Friday, September 6, 2013

It's been a busy summer.

It's been a busy summer for our family.  It's been odd weather wise (we were only able to use our pool, which is passively solar heated for a couple weeks) as it switched between hot and cool with no long stretch of hot days and nights which normally are typical of Central Illinois.  Our spring was so late that the farmers in the area were very late getting their crops in, well past the usual planting dates.
As you know from my previous posts, we took an extended trip to Texas (3 destinations along the Gulf Coast:  Galveston Island, South Padre Island, and Mustang Island near Corpus Christi).  This trip was followed by some extreme health problems in our family (all of which had successful outcomes).
Our two grand daughters from Wisconsin, E and L, came down to visit us for a week from July 20 to the 28th.  We celebrated both their birthdays while they were visiting us, as they arrived July 20 and their birthdays are July 19 and August 22 and we knew we wouldn't see them again this summer.

We celebrated by seeing Despicable Me 2 and having dinner at Oriental Buffet with Baba (their great grandmother with the shoulder replacement at 84 years young) and their great aunt, G, and Mr. C and me.

We were able to swim a couple days, the weather and pool were both warm enough and it was not stormy.

Our daughter, B and her husband and our 3 grand children from them, A, K, and J visited from July 25 through August 3.  This was perfect timing as that gave the 5 cousins some time to be together.

We celebrated daughter, B's, birthday and rewarded all the "kids" with an afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese.  B and husband M (B "blowing out her candles"--we didn't think we could have candles at Chuck E. Cheese so she just pretended) had as much fun as Great Aunt G, the 5 grands, Baba, Tootsie (Great Grandfather--my Dad--85 years young), and Mr. C and me.
We were only able to go swimming a couple days while the "whole gang" were here.  It was fun, and it was a wild madhouse.  We have a very small 3 bedroom house.  4 adults and 5 kids (some of whom are adult sized--B's kids are all very tall, like their Daddy) kept things hopping.  The only sad part was that our son, N and wife, M were not able to join us too.  They are parents of E and L, from Wisconsin.
We played with Model Magic air dry clay, swam, cuddled with Sophie, the V's tiny Maltese from Louisiana.

The week that B's family were here we had a chilly snap (even had to get hoodies for all the kids as they hadn't brought any coats).

The whole gang were able to swim a couple days, although it was too cold for me, I "had to take pictures", LOL. They all insisted it wasn't cold at all.  But then, finally, Mom (B) decided to brave it and get in the water.  I think her expression says it all, although M is just floating along enjoying it all.

We concluded the cousins visit with a wonderful lunch at Avanti's Italian Restaurant with parents, grandparents, great grandparents and great aunt and honorary aunt, J.  We returned the 2 Wisconsin girls, E and L home to their parents and then had a couple days with B's family, before leaving on a long weekend of R&R, while they spent the last several days with M's family, who also live in the area.  

These wonderful visits were followed by a 6 day weekend down to Lake Shelbyville here in Central Illinois.  Our trip to Lake Shelbyville was nice and relaxing, although not terribly exciting.  We had just planned it for relaxing and didn't have anything extra scheduled, which is a good thing as about the only things to do there are tool around the campground or have a boat for water sports, which we do not have.

They do have several very nice campground areas and we enjoyed the very large fire grills they have available on each campsite.

Snuffles enjoyed the trip, also.  We saw 2 lovely does cross the campground one evening and saw and heard lots of various kinds of birds.

We also apparently had a visitor one night (although we never heard or saw a thing).  One day after our daily bike ride, we were parking the bicycles and I noticed something on the side of our living room slide out.  It's hard to see, but this is what I saw in the dirt/dust:  I hope it comes out on your computer if you are reading this.  There were 3 little handprints, larger than Snuffie's little feet, and they looked more like little hands.  We came to the conclusion that we were apparently visited by a raccoon who was brave enough to walk right up to the trailer and put his/her little paws right up against it.

After our trip to Lake Shelbyville, we started preparing for our last trip of the year which would be a 3 1/2 week trip down to Louisiana and Alabama to see if we can handle the heat and humidity the area is famous for during the summer.  We loved Alabama last year in the spring, but weren't sure how we would feel about it in August to September.  It was down right chilly, here at home, the last week or two before we left (at least at night) and since our pool lost all its heat, we decided to go ahead and winterize it and "put it away" for the year before we left on our trip.

In addition, I had been thinking for several months that I'd like to start up a reef aquarium again, but just a little one, this time.  Several years ago we had an 75 gallon tank at one time, but life got in the way and we weren't able to care for it adequately, so we sold it all.  I've missed it though.  We can't  have fish due to our extended vacations, but we've found a way to have a reef tank with soft corals.  Setting up a reef tank takes time to cycle it properly and it goes through several ugly spells before it is pretty.

I have a horrible time being patient through the cycling, so I got the bright???? idea to set it up before we left so that it would cycle while we were away and I wouldn't have to worry with being impatient and messing with it, so we quickly got what I needed for a small, 29 gallon, reef tank and started setting it up.    I'm sure Mr. C was about ready to have my head, we did NOT need more "things to get done" before our trip, LOL.  I'm so lucky, he loves me
so much and spoils me rotten.  So, we got the tank and live sand for it. I wanted to set it up the GARF way for the "Bullet Proof Reef Tank".   We decided this time around we would start with dry rock (which is dry rock from an old inland ocean reef) and just add a couple pieces of live rock (rock from an established reef tank or actually from an aquacultured live rock farm in the ocean).  We purchased the dry rock from MarcoRocks (Key Largo Rock is the one I chose) and it arrived quickly, well packed and wonderfully sized pieces and the rock itself is great, very porous and with lots of little nooks and crannies.  I started playing with it out of the tank first to see how it would fit together.  The pieces kind of "interlock" together like a building set of some kind, just because of how the various protrusions and nooks and crannies fit together.  This is how it was set up at first:

Then I needed a couple of small pieces of rock with Coralline Algae on it to start seeding the entire tank with Coralline Algae (if your tank grows coralline algae, you have a healthy start, but it needs to have some somewhere to start).

I joined the FaceBook reef tank groups in Central Illinois and found Reefs R Us which is just 45 minutes away was having a pre opening sale.  I asked if I could possibly purchase some used gravel from one of Aaron's tanks and some coralline scrapings from his tank or rock.  He said sure, but he would give me that.  So we did that.  Aaron Derment and his family are true gems.  He not only gave me the gravel, but also gave me two small pieces of "rock" that were coralline covered.  They also happened to have some soft corals on them.  One had a small Xenia Colony and the other had 2 Green Hairy Mushrooms growing on them.

We got one more small piece of rock from Sailfin Pet Shop in Champaign for additional coralline algae and it happened to have 2 small striped mushroom corals on it as well as a larger flower leather coral which was just hanging on by a thread.  I removed the leather coral and placed it into a cup like area in  my favorite piece of dry rock.  I am hoping to "confine" it there as from what I read, it is a fairly aggressive coral.  It seems quite happy where I placed it.  The striped mushroom corals are also happy, so happy in fact that one of them has produced a little baby (just above and to the right in the dip of the mushroom on the left).
Then a lovely gentleman, Joel Simpson, posted that I needed some more coralline rocks in my tank.  He had just downsized his tank and had some extra he was willing to part with and it was wonderful rock.  So I rearranged and added it to the tank.

As a final aid to getting the tank cycled quickly and as painlessly as possible, I ordered some GARF (Geothermal Aquaculture Research Foundation) Grunge (which is very well used gravel from their long established tanks with lots of coralline algae and other various little critters etc. in it.  This time I was a bit disappointed in the Grunge.  It was much muddier than what I remember purchasing for our original large tank).  In addition I ordered some "Reef Janitors" (various types of snails and hermit crabs to help with the algae that crop up during the cycling process).  Because the GARF Grunge was so incredibly grungy, I took every piece of rock out, stirred the Grunge lightly into my new gravel/sand bed, let it all settle and then replaced the rocks and small corals.  With all these additions, I found I was out of room and had too

much rock, so we placed a smaller (20 gallon long) tank on the stand below the 29 gallon tank and started a second tank.  It it primarily going to be a grow out tank when my corals get large enough for me to start dividing them.  In this picture, it looks a bit cloudy, but it was clear when we left.  It has 2 small live rocks in it as well as one piece of rock covered with coralline algae and both tanks have GARF Grunge, as well as Janitors.

This is what the main tank looked like the day we left.  It has an automatic top off unit that makes it not need to be checked more than once a week, which my great sister, G, and my Mom do when they come to pick mail up from the post office for us.  They say so far, it is looking great.

During this time we had some very sad news when we were called with the information that Mr. C's best friend had a massive heart attack and passed away.  We were both very shocked and saddened by this news and it has affected us quite strongly.  John was the same age as Mr. C and it really hit home that you never know when or where or how long you have.  We are still working through our grief over John's death and hoping we are able to extend our love and assistance to his family in any way asked of us.  Our thoughts and love and prayers go out to Donna, Sean, Mark and their families.

I have lots more to report on, but this blog is too long as it is, so join me later for the latest. . . Smiles, Sue C

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