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Monday, December 31, 2012

How to Clean a Turtle Tank

We love our Tucker Turtle.

Our little Tucky Boy.
The Tuckster.
Tucky Tucky Turtle.
We’ve had Tucker for about two years now, and in that time, I've learned a lot about turtle care. Tucker is a RES, or a red-eared slider- an aquatic turtle. He currently lives in a ten-gallon fish tank. We usually keep the tank filled up with about 8 gallons of water.
Turtles are a lot more fun than fish (in my opinion... Zeke might disagree), but they're also quite a bit more work than fish, and they get into more trouble than fish. And they're much dirtier than fish.

Note: You'll see two different types of substrate (the stuff on the bottom) in this post- larger rocks, and the blue gravel (like above). There is some research that's been done to show that small gravel, if ingested by your little turtle friend, can cause impaction of the intestines! And that's not good.

Tucker does have the blue gravel in his tank, after we spent a while making sure that he wasn't going to eat it... and he hasn't, but it's worth noting that if you're just getting a turtle or you're planning a tank set up, larger rocks is what is recommended for Red Eared Sliders and other aquatic turtles.

What you'll need:

-A couple buckets, clean ice cream containers... something to put water and rocks into. I use two gallon ice cream containers and two industrial-sized salad dressing containers.

-A small tank or container to hold your turtle while you clean.

-A tank vacuum. You can get one of these nifty things at most pet stores.

-A sponge (one that is ONLY for your tank)

-A toothbrush (again, ONLY for your tank)

-Start Right or another de-chlorinating solution to make the new water safe.

Start out by taking the turtle out of the tank and into a smaller container. Make sure that there's a little water in there for him. He may give you dirty looks for putting him in turtle jail... ignore those.

If you have other living things or decorations in your tank, you'll want to get those out, too. I have a couple of fish in the tank with Tucker, so I just move them over into Zeke's fish tank. The decorations get in the way, so I take those out, too.

Use the vacuum to suck about 2/3 to ¼ of the water out of the tank and into your buckets. Catch as much of the “gunk” as you can by moving the rocks or substrate around the bottom of the tank. Make sure that you’re paying attention to how full the buckets are getting… or you’ll spill all over the floor. Like me.


As you're watching the yuck float around your arm in the water, think happy thoughts about your turtle. You love him. You don't mind that you're elbow deep in his poo. He's wonderful. He loves you back, even if he doesn't show it in socially acceptable ways.
When you have most of the water drained from the tank, take out the rocks or substrate. I usually put them into an ice cream container. Then I wash my hands. If I have time, I like to spread the rocks out on the porch in the sun for a couple days to dry out completely- it’s the best way to kill the algae. (Tucker’s really mad then. TWO DAYS IN JAIL?!?!)
Otherwise, I skip that step and put the rocks straight into old pots. I fill the pots with water so it covers the rocks, and then boil the water over the stove for about 15 to 20 minutes. This is the best way to disinfect the rocks and kill any bad bacteria that may be living on there, just waiting to harm your turtle baby.

Meanwhile, fill one of your buckets with warm, clean water. Use your tank sponge to scrub off any algae or nastiness growing on the walls of the tank. Use the warm water to rinse your sponge. Make sure you slide your filter and pump over to get the algae growing underneath- that's usually the dirtiest spot on my tank. I then wash my hands.

I put a Christmas bow around Tucker's tank!
At this point, I usually think about how much time I have left to complete my mission. If I've got some time (or if the tank is really dirty), I fill the tank up with about 4 more gallons of clean water, then vacuum back down to 1/4 tank again. That sucks up more of the nastiness, but it's not necessary.

Why don't I get rid of all the water every time?

It's a hassle. To get rid of all the water, I'd have to dump out the tank (ie- lift it up, carry it outside or to the bathroom to dump it down the toilet... deal with slippery glass, drips on the floor...). I usually only do partial water changes. Every once in a while (like when we move), I will do a total water change and dump the whole tank. Otherwise, if you're using a good filter and you do a partial change pretty often, your turtle will stay healthy even if you don't change all the water.

After I've scrubbed the tank down, I check the filter. Zeke always cleans the turtle filter when he cleans the fish tank filter, so this usually isn't very dirty (thank you Zeke!). Then I use the sponge to clean the tops and sides of the filter casing.
Next, I tackle the decorations. I like to use a little toothbrush to clean these off- I've found that the toothbrush works great for getting in all those crannies. I wipe down the leaves of my bamboo plant with a damp cloth- they can get a little dusty. I wash my hands.
Then it's time to fill 'er back up! I start with the rocks. They're usually pretty hot from their boiling, so I rinse them in cold water before I put them in the tank. Then I fill the tank back up with clean water. I don't pay too much attention to the water temperature (no thermometers, here!), but I make sure it's somewhere around room temp.

The water in the tank will probably look pretty yucky yet. "But I just cleaned it all!" you say. Don't worry- you did a good job. Promise. Give your filter some time to work- the water will clear up after about an hour, tops.
Use the Start Right in the water to get rid of the cholorine (the bottle should have directions on it). This step is important for your turtle's health, but if you have fish in the same tank, you'll want to be doubly sure not to skip it! 

Then I go and take a nice, hot, soapy shower. After all that yuckiness, I like to feel clean. More importantly, most small turtles do carry salmonella, so I make sure to wash my hands a lot during this whole process. The shower also gives the water in the tank some time to come to the same temperature, and gives the Start Right a chance to really spread around before the animals are reintroduced (for fish, you'll want to wait about 2 hours before reintroducing into the new tank- the change in water temperature could kill them).

After my shower, Tucker gets to return home. He typically looks a little crabby for a while ("What did the human do to my MESS? I worked so HARD ON IT!") but even if he doesn't realize it, he's a happier, healthier little fellow!


Can't get enough of this little green fella? (I know I can't!) Want more Tucker updates? Click here!

I've had Tucker for more than four years now! Crazy. If you have any questions about turtle-ownership or care, I'd love to (try to) help. You can follow me on Facebook, or send me an e-mail at alittlewifeshappylife (at) gmail (dot) com.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Merry Belated Christmas!

My goodness!

Can you believe that Christmas has come and gone already? I've learned this year that one of the joys of being married is bouncing from family to family during the holidays. We're lucky, though- Zeke's parents and my parents live in the same town. I can't imagine traveling hours and hours to see everyone... and I know that for a lot of people, that's exactly what they do!

Christmas this year was a lot of fun. Both sides of our family now have little ones, and seeing Christmas through the eyes of the kids made the holiday even more special.

This Christmas also brought a little sorrow, unfortunately. On the 23rd, Zeke and I went to visit his grandmother after church, and she seemed pretty sick. She had a really rattly-sounding chest, her coloring wasn't good... and the most telling sign of all was that she wanted to go see a doctor. Zeke's dad came to her house shortly afterward, and we all took her to Urgent Care. She's been in the hospital ever since, battling with lung cancer, some fluid around her heart,dehydration, and what seems to be bronchitis. At 97 years old, she's lived a wonderful life and touched so many people... it was very hard to see her in such discomfort. Your prayers for Grandma would be greatly appreciated!

Christmas decorations! I actually reused some wedding decorations and added a bow to the cedar candle holders.

  I hope that your Christmas was filled with family, love, and laughter as you celebrated the gift of Christ to the world!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Winterwear with Hunky Husband

So, my Hunky Husband has magnets in his gloves (they're the kind that turn from finger-less gloves into mittens... the magnets hold the mitten part up...you know the kind).

We have a metal front door.

Where does Zeke put his gloves?

Oh yeah.

Only three more months of winter...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Busy Week (and some Subbing Motivational Helps)

Wow. This week is going to be a busy one! Besides all the (very, very) last-minute Christmas shopping and wrapping, keeping up with my house and my husband, and figuring out the classes I need to finish transferring my teaching license, I'm also subbing every day this week! Whew!

I'm really glad to have the work. I've been doing some deep thinking lately, about what I want from life, about my goals, about what I'd like next year to look like, and I know that I'd really prefer to have a consistent, full-time teaching job next fall. I have plans to get more connections in to another school district, and I'm subbing a lot at one of the nearby Middle Schools, and I'm praying that the connections I've made so far and the connections I will make in the coming months will bring about some fruit!

Anyways, amidst all the running around, I've been using a technique that's kept my 5th grade students behaving well and not talking constantly for me (even the last week before Winter Break!)

My students are on a 1-1 technology program starting in 5th grade, which means that each student has a laptop they use during class. I've noticed that my kids get really excited about listening to music (using their headphones) during work time, and not a lot of teachers allow it. I don't think I would allow it either if I were a regular classroom teacher, except as a special treat, because kids get much more work done when they're not finding the next song to listen to on their iTunes.

I write the word "MUSIC" up on the board. If I need to remind students about expectations, I underline the "C." That's a warning. If I remind them again, the "C" is erased. In order to have music during work time, the whole word has to be on the board. They can earn back the letters if they impress me with good behavior.

I like this tool because you can make the reward whatever you'd like, and it can continue as long as you'd like. I use the MUSIC thing each class period, but if you were there longer, maybe it could be the reward at the end of the week. The same thing would work for an extra recess, a short video clip, a joke...

It really kept my kids motivated, and the best thing was that I didn't have to raise my voice at all- I just walked over and marked a warning or erased a letter, and most of my students noticed.

Cool trick.

Friday, December 14, 2012

No Words- And What Every Teacher Should Have in their Classroom

I have no words to write about what happened today in Connecticut. This is one of those times when words just aren't enough. My heart is so heavy thinking about all those who are hurting today- the parents who worried and prayed and received the most unthinkable news, the children who witnessed the horror of one person taking the lives of many others and who will never be the same, the teachers who watched their workplace become a place of massacre and the students they care so much about being terrified, scarred, hurt... and worse.

When a teacher prepares a classroom for the year, there's always a sense of excitement and maybe a little nervousness, at least in my experience. I usually find images of students learning and growing in the space I've prepared pop into my head unbidden. All the anticipation of new students to get to know, new minds to help shape, new personalities to enjoy.... all this goes into the preparation of a classroom. Generally, teachers create a space that is organized, functional, aesthetically pleasing, and full of positive energy.

A classroom, a school, is not meant for violence; not meant for death, not meant for rage or hatred or fear.

My prayers are with those affected directly and indirectly, for all school age children, for parents everywhere who will hesitate, if ever so slightly, before putting their first-grader on the bus on Monday morning, and for us as a nation and a society.

*                                          *                                           *

As a substitute teacher, I know that in a situation (God forbid) anything like what happened in Connecticut, many subs would not be prepared and would not know the school protocol.

I've subbed in fifteen different classrooms so far, and only one teacher put a copy of the emergency protocol in the sub binder.

Now, I know that many teachers out there have a very, very, very organized and detailed sub binder/folder/tub, but not everyone includes the most vital information. As a sub (and a newer one at that), here are some things that I would definitely want to have included in a subbing binder.

-A complete class roster. I know that in middle and high school, students move from classroom to classroom, but in case of an emergency, it's vital that your sub knows who is in their class. Even more helpful would be short notes if possible- students with special needs, dietary restrictions, physical limitations, etc. I've also noticed that a lot of times, if the roster is printed off from the attendance website, it will cut off the last few names. Double check and make sure you've got them all.

-A list of important phone numbers. Give your sub the extension to the main office, to the person in charge of student behavior while you're gone (for some, students are sent to the principal's office, for others students are sent to a Time-Out room, etc.), and to another teacher, perhaps someone who you work with closely, who can help if there's a problem.

-A School Information page. As a sub, I'm in lots of different schools, and it can be hard to remember exact addresses and so on. On this page, include the school's address, your room number and your name, and the school's phone number.

-A list of emergency procedures. Keep in mind, your sub has a lot of information to go through in a relatively short period of time before your students get to school in the morning. This list should be just the basics. Save the detail for another page (perhaps use the detailed school procedures document and put it in your binder or folder after this one).

As a sub, I should know the fire evacuation plan and where to take the students once we evacuate, the tornado/hurricane/earthquake plan (depending on your location), what to do in case of a lock-down, what to do under bomb threat, and what to do in case of an intruder. Make your list clear and concise, and give me a name, room number, and phone number of a nearby teacher who can help if I have questions.

-Tell me where to find... (maybe have these present in a sub tub or easily accessible in a drawer)
      A flashlight
      A whistle
      An emergency use first aide kit (include a face shield for rescue breathing)

I would also encourage your sub to take the binder or folder out of the room with them as needed. An emergency could take place while your class is on their way to one of their specials, during recess duty... And make sure that you tell the sub to take the binder with them in case of an emergency.

As teachers, we all care deeply about our students and want the best for them. By preparing your substitute teacher, you are doing your best to make sure that your students are well taken care of even when you're not able to be there.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Post-Trip Tips and Tricks

And man, what a tongue twister!

So, you've seen some of my packing tips (as are linked below) but now that our trip is over, what was the outcome? What came in handy? What could we have left at home?

Well, let's see.

Toiletries: The apron organizer I made to carry my toiletries was a bust. It was kind of bulky, and stuff fell out when it was wrapped up. I ended up just using a draw-string backpack bag to carry all my toiletry stuff.

Using a Crystal Lite canister to hold the smaller stuff was brilliant. I had no problems wrangling my makeup and bobby pins, that's for sure. The Coke bottles holding shampoo and conditioner worked great, too, even in freezing temperatures and changing elevations. No leaks. I used lots of lotion and chap stick with the dry air and cold weather.

Clothing: I used everything I brought. Using simple clothes worked great- I didn't have to worry about ironing, and I could dress an outfit up or down depending on the plan for the day. I also wore all three pairs of shoes... and the fact that my clogs float came in very very handy... HH and I almost lost them when a big wave came up when we were playing at the beach! Thank goodness HH is fast and the shoes were floating! It was also very helpful to put smaller clothing items (panties and socks) into big bags- they were so much easier to find, especially in the dark.

Cleaning Supplies: We brought along laundry detergent, but we only used it at the yurt (which had free laundry facilities!) because we did laundry when we stopped to see friends and family. I would bring it again, because most campsites do have coin laundry (with terribly expensive detergents), and in a bind, you could always do some wash in a sink or tub. We did use our laundry line- it was great to dry out swim suits at campsites and small hotel rooms. And of course, we used our dish soap to wash the mess kit we brought along and cooked with. The larger container also came in handy for carting firewood around!

Camping Supplies: The only thing we didn't really use in this list was our space heater. I think that if we did this trip again, we'd still pack it, though- it was nice to have the option to camp even when it was colder, despite the fact that we stayed at hotels when it got really cold.

Other stuff:

We took along our Zeke's folks' GPS, which was incredibly helpful along the way. I think the trip would have been a lot more stressful, and probably a lot longer, without it. When we got spontaneous and stopped at random towns along the way, the GPS could get us back on the highway. When we decided on a whim to go to Arkansas, the GPS saved us lots of time that would have otherwise been spent plotting on a map.

It's really expensive to eat out while on the road. We brought along lots of granola bars and snack food, as well as some sandwich meat, cheese, mayo... and tortillas. Using tortillas instead of sandwich bread on the road worked great. Tortillas are flatter, so you don't have to worry about crushing it like bread, they have less crumbs than bread, and it was easy for me to prepare a wrap for Zeke while he kept driving. Wraps are also really easy to eat with just one hand, so it was a safer choice, too.
Dried beef and cheese wrap- HH' favorite
Before we left, I loaded four audiobooks onto my iPod (Louis La'mour, a mystery/adventure novel, and two murder mysteries). In certain remote parts of the US, there wasn't much for radio signal, and the books definitely came in handy. In our second vehicle, we did have Sirius radio (bonus!), but I don't know about you, but I get kind of tired of listening to music after a couple hours. The books were great to break up the long stretches, and they also sparked some great conversation between Zeke and I.

So there you have it! A recap of our packing lists!

If you'd like to read about our super-amazing road trip, I'd suggest starting here!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


1. It is cold. I know, it's like, the middle of December, so I shouldn't be surprised... but man. Cold.

2. My Christmas cards are sent, my house is (mostly) decorated, but I don't have any presents purchased yet. Last year, we were done buying presents before Thanksgiving, but this year? Whoops.

3. On Saturday, Zeke started saying his eyes felt tired, and they looked a little puffy. Sunday, they were definitely swollen, but not itchy or painful. Yesterday, his eyes were swollen to cartoon-like proportions, and his boss sent him home. Today he went to the doctor. He has pinkeye. Wha? I haven't heard of eyelid swelling as a pinkeye symptom before, at least not when he doesn't have any goopiness or redness... I guess his body is just reacting weirdly to the virus. And now we're praying that I don't get it, too. And I'm washing the sheets and pillowcases every day and running around disinfecting everything.

4. Speaking of #2, I put a bow on Tucker Turtle's tank! He's not very impressed.

5. I have been completely out of the mood to cook lately. Anyone else go through phases like that? I'm just like, "Let's have frozen pizza!" every night. My culinary creativity has vanished! Ugh.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Honeymoon Road Trip Part 4 (Days 14-18)

Day 14 (Sunday, November 11):

The day started out sunny but cold, and we made our way to Arches National Park. We got to Arches National Park late in the morning, and unfortunately, it was a little too cold to spend much time hiking around, but we got to see tons of arches from the car. We learned the difference between an arch and a bridge- a bridge is formed by flowing water, like a stream, but an arch is formed by small amounts of water seeping into cracks in the rock or by the wind.


Then we stopped at a cool rest stop...

 And then went to Four Corners. You know, the place where four states meet. We got to stand in four states at one time!

Super cool. Someday, I'll probably be showing those pictures while teaching geography someday!

We headed out from Four Corners around 5 pm, and got to Cortez before stopping for the night. Next stop- Mesa Verde!

Day 15 (Monday, November 12):

We headed out early from Cortez to Mesa Verde, Colorado. Due to the delicate nature of the ruins, a tour guide had to take us (and a group of people) into the ruins to explore a bit.

Archeologists believe that the ruins were built about 800 years ago, and were abandoned sometime in the 1400's. They're not sure why the ancient Pueblo people left, and there isn't a lot of information about the people themselves. Cowboys were the first to find these ruins and told all about them in the 1800's.
 Our tour guide had lots of info, and was fun to meet.
 I was amazed by how level everything was. Using almost no tools, these ancient people made such an organized and straight place.
 There were some paintings on the walls- see the triangles made of dots? Toward the bottom right corner of this picture, you can see a handprint... as our tour guide said, "One of the greatest marks of humanity."
 This is a kiva, a hole in the ground that was typically covered with a "roof" of branches and mud. Kivas were used for worship. They had a fireplace area, with a venting system that let smoke filter out and clean air filter in without losing the heat from the fire.

What a cool experience!

After Mesa Verde, we had a decision to make. It was only day 15, and we had hit all the places we really wanted to see. So, should we go home? Lame. To Texas? Where?!?

A couple of months ago, Zeke found a cool retreat place with yurts and personal hot tubs that was pretty inexpensive. And it's in Arkansas! Hey, what's a couple hundred more miles?

So we readjusted our GPS and headed to Arkansas, making our reservations on the way. We got to Amarillo, Texas that night (surprisingly, they didn't really have much of an accent), and slept in a hotel.

Day 16 (Tuesday, November 13):

We left Amarillo and headed out toward Arkansas and our waiting yurt. It was a long drive.

Our destination was in the Ozarks. Cool. We arrived around 6 pm (the days are definitely getting shorter and it was already dark)...

Ever seen a yurt before? It's like a tent... but huge. And more supported. And absolutely beautiful. We had a very pampered night's sleep, with the fireplace going and the wind through the mountains whispering.

Day 17 (Wednesday, November 14):

We spent the day exploring nearby towns and parks in Arkansas.

 We also went out to eat at the Catfish Hole. We had... catfish. Gosh it was awesome. They brought out tons of food before we even ordered, and the catfish was delicious!
I also got a couple better outside pictures of the Yurt...

 The view from our deck.
Our hot tub.

We spent the evening hanging out in the hot tub and eating leftover catfish. It was a great last day before heading back home.

Day 18 (Thursday, November 15): 

We started out early from our Yurt... it was hard to say goodbye, but I think we were both ready to be home. We drove north back to Iowa. We got home around eight that evening, fed the turtle and the fish, and started re-adjusting to life back at home.

What an awesome trip! We are blessed.

If you missed the first part of our trip, click here for Days 1-4!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Honeymoon Road Trip Part 3 (Days 10-13)

Day 10 (Wednesday, November 7): 

We started out the day in Marina, CA lazy- watching some TV, checking e-mails... not doing much. It was actually pretty nice to just veg out for a little while that morning. We met up with Zeke's friend at the Coast Guard base in Monterrey, CA for lunch. We went out to a great burger place, and then headed back to the base.

 Zeke's friend had to finish up some stuff at work, so we went and checked out the sea lions who hang out at the base.

There was one sea lion sitting really close to the fence, and Zeke wanted to see what sea lion fur feels like, so he very gently touched the sea lion's back...

And it got super mad. Like, indignant. He kept honking (honking? Is that the sound sea lions make? Cuz it sounds like it.) loudly at Zeke and me. The sea lion wasn't scared... it stayed on the rock where it was sitting, close to the fence... it was just really really angry! So funny.

HH and the angry sea lion

After our sea lion adventure, Zeke's friend took us for a drive on Highway 1. It was such a pretty drive!

We spent the evening hanging out and catching up with Zeke's friend in Marina, and stayed another night there.

Day 11 (Thursday, November 8): 

We headed out from Marina towards the Grand Canyon.

It was a pretty long drive, and we didn't make it all the way to the Grand Canyon. We stopped in Barstow for the night, ready to get some rest for a busy day!

Day 12 (Friday, November 9):

We started out early from Barstow toward the Grand Canyon. The weather was pretty cloudy and cold. We made it to the Grand Canyon just as it started to sleet. Zeke and I had planned on camping somewhere around the Grand Canyon, but the threat of a foot of snow that night changed our plans! We did get to see some beautiful canyon, though!

It was pretty grand.

The coming snow and the cold weather kept us traveling, but we did spend the night in our tent! We tented behind a hotel (random, I know), in Tuba City.

Day 13 (Saturday, November 10):

We got our tent site torn down and everything packed up in almost record time. We're getting good. The plan for the day was to get to the Moab Desert and Natural Bridges National Park. Getting gas, we met a man from Canada who suggested that we drive a slightly different route to see the Valley of the Gods. Hey, we're up for an adventure!

The Valley of the Gods was so beautiful!

Definitely a good tip from the Canadian guy.

After driving through the Valley of the Gods, we took a super curvy, very high gravel road (no guard rails!) to get all the way to Natural Bridges. 

The road we took

And we got some beautiful views
It wasn't far at all to Natural Bridges. The state park has three bridges. A Natural Bridge is created by a flowing stream of water cutting through the rock, making a "bridge."

We took a hiking trail down toward the first bridge. It was a really cool trail along bare rock, with a couple of ladders leading toward the bridge.

If we had enough time, and if it wasn't so cold, I think we would have hiked all the trails. I totally suggest it. Our next stop was Arches National Park, but it was getting pretty dark before we reached it, so we stopped for the night in Monticello, Utah.

Click here for Days 14-18!

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