How to move house without losing yourself

I’ve just moved house for the tenth time in the last two-and-a-quarter years. Anyone would think I was running away from something. I’m not. I’m running towards a better place, each and every time; that’s what I tell myself anyway.

The last place I felt really settled was the house in Dunedin where I lived for three years. I’d returned from a stint overseas and all I wanted was a kitchen and a garden and to stop living out of a backpack. I loved that house, I fantasised about buying it and doing it up and living there forever.

I replaced the missing panes of glass in the glasshouse and grew tomatoes and cucumbers and basil and chillies in there. Outside I grew beetroot and red onions and peas and carrots and coriander. When I first started contemplating leaving Dunedin for Auckland it was the coriander patch that yanked the most firmly on my heart strings: the few plants I’d initially bought had multiplied into a miniature forest that burst through the soil of its own accord early each spring, proving that it had survived yet another gruelling Dunedin winter.

Interestingly, the spring that I left Dunedin the coriander never came up.

I remember lying in my bed looking around at all my possessions and wondering what the hell I would do with them all. The bed itself, a dresser, sets of drawers, couches, tables and chairs, a TV, none of it was worth shipping to Auckland so it all had to go. The memories that had been created within the parameters of that house and garden also had to be dismantled and stored away in little boxes in the recesses of my mind.

My friend and flatmate, Kate, and I had had some great times in that place; we were the hostesses with the mostess: we’d invite friends around for barbeques and everyone would always know that they could expect a mean spread to be laid on. Other times we’d get the fire blazing and play endless hours of cards or scrabble or poker, or do 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles, or watch episode after episode of Outrageous Fortune or Dexter.

The trick to moving house without your life completely coming apart at the seams is to pack up the stuff you use least first. Pictures can come off walls, books into boxes, linen and towels and other-season clothes can all be packed away. Leave out the things you use every day until the very last minute – you’ll need them again soon and you don’t want to be rummaging around in the bottom of a box searching for that elusive hairbrush/toothbrush/most comfortable pair of undies.

You’d think that with all this packing and moving and unpacking I’d have whittled down my possessions by now but I haven’t. I still have my jigsaw puzzle collection that I cart around with me – some of them I’ve had since I was little and they’re filled with memories of doing puzzles with Dad. I have Rupert the Bear books that Dad also used to read to me and I want to one day read to the children in my life. I have records and CDs and framed pictures and textbooks and clothes and exercise equipment and pots and pans and cups and bowls and teaspoons… And a great collection of cardboard boxes that I’ve learned to not throw away.

If I didn’t have all these material possessions I would still be me, but these things help me redefine myself whenever I move house. My coffee cup and frying pan and chopping board help me to feel at home in a new place. My memories and experiences and all the things that make me me are embedded in the nooks and crannies and creases of all these objects that I refuse to stop bringing with me.

I never moved house as a kid. I was born in the house where my mum still lives now and my roots run deep there. I think if I hadn’t had this foundation in life I would be finding all the moving around I’ve been doing over the last couple of years really hard. But moving around and trying different options has helped me to know who I am and where I come from, and, little by little, I’m figuring out where I want to be and what my purpose is. It’s kind of a process of elimination – each living arrangement that doesn’t work gives me a clearer idea of what my ideal is, I take the snippets that did work with me and I leave the rest behind.

One day (soon, I hope) I’ll be putting down a new coriander patch, and making much more permanent gestures too, like planting trees and arranging vegetable gardens and unrolling and framing that beautiful print I bought in Thailand 16 years ago. I might even get around to framing all my degrees and diplomas and certificates too and finally allowing myself to acknowledge how far I’ve come and what I’ve achieved, even if it has been in a very higgledy-piggledy, roundabout kind of way.

Back to the Drawing Board

My candida has come back. Mother fucker. Like an unwelcome house guest it’s snuck back in to take up residence in my body, unexpected and uninvited. That said, I have had a sneaking suspicion for the last month or so that something’s not quite right with my health. First I got thrush for no apparent reason, despite not having had it for years. I’ve also been finding that whenever I eat sugar I get terribly bloated and gassy. In the last week or so I’ve had achy muscles and joints, but I put that down to recovering from walking 100 kilometres with a heavy pack. I should have bounced back quicker than I have though, and I feel like there’s a missing link between the quality of the food that I put in and the quality of the energy that I get back.

So I did the spit test and it was an epic fail: my saliva quickly gravitated towards the bottom of the glass of water, forming a putrid powdery layer. The last time I did the spit test was about four months ago and the result was pretty good; a little bit sank but most of it was still floating on the top after a good half hour or so – an ideal result would have all of it floating on the top after half an hour (this is done first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything).

First came indignation, frustration and disappointment, then came resignation. At least this time I’m better equipped and I know exactly what I have to do. Last time, the thought of life with no sugar was almost incomprehensible. In some morbid kind of way I’m almost pleased: sugar has been creeping sneakily into my life, and I, thinking that I can handle it, have allowed it. This always happens with me – I make a rule and initially I’m very strict with it and I get the result that I want. Over time, I relax the rule a bit and it seems to be okay, so I relax it some more. Then, all of a sudden, the rule has become so relaxed that it barely exists, and I find myself where I am now – unwell and, as a result, needing to rewrite my own rules so that I can get well again.

I’m actually quite optimistic about this, up until recently I have been feeling really good, so I think with a concerted effort I can knock this candida palaver on the head without too much of a drama. This is the candida elimination diet that I follow:

BASIC RULES

  • Avoid ALL junk food and anything containing white sugar, white flour, yeast and soft drinks.
  • Include as much nutritious food as you like from a wide variety of sources.
  • Avoid ALL sugars, chocolate, honey, molasses and maple syrup.
  • Avoid ALL fruits and fruit juices.
  • Try not to eat the same foods every day.
  • Feature low-carbohydrate vegetables, seafood, lean meats and eggs in your diet. You can include one serving of high-carbohydrate vegetables OR a single portion of whole grain at each meal.

 FOODS YOU CAN EAT FREELY:

  • Vegetables: Most of these vegetables contain lots of fibre and are relatively low in carbohydrates. They can be fresh or frozen and you can eat them raw or cooked: asparagus, string beans, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, capsicums, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, lettuce, onions, parsley, radishes, spinach, tomatoes.
  • Meat & Eggs: Chicken, turkey, beef, lean cuts, veal, lamb, wild game, shrimp, crab, lobster, tuna, other seafood, salmon, mackerel, cod, sardines, eggs, other fresh or frozen fish that is not breaded.
  • Beverages: Water and non-sweetened herb teas.

 FOODS YOU CAN EAT CAUTIOUSLY:

  •  High Carbohydrate Vegetables: Sweet corn, peas, pumpkin, beans, potatoes (baked only – not any other way!), kumara.
  • Whole Grains: Barley, corn, millet, oats, rice, wheat.
  • Breads, Biscuits & Muffins: All breads, biscuits and muffins should be made with baking powder or baking soda, NOT yeast.
  • Dairy: Acidophilus yoghurt (plain, unsweetened), butter.

 FOODS YOU MUST AVOID:

  • Sugar & Sugar Containing Foods: Sugar, and other simple carbohydrates including sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, maltose, lactose, glucose, mannitol, sorbitol, galactose. Also avoid honey, treacle, molasses, maple syrup, agave syrup, etc.
  • Packaged & Processed Foods: Canned, bottled, boxed and other processed, packaged foods usually contain refined sugar and other hidden ingredients.
  • Breads, Pastries & Other Raised Bakery Goods
  • Milk & Cheeses, especially mouldy cheeses.
  • Alcoholic Beverages: Wine, beer, whiskey, brandy, gin, rum, vodka and other fermented liquors and beverages such as cider and ginger beer.
  • Condiments, Sauces & Vinegar-Containing Foods: Mustard, marmite, tomato sauce (and all variants), Worcestershire sauce, MSG, chili, shrimp and soy sauces, pickles, and anything else pickled, tamari, vinegar (except apple cider vinegar), and anything containing vinegar for example mayonnaise, salad dressings (especially fat-free ones, as they are high in carbohydrates). Freshly squeezed lemon juice mixed with spirulina powder and flax oil can be substituted.
  • Malt Products
  • Processed & Smoked Meats
  • Mushrooms & Other Edible Fungi
  • Melons, especially watermelon, rockmelon & honeydew
  • Coffee & Tea, Fruit Juice & Soft Drinks
  • Dried & Candied Fruits
  • Leftover food (has the potential to grow mould)

 As you can see, there’s a bit more to getting candida under control than simply not eating sugar. Luckily for me, my diet largely fits into the ‘eat freely’ and ‘eat cautiously’ sections anyway. Interestingly, nuts and seeds are not mentioned anywhere in the elimination diet, but I’d hedge a bet that they are all fine, except for peanuts, which grow below the ground so they may contain mould or fungus, and should therefore be avoided.

I do pretty much all my cooking from scratch so I know exactly what’s in it and what isn’t. The only things I’m unwilling to forgo entirely are coffee and fruit. I generally only have one coffee a day, first thing in the morning, and I don’t feel the need to cut this out at this point in time, I’ve battled with the idea of giving up coffee – the last time I tried I lasted for 17 days but I was miserable without it. At least now I’m only having one a day rather than the four or five I was often having back then.

I’m of two minds about fruit: on the one hand it contains fructose, which is sugar, and therefore will feed candida. On the other hand, it also contains fibre, vitamins, mineral, antioxidants and phytonutrients, all of which promote health. In terms of the concentrations of sugar, eating whole, fresh, raw fruit is nowhere near the same as eating candy bars or drinking soft drinks.

It depends on the fruit too; apples and pears have the most sugar, and I almost never eat these anyway. At the moment, the only fruits I’m intending to eat are strawberries and papayas, and I think this will be okay. Oh and lemons and grapefruit – technically these are citrus fruits but they contain barely any sugar and have loads of benefits, such as being highly alkalising, aiding digestion, and being high in Vitamin C and prebiotic bacteria (this is what probiotic bacteria eats). I actually eat lemons like they’re oranges: I cut one into segments and eat the flesh and the pith – it’s delicious!

As well as eating all the right things and none of the wrong things, I’ll also be barricading my system with these goodies:

  • Apple cider vinegar: This is some kind of cure-all wonder tonic, and I could easily dedicate an entire blog post to it. But for now, it’s great for alkalising, aiding digestion, cleansing the blood, and protecting against arthritis. Yes, apple cider vinegar is made from apples, which contain sugar, but the fermentation process converts the sugar into beneficial enzymes and amino acids. Anyone who’s tried it knows it is not sweet! I use Bragg‘s because its organic, contains the ‘mother’ and tastes good.
  • Probiotics: My ratio of good to bad gut bacteria is obviously skewed the wrong way at the moment; otherwise my candida would be back where it belongs, on the periphery, not ruling the show. Loading up with good bacteria will help set things straight; I like to use Reuteri, as I experience a tangible improvement when I use it.
  • Horopito: Mum just put me onto this one. Horopito is a native New Zealand shrub that’s been used in traditional Māori medicine for ages. It has natural anti-fungal properties, and yeasts are merely single-celled funguses. The product is called Kolorex.
  •  Sauerkraut: For whatever reason, cabbage appears to be superior in terms of its concentrations of prebiotic and probiotic bacteria. Fermenting it increases the concentrations even more. You should be able to find sauerkraut on your supermarket shelf (ideally you’d choose an organic one that’s been made without wine), or you can make it yourself.
  •  Chlorophyll: Chlorophyll is the pigment from plants that makes them green. It soothes the lining of the intestines and helps with nutrient uptake. I use this one.

 With this arsenal of awesomeness my spit will be floating in no time!

 

 

Helicopter to Venus

For the last six weeks, as I’ve stood chained to the coffee machine, beans grinding in one ear, blenders blending in the other, microwaves beeping, extractor fan extracting, tourists trying to get my attention to ask me where the toilet/bus stop/start of the track is, where can they fill their water bottle, where can they put their rubbish… Through all this I’ve maintained a shaky hold on sanity by visualising myself walking in nature, pack on my back, not a care in the world other than making it to the next hut.

Last week I finally got to live out my fantasy. I went tramping for six days, by myself, in the Kahurangi National Park. My last day at work was a Sunday, and by Monday lunchtime I was walking along the Wangapeka River, revelling in the beauty of my surroundings, with only blue ducks for company. Not only did my tramp mark the timely completion of my job but it marked the end of the season as well. Taking a week out to just walk and think seemed like a symbolic way to shelve the summer that was, before blowing the dust off autumn and delving in.

I made a rookie error on this tramp: I didn’t take any tape or plasters in case I got blisters. I’ve had the same tramping boots for over 10 years and I’ve never got a single blister in all that time, even when they were brand new. But after my last tramp I let my boots dry out for too long before waxing them and I think they must have shrunk a little. By the time I cottoned on to what was happening it was too late and the blisters turned into raw, weeping sores that grated with every step. This certainly put a bit of a dampener on things but I managed to procure some second skin and then some tape from other trampers along the way. By the end, one of them was starting to get infected, but it’s come right now.

I covered about 100 kilometres in the six days. I travelled up the Wangapeka River, over the saddle and down into the headwaters of the Karamea River, then cut through the Lost Valley before reconnecting with the Karamea River and following it for two whole sun-soaked days. I then headed up the Leslie River to the Tablelands, over Gordon’s Pyramid and down to Flora car park where my guy met me with Baileys and ice cream.

Whoever named the creeks that flow into the Karamea River had gods and galaxies on their mind. After Moonstone Lake, the creeks of Orbit, Apollo, Mars, Thor, Atlas, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Silvermine join the mighty Karamea on its true left, while Lunik, Star, Comet, Satellite, Apogee, Perigee and Sputnik Creeks join on the true right. Maybe the name-giver was just buzzing out on nature as much as I was, and getting a bit cosmic on it.

All in all, it was a fantastic, although challenging, tramp. Sometimes I just had to stop and gaze in wonder at the sheer beauty that was all around me: the endless expanse of bush bisected by that stunning river. A river which spoke to me in a language that I couldn’t fully understand but could generally catch the gist of – a language of time and seasons, floods and droughts, landslides and earthquakes. Sometimes the river gurgled merrily, carefree, over and around rocks, other times she flowed sullen and silent, pouring herself lazily into huge, deep emerald-green pools, wrapping herself around her hidden treasures and secrets.

Other times, I couldn’t care less about the scenery and just had to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, like during the three hour climb up out of the Leslie Valley. I tried to steer my thoughts away from the heaviness of my pack and the discomfort in various parts of my body. When I found myself cursing that damn hill for its steepness and endlessness I distracted myself with happy thoughts: I reminded myself of all the good things in my life, everything I’m grateful for and everything that I have to look forward to.

Finally, just when I thought that I couldn’t go on any longer, I emerged out of the bush into the expansive, open wilderness that is the Tablelands. Suddenly I recognise my surroundings: Mt Arthur and Gordon’s Pyramid, and all at once I feel very close to home. Gordon’s Pyramid sits squat and fat like a Buddha, teasing me, challenging me to climb its slopes. How could I say no?

Sitting on top of Gordon’s Pyramid I literally felt like I was on top of the world. A vast panorama of pristine wilderness stretched out in every direction before me, extending as far as the eye could see. I looked back in the direction I’d come, sometimes hobbling, other times galloping, but it was just me that got me here – no cars, helicopters, boats or aeroplanes, just me and my trusty legs.

There’s a very simple satisfaction that comes from getting somewhere under your own steam. Carrying everything you need on your back, leaving all of life’s trivial little stresses by the wayside. Walk, eat, sleep, walk, eat, sleep; life becomes very simple.

This post is named after two of the huts on the track: Helicopter Flat Hut and Venus Hut. I think I’ll do this tramp again, in another 10 years or maybe sooner; it was just so beautiful! The following photos are displayed in the order that I took them. I hope they will give you some appreciation of the landscapes I was travelling through.

I’m a neat freak

When I was a kid, I vowed that when I grew up and had my own home the crockery and cutlery would always and only be matching sets. In my childhood home you’d be lucky to find two plates that matched. Instead you’d find stacks of randomly assorted plates and bowls in varying degrees of deterioration, hand carved wooden spoons, an old handheld egg beater. Nothing matched and nothing was new.

My mum had a special knack for putting some ethnic garment of the dye-running variety in with my school uniform, turning my white socks and blouses a mortifying shade of pink. I quickly volunteered to do my own laundry, hanging each item with care, choosing two pegs of the same shape, size and colour and carefully pinning the item to the clothes line without stretching or creasing the fabric. Each Sunday evening I would iron my school uniform skirt so that the pleats sat perfectly flat and perfectly straight.

This was my way maintaining a little bit of order and calm when so many other things in my life felt like they were spiralling out of control. This was my way of coping. Coping with growing up in a family where there was favouritism, coping with my parent’s finally separating after years of bickering and squabbling. Looking on as one sister battled cancer and the other a teratoma. Watching my brother lose his mind and being terrified that the same thing might happen to me. These things I couldn’t control, but the colour of my pegs and the pleats of my skirt, they were all mine. If there were just one or two things that I could have complete control over, that I could rely on to be predictable and mundane and routine, well, it made the stuff that I couldn’t control just a little bit easier to deal with.

Now that I have the decision making power over my cutlery and crockery collection it’s amusing to see that there are no matching sets. Yes, the bowls are largely white and ceramic, as are the mugs, and they match because they are all appealing to me in form and function, they match in the sense that I chose them, and all together they make one large, semi-matching set.

These days I’m more inclined to relax the reins on my control freak tendencies – I won’t be mad if you cut the vegetables differently to how I would’ve cut them if we were to make a meal together. My sisters both got better, my brother’s stable, my parents are amicably separated. Time passes, the river rolls. There’s no point sweating the small stuff.