a peek inside the fishbowl

25 May, 2016

Zucchini ribbon and caper pasta recipe

By andrea tomkins in Recipes and Food

I decided to try a new pasta dish for lunch the other day and use up a few ingredients I had lying around. This was the result:

May 23 #dailylunches - Zucchini ribbon pasta

This dish is via the Canadian Living website (which you can find right here).

If you click over to the original recipe you’ll see that my photo doesn’t look anything like theirs. Perhaps it’s because I scaled the recipe down to one serving and the math didn’t quite work out. Also, the recipe calls for the onions to be cooked but the ones in the CL photo look like they’re close to raw. So does the zucchini for that matter. Whatever. It tasted good and that’s all that matters to me. :)

These are the ingredients I used (they do differ from the original recipe a little bit):

85 g whole wheat spaghettini
1 zucchini
3/4 tsp (4 mL) olive oil (I didn’t measure)
1/4 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp (4 mL) capers, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Pinch hot pepper flakes
2 tbsp (15 mL) grated Romano cheese
1 tsp (4 mL) lemon juice
Ground pepper to taste

The next time I make this – and there will definitely be a next time – I will use less pasta and maybe reduce the cooking time on the zucchini. Let me know if you try this recipe!

24 May, 2016

Living is doing

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life,Ottawa

Imagine that you were given the gift – or curse – of knowing exactly when you are going to die.

You find yourself in the otherworldly office of the Curator of Life and Death. You’re shown to a chair while the Curator sits across from you. The Curator is big, and you are small. You feel insignificant and young as your feet barely skim the floor. Between you, on a desk, lies an office-type calendar. It’s a month-at-a-glance kind of deal, but the Curator has given you the ability to see every month without having to turn a single spiral-bound page. It’s filled with boxes, one for each day of your life. You note the first day, the starting point – your birthday – and the last day. (Oh crap, you think. There it is.) Then you take a closer look at all the boxes between these two bookends. Some are partially, or entirely, filled with Things You Cannot Avoid such as sleep, household chores, time spent in traffic or at the grocery store and doing your taxes. You also notice there are quite a few boxes that are already accounted for in other ways, affected by illness perhaps, and there are more of these later on. But for now, there is no illness, just sleep and chores and a daily commute. What strikes you is when you see them all laid out like this, is that there is a fixed number. There is a limit. You don’t get extras, unfortunately, but what you do get is control. You have been given the gift of free will. As the captain of your ship you get to decide how you fill up those little boxes.

So here’s the question, do you fill them with Netflix reruns, doing favours for ungrateful recipients, doing the laundry when your kids are perfectly capable of doing it themselves, or, do you fill those days with the people you love and doing the things you love as much as time and money will allow?

Why are we unable to view each day as the gift it truly is? Why is it only when faced with a diagnosis, an accident, or a funeral do we take the time to step back and evaluate the way we spend the limited amount of time we have available to us? If we had the power to see how many boxes we have, would we fill them differently?

A new mantra popped into my head last week: Live By Doing. This is something I’ve been feeling for a while but hadn’t really put into words until now.

If I was lying on a couch in a therapist’s office I’m sure he or she would tell me this is all a direct result of a funeral I attended recently. This person was only 48 when she died. She was married, with two kids. Had she lived enough? Seen enough? The answer has to be no, since she had only lived about half of her life. I haven’t been able to shake the tragedy of it, the unfairness. Maybe her death is a wake-up call, a reminder to stop putting things off.

She didn’t have a magic calendar. She probably assumed, like we all do, that she had an endless string of calendar squares, a lifetime of sitting on the back porch, enjoying a glass of wine with her family. But she didn’t.

Sarah went kayaking with a friend yesterday. (Sidebar: I am thrilled that this is the kind of neighbourhood we live in. A friend’s family has two kayaks and offered to drive them down the beach for a wee jaunt along the river, which is only a five-minute drive away.) The three remaining family members went on a bike ride to Mud Lake, an easy walking trail that is known for its avian population. It took a wee bit of convincing to get our eldest to come with us – too much homework you know – but she came along in the end. Mark pumped up our bike tires, we assembled our snacks and water bottles, and off we went.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather. It was sunny and clear and although the wind was in our faces for a time, the ride was a relatively easy one along the Ottawa River.

We arrived and locked up our bikes. As I waited for everyone to assemble I had a feeling I was being watched. I wasn’t wrong:

Watching the watchers

We followed the path into the woods. It wasn’t long before the birds started making themselves known to us. Within a very short time we spotted a couple of wild turkeys, a white-breasted nuthatch, woodpeckers, red-winged blackbirds, black-capped chickadees, a variety of ducks, an egret, and some overly friendly Canada geese:


Our biggest “find” turned out to be an Eastern screech owl. It wasn’t hard to spot. We simply followed the crowd:

Wildlife photography in action at Mud Lake

Eastern screech owl at Mud Lake

Our birding skills are fairly basic (in fact, I had to ask a guy about that owl) but we do appreciate nature and can identify a handful of birds, perhaps more than most people. I’d never seen an owl in the wild, so it was a pretty cool experience for me.

It’s something that wouldn’t have happened if we were sitting at home. That being said, if I am honest, I know I have to count myself among those people who feel absolutely wrung out by the end of the day. Sometimes I barely have enough energy to lie on the couch and eat popcorn. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t actually take a lot of time, money, or energy to get busy living. The whole experience of biking out to Mud Lake only took a couple of hours. When we got home, the eldest went back to homework. Mark mixed up a pitcher of Sangria and the two of us sat on the back porch. It felt especially good to do so because I felt like we had accomplished something. I felt like I had lived… and filled in one of those calendar squares with something worthwhile.

21 May, 2016

Weekend reading: May 21 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

We live within easy walking distance of the Highland Park Lawn Bowling Club. My Westie readers probably know this place already. It’s been around for quite a while. (Ottawa history buffs can read more about the club here.)

Every year the club members host an open house and every year we manage to miss it. Well, I was determined that THIS WAS THE YEAR we’d finally make it. It almost didn’t happen, but we made it happen. Mark and I, along with a friend, dropped by on Tuesday evening to see what it was all about. We were not to be disappointed.


We walked over together, registered, signed liability forms, and were measured (!) for a set of boules. (They do this by measuring your grip from your thumb to the end of your middle finger.)

A case of boules, for lawn bowling

Lawn bowling boules

At first, we were the youngest people on the green, but that quickly changed as more people arrived.

We were matched up with a member-instructor who took us through the basics of the game. It’s a lot like curling, but given that it all takes place in an outdoor setting it strikes me a lot more pleasant. The sun was setting as we played, it cast long shadows over our group and bathed everything in a golden light. It sounds corny, but it was all kind of magical. When’s the last time I played outside with friends? I couldn’t even remember.



There was much laughter and camaraderie between the players and I was starting to remember what a lovely thing it is to be outdoors, sharing a gently competitive activity with a group of people.


Surprise surprise, I was actually not too shabby at lawn bowling. I managed to lob a few good ones that went the distance and ended up in (roughly) the right spot. I was told I had a pretty good arm “for a lady” which made me laugh. (You can watch a short video Mark took of me on my Instagram account.)

I am looking forward to trying it again. We actually have appointments for a free coaching lesson next week. I am happy we finally got around to trying it out. It was different than I had expected and a lot more fun. This fits nicely within my “living is doing” mantra. It doesn’t hurt there’s a pub across the street either. So if you see us at the Clocktower more often, that’s why. :)

18 May, 2016

About that stake, part 2

By andrea tomkins in - Ottawa for kids,Misc. life,Ottawa

You can read the first part of this post right here.

There were two reasons why we thought it might be cool to have a wooden stake as part of a Buffy costume at Comicon. Not only is a stake a useful prop (vampire slayers DO often use wooden stakes to kill blood-sucking ghouls) but it was also something that my daughter could have signed. You see, Eliza Dushku of BUFFY fame was scheduled to be signing autographs. Wouldn’t it be fun to get her to sign the stake? Ah, little did we know.

We arrived early on Sunday, but not early enough, because there was already a massive lineup forming, even before the doors even opened. Thankfully, a huge canvas tent spared us from the elements and kept us from freezing. We didn’t mind the wait, in fact, it was actually fun to people watch. For a Comicon newbie, this is one of the best parts of Comicon.

We finally got in, had our tickets scanned, and asked where the autographs were going on. We were rushing because Eliza’s autograph session was supposed to be underway. Hindsight being 20/20 and all, I probably should have made a point of investigating the giant “WEAPONS CHECK” sign that was near the front entrance, or at least, asking about it, but we didn’t. Instead, we hightailed it to the far far end of the EY Centre where all of the autograph sessions were happening in one smaller area.

We knew this autograph was going to cost $60, what we didn’t know that it was cash-only. Doh. So the girls got in line while Mark went to the bank machine.

It only took a few minutes before security noticed my 17-year-old daughter was carrying a stake. It was promptly confiscated. Apparently they were going to hold it until the girls got to the front of the line. Afterwards, we found out the stake was kept on the table during the autograph session. It was up to my eldest to claim it when she got there. Which she did.

After a brief chat with Eliza, and the promised autograph, we were escorted to the aforementioned Weapon’s Check Area by a security guard. I asked him, half-jokingly, who was going to assess the stake. He wasn’t sure. I assumed that they’d have some kind of police officer or security guard on staff, someone who had some degree of experience in the area of weaponry and public safety, but guess what, there wasn’t. It was just a bunch of young people I can only assume are regular Comicon or EY Centre Staff.

Happily, they gave us the green light and marked her stake with a plastic band, you know, so everyone could easily identify that it was not actually the kind of wooden stake that may be a danger to someone:


Later on, a vendor spotted my eldest with her stake and asked us about “all the fuss.” Apparently she saw the turmoil our wooden stake had caused with security when it was first confiscated. There was a lot of discussion and worry behind the scenes which we did not witness.

This whole thing strikes me as very ironic. I can’t begin to tell you how many booths at Comicon were selling pocketknives and swords of varying degrees of fakeness: foam, plastic, metal. And as Mark pointed out, the pointy stick from the ice-cream bar would have made a better weapon than our garden stake.

Regardless of this small bother, Comicon was actually a lot of fun and I would definitely go again. I say this, even though I have very little geek cred and embarrassed myself at least a dozen times. e.g. “Hey it’s Dumbledore!” “Er, that’s GANDALF, MOM.”

Did you go to Comicon? And if so, did you get your weapon checked? ;)


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  • Emilio: It's an remarkable paragraph iin favor of all the web visitors; they wll obtain beneft from it I amm sure.
  • Tricia: I love this article. I had a TIA (mini stroke) in my early twenties, and while I appreciated my life before that, I REALLY did afterwards. I've trav
  • Claudette (@WriterOfWords91): That is awfully inspiring! And I too have never seen an owl in the wild. I have however seen a hedgehog in the wild and your post reminded me of that.
  • andrea tomkins: It was an Eastern Screech Owl! :)
  • Heather: We make the most of each day, in other words, living our dash. Enjoying the little things life has to offer.
  • Honest Ave: So...what species of owl was it? 8-
  • Craig: UnderDOG, originally from Milwaukee WI. Everyone called it that there. Now I live near Appleton WI and my kids call it UnderDUCK. WTF?????

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (16) and Sarah (14). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times, and a regular contributor to MediaSmarts.ca. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


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