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?
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.
There are 3 notable things about the northern most provence:
- There are more cows than people.
- It’s flatter than Kansas after a tornado
- “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.
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!”
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!
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.
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.
“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.
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.