Checklist For Canadian Snowbirds


It’s that time of the year again! Fall has suddenly arrived without any warning and the Farmer’s Almanac has warned of a very severe upcoming winter for Canada. Many Canadian snowbirds are getting ready to drive or fly south in November to escape the harsh winter and many won’t return until next April or May.

Most financial institutions and insurance companies offer tips for snowbirds prior to their departure to the U.S. The Canadian Snowbird Association, a not-for-profit organization that positions itself as the voice of travelling Canadians, also offers its members tips ranging from vaccinations, medications, vitamin supplements, camper vans, taxes, vehicle insurance, Florida highway traffic, to the use of credit cards while in the U.S.

A brand new website called, launched five months ago, also provides “the Canadian Snowbird’s Checklist – Everything You Need to Do Before You Go.”  According to the website’s President, Stephen Fine, “There’s a lot to think about when you’re leaving for four to six months each winter. We provide snowbirds with a complete checklist detailing everything you need to think about including travel insurance, booking flights, preparing your home and vehicle and updating all of your documents.” The website positions itself as the one-stop online resource for Canadian snowbirds who can sign up on the website to become members for free and receive exclusive snowbird tips, tools, offers and services.

As a part-time snowbird myself, I’ve glanced through the various checklists from difference sources and below are the most useful top 10:

  1. Renting in Advance: Book as early as possible. Most long-term rentals in snowbird destinations are booked a year in advance, often by people who rented them last season. Useful websites include and
  2. Travel Documents: Make sure your passport and/or Nexus card don’t expire until well after you return. I would recommend that Canadian snowbirds enter their Nexus card instead of their passport as their travel documents when checking-in with airlines for boarding passes because the former documentation would qualitfy them for a much shorter security line-up for TSA PreCheck boarding.
  3. Driver’s Licence and Health Card: Check your provincial health card and driver’s licence to make sure they don’t expire before you return.
  4. Vehicle Registration and Insurance: Many snowbirds bring their own cars to the U.S., so if you choose to do so, it is imperative that you ensure your vehicle registration and insurance are up-to-date.
  5. Insurance Policy and Emergency Contact Card: Bring a copy of your travel medical insurance policy and the emergency contact card your insurer provides you with.
  6. Banking: Make sure all your credit cards (both Canadian and U.S.) don’t expire while you are away. Set up online banking and bill payment so that you can do all your financial transactions online while you’re out of the Canada. However, be extra careful about where you get your WiFi when you’re in snowbird destinations to protect yourself from hackers and internet thefts.
  7. Home Insurance: Most home insurance policies require every other day inspection by someone while you’re out of your home. Also, turn off all your water supply and drain all pipes before you leave home.
  8. Mail and newspapers: Arrange for someone to collect your mail or have it held at the Post Office.If you have physical newspaper subscriptions, consider changing them to online subscriptions instead or suspending them before you go.
  9. Cell Phone Plan: Research and buy a value-for-money cell phone plan best suited to your use in the snowbird destination. Most cell phone providers such as Rogers and Bell Mobility offer U.S. monthly travel passes for voice, texts and data. Negotiate with your provider should you plan to stay longer than one month.
  10. U.S. Property Insurance: Whether you own a home or rent a property in the U.S. during the winter months, you might still need some sort of home/property insurance while you are there. Talk to your real estate agent, your insurance agent or your U.S. landlord.

The rest is just common sense while travelling outside the country. For further tips and more detailed information, you might find the following resources useful:,,,,, and


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The Future Of Independent Aging

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I read with interest The New York Times article published yesterday on The Future Of Retirement Communities: Walkable and Urban. It pointed out that even though most of us currently drive everywhere, more older people these days are looking for a community where they can enjoy a full life without a car. Aging in place now means a lot more than your home – it’s more like aging in community where people can walk or take transit to just about everything they need in an urban neighbourhood.

According to the publication, retirement communities in the U.S. have been slow to change in the age of the Fitbit and a growing cohort of active, engaged retirees eager to take their daily 10,000 steps. Eighty percent of retirees still live in car-dependent suburbs and rural areas, according to a Brookings Institution study. The study indicated that developments for independent retirees typically come in two flavours: isolated, gated subdivisions or large homes on golf courses, often in the same bland package of multiple cul-de-sacs. Both require driving everywhere, which is a problem for those who either do not want to drive or cannot.

The future of independent aging lies more in the walkable urban space – from existing neighbourhoods in places like Brooklyn or San Francisco, to newly built housing within city and suburban cores from coast to coast. In the U.S., new senior housing projects are being built with the goal of keeping retirees active and enabling them to get out and walk to basic services. Researchers found that walkable, mixed-use environments could possibly reduce disabilities many face as they age. Pedestrian-friendly communities promote walking to a grocery store, cafe or other services like a dry cleaner or library.

However, many developers pointed out that urban retirement communities are difficult to build within cities which require extensive infrastructure improvements, including wider sidewalks, bike lanes, more public transportation options and longer pedestrian signal walk times. There is also the question of affordability – walkable areas in mature cities may be unaffordable for retirees who are interested in reducing their overall housing costs. According to, some of the most walkable U.S. cities, such as New York, San Francisco and Boston, are also the most expensive. Canadian retirees face the same conundrum as their U.S. counterparts. Walk Score ranked Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Mississauga and Ottawa as the top five most walkable large cities in Canada. Real estate prices, particularly in the top two cities, are also sky high. Of the 1,200 neighbourhoods scored, 30 of them are “Walker’s Paradises” with a Walk Score of 90 or higher. Toronto also has more “Walker’s Paradises” neighbourhoods (17) than Vancouver (3).

The world-renowned urbanist Richard Florida, who has been working and living in Toronto for a while now, said that Toronto has the potential to further evolve into a city with increased community access. However, Florida also argued that many of Toronto’s progressive residents and politicians have also done extremely little to improve the quality of life in lower-income areas. In an interview with Urban Toronto last December, Florida called for a “virtual moratorium on road-building,” arguing that the perpetuation of an automobile culture hinders a city’s creative capacity, with little exchange of ideas and culture occurring when people are sitting in their cars, and not engaging with life on the street. In spite of his frustration with the “narrowmindedness” of some politicians and residents, Florida also expressed his optimism about the future of Toronto’s real estate development. “The best and most forward-thinking developers now realize that the key to building real estate value in the long term comes through creating good neighbourhoods, and not just good buildings,” he said. Even though he did not specifically mention his vision for the city with the aging population in mind, one would just assume that smart developers are thinking of retirement communities when building for the future.

For aging retirees living in the suburbs, there is always the good news of the latest development of self-driving cars. According to research on mobility for the aged conducted by MIT’s AgeLab, the autonomous vehicle is integral to the future independence of older people. Last month, the U.S. government has also become an ally for self-driving cars by officially announcing guidelines for the booming industry of automated vehicles. The New York Times reported that the Obama administration promised strong safety oversight, but sent a clear signal to automakers that the door was wide open for driverless cars. “We envision in the future, you can take your hands off the wheel, and your commute becomes restful or productive instead of frustrating and exhausting,” said a senior official of the National Economic Council, adding that highly automated vehicles “will save time, money and lives.” The Council and the United States Department of Transportation released the first guidelines in September, which outlined safety expectations and encouraged uniform rules for the nascent technology.

Tesla, the electric-car maker, has already sold tens of thousands of cars with a self-driving feature known as Autopilot. Uber, the leader in ride-hailing service, began trials in Pittsburgh last month to let its most loyal customers order rides from driverless cars through their smartphone app. Google has also been testing self-driving cars in its hometown, Mountain View, California, and very soon, in Stratford, Ontario, as well.

Whether it’s retirement-community living in walkable cities or dependence on self-driving cars in suburban areas, the future looks promising for independent aging!

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It’s Time To Criminalize Distracted Driving


New numbers from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) show that distracted driving has recently surpassed impaired driving in automotive fatalities. According to a CTV news report last month, for the first time in Ontario, deaths from distracted driving are double that of impaired driving. So far this year, there have been 38 fatalities due to inattention behind the wheel compared to 19 who have died due to impaired driving. Statistics released last year by the OPP found there were 69 distracted driving fatalities on OPP-patrolled roads compared to the 45 impaired-driving fatalities. In B.C., the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia found that in 2014, 64 people were killed in impaired-driving related fatalities compared to 81 who were killed due to distracted driving.

Figures from Saskatchewan Government Insurance also show that 26 people were killed and nearly 600 injured in more than 3,300 collisions related to distracted driving in 2014, compared with 46 fatalities attributed to alcohol.

The problem was so serious that in Toronto, public educational billboards for a made-up funeral home with the morbid message, “Text and Drive. Wathan Funeral Home,” were mounted on the Gardiner Expressway near the Exhibition grounds, and another at Albion Road at Steeles Avenue. The black and white billboards were designed by Toronto ad agency john st. and donated by Cieslok Media as their contributions to spreading the word about a problem that people think they are invincible to.

British Columbia and Ontario have banned the use of hand-held communications and electronic entertainment devices while driving. Alberta expands its legislation beyond hand-held electronic devices to include other forms of driver distraction, including eating, drinking, reading, writing and personal grooming. Fines for distracted driving currently range from up to $145 and four demerit points in Quebec to $579 in Nova Scotia and up to $1,000 and three demerit points in Ontario. In B.C., a ticket for a first offence is $543 and $888 for the second offence, with four demerit points.

According to Global, a spokesperson for the Federal Justice Department said most provinces and territories (with the exception of Nunavut) have penalties for distracted driving and criminal charges can be laid when cases reach a level of dangerous or careless driving. Under the Criminal Code of Canada, dangerous driving causing bodily harm carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, while dangerous driving causing death carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

In response to mounting media and safety advocacy groups’ pressure about the need to criminalize distracted driving, Federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau said earlier this month that distracted driving is a “big problem” and promised to raise the issue with his provincial counterparts in a Toronto meeting yesterday. Unfortunately, Transport Ministers from across Canada seemed to have mixed feelings about this subject and would not commit to a consensus about an action plan.

Most people think that only millennials are culprits in texting and driving but, in fact, I know a lot of baby boomers who are equally guilty of this dangerous habit. I believe that not only should we criminalize distracted driving, but we should also introduce roadside “textalyzer” tests in the aftermath of a collision just like what New York is proposing. Under a new road safety bill being proposed in the New York State legislature, all drivers in the state would automatically consent to having police digitally scan their phones using roadside “textalyzer” tests. The technology is the digital equivalent of the breathalyzer tests used on drunk drivers, enabling cops to detect whether drivers were texting or posting on Facebook while driving.

The proposed bill also states that any “refusal to submit a mobile telephone or personal electronic device to the field testing will result in the revocation of the driver’s licence or permit,” effective immediately. Depending on how the testing works, that could also mean surrendering your device’s PIN or encryption password to the cops and simply trusting their technology to only extract information relevant to distracted driving.

New York was the first state to ban the use of cellphones while driving and has a reputation for pioneering road safety regulations later adopted across the country. According to Governor Andrew Cuomo, motorists have seen an 840 percent increase in tickets for texting while driving since 2011. The New York Times reported that in the U.S., 14 states currently prohibit the use of hand-held devices by drivers, and 46 ban texting, with penalties ranging from a US$25 fine in South Carolina to US$200 fines elsewhere, and even points assessed against the driver’s licence. A handful of states, including New York, have strengthened their original bans, which in 2014 adopted tougher sanctions that include a 120-day suspension of a permit or a licence suspension for drivers under 21, while a second offence calls for a full-year suspension.

It might still take a while to fine-tune the “textalizing” technology and making sure that privacy and civil liberties are protected at the same time. But it is time to take a more serious approach in Canada too to stopping drivers who continually engage in reckless behaviour, such as texting, using apps and browsing the web on their mobile devices while behind the wheel. Until distracted driving is treated as seriously as drunk driving, the former behaviour will continue to cause more fatalities on the road!

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It’s The Life In Your Years That Count!


This past summer marked one of my most memorable birthdays – I hosted a luncheon party for almost 30 of my closest friends from around the world at one of my favourite venues, Langdon Hall Country House, in Cambridge, Ontario.

I always believe in celebrating life when one is still alive, healthy and happy, and no matter how old one is. So what more to ask for than having a room full of good friends who have put aside their other priorities for one day, and chosen to celebrate my birthday with me all under one roof? Half of them have travelled very far from Hong Kong, Hangzhou, Singapore, San Francisco, New York and Vancouver in addition to my Canadian friends from Toronto and Collingwood. It was a beautiful Sunday in July and the marathon luncheon was close to perfection!

I have previously briefed the team at Langdon Hall during the preparation stage that if all else failed, the food could not be anything but great. Indeed, Executive Chef Jason Bangerter and his team knocked it out of the park for me and my guests! Chef Jason custom-designed a five-course luncheon menu  based on my theme of “inspiring influence.”

The meal began with Montfort CHEVRE whipped with honey from Langdon Hall’s own nine colonies of bees on its 75-acre estate. The bees feed on the estate’s garden flowers creating its unique honey with flavours of lavender, chamomile, marigold and basil, just to mention a few. Lemon jam, bronze fennel also from the garden, hazelnut crumb and fig jam completed this beautiful amuse-bouche.

This was followed by the West Coast Great Bear Scallop, with orchard apple gastrique, geranium, celery and yogurt. The scallops were hand harvested by First Nations farmers just outside Great Bear, British Columbia, only hours out of the water which gave us the freshest, best-quality and sustainable product one can ever get! When Chef Jason first presented this culinary design to me in April, he was suggesting that the scallops be done quite raw so that they would taste like sashimi. When it came to the final meal, the scallops were slightly poached instead to address my concern that some of my Canadian friends do not take raw food in any form. This was, by far, my most favourite dish from the entire luncheon.

From one coast to another came the East Coast Snow Crab with cured Quebec foie gras torchon grated over the top; pickled and raw Niagara grapes; foraged sumac and late harvest wine jelly.

The main course featured Roasted Ontario Beef with braised cheek, charred leek, wild mild mushrooms and Madeira sauce. Once again, when Chef Jason first presented this concept to me in the spring, my immediate reaction was that roast beef is a very common dish. But the chef explained that the beef is from a local farm called YU ranch in Cambridge, Ontario, while the breed is a true Texas Longhorn. The unique aspect of this beef is that it is not mass produced – the herd lives in a forest all year round and the farmer has to go looking for the herd! Only a small number of cattle are harvested a year, scrutinized by extremely high selection standards. I could tell that this was a favourite dish for all my guests as most of them emptied their plates very quickly.

The dessert is always the most memorable and the trickiest dish to prepare. Chef Jason, in conjunction with Pastry Chef Rachel Nicholson, developed a signature recipe for the Langdon Chocolate at Cacao Barry’s prestigious Or Noir in Paris, France. The dark chocolate had an ideal amount of bitterness and the milk chocolate was as creamy and shiny as you would want it to be.The chocolate was presented with Langdon Hall’s own garden garnishes, fresh berries and Rose ice cream.

In addition to the food being a great hit at the luncheon, Chef Jason himself became instantly very popular at my party. He gave a brief introduction of the customized menu in an intimate Chef’s Table style for all my guests prior to the food being served. Contrary to most chefs who focus on cooking and supervising in the kitchen, Chef Jason has a gifted flair for presentation and communication as well and managed to charm everybody even before they started eating! Since he joined Langdon Hall from Auberge du Pommier and Luma in 2013, Chef Jason has already garnered numerous culinary awards for Langdon Hall including The Good Food Innovation Award and the CAA/AAA Five Diamond Award.

Thanks to my friends and the staff at Langdon Hall, I had had a close-to-perfect birthday celebration this year. And should any skeptical baby boomer ask why birthdays are still such a big deal, I would respond by quoting Abraham Lincoln, “…in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Hear hear!




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Slowing Aging May Not Be That Bad


Last month, The Economist‘s article, Cheating Death, conjured up the distant possibility of slowing, and even abolishing, aging all together with successful scientific research and breakthroughs. With the increase of average lifespans over the past century, the new extension of human life can be brought about by specific anti-senescence drugs, some of which may already exist.

The publication reported that life for many people could be extended to today’s ceiling of 120 or so. Centenarians might be less of a rarity as worn-out body parts will be repaired or replaced, DNA will be optimized for long life and more anti-aging drugs will be at work.

It seems like everybody wants longevity, but few have thought about how long life can exacerbate existing social and economic problems. Social inequity will become more of a problem if wealthy people are given preferential access to anti-senescence treatment which could be very expensive.

Already, a lot of millennials resent their boomer colleagues now because the latter are reluctant to retire and are, therefore, perceived to limit the careers of their younger subordinates. If older workers can live even longer, bosses might increasingly cling on to their senior positions and be reluctant to let go.

If you think boomers have been delaying retirement now for the lack of savings, retirement would even become a more distant option for most. People might want to expand their careers by going back to school in their 50s to learn how to do something completely different. The enviable professions such as accountants and lawyers might be less craved for just because people with longer lives could shift to a totally different profession in order to try out something new within their extra-long lifespan.

Longevity will also be detrimental to family life too. The feasibility of people tying the knot in their 20s and be expected with the same person 80 years later seems dismal. As The Economist said, “the one-partner life, already on the decline, could become rare, replaced by a series of relationships, each as long as what many today would consider a decent marital stretch.”

This is, of course, a pessimist’s point of view. An optimist would consider a longer life a happier life, provided that you’re still physically and mentally healthy! According to a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, older people tend to be happier than younger people, and their happiness increases with age.

The New York Times reported that researchers in the study contacted 1,546 people aged 21 to 99 via random telephone calls and found that older age was associated with higher levels of overall satisfaction, happiness and well-being, and lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress. The older the person, the study found, the better his or her mental health tended to be.

According to the senior author of the study, Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, “Brain studies show that the amygdala in older people responds less to stressful or negative images than in a younger person. We become wise. Peer pressure loses its sting. Better decision-making, more control of emotions, doing things that are not just for yourself, knowing oneself better, being more studious and yet more decisive.”

So, there you go – if we can combine an age-defying body with a contented mental state, longevity might be something to look forward to after all so long as you have the financial resources to sustain your long life as well!

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