Why Do I Love to Shop?

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Why Do I Love to Shop? Morethananexpat

Red,  white & blue sweatsuit. Phone books. Reward. Annual Shopping Trips. $100 Budget. Coupons.

I have been taking one question with me to the yoga mat for each of my Bikram yoga classes. It is the closest I get to meditation these days. My monkey mind focuses on one question. These are the words that rose to the surface in my mind’s eye.

Red,  white & blue sweatsuit. Phone books. Reward. Annual Shopping Trip. $100 Budget. Coupons.

Red, white & blue sweatsuit. I don’t know how old I was. It was before junior high so I was maybe 11 or 12 years old. It was a surely a boy’s sweatsuit. It has red, white and blue color block horizontal stripes across the sweatshirt. I probably thought it looked fancy because of the white collar with three buttons. It looked like one of those rugby shirts that were so popular in the 80’s. I had matching red sweatpants with pockets. Pockets made them fancy. Pockets made them day wear. My European husband will laugh out loud when he reads this.

“I looked like Alvin, from “Alvin & The Chipmunks”, with a perm.”

And I had essentially a mullet perm hairdo with pink tortoise-shell round glasses perched atop chubby cheeks and buck teeth. I looked like Alvin, from “Alvin & The Chipmunks”, with a perm.

I loved it. I wore it with turquoise high top Chuck Taylor Converse that flipped down at the top to reveal a yellow lining. I loved those shoes.

I know this was before junior high because I vividly remember the playground and four square. Recess was basically the only time we were allowed to socialize at school. I was so proud of that outfit. Oh, my classmates let me have it. Playing four square, I remember the other players and other standing around laughing at me and my outfit.

That perm, those thick horizontal stripes, baggy pockets, circular eyeglasses. They did not help my chubby little body one bit. Oh, I was comfortable wearing them, but after my classmates got done with me at recess, my skin felt like it was on fire. I’m sure I cried. Which is like gasoline on a fire for tween girls’ laughter. It is a wonder I made it out of those years.

Phone Books. My twin sister and I used to deliver phone books. This was before the term “Side Hustle”. I think we spent one or two weekends delivering phone books in the biggest town in our area. Thank God we were not doing this in our hometown. The shame could have consumed me. We delivered phone books to earn money to spend on school clothes. It taught us the value of money. What it also taught me was to hate phone books. There were stack after stack of these things shrink wrapped and sitting in our garage. That plastic smell. The ink turning my finger tips black. The paper cuts. The value of money.

My mother made it work. She found a means to an end. I associate those phone books with shame and with being too poor to just buy school clothes like everyone else, but she was actually the first entrepreneur in my life. I tell myself I don’t know how to be an entrepreneur, but the seeds are all right there. I have been telling myself the wrong stories.

Reward. I associate shopping with a reward. I see shopping as a reward. Small wonder. Delivering these phone books was rewarded with a trip to the Chicago suburbs to go shopping for next fall’s school clothes. It was a big deal. The Chicago suburbs might as well have been the runways of Paris or Milan compared to my small town options. There was no internet shopping. There was no internet period. Sears catalog. Phone books, people.

Now I know why I snuck out of the office all those times to go shopping. In London when I worked 14 hour days, in Amsterdam when everyone hated bankers, in Wisconsin when I felt alone, on business trips when I felt so stressed, I went shopping. Whether it was stopping into an outlet mall in Wisconsin or meandering through Liverpool Street Station or buying too many souvenirs at a market in Istanbul or nipping into Marks & Spencer’s. It was all a reward. And if there was a sale, oh, there was no stopping me.

Annual Shopping Trip. My mother turned Fall School Shopping into a destination vacation. We stayed in a mid-range hotel (which seemed very posh to me). We ate out for dinner (at a place with cloth napkins). Sometimes we got to bring a friend along. We went to shopping malls with a population probably as large as our town. It was a cultural event.

We went for clothes, but it was an entire experience. Maybe that is what I crave when I walk into a store. I crave that excitement and experience. Maybe I miss my mother and my sisters.

And how I felt so cool walking into school in clothes I knew no one else had. This back fired big time. See red, white and blue sweatsuit above. Yep, that was definitely before high school. Blending in was crucial to my high school experience. I think that is a question for another yoga class, though.

$100 Budget. For some reason, I think we each had a budget of $100. That seems like a lot of money back then. We came back with a pile of clothes and shoes. I remember meticulously tallying the receipts. Being even is crucial for twins. Down to the cent, we had to be even. We definitely knew how much each of our pieces of clothing cost. If not immediately, it definitely now instilled a value of taking care of my belongings. I know this because I find myself saying it to my daughters and husbands.

Coupons. What is it with the American culture and coupons? Dutch people ask me this especially now that TLC starting running “Extreme Couponing” in The Netherlands. Scarcity. Marketing 101. It is ingrained in the American culture. Get it while it is cheaper. If you wait, you will have to pay more. Full price is for suckers. That is why coupons have expiration dates.

These shopping trips taught me to never pay full price for anything. It is a great lesson on the surface. Somehow, being on sale made something more valuable. How backward is that? Why doesn’t ‘being on sale’ mean “It is ugly and no one wants it”?

Coupons should have taught me to game the system. They should have taught me a bigger lesson that there is a system and it can be gamed. It taught me to how to consume the most possible. It also eventually made me realize that there is a huge margin built into most sticker prices.

I still find myself compulsively confessing to people that I bought something on sale or second-hand. Why do I do that? Another question for another yoga session. So many questions…

Birthdays & Grief

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Today is my youngest daughter’s second birthday. She is a beautiful, clever and funny little thing. I am so glad that she is a part of our family. And yet, I feel ambivalent at best about this milestone.

Some people reflect on the past year at New Year’s Eve. I reflect on the year on my two daughters’ birthdays. I can vividly see and remember their births and each subsequent birthday. I reflect on just how far they have come – how far we both have come in the past year. And then I think about my father.

I think about all he has missed since his death over two and a half years ago. He died within days of my oldest daughter’s second birthday and while I was just weeks pregnant with my second child. I grieve all over again for what he missed this past year. I grieve for my children not knowing their grandpa.

And then I get this dropping sensation and visceral tightening in my stomach. I am angry. I am resentful. His sudden death somehow seems avoidable. I resent him for not taking better care of himself. I am angry that his death overshadows my daughters’ birthdays.

I used to love planning birthday parties for my daughters. They were epic. Ridiculous, but great. For my oldest daughter’s second birthday, I had put so much effort and detail into planning the party. A few days prior, my father suddenly died. The party suddenly seemed so pointless and stupid.

I am not pissed at my dead father for ruining my party planning for my daughter’s second birthday. I am not that shallow. I am saying his death put a black smudge on one of my simple pleasures.

And, every year, it takes my focus off of celebrating the great little human I am so happy is part of my life. A child’s birthday should be a day all about them. They are a gift in my life. Seeing the delight in their eyes about a party with all of their favorite things is my way of showing them “Today, you are the center of the universe. Your every wish shall be granted.” It is a day to count blessings not to drudge up grief.

I need to find a way to celebrate his life as a gift – to count my memories of him as blessings and share them with my girls.

Creedence

They sang a Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) song tonight on The Voice. (We can watch it here in The Netherlands, but it is on a delay.) For me, CCR (and John Fogerty) is synonymous with my Dad. It doesn’t really matter which song. When one plays, I am right back there in the cab of my dad’s pick up truck. I am sitting in the passenger’s seat as he drives. Or I am cutting across farm fields driving on country roads. Or my twin sister and I are belting out a song while heading to our softball game. Then I am huddled in a chair next to his open casket begging for this nightmare to end and cursing my father for taking my kids’ grandfather from them. All the while, CCR plays in the background.

Then I have this thought that Dad is looking down from wherever he is and feeling like he isn’t missing much. Yes, he is missing out on memories with his family, but outside of that little circle, I bet he doesn’t feel like he is missing much. I wonder if he felt that while he was still alive. Do we all feel like that at a certain point? Do we eventually feel like we have seen all we want to see? We have hit all the milestones there will be. We have felt the highest of the highs and lowest of the lows and nothing else will ever push us to those extremes. Do we reach a jaded, ragged, easy assurance or peaceful resignation? Is that the goal?

(Photo by Piano Piano! from Flickr)



So Damn Lucky

Look at this face. She is gorgeous. Her smile just lights me up from the inside. She has that effect on everyone. Wiglet is eight and a half months old and sitting up. She just goes for it. In her quiet, happy way, she sets her sights on something and wiggles her way over. Her crawl looks more like the worm at this point. And she love, love, loves her big sister E. She squeals with delight when E tries to make her laugh. Wiglet laughs so hard she gets the hiccups. Their relationship right now is such a gift to watch.

Izzy is our little trooper for sure. I think she had a stomach bug for two days, but I could not be for sure because she was so happy through it. Everything that went in came right back up. She gave the meaning to the words ‘throwing up’. She would fuss, pause, chuck her guts across the room, look at me and start gurgling and smile again. No crying, no fever, no sleepless nights – what an angel. And beautiful on top of that. How did we get so lucky?





Cake Diary: Devil Ate Victoria

I love to bake. I would bake everyday if I could. I truly enjoy any chance I get to bake. Cakes, like writing, and I have a love-hate relationship. I love planning them out and making th components, but by the end of it I am so over it that I have to force myself to eat the finished product. Okay, force is an exaggeration.

I love chocolate. I love it so much that I am learning how to balance it out. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing after all. I have been known to put so much chocolate into a cake that it hurts your teeth or leaves you slightly ill. Wimps. I’m working on it.

Our neighbour turned 50 yesterday and he likes baking almost as much as he likes eating chocolate desserts. So my present to him is a birthday cake. I have limited time, but I want to do something memorable. It is a special birthday so go big or go home, I say.

I have a four layer cake in mind, but as I baked the layers today, two of them are very fluffy so it might be six layers in the end. Gravity has me concerned slightly. Ah well, I will go for it. It will taste great. 

I am calling it a Devil Ate Victoria cake. It will be a Victoria Sponge cake sandwiched inside of a devil’s food pudding cake. I am hoping to alternate the layers with dark chocolate ganache and marshmellow fluff icing. I have not used marshmellow fluff before, but I have a jar of it that needs to get used. And the butter and powdered sugar icing I made this afternoon looks like curdeled egg whites so I struck out in that. 

Now, how to decorate it? I think I will make a ’50’ on top out of foil wrapped chocolate eggs. That is very typically Dutch for this time of year so I want to give a nod to the fact that he (a Canadian) is celebrating his 5-0 here. And I am thinking of decorating the base of the cake in crumbled chocolate cake that I will have from levelling off the layers. Then, I will have gummy worms crawling up the sides of this very tall cake. I want to temper some white chocolate spelling out “Older than dirt” and place that along the cakes sides, but that will be a first as well so we will see if it pans outs.

I took some short cuts this time around. I used box mixes for both the Victoria Sponge and Devil’s Food cakes. Yes, I admit it. I am not above box mixes. They are basically fail proof which is really important to me when making a cake for a special occasion limited time. I also added a packet of instant chocolate pudding to the Devil’s Food cake. And I will be using store bought marshmellow fluff. I have some great baking cookbooks and I even picked out recipes from them and bought the ingredients then shelved them and went for Betty (Crocker).

So…stay tuned. Pictures tomorrow.

Synchronicity: Truth to Birth Order

I believe in synchronicity, meaningful coincidences. I believe that the universe keeps bringing lessons into your life until you learn them. It is kind if a cosmic do over. Thank God for that, I say.

I am starting to see myself in our youngest daughter, Wiglet, now just eight months old. She is the youngest. I was the youngest. I am a twin, but born minutes after my sister and we have an older sister. So I may be the youngest twice removed or something. 

For starters, Wiglet looks a lot like me as a baby. It is uncanny really. She is such a quiet baby. I am an introvert myself. 

Our oldest, is quite the opposite. Her extroversion is becoming more and more pronounced as her language(s) develop. She literally chats up whomever is sitting next to us on the tram. In Dutch, she starts in on the weather that day, the favorite pastime in this country. Amused, the man or woman responds and starts chatting to me. Soon I have to reveal that my Dutch just cannot keep up. Then E starts in telling this stranger about her day and I am left trying to explain this line of conversation that has dropped totally out of the blue. I wonder what it will be like once Wiglet starts speaking. I really must work on my Dutch.

My husband is also a first born, also an extrovert. It is no wonder he and E clash heads. Wiglet and I laugh amongst ourselves at the two of them battling it out at the end of the table during dinner. Our oldest, E, refuses to try new food. It is really a principle for her, I think. A power struggle.

E demands attention. I have to make a real effort to train my attention on Wiglet as she rocks herself on all fours and begins crawling. I cheer her on and her face breaks into a smile, beaming with pride. Wiglet is a sneaky little thing too. She uses her older sister as a diversion to get into whatever piques her curiosity at the moment. When you catch her at it, she just turns on a surprised smile. Maybe I am reading too much into it, though.

Here are photos of me as a baby and one of Wiglet taken last week. You be the judge.





Camping at Home

The sun is finally out today, but it is still cold, wet and windy. We tried to go to the forest preserve close to our house, but E soon asked to go home. Poor little thing was shaking like a leaf.

So instead we made a tent out of a parachute-like tarp. It is multicolored so it came out looking like a circus tent. All the better for my three year old. She wanted to get pillows and blankets and puzzle inside of the tent. I have no idea why a tent equates with puzzling for my three year old, but I was just happy to have some low energy play time. She also wanted to ‘sleep’ there. I call it ‘sleep’ because it would just be singing and giggling and pretending to sleep. We will be sleeping in beds tonight, thank you very much.

She has inherited my ideas on camping that is for sure. She wanted to eat muffins and drink milk in the tent. And when she needed to pee, she ran inside immediately to the toilet.

Here is our tent:

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