a peek inside the fishbowl

When our daughters went away to university I discovered I liked making care packages for them.

Here’s one package, and another, just to give you a sense of the kinds of things I sent.

Of course, these were created and sent in the Before Times. It was a process. Building a care package took time, dare I say, weeks. I’d pick things up here and there on my shopping travels, always in person, never online. I’d slowly accumulate a nice collection of stuff and then when I had enough, I’d pop everything in a box I’d saved (cereal boxes were pretty good), and run it down to the post office to have it weighed and shipped.

And then Covid came along and ruined everything. Suddenly, those care packages weren’t so easy for me to pull together. I supposed I COULD order a bunch of junk on Amazon, but that’s not quite the same as a package that developed over time with items sourced from local shops. For the most part, I’ve been avoiding bricks and mortar shops altogether. And when/if I am in a store, it’s likely a grocery store at a time when my brain is in a different gear altogether. Add to this, I haven’t been to the post office since before Christmas. I didn’t have a great experience when I was there and I’m not eager to return.

So what’s a mother to do when her youngest kid is having a rough week?

Sidebar: I won’t go into details about her particular situation but I will say that although many people are having a tough time, my heart really goes out to teens and young adults. They are supposed to be busy living their young lives, and instead, they are staying home and wearing masks and being responsible and afraid and also missing out on the typical milestones and experiences and shenanigans the rest of us older folks look back on with a mixture of fondness and abject horror.

ANYHOO. I wanted to cheer the kid up but my tried and true care package tradition wasn’t happening. And that’s when I remembered all the conversations I’ve seen this past year about Instacart. If you aren’t in the know, Instacart is a grocery ordering service that is available in larger metropolitan areas. I never used it because we’d been doing ok with curbside pickup at our usual store, but I suddenly saw a use for it. I could place an order and have it delivered to the kid, in Kingston.

And so I did! I ordered her usual grocery staples but also some treats (chocolate, ice-cream etc.), and a box of frozen chicken wings for her to share with her roommates.


It was very easy to download the app and place the order. I had the option to have it delivered that evening, which is what I did because I knew she was going to be home. Instacart is like a grocery store Uber, in that once I place my order, someone in Kingston is contracted to do the groceries and deliver them. Interestingly, like Uber, the shopper can send a message to me through the app. I wasn’t sure about this feature at first but it came in handy when a couple of the products I ordered weren’t available and last-minute substitutions had to be made.

I realized Instacart also solved a problem I’d always had with traditional care packages sent by mail: you can’t send perishable food. I mean, chips, chocolate, and homemade cookies are nice to send but sometimes a gal just really craves avocado toast, you know what I mean?:)

The price of my grocery order was comparable to what I’d normally pay. Delivery cost an extra six bucks (and I also  tipped). It’s worth pointing out that even though there is an extra cost associated with grocery delivery, it was still cheaper than sending a package by Canada Post.

I was very pleased by the whole process. And the kid? She was very surprised! I told her to expect a delivery of SOMETHING around 5 p.m. She had no idea what it was going to be, and was thrilled and cheered by it all, even the broccoli.

26 Feb, 2021

Read this one thing today

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

“We can’t hold on to damaged things forever. But we can renew their purpose.”

>> rebuilt: on searching for answers to the only question that matters

18 Feb, 2021

It was a happy Quarantine’s Day

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

FYI, we had a very nice Quarantine’s Day Valentine’s Day here at Casa Fishbowl.

In many ways, it wasn’t that different from a typical Valentine’s. Mark and I don’t generally go to a restaurant on Valentine’s, we are much more likely to order from our favourite sushi place or make a special dinner at home.

This year, is not a typical year. I walked down to Mamie Clafoutis first thing in the morning to avoid, er, people. Everything was covered in a fresh layer of snow and the walk was silent but for the sound of my breathing and my boots in the snow. This, in itself, was a gift. I think I was the first one in the shop. (Note! Their COVID-related precautions were very good.)

I bought three croissants for breakfast, a baguette for lunch, and a heart-shaped baguette for our dinner.

Heart-shaped baguette for Valentine's Day

I wasn’t planning on buying dessert but the sight of a chocolate caramel hazelnut tart in the display case was too tempting to refuse.

After coffee and croissants, Mark and I went for a walk down by the river. It was a sunny and beautiful winter day. I feel like we are walking way more than usual this year. (Is there anything else to do??)

Walk by the Ottawa River

After our return I assembled a charcuterie board and we had a long lunch. (SO.MUCH.CHEESE.)

For the rest of the afternoon I read my book in a puddle of sunshine, stretched out lazily like a cat. It was bliss.

Mark cooked up one of his specialties for dinner: mussels in a creamy leek sauce. And of course, we had the baguette to go with it. We drank wine, walked the dog, and demolished the tart. I gave him Valentine’s themed socks (from the Village Quire in Westboro!) and he gave me a card with a thoughtful note. It was a day to remember, for sure.

29 Jan, 2021


By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

Sometimes I really embrace my routines and other days I think they are THE WORST. I drag my weary body out of bed thinking: THIS? AGAIN? WHY?

I feel like I haven’t left the house in ages but when I think about it I know I actually have left the house, but it’s only been to walk the dog or pick up groceries via “Click ‘n Collect.”

My mantra: We are safe at home, not stuck at home. Safe at home, not stuck at home.

I am happy to say that I am still making my bed every day and reading lots of books. I don’t want to oversell it, but the making the bed thing is kind of life altering in terms of how happy it makes me. Did I mention I am just finishing a Dry January? Yes. Yes. I am.

I mentioned awhile back that we bought a new duvet. It was an excellent purchase and I congratulate myself every night I slide underneath it. Our other exciting “big but-not-so-big” purchase recently was a humidifier for our bedroom. (God, I’m old.)

I just felt so… dry. Dry lips, dry skin, dry eyes, dry nose. Mark also bought some tiny humidity and temperature monitors. They’re just over an inch long and came in a pack of five so our latest home entertainment has been all about measuring humidity in different parts of the house. Occasionally I’ll shout something like: “It was 41% when we woke up but it’s 37% now,” or “Did you know it’s 57% in the bathroom?” Mark was having a shower and while he was in there I stuck one on the shelf in the shower, JUST BECAUSE.

In conclusion: I am now measuring the weather INSIDE OUR HOME. Sigh.



I eat a boiled egg at around 10 a.m. every weekday morning.

I’ve done this often enough now that I’ve learned a few valuable lessons. I wanted to share with you today, not just about the process of boiling eggs, but about myself.

My daily egg might seem like an odd snacking habit but…

  1. 1 – It gives me a reason to get up from my work desk. Also, I know what I’m about to go eat so there’s no time spent wondering or rummaging.
  2. 2 – Eggs are a healthy snack…
  3. 3 – … and for some reason this little hit of protein at this exact time means ‘m not totally ravenous at lunch but it seems to stave off the midday slumps and snack attacks.

Let’s call this LESSON NUMBER ONE: Eggs do something good to my body.

For as long as I have known Mark – and we’re talking just over a couple of decades – he has insisted that piercing the shell at the wide end of the egg prevents it from cracking when it hits the boiling water. So of course, I steadfastly refused to poke my eggs. But I’ve now boiled so many batches of eggs that I realized I was regularly losing one or two due to the shells cracking in the water. So I begrudgingly started piercing the shell as directed and VOILA, problem solved. I have not had an egg crack since I started piercing the shells. (Note: I use a corn holder for this.)

LESSON NUMBER TWO: I should be more open to suggestions, especially when they are well-intended, and come from someone who has also boiled eggs a few times. MY experience isn’t the only experience. Other people’s experiences are also valid. (It doesn’t mean that I need to ACCEPT them, but considering other experiences is a good idea.)

I’ve also realized that the perfect egg is dropped into a rolling boil, and then after a minute or two the temperature is turned down to a simmer for an overall cooking time of exactly nine minutes. After a cold water bath, the egg is peeled and salted and eaten over the kitchen sink and it is heaven.

LESSON NUMBER THREE: There is such a thing as a perfectly boiled egg.

LESSON NUMBER FOUR: Take a moment to savour the little things, because life is really just a collection of little things that add up to one big thing.



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  • Lynn: Excellent to hear! Every person who reports getting the shot makes me feel hopeful, like we are one more small step closer to good times again. Our
  • a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive I got jabbed! #TeamPfizer - a peek inside the fishbowl: […] the same day our youngest turned 20, I got my first Covid vaccine. For the record, my next one is scheduled four months from […]
  • andrea tomkins: Heeeey! I'm glad it was a good experience for you! Thanks for letting me know. :)
  • Kylie: Thanks for telling us about the SavvyCompany fondue party! We signed up with relatives across Ontario as a fun (virtual) way to celebrate my mother-in
  • Charlotte: Thank you for this awesome post. it’s a very informative blog thanks for sharing with us.
  • andrea tomkins: I don't own any Miik items, just seen those pretty dresses from afar! :) I didn't know they made leggings and am intrigued...
  • molly: Have you purchased Miik before? I have a couple of dresses and I wear them all summer - like, twice a week - and they wash beautifully. And so so comf

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 daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). 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, 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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