By Danielle French

Healthy Living with my Fairy Godmother

Healthy Living with My Fairy Godmother

I’m back home from a wonderful but short visit with my godmother and her husband Eberhart in Germany. Our time together is always great and leaving for me is always sad. I am happy to see how content and lovely her life is and with this visit. I’m taking a little bit of “contentment” home with me, making some healthier resolutions, taking time out for sitting down and enjoying the present moment instead of being on the run as I feel like I am most of the time. I may not be physically moving, but my mind is and sometimes, it needs to be restful.

Breakfast TableWe started every morning of our time together with very long breakfasts and talking. Breakfast consists of platters with a variety of sausages, Italian salamis, liverwurst, jams, local cheeses, sometimes soft boiled or scrambled eggs, Eberhard’s homemade sunflower seed bread, dark rye breads, broetchen (rolls) and pretzels. We lingered at the table easily for a couple of hours. The breakfast was not prepared for our benefit, they both eat this way every day and when we are gone, they listen to music and read the paper talking a bit about this and that in between. We fit in a walk (or nap for Shawn) along the base of the Bavarian Alps and before I know it, time for cake and coffee in the afternoon. Dinner was equally luxurious eating her famous roladen, Eberhart’s special schnitzel, drinking (maybe a little too much) wine and talking about family, about the war, about life.

Growing up

My godmother’s name is Renate but I called her Tante Nati when I was young. She is my mom’s cousin but really more like a sister to her. They grew up together in the war. Tante Nati lost her father when she was very young and my mom both her parents. When her parents died, my mother lived for a short time with Tante Nati and her mother. Like many children at that time, both my mother and Tante Nati left Germany to live in somewhat protected rural areas outside the country, away from the bombings. When the war ended, Renate and her mom came back to Germany with only one bag containing all their belongings. They lived in a small apartment, Renate attending school and my mother moving around to different relatives and a church orphanage. It was a difficult time. I can only imagine how little they had. Resources were scarce.

Mountain range

My mother, father and little brother left Germany when I was four. Leaving Tante Nati for the far away and foreign place of Vermont was a hardship for my mom and even though I was so young, I missed her too. She had come to visit us every Friday night since I was a baby so we formed a bond at a young age. Living in CanadaI remained close to her growing up even though we were living so far away. Using the telephone was a costly luxury in those times so Renate and my mom would exchange reel to reel tapes where they talked forever into the microphone telling each other the stories of their lives, my mother in a new country, Renate as she moved up in her job and the people she met. Sometimes I got to talk on the tape too. Mostly I just listened to them and caught a glimpse of her world. It was a major event for my mom when a small package with a tape arrived at the house. One year, Tante Nati visited with a bike for me. I think my mom must have put her up to this task – making sure her daughter remembered her German roots by riding this bike around the neighborhood. She had carried this bulky package on an overseas flight so I could have a “proper” bike. I loved the bike but I was embarrassed to ride it – it was so different from all the other kids’ bikes. She must have been cursing the entire long journey carrying that bike.

When I was a teenager, Renate was able to find summer employment for me where she worked and then later after I graduated from high school, an au pair position in Hamburg. A visit to Tante Nati’s was always a highlight. She had a great sense of humour, told the worst but hilarious jokes and always had a positive and playful outlook on life. She was the most glamourous woman I knew with her responsible job, she wore beautiful clothes, she was very organized in the way she lived, and she always had fun. It seemed to me she lived just a bit out of the ordinary from everyone else. She had a phase where she smoked cigars (not just the tiny ones!) she stayed up late, she told a lot of stories about her life when she was young and I could listen to them as many times as she wanted to tell them to me. Today, many decades later, she still is all of those things the most glamorous and crazy fun-loving woman on the planet.

Visiting Canada

my familyWhen my girls were born, she came to visit me for one month every year for many years. We would walk the girls to their nursery school or to the playground waiting for them to pick up rocks and interesting leaves or stop whenever they wished. One year, for Olivia’s third birthday party and she and her friends decided it would be good to try out Tante Nati’s expensive face creams on their bodies. She wasn’t all that amused at first but quickly forgot about it. We loved telling that story to Olivia later both of us howling with laughter. We would sit for hours when we tucked them into bed, drinking wine, sipping coffee or organizing drawers. I was her “daughter” as she never had her own children. I think I was enough for her!

We all came to visit her and her husband Eberhard just over a year ago for her 80th birthday, Shawn, me and the four girls. She met her soul mate, Eberhard, later in life – she was about 70 (and he, being the “older man”, had just a few years ahead of her). They met playing golf in Italy and enjoyed each other’s company, they had fun together. She moved from her home along the Rhine river to the home he had built in the south of Germany at the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. It’s a beautiful place and they have a beautiful life together. They watch a lot of sports on television, they eat well and cook together, they travel when they wish and they look out for each other. She jokes that she has the golf handicap of a professional, and I think she does!

Healthy tips

Healthy Living VitalityDespite her few years with smoking cigars, she is the healthiest woman I know. She exercises for fifteen minutes in bed every morning, stretching all her body parts including her eyes and her chin, her fingers and her toes. The entire time she is swishing a mild oil around in her mouth. She says it helps with her gums and her teeth and keeps out toxins from her body. I think her dentist agrees! Later in the day, she peels an inch of ginger and grates it into a cup with hot water. She drinks it every day. I laughed at first (about doing exercises in bed) when she told me a few years ago, now I see her agility, how clear her skin is and the health she exudes.

Eberhard also started these exercises. I think he thought, like me, she was crazy at first. But he seems to have bought into her magic philosophy. It is really hard not to be influenced; her energy and her vitality are infectious. I arrive and I feel like a sloth, tired out in both mind and body. She picks me up.


I’m home again back in the frozen tundra of frozen pipes and the weight of the chores but determined to make some changes. I am going to do the exercises (bed definitely is the warmest place in the house) and try out the oil. I’ll make a cup of ginger tea every day. I’ll eat what I want but in moderation and with an eye for simple, healthy foods.

I’m going to resist taking things “to go” and sit down and take a moment to take in the sun shining, the snow falling or whatever is going on. I’ll take time to enjoy a coffee in the afternoon – maybe even get our team to join me and eat a piece of cake with it!

I know she has sent me home with her crazy spirit and humour and it’s going to keep me energized until we visit again next year.

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