Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Has Oprah's experience taught you nothing? Or, lessons for retail staff

I've been tripping around the lower half of the North Island recently,visiting, shopping, eating, you know, as you do.  I've bought clothes for the coming season, and I've been prepared to buy others, but well, the fit wasn't right, the colour wasn't me, or the assistant sneered silently or made no attempt to assist.

So to help all those people in retail who hate their job and are wishing no one would ever come into the shop or want their attention, I have helpfully complied a list of helpful hints.  I call it "Helpful Hints for Shop Assistants".  I make the presumption that none of the people who are so careless about customers spending money could possibly be part owners or have any investment in the business other than their expectation of regular wages.

1.  Smile.  Because being dour and looking as if your haemorrhoids are really giving you gyp just isn't working.  Customers are likely to go elsewhere if you look at them as if you wish they would Just Go Away.  And if it IS difficult to smile with your haemorrhoids the way they are, take the day off and go seek medical help.
2.  Make eye contact as you smile.  I know, multi-tasking.  Tricky.  Acknowledging potential customers can make the difference between them spending money with you and going elsewhere to do it.  But once you master 1. above, I promise you this isn't as hard as it sounds.  And this way the customer will know your smile is actually a smile of welcome for them.  If it's more about the dreadful shoes/clothes they're wearing, they'll be able to tell, in which case, move on to 3.  below.
3.  Try not to make judgements based on what they're wearing.  So I've come into your posh shop wearing my $30 (some years ago) jeans and $15 top, and you're standing guard over a rack of $300 skirts, waiting for the cream of society to honour you with their presence and MasterCards.  So you sigh (inwardly of course), think "she's going to try these Far-Too-Gorgeous/Expensive-For-Her clothes on and there's no WAY she'll buy anything!"  You smile weakly, sneer inwardly and hope I'll leave soon and go to K-Mart where I obviously belong.  But what you don't know, Chicky, is what I do for a living, how I dress when I do what I do, how much disposable income I have and that I never dress up to go clothes shopping.  And if you treat me as if I don't belong in your posh shop, then take note of what I do if I find something I like.  I leave empty-handed, thus allowing you to nod in satisfaction at how accurate your instincts about people are.  And I go online to find out the other places between Wellington and Hastings that have Paula Ryan labels or Vamp or whatever it was that caught my fancy, and I will whip out my MasterCard at a shop where I'm treated with respect.  If I dressed up to go shopping, Chicky, you may well decide I was worthy of your attention.  But I want to be treated well whatever I'm wearing.  I may not be Oprah (well, no, I'm actually not) but learn from her experience in Russia and apply it to your little world.  That way your "intuition" won't become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
4.  Know your stock.  If I ask if you have a short sleeved, white, thin top for layering, and you say you don't, and on looking round your store I see racks of them in different colours, including white, I'm actually going to see if the shop next door has them before I'll spend my money with you.
5.  Keep checking out those Positions Vacant ads.  Maybe you'd be more at home standing guard at a Courthouse? 

And now I'd like to show you where I got excellent attention and where I spent my money.

I'm not going to name the shops where the service was inadequate or inappropriate, but my awards for the best service go to those three in the front -
Hilary Pointon, Hastings - pleasant, appropriate assistance
Black and Co (belts and bags made on the premises) Otaki, where I bought a really cool hip-riding curved belt with excellent service
Pagani Lower Hutt, AND Pagani Otaki.  This is not a chain I fit the target demographic of, nor one I normally shop at, but I had a specific layering garment in mind and I found it in their Lower Hutt shop, where I  was treated with enthusiastic and pleasant service which was a delight.  In Otaki as I was about to pass Pagani I noticed a scarf the colour of my new outfit and inside the shop another, and again the pleasant and helpful assistant made the choice easy.  Pagani, I suggest you could run courses for some of the posh shops on the knack of choosing the right staff, and making them love their job!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Confession Time (involving Barbie)

It was with some excitement that I couriered off a package to my granddaughter on Thursday - it contained the work of my spare time over the last couple of weeks.  At the risk of severely undermining my credibility, I confess that it contained clothes for her various Barbie and Ken dolls.
This morning I was lucky enough to watch her open it - via Skype - and see her (and her brother) dress the dolls.  
Yeah yeah I know all the arguments about girls and Barbies, and the dangers of girls relating to princesses waiting to be rescued by a handsome prince.  But this is a four year old whose dolls are part of her creative play with her almost 6 yr old brother,  as well as in her own imaginative world, and with her friends, and these dolls are brave and strong as well as beautiful and intelligent.  And yes, during the 1980s, [extreme confession spoiler] I bought Barbie sewing patterns.  And made clothes for my own children's dolls and for the school galas where they sold extremely well!  

So yes, Barbie marries Ken.  She is a ballerina, and all sorts of other things.  And what's wrong with that?
But also, these dolls are Ninja princesses, and take part in amazing stories invented by her brother as they play with his Ninjago Lego.  As they opened the parcel and dressed the dolls he was already coming up with new role plays and stories, and as Barbie was adorned with her new amulet, he was figuring out ways the ninjas could circumvent its powers.  "Ah no," I told him, "this is a rare jewel, endowed with a Nana's love that nothing can break.  This will protect the wearer as long as she wears it."
"Hmmmmmm."  he responded, and I know he is already working out game plans and scenarios!

Because life is more than saving the world one organic vegetable at a time. It's  also about making tiny clothes for a darling granddaughter's Barbie dolls.  Because I can.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Not donating to charity, but lending for development

There are so many wonderful charities doing essential work to alleviate poverty and social inequalities.  One that comes from a different angle is Kiva.  Through Kiva, you make loans from as little as $25 - joining with other loan partners - and together you can make a huge difference. You can join in with a Lending Team of people who are from your industry, your country, your philosophy, or not!  You choose who you lend to. 

It may be a loan to someone running a small business in a third world company who needs a hand to buy more stock, it may be a loan to a family who want to have running water in their home, there are literally thousands of different loans to choose to be part of.
And these are LOANS.  They will be paid back, and you can choose to use the repayments to then help someone else.  A hand up.  Not a hand out.

I think it's an important part of our richly complex aid options, and at the moment, you can make a $25 loan which will cost you nothing.  I know.  Sounds odd.  But it's how I got involved in Kiva, and it's truly for real.  You choose where the loan goes, - when it's repaid, you don't get the repayments - but it's a great way to test out how it works.

Want to know more?  Or take up the free loan?
Click on this link and it will take you to Kiva to find out more.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Addiction of Hand-Knitted/ing Socks

A year ago, (gosh is it only a year ago?!) I made my first pair of hand-knitted socks.  A daughter had lovingly gifted me a hank of sock yarn for a birthday, and so, well I didn't have much choice really, did I!
My first knitted socks - delicious!
And being a Kiwi of the age I am, referring to "wool" as "yarn" goes against the grain, but as it's not 100% wool I have to get with the programme.  Today I notice that whatever you knit with is called "yarn", where back in the day any self-respecting New Zealand knitter only ever used 100% wool, and "yarn" was a nasty plastic-feeling acrylic!
And for the record, and to justify it NOT being 100% Pure NZ Wool, socks need some (whisper it) nylon (sigh) in the mix or they just wear through.  And that's a lot of work for little wear....
Sock yarn is usually 75% superwashable merino and 25% nylon, and there are wonderful small businesses that spin and hand-dye so your socks are real works of art and creations of love.

Vintage Purls in Dunedin, Woolrae Studios in Te Awamutu (she sells on TradeMe) are just two of my favourite artists,  Raeleen of Woolrae has 25% NZ mulberry silk in her socks - with 65% merino, 10% nylon - this is a truly delicious yarn!
Sarah's Basket Weave Rib Pattern

I've knitted socks on circular needles, but my preference is on double pointed needles, I love my set of 5 size2.5mm bamboo ones from Ashford NZ.

Since that first pair, I've knitted nine pairs of socks.
I wonder if I need counselling?  That's bordering on obsessive.....
I've knitted other things as well - beanies for Kidscan, for instance, an intarsia hooded jacket for a grandson, and an aran jersey for a granddaughter, but socks are such an interesting project.
My daughter Sarah designs (amongst other things) yummy socks, and most of my sock knitting has been from her patterns.  I've test knitted for her, and her patterns are easy to follow, and accurate.

There is NOTHING as warm as hand knitted socks!  They are enormously comforting and toes are toasty in the frostiest weather!

To start with, my socks were for ME, but I am starting to heal my obsession by making them to gift.....
And although I probably have enough pairs for now, I do quite fancy a pair in purple...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Goodbye Bonds, the much less bonus investment

In 1970, New Zealand began the issue of Bonus Bonds, which were an investment with monthly prize draws.  They were immediately popular, sort of like buying a lottery ticket which was valid for every prize draw from then on, AND you could get back the money you paid for your ticket!   I think that was the attraction - you might win big, if not this month, then maybe next, and at any time you could ask for your money to be refunded.

Experts have puzzled over why people continue to buy Bonus Bonds when the chance of winning anything is so low - about one chance in 9800 - but I think it's that "safe bet" or "can't lose" feeling.

In 1972 I bought $15 worth of bonds (about $85 worth in today's terms according to the online inflation calculator......hmmm thought it would have been more, after all we bought a four bedroom house that year for $17,000 which is now worth $340,000).
I've added to those Bonds until I now have $1125 worth, which over the years have earned me a grand total from the Bonus Bonds prize pool of - da da!! - $40.   Yep, I've had two prizes each of $20.

And that's all.

Bonus Bonds advertise as "the much more fun investment".
I've pulled out (which was considerably easier than buying them in the first place, now that I've registered to do it all online).
Even if I put the money in Mighty River Power and it falls over, at least I'll feel I've given my money an airing and a chance!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Reflections on Emergency Preparations

On the second anniversary of the devastating Christchurch earthquake, I'm following the advice to check out my emergency kit.
Driving to work, thinking about my Emergency Kit and the need to actually upgrade it and check it, my thoughts wandered from what to stockpile, to conversations when I was much younger with my late father.  On the subject of hunger.  Because I was thinking that in a crisis such as Christchurch suffered on 22 February 2011, the thing I will need to have, and that will be hard to store, will be vegetables.   And if I have produce in the garden that I can access, that would be great.  And that led me to remember Dad recalling the wonderful good luck of finding and eating raw turnips….

Dad had been part of the 25th Battalion, 2nd NZ Expeditionary Force, in World War II.  After a victory in the Western Desert (North Africa), they had woken the next day to find themselves surrounded by the German army, cut off from the rest of their company and forced at gunpoint to get up and get walking in whatever state they were. Some had boots on, some didn’t, there was no time to dress or gather gear, over the next days they were marched to the port (Port Said?). It was this march to the port that I remember Dad talking about – no food, no water, and if they managed to step out of line without being shot to uproot an old turnip or potato, they were the lucky ones.  Men died on that march through the desert, in the blazing sun of midsummer June, the bootless ones first.

As a teenager of a father who didn’t often talk about the war, I soaked up all of this – I had vivid mental images as he spoke of the raw, muddy roots keeping  them alive, of the death of his comrades and the fear and helplessness - and being privileged to have this dreadful time in my father's life shared with me.
When they got to the port, they were locked in the holds of two ships and transported across the Mediterranean.  There they suffered dysentery, heat exhaustion, and for many of them, death. During the trip they were bombed (by their allies - they were, after all, in an enemy ship) and the other ship was sunk.  Those who survived saw out the war as prisoners firstly in Italy, later in Germany.

So all of this came to mind when I was thinking about food for a crisis.
My emergency pack is unlikely to be as vitally important as Dad's need was, but I've updated it.
Taken out the cans from last year (or was it the one before?) and replaced with newer stuff.  
Put in a few packs of OSM bars (which are GREAT), more tinned fish, and two bars of cooking chocolate, which if not needed in the next 12 months, I'll have great pleasure in eating and replacing this time next year.  Chocolate was part of the soldiers' rations in WWII as well, and again Dad talked about food - at the end of the war the German guards abandoned the prison camp where Dad was, but the prisoners had nowhere to go, so waited until the Americans (and Russians?) came through and collected them up.  I believe there was also a concentration camp whose survivors were gathered up in this way (big army trucks as transport) and the Americans were appalled at the condition of the starving people they found, and gave them whatever food they had, including chocolate. Which apparently was more than their emaciated  bodies could cope with, and many of them died.  More horror for my Dad, and, sadly, when the war was officially "over".

I know our emergency packs are important in this earthquake-prone country of ours.  Mine will probably now always remind me of my Dad.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Get ready so you can get through!

My friend Morg has drawn my attention to the fact that 22 February is the anniversary of the horrendous earthquake in Christchurch, and has suggested this would be an excellent time to check out our disaster kits and packs and refresh supplies, or to make up a kit if it's fallen down the "Things To Do Urgently" list.

His post is here -
and from there you can link into the Facebook "Be Prepared" page.

Check it out, "like" it, and mostly, get your gear together!

Hopefully it won't be needed, but if it is, best we are prepared!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Not another gardening/cooking blog

A Georgia Rattlesnake Watermelon I grew
I've decided to delight and excite the blogisphere with a sort of diary of my gardening and what happens to the produce!

Check it out here - http://growingcooking.blogspot.co.nz/

Red Yams
Or not, of course!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chatham Islands overview

And finally, some links -

Action Adventure Dec 2011 - YouTube vid
Hotel Chathams
Rekohu, a short film on the Chatham Islands
Chathams economy in trouble  -  youtube vid "Marae TVNZ"

Friday, January 18, 2013

My last days on the Chathams

Owenga - in jolly company!
Wednesday I took the opportunity to go to Owenga with the tour group, as it was too misty for their flight to Pitt Island, which put my getting to Pitt at all in jeopardy, as I knew I would be going the day after them.  And time was now running out with Friday - and the flight home - looming large.
The wharf at Owenga

Owenga.  Sheep of all descriptions and in all states of shorn-ness, lovely weather -that mist cleared away as the day developed - wonderful beaches (which I think almost goes without saying when describing the Chathams!), and shells.  The sand on the beaches is made of very finely ground shell, and in Owenga the shells were whole - various types of paua, scallops and myriad other fishy homes covered the beach - Shelly Bay in particular.
The jolly company was jolly nice, a lovely group of people, and the lunch at the new wharf at Owenga was welcome.  We saw a Chathams Island parrot - a parea - larger than a kereru - and stopped off at the art studio of Eva Cherie Tuck, local artist.  
The ring of volcanoes

Thursday and the tour group has gone to Pitt.  It's quite lonely now without them!!  There's not a lot to do here in Waitangi, and after the best part of a week I've done most of it.  This is the commercial heart of the Islands, and the lack of entertainment I've been told by a number of Islanders is why people leave.  Was chatting to a couple of fishermen out from Napier - 2 days out, 8 days fishing, 2 days back - and one was an Islander who said the boredom drove him to leave.  Families leave when the children get to High School age, or else the children leave and board at various schools in New Zealand, usually in a town where they have family.  They are Chatham Islanders though, and a good number of them do come back - to teach at the local schools, to fish, to farm, to work or to raise their own families ("trucks and boats!  A great place for a boy to grow up!") or later on to retire.  
The fishing is plentiful, but families are the wealth of this place, and there is plenty of room for them.
Red cliffs on Wharf Road, Waitangi
Some days, some things are MORE IMPORTANT!!!

So that's my Chatham Islands odyssey all but over.
Would I live here?   
No, not me.
Would I return?  
Yes.  For a complete break away from the rat race, yes, the Chathams would definitely be high up on my list.  Or a fishing holiday.  The fish really are plentiful and superb!

And I would stay at Hotel Chathams every time! 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Chatham Island - Loving this place more each day!

This is a seriously good place to chill!

Checked out the museum yesterday - an ecclectic collection that I'm glad I saw.  All adds to my picture of this lovely place.
Since about the 12th century, the Chatham Islands were inhabited by Moriori - there is no evidence of where they came from, but they lived in peace with their unique way of settling grievences = the weapons were no stouter than a man's thumb, and the first to draw blood was the victor.  Fight over.
In the 18th century, sealers, whalers and shipwrecked seamen found the islands, and the population grew to around 2500.  Word spread to New Zealand, which resulted in 900 Maori from Taranaki with their warlike ways and cannibalism arriving by whaling ship.  The Moriori held a hui or conference to discuss how to deal with the troublesome visitors and decided not to change their peaceful ways.  However, the Maori, seeing the Moriori deep in discussion, concluded that they were about to be attacked and got in first, initiating preemptive and ongoing massacres.

Today there's a population of around 500, and I think I've waved to most of them!  The vehicles are almost all utes or 4-wheel drives, thickly coated in yellow road dust from the unsealed roads.  This must be about the most friendly place I've ever been!

Each day I walk for several hours down Waitangi Beach - reminiscent of Porangahau Beach for those who know the vast sandyness of this Southern HB beach.
Waitangi Beach is about a minute from the hotel - the waters lap right alongside, but the sandy walking part is a short walk away.
Hotel Chathams
Oh and let me tell you about the Chathams Hotel!
This place is amazing, thanks to its location and superbly chosen staff.  From the moment I arrived to be greeted by Karen the live in house manager, I have been looked after. My experiences of hotels before, has been of generalised impersonalness.  Not Hotel Chathams.  The owner, Val Croon joined me at dinner on Saturday night and asked what my goals were while I was here - had I come to see everything there was to see?  Take time out from the rat race?  Something in between?  He is doing his best to make it happen.  Mostly I just want to be here and to recharge my batteries.  And of all places on the face of God's green earth, this must be the prime place for recharging.  But there are some things I want to see.
Looking towards Waitangi from the Te One-Waitangi Road

There's a tour group in the hotel at the moment, and I can join with them on any excursions I chose.
But I really really don't want to spend every day being driven thither and yon on unsealed roads from one tourist-must-see to the next in jolly company.  Not yet on this trip, anyway.

Guest Entrance
So I chill out in this piece of heaven, where the local takeaway cooks up blue cod in its fish'n'chips as something normal, where everyone waves, where there is an awesome sense of serenity on the long sandy beach, and where the sea is only about 3 metres from the door of the hotel.

Public Bar - what a place to relax in after a day's work!
My room is very comfortable, Colleen and Irene the lovely ladies who do my housework (!luxury!) are very friendly without overstepping professionalism, and the meals - holy heck!  There's not a lot to beat panfried blue cod perfectly prepared unless it's the most tender, tasty lamb roast I think I've every eaten, or the ribeye fillet which was done exactly to my taste.....
I can't see that I'm about to lose the weight I gained over Christmas, no matter how much walking I do!

And today, today I bought a painting.  By local artist Eva Cherie Tuck.  It's fantastic.
Yep.  Loving the Chathams!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fishing, Chatham Island

Today I went on a fishing expedition off Chatham Island.
Dealing with a shark that was caught
A small boat, "The Chatham Express" with a knowledgeable young skipper Matt (I guess calling him "young" indicates my own ageing), and Dylan in charge of baiting our hooks and helping with the caught fish - I thought this a lovely bit of luxury!

I seriously lost count of how many I caught - 8 maybe? - all Blue Cod.  Others on board caught many more than me, including hapuka, and there were three fairly big sharks amid the haul.  Matt and Dylan filletted the catch - no idea how many fish in total, but lots!  Probably 70-80 from 7 lines (although seasickness meant one of the lines was not used a great deal).  Fish for dinner tonight at the hotel!
Discovered that our catch will be presented to us in frozen meal lots to take home!  Yum!!

Dylan sorting out the bait as we move to another spot
I thank my ancestors for the love of being on boats that I've been blessed with!  That boat on the O'Driscoll coat of arms isn't there just to fill in a space!!!  The faster and choppier the better for me,  - I can take or leave the fishing, but love the boat! - and I cannot sit inside but have to stand on the edge to catch the full impact of wind and spray.  Rather the way a dog with its head out a car window does, and with about the same degree of pleasure!!!

Waitangi, Chatham Island

Friday 11 January 2013
I'd been told that the flight schedule between Wellington and Chatham Island was more a case of "not before" rather than "leaves at" so I guess to fly out only an hour and a half late wasn't too bad.  None of us on board seemed to have experienced an "abort take off" though, as the plane was roaring down the runway, and it was very hard to hear the message of the pilot as to the reason, but apparently it was something to do with an engine power check....
Anyway, here I am, 7.50 p.m. local time, and have had a bit of a tiki tour to get to Waitangi from the airstrip. 
Some initial photos:

Well no, there will be no photos!!  Internet here is so slow that uploading of photos is impossible.  So when the pictures appear, you'll know I'm back home!

It's a bit of a culture shock - no facebook, no instant googling, no connection to everything and everyone.  (Facebook recognised that I was trying to log in from a computer I'd not logged in from before.  It gave me those hideous character recognition things and once past that hurdle gave me the choice of verifying myself by cellphone or by correctly identifying five of my fb friends tagged in uploaded photos. Well there is no cellphone coverage here, and the internet is so slow that photos can't be displayed, so that's me and fb not speaking till I hit mainland NZ in a week!)
And I'm thinking this isn't such a bad thing.
I wanted a break, and a total break is what I'm getting!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Chathams Diary - Crossing "Visiting Chathams Islands" off my bucket list

17 March 2012
Today I booked to fly Air Chathams to the Chatham Islands, the start of fulfilling a very long held dream.  I also booked my accommodation - a week at Hotel Chatham.  I plan to go on a walking tour and maybe the small-plane flight to Pitt Island - although me and small planes aren't the best of friends.  I'm VERY excited!

7 January 2013
Squeeeeeeeeeee of excitement!  Only a couple of days to go!
Added a fishing trip to the list of things to do, and a trip all around the main island, Chatham with a guide.