a peek inside the fishbowl

To review: every other Tuesday is my day off and I’m trying to use this time to recharge my batteries. No work, no meetings, minimal errands. Last time around I paid a visit to Ritchie’s Feed and Seed and did a bit of gardening.

It was our eldest daughter’s last day of school on Monday. And when I say “last day,” I mean, last day of high school, forever.

Guess who just had her last day of high school ever? (!!)

A post shared by Andrea Tomkins (@quietfish) on

So, of course, when Tuesday rolled around I knew who I was taking to the special media preview of the newest gallery to open at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

First, allow me to backtrack for a moment. Ottawa folks may remember that the Museum of Nature was renovated a few years ago. The permanent galleries were overhauled as well, and they didn’t all reopen at the same time. Well, drumroll please, the Arctic gallery is the last of the permanent exhibit spaces to open. Called the Canada Goose Arctic Gallery, it’s been years in the making. It opens to the public today, so I was happy to bring the eldest along to get a sneak peek yesterday!

The underlying idea of the gallery, at least to me, is that the north isn’t just a place, it is a people, and it is all of us. Of course, the museum explores those biological connections in the way they do best, by guiding our path to learning and showing us the flora and the fauna that are found there. But there’s a bit of a departure here, as the exhibition also shines a spotlight on the people who have called the north home for over millennia. This aspect reminded me of a past exhibition at the museum called Whales Tohora. (Remember that?) It also paid homage to the indigenous culture, but in that case it was that of New Zealand. But I digress.

Of all places perhaps, life in the Arctic is so inextricably connected. It’s a complex ecosystem. How can anything survive? The answer is, of course, that people, plants, and animals have found a way to extract energy from whatever they can in a region that is so famously hostile.

The folks at the Museum of Nature is really good at educating the masses in a fun way, and they always do it with a variety of interactive displays, information boards, pictures, and things to see and touch. The addition of videos gives us the opportunity to learn from researchers who are in the field, almost eye-to-eye, to great effect.

Arctic, at the Canadian Museum of Nature

Of course, there are things both Great and Small to behold as well:

ARCTIC, at the Canadian Museum of Nature

One of the most compelling displays in the Arctic gallery is an installation called ‘Beyond Ice’ that greets visitors at the entrance. At its very core, it is a film that is projected on slabs of ice, but that would be a poor way of describing it because it is really cool (both figuratively and literally):

Beyond Ice, at the Canadian Museum of Nature

Imagine a dark room. It feels a bit cool, but at first, you’re not sure why. That’s when you realize that, glowing in front of you, are large slabs of ice that are clearly meant to be the focal point of the room in which you find yourself. The ice slabs (and yes, it’s real ice, and visitors are encouraged to touch them) have custom-built freezers at their core. They will always stay cold, and condensation is continuously created and frozen on the surface. They look like icebergs that have been heaved up at the water’s edge, and it is across the face of these slabs that a looping film (a co-production between the National Film Board the Canadian Museum of Nature) is projected. Sounds, images, shapes, and video give you a sense that the ice is telling you its own origin story. And it’s a complicated story, an old story with a very special sense of place. What is the future of this place? Where is it going? How is it changing? These questions have been tumbling around my brain ever since.

Another point of interest, a giant mural by Inuk artist, Nancy Saunders.

Entering the Canada Goose Arctic Gallery

This remarkable piece, titled Ilurqusivut (Our Ways), spans seven walls. It’s an optical illusion; the proper term is actually anamorphosis. The work is fragmented but appears as a single piece when viewed from one angle. (There are footprint decals on the floor that indicate where people should stand.) It’s a two-dimensional work presented in three dimensions. It represents so much of the rich northern culture but also, in its own way, the challenges northern Canadians have faced. It reminds us there is no one way to understand or experience northern life and culture; no single lens that can view it all. There are only pieces that we can try to put together in order to better understand the whole.

(You can find more information about the new Canada Goose Arctic Gallery on the Museum of Nature website.)

After poking around the gallery, the eldest and I decided to stay for lunch. Have you ever been to the Nature Cafe at the Museum of Nature? It’s actually pretty good. We had a chicken wrap and grabbed a pasta salad to share. We ate it outdoors, on the quad that is right next door to the cafeteria. Here was the view, looking up:

Looking up, at the Canadian Museum of Nature

It was a gorgeous day and I was loathe to cut it short so we walked around Elgin Street. Top stop on this part of the tour: Boogie + Birdie. It’s quite possibly my new favourite shop. Have you ever been? Ack. There was SO.MUCH.GREAT.STUFF that I am already planning a return visit. The eldest bought a coffee mug (she’s thinking ahead to university cereal consumption) and we went back home.

All in all, it was a pretty good day, for a Tuesday.

17 Jun, 2017

Weekend reading: June 17 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

I’ve been wanting a plant stand for some time now, mostly because I wanted to move a few houseplants to the back porch for the summer and get them off of the teetering window ledge in our family room. Also, plant stands, which may be considered a holdover from our parents’ and grandparents’ homes, can actually be pretty cool, and dare I say, EDGY.

That being said, a new plant stand was not at the top of our “We Need This Right Now” list. In fact, it was very very far down the list in terms of Household Priorities.

Here’s where I have to confess that I have the best of intentions as it pertains to DIY home decor projects but seldom have enough energy to follow through with them. So when I spotted a brass and glass plant stand at the side of the road the other day, I swore up and down that THIS TIME WAS GOING TO BE DIFFERENT.

The plant stand was dusty, rusty, and wet. Amazingly, I managed to haul it to the car without breaking anything. And then it sat outside for a few days, getting wetter and dirtier. Ugh. Sorry, plant stand! I was still determined to make this work. This was not going to be one of those forgotten projects; started with the best of intentions only to be shuffled off to a lonely place in the basement.

I went to Canadian Tire to pick up some paint. Mark suggested spray paint, but I liked the look of the Tremclad water-based rust paint in flat black. So I bought a small can of it, along with a small sponge brush and set myself up in the backyard (the only area in my environs that can be considered “well-ventilated”) and got to work.

Step one: lightly sand off any loose dirt and rust. Check.

Step two: spread some newspapers on the ground.

Step three: go to town with the paint and brush.

I shook the can, opened it with a screwdriver, and dipped the tip of the brush into the paint. Hmm. It looked weird, like, not black. Maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me? I was in the shade, after all. I started painting on to the thickest parts of the stand. It was definitely not black, it was dark blue. I double- triple-checked the can to make sure I bought the right colour. Yes, it was definitely flat black. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I realized this stuff goes on blue, but dries black. (Doh.)

Here’s what it looked like when I started:

Plant stand, the before shot

Because I was painting on brass (or a brassy-like surface) it was not like painting on a wall. There were very obvious streaks during the first application which I was only able to fill in over subsequent coats, but this wasn’t a big deal. It may also be worth noting that I took a page of out Tom Sawyer and convinced my eldest to paint a coat or two as well. (Parenting win!)

Painting is a remarkably meditative act, and it was surprisingly satisfying to watch the transformation as I worked away. After the scare of the first coat it went on so smoothly. The sponge brush was a good choice too: it wasn’t streaky and it was easy to catch and control any dripping.

Dry time was shorter than advertised on the can, but maybe it was expedited due to the fact the “well ventilated area” I had chosen outdoors was a bit breezy.

When it was done I cleaned the glass shelves and moved the stand into its place on the back porch. In the winter, it’ll be moved indoors.

Here’s the final result (as you can see, I’m tinkering with plant selection and positioning):

Painted plant stand

Painted plant stand!

Ok, maybe this is not an edgy plant stand, but I do love the retro look and feel of it. I am quite pleased with my old/new plant stand! It’s not perfect, by any stretch. I missed a few spots and wasn’t able to sand off all the rust on the bottom. It’s perfectly imperfect, and I’m totally ok with that.


Have a great summer at Saunders Farm!

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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 (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. 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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