Monday, January 26, 2009

Growing the best tasting tomato ever

We are attempting to grow Heirloom Brandywine tomatoes because the little packet of seeds said "The best tasting tomato ever!" How could one leave the packet on the shelf after reading that claim? Then it has a quote of it's own from an unknown source that describes the flavour as "very rich, loud and distinctively spicy". Wow all in a tomato! We bought the packet. We also bought some wee tomato plants that said they had good flavour and grew well - for comparison purposes.
We are only a few rungs up the gardener hierarchy and our fingers are only tinged with the faintest of emerald and it is not going well for the Brandywines. I think we talked up our anticipation of their taste too much. They were looking fine when we left on holiday. They had germinated and were growing beautifully - they even had some flowers. While we were away, the other tomatoes took their revenge and fell all over them with their green fruit. The normal tomatoes broke off (no doubt to their delight) the only Brandywine branch with flowers on it.
We stepped into the fray and reorganised the garden; tying up the normal tomatoes so there was no way they could squash the Brandywines and put in a bigger stake for the Brandywines so they could grow straight and true without fear. Things were going well until I noticed that the stem on the best plant was partly broken and while the tops are still green and growing well - how long will the nutrients get through? I think this partial break was a last ditch effort by the normal tomatoes as we were separating them from on top of the Brandywines.
The normal tomatoes have produced their first ripe tomato. The flavour was fabulous; not too sweet, almost peppery. A fine tomato that we just ate straight off the plant not even waiting for a meal time. I thought this might put the normal tomatoes at ease - less worried about the Brandywines, who still don't have any wee tomatoes at all.
But it appears the normal tomatoes want complete victory and they have been collaborating with the tomatillos. I was excited a few days ago to see some lovely, yellow flowers on the Brandywine tomato plants. Hooray finally we may get to taste the best tomato ever. But on closer inspection they were tomatillo flowers and the tomatillos are now trying to grow over the Brandywine tomatoes.
So while I hope that we may yet get some flowers and a chance to taste the best tomato ever, it is not looking good. Brandywine heirloom tomatoes maybe the best tasting tomato ever but they are bit crap at standing up for themselves against more garden variety relatives and one of its leaves is going yellow too.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Free Lollies... well a singular lolly

This "free lolly" sign has appeared outside a shop in my area. It amuses me greatly. Only four words but the last two ruin all hope the first two have, of creating any excitement.
This sign also raises a lot of questions for me. Who was this business targeting with this marketing campaign? If it was those that tend to be drawn to lollies - usually who have a one digit age - will they understand the concept of "conditions apply"?
If it is the parents of this possible target market - they all too well will understand the last two words.
If it is not these people - would you stop for a free lolly?
Especially when the conditions that apply are unclear. Do you need to sing a song? Do you need to purchase more than one lolly (other than the free one)?
So far it hasn't made me stop, though I am kind of tempted just to find out the "conditions". Of course I wouldn't buy anything I would just go and ask for the conditions of getting a free lolly and then decide if it was really worth it. But there is a cafe not so far away that I can get free jet plane lolly on the condition I give them 10c - those aren't bad conditions.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

19. The end

She wondered if she could sneak through the gym room and up the back stairs, avoiding Jack altogether. She tried the door to the gym but it was locked. She turned as she heard the shudder of aluminium, someone was coming into the pool area.
She recognised that shape - it was Jack.
He came over and put his arms around her. She let him and rested her face on his chest. Her mind was racing. Even an hour ago she was single and now she had two men - dangling. Maybe that was too many. She couldn't even keep one going with Nathan before. But it felt like all her genes were sticking her to Jack and crying "oh yes!"
She didn't want to let go. Her mind was slipping away and looking down, bemused at the instincts kicking in. She grabbed her mind back and decided to swim against the tide.
She pulled herself free. "I'm sorry, there is someone back home. I can't do this."
Not knowing quite what to do next she just decided to go. At the door back into the brightly lit foyer, she paused. "Thanks for all your help, especially today." Then she let the door swing shut and made for the lifts hoping there was one waiting. As she arrived some guests walked out and she slipped in and relaxed as the doors slid shut.
The next day she was gone.
Sitting on the 747 all around her people were setting up their wee mini homes for the twelve hour flight, by the time they reached Auckland, they would all know their seats intimately; all the hard bits, the soft bits and the unexpected broken bits.
She still had to write up her experiences of bringing people together for Jacob Macy. She thought back over the week. It was strange, that despite everything, the highlight was still the visit to the Reservation. It had really felt like entering another country, nature was not so constrained but encroaching on everything. The values and attitudes you could feel were so different from the city just up the road. How could neighbours living so close to the place have never visited and from her trip be so uninterested?
She thought about her neighbours in the apartment block. She only knew one of them, she had been too busy to bother, what with work and now she thought about it - her own selfishness really. Maybe Millie had a point. Maybe Jacob was wrong with his grandiose plans of people going on trips. Then she realised the whole trip had come about because Jack had sat beside her on a plane and bothered to chat. People coming together was happening all the time in small ways just mostly unnoticed and, at least by her, unvalued. She had wanted big success, big baskets of gratitude for her efforts bringing people together, but maybe it was one on one where it counted. One was as valuable as thousands. Could she write that up for Jacob and would she be able to resist the temptation to check how many times it was viewed on his website? She resolved to stop treating life as a competition - though she still didn't want to be a loser...

Friday, January 16, 2009

18. Dinner

Cath decided to put the Skype chat out of her mind while she had dinner. Jack had done well and found a local restaurant, not too pretentious, but served quality food going by the smells wafting from surrounding tables.
They decided to have the local specialty; shrimp and grits. "Would you like 'erb bread ma'am?"
Cath tried not to smile and nodded she would. She felt a bit hypocritical finding his accent amusing when hers was so strongly Kiwi with her dark 'L's and 'u's for 'i's.
Jack could see her struggling and smiled too. "So you are feeling better about this morning?"
"Not really and in fact it has got worse, I just had a bizarre skype with my best friend back home which I don't really want to talk about and I am not sure I can change by the way. I want to be a success. I want to achieve things in my life. What is wrong with that?"
Jack shrugged. "Nothing I guess. But how do you define success? What is a successful life? I think anyone can change. It is your life, you can do what you like if you want to. Anyway there is nothing wrong with achieving things but maybe you don't need to succeed all the time. You can learn a lot from failing you know."
"Yeah, apparently I can." Cath muttered thinking of Millie's comments.
The shrimp and grits arrived. The grits were nothing like the ones put out in the little bain maries back in the hotel at breakfast. They were creamy. The shrimps were piled on top of the grits in a sauce that was buttery with a little tingle of chilli, and it poured down the sides of the grits. It wasn't the most elegant dish to look at but it was delicious and very filling.
They shared the 'erb bread and after finishing her plate and drinking a few glasses of some very nice wine, Cath was feeling less worried about success and failure and what her life was all about.
As they walked across carpark after ashfelted carpark back to the hotel, Jack took her hand. She let him and was beginning to think failure did have its good points.
At the hotel she pushed the buttons for the lift and while they waited for the lift to arrive he kissed her. She felt tingles rise from her toes and this time it wasn't chilli. She wanted to relax into the sensation and let it envelope her.
She pulled herself free. "Hang on a minute."
Jack looked confused.
"Sorry, just give me a minute."
She slipped from his grasp and went out the door by the pool, pulling her phone from her pocket. The lights flickered on the water as it gently rippled. It looked so calm compared to her heart. She had no idea what time it was in New Zealand but she bounced through her address list until she found Nathan's number. She pushed it, not even knowing what she would say.
When he answered he sounded surprised.
"Hi, sorry haven't called for so long and sorry for calling you now. But..." She dashed on before he could say anything. "I'm in the US having a bit of rethink of my life really and well I think I messed things up with you and if you were keen, I'd like to try again only do less work this time, I mean more work on the relationship, less work on my career. I think, well I want to try anyway and if we fail then perhaps that is ok too but maybe we won't this time..." She was losing her way.
"Stop, wait." the voice said "I'm Nat's brother, Rob."
"Oh" Cath felt herself going red. What a fool she'd made of herself. Her life really was going all wrong.
"Well umm maybe pass that onto Nathan then, bye." She hung up. She couldn't bear to think of all the laughing that was going on where ever Rob and Nathan were.
Her phone sang a message had arrived. It was from Nathan. Her heart started to race. She opened it and all it said was, "Yes." She smiled. Did it matter if she made a fool of herself? Did matter if she failed again? Was just trying what it was all about?
Then she remembered Jack waiting inside what was she going to do about him now?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

17. A revealing chat

Back in her room Cath was still mulling over her conversation with Jack. She still felt like she had big rocks in her stomach from the disappointment of the outing. The old woman's words had meant a lot and each of the people who had come had said to her they had enjoyed it and were glad they had come - was that enough after all her effort?
She pulled up Skype to see if Millie was online and she was, which instantly made Cath feel better - her oldest friend would understand. She gave her a call.
Millie's face popped up. 'Hey there have you done your thing?"
"Yeah," Cath nodded. "It didn't go well. Hardly anyone turned up. I feel a complete failure. Changing the world is not my thing."
"Aah well never mind - did you have fun?" Millie smiled.
Cath wondered whether to plunge ahead or not but decided she did need some guidance so she dove in the deep end.
"The thing is.." She paused. "It has really got me down on top of leaving my job, not getting the one at your work and some weird stuff has been happening here."
"Hey, don't get so upset about it eh. You will bounce back. You always do."
"Will I?" Cath really wanted to believe that but everything seemed so far away here. "It has just made me think about my whole life and I don't know what I am doing anymore."
Millie looked away, then she looked directly at Cath.
"Look, I have a confession to make. It was me that stopped you getting the job at my work and.."
Cath was stunned.
Millie continued. "Well I suggested the Carolinas for a reason. I know someone there and I kind of asked them to mess things up a bit for you."
"You did what? Why?" Cath could not believe what she was hearing.
"I'm sorry. It's just you have always been successful. I wanted you to see what it was like for other people, like, well me."
Cath could barely stand to look at the screen but couldn't pull herself away from the picture of Millie. At least she had the decency to look uncomfortable.
"You are suppose to be my friend. I worked damn hard for all my successes."
"And I didn't? And you are suppose to be my friend - which didn't seem to count for much with Nathan." Millie shot back.
"What?" Cath could hardly keep up with this conversation.
"Do you remember where you met him?"
"Of course I do, at a party at your house."
"Do you know why he was there?"
"Because I invited him. Because I liked him and was kind of hoping to take things further that night except he met you."
"But we have broken up - you could be with him now if you wanted."
"No. He still loves you apparently."
Cath was still trying to get her head around the earlier part of their chat and now this?
"It was a mutual break up. I was working long hours and we had grown apart - we agreed on that."
"You never really listen do you Cath. You only listen to what you want to hear. He agreed you had been working long hours and had grown apart. He wanted you to cut the hours, not him but that would be thinking of something other than your own success wouldn't it?"
Cath didn't know what to say. Deep inside a little voice was saying "Nathan still loves me?". Did he mean more to her than she thought?
"Did you mess up my whole trip here and the job at your work just to get back at me about Nathan?"
Millie was crying now. "No, I just thought you needed a wake up call. It went a bit out of control and I didn't think it would affect you so much, you are such a confident person."
"Millie we have been friends for years, I thought you knew I wasn't that confident inside. I can't believe what you have told me. I don't know what to think. " Her hand hovered over the red hang up button.
"Did you get your friend to chase me at the mall?"
"Umm yeah. It sounds pretty childish now you say it."
Cath whacked the hang up button. Now to add to her list of depressing things, she could add rubbish best friend. What made Millie do that? Did she make Millie do that? Had she been that selfish, that self absorbed?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

16. Sorting out life

Jack didn't say anything. Cath sniffled into her hanky and tried to get herself under control.
"But what is success?" Jack asked.
Cath didn't say anything.
"What if loads of people came and were rude and thought it was stupid. Would that have been a success?"
"At least the bus would have been full." Cath muttered. "Look I think I am just not this sort of person. I am not like you. I can't just go from thing to thing and not care whether it is good or not. I want to make something worthwhile of my life."
Jack cut her off. "That's a bit harsh isn't it? How can you say my life is not worthwhile? Is yours, with always striving to further yourself or is the world all about you?"
Cath said nothing.
"My life surely is all about me. Isn't it?" She stared into her cup.
It was Jack's turn to be silent and take a slurp of coffee.
"But is reaching for success, ticking off milestones and goals - is that what life is about? What about enjoying the moment, enjoying the people you are with - you know, living?"
Cath didn't have an answer for that. She did think life was about doing all she could before it was over. Surely that was the idea? She wanted to look back with pride at what she had achieved, but maybe she was wrong.
"I'm not enjoying this coffee." She said.
"No. It does suck." agreed Jack.
"How about if I ever do this again we go somewhere with nice food?"
"Oh there is good food here. You just have to know where to look and maybe not right here but let me find somewhere for tonight eh. See you back here at seven."
Then he was gone. Cath sat back on the squishy sofa, watching new guests wander in, trundling their suitcases behind them like little pets. What did she want out of life? She might have to ring Millie for a chat and did he mean something by enjoying the people you are with? Was it more than dinner tonight?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

15. Was it good?

Bill nodded, so Cath got on the bus and sat down. She had planned to do an announcement but was it worth it for such a small turn out? Bill started up a commentary.
Cath hardly heard as all she could think about was how few people came, what a waste of time and money the trip had been. She knew now she wasn't a spontaneous person, why did she let Millie talk her into this?
Why did she think it would be a success? Why did she think she could change things in someone else's country?
She wondered if Jack thought she was a failure too. She looked across at him but he was leaning over asking Bill something. She looked out the window. They had turned off the highway and it felt like the tall, dark green, trees were closing in on the road. The forest was definitely getting denser. As they kept driving she was entering a new place, completely different from where she had been only a few minutes before. There was no rushing traffic and the trees dominated with their towering heads. Houses were scattered amongst them as they approached the small cluster of white buildings that was the visitors' centre.
Cath let Bill lead the small group across the gravel into the centre. She missed most of the historical explanation as the small number of the group was accentuated by the large room.
The others seemed to be enjoying it at least. She started to pay attention as a short, lithe, elderly woman in a salmon coloured traditional Indian dress, sat down with some clay in the middle of the room at a small table. She didn't speak and her face was contoured with lines that seem say she had seen a lot and nothing would surprise her now. She worked fast and soon a small pot was formed. She deftly made beautiful, detailed, patterns in the sides. The man describing it was saying how well known the Catawba were for their pottery. They used the clay from the nearby river. As he finished speaking, she finished the pot and they all admired her fast, skilled handiwork. Then as the man went on to introduce the dancers, there was a collective gasp from the small group as the woman pushed her palm into the pot and squashed it flat, back into a lump of river clay.
She shrugged her shoulders and picked it up to carry it back to the corner of the room. She was not bothered by their naivety - she could whip up another pot in ten minutes.
Cath loved the dancers and momentarily forgot about the unhappy knot in her stomach. They had dances for all the repetitive chores. Her favourite was the dance to flatten the grass before setting up the camp. She thought of herself putting the stereo on loud and singing along when she did the washing up of the pots or cleaned the bathroom. "We are all quite similar really." She thought to herself.
Then the performance was over. Cath, pulled out all her professional skills and hoped she did a good job of hiding her disappointment at the low numbers while thanking everyone for their time. The rest of the group went to look in the small, gift shop. Cath stayed behind to thank the hosts for all their efforts and apologise for the small turnout.
The elderly woman came up to her.
"I loved your pottery..."
The woman put a hand on her arm, before she went any further. "Thank you for taking the time. I could see you were disappointed about the turn out but you bothered. I thought you wouldn't see it through when I first heard of your plan."
Cath didn't know what to say. "Thanks" She mumbled. Somehow her efforts to thank others had ended in her being thanked.
Bill got them all back on the bus and dropped them across the road from the hotel.
Cath and Jack sat down for a coffee in the foyer.
"Well what did you think."
Cath stroked the handle of her cup. She was about to speak and then the tears welled up before she could stop them.
"I don't know why I did this." She managed to squeak out. Before Jack could reply, it all poured out. All her doubts about leaving her job, not getting the job at Millie's work, the bad reference, the lost luggage, the weird things that kept happening once she got here and now the dismal turn out. Her life was a mess and the coffee was bad.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

14. The big day

She waited in the foyer to tell Jack her bad news. She hoped he had a solution.
He did, in fact he didn't even know why she was concerned. "You have organised a bus." He said. "Just park it on the street. He may manage the hotel but he sure doesn't control the street."
It wasn't quite the slick operation Cath had in mind. It was starting to sound all a bit amatuerish but what could she do?
Saturday arrived and there was a quiet knock on the door, when she was still in bed. Cath peered through the peephole wondering who it was coming so early to her room. She saw something that made her heart leap. It looked so familiar. It finally it was her suitcase! She thanked the porter profusely. She lifted the case onto the luggage spot in her room, that had been forlornly empty for her entire stay so far. Even the burr of the zip opening felt familiar and reassuring. Flipping the case open, it was so nice to see all her stuff and to have a choice of what to wear!
By the time she went to breakfast, Cath was feeling confident about today's trip. She had visions of people thanking her for the insight into another's culture, barriers broken down, articles in the local paper. She was doing such a good thing, it was almost hard to stay modest in her head. This little town would be different because of her visit. Her shoes clicked on the tile dining room floor. No more comfy travel shoes. She had make up and everything. Her hair was back to normal, using her own shampoo. When Jack arrived and joined her for a coffee she was buzzing. He caught her mood and they were laughing and joking about all the weird things that had happened over the week. They went out on the street to wait for Bill with the bus. He arrived and parked up opposite the hotel. It didn't look so bad she decided. Cath had made a sign to show this was the bus for trip to the Reservation.
The first person to turn up was the the first person Cath had talked to about the trip at the mall. She repeated again how she had never been to the Reservation despite having lived in the area for the past 25 years. Cath was elated she had decided to come. This was turning out exactly as she had planned. The next to arrive was a woman and her two children, Jack had talked to one day when eating lunch. Next a man in his 50s from one of the churches Cath had stood outside arrived. They waited for further arrivals.
The minutes started to drag on. Was this all from a week of pushing fliers on strangers? Cath had at the very least expected a full bus. It was a free trip for goodness sake! What about all those people who had been keen when she handed them a flier?
She waited, hoping for more. Jack was getting restless.
"We should get going."
Cath tried to hide her disappointment, tried to keep her voice upbeat. She wondered if she should just cancel the trip here and now. It seemed a waste of Bill's time and the others waiting back the Reservation. She stared at her shoes and then looked up at Bill sitting in the driver's seat.
"Shall we go?" She asked tentatively.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.