healthcare.

I’m guessing most everyone reading this post has access to healthcare for yourselves and your families, as I do. I know that for myself, having lived with this amazing benefit all my life, it can be easy to take it for granted at times.

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I was rudely awoken from my pleasant complacency a few years ago when we took a family road trip down to Arizona to spend a Christmas with extended family. I’m embarrassed to admit that it didn’t even cross my mind to purchase travel health insurance before we left.

On Christmas Day I had to leave a house full of loving relatives and go find the nearest emergency room due to very scary uterine bleeding. The hospital was beautiful; new and gleaming, and the care was unbelievably good. Within a couple hours I was tested, temporarily ‘fixed up’, and walking out the doors with printed pages in hand, detailing my diagnosis of submucosal uterine fibroids. (Evidently, this is the wrong kind to have; I don’t recommend it.) All the testing had been done right there, without any delays.

Then we came home to Alberta, Canada; where we have a universal, publicly funded healthcare system. Not so gleaming, and not so fast. But I was referred (relatively quickly) to a specialist, who performed an open-abdominal hysterectomy on me within a few months. She told me afterward that it was a good thing I’d had the surgery, as it had really needed to be done. Phew!

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That spring, while waiting for my surgery date, I received a terrifying piece of mail. It was an envelope full of bills amounting to about $12000 for my two hours of treatment in the American hospital. Our extended health insurance (through my husband’s work as a public school teacher) thankfully paid it, so my dreadful feelings of impending doom didn’t last for long.

But my heart goes out to the billions of people in our big old world who don’t have healthcare insurance. Those for whom medical bills spell financial ruin. And those who can’t even access needed medical care in the first place because it simply isn’t available.

Here are some sobering articles that make me appreciate just how good we have it:

Half of the world’s population lack access to essential health services…

and…

World Bank and WHO: Half the world lacks access to essential health services, 100 million still pushed into extreme poverty because of health expenses.

 

Thinking of this doesn’t  just make me grateful I can go to the doctor, get medical testing done, and receive necessary medications (as much as I don’t like taking them)…

I makes me want to help. To support humanitarian organizations who will put people in touch with healthcare.

Here’s a link, in case I’m not the only one who wants to do something about this:

https://www.doctorswithoutborders.ca/

We are so blessed,

Leah 

 

potted garden.

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” ~ Cicero~

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Well, the public libraries have been closed for COVID, and I live in an apartment condo, but I am turning to the bookshelves in our living room and my library book reading app to meet my book needs.

As for gardens, my husband and I are doing some backyard gardening with friends of ours who live nearby. And… we are growing a lovely little potted garden on our balcony!

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I planted some strawberries and tomatoes, lavender and rosemary, also a geranium, some thyme, basil, and cilantro from local greenhouses. Plus, I planted seeds to grow poppies, peas, spinach, arugula, baby carrots, and maybe some other things. (maybe I should have used some markers…?) We’ll see what comes up!

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As you can see, neither our balcony nor our potted plants can boast over-the-top aesthetic value. Still, I have to admit that growing these containers of food and flowers seems to be making me disproportionately happy. Looking out and seeing green life somehow cheers my soul more than it should. And our little garden has invited birds and bees to visit us on the balcony!

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I’m not the only one who finds joy in messing around with seeds, leaves, and dirt. It’s proven to lift our spirits in so many ways. Here are a couple articles that explain in some weirdly fascinating scientific detail (seratonin-producing soil bacteria, anyone?) just how growing any kind of garden can make us a little- or a lot- happier people.

Gardening: The Key To Health And Happiness

How Does Gardening Make You Happier?

We did prioritize south exposure when we bought this home. I can really relate to plants; I need sunshine to feel ok. But even if we were in an apartment across the hall, with a north-facing balcony, we could grow a garden of shade-loving plants. This simple pleasure is available to so many of us, and I’m grateful for the magic of growing gardens.

So blessed,

Leah 

 

food.

We have enough to eat. Every single day.

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Whether it’s a simple loaf of homemade sourdough bread or a delicious family dinner, we don’t face hunger we can’t solve. Not only do we have enough food to eat; we have variety, we have options. Our fridges, freezers, and pantries are so full that we have to be careful to use fresh spinach, frozen meat, and jars of olives before they sit too long and ‘go off’ or get freezer-burned (while we’re busy eating other food from our well-stocked kitchens).

It’s pretty easy for us to get ingredients or meals delivered, pick up our grocery orders at the store, or shop around supermarkets and farmers’ markets for everything we want and need- and then some. How many times have I gotten to the till with a full basket and had the cashier politely ask me if I found everything I was looking for today, only to respond sheepishly that I found plenty more than what I came in for. And I know I’m not alone.

On top of what we buy to eat, most of us can grow even more food. I grew up in the country with parents and grandparents who were avid gardeners. We all helped out with planting, weeding, harvesting, and preserving vast quantities of vegetables and fruits- whether we felt so inclined- or not. It was ‘all-hands-on-deck’. And we raised our children the same way. We had some great times and some hefty harvests over the years. (Enormous zuchini, anyone?)

This spring we’re growing all the veggies we can, plus some herbs and strawberries, in garden boxes at our friends’ places and in containers on our apartment balcony. And thanks to COVID-19, lots more people in lots more places are growing their own food in 2020! Here’s a great news article I found about this ‘silver lining’ on the pandemic cloud.

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~buckwheat & berry muffins adapted from a favourite cookbook~

Not only do we have the means to buy and grow as much food as we can eat, but so many of us in our prosperous society find we can spend a small fortune on cookbooks, diet books (to advise us on various ways of not eating too much food), and dozens of helpful kitchen gadgets to make it more quick, easy, and fun to prepare our food!

We’re inundated with advice on how and why we should build healthy eating habits, as well as warnings about the negative functional impacts (on our energy, mood, and ability to learn, concentrate, and problem-solve creatively) of poor nutrition. All we have to do is follow through with our good intentions to eat well.

We don’t have to live with chronic hunger-induced brain fog, empty shelves and plates, or crying children whose hunger we can’t resolve. (click this link to see a compelling article from the World Food Program…)

“Every day too many men and women across the globe struggle to feed their children a nutritious meal. In a world where we produce enough food to feed everyone, 821 million people – one in nine – still go to bed on an empty stomach each night.”

There’s something most of us can do about this. We can find ways to share. And it starts with recognizing what we have and feeling gratitude for it…

So blessed,

Leah

apartment living.

I live in a high-rise apartment condo. There are 7 levels of parking under the building and 20 floors of homes. Between our tower and its twin is a great fitness club with a lovely salt-water pool, a hot tub, steam rooms, and a variety of workout spaces. We’re right down the hill from the city’s biggest university, and only a few minutes’ drive from downtown. There is lots of traffic on the road out front; part of the Trans-Canada Highway almost passes by our front door. And yet…

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me in my ‘backyard’ last summer

Out the back is a beautiful park with miles of lovely paths for walking, cycling, and even some hiking trails through a pretty Douglas Fir forest across the footbridge over the river.

Although we live almost in the centre of Calgary, we are so blessed because nature is readily accessible just outside our door. Last year on Canada Day (1 July) I was cycling just across the river from our home with my daughter; we were amazed to see a full-grown mama moose walk out a little way ahead of us! For real. She dawdled on the path for a moment before disappearing into the woods on the other side.

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me a bit downriver last summer

I’m sure there are hidden treasures of nature, small or large, to be discovered in most cities. It feeds my soul to be out there.

So blessed,

Leah 

end of migraine.

What a relief! I just recovered from a migraine that had kept me in bed since Sunday…

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This is me, feeling happy that I could half uncover that eye this afternoon, knowing the end was in sight. I get migraines pretty often. Well, very often. But I can catch most of them early with medication etcetera and don’t often get knocked down for days a time. But when I do, I hate it.

I know I’m blessed to have medicines and a supportive family, and a comfortable bed. I appreciate my earplugs and eye mask to block noise and light, and I’m grateful for my Cefaly. It gives me amazing relief during migraines. I alternate between that and ice packs for my head and neck, but my best relief during a migraine is sleep.

Then, it gradually fades away… often leaving my poor head feeling tender; even a bit bruised. But emotionally, I feel a sense of fragile euphoria. Being up, and especially outdoors feels almost too good to be true.

This evening I meandered slowly down to the river just outside with my dear husband. We just sat there together on the riverbank, soaking in the peace and beauty of the sun on the water. I felt like I could really relate to Mole, in Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale,  The Wind In The Willows. He was so relieved to go outside into the spring sunshine after being stuck inside in the dark for so long; so was I.

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“…tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.”

So blessed,

Leah 

hiking.

See that little wee blip on the horizon? That’s the skyscrapers in downtown Calgary!

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We went for a gorgeous hike today, about an hour from home. It was pretty amazing to get this perspective on our city. This picture was taken from the road up to the Moose Mountain trailhead, where we’d planned to start a hike going up above the tree line. Alas, there were at least a couple feet of snow covering the trail, and we weren’t equipped with snowshoes, so we had to come up with a Plan B. I mean, I guess we could have forced our way through, but other hikers had tried this and ended up coming back down after a few minutes of wading through thigh-deep snow. No, thank you.

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Not far off, we found a lovely ‘walk-in-the-woods’ hike. There was almost no snow left on these trails, and it was so warm that we found this very spring-y butterfly perching prettily atop a pussy-willow tree next to our path. We hiked up and down hills in a peaceful pine forest, enjoying a little extra spring in our step, courtesy of the mossy, pine-needle carpeted trails.

The moral of the story is, a change of plans can be a wonderful thing. Serendipitous.

So blessed,

Leah

 

cars.

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My husband and son like to talk about cars, just recreationally discuss them. They enjoy watching shows about cars on T.V., and going to car shows in real life. It’s fun for them to spend hours and hours messing around with cars, fixing them up just how they want them. The things that can be done to cars to make them do car things in better, louder, faster ways are endlessly fascinating to these two people I know and love.

I generally just tune out such talk and activity as background noise. They’re happy, that’s enough. On the rare occasions when my son kindly involves me in such conversations, I try to be a good listener because I love him. But I suspect that my eyes glaze over despite my best efforts. In short, I’m not a car fan.

That said, I am convinced that cars (and by cars I mean motorized vehicles of various kinds, including ambulances) have saved countless lives. And not just directly; how many places in the world are able to have necessary supplies on a regular basis because of trucks? And I don’t have to wonder how many people would miss out on countless experiences and opportunities without the ability to get from one place to another in a relatively short time, without cars.

I love the mountains, lakes, and beaches. I’m able to access such places to go hiking and camping only because of the invention of the automobile. I also love my grown children and sisters and parents and cousins and other relatives. I’m able to live hundreds of kilometres away from these dear people and still see them fairly often thanks to cars.

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Also, grocery shopping. Errands. Going to IKEA. Church. Dates. Late-night movies. Doctor’s appointments. Library visits that end with large stacks of books. Apart from vacations and extended visits with far-off friends and family, there are thousands of little, practical ways that cars make our day-to-day lives so much more convenient and comfortable.

Where I (and a lot of other people) live, most things are more accessible by such vehicles. People who don’t drive, whether out of necessity or by choice, still benefit from buses, rides in cars, and things being delivered to shops etc nearby, usually by truck or van. It’s how we get to the farmer’s market, the hospital, the bank, and the ski hill. And it’s how Amazon gets to us.

In my heart I sometimes yearn for the long ago or far away walkability of being able to get around without cars; I’m not going to lie. And when we lived in England, I enjoyed a lot more of that. But even there, castles in the country were easier to get to by car.  

Any way I look at it, I can’t get around being grateful for the blessing of cars. They help.

So blessed,

Leah 

 

city parks.

“In merging nature and culture the most successful cities combine such universal needs as maintaining or restoring contact with the cycles of nature, with specific, local characteristics.”
― Sally A. Kitt Chappell, Chicago’s Urban Nature: A Guide to the City’s Architecture + Landscape

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This afternoon my love and I took our bikes out for a beautiful ride along the river… It wasn’t as warm outside on the cycling path as I’d optimistically hoped, so I stopped after a few minutes to put on my light sweater jacket. And zip it up. A bit breezy. But that’s ok; I’m still feeling celebratory about venturing outdoors without mittens, or even gloves.

We pedalled east, along with the flow of the beautiful blue-green Bow River… and it didn’t take us too long (maybe half an hour?) to arrive at our destination; Prince’s Island Park. It’s actually right downtown, and all the people were out enjoying the spring weather along with the two of us today. Well-spaced out. (Thanks, COVID-19.)

We saw Canada geese (some of our nation’s most unfriendly inhabitants), other cyclists, dogs (making us wish harder for one), and people in bikinis (seriously) and hammocks, walking, sitting, and lying on the grass. I had a sudden urge to feel my bare feet in the warm grass, which is starting to show signs of turning green. It felt SO good!

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Country living is a dreamy ideal, a memory from my childhood, but not realistic for me now. Clearly, I’m not alone; most people live in cities. I really appreciate city parks that give us beautiful and free access to nature, even in the middle of urban places.

So blessed,

Leah 

happier.

“One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.” ~Gretchen Rubin~

This is one great podcast. It’s the first one I ever started listening to, and still a favourite.

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This woman is brilliant. Actually a genius. She left a promising career as a Yale-trained lawyer to become a writer who researches happiness. Also, her smart and funny younger sister, Liz, joins her; the podcast episodes are a dialogue between the two of them, with occasional guests interviewed from time to time.

Most episode include these cute little sections: “Try This At Home”, Happiness Hack”, and “Demerits and Gold Stars” (pretty funny, t.b.h.). These two. Anyway, there’s a huge community of listeners, many of whom write and call in with questions, answers, and sometimes rather amusing arguments.

I’d read some of Gretchen Rubin’s books, beginning with The Happiness Project, and Happier at Home). Eventually I read her newer offerings, and wrote little blog posts about these two: Better Than Before and The Four Tendencies. When I learned she had a podcast, I was excited to hear her talking about all these ideas. But when I heard their voices I was surprised; they sounded so down-to-earth. I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe more cerebral-sounding voices?  Anyway, I find their unabashed openness and vulnerability super relatable.

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Liz (l) and Gretchen (r)

When I first started with the Happier podcast, I was binge-listening for a while as I started at the beginning and gradually ‘caught up’. Now, of course I just listen to them as they’re released. They often make me laugh, and I always learn something or at least get a little vitamin-shot of motivation to look at things a bit differently, and I think it does make me happier, in real life.

So if you’re interested in listening in on this fun little world, here’s where you can find it:

Happier Podcast

Or you may just want to check out this little list:

Best Of Happier Podcast

Enjoy, my friends!

So blessed,

Leah 

p.s. I always do something else while I listen; often ironing or putting away laundry.

water.

“Water is life, and clean water means health.” ~Audrey Hepburn~

We are so rich; we have pure, fresh water. As much as we want, a few steps away. Flowing from the taps in the kitchen and bathroom. Pouring freely into our drinking glasses and bathtubs. We don’t have to choose between laundry and a shower; between cooking and gardening.

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In so many parts of the world, people have to trek long distances, collect dirty surface water, suffer illness and even death because they lack this one simple thing. Any day in which we wake up and drink as much clean water as we want, is a good day.

I found this recent, distressing article published by the World Health Organization:

1/3 of world’s people without safe drinking water…

As a world, we’re facing the COVID-19 pandemic. We know it’s highly infectious, but we can so easily protect ourselves, in large part by simply washing our hands. Ok, no problem. Suddenly we’re all lathering up more times in a day than ever before. So we use a little- or a lot- more soap and hand lotion than we’re used to going through. All righty.

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Photo by mrjn Photography on Unsplash

Do we appreciate what a privilege this is? All we have to do is be more mindful of handwashing. The clean water is there, waiting for us to turn the taps. It’s pure and we can run it warm. Meanwhile, billions of people- people just like us- have to face the threat of COVID-19 with little or no access to safe water.

Here’s an even more recent, and equally distressing news article:

Vulnerable countries could see 1 billion COVID cases…

It’s not just ventilators and face masks. It also comes down to water, or a lack thereof. While we do what we can every day to avoid wasting water, and donate a little of our income to help provide water to those most in need of it, let’s make sure we take a moment to really appreciate our next refreshing drink of water.

So blessed,

Leah 

p.s. I use extra water from the kitchen and dining room to water my houseplants. Every little bit helps a little, right?