Archive for November, 2007

Cross-Border Shopping Tips for Canadians


The infamous Black Friday begins in less than one hour. People will start heading towards the malls and outlets in hopes of scoring a big deal. For some Canadians who might be asking “What is Black Friday?” Well it’s a lot like Boxing Day… on steroids.

The day after U.S. Thanksgiving is probably the busiest shopping day of the year. Retailers will mark down prices and get ready to brave the crowds of customers that will enter their store searching for discounted merchandise–just in time for the Christmas season.

Personally, I haven’t been shopping in the U.S. on Black Friday… mainly because I value my life. But this year I’m going to take it a little slowly: Instead of driving down State-side for the official start of Black Friday, I’m going to wait 24 hours and head down to the U.S. on Saturday morning. By then I’m hoping the crowds will be less hectic than the day before, but still hoping that many of the specially-priced items will be in stock.

I opted to head to Pennslyvania, namely Erie and Grove City, because the state is a popular destination for travelers who want tax-free shopping (at least on clothes). I plan to get an early night sleep tomorrow night, wake up at 3am, pick up my shopping buddies and reach Pennsylvania by 7am. Hopefully I’ll miss the border traffic and will get there just in time for when the major malls open to continue the sales.

Are you a Canadian hoping to find some great bargains this weekend? Well here are some tips that I’ve compiled if you’re planning on tackling the crowds:

  • Leave early. Why waste 3 hours at the border when you can be shopping? Peak travel time is around 9am, so aim to be at the border crossing by 7am to avoid the rush. Shopping on Black Friday? Then you’ll probably have to aim to be at the border a lot earlier. Walden Galleria opens at 7am this Saturday so you can expect line ups for parking and to enter the mall starting in the wee hours of the morning. You might want to even think about leaving on Thursday night, since some shopping areas like Fashion Outlets Niagara Falls open at midnight that day. If you don’t have a particular door-crasher or big ticket item on your list to buy, then I suggest waiting until Saturday or Sunday to shop for the holidays. The line-ups may be more manageable and some of the sales will still be on.
  • Prepare for the journey. Wear comfortable clothes. Don’t forget to eat breakfast and pack a snack. The ride may be long, and the lineups even longer. If you’re dressed for the crowds and have a full stomach you’ll feel prepped to shop. Ladies, make sure your purse doesn’t weigh 10lbs because you’ll be lugging it around all day.
  • Mind the bridges. For people crossing the border from the GTA area there are three main bridges to use: Queenston-Lewiston (usually the busiest), Rainbow Bridge and the Peace Bridge. Personally, I opt to take the Peace Bridge… I find it the quickest out of the three. If you want an update on border traffic, jot this number down: 1-800-715-6722 or if you have your Blackberry or laptop with you, you can visit the Border Wait Times link to keep up to date on the traffic.
  • Have your documents ready. It’ll be rather unfortunate if you spent 2 hours waiting at the border to head into the U.S. for a day of shopping, only to realize that you were under the false notion that you only needed a driver’s license in order to enter the U.S. Be prepared to be sent back if that’s all you have. A passport is your best bet. As of January 31st of next year a driver’s license along with a birth certificate or citizenship card is needed at the border, or you will be refused entry into the U.S.
  • Make a list. This is especially important if you’re traveling via one of the many offered bus shopping tours. Share Newspaper (available in many West Indian shops) always has a long listing of chartered bus organizers. There are also bus companies such as, Safeway Tours and Tai Pan Tours that offer multiple-day shopping trips. These companies make a lot of stops, but that also means that time is limited. Know what you want to buy and try to refrain from browsing too much. I remember I had to put back a nice, sterling-silver necklace at Macy’s because the woman in front of me decided to separate her purchases and hold up the line. The bus might have left me if I didn’t hurry up right then and there. Another good thing about making a list is that you can compare Canadian and U.S. prices. So before you leave for your trip, jot down the approximate amount of that item you wanted to buy. If you see the same item in the States and it’s a lot cheaper (taking into consideration the possible taxes and/or duties you may have to pay on the way back) then pick it up. If you know what you want to buy before you go, then you’ll spend less time wandering aimlessly through the aisles, and that could cut into the time you can spend visiting other stores and getting back into Canada before the traffic piles up in the evening.
  • Be nice. Yes, it may feel hard to be cordial at a time when adrenalie is pouding and people are dashing down aisles. But if you’re calm and try not to let other people get to you in a negative way, it’ll make your shopping experience a lot better.
  • Use cash. Sure it may be easier to swipe that credit card, but the exchange rate you’ll be charged on those purchases my vary depending on when the transaction is made and posted to the system.
  • Leave the kids at home. This is only really applicable for Black Friday shopping. These crowds can become a bit dangerous with hordes of eager shopping waiting to burst through the doors of a store in the morning. Putting a young child in harms way just so you can save $50 on a brand new TV isn’t worth it. Find a babysitter, or wait till the hype dies down.
  • Don’t dare. Before the dollar reached parity it was a lot easier to bend the truth about how much you declared on the way back to Canada and not be asked to pay taxes or duties. But now since there’s a myriad of cross-border shoppers, CBSA officers are going to be more thorough and your chances of being sent in the building to pay taxes or searched are increased. Be as honest as possible. Custom officers aren’t stupid. They’re well aware of all the tactics used to smuggle goods into Canada in order to avoid paying taxes and duties. If you say that you spent $50 on a day trip, but really spend $300, have several shopping bags with you and are wearing brand new clothes and shoes, chances are that they’re going to see right through you.
  • Don’t litter. Thinking about taking off all the tags and discarding all the boxes from the stuff you purchased? Going to wear old clothes and dash them in the trash and put on the new ones you bought? Think again. If you don’t declare these items at the border and CBSA find out, you have a good chance of these items being seized if you don’t have proof of their origin.
  • Be honest. The penalty for making a false declaration is very severe. There’s a large fine for trying to smuggle goods across the border. It’s not worth the hassle of being black-listed (records of infractions are kept for six years) or stopped on future visits just because you wanted to avoid paying the $42 tax on $300 worth of (inexpensive) U.S. goods. If you make a false declaration and are caught, your goods may be seized and you’ll have to pay a hefty amount (25-80% of the total value) in order to get them back. Alcohol and tobacco products are seized permanently if they aren’t declared and custom officials find them. Half the time, even if you do end up paying taxes, you still manage to save money on certain items, compared to their price here in Canada. Just keep in mind that in the end paying taxes helps you as a Canadian.
  • Know your stuff. For a same-day trip there’s no tax or duty exemption. That means that you must pay the applicable PST and GST/HST on all US-purchased items on your way back into Canada. Duty is separate from sales tax. Duty depends on the type of item purchased and whether it was made in North America or not. Canadian, American and Mexican-made goods are duty-free. For example, if you purchased a television that was manufactured in China, you’ll have to pay 5% duty on it, along with GST/HST and PST. A pair of shoes made overseas will cost you 17% duty plus taxes. Not all items will be charged tax though. Children’s clothes and groceries (with some limits) for example are PST-free. Things like video games, toys and toasters are duty free.
  • Stay a little longer. On a trip more that 24 hours but less than 48 hours in duration, you have a $50 tax exemption (not including alcohol and tobacco). Mind you if you spend $50.01, you have to pay full tax and duty on everything. A 48-hour trip has a $400 exemption, and a trip that’s 7 days or more has a $750 exemption. If you want a better chance of re-entering Canada without having to pay some taxes, up your shopping day trip to a couple of days, and make sure you have receipts to back up your length of stay away. But don’t lie about how long you’ve spent in the States just so you can get a higher tax exemption… they know how long you’ve really been gone.
  • Keep your receipts. Have them ready and organized when you reach customs on the way back to Canada so that you can show them to the CBSA agent if asked. An envelope and a calculator may come in handy.
  • Answer the questions. When you’re on your way back home from your shopping extravaganza, customs officials are going to ask you questions such as: Where did you visit? How long were you there? What did you bring back with you? How much did you spend? Do you have any alcohol or tobacco? This isn’t a good time to lie, so be honest and you may get lucky and off the tax-hook.
  • Do some research. Visit for more info on what you need to know when cross-border shopping in the United States. If you want to find out what the sales are going to be like for Black Friday, check out for ads and deal listings for popular stores.

Millcreek Mall (Erie, PA)
Prime Outlets (Grove City, PA)
Fashion Outlets Niagara Falls (Niagara Falls, NY)
Walden Galleria (Buffalo, NY)

I’d like to thank reporter David Friend of The Canadian Press for giving me the opportunity to provide some of my tips in his article on cross-border shopping. Good luck to all of you heading out this weekend. Stay tuned next month for my Boxing Day tips!

Food Review: Sun-Rype Fruit Source Bars


Sun-Rype Fruit Source Plus Veggie Bar - sunrype.comOne of the things that I love about visiting the National Women’s Show is learning about new products (and of course freebies :D). One of these freebies that I got a couple weeks ago was a 15-pack of Sun-Rype Fruit Source Bars. There was a choice of strawberry or wildberry “plus veggie” flavours, so I opted to try the one with the veggies. I didn’t recall tasting these particular bars before (I usually buy the smaller Fruit-To-Go snack bars), but I’m glad that I did, because they are super-tasty!

Made with 100% fruit and vegetables, these bars contain fibre, potassium, Vitamin A and 3 servings of fruit and veggies in each one. I could hardly taste the carrots that are part of the ingredients, so the bar has a nice, naturally sweet taste. No artificial colours either, and it’s only 130 calories with no fat–perfect for that mid-morning snack. Chewy (but not sticky), these Fruit Source bars should be a staple in your kitchen when you want a healthy snack alternative to the common chocolate bar or bag of chips.

Who Eats Chicken in a Public Washroom?


Clean Hands Report CardI’m sure most of you have had your fair share of public washroom faux-pas… and yes, I actually saw a chicken bone in the overflowing waste bin of my workplace washroom the other day (makes you think, doesn’t it).

You should really be observant of how many people actually do take their hygeine into consideration when using public washroom. I’ve counted many times when I’ll be at a stall, hear the toilet flush in the stall next to me, and then footsteps quickly echoing to the exit–no, I didn’t hear the water faucet run. Ewww… how can anyone use the washroom and not wash their hands?! It makes me wonder how often men do it.

According to a study sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology and The Soap and Detergent Association, 88 per cent of women washed their hands in public restrooms, compared to just 66 per cent of the guys. Can you believe that? 1 out of every 3 men you shake hands with don’t wash their hands after using the washroom! That is exactly one of the reasons I always keep some instant hand sanitizer at my desk.

The study also outed some liars: 92% of people say they wash their hands in public restrooms, but only 77% were actually observed doing so. That’s just nasty. Here’s a list of hand-washing directions from the SDA so that 23% of you can get up to par:

Cleaning your hands when soap and running water are available:

  • Wet hands with warm, running water – prior to reaching for soap (bar or liquid form). This applies to most products; however, some foaming hand washes should be applied to dry hands.
  • Move hands away from the water, and make a lather by rubbing hands together.
  • Be sure to wash the front and back of hands, between fingers, round and under nails for 15 seconds or more.
  • Rinse hands well under warm, running water.
  • Dry hands thoroughly with a clean paper or cloth towel or air dryer.

And here are some critical times that you should be washing your hands:

  • Before and after meals and snacks
  • Before caring for young children
  • After touching a public surface
  • Before and after preparing food
  • After using the restroom
  • When hands are dirty especially raw meat, poultry, or seafood
  • After touching animals
  • When you or someone around you is ill

Lather up, people!

Debate: Black-Focused Schools in Toronto


In the news recently is the Toronto District School Board exploring the idea of creating an “African-centred alternative school” from junior kindergarten to Grade 8. Toronto school board figures show that by age 16, more than half of black male teens are at risk of dropping out because they haven’t earned the 16 credits required by the end of Grade 10. It’s hard to see this coming to light again so quickly after the province of Ontario strongly opposed faith-based schools. Is race-based schooling any better?

You have to ask yourself why is the average Black youth failing? Are the parents to blame? Is it the portrayal of themselves in mainstream society? Is it purely the school system’s fault?

Maybe it’s just me, but the idea of having a black-focused school just makes me think that the majority of people out there in society assume the intelligence level of Blacks is sup-par. The idea that we need a separate school to keep up to mainstream society is something that I don’t want people to believe, because it isn’t true. I for one can attest that fact. I went to a Catholic school, with prominently white teachers, interacted with many students of different races and cultures, and excelled very well. Not to mention the fact that the community I lived in for most of my youth was one deemed as “disadvantaged.”

The black population in Canada is very diverse, and to have a “black-focused” school doesn’t seem very logical. Segregating black children, by having a separate schools takes them away from mainstream society. How well are these children going to get along later in life with members of other races in terms of socializing if they are isolated from exposure from other groups at school? Especially if it’s in their early childhood years.

Perhaps we’re going about finding a solution to this problem the wrong way. Maybe what schools need is more teachers of visible minorities, more inclusion of topics such as Black history and multi-ethnic equity into the main curriculum so that all races can absorb, more funded after-school programs to help disadvantaged youth. More programs initialized at current schools to help black youth will keep them in the loop and not make them feel like they need to be taken out of it, in order to succeed.

I was reading a local message board on this same topic and one of the members had a very interesting solution to this problem: forgetting about Black-focused schooling and promoting a school system which focused on lower-class individuals. Free breakfast programs, tutoring, addiction counseling services, after school programs to keep kids busy, apprenticeships and internships. I think this is a very good idea. Sure it’s another form of segregating a social group, but at least there’ll be more variety of people in this frame-set for children to relate to… a more realistic depiction of our world.

I honestly don’t think that race is the whole issue here. I think people are forgetting to get down to the basics of the situation. The problem most of these kids are having is in relation to their social and economical class and not necessarily b/c of the colour of their skin.

If a Black-focussed school was to open next year, what would be the criteria for acceptance? Would a child with a white mother and black father be allowed to join the student body? What if a white student wishes to attend? If the school is going to be publicly funded, then it must be open to everyone. Is this the beginning of other races starting to protest their own need for their own schools, further segregating our multicultural society? What about the many Muslim, European and South American students who are failing the school system? Shouldn’t non-Black races have the opportunity to benefit with the history of Black people?

Is this debate adding to the stereotype that Black people aren’t intelligent and need a special school in order to keep up with the current population? What if a very smart Black student were to attend a school like this instead of opting to attend one in the mainstream school system? Would their achievements be hindered because they are ‘ahead’ of the pack? Would a black-focused summer school or Saturday class be a more logical solution? Is this a step backward for our community from the days of civil rights?

When it comes down to it, if all kids want to be successful in school they have to be interested and engaged. Perhaps the current teaching styles need to be changed in the school system so that they grab the attention of youth (both black and non-black). There are students of all races that end up dropping out of school… there needs to be a program that will help all of them and not segregate them based on a social construct such as race.

What are your thoughts on the issue? If you’re in the Toronto-area, the next public meeting discussing the topic will be held on Monday at Northview Heights Secondary School (550 Finch Ave. W).

Recent artcle from The Star

Recent article from CTV

The National Women’s Show


Okay, ladies. If you’re in Toronto today’s your last day to visit the annual National Women’s Show. I got so many goodies last year! I’m heading there now. Here’s an excerpt from their site that gives you info on what to expect:

The National Women’s Show offers a fantastic day out with girlfriends that you can’t find anywhere else! With everything from food and wine sampling to fashion and beauty; there will be celebrity guest speakers, fashion shows, free makeovers, tips for staying healthy, home décor and entertaining ideas, travel options plus career advice and over 425 exhibitors!

Make a day of it; bring your friends and be entertained. Enjoy great bargains and show specials, shop for well known brands or find a unique piece of clothing or jewelry at many of our boutique exhibits.

Experiment with a ‘new look’, ask the experts for advice on hairstyles, make-up and fitness. Take a sneak peak at what fashions are in store for the spring during our Fashion Shows plus enjoy cooking demonstrations all weekend.

Arrive early for your free Goodie Bag full of with great samples, plus information on amazing promotions and giveaways available only at the show! (While quantities last)