a peek inside the fishbowl

08 Dec, 2016

Families in Ottawa need your help

By andrea tomkins in Ottawa,Yaktivism

Some of you have probably heard about the Caring & Sharing Exchange. It’s a local charity that provides assistance to individuals in need during Christmas and the back-to-school season. Well, I just received an email with an urgent appeal.

First, the good news: They WILL be able to provide help to 15,511 individuals in Ottawa this holiday season, which is almost as many as were on their entire list in 2016 (16,012). YAY. It is so nice ti know there are so many generous people in Ottawa.

The sad news: there has been been a massive increase in demand this year and there are 23% more names on the list. As of today, the organization has a waiting list of 4,155 individuals, which is almost a thousand more than the same time last year.

My dear friends. This is important. These are our neighbours.

You can make a monetary donation, or do what we did, sign up for the Christmas hamper program.

Now in its fourth year, the Sponsor-a-Hamper program is different way for the community to help those in need. Donors are given a grocery list, we shop, and drop the fixin’s for Christmas dinner off to one family. We bring the girls for the planning and shopping part. It’s a great lesson in giving and did my heart good knowing we helped one family.

Because the Christmas Exchange Program assists so many people across the entire city, sponsors are able to choose the size of family they would like to sponsor, along with their preferred location in the city (based on availability of course). So far this year, more than 275 families have been sponsored by caring individuals and groups within the community, but there are still hundreds of households waiting to be matched with a kind sponsor.

Can you help a neighbour in need? More information is available on the Caring and Sharing website at www.CaringandSharing.ca. Thank you friends. xox

07 Dec, 2016

Christmas shopping, gifts, and alcoholism*

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

* I know this is a weird title for a blog post but really, there is no other way to summarize what I’m about to write about. Here goes!

Sooooo, the recent snowfall has filled me with All The Holiday Feelings. I had a free day yesterday so I put my boots on and walked down to Westboro for a bit of window shopping. It was sunny, fairly warm for December, and I was feeling pretty good. I think this is a record for me. It’s probably the earliest I’ve started my Christmas shopping and wasn’t dreading it like one would a plague of locusts or the stomach flu. ;)

One of the things I don’t like about this time of year is the pressure to buy stuff. You can TRY to avoid the message to BUY BUY BUY but it’s hard to do, even at home. Our household has been inundated with Christmassy flyers and circulars. I’m sure yours has too. There’s no escaping it, really. I toss most of the flyers in the recycle bin because I know that if I flip through them I am more likely to overspend, but I broke my rule this morning. I found myself leafing through a glossy mini-catalogue that arrived in our mailbox today when I spotted these:

Do these kinds of items promote drinking?

What do you guys think of this kind of stuff?

Maybe I’m getting old and crabby but it makes me cringe every time I see something that glorifies drinking alcohol use in this way. This stuff is everywhere right now but there seems to be a big influx at Christmas as we struggle to buy gifts for everyone on our list. There are wine-themed glasses, aprons, throw pillows, oven mitts, coffee mugs… you name it, there’s a version with a wine or booze theme. Have you noticed that most are usually aimed at women? Wine-related gifts are a huge category on Amazon. (This is apparently a best seller! Ugh.)

I can see how the conversations around holiday giving unfold:

“What can we buy Auntie Mae?”
“WELL, she loves alcohol! So let’s get her a wall plaque that says “All you need is love and a bottle of wine” in big letters so she can hang it in her kitchen and look at it every day!”

Am I humourless? Too politically correct? I don’t know. I only know that as the parents of two teenagers we do our darndest to explain the perils of alcohol abuse and this kind of branded messaging flies in the face of everything we’re trying to do. These kinds of products make alcohol consumption seem fun and encourage drinking to excess. These messages normalize binge drinking. They also make it seem like we NEED alcohol to get through a hard day… which I think is possibly the most damaging to teenagers who can find life kinda tough, even at the best of times.

I know these products are meant to be funny, but you might have a different point of view if you know anyone who drinks too much. Or how about this? Substitute the text on every alcohol-related gag item with the equivalent about smoking and cigarettes. Try it. It sounds weird. Imagine a throw pillow, apron, or T-shirt with one of the following phrases printed on it:

Any time is SMOKE TIME!
Smile, there’s always cigarettes!
Smoke a little, you’ll feel better!
My book club only reads cigarette labels.
Keep calm and have a cigarette.

Most of us would probably think items like that are pretty tasteless and possibly encouraging an unhealthy addiction.

I’ve also tried to be a bit more mindful of how I refer to drinking around my kids. I used to catch myself coming home from a long day and asking Mark to pour me a glass of something. “Make it a double,” I’d joke. (Because, obviously, this was to convey that it was an especially tough day at work.) It might be subtle, but what kind of message was I sending to my children when I said this? Is it hypocritical of me to tell them drinking too much is unhealthy and that we should never look to alcohol to solve a problem or change a tough situation… and then make a comment like “make mine a double honey!”

We tell them alcohol is to be savoured like a piece of cheese or chocolate cake, and that one or two servings is usually enough. So what does it mean when products that are available everywhere are telling us that we should make cocktails “when all else fails”?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

We woke up to a winter wonderland this morning. It snowed overnight; enough to cover everything in a blanket of white. Although I don’t love the cold, snow makes me happy. This, despite the fact it means extra work in terms of clearing snow off the car, shoveling the driveway, mopping wet floors in the mudroom, the need to pile on extra layers etc. Somehow I am able to overlook those things, or at least push them aside, while I dwell on the beauty of it.

A fresh snowfall – the smell of it, the crunch of snow – reminds me of being a kid. I remember getting zipped into a bulky snowsuit and playing outside with friends for hours, building forts and snowmen, and making snow angels. We lived on a dead end street, which was shaped like a key. Every once in awhile there’d be enough snow that city street cleaning crews would leave a massive pile in the middle of the street with just enough space for cars to drive around it. All the neighbourhood kids would descend on this hill of snow, which became ground zero for snowball fights and games of “let’s pretend we’re mountain climbers.” Caves were dug out and claimed, walls were fortified with ferocious hunks of carved ice and snow. It was wonderful, and when my feet and face were about to freeze off (or my mother called) I’d come inside for a snack and a cup of tea or hot chocolate, totally soaked and exhausted from it all. It was a very special time, one of the happiest of my childhood years. I’ll remember it for the rest of my days.

As I reflect back on that time I realize that parental involvement was limited here. Sure, my parents probably watched from the window and trusted that all of the kids looked out for one another to a reasonable degree, but I was essentially on my own in this snowy world, even at a very small age. I was making my own decisions and looking out for number one. The independence of it charged my internal batteries and in a way, made me feel like my own person.

I now know that this wasn’t just a lovely time, it was an important time. It was something we tried to do with our own kids too. I wonder whether we succeeded to the same degree.


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  • 4,258 deaths: As a society we MUST talk about this. It's bad and getting worse. The C in LCBO is Control and yet their mandate seems to now be HEAVY PROMOTION o
  • andrea tomkins: Thanks all. It's a tough issue for sure. And it's not like I don't drink wine, I do (and beer, probably more beer) but I agree that a line has been cr
  • Marguerite: Your post rings for me. I worked as a psychotherapist in varous treatment centers in Ottawa for 20+ years, mostly in women only facilities and I have
  • Lynn: I also think it's crossed a line somewhere. It used to be you'd think about an evening out with your girlfriends, and having a glass of wine there mar
  • Tudor Robins: As a non-drinker, this type of merchandise seems a little baffling, somewhat sad, even a bit tacky; never cute, or cool, or particularly funny. But I
  • Cath in Ottawa: I'm really glad you wrote about this - I've been really conscious of this trend the last few months and have been trying to sort out my feelings about
  • Misty Pratt: I've written about this before too, but have focused more on the wine-drinking mom culture. And hey, I'm no innocent, because I partake and crack joke

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 (17) and Sarah (15). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times, 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!


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