a peek inside the fishbowl

I’ve already written about the issue of creepy guys before. Yet here I am again. You know why? Because the issue of the creepy guys will never go away, and it depresses the crap out of me.


Mark asked me whether I thought it was true that someone in authority could laugh at and/or be dismissive of a young woman’s story of sexual harassment or abuse.

When I was in university I worked at the Rideau Centre. I worked in retail, in menswear for the most part. The days were mostly fun, but long, and to decompress when I had a break I’d buy a pop and a chocolate bar and head up on the roof of the mall. There was a small stretch of lawn and some flower beds there. The entrance was near where the old movie theatres used to be, a publicly accessible spot that few people used or knew about because it was tucked away.

It was a warm summer day, and the rooftop garden was a welcome escape from the windowless box of recycled air we were working in. I took off my shoes, balled my sweater under my head, and stretched out on the grass to enjoy a few rays of sunshine and fresh air. The heat of the day made me drowsy, and I eventually nodded off.  I woke with a start, thinking I’d overslept. Or maybe it was the feeling that someone was watching me, but someone WAS watching me. Some dude on a bench right across the lawn had his pants down and was pointedly masterb@ting in my direction. At me. Looking at me. I felt nauseous. I pretended that I didn’t see him and slowly reached for my shoes and put them on. Later on I wish I’d confronted him, but I didn’t. I was disgusted, shocked, horrified. I carefully made my way back into the cool shelter of the mall, as calmly as I could. I was shaking. I had time before my shift started and went to find a security guard. The one I spotted happened to be a fellow I knew. It’s been so long I don’t even remember his name. He often came by the store, or would give us a friendly wave when he walked by. Sometimes he’d walk with one of us to do the bank deposits. This was the guy I told. I expected he’d run and try to find this creep, or at the very least, walkie-talkie his security guard friends. Maybe he did that later, I don’t know. What I do know is that he looked down at me carefully, with concern in his eyes. “So was he using his left hand or right,” he asked. I didn’t get the joke at first. My panic was clouding my response and I struggled to remember – was it left or right –  and then I realized he was kidding. He thought the whole thing was funny. And then he told me to take it as a compliment.


About a month ago the girls and I were at the shoe store. The eldest was trying on a black pair of Doc Martens, which we eventually bought. During the trying on process I snapped this photo and posted it along with a “we’ve come full circle” line, since I was a Doc-wearing youth back in the day as well and was kind of enjoying the moment.

Miss Doc Marten

I had her permission to post it, which is something I always try to do.

A couple of weeks later I received a notification via Flickr that someone had favourited that photo. I normally don’t take much notice when this happens, but the user name was strange and it got my attention. I clicked to see this person’s photo stream. There were no photos uploaded to this account. I clicked around a bit more and found this person’s favourites (basically, other people’s photos that were highlighted). Mine was at the top of the pile. And then I noticed all of the photos were similar in some way. The photos were all of young girls in various undress, some more titillating so than others, and they were all wearing more or less the same thing. Clearly I had stumbled across the favourites of a flannel or plaid fet!shist. (I wish I was kidding.)

You can imagine the conversation I had with our eldest. (“You see, there are some men who see women as THINGS and …”)


And here we are today, with the Jian story. So the question here is this: how do we talk to our daughters about it? To be honest, I was secretly hoping it wouldn’t come up, but there we were. Talking about it.

I decided to frame it as abuse and assault, and leave the bulk of the details out of it for the time being. A well-known and respected Canadian celebrity is being accused of assaulting women in a violent way, and he was fired from his job. We don’t know the whole story, and there’s a lot of speculation, but evidence is mounting as more people come forward. What we DO know is that the behaviour he is being accused of is awful.

I think this is a very good opportunity to talk to our children about sexual abuse in general.

There are some good tips on this website. I’m no expert, but I think that if we as parents start talking to our kids about this stuff early, we’re (hopefully) giving them the strength and knowledge they may need later on. As they say in the article, “Educating children on sexual abuse won’t reduce the number of child assaults but hopefully will make your child less likely to become a victim …. because predators are looking for kids who will keep their secret.”

This is not just about talking to little girls about protecting themselves, but little boys too. It’s important for all kids to understand what a healthy relationship looks like, and how we all need to treat each other with respect, no matter how old we are.

Sidebar: for some perspective on the whole Jian story, you could start by reading this post over at Cunting Linguist and this one at Nothing in Winnipeg.

Some of you are already familiar with Ten Thousand Villages. They’re a former Fishbowl patron, and a fair trade retailer I’ve written about before. Did you also know that Ten Thousand Villages holds a major “Festival Sale” at the Ottawa Mennonite Church every weekend in November? The Ottawa sale is the largest fair trade sale in Canada.

There’s a special addition to the sale this year. “Foodie night” will be taking place on Friday, Nov. 7, and will showcase all of the wonderful edible items that Ten Thousand Villages offers. A foodie presentation will also take place alongside the Festival Sale at the church.

Catherine Beddall, a professional pastry chef and owner of Catherine’s Cakery, promises to be one of the big draws at the sale on Friday night. Although Catherine is known for her cakes, she also is a wonder with gingerbread. Behold:

Gingerbread house by Catherine Beddall

Isn’t that amazing? I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions this week. Read on to find out more about her and what’s in store for visitors to the Ottawa Fair Trade Festival Sale.

Read the rest of this entry »

28 Oct, 2014

Litebook revisited

By andrea tomkins in Oh! Things!

I was singing the shower this morning. SINGING. I stopped myself, mid chorus, with a shampoo bottle in my hand. Who is this person? And when’s the last time she spontaneously belted out some Dexy’s Midnight Runners?

And then it dawned on me. Singing in the shower, to me, is a symptom of happiness, the kind that comes with having a bit of energy to spare, even on a day as grey as today.

I’ve written about my Litebook before, but now that it’s fall and I’m back at it I thought it deserved another mention, especially since I listed it in my “editor’s faves” column in the November issue of Capital Parent Newspaper (which you can read right here).

During my research for the column I discovered that my old Litebook is now obsolete. (Mark actually bought one for my birthday this year, which is GOOD because I needed one but kinda sucks because the new Litebook Edge looks kinda great. Oh well. It isn’t the only name out there by the way. There are lots of light therapy options on Amazon although I can’t speak for those other brands.)

Have you ever thought about how great you feel on a nice bright sunny day? On sunny days I have extra spring in my step, and a smile on my face. And I’m more likely to be better at dealing with life’s challenges.

The Litebook is essentially a wee spotlight that folds open and sits on a desk. (The girls jokingly refer to it as a bat signal. If we added a black cut out bat shape they wouldn’t be too far off.) It’s essentially a ray of sunlight without the UV. For me, the Litebook has become a bit of a life fixer upper. It gives me energy and wakes me up, and helps me be happier person. (You can read much more about the benefits of light therapy here.)

Every morning I sit down with a cup of coffee and read the news for 30 minutes while the light shines in my face. And then I hit the treadmill. I do this every day and will continue to do so through until the Spring. Why? Because sometimes I need to put myself first, because when I start to fall apart, my world seems to fall apart around me.

But what does it mean exactly when I say that time spent in front of my Litebook gives me extra energy? It means I bake a loaf of banana bread instead of chucking the spotty bananas straight into the compost. It means I walk down the drugstore to pick up a few things instead of driving. It means I’m a better parent. It means I pack a lunch instead of getting take out. It means I tidy up the mudroom instead of stepping over shoes and backpacks. It means I am less grumpy, spend more time on the treadmill, am prone to sudden fits of dance, and generally Feel Better About Almost Everything.

I catch myself doing things I haven’t done in awhile, and I think, yes, that’s the old Andrea. And to tell you the truth, I like the old, silly, happy Andrea. I like her a lot.

This doesn’t mean that all of my health problems are solved. I have made an appointment to see my doctor about a few things, but this extra bit of light in my day goes a long way to improving my daily life and my outlook.


26 Oct, 2014

The history of our house

By andrea tomkins in Home/reno

Our house, fall 2014

I think there’s value in knowing how we once lived.

How can you move forward if you don’t ever look back? How can you be proud of your community if you don’t know how it has evolved and changed? This is something I think a lot about, especially in my role with our neighbourhood newspaper. In terms of the stories we share with our readers, it is a fine balance, the now and then. I do like that the publication is contemporary and forward-thinking with an occasional glance backwards. There is room for a glimpse into the past in order to remember – and celebrate – the journey and the places from which we came.


I first heard of Dave Allston’s House Histories a few years ago during Westfest. He had a wee display table, decorated with maps and books, and a large aerial photo that included a view of our street. A small group of people had collected around him, presumably to talk about the good old days and learn more about the early days of their community. It was then that I found out that he farms out his sleuthing services to homeowners who want to learn about the history of their home.

So this past summer I hired Dave to research a history of our home as a gift to Mark. This was something Mark and I had been talking about for a long time, especially during our renovation. Our home was built in the early 40s, a “war time” model that is common in parts of Ottawa. I wondered about the families who lived here before we did. I’d find myself thinking about them while running my hand down the bannister that spans the stairs that lead up to the bedrooms. It sounds silly, but the bannister was one of the reasons I fell in love with this house when we first looked at it. It’s a solid piece of wood; thick and straight, with uneven brown tones throughout. I half wonder if it used to be thicker when it was originally set in place, but has been worn down by time and little hands clutching on to it as they make their way downstairs at night, and lighter touches just skimming it while running upstairs to check on a baby.

When we renovated I told our builder that no matter what, that bannister had to stay. We learned later, that the crew actually misplaced it for awhile, which resulted in an utter panic because they thought it may have been accidentally thrown out. (It was not.)

The reno provided a lot of blog fodder during the better part of a year, although not very much of it was historical in scope. Some of you may remember the note we found when our old kitchen cupboards were being torn out:

This was found behind our old cabinets!

We were amused and surprised. And mystified. Who were these people?

I can now say that this particular mystery was solved, thanks to Dave and the history he compiled of our home. Jonathan and Serafina Sebastyan Benson were just one of the many homeowners who lived here. They purchased our home on August 16, 1974. They paid $12,000 in cash and took over the existing mortgage balance of $35,000. Sadly, Jonathan passed away on May 19, 1977, less than two years after installing the cabinets. Serafina stayed on for awhile, until she sold it and moved on February 1978.

This story made me a little sad. Perhaps it’s the joy in that little note, those three exclamation marks. And having been through a reno, I know the feeling of accomplishment and renewal that comes with it. Jonathan enjoyed his new kitchen for such a short time. It reminds me that we have such a short time to enjoy the things – and the people – around us, and we don’t know how much time we have left. (Would he have bothered with new cabinets, the effort and expense, if he knew he only had two years left?)

There are many more little stories, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Dave’s book about our home actually begins a lot earlier than Jonathan and Serafina’s part in it. Our house history begins in the 1800s, when the only thing here was uninhabited scrub. The City of Ottawa didn’t exist when this book begins, and Nepean Township (because this area used to be Nepean) was only five years old when this first land grant was awarded to Thomas Gordon, an Irishman who arrived here by way of Albany, New York.

The book is laid out in chronological order, and it’s as much of a history of the area as it is a house history: going back to farming and logging days, and the later growth of the community. It also contains copies of clippings and little stories of the people who lived here, births and deaths, as well as information about a few other lots and houses on our street, which now makes me look at them a little differently when I walk by. Old real estate clippings are also fun to read:

Stop, look and listen. It's Highland Park!

And here’s a view of the Nepean High School when it was first built:

A new Nepean High School

And this was a surprise, an article that shows our home and some dangerous hedges:

Old newspaper article, from our house history

It turns out that our house was built by Charles Augustus Johannsen between 1941 and 1945. The price of the lot: $25. He was an active builder of custom homes in Ottawa, and together with his sons formed C.A. Johannsen & Sons. Our house took a few years to build and the first occupants were Jack and Frances Johannsen (who were 21 and 18). Jack was the middle son, and apparently the young couple lived in the home very briefly, likely because Jack was shipped off to war. It’s worth noting that the couple was listed in the assessment rollbook at the time as “carpenter” and MW, which stands for “married woman.”

C.A. Johannsen & Sons went on to become part of a real estate venture called Carleton Realty Company, which, through a federal deal born out of the Ottawa Home Builders Association, was responsible for the construction of those familiar war time homes across Ottawa in order to relieve a housing shortage.

This is really just skimming the surface of this fascinating collection that Dave presented to us. The binder has been passed around and we’ve all had a good read. Our own little family makes up the last chapter of the book. It’s neat to think that we’re a part of our own house history. Perhaps, when it’s time to move on, we’ll leave a copy of it for another couple who fall in love with our bannister and decide to call this their home too.

If you’d like information about your own Ottawa house history, you can find more information at Dave’s website at housestory.co.

25 Oct, 2014

Weekend reading: October 25 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

24 Oct, 2014


By andrea tomkins in File under crafty


Awhile back I wrote up a wee poppy craft for the November issue of Capital Parent, and I decided to start wearing my poppy pin a little earlier than usual this year. If you’d like to make your own, you can find the DIY right here.

As for me, I don’t think I have any more words left at the moment, so I’ll just leave it here for now.


NAC Ottawa family events

Fall family fun fun at Saunders Farm!

Creatures of Light Nature's Bioluminescence at the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa

Mrs Tiggywinkle's - the best toy store in Ottawa

Litterless lunch solutions at terra20

Zen Kitchen is open! Use code FISHBOWL for free dessert

Nepean Visual Arts Centre

Visit tThe Village Quire in Westboro Ottawa!

Click me!


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Me and my pet projects



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  • Lynn: I've been feeling very sad about the Jian story, combined with some other stories on CBC lately (did you hear about the hockey boys in BC who traded n
  • Stacey K: I think that we need to start conversations about consent with our kids as early as possible (not in a sexual context, but in a" its your body, you ha
  • lacoop: sigh...Sometimes I think things are getting better...and then other times I just wonder. This is a concern for us as well, with both a son and a daug
  • Tudor: So, I'm actually using the Jian thing as a chance to talk to my son about consent. There's been a lot of talk lately about positive consent, ever sinc
  • Three stories, and talking to our daughters about the creepy guys, AGAIN. >> a peek inside the fishbowl: […] already written about the issue of creepy guys here before. Yet here I am again. You know why? Because the issue of the creepy guys will nev
  • kjt: This is the one I use - neither compact nor pretty but works for me. It's almost 10 years old so this company may have advanced the product since then
  • Misty Pratt: I've considered investing in one to see if it helps my winter blues!

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 – 850 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.


  • 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?

    - #
  • My latest post at the MediaSmarts website is about passwords. Is this something you've talked about with your kids? Given the proliferation of devices in households (often one per person now) it might be an important topic for discussion. How have you handled passwords in your household?

    - #

On the nightstand

... check out past nightstand reads right here.

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

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