Friday, October 14, 2016

Cat toys ... think before you buy

All too often people buy things on the spur of the moment. They mean well but later come to the conclusion that this or that wasn't the best choice.

The most classical example is the parent who buys his child a drum set. How many folks have come to regret that decision when those little hands grab the drumsticks and start banging away at all hours of the day.

Pet lovers are no better. They see something Fluffy or Fido might like and they bring it home. Most of the time, those store bought toys are ignored, while something free – like the box the toy came in, a scrunched up tissue or an aluminum foil ball – provide hours of entertainment.

I have made my fair share of booboos too where cat toys are concerned.

Take the undercover mouse for instance. I saw this toy online. It’s basically a yellow plastic sheet with a wire attached underneath. As the wire moves, the cat thinks there’s something underneath the sheet and tries to grab it. I thought this was something my cats would like.

I was right, they did like it, but the undercover mouse drained battery power like crazy. Considering the toy requires four big rectangular batteries, keeping the cats entertained was just too expensive.

My next purchase was a mouse. Mickey, Charlotte and Holly didn’t give it a second look, but Gabriel was interested. So interested in fact, that he attacked the mouse every chance he got. Within 24 hours the new mouse was no more than a ripped up corpse. See for yourself …


On to something else.

A few months ago Dieter brought home a ball for the cats. The ball is about five or six inches in diameter and has a small bird inside. When the ball rolls it makes a sound like … tweet-tweet-twit-twit-twit-tweet, tweet-tweet-twit-twit-twit-tweet.

During the day the cats ignore this ball, but at night is a different story. One or several of the cats start to slap the ball around. Not only does it clatter over the floor, the clattering is accompanied by ... tweet-tweet-twit-twit-twit-tweet, tweet-tweet-twit-twit-twit-tweet. This results in me having to get out of bed to take the ball away from them or I wouldn’t get a wink of sleep.

Then again, sometimes we buy something that isn’t meant to be a toy at all, but is used by our pets as such. Take these two runners and rug for instance. They are meant to look like this


Gabriel has taken a fancy to these runners and uses them as a surfboard. He runs, at full gallop, either from the living room to the bedroom or from the bedroom to the living room, jumps on the runner and goes sliding.

As a result, these runners and the rug end up like this

I can’t tell you how many times a day I have to put these runners back into place. If I were to get a dollar for each time I straighten them out I could pay a good chunk off my mortgage. Then Gabriel sits there, waiting for the opportunity to mess them up all over again.

As a cat or dog owner, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

Where it comes to kid and pet toys ... think before you buy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Thank God I was awake

Some claim that Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada as far back as 1578 when Martin Frobisher survived a long journey in his quest to find a northern passage from Europe to Asia. Others state Canadian Thanksgiving wasn’t properly observed until 1957 when it was established that this holiday would be celebrated on the second Monday of October.

Personally, I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Being born and raised in Belgium, the holiday doesn’t mean anything to me. Other than that, I’m not fond of the traditional food … turkey.

That being said, that doesn’t mean that I’m not thankful for a number of things. Family, a few good friends, a great number of acquaintances, a reasonably good health, and life in general. We should always keep in mind … no matter how bad it gets, there’s always someone who is worse of.

As for giving thanks … yesterday I did exclaim “Thank God.”

Let me explain.

After going to bed, I prepared for half an hour or so of reading. Reading helps me relax. Propped up against two pillows I picked up my Kindle (I’m getting quite used to electronic reading) and continued with “The Melody Lingers On” From Mary Higgins Clark. An excellent read by the way.
Suddenly, through my eyelashes, I saw something. When I looked up I saw that it was a medium sized spider coming down from the ceiling on an almost invisible thread.

Good Lord, with considerable speed I scrambled out bed all the while calling for my son, “Dieter … Dieter … DIETER!”
He could hear that something was wrong, so he quickly pulled on his jeans and t-shirt and came to my room.

“Look, a spider,” I said, “Go get a shoe.”

Even though there are plenty of shoes in my room, but Dieter went to go get one of his own.

The spider, perhaps knowing of his imminent demise, didn’t waste time. While it has almost reached the duvet of my bed, it quickly clambered back up again on his thread. So fast was he that by the time Dieter came back with a shoe, the spider was back on the ceiling.

Dieter climbed on my bed, aimed the shoe at the spider and … true to male form, he missed and the spider fell on the duvet. This had me screaming in panic. If the spider couldn’t be found, I could never sleep in this bed again.

Fortunately, the nasty creature was spotted and Dieter proceeded to knock the spider over the head again and again until it was dead and I said, “Thank God I was still awake.”

Can you imagine if I had gone to sleep without reading a few pages of my book first? That monster would have come down from the ceiling and landed on my bed, free to wander around. Eeeeewwwww!!!!!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

How close it too close

Many years ago, taking a picture took time and a good deal of precision. Film and developing wasn’t exactly cheap and people couldn’t afford to waste their shots.

With the digital camera, shooting images became a whole lot easier. If a shot went wrong, the image could just be deleted. Still, not everyone carried a camera with him and beautiful opportunities were often missed.

With the arrival of the camera-equipped cellphone, amateur photographers were in seventh heaven, they could now photograph anything and everything to their heart’s content. I’m one of those people.

Animals are by far my favorite subject. Not only do they not mind being photographed, they don’t fuss that they have they change their outfit, brush their hair, or touch up makeup. One can capture them any time of the day, whether when they just get up or about to go to sleep and they always look good.

Over the years I’ve snapped hundreds of pictures of various pets and not one has ever complained about how he or she looks.

Other than pets I’ve photographed other creatures too: ostriches, ducks, swans, pigeons, raccoons, squirrels and even butterflies (if they would sit still long enough).

Today I wanted to take advantage of one of the last warm days of the year and decided to have my lunch in the swing set on the balcony. When I got there, plate of spaghetti and glass of juice in hand, I noticed that someone (or shall I say something) had the same idea as me.

Right smack in the middle of the swing set sat a bug. It wasn’t a big fly, and it wasn’t a bee or a wasp, it was something else. It was black and grey, with six legs and wings. It wasn’t a dragonfly, it was smaller than that but still big enough to make me think twice of sitting next to it or shooing it away.

So I did the next best thing … I got my phone and was going to snap a picture of it. Phone in hand I came back outside and aimed the lens. The view wasn’t good enough so I zoomed in.

Apparently, the bug was camera shy because it slightly moved. Sit still, I thought, just sit still long enough for me to get this shot so I can show you on Facebook.

Suddenly the lens went black, I didn’t see a thing anymore.
I turned my phone over to find out what the problem was, and right there, on the lens sat the bug. He must have thought … You want a close up, I’ll give you a close up.

With a blood-curdling scream, I threw the phone from my hands. Fortunately, my phone landed on the seat of the swing set. Unfortunately, I’ll never know what this UFB (unidentified flying bug) was.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

How to make ‘tomat crevette’

Yesterday’s blog post “How to make the perfect fries” received a record amount of views. Just under 5,000 people showed an interest in this Belgian recipe.

As far as I could tell there were no Belgian readers, but in other parts of the world men and women are now a step closer to putting perfect fries on the table.

Statistics show that this blog is most popular in France, closely followed by the United States. Other readers are from Romania, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Latvia, Cyprus, Philippines, Ukraine, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

So now that a good number of people know how to make perfect fries, they might wonder what to serve with those fries. In short, anything and everything goes. You can serve fries with steak, with an omelet, with goulash, with a salad … you name it and it works.

However, in Belgium we are particularly fond of serving fries with “tomat crevette”, which is a tomato stuffed with shrimp.

If you want to make this, there’s nothing to it. Even if you have two left hands at cooking, you can’t go wrong with tomat crevette.

What you’ll need for two people:

Two tomatoes
200 grams of shrimp
Pepper and salt


Take the tomatoes and plunge them in boiling water for no more than 10 seconds. Remove the tomatoes and submerge them in ice cold water.

With a sharp knife peel the tomatoes, slice off the “hat” and remove the inner flesh of the tomatoes.

Mix the shrimp with mayonnaise and some salt and pepper, spoon the mixture in the tomatoes, and put the hat of the tomato back on.

Serve on a bed of lettuce.

There, that’s it, that’s all there is to it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How the make perfect French fries

Being from Belgium, land of the best chocolates, pastries and French fries, I am frequently asked how to make those delectable cakes, tarts and petit fours.
I tell everyone the same thing … I have no idea. When baking skills were handed out, I was not exactly in the front row. In fact, I think I wasn’t even in the room.

As for making the perfect French fries, there I can help you out.

To make good fries, it’s vital that you start off with a good potato. Finding the right potato can take a while. You might think that all potatoes are suitable for French fries, but nothing is further from the truth. And not only does the potato have to be the right kind, it has to be rock hard. If the potato is slightly soft, it cannot produce a good fry.

Once the potatoes are peeled, place them in cold water. The colder the better and leave them there for about an hour.

Next, take a clean towel and thoroughly dry the potatoes. Place the towel on the kitchen counter and cut the potatoes into thick slices, about the size of a finger. Then cut the slices into fries, also about a finger thick.

When you’re done, work the towel over the fries so that they’re as dry as possible. Next place the fries in a pot and cover them with the towel.

In a French fries cooker pour about a liter of oil. This can be sunflower oil or vegetable oil and heat it up to maximum heat. If you have an electric cooker a light will tell you when the oil is ready. If you have a stovetop cooker, drop one fry in the oil and when it sizzles the oil is ready.

Place the raw fries in the oil and turn down the heat. After a few minutes, lift the fries out of the oil, leave them to cool for about one minute and then place them back in the oil.

When the fries are golden brown, lift them out of the cooker and shake off excess oil. Place kitchen paper on a serving tray and pour the fries on the tray. The kitchen paper will absorb any remaining oil.

Lightly sprinkle with salt. Serve plain, with mayonnaise, ketchup, or gravy.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Are we our own worst enemy?

I’m in a slump. Those of you who know me know that I took up coloring in December of last year. Alex, a long time friend drew my attention to this hobby as a way of relaxation and a cure for insomnia.

Relaxation and a cure for insomnia? … that’s all she had to say, I had to try this as I’m frequently stressed and toss and turn for hours in bed.

I got myself a book and some pens and got started. And I found that Alex was right, almost immediately I felt a lot calmer, slept better and found tremendous joy in coloring.

Ten months down the line all that has changed.

Theodore Roosevelt said “Comparison if the thief of joy” and I found this to be quite true. Since starting the coloring hobby I joined three coloring groups on Facebook and when I compare my work to some of the colorings I see I get depressed. Others’ work is so much better than mine.

Some say that coloring is not a competition, and I know that, but I’ve always expected the best of myself. I also know that some colorists are professionally trained and my work can’t be as good as theirs, but I want at least to see an improvement in my colorings.

Alex will shake her head over this and say that I should just color for my own enjoyment, but that’s just it, I don’t find joy in coloring anymore, only frustration.

Someone in the group mentioned that if we could be half as considerate of ourselves as we are of others, we would be happier. And this is true, why do we have to be so hard on ourselves?

This reminded me of what a Canadian ten-pin bowling coach ones said to me … “When we miss a spare we berate ourselves with “How could you miss that!” … “How could you be so stupid!” … and more of such critical words. When a teammate missed a spare we say … “Oh don’t worry about it, you’ll get next time.”

Are we our own worst enemy? 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Moments of confusion

We’ve all known moments of confusion. Times when we go to the kitchen or bedroom to get something, and don’t remember why we went there in the first place. Or looking for reading glasses while wearing them. But here at the house of Manero, confusion takes on a whole new meaning.

The other day I send Dieter to the store for groceries. Since there were quite a few items I urged him to write them down. Dieter whipped out his cell phone, called up the notes app, and declared himself ready. We needed steak, veggies, cat food, bathroom tissue, ice cream, dishwashing liquid, and bread.

When he came home I unpacked the bag. I found everything I asked for, except for dishwashing liquid. “How could you forget?” I asked. “You wrote everything down.”
Yeah well, the long and the short of it was … he hadn’t looked at his phone.

He offered to go back to the store, but no, the dishwashing liquid could wait a day. I would turn the bottle upside down and squeeze out whatever was still in there.

The next day Dieter went back to the store. This time, he didn’t need to write anything down as the only item needed was dishwashing liquid. 

He came home with a bag, packed with stuff.
“What did you all bring?” I asked.
“I found quite a few things on special,” he said. 

Out of the bag came a bag of grapes, a tray of strawberries, a tray of chicken breasts and a bag of cat nibbles. 

“And the dishwashing liquid?” I asked.

Oh shoot, that he’d forgotten.

Something else Dieter frequently forgets is to replace the plastic bag in the kitchen waste holder. When I see the bag is full, I remove it, knot it up and drape another plastic bag over the holder. When Dieter sees that the bag is full, he removes it and knots it up, but neglects to replace the old bag with a new one. Now you know what I’m going to say … the next time something needs to be thrown away, I go to the kitchen, open the waste holder and … yes, you guessed it, whatever was in my hand is now on the floor.

You might say … “Don’t you see that there isn’t a bag in the holder?” and the answer is … no, I’m so used to there being a bag there that I don’t pay attention.

But speaking of paying attention …

Last Sunday we were going to have chicken with potatoes, along with a salad of baby spinach and tomatoes. I peeled the potatoes and placed them in cold water.

Next, I washed the spinach and the tomatoes and drizzled them with olive oil and lemon juice.

About 45 minutes later Dieter asked if the chicken was almost ready. The plan was that while I took care of the finishing touches, he would set the table.

Chicken? … Chicken! I had clean forgotten about the chicken. Not only was it not almost ready, I hadn’t even placed it in the oven yet!

So you see, we’re both scatter brains. Put the two of us together and … well, you have a recipe for disaster. 

Perhaps our biggest blunder happened a few years ago in downtown Toronto.

We were walking along King Street when a man stopped us to ask for directions. “Excuse me,” he said, “can you tell me where Bay Street is?” And that’s when it happened … Dieter pointed to the left, while I pointed to the right. The man looked at us with a frown above narrowed eyes. He didn’t have to say anything, I knew what he was thinking … These two can’t be trusted.

I’m rather good at giving directions, but Dieter is terrible. I’ve heard him on occasion and honestly … some of the people he was trying to help might have ended up in Alaska.