Monthly Archives: June 2013

CARS

juni 30 2013 001

Since I have moved here, friends have been curious about the size of Dutch cars. People believe everything is super small here, and that is not so.  So here is a photo taken from our house of four cars. Three of them are average size and there are even bigger cars than these on the road (the silver car on the right is our car).  But what amused me was this little blue car. First of all, it is so small that it could pass for a bike with extra wheels. I thought a family of Smurfs were going to come out of the car…. But, to me, I was more interested in the parking job.  Was the driver in a big hurry or did they think that they were making space for a third vehicle?  We think that it was a visitor as we have not seen it before on our street, as it kind of stands out. Anyway, this gives a glimpse of the exciting world of parked cars.

By the way, this is a milestone for the blog. In two years of writing this blog, I can tell you that we are on the brink of having 30,000 hits.  I am not sure if that is significant to anyone but me, but there are readers from all over the world and I am happy to see the hits grow and grow. Thank you, dear readers.

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AGE OF INNOCENCE

The other night I was sitting on the couch with our almost 12 year old son. We were having a deep discussion about death and heaven. As we talked, he did something that he does almost every single day. He traced the veins on my right hand with his fingers. Now, I do need to say that I have very soft and smooth hands. They are not wrinkled at all, but the veins pooch out a little. For some reason, he likes to trace these things like they are the highway. He told me once that my hands show that I am getting older and I took exception to that, reminding him that they were not wrinkled.  “Yes, but look what I can do with them” (he meant the veins) and of course, he was right.

A few months ago when he was taking the sex education class at school, he told me that his teacher said that women who no longer get their periods are now considered seniors. I said that is certainly not true, that women can be a variety of ages (with or without their periods) and still not be considered a senior citizen. He and I went back and forth on this, and finally I said “tell your teacher that when I can get the senior discount at the movie theatre, then I will call myself a senior. Until then, I am paying full price.”

Living with people that are younger than you has double the effect…at some point you feel younger and at other times, you feel like an old goat.  A few years ago I told the children that I feel like I am 38 and when my birthday comes around, I am  truly surprised by my actual age. So now our boy always refers to me as 38, no matter what. But there are times when I start to see the reality of the aging process, when I have to explain who the Beatles are. When I talk about my childhood, it now sounds like I lived in a log cabin, chopped my own wood and walked three miles to school each day. My past sounds like a historical textbook. I feel like I am sometimes a living example of a piece of history in a museum, because it just sounds so OLD.

I recently told the story of getting a transistor radio for my tenth birthday. I described its size, how the dial worked, and that it had an ear piece. I shared how exciting this was, how hip and with it I was and so very proud of this “new thing”. It was so small that I could listen to music as I walked around the neighborhood. I tried to compare this radio to what they now have with iPods and cell phones, and I sounded like I was really old woman with no teeth and barely any hair, sitting on a porch, spitting out tobacco and saying “I can remember when I first used a microwave. We were told to turn it on and then run around the corner, so we would not be exposed to the harmful death rays. Now those were the days!”

The good news is that the children do not seem completely bored with me. I can now say “stop me if I have said this before” and if they like the story, they let me repeat it. They say it is even better the second time. But back to my hands….when his fingers are on my hands, we are close enough to have a moment. We are confessing, questioning and sharing our thoughts and he traces over and over the blue veins. It is a very soothing feeling, for both of us. I cannot complain and will never ask him to stop. I would be a fool to do that. I am not a fool OR a senior, yet.

Recommended viewing: I just saw a documentary on DVD that will really make you think. BAG IT is about our use of plastic, and especially the plastic bags we use every day. It really does make you stop and look at what you do in your own home.

BACK TO SCHOOL

There is something in my life that I have not written about. I decided to go through it first, and then share it on the blog. I have just completed my first Dutch language class and have lived to tell the story.

I signed up for a class that is offered by a school in Utrecht. It would teach me basic Dutch and if I completed the first class, I could continue with more classes. We met once a week on Wednesday nights. The course ran from March to mid-June. The class (called cursus) started at 7pm and ended at 10:15pm.

At the start of the class there were 22 students and one teacher (docente). The students were from 15 countries: England, India, Australia, Greece, Morocco, Poland, Hungary, Ecuador, Cuba, Spain, France, Brazil and Italy. Oh, and me: Ik kom uit Amerika.

We had three books we had to buy, a textbook, a workbook, and a dictionary. Inside the books were cds and we had to use them at home and at school. The point of this class was to really start at the beginning of the language, teaching us basic skills in how to communicate. We learned how to introduce ourselves, how to greet people, how to shop at the market, how to ask and give directions, and how to converse.

We had a great teacher, as she was very patient with our little UN of a group. Her goal was not only to teach us, but to get us to just speak more Dutch. And for me, it was so easy to slip into English. So my docente would gently nudge me to the Dutch when asking a question. This is hard to do when you are confused about something in Dutch on the white board and you have to ask a question in Dutch about your confusion.

The students were all very nice and we knew we were in the same boat. We were facing different challenges as some did not speak English at all, and some had a tough time with Dutch pronunciation. We slowly got to know each other and I made friends with Miss England, Miss Italy and Miss Greece (at the start, I knew their countries and not their first names, so it does sound like a pageant show). There were many laughs in the class and a lot of hard work. I realized soon enough that this was going to be tougher than I thought. I also learned that I was the oldest one in the class, because we all shared our birthdays. I do know that my memory is not as sharp as it used to be. I figure that there is more in my brain just because I have been around longer, so there may be less capacity to take in new stuff, especially a language.

The Dutch language is very hard to learn. I did a lot of homework and spent a lot of time going over and over things. I had help from my family but at the end of the day, it was all up to me. We had a final exam and there was a lot of pressure on us. In order to go on to the second class, you had to pass this exam. My plan was to take the second class in September, as I felt I had only just begun to learn Dutch. The good news for me, is that I did pass the exam. I studied a long time and locked myself away from the world, and it paid off. I have the summer off until school starts again.

There are no clubs, no football games, and no parties this time. This is not the school experiences of my past. We come in, we work, we chit chat and then we go home. No homecoming dance, no after school activities and no field trips. But how many times in your life are you going to have the chance to meet so many people from different countries with the same goal in mind… to complete a class? It was a very pleasant experience because of our teacher and the other students. The hardest part of the class was the subject. This summer I will prepare myself for this new class which will be much more difficult. I will have the same teacher, which makes me happy and there will likely be a whole new group of students. And the chances are good that I will still be the oldest one there.

Recommended reading: ONE HUNDRED NAMES by Cecelia Ahern. This is a good choice for a summer read, light but not too light. Ahern is a good and popular author from Ireland and this was a fun read.

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

MAY WE BE FORGIVEN by A.M. Holmes

Do you remember when you were young getting into the back seat of the family car? Do you remember the feeling of not knowing where you were going, but you didn’t care because you were going somewhere? Your parents were going shopping, visiting friends, or just driving around looking at houses… you just knew that you were on your way.

Reading MAY WE BE FORGIVEN has a similar feel. I wanted to read this book because the reviews were out of this world. I really did not know that much about the plot, I was curious to see how good this book was. So I buckled in for an adventure of the unknown and A.M. Holmes took me on a ride that was full of surprises.

Harry is a Nixon scholar and does not have much of a personal life. His brother George is the one with the big job and house, the beautiful wife and children. But George has always been a bully to Harry and others, and his aggression has only gotten worse. An act of violence changes many lives, including the future of the brothers. Harry has to face an enormous amount of changes in his life and he now becomes part of the New York suburbs. He now becomes a caretaker.

But Harry also follows impulses, and some of them are dangerous. As Harry goes through this significant year, we see him grow and become a good man. With a cast of characters that come in and out of his life, Harry has created a family and a new community.

MAY WE BE FORGIVEN is very funny. It can be called a dark comedy or just satire. But no matter what, this is a book that entertains you and leads you into some emotional moments. And that is because Holmes puts the reader right into the story and makes us feel a connection with Harry and the other characters who are created with much depth and humor.

Loved, loved this book. It is a big book, but a fast book. If you are making a list of books to read this summer, put this at the top.

Recommended viewing: British television just began another season of Hercule Poirot mysteries starring David Suchet. I just saw the first episode of the season, and for you mystery fans, it was quite good. Lots of fun, as usual. And where is Mr. Poirot from? My country neighbor—Belgium.

THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK

If she had lived, Anne Frank would have turned 84 years old on June 12. The image of her youthful face is locked in our minds, and it is hard to imagine her as an old woman. She entered the hiding place as this preteen and she told us about growing up. She shared with us what her life was like for those two years. She wrote in her diary without filters and gave her opinions and secrets and she had no clue that someday, the world would read her words.

So many people have written about Anne Frank and millions have visited the museum in Amsterdam, we all know how famous she and her diary are. I was thinking about her as an old woman and what she would have been like. What kind of woman would she have been? What if she had not died so young? What if she had survived the war?

She missed out on high school, where teenagers discover many things, including boys and girls. Anne was certainly curious about dating, sexuality and boys. These years would most likely have led to lots of social events and possibly, a boyfriend.

I would have hoped that Anne would have gone to University, as she seemed quite bright and curious about the world. If she had a chance to further her education, I think she would have. If that would have given her the chance to meet new people and travel, all the better. But what would Anne want to be? A common job for women at this time would have been teaching, and I could see her doing that. But what if she had wanted to something completely different?

Would Anne have fallen in love and gotten married? Would she have had children and been a good mother? Did she like the company of children? Can we imagine Anne watching her children grow up, without fearing war, and see them marry and have their own children? If that is the case, then Anne most likely would have been a grandmother. But Anne wrote her in diary that she could not imagine being a housewife and not having a career.

Is it possible that Anne could have been a writer? Could she have had a teacher who encouraged her to not give up and to share her stories. Anne could have been a novelist or a journalist, she may never had married or had children, but was a happy woman facing her last years.

The point is that we just don’t know, because Anne was robbed of her life. Her future was taken from her and so we shall never know what would have happened to her. Every dream she had was destroyed. She never saw another Hollywood film, she never met new people, she never played with girls her own age, she never walked by the canals of Amsterdam again, and she never rode her bicycle by the bakery again. Once she entered the attic, her life completely changed. And when she was taken to camp, her life eventually ended.

We now know that many people were in hiding during the war, Anne and her family and neighbors were not the only ones. We will never know all the horrendous stories about the war. But we know about Anne because she wrote in her diary. She had plenty of time to write and I am sure she found comfort in being able to write her feelings down. She became the voice of the war, she became a great teacher without even knowing it. Through the diary, she taught us about being a young girl facing a cruel and horrible world. And she taught us to not give up on the human race.

She died way too young. This week, we see her as she was, but it does make us wonder about who she could have become. Anne Frank would be 84 years old! Just think of that. And think of all the people who lost their lives in the war and what they might have accomplished in life. But for now, I can only focus on one young girl who had a fabulous future ahead of her and before she left this world, she left us one of the best teaching tools this world has ever known. I guess we can say that Anne actually did become a world famous writer…just like she dreamed of.

Her parents gave her a blank diary for her birthday in 1942 and in July they moved to the annex. For a little over two years they were in hiding and that diary became her confidant and friend.

Happy birthday, Anne.
Anne Frank was born on June 12, 1929 and died in March, 1945.

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

THE NEWLYWEDS by Nell Freudenberger
THE FEVER TREE by Jennifer McVeigh

I accidentally read two books back to back with similar themes. Both books are about women who leave their home country and move to another country for love and marriage. But that is all they have in common, other than being great reads.

In THE NEWLYWEDS, Amina and George meet online on a dating site and begin a long distance relationship. Amina lives in Bangladesh and George is from New York. Their relationship grows and once they have met each other, they decide to get married. Amina moves to America and we see her adjust to this brand new life, facing the many cultural differences. But George has not been completely honest about his past and she has not told him how much she wants and expects her parents to move to New York to live with them.

Good drama always has poor communication, if everyone shared their feelings in a novel, the book would be very dull. Part of the novel takes place in New York and the second half is in Bangladesh, as Amina comes “home” to bring her parents back to America. This is when you vividly see how different life is in these two countries and Amina also confronts some doubts about her marriage. There is lots of tension, friction and humor in this novel, and I was glued to this story. The strength of this novel is the character of Amina and how she deals with a variety of challenges. We don’t really know if we want this marriage to succeed, but we are definitely rooting for Amina.

I then began THE FEVER TREE and went to an entirely different world. It is the 1880’s in England and Frances has a big decision to make…does she stay in England and become a servant to her aunt or does she accept a marriage proposal from a man she does not like and move to South Africa? Her father has just died and left her penniless and Frances has very few options. She decides to go to South Africa and there she is shocked at the living conditions for herself and for others.

The problem for Frances is that she loves another man but must marry the doctor that her father had chosen for her. Another big problem is that Frances does not know how to do anything except play the piano and look pretty. In South Africa she gets an education about the rights of the workers at the diamond mines, the rugged wild life and basically, about herself. Her lack of self-knowledge is a big gap in her life and this drives her to make poor choices.

One of the strengths of this novel is South Africa. There are so many things that I did not know, especially about the diamond trade, the rough land and weather, the small pox epidemic and the treatment of the native people. There is also the connection between the Dutch and South Africans, which was really interesting for me to read. This is quite an adventure story about a poor spoiled rich girl who has to grow up and it is so entertaining to see her face her true self. It has all the elements of great drama and I got caught up in the high adventure, and even, romance. It was pure luck to have read these together and even though they were different, they still had some common ground.

What I am currently reading: BOSSYPANTS by Tina Fey. This is funny, charming and loads of fun…but what do you expect from Tina Fey? She just proves, once again, how truly talented she is and that she has much to say.