a peek inside the fishbowl

09 Oct, 2023

A Thanksgiving surprise

By andrea tomkins in Publishing/writing/career stuff

Some of you are here because you saw the article on the Ottawa Citizen’s website, or maybe you saw the giant photo of me and the youngest on the cover of the Saturday paper. (!!)

Front page of the Saturday Citizen (!)

So, welcome! Can I also say, this is weird. If you were in my house we’d be standing awkwardly in the front hall, studiously trying to avoid direct eye contact while mumbling something like thanks for having me and it’s nice to be here.

If you’re reading this have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s the link to the article. (There is a video interview as well but I have not been able to bring myself to watch it yet because I may die inside.)

The article is primarily about kids growing up in the age of social media. It’s a great topic, and it’s one I think about too.

The Fishbowl just happened to be at the very cusp of that social media age. It was pre-Facebook, pre- social media, pre- web publishing platforms like Blogger and WordPress. I don’t think anyone predicted YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and what those apps would bring with it.

It is strange talking to a reporter (hello Blair) and seeing the results of that conversation enter the public sphere. We had a wonderful, wide-ranging conversation about a hundred different things but in the end I really didn’t have a good sense of what was going to actually emerge. Blair spoke to the youngest separately, and while I was confident I knew her POV about all this (and we’ve talked about it a lot), ya never know what will come out in the wash if you know what I mean. Sidebar: The eldest wants people to know that while she declined to be interviewed, she supports the blog wholeheartedly and is glad for this archive of family memories.

Over the course of this long-lasting, er, project (if you can call it that) I’ve spoken to many people about blogging. I’ve been on stage at conferences, spoken to media, given workshops, and talked to “regular” folks in every imaginable situation. It was a bigger deal at the beginning, when it was kind of strange.

What do you mean, you write about your life on the internet?

In today’s social-media drenched world it’s hard to believe but there really was a time when ordinary people didn’t share their lives online.

The big question then was: What is your blog about?

As much as I advised new bloggers to have an elevator pitch at the ready I never really had a good one myself. I never called it a mommy blog, or even a parenting blog, even though there were times I wrote a lot about my adventures as a parent. I shared recipes and told stories about our travel adventures. I wrote about things I bought that I liked. I wrote about our home renovation, birthdays, first days of school. I wrote about fun places to go in and around Ottawa. I wrote about things that brought me joy and sadness and outrage. So when someone asked me what the blog was about my answer was usually that the blog reflected what I was thinking and doing. It was a brain dump of sorts, one that inadvertently turned into an archive of our family’s life.

So yes, I started in 1999. There are readers out there who have been with me since the beginning.

One of those people is my husband Mark. There was no mention of him in the Citizen article but I wanted to state for the record that he has been incredibly supportive and patient since day one and caught many typos. He gave me the space to write when I needed it and (mostly) didn’t question my oddball projects and whims. Regular readers may remember the Trust Experiment, the Shopping Embargo (which I actually wrote a book about and it never saw the light of day!), the sugar fast, 25 days of Christmas family advent, how I took a photo of my lunch every day for just over four years or a selfie every day for a year, or a one-second video of myself every day for a year.

But in case you came here looking for a recipe for black bean hummus, here it is. It was part of a series I called: Will They Eat It. :)

I don’t write here as often as I used to. I suppose it’s because it’s what I do all day at work, so it’s hard for me to come home, drop my bag at the door and hop on here. The article didn’t mention this but I am on Instagram, both on a personal account and one representing our dog Piper. (It is a different kind of storytelling there for sure. It is a happy place to be.)

But back in the glory days I was here, in this space, almost every day. I had a lot on my mind and it was the perfect vehicle for my thoughts and ideas. More importantly, it was a wonderful community when there was no such gathering place online.

There are a lot of other great Ottawa bloggers who emerged around that time and we had a very fun thing going on together.

I will reiterate that I am not a fan of the term “mommy blogger,” I never was, as I feel it’s not so much a descriptive term as it is a disparaging term. I’ve been a writer since I was a kid and found a way to turn it into a career, one that has had many interesting and unexpected twists and turns.

I am secretly glad no one has asked me about my favourite blog posts. There are so many that it’s impossible to inventory and rank. I know the girls have their favourites and I will ask them to share a few so I can add them in here at some point. I do like the moments of bliss category of posts. I decided that I wanted to start keeping track of those tiny moments in which you are very glad you are alive, so I did.

This blog has brought me many things. It brought together a community of Ottawa parents. It was a vehicle through which I made good friends, and it opened up job opportunities, and ultimately, the job at The Royal where I work today. It made me a better, more creative writer. I was on the receiving end of gifts and trips and opportunities that would not have come by otherwise. It opened doors I never knew existed. As it grew in popularity and I began selling my own advertising, it started to generate some revenue. In hindsight, this was one of the best decisions I ever made because it made a real difference in our family.

I was poking around for some thoughtful posts I could share to summarize my feelings a bit better and found this one that I wrote on my 15th anniversary of blogging. Feel free to read it, or not, but if you don’t you’ll miss snappy lines like: When you hit 40 you realize that life is too short to put up with anyone’s baloney. ;)

So what’s in store for the future?

That’s a good question, my friend, and I can’t really answer that. I will keep this up as long as I have the inclination. I’m no longer beholden to advertisers, which is liberating in and of itself because there’s nothing forcing me to pump out content or find ways to keep traffic up. I’m not part of the attention economy. There are no pop-ups ads or videos on autoplay or slideshows. When I show up here, it’s because I have something to share with you.

My biggest fear right now, honestly, is losing the 24+ years of writing that I’ve done here. It feels very tenuous, existing in a cloud of data in the form of a self-hosted WordPress setup. I need a proper archive and I don’t know how to go about it and it’s very overwhelming. So if you are someone or know someone who knows someone, connect us please! I’m at quietfish@gmail.com.

You can also find and follow me on X (formerly known as Twitter) and Threads in a smaller capacity.

Thank you for visiting. Thank you for reading.

As much as I have enjoyed writing and sharing with you, the community around it all is what makes it so special.


09 Sep, 2023

Back to school for the youngest

By andrea tomkins in parenting

Sarah in the playground

I might be exaggerating but when we dropped the youngest off at kindergarten she cried every morning for months, possibly years. While the photos above may show otherwise, I don’t think we had a truly smooth drop-off until second grade. It broke my heart every day to leave behind a crying kid. Teachers assured me that she stopped as soon as I left but I always had a sneaking suspicion they were just saying that to make me feel better.

Well this kindergarten kid is all grown up now and she’s back to school this week, but this time as a masters student in the art history department at Queen’s. I suspect there were fewer tears than there were back in kindergarten. ;)

My friends’ Facebook feeds have been chock full of back-to-school photos and it’s all left me thinking about how far we’ve come here at Casa Fishbowl, and how strange it is to know someone from conception until adulthood and spot the patterns in their lives that add up to The Person They Have Become.

A small part of me is tempted to take some credit for her reaching this amazing post-secondary milestone. Is this weird of me to say out loud? We were the family who encouraged home art projects, bought memberships to the National Gallery and planned kid-friendly visits, and dropped by open houses of local artist studios and collectives. But we can’t truly take much credit at all – her success is truly her own. She studied for her exams and got good grades. She got the internships, jobs, scholarships and grants. She winged interviews because she’s smart that way. She put herself out there more times than I can count, and the universe rewarded her hard work and her courage. As parents, we may have given her a pair of oars, pointed the boat and given it a shove, but she’s the one who has been doing all the rowing.

Mark and I are so proud of how hard our kid has worked and how far she’s come. We are excited to see what’s in store for her.

04 Sep, 2023

it got me

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

I’m writing this from the sofa as I recover from COVID. I feel like my brain hasn’t quite been restored to full capacity but on the whole I am ok. Recovery has been two-steps-forward/one-step-back but I think I’m finally on the mend. 

This was my first time getting Covid. Honestly, I can’t believe I managed to hold out this long. Catching Covid is different for everyone, I think. How sick you get seems to depend on so many things: Your age, overall health, whether you’re vaccinated or not. My Covid was like having the flu, but with all sorts of other fun symptoms thrown into the mix like some kind of bad joke. Like many, I was achy, but not just regular muscle ache: I had eyeball and dental pain and weird muscle spasms in my rear end and in my legs. I lost my sense of taste too, which was probably one of the most depressing symptoms, at the very least, on par with the eyeball ache. Mark went and bought me some of my favourite foods to tempt me to eat but I tell ya, there’s nothing sadder than biting into a tomato sandwich at the height of summer and having it taste like… nothing. It is so strange to lose your sense of taste, because when you lose your ability to taste you also lose the joy that comes with eating. The texture was there, as was the temperature of the food and some sense of whether what I was eating is salty or sweet, but otherwise I might as well have been eating cardboard.

My sense of taste has returned now but there was a weird in-between time where I really had to think about what I was eating. 

This pizza… am I tasting it, or is it the memory of pizza I am tasting?

Anyway, I was totally bummed to find myself out of commission during last week’s perfect weather, and now this, the long weekend. Ugh. Even though it’s stinkin’ hot outside right now there are things I wanted to do. I did not want to be holed up here at home during the last few weeks of the season with a summer to-do list that remains incomplete. Sigh. I will deal.

In other news, it is back to school season. Why, Andrea, you might be thinking, aren’t ya’ll done with school? As it turns out, we are, but also, not really. More about that coming soon.

22 Aug, 2023

It’s been a wonderful summer so far

By andrea tomkins in Ottawa

I have fallen way behind on my summer reports but I promise to get back to it once things calm down around here a little bit. In the meantime I will say this… if you’re looking for something fun to do I 100% recommend renting e-bikes and tooting around town. We went to Petrie Island and it was lovely. More soon!

E-bike rental

This past spring I enrolled myself in a 28-day online “boot camp” style health and fitness program and it helped me refocus my efforts and build some healthy habits. One of these habits is fitness related: three 30-minute workouts every week. The other is simply filling half my plate with vegetables for every meal.

I am happy to say I am getting better at both those things and am feeling really good! I feel stronger, both inside and out, if that makes any sense. :)

There are a lot of good reasons to “eat the rainbow,” which I won’t get into here because there has been so much written about it and it’s easy to search it out if you’re interested. I will say, however, that it’s interesting to see that practically every article and research study I’ve read that involves health and food essentially points to the same things. Whether it’s an article about diabetes, cancer, brain, or eye health, the answer always seems to be: follow the Mediterranean way of eating. And as Michael Pollan famously said: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” So this is what we are doing. (If you aren’t familiar with Pollan, he is an investigative journalist who is well known for research and writing about food and one of his most popular books is “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” Look him up!)

Of course, the best time to eat more plants is in the summer when those plants are plentiful and less expensive. Earlier this year we ordered a CSA share from Rochon Gardens. CSA – which stands for community-supported agriculture – is essentially a way for consumers to “subscribe” to a harvest. As shareholders we pick up a bunch of fresh produce once every two weeks, which keeps our fridge full of local/seasonal produce until the fall.

But back to the healthy eating thing! One thing I do know about myself is that one of the best ways for me to eat better is to simply log my food intake. I like having a document to look over. It also helps my accountability when I know I’m writing it down. That being said, I have a strong dislike for calorie-tracking apps. Maybe I just haven’t found the right one but it takes a lot of time and dedication to log every bite you eat on the regular, which just makes me give up after awhile. So as a short-term solution I created my own (very) basic food logging calendar in Google docs to give me an idea of how I’m doing.

So, all that being said, for the month of July I am tracking my food in this Google food tracking doc. You’ll see right away that I’m not tracking calories. This is about better eating overall, not counting the macros. If I’m counting anything, it’s how many plant-based foods I’m eating in a week. Did you know individuals who consume at least 30 different plant-based foods each week have more varied gut bacteria as a result? YES. So bring on the fruit, veg, herbs and spices!

Also worth noting, I have an appointment with my doctor in a month and will show this to her and get her feedback.

While I was setting it up I thought it would be cool to share it here in case you’d like to follow along. At the very least, following my document might give YOU some meal-related inspiration, whether it’s a new recipe or purchase. I’ll mention products if merited, and link out to recipes. AND, if you are super keen, you can download a copy of the calendar and join me for the month of July. (By this I mean, download, delete what I’ve written, and use the blank calendar for your own tracking purposes.)

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? (Also: if someone can let me know if they can see/download my food tracking calendar I would appreciate that.) My commenting function is wonky so you can send me an email or reach out via my social media channels.

Anyway, yes! I am excited to be eating my way through a delicious summer.


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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 (24) and Sarah (22). 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.

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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