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.

 

 

 

 

Five Sweet Things to Do at the Niagara Icewine Festival

Niagara Icewine Festival 2014

If you thought that maple syrup was Canada’s most valued liquid gold, think again. Icewine, the dessert wine crafted from grapes that have been allowed to freeze on the vine, inspires fervent devotion that’s distilled each winter at theNiagara Icewine Festival. The 19th annual celebration of the sweet, amber-hued alcohol started earlier this month, but there’s still time to take in all the oenophilic fun on its final weekend, January 24 to 26. Bundle up and get ready to enjoy some of the region’s award-winning vintages while partaking in its warming hospitality.

 

Visit Winterfest in The Square
A few minutes drive from Niagara-on-the-Lake proper, the city of St. Catharines hosts a free gathering Friday evening (January 24) in its historic Market Square. Check out the farmer’s market, live entertainment, local food trucks and, of course, a stellar selection of VQA wines.

Drop by Peller Estates’ Backyard
Chef Jason Parsons has had a ball crafting an icewine-focused menu at Peller Estates Winery. Sample icewine hot chocolate and icewine suckling pig, then finish up by roasting icewine marshmallows over an outdoor fire. Reservations are not required, but an appetite is.

Learn About Soil Over Pumpkin Pie
The vineyard at Coyote’s Run Estate straddles two very distinct soil types, allowing the winery to create its Red Paws wines (from vines grown in iron-rich red clay loam) and Black Paw wines (from, you guessed it, darker soil laden with organic matter). Let veteran winemaker David Sheppard teach you some geology basics over spiced pumpkin pie paired with its 2009 Riesling/Vidal icewine, a rare gem with only 110 cases produced.

Enjoy a Consummate Locavore Meal
Settled into its new NOTL location after years in Port Dalhousie, Treadwell is the perfect spot to seek shelter from the Icewine Festival’s bustle. Open for brunch, lunch and dinner, the restaurant’s farm-to-table menu is fresh, simple and jaw-droppingly delicious. The thoughtful wine list boasts some fantastic small-batch producers that aren’t represented at the LCBO.

Have the Run of the Region
While you can pop in and out of festival-affiliated wineries and restaurants, investing in a Discovery Pass offers exceptional value. The $40 pass is valid Friday through Sunday and entitles its wielder to eight food-and-wine experiences offered by a selection of more than 40 participating venues—from an onion soup and Riesling icewine pairing at Cattail Creek Estate Winery to spit-roasted porchetta with apple icewine sauce at Reif Estate.

 

(Originally appeared on Where.ca, January 2014)

Have Canadian Manners Gone to Hell?

Have Canadian manners gone to hell?

The nation’s polite reputation in jeopardy, say experts

At The Petite Syrah café in Nice, posted prices for coffee vary based on a patron’s manners.
At The Petite Syrah café in Nice, posted prices for coffee vary based on a patron’s manners. PHOTO: FABRICE PEPINO

If the reputational cost of bad manners isn’t enough to encourage decorum, how about having to pay an extra $8  for a coffee?

A café in France recently made headlines for issuing a price scale based on patron etiquette: “Hello, one coffee, please” was listed at the usual price, while the more blunt “One coffee” was advertised at a premium. Though the sign was designed to make a point, people’s enthusiastic reaction to it is sparking renewed debate about the decline of civility.

Even here in Canada, where politeness is a flywheel of national identity, surveys consistently suggest we’re becoming less courteous, more self-involved, and increasingly prone to boorish behaviour – whether in the workplace, in public spaces or on social media. The question is, can anything be done about it?

“The reality is that things have to escalate to a point of pretty significant severity before a court is going to address it,” said Garry J. Wise, a Toronto-based lawyer. “It’s very, very difficult to enforce (civility) in the absence of an ongoing pattern.”

Internationally, however, that’s not the case.

Prone to road rage? Best not drive in Germany, where disrespect is punishable by law.

Germany’s so-called “insult law” not only criminalizes hate speech but also broad conduct showing disrespect for another person – including flipping someone off in traffic. In France, the state-owned railway tasked a team of “polite police” with cracking down on rude passengers after noting a 25 per cent increase in traveller complaints. And inSingapore, a person can be fined for everything from spitting on the sidewalk to not flushing a public toilet.

The lines are greyer in Canada, said Wise, with the onus largely falling on individuals and organizations to impose decorum.

“The willingness of an employer to jump in will vary from workplace to workplace,” said Wise, pointing to issues of harassment, sexism and racial slurs. “Sometimes, they’ll do what the law requires, but not necessarily for the purpose of solving the problem; it’s for the purpose of papering their file.”

Karen Cleveland, a Canadian manners maven, said the Canuck approach tends to be one of passive aggression as opposed to legal intervention. Take, for example, the time she forgot to silence her cellphone at the symphony and was met by “well-deserved glaring looks from other patrons.”

“We shame each other in a very Canadian, quiet, judgy way,” said Cleveland, who contends that etiquette in this country is headed down a scary path.

“Internationally, we enjoy a reputation as being a very mild-mannered people. Some days, that feels like nothing further from the truth – especially if you’ve had the pleasure of cramming yourself into a Toronto Transit Commission subway during rush hour.”

A 2011 poll of more than 5,000 drivers for the Canadian Automobile Association found 73 per cent of people believed road users were exhibiting more rude habits than in the recent past. And in a 2013 survey by B.C.-based Insights West, the majority of respondents had, over the previous month, witnessed public swearing (87 per cent), a child misbehaving without parental intervention (76 per cent), public spitting (72 per cent), and the use of cellphones during a movie (53 per cent).

Poor parenting was cited as a culprit by 93 per cent of respondents, followed by the influence of technology, at 84 per cent. Among Canadians 18 to 34, 70 per cent said someone had written something rude on their Facebook page, directed a mean tweet at them, or been disrespectful to them elsewhere online.

In recent years, however, a proactive approach to manners has begun to emerge.

To combat seat-kicking, phone use and other undesirable movie going activity, Cineplex relies on a pre-show campaign reminding Canadians to – in the words of spokesperson Mike Langdon – exhibit “the behaviour that’s generally preferred in theatres.” Read: Don’t be a jerk.

Prior to the Vancouver Olympics, volunteers participated in a kind of civility bootcamp, aimed at fostering such skills as attentive listening and conflict management. And looking to the nation’s bleachers, more than 65,000 Canadians have participated in Respect in Sport’s parent program, a behavioural training initiative – made mandatory by many sport bodies – designed to prevent infightingamong overzealous moms and dads.

Still, direct punishments for poor manners remain a rarity. In fact, Christine Porath, who has studied incivility for more than a decade, said the greatest costs – at least in the workplace – are suffered by the targets of incivility.

For instance, Porath finds 80 per cent of victims lose productivity due to worrying; 66 per cent incur a decline in performance; 63 per cent lose work time to avoiding the offender; and 12 per cent seek new employment. And the frequency is only worsening: in 2011, fully half of surveyed workers reported experiencing rude treatment at least weekly, compared to just a quarter in 1998.

“We’re not used to penalizing it,” said Porath, co-author of The Cost of Bad Behavior and an associate professor at Georgetown University. “We’ve always been about granting people liberties to be themselves.”

 

(Originally published on Canada.com, Jan 2014)

Niagara on the Lake — 10 Things You Need to Know

Niagara-on-the-Lake: 10 Things You Need to Know About This Getaway From Toronto

By KAREN CLEVELAND

Getaway From Toronto: Niagara-on-the-LakeGetaway From Toronto: Niagara-on-the-Lake (Photo: Theodore C)

If you’re going to invest 90 minutes of driving for a getaway from Toronto, fewer places net a higher return than a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The charming town is home to breathtaking views, excellent restaurants, amazing vineyards and some of Canada’s most treasured heritage sites. Whether you fall in love with Niagara-on-the-Lake for a long affair, or just a fleeting tryst, be sure to consider these 10 tips when making your getaway plan.

1. LEAVE EARLY
Brave your alarm clock or brave sitting in traffic. The 90-minute drive from Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake can easily double in heavy traffic. Leave Toronto by 8 a.m. for the most efficient drive.

2. BRING YOUR WALKING SHOES
Niagara-on-the-Lake is walkable—sort of. The nearby wineries warrant car or bike trips, but the downtown hub is best explored on foot. Street parking is in abundance, so ditch your car and fuel up for your stroll with a coffee from Balzac. The Toronto-based café makes a fine Americano, and its Niagara-on-the-Lake outpost has more charm and less bustle than its city counterparts.

3. WATCH THE SUNSET OVER THE LAKE
For cocktail hour, get a seat on the patio at Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf and Country Club, North America’s oldest standing golf club. The setting is unpretentious with gorgeous views of the lake and Fort Niagara, built in the 1700’s. This is the perfect place to watch the sun set while sampling a glass of local wine from the small but well-curated list of local bottles.

4. EAT DINNER AT A WINERY
While there is no shortage of good restaurants in the Niagara-on-the-Lake’s core (check out the new Treadwell location), some of the best meals are served at the wineries. At Good Earth Winery—one of the area’s original farm-to-table restaurants—the setting, food and wine are all wonderful. The lobster and shrimp burger is as good, if not better, than you’d imagine.

5. GET TO THE THEATRE
For more than 50 years, the Shaw Theatre Festival has been its own getaway from Toronto. It’s long anchored Niagara’s art’s scene, producing plays from George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. The Edwardian-style Royal George Theatre is impossibly beautiful and located on downtown Queen Street.

6. DRINK WITH HISTORY
After #5, grab a night cap at the Olde Angel Inn , the oldest operating inn in Ontario. The pub was built in 1789 and rebuilt in 1815 after the War of 1812. Exposed beams and thick plank floors make for a cozy environment. Be sure to ask the warm staffers about the resident ghost and the flag they fly above the Inn.

7. ATTEND AN OUTDOOR CONCERT
Jackson-Triggs Winery hosts fantastic outdoor concerts at its open-air amphitheatre. Performances range from classical to folk, and often have the option of pairing a concert with dinner and wine in the stunning on-site cellar.

8. SLEEP AT A B&B
The bed and breakfast is Niagara-on-the-Lake’s signature accommodation type. There are dozens, and each has its own charms. We love The Darlington House, located a short stroll from the town centre and across the street from the historic Butler’s Barracks. The house is quaint, the breakfast excellent and Julie and Mark are the consummate hosts.

9. TOUR A WINERY
Grape vines pour over the benches and rich terroir that surround Niagara-on-the-Lake thanks to the region’s 27 wineries. You shouldn’t leave without touring at least a few of them, or even stopping in for lunch. We love Marynissen Winery , home to the oldest commercial plot of Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Canada, and Ravine Vineyard , which has a casual-but-elegant restaurant, organic farm and canning shop.

10. STOP AT A FARMER’S MARKET
Before jumping on the highway, take a few leisurely back country roads and you’re bound to happen upon a farmer’s market or two. Stock up on produce, preserves or fresh baked goods for the drive back. The annual Niagara Wine Festival, held in mid-September is the perfect excuse to plan a visit—not that you need one.

Karen Cleveland is a Toronto-based writer. Visit her at mannersaresexy.com or follow her on Twitter (@schoolfinishing).

(Originally published on Where.ca, August 2013)