Articles from this Tag

Our ten Favourite Photos of Animals

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series 10 Favourite Photos

Who doesn’t love photos of animals?

We all know the internet was created so people could share photos of cute animals. Who are we to defy the internet? That’s why today we want to share with you our favourite photos of the furry creatures we’ve encountered on our travels.

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We can explore the world, worry-free, with our house-sitters at home

We can explore the world, worry-free, with our house-sitters at home

Andrew and I travel often and, at least once a year, we are away from home for more than a couple of weeks. People often ask me what we do with our cats and if I worry about leaving our flat empty. The truth is I used to worry about our pets and our home, when we were on the road, but two years ago I discovered a great solution for travelling expats – house-sitters.

Ok, before you say it, I know exactly what you are thinking, because in all honesty, I though it too. You let strangers stay in your house while you’re gone… with your cats and all of your stuff? Isn’t that weird and, well, dangerous? Well, sure, it would be if I just grabbed the first person to walk down my street and handed them the keys to our flat. But that’s not exactly how we’ve gone about it. And I promise you, we’ve had no regrets, other than not finding house-sitters sooner.

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Don’t leave me behind

People are always surprised when we tell them our cats are Canadian.

“You brought three cats to Belgium, all the way from Canada,” they exclaim. Well, actually it was four cats and our Saint Bernard joined us three months later, but yes. Our pets are all from Canada.

It surprises me that they are surprised. We wouldn’t dream of moving without our pets. They are an important part of our family. When we adopted them it was for life.

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This morning we had to say goodbye to our sweet little Calico. After weeks of fighting her kidney failure we knew it was time to let her rest. Over the past week she had gradually being getting weaker and had pretty much given up eating. This morning our vet agreed that it was best to let her go. It was a hard choice but the right one as we didn’t want her to be in any unnecessary pain.

Dea was only 11 and we feel cheated that we had to say goodbye so soon. She was our second cat; the first that we chose together at the shelter. She traveled more than many people and was always fearless about exploring new places and claiming them as her own. Although she was very loving to everyone she met, she was a Daddy’s girl and Andrew was always the best person in the world in her eyes.

It was a short life but we hope she thought it was a good one. Our family won’t be the same without her and she will be missed every day. We love you Dea.

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Orange is taking full advantage of being allowed in her Mom’s normally off-limits office.

So last night Andrew and I had the joyful task of force feeding Orange. We let her eat as much as she wanted from the bowl on her own first and then the fun began. Let me tell you… syringing cat food down a wriggling, clawing, unhappy cat’s throat is not a fun task. By the end of it, there was more cat food on Andrew and I, on the floor of the kitchen and wiped up in paper towels than in the cat. Miraculously however, we all survived the ordeal.

This morning we were geared up for another battle. Orange however, shocked and thrilled us by eating the entire bowl on her own (very slowly mind you but entirely without force). We were ecstatic about this and feel it’s a very good sign.

We weren’t quite home free as we had to get a pill down her throat… something she absolutely hates. That was quite a struggle, involving some blood loss on my part but we won in the end. After that, she even ate a bit more food to get the pill taste out of her mouth.

So I’m hoping tonight will go as well as this morning and we don’t have to resort the syringes again. Your happy thoughts and prayers seem to be doing a very good job as Orange really seems to be bouncing back from this.

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First of all, let me say a huge thank you on behalf of Andrew, Orange and myself for all of your kind comments and e-mails. It really helps. I know that many non-pet owners (and for that matter, some people that own pets) don’t understand the bond that Andrew and I have with our cats, but they really are like our children and are such an important part of our family. When they are sick, we feel responsible, helpless and scared. Your kind thoughts and words let us know that we aren’t alone.

So first the bad news… Orange is suffering from liver failure. This is terrifying to me but fortunately there are some positives as well.

The good news is, first of all, we know what we are dealing with now. There are ways to treat the problem (which I’ll get to in a bit) and that gives us hope. The biggest positive is that Orange was allowed to come home with us this morning. She is much perkier after her fluids and some force feeding by the vet. In fact, the little miss is exploring my formerly cat-free office as we speak (yes, the sick must be given some privileges). She is happy to be home and wants lots of attention which I am more than happy to give her. Finally in the good news department, we are much happier with our new vet. She has been very honest about the seriousness of Orange’s condition (she is definitely not out of the woods yet), however she has been competent in her care and has given us some hope.

This brings me back to Orange’s diagnosis of liver failure (not to be confused with liver disease which is much less treatable). Andrew actually put together the explanation this morning of why a relatively young indoor cat would have a sudden and serious liver problem. He found an article on Hepatic Lipidosis or ‘fatty liver’ disease. You can read the article for more information but basically this occurs when a cat that is overweight suddenly looses weight. This fat clogs up the functioning liver and causes it to fail.

When we read about this, it was like a light bulb went on. About a month ago, we took Deirdre to our former vet about a skin rash. He insisted that our cats should be on a natural diet. We felt that they wouldn’t accept a change in diet at their age but he insisted that if we didn’t offer them any other option, eventually they would eat it. He said that they were overweight and losing some wouldn’t hurt them. Well, we tried this new diet for about four weeks and none of the cats were really going for it.

Orange stopped eating it altogether so in the end I switched them back to their old food. She ate this for a few days and then stopped eating that as well. (This brings us to Friday night when this all started).

When we told the new vet of this history, this morning, she immediately guessed who our former vet was and agreed that this rapid weight loss was most likely the cause of Orange’s problem. The treatment is strict force-feeding and hoping that the liver can repair itself.

This whole situation is leaving me with a lot of mixed emotions right now. Of course I am relived that Orange is home and that there is a possible cure. I’m terrified that we didn’t catch it in time and that her liver won’t be able to repair itself. I’m also really mad. I’m mad at our former vet for not warning us of complications with the diet change. I’m now seriously questioning Caesar’s death. He was also switched to a natural diet by this vet. Moreover I’m mad at myself for not trusting my instincts when I felt uncomfortable with all of this. I strongly believe that you shouldn’t blindly trust doctors and that you are ultimately responsible for your own well-being. For serious decisions you should seek a second opinion (or a third or however many it takes) if you feel uncomfortable with the option(s) your doctor gives you. I didn’t apply this reasoning to my pets’ health and now I feel responsible.

I’m not trying to blame the natural diet or even the former vet. I still think in theory it’s a good idea – but starting when the animal is young and/or with very strict guidance and an awareness of the problems that could arise from it. The only good I can hope that will come of this is that someone else might read this and save their pet from the same fate.

Right now all we can do is continue to hope that Orange will be strong enough to fight this. Please keep sending her your positive thoughts.

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Belgians love a good party. Even the tiniest villages have some sort of annual celebration. Throw in a parade, live music and of course a good helping of Belgian beer and you’ve got yourself a Belgian festival.

It seems like every weekend there is a festival going on somewhere in Belgium. The themes can range from the expected — jazz, art and cultural festivals — to the tasty, such as the chocolate festival in Bruges.

Then there are the downright strange: the rugby and beer festival, the cactus festival and (something I have vowed to check out this year) The International Regatta of Bathtubs.

The Bathtub regatta, it seems, was dreamed up as a marketing stunt to attract visitors to the town of Dinant in August. A flotilla of highly decorated bathtubs makes its way (or not, as the case may be) down the Meuse River, to the delight of onlookers. This sounds like good times to me!

Last weekend, my festival sights were centred on Ypres and the 41st Kattenstoet — the Cats Parade.

This celebration of all things feline happens every three years and is attended by cat lovers from around the world.

The Kattenstoet seems like the ideal festival for cat fanciers like me. Its medieval roots however are more sinister and would surely have protesters storming the town.

During the middle ages the Grote Markt would be overrun with stray cats by the end of its annual fair. The court jester would gather up as many of the cats as he could and throw them from the belfry to the cobbled square below (undoubtedly to the delight of bloodthirsty medieval peasants).

These days, the jester tradition continues with fifty stuffed toy cats being thrown into an eagerly awaiting (and only slightly less bloodthirsty) crowd.

The parade itself celebrates cats throughout history and around the world with a huge array of floats, ending of course with the mainstay of all good Belgian parades — a handful of giants.

Face painters must be in huge demand in Ypres on the morning before the cat parade. Everybody gets into the spirit. There are cats (or cat wannabes) of every shape, size and colour. There are cat bands, cat dancers and cat acrobats. There are also mice, rats and a bevy of cat worshipers and cat haters throughout history.

Of course, you can’t have cats without witches. Also harkening back to its medieval ties, the festival has a witch burning in the square after the throwing of the cats. I didn’t think it would be a good idea for me to stick around to witness that part of the festival. In the middle ages an outspoken woman like me with four cats would be a goner for sure.

If you missed the cat festival this year, you’ll have to wait another three years for it to happen again. Don’t despair though; you can meet me on 15 August in Dinant for the Bathtub Regatta.

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Ok, so I didn’t think anyone was actually reading these regularly, but when this one was late, everyone started complaining. So you’d all better be reading. I will start with our trip to Brussels on Saturday.

We were late getting on the road and for the second time in a row, headed to Belgium in a downpour. Shortly after we crossed the border (about as eventful as crossing a provincial border at home), the sun came out and stayed with us for the day. (Oddly enough on the drive home, shortly after we crossed back into the Netherlands we were hit by a freak hailstorm…)

Brussels is much more spread out than central Amsterdam. It is an interesting mix of architectural styles with a very French feel. There are a lot more modern buildings here and the Art Deco period really took hold. We parked in the Old town not far from the Market Square, by far the most impressive square we’ve seen in Europe. As you enter the square, you are literally surrounded by some of the most stunning architecture imaginable. The crown jewel is the magnificent gothic town hall with its huge tower. Across from the town hall is the museum which is also spectacular and the rest of the square is filled with the union guild buildings, each trying to outdo one another with their splendor.

We were looking for a spot to have lunch but stumbled upon the chocolate museum and had to detour in. It was small but interesting and smelled delish. We got a free speculaas, hand dipped in hot liquid chocolate, YUM! After that we decided to head toward the Belgian Comic Strip Museum and grab some food on the way. Well, the food didn’t pan out and the museum was in a very odd, rather run-down, part of town. When we finally found it, it was a gorgeous Art Deco building and had a cafe. We ate a super meal there and then proceeded to the museum.

We expected the requisite tribute to Tintin (which of course there was) but we had no idea that the museum and Belgian comics in general were so extensive. We gave it a good effort, but after over an hour our non-French / definitely non-Flemish brains were starting to hurt, so we gave up. We did see sections on Tintin, the Smurfs and discovered a new French comic called Les Triples (the triplets) which we enjoyed and bought a book of in the comic book heaven gift shop.

By the time we emerged from the museum it was almost 4 and already the sun was setting. We decided the only way to find all of the major sites was to do a bus tour. The tour was the last of the day and did hit all of the sites we had wanted to see and some we didn’t know about. Unfortunately the windows were scratched to death and made photography next to impossible. We decided we definitely have to go back and spend more time there.

Supper was another good experience. We headed down a little side street that was nothing but restaurants. It reminded us of eating in Lyon in France. You walk down the street, looking at all of the fixed price menus, and are accosted by people trying to lure you in. This may sound pushy and off-putting but it’s part of the culture and you just go with the flow. We decided on one and had a cozy window seat (where we could watch the accosting process). We had a 3 course fixed-price menu for 12 euro each including a drink and it was quite tasty. We also could not go to Belgium without the requisite beer and chocolate stop so we have more flavored beers to experiment with (chocolate beer bad, lemon beer good).

The following day was my day … CAT DAY!!! Yup, I’m really missing my kids. So we dedicated a day to them. This story is better told by the pictures but our first stop was the Peozenboot (cat boat), a floating cat shelter. The website is interesting so I’ll let you learn about it there … The woman who founded it has passed on but there is a lovely old Asian gentleman who runs it now. We had a good chat with him and got to play with the kitties. They keep all of the cats until they are adopted and from the sounds of things they get lots of visitors and cats are adopted quite quickly.

After the poezenboot we went to the Katten Kabinet, an Art Gallery dedicated entirely to cats. The collection was quite impressive, as was the building it is housed in. The building is a tradition grand canal house and was lovely to explore. There were also many ‘curators’ on hand, willing to give tours or simply have their heads scritched.

After the gallery we headed to the bloemen markt to pick up some flowers. We had a pit stop at the Pancakehouse for some traditional Dutch pancakes. These are more like what we would consider giant crepes and are filled with fruit or cheese. … very yummy. Then we bought some more tulips and headed home.

Other events of note occurred on Wednesday when I decided it was high time we both got haircuts. We headed to the seven streets district, a collection of little shops and businesses. We prowled around for a bit and then settles on Sissorhands, a funky little spot with antique Barbour chairs. I was the guinepig and went first. The girl who did the cut was very sweet and did a great job. She didn’t quite believe me however when I explained that at home it was below -30 with the wind-chill. She thought that people couldn’t exist in such cold and we must live near Alaska.

After our cuts, Andrew wanted to find a vegetarian restaurant we had read about called Green Planet. We had to wait for it to open but it was well worth it. They use only organic products, including their beer and wine. The food was fantastic. Andrew had an amazing looking stir fry and I had Spatzle, a Nordic Gnocchi, covered in a 3 cheese sauce. We also had delish bread with pesto and hummus. So good we got some to take home.

That’s all I can think of at this point. We don’t have huge plans for the weekend but we do have some fun things upcoming. The 28th we are heading to Restaurant De Kas for my belated b-day. Andrew scored ticket to Cirque de Soleil’s Dralion in March, which I am extremely excited about. And there is a good possibility that we’re going to Barcelona for a few days at the end of March. Yay! Sun! Also starting March 21st the world-famous Keukenhoff gardens will be open and there is no way I’m leaving the country without seeing them. Tulips Galore! Stay Tuned … we miss you all! Al

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