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This was the second Christmas we have spent at home, away from family. The first time was really difficult for me. This time was easier. We had done it before and we’re slowly working out our own traditions. For example, we had to have a big discussion about how Santa would deliver his presents.

As I’m sure you know, Santa doesn’t have a set technique. He tailors his deliver methods (and even delivery dates) according to the traditions of the local country and microtraditions of the family. In PH’s family, stocking stuffers were just… extras. The REAL presents, the big ones that had been requested in letters, were wrapped by Santa’s elves and put under the tree. In my family, on the other hand, everything was unwrapped, assembled, and sitting in or around the stocking.

After much discussion and some compromise, we asked Santa to wrap anything particularly asked for that was too big to fit inside the stocking. That was made easy by the fact that Owl only asked for two things this year – a crokinole board and a bow and arrow set.

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So Owl got his gifts from Santa, as well as many gifts from doting relations, and it was a nice Christmas.

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I wasn’t all that excited for Christmas this year, because there wasn’t much I wanted or expected. The only thing I really wanted (other than a book that was sold out) was something that PH had long vetoed – another pet.

I’m an animal lover. If I had my way we would own two dogs, the cat, a bird, a rodent of some kind, a tropical saltwater tank complete with coral, and a couple of farm animals. Unfortunately, time, money, space, and PH interfere with that.

PH is not a fan of buying pets that are going to die on you within a year or two of purchase. Nor is he a fan of taking up space in our already-cluttered 1000 square foot townhouse. I get all of that, but I haven’t had a new pet in eight years and I was itching for someone new.

So I asked for a fish for Christmas, and was told “absolutely not.” Not only does PH fail to see the charm of fish, but he didn’t think we have space, and no matter how much I pointed out that a 5 gallon fish tank would take up no more room than one of the MANY boxes of collectables he has sitting around awaiting sale, he held firm.

It got to the point that a friend of mine, who also loves animals, was starting to threaten to buy me a fish no matter what, and I worried that if she did, that PH would be mad.

But then guess what I pulled out from under the tree on Christmas morning, not from Santa but from PH himself?

A fish tank. And a heater. And a filter. And gravel. And decorations.

So on Boxing Day I dragged my family out to get a fish, and live plants. I spent nearly half an hour hanging over betta fish, trying to pick just the right one. PH preferred the blue ones, so I focused on those. I was torn between two – a pale blue one who was definitely the perkiest of the lot, and another one with a beautiful aqua glimmer that I loved. But this lovely one, whose scales had a gleam that reminded me of the Caribbean sea, spent most of his time at the bottom of his tiny cup, coming up to the surface only to breathe.

PH agreed with me that he was prettier, if more listless.

“I think he’s still healthy,” I said, scrutinizing him. “His colors are bright, and there’s no spots on him… and he DOES move around…”

“Take him then. If he’s not very active, oh well,” said PH.

So I bought him, and the live plants, and then I happily spent several hours setting up his tank on my book shelf. Then I floated his cup for a night, slowly adding more tank water to his sad little cup and measuring the pH occasionally. His tiny cup water was so full of ammonia that it was really acidic.

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“Can’t you just put him in?” PH asked, “look at him, poor guy.”

The fish was showing much more animation than at the store, bonking his head on the side of the cup, trying to get to the watery paradise he could see around him. Even Perfect Husband, who doesn’t see the appeal of fish, could practically hear him yelling “LET ME OUT!”

But I was afraid to let him out. The pH of the two waters was so different, and a sudden pH change can kill a fish, even a hardy betta fish.

So I added some more tank water to his cup and by the next morning the pH was better. So I put him in the tank.

Oh, man, you never saw a fish so happy. Our previously listless fish is listless no more.

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He spent the whole day zipping around like a mad thing, obviously revelling in his freedom. It was adorable.

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We’ve named him Melchior, after one of the three wise men. My Christmas gift.

He was a great gift, and it was a good Christmas.

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