January 28, 2009

Snow job

Montreal has a new Snow Czar. Really...that's his job. The previous Czar was the brother of the mayor and he wasn't working out. First, he issues a press release high-fiving his department because 48 hours after a major storm this past December, they were 35% complete clearing the street. Uhhh....35% complete? Not a good enough figure to send out a press release. Then, when residents and businesses were complaining about the enormous amount of snow and ice on the sidewalks, he suggested everyone get some Crampons. What the?

Crampons are rubber or metal clamps that mountaineers use to scale icy surfaces, like Mount Rainier, Mount McKinley or Mount Everest, not the streets of Montreal. Kish had a pair of Yaktrax -- sort of an amateur version of a Crampon -- and while they worked quite well, they have since fallen off and are lost somewhere in the playground of Louis' school, only to be discovered when the snow melts and the playground becomes a quagmire.

But back to this Montreal debate...the old Snow Czar actually suggested this option in a press conference. He said that the city cannot guarantee safe ice-free sidewalks.

"Why not buy some?" Tremblay is quoted as saying. "I would love to have perfectly clear sidewalks, that's for sure. But with environmental change, it won't be that way. Better to spend $12 on a pair of Crampons than end up with a broken hip." (They are actually more like $24,99 Canadian and don't forget over 13% sales tax).

Blaming global warming and the environment, again. The economy is next.

Can you imagine Mayor Daley in Chicago suggesting that people schlepping through the covered sidewalks in Chicago just go buy Crampons? Well, possibly, he did call Rod Blagojevich "cuckoo." But, there's no way Chicagoans would tolerate the sidewalks here. That said, the fundamental difference is that if someone falls and breaks a hip in front of a store, it's not like they can sue because their medical bills are covered by medicare and the government. So on one hand (or foot) it's a less litigious society. But on the other hand (foot) it's still a mess. The new Snow Czar Dude is getting to the bottom of it. The old Czar has a new position handling something with cultural affairs. Perhaps he'll organize a snow sculpture exhibit.

January 27, 2009

A walk in the (dog) park

Canadians are out in the elements, despite the weather. It's hard to believe we would ever consider 10 degrees (F, not C) a nice day. We must be getting used to it. Today happened to be a sunny, but cold day and the dog park was buzzing -- and so was Duke. Although he runs, he doesn't walk. And he's on steroids for his allergies so he has extra energy, if that's possible. 

January 24, 2009

A Canadian's perspective...

Here's an interesting commentary from today's Montreal Gazette -- a newspaper we really enjoy. The writer is from Montreal, and as mentioned in previous posts, Quebec is quite different from the rest of Canada -- with plenty of political problems of its own.

What Obama needs next: a brief guide to our home and native land
JANUARY 24, 2009

Dear President Obama:
I know you're not really my president - but a guy can dream, can't he?
Watching your inauguration was an inspiring experience - and not just because you became the first black president. You also seem to be a perfect president: an eloquent speaker, a natural statesman and a super-smart, compassionate guy - not to mention a graceful dancer and an Internet geek with abs of steel.
Billions of us are counting on you to take us Barack to the future - and you've already started. You shut down Guantanamo prison in one day and used the word "peace" several times in your inaugural speech, unlike the president before you who thought peace was for sissies. When his helicopter flew away into the distance, the whole world breathed a sign of relief.
Now that your inauguration is over, Mr. Obama, it's time to look ahead at your next important event: your first foreign visit abroad - to Canada! This is to take place within weeks, so here is a brief introductory guide to my home and native land.

CLIMATE: Like most Americans you probably don't know much about Canada except that this is where the cold air comes from in U.S. weather forecasts. In fact, during your Canadian visit we will take you on a tour of our arctic air factory, to show you how we make the cold weather and then ship it south.
Each batch is shipped separately and labelled for different northern states, in packages that say: "Minnesota: 11 inches of snow at -21." Or "New York: Combo pack of sleet, hail and freezing drizzle, plus wind chill." On Inauguration Day, Washington reporters were whining about the "cold winter weather" - but that was just a Canadian shipment labelled "cool fall day."

HISTORY: Canada has been described in many colourful terms, from Voltaire's famous "a few acres of snow" to Joey Smallwood's "a large island just off Newfoundland." The Michelin Guide to Canada long described us as a "vast and empty wilderness," populated by "bugs, bears and poison ivy."
The U.S. and Canada have generally got along well, apart from the War of 1812, when your country tried to seize Montreal - but then decided it didn't want it because it couldn't afford the snow removal bill. President Bush didn't like Canada much, either, because he confused us with France, and resented our French attitudes, french fries and French Prime Minister, Stéphane Harper.
But of course, we are not French - we are British. We are a former colony of England that still has the British queen on our money, and is ruled by the queen's representative, Governor-General Michaëlle Jean - who is, uh, French. But by the way, she dances even better than you, Mr. Obama.

GOVERNMENT: Unlike the U.S. we have a PM, not a president. We don't have a public inauguration, because we can't afford it, given how often we change governments. If we did have fancy inaugurations, the opposition parties would all demand equal time to inaugurate their leaders - and by the time all the ceremonies were over, the government would fall and it would be time for another inauguration. Then again, when we do change governments we change quickly.
It takes us 10 days to swear in a new leader, while the U.S. took over 10 weeks - enough time for Dick Cheney to carry so many boxes of documents to the shredder he wound up in a wheelchair.
Our current PM, Stephen Harper, is the anti-Obama, Mr. Obama. While you're comfortable in your skin, he seems ready to jump out of his; while you dance comfortably with your wife in public, he may never have danced with his.
Perhaps you can give him some dance lessons while you're here, along with some smiling lessons, oratory lessons, charm lessons, fashion lessons, strategy lessons, humility lessons and weight-loss tips. You might get along better with opposition leader Michael Ignatieff, a Harvard grad like you who also writes books and spent much of his life outside his country.

NATIONAL TRAITS: Canadians have many big differences from Americans. We embrace hockey, not basketball. We throw more snowballs than baseballs. We bike, boat, swim, canoe and water-ski - but we do not waterboard. We speak differently, too. We say "eh" instead of "huh," Iraq, not Eye-raq, and we rarely say "God bless" anything, unless someone has sneezed.
Anyway, I hope these tips help you appreciate your visit, Mr. Obama. Don't forget to wear long underwear and bring some Canadian dollars, as well as lots of U.S. change. We need it.


© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

January 22, 2009

Are you in?

The video referenced in yesterday's  blog entry has been found on YouTube this morning. It's the long version, and at the end references the Starbucks Are you In? campaign. Speaking of Starbucks...they are available in our area, however, the famous green sign is not in every grocery store or corner of a strip mall. While Kish and her friend Jackie had their own economic stimulus plan in south Naperville by keeping area coffee houses in business with a two latte/day habit, Kish is finding it easier on the pocket book in Canada. That's about the only thing that's easier on the pocket book. We are finding after being here that things in the states are TOO convenient...drive-thru banks, pharmacies, restaurants, and of course coffee every half mile. Not so here. There is one drive-thru Starbucks but it's about ten minutes away...and well....think of the gas at .97/litre. The best coffee is in the village of Pointe-Claire, also about ten minutes away. But no drive thru. So unless it's a desperate time in need of a desperate measure, like caffeine, it might be frequented by this Pisani once a week, if that. Besides, there's something in the coffee capable of keeping a person awake for a week, so again, it's only used in desperate times. And a large latte is 3.60$ Canadian. 

Enjoy the video...sorry, I have not figured out how to dump it right into the blog -- so here's the link....


January 21, 2009

A brand new day....

Like most of the world, we were watching or listening to the historic festivities of Inaguration Day. It's hard to express in words the enthusiasm in Canada. 

Danielle's school paused yesterday to watch the swearing in, unfortunately she was at the Montreal Car show for a math project (more about that in a later post). Louis came home very excited because they got to listen to the speech on the radio. Then, after he told us what some of his Canadian classmates said about John McCain, we explained that the election is way over. For our Republican friends and family, don't worry, we also explained that it's still important to respect McCain and he can't listen to everything his new Canadian friends say. If we're not careful he's going to become a Toronto Bluejays fan. He couldn't wait until Danielle got home so we could watch the speech and have apple pie. This is when this photo of the kids was taken -- thanks to DVR (called PVR in Canada). The fact that President Obama is a White Sox fan is very impressive to Louis. And Louis swears he saw a "White Sox" guy in the crowd. The tapes are still under review.

Regardless of political opinions, there's no doubt the country and the world is jazzed. Particualrly, it's so wonderful to see so many young people excited about politics again. 

We'll keep "reporting" from Canada. Today at the dog park the people Kish talked to were very excited. They too found themselves surprised that they were glued to the TV. I asked if they were this excited about their own Prime Minister and one man said "nope....we're watching what you guys are doing -- we just follow you." 

Kish thought the poem by Elizabeth Alexendar was exceptional. How many of these phrases do you hear each day out loud or in your head? Today as Kish ended up with a blown out tire, this poem was on her mind...with some additional colorful language.

Here's the poem....

Praise song for the day.
Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, 
catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. 
All about us is noise. 
All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, 
each one of our ancestors on our tongues. 
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, 
patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair 
of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, 
boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; 
A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, 
whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone
and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; 
I know there's something better down the road."

We need to find a place where we are safe; 
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. 
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, 
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, 
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick 
the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. 
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; 
The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."

Others by first do no harm, 
or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, 
filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. 
Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, 
anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

On another note...did anyone see that Starbucks ad last night, the "I'm in" campaign? It was an amazing commerical. It doesn't seem to be on YouTube yet, if anyone sees it, let us know. 

January 20, 2009

History in the making...in Canada too

We have friends and family on both sides of the political fence. We also have a bipartisan house. However, no one can doubt the phenomenal spirit in the air today. When we found out about our move to Canada this past summer, we knew it would be interesting to be on this side of the border during the last weeks of the campaign, the election itself and of course as the new President took over. The inauguration is all over the Canadian news today. Danielle’s school will pause to watch the swearing in ceremony. This is an historic day for most Canadians and they are excited about the change. The Canadian Embassy in Washington has one of the best views of the parade. In true Canadian spirit, they are having a tailgate party outside, complete with Beaver Tail on the menu. It’s safe to say they will have Molson available as well.

You may have heard that Canada will be Obama’s first foreign trip. It’s strange to think that Canada is “foreign” but it is. Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada said recently that it is a “wonderful gesture” that Obama chose Canada. In Ottawa (Canada’s Washington, D.C.), they see this new presidency as a sign of re-establishing the strong Canadian-American relations, which Canada has had for many decades. We have yet to meet a Canadian who liked George Bush as you can imagine. While the primary writer of this blog (Kish) is not a W fan, she will say that President Bush has shown great class during these last few weeks. Hopefully he will have a better time as a private citizen.

A new report was recently published by Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs urging Canada and Harper’s administration to become a “credible contributor” and not an “annoying diversion” in Obama’s new administration. I think we can say from here that we can look for increased cooperation between the two countries. Canada needs the U.S. and the U.S. needs Canada. However, most everyone admits that there will be challenges ahead. We pay taxes in both countries so of course we have a vested interest.

Being Americans in Canada has been interesting so far. Danielle has shared comments on what she has heard – much criticism from the younger generation about the U.S. “But I don’t understand why they vacation in Florida and go shopping in the U.S.,” she has said. There was something in the paper the other day about how Canadians are hockey players and Americans play hockey. Maybe that’s why not everyone likes our Blackhawks flag. All joking aside, most everyone we’ve encountered has been very welcoming to this American family in Canada. Hopefully the two countries will experience an easing of “us and them” with this historic change. We’ll be recording the event on Canadian Broadcasting (for the Canadian perspective even though we get U.S. TV) and having U.S. Senate Bean soup for dinner.

January 19, 2009

We're medicare(d) for

We’re officially part of the socialized medical system as of January 1. It took a couple of months to process the paperwork, like everything in Quebec. With all the talk about a need of a socialized medical system in the U.S., we figure we’ll be living it for the next few years and will be able to report on what works and what doesn’t from our perspective.

What we know up until now is that it is okay. That said, fortunately we have not had to use it for anything big -- just a trip to the medical clinic and a couple of prescriptions. It
seems much like the Medicare* system in the US. If people can afford it, they have supplemental insurance like what Paul’s company supplies (and deducts from his paycheck) for us. As with Medicare in the U.S., there are things covered and things not covered. For example, there is a medicine for Louis not covered and we have to contact the doctor and have them write a letter about why the medicine is necessary. The “book” of covered medicines is updated three times a year. Since the government system won't pay, we simply submit the receipt to the private insurance and get reimbursed for it. Like in the U.S., unfortunately, we do have some insurance paperwork.  So far though, not as much. There's no keeping track of deductables, co-pays, etc.

It’s still a two-tiered system in Canada, despite what is often portrayed. Each province has different components to its system. In Quebec, they don’t want to be known as having a two-tiered system (Quebec tends to be much more liberal than the rest of Canada on many, many issues). If someone plans on only using medicare, they have to find a doctor to take them on as a patient or go to a free clinic. Doctors can only accept a certain number of medicare patients at a time. If you have to go to the clinic, yes you may wait four hours or more to see a doctor. However, EVERYONE in Quebec is required to have a medicare card and therefore everyone has coverage. Our neighbor showed me a receipt for medicine for her father that would cost over $1,200 and they had to pay $8. Danielle can get the Gardasil vaccine at school for free, when it in the US it would cost us $200. Keep in mind, while people say the system in Canada is “free” – it really is not. Taxes are very high here. Over 70% of the medical expenditures come from public sources – the rest is private and out of pocket, including elective procedures like cosmetic surgery. But, every person is covered; no one is turned away at a clinic or emergency room. Kish sat next to a doctor on a flight to Montreal who told her that in Canada if someone is really sick, say with cancer, the last thing the patient needs to worry about his how to pay for it. It would be interesting to see if there are studies on how the financial stress of an illness affects the healing process.

What has become common here is a “membership” to a private clinic or doctor. There’s a fee and once you join, it works much like a private doctor in the U.S. Unfortunately, Canada has a shortage of doctors because many do not make money here and are opting to go to the states. However, it’s important to note that doctors can be educated in Canada for about $3,000 a year – so they are not incurring the debt that US doctors often do. But many doctors here are turning to private clinics because they don't want to deal with the government.

Here's a bit of trivia -- did you know that the "Father" of the public health system in Canada, Tommy Douglas, is Kiefer Sutherland's grandfather? Douglas is his mom's father.

We’re finding that the medicare card is as important as a passport these days. Below is a link to an interesting article about some of the differences between the US and Canada. It’s from 2006 so it is likely dated by now. In general, most people we have spoken to are fine with the system. As with everything, there are critics. The Pisani’s aren’t very bashful about expressing opinions – so we’ll keep you posted.


*in checking with writing style...they refer to medicare in Canada with a lower-case "m" as opposed to the US where it's Medicare.

January 10, 2009

A winter nation

A browse through the cable tv guide on a cold Saturday afternoon and it's obvious we live in a "winter nation." There's plenty of alpine skiing, bobsledding and curling on television today -- something we were not used to in the states. (We just finished watching Marquette -- one great advantage of living out east is being able to get most of the Big East games). Back to winter sports -- did you know that no Canadian has ever won a gold medal on Canadian soil? They're obviously promoting the heck out of the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.

Good thing there's lots on the tube as Louis is sick today and Danielle is off in Toronto. She left yesterday by bus with her team for a water polo tournament in Toronto. (She wasn't too happy mom wanted to take pictures). It's a great opportunity for her to travel with the team, as most parents don't attend the far-away tournaments.  The girls and boys teams are traveling together -- although smart thinking -- they stay at different hotels.

Here's the link to TSN if you want to read up on the curling championships - 

January 8, 2009

Things not seen in Canada #1

To make sure we are fair and balanced, we will start posting "Things not seen in Canada (that we know of)." However, when we mention we are from Chicago, most Canadians have mentioned Obama and/or "that crazy governor." Actually, Canadians are quite up to speed on US news and especially politics. 
Thanks Linnea for sending this great image of the great state of Illinois!

January 6, 2009

Things not seen in the US #2

Here's our second "Things not seen in the US" photo. There's little explanation necessary except we assume they are referring to removing snow/rain boots. Still, the sign was enough to stop us in our Yaktrax* and have a good laugh. This photo was taken at the entrance of a medical clinic. 
 *www.yaktrax.com -- if you ever have to walk in snow and ice these things are amazing.

January 5, 2009

Dog diversion

Danielle and Kish learned a great lesson today. When in doubt, bring a dog to a border crossing. Does this dog look like trouble? With a brief, yet important drive to Plattsburgh, New York today, we decided to take Duke along for the ride. He would rather sit in the car in a parking lot instead of staying home alone anyway. After today, we determined it was a brilliant move. While we admit we brought a few purchased items across the border without declaring them, having Duke in the car as the back window was unrolled at the customs stop was a great diversion. The barking, tail wagging and desire to be noticed by the customs agent made it difficult to communicate. After the routine questions about our visas, the nice dog-loving customs agent must have decided we weren't worth the time. Besides, there were some college boys with New Jersey plates in front of us who must have had more interesting passports. They had their car searched. We were waved right through.

See, we can't purchase anything without paying duties and taxes if we're not in the US long enough. For a day trip we can't bring home anything (legally), for a 24 hour trip we have a $50 exemption, a 48-hour trip a $400 exemption and so on. But hey, a trip to Target adds up. The Canadian government would love to tax us on the Aleve, DS game, Swifter thingys (is that a word?) and other non-essential items we purchased to avoid 14% sales tax and higher prices, but we don't declare those things out of principal. Our principal is, we won't be living here long enough to reap the benefits and we are already paying astonishing income taxes -- not to mention additional tax on a $32 case of beer. Looks like Duke will have more frequent car rides to New York.

January 4, 2009

Just another day in Canada....

Today was one of those days when we were reminded about how different our life is in Canada. Kish just returned from a day of skiing with Louis in the Eastern Townships – about two hours away. The drive home was beautiful while crossing the Champlain Bridge with the skyline of Montreal lit up like a Christmas tree against the water – it truly is a beautiful city. Not huge like Chicago, slightly understated, yet still stately. Then, driving into the neighborhood kids were playing hockey in the lighted outdoor rink two blocks from our house.

Earlier in the day, Kish and Louis were up and out of the house by 9:30 to head out to Owls Head, a ski area where Louis will start a Special Olympics program next week. We wanted to get familiar with the area and get Louis’ season pass. Paul and Danielle were staying home because Danielle had water polo practice later in the afternoon, and it’s an important practice as her team is preparing for a tournament in Toronto next weekend.

After Kish and Louis left the house, Paul and Danielle were offered fantastic tickets to the Montreal Canadians game this afternoon from a neighbor – always a tough ticket to get -- and especially great tickets. Of course they went to the game. It was a good thing Kish and Louis were already gone, or it would have been a Pisani face off to determine who would go to the game. They had a great time and got to see a shoot out to determine the winner – and it was the Canadians (or Habs) as the locals call them.

The ski day for Kish and Louis was great. Louis was up on skis and IN CONTROL. In the scheme of skiing this is huge – sort of like watching your kids swing or swim for the first time on their own. Later in the afternoon there was a meeting for Special Olympics. We’ve participated in Special Olympics programs in Naperville and were able to get absorbed, with anonymity, into an existing, nicely funded program. This program at the Owls Head is grass roots, and Louis rounds out the roster with eight athletes. Before I knew it, I was adjusting our spring break travel schedule to accommodate a Special Olympics ski racing competition in March. Huh? We’ll be spending the next eight Sundays at Owls Head helping out the program while Louis has one-on-one lessons and practices racing. Chances are you have heard of Special Olympics. If you have a chance EXPERIENCE them – do! The programs, athletes and volunteers are amazing.

It was a nice Canadian day for the Pisani Family. Louis is back in school tomorrow. Danielle has another day off so we are heading to Plattsburgh, New York (1:20 away)  to go to Target – something we miss up here! We have some returns to make and shopping to do. While we love Canada, we are irritated by the sales tax and higher prices so we opt to cross the border to shop from time to time. Hopefully no one from Canadian customs is reading this blog.

January 1, 2009

Bonne annee!

Happy New Year to our friends and family everywhere! It's an ideal January 1 in the Pisani home. We're watching the Blackhawks game on TV, Marquette basketball is up next followed by the Rose Bowl and USC which happens to be Louis' favorite team for reasons unknown. And we found a pizza place open in New Year's Day. 

It was a crazy 2008 for the Pisani family and at times we felt like a hockey puck in action. We're hoping this year we'll be more like a curling stone in action.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...