a peek inside the fishbowl

04 Aug, 2015

Camping at Achray, Algonquin Park part 1

By andrea tomkins in travel talk

We’ve been camping every summer since the girls were toddlers. I was REALLY looking forward to going this year, more so than usual. Maybe it’s work stress or too much time in front of the computer, or that long winter we had, but I couldn’t wait to pack up and skip town.

When I think about why I enjoy camping so much it ultimately comes down to this: I love being outside in a natural setting and exploring the world around us. Family camping does require some work, but for me, it’s work worth doing, especially knowing that the payoff is a BLISSFUL NIRVANA OF PEACE AND SOLITUDE THAT HEALS MY BRAIN.

Natural beach off Jack Pine Trail, Achray

There was a great article in Fast Company which gives the low-down about what makes a memorable holiday. The author made a lot of good points, including one about being mindful about our holidays, which I solidly believe. If you spend time planning and thinking about it – before and after – it definitely adds to the overall enjoyment factor. I have one thing to add to that list: transportation. For me, getting there is part of the adventure: whether it’s by plane, train, or automobile.

We were loaned a Ford Expedition for the week and it was a dream. This is not the first time we’ve test driven a Ford, and once again, I am wowed by their smart, user-first design. Our Prius is fine for city driving, but it’s not cut out for this kind of camping trip (especially since we pack everything except for the kitchen sink). I deeply appreciated the Expedition’s safety features and maximum comfort as we effortlessly sailed over long stretches of dirt road. Mark was all about the power and storage capacity (not to mention having an auxiliary power port at the rear of the vehicle so we can blow up our air mattress) and the kids loved having their own comfy space in the back seat with their own temperature control.

Also, the back up cam is a GODSEND when manoeuvring between trees/children/rocks at the campsite, and even in our own driveway:

Ford Expedition back up cam view

Look at this beauty

Our holiday truly began when we packed up, closed the trunk, and hit the road.

This year we decided to go back to the Achray campground  in Algonquin Park. We were here five years ago on the recommendation of friends and it is just as impressive the second time around.

We had booked a spot on the water near the beach, although we didn’t know what it would look like until we pulled up. I could feel all my troubles falling away as soon as we stepped outside.

Our site and our ride

Tall trees, lovely views, and great privacy (well, as good as it gets in Ontario Parks campgrounds).

We couldn’t believe our good fortune on day one. Not only did everything fit into the vehicle, but we managed to get out of Ottawa without too much delay. It was smooth driving in record time with perfect weather and minimal construction en route.  We also stopped on a whim in Cobden for lunch which turned out to be stellar. (TIP: go where the locals go and you won’t go wrong!)

That night we fell asleep to the sounds of loons and a very vocal bullfrog (in fact, the girls didn’t even believe it was a bullfrog because it sounded so much like a guy with a hand crank and a big rusty bucket). The next day began sunny and hot, but the wind picked up and the clouds gradually took over. I couldn’t complain, because this means (a) no mosquitoes (b) no sunburns (c) less ice meltage in the coolers.

We had an incredibly long and drawn out breakfast that first morning, mostly because in our rush to get out of town we forgot to pack a few important things, but I will tell you more about that, tomorrow.

01 Aug, 2015

Weekend reading: August 1 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

We’re slowly getting back to regularly scheduled programming around these parts. I have a lot I want to share about our camping trip but in the meantime I wanted to (a) fill you in on a family photo shoot we had with Fishbowl patron Sara McConnell and (b) spill the deets on a special photography giveaway.


I’ve known Sara for some time and have worked with her in various ways, but I’ve never actually been her client in this way, so this experience afforded me a new perspective. FACT: this lady is a pro: so organized and professional, right down to the details, it boggles my mind. Contracts protect all parties and keep things above board. Online payment is seamless. Instructions are clear. There are time frames. The photos come back promptly, which I appreciate because there’s no sense of WHERE ARE THE PHOTOS. I WANT TO SEE THE PHOTOS ALREADY.

The photos, oh, the photos.

Sidebar: I’ve taken a lot of photos of a lot of people but never quite feel comfortable in front of the camera. Sara makes the whole process very easy and dare I say, even FUN. I’ve also supervised a lot of photoshoots in a work-related capacity, and if the photographer is a good one, what you get back is actually better than reality. This was one of those times.

Our shoot took place at the Ornamental Gardens near the Experimental Farm. (I highly recommend this place, whether there’s photography involved or not.) Here is one of my favourites:


The girls were quite happy to have a chance to be intentionally goofy. :)

You know what makes me VERY happy about our photos – other than the fact that they’re gorgeous – is that I’m actually IN THEM. As the person who takes 99% of our family photos, I am in very very few family photos. And this has to change. (I’ve uploaded a few more from our session on the Fishbowl FB page if you want to have a look.)

Sara is offering some special beach sessions this summer. I’ve seen her beach shots and they’re amazing. They truly capture those magical childhood moments we want to bottle up and save forever. (And we can! In photos!)

The beach sessions are part of Sara’s ‘Imagination’ series, and they were inspired by her recent trip to PEI and a desire to bring a little bit of her vacation home. For Sara, it’s an opportunity to create a beautiful backdrop for parents to connect and play with their kids, and help create those wonderful memories.

Here’s a peek at what I’m talkin’ about here:

Beach sessions


You can also see an album of beach sessions on Sara’s Facebook page.

Would you like to win a beach session for your family? Read on:

  • This giveaway is for one of Sara’s “Moment” sessions, which will take place on August 20 at 7 p.m. in the east end of Ottawa. Session has no cash value but can be transferred to another family. The session must take place on August 20.
  • In order for your entry to qualify, tell me in the comments below: when’s the last time you had a family portrait taken? That’s it!
  • One entry per email address please.
  • This giveaway is void where prohibited by law.
  • If you can’t post your comment for whatever reason you can email it to me for posting at andrea at quietfish dot com. Please note, I cannot be responsible if your entry is misdirected or gets stuck in my Spam folder.
  • I will draw one winner using Random.org at noon EST on August 7, 2015.

If you don’t win, or just want to book a photo shoot before the summer ends, you can do so on Sara’s website.

That’s it! Over to you. Good luck!

p.s. And I really hope the winner shows me their resulting photos. :)

28 Jul, 2015

When life is lovely and terrible

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

Front row seats for the sunset

We’re back from our annual camping trip.

My friend K_ passed away suddenly while we were gone. A stroke. I’ve lost my mojo and am finding it very hard to muster up the enthusiasm and energy required to do anything.

K_ was a strong, adventurous type, and I think she would have liked our trip. I spent the latter half of our holiday trying very hard to be mindful of the moment at hand. I saw her in the waves of the lake, the flicker of the campfire and in the glowing embers. I heard her in the whispering of the trees and the beating wings of the loon and in the rain falling on our tent. She is everywhere. She is nowhere.

The world has lost a spark and is that much dimmer.

K_ and I worked together for a stretch and stayed in touch over the years. I liked her. Immensely. She was the smarter, wiser, older sister I always wished I’d had. The last time I saw her was at a colleague’s funeral on July 26, 2014. K_ was her good old self – bright and delightful as always despite the sad circumstances of our meeting. We made plans to get together for dinner as we parted. I suddenly missed her very much. “Let’s do it,” I urged. “Really, we have to meet for dinner.”

She read and commented here on the blog, and we followed each other and chatted on Facebook, but we never did get together for that dinner. Life got in the way.

K_ passed away on July 24.

My heart is hurting this week but I don’t want to make this post about me. I am terribly sad for her family, who lost someone much too early and so suddenly.

I fear for myself and my own family. This is something I have to admit. K_’s passing is another reminder that the time we have here is limited. We live our lives as if it’s a journey without end. We take our time for granted yet it’s the most valuable thing we own. Can I honestly say that I’ve lived? And done everything I’ve intended to do?

26 Jul, 2015

Summer sights

By andrea tomkins in Easy ways to make kids happy,Photography

The new clematis has flowered

Everyone loves watermelon

Swimming dog

Cannonball in the pool

View of the water

A very tiny toad

A very large radish from Mike's Garden Harvest CSA

25 Jul, 2015

Weekend reading: July 25 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading


NAC Ottawa family events

Saunders Farm annual passes for family fun!

Mrs Tiggywinkle's - the best toy store in Ottawa

Joan of Arc Academy in Ottawa

OMS Ottawa Montessori schools

Sara McConnell photography Ottawa

Rethink Tires - Community Renewal Fund

terra20 Ottawa

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Ottawa Bucket list

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  • Hugh Love, Director #62843: DriWash n'Guard is 20 years old, the Original Waterless Car Wash ... seeking Distributors and Detailers throughout North America ... Ask us how! To
  • Connie Regimbald: The last time my whole family had a family photo shoot was back in 2011. It was my home town's anniversary. I'd love to win this photo shoot. My paren
  • Amy Williams: We had a photo session with our WHOLE family in May. That's grandparents, 6 kids and 7 grand kids (ages 3 months - 12 years). Chaos rained down. I'd l
  • Alison Chayka: 2010...will check out Sara's website win or lose :)
  • Laurie-Ann Staniforth: Last February :) I once read a quote that really stuck with me- we take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone. We try to get photos don
  • Brenda A: Can't wait to hear more!
  • Michelle: Never as a family... Last time was at our wedding 12 years ago without our two kids...

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 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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