Radon Turned Me Back To Planted Tanks

So I’m consciously redirecting my current obsession from discus to planted tanks. A planted tank is a aquarium set up with all live plants and live fish. They’re amazing. Beautiful, peaceful, entertaining, and relaxing. And while I’d like to say I’m going back to planted tanks simply because my wife thinks they’re so pretty, the truth is, I found the prospect of not inhaling radioactive gas quite appealing.

Before I bought more discus, I agreed to test the basement for radon, since it’s known to be high in this part of the country and I’d be spending a considerable amount of time in the basement with my future discus fish. [My discus tank is in the basement because they need frequent water changes. For now, that can only happen there next to a drain and the stored clean water from the R.O. filter.] The results came back indicating we have we have 7.7 pCi/L in the basement, a level well above the recommended max. of 4 pCi/L. So, before more discus, I need to install a radon mitigation system.

Radon was the kicker. Discus are out and planted tanks are in. I drove out to Chicago a couple weekends back to look at some discus someone had for sale and also checked out a craigslist ad for a slightly used 14 gallon biocube. I bought the aquarium at a great price, brought it back, and cleaned it out.

The tank being in great shape, I started looking for plants. I had a hard time finding some nice plants, but between the Quad Cities and Madison, I found a few to get me started. I already had a glass CO2 diffuser to add carbon dioxide to the water to help the plants grow. I special ordered a dozen deep red Florida-raised cardinal tetras but only one survived. I was left to cobble together a small group of eight cardinals from local fish stores. Unfortunately, they are the more pale tank-raised cardinals. The good news is they made it a healthy ten days in quarantine. I don’t know whether they’ll get the deep red color this fish is known for. I imagine they will, but we shall see.

So we have a start. Eight cardinal tetras, four rummy nose tetras, two siamese algae eaters, and one otocinclus catfish. Plants include narrow leaf and lace java fern, corkscrew jungle vallisneria, green cryptocoryne wendtii, cryptocoryne balansae, and two somewhat unknown swords. The maroon one might be a rubin sword and the smaller one might be a rosette sword. We’re enjoying the tank. I can’t wait to see how my planted aquarium tinkering evolves.

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Madison’s Got It’s Thai

So my wife and I were up in Madison, WI last weekend for her to take some graduate tests. We got a chance to do a little hanging out and exploring. I got to check out about every tropical fish pet store the city had to offer and she got to thoroughly enjoy her massive, reasonably-priced Frugal Muse bookstore.

While we were in Madison we thought we’d scout the place to try our hand at finding a hidden gem in a pretty trendy town. I had my doubts but ended up hitting the jackpot. On urbanspoon I found Suwanasak Thai Cuisine, a place that’d only been open since March with 12/12 likes, no reviews, and one dollar sign indicating most entrees are under $10. This told me it was probably as authentic as it gets, and we wouldn’t be paying for any pretense, which is nice every now and again.

So this place is it. It’s mostly carry out with a couple of tables to wait at while the food’s being cooked or eat at when it’s ready. The wait’s twenty to thirty minutes, but it’s a nice wait. Between the gap in cloth curtain separating the dining area from the kitchen one can watch the whole family work feverishly together preparing the orders while speaking Thai.

I only know enough about Thai food to know that I love it. Though I hope to one day spend some time in Thailand letting my taste buds indulge me on a culinary orgy, I imagine this food’s about as close as it gets to approximating what I’ll find. My wife got the pad see ew gai and I got a squid stir fry. They were both awesome and both had some amazing spices I’d never seen before.

I was impressed. Anyone who checks out Suwanasak Thai Cuisine will not be disappointed. In fact, I imagine, just about everyone who tries it will be scheming to get back before they finish their meal.

Suwanasak Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Louisiana Style Employee Appreciation

So toward the end of spring my work had an employee appreciation crawfish boil one day after work. My pics kind of got lost and I forgot to post. It was a good time, yet  culturally distinct. Well, that is, in addition to the whole crawfish thing.

In the midwest, as in a lot of the country, I imagine, it’s common for every occasion, party, and get-together to have lots of food. Everyone could eat as much as they’d like and there’s plenty for everyone to take home.

In Louisiana, I was chuckled to find the reverse. When the cooked crawfish showed up, half’a everyone grabbed two or three styrofoam to-go containers, filled them to the brim, struggled to close ’em, and then hurried out to put them in their cars and get back to eat crawfish before the crawfish disappeared.

Not to suggest everyone did it. They didn’t. But a lot did and the rest were offended but said nothing. Everyone worked to secure enough for themselves and their friends and at the end of the afternoon everyone was able to eat and squirrel away as much as anyone could have wanted. The order was reversed, from what my experience had taught me to expect, but it didn’t make any difference.

My Discus Fish Massacre and Reverse Osmosis Repentance

So here we are a few months into our Illinois adventure. Three days after we moved here I killed my fish, the pretty big ones I’d been chronicling since January. I thought I’d researched the water conditions we’d face here well-enough, but I did not. And I have the empty tank to prove it.

They made the drive fine in five gallon buckets with aerators. I slowly added the new water so they would get acclimated and then plopped them in the tank.

Now the water comes out of the faucets out here at the hundred year old farm house with an unbelievable amount of fine bubbles that can take a while to dissipate. My fish swam and then immediately went horizontal up to the top, where they laid floating on their sides. I thought I’d killed them, but within an hour they came-to.

Two days later, it was time to change the water. I drained the old out and filled it back up. The fish seemed happy they schooled in circles, playing in the current of incoming water. But then suddenly stopped and floated to the top–like before.

@$#*%! Fool me once…

I blamed the first time on the travel and change it water. Well, it was the change in water alright and it killed all of them. I was stupid and now sad ta boot.

So, some research let me to believe the dissolved bubbles could have been carbon dioxide and could have killed the fish. Otherwise, the salt from the softener and iron not removed by the softener could have done it. For repentance I decided to install a reverse osmosis [r.o.] system. Perhaps the good coming out of the terrible end these guys met would be clean water for my wife, me and our future fish. Now all I had to do was set it up.

After brain storming with my father and a family friend who happens to work for Culligan we thought the brine storage tank for a water softener would be the perfect size to hold 50 gallons of water. It even has a float to automatically shut-off incoming water when it fills up.

I picked up a Culligan r.o. system and storage tank on craigslist. To me it’s important to get a good r.o system. Reverse osmosis is an inefficient process. The particular system can make it more or less so. Cheap systems are incredibly inefficient and can waste three to seven gallons of water for every one gallon of water that comes out purified. This system throws away about two gallons for gallon produced. The waste water is still pretty clean and can be used for watering plants or washing clothes but I don’t have anything currently in place to harness this water for good. Future project.

I mounted the filter on the wall. Attached the blue tubing from the system to the storage tank and to the faucet for us to drink from. Attached the drain line from the system to drain the waste water. All I had left was to tap the cold water line to supply the system with water to purify. It’s important to tap a water line after it comes from the water softener. Had I sent our hard, hard water through the r.o. unit, I’d be replacing the filter cartridges every month.

I tapped the cold water line next to the feed to the automatic ice cube maker. I used the same style piercing valve as the one for the ice cube maker and it worked like a charm. It made the hole, I attached the tube, and we were in business. I let the system run overnight into the drain, as the directions recommend, to flush the carbon particles out and then let it start filling up the reservoir.

It takes about two days for me to get 50 gallons, which is a little longer than it’s supposed to but will work for my one tank. I threw a 300 watt fish tank heater in the bottom. With my r.o. redemption complete, I’m ready to think fish again.

I’ve been obsessing over what type of discus I’m going to replace mine with but don’t know. My wife has been a saint dealing with me and being the voice of reason. She suggests waiting for ones I really want and not rushing out to get some nice discus only to regret it a few months later when my dream discus become available.

Like always, she has a good point and I’m almost able to wait. Right now I’m leaning toward Piwowarski discus and maybe a couple of incredible wild discus sustainably imported from Brazil.

Summer Froyo In The Berg

So Galesburg, Illinois is one of currently struggling midwestern towns that had formerly been brought to glory by the railroads. What distinguishes it from other railroad towns is that in Galesburg you can set your clock to the many trains that still bisect the city day and night.

Though the town’s reinvention remains uncertain as it struggles to survive in a post-Maytag era, Galesburg has more than a couple things going for it.  In addition to being the birthplace of the American poet Carl Sandburg and home to Old Main, the only remaining structure from the Lincoln-Douglas debates, it also claims a handful of great fooderies. One of our favorite is the seasonal frozen yogurt stand we’ve been pinning for   for the last three years. Coming back from a wedding in southern Illinois a weekend or so ago, we had the lucky chance to nab a couple cones at our little Kastle Kreme.

Whatever the flavor, chunks are speckled throughout, giving the cone texture, body, and flavor. Though lighter and smoother than ice cream, you wouldn’t guess it’s yogurt. And a whole cone leaves you full.

My wife lights up for peppermint. And no peppermint makes her light up better than the beautiful little flakes of peppermint throughout the smooth, creamy, tasty peppermint froyo at Kastle Kreme. In the pic above it doesn’t look like much, but it is. Other places would add the artificial color necessary to signal to your eyes what your taste buds are in store for, but this place serves it it up as-is. And as-is is pretty amazing.

I love the berry. Be it the raspberry in the top picture or blackberry or pineapple, all boast beautiful chunks of fresh fruit mixed right in the machine and twisted into the cone. Whenever we have the rare pleasure of finding ourselves down in The Berg, we enjoy a little froyo at Kastle Kreme.

Kastle Kreme on Urbanspoon