Tomatoes!

For a long time, though not quite for as long as I can remember, there has been a competition between my sister and my grandfather.  He has no love of sweet tea – she fares best without tomatoes.  Despite this, or perhaps because of it, he’s always sure to save a few ‘for Shelly’ from his backyard garden plot.  She, in turn, always makes sure there’s sweet tea available when he comes to visit.  Regardless, when it comes to tomatoes, they are who I think of first, both politely shoving on the other what will swiftly be refused.

I myself have always been a fan of tomatoes.  Those globes of juicy ripeness always seem to glow, little suns packed with the energy and vitamins we need to grow.  I can feel the soft skins of them yielding to my bite, exploding in juicy goodness, sending rivulets running down my chin like summer fruit is supposed to.  Somehow, apples just don’t even compare, despite shine, despite crispness.  There’s something about a tomato that flirts with temptation, which may be why Mr. John Gerard considered it ‘poisionous’ in his English Herbal, despite being eating in Italy and Spain.  Those Papists, after all, were almost as bad as Eve when it came to oral fixation.

So with all this upside-down nonsense getting big, I decided to go to the experts.  Just what does hanging this thing upside-down accomplish?  What kind of tomatoes should I grow in such an inverted potter?  Tell me about staking, because I know nothing.

As I soon found, the majority of ‘real’ tomato growers pish-posh the inverted idea.  They say it has no benefits, or doesn’t provide enough soil for the plant to really root, or puts undue strain on the tomato stalk in order to support the fruit, or as one particularly irate plant vendor stated, “tomatoes weren’t made to be grown upside-down”.  I suppose that’s strictly true.  Elephants weren’t made to travel by roller-skate, and squirrels weren’t made to fly, but I’m not sure that means they can’t, or should be prevented from trying.  I’m not sure I believe the hype about upside-down fruit being better for you in some way, but you must admit, the idea of fruit topsy-turvy is somehow appealing.

I decided I would try it.  Two factors influenced my final decision.  The first was the aforementioned plant lady.  SHe was quick to tell me that growing a tomato plant in a pot required at least a 5 gallon bucket.  And staking – these hardy little things need all the help they can get to keep from being top-heavy.  Especially when planted in a giant, weighty, bucket of a planter.  So, since I don’t have mountains of money to spend on mountains of dirt, I opted for the upside-down gallon jug variety.  According to online instructions, this variety needs only what is necessary to top off a 2-liter bottle (or, in my case, gallon jug).  The second factor was a friend’s various gardening projects.  He was into making all kinds of things, tossing off ideas to turn his backyard into a wonderland.  Since I have no backyard, I was jealous, but I at least have a great balcony.  Hanging plants seemed like the perfect way to get DIY and still have delicious tomatoes by the end of the summer.

I have been very pleased by the results.  There will be a picture update soon so that all of you lovely readers can appreciate those results as well.  I ended up going with a small tomato variety, about cherry size, just in the weight on the stalk was an issue.  Only one problem – once they turned color, I wasn’t sure they were really ripe. I guess I have no experience picking cherry tomatoes.  On a big tomato, when they’re ready, they practically help themselves off the vine – a little twist and they’re in your hand.  Not so with cherry-sized minis.  Or not so for mine, anyway.  After days of waiting, twisting gently, and gazing longingly at my delectable beauties, I finally called my grandparents to ask how I know when these things are really ripe.

“Well,” says my grandmother, “you know they won’t get as big as regular tomatoes”.  Yes, I do know that much.  “And they probably won’t get much bigger than a golf ball.”  Yep.  “So…I would just pick one and eat it.  Then you’ll know if it’s ripe.”  So why I have I been waiting days for this baby to give me a real sign, beyond color and soft pliancy to the touch, that they are ready for eating?  The world may never know.  But yes, all those that had changed color appropriately were quite edibly ripe.  I give you, grandma’s mouth test for tomatoes! (It never fails.)

A few words of advice for anyone trying this themselves.  First, if you can get clear gallon jugs, use them – it’s easier to water the plants appropriately when you can see how deeply the water is seeping and how quickly.  I painted one of mine and not the other (cause I got lazy).  The painted one may be prettier, but the one I can still see into is much more effective.  I also ended up planting herbs on top instead of using the bottom of the jug with holes in it as a trickle-down system.  This works better with plants that are really rooty – cilantro is excellent, thyme not so good.

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Many Travels – Oliver Winery, Brown County, and other parts Indiana

Let me just say that I’ve discovered anew how much I like hicks.  Sure, they can be frustrating and annoyingly persistent in certain forms of hardheadedness, but so I can I.  With distance and time, somehow they don’t seem to be so bad.  And then I come back over Brickyard weekend, and they’re everywhere.  Muscle shirts, beer bellies, tractor baseball caps, mullets, the heavy traffic, the campers everywhere two days before and one after, the works.  And somehow that seemed homey, and kinda nice, as if I’d been missing out on the hoo-haa just because it was mine, because I’d grown up with it even if I was never really aware of the racing scene.  Sometimes, especially on the west side, it’s just unavoidably present, and that makes it even more fun for the rare periods I’m home now – it’s a little bit of hometown flavor, with very little discomfort or disruption of my life.

Oliver Winery – Near Bloomington, IN

So the family decided that as a part of my time at home, we needed more wine.  Not to say that we couldn’t stand each other’s presence without liquid aid, but rather that wine is something we all enjoy.  Coffee is as well, but I’d provided some of that with the stuff I brought back from Puerto Rico.  So, tasting tour for us.  And of course our favorites were not exactly the same, so we got several.  Here’s Shelly with hers:

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Most of the grapes are grown on-site, but they do use some from further afield.  Certain bottles are made exclusively from their vineyards, which is the Creekbend Vineyard line.  You can learn more about them here.  They do not sell any of their wines in stores out of state, but you can order online and have it shipped direct to certain states.  MA is not one of them, nor is OR, alas.  I am partial to the oddly somewhat dry Valvin Muscat, which of course you can’t buy online at all – only at the winery. And the grounds were lovely.  Next time, we’re having a wine picnic.

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Brown County

So onward, and uphillward, into the deep and spooky forests of southern Indiana.  Shelly and I bumbled along one of our favorite trails at Brown County State Park, since the wine tasting and long hour of driving had already taken quite a bit of spunk out of the older adults.  Mom did come along  for a bit of the hike though.  So, here’s a few sweet pictures of that:

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Above the amphitheater.

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In the amphitheater.  PS, who knew about the first H in this word?  News to me…

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At the horse bridge.  Yes, Shelly is on the phone and loving it.

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Unattributable cost.

I’m very close to my family.  Sometimes I like to say that we are psychically linked.  My mom calls me out of the blue to check up on me and see how I’m doing.  If I’m having a great day but feel sad and don’t know why, I may check to see if my dad is sick.  My knee hurts – I ask my sister Shelly if her knee (which she’s had surgery on) is bothering her, in case I’m picking up sympathetically on her pain instead of realizing my own.

It’s the same thing with economics.  Certain variables in the system of price and supply and why companies work cannot be calculated.  There’s the idea of customer service and customer loyalty.  There’s an idea of ‘giving back to the community’ by some businesses that results only in costs for them, and may or may not give them increased sales.  There’s benefits from a thriving main street area, whether or not an individual living in a community visits one particular storefront.  We subconsciously react to variables we cannot compute in our everyday purchases, as well as our interpersonal interactions.

A new study has shown that such reactions may come from a further remove than you might expect.  At up to three degrees of separation, there is a notable impact between people on happiness.  That means a friend of your friend’s friend could make you statistically more likely to be happy strictly through their own mood.

It’s something of a scary thought – somehow, we’re all picking up on each other’s vibes from a bit of a distance.  Your friend is glum, which makes you a bit unhappy, of course, since you want only the best for them.  Another friend reads that from you, and is slightly off because of it, and the sadness ripples outwards, decreasing with each successive link in the friend chain.  We can’t know exactly where these feelings come from, but we know they are real and meaningful things.

But at the same time, there remains a choice.  You can be happy, or unhappy.  You can spread joy, or leak regret.  So far (by 9% versus 7% in overall impact on others), it seems happiness is winning.

My father, the robot

There are two universal rules of fathers with daughters.  1) They will try to scare the crap out of your boyfriend.  2) They will, at some point, be utter balls of corn.  No matter if your father walked out on you at the age of three or is the most mild-mannered accountant the world has seen, your boyfriend will ignite the inner concerned and rampaging defensive parent.  No matter if your father was at one time funny or is a cold-blooded killer, he will at some point break into utter ridiculousness.

Take my father’s reaction to my boyfriend’s recent birthday.  My parents sent him a card.  They even sent him a book.  However (and here’s where the corniness and threats come in), my father also left a voicemail message for Mike.  The content of the message was simple enough: “Happy Birthday, young man.”  However, it was said with a tone of voice that some may consider ominous.  When taken with the fact that my dad was calling from his cell phone, which Mike doesn’t have the number for (unlike my parent’s landline at home, which he has in his phone), it makes me wonder if he intended that ominous note.  Perhaps he even intended that Mike would ask me what strange man from the 317 area code would know when his birthday was.  Perhaps it was simply a fringe benefit.

The unintended consequence was Mike’s assumption that my father’s voice was that of a robot.  Mike thought that the message had to be one of those online programs you can have a specific voice or weird synthetically produced voice say the text you enter on someone’s voicemail.  I’m thinking specifically of Samuel L. Jackson and Snakes on a Plane here, and some of the hype that went on for that.  It took me 15 minutes just to convince Mike that yes, I could recognize my father’s voice as recorded on his phone.  Even then, it was really my friend Gina’s corroborating opinion that got Mike to believe.

Regardless of how much the man who gave me half of my genes to me sounds like a robot, he’s still a father with a daughter.  He still will try to intimidate boyfriends and will be occasionally reduced corniness.  And now I have the proof recorded on voicemail.

I’m Mr. Yosuke Nakamura

What do a veterinary hospital, a policeman trying to be friendly, and the rooftops near Tokyo all have in common?  All of them were involved in returning one lost parrot, Yosuke, to his home.  Similar to Dory Finding Nemo, this particular parrot had learned its name and address through excessive repeating.  His family had actually be training him to talk to strangers and repeat the necessary information for the past two years, in the event he escaped his cage and was lost.  The plan worked successfully, and the smallest Mr. Nakamura is safely back at home in Nagareyama, near Tokyo, after an overnight stay at the veterinary hospital where he announced his name and address.

What was most curious about the situation was the parrot’s refusal to talk to the police, despite his training to speak to ‘anyone willing to help’.  The policeman who first found the bird on the roof of one of the Nakamura’s neighbors, says he tried to be friendly, but that the parrot was unresponsive.  Did the family have some sort of fear of the police?  Had the parrot been watching too many cop shows?  Was he waiting in vain for his lawyer to appear before questioning?  Or is it something more simple?  Did the family train the bird only to respond to people touching it, or only to those who might have had more familiarity with birds?  Could they have trained something into the parrot without realizing it?  An interesting question into the mind and education of birds.

Books on Tape.

I regularly attend a book club for women in my neighborhood.  By ‘regularly attend’, I mean we meet once a month.  By ‘book club for women’ I mean excuse for all of us to get together, gossip with quasi-familiar females, perhaps discuss a book we probably didn’t finish for about 20 minutes of our extended evening, and eat a LOT.  It’s great.  Not only do I get an opportunity to eat others homemade baked goods, I have the chance to complain about whatever’s been getting my goat for the past month with an entirely new group of people.

The past few months, for various reasons, I hadn’t gone to book club.  I hosted in October, we didn’t have one in December, and the the one this week was really pushed back from  February.  I don’t relaly know what happened in November/January, but I was excited to go to this book club.  So excited, that when the library didn’t have a copy of the book we were reading, I checked out the books on tape version.  So excited, that I checked my local bookstore so I could even purchase the thing.  So excited, that when I couldn’t find a copy for sale or lease and couldn’t find my old Walkman either, I bought a new one so I could listen to the audio book on the train.

Yes it’s true.  I am the proud owner of a brand new dictation cassette player from the MIT COOP Campus Bookstore, purchased for waaaay too much money.   I mean, shouldn’t these little Walkman things be free by now?  Shouldn’t we be giving them away like key chains?  Ok, so I probably wouldn’t have accepted a free Walkman as I have no use for it, but still.  People have needs, and mine, for a moment, was a Walkman (how did they even come up with that name, Walkman?  Why not Runman?  Or MusicMover?  Why am I not a professional brander?).

But, the entire fiasco brought back days of my youth.  Days spent with my loving sister, Shelly (who will probably never read this, the bum.  She never randomly calls me, either), on the way to high school.  Days of driving too fast, not crashing the car, only slightly injuring my own empty boots by running them over.   Days of listening to the voice of Roslyn Alexander reading The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley.  Days of yore.

I miss days like that.  Now that book club was over, I don’t think I’ll finish my current book on tape though.  I might, however, pull McKinley down off the shelf.