Memoir Writing Reflections #1: The Brain is a Marvel

by: Giselle General

This year, on top of everything else my husband and I drastically changed, I added one more to the list. I finally started working of my first memoir, my first full-length written work. The initial plan was to publish something right around my 30th birthday last year. That got derailed by two major things: COVID and running for public office during a pandemic.

This is to account my initial reflections on this journey and observing my mind, both how it works when it comes to motivation and getting organized, and from a mental health standpoint as far as memories and triggers.

I had to check my email history and digital calendar to confirm the timeline. When you don’t have a full time job, the pace of time feels so strangely elastic and oddly compact, depending on the time of day. In early September, I took a chance and applied for the Horizon’s Writing Circle, a writer mentorship program. I recall being so nervous outlining my bio as an artist, feeling like a fraud. I suppose I had a few essays and got paid for it. I’ve been blogging for a decade and been an ethnic paper columnist for five years. But will it be enough to deserve undivided attention from someone who actually published multiple books?

I applied for the program in early September and in early October I got the confirmation that I got in the program. How exciting! I arranged a meeting with the author mentor in mid-October. Just like the other mentorship programs I participated in, I had a very clear goal in mind and I needed their advice to make it successful. When I outlined my goal, the summary of the memoir and the tangible deliverable, my mentor was excited. But it didn’t hit home for me until I hear her utter the words “Yes, I’m very positive that by the end of our mentorship period, you will have a first manuscript.” That felt so real, so tangible. It’s remarkable.

This is a precious time and opportunity, I have to everything I can to make the most of it.

This sparked a flurry of motivation in my mind and my heart. I made an outline of all the different chapters and themes of my life using blank MS Word documents. In a few minutes I had 40 blank chapters. Whenever inspiration strikes as the cliche goes, I would open a file and either type the entire story right there, or write short phrases of the smaller stories to write about. As of right now, I’ve been doing this for just two months, and I’m halfway through, over 20 chapters that looked decent enough to be scrutinized. Done is better than perfect, I tell myself over and over. It frankly didn’t feel like much, but when I say to people out loud, their reactions remind me that 20 chapters in less than 60 days is noteworthy.

Some days when I write, my brain somehow forgets to tell my body to breathe. After the keyboard clatters for a few minutes as I tell a heartbreaking experience, I’d suddenly gasp for air. Only then do I clearly look at the words on the screen, and tears would roll down my face. I thought that being triggered would be more melodramatic and fiery than this. I guess I was wrong.

In early December I had a dream that I wasn’t happy about. In my dream, somehow my father became alive in my current life as an adult for just one day. I was frantically giving him a tour around my home and around Edmonton, filling him in on what he missed for the past 23 years. The day doesn’t end, I don’t know what rudely woke me up into reality. I laid in bed, my eyes angrily boring holes in the ceiling as the tears silently fell. I know that this is from my consciously digging up memories and putting them on paper, or in this case, the computer screen.

Damn it, brain! Why do you have to do this to me? This wore me out mentally more than the other times I got emotional while writing. I spent the next week not writing anything new, just updating the grammar of the earlier chapters I wrote.

While dedicating time and energy to write, I had to juggle other priorities as well. There’s truth to the saying looking for a job is a full-time job. Taking the time to diligently search for opportunities that fit my experience level and salary range and writing a thoughtful application, that takes effort and a mental toll. I try to switch it up during weekdays, a few hours on job searching, an hour or two on writing, then some time for chores and volunteering.

This is how I remind myself that being unemployed doesn’t mean I’m useless. That I’m still improving my skills, using the ones I have, and making a positive impact around me in different ways. Sometimes it looks like the homecooked meal I made and a clean kitchen sink. It can look like being present at a board meeting and being efficient in all the items we discussed. It can look like a piece of artwork I finished for the home and two memoir chapters done in a single day.

Activities not related to writing or career help me stay grounded and balanced. My husband actively finds video games that a very beginner-level person like me can handle, and he is very kind and diligent when we do levels together where he had to do about 70% of the work. It’s pretty sweet of him. Whenever he plays video games that he streams to his audience online, I hear him talk about me and share fun updates about ‘the wife’. I sometimes chime in on conversations and his audience seem to enjoy it. Our group of friends have organized a weekly movie night, just like what they did regularly a decade ago. My friend asked for my help with pet-sitting and it’s quite fun being a dog and cat auntie. It’s actually nice having a cat on your lap being cozy while reading one of the books my mentor author lent me about writing techniques.

My suicidal ideation has never left my mind, but I am able to keep it at bay for the most part. It’s not by feeling more optimistic about the world – there’s too much obvious evidence that people and systems are harmful and selfish and problematic. It’s by keeping a little bit of hope that what I do matters to a small extent and it affects people positively, whether it’s just myself, my immediate love ones, or those who gets affected by any of my community service work. And that’s enough for now.

Two Small and Impactful Gestures of Two (Former) City Councillors

This time around I am going to publicly name two politicians for what they have done! What a timely post shortly after one year since the most recent municipal elections here in Edmonton.

Cue scary noises!

Actually, I’m just joking, really!

I think it helps that they are both former former city councilors, but either way, I am actually actually not naming them and shaming them. I’m naming them because yes, I think they probably won’t even remember doing these two things at all. These seem to be very small gestures but had really impacted the way I look at things here in the city where I live, and had shifted my life in a very noticeable way. It is a positive impact – no shaming will be happening here.

First is former City Councillor Scott McKeen, who represented Ward 6, downtown Edmonton. He was pretty active in his social media accounts, and I followed his Twitter account to stay up to date with city politics. One day, he re-tweeted about a Repair-a-thon event a few days before it was about to happen. I like sewing, fixing things up and making them usable again. This event is an opportunity for people to get everyday items and clothing repaired, and people can volunteer their skills to help get these stuff fixed up. Because of a scheduling conflict and the fact I just found out about it a few days before the weekend, I cannot make it and I was pretty upset. I could have helped patch up clothes, sew back buttons and fix hems on shirts and bottoms. At the time, I already figured that Home Economics is not a a typical part of the curriculum for children here, so many don’t have the skills to do simple repairs with clothing, household objects or electronics.

From seeing this event being promoted, I also discovered a Twitter account called Boomerang Bags Edmonton. It is very much related to sewing and upcycling. The goals is to get volunteers to sew fabric shopping bags that can be re-used as opposed to single-use plastic bags, and donate them to local stores so they can encourage customers to use them instead of buying bags. It’s a win-win and I loved the concept. So I got involved, signed up to volunteer and made a lot of bags. If I tally them up it probably will go up to the hundreds at this point.

It’s interesting because the preferred terminology that is gender-neutral is “sewist”. But it’s difficult to use since as someone who is ESL, whenever I hear the term I think of someone who is doing something related to plumbing, like sewage. Because of this I still use seamstress especially when talking to people who might not be as familiar with the community.

Anyways, because of being a volunteer seamstress with Boomerang Bags, working with fabric become a larger part of my hobby time. I’ve already been quilting for years and I’ve made enough quilts, throw blankets, pilllowcases for my home. And during the pandemic, our community’s talents had an opportunity to shine in a major way. Hundreds of crafters, seamstresses (or sewists), quilters worked together for months to help with two major fabric-related goals: to make fabric masks for those who cannot afford them, and to make fabric laundry bags for healthcare workers to store their contaminated scrubs after work that they can just toss into the laundry.

A dining chair with a dozen fabric bags draped by the backrest.
These were the first batch of bags I’ve sewn in March 2020, as part of the province-wide effort to make fabric bags for healthcare workers who need a place to store their dirty uniforms. Just a year beforehand, I discovered Boomerang Bags Edmonton through social media posts of a city councilor.

I wonder if the former councillor realized that from this very small act, it opened me to Edmonton and Alberta’s community of creatives sewing.

Second is former City Councillor John Dziadyk, who represented Ward 3 on the north side. He caught my attention during his election campaign in 2017 because his marketing strategy was frequent, consistent, and his viewpoints were phrased in a way that resonated with a lot of people frustrated with how things are done in city government. After he got elected, his social media, particularly Facebook, continue to be very active in sharing information about community matters.

He published a short video during spring time 2018, encouraging people to help with the snow melting and puddles in drains by chipping off the ice of a blocked drain when they see one. It’s clear that the video was a simple one, likely just him and another person holding his phone. He used an ice chipper, a common tool used in the winter, tried to strike a puddle a few times and then the muddy water started to drain. He said, doing this helps prevent flooding and from stagnant ice water to collect. This can be dangerous if the puddle freezes again which tends to happen in March and April.

It blew my mind that it is something that an everyday person can do. I definitely have seen these slushy puddles on sidewalks and intersections all the time. As someone who frequently walks, I’ve been splashed by them a few times. I thought there’s nothing anyone can do other than hope for warmer weather so all the water evaporates.

As a result, I started to observe sidewalk drains whenever I walk around. While I don’t always have the time or I forget sometimes, whenever I could, I would also remove pieces of garbage or leaves that would block the drain. That way, when it rains or there’s a large amount of snow and ice melting, all the water have somewhere to go. It’s one of those seemingly invisible things that if someone looks at proactively, it can save people from inconvenience, potential accidents, and soggy footwear.

A sidewalk in the spring time, with snow and slush piled up.

What’s most interesting about these two experiences is that these actions are not even closely related to their actual roles, which is advocating and addressing political issues under the municipal government. A few times, I’ve heard people say that being a politician for a city or municipality, is the toughest one compared to being a provincial or federal politician. Either way, I’m thankful that something as simple as browsing social media platforms and finding these information from their posts had made a positive impact on me. A re-tweet, and a simple video, who would have thought! Well, I hope these two former politicians are doing well these days after moving on from political life.

Like Father, Like Daughter: We Both Have Metal Dentures!

As an attempt to convince his kids to take dental health seriously, I remembered my father, when I was a kid, basically telling us “don’t be like me!” He had metal dentures for the top of his teeth, and he during one of these conversations, he would take them out of his mouth and show them for us to have a closer look. I don’t recall any other details about what happened to his teeth that he ended up losing a few of his adult teeth and him needing to have dentures. He was too focused driving down his stern advice: don’t eat too much sweets and brush your teeth every night, or else you’ll lose your permanent teeth and that would be bad.

I knew he meant well, but back then there’s an issue as far as people’s perception of dental care in the Philippines. Since dental care is something you pay out of pocket, when you don’t have the means, so-called preventative care and checkups are out of the question. You would go only when there’s a toothache that is so unbearable pain or only to pull out rotting teeth.

In 1999, shortly before my family got into the fatal vehicle accident, I vaguely remember my sister telling me that she went to the community dentist on her own for the first time. That she was nervous and also proud that she went. At the time, both she and I are starting to see many of our adult teeth forming.

And when the accident happened, well, medical check-ups of any kind went out the window. Asking for permission, and for money, for medical and health related reasons was tough. My grandma would mock me and scornfully ask “did your father’s side relatives make you ask? If they want so badly to do things like dentist checkups form you, maybe you and your brother should move and live with them instead!”

2007 was a chaotic year for many reasons but January was pretty rough. After coming back from New Year’s vacation from the father’s side relatives, I asked the mother’s side relatives, who I live with, if some of the suvivor’s pension money can go towards a dental checkup. This infuriated my uncle and grandmother and my brother and I got punished severely. That’s all I have to say about that for now.

It was soon very obvious that two of my froth teeth were really rotting. Since dental care is cheaper in the Philippines, they were extracted and I got my new dentures less than a month before my flight to Canada on August 2007.

During university I managed to get a few check ups and fillings done for my teeth because I managed to stack my benefits. I learned that my benefits from working retail at Future Shop which covered 50% of basic procedures, plus the 50% covered from being a university student, completely took care of the cost. Perfect for a broke university student!

When I visited the Philippines in 2013 with my then-boyfriend, since I knew dental work is still cheaper and I was unemployed, I got a replacement for my dentures. I was sold to the fact that the one with a metal plating will be more sturdy than the plastic one. I was pretty irritable for a good chunk of the trip for other reasons so it was a stressful experience. The metal base had to be adjusted a few times so it stops cutting through my gums, but it was all good ever since.

After I got used to my metal plated dentures, that’s when I remembered that my father had a metal plated one as well! I whispered a little prayer then, apologizing that unfortunately I didn’t manage to keep all my adult teeth. From then on, my dental care routine has improved dramatically. I told myself, I’m the adult now and I can take the reins moving forward and take care of the teeth I have left.

When we moved to the neighbourhood my husband grew up in, he convinced me to go to his dental clinic so that we have the same dentist. Remarkably, my husband only had one dentist for his entire life, since he was a child! When Dr. Chin retires, I bet it will be quite an adjustment for him. Maybe my husband can reach 40 years old first before that happens?

The first major dental surgery I had was 2015, when I had ALL my four wisdow teeth pulled out at the same time. The bottom two are impacted, meaning they are not coming out properly and are kinda stuck, causing pain, risk of mis-aligning the rest of my teeth, and potential infection from hard to reach areas that I’m not able to clean properly. Again, huge thanks for work benefits covering the cost of all that.

These days, I go to the dentist at least once a year for a full checkup and cleaning. Even after we moved from my husband’s neighbourhood to a different location, we continue to go to the clinic of his childhood dentist. It’s funny that I seem to be more diligent with booking my appointment that he was. When I sit on the patient’s chair and the dental hygenist gets started with their work, I have to remind myself to ask “oh! I have dentures, should I take them out now?”. Then they would put it away neatly wrapped in tissue and inside a paper cup.

Every appointment I would ask my dentist to check on my dentures. At this point, I would have this metal one for almost a decade now. Whenever I ask, how are they looking? Are they falling apart? Should I get them changed? So far, the dentist keeps saying that the dentures are still in good shape and for as long as they are comfortable I can keep using them.

Maybe in the future, when I am in a position to have a positive impression on a child, let’s say being an aunt or grandma, maybe I can do the same technique as my father did. Maybe I can pull out the dentures, grin widely to show the missing teeth, and say “this is what happens when you don’t take care of your teeth. Do you best to care for them and brush them always!” While I wasn’t able to fully follow my father’s advice, those were due to childhood circumstances outside of my control. Maybe when I give the strict cautionary tale, with the support of the adults in their lives, the kids these days will be able to follow through.

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.