a peek inside the fishbowl

28 Mar, 2015

Weekend reading: March 28 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

27 Mar, 2015

Moment of bliss #019

By andrea tomkins in Moments of bliss

Early morning on the beach

We woke up late. My intent was to get to the beach while it was still dark and hunker down in the beach chairs to watch the sun rise but we didn’t quite make it that early. When we arrived the sand was delightfully cool on the feet, a gift in and of itself. There were still a few hours before it would collect enough sun to burn our soles and make us run for flip flops or the nearest island of shade.

The tide was in, which made the beach smaller than usual. There were very few beach walkers and the sun worshippers were yet to arrive.

I took deep breaths, and thought about this young morning and how much promise it held. We are truly in control of our own destiny, aren’t we? We have choices. What would this day bring?

23 Mar, 2015

Refresh complete

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

Twitter and Instagram followers already know that we spent our March Break in Punta Cana. I spent most of yesterday in a sleep-deprived fog and today I’m back to work, starting with the onslaught of email that filled my inbox while I was away. Our trip was my ideal holiday; the perfect balance of relaxation and adventure and trips to the buffet. I need to sort out all of my photos and thoughts and shake the rest of the sand from the bottom of my suitcase and then I’ll tell you all about it. In the meantime, here’s a couple small items I wanted to share here:

  • Ottawa bloggers might be interested to know that BOLO is still submitting admissions for the April 28 event. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, go here.
  • My colleague, Mark Sutcliffe, is running to raise money for the United Way. On March 24 (TOMORROW) he’s going run 1 KM for every $1,000 dollars he receives in pledges – with the goal of raising $50,000 by running 50 KM in one day. TODAY only, he is personally matching all donations up to $2,500. Read more about that here: uwco.ca/marksrun.

22 Mar, 2015

Weekend reading: March 21 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the nightstand: The Tenderness of Wolves and The Rosie Project.

p.s. I wanted to take a moment to thank the patrons who contributed a guest post to the Fishbowl this week while I was away. It was wonderful having you here at the Fishbowl!

Hello Fishies! I’m doing something new at the Fishbowl this week. I’ve asked each of my amazing Fishbowl patrons to write a post on a topic that is important to the parenting community. This one is by Mark Saunders, Director of Fun at Saunders Farm

Water fun at Saunders

What is the number one thing parents want in life?

A) More Money
B) More Patience
D) All of the ABOVE

Some of us would answer “D.”  While that rings true for so many, it’s only part of the answer. At a recent conference I attended, the keynote speaker quoted a study that had asked plenty of parents what they want in life. The overwhelming answer is…. TIME.

Yes, time. Time to get everything done. Time to relax. Me-time. Time to be present in the moment. Time to spend with the kids.

I remember so vividly when our three kids were babies and periodically one of them would fall asleep on my chest at naptime. It was the most glorious feeling. Just before they surrendered to sleep, I’d feel their little bodies take a deep breathe then exhale and sink right into me. I didn’t want to move. I couldn’t. I was paralyzed with LOVE. And peace. I would luxuriate in the moment because I couldn’t do anything else. It was as if I was given the gift of Time.

Our kids got older and the ‘sleeper hold’ didn’t work anymore. Soon came dance classes, hockey, piano, soccer and all of the usual distractions of daily life. Our schedule didn’t stop. Time was vanishing. And it was flying by…

Occasionally, when our kids were little and we were in the thick of a crazy day, we’d start to complain about the lack of family time and inevitably some wiser, more experienced soul within earshot would say: “Enjoy your kids now. Time passes quickly and before you know it, they’ll be moving out.” It was hard to imagine.

Now we’ve entered the teen and tween years. Mom and Dad are now “the rides” – the ride to work, the ride to the new best friends’ house, the ride to the trampoline park, the ride to the party. It seems as though some days, the only “family Time” we get is in the car. My wife used to laugh at her own mom’s friends who had keychains that said “Mom’s Taxi.” but now it makes total sense. We’ve learned to make those frequent car trips meaningful and fun!

As time continues to accelerate and the kids rapidly grow, it’s been increasingly important for my wife Angela and me to carve out “Family Time.” We have always been aware of the fleeting passage of time.

We run a family farm that provides Family Time for many families in the region. We are just like the families who visit; we make time for Family Time. We are grateful for the families that visit our farm and we are both inspired and humbled by these families. They help remind us to keep Family Time a priority.

One of our favourite and simple ‘Family Times’ is to cook together. Both Angela and I love to cook, and our kids have been involved in the joy of cooking from as early as they could. Our oldest, Aidan, now 15, was thrilled to get his own Jamie Oliver cookbook from a family for his birthday last year. Now, at least once a week, he’s at the helm of the meal preparations in the house. Aidan, Molly and Julia have now developed into little foodies with well-developed palates – as a big treat, all five of us love visiting great Ottawa restaurants like Murray Street, Town or The Cheshire Cat Pub.

A springtime Family Time is to visit a Maple Syrup Farm like Fulton’s Sugarbush in Pakenham or Stanley’s Maple Farm in Edwards. We stuff our faces with pancakes and fresh maple syrup, then hike off our sugar highs on the trails and woods on their farms.

Family skiing, skating and tobogganing don’t happen as often as they used to, but that makes the times when we do get out even more precious. Family Movie Night and Family Game Night may no longer be part of our weekly routine, but we jump on the chance to have one when the stars align.

We cherish the time our family takes to reconnect and to play together. It is not always easy to make it, but when we do, it seems to slow down the passage of time. And it takes me back to when I had my little baby asleep on my chest: Divine. Glorious. Perfect.


Perfect indeed. Thank you Mark!
p.s. You can read other guest posts right here!

Hello Fishies! I’m doing something new at the Fishbowl this week. I’ve asked each of my amazing Fishbowl patrons to write a post on a topic that is important to the parenting community. This one is by Pamela Kirk, Science Educator at the Canadian Museum of Nature.


Photo by Emma Kirk for the Canadian Museum of Nature

(Photo by Emma Kirk for the Canadian Museum of Nature)

When I’m asked to describe how I approach my work, I think of Ms. Frizzle.

Yes, the “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” one.

To me, there is no better way to understand something than to immerse yourself in it.

People are generally a curious bunch—myself included. There is so much joy in discovery! As a facilitator in a natural history museum, I have the privilege of guiding people in their discovery of the natural world. My reward is seeing the look on a person’s face at the “Aha!” moment.

I grew up in the city, but managed to find little patches of “nature” to play in. My parents encouraged this by taking me on camping trips and promoting outdoor play. They fostered my love of nature by sharing theirs.

It became apparent to me at an early age that my experience was not the norm. Few of my friends knew the names of the trees, if they even noticed them at all. Fewer still were allowed to dig a hole, or pry open a rotten log to see what lived inside. Their parents didn’t understand that tactile exploration and immersive play are essential parts of well-rounded childhood development. It is summed up by Rachel Carson this way: “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”

Children are conditioned to not touch things that don’t belong to them. While this is a necessary social skill, it limits the ways in which they can explore and understand their natural environment. If you are never allowed to pick up a stick, how will you know what the bark feels like? How will you experience the sticky sap of the new leaf buds? How would you ever get to marvel at the industry of ants if your fear of grass-stained pants is greater than your curiosity?

My parents didn’t schedule my free time. I explored my world at my own pace. Watching clouds, racing the autumn leaves in the wind, and walking in the woods. I loved the feeling of independence. It gave me the confidence to explore the things that interested me.

People seem to think of “Nature” as a place, or a thing, when really it is everywhere and everything! I have had people say to me “I don’t like nature.” and then tell me how much they like watching hummingbirds, or seeing a rainbow.

We, as a society, have become disconnected from our environment. We are separated from each other, from our food sources, from our natural resources. This separation inhibits our understanding of our interconnectedness, and of nature as a whole.

I see my work as finding ways to reconnect people with their natural environment in ways that are relevant to them. That’s the really important bit. A person can think sharks are cool, and seals are cute, and bees are weird, but if they can’t see how the existence of these creatures impacts THEM, they aren’t going to really care. One of my mentors shared this saying with me: “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” (Baba Dioum, 1968.) Teaching, guiding, and facilitating discovery are some of the best ways to encourage “big picture” thinking about our world as a whole.

Nature is vast and intricate and complex—and can be intimidating. I like to see what I do (and what science educators, Parks workers, bird watching clubs, mineral collectors…do) as opening a door on to a manageable, relevant aspect of nature, and guiding people through it. I have gotten people to put dirt in their mouths to differentiate between textures. I have put fossilised dinosaur poop in my mouth to drive home the fact that it REALLY IS A ROCK NOW. I have held a child’s hand so they would feel secure enough to have a Northern Walking Stick climb up their arm. The experiences are impactful and empowering. Because knowledge is power.

I like nothing better than when one of my children asks me the whys and wherefores of the local flora and fauna. My favourite answer is: “Let’s go find out!”

My children (a.k.a the Horde) love Polar Bears, so I took them to an exhibition on Canada’s Arctic (since we can’t easily go there ourselves, it’s the next best thing). While there, we saw a video of Belugas. My son remarked that they were fat. Then I saw his light go on. He said “They’re fat—just like Polar Bears so they can stay warm in the ocean!” “That’s right,” I said, “and they use sonar to help them find their food—just like bats.” (Well that took a minute to process LOL).

My oldest daughter and her friends once spent the afternoon watching a beaver build its dam. They had gone off for a few hours of unsupervised, unstructured play, and came home bubbling over with stories of their adventure.

Sometimes, with the Horde, it really isn’t about the learning. A fond family memory is of an afternoon that we spent chasing butterflies. As my daughter put it: “Just peaceful interaction with the planet.”

I think we could all benefit from regular afternoons of butterfly-chasing.


I agree. Thank you Pamela!
p.s. You can read other guest posts right here!


NAC Ottawa family events

Saunders Farm annual passes for family fun!

Arctic Voices, Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa

Mrs Tiggywinkle's - the best toy store in Ottawa

Sustainable shopping at terra20 - Ottawa

Visit tThe Village Quire in Westboro Ottawa!

Joan of Arc Academy in Ottawa

Picture of a boy with the Parenting in Ottawa bilingual logo. Ad links to Ottawa Public Healths Parenting in Ottawa website.

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Me and my pet projects


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  • Katie: Lovely post, lovely topic. Rings true. Thanks for the reminder.
  • andrea tomkins: We were in Punta Cana!
  • Carla: Are you not in Roatan? It looks just like where im sittting...
  • coffee with julie: Oh, I think back to having a baby lying on my chest sleeping often. It really is divine, like you said. Thank you for this post. I loved it.
  • KristaR: Beautiful post Mark. My husband and I were reminiscing just the other day about those glorious and delicious hours we spent with babies sound asleep o
  • binkee: I heart Pamela Kirk !
  • Cath in Ottawa: Ooh just finished that book - thought it was very good. Love the loblaws initiative on blemished produce!

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 – 991 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.


  • So I was feeling a bit ranty and wrote this post about raising children in an age of zero privacy in the hopes it will start some conversations! Please leave your two cents right here.

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  • My latest post on the MediaSmarts website is up, and it's about family social media accounts. (Yes! It's a thing! And I think it's pretty neat.) Is this something you do as a family? I'd love it if you left your two cents on the topic.

    - #
  • 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!

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On the nightstand

... check out past nightstand reads right here.

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

All hail the mighty Twitter