When my father turned 80 this past month, I racked my brain to come up with the perfect gift. A new book? A sweater? A fabulous dinner out?

Pot Brownies.

But then I remembered it’s still illegal in Florida so we went to the Netherlands.

My folks came to Europe to visit and we decided to drive up to Holland to visit my father’s ancestral home in the Friesland area of Holland.

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There are 3 notable things about the northern most provence:

  1. There are more cows than people.
  2. It’s flatter than Kansas after a tornado
  3. “The Dutch are Very Practical People.” Famke Jannsen

I tried to find an organized road race where I could talk about Parkinsons, EU Parkinsons Foundation, about my family, about my adventure and about fitness in that part of the world. But I couldn’t find one. So, I just went for an un organized 5k run. It was… practical. I wandered a bit too far down the road and interrupted a city hall meeting with almost the entire town. Despite their physical cues against it, I managed a quick selfie.

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We stayed on a working dairy farm a stones throw from the farm of my forefathers. Farming is no joke – but they’ve mastered it. The barns are functional but not completely mechanical. The houses are built for the strong North Sea winds but not too comfy that you get lazy. The food is good but not that good…  My daughter loved exploring the farm. She pet every cow and calf, every barn cat, every goat, every flea. By day three everything we owned smelled like cow.

Our second night  on the farm one of the cows went into labor. My fabulous farm night sleep was interrupted with horrific sounds coming from the barn. Having had a natural birth, and with my body shivering in sympathy, I leaned out the window and shouted, “HANG IN THERE SISTER!”

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The next day, I made it known that all I wanted out of my Big Dutch Adventure was a photo in front of a windmill. So classic – so Dutch – so perfect! My parents were resting so I grabbed my 4 year old and declared,

“WE WILL NOT RETURN UNTIL WE HAVE FOUND A WINDMILL!”

After an afternoon driving through flat farms, passing cow, sheep, goats, more cows, dodging small bicycles, tandem bicycles, cows riding bicycles? bicycles leaving pot cafes riding two feet per hour….  we found it. WE FOUND A WINDMILL! The clouds parted, the sun shown down upon us and my sidekick took the photo. We climbed back in our car and drove home, triumphant! I finally had my windmill photo!

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Back together again, we explored the downtown and the family butcher shop which, turns out, is still family owned. My father connected with family he hasn’t seen since 1949 and we replicated a family photo 50 years later.

One afternoon we explored the nearest college town called Leeuwarden. I thought about grabbing my father a robust brownie to take the edge off his Parkinsons but that’s just not his style. We enjoyed the view. Canals, house boats, steep pitched roofs and tiny doorways. We ate some marzipan.

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Then we ate some more marzipan.

I’m asked a lot about my diet and lifestyle. It’s become very practical – very Dutch. Drink a glass, not the bottle. Eat a chocolate square, not a chocolate bar. Lean protein, fruits, veggies, nuts seeds, fresh air, a daily sweat, a daily sweet, family, friends, laughter, prayer, contemplation, meditation, forgiveness and thankfulness.

As this election cycle comes to a much needed end, (WTF is going on over there? I leave for 3 months and the whole country goes to hell in a handbasket.) I’m going to focus less on addressing negativity and more on being an encourager, a joy-giver. As the holiday season comes racing towards us like a rabid bull, I’m going to focus less on living a lavish lifestyle of presents and parties and more on living a thankful life.

imgres.png“Theres always something to be grateful for.”

I’m going to be thankful for five things every single day. It’s easy. It’s free. It’s healing. It’s as good for the heart as a long run, takes half the time and you can do it in yoga pants at the grocery store check out or while on a bicycle – in the Netherlands – playing chicken – with a cow.

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I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful for the rare opportunity to learn about our shared history. I’m thankful for travel, good food, and windmills.  I loved the Netherlands and I can’t wait to go back.

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It’s fashion week in Milan, Italy. That means 3 things for me.

  1. I wish I was still young and thin and wrinkle free enough to walk a runway or pose outside Jimmy Choo with a pair of shoes three times my income.
  2. I wish I were wealthy enough to buy said pair of shoes
  3. I wish I had picked a different week to visit the city – because at this time in this city, I had to stay…

IN A YOUTH HOSTEL.

For those of you who have never back packed across Europe, visited NYC on NYE or ran out of money a week before pay day, let me enlighten you to the realities of hostels.

  1. You’re sharing a kitchen, living area, bathroom and sometimes bedroom with complete strangers who sometimes lack the finances (and possibly hygiene) to stay at the Four Seasons or even the local HOJO.
  2. Strangers can be a gift from God. They can also be s&m dungeon masters who rock the bed from 11pm – 12am, 2:15 – 3am, 4 – 5am? pausing for a smoke break on the shared terrace 2 feet from your bunk bed.
  3. see “bunk bed.”

Thankfully, I was traveling with a good friend and 3 children so we had a private room and I had someone to commiserate with at 1130pm, 230am, 430am….

Italian drivers are insane. Mopeds will hit a pedestrian for sport. But I take my hat off to this local. Because the birthplace of modern fashion means getting home from the runway …. on a bike …. at night … in 3 inch pink heels.

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Italy is beautiful. The architecture on the main roads is lovely but most captivating are the tiny archways tucked between store fronts that expose incredibly beautiful courtyards – hidden gems that are mostly missed by the greedy millennials racing around looking for the best bargain Prada to impress their friends back home.

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The expresso was invigorating but the cup so small I felt less glam drinking it and more like I had taken the blue pill and gone down the wrong rabbit hole. The food was incredible. Smoked meats, artesian cheeses, crisp, local vegetables soaked in home grown olive oil plucked by Sophia Lauren. Heaven.

I didn’t run in Italy. Partly because I couldn’t find a race in the area and partly because I was so sleep deprived I would have finished some time the following day.

Enter Switzerland.

First, I have been shocked by how close the countries are. I drove from Germany to Italy in less than 5 hours and went back to Germany via Switzerland in the same amount of time. The Alps are incredible. St. Moritz is probably the most beautiful part of the world I’ve seen thus far. The mountains climb so high they disappear into the soft, fluffy clouds. The alpine water below is the most captivating color of blue/green I’ve ever seen up close.

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The villages are full of stone and plaster cottages heavily adorned with detailed mosaics harking a time of skilled artists and craftsmen. Every mile was a chapter from a fairy tale and the children were awe struck at every mountain switchback turn.

On Sunday I ran. It was less than 3k but it felt like a marathon. Partly because I was exhausted, partly because it was all hills – IN THE ALPS. My friend and I were trying to find any excuse why it was so difficult. Altitude? Only 5,000 feet. Distance? Ridiculously short. Sometimes I run and finish first, other times my legs feel like lead and I think back to all my past sins for fear of an impending stroke. I do it all to raise awareness for Parkinsons Disease but sometimes it sucks.

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I was completely alone after the first 400 meters. The cobblestone hurt my knees and I was grateful when I got onto the trail up the mountain. Then the fear set in. The fog was thick and the rain started to fall. Mist – Rain – Huge mountains – Quiet – Hillside… Lions? Tigers? Bears? Loch-Ness Monster? SHIT. I’m totally going to die up here.

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Then a thin elderly man wearing a grey hat with a green feather (can’t make this stuff up) ran past me. THANK YOU JESUS! As soon as he appeared he was gone into the mist but I instantly felt better. Sometimes a good friend calls just when we needed to hear their voice. Sometimes it’s the break we need at work or the cash you find in an old pair of jeans. Sometimes the serial killer runs past you with a stupid feather in his hat because it’s just not your day today.

Sometimes, God shows himself right when we need a reminder that we’re not alone. Maybe it’s a friend that grabs her kids and sleeping bags and says, “hell yes i’ll road trip with you!” Maybe it’s the accolade that comes when you were feeling unappreciated at home, a hug from a partner you felt drifted, a note from an old friend. We all need to be reminded to keep the faith, keep on keeping on, Run to Win.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121.

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