Book Review and Thank You Letter “The First Phone Call from Heaven” by Mitch Albom

By: Giselle General

It may sound silly but yes, I am writing a thank you letter to an object, which is the Little Free Library in a neighbourhood that was a 20 minute walk from my home. These are my thoughts after reading a book I got from it, “The First Phone Call From Heaven” by Mitch Albom.


August 15, 2022

Dear little Free Library. I think you’re pretty new, I haven’t seen you before the moment I saw this particular book that caught my attention. Overall, I’m a fan of this particular author, thinking back when I first saw a book written by him titles The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

I have also read another book by him titled Tuesdays with Morrie. So, I have an idea of what to expect in his books. There will be an overall theme of wholeheartedness and inspiration. There will be undertones of religion and spirituality. There will be themes about love and loss and death. And upon reading this book, I was not disappointed. That’s exactly what’s in it.

The premise of this book is about a pilot who is grieving the death of his wife, and missing opportunities to support his family since he was in prison due to criminal charges put forward from a plane crash. He returned to the small town where he grew up where a seemingly mysterious series of events started to occur. Several people in the small town started to receive what they claim were phone calls from dead loved ones claiming that they are from heaven. Alongside the struggles of this pilot, there was a journalist from out of town assigned to cover this story. As word of this seemingly miraculous and extraordinary event spread across the world, the town was whipped into a frenzy.

I will try not to give out too many spoilers, but all I can say is that answers were discovered behind how the phone calls were happening, and for many of the people affected, it resulted into profound effects that changed their outlook in life and family. It talks about how people’s lives are interconnected in numerous, often unexpected ways, and sometimes, people’s actions affect us in ways that we might never know, for better or worse.

For me personally, what affected me most about the book is not about the moral or the plot or the writing. I mean, it is pretty good, and I enjoyed reading it.

What I found moving and striking is an experience that is first for me, to have a character with my name in a fiction book. On top of that, for the character, Giselle, to be the dead wife that the protagonist is still grieving about! There’s no need to imagine or daydream this time in order to relate to a character – the book’s writing made it very direct, very explicit.

I am married to a man I love very much. I also struggle with suicidal ideation. While I haven’t actively done things to end my life in recent years, my heart continues to feel heavy with what is described as survivor’s guilt. Many a time I have daydreamed about what would happen when my life ends, if it ends soon. The fact that in just a few years, I’m reaching my mother’s age when she died, when she died saving me, is not helping matters.

But in this book, I was confronted with an experience I haven’t had before. Seeing the words of a grieving husband, who continued to say how much he loves and misses his wife, Giselle. The anger and pain of someone who missed her funeral because he was in prison, with undertones of helplessness and despair as he adjusts to the life of being a single parent for their little boy. This time around, there’s no need for me to wonder, ‘what would my own husband say or think, in the days, weeks or months just after my death?’ In many ways, words and thoughts could very much be his.

How has this affected my suicidal ideation? Words cannot express, but there is something that fundamentally shifted there.

After reading the book, I saw on the inside of the back cover, that there’s a sticker, one of those customized labels with people’s name and address so they can easily put it in outgoing mail. This book, at one point, was owned by a woman named Marilyn. The address is in Edmonton, but it is not in the Patricia Heights neighbourhood. Still on the west end, but a few neighbourhoods north.

Little Free Library by the end row of houses in the Patricia Heights neighbourhood: you have presented me with a unique experience and a profound gift. I’m still processing it, frankly speaking.

For now, all I can say is “thank you” and “wow”. The collection of Little Free Libraries for the neighbourhood is still growing, as well as all over the city. I wish that you continue to house and share books, knowledge and joy for years to come.

Transit Routes Made us Move! The Captive Transit User Series: Part 8

A snowy sidewalk with a sign saying "ETS Bus Stop" learning against a teelphone pole.

By: Giselle General

This is part of an ongoing series of posts discussion issues I personally encounter while taking public transit in Edmonton. Links to other posts will be added on an ongoing basis:

What is a Captive Transit User? I learned about the term for the first time from the City of Edmonton’s website. The easy definition is: someone who takes public transit because it’s the best (or only available) option for them to travel around. The part about feeling ‘captive’ comes from the restriction that sometimes comes up, perhaps because one is too poor to own and maintain a vehicle, one does not know how to drive, or for medical reasons, cannot operate a vehicle. In many ways, I relate to this a lot. Though I’m pretty fortunate to afford the occasional taxi ride, and with my husband having a car


It finally happened! Well, technically the decision was last December which is already half a hear ago. Putting up with the huge change in transit routes in my former neighbourhood, in addition to re-evaluating my life after losing in the the municipal elections, prompted me and my husband to sell our home.

This time around, I didn’t need to grab a paper map of all the city-wide bus routes. Google Maps is much more handy this time around. So it is much easier to assess the bus routes to and from downtown and other parts of the city, at various times of the day.

In addition to the very desirable financial aspect of being mortgage free, having access to bus routes similar to the former number 4 route, or better, is a key criteria. And that is absolutely what we achieved in the townhouse we bought near the Misericordia Hospital on the west end. We officially moved in Spring 2022.

I used to want roommates. Now I want affordable. And always, I need the bus…

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/first-person-henday-project-giselle-general-1.6441221

This time around, the routes I have access to is many times better than my former neighbourhood. In my former home, I was already happy with that one bus route since it is so frequent and available from early morning and late night. Now, since I am along the major road which is 87 avenue, I have access to two of these frequent bus routes, in addition to several 3-digit community routes and 2-digit cross-city routes. And many times, when I have to do errands, walking is a very feasible option. Walking under 20 minutes, I have access to many five business plazas, including West Edmonton Mall!

Living in a place with convenient transit and walking routes meant I haven’t had a taxi or rideshare trip since May, and as of writing this it is already July! In the past, when I am running a bit late going home from work, I’d take a taxi or rideshare. My monthly budget for this is about $150 a month. Looks like I will be way in the green at the end of the year.

Even the construction happening right next to me isn’t a bother at all. The construction company seems to diligently make efforts to provide proper signage for detours for cars and pedestrians, and adequate notification if construction needed to be a bit noisy at night. Sure it might be about a decade or so, but it would be even more remarkable when we have an LRT station just a stone’s throw away.

This is the ultimate goal, what I hope everyone can have – to have “transit so boring you don’t even check the schedule”. This is my experience now, and in my opinion, that is what it takes for people to trust and choose transit as a serious mode of transportation living in this city.

Community Resource Article – When Debt Issues Arise

By: Giselle General

This article was also submitted by the author as a contribution to the Alberta Filipino Journal (a cultural/ community newspaper in the province of Alberta, Canada) in June 2022.

Managing one’s finances is an important responsibility in order for us to have a comfortable life. But sometimes, unexpected things happen, and we find ourselves in a difficult financial situation. Perhaps the bills, mortgage, rent or credit card payments were left unpaid too many times and things have escalated a bit. Perhaps you are about to lose your home, or received a court document, or been subjected to aggressive phone calls or messages from those who want payment.

Here are some resources that can help when financial problems turn for the worse.

When Financial Debt Requires Legal Help

  1. Consumer Debt Negotiation Project Program – Edmonton Community Legal Centre: Many of us have consumer debt, such as credit card payments, car loans, personal loans, even a mortgage. You might be falling behind on payments, and you discovered that there is a legal action that happened, let’s say, you received a court document from the bank or the company you owe money to. You can contact this free program so you can get an opportunity to speak to a lawyer to get help.To contact this service, to go the website https://www.eclc.ca/need-legal-support/ and then click on the box that says “For Consumer Debt Negotiation Project”

Emergency Financial Supports

  1. Community Bridge Program: Funds To Prevent Getting Kicked Out by Landlord: If you are renting the place where you live right now, and you fell behind on rent payments, it is likely that your landlord would want to evict you. Getting kicked out of the place where you live can be very stressful and disruptive. This program is a financial ‘rapid response’ as a last resort so you can stay in your place and make payments you missed. The link to access this program is https://bissellcentre.org/programs/individual/community-bridge/
  2. Emergency Needs Allowance – Government of Alberta: This is a program direct from the Alberta Government for when you face an unexpected emergency that can present a health risk and caused by unexpected circumstances that you cannot pay for. It can cover a wide range of needs such as food, clothing, childcare, temporary shelter, utility payments, eviction payments and more. The link to get more information and how to apply is:    https://www.alberta.ca/emergency-financial-assistance.aspx

Financial Literacy – Learning about Money Management

  1. Credit Counselling Society – Online Courses: This is a self-paced online course that focus on financial management skills such as learning the realities of credit, budgeting, spending on food, and more. In addition to the online courses, they also have other ways to support when you are currently facing financial difficulty. https://nomoredebts.org/financial-education/online-courses  
  2. Each One, Teach One: This program is designed for bankers to deliver basic financial literacy workshops to newcomers, refugees, individuals who face barriers to financial services, and people living in low-income communities, in a “teach the teacher” type of format. It is comprehensive, as it covers topics beyond just budgeting and debt, such as investments, contracts, and fraud prevention.  https://www.myunitedway.ca/each-one-teach-one/
  3. Money Mentors Financial Education: Money Mentors also provides services to help people in financial difficulties, and they have also educational content on their website. The catalogue is even more comprehensive than the other two, addressing other complex but common issues like preparing financially for a baby, having unpredictable income sources, home ownership, money discussions in inter-generational households, and many more.   https://moneymentors.ca/financial-education/  

This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope that this is a useful starting point. After you contact these resources, it is possible also that they might recommend other programs and services to help with your situation. Having financial issues can be stressful and embarrassing, but a lot of the time, the staff and volunteers that are part of these programs are understanding and compassionate. When contacting them, I highly recommend sharing all the necessary details and not leave out information even if it feels shameful. Complete transparency is important for them to understand your compete situation in order for you to get the best help you need.

Free Man and Woman Sitting at Table Stock Photo

Community Resource Article – Opportunities to Volunteer

By: Giselle General

This article was also submitted by the author as a contribution to the Alberta Filipino Journal (a cultural/ community newspaper in the province of Alberta, Canada) in April 2022

In hounour of National Volunteer Week which is on April 24, I would like to share some opportunities and resources when it comes to volunteering. A short definition of volunteering is doing a task where you are unpaid, or paid a very small amount that it wouldn’t fit the minimum wage requirements, that supports a charitable or community-oriented objective.

This is a very small list of the thousands of opportunities available, but the ones I’d like for our readers to consider.

Right In The Neighbourhood and the City of Edmonton

  1. Community League of your Neighbourhood: “Bayanihan para sa kapitbahay” is my simplified description of community leagues. Being helpful toward our neighbours, is the spirit of the neighbourhood Community League. Much like a people-run barangay association, your community league is a volunteer-based organization in the neighbourhood that helps plan social events, help advocate for issues in your neighbourhood, and at times they might have a hall where they maintain some local amenities. To know where you community league is, go to the website of the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues: www.efcl.org
  2. City of Edmonton Volunteer Catalogue: The City of Edmonton, as in the actual municipal government, offers many services to everyday Edmontonians. For some of these event or programs, there are ways to volunteer and help! I personally have been a greeter for the city’s Free Admission Day in a local tourist attraction, and I have helped plant trees in a large park one summer. The link to set up your account and apply is: https://app.betterimpact.com/PublicEnterprise/9e275823-c9e5-46df-a092-b2c5b18d2526

Volunteer in the Filipino Community

  1. Edmonton Philippine International Centre: The goal of this organization is for the Filipino community to have our own building as a gathering place, event space and place we can go for support and connection. This is a remarkable and ambitious goal and help is needed from as many people as possible. The website to learn about them is https://www.epicalberta.com/
  2. Migrante Alberta: This is an organization that does advocacy work to help better the lives of migrants in our province. Helping hands and attendance is always appreciated in many of their activities, whether it is to lobby the government to address certain policies, events to help educate the community, or providing direct assistance to our fellow migrants in crisis. https://www.migrantealberta.ca/
  3. Organizations under COPA and CEFA: Congress of the Philippine Associations of Alberta (COPA) and CEFA (Council of Edmonton Filipino Associations) can be an opportunity to be more connected to the Filipino community, whether it is by helping these organizational bodies, or finding an affiliate association in the group. Both organizations are searchable on Facebook. 

Interest-Oriented Opportunities

  1. Next Gen Men: Their mission is to have “a future were boys and men feel less pain and cause less harm”. If you are a parent, a community member or someone keen on ensuring men and boys are supported in their development as physically and emotionally healthy individuals, getting involved with them might be a good idea. https://www.nextgenmen.ca/
  2. Political Parties and the Provincial Elections: The provincial election is next year, and volunteer opportunities are available to those who want to either a candidate running under a political party name, or a political party overall. If you do an online search for your location and for a political party you are interested in, there will be opportunities to be hands on in making the change you want to see and that’s on the ground level of election season.
  3. Big Brother Big Sisters: For those who enjoy working with kids on helping them, this organization can be a great way to volunteer. There are different programs, from one-on-one mentorship, after school programs, and even virtual mentoring. https://bgcbigs.ca/ pexels

There are numerous ways to volunteer and the benefits are mutual, not just for the people or organizations being helped, but also for the person volunteering. Volunteering helps someone gain new skills, maintain positive mental health through socialization and positively impacting another person’s life, and can also lead to other career and learning opportunities.

Free stock photo of assistance, bio, care Stock Photo

“Matanim ay ‘di Biro!” On Indoor Plant Care

By: Giselle General

Magtanim ay di biro, Maghapong nakayuko, Di naman makatayo, Di naman makaupo! (Planting is not a joke, as you need to bend over all afternoon, you cannot stand, you cannot sit!)

This is a folk song I remember learning as a child, about the hard work that is required to plant rice in farming fields. While I personally haven’t experienced that as a child since I grew up in a mountainous region in the Philippines before coming to Canada, it got instilled in my mind that care for plants is a serious and important thing.

Potted plants were a common thing in the homes where I lived in both countries. They came in different forms: an outdoor plant box, milk cans or clay pots for indoor plants, or just a raised garden bed right by the stairs leading up to the house. But plant care in Canada was a whole different ball game since the drastically changing seasons dictate what, when and how plants need to be care for.

I started paying more attention to indoor plants in the places I lived in, when I moved in with my then boyfriend, now husband. In his condo, he had one potted plant that he got from his mom as a housewarming gift. It’s one of those generic types of plants seen in many people’s homes. He had a nickname for it that stuck, Mr. Plant. We found the perfect spot for it, right beside the narrow living room window, perched by the edge of the TV stand. It was relatively low maintenance, watering it once a week and not putting any fertilizer was enough for it to survive long enough for us to take it to the house we moved in to in 2015.

That house came with one plant that was hanging by the stairwell ceiling, so we nicknamed it H. Plant, and yes H stands for “hanging”. We watered it regularly but didn’t put fertilizer as we never got into the habit of it. When there were a few leaves that were dying, I’d cut them off and put it in the pot, hoping to myself that it can be somehow a fertilizer substitute. I thought, it’s organic material, right? We also inherited an Aloe Vera plant from our friend, after their then newly-acquired cat kept on attacking it, which we aptly nicknamed A.V. Plant. It’s quite obvious that we name things in a practical, not creative way. We got a few other small pots of plants that didn’t survive as long, such as the one I got as a wedding gift, and one free pot I got from work for Earth Day.

A plate of spaghetti with homemade pesto sauce.

Sometime later in the year 2021, when we were shopping at Costco, my husband decided to take an impulse purchase, which is very rare. He decided to get tabletop Aerogarden, which is a techy pot for plants that uses water, fertilizer, with buttons and a digital screen to remind you to add water, change water, put fertilizer, and more. This was set up for planting herbs. I was at first skeptical of it, but the husband seems eager to try it, and promised to be on top of the maintenance. And it worked! Some of the plants grew early and quickly, and I had to keep up with trimming and harvesting the herbs and integrate them in our meals. That has been pretty fun, and delicious! The best part for me is being able to make homemade pesto with the very healthy basis plants (both Genove Basil and Thai basil) that is tasty and nut free. The dill has died and we tried to put a root of a spring onion and it also worked!

As a couple, we’ve never really been the type to pick plants for our house because they are pretty. We were so low maintenance and unmotivated to put plants in our front lawn and backyard in the bigger house we had! But the Aerogarden sparked a new interest to plant things that are more of a win-win for us, healthy because of better air quality inside the house, and healthy because they are edible. In Edmonton, there’s also additional conversations about edible gardens in outdoor settings. More people are setting up fruit and vegetable garden beds and pots in their front yard, more neighbourhood groups are setting up community gardens (including my own), and the city is helping those who want to put edible food plants in trails and neighbourhood ponds.

In addition to increased conversations about planing for sustenance, there’s also more encouragement towards planting outdoors with a goal towards naturalization. As in, planting pants, shrubs, bushes that are native plant species in the area, and in a way where mowing won’t be necessary. I thought that there’s merit to the idea, and I’m eager to see more people take up on it. Now that we moved to a townhouse with a very small patch of dirt under our property lines, I don’t think we’ll be able to contribute much to this idea. Overall, it’s pretty neat to see what captures people’s interest in plant care in their homes and immediate surroundings!

The Courage from Admitting Fear

Giselle thinking while resting her face on her hands

By: Giselle General

“That is a cool idea, my love. But I don’t feel comfortable initiating that at all. If we’re gonna do it, I need you to set it up, or at least do it along with me.”

When you are so used to being your own provider, advocate, and nurturer, when you are in survival mode for so long, being afraid can be devastating. Feeling fear means being vulnerable, which means being harmed, putting myself and the people I care about the most (which for most of my childhood would be my brother), at huge physical and emotional risk. The pain would be a double-whammy, from the situation and how our unmet practical needs are exposed, and from the heartache from realizing there is no one to rely on.

Being vulnerable enough to express discomfort is one of the biggest risks I’ve taken, and continue to take, in my adult life. The only setting where I’ve felt okay enough to do this, is the place that matters that most, my own home.

For me, admitting fear involves these different parts and with all of them together, has helped in addressing, confronting or putting things in perspective.

First, is giving myself permission to be concerned or afraid or threatened. Learning that ’emotions are information’ is the foundation of me being able to do this. I’ve learned to not immediately attach a moral assessment to my emotions, and that the concern or fear is related to something about how I perceive my environment. Since all emotions are valid, I’ve learned that it is okay for my mind and hear to express whatever I am feeling in that moment.

Second, is labeling, putting into words the type of fear, and saying it out loud. Anxious, uncomfortable, overwhelmed, unsafe, uncertain, confused, worried about being injured, are just some of the ways I now express my fear about something. Another important part is being able to assess and rate the level of fear. It can be 2 out of 10 level of worry about something in the near future. It can be a split second 5 out of 10 quick jump scare because a garden snake jumped out to our walking path. It could be a 4 out of 10 moment of anxiousness because of having to go door-knocking as a political candidate who is a visibly Asian woman. I realized that the more specific the descriptor and the number rating, the more capable I am in doing the next two steps.

Third, is reaching out to express it. This is also a work in progress. Even the mere act of saying, just to myself “hoo boy, I’m worried about this!” is a milestone in itself. A few times, I’ve come along with my husband and his running group that has meetups all year long, including winter at -30. During one of the winter runs during a milder day, I joined him and the route involved some trails along a side of a hill, doable in the summer but with ice and snow it’s a bit tricky. Allowing myself to even pause and look afraid for long enough for my husband to notice my apprehension, is a form of expression I wasn’t always able to do.

The final one, is to find solutions and asserting my boundaries. I eventually learned that it is okay, it is possible, to move away from the threat. There are a variety of solutions, whether it is just vent and let it go, or monitor the situation because I’m more informed and equipped these days, or let someone do the heavy lifting on my behalf. It sounds like a no-brainer, but I now feel okay saying “that will be physically or medically unsafe, so no thank you” or not be ashamed to tell myself that my financial security is more important at this point.

Two hands reaching out to hold each other

For so long, the definition of courage that I embraced is in enduring, persisting, putting a brave face. All of that is important, and all of that is out of necessity. My goodness though, it is nice to not to do that all the time. I want to close this post with the lyrices of a song that always resonates with me when thinking about this topic, “The Warrior is a Child” by Gary Valenciano.

Lately I’ve been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I’m amazing
I’m strong beyond my years
But they don’t see inside of me
I’m hiding all the tears

They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child

Unafraid because his armor is the best
But even soldiers need a quiet place to rest
People say that I’m amazing
I never face retreat
But they don’t see the enemies
That lay me at his feet

They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while (I cry for just a while)
‘Cause deep inside this armor (deep inside this armor)
The warrior is a child

They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and look up for a smile
‘Cause deep inside this armor (deep inside)

Deep inside this armor (deep inside this armor)
Deep inside this armor (deep inside this armor)
The warrior is a child

Telephone Therapy Appointments: 3 Tips

Giselle wearing a black T shirt and red headphones

By: Giselle General

Therapy, the mental health kind, is something that I have been doing on and off since 2017. It’s remarkable how much time has passed since I first experienced going to a centre with a business-and-clinic vibe waiting room, and sitting in a cozy office with a couch-like chair and chatting with a professional with a clipboard.

Due to the pandemic, I had my first opportunity to do a few virtual therapy sessions with someone I’ve met in person a few times. It worked out well because I’ve met her in-person many times before, so there is a rapport and a baseline of trust.

Now, I’ve been having appointments on a regular basis with my latest therapist for the past two and a half years now. This doctor, I’ve never met in person at all! The primary format of their mental health service is telephone appointments, so video meetings were not even an option. When I asked my family doctor’s clinic to be referred to this service though, I know I needed regular and ongoing mental health support without worrying about whether I’ll ran out of appointments.

Here’s an overview of my top three tips on how to make telephone therapy appointments as successful as possible.

First: Mindset and Expectations

Telephone therapy appointments, in terms of actual logistics, is different in many ways compared to virtual or in-person therapy.

The lack of opportunity to see facial expressions or nonverbal cues is a disadvantage. They will have a difficult or impossible time telling whether you are lying or withholding information. So in my opinion, this is most suitable for someone willing and able to be more forthcoming with their struggles. I think that telephone therapy can help a lot with issues that are not an escalated crisis.

For those that might have trouble being too vulnerable in a closed off space like an office, or might even have trouble with being honest when someone is watching their face, then telephone appointments can be advantageous. It can help someone be more up front because they don’t have to be afraid of seeing their doctor’s facial reactions immediately upon hearing their comments or stories.

Second: Preparation

It’s best to establish a physical space where you would speak to the therapist in private. Tidying or re-organizing the space, whether it is the desk and chair, a bed, living room, dining room can help you focus on the important and vulnerable conversations that is coming up.

Charge your phone and ensure it is 100% and ensure your headphones, if you’re using one, are nearby. I personally prefer having headphones because it keeps my hands free to do other tasks.

Now here’s where telephone appointments have advantages. If you think you would need to fidget, you can do so – just have your fidget items right next to you. I tend to write notes and the doctor’s advice during the appointment, something I haven’t done in in-person appointments since it just feels so awkward to me. You can have a drink of choice instead of just water if you want, like tea of coffee or smoothie. Although for myself, water has always worked.

I highly suggest preparing the topics you would like to talk about. During the initial appointment, when the therapist asks the awkward and important question “what brings you in today?” be prepared to say the difficulty you are having and a short summary of the backstory. So for me, for one of the things I need help with I said “I am running for elected office next year and will be starting a lot of work in a few months, so I am asking for help on an ongoing basis to deal with stress during this period of time and managing my real fears from being an immigrant, minority woman who might be attacked and hurt”.

If it is a follow-up appointment, the first two will likely be follow-ups or updates on previously discussed issues, and if there are any, one to two new things you’d like to talk about. I usually write this on a notepad, with space in between the points I wanted to talk about, to write any insights, advice or next steps most relevant to the topic.

Third: Appointment Day

It’s appointment day! Your supplies are ready, phone is charged and you are on your way to the private quiet space you picked for the phone call. I treat it as seriously as going out to an actual appointment, so I feed myself a good meal, wear ‘going out’ clothes but more comfortable versions (like a nice swater and slacks) but I skip the shoes.

I also give myself a small window of time to be the commute or the waiting room time, just about five minutes. My husband has been understanding about this, so he leaves our bedroom, I lock the door and he goes way to the other end of the house, like the living room, to be out of earshot.

Another benefit of telephone appointments is because no one will see you, you can be as visually expressive as you need to be. You can flail your hands while explaining something that’s upsetting. You can roll your eyes when the doctor says something that makes you react “duh, why didn’t I think of it that ways before?!” You can switch what your hands are doing between fidgeting, typing notes, or wiping tears and snot off your face. I typically write down a few bullet points for each of my concern that I can categorize as follows: insights, counter-points, action items.

One thing I strongly advice against is multi-tasking. No social media or emails or chores during the appointment. Since it is likely that the impact of a telephone appointment is slightly diminished from not interacting face to face, multi-tasking and getting distracted makes it worse.

Finally, after the appointment, give yourself at least five minutes to take a breath and process. Those few minutes right after an in-person appointment, when you walk out of the lobby out of the office to start traveling home, are helpful for a reason. Especially if it is an emotionally heavy conversation, it helps your mind settle a bit before you resume with the rest of your day.

A woman with a short haircut and brown and white sweater, on a phone call with her cellphone and writing on a notepad on her desk.

After each appointment, same principles apply to in-person or virtual appointments. If there is homework or readings or activities that were asked of you to do before your next appointment, do them as diligently as if they told you in person.

Just like any other way of getting support for one’s struggles, therapy will likely not be enough to help solve one’s trauma and past hurts, so I suggest thinking of the methods of therapy the same way. It’s okay to patiently put up with the realities of telephone therapy and then switch to your preferred methods at the first opportunity. But who knows, maybe the conveniences of telephone therapy can help you access it on a more frequent basis so that it can help with your self-improvement goals.

Book Review and Thank You Letter: Coming to Canada, the Ultimate Guide, by Chidi Iwuchukwu

Cover of book “Coming to Canada, The Ultimate Success Guide for New Immigrants and Travelers”

The remarkable thing about volunteering in the community and pursuing community-focused endeavours is the gift of meeting amazing people right in the city. This is how I felt when during my election campaign for Edmonton City Council, I met Chidi Iwuchukwu. He volunteered a few times helping with door-knocking during the last month of my campaign, and he was delightful in my telephone and email conversations with him.

Right around election month which was October 2021, he was finalizing the publication of this book that aims to help newcomers in the country, to ensure that the vital first days of arriving in Canada is as smooth and productive as possible. This is a thank you letter and a review of his book Coming to Canada, The Ultimate Success Guide for New Immigrants and Travelers


Hi Chidi,

Thank you for sharing to me about the book you were working on last summer. I bought a copy as soon as I got the online link from you and eagerly waited for the shipment to arrive. Here are my key takeaway after reading the book.

Immigrants from different cultures and backgrounds should read guides and information from people outside their communities. It helps with finding common struggles and identify tips and strategies that we might not necessarily think about, likely because of biases from our own cultural perspectives.

The language is pragmatic and straightforward with an easy to follow timeline, particularly the chapter of the first seven days. You can pretty much use this as a checklist. If I could, I’ll hand this over to people and have them go through it page by page, and check off the items as it gets completed. Page 15, getting your SIN – check! Page 18, getting your cellphone – check! Page 24, Connecting with Settlement Agencies, check!

Then this logical flow continues. Page 31-33, finances and credit card – check! Page 62 – learning about workplace etiquette- check!

Do not assume, communicate, read everything thoroughly, these seem like obvious things to do, but with the overwhelming and overstimulating environment brought about by being in a new country, these can slip one’s mind.

I really appreciate the discussion about mental health and social relationships with spouses and children.

I like that it is framed more as list of very important things to be aware of and adhere to, while also acknowledging the potential differences in people’s situations. As far as the topics, this is the most comprehensive list that I have ever seen, and it included chapters that didn’t even occur to me but are very helpful, such as the potential impact of coming to Canada on one’s marriage, if your societal values are different back home. It is not heavy handed in the sense that it dictates who should behave in a particular way, but it helps spark awareness to encourage people to have these deep conversations about these topics.

From a political and systemic view, it was sad to be reminded, yet again, about the social issues that you noted and. I felt compelled to do my part to minimize this, or to try to resolve in my own way. For instance, transit is portrayed as a potentially difficult way to get around, because unfortunately, it is 100% true. It reminded me of why I volunteer for the Edmonton Transit Advisory Board. You encourage newcomers to volunteer for their community leagues because every neighbourhood has one, but not the new neighbourhoods that are still being built so one hasn’t been established yet. Since I volunteer for the organization that supports community leagues, I raised this as an important issue. My dream is that every newcomer to Edmonton who is trying to get settled, will find their neighbourhood group in just a few months, where they can attend events, participate in activities and learn about Edmonton just a few steps away from their home.

I also wrote a more comprehensive review for the February 2022 edition of our community’s ethnic paper in Edmonton, the Alberta Filipino Journal. I hope that through my article, it helped spread awareness of this resource that you worked so hard to develop.

Overall, I’d say, well done! And if you decide to expand on this project, you know where to find me for ideas and content.

The Life-Changing Impact of School Choirs in My Life

By: Giselle General

Humans of New York is a Facebook page I have been following for the past decade, with is compelling and artful way of capturing people’s portraits and their stories of the subjects, usually narrated from their perspective. A series of posts not too long ago talks about a subject that was dear to me, children’s and youth choirs. It was a story of the founder of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City.

Music, particularly singing in groups, was a regular part of my own life starting in elementary school. I would say it is my first ongoing experience as a child learning how it’s like to contribute something to a collective whole. Usually the settings are religious, where students from every grade level take turns being the main choir for the monthly Catholic mass at school. I learned then the phrase “singing is twice praying” which I find compelling to this day, even if I don’t regularly go to church. There is something deeper, spiritual, and elemental about music, and even more so for me, when the sounds come from my own body, my own breath, my own vocal chords.

I continued this musical journey through the Catholic Youth Ministry student group in my first two years of high school, still in the village where I grew up. By then, it has been three years since my parents and sister died, and I’m very well set in my ‘parental’ and provider roles for my brother and myself. Home life was not a place of ease and acceptance. Being part of the Youth Ministry choir was great way for me to maintain some sense of age-appropriate exposure and belonging, one of the few ways I felt like an actual teenager.

When I moved to a high school in the nearby city, I was too intimidated to join the Performing Arts Club of my new school in the city, but I did join the Liturgy Club. That involved a lot of singing in the daily church service from 7 PM – 7:30 AM before the morning bell.

“Hear me Jesus, hide me in thy wounds that I may never leave thy side. From all the evil that surrounds me, defend me! And when the call of death arrives, bud me come to thee. That I may praise thee with thy saints, forever!

When I came to Canada at 16 years old, I joined the school choir for Holy Cross high school in St. Catharines Ontario, during my only year in high school here, Grade 12. It seemed like an easy, seamless way to be part of a club. I can already sing in English and despite not being able to read music, I can follow along once the instructor plays the piano and demos the notes. The first song I learned is O Canada which was really cool. It meant I was years ahead in preparing for my citizenship ceremony, haha! On top of religious songs, I also learned how to sing pop songs in a choral setting. I learned how to be the backup melody while our vocalist Danica would sing the main lines. This one I remember well, which is Apologize by Timbaland.

Danica our lead vocalist: “I’m holding on your rope, Got me ten feet off the ground. And I’m hearing what you say, But I just can’t make a sound. You tell me that you need me, Then you go and cut me down, but wait. You tell me that you’re sorry, Didn’t think I’d turn around and say.”

The other students, including me throughout this entire verse: “Ooooh, na na na. Oooh na na na.

Staying after school on Thursday afternoons, sometimes also Tuesdays, was something I really looked forward to then, because I was not used to the way things were in Canada with school being done at 3 PM. It felt way too early and I’m usually at home alone after school. It opened remarkable experiences and opportunities for me, such as performing in front on a baseball stadium in Toronto and me taking the yellow school bus for the first time. And also, getting a loyalty award at the end of the school year for being involved in the choir. This has significantly helped in my adapting to life in Canada, followed by discovering the Filipino-Canadian Association of Niagara and its cultural youth dance group.

When I moved to Edmonton and stared university, I considered auditioning for the choir, but got intimidated by the fact that the members are likely music majors, so those with superior vocal skills who are planning to make this their career. As I went through the motions of completing my university degree, the show Glee came about. I thought the show was entertaining and fun and cool. While in this case, the choir is more of a show choir and is flashier, I’ve seen glimpses of what reminded me about what high school choirs, and high school clubs in general, can provide to young folks going through one of the most transformative stage of their lives.

I got teary-eyed when I watched one of the performances of this youth choir featured in Humans of New York, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. The combination of the vocals of the performers and picking up the distinctive sound of youth, especially for the male students who seem to have just started puberty. Seeing how many of the kids are way shorter than their instructor/ conductor, and seeing how animated they are singing their parts.

My youth choir experience was something I personally cherish in my younger years. It kept me out of trouble and at the same time, helped me reconnect to my actual age and stage in life, that I was an actual kid who is still growing up, not saddled with adult responsibilities such as earning income and being the parent for me and my brother. When they are run well, youth choirs can serve as a bridge between kids of different backgrounds, provide structure, motivation and fun in a balance way for growing minds, and open opportunities for those who lack access in their own homes.

Thank you to all the adults that help manage youth choirs and other music-related programs and make them a success!

My Current One and Only White Hair

Closeup of a black-haird woman's face and her hand holding a strand of grey hair.

By: Giselle General

It was February 2020 and I was excited to do my bi-annual ritual with my hair. I let it grow for close to 24 months and I cut a large chunk of it to donate for charitable causes that make free wigs for kids with cancer. Usually I alternate between Hair Massacure or Angel Hair Foundation. It’s something I have been doing since March 2009.

This time around, I got assistance in cutting my hair and shaving my head so I have a smooth and even buzz cut. My brother who was living with me at the time agreed to help, maybe reluctantly because little brothers can’t refuse their Ate (big sister) when they ask for sometime, haha! It was pretty messy, and pretty fun. He was so scared at first to use the scissors to cut the little pony tails of hair I tied, but I told him to just hold his hand steady and it will be fine. Then, it was time to bring out the clippers! It was a the lowest setting, number 1, so what was left in my head is likely the same length of hair that most men have when they don’t shave for a day. He told me a few times to tilt my head this way and that way, and hold me earlobes flat, so that the clippers cover every part of my scalp. He did an amazing job.

A week later, I was in the office washroom when I notice something unusual on the top of my head. My hair is going through its “chipmunk phase” so it was sticking up and ready to poke you! But I saw that there was one particular spot where the little half-centimeter of hair didn’t look the same as all my other hair. It was lighter colored! I thought it was a piece of dirt, or somehow soap or shampoo got stuck – although I thought that didn’t much sense.

Then March 2020 rolls around and by then I had at least half an inch of hair. And it’s confirmed, it is a single strand of white hair, growing from the root! I posted about it on Facebook my feelings a mixture of amazement and disbelief, since at this time I was 29 years old. My great aunt living in Australia said some nice words about the white hair being a symbol of age and wisdom. I really appreciated it.

I’m not exactly outraged of panicked about it. I’m more amused really. And I challenged myself to try to keep that single strand for as long as possible, so not pulling it out either manually or when I comb or brush my hair.

And then the pandemic hit. As I mostly worked from home for months on end, I’d see this single strand of silver whenever I comb my hair and part it a little to the left. Inch by inch, my buzz turned into a pixie, then a bob, then shoulder length and now it is past my shoulders again.

Now it is January 2022. I’m preparing to shave my head and donate my hair to any of these organizations if they are still around and accepting natural hair donations. I wonder what surprises my scalp will bring up. Will I have a few more grey hairs that will pop up from the root? Will that be the physical manifestation of the stress from the past year, not just from COVID and the state of the world, but from the election I ran for recently?

It’s been remarkable to finally see changes that are related to aging. With a bit of dread and also curiosity, I acknowledge that menopause will be here before realizing what hit me!