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Donuts or Bagels?

 By David Haldane

March 23, 2023



For years, it was a morning ritual.

I would arise early, get the kids ready for school, and we’d clamor into the car. “Donuts or bagels?” I’d inquire, exhibiting as much enthusiasm as I could muster. And then, depending on the answer, we’d hustle over to Winchell’s Donuts or East Coast Bagels to eat our fill.

My daughter—now 38 and herself a mom in Portland, Oregon—recently reminded me of all that in an early morning call. “I’m worried about money,” I’d confessed to her in an unguarded moment of candor. “We’re spending too much and it’s gonna be gone.”

There followed a pregnant pause. “What?” she finally scoffed in amazement, “aren’t you the guy who used to start each day with donuts or bagels?”

It took me a moment to grasp what she meant. And when I did, it became a moment of what Buddhists call satori, a sudden epiphany with life-altering impact.

See, those early morning conversations regarding breakfast occurred in a different era. I was fully employed with lots of money coming in. And whatever wasn’t included in my biweekly check could easily be accrued through working on the side. So spending extra money on meals wasn’t something I needed to ponder. “You used to think nothing of eating out all the time,” my grown daughter reminded me in what I hoped was not a taunt.

How times have changed. These days I live on a fixed retirement pension. And though it’s certainly adequate—especially in the Philippines—it’s also stretched very thin. We own two homes in as many countries, housing at least 15 people. Upkeep is expensive, especially in Mindanao on which 2021’s Typhoon Odette took a staggering toll. And, though we have a small rental unit in Southern California, our only significant extra income comes annually when my wife takes a months-long sojourn in the US to work as a clinical laboratory scientist. That extra income, in fact, has increasingly become less extra and more central to our continued well-being.

The bottom line: donuts or bagels is not a real option.

And yet somehow my daughter’s comment awakened a glimmering insight. A friend once told me of a survey he’d read in which people across a wide spectrum of income levels were asked the same basic question: “how much money do you need?” Their answers were virtually identical: “a little more than I make.”

My takeaway: how much money one earns isn’t nearly as significant as one’s attitude towards it. You spend what you make and live as you can. Which, of course, is the typical mindset of many Filipinos. As for me and my brood, well, I’m sure we’ll survive just as we always have. And worrying about it won’t improve the situation by one iota.

So from this day forward, I have a new mantra. How’s it going, you ask? “Donuts or bagels?” I say. Are you worried about the cost? Can you afford the expense? Donuts or bagels, donuts or bagels, donuts or bagels, donuts or bagels!

From now on, my life is a series of satori moments. The goal: to make each day about the supreme solace of deciding between two mythical morsels.






David Haldane’s latest book, “A Tooth in My Popsicle,” is available on Amazon and Lazada. A former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, Haldane is an award-winning journalist, author, and radio broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.



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