a peek inside the fishbowl

11 Jun, 2022

Friday after work

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

I was talking to someone recently about creative work and the challenge of cranking out quality material when you feel absolutely brain dead. As someone who writes for a living this can be tough, for sure. When I’m approaching that feeling I try to switch tasks. So instead of writing, I’ll transcribe an interview, for example. It’s a quick fix which I jokingly refer to as procrastinating from work by doing other work, but for the most part, it works. I also have a good idea at what time of day my creative output is stronger, so I try to schedule interviews and writing around those times.

Our conversation turned to “writer’s block.” I find that image to be creatively harmful, if that makes any sense. Blocks seem like an obstacle, and obstacles may loom large and seem insurmountable. Instead I prefer to think of myself as a cup or a vessel that needs to be refilled when I’m running low. (I have written about this before.)

Mark went out last night so I had the evening to myself. I ate dinner in front of the TV, put in a load of laundry, walked Piper… now what? I had lots of options. I could watch more TV. I could read. I could clean something. I could fritter away time scrolling my social media channels. Those things were the easy things to do but I knew that what I really needed was to fill my vessel.

So I picked myself up, changed my clothes, unlocked my bike, and took off. The wind in my face felt glorious.

I didn’t go far. I biked to the beach and hung out for a bit.

Hanging out at Westboro Beach during golden hour

On the way home I detoured to Maplelawn gardens in Westboro, where I observed the last of the poppies. I had somehow missed them in their prime.

Poppies at Maplelawn

Poppies at Maplelawn

While I was there I spied a baby bunny spying on me. A wee mouse. A red-winged blackbird sitting on her nest. These sightings were my reward, I am certain. My cup feels a little fuller this morning.

03 Jun, 2022

Run for Women, the post-pandemic edition

By andrea tomkins in Yaktivism

The 2022 edition of the Run for Women is taking place THIS SUNDAY.

Last year it was a virtual event, meaning everyone ran on their own, wherever they were at. This year, participants had the option to run on their own OR with other people, old-school, in an actual race, just like in the Before Times. (!) So this is what I’ll be doing this year.

The funds from this event support women’s mental health programming at The Royal. As some of you may know, I work at The Royal. I have seen firsthand the amazing work that happens there. These dedicated people inspire me every day! Money raised from this event truly makes a difference to people in our our community.

So think of me on Sunday morning, running to support women’s mental health along with 3000+ generous runners, walkers, and strollers.

If you’d like to make a donation to my fundraising page you can do that right here. Thank you, friends!

I wrote the bulk of this blog post over a year ago, in April 2021, about two weeks into a 365/daily selfie project. What follows below what I wrote back then, with the inserted occasional reflection from April/May 2022. I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to sort out my thoughts and hit the publish button on this.  Perhaps because it’s personal? Pressing publish in 3,2,1… 

There are very few photos of myself that I actually like. Here is a terrible yet honest confession: I don’t believe I fall within that spectrum of what is traditionally considered “good looking.” (Chiming in from 2022: What is good looking anyway? Frig. This goes deep man.) I’m rather pointy and splotchy in places and I kinda hate my teeth, but for the most part I am ok and accepting of this. I have “good” days and “bad” days and I write this knowing how subjective it all is, hence the quotes.

And a byproduct of that, of course, is if you don’t like photos of yourself, your loved ones will inevitably see you deleting photos of yourself and complaining bitterly. And whether they realize it or not they will stop taking photos of you. They don’t mean to do this, but it happens, and then you disappear from your family’s own narrative.

The idea of taking 365 self-portraits, one a day for a calendar year, isn’t new or original, but it is the right project for me at this point in my life.

Are selfies an exercise in vanity? I used to think so but I don’t believe this any more. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about and realized there is nothing wrong with a person documenting their life in this way. It’s not vain. There’s nothing wrong with someone being proud of their appearance. There’s nothing wrong with loving yourself and sharing that love publicly. I believe it is good to celebrate ourselves, and this is one way to do it.

I started taking a photo of myself every day on the youngest’s birthday. I thought it was an auspicious time to launch into something like this. I floundered, and I still am in a way.

I have asked myself all kinds of ridiculous questions around the “rules” of this undertaking. Is it “cheating” if I take 20 photos and choose a favourite? Should I force myself to smile? Should I include my whole face and not just part of it (something I tend to do a lot)? Should I try for “arty”? Should I try to look “pretty”? Will people look at these and think, ‘Wow, there’s a lady who’s desperately trying to look good and not really pulling it off.’ ?

I edited my project rules as I went but they eventually became something like this:

  • No filters, “portrait mode,” or photo touch ups or edits.
  • Most of my face must be shown. The goal is an honest photo every day for 365 days, snapped on my iPhone.
  • I can take as many as I like and my final pick for that day may or may not be the “pretty” one.
  • I choose the setting. Bonus points if they weren’t in my home office every day… it is, after all, a pandemic.

I am compelled to upload them to my Flickr account but am wilting at the thought of pressing the publish button. I am really wrestling with whether to make the photos public or not. I doubt anyone wants to see my mug every day… and what do I hope to achieve anyway? This is something I’ve thought about with every photo I snap of myself. Why am I doing this, exactly? Perhaps it’s as simple as proving that I exist, or trying to become more comfortable with my own face (WHY IS THIS EVEN A QUESTION! IT’S MY FACE!), or doing something outside of my comfort zone that I know is also important in ways I can’t even fully express.

Maybe I’ll eventually learn how to take a better photo of myself. Again, what is better exactly? Maybe I will grow to like photos of myself?

That’s all I wrote about this, in a notebook back in April 2021. You will of course notice the self-reflection clouded with self-doubt. (I also jotted down two words in the margins of that entry: Justine Bateman. I know it was in reference to this Vanity Fair article.)

How we feel about our own appearance, our rank, in a world that celebrates youth and beauty, runs deep. First, there is personal baggage. How we were made to feel during our younger years probably has an effect on how we feel later on. Then there is the aging thing. I am tempted to say that the age/beauty discussion hits women a little harder but I know men struggle with it as well. In my own experience I have observed that we tend to disappear as we age. Of course I mean that metaphorically. I am not a ghost, although it sure feels like it when I’m waiting to be noticed at the store, or as the cashier just stands there wordlessly, hands by their side, waiting for me to notice how much my groceries are costing me that week.

I don’t know if my selfie game has improved very much at all this past year but I figured out a few things about lighting, my iPhone, my ANGLES. Ugh. You can look at the set right here. There are actually 367 photos in this album. There were two days I forgot to post a photo, and a couple extras on other days. I have my favourites. Some of them are definitely not pretty, but they are honest. There were days when I felt sick, tired, raw, scared, sad. I didn’t want to gloss over these days, or be that person who pretends.

I will say that I am happy to have documented a year of my life in a different way (at least to me). It’s a visual journal of 365 moments that are unique to me; to this time in which we are living. I like to imagine what it would be like if I had 365 photos of my grandmother, not just posed in a studio or on her wedding day, but while she was at the beach, making a meal, at the doctor’s office, or tired after a long day.

What I didn’t mention in those scribbles from a year ago was the fact that I booked a professional portrait shoot with Ottawa photographer, Sara McConnell Photography as part of this project. She’s taken photos of our family before, so for my 49th birthday in August I gifted myself a solo session with her in the gardens at the Experimental Farm.

Here are a couple of the photos she took:


Me 2!

I 100% recommend mothers (and fathers!) get out from behind the camera every once in awhile and have a professional portrait taken. I grant you that we live in a digital age and photos are easier than ever to come by, but having your photo taken by someone who knows what they’re doing is something else altogether. Sara is wonderful at putting people at ease and coaxing out a good photo, even if you are the self-conscious type.

Some of you who have known me for awhile might remember that I farmed myself out as a family portrait photographer once upon a time. I did headshots too. Between that and taking photos for my local newspaper, I met many women who hated having their photos taken, almost as much as me. They’d say things like: “I look terrible” and “Can you make me look thinner” and “There’s a filter for these wrinkles, right”? Maybe they were kidding, maybe they weren’t, but it happened often enough that I felt that slivers of truth were being revealed in those offhand statements. It was almost enough to make me cry, because I didn’t see the wrinkles or splotches or the baby weight. Truly, all I saw was their beautiful smiles, sparkling eyes, the love they had for their families… and there was so much beauty in that. Why couldn’t they see what I was seeing?

But back to my session with Sara. I booked it partly as an “add on” to my 365 selfie project but it was also around that time that I was perusing a couple hundred photos from a family camping trip. As I scrolled past photos of sunsets and beaches and wildlife and beautiful photos of the kids and the husband I realized there were barely any of me. This may seem melodramatic but I felt as if I wasn’t even part of this wonderful trip but really, I only blame myself for this. I am the one behind the camera, documenting family things, but I suspect there are few photos of me because I am so annoying about it. When I saw photos of myself I used to think: Am I really this pointy/squinty/lumpy/shiny/spotty/jiggly? and then delete delete delete. Well, after a year of taking photos of myself I accept that while I might be those things sometimes I am also smiley, sparkly, and most importantly, alive. I am here. There is only one me. I love, and I am loved.

Some other photo projects:


18 Apr, 2022

Sheila McKee Nature Trail

By andrea tomkins in Ottawa

I’M BACK AGAIN. This is the most I’ve blogged in awhile, eh? I also have two other posts on the back burner so stay tuned for those. 

I’ve had the AllTrails app downloaded on my iPhone for a while now. We were using it here and there but I’ve decided that we need to explore our local trails more often so the app has moved up in priority. We tend to gravitate to the same woodland rambles (Jack Pine Trail, Lime Kiln et al.) but there are many more we need to hit up!

Enter: Sheila McKee Nature Trail.

I actually had this one bookmarked already. I tend to do this when I hear about a pretty trail in the Ottawa area but then I promptly forget about it. So when Mark suggested we go for a walk in the woods “to that trail with the little waterfall” something tweaked in my memory.

Sheila McKee Nature Trail is a 25-minute drive from where we are, past the Marshes golf course and through Kanata North to Dunrobin. We spied turkey vultures and raptors and lots of geese hunkered down in flooded fields. It is a pretty drive.

Be warned, however, that if you ask your GPS to direct you to Sheila McKee Nature Trail you may actually end up at Sheila McKee Park. This is not where the trail starts. You need to drive a minute or two further down the road. The trail has its own little parking lot. Look for the brown sign… although AllTrails will show you where you are in relation to the trail, so there’s that option as well.

The waterfalls at Sheila McKee, as far as I can tell, are created by streams of water dripping from the side of the small escarpment that runs along the waterfront (sorry, I don’t have the geographical/topographical lingo here). It must depend on the season but it seems the falls are just a very steady drip that freezes dramatically in the winter months, as opposed to a cascade of water one would normally associate with waterFALLS, hence the term. ;)  I would love to know for sure so if you’ve witnessed cascading water, I hope you let me know.

This is the path down to the Ottawa River:

Sheila McKee Nature Trail

… and then there are stairs. (Apparently these are deadly in the winter.)

Sheila McKee Nature Trail

Sheila McKee Nature Trail

What no one seems to have mentioned in any post that I’ve read about Sheila McKee Nature Trail is the incredible number of skipping stones on the shore. There were countless flat rocks… everywhere. I have never seen so many. When I exclaimed about it, Mark dryly suggested they’ve had a few thousand years to get that way. (THANK YOU MARK, for pointing out EROSION.) :D

We have decided that the next time we come it will be in the summer with a picnic lunch and a flask of something cold and delicious.

Skipping stones! At Sheila McKee Nature Trail

Skipping stones! At Sheila McKee Nature Trail

Sheila McKee Nature Trail

At just over 2K it’s not a long trail, but sometimes that’s all ya need. I also appreciated the fact that it is dog-friendly.

I do recommend it! If you’re not convinced, here are a couple other posts about Sheila McKee Nature Trail.

Related to this: I am very keen to start a summer collection of mushroom and fungi photos with the help of my Seek app. I have yet to find a better freebie app that can ID area plant life. Let me know if you know of a better one! I wonder how many mushrooms I can find this year? (I hope 50+. That’s my goal.)

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16 Apr, 2022

Lunch at Holly’s Hot Chicken

By andrea tomkins in Ottawa,Recipes and Food

Holly doesn’t know this but I’ve been following her story for awhile. I’d see news of her restaurant pop-ups, partnerships with local breweries, reviews of her food. Our youngest also worked with her for awhile, so she was on my radar that way. I hope this doesn’t seem stalkerish, I just really really like fried chicken sandwiches. The sad part of this story is that I was never quite ever able to pull it together enough to make it out to where Holly was serving ’em up. My desire was simply fuelled by social media and reviews and dreams of chicken sandwiches. And then of course the pandemic happened and everything was put on hold.

So you can imagine my excitement when I heard she was taking over the old Meatpress place in Hintonburg. This means her famous hot chicken sandwiches would (a) have a permanent presence that is (b) tantalizingly close to where we live.

I was working from home a few days last week and Mark and I decided that Holly’s had to be on our lunch menu. (Side note: a loaner PHEV from Ford also meant we are jumping on any opportunity to take it for a spin, but more on that later!)

It was, admittedly, not an ideal day to go out for lunch. It was rainy. And cold. And the most important question of all: would the sandwich hold up, all wrapped up and transported from there back to here? Turns out I need not have worried.

Holly’s Hot Chicken is in this pretty brick building in Hintonburg. We parked just down the street.

Holly's Hot Chicken has a new home!

I had perused the menu beforehand so I knew what I was getting. We both ordered the Chicken Honey Hot (Nashville-style spicy fried chicken topped with thinly sliced cucumbers, pickled red onions, honey garlic dressing and iceberg lettuce on a bun) and shared a side of cauliflower bites (deep fried cauliflower florets with house spice blend served with a side of house ranch dressing).

Holly's Hot Chicken: placing our order

I knew this was going to be a lot of food but at the last minute I threw caution to the wind and ordered a donut as well. Mark got one too. Here they are, ensconced in this box while we waited for our order:

Holly's Hot Chicken: waiting with donuts in hand

There were a few people ahead of us, which makes me think this is the place you probably want to hit up a few minutes before you reach the point of starvation  OR place your order ahead of time for pick up. Clearly I am not the only one in the vicinity who has a thing for Nashville-style fried chicken.

We brought everything home. Here is a terrible photo of my lunch, taken with messy fingers right after I tore into it. Please forgive me.

Holly's Hot Chicken: sorry for the photo but...

What is hot chicken, other than delicious? According to Wikipedia: Hot chicken (or Nashville hot chicken) is a type of fried chicken that is a local specialty of Nashville, Tennessee, in the United States. In its typical preparation, it is a portion of breast, thigh, or wing that has been marinated in a water-based blend of seasoning, floured, fried, and finally covered in a paste or sauce that has been spiced with cayenne pepper. This method of preparation originates within African American communities in the Southern United States. A richly pigmented seasoning paste gives the fried chicken its reddish hue.

Nashville Hot Chicken! In Ottawa! It is the perfect ratio of spicy, tangy, saucy, crunchy. I am still dreaming about it.

And then there was the donut. Even though I had been holding it while waiting for our order to be ready, it wasn’t until Mark pointed it out at home that I realized how HEAVY it was. I was concerned, and told him as much, just as he was taking his first bite. (He ordered the lemon filling, I ordered the cinnamon bun style.)

“Is it cakey?” I asked. I do not like a cakey donut. He shook his head, mouth full.

I can’t speak for his donut, but I realized why it was heavy as soon as I bit into mine:

Holly's Hot Chicken: THE DONUT

The cinnamon bun donut had a whipped cinnamon CHEESECAKE filling. Yes. I was essentially eating a donut filled with cheesecake. No wonder it outweighed every donut I’ve ever eaten (and I’ve eaten a lot of donuts). It was very good by the way!

Anyway, we were very happy with our meal and I’m already looking forward to a return visit. If you go, let me know how you like it, ok?

Check out Holly’s Hot Chicken menu right here: hollyshotchicken.ca.


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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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