Reflecting on the past 12 months…

So, this post is inspired a little by Estrella’s post on her top five moments of 2013 and a little on today being my birthday. It’s a good day to have a birthday, I think. I like the timing and the day of the year. It really suits me and I enjoy it a lot~ It also means that my Christmas and birthday are over pretty quick and I don’t really have to leave the festive mood once the new year begins…instead, I continue the celebration through to my birthday. One big, long celebration!

Anyway, the point of this post – my top five things in my something-something-th year of life. Here goes:

  1. I lived in Egypt for five months – wow and just WOW!!!!
  2. I travelled to Romania, met Estrella, made a lifelong friend, and was amazed by the country. It is a serious “must go now!” country. Really. I swear I’m not biased. Not a little. (Well, maybe just a *little* teeny bit…)
  3. I was able to seriously indulge in my reading addiction.
  4. I spent some amazing times with my other half. He’s amazing. Truly.
  5. I reconnected with my mother on such a deeper level. So good – so supportive – so beautiful.

It was difficult for me to pinpoint these moments, but they were there among many more moments. As I get older, I realise the value of my relationships and the value of experiences such as travel. I really do. Of course, when I was younger I had many amazing experiences but they were often tainted by following the crowd and not being sure of who I was. Every day I learn a little more about myself and I love myself a little more {in a deeply, honourably good way}. I surprise myself, too – both good and bad surprises. But it’s all part of what makes me who I am. And I love that.

Birthday roses

While this may not be the best photo, it is one full of meaning. Fresh roses picked from the garden at early-o’clock this morning especially for me. They smell divine and have been keeping me company all day while I work.❤

Sitting here listening

Sitting in a {paleo} cafe surrounded by people: two older gentlemen sitting on one side and two younger ladies sitting on the other side. Both discussing the varieties of life – on one side they’re discussing travel, on the other it’s work. I feel myself sitting here wanting to participate in their conversations and give them some different ideas. I can tell them about travelling in China and Nepal and Jordan; I can tell them about flexibility in jobs and getting the job you really want. From apparently different ends of life and different sides of life, these two pairs of friends are connected through me in the middle – the middle of their conversations, the middle of my life {perhaps, perhaps not}, the middle of my experiences.
My life isn’t extraordinary, in my opinion. But I can talk about travel – I can talk about any of the many amazing countries that I’ve visited. For a long time, my goal has been to travel to more countries than my current age, and so far I’m doing well. I’ve still got a year or two of “no new countries” before I will jeopardise my goal. But I’m not going to fall behind – I have my plans in place. My dream is South America – I will get there. Last year, I fulfilled my dream of Romania – it was amazing! I just want to stop revisiting countries that I’ve been to before (but honestly it can’t be helped!). This year my goal is to take my other half to a new country – one I’ve been to, but one they haven’t – but we will go to new places and have different experiences.
My work is “normal” but I know about flexibility, or lack thereof. In a job where I thought flexibility was crucial, I am finding that I have no flexibility. The theory was that I could do this job anywhere where I had an internet connection, but the reality is that a micromanaging boss wants to physically see me every day. All of my work is online – email, websites, forums, teleconferences, online classes – but my physical presence is desired. In my job that started out with minimal flexibility, I have the most flexibility. I set my time, my workload, my location – everything except the pay rate. (Oh, how I wish I could set that! But I know that I can influence it…) This is the job that I will keep indefinitely – I can plan it around my family, my travel, my hobbies, my desires.
I feel as though I can do anything sitting here in the middle – I could join in the conversation with the older gentlemen and give them some fresh insights; I could join in the conversation with the younger ladies and give them some different ideas.
However, here I sit, doing work and writing a blog post. Ah, this is life!

Reading in 2013

{Inspired by Estrella Azul’s post My 2013 in books}

In 2013, I had a goal of reading 50 books, which I revised to 62 when I felt that I was going well. Little did I know how well I was going to do! I knew that I would have more time during the year as my workload was less, but I wanted to make sure that I didn’t set an unrealistic target. I should admit it from the beginning: I am a bookworm. As bad as they get – that’s me. If I’m reading a good book, then all else fades away into oblivion. For example, today I had a lot of work to do, but I got distracted by my book. For 5 hours. Oops. Now, I get to make up that work time tonight after dinner. Anyway, that might be a story for another time.

2013 Reading Challenge Goal

I do enjoy reading a variety of books – almost anything, but it has to keep me entertained: if it follows the same pattern, then I get bored because I can predict generally what will happen. That’s often while I’ll get stuck on a series for a while and then just stop – I know the basic format of the book. I mean, once you’ve read 15 Jack Reacher books, you can almost predict what will happen in the 16th {spoiler alert}: Reacher finds himself somewhere he normally isn’t; he gets involved in a situation he doesn’t want to be involved in; he wants to leave – he knows he should leave; he stays (for now – he might leave and return again shortly after); he sees things that the other characters don’t; he finds a girl (well, 70% of the time); he makes a mistake and berates himself; he ends up solving the case using unorthodox methods and then disappears into the night. Don’t get me wrong – I really love reading that series at the moment, but I can predict it. So, it becomes numbing reading – reading that doesn’t challenge me to think or try to guess the plot. There’s always “what happens next?” or “did I guess right?” and that gets me through the book, but it’s becoming more difficult for me to be surprised by mainstream authors.

Hence, I try a variety of different styles and authors – and they invariably give me different results. In 2013, I was pleasantly surprised by a few different authors and books. I must admit that I think the story of a centurion on an adventure stole my heart and ruined me for other books for a while. I had a serious book hangover and I just couldn’t shake it off for a seriously long time. (Well, a long time between books for me – maybe two weeks?) While I read more than my goal of 62 books, only a few really made me think and appreciate the ability to read and to enjoy reading. Here are some of those books in no particular order (well, except the centurion who stole my heart is first!):

A side note: I love using Goodreads to track my reading – both what I’ve read, what I am reading, and what I want to read. If you haven’t seen that website yet, then I encourage you to do so – they give some good information and appropriate recommendations based on your reading. It’s also a place where you can follow your favourite authors and see what they’re up to. I guess one of my favourite things is the notification of when my favourite authors have just published a new book. I have so many “favourite” authors, though, that I am constantly being given lists of books that have just been published or are just about to be published.

Here’s a visual of what books I read – you can see that there are some choices that are more “escaping reality” than “rocking good reads”, but life sometimes demands books that allow you to escape without using your mind too much. There are also some books in there from my book club – one of the most relaxed book clubs I’ve ever participated in. The basic requirement is that you turn up to the meetings – no actual book reading required. {However, we do mostly read the books in some format – or at least I do…}

2013 in Books {Goodreads}

*Note: The starred books are some of my favourites this year – ones that I truly enjoyed reading.

What piqued your interest in 2013? Do you have any recommendations for me for 2014? I’m already on my second book (with 836 pages, too – and I just can’t put it down!), but am very open to suggestions. Please share your ideas or your favourite books below in the comments.

mind-full-ness

In 2013, I undertook a project where I tried to take one photo per day to share with my family and friends through Instagram and Facebook. While I did not quite achieve doing it every day (I missed probably 20 days – mostly at the start when I wasn’t sure what I was doing!), I achieved much more than I ever thought I would. It started out as a simple way to keep in touch in my year of adventure, but it became a task in mind-full-ness. Yes, I write it like that: I know the convention is “mindfulness” but I find that my mind has become very aware and very full of the world around me. Every day I see more things – sometimes everyday things, sometimes special things – and I appreciate more in my life. Sometimes it’s the simple things such as a beautiful flower; other times it is an experience that is overwhelmingly beautiful or sad or loving or engaging. But the point is that I see more than I ever have before. I take less for granted and when I think I can’t find a photo for a day, I realise that I have a lot to be thankful for and that perhaps I wasn’t as present as I wanted to be during the day. This means that I sometimes needed to hunt for a photo that could represent my day. Other times, I have so many photos that I find it incredibly difficult to choose just one – but I only choose one.

Later in 2013, I found a wonderful article written by Nic MacBean titled Snap happy: bestselling author Matthew Johnstone finds peace through photography. This article helped me put my project into clearer words and to realise what I was trying to do with it. It also gave me another book to find and read! (Note: I love books – I can’t get enough of them – more about my year in reading in a post to come.) However, being able to articulate why I am taking photos and why I want to do it every day has been enormously beneficial in understanding my motivations and intentions for myself – something deeper than just sharing images from my year of adventure – something more basic in understanding myself and my life.

Here are some of the highlights from my year of adventure, mind-full-ness, and understanding.

a beautiful flower

beauty

a sad experience

a sad experience

loving experience

a loving experience

an engaging experience

an engaging experience

a beautiful experience

a beautiful experience

…these are just a few of my favourites – you can see more on my Instagram account: http://instagram.com/tabras {shameless plug – I know!}. I intend to continue to share one photo per day throughout 2014 as well, even though my “year of adventure” is over and I’m “back to reality”, as such. Who says we can’t play with reality and enjoy what we do?😉

Bliss Balls – The “Safe” Christmas Goodie

Christmas is called the “silly season” for a reason – many people overindulge in gift giving and in food eating, and in beverage drinking. We can find ourselves in so many situations to overindulge during the holiday season, so the little bits that we can do to make our choices healthier, the better. Of course, some people might think that this is the time “have a treat” or “forget the diet” – it’s only once a year! I’ve been so good! However, this thinking is likely to get us into trouble, as so many people websites blogs articles and discussions like to remind us.

If you haven’t heard of bliss balls before, then their name gives them away – they are bliss! Little bites of heavenly bliss! These bliss balls are very quick and easy to make – the preparation time is less than 15 minutes (depending on how quickly you can roll the balls) and there is no cooking time. If you have a surprise visitor, these can be made on the spot and can be eaten immediately – no refrigeration necessary! If there are some left over, though, they should be refrigerated.

On that note, let me introduce this post’s recipe: easy-peasy bliss balls. Really. They are easy and they are pure bliss! You can use this recipe as a base and adjust the ingredients to what you feel like eating – but try this one first. It really is amazingly easy and simple to make – and delicious – and relatively good for you!

Easy-peasy Bliss Balls

Easy-peasy Bliss Balls

Makes approximately 20 large balls.

Ingredients
1 cup almonds
1 cup chopped dried dates, soaked (or medjool dates)
1 cup desiccated coconut
cinnamon {optional}
a little extra coconut to coat the balls {optional}

Method

  1. Blend almonds until smooth.
  2. Add coconut and dates to the mixture and blend until combined and the mixture reaches the desired texture. {My texture is rather smooth and almost creamy – they melt in my mouth!}
  3. Roll into balls. {Hint: Wear food preparation gloves to make this easier and less sticky.}
  4. Coat with desiccated coconut for a gentle look. {optional}
  5. Refrigerate if not eaten immediately. Technically, they will last for a few days (4~7 days), but I’ve never been able to test this – they disappear too quickly!

Options

  • Roll in shredded coconut to finish.
  • Substitute other nuts and/or seeds for the almonds.
  • Choose a different dried fruit for a sweeter flavour (e.g. apricots or figs) or a sharper taste (e.g. apple or papaya).
  • Add some more flavour with spices (e.g. nutmeg and cinnamon) or carob powder (although this will dry the mixture, so you may need to add the date water) or vanilla essence or other flavours to your taste.

Warning: They are good – you may need to practice restraint!🙂

Bonfire Heart – James Blunt

Video

days like these lead to…
nights like this lead to…
love like ours…
you light the spark in my bonfire heart…

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

days like these lead me to you
to your arms
to your warmth

nights like this remind me why
you are my all
you are my only

love like ours gives us
strength
passion
beauty

you spark my flame
my flame ignites your heart
together we are everything
for each other
for us
together

The dogs of Kathmandu

Recently, when I was working in Kathmandu, I couldn’t help but notice all the street dogs. They are everywhere and they seem to wander the streets at will, but also have defined territories. They are very resilient – you can see their battle scars clearly. They are also calm and enjoying a relatively lazy life. They also look amazingly similar as you can see below. (Yes, they are all different dogs on different days.) It makes me wonder about their life and how they survive.

One particular dog caught my attention – the dog in the middle of the image. He lived near the taxi rank, so I saw him every day for a little over three weeks. Every time I saw him, he looked content and poised. He never looked hungry or sad, but rather he appeared to be the king of his territory. He was constantly surveying his territory and making sure he ruled it all. Other dogs would stay away and avoid any contact. He wouldn’t budge for any human or other animal, either; they had to walk around him. A very proud dog in the middle of life in a busy area in Kathmandu. He constantly reminded me of Nepali people, too, with his approach to life: proud, calm, resilient.

The dogs of Kathmandu

Kathmandu Dog Pack {True} Story

Warning: Depicts a graphic scene – you may not want to read this.

The first time I went to Nepal, I arrived late at night and had the hotel transport pick me up from the airport. I was exhausted – I had just traveled for more than 36 hours to get here. But I was excited to be in a new city to see new things. It was just after Tihar and many buildings still had lights all over them – it was a beautiful sight. We were going around a corner when a pack of dogs caught my eye – it looked like they had cornered some prey and were going to have dinner. I looked closer to see what they had found; they had found another weaker dog. The pack was about 8 or 9 dogs strong; the dog being attacked was weak and helpless. It was horrid: the pack dogs were taking it in turns to bite and tear apart the other dog. I could hear the other dog whimpering and crying. It was a terrible scene and one that I didn’t want to see. Thankfully, after about one minute of being so close to this situation, the transport moved on. I don’t know what happened, but I sure can imagine it.

Now I understand the saying “it’s a dog eat dog world”. Literally.