Saturday, July 30, 2011

Finnessing the Cat

One of the mistakes many dog owners make is to treat their dog like a child. I can hear Cesar Milan's voice, saying, "When you take things out of nature, they become unablanced." Happily, cats take to being treated like a human child the way a duck takes to water: it's their prerogative, after all, being the true lords of the universe. The Mayans were right--the world will end on December 21, 2012. Because the Tweeb will die that day, and take her true form as the Goddess of Fickle.

The Tweeb has been on a prescription renal diet for the past two years. She eats both kibbles and wet food, getting about two tablespoons of kibbles for her breakfast, and a packet of wet food at night. We cheat a bit--she'll get some fish when we have it, and every night I lace her wet food with some of the normal kibble because otherwise she won't eat it--but overall we're pretty strict about making sure she stays on the prescription diet.

About two weeks into the regime change--we didn't change her food until her blood values remained elevated for two tests in a row--she started getting, well, bored with the food. And every night since has been a comedy of errors, to try to convince her to eat her food. It comes in two acts, repeated over and over again: the suspenseful build-up of squawking increasing in both frequency and volume; and the granting of said food. The last requires you to act like a teenybopper who's just been kissed by God Justin Bieber, and getting her to eat it required administration of constant praise and occasional--but not too frequent--pettings.

It took us a while to work out the twisted map of the Tweeb's psyche. OK, I exaggerate. It's quite simple, really: CAT-MOMMY MUST BE WITH ME ALL THE TIME OR ELSE. Cats were once revered as gods--and while I'm an atheist, frankly...well, given the Tweeb's ability to break glass with her voice and throw temper tantrums, the "or else" bit is probably best left undiscovered.

Babies and toddlers eventually grow out of this stage, I'm told. This must be why we've started discussing children.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hang Time

The hardest part about sustaining a blog is coming up with relevant topics and making them interesting. It gets even harder when, for whatever reason, your brain decides that clouds don't really count as daylight. I've been in a bit of a funk for the past two weeks, and a bit glum for the entire summer, so while I take care of that the blog will be on a bit of a hiatus as I start achieving functionality again.

I'm guessing it will be another week to ten days before everything starts working again. Until then, this is your host Jules, signing off.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Buried Alive

I've been a fan of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, ever since a friend of mine pointed it out to me (unfortunately, during finals week of medical school). The series, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is a ripping fantasy rife with scheming, backstory that's as good as the plot, cruelty that makes waterboarding look like a dip in the kiddy pool (not saying that makes waterboarding okay, but I think I'd rather be dead than Reek), unlikely heroes, and a healthy dose of literary irony. What makes it so appealing is that the story just as often progresses through the eyes of "the bad guys" as much as it does through the protagonists, so you end up with an incredibly nuanced story that makes ripping through the first 3200 pages a breeze--it's not light reading. Equally appealing is that you can't count on your heroes surviving, nor can you count on your bad guys dying: like the real world, our heroes are mortal, and they do die. And sometimes evil (or really, better poisoners) does prevail. But more often than not, good people make bad decisions, while even the worst characters can find redemption.

The first four books (out of a planned 7, supposedly, although I suspect it will end up being 9) came out in relatively quick succession--1996, 2000, 2005--if you consider the length, depth, and scope these stories encompass. But A Dance with Dragons only came out this year, and only after some 2 years of "It's coming next month". Karel surprised me earlier this week when he handed me an box filled with a 900-page tome, and, well, the rest is history. I tend to get a little compulsive about these things.

This was a (very late) Christmas present, but the fact that I got it so soon after it was released is one of those marvels of the Internet that, if you think back just 10 years ago, would have been unlikely. 20 years ago--impossible. Karel and I aren't that much into movies--I might have been had I stayed in the States, being fed on a constant diet of indie movies at the Ritz--so not being anywhere near HP7B fans on opening day was nice. Film culture in the Netherlands doesn't seem to make the distinction between the cheap thrill and the highbrow art affair. Some movie theaters are more devoted to the European art-house flick than others, which import subtitled trash (sorry, but it'll take a director of Chris Nolan's caliber to elevate Transformers anything more serious than a 30-minute after-school cartoon) directly from the US, but even those theaters will still show "serious" (not necessarily "good") movies like "Sonny Boy".

Ostensibly I'm talking about books and not movies, but when you live in a country where English isn't the first language, you have to learn to accept that your book selections will be limited, both in time (not-so-recent recent releases) and scope, as most books tend to be fiction (unless you live in Amsterdam and have access to Waterstone's, which I do not). These days, with the Kindle and other e-book readers, you don't need to go to a brick-and-mortar store to get a paper-printed book, but I have always been attracted to the methodical passage of pages and a bookmark's creep down the length of the spine. For huge books like A Dance with Dragons, it feels like more of an accomplishment. I don't doubt that one of these days, we'll get an iPad or an e-reader--it's a question of commitment, really, and whether we'd use it enough to warrant the €700 price. But I'm sort of saddened to think that my generation might be one of the last ones in which you can, somewhat literally, be "buried in a book".

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Actually I should have posed the eggs with the Tweeb, since she actually does squawk, but she's also a fussbudget and got up and stalked off, so Noodle had to be the hen in this picture...

Anyway: I've been buying our eggs from the nearby boerenboerderij, because they come from organically-fed, free-range chickens. Even at €0.20 each, they're still substantially less than the same eggs at the supermarket. I don't think they actually taste any better (or maybe I'm too much of a Luddite) but it does make me feel a little better not to be buying scharreleiren.

Eggs are rated from 0-4. The higher the number, the more confined the chicken. The number is stamped on the egg itself, along with a country-of-origin (NL usually), a 5-digit code that corresponds to the farm it came from, and a 2-digit code that corresponds to which chicken (or at least, which part of the farm) laid it. So a 0-rated egg comes from those chickens you see scratching happily in the garden on all of the egg commercials, while a 4-rated egg comes from a box-chicken in one of those massive factory farms that animal welfare activists are always protesting. Even if you don't give a rat's @$$ about chicken welfare, chickens are pretty dirty birds, and having so many side by side is like putting a shit-factory next to your eggs, so you're braver than I am if you like buying eggs from such a source.

Most eggs in the Netherlands are rated a 2--scharreleiren, meaning that the chickens have some room to roam, but are still kept closely confined. So closely, in fact, that sometimes they are de-beaked to prevent them from injuring each other when they fight. I'm sure the chickens are, if not okay, not too badly disrupted by the process, but even so--it's kind of squicky to think about. A 1-rating means that they are afforded at least some outdoor time on a regular basis, but really, if you're concerned about poultry welfare, a 0 is the best way to go.

In the EU, the European Commission (very good website!) has a set of guidelines which govern all organic produce produced in the member states. For something to be called "organic", it must at the very least comply with the EC rules, and some companies and countries have even more stringent guidelines. Although the rules have been in place since 1992, the EC only mandated that a standard logo must be phased in starting last least their priorities are straight?

For us, buying meat, dairy, and egg products from humanely-treated animals is more about a philosophy than food snobbery. Ever since we got Noodle, Karel has been paying more attention to where his food comes from, and he insists on buying meat with the "puur en eerlijk" (pure and fair--in this case, humanely-treated) label on it. If I had my way entirely, he'd be a vegetarian right with me, but I can live with this compromise ;-)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Calender Gurl

I spent the Fourth of July having perhaps one of the worst job interviews, one of those interviews that gets cited for "How NOT to Have an Interview" articles on job-hunting sites. To be fair, what the people were looking for wasn't clearly expressed in the advert, so I didn't feel too bad about losing it once I realized they wanted someone with a lot more chemistry in their background. It was not a celebration, unless you count the beer I had at the end of a draining day as my version of a drunken orgy, and it most emphatically did not have fireworks.

I had a few problems adjusting to holidays in the Netherlands. Because Karel works shifts, he has a very irregular schedule and is just as likely to have to work a weekend as he is to have Wednesday free. When I lived in the US, holidays were a way to mark the passage of time: New Year's was the start of the new year; St. Patrick's meant spring was just around the corner; Memorial Day meant I could start wearing white; July 4 was the midsummer; Labor Day meant school started; and Thanksgiving meant that I was in deep trouble if I hadn't gotten together my Christmas list.

Most of the holidays in the Netherlands are religious, with the exception of New Year's and Liberation Day. And as such, it is impossible to set them to any date, as Easter Monday, Ascension Day, and the second day of Pentecost are X days after Day Y. These are more-or-less universally Christian holidays, and thus are recognized by the entire country, but Carnival and St. Maartens are more regional. Carnival is mainly in the south--in Nijmegen we have a token celebration, but most of the shops don't even bother to close--while St. Maartens is observed in the northern provinces as well as Maastricht. The latter is explained by the fact that Sint Maarten coincides with the harvest; the north is largely agrarian. The Dutch version of the Wiki page says the tradition (making lanterns, singing songs, getting candy) is spreading throughout the rest of the Netherlands, but it could be that the writer is getting confused with Halloween celebrations, since some small enclaves of expats rig trick-or-treat routes for their kids.

The funny thing about holidays in the US and in the Netherlands: in the US, people purport to be Christians and say "God Bless America" and all that stuff, but they don't celebrate the Ascension, or the Pentecost; and indeed, unless you're a priest, I doubt you'd know when to do so. In the Netherlands, religion is one of those things you're expected to have but not to share, lest you be mistaken for an evangelicizing prick, and yet the Ascension and Pentecost are marked holidays.

*This jellyfish shot is the only one that has red, (a little) white, and blue.