Personal Writings

How to Set Up a Perfect Aquarium in Your Home or Office

By: Tina Holt

Have you ever thought of adding something eye-catching to your home or office? Need something to help you relax? Do you suffer from high blood pressure? Maybe you may want to consider an aquarium as your choice.  Not only are aquariums beautiful and eye-catching, but they also offer tranquility to any room.  The effect from the illumination of light, sound of rippling water and low-pitch hums of a pump can be very relaxing & watching an aquarium can even lower your blood pressure.
After I installed and set up many in my own home, I feel that all the above benefits are true.
When setting up an aquarium there are plenty of things to consider.
1.        First, you have to be concerned about where you will put your new aquarium.  (Never next to a window...this causes algae to build up.) Consider you electric outlets, you will need a power strip also.
2.       Cost and how big of an aquarium you want to invest your money into is also a very important aspect. Stands can be very attractive but need to be sturdy. Gallons of water can be VERY heavy!
3.       Next, you will have to decide what kind of aquarium you will have, freshwater, brackish, or saltwater. Finally, you have to think about what kind of fish you want to add to your new aquarium.
 Each of these decisions will have a huge impact on the success or failure of your new aquarium.
When I first took up this hobby of being an aquarist, I visited many pet stores.  I took with me a pad of paper and pencil and began writing down the cost of things that I saw which interested me.  Talking with salespeople who are experienced in the hobby is highly recommended.  The pet stores offer an array of: books, aquarium tanks, hoods, lights, stands, filters, pumps, air bubble release mechanisms, chemicals, gravels, plant species, decorations, and last but not least, fish. It is also wise to purchase some books on the hobby and do some research online before you plunge into such a costly adventure. The Internet offers an abundance of information and advice as well as chat rooms where you can ask others in the hobby questions.
 After doing your research and deciding what kind of aquarium you want to have, go back to the store and tell the salesperson your ideas and price-range of aquarium you are looking to invest in.  I decided on a freshwater tank because they are easier to work with, and less costly than saltwater.  Although, I must say that the saltwater or Marine aquarium is without a doubt the most beautiful with its bounty of colorful fish and corals. 
One mistake many people make is buying too small of a tank.  Bigger, is better in this hobby.  Bigger aquariums need less attention as long as you do not overload them with too many fish.  Buying a size bigger pump and filter is also recommended to keep your water crystal clear. (Example, if you buy a 10-gallon tank you may want to purchase a 12-15 gallon capacity power filter.) Most power filters come equipped with Bio-bag style filter cartridges that are easily inserted. Make sure that you do rinse this cartridge out before first adding it to your new power filter, and inspect for any holes or harmful leakage of carbon. A hood and light for you new aquarium is also important so that you can see inside the tank at night, and things like dust and curious fingers will not be intrusive to the new environment. A hood can also keep down the evaporation of your water, so you won’t be replacing it as often. You will also need a sturdy place to sit the aquarium; because once the tank is filled with water, it will become very heavy So, make sure that you buy a “good quality” aquarium stand as well.
Remember that once you get your aquarium home, you should never use any soaps to clean it. All you really need is hot water and clean towels to dry it. Finding a place in your home that is suitable for a large aquarium can also be a task.  You should not set an aquarium in front of direct sunlight, for this can cause an algae problem inside the tank surface. You should also have access to electrical outlets, and surge protection extension cords, because there will be multiple plugs extending from pumps, heaters, and filters. Once you’ve made your choices where this is concerned and have your tank in place, you are ready to think about the water and decorations.
Water is a major aspect in whether your fish live or die. Putting fish into straight tap water will likely kill off most all breeds. Remember that you should not purchase any fish until the water in the tank is biologically correct. Be patient! The biggest mistake I’ve made was being too impatient, and adding fish before the tank was ready. I ultimately killed everything in the tank due to my eagerness. This process can take from two weeks, to a month. There are chemicals that you must buy that will start your aquarium off on the right track. Use them wisely or ask the salesperson to help you where this is concerned because the wrong amount or kind of chemicals you add at any time can destroy a stock-load of fish.  This will be costly! You will be mad at yourself and maybe give up.
Some chemicals will need to be added on a monthly basis to keep a balance in nitrates and phosphates. Certain fish require different kinds of water temperatures and acidity (pH) of water. Most pet stores sell pH test kits that can be easily administered. You don’t have to be a chemist to keep up an aquarium, but you do have to be patient and read all instructions very carefully. Make sure that you purchase a good water heater, a thermometer, and only purchase fish that live in the same water environment. 
 Once your water is established, its time to decorate. For most aquarist’s this is the most enjoyable part about setting up a new aquarium.  There are also some things to consider while deciding on how to decorate. Think about the ocean, or lakes where fish live.  Not all environments are the same, and different fish live in different surrounding for different reasons.  Some fish live in places where the floor is rocky, some like a sandy-gravel bed. Some live and feed off strictly plant matter.  Taking all this into consideration you should give your new pets a happy environment, much like what they are used to having in the wild.  Sometimes they will be so happy that they will even reproduce.  This is a true joy for any aquarist because then, they know they have done their very best at re-creating a living atmosphere for their fish. A large factor to remember is to never put anything into the tank that is metal, sharp, painted, or toxic in any way. This can quickly kill your new pets.  I enjoy adding both well-made plastic plants and live plant matter. Large lava stone can give a dramatic effect as well as places for the fish to hide. Having also found that large stony gravel, as a floor bed is easier to clean with a siphon cleaner than most small sandy type gravels. When adding gravel to your aquarium, put the gravel into a large new bucket and rinse under the tap until the water runs clear. (Reserve this bucket for only aquarium usage.) Make sure that you rinse off anything you decide to put into your tank with hot water first.

You may also want to add some movement into your tank from air-stones. The bubbles that they create can release more oxygen into the water and make for an easier breathing atmosphere for the fish. There are numerous ways to incorporate these into your tank with a simple pump, tubing, and an air-stone.  Some people like to attach these air-stones to objects that animate them, such as plastic clamshells that opens and closes, or a diver that rises and descends into the aquarium. The choice is completely up to you, and you can be as creative as you want to be while making decorating decisions.
 You may also want to consider if the fish you want to purchase are solitary types and if they are aggressive. Some breeds like the red-tailed shark, or beta, need only be added one to a tank.  Giving these breeds a place of there own, like a small terra-cotta pot to find refuge in is always a good idea. There are a millions of combinations of decorations to choose from, so do your research on the fish you like and make their stay as comfortable as possible.
 Once everything is in place, and you’ve let your tank sit for two weeks, to a month, you want to make sure that your aquarium heater is working, and keeping a stable temperature of 79-82 degrees in most cases. Running the pump and adding something called “seeded bio-balls” can also be beneficial. After two weeks, you may want to test your water yourself, or take a sample to the pet store. Most stores will test them for free if you ask. If everything looks good after water testing, you can purchase one or two inexpensive fish to test run. A good habit to get into when looking for breeds of fish is to ask the sales person to point out the differences between males and females.  Again, some fish are aggressive against their own gender.  In most cases, I will buy one male and two females to each breed that I want to add into my aquarium. When you get your fish home it is always an important step to just let the bag float on top of the water with the tank light off for half an hour, so the water in your bag equals what is inthe tank.  This will cause less stress and risk of disease for your fish during the transformation into the new tank.  (One of the leading reasons that I have had for fish dying after being added to a new aquarium is water and shock.)  Many years and much experience in this hobby gives me an opportunity to save you from making the same mistakes.
 Now you're probably wandering what to feed them? It really depends on the fish you have.  I like to feed my fish an array of different foods that they like. You can ask the salesperson what they feed the fish at the store, and that way you cant go wrong.  Remember to never over-feed your fish though. Many people pollute their tanks by feeding too much or too often. Pollution in the tank can cause diseases, and death, not to mention, cleaning more than you have too.  You should only feed what the fish will eat in three minutes time.  I usually feed once in the morning and once at night before bed.  Remember too, that if you will be away for more than two days, a self-feeder may also come in handy. These are available at most better pet stores. 

An aquarium can be a lot of fun to set up and the watching of these little creatures can be both enjoyable and relaxing. I’m sure that once you finish your first aquarium and see what a pleasure it is to have, you will probably be looking for the next spot to put a new one.  Not only do they add a beautiful focal point to any room or office, they also are enjoyed by people young and old alike. So, go ahead start an aquarium. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed that you did, and your blood pressure will decrease while setting a mood in any room you choose.  Thanks for reading and Good Luck!

The Garden of My Heart

By Tina Holt

One of the greatest gifts my mother ever gave me was the gift of gardening. It began when I was young; I was maybe five or six years old. My mother and I had been working on the garden all spring. I wasn’t much help at that age. I pulled weeds, or helped dig with a toy trowel. I guess it took me years to figure out the preciousness of her gift. That year my mom was preparing the garden for the annual, “Best Yard in Newport Award”. She wanted to win first prize, and after all the hard work, she did!  Mom taught me at a young age that with hard work and dedication, I could achieve anything that I desired. With age, my memories of gardening with my mother had long but evaporated. Eventually, with children of my own, I attempted gardening a couple times with no great effort or reward; then discarded it like yesterdays paper. Shockingly in 1997, my father passed away at age fifty-one.  He died in his sleep from cardiomyopathy, which caused his heart to fail.  My family was devastated from his sudden passing, and after the funeral I began spiraling into a deep state of depression.  I had just given birth to my fourth child three weeks prior, and was not getting much sleep or relaxation while taking care of the other three.  Even when I had time to sleep, I would wake with nightmares or dreams of my father. These dreams seemed so vivid, and always left me with a longing sadness. Too often I would wake myself up crying and not be able to return to sleep. It was all getting to be so overwhelming and my friends and family suggested seeing a doctor. I refused many times as we humans do...I was in denial. Soon after the funeral I had a gallbladder attack & had to have surgery. It was then that I went to see a doctor who explained to me the stages of grief. She put me on a mild anti-depressant and suggested getting more sleep. She also told me to talk about my feelings with someone and not keep my troubles bottled up inside me. It was then that I turned to my mom who also was having difficulties dealing with my father’s sudden death.  Mom suggested that I needed to take up gardening again.  She said that it would work like an “outlet” for the pain I was feeling. Mom said gardening worked to help her, so maybe it would work for me too. I was finally willing to give it a fair shot.
So it began...with much enthusiasm, I had a renewed interest in gardening.  Needing to acquire all the information I could get my hands on, I went to my mother and asked her for books, and extra gardening tools. Mom smiled and furnished me with books about climate, soil, and fertilization. She even bought me my first pair of pink gardening gloves, some seeds, and a small portable greenhouse. My enthusiasm heightened. I started ordering seed catalogs, and on occasions, they were coming in so heavily that the mailbox would not hold them all.  Mom and I stayed up late some nights discussing our garden ideas and talking about how much we missed Dad.  We were closer than we had ever been in our lives. It was incredible how things started to evolve. 
Now that I was on my way, I needed a garden design.  I never realized there were so many different kinds of gardens.  There were container gardens, water gardens, wildflower, fruit, vegetable, perennial, butterfly and bird gardens.  With such a wide variety of choices, I decided on a butterfly and bird garden.  I wanted to add special effects so the garden would be reminiscent of the past.  I decided that dedicating the garden to loved ones who have passed on was the perfect idea. Now I had to get some blueprints drawn up. The layout of the garden was very complex. I knew what I wanted; the picture of my garden was in my head.  I just couldn’t put it on paper.  I tried with colored pencils and paper first and then found out about other ways to design. The library was a great source of help, as was a garden software program that helped me draw out my ideas on a computer. All the excitement & work with my new project took my mind off my depression. I had forgot to take the depression medication, and though I hadn’t even noticed it at the time, I was healing.
Breaking ground took place in late March. Before the first shovel of dirt was dug, I had to get permission from neighbors on each side of me.  The last thing I needed was someone complaining about this garden creeping into their yard. Neither had a problem, and both was glad to see me smiling again. I remember, the hardest part of putting in this garden was the digging. It went on for weeks! I recruited help from anyone who was interested.  I had a great deal of help from my children and kids in the neighborhood. Gardening was a great way to teach the kids respect for nature and spend some quality time together. We had to add plenty of topsoil, sand and peat because the soil in my yard was hard red clay. People in the neighborhood would often stop and talk with me out of curiosity. Everyone wanted to know why I was digging this three-foot trench around the fence line and house. After many backbreaking days, the chore was over. Nothing was left to do now but plant the flowers. This was the fun part! 
The portable greenhouse was great. I had seedlings ready to go into the ground by this time.  I planted: Cosmos, Sunflowers, Blue Cornflower, Calendula, Sweet-Williams, Daisy’s, Forget-me-nots, Nasturtiums, Zinnias, Lilies, and Roses. In a special part of the garden, I planted “Digitalis” which is Latin for the plant “foxglove”. The plant derivative is a medicine that my father had taken for his heart the last days of his life. I also planted the “bleeding heart” in memory of my Grandmother who had also passed on during the excavation of the garden. It was always one of her favorites.  I added a peace rose, and prayed it would show all its beauty in the coming days. I added birdbaths, birdhouses, feeders, trellis’s, boulders, antique waterpumpers, benches, picnic table, paving rock  & last the finishing touch of mulch to complete my “little paradise.”
The project took a lot of time and effort. Consequently, the outcome was a sight straight out of Better Homes and Gardens. The rainbow of color in June was completely breath taking.  Every hue in the color palette was there. Birds visited our gardens daily to eat the sunflower seeds, and bath in their stone Jacuzzi. Hummingbirds enjoyed the red Canna's, while the butterflies added more acrobatic action & colors. The children and I spent many days in the yard picking fresh flowers and counting all the different types of wildlife that now was attracted to our garden. We spent hours there having picnics, cookouts, reading and talking about Dad. It was satisfying to have this little “Utopia” in the midst of my busy city life. The neighbors were astounded by the outcome and began asking me to help them with their yards. On Father’s Day that year, I took flowers to the cemetery and I laid them there by Dads stone. I quietly whispered to my Dad “These are from my garden Dad, hope you like them.” I felt peace overcome me like never before. I felt like maybe somehow he already knew about my garden and maybe he had been helping me the whole time. 
I have moved since I first put in this garden, but my memories will always remain.  I must say that the garden was the hardest thing to leave behind. It was a great experience, and I think my children enjoyed the time we spent creating beauty where there was none. I have since planted other gardens, but none have meant as much to me as that first garden- the one that helped heal my broken heart. Thanks Mom & Dad.

-Dedicated to Ronald Allen Ripberger
My Loving Father


  1. I read your personal writing, while remembering those times and shed a few tears. It is still amazing what gardening can do for a soul and the constant reminder as you watch your creation being born, passing on and returning next season just like our life cycle. A reminder of our resurrection as God's children in His garden will rise again. I Love you. Mama

    1. This was a hard story to write about, but cleansing at the same time. You've always been there to cheer me on...I love you mom!

  2. that is a beautiful writing - I know it for long time - and I think I read lot of times too. LOVE U