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.