RIP

There are many phrases I never thought I would write, and one of them was, “Well, now I’ve been to a funeral on Facebook Live.”

My cousin Joey Koch died from COVID-19 this week and his funeral Mass was in D’Hanis this morning. There were actually more people at the service than I expected. Most of the people I talked with weren’t attending, and they were family. I find this tragic, but not surprising in this times.

His was not only a COVID case, it was a Facebook case. On January 21st, he posted that he had been fighting COVID for eight days. Two days later, he posted that he was in the hospital. By February second, his blood pressure was low and he was on a ventilator. He seemed to rally, took a turn for the worse, and then he left us this week. In the midst of all this, he had his fifty-seventh birthday.

So, this morning, Holy Cross Church live streamed his funeral. Without this, I wouldn’t have attended. His sister sent me the link to the livestream during the rosary. I was crying in my recliner. I hate funerals, but I really hate funerals through a small lens that somebody in the back of the Church remembers to adjust randomly.

At the end of the rosary, before Mass, while everyone was readjusting things, the camera panned around the front of the Church, and I saw Joey in his coffin with his Texas A&M cap beside him before they closed the lid. I am not sure this was helpful for me.

Watching one of my cousins’ funerals online was a very strange occurrence. Usually, a death in my Mom’s family implements the same drill. Call or text relatives you haven’t spoken with in a while. Coordinate arrivals in Hondo or D’Hanis. Assume you will meet at least some of the mourners at Hermann Sons the night before the Mass. Attend the reception after the services, and somewhere in the afternoon, realize you are probably laughing quite a bit more than proper at a memorial.

However, this is the time of COVID-19. When we talked online during the drill, I think we were each waiting for the other to say, “I don’t think I’m going to attend.”

Finally, my brother suggested we have a Celebration of Life (a memorial where you’re expected to laugh) some time this Spring, when people are vaccinated and everything is back to normal-ish. This way, nobody had to feel badly about skipping the funeral.

That’s when I realized we’re also celebrating the one-year anniversary of the two-week lockdown. Everything is probably never going to get back to normal-ish.

This morning, I realized I still felt badly about skipping the funeral.

So, now I actually know someone who died from COVID. I have friends that have recovered. I know people who lost relatives. I know people that know people. This one was close to home.

I hate funerals. I hate saying “Goodbye.” I don’t like endings that I don’t control. However, I don’t like skipping funerals even though it was the right thing to do from a safety standpoint. I never thought I would regret not going to a funeral, but this one is close.

I really don’t like endings that were pointless. Joey’s ending was pointless. His ending was pointless because he died of COVID-19.

Joey was being cautious. He had mentioned on Facebook that it wasn’t just about you, it was about the people around you. If someone in your household is in a high risk group, you’re in a high risk group by default.

However, caution does not beat stupidity. It is rumored that he contracted the disease at work. Someone in his office went to Florida to visit family for Christmas and someone there was showing early symptoms. His coworker came home and just went back to work. No mention of any disease. Oops.

COVID-19 is the idiots’ disease. Not that idiots contract it, but that idiots spread it. If you travel somewhere, self-isolate when you get back. Not because it’s the law, but because it’s just common sense. If you think you’ve been exposed, get a test. If you think you’re sick, warn the people you’ve been around. If you don’t feel well, just stay home. If you don’t, you may find yourself feeling better just in time to bury someone you knew.

Happy Accident

My Brewsy kit contained three airlocks, so I can have three bottles of wine or cider fermenting at a time. Plus, my half-gallon glass bottles arrived from Amazon this afternoon. Virginia wanted to try black cherry and the basic advice from Brewsy (which I ignored) was to do cranberry first, so I had ordered RW Knudsen Just Black Cherry and RW Knudsen Just Cranberry – both 100% juice. The slight problem with the juices is that they are only available in 32oz bottles, so I needed two of each. (A Brewsy packet will process between 1.5 quarts and 1.5 gallons, but I’m not going for volume, yet.) The bottle size issue is why I did apple juice first – the Kroger juice is a 64oz bottle, and it is processing in the actual bottle.

I don’t really have to obsess about 100% juice, since some of my co-vintners are fermenting Hawaiian Punch and Dr Pepper, but I haven’t been that brave yet.

This was going to be the same simple procedure as yesterday, and I was going to do Cranberry, since that is supposed to be your first project, and I was running back and forth, checking the Sweetness Calculator, and trying to learn how to use my hydrometer, and measuring sugar and a lot of other steps. Plus, the added “complexity” of fermenting in a bottle other than the bottle the juice came in.

The process still went well, I don’t really believe the specific gravity reading, but I will ask for help on that later. I’m pretty sure I did something wrong or I can’t read. I really need to remember to get large print everything from now on.

So, everything mixed, sugar measured, juice measured, magic packet added, dogs tripped over, and it’s in the closet, ready to become wine. Whew.

Then, Virginia said, “Hey, you used one bottle of Black Cherry and one bottle of Cranberry!”

She was drinking the juice I had left out to leave headspace, so I said, “Wait! What juice are you drinking?” She said, “It’s cranberry and it’s tart.”

So, we have a mistaken mixture, or what a vintner would call a “blend.” It is 32 ounces of Black Cherry juice and 18 ounces of Cranberry. I call it “Happy Accident”, because I don’t think I should put “Dammit!” on a wine label.

So, I have sugar measured to make Cranberry semi-sweet, when 2/3rds of the source is actually Black Cherry. This is going to be interesting.

5 Feb 2021 9:45pm

Source Juice: 32 oz RW Knudsen Just Black Cherry (100% juice), 18 oz RW Knudsen Just Cranberry.

I followed the Brewsy “semi-sweet” recipe from the Sweetness Calculator, based on Cranberry juice. We’ll see what happens.

  • Removed 14 oz of juice from the bottle – later had to figure out which bottle it was from
  • Added 229 grams sugar
  • Added one Brewsy packet

Proposed Schedule (updated with actuals):

DateTimeStepCompleteComments
Fri Feb 59:45pmFermentation BeganHere’s hoping for a happy accident
Sat Feb 6 Morning
11:55am
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleBubbles – had to swirl the bottle to wash some yeast residue back into juice
Feb 6Afternoon
7:10pm
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleA bit late! Bubbles – still some yeasty residue on bottle, another swirl
Feb 7Evening
4:15pm
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleBubbling happily
Mon Feb 8Afternoon
11:00am
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleSlowed down but still bubbles
Feb 89:45pmEarliest End for Fermentation(Will probably need more time) – Decided to leave it until morning, at least
Feb 8 9:50pmEarliest Racking after FermentationPostponedRack before Cold Crash
Feb 8 10:00pmEarliest Start for Cold CrashPostponedRemove airlock, replace cap, into fridge
Tue Feb 91:35amTaste TestWee bit boozy. Think I will leave it until morning and then cold crash.
Feb 99:25pmRacking Prior to cold crashing
Feb 99:30pmCold CrashInto the cold
Wed Feb 10 MorningCheckingSome sludge developing, will rack this evening
Feb 10EveningRackingSkipped
Thu
Feb 11
3:05pmRackingNot too much to filter
Feb 119:30pmEarliest End for Cold CrashWe have wine!
Feb 11 9:35pm Tasting
Checkpoints – Wine-making

Opening a Winery

Well, a cidery, anyway. Well, I started one bottle. My Brewsy kit arrived today, so it’s time to make some cider, since we have apple juice in the house. (OK, I ordered it because I wanted to try cider.) Wine comes from grapes, cider comes from apples, hangovers come from either.

This is supposed to be a really simple process – you add a magic Brewsy packet and sugar to the base juice, ferment it for three days (or more) and then a couple of days in the refrigerator to kill off the yeast. This is not standard wine-making, rather,this is wine-making with Brewsy.

Now, if you read the online (very detailed) manual and follow the conversation on the private group on Facebook, it is a simple process with a couple of key steps involved. If you watch the random YouTube videos of people using the kit, none of them have read the manual or followed the conversation on Facebook.

So, I have some confidence I will be making different mistakes than the people on YouTube. However, being married to someone who actually cooks, we do have measuring cups, a digital scale and a funnel, and I actually know how to use them, unlike some of the YouTubers I saw.

My notes for YouTubers:

  • Read the instructions, but not live on your video
  • Measure, measure, measure
  • Don’t split Brewsy packets
  • Sugar amounts are important and based on the amount of sugar in your source juice
  • Measure, measure, measure
  • Rack the chilling wine (cider)
  • If there are lumps in your wine, you didn’t rack it (don’t drink it)

I ordered a hydrometer so I can check specific gravity and actually calculate alcohol by volume (ABV), but it’s arriving tomorrow, so I think I will just make my first cider as the kit says, and see what happens. (Apparently, you need an initial specific gravity and a final specific gravity to calculate the ABV. I think you multiply ABV by two to get proof which is what we old folks care about.)

Here is what I like about Brewsy before I even get started – the support is amazing (others have mentioned this, as well.) I got a text when I ordered the kit and it said to save the number in case I had questions. They were serious. I texted this afternoon about trying to determine carbs, and got a response almost instantly. It was actually a conversation, and it wasn’t a chatbot because it was coherent.

So, updating this post as we progress. We should be fermenting through the weekend.

4 Feb 2021 9:45pm

Source Juice: 64 oz Kroger Apple Juice (100% juice) – well, I think they added Vitamin C. We will have cherry and cranberry juices arriving tomorrow, along with the hydrometer and extra bottles (for racking and making larger batches.)

I followed the Brewsy “semi-dry” recipe from the Sweetness Calculator.

  • Removed 1 1/2 cups of juice from the bottle (it was tasty)
  • Added 162 grams sugar (weight is probably more accurate than volume)
  • Added one Brewsy packet
Prepared for fermentation

The cider-to-be is wrapped in a dish towel and resting in the bottom of the pantry. I’ll be checking for bubbles from the airlock.

Waiting for the yeast to do its thing

Here’s the plan, according to Brewsy’s basic timeline:

Over the next few days, we will check for the rate of bubbles from the air lock. Hopefully, fermentation will be slowing down by Sunday or so – I’m a bit concerned about the temperature in the house, although my wife likes it about as warm as Brewsy fermentation requires. After that, it’s into the fridge for a couple of days to kill off the yeast. This will also be the time to rack the cider (siphon out the good stuff and get rid of the dead yeast – the tun) – a step many YouTubers have missed. I’m planning to rack the cider at least twice, so I don’t have to swirl it around to disperse the dead yeast before tasting.

Proposed Schedule (updated with actuals):

DateTimeStepCompleteComments
Thu Feb 49:45pmFermentation BeganHere’s hoping for the best
Feb 411:30pm Started my personal wine-making logShould have done this sooner
Fri Feb 51:00amCheck for bubbles in the airlockThank you, insomnia
Feb 510:00am 10:40amCheck for bubbles – swirl the bottleBubbling
Feb 5Afternoon 2:00pmCheck for bubbles – swirl the bottleBubbling
Feb 5Evening
9:45pm
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleBubbling
Sat Feb 6Afternoon
11:50am
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleBubbling
Feb 6Evening
7:10pm
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleBubbling
Sun Feb 7Afternoon
4:10pm
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleVery slow bubbles and sludge on the bottom – may be getting close
Feb 74:45pmTaste TestWe have firewater with an apple aftertaste. It’s not very sweet, and it is certainly not just apple juice any longer. I think I will cold crash it later tonight. I may have to figure out how to rack it first.
Feb 79:45pmEarliest End for Fermentation(Will probably need more time) Will cold crash, based on taste test.
Feb 7 10:40pmCold CrashDecided to skip the racking before the cold crash. Will see how much sediment is produced in the fridge.
Mon Feb 8MorningRacking Skipped12 hours after cold crash
Feb 8EveningRackingSkipped12 hours after previous racking
Tue Feb 9 Evening
9:20pm
RackingFirst racking – goodnight, sludge!
Feb 910:40pmEarliest End for Cold CrashPostponedWe have cider! (Hopefully)
Will leave one more day after racking
Feb 9 10:10pm TastingPostponed
Wed Feb 1011:00amCheckingSome sludge developing, will rack this evening
Feb 10EveningRackingSkipped
Thu Feb 113:00pmRackingA lot less sludge than first time, but still some. Almost ready.
Checkpoints – Wine-making
Cold Crash: Cloudy, with a chance of cider.

Name Blindness

I am perplexed. However, this time I know what I am perplexed about – and it is something that occurs every once in a while, but predictably. In fact, I can cause it to happen at will. The next time you’re bored, you can try a simple experiment, and see what happens.

Most people have two names at a minimum, a first name and a last name. Most probably also have a middle name – it’s the name in-between. That said, middle names don’t get used very much, unless your Mom is really pissed at you or you’re an accused or convicted murderer – then, you get all three names, like John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald.

(Yes, growing up in Texas, I know some people of Mexican descent who have a first name, a middle name and two last names. I’m not one of them, and I always have to remember that the last name may not be the last name. Let’s not get into that, shall we?)

Nonetheless, I use all three of my names from time to time. I have a long last name, so the other two names balance it out.

I will explain my logic mathematically:

  • Kevin (5) Gilhooly (8)
  • Kevin (5) John (4) Gilhooly (8)

5+4 = 9 and nine is closer to eight than five. So, it’s balanced. Approximately.

Besides, John was my Dad, so it helps me pay a little tribute to him.

As a bonus, my full name takes up a lot of room on a line of text, so it stands out in a list of names, which makes it easy for people to find when scanning lists of people on the pre-sale ticket list. So, even though it might make me look like a murderer (or Mom’s pissed at me again), there are some times I use all three names. Also, some computer forms ask for a middle name, so I always fill it in, because I have one. Use it or lose it.

There’s just one problem with using three names. It causes name blindness.

It came up again this evening. I got an email request for some nonprofit consulting, and the request started with “John -“. The only time someone addresses me as “John” instead of “Kevin” is when my middle name is included, and they don’t know me. I went and looked at my profile page, and it is headlined “Kevin John Gilhooly.”

Now, it makes sense that no strangers ever call me “John” when I don’t use my middle name, because they wouldn’t know what it was. However, even when it is on the form, it’s in the middle.

What happened to “Kevin”? Why does everyone who doesn’t know me skip over it? Is this one of those balance things I was supposed to learn in photography class, where the eyes are drawn to the middle?

It happens all the time. If I have my first and middle names on a form, my first name just disappears to people seeing my full name. Am I the only one who is confounded by this?

I actually tried an experiment a few years ago, and included my middle name in my Facebook name, and I started getting called “John” by acquaintances or people trying to become my acquaintances. Friends know my name, so they just continued to call me various expletives. Family avoids me, so it didn’t matter. I dropped my middle name from the name field, and the same acquaintances-to-be all started calling me “Kevin.”

WTF?

I would expect that three names would throw some people off, but I don’t understand the universal tendency for people to assume a middle name is the name to use when a perfectly good first name is included in the same full name. It’s called the first name because it is … first.

Maybe Lincoln called John Wilkes Booth “Wilkes” at a reception, and he finally snapped. Just sayin’.

If I would have put Kevin “John” Gilhooly, then I would expect people would think “John” was my nickname, like “Scooter” or “Bulldog” or any number of other, better nicknames, because “John” is a really bad nickname for “Kevin.” The only nicknames for “Kevin” are “Kev” and “Kevino.” So if I had put “John” in quotes, then I would understand being called “John.”

If I put K. John Gilhooly, I would expect robocallers to ask for KJohn, and I would understand people calling me “John” and not “K.”

Actually, that would be funny, because every time somebody called me, it would sound like they were asking for my agreement. K, John?

However, my full name is “Kevin John Gilhooly.” I suppose if I added my Confirmation name, it’s “Kevin John Peter Gilhooly”, so maybe then I would be called “Peter.”

This is why formal letters use “Mr. Gilhooly”. It’s pretty obvious which one I want you to use for my last name.

If you see a middle name, do you assume the person wants you to use it instead of the first name?

By the way, if you’ll be my bodyguard, you can call me Al. Otherwise, “Kevin” will do.

Always Acknowledge a Request

I had a flashback to my early coding days this week, thanks to Dallas County. It then occurred to me it was the same issue that caused the Christmas miracle. (Summary: I signed up for a hydroponic garden from the city (well, I thought I was asking for more information), and after silence, it arrived. Out of the blue.)

This was caused by a computer system receiving a request and then not acknowledging it.

My wife signed us up for COVID-19 vaccines and got nothing in response. Silence. So, I assumed if questioned, I could just say I didn’t know (since I never got anything) and signed us up again. This time, we got an email acknowledging the entry, and telling us to sit tight for more information.

Obviously, somebody fixed the system so it would send a reply.

That’s when I had a flashback to 1983 or so. I’m working at a telecom company, doing systems programming, applications programming, operations .. (it was a small company.) There was a daily report that showed, actually, I don’t remember what exactly it showed, but it was really important to one of the finance people, a rather cranky old woman named Verna. (In my defense, I was in my early twenties, and I thought she was old, so she was probably 32.)

The problem that Verna had was that pretty much every day, the systems were out of balance, so there was a report for her to review. On the very rare occasions when everything was balanced (say, a full moon and a solar eclipse on the same day), there was no need for a report, so nothing printed. Everything had worked, so there was no out-of-balance report.

This was logical but it was also a problem. Since the report was usually a one-page report, if it didn’t show up on Verna’s desk, there was a possibility that everything had balanced out, but there was also a probability that the overnight operators had just misplaced it.

So, she said we had to print a report to say that there was no report.

Because I was young and foolish, and hadn’t received a hydroponic garden I had forgotten I had ordered arrive yet, I thought this was an insane request. Nonetheless, I was on call, so I found the source code, added a flag that was set to True (no report) at the beginning of the program, and got set to False as soon as something was out of balance.

At the end of the program, if the flag was still True, I added enough code to print a one-page report that said “Today there is no report.” Then, I forgot about it. Verna either got a report or she got a report that said there was no report. Peace in the valley.

Six months later, we had auditors come in. They were reviewing everything. I mean everything. They looked at the tape maintenance procedures, disk backup procedures, computer room access, and all sorts of procedures.

Then, they started reading source code. All the source code.

Two days later, one of the auditors came over to my desk. He looked puzzled. He said, “Uh, do you know about what the So_Verna_Wont_Bitch_Flag does?”

This is why people should not read other people’s code.

So, the auditor actually had to document that Verna had complained that was not a report that said there was no report, and I had to fix the original code to determine if a report had been created, and it not, print the “no report” report.

I may have been a wee bit cranky when I did the update, since I thought, “I’m wasting my time making a stupid program update to print a report that there was no report, specifically so Verna will stop bitching.”

The great thing about COBOL was that you could be very literal. So, I added the “So_Verna_Wont_Bitch_Flag”, and forgot about it. That’s the answer I gave him.

The auditor never asked me another question.

So, when Virginia registered with the county, nothing happened, which annoyed me no end. Did nothing happen? Did something happen and she threw the email out? Was I registered or not? When I registered a week later, I got an email. Now, I knew.

My assumption is that somebody in downtown added a So_Kevin_Wont_Bitch_Flag.

Well done.

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

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!

Recurring Nightmares

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.

Deja Vu

I love Instacart. (My wife probably loves it more.) You build a list, somebody picks out your stuff, it arrives. It is a great service, pandemic or not. They are always adding stores, so they bring her groceries, they bring me booze. You can get delivery within two hours during the day. Peace in the neighborhood.

However, there is a $35 minimum before the free delivery kicks in, and sometimes you really don’t need $35 worth of stuff – you need one specific thing, but you need it in a hurry.

It’s almost Thanksgiving. My wife ordered all of the ingredients for Thanksgiving from Kroger which is really just InstaCart with additional Kroger fees. She got almost everything she wanted, plus a really large turkey. The only thing they didn’t have was pepperoni.

She tried every store around, and everyone was out. Apparently, there’s a pepperoni shortage. So, while we were on our weekly Zoom Happy Hour, I started looking at Instacart. I found Market Street – a store I had never seen around here. They had Boar’s Head pepperoni sticks. Actually, it was a featured product. The sticks were the right format and Boar’s Head was the right brand. Jackpot! (If it was in stock.)

I ordered forty-five dollars worth of pepperoni. To most people, that seems like an insane amount, but it really just proves I’ve been married to an Italian too long. How much pepperoni do you need for four people, when three only like pepperoni a little? Ten sticks. Hey, it’s not like it goes bad. Then, I through in some Heath bars, so I would have something to eat while the others enjoyed the pepperoni.

They had the pepperoni. Everything got delivered before the Zoom call ended. So, either delivery was blinding fast, or we talk a lot.

One holiday crisis averted.

Back to the turkey. It was larger than she asked to get. It was free, so I’m not complaining, and I didn’t really understand why larger was a problem.

I found out why larger was a problem about 1:00 AM this morning, when as I was trying to go to sleep, my wife told me she needed a new roasting pan. The turkey was too large to fit in any of the pans we had in the house. This is not the type of problem I am used to solving at 1:00 AM.

She found one she wanted on Amazon that would be delivered December 30th. Oops. I was impressed that they had a delivery date of an essential item that would miss both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

As she was desperate, she said an aluminum disposable pan would do. We can get those from Whole Foods Amazon Prime Now. So, I ordered two different sizes for delivery between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM, and just paid the nine dollar delivery charge to have four dollars of aluminum delivered.

Then, I thought “Big Lots would have pans.” Off to Instacart. Nothing, or at least nothing acceptable. Then, my wife said, “Bed Bath and Beyond.” Bingo. A roasting pan (called a “roaster” which is why we didn’t see it on the first search) is available for $27. So, now I just need something to make up the balance.

I started looking at kitchen gadgets. I love gadgets. I don’t use them half the time, but they’re fun. While I was doing that, my wife said, “I need a strainer.” (It was late, or I would have said, “If you want a strainer, skip the fiber.”)

So, we looked at strainers. The photos were misleading, but she found one she thought would do, and I added it to the cart. That put us close to the minimum order.

However, before the strainer distraction, I noticed they have a mini-waffle maker for $10. What could be better than mini waffles? After a lot of discussion, the wife said I could get one. Then, she thought about Keto waffles, and said “Get two.”

So, order placed. Whole Foods Prime Now order canceled successfully. Peace in the neighborhood.

This morning, I was looking at online reviews, and it turns out the Keto community loves not only the waffle maker but its siblings as well – the pie maker and the Bundt cake maker. Why? Because they make small servings quickly and you can make Keto versions of many desserts (some of which may actually taste like desserts.)

So, into the cart they went.

The fun part of the Instacart process is watching the shopping. The shopper found the Bundt cake maker. Then, the pie maker.

Uh, the waffle maker? The roasting pan which was the whole reason for the shop?

She messaged me about the roasting pan and said that was the old version, and the new version was the only one available. I told her the dimensions we needed for our jumbo turkey and she sent a photo showing the size. It will do. In fact, it was the same as the old one. Whew.

Then, the waffle maker. Last night, I noticed they had the waffle maker and a “gift set” where you paid an extra $10 to get a cookbook. Who would do that? The person who was in the bathroom when the message came in that only the gift set was available. Dammit.

Hmm. The order just arrived and we got the cheap waffle makers. All is good.

So, we got exactly everything we ordered (almost) and what we got will work. Actually, the strainer hasn’t been blessed yet, but it looks like the old one.

My only fear now is that at 1:00 AM tomorrow, I am going to be told, “I need a new oven. Before Thursday. The pan won’t fit in ours.” Pray for me.

Now, to the deja vu part.

The fun part of Instacart is you never know what you will get until the shopper checks out – and sometimes not until the order arrives. You will get substitution notices, but sometimes they’re inaccurate, and they’re almost always too late to cancel them. (Things like tomato paste instead of tomato sauce.) One way to prevent this is to set all items to “No substitutes” on the order. This will guarantee you get the brand you want and the quantity you want. This is what I did with the pepperoni and the roasting pan.

There’s only one issue with “No substitutes” – you won’t get anything as a replacement. It’s all or nothing.

So, as I watched the order Saturday, I was thinking – “If these guys are out of pepperoni, somebody is driving thirty miles to bring me some Heath bars.” I love Heath bars, but even I think that is excessive.

So, as I watched the order this morning, and all the excess items were found, and only the roasting pan was missing, I remembered an IT project long ago.

The team desperately needed a $3000 projector for doing presentations. Back in the day before you could get a mini projector at Amazon for under $100, these were really expensive items.

The only way to hide three grand in a budget that was going to have something cut was to add something more ridiculous as an obvious target.

The team added a ten thousand dollar server to the budget. This was insanely expensive even then, and they already had a number of servers, so it was obviously a waste of money.

They got the server. The projector was cut as an extravagance.

So with Instacart. “I really need three dollars worth of collard greens, so I’ll add thirty-two dollars worth of other stuff to make up the order.” The shopper brings the other stuff.

Some things never change.

Email Addresses and Idiots

I do sometimes think there should be a license and an exam before people are allowed to use the Internet. I know most people “don’t use” email any more, because they’re all texting or using any number of other apps, but I looked at my Yahoo Mail account for the first time in a couple of months, and I had fourteen thousand emails, and four were actually meant for me.

I understand the few spam-like emails where someone was asked for an email address and “kjg” is easy to type, so I get those. I understand the true spam where I need a solution for impotence or low blood sugar or high blood sugar or where I need to help transfer funds from some poor widow somewhere.

I don’t understand the random Karens and other Kevins who apparently think you can just use your initials and then email will magically find you. YOU CAN’T JUST MAKE UP AN EMAIL ADDRESS. You have to actually register it. With a provider.

I have at least two Karens and a Kevin who have been using my address for YEARS and apparently never noticed they weren’t getting any replies to their requests from vendors. You would think that after never seeing a receipt from any purchases for say, a week, you would check your email.

I had one that was using my address as her backup address, which was great, because at least that way I could get into her real account and remove myself. (That’s all I did.) The others just had their receipts deleted.

The final straw was the message another Kevin sent me today that just said “TEST.” So, I sent a note back that said, “If you were trying to see if you could reach me, it worked.” I have not heard back.

On the bright side, the idiots using my email to register for dating sites have apparently all found dates, because I’m not getting those emails any longer. I’m impressed, since the last one that used my email address had his profile changed to a 4’11” 400-pound bald Indian transvestite in a wheelchair. I guess there really is someone for everyone.

I have had my Yahoo account since the early 90’s and I stopped using it for email because I registered my own domains and then Yahoo accounts became spam magnets and Yahoo doesn’t do anything about spam. (It was very useful when I was supporting Lotus’ anti-spam product, since there was no shortage of spam to use for testing.)

I should just delete it, since I don’t use it. However, it’s probably my oldest account, and my only “kjg” account besides the ones I manage myself.

KJG was too short for AOL, Google and most other providers. It’s always too short for a corporate account. I think it’s too short for Yahoo now, but it’s grandfathered, so it still works.

So, it is MINE. Just because your initials are KJG does not mean that is your Yahoo email address. I don’t need your catalogs, appointment confirmations or mail about deaths in your family. Use your own address. It’s the one you used when you signed up with Yahoo. You did sign up, right?

People are idiots.