a peek inside the fishbowl

I have felt like a bit of a wreck lately. I haven’t been sleeping well. I had a sizable cyst removed from my back (I’m ok but ew). I have been dealing with sore knees for weeks, and most recently, an eyelid infection. The latter means I can’t wear makeup. I know that’s vain but there it is. And did I mention I’m not sleeping well? I look and feel like a zombie and I’m kind of done with it. And so, with that, I am trying to change my mindset and focus on good things at the moment. Like summer.

I can’t believe it’s June 22 already. It’s officially here but we’ve actually been in summer mode since the spring. :) To celebrate summer solstice, Mark and I went to the NCC bistro along the Ottawa River to see the sun set and ran into friends who had had the same idea. It was a happy happenstance, and I left there feeling something akin to New Year’s, that I had inadvertently recalibrated and set myself on a direction that I like and want to go. Ahead of me, is a brand new summer, and all I need to do is fill it up! (Ok, yes there’s work, and other stuff, but leisure time is MY time! What I choose to do with it is within my power.)

Of course, it helps to have a plan. For the past few years I’ve kept a note on my phone called “summer bucket list.” You can read a few of those posts in the archives if by any chance you’re looking for something to do in and around Ottawa.

How I create that summer list is pretty simple: as soon as I read or hear about something that I want to do, I add it to the checklist. Doing this ASAP is key because I’m sure to forget otherwise.

There are too many things to list here but some of our bucket list highlights so far include the Diefenbunker. I think the last time we visited was 15 years ago. There have been a few updates since then, but some things haven’t changed, like the blast tunnel:

Me in the Diefenbunker blast tunnel

We also checked out an Atletico soccer game for the first time ever. We had a good time but it was the afternoon of the Run for Women and it was absolutely sweltering. Our seats were two rows up from the field. (I am embarrassed to admit that I accidentally cheered for the wrong team. Clearly I have a lot to learn about soccer.)

Mark and me

We enjoyed a sunny day trip to Voyageur Provincial Park for outdoor R&R (plus paddleboarding and grilling and General Picnic Things):

Our spot at Voyageur Provincial park<

Also not to be forgotten, Petroglyphs Provincial Park, which was excellent. I don’t have photos of the petroglyphs to show as it’s a sacred site, just me, on a woodsy walkabout after the fact, and this sign saying no photos allowed:

Petroglyphs Provincial Park is a sacred site

Me at Petroglyphs Provincial Park

… and, most recently, hiked the Rock Dunder trail outside of Kingston. We HIGHLYyyyyy recommend it. It’s an excellent trail and the view is the perfect payoff. I could have lingered longer but we were rushing to hit up a brewery in Kingston before it closed.

me at Rock Dunder outside Kingston

There’s something really enjoyable about creating a list and checking things off, especially when FUN things are involved. It’s so satisfying to look back on all the things you did… AND it’s also nice to look forward to things on that list.

I would like to say that TODAY, Saturday, Mark and I are checking another activity off the summer bucket list but that is not to be. We are actually heading out to Kemptville** to pick up some rocks for our garden. This is a Facebook Marketplace arrangement and I am mildly worried about it for several reasons so I will make sure to report back. (I assure you that it’s likely to be safe, and Mark will be with me, and we’re bringing a crowbar (I am not kidding, it’s to help us move the rocks) so don’t worry!)

** We are attempting to make this into a bit of a roadtrip and include a lunch at a Kempville bakery (?) and another stop along the way (TBD?). We shall see what happens. Sometimes the funnest summer fun is the unexpected kind. Right? ;)


27 Apr, 2024

The summer of SUP 

By andrea tomkins in Ottawa

I am now the proud owner of an 11ft inflatable stand up paddleboard, aka a SUP, which means I can go around saying things like SUP GIRL etc etc. to the consternation of poor Mark and the kids.

We rent kayaks when we go camping every year, which I enjoy as well, but the SUP has even greater appeal to me. While there are kayaks that you kinda perch on top of, and kayaks that you lower yourself down into, in both scenarios you are stuck sitting on your bum with your legs sticking out in front of you. And that’s FINE, sure, but a SUP is completely flat, like a surf board. You can stand, sit down cross-legged, sit with your feet dangling in the water, kneel, and even lie down. Some people even do yoga on their paddle boards. I can’t quite imagine having this kind of balance, but maybe someday.

This is me on a SUP last summer at Bonnechere Provincial Park, clearly living my best life:

Me on the SUP at Bonnechere PP in 2023

I was skimming the photos from this trip and there were quite a few snapping turtles in the mix, which reminded me that the paddle board is a nice vantage point for wildlife sightings.

For me, the SUP is about relaxing as much as it is about fitness. It does require some work to paddle in a forward direction, and of course, the whole experience relies heavily on having good balance. (CORE muscles, folks!) But seriously, one of the best things ever is paddling away from a busy beach and lying down in the middle of a lake. No bugs, no sand in your face, just the gentle rocking rhythm of the water. It is heaven on earth. Friends, this is my happy place. And I can even BRING SNACKS WITH ME. Unbelievable.

The SUP is exercise and rest, a workout and a meditation, and everything in between, and I think that’s pretty cool.

Having an inflatable SUP means I can easily transport and store it. While some people keep their SUP inflated all summer, the length of this thing means I don’t have an easy place to store it if it’s inflated.

The list of places I want to SUP is about the length of my arm so far, and growing. Half of them are along the Ottawa River. Westboro Beach is about 5 minutes away by car. There’s also Britannia Beach and Shirley’s Bay. Did you know you can paddle board behind Parliament Hill?? Eastward there’s Petrie Island, of course. And let’s not forget Mooney’s Bay and Dow’s Lake. And then there’s the Quebec side… ahhh! So many options within a metaphorical stone’s throw.

What I would really like to do is go to a place where there’s a kayak rental, so Mark and I can enjoy some time on the water today. There are Ontario Parks sites nearby that have this, which is another option for destinations. Speaking of which, we had the good fortune of snagging our dream site at the Achray campground in Algonquin Park this summer, so me and my board will be tooting around the lake there for sure.

But the time being, I’m going to focus on places with little or no motorboat traffic. I’ve been out on a board maybe a dozen times but I feel like I need to get better. And although I’ve never fallen off a SUP I should practice getting on one while in the water. (And yes, I will make sure to wear a life jacket. I caught a great sale at MEC and bought a new one.)

Anyway, it’s shaping up to be the summer of SUP, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.


13 Apr, 2024

Kingston, the solar eclipse, a cool bathroom

By andrea tomkins in travel talk

I’ve been teasing this grout-related psychological test and while it’s still absolutely worth exploring I’d rather write about our solar eclipse experience. To summarize: it happened, and it was very cool.

Many moons ago Mark and I booked an Airbnb in Kingston. That was the natural destination seeing as (a) it was on the path of totality and (b) both kids live there right now. We got a pretty good deal on our accommodations, mostly because April is not a popular time to visit Kingston and it was early enough that no one had yet realized there’d be a demand. What’s more, we were booking the main floor of a duplex – smallish and not overly fancy – or in a fancy part of town … albeit central.

The place was fairly nondescript other than the bathroom. It had a fire-engine red sink, toilet, AND sunken bath. With a rain shower. It was heavily mirrored with brass accents, a brass-coloured ceiling, and a clear shower curtain. I uploaded a short video of it on YouTube which you can watch here.

Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. Here’s me, in Kingston, pretending to be the letter I!

Me in Kingston

We drove up from Ottawa on Sunday afternoon, and when we got there, bought a few picnic supplies at the Food Basics for the big day. The four of us met for an excellent dinner on Sunday night at Union Kitchen + Cocktails. This doubled as a celebratory meal because the youngest was about to turn 23 (!) and celebratory dinners are kind of a tradition here at Casa Fishbowl:

Table for four at Union Kitchen and Cocktails in Kingston

Birthday dessert was enjoyed back at our place and included some lovely cupcakes from Cooke’s Fine Foods. I was torn between cupcakes and eclipse sugar cookies but the cupcakes were more birthday-like in my opinion.

Cupcakes from Cooke’s

And of course, everyone took photos of themselves in the red bathroom. :)

Mark had a strange encounter the next morning. He was walking to Elm Cafe, a pretty little family-run coffee shop we had scoped out to pick us up some coffee when he heard someone saying hello. He stopped and looked around, expecting to see someone on their doorstep, perhaps, peeking out their front door. Hello hello! It seemed to be coming from an upper window, perhaps? Hello hello! That’s when he realized he was being greeted by a CROW.

Sidebar: Another fun Kingston wildlife moment…  the youngest recently witnessed an otter maul a gigantic fish at the pier. It was pretty much in the middle of the night but if you are there and fancy a dip at that time, please keep this in mind. KINGSTON IS WILD folks!

We had to be checked out by 11 a.m. so we packed up and set out to wander and shop before setting up in our planned location, which was a park near where the youngest lives.

We had no clue as to what to expect. Mark was imagining a degree of apocalyptic gridlock (if you’ve ever visited Kingston on Queen’s residence check-in day you will have an idea of what I’m talking about) and the city itself had no clear idea of how many people they were expecting. The estimates seemed to range from 5,000 to 500,000. All in all, from our perspective it was really no busier than a busy summer Saturday. (A caveat: we were not at the pier or by the water, and I think it was busier down there.)

We managed to snag a picnic table at the park and settled in. The eldest strung up a hammock. I brought weatherproofed picnic blankets so we could spread out on the ground as well.

Eclipse picnic in Kingston

We noshed on cheese, deli meats, veggies, and chips and dip. I bought too much food, of course.

We were fortunate to get some pretty nice spring weather. It was warm enough to sit comfortably outside with light layers.

The weather was practically the fifth character in this story. Like everyone else, we’d been watching and waiting with anticipation. The big question of course was whether the skies would be clear enough to see the show. We were on tenterhooks about it all day. Casual weather reports were delivered (by us) throughout that morning at regular intervals despite the fact we all have eyes to see for ourselves. i.e. “Look, there’s blue sky over there” and “I think the clouds are rolling in this direction.”

It was high drama, for sure. Isn’t it only during tornados and derechos and whatnot that people get so caught up in cloud formation? Clearly not. We had clear skies first thing, then, oh no, it became light and wispy, and then, behold!, a tantalizing patch of blue made an appearance. Sadly, it was too early and was eventually covered by cloud. As zero hour approached it wasn’t looking like we’d see anything. I had pretty much given up hope, but hey at least we’re together and having fun, right??

Then, it was time. We donned our glasses to look at the sun. I had been a bit worried about this, as Mark had bought them on Amazon and reports were coming out about knock-offs with no protective qualities and I really didn’t want to burn my eyeballs. (It was all good though.)

Me and my eclipse glasses. So cool, eh?

The clouds came and went and sometimes we could see the sun more clearly, other times it was too dense. And then… the world around us got dimmer. As someone mentioned to me later, it was like sunset without the colour of sunset. A sage observance methinks. Temperatures plummeted and suddenly it was as dark as night. NIGHT. I did not predict this level of darkness. The street lights came on. Everyone in the park cheered. Was there a sound of a church bell or a siren? I may have dreamed that part.


The skies must have suddenly cleared because the view was excellent. We took our protective glasses off and watched in amazement. About halfway through (!) I realized I wasn’t wearing my prescription glasses (!) so I put them on and immediately realized I hadn’t been seeing it in perfect focus. (!) I did get a good eyeful though. The next thing we knew, it was over.

We laughed and hugged and looked at each other in amazement. It was a very moving experience. I’ve read other people’s descriptions of this eclipse and while I agree this was a rare celestial event that reminded us of how small we are at this moment in time, for me, the most moving part was sharing it with the people I love most in the world. That was the most special thing for me.

We packed up and went home, and got stuck in some traffic along the way, of course. But that was ok because all in all, it was pretty close to a perfect road trip.


06 Apr, 2024

A taste of Czechia

By andrea tomkins in travel talk

One of my favourite life hacks is to do something fun on a Friday night that does NOT take place at home. Whenever I do this I feel like my weekend was longer than it really was. (Seriously, you should try this sometime.)

In the past, we’ve gone out to dinner, or something similar, but last night was a bit different. I was invited by the official Czech Tourism Board to the Czech embassy for a travel meetup. In lay terms, this is an event in which media types and influencers are invited along with travel agents etc. as a bit of a show n’ tell. The hope is that we are so wowed by the presentation (not to mention, the food and drink) that we tell all of our friends. And since some people have big audiences on social media, it’s worth doing if you’re a tourism board.

Was I wowed? Yes ma’am, I was wowed, and this is a country I have been to before!

When people go to Europe they often focus on the biggies like London and Paris and Rome but Prague absolutely needs to be on that list too.

The Czech Republic, or Czechia as it’s now called (I suspect most Czech people don’t love the new name), is a jaw-droppingly beautiful country with a wide variety of things to see and do.

The tourism folks referred to it as the heart of Central Europe, and it truly is, not just because of its location, but because it’s a slice out of time that’s vibrant and FUN, with a very rich arts and culture scene. For history buffs, it is a treasure trove overflowing with iconic architecture and tales of old. Imagine cobblestone streets winding through medieval buildings; landmarks that are hundreds of years old like Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. (DYK the Prague Castle complex is actually the largest in the world? Yes it is.)

Prague is truly stunning but their presentation highlighted other regions that are equally deserving of exploration, such as the mountains and spa towns and arts and cultural scenes of smaller cities like Brno and Karlovy Vary. Look them up!

There’s other history to observe as well. For example, Ostrava, a former mining centre in the Eastern region of Moravia (think: ironworks, coal mine, coke ovens and blast furnace operations) these heavy-duty industrial operations have been reimagined and transformed into a national site that both preserves their industrial heritage and turned it into a destination that allows visitors a look back to a different time. These are now firmly embedded on my radar.

Also, note to self: Google “contemporary art gallery in converted slaughterhouse.” (!!)

So yes, last night. The wine and beer were flowing (they are famous for their beer!) and we were served traditional Hovezí guláš (aka goulash), which is chunks of beef in an onion-based stew. It’s traditionally served with bread dumplings or fresh bread, a staple of Czech cuisine and something I grew up eating.

I’m hoping there’s a family trip in our future. We shall see.

24 Mar, 2024

Not about grout, this time

By andrea tomkins in The business of blogging

I’m keeping a new list of potential topics to blog about now that I’m back in the saddle and trying to do this on the regular. One of them is: “GROUT: Psychological test?” It promises to be a thrilling exploration but I think I’ll keep that one until next time.

This morning I went to the gym, did groceries, watered the plants, ate lunch, and did two loads of procrastilaundry before finally sitting myself down here. Normally I wouldn’t be so difficult about it but here’s the thing, I’m mentally preparing for an interview with CBC Cross Country Checkup this afternoon. The topic is a good one: How much do you share about your kids online? Where do you draw the line between your kids’ public and private life?

Bloggers have been talking about this since the DAWN OF BLOGS. Fortunately, I was there, at the dawn, talking about it too. ;)

In my pre-interview with one of their producers, I got to talking about all the steps that were involved in actually getting a photo online in 1999. (Sidebar: I have heard people refer to this time as “the late 1900s” and boy does that make me feel old.)

Step 1: Take a photo with a film camera. Remember, you only have 12, 24, or 36 exposures, so make ’em count.

Step 2: Physically bring the film somewhere to be developed.

Step 3: Weeks later, pick the negatives and photos.

Step 4: Scan photo of choice.

Step 5: Upload JPEG via FTP to your website.

Step 6: Use your fancy pants HTML skills to edit your web page so people can actually see it.

Compare that to today. You can take a photo, or a video, and upload it somewhere in under five seconds for the world to view. Honestly, I never saw this coming. (I also did not predict you could order a pizza from your phone so there’s that too.)

Anyhoo, I feel my excitement overflowing** already and it’s not even happening until 4:45 p.m. The host is David Common and I’m sure it will be a great exploration of an important topic. I hope you tune in!

**To channel that excitement I might have to do some jumping jacks or something beforehand to channel it into a good place.

** This has me debating whether or not to have that afternoon coffee. Hmm.




Me and my pet projects

Ottawa Bucket list

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  • Jennifer Jilks: I don't have a bucket list. I sorta live day to day!
  • Aj: Each peach, Everybody puts two feet in, king counter will say the following rhyme as they count around the circle: "Each peach pear plum out goes
  • Jenn Jilks: That is really exciting! Break a leg!
  • fun88: I was excited to discover this page. I want to to thank you for your time for this fantastic read!! I definitely liked every part of it and i also
  • Gretchen Humphrey: I had a beautiful bee& birdbath filled with a solar fountain and dozens of antique marbles that were suddenly disappearing. At first I thought my
  • Jinjer: I am sobbing reading this post. And you're right, companion is not enough. Little furry treasured gifts that they are. Thanks for sharing cutie-pi
  • Karen: Dear Andrea, Mark and your daughters I am so very sad for your family xxx Piper was/is my favourite Instagram post. You shared with us so intimately

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 offspring: Emma (24) and Sarah (22). 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, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. 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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