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!

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.

I’ve Been Working Out

No, actually a more accurate way to say it is that I’ve been schlepping on the treadmill for a regular/reasonable amount of time.

I’ve always hated working out. I hate sweating, I hate counting, I hate moving. I hate being hot and I hate having to walk around in a wet shirt. I hate everything about working out and the gym. I also hate the ironic 80’s fad that people have been trying to bring back for the past five years. Neon spandex and porn ‘staches have had their runs, guys. Get over it.

But as I’ve mentioned countless times, habit formation has become a small interest of mine, ever since Ben and I tried to be habit buddies for a BJ Fogg experiment.

Plus, you know, that time where I went crazy.

Anyway, bottom line is that I was looking for a change in my routine, and I was really getting tired of my Asian relatives calling me fat in various condescending ways.

It’s been about four months now I think, but I’ve been doing surprisingly well. The thing I realized is that while the idea of losing weight or keeping your health on track are general common knowledge, it really does depend on how well you know yourself and your level of discipline.

#1 My reward was not food.

One of the largest discoveries I made about this whole deal is that rewarding myself with more food IS THE DUMBEST IDEA EVER.

The whole notion of “I’ve exerted X amount of calories today, so I can eat this whole cake” is the easiest way for absolutely nothing to happen. I won’t even get into the whole idea of self-entitlement from the least amount of effort on this one, but simply put, I just found a different way to reinforce my habit.

It is extremely embarrassing and I really took a while to admit. But I am mad bananas about Korean telenovelas. And while it started out as a quick trial experiment, it totally snowballed into an actual system that lasted for a couple of months.

The system was this: Each time I went to the gym, I get to watch one episode of one telenovela.

The original plan was to hop on the treadmill three days a week: M-W-F.

And as the telenovela in question ramped up with its psychotic plot, of course I couldn’t fucking wait a whole two days to find out if the father really did murder that kid who got raped ten years ago in an abandoned warehouse.

Slowly, M-W-F turned into M-T-W-F… and then it turns out the mother was not actually dead but was the aunt of the guy who turned into a cop to save his girlfriend’s life.

You know where this is going.

And suddenly I found myself going to the gym pretty much every day, and if I didn’t go on the treadmill, I’d make it a point to walk outside for at LEAST an hour (no less).

Turns out, the cop’s mother was not really dead and he was actually brothers with the limp kid boy who was kidnapped and ravaged by vicious dogs and became the girlfriend’s trusted confidant who turned out to be a total asshole and tried to kill them all as revenge for his mother who he thought was dead but as we later found out really wasn’t.

#2 I cut myself some slack

It’s kind of similar to that saying about holding a fistful of grains. The tighter you squeeze, the more you lose between your fingers. Or some shit like that. My dad said it once about raising terrible daughters like me and my sister, and how he didn’t want us to rebel any more by enforcing more dumb rules on us.

I found that the harder I was on myself for missing a day or not doing enough time, the more bummed I got about the gym, and the more bummed I got, the less I felt like going. So I adjusted my goals and tried out different variations.

What started to work for me was that I would reward myself in tiers. If I did X amount of time and lost X amount of calories, I get to watch an episode. If I was able to double that time/calories, I get to watch two episodes; and so on.

If I wasn’t able to get to the gym that day, no big deal. I can make it up the next day and even it out on average. I didn’t withhold any more food than usual, or beat myself up about it. I felt a little bit annoyed that I couldn’t watch my episode, but hung on to the idea that if I worked twice as hard the next day, I’d be caught up.

I didn’t take anything away from myself when I tripped up. So the idea is that I don’t lose something I didn’t have in the first place, but I gain something if I deserved it.

#3 I paid more attention

I had no fucking clue that orange juice had so many calories in a cup. I also did not realize what a cup of something actually was.

I had a vague idea that a cup was, like, maybe a mug’s worth? Like a cup of coffee, right? But my buddy Stokoe gave me measuring cups for my birthday and it BLEW MY MIND how differently I had things measured in my head.

The Urban Peasant would maybe cry.

A tablespoon of peanut butter in my head was actually like 1/4 of a cup.

Maybe it’s part of my own delusions, but for a while there I absolutely doubted everything about space, measurement, volume and distance.

Same with calories. Shit. I figured granola was safe and magic because it was all grainy and oat-y and had dried fruits and all that garbage in it. Turns out this shit is like LOADED with calories.

To be clear, I understand that granola and grains are still healthy options and are not something to be avoided, but strictly speaking about the amount of calories in a serving—WTFUUUUUU?

So anyway, after I recovered from most of these discoveries and threw out all kinds of crap from my fridge, I now find myself being more aware of my portions.

Seriously, I used to have very cartoonish portions of food, and a very loose definition of what “half a plate” of something meant. But now that I have points of reference and have more information stored in my brain, I find myself making better decisions about what I eat throughout the day, as well as how much I should really take in.

And touching back on #2, I didn’t go cold turkey on any of the things I like, but just cut down to realistic measurements. Such is the case with ice cream.

Past delusions of measurement had me eating about twice or thrice the amount of what I actually thought I was eating. And you know what? An actual single cup of ice cream is actually enough. I don’t feel like shit afterwards, and neither are there any stains on my shirt or smears of tears and vanilla on my face.

I’ve lost 2kg already so far, and am on a good road to where I want to get to. The first couple of months were mostly about figuring out systematic things and trying out variations of the amount of exercise and food to take in. The last month and a half was where I feel like I’ve really found my stride.

I’m just saying, as corny as all of this sounds, it’s working out pretty well.

EDIT: FYI, I have been measuring my weight in kg not because I am more pretentious than most, but because I cannot see that far down to the incremental pounds on my cheap Ikea scale.

Arbutus Scarf

Right after publishing that last post, I ripped out the Gemini pullover and immediately started looking for another project that would make me feel like a bit more capable.

Since I was still in a Jane Richmond kick (Who can deny or resist those large doe eyes of hers?!) I decided to cast on the Arbutus pattern from her book, ISLAND.

Excuse the cat hair on this scarf.
Excuse the cat hair on this scarf.

Sometimes I think I just really need a break from all the pressure I put on myself, and take on projects that are more at my level.

I love how it’s turned out. I knitted two types of yarn together to give it a bit more depth. Super glad that the green and purple played nicely with each other. I knitted it while watching Breaking Bad and Cheers on Netflix.

While it’s a slippery, sloppy slope to constantly improve ourselves and our personal standards, sometimes it also really helps to remind ourselves of where we are and how far we’ve come.

At least that’s how I’m looking at this. A year ago I had no idea what half this knitting shit meant, let alone how to put together a garter stitch swatch. And now look at me, mum. I’ve made my share of terrible scarves and half-mittens and am now super obsessed with this new yarn ball winder I got. I’ve been winding yarn balls all month, guys.

I've been winding yarn cakes like nobody's business.
I’ve been winding yarn cakes like nobody’s business.

And of course I asked Trung to wear the scarf so I can take nice photos, and this is what happened:

I hate Trung
I hate Trung