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What a rough couple of weeks. Hurricane Sandy which became known as Super Storm Sandy which became Super Pain Sandy hit the New York and surrounding areas on October 29, 2012 like a punch in the gut. Watching the devastation was heartbreaking. Entire neighborhoods flooded. Lives lost. Houses and lifelong belongings and memories swept away within minutes.  While I was safe and warm here in Toronto, my family is all back there so it was a very worrisome time for me. The most difficult part of all this for me?  Not being able to get in touch with any one in my family. With power and phone service out and cell and internet spotty at best, it was days before I could get an update from anyone down there. It was such a strange and unsettling feeling. In these days of social media, with everything being tweeted before it seems it even happened, the idea of no communication at all can be a startling sensation.

Millions were left without power, some even weeks later. Gas shortages caused tempers to flare in long line-ups. No electricity, no lights, no hot water, no heat- I don’t know how my family and all those others did it. Would I be able to take it that long? I applaud their strength and determination and only hope I would have that courage.

Below is a video shot and edited by my cousin, Scott Meyer, a professional film editor. It shows the damage and devastation Hurricane Sandy did in Howard Beach, New York, an area hit particularly hard.

Living here in Toronto, I have experienced my share of weather. I think we only have two seasons here. Every year it seems we skip fall and spring and have extended summers and winters. Yes, I have felt cold. I have experienced snow, often more than I can deal with. I have also sweated through hot, humid summers. But, I have never been caught in a weather event that devastating or destroying. I lose my power for more than an hour and I’m a basket case. I remember the great blackout of 2003. My power was out for 25 hours. It was terrible. I remember following the radio coverage as neighborhood by neighborhood got power back while I was still in the dark. Nothing is more irritating than hearing ‘with the exception of small pockets, power has been restored to 95% of Toronto’ when you’re residing in one of “those small pockets” But that was only one day and it was in the summer. I can’t imagine going without power for over a week, in November when the days are short and temperatures drop near freezing at night.

Would you be able to hold up under those trying circumstances? Have you ever experienced anything like that and how did you cope? Let me know by leaving me a comment.

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While back in the USA recently, my mother was asked, do you speak Canadian? To which my mom, known in these pages as Brooklyn Mama, proudly stated, that she was originally from the United States, so no, she only speaks American.

I never really thought about it that much, but yeah I think there is a certain, Canadian language. I’m not talking French, the other official language of Canada. I’m also not referring to a Canadian accent, for example the often heard “aboot” instead of “about”, and other such pronunciations. I’m talking distinct English words and phrases that identify a Canadian from an American.

As they say, lets start at the very beginning, a very good place to start, with “A” or in this case, “Eh”, a favorite expression of Canadians. I’m not sure if it’s a phrase I actually hear Canadians say or it’s a stereotype Americans think Canadians say. Or if it’s something Canadians do to tick off Americans. Canadians can have a weird sense of humor. Usually, found at the end of a sentence, this two letter word has the unique ability to turn any word or phrase into a question. Examples: It’s cold out today, eh? This chicken is pretty good, eh?

There are also words that are commonly used in Canada. Some of these include drinking pop, instead of soda or using the washroom, instead of the bathroom. There is also the “toque” (pronounce “took”, like in spook) which is a winter wool hat, often worn when playing hockey on a frozen pond., also a Canadian thing. Boxed macaroni and cheese is often referred to as Kraft Dinner, regardless of brand. Then of the course there are ‘loonies”, one dollar coins featuring a loon on the reverse, or if your really rich “toonies” featuring, well a polar bear, but called a toonie because its worth two loonies. How creative.

And who can forget the purpose of this whole blog and its name sake? The last letter of the English alphabet the Zee! Or, as they tend to say here, Zed. When it became a Zed, I have no idea. I don’t remember an official proclamation declaring a Zee a Zed. I just kind of noticed that’s how people were saying it. But, I was born in the land of Zees. When I was a child it was a Zee. So, to me it will always remain the beloved, Zee.

In fact, I usually try to keep my spelling, pronunciations, and terminology American, hence the spellings in this post. So, I guess Mom is right, we do speak American. But I guess if I was to start speaking Canadian or more likely a hybrid Canadian/American, it would go something like this:

Cold out, eh? It must be about 25 degrees out. Glad I’m wearing a warm hat. Do you know where the bathroom is? I just drank too much soda. I couldn’t stop. It was only a loonie!

Round Vote Button

I’ve gone and done it again. I’ve just requested my ballot to vote in this year’s US Presidential Election. What’s that you said? (No, I’m not talking to imaginary presidents, I’m just being dramatic) “How can you vote, you live in Canada?” Well, as it happens to be, the United States is one of the few countries in the world that allows it’s citizens to vote by absentee ballot in Federal and State elections, even if they no longer live in the United States.

Are you an American student studying here in Canada?
You can vote!

Are you here temporarily for business or family reasons?
You can vote!

Are you living in Canada for many years, with no real plans to return stateside for the foreseeable future?
You can vote!

Have you never lived in the United States, but are American by birth?
Yes, even you can vote!

Here’s the scoop – your voting state is determined by the last state you (or your parents) resided in before coming to Canada (or any other foreign land for that matter). That’s why I’m a proud Pennsylvania voter.

 

Lady Voting in USA election

Registering to vote as an Absentee or Overseas voter is easy. Just go to www.FVAP.gov, the Federal Voting Assistance Program, fill out a simple form, print it out, mail it, and you will receive an official ballot for the election.

This blog is non-partisan, so I really don’t care who you vote for, just request a ballot and vote. It’s your civic duty. Besides, it’s fun and will make you feel closer to your roots. Imagine if your voting state is one considered to be a swing state, such as Florida or Ohio Imagine watching the results role in November 6th and they come to your state. What if it’s too close to call and they won’t be able to determine the outcome until they count all the absentee ballots? Think of the power you hold. What if you don’t care for either of the candidates this year? You can always do the “cancel-out” vote. I’ve done it before. You find another same state voter and you each vote for one of the candidates, thereby cancelling out each other’s vote. You’ve still voted but haven’t  given either candidate the edge.

Democrat and Republican Scale

 

So request your ballot and vote in this year’s election. Help determine if it’s going to be four more years of President Obama or if Mitt Romney get’s a chance. Why should only those Americans living in the USA have to take all the blame for the next four years?

 

 

Olympic Rings

I’ve got the fever. I’ve spent the last week and a half trying to keep up with all this Olympic action. I really do enjoy watching highly skilled athletes competing in all these different sports, many of which I have never heard of before and won’t watch again for another 4 years.

This all leads to the question: Who I am supposed to root for? I’m an American living in Canada so where should my loyalty lie? I have to admit; I may live in the land of red and white, but my heart bleeds red, white, and blue.

I can’t help it. When I see the stars and stripes and hear the star-spangled banner I get all misty eyed. Whether it’s our recent Women’s gymnastics team gold medal or Michael Phelps record-breaking medal haul, I get a sense of pride. I can’t help cheering. Whether diving or track and field, I love seeing the USA come out on top. I think that’s what the Olympics bring out in all of us. It’s not so much the actual sports were glued to, but the athletes themselves. We follow the highs of their triumphs and the lows of their disappointments. It’s that feeling of Patriotism and believing in your athletes.

There is however, one arena in which the Canadians win hands down; their television coverage, this year on the CTV network. Imagine sitting down and seeing events, live as they happen and not, the pre-packaged NBC coverage. Every Olympics, it’s the same deal with NBC. They refuse to show events live in order to “save” them for their nightly prime time package. In this world of social media and 24hr access, I’m not sure what exactly they’re saving. I can somewhat buy it during the week, but on weekends? When Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte were having their first dual in the pool, it was live on CTV. What was NBC showing? Preliminary beach volleyball. The Mens 100m, considered the marquee event of the Olympics, with Usain Bolt trying to repeat as “the world’s fastest man” took place at 4:50PM E.S.T on a Sunday Afternoon. CTV carried it live while NBC was showing Water Polo.

For me in the Olympics its USA all the way! But I think I’ll watch it on Canadian TV.

If you missed Part One,  and the exciting details of my outgoing trip, click here.

As promised, here is the account of my trip back to Toronto

 July 26

8:00 AM- Leave relative’s house for train station to take railroad to the city. Looks like it will rain.

8:30- Arrive at Huntington train station on Long Island. Buy ticket to Penn Station.

8:55- Board train to Penn Station. Take up more than one seat with luggage.

9:30- Mid-point of train trip. It is raining very hard right now. Train is getting crowded. Getting stares from wet passengers for taking up more than one seat.

10:10- Arrive at Penn Station. Have to walk about 8 blocks to Megabus stop. Still raining out. Have to navigate crowded city with luggage and umbrella.

10:45- Find bus stop. It is outside and uncovered. Glad it has stopped raining. There is already a line of people.

12:00- Estimated Departure time. We have yet to board the bus.

12:15-  Start to board the bus. Again faced with decision of whether to go upstairs or downstairs. Family with several children heads upstairs. Decide to sit downstairs.

12:30- Pull out to begin return trip to Toronto

3:00- Make rest stop. Decide not to buy any food at this time, but get off bus to stretch legs and use bathroom.

5:00- Make scheduled stop in Syracuse. Buy sandwich from Subway.

6:00- Enjoying my turkey Sub. Bus driver suddenly pulls off thruway and announces we have forgotten a passenger and are returning to Syracuse, 38 miles away. Talk with angry passengers about inconsiderate passenger.

7:30- Arrive in Syracuse, again. The forgotten passenger is nowhere to be found.

7:45- Forgotten passenger found inside terminal, an older, confused woman. We forgive her. Passenger anger now turned towards driver.

8:00 – Leave Syracuse for the second time.

10:00- Arrive at border crossing-customs and immigration. Once again, gather my belongings and pass through quickly. Canadian border agents not as happy to see me as American agents.

10:30- Two mysterious pieces of unclaimed luggage noticed. Turn out to belong to the forgotten passenger from Syracuse. Crisis averted.

11:00-Two passengers delaying us from leaving. Remaining passengers leave overheated bus to wait outside and yell at bus driver.

11:45- Leave border: Final destination Toronto.

1:15- Finally arrive at downtown Toronto bus terminal. Wait for luggage to be unloaded from bus. Grab taxi for home.

1:40- Arrive home almost 18 hours after leaving Long Island. Take anti nausea pill to help me fall asleep. (See first leg of trip)

Well that’s my trip. Would I do it again? I don’t know. It was a very long, yet interesting trip. It was extremely tiring but was a lot cheaper.
Are there any other bus travellers out there? Is there anyone who actually prefers this mode of travel to flying?

Leave me a comment and let me know.

 

I try to get back home to the United States at least once a year. Recently, I took a bus round trip from Toronto to New York. I had once promised myself I would never take such a long bus trip again. But with rising airfares, I decided to give the Megabus (www.megabus.com) a try.

How did it go?

Here is an account of my trip:

July 14th

8:00 PM- Leave my house by public transit to arrive at the bus terminal with plenty of time to line-up early and board the bus to select my seat. Fall over my luggage and bruise knee.

8:45- Arrive at the Toronto bus terminal. Look around at the clientele. Nobody looks too suspicious. Sit and relax while waiting to line up for my bus.

9:15- Realize there is already a long line for the New York bus. Hurry to get in line.

9:45- Board bus and faced with decision whether to sit upstairs or downstairs on the Double Decker bus. Bus is very dark inside. I can’t see where I am going. Decide to sit downstairs so I don’t have to navigate stairs in darkness.

10:00- Bus departs. My plan is to tire myself until the border crossing in order to sleep better. Wi-fi not working on my iPod. Use music and Angry Birds to keep myself awake for the next two hours.

12:00- Arrive at Border for customs and Immigration. Gather all my belongings as instructed and cross over problem free. I’m American, they’re happy to see me and welcome me back. Return to the bus and hope that other passengers don’t delay the process.

1:00- Other passengers are delaying the process. Decide to call it a night. Eat a cookie and take an anti-nausea pill in order to fall asleep.

2:00- Pull out of customs to continue trip to New York. Feel myself getting tired and try drifting asleep. Bus is very quiet as other passengers also trying to sleep.

4:30- Jolted awake by bus driver loudly announcing rest stop. Make my way out of the bus bleary eyed to use public bathroom with other female passengers from bus. Get back on bus try to fall back asleep.

4:30-6:30- Sleep on and off, waking constantly due to uncomfortable seats.

7:00- See that it’s light out and consider myself awake. Eat breakfast bar.

8:15- Time of arrival in New York City. Realize we are nowhere near New York City.

10:00- Finally arrive in New York. Walk 5 blocks to Penn Station to catch 10:15 train to Long Island.

10:15- Arrive at Penn Station. Watch 10:15 train leave. Buy ticket for later train from surly agent.

10:25- Board train to Long Island.

11:25- Arrive in Huntington, New York. Look for relative picking me up at train station.

11:30- Find relative. Decline welcoming hug until teeth can be brushed and clothes can be changed.

12:00- Arrive at relatives. Brush teeth.

12:30- More than 16 hours after I left my house back in Toronto, finally ready to begin my visit with relatives.

To be continued…

For my return trip, click here

I’ve always tried to keep this space unbiased and non-partisan. I intended it to be a fun spot free from controversy. However, I am about to enter murky waters. I am about to discuss something that could be considered so provocative it could enrage the entire nation of Canada. More controversial than discussing socialized medicine. More controversial than cheering on Team USA over Team Canada in world hockey tournaments. I have to just come out and say it. I do not like Tim Hortons coffee.

For the uninitiated Tim Hortons is the major coffee and donut establishment in Canada, founded by the Canadian hockey legend. Much larger a presence than Dunkin Donuts stateside, it may even rival McDonald’s in popularity in this part of the world. It is said you know you’re in Canada when you see that familiar sign. Many Canadians say they feel homesick when away from their “timmies”, a common nickname.

Tim Hortons sign

I’m not trying to start a riot or make some political stand. I just get a stomach ache every time I drink the stuff. I don’t enjoy drinking something that makes me feel ill. I have no problem with their baked goods. I have had their donuts and ‘timbits’ (their version of donut holes) many times. While not superior to any other chains, they are pretty good. Tim Hortons is also a very charitable company whose annual Camp Day promotion sends thousands of children to summer camp.

How Tim Hortons coffee became the unofficial national drink of Canada, I have no idea. Just what is it about that coffee that made it develop such a following? Is it the taste or is it more the reputation?

I’d like to know why this coffee is so popular. Surely, there are others out there who share my dislike for it. Are you a Tim Hortons lover or hater? Leave me a comment and let me know.