The New Harmony Agenda

Long time no type. Again! Seems to be a pattern of mine.

I got too busy again. I got kinda crook too. And updating my blog was the last thing on my mind. Even though I enjoy it. Even though writing is like a release for me. Even though I know it might help somebody else going through the same things as me. Even though I want to develop a consistent habit. Even though, even though, even though. But alas, I stopped anyway.

And here I am starting again (again, again).

And I have a plan. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last 6 months, or so. I’ve been studying for the last 2 years in formal courses to give me some new qualifications, and I’ve also been doing a whole lotta learnin’ informally too, about myself and my body and my other needs (physical, emotional, spiritual etc). I’ve been a content-consuming machine for years now. I love to read and listen and learn, and I want to help myself and help other people by sharing what I’ve learned.

So expect some changes around here over the next couple of months. I mean that about the website, but also about my life in general. I have reached a threshold or tipping point in my life in a number of ways.

Physically, I have become so fed up with my difficult and frustrating pattern of digestive issues that I’m about to embark upon a radical gut healing program called GAPS. I have also been working really hard on my fitness/health values and beliefs. I tried a program that was amazing but wasn’t for me, and I have begun jogging regularly with my husband the Exercise Physiologist. I have also been practicing and studying meditation and yoga, which have had profound impacts on my life. But still, there is fatigue and hormonal dysfunction (thyroid, adrenal, reproductive…) and major tummy problems. The list of foods that no longer agree with my body is getting longer and longer and at some point (that point is now!) I believe I have to stop treating the symptoms of whatever is going on in my insides and start actually looking at and treating the cause.  GAPS is nothing to be sneezed at, but hopefully it will help me heal for good this time.

Professionally, I have found a lot of clarity about my next steps and made some big decisions about the future recently. I have been granted one year’s leave without pay for 2017 from my teaching position in a state school in Queensland. This means that I will not be teaching in schools, other than some supply work (substitute teaching for those not up with teacher talk!). Part of this is because my husband and I would like to do some travel, and because I want to really focus big time on my health and getting really, really well before we even think about having babies. That is a big WHY. But it’s also because I want to focus myself full time on the creative projects that have been in my head for years. I want to write blog posts and articles and books, I want to compose music, I want to explore my creativity and I want to really put into practice the new qualifications I have gained over the last 2 years. I want to explore what it means to do all of these things without the constant pressure of trying to fit them in around the school term! But I also really, really want to make a difference in a very different way than I am currently able to do as a teacher.

I am launching a new business called ‘Self-Care for Teachers’ because I feel so passionately about preventing teacher burnout and supporting staff wellbeing in schools and ultimately I want to change the conversation (and maybe the education system!) from the ground up.

I am also going to be refocusing The Harmony Agenda as a website and as a business. Up until now I haven’t really had a brand and it has been mostly a badly updated personal blog. I have been coaching a little bit on the side of my job but I haven’t made that much of an effort to get new clients because I honestly haven’t made it a priority. But I’m ready now to really put myself out there into the world and make a real difference. It will remain a personal blog but I am planning to include a lot more informational topics too. The themes will remain the same: health, happiness, self-care, wellness, slowing down, listening to your body and befriending your emotions. But all the teacher stuff will be moving over to Self-Care for Teachers so the focus of each website will be more streamlined. I am multi passionate but I have felt scattered and confused trying to fit everything under the Harmony Agenda banner. This will hopefully help streamline my brain and what I’m offering to the world!

Oh, and I am also starting a podcast with my best friend Madison about our journeys with starting up businesses but doing them slowly and in a way that supports our health and happiness! So stay tuned for that!

Personally, I have just turned 29 and that has helped in the clarification process. I’ve had some major news about my thyroid recently that I promise I will update you on in another blog post (please don’t worry, it’s good news) but it brought a lot of big truths home to me. I’ve also been doing a lot of reflecting on the fact that next year I turn the big ’30’ and what does that mean for me? There have been a lot of questions lately about babies, or more specifically, when will we be having them. And the truth is, I don’t know when, but not right now. I don’t want to put it off forever, or even for 5 years, but I just know deep down that now is not the right time. My body is not 100% and hasn’t been for many, many years. If nothing else, that is reason to pause and heal so that one day I can be the best vessel possible for a new human being, and so that my own experience of pregnancy and being a new mum isn’t complicated and made more difficult by recurring health problems that could be fixed.

I also am faced with some decisions regarding whether I will even be able to teach with little ones, and the truth is I don’t think I will be able to. I am already part time and only just find I can manage my own health at this schedule. Most women go back to work after maternity leave to the level of part-time teaching that I am currently doing, so it doesn’t leave a lot for me to drop back to. I am aware there are many options and we won’t know until we get there and all of those other arguments. But I basically don’t want to be forced into a position where I have to go back to work at a higher fraction than is good for me. I’ve been forced to do that before (and there were no babies in the picture), and it was absolutely terrible for my health then, and I am under no illusions that it would be any easier if I had to do it again, let alone with the pressures of being a Mum (or the desires I have for being a present, healthy Mum instead of an absent, exhausted, ill parent). So the decision and the plan right now is to try to get extremely well and also build up some other income streams so that if I do decide to return to teaching after maternity leave, it’s because I want to and feel well enough to, and not because of financial desperation.

Plus, we want to do some more travel before we have babies, and I have so many creative ideas that I want to pursue too.

So the NEW Harmony Agenda for me is basically to enjoy the luxury that I have of being a middle class, Western woman with access to contraception and professional choices and amazing health care and a supportive family and with a world to explore. I am taking a gap year, not so much to find myself but to attempt to design my life so that it supports my health and my family plans and my other deep desires in life.

I am so infinitely grateful to be able to do this. The gap year doesn’t start until 2017 but planning for it starts now and I am throwing myself wholeheartedly into the process. I am excited and thankful and scared and excited all rolled into one! I hope you will stick around to hear how it all plays out for me over the next few months and into the gap year of 2017.

Easy Friday night recipe: Roast Chicken and Warm Pesto Salad

Last night’s dinner was ah-mazing! Stuart made a delicious roast chicken with his usual recipe. I was given a huge bunch of fresh basil from the school agricultural farm yesterday so I wanted to make pesto. I decided to experiment a little by combining a few different recipes and it worked out really well! Since going gluten free, I have enjoyed making my usual pasta recipes with zucchini or carrot sliced up (usually in long, thin slivers like ‘spaghetti’) and lightly fried. So I decided to adapt that and add some pesto….and it was delicious, especially combined with the yummy roast chicken. I teamed this with my favourite summer drink: soda water and fresh lime. Scroll down for the recipes 🙂

Chicken with warm pesto salad

Stuart’s Yummy Roast Chicken

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1.5 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • large chicken

Method

1. Mix the paprika, cumin and salt together. Sprinkle over the top of the chicken.

2. Roast chicken for 1.5 hours in convection oven, or as long as you usually roast a chicken for in whatever kind of oven you have 🙂

3. Carve and serve with warm pesto salad, or whatever kind of salad you most enjoy!

 

Warm Pesto Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 carrots
  • 2 zucchini
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts or almonds
  • big bunch of fresh basil (maybe 1 – 2 cups?)
  • 3/4 cup shaved parmesan
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3/4 cup olive oil

Method

1. Cut the top and bottom off the carrots and zucchini. Feed the carrots through the food processor with the ‘chipping’ blade on, or cut them into rough chips about the size and shape of penne pasta (except without the hole through the middle). Place into a bowl. Do the same to the zucchini.

2. Put the carrots in a fry pan on low heat with some olive oil to begin to soften.

3. Roast 1/4 cup of nuts in the oven for a few minutes. We didn’t have any pine nuts so I used almonds and they worked beautifully. Let the almonds cool for a few minutes once done.

4. Once the carrots have been on the heat for a while, add the zucchini to the frying pan. The zucchini take far less time to soften and will go mushy if heated for too long.

5. In the food processor with the blade in, place the basil, nuts, garlic and parmesan. As Jamie Oliver says, ‘waz it up’ until it is like green and white crumbs. With the processor still going, slowly pour the oil into the top until it all combines. I actually used about 1/2 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup avocado oil, just for fun. You could do this too, or stick with straight olive oil.

6. Add the pesto to the pan of carrot and zucchini ‘penne pasta’ style chips. Mix it around an allow to heat slowly.

7. Serve with the delicious chicken and a glass of something bubbly and delicious 🙂

 

So what do you think? Do you every experiment in the kitchen? I’m normally a strict recipe follower and Stuart is a chronic ‘make it up as I go’ type. He constantly astounds me with his knack for getting flavours right, even though he never measures anything! There have been some memorable disasters when I tried to model this and just guess-timate how much of each ingredient to use. Nevertheless, I persist in modelling the attitude and I am learning to be more adventurous in my cooking (while still using measurements!). Tonight’s experiment was a success. Try it and let me know how it works for you!

Me and gluten, part 2.

So I gave up gluten for two months and felt a dramatic difference in my wellness. Then two weeks ago I went to the doctor and while discussing a blood test for some other things, he suggested we do a blood test for an immune response to gluten. I didn’t really think I needed it, I was pretty convinced already. Then he said I’d have to eat gluten again until the test so that my body actually produced an immune response. The blood test has to be on a certain day of my cycle to test my reproductive hormones, which is tomorrow. So for the last 13 days I’ve been eating a lot of gluten again. And boy, does it suck.

I noticed a difference straight away. The first gluten filled thing I ate was some crackers, because I’ve always loved crackers and cheese. I felt sick to my stomach immediately. I am not sure if that was because I was really hungry at the time, or they were bad biscuits, or if it was just the shock to my system of highly processed, gluten-ous food that I hadn’t eaten in a while. For dinner that night I had baked beans on toast, another past favourite meal. I didn’t feel too bad after that so I thought that was a good sign.

Nevertheless, within 24 hours I noticed a difference, and my condition has continued to deteriorate with each passing day. Symptoms I had no idea even could be connected to gluten, and that I’d certainly never before connected to diet, reappeared with alarming immediacy. On top of the sinus congestion, bloating and fatigue (which I had expected), I have also had dry, itchy skin and eyes, constipation, brain fog, indigestion, cramps (which may be purely endometriosis, although some of my research suggests endo is also connected to gluten) body aches, sore throat, jaw pain, anxiety, difficulty swallowing food at times and a general worsening malaise. In particular, two things really stood out.

Firstly, within 48 hours of being back on a gluten diet I had a very familiar ache in my neck and shoulders. I hadn’t realised that I had been free of that pain for the previous 6 – 8 weeks since I’d been gluten-free. I used to get that ache all the time, and that was one of the reasons one of my new years resolutions was to get regular massages. Now I was able to connect this pain to gluten and it made so much sense. I have since heard/read about others who have similar experiences with body aches when they eat gluten. Who knew!?

Secondly, jaw pain and dry eyes. Both of these symptoms I suspected were connected with my sinus congestion, but I had not yet connected that 100% with gluten. I have struggled for years with dry itchy eyes, and frequently use eye drops to relieve symptoms. It’s a pretty minor ailment that I had basically totally accepted and thought little about. The jaw pain on the other hand has been a real difficulty for me, especially over the last 18 months. I had what we thought was a chronic sinus infection at Christmas last year, which I took a course of antibiotics for and have been on antihistamines ever since because that’s the only thing that really helped the jaw pain. Decongestants helped the sinus pain, but not the jaw. About 12 months ago it was so bad that I had an expensive ocular splint (like a plate/mouth guard) made for me to wear at night because the dentist thought perhaps I the cause of the pain was grinding my teeth in my sleep (even though my teeth didn’t show obvious signs of that). The splint and the antihistamines helped initially but over time became less and less effective. I also found that if I forgot to take the antihistamine one day, the jaw pain returned very quickly.

Anyway, since I’ve been gluten free I’ve been able to stop taking the anti-histamines and had been doing fine without them. I actually had forgotten about the jaw pain. Until last week when the jaw pain was back with a vengeance! Who knew gluten could be responsible for so many symptoms!?

Well, apparently lots of people on the internet. But I had only ever heard about full blown Coeliac symptoms like weight loss and diarrhoea, neither of which I experienced so I always ruled out any problem with gluten. This last two weeks has been a pretty uncomfortable experience for me. The headaches have gotten progressively worse each day (it took a few days for them to really start as I believe gluten is having a cumulative effect on my system). My sore throat is pretty bad this evening and the fatigue, malaise and brain fog has made it a very difficult week at work. Interestingly, I had said to my therapist the week before I went back on gluten that I was feeling the most calm and thinking more clearly than I had experienced in a long, long time. And within days of being back on gluten the brain fog and also the feelings of stress were back. Scary to think that this achey, fatigued, brain-foggy, constipated, anxious person is who I used to be all the time.

And what about all the supposedly delicious food I’ve been eating? At the start of this fortnight I viewed this as an opportunity to eat all my old favourite meals. Well, it hasn’t even been that delicious. I had a really good burger at a pub, a great burrito and a yummy piece of turkish bread at restaurants in Brisbane. But other than that? I haven’t even enjoyed it. All my old favourite foods are no longer favourites. I cooked everything exactly the way I used to, but I feel unwell enough after every meal that I’ve come to dread eating things I used to love. In fact, I have no worries about never eating any of them again. Before re-introducing gluten I felt a lot of meal envy for what others were eating. But I don’t think that will happen anymore. I am going to embrace this wholeheartedly and continue to tune into my body’s response to food.

So the blood test is tomorrow. At this point, I don’t even care what the results are. I am not eating gluten again after tomorrow. It has been an uncomfortable but very worth while experiment. Now I know I don’t have to feel like this all the time and I’m looking forward to feeling good again very soon! I’ll keep you posted! 🙂