Archive for the ‘My Brooklyn Mama’ Category

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?


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.


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Brooklyn Mama and the Mysterious Beep

Hi Everyone. Seems like I haven’t had anything to say for the longest time. I figured it was time to enlighten all my readers with a cute anecdote about my mother, known in these pages as my Brooklyn Mama. This story happened a few years back, but I swear it is true. No parts have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes.

One day, I was in the exercise room/laundry room of Brooklyn Mama’s house when I heard a noise, an intermittent slight beeping noise. I felt I needed to inform Mom of this even though I knew the response would be an unexplained state of panic. “Houses don’t beep” she cried. “We have to find out the cause of this noise. If we don’t the house can explode” Even though I didn’t share this impending doom, I agreed to help find the cause.

Picture of a scared woman

After searching the house, the sound seemed to be coming from the area around an old telephone jack and wires on the ceiling of the downstairs room. A call to the phone company was in order. After trying to report a strange noise on the line that was neither static nor buzzing, but beeping, it seemed the noise was not telephone related. A call to the gas company followed, because we were possibly sitting on a bomb ready to explode. When that failed to determine the cause, and the mysterious beeping continued, Brooklyn Mama really started to get nervous.

About a week later, I was down in that room again and heard that dreaded beeping. Despite the danger, I edged closer to it, the noise getting louder with each step I took in that direction. I started looking through some cartons stacked below it, when there it was right before my eyes- an old smoke detector, picked up at a garage sale a few years back, supposedly with a dead battery. It was emitting that familiar sound smoke detectors give when the battery is starting to fail. I pulled the battery out and the beeping ceased forever. All was now safe. Words of advice- if you have a nervous mother keep her away from garage sales.

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I haven’t posted for a while. I’ve been recovering from some minor eye surgery. You know what they say; surgery is only minor when it involves someone else. While everything went smoothly, I did have quite a painful first 24 hours. I was lucky to have my Mom, my Brooklyn Mama as she is known on these pages, to help me. After her ‘Terms of Endearment’ call to the doctors’ office, where we were assured everything was normal, she went to her usual remedy. My mother may look the part of the sweet Jewish mother on the outside, but she harbors a secret. She is a drug pusher. She pushes Advil.

To my mother Advil is the cure for everything, from pulled muscles to headaches, from PMS, to massive injury. On first complaint of any symptom no matter how minor, she’s pushing Advil. Back from the dentist, take some Advil. Stub your toe, take some Advil. Burn yourself, apply a cold compress- but it couldn’t hurt to take a few Advil. If an accident were to happen where paramedics would need to be called, I’m sure she would advise to take a couple of Advil while you waited. When one of her neighbors was having trouble recovering from surgery, there was Mom looking to help out, bringing his wife a Ziploc bag with Advil in it. She is not just a pusher she is also a distributor.

I should point out that it does not have to be the name brand ADVIL® and usually isn’t. Any brand of ibuprofen will suffice; we just refer to it as Advil. Lately, she’s been favoring neon orange 750 count massive bottles from Costco. She often brings these home from her visits back home to New York. So, I guess we should add drug importer to her titles.

Don’t get me wrong. Everyone should be happy to have a mother so attentive when they are feeling under the weather. When I’m sick nothing tastes better than her homemade chicken soup. If I’m really sick, I even get Matzo Balls. With a side dish of Advil of course.



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The other day I was in the supermarket with my mother, my Brooklyn Mama, and she wanted to get some milk. She kept insisting they didn’t have any left. She said she went through bag after bag of milk and all she could find were ‘lattes’. I went over to help only to find what she was reading was “lait”, the French translation for milk. Even after so many years of living in a bilingual country, my mother still seems to get confused by foreign words on the packaging.

You may have noticed I said bags of milk in the above paragraph. This was not a misprint. You see here in Ontario the majority of milk is sold in plastic bags. This is something that has gotten me strange stares when trying to explain it to my American friends and family. While 1L and 2L of milk are sold in cartons, 4L milk is sold in large bags containing three separate clear bags of milk.

Bags of Milk

Bags of milk as sold in Ontario

Single Bag of Milk

A single bag of milk

You simply place one of the bags of milk in a special pitcher, snip the corner and away you go. Just don’t cut too big a hole or you will risk spilling milk, especially with a full bag. Also, once snipped, the bag remains open. Many people will fold it over or use a clip to keep the bag closed and the milk fresher. I remember growing up we had a special milk container with a lid that kept the bag covered. I guess we were the lucky ones.

Milk Pitcher

Pitcher to hold a bag of milk

Milk Pitcher with Lid

Milk pitcher with a lid

Here is a popular YouTube video which demonstrates the milk bag in action:

The milk in the bag concept was introduced in 1967. Slow to catch on at first, milk was commonly sold in reusable plastic jugs. Some years later, when the blessed metric system came along, it was easier to resize plastic bags than jugs. Plastic bags of milk are also less expensive to produce and purchase and have therefore become the milk package of choice for families.

Although not sold this way in all parts of Canada, I found out milk is sold in plastic bags in many other countries including Estonia, Argentina, Brazil, Israel and many others. I believe Great Britain has recently transitioned to the milk bag. I am curious to know if there is anywhere else out there where milk is sold in a non traditional way. Let me know by leaving me a comment. Maybe you live in Ontario but you drink a certain type of milk that is not packaged in bags or maybe you splurge because you just prefer the taste of milk from a jug or carton. How do you like your milk from a bag, carton, or straight out of the cow? Let me know. I’m interested in hearing from you.

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Lady Reading

I don’t know what it is about Moms. They can both puzzle and amaze us at the same time. Take my mother, My Brooklyn Mama, and her obsession with saving product manuals.

The other day I was helping her look for a long-lost document we were interested in looking at again. Our search was unsuccessful. While we don’t think the paper was thrown out, it managed to relocate to that special place where things go when they are put away to be kept safe and sound but are never seen again.

However, we did manage to find every owner’s manual from every product my Mother has ever owned. She even has a file folder with all her instruction books carefully placed alphabetically. Products purchased recently, she’s got the manual. Products from 10 years ago, there’s instructions. Even items from her days in Pittsburgh and California have a manual. She no longer has the product, but the manual remains.

I even found the instruction book from my old Walkman®. For my younger readers, the Walkman® was the precursor to the iPod®. Actually it was the precursor to the Discman® which was the precursor to the iPod®. This got me wondering, even if Mom found the Walkman® and got out her cassettes and wanted to use it (hopefully in private) would she need the user’s manual to figure out how to operate it?  The same reasoning would also go for the books for all the old toasters and can openers.

Recently, she purchased a new DVD player/recorder. There she was filing away the instruction manual. The French one. Canada being a bilingual country you receive two instruction books. My mother does not speak one word of French. When I asked her why she would ever need the French book, she looked at me with that look only Mothers give you and stated the obvious, it has diagrams.

When ever something begins to malfunction, not to worry there will be my Mother, book in hand, ready to help. If only life itself came with a users manual.

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Girls from Brooklyn in poodle skirts

Not a picture of my mother, but dedicated to Brooklyn Mothers everywhere

People often ask me why, if I have been living in Canada since I was three, I consider myself more of an American than a Canadian. I think a lot of it starts with my mother. I hope to often fill this spot with amusing stories of my mother, to be referred to as my Brooklyn Mama. But first an introduction is in order.


The Early Years

My mother grew up in Brooklyn, New York. As a second generation American, there was not much talk of the old country, unless you consider the old country The Bronx. She lived in an apartment above the neighborhood hangout, Eddie’s Luncheonette, which her father and two uncles owned. I still remember my grandfather’s stories of all the celebrities and Brooklyn Dodgers who ate there. As Ebbets Field was only a few blocks away, I suppose it’s possible.

Ebbets Field

Ebbets Field

My mother’s public school, P.S. 161, was a half block away. Her lunch hours were spent taking orders from and serving her teachers. Her cousins lived in the same apartment building until they moved to greener pastures around the corner. I always had to take a plane or a bus to see my cousins, so it must have been fun to have family so close.

P.S. 161

P.S. 161


Mom and Barbra Streisand

Erasmus Hall High School

Erasmus Hall High School

When my mother started high school she had to take two buses and for the first time life expanded beyond her small comfortable Crown Heights neighborhood. Erasmus Hall High School was a large school with students from many areas of Brooklyn. One of her classmates was Barbra Streisand. They weren’t friends or anything but I think that’s why her music and movies were so prominent in our home when I was growing up. As I once heard someone say about Barbra Streisand, “She’s a big Hollywood star, but she still sounds like us when she talks”. See Barbara Streisand’s Yearbook Photo




From Brooklyn and Beyond

I don’t know anyone in Brooklyn anymore and the neighborhood has changed. A Spanish grocery now stands where Eddie’s used to be. My New York now consists of Queens and Long Island. I learned a lot from my mother’s Brooklyn upbringing. It is because of her I know what an Egg Cream is and that it contains neither eggs nor cream, that sauerkraut tastes pretty good on a hotdog, and going to “the city” means taking the train into Manhattan. I also developed a sense of family and belonging. Mom’s life took her to California and Pittsburgh before Toronto, but her memories, and accent, of her days in Brooklyn remain intact. I guess what they say is true, you can take the women out of New York but you can’t take New York out of the women. I think that’s true of the next generation too.

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