The OG American Cat – Part One

My first dedicated companion out of college was a cat named Ollz. I adopted him from a shelter I was volunteering at, originally falling in love with his cross-eyed look-alike brother, but getting him instead, the only one left in the litter.

He was all black and quite pretty. As a young 20 something living on my own for the first time and suddenly having a living thing in my care, I fretted over him. When he blinked too often, I worried his eye would explode. When he ate too much, I worried about his diet. I fussed and hovered. He looked off into the distance and walked away.

Ollz had marked me as his person. He hid from everyone else. He was not the friendly cat who wooed visitors because visitors didn’t know he existed. But he was endlessly affectionate with me, and still the best cuddler I know, the little spoon.

Sadly, for reasons still unknown to me, he developed some behavioral problems early in his little kitty life. He loved sneaking into my roommate’s bedroom and peeing on her very expensive designer duvet. In an old house with broken doors, he would manage to get into the room just long enough to do the job before guiltily running away. This happened often. The duvet. Rinse and repeat.

After two years of these adventures, I moved into my own apartment in an effort to find independence and to save other people’s belongings from the prolonged and ever-present smell of cat pee. He stayed in his kitty carrier for two weeks in protest of the change, but once he emerged into the brand new small one bedroom apartment downtown, all was well. We had a (very small) space for ourselves. Two peas in a pod. He was always there because he couldn’t leave. My warm soft cuddle buddy in my first apartment on my own.

Things only went sour again when we went from being two peas in a pod to three. It was getting serious with a new man in my life; my boyfriend (now husband) had moved to America, and started spending weekends visiting from NYC.

Ollz did not approve of this. He’d glower and mope, sad that his spot on the bed was taken and my attention was no longer his own.

In protest, Ollz found that intruder’s pajamas pants in the living room one evening, nicely folded and delicately placed on the couch, and peed all over them. Goodbye cruel thief, he must have thought.

I looked at my boyfriend and shrugged. It was to be expected, I explained.

Ollz was my protective (and sometimes misguided) best friend in those years. We grew up together. He was there when I was fearful of a loud sound at night, or feeling tired from a long day at my out-of-college job ordering other people lunch. He taught me what loyalty meant. And he taught me what a poorly behaved young male can do when dissatisfied with the world or simply because he feels like it: mysteriously pee on things he doesn’t like. These lessons I hold onto still to this day.

The Sheep

When my husband and I moved, we finally got what I feel is my very first adult house. It has a yard. It has three sets of stairs that lead to other parts of our own place. I have never lived in a house with stairs.

Another thing that we got that signifies adulthood to me: our first sheep.

This sheep hide is your standard issue couch throw from IKEA. But I never thought we would have an apartment that would be nice enough to complement one.

When we moved here, we were obsessed with our friend’s IKEA cow, laying fashionably on the tiled floor in the house across the street, making the grand room look more cozy and personal.

This cow started a long and curious tradition of hide collections within our circle of (now mostly vegan) friends. We all chipped in to buy another friend his first sheep when he moved to this fine country. His partner later learned they had a secret goat in storage.

At the very least, each house I visited had their own fluffy white fashion fur on the couch. I loved visiting each one, absent mindedly patting it down as I chatted or drank.

For years, I wondered, would we ever be able to have an IKEA animal skin of our own? Would we ever reach this level of luxury?

Well, we have finally arrived.

And (despite becoming a vegetarian in this pandemic and all this being somewhat problematic) I have to admit: my sheep skin feels good.

The OG Dutch Cat – Part Two

There was never a lap that Piet didn’t like. If a human existed in the house, he would find that person and cuddle.

When we first brought Piet home, he had severe separation anxiety. Night after night for the first few weeks, he would spend endless hours meowing and throwing his little kitty body against the door to get to us from his place in the living room.

As time passed, he realized we weren’t going anywhere, that we loved him, and that he was ours. More so perhaps, we were his.

He had a seat at the dinner table that he’d hop onto whenever we were there, putting his little chin on the table and watching us talk or eat or read. When a guest sat in his chair, he sat on their lap. He was present for every meal.

At night, if I was feeling sad, he would come over and head butt my hand for a pet, nestling next to me on the couch. Once, with severe neck pain, he lay in bed with me for hours and watched me look at the ceiling.

Out of our house, Piet was the veteran, the knowledgeable, wise, one-eyed grandpa to the cats in our neighborhood, reigning over the courtyard with fairness and ease.

When a new French cat moved in to disrupt the peace, he quickly showed him who was boss.

But otherwise, he supervised his neighborhood peacefully, patrolling during the day and respectfully sniffing strangers as they passed on our quiet street in the center of town.

No one knew Piet’s age, but he was older than he appeared, and older than the shelter predicted, our vet told us later. Thinking back, I knew that. He had the lazy self-assuredness that was far greater than his younger peers. He had nothing to prove. He simply wanted to give and receive love.

I suppose that’s why it was so devastating when Piet got sick. What started as a surgery to remove some teeth ended as a poor recovery leading to his end.

He stopped eating. We put him on dialysis for his kidneys. He got better. He got worse. We cried. Eventually, we had to put him down.

Our last night together, we let him sleep in our bed with us, something he had always wanted. I was startled at how quiet and cold he was. I wanted to keep him warm. All he wanted was to be close to us. I let him sleep on my pillow, my head on the mattress, looking up at him.

People say cats aren’t as affectionate as dogs, but I disagree. I know Piet cared for us. I know he was grateful to spend the last couple years of his life cuddling on our couch. And we were grateful for him. He brought a reminder everyday of something important: the ability to love unconditionally.

The OG Dutch Cat – Part One

An article recently reminded me of something I already suspected: there are no stray dogs anymore here in the Netherlands.

For my husband and me, coming from NYC, the lack of Dutch stray animals perplexed us. We had moved from a Manhattan studio apartment where we stuffed ourselves, our bed, a desk, and two large foster cats + all their equipment into a tiny space and happily called it home. When we moved to The Netherlands and proclaimed that we were finally ready to take on our very own perma-cat (permanent instead of foster), we were confused when the shelter told us our one-bedroom apartment with a courtyard was too small for adoption. We are the ideal cat parents. We are the messiahs of the pet world. My husband once offered to foster a cat with explosive diarrhea. (Another story for another day!) We raised five kittens in our bathroom by hand. (That’s not true; their cat mom raised them, but we were there!) Why was our cat adoption paperwork rejected? Weren’t we the ideal candidates?

Not in the Netherlands. The cats here require a certain amount of square meters. A mansion, if you will. And we didn’t make the cut.

We would not be deterred, however. We went to our local animal shelter anyway, and the woman told us that perhaps there was one cat she’d consider we take. The cat was my namesake, after all: Tori (spelled wrong, according to me), and she was “getting used to people”.

For all intents and purposes, coming from a lover of felines, Tori was feral. When we went to visit her, she was perched on top of a cupboard hissing at everyone down below. The shelter owner said that after months in that one room, she was getting a little better at people petting her with a long stick. She only tried to maul the stick for a little while before allowing it to touch her momentarily.

We told the woman we didn’t think this was a match.

For weeks after, we scoured different shelter websites as hopeful cat parents, looking for our new love. During kitten season, we went to a shelter a couple hours away, only to realize we had missed the rush and all the cats were gone. The line out the door had started before the building opened, and the cats had all been accounted for quickly thereafter.

It wasn’t until months later that we finally got an opening, a competitive edge in this cut-throat cat adoption game: a code red storm was passing through. When others stayed inside to shelter from the fallen trees and horizontal wind, we biked our way through hurricane conditions to the final shelters on our list.

It was there, drenched wet and exhausted, that we first met the kitty who would later become our first and then favorite feline friend: a one-eyed ginger cat named Piet Piraat (Pirate Pete).

It was love at first sight, despite him being less able to see. And the start of a romance for Part Two.

Dutch Dental Hygiene

Amidst the very real emergencies of the world these days (of which there are many), I had my own a few days ago. Long story short: I got a third of a toothpick (so the point + some) stuck in between my two snaggle teeth.

The whole house went into a panic. The pain was real and the wood was lodged in. How do you get a toothpick out of your teeth? With another toothpick? My husband was going to come at me with some tweezers, but that really didn’t feel right. Eventually, with the help of many implements, I extracted it. Crisis averted.

But Dutch dentists insist this is a better option than floss, to aggressively jab a wooden pick three times into your gums. I am unsure.

To make matters worse, we opted for the cheap low budget off-brand toothpicks a couple months ago, and I am really regretting it. No more cheap, carpenter scraps are going into my mouth. We are now splurging on the higher end picks with more durability so my teeth won’t be full of splinters. The least I can do. 

Travel Dreams

Today it snowed in The Netherlands, and all the adults went out to take pictures and the kids went out to scream.

The last time it snowed here we were also in a Dutch suburb on a wacky vacation in a conference center hotel in the middle of nowhere.

We found ourselves there, strangely vacationing, due to a former hobby of mine – recklessly and endlessly booking hotel vacations in places I hadn’t been or wanted to go. Or sometimes places I knew nothing about, but simply liked the pictures.

For a few years after I moved here, this was my passion. I was so excited to live in the vicinity of so many holiday destinations. I had a running list of all the places I needed to go. I would endlessly scroll travel websites into the night, and reserve, always with free cancelation: villas in Spain, bed and breakfasts in France, lodges in Germany. Most of the time, I would keep them just long enough to cancel free of charge. But sometimes, instead, we’d book a ticket there and fulfill whatever dream I had booked.

These dreams were sometimes closer by to accommodate my preference not to fly too often. So the last time it snowed here in The Netherlands, a rarity in this green land, my husband and I found ourselves in a business conference complex nestled in the Dutch woods. We were the only visitors not in suits and business casual wear. Not there for work, but there for free breakfast in the woods. In reality, we were only 40 minutes from home.

It is so nice to take walks in the woods in the snow. The silence snow brings reminds me of home, of the peace that comes with a fresh fluffy blanket covering the world and hiding its imperfections.

Today, I think we all needed that blanket. Something to remind us that nature can still be beautiful, no matter where you find it.

In this second storm, I realize we live even closer to that strange conference center we once visited. And even though traveling is nice, staying close to home gives magic too.

30th!

Today marks my thirty day streak of blog posting!

For my thirtieth birthday, I went to Lisbon and Cascais to eat my way through the land.

It was an amazing trip, full of both urban and beachy walks, great fish and quaint streets. To make the experience even more grand, we received a complementary carafe of port from our fancy beach front hotel. It was the perfect thing to drink after a stroll in the sand, wrapped in our fancy high-end robes, looking out over the Atlantic as the sun set.

Upon checkout, we debated splurging and buying the fifty dollar bottle, but reasoned it was too expensive and passed.

I have now spent my thirties (almost 5 years!) searching again for that port. Nothing that I try tastes as good. I have looked, scouring dive bars and high end liquor stores alike, in search of a memory. The truth is I have likely been successful, unknowingly trying a glass, and rejected it for not being the one. Nothing compares to how it tasted when I was there. It remains elusive. Unknown.

30 is a good number. Good for port and Portuguese beach walks.

There is always more to come. The wine may taste good now, but there are other drinks to try.

In the meantime, seize every moment you can. Buy the bottle. Treat yourself. You may not have the opportunity again.

Happy 30th, my friends!

The Yellow Legal Pad

You never wanted to be on the receiving end of one of my dad’s yellow legal pad letters.

They were notorious, if only just in our house – usually a ranting scrawl of illegible words in his classic cursive (always using his special blue ball point pens) with a bit of his humor as a conclusion or an aside.

These letters were the result of some injustice he encountered by a large corporation, usually related to a clerical error that consumed his time or his money. I loved my dad’s rants. When computers came onto the scene, it was my job to transcribe them from yellow legal pad into something legible and properly spelled. But before this, he’d sit in our living room and read them aloud as if he was an animated playwright reading a masterpiece to his adoring audience. He always got a laugh.

The yellow legal pads were my dad’s solution to most things – when we’d start humming and hawing, he’d tell us to wait, get a pad from his desk, and sit down with it before we could continue. It’s here that my sister and I worked out our problems. All decisions scribbled onto the pad.

These could be, and often were, related to what step to take next in life – where to go to college, what job to do, what major to have, what path to take. We made endless pros and cons lists. When I look back on them, they all appear more or less the same – I want the freedom to determine my own time, I want financial independence, I want to do what I am passionate about, but I don’t know what that is, even now. I am passionate about so much and nothing at all.

When we were young, when my dad had an uncommon day off from the 3-4 jobs he did to keep us afloat, we would have him all to ourselves for a “dad’s day.” I learned in the Netherlands this is an actual thing, usually on Wednesdays, in a country that supports men taking days off to take care of their kids, but ours had no such formal or scheduled regularity. It was a treat, my absolute favorite day when it was managed.

We would always start the day with a yellow legal pad, making a huge list of every possible thing we could do on that day. Anything was allowed. We added the most ridiculous things and then always picked the same: visiting an arcade and going out to Chinese food afterwards. The possibility of doing anything was what made it special. I loved the ability to choose.

With the quiet and stillness of pandemic life, I am re-energized by making lists of possibilities. My husband was sad this morning, and I told him we needed the yellow legal pad. We needed to make a long list of all the things that make us happy in this moment, so even with everything closed, we still have choices in terms of what to do today, tomorrow, and for what sometimes feels like endless months ahead. I told my husband there are still options – smaller things for sure- but there is still an important list to be made. Walks in nature, our new puzzle, countless online communities for creative endeavors or for working out. I can follow an aerobics class in South Korea now. My friend in The Netherlands signed up for a Scottish women’s writers group. I took a yoga lesson last night with my high school friend, she based in NYC and the instructor in Chicago. There are still options.

This is comforting to me. The yellow legal pad still acts as my North Star in times of confusion, like a weighted blanket whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, my dad guiding the way through his methods. Long lists of possibilities, of pros and cons.

I found my latest pad this morning: a list of what to do in The NL during my uncle and aunt’s very first European trip together in 2018, my husband’s list of Thanksgiving foods (with assignments attached) from our 2019 celebration feast with 20+ people, our requirements for a new 2020 apartment, and most recently, a list of tasks to do before we moved.

Now as I sit here in my fancy new apartment looking out at the birds by my desk, I realize the pad has helped pave the way to this moment. To all the special moments up until now. Yellow legal padding through life.

Lockdown

The Dutch PM came on TV last night and told us we’d be locked down until my birthday, February 9th. I don’t have much faith it will be over by then.

I’ve decided to stop telling people ‘I am fine’. I am officially tired, depressed and no longer handling this well. I am going to be like my 2 year old friend: just shake my head no when asked “are you okay?” with a heart-felt frown.

The end feels too far away.

2021 is the year of the puzzle. The year of the coup. The year of the disease, still.

We got our very first puzzle delivered today. I must admit: it beats screen staring and doom scrolling.

But how many times can we all talk about the same thing? What if I am running out of smiles and phrases like “we’ll see”? Today, I went outside for the first time in three days. It was beautiful. I forgot that it was. Leaving the house to go for a walk sometimes seems like so much effort, too much to coordinate before it gets dark or starts to rain.

It shouldn’t be this hard.

I guess this is what life is right now. Putting together pictures of places you can’t travel to and have to visit on your kitchen table instead. Messaging people you can’t see. I will adjust. I will adapt. But today: no silver lining. I am sad, and I don’t want to do it like this anymore.