a peek inside the fishbowl

My sense of time is distorted. Mostly because one of the publications I work on, Capital Parent Newspaper, is produced ahead of time and it messes with my internal calendar. The Christmas issue is already out and I’ve been thinking about the New Year for a couple of weeks already. Perhaps that’s where this post comes from. It’s not even the end of November but I have found my thoughts turning to my New Year’s resolutions. Here’s the thing: for once, I was actually able to keep them this year. (Well, all except for the one I wrote about here. The 52-week jar was a bit of a bust. Mostly because we were dipping into the well to fund things like school trips and forgetting to add to it. Gah.)

But for the most part, I did well. My resolutions in January 2014 included:

I think I’m a happier and healthier person because of them, even though they aren’t big ones that include climbing mountains, marathons, or gym memberships.

Sidebar: I find it fascinating how energy begets energy. I think back on how hard it was to do that first 20 minute walk, but I persevered and did it. And I did it again and again. And every time it got a tiiiiiiny bit easier. Imperceptively, really, but that’s what got me through those hard days and convinced me to go back. (Also, Facebook.)

I know I’ve written this here before, and I hate to sound like a broken record, but sometimes we need to put ourselves first, not just for us, for our health and well-being, but so we can be good to others; good parents, good bosses, good employees, good neighbours. When we put ourselves first and find what we need in order to be healthy, well-balanced, functioning citizens of the world, the rest of the stuff is more likely to fall into place. Don’t you think? I know that when I feel good, I am happier. And when I’m happier, I’m able to accomplish more, with a lighter heart, and I’m sure there has to be an effect on the people around me.

So here’s my challenge to you: will you promise to spend a few moments to take care of yourself for just one day? It could be today, it could be sometime this weekend or next week. Just find a day, and do something for yourself.


You can interpret the “take better care of myself” in any way that makes sense to you; mentally or physically or both. But remember, it’s about YOU. Here are a few ideas of the kinds of things you can do:

  • eat a balanced breakfast
  • go for a brisk walk, and push yourself to go faster
  • send the kids away and enjoy a long bath while reading a magazine
  • skip dessert and eat an apple instead
  • go to bed early
  • take the steps two at a time
  • download an app like Couch-5K or 100 pushups and challenge yourself physically
  • drink extra water throughout the day in a pretty glass
  • take your vitamins
  • floss
  • do that THING you’ve been putting off: e.g. make that doctor’s appointment already!
  • do that active THING you used to love doing and haven’t done in forever: swimming, skating, hiking, bowling, etc.
  • throw out your granny panties and buy all new underthings that make you feel great
  • fix that button on your favourite coat/shirt/cardigan
  • be vegetarian for a day
  • be a vegan for a day
  • what’s your favourite fruit or veggie? Buy it for yourself, no matter the cost, and eat it.
  • make and eat a proper lunch
  • make a coffee date with a friend

I’m sure we can collectively come up with a few more things we can do on “take care of myself” day. And I’m not suggesting a day at the spa (although wouldn’t THAT be nice?) but a tiny thing or two, that’s just for you.

Try it and see. Then come back and tell me what you did and how it made you feel. Who knows? Maybe that thing do will give you a bit of a charge, and you might find yourself repeating it the next day. Because energy begets energy, right?


So this happened:

Burned toast!

And before I could pop another piece in I googled “burned toast” and “Heritage Moment” because TO THIS DAY I can’t smell burned toast without remembering this commercial.

Funnily enough, it took me ages to find it because it’s titled: Wilder Penfield on Historica Canada’s YouTube Channel. Had they called it “I smell burned toast video” it would have been a faster process. :)

But there is a happy ending to this story (other than the fact I got to watch that old commercial again). I realized that many of the videos are archived here! Some of my favourites include: Marshall McLuhan (“THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE!”), Superman, Orphans, Emily Murphy, Agnes Macphail (“IS THIS NORMAL?”), Rural Teacher, Nellie McClung (“Nice women, don’t want the vote.”).

There are many more, many I hadn’t seen. According to this recent Globe and Mail article, the Heritage Minutes “aired frequently on television during commercial breaks in the 90s, but went on a nearly eight-year hiatus. Historica Canada, the organization behind the spots, brought them back in 2012. They are funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage, as well as donors – in this case, donors from Winnipeg who wanted to bring awareness to the story of the Winnipeg Falcons.” (There’s another great video in that article, so make sure you watch it.)

It got me thinking: ads work. Scratch that, GOOD ads work. (And it’s something I’ll try to remember the next time someone insists that McDonald’s advertising is easy to ignore and has no impact on decision making). There’s a reason I remember that commercial every time I smell burning toast, and it comes down to good storytelling. And I’m not just talking about the script, but visual storytelling, emotional storytelling. The best kind of content makes us feel something; pride, sadness, joy, anger, surprise.  The best ads, and articles, and photographs, and paintings, and podcasts, are the ones that tap into something deep inside our brain and as a result, stick with us for a long time afterwards like the smell of burned toast.

Do you remember the Heritage Minutes? Which one has stuck with you?


It happens practically every night here at Casa Fishbowl. One of the girls turns to us and asks, “So what are we doing tonight?” This, of course, does not include the usual things that happen after dinner, such as kitchen cleaning and dog walking. My reaction to this question depends upon a lot of variables, including but not limited to (a) how tired I am (b) if I have work to do (c) my mental state in general. Sometimes (er, who am I kidding) MANY times I just want to collapse in a big heap with my book and read all night, but I understand I probably shouldn’t do that all of the time. Our kids want to do things with us, and for that I am grateful. We all watch a TV show together more often than I care to admit, and now that the weather has turned this has become the default. And I don’t want it to be the default, in fact, I don’t want any screens to be part of our evenings together at all.

I understand this is probably more for my sanity than yours, here is My List of Things to Do With The Kids After Dinner, broken down into categories, just because I need to get my act together:

Chore-like a.k.a Things That Need to Get Done 

  • Homework and music practice – Note: I’m not doing this, the kids are.
  • Focused 15 – We stopped doing this, but I’m bringing it back!
  • Laundry – Are the kids washing their clothing frequently enough? To be honest, I’m not sure.
  • Basement 911 – if we all spent 30 minutes organizing our basement every night, maybe we’ll have a habitable space by 2017?
  • Grocery shopping – I’m seriously considering doing this at night instead of using daylight hours for the tedium.
  • Baking/cooking/lunch prep for the next day. (HA. Yeah right.)

In home activities

  • Games! Card games, dice games, word games, strategy games… all of these make the basis of quality family time. Unfortunately, sometimes I don’t have energy at the end of the day to play a rousing round or two. What games require zero energy output?
  • Puzzles – I recently discovered a love for puzzles, and the kids came around to doing it with me too. We need more cool puzzles around here! All I’m seeing online is magical unicorns, snowy Christmas, frolicking bunnies, and underwater scenes. Methinks: a trip to Hobby House is in order.
  • Crafty things – This might be a good time to thinking about homemade Christmas gifts and the like. Our youngest has expressed an interest in sewing. Perhaps some sewing machine practice would be useful?
  • Having friends over for dessert – (I read this article awhile back and it’s stayed with me. I’m not sure if I can do dinner, but I think I could do dessert!)
  • Mani/pedi – Unfortunately this leaves Mark out of the equation.
  • Vegetating. Doing nothing. There is nothing wrong with doing nothing, right?

Out of the house

  • A trip to the library (this can easily take up a couple of hours)
  • ?? **

** Notice I didn’t mention shopping as an option. Shopping for leisure equals expenditure, and I am not sure I really want to encourage the idea of shopping for fun. Shopping for fun can be an expensive habit that’s hard to break.

Is it the season? I am so uninspired right now. When it gets colder we can go skating on the canal, or for a night ski. We used to go swimming at the pool, and the Kanata Wave Pool. Maybe it’s time to revisit this again? (Question: do I still own a one piece??) If I’m honest with myself I have to admit that going on a big excursion with the kids at night is generally not something I want to do because I’m so burned out by the end of the day.

Last night we took the dog for a walk, someone cleaned the kitchen, we had a rousing game of Trouble, and spent 20 minutes organizing the basement. And a minor miracle occurred. The girls sorted some old toys that had been taking up space. Some went into the garbage, some to charity, and some to keep. And then the girls got ready for bed and Mark and I watched a stupid episode of Castle in which he travelled to another dimension. Sigh. I should have just read my book.

18 Nov, 2014

Saucy meatballs revisited

By andrea tomkins in Recipes and Food

Here’s the irony of dinnertime at this time of year: I am less inclined to cook and more inclined to eat. I blame short days and chilly temperatures! This recipe was one of our dinners this week, and I wanted to share it here because the girls were pretty excited about it. So was I, because it makes great leftovers for lunch the next day:

November 18 #dailylunches - saucy meatballs

Confession: it’s not a recipe per se, it’s an assemblage (which you must read in a French accent) because it only requires four ingredients and very little Actual Cooking. Here’s the recipe. I should mention that we made it with pre-made chicken meatballs this time around, but you can make it with vegan/vegetarian meatballs too.

We serve it with fresh bread and a big salad, but I heated ‘em up and poured it over leftover buttered noodles for lunch. YUM.

It’s a really good dish to serve when schedules are full and time is short. It’s also a good one to bring to a Christmas potluck. That’s where we first encountered these saucy little things, and we’ve made them many times since.

15 Nov, 2014

Weekend reading: November 15 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the nightstand: Frankenstein’s Monster: A Novel

We have a lot of devices on the go here at Casa Fishbowl, and they all come together very nicely to drain our monthly bandwidth allowance.** Endless YouTube videos, transfer of large files to and from work (for me, mostly), and Apple TV and Netflix have a lot to do with the fact that we have been coming very close to going over our max every month.

Awhile back we declared that Tuesdays were NO NETFLIX TUESDAYS from now on. No watching after school or at night with the family. No shows, no movies. As it turns out, turning off the bandwidth hogs one day a week does makes a difference to the overall amount we use and keeps us from going over. And happily, as a result, we find ourselves reading more, going out more, and playing board games. This can only be a good thing.

Mark knew something about Netflix that I didn’t know about. You can change your settings so you’re not using as much data. (Did you know this??) Depending on the setting you choose it does affect picture quality, but honestly, sometimes it really doesn’t matter. (Especially when the kids are watching Buffy reruns.) It’s easy to do:

1) Log in to Netflix.
2) Find your account, and select “playback settings.”

I recommend experimenting to see what kind of difference it makes. Most of the shows we watch are on the “medium” setting but we’ll switch to “high” if we’re gearing up to watch a good film. (Also, Mark is a total TV snob and has very high standards as it pertains to his Overall Viewing Experience.)

We were talking about this to someone the other day and the guy realized his default setting had been on “high” forever, which is the best video quality and equates to up to 3GB per hour of HD and 7 GB per hour for Ultra HD. And if your kid is watches How to Train Your Dragon on Netflix ten times in a row, well, that is going to add up.

Here’s the thing, at this point you can only change your settings from your computer, not from your mobile device. So you’ll have to put down your bowl of popcorn and saunter over to your desktop to change it before the movie starts.

** I hear some of you asking, why not just opt for an unlimited bandwidth package? The way I see it, that is akin to bringing the kids to an all-you-can-eat buffet for dinner every night. Just because we CAN have unlimited bandwidth, doesn’t mean we should. Also, I don’t want to be the mother of two child zombies.

Agree? Disagree? How do you control bandwidth in your house? Or maybe this isn’t an issue?


NAC Ottawa family events

Fall family fun fun at Saunders Farm!

Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa

Mrs Tiggywinkle's - the best toy store in Ottawa

Holiday shopping at terra20 - Ottawa

Nepean Visual Arts Centre

Visit tThe Village Quire in Westboro Ottawa!

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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 (15) and Sarah (13). I am the editor of the Kitchissippi Times, Capital Parent Newspaper, 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!


My right hand is actually a camera

Connect with me at these places too!

The #dailylunches project – 872 lunches and counting!

Every day I eat lunch and take a picture. Here's the latest:

Created with flickr badge.

Click the photo for details: what it is, where I ate it (if it's worth a mention!) and how to cook it (if there happens to be a recipe). You can also read more about this project right here.


  • My latest post on the MediaSmarts website is up, and it's about family social media accounts. (Yes! It's a thing! And I think it's pretty neat.) Is this something you do as a family? I'd love it if you left your two cents on the topic.

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  • I'm sharing some of my favourite lunch-related items over on the terra20 blog today. Whether you're packing a lunch for work, for your kids, or just eating at your desk at home, I bet there is something there for you. Check it out!

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  • I have a new post up at the MediaSmarts blog this week. It's my response to a question that I'm asked quite often: What’s the best age to give a kid an iPod touch?

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On the nightstand

... check out past nightstand reads right here.

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