The Secret Garden – Revealed

Oh. Shit. Now, I remember.

I am not hallucinating. I do not have a Secret Santa who thinks I’m worthy of a $200 present. My sister-in-law was not just denying sending us a hydroponic garden to drive my wife crazy. It wasn’t even a gift at all – it just arrived around Christmas.

So, I did not drunk-order another indoor garden. However, I did kinda order it. Well, I applied for it, and then forgot about it. If it weren’t for a rather cryptic email I received this afternoon, I never would have remembered applying for it, because I had assumed I didn’t really meet the criteria.

This is a good lesson for businesses in how leaving tracks with customers is important because in this case, THERE WEREN’T ANY. I was convinced that this was a truly remarkable screw-up (wrong machine, wrong address) by a Chinese company pretending to sell stuff on Amazon. It wasn’t. It is part of a non-documented, well-hidden program from the City of Dallas.

Our tax dollars at work.

Here is how I finally remembered that I had signed up for the City’s program for indoor gardens, before I had ever seen the Amazon ad for the AeroGarden we got my Mom (I think).

I received an email today from City Hall, which states:

Hello,

Thank you for your interest in receiving an in-home garden kit! 

The gardens have already started shipping and you will be receiving your kit via contactless mail delivery. December is a high peak season for shipping so please be patient and allow up to four weeks for delivery from the vendor. The City does not have the ability to track packages for you.

This program is part of a pilot that addresses short term food needs for COVID as well as potential long term food access. You may be contacted to learn more about your experience using these in home kits and your health. We are excited to learn more from you about the idea of helping people grow food indoors.

Happy holidays and happy gardening!

That’s it. No signature. No links to rules and regulations. Nothing to sign to acknowledge receipt.

So, apparently, the city is sending out free hydroponic gardens. Then, I vaguely remembered signing up for a city program for in-home gardening, because it sounded interesting. I just couldn’t find any receipts. I searched every email account I have, I wandered through my Chrome history, I drove my wife partially insane asking her questions, but there was no record of me ever having ordered anything from the city or applied for a indoor garden program.

This would explain how Click and Grow got my name, address and cell phone and thought it was drop-shipped — and why Amazon had no records of it.

Off to Dr. Google.

This took much longer than it should have, but as I said, the City doesn’t seem to have any record of it, even though it’s a city program. I tried every search term I thought made sense and several that didn’t and finally found a link to a image on one of the city council member’s pages (ironically, not my city council member.)

Now, I remember, still vaguely. At the time, I didn’t really think I was a “vulnerable population” member, but I am currently unemployed and I am over 60, so who knows what the criteria was? For one thing, you had to have Internet access, since I saw it online somewhere.

I remember that I figured I would fill out the initial form, look at the paperwork that inevitably followed, and determine if I was really eligible. If not, maybe I would just buy one of the gardens, because they sound cool.

That’s how government programs work, right?

Not this one. I filled out the SurveyMonkey form (which is now closed, so don’t bother), and it just accepted the input and said, “Thank you” (I think – again, there’s no record.) I think you can have SurveyMonkey send a receipt or a copy of the form – or you can choose not to bother anyone with a paper trail.

Note the description in the image – “nine plants.” Note the photo (which when Googled returns “Click and Grow Smart Garden 9 – White”.)

Mystery solved.

We’re growing lettuce that we bought with our tax dollars.

Now, I just have to figure out where I saw the invitation in the first place. That’s for another day. I did close out my ticket with Click and Grow support trying to find the origin of the package.

Our Government Lettuce

The Secret Garden – A Christmas Mystery

Gardens are sprouting up everywhere.

We have a Christmas mystery, one that is nice to have, but perplexing nonetheless.

First of all, I will admit that I never know what to get my family for Christmas. Well, that’s not completely true – I will regularly buy my grandkids something I want to play with so when we visit, I have toys ready to go for me, unless they’ve been broken or lost in the meantime.

For the past few years, gifts haven’t been a major issue, because we’ve been traveling over Christmas. So, while we might still exchange gifts in person with our local family, but it was short and sweet, i.e. I cannot guarantee the amount of thought that went into the choices, and the gift exchange was way before or way after the actual date. However, this year, we’re staying home, which means we needed gifts for my Mom and my little brother. My little brother and I usually just promise to take each other to dinner, and then forget about it, which is equal value for both of us. My Mom has so much stuff in her condo that she is regifting things to me every time I visit her. Also, my brother knows her personal shopper at Neiman Marcus and I don’t, so he has the upper hand on Mom gifts.

However, this year, inspiration struck for both of them. In other words, a couple of online ads actually worked. I got an email from an unnamed company with something that my brother will appreciate, if not enjoy. (I would mention specifically what I got my brother, because it is extremely cool and very expensive [as far as he knows], but he hasn’t see the gift yet. I’m pretty sure Mom doesn’t read my blog – or know what a blog is, so I can talk about her gift.)

One day while I was flailing around for something to get Mom (OK, one day while I was wasting time online), I saw an ad on Facebook for an AeroGarden, a hydroponic indoor garden “system” for growing plants – mainly small vegetables, herbs and flowers.

Side issue: yes, I know, you can grow pot in them, but that’s not legal in a lot of areas. I’ve known this since two of my fraternity brothers were growing pot in an aquarium turned “herb garden” in our dorm in the early 80s. They thought they were extremely clever and would never be detected until the rather elderly maid told them, “Your marijuana plants need watering.”

Sorry for the interruption, I just like that story.

Much like the Instant Pot (a pressure cooker) and the Ninja Foodi Grill (a convection oven), the AeroGarden provides function that could probably be found for less, but it would not be nearly as cool, because it is a sexy-looking package with one rockin’ name.

Anyway, the smallest AeroGarden – a Sprout – that holds three plants was on sale for $59 which is within reason for a temporarily unemployed person. (Sprout. It’s so freakin’ cute.)

So, we ordered a AeroGarden Sprout with a Salad Greens kit for Mom. Done. Finished with shopping.

Truth be told, I had a ulterior motive for ordering my Mom a AeroGarden. I wanted one. So, I sold my wife on the benefits for Mom (cribbed from the AeroGarden website and their constant marketing emails) until she started coming up with her own benefits, and then she discovered that there was an AeroGarden Sprout that came with an herb kit. These were the same herbs she grows in planters on our patio, but it’s getting colder now, so she had dug them up a couple weeks ago.

I said, “Gee, Sweetie, you could grow your basil indoors year-round!”

Sold. (Heh heh heh.)

I was given permission to order another AeroGarden Sprout for us, with the herbs kit. It arrived on November thirtieth, and I planted it the same day, so it’s been growing for just over three weeks. Left-to-right, parsley, dill, and basil (amazingly, Parsley, Dill and Basil were my ex-wife’s divorce attorneys.)

Our first AeroGarden. Parsley, Dill and Basil after just over three weeks of growth.

Then, my wife started thinking (which is never good for my wallet), “Hey, maybe the grandkids would like one of these! They all love tomatoes. Do they have one that will grow tomatoes?”

I’m still trying to get her to stop saying “One that grows (x)” – it’s a garden. It’s just water instead of dirt. It grows whatever you plant in it. There isn’t a specialized one for tomatoes or herbs or pot (not that people would grow pot in one.)

Now, we had already purchased Christmas gifts for all three grandkids and their parents, so I was going to hold off until the next gift occasion – like Arbor Day, but it’s $59, so why not? I ordered one for the kids and requested the tomato kit. Well, I ordered a slightly larger one for the kids, because the Sprouts were sold out. So, they’re getting a Harvest. A Harvest holds six plants instead of three.

I was in a panic when I ordered it because AeroGarden was rapidly selling out of all the entry level models. I’m not really sure when it went from “an extra gift” to “has to be there for Christmas”, but so it goes. I found the Harvest model on Amazon, but I managed to not pay attention while ordering and selected some fake seller in China as a supplier, so that order never arrived. Now, I had disappointed the grandkids by not getting them something they didn’t know about that wasn’t their actual Christmas gift. (AeroGarden still had none in stock. Apparently, those online ads really work.)

I canceled the Chinese order, got a refund from Amazon, and ordered another on Amazon from Amazon, because the AeroGarden site was still sold out. It was $50 more, but it will probably get there. (It shipped while I was writing this.) Today, AeroGarden now has that model back in stock for $50 less. Have I mentioned I hate Christmas?

Where was I going with this?

To summarize, we have an AeroGarden Sprout with dill, parsley and basil which has been planted since November thirtieth and is doing quite well (see photo above). We have an AeroGarden Harvest that is waiting for its tomato kit to arrive (see below), so we have a field waiting to be sown.

There’s another Sprout in a box, wrapped for Mom that will be opened on Christmas, which hopefully has the Salad kit included. If not, I’m sure she’ll plant whatever is in the box, or we can give her one of the extra tomato kits (see below).

There’s (allegedly) an AeroGarden Harvest on a slow boat from China for the kids that had the order officially canceled but may still arrive someday. There’s another Harvest shipping directly from Amazon to the kids, which will arrive after Christmas, but we had already bought their Christmas presents before the whole indoor gardening thing started, so it doesn’t matter – although they already have received their tomato kit. (Christmas Miracle Update: The Harvest arrived on Christmas Eve morning.)

That’s a lot of gardens, but then my wife decided she would really like to grow tomatoes, so I ordered another AeroGarden Harvest for us, since the Sprouts were still sold out. It arrived with the salad greens kit instead of the tomato kit I specified. Oops. Easy solution – I just ordered a tomato kit from Amazon. After a day or two, Amazon said they couldn’t deliver it, so I canceled that order and ordered one direct from AeroGarden. That one shipped.

Then, I got an email from AeroGarden apologizing for the problems with my order and letting me know the tomato kit was being shipped immediately.

Now, I’m not sure if AeroGarden is apologizing for sending the wrong kit with the Harvest, or apologizing for Amazon not being able to fulfill the tomato kit order to make up for the wrong kit they had shipped, since the order number they mentioned was for the free replacement tomato kit. So, I may be getting two tomato kits. I’m a bit afraid that if we get two $15 tomato kits, my wife will want to purchase another $150 Harvest so we can plant both immediately. Of course, the Harvest is $99 today, so she would remind me that we would be saving money. Somehow.

So, we’re basically farmers at this point, and there were enough orders to enough places that eventually some confusion was bound to occur.

To quote Alice’s Restaurant Massacree and the great Arlo Guthrie, “That’s not what I came to tell you about.

In the midst of starting gardens all across America, I got a notice from UPS that they were going to deliver a package from a company in New Jersey. I didn’t recognize the company name, but this happens often, because my wife’s deliveries show up on my UPS MyChoice account. However, “New Jersey” could also mean our self-appointed favorite niece (I’m not taking sides until all the gifts arrive) sent us something. I looked up the company, and it was a drop-shipper that does distribution and deliveries for other companies, so that meant it could be from anyone, so I just waited it out.

Then, the package arrived. It was addressed to me. It had my cell phone number as a contact number on the label. That’s all that was on the label. So, we opened it to see if there was a card. There was no card.

Inside the rather large box was a Click and Grow Smart Garden 9 and a lettuce seed kit. After some research, I determined that Click and Grow is basically an Eastern European-invented version of an AeroGarden. In other words, it’s another hydroponic indoor garden system with a seed kit. That’s it. No card, no insert, no bill.

Where the hell did this come from?

That was not a very charitable thought, especially given the time of year. So, I apologized to the Lord for the uncharitable thought, and rephrased it.

Who the hell sent us this?

Now, there is a relatively long list of suspects for sending us unlabeled gifts, especially on my wife’s side of the family. People order items online, change the shipping address, and forget to mark “gift” or there’s no gift option available. It happened to us with some presents which may not have been opened yet (but rare and highly expensive) that we sent our nieces and nephews this year, so we sent some frantic texts to cover it and tell them the gifts were not wrapped (and get credit for the gifts). However, when I determined from Click and Grow website that a Smart Garden 9 was approximately $200, the list shortened significantly. I’m not saying my friends and family are cheap, I’m just saying I know how much they value me in their lives.

My first thought (which almost caused a stroke) was that the fake Chinese company from Amazon that was currently failing to deliver the kids’ AeroGarden Harvest had managed to send the wrong brand of hydroponic garden to the wrong house. After I managed to get my blood pressure down to a level where I could read my computer screen, I checked the order status at Amazon, and at that point (this was before I canceled it), it was still showing as “ready to ship”, and the order was addressed to my son’s house.

Hmm.

So, if it wasn’t a mistake, how did it get here? Whoever sent it knows my name, address and cell phone number (all on the shipping label.) So, it was probably sent on purpose by someone that knows me fairly well.

Did I drunk order it? If so, why didn’t I drunk order another AeroGarden? Wait. We have InstaCart – why didn’t I drunk order more liquor? When was the last time I was drunk enough to shop online?

I had to Google Click and Grow since I had never heard of the company. (We’re an AeroGarden family.) Once I found them, I asked to reset my password on the site. The site had no record of any of my email addresses. So, if I drunk ordered it, I didn’t order it directly from them. Hmm.

If drunk ordered anything, it would probably be from Amazon, who knows my credit card, bank account, blood type, wife’s ring size, dogs’ names and favorite treats and who knows what else. Therefore, it would be in my Amazon orders list. So, I scrolled and scrolled (and scrolled) and never found anything. I even searched for “Click and Grow”. Nothing. Hmm.

I still don’t know in which order that the two companies (AeroGarden and Click and Grow) were founded and started shipping, so I’m not sure which is a knock-off of the other. But the AeroGarden looks more polished and obviously has a better marketing team, so I thought, “Who would send me a knock-off of something I already have?”

However, nobody really knew we had one. So, then it was, “Who would assume I would like something like this?”

Then, more depressingly, “Who would spend $200 on me that doesn’t live in my house?”

This basically lead to a list of all of the eccentrics we know. Crazy people are all around us, in and out of our families. Eccentrics are the specific crazy people that will buy you $200 Christmas presents. Eccentrics are the crazy people that you like. Time to visit the eccentrics list.

Two of the members of our eccentric list will be here on Christmas Day, unless my wife is sick, which is her usual condition during the holidays. While a hydroponic garden would have been out of character for my little brother, he has moments of whimsy, so he remained on the suspect list. The other is my Mom, and the chances of her getting us the same thing (from a different company) as we got her were fairly slim, even though hilarious, especially since I do all of her online ordering. I didn’t have an email from her asking me to send myself a hydroponic garden, so she was probably off the list.

Nonetheless, I checked with both of them. Neither claimed credit. (Well, my brother instantly claimed credit, but slipped when I asked him to identify exactly what he had given us. As I had to remind my wife, you never ask, “Hey, did you send us a $200 hydroponic garden?”, you ask, “Hey, did you send us something expensive, and if so, what was it?”)

The next two on the list are friends that live in New Mexico (together), and we had talked to them and showed them the AeroGarden Sprout (with buds – not those types of buds) before the mystery Smart Garden 9 had even shipped (according to UPS), so they were some of the few people who knew we already had one. It’s not out of character for them, but we had already received something from them for Christmas, and they probably wouldn’t give us something we had. Plus, they said it wasn’t them. Suspects cleared.

Next was my sister-in-law up North who is allergic to the Internet (and most things invented after 1950), and she would have had to call my wife to do the online ordering for her, which would have spoiled the surprise. Plus, she has a real farm, so a countertop garden would have seemed silly to her. Also, she had sent us something already. She didn’t know anything about it, but has found the daily phone reports of this investigation highly amusing. She will never read this, because it is on the Internet.

Next was my other sister-in-law who loves the Internet, but had already given us gifts. She said it wasn’t from her. I assume she will buy one soon, especially if our herb crops come in, and my wife starts gushing about it.

So, my wife posted the question to her Facebook friends and acquaintances, where many of my wife’s friends immediately took credit, but none could identify what they had actually given us. Nice try, Brooklyn.

At this point, I decided to track it down from the shipping information.

We called the shipper in New Jersey, whose phone forwarded us to their office in California – which is closer to China, in case it really was the wrong product to the wrong address. They couldn’t help.

I emailed the Click and Grow company and had a lovely week-long email chat with their support team, trying to explain why I had no idea why one of their products had managed to get to my house, but that I was pleased to have it. They requested a picture of the box and serial number, and a picture of the UPS label.

After a couple of days, they gave up and said it looked to them like it had been ordered from Amazon and drop-shipped, so it wasn’t in their system.

So, my wife called Amazon where the operator seemed fixated on solving the problem of an “unwanted package.” She did not grasp the concept of “unexpected.” Apparently, Amazon employees do not receive gifts. She finally checked the UPS tracking number, couldn’t find it in their system, and concluded it was not from Amazon. I am still not sure how a package that was traveling around just before Christmas was not from Amazon.

Finally, my wife called UPS whose automated system helpfully told her the package was delivered on the seventeenth. Thank you, logistics experts. She finally forced the system to route her to a human (sic) who managed to not understand the question, and then dropped the line. Well, hung up on her, since the call routed to their survey robot (bad move).

UPS then called back hours later and gave my wife the reference numbers for the shipment. These were the numbers from the label that was on the package. One of them is coincidentally my cell phone number. This was a Double Jeopardy answer for “What is less than useless?”

During the search for the gift-giver, another seed kit arrived for the Click and Grow, so whomever sent the garden decided we should not just grow lettuces. Either that, or the sender told someone else, “Hey, if you don’t know what to get them, send a seed kit. I sent them a Click and Grow.” This seed kit will be planted after the two that arrived with the garden have been grown, so about the time we go on our next cruise in 2022. I’m a bit concerned another garden arrival may be imminent.

The Back Forty: our AeroGarden Harvest, waiting for tomatoes. Our Mystery Click and Grow Smart Garden 9, growing lettuces: Green Sorrel, Romaine, and Arugula.

I’m breathlessly waiting for the mail to arrive today. Merry Christmas!

Christmas at Home

We’ll be at home for Christmas this year, for the first time since 2007. (Technically, we were home on Christmas in 2013, but we were gone the week before.)

Fleeing for Christmas started in 2008. In 2008, my sister-in-law passed away in January, and my mother-in-law passed away in June. It was a bad year. My wife didn’t want to be home at Christmas and her brother didn’t want to be home at Christmas, either. He had a timeshare in Orlando and was taking his kids, so he invited us to go along.

Here’s the thing about Orlando – I hate Orlando. I have no love at all for Disney (never understood the attraction), and I don’t particularly like a cold swamp in December. Also, I was at IBM at the time, working for Lotus, so I was going to be in Orlando three or four weeks later for Lotusphere. Lotusphere was scheduled in Orlando in January because the weather is generally miserable, so the hotels are cheaper. So, I was not looking forward to Orlando in December.

We went. It was a nice time, in spite of the fact everyone was basically in mourning. The parks were freezing but seeing European tourists turning blue in short shorts and t-shirts who believed the “weather is always beautiful in Florida” marketing mantra was fairly amusing. We did get to see Blue Man Group – and I never realized the irony until I wrote this.

After we got home, all was quiet for a few months, and then my wife declared she didn’t just want to be home last Christmas, she didn’t want to be home at Christmas forevermore. So, I didn’t even think about “this will be expensive”, I thought, “How do I prevent ever spending Christmas in Orlando again?”

The answer: find something else to do that will be so enticing that she won’t think freezing in Florida is a good idea, even if it is with family.

That’s why in 2009, we took our first cruise. One Sunday, I Googled cruise lines, and sent information requests to all the major ones – Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean. I got emails from Carnival and Royal. Norwegian called me ten minutes later. We have a winner.

Maricela introduced herself as “my” cruise consultant and asked what I was looking for as a cruise. I said I wanted to cruise out of Galveston. She said, “We sail from New Orleans.” I found it difficult to argue with that. It’s pretty much the same port, except for the State and location, and New Orleans being almost twice as far away by car (I wanted to drive to Galveston.)

We booked the Norwegian Spirit out of New Orleans for a seven-day cruise. It was an interesting start – we got our sea legs easily, but we tended to miss dinner every night because we would get back from an excursion, decide to take a “quick nap” and wake up at 10pm. I’m not sure what was on that first cruise that made us so sleepy, but it was amazing. Somewhere along the way, I had a strange feeling I didn’t recognize. Later, I realized I was relaxed.

That started our cruising adventures that are documented here. I can help you book your cruises now, as I’m a travel advisor.

That brings us to 2020. This was not a good year to be a cruising fan. This was not a good year to be a travel advisor.

So, we’re home for Christmas. We’re having family over which will make Mom happy because when my Dad died, she refused to leave home for Christmas, even though we invited her along with us (that was the year we sailed early.) Hopefully, nobody in the family will die from having Christmas at home in 2020.

I didn’t think staying home for Christmas would have a major effect, except for being cold in Dallas instead of warm in the Caribbean. However, I’ve noticed I am getting crankier than usual (my wife may disagree), and I am certainly not relaxed.

We don’t have a cruise booked until October 2022. This is very distressing to me. We have had three cruises in a year a couple of the past years.

So, Christmas at home. For the first time in 13 years or so. Unemployed. With family. With a wife who will spend more on food for four than a cruise would have cost. I’m pretty sure this is how alcoholics get their start.

Merry Christmas!

Recurring Nightmares

NIghtmares, unicycles, pets and a universal truth.

I just woke up from a brief nap. We had fairly broken sleep last night because Katie probably has a urinary tract infection, so she was visiting the yard every couple of hours.

I woke up because I was having a nightmare. I was lost on my unicycle in my parents’ old neighborhood, which isn’t that far from here. I lived there for over ten years, and it’s not that large, so I’m not really sure how I was lost.

That’s when I realized I have been having the same recurring nightmares lately. I’m lost in a neighborhood that resembles one where I had my old paper route, or I’m lost in a neighborhood that resembles where my parents used to live. Sometimes, it has combinations of both with parts of Plano added for extra terror.

There are a few other constants in the dreams – I’m lost, I’m on foot or on a unicycle, there are rarely other people around. When I wake up, I’m still trying to find my way home.

The only true constant is I am always approached and befriended by dogs, usually three white ones, a large one that looks like a poodle, a medium-sized one that looks like a Lhasa Apso, and a small mutt.

I’m sure the white is symbolic. The sizes are just from reading Goldilocks too many times as a child. I have no idea where the unicycle popped up. I’m pretty sure my foot surgeon would frown on a unicycle since I broke my foot walking.

As to the causes. maybe it’s depression from 2020. Maybe it’s stress from being unemployed again. Maybe it’s from sleeping too much with a dog smashed against me.

However, I prefer to think it’s a reminder for everyone – dogs are often your only true friends, and dogs will love you even if you’ve lost your way.

So, a gentle reminder, especially at the holidays: pets are not good gifts. Pets are a gift that come with instant responsibilities, and long-term commitments. Don’t give a gift that brings happiness on Christmas and is in the shelter by Easter.

Most importantly, if you have a pet, love your pet. They love you, no matter what.

And stay off your unicycle. You don’t want to get lost.