a peek inside the fishbowl

17 Jan, 2018

Things I am loving: line-a-day journals

By andrea tomkins in Oh! Things!

At the end of 2017, I finished my five-year line-a-day journal (!) and immediately bought myself a new one. (Hey, it’s on sale at Amazon right now!) I liked this habit too much to discard it.

In case you aren’t familiar with the idea, the line-a-day gives you a small space to fill in every day. Depending on the size of your handwriting, of course, you only have two or three sentences to sum up your day, or write about the weather, describe what you made for dinner, the funny things your kids said or did that day… whatever floats your boat. Easy peasy.

One line a day journal

It’s a low-pressure diary, which is ideal for those of us who are intimidated by filling up a bigger space or just don’t have the time to do so.

I was pretty good about writing in it every day. One year, the first year, I put it in a drawer and forgot about it for QUITE a big stretch. I recommend keeping it right on your nightstand or where you can’t possibly miss it.

Occasionally I find myself wavering on the best possible use of this little space. I would LIKE to use it to write about the best thing that happened every day – I did that before and really enjoyed it, and it helped my mental health immensely – but the practical part of me has simply defaulted to a plain old summary of the day.

I thought I’d mention a few things I’ve learned about myself in the process:

  • I think about work too much. This is often the very first thing I write down, even before any interesting personal stuff. I’m afraid that my priorities are screwed up, and it shows. I find myself wondering, why did I put this instead of that? Gah.
  • Did I mention that it was low pressure? Ha. If I’m perfectly honest, a small part of me worries that after my death this thing is going to make me look like an idiot. There is nothing literary about this whatsoever. I imagine a historian flipping through it and discarding it because it’s so boring, but if I worry about this too much I know I’d never write anything at all. Dear historian or ancestor, I’m sorry but THERE IS NOTHING PITHY TO FIND HERE.
  • I hate my handwriting. I must accept this.
  • I do like knowing what happened on this day in previous years.The pages are designed so it’s easy to look back and see what happened on that day. It’s kind of neat, and scary. Time passes so quickly. I often find myself saying to Mark, “did you know that this time last year we…”

Every night before I go to bed I scribble down a line or two. It only takes a minute to reflect on my day and find a way to sum it up. For me, it’s a minute worth spending. For what are we, other than our collection of memories?

13 Jan, 2018

Weekend reading: January 13 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

11 Jan, 2018

(re)Visiting Colony VR

By andrea tomkins in - Ottawa for kids,Ottawa

Some of you already know that our eldest daughter is in her first year of university and has been away since September. I didn’t write much about this (although you saw her in my recent post about the live butterfly exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature) but she was home over the holidays and we had LOTS of time together as a family, which was really nice.

Here’s where I admit that I wish I was made of Hardier Canadian Stock and was better equipped to brave subarctic climate, but I’m not. I had grand visions of going cross-country skiing and skating on Parliament Hill, but alas, that did not happen because we are wimps. We did, however, visit Magic of Lights and an escape room (as mentioned here) but another highlight for me was a visit to Colony VR, just off Preston Street. Strangely, it’s been almost exactly a year since our first visit, which I wrote about here. I was eager to see what had changed…

Read the rest of this entry »

10 Jan, 2018

Why I started wearing a watch again

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

I started wearing a watch again.

My watch was an accessory I set aside long ago and never thought much about until I dropped my iPhone, shattered the screen, and left it at a shop for repairs. The fellow behind the counter gave me the option to come back for it later or pick it up the next day. I opted for the latter. He looked surprised. Perhaps most people decide they need it back, fast.

Part of me felt bereft without a working mobile phone but after I dropped it off I felt amazingly… liberated. It was as if a heavy cuff that had been strangling my brain had suddenly been smashed. I was free.

The first thing I did when I came back home was dig my watch out from underneath a pile of things in my closet. My latest watch, I should say. Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve gone through phases of fashion watches and eventually discarded each one. My latest watch is a pretty little Kate Spade thing but the battery was dead, so I hustled over to the watch department at the Bay at Bayshore. (Note! They are very good if you’re ever looking for a watch repair place in Ottawa! Edited to add: it’s called The Time Shop.) When I finally put my working watch back on my wrist I remembered two things: (a) how much I actually enjoy wearing a watch because I like knowing what time it is, at all times (b) how often I turn my phone on to check the time, only to get sucked into a rabbit hole lined with Facebook/Instagram/Twitter notifications. Sigh.

Many people don’t think much about how hard those social media platforms, as well as other games and phone apps, work to keep us checking in, coming back and spending time in each respective app. They’re designed to be addictive. Apparently, smartphones “hook people using the same neural pathways as gambling and drugs.” (You can read more about that right here.)

My ordinary watch is a device with a simple, single, purpose: To tell the time. It doesn’t do anything else and I am ok with that.

The latest thing, of course, is the smartwatch. For a while, I was coveting Apple watches and their adorable little touch screens. There’s so much you can do: Check the weather, look at photos, send and receive messages, track your fitness, pay for things with a digital wallet, set alarms and make calendar entries, and of course, check the time. Awhile back I wrote about a Kate Spade hybrid smartwatch Mark bought me for my birthday. It’s not quite the same as an Apple watch, but it links to an app and provides some basic features like a step tracker. It will also buzz if you get a notification. I was torn. I loved it, in fact, I had tweeted that I loved it to the whole world (which is how it ended up as a birthday gift), but when it was actually in front of me I had some serious doubts about owning a smartwatch. Will it now own me?

My internal dialogue with myself went something like this:

Andrea, what do I gain by owning a smartwatch?
Hmm. Instant notification of incoming messages and stuff? That’s cool.
Really? Do I really need to be “on” and “reachable” at all times?
Some people would say yes. That’s a good thing!
To be instantly reachable at all hours also means people will expect an instant response. Am I prepared to do this? Do I want to do this? 
I’ve also said that I’ve been feeling frazzled a lot of the time. Will this hinder, or help in that department?
Er, I don’t think it will help. Pouring Mexican jumping beans into a bowl of rice does not still the grains.
Is that an ancient proverb or something?
No. I just made that up. I will say this, however. If your goal is to be zen, a smartwatch isn’t the thing for you because it does not still your grains, er, brains.

I should mention that I felt like a heel for returning my birthday gift. Also, strangely, I felt like a kid who’s had a toy taken away from her as well as the mom who is taking it away. Does that make any sense?

I always wanted a smartwatch but I don’t think it’s good for me to have one. I don’t want to feel like a slave to any thing or iDevice. I don’t want to feel the pressure of being at everyone’s beck and call. I don’t like my growing sense of attention deficit and inability to focus. My challenge is, of course, that I use these devices for work and they’re a central part of what I do. Where’s the happy medium?

In the meantime, I will continue to wear my watch in order to cut down on the distractions. So far, so good.

For a few years, many moons ago, the kids and I were regular visitors at the annual live butterfly show at Carleton University here in Ottawa. I thought it was a great way to introduce kids to the magic, beauty, and joy of these amazing creatures. So when I heard about the new live butterfly exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature,* I knew it had to be something we had to check out as a family.

I was not disappointed!

Imagine a large circular greenhouse with a high ceiling, filled with all kinds of greenery and tropical plants. The heat and humidity are cranked up to create a comfortable habitat for the resident butterflies. As an added bonus, this warm cocoon of a room (ha! pun intended) makes a very pleasant respite from the horrific cold snap we’ve been surviving had in Ottawa recently.

Inside the Canadian Museum of Nature live butterfly exhibition

There are food and drink buffet stations set up for the butterflies around the perimeter of the room (think: dishes of oranges). These turned out to be the ideal places to see the butterflies in action. We all leaned in to take a good long look and, of course, take a million photos.

Live butterflies at the Museum of Nature

When the butterflies aren’t eating, they’re chilling out in a favourite spot. Some were high up out of reach, while others were right in front of you, just waiting to be admired:

Canadian Museum of Nature butterfly exhibition

As I walked around I realized that I was playing the ultimate game of iSpy. It was very cool.

Canadian Museum of Nature butterfly exhibition

The butterflies seem to have it pretty good here. They come from butterfly farms in Costa Rica and flit about from plant to plant, occasionally landing on a warm, mobile observation post (a.k.a. a human):

like a moth to a flame

Visitors are instructed to move slowly and watch where they step. Good advice, for sure. It was all very relaxed, which I appreciated. There’s a staffer on hand to chat with people and answer questions. There is a lot to learn about these amazing creatures. Scientists STILL don’t fully understand what happens during metamorphosis, but they do know that the caterpillars essentially digest themselves while they’re in their cocoons. Neat, eh?

While we were there, I watched two young school-age siblings who each had a small live butterfly on their shoulder. They were VERY proud and extremely gentle. It was so sweet. I wondered how they’d remember this later. What if this was the moment they decided to become biologists, climate change experts, or entomologists?

That being said, this exhibition isn’t just for kids. There were people of all ages here, and what appeared to be a few date nights, which I thought was all kinds of adorable. Every person in the room (except one!) was clearly having a lot of fun, watching the butterflies and looking for them among all the greenery. The teenager who wasn’t having a good time (she was not a member of our party) had a very obvious fear of flying insects. Which compels me to point out that if you are one of these people, perhaps this is not the best activity. Perhaps you should stick to the live insects that live happily in thick-walled acrylic terrariums. (I think THAT exhibit used to be called the Insectarium but it seems to have been renamed “Nature Live.” ?)

I should point out that tickets to see the live butterflies are timed entry, which limits the number of people walking through. It also means you have to book a time slot ahead of time. (Go to the Museum of Nature website for details about admission to the live butterfly exhibit.)

On the way out we checked ourselves for any hitchhiking butterfly specimens before eventually going back out into the cold winter evening, happy that we got to hold a bit of magic in our hands and see it up close, even for a moment.

* I was given tickets to see the butterflies by my friends at the Museum of Nature but was under no obligation to post anything about it here. All my views are my own! Please note that the museum is closed from January 8 to 12 (inclusive) for annual maintenance.


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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 (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. 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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