“Freedom” of Speech?

The story you are about to hear is true…

Remember Dragnet? When they started the show out with that? Well same here. And to protect the innocent – me — the names are changed.

But who protects Freedom of Speech? These days you can’t even post your opinion of a business’s services without the risk of being sued. I had a repairman visit my house to check out my oven, and he basically was incompetent and senile and had a negative attitude and took my money and walked out without even saying thank you. I wrote a Yelp review… not slamming him… not making up lies to get revenge.. just telling the honest story.

Then a few days later after seeing that my review was hidden under the “Not recommended reviews” link, I did some reading. Turns out that you can get sued for posting a negative review. Even if all you are doing is telling the truth and your opinion.

So basically, Yelp puts the positive reviews up top so only good things ever get easily read by visitors, and companies and businesses can be jerks to people and nobody will know that history of bad business behaviors because they would have to scroll down and find some obscure faded out link near the bottom of the page in order to find them.

So I, being someone who has little money as it is and not wanting even that taken away by some court, took down my Yelp review.


So here’s the changed, but true story:

I recently called WXYZ’s Appliance in Elgin in order to have a service person come to my house and evaluate and hopefully repair my oven. The guy I met was actually the owner of said company and is in my opinion, going senile, was rather rude towards me, and somewhat incompetent.

But to be fair, basically all that was “for sure” was that for him to come to my house and look at my oven (it wouldn’t stay hot enough to cook things) it would cost me $69.
And technically, that’s what he did. He came and looked at it.
So maybe I shouldn’t complain.

But what did I really get for my $69?
I got a very negative attitude person, seemingly going senile, in my opinion a bit incompetent, and a bit rude.
And I learned what I already knew. My oven wasn’t working right.

He started out looking inside it.
And he turned some knobs.
When he noticed that the oven wasn’t heating up, he said it was probably that my 220V wasn’t working.
Did he try to measure this?
He just assumed it because the oven wasn’t heating. We went downstairs and flipped the breaker off then on again.
Then he tried the broiler. Same thing. No heat.

He kept calling me “John,” despite me constantly reminding him my name was Don.
We talked while he tried turning the knobs to different settings.
Then he said, “So Ken, you might need a thermostat. This is an old oven, They probably don’t make parts for it anymore, But if they do, it might cost be about $200. maybe $400.. just for a part alone. But that won’t necessarily fix it.”
I said, “My name isn’t Ken, it’s Don.”
He didn’t listen and proceeded to tell me it would probably cost $800-900 to fix the oven. I said I couldn’t afford that, and I told him my financial situation and we talked about that for a while. Then he got up, said,”So Ken, it’s $69,” and started filling out a receipt. I again said, “My name is Don.” He continued to fill out the receipt.. with the name “Ken.” Then when I had given him the check, he did not say thank you, he said, “Sorry,” and picked up his tool bag and walked out the door. Across the patio to his truck. Never once did he say thanks for your business.

As far as “Incompetent,” I assumed he knew what he was doing when he tried to turn the oven on. But when I got home from work, I tried the oven again. I set a temperature, I set it to bake, and I hit the start button. And it started to heat up. It got up to 300 degrees before it wouldn’t regulate anymore. Funny.. the 220V works fine.
A supposed expert with ovens and repairing them failed to realize that with some ovens, once you set a temp and function, you need to hit the start button. I had assumed he was doing that while he was here so I wasn’t watching closely. I assumed he knew what he was doing.
Would have made a whole lot of difference in the diagnosis of what’s wrong with my oven.

Instead, I’m right where I was before, except I’m short $69.

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Currently, I’m employed as a bicycle mechanic. But before this job, and back before graphic design classes, I was an electronic/software engineer.

I designed a product back in 2004 and the company still sells it, or a version based on it. I wrote the software for it, designed the user interface, designed the look of it, designed how it worked, did all the development and pseudocode and flow charts and all that.

I wire wrapped the prototype and did all the debugging of the code as it was developed. I tested the versions as they came from the circuit board makers. And then sat in on meetings as the feedback came from users and I would rewrite and modify the code.

Back before I was a bike mechanic, and while studying to be an engineer, I did technical documentation for what is now Comcast. Or for a company that was absorbed by them in their huge takeover legal monopoly.

I religiously would go into the technical control center — the place where hundreds of signals from hundreds of TV stations and local sources and microwave antennas and small studios all came together and got processed and then sent out along hundreds of miles of cable and through hundreds of amplifiers and pieces of distribution equipment, to end up at customers’ houses — and I would collect wire numbers and modulator locations and cabinet arrangements and all sorts of technical data, and I would draw up schematics of it so that if in the event that someone needed to troubleshoot a problem, and the dork-paranoid-guy-who-had-issues-about-job-security-and-never-wrote-anything-down for others to learn by, wasn’t there, they could still trace the problem out and fix it.

I did a great job, too.

I even kept a copy of the book I created to bring with me to job interviews.

Flash forward to why I’m telling you this…

I started a hobby of gardening.. growing plants from seed in the basement and then populating my yard with them. And in the beginning, I made the mistake of NOT documenting anything. Thinking, “Oh, I’ll remember what I planted there..”

Nope. That was a massive mistake. I would get a flat’s worth of plants and then not know what they were anymore and be undecided as to where I should put them. I didn’t even label things.. even when I decided to grow nine different varieties of tomatoes, sometimes a hundred of each just to make sure enough survived.


So I started documenting things, and labeling containers. But to make it do-able, I tried to keep it simple.

Basically, It was : What? When? Where? How Many? Germination dates? and Miscellaneous.

That system has worked pretty well and I still use it. But now I need version 2.0

I need to expand on that with the ability to recognize among the 9, or is it 10 or 11, pepper varieties I have taken on myself to grow.

I have.. deep breath.. Jalapenos, Cayennes, Red Bells, Fresnos, Tabascos, Anaheims, Pequins, Some unknown ornamental that I swiped a pepper of two years ago from outside a cafe and grew the seeds into a plant, Red Hot Cherry peppers, and Bhut Jolokias.

Okay, that’s ten. But next year I want to grow Melroses and Paprikas,  Maybe pimentos too.

So.. the problem is that when moving things around and transplanting and all that, it would be great to not always have to write labels and stick them to everything, or zip tie labels to plants (which I haven’t done yet but am planning on doing when Overwintering 2.0 comes up in the fall of 2017.

Wouldn’t it be great to just “Know” what a pepper plant was by just looking at it?

There has to be real growers out there.. or botanists or horticulturists or something.. who can just look at a plant and its leaves and its flowers and say, “That’s an Anaheim.”

In my dream there is at least. And today, I decided, I want to be able to do that.

So.. to start my new era of “Visual and Mental Documentation and Species Recognition,” I have taken pictures of some plants.. their flowers and leaves.

It’s a start. And there’s only two or three so far.. and that’s mostly because I failed to document what the plants were when I put them into their containers. So until they start to have actual fruit, I’m still just guessing what they are.

Maybe someday… years and years from now… just maybe… maybe I’ll learn.

Anyhow.. Here’s pictures of pepper plants for future reference


flower hangs downwards


Leaves are smoother looking


Flowers have a grayish center



Stem that flower is attached to heads upwards, then does a sharp downward bend to the flower


Leaves not as smoothIMG_20170716_145519585

Center of flower has a blueish tint




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The Weevil Massacre…


Way back when I was a kid there was a plant in the very back of the yard that always got tons of bumble bees. It had blue flowers and would get black seed pods on it later in the summer. I decided I wanted one, or at least one, of these in my yard a few years back. So I went onto the internet and searched for blue flowers, bumble bees, black seed pods, and eventually discovered that it was the Blue False Indigo plant, or Baptisia Australis.

So I got two of them from a place I found on the internet. I planted them in the fall and the next spring, after the snow had melted away and things started warming up, I was pleased to see them coming back to life.

That lasted one week. They grew, and one morning, upon going outside to scope out the new growth, one of them was gone. Chewed to stubs by a rabbit. I put a cage quickly around the remaining one and went inside cursing rabbits forever. That plant never came back. This was the inciting incident that got me doing container gardening. But more on that later.

The Baptisia grew that year but got no flowers or black pods. But the next year it came back strong. Three times as big, lots of flowers, and lots of black pods.

Determined to start growing tons more of them from seed I harvested the pods and put them in a bin on my workbench while I went upstairs to read up on them. A guy said somewhere that it’s hard to get viable seeds because there is this weevil that gets into the pods and eats/lays eggs/and or larvae eat, the seeds, rendering them basically dead. Bug food.

WTF? I said, and ran downstairs. Can’t waste time here, they could be chewing on the seeds as we speak.

Sure enough, when I cracked a pod open and dumped it out, there were these little critters scurrying all directions. Now when they say weevil, they are not kidding. Look up weevil in a dictionary or image search and that’s what these guys looked like.


Miniature armored tanks with six tiny legs and mouth parts made for chewing into steel like it was butter. Scurrying is kind of an exaggeration… they weren’t very fast. But there were lots of them and they hid under seeds and amongst the black shells and the dead bodies and some even tried to stand perfectly still and fake like they were dead. Some even tried pushing their friend out from under a seed only to go scurrying the other way when the human went for the friend.

It wasn’t easy and was a time consuming task to get them all. Like any war general, you have to put yourself into the mind of a weevil. What would I do if some huge guy was trying to get me?

But I did get them. Smashed each one with a high tech heat seeking anti-weevil weapon. A wooden popsicle stick.

Then I washed the seeds, and the stick, and made sure there were no weevils anywhere to tell the tale.

Woohoo! A battle won and now I have hundreds of viable Baptisia Australis seeds and as we speak, I’ve gotten seven more plants out into the yard from seed salvaged at the massacre. One at my girlfriend’s, blooming like crazy, and four of the remaining six are also blooming, in different quantities.

The biggest one, in my yard, is setting green pods right now so once they turn black, it’s going to be Weevil Massacre II, coming to a workbench near you.

Apparently though, looking at things from a weevil’s perspective, the weevils are nature’s way of keeping Baptisia Australis from getting out of hand, since they are long lived and once established, can survive extreme weather conditions and might crowd out other species if every seed were to survive.

In my yard though, the weevils get no mercy.


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The Coneflower Impostors…


You learn a lot of things gardening over the years. Things you thought you didn’t need to know or that you could do better, and those other guys saying do this and not that, or don’t do this at some certain time and have patience and all that stuff, well what did they know.

For instance, the boiling heat of July is not the time to transplant baby seedlings.  Or you should start seeds indoors over the winter if you want plants to be big enough and bloom by the summer. Don’t wait till summer to plant. Or you should maybe get at least some library books on identifying seedlings.. or plants.. or weeds. Or look on the internet at least.

No. Not me. Or not my former self at least. Just plow ahead with your crazy idea Don.

100 new coneflowers. Man, this is going to look great. I’ll put some there.. and there by the driveway.. and there along the sidewalk… and there next to.. those.. ummm.. whatever they ares. I hadn’t even an idea what 75% of the plants in my yard were. But why did I need to? They’re all good things otherwise the previous owners, who knew their stuff, wouldn’t have put them there, right?

So I set out one day in June to…

Wait a second! You started seedlings in June? Am I hearing correctly?

Yes. Sadly. It was June. Or maybe it’s funny. I suppose I can laugh now.

The plan was simple. Take the window boxes filled with potting soil from last year and plant, in 2 inch spaces, 100 seeds. Water them, and bingo! Coneflowers. Can’t be hard. The first two times I planted them they grew like crazy so why wouldn’t they do so again? So that’s what I did. And sometime maybe a week to two weeks after seeding, I got all these little plants coming up.

I pulled out the things I thought were weeds that kept popping up and kept only the ones that all looked like each other. They had to be the coneflowers, right? I mean they were coming up where I put the seeds.

I kept this up until the plants got about 4 inches high and then realized I’d need to space them out more, or else transplant them to their new permanent location.

So one day in July, when it was 90-95 degrees out, I started transplanting.

I discovered that the plants were not happy. They all started wilting after 10 minutes in the ground. I fretted over this a while and then decided that in order for them to survive, I needed to shelter them temporarily at least until they got their roots established and could survive on their own. I did this with cardboard and sticks propping up the cardboard. And buckets. And hunks of wood shingles. Whatever I could find.

I also watered them four or five times a day.

After a week of this they were looking pretty healthy and getting bigger and when I took the shade away from them and let them have the full sun, they started growing like crazy.

Yes! Three out of three! Who needs books or experienced gardeners advice? I was doing fine all by myself.



Hey.. what are these little white flowers? I thought coneflowers were purple. Oh well, maybe this is what they look like before they mature. (you’re probably thinking why didn’t he pay attention to what they looked like the last two times he grew them? right? But I didn’t.)

So another week goes by and my “babies” are growing up. And I’m all proud of myself for saving their lives and keeping them alive when the heat of July was bearing down on them. And then one day I notice..

solanum americanum 3980


W.T.F? What are these little berries? Coneflowers don’t get berries? At least I didn’t see them last time. Something is wrong.

So I go on the internet and start searching for weeds that have little white flowers and little berries and I discover that the plants I have been struggling and slaving over for the last month and a half are actually Nightshade.

I look it up and I see images of this plant that is all over the place here and which apparently had plenty of seeds scattered by birds maybe, into all the soil of the flower boxes I used. Meanwhile I was probably yanking out the real coneflower seedlings thinking they were the weeds. Duh!!

I waited a few more days and then, heartbreaking as it was (and it was too.. I felt like the parent of a delinquent or criminal must feel), I pulled out all the hundred plants I had started from seed back in June.

Lesson 1: Only use new potting soil for starting weeds.

Oh, did I say weeds? I meant seeds.Just seeing if you were paying attention.

Reuse old soil and you will definitely get all the weeds you can handle, and more.

Lesson 2: Start earlier and listen to what the experts say.

Lesson 3: Not only learn about the flowers you want, but learn what the weeds look like too. The impostors.

Or maybe I just need to open up my eyes.

But it wasn’t a total loss. There was Lesson 4: Which would come in handy in the future… How to keep things alive if you end up having to transplant later in the season when it’s 95 degrees out there.

Came in handy when I decided to transplant a Baptisia Australis during the middle of summer.

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The Real Beginning…


Wait, I thought the previous post was the real beginning. What’s this now?

I suppose it all depends on your definition. That was where it originated. Where the initial seed got planted. The inciting incident, or something like that, I think they call it in fiction writing. But in my mind, the “real” beginning is where the actions began to happen. And yes, that’s a weird way to say something, but the thing you have to note is that I’m writing first drafts here. I can’t be thinking too much or I’ll never get any writing done. So forgive me if I sound like a cave man who just got his first rock and chisel and decided he had to say something even before he took a single grammar lesson.

The real beginning was when I got my very own house. The previous owners were gardeners and the house was surrounded by flower beds, similar to the picture above. When viewing the place for the first time, a big determining factor on whether to buy this house or not was that there was not as much grass to mow. I hated mowing grass. But here, there were flowers everywhere and with some work, I could make even more grass areas disappear.

So I bought the house. Did I realize what I was getting into? No. Who does when they’ve never owned a house before? That could be the subject of another complete blog but who wants to write about a house? Not me. The blog would be peppered with too many swear words.

So I moved in in September and fast forward to the following spring when I got a packet of coneflower seeds from Burpee and planted them in a 20 gallon planter that the previous owners were kind enough to leave with the house.

They, like the ones before, grew like crazy and bloomed the very first year. But when I tried to transplant them into the yard, they died. Little did I know that the white styrofoamish looking particles that were in the planter were good for the plants. I shook off much of the old potting soil and planted the coneflowers into dirt. Perlite? I had never even heard of it. What did these people know? Dirt doesn’t come with this stuff so why leave it with the plant?

So that was the first failure. Which only served to incite me even more to fill my already drowning in coneflowers yard, with more… As my girlfriend has said many times over the years, “The word moderation is missing from your dictionary.”

And yes, it’s true.

And so, in June of the following year I began a project intended to give me about a hundred new coneflower plants.

Couldn’t I start with a dozen? Maybe two dozen? No.. I had to have a hundred.

No Moderation.




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In The Beginning…

Like my originality?

Meh… Me neither. But it’s a start, and I gotta start somewhere, and if I think too much, and I have a tendency to do that when writing something someone else might read, then I’ll never get started… writing that is.

Going way way back I suppose it all started when I hung around this girl. Ok.. woman. She was divorced, had her own house, had two kids, a psycho ex-husband, a million other divorced men chasing after her, so I guess woman seems more correct. And this line of conversation could go off on a complete blog of its own tangent about this phase of my life but I’m going to shut up. For now.

Anyway, because I was a nice guy and because I liked her and because I was handy around a house, and because I was single and horny, I became involuntarily, her, as she very adamantly put it, “gardener, but not a boyfriend.”

Well damn… shit.. f###… pick a word that you can relate to. This wasn’t what I wanted. I was, or thought I was, and I guess now that I think about it, I was in love. And then there’s that other L word too. Lust. The one that erases all logic and whatever brain cells that there may be, some microscopic tiny number in fact, in a guy’s head. But I guess love does that too.

But anyway, she had a perennial garden and among the many dozens of types of flowers there were purple coneflowers. I liked these a lot and one day in the fall when she had me deadheading them, I got the idea that I could collect the seeds and plant some of my own at home.

So I did. Took the flower heads home in a baggie, busted them up and got the seeds out, found some black plastic cheapy flats cells, about 60 cells total, and filled them with dirt.

Dirt!? you might say.

Yes, dirt. I knew nothing about seed starting mix or potting soil or amendments or water retention or compost or basically anything at all. All I knew was her plants were in dirt so that’s what these flowers grow in so that’s what I’ll use.

I buried a seed in each cell, put all the flats out on the picnic table in the back yard, and watered them and continued to water them every day.

Then one day there’s half a dozen little seedlings. Then the next day there’s more. Then weeks later they are getting too big for their cells and I put them into the ground by the house, along the west side.

And they grew like crazy.


Yep. That was them. They looked like that for about three years and then for who knows why, they died out.

But I was hooked. I loved the concept of planting a seed and nurturing it and ending up with something beautiful. I decided that when I got a place of my own where I could do whatever I wanted to without resistance or argument, (I grew these at my parents’ and up till then, anything I tried to grow got yanked out or mowed down by my dad) I was going to grow things. Trees. Plants. Flowers. Perennials. You name it.

And the more the better.

This was my beginning.

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Lately, actually in the last five years, maybe six, I have taken up serious gardening. I start seeds, vegetable or perennial or annuals, in the basement during the winter, and then I transplant the baby plants into the yard, or into containers, in the spring. They grow and my girlfriend and me get to have veggies to eat and new flowers that show up now every spring.

And that’s it. That’s what I’ve been doing lately.

But the real story, or stories…. the ones that are more interesting, are the ones contained in the whole five or six years leading up to right now. Not that it isn’t interesting right now… it sure is. But the stuff leading up till today is what people would relate to… the attempts, the experiments, the tries and fails, the mistakes and the epiphanies and revelations. The successes and the blunders and the growing from totally clueless to “hey, I’m not so bad at this.”

And that’s what I’ll start telling you about next time.

Right now, it’s outside to tend to what I’ve been doing…



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