I lOVE MARY

I am lying here in this private hospital room (because someone with a special condition needed the other room) and I am sad and missing so many people in my life. I have been here for a week and I have created a routine for myself. For the weeks before I entered the hospital, I had created a routine that helped me cope with stress and pain. Every day I watched episodes of the best situation comedy ever: The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

I have watched this show since it premiered in 1970. In fact, I have watch this classic multiple times and I have never gotten bored with it. Even though it is a show from the seventies it still stands out as a brilliantly written sitcom with a very funny cast.

This show is not just about Mary Tyler Moore, it is not just a show about female friendships and it is really not a show about the workplace. This sitcom encompasses the world of the 70′s and somehow works in today’s world. When you step into Mary’s apartment you are blasted with yellow and orange. Mary’s closet could possibly be bigger than her kitchen. They talk about money and how much men make in their annual salaries. A man who makes 30,000 dollars a year is rolling in the dough and a man who makes 13,000 dollars a year is doing pretty well for himself and is quite a catch. They have just started to discuss how low Mary’s salary is (but I think that is coming up pretty soon).

All I can tell you is that Mary and company make me feel good and for that short time each day I forget why I am lying in bed with the heating pad and I am grateful that I can still see this show today. I have just started to watch the second season and I want to watch all of them. I have begun a television list of shows I want to see because they give me a bundle of joy and I am also going to make a list of movies a that I want to see one more time. I will try very hard to keep in contact with you through the blog and I think it will be easier when I get home.

This was Jane’s 208th post and I am sorry to tell you it was her last. She is in the hospital again after being home for just three days. Jane is very, very weak, has trouble speaking and cannot dictate me to write down her thoughts to share them with you.

When Jane started her blog in 2011 she couldn’t imagine she would write so much about such a small country. Jane was very happy in The Netherlands and felt at home. I have been very fortunate I was the reason why she moved here. She gave up her job, social life, friends, country and home. All for love. She is still a very strong woman but can’t win this battle she is fighting.

On behalf of Jane I want to thank you all very much for reading her stories and boekentips.

She will be deeply missed.

In the bedroom

Well, this has been an interesting week. On Wednesday morning I was expecting a nurse to come to the take my blood for a blood test. I was in a deep sleep and I heard the buzzer and for whatever reason, jerked to the right and I felt something pull or pop in my right leg. That shock of pain took my breath away but I knew I had to get up and let the person in. What I quickly realized is that I could barely walk on my right leg. When I got to the door it was the delivery man with a box of protein drinks who I was not expecting. At that point I thought I was either going to pass out or fall into this man’s arms. Finally I dragged myself, holding on to the wall, back to the bedroom and when I sat on the bed I realized I could not get my legs up on to the bed. I tried to control the panic that was about to begin to bubble and I called my partner and asked her to come home from work. So I sat on the edge of the bed waiting for either the nurse or my partner Natascha.

Fifteen minutes later the nurse arrived and that meant I had to get up again, starting hugging the wall for a second time and letting her in. She followed me into the bedroom and we both sat on the bed as she setup the equipment. I felt horrible and I was trying so hard to be brave. She finally asked me if I was okay and I tried to explain to her what happened. Her English wasn’t very good but she understood me enough to help me get my feet up on the bed. She was having trouble finding big enough veins and finally I asked her to get me a juice box from the kitchen. She left and within five minutes Natascha arrived.

I will not go into all the details but I was in a lot of pain and it was very difficult to get out and back into the bed. We believed nothing had been broken. The discussion that I did not want to happen, happened. And it was all about getting a hospital bed. I was really upset with the idea. In fact I hated the idea. A friend came to visit and I explained to her what happened and told her my resistance to the hospital bed. But she is a smart woman (need I say she is a librarian?) and she said to me “Jane, the hospital bed will not  just be easier for you but it will be much better for Natascha.” So a hospital bed was ordered, the doctor came to see me in the afternoon and she believed it was a pulled muscle and getting the new bed was the right thing to do. On Friday the bed arrived and I am now laying in this new spacious bed. I am not 100 percent in love with it but I see the benefits of it. So that has been the drama in my week.

Next week I look forward finding out if I am a candidate for pain treatment or any other kind of treatment. I will keep you posted.

So here is the truth…….

In December I had stomach and back pain which I thought was completely unrelated. My stomach was uncomfortable and sensitive to touch and I felt I needed to eat a lot of antacid. I thought that my back was hurting because of the way I was using the computer so much. Things did not improve so late January I went to see my doctor. She didn’t like the amount of pain I was in and was also mystified by the symptoms. She arranged for me to have an ultra sound the next day.

That day changed my life, as I had an ultra sound and a CT scan. Things moved very quickly and I was told that I would be seeing a liver specialist the next week. During the month of February it was confirmed that my liver was filled with cancer and that it was malignant. If that wasn’t bad enough I was told that the type of cancer that I had is so unique that it’s impossible to treat.

Needless to say this blog has now changed. I will write, when I can, about this process and be honest with you with how things are going. I have some good days and some pretty bad days but I am receiving lots of love and support from friends and family. I think this will be the best way to keep you up to date about my life, by putting it all in the blog.

To be continued….

SHALL WE DANCE?

My mother turns 80 on February 28 and I have a story to share. Here is a photo of her and me, just a few years ago (ha!). Her name is Daphne and she is a remarkable woman.

jane en daphne

I could tell you many stories about her kindness, her brightness and her humor. Her generosity towards friends and strangers is simply amazing, but this is not  that story. My mother has always loved to sing, not in performance, but as she drove, did the grocery shopping or just doing anything around the house. I don’t think she is able to go into the store and buy anything unless she is singing along to the radio or singing her own song.

Years ago, when she was visiting me in Massachusetts, we went shopping. It was an indoor shopping center that was made to look like the old days. Each store opened up into a space that look like a market place. We wandered into a store that sold items from Poland. I remember this very clearly, because there was Polish oompa music being played over the speakers. I was in one corner and she was in the other, and I heard her humming along. There were no Polish words to sing and she did not know any Polish words, but if there was music, she was at least going to hum.  As we looked at the items, we started to slowly move towards each other. My mother tapped me on the shoulder, and as I turned to her, she put out her arms and I, in a complete loss of sanity, stepped right into her arms. We then did the polka right there in the store. In fact, we danced our way right out the door and then we realized what we had done. I was so embarrassed and she was laughing so hard, she had to hold on to me. Let me stress that we are NOT Polish, do not know Polish music or dances, but at the moment, we were as Polish as could be. We then kept walking away from the store, in case they were going to kick us out of the whole plaza.

That is my mother in a nutshell. Finding the little seconds of joy in unexpected ways and not being afraid of what others think. I wish I was as brave as she is. She has given me many things in my life and I am forever grateful for that sense of fun. We could all use a Daphne in our lives. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Recommended reading: WISE MEN Stuart Nadler. A great story of a father and son. I loved this book.   

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

It is so nice to read great books back to back. It is also nice and a relief to read good books that have been wildly praised by critics. Just because a book gets great reviews, does not mean that I will like the book. But when you have eagerly been waiting to read a book, because of the hype, it is a good thing to actually enjoy it. I was lucky with these two books. I am just going to give brief notes on each book and I hope it makes you curious enough to read them.

THE LOWLAND by Jhumpa Lahiri

THE LOWLAND is about two brothers living in Calcutta in the 1960’s. One brother was politically active and was passionate for equal rights. The other brother was a scientist who went to America to further his education. Their lives could not have been more different and that is what made this story so intriguing.

One brother survives and lives his life in Rhode Island. He is a great father and it feels like he has left India behind him. But really, the past is always with him. Ultimately, this is a great family saga.

I have long been a fan of Lahiri and she produces another novel with depth and feeling.

THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt

THE GOLDFINCH was not anything like what I thought it was going to be. Theo is a 13 year old boy being raised by his mother in NYC. On a museum visit, there is an explosion and his mother is killed. The only thing that Theo has from that horrible day is the actual Dutch painting The Goldfinch. He has no one in his life, but he is taken in by the family of a class mate. His long lost father shows up and takes him to Las Vegas. Theo’s life is full of unusual characters and he continues to have his big secret—the painting.

This big novel has a big story to tell. I was never bored and I never stopped caring about Theo and wonder what in the world was going to happen with The Goldfinch. Towards the end, the pages were flying and I was so captivated by the action. This is one of my favorite reads in the last year, purely entertaining and just so much fun to read. Enjoy!

Recommended viewing: I recently saw two fabulous films, NEBRASKA and PHILOMENA. Obviously, they are both very different, but both were very entertaining. You will see two excellent casts and fantastic writing. Both are worthy of the attention they have been receiving.    

12 ANGRY MEN

I just got a summons to serve on a jury. I have lived in The Netherlands for three years and I got a summons from my home town in Massachusetts to show up in April for jury duty. I guess word of my exit had not reached the courthouse.

Here in The Netherlands, there are no juries. There is no trial by jury in the courts. All court cases are decided by judges. It is a hard thing to get used to, as an American…to not have a jury system. But at least I will know that for many reasons, I will not be getting a Dutch summons.

In high school, my acting teacher showed us a film that is still one of my old favorites. He showed us 12 ANGRY MEN starring Henry Fonda. He said “if you want to know about acting, this is the film to see.” And he was so right. The entire film takes place in a jury room as they struggle to come to a verdict. After I got my summons, I remembered this fantastic film and it made me want to see it all over again.   

NEIGHBORS

Many of my friends have been curious about Dutch names. Some of the names are pretty unusual to the ears of Americans and some sound pretty “normal”. But what one person thinks is normal another person thinks is very strange. Here, there are plenty of traditional Dutch names but there are a lot of British and American names too.

It was just in the news about the most popular baby names in The Netherlands in 2013. One hundred and sixty eight thousand babies were born here last year.

The most popular girls names are: Tess, Sophie and Julia. The top three for boys is: Sem, Levi and Bram.

Here are some unusual names and this would be the case in any country, there are always people wanting to be different and creative. For boys: Ridley-Scott, Alpacino, Lexus, Provider and Blessing. For girls there is Tiger-Lily, Queen-Chanelly and Pepper-Seven. Don’t even ask, I have no explanation for these.

There are so many Dutch names that I cannot even pronounce, but mainly my Dutch friends have pretty easy names for me to say: Annelies, Bianca, Monique, Sandra and Marjon. These are some popular baby names that are more traditional for this country: Anouk, Marieke, Fleur, Merel, Bart, Jeroen, Teun, Daan and Henk.

So there you go, what is hip and hot in Dutch culture today. I still think my favorite first name is Rembrandt.

On another subject, today I had my second Dutch mammogram. I wrote about my experiences two years ago, and not much has really changed. The machine is the same, the posing and pushing and pulling is the same and the technicians seem to be the same. But this time I know a little more Dutch.

I explained to the technician, in Dutch, that I was an American and that I spoke very little Dutch. She nodded and then I stepped up to the machine and she talked to me in Dutch, but very slowly. And I did understand her. As she was explaining things to me, I briefly answered in Dutch and each time I did, she praised me. Then I was in this weird hokey pokey position and I really believed that my breast was going to snap off, and she is talking about the language and I said “moeilijk! Moeilijk!” and she said “yes, it is moeilijk! You speak very well.”  Moeilijk means difficult…I am not sure if I was talking about the language or the exam at that point. My theory is that under extreme pressure, Dutch words come out of me and they can be interpreted anyway you want.

One more thing about this day: the waiting room had about 25 chairs and they were almost full. There was circle of men visiting with each other like old friends (this place only does mammograms) and there were all these women talking with each other. Each time another woman came in they greeted each other with big smiles and seemed surprised. I found out that the letters about your mammogram (they are called invitations here) are mailed by your post code. When I got mine I had to change the date, so these people were not in my postcode. But all the others in the waiting room all lived in the same neighborhood, so it was like a block party without any food or drink. It was very interesting to see these neighbors either waiting for a mammogram or husbands waiting for their wives.

All I can say is that it is never dull here…..

Recommended viewing: The second season of The Blechtley Circle is airing in the UK right now. I really loved this series and was happy to see that it had returned. The second series will air in USA in April on PBS.

ABOUT A BOY

Not everyone can say this, but I loved high school. It was a place where I made many new friends and had lots of new opportunities. I liked my teachers, liked most of my classes and loved all the after school activities that were typical for a high school. I got involved with many clubs and student government and doing that just allowed me to make more friends. But my experience in the theatre department was the most satisfying and the most fun.

In my senior year, we did MY FAIR LADY and I was cast as Mrs. Higgins—the mother of Professor Henry Higgins. Higgins was played by G, and it was his biggest role so far. He and I had known each other all through high school and were good school friends. We were not best friends and we really did not see each other outside of school, but we clicked in school. We had lots of laughs in each of the shows we did and MY FAIR LADY was going to be our last show before graduation. It was a big hit and was loads of fun.

I was also on the decorating committee for the senior prom. Our job was to transform the gym into the theme of “Knights In White Satin”. I worked for hours with colored tissue paper and heard friends talking about going the prom. I personally never thought of going, but the more I worked on it, the more I wanted to go. I viewed it as this big party and not so much a night for couples. One night I was talking to G on the phone and the prom came up. I said that it would be much better to go with someone who was a friend where there were no other expectations or pressures. Knowing how subtle that was NOT, G said that if there was anyone he would go with, it would be me. But, he said, I just cannot do it. I cannot be someone that I am not, and going to the prom would be really weird for me. I did not push this idea further and it turned out that I went to the prom with someone else and had a great time.

G and I were two of the three graduation speakers. I remember that his speech was filled with his dry humor and mine was pretty serious. That was the last time I saw him….that graduation night. I don’t remember what he told me his plans were or if he had any. He was very bright and funny, and I assumed he went to college, but now I don’t know. I went away to school and then moved from California to Massachusetts. I never even heard a thing about him until one day I heard from my mother that G’s obituary was in the local paper, this was the early 1980’s.

G died of AIDS. He was an activist for HIV and AIDS and apparently he had continued to live in the same town. There are so many things that I don’t know about his life or his death. I am writing about him because I just saw the film DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and I thought of the friends that I had lost to AIDS and G was the first. The film is based on a true story about one man who had AIDS and who fought the medical community and government to get the medications he needed to live.

My memories of G are of him wearing his costume and looking so handsome while singing on stage. Of him making me laugh in class or of him standing up in front of hundreds of people to say goodbye to high school. I do not know what pain he went through in the years to come. I do not know how he was treated by his neighbors or friends. But to know that he was fighting to help people makes me know that his heart was still the same. He was a boy when I knew him, just a teenager. I never knew him as a grown man facing the biggest battle of his life.

One final memory…in our junior year, G and I were in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. In the wedding scene, he and I danced together. Between us, we had four left feet, but we giggled and never gave up. Whenever we finished rehearsing that scene, we would stand there and just grin. We knew we looked silly, but we didn’t care. Less than ten years later, he was gone.

Recommended reading: THE GOLDEN EGG by Donna Leon. How I love this mystery series!

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

This is my 200th post for the blog. WordPress tells me that in 2013 people from 104 countries, at some point, found my blog. I have NO idea who they are, but they are all welcome here.  I thought it was perfect that this post was all about books. Perfect books for winter. I have been on a lucky streak, I have enjoyed all of these books so much. They may not all appeal to you, but perhaps one or two will.  Except for one, I have read all of these writer’s books and was so happy to read their new book. Even though Deborah Moggach has been writing for quite a while, I have never read her before and now I am a fan.

SONGS OF WILLOW FROST by Jamie Ford

If you enjoyed Ford’s first novel, HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, then you will certainly enjoy this one. This novel takes place in Depression era Seattle. Twelve year old William lives in an orphanage, but he believes that his mother is still alive. He thinks he has spotted her on the big screen, and that she is a Chinese American actress and singer. The novel tells us his mother’s story and also William’s, with the backdrop of the Depression and the years right before.

TOMORROW THERE WILL BE APRICOTS by Jessica Soffer

Fourteen year old Lorca cuts herself and has an unhappy home life. She is determined to make her chef mother happy so she is looking for the recipe of an obscure Iraqi dish that her mother once loved. This is how Lorca meets Victoria, an elderly widow who teaches her how to cook. The two become friends and find an unspoken bond.  I loved this book for so many reasons. This friendship is so well realized and it is painful and beautiful at the same time.

THE SILVER STAR by Jeannette Walls

It is 1970 and two sisters, Bean and Liz, are left alone as their mother decides to find herself once again. The girls, age 12 and 15, take a bus to rural Virginia to stay with their uncle. This is their mother’s hometown and they find out many things about the family. But they also have a new stable life. Bean is the center of this story and readers will be charmed by her.  Fans of Walls previous books, will be happy to have a new story to enjoy. This was a fast read for me.

HEARTBREAK HOTEL by Deborah Moggach

Moggach has written many novels, including THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL and TULIP FEVER, and I confess that I have not read her before.  This book was so much fun to read and you can already see that a film will be made.  Retired actor Buffy inherits a bed and breakfast in Wales. He leaves London and decides to run the bed and breakfast and have a theme—a place for divorced people to stay and recover and maybe learn something as well.  The novel has an original group of characters and is just a lot of fun to read.

THE ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline

Molly is aging out of the foster care system in Connecticut. She has to do some community service and this leads her to Vivian, an elderly woman who needs help sorting through her old papers. The book goes back and forth to modern day Molly and to the amazing life that Vivian led as a young girl on an orphan train. Trains that went from New York City to the Midwest, filled with children who needed homes. This is so gripping and so entertaining.

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

Twenty two years ago, a ten year old British girl was on her way to a holiday in Belgium. Before she got on the ferry, she threw a plastic bottle into the sea and while that it is not to be encouraged, this bottle was special. It had a message inside.

Right before Christmas, a Dutch couple were walking their dog on the beach in Zeeland. Apparently the dog has long been fascinated with playing with plastic bottles and he was the one who spotted the bottle. The note, written by Zoe, said that she was on her way to a holiday and wanted to share that she liked ballet, playing the flute and the piano. She also said she had a hamster named Sparkle.

The couple sent the note to England, to the address that was on the note. Luckily, Zoe’s parents still lived there and took the note to their daughter. Needless to say, she was surprised and very happy. She has begun emailing the couple and they have sent her photographs of the area where the bottle was found. She hopes to visit The Netherlands someday.

So there is your happy story of the new year. You just never know..

Recommended reading: I have so many books to talk about, but here is the one that I just finished: THE ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline. I could not put this book down, in fact I finished it at 1am.

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