Bug,  Super Dad,  The Zoo

How One Free Goldfish Turned into a $6000 Hobby


A while back Bug was invited to an “Under the Sea” birthday party. We love anything “Under the Sea”, as you know, so this party was right up our alley. And you can imagine our delight when the take-home party favor was a real live goldfish in a little glass bowl. Bug was over the moon and named her little fish Nemo right off the bat.

I was surprised when Nemo lived through the night and into the next week. His bowl was super small though so I borrowed an old beta tank my mom had. I’d had it before and managed to keep guppies alive in it for months before a power outage turned off my desk light and they died from getting too cold. It was small but I wasn’t quite ready to shell out the dough for a big aquarium. I’ve had a goldfish or two in my life so I know how these things go.

Amazingly, Nemo kept staying alive so we decided to double our fun with a trip to Petsmart. Twelve dollars later we had a small plastic plant, a really cool under-water bridge and a friend for Nemo named, Orangina.

Then things started to go bad. Orangina and Nemo might have gotten fed a little too much to eat even though I had repeatedly warned Bug about over-feeding fish. But Nemo and Orangina were very hungry, mom! she informed me as I surveyed Nemo and Orangina’s foggy tank. I thought I’d kept an eye on Bug’s feeding schedule but maybe I should have kept the food out of reach altogether. Orangina started swimming sideways and by the next morning she was dead.

We had a funeral in the backyard and buried Orangina by the rose bushes with a big sling-shot looking stick for her gravestone. It was all very sad.

I knew we had to step it up a notch if we were going to keep Nemo around. So we took a dreaded trip to Walmart and bought one of those all-inclusive 10-gallon aquariums kits that comes with a filter, a water treatment packet, a tiny packet of food, a light etc etc…We bought some rocks and some more food and before I knew it, I’d spent over $50 on a party favor fish that we got for free at a birthday party.

But Nemo was a great friend for Bug by now. She checked on him religiously. I remember doing the same thing when I was a kid. In fact, my mom still has a great big 80-gallon aquarium that she’s kept the same school of happy fish in for years.

Even though we had a new tank with nice clean treated water and Nemo seemed to really like it, after a few days he started swimming sideways too. We prepared ourselves mentally and sure enough he finally gave up the ghost a day later. There was another funeral in the backyard by the roses.

Thankfully, my brother showed up in town about this time and he’s kept fish for years so he took us back to Petco to do it right. We got our water tested and got a long lecture from the official fish expert on Nitrates and Nitrites and how bad our city water out of the tap really is. I did not know! So we started over with new treated water. We let that water sit for a week (which was great for anticipation and appreciation—I highly recommend it) and then went back to Petco a week later for some new fish.

fish owner

Untitled So now I get to add aquarium maintenance to my chore list.

We got six guppies and one African Dwarf Frog. We were very excited about the African Dwarf Frog. Unfortunately, he burried himself under the plastic plant and bridge and we haven’t seen him since. I can find him if I move things around but I have no idea if he’s eating. I have to put my hand all the way in the tank to give him food under his bridge because if I let it drop from the top the guppies eat it faster than you can blink. Those suckers like to eat! And even when I put it under the bridge they go after that. So I’m really worried about Mr. Frog aka Jumpy.

new family members

A few days later two of the guppies died. It’s been two weeks now and the remaining four are still alive. Mr. Frog seems to be alive too but I haven’t seen much of him. Anyone know anything about African Dwarf frogs? Please don’t tell me that he should have his own tank because I don’t think I can handle another aquarium at this point.

But the story doesn’t stop there of course. Oh no. Toby got wind of Bug’s new hobby and he decided he’d show her a really good time and take her to some kind of super ultra deluxe pet fair they were having at the local fairgrounds. I have no idea what happened but somehow Bug came home with a blue beta that she “won.” His name is Ocean.


He’s very beautiful but I didn’t want a Beta. I’m in over my head with the fish in this house. As it is I have to change water every three weeks and all this hulabaloo about additives and nitrates and nitrites has me a little stressed out. I have a hard enough time keeping cat boxes clean and a dog who doesn’t like to go outside let out at regular intervals. Don’t get me wrong, part of me is just as over the moon about our menagerie as Bug is but the other part is very tired. So we have a Beta.

beta haven

And the cats like him very much.

cat proof

So he lives up high in the china cabinet with all my party glasses. It’s very swanky up there.

Seaside Tropical Fish Store

So how does all that add up to six thousand dollars you ask? Well, it doesn’t quite but what I’m trying to say is that a goldfish is the gateway drug to a very expensive hobby. Last weekend Toby took us on a family outing to a tropical fish store in Huntington Beach. What a fun family outing you say? Hah!

fish store

It was. This store is a wonderland of fish and all things fishy. Don’t want to pay admission to the fancy dancy aquarium? No problem, just hit up the local tropical fish store. We spent hours and hours there. Mostly because Toby got sucked in but also because it was fun.

wee freshwater crab!

There were crabs,

snappy checking out the fish

and turtles and giant koi…

this way/that way

Fish with stripes that went this way,


and fish with stripes that with that way.


Fish right out of the movie Nemo…

pointing to the African Underwater Frogs

Aquatic frogs,

mini puffers!

And tiny miniature puffer fish! I want these ones really bad. They are so cute. I don’t know if they puff up or not though.

grumpy eel

There were eels.


And starfish!





lion fish

And lion fish!

guppies are friendly

And of course lots of friendly guppies.


You know what Bubba thinks? He thinks we’re not going home without buying some fish…



happy about fish

Guess who has Daddy wrapped around her little finger and now has an 80-gallon tank filled with real plants in her very own bedroom at Daddy’s house?

Toby is a total sucker.

He didn’t spend six grand. He didn’t even spend six hundred I don’t think but while we were in the store we ran into some tropical fish people and they said having fish as a hobby was pretty much like having a boat—you just throw money into the water. Of course I should probably qualify my teasing by saying that Toby has kept fish before and this hobby is near and dear to his heart. In fact, back when Bug was probably two or three I wanted to get her a fish and he cautioned me not to because he knew that someday this would be something very special they did together.

So I guess today is that day. This coming weekend they are picking out the fish that will go into the giant bedroom tank. I’m sure it’s the beginning of a very big and very expensive adventure. I’m just glad it’s at his house!


  • Susan:)

    This post made me laugh. I had two beta fish once. They lived for about a year , but too much work and worry. I had to keep them out of reach of my very nosy cats. Plus the cleaning. They were fun to look at but not much use otherwise. Although I was somewhat relieved when they died, I had nightmares about killing fish for awhile afterwards!

    I can’t even imagine having an 80 gallon tank! My fish each had a tiny little plastic rectangle bowl!

  • Yara

    We got a fish a couple weekends ago, too.
    Lisa & I went to a mother daughter tea and they raffled off a beta. She didn’t win. I dropped her off at home, went to Snja’s baby shower and came one to find a beta named Fin/Fish/somethingelsetoo… Because two dogs, a guinea pig and the three kids just wasn’t enough ; )

  • Melaine

    I take my kids to the tropical fish store sometimes as a cheaper (and less crowded!) alternative to the aquarium. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one, though I’m a tad bit embarrassed to admit that I thought I was pretty ingenious when I first thought of it. I’ve had an 80 gallon tank before and recently have begun to itch to bring it out of storage but then I remember how painfully bad I am at fish keeping. (Though it’s mostly painful for the fish.) The puffer fish does puff, but you don’t really ever want it to. Puffers don’t earn their name when they’re happy and healthy.

  • Madge

    We’ve gone down this road before. I think at least twice, but the largest tank we got to was a 5 gallon. I’m terrible at taking care of fish, but we have a lot of funny stories about the fish we had when they were here! Like the time that Emily over fed one of her fish and Fish went to the pet store to replace him, but forgot that he was orange and not white. Emily came home from school and asked how her fish turned white. We told her that’s what happens when you over feed your fish! I think you or was it Bethany? were here when that happened, hahaha.

  • bethany actually

    Ha! Yep, @Madge, that was me! I was amazed Ems bought it!

    I had two goldfish (Sonic and Fire) when I was a freshman in college with my roommate, Erin. I think they lived all of a week or two. Erin wrote them a moving elegy, as they were the first pets she’d ever had.

    We used to take Annalie to Petsmart all the time when we lived in a dinky town in Maryland where the nearest zoo was almost two hours away. It was the perfect alternative for a toddler.

    I’m glad the 80-gallon tank isn’t at your house, too! :-)

  • Cathy

    That pic of Bug in the van with The Tank is the best! What is it with men and fish? Fishing, fish tanks – I just want to eat them. :) They’re pretty to look at but you can’t cuddle them like a cat or dog either! Yep, glad it’s at her dad’s.

  • ioi

    When we were first married, we got five little feeder goldfish… you know, the 50 cent ones or something really cheap like that – they were REALLY tiny, probably close to half an inch long. Anyway, they lasted about 4 years. We upgraded from a tiny 1 gallon bowel when they started JUMPING OUT of the bowel that was on TOP of our refrigerator! (That’s how at least one of them died however there was one that survived the jump out of the bowel on three different occasions – and yes, he landed on the floor at least twice). Once they were in the 5 gallon tank, they lived happily until about 3 or 4 inches long. I think what finally did them in was swallowing rocks. It was fun while it lasted, but I was relieved not to have to worry about keeping the toddlers out of the fishtank when they were gone.

  • Doni

    LOL, this was a great “fishing story.” My daughter got one of those tiny octagonal aquariums to take with her to college, with one lone goldfish. Floyd. He was quite the character and lived a charmed life against all odds and despite all manner of neglect. He grew, and grew and grew and he liked to float belly up on the top of the tank for attention. One of her friends finally begged to keep him and she was so relieved to have him go to a good fish keeper home. I did the same for my grand kids, setting up the tank 2 weeks in advance, picking out the cute little neon danios and glass catfish, and they thrived even when I was walking by every day chastising myself for being so neglectful and allowing that tank to become crusty and nasty. But I suffer from that sense overwhelming sense of obligation to all living creatures. I soldiered on changing the tank and caring for them long after the big grand kids lost interest. After almost 3 years I finally gifted the whole shebang to my son, with the excuse that his little boy needed a pet and due to his eczema and allergies this was the only possible solution. Baby David was so happy and he loves his fishies. Now the only fish I ever want again are going into my frying pan.

  • Kandi

    I learned too much about fish when I worked at Petsmart. We had goldfish growing up in a 10 gallon tank but they would die perdiodically and we’d replace them etc. Eventually my mom got tired of cleaning the tank and we gave up. I had a beta when I worked at petsmart but couldn’t keep them alive longer than 9 months or so at a time. I was careful not to get sucked into having a large fish tank. My old roomie had a 29 gallon tank (she still does but we don’t live together anymore) with tropical fish in it. She has had some issues with her fish but manages to keep most of them alive, even after several moves.
    My best advice for cleaning (although it is rather expensive) is a Python syphon that attaches to your kitchen faucet. It is the most amazing tool to have when cleaning a fish tank!

  • BeachMama

    OH MY I love the last photo of Bug!!! Back before we had children (and were married for that fact) Hubby had a tank that kept growing until it was 88 gallons. It was beautiful all salt water, and in such great shape he hardly even had to do anything to it to keep it running. Then we bought our own house that didn’t have a finished basement and we had no room on the main floor so out it went and we kept a little 20 gallon for a while, but that too finally gave up the ghost and now we have none (THANK GOODNESS) we had a beta fish for a while, but he is no longer with us now, he was a good friend for a while though and it is a great teaching tool for the kids to keep them taking care of something. I am voting for a ‘petless’ house once our last one leaves us. Just for a while to remember what it was like to not have to vacuum up fur every other day or change water or feed…..

  • Heather

    Buy bottled drinking (spring) water for your fish. It is only $1 per gallon at walmart or wherever and then your fish won’t die from the tap water (even though its treated and everything). Also, there is this water-treatment liquid to put in the water for enzymes. Fish gills like it.

    Don’t stick your arm in to feed the frog. Soap residues and stuff from your skin can hurt gills. He’ll survive. We got one of those frogs to go with our tetras and he’s still around 3 months later.

    Good luck with your new family of fish :) And go buy spring water.

  • TexasLea

    We’ve had the African clawed frogs before. They are bottom feeders. No worries, he will find enough food without you having to run your hand in the tank. Like the poster above said, the soap and oil residue on your hands and arm may even do more harm to your fishies.
    For your little betta, consider getting one of those little plastic critter keepers with the colorful, slotted plastic snap on lids. Just a 1/2 gallon one will do nicely. I kept a Betta for nearly 5 years in one of those. Also, Bettas live in mud puddles so don’t stress over him. As long as you clean out his tank and don’t over feed him on the betta food he will be fine. Oh and if you were told that he will eat the roots of that ivy, that is wrong. Bettas are carnivores and really need the food pellets sold for them.

  • Heather in WA State

    Oh, I can relate to this one! My dad wanted me to overwinter some of his baby koi. They grew, and grew, and grew. The tank took up half the bathroom. The tank needed weekly cleaning. I had to buy chemicals, a bigger filter and pump, and special cleaning supplies. Then my dad sold his house — could I just keep the koi until he gets a new house with a pond? Then he bought an Airstream trailer and moved to Minnesota. Eventually I trespassed back onto my dad’s old property and slipped the fish back into the pond they’d come from. I wonder what the new owners thought when half a dozen koi appeared in their pond?

    Then 2 years ago my daughter’s teacher sent her home with two small fish. Off to buy a tank, filter, pump, etc. (Of course I’d given away the old koi tank). Two years later those fish are STILL alive! Despite missed feeds and delayed tank cleanings, they live on.

    Good for you for turning this over to Toby! A fish tank is not what you need in your life right now!

  • Shannon

    I can’t tell from the picture but if you have both male and female guppies (females have shorter tails, are bigger and less pretty/flashy), then they will have live babies! Maybe don’t tell Bug, though, since the frog will probably eat them. But if you do want to raise them, it’s actually pretty easy. Just provide some places for the babies to hide, like plants and rocks, and at least a few should survive. Have fun!

  • minutepapillon

    Well, never mind, as I was saying yesterday. If the dwarf frog you have is another name for african clawed frog, be ready for a long term relationship here. We’ve had our for over 15 years now I’d say. Be sure to cover the top of the tank or not to put too much water as ours once decided to see beyond the tank and though she made it through the night in the air and was put back in the tank in the morning, she died within 24h. As Bug found out with her first fish, it’s better not too feed them water creatures too much. Ours spend a fortnight without food sometimes. We used to have two of them but she is now on her own. We feed her blood worms from the petshop but she’s keen on tiny pieces of ham too, she enjoys flies and worms. Kids are always thrilled to catch their frog pet live food. So off you go fly catching now and good luck!

  • Ellen W

    I admit I would be irritated if one of my boys came home from a birthday party with a fish as I don’t want any additional pets in our house (we have a cat and dog). We had a fishtank growing up and some of the fish that lived the longest were the little minnows my sisters caught out of a drainage pond at the park.

  • kat

    the picture of the tank in the van is just great. this whole post cracked me up!

    i won a goldfish but my parents didn’t realize that change of water temps would affect the fish so bye bye fish! i definitely got over it quickly which i think was a relief to them!

  • Hil

    When my eldest was very small we bought her a whole tank of goldfish. Having been educated by Elmo, she knew a lot about Goldfish, and she named them all Dorothy! We had endless fun with,”which one is that one?” “Dorothy!” “and that one?” “Dorothy!” “what about that one?” “Dorothy!”

  • Mrs. Wilson

    That looks like so much fun, but so much WORK! My brother kept and bred fish (some were guppies) when he was in high school. He had about 12 tanks in his bedroom and sold his baby fish to the pet store. This post has made me kind of want to pick up a fish hobby (so pretty!), but we’re not allowed pets in our place, not even fish. Trips to the pet stores are super-fun, though. :)

  • Kuky

    We used to have saltwater fish. They were so pretty to look at. We had a lion fish and the prettiest picasso fish and I can’t remember what else. But I do vaguely remember it being a lot of work for Alan. Yes, definitely a good thing it’s not at your place.

  • Lana @ Mz-Cellaneous

    We have a 22 cent goldfish from walmart. He’s around 8 years old. About 3 years ago I decided to figure out how long this thing was going to live… longest known life of a goldfish is 42 years.
    I’m now contemplating re-writing my will. Who’s going to take care of the fish?

  • Amy

    I laughed when I read the title to this blog post. Been there and done that!! I started out with ONE beta.

    Some 6 years later and all aquariums and accessories long gone. But yet think I might just look out for an interesting vase/house for a beta…

    Cripes, all coming back to me now! (But wouldn’t beta be happier with more room, other fish? Frogs, snails, beta’s and plant life?)

    I just may get a Beta but a loner fish he will be. I swear… I think…

    (NEVER clean the bowl/tank with any sort of soap!! Water just fine. Trust me on this one.)

    Guppies are very fun. Breed easily and if you have enough plant life in there (make it really dense in one area) the babies thrive and you get to see how the next generation turn out :)