a peek inside the fishbowl

Perhaps it’s the rainy weather but I am scattered and restless today. My morning looked a bit like this: I read a few pages of  a book, put it down, walked around the house, picked away at a few things, forgot what I was doing, watered a plant, cleaned a toilet, looked something up on the internet, answered an email, bought tickets to some local art & museum exhibitions… etc. Ugh. WHERE IS THE TRANQUILITY I HAVE BEEN BANKING???

First of all, let’s talk about how lucky we were to snag the only yurt, at Achray, in Algonquin Park, during a pandemic year. It was a minor miracle. There it is, nestled down there by the water.

The yurt

We’ve been to Achray before, both tenting and in the yurt but boy, was I glad we booked the yurt this year. Having a yurt means no tent set up and take down. The yurt is more stable than a tent, so no worrying about the weather, which was top of mind considering we drove through torrential rain on the way there. The rainfall was so severe that we pulled over to the side of the highway to wait out the worst of it.

You’d think that this kind of deluge wouldn’t be a very auspicious beginning to a camping trip, but it actually was. This year we got a bit of everything, from single digit temperatures in the evening to scorching hot moments on the trail, from pouring rain to a lake that was as still as a mirror. It was a veritable grab bag of weather and honestly, it just made for a more interesting trip.

Check-in at the yurt was at 4 p.m., a bit later than the tenting check-in for some reason. I’m not sure if this is typical or if it’s just because of Covid. I was just grateful that we didn’t have to set up a tent on a soggy campsite! The inside of the yurt was on the damp side. That torrential downpour had obviously reached here too. The rain covering on the front window had come loose and the floor and two of the mattresses were wet. (The rain must have been coming down sideways for that to happen! Wild.) This was no biggie, since the mattresses are covered in a sheet that is easily wiped down.

The yurt site at Achray

Before we left for our camping trip I looked up reviews of Achray campground online and found some one and two-star reviews which were along the lines of: “Nothing to do, no internet, too many squirrels, dirt roads, too quiet.” Essentially, all the reason we love it.

Achray is the place of my dreams. Honestly. During sad or stressful times this is the kind of happy place to which I mentally  transport myself.

The yurt is right on the water, amid a mix of tall pines and deciduous canopy. Birds chirping, loons calling, leaves rustling, fire crackling – plus almost zero cell service – this is where true relaxation happens.

Things I love about Achray:

  • It is very quiet. It’s radio-free. There are very few boats on the lake and the ones that are allowed are low HP. Plus, the type of campers who come here don’t care if there aren’t any hot showers, cell service, and laundry facilities.
  • When I originally wrote this thought out  (old-school, in a notebook), lapping water and the breeze in the trees were the only sounds I could discern. And these were interrupted by the sound of a family member quietly turning a page in her book.

Camping with young adults is very different from camping with kids. Nowadays we are much less worried about them burning themselves on a roasting stick or accidentally clobbering the other sibling with an oar (both of which are things that have happened in our family). Of course, we still worry, but not very much. They pretty much take care of themselves.

Instead of building sandcastles at the beach we all relax in the sun, occasionally wading in the water to cool down. They entertain themselves and don’t need an eagle eye on them at all times. They help out when asked. Instead of juice boxes we enjoy beer, cider, and canned cocktails (okay, we still drink juice but you know what I mean).

Some things, however, remain the same: hiking and nature sightings and games of Uno by lamplight and chats around the fire.

Achray Campground

This year the girls gleefully pointed out that THEY are now the ones who now help us parents across the typical sticky situations often encountered on hiking trails such as slippery, muddy, flooded areas that are best avoided. “Follow me, mumma,” said the youngest as she and I navigated along some slippery rocks at High Falls. “Just step where I step.”

I will say this, it was very nice to have a steady hand to hold onto when I needed one.

More to come! I’m slowly compiling my photos on Flickr, so stay tuned for that too. :)

26 Jul, 2021


By andrea tomkins in travel talk

Twilight kayak

We’ve just returned from a camping trip to Algonquin Provincial Park. I was so tired last night I could barely finish my dinner. Today, we are slowly unpacking and putting away our gear, sorting photos, doing laundry, and slathering Benadryl on our bug bites. I will say this for now, it was one of the best camping trips we’ve had and will be tough to top. More to come!

07 Jul, 2021

The jab update and pandemic purchases

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

Here we are, July 7. I remember when I was first sent home from the office in March 2020. I packed a bag and as I closed the door behind me I thought to myself: how long can this thing last, anyway? Two years ago today, the youngest daughter and I were far far far away, on a monumental trip to Thailand. One year ago today, I was working from my home office. I still am, actually. Since then we’ve been muddling through the best we can. I’m happy to report that although this thing is not over I feel hopeful that things are finally heading in the right direction. Good things are happening!

Both Mark and I have had both our second vaccinations. Each daughter has had one, with their second doses coming up this month.

In other good news: we have had RESTAURANT MEALS ON PATIOS. The first one was to celebrate Father’s Day. We made a reservation at Woodenheads** in Kingston, a place we’d been to many times.

** I should point out that the Covid protocols were A+ here, by the way, but I’m haunted a bit by the fact you had to ask a server to use the washroom because I don’t really even know why. I think it’s because they only have one or two washrooms and they are singles? Maybe in a confined area? Thankfully, my bladder was exceptionally strong that evening, but I did worry. (This is weird of me, I know, but it’s like I was transported back to first grade or something. Or French class. “Excusez moi Madame mais est-ce que je peux aller aux toillettes s’il vous plaît ?”)

It’s very likely that you have an image of the four of us raising our glasses and toasting the fact that we were all together, in a restaurant, on a patio, after months of takeout on lockdown. Smiles as wide as our faces! Laughter ringing through the restaurant! Good cheer and good food! Bravo! We made it!

While we were certainly happy to be enjoying quality pizza as we always do, we actually forgot to make any formal acknowledgement or declarations. We ordered drinks, chatted, ate our dinner, and then walked down the street for gelato as if nothing happened. I thought our first visit would be a celebration. Instead, it was just a… nice dinner as a family. Isn’t that strange? It wasn’t until much later that I was like, hey, that was the first time in a long time! I didn’t even take a photo. (!!)

Mark and I went to another patio here in the Ottawa area recently. Unfortunately, although we did raise a glass, I had had my vaccination the day before and was feeling woozy. It was also hot, and I was drinking diet Pepsi because I was feeling so crappy. All that to say, I will use this opportunity to myself that the post-pandemic patio experience should be enjoyed for what it is, and not built up in our minds too much. Seriously. All year I’ve been thinking PATIO. PATIO. PATIOoooooo. It was my mantra. It was one of the things I missed the most about being on lockdown. I missed the patio experience, but also just simply having the option to hit a patio, know what I mean?

In other news, I went on a wee spending spree in relation to our back deck. I went to Home Depot and bought a new plant and a planter. It was fun driving home! (And by “fun” I mean “not fun at all.”)

Driving home with a plant is not fun

… and here it is, in situ:

New plant for the back deck

I also bought a $50 outdoor candle at Homesense. Please refrain from judgement. I really wasn’t myself that day.

An expensive candle

I admit it’s a terribly expensive candle, but it is hefty, and in a nice pot which can be reused. It has three wicks and shines so brightly I fully expect it to damage my vision. It’s a citronella candle, and it smells like coconuts, which I love. The sad part of this story, other than the fact my wallet is $50 lighter, is that Mark hates the smell of it and I may never get to light it in his presence. Sigh.

09 Jun, 2021

Strange things, familiar things

By andrea tomkins in - Westboro,Misc. life

The other day I wandered down to Westboro to pick up a loaf of bread from Mamie Clafoutis. I can’t express to you how happy that made me — the mere act of walking down the street on a sunny day to buy something so simple and lovely as a fresh loaf of bread put a smile on my face.

As I approached the front door I donned my favourite mask and scanned for signage. It’s strange to think how much my train of thought has changed for such a simple thing as opening the door to a shop I’ve been in dozens of times: Only four customers allowed inside at a time, okaaay, but that means I need to open the door and step over the threshold (a BIT, not TOO MUCH) and do a head count. Hmm. So there’s one guy over here, a married couple over there. Couldn’t one of them have waited outside? Ok, so that’s three and I am the fourth so I think I can proceed, oops, I better keep my distance from the guy in front of me…!

I ordered my loaf while drinking in the view of all of the gorgeous treats in the display case but didn’t buy anything else. I paid up (are you taking cash now?) and made my way along the one way exit route that all customers must travel to leave the shop through a different set of doors. My eyes scanned the upturned chairs and cordoned off tables. In pre-COVID times I rarely came here to linger with a coffee and a pastry but I suddenly missed it very much, not just the act of eating a pastry with a friend or a loved one or even alone in a bustling cafe, but having the option to do it in the first place.

As I neared the door I realized I’d caught up to the couple ahead of me. They’d taken some extra time to doctor their coffees with cream and sugar and stood at the exit door. When I finally approached he was out on the sidewalk and she was closer to the door, and consequently, to me. She held the door open for me to walk through. It happened so quickly I almost missed it. For a moment we were closer than the prescribed 2m guideline! She touched something and then I touched it! I said thank you and she said you’re welcome! And then we all went on our way.

It seems silly to recount here, but I honestly don’t remember the last time I’d had this kind of exchange, one that involved shared air/space/place/time with a total stranger in my own neighbourhood. I’ve missed it very much.

25 May, 2021

long weekend moments

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

I might be jinxing things but the squirrels who’ve been working over my planters every day seem to have calmed down a bit. It MIGHT be the orange peels, dryer lint, and human hair I dug into the soil, but really, who knows anymore.

I didn’t do very much yard work this weekend, just enough to make me feel like I accomplished something and keep things from getting overgrown.

I bought a clematis and it is not just alive, it is GROWING.

At one point yesterday I was sitting in the sun, a magazine in one hand and a beverage in the other, alternating between staring into the trees and watching birds come and go. It was heavenly.

What else?

We ate ice cream. And drank margaritas.
We fired up ye’ ol’ grill and ate outdoors. (I am a bit obsessed by this bean salad recipe right now.)
We had a few sleepless nights thanks to several local fireworks enthusiasts and one terrified dog (that would be Piper).
I placed an order at Canadian Tire and when I saw how long the line was for curbside pickup I turned around and went back home.
I went on a lot of walks.

Awhile back I promised myself that I would stop checking the Ottawa Public Health daily COVID reports, but I haven’t been able to keep that promise. Today, however, I felt hope instead of dread. I pray to the heavens above that people continue to make the right choices so we can get back to something that looks like normal.

Mark and I often play the “WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST” game. I don’t know why we keep doing it. One of the things I miss most are impromptu dates on a patio. I can’t wait for the day I can turn to someone and say “let’s grab a beer.” One things I’d really like to do this summer is bike to The British Pub & Cafe. I promise myself that I won’t take it for granted ever again. What about you?


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  • Sam Mangrum: Hi Andrea, I just finished reading your article "Reno post #25: Tile city" and I wanted to say thanks. I found so much value in what you had to say
  • Nora B.: So nice to see photos of J&D's beautiful cottage. A wonderful place to get away for a little while from our crazy world!
  • Luis: Never buy a Maytag appliance I have had mine for two years now and the washer and dry suck. Washer leaves soap on clothing and dry doesn’t dry.
  • a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Wedding anniversaries and pandemics - a peek inside the fishbowl: […] This is what we did for our anniversary last year, by the […]
  • andrea tomkins: Thank you Sally! It was so peaceful... very restorative. I look forward to our camping trips every year!
  • andrea tomkins: Hmmm. Perhaps I didn't use the right term in my post? They're inflatable pool floats, but they are a mattress shape, if you know what I mean! I amende
  • Brien Marshall: This post has transported me back to camping on Lake Opinicon in the 70s. Air mattresses were the classic blue-on-one-side/red-on-the-other-side canv

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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