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


By: Giselle General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outdoor sidewalk shovelled clearly of snow during winter.

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

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

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

Woman sitting on couch browsing her smartphone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I was too Shy To get Involved

closeup of a female student carrying books while standing on a sidewalk with parked cars

by: Giselle General

When a child is labelled as an ‘honour student’, that comes with significant implications. There is a barrage of positive traits that are associated with it: intelligent, well-disciplined, capable, confident, admired, role model. The positive associations can also be a heavy-handed set of expectations.

In the Philippines, the English word “transferee” is used to describe students who were new to the school and didn’t start first grade or freshmen year in the school. Growing up in a small mining village with a single school where everyone knows everybody, being a transferee is a rarely-used label.

And then, I became one of those students. Halfway through high school, I moved from the small village to the nearby city.

silhouette of a person walking alone

The move was unnerving for many reasons, and one of them for me is navigating academic achievement and extracurricular involvement. My younger self knew that schools are the same everywhere, that well-performing students get awards and recognition and benefits such as scholarships. The schoolyear stared in June and it wasn’t until November (so about 5 months in and more than halfway through the school year) when I started getting involved again in school clubs.

There were so many things to get used to in this routine. I never had to travel through public transportation every single day, two trips, to go to school and back. It was three years since I lived with my younger brother, and I was living alone in my house-and-business-building dwelling, my sari-sari store, for about a year. It sounds strange to say but I had to get used to living with people again. My brother and I are back to having the mother/father/sister dynamic that we had, only he’s 10 years old and I’m in the midst of puberty.

During the first few months, my priority was knowing names in the school, and within a few weeks, I was successful in knowing the names of my classmates, both first names and last names. The school was previously an all-boys school, and part of the culture was for students to call each other by their last names, since there’s too many students with the names John, Alexander, Anthony, Mark, James, Carlo, etc. The tradition carried on with the female students. So yes, I had to get used to be called General by students during casual conversation. In the early morning before class starts, I hear often “hey yo, General! can I copy your homework?

Two clusters of board game pegs, one cluster with 6 light organge pegs and one brown peg by itself.

But I didn’t join any school clubs right away, because I was still afraid of going home late. I was fearful or unsure on whether the elders, the legal guardian, is aware of the challenges and realities of high school students living in the city. We don’t have a computer at home, so even something as simple as submitting a printed report requires going to an internet cafe in downtown Baguio and it requires a lot of organizing. These city kids seem fancy and wealthy and carefree, and I don’t know how to fit in.

Eventually I was able to articulate, although awkwardly, why I didn’t join clubs. “I feel too shy to go”. My uncle, Tito Roy, who was a teacher in the school, snapped me out of it in his own way. He said how ridiculous that is and told me to “just go and give it a try’.

That really paid off because it opened multiple opportunities for me to feel the same way as in my former school, get involved, achieve things, and have a mental escape from the horrors at home that were about to happen the following year. Managed to be the valedictorian for my graduating class even if I was there for just two of the four years of high school.

As an adult, I think there are times I still feel like this. I found a fancier, but perhaps more appropriate term of it. ‘Imposter Syndrome’. There is a daunting feeling of feeling like an outsider for a multitude of reasons: because of being new and in an unfamiliar space, and being uncertain of one’s ability to be a positive impact in that space. I think the last thing that people want is to be perceived as dead weight or an inconvenience.

Has this feeling gone away? Not completely. I’m participating in the community in ways that I haven’t heard my elders or friends do: help at an election campaign, offer to be a columnist for an ethnic newspawper, submit a writing proposal for a heritage-focused digital writing project, registering to join a board of directors of an organization. So many times I feel a bit lost and unsure navigating these situations. One advice I heard that helped is this: everyone is just trying to wing it. Another one I’m trying is to approach things with curiosity. Instead of thinking “oh man I don’t think I really get what is going on here”, to think “hmmm, what is going on here and what new things I can learn?”

The shy side of my is likely still there, and it’s not the worst thing. A key lesson I remembered from therapy is that “feelings are information”. The feeling of shyness and uncertainty is simply a sign of being new in a situation, experience, or dynamic. And it can be handy in embracing, learning and growing.

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’.