December 28, 2008

Ski day

One of the reasons we moved to Canada was to have the opportunity to get up and ski on any given day in the winter -- something we have not been able to do in other places we have lived (sorry, Illinois and southern Wisconsin skiing doesn't quite qualify). There are literally dozens of great ski areas 1-2 hours door to door from our house. Yesterday we ventured to Mont Sutton, quite by accident as we were heading to another area and there was light rain so we decided to go someplace closer in case the conditions were not good. It turned out to be a great choice. 

However, it's important to remember that parents should not teach their kids how to ski or do long division. Since we missed the ski lessons we decided to take Louis up on our own -- Danielle is a good skier already! We ended up on a lift taking us to all intermediate runs, not a wise choice. After several falls, we took off Louis' skis and had him walk/slide down the hill. It was an excruciating hour or more. With his low muscle tone, skiing is not the easiest activity for Louis. After lunch and an adult beverage, Kish ventured to the real beginner's hill for a few runs with Louis while Danielle and Paul took in some real runs. After again, a painful half hour or so Louis finally got up and charged down the hill in time to catch up with Paul and Danielle for a couple of beginner hill runs. Kish wanted to make sure he knew how to fall safely when he needed, and we accomplished that! We have to admire his spirit...the first part of the day was less than ideal and would have shattered just any kid's drive. But instead of giving up, he was eager to get back up on skis and try again. And Danielle was a patient big sister too -- eventually taking Louis into the lodge for a soda so Kish and Paul could get in a couple of runs on their own. 

We've been fortunate to ski at great destinations and both agreed that Quebec skiing is ideal for us right now. Louis will start a Special Olympics program in January so we'll be off skiing every Sunday for eight weeks. Canada really promotes winter sports, especially for kids. All 4th and 5th graders like Louis can order a coupon book full of free lift tickets for resorts all over Canada. And again, having been to ski areas all over the U.S., we have never seen little kids ski like this before -- they are really amazing. 

It should be a fun winter, despite mom and dad's very sore muscles today. Danielle is off to Chicago for a couple of days to visit friends and the three of us are more than happy to watch football all day!

December 26, 2008

It's Boxing Day in Canada

It's another holiday in Canada -- Boxing Day. While it has nothing to do with boxing, it is  is a public holiday in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong and countries in the Commonwealth of Nations with a mainly Christian population. In South Africa, this public holiday is now known as the Day of Goodwill. It is based on the tradition of giving gifts to the less fortunate members of society. In past centuries it was the custom for the wealthy to give gifts to employees or people in a lower social class, most especially to household servants and other service personnel. The Pisani's don't have any household servants, except the kids, so we will be spending the day organizing our basement and avoiding the stores. Contemporary Boxing Day in many countries is now a "shopping holiday" associated with after-Christmas sales -- which is what it is in Canada.

December 25, 2008

Joyeux Noel!

Merry Christmas from Canada! It's been a mellow, yet nice day for the Canadian Pisani family. Santa brought everyone snow shoes (except Duke) so Paul, Kish and Duke took a stroll in an area park to try them out while Danielle and Louis stayed home to try out Rockband. Aerosmith they are not. But there's still hope. After strange weather it was a beautiful sunny day and Duke was in his element jumping through snow banks. If you have not tried snow shoes - they are very fun. We're looking forward to discovering new areas.

We're happy to report that the present-opening ceremony at least started at 7:30 am when it was already light out. In his earlier days, Louis was not much of a sleeper and there were plenty of Christmas mornings where we started when it was dark outside and finished when it was still dark -- Uncle John can appreciate that!

Here's wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or whatever you celebrate. "Tis the season to be jolly."

December 24, 2008

The best gifts....Part 2

This morning shortly after Uncle Dan left, Paul checked the mail to find a large envelope for Louis. His 5th grade teacher at Kendall Elementary in Naperville -- Mrs. Prorok -- had coordinated having the kids in his old class write holiday letters to Louis. He immediately took his stash of letters to the basement and did not want to be disturbed. We couldn't have asked for a better gift -- Thank you Mrs. Prorok and all the great kids in your class. Really, it means to world to Louis -- and to us. The best gifts are the thoughtful ones.

The best gifts....Part 1

The best gifts are not always wrapped under the tree with a gift receipt. Paul's brother Dan visited us over the weekend and it was the best gift for our family. The kids loved having Uncle Dan around and Louis logged lots of Wii hockey and football. There's nothing like an Uncle and one with patience enough to take the kids sledding, play board games or as mentioned, spend countless hours playing Wii....often times having to endure Louis' rules.

And as if time with Uncle Dan was not enough - we got to watch Marquette beat North Carolina and the Bears beat Green Bay (in OT) on Monday night. A perfect evening.

On Sunday we all attended our first Montreal Canadians hockey game which was great fun. Although, Dan thought the crowd was a little more subdued than the Blackhawks fans. I think it's safe to say that the Pisani family was not subdued -- especially during the US national anthem.

December 19, 2008

Proud of the Blackhawks

Thanks to Theresa Caracci (hockey mom and wife) in Naperville for sending this great story. We're proud to hang our Blackhawks flag out front -- despite the flack we get from the neighbors and the mailman! They are good sports, really, just very serious about hockey as this story details. The GM of the Blackhawks is from Quebec....

In the middle of a grueling six game road trip where a very young hockey team is away from home, the third game of the trip ends late on a cold Canadian Saturday night. This is the only break on the trip and the three days between games allow them the only break to get back home in their own beds for a couple of days before going back on the road. A scheduled commercial flight waits for them at Toronto's International Airport for the short flight home; they could be home by midnight. This plane departs on schedule, but without a single member of the hockey team. Back in the locker room a vote is taken after the game was complete, and a unanimous decision is made by this young team to skip this flight and stay one more day. They make arrangements to check back in the hotel and on a frozen Sunday morning charter two buses that have no heat and begin a journey two hours straight north into a sparsely inhabited Canada , but where hockey is its passion. They arrive at their destination to the surprise of the teams general manager who is there attending his fathers wake.

After a few emotional hours, this team boards the buses and heads back for a two-hour trip back to Toronto. On the way they ask the drivers to stop in a tiny Canadian town because they are hungry. To the shock of the patrons and workers at this small hockey town McDonald's, a professional team walks out of two rickety buses and into the restaurant, which just happens to have pictures of two members of this team on its wall. The patrons know every single one of these players by sight being Fanatic fans of hockey in these parts. One can only imagine their amazement of the locals seeing and the entire professional hockey team sit down and have a meal in their tiny little town
in the middle of a hockey season. After a while they board the buses and catch their same flight 24 hours later, giving one day to their general manager.

Have I made this up, is this an excerpt from some fictional book? No.

This a true story of the Blackhawks last Saturday night and they decided to attend Dale Tallon's fathers funeral. It’s amazing that such a good story can be found nowhere on the internet, and not even mentioned in the Chicago papers. Had one of the Blackhawks got into a fight and punched some drunken loser in a Toronto bar it would be plastered all over papers and the television. This being said, its hard to imagine any professional football, basketball or baseball team doing this, but the members of the Blackhawks claim any "hockey" team would have done this. This is one reason I continue to be a big hockey fan, and another reason I am excited about this Chicago team. I thought I would share as this story appears to have gone unnoticed.


As a side note...I did a Google search and could not find this story anywhere. The Blackhawks play the Canadians in Montreal on March 31! 

December 16, 2008


Suzanne, our neighbor across the street has been telling me about the fabulous food markets in the area. There's everything from the Kosher store, Portuguese fish market, the Italian market and more. Today she took another newbie (and American) and myself to the Lebanese market. Holy Cow (or lamb).  It was the most amazing market ever -- if you're into anything Greek and Lebanese. There's a special huge section just for olives, spices and nuts. Pitas hot from the oven. Yum! It was incredible -- and I might add much more economical than the standard grocery stores. Suzanne then took us to an even larger indoor market with a specialty cheese shop, bakeries, sushi, sausage, wine -- you name it. It sort of reminded me of Pikes Place market in Seattle. I learned about the Montreal Bagel -- supposedly the best in North America. I know, everyone says they have the best bagel. It's sort of like how every city claims to have the biggest St. Patrick's parade -- but I'm telling you -- these bagels are something. They are hand formed, dipped in water laced with honey, rolled in seeds and then baked in a fire stove. I'm thinking the Pisani family will be frequent visitors to these new establishments.

Our next field trip is to Little Italy to discover the Italian markets!

December 13, 2008

When the US has a cold....

Danielle heard a saying from school recently..."When the US has a cold, Canada sneezes." We're seeing that more and more each day as Canada is just weeks or months behind the US as far as the economic crisis. Trust us, financially Canada is not sugar coated (or maple syrupy) either. Daily we pass by businesses that have closed. Although, just driving by the mall a while ago it looked packed.

Canadians are concerned about the financial issues in the US since so much of Canada's business industry is reliant on the US. The TransCanadian Hwy (I-40) is lined with Hewlett Packard, Apple, Microsoft, Easton and several pharmaceutical company offices.

Regarding the auto industry specifically -- Danielle and Kish went to the movies recently and before the film started there were commercials for cars we have never seen or heard about. They were from Toyota (we think) and they were all eco-friendly, electric or using some vegetable for fuel (we don't recall all the details). But what has been interesting is seeing how much more progressive Canadians seem to be in fuel-efficiency, likely because taxes on gas are so high and they are used to spending a lot. The point is that large Gas-capades and SUVs are few and far between. You're more likely to see a Subaru Outback or a Volvo Cross Country on the road -- with snow tires of course.

As we all await word about what will happen in Detroit, this editorial appeared in the Montreal Gazette today.

No easy answers to the auto-industry crisis
DECEMBER 13, 2008

Is Congress fiddling while Detroit burns? Or are U.S. lawmakers just being prudent with $15 billion of taxpayers' money?

Late Thursday the planned bailout of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford was derailed by Senate Republicans - or by truculent union leaders, take your choice - and now President George W. Bush is reported considering using for the purpose $15 billion from the $700 billion Congress authorized previously for a whole range of bailout projects, without many strings attached.

In Canada, the federal and Ontario governments are standing, chequebooks open, waiting to see how the U.S. drama plays out. The specific danger for Canada is that once Uncle Sam gets his thumb on the scales in this fully integrated continental industry, U.S. jobs will be given primacy over Canadian ones. Congressional good will toward Canada isn't worth a rusty Edsel in times like these.

More broadly, the whole auto bailout issue remains controversial. True, $15 billion is under-the-sofa-cushions small change by the standard that has become normal in this abnormal season of "bailouts" and "stimuli" around the world. But what if governments prop up the Big Three - as they were once known - and in three or four months they come back, with their hands out again?

The underlying problem is not arrogant executives or bad decisions, but excess capacity. It's hard to imagine auto sales rebounding strongly in calendar 2009 and GM and Chrysler, and to a lesser extent Ford, will continue to struggle with fixed costs and sluggish sales. Short-term bailouts can at best give a little time for some kind of drastic action.

Nor is the prospect of a "car czar" very appealing: The last time a state controlled what cars got made, the result was the Lada. With oil prices down, consumers could well be clamouring, say two years from now, for big boxy SUVs once again. What if nobody wants to buy the politically correct little "green" sedans Congress and bureaucrats could mandate as part of a bailout?

Nor are the problems limited to two or three companies. Parts makers, tool-and-die shops, and other employers are part of the industry, too. If even one of the Big Three goes down, ripple-effect bankruptcies, or at least layoffs, will swamp the sector. Remember, though, that most of that capacity would be needed again before long, as the industry reorganizes. North Americans still buy a lot of vehicles, even in a bad year.

Plainly something will have to give in the auto industry. The companies that emerge from this inferno, once the economy begins to revive, will be more efficient than the Detroit Three today. But will they be the same companies? And should that decision really be up to Congress? Those are the questions we will see answered before long.

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

December 12, 2008

Slow down...

You know that Simon & Garfunkel tune, Feeling Groovy/59th Street Bridge song? "Slow down, you move too fast..." Now you'll be humming it all day. This tune was in my head while driving today to get the snow tires on the car. I must have had Simon & Garfunkel on my mind because I was also singing "Slip Sliding Away..." As you can see from the photos -- snow plows are not plentiful. Really. For friends and family in the Midwest -- don't complain about the roads again! By the way, the photo of Duke is because he has not made the blog in a while.

The slow down idea has a different meaning these days. As we’ve mentioned, everything takes longer in Canada. For the most part, people are extremely friendly and service people take the time to talk. Today at the “garage” where the tires were installed, the mechanic named Steve, took the time out to come in and talk to me (Kish). Fortunately, I wasn’t paying him by the hour. This garage was a combination gas station and coffee house. I learned all about the auto industry in Canada, the mark up on parts, how mechanics in dealerships are unionized and can’t be fired and they all do jobs on the side for cash. He was at this garage on this day because he was helping out the owner, whose name is Louis. Louis kept calling me Madam. We're glad we found this garage. Earlier in the week we called Canadian Tire -- the Home Depot/Wal-Mart/Ikea/Car part mega-store in Canada and were told we would need to drop the car off and they would call when it was finished – and it could be days -- for the tire installation.  We decided to call a “mom and pop” place. We're glad we did and now they have a new, loyal customer. Plus they schedule appointments! It was supposed to take an hour but took a bit longer. Anyway...Steve the mechanic is from Quebec and after high school decided to travel in the states. He ended up meeting some girls from Arkansas, attending some college sporting events which he loved and his friends convinced him to apply to college. He did, and his parents didn’t know until his acceptance letter arrived. He attended University of Arkansas on full scholarship and studied engineering. We had an interesting chat about college kids in the US. In Canada they can drink at 18 – years ago it was 17. So for him it was no big deal. He noted the enormous amount of binge drinking and in his case he was in the Bible Belt and it was very hidden – and common there. He couldn’t understand what the big deal was about drinking because after all he had been having a few drinks with his parents since he was 17. Coming from Canada, where they have good beer, he couldn't understand what the fuss was about with watered down American beer. He also thought it was strange that these kids somehow had shotguns in their dorm rooms and yet they couldn’t have beer? Obviously the two don’t mix and that wasn’t his point. His point was that the rules on having guns seemed more lenient than alcohol and for a Canadian – that’s odd. Guns aren’t real popular here. Incidentally most movies we’ve noticed are Rated G (even if they may be PG-13 in the states) unless they have anything to do with guns and violence. Something like Wedding Crashers would be G even though there was a gun scene because it was based on comedy, not an act of violence.

Another “slow down” moment. Last weekend I had to travel to Tucson to meet my brothers and go through our Dad’s belongings. My flight went through Atlanta and I was looking forward to a four-hour peaceful, nighttime flight from Atlanta to Tucson. I really wanted to finish my book and mind my own business. But, I had the opportunity to sit next to Li Lin, a 20-something year old college grad from China. He was in the states working for Caterpillar and traveling with the executives for two weeks – Tucson and Los Angeles being the last stops. He was very excited to sit for the four hours and practice his English. I was patient, because after all, we are living with another language and I know how necessary it is to practice. He asked great questions about the US – how my family has been affected by the financial crisis, how much we spend on a car, the wage of a writer, if I like Chinese food, what books I read, etc. I’m telling you – we covered a lot of ground. He wanted to read the first few pages of my book (Twilight – dumb book in my opinion) wanting to know more about the author (she’s lucky I told him). I learned a lot about China from this young executive. I learned that only wealthy people in China have cars because they are so expensive and that he is amazed that most families in the US have two or more cars. I learned that he had to read most of the same literature books I had read in school, if not more. The Chinese really love American TV and at the same time the government is afraid the kids are losing their native culture because of the American influences. Let’s just say it was a four-hour conversation and it was a real test of the new Slow Down mantra, but it was worth it. What I did find funny was he was telling me that he wanted to shop in the US and bring American things home but “they are all made in China.”

I have since received an email from Li Lin and he wanted to know if we had a blog! He loved Tucson and the open spaces – something he is not used to in China.

The message for us has been to slow down. People here like to chat and learn about others. Whether it’s the cable installation guy who drove and got our pizza for lunch and ate with us, or the refrigerator repairman who was at the house for over two hours talking about government, hockey, you name it. The fridge was under warranty and we were not paying for the time by the way. When the electrician comes to fix some wiring and is paid by the hour, I'm not saying a word. 

While it’s sometimes frustrating that things take a long time – like three weeks for the chimney sweep service to arrive – we’re thinking it’s because they don’t rush. It’s very 9-5 (or 10-4 at the bank) and sometimes that’s not too bad. Unless you are in a hurry. 

December 10, 2008

Political trail

It’s official. The states we live in are linked to corrupt politicians. While in Louisiana we endured David Duke and Edwin Edwards, and obviously the legacy of Huey Long. Now, the news in Illinois has made the front pages of the Montreal newspapers. We were only in Kansas for two years and we were sleep deprived -- we don't recall if there was anything interesting going on there.

We’re still learning about Canadian politics. Trust us, some of the parliament meetings in Ottawa may be confused for a
Saturday Night Live skit or the Bears and the Vikings sharing a locker room. Lots of drama and they really do yell  -- like Mike Ditka could yell on the sidelines. What’s different in Canada is that there are dozens of registered parties – although the Liberal and Conservative groups seem to steal a lot of the spotlight. Elections can be called whenever they seem to want a change of voting power and the government can just be shut down if the Prime Minister wants. For a sampling of the different parties, visit

As with everything in Canada, Quebec is different -- including politics.  There’s a group called Parti Quebecois and they ended up with 51 seats of the 125-seat legislature on Monday – the second election in Canada since October when we arrived. It was an impressive election for PQ and the party seems to be gathering steam again. The PQ platform is that they want to push forward with their sovereignty project – basically they want to separate from the rest of Canada in order to preserve their French language and become a country of their own, free from the English speaking federal government and the rest of Canada. They oppose the current government and want to attain independent statehood. Where we live, a part of Montreal called the “West Island,” English is very prominent, although everything by law has to be in English and French. If the PQ get their way, everything would be run in French. Thanks to Rosetta Stone and a long commute, Paul is picking up the language, Danielle is learning in school and Kish is signed up for a class in January. Louis gets annoyed, although he is picking up words here and there and knows more than he lets on. However, we’re finding out that Quebec French is still different from France French. As long as we can communicate with the cable guy, refrigerator repairman and the bakery, we’ll be fine.

And yet another political issue, as mentioned in a previous entry, snow tires are mandatory in Quebec after December 15. We received a significant amount of snow and ice yesterday and driving was hazardous and the plows were few and far between. We’ve decided the snow tire law buys the government more time before they send out the trucks – even on the interstate. We’re assuming it has nothing to do with corrupt politicians.

December 1, 2008

Canada Coincidences

It’s ironic that we live in Canada because we have always had positive vibes about this country and the people. While we’ve had a few logistical challenges since moving here, most of the people we have met have been more than helpful.

As a kid, Kish traveled to the northwest part of Canada and always enjoyed it for the scenery and the “pretty money.” We honeymooned in Calgary/Lake Louise starting New Year’s Eve/Day in January 1991. A few years later we took a memorable trip to Alaska via Vancouver. A year or so after moving to Kansas City in 1996, we met a wonderful family from Montreal – the Lobo/Maheu family. In essence, we’ve switched places. They are the Canadians in the US and we are now the Americans in Canada. We spent a lot of time with Neile and Suzanne talking about politics, culture and school. Neile and Suzanne have a beautiful daughter Caroline – who was in kindergarten when we met her and is now in high school – with special needs. This was the first time as parents we were around a child with special needs and we watched with admiration everything that Neile and Suzanne did on a daily basis to advocate and plan for their daughter. Little did we know that we would find ourselves in similar shoes a year later.

Then we get to Naperville and have Canadian neighbors, The Moore’s, who have since moved back to Canada. A few years later we met Tim and Brooke Karbonik -- Tim is from Canada and spent several years of his childhood in Montreal. And as it turns out, a childhood friend of Tim’s has a niece who attends Danielle’s school in the same grade. What a small world as there are only 40 girls in the 9th grade. Coincidence?

So here we are in Montreal. Our kids have common French names and we continue to scratch our heads at the coincidences we think of from time to time. Oh -- and of course – we can’t forget the fact that Duke is a Canadian Field Labrador.

Another strange occurance – on Thanksgiving Day I wanted to make an apple and the best pie ever is one Suzanne shared with me while in Kansas City. I had to email her on Thanksgiving because I could not find one of the several copies I have gathered throughout the years. Later Thanksgiving night, long after we enjoyed the pie, I was unpacking a box, and the original handwritten copy from Suzanne fell out of a non-cookbook book. Coincidence? (I’m thrilled to have the recipe in Suzanne’s handwriting – with computers and Google searches I feel like we don’t have handwritten recipes any more).

We always find it a coincidence that this symbolic American pie comes from our Canadian friend. We made it for Thanksgiving and Suzanne gave us the permission to share this recipe. Really, it’s amazing and worth a try….

Suzanne’s “All-American” Apple Pie
7 apples (tart apples work best)
3 tbs sugar
3 tbs brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbs cornstarch, sifted
1 tbs lemon rind
1 tbs lemon juice
1 tbs butter
1 beaten egg

Peel and core the apples. Slice them but leave them chunky. Add the sugars, cinnamon, sifted cornstarch, lemon rind and lemon juice. Mix and put in a crust. Dot the butter on the top of the apples and add the second pastry. Brush egg on top and make slices so the steam can vent. Cook at 400 for 40-45 minutes. Check often after 30 minutes.

Bon appetite!

P.S. We think the pie is even better the next day, if it lasts that long.

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