a peek inside the fishbowl

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?

21 May, 2021

Pandemic gardening

By andrea tomkins in Home/reno

Last year, during the first pandemic summer, I swore that This Was The Year we wrestled our garden under control. It has been wildly OUT of control pretty much since we moved in here.

I thought, FINALLY, we have time! We can putter and weed and water and divide and plan! And guess what, it didn’t happen. I realized that if it doesn’t happen during a pandemic when we do little but stay at home, it will never happen.

Gardening has revealed some deep truths about myself. (I have had ample time to think about this.)

I enjoy visiting the garden centre.

I enjoy container gardening, but only if the squirrels aren’t digging them up. I submit to you, Exhibit A, the little bastards:

Squirrel destruction of my planters

I enjoy the fruits of my labour, but I don’t particularly enjoy the labour, especially when it requires me to draw upon my limited reserves of patience (which are always dwindling and depends on the day) e.g. weeding between the cracks of a patio.

I thought, after 22 years of living here, that I would slowly become the type of old lady who enjoys the meditative quality of yard work. Friends, that has never happened, nor do I think that it will ever happen.

Hostas are the perfect plant for someone like me. They are low-maintenance, don’t spread out of control, and are gorgeous. You buy a hosta, dig a hole, plunk it in, fill it back, and that’s it. I have a bit of a collection going on. I can’t seem to get enough of them.

I divided one of Mary’s hostas recently and brought it home. It’s my one gardening project this weekend (besides weeding everything in sight. Ugh. I’m tired just thinking about it.). The leaves are gorgeous. It is like a green green sculpture.

I found a place for it in the back yard that had a lot of lungwort, a patch hasn’t been doing well since our big lilac died way back. I was going to dig it up and toss it into the compost bin but I thought better of it and offered it to my local Buy Nothing group on Facebook instead. I gave it away to three people, which I am so happy about.

Everyone was very nice, and the last woman who came to pick it up today was so very grateful. She lives nearby, and is redoing her garden. Our lungwort will be a big part of it, which is kind of cool.

Maybe sharing plants is another thing I like about gardening! Perhaps I should host a hosta swap. Hmm.

22 Apr, 2021

It wasn’t a typical dog walk

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

Mark, the eldest daughter, and I were walking Piper the other night when a woman approached us. I thought she was going to comment about the weather (a common topic as people pass each other on the street around here!) but the conversation went sideways right from the get-go. And it wasn’t about the wind chill.

“So how do you like living in a POLICE STATE,” she asked. The look on her face suggested she was hoping we would commisserate. We pretty much stopped in our tracks. Then she made a comment about how the regular flu kills more people than Covid does.

I was tongue-tied. Mark took the direct approach.

“No,” he said. “No, it doesn’t.”

She balked.  “GO AHEAD AND DRINK THE KOOL-AID,” she muttered as she walked away.

There was more to the exchange, but my memory is not my friend today.

I yelled something, not at her, but directed at what she had just said. I released it up at the sky, just to get it out of me. Something about living a long life, but I can’t remember the exact words now.

It was such an odd exchange between strangers that it almost feels like a dream. Did it really happen?

15 Apr, 2021

I got jabbed! #TeamPfizer

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

On the same day our youngest turned 20, I got my first Covid vaccine. For the record, my next one is scheduled four months from now.

I wasn’t going to write about getting my shot because I wanted to avoid any backlash. Let me just say that I agree there is a long list of people who should have received the vaccine before me: teachers, essential workers, anyone with any sort of health condition, even post-secondary students.

What convinced me to get the shot, other than the fact that it was offered to me as someone who works in health care and have regular contact with some elderly and vulnerable individuals, is this column by the resident ethicist at the New York Times. I believe if a vaccine is offered to you, it is your ethical duty to get it, because it doesn’t just protect you, it protects the people around you and the wider community

I decided to write about it here for a few different reasons. (1) It fits the spirit of this blog, which something like a family journal for me, (2) I feel like this is a historical moment, (3) I believe that talking about get the vaccine might convince some people who are sitting on the fence to get it too. Vaccine hesitancy is real, and it’s a real setback to us all getting back to normal, or even something that looks like normal.

My shot was scheduled for last Sunday morning at 9:25 a.m. at the Queensway Carleton Hospital. I was a ball of nerves as soon as I rolled out of bed.

I pulled in there early (too early, because if you’re not early you’re late) and wandered around the parking lot taking deep breaths before walking through the doors.

This is the only photo I have of the whole thing because there were “no photo/no video” signs posted everywhere. All that aside, isn’t nice to be greeted by geese on the way to get your Covid shot? ;)

The greeting team at QCH

There is a Tim Horton’s sign right above the entrance to the Covid vaccination clinic. Amazingly, I only saw one person go through there trying to get a coffee. Security put the kibosh on that one, obviously.

The process was very efficient. Walk in, hand in your form to someone at the door, clean your hands, get a mask, wait in a line, check in with another person for The Drill (“Do you have a fever, shortness of breath …”), wait to get your shot, get your shot, wait for 15 minutes, and leave. Even with the 15 minute wait at the end it seemed to go by very quickly.

Every staff member at every step along the way was cheerful yet professional, kind yet serious. I never felt unsafe, or that my safety wasn’t important. The instructions were clear and easy to follow, whether it was visual, like the green arrows on the floor or verbal e.g “Wait here and the lady in yellow will tell you which station to go to.” I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I was impressed.

The nurse giving me the shot was gentle, and very nice. It only hurt for a moment, as these shots usually do. It’s no worse than a pinch.

Afterwards there was a bit of a line at the exit and a few of us had to go back and sit down again to wait until the bottleneck cleared. We approached as a woman just finished wiping down our chairs. One my cohort apologized and the woman laughed. NO WORRIES, she said. THESE ARE THE CLEANEST CHAIRS IN OTTAWA TODAY.

When I got home Mark asked me if it the clinic was busy. I had to think about my answer for a minute. The best I can say is that it appeared busy, but this is because it was at capacity. As it should be! There was a steady stream of people but it wasn’t crowded, if you catch my meaning. (This is the benefit of timed appointments!)

The only thing that was mildly disappointing was my very real desire to ring a bell or hammer on some kind of giant gong that is shaped like a coronavirus (although I fully acknowledge that this would be annoying to the clinic staff) and the fact that I forgot to dress up in a gown and heels and full (eye) makeup. I was also keen to get a sticker, but this doesn’t exist here apparently. Maybe because some dummies would wear them even if they hadn’t gotten a shot? Or maybe it would kickstart a black market? Anyhoo, I would wear a sticker PROUDLY… at home, in my backyard, when picking up my groceries in the car, and walking the dog. ;)

That was a few days ago and I’m happy to report that other than a localized ache in my upper arm, I have had zero side effects. Yay! I am looking forward to the rest of my family getting their vaccinations soon.


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  • Sally Dowe Marchand: Thanks for sharing your camping adventures. It looks so beautiful and peaceful.
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  • MaryAnn: Bravo and good for you to get out. It is very weird and fun going to places. I get and like your observation that we should just treat going out like
  • andrea tomkins: That's a great idea! I do that too sometimes, but it takes awhile to come back to room temperature so I have to factor in a few hours for that... :)
  • Elizabeth Peters: I make it a day ahead and refrigerate. This way I can pull it out after work and let it come to room temperature.
  • Elizabeth Peters: This has been my go to recipe since I discovered it back in 2013! Sometimes if I'm feeling fancy, I'll add seasoning to the dough!
  • Wanda: Thank you for sharing your inner dialogue. I must admit that I have become nervous about social interaction. It is an awful realization because I alwa

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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