a peek inside the fishbowl

02 Jan, 2021

First three stories, then eyes forward

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life

Welp. Christmas has come and gone. I’ve been enjoying the company of our Christmas tree since the end of November but I’m suddenly no longer as keen to turn the lights on now.

I realize I left a pretty downhearted post up here at the top over Christmas for longer than I had meant, but don’t take it as a sign of sadness. I haven’t been here because I’ve honestly been too busy doing other things, none of which require writing/editing or much thinking. Truth is, by the end of 2020 I was very tired and desperately needed to recharge my batteries. And this was the first year in forever that I’ve actually had Vacation Days to use up, and so I did. And it was glorious.

I am happy with how Christmas unrolled here at Casa Fishbowl. It didn’t look that different from Christmases of our past, when I think of it. It was small, close to home, low-key.

When the girls were small they always begged to open one gift on Christmas Eve. I’d make a show of acquiescing to their demands. “Okay,” I’d sigh dramatically. “You can open ONE present.”

It took the girls a few years to figure out that the one present they were allowed to open happened to be pyjamas and ever since then it’s become a standing joke around here. This year was a little different. On Christmas Eve I sent the girls upstairs to find and change into their “one present” as usual. While they were doing that, Mark and I changed into the identical holiday pants. The look on their faces when they came back downstairs was… perfect. And YES! DAD WORE LOUNGE WEAR.

Personally, these are my new favourite pants. They are cozy and warm and have deep pockets (!):

Christmas lounging

Last Christmas was our first without Mark’s mother, Mary. Part of our Christmas tradition was of her making, something she started who remembers when. Every year she made Land of Nod Cinnamon Buns (which I briefly wrote about here). They were always a favourite part of our breakfast on Christmas Day.

After she died I decided this was a tradition I wanted to keep. If you aren’t familiar with this recipe, you might be surprised to learn that it is entirely based around frozen dinner rolls. (Yes, seriously. I didn’t believe it at first either, but they are delicious.) Over the years Mary told us many times how and where to obtain these. “You have to ask the people behind the counter at the grocery store bakery,” she’d say. “They will sell some to you, but you have to ask.

Perhaps the reason Mary explained this process so many times is that buying them actually feels slightly sneaky, like ordering something that isn’t off the menu. This is something that isn’t made available to People Who Don’t Know, and so it feels strange asking someone about it. (“Psst! Can ya sell me some buns?” Wink wink!)

Last year I went to the Superstore bakery and asked the fellow behind the counter. He said he couldn’t sell me any rolls. I can’t remember the reason, but I do remember how crushed I felt at the thought of a Christmas morning without Mary’s cinnamon buns.

I left and drove to Metro. By this point my feelings of panic/sadness/exhaustion were quickly filling up and on the cusp of overflowing. I’m sure this was written all over my face. I did a desperate tour of their frozen food section. Nothing. I asked someone behind the deli counter and she waved over the bakery manager. I asked him whether I could obtain some frozen dinner rolls, he said he’d check and see what he had left and would I mind waiting a minute? (Did I mention that I was shopping on Christmas Eve? Ugh.)

He was gone for a couple of minutes. As I stood there I thought about Mary and how much we all missed her. Christmas was probably her favourite holiday, but because of some past hurts that I won’t get into here, it was probably also one of the hardest. The bakery manager returned, buns in hand. I thanked him profusely and RUSHED away because I knew I was ON THE VERGE. (The poor guy, I’m sure he wondered why I was getting so emotional about frozen bread products.) I may have told him that he saved my Christmas but I’m not sure if I actually said that out loud or if I was just thinking it at a very high volume.

The end of this journey to obtain dinner rolls was almost at an end. I was in a busy express checkout and when I spotted someone I knew – not a super close friend, but someone I like and admire and call a friend nonetheless. He asked me how I was doing and that’s exactly when I burst into tears.

I think of Mary often, but especially when I take the cinnamon buns out of the oven and turn her beaten-up red ceramic bundt pan upside down on a big serving plate. The caramelized sugar pours out the edges and stray raisins inevitably miss their mark and end up on the kitchen counter. She’d be the first person to scoop them up and pop them in her mouth. It’s the chef’s prerogative, you know.

This year, Mark bought the frozen dinner rolls at Metro. There were no tears, but they were enjoyed just the same.

New Year’s Eve 2020 was spent eating lots of food all day long (charcuterie board, veggie trays, Christmas chocolates, trays of frozen appetizers sourced from the grocery store etc.). We drank Prosecco and watched Soul, which I heartily recommend, and half of Princess Bride before the countdown started.

I wanted to spend the first day of the New Year with intention. (I could see my family’s eyes glaze over when I actually used the word “INTENTION” to describe why I wanted to go ice skating on Mud Lake but it was easy to let that slide.)

Thanks to a confluence of freezing temperatures and lack of snow, the lake was frozen over and prime for skating. I bought new ice skates this year with the idea of using them a bit more often during a pandemic winter. Breaking them in wasn’t great but I persevered. Instead of focusing on my sore ankles, I thought about how amazing it is to be able to skate on a frozen lake.

As it turned out, a lot of people had the same idea. It is cheesy to say that it felt low-key magical but it did. I fully expected the music to rise and someone to ride out on a Zamboni sponsored by Canadian Tire or Tim Horton’s. It was so Canada, it was practically a caricature of Canada. It was a living love letter to this place we have chosen to live, even though it gets so cold that it could actually kill us.

Ice skating on Mud Lake, Ottawa

People sat down on logs and rocks to lace up their skates; leaving their boots and duffle bags and thermoses by the shoreline. There were families of all shapes and sizes, teens playing hockey, parents pulling sleds. Many brought shovels to clear out small “rinks,” many of which were connected by icy paths. Someone had thoughtfully cleared a path that looped around the edges of the lake. I saw quite a few hockey sticks, either in use or in a snowbank, along with discarded children’s coats because FUN makes you hot and sweaty if you’re doing it right.

I overheard one little girl shouting to a similarly sized snow suited friend: “IT’S LIKE A DREAM COME TRUE I AM ON MY SKATES AGAIN.” You said it, kid.

When we’d had our fill we went home and watched Live Free or Die Hard … we watched the three previous Die Hards in a row on Boxing Day and I think this one was probably the best. Yippee ki-yay!

And now, I am looking forward. Looking forward to my workday routines again, looking forward to what the year will bring, looking forward to skating on frozen lakes and making memories.

4 Responses to "First three stories, then eyes forward"

1 | Caroline

January 4th, 2021 at 11:33 am


very teary eyed about this lovely post.

2 | andrea tomkins

January 4th, 2021 at 2:21 pm


Thank you Caroline!

3 | Lynn

January 7th, 2021 at 11:53 am


Such a lovely post full of lovely stories that capture 2020 for me, too. Thanks Andrea!

4 | andrea tomkins

January 8th, 2021 at 7:37 am


Thank you Lynn. Happy New Year!

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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.

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