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In Japan, they have a saying: “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” The message is that those who don’t conform, for the good of society, are a threat to harmony and must be brought down. On this side of the ocean, I’ve noticed that there is a similar societal pressure to be likeable and have a pleasing personality. No matter your other talents, it’s important to have a high “emotional intelligence” if you want to have success. It’s important to be popular, otherwise you’re a big fat loser, right?

The funny thing is, I’ve noticed that a lot of assholes are popular. It ain‘t scientific, but two individuals from my past who I consider to be absolutely piss-poor human beings for being selfish, vengeful, manipulative and just plain mean, each have over 200 friends on Facebook. Maybe they work at large companies with lots of co-workers on FB, but I suspect it’s just because they’re assholes who happen to be likeable assholes. In other words, they are good politicians.

This is not to say that everyone who is likeable is an asshole, oh no. I know many people who just seem to have that gift for easy rapport with anyone who they meet. My sister’s friends especially, seem to have the knack of making you feel remembered and important each time you see them. They remember what you talked about the last time you saw them, they ask how such-and-such is going, they share freely of wine and cigarettes and other little social lubricants. There is no agenda; they’re not just waiting for you to finish your thought so they can jump in with theirs.

I always wanted to be more like that, to get on easily with whoever life throws in my path, and have that sort of easiness with people. But I’ve never quite mastered it. I never remember anyone I don’t already know when a mutual friend brings them up in the conversation. Like someone I met at a party. Who? What did they look like? Oh sure I remember now… (no idea) I don’t remember birthdays. I’m told I put up walls when first meeting someone, or that I can appear rather cold and silent. I mostly just feel shy and awkward when meeting another person for the first time, and beyond that impatient and/or infuriated. Sometimes I can’t wait to just get home and get away from people.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been any good at hiding my feelings, and I’m an awful liar. So whatever I’m feeling seems to leak out and someone always seems to take it upon themselves to call me on it. That part always bewilders me, especially when it takes the form of advice, like “You should be nicer to me!” or insults, like my favourite: “You’re a cold-hearted bitch!” I mostly try to stay uninvolved, and I’ve never tried deliberately to hurt anyone, so it always takes me by surprise when others try to attack me for … being imperfect, unlikeable me. Bloody well mind your own business, is my usual reaction followed lots of imagined snappy comebacks.

Going back to my original point, it makes people angry to deal with someone who just doesn’t care what others think of them. Ah, now I remember where that came from, the novel Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. In the story, Toru constantly compares himself to Nagasawa, the future politician who shows him how to get laid without caring so much about it. He does have some lingering angst about it, and Midori, the independent love interest, tells him that not really caring about what others think is what sets him apart from society. I guess that’s me too.

I know myself pretty well, and I know I havewalls and defenses. I like to think I’m generous to friends (and I cannot stand cheapness in others!) but once you cross me, there’s pretty much no going back. It doesn’t even have to be a huge fight. I’ve had disagreements, passive-aggressive bitch fights, and although I’ll obsess for awhile over the conflict, I won’t make the effort to right things unless the other person and I are really close. Generally, I choose flight over fight.

Despite it all, though, people generally know where they stand with me, and I don’t much care about pretending to like someone I don’t, or sucking up for political reasons. You can like me if you want. I like to be liked.

I’m really not sure why I am this way, but I guess I had to get it off my chest.

While not constructing elaborate fantasies of how I would cater my Christmas party, I like to imagine how my friends in far off places would celebrate their holidays. Call it my version of a Christmas card.
Makiko-chan lives in Paris, and I like to picture her walking down twinkling French streets with her cute French husband and designer window shopping. She would be impeccably dressed (no matter what her budget) and set off by flushed red cheeks. Miss you, OneeChan.
Amy, my favourite lawyer, would surely be found at the center of a party in a very hip London pub or wine bar. She dazzles a crowd with funny stories and screaming wit. Big hugs all around while getting smashed.
Claire-sama, all tanned and sexy-like down in Oz, is barbecuing Turkey with her mystery man down in Oz. They would be speaking Japanese to each so no one else is the wiser.
Zed is sitting down to vegan Christmas dinner with friends, family and his Mum. He will be in the middle of constructing elaborate art projects for a midwinter fair and running workshops to teach children how to have a sustainable Christmas. You are a child of the Universe, sensei.
Yen-chun will have escaped his cubicle (with twinly miniature Christmas tree) for a nice, sunny golf course. I think he will dress for the occasion in perfectly suitable yet slightly rumpled golf attire. Afterwards, its whiskey and videogames at the clubhouse.
Ally will be playing his guitar from friends while outside, big snowflakes are falling softly on the streets of Edinburgh. On Christmas Day, his mum will cook an amazing dinner and his dad will pull out a special bottle of whiskey for the occasion. They’ll all be speaking in such lovely accents, too.
Happy times from Canada, you international party people.

We didn’t plan to do it that way, but we flew to London right after September 11. Our flight was booked for September 12, 2001 and we were delayed three days, but we went shaken. The bumpy ride didn’t end by stepping off of that horrid Canada 3000 flight to Gatwick at 10 pm London time. No, there was to be some sleep wherever we could find a decent patch of carpet in the Heathrow departures area until our flight to Oslo, Norway left in the morning. (The hotels surrounding the airports had all jacked up their prices to commemorate the terrorist attacks.) But everyone we encountered – the shuttle bus driver, the airport staff, and the bobbies – were cheerful and sympathetic to our predicament.
When we returned to Britain after touring Scandinavia, we were greeted with tea and sympathy from our British friends. We stayed in Cheltenham with Amy, who now works in London (Amy, Zamiha, hope you guys are okay). Her Mom left on a trip to Paris via the Chunnel shortly after we arrived, but the trip was delayed at Victoria station because of a terrorist scare. I was alarmed, sheltered Canadian that I am, but Amy assured me this sort of thing was not terribly unusual. When her Mom returned from the trip, she talked about rubbish bins being removed from Tube Stations because they were potential hiding places for IRA bombs. And you had better believe that unattended cars or baggage are swiftly and unapologetically removed from airports and stations, and destroyed.
And as I’ve read like fifteen times this morning in articles on the attack, the British lived through the Blitz and Hitler and WW2, IRA attacks for 30 years or more, and still commemorate the day Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Parliament Buildings with bonfires and gunpowder. I love their spirit. I love that so many Londoners converged on the pubs at 11 am to commiserate in the wake of the attacks, rather than trudging home in fear. I love that those who had to walk out of the subway tunnels lit the way with their mobile phones, and used their videophones to document what they were experiencing. I love the invocation to keep a “stiff upper lip” and vowing not to interrupt the usual routines because of the bombings.
I hate those who spout off from a comfortable distance about how Bush and Blair are responsible for these terrible bombings happening, how we need to go forth and kill, and smirk about “payback” for the Iraqi occupation. People dying are people dying are people dying.
I send my love to those of you living right there, living through the nightmares in my newspaper. I hope you are okay and safe.

Speaking of tedium, last night I went to see male strippers for my friend’s bachelorette party. A lot of people were pretty surprised that I went, given that she isn’t a super-close friend, and, as you may have guessed by now, nightclubs aren’t a huge part of my usual social round. Line-ups and coat checks and cover, oh my!
The last time I went to see strippers was for my sister-in-law’s stagette about three years ago, and big surprise – no new innovations have ever been made in the naked man dancing industry. You’ve still got your dancers out before the show selling “stripper dollars” that buy you a look at his big penis or five seconds of simulated oral sex. That annoying DJ/announcer/host uses the term “Ladies” far too often, as in “Ladies, you’re going to have to scream louder if you want Dimitri to take his pants off!” and keeps hyping the crowd throughout the night as if we were at a monster truck rally. The dancers come out clothed in some nutty costume (everything from leopard-skin cowboy gear to Elvis in a jumpsuit), get down to briefs by the end of the second song and flash a thong on the third. Where else but a stripper show do you see men wearing two layers of underwear? Then the grand finale is always lighting the fire pot thingy, rubbing oil on their muscles, and just when they get nekkid, wrapping a towel around their waist. Every single time, the fire, the oil, and the peek-a-boo towel dance. Plus they wear these boxer boots the entire time, so I’m supposed to scream at a stranger wearing a towel and socks?
But scream I did, mostly because they were giving free drinks as prizes for the loudest table. We got a big round of shots and some girly Vodka drinks. When the final fire pot was doused, they let in all the other guys and we danced to the mixture of current pop hits and classic rock in a big circle of girls.
It was a fun Saturday night, take or leave the strippers.

Just try to stay uninvolved when two people are going through a divorce – it’s impossible to completely avoid the shit on both sides of the fence, especially when one them decides to up and start throwing it at me.

On Friday night, I felt like cooking up a few of my favourite Indian dishes: chicken curry, aloo gobi (cauliflowers and potatoes coated in spices) and rice pillau, with a side of warm naan bread. I thought to myself, I haven’t seen my girl ______ in a while and I know she digs this stuff, why not call her up and invite her over? She neither called nor came that night, but the next day she left a very long, emotional message on my cell phone.

It seems that she has been very upset with me since mid-December, because of the Christmas party situation and because I mentioned in passing, when telling her about getting some new couches from my sister, that we gave the crappy old IKEA one to ex-hubby. An invitation to dine gave her the long-awaited opportunity to tell me off. The gist of the rant went something like “if you want to be his friend, you can’t be mine.” Or maybe it was “He’s an asshole, so if you’re going to give him any friendship, you must be an asshole too.”

Whenever there is a traumatic split in relations with someone, it can be extremely hurtful to even hear their name. When I was not speaking to my teenage-era best friend not so long ago, I still came into contact with people who were her friends. To even hear her name sent me into a tailspin. So I understand the impact on _____ of even hearing his name in relation to the couch. My bad.

At the moment, I have more information about what went on in their house than I ever wanted or know what to do with. This is the shit that’s getting thrown at me, hurled by a force that says “You can’t know this and not cut him off.” I don’t even like the dude a whole heck of a lot, but he lives nearby and I guess you might say he’s a mate. He comes round for beer and Simpsons once in a while, and to his credit, is happy to help move large pieces of furniture anytime. And even though she’s fun to hang out with, nothing could turn me off faster from a friend than passive-aggressive tendencies and attention-getting dramatics.

As a general piece of advice, I’d just like to tell people that if you’re mad, just say you’re mad and why you’re mad and move on. Don’t sit there and make me guess, hoping I’ll say “Oh, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”

I simply don’t want to play those games or get sucked into the undercurrents of paranoia in the he-said/she-said thing. I am not up for custody in this battle. Can’t girls ever just hang out and do stuff together without it all being about some personal drama?

Boo-yah! Another Christmas party season is here. I tried to get out of throwing one, but Mr. Man insisted we could not shirk our yuletide responsibility. Well, he didn’t say it as dorky as that but did insist I break my anti-social habits just once a year so all his friends will not secretly wonder if I really do hate them.

(Only when trying to kick people out who won’t take the 3 AM “I’m putting on a Michael Bolton CD, which means GET OUT” hint.) I love planning the food and I’m even getting into decorating this year. Every year though, it seems as if someone has had a hideous breakup. Last year, it was my old friend (girl)and Donovan’s old friend (guy) who flamed out after two years. We invited both, the girl came and got so roaring drunk by the end of the party that she got lost in the parking garage while trying to find the front door. A bit of a piss-tanker, but at least she had gone from annoying to entertainment. The guy stayed home with his new girlfriend to avoid causing a scene.

This year, some friends are going through a divorce. They don’t speak to each other, but we do still see both of them. Both have been invited to this year’s party, neither wants to come at the chance the other will be there. I don’t want to play “he said, she said” games or be a go-between who is scheduling their appearances so they don’t run into each other. “Is ____ invited?” she asked when I invited her, “Did he say he was coming? Because I’d kind of like to bring someone…”

A system could be rigged up where when one had left, we could call up the other to come over for a drink… But there was the chance then that the other could come back to check, and then there would be fireworks. Or at least a heated, hushed conference in some obvious corner, and its a small apartment.

My selfish self thinks this could be entertaining, but it would most likely kill the buzz.

Note to you two: I am sorry I will miss both of you for martinis and meticulously planned party snacks. We were always good social friends and you both could always be counted on to help out in the kitchen and the bar at parties, which is more than I can say of most. (I’m one of those cozy kitchen party girls.) I wish you both could come but you’re just going to have to work it out amongst yourselves.

See you next year?

My views on potluck are well-known. The potluck has its time and place, but I think its getting overused. If a group of people are getting together at one person’s house, without that one person being the host, then fine, everyone bring something to eat and drink. The person offering their living room shouldn’t get stuck with all the cooking and expenses.

But now I find everything has become a potluck – birthday parties, showers, BBQs – and the thrill of being invited somewhere gets obliterated by “Crap, what am I going to make?” and not infrequently, some resentment towards the party giver. When someone says “Hey come over for a BBQ!” I say, “Cool!” Then they say “Yes, and I’m asking everyone to bring a salad (or dessert), their meat, and something to drink!” I say, “Fine.”

My horoscope says I have “a tendency to grumble, which does not make you popular with others.” I suppose I do sound a bit grumbly here, and maybe you are thinking “But potlucks are a way to have my friends over when I don’t have any money.” True enough, potlucks are a way to entertain on the cheap. But having people in your home without requiring them to do anything or bring anything is the best way to show them you care about them, and really, it doesn’t cost that much.

In addition, you don’t get stuck with all kinds of extra food that you are trying to press people to take home at the end of the party, and you don’t have to remember who brought which dish. My grandmother who lives in farm country and goes to a lot of community meeting-type potlucks, scotch tapes her name to her serving dishes pretty much permanently.

If you want to throw a biggish party, aren’t much a cook, and are living in abject poverty, don’t bother. No, really. Seriously, bakeries, delis and grocery stores exist for a reason. A reasonable spread can be put on with a few bags of chips (include some good-quality salsa and tortillas, I recommend splurging for the Que Pasa brand), some peanuts, a tray of cut up veggies and dip, and some sweets. I personally hate fussing over tiny appetizers, but for a winter bash, go to M+M or Costco and pick up a big box of something like spring rolls, samosas or gyozas and toss them in the oven for instant warm food.

Many people will bring their own preferred drinks, but it never killed anyone to have a some decent plonk on hand (both colours), and maybe even some extra beer. If you’re really feeling like something special, whip up a cocktail in a pitcher (or a pail). Here’s a good girly one to try:

Cranny Cosmo: Mix 8 parts Cranberry Juice, 3 parts Vodka, 2 parts Grand Marnier (or Triple Sec), and 1 part Lemon Juice in a shaker or pitcher with ice. Stir well and strain into glasses. Garnish with a maraschino cherry on a paper brolly if you are so inclined.

I may happily go to many potlucks in my life and go to parties where the host is furtively trying to get rid of their extra chocolate from last Christmas. I don’t exactly travel the lavish benefit party circuit, either. But hospitality isn’t just about having extra people in the house or trying to show off to them. Its giving people the best that I can afford. So, if that means pretzels and passing around a gin bottle in a paper bag, so be it.

Any guest you’d likely invite back won’t show up empty handed, either. I get all kinds of wine and extra chips and chocolate when throwing a party. Not to mention the motherlode of empties that people leave behind. Returning those bottles and cans practically pays for the shindig!

So, ditch those potluck crutches! Throw a party! People will come. Oh People will most definitely come.

Oh my lord, I just remembered that today is Slavka’s birthday. I think its her 30th today. I haven’t seen her since last Christmas, when we had a party and she got so drunk she got lost in the parking garage while trying to get out of the building. And she still has one of my favourite dresses – a chinese style vintage number – that i lent her when the three of us high school girl friends went out for a posh night on the town.

I stopped having any contact with her because it just wasn’t fun to be around her, it was just exasperating and annoying. And I knew I would just be mean to her if we did hang out. I don’t want to go for coffee and talk about our feelings about the friendship; I don’t want to babysit her at the bar while she’s piss-tanking. Yeah, but… I have known her since we were in Grade 6 or so and she still has copies of my bad teenage poetry. There have been times before of months and years of not talking. Do I HAVE to call her just because its her birthday?

Is it just stupid and self-defeating to do this just for the sake of being nice? Luckily, knowing her, I will probably get her answering machine. If I do end up doing it, I am going to make sure to ask for my dress back.

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Kettle River Wildlife Club

Kettle River Wildlife Club

Kettle River Wildlife Club

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