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…

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Entrepeneur

People asked me what my career goals were and I’d say accounting manager or something or other that meant working for a big corporation. I could ace any interview that came my way. I knew what they wanted to hear. I thought it was what I wanted. I ignored that dread that weighed down my limbs and shook it off as nerves.

I’d take a job and six months in I’d start dreading Monday’s. I’d go in everyday and give it everything I had and feel like I wasn’t being appreciated enough. The resentment would start. My cousin made a comment about why she started working for herself that really struck me. She said that she realised that maybe it wasn’t the job or company that was the issue, but her. She didn’t fit the traditional mold. It wasn’t the company or the boss or the job. It was me. Ouch.

Maybe I am a square peg in a round hole. I felt like I was working much harder than everyone else. To some extent, that was true. If I commit to something, I will finish it. It will be my best effort. No half assery.

But pouring yourself into something just because you are good at it and it is safe is a losing battle. Sooner or later, the well runs dry. And doing something for someone else’s approval, it feels like hiding. 

The only way to stand in my own shoes is to dare to say that my ideas are good enough and to give them the light of day. They have been hiding inside me so long that I stopped hearing them.

And instead of beating myself up about that, I need to go find my square hole to fill.

And so I am making a start as a business owner. Will you come along with me for the ride?

  
(Image from freeimages.co.uk)

My First Week

I started my new job this week. That is why you haven’t heard from me. I will not go into it much, but I am working for a software company. Sweet lord, is it fast paced. It feels like I jumped ship from the Titanic and onto a speeding train. I think it will be great.

So, here we go again. And I am trying hard to keep that mythical word “balance” in mind. It is right there – in the back of my mind – laughing at me. There is no such thing as balance right now.

Our home repairs took a giant step forward this week. On Wednesday, my day off with both girls (sigh), our new floor was installed in our bedroom. It is beautiful, but the stain it was treated with stinks to high heaven. So it took a few more days of airing out the room before we could sleep in it again. This week, our built-in closets get re-installed in our bedroom and the sliding glass doors to our deck get measured for replacement. All of this is thanks to our frenemy, water. 

Then we get to cram all of our clothes & linens back into our closet just in time for my mom to arrive for a month visit. As always, I am really looking forward to her visit, but I am still crossing my fingers that all will go as planned and she will have both a bed to sleep in and a place to put her stuff. 

Here are pictures of the new floor and hole in our bedroom where a closet will hopefully be by the end of the week.





Update: Dropping A Ball

I wrote a few weeks back about dropping one of the many balls that I juggle as a typical wife and working mama with two young children. My first idea came to me from a Facebook post in group created by and for local mothers. A local mother was looking for someone to provide meals for her family.

A personal chef

It sounds like something for millionaires, doesn’t it? Well, I responded to the post saying that I am interested in someone to cook meals for my family too. I got four responses within a day! Much better than I expect, but what does it cost?

One person’s food looked great, but they offered dishes by the kilogram (about 2 pounds). So a great idea for parties or bigger or hungrier families, but my husband and I and a very picky three year old cannot manage that. And I do not want to freeze portions and eat the same meal for a week. Next.

Another response was from the wife of a professionally trained chef looking to build private clients. That is all the info I got. She told me to contact her husband, but did not provide his name or email or address. Weird. Next.

The other one was a small business in a nearby town. They basically offered carry out. Expensive. Not very healthy options. I could do that with the dozens of restaurants in our neighborhood. Next.

The woman we went with is a single mom of two that cooks for her neighbors and other families. (She told me a lot about herself in the course of her cooking, but it is not my place to share that here.) She was very responsive answering questions and provided pictures. The offer was five meals for two adults and two kids for 75 euros. She brought all of the ingredients with her, cooked it at our house one Sunday afternoon in four hours, and cleaned up afterwards.

The kids and I were there the entire time and she offered me tastes as she went. The food was great. It was chicken based dishes with veggies in a variety of sauces. My Midwestern parents would call it stirfry’s, but they were mild curries, tandoori, and a few sweeter teriyaki style dishes. We could have easily stretched the dishes into two weeks of meals by adding more vegetables. As it was, we just added rice each night, but I could have put noodles or potatoes with it.

She brought individual reusable containers for me that are freezer, dishwasher and microwave safe (I paid five euros extra for this). I am weary of microwaving food in plastic so I either reheated a meal in a ceramic bowl or on the stove in a pan. So easy. Some of it tasted even better after a few days of marinating in sauce.

Here is what she made:

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Verdict: Once a month. We invited her to come the last Sunday of every month to cook a week’s worth of meals. Our busiest week is the first week of each month so she will come the Sunday before that so we have meals ready for that week plus a few extra.

Steak & Champagne

It is a steak and champagne night. We have reason to celebrate. I got a job! I will not go to the details, but it is exactly what I was looking for and it came along far sooner than I expected. It ticks all of the boxes. We are very excited. So my husband and I are celebrating with a nice bottle of champagne and a rare steak. Chocolate is for dessert. It is a great way to celebrate. And my husband’s toast was perfect, “Congratulations, babe! You deserve it.”

Now I am going to take a few weeks to relax and enjoy our little ones. I am charging my batteries. So what will I do to recharge my batteries? Umm, I am still thinking that over. I want to kick my butt back into shape and kick our house’s proverbial butt back into shape too. But I am going to take as many nice lunch breaks as I can along the way.

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Bankrupt Holidays

My employer declared bankruptcy yesterday. Merry Christmas!

When a collective effort falls short it is a strange sort of failure. Everyone put in so much effort for so long. I feel both relieved and ill. My body aches as if it has finally allowed itself to feel the daily stress that has been accumulating for months. Adrenaline courses through my veins thinking of all the possibilities and interviews in the days ahead. And it is Christmas.

My cynicism has grown exponentially in the past year. So has my paranoia. When will the next proverbial shoe drop? I took my three year old to a new play group today. The chasm I feel between myself and others seems palpable. I am so lost in my loss that I find conversation difficult. I just wanted to lose myself in my daughter’s happiness and play with the abandon of a three year old. I was too exhausted for that so, thankfully, she graced me with rare cuddles and hugs. She is normally far too busy.

On the other hand, I feel so grateful. I live in The Netherlands, a land with a fifty percent tax rate. Yeah, that is high, but it means that when you really need it, the government is there. Unemployment benefits entitle me to a month of benefits for every year I have earned a wage here.

And my two little ones are healthy. This past year has also brought me the most gorgeous blue eyed girl I have ever seen. She is pure joy. I think of our three year old as ‘the light’ of our little family. The house comes alive when she wakes up. She is infectious. All of this uncertainty puts me on edge.