April 29, 2009

Bonjour Madame

Nothing says “Welcome to the Hood” like waking up to several dozen Hydro Quebec men (our electric company), dressed in orange, taking over the back yard to replace the utility poles and overhead wiring – and shutting off the power for six hours. They were cutting down the tips of trees and taking down wires and uploading new poles and wiring…all in the matter of hours. After having lived in neighborhoods the past 15 years with underground wiring, much to the pleasure of Paul since that is his business, we’re in a 1970s suburb with overhead wiring, not to be confused with a giant jungle gym for every squirrel in the west island. That’s another blog posting, or a perfect hunting trip for Kish’s brothers who like to hunt using a bow and arrow. Even Duke can’t contain these yard rats. But back to the utility repairs. It was impressive. It probably seemed more impressive because these men were all yelling things in French and they kept calling me Madame. And they were extremely polite. I like being called Madame. 

Here's a photo of Duke just because we haven't posted one in a while. He was annoyed because Kish was on the other side of the invisible fence.

April 25, 2009

Flute for cleats

Danielle returned this week from a fantastic five day trip in Boston with the symphonic group from school. They performed in public concerts, including an assisted living facility for seniors and veterans. It just so happened that they were there on Patriot Day in Massachusetts and Danielle, as the only American in her symphonic group, was selected to say a special thank you to these remarkable veterans. The trip was complete with symphony performances, Blue Man Group, Shear Madness, museums and lots of teenage giggling we’re sure.

Danielle was home for two very quick nights, unloaded her fun clothes and reloaded with Rrugby gear. She’s off this weekend for a school tournament in Saint John, New Brunswick, in the eastern part of Canada. It’s a 10 hour bus ride from Montreal. Sending her off for a rugby tournament made us realize how different our life is from one year ago.

April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day

Our most-frequented grocery store will start charging for plastic bags. It's really a good thing. It's not at all uncommon to see shoppers walking into the store with an arm full of special, reusable shopping bags. Some shoppers even look like they are sporting duffel bags. If there's an occasion when a shopper forgets the bag, it's easy to see the annoyance in the checker's eyes. Makes one want to go undercover at the grocery store.

We've grown used to keeping these reusable bags in the car. Every once in a while we "forget" because of course we're running low on dog poop bags.

From the CBC news this morning...

Charging for plastic bags cuts usage sharply, national grocery retailer Loblaw Cos. Ltd. said Thursday in announcing the national rollout of a five-cent-a-bag fee, starting April 22. Company research "revealed that a charge-for-bag strategy is the key driver behind significantly reducing plastic shopping bag use," Loblaw said in a news release.
About four in five Canadians support the idea, the company said, citing a March 2009 poll.

Company stores which have been charging a fee distribute almost 55 per cent fewer bags per $1,000 worth of sales, compared with stores that are not charging. Providing a rebate to shoppers who brought reusable bags was much less effective, resulting in drop of just four per cent in plastic bag use, the company said.

The pilot program in Toronto reinforces the fee approach, Loblaw said. On Jan. 12, participating stores began charging a nickel for each bag. That resulted in about 75 per cent fewer plastic shopping bags distributed per $1,000 sales in those stores," the company said.

The company is using the slogan "Bring it" to promote its push for fewer plastic bags and more reusable containers. Its target is to divert one billion plastic bags from going into the garbage by the end of the year. Loblaw is also selling various reusable containers, from purse-sized bags to a shopping bag on wheels that folds into a pouch.

The company is giving part of the money made from plastic bag sales in its corporate stores to support WWF-Canada conservation programs, the release said. "The remainder of the proceeds will be used to cover the cost of the Loblaw plastic shopping bag reduction program and invested back in the business."
Loblaw has 1,000 corporate and franchised stores in Canada.

April 20, 2009

Should curling be in HD?

As winter sports come to a very,very slow close (seems like the Stanley Cup playoffs last for months), we had to close with this clip. Canadians know how to laugh at themselves. There's a great show on CBC called This Hour has 22 Minutes. Sort of like a Canadian version of SNL but much funnier. It's been one of the best sources for us to learn about Canadian politics, what they think of the U.S. and of course sports and recreation. 

About this curling clip...we've had the opportunity to watch A LOT of curling on TV. We're talking a lot. If you're wondering if they really yell at the "rocks" like that -- they do.

Click here http://www.cbc.ca/22minutes/ for more on the show

April 18, 2009

College in Canada...

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

As you can see from this news clip, many Americans are looking to Canada for college. As we've mentioned in many, many posts...taxes are high in Canada. That said, we're also seeing some of the benefits. What the? That's if we stay in this country long enough to take advantage of some of them.

As far as school goes, each Province is different. But this is basically how it works in Quebec. Kids go from kindergarten to grade 6 in an elementary school. That school is French or English, depending on the eligibility. In order to go to an English school, one of the parents has to have been educated in an English school in Quebec. Or, they have a work visa like us. Otherwise, they have to go to a French school -- or an expensive private school that does not take government funding. Even is someone immigrates to Canada from the U.S. (without a temporary resident status like us) then they have to go to French school. However, even the English school are considered bilingual. For example, 50% of Louis' day is in French. Danielle has two classes in French and they are expected to master the language no later than grade 11.

High School covers grades 7-11. After grade 11 kids have the option to to to CEGEP for two years, which is like a community college and they get the basic courses done. It's a win-win if you think of it. If a kid just doesn't want anything more to do with school, they get out after grade 11 and the government is not investing the time or money. Most CEGEPs are free, although there are some private ones. Then they start applying for "University" which is three years. This is where McGill, University of Montreal, Concordia, University of British Columbia, etc. some in the picture. And get this -- tuition at a school like McGill, which many compare to the level of any Ivy League school -- costs Canadians around $3,000 a year. An American coming into McGill would pay about $20K for McGill as this report suggests. Imagine thinking that $20K is a bargain these days. But it's looking like it is.

Danielle is still in Boston this weekend and had the chance to look at Harvard and thought it was "cool." Hopefully not that cool. 

Things not seen in the U.S. #5

Or should I add….yet? I’ve been wanting to post this for a while and all of a sudden, it’s timely. When we first moved to Montreal, we were surprised with all the billboards promoting tourism to Cuba. Canadians can go to Cuba after all. In fact, Canada sends the largest contingent of tourists to Cuba each year with 666,000 visitors in 2007. Since we arrived, we’ve been trying to plot how we too could go. We tend to be attracted to off-the-beaten-path type of places so why not? Then we heard our U.S. passport could have a chip in it so the government could detect if we are in Cuba. Our luck, Homeland Security would have our as&es. So we were shelving the idea, for awhile, until the news of the week came out. Seems like it could be in the near future? Although, we’ve also been told that Americans go to Cuba often, and the Cuban immigration people just don’t stamp the passport. Hummmm. We don't always follow the rules anyway.

A couple of years ago I was on a cruise and we spent an entire day sailing by Cuba. I was fascinated. In the U.S. of course we learned of the Cuban Missile crisis, evil Castro, Communism, Hemingway in Cuba, Cubans risking their lives to leave the island and more. But we didn’t learn of it’s beautiful landscape, the culture (unless through literature) or the fact that there are five airports on the island – really five! We’ve all seen Cuba on the map, but until you go by it, it’s hard to comprehend how large it really is.  Now in Montreal when we get to hear how beautiful the island is from people who have actually gotten to go. And they bring home Cuban Rum. I’m not even a rum fan, but this stuff is gooooood. And Americans are love Cuban cigars too. Did you know the fine is HUGE if you get caught? Kind of silly when you think about it. It's a cigar. In Canada, no big deal.

So, hopefully everyone can take a page out of the playground playbook and get along – build castles in all that sand, drink good rum, have a cigar, eat black beans, bring soap for the Cuban people (who have a hard time getting it) and have fun. All this while keeping McDonald's, Starbucks, Bank of America, Dunkin’ Donuts (Tom Hortons is fine), Best Buy and Wal-Mart off the island. Viva Cuba.

A good book about life in Cuba – Cuba Diaries – An American Housewife in Cuba by Isadora Tattlin. Her life is not like the Cubans, but learns the good and bad details from the Cubans she employs at her home. I learned a lot about what Cubans go through on a daily basis. And I learned that they don’t dislike Americans – just the government. Tattlin is her pen name since we’re not supposed to know her identity.

April 17, 2009

Boston bound....

The Montreal Canadiens hockey team will be playing in Boston this Saturday, the Boston Marathon is this Monday, and 40 girls from Miss Edgar’s and Miss Cramps Girls School in Montreal (Home of the Beavers) are going to be in town for the next five days. Danielle left with her school this morning for Bean Town where the symphonic group will perform in addition to taking in the sights, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Blue Man group, Salem and great museums. It sounds like an awesome trip. Danielle just called from the bus to say that they had to give the chaperon the serial numbers of their instruments and MacBooks because the Canadian Border officials may ask for them on the way back into the country. The reason being (of course) that they want to make sure these items are not purchased in the U.S., which amounts to a lot of Canadian tax dollars lost. Too late. We got Danielle’s MacBook in Chicago before we moved.

April 16, 2009

Canadians honour their soldiers...

Canadians have a reputation for being peaceful people. Fact is, they hate war. Good or bad, they don't like to get involved. At the same time, no one should underestimate the Canadian military. Recently a silly Fox News show blasted Canada for wanting to take a "break" from the war in Afghanistan to regroup. When John Lennon was banned from the U.S. he came to Montreal to have his Bed-In and recorded "Give Peace a Chance." It's been 40 years since that week-long event. We went to an exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Art on Easter Sunday celebrating the anniversary of the Bed-In. I was actually in the middle of writing about the museum while watching the Canadiens/Bruins playoff game when I changed direction....

This week a 21-year-old female soldier from Quebec was killed by a roadside bomb. She was the second female soldier to die over there. Tonight during the Canadiens/Bruins game, CTV honored young Karine Blais during the intermission. Sure, the ratio of soldiers from the U.S. killed in both wars is greater, but each one deserves the respect they have earned. In Canada, there's press coverage for days. It's almost as if you know them personally.

A friend from Naperville sent this power point/video this morning. Timely. You can view it at the link below. I've seen it before, but it means something different now that we are in Canada. Whenever a soldier dies, flags fly at half-mast, we see photos of the flag draped coffin and each and every soldier is honored with press coverage.


April 13, 2009

Old friends....

Our dear friend Suzanne visited us today from Kansas City. I made a huge mistake in not getting a photo of and I’ve been kicking myself all day. A few moments ago I decided it was because the visit with Suzanne was as if she had just stopped by the house for an average neighborly lunch. It was as if years had not passed since we saw each other. That’s what I call an old friend – not that we’re old or anything – because we’re not. But with old friends you just pick up where you left off. When you’ve moved around a fair amount like we have, you leave people behind, which is always hard. We’re finding that good friendships always pass the test of time and distance. And this friendship has done just that.

We met Suzanne and Neale when we lived in Overland Park/Kansas City from 1996-1998. This nice couple and their two kids looked like a family of deer in headlights on a Kansas back road as they had just relocated to conservative Kansas from…Montreal.

Over the course of several meals, and several bottles of wine when I wasn't pregnant with Louis and before Suzanne got pregnant with her future American, I learned a lot about life in Canada, and in particular Quebec. Having been raised in a pro-NRA household, and very Republican at that, I learned about conservative issues from a Canadian point of view. I learned about socialized medicine, taxes, Quebec and the French language and more. I learned that women in Quebec don’t change their names when they get married like they do in the U.S. Now I’m one of them and am often confused when I’m called Madam
Schmitz. We have always loved Canada, and Canadians, and little did we know that we would be living in Canada ten years later after meeting Suzanne and Neale.

We have another connection with this Montreal-now Kansas City family. Suzanne and Neale’s oldest daughter has special needs. I watched them in amazement as they dealt with the day-to-day issues of raising this special child…the first days of school, school politics, making friends, doctors and testing, communication and more. I learned about autism,
PDD, NOS, IEP, MR, ASL, ESY, OT, PT, SLP, ABA and other acronyms any parent of a special needs child has heard on a daily basis. Suzanne knew she could always stop by our house and she didn’t need to be on guard. Little did I know that I would be going through many of the same things a year later after Louis was born.

When we found out about the Montreal job opportunity, Suzanne was one of the first people I contacted. What would she do? She had a child with special needs, why did she leave Canada? Are we crazy?

Suzanne was very honest and told me that it would be unlikely to find the same services we had in the U.S. school system. She was also very honest about the medical system and told me to be prepared for some red tape. But she also said it would be a good opportunity for the whole family. I appreciated her honesty and I think of her daily when I get through small things like trying to call the cable company AGAIN to ask them to please send the bills in English not French. Twice, after these neurotic calls with Bell Canada when the polite customer service person has assured me it’s taken care of, my email confirmation has arrived – in FRENCH. While she was here I had her translate an important document too. That was handy. Today she also shared with me some of the hurdles they went through when they moved to the U.S. Simple things that ten years ago probably didn't seem like big things to me. But today it makes so much sense! I was beginning to think Canada was full of paperwork for new residents -- and I was somewhat relieved to hear that it can be just as difficult to move the other way. 

At our lunch today one of the first things she told us is that if anyone was crazy enough to take this assignment, it was us. Some days I know she’s right. We are crazy. Moving to Montreal is not like moving just “to Canada.” Montreal, and Quebec, is very different from the rest of the country. It’s hard to explain in a blog entry – it just is. It was so nice to have Suzanne here, face to face, to confirm that once again. I also realized how wonderful Danielle’s education is here. It was so cool to listen to Danielle talk with Suzanne about the history of Quebec, the education system, the French people and its changes and more. She has learned so much in the six months we have been here.

This evening Paul said "it's really amazing when you think about how our paths have crossed." We're in their country and they are in ours. Although, the Lobo-Maheu family now has dual citizenship, U.S. passports and were more excited than anyone I know to vote in the last election as new citizens. 

So thanks for stopping by
mon ami. Notre porte est toujours ouverte.

Thank God for Google Translate. 

April 11, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like spring...

No, thankfully this is not our dog...but it could be. Thanks to John Schmitz (Kish's brother) for sending this hilarious Easter greeting. 

The nice spring weather (we're in the 40s F here)  is proving to test the reliability of Invisible Fence for our dog Duke. In the winter he was smart enough to know it's not worth hopping through snow for any length of time when he has a perfectly fine dog bed and/or couch available at home. As we have often said, while he enjoys the great outdoors, if he ever became a hunting dog he would require a heated duck blind. 

Spring in Montreal is not unlike spring in Chicago...it just arrives a few weeks later. Road construction signs are up, there's garbage where the snow once fell, tulips are beginning to come up and everyone keeps saying the weather is nice and all, but a good snowstorm could still drive us crazy. We're cautiously optimistic that spring is here and looking forward to it. Duke is too. The squirrels aren't too happy about it though.

April 7, 2009

Easter dinner anyone?

Thoughts about Kish's visit to the regular Canadian grocery store...

We’re all used to seeing the grocery stores stocked with ham this time of year. On a trip to the regular store yesterday, I ran across all sorts of interesting things. When I say “regular store” I mean regular. I’m talking your average Safeway, Albertson’s, Jewel, Vons or Ralphs-type of regular store. I found things you might find at a special butcher, but I’m thinking these things are more likely found at a taxidermist.

The price tag ($64.99) first caught my eye…but a closer look brings a whole new image to “leg of lamb.” This is a frickin’ CARCASS of lamb. A sixty-four Canadian dollar carcass of lamb.  I had to start taking photos with my iPhone.

The next section brings me to the RABBIT....

All I could think of was the Easter Bunny. Who serves rabbit at Easter? These frozen rabbits are conveniently packaged without heads as the label says. Good thing, I know I wouldn’t want to deal with the head issue. And the price? Right around $20. My brothers used to shoot rabbit in our back yard in the Arizona desert…wait until they realize this missed business opportunity.

Then there was this full container of SPRING LAMB....

I’m not sure of the difference really between this Spring lamb and just plain lamb -- is it because it’s supposed to be spring? This “Spring” lamb was nicely packaged though. I don’t have an issue with lamb, really. But, I typically stick to gyros and I have never thought to ask about the meat. After all, it doesn’t resemble Mary’s Little Lamb when it’s on that spiral thing. Plus a little sauce, onion and a good pita makes one forget all about the origins.

I stopped taking photos when I got to the very large selection of veal since the grocery store people started following me. Not that there’s anything wrong with veal, it’s just that there was so much in this meat display. I got busted at Home Depot for taking photos of light fixtures so I’m always on guard when a store employee is watching.

I’m still not sure why this grocery store visit freaked me out. Is it because it was so…commercially domestic? Seriously. It was not uncommon to find a frozen rattlesnake in my mom’s freezer when I was a kid. They were usually shot by one of my brothers and why they remained in the freezer for years is still a mystery to me. Perhaps it was served for dinner and I don’t remember. I’ve heard it tastes like chicken. Another time my dad was boiling a mountain lion scull in a large soup pot on the stove and we grossed out our friends. He was cleaning it up so he could put braces on the teeth and display it in his office (he was an orthodontist). And my friend Jenny Belk’s mom always had plastic pitchers of “Duck Broth” next the Popsicles in her freezer. Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up. But the canvas covered $64 lamb carcass at the typical grocery store in Montreal put me over the edge.

I think we’ll stick to a honey baked ham for Easter. Nice and pink and fake looking.

In other grocery store news…

I thought gas was expensive at .95/litre. What the? A can of maple syrup for over $9 Thankfully, our kids are used to Mrs. Butterworths.

April 6, 2009

Crazy sports weekend

March Madness is officially over for Louis as his six-month basketball season came to an end this past weekend. His team, coached by Paul, made it to the second round of the playoffs. If you asked us in January if we thought it was possible that they made it past the first game of the playoffs, we would have been doubtful. They were awesome and made drastic improvements. And Paul made it through the season without any technicals himself – although when you look at the photo below from a game earlier this season, you might think otherwise. We like to tell the kids he was trying to “instruct” the ref. (As Dan Pisani pointed out, he's wearing his "good jeans" too).

What you can’t see in the photo is the kids who followed him out on the court like little ducklings because they liked the conversations with the ref. What really surprised us was the parents. We thought Naperville parents were into the game – these parents were crazy! We’re assuming it’s because they’ve been attending hockey games their entire lives as players and parents. Let’s just say they are very vocal and lucky not to get fouls of their own. And Paul’s co-coach was known to drop the S-Bomb frequently. There’s nothing more entertaining than a French-Canadian yelling “Ssshhhhheeeetttttttttt.”And not getting a foul for it. 

Danielle had a busy weekend of her own with the Provincial water polo tournament. Her team will play in Nationals, fortunately in Montreal and not Vancouver this year, at the end of May. There are no photos of Danielle because she’s in that “Mom, don’t bring the camera” stage.

April 1, 2009


Louis and Liam show off their signs before the game...

Just like old times...Liam sits on the bench with Louis' team as the unofficial second assistant coach...

You'll notice Flat Taylor in this photo -- Paul's cousin Pat's grandaughter has a Flat Stanley project -- we're guessing she's the only one who attended a Canadian hockey game...

Genevieve and Danielle at the top of the Olympic tower overlooking the city...

Like no time passed...

Having good friends come to visit is bittersweet. It's so much fun when they are arrive, yet so sad when they leave. We had a great time when the Kirstein family from Naperville decided to spend Spring Break in the Great White North, while others went south to warm up. It was as if six months had not passed since we saw them. Louis and Liam immediately began shooting hoops outside, Danielle and Genevieve had their teenage discussions which included lots of giggling, Kish and Jackie opened a bottle of wine (or two, or three, let's say a lot) and Paul and Mark talked about the White Sox, Blackhawks, politics (with humor), solved the economic crisis and stimulted the Canadian economy by consuming a lot of Molson.

Having our first out of town guests since Dan Pisani was here in December gave us the chance to be tourists again. It was fun to learn more about Montreal. It's especially nice since we can feel the end of winter, although, we're not putting away our winter boots just yet.

The real bittersweetness was when the boys went to the Blackhawks/Montreal Canadiens game. Mark says everyone should experience an NHL game in Canada. While it's not necessarily more rambunctious than a U.S. hockey game -- he pointed out that Canadians are extremely serious about their hockey and a stranger will gladly provide a brief history of hockey when asked. And he mentioned that there's no doubt the fans in Canada REALLY understand their hockey and they are very much into the game. The game was bittersweet because the Blackhawks lost by three. While the Pisani family is of course cheering for the Blackhawks and proudly display the flag through the winter, at any other game at the Bell Centre we would be cheering for the Canadians. Even Liam was cheering for the Canadiens by the end of the game anyway. It's hard not too. Most Canadien fans truly like the Blackhawks -- after all they are part of the original teams. We've been told by several service people who have come to our house for a repair or delievery, that as long as it's not a Toronto or Boston flag, we're okay. We still think of it as Sweet Home Chicago.

Thanks Kirstein family for spending your vacation at our Sweet Home Montreal...it's was just as much of a vacation for us!
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