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.

Story Time: The Moment My Brother Landed in Canada

A long-awaited event was finally happening. It was September 2011. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) was away in the US for a festival named Burning Man, and it was just after the long weekend so things were busy at work and school.

And, my brother was finally arriving to Canada!

The sponsorship application processing took about two years total. And since his application process was identical to mine (Family Sponsorship for Orphaned Family Members), I knew how to help and the process went smoothly. After all was approved, there was a catch. He had to fly to Canada, his first time in an airplane ever, all by himself.

As much as I’d love to fly over there and pick him up, it just wasn’t feasible for me as a student with a part-time job. I also had to spend money to get items set up for him: the actual plane ticket, a phone, computer, a winter coat, his bed and linens. I gave him as much prep as I could and I told him “if I can do it, you can do it too”. I tried to arrange everything so that he lands in Edmonton in the evening, I get to personally pick him up from the airport, and help him get settled in before I go to work the next day.

However, we had a bit of bad luck the night before. Due to the very long lineup for first-time arrivals him and the very short time between flights, the poor kid was stranded in Vancouver. My cellphone got a call from an unknown number and when I answered, it was the voice of an older Filipino man asking for me. When I confirmed who I was, he said “I’m with your little brother and he would like to speak to you”. I was thrilled that he is already in Canada, but he told me, in a slightly anxious voice, that they have to stay at the airport overnight and have an early flight to Edmonton. He and this gentleman and his wife were on the same flight and are sticking together.

It definitely reminded me of myself during our connecting flight in Japan when I was immigrating to Canada. We didn’t miss our connecting flight thank goodness. However, it took about an hour of walking and taking a mini-train to go from one part of the airport to another. My carry-on luggage was a poorly made bag and was very heavy, and I was heartbroken for having to come to Canada and leave my brother behind. A group of adult women saw me and encouraged me to tag along, after they found out that I’m going to Canada, just like them. Going back to my brother, I was relieved that they were kind enough to look after this anxious young man.

I was grumpy when I came to work the next day at the retail store, as I had an opening shift. My plan was to come home early the night before, meet him at home, go for an early shift the next day so I can go home early as well. I was anxious and disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see him right away as soon as he arrived in Edmonton. As we prepared the store for opening, I told everyone who would listen that the flight got messed up and my brother is still on his way.

It sounded like my relatives decided to take him right away to my work right upon arriving. My workstation is visible upon entering the double sliding doors, so the moment he walked in with my relatives, I spotted him.

Puberty is quite unnerving! When I left, I was still a few inches taller than him, as he was 12 years old and I was 16. When he arrived, he was 16 years old, and a few inches taller than me. Not only that, his voice dropped a lot. I heard it a few times over the phone and over Facebook video calls, but it’s still a bit of a shock hearing in person. He was still pretty skinny, just like I remembered when I left. That changed pretty quickly after living in Canada just for a few months.

I squealed in delight and hugged him, a bit of an awkward exchange and most definitely not professional by any means. Our store manager saw the exchange. I’ve talked about this moment for a very long time, so he knows what this means to me. At about 11 AM, just two hours into my work shift, he let me take the rest of the day off.

This was almost 10 years ago, and my goodness has time flown by. There had been challenges along the way, but I hope that I have given him something that eluded both of us for a while. A peaceful, stable home, where he can live in comfort and ease, as he figures out how to be an adult in this day and age. I don’t think I’ll ever shed away the mantel of my role as a mother/father/sister/brother, but he’s in a good state now.

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.

Book Review: Edmonton’s Urban Villages

Through my volunteering at the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues, I obtained a copy of a book that talks about the concept of community leagues and its impact in Edmonton, named Edmonton’s Urban Villages, written by Ron Kuban. This is a review of the book.

A Comprehensive and Digestible Overview of this City’s History

A city that existed for over a hundred years has a fairly lengthy history, one that would have pretty decent documentation as well. It is safe to say that the volume of information can be overwhelming, particularly for someone like myself who doesn’t describe themselves as a ‘history buff’. What I appreciate about this book is in its pages, combined with narrations, photos obtained from archives of the organization and from the city, the book is a neatly organized overview of the city’s history that is easy to read.

I have heard about how the city evolved, how it expanded and merged with neighbouring towns, how roadways are planned and utilities are managed, how recessions and wars impacted the economy and day-to-day living. Though other events or forms of media, I learned about the different social, political and economic eras that our city had, and I appreciated how it was presented in the book.

Community Leagues and EFCL had been an incubator of many initiatives that flourished into independent organizations. When I encounter city-wide organizations that focus on a particular activity, like soccer or hockey, I am now more likely to probe on whether this is something that the community league movement had initiated on a neighbourhood level.

Familiar Names and Places Given Deeper Context and Appreciation

People whose names I see in street signs, news articles, historical videos and hall of fame galleries popped up numerous times in all the book’s pages, which for me is quite delightful. As I personally never had a formal class about Edmonton’s history, opportunities like this book, which is a light read, is a chance to understand who, when and what happened at certain times. Some of the names in the book were individuals I have met in person recently, and it’s incredible to witness what they have accomplished in decades past, that is impactful enough to be documented in such a fashion.

From war veterans to business owners, from politicians to women to broke the glass ceiling in their own right, witnessing how they did their part to make an impact at a local level (the neighbourhood level) is valuable in knowing why our city works the way it is now. The events were not always pleasant, and even the people were far from perfect. The chapters talked about differing views, burnout, conflict, and missed opportunities to work together, but there seems to always be a positive turn of events afterwards.

Motivation for Greater Involvement in the Community

My community involvement has a slightly selfish goal, to address my level of disconnectedness from not being born-and-raised here. At the same time, I feel deep meaning in making a contribution of my time and energy to the community at large. My personal involvement with community leagues is fairly recent, just when we moved to our house about five years ago. Learning about the concept of community leagues, an idea that originated in the US that had a Canadian and Edmonton-based modifications to it is quite remarkable.

I understand and appreciate better the idea that there are different levels of involvement: from the volunteer who comes at events to help set up and take down the furniture at the hall, the volunteer who tracks the mail for the organization and pays the utilities, the one who helps with fundraising and financial grant applications, the big-picture people who helps with decisions and bylaws, and more. The book repeatedly talked about the “unnamed volunteers”, thousands of them, that are the real heroes of this movement. I hope to do the same in my own way.

100th Anniversary of the Featured Organization

2021 is a significant year, as it is the 100th anniversary of the organization featured in the book, the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues. There has been some projects that are in progress to memorialize this milestone. Discovering this book could not have come at a better time. An update of this book as it written in 2005, is a great idea for sure, since the past 15 years had made a lot of changes in Edmonton and how people and communities function.

If Money is not an Issue

Many years ago, while searching for jobs not too long after finishing university, I stumbled upon a few articles online that encouraged the reader to ask this question:

“If money is not an issue, what job would you like to have?”

At that time, I answered “volunteer”. And it seems like that indeed had led me to a role that suited my skills and interests, and is quite rewarding. As a Volunteer Coordinator of a nonprofit, I have learned to appreciate the value of having the structure that enables the volunteers to focus on what they do best at their designated role, and not to worry about small details that can delay or distract them.

Lately, I have been thinking of what the future holds given that I am still considered a young professional. After all, I’m a few years away before turning 30. Retirement feels like a long time away, despite the fact that my husband diligently prepares for it through our regular savings and keeping our accounts organized.

We have a lottery pool at work, where each staff member who wants to participate can pitch in $2, a staff person goes to buy a ticket, and hope that we are the next group of employees who win a few million dollars, like the ones we hear about in the news.

I remember a comment from a former colleague Sofia about lottery winnings that stuck with me. She said “imagine how much affordable housing you can build out of all that money.” I appreciate her viewpoint since it was the first time I hear from anybody about a way to spread the winnings to those in need. Another colleague had said, with a hint of worry “I wouldn’t know what to do with all the much money.” This is also a fair point, as I heard numerous stories of people’s lives turning for the worst after winning the lottery. The troubles that the winners have come in two ways, from being reckless about spending, and from being bombarded with inappropriate request for money from distant relatives to random strangers. I guess, with great wealth comes a great burden.

Right now, if money is not an issue because somehow I have large sums of it or an unlimited supply, I imagine that I will split the money into a few different categories:

  • Personal financial stability
  • Assisting relatives in need, both in this country and overseas
  • Local charitable donations
  • Large-scale impact on certain social causes

For example, I’ll pay off our home’s mortgage and set aside enough money for an investment fund where the interest is enough to cover current expenses and occasional luxuries. And then, I’d like to find a way to provide financial assistance to my relatives in need in a way that is sustainable and has a long-term benefit: whether it is funds to start a business, house and lot, or covering tuition payment for younger kids.

Outside of the family unit, here’s how I envision huge sums of money can make an impact. There are many charitable organizations that struggle to stay afloat, and as a result, searching for funding eats up precious time that could have been spent making a difference through their programs and services. Providing stability such as through an endowment fund or a financial boost for a few years would be a good thing, I think. And then, similar to those lottery winners who would donate millions of dollars towards a cause, I’d like to do the same thing as well. Instead of just dropping a cheque though, I’d like to help build something from the ground up. Maybe a new building to expand an organization’s service and operations, or even a brand new facility to fill an unmet need.

One can dream, right? But, since the chances of winning the lottery or having a massive multi-million dollar business empire is pretty small, the realistic, real-time version of myself had scaled back these lofty dreams into manageable, small things that can be done in present time. With the income from my paycheque, helping charities and relatives and building a sense of personal financial stability is achievable in small chunks. As far as making a large-scale impact, I’m hoping that running for public office one day can fulfill that.

Either on my own, or through in-person and online workshops, I have participated in exercises to help envision the future. It’s a good opportunity to evaluate one’s preferences and aspirations, and indulge in thinking about how outlandish scenarios might just come true. The plan is to ask again this question when I officially turn 30 and periodically in the future.

There was a catchy Filipino pop song that I remember in my teens, titled “Ambisyoso” which is the translation for ‘ambitious’. Some of the writer’s outlandish dreams are pretty funny, like a kissing scene with his favourite actress, but I really like the line that talked about “a wallet that never runs out of money”. That’s what prompted this thought exercise, and I’ll likely revisit it again.

Learn and Explore the City: Fort Edmonton Park

This is a quick overview, from someone who moved to Edmonton and didn’t grow up here, about a really neat city attraction that is historical, interactive, and entertaining: Fort Edmonton Park.

If I were to choose a phrase to describe it, the place would be a “living museum”, with actual old buildings from a time long ago in the city, complete with decorations and accessories from that time. Where there are actors who wear attires from that time, which can make visitors feel like they have traveled back in time.

My then boyfriend (now husband) and I went there for our dating anniversary, our second one, back in 2012. An idea we copied from a TV show is what we call a “superdate” which is an all-day date where one person from the couple plans all the activities without telling the other. And then, on the day of, the activities are disclosed shortly before going there. After a lovely lunch in a restaurant located in a local neighbourhood business plaza, and him buying a large stuffed giraffe too big to fit in the back seat, I told him that our next destination was Fort Edmonton Park.

Visiting the Park

Fort Edmonton Park is an reconstruction of how Edmonton looked like in its early days. There are four time periods that are represented: 1846, 1885, 1905 and 1920, showcasing how the city of Edmonton has evolved from a fur trading area, to how the first few homes and structures were built that is the starting signs of a village, to a city that is starting to grow and expand.

I personally wasn’t able to wrap my mind around what a fur trading building looked like until I visited the park for the first time. Seeing and touching samples the different types of fur was super interesting. I had used Bank of Montreal for my personal banking needs and was really amused to see an old tiny building with the bank’s name, indicating that it is one of the earlier banks in the city. Seeing old clothing and the structures of these homes and thinking about how people back then had to deal with the cold winter months, filled me with wonder.

There are other entertaining activities as well. There is an old train that visitors can hop on and have a tour of the entire area. There is a small theater that shows historical films, and there was even a photography shop where people can wear costumes and have a portrait taken looking like it’s from a hundred years ago.

I keep seeing digital posters for advertisements regarding events that take place when the park was closed for touring. The bus I take when commuting to work passes by Fox Drive that leads to Fort Edmonton Park. I ought to check out the annual Halloween event at some point, it looks really interesting. There are opportunities to have brunch or dinners at the Hotel’s restaurant all year long, and the food is pretty good!

In my opinion, every newcomer to the City, both the born-and-raised Canadians who came from other provinces, and those who landed from other countries and had made Edmonton their home, should have the opportunity to visit this location, ideally within their first few years. Understanding the context of what the city has looked like many years ago can help those who are new here, appreciated how things are today.

Learning History

While I feel like a broken record when I say “welp, that was NOT included in my ‘Welcome to Canada’ booklet”, it’s very true. There isn’t a lot of information about this city when I moved here. Fort Edmonton Park was a helpful way for me to learn and witness this. We don’t have a City Museum in a conventional sense, but I would say this is the closest one.

I was fortunate enough to squeeze in one elective class during university which was Introduction to Native Studies, and in 2017 because it was Canada 150 I learned a little bit more about Canada as a whole. I also took another elective class during university which was an advances English Literature class that discussed Canadian authors that describe the experiences of Asian people from 1900 onwards.

Now that I am learning more about the history of Indigenous peoples in Edmonton and realizing that Fort Edmonton Park has gaps, I’m relieved that the renovation will include an additional exhibit specific to this.

Booking Venues for Special Events

I didn’t know until I was a bridesmaid for a friend’s wedding, that Fort Edmonton Park is a lovely venue for a wedding and it is a well-known one, particularly in the summer. We had one of the old small churches in the Park as the location for the wedding ceremony, and then we had on of the second-floor halls of an old store as the location for the reception. While the bridal party was walking around the area for our wedding photos, we learned that there were two other weddings happening on the same day. We ran into another bridal party having their group photos, and we walked by the other wedding reception’s venue, hearing the lively dance music through the air.

I also thought that Hotel Selkirk is just a historical building that visitors at the park can tour, but as it turned out, people can rent the rooms, like a regular hotel! I learned about this during the wedding as well, as my friend rented two rooms as a waiting area for the bride and the groom’s wedding entourage. That was a lovely way to experience the city and this location, integrating historical structures with modern-day activities.

The website for the park is www.fortedmontonpark.ca/ . I look forward to the park opening again for tours, and experiencing it again with a slightly different perspective now that I’ve lived in Edmonton for a little bit longer.

Reasonably Content from being Reasonably Frugal

“You’re a monster! exclaimed a co-worker”, my husband told me, upon revealing to them at the lunch table that he is not buying me any gifts for Christmas. I imagine their jaw would drop even more if we tell them that it has been many years since I received anything from him covered in gift wrap or a card of any kind. Whether it is birthdays, anniversaries, or Christmas, we don’t buy items to celebrate that occasion whatsoever.

I had the same chat with a colleague in the kitchen not too long ago, when we were talking about a downtown Christmas Market right in our office building. I told her I haven’t explored the market yet, because the ‘anti-consumerist in me’ has no motivation to browse around different shops while fully aware that there is likely nothing that will catch my fancy and buy. She seemed pleased though, instead of the strong reaction my husband’s co-worker’s have.

My husband and I would share stories like this at night, during our scheduled bedtime that we try to stick to. We go to bed together at the same time, a great opportunity to share to each other how our day went, have some cozy cuddles, and also to have a regular sleep schedule. In addition to random stories of how the day went, we talk a bit about errands we need to do, what volunteer activity will I be working on, and the financial state of our home. He’d tell me which of our roommates had already paid rent, or how far long we are in paying off our mortgage.

Sometimes, he would mention about things that we need such as an apron for when he cooks spaghetti every Sunday, or a couple pairs of jeans or work shirts. He’d tell me about a hole in his shirt or a pair of pants that are too long, and I’d say ‘no problem, I’ll take care of it’. By taking care of it, it would either mean bringing out my sewing kit to repair the clothes or make the clothing item, or going to the thrift store to buy a few items. When a clothing item is too frayed to be worn anymore, they are the first candidates to be turned into a rag, oven mitt, and quilt.

“I broke my budget!” he told me just a few weeks ago, when he decided to buy a VR (Virtual Reality) gaming system, which is fairly expensive. He does have the money for it, but it’s just something he didn’t budget for this year. So according to the budgeting software he uses, for the ‘personal expenses’ category, he is over budget. Over budget from what I would say is a fairly low personal spending allocation. Instead of getting upset, I was quite amused. He now alternates between playing video games with a controller and the VR set, and he is pretty content.

Frugal is defined as economical and not wasteful about money and I think, with great relief, that we are able to incorporate that in our lives. Other positive words that come to mind are “budget-conscious” or “mindful about money”.

I wonder if our drastically different upbringings made it necessary to have upfront discussions about important topics that are taken for granted. There’s no expectations or assumptions that are to be made, the only way to know is discussing it. The fact that he is not Filipino gave me the confidence to frankly talk about women’s health issues and procedures that I experience. I was hopeful, and I was right, that he won’t be too grossed out. In the same token, he we talk about expenses, retirement plans, insurance and inheritances.

It’s fortunate that for many things that are important, we see eye to eye, both in principle and in process. We both like to stick to habits and automating things, which is evident in how we save money, pay bills, and track our spending. We found our happy medium between flexible, easygoing, forgiving and disciplined. This makes us feel okay with eating out with friends, and also meal prepping every week. This makes us consider thrift stores or DIY items as opposed to buying the latest model gadgets and equipment. This resulted to him using a nine-year-old flip phone with a $15 a month with a Pay As You Go set up, while I have a smartphone with 2 GB of data. This helped us feel okay with certain luxuries that were considered deliberately. He bought a TV and the VR gaming system, and the TV is the first one he actually purchased after moving out 9 years ago since his TVs then were both hand-me-downs. I had a professional photoshoot at a studio just for myself which was pretty expensive, but it is something that was carefully considered for a few years. It was both a fancy gift and a therapeutic exercise for myself.

The reasonableness in our approach takes the pressure off, which I think is what makes many people struggle with managing money. In our culture where immediate feedback, gratification, or results are sought after, the subtle peace of mind that comes with a long-term plan is not as appealing. Even the quietness of not having a major current problem can be unsettling for some. Thinking in bigger numbers in terms of dollars and time horizons is a significant thing I learned from my spouse. Now, I look at them with excitement, instead of dread. Given my age, having ‘only about twenty years’ left in our mortgage can be viewed as an optimistic thing.

Realizing that our savings rate does not compromise our way of life is reassuring. His biggest hobby is gaming (both video games and board games). He definitely maximizes the money he does buying these, and through friends and gaming leagues, has access to gaming opportunities where he doesn’t need to buy much. With my hobbies of arts and crafts and volunteering, there were multiple ways I discovered to save money also. Using second-hand and upcycled materials for the items I make, and then as far as volunteering is concerned, I usually get ‘paid’ by having food at the meetings.

This is something I hope that other couples and other households are able to achieve at some point.

Pecha Kucha Night Speech Transcript: Dating a Sexual Assault Survivor

Pecha Kucha is a presentation format where the presenter has 20 slides, 20 seconds, and it is strictly timed. This is the transcript of the presentation I made on October 30, 2019 entitled “Dating a Sexual Assault Survivor”

  1. This is us, Corey and Giselle. He’s a white guy, born and raised in Edmonton with a complete family, and middle-class upbringing. I’m an orphan girl from a mining village in the Philippines, immigrated as a teenager, and bounced around different homes.
  2. The sexual assault incidents happened during my final year of high school in the Philippines. That same year, I moved to Canada in Aug 2007. It’s a tough year. Let’s say that there wasn’t enough support for me during this difficult time.  
  3. When you date a sexual assault survivor, disclosure will not come immediately. It took me two years since we started dating to feel safe enough to share as much detail as I can. It was a risk. I even told him he can break up with me afterwards.
  4. If you are the lucky one who actually had sex education in school, you may have to be the one to introduce terminology and concepts to your love one who experienced sexual assault. If you do this, be informative and non-judgemental in your approach.
  5.  In his case, he quoted to me the specific Criminal Code of Canada section that outlined the definition of sexual assault. He made it clear that he knows  what happened to me IS indeed, sexual assault – full stop.
  6. It is so important to make your partner feel that you believe them. If the culture, the environment they lived in doesn’t believe in sexual assault, if the people surrounding them didn’t believe either, your reaction and support will make a BIG impact.
  7. If there are other causes of trauma, things can get complicated. I’m also an orphan, and that influences my viewpoint in life in good and bad ways. But with time and support, these can be worked through simultaneously.
  8. In my case, I have a very difficult time asking for help about anything, big and small. It comes both from having to be independent because I’m an orphan, and from not getting the help I needed after I revealed I was being molested.
  9. If the perpetrator will be around, you need to have a plan. There was this trip to the Philippines, where the perpetrator and I will be in the same space during this family gathering. My partner made sure the perpetrator would stay FAR away from me.
  10. Doing your own research about the other challenges your love one experienced is really helpful. In this case, he did a lot of research to help him understand the different types of problematic family dynamics that I experienced but he didn’t to through.
  11. If they finally go to therapy, just be there for them. I went to therapy two years ago for about 8 months.  After every appointment, he’s ready at home with some cuddles and  conversation. We call it “follow-up therapy” – in bed.
  12. And, speaking of bed. When you get intimate, if they say no. LISTEN! If they want to change something, understand them and do it. This takes a lot of courage to say. It usually means that something is REALLY scary or REALLY painful.
  13. Your relationship CAN be the opportunity to realize that vulnerability is worth it, that you CAN be accepted as who you are. A chance to see that sex, intimacy and pleasure can go hand in hand. That saying no is not a deal-breaker.
  14. In many ways, they are experimenting with the idea of consent, which wasn’t there when they were assaulted. The question in their mind is “this time, do I have a say?” “Will I get heard if I actually say something?”
  15. In the summer of 2010 had our first kiss in his car, he actually asked “can I get a kiss goodnight?”. I actually liked it! I like being asked, being consulted, my input being valued. Turns out, consent is sexy.
  16. Reproductive health tasks from pap smears, STD testing, seeing a doctor, ultrasounds is a big deal. Being comfortable to do all these things is a victory. Encourage and celebrate it. And proactive with your own reproductive health as well.
  17. The survivor is primarily responsible for their healing and their journey. As the significant other, you will be there for support, patience and a little bit of push when needed. But this needs to be at their own pace and time. 
  18. It’s also worth nothing that trauma is not a complete excuse for awful behaviour. I’m relieved that I was confronted for my immature reactions and poor decisions, and we managed to talk it out and solve it as a couple.
  19. After 9 years of dating, I proposed to him in July and he said yes! And we just had our wedding last month in Edmonton! I’m grateful for him being in my life and supporting me in my healing process.
  20. This is my journey, other survivors and their loves ones may have a different process, and that’s completely okay. We want the same things for our selves and our love ones, acceptance, being cared for, being cherished for who we are.

This post will be updated once the video of the presentation is available. Thank you to Edmonton’s Next Gen, the organizers of Pecha Kucha Night that takes place three times a year, for the opportunity to present. For more information such as previous presentations how to support or participate, visit https://edmontonnextgen.ca/pkn.

Story Time: My Mother and the Sharply Folded Paper Airplane

The creative streak in my nuclear family came from my mother. She was a fan of decorating the home, reconfiguring the layout and the furniture to maximize the small two-bedroom apartment that houses a family of six, the parents, the yaya (nanny) and the three kids. It is evident from her elegant handwriting and her signature, and how she is in charge of helping us kids with art related school projects.

She told us the story of how she initially went to university to pursue a Bachelor of Commerce degree and switched halfway through to take Architecture. She can write and draw with both her left and right hands, which was a blessing since my brother, the youngest child, ended up being left-handed.

My father worked as a supervisor for the Safety Department of the mining company, in the village where we used to live. As a result of his job, and perhaps, his love of recycling, he would bring home stacks of paper from the office that we end up using as scrap paper. Most days, he would use these scrap paper to help us with our 5 o’clock study habit. He would take our notebooks where we had a new lesson for the day, craft a simple one-page “exam” to help us test our knowledge, and hand it over for us to answer after we do our homework and read these notebooks. Every time there is a major exam in school, he would compile all these daily exams and it comes a longer practice exam for us to work on. A pretty smart system if you think about it.

As any parent would attest, kids love to doodle and do other fun artistic activities, just to explore and let their imagination run wild. Thanks to the endless supply of paper from our father, finding materials for this purpose is never an issue.

I have a very specific memory of my attempts to fold paper airplanes and make them fly. With the awkward way I fold them though, they would either unravel or would not even leave the dining table after I try to launch them. My four year old self got discouraged. Then my mother reached out, grabbed a fresh sheet of scrap paper, and showed me step by step how to fold a paper airplane. She mentioned how making the edges of the paper meet but not overlap is important, that pressing firmly from end to end will help the fold stay in place. Her airplane was this thing of beauty, of precision and elegance.

She shared another trick to see whether you made a good airplane. The tip of the plane has to be pointy, and she demonstrated this by poking my nose with her airplane. It was sharp and also ticklish, and made me burst into laughter. She forgot about making it fly, as she proceeded to chase me around our dining area, trying to poke me again with the tip of this precisely assembled paper airplane.

The laughter and the teasing usually came from my father, as all our relatives, neighbours and family friends would attest. He is definitely the comedian in every setting, having a joke ready for everyone he meets. This makes this encounter with my mother something worth cherishing, a break from her “persona” as the stoic, workaholic, dedicated and strict one.

“Do You Want a Ride?” The Captive Transit User Series: Part 1

What is a Captive Transit User? I learned about the term for the first time from the City of Edmonton’s website. The easy definition is: someone who takes public transit because it’s the best (or only available) option for them to travel around. The part about feeling ‘captive’ comes from the restriction that sometimes comes up, perhaps because one is too poor to own and maintain a vehicle, one does not know how to drive, or for medical reasons, cannot operate a vehicle. In many ways, I relate to this a lot. Though I’m pretty fortunate to afford the occasional taxi ride, and with my husband having a car.

I try my best to take transit to where I go. Just like most adults, the most frequent type of commute I have is to go to work, and I take transit almost every day to do that. However, my extracurricular activities throw a wrench in this routine. Edmonton is indeed a big, wide city, and depending on how you contribute to the community, that can involve some additional travel.

When my activity’s location goes beyond downtown, or further south of Whyte Ave, I get into a bit of trouble. And frankly, I see the immense value in helping out at organizations and activities beyond the region of the city I am a part of. If the activity or meeting is planned ahead of time, it might be okay. If there is time between when I leave for work and when the event starts, I take the bus and/or the train. It’s usually for the going-home part that I get into a pickle. When it is 9:45 PM or later after a board meeting, or it is almost 4 AM after a casino volunteer shift, taking a bus is not an option.

After I got my newest volunteer position I was a teeny bit worried because this means I am likely to take a taxi three more times in a month. It is not cheap, but still much cheaper than driving. I feel lucky that as a couple, we communicate about money very openly. As I shared my concern, my husband asked “well, love, is it within the budget?“. He is referring to the budgeting system we both use, which allows both of us to plan targets on an annual basis. I said “yah, so far, yes.” Then he said, ‘well, then it’s all good!”

Now, I’m attending more board meetings at different places, evening workshops and town halls. The more I attend these events, I see familiar faces more repeatedly. There are more of them who know how I get around and it is not by driving my own car.

I realized that there is usually at least one person who offers a ride, which I find both awkward but also really nice. Whether it is a ride right to my home, or at the very least, the closest LRT station that would help me take the rest of my trip home. I’m starting to learn how to be gracious and NOT ashamed when someone offers a ride. A technique I have learned is to ensure that the request is not very cumbersome. So if I know it’s someone from my neighbourhood, then asking for a ride home from our casino volunteer shift at 4 AM is not demanding or imposing. If someone who, like me, came from a different part of the city, and I know they would have to drive through a major road with a transit centre, I would ask it I can tag along at least to the transit centre, and not beyond that.

An unexpected silver lining to this, is the one-on-one opportunity to speak to the person who participated in the same event as I do, and has kindly offered me a ride. It is quite known to many people that I don’t drive, and I comment (diplomatically most of the time) about the gaps in our transit system. I also realized that commenting about how we got to the venue prior to an event is a neutral topic for small talk. So while people are complaining about the traffic, bad drivers and potholes, I’d comment about the poor transit service and how costly it is to get there.

I can say that I learn a bit more about the event or activity on the ride home, than during the event itself. Perhaps because my introverted nature shines more during these conversations in the car.

During the one-on-one chat in the car, the driver and I would comment about the event, and any other related topics that come from the activity or organization we are a part of. I spoke to a fellow board member who drove me home one day about our involvement with the said board. With the fellow columnist for a local Filipino community newspaper, we exchanged stories about coming to Canada and our respective families in the Philippines. The one time an elected representative offered me a ride home after a town hall, we talked about political campaigns, the differences between the neighbourhoods in the constituency, and hostility on social media towards politicians.

What’s the back-up plan when it seems like there isn’t someone whom I feel comfortable asking for a ride? It’s not really a back-up plan, it’s more like “Plan A”! Calling for a taxi and apps like TappCar had made calling for a ride pretty convenient. Thanks to the budgeting skills I learned from my spouse, I am able to keep an eye out on my spending and make sure it doesn’t go out of control.

So, it is unlikely that I will get a car anytime soon, but there are certainly lots of improvements that can be done from a policy and infrastructure side to make sure that other modes of transportation are feasible and desirable for many people.