Saturday, November 22, 2008

Aquarium Surprises : Snails and Crustacean Curly-Tails

I have two Bumblebee snails (Clithon corona, more commonly called "Horned nerite" snails; ours were named "Stripe" and "Buzz" by my son) in my aquarium, which are a delight to look for. They are pretty exclusively algae eaters, so very welcome also.

Over the last while, I've managed to acquire 3 more snails, which must have come with the aquatic plants I purchased. One of them is a very small dark pointy spiral shelled one, I think it will be difficult to identify him.
Planorbis aquatic snail
The other two are much more distinctive, and seem to be Planorbis (Ramshorn) snails. Both are a purplish brown, with dark-spotted brown shells. Mine are too small to make a decent photo, so I instead show this one (see right), which is borrowed from a Spanish-language aquarium forum. (Si usted entiende espaƱol, usted puede querer visitar este Web site.)

All 3 have been transferred to the secondary aquarium in the kitchen, which is holding my two remaining neon tetras, until I am sure about their plant-eating capabilities. So far, they have spent all their time, from what I can see, on the glass, or the gravel, and have shown no interest in eating the plants. So they seem to be happy eating algae. Which is good, since tonight I found the two Planorbis together at the edge of the tank, doing some interesting maneuvers. Hmmm, I may have more snails on the way at some point...

Early this evening, when I was cleaning the main aquarium, and rinsing/squeezing out the sponge in my filter, I noticed some movement in the bottom of the wastewater bucket. It looked like a small fly, not much larger than a mosquito, running along the bottom. Seemed strange, but I continued with the cleaning. A few minutes later, I could still see this creature running around the bucket, so I knew it couldn't be a fly! I netted it, and put it into a smaller container to take a look. I was surprised to see what looked like a small shrimp or some sort of crustacean. Greyish, almost colourless. The tail was tucked under, and it was zipping around quite quickly. I added this also to our secondary aquarium. If it's something I'll want to keep, it will have much more chance surviving with the neon tetras than with those hungry goldfish!

Tonight, I took out a flashlight, and tried to look for this little creature. Sadly, I could find no sign of him. So either he's crawled up into the filter, or I was just unlucky in my searching. Now I wish I had kept him aside longer, to get a better look, and if possible, identify him a bit better. But it is a pretty neat thought, that I managed to acquire something this interesting, and quite unintentionally. I hope it survives for a while, at least until I can get a better look.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Blackberry Battle

Today was the first morning of real frost on the ground, after a few gorgeous days of clear skies. So I'm glad I took a "mental health" break yesterday afternoon, and went out to fight some blackberries.

The blackberries encroach from two sides of our property. From the very back, where the neighbour used to have their fence (which has since fallen down completely) set back 10 feet, clear of a right-of-way which straddles 10' on their property and 10' on ours. So there is a solid 10' section of blackberry bushes along their side of the fence which are constantly sending long prickly vines over and through the latticework of our cedar fence.

On the lower side, a good portion of our back yard is along the edge of a steep ravine which is full of blackberry bushes. So again, they are constantly sending long vines across. I could swear that in summer, they can grow up to one foot per day. If the end touches the ground, it quickly roots, and forms another blackberry plant from which to send up more vines. I try to make sure they don't get that far, but it is a never-ending battle.

Yesterday, it was a gorgeous sunny afternoon, so I took a "quick" break, to tackle the blackberries *behind* the fence, on my neighbour's side. I had asked their permission a while ago, and was just waiting for good weather and opportunity. At first I thought I was just going to clear the vines which were covering the bridal wreath spirea bush which we had planted just outside our property line (long before that neighbour bought their property), in order to stabilize and retain that edge of the ravine, which drops off like a cliff beyond it.

I ended up clearing not only the bush & around the bush, but also a 5' strip along our fence, about 25' long. Some spots there is barely enough room to stand, and hold the fence as I made my way across, cutting 2' sections of the vines, which were crossed layer upon layer, some so thick that I needed to use both hands on my clippers (which are pretty sharp, having bought a new pair this summer) to cut through. I lost track of time, but I think I was out there for an hour or maybe even an hour and a half.
After clearing the blackberry bushes
I wish I had stopped to take a few "before" photos, but I did take an "after" photo (see right). I don't think it really captures the amount of destruction I was able to accomplish, me in my bare arms (it really is safer that way, since the most damage can be inflicted when they get anchored in your clothes), and knitted rubberized-palm gloves. But as an indication, those 3 small plants in the foreground (bottom edge of the photo) were completely covered in vines, as was that spirea bush, and they extended over the fence, into my yard.

I like to muse that I may have cuts all over my arms and back of my hands from my battle with the blackberries, but in the end, I "won". I will be able to enjoy my victory all winter, being able to look out over the spirea bush and clear fence. But come Spring, I am sure they will launch another assault. When they do, I'll be ready again.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Aquarium Additions : Shark and Platys

Shark catfishAbout a week ago, I was looking at the fish in Walmart (okay, I'm definitely hooked now!!), and saw a Shark Catfish (also referred to as Columbian Shark or White-Tipped Shark) which I had to have, especially for only $4. It really looks like a shark (and even swims like a shark), except for its big whiskers.

I have been trying to read up first, before making any purchases, but I knew I wouldn't be back to the store for some time, so I picked one up. When I got home, I read about how it can grow to 24" long (wow! I guess I'll be hoping he doesn't live that long), and therefore is not suitable for anything less than 100 gallon aquarium. Also, the young are okay with fresh water, but as they grow, they prefer brackish (somewhat salty) water, which the other fish may not tolerate.

I had been planning to buy some platy next, since they are live bearers, easy to care for, and the coral platy caught my eye in one store, with its red colour and black tail. But then I had picked up the 3 swordtails instead. The one female had suddenly gone skinny (I had wondered if she had given birth), and died not too long after. But then the male also showed signs of getting skinny (so couldn't be giving birth, in his case!), so I've isolated him in a small holding tank. But there he's stayed for almost 2 weeks now, not getting better, but not dying either, and occasionally showing interest in eating. But that only left one female swordtail in my 60 gallon aquarium, and room for some platys.

Today was a difficult day at work, and being a bit stuck at home all week since my son was sick and home from school, the kids and I went to the Mall for dinner and to pass the evening. I found the platys were on sale 3 for $7 (reg $4.88), so couldn't resist picking up a male and two females. It took me quite a while to spot a few females, since there were mostly males in the tank.

Pair of Mickey Mouse platyI ended up with a pair of what the sales clerk referred to as "Mickey Mouse platy". I didn't realize what he meant until I let them out into the aquarium tonight (see image left). What a lovely Mickey Mouse image on their tails! My sister, Rose, will appreciate this. She's a Disney and in particular, Mickey Mouse, fanatic.

Pretty female platy
The other female (image right) is a pretty mix of colours, sort of goldish silver, with a black swath along her side. Pretty neat.

My lone female swordtail, Comet, has pretty similar colouration and size and shape to the Mickey Mouse platys (see photo left). Except she has that lovely upturned snout, with the black marking (doesn't show in this image) which looks like a little moustache.

I love how the swordtail and the platys eat, just nibbling politely at the food (I've been feeding them all flakes, which I crush in my hand first). The goldfish, on the other hand, are aggressive, with their big extendible mouths, gulping very loudly at the surface of the water. In the morning, I can ever hear them gulping loudly at the water's surface before I get out of bed to feed them.

The shark catfish is an interesting fellow, since he doesn't spend his time on the bottom like a typical catfish. Instead, he swims up and down and around the tank. Even when he feeds, he will feed from the middle of the tank or even at the surface of the water. And also in a relaxed manner, not like those goldfish, which bump and push at each other as they fight over the food. I guess if I were to start an aquarium now, I would probably not start with the goldfish. But I have to admit, they have nice colours, and are entertaining to watch. They have taught my swordtail girl to also push her nose against the glass when I pass by (although not as violently as they do, opening & closing their mouths, as if to tell me they are STILL hungry).

Before I introduced the platys to the aquarium, I decided to finally pick up a nitrite test kit from the pet store, and tested my 60 gallon tank. The level was 0.1 (where 0.3 is still safe), so that is reassuring. It must be a good sign that I'm doing something right (I think all the live plants really help for water quality). I was beginning to feel bad with losing the two swordtails.

I still have the two neon tetras in another smaller aquarium, which I've set up in the kitchen in case one of the live bearers has babies, and I can actually get to them before the goldfish - which, I have a feeling, will be a quick race. I think that tank will work fine for that, if and when that time comes (which I hope will be soon).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Imperfect, But Saved by Grace

I've been tagged again. My first thought was "I don't know if I want to share another 6 Random Things About Me". But I was pleased to see that this was a different kind of "tag".

The "tag" comes from Anna in North Carolina, in her blog FlowerGardenGirl, and her random wisdom is Taste and Add Salt. Her challenge, which she has passed along to me, was to grab the nearest book, open it to page 56, sentence 5, and write out the sentence, along with two to five sentences following it.

It reminds me of the joke about the man who, seeking Divine guidance for his life, opened his Bible and randomly picked the passage "Then Judas went away and hanged himself" (Matt 27:5). Discouraged with this first pick, he opened randomly a second time to "Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise'" (Luke 10:37). So applying random passages out of context may be a dangerous game, but there should be no harm in just blogging them, right?

Sitting at my computer in my home office, there is a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf on the wall full of mostly unused cookbooks, gardening books, health guides, business advice, puzzle books, and a very large selection of office supplies which I bought because they were on clearance, and do occasionally find uses for (just often enough to encourage me to buy more). So I knew I would instead reach for the book which I just purchased last week, and am reading through at this time.

My neighbour Helen teases me, since I really don't often read books. I spend a lot of time on the internet, researching ideas both for work, and for pleasure, but rarely sit and read a book. I enjoy reference books, and as a child used to often read selections out of our family Encyclopedia Brittanica set. But I can't really remember the last time I actually read a novel. But after waiting for Helen's book for probably two years, during which time she didn't feel ready to even give me an advance peek, I was pleased with myself to be the first one to buy a copy when it came "hot off the press". It helps to be a neighbour, so I saw the delivery truck arrive in her driveway with her copies, possibly even before she did. So I am making my way through it, reading on my lunch breaks (which are not as regular as they should be; I'm more inclined to just swallow my food quickly and return to work at my computer).

Anyhow, I digress... I reached for her book, "Hidden Masks Unveiled : Discover the face of Truth". Starting at page 56, sentence 5, Helen writes in the section entitled "Imperfect, But Saved by Grace":

During my healing retreat, I went shopping in the neighborhood where I was staying. Later, I wrote the following in my journal:

  • I read a little write-up that was placed near Mexican glass pottery at a Mexican d'arte store. It was a quote from a Mexican poet that read something like: Better to be imperfect and graceful than to be perfect and graceless. Wow, another lesson learned. That's for me. Right, Lord? I cannot be perfect. I'm not perfect. Only you are perfect. But why am I aiming for such perfection? ... I am imperfect, but I am saved by grace. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Chirst Jesus" (Rom 3:23-24)."

Helen's book is intensely personal (so only now do I understand her hesitation to share it with me while it was still in progress), and reveals in a conversational way her own journey of recognizing the masks she wore, to hide from others and from her God and sometimes even from herself, what was really going on inside : pain, depression, and feelings of isolation. You can read more about her book at

27Nov08 : It is now available from Amazon:


I like Anna's idea, since it ties in with the theme of choosing a random passage, of randomly selecting the 5 people to which I will pass along this challenge. This also gives me some motivation to get out there and visit some blogs, which I always thoroughly enjoy, but like my reading and taking breaks, don't do nearly enough of.

So, now it's my turn. That beautiful set of books above (which I received from Anna, and I'm sure she won't mind if I pass them on) is "for you to keep should you decide to participate. They are hard bound with gold embossed lettering."

Here’s how it goes:

1) Open the closest book to you, not your favorite or most intellectual book, but the book closest to you at the moment, to page 56.

2) Write out the 5th sentence, as well as two to five sentences following that…

3) Pass this on to 5 blogging friends.

My picks were randomly selected by clicking "Next Blog" from mine (which seems to randomly pick from Filtering out ones in foreign language, or too political, here are the first 5 which caught my attention.

To those I have "tagged", I hope some of you will take up this challenge, and play along. Please be sure to leave a comment here when you do, so we can follow along.

1. Yili and Sickboy's High Point Adventures - This blog follow the adventures of Mark & Yili, across each U.S. state, with narrative and photos of their climbing the "high points" of each state - some 40 so far! What an adventure! What an inspiration (for reading more of their blog, anyhow :-) )!

2. The Halfknits - This blog is written by a "group of volunteers in Texas dedicated to helping others by making [knitted] cold weather items". I'll be curious to find out more about them, and where they send these cold weather items. I learned, from their blog, a new knitting acronym : UFOs = unfinished objects (i.e. source of more yarn for knitting).

3. ashton w. rodgers photography - I have a strong feeling Ashton will not want to clutter his cool visually appealling blog with chatty stuffy like this random book challenge, but I invite you to visit his blog anyhow, it is delightful, with a mix of some serious and lots of whimsy, like this wagon stunt, which cleverly places the shadow off screen, so it is not obvious if it's a photoshop job or the real thing. Check out these delicious fruit photos, they look better than real life.

4. shellie - I have to warn you, if you're like me (um, a bit more conservative or traditional in your images), you'll get a bit dizzy looking at these photos, but if you have a chance to wander through, it is an interesting unfiltered smattering of images and thoughts from Shellie and her group of friends. After 14 posts, she suddenly stopped blogging, so perhaps switched to another blogging service? Shellie, I had fun wandering through your blog. If you're still "out there" somewhere, let us know. Thanks.

5. Pre-Animation/Illustration - This blog is a series of pre-animation / illustration sketches by Dave "Steve" Rodriguez in Algonquin College in Canada. This young man has talent. I hope you enjoy his blog, as I did.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Wet Coast Blues and Blessings

Living on the Westcoast (aka Wet Coast) of BC has its challenges and blessings. It is now November, so well into our rainy season, which sometimes seems to go from October to June, without much breaks. It is at times like this, I still occasionally muse about whether I should have migrated south, to California.

My 7-year-old son played soccer this morning, in what started as a light rain, and ended in a pretty heavy downpour. But despite the rain, the boys seemed to thoroughly enjoy the exercise, and the competition. I was advised at the start of soccer season, by a fellow worker and "soccer dad", to seek out some "Under Armour" gear for my son, which I bought just in time for their first rainy game back in October. It is one of these new-fangled synthetic materials which is moisture-wicking, and stays warm even when wet. I was warned that it was not cheap, like $40 for a shirt. Well, when I find it in one of the local sports stores, it was $60 for a long-sleeved shirt. But fortunately, they didn't have any kids sizes, so I bought him a Mens size Small, which is surprisingly snug-fitting, so even the extra length in the body and sleeves is fine. Hopefully it will fit him for a number of years. He has not complained or shown any sign of being cold ever since. If you look for it, note that Under Armour comes in two types, the "Cold Gear" (which keeps one warm in winter) and "Heat Gear" (which keeps one cool in summer). They are quite a different weight, although probably the same material composition. Amazing stuff, and worth investing in, if you are a "soccer mom" or "soccer dad". (Shop Under Armour online: in Canada here; in the US, here).

Anyhow, the weather here may be dreary, with long stretches of rain, but on the other hand, it is certainly mild. Which means that if I climbed to the back of the yard today, since it has stopped rainy, I would surely find a few more ripe gold raspberries (although some of them will also be mouldy). See my post about the gold raspberries in September.

Another blessing is flowers blooming late into the Fall. The fall asters have finally lost their colour, and I hope to trim them down for the winter soon, but today I was cheered by this bright yellow clump of chrysanthemums.
Cheery yellow chrysanthemums
I brought a little cheer into the home, trying out my hand at a small arrangement into the beautiful handmade glass Ikebana vase by David New-Small which my husband bought for me recently on our trip to enchanting Granville Island.
Mum arrangement in Ikebana vase
Later today I hope to go back into the garden and do some more cleanup in preparation for winter. It is times like this that I am able to count our blessings for this wonderful, wet but mild climate we enjoy on the Westcoast of BC.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Fairy Hide-and-Seek Image

I believe this is my best 3D image yet. I call it "Fairy Hide-and-Seek". It took a couple of hours to figure out the depth of field to match the focus of my mushroom photo, but I think the effort paid off. What do you think? (click the image for a larger view)
Fairy Hide-and-Seek

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Aquarium Challenges : Trouble in the Tank

I guess it's been about 2 months now since I started the aquarium, and we've had a few challenges recently... After the third neon tetra was eaten by the goldfish, I have removed the other 2 to a separate tank, set up in the kitchen. This was also my emergency aquarium in case the second swordtail (my daughter has named her Comet because of her black tail) had babies, which we believe the orange one (Crystal) did. But still waiting for that event, if it will come at all.

Although Crystal acted fairly normal, she stayed skinny. I began to suspect something was wrong. Then a couple of days ago, she seemed to lose interest in eating, was at times along the bottom of the aquarium, or right in the thick of the plants, which is where she died.

The male swordtail has worried me today, he is hiding behind one of the plants, which is not his usual behaviour. So I'll keep an eye on that.

The goldfish seem always to be hungry. The little faces pressed against the glass as I pass by, began to be a bit disturbing rather than charming. My husband reported that the fish in the dentist's office seemed almost disinterested when they were fed. In contrast, some of mine (the 3 white & orange "feeder" goldfish) would break into fights, bumping & chasing each other. So I increased the size of the feedings and increased from 1 or 2 times to 3 times per day. But after a few days, the water turned cloudy (since a greenish colour, apparently an algae outbreak). So I cut back on the feedings again, and kept the light off (I had been leaving it on during the day, mainly for the benefit of my aquarium plants), and cleaned the filter more often, and within a few more days, it cleared up. But I've kept them on the reduced feedings (usually only in the morning) ever since.

On a brighter note, the aquarium plants seem to be doing fairly well, and one of them is showing visible new growth. The pleco has stopped hiding under the filter (ever since the time I had to push him off, in order to clean it), choosing to instead hide under the plants where he is invisible. Occasionally he comes out during a feeding, which is a real treat to watch.

PS. The photo is not mine, it is a Microsoft clip art, but seemed relevant to the topic. ;-)
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