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Thanksgiving and what I’m thankful for!

I’ve been meaning to write more, but right now life has turned a bit topsy turvy again. Plans have gone out of the window. But life kind of tends to be that way for me, I’ve noticed.

So just because it’s Thanksgiving today, I decided to look back on the last 10 years and my travels and adventures. Just for fun.

It was hard to choose of course, but here are a few highlights. I definitely have a lot to be thankful for! 

2008
My first experience at self supported cycling through the state of Goa
A glimpse of the working life of women in rural Kerala on a photography assignment

A young kid along with his grandfather in a sunflower field in Karnataka

2009
More explorations of Kerala on a bike recce trip for Muddy Boots, which has now become a major player in adventure tourism

2010
More explorations of rural Karnataka – spent many happy hours on my trusty Trek cycle with wonderful friends

2011
A time to chill and a beautiful hike during a stay at Linger’s property in Balur, Karnataka

Discovering San Francisco’s Mission & Valencia districts during my first trip to the US

2012
A quaint new town called Tharangamvadi in Tamil Nadu and a view of the Neemrana property 

Enjoying this beautiful resort in Pondicherry while attending a communications conference

2013
Sleepy times in Goa

The gorgeous property, Arco Iris (now a Neemrana property), where we spent time, eating and chilling out

Discovering a whole new world underwater in the stunningly beautiful Andaman islands with Dive India

Sweeping views of the coastal town of Malaga, Spain during my Europe backpacking trip

2014
Another great opportunity to experience food, culture and people of Kerala on the Blog Express


2015
Landing in the United States and heading north to Washington state and the beautiful Olympic National Park

Reflections of Mt Rainier on a beautiful day
San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate bridge on a cloudy day

2016
Traveled to North Carolina and spent a week attending a ceramics course at Penland

2017
Snow in Wisconsin and meeting with an artist friend from Penland; the view of the frozen lake from her backyard!

An opportunity to travel to LA and view the iconic Hollywood sign

A road trip to Utah where we spent nearly 10 days visiting several National Parks and hiking some amazingly tough and diverse terrain

2018
The new year started with visiting friends in Tampa, Florida and attending a Adventure Cycling tour leader course

Happy hours spent attending a workshop at La Ceramique, with the porcelain guru Fritz Rossman, in Cordes-sur-Ciel, France

A life changing hike (and a wake-up call of sorts) around Mont Blanc, walking through Switzerland, France and Italy

This Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for? 

Reaching the half-way mark: It’s the journey, not the destination!

It’s rather crazy how time flies. I was just looking back to a few weeks ago (8 now!) when I started off on my challenge. A few days ago, I hit my 50 day goalpost. I now have 45 more days to go.

So what did I achieve so far and what did I learn?

One thing is for sure—with a bit of determination and focus (okay, more than a bit!), it’s possible to stick to a target. Take for example, my determination to run/walk a 5k everyday. On paper, it did seem a bit daunting. But now that I’ve incorporated it into my routine, I make sure I get it done—doesn’t matter what time of the day.

Though I started aiming to run everyday, one month into the challenge I began to experience a lot of ankle and calf pain. That’s when I decided that instead of stopping all together, I would just focus on brisk walking. At least for a week or two. So, yes—I’ve made a few adjustments, but I’m getting my distance in. 

What my run/walk route looks like!

What my run/walk route looks like!

Besides the running, I’ve been trying to get in 2-3 bike rides a week. Usually along with the Western Wheelers Club, which is very active and has groups for every ride level. I found one I can keep pace with—mostly comprised of riders 60+ but all strong and well trained and I can just about keep up. And it’s been fun discovering lots of new routes in the area—roads, bike paths and bike bridges—which I never knew existed in the nearly four years I’ve lived in the Bay area. 

New routes everyday and always lots of fun!

New routes everyday and always lots of fun!

In terms of my goal to ‘purge’, I managed to clean up my wardrobe and get rid of a lot of extra clothes, which is now lying in a box for me to giveaway. I got rid of some extra pots and pans in the kitchen, reorganized a bit and now have labelled most of my jars (I spend inordinate amounts of time searching for an ingredient because I use ceramic jars and can’t see through them :-). But now, I’m organized, for the moment at least.

I still haven’t tackled my ‘craft’ zone and the patio but I have intentions to get over with both these areas this month. 

My dream vs reality!

Home sweet home: My reality vs my dream!

And then the most important aspect—food! This is going to be a life long battle for me, for sure. And I always knew it would be challenging. As usual, I’ve grappled with eating too much. I’ve managed to balance my meals better over the last weeks in terms of carbs, proteins, good fats and essential minerals. I’ve been exploring different vegetables and new dishes and eating at home. However, I find myself eating a bit too much of my own cooking—because you can never have too much of a good thing, right?  

Filling my plate with colors!

Filling my plate with colors!

Trying our new recipes, baked dishes and the wonder of the Instant Pot!

Trying out new recipes, baking dishes and enjoying the wonders of the Instant Pot!

This is a glimpse of what I’ve been eating. The attempt has been to fill my plate with colors and to keep it simple (easier said than done though). Over the last eight weeks, I’ve eaten out only a couple of times. And indulged in a few glasses of wine, here and there. And when it comes to dinner, whenever I do venture out, I land up feeling quite ‘full’. When at home, I am in control and I know what I’ve put into the dish. When I’m eating out, I do a guesstimate. But I suspect it might be pretty far off when it comes to calories. Even when I opt to eat salads outside, I do realize that I can make better, more substantial and delicious salads! 

The Instant Pot we bought was a super idea and I’ve been cooking up most of our meals in it. I love it. If you haven’t got one yet, what are you waiting for?! (And no, I haven’t been paid by them). But it’s possibly the wisest investment we’ve made in terms of kitchen gadgets. 

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Overall, despite a few yo-yo weeks when I lose a bit and then put some back on again, l I’ve been able to get back to my ‘tri-training days’ weight. The challenge over the next few weeks will be continue to eat well, exercise and make sure I keep my sight firmly on my long term goal. 

Meanwhile, the journey continues!

NOTE: Image editing, collage creation, graphics, thanks to Canva.com—how did I live without it?!

The magic of meal time

The magic of mealtime

Growing up, I remember that my parents always made sure we ate at the table. Together. At least one meal and it was usually dinner. I didn’t really pay much importance to it till I grew up and moved on and out of home. 

Now that I look back, I really appreciate that we all got together at the dining table every evening. It might not have been deep conversations all the time, but just the act of gathering at the table was something we followed pretty much every night. As was tradition, mom would cook, and the three of us would eat! I do remember trying to learn some culinary skills at a young age, more specifically baking, but for some reason my mom did always insist on taking charge of the kitchen and never really taught us how to cook. My sister, however, did go on to become a chef during the early phase of her grown up life, but that’s a whole different story.  

As I moved on in life, I crossed the country to study journalism and found two wonderful roommates. Thankfully for me, one of them was a marvelous cook (she still is!) and I remember that we had a small table where we would gather around whenever we were in the house and just talk to each other (pre-mobile phone/laptop days), recount the day’s activities and share our experiences and enjoy our food over a lot of laughter and great conversation. It was also our shared love for good food that was the glue which kept us together in a sense!

During my workshop in France last month, it was a daily practice for everyone—16 of us—to get together and share our meals. Over glasses of wine, there was merry chitchat and a lot of laughter as we shared stories and talked to each other. No phones to disturb us. Everyone was present in that moment.

In France, it was our daily routine to get together for our evening apero and meal where we exchanged stories and relaxed after a day's work.

In France, it was our daily routine to get together for our evening apero and meal where we exchanged stories and relaxed after a day’s work.

Delicious fresh food we feasted on!

Delicious fresh food we feasted on!

I recently visited Stephanie in Switzerland, and whenever she was home early, we made sure we set the table and ate our meals together—chatting about various things. Our life’s trajectories have taken us on different paths, but there have been a lot of common trends, and it’s just great to have an insightful conversation about some of life’s lessons. Just talking to each other, over a shared meal, over our love for good food, I realized we learn so much from one another. Stephanie is also easy to please with food, and I found her to be an eager and appreciative subject for all my experimentations. She’s also a great cook herself and whipped up an excellent poha, which I personally find very challenging to get right! 

Stephanie was an eager and appreciative subject for my food experimentations!

Stephanie was an eager and appreciative subject for my food experimentations! Her kitty Quintus, however, was not very impressed with my no meat diet!

A Swiss person who makes poha. Oh my goodness!

A Swiss person who makes excellent poha. Oh my goodness!

Somewhere along the way, I lost that important practice in my life. Today, the tendency is usually to bury ourselves into some device and eat our meals on a sofa, each to his/her own. It’s as if the food is always secondary to what we’re doing at that point of time—reading the news, catching up on emails, watching a movie etc. 

When did that happen, I wonder? Do most families operate this way and have lost the art of eating around a table? I don’t have a large family—it’s just two people—is that perhaps one reason why this practice has died? I can understand that for a single person, there’s not much motivation to do this as a practice, but being present and paying attention to food is still something that I would try and do, if I’m eating a meal on my own.  

Of late, I’m trying to be more conscious of what I eat, and if you’ve read my earlier post, you’ll know I’m on a 100 day challenge. I’ve realized that I personally can choose be in the moment, when I’m eating a meal. I’d rather be focusing on the flavors, the texture and the nutrients I’m putting into my body instead of being distracted by a million other things. I’ve decided that when I’m in front of my plate, whenever possible, I will take that time out to enjoy that particular moment to the fullest. 

I still like to think that some families do eat meals together; or at least they try. If not around a table, then at least at the same time. Is this a practice that families and couples still cherish? 

 

A 100 day challenge: Fitness, food and a few important things

When visiting Stephanie last month in Switzerland, she and I reminisced about when we met and how we met. We actually met through our blogs! I was quite active on blogger at that time, having discovered blogs around 2002. I found some correspondence between us dating back to 2004, but we might have connected even before that time frame.

Stephanie and I, enjoying a day out in her mountain chalet

Stephanie and I, enjoying a day out in her mountain chalet

We were both prolific blog writers—Stephanie wrote a lot about her experiences in India and that’s what got me interested (why would someone leave paradise, a.k.a. Switzerland, and spend a year in India?!). I used to write a lot of ‘diary’ like posts about life in general, my travels and experiences. Over the years, I’ve lost that habit (of writing on my blog regularly, not writing for work, which is my bread and butter!) and I still remember it feeling so good to just write. It didn’t matter what the topic was—and I didn’t have reservations about writing about what I ate for breakfast or what I did for lunch. It was my blog and I felt I could pretty much vent and express myself through it.

Over the years, a lot of self analysis and critical thinking set in. For example, ‘maybe this is too frivolous’ or ‘should I really write about this?’—were some of the thoughts in my mind when on the verge of writing. More often than not, I would then convince myself that no one would be interested in what I had to say.

In a way, I probably killed off my own creative spirit. The act of writing has always been a bit like ‘purging’ for me, though not in the negative sense. Just offloading these thoughts and feelings coursing through my veins, which in the normal course of life doesn’t have an outlet, is rather cathartic. 

Back to 2018 and as I look back, I’ve been blogging (intermittently through the last few years) since around 2002, via blogger, LiveJournal and then WordPress set up on my own domain. I’m ready to start writing again—and this time I’m going to worry less about what other people think. In a sense, I’m going to treat this as what it was primarily meant to be—my playground! 

So Steph and I made a pact. That she would write a post and then challenge me to write one. And back and forth. To get my creative juices flowing and get back into the habit of writing again. 

Setting a new goal: 100 day countdown

So my routine, or the challenge I’ve set for myself, has a few aspects to it. It’s a 100 day challenge (why 100?—I just felt this was a feasible number) and these are the 4 things I’ve set as my focus tracks (disclosure: I began on July 23 so I’m on day 88 counting down now). 

NO 1: FITNESS

One workout a day for 100 days, no excuses. The only exception is falling sick or injury in which case, I have to make up by compensating on other days. 

After getting back from my adventures in Europe (more posts coming on that topic), I decided I had to work harder on getting my fitness back. While I had prepared (somewhat) for the big adventure (a 2 week hike around Mont Blanc), I felt I could have been in better shape.

 The last year and a half, I’ve struggled with my fitness. A lot of other things took priority and I found myself letting go with what I really enjoy—keeping fit. 

On July 23rd, I embarked on a plan to get back some of my fitness. Traveling in Europe put my eating habits way off track. At the ceramics workshop I attended in the south of France, it was easy to settle into a glass of wine (or two) everyday after a long day at the studio. Especially, since everyone gathered around the table sipping wine and exchanging stories. It was an easy habit to fall into, given my penchant for wine.

And then, during our hike, I pretty much ate whatever was available.

Tour du Mont Blanc: a two week hike covering 3 countries

Tour du Mont Blanc: a two week hike covering 3 countries

To cut the long story short, I came back home and decided to get my act together. 

My aim for the next 100 days to get in one workout everyday, and if more, one of them should be a run/walk of at least 5 kms. I feel better with a goal in sight and something to work towards. I’m trying to create a stronger mental frame of mind by keeping a target in front of me.

I also want to set a regular yoga practice in place; something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I’m hoping to do that in the next few weeks. I found a really nice yoga studio in Lausanne where I practiced for nearly 3 weeks and really enjoyed my time there. My goal is to find something similar here and establish a good practice. Apart from that, I am hoping to get in bike rides whenever I can and some hikes as well; and go back to swimming, which is one activity I miss. 

There's nothing quite like the freedom of being on a bike!

There’s nothing quite like the freedom of being on a bike!

NO 2: FOOD & NUTRITION

Clean, healthy food; eat just what the body needs

I’ve always been a big foodie and anyone who knows me will vouch for the fact that I can do anything for good food. I also eat WAY more than I actually need. To begin with, I’m eliminating some foods which I know don’t really help me much. And it’s mainly bread, sugar and meat. I cut down on my meat consumption last year and occasionally eat chicken. But I largely try and eat vegetables, fruits and grains when I have an option. I love fish and do also indulge in it around once a week.

I remember growing up, mum would have the hardest time to get us to eat our vegetables. I wasn’t too fussy, but my sister was an absolute terror. I still remember her tantrums at the dining table when it came to food! Now, both of us are vegetable junkies and my mom is horrified when we say we don’t want meat ;-/ How the tables have turned! 

I’ve definitely become more mindful of what I eat. While I’ve never had a sweet tooth, I did notice that my sweet consumption has increased over the last few years. I’m eliminating (processed) sugar/sweet though I still consume fruits which contain sugar. Apart from following these guidelines, my main challenge is to eat what my body needs, and not carelessly eat for the sake of it.

Filling my plate with colors!

Filling my plate with colors!

After 10 days, I’ve realized that I’m already feeling better and I look forward to my meals—I’m experimenting with various veggies and trying to look for simple but yummy recipes. My goal is to eat good food, but I also don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen! 

NO 3: DECLUTTER

Get rid of things that don’t serve a purpose or that I haven’t used in the last 6 months to a year

‘Things’ tend to accumulate over the years. I remember coming to the US with a couple of suitcases, two cats and some furniture (and yes, I did get all my curtains and kitchen stuff along). But ‘collecting’ runs in my veins. In my family, my dad is notorious about hoarding. He has documents ranging back to the 1960s and files from his bank days, which he still clings on to. He cannot throw away ANYTHING—what if we need this little screw thingabobby sometime in the future?  

I seem to have caught a bit of his strain, though in my case, I recognize the problem and constantly try to do something about it. My goal in the next few months is to tackle one problem at a time. Since we live in a pretty small space, I need have to be creative too. 

I’ve basically divided the areas into:

1) kitchen—organize it better and get rid of a lot of cutlery/plates etc. I no longer use. I also use more of handmade plates/cups and bowls now, and I need to get rid of everything else that I don’t have any use for anymore.

2) clothes—it’s amazing how many t-shirts one tends to collect! I’ve never been a big spender on clothes or shoes, but my goal is to give away everything I haven’t worn and don’t fit into anymore.

3) art/crafts – I tend to do a lot of my work at home and over a period of time I’ve collected a huge range of things like beads, tools, glazes, books, accessories, files etc. I’m hoping to give away everything I know I’ll never use again!

5) patio: this is one area where I have a succulent garden—and also a lot of my clay tools, the wheel and other random stuff I tend to accumulate. 

NO 4: WRITE

Get into the daily habit of writing

Marissa Meyer in this post has some interesting tips about how to write more. Some of the tips include, doing it first thing in the morning, turning of distractions (like the Internet!) and don’t multi-task during that time (very important: I get distracted by all those interesting videos online!). Also, have someone who’s going to make sure you’re accountable and that’s where I’m counting on Steph!

While I am maintaining a diary of the 100 day challenge, that is private. But I am recording it on Instagram, so feel free to follow my journey, send me inspiration or just laugh at me! 

http://www.instagram.com/anitabora

I’m also on Strava, where you can keep track of what I’m upto:

https://www.strava.com/athletes/7971153

While on this topic, I also learnt a new word from Steph’s blog post—acedia— which is mental sloth. And it sounds quite familiar. I do procrastinate on low impact tasks I really don’t want to spend my time doing. There’s no real deadline or need in this case, and I’ve been known to push it out to another time and another day. For example, I absolutely do need to organize my work desk, but I haven’t really gotten around to it as yet. And paper work, argghh… Don’t even get me started.

So there you go. I’ll try and take pictures of the projects I’m taking on and have updates on progress. 

I’m on day 89 now and my next challenge is to identify which area to declutter first. And meal prep for week 3! 

Wish me luck 🙂 

Albi Chronicles: A tram ride to remember

As the noisy white tram clattered through the narrow cobbled streets, I am filled with wonder at the navigation skills of the driver of this rather clunky long vehicle. He’s doing very well and considering the train runs around 5-6 times a day, he can probably do this in his sleep.

We’re in the town of Albi in Southern France and this tram proves to be a rather quick and easy way to get in a 45 minute glimpse of the city.  Though I’m using the term city rather loosely. It’s small as far as cities go and this is one place where you’d be hard pressed to get lost. The first morning here, I realized that all roads lead to the main cathedral. And you don’t really need GPS or a map after the first couple of hours—just check where you are in relation to the cathedral tower, which is visible wherever you go. 

Located beside the Tarn river, the main attraction of Albi is the Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile. The outside walls of this imposing brick building are quite bland, but the sheer height is impressive. Built as a fort, it’s claimed to be the largest brick building in the world and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.  A few menacing gargoyles look out from the top right of the building while the entrance itself has delicately carved sculptures and arches. Once you enter the cathedral, you are immediately drawn to the very large organ situated towards the front—the work of Christophe Moucherel, which dates from the 18th century. It apparently has thousands of pipes and I could only imagine what it sounds like in real life when in action. 

The next thing that you stare at in open eyed wonder is the ceiling—elaborately decorated and painted. Every section tells a different story and the audio tape you can hire inside the cathedral for Euro 5 gives you all the details. On the first floor is also a section showcasing treasures from the medieval era, with signs explaining their context and my very poor French wasn’t enough to decipher them, but some of them looked mighty impressive.

We also got an impromptu performance from a traveling group. 

As medieval towns go, Albi has retained it’s charm of the yesteryears. When you’re walking around the streets, you might think a horse drawn carriage will draw up beside you and ask you where you’re heading and if you’d care for a canter. But then a motor car whizzes by quickly dissipating that image.

The town itself is very small with a very useful map the tourism office (situated right opposite the cathedral) will provide you. They mark 3 walking routes and you can probably cover that over 2 days—Circuit Pourpre, Or and Azur. One day if you’re really enthusiastic and plan to run from one sight to another.

The other worthwhile visit is to the Toulouse Lautrec museum which houses a lot of art from older and contemporary artists and is named after French artist, caricaturist and illustrator, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec. Fun fact—an early painting of his called La Blanchisseuse—sold for a record 22.4 million at Christy’s auction house in 2005. Gasp! 

I enjoyed walking across Pont Vieux—apparently the oldest working bridge in France—and took my time sauntering across a couple of times. From there, you get a view of the new bridge a few hundred meters away, which is slightly larger and higher than the old one.

You can easily spend a day or two walking around, enjoying the river (there’s a path beside it which stretches for a few kilometers). There are some pleasant cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy cuisine from the l’occitane region to even Turkish kebabs and Lebanese food. The Place du Vigan seems to be quite popular for tourists and with a few restaurants with outside seating. This could be another place to watch the world go by, while you sip on a glass of wine. 

I was pleasantly surprised when the driver of the tram greeted me warmly in English (I don’t usually presume that everyone knows the language!) but he seemed only to happy to practice it on me. He told me which channel to select to hear the English translation as the tram made it’s way through the by lanes of Albi. It can get a bit harrowing at times—you think the tram might touch the wall of some of the brick-wall buildings as it clatters through—but it adds a dash of excitement to your trip to this otherwise laid-back and quiet French city. 

Accommodation:

I stayed at the hotel Les Pasteliers. The owner spoke English and was very helpful. The room I got was quite small, but cosy and since I was out a lot, I didn’t really mind. The bathroom especially is extremely congested and might be uncomfortable for a larger/taller person, so make sure you check that before you get the room. Since I’m not blessed with long limbs, I managed to fit in!

They had breakfast at the hotel and it was mainly a large assortment of bread, croissants and jams/chutneys/butter and comes at an additional price. Some hotels might have breakfast included. Also a good idea to check while booking.

Eating:

The tourism office has a book which recommends restaurants. Make sure you pick it up – it’s usually not on display and I had to ask for it. The helpful lady at the desk gave me one. I did look up places to eat too and found this quite helpful: Albi Restaurants

Restaurants tend to have a ‘prix fixe’ menu between Euro 20-25. But if you don’t want to spend that much, there are options which cost lesser. I found a Lebanese restaurant where I had a meal for Euro 10 and this crepe restaurant where I spent around Euro 15. 

Getting Around:

By foot is the best since it’s a very small town. And of course, get the tram ride.

Getting to Albi:

Toulouse is an hour away by train and unless there’s a strike (it was going on while I was there), they run quite efficiently.

The other option is visiting Albi on a day trip if you’re in Toulouse.

Picture postcard Albi-Ville

Landed in this charming little town yesterday and walked around the cobbled streets on a rainy evening. The town’s main feature is the Saint Cecile cathedral, which is the largest brick cathedral in the world and a UNESCO world heritage building. It’s been rather gloomy but I plan to venture out today, umbrella in tow, of course!