Tag Archives: All-Con

The Aftermath: All-Con 2018 – 3

One of the regular discussions among vendors at last weekend’s All-Con was whether science fiction/fantasy/horror conventions have hit what’s generally referred to as “Peak Con.” The basic idea is that the convention boom that first started up around 2003 is finally reaching saturation, and it’s all downhill from here. For those too young to remember the previous booms and busts, this appears valid: attendance numbers are way down on a lot of shows, and I get notes from friends every other week about one new convention or another blowing up on the pad or facing class-action lawsuits after a disastrous weekend. I particularly wince at the events that were less conventions than displays of organizer hubris, where the vendors had to sleep with their tables because security couldn’t be found and guests woke up on Monday morning to discover they had no way to get to the airport because their contacts couldn’t be reached. Yeah, this is happening a lot…and that’s why I’m enthusiastic for the future.

A lot of the concern at the moment is due to a lack of perspective. The current convention boom has gone on far longer than most others: in my lifetime, I’ve watched three booms and two busts, and the booms generally last about five to six years before the inevitable crash. Three to five years after the bust, and things start to rebuild, mostly with people who saw the last bust and want to do better. The reason why this boom ran for so long is multifold: fandom didn’t “go mainstream” so much as it was folded over into general popular culture, so a lot of attendees jumped in on the idea of “Oh, what the heck, let’s go grab some friends and have some fun.” The boom in costuming had a lot to do with it, especially with social media allowing enthusiasts from all over the planet being able to exchange tips and notes on new materials and techniques. Social media were also responsible for the promotional booms: we’ve gotten inured to television advertising, radio advertising is a joke, and newspapers are pretty much the province of boomers who can’t bear to give up their dead-tree editions, but Facebook and Twitter went everywhere.

The seeds for the boom are also the seed corn for the bust. As big media conventions took off, with ever-increasing lists of big name guests, attendees discovered that they simply didn’t have the money or time to hit every last show in their own area and had to consider their options. Fans were also getting older: hitting three conventions over three weekends sounds great to an 18-year-old, but that isn’t an option to a 30-year-old with three kids and a limited number of vacation days at the day job. (A regular lament about the really big and crowded shows, “I’m too old to be crammed in with that many people,” has particular pertinence here, especially for those potential attendees having to watch kids. A major factor in my refusing to get vendor space at one big convention is what I refer to as “the Malcolm Rule,” after the son of two friends who spent an absolutely miserable time last year at one show where all he could see were the butts of the people in front of him. Any show so determined to shoehorn attendees into too small a space that kids are in danger of falling and being stomped by people behind them is not one in which I care to participate.) The big media conventions are having to reach for more exclusive guests as interest in the previous headliners fades, and the cost of getting them to participate requires larger and larger crowds. And there’s also the issue with goofballs who assume that a convention is an excuse to print money and poison the well with a show purely intended to pull the fillings out of the attendees’ teeth.

Social media is helping with the bust, too: not only are bad conventions getting called out earlier, thereby warning away people willing to take promotion at face value, but we’ve gotten used to ignoring ads, and it’s no longer possible to attract 10,000 people with $1000 in Facebook ads. (One of the funniest not-funny events I’ve witnessed at a failing convention was with the con organizer getting angry over how 2000 people liked his Facebook page but only about 100 of them actually came out for the convention. He did no other advertising, not so much as a postcard on display at local comic shops, and the failure was obviously due to Facebook algorithms instead of his producing a convention that gave nobody a reason to want to deal with Dallas summer heat to see it.) Sooner or later, enough people decide that they’ve had enough and ghost from fandom, and that’s when everyone around them notices “It’s no fun around here any more” and bail out themselves. With every inhalation must come an exhalation, and the decay of the old fan scene produces the loam for the next movement to sprout.

I won’t deny that the current boom and impending bust aren’t rough on vendors. The typical content of a dealer’s room has changed almost beyond recognition in the last fifteen years, and arguably for the better. Amazon wiped out the need for attendees to tolerate obnoxious booksellers, and eBay did the same for vintage comics vendors. The days where a vendor could clear out the local Walmart of Star Trek and Star Wars toys and sell them at conventions at a 500 percent markup died with the last century. Since any vendor’s selection on current licensed products of a fannish bent can be outstripped by the local Hot Topic, there’s no point in trying to compete, especially since any attendee can look at a particular item, pull out a phone, and order it online in seconds. The ongoing trend is toward handmade or otherwise unique items of all kinds: back in the Eighties, the main draw of any dealer’s room was toward being able to find items that you simply couldn’t find back home, and we’ve gone full circle. The difference now is that the creator is right in front of you, ready to answer questions and take commissions, and that requires a level of salesmanship and customer service previously barely known in conventions. That’s one genie that isn’t going to get back in the bottle without a war.

And for the future? Expect a lot of marginal conventions to collapse in 2018 and 2019, either two months before or a few hours after their next scheduled event. People who depended upon conventions for the social aspects, particularly costumers, will probably move to one-day pop-up events that don’t require the logistics of a full-sized convention. The guests will go back to their jobs, hopefully saving enough from these salad days that they’re doing all right in a few years. Vendors that aren’t dependent solely upon showing their wares at conventions will move on to other venues for a while: ones so specialized that they can only sell at conventions will either shut down or pare way back. The smart ones will emulate African lungfish, buried in drying mud in anticipation of future rains, and continue to improve their skills and their inventories. When the rains return, and they will eventually, not only will they be the first to repopulate as new conventions start up, but they’ll be the ones setting the standard of what a dealer’s room should be like. I can’t wait.

The Aftermath: All-Con 2018 – 2

Okay, so the hotel was a nightmare. That happens. Even so, All-Con is one of the two shows guaranteed to have a Triffid Ranch booth every year, and it’s because of the attendees. Not only does the crowd cross all sorts of demographic borders, but they’re also so relaxed. After a while, that relaxation is addictive. For those of us who thrive on peoplewatching, you can’t go wrong here.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: All-Con 2018

Ah, All-Con 2018. A lot of bad craziness happened at this year’s show, mostly involving the host hotel. Said hotel changed its name and ownership the week of the show, where potential patrons looking for the “Hotel Intercontinental” were understandably confused. There’s also something to be said about hotel upgrades that weren’t even close to being finished by the Thursday morning the show started, with lighting fixtures missing, exposed wiring hanging from the ceiling, elevators of dubious functionality that closed on entrants without warning, and the main escalator leading to the second level broken and blocked off. Inside the main dealer’s room wasn’t much better: the carpet in the main banquet hall was freshly installed, sure, but one of the vendors played a game of “How Many Razor Blades and Screws Can We Find On The Floor?” and picked up two full handfuls of broken and dulled razor blades within about fifteen minutes. (The carpet HAD been vacuumed beforehand, as installation was being completed as vendors started moving in stuff on Wednesday night, but with a vacuum that had seen a significant portion of the Twentieth Century firsthand. Besides, that vacuum would have been hard-pressed to clean up the cocaine that flowed across that part of North Dallas and Addison in great rivers during the hotel’s prime, much less the amount of metal left in that carpet, so everyone spent the rest of the weekend joking about who was going to be the poster child for the “Telethon for Tetanus.”) And then there was the parking…

Oh, the parking. One of the grand mysteries concerning convention hotels in this foul Year of Our Lord 2018 is the assumption that people will keep coming back to the hotel for future events when the parking situation assumes that the current year is 1974. The number of hotels in Dallas that barely offer enough parking for hotel guests and staff when the venue is half-full, and then advertise their availability for conventions and conferences with room for three times that count, just beggars the imagination. To make matters even better, most of these hotels automatically assume that convention and conference attendees have their own transportation: Addison has a DART bus hub not far away, but the space between the hub and the hotel last had sidewalks put in back in the 1980s, back when “pedestrian” was a local euphemism for “too poor to afford the valet” and accessibility wasn’t even remotely considered. (By way of example, that immediate area is full of “sidewalks” with telephone poles planted right in the center, requiring users to walk into the street to get around them, and you can imagine the sheer fun faced by those with disabilities trying to get back onto a sidewalk that’s lacking ramps and inclines.)¬† Combine that with a frantic construction boom in that vicinity, where the slightest rain turns an entire block into a morass of slimy, clinging mud with no option for getting past it without walking into the middle of a busy street, and it’s no surprise that a lot of potential convention attendees circled around the hotel, gave up when they saw that even the valet spots were full, and went home.

That said, for all of the nightmares of access, those of us who came out for All-Con, both vendor and attendee, made the best of the situation. Yes, the total attendance numbers were way down from previous years. That just meant having more of an opportunity to talk to regular attendees, including several that have been coming by the Triffid Ranch booth since the beginning of the decade. THAT made hotel incompetence and stupidity worthwhile, especially with the patrons now raising their own families and bringing their kids by to see plants for themselves.

To be continued…

The State of the Gallery: March 2018

As regular readers might note, you didn’t get a state of the gallery update for February, mostly due to gallery-related distractions. Of course, February also didn’t get a full moon falling anywhere within it, either, which just meant one more good thing about March. Considering how fast March is moving, sliding through February was probably for the best.

As far as past and future events are concerned, February’s Date Night event was a mixed bag. The event itself was very successful, but as is the normal state of affairs with local weather, Date Night coincided with a nasty ice storm spreading through the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex that kept a lot of potential participants off the roads, and encouraged a lot of those who attended to leave early before the roads were impassable. This just means having to hold more events and showings during more clement conditions. This leads to:

Numero uno, things on the site are going to be extremely quiet through the end of next week, all due to the first external Triffid Ranch show of the year: All-Con in Addison. As in previous years, All-Con is a four-day show, running from Thursday to Sunday, with Thursday offering “try before you buy a weekend pass” free admission all day Thursday. Combine this with the already huge spring break contingent, and everyone is VERY glad the convention is running at a new, larger, and much more conveniently located hotel. Easy access to the hotel via DART buses, a wide range of restaurants within walking distance, a tremendous lineup of lectures and workshops…my only regret is that All-Con has that many activities scheduled through the weekend, but getting out from behind the table is pretty much an impossibility. This, of course, is a good thing.

Numero two-o, the next big show is seven weeks later, and if Texas Frightmare Weekend didn’t already exceed everyone’s expectations every year, people might be surprised to hear about plans for the next Triffid Ranch booth in May. Let’s just say that when running a booth in a convention already so packed that the convention announced that it has no more room for further guests, and that the host hotel has been booked solid since last year and attendees spill into FOUR more overflow hotels, getting away with a merely average display is unacceptable. In addition, not only is this the tenth Frightmare Weekend with a Triffid Ranch booth, but the end of the show falls on the tenth anniversary of the first-ever Triffid Ranch show, at the late and much-missed CAPE comic event off Lemmon Avenue in 2008. This, of course, demands a suitable anniversary celebration, so let’s see if everyone can pull it off.

Numero three-o: in between these two, don’t assume that the intervening six weeks will just be full of the usual panic about potting, casting, gluing, and painting, along with the usual snot-bubble crying of “I suck! I suck! I wanna go back to the mall!” in the corner. Since last year’s move preempted plans for a 2017 event, the Triffid Ranch proudly announces a return of a wildly popular event from the old ArtWalk and presents the Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show on April 6 and 7 from 6:00 to 10:00. Yes, it coincides with all sorts of other events in the Dallas area, including the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, but that happens all through the city in the weeks before the weather really heats up. Besides, where else are you going to go in the Dallas area to view carnivorous plant blooms and bracts and the plants that produce them?

Oh, to close up, and for the barest hint of what else to expect at the Manchester United Flower Show, here’s a sample of the centerpiece to a new enclosure:

Yes, this is a Cryolophosaurus skull, so anyone familiar with previous discussions on my fascination with the flora of pre-Pliocene Antarctica has an idea of what to expect. It and other enclosures premiere in April, so make plans to see the final enclosure after it’s planted and ready. See you then.

State of the Gallery: January 2018

Doom and Gloom (mostly gloom) in Dallas in JanuaryAnd the holiday season is over. Well, that’s not completely true: we can’t forget the importance of February 2, when Sid Vicious rises from his grave, looks down for his shadow, and learns if he has to wait six more weeks until spring. The decorations are down, the last of the leftovers are dispatched (unless your grandmother is like mine and wants to see if she can make turkey-flavored Jell-O out of the carcass residue left in the refrigerator), the more gothically inclined are building dinosaur skeletons with the chunks Grandma couldn’t use, and everyone in retail can get rid of that twitch from overplay of the mandatory Christmas radio station. True, you don’t want to go anywhere near a gym for the rest of the month, especially in the parking lot as everyone fights for the closest space to the door, and we’re all keeping an eye on the skies for that one falling snowflake that convinces the worst drivers on the road that they need to switch things up by driving with their buttocks. All things considered, though, things are good.

Out here at the Triffid Ranch, it’s time for introspection, renovation, negotiation, and potential amputation. We may have 295 days until that happiest holiday of the year, but the work starts now. This includes cleaning and prepping new glassware, potting new plants, scoping out new shows and new venues, and trying to limit nervous breakdowns to every other Tuesday. In other words, just like every year since the gallery first opened. The highlights:

First and foremost, the emphasis in 2018 is finishing new enclosures, and that starts with getting commissioned enclosures out now. (A friendly reminder for those who purchased Nepenthes pitcher plants at Triffid Ranch shows in the past: now’s the time to ask about upgrades to give your plants more room.) This includes getting more photos with those enclosures, in order to enter enclosures in regional and national art shows and inform local media outlets of those shows. Right now, everything is being kept on a winter lighting schedule to encourage growth later, but when the timers switch to spring hours in March, the fun really begins. It’s not just a matter of viewing Nepenthes blooms, but trying some luck with pollinating flowers in order to develop a few new hybrids.

On the subject of shows, it’s no surprise that the first big Triffid Ranch show of the year is All-Con on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. The surprise was discovering the new venue for the 2018 event. For years, All-Con ran at the increasingly cramped Crowne Plaza hotel, but size limitations required a move to a larger venue. Two years ago, it moved to a much larger space with a bit of a parking problem: hotel management promised to augment its tiny parking area with access to the parking garages of the office buildings around it, which was a surprise to the owners of said office buildings. A majority of attendees discovering that parking options consisted of a muddy field across from the hotel wasn’t enough to kill the convention, and last year’s All-Con returned to the Crowne Plaza, which was now charging for parking when it wasn’t hosting meth labs. This year, though, All-Con moves to a MUCH larger venue, the Hotel InterContinental in Addison, right along Dallas North Tollway.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, for starters, the InterContinental, formerly the Grand Kempinski, is a legacy of Dallas’s great oil and development boom of the 1980s, back from the days when it was the tallest building in the area. Because the old Grand Kempinski was intended to compete for convention and conference business with the Anatole and Fairmont hotels near downtown, this meant having an absolutely gigantic ballroom on the second floor and an equally expansive ground floor atrium. This means that instead of fighting crowds in the artist’s alley section to get to the main dealer’s room, we have room to stretch out. Even better, this is one hotel where the promise of “multiple restaurants within walking distance” is quite actually true, and more than just a McDonald’s or Jack In The Box. (The hotel is just off Addison’s impressive Restaurant Row, which includes pubs, novelty venues such as the world-famous Magic Time Machine, and even a Whole Foods within a ten-minute walk.) A convention with food options other than the hotel restaurant and a convenience store? The mind boggles.

For vendors, the situation gets even better. The Hotel Intercontinental features two large entrances, big enough to allow two-way traffic while loading and unloading, and a large elevator sits right by the escalator leading to the second floor. (Those familiar with the absolute mess at the Crowne Royal can understand why this is a big deal.) With most of the club and Artist Alley tables on the ground floor, all groups involved won’t be fighting for room, especially close to opening hours. Parking is voluminous, and the loading lanes are big enough for small aircraft. Miss this one at your peril, because with the convention running during Spring Break for most of the high schools and colleges in the greater Dallas area, we’re going to see crowds at sizes we could have only dream about seeing at previous shows…and they’ll all have elbow room.

Not that All-Con and Texas Frightmare Weekend are the only shows outside of the gallery for 2018: these are just the only ones that can be discussed at the moment. Right now, the greater Dallas area has an excess of riches as far as art shows are concerned, and while the Deep Ellum Arts Fest isn’t an option this year, a lot of other events are going on at the same time. Right now, it’s all about confirmation, as well as making sure that schedules don’t conflict. Keep checking back for more details.

With the carnivores, the biggest change in the Triffid Ranch involves an expansion into Mexican butterworts and terrestrial bladderworts, two traditionally neglected groups of carnivorous plant. As mentioned before, this is just a continuation of plans set for last year before the gallery move, but with the advantage of many of the new species of butterwort exploding with new plantlets over the winter. Even better, both butterworts and bladderworts are now big and sassy enough to bloom in spring, adding an extra angle to the planned Manchester United Flower Show showing in April. Again, details as the date gets closer.

In hot pepper news, it’s time to start the new year’s first batch of pepper seedlings, and it’s time to make an admission. Namely, Carolina Reaper peppers are the Venus flytraps of the Capsicum world. Want to thrill me? start a discussion on comparing the colors and flavors of Black Pearl and Numex Halloween peppers both ripe and green. Compare the dishes best using Uba Tubas versus Trinidad Scorpions. Share a flavor combination for salsa with Bhut Jolokias that works even better than mango. (This may not be possible, but I’m always open to argument.) Carolina Reapers, though, are a one-trick pony. They grow to an impressive size in cultivation, but nothing about their foliage nor their shape distinguishes them from other peppers. The fruit, ripe or green, is only marginally more interesting than a standard green bell pepper, and once you get past the “you’ll pee fire!” heat, they taste like tomb dust. Aside from the subjective and often dubious Scoville Scale ranking, the Carolina Reaper has precious little distinction in growth, flavor, or idiosyncrasy. But what’s the one pepper EVERYONE asks if I’m growing? Ah well.

And if this is a roundabout way of hyping up the ZestFest 2018 spicy foods convention (https://zestfest.net/) at the Irving Convention Center at the end of January, so be it. ZestFest has a grand supply of salsa and barbecue sauce vendors pushing “no pepper is too hot for ME to eat!” neural overloads, but its main emphasis is on flavor, and the danger isn’t in not finding anything that tempts enough to buy a case or two. The danger is in not bringing a basket with wheels, because it WILL fill up by the time you reach the end, and all of those glass bottles and jars are heavy.

In any case, it’s time to get back to the linen mines. The plants won’t water themselves, and one of the new enclosure elements requires lots and lots of tumbled glass shards for the proper effect. Pictures will follow: I promise.

The Aftermath: All-Con 2017 – 7

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And that does it for 2017’s All-Con: we’re already registered as vendors for 2018, and our next show is at Texas Frightmare Weekend in the first weekend of May. See you then.

The Aftermath: All-Con 2017 – 6

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The Aftermath: All-Con 2017 – 5

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At shows such as All-Con, new attendees always ask about the “Shirt Price” tag on the enclosures, and Melissa demonstrates the concept: get a Larry Carey Triffid Ranch shirt, wear it to a show or gallery event, and get discounts and other perks. Don’t let her be the only person to take advantage of the perpetual perk program, okay?

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The Aftermath: All-Con 2017 – 4

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The Aftermath: All-Con 2017 – 3

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While not necessarily a customer, the gentleman above was of particular note at a neighboring vendor’s booth, as he ripped through quite the rendition of Iron Maiden’s “Two Minutes to Midnight.” I was honestly suprised: I was expecting to see a cover of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen.”

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The Aftermath: All-Con 2017 – 2

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The Aftermath: All-Con 2017 – 1

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It’s a perfect recipe for a nervous breakdown: get a 30 days’ move-out notice on an existing space, line up a new gallery space, get everything moved from one to the other, and then conduct a scheduled show when fully two-thirds of necessary tools and supplies are still in boxes and tubs. The amazing part wasn’t that the 2017 Triffid Ranch show at All-Con happened, but that it happened with a minimum of blood loss. The show was a blowout success, but let’s not try this sort of schedule again, shall we, universe?

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Before going any further, I would be remiss in not giving full credit to the person who helped more than anybody else to get everything together. You may remember reading about Christian Cooper, the guest artist at last January’s ARTwalk: this time around, he took time from his spring break to haul enclosures, inspect plants, and otherwise keep us all on the straight and narrow. As soon as the new gallery is ready to go, he’s getting another guest spot, because he earned it.

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As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones stressing about sudden change. All-Con’s total numbers were down a little compared to previous years thanks to a very big media convention running two weeks later, forcing a lot of attendees to decide which show they could afford to visit. Ultimately, this worked out well, because the folks attending All-Con were especially enthusiastic. On a personal level, North Texas’s general lack of winter this year backslid at the beginning of March, pushing or breaking freezing temperatures and thereby keeping a lot of the carnivores in dormancy until the last minute. As it turned out, that worked out extremely well, as one of the biggest draws was the big Venus flytrap globe full of freshly emerging traps and flower scapes, The expressions on some attendees’ faces as they realized that flytraps bloom made every aggravation worth it.

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To be continued…

State of the Gallery

The big buy-stuff-and-get-drunk holidays are done. At the day jobs, everyone’s starting their first full week of work, and already planning vacations to get away from co-workers without the promise of violence. The kids are back in school, which in Texas means dodging the dolts who are terrified of thunder birds swooping down and stealing their children away, so they have to park in the middle of the street at rush hour and walk their kids directly to the front door. This being Texas, the weather keeps fluctuating between “black ice on the bridges” and “you’d think it was spring if you didn’t know better.” Yes, January is here, and preferably with as little pain as necessary.

With the new year comes the regular evaluation of where the Triffid Ranch is going, because we’re not sure ourselves. To answer the incessant questions: yes, we’re still at the old Valley View Center in North Dallas. Yes, we know the mall is going to be demolished. No, we don’t know when it’s coming down, or when we’ll have to vacate the space.With the incessant TV news segments involving someone who hasn’t been to the mall in 30 years, with closeups of the shock on their faces to discover that Wicks ‘n Sticks and Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby are shut down, you’d never know we had a thriving gallery community out here. Tell some people where we’re located, and they react as if they’ll be hit with demolition charges and buried in loose bricks the moment they step inside.  (I had to explain that to a niece who had to comment that “the mall is coming down” as if we’ll be caught in the destruction the next day, explaining that just because the mall will eventually be brought down, but it won’t be brought down today.)  This isn’t being helped by coverage in the Dallas Morning News by the self-styled “James Lipton of Fandom,” where you have to wonder exactly how many times he had his head flushed in mall toilets during his high school days that he’d dedicate so much time and effort gloating about the mall’s demise. (As someone who also once had a career at a weekly newspaper involving writing about nothing but science fiction movies and comic books, yes, it sucks that nobody can afford to pay for that coverage any more. Get over it.)

So here’s the situation as we know it so far. Yes, Valley View Center is facing demolition. Everyone knew that going in, and we specifically knew that when we opened the gallery nearly two years ago. No, we don’t know when demolition will start: that information hasn’t been shared with us or any other gallery owner. Yes, some galleries have cleared out, but most of that was because of the hype about the demolition last summer, where patrons worried about flying bricks stopped visiting. Right now, what we know is that the AMC Valley View 16 cinema, which I’ll add is the best first-run movie theater in the Dallas area for the price, signed a new lease for at least the next six months, and demolition can’t be completed so long as the theater remains. The old Foley’s building at the southwest corner of the mall is beginning demolition, but as that space had been empty for years, this doesn’t affect anything with the main mall and won’t for a while. For the duration, until we specifically hear word otherwise, the Triffid Ranch will remain at its current location, and we’ll be continuing with events at that location until we get that final word.

On that subject, the next Midtown ARTwalk is scheduled for Saturday, January 21 from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m., with this month’s theme being “January Green“. This one will be a bit different: besides premiering a new commission for famed voice actress and dear friend Clarine Harp, this show features guest horticulturalist Christian. A local high schooler, Christian first came out to the gallery last year to see Nepenthes pitcher plants in situ with his large and very enthusiastic family, and then invited me to see his collection of rescued plants. Folks, seeing Christian’s work with cuttings and plants previously rejected as being “too rough for sale” made me remember what I was like when I was 17…and makes me want to invent cheap and effective time travel to go back and kick my previous self’s lazy butt up around his shoulder blades. January Green is an exhibition and sale of Christian’s best houseplants, and all sales will be matched by the Triffid Ranch with a donation to the charity of Christian’s choice. Yes, he’s THAT good.

As for the rest of the year, the show season is going to be a bit sporadic, and only partly because of the mall situation. For those unfamiliar with the glorious fiasco that was the Marvelous Nerd Year’s Eve event last month, we didn’t dodge a bullet by not attending. We dodged Slim Pickens riding the bomb. We missed this, but after last summer’s InfiniCon, combined with more and more local conventions and shows having issues with attracting attendees, it’s a matter of cutting back on outside shows and concentrating on the gallery. That said, All-Con on March 16 through 19 and Texas Frightmare Weekend on May 5 through 7 are still essential. As for the next Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at the end of the year…if they want to put up with me, I’ll be honored to show off plants. Until then, ARTwalk is always open, and expect a special surprise involving the Dallas Arboretum in March. Details WILL follow.

The Aftermath: All-Con 2016 – 4

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The Aftermath: All-Con 2016 – 3

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The Aftermath: All-Con 2016 – 2

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The Aftermath: All-Con 2016 – 1

When mentioning the hectic situations of the past few months, nothing is more prominent than the lack of updates over here on the site. Sadly, when given an option between caring for plants or posting new pictures, the plants always win. Now that the full summer heat has kicked in and there’s not much else to do but wait for the first Halloween displays at the local Michaels stores (the first hint in Dallas that the heat will eventually break), it’s time to get back to it.

2016 marked the fifth Triffid Ranch show at All-Con, and we had a lot of promise with a new larger hotel. Well, the con staff did what they could, and they went to heroic efforts to do so, but they could only do so much with a hotel that would have been considered shoddily run in the 1980s. Vendors paid for electricity, only to find out that the hotel didn’t bother to set up power cables for lights and other essentials. The hotel abutted a large business tower complex, and informed the convention that attendees would have access to both the hotel parking and the complex’s extensive parking garages. This was a surprise to most of the attendees who arrived on Friday and Saturday after about 6 in the morning, as the parking garages were chained up to prevent that promised access. After a temporary parking lot, literally in the middle of a vacant lot, filled up, a lot of regulars simply gave up after circling for an hour in the hopes of finding anything, and a promised hotel shuttle from the nearest DART train station also turned back into pumpkins and mice. Those of us who could get in (and no thanks to the idiot in charge of the hotel parking garage, who repeatedly waved in vehicles too tall to fit in said garage and then insisted upon tips when they finally got free and escaped) made the best of it, and swore things would be different in 2017.

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Future events and current developments

Well. September already, and everything is starting to gel. Lots of new developments with the Triffid Ranch, and all of them good. Now if I could invent the 47-hour day or remove the need for sleep, things will be spiffy.

Firstly, some may have noticed the new logo, courtesy of Gallantry Web Design. This whole summer has been nothing but change, and the logo sums it all up. The next plan is to update the rest of this site: things have been quiet here for far too long.

Now to developments. The first of these involves the new Perot Museum of Nature & Science in downtown Dallas, and its First Thursday Late Night events on the first Thursday of every month. This month, the subject is “Botanicals,” which entails a lecture by yours truly in the lower auditorium. Any excuse to get out to the Perot after normal hours is a good one, and you can either come to listen to me yammering away, or come out for the screening of the equally grim and gritty Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Either way, admission to the special events is free with a regular museum admission, so use this as a opportunity to see the rest of the museum without worrying about fighting the traffic while heading home.

Otherwise, the real news is that, after two months, the space at Midtown (formerly Valley View Mall) is nearly ready, with an official opening on September 19 to coincide with September’s ArtWalk. After that, the new space is open every third Saturday, from 6 until 10, and otherwise open by appointment. More details will follow closer to the opening, but one of the big upshots is that this allows the opportunity to produce enclosures and containers too big and bulky to bring out to individual weekend shows, as well as carrying carnivores too esoteric or too specialized for beginning enthusiasts.

This isn’t to say that the shows are stopping, though. Plans for a return to regular show tours fell apart due to several potential shows collapsing, but the following three are absolutes:

  • Funky Finds Holiday Shopping Experience in Fort Worth: It’s been a very long time since the Triffid Ranch last traveled to Fort Worth, and it’s about time to return to the Funky Finds show the weekend of November 7. Expect a lot of new species, a lot of new enclosures, and a general experience unlike anything else you’ve ever seen at a handmade craft show. It’s good to be back.
  • All-Con in Dallas: After skipping out on the 2015 show due to scheduling issues, there’s nothing quite like coming out of winter blues in March 2016 with four days of carnivores at All-Con, now at a much superior and more central location. This show starts right about the time temperate carnivores start emerging from winter dormancy, so it’s just as much about the new blooms as it is about the rest of the plants. In addition, with the new workspace, expect to see a lot of things that simply haven’t been possible to bring out in previous years. John Belushi was right: March 2016 will come in like a lion, and go out like a salt marsh harvest mouse.
  • Texas Frightmare Weekend in Irving: Once again, this is the big one. Texas Frightmare Weekend is the show to which all others in the Dallas area should be judged, and all of the surprises from previous years will be eclipsed by the arrangements and enclosures planned for the May show. Get your tickets now, as they sell out incredibly fast these days, and keep an eye open for special Triffid Ranch promotions only seen at Frightmare.

And as one final extra, the plan is extremely tentative, but 2016 may be the year that the Triffid Ranch escapes Texas, at least for one weekend. The idea is to haul everything the weekend of August 17 to Kansas City, Missouri for MidAmeriCon II, the 74th annual WorldCon. Again, that’s the idea: while Kansas City is about an eight-hour drive from Dallas, we also have the logistics of interstate plant certifications and dealing with KC’s not inconsiderable summer heat. If it works out, though, look for the distinctive logo above in KC, and with luck, this may be the first of many traveling shows outside of Texas. We hope.

Things To Do In Richardson When You’re Dead: Dr. Delphinium orchid open house

A quick signal interrupt, and an excuse for my fellow Dallasites to stay as far away from the Greenville Avenue St. Patrick’s Day parade as possible. (Dallas is particularly good at turning ethnic Catholic holidays of celebration and glee into excuses for Anglo Protestants to feed vast rivers of booze vomit running through our streets, which is why you avoid Greenville Avenue at all costs on St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo.) For the last several years, I’ve had to skip out on the legendary Gunter’s Orchids open houses in Richardson because the open houses coincided with my first spring show at All-Con. Not that I’d tell you to skip out on All-Con for any reason (especially since the dealers, particularly Tawanda Jewelry, will appreciate the attention), but my not having a booth means that I’m free to head out for the open house. Much to its credit, when the florist company Dr. Delphinium bought out Gunter’s two years ago, the old traditions remain, and Dr. Delphinium hosts its open house this Friday through Sunday at its Richardson location. This means lots and lots of freshly-blooming orchids, and you might even luck out and see the revived Tahitian vanilla orchid in full bloom.

Me, I’ll be out there on Saturday at around noon, so anyone who wants to join me is welcome to do so. If you can’t, well, I’ll get plenty of pictures. One way or another, see you then.

All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – Finale

All-Con 2014

As a final comment about All-Con 2014, after a few years, you start to notice trends. At any given show, the costumes range a wild gamut, and there’s no telling who’s going to come in with the outfit that stops the entire show. Half of the fun at the convention is people-watching, and with so many great costumes coming through the front doors, half of them pass right by the Triffid Ranch booth. With that many people, as mentioned, you notice trends.

The first trend that I’ve noticed for a while is that the comics character of Poison Ivy is an extremely popular as a costume subject, and I’ve seen some incredibly detailed and composed Poison Ivy oufits over the years. The odd part, considering the obsession the character has with plants, is that I’ve met all of two Poison Ivy cosplayers who had any interest in plants whatsoever. The second one was one of the first people to stop by the Triffid Ranch booth on Thursday afternoon, and she asked nothing but fascinating questions about the various plants on display.

All-Con 2014

The other surprising trend? While I don’t regularly meet Poison Ivy cosplayers who like plants, I have yet to meet a Wonder Woman cosplayer who didn’t. This young woman not only had the look and the attitude down pat, but she made me wish I had miniature roses in this year’s assemblage. She was incredibly happy with her Nepenthes arrangement, but somehow it didn’t seem right to let her leave without roses, and I don’t know why.

And that finishes up the overview of All-Con 2014. As explained earlier, the Triffid Ranch won’t be out at All-Con 2015, but expect to see a whole new presence in March 2016. At least, that’s the idea. See you then.

All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – 9

Echinocactus texensis

Each Triffid Ranch show is a surprise, considering that most customers never know what they’re looking for until they see it. I regularly bring succulents to shows, and I never can tell which one will bring the best response. This time, the belle of the ball was our old friend Echinocactus texensis.

Tommy Gunn

Now, both horsecripplers got quite a bit of attention, but this gentleman came through on Sunday after taking a break from his space in Artist’s Alley. When he learned about horsecrippler fruit and the need for two to produce viable fruit, well, two went home with him right then. I regularly get photos from customers who want to show off their plants after they become established, and I fully expect to see photos of many happy horsecripplers before too long.

All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – 8

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All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – 7

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All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – 6

Tracy of Azrael's Apprentice

While it may seem understandable that these show and convention reports focus on Triffid Ranch customers, I also have to give credit to and a shoutout for the other vendors who make these shows so much fun. Among many others, I was lucky enough to have Tracy Robertson of Azrael’s Apprentice Designs as a next-door neighbor. Since All-Con started as a costuming convention that expanded its focus, it has an understandable reputation for excellent costume and couture designers, and having one of the best as a neighbor was an honor.

Half Price Books booth at All-Con 2014

Likewise, it’s always a joy to talk to the folks at the Half Price Books booth, even though we were all so busy that we only had a chance to say hello on Sunday morning before the vendor room opened for the day. In the process, I had a wonderful talk with the HPB district manager, and that leads to a big project to be announced soon. Let’s just say that between the new Day Job and this project, there’s no time to slack off.

Custom tank enclosure

All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – 5

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All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – 4

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All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – 3

All-Con Bladderwort tank

I’m regularly asked by showgoers about where I get my containers and pots, and I answer honestly “From all over.” Among other things, I take advantage of everything from going-out-of-business liquidations to estate sales, all with the idea of finding something different. Half of the fun is finding something horribly inappropriate for its original intended use, but that works beautifully with carnivores. I regularly tell people “If you like it, grab it, because I doubt I’ll be able to find another.

One of the best examples involves the inexplicable boom in miniature aquaria from the 1980s. Starting around Christmas of 1987, stores were packed with two-liter to four-liter aquaria, all advertised as “everything you need”. Without fail, the packaging showed off a completed and filled tank with dozens of fish inside, never bothering to tell novice aquarists that the horribly underpowered air pumps and completely inadequate filter systems would be lucky to keep a single betta alive, much less dozens of guppies or tetras. Many were bought and discarded when the piscine massacre ended, others were put into storage with the idea of trying again one day, and others were purchased as gifts and never opened until the executors of the estate had to clean out the house for its eventual sale. Having bought one in 1988 for a then-girlfriend, I knew that most were designed by companies that wanted to cash in on the trend but that didn’t really care about whether or not they’d work as promised. I also knew that while they were deathtraps for fish, they’re absolutely exquisite for displaying and raising terrestrial bladderworts.

Case in point, the enclosure above was quite common in department stores in the US around 2001, as well as in the now-defunct line of Discovery Channel Stores in shopping malls through the US and Canada. As advertised, it included a built-in periscope to watch your fish at bottom-level, a fish food holder so you could submerge food and watch the fish as they ate, various plastic reefs, an air pump and airstone, and a pocket full of gravel. Oh, it also came with a clear blue plastic top to keep fish in, and a cardboard backdrop of an exciting ocean scene. The latter was what made things interesting.

Shortly after the Czarina and I started dating, she expressed interest in both getting a betta and in getting a small tank so she could enjoy said fish on the kitchen counter. Having had a bit of experience with bettas, I figured that a small tank of this sort might work, especially with additional aeration provided by the included air pump. I knew better than to try to keep anything else in the tank, so I figured that this wouldn’t be too bad of an investment. And it wasn’t. The Czarina was thrilled, and it was a reasonably happy home for her betta until he died of old age several years later. At that point, she hung onto the tank for a while, and then gave it to me so long as I could do something with it. And I had ideas.

The biggest problem with the Underwater Explorer had everything to do with that top and the backdrop. This is why it’s so important to distinguish between cookie jars and apothecary jars when building terraria. A good glass cookie jar will have a lip on the inside of the lid, right next to the rim, to deal with condensation from the natural moisture of the baked goods. If it were to escape, the cookies would go stale, so any excess moisture condenses on the inside of the lid, rolls to the lip, and drips off into the bottom of the jar. An apothecary jar, though, is to deal with trying to control humidity from the outside, so its lid allows condensation to the outside of the jar, helping to keep the contents as dry as possible. With cookies or aspirin pills, condensation on either is barely noticeable. However, with lots of fluid in each type of container, it becomes very noticeable, very quickly.

That’s where things went wrong. The designers of this setup apparently went crazy with the ingenious periscope, and probably never bothered to test how well water spray from the aeration system would impact the cover. Turning on the air pump meant that spray condensed on the inside of the lid, and it promptly dripped off the cover to the outside of the tank. Since the backdrop was just printed cardboard, it rapidly got soaked and mildewey, and nobody apparently thought of sealing it in plastic to extend its life. Within a week, it peeled off and had to be cut free, and use of the air pump had to be cut way back to keep from coming home to a half-empty betta tank in the middle of a large pool of dribbled water. Keep the lid on, and it inhibited air circulation to the surface, preventing more dissolved oxygen from infiltrating the tank. Take the lid off so the betta could breathe, and her cat Tramplemaine because a lot more intrigued by the new playmate. It just wasn’t going to work as a fish enclosure.

For terrestrial bladderworts, though, it was a dream. Many of your tougher species of terrestrial bladderworts, such as Utricularia sandersonii and U. lividia, thrive on extremely boggy soils, and this enclosure was very good at retaining water. The sides were clear, meaning that a windowsill or a good desk lamp offered enough light for proper growth. The periscope allowed plant’s-eye views of the bladderwort foliage, seeing as how it looks like turtle grass at that scale, or of the bloom spikes in spring. The interior kept up the plant’s beloved humidity. Best of all, this container had a story behind it, and that story was enough to get someone to take a large U. sandersonii clump home that day.

All-Con 2014.

Other people say “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” I say “That’s my story, and do you want to hear more?”

More to follow…

All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – 2

All-Con tyrannosaur

This year, in addition to the usual vending appearance, I was invited to suggest possible panels and lectures for the convention. Last year’s general lecture on carnivorous plants was so successful that I was asked to reprise it for Thursday night, but Friday night was special. This year was the first public test of the ultraviolet laser array I put together to view the fluorescence in various carnivores, and it worked even better than I’d suspected. Some of the most UV-fluorescent species in my collection were still in winter dormancy, such as the various Sarracenia, but enough tropicals were out to make up for it. Among other things, we all observed that not only does the wax on the inside of Brocchinia bromeliads fluoresce, as I already knew, but that the plant has distinct bands in UV that are impossible to see in visible light.

All-Con 2014

The real surprise? I had one Mexican butterwort, Pinguicula moctezumae, in the middle of an early bloom. I knew from experience with other butterworts that this one’s trapping surfaces wouldn’t fluoresce, but the attending audience still got to see the slight fluorescence from chlorophyll, like the last light from formerly red-hot steel. However, its sole flower fluoresces like a sign, with a distinctive white stripe in the upper portion of the bloom apparently intended to attract hummingbirds. Obviously, a lot more work needs to be done on fluorescent attractants in carnivorous plants, both in the traps and in the flowers.

All-Con 2014

All-Con 2014

More to follow…

All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – 1

Texas Triffid Ranch booth at All-Con 2014

Four days. Two lectures. More attendees than I could count. In many ways, in years of Triffid Ranch shows, All-Con X was the best one yet. All-Con already had some of the most enthusiastic crowds I’d seen in thirty years of attending, appearing at, and vending for science fiction conventions, but this year? For the first time since the 1980s, I was glad that the show was ultimately over, but I also wished that it had been able to run for another week. For those with familiarity with convention organization or vending, you’ll understand why this is saying something.

All-Con 2014

Suffice to say, the number of people coming by the Triffid Ranch booth was simply phenomenal. This year, instead of the usual three-day event, the organizers decided to take advantage of Spring Break, and offered free admission on Thursday to anyone who wanted to show up. Since so many liked the taste and bought passes for the rest of the weekend, the hotel and immediate environs were absolutely packed. And since half of the attendees were out in costume…well, All-Con continued its reputation as a perfect place for people-watching.

All-Con 2014

All-Con 2014
More to follow…

Things To Do In Dallas When You’re Dead: Spring 2013

Deep Ellum mural

The days get longer, the polar vortex slows in its attempts to freeze Galveston, and the Czarina can read weather reports from Michigan and Wisconsin and not try to set her bath water afire in order to get a little warmer. We’re not quite to spring yet, but we’re getting there, so it’s time to get back outside and do something. Do what, you ask? Well, time for some ideas.

Firstly, we’re now three weeks away from All-Con 2014, one of the biggest costuming and general weirdness conventions in the Southwest. This year, in addition to the now-expected Triffid Ranch display in the vendor’s room, come out for two different discussions on carnivorous plants, including one demonstrating the fluorescence of certain species under ultraviolet light. This is in addition to all of the other great panels and demonstrations, so buy your tickets before the Addison fire marshall steps in and yells “Okay, no more.”

Along that line, as mentioned a couple of months back, after two shows this season, the Triffid Ranch goes on hiatus until May 2015 in order to rebuild stock and cultivate new species of carnivore previously unavailable at events. That means that if you can’t make All-Con, come out to Texas Frightmare Weekend at DFW Airport for the blowout final show of 2014. Among many other events, TFW is hosting a 60th anniversary celebration of the premiere of Creature From The Black Lagoon, which has special significance to me. Many of the underwater scenes in that film were shot in Wakulla Springs in the Florida Panhandle, and my strange and sordid trip through the world of carnivorous plants started with one weekend in September 2002 spent exploring the springs. Between this and a screening of the movie at the springs held as a fundraiser, coinciding with the Czarina visiting me in Tallahassee just before we married, I have lots of fond memories involving that movie, and it’s only fair to return the favor to Loyd Cryer and the rest of the crew at TFW and give them a plant presentation that will never be forgot.

Black orchid

In between that, though, is an event unrelated to the Triffid Ranch, other than the fact that I finally get to attend. For years, Gunter’s Greenhouse, one of the best orchid nurseries in the country, held an open house to show off its collections to the general public. For years, it always coincided with All-Con, and All-Con management frowned on my leaving my booth to drool on orchids. As of late last year, Gunter’s was purchased by the Dallas orchid dealer Dr. Delphinium, and one of the new changes involves moving the open house to the weekend of March 28 this year. Sadly, the great display of Tahitian vanilla orchids won’t be available, due to a pest infesting and killing off the vines, but speaking from experience, the trip will be worth that very minor disappointment.

Upcoming events: August 2013

It’s been a bit busy at the Triffid Ranch as of late, and with good reason. Typical Texas summer weather hit this week, naturally occurring the week before the biggest show of the year, meaning that experiments with water-conservation-friendly cooling systems in the greenhouse just went from “urgent” to “designing and developing solar-powered liquid nitrogen generators to keep everything from bursting into flame”. The weekend was spent working with silicone and urethane sealers, to the point where what leg hairs aren’t permanently veneered into my flesh are now the length and strength of porcupine quills, and just as dangerous to pets and furniture. I even managed to get some of the urethane into my eyebrows, and I now know the familiarity of co-workers at the Day Job to Nineties-era cult science fiction television based on the number who ask me if I’ve seen Mistah Garibaldi as I walk by. In fact, the best part of the ongoing severe drought is putting freshly painted items out into the sun and having them dry almost instantly: I’m half-tempted to try applying metal enamel to see if that would work as well.

Oh, and today is the Czarina’s birthday. Cue the musical accompaniment.

Anyway, in previous years, August was the month where the Triffid Ranch went dormant, waiting until the rains returned in September to emerge and feed once more. Our surprising cool and (relatively) wet July means that rainwater rationing in the greenhouse isn’t as extreme, and that means that a lot of plants are ready for sale and already adapted to the heat. Because of that, this August is a month of ongoing shows, all new venues, and a lot of opportunities. Who knew back in 2008, when the Triffid Ranch first started, that things would get so interesting?

With mention of shows comes the big one: the North American Reptile Breeders Conference now runs at the Arlington Convention Center twice per year, and that means that the Triffid Ranch makes an appearance this weekend, August 10 from 10:00 to 5:00 and August 11 from 11:00 to 4:00. We’re going to be in good company with lots of friends and fellows from previous NARBC shows, so be prepared to have a blast. I might even pick up a crocodile monitor while I’m there.

One weekend after, the party moves to north Carrollton. Keith Colvin of Keith’s Comics in Dallas is an old and very dear friend, and the only reason I don’t bring out plants for the kids attending his Free Comic Book Day events in May is because FCBD usually coincides with the big Texas Frightmare Weekend show. This year, Keith decided to expand his usual summertime Sidekick discount clearinghouse event into a Summercon running every weekend in August, and that includes vendors with other, related merchandise. What this means is that you can expect to see the Triffid Ranch booth at the Summercon event on August 17, for the whole day. Any excuse to stay out of the sun in August in Texas is a good one, and if you get the carnivorous plant bug, well, Dallas North Aquarium is just down Trinity Mills Road from the Sidekick store.

Finally, my own birthday comes at the end of the month: I tried to have it changed legally, but the authorities point out that “February 30” doesn’t happen anywhere near as often these days as it used to. Some people celebrate their 47th birthdays with guns, explosions, and crocodile monitors in the streets. This year, it’s time to celebrate it with a combination of all of these, by showing plants at AnimeFest in downtown Dallas on Labor Day Weekend. We’ll be out with plenty of friends and cohorts from other local shows, from noon on August 30 until 3:00 on September 2. (Yes, it’s a four-day convention, much like next year’s All-Con a little over six months from then. Don’t let it scare you.) In between those times, it’s open season.

Oh, and with the mention of Texas Frightmare Weekend earlier, next May marks the fifth anniversary of the Triffid Ranch’s first show at Frightmare, and both guest announcements and advance tickets both saw release last Sunday. One of these days, I’ll explain exactly how The Creature From The Black Lagoon ties into my fascination with carnivorous plants, but both the Czarina and I have very good reason to look forward to TFW 2014. We’re definitely appearing as vendors, and it’s time for even more surprises.

After August, things go relatively quiet as far as Triffid Ranch shows are concerned, with the big highlight being the fifth anniversary show and party at FenCon in Addison in October. However, it’s time to start moving further afield through Texas, and the number of Houstonians who came by the booth at Texas Frightmare Weekend demonstrated a need for a touring plant show through the southern portion of the state. Details follow as I get them, but a trip to a Houston or Galveston show in October might be a necessity. And so it goes.

All-Con 2013: The Aftermath – 6

Happy Customers

The important thing to remember about All-Con 2013 is that All-Con started out as a costuming convention, and it remains true to its charter. This means that an awful lot of intensely talented pro and semi-pro costumers come out and show off. This made for an interesting show from the other side of the register, because how could you be bored when this wide a community of wonderfully crazy people came by to ask questions about carnivorous plants?

(I will, however, add an observation. All-Con had quite a few women attending dressed as the Batman villain Poison Ivy, and every last one seemed to be creeped out by the mere presence of carnivores. Please don’t ask me why.)

Happy Customers

I’d also like to point out that this wasn’t just an event for single people, or even couples. Sometimes the whole family got in on a day trip, and went home with a Venus flytrap.

The one true Green Lantern

Back when the Green Lantern movie came out, my biggest complaint was “nowhere near enough Guy Gardner in it.” Thankfully, All-Con compensated for the movie’s deficits.

Who's lunch for whom?

And then there’s slightly uncomfortable. I mean, which is worse: the customer eating the plant, or the plant eating the customer?

And that’s it for now. The Czarina and I are already signed up for All-Con 2014, which not only moves to the end of local Spring Break Week, but also extends to four days starting next year. Considering the increasing sophistication of Triffid Ranch customers, that means I’m really going to need some big surprises. In the meantime, see all of you at Texas Frightmare Weekend in May, and at FenCon X in October.

All-Con 2013: The Aftermath – 5

Happy Customer

Still more happy customers from All-Con 2013:

Happy Customer

Happy Customer

Happy Customers

All-Con 2013: The Aftermath – 4

Happy Customer

Still more happy customers at All-Con 2013:

Happy Customer

Happy Customer

Happy Customer

All-Con 2013: The Aftermath – 3

Happy Customer

More happy Triffid Ranch customers at All-Con 2013:

Happy Customers

Happy Customer

Happy Customer

All-Con 2013: The Aftermath – 2

Happy Customer

No matter the location in a particular venue, not everything is perfect. While the Triffid Ranch booth at All-Con 2013 was in otherwise a perfect location, right next to one of the main doors leading to the main hotel hallway, said hallway was lit by a huge east-facing window. Combine that with my miserable photographic skills, well, I had to adapt.

Tiffany of Roll2Play

As always, half of the fun of attending All-Con was making friends with new vendors and saying hello to old cohorts. This meant, of course, that Tiffany of Roll2Play came by to snag more plants for her store. You know, one of these days, I’m just going to make a huge Nepenthes tank conversion for said store, just so she can get a more intense carnivorous plant fix.

Happy Customer

And this gentleman? He was part of the crew immediately behind us, both showing off ear toggle jewelry and a new prototype 3-D printer, and word leaked out that Saturday was his 23rd birthday. Seeing as how my own 23rd year was one of the most intense in my life (among other things, I have to thank one guy I first met shortly before my birthday for introducing me to the Czarina several years later), how could I let him go without giving him his own spoonleaf sundew? Happy birthday, dude, and from a guy twice your age, I hope the next 23 years are as good as Saturday was.

All-Con 2013: The Aftermath – 1

All-Con Triffid Ranch booth

With the booth stripped down, the cover sheets washed to remove incriminating evidence, the plants put back to bed, and the show equipment all lying in a big pile in the living room to annoy the Czarina, All-Con 2013 ended as it began. Namely, with an immense sense of self-satisfaction. All-Con isn’t as big a Triffid Ranch show as, say, Texas Frightmare Weekend, but any show where the local fire marshal insists that no more people can fit into the hotel by any technique other than pureeing qualifies as a big one. The best endorsement of the shenanigans out here: as of this time next year, I have been attending science fiction and media conventions of all sorts for thirty years, as an attendee, a guest and lecturer, and as a vendor. Maybe it was due to the number of high school and college students getting an early start on Spring Break celebrations, but this had to have been the most enthusiastic crowd I’ve seen at a Dallas convention since 1985. And since that show involved, among others, a soon-to-be-defunct hotel where convention participants were firing model rockets armed with explosive warheads from a handmade rocket launcher into the swimming pool, I’m glad that this one was much less rambunctious.

Medusa Head 2

Since All-Con coincides with the bare stirrings of most temperate carnivorous plants from their winter dormancy, a lot of interesting species weren’t available this time around. To compensate were a lot of flytraps, purple pitcher plants (with a few Canadian attendees who could appreciate the provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador), and a few surprises. Of particular note was the popularity of my old friend Euphorbia flanaganii in a miniature garden arrangement. Yes, that Spartan can handle himself, but for how long?

Nepenthes rafflesiana elongata

Likewise, one of the best things about the wave of new attendees was being able to share very recent news about carnivorous plant physiology. Between sharing how Nepenthes ampullaria pitchers serve as frog nurseries and Nepenthes rafflesiana elongata pitchers as bat rookeries, nobody was bored.

Uncle Sam's On Mars 2

And then we had fun with succulents. A gigantic hand-fired guacamole bowl just begs for a miniature garden arrangement with Crassula muscosa, doesn’t it?

Uncle Sam's on Mars 2

More photos to follow: it was an interesting weekend.

No Sleep ’til All-Con

All-Con

Apologies for the radio silence, but it’s show season, and show season means skipping out on extraneous distractions such as sleep or sanity. This weekend, the event du jour is All-Con 2013, located once again in the scenic Crown Plaza Hotel in Addison, Texas. In addition to the standard scene-chewing and name-dropping at the main table, I hope everyone attending All-Con stops by to catch the carnivorous plant lecture on Saturday night at 8:00 p.m.. In the meantime, catch you on the farside.

In related news, for about fifteen minutes, it looked as if the Triffid Ranch might be a vendor at LoneStarCon 3 in San Antonio this Labor Day weekend after all, after hearing about a major change in management at the convention. The booth rates were very good for the Czarina and myself, any excuse to visit San Antonio is a good one, and it would have been a great opportunity to say hello to old friends from my writing days, including Mark Finn, Pat Cadigan, and Guest of Honor Ellen Datlow. Sadly, while the booth rates were reasonable, the additional requirement that all vendors and helpers pay for a attending membership ($200 per head, by the way) in addition to booth fees means that this immediately turned into a show that could in no way be profitable once you tacked on transportation, accomodation, and incidental costs for the trip to and from San Antonio. And so it goes: if an old friend’s idea of putting out a bid for a Dallas/Fort Worth WorldCon goes through, though, I’m there.

Upcoming shows and ongoing events

Well, we survived ConDFW and thrived, and now it’s time to let everyone know about the next big Triffid Ranch show, All-Con 2013, two weeks from today. In addition, because of specific interest in a demonstration, I’ll also add to the planned “How To Murder Your Venus Flytrap” lecture on Saturday evening with a display of carnivorous plant fluorescence under UV light. Where else are you going to see a presentation like this?

Meanwhile, two weeks before All-Con means that the next two weekends are the usual pre-show bad craziness, but that doesn’t preclude the annual February trip to the North American Reptile Breeders Conference in Arlington this weekend. If you’re going to be in the vicinity, just look for the albino in the motorcycle jacket and the International Carnivorous Plant Society T-shirt. If you’re not able to get out this time, make plans for the August NARBC show, because that, if everything goes well, may be the big Triffid Ranch event of the year.

Upcoming Triffid Ranch Shows: 2013 so far

Hm. For once, January seems to be racing to its conclusion, instead of the usual post-holiday drag. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, under most circumstances, but the first Triffid Ranch show of the new year starts exactly four weeks from today. Knowing me, I’ll be glad for any available extra time between now and then. So shall we look at what 2013 offers?

Okay, to start out, I’m not going to say anything further until it’s a sure thing, but I may –MAY– have some very good news for those who can’t get to the usual Triffid Ranch shows and want a permanent locale to visit. Again, nothing is confirmed, and the whole dream could turn back into pumpkins and mice. However, in two weeks or so, I should be able to say something. Until them, schtum.

(And while the Triffid Ranch won’t be there, I’d be an absolute monster if I didn’t mention that ZestFest 2013 runs at the Irving Convention Center on January 25 through the 27th, and I’m in desperate need of refills from the crew at Defcon Sauces. I’ll also point out that representatives from the Chile Pepper Institute should be out there as well, so look at it as a botanical expedition. That is, when you’re not trying samples of some of the best spicy food to be found in the Southwest, and that’s saying something.)

On that note, the first Triffid Ranch show is especially auspicious, because a lot has changed with ConDFW since its beginnings during my writing days. It already combined a serious crowd with a mellow style, and that improved considerably this year with its relocation to a new, more convention-convenient hotel. All of the temperate carnivores (flytraps, Sarracenia pitcher plants, and many sundews and butterworts) will still be in winter dormancy, and with good reason, considering our tendency toward week-long ice storms before things warm up in March. However, this means more opportunities with other plants, and I suspect everyone will be pleasantly surprised with the varieties offered this year.

Three weeks after that, things start getting crazy. March 8-10 is All-Con 2013, at the same hotel as ConDFW in Addison, Texas, and it’s probably going to be a madhouse. That, incidentally, is partly due to the guest list addition of Sylvester McCoy, and partly due to the secret being out on the convention in general. This show is unlike any other in the Southwest, and as such, makes it a special honor to be invited back as a vendor.

Several gaps lie in the year’s schedule which may be filled with other shows, and details will follow.The absolute, though, is that Texas Frightmare Weekend is a show that I’d attend after an appendectomy, and I can’t speak more highly of it than that. In fact, I’d probably ask the doctor to operate in the dealer’s room, just so the beginning theatrical makeup artists could take notes. 2013 marks the fifth Triffid Ranch show at Frightmare, and it just keeps getting better every year. This is partly due to the exemplary new locale at DFW Airport, with a hotel that honestly likes the crew of friendly loons that shows up every year.

Again, more gaps, but the last confirmed show for 2013 so far is our first show: FenCon. We’re back to Addison for this one, but the great news is that FenCon now opens on October 4 instead of the middle of September. And why is this great news? If you’ve ever been in Texas in October, this is about the time of year when the outside temperatures start to drop from the summer blast forge, so it’s friendlier to out-of-town visitors. It’s also friendlier to the plants, with many waking up from the seemingly never-ending summer and displaying their best colors and trap sizes. Five years ago, two dear friends inadvertently convinced me to take a risk on showing plants at a science fiction convention by getting a table at FenCon, and I’ll never be able to thank them for the initiative. This one, six weeks after the big LoneStarCon III in San Antonio? Yeah, this one will be one to remember.

Once more, gaps and more news. Keep an eye open for further developments, and I’ll see you at the next show.

Triffid Ranch shows: the schedule so far

The day started with a reminder of an impending guest lecture for the Four Seasons Garden Club in Dallas this Thursday, and that’s when life intruded. Not a little intrusion, either: that’s also the day the Czarina’s dentist scheduled her for emergency dental surgery. Same exact time, too. Add to that the need for her to be under general anaesthesia, her general reactions to general anaesthesia, and her insistence that I didn’t have to be there to bring her home, and you might understand why one of our favorite date movies was The Whole Nine Yards.

That didn’t stop her from guilt-tripping me with exclamations of “Oh, don’t worry. I’ll just sit here in the dark, er, I mean, I’ll get someone to take me in. I don’t want to get in the way of the lecture.” I love her madly, but I knew better.

“No. And this isn’t just my fear of the Elbows of DOOOOOM talking. I am NOT going to skip out on you.”

“It’s all right. I’ll call my mother and have her drive me home.”

“Oh, and I can tell how this will work. Halfway through the lecture, I’ll get a call asking for permission to transfer you to the ICU because you had a bad reaction to the anaesthesia.”

“It won’t be that bad…would it?”

“Well, no. I’ll probably get a call asking for permission to harvest your organs. I’d definitely have to leave the garden club then. They’d probably get ticked off at me for not leaving at that point.”

Hence, because she knows how much I loathe cell phones and answering calls in the middle of lectures, she backed off, and the wonderful people at the Four Seasons Garden Club considerately rescheduled the lecture for next January. That should work pretty well: after the holiday season is over, it’s time to emphasize that you can’t feed family members overstaying their welcome to Venus flytraps. Well, unless you have lots of flytraps, and the person in question is minced, and at that point, the police are probably going to figure it out.

That doesn’t mean that other shows and events aren’t an option. October and November are booked, and let’s not get started with next year. To give an idea:

First Annual Reptile & Amphibian Day: Things snowball. With the Museum of Nature & Science in Dallas closing and transferring to the new Perot Museum of Nature & Science, the annual Discovery Days event involving reptiles and amphibians won’t be running this November. With the temporary cancellation of Discovery Days until the new museum opens, the Dallas-Fort Worth Herpetological Society needed a new venue for an outreach presentation to show that reptiles and amphibians aren’t horrible things. I may be, though, so we have to question the wisdom of inviting the Triffid Ranch to display carnivorous plants for this year’s first annual Reptile & Amphibian Day at the University of Texas at Arlington. It’s too late, though, as they’re stuck with me all day on October 13. Depending upon this year’s turnout, we’ll see if the DFWHS wants to host a second one in 2013, but I have hopes. (As an additional notice, this event will have no animals or plants available for sale. This is educational, not commercial, but this might also be a great time to join the DFWHS, as well as some of the associated clubs and organizations showing plants and animals as well.)

The Shadow Society Presents The Vampire’s Masquerade Halloween Ball: Goth fashion. Carnivorous plants. Halloween. All out at the Crown & Harp on Greenville Avenue near downtown Dallas. Toby and Tracy, Shadow Society proprietors and DJs, already lined up a plethora of music and events, and the season should do the rest.

The Funky Finds Experience – Fort Worth: Right now, my garage resembles a set from an early-1970s episode of Doctor Who, and the living room is worse. That’s because I’m frantically building and planting arrangements and enclosures for this year’s Funky Finds Experience at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth on November 10-11. Artists and crafters already fill the entire allotted space, so come out to see the carnivores and wander around to see what else you can’t live without.

After Funky Finds, things should settle down a bit. The temperate carnivores go back into winter dormancy, the tropical carnivores slow down a bit, and we silly humans wait to see if we have a winter like this last one, or a winter like 2011. I, for one, wouldn’t mind one like 1998-1999: just enough cold to kill off the bugs, but not so much that it kills off everything else. We definitely don’t need a repeat of the 2010 record snowfall, as fun as it was at the time. That’s also because things start out lively early in 2013, and the last thing we need is another massive freeze in mid-February.

ConDFW: The first Triffid Ranch show of the year follows the cycle from 2012, with a show at the literary science fiction convention ConDFW in Addison, Texas. With it being this early in the year, the focus will be mostly on tropical and other non-dormant flora, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t expect some surprises.

All-Con: Three weeks later, prepare to return to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Addison, because now it’s time for All-Con, a more media-related convention coming up on its eighth year. With luck, we won’t be looking at sudden last-minute freezes or snowstorms, which means that it might be time to present a display of Sarracenia blooms if they’re cooperating at the time. As usual, details will follow.

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2013: Okay, here’s the big one, as in “so big, it takes up the entire Hyatt Regency DFW Airport.” Not only is Texas Frightmare becoming the horror equivalent of the San Diego Comic-Con or Dragon*Con in Atlanta, but I’m proud and flattered to become one of the draws for attendees every year. With this being the Triffid Ranch’s fifth show at Texas Frightmare, get ready for some extra surprises, and not just my using deodorant and mouthwash.

FenCon X: And here’s the other big show, scheduled for Texas-OU Weekend in Addison. (Just talk to the folks at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and let them know you’ll be at all three big shows, and they’ll probably be glad to accommodate you.) The new Web site is now live with guests and programming, and the Triffid Ranch jumps in with plans for a much larger space than previous years. The added joy? With it starting in October, out-of-state visitors can at least prepare for the end of summer temperatures. (Judging by last weekend’s cold snap as a precedent, bring a bathing suit AND a jacket. You’ll probably need both.)

Tentative plans: Not only does this year mark the largest number of Triffid Ranch shows to date, but it’s time to expand a bit into reptile and amphibian shows. Right now, tentative plans involve registering tables at both ReptiCon in Ennis at the end of October 2013 and the North American Reptile Breeders Conference in Arlington on August 11-13. As the comics used to say, watch this space.

As a final note, I’m regularly asked at shows “Do you have a physical address?” Until now, that answer is “no”, and not just because liability issues prevent me from opening up everything so people can “see the plants”. Up until now, opening a storefront to display plant enclosures and sell individual specimens hasn’t been practical or sane. In 2013, that may change. With luck, I’ll be able to share the news in a few weeks. With luck.

All-Con: The Aftermath

Well, that was an interesting weekend. All-Con 2012‘s ending saw wild rainstorms, nearly 11.5 centimeters in less than 12 hours, and pollen explosions, and the pollen explosions started a bit early. As the sole purveyor of floral entertainment, I spent the whole weekend apologizing to visitors to Texas. A tiny bit of advice: when you see your dealer’s room neighbor with an exceptionally puffy face, offer a couple Zyrtac instead of asking “So how badly did you kick that motorcycle gang’s asses?” She’ll appreciate the gesture.

Anyway, since All-Con is predominately a costuming convention with undertones of extreme strangeness, the Triffid Ranch booth didn’t stand out that much. However, it’s just distinctive enough that attendees who visited last year were quite pleased to see it as part of the assemblage. As can be told by the photos, Triffid Ranch customers are just as diverse as the plants, and the photo quality was limited only to the talent or lack thereof of the guy holding the phone:

Drosera with matching Union Jack

Slave Leia in action

This show featured a whole set of bottle arrangements with small sundews inside, and these were surprisingly popular among the costumer population. Next year, I’m making a set specifically to encourage visitations from resident Mayas, Delenns, and Martha Joneses.

Poison Ivy

This young lady came to the show as an artist’s model, entering the Saturday night costume competition as the classic Batman villain Poison Ivy. Who knew that she’d have a real-life fascination with carnivorous plants?

Flytrap with Pink

Manager at Rockwall Half Price Books

As an extra, the Rockwall Half Price Books store hosted a booth, and I knew the manager from when he worked at the Richardson store and watched me strip the gardening section. He was just as thrilled to get a sundew as everyone else.

Triffid Ranch enthusiast with bottle arrangement

Dragonfruit cactus in action

It wasn’t all about carnivorous plants at this show. The dragonfruit cactus is gradually waking up from winter slumber, and this gentleman really wanted something different.

The end result of button repair and replacement

Oh, and as an extra, it’s not always just about the plants. This young lady came by to tell me how she had an emergency costume failure…

The button closeup

…repaired with a Triffid Ranch button. I’m half-tempted to host a contest for the most interesting use of a Triffid Ranch button in the future, because I’m honestly surprised at every show about their uses.

Thursday is Resource Day

It’s been a little while since the last time we had a good “Thursday is Resource Day” entry, and this one probably won’t be a good one. It, however, should be enough to get everyone through until the next one, as things are starting to pile up around here. Seriously, blame the plants, because our recent run of warm weather woke up everything, and I’m now up to my armpits, almost literally, in “Pink Lemonade” blueberry flowers.

Anyway, to start off, things got very interesting in the Dallas/Fort Worth home and garden show market all of a sudden. Ever since the original company running the Texas Home & Garden Shows shut down and was bought out, both the programming and the general lineup at the shows has been progressively worse and worse. Remember a while back, when I was joking about organizing and starting the “Manchester United Flower Show” for gardeners under the age of 65? Over the last few months, it was seeming more and more reasonable.

And then, completely by luck, I discovered the Great Big Texas Home Show, being held this weekend in Arlington. Any home and garden show that offers a refund for dissatisfied customers already piques my interest, as does the list of exhibitors. Were it any other weekend, I’d brave the horrors of Cowboys Stadium parking to come out for this and check on exhibitor’s space for smaller vendors.

Unfortunately, this is a bad weekend. To attendees of the show, understand that the vague grinding sound you hear in the back of your head is the sound of my molars doing their best impersonation of the New Madrid Fault in sheer jealousy. I’m being a responsible grown-up, though, and continuing to get ready for the second Triffid Ranch show of the year at All-Con in Addison. It’s now late enough in the season that the flytraps are emerging from dormancy, the Sarracenia are starting to bloom, and we’re reasonably assured that we won’t see any more freezing weather until next December in North Texas. Hence, it’s time to party. Come on out and watch me regale the younger attendees with tales of what science fiction fandom was like in the days before the Internet, and maybe check out the plants, too.

And now for a bit of fun. I’m constantly asked “Why raise carnivorous plants?”, and the long story involves growing up in Michigan with its extensive mosquito and horsefly herds. You’ve heard the old tale of how Arctic mosquitoes can drain a person of as much as a pint of blood per hour? Spend some time around Alpena or Manistee, and you’ll realize that this isn’t idle speculation. My paternal grandmother lived up in the woods of Northern Michigan, and I remember her buying Deep Woods Off by the case. Hence, when I was first exposed to Monty Python at the age of 11, I had particular appreciation for the saga of the mighty mosquito hunter:

Well, thanks to our unusually warm and mild winter, our early spring, and several bountiful and extensive rainstorms, the mosquitoes are out about three weeks earlier than usual. I’d even be worried about their being more fruitful than usual, if every last one in the vicinity wasn’t heading straight for my sundews and butterworts. I still note that carnivorous plants will never replace standard pest controls for dealing with insects, but carnivores have one morale advantage over sprays, mosquito dunks, and flyswatters. Namely, you can look over a hale and hearty Cape sundew, leaves covered with trapped mosquitoes and fungus gnats, and make “AAAAAAAAAH! HELP ME! IT’S GOT MY LEGS!” screaming noises as the leaves embrace the bugs for the first and last time. And oh how the situation from my childhood is reversed.

The first Triffid Ranch show of 2012: ConDFW

In previous years, I’ve avoided attempting plant shows before April with good reason. In 2010 and 2011, for instance, we had such foul weather through February and March that I wasn’t worried about the plants freezing on their way to the event. Instead, I was more worried about my frozen corpse, still seat-belted into the van, being found in a drainage ditch halfway there. Last year, we had a solid week of sub-freezing weather in February, which may not sound like much to the denizens of higher latitudes. Out here, though, that’s begging for arriving at a show with a batch of sundews indistinguishable from a batch of frozen spinach.

However, my friend Amie Spengler nuhdzed and nudged at previous shows about ConDFW, a big literary science fiction convention that runs in Dallas in the middle of February, so the Czarina and I decided to take a chance this year. I still had sundews and bladderworts potted up in containers and ready to go from last November’s disastrous Friends of Fair Park show, and we figured “What could it hurt?” The weather coincided with our plans: lots of rain on Saturday, but otherwise exceptional weather both setting up and breaking down on Friday and Sunday. And who knew that carnivorous plants would be so popular among the Texas A&M student volunteers helping out here while preparing for Aggiecon?

Brad at ConDFW

Some folks came by just out of curiosity, or because they’d seen the Triffid Ranch booth at previous shows. Brad, though, came out specifically because he wanted carnivores. He left with a spoonleaf sundew (Drosera spatulata) and a Cape sundew (Drosera capensis) to go with the big grin on his face.

Beth at ConDFW

Beth is a very old friend, with my having first met her back during my science fiction writing days. She had a craving for green in February, too, as can be told.

ConDFW

Another happy sundew adopter.

Tiffany at ConDFW

And then there’s Tiffany from local gaming company Roll2Play. Tiffany’s main hobby at these shows is to gang up with the Czarina and leave me crying in shame and humiliation as they demonstrate that it is possible to kill at 30 paces with a sharp twist of the tongue. Thankfully for my fragile self-esteem, she took a small break from wielding her wit cannon, took pity on my runny nose and puffy eyes (it was from the flu, honest) and snatched up a medusa head (Euphorbia flanaganii) before anybody else got to see it.

Medusa Head at ConDFW

A closer look at that medusa head. It wasn’t just that Tiffany loved the pot. She particularly loved the detritus within it, and threatened to kneecap anyone who messed with it. Time for me to hunt down a few more pots like this, I think.

And now it’s time to get ready for the next show of the season: All-Con 2012 in March. I’m even thinking of joining the costuming festivities after the main dealer’s room hours, with the obvious head explodey that goes with it. I can’t tell if 2012 is going to be a good year for shows, but if it isn’t, it won’t be from a lack of trying.

Things to do in Dallas when you’re dead

A quick note due to various obligations, but let’s just say that the next few weeks promise a reprieve from winter blues if you live in the Dallas area. And if you don’t, what’s stopping you from moving in?

Anyway, the first item of business involves livening up the winter diet, and there’s no better way than with items spicy enough to peel the enamel off your teeth in big floppy strips. This is why we have ZestFest at the Irving Convention Center this weekend. Aside from haranguing the crew at Defcon Sauces for Habby Horse sauce in 55-gallon drums (it just doesn’t last long enough in my house in any smaller container), it’s time to see what new plants and new condiments are due from the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University. Anybody who’d develop the “NuMex Halloween” deserves some additional consideration.

Secondly, the first Triffid Ranch show of the season is scheduled for ConDFW on the weekend of February 17 through the 19th, so of course a show of equal interest runs at the same time. Namely, the big ReptiCon Dallas reptile and amphibian show in Ennis. The only thing I can say is that while ReptiCon Dallas promises venomous reptiles on display, ConDFW has the works of famed palaeoartist William Stout on display. The only wise option, of course, is to come out to both. (We have the same conflict between a show at All-Con the weekend of March 16 and the big Fort Worth Orchid Society sale at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens, so this is par for the course.)

Thirdly, I don’t have any particular details until after 4:00 Central Standard Time on January 26, but I should soon enough for a new event at the Dallas Arboretum. Just don’t let the Czarina know, unless you like hearing her squeal like a little girl. I imagine a lot of other people will do so as well, once they hear the news.

And lastly, it features a new hotel, with much easier access to DFW Airport. A new lineup of guests. A HUGE new dealer’s room. If you don’t get your tickets to Texas Frightmare Weekend, you’re going to miss out, and not just on new Triffid Ranch specials. Carnivorous plants and horror conventions go together like vanilla orchids and cacao, and I just might have a few examples of both this year. Get your hotel space now, or forever hold your peace.

Plans for the new year

Time to change perspectives ever-so-slightly. I know that you’re currently caught in the horrible Mad Max/Dawn of the Dead mashup known as “the shopping season.” Most friends in the Northern Hemisphere already want to shiv me for mentioning that we Texans have only three more months to wait before we can plant tomatoes and peppers outside without fear of frost. Friends in the Southern Hemisphere are too busy screaming about the air they breathe bursting into flame to care. Either way, we need to talk about plans for next year.

I know, I know. It’s not even the winter solstice yet, and already that lunatic at the Triffid Ranch is talking about plans for 2012. Be thankful for this, kids, because I could do something really bloggy and pathetic, such as put up multiple pictures of my cats. Go ahead and ask “How many times did I knock up your little brother to make you do that?”, because you’ll be crying it before I’m done. If you’re really obnoxious, I’ll make you read through the archives first.

To start, January in Texas isn’t as mindnumbingly awful as it could be. We rarely get snow, and we even rarely go below freezing for most of the month. The one absolute of the month is that everything goes brown. Brown trees, brown grass, brown skies, brown note. Actually, things are so brown that you pray for a good sustained brown note, just to keep from boring yourself to death. Combine that with weekend entertainment options that usually circle Dallas Cowboys games…yeah, a lot of particularly earthy (and therefore brown to brownish) words get used to describe January out here.

That’s why you need a good dose of color. Thankfully for us all, that hits the weekend of January 27, when ZestFest 2012 starts up at the Irving Convention Center. When I first moved to North Texas in the tail-end of the Seventies, the only two tourist attractions in Irving were Texas Stadium and the Frito-Lay plant on the southeast side of the city, but That Changed with one of the largest conglomerations of spicy foods in the US. Prefer real flavor over heat? Not an issue. Want spicy combinations that shouldn’t exist on this planet? Yep. Enjoy the spectacle of grown adults eating items that peel the enamel off their teeth in big floppy strips? ZestFest is even better than the State Fair of Texas. The Triffid Ranch won’t have a booth out there, but we will be there to stock up, especially on DefCon Sauces‘s next atrocities.

Three weeks later, it’s time for the reptile and amphibian enthusiasts to have their fun. The North American Reptile Breeders Conference swings around to Arlington on the weekend of February 11, with its seemingly infinite range of animals, habitats, and food items. Again, the Triffid Ranch won’t have a presence this year (although that will probably change in 2013), but don’t use that as an excuse not to attend. The best part? This year’s show is just before Valentine’s Day, and considering how I do my best to treat the Czarina with orchids, maybe she might reciprocate with a true display of her love.

A week after this, the show season starts, and this year it’s starting with ConDFW XI in Dallas. The flytraps and Sarracenia should still be in proper winter dormancy for another month, so it’s time to focus on tropical pitcher plants, sundews, and triggerplants and arrangements containing same. This is a new show for the Czarina and myself, and another opportunity to prove that February isn’t anywhere near as brown as January.

Starting March 16, the theme is “End of the World”. You could see firsthand what happens when you give MBAs and coke spoons to chimpanzees, or you could hit up All-Con 2012. After all, it’s not a real end-of-the-world celebration without triffids, and All-Con should have a much lower quotient of fratboy vomit.

Finally, spring should be a celebration of renewal and rebirth. Ladybugs devouring aphids on rose bushes. Tomato hornworms infested with exoparasitic wasps, or dragged off and buried in underground warrens by other wasps. Robin and mockingbird hatchlings demonstrating their dinosaurian heritage. That’s why I’m passing on word now that the original 750 rooms for this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend at DFW Airport are already booked, and the hotel just opened up another 750. Considering the crowd and the venue, is it bad form to state “We have such sights to show you,” or is that just an appropriate promise for those seeking exotic flora?

Finally, you’d think I’d learn after last spring’s fiasco, but the gardening writing bug implanted eggs in my viscera, and they’re currently trying to burrow out to pupate. I make no promises as to final outcome, but I’ve already volunteered my services at the new online magazine Carpe Nocturne. We shall see. Considering how badly I miss the long-dead goth magazine Carpe Noctem, I have hopes for additional bits of fun involving Texas Frightmare Weekend this year.

Upcoming shows

Certain friends know me originally from my days writing essays and articles for various science fiction magazines in the Eighties and Nineties. (Don’t worry about which ones: without fail, they had all of the impact and influence of the CueCat and Microsoft Bob, and half the mockery value.) They also know that I quit in rather spectacular fashion in 2002, and aside from a couple of relapses (which were, without fail, catastrophic), I haven’t been back since then. These are the ones who sidle up to me and ask “So, Paul, if you state quite openly that you’d sooner get a hot Clorox enema than have anything to do with science fiction, then why do you do so many plant shows at science fiction conventions?” This is most often voiced by my best friend, who has been playing Adrian Edmondson to my Rik Mayall for going on a third of a century.

Well, I have several reasons. The first is that I still have a lot of friends in the business, and I’ve learned from experience that they can be in town but it’s almost physically impossible to get them to leave the convention hotel. The second is that many of these friends have kids (and, increasingly, grandkids), which gives me all sorts of opportunities to pass on horrible stories. “You know how your mom says she hopes you have a kid who’s just like you? Oh, trust me: I have tales that will curl your nose hair.” The biggest one, though, is that convention attendees and their family and assorted cohorts are a seriously underappreciated horticulture market. For the most part, their childhood memories of gardening consisted, as did mine, of having to do the zut work of weeding and cleaning in the garden without any opportunity to see a return. They don’t hang around garden centers because there’s nothing in it for them, and standard gardening options bore them to tears. However, show them that there’s more to carnivorous plants than the same old Venus flytrap, and they’ll attend regular shows just in the hope of seeing something they didn’t know existed but that they’re willing to buy right there and then.

Because of this, the Triffid Ranch has a regular presence at Dallas conventions, starting the year with All-Con in March and ending the con season with FenCon in September. In the future, the idea is to show off plants at conventions outside the state, but considering the cost of inspection permits to transport plants across state lines, that may be a little while.

Anyway, the first bit of good news is that Texas Frightmare Weekend, a horror convention in Irving, just announced the initial lineup for its 2012 show. Loyd Cryer of Texas Frightmare Weekend has been very supportive of the Triffid Ranch at previous shows, and I try to return the favor as much as possible. The 2012 guest list is still embryonic, so keep an eye on status updates. Since the convention moved to the DFW Hyatt at DFW Airport, thereby allowing an increase in display space, expect to see some surprises in arrangements and in new plants.

The second bit of news is a bit further off. Unlike most conventions, the World Science Fiction Convention moves to a new locale every year, based on bids made by committees and votes from current or previous attendees. As of today, the official winner of the bid for the 2013 WorldCon is Lone Star Con 3, located in San Antonio. Any excuse to go to San Antonio is a good one (it’s not quite as much fun as Fort Worth or Galveston, but at least it isn’t Austin or Lewisville), so I’ve already contacted the convention committee about Triffid Ranch dealer’s room space. Details will follow, but at least we have two years to worry about it.

That’s it for the moment, but should you know of a convention that could stand a hearty selection of carnivorous plants, feel free to let me know.