The Basics of Breakfast

It’s been kind of a refreshing past few months for me. I’ve been really nerdy about my budgeting so far, and I find that I’m a bit better at budgeting my money than my calories.

I comfort myself in the fact that I can at least succeed in something, if not attaining rock-hard abs, then controlling myself to not fall into a pit of uncontrollable debt.

More importantly, I’ve been really looking at defining these measures of success.

Surprisingly, I find victories not in the overall idea of spending as little as possible, but rather, in the value of what I spend the money and time in.

In a way, I might be spending the same amount of money as in the past, but now I find I am getting much, much more value out of it.

It feels very progressive.

I found out some pretty interesting things about myself.

I haven’t purchased butter or milk or flour for over three months.

I used to think that these were food staples in the house. For a while, I was kind of into baking and making crackers and bread. It was a nice thing to do to keep busy, and I did enjoy it once in a while.

The problem was that Trung did not like eating cookies or pastries. He enjoyed fruits and nuts more, and always made a stupid face when I would offer him a cinnamon bun that I made or a slice of banana bread. (I know. What a weirdo.)

And secondly, I was getting fatter because I was alone in eating all this junk.

Thirdly, I don’t like milk. I don’t eat cereal. I was buying milk because I figured all people had milk in their fridges.

And so, the milk always went bad, the flour would sit in the pantry for months, and the butter… was in the fridge forever. I would bake stuff just to get rid of it.

Once I cut that out of my grocery list, I started opting for one-time/single-serve trips to the bakery nearby. I really like pastries, but I also didn’t want to store them in bulk.

While it was definitely cheaper to make your own bread and snacks, in the long run, I was getting fatter and eating more stuff that really slowed me down during the day.

Sure, a fancy pastry would ring up to about $4 for a croissant, but that also came with the exercise to walk to said bakery and get out of the house.

Plus, working with my own flaws, I knew that I would almost always be too lazy to go out for the fancy pastry anyway.

And unsurprisingly, this turned out to be true. In the last month, I’ve only gone for the fancy pastry once.

So in the end, I was actually not spending any more money on fancy pastries and coffee than I had been when I was making them on my own.

Weird, right?

I put that money into fruits and veggies instead. Okay, I put it to wine.

So that adjustment resulted in me spending a bit more money on different staples.

Instead of bread and jam and butter for go-to breakfast staples, I swapped this out with fruits and vegetables. Now, there is always either a banana, an apple, or a small container of baby carrots within reach.

I thought I’d get sick of this shit, eating the same stuff over and over, but to be honest, I haven’t yet.

Come to think of it, crackers and bread are a lot more boring to eat over and over; compared to fruits, where you can rotate between sweet and sour a lot of the time. Green apple one day, a sweet banana the next.

Sometimes, I’d even spring for a nice Asian mini-rice bowl. Simple rice, egg, and soy sauce. Some green onions chopped up, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and I’m golden.

Now, a few months later, I don’t find myself missing the bread and pastries too terribly. It’s kind of like getting used to a haircut or new shoes. I’m eating way healthier, too!

Also, the part of my fridge where the milk used to be has now been replaced with a bottle of wine. So much better!

Again, I’m not necessarily spending any less money, but come on. Wine!

Keeping to the Basics

I think it really does come down to how well you know yourself, and not letting the idea of “the perfect X” dictate your actions.

The idea of the perfect breakfast for me used to be a hot cup of coffee and a beautiful croissant slathered in butter and jam, some kind of nice omelette, and a folded newspaper off to the side. I think it’s because I grew up with those images from movies and shows that I watched. Even commercials. Especially commercials.

Occasionally, yes. But not every day!

The thought extends itself to the idea of “Keeping up with the Jones’s” and really, how absolutely awful and ridiculous it is to keep comparing yourself to others.

Being really honest with myself, my breakfast actually just consists of a hot cup of coffee, a piece of fruit, and looking at Facebook on my phone while Tina Tuna relaxes in a patch of sunlight on the floor.

And I don’t feel any less ashamed about that!

The Perks of Making Your Own Clothing

One of my favourite things ever about knitting is that I can re-do a lot of my old projects. Because I know how it’s constructed, I’m able to adjust. “Frogging” is a term for when you unravel a garment, I think because the yarn makes a funny “rrrrrrbbbbbb” sound when you yank on it.

Some people may hate the idea of frogging a project, but I’m kind of okay with it. For example, this bad boy was a cardigan I made a few years back:


It was one of the first sweaters I had tried with a seed stitch, along with a few other modifications. It was a great sweater to learn on.

I had also splurged a little on the yarn and bought my first handful of SweetGeorgia Yarn’s Superwash Worsted. I still recall walking into the yarn store for the first time and feeling so excited to purchase “legit yarn.”

But every time I wore it, part of the neck and shoulders didn’t sit right. Perhaps I had modified it too much, or I had missed a few structural elements, but it kept sliding off my shoulders.

I researched all the ways I could possibly fix this; including reinforcing the back neck with single crochet stitches, as well as lining the edges with thicker hemming. I even thought about just knitting the cardigan shut and turning it into a pullover.

In the end, I realized that I was beginning to hate wearing this sweater as much as I had enjoyed making it.

And the very cool thing I realized is that I could just start over.

I didn’t have to give it away to some poor sod who would have to deal with the shitty construction. I didn’t have to feel bad and stuff it in the back of my closet. Best of all, I didn’t need to throw it away.

Another thing to note is the quality of this yarn. Because of my little splurge, the yarn itself held strong over the years, even after a few trips to the washing machine. It didn’t break apart when I frogged it, and neither did the colours really change.

It was like I went yarn shopping inside my closet and found a new addition to my stash.

Awesome, right?!

Bottom Lines

Trung and I talk about our work often, as most good friends do. And what usually ends up happening is a dissection of the personalities that we both deal with in our lines of work.

Okay, it usually ends up with both of us getting drunk and then watching Midsomer Murders to yell about how much we miss Sgt. Troy, but the lead-up to that is always interesting.

One of our general themes has been to differentiate people by their bottom lines.

Despite the differences in web development and commercial plumbing, our conversations always boil down to this saying, which I think Trung really should trademark:

It’s not the job, it’s the people.

What is this person’s bottom line?

This almost always affects the outcome of the work and how many fistfights you are bound to have.

Money as Bottom Line

There are the old school folks, where the bottom line is money. There is absolutely nothing wrong with people being aware, or even prudent, about costs.

But in a sense (and based on past experiences), they are the ones who tend to reserve spending on materials or resources and almost always settle for “Good enough,” look at the end result, and however we all get there, the ends justify the means.

The bottom line is having enough resources at the very end, so that it can be spent on something else.

The tough thing, though, is when you start having awful conversations about reaching the bare minimum, and how it could also be possible to bring that standard even lower to save another $10.

I find that these people do tend to have more money, and that’s great. Because that’s their bottom line. They’re able to shell out for emergency dental work or send their kids off to boarding school. Damages that occur without home insurance could easily be paid for by the money that they saved from not getting it in the first place.

They spend more time on the same project. And maybe because they just have better focus. I really don’t know.

Convenience as Bottom Line

Then there are the Convenience as Bottom Line People, which I think I am definitely a subsect of.

I don’t think we are a particularly smart bunch, but I’ll be honest in saying that I have fewer regrets. It’s almost like I’ve spread out my stress over time, instead of collecting it all at the very end.

For this tribe, it’s more about freeing up certain resources to be able to focus on or achieve a goal. And if that means paying more for something, so be it.

And this doesn’t necessarily equate to just money or expenses. To me at least, the bottom line question is:

What is your time worth?

I would rather invest in a $1000 tool that saves me 6 hours of work than use a hand-crank or screwdriver.

I would rather pay someone to paint the apartment in a day than spending two weeks stepping in plastic dropcloths and shit, doing it on my own, and getting really shitty results. I’ve had experience with painting spaces before, and while I do consider myself capable of doing this myself, I would much rather be doing something else. Like working my actual job.

I would rather share the job, make less profit, and get it done faster and more efficiently, instead of doing everything ourselves, stretching ourselves thin to deliver a kind of passable outcome.

Not to say one is better than the other

I find that at least in my conversations with Trung, this dichotomy of people exist like people who prefer showers over baths; people who eat the soup first before noodles; or people who really like Metallica or just think that they are self-centered babies because of that documentary.

There are downsides and upsides to being either type of person. I always concede with the knowledge that I will never become rich, but also comfort myself with the idea that at least I won’t spend 90% of my life being tired or sweaty or stressed out. All of the things I hate being.

I’m pretty comfortable with where I stand on this, and I have to admit also that I kind of enjoy talking about these differences with people.

To some extent, I also see it related to the type of people who either like super focused projects or those who like various things happening at once.

Yearly Check-Back

The last time we last talked, I was blathering on about renovations I had planned for my apartment. This has been almost a year ago now. The renos are done, and I love the new place. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to take any photos. But if you use your imagination, I’m sure you will take a deep breath and congratulate me.

It was a rough few weeks, but in the end, absolutely worth it. Tina Tuna, who had ended up a casualty from all of this as she stayed with Trung’s dad for the most of it, has gained an inexplicable amount of weight. My guess is that Trung’s dad essentially gave her non-stop treats and free-fed her Fancy Feast for a month.

“I don’t think she wants to leave,” Trung’s dad said quietly in Chinese on the day we came to take her back home.

People now think she is pregnant and she has trouble rolling over her big belly when she cleans herself. I feel mostly guilty, but not really ashamed. Her portly shape is quite cute.

In other news, I’ve also been meaning to talk about some other little revelations. Particularly, one that has spent a large amount of time swimming in my head.

I’ve been thinking about life priorities for the past little while. I think it’s because I’ve been forced to rethink and overhaul my financial plans. It started with whether or not a renovation was worth it, and it had somehow become a year-long reflection on what it means for me to be happy.

For the most part, I think I followed more or less the same variations of footsteps as people my age. Graduate from school, get a job, fill a house with garbage from Ikea. Maybe save up for a car.

One of the things I’m proud of, despite the weird grown-up-old-lady image it conjures, is my mortgage. I still have a long way to go, obviously, but I am more than aware that I’ve been very blessed with being able to carve out a tiny piece of Vancouver for myself.

It’s a strong reminder of my decision to grow roots here in Canada, and a realistic indicator of how much it takes for me to be as responsible as possible. It weighs me down by just the right amount. Enough to make me feel grounded, but not so much to make me feel trapped.

This year put a lot of that into focus for me, as I went home to Manila again twice. Last year was both for Ivan, a year of very harsh discoveries and stark conversations with people I love, and people I didn’t even know I loved so much.

In contrast, this year’s homecoming trips were for two happy occasions. Two weddings: one, of Ivan’s older brother, who is much like a brother to me also; and another, my oldest sister, who I thought deserved so much of the pomp and pageantry her wedding entailed.

The decisions to come home for family instilled various bouts of reflection for me. Perhaps due to the 15+ hour flights to Manila, where you sit in the darkness and static amongst others, lost in the sea of weird interconnectedness surrounded by various degrees of emotional separation.

It was maybe during those flights where I thought the most about what I wanted to get out of my work and life. The same way I had asked myself questions like, “Do I really need these three jackets, none of which I have worn in the past five years?”

Did I really need to work to get to a million dollars (as a random, outrageous number) a year? What the hell would I even do with a million dollars?

After all of what’s happened in the past two years, the shit inside my house just didn’t seem as important or felt like they deserved dramatic decisions anymore. I found myself wanting less stuff and looking for more things to achieve.

What were the main things that were important to me at this point?

  • I wanted to be able to fly to Manila at least once a year.
  • I wanted to be able to pay off my mortgage each month at a minimum.

And one of the things I realized was that these were relatively simple goals for a year. If I just shut up about getting a new sofa or getting a bigger television, I’d immediately have enough funds to put towards a two-week trip to Manila. All the rest could go to my mortgage, and I’d be looking at a 10 year amortization rather than 30.

And that was pretty much it. I didn’t want a new car. I really hate driving anyway. I’ve given up the idea of owning a giant 60″ television because that is crazy. Like, actually crazy. I didn’t need a matching dining table set because the $240 table I got from Craigslist is a beautiful piece on its own, scratches, rusty legs and all.

Even my battle with this fucking sectional sofa had lost its zing.

Things around the house get old. I’ve done enough laundry and ruined enough shirts to know this now. After a while, wool sweaters lose their rich blackness, the chrome rubs off metallic edges, and the glass chips in little unnoticeable pieces.

In contrast, being able to fly to Manila with Trung for the first time was one of the best experiences of my life. He got to meet my awesome family, my fantastic grandparents, and witness things that I could only tell him about (and he assumed I was lying).

The other day, as he and I lounged around the apartment watching Netflix, he turned to me absently and said, “It’s weird because it’s only been a few days since we got back, but I kind of miss the Philippines.”

I looked up from my knitting and gave him a big smile.

“I don’t know,” he continued. “It’s just that a lot of things about you finally make sense to me.”


I’m Renovating My Apartment

“Here’s what you should do…” is probably one of those beginnings to sentences that will set me off and land me in a fistfight. I’ve come close a few times, especially with people I love the most, and we all deal with our triggers differently.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I know it has and will be received with mixed reviews. I haven’t been very vocal about it because of this, but I’ve decided to do renovations on my apartment.

I get the impression that my friends think I’m wasting my money or that I just really hate my money or something. Why spend the money on a perfectly useable space? Your apartment isn’t leaking. It fits your things. Sure, some of that stuff is old, but it still works. Why bother?

“Here’s what you should do. Save your money for something else. Nobody cares about a new kitchen sink.”

Dudes, you know what? I care. A lot.

I work from home. It’s a happy joke that I am willing to play along with, but the truth is, I spend 23 hours a day on average in this apartment. I know every inch of this place by heart, and I do a lot to keep it well-maintained and loved.

I also come from a family and culture of people who love their homes. My family in Manila, we invest time and energy in our homes because it’s one of the most important things in our lives. It carries our memories and our eccentricities, physical manifestations of our habits and flaws. Our homes are a reflection of who we are. My family and I aren’t fucking nomads like the people who travel and find themselves and do whatever. I’m not Julia Roberts. I don’t do that Eat, Pray, Love shit.

Decorating and designing a home for me isn’t just a fun thing that lonely housewives or bored celebrities do. It reminds me of my mom a lot. She loved doing this shit as much as I do. I remember when she did a renovation on our first Manila house.

We had shirtless workers in and out of the house for weeks. Our shit was all over the place. I even remember being tasked with peeling off bits of wallpaper from the room I shared with my brother. She transformed this house that was originally a 1970s bungalow for a newlyweds into a family home for six.

And my sister, bless her, went slightly over-budget with renovating our new Manila house, but you know what? It’s fucking glorious. It’s a beautiful space that she worked hard to decorate, and when I saw it on my trip back, I was immediately comfortable. It was a decent house when we purchased it, but now it’s actually our home. And therein lies the difference.

She put in touches and details that considered my shirtless father (shutter blinds in his room and a full-wall built-in for his trinkets and collections) and my brother (large desk space for his computer work station and drawing area).

Our kitchen is now open and inviting, and makes you want to have breakfast with each other in the mornings. It overlooks the back yard where we can have our cousins over for BBQ’s and pool parties.

Now that I’m older, I feel like I’ve stepped into the same shoes, and our feet are the exact same size. Now that I’m actually able to accomplish this, I’m so excited to do it. If not just for the shirtless workers. But this is Canada. People here don’t work shirtless, unfortunately.

I’m not putting in a stripper pole in the middle of the room or adding an extension for a bowling alley. I’m just updating my apartment to how I’d like it to be. Sure, there are cheaper ways to do it, but I want to do it the proper way. You go spend time re-sanding and re-finishing that weirdo Craigslist tabletop with the gargoyle feet. I don’t give a shit.

Some people get new fancy cars or nose jobs, or they go travelling around the world to find themselves (again, Julia Roberts). Well, I don’t want a fucking Lexus, Trung thinks my nose is cute, and I hate flying.

This apartment helped me grow up and out of being a shitty baby from Emily Carr. It’s given me a wonderful place to appreciate Vancouver and all its fine points. It’s helped me host many dinner parties and family guests over the years. It’s a milestone that marks my responsibility and obligation, both financially and emotionally. It’s become mine.

This is something just for me, and I don’t think anybody has much of a right to tell me what I should do.