Posts

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.

Deja Vu

Instacart and flashbacks to an IT budget in the 1980s. Really.

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.

The Grand Plan(s)

[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/embed?mid=1GkFFsgqx6U-AJB4ciP7Jo3IZQBc&w=640&h=480]

I may not always implement, but I do love to plan – especially when mapping is involved. While we never got the RV of our dreams, and we haven’t done a road trip lately, I still have the maps for my planned RV trips.

My main goal was to find a route we could do relatively easily and relatively cheaply. (Relatively being the key word.) I was thinking a couple of trips within the State of Texas would give us a good distance to cover but still not take as long as driving to Ohio – it’s half the distance to Big Bend as it is to Cedarville (approximately.)

So, these are all the routes I had in mind. Don’t fall in love with a dreamer.

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.

Oh no, not again

Somewhere in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams recounts how the Starship Heart of Gold uses its Improbability Drive to escape an attack. By using the drive, the missles converging on the ship become a whale and a bowl of petunias, which is rather improbable. As the petunias fall through space, the only thought it had was “Oh no, not again.”

I know how the petunias feel.

So, in 2017, I was “laid off permanently” by IBM. My brother the attorney said there was no such thing, but my assumption is that by terming it “layoff”, they didn’t have to report the numbers somewhere. When I called the benefits managers, it turned out I had retired.

This was the most traumatic event of my life, and I’ve been divorced. I was shell-shocked for quite a while, but at least I had severance pay for a bit.

It took almost a year to find a new job because I’m old and my resume is all IBM and not something useful like AWS or Google. However, I finally got a job on an IBM project as a contractor. I became the liaison between IBM and the customer. This was challenging to my sanity, but not that challenging. I did learn a lot of Watson stuff, but, again. IBM.

That project got terminated by the customer and I had about two weeks notice that my contract was ending. Everyone felt really bad, because it wasn’t my fault the system really didn’t meet their expectations.

Oh no, not again.

I got another job rather quickly, ironically at IBM, because now I was a Watson person. On the bright side, I was an employee of the contracting company, not just a hourly contractor. We spent six months trying to figure out all of the documentation the development team had never bothered to produce, and here we are, at the end of another quarter.

Oh no, not again.

I was told Wednesday at 4:45pm that my contract ended that day. It’s a good thing I’m not a contractor, or I’d be out of work! Ah, but as my contract was ending, I was being furloughed. “Furloughed” is “laid-off” if you have a Masters Degree.

So, one job for 19 years. Three jobs in three years.

Two Months Later

Well, the world hasn’t healed and my foot hasn’t healed.

I have been working at home for years, so the complete shutdown of the universe hasn’t really affected me. In a way, it’s a bit of a gyp – I get to just go to work like normal as people around me stay home, bitch and day drink. Of course, they’re also trying to figure out unemployment.

I’m hopeful that the insanity will end soon, but I’m not hopeful. I would like to get out again. I would really like to travel – we’ve had three trips canceled so far, and there’s a couple I’m concerned about.

You’d think by not traveling, we would have saved money, but the delivery fees for everything have pretty much absorbed a bunch of it.

I still want a refund on the year. We didn’t make our anniversary cruise (broken foot and ankle), we didn’t make my 60th birthday trip (quarantine) and we’re not going to see the grandkids (more quarantine.)

I didn’t get to do anything for my 60th birthday. So, 65 better be a big deal.

Diagnosis: Insanity

There is being cautious in the time of danger, and there is complete overreaction. This is the latter. We have lost our collective minds.

We have had Ebola, SARS, Swine Flu, the regular flu, and Lord knows what else in my lifetime. There is a new, unknown threat every two years (conveniently consistent with election years.) This is the first one that has canceled events, shuttered businesses and locked everyone in their houses, wearing masks and hoarding toilet paper.

What has changed? A number of critical issues, which I believe over time have weakened society.

Overprotection is Bad

We’ve had a full generation that grew up over-protected, and now they’re freaking out.

Think back to when you grew up. Were you driven to a school that was three blocks from your house? I rode my bike or walked the mile to school until I switched to a school fifteen miles from my house and rode the school bus. Did you have to wear a helmet to ride a bike? I didn’t. Did you need knee pads to wear skates? Could you go beyond the end of the block without your parents reporting you missing or calling you on a walkie-talkie? Did you get told to “walk it off” at least once? Did you lose games?

If not, you were probably raised overprotected. We have an entire generation or more who never experienced the basic pains of childhood – which is not really that bad. It’s a learning experience. Fall down the spillway, you learn not to walk there. (I didn’t, I fell down twice – the second time, showing where I fell the first time.) Fall off a bike, you learn to pay better attention. Walk to school, you learn independence. Blow out a knee in soccer, you learn to play better. Get some stitches, have a cool scar to build a better story around in old age.

Common Sense is Missing

How have we gotten to the point where we have to tell people, “If you’re sick, stay home?” and “Wash your hands”? Really? Really? Didn’t your parents teach you that?

As an aside, I am basically an hourly worker at this point, even if I’m called an “employee”, so going to all the doctors appointments for my broken ankle and foot recovery, the two days in the hospital recovering from the failed nerve blocker after the surgery, and anything else I do during the day that is not in front of my computer costs me money. I’m pretty sure I’ve used up most of my earned vacation at this point, because I really don’t have sick time. So, I get it. Being sick costs money.

That said, if you’re sick, stay home is not about you. Its for the protection of others. That’s where we have completely failed as a society. We are more concerned about ourselves and our needs than the community at large. This is a major issue.

The other example of the “Me” society is hoarding … anything. You don’t need sixty rolls of toilet paper. You don’t need dozens of masks. You don’t. This is why ERs will be overrun with people who are not sick. Me. Me. Me.

Think It Through

All schools are closed. Except for meals.” DISD has decided to continue providing food to students in need. There will be more than 500 students in the school, but served in the classrooms so they are smaller groups. Uh, if they’re in the classrooms, why not teach them? If these children are from homes that can’t afford food, how are they affording high-speed WiFi to do homeschooling for the rest of the year?

I’m going into isolation. I will just call for food delivery.” Who delivers your food? Oh, yes, drivers on minimum wage and tips. Remember, “if you’re sick, stay home?” That would be the target group for that message.

I’ll wear a mask 24×7 to protect me.” A face mask is for people who are ill, not for people who are well. This is according to the CDC and WHO. Don’t wear a mask if you are well. You look like a putz and you’re keeping a mask from someone who needs it.

I need six hundred rolls of toilet paper.” Review the CDC’s advice on caring for a COVID-19 patient at home. Amazingly, it doesn’t ever say, “Wipe their ass every sixteen seconds.”

My kids are home from school. Guess we’ll go to the mall.” Do you understand what self-isolation means?

I heard garlic can prevent coronavirus.” Uh, Italy?

Keep It In Perspective

I am not saying the spread of COVID-19 is not bad. I’m just saying, there is worse. Visit https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm and you will see there is an estimate of 22,000 to 55,000 deaths from seasonal flu in the US. This happens every year. Every fucking year. Just in the US. This is even with everyone able to get a flu shot at pretty much any corner drug store. COVID-19 has 4,613 deaths worldwide, per the WHO.

Why does the US not shut down for six months every year during seasonal flu season? We could save thousands of lives.

I have seen estimates that COVD-19 has about 80% mild cases. So, yes, if everyone in the US was infected, we would potentially lose 20% of our population. What are the chances of that actually happening?

If you are not in the high risk groups, much of the time, COVID-19 will be like a mild flu – stay at home and self-treat. The press never seems to mention most cases are “stay at home, self-treat.” You don’t need ICU time. You don’t need to be on a respirator. You need rest and chicken soup.

Information, Not Hysteria

Ever since CNN went on the air in 1980, there has been a need for constant news. When I was growing up, TV stations went off the air at night, and there was peace and quiet for a few hours. With CNN, there is no escape. Then, they got competition. Now, we have wall-to-wall coverage of crap we never would have known about years ago, as long as it fits their model and the biases of their owners and staff. It is relentless.

So, COVID-19, a disease with a very high survivability rate outside a few high-risk groups (which are generally high-risk for any respiratory disease), is suddenly a “deadly pandemic scourge which cannot be stopped.”

The annual flu is deadly. Car wrecks are deadly. Smoking is deadly. Chicago shootings are deadly. Most probably cause more deaths than COVID-19 has. Not a lot of coverage.

The World Health Organization has information. The CDC has information. Everything else is noise, and most of it is designed for ratings and not to actually help anyone. The more you panic, the higher the ratings. Just turn it off.

Proportionate Response

It’s a pandemic!” Once an epidemic (a rapid spread of a disease within a given population) occurs in multiple countries, it’s a pandemic. That’s the definition. It is a loaded word now, but it quite literally means as soon as there were cases in China, Italy and anywhere else, it was a pandemic. Don’t let a medical term panic you. AIDS is still a pandemic and you don’t hear a lot about it anymore, because it’s mainstream.

Our emergency rooms can’t handle everyone being sick!” This is probably true if everyone goes to the ER at the same time and needs constant care. Also, does everyone with seasonal flu go to the ER? There seems to be more of them.

People will be treated in the hallways!” Here’s a fun fact – that happened before COVID-19 ever erupted. My wife went to the ER in Pennsylvania with chest pains in 2018 and they had marked spaces in the hall for beds. They would bring a curtain when she changed or was examined. This was on a Monday. So, some ERs are already overrun on a regular basis. It’s not news. So, here’s a thought – if you have a cough or a runny nose, go to urgent care or better yet, your doctor. If you have a gunshot wound or a bone sticking out, go to the ER. If you don’t have symptoms, you might not really need a test on day one. Stay home and enjoy your mounds of toilet tissue.

One of the reasons The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was popular was because on the cover, it said “Don’t Panic.” Wise words.

Broken Dreams

This report has been a long time coming. Still, better late than never, I suppose.

On January 10th, I was going to let the dogs out for a pee break. I was annoyed, which is not a good way to be when traversing tight areas. I caught the corner of the dog ramp with my foot, and tripped. As I fell, I considered my options: fall on the wooden ramp itself, fall forward and hit a glass coffee table, fall sideways and hit a wire dog crate, fall right and hit a brick fireplace. Eventually, I just collapsed on the floor.

The first (sad) thing to admit is that I had tripped over this particular ramp before. Every time I did, my Spousal Unit mentioned we should get rid of it, but she never will. Even now, it’s just blocking the other side of the couch.

The second thing is that this time, it really hurt. I couldn’t even consider getting up for a couple of minutes. I just lay on the floor, wondering what to do, and thinking I could soon be the second person in this house Dallas Fire Rescue might have to come lift up (RIP my Mom-in-law.)

Finally, I got up and struggled back to the couch. I never twisted my ankle this badly, but I assumed I could “walk it off.” However, unlike other falls, it wasn’t getting better.

By morning, it was worse, so it was off to urgent care. I would have gone to the emergency room, but didn’t want to waste an entire day on a sprained ankle.

The urgent care by us said on the website that they did x-rays and handled minor broken bones. This was useful, even though I was sure it wasn’t broken, because I had never broken a bone in my life.

The website lied. They had the equipment but nobody there who could use it. The physician’s assistant on duty was useless, but she seemed to confirm it wasn’t a break, so I just figured “Suck it up, Buttercup” and get on with life. Since the PA was an idiot, we decided to just get an appointment with my orthopedic practice. We could have driven across town for a x-ray, but the specialists always do their own, even if you walk in with them, so why waste the time and money? Besides, the PA said it probably wasn’t broken (she didn’t see bones sticking out), so even though she was an idiot, that confirmed my lifelong failure to break a bone, so that was good enough.

On Monday, we managed to get an appointment on Wednesday to see the orthopedist. Those guys are busy. So, I just hopped around in the meantime. The PA didn’t think I needed a boot, so I just limped around in my flip-flops, since I couldn’t fit into a shoe.

Wednesday morning, we saw the orthopedist. They sent me for x-rays before he came in, so I got to limp the entire length of their offices to the x-ray room (and back.)

The doctor looked at the x-rays and said I had broken my foot … and my ankle.

Broken, I believe

He asked why we had waited to come in, and we said we went to urgent care on Saturday, and they didn’t think it was broken. “Didn’t they do x-rays?” So, that was that story, again. My wife is always happy to trash one practice to another. “They didn’t put you in a boot?” More trashing.

Urgent care’s care did not look good.

That afternoon, I had a CT scan which also said I had broken the crap out of both my foot and ankle. From tripping over a dog ramp.

As they got me a boot, we started discussing surgery options. It was January 15th. We had an anniversary cruise on February 9th. Nothing major, February 11th was just our 20th wedding anniversary. The doctor said we could go, no big deal, it I wasn’t like I was going to do any more damage, but the idea of a cruise on a new ship with no snorkeling, actually no beach time, and getting around on a scooter wasn’t very appealing.

We canceled the cruise in the 100% penalty period. Always buy insurance! The checks are in the mail.

We scheduled surgery for January 21st. I had to go to the hospital the day before for a surgical pre-check, since there wasn’t time for my family doctor to do it. Luckily, I passed.

Surgery was thankfully not at the crack of dawn. We got to the hospital (well, the day surgery facility) and got checked in. I got my bed and my gown. It almost fit.

The anesthesiologist came in and said he was going to administer two nerve blockers to help get ahead of the pain. After that, it was general anesthesia, as well.

The doctor came in and autographed my foot so he would remember that the one amazingly larger than the other was the broken one.

Off to the OR. I’m traditionally a good patient who has recovered faster than average. This was going to be my first set of metal plates. The doctor said he would probably leave the ankle alone unless he saw something he didn’t like. He saw it. So, one plate in the foot, one plate in the ankle.

I woke up in the recovery room in the worst pain I have ever experienced. I couldn’t focus, it was so bad. Apparently, my body has alternate nerve paths to my foot which didn’t get blocked.

Unfortunately, since I had the nerve blocker, I wasn’t given any painkillers after surgery. So, after I couldn’t cope, the staff gave me Fentanyl and not much happened. They gave me hydrocodone, and that started to help, but I couldn’t get ahead of the pain. They finally admitted me.

After a while in the room, somebody gave me morphine, and that knocked the pain down. After that, it was hydrocodone every four hours.

As usual, the doctors successfully downplayed the possible pain aspects of recovery. They managed to have me never consider what cutting my foot open and screwing stainless steel plates into multiple bones might feel like after I woke up. Well played.

Overnight, my wife discovered the order for hydrocodone was “as needed” and not “every four damn hours so he doesn’t die”, so I had a dose an hour late, and the pain came back. An hour or so after that, I asked for more morphine, and it settled back down. From then on, we asked for hydrocodone a bit early, just in case.

The whole “drugs working slowly” was new for me. A nurse would give me something, and say, “You’ll feel better in a half-hour or so.” It would take an hour or more. So, getting meds on time became critical.

Here’s a funny thing I learned – anesthesia can put your bladder to sleep. Then, you can’t pee. Joy. Of course, trying to pee off the side of a bed into a handheld urinal while two nurses and your wife are discussing your ability to pee three feet away is difficult, anyway.

So, now they had to manage my pain and try to awaken my bladder. Day two in the hospital – the day facility not really designed for overnight guests. You know you’ve overstayed your welcome when they stop comping you’re wife’s meals.

I do have to say, the staff was great. The nurses managed to keep my wife calm and me medicated. I can’t ask for more than that.

Here’s a fun way to start an unexpected day in the hospital – physical therapy. As a new cripple, I had to learn to transfer from bed to a walker, from a walker to a knee scooter and from either to a potty chair. The physical therapist was very insistent that I do this all within about twenty minutes. I was a heavily-drugged patient who had no sleep. It was interesting.

I did enough transferring to get the physical therapist to leave me alone, and tried to get some sleep. However, they still wanted my bladder awake.

Have you ever heard of a catheter? It’s a small tube that goes into your bladder to help drain urine when you can’t pee it out on your own.

Actually, it’s a glass rod a nurse inserts into a body part you had once promised to reserve for your wife. “Small” may be true, but the opening it is going into is even smaller. It hurts like hell, but then it’s in. Don’t move too much, and it’s fine. Well, less painful.

Here’s a tip – drain your bladder for all your worth when the catheter is inserted. Otherwise, the staff will decide you need a more permanent catheter, which means pulling one pipe out of your manhood and replacing it with another one.

You know, a nurse handling a guy’s business is a key part of a lot of porn films (I’ve heard.) I doubt the hot nurses in those movies had catheters in their other hand. That would be a horror movie.

Here’s the interesting part of having a catheter in – you pee without knowing it. At one point, the nurse asked me if I knew when I peed, and I said, “No.” She said, “You’re peeing now.” Three women’s (two nurses and a wife) heads all did the “puppy tilt” to watch the tube running out of me.

Thursday, I got the catheter removed. A while later, I finally peed. I transferred to the potty chair to do so, which made physical therapy happy. I’m pretty sure one motivation was avoiding having the catheter replaced. Since I successfully emptied my bladder on my own (they measured it), I was allowed to go home. I would have run for the door, but … broken foot and ankle.

In Tuesday, out Thursday. For day surgery. I’m losing my touch.

The hydrocodone continued for a few days after I got home. In truth, I would never get addicted to it, but I was afraid to stop taking it. I don’t want the pain back. I finally started dropping the dose, and then spreading them out, and then it was gone.

The main problem with losing a foot temporarily is learning to walk without it. The technical term is “non-weight-bearing.” In other words, I can’t let my right foot hit the ground. I could hop for six to eight weeks, but that’s probably not feasible.

The solution is reams of equipment. When my wife had Achilles surgery years ago, all the equipment was so expensive, you had to get the insurance company to find someone to provide it. Now, you get it from Amazon.

Here’s the foot support gear:

  • Wheel chair (rented)
  • Walker (hospital)
  • Boot (doctor’s office, pre-op)
  • Knee Scooter (Amazon, two tries, sent one back)
  • Potty chair (hospital)
  • Bath transfer bench (Amazon)
  • Bath chair (Amazon, as backup)

I have been living in my wife’s recliner since the operation. The dogs are very confused. If there is a laptop in front of me, I’m at work. If there’s food, I’m on a break. If I’m reclined all the way, I’m sleeping. It’s two shuffle steps to the bathroom, two shuffle steps back. I hate it. My wife lived in this chair after her shoulder surgeries and I don’t know how she did it.

The first two weeks after surgery, I was in a splint, waiting for the swelling to go down.

After two weeks, the splint was replaced by a cast. Before the cast went on, I had more x-rays. This time, I was taken in a wheelchair because it was broken. Then, the cast went on. My first cast.

My first cast (with Graham Gnome)

Three weeks later, the cast came off, and was replaced by the boot. The boot I was given the first day at the orthopedist, after they realized that urgent care didn’t give me one.

My last week in the cast, I moved back to bed at night, because I couldn’t take the recliner any longer. I vaguely remember “just going to bed.” Now, it’s getting the knee scooter to get down the hall, falling sideways into bed, moving the scooter so my wife can put the potty next to the bed, and then go to sleep. It’s still better than the recliner.

The longest challenge is taking a shower. I have a foot and ankle that can’t get wet. So, down the hall on the knee scooter into the bathroom. Do a 180 (harder than it sounds in a narrow room.) Slide onto the transfer bench. Scoot into the tub, sticking the boot out, so the boot can be replaced by a cast cover (waterproof, self-sealing). Into the shower. By this point, I’m exhausted. Luckily, it amuses the dogs. After the shower, everything is done in reverse, drying everything carefully to keep the foot and ankle dry.

I’m very glad I’m home-officed. I can work without much effort other than getting my laptop out and logging into the systems. My team is spread out all over the world, so time zones are a challenge but nobody is missing me in the office.

The only other concern is that the top of my foot isn’t healing as well as the doctor would like. So, he’s keeping an eye on it. Apparently, there’s not much skin on top of the foot. I’m a bit concerned they will be debriding it – which is a polite term for “cutting off a bunch of dead skin.”

It’s going to be an interesting scar. Well, scars.

On March 4th, I can put “some weight” on the foot. I need to ask what that really means. I’m thinking running a marathon is probably out.

On March 11 (a month after our anniversary), I may be able to walk again. Then, starts physical therapy. Two months or so since I tripped and couldn’t fall properly.

I’m hoping to be fully functional by my 60th birthday in April. Yes, this was going to be a year of landmarks without adding “first broken bone.”