a peek inside the fishbowl

This year was a return to camping, in a way. We didn’t go last summer, or the summer before, so I was looking forward to this trip even more than usual. This year, more than ever (thanks COVID!) I desperately wanted to get away from the city and was excited about upgrading our scenery for a short time. For awhile we weren’t even sure if camping would be available at any Ontario Parks sites, so we monitored the park status reports for months beforehand.

We almost didn’t go. I won’t get into details as it’s not really my story to share, but I will say that a very close friend of one of our daughters passed away very suddenly right before we left. Understandably, a fun family camping trip didn’t seem like the thing to do when the ground falls out from beneath you. But in the end, we went, and I’m glad we did. Being in the woods, on a beach, in a cool lake, by a camp fire, allows for quiet contemplation that can be healing in its own way. I didn’t know the young lady very well, but I am pretty sure she would have wanted it this way. She would have been glad to see her friend in a happy place. But I digress.

This year’s destination was Charleston Lake Provincial Park, to the same campsite we booked a few times when the girls were small. The site was almost how I remembered it, minus a few big trees. Back then, I never really thought about ever coming back here when they were 19 and 21, someday trading the sand and water toys for a cooler full of beer and cider to be shared with my beauties that are all grown up.

Sunny afternoon

The first day we arrived later than usual, just in time to set up and make dinner. The girls checked out the beach and then came back to put their bathing suits and go for a dip. Dinner was a win. Camping dinners early in the week always start out with fresh foods/fragile perishables and by the end we are down to crackers and cup-a-soups and whatever passes a sniff test. I had prepared a rack of ribs so they only needed to be heated over a fire and slathered with sauce, a fresh baguette, and coleslaw. Dessert were storebought nanaimo bars.

After dinner we settled around the fire, too tired to talk, and I suspect, heavy with sadness. And that’s when it happened. Tiny pinpoints of light slowly appeared and disappeared in the darkening woods around our campsite – first one, then another. I thought at first my eyes were playing tricks on me, but then I realized that fireflies had begun to reveal themselves, winking at us in the blackness.

I had forgotten that this evening light show was one of the best things about camping at Charleston Lake. There’s an access road behind our site, so we went there to take in the spectacle. We were not disappointed. Thousands of fireflies dotted the sides of the road. It was really something.

We went to bed not long after, tired after a long day of prepping/packing/driving, tired from carrying around a heavy reminder of how precious and beautiful life is. Enjoying life is a fine way of honouring a loved one, don’t you think? It’s something I think about, still.

Sidebar about camping at Ontario Parks during Covid-19

There were a few things that were different this year (thanks again COVID). Most notably, the comfort stations were partially closed at Charleston Lake. There were no showers or laundry facilities, but the washrooms were fully operational albeit limited to two occupants at any time (which was awkward at times but not impossible). The  washrooms in the comfort stations were closed for cleaning three times a day, with hours posted on the doors. (This was always a gamble when I set out, because I rarely knew what time it was.)

Posters encouraged people with symptoms to stay home.

What else?

  • Outdoor privvies were open and appeared to be cleaned with increased frequency. The one in our area had running (tap) water and was always fully stocked with liquid soap.
  • Outdoor water taps were available and fully functioning.
  • Ice sales were as normal, although masks and distancing practices were in play while purchasing (like everywhere else).

Lots of things were closed, such as canoe/kayak rentals, which was a bummer because this is something I really enjoy and look forward to, especially now that the girls are older. (For the record, I would have been happy to disinfect my own boat, paddle, and PFD!)

What wasn’t closed, of course, were the beaches and the hiking trails. Normally we go for a hike every morning and lounge on the beach every afternoon, but a heatwave but the kibosh on a daily hike. We did manage to hike the Sandstone Island trail. It’s one of the best hikes in Ontario Parks (and we’ve hiked a lot of hikes). It’s 2.6K and officially rated “moderate” in terms of difficulty. I’d say that’s an accurate assessment given that it requires some uphill scampering over large rocks and through awkward passages between boulders.

It is beautiful, so beautiful your eyeballs overfloweth. Ancient rock formations, cliffs, an overhang, miles of moss and ferns will enchant even the hardest of hiker hearts.

We’ve been doing this hike for years. Here’s the 2020 shot. Below that is one from this same spot in 2007.

Ancient rocky overhang

Rocky overhang

It truly is gorgeous.

Hike at Charleston Lake

Of course, there is a lot of nature to be seen at Charleston Lake. You just have to open your eyes.

Caught a little critter


Beaver Tree

I enjoy every second of time spent on the beach at Charleston Lake. Not only is it cooling during a heat wave but it’s soothing for my soul. I really see this as ‘restoration time’. I explained this to the youngest. From my mini-meditations I’ve learned how to picture myself in a happy place. And this is exactly what I hold in my mind when I do that: the sun and the sand and the lake and the sky and the trees. We looked across the lake at a line of trees and a small island that features a big rocky outcropping that attracts boaters and swimmers. We watched kids jump off the rock, with boats and paddleboards floating in and around the scene.

“It’s not like it’s even that scenic,” she said. She’s not wrong. It’s neither a mountain vista nor a tropical paradise, but it feels like happiness and home to me.

Charleston Lake Beach

Boat launch at Charleston Lake

beach view

Although it was stinkin’ hot on some days, our site was shaded for most of the day and surprisingly free of bugs and so we had the luxury of lounging around, reading, and napping in the hammock. We went to bed early and woke late. We ate too much junk food and recharged our batteries. I’d say it was one of the most memorable trips ever. But then again, I probably say that about every camping trip.

Walk in the woods

For the record, here are the posts about our experience at Charleston Lake in 2010, in 2007 and in 2005.


21 Jul, 2020

Examining my relationship with my phone

By andrea tomkins in Yaktivism

Today I did two loads of laundry and made an excellent pot of broccoli cheddar soup using some soft vegetables I found languishing in the back of the crisper. I walked to the grocery store and will be slapping together a dinner at some point. That’s about all that I have the energy for today.

We are back from camping. Once again, we survived unscathed and without major injury (e.g. burns, bear attacks, poison ivy) and even had Fun. I will write more about that in a subsequent post but today, I wanted to write about something I did differently during our camping trip this year.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the luxury of time. How lovely and special it is to lie on a beach, jump in the lake to go for a swim, and think about nothing but my novel as I dry off in the sun. So this time around, while we were away, I put my iPhone away, like, completely away, in the glove compartment.

If you know me at all you know this is kind of a Big Deal.

It’s not like I went totally cold turkey, it was the next logical step in a continuum. My semi-unplanned social media sabbatical actually began a few weeks before we left for our camping trip. I dropped my iPhone and smashed the screen. Sidebar: it happened while I was jumping along a hopscotch grid someone had drawn in my neighbourhood. I jumped and my phone jumped along with me… out of my pocket and facedown on the pavement. Ugh. Later, it just stopped working. So I switched sim cards with our eldest daughter’s older model and started using that instead. Since I was starting from scratch I was selective about which apps I reinstalled, so I decided to bring it back to basics.

This phone now has no email app on it (!), no Facebook, no iMessenger.

I also moved two other attention stealing apps to the last “page” on my iPhone so they are not as easy to access. I’ve reserved the home screen for specific tools I use most frequently. I also changed my background to greyscale. Nothing fun here, Andrea! Move along!

I’ve also turned off most notifications.

Also worth noting is that my phone’s battery doesn’t hold a good charge anymore, but I’ve been delaying a replacement for now since it’s contrary to my purpose of using it less. When it’s away from sight, on the charger, I’m much less likely to pick it up.

As you can imagine, this has all seriously altered the way I use the thing. It is now more of a communications tool, and not a pocket-sized portal to a never ending stream of entertainment.

My goal is to get down to checking my email once a day on my desktop computer in my home office. Facebook/iMessenger is there too, waiting for me if I want to check it. I do, but not nearly as often. If people want to reach me, those who have my phone number can call it. We also still have our landline, although we switched to VOIP awhile ago to save $$.

Honestly, I didn’t really miss my phone while I was camping. It helped that I was happily occupied with a stack of books, my DSLR camera, and my notebook. Many times, I just caught myself staring into the trees, not really thinking anything at all. I imagined my brain as a marathon runner who finally got a chance to sit down, kick of its shoes and knock back a protein shake. Ah, relief!

Now, when I pick up my phone I quickly run out of things to do. So I put it down, and go back to regularly scheduled programming. I can’t tell you how many books I read this week. (Ok, four and a half.)

If I think about why I’m taking these steps, it’s because I want to be more present in my own life. I want my time back! I don’t want to miss things. I want stronger/better relationships with the people close to me. I want people to look at me when I’m talking, so shouldn’t I do the same in return?

It surprisingly nice to shed myself of those FOMO-shaped handcuffs and voluntarily step out of the loop. To not be a slave to this sleek object that fits so nicely in my hand, feels… familiar and nice. I’ve missed this feeling. The feeling of prioritizing other things in my life.

My time spent on social media (and I’m talking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) has traditionally been spent creating and consuming information, but also mindlessly scrolling content I’d already seen, or checking back on older posts and stats. Now that I’m thinking about it, I realize there’s an additional category of time aside from the creating/consuming loop that’s reserved for stressing about how/when/where I can charge my phone (which would have been a greater issue out in the woods ) or worrying about where I left it. How many times have I patted my rear end, checking to make sure it’s there? While we were camping, I knew my phone was safe in the glove compartment so I wasn’t wasting time wondering. (One of my worst fears is dropping my phone in a privy so there’s that.)

By moving and removing certain apps I’ve turned by phone back to what I want it to be, a tool that I use, not one that uses me. It is liberating.

The Happiness Lab has an excellent podcast on this topic if you’re interested: Dial D for Distracted. There was a discussion about an idea I really liked, and it’s to run through a quick list of questions when you reach for your phone: What for? Why now? What else? In other words, for what reason are you picking up your phone? Why are you picking it up now? What else can you be doing? It’s something to think about, anyway.

14 Jul, 2020

Moment of bliss #0025

By andrea tomkins in Moments of bliss

It’s that time of year.

A couple times a day I walk out the back door, into the yard, and eat as many black raspberries as I can see growing on the bushes. I do it once in the morning, adding a bunch into my morning granola/kefir mix, and once after work, eating them straight off the canes.

I can’t decide whether I like them best in the early hours, sprinkled with dew and after a long, cool night, or late in the day, warmed by sunshine. What I do know is that I like to pick as many as I can hold in one hand and pour them all into my mouth at once. I rejoice in this seedy, juicy, pulp of fresh berries; all these riches. I am grateful to find a taste of joy in darker times.


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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 dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. 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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