Joanna: The Baking Lawyer

This is story 5 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Joanna may be a lawyer by profession, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t get down in the kitchen. For the most part, she’s a self-taught baker who enjoys making baked goods for all the people around her. Baking is Joanna’s happy place. When she first meets people, she tells them that she bakes and they’ll usually reply with, “Oh, me too!” But Joanna makes it a point to clarify no, she “baaaaakesss.” She humbly admits that her baking skills are not quite up to par with professionals, but her improved skills throughout the years has put her baked goods well passed just good enough to eat. In other words, Joanna is not your regular-shmegular “I bake for fun” out of the store bought box baker.

Joanna’s introduction to baking started at a young age. She remembers being in the kitchen around 6 years old, helping her aunts bake bread for the family. Her Aunt Carmen and Aunt Lilia sparked Joanna’s baking curiosity since they were always baking and would try their best to incorporate Joanna in the process. Aunt Carmen baked traditional pastries like dinner rolls, chiffon cakes, and butter cookies. Aunt Lilia was more adventurous with her baking and took it upon herself to watch the Food Network channel and bought tons of cookbooks to switch it up. Joanna has fond memories of measuring out the flour for their recipes and playing with the dough right before they popped it into the oven to bake.

Joanna was about 8-9 years old when she baked by herself for the first time. Her cousin used to make lemon cupcakes with her sister and the whole family loved them. So Joanna was inspired to try out her own lemon cupcake recipe. In the end, the cupcakes were edible and “nothing too special.” But her parents wanted to encourage her to bake more, so they hyped her up and overexaggerated how good her lemon cupcakes were. She realizes now as an adult what her parents did, but at the time being 8-9 years old and baking solo for the first time, Joanna took the compliments proudly!

For the most part, Joanna considers herself a self-taught baker. The most education she has for baking and cooking were 3 years of summer classes. She attended these classes from around 9-12 years old during the summers. Joanna’s mom put her in a lot of extracurricular activities growing up, and baking is the one hobby that stuck with her. She continued on with baking even outside of the class, and it seemed to be her leisure activity by choice. Her fondest memories growing up wouldn’t be the act of baking or cooking, but watching her family and friends eat and see what she had made for them.

“Of all of the activities that my mom put me through when I was young, mind you, I was a nerd, I had piano, violin, art classes, extra classes for random subjects over summer, baking was the one that really stuck,” Joanna shared. “It was something I would want to do even if no one asked.”

When Joanna was young, she always wanted to bake, but she also always wanted to be a lawyer. When she graduated with her bachelor’s degree, she asked her mom for advice whether she should go to culinary school or to law school. Mom’s advice was to go for the profession that is more financially secure, and the obvious answer was to pursue law school. Joanna believes her mom’s advice was due to the Filipino-Chinese culture – thinking baking and cooking is a natural hobby that does not need formal education. Especially being from Cebu, Philippines, where the market is “thrifty” compared to Manila. So, Joanna took her mom’s advice and went on to law school.

Joanna wasn’t bummed that her mom encouraged her to go to law school because she always wanted to be a lawyer anyways. She knew that her other love, baking, would always be there and it just depended on her to make time for it. When Joanna first started law school, she didn’t have much time to bake since she had to read so many cases, books, laws, and study. But she would make it a point to make time to bake for special occasions like her parents’ birthdays. She’s the kind of person that likes to plan ahead, so she would throw her future self a bone and made sure she always had ingredients ready at home so whenever she would have free time, she could bake right away. Joanna graduated from law school in 2021, prepped for the bar exam, and now, she’s officially a lawyer!

“I didn’t have to sacrifice my time for school for baking because baking wasn’t something I had to do, it was more of something I could do during my free time,” Joanna said.

To get her to where she is today, Joanna would just kept tweaking a recipe until it was to her satisfaction. She usually follows recipes from online or cookbooks. What she usually tweaks is the sugar content, since she grew up baking for diabetics, and with time, makes the recipe her own. She will try a recipe 3 times, and after the third time, if she can’t crack the code, she respectfully throws in the towel on that recipe and admits that she can’t make it. This doesn’t happen too often because Joanna already knows her niche, cookies!

Joanna’s all time favorite thing to make are cookies! Cookies are her personal favorite, and tops her love for cakes and cupcakes. She jokes that there’s something about cookies that have a special hold on her that other baked goods will never have. Joanna believes it’s due to the fact that a cookie is already complete in itself – no need for extra icing or fillings, has the perfect amount of sweetness and flavor, and there’s no beating the texture of being crispy and chewy all at the same time.

Joanna is very particular when she’s motivated to bake. She literally has to set the mood for herself for the atmosphere to be just right. She needs it to be a calm place, and doesn’t want anyone to bother her. Joanna doesn’t like when people watch her or talk to her when she’s baking, so she prefers to be alone. She truly enjoys her calm, quiet, solitary time to herself. Joanna laughs that she will play music in the background, which is the only noise that is acceptable in her kitchen! And when she’s in the zone, she’s IN THE ZONEEE. So much so that she knows her favorite part about baking is the mixing process. To Joanna, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching the batter or dough transform into another texture – wet to dry, crumby to smooth, vice versa.

Joanna is known for different signature baked goods depending on who you’re talking to. Her friends adore her cookies, while her family and other relatives go crazy for her buko pie. “Buko” in Tagalog translates to coconut, but it’s a “young coconut,” meaning it is still green and not fully matured. Currently, Joanna is only taking orders from people she knows. Her friends have recommended her to other people for special cake projects, but she hasn’t accepted those kind of commissions just yet because 2 tiered cakes are a bit too complex for her, but she hopes to one day take them on. For now, she just showcases her work mainly on Instagram stories and the occasional post on her profile. She laughs that it’s probably better that way because her tiny oven can’t handle that many commissions at a time!

There are times when baking goes according to plan, and then there are times where everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. When she was younger and things didn’t turn out the way she wanted in the kitchen, she would end up crying. Now as an adult, she gets really mad, to the point where her whole day would feel ruined. She will avoid anyone that would ask or bring up the topic of her recent kitchen disaster. But when everything goes right on a recipe, Joanna has about 10 minutes of bliss and awe. But she admits that the bliss is very short lived, because after that, she’s back to scrutinizing everything she should’ve done to make it faster, more efficient, or overanalyzing every detail, looking for a “mistake.” It’s true that the biggest critic is sometimes yourself.

The pros to Joanna being so hard on herself, is that she always finds the best process, a new technique, and learns something new that will help her in the future, especially when it comes to decorating. She gets her inspiration from Instagram, Pinterest, and really enjoyed Christina Tosi’s Chef’s Table episode on Netflix because she was the most relatable – baking, cookies, nothing too fancy, and lots of colors. Her creativity is always tested when it comes to decorating because there’s so many possibilities that one can create. So to narrow it down, Joanna always tries to go into it with a goal of what to design – preparing a picture, watching YouTube videos to see how to make those designs, and everything else that comes with prep.

“When it comes to the actual recreating of the design, it’s really something else, so many other factors you have to consider – heat in the Philippines, stability of the icing, color palette, piping skills,” Joanna shared when it comes to decorating with a plan. “So I’d really have to think on my feet when things don’t go according to plan. I would just adjust and adjust until I would actually get the hang of it.”

The Philippines’ heat makes it very challenging to decorate. Joanna describes it as a nightmare for an at home baker. There’s so many things to consider when you’re baking and decorating in a really hot area. Not only do you have to work faster because the heat of the environment, but the baker radiates their own heat as well – the warmth of their hands when they’re holding the piping bags. The heat also effects laminating dough and takes a longer time. And a big issue with the heat is how fast some ingredients spoil from being in rooms without air-conditioning.

Joanna finds decorating pies to be the most challenging to decorate. Again, the heat in the Philippines factors into the result of the products. So for pies, it can really be a guessing game of how to get it right. It’s either the dough is too cold, which makes it difficult to roll out and work with, or it’s too soft and shrinks in the oven and considered “overworked dough” which then needs to be rested. Decorating has tested Joanna’s patience in every way, and the thing that she has learned while decorating in the Philippines is to have lots of patience and versatility.

With all those challenges and road blocks, Joanna still manages to push out beautiful pieces out of her kitchen. Her favorite edible creation she has ever made was a birthday cake she made for her grandma. She made a main cake and tons of cupcakes for everyone else with flower decorations. When they were all displayed together, it looked like a garden. Joanna was so proud of what she created, especially since it was the first time she did a flower arrangement cake and cupcake duo.

One day, Joanna hopes to open her own little baking spot, but the thought of it is still intimidating to her. She knows that going down that route will be a lot of investment and competition. A big part of her wants to have a small shop at home which would lessen the costs of having a storefront and would keep the investment to equipment and labor. Realistically, Joanna knows that having a bakery by just word of mouth means that the products have to be amazing to compensate for the fact that the products are not always readily available. She doesn’t think that that’s too far fetched given that her aunt has given her the best compliment that she has ever received to date. Her aunt always tells her that her pastries taste better than a friend’s, who is a professional baker and went to culinary school.

Joanna appreciates everyone that has supported her on her baking journey. Her aunts were her first teachers and introduced her to the baking life. They would encourage her to sell muffins to their employees for snack, and she would bake every Saturday. Her parents, relatives, and friends have been her faithful customers and consumers of everything she made. One of Joanna’s cousins used to have a restaurant and would buy cookies from her every weekend so she could sell it at her shop. This encouraged Joanna to keep doing what she loved.

Joanna laughs and says that baking has taught her how to be really good at math. She does pretty good at math and attributes it to her love of baking because of all the fractions and measurements that go into baking a simple recipe, but also the conversions if you want to make more than one batch or downsize. But of course, baking has taught her how to be patient. Joanna describes baking as a guessing game where you’re unsure if the product is good or not until the very end. Unlike cooking, you can’t really taste and flavor as you go.

Ironically, Joanna tends to shy away from making Filipino baked goods. She doesn’t know if it’s the technique or the ingredients, but she just can’t seem to get it down. There is one exception though – her buko pie! But other than her buko pie, Joanna admits that she’d rather buy Filipino baked goods because she humbly admits that her dupes can’t compete. However, she is super motivated to learn more about Japanese and French baking. She admires how Japanese baking is very complex presentation wise, but flavor wise is very subtle and complete, while French baking is very complex and full of butter!

Joanna mastered her signature baked goods with consistent practice and the drive to keep creating for leisure. Her advice to anyone out there trying to get into baking or is feeling discouraged after trying different recipes is this “It’s really a matter of practice. The first bakes are not necessarily the best unless you fall under the exception. There are moments of disappointments and tears but do not let them sway you from doing what you love.”  

Maria: Children’s Book Author

This is story 4 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Maria with her first published book, “Blaine Loves Boxes.”

Maria always considered herself a bookworm growing up, so it’s no surprise that she wrote, “Blaine Loves Boxes” and became a children’s author. She loved to read and has very fond memories of being at the library as a little kid. Her dad would drop her off at the library while he got a haircut at the barbershop next door and Maria would go straight to the children’s section and get lost in all the different books. She has always been an admirer of picture books, not only as a child, but as a teacher, and now as a mother. A picture book never fails to enthrall Maria, and she thinks a part of it is because she’s a visual learner.

It has been Maria’s goal to write children’s books for as long as she can remember. Being a professional author was never really her end goal because her dream job was to be a teacher. But the desire to write her own book one day was always in the back of her mind because children’s books have a special place in her heart. So much so that her mom saved a story Maria wrote when she was 6 years old. They still have her hand written story of a pig and dog becoming friends.

Maria went on to pursue teaching, and being a preschool teacher and an early interventionist inspired her to eventually write “Blaine Loves Boxes.” She absolutely adored working at an inclusive preschool where she had the opportunity to teach children of all abilities – what some may call “typical developing” and “special needs.” The inclusive preschool made it so all kids of all abilities were learning and playing together. For about 8 years, Maria taught, did some administration work, worked with children in home therapy, and provided sessions.

She attributes her inspiration for the book to her hands-on teaching experience in the classroom. Maria explains the teaching reality – no classroom is perfect, it can be absolutely hectic at times, and no day goes perfectly smooth, but to see how the little ones are growing and learning from each other every day is the fulfillment of the job. And being in an inclusive classroom meant being able to adapt and change throughout the years to accommodate each new student group that came in. Everything about the classroom was inclusive – the kids with different abilities, the lesson plan and curriculum, and celebrating the different family cultures that they had in their program.

Maria was amazed by how much her students impacted her. Yes, her inspiration for the book was having that hands-on teaching experience, but it was the kids that brought it to life. She was completely intrigued by what little ones do naturally to help each other out. Since it was an inclusive classroom, with time, the students picked up on which friends needed more assistance or help. That would look like helping a friend get up from their spot after Circle Time, or holding a friend’s hand because they know they have a harder time with transitions. All of her students, like most young children, naturally helped each other out and tried to best support their friends that needed it or were upset. Maria quickly saw the benefits of an inclusive classroom and it got her mind thinking.

“I loved seeing what innocent minds did for one another, and I often thought, ‘If we could immerse kids in an inclusive setting as early as preschool age, what amazing effects could that do as they got older? As they became adults?’” Maria shared. “It made me realize how simple inclusion can be with the right support and mindsets.”

Her experience as a preschool teacher allowed her to still keep in touch with her first love – picture books! Every early childhood educator knows how important it is to read to their students and what an incredible tool a book could be to get a point or lesson across. One day it dawned on Maria that there weren’t as many inclusive picture books out there as there should be for young kids. She loves how the inclusive books that are out there right now represents children with special needs, like being in a wheelchair. But based on her experiences, she knew first hand that special needs doesn’t have to be labeled, defined, or be limited to medical equipment or a diagnosis.

Maria was inspired to make a book that anyone could relate to. She believes all children are unique and special just as they are, and shouldn’t be defined by labels. Right off the bat, Maria knew she didn’t want to label her main character to put them in a box, so instead, she created a character that liked to play outside the box, literally. In her book, “Blaine Loves Boxes,” Blaine is just a kid who loves boxes, anyone can relate to his character, but the reader can also see what makes him his own person. Blaine is unique in his own way and connects to the world around him through playing with boxes.

When Maria decided she was going to embark on this journey and write her own inclusive children’s book, she was definitely overwhelmed at first. Like anything new, you just don’t know where to start and you’re filled with so many questions. Maria wanted to know what she was getting herself into and what to expect in the process, so she took matters into her own hands and took to the internet to start her research. She was proactive in trying to gain knowledge from other people’s experiences, so she read articles, followed author groups on Facebook, watched tons of YouTube videos, and asked all the questions that came to mind, even if they were simple. Maria kept researching until she had all the answers to her questions.

Maria wrote “Blaine Loves Boxes,” in December of 2020 when she unfortunately lost her job to the pandemic. She connected with her illustrator in April of 2021, and from April onwards it was working on every single detail of the book until it was released in November 2021. Maria broke down the basic process: have your story, get the editing done, illustrations process, formatting process, and uploading are the big parts. But there are a ton of little steps that accompany those bigger steps. And in that process, there were many times when Maria just wanted to throw in the towel and quit. But she thanks her amazing support system that always encouraged and helped her along the way. Because of them, she stuck to her goal and made it happen.

One of the most important relationships she made was with her illustrator, Tasya. They connected over the site, Fiverr, a site a lot of self-publishers use to find freelancers. When Maria was on the hunt, it was important to her to find an illustrator whose art she could connect to, but also connect to as a person. She believes that with any successful relationship, there needs to be chemistry, especially since this would be someone she’d be working closely with to create what she envisioned. When Maria and Tasya connected, she knew that they would make a great team. She’s so glad that they worked so well together because Maria admits that the closest drawings she had for her book were stick figure story boards!

Maria could’ve went down many paths, but chose to go down the self-publishing route. She made this decision during her researching phase. She knew that her end goal was to just get the book done. Maria wanted to make sure that she was writing a book that she was passionate about and wanted her story printed and in her hands. It was operation “Just. Get. It. Done.” Maria always knew that the monetary benefits weren’t at the top of her list, and that really factored into her choosing to self-publish. She wanted full creative authority over her book and saw it as her “baby.” Maria liked how she got to make every final decision because it was really important to her to learn all the ins and outs of self-publishing.

“When self-publishing you are doing a lot of the decision making on everything,” Maria shared. “What size book are you looking for? What style of illustrations are you looking for? Do you want set pages to be illustrated as single or double spread? When self-publishing you are making all the final decisions. When looking into it, I wanted to be part of the whole process. If I was going to write a children’s book for its story to be heard and for my grandkids to have one day – I wanted a say in it all.”

Maria knew early on that making monetary gains weren’t at the top of her “why” list, which led her down the self-publishing route. But she knows that not all creatives take the same publishing path. For her, the mindset she had going into the process was really important. She wanted full authority of her book, and understood the reality that there are tons and tons of authors out there in the world. That means that there are lots of children’s books circulating out there and lots of stories to be shared. Maria did enough research to know that if you are not working with a big name publisher, the likelihood of your work getting into anything like the New York Bestsellers list is really difficult. But her mindset was focused on getting the book done and making it completely hers in every aspect. At the end of the day she is very content with her decision and has no regrets.

Maria believes what sets “Blaine Loves Boxes” aside from other children’s books is the fact that it focuses on some similarities that all children have with one another but simultaneously seeing what makes the main character so unique. Readers find themselves connecting to Blaine and his quirks, but then you’re able to realize that Blaine is not so different. It was really important for Maria to embed her own life experiences on how she sees the world. She loves to people watch, sitting in nature, and just listening and observing the interactions around her. So a lot of those simple details can be found in the book because Maria has a huge attention to detail.

Maria with her 2 daughters

Now “Blaine Loves Boxes” can be found in certain big name stores like Target and Barnes & Nobles, as well as other local stores. Years before her writing process, Maria always envisioned herself walking into a local bookstore and seeing her book on the shelf. This is a dream that intensified as she began her official writing process for the book. Even if she saw just 1 copy of her book at 1 local store, she would be ecstatic. Maria describes seeing her book in stores as one of the best feelings ever, especially since she gets to share this moment with her daughters.

“Living out something you’ve always dreamed of doing, whether big or small, is one of the best feelings,” Maria said still on a high. “And then to be able to share it with my daughters who I want to teach can do whatever they set their mind to?! It leaves my heart so humbled.”

Her daughters have seen the whole process. They saw mommy writing, they saw mommy editing, they saw mommy communicating with people over the computer, and now they get to see mommy’s book in stores. Seeing her children’s reactions when they see mom’s picture on the back of the book is one of the best feelings. Maria loves that she is leading by example, showing her daughters that they can achieve anything with hard work and dedication.

Maria is doing the website, marketing, and social media all on her own. She knows that there are different ways to gain more followers and get more eyes on her content, but realistically, she knows she can’t do it all on her own. So instead, Maria chooses to use the social media to promote “Blaine Loves Boxes” to the best of her ability and just have fun! Maria likes that she can post what she wants, how she wants, when she wants. She focuses on content that she would like to see on other people’s pages and topics that she would personally enjoy. Maria goes with the flow because she knows the most important thing to her was getting the book done, getting the story out, and sharing the message of inclusion.

The support Maria has received, big or small, means the world to her. When she gets tagged in a post of her targeted age, 3 years old, enjoying her book, she is so grateful because she knows that her book is teaching kids that they are special in their own way, their voice matters, and caring for others that may be different than you is a skill you should hold on to. Maria hopes to one day publish another children’s book. For now, they are tucked away in her Notes section of her phone and laptop, as she is very busy with being a full-time stay at home mom. But getting another book out there is likely, given that Maria would love to say that she has published more than one book.

Maria’s advice for anyone writing a story for young children – especially very young children – is to know your audience. Researching your target age is very important to make sure that the story you are writing is developmentally appropriate. You can have an amazing story with big ideas, but if you don’t make it a key point to make sure it makes sense for your targeted age, they won’t fully grasp the story and understand it. But most importantly, her advice to other authors is to just have fun with it and not be afraid. Maria believes that there is always space for more books that teach kids about different cultures, diversity, and all abilities. Even if your book can reach just one person to imprint on their lives, it is worth doing because “inclusive books help raise inclusive minds.”

Maria considers herself an everyday person. She is a bi-racial American-born woman, mom, and now self-published author. She wants people to know that she had a goal and saw it through. Maria encourages anyone that has a specific goal to go for it! She tries to take her own advice that she always tells her kids – never say you can’t. If you want something hard enough and work for it, you will eventually get there. Maria is grateful that she followed through with her dream of becoming a children’s author because she knows that “Blaine Loves Boxes” is helping to shape the young minds that read it to be more empathetic and understanding of those around them.

“Inclusion is important to learn at a young age because kids learn people are all different,” Maria said. “It fosters things like understanding, acceptance and kindness – something the world needs more of.”

Desiree & Vinson: DIY Home Renovations

This is story 3 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Vinson and Desiree are a semi-newly engaged couple that bought their first home together in October 2021. The couple both transitioned to fully remote work during the pandemic and felt the struggle of their 1 bedroom apartment. They didn’t have much room, talked over each other in meetings, and their rent was only going to go up from there. It has always been a dream of theirs to buy a home, and with the help of their realtor and loan officer, their offer was accepted on a fixer upper home in Rialto, CA. It was anything but an easy journey from beginning to end, with a lot of twists and turns and unexpected expenses.

Vinson and Desiree wanted to document their journey of being “broke millennials,” renovating their home on a budget. Their Instagram page, @GenerationBrokeAF, was created mostly as a joke, but mainly as a way for them to document their progress on their new home. They officially got the keys to their home in January 2022, and ever since then, home renovations are all they eat, sleep, and think about. Vinson and Desiree knew that buying a fixer upper home meant that they had to put in a lot of work, especially since they would be DIY-ing the home mostly themselves to save some money. But they knew it would be worth it because they’d be literally creating and DIY-ing their dream home together.

“We also have an uncle that is a contractor who has helped us tremendously and taught us how to do things ourselves so we can save where we can,” they shared. “Between the two of us, Vinson is very hands-on and handy, builds and rips things out, etc. Desiree is more artistic vision, tying in our styles from before to after, etc. Together as a team it works and it’s been a fun, challenging, scary, exciting journey turning what was once the ‘ugliest house on the block’ into our ‘first dream home.'” 

Being homeowners was always something they wanted in their future. Desiree decided to take the first step and got pre-approved first. Then they got pre-approved together when they decided it was a journey they were going to embark on as a couple. Once they started the home buying process, they realized that it was do-able. They knew it was not going to be easy and things were going to be tight, but they felt ready for the challenge.

Vinson and Desiree didn’t know what they were getting themselves into, but once they started the process, the only choice was to keep pushing forward. However, they did have a list of things their future home must check off before they even considered it. The couple knew off the bat they wanted a single-family home rather than a condo or townhouse to avoid HOA fees – a payment that must be paid to cover the building’s maintenance like fitness centers, repairs, paying for the staff, etc. Being in a safe neighborhood was also a must so they could walk their dog, Bruno. And they knew they wanted their future home to be in an area that was up and coming with a lot of development and new growth in the near future. Vinson and Desiree wanted to be close to freeways and shopping centers – basically not in the middle of nowhere. With all of these standards, the couple had to find a home that fit their price range.

So, their shopping journey began. The two looked at so many properties every weekend with their realtor for about 4 months. Every weekend they were booked back to back for viewings, and sometimes that even spilled into their weekdays as well. Vinson and Desiree started to feel very discouraged as first time homebuyers because the market was hot around late 2021. The pair was getting out bid left and right, but they had to stay on their tight budget. They didn’t budge on the number they had in mind, and kept their realtor in the loop. He didn’t sugar coat it when he knew Vinson and Desiree didn’t have a chance with a certain property.

When Desiree got news that she was going to be transitioning to full-time work from home, it changed the game. Now, the couple didn’t have to worry about work commutes, so they started looking at other cities which were not possible before. Vinson was gone visiting his family the weekend Desiree found their home’s listing on Trulia. It was a Saturday morning and Desiree sent the listing to their realtor to see if they could squeeze in a viewing in between the other appointments they had booked for that day. They had an appointment to see their house later in the afternoon, but were already in the area after finishing up a viewing at a new build community, so they decided to stop by earlier. Call it divine intervention, but Desiree so happened to run into the previous owner who was fixing his motorcycle in the driveway. They started talking, the start of a strong rapport.

“As soon as we walked in, it was UGLY,” Desiree said remembering the first time she saw the inside of their home. “It was dark, they had stuff everywhere, there were punch holes in the wall, missing vanities, practice flooring in the living room, a poop green carpet – it did not show well at all. But I saw the damn potential – the huge backyard, the vaulted ceilings, the natural lighting, the location, the neighborhood, and LOVED it.”

Looking back, Desiree believes it was a good thing that Vinson was away that day because he would have hated their home. Even Desiree’s family who was with her that day were skeptical of the house because it was so ugly and “not for the faint of heart.” Still, Desiree saw the opportunity to make the house their own, and somehow convinced Vinson that it was a good idea to put in an offer. Their realtor also reassured them that they had a really good chance this time around because the house didn’t show well. And most importantly, they met the previous owner by chance. This worked to Vinson and Desiree’s advantage because they later discovered that they were not the highest bidder on the home, but because the previous owners had met her in person and liked her, they accepted their offer. Their home was the very first official offer they couple had ever put in.

It was hard for others to see the potential in their new home. But they knew that this was the best shot they had in investing in a home for themselves. They knew they were willing to put in the work, time, and sacrifice into something they wanted to be theirs. For Desiree, she felt all the emotions realizing they finally had their own home – scared, overwhelmed, excited, nerve-wrecking. While Vinson felt like it was a surreal moment because they were unable to live in the house once they started renovations. They wanted to do a fixer upper DIY home one day, but they never expected it would be their first home. Still, they feel privileged to be able to thoughtfully design their home. The whole renovation process has been so awesome to see because they see their hard work come to fruition.

During their homebuying processes, people, including their realtor, would tell Desiree and Vinson that “the house chooses you.” Now, they see the bigger picture of how everything happened the way it was supposed to, like deciding to just drop by hours before their actual tour time to check out the house. Had Desiree not gone, she would’ve never met the previous owner and believes they would’ve just been another paper application. And they thank Vinson’s dad for that divine intervention. When they first started the homebuying process, they lost Vinson’s dad to stage IV pancreatic cancer. So they always feel like they have a guardian angel on the other side to give them that helping hand right at the perfect time. Vinson’s dad also had an amazing tool collection, which the couple is using to build their house. It’s a comforting feeling because it feels like his father is building the house with them.

When they bought the house, they couldn’t move in immediately. They wanted to make the house their own and knew they had to start renovations. Vinson is a natural handy man, but doesn’t have a professional background in construction. However, his parents bought a fixer upper in 2015 that they gutted and rebuilt. It was a longer and bigger project than their home. During that time, Vinson observed a lot and started to help the construction workers and his parents during the building process. Because of his past experience with renovating houses, Vinson was confident gutting his own house as well. He’s also very detailed and does a lot of research before starting a new project in the house, so he somewhat feels like he knows what to expect and look for. And when he doesn’t, he asks Desiree’s Uncle Johnny, their general contractor of their home.

“Vinson and him work really closely together and because we are family, Johnny allowed us to have a more hands on experience with the renovation,” Desiree explained. “To this day he teaches and advises both of us, but especially Vinson, on whatever needs to be done so that Vinson can get hands on experience and Johnny can tackle the more difficult things that Vinson doesn’t feel comfortable doing, like anything electrical. It’s been awesome having him just a phone call or text away as a resource.”

Desiree and Vinson had a general vision of what they wanted their house to have. They both wanted a lot of light and wanted to renovate and design in a way that made the space feel bigger. But you never truly know a home until you’ve gutted it and see what you’re working with. They look to Instagram and Youtube for decoration inspiration and DIY hacks. And the open houses didn’t stop when they bought a house, the couple still enjoys going to open houses for more ideas on how to remodel their home. They like to go in different houses and imagine how they would remodel it if the home was theirs.

If buying a house taught the couple anything, it’s how to compromise. Desiree and Vinson fought and disagreed a lot from demoing the house to decorating. When they’re at a standstill on a decision, they ask a third person to tiebreak it. The other option is taking turns on who gets the final say – if someone got one thing, they’d have to compromise somewhere else in the house. Vinson wanted shaker style cabinets and doors throughout the house, which was more expensive, so Desiree was not in favor. Vinson got that compromise along with the decision to add extra lighting to their original plan. On the other hand, Desiree won more on the design, like the lighting fixtures, the size of the counters and bar area, and the color scheme of the house. They laugh that compromise is still a struggle to this day.

Before they officially moved in, Vinson and Desiree would work on their home on the weekends after work. There would even be times where they had to research or manage logistics while on the clock during work. Renovating their home took all of their free time. For 9 months it’s all they could focus on – it was the topic of every discussion, the only thing on their minds, and literally the only thing they could do since they were on a strict budget. And no 2 days of renovation ever looked the same. One day you’re determined to find materials at the best price, another day you are physically working non-stop the entire weekend, and another day you have no choice but to sit and wait for things to arrive.

It was Desiree’s idea to start their Instagram page, @GenerationBrokeAF. The running joke was the couple was too broke to do anything. After buying the house, they found themselves having to miss out on a lot of social events, stopped going out to eat so often, and really having to buckle down on saving money. On top of that, all of their free time went to the house, so the change of lifestyle had them feeling super left out. They got tired of explaining why the house was taking up so much of their time, and felt as though the people around them didn’t really understand how deep into it they were. So, they started the page to share their journey with family and friends, but also document the memories to look back on later. Seeing their journey through Instagram finally had those around them understand why they were so MIA. Desiree tips her hat to Vinson for demoing the house almost entirely by himself.

“It’s awesome for us to look back, compare the before and after photos, and see how much we’ve accomplished,” Desiree shared. “When we’re in it everyday, it’s harder to see the progress. We really wanted to show the REAL behind home buying and renovating – it’s ugly, sweaty and expensive but that the sacrifice is worth it. Also, we make it a point on our page to reiterate that it takes a village of support to succeed and that it’s okay to accept help and normalize it.”

The most difficult part of their journey so far is the money and patience. Vinson and Desiree feel like it’s a constant outpour of money, and once you begin the process, there’s not really a choice but to keep going. On top of feeling like all your money is just being funneled into one place, you feel like the process is never ending. They describe the process of rebuilding a home as “painfully slow.” It took a little over 9 months for Desiree and Vinson to make the house even livable. And in those 9 months there were a lot of unexpected things with the house that came up: termite damage, ticks, broken AC system, broken water heater, dead rats, etc.

Still, Vinson and Desiree try to save where they can. They started to DIY as much as they could, and admit that they don’t really know what they’re doing and have to go down a rabbit hole of research – mostly YouTube and other DIY-ers on Instagram that are also sharing their journey. When their vision for a certain part of the house proves to be too pricey, they’ve learned to achieve the same look for less money rather than changing their vision and opting for the cheapest option. Their most important relationship is with their contractor, Uncle Johnny, because he has the connections. A tip they have is: spend more money on durable materials for higher traffic areas in the house, but use less durable items for less traffic areas. You can achieve the same look for way cheaper if you realize what will be used more and what won’t.

Their home renovation process has really forced them to think outside of the box, especially since they’re working with a limited budget. It has tested their creativity in many ways. Sometimes what they wanted initially is not possible, so they have to pivot their idea around the skeleton of the home. For their kitchen, their original plan was to knock down some walls to make the area feel more open. But the walls they wanted to tear down were too load-bearing and would cost too much money to do. So they decided to make small tweaks like strategically picking their color scheme, extending the wall partition to a counter bar, and widening the door opening about 23 inches, which achieved the open kitchen feel they desired for a lot less money.

“We also had a coat closet downstairs, and the door placement ran into the garage door and the half bath door!” They shared remembering what they had to work with. “It was very tight. So what we ended up doing was just walling off the wall to that closet, and moving the door to the other side and turning it into a pantry for extra storage. It was a small, easy, and affordable change but made a huge difference in the house design.”

There were moments where the journey was super rough, but Desiree and Vinson knew that quitting was never an option. From the beginning they knew that buying a home meant all hands were on deck, they were tight on money and literally had no choice but to follow through even if they were showing signs of fatigue and regret. Stopping was never in their cards, especially when they have a whole village behind them backing them up. They want to emphasize how they didn’t do any of this on their own. The obvious person that they are so grateful for is Uncle Johnny for sharing his knowledge and tips with them. But the support continues to pour in from everyone in their lives. From their realtor and mortgage lender who made it possible for the to say they’re homeowners, to their moms who have supported them emotionally when things got tough, financially when unexpected expenses came up, and physically when they made sure they ate and let them stay rent free during the renovations, to their friends being understanding of the process and not guilt tripping them, to aunts and uncles sharing discounts and design ideas, to cousins showing their support, to neighbors looking out for the house while they’re away, their list goes on, and they are very thankful.

Buying a home and renovating it taught the couple a lot. The most important thing they’ve learned is how to compromise with each other. They have been together for 7 years, so patience is a must when you mix home renovations with your relationship. Their typical dates now consist of home improvements around the house. Desiree and Vinson had to learn how to manage their emotions with one another, especially when they were hungry, tired, sweaty, dirty, and frustrated from working on the house all day or having another unforeseen mishap occur. Desiree and Vinson also stress the importance of taking your time – though the journey may be long, in the end it is worth it. They’ve learned not to rush the process because it will just result in wasting your time because it has to be redone, and it wastes your money because you have to account for more materials.

And Desiree and Vinson know what it’s like first hand to wait and be patient. It took about 9 months of them working on the house every weekend and during some weekdays to finally move in. They just recently moved into their house! They admit that the house still has a lot of things to be done still, but it’s more than enough for them to live in – finally! The couple is so thrilled to finally be able to enjoy their home, which they’ve worked so hard on for the majority of 2022. They don’t think their home improvements will ever be completely over. They know that their home will always require maintenance and it’s an ongoing project, but now they feel confident to tackle on whatever projects that their home will need in the future.

As for their Instagram page, Desiree and Vinson still plan to use it even after the major renovations are done. They’ve found it hard to keep up with posting content on the page because the couple is not big on posting much on their personal socials either, but they’re working on consistent content to continue sharing their journey. They’re excited to share more of their smaller DIY projects, and it has motivated them to come up with a list of projects they can continue to work on.

For Desiree, her favorite before and after in the house is their kitchen and pantry closet, while Vinson’s favorite is their master bathroom. There’s so much work that went into each room that most people won’t even know or notice, but that makes the end product that much more satisfying for them. But now that they’re finally moved into the house, their favorite part is finally being able to hangout with friends and family again. They love that they can invite family and friends over for dinner, game nights, movie nights, or even no reason at all but to just hangout – this is what they envisioned and waited so long for.

Vinson and Desiree want their readers to leave with this:

“We’re literally just two young adults in this stupid expensive overly inflated housing market trying to get our foot in the door,” they said. “We had no idea what we were doing but we knew we wanted to own. If we didn’t take the risk by just calling our realtor and having a conversation with him about what was possible and what our next steps should be to be able to own for the first time, we wouldn’t be here. We didn’t even think it was a possibility so soon! We also are very blessed with the village of support we have. We hope our story at least inspires other young millennials to know it’s still possible to be a first time home buyer in this shitty market and it’s worth the risk and sacrifice if you have the opportunity. We are paying less than what we would have in a two bedroom apartment. Our home value has increased 24% since we purchased 10 months ago, and we think once appraised with the renovations it will be much higher. There’s no way we could have saved that much paying for rent where we get no return. Fixer uppers are kinda fun and we hope to be able to get into real estate and flip one day! Vinson loves it and might even consider doing more contractor work on the side as a hobby. Don’t be intimidated with fixer uppers! It’s crazy what new floors and paint can do, if you can see past what’s in front of you.”

Lex: The Multidisciplinary Artist

This is story 2 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Picture of Artist, Lex, with one of her paintings

Lex is a Los Angeles / Bay Area-based Afro-Latina artist. Her talents range from digital art, drawing, designing posters, and so much more, but her preferred medium is painting. Her art is heavily inspired by her culture. Being a Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan woman, Lex’s goal is to uplift and inspire women of color with her artwork.

“I have been exploring art mediums since I was a little girl, I was always known as the ‘artsy kid’ at school,” Lex shares. “Art has always been a way for me to express my inner voice and it’s a calming meditative activity. I am passionate about bringing art into my community to uplift voices…”

Lex’s mother always encouraged her to take art more seriously if it was the profession she was trying to get into. So she started to get serious about her craft. When she was a sophomore in high school, she tried to take AP Art, even though she knew it was only offered to seniors. But Lex tried to shoot her shot anyways and spoke with the AP Art teacher. She explained that she didn’t want to wait that long to hone in on her craft, so the teacher suggested that Lex apply for a scholarship program that would allow her to utilize her time where she could still learn art at a higher level until she was a senior. She is so grateful that she made the decision to talk to the AP teacher because she ended up applying to the scholarship program and getting in.

This wasn’t a typical high school course. In fact, it was actually a college course at Otis College of Art and Design. Different art professors from around Southern California and other universities would teach high school students art. These classes taught high school students the basics and fundamentals of different art techniques. Lex remembers working with acrylics in the class, and has used those skills to this day. The course touched on different styles like figure drawing, portraits, drawing, body proportions, architecture, shadows, and perspective. Lex was completely open to whatever the teachers had to teach, even if she was more interested in some lessons more than others, she knew that everything taught was for her benefit.

This is a scholarship program meant for those that take art seriously and are dedicated to learning more. This is because it’s a course that takes place during the weekends. For 3 semesters, Lex spent her Sundays at Otis for 4 hours. She remembers trucking her art supplies and portfolio back and forth to class every Sunday without fail. Lex never missed a class because her parents wouldn’t allow it, but also because she never wanted to. She was totally immersed in all the new techniques that she was adding to her art toolbox. The course never gave a grade for any project. Instead, they would get critiqued on how to improve or do better. It was an experience she was so grateful to be a part of, because it expanded her artistic knowledge.

After being in the scholarship program for 3 semesters, Lex was finally able to be in the AP Art class at her high school. Even though she transferred high schools, she is still grateful for the art teacher at her old school for introducing her to the scholarship program. It really made Lex more focused her senior year, and her last year of high school was dedicated to building her portfolio and strengthening her techniques. To this day, many years later, Lex still looks back to her earlier projects from high school for inspiration. She likes that she can improve an old idea, make it come to life in another way, or digitalize it with the new skills she knows now. For her, her old work is inspiration to keep creating because she can always go another direction with it.

“I’m going back to them and trying to think how I can make them better in the way that I do digital art,” Lex explained. “Or even my paintings now, I’m like, ‘Okay, that was a nice idea, but how can I reform that into something better?‘”

Her freshman year of college, Lex mentally laid out her options on the table. She wanted to pick a major that was more technical but still allowed her to be artsy. Lex entertained the idea of graphic design because she knew she wanted to do something creative in the long run. She was inspired by the idea of all the different work possibilities that graphic design could offer. So she searched up if San Francisco State had a graphic design program, and to her luck, they did. She applied for the program on the very last day and got in.

It was stressful at first when Lex took her very first graphic design class. At this point, she was so used to physically creating art. She felt as though she had mastered acrylics and was always trying to find new materials to practice on. Anything she got her hands on, she would experiment with it. Now, it was a different ball game. Lex wanted to be on the same level as her peers who already had knowledge on graphic design. But her peers were very supportive – reminding her that she’s there to learn, and never to fear because YouTube will always help you out! With that, Lex was excited to learn more about digital art and totally immerse herself into her major. Throughout her college years, Lex would do her best to juggle being a student, having jobs, and working on her own art side projects outside of school assignments.

Lex is the first in her family to pursue an artistic profession. Before she went to college, her parents’ vibe was very supportive. They knew how passionate Lex was about creating art, so they encouraged her to learn and practice as much as she could. When she got to college, her parents were a little worried about her decision to pursue art, but only because they had the typical parent reaction to their child pursuing something outside of the medical or law field. But they have always came back to the same conclusion – as long as Lex was passionate about what she was pursuing, confident about her work and in herself, and knew what she was doing, she had their full support. They didn’t know too much about design, but they genuinely felt like it was a good choice that if she were to study art, San Francisco is where Lex should be.

And the Bay Area is where Lex remained even after graduating college. She jokes that she still feels some type of way about referring to herself as a “Bay Area-based artist,” because she wasn’t born and raised in the area. She grew up in Southern California and considers herself an LA-based artist because of it. Even with 6 years living in San Francisco under her belt, Lex laughs that she doesn’t want Bay Area natives coming for her because she respects and loves the Bay. She does find herself traveling to SoCal often to see family, friends, and attend art events, so she is very much so equally a LA/SF-based artist.

For Lex, representation is everything. Her art gravitates towards her feminine energy. She absolutely loves painting women of color. Lex appreciates all the love and support that she receives from women who resonate with her work. This is really important to her because the margin of women in art galleries are about 3% of the total, leaving the other 97% to men. So she makes it a point to represent the women of color who are not represented in the art scene. Lex loves to paint women with really curly hair. Her Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan roots shine through her pieces. She knows that women of color will only make it in mainstream media if women of color continue to push out content of women of color.

Lex likes to sell her stickers and her prints at any art event she can attend. She appreciates that she can showcase her art in that way. She always tries to attend art events mostly in the Bay Area or SoCal because she wants to be a part of the artist community. Her friend, who is also an artist, will send Lex information on any art events that she knows of, and together the 2 friends will apply. They’re always finding new events through word of mouth. Her goal is to meet new creatives and surround herself with like-minded individuals. Being around creatives and other artistic people inspires her to keep creating as well.

Lex goes against the grain in many ways as an artist. She doesn’t sell her art with the hope and intention that she blows up and can turn it into a big business one day. Instead, she creates when she wants to create and makes sure that she enjoys the process. To her, quality over quantity is the key. Lex knows that there are people out there that will take her work seriously, she doesn’t have to try too hard to get people to recognize her work. If people resonate with it, awesome, if not, then it doesn’t. For those that do appreciate her craft and ask for custom pieces, Lex is always happy to take personal commissions.

Lex is aware that commissions are not necessarily what she would want on canvas, but more so what the other person wants. She has her own style of painting that attracted the customer, so it is “hers” in that sense, but at the end of the day it’s the customer’s vision and opinion that matters. This is why Lex makes sure that on top of commissions, she is also working on art for herself. She did a commission for a family friend where she did a family portrait with simple shapes. This inspired her to start a new series trying to capture the essence of family and what that looks like to different people.

Her series focusing on families is inspired by Africana art, using simple geometric shapes, a lot of color, and minimal details. Lex’s vision was to grasp the meaning of family and togetherness, emphasizing that family looks different to every person. To Lex, your family and those you choose to surround yourself with makes you who you are. Your identity stems from your family roots. Family looks different to everyone, whether that be your blood family, friend group, or even a pet. Who you consider family is a reflection of yourself. She has posted some of these paintings on her Instagram pages, @graphixbylex & @mythirdeyee.

“I find creating art as my meditation,” Lex said. “I find so much joy and confidence in it that sometimes I stray away from posting every art piece on the internet because of harsh criticism, people /companies stealing your ideas, or setting an expectation that if I post online – it will gain ‘this amount’ of interaction.”

In the past, Lex tried to keep up with social media algorithms to promote her work. As an artist, of course you want your work to be seen, so it can be easy to get lost in the rules and restrictions to make sure your account is successful. Instagram is Lex’s social media platform of choice, but after a while, it stressed her out keeping up with the different tips to essentially stay relevant. All the algorithms made Lex feel as though social media forces creatives into posting a certain way and fit into the same box to gain followers, and that was something she was not okay with.

Lex decided a while ago that she wasn’t going to stress herself out with all the tips and tricks to be more “visible” on social media. If she were to abide by those standards, she feels as though her creative process would be rushed. She doesn’t like the pressure of feeling the need to post every 3 or so days to stay relevant. Instead of promoting creativity, it restricts creatives and becomes chaotic. It starts to feel like a mandatory action, which takes the enjoyment out of the process. For Lex, it’s quality over quantity. She enjoys taking her time creating and doesn’t let the idea of views get to her. Instead, she uses social media as a tool to showcase her work that she’s most proud of, nothing is ever forced.

She knows first hand the struggle of wanting to be totally immersed in her craft, but knows at the end of the day she has bills to pay. She took on a job during the pandemic and felt as though it took all of her time and energy. Lex didn’t really have much of a summer, didn’t have time to travel, and then also got COVID which resulted in a time period of huge creative block. She wanted to have time to create for herself like she used to, but had to find a balance in her life to make that possible.

On top of that, 2022 brought on a lot of changes. After she lost someone close to her, her motivation to create was non-existent. Lex knew she had to focus on her family at the time, so gave herself grace and patience. Lex thinks the most important thing as an artist is to remain grounded. She didn’t force herself to create during the difficult times in her life, but instead chose to do things that made her happy. Lex finds solace being in nature, sometimes literally grounding herself like taking naps in the botanical gardens when she had a chance. She takes time to recharge by allowing herself to take breaks, go to art museums, and talking with family and friends to spark that interest again.

A big goal that Lex hopes to achieve on day is being recognized in Art Basel. Lex describes it as an event where they highlight artists in the community and sell their paintings. She would love to be recognized in that platform, not for the clout or attention, but because it would mean that people resonate with her art at a higher level. Lex wants people to know how much representing her culture means to her. She wants to represent women of color in her work until she doesn’t have to say she’s the first / only Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan woman to do XYZ. She thinks it’s so important to make roots in the communities that she’s a part of, so you’ll always find her supporting women of color, going to art events up and down California, and being invested in the community. She is also part of the reason why SF State has the Afro-Latiné Club.

Another personal goal that Lex has is to open a program for children in the next 10 years or so that is art and science based. This is something that her and the person she lost earlier this year would talk extensively about. Lex is very passionate and motivated to get that program running and focus on the 5th grade level. Growing up, Lex wasn’t a science person, but believes that had she had access to it at a young age, it could’ve been a possibility. There are not many programs that focus on science and art, so she feels that this is something her community could benefit from. It’s important to her to funnel back that love, support, and inspiration back into the community.

Lex’s creative journey has not been an easy road. She has dealt with her fair share of ups and downs: dealing with art block, having to go to school while balancing 2 jobs, feeling the pressure of posting consistent content online, and losing family members along the way. Life has thrown her many curveballs, but nonetheless, she still chooses to use creating art as her favorite form of meditation.