Monthly Archives: December 2012

Have a Great End of the Year

Simultaneously, one of the happiest and one of the saddest songs I know. In other words, it perfectly describes 2012.

Cat Monday

And now one to finish off the year. Ever notice that ginger cats are particularly bad about sticking out their tongues like this?

Cadigan with tongue

The Impending Joey Box Brigade

Back nearly a quarter-century ago, I first made my acquaintance with my friend Joey Shea, already well-known as an illustrator and reviewer back during the desktop publishing era. One day, I received a package from him, and the term “Joey Box” became a regular part of my vernacular. Over the years, we’ve traded assemblages of magazines, weekly newspapers, comics, flyers, buttons, random toys, and even videos, and the term picked up popularity among friends and cohorts who liked the idea of getting free stuff in the mail.

The important consideration with Joey Boxes is that while they’re full of all sorts of interesting items, the whole idea is to spread the wealth. The absolutes were not to send anything that the recipient couldn’t already get, or at least keep that to a minimum. You couldn’t just send junk mail, but junk mail of a particularly bizarre or appropriate bent was all right: if the recipient was into book collecting, for instance, sending antique bookseller catalogues was perfectly all right. Most of all, everyone had to be comfortable with the idea that anything the recipient couldn’t use could also be passed on to friends and cohorts alike. At the height of the zine and weekly newspaper boom of the late Nineties, I was sending out Joey Boxes at the absolute upper weight limit of what UPS would deliver, knowing full well that Joey had a good dozen friends looking forward to putting to use anything he didn’t want.

And what does this have to do with the price of eggs? Well, most people spend extended vacations visiting exotic locales or spending time with family. The Czarina and I spent this last week cleaning our offices. Events of the past year intruded upon regular organizing activities, and my office was starting to pass for a life-sized mockup of certain scenes from the novel Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. In the process of excavation and deposition, which filled both garbage cans and recycling bins by last Thursday, I discovered caches of promotional materials and review copies from my old science fiction writing days, a small pile of books I’d purchased more than once (and now I understand the value of those smartphone apps that track your library and its current contents), a large pile of magazine contributor copies, and all sorts of high weirdness. It all went into boxes, and the boxes are waiting to go out.
Front of a Joey Box
Some people may not be interested in participating if they don’t know what they’re getting. I argue that this is half of the fun. The only absolutes are that each Joey Box has at least two books from my gardening library (either copies I accidentally repurchased or paperback copies of books I already owned in hardcover), at least one back issue of Gothic Beauty magazine, and Triffid Ranch buttons. Other than that, I’m not saying.
Interior of a Joey Box

Contents of a Joey Box
As far as getting one of these, keep an eye open for a new contest, and the winners get a Joey Box. Don’t worry about missing out, though: the pile of sealed Joey Boxes in the hallway says a lot about the amount of reading wealth waiting to find a new home.

Assembled Joey Boxes

Art is where you find it

Side avenue for the Dallas Museum of Art

Other highlights of the anniversary: since the Perot Museum was as packed as can be expected for the week after Christmas, we couldn’t get tickets for anything other than a late evening arrival. That didn’t stop us, as any excuse the Czarina can find to go to the Crow Collection of Asian Art is a good one. On our way back to our car, we walked past the side entrance to the Dallas Museum of Art, and noted the now-bare bald cypresses planted along the avenue.

That’s when the Czarina noted the oddity in the grass underneath the cypresses. Combine regular mowing of the cypress knees, weather that soaked the exposed wood, and enough cold to make the algae growing on the wood stand out, and you find growths like this among the still-green grass:

Cypress knee

Cypress knee

Cypress knee

Cypress knee

Ambush bug

And among the knees were a few more signs that for all of our sub-freezing weather last week, our arthropod contingent continues. I knew better than to attempt to pick up this assassin bug, as they have a particularly painful bite that I’m glad I’ve avoided so far, so catching a quick photo of it was the only safe and sane option. If it managed to find a decent shelter before temperatures dropped again, it might even live to see the spring, helping to keep the local grasshopper and American cockroach population under control. For that reason alone, having spotted ones at least this big in my greenhouse feeding on palmetto bugs, they’re always welcome as far as I’m concerned.

A decade later, under the sea turtle

At the time, the end of 2002 wasn’t ending so well. The job that moved me to Tallahassee just ended without warning, with my getting word literally a half-hour after buying the plane tickets to come back to Dallas for Christmas. Considering the condition of the economy at the time, finding something new wasn’t all that great a prospect. That didn’t prevent the Czarina and I from getting married shortly after I got back, at the old Dallas Museum of Natural History.

Married under the Christmas Origami tree

We knew that the future could be a bit rough, but our biggest debate at the time concerned the actual location. The crew at the museum gave us an incredible rate for leasing the upper floor, and all we had to do was decide on exactly where. The museum featured a temporary display of a cast of an Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, a big predatory dinosaur native to the area, as well as permanent mounts of a Columbian mammoth, a large mosasaur collected from the shore of Lake Heath, a giant sea turtle named Protostega, and a Tenontosaurus, at the time the first Texas dinosaur ever on permanent display in a Texas museum. She vetoed saying our vows underneath the Acrocanthosaurus, as she felt that doing so underneath a giant carnivorous reptile might set a bad precedent for the subsequent marriage. We settled on her first choice, and had a quick but thorough ceremony underneath the Protostega. For the next decade, every time we went to Fair Park, we’d drag people out to the Museum, and show them the exact spot.


To this day, I still give her gentle grief about not going for a more, erm, lively representative of our relationship, as the Acrocanthosaurus cast went back to its owner shortly after the wedding. Be that as it may, we wouldn’t change anything else.

Front of the Protostega

As mentioned earlier this year, the old Dallas Museum of Natural History merged with the next-door hands-on science museum The Science Place to become the Museum of Nature & Science, and the old composite museum was evacuated for the new Perot Museum of Nature & Science in downtown Dallas. When the new museum opened this month, we both made plans to spend our tenth anniversary underneath the relocated Protostega.

Top of the Protostega

The Czarina and the Lake Heath mosasaur

The Czarina at the Perot Museum

Ten years later

And there we are, a full decade later. I need a bit less peroxide to even out the white hair than I did then, and she’s lost quite a bit of weight since then, but we’re still together and still happy doing so. The only reason why we haven’t booked our twentieth anniversary festivities at the Perot is because we can’t purchase tickets that far in advance. As soon as we can, though, everyone is invited.

Have a Great Weekend

Ten years of marriage later, this is still the song that runs through my head whenever I’m out with the Czarina. Because she really is that great.


*BEEP* “Thank you for visiting the Triffid Ranch Web site today. Nobody is here to answer your queries, because today I’m taking my lovely wife out for our tenth wedding anniversary. If you are in need of assistance, or if you’re looking for a good excuse to get out of the house, we will be at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, where you are welcome to join us. If not, just keep an eye on the newsfeeds, because we’ll probably get there one way or another. Now where did I put my bail money?” *BEEP*


Cat Monday

Leiber and Cadigan

Impending plans

From Canada’s greatest superhero, handy advice for dealing with holiday cooking next week. Arioch knows that I’ll be threatening to do this myself.

Have a Great Weekend…maybe.

If you’re able to read this, it suggests that all of the paranoia about the collapse of all reality was unjustified. Have some music to go with the end of the world:

This, of course, is not to be confused with the official theme music used by Texas weather broadcasts during tornado season (go directly to 2:00):

And while we’re on the subject, I have to admit that I was looking forward to a little more excitement. Getting that message from extraterrestrials that we’ve all been awaiting, for instance:

Ah well. Time to pull out all of the dead tomatoes out of the garden, because the Vorlon planetkiller won’t do it for me. Next time we’re promised complete annihilation, though, I’m getting a receipt.

So much for the Earth-shattering kaboom

It’s December 21, and nothing happened this morning. You’re welcome. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a shower, get some sleep, and try to find a replacement Red Lantern ring. Mine burned out last night. And for those who were expecting everything to fall apart today, a word from one of my childhood role models:

“Awww, but I wanted to explode.”

As longtime readers have noted, my interest in horticultural robots goes way back, and I’m impressed by the news of Willoway Nursery in Ohio using robots to move plants back and forth in the greenhouse and nursery yard. I personally like the idea, and would do this with the Triffid Ranch as soon as they’re practical.

My only fear doesn’t involve horticultural robots going berserk, or even their going through their routines with a Joan Baez soundtrack in the background. My fear involves having lots of friends who are more devilishly inventive than I’ll ever be, and having much more programming experience than I’ll ever have. I have no problems with robots letting me know what they really think. It’s when they want to be like me that I have issues.

The Charlie Brown Tree That Time Forgot

Norfolk Island Charlie Brown tree

As par for the course in North Texas, we currently alternate between record high temperatures and sudden drops well below freezing, some in the same day. The Nepenthes and other tropical carnivores are all indoors, soaking up as much sunlight as they can and sucking up artificial light the rest of the time. The temperate carnivores went into dormancy with our first big freeze two weeks ago. The Roridula gorgonias seedlings…well, I don’t even pretend to know what they’re doing any more. The Bhut Jolokia and Trinidad Scorpion plants are under cover and currently enjoying the sudden gusts of heat. The rest of the year now leans toward support and supply here at the Triffid Ranch, and that’s not including plans for building a new greenhouse this spring.

Likewise, the Day Job is a bit lacking in green this time of year, and a sudden run on my old friend Araucaria heterophylla at the local grocery store inspired me. “What’s wrong with a live tree? Even better, what’s wrong with bringing in a bit of Mesozoic holiday cheer?”

Naturally, it wasn’t enough simply bringing in a Norfolk Island pine. It definitely wasn’t enough to relate how it’s one of the last survivors of a once-extensive group of conifers now mainly represented by the monkey puzzle tree and the Wollemi pine. No, one of the advantages of being a palaeontology junkie is that people give me all sorts of unbidden dinosaur-related paraphernalia. Over the last 25 years or so, friends, relatives, and even a couple of ex-girlfriends contributed to the pile of dinosaur-related tree ornaments and lights, and a fair number had to go on ol’ A. heterophylla. Combine them with some of the new LED holiday lights, and the whole thing doesn’t look so bad.





Naturally, every Christmas tree needs a topper ornament, and stars are just so overdone. Next year, I’m going to make an Archaeopteryx topper, just so it’ll become art.


And since the Day Job is in the tech arena, the tree needed an appropriate nativity. Again, between the stuff I’ve been given and decorations from co-workers’ cubicles, we had quite the ensemble. For the record, the Burgess Shale critters in the front are mine, and they may or may not become ornaments on their own one day.


Look: the Spirit of New Year’s Eve.


Finally, I had to add something for a special niece who’s becoming quite the comics artist. Several co-workers with kids have noted the whole push on the Elf on the Shelf trend, and I can understand the idea. Isn’t it better, though, to have someone watching to see if you’re good and kicking your butt up around your shoulderblades if you aren’t?



Cat Monday

Leiber and Cadigan

Have a Great Weekend

Thirty years since this premiered? Where has the time gone?


Cat Monday


“If your friends all bought Christmas presents, would you do it, too?”

It’s that time. For the Triffid Ranch, the move for the rest of the year is toward prepping for winter (warm and very dry, according to the National Weather Service, with a higher likelihood of extremely brutal norther storms) and gearing up for 2013. Aside from plans for a tenth wedding anniversary gathering at the new Perot Museum of Nature & Science at the end of the month, we really don’t have that much planned for the holiday season. Since 1998, my New Year’s Day tradition has been to finish cleaning and clearing the house and yard, and I usually dedicate a week’s vacation on the Day Job to take care of that. Being able to see the floor and walls of my office, along with discovering that the boxes of magazines and papers I’d been dragging around since 1986 hadn’t been compressed into diamond from their own weight, is celebration enough.

This is why, in lieu of hyping Triffid Ranch activities, it’s time to give a high five to all of the friends, cohorts, colleagues, interested bystanders, and beloved thorns in my side that make working in the carnivorous plant trade so much fun. If you’re looking for something different as a gift for friends and/or family, for that special event around the Cephalopodmas tank, you can’t go wrong with any of these folks.

Carnivorous Plant Resources
As mentioned in the past, I’m a firm believer in the old adage “a rising tide lifts all boats,” which is one of the reasons I gleefully refer friends and cohorts to other carnivorous plant breeders and retailers when the need arises. On the West Coast of the US, you have both Sarracenia Northwest outside of Portland, with its open house every weekend for the rest of the holiday shopping season, and California Carnivores in San Sebastapol. On the East Coast, I can’t speak highly enough of Black Jungle Terrarium Supply, especially for those wishing to mix up their carnivores with orchids and arrow poison frogs. It may be a little late to pick up temperate carnivores from these three, but they’re definitely set with tropical plants, and at exceptional prices.

If you’re more interested in natural history and species preservation, you have options, too. The International Carnivorous Plant Society is an organization to which I have been a proud member for nearly eight years, with a one-year membership starting at $35. For those seeking even more action, North American Sarracenia Conservancy always needs volunteers to rescue plants in threatened habitat and move them to preserves, as well as bystanders interested in setting up those preserves in the first place.

In the literary front, I shouldn’t have to introduce you all to Timber Press, one of the two most dangerous book publishers on the planet, but if in case you missed out, give a click. This month, Timber Press is holding a 30 percent off sale on every title it carries, and that features Growing Carnivorous Plants by Dr. Barry Rice. When I conduct lectures on carnivores, Dr. Rice’s book is always at the top of the pile, and with good reason, so go get your own copy and kvell over the photos inside.

And on the subject of books, I’ll warn you away from Redfern Natural History and the tremendous selection of exemplary books on carnivorous plants. I’ll warn you away because your wallet will hate you as your library swears eternal fealty to you for your taste. One of these days, I’m going to sell enough body parts to pay for every volume I don’t already have, and I might even stoop to selling some of my body parts to do so.

Other Retailers of Note

It goes without saying that St. Johns Booksellers is the official bookseller of the Texas Triffid Ranch, and I’ll continue to link to St. Johns resources for as long as its owner will let me. I’ll also say that this bookstore and Sarracenia Northwest are two of the things that would get me to go back to Portland for a visit, and there’s absolutely no reason you can’t order online as well. We can cry about the decline of the independent bookstore or we can do something about it, and I make the stand here with no misgivings.

While not horticulturally related per se, I can’t thank the folks at Keith’s Comics and Roll2Play enough for their help over the years with materials for Triffid Ranch arrangements. Keith Colvin of Keith’s Comics has been a friend for twenty years as of next October, and he and his crack crew of enthusiasts always keep an eye open for items that would look really good alongside a Nepenthes arrangement. Likewise, Tiffany Franzoni of Roll2Play has been a welcome cohort and fellow vendor since the first Triffid Ranch shows back in 2008, and if she doesn’t have the game you need or a way to snag it for you, nobody else could help you, either.

Back to horticulture, Janit Calvo at Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center continues her unceasing efforts to promote miniature gardening, and you really should look at some of the items and guides she has for sale. Time permitting, I have a project lined up that should make her VERY happy, so go give her lots of business in the interim.

Finally, there’s my favorite form of porn, the FarmTek catalog. The Czarina actually smiles when she sees the latest FarmTek catalog all creased and marked up and drooled over, because although she worries about the day that I attach a 300-foot greenhouse to the garage, it’s still better than my writing for science fiction magazines. Both for me and for her.

Charities, Preserves, and Educational Facilities

It just opened to great fanfare, and the Czarina’s family takes it as a very high compliment that I passed up an early admission to the new Perot Museum in downtown Dallas to spend Thanksgiving weekend with them. It’s open this weekend, but I won’t be there. No, that’s reserved for December 28, when the Czarina and I plan to start a new tradition underneath the Protostega skeleton where we married a decade ago. After that, there’s always the after-hours events to keep us all busy, right?

This one I won’t be able to visit right away, but I owe an immeasurable debt to Tallahassee Museum for sending me down this strange road a decade ago. I still hang onto my Zoobilee memorabilia after all these years, and if time and money allow me to head back to the Tally area, I’ll meet you out there.

And then we have folks closer at home that could use support. I have lots of friends who say they support bats, but Bat World Sanctuary follows through, and they’re always conducting presentations and events throughout the US to facilitate bat education.

Upcoming Shows

Okay, so I fibbed slightly about this not having any self-promotion. However, while I’m always glad to see both new and longtime friends at various shows, one of the reasons why I tend to stick to unorthodox venues is that there’s a lot to do for the admission price. It’s all about an entertainment ROI, and all of these are worth making a trip.

ConDFW – February 15-17

All-Con – March 8-10

Texas Frightmare Weekend – May 3-5

FenCon – October 4-6

North American Reptile Breeders Conference February 23-24, August 10-11

And there you have it. If you have suggestions on other venues, retailers, or events I may have missed, please feel free to leave them in the comments. It’s all about the sharing.

Have a Great Weekend

It shouldn’t be any surprise that Leiber and Cadigan practically sing this every morning, should it?

Anniversaries, all coming together

Everybody has their own personal anniversaries, but it seems as if all of mine are converging this year, particularly this month. Among others, I first moved to Texas a third of a century ago, culminating with meeting my best friend on December 7. (Yes, he also refers to it as “a day that will live forever in infamy,” too. I can’t blame him.) Thirty years ago, I was hospitalized for my first bout of pneumonia, leaving me with a very distinctive shadow on my left lung that still scares radiologists and causes quack doctors to recommend expensive CT scans “to make sure”. Twenty-five years ago, I came across the first issue of a magazine that ultimately led me toward a career writing for science fiction magazines. The last two have a lot in common, because they both involve illnesses that can kill if left untreated.

Fifteen years ago yesterday, I moved back from Portland, Oregon to Dallas, in a car filled with a wife, four cats, a hatchling savannah monitor, a grapefruit tree grown from seed, and an assemblage of photos and postcards of the famed concrete dinosaurs of Cabezon, California. Of all of these, I only have the postcards, and a lot of other things that meant a lot to me at that time are now gone forever. At the time, I was glad to escape Portland (I’m not exaggerating when I state that watching the giant bugs in Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of Starship Troopers in Portland made me homesick for Houston. HOUSTON.), but as is always the case, I met some of the most interesting people in my life when they were living in the area, AFTER I left. And so it goes.

Ten years ago, I was temporarily staying in Tallahassee, Florida, with plans to move there permanently. The real estate boom was still a glint in the pizza delivery guy’s eye, and the company that hired me had just come out of a dotcom bankruptcy, planning to revive its fortunes on an update to the software package for which I was writing an operation manual. Management decided to scuttle the update and lay off the new hires, which left me without a job three days before Christmas and six days before the Czarina and I were to be married, but everything ultimately worked out. In the meantime, I met a ridiculous number of fascinating people in the Tally area, started my ongoing addiction to carnivorous plants, and realized that the person I was circa 1997 wasn’t someone I particularly liked. The trick to this sort of realization is to notice and rectify it, and that’s a work in progress. I also married the most wonderful woman in the world just before New Year’s Eve 2002, and that made all of the drama of the previous five years worth it.

And that leads us to today. The Texas Triffid Ranch celebrates its fifth year next May. With only two embarrassing relapses, I haven’t returned to writing for science fiction, and it becomes harder to contemplate going back when nonfiction is so much more fun. In the meantime, it may be time for a party later this month. Who’s in?


Cat Monday

Leiber and Cadigan