I was hoping Ted’s brother Richard would have WiFi at home, where we’re staying, given that they have the best of everything out here. But they don’t really have the BEST of everything… just a comfy middle-class sort of everything.
Their ranch-style single-level home on a huge property is very, very comfortable (I’d imagine) for two, and not too difficult to imagine being quite comfy for even all six of us, were we to have to live here full-time. But we won’t, because the only catch with this house and huge property is that it’s about 45 minutes east of Ottawa – well, that and the mosquitos.
To my kids, this must feel like unbearable wealth, but to me, it just feels middle-class, the type of thing I grew up taking for granted that my children do not: matching towels, clean dishes, everything sorted and in its place.
Oh, and a LOT of fire extinguishers, CO2 detectors and whatnot. My brother-in-law is extremely safety-conscious and keeps buying these types of things for us as well.
So let’s see… what have we done with our week here?
Sunday: Arrive at Ted’s parents’ house, after an easy 5-hour drive. Almost too easy. It felt like we were pretty much still in a suburb of Toronto. Father’s Day Dinner at Ted’s parents’ house. They got a TON of kosher food, for everybody, ordered from the south Loblaws that carries all the kosher stuff. It was amazing, delicious, plus a kosher cake from Rideau Bakery. Followed by a drive out to Ted’s brother’s house… long, but nice arriving in the country and flopping into bed. After watching some mindless TV (they have satellite TV, hundreds of channels, and a PVR, perhaps to make up for being out in the middle of nowhere).
Monday: Calypso! The Ottawa area’s new waterpark, which is, I might add, INCREDIBLE. Gavriel Zev cannot stand water that splashes, and there were a few spots that had him terrified, but mostly a very happy day for everybody. Much recommended is the Jungle Run, a “ride” that is almost impossible to describe because you ARE the ride. They basically provide a kind-of circular river, about chest or shoulder height, with a forceful current, and hand you a foam “raft.” You cling to your raft and, along with hundreds of other people at any given time, float around the river, under bridges with water splashing down onto you, spraying you, rushing you along until you get back to the beginning. Hard to describe, but trust me, it’s WAY better than a ride. Super-relaxing! I did it three times: once with the big kids, once with Naomi Rivka, and once wearing two life jackets instead of the raft so I could float along effortlessly. Bumped my head on the wall, almost lost my tichel, but it was amazing. Ted also went around once with Naomi Rivka. Did I say tichel? Yes, tichel; I was totally tznius the whole time, I promise. I fixed my bathing suit before we left Toronto so that instead of the nasty velcro closure it came with between the legs, it now has a single snap closure, so it was very comfortable, without the awful ripping feeling of velcro grabbing everywhere I walked. The bathing suit is a 2-piece: underneath is a bodysuit that covers everything from below the knee to below the elbow to my neck and in between. Over top is a matching (floral) tank-style dress in swimsuit fabric that also reaches below the knees and snaps between my legs so it doesn’t float up. Fun! I hadn’t realized (dumb, naive) that “water park” meant “vast public nudity park,” but that just shows how long I’ve been removed from contemporary culture. Where everybody seems to have a tattoo. Icky. Yet I couldn’t help thinking I was the one who stood out, in a long dress, long sleeves, and head covering.
Sliding ‘till your hands and feet go pruney!
Tuesday: Quiet day, which got on everybody’s nerves, including mine. Took YM to the bus station to send him off to Toronto, then we were going on a picnic. Last year, we ended up at a not-so-nice picnic spot, so I chose somewhere special this time; the island in the middle of the river between Ottawa and Gatineau (maybe the Ottawa river?). But when we got there with the car (you need a car for everything here!), the picnic spot I chose was overrun with a) weird insects, b) groundhogs, and c) geese. Awful! Elisheva got out to chase a groundhog and got a picture. But we couldn’t stay there; there were hundreds of geese, including lots of “teenagers”, and they all can get pretty vicious. Not to mention not being able to breathe without inhaling a dozen bugs. So we ended up back at our not-so-nice picnic spot, only there was a kind-of-nice sandy beach nearby and it was okay. I grumped fo r awhile, which rubbed off on Elisheva, but then we all got into nice moods. Afterwards, we went downtown to the Rideau Bakery, then the Byward Market to buy some raspberries, sugar peas and baby carrots for supper. Oh – I ended up buying a pair of sandals (at last!), plus a couple of coleus, making it one of our more expensive stops. Then hung out at Ted’s parents, made an easy salmon supper, and swung out of town, stopping only at Chapters to spend the gift cards his aunt had given us on Sunday.
Groundhog day… all over again.
Wednesday: Montreal day! Feeling smug that we hadn’t planned on going tomorrow, which is Quebec’s Fete Nationale (aka St Jean Baptiste Day, a name I find offensive because Quebec is part of my nation and not a separate nation, at least not yet – that I’ve noticed), we decided to go to the Biodome, which is a great animal-themed place to hang out, where they highlight four different ecosystems and the animals who live there. We hadn’t been there in a few years, and actually had Ted’s brother’s GPS, so after a quick bagel stop, I punched in the address and away we went. Got stuck in traffic, and everybody was grouchy after almost 2 hours in the car (maybe more), but I was happy with my tech toy until the GPS steered us faithfully to the parking lot for the Biodome, where a sign awaited us: “Biodome closed today.” Quoi??? Persisting, I had Ted drive all the way around the olympic park area to the other entrance, hoping the sign at the east entrance was a typo. Somehow. But at the other gate, the parking lot attendant dashed our hopes: “they’re on strike.” The whole Biodome. Drat, drat, drat. Kids antsy, me let down by tech toy not reporting the strike, Ted grumpy from so much driving, we decided to head for the most boring part of town: the Vieux-Port. Yes, it means Old Port. And yes, it is very likely the place where at least a few of my ancestors first set foot on this continent. But what is there to see? A little more, it turned out, than the last time we were there. We parked the car – off the beaten path, I’m afraid, later necessitating a too-long walk back – then set out. There are a few piers, and one has a nice new playground and some kind of Cirque de Soleil tent; not the main one. The next pier has the main Cirque tent, and BOY did I want to go see the show. Only $50-something each for the cheap seats, and that would have included Naomi Rivka, bringing the show to over $250, probably. So we walked away. I started getting grouchy again and everybody agreed we should hire a caleche. After Ted had repeatedly reassured me he had money, it turned out what he meant by money was $40, which does NOT buy a caleche ride; the standard, City-mandated rate is $48. Still, we found a driver who was willing to compromise, and had a 30-minute tour anyway. The extra $8 would probably have included having him point out famous landmarks; as it was, he just chatted with a friend up front, while we sat and stared at who knows what. We walked up one of the pedestrian streets afterwards; pretty dull. Hung about in front of Notre-Dame Basilica for a minute, me wishing we could go in and everybody else maybe wishing they were back at the car. It really is stunning inside; if it was still free, I might have gone in, despite Elisheva`s cries of, “ìt’s a church!” They actually have a “sound and light” show there every evening that looked like it would be pretty cool, but again, she would have felt compromised, religiously. And frankly, any Catholics in the crowd might do well to feel compromised too: I’d be embarrassed if one of the most significant shuls in the Western Hemisphere decided to set off fireworks every night to make a bit of extra money off the tourists. But someone has decided it’s in good taste, and as I said, it was not expensive and looked kind of fun. But we decided not to go and went back to the car instead, via some tacky shops that have taken the place of the dingy flea market that used to be where the Science Centre now stands. Like I said, the area has experienced some renewal since I was there last; I just hope the renewal isn’t quite done yet, because it feels like a pale version of Toronto’s harbourfront. Fair enough; five years ago, it felt like a pale version of Toronto’s harbourfront twenty years ago… which means maybe they’re catching up. Both places, by the way, feel like pale versions of San Francisco’s amazing waterfront, but everybody knows that (I hope). Back at the car, we set off for Ernie and Ellie’s for supper, but Ted decided to go up the mountain, so I stuck that info in the GPS and we headed there, but both littles were sleeping and the thought of a shlep up and around the mountain – our neighbours recommended Beaver Lake, which looks charming, instead of our usual touristy lookout – just seemed too daunting. Plus, it was already six o’clock (1800h, as they say in the belle province). So we went and grabbed our all-y0u-can-eat asian-inspired cuisine and were mostly not disappointed, though I was angered at the end by the mandatory 15% tip, which was levied with absolutely no notice. I was planning on tipping much less because a) there was a light flickering over our table that was making me crazy so they tried to adjust it but couldn’t so I had to request another table and they made us move our own dishes and cutlery and stuff, which is tacky, b) the chicken corn soup was gluey, lukewarm and flavourless (Ted’s egg drop soup was lovely; warm and flavourful, but my sampling of their Hot & Sour soup was just uninspired, with a mysterious slice of pastrami floating in it for good measure), and finally, c) the service was slow-to-nonexistent, with our water pitcher running out halfway through the meal (hello? family of five here!). The all-you-can-eat is not a buffet: they give you a menu, but you can only order 3 dishes at a time, so if you can’t FIND your #%! waiter, you are saving them a ton of money. In general, though, it’s a good idea and I approve. Give Jews a buffet and they will heap their plates, even throwing dessert right on top in case they run out of the good stuff later, and end up only eating maybe half or two-thirds of it. This way, you kind of have to pace yourself. The plates with the individual dishes are quite small; Ted ordered won tons and got maybe three tiny ones. But they will (if you can find them) cheerfully bring you many, many more. My favourite dish was the peanut-butter dumplings. They’re sort of a har gow wrapper; rice based and steamed to an appropriately slippery / slimy texture, then slathered in a sweet peanut sauce. I don’t even know if there was anything inside the wrapper (maybe chicken), but the combination of flavour and texture made the whole awful kosher-dining experience worth it. Naomi Rivka: “This is a fancy restaurant, right?” Me, eyeing the awful decor, surly wait staff and subpar soups: “Yes, that’s right.” I grew up eating in fancy restaurants, thanks to wealthy grandparents. This is NOT one, but it’s the closest Missy Chooch is probably going to get for a while. After arguing with the guy about the tip – the menu bore a warning that parties of 12 or more would have a mandatory 15% gratuity added, meaning perhaps that parties of zero or more would as well, and then he told me he’d checked with their lawyers so it was okay, because only in a Jew place would they argue instead of maybe thinking, “let’s not rip off this nice lady who only eats here every two years but will tell all her Toronto friends and maybe even blog about her fine-dining experience here at Ernie and Ellie” (which actually has no apostrophe or possessive; it’s just the two names). But no, he did argue, and I relented and paid because a nice lady had let me in line even though she had a small simple bill and was paying cash because Gavriel Zev does NOT like eating in restaurants and was about to start screaming again. And we hopped in the car and despite knowing the way home, fired up the GPS and headed back and this is where I am right now; in Richard’s clean, cozy dining room with no WiFi access, typing up this blog entry, playing Spider Solitaire (painfully slowly) and sometime soon, dragging my weary bones off to bed. Tomorrow is another day.
J’aime bien les calèches a Vieux-Montréal! (ville de ma naissance!)
Thursday: So the thing is, Ted’s brother is gay and so is his boyfriend, and that’s where we’re staying, and so I wonder – what kind of message is this, for us, for the kids, that we stay here with them when we come to Ottawa? Mostly, it’s the message, “we can’t afford a hotel,” but still. If I believe SOME, this type of interaction will normalize homosexuality for them and make them more likely to be gay when they grow up. Or something. I don’t buy it. And then, there`s this: I have said already that my kids can’t sleep over at my sister’s because her non-Jewish boyfriend lives there. Is this hypocritical? Is gay okay but not shacking up? (and if so, why is gay shacking up – even the 25-year-relationship kind – okay?) Is gay okay but not a goy? Or is none of this side a problem because they’re not Jewish and therefore not subject to the same moral standards we are? Whereas my sister, of course, is.
I’ll be honest. I duck the issue a bit because they’re not Jewish. And because this is Ted’s family, not mine. I am much more vocal with my own family. I would never let my own family shower Naomi Rivka with the Tinkerbell accessories she loves so much, or DVDs or whatever. Then again, my family knows to ask. Ted’s family just buys and BUYS, which is a beautiful gesture (please – I don’t want to sound ungrateful here!) except much of what they buy is (shh, I’ll spell it) J-U-N-K.
I like Ted’s siblings very much, by the way. They are for the most part (one exception) very considerate, especially if you measure according to how much JUNK they buy us. They go out of their way to accomodate us in every way I could imagine – tonight, they’re having a big family BBQ at his sister’s house and his brother has ordered everything kosher so we can participate. His sister remembers people she met once at our wedding and asks about them and listens so well and thoughtfully. When my mother came to town earlier this year, his sister picked her up at the hotel and brought her to Ted’s parents’ house for a visit (this is a THING I think my mother regrets about not having the traditional Jewish family – the traditional convivial interrelationship among machetanim, the in-laws).
They are just NICE people.
If my kid was gay, I would hope to love him to bits anyway. Or her. And, frankly, I would hope they were not so gay that they couldn’t be convinced into a nice hetero marriage-with-kids.
I definitely don’t believe that 1-in-10 statistic, and I hope it’s not HATEFUL or PHOBIC to say I suspect many young people who believe they’re gay are perhaps more flexible than anything else (since I also believe sexuality is a spectrum).
Honestly, I knew people in their teens and twenties who would have sworn they were gay who turned out, well, NOT to be. I see them on facebook with their husbands or wives and kids and it doesn’t look like they are suppressing any essential gayness to live those lives. They are not miserable.
Given support, maturity, and yes, positive pressure to marry a person of the opposite gender and procreate – to create the bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael that I believe is the sacramental building block of the Jewish religion – I do still believe that many kids who think they’re gay could end up happily straight.
And if they do not, well, I like to believe I’d keep on loving them to bits.
A friend of mine, a while ago, was asking on a message board what people would do if their kids turned out to be gay, or transsexual, or otherwise not fitting the mold.
I believe the people who genuinely fit those descriptions – reasonably sane, grounded, non-attention-seeking people – are rare. Fewer than one in ten, though I won’t hazard a guess at the actual number.
And if there happens to be one in your family, well, like I keep saying, love them to bits and maybe even stay at their less-than-faaaaabulous but definitely comfy house when you come to town.
Whoo-hoo! Found a WiFi connecion at the Museum of Civilization – posting NOW! Hope everybody in TO is having an earthquake-free day today.
Postscript: here’s how it all wrapped up…
Thursday: Ted’s brother took Ted and the kids strawberry-picking (photo above) while Elisheva and I had a leisurely breakfast and shower. Then we all left for the Museum of Civilization (with its fabulous Children’s Museum – a day trip in itself!). I was blown away by the “Canada” exhibit. Canadian history is only deathly dull in print and in two dimensions. The museum does a great job of bringing it all to life. Later, we had a big family supper for Ted’s nephew Cameron’s 12th birthday. His brother and sister bought EVERYTHING except the salmon we brought for our main course. Everything was kosher except the stuff on his sister’s BBQ (they planned it that way). Obsessively label-checking, I discovered two fleishik trays – all the others were sealed with a “pareve” hechsher sticker. So his meticulous brother obsessed and apologized and I thought he might actually kill himself over the fact that he ordered all pareve platters. I managed to divert him at last by calling attention to the lovely walnut and apple salad tray and all the amazing dressings: a different gourmet dressing for every single tray, plus these mushroom pastries with a pareve aioli-type dip that everybody loved. Ice cream cake afterwards, plus Ted’s brother offered us platters upon platters of kosher pastries, plus fruit. It was really overkill. I felt guilty bringing our four stupid little pieces of salmon. Naomi was initially disappointed that she wouldn’t be seeing her good doggie-friend Moochie, but made friends instead with Ted’s sister’s elderly poodle Darby. Same breed, just about 14 years’ age difference.
Trying, and failing, to take a decent family photo.
p.s. I found out afterwards that on Thursday’s strawberry-picking outing with Ted’s brother, he insisted on vacuuming our travel-cluttered car before he would go anywhere in it. I thought it looked amazingly neat, but just thought now that the kids are getting older, they don’t make as much of a mess!
Saying goodbye to Moochie!