Monthly Archives: October 2013

TEACHERS

Teachers have been on my mind lately. The shocking murders of teachers in the United States has made me so angry, frustrated and very sad. I think back to the teachers that I have had in my long life, and it is hard to imagine that anyone was in danger. Or that school would be a dangerous place to be, as a student or as a teacher.

I went to four primary/ elementary schools (in Italy, England, The Netherlands and America) and had a variety of teachers and experiences. I loved school and the main reason was because I loved my teachers.  I loved the way they introduced us to new things. I used to think they were so smart…how did they know all those things about history, geography and books? I think I liked that things were organized in school and that the teacher would lead us from one subject to another. There was time for science and then it was time for art. There was a time for math (ugh) and a time when the teacher read a story to us. When I first came to America, in fourth grade, I was thrilled to have our teacher read to us at the end of the day. It was such a wonderful reward and I still remember that first book — JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH by Roald Dahl. I was then determined to read all of Dahl’s books and have been a fan ever since.

Middle school and high school were obviously more challenging, and the big difference was that you had more teachers. I now had 6 or 7 teachers in one day and you then got to see  a variety of styles of teaching. I think students find out what kind of teacher works best for them when you have many teachers each day.  Word would be out about certain teachers that were really hard or gave lots of homework. There were stories about teachers who were lots of fun and there were teachers who were supposedly boring. It was a learning experience for me to see how different grownups could be and that there was not one giant cookie cutter that made teachers all the same.

As you age in school you start to define yourself. You find out what subjects excite you and what you are good at. That comes from teachers who compliment you or encourage you to not give up. It comes from teachers who love the subject they teach and from those who just love to teach. And of course, you always knew the teachers that loved being around children or young people. You just knew.

When I was in junior high school, girls had to take a sewing class and boys had to take a class to do with wood—I think they all made a birdhouse. But there was no choice at that time, this was what was required. I hated sewing and in fact, I hated the IDEA of sewing. From the very beginning of class, I was terrible at anything to do with a needle or a sewing machine. Our big assignment was that we had to make a dress and then wear the dress in a fashion show during class. My idea of pure hell. I got the pattern and the material and started on this project. It did not take long for the teacher to realize how limited my talents were. I could not thread the bobbin, I could not even cut the material straight, and I certainly had no idea how make darts. My darts were pointing towards my feet, if I remember correctly. But this is the wonderful thing that happened in this sewing class: I discovered myself. In a class which should have destroyed my self-esteem, I bloomed. As we girls were working on our dresses, we had some freedom to talk and talk is what I did, instead of sew. I told stories and they laughed. It got to the point that as soon as we settled in to work, the girls would gather  and look at me for the entertainment. Soon the teacher caught on to this, and she told me that it was okay as long as I finished my dress. I remember asking her if she would let me stop sewing all together and just let me sweep the floor each day…she did not accept my brilliant proposal. So she let me be, she let me talk and basically perform as long as I had a needle in my hand. I made new friends and I got a reputation as a witty person and this led me to audition for the school play. Teachers told me that I should audition and even though I was terrified, I did and got the part.

It is all about being uplifted instead of being brought down by negativity. It was school and teachers who gave me so much happiness and so much direction. It was the environment of learning that taught me the most about myself, not just what was in books.

This blog is dedicated to all the teachers I have had in my life and to the one I now have who is trying very hard to teach me Dutch. But this blog is also for all of my friends who are teachers, as you are simply magnificent. Maybe no one has told you today but you are doing a great job and you should be thanked for ALL that you do. It is not about a blackboard or now a whiteboard, it is not about textbooks or recess, it is about you as an individual and what you have done to impact so many young lives.

By the way, I did complete the dress. It was the ugliest dress ever made, it was a very unattractive green and I got so sick of looking at it. But I did wear that dress and walked in a parade in class and I got cheers from the students, as they all knew what a miracle it was that the dress did not fall apart. My teacher told me she was proud of me and that she could safely say she had never had a student like me before, and I sure she was right. I went home, folded up that dress and put it in the back of my closet and never saw it again. Little did I realize that when I went to college I would be required to take a costuming class (for my degree in theatre) and that I would have to make a skirt…but that is another story.

Recommended reading: I just finished the latest mystery from Sue Grafton, W is for Wasted, and it another enjoyable time with Kinsey. I have no idea what Grafton plans to do when she runs out of letters, but I hope that she does not stop writing mysteries.

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ROAD TRIP

I recently had an adventure. I caution you that this might be just too exciting for you, so be prepared. History was made as I went on a road trip to downtown Utrecht by taking public transportation. I had an appointment at the main library in Utrecht and it is a challenge to park there, and it is also expensive. So the brave decision was made to take the bus. The bus stop is around the corner from our house, so that was not a big deal. Why has it taken so long for me to take a bus? Well, it is kind of complicated, but the easy answer is that I have never been a fan of buses and have not had the need to take too many bus trips in my life. But here, in The Netherlands, it is normal and necessary.

Okay, so I get on the bus and was lucky enough to get a seat. What I noticed right away was that the heat was on, which made no sense. It was a beautiful fall day and not cold at all. This bus would take us to the central train station in Utrecht and from there we would take a second bus (a short ride) to get closer to the library. This first bus trip lasted 15-20 minutes but it felt longer as it was so HOT. I felt like a blueberry muffin that was ready to come out of the oven. When we arrived in Utrecht, the second bus was crowded and there were no seats. So I held on to the handles like I was in the boat of Life of Pi, the bus was rocking and rolling as we went through the city. Just as I was thinking that I should have taken a motion sickness pill, we arrived at our stop.

This is a beautiful area of the city and I fall in love with it each time I come here. Photographs cannot do it justice. The buildings are older than mud, and they still look wonderful to me. After the meeting, we went across the street for lunch to the Winkel van Sinkel. When I saw this building, the name just made me smile. It used to be a department store and it is now a large restaurant. When you leave the library you are looking at the canal and it such a “Dutch” view.

The two return bus trips were not as pleasant as the first two, and that says something. The short trip was standing room only and it was packed. The priceless moment was when a guy stepped onto the bus carrying a surfboard and he had to figure out how to hold on to it and get it out of people’s way, which he did. Seeing that surfboard just confirmed for me that the bus rides were like a stormy boat trip, and I am famous for getting sea sick. This bus also had the heat on and as the bus got more crowded, it felt like it was getting hotter. When we finally arrived at our bus stop, I was just so happy to breathe fresh air and cool down.

Here are some photos from my grand adventure, I really just wanted to show you a little part of  Utrecht.

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This is the view coming out of the Central Library

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Winkel van Sinkel

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Utrecht Central Library and the Dom Tower

Recommended viewing: THE KINGS OF SUMMER. A really charming independent film about teenage friendship and the complicated relationships between parent and child. It is funny and poignant.

THE DOCTOR

This blog has been a little quiet, as I have been recovering from a bad cold. I had one week of simple cold and the second week turned into a little bit more. I had a cough that just would not end, and I finally accepted the fact that I had to see a doctor.

Seeing a doctor here seems pretty simple. On Thursday afternoon I had decided to call my doctor, but then realized that I did not need to. Each morning, from 8-9.30, there is a drop in time for patients. That means that during that hour and a half the doctor will see each patient for 10 minutes or less, usually it is someone in need of a prescription. When you walk in to the office, you do not give your name, you just go to the waiting room and find out who was the most recent arrival. That is how you know how many people are in front of you and how long you have to wait. The doctor comes to the waiting room, asks who is next, and then you are on your way. On this Friday morning, I had to wait less than 10 minutes.

This is a practice of two doctors and they have a backup doctor who helps out during holidays and today, I had the back up and she was really nice and thorough. She determined I had bronchitis and needed antibiotics, and I felt relieved that I was going to get some help. The other good thing about this doctor is that she had been to Boston and loved it. I knew she had really good taste.

There is another feature that I like a lot about the medical services. Between 1-2 each day, you can call the office and actually talk to a doctor. That hour is set aside for patients to talk to a doctor and that seems like such a smart idea.

Medical care in The Netherlands is NOT socialized. It is a law that everyone who lives in this country, whether they are a citizen or not, must have medical insurance. You can choose the insurance company that you want and you pay for it. Your work does not give you insurance.  You have options of what kind of care you want to pay for, you can get the basic which is the lowest cost or you can pay more for more care. You pay a monthly premium depending on what plan you have BUT everyone must pay for the first €350 (475 dollars) of any medical costs (this includes medications). Once you have used up the €350 worth of care, then the insurance pays for the rest. But this is part of the law, everyone must pay this €350 and some people are not happy with this, as they do not want to pay this. Last year, the figure was €210 (285 dollars) and the increase was not greeted positively. Because the law treats everyone the same, no matter what your income is, this increase has upset some seniors who say that it is hard for them to come up with the initial €350.

No one can be turned down for insurance because of any previous conditions. It is the national law of the land that no insurance company can even ask about previous conditions and certainly not turn someone away.

Basic care covers:  childbirth, physical therapy for authorized problems, medications (after the €350 is paid), hearing aids, a home practitioner and being admitted to the hospital.

I have heard online from some American expats who do not love the quality of care, but I have not had any complaints. The Dutch are known for their efficiency, and they seem to be this way for medical issues. As an example, when you visit a doctor there is no nurse to escort you to the exam room. There is no nurse to take your temperature or blood pressure, this is all done by the doctor. And the biggest shocker of all is that this country does not have hospital gowns in the doctor’s office or the hospitals. That is one thing that I definitely miss compared to the American system, you have the right to a “johnny”. Here, the Dutch look at you like you are out of your mind, why would we provide a nightgown for you? And who would pay for that? So they have streamlined many services to cut spending and all I know that it is nice to be living in a country that has coverage for all. It certainly is not perfect and it does not make everyone happy, but at least they have some kind of coverage.

By the way, I think I am getting better. It has been the absolute worst case of bronchitis in the entire history of the world. I know that I will get some kind of award for the amount of coughing that I have done in the last week, records have been broken and I am so ready to move on from illness. I am sick of cough syrup, lozenges, tissues, sneezing, watery eyes, and coughing. Put a fork in me, I am done. Or as they say in Dutch: ik ben er klaar mee (I am done with it).

THE BUTLER

In The Netherlands there is a film festival of sorts. It is now an annual event, where 10 cities will show 5 new films in one day at the largest chain of cinemas. The first film starts at 10:30am and the final film ends at 11pm. Five films in one day. What makes this so appealing is that none of the films have opened here yet and some are not coming for many months, so to see these films now and all on the same day, is a treat. You do get a break between each film and there are two meal breaks. You sit in the same seat the whole day, so it sort of feels like you are on a really big airplane, as you are with the same people all day. But I must say, this was a lot of fun. This is the second time we have done this, and we plan on doing it again next year. Here are the films we saw, in the order that they were shown.

WHAT MAISIE KNEW  This was the film that had the least amount of hype and it was quite impressive. This is the story of a young girl named Maisie who has parents who fight a lot and then separate. The custody arrangements are sloppy and painful and Maisie gets caught in the middle. Ironically, the new partners of her parents are the better parents for Maisie. The cast is excellent, the biggest name in this film is Julianne Moore, but the true star is the girl who plays Maisie, Onata Aprile.

ALL IS LOST  This is a very unusual film as there is only one person on film and that is Robert Redford. And he only says one word on film. Redford is alone at sea when his sail boat is damaged and he has to survive on his own. I completely believed Redford as this sailor who is determined to live, and I am not sure how many actors could have pulled this off. This is a great adventure movie that keeps you wondering if he will make it (as we know, not all movies have happy endings).

THE BUTLER  This was the film I have been wanting to see for a long time. I had read all the press and the reviews coming from America and was very eager to take in this story and film. All I can say is that it did not disappoint. The two stars, Forrest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, are so good and so real, you see them struggle, age and love through the years and you completely believe in them. Not only is the cast fantastic but the way the film was constructed and filmed was quite impressive. So many times films are made to just entertain us and that is a wonderful thing. There are other times, where a film can tell a story that opens our hearts and really makes us think…this is that kind of film. This is a film that just steps into your life and takes hold, for many different reasons. Only two times in this long day, did the audience applaud at the end, and for THE BUTLER they applauded loudly.

THE WAY WAY BACK   Fourteen year old Duncan is forced to spend his summer with his mother, her jerk of a boyfriend and his grumpy daughter. The good news is that it is at the beach and near a water park. Duncan’s summer is saved by the new friends he makes at the water park and he even finds some new confidence in himself. This is a very funny film and also a good story about growing up around adults that can disappoint you. It is very clever and the cast is outstanding: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell and Maya Rudolph. This was the second time the audience applauded and it was well deserved.

FRUITVALE STATION   This is the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22 year old young man who was killed by the metro police in 2009 in Oakland, California. The film shows us a young man, who is not perfect, but who loved his family and was trying to turn his life around. We share his last day on earth and it ends with that horrible event at the train station. Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer are just excellent in this very raw and riveting film. This won the Grand Jury Prize in Sundance.

All in all, this was a great day. I saw five great American films and they all had their individual strengths. It was interesting to watch these films with a Dutch audience. This country has had their issues, but they never had segregation here. To watch THE BUTLER with over 500 Dutch people, was very interesting and I am sure that there were scenes that were confusing and shocking to them. But you know what? Those same scenes were shocking to me too. I hope that anyone watching this movie will be disgusted, ashamed and saddened by this part of history. I would be really worried if we weren’t.

Bonus trivia—Not only did Octavia Spencer star in FRUITVALE STATION, but she was one of its producers. She had to get investors for this independent film, and one of them was Kathryn Stockett, the author of THE HELP. Spencer and Stockett have been friends for many years, and in fact, the character of Minnie (in THE HELP) was written with Octavia Spencer in mind.