Monday, January 26, 2015

Katie: The Saltwater Saga, Part I: The Finding of the Fish Tank

        The story of how we ended up with a 28 gallon saltwater fish tank sitting in the bedroom of our already-too-small apartment is in some ways a complicated one, and in other ways, is quite simple.

        It all started a week or so before Husband's birthday weekend. We were sitting at our computers, side by side as always. I was doing something on the internet or playing RIFT when Husband casually says "can we buy a (insert large monetary amount here) fish tank?"
       "No!" I scoffed, thinking he was joking "where are we going to put a fish tank in this tiny space? Plus that's a lot of money we don't really have... and if we move at the end of the summer as we are planning, then what will we do with it?"   
       "Ya, I guess you're right" he said with a shrug and the customary side-to-side movement of his head, classically indicating that he has weighed the odds and come to a decision, reluctant or otherwise. 
       I went back to killing rift creatures and trying to hit my attack combos just right, assuming we had made the responsible choice and that was the end of it.  

      Now don't get me wrong, I rarely say 'no' just out of hand, especially since Husband is very financially conscious, almost to the point of miserliness at times, and rarely asks for big purchases. Having said that, it isn't uncommon for him to throw out a random question about spending money on a big, pipe-dream purchase. Just as I do with asking if we can have random animals like red pandas, foxes, and falcons as pets (turns out the falcons are a distinct possibility we looked into and likely will try once we settle down a bit more). We do this to express a desire, share a dream with the other no matter how ridiculous or unfeasible it is. And sometimes, like with the falcons, its not really as unfeasible as we may have first thought, its just not for now in this time in our lives. I knew that Husband had kept saltwater tanks extensively in the past, I would even say its his favorite hobby or really thing to do in general most of the time. However, we had discussed fish tanks before, and while I always assumed we would get one eventually, we had both kind of decided it was a 'not-for-now' thing, for all the reasons I gave to him when he brought it up. Which is why I assumed he wasn't really serious about getting this particular one right now. 

       Fast forward a few days, and the set up that he had seen on the reef aquarium forum that he browses for fun  had dropped even further in price, and he started thinking that maybe his mom would like the tank. She enjoys the hobby almost as much as he does, and this way he could still play around with it. At some point during the preparation and planning for his mom to come down for his birthday weekend and look at the tank, I realized how much he really wanted this for himself, how his eyes lit up with happy wonderment and innocent, child-like delight every time he even mentioned anything to do with fish or coral.  After a very helpful conversation with his mom where she agreed to potentially buy the tank from us if we moved at the end of the summer - effectively solving two major concerns - and some measuring of precious wall space, I sat down on the couch with Husband who was watching House, turned down the volume when it got to a commercial, and told him the good news. 

The fish tank and stand
       Lets just say he did not respond in anyway I expected him too. Immediately he narrowed his eyes at me and asked what changed my mind - after explaining the results of the conversation with his mom and that I wanted him to be happy and saw how happy this made him, he abruptly pulled out his phone and called his mom, demanding to know what kind of 'conspiracy' the two of us had going on. After about 15 minutes of both of us laughingly trying to convince him there was no conspiracy, he decided I was 'easier to crack' and hung up with his mother. Another 10-15 minutes of couch interrogation ensued, where he would put his face close to mine, and with eyes as wide as they could go, ask 'whats going on?' in a funny voice. With a lot of giggling and innocent, sincere facial expressions, I managed to convince him to buy the fish tank. 

The fish in my laundry bucket blocking the bathroom door 

Two days later, we hopped in the car and started our saltwater excursion. After seeing the tank in person, Husband verified that it really was as amazing of a deal as we thought it was, and we loaded up everything in our little car and brought it home. Now, saltwater tanks are incredibly complex - a hundred things can go wrong, and literally everything is alive; the fish, the rocks, the sand, the coral, even the water. And everything has to be carefully transported and stored separately. So once we got the the house, we quickly unloaded, leaving tank parts and containers of rocks, water, supplies, and two little fishies all over the floor, before hopping back in the car and driving the 3 hour round trip to his moms house to get his old supplies he had stored there. While there, she agreed to come down that night and help us get everything set up. Not only did all the live stuff have to be carefully taken care of, there was also a Reverse Osmosis system for making clean water to turn into saltwater that needed to find a home somewhere, and some rocks covered in hair algae that needed to be scrubbed.                   

Assembling the framing
So that night, we went to Home Depot, picked out a long plank of framing wood, and had it cut to our specifications. We had decided to build a frame that would go over the back of our toilet to attach the RO system to, so it could pull water from the sink, and the bad water could drain out into the tub - my idea! Though it was Husband's brilliant mind that figured out the best practical design. We're just awesome like that. It took us a while and more than a little frustration and a few unpleasant words - because we're human like that - but we finally managed to assemble our contraption, with turned out quite well, in my opinion. It wont be winning any beauty contests or Most-Well-Constructed-Furniture-of-the-Year awards, but it's pretty stable and it works in our space constraints.     
This is my bathroom now

   We weren't able to get the RO actually working that night, but by then it was midnight and we were all more then a little tired, so we called it a night. The next day was the day to celebrate Husband's birthday, and we had already planned to spend the day perusing fish stores with his mom, since, as I mentioned before, he loves everything about the saltwater hobby. Now that we had the tank, we had an extra mission: find new liverock and sand.

       Though the tank had come with some liverock and sand, the rock was covered in hair algae, and the sand was pretty dirty. We realized that just buying new stuff would be worth saving us the hassle of trying to clean off what we had. We were also worried about getting the fish back in the tank before too long.

Flame Scallop. Picture from: 
       We saw a lot of cool fish and coral that day. My favorite thing we saw was the Flame Scallops. The little blue lines are flickering bio-luminescent lights that dance around the edges of their 'lips' like tiny bolts of underwater lightning. Its breathtaking and mesmerizing to watch! Unfortunately, we can't have any right now as they are too hard to keep alive, but maybe one day!

       We did manage to find a good price on live sand, but we were striking out on the rock. Liverock can carry good algae, like Coralline, which you need for your tank, and very very bad pests like Aiptasia which can over take your tank in a week, is virtually unkillable, and will destroy everything you ever loved in your salty world. Unfortunately, Aiptasia is everywhere, and many rocks we checked were suspect. Also, the prices in the stores were high, and though we found some nice rock pieces in the last store we went too, there was no good algae on it.

       As we stood there contemplating our options, Husband remembered that private sellers often sell liverock on the same forum where he found the tank. A little searching, some grace from God, and a phone call later, and we were on our way to look at some privately owned rock. On the way, we realized that we should try to sell the old rock that came with the tank as weren't going to use it, and it would help recupe some of the cost of the new rock we were getting. Husband messaged an individual which had expressed an interest in the livestock from the tank, who promptly messaged him back saying he would take the rock, sand, and coral, as long as the fish were included. We were already beginning to worry about keeping the fish alive in a bucket long enough to assemble the tank again and let the chemical levels balance out, so we agreed. It was sad to see the fish go, but it was best for them, and made way for Husband and I to pick out a pair of clowns together.  

      There were a few chaotic moments as Husband tried to decide how much to ask to guarantee the livestock would be gone that night (besides the fishes' health, my own mental health was becoming a concern with all the buckets clogging up every walkway space) while still getting a descent monetary return. Meanwhile, Husband's mom was racing through the streets of Tampa, trying to find the rock seller's house, not get hit by crazy drivers, and attempting to follow the directions on the phone Husband was using to message our buyer.

        Being the awesome people we are, we managed to reach the rock house in one piece, and found awaiting us some extremely nice specimens for a killer price, most of which had Coralline on them. When we returned home, the buyer agreed to come pick up the livestock for a descent price (excellent for him, good for us as our alternative was to give it all away) and after saying goodbye to the fish, I finally had my floor back! Well, most of it anyway, but enough for breathing room and mental sanity.

        Before saying goodbye, Husband's mom helped us arrange the new sand and rock in the tank, further freeing up floor space. We got the RO system working that night, and the next few days were spent picking up the last few pieces we needed for construction purposes and tank maintenance, and going to a lot of fish stores to start getting ideas for the kind of fish and coral we wanted to buy. All in all, we were well on our way down the path of our salt water adventure.                    

The tank with the new rock and sand and old water in it. The sand is still settling and it needs more water, but its a good start. 

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