am the topic of much tea-time gossip. Thankfully my parents and family are darlings and have not just come to terms with my decisions, but joyfully celebrate my differences.

My first Christmas in Germany had me completely gaga. The fairy-tale like decorations, quaint little Christmas markets and the ever-flowing hot red wine made me dizzy with delight. The love hormones accelerated my growing fascination and it was two more Christmases before I began questioning again. This year.

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I saw commercialism all around me, capitalism shouted out from every street; while the poor and homeless struggled to find a suitable corner. The focus of the season seemed to be only on getting bigger and better gifts, the more the better. Amazon and similar services, promise delivery until the 11th hour.

It isn’t all bad though. The focus on family takes first place for most. The holidays are spent together and most shops are shut. You use the time to bond and re-connect with loved ones. Christmas menus are also pre-decided; usually the same every year; the family watches Christmas movies at home, cooks together or plays silly board games.

To answer the question I posed to myself in November, I first listed what is important to me during Christmas- family, music, church and a single present exchange (not 6-8 per person as seems to be the norm). I realized what truly matters to me; what I need to do in order to feel happy is to GIVE. In any form. It is in giving that I feel most at peace. And strangely, also at the receiving end. Am I making any sense to you? I hope so…

So how would I give this Christmas? I had a couple of options up my sleeve. Some went south and others are still playing out.

For one, I continued my activity Advent Calendar tradition and used my blog to reach more people. The results have been heartening.

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Then against all odds, I convinced my Husband to have an Advent party for close friends. We had them over from as far away as China and India. It was an evening of deep conversations, lots of hot red wine and Pav bhaji (an Indian delicacy). Many confided it was the first time in a long time they felt truly Christmas-y.

This next one wasn’t a Christmas giving decision, but one we took a few months ago. We no longer needed to answer the question- do we want to bring a child into this crazy world. We had a new one- how do we bring up a child in the best way possible? My body is in the process of giving. As I come to the close of my 9 months as an expecting mum; I am fascinated by how this life inside of me is growing. I am bursting with anticipation to see how it turns out.

My fourth act of giving was the one that seems to have given me most food for thought. Funnily enough it has to do with food.

Germany celebrates the 6th of December as St. Nikolaus where kids and adults alike leave clean, polished shoes outside their door and St. Nick rewards them with a tiny gift. Dirty shoes and bad behavior are bestowed with coal and potatoes.

 

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So, I decided to play St. Nick to the 16 families living in our building. I was beside myself with joy as hubby and I tip-toed through six floors and left each flat a bag of freshly baked cookies.

A few days later, our Portuguese landlord asked us if we were the ones behind the cookies. He chuckled when we answered in the affirmative. He said he knew it had to be us, because he had entertained several panicky calls from his tenants describing the white paper bags at their doorstep. They wanted to know if it was safe to eat the cookies or not. Could they be poisoned?

 

My first reaction was flashes of annoyance and disbelief. All we tried to do was make these people smile. It hit me hard that an act of goodness was met with suspicion and the looming question of whether another intended them harm! This made me immensely sad. But I understood. In our world of today, who’s to say you can trust anyone? Unassuming vans have mowed down innocents; children have been bombed out of their houses and millions are suffering injustice.

Perhaps if we all start to give a little; even a teeny-tiny wee bit; we might change this world of corruption. Maybe then our thoughts won’t need to travel the poisonous way. Our children might have a chance at a decent life and we might preserve what’s left of our unstable environment.

That for me, I realize could be the true meaning of Christmas. Each of us giving. Each of us receiving in the act of giving. And thus, being saviours of our fragile world.

Merry Christmas!

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Day 14: Eat a meal in the open

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Take your lunch or dinner outside today. Sit under a bright, blue sky or an inky starry one relishing the goodness of nature.

If the weather prevents you from doing so, at least crack open a window and let some fresh air wash over you as you eat.

We’re often so caught up in the hum-drum of daily stress that we forget how beautiful the outdoors can be. Give nature a second look and be sure she’ll pay you back tenfold.

Day 11: Drink a Red or Green Smoothie

It’s Monday again and if your weekend was like mine, you need a detox!

In keeping with the Christmas spirit, I IMG_20171209_183714936.jpgpropose we all drink in the goodness of a  smoothie- red or green. If you’re looking for a fiery red Fat Burner Smoothie, here is one I can help with. Another option is a watermelon juice.

Or perhaps you’d like to go green and make a smoothie with herbs or just avocado topped with strawberries.

Either way, treat yourselves to a delicious, preferably home-made smoothie and if you like it, do give me the recipe!

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PS- How were your chocolate dipped marshmallows? Mine tasted like a piece of heaven! 😉

Day 8: Eat chocolate dipped marshmallows

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This is indeed as sinful as it sounds! In German it would be categorized under Hüftgold, meaning gold for the hips. You get the idea.

But it’s Christmas and it’s delicious so it is fine! Just dunk marshmallows into melted chocolate and or simply into a steaming mug of hot cocoa.

If marshmallows are not your thing, gorge away on any form of chocolate. It is called Food of the Gods for a reason!

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PS- If you would like to stay fit despite all the chocolate and cheer of the season, check out my Healthy Advent Calendar here.

Let the merry threes begin

Done with the terrible twos and now to the next. No, this isn’t about a toddler. Not yet anyway.

Today, I celebrate two whole, adventure-filled years of moving to a new country -Hamburg, Germany. Perhaps this is what happens on the other side of 30, but I find myself increasingly taking stock of my life on days like today. It helps put my ever erratic thoughts in perspective.

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Hamburg’s beautiful Alster

To sum up the last 8 seasons of “Indian Hamburg-er”, here’s a recap:

  • Love-
    • my inconvenient marriage gets better everyday 😉
    • I’ve made and lost friends and grown at every step
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    An Indian and an American discovering Germany
    • my relationship with food has reached a dizzying new level; (my pants are not yet complaining though)
    • Yoga and West Coast Swing make up my favourite shake-a-leg moments of the day
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West Coast Swing-ing
  • Life-
    • my dearest father took his last breath in my arms. It still hurts like mad, but I’m coping.
    • I’m six months done with waiting. Three to go before my son is here.
    • I speak German fluently now and even lectured a whole day last week in my field of expertise- Homoeopathy. At the end of the day, I couldn’t talk in English anymore! My German husband found it hilarious.
    • Working with Homoeopaths Without Borders is both fulfilling and challenging
  • Travel-
    • I wrote a booklet on traveling tips in Hamburg.book cover
    • New year in Mirissa, Sri Lanka; with my parents
    • A weekend of camping and kayaking in the east German country side, with my in-laws.
    • Travelling home to Goa, India is always a pleasure. I added Bangalore on one of my three trips home.
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I would move to Italy just for the food
  • Travel contd..
    • Romancing Rome in fantastic Italy.
    • Kite-surfing in the Netherlands.
    • Backpacking through China– a crazy experience of culture, gastronomy, terrain and people.
    • Exploring Brussels, Belgium over a long weekend.
    • Discovering the many by-lanes and tantalizing surprises Hamburg hides at various corners.
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Breath-taking Mirissa, Sri Lanka

I love my life with all its trials and tribulations. Although I would never trade my pani-puri and chai for a bratwurst and beer (well, for a Glühwein maybe); I love what living abroad has done for me.

  • it’s broadened my horizons like nothing else before.
  • I have learnt to accept that I’m different and to celebrate it. No more trying to fit in. That’s plain boring.
  • the cold is my bitter-sweet enemy-friend and I have new respect for the sun.
  • there’s always a way, you just have to find it. Of course it helps to have a friendly face or at least a chocolate croissant accompany you.

Will I live in Hamburg for the rest of my life? Maybe. Maybe not. It will however, always be the place that taught me life is so much more than everyday worries. There’s magic everywhere. Follow your nose and you’ll find it!

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Glühwein at a Christmas Market

Oh no, I just let out a mighty sneeze and from two years of experience, I know exactly what’s coming- a giant change of season cold. Well I’m off to follow my nose and celebrate in the comfort of my warm bed.

Tschüss! (sounds like a sneeze I know, but it actually means bye in German)

Being spontaneous. Yes/no?

Having moved from an Indian social set-up to a German one, spontaneous meet-ups are something I sorely miss. Back home, I could easily waltz into a friend’s house and check if they wanted to grab a drink or go to the beach. If they weren’t available, the parents or room-mates usually were, or worst case, I had a nice scooter ride back and forth.

Often in Hamburg, to meet a friend, we need to plan weeks ahead and pick a specific date, time and place. Some of my friends have their calendars full for the rest of the year! Even when it’s only June. No swinging by on a Vespa to say hi.

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Today in chilly Hamburg, I felt this primal urge to connect with good food and company and to do so spontaneously. Considering the relatively small social circle I have here, I took to a few expat platforms on social media and announced my desire. I posted just a few hours in advance. Being a Tuesday, I was thoroughly skeptical and fully expected to be enjoying my cupcake and coffee in the company of my very dear self.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love being organized and planning ahead. And Germany has honed those skills in me to a remarkable degree. But I also love the unexpected, the spontaneous and even the chaotic. There is a certain magic in doing things on the spur of the moment or just because.

As much as I try not to view the world through stereotyped lenses, I am human. So while I expected the expats to take my bait to meet, I certainly thought no German in their right mind would respond. I have been reprimanded in the past by German acquaintances for being too last-minute. While I acknowledged their annoyance at my tardiness, I was equally annoyed at their lack of spontaneity.

So imagine my surprise when the company that turned up today was German! So lovely! Meeting M was a delight.  We connected over delicious food and coffee, swapping stories of yoga, love, travel and life in Hamburg. All the while breaking stereotypes and celebrating being spontaneous.

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I thought of all the times I have been spontaneous. Sometimes they paid off and sometimes they didn’t. But I realized that every single time was infused with excitement and adventure. Here are some:

-taking a midnight train back to university, for the first time in 8 years, instead of the usual bus. The result- I met my future husband on that train!

-exploring a new route home through the enticing by-lanes of Hamburg. Disaster! I got thoroughly lost. Two hours and frozen toes later, I needed to swallow my pride and ask to be picked up.

-saying yes to hosting a group of Lebanese students over Easter in Goa. I met a soul-mate.

-taking an unplanned hike to Mount Emei in China because our flights got cancelled. It was both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. The hike and view awed me and then I had heat stroke and food-poisoning.

-getting my hair braided in Bali. I’m not sure my friends and family were sold on the look, definitely not my fiancee when I informed him that braids would be my wedding hair-do. I sure had a blast!

What have you done spontaneously that led to exciting outcomes? I’m curious…

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An Indian, a German & a Puerto Rican backpack in China Part 1

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I spent mine birthday in China- more specifically in Shanghai- and like a proper 31 year old, at Disneyland! ❤ Oh the joys of letting your inner child run wild to the adventures of Daisy, Mickey and the Lion King!

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Three of us- J, K and N backpacked through China for a whole two weeks and what a roller-coaster experience it was! I felt like a rag doll lost in stormy seas of countless moving human bodies; everywhere, at ALL times! At Disney I felt like a princess like one rightly should!

THE WONDER WALL

The Great Wall of 22,000 kms had us humbled and in awe of how far human capacity can stretch. Our awe soon morphed into an irresistible desire to strike yoga poses despite the pouring rain. The terrible weather meant we were relatively alone and that my friend, in a country of 1.3 billion is a priceless moment. After imposing skyscrapers, the Forbidden City and chaos of Beijing, the Wall was a breath of fresh air! You stop, take in the peace and work your magic. Rest assured, I was on cloud nine.

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SUNRISE AT THE GOLDEN SUMMIT

Our hiking instincts kicked in hard and fast when we decided to trek to the summit of Mount Emei at 3,100 metres. It was a grueling 11 hour, 15,000 stair affair. (The equivalent of around 380 stories) Yes, stairs! But don’t be fooled for a minute. They only go up. Higher and higher and never ending. You think you’re done but there’s always another stairway waiting to bite you in the bum. Well, in my case- the knees and the back too. While J happily skipped to the top like a mountain goat, K and I were like slow-motion figures creaking up the mountain with rickety bamboo sticks.

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As if this wasn’t tough enough, the climb has it’s homegrown brand of Scary-house. Huge, aggressive monkeys that jump out at you and go straight for whatever food/clothing/bags/camera/phone you made the mistake of carrying. After 11 hours of being on pins and needles, anticipating an attack; we made it safely to the top. I did however see a man get bitten on the ankle, another literally pushed over (he disrespected King Kong’s comfort zone, so he had it coming) and several others unceremoniously stripped off their food bags.

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All the trials and tribulations of the trail were a forgotten memory as we reached our goal.

5:45 am at the Golden Summit which houses the world’s highest Buddha: The massive statue is bathed in dark hues of pre-dawn hours. As light shyly breaks through cottony clouds, the statue shimmers to life. Crowds wait patiently for the young sun to show itself. While brilliant shades of purple, pink and yellow dance before our eyes, it seems like his majesty will not appear.

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Then suddenly, when we least expect it, a soft orange sphere bobs up in the distance. Thanks to our altitude, it’s almost as if we are watching sunrise unfold from the seats of the Gods.

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As the orange blob grows bigger and brighter, dazzling rays cascade upon us and we are soaked. Soaked in golden light, soaked in emotion and soaked in the simplistic beauty of a spectacular sunrise.

We cried.

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FANCY SOME DUCK’S BLOOD? 

My duo and I craved a warm beverage after the morning’s excitement. Now naturally, one thinks of tea or coffee. China taught me to think, live and eat out of the box. All we could find was steaming hot soup.

In all my travels thus far, I hadn’t come across a culture that explored, broke and relished the boundaries of food. The Chinese reign supreme at it. My dear palate and tummy had the time of their lives. It was usually a minute to minute decision to either churn and turn me green or to go for the Yum-card!

My system smiled in acceptance at fish and veggies in a Hot Pot (a Sichuan-special boiling concoction of spices, oils and water in which you cook your food at your table); gourmet quality Peking duck (relished with sugar, soy and an array of spices); cold noodles in Leshan, grilled Yak meat on sticks and a delicious egg/something pie in Shangrila.

What had me running for the hills was: Duck’s blood, baby chicks on skewers, pig’s elbow and; get ready for it…. Ox penis!

I stopped asking why.

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Between the three of us, J was the only one with working knowledge of Mandarin. So while his request for tea was sometimes understood as a plea for alcohol; he is the reason we sailed over the language barrier in what we thought was style…

However, we figured a new way of ordering once his vocabulary had reached it’s limits. We simply pointed to dishes on the menu. Of course we had fingers, toes and eyes crossed until the food arrived. 9 out of ten times our randomness paid off. The rest of the time, well…

THESE TECH-SAVVY CHINESE

The first time I was asked for a photograph, I was mighty confused which side of the camera to stand on. Soon I got used to posing with complete strangers and then, using J’s mandate, taking a picture on my phone of the surprised stranger. I guess the three of us together probably caught more than a passing glance. A Puerto rican, a German and an Indian backpacking through China

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Curious Chinese often asked how we know each other, whether we met on the road… When language permitted, we explained that two of us go back a decade as flatmates and best friends, two of us are married to each other and two of us are discovering how it is to get along like a house on fire. If language was not an option, we used hands, feet and faces.

China being extremely advanced in technology, had no shortage of translation Apps which our friendly waiters, drivers and hostel hosts regularly shoved under our chins.

I was struck by how little paper money I saw in China. 80% of payments are cashless, through Apps like We Chat and Ali Pay. Additionally,  everybody seems glued to their phones. Noses buried deep in virtual worlds, the masses looked like question mark figures in humble submission to hand-held addictions.

Perhaps a side-effect of so much technology?

….Check Part 2 to re-live the most adorable part of our journey……

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