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 13: Buy yourself a tiny gift

In the stress of everyday life, we often forget ourselves. We forget to be kind to that face in the mirror. Take a moment today and invest in yourself.

Remind yourself of the good things you’ve done this month. Simple stuff- like taking out the trash, being polite, helping out your mum.

Also tell yourself that it’s okay to be imperfect and messed up and fall short of your goals. Or forget to set any. At the end of the day, we’re all human and bound to make mistakes.

The important thing to remember is to get up after every setback and keep trying to be better.

In return for your efforts to do/be better, buy yourself a tiny gift. Say thank you to yourself, for simply being you.

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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)

This is how it’s done

Hamburg makes you fall helplessly in love with her. Over and over again.

This rainbow today broke the gloomy spell of dreary weather we had all weekend. Just when it seemed I was at my wit’s (and tit’s) end at the icy chill, Hamburg decided to smile down some colour.

Additionally for me, it was as if the city took a moment out of her busy schedule to wish me a Happy Illegal* Second Wedding Anniversary. Gosh, I feel blessed! ❤

*We got legally married in Germany and then illegally (in church) in India. 😉

Autumn

Musing in rustic Brussels

Scenes of yellow trees

Changing palettes of colour

Greens take their leave

 

October blues set in

Summer turns its back

The wind gains courage

My spirits recognize fall

 

The sun still shone

When you were around

Through heat and pain

We hoped for tomorrow

 

Little did we know

The seasons tragic plan

You had a calling

To freedom once more

 

You pulled an autumn

Said goodbye and left

Now comes dreary winter

Maybe the cold will help

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Seasons ebb and wane

And so does this life

When one says farewell

Another breath is born

 

Spring will bring him

Your grandchild, my son

I will teach him

As you did me

 

Autumn turns to winter

Then surely onto spring

Life is but a circle

Birth and death within

 

The falling yellow leaves

Winter’s icy blue breeze

Fresh flowers and sun

Life will go on

 

You are with me

Every step, every misstep

I cherish being loved

And loving in return….

 

 

…Je t’aime Dada

-Nicola Coutinho

2nd October 2017, Vilroode, Belgium

 

 

Dear Dada, until we meet again..

I am here not to mourn the passing of my father, but to celebrate the richness of his life. Celebration begets gratitude. So let me begin by saying a huge Thank You! to all whose help, support and concern have meant the world to us. From medical to spiritual, emotional and physical care, you tided the three of us- Dad, Mum and myself through these trying times. You have been and continue to be indispensable.

You know who you are. To each of you here who knew Albert, he would have loved to say to you- Dev Borem Korum! (Thank You in Konkani).

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Had it been up to my dad, he would have said at this point, “Nice speech Nicky, thank you! That will be all.” Unfortunately for him, I inherited his stubbornness. So here goes:

Albert was well versed in the role of being a father figure. He had much exposure even before me. No, it’s not what you think. I am  his only biological child (princess, if I am honest). He first fathered his own siblings- six of them, when they lost their father prematurely. Subsequently he readily took on the mantle of provider and mentor to friends, nieces, nephews, 32nd cousins and complete strangers.

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He was most at ease and peace when he could be there for someone in need. I will refrain from saying anymore because I respect his firm belief of “Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is up to”. Might I add, he always said this with a naughty twinkle in his eye.

In celebrating Albert’s life, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention his cherished and sometimes crazy desire to travel. When in college at Mangalore (350 km or 8 hours from home) I often received a call from him saying, “Get ready in 20 min, we’re going out.” Much to my mother’s chagrin he often hopped onto a train, bus or plane – on the spur of the moment- to explore the world and see his baby girl. He more than made up to Mama these last two years, taking her all over the globe and partially satiating his travel hunger.

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To my mother and the love of Albert’s life; Mama, know that he held you in a very special place. Though he might not have said it in so many words, – we know he was a man of minimum words and maximum action; YOU made his life complete. You were his first “Best Girl in the Whole World”!

Hochzeit Nicola und Kay (50)

My father often told me how he played the song, “You’ll never know how much I love you”, when I was born. Perhaps I may never fully comprehend his love, but the day he died, I got a taste.

He endured excruciating pain to wait until I arrived from another continent. We spoke and I held him as he passed.

My greatest consolation through these waves of grief, is that he is truly in a better place and not in pain anymore.

Of course, memories help- of us “King-fishing” (read spotting and counting Kingfishers in paddy fields), stepping hard on his toes learning an awkward waltz, devouring roadside tea and bhajis (veggies deep fried in batter), long bike rides to the beach and deep conversations on life, love and football.

As I bid a physical adieu to the remains of my father, I wish to answer a question many have asked me since he died. “What can I do to help?”

In Albert’s memory, help someone in need- no matter if it’s a child, a street dog or a stranger. Or maybe plant a tree. Let’s spread some goodness.

And finally, to my favourite dance partner, my father and my friend; it is an honour to be your daughter. You died knowing your legacy lives on and I promise to do my best.

On behalf of all your family and friends, Adeus Dada, until we meet again.

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