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On dumping a friend

pantsuit2One hot and muggy August, I fully enabled a knock-down-drag-out fight with a person whose ‘friendship,’ I felt, had dragged out much longer than it should have (it shouldn’t have extended past some bad, crescendo-reaching karaoke that took place shortly after I had met her a year-and-a-half earlier).

I’ll call her Maude. I can definitively say I’ve since lost my ability to get the chills when I hear Whitney Houston belt out the climax to her cover of I Will Always Love You. Anybody who grew up during the 1980s and 1990s will understand: the part from Houston’s music video where, clad like Olivia Pope in a white pantsuit, she sits posture-perfect in a chair and goes for that high note, nailing it bang-on.

It was the song that secured Ms. Houston her goddess-like stature in the music industry, years ahead of Celine Dion crooning about her heart going on. When Maude tried to replicate the hit in the handful of grubby clubs we used to circuit Sunday nights, the result was astonishing. Astonishingly awful.

I’ve since lost my ability to get the chills when I hear Whitney Houston belt out the climax to her cover of I Will Always Love You.

The funny thing was that up until that failed apex, she wasn’t too bad. That’s likely why she was cheered off the platform with whistles and hoots, mainly from men. Plus there’s the fact Maude was a brunette beauty with sparkling mocha eyes and heart-shaped plump lips, that didn’t require any Kardashian injections. After her struggle with the Treble Clef, the audience no doubt had felt sorry for her—she had clearly given it her level best, with all the verve and passion of an American Idol contestant (the blind auditions part).

Karaoke audiences always made Maude feel like she, too, was a star, minus the white pantsuit (she only wore dresses and leggings, even during hot summer nights). Sadly, I and all our friends knew that wasn’t the case. But it was karaoke; you were supposed to sound lame. It would just have been easier on everybody if she had more than two songs in her repertoire. The other was Ace of Base’s I Saw the Sign. Nobody had the heart to suggest she mix it up.

Anybody who grew up during the 1980s and 1990s will understand: the part from Houston’s music video where, clad like Olivia Pope in a white pantsuit, she sits posture-perfect in a chair and goes for that high note, nailing it bang-on.

At one time, I thought Maude and I were soul sisters in the making, but as it turned out there were more stormy days than sunshine. My creativity was stifled, she stole a dozen rolls of toilet paper when cat sitting for me one weekend, and she banged my boyfriend with benefits. So, finally, that August, after witnessing too many highs and lows of the Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction kind—who also wore a white pantsuit when she horrifyingly exclaims to Michael Douglas: “I won’t be ignored”— I decided to give Maude the old heave-ho (accent on the ho).

No Real Housewives drama here. No table flipping or hair pulling. Just a timely smartphone delete and a Facebook blocking. And, that was the end of that. Maybe it wasn’t as cathartic as the bitchy, name-slinging, tire-screeching with fire-out-of-the-tailpipe, bad-boyfriend-blow-off variety. But I do know that taking the quiet high road was the mature and right thing to do.

Later, however, this all lead me to much pondering and the final question: why, all too often, are girl-to-girl breakups considered so hiss-worthy and heinous? Why is it that when women cut the cords on their gal pals, many think that: a) we must be in a PMS rage, or b) we’re naturally edgy and unstable?

Yet, when we finally get the gumption to kick our past-the-expiry-date male lovers to the curb, we suddenly become ‘take-charge,’ ‘strong and empowered’ —the I always knew she had it in her kind of a woman?

Why, all too often, are girl-to-girl breakups considered so hiss-worthy and heinous? Why is it that when women cut the cords on their gal pals, many think that: a) we must be in a PMS rage; or b) we’re naturally edgy and unstable?

I feel it’s a social double standard of the Millennium. There have been various news articles through the decade, trying to explain the trope of the Bestie Breakup. Just this past month, the Postmedia Network published a piece by Simone Paget, entitled How to survive a friend break-up. The author, now in her thirties, hearkens back to her twenties where she experienced her “first real adult friend-breakup”—the circumstances, she explains,  attributed to  “boys, booze and my overall immature behaviour.”

Granted, Paget admits she has since reconciled with her friends and even feels “guilt and embarrassment,” and is actually “haunted” by friend terminations of the past. Paget writes: “In my experience, the sting of breaking up with a close girlfriend often burns longer and more acutely than the end of many romantic relationships.”

I find Paget’s sentiments very raw and respectful. And I can see how that would be the case, when I imagine a different kind of a final falling out between myself and other particular female friendships I share. It’s just that in my experience with Maude, the aftermath held no actual ‘sting’ for me; it was more akin to that feeling of relief you get when you put Calamine lotion on a poison ivy itch.

In a Huffington Post blog from 2015, self-love coach and writer Jennifer Twardowski lists the “6 Signs It May Be Time to Break Up With Your Friend.” Twardowski points to the fact that our friendships reflect who we are as people and, that at some point along our life journeys, we may come to the conclusion, or an a-ha moment, when we realize something is no longer adding value to our lives. That something might be a friendship that’s reached the distance; it has simply chugged out.

“As a result,” Twardowski writes, “we may find ourselves needing to let friends go … It may involve creating some distance to give ourselves space to grow or it may involve needing to set boundaries for ourselves and “breaking up” with that friend. Either way, both are a natural aspect to our growth.”

In looking back at my former friendship with Maude, I feel that any type of friendship can run its course and, depending on how egregious the circumstances, sometimes a slick and detoxifying spray-down à la “Sayonara Biotch!” is the only cure on-tap, no matter how seemingly Wind Beneath My Wings-tight the bond may once have been.

Sad, perhaps. But so is life, sometimes.

We may find ourselves needing to let friends go … It may involve creating some distance to give ourselves space to grow or it may involve needing to set boundaries for ourselves and “breaking up” with that friend. Either way, both are a natural aspect to our growth. ~Jennifer Twardowski, Self-love coach, teacher and writer, and founder of

Like those potential baby names I and my girlfriends bandied about as twenty-somethings, cooing over the way the first and middle names chimed: ‘Gemma Rose;’ ‘Violet Madison;’ ‘Chloe Victoria.’ Until later down the road, we meet a person with said first name who makes our skin slither. Somehow the name, just like a forsaken friend, can lose its charm. And so we settle for another combination of back-in-style Grandmother names, and never look back.

Needless to say, I felt no prickle of guilt over my Maude exit act.


Coach Ken Miller, centre, is flanked by Susan Grace Egege, Ryan Tod, Josh Brake and Emy Udoh, members of Glenmore Christian Academy’s track team. Photo Credit: Adrian Shellard/For the Calgary Herald

Killer Miller Goes the Distance

From the Calgary Herald, March 4, 2015

For many of us, getting on the perfect career track might require a few laps- before finding the job that vaults us into our vocational comfort zone.

Not so for coach Ken Miller. The athletic director, teacher and track-and-field coach found his stride 34 years ago when he joined Calgary’s Glenmore Christian Academy at the age of 25.

He hasn’t lost his momentum. Alongside his duties as father to five and grandfather to seven, Miller’s earned the reputation as discipline enforcer, fear-assuager and stalwart churner-outer of future star athletes and leaders across a variety of industries — starting with students in grades 6 through 9.

“Ken was the definition of discipline and perseverance,” says Evan Kimick, a Calgary-based engineer with ConocoPhillips Canada who attended Glenmore Christian from 2002-04, achieving track and field championship status locally, provincially and nationally in both high school and university.

Kimick says Miller didn’t give out easy grades and always pushed his students beyond their comfort zones. They don’t call him Killer Miller for nothing.

“Depending on the season, we had to do either an endurance run or sprints/bounds at the beginning of every class, followed by push-ups and sit-ups,” says Kimick.

Miller’s mentorship set the alumnus up for success professionally. It’s that knack for relating to his student proteges as people while simultaneously teaching the rules around accountability.

Gone are the days of the gruff and iconic coaches of cinematic yesteryear — espousers of the drop-down-and-give-me-20 variety. Today’s parents, according to Miller, demand an athletic culture that promotes leadership and excellence with a personal touch.

And today’s coach, Miller explains, is more about “I’m here to produce the best athlete you can be. I’ll do my part, you do yours.”

The “yours” means respect for academics and teachers, peers and opponents — and respecting other schools’ sports facilities when visiting as guests.

Grade 9 student and track-and-field star Emy Udoh says two seasons ago she loved hurdles, but during practice she had a habit of running alongside them instead of jumping over top — something that kept her up at night — until Coach Miller helped her make the leap.

“One day he just forced it upon me. He said ‘just go for it — if you fall just get back up.’ So I finally jumped over it and it was awesome. I loved it,” Udoh enthuses, noting last year she finished first in both her zones and qualifiers.

“If you can just get them over their fears, you’ve introduced them to something they maybe would not have tried in their lifetime. Now they’ve tried it and they love it. You feel good about that,” says Miller.

Further, he explains, if he can help pave the way for life beyond junior high — and all its impending “hurdles,” he can rest happy.

“My main goal in all that I do is to prepare them as well as possible for the next step … It’s been so much fun and so rewarding after all these years,” says Miller.

This story was produced by the Calgary Herald’s Special Projects department in collaboration with advertisers to promote awareness about private schools for commercial purposes. The Herald’s editorial department had no involvement in the creation of this content.

Calgary Celebrates 50 Years of Canada Flag Creation


Images from Calgary’s Laurier Lounge (home to flag creator George Stanley). Mayor Naheed Nenshi was present in honour of National Flag Day, Feb. 15. He didn’t get to try the duck confit poutine this time, but says he’ll be back to sample.

Story From the Calgary Herald, Feb. 15

While Canadians proudly pay homage to their national flag this Sunday, Davinder (Davi) Singh will help his team serve duck confit poutine for lunch guests at the Laurier Lounge in downtown Calgary.

It’s a fete befitting the late-George Stanley, a man widely regarded as a founding father of the Canadian flag, who also happened to grow up in this turn-of-the-century, wine-coloured clapboard house—now a French restaurant at the corner of 11th Ave. and 7th St. SW.

Blackwell says Stanley’s flag vision was influenced by that of the Royal Military College where he taught in Kingston, Ont. His wife Laurie adds the 1928 Olympics also played a role.

Stanley’s rich history as a Calgary resident and Rhodes Scholar-turned-seminal-national-flag-designer of the red and white maple leaf emblem may fly under the radar as a hidden Cowtown gem. But such roots, says Cynthia Klaasen, president of the Calgary Heritage Initiative, make for a fun fact Calgarians should celebrate.

“It’s a lot of fun that the designer of the Canadian flag actually had Calgary roots even though he was living in Kingston at the time he came up with the design,” says Klaasen.

“[The location] gives Calgary a connection to an important part of Canada’s national identity—a little touchstone or taste of the history of the neighbourhood as one of the few single-family homes left— and [now] surrounded by high rises.”

Stanley was born in 1907 to well-to-do, conservative parents that hobnobbed with local leading figures. His father owned a wholesale paper business and spoke fluent Chinese.

“They were the merchant professional class—the first generation of people from Eastern Canada who settled the West,” says son-in-law and history buff John Blackwell, of Antigonish, N.S., who is married to Stanley’s youngest daughter, Dr. Laurie Stanley-Blackwell, a history professor at St. Francis Xavier University.

Her late-grandfather might have been less than chuffed to learn his old house is now named after a Liberal Prime Minister.

“We were amused by that; George’s dad was a lifelong Conservative,” says Ruth Stanley, George’s widow, from her home in Sackville, N.B.

George Stanley was a proud Albertan who talked about his fond western heritage and spending “carefree summers” at the Stanley family cottage in Banff. As a boy, George loved to hike and explore the mountainous terrain, notes Blackwell.

“That was his ideal place – one of the places he was happiest in his life. He always looked back on that with immense affection.”

“The mountains were his playground,” adds Ruth, 93, noting how in those days with no helicopter parents in sight, the elder Stanley’s gave their son free reign to roam as “long as he turned up for lunch.”

“When [he’d come back from a trip to Alberta] he’d be hard to live with for the next six weeks because there were no mountains—Sackville is very flat,” she jokes.

Blackwell recalls Stanley’s tales of Calgary cattle drives a century ago that trampled right through his neighbourhood. He was told of visits to the Sarcee Reserve and the time Stanley fell off a horse when visiting a friend’s ranch.

Stanley’s life in the West was also where he developed an intrinsic sense of humility, compassion and a faithful regard for Canadian culture.

When he was 17 he taught school to children in the small rural town of Hussar, Alta., alarmingly different from Stanley’s middle-class, comfortable suburban lifestyle.

Stanley witnessed dire poverty among some families and Blackwell says it pained him during these formative years to watch his new friends “struggling against this adversity.”

“He was always conscious of that. I think it made him extremely compassionate—He never forgot these people,” Blackwell asserts.

Della Stanley, a historian and professor emeritus for Canadian Studies at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax, vividly remembers the night her father composed his infamous “Flag Memo” later presented by MP and flag committee member John Matheson, under Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, on March 23, 1964.

She says during years rife with flag tension, Pearson was anxious the new flag become a unifying symbol to replace the Old Guard, conservative and colonial-rooted Red Ensign and Union Jack original flags.

“The union jack was so British that for Aboriginal people, for new Canadians, for French Canadians – it didn’t mean anything,” she says.

In his four-page memo, George Stanley laid out sketches for two designs—one was a single maple leaf with two red bars, the other depicted three red maple leafs and two red bars. Stanley proffered the former as his first choice for its simplicity, the fact it comprised Canada’s national colours and would be visible from a distance and easily identifiable.

Blackwell says Stanley’s flag vision was influenced by that of the Royal Military College where he taught in Kingston, Ont. His wife Laurie adds the 1928 Olympics also played a role.

Canadian sprinter Percy Williams donned the red maple leaf and white jersey during the Game leaving “a very indelible impression” on George and “driving home the importance of the maple leaf.”

Stanley also eschewed any inclusion of conflicting symbols between cultural groups and should lead to unity and “instil in [Canadians] a sense of oneness,” says daughter Della.

“The union jack was so British that for Aboriginal people, for new Canadians, for French Canadians – it didn’t mean anything.”  Ruth Stanley, widow of George Stanley

And Ruth states her husband’s flag vision stuck with him through much of their married life.

“When he wasn’t talking about Louis Riel he was talking about the flag. Those were his two favourite topics,” she says.

On a cold winter’s day, Feb. 15, 1965, Stanley’s national flag design, with touch-ups and technical additions attributed to other contributors, became Canada’s official symbol of independence.

Ruth Stanley proudly remembers her husband standing ceremonially clad in his colourful Hudson Bay blanket coat amidst a sea of stark black coats worn by his peers.

“He was the only one you could pick out,” she recalls, hinting this was a typical George maneuver.

“Knowing his sense of humour, I know he did it just to be different from everybody else,” she quips.

And Della says her father had frank words for the rampant flag naysayer of the day.

“Stop worrying about it,” he advised. “In 30 years they’ll never remember what this was all about.”

Recognition and Rewards: Know the Difference to Enhance Employee Engagement.

On March 6, you’ll notice #EmployeeAppreciationDay trending across social platforms.

Twenty years ago, the first Friday in March was designated as such in North America, to create momentum around the idea of celebrating workers and their positive contributions to corporate culture. But rather than tweeting appreciation alongside blanketed tokens and goodwill gestures, shouldn’t companies be thinking on this theme more routinely—like every day?

Shouldn’t this be a notion that’s innately embedded in a company’s overall corporate mission? Picking a number on a calendar and slapping on a catchy theme seems too easy; not a whole lot different than #NationalPoutineWeek or #CoffeeDay.

It certainly contributes to headlines like this one proffered by a popular business magazine a couple years ago: “7 last-Minute Tips for National Employee Appreciation Day.”

marc_ecko_mens_e17559g1_gold_stainless-steel_quartz_watch_with_gold_dial *This author shudders*

Celebrating employee contribution by rote is one thing; doing it in a willy-nilly, shim-sham and lazy way will not enhance your reputation as a stellar employer and good corporate citizen.

If upping your employee engagement factor is in fact something your company values, then you may just want to get a tad more thoughtful when it comes to recognizing and rewarding your workers for their extraordinary achievements on the job.

Recognize Routinely

 “The way we live and work has radically transformed over the last 25 years,” says Cali Yost, author of Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Everyday.

“The boundaries between work and life are a lot less clear and technology does allow us to work in many ways, anywhere, anytime. I think what that does is it requires us to rethink our traditional models for work,” she says.

This includes how employers honour their employees. Human Resources professionals know that employee engagement is a fundamental focus in driving business results. Studies of engagement surveys show the number-one factor employees cite most frequently on their working wish lists is better communication, feedback, direction and recognition.

A company that adopts a great recognition and rewards program using best practices and technological innovation will benefit in many ways including a boost in overall business results; a reinforced emotional commitment among employees to their company vision and core values; enhanced employee engagement, productivity and customer service; greater employee retention and attraction to new recruits.

Recognition and Rewards: Separate Tools

If employee recognition wields more power than any other employee motivator, then when it comes to giving rewards, employers ought to be careful on how that’s done. Simply presenting a series of points to rack up merchandise, branded gift cards or the “old chestnut” gold watch doesn’t cut it anymore.

Indeed, if you’re looking to provide employees with a top-notch recognition and rewards program, your first key is to understand how these “Two R’s” operate. Part of the battle between recognition and rewards is that too often they’re used interchangeably and synonymously. And this can be scary. A lot of companies will get caught up in giving rewards they feel adequately represent a job well done when, in fact, they’re actually more tangible, or transactional—devoid of meaning, inspiration and humanity.

Let me get all Plato-like here. If I, as an employer, simply reward you, my employee, with a top-up of “points for stuff,” via e-card, I should really ask myself: Will this reward really connect with this person? Or will it be regarded as more of a transaction? e.g. “I’ve done my part; I’ve acknowledged you; Boom. Done; it’s transacted.”

Was that scenario really demonstrating recognition? Obviously not. Points or pithy rewards resembling this example can be fine just as long as they’re accompanied by the art and practice of giving good, meaningful recognition. In my example, I failed as an employer in my reward to you because it didn’t come with a truly tailored expression of appreciation and acknowledgment. I got so caught up in the frenzy of just getting my company on-board the recognition-and-rewards platform, it became more of I-was-too-close-to-the-forest-I-didn’t-see-the-trees kind of gesture.

Making Memories  

Consider that recognition is intangible and relational. It’s something that an employee will experience. Moreover, he or she will know they’ve been recognized by the certain feelings evoked by that gesture; reward notwithstanding. So if “Great job!” and “Well done!” don’t cut it, then what will?

According to the Recognition Professionals International (RPI), “personalizing recognition can create a memory and those memories build higher performance.” We all know that traditional cash bonuses wind up paying our bills and token perks become Old Hat. I remember the day my former boss marked five years with our company. She got to choose between a set of silver candlestick holders, cubic zirconia earrings and another similar type of item.

I remember feeling this type of recognition and reward would definitely not make me feel truly appreciated. So make the recognition and reward meaningful. Don’t just festoon your employee with a gift card. However, if your heart’s set on doing so, then at least do it with his or her personality in mind. In other words, do your research.

Get to Know Me!

Say one of your top performers has a track record of getting a fancy trip every year as a result of her stellar sales. Here’s where you as employer can think different. Dig around and find out what’s most important to that person. Let’s say you find out spending time with family is what she treasures most. Instead of sending her on that tried-and-true trip, why not commission someone to paint a family portrait for her?

All of a sudden your reward has gone from “typical,” aka boring, to “Now you’re talking!” Your employee sees the meaning behind this recognition which, by the way, is still a reward. The sales trip was also a reward but it lacked meaning because you still didn’t know your employee. So it became just a transaction. This portrait reward, on the other hand, was more about the individual and what they value —time spent with family. Other examples of meaningful recognition suggested by RPI include:

  • Schedule lunch dates with employees. Give them an opportunity to select the luncheon site, and use the time to simply get to know them better.
  • Offer a free one-year subscription to an employee’s favorite business magazine and have it sent to their home.
  • Give a fun-loving employee a series of On-your-mark-get set-GO cards that they can redeem at their discretion. For example: Leave work early to go to a movie, or shopping, or play ball.

Further, consider the needs of demographic groups. For example, your millennial workers will more than likely have a reward wish list that differs from their Generation X counterparts—simply due to the different work-life realities they face. The latter group, for example, might have families and value a reward of time off to go to their child’s weekly soccer game through the season. A millennial worker might rather appreciate a coffee card or a lunch or dinner out to their favourite hotspot—that the company pays for.

Get your Clients’ Attention

Gear your rewards and recognition to people who have a knack for creating great customer experiences. This will only reinforce your brand as one that puts client happiness front-and-centre.

Creating a work culture where people feel appreciated for their performance will also be noticed by your customers. They will see you’re a company fueled by innovation; one that inspires enthusiasm, passion and motivation among its employees. Clients will pay attention to the fact you’re recognizing and rewarding differently —by providing your people with unique and amazing experiences that are meaningful to them.

Lastly, before your company adopts any type of rewards and recognition program, do your strategic research and planning. Define what recognition means to you organization. Figure out your “Two Rs” philosophy and come up with a plan, be determined and get everybody in senior management on the same page.

Once you’ve done this, you can’t go wrong. The way you recognize employees is part of your brand now. If you do it right, you will have engaged and inspired employees who will now, in return, recognize and appreciate their fellow team members daily.

It’s a win-win.


My Sprinkle-Free Answer to the Holiday-Themed Coffee Brew-Ha-Ha

  Some like to deck the halls—while others prefer their coffee candy-free.

photo 1

By now, anyone who navigates social media with some regularity would be remiss not to have noticed the trend that won’t end—the Pumpkin-Spice-in-everything phenomenon and the combination of meme-making ridicule and superlative fan shout-outs rendering the flavour du jour a broken record.

Fret not your weary ears; it would seem Big Box Barista-ville has heard Twitter and company loud and clear. Popular coffee brands have untapped the yet-to-be ubiquitous Christmas market with the unveiling of both new and tried-and-true hot, artificially flavoured beverages.

Candy cane, eggnog and peppermint lattes have been around a few seasons but haven’t seemed to garner the same attention befitting their fall-flavoured counterparts. That’s about to change with one shop’s newest holiday drink, the Chestnut and Praline Latte (I’m not even sure what a praline is – let alone how to pronounce the ‘a’ – but I suspect it’s a type of nut).

I’m also guessing the newly revealed beverage is yet another of the syrupy and sweet, best- served-with-whip-and-whistles variety­—none of which, by the way, is my cup of tea.

I actually find that more of an annoying grind. Irrespective of my naysaying, I have every bit of confidence the Uggs-and-lululemon-donning Millennials will be lapping up this nutty newcomer in frenzied proportion.

And yet, in spite of the fact I haven’t seen them in droves on the interweb, I’m betting there are indeed others out there, like me, who might just prefer their coffee candy-free.

As a refreshing alternative, popular commercial coffee brand NABOB, is like-minding my sentiments. Its current TV campaign addresses those of us who are wont to eschew (not “cashew”) every form of the chemicals-in-coffee trend.

Titled “Respect the Bean,” the ads take a spin on the current coffee milieu trumpeting the “fructose du jour” theme using smart marketing tactics in tandem with its competitors’ foamy flavoured beverage blitzing.


“NABOB’s current TV campaign addresses those of us who are wont to eschew (not “cashew”) every form of the chemicals-in-coffee trend.”


NABOB`s fall TV, for example, depicts a South American coffee farmer conversing in a bean field with a spokesperson holding a pumpkin. The latter asks the farmer about his knowledge of the “pumpkin spice” trend to which the farmer basically shakes his head with incredulity while English subtitles translate his Spanish along the lines of “that’s just plain wrong.”

The ad ends with the creative tagline “Leave the Pumpkin for the Pies,” and #RespectTheBean emblazoned on a still and dark screen.

There was a time when all that seemed to matter with respect to our beloved “Joe“ was serving up a cup of our bestie brew and topping it with simple accoutrements—say, a spot of cream or milk, sugar, artificial sweetener or maybe a dollop of honey with a cinnamon dash.

And that would be it. No muss, no fuss, no big whoop and, certainly, no whip!

Those days became obsolete with the advent of the Big Box brew shop and its Pied Piper effect on fans of all drinks festive and frothy. (I have a sneaking suspicion the aforementioned open-fire-roasted nut bevie will send the pom-pom-and-touque-wearing hipsters into a tailspin of delight.)

And that’s just fine, for them.

There’s no reason why those of us who opt for no-frills cups of caffeine can’t still partake with just as much glee and glad-tiding.

To those coffee klatch kids I say: “Have at it! Remain mystified by your “grande” or “venti” can(defiled) beverages.”

But for those of us syrup-free sophisticates who remain loyal to our java buds with a more cultured and sprinkle-free coffee ethos—a tasty power brand like NABOB with choice flavour selection yet no hard candy, no artificial or drizzled-on syrup—NO-NONSENSE kind of brew—seems like something worth percolating over.

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What you would decorate instead of your coffee this season?

Share it with us on social media by using the caption “I decorated my ______ (insert your item of choice) not my coffee” using the hashtags #RespectTheBean #whatdoyoudecorate

We might just share your decorations on social and perhaps you’ll even get a surprise from NABOB.

Happy Brew-ha-ha’ing!

By Heidi Staseson, August 2014

Vintage Fridge: Sometimes hoarding the old beats trading up.

photo 3In 1958 my grandfather built a clapboard cornflower blue cottage in Kannata Valley, Saskatchewan. It’s since passed down through three generations. Parts of its charm are the many retro trappings that still exist in all their 56-year-old Value Village-esque glory.

From the sea-foam green plastic curtains, to a red manual can opener fastened to the cedar plank kitchen wall, to a tank of a white Frigidaire refrigerator that sits like a beast beside the cabin door. (I’m told it’s one of the oldest models in the country.) A chug-chug-hum-and-sputter one that still works and which faithfully, each summer, cools our family’s cans of pop, pilsner and popsicles.

fridge (1)But truth be told, it’s a darn good thing we only use it in the summertime (for nostalgic purposes paying homage to our “Papa” who put it there eons earlier). Refrigerators are one of the highest energy suckers you can keep at home. Can you imagine the cost to your wallet to store such a behemoth, let alone operate it on a daily basis?

Glad we still get to spend our few precious weeks each year, loading her up and cracking open the treats Ol`Bessie provides us—before letting her chill out while the seasons change—instead of putting her out to pasture.

photo 5

Maclean’s magazine, Oct. 2014

Have We Reached Peak Pumpkin Spice?

The pumpkin-spice backlash has spawned its own bona fide cultural industry. Is it too much of a gourd thing?


Orange you glad? Pumpkin-spice-flavoured Skittles, vodka, toothpaste, toilet paper and condoms do not exist—at least, not yet. (Jen Lewis/Connor Toole/Photo illustration by Sarah MacKinnon)

Just over a decade ago, a Starbucks barista pumped the first squirt of pumpkin-flavoured syrup into a cup of coffee, topped it with steaming milk and a dollop of whipped cream. And, with that, the coffee giant birthed not only a product, the pumpkin-spice latte—or “#PSL,” as Twitter calls it—but also a commercial and cultural force. Its market effect has been evident for a few years: The chain’s rivals have their own spins on the creation: Tim Hortons has a pumpkin-pie latte; Second Cup a version of the original. The flavour du jour has branched out into a fleet of products: pumpkin-spice hummus, Oreos, M&Ms, Pringles, even Purina dog treats.

The PSL is synonymous with fall. “People wait for it; they expect it,” says Vanda Provato, vice-president of marketing at Second Cup. “We got calls in early August with customers asking when it’s going to arrive.” No surprise, then, that all three chains released their beverages earlier than usual this year.

But, perhaps in part because of its ubiquity, the flavour superstar has of late also morphed into a social-media punch line. “I think more girls would try cocaine if there was a pumpkin-spice option,” read one recent tweet. “White folks were gasping so loudly, I assumed there was a pumpkin-spice latte shortage, but no, it’s about Real Housewives,” read another. Many of the jabs subtly play on ethnoracial and gender lines, with one tweeter declaring last week: “I’m going to be Pumpkin Spice for Halloween, because I want to know what it’s like to have hot white girls like you.”

In fact, the backlash has turned into its own cultural industry. A Daily Show writer’s visual gag—a photoshopped box of “pumpkin-spice-flavoured” Tampax—went viral. And on Mashable last week, Saturday Night Live’s Jay Pharoah did a segment where he read people’s pumpkin-spice latte tweets. Music writer Paul Myers’s joke about Pumpkin Spice as “the sixth Spice Girl” happens to be a costume you can buy from Wal-Mart. Ashley Harris, 19, a film student in Toronto, and three of her friends plan to dress as pumpkin-spice lattes for Halloween; their version combines coffee-cup dresses with Ugg boots.

But why pumpkin spice? Limited-offer vodka, coffee pods and candy-cane-flavoured hot chocolate are just as guilty of seasonal faddishness. Calgary graphic designer Alyssa Polnick, 27, blames the Instagram frenzy. “When Starbucks released its first pumpkin-spice lattes, everybody started taking a picture of the ‘PSL’ label on their cups and posting it,” she recounts. This was two years ago, when Polnick posted her first PSL. Then she noticed the Instagram feeds “blowing up with pictures of twentysomething women and their lattes.” She laughs, “I wasn’t unique.”

Pumpkin spice may be a victim of its success, but also of its emptiness. It strips a seasonal symbol of any cultural history, distilling it into a syrup we can guzzle. In fact, it even strips it of pumpkin: The first wave of backlash this summer was against the revelation that there is—horrors—no actual pumpkin in pumpkin spice.

But ultimately, this is a friendly meme of the “stuff white people like” variety. Daniel Levine, a trend expert and head of the New York-based Avant-Guide Institute, says making fun of pumpkin spice and the people who drink it is akin to the harmless stereotype of white people dancing. It’s good-natured and not too politically incorrect. There’s also just something fun about a collective consciousness where everyone gets to be in on the joke.

Tim Hortons is certainly laughing through it. Its pumpkin-spice doughnut has almost sold out nationwide. “Guests love our pumpkin products, so if they’re joking about it, I look at it as lighthearted and just fun,” says Tammy Martin, VP of food and merchandise. And the PSL is still Starbucks’s top-selling seasonal beverage, the only one with its own Twitter handle, and 94,000 followers.

As for the candy-cane-latte argument, Levine submits that people make fun of Christmas clichés, too. He points to the “ugly Christmas sweater” trend where people try to outdo each other with the most outlandish garment. “Maybe we’re right to start a new meme with candy-cane lattes. There’s an opening there.”