What Do You Think of When You Hear the Word Cancer?

What Do You Think of When You Hear the Word Cancer?

I feel a lot of different emotions, and meanwhile various thoughts dance through my head.

Thoughts such as…
Oh gosh, now who?
Please, you are kidding me…
I don’t feel safe.
When will there be a cure?
Not again!

Emotions include…
Fear. Sadness. Grief. Worry. Humility. Shock. Hope. Hopelessness. Helplessness. Vulnerability.

Am I the only one that feels there are weekly announcements about someone I know having cancer, whether that be someone I know personally or indirectly, such as the friend of a friend? It seems to be becoming a more and more common occurrence which is why my first thought tends to be, ‘ Now who?’

My father passed away of brain cancer at the age of 66, and both my maternal grandparents died of cancer at a similar age. Now my uncle is on his deathbed after discovering bone cancer about one month ago. I also have a distant cousin who wrote a book called The Cancer Coach after his battle with melanoma (which he won and thus felt compelled to write a book). He wrote a truly wonderful story about his battle. Darren and his wife moved to Portugal and were living a dream life until he died of stomach cancer this spring at the young age of 55. I am sure all of you have similar stories or maybe you’ve beat cancer yourself!

I listened to a podcast recently by a very experienced functional medicine doctor who has been practising medicine for over 40 years. After listening to this podcast, I was left with hope, not hopelessness. And this is why.

Dr. Hyman described how there are two ‘parts’ of cancer. One being the disease itself and the other part being ‘the host’. What he was basically describing is that you do have some measure of control over cancer, and you execute that control by boosting your immune system. He reminded us we have intricate and powerful ways of fighting the spread, by changing the environment of the host. Traditional therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation combined with changing the host IS the best way.

We can take our health into our own hands in many ways. For example, if you were told tomorrow that you had cancer, and then were told that there was nothing to be done right now but the doctors would “actively survey” it by doing a scan once a month. You might think, excuse me? How is that “active”? There is nothing ACTIVE about that suggestion. In other words, the medical team would be saying that they hope nothing comes up. Personally, I would feel like a sitting time bomb. What exactly is happening to my body’s physiology as the month passes?

This is where control comes in. We know that cancer loves an environment that holds sources of inflammation. So this could be someone with obesity, environmental toxins, or metabolic conditions like diabetes. However, we need to highlight that chronic stress and worry are also huge inflammation drivers. With regards to toxins, I often wondered about my own father’s handling of pesticides and herbicides in the 50s and 60s, with very little protection to his skin, lungs, etc. I personally feel these toxins might have contributed to his death.

There are precancerous cells in all of us. Yes, right now as you read this, you have precancerous cells. But – not all of them become invasive. Knowing what I just said that you have precancerous cells in your body right now, my question is… what are you doing RIGHT NOW in order for them not to grow and proliferate?

There are many systems within our body. In functional medicine we plot these systems in a matrix; gut, immune, energy or mitochondrial function, toxins, cardiovascular system, hormones/neurotransmitters, structures (skin, bones, etc.). All these systems work together, and they regulate your health. Blood work can tell us a lot about how well these systems are working, but it doesn’t tell us all of it. Going back to the host example, rather than focusing on the site of the disease, such as the prostate, it would be far wiser to focus on a flaw that might be affecting one or more of the systems. In other words, a person who has breast cancer might have a lot more in common with a person that has colon cancer, because the systemic breakdown might be of the same origin, because the actual manifestation of the disease may have been due to poor metabolic health. We can dive deeper into each of these systems with specific specialized tests, such as a stool test, which presents an incredible amount of information on the health of the gut microbiome.

I am not saying that you need to order such a test, but if you are someone that has always suffered from gut issues, then that would be an option for you. These specialized tests are different from a stool test your doctor orders which tests for pathogens, parasites, and markers of disease. The specialized stool tests measure dysbiosis or the number of healthy bacteria compared to unhealthy bacteria found in the gut lining. The prevalence of certain types of bacteria are often correlated to specific conditions. This can range from constipation to autoimmune diseases. If you are someone that has always contracted colds, viruses, etc. then you might want to consider a test for your immunity, which could be a gut/stool test because your immune system runs along your gut wall. If you have suffered from skin disorders all your life such as rosacea, psoriasis, then you know your immune system is constantly being attacked. If you have PCOS, horrible cramping, or other menstrual issues, then. you know that your hormonal balance is off, and so on. If you are on blood pressure medication, that is another sign of poor metabolic health.

What I am saying is that you already have a pretty good hunch as to how healthy you are right now, and if you are on medications directly associated with less-than-optimal health relating to any of these seven systems I have listed, then perhaps you need to start thinking less from a place of ‘ there is a pill for every ill’ and instead ‘ what am I doing in the areas of prevention’?

Here are some simple suggestions you can incorporate today, none of which are new but all of which are incredibly simple!

Exposure to Toxins: Consider the exposure to body care products with things like lead and parabens in them; make sure to always check the ingredients. Wash your produce and eat organic when you can. Basically, reconsider the air you breathe, the toxic exposure of the food you place in your mouth, and the water you drink daily. Perhaps you might want to relocate.

Movement: There are simply no excuses for this. Move every day. I don’t care what you do. Just move.

Nutrition: Eat quality food, at least 80% of the time. Don’t get bogged down with the latest diet fads. It is really, really simple. Limit sugar as many research articles have proved that cancer loves sugar as it relates to cancer cell proliferation.

Thoughts: Stay in your lane. Stop being concerned about what others are thinking. Mind your own business. Stop worrying. Do your best, forget the rest.

Take control of your own health: What does this mean to me? It means getting yearly check-ups and getting curious about my own blood work. If your doctor responds to questions you have about blood markers being out of range with dismissive comments like, “Oh, but you’re young [or old, or healthy], don’t worry about it,” just know that none of that is acceptable. To me, age is simply a number. I am healthier now than when I was in my 30s, and I plan on getting healthier in the years to come. In fact, I had a recent appointment at the Lipid Clinic where the physician calculated my risk for cardiovascular disease/incident. He used a graph to determine my ‘risk ratio’. Age was used as one of the markers in determining the risk. Personally, I disregarded that marker. I mean, I totally understand how these tables are created; the studies extract data from a specific cohort of individuals that are not me (and sadly many of these studies are done on men, not woman). I appreciate the expertise, but in the end, I will decide by how I feel.

Just some ‘food for thought’. You have the right to make your own decisions about your own health. If you are wondering why I had an appointment at the lipid clinic, I suspect that I have a gene variation that makes it difficult for me to rid cholesterol out of the body since my LDL levels are high. The bottom line is that I needed more tests to determine this. I know what those tests are and will be asking for this. My knowledge of functional medicine allowed me to go in there very informed. Otherwise, I might have taken the suggestion of ‘preventative care’ and now be on a statin.

The problem with our current medical system now is that they treat the disease – rather than find the cause. Our current system views scans, scopes, and tests like mammograms as preventative medicine. That is far from preventative. That means the disease has been there months and even years prior to it being discovered. We need to become our own detectives but in a way that we do not become hypochondriacs. We also need to be highly respectable to the excellent physicians and staff that are out there and who want to change the state of healthcare.

In summary, I do think we can change the state of our healthcare, but we all need to want to change. And we do this one step at a time. As with all change we want to create, it starts with you. You and one day at a time, one step at a time.

I wish you a healthy day, week, month, and years to come.

Since the time this post was written and the time you are reading this, my uncle has passed this 3-D world to one that is much greater. May his dear soul rest in peace and his spirit fill the beautiful hills and valleys where he spent all his mortal life.

The Universe is Always Working With You: Will You Work With It? | Part 2

The Universe is Always Working With You: Will You Work With It? | Part 2

If you recall from Part 1 of this post (look at the prior post from last week), you have the choice all day, every single day, in how you see yourself, think of yourself, and believe in yourself. This will literally change your molecular structure! And this brings in the law of polarity.  Feelings are neither good nor bad. That would be like saying seasons are objectively good or bad, but the way you see snow can be completely different from another person. For example, snow to a snowboarder it is heaven, but to  a surfer it is hell. When you look inside, and you start to judge your feelings as good or bad, then you are creating a reality of yourself. You are bringing this concept of yourself, with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ aspects, into reality.

Tip: Next time you have a bad thought, instead of judging it as bad, maybe name it ‘interesting’ instead.

Once you focus on the person you want to be and only see yourself as this person, it comes right back to you, and you will become that person. If you look inward and see yourself as beautiful, whole, exceptional, sensational, magnetizing, and if you move through your day participating in behaviours that reflect this state, then you are that person. It is about becoming focused and aligned to what you want. Going back to the law of polarity, I want you to think of the molecules that make up a nonmagnetic piece of metal compared to a magnetic one. The molecules themselves are not what makes one metal magnetic over the other. Instead, it is how the molecules are aligned. I cannot be a political figure since I never resonated with this identity, ever. I cannot be a nature hater because I identify myself as a nature lover. Do you get it? You cannot become someone unless there is some part of you that sees you as this person. Pick one trait you LOVE about yourself and realize that YOU BELIEVE this about yourself with unshakeable conviction. You have never second guessed that part of you. That is the only reason you are ‘that’ – it is because of a belief. Belief comes only with practice, intention,  and repetition. That’s it. The challenge lies in the fact that you need to allow that belief to come in. As much as you might desire your goal, unless you THINK you can get behind that goal, it is not going to happen. When I say get behind it – you need to raise your emotional energy and vibrate at the same frequency of a person who already has your goal you desire. How does that person walk into a room? How does that person hold their head? How do the muscles on their face look? Do they have a slight rise in the corners of their mouth? Do they look relaxed? Are they humorous to those around them? Do they assume the best, or expect the worst? Do they show trust and faith? Or are they judgemental? You will see the shift happening, at first ever so subtle, but then it becomes more consistent and easier. This is where the law of perpetual transmutation of energy comes into effect. This law means that even the smallest actions can result in profound effects. It is like planting a seed and recognizing that it has a gestation period. That recognition allows you to be patient and trusting of the process. Think of it as accessing a muscle that you have never accessed before. It is like ’ Wow, I never knew that muscle was even there’. This analogy simulates expanding your mindset.

And from here, it only gets better. 

You shift faster and faster and it gets easier and easier to change your mindset, which changes your reality. You become more faithful to the process because you notice you ‘feel’ differently. The more you practice, the quicker you achieve your desire – whatever that might be. It takes the same amount of energy to dream big as it does to dream small – so why not dream big? You might be wondering, does this mean if you master vibrating at a higher frequency, then your life will be perfect?

Heck no!

Why? Because of another law of the universe called the law of perpetual motion. You likely have heard of the term “life is a rollercoaster” or “ life has its ups and downs,” and this is true. However, each stage of life, with all its challenges, has many gifts to offer. If you can see the challenges as opportunities, then when they knock on your door you can ask, “ What lesson are you teaching me today?” It is very likely that in the future, you will look back and value the lesson learned. The last two remaining laws are some of the most beautiful. The law of giving and receiving is about balance, maintaining an equilibrium or a level of homeostasis in life.  I see this as being one of the most important laws of the universe in terms of how this law is connected to the most precious gifts – our health. When a symptom arises it is a sign of dis-ease (of mind, body, or soul), which in turn alerts us to take notice. Whether that symptom comes in the form of anxiety, cold, a rash, an auto-immune disease, or whatever,. it is telling us something. The body always wants to return to equilibrium. The law of compensation is the universe’s way of taking care of us, and it would be to our advantage to acknowledge and trust in this law. Basically, it states that we will receive payment for all our service as long as we are open to receiving it. We must stay open and expansive and not closed and tense. Once we become aware of our worth – then we are compensated freely and easily. This can be in the form of love, money, health, joy, and acts of kindness. Realizing your potential ,which includes and believing in and honoring your potential, is very important for this law to manifest in a positive way. Remember, the law will respond similarly to how you feel. If you feel you are worthless and have nothing to contribute to the world, then your results will be reflective of this law. Trust in yourself. Trust in the universe. Believe in yourself. Remember that the Creator has given you a great gift: the ability to choose every single day how to think, feel and believe. Feel from a place as though your desires and dreams have come true. If you do this I am convinced you will move through your day with so much more joy. You will see the world is a lovely place to be living. 
The Universe is Always Working With You: Will You Work With It? | Part 1

The Universe is Always Working With You: Will You Work With It? | Part 1

It all begins with you.

And therefore, you can’t wait for anything else to change – not your external environment, your location, or another person in your life.

You are responsible for your feelings and your perception of your situation.

A feeling, which is energy, is sent through vibrations and is reflected back unto you. This can be used in your favor or to your detriment. It is your choice. 

“But it’s not easy to change, Luella.”

I know… but most things worth living for are not easy. However, the idea is simple. With reference to the  statement above ‘A feeling, which is energy, is sent through vibrations and are reflected back unto you’ describes four laws of the Universe or laws of Nature. There are 12 Universal Laws as described by writer and spiritual coach,  Jessica Estrada. The law of divine oneness states that we are all connected through creation; in other words, every atom inside you is connected to the universe as you move through it. The law of attraction (you attract what you focus on)  is the law of vibration (everything in the universe has a frequency and a vibration) in action. And the law of cause and effect states that whatever you send out, you get back (or what some describe as karma).

Everything in the universe is already created. You do not need to create anything. It is all right in front of you right now. You cannot use the term “I will be” because everything is already here and done. You simply just need to attract it to you. Step into a new version of yourself and the universe will respond to you – it must – it is part of all the laws just mentioned.  They cannot be out of sync with one another. That is why I AM needs to be stated instead of I will be. For example, if you wanted to attract more confidence into your life, you would say “I AM confident.”. However, you must FEEL as if you already have it – because it is the feeling, the emotion, that places the energy into the universe.

And yes, this is the most difficult part. How do you feel something good when you perceive everything around you to be bad?

You leave it up to the universe to show you the way.

Just keep elevating your feeling and you will see…

It only gets better. 

To get the energy in motion, we need to leverage the law of inspired action. This involves making the “I am” statements described above and then acting in some way to make them come to fruition. You cannot just simply think these thoughts, there needs to be some form of action – you need to show effort. This can be done through journaling, identity boards, mirror affirmations, gratitude, but eventually it needs to become more than this. The expression of gratitude has been a proven method of uplifting your energy state.

I will remind you that baby steps are key in the transformational process. Otherwise, it will seem in surmountable. You take action, you fail, you course correct, and continue to move forward and focused on the end goal. Most of us have been trained that that it must be difficult to achieve, or those kinds of things happen to other people but not me. But this is simply not true. 

If you take baby steps towards your goal, you will see how your vibrational energy shifts much more easily and you will start trusting the process more. It is a way to build your faith muscle to believe it can only get better and better. And it does.

Now the law of relativity is a beautiful law that helps us to move away from self-judgement and more towards acceptance. Self-judgement, poor self-worth, guilt, and shame flood most people’s subconscious minds without them even realizing it! We all have these types of thoughts at different levels. For example, many mothers feel guilt and shame over not being the perfect mothers their children deserve.   This type of self-judgment is something we all do, and it’s stopping ourselves before we start. We have guilt, shame, inadequacies flooding ourselves and they are all lies!

Most people came to me for therapy work because they needed to change their limiting beliefs or thought patterns about who they are or what their destiny may hold. They saw themselves as broken or damaged, and therefore won’t pursue what they really really want.  In their mind’s eye ‘ it is done, it cannot be changed’. What they are describing is the law of correspondence. Novalle Wilder states are lives are created by subconscious patterns and it is the repetition of these patterns that either propel us or hold us back. What most people do not understand however, is that the law works both ways; it can be used to your advantage or against. It is your choice. Do you want to create better patterns to override the bad?

If your answer is YES, then there is good news. You can change your limiting beliefs by changing how you feel.

More on this in next week’s post!

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

If you’re like me, when you hear or read these words, you probably think of the song by The Clash. But that’s not what this post is about, I promise. For the last few days I have been busy creating a Master Class called Question your Connection, which centers around the topic of whether or not to leave your current marital or common-law relationship.

I hope many of you who are reading this have not questioned whether they should stay or go, but from my own experience as a therapist and coach, I know that many people entertain this thought – even just briefly.

Unfortunately, for many people it is not a fleeting thought. In fact, as I was creating my Master Class, I realized that one of the signs that your relationship is struggling is spending a lot of time dwelling on the relationship – whether you need to exit, seek counselling, where you might live (even temporarily), finances, custody, the reactions of your friends and family, and of course, the children.

That’s why, I chose the title of the post that I did. It is not a question that anyone wants to find themselves asking and yet many couples are faced with this push-pull emotion. You love your children so much and do not want any harm or hardship to come their way because of ‘your problem’. But the fact is, it is not ‘your problem’ – it is a family systems problem. There are all sorts of reasons for a relationship to break down, so of course I cannot assume any party’s level of responsibility or provide specific marital advice, but I feel it is safe to say that if you’re having these thoughts, it is now a family issue.

Referring to the title of the post, maybe a better question to ask is: What is More Important? My Own Mental Health or My Children’s? The answer is …your own mental health is more important.

How can you be the guide, mentor, educator, and provider for your children if you’re suffering and consumed with negative thoughts? I am not saying that separation will immediately relieve anyone of unhealthy thoughts, but if the root cause of your happiness is not being aligned to your partner, then how are you showing up for your children? If you do not respect your partner, if you cannot love your partner without evidence of his or her love for you, then how are you showing up in the world? You shouldn’t need to have evidence of your partner’s love; it is instead a type of knowing. You should just know. Regarding your children’s well-being, there are a few things we need to realize. The first is that we don’t know how the children will move through this and, in fact, if both parents have the children’s best interest at heart, it might not be as emotionally disruptive as some couples think. Of course, the extent of the impact on the children is extremely variable and largely dependent on their age at the time of separation, whether both partners agree with the need to separate, the parents’ own mental health at the time of the separation, and so on. However, for the sake of simplicity of this post, a parent’s mental health is far more important than the child’s emotions upon separation. Why? For the same reason that you’re instructed to place the oxygen mask on your mouth before your child’s if the plane goes down. How can you raise, nurture, and guide your children in a loving and respectful way if you can’t authentically present those qualities as a parent?

“You shouldn’t need to have evidence of your partner’s love; it is instead a type of knowing.”

via @luellajonk

We also need to realize that children are much more resilient than we might imagine. In other words, they are quite adaptive to new circumstances if they’re handled in the right way. This is why I am a huge advocate for collaborative practice family law. As mentioned in an interview that I conducted on my podcast I Think, I Can, it centres on what is best for the children, and it incorporates the use of professionals in the separation process, such as financial advisors, relationship coaches, and child specialists. You wouldn’t expect your plumber to know how to install a light fixture, so why are you depending on your lawyer to advise you what is best for your children? 

 Once the children understand that mom and dad seem happier and calmer when they are apart and that they themselves are still well cared for, attended to, loved, and supported, they will adapt. The length of time for adaptation is, again, very much related to how mom and dad are conducting the separation process. Some examples of unhealthy practices include parental alienation, using their children as messengers rather than speaking to one another, and just plain kindness. My advice always is to treat your ex as you would a business partner; be cordial and respectful.

My Master Class will touch on other nuances to consider when deciding if separation seems to be the right course of action, or, alternatively, measures that you can start incorporating immediately to see if YOU can change the trajectory of the marriage. I will list some suggestions of ways you can empower yourself and change rather than rely on your spouse to change. The advantage of this, of course, is that you become a better person overall, a better friend, parent, employee, and so on. This way, no matter how the relationship manifests, YOU as a person will come out on top. It is for this reason that I prefer relationship coaching rather than the traditional couple therapy work. It brings a sense of you knowing that your partner’s happiness is their own responsibility, and that your job is to focus on your own. When you start focusing on your own happiness, you take responsibility for your feelings. This then comes from a place of empowerment, rather than surrendering to the situation.

There is so much more I could write on this topic, especially due to all the variables involved, only some of which I have listed above. If you are one of those that asked yourself this question, I strongly recommend taking action and finding the answer – whether that be through speaking with a professional, taking a course such as the one I am creating, journaling, and so forth. The most important thing you can do is to attend to it! Do not suppress it, as suppression will ultimately lead to resentment, and further escalate the problem.

If you are questioning the state of your relationship, I am happy to share that I am hosting a Masterclass on this topic.

It is a paid Masterclass that will be held June 8-10 at 12 pm. If you cannot join the live class, then you can catch the replay and listen at your convenience. The cost is $77 US for three hours of content. June 10 will be a Q&A which I feel will be extremely helpful for you to get some answers.

As you can see this is an extremely affordable way of helping you navigate through troubling times.

I trust that you found this information helpful. Do not hesitate to reach out if you require further insight into a troubling relationship.

My Trip to Europe

My Trip to Europe

I recently travelled to Europe, and if hearing about that sounds like something you’d be interested in, read on. I’ll tell you about the many highs and a handful of lows. If you don’t have time to read but are still interested, check out episode 25 of my podcast, I Think I Can.

Let’s just begin with the fact that I can get on a plane again and go across to Europe is something to celebrate. I began my travels in Italy – Tuscany, to be specific. I am not quite sure why I am so fond of Italy. My father is from the Netherlands, so you might think that I would be in love with Holland, but I actually prefer Italy. I was introduced to Europe at the age of 14 when I travelled with my sister to visit our Dutch cousins. I spent a good part of my summer there and had a wonderful time. Thinking back now, it was incredibly generous of our parents to send us abroad, not just in terms of the financial cost, but also because my sister and I helped out a lot at home. We lived on a farm and had two younger brothers who needed looking after, so, as you can imagine, there was always plenty of work for us to do.

As the daughter of a Dutch immigrant, I grew up surrounded by European culture. We often had relatives visiting from overseas, and thanks to them and my father I was immersed in the Dutch language. I loved hearing my parents’ stories about travelling abroad. And, of course, there were my own trips. I was 18 years old when I had a chance to visit Europe again, this time with my parents and a few siblings. We went to see my eldest brother, John, who was posted in Rome with the Canadian Foreign Service. Then, when I was 22 years old, I had the opportunity to work and live in Brussels, Belgium. Finally, when I was 30, I went to Europe with my husband, visiting Italy, The Netherlands, Hungary, and Poland.

This year, I returned to Europe for the first time in almost 22 years travelling alone. What sparked this journey? In part, it was the fact that COVID restrictions were finally ending, and I had the freedom to fly again. Many restrictions have been loosened, and the only time I needed to wear a mask was while in transit (on a plane, metro, train, metro, or bus) I also wanted to visit my brother. He’s retired from the Foreign Service now and has purchased land in the province of Arezzo, Tuscany. I was one of the few remaining siblings that had not yet seen his place. So, that was a big draw as well.

So why did I chose to travel alone?

There are a few reasons. One is that when you enter the second season of your life, something weird happens to you. You realize that life is passing you by and if you don’t start doing the things you have talked about doing, all those dreams and longings that you’ve been holding onto may not happen. I did consider going to Italy later in the year, when my husband would be able to join me, but after such a horrible winter in Manitoba I just couldn’t wait any longer. As well, something that I have on my radar is that eventually I’d like to be able to winter away from Manitoba. Thus, I need to start some early scoping out of different places that I could call my second home. Tuscany seemed to be a good one to add to that list.

I was also haunted by the idea of challenging myself. I knew my life had become too routine, too easy, and lacking the excitement it had in my youth. I hadn’t travelled alone for at least five years and, honestly, the idea of going to Europe by myself and navigating everything in a foreign language kind of scared me.. But as mentioned, my life was in somewhat in a rut. It was Groundhog Day every day – wash, rinse, repeat. I needed to bust out of the cycle, because I knew from experience that it leads to a dead end. I needed a change. I wanted to become a kid again and walk around gazing in awe at everything around me. And that’s exactly what I did.

I spent almost seven days in Tuscany with my brother and his partner. I was spoiled with beautiful walks, beautiful sunsets, fresh delicious food that awoke my taste buds from the boredom of my usual diet. My alarm clock every morning was birdsong. I heard a nightingale sing; I think for the first time in my life. I also met my brother’s neighbours, who soon became friends, and I was able to see what it would be like to live and work in a small Tuscan town.

“I wanted to become a kid again and walk around gazing in awe at everything around me. And that’s exactly what I did.”

via @luellajonk

After leaving my brother I headed back to Rome to rediscover what the capital of Italy had to offer. I was reminded of how ancient it is and saw what city life is like in Italy. I was able to see the Pope for the second time in my life at St. Peter’s Square (the first time when I was 18 at a Christmas Eve blessing). What I enjoyed the most was a tour of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, places where I could easily spend a week viewing the art and curiosities. On other days I also visited many other churches, as well as all main attractions in the city centre. I left no stone unturned during my four days in The Eternal City.

During the flight from Rome to Lisbon, I took the time to reflect on my 10 days in Italy. I realized that I’d learned the following about Italian culture: These people love, love, love connection. I often thought how difficult it must have been for them during the Covid 19 restrictions. Their culture is one of connection. Also, they were very kind and helpful in stores, even though many of them did not know the English language very well.

I will never forget visiting Monte San Savino, which is near my brother’s house. We parked in a small piazza near the centre of the town, and before you knew it, my brother was trading familiar greetings with what seemed to be a massive number of locals. The local butcher and I are now best buds – he loved telling me all about his cows! All the meat is exceptionally fresh.

And, of course, I love their coffee culture, which, again, is highly associated with connecting with others and enjoying the moment instead of feeling rushed. Whether they are meeting a friend for their morning cappuccino or just chatting with the barista while sipping on a caffè lungo macchiato on a sunny afternoon, it is all so nice.. I did not see ONE Starbucks my whole time in Italy! What a breath of fresh air that was. You would NEVER see anyone walking around with a gigantic coffee cup or a travel mug, the Italians would rather sit and enjoy the pleasure of drinking coffee. Another thing to note is the pricing. It doesn’t matter if you get a coffee or sandwich near the centre square or in the suburbs beside a metro station. It is all priced the same and very reasonable. I am sure some shops do a better job than others making that cappuccino, but they all tasted great to me.

The fact that prices for food, drink and many goods are similar across the country feels like an important observation. It doesn’t matter whether you are shopping at a tiny old store on a hidden street or a big supermarket, it is basically all the same prices for food. This is even true of wine, and a $6 bottle is just as delicious as a $15 bottle. Italians believe everyone deserves fresh food of high quality. There is a huge middle class in Italy, and even if you are on the lower range of this middle class, they prove that it doesn’t take a lot of money to look clean and in vogue. It might not be Prada, but I bet it is still leather and not polyester. Their shoes still shine, and they are well groomed. Put it this way, they don’t leave the house wearing pajama pants and slippers. They have a lot of pride in themselves and in their shops as well. You always see shopkeepers sweeping their floors and steps and shining the counters.

It took me a few days to get used to eating as late as the Italians do. Dinner is typically served sometime between 8 and 8:30 pm. However, after I got into the groove of it, I started to really like this routine. It seemed to make sense to me in some ways. People have time to finish their workday, come home, unwind, cook, talk about the day, and share the beautiful food together. It often starts off with antipasti – ‘anti’ meaning ‘before’ ‘anti’ and ‘pasti’ meaning ‘pasta,’ so “food that comes before the pasta”. I enjoyed this as much as I did the actual meal. It usually consisted of salami, prosciutto, olives, artichokes, sometimes cheese, crusty rustic bread, and lots of olive oil. I haven’t yet mentioned the beautiful wines, but that is not hard to guess. I must admit, I very rarely drink, but when I do it is wine, and I did not deny myself of any on this trip. I will also miss the pizzas found on every street corner and in every restaurant. They were all delicious with their thin crispy crust and dollops of bufala cheese (so light and delicious) and perfectly herbed sauces and meats. I miss it all already {sigh}

There were a few things I could have done without while travelling. One of them was waiting, which is something that I always find challenging (but always worth it). This includes waiting at the airport to board the plane, waiting in traffic (only in large cities), waiting to eat, waiting for the seatbelt sign to be taken off so I can go to the washroom. Speaking of washrooms, mama mia, to be a tourist in Rome and need to use a public washroom is mission impossible. There are very few public washrooms (if any) so if you want to use one while out and about, you likely need to step into a shop and pay £1. Another less than fond memory would be the traffic noises, like garbage trucks early in the morning. There is always garbage around the streets. The trash cans are small and coming upon one is infrequent. I should note that I stayed right in the centre of Rome, so of course the noise would simply be expected in order to have a great location near all the attractions.

Okay now on to Portugal. Lisbon is an exceptionally beautiful modern European city. I am not going to act like a tour guide here, as I am not worldly at all. But I wonder if being the host site for the 1998 World Exposition led to huge improvements in infrastructure. The city streets, bike paths, sidewalks, metro system, and parks were exceptionally well maintained. It is a very artful city, with beautifully painted buildings done so tastefully. It is very different from Rome. Rome is ancient and thus many buildings are still crumbling… but that is also what allows for its charm.

As I said, you cannot really compare the two. The weather was exceptional in Lisbon – beautiful warm days in the high 20’s which they tell me is uncommon. Mid-low 20s is more normal. The people were incredibly friendly and helpful. The food was amazing – especially if you are a fish lover. Had my best tuna tartar ever. I tried the fried sardines and, well, it’s not likely that I’ll ever have that on my plate again. It was not that it tasted awful, it was just very different than tinned sardines – which I love!!

I could go on – but this is already a lengthy post so I will stop. However, if anyone reading this wants to know more in order to plan their own trip to a European destination, I would be more than happy to provide tips and suggestions.

And perhaps… I will be writing to you again within the next 6- 8 months documenting yet my next trip? One needs to follow their dreams…. until then arrivederci!