The Petco employee gave us the answer we were waiting to hear, "You're good to go!". We picked out 3 fish - a gold gourami (to be named "Buzz"), a dwarf gourami (to be named "Iris"), and a red-tailed shark (to be named "Finley"). We came home, put the happy fish in their new home, and watched them swim around. The next day, the gold gourami didn't look so good. He was a little bit smaller than the rest of the fish and had gotten picked on by the shark. He died not too long after that. We brought him into the fish store and got a refund, but learned very soon that being picked on probably wasn't the only problem leading to his death.
A few days later, our dwarf gourami, named "Iris", died too. But strangely enough, she looked perfectly healthy! We were very confused. When we brought her in to get our refund based on their guarantee, the employee asked us what we did to set up the tank. After telling him step-by-step what we did, the friendly employee asked, "Wait... so you never cycled the tank with gold fish?" We had no idea what he was talking about. So, he proceeded to tell us how we needed to cycle the tank first to get some good bacteria in there. He was pretty sure that our shark would die relatively soon, too... :(
So we purchased some goldfish to start the cycling process. It was entertaining for the week or so that we had them to watch Finley (our shark) chase the gold fish around. He absolutely hated their presence in the tank. But, because goldfish produce an intense amount of ammonia and waste, after the cycling process was done, our water still wasn't healthy enough to get more fish. We had to constantly clean out the rocks of all the broken-down waste and do 10% water changes to bring the bad levels down.
So, after about a week and half, we were pretty certain our water was good, but now it was time for my Spring Break. So we decided that we would go to the mountains for a few days and try to get some more fish when we got back. Finley was still alive (surprisingly), so we thought, he was just a buff fish who could withstand anything. With this theory, we put some extra food in the tank and figured he would be fine for a few days without us... boy, were we wrong! When we came home, Finley had jumped out of the hole in the back of the tank and landed in our toaster. Let me take a moment here to explain that our fish tank is sitting on a raised ledge/counter in our kitchen, and the toaster sits perfectly on the standard-height countertop below the back of the tank. So after working so hard to make the water better for Finley and future fish, the better water sat empty with zero fish.
With that story told, we were now able to start over with clean water, filled with healthy bacteria. We started out by putting our four dwarf frogs (Olley, Kirby, Jasper, and Chip) in the tank. Then we put in a snail and our Chinese Algae-Eater (named Bruce) to help clear up some of the algae. We decided we didn't want another red-tailed shark. They're a semi-aggressive and territorial fish that can jump out of a tank. As awesome as they are to look at, that kind of fish is a little more risky than we want to deal with.
Finally, we purchased our first new fish! Another gold gourami, this time named Montezuma. Where the heck did you get that name, you probably ask. Well, his gold color made me think of Aztec gold, and Montezuma was the first "Aztec thing" that came to our minds. We like to call him Montie for short :)
So that is the story of our fish tank. We're really hoping it works out this time!