Leah On Foot


Category: Australia

The World at Your Doorstep

I was standing in my doorway in Melbourne, with a cup of coffee in one hand, and signing for a registered letter with the other. The letter was from the Oslo county governor. A letter… from halfway across the world… sent express to my door. I remember that moment so clearly, the one in which the world was so undoubtedly at my doorstep.

Now, a little over a year later, so much has changed in my life (and rightfully so). One thing, however, has certainly stayed the same: Since January, I have thought of Australia almost every day. It has been eleven months since I came back to Norway to see if I wanted Norway, and if Norway wanted me. My love has followed, along with a fitting job and a cozy apartment. [Insert joyous, monotonous rhythm here.] It quickly became evident that I wasn’t quite done with Norway after all! A recent visit from Melbourne friends Jenni (and earlier in the year, Anna) have been energizing. We reminise about the good times, crazy library days, and sunny days spent in the park.

Talk quickly transitions to plans ahead, as we have moved our doortsteps elsewhere. We wonder when we will wander back to this land that has given us so much inspriation. Five years? 10? How about 20, like my father? It is ironically comforting, therefore, to know that Melbourne will never again be as I left it.

For instance, I know very well the Cedar Rapids, Iowa of 1987-2006. The Cedar Rapids after that…I know little of. Buildings have been torn down, my parents’ street has been re-paved, and my high school classmates now have families and houses.

Similarly, Norway before 2006 is like one big history lesson to me. I had to immerse myself in significant cultural shows and events (read: The Julekalenderen, Flåklypa, mm…) just in order to understand a joke. And every time the value of the Norwegian krone drops or gains, I compare it to when I first moved here.

Melbourne, likewise, will remain a snapshot of what it looked like and the events that occured in 2014. For fun, I’ve listed just list some things that come to mind: protests, local fashion, only owning [needing] one sweater, shark culls, Korean hot pot, Tony Abbott’s circus, (related: ignoring Aboriginal rights), 96 tram, comedy shows, sunny parks, and lest we forget the market guy who always yells “BANANA! 4 DOLLAH 4 DOLLAH! 4 DOLLAH BANANA!” To feel the heartbeat of a culture, what drives its people, what unites them and divides them…that is how I love to travel, and have always loved to travel. The first thing I do in a new place is check out the nearest grocery store or peaceful protest. That’s where I can get a sense of how much of the world is at their doorstep, and sometimes, how much they are on the doorsteps of the world.

Fast forward to 2015, which is almost over. On the cusp of 2016, Melbourne is at the doorstep of the world, and her metropolis is expanding at a phenomenal rate. It’s a very exciting time: the creatives keep creating, Turnbull has calmed the nation down, and David Jones even has a website now.  The next time I visit, I am in for a shock; I can only hope the internet conenction is better 20 years from now, too.

The travels continue, and are never enough to sratch that itch. My time in Melbourne was just short of magical, and I can peacefully live elsewhere, knowing that it will never be as I left it. And that’s ok! It is therefore essential that we keep in mind that the world is truly at our doorstep, whether it is off to a new experience in the here-and-now, or off to the past, where our memories inspire and comfort us. I know that through dreaming, I continue to bring this far-off land to my doorstep, this one where winter is summer, rooftop bars are plenty, and tiny bears are grey and hang out in trees.

CBD as seen from Northcote at dusk

CBD as seen from Northcote at dusk


A love letter

My dearest red earth,

The sound of your waves ricochets in my memory, and I miss you.

It catches me off-guard, really. It will be a nice, sunny day on the top of Oslo. I am sitting on my balcony, enjoying the Northern sun on my face (no sunscreen needed). I bathe in it, stripping the layers off me so that my skin shines, exposed to fresh air for the first time in four months.

The sun then plays hide-and-seek behind a cloud and suddenly it is 10 degrees cooler. The layers quickly go back on. And off again, and on again. Your smell lingers in those summer clothes that lay stacked in storage.

Your water is so blue. Those blue eyes that stun me every time I look into them. I have tried to forget them. I want desperately to forget them. I was not born of the sea, so how have I developed such an affinity for it? You charm me with your old soul, and I am lured to your shores, blind with fascination.

My feet have not met my sandals in over four months now. They sit at my door, along with my umbrella, for who knew when you would need which? They wait patiently, collecting the dog hair and dust of my new reality.

Melbourne, my stubborn, mischievous Melbourne. How can I forget the roaring echo from the MCG on a Saturday evening, or giggling in Fitzroy Gardens with Anna, whispering sweet nothings to the coffees in our hands? (a splurge at $3.40). How I remember the smell of the 96 tram on a Sunday mid-day, everyone still in their Saturday Best. Ahhh, the joy of being bloated from too much fried tofu at Laksa Bar, where they knew who we were. We always ordered the same thing, didn’t we?

I love you despite your pretentious cafes with exposed brick walls, my meal served on a cutting board. God, I hate food served on a cutting board. Yes, the salad served on a slate of rock was worse…

Come to me. Come to me, and I’ll learn to tolerate Vegemite. Maybe. (Yeah ok, maybe not). Oh but darling, I will buy fresh vegetables and kangaroo meat from your markets. I will tickle your fields of wheat and grapes! I’ll dive into your red heart, and never stop swimming.



Taken by Marty, 12/2014.

And then, just like that, my time in Australia was over.

One year ago today, I left Oslo with 29.8 kilos of my life in “Big Blue,” my massive, loyal [and expensive] suitcase. My heart beat so hard that my cheeks thumped with the aftershocks. I had put a lot at stake in investing financially and otherwise into an education in Australia–what if I had made the wrong decision? Alas, I had always wanted to live in Australia. My lonely bachelor’s degree in sociology was getting me nowhere that I wanted to be. I had, however, always loved writing, bringing people together, and hearing their stories. The light-bulb moment arrived, and it was time to act on it! I had no responsibilities, nothing to tie me down–I did not even own a mattress. Now was the time to go!

So I set off with tears in my eyes saying good bye to the friends and the lifestyle I loved dearly in Oslo. It would still be a long time before I could make it home to the U.S., but it was a sacrifice I had to make if I was going to pursue that looming goal, just two semesters in the making. 

 January 29th was a warm, steamy summer’s day. I arrived at my AirBnb room whose A/C was struggling to keep up with the summer’s pressure. As I hauled my carry-on bags up the stairs in that house, I felt it all (as Feist might say). I felt alone, brave, scared, stupid, adventurous, and EXCITED, all at once.

Eventually settling in a studio flat downtown, I quickly felt myself come alive again, thawing rapidly from so many winters up North. My skin screamed in the strong Australian sun and protested by turning red immediately. I relished trips out the country and to other states in order to let my soul breathe–sometimes, Melbourne was just too full of concrete for this country girl. I pretended my farmer’s market WAS a farm, lugging home $5 boxes of fresh zucchinis, apples, and farm fresh eggs. I lamented daily about hipsters, Tony Abbott, and Woolies. I had gone native, Melbourne-style. I tried to soak in as much as possible, but that only made time fly quicker. Suddenly, I was all out of time.

By January 2015, my skin was sun-kissed and my feet were cracking from walking barefoot so much. I had a degree in my hands, with proud, strong grades despite every curve ball the year threw at me. I was broke, and it was time to find a “real” job. My student visa was running out, and my ticket was return to Oslo.

I write the title with skepticism. Inspired by Forrest Gump, I feel like all of sudden, the day came where I just dropped my shoulders and thought “Well, I made it this far. Might as well turn around and keep going.” A return is inevitable but its capacity and duration remain a project for the gods to deal with. 2014 is hands-down the year I cried the most, learned the most, laughed the most, felt the most. I love both cities and people in them. That’s all I can really say about The Future.

Your support, your letters, your likes and emails and Skype….  it has meant so incredibly much to me. You have been on this journey with me the whole way. You walked with me through a eucalyptus forest. I had you mind when I listened to the koala’s growl in the night. When I drank Little Creatures beer I thought “Yeah, you’d like this.” Thank you, thank you! I’m so happy you joined me.



No, not creeks in your knees or creeks in the floors. Creeks–or cricks, in Iowan.

On our trip back to Melbourne from the NSW coast, we crossed and saw several rivers and creeks–including the Hollywood-famous Snowy River and a town called Lake’s Entrance.

There were so many funny names for creeks along the Princes Highway that I started to write some of them down. Think Pioneers, re-naming everything they came across…I guess after a while, their creative energies started to deplete…



Blind Joe’s



Eleven Mile


Dinner (2)









Waves of Happiness

I lay down on the board, and pretend to take a nap. The waves have died down a bit, allowing for some playtime in the water. The small waves gently hit my board, just enough to rock me back and forth. There is a gentle, peaceful smile on my face. All I hear is the sound of the water, and waves in the distance washing up on shore. Marty is nearby, but perhaps in his own world, too.

After being surrounded by chaos and stressed-out city humans in the store for days, all I wanted was to get away from them. Please, no humans today, my soul begged of me. I wanted to hear nothing else but the sound of the ocean. I wanted to see no one but Marty, off in the distance catching a wave.


A quiet day at Bells, photo taken earlier in the year.

We have met some French tourists earlier in the morning thanks to Marty’s ability to make friends with absolutely anyone. He rivals my own reputation for it! Everywhere we go, I am practically pulling him away, interrupting his conversation in order to convey “cmon; lets get a move on!” That morning was no exception. They chatted about the south of France, about the weather conditions that morning, and about road-tripping Australia. I was quickly bored, looking forlornly out into the waves. Feeling as eager as I was to get away from the city, I tugged on his shirt and said “So, um, sorry to interrupt but, I wanna get out there.” “Ok, ok, see you guys later” he responded with a wide smile, adding sarcastically, “You act like you really wanna surf or something!”

My capabilities in this sport are minimal, but I have never done any sport in order to excel, let alone one to do with water! To me sports are about letting loose and having fun, and I am sure that was the original intention of them anyway, in the days where it was hard work and a hard life. I have had fun learning to feel waves, and sometimes I have the discipline enough to stand up. I learn a little more with each try. Mostly, though, it is just great to be out there, feeling a part of the Earth greater and bigger than I am.

I remember just before I was about to try surfing for the first time. I had mixed feelings whether or not to tell my family. My brother and brother-in-law, I knew, would not be happy. Of course, I could get swallowed whole by swimming knives, blue bottle jellyfish, or drop bears that prey on Midwestern girls. Admittedly, I did protest slightly when Marty even suggested it. “What if I don’t like it?” I asked wearily. “Aww, you’ll like it!” Marty replied matter-of-factually. After all, I was not born with an affinity to the sea. Growing up, I did not need to feel the harsh ocean winds against my face and feel the salt stick to my skin in order to be happy. Give me a forest, a freshwater lake, and a canoe. Now there’s happiness!

However, discovery is an ongoing human desire, is it not?? Whether it be through food and new recipes, through travel and new places, or music and new songs to learn. When we unearth a new part of our world, we open ourselves to more room to be happy. When we have a bigger platform on which to be happy, it becomes easier to find happiness, instead of a mystical illusion or a fleeting feeling. At least, that is what made sense to me anyway, as I lay on the board, waiting for the next succession of waves to come in.

When I really actually enjoyed being out in the ocean, it was much easier to embrace it. The waves became a playground instead of a terror zone. The city and humans became a distant memory, and time did not matter. As the morning grew late and more humans sought the same solace as I did, I got out reluctantly, but ready to face the city again with new energy.

Just don’t tell my brother or brother-in-law.

Getting OUT of the city

Had I been looking, I would have seen the wombat.

Before moving to Australia 10 months ago, I had heard there was not much life in Australian nature. It was apparently pretty red, pretty dry, and pretty barren. I keep learning, however, that there is always life if you just look. I thought the native brown grasses were victims of relentless drought, and that dry lakes could not possibly be a regular occurrence. Beauty in nature according to my upbringing lay in lush, green grasses that my toes danced in. Life found itself in strong rivers and black, nutritious topsoil. Upon arrival, I even thought a burnt forest meant that it was dead. Of course, had I looked, I would have seen that it is teeming with life.

Maybe I had been looking, but through the filter of the city and society. The beauty had disappeared between tram stops and construction sites. I was slowly growing more frustrated with life. I knew I was not seeing much of life or its beauty when a stranger asked me for the time as I buzzed by, my mind elsewhere. I automatically replied “No thanks,” as if they were a street corner fundraiser, and marched on. I was 10 metres away already when I back-pedaled and looked him straight in the eyes. I said, “I’m sorry about that. The time is 2:45.” I had, again, not been looking.

So now, I put my head out the window, the salty ocean air filling my nostrils, but I do not dare let it do something that I do not see. I am wide-eyed, looking eagerly at all the plants and rocks and coastline. As the car winds its way along the Otway National Park, I spot a koala hanging out having a meal, a wallaby, and some funky birds. And then I see this guy:


A little echidna dude

Where did all of this life come from?! How did I not see this before? I began to spot things everywhere, finding every wallaby’s hiding spot and even a lizard of some sort. It only continued at the campground. On my way to the use the toilet in the dark, I was on high alert for yellow eyes shining in my flashlight. Sure enough, I saw two staring right at me, and it wasn’t moving too quickly. It was, of course, another koala.


How cool is the forest, hey?


There was little I didn’t see at this point. So much to see and learn, and at night the koalas gave their territorial growls, sounding like wild pigs. It is funny looking back that everyone talks about snakes and spiders when they think of nature in Australia, and I still do not want to see any ever ever ever. But by assuming this, are we really looking? Compared to North America with wolves, bears (Ok, in Minnesota anyway) and racoons–in addition to snakes and spiders–growling koalas did not seem so bad!!

By focusing on snakes and spiders, I would not have seen the other animals. By focusing on the brown leaves or minimal streams, I would not have seen all the ferns or waterfalls. It was hard to be convinced of red, dry, barren land amongst all this life.

I just had to look.

Escaping the city…in the city

G’day; it’s 23 C and sun: let’s go for a walk in Yarra Bend park!

merri ck

Could use some more rain maybe…

We’ve got our bag with water and some food. We’ve got proper shoes on and high spirits. The phone can stay on the desk in the bedroom. The city’s busy crossings and suits can wait til tomorrow. Off we go then, to discover bidgee widgees and other plants known only to this crazy island. Shown above is a little river that winds its way quietly in the middle of the city. From this angle, you feel you are “in the bush.” There are native grasses and birds, and if you focus on the wind in the grasses, you forget you are in the city at all. As you bend over to get a closer look at the light purple flowers swaying in the breeze, it’s almost as if they are smiling at you.

Then we turn open our ears again, and hear the hum of the cars on the highway. You stand up, turn around and see the city skyline behind you. You slouch. Sigh. The weir is a sad sight to see. What is the point? I ask to myself as I stare quizzically into its centre. There are too many of them here: the go-to band-aid for this country.

Alas, there are still many native plants to be discovered. This is the bidgee widgee. That’s right, the Acaena novae-zelandiae. Mmmhmm. The bidgee widgee is basically what eventually turns into ‘spurs.’ They love socks and shoe strings!


“bidgee widgee” is my new favorite common name. (Last week was Billy Button).

What a good day for a walk. It’s time however to go back to the bells of trams and the minutes of meetings. Thanks for joining me!


It’s been two long semesters

$20,000 in tuition

290 coffees

1,000 hours + in the library

four textbook check-outs

Seven group members

Four A+’s

One C

One degree in Communications from Victoria University.

To me spring always marks a much bigger fresh start than a new year. Rains and spring storms send allergy-sufferers into an anti-histamine daze, and everything is an excuse for eating ice cream. My course is finishing up and my new career path is completely uncharted. It’s terrifying. My mom has been encouraging, saying “Just get a job.” Yeah, working on it!! It’s just daunting. I try to figure out my chances, given contacts, references, experience, expertise, language background, and training…huff. It’s a tough call. What to prioritise, what to drop, what to prepare for. It’s all there. I’ll prepare for the worst though, like a good optimist! ;P I still have two months left here and it is certain to fly by. I am most proud of getting myself back into remission during a time of tremendous change and stress. I have my last doctor’s and pathology appointments ever with the St. V clinics in November, and all three of my closest friends are determined to go with me. I’m feelin’ the tremendous love.

Grad school has been so incredibly painful and given me second-guesses all along the way. I have seen my attitude improve, and my skills are sharpened like a No. 2 pencil. I am getting to know my creativity better, as if it is a colleague of mine rather than this weird random magic wonder that showed up every now and then. I am a different person than I was before I started, and certainly I will be six months from now, too. I took a chance to put a poem of mine out into the public sphere and it feels great, even if no one can read norsk around these parts. I don’t care; I did it anyway. #mymantra. Now why are you reading this instead of employing me?? Go on, then!

One poem

23 essays

Two academic blogs (here and here)

Eight Powerpoint presentations

3 boxes of Kleenexes

Eight osteopath appointments

One wild adventure


Some Queensland forest. 6/2014


Tuesdays have come to be my favourite day of the week here. A journey that has been a year in the making.

A year ago this month, I was applying to schools all over Australia, putting my faith into Sydney and Melbourne. I had finally decided to dedicate myself to my creativity and skills, to pay attention to what everyone else had always told me to pursue: writing.

…and I was scared out of my mind.

I didn’t want to tell anyone because I was fearful of what they would say. I didn’t want to tell my family most of all, because I knew that would be the nail on the coffin of the “Leah has officially gone crazy” campaign. Australia, of all places! Maybe they were right, but I wasn’t about to admit it!! I kept my fears and my dreams to myself, locked in a nice little box with a purple bow, while I anxiously awaited an acceptance letter. Continuing my travels around Europe, October first brought Lyon, visiting an old housemate. Then in Copenhagen, I fell in love with the Danish autumn. I had plenty to think about and not enough time to articulate it.


Lyon, France.

I remember the moment that I knew that I had made the right decision to go into PR and Communications, knew that it was time to take the purple ribbon off of the box. It was in fact the reception of this article. I wrote about a subject matter that tends to ruffle feathers. The “I’m not like that!” or the “Go back to where you came from!” crowds could have had a hay day with me if I had written even just slightly off course.

Since I was a child, my family has always encouraged me, but especially in two things: to write, and to help those who have less than myself. Why donate blood? You’re saving up to seven lives. Why buy Christmas presents for strangers? Because we’re so lucky as to have many. Why flip pancakes on Easter Sunday? So that we can raise enough money to go to summer camp and learn about love and nature. This has always been my impulse, my instinct, so when I asked a local charity here if I could please intern with them, I was so thankful that they said “yes.”

That charity was OzChild, a local, Victoria-based foster care provider. A group assignment in Semester One led me to them. We had to pick a local NPO and create a mock PR plan for them. Our enthusiastic and overachieving group realized the need for a real media kit and created some key messages and objectives surrounding an actual event. We aimed to create positive media attention and wanted to ensure that this could benefit OzChild beyond our theory-heavy research. Long story short, I started on a Tuesday.

Every Tuesday, I have had the opportunity to have responsibility for projects and learn in such a passionate environment. The work I do there every Tuesday is miniscule to the work they do every day of the week. I have helped lead the largest fundraising campaign to-date with them, a project that nobody but my manager and myself believed in, and we’re not even done with the campaign yet! (We are raising a whopping $96,000 for the organisation, if you feel so inspired to give from afar).

Ozchild has provided me with the chance to grow in my skills and experience with a fantastic and incredibly talented group of communications practitioners. My university has fostered immense feedback and support, and come November, a poem of mine will be published, thanks to OpenAccess, how cool is that? No matter where my degree takes me when I am done, I will always be thankful for the opportunity that this organisation and leap of faith has given me, to be able to pursue my two greatest loves: words, and helping others.

That’s why we don’t give Leah the map


It’s spring in Australia. Adventure is blooming! Photo: Becca.

“Now that’s a city that captures you!” Becca exclaimed as our plane descended on Sydney’s skyline. Our faces quickly planted smack against the window, our eyes were wide with excitement. The skyline had us entranced: buildings went right up to the waters edge, greenery decorated the pockets, and ferries crossed this way and that.

I knew this was going to be a good weekend.


All it took was a stop at the botanical gardens, and we were in love. Photo: Becca.

Becca had come to visit me for two weeks from Scotland but I suggested we go somewhere else rather than limit ourselves to Melbourne. Of course, it had to be Sydney. Becca is a chemist by brain and I had already decided weeks ago that she would be responsible for navigation in Sydney. She didn’t seem to mind, not even when I would play “Backseat Driver” and challenge her anyway. “Are you sure, Becca? Are you sure it’s North? Cause I think it’s Direction Blue, near the pointy thingy.” She would be right of course, and exclaimed at one point (in Melb) “This is why we don’t give Leah the map.” I agree. I wholeheartedly agree.


We saw lots of these weird birds. Less aggressive than pigeons but wanting our meat pies nonetheless.

She put up with me anyway, even when I had low blood sugar levels and little sleep (She’s a keeper!). We wound our way through the city, going from harbour to quay to pier and back again. The Opera House was stunning; did you know it is tiled? We picked restaurants by the size of their seafood platters and wine bars by the length of their happy hours. The seafood was out of this world. We went to five beaches in all, including lovely Manly Beach (our fave) and the [in]famous Bondi. We walked several kilometers a day in 20-22C and sun. We went to many markets, our favourite being the Manly markets. Not the touristy ones, but the one that just happens to be once a month at the local public school. We bought heaps of stuff there for next to nothing. One of those friendly, down-to-Earth places (and prices) that there are less and less of these days. Every stall had a friendly face and it took us ages just to get through the whole place.

On the last day we finally took advantage of the free CBD shuttle bus. Why had we not thought of this before? Ah, because it requires extra navigation and negotiation! THAT’s why! 😉 Is the stop symbol to the left of the Hilton hotel or to the right? We agreed; the bus driver did not. Is it stopping where the other ones go? No? Shall we run or wait? Ah fck it; let’s just walk!!

We stayed at a great hotel downtown and were therefore able to hop around and come & go as we pleased. The public transport didn’t seem as sophisticated as in Melbourne, but for a weekend in the downtown area, we did alright. I absolutely am going back to Sydney; it’s just a question of when…