a peek inside the fishbowl

04 Oct, 2020

Are you prepared for the second wave?

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

We cannot control the wind, but we can adjust our sails. This was something that came up in an interview for an article I was writing for work recently and wanted to share it with you because it resonated with me.

There are lots of things we can’t control. Every mental health expert I’ve spoken to about this agrees that it’s a good idea to focus on the things we CAN control, rather than spend too much time worrying about things that are beyond our control. This is especially true during hard times, like say, a pandemic. 

One of the things I can control is what we eat, and how we get our groceries.

Right before the big shutdown in early March, Mark and I were at the grocery store with a cart that was so full of groceries they were almost slipping off. News about the coronavirus was looking grim so I thought it would be smart to stock up on a few things so we wouldn’t have to go back out for awhile. As we stood in line at the check out we realized we were the only people with a massive grocery order. We felt a little silly and wondered if we were overreacting.

As it turned out, we weren’t overreacting at all, and every two weeks after that – and this lasted for months –  we placed a massive order online for pick up. It wasn’t until this past month or so that we started going to the store in person again.

After dinner the other night I did a big grocery shop, in person. It was almost, but not quite, the kind Mark and I did together back in March. At that time I was buying loads of pasta and canned vegetables but this time around, I was a little calmer. I bought one large package of TP and doubles of other things, such as evaporated milk, chickpeas, and canned tomatoes. As I wandered the aisles trying to dodge people who were coming too close for comfort, I decided that now that the second wave is upon us I’m going to start doing our shopping online again.

Mentally, I think I’m ready for a second wave. We’ll hunker down, keep to ourselves, and focus on things around the house. For my own mental health, I try not to think of staying home as deprivation. I try to frame it as (a) staying safe (b) enjoying the things we have, and (c) protecting others.

That being said, this is the time to think about what we need for the coming fall and winter.

What do you need to work from home? Noise-cancelling headphones? A new desk chair? Also important to consider: what will make you HAPPIER while working from home? Pencil crayons? A cork board? Framed photos? (e.g. something fun from Social Print Studio for example, like a poster using your Instagram photos ? Use my promo code and save five bucks!)

What do you need for your comfort? A cosy sweater, slippers, or fuzzy onesie? New pillows or bed sheets or blankets? 

What do you need to expand your entertainment? A Spotify subscription? An exploration of podcasts? A library card? 

What do you need for winter, especially since many of us will be spending more time outdoors. Snow pants? New boots? Snowshoes? LAYER UP MY FRIENDS.

What do you need for your health? Vitamin D? A S.A.D. light? New running shoes? Maybe it’s a matter of not using your treadmill as a drying rack this winter… :) Related to this: now is the time to schedule dental/doctor appointments. What have you been putting off?

This may sound frivolous but part of my pandemic planning includes puzzles. I never used to enjoy puzzles, but I’ve come around to it over these past few years. I just bought a stack from Tag Along Toys to help us get us through the darker months. It’s something to do that isn’t Netflix.

Also: These past few months we’ve also really greened up the place with a lot of indoor plants. You can do this the spendy way by buying new at full price, OR you can do it on the cheap by swapping plants and cuttings of plants. We’ve done a combination of buying new and propagating. We also bought some plants in need of rescue from the Ikea as-is section (!) earlier this summer. Our plant pots are from a bunch of different sources including Homesense, Ikea, second-hand shops, and also include a few lucky curb-side finds.

It makes me strangely happy to have green things to care for. They keep my busy, but not so busy that I’m overwhelmed.

There is one other thing we decided to spend a little bit of extra $$ on recently. I will tell you more about that in my next post but in the meantime, I’d love to hear what you are doing to prepare for that second wave.

I made cream cheese!

One of my favourite email newsletters (and it’s a short list, trust me) comes from Smitten Kitchen. Some of you will already be familiar with this website, I am sure. It’s kind of famous. I am a fan of its author, Deb Perelman. She’s so charming. I look forward to her recipes and stories, and when I see them in my inbox I think, aha, what’s she cooking up now? It could be anything, whatever is tickling her fancy at the moment. She is a superstar in the kitchen, but not the kind who might intimidate those of us who don’t have the same know-how.

When Deb wrote about making your own cream cheese in her latest newsletter, I snapped to attention. I wasn’t just going to bookmark this one for future consideration, no siree, I HAD TO MAKE IT.

So on Sunday I went for a stroll to pick up fresh bagels and the handful of ingredients I needed to make my own cream cheese at home. You know what? Deb was (once again) tellin’ it straight. She wrote that it was “unbelievably easy,” and she was right.  What’s more, it was immensely satisfying to see it all come together. It’s very nice to make something yourself, even if it’s something relatively mundane, don’t you think? (eg. English muffins or yogurt.)

Yes, it’s easy. And customizable! You can leave the cream cheese plain or add other things to it and truly make it your own. I made a batch with chives snipped from the backyard and a clove of juicy local garlic but you could also add some strawberry jam (next on my list), or chopped veggies.

I sampled the cream cheese when it was still warm, and it was good, but I preferred it cooled in the fridge after the flavours settled and it solidified a bit more. Here’s where I should mention that homemade cream cheese does not have the same texture as, say, a brick of Philadelphia (solid and tangy). It’s more like Western brand of cream cheese, which is lighter and frothier if you know what I mean. It’s hard to pinpoint, but also has a slightly different flavour profile. It’s kind of like being asked to describe the difference between canned pineapple and fresh pineapple. They are both pineapple, sure, but not the same.

I made cream cheese!

I’m sad to report that half of my batch of cream cheese is gone already. It’s TOO GOOD on crackers. I also enjoyed it for lunch today on a bagel, topped with a healthy amount of smoked salmon, onion, capers, and lettuce.

I made cream cheese! (It's excellent on a bagel with smoked salmon)

I will definitely make my own cream cheese again! I also think it would be neat to bring this to a brunch or breakfast potluck… if we ever have potlucks again. Sigh.

Here’s Deb’s recipe if you want to try it yourself. (I hope you do! Let me know how yours turned out.)



Earlier this month we set out on a road trip. The occasion was Mark’s birthday, and the birthday tradition in our house dictates that the birthday boy or girl gets to set the agenda for family activities or celebratory dining. Mark’s destination of choice was Kingston. The youngest is living/studying there right now and we wanted to visit (and stock up her fridge and pantry) and he thought it would be nice to celebrate as a family. (FYI, I made a dinner reservation on the back patio at Woodenheads. If you like pizza, you’ll like Woodenheads too.)

Since it was Mark’s day, we stopped in Brockville on the way. It was his birthday wish to see the Brockville Railway Tunnel, the oldest railway tunnel in Canada. I’d seen bits and bobs about the railway tunnel here and there, but wasn’t quite sure whether it would be worth pulling over for. Was it a light show? Or was it a historical exhibit? Well, I’m happy to say it’s BOTH, and it’s fabulous, in a way only a historical light show can be.

If you have a hankering for an easy little road trip right now, do it. Brockville is a relatively short drive from Ottawa and the whole thing is actually pretty novel.

According to the Brockville Railway Tunnel website, the season runs until mid-October but can change without notice due to Covid protocols not being followed.

It is, in fact, the oldest railway tunnel in Canada. Built between 1854 and 1860, it’s surprisingly long at 1721 feet. It’s an easy stroll along a wide concrete sidewalk. There are a surprising amount of things to spot in this particular underground rail tunnel –  informational panels as well as cool rock/ stalactite formations – and the lighting compliments it very nicely. It probably takes 20-30 minutes to walk from end-to-end, depending of course on how much you linger and how many photos you take.

Brockville Railway Tunnel entrance

Brockville Railway Tunnel

Brockville Railway Tunnel

Brockville Railway Tunnel

Moss growing inside the Brockville Railway Tunnel

The Brockville Railway Tunnel has a lot going for it. Admission is by donation, it’s accessible (perfectly fine for strollers/wheelchairs), parking is free and nearby, even dogs are allowed. It’s right near a waterfront park, so if you have squirrelly kids and you want to run them ragged before piling back into the car, this is the place to do so.

The single negative I have about our experience is that there were quite a few non-mask wearers while we were there. It’s possible the message is finally getting through now and there’s better mask wearing now as opposed to when we went, but we were dismayed to see people going in without a mask even though signage clearly states otherwise. (I didn’t worry too much. The tunnel is spacious and essentially outdoors, but it still bothered me and thought it was worth noting here.)

I also have miiiiilllllld regrets about not grabbing a bite at Don’s Fish & Chips while we were in Brockville, but as Mark pointed out, delicious pizza awaited us and it would have been a bit much food to take in during a span of only a few hours.

All in all, the Brockville Railway Tunnel is a great little stop on the way to Kingston.

Have you been? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Run for Women is a major fundraiser that supports women’s mental health programming at The Royal. If you’d like to toss a dollar or two in my collection tin you can do so right here. Thank you!


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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 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.

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