A little Christmas outing

For many years now Mr Esther, I, and two university friends of ours have been going to Christmas markets in Germany in the month of December. Last year was supposed to be our 25th going-to-a-Christmas-market anniversary and we had wanted to go big to celebrate. We were planning on going to Berlin and make a nice 3 or 4 day trip of it but then the Corona virus happened last year and we couldn’t go. Instead, we were going to meet up, socially distanced, at our one friend’s house but then our other friend canceled the day before because she was feeling feverish. Good thing she did that too as she had indeed contracted Covid! Luckily she and her whole family had mild cases. So, no Christmas market or even getting together last year. I did have special Christmas market mugs made, to compensate a little for that loss.

We had wanted to try a Christmas market again this year but alas, with the new Omicron variant that was impossible as well. I think many markets in Germany have been canceled and even if they are open, we didn’t want to risk going to one and finding it to be too crowded. Our friend suggested we go to a sand sculpture festival in the east of the country. Attached to that was a little Christmas market of sorts and you could only get in with timed tickets, so hopefully a guarantee that it would never get too crowded. Armed with masks and proof of vaccination we went there last Saturday and it was great!

The sand sculptures have been up for quite a while (since last year, no new theme this year because of the pandemic) and the theme was “World War II and 75 years liberation”. They were stunning! Everything was covered from soldiers fighting, to daily life, to concentration camps, to battles such as Pearl Harbour, to liberation, our Dutch royal family, Anne Frank, Marlene Dietrich, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I took loads of pictures and have to share some here (click on images to see a larger view).

It was truly fascinating and to think that everything was made out of sand! We were really impressed.

There was a quaint shop and a little market around there that we walked through. I especially loved a treehouse they had made there. More pictures…

Afterwards we drove to this little restaurant in the middle of nowhere that Mr E remembered from some years back (again, only to be entered with proof of vaccination and assurance none of us had a cold). We had some hot chocolate and apple pie there. It was a foggy day and it all looked quite magical. Even the trees through the raindrops on our car’s sunroof looked magical….

We’re in another lockdown here, so all restaurants close at 5 pm. We left a little before that and drove to our friend’s house where we ordered in delicious sushi. When we got home again, Mr E set up the bust of a young lady in our garden that we had bought at the little market. She’s looking lovely today.

I’m glad we were able to do something nice like this while also keeping to regulations and I really hope that next year we can finally take that Berlin trip.

Socializing again

We had our first post-lockdown house guest: my 21 year old niece came to stay with us from abroad for 5 days, negative Covid tested and half-vaccinated (getting her second shot soon). She met up with some Dutch friends and of course came to see the family. It was good to reconnect again, especially for the cousins. My niece is studying at a university in South Korea and my daughter is already planning her trip to visit her there after she graduates high school next year.

After I dropped my niece off at the airport to fly home to my brother (her dad) yesterday morning, I drove to Delft to have my first post-lockdown lunch with two friends of mine. We hadn’t seen each other in over a year. No kisses and hugs hello, because you never know with high Covid infection numbers now, but a lovely outdoor lunch and time to catch up again in person.

A week and a half ago I also met up outdoors and socially distanced with 12 or 13 colleagues of mine for late afternoon drinks before the summer holidays start and next week I have a dinner planned with 3 ex-colleagues who have become friends. Although everything is happening with some distancing (except my niece’s visit), it feels like social life is picking up again. It’s lovely but also feels a little weird and I find I need a little time to adjust. Have I become even more introverted since the lockdowns started last year March? I find that while I’m really happy to see people again, I’m also really happy to come back home and crawl back into my own world again.

After I finish this post, I’m off to do some grocery shopping and then I think I’ll put the laptop away for a change and start crawling back into books again. Actor D.B. Woodside posted this on his Instagram stories…

…. and I’m thinking, yes, reading is a great idea! We have tried to make our kids read in the past as well but alas, it didn’t stick and they are not great readers now. Even I, who used to be a great reader when I was younger (before kids), have been neglecting my reading for quite a while now. Seeing D.B.’s daughter like that reminds me of my own childhood reading days and how I loved reading then and now I really want to disappear into a book again. Counterbalancing the socializing with reading seems like a great idea, no?

Rest in peace, old friend

My 83 year old aunt, who we all love dearly, had a very close friend, her closest friend for about 45 years, a sort of partner for her. As such we as a family became close to my aunt’s friend as well. Last night, at the age of 95, the friend died in a nursing home. Due to the Corona crisis my aunt had not been able to see her for close to two months, which was very difficult in itself, especially considering that before that my aunt had visited her almost daily.

H had not been well for a while and became completely bed ridden some 3 or 4 werks ago (not Corona related). Yesterday my aunt was able to say her goodbyes and in the night, at around 3 am this morning, H peacefully passed away in her sleep. She has had a good life.

I will always remember H’s tenaciousness of spirit and especially her huge sense of humour. Rest in peace, old friend.

#StayAtHome entertainment

All these weeks of staying at home and you’d think it would be boring, but it’s not really, not for me. Yes, I do miss the freedom of coming and going anywhere I please, seeing my family and friends for real, going out to cinemas and restaurants, travelling and experiencing new things. However, for all that I miss, I also have things I am grateful for: I’m with my wonderful husband and kids (seriously, I could never get sick of having them around), I still have work that pays me a regular salary, a roof over my head, a garden I can sit in when the sun shines, I have online and phone contacts with people outside and, as a bit of an introvert, I am also very well able to entertain myself.

I take walks with my husband but sometimes also by myself, with music playing in my headphones as I enjoy the scenery. The other day I took a lovely walk in a little green area about a 7 minute walk away from my house. I was listening to the Yentl soundtrack that I hadn’t listened to in a while. Papa is always an emotional song for me, connected in so many meaningful ways to my own papa…

Anyway, listening to beautiful, relaxing music like that while walking can really lift your spirits, especially when the views are so pretty with nature blooming now in the spring…

Not that many people walk there at the end of the afternoon/beginning of the evening when I tend to take my walks, so it’s a good keeping-your-distance route. I love to see the trees starting to bloom and flowers popping up.

And there is more to entertain me! There are re-reruns on Dutch TV of my absolute favourite show of the end 1980’s / beginning 1990’s, the Australian TV series The Flying Doctors. We’re in the doctor Geoff and nurse Kate heydays right now, so even though I have seen all the episodes and I own them, I also do tune in now and again to see how they’re getting on and where they are in the story. We’re getting close to the big Geoff and Kate rift in season 4 when Geoff’s brother comes to town; that was one of the most exciting times of the whole series, I love seeing those episodes.

There were 9 seasons of that show, the last two seasons or so weren’t as fun, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a special on how they’re doing now, 30 years on.

On Friday evening I enjoyed a broadcast of  a 2011 The Phantom of the Opera 25th anniversary performance on YouTube. By the time I post this, it will almost be going offline, but oh my goodness it was good (and worth a donation)! I didn’t mean to watch the whole thing but I got stuck anyway. Ramin Karimloo plays the Phantom with such feeling and intensity, I became a fan instantly. And Sierra Boggess as Christine is just amazing. I had never heard of them before and they have great chemistry together. Here a clip of them perfoming at the Brit Awards in 2012…

I also loved the celebration bit after the musical ended and, with just small gestures, again Ramin Karimloo made a great impression on me.

And then last night there was another #stayathome highlight for me. For the first time ever I did a three person video chat with two very good friends of mine in the US. We always chat a lot in writing, have done so for 18 years, but until this corona crisis when seemingly everyone has taken to video chatting, we had never thought to do a video chat amongst ourselves before. We’re usually busy and rarely online at the same time but with all of us staying at home now, we figured we should be able to arrange something. So, last night at 9 pm my time and 3 pm their time we finally got together for a video chat and ‘hung out’ for close to two hours, also seeing husbands and a few kids. It was wonderful! The internet and social media really can be so amazing.

Besides all this I have also been going down a Jean Simmons rabbit hole in recent weeks. I had been going through my Richard Chamberlain collection a little while back and saw bits and pieces of The Thorn Birds again where Jean Simmons plays Meggie’s mother, Fee. She is so good in that role!

It made me think of The Big Country with Gregory Peck again, in which she co-stars, and I re-watched that (yup, it’s good movie!). I have always loved her in the role of school teacher Julie Maragon, I always wished for her role to have been bigger.

Looking at her filmography I know I have seen her in a lot of things already over the years, most of the them ages ago, and I have always liked her. Besides the roles I just mentioned I remember her best in Great Expectations from 1946, Black Narcissus from 1947 (excellent movie!), even though those were small roles…

… and of course in Spartacus from 1960. I remember enjoying the film and story but I mostly remember loving Simmons as Varinia. I remember the tension in the Laurence Olivier scenes and the love in the Kirk Douglas scenes.

I have also seen The Robe (1953) with Richard Burton, Young Bess (1953) with her then-husband Stewart Granger and Désiree (1954) with Marlon Brando, all historical costume dramas. I confess to remembering little about them, although Young Bess and Désiree stick in my mind as movies I did like at the time.

I came across a movie called Until They Sail and, when I saw the trailer, remembered I had seen that too. I watched that one again and boy, I really liked it! It’s about four sisters in New Zealand during the Second World War and the relationships they have with Americans stationed there. I loved the understated, almost philosophical scenes between Jean Simmons and Paul Newman…

… and the conclusion between them is just everything. It’s not only about them, though, it’s about four sisters who are very different at handling the same situation. I really liked it, it’s going onto my fave Jean Simmons movies list.

Last night, after that two hour video chat (I’m a night owl), I watched Guys and Dolls from 1955 that Simmons also did with Marlon Brando. I’d never seen that before, apart from bits and pieces. Both are only OK singers but oh my, they have such great chemistry! I loved them together in this movie, like in this clip.

The movie was alright (it apparently also has Frank Sinatra) but really shone and came to life when those two appeared together on screen. It was fun!

Yeah, this Jean Simmons rabbit hole is going deep. I want to re-watch Désiree now to see if the chemistry with Brando was also there in that, and I want to see Young Bess and Spartcaus again. I also need to see Angel Face, a film noir movie with Robert Mitchum in which I think she plays a psychopath; it is said to be one of her absolute best roles.

jean simmon sangel face mitchum

Oh, and she did one with Cary Grant, Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr called The Grass is Greener which I also saw many years ago, need to look into that one again as well.

I’m sure there will be more as I dig on.  I’m loving my journey of Jean Simmons re-discovery.

I feel it is so important to be social and stay at home and yes, I do feel restricted during this corona crisis but I am also lucky that I have enough ways to entertain myself. Thank goodness for the world at our feet on the internet and for a world that is beautiful outside.

It ain’t easy…

These days I find myself singing this David Bowie song in my head…

There’s a lot to deal with over here in the Esther-household.

Things with my daughter (I call her Sec here) and her friend (Tem), who has been admitted to a closed institution, have come to a head. As much as my daughter wants to support her friend, it has become impossible for her to do so now. Tem is putting Sec under pressure to do certain things for her (not only during visits but also in phone calls), trying to manipulate her, venting her frustration onto my daughter and it is causing deep depression, anxiety, sleeplessness and even fear for Sec. For my daughter’s own protection we’ve decided (and she has come to that conclusion herself as well) that it is best to break off contact with Tem for a while. Things have become so toxic that, together with a psychologist, this decision was made and Sec has felt lighter and somewhat relieved because of it since. We always knew the friendship was close but had its problems (hence us separating them in school a few years ago) but it is only now surfacing how deep those problems have become and how much Sec has slowly slipped into a role of suffering friend doing everything for her friend but getting very little in return. There is of course much more to all of this than I wish to write about here, but suffice it to say we have been very worried for Sec. Now, things do seem to be looking up a little for her, so that is good. Still to be continued, though…

And then the next thing: a week ago we were hearing on the news that in my hometown a woman on a bike  had been killed in an accident when a truck didn’t see her and drove over her. Horrifying news and then last weekend, while I was having a lovely weekend away with Suzy in Germany, I was contacted by an ex-colleague who told me the woman who had been killed was the former cleaning lady we used to have at the office! This wasn’t just any cleaning lady, she was the most lovely, cheerful, warm person you could ever wish to meet. I used to organize movie nights and she’d be there (she was working for a cleaning company, not for us, but she was so dear to many of us, I just invited her along every time), at company parties she was always helpful and friendly and full of mischief and laughter. I can still see her wide smile in my mind’s eye. She even insisted on babysitting my kids once and, even though it was only once some 6 or 7 years ago, the kids still remember her and the games she played with them. I last saw her about two years ago during a dinner… I just can’t believe that she was ripped out of her life in such a horrifying way. I understand her family has taken her body to Morocco so she can be buried there. Rest in peace, dear Hassana.  “Inna Lillaahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Raji’oun” (“We surely belong to Allah and to Him we shall return”).

On top of all this, two evenings ago Mr Esther started getting stomach cramps. It got really bad at night, so we went to see a doctor on night duty. Mr Esther was given tests and painkillers and they think it may be gallstones. We were sent home again, with pain sort of managed and were told to make an appointment in the hospital for a scan of his stomach. The pain has not subsided and the meds are turning out to not be doing enough, so this morning I called the doctor again. We now have a low dose of morphine for him. In less than two hours we have that hospital appointment. Going by in how much pain the poor man is, I fear they may even want to keep him there in hospital… we’ll see.

Sorry for the quick brain drain here. Stuff on this blog tends to be escapist and happy-ish but sometimes real life needs to be acknowledged here too. I know that this too shall all pass but as I already said, it ain’t easy this week. In the meantime, I’m posting kittens here to cheer me up…

kittens

(To anyone else having a bad week: I got that picture from here:    https://metro.co.uk/2017/07/10/23-cute-kittens-to-get-you-through-a-tough-week-6760550/)