Making the Ultimate Sacrifice

With the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday approaching, it is quite fitting that Veteran’s Day is also observed in the same month.  To the thousands of women and men who give and have given so much to their country, I say Thank You.  Especially to my father, my favorite veteran.

Last June, G and I spent a weekend in the Normandy region of France.  Resting on a bluff above the beaches is the Normandy American National Cemetery & Memorial, appropriately the largest American cemetery in Europe.  It cradles the graves of 9,387 American soldiers which include 41 pairs of brothers.  There is also a memorial to 1,557 soldiers who were never found.  Upon entering the cemetery, you are led on a short walk surrounded by trees.  As you round the corner and look to your left, the initial sight of thousands of grave markers stretched out for acres is one of the most sobering feelings I have ever experienced.  Then, it’s hard to compose yourself as you look to your right.  Omaha Beach is serene and the tide quietly laps at the shoreline.  Yet 66 years ago, it was where many gave all.

A Call for Kongs

There is no doubt I have a soft spot for dogs.  I remember getting our family dog, “Mindy” when I was just four years old…and she lived a long life into my college days.  Sadly, not every dog is fortunate to find a happy home and spends much of their life locked in a small cage at a shelter hoping to be adopted.

A few years ago, my friend and colleague Miriam, served as a “foster parent” to Bailey while the shelter was trying to locate a permanent home.  When no home was found, Miriam adopted Bailey as she couldn’t bear the thought of her being euthanized.  With the help of donors and volunteers, Miriam and other dog owners are organizing a campaign to gather kongs for dogs at the three New York City Animal Care & Control (AC&C) shelters.

While I know that everyone can’t adopt a dog, it’s super easy to make one (or two, or three) happy with a simple kong toy.  With the convenience of the internet, you can pick, purchase, and ship a kong within minutes.  Please read below for more information provided by Miriam.  Click here for a recent article regarding the campaign.

Bailey is the chief inspector for the kongs 🙂

What is the drive?

Hundreds of dogs are euthanized at AC&C every single month.  These dogs languish in small cages for days and sometimes weeks, with little to no activity or fun to break up their monotonous days. Volunteers walk the dogs, and to try to give them a bit of attention. But with so many dogs, even a large amount of volunteers cannot reach out to every dog, every day, for more than a few minutes at a time. While we wish every dog at AC&C would be quickly adopted, until that time comes, we want every single dog in a shelter in NYC to have a Kong.  Unfortunately due to budget cuts and the increasing dog population at AC&C, toys are rarely provided.

What is a Kong?  How does it help the shelter dog?

A Kong is an oblong hard rubber chew toy. It is roughly conical with two grooves and a hollow center. The idea is to put peanut butter or a biscuit inside the toy to keep the dog interested and busy. They come in various sizes for different dogs, but are most popular in the large sizes as they are one of very few designs that a large dog cannot easily destroy.

Dogs are occupied for large chunks of time, trying to retrieve the treats from within the Kong. These simple toys are the key to helping alleviate the horrendous anxiety these dogs suffer while locked in cages listening to the cries and barking of hundreds of other dogs around them. Kongs lower a dog’s stress level and reduce their nervous energy, providing a greater chance of adoption.  Studies have shown the presence of toys in a cage increases adoption rates.

Where can I buy a Kong? has the lowest price on Kongs – $5.99.  Size Large and above are preferred.  Coupon code “kcefs” provides free shipping. If you are ordering over $49, coupon code “10offdog” provides 10% off.   Free shipping is automatically applied to orders exceeding $49.   We suggest all Kongs be mailed by April 5th, 2011.

Virtually every pet store carries Kongs.   Used Kongs are also greatly appreciated!

Where do I send the Kong?

Kongs can be brought to the Stuffing Party (described below) or mailed to:

Miriam Bouchma

3 Times Square

11th Floor

New York, NY 10036

What happens after I send my Kong?

On April 7, 2011 the NYC PitBull Meetup Group will host a Kong Stuffing Party in Midtown Manhattan.  The party is going to be lots of fun – wine, mixed drinks, food, and dog themed. In addition, Kongs will be stuffed with peanut butter and treats in preparation for drop-off at Animal Care & Control of NYC’s three shelters.  (The Kongs will be frozen overnight, and delivered over the weekend).

We ask that people who attend please bring 2 jars of creamy peanut butter to help with the stuffing. To get more details about the party or to RSVP for the event, go here…

All donators will be invited to participate in a doga class (with or without your dog) in early May. Details forthcoming.  Class donated by


This campaign was inspired and approved by the December 2010 “Kongs and more” drive by Vicktory Dog Handsome Dan in Providence, Rhode Island.  To find out more about Handsome Dan, please visit his Facebook page at


G and I can walk bike the streets of Amsterdam with our heads held high now that we have indulged in the late night offerings of Mama’s.  In a town where 24-hour diners and late night pizza shops are about as common as a day without rain, you can find gastronomical refuge within the dime-a-dozen Shawarma eateries.  A great way to settle both the late night munchies and the countless Belgium or Dutch biers consumed during the evening.  We’ve been to other shawarma snack bars, but our friends rave that Mama’s is the lekkerst (yummiest!)!  The only downfall to Mama’s (and probably one reason it took us so long to finally try it) is that it’s smack in the middle of Leidseplein, the U.S. equivalent of Times Square or Bourbon Street.  In other words, an area we typically avoid during our weekend outings or bike rides home from the Center.

But last night, the stars were aligned and it was finally a Mama’s night.  We attended a farewell party for G’s colleague, read: bier + bier + bier + bier, etc.  The evening was very gezellig, we were all having a great time and dinner time came and past.  With the witching hour growing near and the party winding down, our hunger pains were kicking in.  It was a unanimous decision to stop at Mama’s.  We peddled down the canal with a drizzle in the air and anticipated our meaty dish.

A & A arrived just before us and kindly ordered for all.  G & I walked in to warm shawarma pitas awaiting us on the counter.  Followed by a bowl of frites, we soon had happy tummies and G and I were officially Mama-neophytes.  No more dropped jaw reactions coupled with “you’ve never eaten at Mama’s?!?


eet smakelijk!


Salt for your frites? Ja!

On the note of late night eats, I couldn’t help but think of a few others I used to frequent in my previous cites.  During my college days in Shreveport, Murrell’s was open 24 hours with waitstaff that addressed you by honey-baby-sugar-dawlin with every roll of the tongue.  Like every poor college student whose funds were now in a bartenders tip jar, the abundance of complimentary saltine crackers + green goddess was a jackpot.  Maybe that’s why they are now closed.  Despite the limited seating, The Camellia Grill in Uptown New Orleans was a staple late night or late morning after a really late night.  The omlettes are amazing and the staff always entertaining.  If you are ever in Nola, it’s a must stop.  Like New Orleans, the NYC area food options are endless and hard to narrow down.  However, late nights in Hoboken, NJ always ended with a slice of pizza from Imposto’s on Washington.  For Manhattan, I could easily rattle off a dozen late night diners or cafes, but L’Express has always been a favorite with some of the best fries, great coffee, and excellent people watching.  Conveniently located just north of Union Square ,  it was always easy to hail a cab or catch the express train home from there.

Wishing you good eats where ever you may be!  Tot Ziens…


Two to Two

[October 09, 2010]

When the score is 2 – 2, it sounds more like a futbol game than a football game.  But in our “house divided”, the Tigers have 2 and the Gators have 2…wins.   Since 2007, G and I have attended the LSU/UF football games together.  Every year it’s been the same friendly smack talk between us during game week.  Followed by the same puzzled looks from fans trying to comprehend how a Tiger and a Gator can still walk out of the stadium post-game holding hands—because clearly one of us had to lose.

2007 was a happy game for me.  We were in Death Valley and LSU pulled out a close win during a fourth quarter littered with controversial calls.  The stadium was easily dominated by Tiger fans, but I was fairly on my own in the visitor section and constantly being “chomped” at by Gators.  Final score, 28 – 24.  Tigers also clenched the BCS championship game at the end of the season.  Geaux Tigers!

2008 was just plain embarrassing.  It was my first visit to The Swamp and I tailgated with an all Gator crowd.  If I closed my eyes, I could have mistaken it for Louisiana.  The smell of boiled crawfish and jambalaya permeated the humid air along with a sprinkling of y’alls and football talk.  Aside from my purple and gold shirt, I managed to “blend” in and everyone was more than friendly.  With a roadie in hand, I trekked to the stadium alongside Gator friends hungry for a win.  And they had a feast!  The score was 17 – 0 at the end of the first quarter.  I showed up to The Swamp, but LSU missed the turnoff from Interstate 10.  Growing up a Saints fan, optimisim is in my blood.  But by the third quarter of this game, I was bored, embarrassed, and ready for a liquid dinner.  At least the loss secured me a warm bed in the loser’s corner as opposed to the driveway at G’s parent’s house. 😉  Final score, 51 – 21*, Gators (*which should’ve been 14, but I think UF was embarrassed for us and gave us a TD).


No purple & gold around here

In The Swamp


2009 had potential and it was back to Death Valley. Both of us had a lot of friends and family at this game so our entire day was spent tailgate hopping.  Since my brother managed to score tickets for me that year, I was finally seated amongst LSU fans and G had a taste of what my last two years were like.  Well, sort of.  UF was solid, but we were hungry for a win.  Two weeks before the game, UF’s star player, Tim Tebow, suffered a concussion and his playing status was a mystery until game time.  He played and they won.  But the score was easier to digest this time, 13 – 3, Gators.  G had just flown in from Amsterdam so jet lag was abated with a ‘W’ for UF…especially one in Death Valley.

Gator on the grill

Gator & Tiger

Tailgating with family

Tailgating with the opponent

Death Valley - LSU


2010 was back to The Swamp and a Gator gave me the “courage” award for proudly donning my LSU shirt with coordinating purple and gold beads.  After our long flight from Amsterdam, I think we both deserved the fan-that-traveled-the-furthest-award. As with previous years, it was a close one to call in advance.  While LSU was undefeated to date, the wins were close and sometimes lucky.  Florida just lost to Alabama and L’s aren’t what the Gator Nation is accustomed to as of recent years.  Our seats were in a very Gator section and not a single Tiger within earshot.  No one to reach across a few rows to for a quick high-five when TDs were scored.  The lead toggled between the two teams and then it was down to an intense fourth quarter. I’m pretty sure G and I didn’t speak a word to each other during this time.  Not due to bitterness or rivalry, just sheer tension as the clock ticked down, plays were continuously reviewed, and we each quietly hoped the other would lose.  With a final TD in the remaining minute, LSU won 33 – 29.  I was surrounded by unhappy Gators and appropriately kept silent as the colors on my hat, shirt, and beads were loud enough.  Back at the tailgating site, our Gator friends offered congrats and we all enjoyed a beer as we waited for traffic to die.  G’s dad even taped a “Geaux Tigers” sign on the door to greet the divided (and very tired) couple.  I took this as a sign I was allowed to sleep inside.


Now the score is even.  We’ve each experienced both a win and a loss at home and away. We always joke that the loser has to wear the winner’s colors to the next game…but we’ve never reinforced it.  Basically because it just won’t happen.  But if you have an idea for the 2011 game, I’m open to suggestions!

Autumn is here


I usually called it fall. I have since learned that is very “North American”. Whatever you may call it; it’s still my favorite season.  Growing up in Louisiana, I didn’t usually experience the brisk autumn weather and changing of the leaves in September as the temperatures and humidity were still peaking.  Moving to NYC brought a renewed perspective on autumn.  Hook, line, and sinker…I was sold on this area of the country!  Each year with the passing of Labor Day, I was filled with the anxiety of a 5-year-old at Christmas time waiting to open gifts.  The autumn season is truly a gift to me.  I love the cooler days and invigorating crisp air.  The wind rustling through the trees in Central Park and warm shades of leaves sprinkled on the ground.  Football season is underway.  Sweaters are soon standard daily attire.  My friend H used to always call me when she had her first Pumpkin Latte sighting at Starbucks during her morning coffee run.  With that, I knew autumn was in full swing.

2005 - Apple picking in Warwick Valley, NY

2008 - A's portraits in Central Park

2009 - Williamsburg, VA

2009 - Bear Mountain, NY

H's Lil man says Who Dat?

Autumn, take 3.  Now I’m even further north and autumn in Amsterdam is an amalgamation of past years.  Rain/humidity in Louisiana + cooler temperatures in NYC = autumn in Amsterdam.  Leaving the house the other day required a tote bag full of the following:

  • Sunglass:  because it was actually shining at the moment;
  • Hat:  as the radar indicated rain clouds were coming;
  • Light jacket:  since I was wearing a tshirt and the temps were on a roller coaster ride;
  • Cotton scarf:  at times the jacket was too much and the tshirt was too little;
  • Rain poncho:  bike riding in the rain while getting soaked is miserable in cooler weather;
  • Bike seat cover:  would you want to get off your bike and look like you just wet your pants?;
  • Dry bag to carry SLR:  unemployment = no new camera if the current one is ruined;
  • Kitchen sink:  because I’m already hauling everything else, so why not.

When the sun is shining, it’s a beautiful time to sit canal side and enjoy a coffee or beer.  But when it’s raining, stay inside or gear up!

2010 - Vondelpark

2010 - Sunset in Vondelpark

On Saturday, the day/night was split into exactly 12 hours with sunrise at 7:32a and sunset at 7:32p.  The months of May, June, and July were ones with little rain and 15 -16 hours of daylight.  It’s the trade off for the rainy season that is now underway.  So I will adjust to this “new autumn” and hope for a few dry, sunny days in the mix ahead.

ps, A semi-annual reminder to check your smoke detectors.


Bittersweet feelings overwhelm me as my two week visit in Louisiana has come to and end.  Sad to say good bye to my family.  Sad my visits with friends were brief.  Even sadder there are so many friends I didn’t get a chance to see.  BUT…I’m off to the Florida Keys to meet up with G and excited to see him.  Excited about trying to catch my own lobster this year, not just an assist. And excited about a whole week of fresh seafood eats, mmmmm!

Coming home is nostalgic candy with that unavoidable trek down Memory Lane.  Some flashbacks are icky like licorice, while others are as sweet as pixie sticks.  This trip was full of pixie sticks, family, and special friends…

College Roomies

The Hubbies

NOLA Roomie

NOLA/NYC Friends

Little Man!

Ballet Buddy

Mini Me is all about shin guards, not leotards 😦

Baby Shower for Sorority "lil sis"

My Nanay’s Playground

The days are still going strong with triple digit temperatures in Bossier City, but that doesn’t stop my nanay (‘mother’ in tagalog) from tending to her garden and making sure the hummingbirds have fresh food.  The heat has taken its toll on the withering plants and flowers, but a few of them are fighters and sprout a veggie or flower here and there. With a chance of rain for tonight/tomorrow, I am —for once— doing the proactive rain dance.  Not just for the plants, but for all of humanity in north Louisiana.

In between rain dance sessions, I manged to squeeze in some shutterbug time and capture some scenes from my nanay’s playground.  Hope you enjoy them as much as I have this past week.

Patience paid off to catch this little guy

This one was a bit easier


One of mom’s favorite spots to sit and enjoy the scenery


A bit too much sun, but hanging in there


Adding a touch of Dutch


My niece helps with the “harvest”

Ampalaya, a Philippino veggie

One man’s heat wave is another man’s cold spell

In The Netherlands, a heat wave is defined as 5 consecutive days where the maximum temperature exceeds 77 °F (25 °C) given at least 3 of those days exceeds 86 °F (30 °C).  I  know, some of you in the U. S. South would give up your first-born for temperatures like this right now.  During my first summer in Amsterdam, we had a heat wave in early July. With no air conditioning in the house (which is not unusual), it was my biggest adjustment next to learning how to bike in the snow while toting groceries.   Little did I know this “heat wave” with no A/C would be cake compared to what was ahead in August.

In the States, the definition of a heat wave is less defined as I discovered (i) a heat wave is where the temp is 90 °F (32 °C) or above for three consecutive days, (ii) a heat wave is an extended period of temperatures considered extremely high for a particular area, and (iii) a heat wave occurs when temperatures hover some 10° F above normal for several days and are accompanied by high humidity.

In Louisiana, at this very moment, I am experiencing something beyond a heat wave.  Either my pilot had a little too much Mary Jane before departing ole A’dam and flew me to the Equator (or possibly the surface of the sun), or I am in some kind of pseudo-inferno-purgatory serving penance for the amazing 8 months I have had in Europe with G. When I left Amsterdam on Friday, I was enjoying lovely temperatures in the upper 60’s.  Sixteen hours of travel later, I am welcomed by triple digits…as if 16 hours of travel wasn’t enough.  The “lows” at night don’t even come near to the highs in Amsterdam right now.   Three days later, my body is still in shock and I wonder how I survived for 25 years in Louisiana before fleeing north.  I am also amazed by the number of people trekking around town in jeans!!!  Heaven help them if they pass out from heat stroke.  I’d be sporting a bikini for my daily wear if not for the ridiculous amount of food I recently inhaled in Spain.

Despite the weather man mocks me with a week-long forecast of triple digits, it is good to be home.  It is wonderful to see my family and I am looking forward to seeing more family and friends over the next few weeks.  I will savor the sunny (albeit scorching) days ahead as the overcast rainy A’dam days are not far off when I return.

The heat is on!