Archive for August, 2009


August 29th, 2009 by Reinder

My groceries were only €15.40 this week, which is great; I even had room in that amount for nuts and (bliss!) potato chips.
That means my expenses for this week, including a trifling little sum for travel, are €745. I booked my next plane trip to the US. To get the cost down to approximately €730, I had to book a trip with two stopovers instead of one (serves me right for not booking earlier, grumble, grumble). I'm sure I'll regret that come travel day, but I was beginning to fret and worry over the travel cost, because four of those trips in a year is such a huge bite out of my paycheck. This shaved 300 bucks off my travel costs, which right now is worth a little hassle.

I like Frugal Bachelor

August 29th, 2009 by Reinder

Frugal Bachelor seems to fit the bill for a frugality blogger who is more challenging than others in terms of having original ideas and questioning the fundamental assumptions like I said I wanted to read last week. I'll be spending a lot of time reading his stuff unless I can pull myself away from the PC.

Update: never mind. This guy's just a bit creepy-weird even if it takes a while for the picture of that creepy-weirdness to emerge. Once you see it, though, you can't un-see it and it really affects how I interpret his writing. So I don't like it that much after all.

Guess I’m not that out of shape after all

August 28th, 2009 by Reinder

I clocked 43:47 at the 9K event of the Bommenberendloop today, which was about 10 minutes faster than my target time. I was going to take it easy but I figured out pretty soon that I could comfortable pace myself at under 5 minutes a kilometer, and did, even though the route had hardly any distance signs posted.

The weather changed from sunny to rainy during the run, and afterwards I was not pleased to find myself cycling home in my sweaty running clothes in a cold downpour with an outside temperature of 12° Centigrade (54F).

The run, incidentally, is part of the festivities to celebrate the end of the Siege of Groningen on August 17 (according to the Julian calendar; August 28 according to the Gregorian), 1672. The siege was initiated and led by Bernhard von Galen, nicknamed Bommen Berend —"Bommen" means bombs, which he liked to fire into the city with his cannons. Despite this, the city and surrounding villages of Groningen kicked his ass and he lost 12,000 men. As the year 1672 was one that the Dutch people would otherwise have preferred to have skipped, this was and is a big deal to the townspeople (The Dutch versions of the Wikipedia pages linked above are much more extensive if you can read them and are interested in the history of this historical event).

Goals update

August 25th, 2009 by Reinder

Emigration: I now have a list of the documentation I need, plus a rough budget for the whole process through status adjustment after marriage. I think we'll be able to do it all for less than € 2000. What I don't know yet is a timeline for the project as a whole, but it looks like US consulates are capable of processing visa applications reasonably fast (the status adjustment/green card process is a whole 'nother matter. I've heard horror stories. As for citizenship, that's gonna take years, but it also happens to be something I'm not very concerned about at this point). I have also been reading up on other people's subjective experiences emigrating from the Netherlands to the US. However, the stories I've found (in Dutch and not bookmarked) were both from people who won the Diversity Lottery, which obviously isn't going to be my route to emigration. I did get the message that I should expect a lot of surly/grumpy behaviour from people at the consulate, and that this is one process where mistakes can cost you dearly. This may also be of interest.

Health/exercise: The other day I ran 500 meters in 1:41. I should not do that again. The reason I overdid it was that my running group had picked that day to test everyone, and it felt to me like we'd only just done that. So instead of going for a time that would guide me towards target times for real runs, I just went all-out. Of course when I thought about it later, the last test was actually back in May, before I went to the US. There seems to be some sort of mental compartimentalisation going on, in which I remember my stays in the Netherlands and my stays in the US as separate, uninterrupted experiences.
Sticking to my budget means there aren't any fattening snacks in the house and I'm eating very healthily.

Work: Working normally, going to discuss my contract renewal tomorrow. Contemplating doing some temp work on the side in the early evening.

Stuff/Money: Nothing much to report. I've started mentally marking out specific items in my home for giving away to specific people, and I've put in some work to unclutter my finances. Specifically, I was still getting rent and health rebates on my taxes that I am no longer entitled to, and I've finally reported this so I can start paying the money back (I have not spent it and did not report it earlier out of pure laziness and inertia). This will give me a much clearer picture of how much money I actually have.

Comic: Still unmotivated, but doing practise sketches to keep the skill up. I'll put some of these up as on my DeviantArt site as soon as I've accumulated some usable ones.

Some quick food/budgeting notes

August 22nd, 2009 by Reinder

This week's groceries expenses were €35 - they'll be €37 when I get the peanut butter, which I forgot. Most of my groceries were bought at the farmer's market, and because I brought a list and stuck to it, I did not splurge on expensive cheeses and sun-dried tomatoes.
Last week's groceries expenses were €27; the week before it was €70 because I was re-stocking after my trip to the US (and got tempted by said expensive yum-yums). Numbers not exact because I don't always get receipts and I don't always keep them when I do. Even this week, I am still buying a lot of stuff to replace what was in the pantry before I left for the US; when I get the peanut butter, re-stocking will be complete though.

This week, my meal plan will be based on the How Low Can You Go meals Trent has posted on The Simple Dollar; specifically, meals will include Potato-peanut curry and Moorish-style chickpea and spinach stew. I will also have Fish curry and Sweet potato and lentil curry. Yes, it's a week of mostly curry, and mostly vegetarian food. Going (mostly) veg for a while after 2 1/2 months on a meat-heavy American diet with large portions has helped me fit into my pants better already. It's not a lifestyle for the long term for me but I can do it for a few weeks.

The recipes on The Simple Dollar are pretty much the first bit of food advice from any frugality blog that I'm taking action on. Most of the food-related advice from frugality blogs is either stuff that I figured out for myself ("dried legumes are cheap!") or things that I've been doing all my life, i.e. box up your lunches, make your own coffee, cook from scratch. In fact it is fair to say that frugality blogs have introduced me to a lifestyle of wanton profligacy: until I started reading them, I was not aware that there were people on average, middle-class incomes who ate out for lunch and drank coffee at Starbucks every day. To me, boxing up my lunch and making my own coffee is not something I call "frugal", it's something I call "normal" - one of those unquestioned assumptions about my life in comparison to other people's.
Advice like that, advice that tells me to do things I already consider normal, annoys me, especially when it's repeated over and over again. Of course, to a person who regards eating a nine-dollar lunch every day as normal, these repeated messages count as counter-marketing: they need the repeated messages telling them to consume less just to counter the endless bombardment of media messages telling them to consume more.
(Another one that irritates me but is probably useful for many people is the one telling people to turn off their TV and use the time saved to do other, more productive or interesting things. I haven't had a TV in the house since 1995, apart from a few months when I borrowed one, but most people do and waste a lot of time on it)

Anyway. I'm glad that there is some advice there that I can actually follow and it does look like I'll be eating very well on a budget this week. I may be ready to move onto frugality-related material that takes more of a "guerilla" approach like the old Tightwad Gazette used to do, or that questions fundamental assumptions more, such as Early Retirement Extreme.

Update: Thirty bucks a week may come in handy for bringing my budget down further.

Stuff worth reading

August 21st, 2009 by Reinder

Guest Post: Why the Austrian, Keynesian, Marxist, Monetarist, and Neo-Liberal Economists Are All Wrong at Naked Capitalism. Worth it just for this quote:

The ugly truth is that economics is a science in the way that medicine was a profession while it still used leeches to balance a person's vapours. Yes, some are always better than others, and certainly more entertaining, but they all tended to kill their patients.

which is what I for one have believed for years.

An officer's experience in our Christian military at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. This is what oppression looks like in a nominally democratic country: at no time does the writer gets told to Fuck Off And Die You Stinkin' Jew -though the assertion that ""the Army is not in the business of catering to people like you" comes close - instead, conformity gets imposed and dissidents weeded out through going to the regular channels, which collude in the oppression, and through dressing up the oppression as benign concern for the dissident's health - see the way the letter writer's refusal to eat pork gets him referred to councelling for anorexic behaviour.

What I’ve done lately for my goals

August 21st, 2009 by Reinder

Here's what I've done in the past few days to reach my various goals in the run-up to my wedding and emigration:

Emigration: I have looked at the requirements for a Nonimmigrant Visa for a Fiance(e), and started taking action towards fulfilling them. The proverbial low-hanging fruit here turned out to be getting a copy of my birth certificate, which I ordered online.

This weekend, I will inventory fully, sort the requirements, time path and budget into a format that is easy for me to access and read, and start gathering up the other documents. Compared to when I last looked into this stuff, the process doesn't look so hideously complicated, but I will need to break it down into simple, manageable steps.

Stuff/money: I have found a taker for my old, large drawing board, who is willing to pay €100 for it. That will go towards paying for that visa application. And the drawing board will go to a good home with someone who will take good care of it.

Health/excercise: I have trained my guts out on Monday and Wednesday with my running group, running at the highest level even though I'm out of shape. It was hard, but if I do this three times a week, I will be back in shape in time for the 4 Mijl in October.

That's it for now. Work starts in earnest on Saturday with the emigration process inventory.

Congratulations, Barbara Stok!

August 20th, 2009 by Reinder

Barbara Stok has won the Stripschapprijs, the Netherlands' most prestigious award for cartoonists. Congrats, Barbara! I was wondering why your name had started turning up in my search results. (The Grim Barrowman, a collaboration between Barbara and me.)

Scandalously, Barbara is the first woman to win the award in its 36-year existence.

Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan on hiatus

August 17th, 2009 by Reinder

Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan is going on indefinite hiatus starting today. All the stuff I need to do in preparation for my wedding has a lot to do with it but the main reason for calling it quits for now is that my motivation has gotten very low.

Actually, come to think of it, those two factors work in concert. Imagine waking up on a Saturday knowing that this, the weekend, is the time you have to work on your hobby. But it's a nice, sunny day, maybe the last of the year, there are friends you haven't seen in months and may soon never be able to see again. There are unread books on the shelves, unwatched videos on your hard drive. There are vague ideas for new comics buzzing around in your head, that you haven't developed but they seem fresher than your project of the past 18 years, and may have wider appeal. There is maintenance to do on your existing, 1400-comic archive. There is grocery shopping, chores around the house, and all the time you were planning to work on the comic, your attention goes to those things. Oh, and it won't be long before that short time window opens when both you and you fiancee in a different time zone are both up and available to talk.

Doesn't seem like a whole weekend is all that long anymore? Those four or five hours for a comic suddenly look like a big chunk of your free time. Now imagine all that, plus being aware that you need to get off your ass to prepare for a big, permanent change to your life.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining or making excuses. I know perfectly well that if I really wanted to, if I was really driven, I'd sacrifice all the other stuff I want to do, the stuff that normal people do on a weekend, to get my art out for you to read. But right now, unlike say four or five years ago, I'm not that driven. I want to do it, but at my own leisure. And as a result, making myself sit at home working on comics over a weekend makes me feel like a rat in a cage. So I'm calling the schedule off until my head is clearer and the drive returns.

Again, don't get me wrong. It is a very good time to be me. I'm not fed up with my comic just yet, and I'm happier than I've been in a long time. I'm just adjusting to some new realities in my life and one of them is that if you're going to maintain a webcomic on a regular schedule at my age, you can only do that if it's the number one thing you're obsessed about. I'm not, so I won't.

The one thing that will continue on schedule is the Drunk Duck re-runs. As much of a pain in the ass as working on that can be, this situation is a big part of what the re-run project is for: to keep the comic in the back of my mind when for one reason or another, I have to take a break from it. It doesn't take nearly as much time as it used to, and I can do it in small time increments without harming the art quality because all the art work is already drawn. So go there for your daily fix - there have been changes from the comics as originally run.

Torchwood quality shocker!

August 16th, 2009 by Reinder

For the first two seasons, Torchwood was my favorite bad series: it sucked, but I still enjoyed watching it because Eve Myles and her Welsh accent are super sexyof the ambition on display and the interesting ways in which it failed.

Not this year. The 5-hour miniseries Torchwood: Children of Earth is really good, tense, bleak, well-performed and very compelling to watch. I watched the first episode last night and had to watch the rest of it today. Fantastic stuff, well worth spending five hours on.

And the kicker? Russell T. Davies wrote it. The man never ceases to amaze me. He's capable of both awesome and awful stuff. This time around, he delivered the goods, with great, compassionate characterisation and tight plotting.