Does a bear eat in the woods?

On January 5, 2011, in Food, by mandyvision

Today, after scarfing my lunch, a snack, and two trips to the vending machine my sister unknowingly asked me if I notice myself eating more now that it’s winter than I do in the summer.  The answer is why yes, yes I am!

And there is good metabolic reasons for this increased eating, right?  It’s related to our hominid origins; “feeling cold triggers a self-preservation mode that sends the body a message to heat up fast” says Kristin Herlocker MS, RD, a nutrition expert with Diabetes Centers of America in Houston.  And because our bodies are being asked to produce more heat we need to eat more food to fuel the fires!

In addition to requesting that the body make more heat, cold weather causes the body to constrict skin pores and connective tissues in an effort to preserve what heat already exists.  This heat is directed away from periphery tissues in favor of the body’s core, i.e. where all your organs, save for the brain, live.

So it’s cold outside, our body is focusing the heat we are making to our core, and now it asks the stomach to find more fuel to continue producing heat.  Who are we to deny our bodies this?!

Nom, noms


There are balls in your dryer?

On December 22, 2010, in Activity, Animals, Health, by mandyvision

One day, long ago I owned an expensive down comforter.  I think down comforters are like new cars–they lose value the minute you drive them off the dealership lot.  Honestly, who would want your used down comforter?

But let’s examine what down really is.  It is the fine feathers found under exterior feathers on a handful of birds.  The most common type being geese.  Today, down feathers are commonly used in the manufacturing of blankets, pillows, and jackets.  The harvesting of said down feathers is not so nice.  [If I were an elf in Santa's workshop I would make sure down feather harvesters were on the naughty list indefinitely!]  Because much down is live-plucked from birds’ breasts-ouch.  According to various PETA sources, geese in these factory farms can suffer live-plucking three or four times in their short life span and then be slaughtered for their meat before winter because “cost accountants say it is more expensive to heat the sheds than the feathers are worth.”  Talk about cold and heartless!

Bounce, tumble, bounce, tumble!

Ok, but back to the balls for a moment.  Down is a little finicky to care for, as is true with many expensive materials and materials that happen to be taken unnaturally.  When wet, down loses all its insulatory properties–clumping together much like a wet dog.  To achieve the store-bought fluffiness it is recommended to throw a few tennis balls in the dryer with your jacket or pillow, etc.  This is supposed to more evenly disperse the feathers as they dry, preventing feather clump.

However, you can still have fun with tennis balls bouncing in your dryer if you own synthetic down products.  Synthetic fills have progressed a long way to offer comparable warmth and fluffiness without the cruelty, price tag, or allergies.  So this Christmas consider hypoallergenic, synthetic alternatives to your down apparel and linen gifts and with your savings you can throw in a couple cans of tennis balls!

40-Luv.  Geese-factory farm.


‘Tis the season for snow tires…

On December 7, 2010, in Activity, by mandyvision

The snow from this past weekend’s dumping has significantly melted away; however, sneakily leaving some spots of ice in particular areas of the sidewalk and streets.  With temperatures below freezing (today is -5°) it is not hard to imagine that this results in the formidable foe, black ice.  Just in front of my local grocery store the other night I witnessed 3 consecutive wipe-outs on the same patch of iced over cross walk.  Apparently, black ice is not discriminatory of your mode of transport as the first victim was a pedestrian, the next a biker, and the third atop a motor scooter.

It is definitely the season to change your tires.  So many people are rushing to the auto shops here that the waiting list to get an appointment is months long, depending on where your snow tires are being stored since last season.  Our appointment isn’t until the middle of December.  It seems silly that a few shops hoard the business and sit on your tires when conditions outside are so dangerous.  One would think that for maximum safety there would be an alternative and extra mechanics hired during snow season just like gift wrappers are hired pre-Christmas shopping season.  In any event, we’re waiting in line like good drivers for our turn.

Meanwhile so many Dutch ride their bikes, even in the snow!  Do they change their bike tires to snow bike tires I’m curious?  With the number of stories of weather-related spills around my office, I am highly doubting so.  If you are an avid biker and the snow doesn’t deter you, why not make your own studded snow tires here?  If I needed to bike in the snow I would probably go as far as slipping two hand warmers under the bike seat cover to defrost the seat on chilly mornings.  You turn the defrost on in your car, why not defrost the most important real estate on your bike?!

Brrr to all my readers and bikers!  Be careful out there.


How to properly (not) poke one’s eyes out

On November 25, 2010, in Activity, Health, by mandyvision

This past week I have been testing out a pair of contacts for the first time ever.  I have always been curious about contacts and as soon as my vision took a turn for the worse I requested contacts from my optometrist.  My optometrist however, requested that I wear my glasses as needed, no contacts.

What ever happened to ‘the customer is always right’?  Answer: it doesn’t apply when said retailer is a doctor charging you an obscene amount of money for reusing the same vision card on all of their patients.  A story for another time, but don’t you think after taking the Snellen vision test twice a year for a number of years I will remember the 20/20 line reads: D E F P O T E C?

This test is so subjective.  When will they let computers diagnose vision issues?

Anyways, it has now been a few years with glasses on and off, more on lately than not.  So I’m finally trying those contacts.

I have a number of friends and family who wear contacts and I’ve heard them complain about the pain of having to put them in and take them out and travel with them, etc.  I’ve watched my sister in particular put hers in countless times with barely any effort at all.  Sometimes it’s like she’s still asleep, lifting her eyelid in minimal cooperation with the task at hand.

So, I’m standing in front of my bathroom mirror, freshly washed fingers and contacts in hand.  The not blinking part at the crucial moment of insertion was a little difficult.  But after a few days I’ve gotten better at it.  Somehow though, removing them was proving to be more difficult.  I recalled there should be some gentle pinching involved of the contacts between your index finger and thumb.  Still, trying this was not yielding a high success rate.

Then I had the brilliant idea to watch someone do it right then and there.  Thank you YouTube! [Actually thank you Google Search that returns top videos by search subject.]  So after watching this short and bland video, I learned straight away that the crucial detail is to look up so you pinch at the bottom edge of the lens, and not in the center directly over your pupil.  I implemented my newest discovery and voila, the contacts are out in no time flat!

Goodnight all, goodnight moon.


My bleeding radiator

On November 22, 2010, in Activity, Health, by mandyvision

One month ago I hadn’t a clue about radiators.  This evening I bled our apartment’s radiators all by myself!  Whoo-hoo for girl home improvements!

Radiators aren’t a popular form of heating on the west coast, thus I haven’t had a proper radiator encounter until now.  According to WiseGeek radiators work by heating water that runs through a series of coils.  When air comes into contact with the hot metal surfaces of a radiator it too becomes warmed.  [Side note, not warm enough imho.]  Over time, air can get into the radiator, which displaces the water.  This unwelcome air does not heat as well as the water would and now you have a colder-than-cold radiator situation on your hands.

If you've lost yours, possibly you can snag one of these wind-up looking twists from Santa! (or just use a screwdriver)

Lucky for you, radiators come with a magic key and  bleeding a radiator means to let out the unwelcome air.  It barely takes a quarter of a turn on the valve of your radiator before you hear the hissing air escape, followed by some water as well.  It is recommended to have a towel or rag ready.  If you don’t turn off the radiators and let them cool a bit, you should be prepared for the water coming out to be muy caliente.  As soon as the water starts leaking you should close the valve back up.

It is recommended that radiators should be bled at least twice a year, more often if you use them frequently throughout the winter.  Because who’d have radiators and turn them off for the winter…

Happy radiator bleeding everyone and keep warm this holiday season!

I want to know who in history decided, proportionally, this would adequately heat a large living room?


For fair weather travelers

On November 16, 2010, in Activity, Online, Places, by mandyvision

As flight prices sky rocket for the holiday season we all feel the pressure to make quick decisions about our vacation destinations.  Will it be a ski holiday or a beach get-a-way?  So many decisions, on top of which, more decisions!  There are so many travel planning and travel research websites out there one could go crazy—I do go crazy.

However, just the other day my friend Erik shared this pretty unique site with me: Weather Base’s Vacation Finder.  It helps you pick a vacation spot based on your preference for weather and continent.  I love the concept; bringing all the places that meet your criteria to you instead of you doing the work of manually checking a single city at a time.

Travel websites in general, I think, still have a lot of room for improvement.  In my opinion, some of the best consumer websites are shopping websites.  They give you a multitude of search by options with which to narrow down what you’re looking for even when what you’re looking for is the “I’ll know it when I see it” thing.  Color, price, sale, store, brand, style, price range, size, etc. Imagine a travel booking/search website that instead of requiring you to know where you want to go, let you narrow down destination selections based on a set of other deciding factors.  Not date, not city.

Check out for one of my favorite user search interfaces.

Now picture clicking on choices such as metropolitan, urban, or secluded.  Rainy, sunny, or snowy.  Within 2 hours, 5 hours, or 12 hours.  Direct flights only or multiple stop-overs. Speaking English, Spanish, Cantonese, or Lithuanian.  My list for more interesting search options could go on forever.  And if a search engine for travel existed incorporating these less traditional questions, we could search for more interesting destinations, likely destinations we would have never known of, to even ask for from a traditional travel website.

One day, one day…and if that day is the day you are reading this, please do share!


The countdown to Karneval

On November 1, 2010, in Activity, Event, by mandyvision

This past Halloween weekend for me was just not the same with crazy costumes, spirit, and spook as it has been in the past.  But in my quest for Londoners dressed in of-the-moment costumes (e.g. Lady Gaga, Snooki, and Avatars) I learned about Karneval in Köln, Germany.

The Karneval season begins in just 10 days on Novemeber 11th at 11:11am.  The first written record of the celebrations were in 1341 and were tied to the Lenten period (40 days of Lent) of the Church calendar.  Karneval is celebrated and represented by the Dreigestirn (three Stars): the Seine Tollitдt (Carnival Prince, ‘His Craziness’), the Bauer (peasant/farmer), and the Jungfrau (virgin).  The three stars of Karneval each have their own floats come parade time and traditional attire and symbols for their roles.  Everyone else dresses up as well!  [Aka my second chance at Halloween!]

Karneval season lasts approximately 3 months, temporarily breaking for Advent and Christmas and returning full force after New Years.  The ultimate climax of celebrations happens in the last 6 days before Ash Wednesday.  People dress up differently each of the 6 days, often including painting their faces.  (6 days of different costumes sounds like the perfect solution for those times when you can’t decide on what to be for your one night of Halloween.)  Partying seems hardest in these last 6 days although there seems to be parades and a general socializing atmosphere throughout Karneval, also referred to as the fifth season.

Weiberfastnach, Women’s Carnival Night, and Rosenmontag, Rose Monday, are said to be the two big highlights of the entire culmination of festivities.  During Weiberfastnach, it is tradition for women to rule the streets singing and dancing and giving buetzen, little kisses on the cheeks to anyone passing by, and as if it’s not weird at all, cutting off the ties of any single men they meet!  Although I’ve yet to attend a Rosenmontag, the descriptions remind me of New York’s Thanksgiving Day Macy Parade.  1.5 million people attend the Rosenmontag parade (in Köln) and many more watch it on TV.  (For comparison however, Macy’s reports that 3.5 million people line the streets in NY and 50 million more watch at home.)  As the floats go by the costumed people aboard throw out candy to the spectators and children.  This sounds dangerous if you ask me, but again reminiscent of Halloween.

So enough background, when can I start picking out my 6 outfits?!

Float from Rosenmontag: I don't actually think Hillary would wear such a bright pink.

No, no it's not Chucky, it's more Rosenmontag!


Kisses vs. Technology

On October 25, 2010, in People, Places, by mandyvision

This past weekend I was in Barcelona where the official language is Catalan not Spanish.  The differences are actually quite large and a friend of ours told us it takes fluent Spanish speakers about 3 months to learn how to speak Catalan and about a year to learn how to write it. However, as a popular tourist destination many locals can speak English and will pick up right away if you’re foreign.

Given that Spanish is secondary to Catalan (in Barcelona), I was hesitant to speak it because even though I am decent in Spanish, I was unsure how it would be received.  Would people become impatient with my rusty Spanish and just prefer to help me in English or would my efforts to try be appreciated and receive friendly responses in Spanish.  If not for anyone else but myself, my Spanish seemed to go over well!  I was only addressed in English a few times and I even was told my Spanish was very good.  At this point I am going to continue thinking the trip and my communication skills were a success and that none of my friendly encounters intended me sarcasm with the compliment.

A view of the city from Gaudí's Parc Güell, one of my other memories from Barcelona

One of the evenings of the trip Gareth and I decided to play a little poker.  I am a growing fan of poker and of playing poker in different countries.  A poker table and a casino for that matter, is a great place to people watch.  A key part of the game is to observe your fellow players; and in this environment watching and/or starring at people is okay, not creepy.  [Well I'm sure one could make it creepy, but they shouldn't.]  Sitting at a poker table outside of the states, you’re bound to hear many different languages spoken.  Sometimes languages other than the home country’s language are banned to prevent cheating or unfair discussions of the game.  But in general, it can be a very colorful place with visitors from other countries speaking their native language to each other, the dealers announcing the raises in another language, and people swearing in unrecognizable languages if they lose a big hand.  I also always notice the differences in poker chips from country to country.  Colors, currency, denominations, embellishments, and cleanliness. Yes, poker chips by nature are very dirty pieces of plastic, handled probably more often than actual paper and coin money. Bring your hand sanitizer with you!

So I’m sitting at the table, watching people, listening to people, observing unspoken interactions when suddenly the dealer at our table makes two quick air kisses to someone.  Air kisses make a distinct sound that most everyone could probably recognize blind folded.  This is immediately very interesting, more interesting than the hand that just transpired on the table itself.  So I focus my observations on the dealer and within a few moments, someone gets up to leave from our table and she does it again!  I notice the pit boss make a gesture and it dawns on me that this kissing action is her exchange with the pit boss to notify him that there is now an open seat at our table.  It’s subtle and classy and I will always remember this casino in Spain for their “open seat” kisses.  In the US the popular “open seat” notification from dealer to pit boss is either a old-school yell, “open seat on table 4″, or an electronic signal sent via card swipe to a main computer screen in front of the pit boss.

To me, these little transpirations are part of what make great memories on any trip or in any situation.  If you’re paying attention, who knows what you’ll discover today?!


Ik spreek een beetje Nederlands

On October 20, 2010, in Activity, by mandyvision

Last night was my first Dutch language lesson.  I felt a little anxious, it has been so long since my last language class.  You hear that the younger you are the more easily you pick up different languages, and I’m obviously much older now than I was when I was learning Spanish in middle school.  Yo soy, tu eres, ella es, nosotros somos, ellos son!  [I still got it!]

Anyways my teacher arrived and jumped right into speaking Dutch with me.  She opened some books and pictures and we started in on the basics.  I tried to keep up, but I got distracted by the rules.  Or rather asking about the rules.  Everyone has their own learning style and I like to know the general rules so I can apply them to new words as I encounter them myself vs. learning the new words and then learning if they are het or de words [Dutch] or el or la words [Spanish] for example.  I only speak English and Spanish so far, and knowing English is a very rule breaking language with many exceptions, I of course thought Dutch would mirror Spanish rules somewhat.  There are some similarities, but so far this was a poor assumption in general.

Obviously rules can’t be held constant between languages [I realize now], but you can find root word similarities.  From the little bit of Afrikaans I’ve been learning as well, I can recognize some Dutch words already and there are even similarities to English or Spanish sometimes.  Let’s take the word dog for example.  In Dutch it is hond which reminds me of the English word hound, like a hound dog.  The word sleutels means keys in Afrikaans and in Dutch.  Meneer means Mr. in Dutch, and to me it sounds similar to Monsieur in French.  Making these associations is one of my learning techniques.  I also find it useful to make associations from the word itself or the letters in the word.  For example, the word langzaam and the word snel mean slow and fast, respectively.  If you’re a native English speaker you might be annoyed with this [as my boyfriend and I were] because snel reminds us of snail which is inherently slow.  Instead of jumping to my first word association in this case, I am trying to look at snel as a very short and fast word of just four letters vs. langzaam, it’s counter word, which is many letters and pronounced in a longer drawn out aa.

One of my picture worksheets. So first grade, sooo helpful!

After just one lesson and reminding myself to create useful associations like the ones I’ve mentioned above I’m now very excited for my next lesson!  I think learning your first new language can be difficult because you have fewer reference points, but maybe there’s a silver lining that the more your learn, the easier they become to pick up.  This could turn into a new hobby of mine.  But before I get ahead of myself, I am going to knock on the nearest thing made of wood.

Totsiens! Goodbye!


Singing for tangerines on Nov. 11?

On October 17, 2010, in Activity, Event, by mandyvision

As all my friends in the states get their costumes ready for Halloween I have been wondering what the celebrations will look like here in Amsterdam.  Being such an international city I easily found (via Google) a couple of clubs hosting parties on Saturday night, October 30th.  But to me the heart of Halloween isn’t a few hours of scary dress-up, it’s in the atmosphere around the holiday.

In the states, stores decorate their windows and doorways with fake cobwebs and plastic spiders.  There are pumpkin patches that overtake the sidewalks in front of grocery stores.  The dedicated drive to authentic pumpkin patches like the one on Sauvie Island in Oregon, to find the perfect carving specimen.  Which leads to jack-o’-lantern carving contests and thousands of glowing orange faces on doorsteps the night of October 31st.  Who can forget the salty, toasted pumpkin seeds afterwards either?!  Black and orange colored desserts and sticky sweet purple punch flood offices and school kids’ classrooms for a sugar-rush of epic proportions. Unarguably greater than those held during Valentines.  You have halloween parades of tiny toddlers barely able to dress themselves in fuzzy animal outfits their parents picked out and tweens all in matching tv of the month character outfits like princesses and superheroes.


Let’s not forget the corn mazes and haunted houses!  The costume contests and ghoulish games!  House parties, club parties, street parties, and door-to-door trick-or-treating kids collecting candy in their pillow cases and jack-o’-lantern totes!

To me, Halloween was never one day, one night, it’s a whole holiday season.  Until October 31st officially happens, stores can not change over to Thanksgiving and Christmas themes and sales. It’s like a passing of the torch.

So what does it look like the masses in Holland do about Halloween?  I’ve heard a little about something called Saint Martin’s Day. Instead of October 31st, it’s on November 11th and small children do don face masks and go door-to-door singing for their candy or tangerines.  Yes, I said tangerines.  Saint Martin’s Day is said to have originated after a kind Roman soldier named Martin encountered a poor and homeless man during a snowstorm.  Martin took pity upon the man and cut his cloak in half in order to share it with the man and save him from death in the cold.  Some stories also include him sharing bread and home with the man.  Two years later Martin got baptized and thereafter became a bishop and Saint Martin’s Day and the feast of Saint Martin came to be a Catholic and Protestant holiday.

In a few weeks I will find out if any children come knocking on my door singing for trick-or-treats or singing for tangerines!  Until then, make sure you have a scare for me as well.  Happy Halloween everyone!