a peek inside the fishbowl

09 Oct, 2023

A Thanksgiving surprise

Posted 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.


2 Responses to "A Thanksgiving surprise"

1 | Jenn Jilks

October 10th, 2023 at 9:14 am


That is much fun! I found you on Twitter and realized you had a blog. I’ve been blogging wing 2007-ish.
My grandies ask if I want a particular photo for my blog, and happily support me. My kids read it to see what we are up to!

2 | Johnetta Kasperski

November 26th, 2023 at 6:28 am


You are a great writer. Do you have any more websites?

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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.

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