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

By: Giselle General

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

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

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

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

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

A plate of spaghetti with homemade pesto sauce.

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

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

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

The Courage from Admitting Fear

Giselle thinking while resting her face on her hands

By: Giselle General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two hands reaching out to hold each other

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hi Chidi,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Language Reflections: Learning About Love Maps

a man and a woman walking on a farm on a date

The consequence of not having solid role models of what a loving, caring, mutually equitable marriage looks like, is that I had absolutely no clue where to start. While I am lucky enough to have some memories of my parents until they died when I was eight years old, that is not enough time to learn, remember and apply it in my own relationships. One thing did stand out, and that is they treated each other well, so at least I know that this is a valuable principle that I want to have, and want to make happen, in my own marriage.

Luckily for me, I was book smart as a child and have retained some of the positive aspects of being one. That is, being resourceful and not feeling ashamed to do research, whether it is print or online resources, on how to do things. It’s something I’ve done for many years, including the awkward topics that I felt are just as important, such as learning about sex positions!

A YouTube channel I’ve started watching recently and really loved is Cinema Therapy. It’s an amazing Youtube channel that analyzes movies from a mental health standpoint, from a filmmaking standpoint, and hosted by two men (a registered psychologist and a film director) who are very open about their emotions while reviewing the movies. One of their videos talks about the 1990’s version of the Addams Family movie and how the main characters, Morticia and Gomez, showcase several key principles of a good marriage. In this video, the new concept I learned which I really like is the one of Love Maps.

A Love Map is the “part of your brain where you store all the relevant information about your partner’s life” as referenced in the book mentioned in the YouTube video, the Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work.

This is gonna sound cheesy again, but my husband, bless the man, has already been doing this without knowing the technical term for it. Many times in the past, when he learns something new that caused a strong reaction in me, both positive or negative, he makes an actual effort to remember them.

I’ve talked about the concept of Love Language before. I realized that the concepts of Love Language and Love Map go hand in hand, and I think it’s remarkable! Love Language focuses on categories that are very practical and tangible, while Love Maps can help find and apply specific observations or preferences.

So, using my husband as an example, the love languages he likes to receive are acts of service, quality time, and touch. Integrating the principle of the Love Map here means the following examples:

  • He appreciates food being prepared for him whenever I am at home. It doesn’t matter at all whether it is 100% homemade, takeout, or simple processed food like a frozen meal or a can of soup. Having a plate or bowl of warm food and a drink placed in front of him is something he really loves.
  • He appreciates that I know how to repair clothes and re-purpose non-wearable clothes into other functional household items. The most recent one is the pair of pants I repaired so many times, and when it’s no longer salvageable, I turned it into a pillow. He describes them as “gift made with love”.
  • Spending time doing different things while in the same room is quality time.
  • He loves cuddles and hugs throughout the day, and bed cuddles during daytime hours can only last up to 30 minutes max, then he gets restless.

In my case, the love languages I really cherish are acts of service, touch, and words of affirmation. Integrating the principles of the Love Map here means the following examples:

  • While I like all various types of affirming words, my outward reactions to them vary. Hearing “you’ve my love” and “I love you” will have the most immediate and reciprocating response with me saying “I love you too!”. Compliments about my skills “you’re such a smart baby!” would make me feel nice inside, but my reaction is more muted, likely because I’m raised to be modest about my skills. Compliments about my appearance “you’re a sexy lady!” are also lovely for my self-esteem, and I need to work on responding to them still. It is nice to be reminded at least one person thinks my butt is cute!
  • Acts of service for me includes self-organization and self-care, not just actions done directly for me. So, paying the bills on time or emptying the dishwasher are amazing, as well as him taking a break from chores and playing video games so he can de-stress. There’s no need for him to iron my clothes or buy my preferred snacks from the Filipino convenience store.
  • I love all forms of touch! We hold hands in the car all the time. When we “bump” into each other in our home’s hallways there’s always a little kiss or butt grab! And cuddles for at least 15 minutes at bedtime before sleeping is an integral part of our bedtime routine.

Combining this with other things I’m trying to do for my own individual wellbeing, such as therapy and learning about mental health, I hope that we are able to continue to be there for each other. This upcoming year is a year of a lot of change, and I hope that we will be able to ride out all what is to come and have our relationship in one piece.

Edmonton Experience Story: Coliseum Open House Before Closing

By: Giselle General

On December 17, 2017, my partner (now husband) and I decided to take the one last opportunity to tour the Coliseum before it was officially closed down. This is a summary of the tour, including some observations of the area and new things I have learned.

My partner is a born-and-raised Edmontonian, while I moved here when I went to university. That being said, I had a chance to go to the Coliseum a few times. First, for an Oilers game with my partner, then for a few concerts, and also another time for an Oil Kings game, during one of the nights when there was a Teddy Bear Toss.

We went there by taking public transit, which was lovely because it gave my partner greater flexibility. Also from our memory, parking in Northlands is expensive. As the years went by, traveling around by transit is a part of our date that we enjoy, since the buses and LRT vehicles are almost empty and we cozy up in our seat.

A "Points of Interest" map of the Edmonton Coliseum.

When we went to the Farewell Weekend tour, it was pretty quiet. I wonder if it is because it was the last day, or because it was pretty chilly.

The map was a useful guide to particular points of interest, and upon visiting those places, there were signs that explained the function of the area and some interesting historical or sports-related facts. Many places that are not publicly available is available for viewing this time around, such as the locker rooms and bathrooms for the athletes, the media room, fancy suites on the top floor, with a lobby that looked like a hotel.

We both forgot about the open skating opportunity, so instead, we went to the frown row, Corey sat in the penalty box, and asked me to take a photo of him pretending to be upset for being sent to the box. We spent a some time watching people skate around, while enjoying the soda and nachos we bought from the only concession stall that was open.

The skating rink of the Edmonton Coliseum, veiwpoint from the bleachers.

Afterwards, we decided to take the LRT to go to downtown instead of going home right away. At Churchill station we saw a woman painting a mural on the concourse of the LRT station. It was incredible, with patterns of what seemed to be a woman, lots of red birds, and a village and various scenery of a community. I started from a distance when he nudged me to say hello to the artist and chat about the mural. I felt shy at first but my husband reassured me that the artist might actually appreciate the chat. And he was right. I told the artist that she outline seems really interesting, that the elements she’s painted so far look incredible, and inquired her on what the painting is about. She told me that it is part of an initiative called Paint The Rails, which now had resulted to several paintings across different city’s LRT stations.

As we were already in downtown, we decided to stop by the Farmer’s Market and we arrived just in time to see the different shops close down. It’s nice to see the different types of businesses that were there, and we took some photos in front of the nice decoration that were set up in the interior of the City Hall building.

Afterwards we decided to visit the funicular for the first time, which is just a few block away by the Hotel MacDonald. We thought it was really neat and the lookout point at the bottom was great! I remember that one of the benefits of the funicular is for people with mobility aids to have a chance to see our beautiful river valley more closely. Using it ourselves made us realize and appreciate that goal.

After that we decided to head on home. As the Coliseum was accessible by transit and our detour in downtown Edmonton was also accessible by transit, we continued to use transit to head home. It was a lovely weekend date in the winter that we continued to cherish.

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.

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. 

Relationship “Green Flags”

Woman leaning her chin over a book on the table, smiling and giving a thumbs up.

By: Giselle General

During one of the rare days that I was working in the office this past summer, I dropped by the office of one of my coworkers. He’s a few years younger than me, just finished university a year ago, and is about to pursue another important life milestone: moving out of his parents’ home and moving in with his girlfriend. He started as a volunteer five years ago so we have known each other for a few years and has heard of the relationship milestones that I had myself, particularly reaching legal common-law status with my partner, and afterwards, getting married.

I was teasing him a little bit, and giving some friendly warnings about how moving in together with your significant other is both exciting and unnerving. I told him that getting annoyed with little things such as how toothpaste tubes are placed in the bathroom sink or how a toilet seat or lid is set up will be inevitable. During the chat, I used a phrase I saw somewhere over the internet in the context of a romantic relationship which is “green flags”. When he told me that they assembled a piece of furniture and it went smoothly, I enthusiastically told him that is a relationship “green flag”. He said, he will use that term also moving forward.

In conversations about romantic relationships, “red flag” is a common and appropriate term. It is indeed important to be attentive to subtle and obvious cues, both verbal and nonverbal that can indicate something that is potentially problematic. But spotting positive signs is not encouraged as much. So I was thrilled when I saw the term “green flag”, I think on an internet meme somewhere. Oh, the power of internet, this time for good!

So here is a very introductory list of “green flags” in a romantic relationship.

  • Both parties are able to be patient and collaborative at the same time. Building furniture, especially from IKEA, is the ultimate test for this. Another way to test this is when cooking a dish together that takes several steps, like cooking on a stove, baking, assembling.
  • Understanding and respect of differences and limitations such as allergies, food preferences, physic endurance doing an activity, clothing colors or textures of objects they like or don’t like, and more.
  • Ability to communicate well, outside of romantic expression and having sex
  • Feeling confident and secure in one’s appearance when around them, there’s no need to fake it to impress
  • Experiencing a messy bodily illness or function in front of them, and they didn’t freak out too much and judged you harshly. This includes skin irritation, digestive issues, the flu, blood, etc.
Mother and a young son and daughter, sitting on a bad teasing and laughing together.

And here is a very introductory list of “green flags” in a family relationship.

  • Feeling at ease in their presence, whether it is an older or younger family member
  • Comfortable with making small requests, from unloading the dishwasher, cleaning the hair off the shower drain, or a car ride
  • Positive gestures done in the past is never used as blackmail material or as a guilt-tripping tactic
  • Able to share casual stories about daily life even if it may sounds like shallow venting

And another short list of “green flags” at one’s place of employment.

  • On weeks or days that are difficult, there is a feeling that the next day can be a bit better, and it does
  • Feeling productive most of the time
  • Having one’s direct supervisor and a few colleagues (not necessarily all of them) be understanding and sympathetic towards the ups and downs of your duties
  • Not worrying one time about salary and payday
  • Having functional equipment and honest efforts to fix something when something is broken
  • Being comfortable with whatever arrangements you make during lunch break

I have two sets of relatives here in Edmonton, two happily married couples whom I observed one action they both do, they address their respective spouses as “mahal”, as in the word for love (and also for expensive, haha!) in Tagalog. I really liked it. So with my partner and now my husband, we address each other as ‘love’. And it’s awesome!

My husband and I chat about our respective workplaces and I share little stories of work activities for staff, social gatherings, and upcoming changes. My husband says with an amused look “wow, your managers actually know how to manage.” Based on stories from so many people we know, we both realized that managing employees is not a skill that everyone has.

I think it’s a good idea to proactively spot ‘green flags’ in our experiences and interactions. It provides an opportunity for appreciation and gratitude, as well as motivation to learn, master and emulate those positive things. This is something that I will try to do more moving forward.

Love Language Reflections: Appreciating Each Other’s Yin and Yang

Black and white photo of a couple holding hands, photo focus on the torso, arms and hands.

By: Giselle General

Being “Therapist approved” is an inside joke that my husband and I have, which is a reference to the first time I went for mental health help in 2017. I shared to my counselor at the time the different gestures my husband does to support me, as well as his perspectives that are different from mine in a good way. And always, after each story, this counselor would say “he’s great, I like this guy!” After every therapy session I’d share this to him, and would say cheerfully “wow, I’m therapist approved!”

Recently, I booked another online therapy appointment with the psychologist I’ve been seeing for the past year. This time around, there isn’t a major issue that I needed regular appointment for, but more like an check-in and occasional help once in a while. It’s like going for a massage – but for my psychological wellbeing – going once every few months feels really nice!

As I described how my husband and I support each other, and how our personalities and priorities are complementary but different, this psychologist commented about how my husband and I seem to be a yin and yang of each other. A contrast that is drastic and obvious, but works so well together and creates a harmonious union.

It reminded me of a painting I made many years ago, back when we were still living in the condo. It is an abstract interpretation of how he and I were a yin and yang complement to each other. It looks like my younger self had observed that about our relationship already. My husband liked the painting to much that it moved with us when we bought our house. Now, not all paintings that I made are kept. Some end up getting donated to fundraising auctions for charities, or I paint over it with a different design. For a painting to stay here for more than five years, it has to feel really special to him.

Abstract painting of a yin and yang symbol that is altered, with handwritten scribbles in either blak or white pencil.

What does this yin and yang harmony as far as our relationship is concerned? Here are some examples:

  • I’m very achievement-oriented and strive for excellence, while he is content with being minimal and steady in achieving life goals
  • He has an amazing ability to be a long-time ‘couch potato’ sitting and watching TV or playing video games all day. I lose attention, and my bottom hurts after watching 1.5 episodes on Netflix, unless it is really interesting.
  • He emphasizes a lot on rest and relaxation, while I’m energetic and immerse myself in lots of volunteering and creative work
  • One example related to chores: I strongly dislike doing laundry, having to wait and time my day to move clothes from the washer to the dryer. But he is more than happy to do so. And then, he dislikes folding and putting away clothing neatly, which is something I am more than happy to do.
  • Our backgrounds and upbringings are drastically different. He is a born-and-raised Canadian white man, with a middle-class family, parents who raised him and stayed in the same home the entire childhood. I grew up in the Philippines, orphaned at a young age and had to function as a parent, immigrated to a new country and moved across cities and provinces.

I think it is not just personality, but encouraging one’s partner to look at things from a different perspective, so that each person has a sense of balance in life. It’s really great whenever he talks to me a few times a month to help me take inventory of all my volunteer activities, and making sure I don’t take up too much and overstretch myself.

Another important aspect is the acknowledging and accepting the differences, particularly if it doesn’t cause harmful disruptions in day to day living. For many years, our budgeting system is quite different, and as long as we are overall organized, it was okay if he used a specific software for budgeting while I used my bank’s online system. It’s totally okay if our office desks, which are next two each other, looks so different. His is really tidy, while mine has mini piles of stuff, from pens, my wide-open bullet journal, business card organizer, and our couple’s diaries. It’s totally okay if he has his clothes sorted in a pile of stackable bins, one of each type of clothing, while I have a closet where majority of the clothes are in hangers.

Close up of a couple mixing baking ingredients. One person hugging the other from the back.

It’s been six years since I looked at that yin and yang painting up close. I wrote words in black or white color pencil in the flowy parts of the yin and yang symbols. As I read the words, the passages are filled with eagerness and curiosity, affection and optimism. There were many phrases that are contrasting and complementary describing both him and me and our experiences: happy and sad, modest and proud, dark and light, straightforward and confusing, assertive and passive, generous and practical, gentle and blunt, he and she.

Love Language Reflections: On Not Buying Gifts

This is a fitting topic for my birth month! Gift giving is such as well-known gesture to showcase thoughtfulness, affection and meaning, but it can get complicated at times. Then the act of gift-giving is muddied with feelings or anxiousness, resentment, burnout or the pressure of expectations. That is when, in my opinion, the positivity stops.

May is also the month of Mother’s Day, so for the the first two weeks of the month, there’s a wave of relentless advertising about products and services that people ought to purchase to make mother feel special.

Man wrapping a gift box, tying the ribbon.

For couples, I suppose there are three occasions where it is usually expected, or anticipated, by people that they will receive a gift. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries (or equivalent) or Christmas (or equivalent). For quite some time know, my husband and I don’t buy each other gifts for every single holiday and birthday.

I didn’t always feel good about it, especially in the beginning. It’s something I gradually got used to, and eventually appreciated as I got older. The more I get attuned to the constant, and frequent ways of showing care, concern, commitment, and affection to each other, the material goods mattered less and less. Any day, I’ll take my husband saying “I love you” a dozen times a day, than a shiny piece of jewellery every anniversary that will surely collect dust.

We are not super materialistic to begin with and we are both independent in nature as well.. So when there is a product or service that we need, we don’t wait for the next gift-giving occasion, or make someone use their money to buy it. We research, check our budget if necessary, and make the purchase in a way that works best for us.

I needed a desktop computer, since I have only been using a tablet (that I can connect to a monitor) for the past five years. But I don’t need or want it to be completely brand-new. For this year, I got a “half brand new” computer, meaning, I inherited some of his computer parts that he needed to upgrade, got a new case and new components, and got my own machine for half the price! That was actually an experience we treasure, because going out to stores during the restrictions due to COVID19 is quite an experience.

The peace of mind and financial freedom is actually quite incredible. The holiday season every December is so relaxed, because there’s is no need to scramble to buy or make a gift.

One way I have given him gifts is through my arts and crafts skills.I’m fortunate enough to be a crafter, so many of my gifts for him are artistic, one of a kind and also practical items. I first made a quilt, using our old Tshirts as material. As the years go by and we cohabited longer, it became apparent that it’s easy to run out of ideas for meaningful and utilitarian gifts. The quilts and pillow cases seem to be doing well in terms of longevity. And now, while using these items on a typical day, he would exclaim how much he appreciates these gifts “made with love”. I would exclaim how long ago these items were made, and they unexpectedly became mementos in their own right.

Living room couch covered with a quilt and pillow cases that were DIY.

For my brother, over several years, I have been giving him cash, and that seems to work well. It would be in an envelope with a heartfelt message and the dollar bills. Due to COVID-19, I know that many businesses don’t accept cash as payments anymore, so I sent it as an e-transfer, and included my heartfelt message in the message box. He is the only exemption to the rule, and I think in some ways it still counts, since I managed to escape the agony of choosing and buying an item he may not like or use, but instead, give something that would really of benefit as a young man. Maybe, the love language in that one, is that I trust him enough to know the best way to manage his finances.