Sunday, December 28, 2008

Snow Fun

On Friday evening it changed from snow to rain. I wished it had cleared for a while and I had caught a photo of the house in snow. This was the most we've ever had piled on the house. So on Saturday my husband went out to capture a few photos before too much of the snow was lost. I think it looks pretty neat, what do you think?:
House in snow
This one looks almost like a postcard of our house (except I'd need to Photoshop in a blue sky instead of the greyish one):
House in snow
Here is a shot of the back yard and shed in a blanket of snow:
Back yard in snow
In the afternoon, my husband shovelled a path across the back deck, and insisted that we all go play in the snow while he cleared the remainder of the deck:
Clearing the snow on the deck
So we all set to work building snow creations. My son & I built what I will call the Throne of David:
Snow throne
No, not that throne, the throne of my little David:
David's snow throne
My daughter took her turn at sitting on the throne:
Sitting on snow throne
The kids also built a fort (which joined into the back of the snow throne), with help from my husband (who supplied them with snow by the shovelful):
Kids in snow fort
Snow fort
Snow fort

Friday, December 26, 2008

Enough Snow Already!

I hope everyone had a good Christmas, and are finding some time to relax and enjoy visiting with family (or playing with new toys - like our Wii system)!

This is more snow than I can ever remember in Vancouver (BC), and certainly in December! We must have had about 3 feet of it already, and it still keeps coming! Even the garbage trucks didn't venture down our street earlier this week, so it will be 2 1/2 weeks between pick ups this time, instead of the usual 1 week!

This summer I built a fairy house for my daughter, and have made a good start on a fairy garden around it:

Fairy house in summer

When I was preparing the garden for winter (which I never quite finished, but got pretty close), I decided to leave the fairy house out, and get a photo of it with snow on the roof. Well, it didn't take long this winter to get my wish:

Snow on fairy house
But then it kept snowing:
More snow on fairy house
Today when I looked out, the fairy house is completely buried, only a white bump in the white landscape. I had a thought to run out there and rescue it, but then again, the snow is a few feet deep, so I'll instead wait and see if it will bear the load. Let's hope when it turns to rain, it starts gently, not a downpour.

But as the song says, since there's no place to go... Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow!

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Lot More Like Christmas

I don't suppose I ever feel really ready for Christmas, but we are sure getting closer as the countdown continues. My husband helped me put the lights on the tree on the weekend (I've always done it by myself before, but this year even the ladder didn't allow me to reach the top). So then my 9 year old daughter and I put on most of the ornaments (the top ones and the star were placed from the loft). We still have more we can add, and we need to add the tree skirt at the bottom, but it's beginning to look pretty good (click any of the photos for a slightly larger view):
Christmas tree with decorations
Cookie treeWe tried out our new "cookie tree" kit which we bought from Regal Gifts this year It turned out pretty good, except we discovered that if you stacked only one cookie of each size (which is implied by the kit), the tree turned out too short (tree on right). When I discovered this, and started stacking approx 2 of each size (tree on left), then it looks much more proportioned like a real tree.

My 7 year old son made a cute "gingerbread" house at school, except it is made from graham wafers, "glued" together with icing:
Gingerbread house
Now all that's left is to wait to find out whether our family will all be able to join us, due to the heavy snowfall lately. My in-laws recently moved out into the valley (to Agassiz), where they've had fierce winds and even the TransCanada highway was closed one day. Here in Burnaby, it has been very cold but with little or no wind. We've had more snow (more than a foot here) than usual, and certainly unusual for this early in the winter.

I understand that the Inuit have 7 different words for what we call "snow". The kind we've had is the dry-and-no-good-for-snowmen-type-snow. So instead, the kids did their best to enjoy it in their toboggans today.
My daughter with her Ski Doo toboggan
Here's a few pics of the kids, trying a snowboard approach to the sledding:


They were happy to have their cousin join them today as well:

I like this photo of him, caught in mid-air as the "snowboard" is slipping away from under his boots... (Good thing the snow provided a relatively soft landing.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

After a beautiful clear morning, the clouds rolled in, and by this evening we had a light layer of snow covering the roads, sidewalks, and garden.

We took advantage of the good weather, to go to a Christmas Tree farm, and cut down a beautiful Douglas Fir. This year we tried out the Aldor Acres farm in Langley. After cutting the tree, we enjoyed visiting the animals, all of which are friendly and can be petted. There were some very small bunnies to hold. The goats had a few small kids. The horse had a foal, as did one of the donkeys. There were also pigs, and a lama. Nice crackling fire and hot chocolate, too.
Gorgeous monster Christmas tree
We have a beautiful 18' high ceiling in our living room, and no furniture yet (except a baby grand piano), which allows us to get a pretty good sized tree. Last year, it was the biggest and fullest yet, at about 12'. This year, I guess we got a bit more carried away, at a whopping 15' high. I don't know how I'm going to get up there to put the lights on, and a topper. Oh well, it looks pretty amazing, anyhow, even without decorations (see photo right).

People always stare at us (like we're a bit crazy, which I guess is a fair assumption) when we haul in our tree and tie it to the roof of our car. This year, they commented that we must have a pretty big house. Yes, a high ceiling, for sure. And fortunately we measured the diameter of the inside of the base (5") before we went out, since this one just barely fit. A few others we had considered, would not have. So even with this one, there is maybe only an inch of space around the trunk for water, so I'll need to watch the water levels very regularly! And of course, the tree seems to weigh a few hundred pounds! I got a sore neck just holding it straight while my husband tightened the screws in the base. I don't know how he even managed to lift it up to push it into the base.

The good news is that the last few years, we've been able to enjoy the tree all the way through the birthday season also (which goes from January to early February in our house). I'm already talking about a "camping" theme with my daughter, for her next birthday party. If we get really ambitious, we can set up a tent in the living room, and the kids can pretend to be out camping. Could be fun.

Friday, December 12, 2008

New Aquarium Blog and First Snow in Vancouver

I've been feeling a bit schizophrenic lately, bouncing back and forth between my new interest in fish and aquariums, and my usual favourites of gardens, plants, arts & crafts, 3D art, and recipes (Hmmm, come to think of it, I may have been schizophrenic for some time now...).

Anyhow, I've decided to launch a separate blog to continue my postings about my newbie aquarium experiences and observations, which is called Hooked on Fish. That way, people who find my fish stories interesting won't be bored with my flower photos or 3D art, and likewise I won't bother my regular readers (ha ha, who am I kidding?) with too many boring photos of my aquariums.

So my posting rate may go down accordingly (or at least that will be my excuse). It may have something to do with my work hours lately, too, and the activities surrounding the holidays and preparation for it.

I missed a great photo opp this morning, we just received our first snow in Burnaby, BC this morning. Nice blanket, within a couple of hours, completely covered the roads, sidewalks, lawn, garden, making it all a beautiful white. But then it turned back to our usual rain, and in less than an hour, looked wet and slushy again. So next time, I'll be ready with the camera, to take a quick photo. In the meantime, I have my photos of snow scenes from previous winters to amuse me.
The clipart today is courtesy of Microsoft.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Aquarium Joys : Shrimp Rediscovered and Snail Romance

The two aquariums have provided much joy, and little glimpses into a mysterious world. I cleaned the sponge filter in my secondary fish tank yesterday, and as soon as I pulled off the bottom of the filter, the little shrimp fell out with the water. This time, I didn't put him back right away, I found a clear shallow container, and placed him in for observation.

I took some photos but they are all a dismal failure. I need to read the manual on my digital camera, to change the focussing mode, currently it is trying to get all spots in focus. I need to make it a single-spot focus, but couldn't figure out how to do it. So as a result, the camera kept focussing on the container, and refusing to notice the shrimp moving around inside.

Here are my attempts, anyhow:
Mystery freshwater shrimp
Small mystery shrimp
Freshwater shrimp
He's very small, only a couple of millimeters long. So hard to make out much detail, but his colour is greyish, almost clear. When he swims, he usually ends up swimming on his back. When he lands on the bottom of the container, he curls up his tail, and runs along on his legs. No noticeable claws or any interesting colouration. I tried to search for any clue of what this could be, and likely it is some sort of "feeder shrimp". That is, shrimp which is commonly fed to fish. That would explain his appearance in my tank, and he likely caught a ride with one of the plants I purchased.

The snails also continue to provide lots of amusement. The two ramshorn snails have been getting friendly quite a few times lately. The two clutches of about a dozen tiny eggs each on the back of the filter, seem to have disappeared, so I suspect they have hatched. Two more sets of eggs arrived on the inside of the glass. I spotted the first one, and my son spotted the second one tonight. We also have noticed a number of small snails, of the pointy-shelled type.

In the main aquarium, the bumblebee (Clithon corona) snails have also been quite amorous lately, so that would be really sweet if we ended up with more of them. From my reading, it sounds unlikely that the larvae will survive in the freshwater (they may require more brackish or salty conditions), and if they did, they would surely be eaten by the fish. I don't want to move them to the secondary tank at this point, since I enjoy the challenge of searching for them in the main tank.
Plecostomus
In the main aquarium, the pleco has taken to hiding under one of the plants, and rarely comes out, at least during the day. I miss seeing him, and wish I hadn't scared him that time, when he was hanging on the filter. The goldfish seem to be bigger every day. And hungry. I've started feeding them peas (frozen baby peas, thawed, them squeezed out of the skin). This seems to help the two fantail goldfish, who often become "floaty" after eating the goldfish flakes. I have been pushing the flakes under water instead of on the surface, so they will moisten more, and avoid having them gulping air on the surface. But still seem to have problems with their swim bladder many days, after the morning feeding. I feel sorry for them, trying to swim down, and floating back up.

Lots of fun. I'm so thankful for this element in my life, to add cheer and excitement. My 7 year old son enjoys the snails, too, and is an enthusiastic volunteer in helping me sweep the tank with the net (we have a fine-mesh shrimp net) to pull out bits of plant matter and goldfish excrement. Always something to do, or to see!

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 HosannaHouse.ca.

27Nov08 : It is now available from Amazon:






OR

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.

books
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 Blogger.com). 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. ;-)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Aquarium Non-Event : Missed Swordtail Births

Over the last couple of days, I've come to the conclusion that my daughter's swordtail probably gave birth, and we missed it, and the babies were enjoyed by our hungry goldfish.

On Friday evening, I noticed that she was acting a bit strange, following behind and below the goldfish, near the bottom. Like she was cowering or trying to hide behind them. I was also concerned that when she tried to eat the food flakes, they seemed to come back out of her mouth, as if she couldn't swallow them.

On Saturday morning, she was very skinny, as if half her stomach was missing, and seemed to be again hiding from the other fish, and not even making much attempts to eat. I was concerned enough to move her into a small tank, and drop in some food for her, in case she was not able to compete with the others for enough food. But my reading on the 'net indicated that these signs may point to a female who has given birth.

Sure enough, by the evening, she was acting fairly normally, so I introduced her back into the aquarium again. Since then, I've noticed that when the other swordtails swallow the flakes, some portion often comes back out again, so this seems normal. A few days later, our orange female swordtail is still quite skinny, but otherwise seems fine:

Female swordtail - skinny, likely after giving birth
Now I'm looking for signs from the other female swordtail. I read that before giving birth, there is often a dark spot in the anal area, and even some chance of seeing the eyes of the babies inside. Or perhaps I'll note some change in behaviour, and attempts to hide from the other fish.
Other female swordtail, looking nice and round
I am thinking to get a second smaller tank set up, for the offspring, if I am able to retrieve any before they are devoured. (Wow, not much chance of that, since the goldfish are always hungry, and very quick!) That, or a birthing apparatus. We'll see.

A few more photos... My mom gave me two cool lava rocks which she found. I boiled and set them in the tank, and they not only look good, but they hold down the plants (which get otherwise dislodged from the gravel too easily:
My aquarium today, with new lava rocks
I was also excited to get a photo of my pleco in "action" tonight, feeding along the bottom. He looks even more cool, when he has his fins stretched out like this:
Plecostomus feeding on bottom of aquarium
I got a photo of his underside a couple of days ago, this guy looks quite amazing from every angle:
Underside of plecostomus

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Aquarium Casualties : Tetra Treats & Swordtails

Our aquarium has experienced its first casualties. On Wednesday morning, my son noticed one of our goldfish with a small red tail sticking out of its mouth. He counted the neon tetras, and found only 3 of the 5. Then he spotted another one floating on the surface, with its head bitten off. In an interesting reversal of fortune, one of our goldfish, which was being sold as a "feeder" fish, found himself on the top rather than bottom of the foodchain.

The previous night, my husband had asked if I was feeding the fish enough, as he didn't think I was giving them enough flakes. I replied that I'd heard that one could never really underfeed fish, but can overfeed them. But maybe I had been keeping them too hungry. Just in case, I've increased the number (now 2 or 3 per day) and sizes of the feedings.

By Wednesday night, I found myself in a pet store looking at the platy's. They didn't have the coral ones (bright red with black tails), and the red ones and white ones they had were not particularly interesting looking. But then I noticed the swordtails, which are also live-bearers, were on sale 3 for $8. So we bought a male and two females. Here is the male, he's a pretty attractive fellow. My son has claimed him as one of his fish:
Male swordtail - orange with black tail
My daughter claimed the all-orange female as her own:
Orange female swordtail
I claimed this orange female with black tail, since she matches the colours of the male, and I like the dark spot (almost looks like a moustache) on her snout:
Female swordtail - orange with black tail
The plecostomus, who usually spends most of his time hanging onto the bottom of the filter, finally came down this evening (for a brief moment, then returned to the filter), but I managed a photo of him. This is a pretty cool-looking fish, wouldn't you agree?:

Hopefully with the increased feedings, the goldfish will not take interest in the other 3 neon tetras. And the swordtails are large enough to not be considered a snack. In fact, I already noticed the male taking a few nips at one of the goldfish, so I'll need to watch out if that continues.
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