a peek inside the fishbowl

Hello Fishies, I’m doing something a little different on the blog this week and I’m really excited about it. I’ve asked six individuals – all blog patrons – to write a post on a topic that is important to the parenting community. First up, Derek Rhodenizer, Assistant Head of Joan of Arc Academy is kindly sharing this post about pickles… although it’s about more than just pickles. Read on! 


When March rolls around I get excited for the upcoming spring. I suppose I don’t really need to spell out why, most of us in Ottawa can’t wait to shake off the frigid remains of winter and embrace a warm spring. However, it isn’t the lack of snow or salt crust on my car that is at the forefront of my mind. For me it means that it is almost gardening season.

I am an educator, and 10 years ago I had a grade 8 student ask me, “how do you grow pickles?” I figured the best way to answer this question was to guide my students through the complete process. I did not realize how disconnected to gardening we are. That year we grew cucumbers from seed in my class, and transplanted them to a tiny guerilla style “garden plot” we dug up. We grew them, harvested them, and jarred them. The next year that student came back from high school and tasted the pickles we had grown. It was the most pure learning experience I had ever seen, and I was hooked. It only cost me 99 cents for a pack of cucumber seeds!

How does your garden grow?

I have been a school garden educator ever since. I am into my second gardening season as the Assistant Head at Joan of Arc Academy, and we have a great set of innovative gardens that we started last year using some very exciting permaculture techniques. It provides a number of rich learning experiences for our students.

School gardens can provide some challenges: they often get overgrown in the summer, sometimes they get mowed over by the lawn care staff, and I have even had a pumpkin get stolen and smashed on the street. If you are going to steal food from the garden, please eat it!  All that being said, the good outweighs the bad, and the garden is very forgiving. The garden is a great way to learn by making mistakes.  If the lettuces were too crowded and underproduced, we simply adjust it next year. However, in the meantime, we still have lettuce!

Gardens are inexpensive to start and to keep going. Students can see growth from start to finish in just a few months. The experience of learning how to grow our own food should never be overlooked. The look on a student’s face when you eat a nasturtium (an edible flower), or when they see that a broccoli plant is actually quite tall and full of leaves, or when they dig for potatoes (consider it nature’s easter egg hunt), is always priceless.

The best thing about a garden as a learning tool is that it can be as small or as large as you like. You can have a small pot, or a box garden on any surface. You can also create small microclimates that show students how to boost production using advanced permaculture techniques.

I have begun thinking about our school garden this spring, and my four-year-old and I have already begun discussing what will be in our own backyard garden. Gardens are a great learning experience. Even a failure is a success!

Hopefully, you will take the plunge and get your hands dirty this spring, as there is so much to be learned for everyone. There are so many great tricks to be learned, from the simple to the complex. At Joan of Arc we use hugelkultur techniques, burying logs under the garden to retain moisture and feed the plants. For something a little simpler, you can also test out “companion gardening,” in which one plant helps another. Put a few basil plants in a large pot with a tomato plant, and you will get fewer pests on your tomatoes. If you are looking for guaranteed results for the novice gardener, start some zucchini. It will grow fast and strong with high production, and zucchini chocolate cake is amazing!

Happy gardening!


Thanks Derek!

p.s. You can read other guest posts right here!

14 Mar, 2015

Weekend reading: March 14 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

10 Mar, 2015

Is it really only Tuesday

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

Piper has no idea what day it is and she finds the whole thing pretty funny:

Piper thinks you're silly.

I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night, working. Hey, this would be a great idea for an article! Man, I can’t forget to do X. Did I remember to book that photo shoot? It takes me forever to calm my brain and stop thinking, and then before I know it, dawn has arrived and it’s time to get up and begin again. You see, I’m trying to get things out of the way so I can concentrate on my family over March Break, and my brain is overflowing. My work schedule has been thrown out the window and I’m back to DOING ALL THE THINGS.

I’m considering adopting a “warm milk before bed” routine, or perhaps something a little stronger. (I kid.) There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I am happy about that, but it’s taking some time to get there. Sigh.

07 Mar, 2015

Weekend reading: March 7 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

05 Mar, 2015

Parents in the workplace

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

This article (Female company president: “I’m sorry to all the mothers I worked with”) has been going around the Interwebs. Have you read it? If you’re a parent in the workforce it will probably be of interest to you. It’s seemingly about gender. The author, who was in a powerful position, admits to a glaring bias as it pertained to hiring mothers.

She’s since changed her tune, but I’m thinking that her story is really about kindness, understanding, and a lack thereof.

The workplace is a microcosm of the world, and the truth is that there will always be jerks who will end up in management positions. There will always be good employees and bad ones. There are all kinds of people in the work force, with all kinds of prejudices and misconceptions. The trick is to surround yourself with the RIGHT people and hope that you can change those who have crappy/prejudicial/idiotic ideas about hiring mothers/fathers/[insert whatever demographic here].


It seems a lifetime ago that I worked full-time in an office environment. I remember how little time we had to spend with our eldest, who was a baby at the time. This was back when maternity leave was only six months long. Not very long at all. We’d pick her up at the end of our workday. Her bedtime was 6:30. It was unavoidable. She’d nod off to sleep at the same time every night, sometimes in her high chair if we were having a “late” dinner. I remember how sad I felt that I wasn’t able to spend much time with her, that the Italian nonna we left her with every day knew her better than we did.


It wasn’t easy, being a parent and working full-time. After the time with the nonna, we added another kid to the count. We had one car, and the multiple array of issues that go with having two working parents: surprise meetings and work emergencies, thrown-together dinners, and sick days… oh the sick days. Of course it was not just our own sick days, but our children’s sick days. I remember the feeling I’d get, sitting at my desk, when the phone rang. Once glance at the call display revealing that it was the daycare calling. My first thought was always “oh no,” and I’d pick up the phone with the dread that comes with not knowing what kind of wrench was going to be thrown in my day. It was almost always a fever. Or pink eye. Someone seemed to get pink eye every week. One of the kids was bitten once. Man, those were the days.

It was always a rush to get to daycare in the afternoon. They start charging if you’re late. One time it was discovered our car had a flat at the end of the workday. Mark took it to the tire place and I called a cab so I could get to daycare before (a) they started charging us and (b) our kid started to think we had abandoned her. The cab took ages to pick me up. I thought I’d have a heart attack waiting for it, and again in the back seat during the stop and go rush hour traffic. Mark and I arrived at the daycare at the same time. Me, leaping from the back of a cab, him, with a newly fixed tire.


I remember a conversation I had with my boss back then. I told him I needed some time to bring my kid to a dental appointment. I was standing, he was sitting. A desk separated us. Scratch that, MORE than a desk separated us. He seemed unhappy that I was asking for time, but agreed, begrudgingly. I was grateful, but the gratitude was swiftly replaced by anger. I was angry that I practically had to plead for time off in this way. I always met my deadlines. I worried and cared about client projects as if they were my own personal projects. I put in my share of time and emotional investment, and more often than not the work was thankless. Wouldn’t it have been nice – so progressive – for him to say, without a flicker of a grimace, “OF COURSE ANDREA. Take some time to take your child to the dentist. I understand this is something important you need to do for you and your family. We know you work hard and meet your deadlines, so go ahead, and don’t worry.”

Then again, why is this behaviour considered progressive? Shouldn’t it be the norm?

I am a busy mamma, but I’m one with a flexible schedule. For this, I am eternally grateful. Our youngest is sick at home with the flu this week and I’m happy I can be here for her and still get work done. Frankly, I don’t understand how working parents do it. You know what would help though? I lot more empathy for starters.

Awhile back I was at a blogging conference, in the audience, listening to a panel of speakers. I can’t even remember what the topic was about, but someone I knew from the blogging world stood up during the question and answer time and shared her exasperation about (a) not being on the receiving end of swag and (b) not getting invited to exclusive blogger-related events. I was shocked at her outburst at the time, but I get it. Some people don’t like seeing other people getting stuff all of the time. I guess it’s because the person on the receiving end of those invites has achieved something he or she hasn’t, whether it’s in the form free stuff, an invitation to an exclusive event, a trip, or a book deal. Instead of stewing, I think it’s healthier to accept the fact that some people make different choices, and choose to spend time on different things. I ALSO think it’s healthier to channel bitterness or envy or exasperation into something else and see where that takes us, but I digress.

The other day I wrote this post about the Secret Supper, and then Marilou at 20 York Street wrote this one, and THEN there were a few twitter conversations, and now I find myself here in front of my computer mulling it all over.

So how does a blogger get invited to exclusive events?*

*By this I mean invite-only movie premieres, store and restaurant openings, product launches etc.

It’s no big secret really. Most bloggers who are invited to attend special events are frequent and reliable content creators. They write, they take photos, they tweet. And they do it well, to an engaged audience who respects and trusts them.

The bloggers on that invite list match a target demographic that a brand wants to reach. So, for example, at the Secret Supper, the participants were evenly split between local TV and print media, and parenting and lifestyle bloggers. Generally they all had one thing in common, they were the most likely to write about the event because they are already writing about food/fashion/gear in Ottawa. Makes sense, considering the client was Giant Tiger, right?

Bloggers who have a declared interest for a particular area, are more likely to be invited to an event in that area. So fashion bloggers might land invites to fashion-related events such as store openings and fashion shows. Political bloggers, pet bloggers, poets, and knitters are probably NOT going to get invites to fashion shows and store openings because it doesn’t make sense from the brand’s perspective. Brands generally invite people who might tweet and write about them. In other words, the reason bloggers get invited is not because they’re cool, it’s because the brands hope they’ll get something. That something is exposure. This is huge.

HERE’s the secret you may not know: brands are already be looking for people like you, even if you have a blog or social media presence with a relatively small following. Not every agency is looking for blog veterans with legions of followers. In fact, many are actively avoiding those people because they’re less likely to be interested or have time.

Am I bothered when I don’t receive an invite to some event? No. I can’t expect to be invited to everything, nor do I want to. Many of these events take place in the evenings and I do like to spend time with my family too!

So. Do you want to be invited to those special events? If not, that’s ok. You have other priorities, and that’s fine, but if you do, and you’re not hearing from anyone, please consider the following:

  • Maybe you haven’t been online very long, and you aren’t on anyone’s radar yet. That’s ok. Give it time, and keep working at it. The next time you hear about an event about to take place, ask the organizer for an invite. (What’s the worst thing that can happen?) If it’s a no-go, follow along at home on Twitter and get involved that way. The event organizer will notice, and who knows, maybe you’ll be put on the list for next time. Here’s a thought, you can blog about the event, if you didn’t attend.
  • Look at your last 10 blog posts right now. Next, look over your last 25 tweets. What do they say about you? Do you only talk about yourself, or do you engage with others? Do you seem like someone that an organization or company would like to work with? Here’s something to consider: personal chemistry is actually pretty important here. The people who are choosing which bloggers to work with – regardless of whether the hosting company or organization is the Government of Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society, or Big Company X  - will naturally gravitate to people they like. Is this person friendly, and funny? Do they know how to turn a phrase, and get people talking? Are they professional? These people are making their lists, and consciously or subconsciously considering all of these factors… and more. Depending on the situation, the PR people might also be choosing people they will be working with directly, over a longer period of time. There is no way they’d choose someone who is a bully or a jerk online. This is why it’s always good to be your best, most authentic, professional self at all times.

Related: So where does swearing fall into all of this? Good question. I totally support writers who want to be their true selves online, but if you are using your social media presence to find work, I’d personally put a lid on the bad language. You don’t know who’s reading, and how many opportunities you may be losing. No one wants to work with someone who appears to be a loose cannon or have anger issues.

If you want to take your blog to the next level – whatever that may mean for you – you need to invest in yourself. Keep your blog and all social media channels current. Get business cards. Get a professional headshot. And make it easy for companies and PR agencies to find and contact you. Before you know it you’ll be reaching your blogging goals, no matter what they are.



NAC Ottawa family events

Saunders Farm annual passes for family fun!

Arctic Voices, Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa

Mrs Tiggywinkle's - the best toy store in Ottawa

Sustainable shopping at terra20 - Ottawa

Visit tThe Village Quire in Westboro Ottawa!

Joan of Arc Academy in Ottawa

Picture of a boy with the Parenting in Ottawa bilingual logo. Ad links to Ottawa Public Healths Parenting in Ottawa website.

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  • Katie: Lovely post, lovely topic. Rings true. Thanks for the reminder.
  • andrea tomkins: We were in Punta Cana!
  • Carla: Are you not in Roatan? It looks just like where im sittting...
  • coffee with julie: Oh, I think back to having a baby lying on my chest sleeping often. It really is divine, like you said. Thank you for this post. I loved it.
  • KristaR: Beautiful post Mark. My husband and I were reminiscing just the other day about those glorious and delicious hours we spent with babies sound asleep o
  • binkee: I heart Pamela Kirk !
  • Cath in Ottawa: Ooh just finished that book - thought it was very good. Love the loblaws initiative on blemished produce!

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 (15) and Sarah (13). I am the editor of the Kitchissippi Times, Capital Parent Newspaper, 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!


My right hand is actually a camera

Connect with me at these places too!

The #dailylunches project – 991 lunches and counting

Every day I eat lunch and take a picture. Here's the latest:

Created with flickr badge.

Click the photo for details: what it is, where I ate it (if it's worth a mention!) and how to cook it (if there happens to be a recipe). You can also read more about this project right here.


  • So I was feeling a bit ranty and wrote this post about raising children in an age of zero privacy in the hopes it will start some conversations! Please leave your two cents right here.

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  • My latest post on the MediaSmarts website is up, and it's about family social media accounts. (Yes! It's a thing! And I think it's pretty neat.) Is this something you do as a family? I'd love it if you left your two cents on the topic.

    - #
  • I'm sharing some of my favourite lunch-related items over on the terra20 blog today. Whether you're packing a lunch for work, for your kids, or just eating at your desk at home, I bet there is something there for you. Check it out!

    - #

On the nightstand

... check out past nightstand reads right here.

On this date in the archives

Got kids in Ottawa? These posts might be worth a click too:

All hail the mighty Twitter