a peek inside the fishbowl

As much as we have enjoyed our summer, I have to admit that we are all getting pretty excited about going back to school here at Casa Fishbowl. The girls are looking forward to seeing their friends and I am looking forward to my old routines again.

I am happy to say that one of the things that doesn’t stress me out so much anymore this time of year is the whole PACKING LUNCHES thing. I can pinpoint how this eventually came about:

1) The girls have been packing their own lunches since they were old enough to wield a butter knife. As long as I have groceries on hand, they know what to make. Also, what helped is a list of lunch ideas stuck to the fridge that THEY help create. This way, no one was stumped in regards to what to make and bring.

2) I got over the fact their lunches weren’t exactly Pinterest-worthy. Heck, if they wanted to eat the same thing every day (ham sandwich, apple, goldfish crackers) that’s fine by me!

3) I discovered a few good lunch containers that suited our needs perfectly (read: no leaking, spilling, lost lids etc.) and the kids were excited about bringing to school (and take care not to lose)!

Sidebar: Getting the kids involved in the decision-making process is always a good idea. Whether you’re discussing goldfish crackers v. rice crackers, or containers with green lids or pink lids, asking your kids what they would like will make them feel more involved and more likely to take ownership of the process.

4) I PUT LABELS ON EVERYTHING. Trust me on this.

I didn’t snap this photo, but these two young ladies wanted to show you what they liked best in terms of lunch gear at terra20 (you know, in case you were looking for ideas):

terra20 giveaway!

Fishbowl patron, terra20, has been our number one destination for litterless lunch gear for many years now and they want to help YOU make it a little easier with a $50 gift card that you can put towards the purchase new litterless lunch gear. Woot!

Would you like to win? Please read the following fine print before entering:

  • This giveaway is for one $50 gift card and will be awarded to one winner.
  • In order for your entry to qualify, have a look at the litterless lunch section of the terra20 website. Tell me, do you have a favourite product? Or maybe there’s one you’ve wanted to try out? Let us know what it is in the comments below.
  • One entry per email address please!
  • If you can’t post your comment for whatever reason you can email it to me for posting at andrea at quietfish dot com. Please note, I cannot be responsible if your entry is misdirected or gets stuck in my Spam folder.
    This giveaway is void where prohibited by law.
  • I will draw one name using Random.org at noon EST on September 2, 2016. I’ll contact the winner via email, who can pick up the prize at one of the terra20 locations : Pinecrest, Wellington West, or Rideau. The name of the winner will be posted here as well. So please check back!
  • Did you know that terra20 is on Twitter and Facebook? Following terra20 on social media is not a requirement of this giveaway but it’s a great way of keeping up with great deals and special events.

Over to you. Good luck!

23 Aug, 2016

A peek inside Kingston Penitentiary

By andrea tomkins in travel talk

If there’s one Canadian city that has been top of mind across the country this week it’s Kingston, home of The Tragically Hip.

I had the good fortune to be on the receiving end of a media invite to see their performance in Ottawa. It was actually my first time seeing them live in concert (!). It was a great show, and so very moving. I think it forced many of us – particularly those who are my age or thereabouts – to think about our own youth, our own mortality, about the things that bring us joy and move us to dance, and whether we are doing enough of those things:

The Tragically Hip in Ottawa

We were also one of the estimated 11.7 million Canadians who tuned in to the CBC broadcast of the Hip’s last concert. We watched the first part of it with a thousand other people at Dovercourt Park and the latter part from the comfort of our couch at home. (What can I say. The mosquitos were bugging me.)

During the broadcast, there were a couple of shots of the square in downtown Kingston where a not-so-small army of fans came to watch the show. It was amazing, and slightly strange to think we were just there.


I wrote the leadup to our recent road trip to Kingston over a few posts. To summarize: if you’re travelling from Ottawa, Brockville is the perfect distance for a pit stop (whether it’s for lunch or a visit to the Aquatarium). Today I am finally writing about our visit to Kingston Pen.

First, some backstory. We embarked on a road trip to this part of the province around this time last year. Part of our visit included the old warden’s house across the street from Kingston Pen (correctly known as the Correctional Service of Canada Museum). We REALLY enjoyed our visit. It was utterly fascinating, so when we heard there were tickets being sold for guided tours of Kingston Penitentiary (which had been closed since 2013) we had to jump at the chance.

We booked our tickets online and showed up at the appointed time.

Kingston Pen (KP) is an imposing structure from the outside, to say the least.

Kingston Pen, outside view looking up

Kingston Pen doorway

How many times have we driven past, wondering what was on the other side of the wall?

As we parked our car in the prison lot I wondered what was going to be in store for us.

Ticket holders were asked to arrive 30 minutes early, which we did. We hung out in what used to be a family visitation area. It was one of the hottest days of the summer. I can’t tell you how hot it was in there. There were fans, but no AC.

FYI, and I only mention this because I know people want to know this stuff, there were porta-potties set up in a courtyard outside our waiting area. We were told there was an option for a pit stop halfway through our 90-minute tour. (The water here, apparently, is not potable and there were signs indicating as such.)

We signed waivers, signed waivers for our children, and waited. Did I mention that we were waiting in an old waiting area? God. It was depressing. Gangsta Mickey and Minny, plus creepy jester guy? (“I’M JUGGLING YOUR LIVES, KIDDIES. BWA HA HA!”) Nightmare City.

Family visitation room at Kingston Pen

Sidebar: This tour should be required for all Canadian children between the ages of 10 and 18. Honestly, the thought of ending up in a place like this would scare the crap out of anyone and crime rates would surely plummet.

Soon enough, it was time for our tour to begin.

There was one main guide and several stops along the way where other guides were stationed. The first guide we met was a former warden. I didn’t catch her name, but I would have loved to hear more about what her job was like. The other guides were all former guards and each one offered all kinds of great insight into life at Kingston Pen.

KP has an utterly fascinating history. There are so many compelling aspects and they encompass so many subjects: Canadian history, architectural history, social history, the history of crime and punishment (which was a lot more about punishment – even torture – and less about rehabilitation). If you’re interested in this kind of thing, check out this archived article about KP’s closure on the Globe and Mail website. Don’t miss the timeline near the end too.

Anyway, back to our tour. It was made clear at the outset that this tour was intended to be a historical overview, not a celebrity prison tour. Out of respect for families and victims, at no point would guides be showcasing the cells of Kingston’s infamous prisoners. I was very happy to hear they were being sensitive in this way.

We covered a lot of ground in our 90-minute tour, both in terms of distance (it’s estimated to be a 1KM walk) and in terms of the history of the building. There is SO much to see and learn. I can’t possibly do it justice in one blog post either. I feel like we saw so much, yet I know that we only saw a fraction of this immense institution.

Kingston Pen: Private Family Visit "homes"

Kingtson Pen: Main dome

I was AGOG the entire time we were there. Honestly. I had so many questions, and as I type this I am remembering how sad it all was. These buildings are haunted by so much history, which is magnified by the sheer scale of it all. On the other side of that huge wall, it’s immense. You can imagine HOW BIG the buildings are. How tall the buildings are. How they loom, and make us feel so very small:

Inside Kingston Pen

Inside Kingston Pen

Kingston Pen: the recreation yard

An inmate would be shot for walking down this road, so close to the main wall:

Kingston Pen: the other side of that wall

How many thousands of people lived here, cried here, died here? There was a small city operating on that side of the wall, whose buildings are bigger than you can imagine yet some spaces within them are shockingly small and deeply uncomfortable. I’m referring, of course, to the cells.

Kingston Pen: cell

Kinston Pen: solitary confinement

One of the highlights of the tour, for me, was the shop wing. This is where inmates were put to work. Initially, it contained shops for blacksmithing, carpentry, tailoring, shoemaking and a rope shop. Later they added a school.

Kingston Pen: the shop wing

The guide stationed at this part of the tour mentioned the inmates sewed canvas mail bags for Canada Posts at one point. The whole issue of work and industry in the prison system is interesting. The original inmates at KP did nothing and had to live in complete silence in order to contemplate their crimes. Later it was deemed that meaningful work was healthy. In fact, Kingston Pen was built by the inmates from stone mined locally. This is essentially why KP was built where it was: local materials and cheap labour.

Of course, we heard stories of daring escapes, riots, loss of life. For the first 99 years, women were incarcerated here too. So were children, in KP’s early days.

Kingston Pen has largely been cleaned out, but traces remain. Real people lived here. Real families were torn apart. Hopefully, some were sewn back together, like so many canvas bags and coils of rope in the shop wing.

Kingston Pen: mailbox

Kingston Pen: don't plug in

Kington Pen: Step here to be checked

I bet a number of you are wondering if this tour is kid-friendly. I think it is, but given the mature and possibly nightmare-inducing themes at play here (er, punishment, crime, death) you’d have to evaluate the merits of a visit based on your own experience with your children. (In other words, you know your own kids, I don’t.) There is graffiti here and there, but nothing that a school-aged kid hasn’t already seen on a bathroom wall.

Would I go again? YES. And I would love to see more, and learn more, about this aspect of Canadian history.

If you are looking for more info about the tour, check out the official website: www.kingstonpentour.com.

20 Aug, 2016

Weekend reading: August 20 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

In my previous post I wrote about our visit to the Brockville Aquatarium. It was just past noon and we were ready to eat. Thankfully, I had a plan, and it was Don’s Fish and Chips. It’s only a few blocks away from the Aquatarium, so it didn’t take long to get there. Thankfully we arrived before a small horde descended.

To say that Don’s is plain jane kind of establishment is understating it. It’s a shack, with a small parking lot and a big fryer inside. It was stinking hot, inside and out but I’m more than happy to check out a no frills establishment. If you focus on one thing, you’re likely to do it really well, right? Sometimes this is the hallmark a great place for lunch.

So, yes. The menu at Don’s is just as pared down as the real estate. It’s essentially one piece or two. Pop or not. Here’s the menu, if you’d like to see for yourself.

Don's Fish and Chips in Brockville

Don's Fish and Chips in Brockville

Don's Fish and Chips in Brockville

There is no seating at Don’s, so we took our newspaper-wrapped bundles to the waterfront park in Brockville. It’s very pretty, with lots of benches and picnic tables.

August 11 #dailylunches - Fish and Chips at Don's in Brockville

The fish was meaty and firm and held together well. You could eat it with your fingers… in fact, I did, because we didn’t grab enough cutlery to share. And it was not greasy. The batter is not the tempura-style beer batter one might usually associate with a fish and chip stand, but this was just as good. Oh, and the fries! I am very choosy about my fries and these were perfectly cooked. There’s nothing worse than a pile of undercooked starchy potatoes!

Note: I shared a two-piece haddock with my eldest and it was more than plenty. In fact, Mark lamented not splitting an order with our other kid.

We ate our fish and chips while being observed by local gulls, then we worked it off with a little stroll down by the waterfront. I was sad that I didn’t bring a bathing suit. I would have jumped right in:

Brockville waterfront

Brockville waterfront

Next stop: the old Kingston Penitentiary!

Earlier this summer we visited the Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto. I wrote a bit about it right here. Before our trip I did some research online about the exhibits and ticket prices. At some point – it might have been on Facebook – someone asked the same thing I was wondering: If you could only go to one aquarium – Brockville or Toronto – which would you choose? 

One person commented saying that the aquarium in Brockville is exactly the same as Toronto so it’s best to save some coin and just to go Brockville. Now that I have been to both I can honestly say, they are not the same. At all.

Last week, the four of us had tickets to visit the Kingston Penitentiary so we decided to stop in Brockville to check out the Aquatarium and grab lunch afterwards.

The Aquatarium is in a new building called Tall Ships Landing. It’s essentially a waterfront condo complex (although in their marketing they call it a resort) and the aquarium is on the bottom floors of the condo.

Parking was easy – there’s plenty of free street parking – and there was a minimal line up to get in and pay. We were given a map, some tips about an upcoming feeding of the river otters, and we went on our way into an elevator cleverly modelled to look like a bathysphere.

Here’s where I have to confess that I had pretty high expectations after having visited the aquarium in Toronto. I wasn’t sure what to expect exactly, although I knew the focus here was supposed to be a little closer to  home. (In other words, a greater emphasis on local marine life as opposed to tropical fish.)

There is certainly enough to see and do at the Brockville Aquatarium if you’re under 10. There is a large-scale ship climber with ladders and ropes, a hands-on educational display about the power of water (read: water tables for little kids who can dabble and experiment), and of course, aquariums with local marine life and a supervised touch tank with sea creatures like crabs and mussels, among a few other things.

Brockville Aquatarium


Wee crab

Other parts of the building looked unfinished or temporary. A herpetology exhibit had empty tanks, a matching game, and a few items kids can touch, like turtle shells.

The part I was most looking forward to was the river otters. There are three living in a large enclosure. We camped out here until feeding time.


I expected the staff to enter the enclosure to feed the otters, but they just slid their food over a glass wall. It was nearly impossible to see, so visitors were directed to watch the live cam in the theatre, which was a few steps away. I was disappointed until the crowds dispersed after feeding time. Most people left but this is when the otters really became active and got busy playing and wrestling in the water.

I gave up trying to snap a photo because it was just a mass of brown and grey and it was more fun to watch:

Roiling mess of river otters

What else? There is a ropes course and a “drop zone” that would be of interest to kids younger than ours. There is an extra charge for these.

There were some adults walking around without children. To be honest, I was wondering what they were doing there. Ripley’s in Toronto is much better geared to older age groups. That being said, if you have younger kids you’ll surely find a way to spend a couple of hours here. Teens would find it a little dull.

This map of the inside of the Aquatarium will give you an idea of what you’ll find there. It isn’t cheap (here’s the page with admission prices), so plan to stay awhile (at least for an otter feeding) to get your money’s worth.

We left the Aquatarium eager for lunch. I had done a little bit of research beforehand and we had a place in mind. We were not to be disappointed! More on that later.


Have a great summer at Saunders Farm!

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  • Rachel: The green bento box looks great!!:)
  • Joanne stober: Love Planetbox from terre20 and after looking high and low and even on planetbox website, bar far the best prices was at my local store. Happily bough
  • Astrid Johnson: My favorite litterless lunch product are the Bentobox containers and the SoYoung lunch bags! Astrid
  • Elizabeth: The Thinksport insulated water bottle would be my pick to try; my girls really prefer cooler water, and will drink more if the water isn't tepid.
  • Judy: We already use the early version of Bentology (Laptop Lunches) that we bought there years ago, but I really want to try the Sistema Klip It lunch cube
  • Katie: There are so many options! It is hard to pick. I'd love a new lunch bag, like the fluf ones. The kids could use some bento box containers from bentolo
  • Tamara: I'd love to try the Colibri snack bags!

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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The #dailylunches project – 1000 lunches and counting

Every day I eat lunch and take a picture. Here's the latest:

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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.


On the nightstand

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