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I usually write a blog post on Super Bowl commercials the day following the Super Bowl. For various reasons, this year’s edition is a bit late. But when it comes to the Super Bowl and those famous commercials is there ever an expiry date?

This year the Super Bowl was just a strange experience. Starting with the first lopsided game in over twenty years (what happened Peyton?) to a better than expected half time show, (nice job Bruno Mars) to my own unfortunate viewing experience, this year was just different all around.

Those of you familiar with my personal television habits know that I use a large antenna and view my programming OTA (Over the Air) in Toronto, Canada. In addition to avoiding ever rising cable bills, this also allows me to bring in my USA channels direct from Buffalo. No Canadian signal substitutions allowed. At no time is this more important than the Super Bowl so I can watch those ads unveiled in real-time. This set-up works great with one exception for the last couple of months I have had extraordinary trouble bringing in one channel-FOX29. This year’s Super Bowl carrier-FOX!

I had no choice but to set my television to local Canadian channel-minus American commercials, and for some reason, also the trophy presentation and post game interviews. What’s up with that CTV? But, I digress. I streamed the Fox feed on my laptop but had to watch the commercials through a separate link. Throw in a stomach virus and a Super Bowl buffet of ginger ale, soda crackers, and Jell-O and this won’t go down as one of my favorite Super Bowls.

Now to those commercials. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I think the appeal of these ads is starting to wean. The cleverness and originality just doesn’t seem to be there for me anymore. We had all the familiar elements again this year, plenty of American sentiment, familiar television stars, and cute animals. But I never felt that ‘awe moment’. I think the fact that most of the ads are released a week before the big game has a lot to do with it. John Stamos was everywhere plugging his yogurt commercial featuring his “Full House” reunion. Budweiser’s ‘Puppy Love’ had so much exposure prior to kick off, it became a hit with viewers before the Seahawks charter even landed in NY. Anything with a cute puppy, Clydesdale horses, and touching music couldn’t lose anyway.

But I guess, I have to choose a favourite. I really enjoyed the viewer-made Doritos Ads. I wonder if that says anything about where the real creativity lies. I loved Radio Shack’s ‘phone call’ featuring all those 80’s references and was touched by Coke’s tribute to the diversity of America. But I have a soft spot for Audi’s Doberhuahua, even though I saw it before the game, which I traditionally don’t like to do. I can’t help it, I think those little guys with the big heads are just adorable.

Maybe in a year with such an unusual Super Bowl day it’s fitting that I have a soft spot for a mutt.

You can watch all the ads here:

What did you think of the commercials this year? Any favorites?

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Happy Thanksgivukkah

I haven’t posted to this spot in a while, and for that I do offer my apologies. No excuse really.

Those of you who are regular readers, and I hope there are still some of you out there, know I often talk about how I like to keep my American traditions alive by celebrating all the American holidays from my home in Toronto, Canada. One of my favorites has always been Thanksgiving. I always like to drag out all the festive decorations and start cooking a big turkey dinner with stuffing, sweet potatoes, and all the fixings.

In fact, in the past I have publicly advocating officially moving Canadian Thanksgiving from October to November to coincide with US Thanksgiving, for many practical reasons, including seasonal timing, all day football watching and Black Friday sales which Canadians are very much already partaking in.

This year brings up a dilemma. I also like to go full out on the Jewish holidays. The year 2013 brings up a rare occurrence. For the first time since Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday and not occurring for another 77,000 years, the first night of Hanukkah falls on the night before Thanksgiving. Some have coined this special event, Thanksgivukkah. December will be less than a week old and the eight day festival will have ended. Although Hanukkah is often associated with Christmas, by the time everyone has their tree set up and the wreaths and lights all hung, the menorahs and dreidels will all be put away for the year.

So, how do I handle it this year without giving either holiday the short end of the deal? I thought about just moving all Thanksgiving activities this year to the Canadian Thanksgiving which occurred on October 14, this year. Since all the Jewish Holidays were finished by the end of September I didn’t have the usual conflict, but something would still be missing.

Turkey celebrating Hanukkah

So I guess the best thing to do is just go along with what others are doing this year and embrace the combined holiday of Thanksgivukkah to the fullest. The two holidays do share similar themes and meanings. So bring it on. “Lights, Liberty and Latkes” is the motto this year.

Full disclosure: This year will be extra special for me. For the first time in many years I will be home in the USA to celebrate Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, due to a family Bar Mitzvah celebration. So it will be a Thanksgivinkumitzvah for me. One question if you eat for three separate celebrations but you combine them into one weekend do all the calories still count?

I’m curious how others are combining Hanukkah and Thanksgiving this year? Are you planning any special recipes or events? Let me know by leaving me a comment.

I like to travel. I don’t go anywhere internationally, but I like to get away, mostly back home to visit my friends and family. And eat pizza and bagels. As an American in Canada, in order to travel, I need my US passport and a special document known as the Permanent Resident (PR) Card. Technically, I can leave Canada without this card; I just won’t get back in.

US Passport and Canadian Permanent Resident Card

My Travel Documents

Both of these came up for renewal recently. Warning to other permanent residents in Canada: while renewing my passport was a breeze, having to renew the PR card has proved nothing short of miserable.

The forms needed are no longer available at local Service Canada offices nor are you able to order them by calling the Service Canada Permanent Resident Card Call Centre. You are now directed to their recently re-developed website; their very confusing new website. Trying to navigate this website is like finding your way in the dark without a flashlight.

My mother, known in these pages as my Brooklyn Mama, also had her documents up for renewal. She’s a complete technophobe who hates using the internet. “I’m not doing it this way” she insisted. She decided to call the Service Canada number. They informed her that while she cannot pick up forms nor have them mailed to her, she can go to a Service Canada office where they will print off all the forms she needs. “Ha”, she said to me. “I told you someone would help me”.

She returned to proudly show me the forms while telling me the Service Canada rep had a terrible time finding which forms to print out. I then had to tell her she was one form short. You need an additional form which you only find out about after you print out the first. Why they don’t just include all the pages as one form, I have no idea.

After we went through the forms, we realized there isn’t a form that allows you to pay at a bank. Back to the website I went. You have to pay online I told Brooklyn Mama. She hates to pay anything online, doesn’t trust that stuff she always says. If you don’t wish to pay online, you can ‘order’ a form to bring to the bank. How do you order that form Mom wanted to know? On the website. However, it says you can call the call centre number if you have trouble ordering it. She proceeded to call the Call Centre, only to be told you can’t order a payment form over phone, despite what the website says. Mom agreed to let me help her pay online.

Now it was time to gather all the documents needed. You must also send a check list with the items checked off. Where do you get this list? That famous website of course. Note: The website must also be referred to for details of the required documents since the forms do not include instructions.

Required documents:
Both forms- As mentioned above, not easy to find, but-check
Receipt of payment- Also see above-check
Two recent photos- Had this taken care with photo with passport-check
Photocopy of main identity document-Just got my new passport-check
Proof of Residence-Still have tattered but original landing papers-check
Two Secondary identity documents-Drivers license, tax documents- check
Additional residency documents-???????

What do they mean by additional residency documents? I double checked the website. They would like photocopies of every page of every passport I have held in the last five years. I just got a new passport so that means I have had two, each having about 25 pages. I don’t travel internationally. None of these pages have stamps. They don’t even have anything indicating they are my passports. They wanted me to send copies of 50 blank pages?

OldPassport

Blank pages of my old passport.

My New Passport

Blank pages of my new passport.

I called that Service Canada number once again to ask if they really wanted me to send 50 pages even if they’re blank. Yes, they replied every page even if empty. I still can’t believe they mean that. On the website I was able to find an alternative number and decided to give that a try. “How did you get this number” the voice on the other end asked? From your website I answer. Well, she cannot help me but advised if I go to a Service Canada office they will be able to answer any questions I might have in filling out these forms.

I decided to make a trip down to one of these offices, with my Brooklyn Mama in tow. Finally an explanation we thought. We arrived at this office to be told by a smiling worker, that they no longer deal with Permanent Resident Cards at this or any other Service Canada office. They no longer know how to fill out these forms. He did attempt to provide an answer to my question about the 50 blank passport pages. Well, he said after some thought, “maybe they want to see that your passport didn’t need to be stamped”. He is very sorry he can’t be of much help. But he offered one more piece of advice “this might help” as he handed us a sheet of paper “it’s a link, to our website” he said.

Post Script: I sent in my forms without the copies of the blank pages, sending alternative identification. Will have to see what happens. Either I won’t be going anywhere or I won’t be back.

FebWall

Someone recently asked me, “what’s the best thing about February, what most inspires you about this month?’ Strange question, I agree. Well, it got me thinking as I gazed out the window at the snow-covered streets. The best thing about February in Toronto?  The thing that keeps me going? It’s only 28 days! (At least ¾ of the time)

I’m not a big fan of winter. I’ve never embraced the great outdoors. I guess there are some things I should love about February. It’s bookended by two of my favorite television viewing events, The Super Bowl and the Academy Awards. But in general, unless you’re fascinated by weather prognosticating rodents or caught up in Valentine’s Day hoopla, February is just another drab winter month.

February Drive

A typical drive on a February day in Toronto.

Growing up in Canada, I always envied my American relatives at this time of year. I’m referring mostly to New Yorkers and certainly not the third of the US where winter is a season in name only. All my cousins had actual “snow days”.  Imagine waking up and learning you had no school that day. You had the whole day to just stay home and do whatever you pleased. In all my years of living in Toronto, and there were some really dark, cold, snowy ones, the schools were never closed. I never had a snow day. Plus, the third Monday of February is Presidents Day in the USA and the start of another week off school. Those kids just came back from Christmas holidays about six weeks ago and they get another week off school. Sure a few years ago they created something called “Family Day”,  but what’s one day compared to a whole week off. That’s something to make February inspiring. What do we tell the kids here in Toronto, many of whom trudged the storm last week because they didn’t have a ‘snow day’? “Wait to March kid, that’s when you’ll get a break”

March, now there’s a month to get excited about; March Break ,March Madness, Daylight Savings Time, St. Patrick’s Day, the first day of spring, the return of all those who wintered in Florida. I guess that’s what inspires me about February. It’s that short month that serves as a bridge between the darkness of winter and light of spring.  Hey, it’s the 15; February is more than half way over. The Valentine’s candy will be marked down. Things are looking up already.

How do you feel about February? Take the poll below and leave me a comment if you feel inspired.

Social Media has ruined my annual Super Bowl viewing tradition. I still have the big game, the half time entertainment and great food. But, what made it stand out for me personally were the commercials, or I should say my commercials.

Living here in Canada, it used to be that most of these commercials were never seen until after the game. When Canadian cable companies simulcast an American program they’re allowed to insert their signal over the Canadian one. Meaning, even if you tune to the American channel, you will receive the American one. Unless, you watch TV as I do, with a rooftop antenna, thereby receiving your American signals pure and untouched.  My very first blog posting here dealt with this very topic. (Read Posting)

This was my special time of year- my chance to say ha to all those cable bound Canadians. But now that has changed. These days many of these ads are released days prior to Super Bowl Sunday on various social media channels. You no longer have to wait and they are viewable regardless of where you live.

I try to avoid this temptation. Call me a traditionalist. Call me old-fashioned. I still want to watch them as they unroll during the game on my couch, popcorn and root beer in hand. I just can’t watch them beforehand. I would liken it to peaking at your presents before Christmas morning, if I actually celebrated Christmas.

So what did I think of the commercials this year? As usual they never seem to match the build-up. Some made me laugh, at least a little, like Amy Poehler at Best Buy or some of the Doritos ads . Some disgusted me, like the Go Daddy ad. And some just confused me. But my favorites are always the ones that pull at my heartstrings and this year there were quite a few, particularly the Budweiser Clydesdale returning and remembering the trainer who made him who he was. I also love the ones that touched on Americana such as the Oprah voiced over Jeep ad featuring military families waiting for loved ones to return or Dodge Ram’s God made a farmer.

Did you see them all yet? What was your favorite?

I can understand why brands would want to release their ads before hand: the ability to grab attention and generate conversation, building a social media campaign around it, continuing up to and during the game. I get what Oreo did on twitter after the stadium power went out.

I guess times are changing faster than I would like them to. But I think I can still hold to my traditions. As Charlie Brown might say (I seem to paraphrase him a lot) ‘I won’t let social media ruin my Super Bowl watching’. I will still wait for those ads to reveal themselves during the game. I won’t watch them before on social media channels. So, don’t ask me how I liked them until after Super Bowl Sunday. Then I’ll gladly tell you on twitter and Facebook.

While visiting New York last fall, my relatives gave me a little gift to take back with me. Every year in October, hoards of people eagerly await the arrival of a certain product, sold in familiar yellow packaging, that only appears as the leaves start to fall and disappears as soon as spring rolls around. I’m talking about Mallomars.

box of mallomars

Mallomars are cookies, consisting of a graham cracker with a marshmallow on top covered in dark chocolate. While I like them, I’ve never felt the obsession other people have with these treats. People have been known to stock up on them to secure themselves a supply long after they have disappeared off of store shelves. People from other parts of the country become upset they can’t find them in local stores as they are usually only found in the New York and North East region. In fact, 70% of buyers are from the New York area according to the Mallomars box. The reason for this exclusiveness? The makers of Mallomars claim that the chocolate quality will not stand up in the warmth of summer or in warm climates. I guess they’ve never heard of refrigeration. It’s no coincidence Mallomars are known as the cookie that plays hard to get.

And where does this cookie quality control originate? Where are these seasonal and regional cookies manufactured? Right here in Toronto, Canada. That’s right, these fall and winter wonders are made right where I live. Does that mean I can buy them here in Toronto? Of course not, although there are similar cookies sold here such as Dream Puffs and Whippets, which come from Montreal. Both by the way available year round. Don’t they know the havoc chocolate covered cookies can cause once the temperatures rise above freezing?

box showing Mallomars are Made in Canada

This box of Mallomars cleary shows they are Made in Canada

I don’t know if I can really embrace a cookie that wields such control, dictating when and where it is sold. I’m not into snack food manipulation. But if someone gives me a box as a gift I will gladly accept it.

Last year, I debated whether its better to celebrate Thanksgiving in November like my fellow Americans or in October as it is celebrated here in Canada. At that time, I considered it a draw. (See-When is the best time to Celebrate Thanksgiving)

Well, I think I’ve changed my mind. I now believe that Canadian Thanksgiving should be observed simultaneously with the American holiday. The reason: Shopping, Shopping, Shopping.

Lady Shopper with Sales SignsThe terms Black Friday and Cyber Monday have now entered Canadian speak. Hoards of Canadian shoppers now make the annual trek stateside to participate in the madness of post Thanksgiving sales. I think Buffalo, NY and other border cities may have more “eh” speaking customers than residents in those line-ups trying to score those big screen TVs and other doorcrashers.

Many people are already taking time off work to hit those south of the border sales. Countless business hours are lost the following Monday by people looking for the best Cyber Monday bargains. Retailers in Canada are even jumping on board offering extended store hours and Black Friday deals of their own – an attempt to keep those dollars on this side of the border.

With so many people already making it a holiday for themselves, why not just jump on the bandwagon and make the official Thanksgiving switch. Don’t want to make such a radical change. Fine, here’s another idea. You can keep Thanksgiving in October and find something else to commemorate late November. Everyone appreciates a holiday. In the USA, Columbus Day coincides with the Canadian Thanksgiving. I’m sure the creative lawmakers of Canada can figure out something to celebrate in November. Anything that incorporates large meals, excessive sports watching and a weekend of shopping will do.

This suggestion works both ways. For years I’ve been calling for the introduction of Boxing Day to Americans. In fact now that Barack Obama has job security for the next four years, its time to give him a call. Hello President Obama? What are your plans for the Day after Christmas?