Tag Archives: Friendship

The Shabbos Goy at Leiden U.



Our firstborn is at university on the other side of the country. That sounds far away; it’s only a 2 hour drive, but still! We’ve had the necessary sleepless nights worrying first about how he was going to make it on his own,keeping on top of his busy schedule, laundry, feeding himself proper food, then about his choice of study, followed by what would his wacky first landlord come up with next, and shouldn’t he be spending more time on his study than his music? Lately we’ve seemed to have arrived in calmer waters. Olivier’s study is going well, he’s still singing but it’s no. 2 on the priority list for the time being, he doesn’t come home in the weekend with a week’s worth of laundry anymore and disappear until Sunday dinner, he actually spends time with us when he’s home, he’s learning to drink wine…in short he’s turned into a delightfully civilised young man and we’re getting a good night’s sleep because of it.

He’s been writing a few articles lately as part of his minor at Leiden U. as well as just setting his thoughts down to make sense of the world. Here’s what he wrote about the shooting at Umpqua Community College last week.

Horrified by the shooting in Roseburg, OR. I couldn’t imagine the lack of safety, and fear I would feel if this would happen at Leiden University. With eight school-shootings in the US in the past three years, the most painful being the one involving the first-graders in Newtown, CT, it makes you question if school environments are safe in the US. Especially, since this one happened in a gun-free zone.

It’s frustrating to see this happening over and over again. The Charleston-shooting is just 3,5 months ago. A very memorable quote from a family member of a victim was: “Hate the sin, but forgive the sinner”. It stresses the importance of environmental factors leading to such a crime, be it gun-control in whatever form, lack of good parenting or the lack of a community that exercises social control on its members.

Sending strength and consolation to the families in Oregon, while hoping larger steps will be taken in addressing the root cause(s) of these shootings. And finally, enjoying the safe community around me, consisting of tolerant people allowing different people to live together safely. Tolerance is necessary, but in this case, as a (world-)community, we need to speak out a collective vote to stop tolerating these crimes, not just in the US, but everywhere.

I couldn’t wait to tell him in person how well put I thought this little piece was.

We usually get the week’s drama out of the way when I pick him up at the train station. By the time we’re at our front door I’m listening to his stories of college life, the new experiences, hearing his (wild) plans for the future. Its fun to see his old highschool crew when they come to our house to drink beer and play cards on the odd Saturday night, and hearing him sing the Magnificat when he’s under the shower on Sunday mornings is a treat not to be missed.


This weekend he announced “Mom! I’m a Shabbos goy!” I can’t remember the last time I heard that term, certainly not in this country. Simply put,a Shabbos goy is a non-Jew who performs work that a Jew is not permitted to do at Shabbat. There are a shedload of specifications and exceptions if you look into this properly, but this is the short version. After I got done laughing he told me the details. Apparently one of his friends at university has returned to the faith and our Ollie puts the lights on in D’s apartment on Friday’s after sundown. The days are short at this time of year on this parallel, so this qualifies as a “life threatening situation”– 18th century buildings, high, narrow stairs…you dont’want to think about the consequences of stumbling around in the dark because you aren’t supposed to turn on a light switch. Is my kid a mensch or what?

We shipped him back to Leiden on Sunday morning. He sent me a funny Facebook sticker last night.


This afternoon the phone rang and it was my friend, Marjolein. “Did you hear about Leiden?”

The phrase “Did you hear about…” in the middle of the afternoon sends chills up my spine. Nothing good comes of it. Another afternoon in 2001, my mother-in-law phoned and asked, “Did you hear about the Twin Towers?”

The earth tilted and my world started slipping away.“What about Leiden?”

There was a threat posted in social media about a gun massacre somewhere on the Leiden campus. I’d been too busy bumping up my Candy Crush score all morning to look at the news, so I hadn’t heard about it yet.

I hung up and quickly phoned my son. I heard his voice. The earth tilted back to a normal position. He was at home, studying for his exam this afternoon. Olivier wasn’t worried about the threat. He assumed it was just some nutjob being stupid online. My son is 21 and still immortal. The immortal train left my station a long time ago, I think it was when I became a mother. I was scared. He wasn’t. He was going to his exam as planned. I made him promise me that if he heard gunfire to hit the ground and play dead. I couldn’t believe what I was saying as the words left my mouth. What kind of world do we live in?


Something Amazing on a Thursday Afternoon


Soap bubble



Today I saw something amazing.

There was a group of women, slightly older than I am, standing outside the entrance to the grocery store. One of the women was wearing a beautiful scarf around her head, and my first thought was “How chic!”, then I realized it wasn’t a fashion statement. I was just about ready to feel  ashamed of my thought when she busted a move and sent the other women into hysterics. Post-menopausal giggling women are a beautiful sight to behold indeed. I had to smile as I walked past.

Another woman joined them and exclaimed, “Oh! Thank God! You still have your eyebrows!” to which the woman in the scarf replied, “For now, anyway.” By this time I was inside the shop, but lurking behind the potato bin to see what else was going to happen within this group. I kind of got choked up at this point, decided to stop eavesdropping and get my shopping done.

When I left the shop, they were still standing there, laughing and chattering away as if they had all the time in the world, or maybe they were making time for something more important. I considered, but didn’t stop to look in the pet supply store window to eavesdrop some more. Instead I thought soap bubbles and sparkly things in their direction to wish them well.


Thursday With the Divas: New Year’s Theme


Its weird that the New Year fell in the middle of the week. It feels as though there were some cosmic officer of the peace out there last night saying, “Move along people, move along, there’s nothing more of this holiday to see” because today was very much business as usual.

This morning saw me in my finest ersatz flamenco regalia at dance class. Best wishes for the new year were exchanged all around and I was suprised to see Erma: she should have been in Spain. Apparently grandson No. 2 is in a rush to make his entrance to the world and her trip was cut short. “He’s coming on the 4th, “ she said, and knowing Erma, it’s a safe bet grandson No. 2 will be center stage shortly after midnight on Saturday. She also announced her personal theme for 2014: Belonging. The Divas don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. We embrace a holistic approach and work with themes. Its much easier than a long list of promises to “be a better you” that you’ll only end up breaking anyway.

Over the past few days, I’d been letting my thoughts whirl and twirl over the concept of the new year for the past few days and couldn’t focus in on one specific personal theme. When Erma said the words, I knew that “Belonging” is a perfect theme for me as well.

Feeling as though one “belongs” is a fundamental human need. Everybody feels like an outsider at times. It is not a nice place to be emotionally. Sometimes all that’s needed to change the situation is a friendly wave, a smile or a kind word to and you’re gathered in from the cold to the place where you belong. Sometimes people who are behaving in annoying way, trying too hard, seeming to too needy for attention, just need to be told quite literally, “It’s okay, we like you, you belong..”

E.M. Forster said it beautifully in “Howard’s End”:

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.

 * Images found at Google



When all the talk is done,

when everything that can be allowed

is said,

only poetry


Metaphor to express

caress, a breezy kiss of

water skeeters skimming

the surface of

a deeper

sentimental pond.

Adjectives, light butterflies

flitting shadows over

the page,

dusting the words with


making them bloom

opulent colors,

scented with the dreams

of my heart.

Cicada rhythm,

apian melody,

orchestral strings hidden


cherry blossom,



the honesuckle,



the wisteria

of my thoughts.

You have the key

to this garden.

Hang it on the hook

by the gate

when you leave.

Come back soon,

as often as you like.

Maybe I will discover

your dewy footprint

on the path

one day.

* Image from Google

Only Poetry Remains

My Friend, Astrid


There are all kinds of friendships that can come your way if you’re lucky. There are new friends, and they’re always exciting. Other friends are friends you’ve known forever, the ones who knew you way back when and love you still, in spite of and maybe because of everything. There are still other friends you have at critical points in your life with whom you lose touch afterward. Maybe your paths cross later and it’s nice but there’s no need to resume the same kind of intimacy you had before. Then there are the friends who dart in and out of your life-woven tapestry in repeating pattern. You may not see them for years, but when you do, there is no awkwardness, no searching for common ground because it is there, as though you’d just spoken with them yesterday.

I was out late last night. I know. It was the middle of the week, what was I thinking? It was fun and I did manage to haul my sorry self out of bed in time for dance class, to the grocery store after that. Once at home, I had a snack and planned to spend the rest of the day cleaning, doing laundry and cooking something decent for dinner. I peeked at Our Salon while snacking then got down to the business of housekeeping.

I’d just thrown chemicals into the toilet when Mack let me know that someone was at the front door. It was Astrid.

Astrid is one of my favorite people in the world. She’s probably the most down-to-earth woman I’d ever met. We met at the school gate when our kids were little, and for a few years while the kids were in elementary school we saw a lot of one another and had a number of memorable adventures.

There are three stories about Astrid, who I always call “Astrid” and not “As” like everybody else does, because to my Anglo ear, “As” sounds too much like “ass” and I just can’t do it, which illustrate her character better than a photo and a biography could.

Reading is Fundamental

We’re sitting in Astrid’s kitchen, drinking coffee. She shoves a school announcement to me from across the table

What do you make of this?” she asked.

So I told her.

What do you make of it, then?”

I can’t read it.”

What do you mean, you can’t read it?”

I can’t read very well. I’m what’s it called, ‘dyslexic’.”

So you ask your foreign friend, the one with questionable Dutch what it says?”

Well yeah. I knew you wouldn’t laugh.”

Astrid was one of those kids who fell through the cracks in the school system here.

She speaks Dutch, German and English fluently, but it’s all by ear. Don’t ask her to spell and/or explain grammar. If you wan’t an Ikea flat-pack put together in no time, call Astrid, she’s a whiz at reading schematic drawings.

Over the years since we’ve been friends she’s worked on her reading skills and they’ve improved. By the time the Harry Potter craze rolled around, she read the books in English. It took her forever, but she did and I was really proud of her when she told me she’d finished the first one. So I gave her a shot to the arm and she kicked me in the butt.

Christmas Absolution

By some crazy happenstance, both our families moved from our old neighborhood to the same neighborhood in another part of town in 2003. We moved in October, they moved in just before Christmas. I’d stopped by for coffee at their new place and Astrid was at the top of a wonky ladder, painting the hallway. It was two weeks before Christmas and I was in a panic because I was superbly underprepared for the impending holiday: I hadn’t baked any cookies, the shopping wasn’t finished and I hadn’t written my Christmas cards yet.

Astrid leaned down from the ladder, raised her paint roller in absolution and said, “You know, girlfriend, nobody says you have to send Christmas cards. Coffee?”

Its weird, but it felt like an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

I didn’t send Christmas cards that year. Nobody died.

The Break In

I’d just dropped the boys off at scouts and was looking forward to a few hours of quiet on my own at home when I’d discovered that I didn’t have my house keys.

It was 5: 30 pm., November cold, and my husband and MIL were both out of the country, so there were no spare keys in the Netherlands. I was faced with a choice: gape through the window at my house keys sitting on the kitchen table where I’d thrown them 15 minutes earlier and cry or seek help.

Astrid sprang to mind. Like many of my friends (and most of my relatives), Astrid has a mysterious past. I walked the few blocks to her house and found them just sitting down to dinner. They invited me to sit down and spill my tale of woe. “Well,” said Astrid’s husband, “shall I grab the tool bag, or would you like to do that while I clear up here.”

The scruffy, dusty tool bag contained a variety of orthodox and unorthodox tools one could use to break into a house. Astrid didn’t say, but I’m thinking they came straight from Fagan’s lair. The only window open in our house was a narrow transom. I now know that a skinny assed thief with a modified screwdriver could theoretically break into the house via the transom and exactly how fast and easy it is to do the deed. It was amazing.

So Astrid and I haven’t seen much of each other the past few years but we met up at the grocery store . Well I saw her standing in the juice section and I gently rammed her in the rear-end with my shopping cart. She turned around ready to knock somebody’s block off, saw it was me and started laughing. We stood and talked in the middle of the aisle for 45 minutes (much to the chagrin of the other customers) and resumed the impromptu coffee visits a few weeks ago.

 * Image found at Google