Thursday, December 23 2021

bonding agents, horn worms, and covid tests

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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everybody. Happy Thursday, and more importantly happy Christmas Eve-Eve.

It's good to be here on this quiet winter morning. The sky outside looks wet, dim, and dreary. Here in our dining room between the myriad of Christmas presents we're keeping out of Minnie's reach and the coffee bar full of cookies, table space is in limited supply these days. But at least that's a problem that will fix itself over the holiday.

Sip. Last night over dinner, we tried to figure out who among us was the most excited to open their presents. "I think I'm the most excited," said Marissa.

"I don't know," I replied. "I'm pretty excited too. Hey Rodney, what did you get me anyway?"

"It's a SECRET," said Rodney coyly. That wasn't the first time I've tried to trip him up this week. Keeping our gift a secret from mom and their gift a secret from me, he has to feel overwhelmed by all the secrecy that enshrouds gift giving in our family. Let's give credit to where credit is due - Rodney hasn't even in the least bit cracked under the pressure.

I'm having another lazy start this morning. I read, I took a short power nap on the couch, and then I flicked through Instagram for a generous five minutes before I even considered getting on with the show.

Yesterday was a hobby sort of day. Now that all of our Christmas shopping is done, Marissa is free to immerse herself in a big fish tank project. She's planned a major upgrade to how she arranges the "live rock" in the tank. Relying on gravity limits you in a certain way. Marissa wants the base of the rock structure to be narrow and spread out in the center of the tank, where your eyes are naturally drawn naturally, and for that she needed to break out the power tools and some new toys.


She bored a deep hole into the center of the rock wide enough to drive a plastic stick through the middle, like a flag pole. The end of this "flag pole" would be affixed to a heavy transparent bottom that would rest beneath the bed of sand. To hold everything in place, she procured a "bonding agent", and I was tasked on using google to figure out how to use it and what it was.

I did my best to decipher the product page and the online instruction manual. After five minutes of quiet reading in the corner, I broke out into a chuckle. "Hold on, I have the perfect video to describe how I feel right now." Marissa paused her drilling to humor me.

"So I still have no idea what this is, but it's not an adhesive. I gather a bonding agent is different from glue, even though they are applied the same way," I postulated. "How they're different, I have no idea."

How is a bonding agent different from an adhesive agent? The answer literally appeared on the table in front of us.

"Oh my gosh, it's HOT!" Marissa yelled out. The contact point between the two pieces of plastic was hot to the touch.

"Well there's your answer," I laughed. "It must be reacting with the plastic somehow." As we learned in high school, in watching two materials interact, you can infer a chemical reaction is taking place if you witness a rapid change in temperature, color, or odor.

The cool thing about these bonding agents is that they're "boil proof", as in the bond is good enough to boil water in. If that's true, then it should have no problem hoisting up our little community of coral in balmy 80 degree salt water.


I had some of my own hobby work to do last night. Sadly, my roach colony ran out of viable roaches. Ducky culled their numbers to the point where all I had left was a hand full of babies, a dozen big grumpy females, and a single male who looked pretty overwhelmed trying to keep all the females happy. I almost considered feeding him off to a spider out of mercy.

We tried feeding the females off to Ducky, but they smell way worse than the others. The net smell of our roach colony hasn't been too bad, but the mature females must produce some kind of pheremone to attract males. Just one female under duress was enough to temporarily stink a side of the bedroom.

It's been a harsh winter for the roaches, and the colony was due for some upgrades. Rodney and I gave them a fresh set of egg cartons. I also looked into getting some bottom feeders. I found that Roach keepers can use certain beetles as a clean up crew, finishing uneaten food, molts, and even dead cockroaches. I was surprised to learn that meal worms and their beetle counterpart work beautifully.

Want to know what irony is? I already had a box of mealworms, and most of them had already pupated and turned into beetles. Perfect, right? Except the box was in my freezer - thinking I had no use for the colony anymore, I opted to humanely kill them all before emptying the box out into the garbage. We had to buy a second new mealworm colony just for the roach bin.

While we wait for the roach colony to bounce back, we're holding Ducky over with horn worms. The horn worm is the larva of the Sphynx moth, so they're basically caterpillars. Juciy, slow moving, brightly colored, and named for the bizarre single "horn" that protrudes from their head.


Isn't that a beautiful color? A teammate described the color as "8-bit". It looks like something out of a video game. I swear, the color even looks pixelated.

Vibrant colors, but these worms smell like old farts. They live in plastic deli cups, feeding off a nutrient rich brown paste pressed into the bottom of the deli cup. When we're not using them, we store the cups upside down so the poop falls to the floor and the horn worms can continue to eat suspended upside down.


Ducky loves these things - probably because they are fat, juicy, and they don't put up much of a fight. That's a good situation for a lazy lizard that relies more on her looks than her own ability to hunt.

Today I've got COVID tests on my mind. We'd like to get tested before driving down to Illinois for Christmas, but evidently the rest of Madison has the same idea. Marissa and Rodney found the testing clinic was so busy, they ran out of tests and had to close early. Today, Miles and I will try to brave the rush.

That's what I got today. I'm going to take some time off writing through Christmas, but rest assured all be checking in at least a few times before new years. Hope you have a great Christmas weekend, everybody.