A Cog in the Community Service Machine: A Filipina-Canadian’s Perspective on COVID-19

It is to be expected, that in a crisis like this, many people will be put in a difficult position (or a more difficult position) and are in need of help. One incredible thing about this pandemic is that there were lots of opportunities to help, and there are different roles to fill.

It’s pretty neat to take a break from being on the organizer role (I’m talking specifically about my job), since all our programs are cancelled. My job is the main way I do something that helps people in need in a direct way. My volunteer work as a member of a board of directors is also important, and I appreciate it, but a bit more removed, a bit more big-picture.

I was not surprised that social media pages and groups were set up to help people in an efficient way. Facebook groups specific to COVID-19 that enabled the average person to have a direct way to help with advice, positive commentary on social media, and buying items online to help those with emergent need. For a Facebook page that is just barely a month old, to have 20,000 members, is pretty darn impressive. I wanna buy a case of wine for each of the founders and moderators of the page. What an incredible labour of love.

Another way I have been helping is by being in “super seamstress mode”. Since last year I’ve been making fabric bags for Boomerang Bags Edmonton, and that has proven useful during this time. Hundreds of people throughout the province started making fabric laundry bags for healthcare workers, so they can separate their dirty (and most likely contaminated) work uniforms and toss them right away into the washing machine.

In my neighbourhood, with relief, I discovered ways to do a little something cheerful right by my front yard. Sidewalk chalk art. Staying connected with community leaders. Volunteering from home.

For my workplace, I realized that disseminating information, especially online, is really important. It’s part of my duties anyways. Handling marketing and communications for work and the clients we serve who need help is a part of my daily duties as I work from home.

These are the “doer” type of roles. The soldiers in the field. The cog in the machine. I know there are hundreds of volunteers doing seamstress work right now. I know (and it’s incredible) that there are thousands of people on the Facebook group, that almost every single time someone make a post asking for help, an offer is made within an hour or less. I am seeing dozens of photos drawing positive messages of pavement or fences, even if there’s a risk of snowfall or watery puddles the next day that would wash it away.

I’d like to take a moment to give a shoutout to all the administrators, organizers, facilitators of these on-the-ground initiatives to help others. Because it’s more stressful to do it at this time, but the relieve that these gestures of support is also of a greater impact.

Life is an 8/10

By: Giselle General

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while. Honestly, the current circumstance that we as a society are facing right now hasn’t changed it by much.

Two years ago I started adapting a concept called Bullet Journalling, a DIY hybrid of a personal planner, calendar, journal, scrapbook and habit tracker. I’d like to give credit to the first Youtube Video where I discovered the idea.

My personal version is a system I made and modified over the past months and years. There are daily, weekly and monthly to-do lists, a 2-page overview of how the upcoming six months looks like, something called ‘collections’ where you write your ideas/ reflections/ notes on certain topics in a single place, and a mechanism to track habits you want to incorporate in your life. Here are some examples for me:

  • With my habit-tracker, I managed to integrate the daily habit of flossing my teeth, and I don’t need to track it anymore. Now, it’s replaced by a new habit I’m incorporating which is ‘not snooze the alarm clock.’
  • I have space in my weekly two-page layout for the week, to write something I’m grateful for
  • I have a ‘collection’ page for a few topics, such as my charitable contributions to the community. This gives me a page to look at when I’m feeling unproductive and that I’m not making a difference in the world
  • I also have a ‘collection’ page for women leaders I admire. It’s meant to inspire me for when I run for public office, a big dream I want to pursue in the future

For this post, the topic I’d like to discuss is mental health. A lot of other people who use the Bullet Journal system do different things about this. Some people make their journals creative like a scrapbook, and the artistic expression is helpful for their mental health. Some, like me, integrate a place to write what they are grateful about, for the day or the week. And some have ‘mood trackers’ where they use a coding system to indicate how they are feeling for the day. Many use colors of symbols. I heard that for those with ongoing medical conditions, either chronic illness or psychological illness, this is a useful record.

My version of this, is that on my weekly/daily to-do list, I rank what I feel about the day on a 10-point scale. So, a not-so-great day might be a 5/ 10 or something. I ranked my wedding day as a 9.5/ 10. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and realized that most days are a 7/10 or an 8/ 10. When I get grumpy or really sick then it might fall into a 6/10.

8/10 is a decent number! Thinking about the challenges I had in my earlier life, it feels uplifting to be honest. I can’t help but critically think of it though, and then, doubt creeps in at times. Is it a sign of resilience and healing? Or comfort and luxurious privilege? Or optimism or a healthier outlook in life? I hope that it’s a combination of all three. One thing I’m trying to remind myself, is that it is completely okay to feel my feelings. While this was meant to face head-on certain difficult emotions such as shame, discomfort, anger, or passion, I think it is just as useful to face head-on positive feelings such as relief, warmth, belonging, comfort, and sense of accomplishment.

Telling myself “I got this” or “this is not so bad, because I survived worse” had, in part, helped my put a higher rating even on days that may be challenging. There are some days where it was exhausting, draining, or uncertain, but the possibility that the next day would be better encourages me to think of the current day not as a waste, not a disaster, but just a natural low part of life.

It’s okay to feel good. It’s okay to be comfortable. It’s okay to not worry sometimes. This is likely something I’ll have to remind myself over and over for a very long time. Perhaps it’s a good thing, so as not to take the good fortune for granted, and in order to be proactive to prepare for difficult times.

My Financial Costs to Volunteering

The time and energy that it takes to volunteer in a meaningful way is something I anticipated and embraced. I mean, that’s the whole point. To receive little or no financial compensation for doing something that is interesting and helpful to the community at large. It gives opportunities to meet different types of people, learn information and perspectives that are not always available within one’s home or work environment, and have a fun time making a project or goal a reality.

However, there are two items that I didn’t quite expect, which turned into actual additional expenses. These are travel and food costs.

Overall, I’d say I have a decent grasp of my finances, where the dollars go, how much, and under which category. As I grow older and have reached a level of stability in my life, I’ve managed to aim a certain quality of life that I’m satisfied with, hit savings targets and enjoyed the process, and find ways to be savvy with expenses. That being said, as my list of volunteer activities grew, there are times that spending a bit more to travel around places or to have a quick bite is inevitable.

As a non-driver, public transit user, who attends meetings and activities outside of “regular” transit hours, the cost of ride hailing services do add up. I’d say 90% of my taxi, Tappcar and Uber trips are related to a volunteer or community service activity. Whenever possible, when heading to the location I try to take transit, and then only take a cab going back. However, traveling from downtown Edmonton where I work, to the very far edge of Edmonton farther west from Anthony Henday, it’s just not feasible. It’s a hefty car ride as well. Such trips would likely be $40 one way. I’ve done this a few times, and given my duties in this particular volunteer board, it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

Since I started using his budgeting software and system a while back, I do have the tools to answer this questions with actual numbers.

For another board I volunteer for, the main office is on the south side across the river, around the Scona area. When the weather is good and I can leave the office from downtown 45 minutes ahead of time, taking a bus and walking for 20 minutes (if the weather is good and the sidewalks are not slippery) is feasible. Otherwise, it’s a $20 cab ride to get to the meeting. And then, since the meeting ends pretty late, no way can I take transit going home. Fellow board members had kindly offered a ride sometimes, for which I’m grateful for. However, when that is not an option, that’s another $20 minimum for another trip. One volunteer meeting, $40 expense, but I get a nice dinner, so there’s upsides and downsides for sure.

For one board I am a member of, our sub-committee meetings usually take place in restaurants. Typically it would be a bar in downtown Edmonton. Sometimes there would be two of these meetings in a month, and that’s where the expense can add up.

I was worried about this when my husband helped me put things in perspective by asking a simple question. “Is it within the budget?” Regardless of what prompted the expense, there is comfort in knowing that the expense is anticipated and that I do have the resources to allocate money for it. Since I started using his budgeting software and system a while back, I do have the tools to answer this questions with actual numbers.

I’ve managed to find a workaround to make sure this doesn’t break the bank too much. As far as eating out is concerned, I have given up on my “solo restaurant dates” that I’d have once a month. So, that’s one less restaurant meal I spend on. Whenever there is a meeting in a bar, depending on how hungry I am, I started ordering appetizers half of the time, instead of choosing an entree right away. A board member started teasing me and say “looks like you have a thing for poutine!” when he noticed that for several meetings in a row, I’d get the same thing: iced tea and a poutine.

Regarding travel costs, it looks like I spent $1,500 on cab rides last year and $1,100 in 2018. That jump is definitely directly correlated to the additional activities I’ve been attending. But I have zero car expenses because I don’t drive. This expense is the additional one I have on top of my bus pass. Thinking about how much people spend on their cars, helped me put this in perspective.

I realize that having to spend a few dollars in addition to sharing one’s time and energy while unpaid is too much for some. But I hope that for some who have a bit of financial flexibility, that it would manageable to give just a little bit more. And seriously, the conversations I have outside the actual meetings, when at the restaurant chatting while waiting for everyone else, or during the carpools after a long board meeting, they are just as meaningful as the actual volunteer activity we just had.

Love Language Reflections: The Opportunity to be Silly

The space and opportunity to be free, vulnerable and silly and weird is a very valuable thing to give to someone you love. While most of my examples are more within the context of a romantic relationships, I think it’s just as valuable within family units or friendships.

“Um….you look like a confused penguin.” My husband told me one night, as I show to him how much I appreciate the new layout of our living room. I tried to point out that there’s room to practice dancing, and showed my awkward interpretive dancing skills, prancing from one end of the room to the other.

I’m one of those floppy inflatable thingies you see in car dealerships!” He exclaimed, as he walked to the living room wearing his bathrobe. He tucked in his arms halfway through his armholes, and started twirling the sleeves around while bending his torso side by side like a tree. Makes me laugh every time.

A few years ago I was living with a few relatives, where a family friend is also renting a room with us. While we were having dinner one night (and it wasn’t just the first night), he farted, and said “oops” with a giggle. I’m glad he wasn’t mortified. I’m glad that he felt comfortable to realize that he can do a slightly embarrassing, though very human, thing, and it’s not so bad. Not enough grounds to be outcast for sure.

My brother lives in my house and is essentially a roommate. Whenever we have an opportunity to chat in the kitchen, we’d hang out by the kitchen island. I appreciate how much as we grow older, we treat each other more like siblings, as opposed to the parent-child dynamic we had all these years. We talk a bit about current experiences and some past experiences. The language we use though, with inside jokes and unique way we combine English, Tagalog, and Ilocano words, is something that we can only share with each other. This includes talking about dumb things we have seen, heard or done in our younger years, or less-than-filtered opinions.

Only when I started living with my partner (now husband) and my brother, did I feel more comfortable with sounding silly when I talk. Being constantly on edge, and pressured to be a ‘good girl’ and a ‘smart and proper girl’ growing up, it can be difficult to just let loose. For anyone who lives with me now, including our roommates, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear me talking in English with a Tagalog accent, just like comedians, do, just because I can and I won’t be scolded for being ‘ridiculous.’

Ask anyone who has been pressured to be ‘prim and proper’ all the time, or to be in the best behaviour, and I bet they would say they feel more connected with someone whom they can ‘take off the mask’. I hope that this is something that every single person has.

Embracing Snow Pants for Daily Wear in Winter

It’s a safe bet that for many of us, the last time we wore a jumper of any kind was when we’re little kids under the age of six. Unless you are a big fan of rompers, have a work-related protective equipment that involves a jumper-style outfit, or you are into denim jumpers, you probably haven’t worn any clothing of this style since. However, for myself, I have learned to embrace a specific kind of jumper for my day-to-day living particularly living in our great winter city of Edmonton. It’s the snow pants.

Winters can be pretty long in Edmonton, and having the optimal amount of clothing can be a bit of a challenge. Particularly for us transit users, having that balance between warm and layered enough, and not being too stuffy like the Pillsbury doughboy is a difficult balancing act. I used to scoff at people or articles that say “You just need to dress for the weather.” It felt a little bit elitist because in my mind, really good-quality outdoor outfits are only for fancy activities like skiing and snowboarding. However, I have paid the price too many times of being too vulnerable and exposed because of not wearing enough layers, or wearing something that will get wet and cold after going through a pile of slush.

At one point, I told myself, I got to be a big girl and make sure I don’t get sick or injured because I’m going out and about the city while not driving. I’m getting those darn snow pants. And at the same time, make sure I’ll be very cheap about it. Thanks to my husband, I learned to embrace the value of thrift store shopping without feeling ashamed about it anymore. So that is exactly where I got most of the components of my optimal winter warm outfit. Going to a thrift store, I found a winter coat that I have been wearing for about 3 years now. It is a fancy brand, but thanks to the thrift store pricing, it was about $30 or less, I can’t remember anymore, it’s too long ago. And then, going through the racks winter clothing in the children’s section, I saw exactly what I was looking for, a purple jumper style snowsuit that is bright purple, warm with shoulder straps and was able to fit over my chest and zip over my boobs just fine.

February 2019 is when I first had to put this outfit to the test. Edmonton had a really challenging week when it was around -40 Celsius for almost a week and a half. I was really concerned because of the reality of buses and cars being delayed, so I know I should try not to freeze while waiting patiently for the bus. I know very well myself about how I react when it gets too cold. I get really really upset, angry, and in pain. Like, “I’m so discouraged about life” kind of pain. Like, “put me out of my misery” right now kind of pain. I put on a fleece sweater, put my winter jacket on had my hat, wrapped my face with my thick fluffy blue scarf, like I always do. And then the fluffy bright purple jumper snow pants.

And it worked! I was able to handle standing stationary on an outdoor bus shelter for about 20 minutes before the bus came, and I was completely fine. My hands, on the other hand, were a little bit unhappy with me. My stubborn self refuses to wear gloves at the time, while browsing on my phone on the bus stop. Other than that though, I was able to get to work relatively comfortable and in good spirits! Also, I needed to get too used to the whole ritual of undressing and removing all the layers and then putting on office related clothing. I’ve procrastinated all these years, but finally last year. I did bring my separate work shoes in a bag and left it in the office. And then, I would take off my big clunky and cozy winter boots and put on my work shoes. I did at the end of the day, put on my winter boots again, the snow suit jumper, all the layers, covering my face, and then head home.

This early 2020 we had another one of those very cold weeks. I tried the same outfit again, and it worked just as well. I even had a bit of an upgrade. Last December, my husband and I decided to get myself a pair of winter boots that have anti slipping bikes that are retractable with a push of a button at the back of the boots. They look heavy, industrial, and really badass. I really like them. I have been joking around that my calves are probably super strong right now with all the extra weight that I have been carrying on my feet everyday. And thanks to getting used to the habit last year of switching out of my winter boots and then onto my dress shoes, that has not been a problem this year at all. I’m still thankful to my fluffy purple snow pants. 

One positive indicator this year that made me realize that the snow pants are actually a good thing, is how people react when they see me. During different community events, or even at the office elevator, people look at my pants and they say.

“Wow! You are on the right track.”

“That’s amazing! That’s what you call being prepared”

This is what I encourage everybody to do, in order to comfortably navigate winter. Not only for the sake of commuting to work or two different places, but to also enjoy all the outdoor festivals and activities available, or just be okay and in a good condition when going out for a walk or buying something quick from the convenience store. The snow pants are worth it. There’s ways to buy them in a very affordable manner, from thrift stores to clothing swaps. It’s totally okay that in your destination, you hang your snow pants and your winter coat on two hangers right beside each other. For newcomers, like myself, It is really worth it while trying to get acclimatized to winter. It’s valuable to not 100% hate winter during your first couple years, and spare yourself of any painful first memories of winter. We have the power in our hands to adjust ourselves, our physical selves, given that we cannot control the weather as much as we want to.

A Decade in Review: 35% of My Life

For anyone under the age of 30, particularly adults, 10 years is a sizable amount of time. For me, it’s 35% of my life! The other interesting part is, as opposed to our childhood and teenage years, young adults are likely to remember most, it not all of events that would be considered as pretty major.

This is a short summary of how the age 19-28 has been for me, as in the year 2010-2019.

Dating: I took a chance to date my ex-boyfriend’s friend, with two important premises: that us dating will not jeopardize his friendship with said ex-boyfriend, and that we’ll take it slow in our early years. That seems to have paid off! We are got married in the fall of 2019, after I took the courage (as the woman) to propose, and pulled off a lovely intimate wedding with only two months of planning. This relationship has been the most transformative in my life, where I learned how to be happy and healthy, to love and be loved, and how finding your partner is an experience that pushes you to grow and keeps you stable and safe.

The two most important men in my life being goofballs while playing a game: my brother (left) and my husband (right). I tell you, raising a teenager is no easy feat, but I think we did OK overall.

Brother: The past decade started with making arrangements for my brother’s sponsorship and immigrating to Canada. He successfully arrived and I did my best (I hope) to support and guide him in adjusting and living a good life here. He just completed his diploma program at NAIT, while being relatively healthy, in a loving relationship, having a decent work ethic and also debt-free. It brings me the greatest joy that he and my husband get along really well. Being a mother/father/sister to him since we were orphans was no easy feat, but I’m satisfied with how he is doing and how my contributions played a role in its own way.

Home: Home is where the heart is, a place of rest, self-expression, recreation, stability, peace and vulnerability. It has not been straightforward, but the past decade has enabled me to have an active role in defining and shaping what this means for me and my love ones. It involved a few move-outs and move-ins, budgeting, repairing and organizing, getting comfortable making sure that the home fits my sense of self and my current needs. That is actually the toughest part, to give myself permission to tell myself “yes, this is MY home now, this is my home TOO.” Thankfully, I think I finally reached that stage.

Health: Physical activity and diet is something I haven’t paid any attention to until about 2012. It’s been a roller coaster on this one. I went through phases of having an extreme and unhealthy attitude towards tracking calories and physical activity that swung like a pendulum over several years. It is a relief to eventually reaching a more balanced approach.Slow and steady wins the race” is the most important lesson on this journey and the fact that it is a lifelong one. Some physical ailments and a few medical procedures also took place, and as someone who felt ‘undeserving’ to get checked over by medical professionals, both due to cost and lack of attention by my legal guardians, obtaining the procedures is another significantly positive milestone.

Overcoming Trauma: I learned how to say the word ‘emotional baggage‘ without sarcasm or shame, as well as the word ‘triggered‘ in an honest and kind way. Thanks to the #MeToo movement and the other goals I was working on, I realize that I cannot move forward without addressing these. I sought out therapy for sexual assault around 2017 and I feel that I learned and transformed internally so much. I’m working on being more aware of the concept of Survivor’s Guilt, and how that can push people like me to overwork, overcompensate and be a perfectionist. I experienced burnout at work at least once and felt victorious after feeling vulnerable and courageous enough to seek therapy and actually use my work benefits. Mental and emotional health, as it turns out, is really important, in order to live an enriching life and be a positive impact to the world.

My office participating in a city parade to promote the programs we do to serve those people in need of help.

Career: In the beginning of the past decade, I was midway through my university degree, and after just a few years, I completed my degree, gained skills and discovered the current career sector that fits well at the moment. The biggest lesson for me is that in this day and age, there is no need to pick a career that I’m stuck with for the rest of my life, and this fluidity was both comforting and empowering. Also, I had a few young professional milestones such as quitting a toxic work environment, job promotions, raises, plus typical office changes like moving locations and growth in staff.

Creativity: Because of never receiving recognition in school about my artwork, as a child I though I was not artistic at all. My handwriting is nowhere as pretty as my parents, particularly my mother, who was the creative one in the family. But in the past decade, I eventually discovered the enjoyment of artistic expression in my own way, from words such as blogs and articles, upcycling, mending or re-making clothing and abstract art. Now, the decorations in my home and my personal office is 90% artwork I made. Many of our practical items are also DIY, from blankets, quits, pillows and some clothing as well. I appreciate how my husband describes them, as items “made with love”. I plan to continue to integrate this in my life for as long as I can.

This activity hit three birds in one stone: it was a neightbourhood-wide volunteer activity and at least 30 wall panels were painted, it was a celebration of Canada 150, and it was an artistic expression that was also kinda romantic.

Re-Connecting to my Cultural Heritage After Immigrating: Having the chance to visit the Philippines twice after immigrating was wonderful, both instances with my spouse who is not Filipino. Those were useful opportunities to sort important legal and financial matters, and retrieve a few things I didn’t get a chance to bring when I moved the first time. It also prompted within me an ongoing thought exercise on how I ought to fit or maintain, the Filipino side of my identity as I continue my life in Canada. I think that’s part of what prompted this blog in the first place. Discovering local Philippine-focused nonprofit organizations here in Edmonton is a huge help as well and I’m positive that my involvement will only grow in the future. Sharing my ‘coming to Canada’ story to the broader community was a great experience as well.

Self Love and Acceptance: Self-compassion is something I fortunately gained from a healthy workplace and a healthy romantic relationship, and with the explosion of educational tools and advocacy I discovered on social media. While the real change has to be internal and IRL (in real life), as a millenial, social media plays a huge role in making awkward conversations more comfortable. When used positively, the anonymity or the distance created from social media accounts can help people explore painful topics and also offer help. I’d say the past five years was when this exponentially increased in my life, and I was able to curate online communities to help me with this challenging and important journey. Now, I hope to maintain what I have achieved and pay it forward to others who are still starting their journey.

Loved being the ‘mayor of the hour’ during this educational workshop that teaches local residents how land planning and development works. Maybe I’ll have the actual job title one day!

Contributing to the Community At Large: Volunteering in many capacities just enriched my like in a multitude of ways. My goal is to have an optimal combination of activities where my role ranges from being a leader, an equal member, a contributor, or a participant. I think, that is what I have right now. The increase in stability in my home, work and paycheque was also empowering, as I was able to share not only my time, but also my money to those who are in need. The new decade will start with getting more politically active, and diving in deep by possibly running for public office and making an impact. Even as a child, being a trailblazer held a particularly strong appeal. I hope that the past decade helped me gain the skills and gumption to pursue these ambitious goals, and that this decade will be game time, to make attempts at these goals. One thing I’m very sure of, is the comforting truth in the saying ‘when one door closes, another one opens’.

Letter to My Departed Parents and Sister on My Wedding Day

By: Giselle General

Terms and Definitions: Mama is how I refer to my mother, Papa is how I refer to my father and Ate (ah-teh) is how I refer to my older sister.

Dear Mama, Papa and Ate,

Guess what? I just got married!

It’s safe to say that a part of me wished that you all were there. Frankly though, since it has been twenty years since you three passed away, I have a bit of trouble imagining how that feels like. Would I like the feeling of being “walked down the aisle”? The wedding was in a public park, so there was no ‘walking down the aisle’ involved. All the attendees, the nine people, just gathered around. Would I have liked having a sister to brainstorm the wedding details with? Ate, you had a boyish personality when we were kids, but Mama did an amazing job planning our outfits as kids, during Sunday mass or special occasions. I wonder what the two of you would have commented about my choice of a wedding dress. In some ways, I know very well I’m too independent for my own good. So, sorting out many details in solitude, while delegating or brainstorming with him, feels natural to me. No wedding consultants, no bridesmaids, no entourage, none of that.

Throughout the planning and ceremony, we did try to incorporate our family’s story and memories. Instead of a ‘scripture reading’ about marriage, I wrote a page-long speech retelling the love story that made our family, and a moment of silence to acknowledge your meaning in our lives to this day. I also spent part of the morning of the wedding day replicating a photo I saw in Mama and Papa‘s wedding photo album. It’s a photo of the wedding outfits laid down on the bed. The only thing is, sharp patterns of our bedsheet made the wedding attires not stand out as I had intended. I took the photo anyways, since it would be a nice keepsake either way. It’s clear I am not an expert photographer, haha!

I wonder how you would feel about the fact that it was I, the woman, who proposed to Corey. He took it well, and he even said that he was relieved that I was the one who proposed first. He said that his would be slightly less…eloquent. That made me laugh since it’s true. Between the two of us, I am the creative one, the writer.

Another kicker is this, I’m not taking his last name! Now more than ever, I really appreciate how things work in the Philippines, where kids get their mother’s maiden name as their middle name, and their father’s last name as the family name. So that’s me: Giselle Quezon General, where in all of my identification documents I get to keep a piece of both parents. Thank goodness, my lovely husband is pretty understanding and respectful about this. So, for the rest of my married life, I have a wedding ring to wear, will declare in my forms that I’m married, and will still be referred as Miss Giselle Quezon General.

A group of four people photographed together, mother, father, groom, and bride

The wedding planning was a bit abrupt, but it felt it was the right move. The wedding took place just within two months after we got engaged. I feel a bit choked up about my mother in law’s medical situation; we found out about the diagnosis this spring. Having a serious illness that can be brutal and unpredictable really sucks. This is why Corey requested that instead of having the wedding on our 10th dating anniversary in 2020, he wanted to have a ceremony ASAP. The only set of parents we have is his, and I’m more than happy to do everything in my power to ensure their active presence and participation in this special day.

If you were wondering why the other relatives were not on this ceremony, I took the inspiration from our very own family, having an initial small ceremony and then a bigger one later on. I remembered when I had to get a copy of the marriage certificates for my immigration paperwork, I needed to remember which wedding date to put on the forms. Civil wedding was in March and church wedding was in June of the same year. So I’d like to celebrate with a bigger event with everyone else when Corey and I hit our 10 year anniversary as a couple in 2020. For someone who is not yet 30 years old, a 10-year anniversary of a relationship is huge! I hope that the extended family will be inclined to come and celebrate next year, and share their wisdom about their own married lives.

Greg ended up being my ring-bearer, and he did an excellent job. I figured, all those times when he did the same task as a little boy will ensure he’ll pull this off with no issues. He did share a few stories from his perspective as a child, being bored with having to be stiff and quiet the entire time during the hour-long wedding ceremony. He said, a trick is to play a bit with the fancy beads on the pillow to kill the time. I laughed quite a bit upon hearing this. And I promised him, the ceremony would be so much shorter.

A few things I take as an exciting challenge are any opportunities that let my artistry shine, saving money, and recycling. My dress was lovely, comfortable, second hand and a great price! Everyone was willing to transport us around, so we didn’t need to rent a limo, we can get hammered with drinks and not worry about driving. Our officiant is the pastor from our neighbourhood, who was gracious enough to accommodate our short-notice date, but to offer a very eloquent, beautiful ceremony that is also non-religious. A good friend of his offered to take professional-grade photographs as a wedding gift. The location was something I crafted, an outdoor mural from a few years back, and I managed to replicate a hand-painted smaller version onto our cake topper. I made my veil and with the same fabric, I made a pocket square for his suit. The restaurant offered lots of choice in the food and we didn’t have to worry about the expense of having a ‘set menu’ and upsetting anyone who has different food preferences. I’m pretty darn proud with how the wedding turned out because of all of these.

My mother-in-law, and everyone else, had a lovely time at our small, intimate, relaxed wedding ceremony. For me, the best part, is that the she still remembered the next day, and a few days after that. I genuinely cannot plan a wedding for 200, 100 or even 50 people on such short notice, both in terms of time, energy and money. Will other people be understanding and compassionate? During your time, did people get upset that they weren’t invited to your wedding? Based on the photos it seemed like you had a roughly 200-people guest list. I heard of other brides having the same dilemma, stressing so much over the guest list. Because ours is so short notice, once we decided “Immediate Family Only Plus Their Spouses” for this one, it gave us a huge sense of clarity.

Mama and Papa, a part of me wants to believe that this incident was a blessing, a positive sign. You see, Greg had brought over to Canada the jewelry box that was used for your wedding in 1989, and inside, is the ‘golden wedding cord’ that is used in Filipino Catholic weddings. Yours is special because your names and the wedding date is engraved on the golden heart that holds the cord together into an infinity loop. We were planning to use this to hold our rings during the ceremony. About three weeks before the wedding, my roommate and I discovered that not only is it a fancy box, it’s a music box! A music box that still works after 30 years! The melody is lovely and both my roommate and I burst into tears when we first heard it. I took a video of the music and asked around what song it was. Turns out it is “Memories” by Barbara Streisand, or from the musical CATS. Our officiant, and my older co-workers confirmed the song. Now, I want to learn how to sing the whole thing, since it’s now very special for many reasons. We’re keeping the music box of course, in case Greg want to use it for other reasons in the future.

I hope that I get to find my own special and fitting definition of being committed to someone for the long term, being each other’s motivations, upholding our right and responsibility to care for ourselves, and nurturing a positive life together. Wherever you may be, I hope that these words and sentiments would reach you somehow.

With all my heart,

Giselle

Sexual Assault Survivor Gets a Boudoir Photoshoot

By: Giselle General

CONTENT WARNING: Sexual Violence, Sexual Assault

Back view of woman sitting on the edge of a bed.

One’s bedroom should be a place of rest, escape, peace and comfort, after a long day of exhaustion, activities and responsibilities. The darkness of the night should be an opportunity of calm solitude, an end of a long day, a pathway to a new morning with the hope that the new day will bring about new adventures and experiences. One’s womanhood and the journey to become one can be uncertain and confusing, but should be one that is filled with discovery, curiosity, and optimism, as one transforms physically into adulthood.

Sexual assault, rape, abuse, molestation, however you want to call it, regardless of how it happened, not only defiles one’s outlook in their life and their bodies, but also taints one’s soul with an indescribable amount of fear and pain.

There were roadblocks to be had, that dragged on and weighed me down for months and years, and clouded the vision of myself, my body, my behaviours, and motivations. From having difficulty articulating how I’m feeling physically, emotionally, and sexually in my romantic life, to feeling uninformed and afraid to learn about reproductive health. From nightmares about being raped with scenarios more gruesome than what I have experienced, to daydreaming while taking transit on what I would do if I get assaulted again, but this time in public.

The journey to healing started online, thanks to the increased discussions about sexual assault. Simultaneously, my current relationship played a huge role, from being believed after I shared my story, to having a voice and being heard when talking about issues related to sexual health and sexual activities. And then a few years ago, the healing became more professional-based, when I finally went to therapy to address the mental and emotional entanglements caused by this particular traumatic event, as well as others.

But there was one thing I mulled about for a very long time, and that is addressing how I view my physical body. The conventional assumption of “she must have looked or dressed a certain way which is why she got assaulted” is one of the key messages I wanted to debunk in my mind and heart. Mind you, during the assaults, typically I was wearing pajamas and clothes of my deceased parents as my sleepwear back then. This is the biggest reason why this assumption enrages me.

Finally, after some time hemming and hawing, browsing through several photographer’s websites, and convincing myself that my budgeting skills are on track, I finally booked the appointment. I chose for the photoshoot to be done on a rented studio, with a wide variety of backdrops for various effects. Many of the backdrops depicted typical parts of a house, just more glamorous looking: the bedroom with pristine sheets, a fancy bathroom with a clawfoot tub, elegant couches and plush chairs, and brick and pastel painted walls. I purchased a few outfits to help me have a theme in the photos, I had my hair done by a hairstylist but chose to not have makeup on. Finally, I told the photograher I’m okay with being a bit of a daredevil with some surprise poses.

It was hard to articulate how enjoyable and empowering it is to feel calm while practically semi-nude in front of a stranger. It is particularly freeing given that my sense of trust was broken by someone who is definitely not a stranger. I felt a bit awkward when I was asked to do certain movements, because part of the approach is not holding still for a certain pose, but instead, to do things such as move your arms and hips in a sexy way while standing, or play with your hair while imagining that you’re feeling like a superstar on the bed right now. But soon enough, the awkwardness transformed into playfulness.

The biggest surprise of all for me, is how I looked like in the photos she captured. When I was doing a ‘movement pose’ such as walking into the door ready to ‘have some fun’, she was pressing the shutter button non-stop while saying ‘oh wow! yes that’s good!’. Fierce, confident, alluring, vixen, all womanly, and not even needing to act like a skinny model while doing so.

When I picked up the printed photobook that was part of my package, I had a bit of a chat with the photographer. I was amazed at how many of the clients the photographer had, were indeed, survivors of sexual violence. Our conversations touched on perception of women in general, the “male gaze” and how it impacts our own perception of ourselves.

In the very visual way we live our lives these days, I figured, using that to my advantage is worth it. It was pretty neat to turn something used to objectify women, professionally photographs, into an opportunity to challenge unhealthy views about one’s self. I feel inclined to do this again, perhaps in five to ten years, to celebrate any transformations in my body, while celebrating my personhood and womanhood. This is something I definitely would encourage other people to consider, particularly if their trauma affects their outlook of their physical bodies and their vision of themselves.

Habits Osmosis – Couples Absorb Each Other’s Behaviours

By: Giselle General

Eight years in a relationship which consisted of five years of cohabitating, and three months of intense travel beforehand is a good chunk of time to learn about your significant other. At least that is what I would argue in my case. It’s safe to say that because of our drastically different upbringing and life experiences before we started dating, that there are some differences in our personalities and habits.

We do share a lot of common values, the ones that matter most to both of us, otherwise we would not still be together. Both parties are very diligent with communicating well, expressing our love can care for each other, and working together to maintain our home and relationship. There are some aspects of our relationship that are less contentious compared to other couples. Religion and race are not sticking points between us which is a huge relief. In contrast, we are born-and-raised in different environments, with him growing up in Edmonton, Canada with a middle-class family where the father worked and the mother stayed at home. On the other hand, I grew up in a small mining village in Benguet, Philippines, being orphaned at the age of eight are raised ‘by the village’, then immigrated to Canada as a teenager and adjusted to life here.

There are certainly traits, that in the beginning of the relationship, was clearly evident on one person only. It’s normal to describe the other as the “clumsy one” or the “chatty one”, and it can be with any other traits as well. That being said, direct and indirect influences can make an impact in one’s habits and behaviours.

His Creativity – Painting Miniatures and Trying Artistic Ideas

For our first year anniversary I crafted a shadow box with sticker lettering, printed photos of us, and colourful strips of paper with very adorably cheezy romantic statements. It wasn’t until when I moved in with him that he said he loved my arts and crafts work and would like me to do more.

For several years since then, most of the artistic projects are done by me alone. There were a few times when he would provide input whenever I feel stuck in a rut, but the hands on work is completed by me most of the time. In fact, he had a kit of unpainted miniatures and supplies he left untouched for a while, until I started painting some of these models.

But things have changed over the recent months and years. He has pursued his own ways of being creative. Speaking of those unpainted miniatures, he painted almost a hundred of them over six months, while watching Star Trek episodes on the TV. Our dining room table has a direct line of sight to the living room, so with all the art supplies splayed out on the table, he would be half-listening to the TV while choosing the paint colors for a magician’s robe, or the skin colour of the imps, or how much additional red spotches of paint he wanted to add on a zombie.

And then lately, he joined a running group that encouraged him to decorate his own shirt. He bought a plain cotton shirt, and used the fabric paints I have to decorate it, including a funny pun that apparently half of his group understood.

My Organization Skills with Personal Finance

He told me when we first started dating, that us getting together is what prompted him to purchase his first home. And when he purchased his first home, he purchased a budgeting software called MoneyDance and he’s used it ever since.

My first attempt at using this software didn’t go very well, I was a bit too impatient and overwhelmed with the features and the reality of those numbers staring at me. But last year, I finally took the leap and gave it another go. After a few months, my bank eliminated the online budgeting feature on their website, so the switch to using our own software was pretty timely.

Now, since we use the same software, we are more in-tune with our language when it comes to organizing our money. While I’m not as particular with tinkering with the charts and graphs feature, I appreciate the reliable way to organize my financial information. Now that it has been a year and a half since I started using the software, I have the ability to compare what happened at the exact same date a year ago. This has become a really useful tool for making plans, and setting healthy boundaries without feeling guilty.

For better or for worse, we have been considering ourselves as a unit, and taking on each other’s traits is an inevitable part of that. There are more positive traits that I do hope I gain from him, both through a combination of modeling (just by seeing someone do it on a regular basis) and finding my own version of implementing it.

My Contribution to Sexual Violence Awareness Month

By: Giselle General

May is Sexual Violence Awareness Month. It seems like every week, month, or day is dedicated towards something that it can be hard to keep track, this is something I’m not complaining about at all. Sometimes it can be something fun and casual like National Puppy Day, or something deeply important like Black History Month. I feel fortunate that in Canada, Alberta, Edmonton and other places worldwide, there were opportunities to talk about this important (and terrible) issue, give support to those affected, and have conversation on how to be aware and put an end to this.

The issue is a bit personal to me, since I myself have been a victim/ survivor of sexual assault. I purposefully used both words because these horrific act definitely have harmed me, and that should not be discounted one bit. At the same time, similar to the other life hardships that life threw at me, it is something I have survived from and changed who I am, hopefully for the better. The month had provided me with tangible opportunities to meaningfully participate.

Attending a Fundraising Gala

It seems like fundraising galas are everywhere, and attending them is actually pretty cool. I attended the fundraising gala for the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton at the Edmonton Convention Centre. While giving a hefty donation or a regular monthly donation is not within my budget at the moment, I figured that doing a one-time activity and donation is still something.

When it comes to food, I’m not picky anyways, and simply welcome the opportunity to have something different from my regular routine. This gala was a bit special as well, as I managed to join a table with other people who are actively involved in Edmonton. Some people at the table were familiar faces and names, which is thrilling! The keynote speaker, a gentleman who is a lawyer, was wonderful! What I appreciate most about the keynote speaker is that he addressed head on some of the misconceptions that surround sexual assault, from the act, to how survivors behave, and to how a perpetrator can look like. As someone who is part of the legal community, I also appreciate how he humanizes the flaws of the legal system. ‘These are human institutions with people who care‘ he said. I think that when we don’t get the results we are seeking, this is something that we forget in the midst of our anger, pain and discouragement.

Attending an event with a host who is also an auctioneer was a first for me, and seeing how the on-stage sign language interpreters keep up with the host was entertaining! I was blown away by the generosity and disposable income that some people have. Hearing the thousands of dollars being announced during the live auction bids made me gawk, and the tables of items available at the auction tables made me hope that lots of funds are indeed going to support the organization. After this, I definitely feel more inclined to make time and attend more fundraisers like this.

Educating Myself and Learning More Stories

There are lots of ways to make this convenient, specifically through social media. Simply following a few pages that talk about feminism, social issues, storytelling/artistic ones like Humans of New York, give a steady stream on my social media feed about stories and insights that people have. It can be heartbreaking, empowering, informative or hopeful depending on the story or the article. What I know for sure is that it is a reminder of how these experiences are common and universal. My goal is to spread awareness, reduce stigma and victim blaming, and seek out comfort for myself and others.

Evaluating What I Learned from Therapy

It has been almost two years since I went to therapy, and the effort to diligently apply what I have learned is going well. Other positive and healthy habits are being integrated in my life day by day, which also feels very promising. One thing I know is that it will take the rest of my life to remind myself to not be so outcomes-focused in my approach in life, and that is okay.

Also, as it turns out there are times when these calming or self-regulating techniques do not work and I’m not panicking about it. That really is the bigger victory. The calm that comes from accepting that I am a person that grows, changes and that have some weird quirks is liberating. I’m as messed up as anybody else, and this is not a crippling idea anymore.

The dictionary definition of internalize is “to incorporate (the cultural values, mores, motives, etc., of another or of a group), as through learning, socialization, or identification.” This is the biggest victory of my therapy experience, to internalize that it was okay to feel angry and sad and hurt about being treated poorly, to internalize that is is okay to set aside time to acknowledge these feelings, to internalize that there is a way and I deserve to process these feeling and release them, to internalize that I deserve all those good things I life that I didn’t have for a while.

I encourage anyone to find a cause you care about that has a date/ week/ month dedicated to spread awareness, and take it as an opportunity to spread awareness, provide support, and improve ourselves.