Conflict resolution breakthrough

TRIGGER WARNING: corny moment of self-reflection

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about conflict and how to deal with aggression. Part of it is just reflecting on my behaviour in past relationships and what I’ve learned through that. But I also recently wrote an It Happened to Me for xoJane that hit a nerve with some commenters. I thought it was important to respond to them (and also I am contractually required to).

These comments were only borderline snarky and not really looking for a fight, but it still stung to be criticized, whether I deserved it or not. But I went through each comment and clarified what they didn’t understand, or gently suggest that they read the entire article (because COME ON).

It was really validating to read the (many more! Thank you!) positive responses to my writing — nice for the ego! —  but what really moved me were the comments that mentioned how impressed they were of how I was conducting myself in the conversation. I guess I’m pretty good at keeping the peace. Middle child thing, maybe?

I’ve figured out that the best way to handle anger/hostility/aggression is in a way that allows both parties to walk away unscathed, with dignities intact. It’s sort of like emotional aikido. I’m not counting physical aggression — I haven’t had to deal with that ever, and I hope I never have to. But when someone comes after me verbally with rage or aggression, I want to stop it. It’s not good if I just do whatever it takes to appease someone (LIFE LESSON), but I’ve learned to redirect those feelings towards the problem, not a person (and especially not me. Unless it’s my fault. Then sorry.). It’s usually anger masking fear or hurt. Dig for the real reasons and deal with those needs.

I’m also pretty lucky that I’ve been able to create a life for myself that gives me room for a lot of self-care so I can have the energy to cope with stress. When I’m stressed (like when I was teaching), I’m a disaster. It’s way easier to deal with conflict calmly and patiently if you’re actually calm and patient. Life is hard, and everyone struggles. We need to ask the question: how do we find the strength and generosity to let each other co-exist?

And you know what? I need to do this for my self-loathing — I can be so cruel to myself. For a few years now I’ve been living in reaction to my feelings instead of listening to what they really have to say and figuring out what I actually need. So instead of risking angering someone, I diminished myself and became a boiling volcano of resentment. I’ve been so scared of opening up discussions because I knew that the outcome might/will hurt a little in the short term, but would be wise in the long term.


Doing the right thing feels like shit. Tell me I’m going to be OK.

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Tonight I was supposed to go to Lily Tsui’s house for breakfast-for-dinner, but she got last-minute Oilers tickets and who am I to prevent a woman from going to see her true love? I have somehow accumulated way too many eggs, though, so I went ahead with breakfast-for-dinner for one.

I felt a bit like a fancy lady, so I put in a bit of effort and made waffles FOR THE FIRST TIME. I’ve had a waffle iron since forever, but never used it — it was kind of a hand-me-down, and it was my ex’s, and he didn’t want it, so there it is.

Waffles. Exalted waffles. Icon of shouty women. I made them my friend.

Here is the recipe. They’re easy (and I realize that Mari-easy is different from normal-easy, but here’s something I’m good at and don’t take it away from me).

The dry ingredients are mixed together (flour, sugar, baking soda). Then a couple egg yolks, a cup (!!) of melted butter, milk, vanilla, and egg whites beaten to meringue. Maybe I added too much sweetness; I used vanilla soy milk instead of bovine milk. Will adjust next time, as I will the melted butter because OH MY GOD BUTTERY.

Then I scooped up a bit of the batter and cooked it in my waffle iron. MAGICAL. It smells so good when it’s cooking, people. And since I was dining solo, I just ate them with my hands as they came out of the iron.

There it is. Great waffles, the first time. BEHOLD.



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Chocolate cream pie

The other night I was determined to make a beautiful dinner and a mind-blowing dessert to, uh, blow minds. I’d been waiting for an occasion to make a French Silk Pie, so I found a recipe from Martha Stewart that didn’t look too hard.

Failure. TWICE a failure. Thanks for nothing, Martha. (the rest of the meal was good — phew!) Although it may also have been the fault of the chocolate. For some reason, I had a giant Costco bag of chocolate chips in the pantry and I figured I would use those. Anyhow, bad chocolate melts into a gross clump and I gave up.

This was a couple of days before Xmas at Sasano HQ, and this year I was assigned dessert for my contribution. NO PROBLEM. But I figure failing three times would break my heart, so I found another recipe, this one from Epicurious.

Being me, I forget to get ingredients until Xmas DAY. It’s hard to get groceries that day, but I didn’t need much. I found some nice bars of Lindt Madagascar dark chocolate, vanilla extract, and a half litre of whipping cream at the Shopper’s Drug Mart. Oh yeah, and a box of graham crumbs for the crust. Oldest nephew has a nut allergy, so I had to improvise.

It is SO EASY, people. Crumbs, melted butter =  crust. Didn’t even bother baking it. Done. Then make a sort of custard with eggs and sugar and milk. I melted the chocolate in a double boiler (really, it was a little pot of boiling water in which I immersed a little bowl. I am not that fancy).

You get what you pay for with chocolate. You want chocolate that actually melts, and that only happens with the good stuff. Something about cocoa butter, I figure. Anyhow, if it’s not good enough to eat, it’s not good enough to bake with. Now we know. The melted chocolate goes into the custard, the custard goes into the crust, refrigerate. I whipped the full 500mL of cream for the cream part right before serving, grated some chocolate sprinkles and WOW.


See what I mean? It was a hit. My 8-year old nephew gave it a 5/5! I need to make this again. So should you.

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I’M BACK: and more OK than ever!

So it’s been a while and this year has been crazy like whoa. Long story short: broke up with BF over the summer (gentlemen: the line forms to the left — get at me before my looks go!) and worked at a totally bonkers TV job, then quit it.

I’m now working with a clean slate and after feeling terrible for several months, I am now feeling surprisingly not-lost.

As some of you may know, I’ve really been struggling with my identity as a writer for the past several years. I had a really good beginning to my career (which I kinda just stumbled into, really). It was really fun and challenging to write for ed magazine (rest in peace, you sweet young thing). It fed my soul, to use a totally gross cliche.

I think a lot of mid-career people in creative fields who are not unstoppable robots hit a plateau or slump. I hit it, hard. Tried a few things, succeeded and failed, but never really felt like I had the same kind of home that I used to. There was nothing to post here because nothing was really happening.

But since returning to full-time freelancing, I’ve had some tremendous support from my writing colleagues and have slowly been making some effort into pitching the kind of writing I actually want to do. Money be damned! (and damn, it’s terrible)

I’ve had two pieces published on XOJane and one in the pipes. Honestly, I don’t know why I was so scared to approach them before. Maybe because JANE PRATT OMG, right? And I’ve started pitching at other places too. But this feels like home. The Toast and The Butter and The Frisky and all the other places beginning with “the” are other places I’m looking at. If I can do a few a month, I will be happy.

I’ll be posting links to the articles I’ve written here (I made a little “writing” tab up there), and even if I get no traffic, I’ll be content because my blog is on my business cards and someone might actually look at it once in a while.

Thank you, anonymous universe! I will be worthy of your treasures!

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Sorry I haven’t blogged! I promise I will soon!

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No zeroes?

So, a teacher at my old high school got suspended for handing out zeroes in his class.

Maybe he was obnoxious about it (the school board cites his “defiance”), but I definitely agree with how he has dealt with his classroom. It makes sense, and it’s fair: students who fail to submit their assignments get a zero; students are allowed to hand in their assignments by the end of term with no penalties.

I can see how confidence needs to be built in elementary grades by emphasizing work rather than grades. I don’t mind the idea of not grading elementary level students at all, actually. But at the high school level, these are young adults. Self esteem needs to be built on taking on responsibility and mastery of subjects, which is what young adults naturally seek at that age. This teacher seems to be striking a good balance: he shows the students the consequences BEFORE he assigns them a zero, then he gives them a chance to make it up.

In a my classroom, I tell them what the deadlines are, and to stick to them. But I also tell them that we are all adults: if there are extenuating circumstances, they need to tell me. I would rather have a slightly late assignment than an assignment that didn’t fulfil its pedagogical goal. And I certainly would prefer reading an assignment that is written well than one that is rushed and terrible! As workers, we are all sometimes required to hand in work late. That’s life. But as adults, we need to let people know when that will happen in advance, and why. Negotiating timelines is part of the work world.

That’s precisely what this teacher has done. He has given his students an opportunity to learn how to deal with a client, boss, or teacher– not as an arbitrary disciplinarian, but as a colleague. It’s admirable, actually. I can’t believe how many students are unable to talk to their teacher. And I’ve had students come to me to ask for their grades to be bumped up. They come to me in tears, but without any reason why I would help them. I tell them that a negotiation means they come in with reasons and evidence. If they can’t give me any, then they get what they get. It seems to surprise them, but it’s true: I’m fallible, so if I have missed something on their assignments, then I would be open to raising their mark if they can point out where I’m wrong.

But failing to hand in an assignment at all, after all of that? A zero seems more than fair.

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Tilapia with cilantro pesto

This is actually something that Aaron improvised once, to amazing effect.

Tilapia is a very affordable (and usually sustainable) fish. I managed to find some filets for cheap at T&T, so I let Aaron make this simple recipe again. It’s so delicious!

He puts the leaves and stems of cilantro and parsley in the blender with a little salt and pepper, olive oil, lemon, garlic, and chili pepper. Blender it up, paste it on the fish, and steam/pan fry. That’s it! This time we had it with some roasted peppers and potatoes for a very healthy, extremely flavourful, quick dinner. There are still a couple tilapia filets in the freezer, too. Do it!

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White supremacists: the pride parade no one wants

(except those neo-Nazi dudes, I suppose.)

In the wake of the International Day for the Elimination of Racism, today’s alleged Blood and Honour rally downtown, and Trayvon, I need to get get a few things off my chest.

First of all, I know you are “not a racist”. You keep saying so. That’s great! However, I tell you, it’s not enough. You need to be ANTI-racist. You need to do, say, and act in ways that show that you don’t passively accept our society’s greatest ill. You don’t have to be aggressive or confrontational; far from it. In my experience, a light touch can lead to some great conversations and a little enlightenment. Being a jerk about it shuts things down and makes closet racists even more so. Try to be gentle. A simple, “I don’t agree with that,” or “What do you mean?” will usually do. Continue with that conversation, even if it weirds you out. Believe me, it weirds ME out. But the outcome is usually good.

Let me tell you a story. An organization I used to work for had an employee who would often say problematic things. Terrible things. Once, in a meeting with one of our business leaders (she was in SALES!) she said, “Could you do something about the African guys who hang out on the sidewalk? They scare me.” My jaw dropped. But the fellow we were having our meeting with had a perfect response. He, an older German-Canadian man, said: “They are just socializing. If they’re doing anything criminal, you can call the police. But when an immigrant comes to Canada, he usually likes to find other immigrants to socialize with. It was the same when my family came to Canada from Germany. People weren’t very friendly, so we socialized with other Germans.” Gentle, factual, and firm.

Another thing: I’ve head a couple of times today, “why isn’t it OK to feel proud to be white?” Here’s my answer. There’s a Black History Month and an Asian Heritage Month. The history of minorities in Canada have until quite recently, been hidden or marginalized. This is a way to show their contributions to our society, plus there is an explicit invitation to those not sharing that particular background to join in and learn. Now, I would definitely argue that there ARE opportunities for white people to show pride in their background. It’s just so ingrained that you don’t even notice it! We just had St Patrick’s Day, for example. The Germans have Oktoberfest! And our Scandinavian history is acknowledged every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Feel free to bring me a lefse and acquavit on any of those days. If you are a white person and don’t feel enough reasons to celebrate your background, you are not trying hard enough, or you are taking it for granted.

But I don’t think that’s enough for the white supremacists. I think they mean me, and other people of colour AND those of you who aren’t racist, some harm. That’s the problem. You don’t get success from dragging other people down, but that’s exactly what they think is going on. Multiculturalism isn’t a zero-sum game; we all benefit in the many cultures, traditions, and languages that we bring to our society.

So please, let’s all work together to show the neo-Nazis that there are better ways to express themselves, and that we do not approve of their methods. We are the majority, we are nice but we would very much like to not have the crap beaten out of us, thanks!

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Dinner Project: Okonomiyaki

Lots of people who go to Japan invariably come home raving about okonomiyaki, a popular comfort food that is more or less a cabbage pancake. I don’t know if it’s a regional thing, but we never really had it at home. I only remember having it once, actually, and never again. Not really a Sasano thing, I guess.

That’s no reason to try making it at home now. I’m an adult!

I modified a recipe I found on Okonomiyaki World. Since I didn’t have okonomiyaki flour, I used  a cup of regular whole wheat flour and 2/3 cup of water as the base. Traditional recipes seem to call for a little grated yamaimo, which I imagine would improve the texture, but I forgot to get some. Next time. Then I added about 4 cups of shredded cabbage and some chopped green onion and two beaten eggs. This is enough to make two pancakes about a foot across. As the first side was frying, I topped it with slices of veggie bacon for health. In hindsight, I should’ve used regular bacon but less of it. Veggie bacon burns too easily.

After the first side was done, I flipped them over and flipped it over again when the bacon cooked burned. Then I plated them, poured a bit of okonomikayi sauce (Bulldog sauce would probably be fine) and Kewpie mayonnaise. A little sprinkle of katuobushi finished it off. I couldn’t find aonori at T&T, but it sure would’ve been nice.

It’s very simple to make, and quite tasty. Tastier than a cabbage pancake might sound! And if you think about it, it’s a fairly healthy meal. Now when your JET alumni friends start reminiscing, you can shut them up by whipping some up right before their eyes!

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Dinner project: miso soup

Oh my god! I forgot to tell you how to make miso soup. It is so easy.

You can get miso pretty much anywhere now, so you need to choose what kind. White miso is milder and sweeter, red miso is sharper. Your call. I like white miso.

You heat as much water as you want soup. Then you dissolve some miso into the water (my dad says never let it actually boil). I scoop a little into a ladle and swish it with water until it’s all dissolved. I estimate about 1/4 cup of miso per 4 cups water or so, but if you’re not sure just do a little at a time until it tastes right. If you want to be really authentic, you can throw in a little dashi, which adds a little more depth to the flavour. You can buy instant dashi at T&T. Just a teaspoonful is enough for a 4 bowl portion.

You can add cubed soft tofu, green onions, sliced vegetables, wakame or whatever. I’ve heard of people putting in bacon, even. Weird. I usually have some dried wakame in the pantry. You should too! Again, hooray for T&T.

That’s it! It’s no mystery, and it’s pretty healthy for you. Now you go!

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