Blueberry Pie: When Food Literally was part of my Therapy Routine

By: Giselle General

Content Warning: References to sexual assault, mental health treatment.

This story is from my experiences between February and September 2017, a transformative and healing time for me as far as my mental health and outlook in life.

February 2017 was when I had my first therapy appointment with the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, a free therapy service for those who survived sexual abuse. My boss at the time suggested this resource in November 2016, right after she noticed I was reeling from the election of Donald Trump. Let’s just say it was not great as a sexual abuse survivor to have a prominent politician still elected after it was revealed he made statements like “grab the women by the pussy.”

After I did the online application and got the screening phone call in November 2016, I was told I’m waitlisted. Then I got notified that I am in and can book my first appointment. It was about mid-February in 2017, at 4 PM.

I chose 4 PM because the clinic is open only during office hours, but at the same time, I’d like to be at work for as long as I could before taking off for the day. Making up the work hours is not an issue at all. I’d leave work at 3 PM to take the bus to the office for the appointments.

For something as emotionally tough and draining such as therapy, especially for something traumatic like sexual assault, I didn’t realize how starved I was right after the appointments. Luckily, there is a business plaza right across the street, with this shop named Fifendekel. Due to the bus schedule, I actually arrive in the area 20 minutes before the appointment.

For the first few appointments, I’d stop by there, get a sandwich and a drink and eat it right away before the appointment. I’d rotate between the egg salad, tuna salad, or chicken salad, no tomatoes but extra sprouts. But I learned that it throws off my appetite for dinner. Also as it turns out, feeling stuffed while talking about heavy topics was not comfortable – I mean physically. Emotional discomfort is already there since, well, it’s therapy.

One time I decided to get food after the appointments, but I learned the hard way that they close at 4:30. So I learned that whether I’ll eat it right away or later, my window of opportunity is before my appointment. And that’s what I did.

While waiting for my sandwich to be assembled, I always look at the desserts glass display, eyeing the small paper plates with single slices of pie. I love blueberry pie, so whenever it’s there I’d order a slice to eat at the store. When I started ordering my food to-go, I was worried whether it will travel well in the take-out box, but it did, thank goodness!

So for many of the appointments I had afterwards, a routine was set. I’d leave work, take the bus, walk a few blocks to get a yummy sandwich and pie, put it in my briefcase vertically and head on to the appointment. Afterwards, I’d take a cab to take me home and have my sandwich and pie by myself in our breakfast bar by the kitchen. I literally felt like I’m being re-fueled, from the delicious food and moments of peace and quiet I have before my husband goes home after having dinner at his parent’s place.

Then at bedtime, we would do what we call the “therapy after the therapy”. While cozy in our bed, my husband would ask “how did therapy go?” and would diligently listen to any new insights or techniques I learned from the appointment.

Of course during the appointments, it is unavoidable that I share to my therapist a story or two about my husband. Oftentimes, those were positive stories of love, support and care towards me. The approval and glee from my therapist is quite evident. I’d tell this to my husband. He would then ask “so, I am therapist-approved?’ And I’d say “yes, absolutely you are!”

The appointments went from weekly for a few months, and then became bi-weekly by the summer, and then in early fall, for August and September, they became once a month. Until such time that my therapist felt it was a good time to wrap up.

Over the years, whenever I had blueberry pie, whether at a restaurant or a meal with love ones, I would always think fondly to myself “oh, there’s my therapy pie!”

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.

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

Community Resource Article – Supports for Women

By: Giselle General

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

These are some community resources that can help provide programs, inspiration, physical and emotional support and more for the women and girls in your life and community.  

Supports for Young Girls and Teens

  1. YWCA Girls Counselling Group: The counselling group is for girls aged 14 – 16, a crucial time in one’s teenager years, and is a weekly drop-in program. It provides a safe, and structured space for teens to discuss the challenges they are facing, get guidance, support, and a listening ear from the facilitator who is a Registered Psychologist. In addition, YWCA also offers other services for women of all ages.https://www.ywcaofedmonton.org/programs-and-services/girls-counselling/
  2. Terra Centre for Teen Parents: An unexpected teen pregnancy can be daunting and stressful, but there are supports for the teen parents, the babies and their families. The agency provides programs and practical items to help young families reach their full potential.  https://terracentre.ca/what-is-terra/
  3. Girls Who Code: The goal of this organization is to inspire and support girls and teens into considering a career in technology, where women are still very under-represented. This can be a worthwhile resource if you work with children or youth in educational settings, or if you want to support girls in your family who loves computers, programming, engineering, robotics and more. https://girlswhocode.com/en-ca

Resources on Women’s Health, Including Reproductive Health

  1. Re:Pro, Podcast on Sexual and Reproductive Health: This podcast series launched by University of Alberta medical students are meant for those reproductive and sexual health questions “that you are too embarrassed to talk to your doctor about”. Listen online at https://reprohealthpodcast.libsyn.com
  2. O School, Online Resource on Sex and More: This online resource was founded by Filipina-American Andrea Barrica. She believed that no one else should have to struggle to unlearn sexual shame resulting from incomplete education growing up. Sexuality is a natural part of human lives and relationships. The comprehensive online resource covers the medical, practical, relational, and pleasure-focused aspects of reproductive and sexual health. https://www.o.school/

Resources for Leadership, Community and Career

  1. Alberta Women Entrepreneurs: They provide programs, events, and practical supports such as loans for women who want to launch their businesses and make it as successful as possible. To sign up, visit https://www.awebusiness.com/
  2. GROW Women Leaders: GROW Women Leaders launched in 2017, in celebration of Canada 150 out of the desire to spotlight incredible accomplishments of immigrant women in Canada. Now they provide programs and events to help immigrant women advance in the workforce. To get involved, visit https://www.growwomenleaders.com/
  3. Changing Together, A Centre for Immigrant Women: This charitable organization provides programs and supports for immigrant women, both citizens and newcomers to Canada. They also conduct research and publish content that highlights the challenges that immigrant women face, in order to spread awareness and bring change in the community. To join in their programs or volunteer, visit https://www.changingtogether.com/  

This is not a comprehensive list but can be a good starting point to let you know that there are resources that are available in time of need and to help you improve your life. It can be helpful to access services that have more comprehensive directories like 211 to learn about all the services available.

“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!

“Sprinting While Connecting” The Captive Transit User Series Part 7

A stylish professonal woman by a sidewalk during the day waving for a bus.

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.


This particular write-up combines two of the issues I am passionate about as a person who is unable to drive: public transit and snow clearing.

I think it is a right of passage for any Edmontonian to channel their inner cheetah, or kangaroo, or Usain Bolt, to get off the bus and train they are currently in, see the connecting bus or train for the next part of their journey, and run to catch it like your life depends on it. It may be an exaggeration to say that your life is over if you miss your connecting bus or train, but it can be quite inconvenient, a great cause of stress and a waste of money and time when you do.

During my early university years, for my morning classes I would hop off the #119 Bus at the West Edmonton Mall Transit Centre, and then sprint to catch the #4 or #106 to go to the University of Alberta to make it on time for my 8 AM class. Going home is the worst part though, particularly after 9 PM. if I missed the #136 bus, I’d have to wait another half hour (or during the years before 2010, it is an hour-long wait) to get home, and my tired self just feels that is too much. So I’d take a taxi, spend $25 to get to my home in the Hamptons neighbourhood on the west side of the Henday. At the time, it’s so far west, that when I say the street address, taxi drivers get confused and say “What? That’s a street number beyond the 200! Where is that?”

When transit facilities expanded and the Lewis Farms Transit Centre opened in 2011, I had more travel options and it was nice! I can take the express morning bus straight to South Campus LRT, and upon disembarking, I’d sprint to catch the train heading to the University of Alberta North Campus. Now that I think about it, even through the winter months, not a single time did I slip on ice or slush, fall and hurt myself while sprinting to catch the train. Sure, sometimes I miss the but or train I meant to catch, but the mantra I tell myself while still trying to sprint is “better late than injured”.

I know that many people find transit unreliable because of the issues with connections. It’s tricky because on one hand, I understand the expectations of promptness. If the app or the map says that the bus is arriving at a certain time, it better arrive that time, right?

A street intersection during winter with a transit bus passing by.

But at the same time, road conditions certainly affect the speed of the bus from one stop to the other, and from one transit station to the other. Many things can cause micro-delays that add up, from a passenger with a wheelchair boarding or disembarking, letting a mother duck and her ducklings cross the street, or a bus driver deciding to help an elderly person take their groceries home. Perhaps the LRT is delayed because of people trying really hard to squeeze in, or holding the door open for that poor fellow running to catch the LRT. There’s so many factors.

This last winter, when the roads were so dangerously icy due to the freeze-and-thaw conditions, Edmonton transit told all buses pull over and stop operating for an hour until it is less icy. I imagine that derailed many people’s commutes, but I also understand that driver safety is important. Better be late than the city spending hours of time and lots of money rescuing buses that crashed.

The mobile app of the the city 311, also has a new feature now where people can report whether a bus is late. I hope this is something that people use more often. The social media account for transit is not as responsive as the one in Calgary so venting about it on social media is not as effective.

Going back to the panicked moments when catching my connecting bus or train, I’m so relieved that I’ve never slipped and smashed my face onto the concrete. Particularly for the South Campus LRT station which I used almost daily for a while, whenever there’s a heavy snowfall I see the city staff using all tools and equipment to clear snow on the go, from manual shovels, a bobcat, to what I nicknamed as the “motrorized rolling snow brush thingies”. I’m grateful for the quality of their work and I hope they continue to be able to do this.

Now that I moved to a new neighbourhood where transit is much more frequent (on peak hours I have a bus that comes every 10 minutes or less, and in the evenings, every 15 minutes or less). So I will likely not need to sprint and chase the bus to go to my usual destinations. It’s about time, as my knees and my feet are not in the best shape. This is what I wish for people all over the city, to have transit coverage so boring you don’t worry about when the next one is coming.

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.

Pecha Kucha Speech Transcript: I made it out alive! My first attempt running for Edmonton Municipal Election during COVID

Giselle delivering a speech at the stage of Metro Cinema in Edmonton

After a long hiatus no thanks to the pandemic, it seemed fitting that my first in-person speech activity was with the same event where I did my last in-person speech from 2019. It’s with Edmonton Next Gen for their Pecha Kucha night! This is the transcript of my speech titled “I made it out alive! My first attempt running for Edmonton Municipal Election during COVID”

  1. That was nothing to sneeze at! It’s a phrase I never heard before, until after the election day. 5180 votes, Second place against an incumbent, with limited funds and during a pandemic, was apparently noteworthy.
  2. You should feel proud, I was told. How do I feel? Not that. I felt gratitude, inspiration, motivation and energy. Most of all, huge relief that I made it out alive, uninjured, not severely traumatized.
  3. There are many “typical” things you need to prepare for when running as a candidate, your platform, who to ask to volunteer or donate, the GOTV plan, short for Get Out The Vote, print and online communications and more.
  4. In 2016, I attended my first elections 101 program, hosted by the city for women who want to be involved in municipal politics. A current city councillor (born & raised Canadian white guy) did his energizing pitch that we, women, should run.
  5. In the Q and A I raised my and asked, ummmm sir, councillor may I ask, is it safe to run for politics in Edmonton, in Canada? Do I need to worry about getting killed and my dead body floating in the River Valley?
  6. He was shocked and reassured me it IS safe to run here. A fellow workshop participant told me, wow, I was worried about social media trolls, I didn’t even think about actual threats to my life. For me that was top of mind.  
  7. From then on, in the other workshops and campaign toolkits I accessed, I realized it gives some fundamentals, but won’t be sufficient to help me run a campaign that aligns with my values and will keep me safe, healthy and uninjures.
  8. Immigrants and visible minorities have a steep learning curve about the political culture here. It’s even worse when you came from a country where politicians, journalists and activists do get murdered on a regular basis.
  9. When a candidate knocks on your door, what comments do you make? I got “Do you have kids?” “What’s your background?” “Are you Native?” “I love the Filipino caregivers!”  Do male or white candidates get these also, I wondered.
  10. I know that all it takes is one violent incident to cause permanent injury and harm. I had to constantly think, I can protect and defend, administer first aid,  call 911 quickly when things go very wrong for me? 
  11. I have a very difficult time asking for help and this stems from a lot of personal trauma as an immigrant and an orphan. It’s a huge challenge to overcome and that was important, since the area for ward sipiwiyiniwak, where I was running, is massive!
  12. Campaigning during COVID added more concerns, on because of the increased prevalence of Anti-Asian racism. I can’t change how I look. I’m someone who looks visibly Asian, wears a mask, and also gets misidentified as Indigenous.
  13. The volunteers who were my fellow immigrants had additional fears that was tough to overcome. The big one, dropping off flyers in mailboxes. Despite my reassurances that it’s permitted. They skipped the ones that says “no flyers or no soliciting”
  14. They’re worried about getting yelled at as ignorant, rule breakers, they’re afraid of harassment. They’re worried about my reputation too. The tradeoff, better for people to not know me, than being angry at me after seeing an flyer they didn’t want.
  15. As someone who can’t drive and with a weak leg, I carried heavy supplies and went to neighbourhoods on foot, car and bus. Which shocked bus and uber drivers, seeing a candidate who’s literally living like an average person.
  16. With that said, many people donated and shared their time and talents. People doorknocked and flyer dropped with me in hot summer days and rainy afternoons, dealing with hazards on streets. Sidewalks and front lawns, across older and developing neighbourhoods.
  17. People I’ve never met until the campaign reached out through email and social media, who helped remotely and positively talked about my candidacy to others. Trolls were very few, but supportive people, thank goodness, it’s abundant.
  18. The next day, after the election I got a message on Twitter from a competitor I’m on good terms with. Like me, he didn’t win. His message said “well that was a waste of time”. And that’s one huge thing I disagree with.
  19. For me this is just part of community service and being an adult. Within  a week, I resumed my volunteer duties with my neighbourhood, ethnic community, and the city. I went back to my nonprofit job, booked a massage, and an appointment with my therapist.  
  20. I’m alive, uninjured and not severely traumatized. I plan to share my insights, and campaign templates to anyone who wants it. And if I’m fortunate enough, I might be healthy enough, wiser and equipped for a future candidacy. TY.

This post will be updated once the video of the presentation is available. Thank you to Edmonton’s Next Gen, the organizers of Pecha Kucha Night that takes place three times a year, for the opportunity to present, especially for something as significant as your first in-person event since COVID started. For more information such as previous presentations how to support or participate, visit https://edmontonnextgen.ca/pkn.

Cheating to Survive by Evading Transit Fare: The Captive Transit User Series: Part 8

Closeup of a hand holding a Canadian two-dollar coin.

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.


In the volunteer-based citizen advisory board on transit I’ve been involved with for the past three years, we had a recent discussion about cash fares, how much they are supposed to be, and the impact of increasing it to $4. During this exchange of emails, I sent this as a response.

I’m gonna get a bit personal here: during my first year in Canada, the first “it’s not right but I gotta do it to survive” life hack I learned is how to evade paying the full amount when taking the public bus. I was in a living situation where I didn’t get adequate financial support even for small things such as taking the bus to go to a classmate’s house for a school project. Most days during winter there in St. Catharines, Ontario, I can handle walking up to one hour one way to my destination but that is not always feasible. One day I was worried because I was short 25 cents to pay for fare and when I placed all my coins in the cash box, I didn’t get reprimanded for being short. So I did that, a few times. It felt horrible. But I was a 16-year-old newcomer to Canada still adjusting to school and didn’t have a job yet, and I had to fend for myself and be resourceful. And sometimes, the coins in the key jar by my cousin’s house wasn’t enough for bus fare. 

The times when I short-changed the public transit system were back in 2008 and I still think about it to this day. 2007, the year just before that, was a particularly difficult year for me even before coming to Canada. In early 2007 I’ve done several things that are considered theft (of large amounts of money), which I would have been arrested for if I was caught. Only those who have lived in desperate times would understand the pressure to be “resourceful” in order to survive.

Thankfully, after moving to Edmonton, I was able to gain employment and improve my life. For many years, I’ve benefited from various transit-related arrangements that helped make taking transit more manageable. There was the U-Pass, a sticker placed on my university ID card, that allowed me to take unlimited transit trips throughout the entire semester. There was the monthly bus pass where, for a fixed amount (latest is $100) I can take as many trips on the bus and LRT. And during the pandemic, I’m lucky enough to be able to afford a 10-pack of bus tickets, that are approximately $25 each. There is certainly a time and a place for incentives and discounts for frequent users of our transit system.

However, the needs of transit users using it for a few trips also needs to be considered. Some can be like me, a newcomer with limited cash, still working on getting established while needing to travel around to do so. It can be the tourist who is trying to follow Google Maps’ suggestion to take a short transit trip to a destination and might only need to take the transit system less than five times over a few days. And yes, it can also be the person who is homeless, who managed to get some coins from begging, and really wanted to be fair and pay the proper transit fare. Raising the cash fare for one-time users is detrimental to these types of passengers.

I’m relieved that in the end, Edmonton City Council voted down the proposal from the City Administration to raise the cash fare. I’m also looking forward to be a member of the public who will be pilot testing the electronic card fare payment system which they named the ARC card. I’ve heard from many fellow Edmontonians that taking transit and paying upon entering the bus or LRT station should be as easy as tapping your debit or credit card, of which I agree.