Adventures in self-care, or, meet the glass boxes full of water

One of the things I’ve noticed while attempting to balance the phd and working is that sometimes I need a break. Not a long one – hell, not even a whole weekend, but instead just a little time off to do something unrelated – it’s a little bit of self-care and, yes, self-indulgence. Treat yo’self on a budget, or drawing inspiration from Audre Lorde’s words – “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” (A Burst of Light, 1988); either way, I need to take a bit of time to do what I want to do. I know all too well that I’m stretched thin, and as I decided to celebrate re-enrolling for my second year by addressing my sort-of gant chart of what I’m going to achieve over the next two years of my life, and then promptly having a minor breakdown, I decided to take part of this weekend to do anything except work.

Mostly. I mean, I spent part of yesterday afternoon feeling guilty about not doing work and then transcribing interviews – after the required amount of procrastinating). And I’ve just spent the last hour finding and printing various activities for my current EAL class. But mostly, I’ve done a bit of laundry, walked the dogs, cooked, and fannied about with the glass boxes of water I’ve decided to scatter around the house.

I have three tanks. The biggest and newest (thanks to my father, who is incredibly generous when it comes to birthday presents) is the home of Wilberforce Filbert Stinkpot Soup, aka murderturtle. I’ve been waiting for the moment to tranfer his nibs into his new tank, after planting it up a few weeks ago – I wanted to give the plants time to establish themselves before letting Wilberforce loose on them, because the first thing he does when faced with any new object is try to kill it.

a large glass fish tank half-full of water and submerged plants

a small grey-green common musk turtle swims among submerged plants

He went into his new tank on Friday night, and I think he’s ok with it. He’s dug up half a dozen plants, killed all but the largest of the snails (which is too big for him to chew on), and glared at me through the glass. As his default expression is one of utter rage, it’s a little hard to tell if he’s happy.

This leaves two other tanks, which live in the study – much smaller ones. The smallest I bought because I wanted to grow the sort of plants that Wilberforce dug up or tore to pieces, and give the snails somewhere to breed in safety – I breed ramshorn snails specifically to feed to Wilberforce. Today, I pulled up the vast majority of the Lilaeopsis and the dwarf hairgrass, in the hope that this will give the Hemianthus callitrichoides a bit more room to spread. HC is a lovely little plant, but it is much slower to spread than the other two, and while it was getting there, it was taking forever. I also took some cuttings off the Bacopa, and the Hygrophilia. Yes, I am aware that I sound like my mother now – it turns out I’ve not got black thumbs, but that I require my plants to be submerged.

a small fishtank on a windowsill, with slightly cloudy water and a few sparse plants and a model TARDIS

It looks a bit cloudy and bare, because pulling up the plants disturbed the gravel and the dirt (it’s a gravel-capped soil substrate, rather than a fancy plant substrate). I’ve not got a filter running in there at the moment, because Wilberforce’s tank is using two (he’s a dirty little turtle), and there’s no animals besides a few snails. It’ll settle down, then when I’ve got a new filter for it, and it’s started to look less bedraggled, I’m planning on putting some shrimp in there, or a betta.

In the third tank, which was Wilberforce’s starter tank until a few days ago, now live a few guppies and some neon tetras. I cleaned the gravel a little, and pulled out most of the larger pebbles to put in the big tank (Wilberforce is not allowed standard-sized fishtank gravel in case he eats it, which he’s likely to do as I’ve found him chewing on bigger rocks before). Then I planted up the lilaeopsis and hairgrass, as well as replanting the valisnera and standard hairgrass that had been in the tank already – along with some refugee Bacopa and Cabomba from Wilberforce’s predations.

small bow-fronted fishtank, with a little gravel and some small plants. A couple of fish are swimming near the top

close-up of some small neon tetra fish - and some plants

I don’t know how well the plants will do as there’s no dirt in there – just the gravel from Wilberforce, which is admittedly pretty grubby. I’ll shove some root tabs in there, or if it all looks awful, break it down and start again with a dirt layer. The fish seem happy enough – they weren’t best impressed with the water changes or the planting, but they’ve been noodling around the tank and eating since then. I’ll see how the water looks in a couple of days, when it’s had the chance to settle.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. This evening, I’m putting an i-cord edging on a cardigan, watching the X-files, and trying not to think about how bloody early I have to get up tomorrow.

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