Blog on Hiatus – Giselle is Running for Public Office in Edmonton!

Woman in business suit standing in front of the entrance of Edmonton City Hall Council Chambers.

Exciting news!

I will be taking a break from posting regular content on the blog. 2021 is a hectic year as I pursue an adventure that is new in a sense (because this is the year of making it into reality) but at the same time, is half a decade in the making.

I am running for public office, for the City of Edmonton’s municipal elections, as a city councilor candidate for the district I live in, which is ward sipiwiyiniwak in West Edmonton, the current Ward 5 that with additional neighbourhoods from Ward 1 captured as well. The pronouncination is like this: silent yi, as in see-pee-wee-nee-wak. The campaign website is here! https://www.gisellegeneral.ca/

So is this website going to be the campaign page? No. It’s just that there may be longer breaks between posts. I might post a blog or two in case I decide to procrastinate (haha!) but it will be less frequently than what I do now.

Where’s the campaign information? Right now? It’s not ready. Once it’s ready, they will be posted here. However, on my personal Twitter account https://twitter.com/gisellegeneral I am posting personal perspectives on the campaign trail so far. Once the campaign accounts (both website and social media) are set up, I will post more content about policy and platforms.

How are you feeling? So far, overall okay. There are stressful, isolating, overwhelming moments yes, but so far, most things are figure-outable if you know what I mean. Part of my goal is to demystify the campaign process for the average Edmontonian, to showcase what it takes. I want to show the trials and tribulations of being a first-time candidate, in order to inspire participation from my fellow average Edmontonians, to inspire my fellow Filipinos to care a bit more about municipal politics, and smash some glass ceilings along the way and bring forward perspectives that seem to be typically overlooked when it comes to polity. It would be nice to be the first Filipino-Canadian city councilor in Edmonton, or at least someone considered a very strong candidate who aimed to reach that goal as hard as possible. I am running against the incumbent again, which is consider an additional, usually insurmountable obstacle, but as Barney Stinson says in the show How I Met Your Mother, “Challenge Accepted!”

I hope that the articles I posted here in the past are helpful or entertaining. And if you live in Edmonton, I hope to see you on the campaign trail – mostly electronically because you know, it’s still a pandemic.

Storytelling time: My First and Scariest Winter Slip-And-Fall Incident


By: Giselle General

So this happened during my first winter here in Edmonton, back in 2008. There’s a lot of things to learn and navigate and get used to. I learned that winter looks and feels different in different provinces. Things are starting to settle after moving here in July. I have a stable retail job, and I’m earning enough money at the time, I started dating someone who I fondly called my first Canadian boyfriend. And I am navigating all the different schedules and routines I need to do so I can go to the two schools I’m attending which is the University of Alberta and also McEwan University which was called at the time Grant McEwan College.

I worked the closing shift in the retail store where I was working, which is Future Shop at the Terra Losa business centre. It is located on 95th Ave and 172nd St and commuting in the evening was tricky at the time. You have two choices: be lucky and take the bus that is coming along less frequently from the area to the mall and then catch the bus from the mall to our house on the West End. Or if there are no longer buses that are passing through the business centre , take a 25 to 30 minute walk from the store to West Edmonton Mall, through the mall, to the transit station along 87th Ave. This walk is actually nice and refreshing most of the time, especially in the fall or spring or summer months. But winter is a whole different ball game.

Concrete parking lot covered in ice.
This is how the parking lot was like in terms of icyness, but at night!

You see, at the back of this giant mall, West Edmonton Mall, there’s an overflow parking lot along 90th Ave where people can park their cars if the multi level parking areas all around the mall are too full. Essentially I’d walk through a residential neighborhood , walk through that parking lot, cross to into the mall, walk through the mall, and then get out on the side of the mall where the transit station is.

The thing is in the winter, this parking lot is like a giant, giant ice rink. The reality is, if lots of snow falls into the ground and if left untouched by snowplows, trucks or snowblowers, that pile of snow – however many inches it is – it gets packed down. Then, if in a couple of occasions the weather gets warmer the surface layer of the snow melts a little bit and it becomes ice and that can happen over and over. Cars would not have a difficult time navigating the parking lot because they have tires. It might be a bit slippery driving around but that’s pretty much it. However for people on their feet it gets a bit more tricky.

That night, I decided to walk from my workplace to the mall because it was a night that is not too cold so I thought I can handle it. I’m still dressed for the weather though, I have my nice long winter coat that we bought not too long ago from Winners , and I have this really nice and warm knitted hat that I got from my cousin’s and aunt’s place in Ontario. It’s really thick, thicker than most hats. And it is really cozy with a nice little flower knitted on the brim.

Woman wearing a black winter jacket, multi color scarf and white knitted hat with a yellow knitted flower.

As I left the residential area of Summerlea, passing through the playground and entered the parking lot I realize I’m in big trouble. There are hardly any cars around, there’s the very faint light from the street light switch was not helpful in helping me identify where is a section of the parking lot that is the least icy. You know, how you can usually differentiate between the really really slick shininess of an icy sidewalk and the pathway where it’s just snow that is a little bit bunched up but you might have more traction. That night was not my lucky night.

So I did the only thing I can do . I started walking baby steps, little tiny steps to get as close and to get across as quickly as possible. Here’s the tricky thing. I am very aware what time the bus I’m taking will be departing, 9:58 PM. If I do not catch the bus, since it’s already almost 10:00 PM, I need to wait one full hour for the other bus before I can get home. So I’m conflicted! I need to walk slowly because it’s so icy and scary but at the same time I have this bus I need to catch . I’m so happy that there’s no one else in that parking lot because every three steps I would slip a little bit and scream!

I was about halfway through when, I suppose, my balance was a little bit off, because I slipped and fell forwards. I was really afraid I’m gonna slam my face onto the icy pavement. However because my hat was a lot thicker than most hats I actually had a cushion. I did fall face first, but it was my forehead that hit on the ground. I was lying there in shock for a second or two . And I realized I was not bleeding, I wasn’t hurt, no scratches or bumps on my face and I was so shocked and relieved. Then slowly but surely I rolled over on to my back, tried to sit up and struggled because even my hands cannot grip anything because everything is so slippery. And I slowly stood up and continued walking . By the time I crossed the parking lot and reached the sidewalk along 90th Ave I was overjoyed. I moved on to enter the mall through Bourbon Street the restaurant area tried to run and walk and shuffle through the mall to catch my bus.

The next day I woke up in pain and was very scared. My neck hurts! I could not even pinpoint where that came from. Because I arrived home late in the evening I didn’t get a chance to tell anybody what happened the night before. Over breakfast I went into the main floor of our house and talk to my aunt and I told her what’s happening with my neck. She was very worried and for good reason. During the vehicle accident in my childhood where my parents and sister were killed, my brother and I were not left unscathed. My major injuries consisted of a lot of wounds causing a lot of blood loss, and a fractured skull. So my aunt was really worried that it might have something to do with my head again, even if it’s been a couple decades since my injury . Then, I told her about the slip and fall I had the night before. Now she was even more worried! She told me to go to a doctor ASAP, because my slip and fall might have affected my head and she said that it actually might be a concussion. Now here’s the thing, I haven’t heard of the word concussion before so I was even more scared and it sounded really serious.

While enduing my neck that was hurting, I took some painkillers and went to school. For this day my classes were at the University of Alberta. I discovered that there is a medical clinic there that students can go to, which is such a relief. So in between my classes, I went to the Student Union Building on the 2nd floor, and try to see a doctor. I’ve never been to this building before, I’ve never been to this clinic before, so I quite don’t know what to expect.

I didn’t have to wait very long and when I told the doctor what is happening how I’m feeling and what happened that might be related. He asked a few questions, touched my head a couple times, and said he doesn’t seem to see get it was anything really serious. And he introduced a brand new word to me. Whiplash! As it turns out, a whiplash can happen when you experience a strong incident like slipping and falling that can cause muscles or joints in other parts of your body to feel tension and be hurt. I was told to take painkillers, take it easy on myself, and wait it out. If I’m still feeling dizzy (if ever), if my neck or my head or other parts of my body are hurting, then I could go back for further help.

A couple days after, I was chatting with my boyfriend at the time. We’re hanging out in his apartment. He is born and raised in Canada so he has experience with a lot of winters both in Alberta and BC where he was from. I told him what happened, I told him what the doctor said , and he said that makes a lot of sense.

Outdoor sidewalk shovelled clearly of snow during winter.

It wasn’t only until a few years after when I learned about the “Penguin walking technique”. I think I saw something about it on social media. I mentioned it to the new boyfriend I was dating then, the guy who ended up being my husband. He said that makes a lot of sense. I told him about the slip and fall incident and how that’s very scary for me. So now, every time we walk around and there is a potentially slippery and icy area he would remind me of the Penguin walking technique, hold my hand and we’ll walk through together.

I think this is the reason why icy sidewalks and roads caused me a lot of stress and anxiety when walking around in the winter. This is particularly important for me as well, as a person who cannot drive. A couple of years ago, there is now an app launched by the City of Edmonton, where you can report icy sidewalks and piles of snow and windrows. Which in many ways is nice. But I really hope that everybody, from policy makers, to building owners, to parking lot owners, to home owners, to ensure that there is at least one straight path that is wide enough, safe enough, accessible enough for everybody to pass through all seasons long.

The Privilege of Work Benefits

By: Giselle General

As the end of the year is approaching, I double-checked my Health Spending Account (HSA) which is part of my benefits as an employee of a nonprofit organization. I’m pleased to see that for this year, I have used up about 75% of the total allocated funds for a wide range of services and products for my health and wellbeing. I bought hand braces for my hands to deal with my carpal tunnel and nerve issues, and for physiotherapy appointments early in the year.

Then when the pandemic happened, I tried to book a few online appointments with my psychologist which worked really well! At the earliest opportunity I booked massage therapy appointments again, almost once a month, because my furniture for my working at home arrangement is okay but not ideal, causing issues with my arms and shoulders from poor posture. Filing a claim to get reimbursed is a smooth and easy process thank goodness.

Living in two different parts of the worlds, for almost half my life in each country, has given me an opportunity to observe the vast differences when it comes for companies compensating and caring for employees.

I grew up in a remote village that was dominated by a single industry, mining precious metals. Workers of the company were given benefits such as a home, with utilities included, free schooling for the kids (elementary and high school) and a medical clinic. These incentives makes sense, because working for the company requires living in that location all the time. This is why when I was younger, thinking of these items as expenses didn’t occur to me. There are also trucks and buses that transport the employees to and from the mines and other facilities and then to waiting sheds that are a few steps away from their home. I knew that these were additional perks in addition to the salary that the workers picked up twice a month.

It wasn’t until my parents passed away (which included my father, the employee of the company) that I realized that there was a specific exchange taking place here. As my grandma and I settled into the store we owned and integrated our living quarters there, I became aware of other bills that people have to pay, such as electricity and water. I was permitted to continue to go to school that was meant for the children of the mining company’s employees. This is because we are still part of the community as an independent business owner, but there were some additional administrative school fees I have to pay.

person's hand catching a medicine pill being poured out of the bottle.

In my recent visits of the Philippines, I’m learning that more of my relatives are working for call centres. It’s a growing industry over there. Many of them were thrilled of what they will be given such as higher-than-average wages, and health benefits to cover hospital expenses and prescriptions. Having a fund to tap on to pay for medication is a huge deal because it’s not common. Regular medication or treatments for illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, or kidney troubles is financially burdensome.

Another type of employee benefit I observed in the Philippines is recreational trips, and company-wide outings. It seems like the attitude of ‘work hard, play hard’ is commonplace for companies with demanding responsibilities. A cousin who is a year younger than me told me stories of very busy periods at their work, where they practically sleep in the office for a week straight in order to meet a deadline, as in with sleeping mats and dinners provided by the company! I thought to myself, once it hits 10 PM, how productive are their workers really, when having to work for the rest of the night? But it looks like that’s the way it works there. And then, after this grueling time period, a weekend is scheduled for the entire company to have a trip in a resort to have fun in the beach, with picnics, swimming and more. For companies that employ majority younger adults, who are motivated by adventure and have the stamina to pull all-nighters, it seems to be a workable arrangement.

Being an employee here in Canada was a learning curve for me. I admit I was reluctant to maximize my benefits as I don’t completely understand what that entailed. The first time I tried to sort out the details of using my work benefits to go to the dentist, and I realized that I don’t have to pay a single penny after the procedure, was shocking to me. For so long, growing up, I felt fearful to seek dental care, to the point that two of my adult teeth were damaged so badly they have to be extracted and I wear partial dentures ever since. This has motivated me to have a predictable and positive dental health moving forward.

After moving into our house where my husband connected me to the dental clinic he used since he was a child, my dental appointments are regular. One year I had to have a major procedure, taking all four of my wisdom teeth, with my work benefits and my husband’s benefits, I didn’t have to pay a cent for the procedure and the prescription painkillers. It’s incredible!

Retirement contributions was another learning curve for me too. I remember being told that after passing my probation period that my paycheque is going to have another rows of numbers in the document, explaining the amount that will be docked out of my pay for RRSP contributions and how much my employer is adding as well. I remember in the personal finance forums online that this is a common topic when it comes to employee benefits.

Closeup of a woman's face and shoulders, while lying on a massage bed getting a shoulder massage.

Finally, I gradually got into using benefits for paramedical procedures. The first time I went to therapy for my mental health, it was free of charge because I obtained services from an nonprofit specifically helping people like me – sexual assault survivors. At first, there was only insurance company we use to claim expenses for these procedures, until it was separated and we had a Health Spending Account, which covers expenses for a wide range of things such as physiotherapy, massage, psychologist, and a lot more.

Coordinating benefits packages and coverage between my husband’s and mine took a bit of initial work but now it’s very seamless. I felt really good about being able to partially pay for my husband’s eyeglasses, as he needed a prescription starting last year. As a couple we now tap into each other’s benefit packages when we officially became common-law a few years ago.

With all the current conversation due to the current pandemic, these conversations are at the forefront of many working people. One’s paycheck usually goes to major expenses and if there are any benefits it helps ease the financial burden on some of those purchases that meaningful but never prioritized.

It goes without saying that I feel fortunate to still be employed at this time, and even more blessed and priviledge to not only benefit from these work benefits, but to also acknowledge the wide range of options that are out there.

The Fight for Healthy Social Media Habits: A Filipina-Canadian Perspective on Covid19

Woman sitting on couch browsing her smartphone

Doomscrolling sounds like a terrible terminology, and maybe it is. If the past fifteen years or so were any indication, the usage of technological devices from computers, the Internet, email, web subscriptions, and recently social media has occupied a significant portion of our time emotional energy and attention.

And it is understandable that there is such a great desire to stay as informed and as connected as possible given the realities of the current situation we’re facing which is a pandemic. And also, it is not like many other challenges and issues we have in our day-to-day lives have been put on hold because of the pandemic. The pandemic is just in addition to everything else, like natural disasters, scheduled government activities like budget deliberations, and the seasons. Products and services continue to be launched and promoted, various forms of entertaining content still get published in dizzying speeds, in addition to what I would describe as people increasingly having social and political discourse online.

I’ve heard so many times that social media apps are specifically designed to continuously capture one’s attention, to make it really hard to pull away deliberately and take a break from consuming all the content. Either it can suck people in into reacting and arguing or contradicting the thing they read. It also prompts people, even without realizing it, to make comparisons between with their own lives and however other people’s lives are portrayed in their carefully crafted posts and announcements.

A lot of times, what we read in social media also pushes us to do things really impulsively without realizing how what we publish can be interpreted by others. The term ‘keyboard warriors’ is there for a reason, after all. Oftentimes, the volume of commentary on a particular topic and a particular position on a topic is enough to make you drown mentally.

Three people wearing uniforms and aprons sitting beside each other browsing on their own smartphones

As someone who wants to be always informed and deeply involved in the community, this is a tricky fine line I have been trying to navigate. I am learning a little bit more about the concept of boundaries and I realized it is time to extend that with how I use technology.

So here is how I have been doing it in the past, which I realize it’s a decent foundation. On my desktop computer, I have an app called LeechBlock that sets timers so I only use certain websites for a specific period of time. This helps me prevent going through all content and scrolling mindlessly for minutes even hours without realizing it. When the timer for that web page says “oh you have been using this for 10 minutes straight!” it feels weird because you lose your grasp of time when you are just mindlessly doing something.

And now, I took it to the next level by doing the same thing for my own cell phone using an app called SocialFever. I’ve been doing it for just a few weeks, and I always get surprised when the timer says take a break from your phone because you have been looking at it for half an hour. I was like what? I have been on my phone for half an hour straight already? I just a bit shocking but also not completely. I still get surprised whenever the phone says time to take a break from this app for the day because I have already reached the limit you have set for myself. I have set a half-hour maximum for this particular app which is Twitter or YouTube and the internet browser app/

It is interesting seeing is the end of the day report I get from this app. For the past few days it seems like I have been using my phone for a an average of two to three and a half hours per day for doing different activities. Another eye-opening, if not a little bit humiliating, statistic that this app tracks now is how many times I unlock my phone. It’s weird to see that I unlock my phone in a several dozen times a day with the stats to prove it.

Screenshot of app alerting "app time has been exceeded".
This is the screen that pops up whenever I’m using an app for too long. It’s a jolting wake up call every time, but one that I appreciate.

I hope that by setting externalized limits, I don’t have to rely as much on my flawed self-control and instead, reserve my energy to when I pivot into doing productive things outside of browsing and interaction on social media apps. The pandemic is going to be here for a while so I know that cutting myself off completely from social media is not something I want to do. This, I hope, is the means to have a happy medium.

The Evolution of Audio Announcements- The Captive Transit User Series Part 7

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.

“A hundred and eleven street, a hundred and second Avenue…A hundred and twelve street, a hundred and second Avenue… A hundred and thirteen street, a hundred and second Avenue.”

These lady robot announcements weren’t always a part of one’s commute taking the bus here in Edmonton. The first time I started hearing them, I think it’s about 2012 or so, I can’t help but giggle while taking the bus because the voice just sounds monotonous and a bit silly. My brother (who was new to Edmonton at the time) and I would poke fun at the robot voice sometimes. But the more I hear these announcements, the more I appreciate its benefit when taking transit in Edmonton.

When I first came to Edmonton in 2008, I used a print map of ETS to get around. I have both the city-wide map to help me understand the different routes available, and the the route-specific maps as well. I needed to be familiar with the route number 4, 106, 150, 111, 112, 100, 119, 136 and the LRT so I can to go school, work, hang out with friends and do other activities. I still had a flip phone during those early years and Google Maps is not as good as it is now.

A public transit bus rapidly passing through.

I tried very hard to make sure I get off the right bus stop, but in the winter, when it is dark and the windows are frosted it can be tough to look out by the window and keep track. If you end up missing your stop by a few blocks, walking a few extra minutes late at night and in the winter is not something I – or anyone – look forward to.

I also realized that the audio announcements help people with disabilities! I remember reading a quote from a news article from a person who is blind, who said that the automated announcements of the next bus stops are really useful. I bet that for people who are also new to Edmonton, it’s handy as well.

Screenshot of Google Maps showing walking and bus directions in Edmonton.

When I visited New York City last year, a city where sure, there are numbers in the street names, but the system is so different, hearing the audio announcements of the upcoming bus stops, while looking at the app on my phone, helped me navigate around really easily.

But then, we all know that technology is not perfect. When I lived on the further west side of the city, taking the 136 bus, one of the words that is in several street names kept on being mispronounced. For some reason, ‘Potter” became “Potters” and the word next to it loses the letter S at the end. So, Potter Greens Drive sounded like Potters Green Drive. The city’s app for reporting different city issues also wasn’t perfect – there wasn’t an option to report operating issues specific to buses at the time. But I did my best to report it anyways. I really hope it’s been fixed.

At least twice a week, there seems to be technical issues with the LRT announcements when it is supposed to indicate the next station. Either the next station announced is a few stations off, or the announcements were in reverse order. Luckily, now there is an option in the City’s app to report issues about transit vehicle operations.

Selfie of woman outside in winter, wearing a knitted winter hat and most of her face covered in a light blue scarf

LRT stations have additional types of announcements as well which is handy. Particularly right now during the pandemic, there are audio reminders that masks are mandatory. Back in early 2020, both the above-ground and underground LRT stations started to give passengers a heads up that bus transit fares are increasing in the near future.

Overall, audio announcements has been a handy feature for all users of our transit system. I hope that it continues to have the proper resources to maintain and update its functionality so that it works most – if not – all of the time.

Mastering Mask-Making: a Filipina-Canadian’s Perspective on Covid-19

A pile of fabric face masks with plastic window that is in the process of being completed

At this point of the pandemic, wearing masks has been a regular part of people’s routines when going out their homes. This is not to debate the merits of wearing one or the politics surrounding mask wearing during this pandemic, but more on my experiences making them and using them.

In the spring, there are so many instructions online on how to make masks, that even as someone who sews on a regular basis, I was a bit overwhelmed. There seemed to be two major pattern types, the folding accordion type, and the front folding two pattern type. Since I have no shortage of fabric I decided to use what we have to make the masks for my husband and myself.

Selfie of woman wearing a fabric face mask, the horizontal accordion style.

It took several attempts. Some are too small, and many were too tight! I don’t have a lot of experience working with elastics, and as a result I end up putting insufficient elastic for the string that is supposed to hold up the masks. I also don’t have a lot of experience with additional components that are not necessarily a fabric such as metal wires for the nose bridge. At first, I don’t even have materials that can function as a nose wire. It wasn’t until after I got some garden wire and also some pipecleaners, that I had the chance to learn how to incorporate a nose wire into making a mask.

A few months into the pandemic, when mask wearing started becoming more commonplace, I heard an article talking about the difficulties that people who are deaf or hard of hearing are facing because of people wearing masks. The challenge that they face is, it is even harder to hear people speak, and for those who rely on lip reading, they are unable to do so. I eventually stumbled upon a mask with a clear plastic transparent window and I thought that was awesome. I made a few attempts making this mask and they are a part of my own inventory of masks that I wear on a regular basis.

Selfie of woman wearing a fabric face mask with a plastic transparent window.

I really like these special masks that I made. When I have gone to retail stores wearing these masks I get a lot of nice compliments! People say that it is actually nice to see a persons smile again which obviously was covered thanks to masks. I remember attending an outdoor community event around early October and I wore one of these masks with a plastic window, and I got a lot of compliments from people who attended. One inevitable challenge is that when you talk, some fogging or moisture buildup occurs. I learned a trick to mitigate this, which is applying a very thin layer of dishwasher soap and letting it dry. Letting it dry is particularly important because it is awkward sniffing and smelling the dishwasher soap scent while wearing the mask with the window. I’m sure you can tell I learned that from experience.

During this time, I was also helping with fellow Albertans making free stuff for those in need specifically, I was helping to make free laundry fabric scrub bags for health care workers. There was another initiative running alongside this one, which is making free fabric masks for people in need. I admit, I felt conflicted for a while. I wasn’t sure which initiative I should keep on helping with. Eventually, I reminded myself that it is OK to help on one initiative only and hope that others, are willing to step up to help with the other one. It seems like that is the case! Many other people who have skills in sewing and quilting, helped to make free masks for those in need. Others turned it into a creative fundraising method. I heard that one lady made masks as a fundraiser and raised $10,000 for the Edmonton food bank and I thought that’s impressive.

Sewing machine on a wood table with sewing supplies around it, and a pile of completed fabric face masks beside the machine.

I made an attempt to make free masks for those who need it, and it was good but it did not last long. I was happy to make roughly 30 masks in total. The challenge I had was, because I am not a car owner, delivering these masks was more difficult than I anticipated. I also got frustrated when people don’t respond to Facebook messages after a couple days.

I decided that chasing people and following up with them on social media after making a request for a free mask is not worth my energy. When I stopped making these masks and getting stressed out with all the logistics of delivering them I decided to focus on the fabric bags that I am making for healthcare workers and I’m able to reach making 300 of them. And that felt pretty awesome!

When my husband had to go back to the office on a more regular basis he asked me to make several more masks for him. He already has a few that he uses whenever we have to go out for things such as going for groceries. But this time he actually wanted something more special and customized for him. We went against my inclination to use fabric I already have, and we went to the fabric store to buy a brand new fabric with a design that he likes for me to make masks. He has about two dozen of these masks. He seems pretty pleased with himself and I’m more than happy to make those for him.

Just in the fall, as I started to go back to work at my office on almost a daily basis, I decided to make additional masks also. At this point, after some trial and error, I found a mask style that I’m happy with overall. So I made five more of these and I learned my lesson from last time, and I put in an additional inch of elastic.

Woman wearing a face mask while donating blood at a blood donation clinic.

Now that it’s getting even colder, I learned another technique that I started to do when taking public transit and having my face covered. In the past, to keep myself warm and comfortable I actually wrap my winter scarf around my face. A few times, I have actually taken public transit and covered my face using only this scarf , not wearing a mask at all. And the way I wrap my face it is pretty comprehensive, practically my entire face is covered except for my eyes. So I’m pretty confident that I have fulfilled the bylaw regulation about face coverings. But now that it’s getting even colder I even doubled up. I would wear my fabric mask 1st and then, wrap my face you seeing that fluffy winter scarf that I use everyday during winter. When I go to our office, I make sure that I have at least one fabric mask which is what I use when community or when I don’t need to talk to people, and I make sure that I have at least one of my special masks with a plastic transparent window if I need to talk to people.

The routines related to masks in my daily living has been more settled now. From handwashing them on the weekends, ensuring the stitches and seams are still intact, and providing solidarity on social media to people who had to deal with people who refuse to wear masks feel second nature now. There is a part of me that wishes that people continue to wear masks to limit the spread of the flu during flu season. But for now, I’ll continue to find small motivations and silver linings to make the pandemic more manageable.

Being a “Backseat Gamer”

Close up view of the original Sony Playstation console and controller.

By: Giselle General

This is something that has been a dynamic in my life all these years. But it wasn’t until I saw my husband watching a YouTube Channel with the terminology uses in the channel, did I realize what I was. I am a backseat gamer!

When I was a kid and my parents and sister were still alive, we do have a video gaming system. It was more like a knockoff version, not the popular ones such as PlayStation or Nintendo. My sister would play it most frequently, though I’d play a game of Bomber Man or Golf every now and then.

In my aunt’s home in Baguio City, is where I first saw a PlayStation gaming system in real life. Whenever I’d come to visit, I see my little brother and my college-aged cousin play video games, lots of them. I hardly touched the controller mainly because I see how much they are really into it. And I preferred books anyways.

When my brother and I lived together in the city, we are forbidden by our grandma to go outside and play, as we have our store to look after. So we have to have our main source of entertainment at home. The Playstation will be on for most of the day, with my brother playing the games we already have, or pirated versions of newer video games. From Digimon, Final Fantasy, Harvest Moon and many others, the ambient music of these games are a regular part of my life.

When I moved to Canada, there were only two main reasons I played video games for a prolonged period of time. When I used to work at an electronics store, I won an Xbox Kinect (so a video game system where you move your whole body while playing) as a prize at an event. There was also a computer game my boyfriend bought for me in 2012 called Terraria.

How does the ‘Backseat Gamer’ set up look like for me? Two people on the couch, one playing (usually my brother or my husband) and then me making little comments or asking questions. I try NOT to judge whatever strategy they are doing. And I definitely do NOT interrupt during a boss fight. Boss fights are easy to tell, usually by ominous music, higher in intensity, with something huge on the screen.

TV screen of video games Subtautica, with the player having submarine controllers navigating open ocean waters.

I will never have the skillset of mashing multiple combinations of the controller buttons and fighting what seems to be an endless stream of monsters. While the goal is universal, which is to overcome the obstacles in order to win, the different processes to do that can vary widely depending on the game. You can be a human in an hostile planet trying to survive, or a jelly bean with legs trying to run through obstacles and beat the clock, or a farmer trying to keep everything organized in the farm and the village.

I guess it’s the modern day equivalent of watching TV with the family even if the show is not your absolute favorite. I think for family members who are NOT video gamers it can be a bonding opportunity with those who are, especially if they play in the living room. Even it it is almost two decades after, whenever reminiscing about our younger years, I tell my brother the limited details I remember about the video games he played such as Harvest Moon, Yu Gi Oh, Pokemon, and Crash Bandicoot, among others. It turned into something fond and positive to reminisce about.

And now with my husband it’s a casual way to hang out as well! He mostly plays in the living room TV since I don’t watch a lot of TV anyways. I’d say a sympathetic word if his character dies during a fight, or cheer him on a level up achievement or a boss fight. Just a few days ago I made a comment when he entered a different level in the game and he was impressed, saying “wow, good for you for observing that game mechanic, not everyone notices it right away!”

Living room with TV screen displaying a game named Hades, image is a castle with monsters the player is trying to defeat.

Video games are not just for children, with many gamers well into their forties, or even older. So I think there is value to non-gamer family members to be aware and and appreciate this hobby and entertainment medium just like movies and board games. I’ve been hanging out in the living room more often this week because the video game has really cool background music, rock and metal which is just my jam. Add interesting stories between the characters and artistically done scenery, it’s like watching a movie or TV show series with a slight level of variety in outcomes thanks to the family member holding the controller.

Bottle Drives as Fundraiser: a Unique Edmonton Experience For Me

Box truck with label on the side that says "Get the Yuck Out, Skip the Depot"

By: Giselle General

When I first arrived in Canada, I had my first experience in having an actual process to sort out garbage. Different types of garbage are sorted according to type such as refundable like bottles and milk cartons and cans, landfill materials, recyclables like plastic sandboxes, and things you can refund for money such as wine bottles, beer containers, and soda containers. So before moving to Edmonton, I have integrated the habit of sorting my garbage. And I also have a vague idea or realization, that returning these refundable drink containers will give you money. Then, I first noticed in grocery receipts, that you get charged money for buying liquids to drink in particular containers. So if you make the effort of returning these bottles, it’s not like you earn extra money, but more like you get your own money back.

Lawn Sign that says "Help us Build a New Rio School Park. Rio Park Bottle Drive, Today 9 AM - 1 PM"

When I moved to Edmonton I have observed a similar process. The way organic material is handled is a little bit different, but the sorting process is still there. Making sure you have the appropriate bags to sort your garbage such as the transparent bags for leaves in the fall, the black garbage bags for landfill stuff, the blue almost transparent plastic bags for recyclables, is integrated in once grocery shopping routine.

However, the actual process of people or organizations collecting refundable drink containers is something I haven’t seen before. As it turns out, this can result to a lot of money! And it looks like it is a relatively popular method of fundraiser.

I personally have seen many bottle drives before, and participated in some of them as a donor of containers. This particular weekend however, I finally helped my neighbourhood community league by supervising the bottle collection drive portion of our September event, for Community League Day. It’s a pretty easygoing task, all I have to do is to physically be on standby beside the truck where people would pull over bring their containers of bottles and place it inside the truck. At the end of the day this truck, this company, will take away these bottles, process them, and give money.

Selfie of Author, wearing a knotted hat and wearing a name tag "Giselle, Board of Directors".

Using bottle drives for fundraisers have been so popular that I received multiple requests as a homeowner different times a year. During spring and fall, like a predictable annual routine, I would get a flyer on my mailbox requesting for bottles to help the neighbourhood local children’s Scouts. A particular nonprofit organization has this as a regular part of their fundraising which is called Empties To Winn. The way this works is, they provide uniquely labelled large plastic bags where people can put in their drink containers for refund, every quarter the organization sends someone to pick up your bag with bottles and cans, and at the end of the year, you get a tax receipt.

There’s so much money to be made from collecting bottles and handing them over for a refund. Folks experiencing homelessness typically use this as a method to earn a little bit of money. I see people in parks and Transit stations looking a little bit worse for wear, reaching into the garbage bins to see if there are drink containers in them. We even have a small incident in our neighbourhood last year, for some residents were a little bit upset because they realized on garbage day their bags of recyclables is ripped into pieces causing guard pieces of garbage to be flowing and flying all throughout the sidewalks and streets. It was discovered that this is a result of a homeless person on garbage day going to each of the piles of garbage bags, ripping open the bags to see if there are any bottles. My neighbours made it clear that it’s not like they don’t want a homeless person going around the neighbourhood. The only problem is the littering it causes. Thankfully one of the residents had the chance to see this gentleman rummaging through the bags and kindly asked him to tie up the bags again after he sifted through them. Problem solved.

Inside of a truck, with a dozen blue garbage bags with refundable bottles and drink containers.

It’s fascinating to observe the people handing over bottles during the bottle drive. There’s the one gentleman in his red pickup truck where the back compartment is full to the brim of bags. He said he was planning to bring them to the Bottle Depot, and then COVID-19 happened, and then this opportunity came about to dump them all here. There’s the lady who had her containers in a water drum, so we had to work together to pour them all onto a plastic bag to put into the truck. There was the father of the kids who’ll be benefiting from the bottle drive. He told me that his son goes to the elementary school of the neighbourhood, and he appreciates that this bottle drive will raise funds toward’s be renovated playground for the elementary school.

For some people, they are diligent enough to collect the bottles bring it to the nearest Bottle Depot and enjoy the earnings of their diligent organizing. But for many, getting a few dollars every few months is not worthwhile, but the feeling of being able to contribute meaningfully for a charitable cause it’s definitely worth a lot more. For as long as there this system that helps collect organized and provide money for these recyclable drink containers, I think we are going to have bottle drives for the next little while and it is awesome.

Transit Access Influence House Shopping: The Captive Transit User Series Part 6

single family house with a pure white cube style architecture

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.

My husband and I live in a nice neighbourhood here in Edmonton, with neighborhoods right beside ours with super fancy, multi-million-dollar houses. Whenever we walk through these sidewalks and streets and see these houses, he would ask me, “Do you want me to buy that house? It looks so pretty!” It’s just a fun conversation topic, more like a little game, we do when we walk around the neighborhoods.

Almost every single time, I would say, “No! Because, where’s the bus stop? There’s none!” The proximity of a reliable bus stop was a very important factor when we were house shopping back in 2015. So during these walks I would wield this response in a swift and sassy manner. For many of fancy houses that is definitely the case. Because people are likely to be driving a car or even multiple cars to get to these homes, there is no expectation of accessible public transit.

In 2015 when we impulsively decided to start shopping for a house, we talked about our most important priorities. Price is a factor of course, and having a space or structure of a home that is easy to convert a portion of into an income property. For my husband, the neighbourhood is also important, so he wanted a house that is on the slightly mature west side of the city close to where he grew up. For me, as I have struggled and learned the hard way that going home from downtown Edmonton in the evening is really difficult, I told him it is very important to have good public transit access to downtown all day and all night.

We were so particular about our requirement for good bus access. When we were talking to our real estate agent, I grabbed a printed city-wide transit map, analyzed the different public transit routes that showed up in the map, grab the highlighter and marked the different areas that we would consider for our new house, and gave it to our real estate agent as a reference.

Paper map with a person's hand pointing on a part of the map

And we managed to find it! We found a house that is along a major road but not as loud and busy as the Whitemud or 87th Avenue, with a reliable and frequent bus route, pretty close to the in-laws’ house, and is easy or possible to construct an income property in the basement. And for a good price!

So for the past almost five years traveling around the city has been a lot easier for me. Going to work, going to the mall, going to downtown or Whyte Ave, and just traveling around the city. It is only what it’s super late at night that I would take a cab to go home and go to my destination.

I know very well, that this is the reason why, my husband has been very angry on my behalf when he saw he proposed new bus routes by the City of Edmonton’s Bus Network Redesign. We are not losing the bus stop that is 20 steps in front of my house, but it drastically will change from a frequent 15-minute bus route into a 30-minute community bus route. The frequent bus routes are either a 7 minute walk, or a 15-minute walk. A major selling feature of the home was ripped out from us, at least that is his impression.

My husband was also worried for other people who might be more entrapped and limited with their housing options. How will the Bus Network Redesign affect them?

Think of someone who is low income, who chose a specific apartment in a busy intersection because of the bus route that is nearby, and they realize that their bus route will be gone after the redesign is implemented. And they are just in the middle of their one-year lease. How is this going to impact their ability to get around? What if, they have an employer, a boss at work, who is not very understanding that this worker might be running late or not be able to fulfill certain work shifts that are given to them because of the changes in the bus route?

I wonder how much collaboration did Edmonton Transit Service have with agencies such as the planning department of the city, or even external ones like End Poverty Edmonton or United Way to determine whether these bus routes are the best way to go moving forward. I remember a few city councilors saying that it is true, the new bus network will not be perfect for the first little bit, and this will provide real-time tangible information and feedback on how the bus routes are working and make changes accordingly. It sounds fancy from a political big picture perspective. How can you explain that to someone who is here in Edmonton as a minimum wage worker still navigating our city in our transportation system, and where external circumstances are a bit more unkind? How about the people whose housing options are limited and employment options are limited; can they put up with a year-and-a-half of waiting for feedback before bus routes can be tweaked and improved in a specific area?

In my volunteering for the transit advisory board, we worked on a report recommending marketing strategies to inform as many people as possible, as early as possible, about the changes in the bus routes. It’s an interesting and neat experience to do research, think of my personal experiences, work with staff of the city, and present right in front of the actual politicians during a city committee meeting. It’s a bit surreal. I really hope that our suggestions are well taken, and that the city staff can identify other ways of notifying Edmontonians from all walks of life. Because for some, they might actually have to move from their home if their transportation options no longer work for them.

This is something my husband offered, to sell our house if being within a 2-minute walk from a frequent bus stop is important to me. I told him that moving is not necessary, at least not for now. I reassured him that a 13 minute walk or a seven minute walk is very manageable and I can handle doing that on a daily basis. These conversations took place before the pandemic, and now, the tediousness of a daily commute is hardly a concern, as I am fortunate enough to have an office job that I can do from home. But not for the “essential workers”.

Two 2-storey homes beside each other with the  grassy lawns frosted with snow

The timeline of the implementation of the new bus routes has been delayed due to the pandemic, and I personally don’t know whether I should be relieved or worried. Is it a pain point that is just getting delayed? Or is the right thing to do because there is enough uncertainty in people’s lives? Once the next opportunity becomes available, it will never be perfect but I hope that it will be manageable to those who are most impacted, the captive transit users.

Love language Reflections: Support in times of Crisis

Man hugging woman, woman's head burried on his shoulder

by: Giselle General

My husband and I had a particularly challenging weekend sometime in June this year. As if the pandemic is not enough. In times of crisis or particularly stressful situations, people react differently. People’s reactions can possibly be categorized into the following: fight flight or freeze mode.

Similar to how we face a threat that is directly affecting us, people might react in the same way if there is a crisis about their loved ones, especially if we are directly involved in their daily lives. Some people are in “hyper solution mode” or “fight mode” running around getting things done, getting everyone together to act, and then after this adrenaline panic-solution mode, they get exhausted and worn out. These helper types, dedicated to support their loved ones, end up not realizing they need to care for themselves too.

There are some people who have intense outbursts of emotion during times of crisis, getting stuck and unable to provide tangible practical solutions to resolve the crisis at the end. I personally describe this as the ‘flight mode’ especially emotionally. However, in my opinion, there is value with how these type of people respond even if it may be off-putting at the time. They demonstrate the emotional impact, the reality and seriousness of the situation at hand.

Woman sitting and crying, and person's hands supporting her shoulder's comforting her back.

And there are people that are in silent mode, I would say is the ‘freeze mode’. Those who are too quiet or maybe two numb or lost, unable to determine a course of action. It’s not necessarily that they’re useless in the time of crisis, however, it takes prompting or direct, specific instructions to get them to do anything. Whether it is direction from the hyper solution-focused loved one, or being prompted by the emotional outburst of the others. 

Particularly for long-term relationships, I think it is really important to understand how our loved ones respond during times of crisis.

This is because different reactions or solutions would be more appropriate depending on the situation. If someone is in medical distress, it probably would be important to be more solution-focused at least until the severity of the situation is minimized. However, it is important to acknowledge the intense feelings that have come up because of the situation. Imagine your loved one being taken away by ambulance – there’s the peak emotional state and then there’s the crash afterwards. In many crisis situations, solutions, support, and follow-up is more of a marathon not a race. There needs to be diligent planning and follow-up and ongoing communication so that the problem at hand can be fully resolved.

The valuable thing about knowing your loved ones’ mechanism when responding to crisis as you can pick them up and support them during times when they are struggling. Some people struggle with displaying their emotions even after the fact, even when it’s safe, more appropriate, or even healthy to do so. Some people get paralyzed and unable to do proactive helping in the heat off the crisis and that can be detrimental as well. I think it’s important for people to have faced crisis situations to feel vulnerable enough and unpack their emotions afterwards. Being self-aware of one’s own tendencies are just as helpful.

Lined notebook with handwritten words, "Today, 1, 2, 3".

This is speaking from recent experiences. I think, or I hope, that I’ve figured out my own and my husband’s mechanisms when it comes to crisis solving. There will be times when he’s not willing to talk about it just yet and that’s okay. Sometimes disconnecting from the situation for a bit by browsing the internet is an okay way to provide yourself some relief. And it’s important to acknowledge that. He gently suggested a couple times for me to meditate because he knew that it would be helpful for me, and I honestly would not even thought of it if he had not brought it up.

It’s important for loved ones to not be judged by their coping mechanisms. It is also important to gently and lovingly nudge your loved one to get supports that you are unable to provide. It took me a while to acknowledge that sometimes I just need a talk therapy session with a professional to help unpack my emotions so that I can be less filtered in my language and be more candid in a way that works at specifically for me.

To be heard, understood, supported, and pushed sometimes, is really important to maintain our sense of perspective, sense of health, and nurture our ability to help ourselves and our loved ones.