The Great Tomato Choke.

I spend too much time talking to plants.

On Sunday, my family and I headed out to find the perfect, non-Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Our oldest son was home for the holidays but needed to head back to college, so rather than spend two hours driving to North Carolina in search of a cut-your-own Fraiser Fir, we drove ten minutes to a lot behind our local mall. It's not very romantic, and I felt kind of bad about it—but it was more important to me that Ty participate in our annual tree selection. He's my champion, the one who fights the good fight with me for the biggest, fullest, most lush tree, while Peter rolls his eyes and reminds us of the ceiling height.

Our tree outings typically take hours. It's genetic. When I was a child, the only time I remember my parents arguing was during our annual foray for the Christmas tree.

“The top is crooked.”

“There's a hole on the side.”

“The trunk isn't straight.”

“Not full enough.”

Such festive memories. (If you do want to cut your own tree, check out

http://localharvest.org

or

http://pickyourown.org

for a tree farm near you.)

As I mentally prepared to fight the good fight for the biggest, best tree, we got out of the car (aka Mom Mobile and Garden Delights' delivery van) and were greeted by Brian, the owner of the tree lot.

We've gone to Brian a few times, but this was our first visit with my official Garden Delights logo magnet on the car.

“Garden Delights. What's that?” he asked.

I started my quick description of the company—the ten cent version for people who I think are just making polite conversation.

“What varieties do you grow?”

Silence. From me. Miss Tomato-Guru.

“Ummm...heirlooms. I grow organic heirlooms,” I sputtered.

“Yeah, but what varieties?”

“About 130 different varieties.”

“OK, but WHICH ONES?”

Oh. Umm. Well. Let's see.

There's more than one?

I could not name a single variety.

Peter and Tyler looked at me and waited. By this time, Mikey and Kristen—seeing no need to listen to grown-up conversation--ran off to select a tree, while their mother fumbled and mumbled and acted like an idiot.

Even Peter, who until this year could not find value in heirloom tomatoes (“Tomatoes are just round and red” is his usual statement), started rattling off varieties while I stood there, speechless.

I was mute. Incapable of naming anything but colors. Purple, black, yellow, orange, green, pink...but not one variety popped into my head. Brian looked at me the way a member of Greenpeace would look at an Exxon executive trying to greenwash the Gulf disaster. My credibility as an heirloom expert evaporated. Oh—did I mention that he was asking about the varieties because he wanted to carry my products in the spring?

Shoot me.

Now, it would be easy to blame my lack of speech to numerous factors: too much turkey, which resulted in mental sluggishness. Too much wine the night prior. Too little sleep.

Instead, I've realized that my brain no longer multi-tasks.

We were on a family outing, looking for trees, searching for some Christmas spirit. Tomatoes were far from my thoughts. Herbs, sure—I've been sowing seeds already for the spring, because they tend to take longer to grow into something I would be proud to sell. Tomatoes?  I won't start those seeds until February.

But here's the thing: I used to speak in public. A lot. I triple majored in speech communications, advertising, and public relations—with a lot of political science classes thrown in for good measure. I planned to be a political speech writer. (I'm glad I had the  sense not to pursue that endeavor.)

In my former life, I gave presentations. Talked to clients. Pitched authors and their books to the media. I trained people in public speaking, for goodness sake! My entire career was based on talking and writing.

And now that I have my own business that I believe in, products that I think are pretty unique and impressive, and a sustainability story that rivals any company, I couldn't form a cohesive sentence about my own products to a potential customer.

Somehow, kind Brian still asked for my card and said he'd look up the varieties on the website, after I finally mumbled a few names of tomatoes while looking for a hole to crawl in. Here's the clincher: did I have a card with me?

Take a wild guess.

So, I scribbled my website on the scrap of paper I found in the Mom Mobile, apologized about my lack of professionalism, and gurgled something about needing to look for the kids so that my (very) red cheeks and I could escape.

The moral of the story is: Be Prepared. Just like a Boy Scout. Know your story, and be ready to tell it in any situation. At least, make sure you have business cards tucked into every pocket/wallet/cup holder/bra...whatever it takes to have one available. You can always direct a potential customer/client to the website if you don't have much time to talk (or many brain cells functioning).

The second lesson is: let a 9-year-old and 5-year-old run free among Christmas trees while you attempt to talk with the tree lot owner.  By the time I was through humiliating myself, the kids found the perfect tree—and I don't say that lightly. Take a look:

Finally, remember this:

No matter how much you love your work--if you work alone all day, make certain you talk to grown ups once in awhile, or you just may lose all social skills.

Trust me.

Anyone want to have lunch? I promise, I won't talk about compost and worms over lunch, honest!

Call me!

XO ~

A humbled and embarrassed gardener girl.

tagged under: Christmas tree, customer, heirloom tomatoes, public relations, small business, social skills, speech, Growing gardens, Growing one day at a time