maandag 31 december 2007

The Old Year's Last Rant

I was online at the same time as my bro and he told me to check out a clip on youtube. The clip is from a young filipina (15 yrs. old) named Charice Pempengco. The threads on this young lady's clips(check out the Star King episodes)are quite lengthy and full of positive thoughts.

Browsing through these clips, I couldn't help thinking of a young child star who won the International Star Search in the US when she was 10 years old. Everytime I hear a belter, I think of that young child star and I wonder what happened to her. I remember sitting in front of the tv and keeping my fingers and my toes crossed and not saying anything for fear it would jinx whatever mojo was bringing that young girl to victory, and when she won, I remember we were all joyful and tearful at home.

But after that, it was like total silence closed about the girl, and we didn't hear even a single peep about what happened next.

Thank goodness for the internet though. I googled and found this, which was like a nutshell history of what happened to Banig after she won the International Start Search.

So, I thought to myself, if Charice has youtube vids, I bet Banig has got some too and perhaps it's possible to trace her progress through the vids. So, I went over to youtube typed in Banig and got a line-up of vids. Of course,some of these were not related to her whatsoever, but there are some really great vids of a concert in2003 which gives the listener an idea of how her voice has changed/evolved since those childhood days.

I suppose the waning of an old year is a suitable time for nostalgia. But I watched those vids, thought of that brave little girl, and well, I couldn't help feeling really proud that she's gone on to fulfill her dream.

On another thread there were some negative comments about Charice's english, I thought to myself...good heavens people, I mean this child grew up in the Philippines. Over here in NL, your ordinary 15 year old doesn't speak english. I mean, I know. I live here, and I have tried speaking english to 15 year olds who just giggle and smile because they don't understand what I'm talking about. So, why is it that we're so quick to crack down on a Filipina who can't speak straight english?

Would we do that so easily to a girl who grew up in Holland? Would we be as easy to criticize someone who can't speak English if she came from a "western" country?

I remember back in the days when I was starting out as a writer, someone told me that no matter what I did I would never be able to write english as a native english speaker would.

So what? I think that if we all decided that was the standard we would have to reach in order to succeed, then we would all sound alike...and who wants stories and fiction and songs and art that all sound like they came out of the same pressing machine. We'd all be robots then, wouldn't we?

This has sort of evolved into a I'm ending it here and wishing everyone a unique changing of the year. May 2008 be filled with good things, good things, good things...and of course...with lots and lots of stories and publications ;)

And finally, here's the link to Banig's MySpace. Very cool.

zondag 30 december 2007


I've been meaning to add Leigh Dragoon to the links on my side thing. Byzarium's still one of my favorite zines, and through the artworks regularly used on the site, I've become acquainted with the work of some excellent artists.

There's also quite a number of interesting discussions going on all the time on her blog. I could just fritter away time reading the posts and the threads that issue from the posts.

Here's the link:

Leigh's Sketchblog

vrijdag 28 december 2007

zondag 23 december 2007

payment received

Received amidst a flurry of christmas cards : two american dollars as payment for How to Prepare a Head.

Saving that for when I finally cross the ocean.

Revving up for the great send out come January. During the christmas break, I plan to write every morning for at least an hour. This will mean still waking up when it's dark, but it gives me the advantage of being up before Joel Jan and Samuel are up.

Seven stories in the waiting. Two of them just need to be printed out, put in an envelope and sent out with SASE. Five need a bit of tweaking before I send them out.

Currently reading: Nancy Kress's, Beginnings, Middles and Endings. She has got great points.

That's my christmas rush.


Outlining next year's book proposal. At times like this, I wish I could go home and have immediate access to all the data. I will be patient...


donderdag 20 december 2007

living without

It's been a couple of months since the tv was relegated to the upstairs bedroom. While Joel Jan does make the trek upstairs every now and then, downstairs with the lights and with people about has a stronger pull on him, and it's easier to implement time limits on watching tv.

These days, there's an increase in household serenity. After the kids are both in bed and I'm done checking my email and finishing the necessary column, hubby and I have time to spend together chatting and sharing not only about our day but also about the things we're passionate about.

I have to think of how easy it is for married couples to lose sight of each other in the process of raising kids, earning a living, and just trying to get by. Back in the days when tv was a huge black presence in the living room, we'd both spend hours zapping aimlessly from one station to another. True, we'd be sitting side by side, but somehow the evening would end with me zapping around while Jan dozed off beside me. Not exactly the way to spice up a marriage.

These past months without tv, we've been communicating more openly with each other, and this week, we decided that it was time to reinstall our together time which meant sharing with each other, praying as man and wife, and taking the time to just listen and be there.

This holiday season, with Joel Jan being home a lot more than usual, I think I'm going to implement one of Mary's suggestions and take the time to sit down with him and watch his favorite tv show. I'm quite curious what discussions we'll have after he's finished watching it.

After all, we do discuss the stories I've read in Interzone...and yes...Joel has got his own favorites too...but that's something for another time.
Holiday Moods:

How to Prepare a Head (my gory hay(na)ku)is now up at Sam's Dot Publishing.

At the same time, my Christmas column which was supposed to come out on Monday at Haruah, has been picked up by TeenAge Magazine and The Sword Review.

Busy, busy, busy. I finally have sat down to write out Christmas cards and greetings. I'm almost done, so I thought I'd sit down and post about the above.


zaterdag 15 december 2007

Sharing and a chance to win 150 conversation starters

Last summer, I joined a blogtour for Mary de Muth's latest book, Authentic Parenting in a Post Modern Culture. Recently, I received an email from Mary with the following article which I'd like to share on this blog. A lot of the points in this article are points that I'm in agreement with and while I haven't practiced all of them yet, there are a number of things in there that I certainly intend to implement as we strive to raise our kids so that they grow up to be adults who aren't afraid to engage and interact with the world around them.

Here's the article in full:

One of the questions author Mary DeMuth (Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture) gets asked in radio interviews is this: What can a parent do to help kids filter their media intake? Her answer: Strategically engage. The following is five ways to help re-engage your kids in a media-saturated culture.

Bio: Mary E. DeMuth loves to help folks turn their trials into triumphs. Her books include Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God (Harvest House, 2005), Building the Christian Family You Never Had (WaterBrook, 2006), Watching the Tree Limbs, Wishing on Dandelions (NavPress, 2006), and Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture (Harvest House 2007). A mother of three, Mary lives with her husband Patrick and their three children in Texas. They recently returned from Southern France where they planted a church. Learn more at

Five Ways to Engage Disengaged Kids
By Mary E. DeMuth

In a world of Halo, iphones, and IM, how do parents strategically engage their tuned-out kids? How can we create the kinds of homes that are irresistible to our children, enticing enough to make them tune out from games, media and texting and tune in to the rhythms of family life? Five ways.

One: Offer ‘em Something Better

The most enticing thing to a kid is community—real, authentic, God-breathed community. To create this, learn to do the following:

• Say you’re sorry when you’re wrong and ask forgiveness.
• Strive to become the person you want your child to become. Practice reconciliation, open communication, and serving each other.
• Listen, really listen to your kids. Give them eye-time. Don’t uh-huh their concerns, but strive to ask great questions to draw them out. Be willing to share your own struggles with your kids.
• Plan meal times together. And when you do, talk! One way to foster great communication is to have questions already prepared. For a sample, click here: To purchase all 150, click here: To win them, click here:
• Have an unplug day—no phones, TV, gaming systems, and return to old fashioned board games, taking walks outside, and reading together.
• Resist DVDs in the minivan. Try books on tape instead—a wonderful way to engage your child’s mind. Discuss the book afterward.
• Welcome others into your home. Be the house all the kids want to congregate in.

Two: If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em

Our kids will see movies; they will watch TV shows. Instead of always pushing against that, sit down next to your child and watch shows and movies together. Then use the time afterwards to discuss these questions:

• What is the worldview of this movie?
• What kind of person is the main character? Is she someone you want to be like?
• What lies does this movie perpetuate?
• What does this show say about materialism?
• What part of this movie showed God’s love?

Strategically engaging alongside our kids in the very thing we’re leery of does two things: It shows our kids we are willing to sacrifice our own desires to spend time with them. And it helps prepare them to better discern the movies and media they watch.

Three: Explore Different Ways to Celebrate Sabbath

Taking time away from the crazy rush-rush of a media saturated world is a counter-cultural move your family can take. Choose a day or afternoon for rest. Limit media that day. Choose to engage in artistic, creative endeavors together:

• If a child loves music, encourage him to write a song or create an unusual soundtrack.
• Supply kids with all sorts of visual arts tools: paint, brushes, magazines, pens, glue, and let them create. If you need focus, think of five families or friends who need to be encouraged, then create cards for each one.
• Let your kids have free reign of the video camera. Encourage them to make a movie. Then watch it together as a family, complete with popcorn.
• Pull out that karaoke machine.
• Read together.
• Do a puzzle or play board games.

Four: Go Outside

We are a disconnected culture, defining ourselves by the great indoors and cyberworlds. To combat that in your family, dare to open the front door and walk on out. Take strolls with your kids. Find a local park or wilderness preserve to poke around in. Hike together. Feed the ducks. Launch rockets. Play Frisbee. Kick the ball around. Ride bikes. Pick up garbage along the road. Skateboard. Make going outside as much of a habit as going outside.

Five: Focus Outward

Computers and movies and TV and phones focus us inward. Instead, seek to find ways to focus your family outward toward the needs of the world. Sponsor a child in a third world country. Go on a mission trip as a family and take a year together to plan it. Find a cause to support—like digging wells in Africa or alleviating AIDS. Volunteer at a nursing home. Muddying our feet and hands in the real needs of the world gives kids a greater picture of the world and pulls them away from the artificial, often narcissistic world they live in.

It is possible to re-engage your disengaged child. It takes effort, creativity and pluck, but it can be done. The reward? A rejuvenated, connected relationship with your child that no gadget can compare to.

Copyright, Mary E. DeMuth, posted here with permission from the author.

If you'd like a chance to win 150 conversation starters, there's a contest going on at Mary's blog ( Just click on the link or copy and paste into your browser and go there.

vrijdag 14 december 2007

It's Arrived

Thanks to editor, Beng Alba, who had this package sent via Fedex so I wouldn't have to wait three months for it to arrive :)

donderdag 13 december 2007

Samuel's Teletubby Coat

Here's our Samuel in the Teletubby Coat.

coat economics

Coat economics, the Dutch mommy way:

Everybody knows Dutch mommies have at least two coats for every season. One coat is the everyday coat. This is the coat that mommies throw on when they take their kids to school, pick kids up from school, take out those trash containers, do gardening, do the grocery shopping, wash the windows, and all sorts of menial outdoorsy stuff in. This is the coat that's generally rain-resistant, mostly dirt-resistant, and is more often than not, washable. The everyday coat may cost a lot more than the good coat, but that's okay. You have to have a really good everyday coat because it's got to endure a lot of wear--day in, day out.

The second coat is the good coat. This is probably a wollen type coat. Mine's an a-line cut and greyish with nice rough texture. It's quite pretty and isn't too long. It's quite sturdy, and it's warm enough for if I need a presentable coat to wear over dinner clothes, party clothes or whatever occassion clothing. I choose grey because black is just so black and grey goes with just about anything in my wardrobe.

Some mommies (the really well-off ones) have a third or a fourth coat, depending on how fashion conscious and brand conscious they are. There are some mommies who color-coordinate their coats. Ummm...well...I'm not one of those or maybe I'm just not fashion conscious enough.

Coat economics apply not only to Dutch mommies, but to Dutch daddies and to Dutch children as well. As a matter of fact, it seems to apply to just about everybody Dutch. Amazingly enough, the only person in this family with the luxury of choosing whatever color or type of coat to wear is our Samuel. His coat wardrobe is quite extensive. I think he's got about four coats to choose from, in all.

Our favorite thus far has been the "Teletubby coat" that he inherited from a friend. I'll have a look through my files and see if I can find a picture of him in the teletubby coat.

So why this treatise on coats? My everyday mommy coat has decided it's time to I'll have to head out to the shops soon and get myself a replacement.

Only trouble is, there are so many coats out there, and trying to match personal style and taste to the right color, right size and right price is usually quite time consuming.

One reason I love windowshopping: I don't have to buy anything.

dinsdag 11 december 2007

i read
in your eyes

of today
plundered, forgotten, found

lost again and
reclaimed by


My aunt lived and worked among the Mamanwa people of Surigao. They were curly haired, wandering folk who lived in the mountains. She slept with them under the arms of trees. She was a young woman when she began--graduate of nursing, doctor's daughter, home from the US after intensive training.

She did not ask for fame or recognition. She never asked for her name to be broadcast in capital letters.

For years, she wandered as the tribespeople wandered.

Under the ceiling of sky she slept. I wonder if she dreamt of the day she would live again within the enclosure of four walls. How must it feel, I wonder.

In time, her patience bore fruit. The tribespeople learned to read, and write. They learned to till the land, to plant vegetables, to tame the mountain, to build houses with walls. But the sky kept on calling to them and the land and the longing to wander still flowed in their veins.

My aunt grew old among these people. She never married. These people are her children, these tribe is her family, the mountain became her home.

They weathered storms.

First, came the soldiers and the rebels.

"Why must we choose sides when all we want is peace?"

Then, came the loggers.

And then, the miners ...

They chased the people off the mountains, there is copper in the ground or some such precious ore. For profit's sake, the tribe is driven off... again, and again, and again.

This is the inheritance of a generation to come. Deep caverns emptied of wealth, mountains denuded of trees, a government that has sold off the future for a fortune that does not last.

My aunt has grown old with memories of children lost to forgotten wars. Her hands tremble when she writes--a legacy from years carrying heavy bundles up and down the mountains. Her dreams are haunted by shadows in uniform. Out of the corner of her eyes, she sees apparitions. They are there, she cries. Men who come to steal away the innocent, men who come to steal away the land.

There is no shelter.

In this land, in this country of our broken dreams, our desire is frustrated, our longing for a better future is put to death by our fellowmen.

*********update note*************

Apparently what these miners are shipping to China is laterites with 1.5% to 2% Nickel and cobalt. The Chinese are also buying laterites from Palawan and so far they have shipped more than 2million tons of these soil.

They are shipping our soil? Transferring shiploads of earth from PH to China? That's a mind-boggling thing. OMG, the sf dwende is jumping around inside my brain.

bikes and cars

We've been carless for about a year now. One year on bikes. Through rain and shine, through the cold and through the heat. I recently read this article about a family that decided to get rid of their car and who do all their travelling by public transport and by bike (just like us). This family says their decision is a conscious choice prompted by concern for the environment and a need to de-stress their lives.

While I contemplate driving lessons for next year, I'm thinking of how our lives and our activities haven't been gravely curtailed due to the lack of a car. I actually feel that our experience as a biking and public transport family has helped us to slow down and prepare more.

Carlessness has also levered us the financial advantages of not having to pay taxes on a car and taxes on using the highway. That's how taxes are done over here. Not only do you pay tax for owning a car, you actually get taxed for using it and for using the road as well. The bigger your car, the more taxes you pay. Add to this the benefit of environmental friendliness.

I'm wondering if owning a car is wise or even necessary. I must confess I'm quite attached to my bike and am so used to taking the public transport. Maybe we'll just go carless for sometime and rent-a-car when the need arises. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meantime, I acknowledge my need to get a driver's license.

I confess to not being very enthusiastic about learning to drive, but as my sister-in-law says, it is handy to have, I suppose I better just square my shoulders and get to it.

maandag 10 december 2007

Here's the link to the Hope Away from Home book blurb:


thinking of objects

I object.


Joel's jeans have started to show wear and tear around the knees. Instead of heading off to the shop to buy a new pair of jeans, I decided to do some home repair. It's a simple matter of sewing the tears together and patching them up with some neat leather patches. The leather patches cost me one euro fifty a pair, and after I'd sewed them onto Joel's jeans, they looked really cool and hip...and very cowboyish.

Knowing how to sew, by hand or by machine, is a moneysaver. Shortening pants/jeans/skirts is quite easy, don't forget to trim the side seams so they aren't too thick for your ordinary sewing machine. Using the right needles and the right threads will give your clothing that professional finished off look.

I had a friend who paid 12 pounds for her jeans to be shortened. Wasted money. She had six pairs shortened and not one of them was shortened to the right size. Also, the tailoring service did not use the right kind of thread. When shortening jeans, use jeans-sized needles. There are special jeans threads on the market that are sturdy and leave you with jeans that look really finished.

Of course, if you live in the PH and you buy your jeans from one of those shops with free tailoring service, by all means have it done in the shop. Over here in NL, we don't have that luxury. Sometimes, you buy a pair of jeans on sale only to pay double the price to have it shortened. Yup. Those sewing lessons were a real investment.

Taking the time to do clothing repairs (in the evenings and during baby's naps) may seem tiresome, but in the long run, are well worth it.


Christmas DIY

Christmassy tablecloths can be rather pricey. At this time of year, the cloth merchant who visits our market every Tuesday has lovely sales of cloth at 5 euro per meter. I bought some beautiful burgundy colored cloth and am going to seam it and use this as my christmas tablecloth. We liked the color of the cloth so much that we've decided to purchase more cloth so I can make seat covers for our dining chairs as well.

Yup. We are in a holiday-diy-creative mood.

vrijdag 7 december 2007


I do admire folks who are willing to invest time, finances and energy in charity. Last week, I did find myself questioning the purposes behind why certain people engage in what's called "charity".

We attended this birthday party where one of the guests (a slightly drunk Dutchman) stood up and announced that he and his wife and a couple of friends had put up this charity for the sake of helping out the poor (the poorest) in the Philippines. An admirable intention, to be sure. And that they had collected and sent a grand total of 80 balikbayan boxes filled with clothes, blankets, toys and whatnot and sent them all home to the Philippines wasn't something to be sneezed at.

Quite impressive, I thought.

In his slightly drunken state, this Dutch fellow then went on to expound on how they were doing this all for the sake of poor Filipinos. We were also informed that he and his board members did not gain any profit from this. And we would certainly see that in the albums that were going to be circulate among party guests.

This fellow wasn't a friend of ours and we had gone to the party because the one who'd invited us was a friend...we'd gone without our bags and wallets because they live just a street away and who needs money when going to a friend's birthday party?

Anyway, this fellow went around asking guests to purchase this gift package which consists of a symbolic gift cheque the amount of which was meant to fund the shipping of more goods to the Philippines. My girlfriend and I didn't have a cent on us, and when we told him this, he acted as if he couldn't believe our hardheartedness at not giving towards the poor whom he stressed were our countrymen and not his.


Well, the albums came around and they were filled with pages and pages of thank you letters with pictures of the smiling poor embracing stuffed toys, electronic toys, gadgets and what not.

Included in this album were clippings from local newspapers with photographs of this man in an overfull attic.

No, no. I'm not sneezing at this man's intentions. I certainly believe they were well-meant. Indeed, if I believed sending the cast offs of a well-off nation would help alleviate poverty in my home country, I'd do it without a second thought. What I did wonder at, was whether this charitable action really resulted in something concrete and life-changing.

Who does this charity really benefit? Is it meant to assuage a sense of guilt at living in a nation that's filled to the overflowing with castoffs? Is it meant to fulfill a longing to be seen as doing something great and wonderful? Call me cynical, but I couldn't help wondering whether this was an instance of poor brown folk being made to pose in front of the camera in thanks for the white man's largesse.

My interpretation of true charity would be one wherein folks engaging in it wouldn't feel the need to broadcast to the world at large that "here I am doing this wonderful thing for all you poor people" and "you must help me and support my cause because if not for people like us, you people would be nowhere at all."

I think of my fellow Pinoys who've given their lives towards supporting the less fortunate without a word of thanks. I think of my fellow Pinoys who travel the islands with a minimum of financial support just to bring medication and healing where no doctors and medical staff are. I think of my fellow pinoys who silently and without asking for praise carry on the work of caring for the poor. I think of fellow Pinoys who work among the tribes giving literacy lessons and living as the tribespeople do, because they care.

"Yes sir," I wanted to say to the tipsy dutchman. "Your intentions are well-meant, and your largesse is appreciated, I'm sure. Nevertheless, I know of men and women who've walked and worked among the very poor. I know men and women who sacrifice for these poor. I know men and women who don't say a word about their good deeds and who don't need the thank you letters in order to press on with their good work."

To my mind, that's worth a lot more than charity where folks give towards because whatever you give is tax-deductible. Thank you very much for your charity, but I wonder when this charity will move beyond the providence of material comforts to what really changes and betters life...meaning providing education, health and the infrastructure that will move us beyond dependence on your largesse and the fickleness 0f human nature.

To my fellow pinoys who serve without needing praise...I pray that the Lord will continue to bless you with largesse untainted by the need to kowtow to the "big white man".

dinsdag 4 december 2007

examining buying habits: how do you buy and why?

I've got a guest over from the UK and due to the euro-pound exchange, my guest perceives prices in the Netherlands as being quite cheap and reasonable as compared to UK prices.

She's been spoiling us quite dreadfully and I confess to this making me look at my recent purchasing habits.

Recently, I've taken to looking at price tags first before considering whether an item would be attractive to me. The lower the price tag, the more interesting a product becomes. My friend, looks at a product first in terms of whether she likes it enough to consider buying it. The price tag is secondary.

We'd been looking at some designer websites and comparing prices on bags and shoes. Inspite of her not being budget-minded, even my friend found it quite puzzling that some people would actually pay a thousand dollars for a handbag. Some people meaning not people like the Ayalas who have tons of money, nor one of those rich oil-heirs and heiresses, but rather ordinary working people who are deep in credit trouble because of the desire to own not one, not two, but a roomful of designer bags or designer shoes.

In my frugal state of mind, I find the idea of spending a hundred euros on a handbag mind-boggling enough.

Nevertheless, I found myself thinking of the way I buy. Am I going too extreme by considering prices first?

maandag 3 december 2007


Yesterday, we made a daytrip to Cologne. We took the ICE train and went first class back and forth. Five of us on this trip, Samuel and my adopted sister included. On the way back, we bumped into a friend who'd been to Dusseldorf.

So, she says. You travelled first class.

And she raises her eyebrows and teases me about being "sosyal".

The story of how we came to travel first class on second class price has to do with me trying to book a trip because we'd promised our lover of trains that we would give him a real trip across the border. Cologne seemed like a place that was reasonably close enough (about two hours of travel by ICE) and far enough away for him to get the idea that we were indeed in another country. I'd been checking out the NS site for cheap trips and this one came up at 38 euro a person. That's still about 160 euro in total, but that's just how life is, I thought and anyway we didn't have any plans to fly off to the Philippines this year.

Booking online is pretty easy and it seemed like the ideal way to go especially since it means I wouldn't have to pay the booking fee normally charged at the counter. Eventual adjustments to dates even got me a total price of 114 euro for the five of us. I was pretty happy about that until I found out that all the tickets in that price class were sold out and the next available one was close to 300 euro for the five of us.

What's the quibbling all about? Some folks might say.

For budget-conscious me, there's a huge difference between 114 and 300. Just compute. That's two driving lessons in the difference.

Anyway, the site went down and I ended up calling customer service. It was a blessing in disguise. The lady I spoke to listened to me. She understood my problem and my dilemma. She understood my desire to give the train enthusiast the perfect surprise and my need to stick to a budget, and she found us a trip that cost less than 150 euro. Add six euro to the deal and we all were travelling first class back and forth.

In my conversation with the lady, she first proposed a rate somewhere in the 300 euro region. I was honest and told her that 300 was way beyond my budget and so maybe we would just have to wait and save for another time. This resulted in her asking me if I'd be willing to let her look for time and day schedules where we'd get a reasonable price and still get to do some sightseeing in Cologne.

After a ten minute wait, she called me back. She had a date. Departure was rather early, and the return trip was on the late side, but she had found a date. If I added six euro to my budget we could all go first class both ways.

Yesterday, we were up before the sun. At 7.46 we were on the train, travelling first class all the way from our town to Utrecht where we got on the first class coach to Cologne.

I bless the lady who arranged that trip. The roominess in first class was ideal for travelling with a child approaching the toddler stage.

Whoever is in charge of the NS must hire real child-friendly personel. I mentioned Joel's train enthusiasm and it was like finding the key to a floodgate of kindness, accomodation and understanding. This is something I've noticed in my dealings with the Dutch. Whatever their shortcomings, the Dutch have a soft heart when it comes to kids.

It's this trait that keeps me hopeful.

maandag 26 november 2007

Just can't get over my luck at getting that couch.
The Madonna and Child painting on the wall is by artist, Boy Cornejo.
That's Kermit dangling from the lamp. He's lost one eye, but I still love him.
On the table, a carved wooden bowl from Banaue, Ifugao. I put some beautiful candles in it and circled the candles with pine cones, christmas balls and plastic leaves from the Philippines. It looks quite cozy with the candles burning.

some ideas for the holiday season

1. When buying toys for children, looking at secondhand places like ebay or online shops might end up cheaper than buying them from a toystore. A good idea is to check out how much the toy would cost on the shelves and do some comparison online before purchasing the thing.

2. Buying during the sale season and keeping a reserve of gifts somewhere in the attic is a good idea. I have a friend who does this regularly and I've started to adopt this method. You'll be amazed at the savings. For instance, I remember buying a bag for five euro on sale, a few weeks later, the same bag was priced up to 25 euro. That's a savings of twenty euro.

3. If you're a handy person, arts and crafts are in this year. I have a friend who's really handy with the knitting needles and she makes this beautiful scarves that look like they've come out of some exclusive shop.

4. Continuing number three, if you're handy with the sewing machine, there are loads of things you can make. Back home, I had a friend who used to sew these carry-all bags. They're quite simple to make, it's just a matter of cutting out two rectangles sewing them together and attaching a handle. If you're extra creative, you can add beads and sequins to give the bag that extra bling.

5. Before you go on a buying rampage for holiday decor, check the decorations in storage. You might be buying something that you've already got or that you don't need. Be creative when arranging your decor. Try mixing pine cones with christmas balls in a wooden tray. They make a nice centerpiece for the table. Place tealights in glass holders and group them together in a tray. The glass holders don't even have to all be in the same color.

6. Look to nature for decorating ideas. A tip picked up from one of those home making magazines says to go for a walk in the forest and pick a beautifully shaped branch. Paint the branch in white or in whatever color you wish, place it against a contrasting background and hung some lights or christmas balls on it.

7. Consider buying an art bag and giving it away as a gift. It's for a good cause and costs only five euro per bag. ( for more info go to:

8. Give practical presents. It's not necessary to give kids loads of toys as presents. Giving them something they need such as winter gloves, socks, pens or notebooks (not the electronic kind) will teach kids to value and appreciate whatever they get.

9. Give a gift of time or talent. One of the Dutch mothers showed me this set of little vouchers her daughters had given her for her birthday. Each voucher volunteered a service that would be granted when their mom handed in the voucher.

For instance: This voucher entitles the holder to an evening of babysitting (from name of giver)
or: This voucher entitles the recipient to a homecooked meal upon request (from name of giver)
and for the writers/poets among us: Perhaps a poem or a story written especially for the recipient would mean a lot more than something bought at a brandname store.

Be creative. There are tons of ideas floating in the ether. It's just a matter of catching hold of them ;)

zondag 25 november 2007

Samuel on our new couch with Papa's bass guitar...unplugged.

events and thoughts

Our weekend's settling down and except for going to the birthday of our neighbour's son, there's little planned on the agenda today. A good thing as the entire week has been quite a bustle of trying to get things done and arranging for pickup of various goods.

Friday was really exciting as I travelled to The Hague with Samuel and met Crista Ermiya. Such a lovely lady and her boyfriend's such a nice guy. I really liked them a lot and I hope we'll continue to keep in touch.

From The Hague, I went on to Leiden where I met up with Jan who was returning home from his two week work-related trip in Czech Republic. Samuel was quite excited about seeing his Dad again. He had this look on his face that could easily be interpreted as saying: So, there you are. Where have you been all this time?

Something really sweet is how Jan's acquired the habit of "Pasalubong" buying. He came home with toys for the boys, chocolate for our good neighbour, and a book for me.

Saturday turned out to be one of the most hectic days of our lives together. There was no sleeping until late in the morning. We were both up at about seven o'clock, shoving furniture around and clearing a path for the arrival of our /new/ couch.

And what a couch it is. It's sitting in my living room, giving the room such a sumptuous and luxurious feel that I can't help turning around and staring at it again. Never mind that my ironing board's standing on one side of the room with baskets of clothes that need to be ironed...if you look towards the side of the room where the couch just exudes that stepped out of the catalogue air.

Where it came from, they barely sat on it. I doubt that will be the case in this house ;) Joel's in absolute awe of the couch.

Lovely couch, Mom. He says.

But the couch wasn't the only thing that got picked up yesterday. Jan's been wanting to learn how to play the Bass Guitar and he managed to get himself a lovely Ibanez bass off of Marktplaats. He did have to travel quite a bit to pick it up, but he was still in time to pick up the space station I'd bought for Joel's Sinterklaas surprise.

Hence, the usefulness of planning and organizing trips ahead of time comes in handy.

Before we launched on this buying spree, we did set a budget. I had set a budget limit of 25o euro for a couch, Jan had set a limit of 150 for his bass guitar, and for the boys I'd set a limit of about 50 euro for presents.

We did spend 250 on the couch, but we got Jan's bass at 95 and Joel's present cost us 30. If I can arrange for the pickup of that cute little car for Samuel, that'll set me off another 10.

Being transparent about expenditure is important to this blog. The numbers are personalia, I know. Who needs to know how much a couch costs anyway?

My point is, sometimes we are so hung up on the cost of things. I remember this character I met at a party who somehow managed to drop hints about how expensive her shoes were or where she'd bought her coat (which gave you the idea that it was really expensive), and I remember sitting there with Samuel on my lap, feeling quite small while she fussed over another guest mom who was dressed to the nines and who had top of the line baby luggage with her.

What I loved about the dressed to the nines mom was how when the other lady said: Oh but your baby looks so nice. I bet you buy his clothes at (insert brandname) store.

The top of the nines mom said, No, I don't. I buy his clothes at the HEMA.

Which made me feel really warm and glowy towards the top of the nines mom and her no-nonsense, non-elitist attitude towards material things.

I think of how we're often pushed into purchasing something because of a need to prove our ability to buy. Sometimes, we are so busy with the "image" we project that we forget what's really important in life.

I sat there thinking of how what really matters isn't what others perceive of us. It's not "image" that counts in life, it's relationships and feeling good about yourself. As the Dutch say, "zit je lekker in je vel".

In the list of life's priorities, relationships come first. And for us, this means family and friends...and the necessary trips home in order to help our children understand that they are children of two cultures, and that's something money can't buy.

vrijdag 23 november 2007

The World of Bidding and giftgiving

December has got to be one of the most expensive months of the year. On the 5th of December, we celebrate Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas's birthday). It's the day for surprises and giftgiving in The Netherlands. This is all preceded by about a week or two of letting the children set their shoe in front of the door or under the fireplace with them waking up in the morning to find a little present or some sweets in it. It can be pretty stressful for some kids as the presence of a present means they're in the Saint's good books, and the absence of a present means they're on the naughty list.

Enter, number one expense on the holiday list: Gifts.

Some parents go to the shops and spend outrageous amounts of cash on something they're kids will play with and then forget about. Joel's been dropping hints about what he would probably like for Sinterklaas, but I thought a nice surprise would be the best way to celebrate this season. So, off I went to search on my favorite shopping forum ( I was quite pleased to win the bidding on a Space Station lego set complete with sounds and lights. It's well within my budget, it's something I know Joel will love, and being LEGO, it inspires creativity and wild imagination. Add to this, it's a novelty as Joel has never seen this in any of the toyshops (a big plus). Who else but the good saint would bring something not available in NL shops?

Samuel's present is really nice. I still have to pick it up, but it's a cute little car with seating support that can be removed when he can stand on his own. There's also a sort of curved platform to place under the wheels of the car, which transforms it into a sort of seesaw. I can just imagine how delighted he'll be with this present. Jan laughed when I told him about it.

"I can just imagine him whizzing across the living room with a smile on his face," Jan says.

So, if I'm buying these things, how do I know I'm saving money on them? First of all, I browse shop catalogues and try to find out how much these items cost at new price. Then, when I look on marktplaats, I have an idea of what kind of item I am looking for, and I have a budget set inside my head so I don't get carried away by bidding and bid way above my budget. There's so much on offer at Marktplaats, that if I lose the bidding on an item, I can look again a couple of days later or a week later, and find something similar to that item.

So far, my experiences in buying via Marktplaats have been positive ones.

Looking at my budget table, I'm quite pleased to see that the boys' presents are well within my budget. Quite a far cry from the days when I used to blow a hundred euro on gifts for Joel Jan. How often do we mistake the value of the present as being representative of the love behind it?

This year hasn't been a year for buying huge presents, but I think this is the year where we've really sat around the table and laughed and talked. I have to smile thinking of how productive this year has been in terms of me telling Joel stories and Joel learning to tell his own stories.

We're a team, Joel says to me.

Yup, we are a team ;)

woensdag 21 november 2007

the writer's economics

The fact is, that while we keep on writing and submitting work, the equation rarely balances out.
This year, due to the arrival of my baby boy, story production has been at an all time low since I started writing again in 2005.

Stats time:

Stories sent out this year: 9
Stories rejected: 3
Stories accepted: 3
Stories pending: 3
Poems submitted: 15
Poems accepted: 7

Not a bad equation. Considering how nine of my poetic memoir essays have been taken up in the book, Hope Away from Home, to be released by OMF Lit Philippines. My name appears for the first time on the cover of a book. Under the main author's name to be sure, but still it's on the front page. *glows*

Looking at the stats, I realize how badly I need to reorganize my files. Maybe I should start opening new folders with year dates on them. Except, when does one say a story's finished? Some of my stories started a year ago and ended this year.

Economics: The number of stories I actually got paid for is 2.

Moment of thanks: My thanks to Nanay whose insistence that I keep on at the Conservatory when I wanted to stop resulted in me having a sideline that supports my number one "bisyo" (books). My thanks to friends, e-friends, and loved ones.

Books acquired this year: about 20 (Yes Lily, one week won't be enough to read them all)

Subscription renewed: Interzone (the only sf mag I subscribe to. I might try Black Static or Asimov's next year. Sounds interesting, but I'll take out a sample copy first.) I'm also looking for a new mag to subscribe to next year. Preferably not of the specfic genre.

The truth about rejections is this: I've got three stories in circulation that I consider my best work, and so far, these are the stories garnering the most rejections. If the first story comes back, I'll be one short of ten rejections on it. And the second story has garnered 5, whereas the third has had three so far. I'm still quite hopeful though. So far the comments on these stories have been quite positive, they've mostly reached the final round of there must be something good about them or they wouldn't have gotten that far.

I'll be making up my christmas list soon. Hard to believe November's almost over. Good Lord, the Christmas rush will be upon us before we know it.

For the boys, I've decided to do my shopping on Marktplaats where I've spotted a space station lego set that's no longer available in the shops. Keeping my fingers crossed and hoping I can surprise my eldest with it.

maandag 19 november 2007


Everyday, I start with a list of things that need to be done, and as the day progresses each thing that gets done gets ticked off the list.

Today being Monday:


--laundry (wash and iron)
--garbage (sort and dispose)
--downstairs (vacuum floor/stairs and organize papers)


--write that book review
--work on that stranded story


--study that piece I need to teach to my student

Keeping to a Budget:

I had quite a pleasant surprise when I checked my personal account and discovered that I still had cash over. Looking at my spending habits for this past month, I realize I've managed to keep my personal spending down simply by regulating my visits to the shops and by asking myself what it was that I really needed.

It helps too that we haven't been to Burger King or McDonald's or one of those burger joints. Dutch folks are pretty money-savvy and I think this explains why a good number of Dutch people still don't eat at burger joints. Most folks I know eat at home or take sandwiches with them wherever they go. It's not unusual to see a Dutchman or a Dutchwoman chomping on a whole wheat sandwich on the train. It's healthy in more ways than one.

zondag 18 november 2007

After writing the previous entry (wat ik eigenlijk wou zeggen), I had to think about how this desire to be a part of the community is what sometimes pushes migrants to alienate themselves from the base community.

I wonder how much this wanting to be /included/or /part of/ community prompts the migrant to spend over his/her budget. How much of our overspending is prompted by wanting to show that we are the same/worthy of being the same/worthy of being seen as equal?

I don't need a Dutch person to tell me there is no discrimination. I, the migrant, I know it does exist...

In being /real/ and true about the state of my economics, I am stating how I am just as equal and just as worthy as folks who were born in this beautiful country. So what if I wear a coat from H&M, so what if I still wear last year's colors. My clothes/my color/my state of economics/ these don't define the person that I am.

wat ik eigenlijk wou zeggen

En het verschil in cultuur en daaruit voortvloeiende verschillende opvattingen m.b.t. omgangsvormen hebben naast een regelmatig terugkerende taalbarrière weleens gezorgd voor miscommunicatie en soms niet begrepen worden of het begrijpen van Nederlanders. Dit bemoeilijkt het maken van vriendschappen en daarin begrepen worden.-extract uit een brief met betrekking tot het vertrek van een allochtoon familie uit een gemeente-

Deze taal, ik niet begrijp. Zo koud. Gevoelloos. Weet niet wat ik zeggen moet. Je begrip, mijn begrip. Wij anders dan jullie. Ja zo. Nederlanders zijn nederlanders en wij allochtonen...wat dan?

Je moet haar eens ontmoeten, zeggen ze. Zij is ook allochtoon.
Zo ben ik verdeeld in een vakje.

Ik niet begrijp. Misschien mijn kleur spreekt meer dan mijn tong.
Nu spreek ik apen taal.

Niet goed. Niet goed genoeg voor nederlanders.

Niet willen begrijpen. Of niet begrepen willen worden. Ik ben niet begrepen. Mijn taal slipt door...mijn tong slipt door...Ik zeg de woorden verkeerd. Ben ik? Ik ben? Wat ben ik?


Mijn naam, betekent buitenlander, buitenstaander, iemand uit een ander land, iemand die niet echt bij hoort.

Weet niet wat ik daarmee moet.

Hoor eens, hoor eens.

Ik zeg, geen zand erover.

Wij praten. Niet zwijgen. Niet je rug naar mij toe keren.

Ik ben. Ik ben ook mens. Ik ben ook mens net als jij. Misschien donkerder, misschien anders, misschien trager, misschien gevoeliger, misschien... misschien... misschien...

Er is geen genade hier.

It's amazing how prejudice exists in sacred spaces. Here, where allochtonen (foreigners) are grouped together and somehow exist alongside society or community instead of inside of or as part of. It's especially frustrating when this exclusion takes place within the community of the Christian Church.

The above is a rebuke. Here above, I sometimes deliberately use incorrect Dutch because it emphasizes my struggle with this culture.



This language, I not understand. So cold. Feelingless. Don’t know what I must say. Your understanding, my understanding. We, different from you. Yes, so. Netherlanders are Netherlands, en we foreigners...what then?

You must meet her, they say. She is also foreigner.

So, they put me inside a box.

I not understand. Perhaps my color speaks more than my tongue.

Now speak I, monkey language.

Not good. Not good enough for Netherlanders.

Not want to understand. Or not wanting to be understood. I am not understood. My language slips…my tongue slips…I say the words wrong.

Am I? I am? What am I?


My name means outsider, someone from another land, someone who doesn’t belong.

Don’t know what I must do with that.

Listen, listen.

I say, no sand spread over.

We talk. Not silent. No turning your back on me.

I am. I am also human. I am also human like you. Maybe darker, maybe different, maybe slower, maybe more sensitive, maybe…maybe…maybe…

There is no mercy here.

vrijdag 16 november 2007

So many good things going on this month, it seems. I've found an announcement for a festival called, Mooie Woorden, which is held in Utrecht, and I'm thinking of taking Joel Jan with me because this seems like something he'll enjoy. I'm also hoping I can attend the Crossing Borders Festival in The Hague next week.

Anyway, yesterday, I attended the closing program to the Black Magic Woman Festival in Amsterdam. This involved quite a good deal of organization. With hubby off to Czechoslovakia, asking Ma-in-law to babysit was out of the question. I mean, I could already hear her saying: "In my day, a woman who went out in the streets while her husband was away from home was not a good woman." In other words, "What business do you have going off to a festival and leaving your two boys when your husband ain't home?"

I thank the Lord for goodhearted neighbours who adopt strangers into their family circle. Mine kindly took over and practically pushed me out of the house.

"Your husband is away," she said. "You go out, enjoy yourself and don't worry. The boys know me. My husband is home, we can take care of everything."

So, off I went to Amsterdam to enjoy an envigorating evening among these strong, emancipated, migrant women. I think the Filipinas comprised a great portion of the audience, and to our delight, Dyanne Oosterbeek-Latoza ( founder of Stichting Bayanihan) was given the ZAMI Award. In the break, we went and shook hands too with Rebecca Walker. Such a lovely person. I shall have to go and buy a copy of her book sometime soon.

Open confession about this budgetting thing. I love beautiful things, and I love renovating and redecorating my house, but more than all these, I love the written word.

I'm putting these three festivals on my agenda for next year along with the Amsterdam Literary Festival. Although, I received a mail from the ALF coordinator about ALF not getting any subsidy from the Amsterdam municipality, which means the ALF is in danger of not pushing through next year.

Which makes me wonder why arts, music and literature seem to be the first thing to get the ax when a municipality needs to tighten it's belt.

The municipality I live in has announced its intention to put a halt to subsidies for the only music school and art center in Bodegraven. It makes me wonder what scrapping culture will do to the soul of a place.

When I consider my budget, I know the last thing that's getting chopped off that list is the part that feeds my soul.

woensdag 14 november 2007

There's something about rescuing chairs and couches and bits of essentialities from the scrapheap that's so satisfying. My mother-in-law rescued a pair of red leatherette chairs when my husband left their house to live on his own. These chairs were here when I arrived, and the funny thing is I am having a hard time agreeing to put these chairs up for sale.

Perhaps it's because of the way these chairs so obviously come from an era where the factory floor was still populated more by humans than machines. The label under the chair has a serial number and when you look closely at the seams and at the finishing, it's quite clear that someone put this chair together by hand. My mind boggles at the thought that ma-inlaw saved these chairs from being feed into the junk eater. If these chairs could talk...

While I think design can be fabulous, I think there's nothing to compare with something that's been put together by the human hand.

We're keeping these chairs, but we're putting other stuff up for sale at the dutch secondhand market (

I puff and I huff while sorting through the stuff that's accumulated on the floor of our cellar... how many things do we keep stored in our cellars in the hopes we'll use them again someday? I've got a set of six crystal glasses that have never been used, a moroccan hanging lamp that's been buried under everything else for the past three years, a coffee maker (used only once because we got one of those senseo things after we bought it), a rechaud (barely used), a whole crate of tupperware.

Which makes me wonder...why do women love tupperware? Why do we keep on buying tupperware when we already have loads of tupperware pouring out from every possible crevice in the house?

This week, so far...

Arrived: five rolls of washable wallpaper. Bought via Marktplaats from another housewife who had these left over from her own home renovation. In terms of savings, I paid twenty percent of what this would have cost if I had bought them from the shop. Joel Jan is getting his new walls after all. Three in white with a pearly shine and one in bright sunshiny yellow. (home renovation)

Viewed and reserved for pickup: One beautiful light brown tweed couch trimmed in cognac colored leather. Absolutely lovely, and bought for 10% of the original price. The ad said, barely used, the ad was right. (home renovation)

Arrived: Baudelaire's, Paris Spleen; Gertrude Stein's, Three Lives and Little Buttons. Both books bought from secondhand booksellers, saving me about ten euros. (books)

Lost: Half a kilo (weight)

maandag 12 november 2007

Today is monday...and I am cleaning out the fridge as well as the cellar. Everything that's over the date, and everything that hasn't seen the light of day for the past six months is leaving this house and headed for the bin. Joel Jan says...we want to keep our house clean. I say, amen to that.

Things I've Learned that help me stick to my budget

1. Being organized is a good thing. We used to be so unorganized about paying bills and ended up having to pay three or four times more than the original sum just because we were too disorganized.

2. Lists help. When I go grocery shopping, I list down everything I need including brand names and the number of items I use. This keeps my throwaway level to a minimum and helps me stick to my grocery budget.

3. Scrap the unecessary and the unhealthy. While I don't always stick to this rule, scrapping softdrinks and chips on a regular basis has kept us both from gaining too much weight and it also means instead of buying junk food, I have more room in my budget to buy healthy food like apples and bananas.

4. As much as possible, avoid buying on credit and avoid the buy now, pay later scheme.


A Story about Debt or Why I dread the "D" word

I was nine years old when I went into debt for the first time. I was one of those kids who always wanted everyone to like them, and so in order to please everyone in my class, I decided to treat them all to some sweets. The problem was, I didn't have enough pocket money to buy sweets for the entire class. My classmates (who were selling the sweets) told me that they didn't mind if I paid them little by little, and being the daughter of a doctor, I felt it was my duty to treat the entire class. So, I agreed to buy now and pay later (little by little).

By the time the entire class had eaten as much as they wanted, I had a debt of over twenty pesos (or something like that). In those days, twenty pesos was a big deal. For a child whose weekly allowance is something like fifty cents, twenty pesos is a mountain of impossibility.

The kind classmates who'd sold me the sweets wanted their money and I didn't have any. Out of worry and pressure, I decided that I would stop going to school. I did this by pretending to be sick. I think I was sick for an entire week before my parents discovered the real reason behind my illness.

I will never forget the look on my father's face. They paid the bill, but that experience hounded me all through elementary school, and to this day, I have a horror of being unable to pay for whatever it is that I purchase.

Philippines being what it is, and Filipinos being Filipinos, there is this buy and sell method called "hulugan" (paying a bit of cash every portion of the month). This can become addictive and it's very easy to lose sight of how much you've really spent. This method of buying is usually applied to luxury items which we would normally not buy because we can't buy them on a cash basis. For instance, designer clothing, designer bags, watches, jewelry, electronics and even furniture are sold in this way.

With the breakdown of economy, this is a phenomenon that's blown over to the Netherlands. The idea of buying now and paying later, or buying on credit is catching on in electronics and furniture shops. It's very tempting to ask for a card from this or that company, but I think I'll adhere to my husband's wise method. This is the one where he says: If you can't afford to buy it now, what makes you think you can afford it later?

zondag 11 november 2007

saving on renovations

Because our house in a constant state of needing work, we are constantly spending money on little things. These little things added up, cost a lot. For instance, two years ago, we divided our huge bedroom into two rooms. Putting up the wall was a wise investment, and it turns out that papering only one side of the new room in wallpaper that could be painted over was a wise investment too. When Samuel was born, all we did was paint over the pale pink wallpaper with white paint (donated by grandma), and paper the unpapered wall in blue wallpaper. This time, when choosing wallpaper, I opted for a sturdy paper which was a bit more expensive than ordinary paper, but which I think will last a lot longer in that bedroom as it's a far cry from the childish wallpaper we first put on Joel's walls. This wallpaper is sturdy and elegant and if all goes well, I think we won't have to paper those walls again until Samuel's around ten years old.

With Samuel's room looking like a room out of a catalogue, it was impossible to leave Joel Jan's room unattended to. His room still had those little bears we'd hung up when he was a baby...and the wallpaper definitely needed changing. While I would have loved to indulge my eldest son and give him wall to wall paper in a train theme, I thought of four years from now when he would be close to puberty and the wall to wall trains would seem too childish...and decided to create a simple but effective train theme that I hoped he would enjoy much better and much longer.

We ended up deciding on white walls with a broad blue stripe flanked by shelves in bright yellow (blue and yellow are the colors of the National Spoorwegen). Instead of buying stuff new from the shops, we decided to go surfing on a place called Marktplaats.

We wanted a high bed for Joel in a metal color, and when we typed in "hoogslaper" (highsleeper), Marktplaats gave us a row of sellers in the nearby area. We found ourselves buying a bed in the exact model we wanted for about sixty percent less than what we would have paid for in the shops. The plus factor here was when my husband went to pick up the bed, he found out that the bed had been used for only a year, and when it arrived here, it looked like it had come out of the shop.

Purpose-driven Shopping and shopping sins

When I first came to The Netherlands, my sister-in-law took me to town because coming from The Philippines, I had no idea how cold winter could be in The Netherlands. Thank goodness no one believed my protestations that I found the weather absolutely great.

That first shopping trip was a revelation, a bit of a shock, and now when I look back, I realize it was an effective and efficient system that saved both time and money.

Here's a demo of how we went shopping that first time:

Sister-in-law: Would you like to see the shops?

Me: Oh yes.

Sister-in-law: What do you need? Something warm?

Me: Uh, I think so....I'm not sure.

Sister-in-law: Okay, I will show you good shops where clothes are not expensive. Come, we walk.

(Back then, I still hadn't learned to ride a bike. Needless to say, the Women's bikes are way to high for me.)

So off we went in military fashion. Talk about pacing, left-right, left-right.

My goodness, I thought. People in Military training could learn a good deal from my sister-in-law when it comes to the word double-time.

By the time we reached town, I didn't feel any need for warm clothes. I was just soooo warm. But okay, we were here to shop. I perked up a bit, because I love windowshopping...and well...I was armed with hubby's cash card, and had been given the liberty to buy.


As if following a map inside her head, my sister-in-law led me through a maze of streets pointing to landmarks with quick, staccatto descriptions.

That is the church. Here is the shop. Here is expensive shop (in other words, we don't go there), and here is cheap shop (in other words, we shop here).

We entered a shop with a bewildering array of clothing my mind boggled a bit. What could I possibly need in this shop. But this display didn't throw my sister-in-law out of stride. She headed for a rack of longsleeved blouses, and thick knitted cardigans.

"This," she said. "This? Your size? Yes, I think this is your size. Go and pay. Fit at home, if it's not good you can always bring back."

Huh--what? What about browsing? What about feeling texture and looking for color?

Nevertheless, I obeyed because my sister-in-law was checking her watch. Today, I understand why. She had taken time out in between bringing her daughter to school and lunch. So, she was checking to see that our shopping spree did not exceed the allotted time she'd allowed herself.

With military strides, we ventured forth to the next shop where I was handed a pair of jeans in my size. Here, I was allowed to fit the jeans, and after paying, we exitted the shops. My sister-in-law then heaved a sigh of relief. She asked me if I wanted to buy anything else.

By this time, I was so flustered by the guerilla tactics applied to our shopping expedition that I said "no, no. I have everything I need."

We then headed back home and she left right after that.


Another shopping expedition later, I went out with her and her children. This time, we were shopping for the kids. And yes, with the same military efficiency...a quick check at the collars for size, a look at the tag for the prize. If it was too expensive, the kids had to choose something else. I remember feeling so remorseful when her son was not allowed to buy a Nike shirt because she considered it too expensive.

"No, no," she said to me. "Later, if he wants to buy brand name shirts, he must work for them."

Which had me going..."uh-huh".


Looking at this, nine years afterwards, I see the wisdom of my sister-in-law's actions. Her children are all down-to-earth and practical, and they are probably not the type of young people who run up huge bills on their mobile phones because in the first place, they had to work hard in order to buy themselves mobile phones.

While they were provided with everything they needed, at an early age, they learned that money isn't just there for the spending.


These days, I'm learning the value of purpose-driven shopping. I still have days when I meander through the shops with the sole purpose of entertaining myself, but most of my shopping trips are planned like a general going out into the field of battle.

Before going out, I write down in detail which shop I'm going to and what I'm going to buy there, and how much it's going to cost me (+/-). If I am going for groceries, I write down the exact number of items I need, and what brand. I've learned that buying just exactly what you need means throwing away less food.

Two weeks ago, I opened our refrigerator and viewed the contents with happiness. Nothing wasted. The ref was almost empty of everything that had been bought a week before. This meant, almost everything I'd bought had been used, nothing had been thrown away.

This tells me that in terms of regular weekday shopping lists, mine is an effective one. I buy only what I need and exactly in the amount that I need.

This past week though, we've been celebrating Joel Jan's birthday, and it worries me that even though I'd pared down my shopping to what I thought was a minimum there are still lots of left overs in the ref.

Looking in there, I cringe when I realize I'd bought two cups of salad spread which will probably end up in the waste can because there is no way I can eat my way through those two cups before the stuff expires. I cringe when I see the exotic cheese (still in its packaging but never used) and the smoked sausage which I thought was a staple at every Dutch party, but which never got eaten because I'd made those little lumpia shanghai rolls.


There is something hugely wrong about splurging on a one day feast for a child who barely eats any of it, and on food which doesn't get eaten.

This is one place where I commit huge shopping sins. Celebration shopping is a budget problem I'll need to work on and overcome.


woensdag 7 november 2007

ways and means

Learning to live with a budget isn't easy. Since the guilder changed to Euros, more and more people are feeling the bite and I am learning to look at money in a different light. When I was a single girl, I thought money was meant for spending. I admired my elder sister for her discipline in keeping a budget, but did I feel inclined to keep one? As long as I had a thousand pesos in my pocket, I felt I was rich, and didn't feel the need to start watching how I spent until that thousand shrunk down to a hundred pesos...but by then it was just a question of teaching my students, and earning the next thousand pesos. If you're a single girl, living at home, and you teach piano as a sideline to your other job, it's not really difficult to get by and still have lots of fun. It wasn't uncommon for me to go out on a shopping spree with girlfriends and end up blowing a couple of thousand on shoes.

Ah...those were the days. And talk about the new dress every week.

Forget that.

These days, I'm a stay at home mom. The Euro has turned budgetting and living within our means into a real adventure.

Forget about buying a new dress every week. Nice dresses cost close to a hundred euros over here, and shoes...well...let's not get started on shoes...and then, think about clothes for the kids, shoes for the kids, food, toys and the books we can't live without.

I have to laugh reading that. It sounds like I go around dressed in leaves and without shoes at all. Interesting budgetting idea, but not practical in this climate. Although hubby would probably go...woo-hoo.

When our bank statement came back for the nth time telling us that we were way over our limit, I decided it was time to do some deliberating on the budget. We couldn't keep on plundering our savings account just to fill up the gap (besides which there was nothing more left to plunder) and we didn't have any rich parents we could run to for a temporary loan. All we had was us, and God.

I decided to do a run through of my shopping list. This way, I would get an idea of what was essential, what were the things I usually bought, and what were the things we ended up not really eating or we ended up (horrors) throwing away.

My grocery list consists of:

1. basics (milk, bread, vegetables, fruit, some meat, rice and potatoes)
2. snacks (lemonade mix, healthy cookies)
3. baby things (diapers, wet ones, potted baby food for emergencies)

The first thing to go off the list was soft drinks. Before the budget, we used to buy about two bottles of family sized cola drinks, and juices in carton packs. Because of this connection, chips was also an inevitable part of the grocery list. Softdrinks meant buying chips. Hence, when I scrapped softdrinks off the list, chips got scrapped off there too.


Wait! Softdrink and chip lovers mustn't go ballistic. Since getting rid of the soft drinks and the chips, I must admit I haven't gained weight. So, that's a plus :) Instead of drinking softdrinks, we drink tap water and lemonade. A cheaper alternative and quite healthy too.

The fun thing about this is that when we celebrate a party, we get to buy softdrinks and chips...and then, the softdrinks and chips are a real treat for us too.

That was my first cut in grocery spending. Not that we shot up from red into blue...but it was a start.

One of the things I had to struggle with as a migrant from a third world country was keeping up appearances. Ever heard of Hyacinth Bucket (er-um Bouquet)? She certainly beats the buck at keeping up appearances. What I love about that show is how it pokes fun at our materialistic tendencies and makes us see how ridiculous it really is to try and keep up with the Joneses or to try and be who and what you aren't.

The great thing about confessing my middleclassness and my struggle with the budget book is how it's made me feel free and released me from the need to apologize about not having say--softdrinks in house.

I simply say...well, we don't drink it, so we don't buy it.

why minimal to the max?

Getting married and having kids changes the way we look at life. Moving to the another country, wrestling with homesickness and with cultural adjustment, among other things, just complicated matters.

At first, I had no consciousness of the value of the /guilder/. Nine years ago, the Dutch were still using the guilder, and to this day, Dutch folks still pine over the loss of the guilder. But that's straying away from the topic. As I said, I had no idea what the value of a guilder was, and because my husband (oh so used to living his bachelor life and spending as he wished) didn't bring me up to date on that, I probably ended up spending a lot more than I should have.

When my first child was born, I found myself buying toys left and right. I ended up making purchases which (now that I look back) weren't at all necessary or wise. The thing is, I was engaged in symptomal buying. Something called: Compensatory gift-giving.

It's a syndrome familiar to migrants. It's the reason why we end up blowing a month's salary on sale items, designer clothing, and lots of other things for family back home as well as for our children.

For me, the buying syndrome came out of the thought that I was making up for the physical absence of my family. Somehow, each toy or thing I bought for my child became a symbol for Lolo or Lola, for Uncle or Aunt.

But that's not the only thing migrants wrestle with. A friend of mine told me about her Chinese neighbour (a wonderful woman, she says) who keeps on cleaning the house the entire day because she "doesn't want the Dutch to think that she was just some prostitute picked up by her husband somewhere".

It's stuff like this that we (migrants from a third world nation) struggle with.

Minimal to the max is me, attempting to document my journey through budgetting, learning to live within my means, and learning to stand up for myself.