Just over 12 months ago, my husband and I were three days deep into a “stay-cation” in our suburban town nestled between Portland, Oregon and Willamette Valley wine country while our two kids attended overnight camp for a week. Each day felt like we were pulling a page out of our early days of dating. All of the responsibilities of parenting and being grown-ups were on hold until the following Saturday when we would excitedly pick our kids up from their first sleep away camp. In the meantime, our souls were free to dream, and dream we did. It was in that short week of sleeping in, drinking wine, eating out and binge-watching Netflix, that I began to explore a disregarded dream that my husband and I had packed away years before; living abroad. It was after a few glasses of wine and an episode of Chef’s Table (Patagonia), that I stood up and with total commitment and announced to my husband that we needed to move to Italy. It was a reflexive statement born out of jealousy that was brewing inside of me after watching the adventures of a footloose chef that bounced around the world creating incredible food and adventure when he was not in Patagonia cooking open an open fire. My reflex may have been aided by the Italian wine in front of me or my husband’s slight obsession with all things Italian or a recent conversation the previous week with a darling girl that I was teaching to cook who had mentioned that her family had lived in Genoa for a year, or any other logic that was striking me as reasonable after a few glasses of wine and the romance of having no responsibility. Regardless, my husband looked at me cock-eyed and proceeded to come up with countless reasons for why it would not work.
It was three days later that he conceded, after relentless convincing on my part, and agreed to ask his business partners how they would feel about him working from a remote location. After we checked off that box, the year unraveled as a series of to-do lists as we prepared to rent our home in Oregon and move our residence to the beautiful Tuscan town of Montepulciano. If I even began to list the endless details that were required to make this happen, overwhelm would take me away from my computer, but let me just say that we had a lot of help. That sweet girl that I was teaching to cook just happened to have a lovely mother who was about to finish authoring a book about how to move a family abroad. The manuscript became our guide. We were fortunate enough to find a gorgeous 1800 sf apartment in the town that we wanted to live owned by a wonderful couple that had retired from New York to Italy four years prior (the husband is Italiano, wife is Americana). This made communication a cinch and they made every detail easy and welcoming. My husband’s best friend is a dual Italian citizen whose mother is Italian and was willing to help us communicate with the kids’ new school and make other functional phone calls in Italian about the visa process. Little pieces of the puzzle fell into place over the year as I finished a graduate program, my husband prepared to work abroad and my kids slowly accepted the inevitable move. Even the puppies knew something was brewing as we prepared them with behavior training and vet check-ups to receive an international health certificate to enter Italy.
Now, one year later, we are here and I am sitting in a kitchen staring at the hills of Tuscany “hashtagging” (is that even a word) countless photos so they all end up in some magic storage cloud labeled #Barnettsinitaly. The shift has been drastic, to say the least. We have been in our new home for less than two weeks. It was just one month ago that I completed a graduate program finalizing my Master’s in Nutrition and Functional Medicine. Throughout the recent years I have been a full time student, mother of two, running a part-time nutrition consulting business and living with a constant undercurrent of stress that kept me up most nights and followed me relentlessly into each morning. My health was suffering from an autoimmune disease which I managed with near-perfect nutrition, meditation, gentle exercise and wine, not to mention an amazing support network of family and friends. The added stress and pressure of preparing to move to another country left me wasted most days. However, I knew the end was near and I was counting the days until we entered a culture that would not support that level of stress. I can tell you now, that it is just not possible to move at the same speed in Tuscany. It is totally unsupported. There is just no way to do it. Doing nothing is a heck of a lot easier and that is basically what I have done for ten days. It is that drastic contrast that instigated this blog.
Three weeks ago, I would have had a physical meltdown after consuming a piece of bread due to gluten intolerance but currently, I am on a week of pasta and pizza and feeling great. Three weeks ago, my cell phone reminders held the key to my success and accomplishments while today, I woke up to the 10th day of google reminders that “I have nothing scheduled today”. Aside from two hours of language class and the never ending loads of laundry that I now hang to dry outside my third story window, I have nothing to do but eat, drink and explore the hills of Montepulciano.
The question that has arisen for me after making this move is, “Is this wellness?” How does the way we live and fill our days affect our health? Am I healthier now than I was three weeks ago? Do I feel healthier? Would a set of labs reflect a healthier body? In my mind healthier without the pressure of school or was that stress keeping me engaged? The science of health and how lifestyle and biochemistry interact is my passion, it is what I have committed the last seven years of my life to learning and to teaching others. In this move, I have become my own case-study. There is a concept called hormetic stress. This is the type of stress that results in greater strength, better adaptation, increased immune function, improved metabolism. Hormetic stress can come in the form of exercise, low levels of toxic exposure, fasting, etc. It is the concept of “what does not kill us makes us stronger”. For most people living in the western world, they are experiencing stress overload, but a certain level of mental, emotional, physical stress keeps us healthy and strong so what is that balance and how do we settle into the range of balance each day?
This blog is dedicated to the science and art of learning to recognize the spectrum of balance that results in wellness and how to recognize when we are out of range and vulnerable to illness and disease. This year, I will be exploring my own personal experience of that balancing act (a challenge in the face of amazing Italian wine, fresh pasta and the traditional 3-hour pisolono or afternoon break). My background as a yoga teacher, nutritionist, mindful eating coach and even as a mother has set a foundation for this exploration.
What happens in our bodies when we strike the balance of just enough stress and how do we come back to it over and over to foster happiness, growth, experience and resilience. That is what I will be studying this year in my new home among the beautiful Italian people who are amazing role models for living a balanced life. I hope you join me on this journey and share your journey with me. Until next time. ~Megan