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.

Story Time: The Processed Food Products I had to Learn How To Make

Kitchen counter with a microwave, sauce with tomatoes, a plate with greens and bottle of spices and olive oil

by: Giselle General

As someone born in relatively more modern times, even if I grew up in a rural place before coming to Canada, I’m not completely ignorant of processed food products. The fact that my family had a convenience store gave me greater access to them. So I already know how to prepare and cook frozen hotdogs and meats, and how to differentiate preparing instant noodles from a package using a pot water, and instant cup noodles by pouring water that is already boiling.

However, upon arriving to Canada, certain products are so new to me that I had to learn the hard way how to prepare them. I fondly look back at these cooking mishaps with humor now, but it was either mortifying or frustrating during that time. Here are some of these (now adorably funny) mishaps.

Microwavable Meals

“Did the package just say that this is frozen creamy linguini chicken pasta? So the pasta is not raw? How does this work”? Microwavable meals were a lifesaver for me and my cousin when I first arrived in Canada. My older cousin is really busy with going to college and working, that preparing meals is something that is not feasible all the time. Besides, these frozen meals are pretty cheap. I eventually learned that it is very important to follow the instructions to a T. When it says, lift only one corner of the container, you have to do so. When it says to let it stand for one minute after the timer goes off, you have to do that, otherwise your hands are not going to like feeling burnt.

Here are where the mishaps happened. When I was already living in Edmonton, a few times I decided to bring a microwavable meal to school, find a clean microwave on campus so that I have a slightly more decent meal for cheap. One time, I forgot to bring utensils so my plan went sideways. The other time, I forgot that this is a frozen meal, so on locations where the temperature is above zero, like my own backpack, it starts to melt and makes a wet sticky mess on your bag!

Close up of an oven's handle and buttons.

When I started dating my then boyfriend, now husband, I also discovered an even more unusual type of microwavable meal called “rice steamers”. There are extra steps such as layering the plastic bowl-like contraptions and lifting half of the plastic seal. Each plastic bowl is a different part of the meal, one is rice or noodles, then the other would have the vegetables or meat and the sauce. After taking it off the microwave, you combine all the different food items together and there’s the meal, ready to go!

Frozen Pizza

Frozen pizzas were a mystery for me the first few times too, haha! One time, I tried to help with making dinner at my then-boyfriend’s place. I though I understood all the instructions, set the timer, removed the plastic film and whatnot. But I forgot to remove the cardboard box to transfer it onto a pizza pan, so the bottom was weirdly soggy and damp. The other time, after I learned that keeping the box on isn’t what you are supposed to do, I placed the frozen pizza right on the oven rack. The pizza was cooked well this time, though I did struggle with taking it out of the oven to cut it into pieces. I felt really silly for sure!

There wasn’t an explicit instruction in the box that talks about that – I bet it’s because it’s assumed that people already know that frozen pizzas are to be placed in a metal baking pan. But now, I know better and I’m a pro at making frozen pizzas when in a pinch for a good meal!

Canned Tomato Soup

The only “instant soup” (not instant noodles) that I was familiar with at the time is the cream of mushroom soup. Empty the can, with this almost jelly-like blob that held the shape of the can, add another can of liquid, either milk or water, stir the blob so it combines with the other liquid, and warm it up. But the first time I dealt with tomato soup, it’s a bit of a mystery to me.

Tomato soup with green garnish on a white bowl.

My then-boyfriend and I were making a simple dinner at his condo and we wanted soup, and he wanted tomato soup. It was confusing because upon opening the can, it was a thick liquid, but not as solidified as the cream of mushroom soup. I added the water, combined it and heated it up. For some reason I thought it’s taking such a long time to simmer, but I waited and waited anyways. Once it looked reasonably warmed through, I put it in a bowl to serve. He ate it without a fuss.

It wasn’t until years later, that he admitted that I burned the soup very very badly! That’s why there was a tough brown layer of soup at the bottom of the pot. I can only imagine how horrible it tasted, oh no! But he didn’t say anything at the time. I guess that’s what happens when you are still in the honeymoon phase of your relationship. Now it’s been a running joke between me and my husband when we cook and prepare meals together!

Love language Reflections: Support in times of Crisis

Man hugging woman, woman's head burried on his shoulder

by: Giselle General

My husband and I had a particularly challenging weekend sometime in June this year. As if the pandemic is not enough. In times of crisis or particularly stressful situations, people react differently. People’s reactions can possibly be categorized into the following: fight flight or freeze mode.

Similar to how we face a threat that is directly affecting us, people might react in the same way if there is a crisis about their loved ones, especially if we are directly involved in their daily lives. Some people are in “hyper solution mode” or “fight mode” running around getting things done, getting everyone together to act, and then after this adrenaline panic-solution mode, they get exhausted and worn out. These helper types, dedicated to support their loved ones, end up not realizing they need to care for themselves too.

There are some people who have intense outbursts of emotion during times of crisis, getting stuck and unable to provide tangible practical solutions to resolve the crisis at the end. I personally describe this as the ‘flight mode’ especially emotionally. However, in my opinion, there is value with how these type of people respond even if it may be off-putting at the time. They demonstrate the emotional impact, the reality and seriousness of the situation at hand.

Woman sitting and crying, and person's hands supporting her shoulder's comforting her back.

And there are people that are in silent mode, I would say is the ‘freeze mode’. Those who are too quiet or maybe two numb or lost, unable to determine a course of action. It’s not necessarily that they’re useless in the time of crisis, however, it takes prompting or direct, specific instructions to get them to do anything. Whether it is direction from the hyper solution-focused loved one, or being prompted by the emotional outburst of the others. 

Particularly for long-term relationships, I think it is really important to understand how our loved ones respond during times of crisis.

This is because different reactions or solutions would be more appropriate depending on the situation. If someone is in medical distress, it probably would be important to be more solution-focused at least until the severity of the situation is minimized. However, it is important to acknowledge the intense feelings that have come up because of the situation. Imagine your loved one being taken away by ambulance – there’s the peak emotional state and then there’s the crash afterwards. In many crisis situations, solutions, support, and follow-up is more of a marathon not a race. There needs to be diligent planning and follow-up and ongoing communication so that the problem at hand can be fully resolved.

The valuable thing about knowing your loved ones’ mechanism when responding to crisis as you can pick them up and support them during times when they are struggling. Some people struggle with displaying their emotions even after the fact, even when it’s safe, more appropriate, or even healthy to do so. Some people get paralyzed and unable to do proactive helping in the heat off the crisis and that can be detrimental as well. I think it’s important for people to have faced crisis situations to feel vulnerable enough and unpack their emotions afterwards. Being self-aware of one’s own tendencies are just as helpful.

Lined notebook with handwritten words, "Today, 1, 2, 3".

This is speaking from recent experiences. I think, or I hope, that I’ve figured out my own and my husband’s mechanisms when it comes to crisis solving. There will be times when he’s not willing to talk about it just yet and that’s okay. Sometimes disconnecting from the situation for a bit by browsing the internet is an okay way to provide yourself some relief. And it’s important to acknowledge that. He gently suggested a couple times for me to meditate because he knew that it would be helpful for me, and I honestly would not even thought of it if he had not brought it up.

It’s important for loved ones to not be judged by their coping mechanisms. It is also important to gently and lovingly nudge your loved one to get supports that you are unable to provide. It took me a while to acknowledge that sometimes I just need a talk therapy session with a professional to help unpack my emotions so that I can be less filtered in my language and be more candid in a way that works at specifically for me.

To be heard, understood, supported, and pushed sometimes, is really important to maintain our sense of perspective, sense of health, and nurture our ability to help ourselves and our loved ones. 

Relationship “Green Flags”

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

By: Giselle General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Giselle General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Language Reflections: Embracing the Mundane

I think there’s something that is always underestimated and undervalued in many kinds of relationships, not even just romantic ones but also when it comes to members of our family. It just the ability to embrace, be satisfied, or even be happy with the mundane day-to-day activities we deal with in our day-to-day lives and that we have to do with each other.

It is claimed that in many romantic relationships, or most of romantic relationships, there is the well-known so-called Honeymoon Phase when everything about the relationship and the other person is shiny, bright, enticing, and exciting. However since a romantic relationship will eventually become a family relationship, as in a household, as in people would be managing a household unit with all its chores, and expenses, and bills. Being comfortable with doing the tedious boring things while not killing each other is actually just as meaningful.

With my household situation when I was younger, particularly when I started living with my grandmother, I think there were a few of these mundane household moments that were really nice and I still treasure her to this day. The first time I learned how to cook rice, the first time and the future times that I am in charge of ironing clothes every weekend, when we were counting money every now and then so that we have enough to pay suppliers when we purchase the next batch of products for our store, and many other little things.

With my husband, in recent months and years including this weekend, these activities would include paying bills together, looking through this comprehensive chart of seasonal household chores to make sure that little things are not forgotten such as changing the batteries of our smoke detectors, cleaning grime off the stove, or emptying the fridge annually.

I remember within the first year of our relationship, the first time my husband and I assembled furniture together. I was told by a few couples in a joking way that Ikea furniture is the bane of many relationships. My brother-in-law just bought his townhouse and his dining room furniture just arrived but it wasn’t assembled on time before everybody else arrives for the housewarming party. We were asked to assemble it and would some communication and coordination, and the instruction manual and having the same tools that you need to assemble something like this, we’re able to assemble the dining table. This gave us a sense of pride! The fact that we somehow are able to tackle something as homely, and boring, as assembling new furniture is something we always remember as a ‘strength of the team.’

Most of the items that we bought for our new home are also second hand. So a lot of the items that we buy usually from Kijiji, involves driving to the other person’s house, trying to fit the awkward piece of furniture in the car or the trailer, taking it home and taking it out of the vehicle. And it’s really strange, but I consider these memories really simple but pretty fun.

I think that being able to deal with mundane day-to-day activities it’s a sign of a loving relationship. The ability to tackle little things is an indicator of how you will react and work together when big things cause a lot more trouble.

On the same token I think about my brother. He is my roommate now, he lives in the same house as me. Has his own household set up with responsibilities in arrangements with his girlfriend who also lives with us. And ever since we moved out of my relatives I think my brother and I are over all have a reasonably peaceful relationship living in the same home.

Honestly, I don’t have any specific tips or advice on what needs to be done in order to nurture such a positive relationship with the people you live with at home. I think that for people in romantic relationships, it’s something I definitely need to be worked on because it takes some time. And with any aspect of one’s relationship if a couple finds it important will be able to find a way to make it work. For family members however, that is a bit more challenging. I just hope it is something that people can look into and pursue.

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.

Letter to My Departed Parents and Sister on My Wedding Day

By: Giselle General

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

Dear Mama, Papa and Ate,

Guess what? I just got married!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With all my heart,

Giselle

Story Time: A Memory of My Sister’s Favourite Boy Band Song

Story time again! Sharing stories like this like this one about my father and I as a child staying up late feels right, and I would like to continue doing so. Today’s story features my sister.

My sister, Genevieve was fairly young, and so was I, when she passed away with our parents. I remember her as very outdoorsy kid, very social and friendly with everybody. While she was seen as a tomboy who like sports and rough games with boys, her best friends are girls and she enjoys playing ‘girly games’ with me and her best friends. Because she is older, I have to call her “Ate” pronounced as “ah-teh” before her name, out of respect. I can say the title and then her name or nickname, so something like Ate Genevieve or Ate Babes or simply Ate. Depending on what’s going on, while I cannot eliminate that word when I’m addressing her, my tone of voice clearly expresses how I feel about her at the time, whether it’s curiosity, amusement, excitement, or annoyance. We bicker like mad, which drove our parents crazy.

Boy bands were the rage in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and the hype is international. How can you tell? If a small mining village in a country in Asia has kids and teens raving about boy bands from the USA, that’s how.

There is this song named “I Swear” by Boys 2 Men that she really liked. Given that this was the era before internet was accessible, and cable TV is a costly thing that not all homes have, the opportunity to listen to your favourite song or artist is a rare treat. This is because you get to hear it only when it gets played on the radio, on the TV during a music video or a recording of a concert, or if you are lucky, your friend might have a cassette from the band and a player in their home.

I included the lyrics of the song below:

I swear
By the moon and the stars in the skies
And I swear
Like the shadow that’s by your side


I see the questions in your eyes
I know what’s weighing on your mind
You can be sure I know my part
‘Cus I stand beside you through the years
You’ll only cry those happy tears
And though I make mistakes
I’ll never break your heart

[Chorus:]
And I swear
By the moon and the stars in the skies
I’ll be there
I swear like the shadow that’s by your side
I’ll be there
For better or worse, ’till death do us part
I’ll love you with every beat of my heart
And I swear


I’ll give you every thing I can
I’ll build your dreams with these two hands
We’ll hang some memories on the walls
And when, and when just the two of us are there
You won’t have to ask if I still care
‘Cus as the time turns the page, my love won’t age at all

And I swear
I swear by the moon and the stars in the skies
I’ll be there
I swear like the shadow that’s by your side
I’ll be there
For better or worse, ’till death do us part
I’ll love you with every beat of my heart
And I swear

And I swear
I swear by the moon and the stars in the skies
I’ll be there
I swear like the shadow that’s by your side
I’ll be there
For better or worse, ’till death do us part
I’ll love you with every beat of my heart
And I swea
r

I was about seven when I first heard the song. I thought it was a nice tune. My sister’s enthusiasm was quite infectious that I was encouraged to at least learn the chorus of the song so I can sing it along with her. Not gonna lie, I cannot remember how her voice sounds like, same with my parents. But given our father has a decent singing voice, and that we have enough relatives from both sides of the family that has interest or talent in music, I would think that she at least can carry a tune.

I wonder what made her (and presumably her friends) and me like the song. Was it because it was what’s trending at the time, with the cool romantic lyrics in English? Was it because of how good the sound with the multiple singers vocalizing? Was it because it appeals to the Philippine culture in major ways, particularly with the eloquent and expressive romantic lyrics?

I personally have never forgotten the chorus of the song, and it pops up in my memory sometimes, like the scene in the Pixar Movie “Inside Out” when the child Riley remembers the song from the bubble gum commercial. It’s one of the very few, and by that it is very few memories I have of her. And it’s likely why I hope it stays in my memory banks in a premium spot for a while.


Love Language Reflections: On Listening Without Judgment

Sometimes, we hesitate talking to the ones whose advice, support, and approval we value the most: our love ones. Whether that is our significant other, family members, or treasured friends, we are most afraid to be vulnerable to these wonderful people in our lives, because we are also afraid of judgment. A disapproving look or reaction from them would hurt so much more than one from a stranger.

The skill of listening without judgment is a very difficult one, and for our loved ones whose well-being we are very invested on, it sounds like not showing outward reactions is counter-intuitive.

I remember when my brother was dating someone who, looking back now, is not a great fit. The fallout of the breakup was pretty rough on him, he had to scale back the classes he was taking that semester. It took all of me to not tell him how he is “stupid” for staying or how “bitchy” she is for behaving like that. Making him feel like a failure is not going to help with recovering at his own pace and moving on. I told him more that once that in my first relationship in Canada I experienced through the exact same thing, the breakup was too much for me mentally, I dropped one class during the semester of winter 2009 and made up for it through an online course in the spring. By connecting what he went through with a similar experience I had, I aimed to not show harsh judgment for what happened. I hoped I achieved the goal at that time.

Just recently, I told my spouse about a dilemma I have at work. As someone who works in the nonprofit sector helping vulnerable people, gut-wrenching stories about people’s suffering is something I hear about all the time. As I shared to him my dilemma, I was very relieved that he did not mock me for my ‘over the top’ idea on how to possibly the client. He acknowledged how emotionally invested I have become for clients sometimes, emphasized the value of setting some separation between work and personal life, and suggested alternate ways to channel my frustration about the flaws of society.

A tactic to curb this almost-impulsive tendency to judge what we hear is to ask more questions. When our love ones vent about their situation, by asking them to rehash certain details, it can help them let off steam. It becomes evident that a reaction or advice from the listener is not even necessary.

Another thing I have learned, speaking of the idea that advice is not what they are seeking, is to actually listen to cues that prompt you to give feedback. Something like “what do you think” or “what should I do” or “any suggestions or thoughts?” And if this does not come up at all, perhaps they just want to vent. I think that people in general are more hesitant to say “I don’t need advice, just a listening ear and maybe a hug.”. Many times, this is actually the default. So I’m working on paying attention to this detail moving forward.

For my spouse, when I want to run something through him, I actually start by saying “baby love, I’d like your thoughts about something“. So, when I start my talk by jumping to the story, or even making complaining mumbling noises, he knows that all I need is a hug, a moment of sympathy, and a listening ear.

In many conversations, in many relationships we have, we take turns doing the role of the giver and the receiver, the supporter and the seeker for help. This form of love language is vital for all these valuable people in our lives, and also for ourselves.