Are Dorm Room Registries a Thing? Interviewed by Maclean’s Magazine

Dorm room gift registries on the rise

Students are sick of hand-me-downs and are giving dorm gift registries the old college try

Rosemary Counter

Before 19-year-old Meaghan Vital moved away from home and into a dorm at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ont., she attended a baby shower for her cousin’s wife. As the soon-to-be-mom was opening blankets and onesies from her registry, she turned to Vital with a tip. “She told me there was one for dorms now, too,” says the hairstyling student. Vital headed immediately to TheBay.com and created her own.

Just a few years ago, Vital would likely have been scrounging through her parents’ kitchen for freebies. Now she can benefit from a gift bounty thanks to a plethora of registry options now on the market. The Bay’s include anniversaries and housewarmings, “wish lists” and “holiday lists,” as well as the event option, added quietly in 2012, which Vital was most excited about: “dorm life.”

And so Vital began her list of 20 must-haves: Basic kitchenware such as cooking utensils and measuring cups, a $160 oversized blender, $130 Tassimo single-serve coffee maker with matching $25 disc carousel, and a $90 portable chopping system. Longer shots, she’ll admit, included a pink cotton-candy maker and a stainless steel deep fryer. Bay gift cards, their amount unspecified and unlimited, were also appreciated.

Gift-giving etiquette and expectations are continually changing, but if anyone had a less-than-positive response to Vital’s list, they were too polite to say so. “I told my mom, and she told all my aunts and uncles and stuff,” she says. “So they could go here for my birthday and Christmas presents and get me exactly what I need.”

For stores, dorm registries are a winning model, a response, perhaps, to the popular phenomenon in the U.S. of “trunk parties,” gatherings held by families before their high school grads head off to college; guests bring gifts of kitchenware, linens and the like. Bed Bath & Beyond allows students and parents to create a registry in their local store and pick up at a location nearby the college (making moving day much easier). In June, Target rolled out its College Registry program in the U.S. Thousands of students have since enrolled, and plans to expand the program into Canada are in the works.

Already there is Wal-Mart’s recently launched a “school supplies list,” a collaborative wish list that both students and their parents can access and manage. “It’s very close to a registry, except that it goes far beyond move-in day and has no specific date or event that goes with it,” says Rick Neuman, director of site experience at Wal-Mart Canada. Thirteen thousand lists have been created at Wal-Mart in the past month, some with as many as 10 “collaborators.” Students here seem more practical in their choices; top products listed are Kraft peanut butter, chunk tuna, loose-leaf paper, pens and pencils and laptops, although Neuman has also seen a seven-speed electric bike, a Zoomer Zuppies Interactive Puppy and one 80-inch flat-screen TV. “Somebody is dreaming big,” he says.

But registry makers should proceed carefully when navigating between needs and wants, says Toronto gift etiquette expert Karen Cleveland. “A registry shows you unequivocally expect a gift, and that’s a gesture of entitlement. No one owes you a gift for taking a step toward adulthood.” But while it’s tempting to see the phenomenon as a cash grab of sorts by the Me Me Me generation, for Millennial and writer Heidi Oran, it’s not so simple. “All registries are created by companies for profit,” she says. “They reflect the commercialization of every event in our lives.”

For students who do register, the same rules apply as for bridal registries: “Have a balance of price points, and spread the word via word of mouth,” says Cleveland. “A mass email is in very bad form.” And don’t be upset with gift-givers who go rogue. In this case, they might know something that you don’t know. “I actually got a lot of things that weren’t on my list but were way more helpful,” says Vital. “I got an electrical frying pan instead of a deep fryer, a Crock-Pot instead of a blender, and a toaster.” She never got her cotton candy machine, but there’s hope. Vital’s left the registry open, just in case.

 

(Originally published in Maclean’s Magazine, August 2014)

Introducing The Skimm

A solid handshake, warm smile and immaculate manners go a long way, but the art of giving good, smart small talk is key. I read a great little book on the subject and a while back talked about the importance of knowing how to properly introduce your boss socially.

It’s pretty well impossible to make quality small talk without knowing what’s going on in the world. A quick skim of the daily news allows you to keep pace on light banter. Imagine how embarrassing it would be to be stuck in an elevator with someone you want to do right by, and they’re talking about the ground-breaking morning headlines that you know nothing about. No one wants to feel like a dumbdumb. Moreover, local and global news are typically safe terrain for small talk (provide you stay clear of the being fiercely opinionated on the loaded territory of politics, religion and investing, unless you welcome controversy).

While I love curling up with a coffee and getting all inky-fingered over a newspaper, I was recently introduced to The Skimm, which lives up to its advanced billing of a skim of daily news. The daily newsletter has become a part of my morning routine, giving me the what-I-need-to-knows for the day. From there, I can later go back and scope for what stories I want to read in more detail from my usual go-to sources.

While the content is bonafide news (its founders are NBC News alumni) short, it is served up in a pithy, witty tone. As The Skimm is published out of NYC, American headlines are requisite, but the coverage of international issues is mint. Maybe one day they’ll make a Canadian edition, if we ask them really nicely.

Manners are sexy, so is keeping up on what’s happening. You can subscribe (free!) here. And follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

Keep It In Your Pants. Your Phone, That Is

They’ve truly thought of everything. July is now dubbed Cellphone Courtesy Month, though it is worth noting that we should all consider being courteous for the other eleven months of the year, too.

To mark this newly minted awareness month, and hopefully spark good cellphone decorum all year-round, TELUS recently surveyed Canadians to gauge their thoughts on cellphone etiquette.

When Canadians were asked “when or where is it completely unacceptable for others to use their smartphone”, more people indicated movie theatres than funerals (12 per cent versus. 10 per cent, respectively).

Face to palm. The data suggests that we don’t have a cell phone etiquette problem so much as a crisis of humanity.

The survey showed that respondents overwhelmingly admit to using their smartphone to tune someone out, or to avoid conversation. Fully 75 per cent of people said they purposefully use their smartphone to tune people out and nearly a third (30 per cent) even admitted to doing so on the day they were surveyed.

The survey also found that we are twice as likely to whip out our phones around family and friends (83 per cent) than we are when we are at the office (40 per cent).

More than half (54 per cent) of respondents said that if their counterpart whipped out their phone on a first date, there wouldn’t be a second one. In fact, 16 per cent said they would end the date early if their companion couldn’t keep it in their pants (their phone, that is).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: don’t do things with your phone that you wouldn’t do in the flesh. Sitting at a dinner table, what’s the harm in squeezing in a sneaky text, right? But would you, at that same table, ignore the friend you’re in mid-conversation with, and strike up a new conversation with someone you recognize behind you? Maybe you’re bored at a wedding (I know, I know, some speeches go one longer that an Academy Award acceptance) and want to know how the Jays game is going? Checking the score on Twitter is akin to speaking over the person who is talking, and asking someone what’s up with the game.

Here’s the thing: this isn’t really new territory. Our phones have been welded to our hands for a few years now. It is looking like they’ll stay there, so we need to figure this out. Tricky. Very trickaaay.

Know that feeling of rebuff when someone turns their attention away from you and straight into their little screen? It doesn’t feel good at all. Being slighted, in any way, stings. So back to basics and the good news is that it is wonderfully simple: treat others the way we all want to be treated. All 12 months of the year.

If this topic really hits home for you and makes you want to confess for phone manner misdemeanors, there is salvation on the way. TELUS is inviting Canadians to come clean and share their cellphone etiquette confessions this July on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #keepitinyourpants.

(Originally published on The Huffington Post Canada, July 2014)

During the summer, stay cool on casual Friday—without looking like a slob

Summer heat + casual Friday = wardrobe disaster. Don’t let it happen to you

You know him well. The guy around the office that takes Casual Fridays to new extremes in the summer, arriving in grass-stained shoes, baggy cargo shorts and an oversized T-shirt with his fraternity logo emblazoned on the front. And you think, “this is why we can’t have nice things.”

While a well-articulated office dress code is your HR team’s concern, what you put on in the morning is yours.

The requisite Monday-Thursday uniform makes dressing a cinch, with little thought required. It’s when the rules loosen up (officially or un-) on Friday and subjectivity comes into play that dad jeans, loud Hawaiian shirts and gnarly toenails creep in. And Fridays in summer are the highest-risk time for such sartorial blunders. So stock up on a few key items and follow a few simple rules for how to go casual while still dressing like you mean it during the dog days of summer.

Men

Model wearing light grey linen-cotton blazer

Two button linen-cotton blazer. $275 at Banana Republic.

  • Cotton and linen rule. Look for a well-cut sport coat in a light, breathable fabric. Pair it with chinos, and le voila, the beginnings of your Summer Friday uniform.
  • If braving denim, it should be of the darker variety (save the distressed, broken in jeans for the weekend) and worn with a collared shirt.
  • While unabashedly sexist, men shouldn’t bare their toes or armpits. Pity, because it’s really, really comfortable. If you want to lighten up, wear your loafers or moccasins (not sneakers) with those handy no-show socks so you can show some ankle.
  • More relaxed accessories can keep your look sharp, without being stuffy. Braided belts, knit ties and a more casual canvas briefcase fit the bill.

Women

Model wearing a navy merino wool flare skirt

Merino wool flare skirt. $170 at J.Crew

  • Work-worthy fabrics shouldn’t be too sheer or tight (check in natural lighting to see if your underthings are showing through). Ensure that the neckline and sleeve cut mitigate any rogue bra straps.
  • Keep a basic blazer or cardigan at the office and toss it on when the A.C. is cranked.
  • Fewer things ruin an otherwise polished look more than unwalkable heels. Only buy shoes that you can comfortably get around in. Feet should be kept groomed and neat, otherwise, don’t show them. No calluses or chipped polish. And no flip flops, or strappy stilettos—nothing too beachy or cocktaily.
  • Skirts and dresses can sit differently without tights on underneath. Try them on to check they aren’t too sheer or too short to be worn with bare legs to the office. If you can sit comfortably in a skirt without having to tug at the hemline, then it is likely a good length.

When it doubt, check your HR policy, or better yet, look to your peers—and those in the ranks above them. Another easy barometer is the purpose of your clothing. If it is used to do anything other than make money (like cut grass, play tennis or do yoga), do yourself, and your colleagues, a favour and leave it in the closet.

(Article first appeared on Canadian Business, June 2014)

Kids at weddings: Tips for ensuring your kid rocks (not wrecks) the wedding

kids-at-weddings

It was a wedding Deb Oliveira-Godinho will never forget—though not for sentimental reasons. While the grown-ups focused on the beautiful ceremony, Oliveira-Godinho’s then-five-year-old daughter, Isabella—the flower girl—decided to entertain herself by painting her nails with red polish, courtesy of her cousin. Her white silk dress was ruined and the bride furious. “It’s funny now, but that day I was fuming, too,” the mom from Port Colborne, Ont., says.

When you mix young kids and weddings, there’s always the risk that calamity will mingle with the cute. So if your little one’s in a wedding party, here’s how to set the stage for success.

Know your child: Not every kid is comfortable in front of an audience, and while many couples love the charm of having children in their wedding, you know best. “If your kid isn’t meant for the job, it’s OK to decline,” says Karen Cleveland, a Toronto etiquette consultant. “You’re probably doing the couple a favour.” But if your child loves the spotlight and is excited to participate, go for it, but consider skipping some of the formalities, like the fancy updo—she’ll be better behaved if she can burn off some energy pre-ceremony instead of sitting in a stylist’s chair. And keep a watchful eye throughout the day, even if you know what kinds of things she’s prone to do (and not do). Kids can be unpredictable, especially when they’re bored.

Prep for success: Preschoolers’ attention spans are notoriously short. “It depends on the child, but many will change activities every five to 15 minutes,” explains Andrea Nair, a London, Ont., psychotherapist and parent educator. “During the ceremony, give him a job to do, like asking him to be the ‘tissue keeper’ for emotional moments, or taking photos with a little camera,” she suggests. Letting kids know what’s expected of them in advance can also curb issues on the big day: Watch wedding videos, do dry runs and practise picture-perfect smiles. If a babysitter isn’t an option for the reception, Nair recommends setting up some toys in an out-of-the-way corner to keep kids entertained.

But she doesn’t think bribery’s the way to go—no matter how tempting it may be. Instead, keep the mood light and fun to avoid creating power struggles. If your child sees you stressed out or frustrated, it will impact his mood and willingness to co-operate. Try using phrasing that gives him a little control in the situation. For example: “It’s time to take pictures. Would you be able to stand here, or here?” Adding some humour is bound to help, too: “What do you need to find your smiling face? Some tickles?”

Put parenting first: Be prepared to mix parenting with partying. Some restlessness during the ceremony is no big deal, Cleveland says, but if your child’s behaviour disrupts others, take him out of the venue. You can help prevent meltdowns by making sure your little flower girl or ring bearer is well rested, has a full tummy and has already visited the washroom, but Cleveland also suggests lightening up. “Parents often worry more than the couple does.”

When Annemarie Tempelman-Kluit’s sister asked her daughters—then ages four and six—to be flower girls in her out-of-town wedding, the Vancouver mom was nervous. It was a long flight, the wedding site wasn’t kid-friendly and no rehearsal was planned. “I felt the anxiety of not wanting my kids to ruin my sister’s wedding,” she says. Tempelman-Kluit talked through the importance of the day with her daughters and conducted her own mini-rehearsal at the venue. Everything went smoothly—which she attributes in part to the girls sharing the role. “They gave each other confidence,” she says.

Have a plan B: In case things get hairy at go-time, discuss alternative strategies with the bride and groom. Is it cool if you have to opt-out at the last minute, or are they OK with you walking down the aisle with your child?

Cleveland says it’s important to remember that weddings are fun celebrations, not flawless events. “Little quirks that come with having kids in a wedding are what makes it feel authentic and creates wonderful stories.”

 

(First appeared in the July issue of Today’s Parent, and online here)

Quoted in Fast Company (#pinchme)

I was really, really chuffed when @ambermac asked if I could answer some questions for Fast Company.

MEETING ETIQUETTE 101: FIST BUMPS, GOING TOPLESS, AND PICKING UP TABS

DON’T FORGET THESE RULES OF THUMB ON HOW BEST TO BEHAVE WHEN FACED WITH STICKY BUSINESS SITUATIONS.
BY 

With networking technology like LinkedIn’s “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” feature at our fingertips, we sometimes forget the importance of face-to-face interactions. We stumble when it comes to business meetings, tweeting from under a cafe table or fist bumping when a handshake would do just fine–making little mistakes that could cost us big business.

Here are four rules of thumb when it comes to proper face-to-face business etiquette.

1. SHAKE, HUG, OR FIST BUMP?

While it may seem inappropriate to hug a business colleague, it happens all the time. I’ll be the first to admit I’m a repeat offender, often bypassing an outstretched hand for a big embrace. Sure, it can be considered a warm gesture, but it can also overstep a line for some.

If you’re wondering how to start a meeting with a potential client or colleague, “a firm handshake, eye contact, and a soft smile while introducing yourself will do,” says etiquette adviser Karen Cleveland from mannersaresexy.com. Using the person’s name when meeting can also help you better remember it, she suggests.

If you’re a germaphobe or feeling under the weather, just be upfront and say you’re sick. Don’t go in for a fist bump instead. “Unless the person you’re meeting comes in for a fist bump, leave the college affectations for the kids,” says Cleveland.

2. REACHING FOR YOUR PHONE DURING A MEETING

When your meeting is underway, it’s important to stay on track. Too often we find ourselves reaching for our phones, interrupting the flow of conversation, without even noticing what we’re doing.

Cleveland recommends what she calls “topless meetings.” She isn’t talking about taking your shirt off, to be sure, but rather keeping all devices off the table to avoid distraction. “It … does wonders for removing the temptation to squeeze in a text or email when our attention should be on the meeting,” she says. “It’s similar to grade school: If you don’t want to share what you’re doing with the rest of the class, then don’t bring it.”

If you are bringing a device to a meeting, an iPad always seems less intrusive than plopping a laptop up on a table. What’s more, your tablet could be a great tool to illustrate something quickly.

3. PICKING UP THE TAB

When it’s time to pick up the tab, do you insist on paying or graciously accept a free lunch or coffee? Dorenda McNeil, a business etiquette trainer and principal at Counsel Public Relations, offers the following tips to help navigate that awkward moment when the bill arrives:

  • DINNER WITH A CLIENT OR CUSTOMER

    Unless your guest is from a company that has a strict policy limiting acceptance of gifts or perks, always pay for dinner or lunch–especially if you invited them.

  • LUNCH WITH YOUR COLLEAGUES

    If you’re having a lunch with three other co-workers, add the tip (20%) and split the bill four ways. It doesn’t matter if you only had a salad.

  • COFFEE WITH A MENTOR

    Have you asked someone for an informational interview or are you requesting a reference? The person who stands to gain the most out of the meeting should automatically offer to pay.

  • A BITE WITH THE BOSS

    If your supervisor or boss invites you to lunch, it’s probably safe to assume they’re treating. However, it’s still polite to offer to split the bill and follow-up with gratitude (and don’t order the most expensive item on the menu).

4. CANCELING A MEETING

If you’re breathing, you’re busy. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the truth is we’re all juggling a million things and sometimes meetings have to be canceled. “Give your colleagues the same attention and respect you would want,” says Cleveland. “Don’t use busyness as a crutch for bad manners.” If you do have to cancel a meeting, give the person you’re meeting with as much notice as possible. What’s more, if your day is simply too packed to meet in person, consider video chatting on Skype or Google+ Hangouts.

It’s easy to let manners slip, especially when we’re constantly bombarded with information. Don’t forget to put your best foot forward when you’re taking the time to meet a person face-to-face. It will pay off in the end.

[Image: Flickr user cogdogblog]

Before your hot Valentine’s date

Groomed? Smell good? Have a nice outfit? Ready to kiss all over town? Good for you. Love is grand. Since you’re already up to speed on dating decorum and swear not to Instragram your dinner, consider grabbing a few of these goodies before walking out the door.

Such a tiny package brings such salvation. The one time you don’t have floss is the one time that piece of spinach will bind itself in between your teeth.

 


Have cash to pay for parking, cabs that don’t take cards and those hipster restaurants that only take paper.

 

 


Don’t let slushy streets and sidewalks mess with your mojo.These handy wipes get rid of salty and muck in a flash.

 

 

Bring your phone not so you can text on it all night or Instagram your dinner, duh (please dear God and Cupid don’t take a photo of your dinner) but so you can smartly map where you’re meeting and get there nice and early.

Last Minute-ish ideas for Valentines Day

If you haven’t been hit over the head with onslaught of bad chocolate and tacky lingerie, count yourself lucky. Then come out from under the rock you’ve been living under, and concede that Valentine’s Day is here.

And if you hate on it, you can rest assured that you’re in good company, lots of people think Valentine’s Day is overblown and lame. But your honey might not give a hoot about how commercial or stupid you think February 14 is — they might still be hoping you do something, anything, to mark the occasion. You need not feel like a sell-out or go broke in the process.

Best bets for late (ish) Valentine’s Day gifts

Really, really good quality chocolate

  • Pro tip: if you can buy it alongside dish detergent and cat litter, you’re not buying good enough chocolate.


Something fun to do together

  • How do you want to spend an evening together? Getting rubbed down for a couples’ massage? Seeing a great band or comedian together? Taking a wine tasting class? No need to take one for the team, find something that you’re into, too.


A gift that gives all year long

  • Get pregnant! Kidding. Magazine subscriptions or loading up your lover’s e-reader with really great content will have them swooning all year long.

Get outta here

  • Go out of town and make out in a new, undiscovered territory. You need not go far to feel miles and miles away.

 

 

 

Niagara Icewine Festival Survival

Bundled up to brave the frigid Lake Effect temperatures, standing a stone’s throw from the frozen river bed — all for the sole purpose of drinking icewine. I’ve never felt more patriotic.

I wrote about the must do’s to hit during the Niagara Icewine Festival, so here’s a few things to pack.

Icewine Fest Survival

Check out Canada Goose, Burt’s Bees, Malin + Goetz, Balzac’s and The Hudson’s Bay.