Holiday crowds getting to you? What did you expect?

 

Expect to see lots of other people shopping this month, plan to be patient

Sure, there will be lots of people at the mall ahead of Christmas. But there will also be lots of people in stores on Boxing Day and in the days leading up to New Year's.Sure, there will be lots of people at the mall ahead of Christmas. But there will also be lots of people in stores on Boxing Day and in the days leading up to New Year’s. (CBC)

Patience is key

Whether shopping for gifts or party supplies this month, Toronto-based etiquette expert Karen Cleveland says Canadians should have two things on their shopping lists — patience and empathy.

Because that’s what they will need when standing in line and dealing with grumps they encounter, likely before and after Christmas Day.

Shoppers at Toronto Eaton CentreFigures posted to the Statistics Canada website indicate that Canadians spent more than $4 billion on food and drink at large retailers in December of last year. They also spent hundreds of millions of dollars on gifts in many different retail categories. (CBC)

According to Statistics Canada, consumers spent more than $4 billion on food and drink at big retailers last December, as well as hundreds of millions in various retail categories. The numbers suggest that consumers will find it busy whether they are seeking Boxing Day bargains at the mall, or simply trying to pick up groceries through Dec. 31.

Cleveland said another key is for shoppers to remember that “our time is no more valuable than anyone else’s time.”

And while they may gripe on social media, many shoppers realize what they are getting into, if they choose to head to the stores. As Cleveland puts it, when Christmas shopping rolls around, we all know “it’s not our first rodeo.”

On the retail side, the businesses selling merchandise to the public know what to expect when these shoppers pack the stores — and clearly, it’s something they like to see.

But knowing that that these same people are feeling the stress of the holiday season, retailers employ strategies to help their customers to get what they need as quickly as possible.

‘A marathon, not a sprint’

At Dollarama, shoppers will have seen more cashiers on hand and longer store hours this month. The discount chain also takes steps to ensure its shelves are well-stocked.

That’s the “simple but successful formula to keeping customers happy (and not cranky!) during the holiday season,” spokesperson Lyla Radmanovich told CBC News in an email.

Extra helpMany stores have extra help on hand to deal with the many customers hitting the stores this month. (CBC)

Ditto for Sobeys Ontario, where spokesperson Monika Strzalkowska says the chain ensures there are “plenty of staff on hand” for the busy holiday period.

Having more hands on deck seems to be a standard approach across retail.

Michael LeBlanc of the Retail Council of Canada said many retailers will bring on temporary staff, to help deal with the increase demand from customers.

“Holiday sales are a marathon, not a sprint,” LeBlanc said in a recent telephone interview, suggesting that it’s not just the shoppers feeling the stress.

Retailers will also take steps to ensure post-Christmas shopping runs smoothly as well. LeBlanc said that’s part of the reason there are restrictions on returns after Boxing Day — so that people seeking deals can do so unencumbered.

Just as Cleveland advises, LeBlanc said people heading to stores should bring some patience with them, whether they are picking up gifts or making returns.

“A little bit of patience goes a long way,” he said.

(Originally published on CBC, December 2014)

Feel like a Grinch? How to handle the office gift pool

When it comes to money decisions, it can be hard to figure out the right thing to do. Money is about power, emotion, morality, and security, among other things. So in this space, we gather a few experts to weigh in on a financial quandary.

This week’s question: How do you opt out of your office (holiday, maternity, etc.) gift pool without looking like a jerk? Can you?

Ramona Packham, HR expert and founding partner of RPHR Consulting:“Choosing to opt out can be an awkward and difficult message to deliver. A few appropriate responses may be: ‘Thank you for including me in this, but I have already done something for John/Jane,’ or ‘Thank you for including me, but I am opting out this year.’ Or, you could contribute what you can afford: $1 to $2. In the past, an office I worked in had a gift exchange for the Christmas party. A price limit was set at $10 — it was fun trying to find outrageous gifts for that amount. At the party, you opened a gift or you could steal someone else’s that had already been opened. Inexpensive and fun!”

Robert R. Brown, author of Wealthing Like Rabbits“As with so many other things in life, the best option is to be polite, honest and clear. If appropriate, reach out privately to the recipient of the gift and let them know that your decision was financial, not personal. (This is not a good time to do your Michael Corleone impression.)

Some people prefer to contribute only to certain types of gifts, like maternity, especially when they have been the beneficiary of a similar present themselves. So, when someone at the office announces that she’s expecting, start tossing a toonie into a jar every week until the baby showers begin.

In regards to the annual December gift gorge, get in front of the issue next year by stepping up early and suggesting that the gift pool be replaced by voluntary, anonymous donations to a local shelter or charity. No one looks like a jerk then.”

Karen Cleveland, etiquette expert: “The pressure to bow out of contributing to an office gift can be tempting; but while you prevent a small hit to your wallet, it might hit your reputation. Celebrating milestones together or jointly contributing to a shared cause are important for team building and creating solidarity. And, your colleagues might very well kick in to generously buy you a gift some day. Knowing that, you can relax, take a deep breath and pull out your wallet. If the gift pool is going towards someone that you’ve never met or worked with, you can politely bow out by explaining that you ‘haven’t had the pleasure of working with X, so it wouldn’t feel appropriate contributing to a gift.’”

(Originally in National Post, December 23, 2014)

Honeymooning in Portland, Maine

HONEYMOONING IN PORTLAND, MAINE

By Karen Cleveland on December 09, 2014

Portland, Maine, is a humming little city that is seemingly built for food-loving honeymooners. With its heady mix of artistic and outdoor adventures, Portland manages to be stylish and sophisticated, yet genuine and unpretentious. You’ll find award-winning restaurants dotted through the pretty seaside port, but without an air of fussiness.

Steeped in history, the Portland peninsula was established by the British in 1632 as a trading and fishing settlement. A great fire in 1866 levelled the city (for the fourth time: those east coast folk have heart) and the Portland that visitors see today was almost completely rebuilt during the Victorian era. As such, the city is defined by charming 19th century architecture that makes every street picture-book pretty. It’s the perfect blend of art, food, and romantic seaside scenery, in an area that is easy to explore on foot.

Fly into Boston and rent a car for a beautiful (and quick two hour drive) north to Portland, Maine. Stop in Marblehead for a taste of a classic American yachting town, or take in some spooky history in Salem. Alternatively, hop on the The Amtrack Downeaster train that operates five daily round trips between Portland and Boston’s North Station. And if you prefer to venture by sea, the Nova Star Cruise transports visitors from Nova Scotia.

Given its seaside exposure, Portland’s air is crisp, so pack accordingly. And bring your appetite. Rumoured to have one of the highest restaurants per capita in North America, but without an ounce of pretence, the dining scene is impressive. Brunch is serious business here, so fuel up at one of the city’s beloved destinations such as Hot Suppa,Bintliff’s or Bido’s Madd Apple Cafe.

Once brunched plan to spend some time strolling around town. Grab a coffee from Tandem Coffee Roaster and head to Portland’s charming shops. Stock up on heritage, all natural his-and-her skincare from the Portland General StorePortland Dry Goods stocks a fantastic selection of brands for both men and women, in a gorgeous building across from the docks.

Up on the eastern part of the city’s peninsula stands the Portland Observatory, the only existing maritime signal station in the U.S.. This beacon of maritime architecture offers gorgeous, unobstructed views of the harbour.  Rent a bike from Gorham Bike & Ski  and peddle a few miles down to Fort Williams Park for panoramic views of Casco Bay and a tour of Portland Head Light — one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world. Try your hand at hauling in a crustacean on Lucky Catch Cruises for a first-hand account of how your dinner gets from the sea to your table.

All that exploring is bound to work up an appetite, so find some snacks that appeal to your Canadian roots. Portland just might serve up better poutine (like the one at Duck Fat) and donuts (like those at Holy Donut) than can be found on home soil.

The Pomegranate Inn, a plush converted historical mansion that’s the perfect distance away from downtown Portland, is a great place to stay in a picturesque stretch of residential Victorians. This charming abode offers a handful of rooms, all decorated by local artists. As romantic as it is luxurious (be sure to book a room with a fireplace) it also happens to serve up a complimentary delicious breakfast that leaves absolutely no reason to venture out. In fact, if the temptation to sleep in wins, they can arrange to bring a breakfast basket to your room with hot coffee, fresh juice, fresh delicious pastries with artisan jam – perfect for honeymooners.

 

Originally published in Today’s Bride, December, 2014

How to Pull Off Leather at the Office

Here, 10 of the new wearable leather silhouettes showcased on the runways you’ll want to add to your wardrobe workwear now. We’re talking strictly business

NOVEMBER 27, 2014

As soon as fall merchandise started rolling into stores, leather shot to the top of my shopping list. But not the teen-pop legging look I saw on racks everywhere. I was more drawn to its grown-up sisters: lean sheath dresses, beautifully cut skirts and refined fitted jackets.

I’ve flirted with leather over the years: A favourite pair of leather jeans, long since sold on consignment, a well-loved collection of bomber jackets, biker jackets and a knee-length coat all had their places at some point in my closet. But leather for daytime just seemed too much. To ease myself in, I stuck to my cardinal uniform of black and found a few key leather pieces to gussy up my wardrobe of basics.

But first, some important reconnaissance. Susie Sheffman, fashion creative director and consultant, has sage advice for making leather look professional: Wear one piece at a time, and mix it with tailored pieces, like a well-cut blouse or tweed blazer. This, she points out, “takes the toughness down.” She advises me to remove anything too clubby or vampy from my outfits, and when wearing leather pants, to keep the stomach, waistline and bum covered up. She also recommends keeping shoes simple—skip the sky-high heels in favour of a flat, a mid-heel or an oxford to keep the sexiness in check.

Fortunately, on the day I wanted to brave leather pants, the weather was perfect. I wore skinny black leather pants from Ann Taylor with a crisp white collared shirt, a favourite black J.Crew “schoolboy” blazer and nude flats. I felt completely comfortable, as the outfit was a small upgrade from my usual black wool skinny trousers. I got a few compliments on the pants (they fit really nicely), and it felt office appropriate but with a little something extra. This outfit will indeed be in the rotation on the regular.

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Ann Taylor pants, $116, anntaylor.com

On Fridays, without fail, I wear some variation of the skinny jeans and blazer combination. I subbed out one of my go-to blazers in favour of a moto-style jacket from Banana Republic with an ink-blue body and black fabric sleeves. Marissa Webb, Banana Republic’s new creative director (and J.Crew alumna), has already put her mark on the fall and winter line, with a ton of leather and mixed-medium pieces.

getting-dressed-leather-thekit.ca-1

Banana Republic jacket, $310, bananarepublic.ca

One week, I wore it with a white collared shirt (yup, again), black skinny jeans and ankle boots. It felt like a cooler, fresher version of my casual Friday uniform. Another week, I paired it with a knit black pencil skirt, black tank and simple black pumps. Both times, I received lots of compliments (especially from the young ones around the office).

getting-dressed-leather-thekit.ca-3

Here’s the thing: When you introduce a beautiful leather garment into your outfit, it instantly makes it more special or interesting, even in a subtle way. So as someone with an admittedly basic wardrobe, I felt good wearing leather to the office.

 Danier skirt, $250, danier.com

(Published originally for The Kit, November 2014)

Seven Ontario Wines to Fall For

Toronto-wines_3_large

A good bottle of wine makes staying in pleasurable as the weather turns chilly. We’ve rounded up the seven best bottles from our favorite local vineyards

The shift in seasonal wines isn’t unlike the change in our wardrobes. Just as we start to crave cozy knits and sumptuous leather when the weather cools, so our palettes turn to full-bodied wines to suit the chilly temperatures.

Save the grassy, fresh white wines for a summer patio and embrace the season for rich, bold bottles with intense flavours and higher alcohol content (hello, warming effect). And where better to find them than our own backyard? Here are seven fall picks, all sourced from Niagara’s wine region, a hop, skip and jump from Toronto.

1. Stratus Petit Verdot 2011
$38.00
The Winery: Stratus is a real stunner, settled on 62 acres near the southeastern border of the Niagara Lakeshore sub-appellation. Its glass and stone slickness feels a bit more Napa Valley than Niagara and the view from its back patio is simply perfect.
The Wine: Just released, this 2011 vintage is a great bottle to drink now, or save for a few years. Petit Verdot is typically used in small percentages for classic Bordeaux blends and is rarely bottled as a single varietal. This darkly-hued wine is full of juicy dark berry fruits and a touch of warm spice with a silky finish.
stratuswines.com

2. Château des Charmes Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
$14.95
The Winery: Founded in the late 1970’s, Château des Charmes has been family owned and operated for more than 30 years, culminating in five generations of winemaking expertise from the Bosc family.
The Wine: This delicious bargain drinks like a much dearer classic old world cab sauv. It is heavy on black cherry, dark chocolate and a bit of warm toasted vanilla. This classic cozy wine also has just the right amount of tannins.
fromtheboscfamily.com/

3. Pondview Bella Terra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
$34.95
The Winery: One of Niagara on the Lake’s most charming wineries, Pondview brings a bit of la dolce vita to the area. The Puglisi family grew grapes and produced wines in Sicily, bringing their passion and expertise to Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1965.
The Wine: This is an outstanding red that is full-bodied but beautifully smooth. Aged for 16 months in French and American oak barrels, it boasts mocha, dark chocolate and vanilla flavors, with rich cedar and coffee nuances. Truly delicious.
pondviewwinery.com/

4. Cattail Creek Estate Winery Creek Series Cabernet Merlot 2012
$14.95
The Winery: On a farming plot that was used to grow peaches, Cattail Creek Estate Winery has some of the oldest Riesling vines in the province.
The Wine: An excellent value, this medium-bodied dry wine is strong on cassis, berries and plum. A blend of Merlot (42%), Cabernet (30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (28%), the finish is fantastic: it’s almost dessert-like. Refined tannins and lingering taste of toasted vanilla and cherry.
cattailcreek.ca

5. Jackson-Triggs Delaine Syrah 2010
$32.95
The Winery: Canada’s most awarded winery, Jackson Triggs is a pillar of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The Wine: This Syrah is rich and spicy, with black pepper, cardamom and clove paired with dark fruit. It’s juicy and balanced, mellowed by notes of coffee. Enjoy it now, or put it away for a winter in years to come.
jacksontriggswinery.com

6. Mike Weir Pinot Noir 2013
$16.95
The Winery: Canada’s most famous golfer entered the wine business in 2005 and has since gone on to produce some of the top selling VQA wines in the LCBO. Winemaker Jeff Hundertmark is one of the area’s most affable talents.
The Wine: Famously fickle grapes to grow, pinot noir is a labor of love. And this is a bottle to love. As well-priced as it is easy drinking, the beautifully balanced pinot noir tastes of jam (heavy on the cherry) with just a hint of smoke.
mikeweirwine.com

7. Stoney Ridge Cabernet Franc 2013
$13.95
The Winery: For more than 25 years, Niagara’s “garden winery” has charmed customers with its exceptional wines and friendly atmosphere. The onsite artisan cheese shop doesn’t hurt, either.
The Wine: A steal at this price, stock up on a case of this Cab Franc. A gorgeous deep ruby color, this wine is peppery and heady. Full bodied, with a pinch of green pepper, and enough tannins to pack a punch.
stoneyridgewinery.com

—Written by Karen Cleveland

 

(Originally published for Soho House, November 2014)

You really, truly shouldn’t go to work when you’ve got a cold

Your martyrdom just spreads germs

Woman sneezing on the couch while home sick from work.

(Tom Merton/Getty)

What variety of martyrdom compels us to soldier into work, when we’re sick as dogs? The Journal of Occupational Health Psychology makes the case that there is a traditional understanding that attendance used to equate to performance in the workplace, a notion that should have been tossed out with the fax machine.

“I suspect that many people come into work when they’re sick because they’re scared of falling behind, or worry things will fall apart without them,” says Sheri Langer, an HR professional in Toronto. “For some, it is a demonstration of just how committed they are, when in reality, staying home for a day or two is better for your team as it keeps the virus from spreading.”

While we might feel like the honourable thing to do is to show our commitment by dragging our sick selves into the office, the more responsible thing to do for the greater good is to spare your coworkers from your gnarly germs and stay home for a day or two.

Here are five things to know about calling in sick like a grown up:

1. You’re doing the right thing

If you’re really sick, take solace in knowing that staying home is the best thing for your health and your colleagues. You’re heroically preventing others from getting sick and helping yourself recover sooner.

2. Pick up the phone and call

Call or email your boss explaining that you are staying home sick for the day. Millennials take note: a text message is too casual of a medium to convey this and isn’t conducive to providing context. Plus, if you sound like hell on the phone, it bodes well for lots of sympathy when you’re back in the office.

3. Give just enough information

While there is no need to go into the gory symptomatic details (save those your doctor), you should provide a cursory descriptor of what ails you. Mentioning that you have a migraine and are out of commission for the day is one thing: going into explicit detail to describe a gastrointestinal issue is quite another.

4. Be helpful

Touch on who-can-cover-off-what in your absence, and if you hazard a guess, say when you expect to be back in the office. If team members or anyone that reports to you needs to know you’re taking the day off, fill them in too. Set your auto reply on your email inbox so people know to expect a delay in your reply.

5. Get back to bed

Arm yourself with orange juice, cold meds, tea, whatever your weapon of choice is and rest up. If you use your sick day to truly recuperate, you will be better poised to nip your sickness in its early stages—and avoid wiping out your colleagues in the process.

Karen Cleveland is a Toronto-based etiquette writer and advisor. Follow her on Twitter or visit her site.

(Originally published for Canadian Business, October 2014)

Taking the Coloured Eyeliner Trend Out For a Spin

Coloured eyeliner: Etiquette expert and fabulous business lady Karen Cleveland tests out wearing bright hued eyeliner in a corporate atmosphere

AUGUST 29, 2014

The notion of coloured eyeliner conjured up the worst of the ’80s for me: Remember Joan Cusack in Working Girlher lids lacquered with a garish swipe of shimmery cobalt? But on the fall 2014 runways, we saw electric blue cat eyes at Kenzo, orange and green flicks at Chanel and winged-out iridescent turquoise lids at Dior. Cue Duran Duran! I was curious: Could I pull off this look as a grown woman in 2014, working in a corporate environment?

RELATED READ: Trend to try: Matte red lips

With a routine that’s equal parts lazy and minimalist (touch of concealer, bit of bronzer and well-curled, mascara’d lashes), I was skeptical. So much so that I sneakily popped a makeup remover wipe into my bag before heading to meet Stila Cosmetics’ national trainer, Melissa Ortins, for some coloured liner education. My assignment: an evening liner look in bold blue (her work) and a daytime look in rich green (my work).

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I met Ortins on the hottest, rainiest day of the summer—challenging conditions for testing a bold makeup look. She expertly swiped Stila’s Stay All Day Liner (the brand’s best-selling product) in Indigo across my upper lash line in a perfect cat eye. Pro tip: Start from the outside and angle the tip toward the outer edge of your eyebrow for precise symmetry. The more pressure you apply, the more dramatic the line will be.

RELATED READ: Jeanne Beker talks bold summer makeup

While working her magic, Ortins explained that coloured eyeliner has come a long way. Rather than adding pigment for pop (as we did so gratuitously in the ’80s), the goal now is to shape the eye, using a complementary shade. People should notice your irises, not the colour of your makeup. The result was a pretty, interesting swoop that was less harsh than black.

I bounded out into the rain and headed straight to a rum-tasting party. I expected my fella and my friends to notice my makeup (quite bold, by my standards) but had to prompt them for feedback. The consensus was that it looked nice, if heavier than I normally wear. Nary a mention of the colour, but one friend, who wields a liner like no one’s business, thought it made my baby blues appear darker.

The next morning before work, I attempted to replicate the look using Olive, a greyish green. To keep things office-appropriate, I didn’t extend the line past the end of my eyes. Throughout the morning, I was nervously aware that I was sporting more makeup than usual, and in a bolder shade. But when I checked the mirror in the ladies’, I instantly chilled out—the line defined the shape of my eyes and made them look a little more grey, without screaming, “This is green liner!”

Surprisingly, at no point from my 9 a.m. meeting to the end of my marathon workday (hair in a bun held with a pencil, pounding on the laptop at 10 p.m.) did my coloured eyeliner and I feel the least bit Working Girl. Though the ’80s were pretty fabulous, weren’t they?

Would you wear an electric blue cat-eye?

 

LAURA MERCIER CRÈME EYE LINER IN ENVY, $28, AT HOLT RENFREW; ESSENCE GEL EYE PENCIL WATERPROOF IN BLUE LAGOON,
$3, AT SHOPPERS DRUG MART; MAKE UP
 FOR EVER AQUA LINER IN IRIDESCENT FUCHSIA, $27, AT SEPHORA.CAVASANTI LIQUID EYELINER IN CALM, $18, AT SHOPPERS DRUG MART & REXALL; STILA STAY ALL DAY WATERPROOF LIQUID EYE LINER IN INDIGO, $26, AT MURALE

(Originally published for The Kit, in the Toronto Star, August 2014)