Book Review and Thank You Letter “The First Phone Call from Heaven” by Mitch Albom

By: Giselle General

It may sound silly but yes, I am writing a thank you letter to an object, which is the Little Free Library in a neighbourhood that was a 20 minute walk from my home. These are my thoughts after reading a book I got from it, “The First Phone Call From Heaven” by Mitch Albom.


August 15, 2022

Dear little Free Library. I think you’re pretty new, I haven’t seen you before the moment I saw this particular book that caught my attention. Overall, I’m a fan of this particular author, thinking back when I first saw a book written by him titles The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

I have also read another book by him titled Tuesdays with Morrie. So, I have an idea of what to expect in his books. There will be an overall theme of wholeheartedness and inspiration. There will be undertones of religion and spirituality. There will be themes about love and loss and death. And upon reading this book, I was not disappointed. That’s exactly what’s in it.

The premise of this book is about a pilot who is grieving the death of his wife, and missing opportunities to support his family since he was in prison due to criminal charges put forward from a plane crash. He returned to the small town where he grew up where a seemingly mysterious series of events started to occur. Several people in the small town started to receive what they claim were phone calls from dead loved ones claiming that they are from heaven. Alongside the struggles of this pilot, there was a journalist from out of town assigned to cover this story. As word of this seemingly miraculous and extraordinary event spread across the world, the town was whipped into a frenzy.

I will try not to give out too many spoilers, but all I can say is that answers were discovered behind how the phone calls were happening, and for many of the people affected, it resulted into profound effects that changed their outlook in life and family. It talks about how people’s lives are interconnected in numerous, often unexpected ways, and sometimes, people’s actions affect us in ways that we might never know, for better or worse.

For me personally, what affected me most about the book is not about the moral or the plot or the writing. I mean, it is pretty good, and I enjoyed reading it.

What I found moving and striking is an experience that is first for me, to have a character with my name in a fiction book. On top of that, for the character, Giselle, to be the dead wife that the protagonist is still grieving about! There’s no need to imagine or daydream this time in order to relate to a character – the book’s writing made it very direct, very explicit.

I am married to a man I love very much. I also struggle with suicidal ideation. While I haven’t actively done things to end my life in recent years, my heart continues to feel heavy with what is described as survivor’s guilt. Many a time I have daydreamed about what would happen when my life ends, if it ends soon. The fact that in just a few years, I’m reaching my mother’s age when she died, when she died saving me, is not helping matters.

But in this book, I was confronted with an experience I haven’t had before. Seeing the words of a grieving husband, who continued to say how much he loves and misses his wife, Giselle. The anger and pain of someone who missed her funeral because he was in prison, with undertones of helplessness and despair as he adjusts to the life of being a single parent for their little boy. This time around, there’s no need for me to wonder, ‘what would my own husband say or think, in the days, weeks or months just after my death?’ In many ways, words and thoughts could very much be his.

How has this affected my suicidal ideation? Words cannot express, but there is something that fundamentally shifted there.

After reading the book, I saw on the inside of the back cover, that there’s a sticker, one of those customized labels with people’s name and address so they can easily put it in outgoing mail. This book, at one point, was owned by a woman named Marilyn. The address is in Edmonton, but it is not in the Patricia Heights neighbourhood. Still on the west end, but a few neighbourhoods north.

Little Free Library by the end row of houses in the Patricia Heights neighbourhood: you have presented me with a unique experience and a profound gift. I’m still processing it, frankly speaking.

For now, all I can say is “thank you” and “wow”. The collection of Little Free Libraries for the neighbourhood is still growing, as well as all over the city. I wish that you continue to house and share books, knowledge and joy for years to come.

Community Resource Article – When Debt Issues Arise

By: Giselle General

This article was also submitted by the author as a contribution to the Alberta Filipino Journal (a cultural/ community newspaper in the province of Alberta, Canada) in June 2022.

Managing one’s finances is an important responsibility in order for us to have a comfortable life. But sometimes, unexpected things happen, and we find ourselves in a difficult financial situation. Perhaps the bills, mortgage, rent or credit card payments were left unpaid too many times and things have escalated a bit. Perhaps you are about to lose your home, or received a court document, or been subjected to aggressive phone calls or messages from those who want payment.

Here are some resources that can help when financial problems turn for the worse.

When Financial Debt Requires Legal Help

  1. Consumer Debt Negotiation Project Program – Edmonton Community Legal Centre: Many of us have consumer debt, such as credit card payments, car loans, personal loans, even a mortgage. You might be falling behind on payments, and you discovered that there is a legal action that happened, let’s say, you received a court document from the bank or the company you owe money to. You can contact this free program so you can get an opportunity to speak to a lawyer to get help.To contact this service, to go the website https://www.eclc.ca/need-legal-support/ and then click on the box that says “For Consumer Debt Negotiation Project”

Emergency Financial Supports

  1. Community Bridge Program: Funds To Prevent Getting Kicked Out by Landlord: If you are renting the place where you live right now, and you fell behind on rent payments, it is likely that your landlord would want to evict you. Getting kicked out of the place where you live can be very stressful and disruptive. This program is a financial ‘rapid response’ as a last resort so you can stay in your place and make payments you missed. The link to access this program is https://bissellcentre.org/programs/individual/community-bridge/
  2. Emergency Needs Allowance – Government of Alberta: This is a program direct from the Alberta Government for when you face an unexpected emergency that can present a health risk and caused by unexpected circumstances that you cannot pay for. It can cover a wide range of needs such as food, clothing, childcare, temporary shelter, utility payments, eviction payments and more. The link to get more information and how to apply is:    https://www.alberta.ca/emergency-financial-assistance.aspx

Financial Literacy – Learning about Money Management

  1. Credit Counselling Society – Online Courses: This is a self-paced online course that focus on financial management skills such as learning the realities of credit, budgeting, spending on food, and more. In addition to the online courses, they also have other ways to support when you are currently facing financial difficulty. https://nomoredebts.org/financial-education/online-courses  
  2. Each One, Teach One: This program is designed for bankers to deliver basic financial literacy workshops to newcomers, refugees, individuals who face barriers to financial services, and people living in low-income communities, in a “teach the teacher” type of format. It is comprehensive, as it covers topics beyond just budgeting and debt, such as investments, contracts, and fraud prevention.  https://www.myunitedway.ca/each-one-teach-one/
  3. Money Mentors Financial Education: Money Mentors also provides services to help people in financial difficulties, and they have also educational content on their website. The catalogue is even more comprehensive than the other two, addressing other complex but common issues like preparing financially for a baby, having unpredictable income sources, home ownership, money discussions in inter-generational households, and many more.   https://moneymentors.ca/financial-education/  

This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope that this is a useful starting point. After you contact these resources, it is possible also that they might recommend other programs and services to help with your situation. Having financial issues can be stressful and embarrassing, but a lot of the time, the staff and volunteers that are part of these programs are understanding and compassionate. When contacting them, I highly recommend sharing all the necessary details and not leave out information even if it feels shameful. Complete transparency is important for them to understand your compete situation in order for you to get the best help you need.

Free Man and Woman Sitting at Table Stock Photo

Community Resource Article – Opportunities to Volunteer

By: Giselle General

This article was also submitted by the author as a contribution to the Alberta Filipino Journal (a cultural/ community newspaper in the province of Alberta, Canada) in April 2022

In hounour of National Volunteer Week which is on April 24, I would like to share some opportunities and resources when it comes to volunteering. A short definition of volunteering is doing a task where you are unpaid, or paid a very small amount that it wouldn’t fit the minimum wage requirements, that supports a charitable or community-oriented objective.

This is a very small list of the thousands of opportunities available, but the ones I’d like for our readers to consider.

Right In The Neighbourhood and the City of Edmonton

  1. Community League of your Neighbourhood: “Bayanihan para sa kapitbahay” is my simplified description of community leagues. Being helpful toward our neighbours, is the spirit of the neighbourhood Community League. Much like a people-run barangay association, your community league is a volunteer-based organization in the neighbourhood that helps plan social events, help advocate for issues in your neighbourhood, and at times they might have a hall where they maintain some local amenities. To know where you community league is, go to the website of the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues: www.efcl.org
  2. City of Edmonton Volunteer Catalogue: The City of Edmonton, as in the actual municipal government, offers many services to everyday Edmontonians. For some of these event or programs, there are ways to volunteer and help! I personally have been a greeter for the city’s Free Admission Day in a local tourist attraction, and I have helped plant trees in a large park one summer. The link to set up your account and apply is: https://app.betterimpact.com/PublicEnterprise/9e275823-c9e5-46df-a092-b2c5b18d2526

Volunteer in the Filipino Community

  1. Edmonton Philippine International Centre: The goal of this organization is for the Filipino community to have our own building as a gathering place, event space and place we can go for support and connection. This is a remarkable and ambitious goal and help is needed from as many people as possible. The website to learn about them is https://www.epicalberta.com/
  2. Migrante Alberta: This is an organization that does advocacy work to help better the lives of migrants in our province. Helping hands and attendance is always appreciated in many of their activities, whether it is to lobby the government to address certain policies, events to help educate the community, or providing direct assistance to our fellow migrants in crisis. https://www.migrantealberta.ca/
  3. Organizations under COPA and CEFA: Congress of the Philippine Associations of Alberta (COPA) and CEFA (Council of Edmonton Filipino Associations) can be an opportunity to be more connected to the Filipino community, whether it is by helping these organizational bodies, or finding an affiliate association in the group. Both organizations are searchable on Facebook. 

Interest-Oriented Opportunities

  1. Next Gen Men: Their mission is to have “a future were boys and men feel less pain and cause less harm”. If you are a parent, a community member or someone keen on ensuring men and boys are supported in their development as physically and emotionally healthy individuals, getting involved with them might be a good idea. https://www.nextgenmen.ca/
  2. Political Parties and the Provincial Elections: The provincial election is next year, and volunteer opportunities are available to those who want to either a candidate running under a political party name, or a political party overall. If you do an online search for your location and for a political party you are interested in, there will be opportunities to be hands on in making the change you want to see and that’s on the ground level of election season.
  3. Big Brother Big Sisters: For those who enjoy working with kids on helping them, this organization can be a great way to volunteer. There are different programs, from one-on-one mentorship, after school programs, and even virtual mentoring. https://bgcbigs.ca/ pexels

There are numerous ways to volunteer and the benefits are mutual, not just for the people or organizations being helped, but also for the person volunteering. Volunteering helps someone gain new skills, maintain positive mental health through socialization and positively impacting another person’s life, and can also lead to other career and learning opportunities.

Free stock photo of assistance, bio, care Stock Photo

Community Resource Article – Supports for Women

By: Giselle General

This article was also submitted by the author as a contribution to the Alberta Filipino Journal (a cultural/ community newspaper in Alberta, Canada) in March 2022.

These are some community resources that can help provide programs, inspiration, physical and emotional support and more for the women and girls in your life and community.  

Supports for Young Girls and Teens

  1. YWCA Girls Counselling Group: The counselling group is for girls aged 14 – 16, a crucial time in one’s teenager years, and is a weekly drop-in program. It provides a safe, and structured space for teens to discuss the challenges they are facing, get guidance, support, and a listening ear from the facilitator who is a Registered Psychologist. In addition, YWCA also offers other services for women of all ages.https://www.ywcaofedmonton.org/programs-and-services/girls-counselling/
  2. Terra Centre for Teen Parents: An unexpected teen pregnancy can be daunting and stressful, but there are supports for the teen parents, the babies and their families. The agency provides programs and practical items to help young families reach their full potential.  https://terracentre.ca/what-is-terra/
  3. Girls Who Code: The goal of this organization is to inspire and support girls and teens into considering a career in technology, where women are still very under-represented. This can be a worthwhile resource if you work with children or youth in educational settings, or if you want to support girls in your family who loves computers, programming, engineering, robotics and more. https://girlswhocode.com/en-ca

Resources on Women’s Health, Including Reproductive Health

  1. Re:Pro, Podcast on Sexual and Reproductive Health: This podcast series launched by University of Alberta medical students are meant for those reproductive and sexual health questions “that you are too embarrassed to talk to your doctor about”. Listen online at https://reprohealthpodcast.libsyn.com
  2. O School, Online Resource on Sex and More: This online resource was founded by Filipina-American Andrea Barrica. She believed that no one else should have to struggle to unlearn sexual shame resulting from incomplete education growing up. Sexuality is a natural part of human lives and relationships. The comprehensive online resource covers the medical, practical, relational, and pleasure-focused aspects of reproductive and sexual health. https://www.o.school/

Resources for Leadership, Community and Career

  1. Alberta Women Entrepreneurs: They provide programs, events, and practical supports such as loans for women who want to launch their businesses and make it as successful as possible. To sign up, visit https://www.awebusiness.com/
  2. GROW Women Leaders: GROW Women Leaders launched in 2017, in celebration of Canada 150 out of the desire to spotlight incredible accomplishments of immigrant women in Canada. Now they provide programs and events to help immigrant women advance in the workforce. To get involved, visit https://www.growwomenleaders.com/
  3. Changing Together, A Centre for Immigrant Women: This charitable organization provides programs and supports for immigrant women, both citizens and newcomers to Canada. They also conduct research and publish content that highlights the challenges that immigrant women face, in order to spread awareness and bring change in the community. To join in their programs or volunteer, visit https://www.changingtogether.com/  

This is not a comprehensive list but can be a good starting point to let you know that there are resources that are available in time of need and to help you improve your life. It can be helpful to access services that have more comprehensive directories like 211 to learn about all the services available.

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

By: Giselle General

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

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

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

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

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

A plate of spaghetti with homemade pesto sauce.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hi Chidi,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film Review: Canvas

Scene from animated movie Canvas. The main character, an elderly gentleman, sadly looks down as his adult daughter kisses him on the forehead.

Thanks to a recommendation through social media, a few nights ago I watched an animated short film on Neflix called Canvas. The story is about an elderly gentleman who looks like he is of African heritage and is wheelchair bound. He is coping with the death of his wife and as a result, was reluctant to pursue a hobby of his, which is painting, so much so that he avoids the art studio in his house. He is grappling with grief as he watches over his granddaughter who comes to visit and shows interest and skill in art.

The film is short and one that has no dialogue, and I find those types of animated films really captivating. In order for a silent film to be effective, the background music, sound effects, and imagery in every scene needs to provide the right impact. It is the perfect opportunity to apply the principle of ‘a picture can speak a thousand words’.

Screenshot from movie Canvas, elderly grandfather hugging his granddaughter.
Screenshot from movie Canvas, elderly grandfather hugging his granddaughter inside his house after he caught her sneaking in the art studio, a room he hasn’t visited since his wife passed away as it brings pain and grief.

The artistic style of the animations shift when depicting real life scenes in the film into something different when depicting ideas and history. The thoughts of the characters and backstory are showcased using a ‘drawn pencil’ style, while the actual scenes with his granddaughter, the abandoned art studio in his house, or the backyard were the default animated style.

In the beginning, the grandpa would look at his granddaughter with reluctance whenever she would be in the dining room drawing. He would pass by the hallways of his house, and try to avoid looking into a dark part of the hallway that has a clothing rack of his wife’s clothes, that hides a door into an abandoned room that served as an art studio. His grief upon his wife’s death was so intense he couldn’t pick up a paintbrush and canvas, and one time he threw down his easel in anger.

His granddaughter, as expected of curious children, eventually discovers the hidden door and sneaks into the art studio room. He also saw his wife in a dream. That seemed to be the wake up call that the grandfather needed to acknowledge the bittersweet feeling of losing a love one, and to reconsider doing artwork again.

Scene from the movie Canvas. The main character, the grandfather, sits outside in front of an outdoor easel and canvas, holding a paintbrush and looks wistfully, while his granddaughter and daughter looks at him lovingly.
Scene from the movie Canvas. The main character, the grandfather, sits outside in front of an outdoor easel and canvas, holding a paintbrush and looks wistfully, while his granddaughter and daughter looks at him lovingly.

Now that I’ve reached a milestone with my husband, being together (dating and marriage) for over ten years, I wonder about the routines and interests that I have that are strongly linked to my life and interactions with him. He was the one who inspired me to pursue doing arts and crafts for various purposes, from wall decor and paintings to practical items like blankets, pillows, and oven mitts. He loves to call these items in our home “items made with love” and now, he refuses to buy decorations and linens from a store. If we need something at home, like a cooking apron or a lap quilt, he would ask me to make one and I’d happily make them.

If heaven forbid my husband passes away before me, would grief drown me the same way? Would I be reluctant, at least for a while, to make art, to sew, to paint? I go to bed every night literally wearing my husbands’ and my clothes, all woven together in the quilts I made in our master bedroom. If the love of your life is gone, I can imagine how difficult it can be to navigate through seeing household items that are tangible signs of the life built together over a long time. This film, in a short eight minute time period, depicts this is a way that is well done.

This film is a must-watch. I am really grateful for that social media screenshot image that encouraged me to watch it, as it was published on Netflix with no big promotions. The link to the Netflix film is https://www.netflix.com/ca/title/81332733

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being a “Backseat Gamer”

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

By: Giselle General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relationship “Green Flags”

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

By: Giselle General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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