a peek inside the fishbowl

19 Sep, 2015

Weekend reading: September 19 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

Sometimes the best little adventures are ones that happen when you divert from the original game plan.

This is what happened when we went to Sandbanks a few weeks ago and decided to explore a new trail instead of just hanging out on the beach all day. It happened when we left our hotel without a dinner reservation. And it also happened during the drive home when we said, HEY, LET’S CHECK OUT A FORT.

Fort Wellington (it’s in Prescott) was on the way so we took a short detour and pulled over.

Bad news: it was closed.
Good news: it didn’t really matter.

We got all of the historical information we needed via our smartphones. All we had to do was imagine the rest. It was a very pleasant, low-pressure, kind of scenario.

Fort Wellington

Fort Wellington

Fort Wellington

Fort Wellington

Fort Wellington

We walked around the exterior of the whole place and when we got to the other side we noticed a little park across the road. So we poked around there too.

The remains of an old dock and a pretty pathway eventually lead to a small lighthouse:

Near Fort Wellington

Near Fort Wellington

Near Fort Wellington

We didn’t realize that we were walking on a former railway yard amid the ghosts of old trains, soldiers, and industry. What remains is just grass, wildflowers, and memories.

Soon it was time to climb back in the car and head for home again. It was a good diversion from our game plan, I think.

Some of you already know about our dog’s Instagram account. It is a multimedia project my family and I started awhile back. I liked the idea of a family Instagram account because it involves two things I love: photography and storytelling, and I think these are skills that are worth cultivating. (Sidebar: this is an ideal introduction to social media for kids are who slightly too young to venture out on their own.)

I first mentioned it in this post over at MediaSmarts.ca and then here, but I wanted to expand upon a few things I’ve learned along the way.


Piper’s Instagram account has seen steady growth these past few months. She’s almost at 900 followers, which eclipsed my personal account a long time ago. Here’s why I think that is:

1) She is much cuter than I am.

2) There are a lot of dog lovers out there.

3) We don’t post too frequently on Piper’s account, or at least we try not to. This is something I learned from our own teenage Instagram users and from my own personal experience as an Instagram user. For me, Instagram represents a brief glimpse into someone’s life, not a photo dump. Posting too frequently overloads your followers’ feeds and can be annoying. So how much is too much? In my view the threshold is 3X/day. Upload more frequently than that and you’re running a risk of losing a follower. Less is more… but,

4) Regularity is welcome. We usually post one photo to Piper’s account every day. It’s usually in the morning, but time of day is something that is worth experimenting with, especially if there are followers who live in different time zones around the world.

5) We don’t go overboard on the hashtags. Using a hashtag will allow other users to find your photo easily but there is a lot of conflicting information out there about the “correct” number of hashtags to use on each Instagram photo. I’ve heard anywhere from 3 to 20. Some recommend creating a list of suitable hashtags and copy and pasting them into the IG caption every time. I think that anything over 10 is going overboard. I use 3 or 4, sometimes none at all. I like to use one for comic effect – even though it won’t result in any additional traffic –  and the others for findability. So for example, if Piper is playing with one of her toys I like to add the hashtag: #squeaktoymurder. This is unique to her, and it’s her “voice.” Otherwise I use #wirefoxterrier and #terrier.

Is it better to use a hashtag with over a million photos attached to it, or less? #Dogsofinstagram has over 19 million photos attached to it today (I just checked), which makes me think Piper’s photo is likely to get lost in the shuffle. #Wirefoxterrier is better suited. There are only 86,000 and the people following REALLY love her breed of dog. The people following #wirefoxterrier are the people who are more likely to follow Piper’s account.

6) Piper is on topic, all of the time. The expectations are laid out in her bio, and she delivers. It’s the Piper show, and we make sure that she is always the main focus. To this point: I uploaded what I thought was a funny video of a dog (not a fox terrier) trying to capture a tetherball. I thought it was hilarious, but it did not get the kind of traction that I thought it would.

7) Piper’s fan base really started to grow after she crossed the 500-follower mark. Maybe it’s a mental thing. Instagram users who find Piper’s account through a hashtag (see #5) are more likely to follow her if they see 499 other people have already done so. A higher follower count subtly says: this is an account worth following.

It’s been a very fun project, and I think I’d like to take it to the next level and maybe publish a book about Piper’s daily diary. We’ll see.

14 Sep, 2015

One of my favourite things

By andrea tomkins in Oh! Things!

Terrarium with a small house

This terrarium is one of two that was given to the girls by Laura Daub, a local artist and former blog patron. Once upon a time it contained two plants, but one shrivelled and died. The other one flourished after we remembered to water it a little more. ;)

I recently removed the dead plant parts and added some small stones I’d collected during our camping trip to Algonquin Park this past summer. Is it just me, or are decorative rocks a little more special when they don’t come from the craft store?

The little house is one of Laura’s creations.

This one, along with its twin, sits on the windowsill in our family room where I can see it every day. It makes me happy and is thankfully low-maintenance, which is exactly the kind of plant life we need around here.

12 Sep, 2015

Weekend reading: September 12 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

08 Sep, 2015

A very Ottawa weekend to cap off summer holidays

By andrea tomkins in Ottawa

The girls are back at school today and I am happy to return to regular routines again.

I love this time of year. Love it. I always feel like September is a chance to start again with a blank slate – refreshed, reinvigorated – ready to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. I am just waiting for the nights to get a little cooler so I can start wearing sweaters again.

It was crazy hot this past weekend. It felt like I had been suddenly transported to some sticky tropical jungle that was on the verge of being destroyed by a hurricane.

On Sunday the girls and I spent a huge chunk of the day at Bayshore doing the prerequisite back to school shopping. It’s crazy to have left it to the last minute, but it had to be done. Fortunately we were there right when the mall opened, so navigating the Nine Circles of Hell (a.k.a the Parking Lot) was nearly painless.

Yesterday was Mark’s birthday, as well as the last official day of summer holidays, so we felt like we had to unglue ourselves from our air-conditioned environs and do something. Last year on this day we spent the day in Gatineau, this year was Ottawa’s turn. On the agenda: lunch at the King Eddy, the Colville exhibition at the National Gallery, and the Rideau Falls, which, amazingly, we have never laid eyes upon before.

Lunch was fab. I ordered the Big Eric and was not disappointed. (In fact, I am drooling as I type this.) Then we walked to the National Gallery, where, thanks to our membership, we were able to completely bypass the giant line of people waiting to purchase a ticket.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew some of Colville’s art, but had no idea about his life and the stories behind his various works. Well, the NCG delivered in spades. It was so insightful, and I walked away with a much richer appreciation for his art. I can now say I am a fan. I am so glad we went.

Colville at the National Gallery

Also at the gallery is an exhibition by Mary Pratt. Related: I had a great conversation with local artist Barbara Zuchowicz as part of a highly-condensed Q&A for the newspaper about the upcoming West End Studio Tour. One of Barbara’s favourite subjects are jelly jars, and what she said about them stayed with me. She said she paints homemade jams and jellies because the art of preserving is not something we have to do, but it’s something we do out of love. This is what I was reminded of when I saw this painting by Mary Pratt:

Mary Pratt at the National Gallery

It looks like a photo, until you lean in really close.

You’d be mistaken if you thought you were looking at a jar of jam. It’s sunshine and time and love and family. Lovely.

We tooled around for a few hours and then continued our journey to the Rideau Falls. We parked next to the French Embassy on Sussex Drive and walked past the sadly abandoned Canada and World Pavilion. Wouldn’t you love to see this place restored and used for something really interesting? I’m sure we could come up with something, you and I:

Canada and World Pavilion. Now closed.

Personally, I’m thinking it would make a great location for a Canadian photography museum.

The falls are pretty neat, not quite as spectacular as Hog’s Back, but seeing them helps one understand why the Rideau Falls were called the Rideau Falls. Rideau, in French, means curtain. And that’s totally what’s going on here:

Rideau Falls4

This is where the Rideau River empties into the Ottawa River, which is something I haven’t even thought much about, even though the Rideau Canal features so prominently in everything we do here. Doh.

The spray of the water was more than welcome on such a hot day. I think we found the coolest (outdoor) place downtown:

View of the Rideau Falls

Rideau Falls, Ottawa

And then it was time to collapse into the car, crank up the AC, and make our way home to double-check those back to school lists.


NAC Ottawa culture days

Saunders Farm annual passes for family fun!

Mrs Tiggywinkle's - the best toy store in Ottawa

Joan of Arc Academy in Ottawa

OMS Ottawa Montessori schools

Rethink Tires - Community Renewal Fund

terra20 Ottawa

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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 two daughters Emma (16) and Sarah (14). 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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