Monthly Archives: March 2013

EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX….

In the United States, sex education in the public schools is generally a cautious affair. There is much resistance to openly speaking about sexual health. Some people would even say there is fear about talking about sex.  In many schools, if there is any discussion about sex, parents are not only informed in advance but they have to sign a permission slip. Just like when you go on a field trip, parents have to approve the trip to sex town. I think there might be more discussions about being harmed in sexual situations than in the positive healthy aspects of sexuality. It is absolutely essential that children are taught about dangerous people and behaviors, but there is a lot to talk about that is not scary and yes, even normal.

Living in The Netherlands has been an education in itself for me. But when I found out what this country does to address sexuality in the schools, I was just amazed and impressed. All children in every single primary school in this country has some type of sex education from the age of 5 to 11 or 12. In primary school, children are taught according to their grade level and they are taught in a very honest manner. Our son, who is in 5th grade and is 11 years old, is in his final year of primary school. Parents were informed on the school’s website and in the newsletter that there would be a two week course taught to the children in all of the grades. No permission was asked for. If a parent took issue with this course, they could have their child taken out of the classroom. As far as I know, every single child participated in this program. Parents were also told what was going to be discussed, including positive information about gay relationships.

Because the Dutch schools are nationally funded and regulated, this program is required for every school. No matter what the politics in a small town might be, they must adhere to this policy. The government voted to enforce this curriculum and every school must comply. This could never happen in the United States, as each state has their own education department. But even more so, each town or district has their own school committee and they decide along with the superintendent, what kind of sexual education will take place. In many cases, this subject is not addressed.

We talked to our son every day after school about what was discussed that day. The regular classroom teacher taught the course and she allowed an open discussion. I asked him what was the funniest thing about this course and he said it was all the slang words for body parts and sexual acts. The students were encouraged to share all the words they had heard, and I have to admit it was pretty funny. It got the kids to laugh and if they did not do it there, they would be doing it at recess. The children were allowed to ask any question they wanted and the best one I heard so far was “what do you do if you have to pee while having sex?”  I think that stopped the teacher in her tracks.

These two weeks were fantastic for us as a family. We had always been very open, but it now led to more questions, more silliness and more answers. I asked our son what did he learn that meant the most to him. He said that he had no idea that a girl could get pregnant after getting her period and that being a parent is a very big deal, so you need to use birth control. He said  “it takes a lot of money to take care of a baby and it is a lot of work, and I don’t want to do that when I am a teenager.”

Some children have parents that are too shy to talk about this subject and they are happy to have the schools help out. Some children are very curious but would rather hear this in school than in their home. No matter what, the important thing is that children become educated. That they become smarter about their own bodies. Don’t think that sex education stops when children leave primary school and attend middle school, there is much more to come for them and for us, as parents.

When I was in junior high school, the girls were sent to the gym and we were told to sit in the bleachers. A gym teacher talked to us about our changing bodies. We each got a free packet of samples, like a sanitary pad with safety pins and a whole lot of confusion. I remember that there  was also a pamphlet that looked like it was twenty years old, the illustrations looked like they were from the 1950’s. That was it. That was the extent of my sex education in school.

Is it a coincidence that teenage pregnancy in The Netherlands is one of the lowest in the world? I don’t know, but it sure seems to me that the more education a young person has about their own body and those of their friends and family, that it can only be a good thing.

Recommended reading: IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL by Robie Harris. This is the best book for children about the human body and sexuality. It is honest, funny and very clear. It is also published in many languages (including Dutch). On the second day of this course, our son was laying on the living room floor reading this book. He had gone to the shelf and got it himself, and he read the book all the way through. Robie Harris has also written two books for younger readers: IT’S SO AMAZING! And IT’S NOT THE STORK! These are great books to have in your family library.

 

 

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THE TREE OF LIFE

A young girl loves looking at her favorite tree. She does not stand under it and she has never climbed this tall chestnut tree. She looks at it every day from her window.  

“From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the sea gulls and other birds as they glide on the wind.”  These words were written in a diary. Anne Frank saw this tree while she was in hiding and she must have treasured the view.

In 2010, this 170 year old tree blew down. But in 2009, cuttings were taken from the tree and kept in quarantine in the United States for three years (this was in accordance with the customs regulations). The Anne Frank Center in New York was in charge of distributing the saplings. Thirty four organizations applied for the saplings, but only eleven could be chosen.

These saplings will have a new life across the United States. I am providing the full list of where the saplings will be planted, but I will just mention a few of the sites. One will go to the Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. On the 56th anniversary of the day a group of black students faced an angry mob in order to attend school, they will plant the sapling. One will be planted at the White House.  And one will be at the new memorial at Liberty Park in New York City for the victims of September 11.

The words and thoughts of Anne Frank are still read every day. Somewhere in the world, someone is reading her diary. People are just meeting this remarkable young woman through her diary, something that she never thought would happen. A young girl writes in a diary for herself, not for anyone else. And yet, her private thoughts have been read by millions. Now, her beloved tree will travel to a country that Anne only dreamed about. Anne loved Hollywood movies and now a part of her will be in America. Please tell somebody this story. Share the story of Anne and hopefully you will be able to visit one of these places and honor this young girl. 

11 organizations participating in the Anne Frank Center USA Sapling Project:

  • Boston Common – Massachusetts
  • Central High School – Arkansas
  • The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – Indiana
  • William J. Clinton Presidential Center – Arkansas
  • Holocaust Memorial Center – Michigan
  • Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial – Idaho
  • Liberty Park, Commemorating 911—New York City
  • Sonoma State University – California
  • Southern Cayuga School District – New York
  • Washington State Holocaust Resource Center – Washington
  • The White House – Washington, D.C. – TBD

Anne Frank boom Amsterdam

OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY

When I was a teenager, my dad and I were going to go to the nursery to buy some things for the yard. This was a place our family went to on a regular basis and it was about a 10 minute drive. We lived in the hills of southern California and it was not a flat drive (like it is here in The Netherlands). As we were getting ready to leave, my dad put his coffee cup (coffee was still inside) on top of the car, as he wanted to check something before he got into the car.  When we arrived at the nursery we realized that the coffee cup was still on top of the car. We were quite stunned by this and my dad was impressed. He used this as an example of what a good driver he was and it was a lesson for me, as a soon to be driver.

So here is the point of the story. In The Netherlands, a man put his wallet on top of his car and forgot to take it before he drove away. Inside the wallet was three thousand euros. As he drove away, the wallet fell and the money flew out. Drivers stopped and picked up the money and I assume some onlookers did the same. A woman was seen catching the money and told the others that it was her money. That SHE had left her wallet on top of her car and her money was flying all over the place. So the people gave her the money they had gathered. Meanwhile, the original driver with the wallet, had stopped and had retrieved one hundred and sixty euros. He then found out that a woman had gotten his money and had already left with her husband and two children. He is still looking for his wallet and for all that was inside.  The police are now investigating and looking for this woman.

This incident makes me think of two things:  the absolute dishonesty of this woman and the quickness of her coming up with this story. She had to blurt out that it was her money in a matter of seconds, I would guess. How does someone do this and not feel remorse? How does someone do this in front of their children?

If nothing else, this blog is a public service announcement to warn drivers all over the world, be careful what you put on the roof of your car. Simply put, don’t place anything there. We all make mistakes and easily forget things. And sadly, this is a lesson in not knowing who to trust.

Sports news:  did you know that there is a Dutch baseball team? In Dutch, baseball is called honkball—I just love that word. The team played in the World Baseball Classic and lost in the semi- finals. They lost to the Dominican Republic, 4-1. The game was shown live on Dutch television at 2am. Honkball is not as popular as football and speed skating, but it is slowly gaining Dutch fans. Never before had a European team reached the semifinals before, they should be very proud of themselves. As much as I wanted the Dutch team to win the series, for me, there is only one baseball team: the Boston Red Sox. Honkball is in the winter and the Red Sox play in summer, thank goodness they do not conflict.

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

A GOOD AMERICAN by Alex George

Frederick and Jette leave Germany in 1904 for America. They are in love and are in need of a quick escape from Jette’s parents. In their haste, they book passage to New Orleans (instead of New York) because it is the fastest way out of Germany. Upon landing on American soil, they head for Missouri and accidentally find a small town full of German Americans called Beatrice and that is where they make a home. This novel is the story of four generations of one family living in a small town with the backdrop of major historical events.

Alex George does a superb job of creating characters that we care about and relate to. He gives us the residents of Beatrice and the message is everyone has a story to tell. One thing that I appreciated is that the historical timeline did not thrust itself at the story, the famous events became part of the lives of these people. George also does a good job making a case for the struggles that immigrants have in moving to a new country. Frederick is crazy for anything American and Jette holds onto her German past. As an example, he wants to cook only “American” food and she cooks nothing but German meals. They are on different speeds in the way they face life and that makes for interesting storytelling.

If you are looking for a story that will not stress you out, this is the book for you. It is a very smooth read and it grabs and holds your attention. There are plenty of secrets in this story, just like in any family, and they are revealed as you continue to get caught up in the drama.  I hate to call this a family saga, because that limits how I really want to describe it. It is a fantastic novel that completely entertains you and offers a very satisfying end.

Recommended reading: I recently read a fantastic book about how a parent has dealt with a mental health crisis with his daughter. It is a personal story but it also can be a useful tool for those who work with children. I think it should be required reading for educators, mental health workers, doctors and yes, even parents. Ultimately, it is a powerful book about the determination of a father and his daughter to find some answers and to save a life. The book? WITNESS TO THE DARK My daughter’s troubled times a comedy of emotions by Bob Larsted.

 

 

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN

On Saturday, March 9, history was made. It rained in Utrecht for 24 hours straight. I felt like it was raining a lot, in fact I even said that it seemed like it was raining all day. And I was right. The last rain record was in January of 1960 and it then rained for 23.5 hours. The good news is that it was not a constant downpour, it was just a very wet day and night.

I keep reminding my friends in America that there are two kinds of winter:  the Dutch kind and the American kind. Here, it can get cold and wet. We can have a little snow or no snow. It can get a little icy, but those days stand out. There are times that driving on the motorway can be very dangerous, mainly because of black ice. But really, winter in The Netherlands does not have a lot of drama.

If we talk about New England, then we are talking about a lot of drama! This winter has been very tough with record numbers of snowfall.  So much snow has fallen that they do not know where to put the snow, and many cities and towns have to actually remove the snow with trucks.

When you live in Massachusetts, you get a warning about a snowstorm. You generally know about a biggie about three days before it arrives. The weather forecast is either completely wrong or they are pretty accurate. But you don’t know that three days in advance. All you know is that many inches of snow will fall and that means you have to be prepared. Let me give you an idea of what happens before a storm.

You immediately imagine your kitchen and what you have in the cupboards and refrigerator. Do you have enough bread, eggs, and milk? Do you have enough of the salty and sweet treats that will tide you over during the stressful snowstorm?  Some people stock up on beer, some have to get diapers and some have to get pet food. There is such a fear, and sometimes it is justified, of losing power during a storm. If you have lost power once, it then becomes your mantra for the future. Do we have enough candles, batteries, peanut butter (food that you don’t have to cook) and should we think about getting a generator?  First, people think about food and heat. But they also worry about being entertained, so there is a mad rush to libraries to get books and dvds. Stocking up means preparing for all kinds of needs, physical and emotional.

When I first moved here, and I heard that we were getting storm, I said “well, we have to get to the store tomorrow.” My knee jerk reaction was to stock up just like I did in Massachusetts, but we are talking about two different countries and two different types of weather. It is hard to turn off that reaction, I still have it, but it has calmed down since my first winter. The Dutch do not stock up like Americans, and there may be many reasons for that. But one really practical one is that they do not have the space.  Americans have bigger kitchens. Many of my friends have extra refrigerators and a freezer in the cellar or the garage. There are cupboards and shelves built to keep all the extra food. Here, people are very creative about storage and they need to be. Space is very different here and I have grown to appreciate the limits of what you have to deal with and I think it does make you think about what is important. The truth is that if there is a sale, I will buy more items because it is a good deal. But I am not driven by snow, because it is a rare event here. If I was back in Massachusetts, I would still get to the store early before the mad rush of shoppers came in looking for bread, milk and a massive bag of potato chips. Maybe some Ben and Jerry’s. Possibly some wine. Cocoa and marshmallows for in front of the fire. It would probably be smart to get some toilet paper. Everyone has their own comfort food and needs, and that really shows during a storm.  People do what they need to do to get through a day or many days when they are out of their regular routine.

It is so much fun to talk to a New Englander about the weather because they have stories about past storms that make you feel like a wimp. I imagine it is the same thing here. Be safe everyone. As happens each year, the flowers will be peeking out very soon. Eggs will be hidden and chocolate will fill baskets again. That is one thing you can count on: the seasons.

Are you looking for a comedy to get through the winter? I just saw BERNIE starring Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine. Lots of fun and based on a true story.  

 

 

THE RED SHOES

One of the weird things about living in The Netherlands is the constant reminder that their history is older than the history of America. It is no big deal to see artifacts from medieval times, just as you are walking around minding your own business. Just the other day we drove through a town that was proudly announcing that they were celebrating their 900th year.

Since I have been here, there have been stories about construction workers finding remains that are hundreds of years old. Just a few blocks from our house, there was a huge find in 1997. A Roman ship was discovered buried in the ground. It was in perfect condition and it was 1800 years old. The wood of the ship was dated from 148 AD. There were tools, clothing pins and even some shoes. All of this was just around the corner, I mean I could stand outside our house and wave at the ship like it was the Love Boat leaving the harbor.

Recently, there has been a new discovery. In Rotterdam, the city hall is being renovated. Archeologists were looking at the area behind this building and made quite a find: a shoe that was filled with 477 silver coins. The coins were dated from 1472-1592.  The theory is that the coins were buried under the floorboards of the building that was there during the 80 Years War (the Dutch War of Independence).

The owner of the shoe must have been nervous about putting the money in the bank or investing in the stock market. We have all heard stories about hiding money under your mattress, but not so much about shoes. This was a good amount of money, so it does make you wonder what the true story is. At this point, we can only use our imaginations.

Does this inspire anyone to get a metal detector? Start digging.

I just found out that one of my favorite writers has written a screenplay based on his book. Jonathan Tropper’s book THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU will start filming in June. It will star Tina Fey. Please check out Tropper and his books, he is such a good writer.  I also just heard that another book( that was one of my favorite reads last year) will be a film: THE RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles. Cross your fingers that both films are at least as good as the books.

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker

I am always amazed and very happy when a new novelist comes along and hits it out of the park. A writer shows up with a book that makes critics almost flustered with their praise. This kind of reaction is memorable, and I am gratified to know that I (sometimes) agree with them.

THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker is a book that is beautifully written and not your typical coming of age story. Julia, age 11, is living with her parents in southern California. She is a quiet girl, more of an observer than a participant, and shy around her peers. But this is not just about Julia growing up in suburbia, it is also about the end of the world. You read that correctly, the world is supposedly coming to an end.

The earth’s rotation has slowed down, days are stretching, and gravity has been altered. Things you take for granted, like birds flying, are no longer what you expect. The lives of the world’s population is changing, but we are focused on Julia and her community, her family and school.

Julia basically has no friends and no one to confide in. She sees there is trouble with her parents, she sees her neighbors become not the people she has known all her life and she starts to see herself with possibilities. She is a preteen with a crush on a boy and all of this seems pretty normal.She is definitely a girl more mature than her years and I think that comes from being a watcher. By standing on the outside and looking in, her voice is older than her peers. But there is “the slowing” and the sun is shining for many days in a row. In all of this drama, Julia is a character that is authentic and true.

If you are reading this and thinking that the end of the world is not your cup of tea, think again. Walker is a storyteller with an original story to tell. She does a brilliant job of creating characters that you know and circumstances that are unreal and yet very real.  The strength of this book is that the author has given us people we care about in a plot that is compelling and addicting.

What I am currently reading:  DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay. I am almost finished and I confess I am totally sucked into this story.