a peek inside the fishbowl

25 Jun, 2023

What is the point of complaining?

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

I don’t know why I’m so riled up about this. Yesterday was the final day of the garden centre at the Carlingwood Loblaws. Not that I knew that… I had just pulled up and was reviewing my grocery list when I noticed a dearth of plants and green stuff in their usual caged-off spot in the store’s awkward parking lot. Naturally, my thoughts immediately turned to potential deals, even though our own garden is in complete disarray.

Honestly Andrea, making any new purchases would be considered foolish at best.

And that is when I spotted a table full of Birds of Paradise. And THAT is when I spotted the price.

Birds of Paradise


I bought four, despite not knowing where I was going to put them. And I paid with the coins scavenged at the bottom of my bag. When’s the last time THAT has happened?? (Hint: never. It has never happened.)

Later on I planted one in a pretty pot and stuck it next to the front door. I put two in a larger pot and put them next to the side door. The last one is unaccounted for so I think I might swap it with someone at work.

But after this initial excitement the remainder of my grocery shop was rather dull. When I got to the checkout I offhandedly mentioned to the cashier the great dealio I nabbed on these plants.

“It is a great price,” she said. “And you won’t believe what I’m going to tell you.”
“What’s that?” I said, not quite sure where she was going with this.

She proceeded to tell me about a woman who had bought some of these same plants, at the same price, and complained… about the price. (!) What could one possibly have to complain about? These were healthy houseplants that could be purchased with pocket change. In a time of rampant inflation and skyrocketing prices at the grocery store (HELLO EIGHT DOLLAR CAULIFLOWER) there isn’t a THING IN OUR WORLD that you can buy for so little right now.

Who is this person, I wondered, who can complain about such a thing?

p.s. I really should be writing about the recent university graduation (!) of our youngest child (!) but I am still collecting my thoughts. I just had to get this off my chest first. ;)

Last summer Mark and I had fun around town guided by an “Ottawa summer bucket list” of our own design and I’m keen to do it again. I have learned that I need to make lists of ideas and places to go as they come up, otherwise they get forgotten and we revert to things we enjoy but aren’t necessarily new, e.g. woodland rambles along familiar trails and cocktails on patios. (See also: a framework for a perfect weekend.)

A few ideas for this summer’s list are already in my back pocket, a.k.a. a note on my phone. My plan is to show as I go! That being said, I am already behind because we’ve done some nice stuff already including a visit to the Ottawa Tulip Festival (with bonus BeaverTail) which is a bit too late to write about so I will simply summarize here by saying: Tulips! Gorgeous! People! Next time, go! 

Today I want to share with you something fun we did to kick off the official start to our summer bucket list. (This all went down in May … technically NOT summer, nor Ottawa-based like the rest of the list, but I am including it nonetheless.) We booked a HOM mini-chalet for a weekend getaway in Vals-des-Monts and, friends, it did not disappoint. In fact, a few IRL friends have already had to put up with my gushing about it. (Sorry everyone.)

So on a sunny Friday afternoon we packed our bags, grabbed a few groceries and beverages, and left the hustle and bustle of Ottawa. Destination: our HOM away from HOME. :D

HOM is a cottage neighbourhood of sorts, set on a hill overlooking Lake McGregor. It’s a private location within proximity of other mini-chalets. There are eight of them (weirdly, I kinda remembered five and had to look that up on the website to double check – that has to tell you how unobtrusive they are). They are all modern cottage design, no A-frames or gingerbread trim or wood panelling here, and set into the woods with enough distance (and trees) between them to afford some great privacy. (We stayed at Le Grand Pic by the way.)

Here’s an exterior view from the front:

Our HOM mini-chalet

… and the interior:

Woke up to this at our HOM mini-chalet

Another kitchen view at our HOM mini-chalet

Cozy seating at our HOM mini-chalet

view of kitchen area at our HOM mini-chalet

Bedroom at HOM

Bathroom at our HOM mini-chalet

It was honestly love at first sight.

There is also a hanging chair! It’s a novel addition but it unfortunately makes a clanging sound if/when you move it along the rail or get in and out (do not attempt if someone else is sleeping).

Indoor swing chair at HOM mini-chalet

(I personally would have preferred a second comfy chair but that’s neither here nor there.)

I think you can tell by the photos that the HOM mini-chalets lean towards a more minimalist aesthetic. I want to describe them as “nordic” but that observation is based entirely on Ikea catalogues and Netflix crime dramas set in Scandinavian countries in the dead of winter, so maybe don’t quote me on that. ;)

Most of the living space is open concept (minus the bedroom and bathroom) and bathed in natural light, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors at the back of the unit overlooking the woods with the lake in the distance. It is a cozy, luxurious place, an uncluttered place to rest a weary and cluttered brain.

View from the swing chair at our HOM mini-chalet

Friday evening we enjoyed a nice dinner, started a fire in the charming wood stove, and tried out the hot tub on the back deck. There were multiple dips in the hot tub over the weekend, some to the point of pruney fingers and near heat exhaustion. Beware!

Hot tub view

The back deck at our HOM mini-chalet

Each chalet is equipped with a little BBQ, which was great, but our propane tank ran out as we grilled our dinner! Eep! It was easy to replace but it delayed things. Oh well, at least the view was good while I waited:

Cider with a view

Saturday morning, Mark caught up on some zzz’s while I enjoyed a tranquil espresso on the cozy couch, wrapped in a soft blanket, nestled among pillows, just staring into the trees. (Do you see a theme here?) My mind, just … let go into a state of bliss.

This was is the view from the couch:

The view from the couch at our HOM mini-chalet Espresso with a view at HOM

After breakfast we checked out the waterfront, which is about a 10-minute walk from the HOM compound.

This is what it looked like along the way there:

Trail down to (and from) the lake at HOM

Flora along the path to the lake

Nature stuffMark climbing the hill back to HOM (from the lakeside)< watercraft to borrow at HOM

We loved that guests of HOM have free use of a canoe, which we took for a spin around the lake.

Canoe for two

A peaceful canoe on Lac MacGregor

There were naps later, of course, and lunch, but I also took the opportunity for a solo on the SUP on Saturday. Friends, I was on cloud nine – seriously living the dream! I soaked up the sun (while standing, sitting, kneeling, I did all the moves!), and I even got a bit of distance in without falling into the water.

I counted dragonflies, clouds, my blessings.

Stand up paddle boarding

peaceful views on the SUP

Finding my zen!

That day’s agenda was packed with noshing, relaxing, reading, and hot tubbing. Same goes for Sunday, albeit in a condensed manner as we had to check out by 11 a.m. HOWEVER, I did manage to squeeze in one more solo SUP session on the lake before it was time to depart. Ah, bliss.

Some final kinda random points and thoughts in case you’re wondering:

– I wish we could have brought Piper with us but this place doesn’t allow pets.

– Ordering and obtaining firewood was easy and the wood shed was well-organized and easy to access. I should also note that Mark was impressed with the “proper” size of the kindling. (IMMA LOOKIN’ AT YOU ONTARIO PARKS!)

Behold the shed:

HOM wood shed!

– There are other things you can order ahead of time besides wood, such as use of some fluffy robes or having fresh croissants delivered to your door. We may go this route next time! (I think there was more on offer but I’m forgetting and this info doesn’t seem to be on their website.)

– There are restaurants in the area but we didn’t want to leave! :D

– The kitchen had everything we needed. Related: I wish I had planned ahead better and made use of the fondue pot!

– Coffee = Four pods of Nespresso provided by the hosts. There’s also green tea available, with water boiled in a very cool kettle. I was smitten by this design:

I loved this tea kettle at our HOM mini-chalet

Fun fun, I shot a wee video of the walk back up to our mini-chalet after my Sunday paddleboarding. I think this will give you a good idea of the privacy and the general setting of all the properties:

Ultimately, what I liked about HOM was that I felt like we were cottaging in a peaceful and remote place, with small luxuries and indulgences at hand, all while being in close proximity to Le Dep, groceries, etc. It’s the perfect place to wind down and clear away those metaphorical cobwebs – to restore, relax, refresh.

The HOM mini-chalets are a 45-minute drive from Ottawa. As someone who lives and works in Ottawa, I could technically organize a Monday morning checkout and go straight to work! The question is, would I want to put a dent in my relaxed vibe so quickly? I’ll need to think about that before we book again. :)

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How’s work? 

I am asked this question quite often when I’m out and about and run into people I haven’t seen in awhile. I started a position as a writer on the corporate communications team at The Royal four years ago and my answer to anyone who asks is always the same:


Ha. I know. It sounds like a non-answer, but I mean it. It is truly, great. Every day I find myself in a perfect storm of learning and growth. My team is amazing and the people I meet in the context of work (and even around the proverbial water cooler) are so smart and excited about their particular area of expertise that I can’t help but be inspired. These people are doing so much to help some of the most vulnerable and stigmatized people in our community… finding answers to some of the hardest questions known around mental health and substance use. How lucky am I to work in a place like this? My colleagues amaze me every day and their passion is contagious (er, perhaps not a good word to use in a health care setting but you catch my meaning I’m sure)! :D

All this to say, the 2023 edition of the Run for Women is taking place tomorrow. Friends, it’s a biggie; a major fundraising event for The Royal. Funds raised through the run directly support important mental health programming, right here in Ottawa. These are services that truly make a difference to people in our community.

Sidebar: one of the things that I find so cool and interesting about mental health care is the domino effect that happens with treatment and care. It’s something I think about a lot. If we are able to help one person, say, who’s struggling with postpartum depression, we are inevitably also helping their partner, their children, and possibly their extended family, neighbours and colleagues as well. While it may be just the one person who’s receiving treatment, the ripple effect of good mental health, or poor mental health, extends way beyond that one person.

So please think of me on Sunday morning, running (er, walking BRISKLY, let’s not kid ourselves Andrea) to support women’s mental health along with a few thousand generous joggers, walkers, and strollers.

And if you’d like to make a donation to my fundraising page you can do that right here.

Thank you, friends! I appreciate your support.


22 May, 2023

Bikes and Ottawa bike shops

By andrea tomkins in Oh! Things!,Ottawa

They say that if you want to get more movement into your day to start with something you enjoyed doing as a kid. Well, for me, this is riding my bike. So I started biking to work last week. It takes approximately nine minutes and I’m pretty winded by the end. NINE MINUTES. My plan is to to do this three times a week for the rest of the season so hopefully it will get a little bit easier with time.

Nine minutes is a short time, but it’s a good time. The whistling wind, the crunch of gravel under my tires, coasting down hills big and small… it feels great and I love it.

We have a secure area to lock bikes at work, which is a bonus. I have to laugh at myself though… I am not very graceful and am forever always closing the gate on myself, running over a foot (mine, thankfully), or dropping stuff. The area is overlooked by a bank of windows and it occurs to me that I am providing a comedy routine for an unsuspecting audience every time I’m in there. :D

My bike is a heavy “mountain bike” style with thicker tires. It’s 20+ years old but I love it. It is SOLID. I feel safe on that thing, it’s like I’m riding a tank. YES, it weighs a lot, but I can run over pretty much anything and not be afraid of wiping out. I think that’s a pretty good trade off. That being said, I am very tempted by vintage-y step-through Townie-style bikes but I am hesitating. My bike still gets me from point A to point B, so do I really need a new one?

Each kid received a new bike for their birthday this year.

The youngest was in town back in April and she picked out a sleek and gorgeous Trek model at Bushtukah here in Westboro. Believe it or not, we bought and paid for it during a weekend and when Mark went to pick it up the next Thursday he was informed the bike we had purchased had been sold to someone else. Err. That was a surprise. I am still not sure how this happened but we were so disappointed that we got the refund and bought the same bike online at a delightful little bike shop in Kingston called Trek Bicycle Kingston. The youngest picked her bike up there when she was back in Kingston. She was happy with the service and absolutely loves her bike.

It was the eldest’s birthday this month. (24!!) We skipped Bushtukah, obviously, and checked out the Hintonburg location of Full Cycle and bought a bike there instead. We were so pleased with their friendly, knowledgeable service and low-pressure attitude. It was a great experience overall. In fact, it was so good I might even be convinced to get a new bike for myself at some point… ;)

So, Bushtukah lost a couple bike sales, and also, future bikes sales from our family. But when all is said and done they did us a big favour because thanks to their poor service we discovered two new amazing bike shops I’m happy to support and recommend to others.


How was your weekend?

This question is a traditional part of Monday mornings at the office, or on the weekly Zoom call. And honestly, I’ve felt a bit weird asking it lately. What used to be a fairly innocent question became more complicated after the pandemic. Or is it just me?

How was your weekend?

I don’t mind when someone asks me about my week. And if I don’t want to answer I know I can alway stick to the pat response: pretty good how about you? But sometimes – and this is the point of this post – my mind actually goes blank because I can’t recall doing anything worth mentioning. The blur of Netflix and household chores is not exactly worth talking about.

This, my friends, is no way to weekend, so I’m embarking on a quest to make the most of them! As such, I’ve been pondering a possible “framework.” Or perhaps it’s an equation? While I’m not exactly sure, here’s what I do know:

– I know I like to feel productive, so a good weekend includes a feeling of accomplishment. And by “accomplishment” I don’t mean running a marathon or writing a book. I’m talking about repotting plants or installing a shelf in my closet to take control of my falling tower of sweaters. That being said, there is a distinction between these kinds of tasks and other household tasks that tend to be mundane and draining, e.g. doing the dishes. I have never done the dishes and said to myself: HUZZAH! I feel so productive and accomplished! Same goes for grocery shopping.

– I know I like doing something good for my body and mind. Walks in the woods, bike rides, are the kinds of things that fall into this category.

– I know I like to relax, read, recharge my batteries.

– I know I like to do something I don’t normally do (i.e. have new experiences).

– I know I like to connect with others (but as an introvert this has to be done in a balanced kind of way).

I also know that weekends are too short! I only have two precious days in which to run errands/tick a few things off my to-do list, AND do all of these other fun things. (This is turning into a very good argument for three-day weekends eh?)

Related: no matter how much I tell myself that all I want to do is lie in bed and read, I know this does not actually make for a good weekend. It SOUNDS blissful, but I know myself, and I need to balance indulgence with productivity, otherwise I feel like a slug. (ie. not a good feeling.)

So what’s a gal to do?

Well, for the past few weekends I’ve been experimenting and have learned a few things…  namely that it pays to be mindful of not just planning activities and social time, but the timing of said activities.

If I do something on a Friday after work it makes my weekends SEEM longer, even though they technically aren’t.
Doing something on a Friday means that I’m not just going home and dropping on the couch. This past Friday I went out for drinks with colleagues right after work. LAST Friday, Mark and I went to a concert downtown (a string quartet performing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by candlelight). I think the Friday before that we went to see a movie. Regardless of what we do, doing something on the Friday makes my weekends seem that much fuller. And more fun.

If I bookend my weekend with something fun at the beginning and something indulgent at the end, it feels like a good weekend was had, no matter what was in the middle.
I am still working on this hypothesis but I like where it’s going. Last Sunday we ate pastries in bed, in the middle of the day! (!!) We also napped and read. Drank coffee. We neverrrrr do this! It felt ridiculous and also positively blissful, and contributed to my definition of a “great” weekend. This, despite the fact that we had spent most of Saturday organizing, sorting, and cleaning up someone’s basement. (Long story, plus not exactly relevant but let’s just agree that was a very tiring and dusty day.)

So does this mean that all the errands have to be done on Saturdays? Perhaps it’s something I will keep in mind moving forward. This article reminded me of what Sundays were like when I was young. By law, shops had to be closed on Sundays so there was nothing to do but stay home or go to church (but we were not churchgoing folk). Because nothing was open we had to find other things to do. We went through this just recently, with the COVID-related lockdowns right? When shops and restaurants were closed, we got out the puzzles and the cookie sheets and pulled those creative projects out from the backs of our closets, dusted off the tennis rackets and went on walks in the park etc. That’s what Sundays were like when I was a kid … every week!

Anyway, I digress. Life is short and we only have so many weekends allotted to us. It seems so simple. We should be (a) asking ourselves what things can we do to make us happy and (b) finding ways to squeeze more of those things into our lives. It SEEMS simple but for some reason many of us just let the time flow right past us.

The ending of the weekend on a fun or indulgent note is still something I am thinking about. Does it make for a better weekend if I end on a FUN note, or an indulgent one? They are not the same thing, obviously, and it’s nice to be able to incorporate both aspects into a weekend if possible. This requires experimenting! I shall have to do more of both, obviously. ;)

I am writing this on a Sunday afternoon. There are no pastries coming my way today but I do have a bath bomb from Lush that I’ve been saving. Maybe it’s time to use it after I finish potting my plants?



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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 offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). 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, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. 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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