a peek inside the fishbowl

22 May, 2023

Bikes and Ottawa bike shops

By andrea tomkins in Oh! Things!,Ottawa

They say that if you want to get more movement into your day to start with something you enjoyed doing as a kid. Well, for me, this is riding my bike. So I started biking to work last week. It takes approximately nine minutes and I’m pretty winded by the end. NINE MINUTES. My plan is to to do this three times a week for the rest of the season so hopefully it will get a little bit easier with time.

Nine minutes is a short time, but it’s a good time. The whistling wind, the crunch of gravel under my tires, coasting down hills big and small… it feels great and I love it.

We have a secure area to lock bikes at work, which is a bonus. I have to laugh at myself though… I am not very graceful and am forever always closing the gate on myself, running over a foot (mine, thankfully), or dropping stuff. The area is overlooked by a bank of windows and it occurs to me that I am providing a comedy routine for an unsuspecting audience every time I’m in there. :D

My bike is a heavy “mountain bike” style with thicker tires. It’s 20+ years old but I love it. It is SOLID. I feel safe on that thing, it’s like I’m riding a tank. YES, it weighs a lot, but I can run over pretty much anything and not be afraid of wiping out. I think that’s a pretty good trade off. That being said, I am very tempted by vintage-y step-through Townie-style bikes but I am hesitating. My bike still gets me from point A to point B, so do I really need a new one?

Each kid received a new bike for their birthday this year.

The youngest was in town back in April and she picked out a sleek and gorgeous Trek model at Bushtukah here in Westboro. Believe it or not, we bought and paid for it during a weekend and when Mark went to pick it up the next Thursday he was informed the bike we had purchased had been sold to someone else. Err. That was a surprise. I am still not sure how this happened but we were so disappointed that we got the refund and bought the same bike online at a delightful little bike shop in Kingston called Trek Bicycle Kingston. The youngest picked her bike up there when she was back in Kingston. She was happy with the service and absolutely loves her bike.

It was the eldest’s birthday this month. (24!!) We skipped Bushtukah, obviously, and checked out the Hintonburg location of Full Cycle and bought a bike there instead. We were so pleased with their friendly, knowledgeable service and low-pressure attitude. It was a great experience overall. In fact, it was so good I might even be convinced to get a new bike for myself at some point… ;)

So, Bushtukah lost a couple bike sales, and also, future bikes sales from our family. But when all is said and done they did us a big favour because thanks to their poor service we discovered two new amazing bike shops I’m happy to support and recommend to others.


How was your weekend?

This question is a traditional part of Monday mornings at the office, or on the weekly Zoom call. And honestly, I’ve felt a bit weird asking it lately. What used to be a fairly innocent question became more complicated after the pandemic. Or is it just me?

How was your weekend?

I don’t mind when someone asks me about my week. And if I don’t want to answer I know I can alway stick to the pat response: pretty good how about you? But sometimes – and this is the point of this post – my mind actually goes blank because I can’t recall doing anything worth mentioning. The blur of Netflix and household chores is not exactly worth talking about.

This, my friends, is no way to weekend, so I’m embarking on a quest to make the most of them! As such, I’ve been pondering a possible “framework.” Or perhaps it’s an equation? While I’m not exactly sure, here’s what I do know:

– I know I like to feel productive, so a good weekend includes a feeling of accomplishment. And by “accomplishment” I don’t mean running a marathon or writing a book. I’m talking about repotting plants or installing a shelf in my closet to take control of my falling tower of sweaters. That being said, there is a distinction between these kinds of tasks and other household tasks that tend to be mundane and draining, e.g. doing the dishes. I have never done the dishes and said to myself: HUZZAH! I feel so productive and accomplished! Same goes for grocery shopping.

– I know I like doing something good for my body and mind. Walks in the woods, bike rides, are the kinds of things that fall into this category.

– I know I like to relax, read, recharge my batteries.

– I know I like to do something I don’t normally do (i.e. have new experiences).

– I know I like to connect with others (but as an introvert this has to be done in a balanced kind of way).

I also know that weekends are too short! I only have two precious days in which to run errands/tick a few things off my to-do list, AND do all of these other fun things. (This is turning into a very good argument for three-day weekends eh?)

Related: no matter how much I tell myself that all I want to do is lie in bed and read, I know this does not actually make for a good weekend. It SOUNDS blissful, but I know myself, and I need to balance indulgence with productivity, otherwise I feel like a slug. (ie. not a good feeling.)

So what’s a gal to do?

Well, for the past few weekends I’ve been experimenting and have learned a few things…  namely that it pays to be mindful of not just planning activities and social time, but the timing of said activities.

If I do something on a Friday after work it makes my weekends SEEM longer, even though they technically aren’t.
Doing something on a Friday means that I’m not just going home and dropping on the couch. This past Friday I went out for drinks with colleagues right after work. LAST Friday, Mark and I went to a concert downtown (a string quartet performing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by candlelight). I think the Friday before that we went to see a movie. Regardless of what we do, doing something on the Friday makes my weekends seem that much fuller. And more fun.

If I bookend my weekend with something fun at the beginning and something indulgent at the end, it feels like a good weekend was had, no matter what was in the middle.
I am still working on this hypothesis but I like where it’s going. Last Sunday we ate pastries in bed, in the middle of the day! (!!) We also napped and read. Drank coffee. We neverrrrr do this! It felt ridiculous and also positively blissful, and contributed to my definition of a “great” weekend. This, despite the fact that we had spent most of Saturday organizing, sorting, and cleaning up someone’s basement. (Long story, plus not exactly relevant but let’s just agree that was a very tiring and dusty day.)

So does this mean that all the errands have to be done on Saturdays? Perhaps it’s something I will keep in mind moving forward. This article reminded me of what Sundays were like when I was young. By law, shops had to be closed on Sundays so there was nothing to do but stay home or go to church (but we were not churchgoing folk). Because nothing was open we had to find other things to do. We went through this just recently, with the COVID-related lockdowns right? When shops and restaurants were closed, we got out the puzzles and the cookie sheets and pulled those creative projects out from the backs of our closets, dusted off the tennis rackets and went on walks in the park etc. That’s what Sundays were like when I was a kid … every week!

Anyway, I digress. Life is short and we only have so many weekends allotted to us. It seems so simple. We should be (a) asking ourselves what things can we do to make us happy and (b) finding ways to squeeze more of those things into our lives. It SEEMS simple but for some reason many of us just let the time flow right past us.

The ending of the weekend on a fun or indulgent note is still something I am thinking about. Does it make for a better weekend if I end on a FUN note, or an indulgent one? They are not the same thing, obviously, and it’s nice to be able to incorporate both aspects into a weekend if possible. This requires experimenting! I shall have to do more of both, obviously. ;)

I am writing this on a Sunday afternoon. There are no pastries coming my way today but I do have a bath bomb from Lush that I’ve been saving. Maybe it’s time to use it after I finish potting my plants?


17 Sep, 2022

September is a good time for change

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

I went on a power walk around the block this morning and I tried my hand at doing some intervals for a certain stretch of it that has evenly-spaced blocks.

So my 45-minute walk looked like this: warm up walk, awkward run for one block, huffy puffy walk for one block, run for one block, walk for one block (I repeated this about four times) and then a warm down walk that included a pass through the farmers’ market in Westboro.

I’m going to try and do this more often.

While back I upgraded Overdrive, the app I use to borrow and read books from the public library, to one called Libby. It took awhile to get it working but I’m a convert. It has a nice interface and the lending process is easy. It also has some fun features that weren’t available before. For example, now I know how long I spent reading a particular book. Libby has also made it easier to view and borrow other things from the catalogue, such as current magazines. So last night I went to bed with the latest issue of Prevention Magazine. I haven’t read this magazine in ages but I see it often enough in my social media feeds. There were some great articles, but you know what, I kind of knew how they all ended even before I started reading them. Wondering how to stave off dementia? Exercise and eat a Mediterranean diet! Want to live longer? Exercise and eat a Mediterranean diet! Curious about cardiac health? Exercise and eat a Mediterranean diet!

I think MOST people KNOW what they need to do for their health, but we don’t do it for some reason.

I wonder if it’s because we are collectively an exhausted group of procrastinators who don’t like being told what to do, and also maybe we feel a bit invincible and don’t think of our future selves very often.

I think about that a lot. I wonder if future Andrea would be annoyed at present day Andrea because she neglected her health. (Ugh, this reminds me that I need to book my check-up.)

I’m fascinated by behavioural psychology and I’ve read a lot about why people do, and don’t do, certain things. I think all off those articles I’ve been reading about the things we should be doing for our health need a big postscript that comes down to this:

If you want to adopt a healthy habit, you have to take the most enjoyable/fun/delicious change and take a tiny baby step in that general direction.

Ok, maybe that isn’t the most erudite way of explaining it but for example, if we want to eat more fruits and vegetables, we can just pick our favourite fruit or vegetable and buy it more often. It might be that tried-and-true apple a day, or it might be frozen blueberries for the morning yogurt, or a more “exotic” treat like a mango or kiwi. There you go, one easy extra serving every day.

Change is very hard when you’re told to do it all at once. e.g. Lose weight! Exercise! Start a whole way of eating!

The best and most lasting habit change happens when you’re treating yourself, not when you’re depriving or punishing yourself.

I know, I know, I am diverging from what is typically expected from a bucket list* but if you don’t pick up lunch from Bite This in Westboro Village at some point this summer you will regret it:

Bite This (a good shack in Westboro Village)

  1. It’s delicious.
  2. It’s reasonably priced.
  3. The serving size makes it an extra good value.
  4. You sit outside in a pretty setting.
  5. Everything we’ve ever eaten there is delicious.

There’s the menu on their website but they seem to offer surprise switcheroos every once in a while. Yesterday, for example, Mark ordered two bao buns with Korean chicken and fries and it was absolutely, mouthwateringly, good.

I ordered a Korean breaded cauliflower wrap with spicy peanut sauce that I’ve had before and it was just as excellent as I remembered.

*I think the best bucket lists contain small things as well as big things. After all, we can’t travel or spend big bucks every day, right??



11 Aug, 2022

Family camping 2022: Chutes Provincial Park

By andrea tomkins in travel talk

Campsite visit by a red squirrel

I enjoyed camping with the kids when they were small. We built many sandcastles and collected many frogs over the years, but there’s something special about camping with kids when they turn into Young Adults. They are there to lend a hand during a hike, rub your shoulders when they’re sore, and share a beverage and conversation by the fire. These are all new moments that weren’t there before, and it’s nice. And for the parents out there who might be feeling a tug of sadness as they watch their kids grow up, know that it will be just as special, only different.


We’ve gone camping almost every summer since our kids were toddlers. When they were young we favoured campgrounds that got good reviews and were relatively close to Ottawa. At the same time we tried to choose a new place every year, and there’ve been repeat visits of Charleston Lake, Algonquin Park, and Bon Echo, simply because they had everything we wanted out of a campground at that time.

This year, however, we decided to venture a little farther and try out Chutes Provincial Park, which is about an hour west of Sudbury and just north of Manitoulin Island. This translated to a six-plus-hour drive from where we live, not including the drop off of the dog, pit stops, and lunch, which we grabbed in a Mattawa cafe. (Although in hindsight I wish we had brought sandwiches and ate them by the river as it’s quite pretty there.)

So, after quite a long ride in a rented minivan that was packed to the absolute max, we finally made it.

Chutes Provincial Park is located in the town of Massey, Ontario. I will say this, as the distance/time to destination on our GPS got smaller and smaller, my worry about it grew bigger and bigger. We drove through town, turned right, drove past scattered housing, an empty playground and an unused fairground in silence. What is this place? And would we find the peace and wilderness we needed this close to civilization? I had serious doubts and practically held my breath before we finally spotted the Ontario Parks signage and checked in.

Well, I needn’t have worried because as it turns out Chutes is my new favourite campground.

Chutes is a very unique campground within the Ontario Parks network. It’s definitely the closest we’ve ever been to a town, but that’s not a bad thing. Massey has everything you’d need as a camper: groceries, LCBO, a motel in case of a tornado. There’s even a Home Hardware and surprisingly, a Rona. There’s a cute coffee shop called The Little Brew Cafe that had lovely baked goods and, most importantly, fresh hot coffee.

With only 130 sites, Chutes is among the smallest campgrounds we’ve stayed at. There are trailers and RVs on the one side but we never had cause to venture in that direction. Unlike other small campgrounds like Achray, Chutes does have a comfort station with laundry and showers (in addition to the usual pit toilets with sink setups). The tenting half of the campground is radio free, which is a huge bonus in my view. AND, the campground is dog friendly.

We stayed at site 97. Here’s our setup:

Tent set up at site 97, Chutes Provincial Park

We actually didn’t think we’d be able to fit our two tents, but we did. Phew.

Site 97 was very quiet and quite private thanks to its location in a mature forest. There is, however, a walking trail directly behind it. This (mildly) decreased the privacy but it turned out to be a plus because (a) we did this trail twice and it was pretty convenient and (b) it was a direct path to the nicer set of pit toilets in our area. (200 steps, we always count.)

This site is also directly beside the water tap and I felt absolutely spoiled by this.

We were worried about traffic noise from the Trans-Canada Highway, which is only 1km away, but we only heard it night, faintly in the background, depending on which way the wind was blowing. Mostly we heard the waterfalls, which is the best sound to fall asleep to, like, ever.

The Beach at Chutes Provincial Park

Chutes is named after the logging chute that diverted logs around the waterfall on the River aux Sables.

Because of its location on a river, the campground doesn’t have the traditional kind of beach we normally enjoy on our camping trips. A rocky waterfall is the star of the show here and everything else revolves around that, including the swim area, which is tucked in a river bend underneath.

It’s smallish, and while part of it is sandy a good chunk of it is rocky:

Swim area at Chutes

This is not a very accurate representation of the whole scene but will give you an idea.

Partial view of beach at Chutes

Part of the swim area at Chutes Provincial Park

It is a very Canadian landscape, a little bit on the wild side:

A very Canadian landscape at Chutes Provincial Park

You can see the swim area a bit more in the background in the photo below. Yes, there is a sand island in the middle of it! Click here to see a larger version of this photo.

Twin Bridges Trail at Chutes Provincial Park

The waterfalls are at the top of the swim area (you can see the edge in the photo above), and you can swim right up to them. The water flows downstream past the beach area, creating a “lazy river” effect through very shallow waters. Lots of people rode the river this way in inner tubes, including school-age children. We tried it ourselves and it was very fun. I highly recommend it! (You might want to wear water shoes for this, trust me.)

The trails at Chutes Provincial Park

The trail at Chutes is called the Twin Bridges Trail. (Here’s a full description from AllTrails.) This is a must-do if you’re at Chutes. It’s gorgeous, with quite a few places to pause and take in the scenery. I could NOT stop taking photos. The whole place is a live-action postcard:

Twin Bridges Trail at Chutes Provincial Park

Twin Bridges Trail at Chutes Provincial Park

Exploring Chutes Provincial Park

I think I’d rate this trail as moderate in difficulty. I do recommend wearing sturdy shoes and bringing water.

Here’s a panorama from one of the twin bridges.

The other trail we did was during a day trip to Manitoulin Island. A bit of research led us to the Cup & Saucer Trail so that was our destination. We packed some snacks and hopped in the car. It’s a scenic drive, about an hour away, although a delay with a swing bridge added about 15 minutes to the trip.

We did the “cup” part, because the saucer would have added more time (and distance) for which we were not prepared. It’s not a leisurely walk, this is truly a hike. Let the record show that we got turned around three or four times and had to backtrack, which added a bit to the length (and stress!) of our hike.

Here’s Mark at the beginning, looking and feeling pretty fresh no doubt (read: BEFORE WE GOT LOST):

Mark, at Cup and Saucer Trail on Manitoulin Island

The trail is rated moderate, but I’d call it “moderate with intense bits” because you’ll find yourself scrambling up and around rocks in many places along the way. We also did the “adventure trail” which was optional but we figured, hey, we’re here, let’s do this so we can say we did it. (Famous last words, am I right?)

The "Adventure" side trail, Cup & Saucer Trail

The Adventure Trail segment along the Cup & Saucer Trail, Manitoulin Island

You can do this part of the trail while going UP to the lookout or DOWN. I recommend taking it DOWN. But do note that this is mostly where we got lost because the trail here is poorly marked and downtrodden areas among the rocks give a false impression of trails where there may not actually be any.

The lookouts are pretty nice, but man, was it hot up there.

Cup and Saucer Trail on Manitoulin Island

We lived to tell the tale of the trail, but we were exhausted and it was long past lunch. We devoured a mediocre takeaway lunch like a pack of rabid wolves while we hunkered down at a picnic table at Bridal Veil Falls.

It was the perfect place to picnic and cool down, and it’s a popular swimming hole!

Bridal Veil Falls, Manitoulin Island

Bridal Veil Falls, Manitoulin Island

(Funny story, while I was wading in the water I spotted a water snake. I pointed, screamed, and laughed hysterically as I watched it change direction several times before it paddled away into the rocks lining the swim area. (Do snakes even PADDLE? I guess it did a shimmy swim?) Speaking of which…

The bugs and critters at Chutes Provincial Park

We experienced a wide range of weather, which to me reinforced the idea that it pays to be ready for anything when you’re camping in Canada. During our five night stay we had driving rain AND a short heat wave AND we had to layer up during a cold front at the tail end of it all. (We stopped at the Big Nickel in Sudbury on the way home and as we pulled into the parking lot we laughed at a guy wearing a puffer jacket and the minute we opened the door I found myself wishing I had packed mine.)

I don’t know if it’s the time of year, the amount of rain, or the location, but mosquitos were tolerable around our site and almost non-existent on our hikes and on the beach. There were a few wasps, but no deer flies or horseflies around the water either. One member of our party attracted all the mosquitoes, perhaps drawing them away from the rest of us. ;)

We did have a lot of red squirrels. They are bold little buggers:

Bold red squirrel helped himself to peanuts

The food at Chutes Provincial Park

We follow the same basic menu every year with few tweaks and updates, but some fan favourites in case you’re looking for ideas to bring on your next camping trip:

  • Chicken kebabs with veggies and halloumi cheese from Farm Boy on warmed naan bread (topped with sliced cuke, red onion, tomato, homemade tahini dressing)
  • Chicken Caesar wraps (made with precooked chicken and bagged salad)
  • Camp donuts
  • Banana Boats

It’s worth noting there is a handy convenience store right outside the park gates. (In fact, it was walking distance from our site.) This is where we bought the ice for our coolers but they had a little bit of everything here.

If you’re still wondering if you should book a site at Chutes Provincial Park for your next camping adventure, check out this list of Five reasons to visit Chutes on the Ontario Parks website.


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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 offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). 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, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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