a peek inside the fishbowl

16 Jan, 2022

Surface tension

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

On one hand, I can’t believe it’s already January 16. On the other hand, I am STILL writing 2021 when I have to jot down the date somewhere.

I looked at the last time I posted here and it was NOVEMBER. How is that even possible? Perhaps it’s because I haven’t felt like I have very much to share lately.

The holidays seem like a distant memory although I will say that was a very welcome break and it was so lovely to see my little fam.

Time is somehow folding in upon itself. How does that happen? I feel very much like I’m in a holding pattern, even though I am keenly aware that Things Are Actually Happening Around Me.

We’re approaching the second anniversary of the pandemic. I catch myself wondering how it’s possible we’ve been living with this for two years. TWO. YEARS! And although I’m loath to talk much about Covid and the health of my family in a public space, I will say that we have been personally affected. I had hoped we could remain untouched by Covid, but sadly, that was not to be. We are all ok now. I mention this only in case there is someone reading who thinks this virus is something other people catch. We all mask, we are all vaccinated, we are all cautious, but we still got it.

Stress is a funny thing. Sometimes I feel like I’m a glass of water that is absolutely full to the brim. The surface tension is such that if you look closely, the surface of the water is actually above the rim of the glass. It’s all right now – doing fine, holding tight – but the tiniest of drops will be enough to displace the unbroken and calm layer of water in the glass and cause it to overflow.

It seems to me that my news is old news. I am unenthused about most of it. There’s a major deep freeze happening across the region and we are pretty much shut-ins right now. Yesterday I vacuumed, rearranged some houseplants, gave a few things away on my local Buy Nothing Facebook group (EXTREMELY CATHARTIC. HIGHLY RECOMMEND), dropped off some groceries for someone who is in quarantine, read my book, and watched avian-related antics in the backyard. I will say once again for the record that expanding our bird feeder set up was one of the best pandemic purchases we made. (Thank you M, for your kind email about that!) We also installed a plug-in water warmer for our ground-level bird bath. Mark just shouted from the living room that a crow was availing himself of a long drink. I wonder if it’s the same one who dropped by yesterday, the fellow with the shiny feathers.

22 Nov, 2021

Four tiny words

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life,Multimedia experiments

You can read this post or click here to listen to it on SoundCloud.

I was at the grocery store. I was feeling on edge, in a mood at it were. I had a list of to-dos and frankly I really didn’t want to be there on a Saturday morning. I was in the produce department, debating the merits of buying myself a seven-dollar bag of mini-peppers when I saw a young mother, not wearing a mask. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how much people who aren’t wearing masks stand out. They might as well have a beacon shining out of their foreheads or something.

We live in a time when it’s actually weird to see someone’s entire face.

A wave of annoyance and anger welled up inside of me. And I had questions, lots of questions: Why wasn’t she wearing a mask? Why is she exempt? What is it with people!??

This woman’s son was about five years old. He was cute, doing what kids do, alternately hanging on the cart or running up the aisle. Interestingly, he was wearing a mask.

She and I found ourselves in the same aisle in produce. I debated whether I should say anything. Should I say anything? Or leave it? Ultimately, I could not help myself. I felt the words bursting out of my mouth before I knew it: “You forgot your mask.”

The way I see it, I was stating a fact. I may have sounded judgemental or accusatory, and if so, I didn’t mean to. When I really think back to that moment I felt annoyed and angry, as I mentioned, but also strangely hurt by all of this. I don’t like wearing a mask either, but I do. When I’m wearing it I feel gross and sweaty and I can’t wait to rip it off my face the first chance I get. But I continue to wear it because it’s the right thing to do. I’m doing my part, so why aren’t you, lady?

You forgot your mask.

I actually walked by her as I said it, perhaps subconsciously protecting myself from a potential screaming match with an anti-masker. I don’t know, it’s the coward’s way. As I glided by with my cart, I saw her dive into her purse.

“Oh my goodness, you’re right,” she said. She pulled on the mask. “Thanks for letting me know.”

“No problem. It happened to me last week,” I said. And honestly, it did. I popped into a mall over my lunch break and was so spaced out I didn’t even realize I forgot to put it on until I was a dozen or so steps past the doors.

I overheard the young mother whispering to her son. They were standing next to those seven-dollar peppers I was looking at earlier. “Why didn’t you tell me I wasn’t wearing my mask?” she asked him, but I didn’t hear his reply.

14 Nov, 2021

hello holidays

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

I’m trying something new. Here’s an audio version of this blog post.

I am a big fan of treating myself to something delicious when I’m feeling rough around the edges and it was one of those days.

So picture this: I was standing in line at Starbucks. Mark was waiting in the car. I was second or third in line, not tuned into my surroundings at all. I was almost zombie-like, my mind blank, waiting for my turn. I’d been standing there for two or three minutes before I realized that Christmas music was playing overhead. Christmas music? Already? That’s when I looked up, and noticed the red and green cups, the gingerbread on the menu, and all of the holiday merch. Christmas had arrived at Starbucks. I had walked into a franchised Christmas setting and had not even noticed. 

The old, pre-pandemic me would not have been too thrilled about this. After all, it was barely November, too early to get on the Christmas train, right? But something inside me hitched, and shifted, and that Christmas song settled over me like a gentle snowfall.

It was my turn at the counter and the barista asked me for my order. I snapped out of my caffeine-starved reverie and conveyed Mark’s coffee wishes. Then, searching for inspiration, I glanced up at the menu board even though I had gone in there already knowing what unsweetened coffee beverage I wanted. 

Suddenly, tears sprang up in my eyes. They came from nowhere, or maybe they came from somewhere deep down after many months of fear and doubt and feeling out of control.  


The barista, standing patiently behind her plexiglass pandemic partition, waited for my order. I’m not even sure if she even noticed my brief wave of emotion.

“I didn’t know how much I needed Christmas until this very minute,” I said. She laughed quietly, kindly. I felt like she understood where I was coming from. I pulled myself together and placed the other half of my order, my half.  Uncharacteristically, I found myself ordering a caramel brulee latte from their ‘festive flavours’ menu, as well as a big gingerbread cookie to share (although I gave myself the bigger half later). As I walked back to the car I thought, WHO IS THIS teary-eyed, sweet coffee swilling person?

I still don’t know what happened, only that I had a moment. At Starbucks. Sigh. 

In a typical year I am not interested in celebrating the holidays this early, but this is not a typical year. I’m all in, so bring on the glitter, the lights, the gingerbread, and the Christmas music. I’ll try not to tear up when I hear it next time.





26 Oct, 2021


By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

So, yikes. It’s been awhile since I’ve updated here. My explanation for this is rather fuzzy and lame. I’m writing more than ever in my day job which leaves me without too many extra words to share. Plus, there are Life Things and sometimes Life Things also take up a lot of mental energy, if you know what I mean.

I was actually going to write about our Thanksgiving, but now it seems so far away. The stores are already decked out for Christmas! I will say this, the girls were here and it was very nice to be together.

Thanksgiving gets a total makeover when little kids grow up and become young adults. Honestly, my head is still spinning. Wasn’t it just yesterday that the youngest regaled us with a Thanksgiving poem she learned at school?

Turkey turkey,
Gobble gobble,
Eat too much and
Wobble wobble.

Although the youngest did NOT recite a poem this year, she did assemble a charcuterie platter that looked like something out of a magazine.

When adult children are on the scene it means there is grownup snacking and cocktail mixing, and 1000% less supervision. It is a delight.

On the Monday, the eldest and I went on a nature walk in the Hampton Park woods. She hooked me up with this really good app called Seek. Basically, you hover your camera over any living thing for a few seconds and the app comes back with identifying information: it’s name, taxonomy, range, and if it’s a mushroom, whether it’s edible or not. Suddenly this ordinary walk in the woods became a scavenger hunt, one with pretty cool results (that is, if you’re into mushrooms and other flora and fauna):

Violet-toothed Polypore

Funeral Bells

Bleeding Fairy Helmet mushrooms

One of my favourite things about this is the names of the actual specimens. Above is the Violet-Toothed Polpore, Funeral Bell, and Bleeding Fairy Helmet.

The app has fun challenges too. The “Arachnid Challenge” is one of them, but I’m not sure if I’ll be signing up for that one. (!)

We brought Piper on our mushroom hunt. Being the funny and smart dog that she is, Piper has learned that she’s likely to get a treat if she hops up on a log and turns up the cute factor so she does that all the time now. It’s quite comical.

Piper knows how to turn up the cute

I guess I did end up writing about Thanksgiving weekend, didn’t I? Next up: CHRISTMAS. I can hardly believe it.



27 Aug, 2021

Holding summer in my mind

By andrea tomkins in travel talk

The cottage, view from the dock looking back

Seven days of nothing. This is what we signed up for at the beginning of the year when we arranged to stay at a friend’s cottage in Quebec in August. Seven days of no work, no stress (hopefully), nowhere to go, no to-do lists. When we booked it, we had many OMG moments in the interim, wondering if this little getaway was even going to happen. There was Covid, of course, border crossing issues and lockdowns, plus some family stuff … all of these things hovered around the periphery of our awareness for months but somehow the stars aligned and before we knew it, the time had come to pack up and GO.

The cottage is in the Val-de-Monts area; situated on a narrow river that leads to a small lake.

From the dock there’s a view of trees and clear water that flows by oh so slowly. It is the most accurate definition of ‘lazy river’ that I’ve ever seen.

View of the tiny river, from the cottage



The kayaking life

(The photo above is of the lake.)

We kayaked up and down that little river many times during our stay. In some parts it’s the width of a residential street, in others you find yourself squeezing through an opening with a dock on one side, and a field of water lilies on the other. The river is shallow. In some parts you can practically lean out and touch the sand with your hand. It’s clear, too. You move among darting fish, with lake weed occasionally stroking the bottom of your kayak as you paddle over underwater forests.

Kayaking down the river

One morning as I sat on the dock a great blue heron glided down the river, floating on the air as silently and effortlessly as the fish swim underneath. I blinked and it was gone.

Hummingbirds regularly zipped around the bee balm in the wild gardens around the cottage. I parked myself with a book and a beach towel right in front of the flowerbeds one afternoon so I could watch them. I could actually hear them coming. They hum and squeak! The calls of blue jays, chickadees, and nuthatches filled the skies while the sun was up, and crickets and cicadas filled up the other ends of the day.

Isn’t it interesting that it is only when we slow way down that we are able to observe the quiet and ordinary spectacle of nature around us? I saw hummingbird fights (they are territorial!), a family of blue jays chattering in a tall tree, a school of fish cutting through the water in a world of their very own. Those things happen whether we are there to witness them or not but I’m glad I was there to see it all.

Speaking of surprises in nature, Mark and I were kayaking down the river one day when we saw something we didn’t expect. He was ahead of me when I heard him shout: “It’s a pig!”
I seriously doubted my hearing: “A what?”
“A. PIG.”
“Whaaat? Did you say pig??
“Yes! PEE – EYE – GEE… PIG!” (He honestly had to spell it out for me because my brain was not able to connect the dots.)

And he was entirely correct. By the time I caught up to Mark I saw the wide back side of a large pink pig lumbering away from a wee muddy and hoof-trodden spot along the shore. Clearly it was its watering hole!

This was pretty much the last thing I thought I’d see while kayaking in Quebec cottage country but as it turned out one of the cottages along the river was a hobby farm. (This was confirmed by subsequent sightings of chickens, geese, and one sheep.)

Ah, it was nice to get away and relax, but also nice to come home again. It’s the mark of a good holiday, don’t you think?


Piper investigates

The tiny island

Terrier on Tiny Island




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  • a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Surface tension - a peek inside the fishbowl: […] book, and watched avian-related antics in the backyard. I will say once again for the record that expanding our bird feeder set up was one o
  • andrea tomkins: I'm happy to hear! Thank you for letting me know Inge. :) Merry Christmas to you!
  • Inge: Our family still uses our Advent Envelopes inspired by you! I think we are going on twelve years now. Thank you for the inspiration! Merry Christmas!
  • Mort: I'm usually very good but was gripped with mild panic at the drug store Saturday when I suddenly realized I'd forgotten my mask. Normally there's a ba
  • Michael: You could mix up all your ingredients and form the dough, cover the put it in the fridge. This will cause the dough to perform a slow rise, so if done
  • Sally Dowe Marchand: Wow. Well done. I too have done something as absent-minded as walking into a store and taking my mask off. Inside right so remove it. I immediately re
  • sassygirl: i like hearing your voice on the browser version. it’s well done! (:

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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