a peek inside the fishbowl

17 Nov, 2018

Weekend reading: November 17 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the nightstand: We Were the Lucky Ones: A Novel

Over the past few weeks I’ve raked multiple lawns and moved what might possibly be a metric ton of leaves from one place to another. I raked the small forest around my mother’s place on two occasions this fall (picture full-size maple and oak trees, so many leaves they can’t be bagged), my in-laws small suburban front lawn, and our own yard (which also involved breaking down a stack of branches left over from Tornado Weekend). So this is a question I’ve had a lot of time to ponder: What does my leaf raking style say about the kind of person I am?

  • I’m not a perfectionist and don’t expect others to be either. I don’t care if there are stray leaves on the lawn after I’m done.
  • I clean up the bulk of the leaves on the lawn but leave some in the flowerbeds.
  • I like using a big rake and the feeling of progress. This is comparable to what I enjoy the most about painting a wall: I get a lot of satisfaction from broad strokes and a big roller. I don’t enjoy taping and the detail work.
  • Bagging the leaves is ok and I don’t mind it too much. I like pushing them down and making space for more. In fact, I find it very satisfying to stuff the bags with as many leaves as possible.
  • I do not have a methodical approach to raking a lawn. It defies logic, but somehow I can’t find it within myself to start from one side and make my way to the other. I like tag team raking. I rake a pile and someone bags it. Repeat. Switch. Repeat.
  • I do not like putting away the garden tools. This feeling flows from the same fountain as the one that hits me when it’s time to empty the laundry basket.

We have two ways to compost in our backyard. One is with an enclosed black unit with a lid. It’s ready for winter now. I do this by turning it, then adding layers of “green” matter and “brown” matter. The other composter is essentially a pile of leaves contained by two-by-fours and chicken wire.

Some of the leaves are dumped into our compost, and any overflow is bagged and put out by the curb for pickup.

Fall in Ottawa = leaf collection.

Composting makes me very happy, and I feel very strongly about leaving some yard waste to decompose in the flower beds. It’s important! Leaves and twigs eventually decompose into lovely organic material that contributes to healthy soil AND as a bonus, saves us money in the long run because we won’t need to amend our soil with more soil and fertilizers. What’s more, the leaves provide food and shelter for bugs, birds, and other critters, which in turn creates a healthy backyard eco-system that is a joy to behold.

If you’re in Ottawa you’ve also experienced a recent little snowfall (which took place after the photo was taken above)! Did you get all the leaves cleaned up before it snowed? We didn’t, and I am ok with this. They’ll be gone by spring.


p.s. On this theme, I recommend this thoughtful opinion piece over on the New York Times website: How to Rake Leaves on a Windy Day.

10 Nov, 2018

Weekend reading: November 10 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

So I went axe throwing and it was a real hatchet job. ;)

If you haven’t heard about axe throwing you are going to want to listen up. It has all the elements of a great night out with a group. It’s recreational, competitive, team building, and social! It’s also very fun.

I took a stab at axe throwing in Toronto a few years ago and have been meaning to visit the Ottawa locale but never managed to get around to it. So when my friend Candace from Life in Pleasantville posted the invitation on Facebook I knew it was FINALLY TIME to revisit.

The location was BATL (the Backyard Axe Throwing League) in Ottawa’s east end, in an industrial park on Lancaster Road. The date that was chosen was the night of the US midterm elections. I was secretly grateful to be getting out of the house and away from the news channels!

After signing the (very detailed) waiver, I ordered a cider from the bar and met the rest of our group. We were led to our area and met our coaches for an Intro to Ax Throwing 101. Surprisingly, few of us had done this before but there were no professional axe throwers among us.

After an easy warm up and an explanation of how the evening would unfold, we proceeded to the next stage, which was more competitive.

Each pair of participants played three rounds against one another, and each round consisted of five throws. Points are awarded based on where your axe lands on the target: five if it’s in the middle, three in the red zone, one in the blue. Anything outside of that = zero points. (There’s a bit more to it – there’s a green dot too but it’s only in play during final rounds – but that about sums it up.)

Our amazing coach, Alex, kept score on an iPad, which was connected to a television screen so we could all see the points accumulating.

I think I went up against three other people, or was it four? Clearly, I was too busy having fun to keep track of the details or take many photos. This will give you an idea of the setup here:

BATL Axe throwing Ottawa

I think it’s important to say that I never felt unsafe, or scared. A few of us talked about how we were MILDLY WORRIED about lobbing it backwards, like one might a bowling ball. The funny thing is, once you’re there you realize that it’s impossible to throw it anywhere but in a forward direction. (Doh.)

How can I describe the feeling of throwing that axe?
Axe throwing Ottawa

It really is exhilarating. It’s more strenuous than I would have guessed, but not difficult. The hatchets have some heft to them and the repeated action of lobbing them over your head in a modified pitching motion definitely uses muscles that aren’t in regular rotation (at least for me). I should point out that these were all two-handed throws, but we also had a chance to try throwing the axes single-handedly. It was a lot harder than I thought, and I definitely felt it in the morning!

Imagine standing at the line, facing the target. You grasp the handle of the axe firmly in the palm of one hand and wrap the other one around it. The handle is smooth and your hands are hot. You raise the hatchet back over your head, square your shoulders, and let it fly in one long motion. (I learned quickly that the follow-through part of this is very important to landing a good throw, so is good posture, and it was immediately apparent to me if I let one loose that wasn’t going to land.)

And when your axe sails through the air and lands in the wood with a hard thunk, well, as you can imagine it’s extremely gratifying, especially if it ends up in the target.

I definitely got better the more I did it but I will say that about half of my throws bounced off the target or landed weakly and fell.

After the first rounds were over the top scorers began a tournament between themselves. And guess who came out on top? THIS GAL. Don’t I looked as pleased as punch in the photo above? It wasn’t even my best throw!

So here’s the big question. How does it compare to other group activities and things to do in Ottawa such as bowling, pool, or darts? Well, it doesn’t quite compare. The element of danger, even though ax throwing is pretty safe, definitely makes this a lot more thrilling than an ordinary game of pool.

Have you been axe throwing in Ottawa? Would you consider trying it?

05 Nov, 2018

Ordinary days

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

Our Sunday began with a couple of hours spent raking leaves and cleaning up the exterior here at Casa Fishbowl. Also, Mark put away the lawn furniture last weekend but had to pull it all out again to get to the Christmas lights, which of course, were at the very back of the shed.

I look at fall cleanup as a multistage process because I find it too overwhelming to deal with in one day or one weekend. Raking is a gradual thing, and I’m not fussy. Slow and steady wins the race here. I emptied some plant containers and Mark put away the garden hose and drained the rain barrel. I broke up the last of the branches from “tornado weekend” and turned the compost.

If it snows now it’s not the end of the world.

At lunch, we went to Mark’s parents, where we had grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. I filled four yard bags with leaves while Mark helped out with a few things around the house. The day turned into a sunny one. We took the dogs for a walk around the Monahan Drain Catchment (which sounds ugly but it’s essentially a man-made pond), where the geese are now congregating in huge numbers.

We didn’t stay long. I had to get a roast in the oven so we said our goodbyes.

On the way home I suggested we take a short walk along one of the trails in the Stony Swamp network. So that’s what we did. Walking in the woods is a different experience when all the leaves are off the trees. Suddenly, there’s a lot more to see there, including mysterious rock cairns, foundations of forgotten buildings, and old apple trees:

Old apple tree

Piper was quite pleased with this turn of events and found lots of delightful sniffs along the way:

A walk in the woods

Her feet were muddy so on the drive home I covered my lap with a blanket we keep in the car for this purpose.

We had a pork roast for dinner, baby potatoes with lots of butter, roasted cauliflower, and a green salad (spinach and arugula this time around. I love arugula!). We opted out of our usual after-dinner walk, and instead, made popcorn and watched Netflix.

Sometimes the ordinary days are the best days, don’t you think?


Have a great summer at Saunders Farm!

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  • Alison in Ottawa: I was disappointed to find out the minimum age is 16. While it makes sense, we will have to wait for a while before we go.
  • andrea tomkins: Claudette: I left it for a few months and am actually just giving in another read through now and making a few more changes before a friend reads it o
  • joy: does Piper ever get ticks? I hate those little b*st*rds. we are forever finding them on our dog. in fact, the vet says one of ours has Lyme disease
  • Claudette: ya. ;) Are you still writing your embargo book?
  • andrea tomkins: Thanks Claudette! Some short thoughts in return: - The eldest daughter and I have virtually eliminated beef from our diet, although I can't say t
  • Claudette: I really enjoy these weekend reading posts, I'm glad you keep doing them! Here's my view on some of the articles: I like meat and won't be giving i
  • G: Adults should not be trick or treating. Period. I didn't even know this was a thing...

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark. We have two daughters: Emma (19) and Sarah (17). 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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