An Education in Crabs

September 8, 2015 at 8:51 pm (Education) (, , , , , , , )

Not too long ago, I wrote an article for that featured this paragraph:

Hermit Crabs

Hermit crabs are fantastic little creatures. You might even have fond memories of fishing them out of the ocean yourself or keeping them in your elementary school classroom. Hermit crabs are popular, and with good reason. They are just about the least expensive terrarium dweller you can hold.

A small plastic container, a fish bowl, or an old tank you find at a garage sale – almost anything can serve as a hermit crab habitat. Fill the bottom with sand and rocks and place a tray of water and a few extra shells larger than the one the crab currently inhabits in the tank. Again, only $10 spent at your local Wal-Mart or pet store can set you up for life of the crab.

The crab itself will cost anywhere from $5 – $15 and their food will cost about $3 per can. While that may sound like a lot for a hermit crab, these cans last quite awhile. All in all, you could easily have a hermit crab join your family for an initial cost of $20 – $40, depending on what you choose to purchase. –

A few weeks ago, however, we went to the beach and caught ourselves a few hermit crabs with our four year old.  Remembering my own article, I thought, we should keep these – it would be a fun starter pet and kiddo has already been begging for a new pet.  (We have two dogs, but you know kids, they want tiny creatures to pester and nurture.)

So I headed up to the gift shop and bought a hermit crab kit. $25.  It came with a free crab, but I told the lady at the counter that we had two downstairs under the dock.

“Oh, those are saltwater.  They’ll die if you take them home and don’t have a saltwater aquarium.  You should probably take the free one anyway and let those ones go.  These are freshwater brought from Florida.”

“Oh, ok.”

Then, she informed me that it’s best to buy an extra one.  They are community creatures.

“Sure, let’s do it.  We’ll let the other two go and take these two home.”

So, I took the little plastic container downstairs, full of gravel, a shell, a sponge, and food – plus two tiny crabs.house_hermit_crab

We explained to kiddo that the others needed to be free and she had no problem with that, after all, we were taking these fun ones home and she understood that the others had come from the ocean and these two from a shop.  She asked about extra shells, because we’ve read Eric Carle’s Hermit Crab book a thousand times.

We set the crabs up in the house when we got home from the beach that day and made plans to do some research and visit the pet store within the week.  We knew the plastic container was too small for our comfort – but we thought we were just being those people who spoil their pets.  I had no idea. No. Idea.

Nerd that I am, naturally, I bought a book.  I was a little disappointed that it was a “for dummies” title, 51MS-sTSuJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_because I’m a book snob and they seem so over marketed and written – well – for dummies.  BUT, they are actually great starting points for any kind of research on anything.  They are simplistic, concise, and give you the terms you need to dive deeper.  Terms you wouldn’t know to look up otherwise.  Like wikipedia, but more reliable, except the links aren’t necessarily up to date.

So it turns out, hermit crabs ARE community creatures.  In the wild they live with hundreds of other crabs.  It also turns out that the smallest container you want for these guys is a ten gallon tank for two small crabs.  Cheap guru that I am, I could have gotten one from a garage sale, but I didn’t.  I gave my sister our unused 20 gallon tank when we moved and my niece’s and nephews now have a tiny pet turtle.  I went the lazy route and bought a brand new ten gallon at PetsMart.  $30. (If you’re keeping track – remember my article peaked at a $40 expense to keep a crab alive.  So far in this story we’re at $55 pre-tax.)


I bought more gravel to cover the bottom of the tank. $10.  I bought a crab shack because they need a place to hide. $8. A fake plant my daughter loved to make “it all so beautiful.” $4 (Actually, she paid for that one.) I was feeling pretty good about this terrarium.  Really good.

Then, I served pinterest.  I know.  Pinterest!

It led me to a lot of websites, blogs, and hermit crab advocates.  I discovered that I wasnP1030909‘t supposed to have gravel in the tank. They don’t like gravel.  They like soil substrate.  They like to bury themselves.  Not just like, they NEED.  Hermit crabs molt and to do so, you need 6 inches of soil for them to dive into.  Also, they’re climbers.  They want tree limbs.  Also, each crab needs its own hiding place, so one crab shack won’t cut it.  They want to live together but need their own bedrooms.  Who knew?

Also, they need a fresh water pool and a salt water pool.  So you need two kinds of water conditioners.  And two kinds of pools. And a mister to keep their climate humid enough because they have evolved gills – they can’t breathe in dry air.

By this time, I lost track of itemizing – but one trip to PetCo later and I’d spent another $70 or so.  While I was there, I also bought a wheat-germ plant that they had for sale for cats, but is actually good for crabs, which the workers didn’t know, I had just discovered this in all my internet surfing and wild book reading at the library.

I still need a heater, but I can’t afford one at the moment.  We’re in Texas, so I set the tank outside if I think they’re getting too cold – but come winter, these guys are having another $50-$100 spent on them.

On the plus side: I think they’ll live.  In captivity – because we con people into $25 habitats that slowly kill the crab – they live 3 months to 3 years.  In the wild, they live up to 30 years.  We’re shooting for a longer lifespan here.  We’re also using this as an educational project… we’re building an ecosystem.  Soon, we’ll add rolly pollies (they help keep the terrarium clean and co-habitate well with the hermies… again, who knew?)


(Additional notes: hermit crabs can eat from your kitchen and like a wide variety of things in their diet that include meat, vegetables, and fruits.  We have begun a notebook compiling these lists.  One of ours has already changed shells twice – because he’s indecisive, not because he’s growing so much – and apparently this is common so it’s good to have not just one or two shells but a wide variety of empties at their disposal.)

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Have Child, Plant a Tree, Write a Book

May 6, 2014 at 5:31 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“Then it came to me: Zola had said: ‘To have a child, to plant a tree, to write a book.’ That, he said, was a full life!” – Betty Smith

a tree growsWhat I love about being a book reviewer is the constant discovery of new things.  Picking up books I may have never had the opportunity to read, and learning from those books – not how to write better necessarily, but – what kind of writer I want to be.

Book reviewing has also required me to read things more closely, not just the way I would for school, but in a more personal way as well.  It’s not just about finding the literary value, it’s not just about liking or not liking, it becomes more and more important to be able to people and my readers why I loved a book.  What moved me to passion? What is so relevant about this story to my own life? In doing that, it makes me dig deeper into myself, deeper into my library, and deeper into the art of research.

I’ve slacked off the last few weeks about publishing a literary journal post, but I haven’t stopped reading the literary journals.  I meant to write this yesterday, it’s been dancing around in my head the last few weeks as I’ve alternated between picking my way through McSweeney’s issue 18 and researching to see if anything was written about Betty Smith.  I’ve been scouring the internet for evidence of things written about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or perhaps a long buried article or story she may have had published before infamy.  I didn’t know a lot about her, so it’s been an educational endeavor.

I started with what was available in the back of the Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition that I read the book from.  The little extras this edition provides are wonderful, including the first piece Smith ever published: a bit of prose called “Winter” when she was 8 years old and still in grade school, under the name Elizabeth Wehner.

I enjoyed reading the article from This Week that she wrote called “Fall in Love With Life.”  It’s a beautiful glimpse into her mind and life and what led her to know that she had had a full and marvelous life.  It was refreshing to read, after feeling like a failure on most days, knowing I’ve had a child, planted a tree, and written book, changed my outlook on my life at 30.

Of course, the research continued and in my searching I found this:

I also found this and am pretty disappointed that I can’t find a copy of “On Discovering Thomas Hardy” anywhere:,Betty.html

If anyone knows of any publications or articles written on or by Betty Smith, please share.  I’d like to discover them too.



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Knowledge is… what exactly?

June 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm (Education, In So Many Words) (, , , , )

Despite that old saying that knowledge is power, lately I have found that the more knowledge I obtain, the less I feel I know about anything at all.  Sit down and read a book, immediately you are bombarded with at least ten other books you now need to read.  Les Miserables part one and two led me on a month-long adventure studying Napoleon.  While reading Napoleon, I felt like I didn’t understand much about any of the French wars.  I started buying up all sorts of French history despite the fact that I don’t really care much for French history, I just feel the need to know.

Well, that was last month.  This month something sparked an old interest, an idea I had about ten years ago that I never pursued.  I want to discover where the fine line between historical and relevant Astrology and the horoscope divination stuff actually lies.  I think the planets influence the world at large in a ‘the universe is one well oiled machine that works somewhat as one’ kind of way.  But divination and prophecies kind of give me the willy-nillies.  So I found myself reading The Case for Astrology by John Anthony West.  Of course, he is incredibly detailed and I realized I didn’t have a clue about half of what he was talking about.  So I started with the basics and picked up Dava Sobel’s The Planets, a couple of Stargazer books that I will hold onto for the kiddo (all great stuff for about age ten), and a number of other things.  So here I am now, reading anything and everything I can get my hands on from Astronomy to the mythology and literature that are the star’s namesakes.

Frankly, as exciting as it is to learn something new – it’s also a bit exhausting.  Each new little piece of the puzzle reveals 1000 pieces you never knew existed.  It’s the same in any subject.  When I was studying Egyptology I buried myself in Ancient Egypt everything for nearly a year.  12 months of research later, all I managed to uncover was how much more there was to research.  Even now in my Astrology/Astronomy stint, I’m uncovering how interconnected much of it is to Egyptian history, myth, and mystery, that it’s just added another 20 books to my TBR pile.

It is endless.

And when it all ends, when I die, where does all this knowledge go?  Unless I become a world renown writer (doubtful) or some kind of famous historian (highly doubtful), it will all be lost.

That could be a really depressing thought.  Except for one tiny little detail: It’s not so much about the knowledge, but the journey.

It’s about the diligence it takes to sift through information and catalogue not just the facts but thoughts about those facts.  It’s about using your mind and thinking through reality and your world view of that reality.  It’s about understanding human nature and God’s nature well enough to be the best possible human you can be.  It’s about knowing that when you die, you spent your time wisely, keeping your eyes open to the nuances and the tiny details of everything.

It doesn’t matter what I die not knowing when it comes to factoids and dates and the names of things.  It matters that I lived a life of pursuit.

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Good Old Fashioned Research

June 22, 2012 at 4:26 am (In So Many Words) (, , , )

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My Love for Brief Histories

March 20, 2012 at 9:07 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

and how aliens should stay on the Tardis

Title: A Brief History of Stonehenge: A Complete History and Archeology of the World’s Most Enigmatic Stone Circle

Found image at

Author: Aubrey Burl

Publisher: Constable & Robinson

Genre: Non-fiction, Archeology

Length: 368 pages

Although I read mostly fiction, nonfiction (history and science mostly) has a special place in my library and heart.  Where I devour stories and riveting tales, I pour over facts and dates.  I underline and disparage intelligent books with my amateur notes in the margins.  My nonfiction books take a beating my fiction titles can’t even dream of… ink splatters from broken fountain pens, pages become stained and wrinkled from spilled coffee and dog-eared corners.  There’s sticky residue from too many post-it notes.  Where my fiction books radiate and breathe the word “treasure,” my nonfiction books tiredly whimper “tool.”

My collection of “A Brief History of…” books are prime examples,Stonehengeby Aubrey Burl being the most recent victim of my hunger for knowledge.

“I’m reading about the history ofStonehenge.” – Me

“That’s silly, no one knows the history ofStonehenge, it’s a mystery.  The aliens did it.” – My sarcastic sister.

Its moments like these when the dichotomy of my reading habits collide the most often.  Where science fiction and fantasy novels are, at times, the highlight of my day, I like these kinds of conjectures to stay in novels.  The concepts of the pyramids being mystical,Stonehengebeing magical, and the world being over-ridden by alien beings from other planets make great stories – awesome Dr. Who episodes – but really annoying documentaries.

That guy with the hair on Ancient Aliens, you know who I’m talking about, the one that shows up in every show about everything with his orange face and tan lines around the eyeballs… he totally cracks me up! But I think he’s a nut and I’d much rather sit and read an archeologist’s account of their findings than risk that guy interrupting my research, telling me (yet again) that the aliens did it.

I love how Diana Gabaldon uses Stonehenge-like structures as her premise for time travel in the Outlander series.  Its brilliant! But don’t try to convince me that little piece of fun is the real deal, the actual way of the world.

Aubrey Burl has delivered exactly what I want out of my nonfiction reading.  It’s a complete and thorough report on every piece of archeological evidence, history, and anthropological speculation (minus the aliens) that has been made over the years. It’s got maps, diagrams, measurements, and so on.  From the Druids, to 1500-1800 literature, to the most recent of science experiments, Burl gives me enough information to feel knowledgeable enough to either putStonehengeaside and call myself learned or have a solid basis at which to do additional research and know where to look.  And its reader friendly, even if my copy has been treated maliciously by ink and coffee.
Buy Stonehenge by Aubrey Burl

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