Leah On Foot

Wanderlust

Category: Ulcerative Colitis

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.

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Tuesdays

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.

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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.

With a ticket in-hand…

Remember how in 2013 I made it to 13 new places? I find myself daydreaming, wondering if I can do it again…

I’ve already five “new” places this year anyway: Melbourne, Queesntown, Adelaide, Sunshine Coast, and Tasmania. Sydney is coming up and who knows what ideas I’ll think up come November. Although, I don’t think there is enough land in this corner of the world to achieve much more before year’s end.

I get a lot of comments about my travel tendencies. Me, staying put in one place for a year!? When I signed my lease for one year upon arrival, I wondered how I could make sure I stayed there the whole year without moving. So what is it about this nomadic life that is so attractive to me? For me it is not so much about transient life or settling somewhere, really. I run from nothing. It is about learning, and the passionate desire to keep doing so in my own way. Travelling, meeting new people, hearing their stories…it’s how I learn.

I came to Australia because I needed to.

The need to feel the stories that my dad had told me as a child was a strong one, and I wanted to meld my own stories from them. I also felt pulled and knew at the core why: what my definition of “Home” is. There are so many answers to choose from. I needed to figure out how much is in my heart, and how much is my surroundings and community, and how much is my mama’s Sunday roast.

What I have learned so far is that travel transforms my definition of Home into an internal place. With each plane I board, I fly a little higher, and Home sits a little deeper. Sure, travel enhances our senses, constantly throwing stimuli at our memory. Our comfort zones are pushed and our humility embraced. We are nervous and excited and lost and confused. The less we plan, the more vulnerable we are to our surroundings.

When we travel, we oddly become more in-tune with Home, and the concept is magnetizing. An old friend of mine from Texas recently spent a mere six weeks in Oslo, researching and exploring. She has been speaking Norwegian since her youth and is truly passionate for Everything Norway. So when she got a painful homesickness while in Norway, she was able to acknowledge this and respect it. She didn’t blame Norway for not fitting her idea of it; Not many people can do that. Everything about her experience was simply too different: expensive, snow-capped, and, well, Norwegian.  When she landed back home in Texas, she kissed the ground.

I don’t have six more tickets in-hand to mark a substantial quantity of new places in 2014. This year it is about quality. I have gotten to know a new culture, with its faults and surprises and hidden bits of joy. I have settled for one year in a new place where I knew just two people when I landed. I itch constantly to have that ticket in-hand, to be on the next plane out, but my state of mind when I hold that ticket has changed, and it is freeing!

So, when I call my brother and he answers with “What country are you in now?”, I do smirk a little at the reputation. In my defense, it just happens that way. I will always be traveling. Sick or healthy, poor or…ok I’ve always been poor. I crave the stimuli, the sand, the weird food, and the weirder birds. My colitis gets in the way sometimes, but then I enjoy the peace just that extra bit more. It was a bit edgy being stopped in Dubai for having cortisone on me. I was questioned thoroughly, and eventually sent through with a stern warning. I have paid the price for some countries and pushing myself too far. But I learned, I guess, even though I might do it again, hehe.

Life is not a ticket to the airport. It’s what you learn via that ticket. I always carry home in my heart, and since Jenn gave me an Iowan necklace with a heart attached, I carry it around my neck often, opening myself to learn and love wholeheartedly. Happy travels!!

Sunshine Coastal Chillin’

I marvel at the landscape, how different the plants and trees are compared to Victoria! Parakeets decorate the pines, transforming them into Christmas trees. I see a whale (!) from the plane. Surfers of all ages line up the expansive beaches, as local cafes serve up amazing fresh juices. Guys and kids throwing a rugby ball back and forth, boundary lines carved out in the sand with a stick. The looser sand massages my feet as I walk with my shoes in one hand. This is the Sunshine Coast.

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Alexander Headlands beach

“G’day love! Are you enjoying your holiday? You from Melbourne?”

“How did you know?” I asked, bewildered. “Cause muh dear, you’re wearing a sundress. …It’s winter.”

I had planned nothing but chill time in Maroochydore and a tour to Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island (more about Fraser Island in the next post—it was awesome).

I did yoga classes, took long walks, went for a run or two, and after sunset, I watched a movie with a good cuppa (tea). When I booked the five day trip, I was weary that I had committed to too much and would be bored.

Below is Mooloolaba beach. One other person’s towel in the photo. The day after, this beach was packed with hundreds of people, all trying to squeeze a glimpse of a dying whale, apparently with a couple of shark bites to its side. The whale didn’t make it much longer.

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Mooloolaba beach. Below 20C = beach was empty.

On Sunday, I had to count the days on my hand, time seemed to have disappeared. I couldn’t believe how active I had been on my “lazy” holiday. I felt great, sleeping for ten hours each night. So much sun, chill time, and shopping, and I wasn’t ready to let that go. So I chucked my bag into a locker, and spent hours at the beach, drinking fresh juice and ate an amazing pumpkin salad at the Beach Street deli, recommended to me by my hosts. I stayed until the late afternoon, until the winds started to pick back up, and my sweater was no longer enough to keep me warm. The only thing left to do was take that last flight out of MCY airport home.

When I was a little girl, I would marvel at the spectacle of lights flying at night gave. My favourite activity to this day is recognising the townships and landmarks as we fly over them. On a date night in March, Michael tried pointing out different landmarks of Melbourne to me from the city’s tallest tower. I loved even that, reminding me of what I feel like when I fly at night.  So as we approached the state of Victoria again, I was saddened that I couldn’t play this game of Guess the Town, or have anyone point out to me which town was which. But then suddenly, there she was: Marvellous Melbourne. So incredibly vast she is; stoic even. Her suburbs, supporting and interlacing; I felt like a little girl again.

This was significant for me, especially feeling the way I did about coming back to the cold, wind, and rain after all that sun. Up north, even my ulcerative colitis seemed happy to take a break. The pilot said as we reached the clouds “Welcome on board ladies and gentlemen. The current weather in Melbourne is….not so good.” Melbourne has not been my happy place so far—one difficulty after the other, it’s far from everywhere, and adjusting hasn’t come as quickly as I predicted. It is still a large and noisy city, too, and I am still a small-town girl who is a light sleeper.

All that said and done, it was delicious to land and see my breath in the biting midnight air. I was finally able to make peace with the ding-ding’s of the trams and being able to hear my neighbours. I feel very safe in Melbourne, I can walk to pretty much everywhere I need to be.

And I really can’t complain about that.

Road to Recovery (2)

It’s been a long two weeks, but I’m keeping my chin up!

Today helped. 😉

Backtrack: International Student Orientation day. I won a day trip with Cafe Bus to the Yarra Valley, famous for its wine production in Victoria. Two of my friends were quick to book with me, and in the end, today was the perfect day to get out in the sunshine, sample some wine and pick some strawberries.

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10:30am: Round One at Coombe Farms

I think it’s safe to say that we all needed this trip. Already knee high in schoolwork, well, we just didn’t want to even touch on that subject. We imagined we were in Europe (or Iowa!) all day: the hills, the lushness of the fields….my neck got real long whenever we drove past machinery or cattle! And that smell! Ahhhhh, that smell! The dogs roaming about like they should… just a great day out of the city.

Notable stops:

  • Yarra Bend park. Tens upon thousands of bats live here; it was cool to see them in their “home.” Funny story about that place. I screamed. I’ll tell ya about it some day over a Pinot Noir.
  • Dominique Portet winery. This 9th generation French monsieur is putting a little bit more “France” into Australia, and it made me smile.
  • White Rabbit [boutique] (micro)brewery. Apple cider to make your taste buds dance, lovely white ale. They support the creativity of their brewers and do things a little off-grid. Here is where I made my purchases (cider).
  • Our last stop took us all by surprise: Killara Estate. The view explains it all:
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Check out that color! Killara Estate winery

At the end of the day, we went to a cafe in the city in order to recap our joy and bottle it up ourselves for a rainy day. It felt so incredibly wonderful to have spent it with these girls; they challenge me and make me laugh. They have been unwaveringly patient with me even as I adjust to my new medication…even I get surprised at my behavior at times. But we just had so much fun today!

I was thinking about this on my way home, exhausted but feeling sentimental. I saw I got a package from my old friend Jennifer from Davenport (Iowa). I went about “unpacking,” making food, being moody, and put off opening it, which I don’t normal do with packages!!! In this package, I eventually found, was a small envelope, nothing else. Very Jennifer: Let’s just say she’s less of a writer and more of a designer.

So in that envelope, red tissue paper. In that red tissue paper, a small box. In that small box, a necklace. The tears started flowing! The charm hanging on that necklace was in the shape of Iowa, with “IOWA” written on it. The other charm was a small heart.

What a beautiful way to end a beautiful day.

Road to Recovery (1)

Australian honey is heavenly

Laughter heals. Good food heals.

Sunday morning market.

Fresh fruit and veg – awakes the senses like a good cup of coffee

After a chill Saturday after being released, what better way to start Sunday? Just a five minute walk from my door, it is a gentle welcome to the groggy eyes of Melburnians. Perfect for inspiration while keeping in mind a strict but very helpful new diet.

Surprise in store for Road to Recovery (2).

Why My Parents Deserve a Vacation

The sunrise over Melbourne was a blurry one today, eager for Friday but the clouds denied it its full glory. My nurse Jennifer just woke me up to give me more meds, and now I can’t sleep. I’m reading an email from Mom. She just keeps saying “I’m so glad it’s over,” and I know exactly what she means. I’m relieved, too. I can recover now.

I’m on an adventure, and [the unexpected] is part of it! I’m currently in a really chill ward at a nice hospital in Melbourne, recovering, getting great care.

My Ulcerative Colitis didn’t listen to me. I told it to go away. I told it “hey! I’m livin’ here!” and even teamed up with cortisone and prednisone to beat my bully. UC wanted to come along with me for the ride. I said no. My Norwegian doctors said, “nah, it won’t, just go, study, have a good time. You’ll respond and be healthy soon.”

Uh huh.

Above all, I’m ok. I’m in good hands. I’ve got visitors, and otherwise am busy with school work, and I’m confident that soon I’ll be healthier than you! I charm my way to control the TV remote and chat up my nurses. My Norwegian travel insurance company have been wonderful. They even called to ask how I was doing yesterday.

My parents deserve a vacation. My sister-in-law has been getting treatment as well in Iowa City and is the real hero here. She deserves a vacation, too! Haha. I know they are happy that things are on the upswing for all of us. I’m sure my brother and mother would like some sleep at night! I did not get any last night but they’ve promised that the pharmacist will take care of that for tonight.

I debated why I should even post this. But I know why I am. I’m posting because I need you to fetch me chocolate from the store. 😉 Really, though, the current awareness surrounding UC and IBD isn’t large enough for me. It could be bigger. So my objective is clear to me. The more people that know what it is, the better.

You know me. You know I’m still laughing. You know I plan on stealing a wheelchair and having my friends push me around the park for shits n giggles (no pun intended).

So what I need you to do for me is:

Text me pics of your pets. Never fails to put a smile on my face.
Or of your doofus self. 🙂
Seriously, Lygon St has the closest Koko Black choc store….
Email me a good poo joke. A good one.
Pray if ya do that thing.
Celebrate every successful bowel movement.

Feel free to send me links to your favorite show or comedy clip. Feel free to shake your head at me. Silly Leah. Feel free to thank Anna for bringing me my laptop. But know I’ll be fine, and you need not worry. ❤

Lillyhammer

Jeg lukker øynene mine. Jeg ser at du drikker en kopp te og mmm den lukter peppermynte. Du har en tykk ullgenser på og de svære tøflene som gjør alle til en lat og kjedelig bjørn om vinteren. Du ser også på Lillyhammer på fjernsyn; men det er jeg som får alltid hjemmelengsel når jeg ser på programmet. Alt det herlige og dårlige med Norge i en genial pakke. Selvironi, som vi alle trenger litt mer av. Et genialt program. Jeg er så glad i Lillyhammer. Men jeg er så utfattelig glad i deg.

Føttene mine er faktisk kalde; det er tross alt februar, man kan jo klage litt da, vel? Burde kanksje ha hatt på meg en genser over kjolen min. En genser liksom. Sokker, hva er de for noe?? I Oslo er det meldt +1C og sikkert har regnet de siste to dagene…det regnet i dag i to minutter og jeg lurte på om jeg skulle la mathandelen være til i morgen. Det gjorde jeg til slutt.

Jeg åpner øynene mine og smiler. Jeg trives skikkelig på skolen og tenker på gårsdagens hendelser. Jeg ler litt i halvsøvne; hvordan klarte jeg TRE år med ren teori ved UiO? Det beste med bacheloren var jo Den Store Bacheloroppgaven. Jeg trivdes så mye at jeg skrev to. Kunne ha vært et tegn, kjære Leah?? Men det går likar nu. Or whatever. 😉

Jeg ser bort mot klokka. Den er bare seks om morgenen, men jeg vet at jeg kommer ikke til å sove noe særlig lenger. Prednisolonen tar så mye ut av kroppen, uten at den gir meg en ordentlig sjanse til å sove bort bekymringene. Det siste jeg vil er å bekymre Mama. Telefonen lyser med meldinger og snapchats. Anette har kjøpt seg en ny pute med en piggsvin på. Ååå jeg har også lyst!

Og med det kryyyyyyper jeg ut av senga og retter min oppmerksomhet mot presskanna. Det er dag Tjueni, og jeg har ennå ikke funnet edderkoppen fra Dag To.

For Mom and Lori’s sake:

I close my eyes. I see that you are drinking a cup of tea and mmm it smells like peppermint. You have a thick wool sweater on and those big slippers that make everyone a lazy and boring bear in winter. You also watch Lillyhammer on television, but it is I who always gets homesick when I watch it. All the lovely things and bad things about Norway in a brilliant package. Self irony; we all need a little more of it. An ingenious program. I love Lillyhammer. But I love you so incredibly much.

My feet are actually cold, after all it is February, surely people can complain a little, right? Should maybe have put a sweater on over my dress. A sweater. Socks, what are those? ? In Oslo it is reported to be 33F and certainly has rained the past two days … it rained today for two minutes and I was wondering if I should let the grocery shopping be until tomorrow. I left it be.

I open my eyes and smile. I really enjoy school and am thinking about yesterday’s events. I laugh a little in my half sleep; how I managed THREE years of pure theory at Uni Oslo?? The best part of the bachelor was writing the thesis. I enjoyed so much that I wrote two. Could have been a sign, dear Leah ?? But I think I’m getting it figured out. Sure 😉

I look over at the clock. It ‘s only six in the morning , but I know I ‘m not going to sleep much longer. Prednisolone takes so much out of the body, without giving me a real chance to sleep away my concerns. The last thing I want is to worry Mama. My phone lights up with messages and snapchats. Anette has bought a new pillow with a hedgehog on it. Ohhhh I want one, too!

And with that I crawl out of bed and drag my attention to the French press. It is Day Twenty Nine and I have not yet found the spider from Day Two.

Dancing with a Diagnosis

Right so many of you know by now that when I was young, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. And well, unfortunately, I’ve been out of remission since about October. During a flare-up, life is planned by the hour. But I relocated because I was reassured it would all be ok and “taken care of.” That’s another story.

So how on Earth do I travel?! And why on Earth am I here?

Basically I have two reasons for this post:

1)      That my fellow diagnosed friends don’t stay home out of fear, which I suspect a few do.

2)      To reassure you and my mother.

Travelling with UC can be a nightmare if I don’t find my balance. Travelling alone is fantastic. The first time it was a bit daunting for this social ladybug, but it frees so much worry. I am picky about who I travel with if I do bring someone along. They have to be laidback and spontaneous, or at least be open to change of plans. Which lucky me, I have surrounded myself with compassionate people, so it’s all good!

The ideal is that I:

  • bring my own food
  • drink nutrition shakes
  • sleep loads
  • plan one thing or attraction for the day
  • stay in one main spot (no day trips)

The rest of the criteria is very typically me. I usually bounce from café to café (toilet: check), chatting up the manager or barista (social: check), and get a massage at the local spa (relax: check). I don’t do anything that I’m not up for and try not to dwell if I haven’t seen everything on my list. Sometimes just being where we are and in the moment is more than enough and perhaps underrated, huh?

Honestly, I swear to you, it only felt natural to move here. I feel like I am exactly where I need to be, and am so grateful to even have the chance to do so. Had I not gone because of the risk of getting a flare-up, I know I would have regretted it.  I am prepared that there will be challenges, lonely days, extra expenses for medicine and treatment, and homesickness for both countries. There already has been some of this.

I am getting quality health care here as part of my tuition and was a factor when considering where to study. Since stress is such a factor in UC, I try not to think too much about how big of a leap of faith I took by moving here. I am exactly where I need to be, how beautiful is that!

I miss you so very much and would love to dance in the streets here with you, bask in the afternoon sun with each our book or magazine, munching on carrots and drinking iced tea. I will be healthy again soon, I will make you laugh and convince you to book a ticket to come and see me.

All I ask is that you buy some wine in duty free (stay tuned for upcoming post).