a peek inside the fishbowl

I’ve written a lot about screen time, here on the Fishbowl and over on the MediaSmarts blog. I think I can summarize my feelings thusly: I’m not against TV, video games, iDevices etc. I do however, worry about the effect these things are having on our brains and attention spans and I believe there should be limits to how much time we spend with them instead of doing other things. I do also believe it’s fair to make a distinction between GOOD media and CRAPPY media consumption. I touched on the idea in this past post. GOOD media is brain food.

In that post I mentioned a book that stayed with me. Please allow me to quote myself for a moment:

There’s a memoir by Canadian writer and film critic David Gilmour called The Film Club: A True Story of a Father and a Son. It’s essentially about how the author finds himself underemployed with a 15-year old son who wants to drop out of high school. He lets him do this on one condition, that they watch three movies each week together. It is pretty unconventional parenting, and I find it interesting for several reasons but it really hit the idea home that watching a great film with your kid may be as important as sitting down to dinner together.

We’ve always been keen on great films here at Casa Fishbowl, but in my latest post on the MediaSmarts blog I’ve write a bit about how we are honing our interest down even further. You can read that right here.

Spoiler alert! One of the things I’ve resolved to do is watch more documentary films as a family. Here are three recent ones that have been entertaining and insightful in equal measure.

Rich Hill.

Queen of Versailles


I asked some friends on Facebook what documentaries they’d recommend and here are a few of their suggestions (I have a lot of Googling to do!): Planet Earth, Frozen Planet, Frozen Sea, Fed Up, The Blue Planet, Elmo, 100 Feet from Stardom, Muscle Shoals, Sound City, Happy, Kings of Pastry, Don’t Look Back, The Flat, Ken Burns docs, Super Size Me, Revolution.

It’s worth noting that we’ve been watching Life Story on CBC and REALLY enjoying it! It contains some of the best wildlife footage I’ve ever seen.

I posted this photo to Piper’s Instagram account this morning:

Snoozy Mondays

I don’t really hate Mondays – that was Piper talking – but it did get me thinking about how confused my work week has become these past few years. I don’t really have a work week. I don’t get up, get in a car, show up at an office, put in a full day, and then come home from said office and push aside thoughts of work until the routine begins again the next day.

I sometimes work at night, and on weekends, and my commute is short: I start upstairs, and end up downstairs. My morning routine is a simple one: I drink my coffee, eat breakfast, put in some time on the treadmill, have a shower, and get dressed. Today I turned on the space heater in my home office and put on slippers. My work schedule is not a schedule at all. I basically use whatever time I have to Get Everything Done. I DO ALL THE THINGS. Which is partly why I’m trying to be more regimented about my work day.

Related: I was having an email exchange with a local resident in regards to a letter to the editor he was submitting to the newspaper. We’d had a couple of back and forths on Sunday morning and in his last note he wrote: let’s get back to our families and take this up on Monday.

Everyone talks about the importance of disconnecting, but what if the job you’re connecting to is one you truly enjoy? It’s like being asked to put down the crossword puzzle you’re working on, or that great book you’re reading, because you’re reading too much. It’s hard to do. I suppose if reading is interfering with your family life, it might be an issue. I’m not sure how my family feels about my work. Do I work too much? Perhaps I should ask them.

Tags: ,

24 Jan, 2015

Weekend reading: January 24 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the nightstand: Midwives

23 Jan, 2015

Photographic gratitude

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

Remember the big poster I made out of 200 of my favourite Instagram photos? I look at it every day and still love it to smithereens. I find something new in it all of the time. It’s a permanent reminder of the ordinary beauty around us. I guess that’s ultimately what my Instagram account is all about, and in a sense, this blog too.


These are a few things that made me happy this week:

Sleeping dogs. They are like miniature radiators. To have one curled up on the couch next to you is a gift unlike any other:

Let sleeping dogs lie

Sunsets. Don’t they just make you happy to be alive to see them?

Sunset looking east from Tunney's Pasture

Cultural artifacts. These three photos are from the Empress of Ireland, an exhibit that’s at the Museum of History (a.k.a The Civ) right now. Aren’t we lucky to have such great storytelling that is so easily accessible? History comes alive here.

From the Empress of Ireland, currently at the Museum of History

From the Empress of Ireland, currently at the Museum of History

Museum of History

Greenery. My mom gave me this poinsettia two Christmases ago and – AGAINST ALL ODDS – it’s still alive, and actually doing well. It’s a very pretty little splash of colour on our windowsill.

They're alive! Alive!

Happy Friday!

I hate wasting food. Last I was looking at three very spotty bananas withering on the countertop, and I asked myself, what’s a mamma to do? Answer: MAKE MUFFINS*

* I do not consider myself a baker or a muffin maker. My muffin motivation was two-fold: (1) To use up the aforementioned bananas (2) to tempt my children with something new for breakfast.

I found this recipe for banana muffins and it totally fit the bill. It’s incredibly easy, uses THREE bananas, and the kids love the results. I call that a win-win situation, don’t you?

Banana muffins!

Banana fans may also be interested in this recipe for banana bread. It’s also very good!

I’ve had cause to think a lot about Our Central Tenets of Parenting lately. I should have a list of Central Tenets written down somewhere, but since I don’t, I will mention two for now:

1) We encourage our children to try new things.
2) We encourage our children to explore their options.

Number one is a bit of a no-brainer. By encouraging our children to try new things we make their world a little bigger and help them become better little people. The new thing in question might be as small as trying a new food, jumping off the diving board at the swimming pool, or signing up for an intramural team at school. Those small things aren’t really small things, are they? They’re big things. That new food, or the big leap into the pool, or a slam dunk can kindle a fire in their little hearts we didn’t even know they had. Those things make them grow.

Number two, on the other hand, can be a little more challenging because once they hit a certain age, (ahem, like, five), they start to think they know Everything There is to Know. But when you really think about it, number two is just as important as number one. Teaching our children to explore their options is just as important as encouraging them to try new things.

Our youngest is moving to a new school next year and was asked to weigh her options in terms of which school she should attend. Several of her teachers petitioned for a move to Canterbury, the local arts high school. The other option was our neighbourhood high school. She was interested in trying out for Canterbury – either visual arts or literary arts – but her heart was already set on the local school. Her decision was made.

It would have been easy for us to NOT attend the open house at either school, after all, it’s like, minus THIRTY HUNDRED out there and I’d rather be eating toast and watching Netflix, but we put on our Good Parent Hats and braved the awful weather and checked them both out. And you know what? Even though her decision didn’t change, at least we now had a clear idea. Ultimately, our visits helped make her decision a more informed one, and we all felt good about having done due diligence.

To summarize, here’s the life lesson we are trying to convey here:

The best decision is an informed one, and it comes after having weighed all the options.

This is where I introduce a new Fishbowl patron, Ottawa’s Joan of Arc Academy. I went to JOA on a tour recently and had the pleasure of meeting some of the teachers as well as the JOA Headmistress, Pierrette Poliquin and Assistant Head Derek Rhodenizer. I went there, with no idea that JOA is Ottawa’s only private elementary bilingual girls school, and has been since 1954. And for the first time ever, they’re offering full scholarships of up to 100% of tuition fees, awarded to suitable candidate(s) as decided by the Scholarship Panel.

ALSO, this is the school that’s right near Funhaven, set back a bit from the Queensway. It’s only a few minutes from our home in Westboro. I’ve always wondered what school that was. Now I know!

ALSO, this school has its roots in Westboro. I know some people reading this may have even attended Maison Jeanne D’arc on Kenwood Avenue.

The school knocked my socks off, and I spent a lot of time with Derek Rhodenizer talking about the joy of learning and the wonderful things that happen when girls are in an environment in which they are supported, encouraged, and challenged.

In some ways it was like other schools I’ve visited. The hallways are decorated with children’s art, the gym is very much like a gym, and the coats and snowsuits are hung in neat cubbies in the kindergarten room, but there are differences.

Joan of Arc Academy

Joan of Arc Academy

Joan of Arc Academy

Joan of Arc Academy

A peek inside a classroom, at Joan of Arc Academy

Joan of Arc Academy

The students I met seemed thrilled to be there. The girls wear uniforms. The class sizes are smaller, which means teachers can spend more time with each student. The classrooms themselves are happy and sunny. It’s an educational environment that fosters academic excellence. The students are motivated, high achievers in academics, art, music, and sports.

I’m also interested in the all girl setting, and I had a lot of questions about it. What does it mean to be a student in an all girl school from K-8? Personally, I think it lets the students be themselves, with less distraction and peer pressure drawing away from their educational and social experiences. Here’s an interesting example. Derek told me that everybody – even the the older girls – wear snow pants at recess, because they all want to have fun in the snow. I don’t know of any eighth grade girls who wears snow pants at public school, do you? Many are also too cool to wear a touque. Sigh.

So when we talk about weighing our options in terms of education, I would venture to say that this is one that should definitely be considered, especially given the new scholarship program. There’s an open house on January 28 and parents of children in any grade can attend. RSVP right here. And here’s something neat: If you have a question about Joan of Arc Academy, you can ask JOA parents, right on the website.

In the meantime, I do encourage you to check out their Facebook and Twitter pages to get the inside scoop.

Click to learn more about Joan of Arc Academy


NAC Ottawa family events

Saunders Farm annual passes for family fun!

Arctic Voices, Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa

Mrs Tiggywinkle's - the best toy store in Ottawa

Sustainable shopping at terra20 - Ottawa

Visit tThe Village Quire in Westboro Ottawa!

Joan of Arc Academy in Ottawa

Click me!


Stay in touch

Me and my pet projects



Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • peter: Interesting post. This is something that used to cause me a great deal of stress. I have been self employed my entire working life. When I worked I
  • Peter Boyle: Dear Andrea, Count your blessings when you have the time to follow your heart's desire. Yours truly, Peter Boyle.
  • Lynn: Agreed, as well. I often wander into my office and start working at all hours, when the rest of the family is doing something together - it's hard to
  • Javamom: So a year or more later my house has no interior walls. They came down today! :) I'm on the hunt for recommendations of shower/bath etc faucets and sa
  • Cath in Ottawa: I struggle with this all the time - I love the convenience associated with my 7 step commute as well as the ability to pick up a sick child, throw a l
  • andrea tomkins: I know! I just keep watering it and it seems to be doing fine. This was was a late bloomer this season. The red leaves started coming out a little aft
  • andrea tomkins: Cam: I can't say that I have had the same experience, but I do think the points fluctuate. Some weeks are really good, other weeks less so. It's a

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 – 938 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.

    - #
  • 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!

    - #
  • 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?

    - #

On the nightstand

... check out past nightstand reads right here.

Got kids in Ottawa? These posts might be worth a click too:

All hail the mighty Twitter