Tag Archives: contest

Getting Potted

A few months back, some may remember my less than salutory review of the book Terrarium Craft and my complaints about the “put a bird on it” sensibility that still infects terrarium design. In the interim, I’ve been collating ideas on how to drag the concept out of the 1970s, and preparing to present them in something approximating a coherent form.

As usual, talking is okay, but action is better. The Los Angeles store Potted is hosting a terrarium design competition, with the grand prize being a $500 shopping spree. Each Friday starting on October 21, all entries sent to Potted will be voted upon, and the winners of each round will be submitted for a final competition. The final prize may be collected by anybody in the continental US, but I imagine entries don’t have to be limited to that.

Anyway. You know the drill. It’s time to take the word “terrarium” out of that horrible avocado-and-goldenrod kitchen and banish it forever from that famed kidney stone of a decade. I know you lot, and I know you’ll make your Uncle Zonker proud.

Contest: Anyone want a free FenCon three-day pass?

Okay, so FenCon VIII is only 16 days away, and the Triffid Ranch booth in the dealer’s room should be quite full. At least, that’s the idea, and the variety of plants available depends upon whether or not our relative humidity (currently running about 15 percent) ever goes up. When the humidity is this low, the Sarracenia can photosynthesize or they can grow, but they generally can’t do both.

Anyway. One of the issues with holding a plant show at a science fiction convention lies with people either unfamiliar or uninterested in the rest of the festivities. Either potential Triffid Ranch visitors are understandably unsure as to whether they’d have the time or the inclination to get their money’s worth out of a day pass, or they’d prefer to put the money for a badge into plants. At the same time, the crew at FenCon has been very good to the Triffid Ranch crew for the last three years, and I’d like to return the favor and make sure that the convention continues to run for a very long time. (I’ve let loose so many mea culpas over my initial suspicions about the viability of the convention that I went hoarse in 2008, and I’m very glad to see it finishing up its first decade.)

So here’s the deal. I currently have one three-day regular membership at FenCon VIII, a $40 value, reserved for one lucky individual. In order to sweeten the pot, four other participants will win Joey Boxes. All you need to do is:

  • Numero Uno: Come up with a plausible story as to why you could best use this membership. You’ve never been to a convention in your life, but would be willing to give it a shot. You’re normally a regular, but finances got in the way. You’re going to be in Dallas that weekend anyway, and you want to do something more entertaining than wandering around Dealey Plaza all Saturday. You’ve been wanting to see carnivorous plants for your entire life, and your head will explode if you can’t see a Nepenthes for yourself. You don’t believe the stories about the Czarina’s elbows, and want to witness them sliding from their sheathes and drooling venom on the carpet all for yourself. If you don’t have a plausible story, lie, but be entertaining about it.
  • Numero Two-o: No matter the story, get it under 500 words.
  • Numero Three-o: Send it in to contest @ txtriffidranch dot com before midnight on September 12, 2011.
  • Numero Four-o: Before sending it in, include a name and contact address, so that a custom admission badge will be ready for you at the convention.

In return, here are the restrictions:

  • Only one entry per person and/or E-mail address. If you want to stuff the box, knock yourself out, but you’re going to need more than one story.
  • This membership may not be exchanged for cash or for any other item in the Triffid Ranch inventory. The membership is non-transferrable, except at the sole discretion of FenCon management. If you can’t make it to the convention, you have the option of asking for a Joey Box instead, and the membership will be offered to the runner-up.
  • The judges’ decision will be final. One grand prize of one (1) FenCon VIII regular membership and four (4) Joey Box packages will be given during this contest, based on the judges’ decisions.
  • The winner will be responsible for the cost of travel to and from the convention, as well as for accomodations. Any requests or demands for the Texas Triffid Ranch to cover hotel reservations, food, transport, or any other costs, other than any agreed to by both parties in writing, will both be denied and openly and publicly mocked.
  • The Texas Triffid Ranch will not be held liable for any damages or liabilities, including injury or financial loss, incurred by the winner at the convention. In other words, should you do something really, um, interesting, don’t call us for bail money.
  • All entries become the sole property of the Texas Triffid Ranch, and they may be shared on the main Web site or on this blog at any time. In fact, bet on it. (If you don’t want to share your name with the general public, just say so with your entry.)

And so it begins. If you can’t make it, please feel free to pass on word to friends and cohorts. If you can, get in your entry by midnight next Monday morning, and pull your 300-pound Samoan attorney out of storage. For this weekend, you’re going to need him.

No Sleep ’til FenCon

And now that the heat is finally breaking and the air finally smells like something other than burning flint, it’s time to talk about the rest of the year in North Texas. If things go well, they’ll go quiet between now and September 23. On that Friday, the Czarina and I set up shop at FenCon VIII, and we won’t leave until I finish burying the attendees, organizers, and fellow vendors in more information on carnivorous plants than their fragile little minds can handle.

Friends who knew me back during my science fiction writing days, and knew my feelings about conventions during those writing days, regularly question my sanity on showing plants at conventions. I have a lot of good reasons for doing so. Younger convention attendees in particular may have no interest in roses or irises, but they want to know everything they can find about sundews and bladderworts. Not only do the plants bring a much-appreciated touch of green to a dealer’s room, but the only competition I offer to most of the other dealers is in the “rising tides lift all boats” variety. While I have less than no interest whatsoever in returning to writing about science fiction, I still miss friends involved with the genre, and this is a great way to see them while doing business. Most of all, the definition of true joy is watching the face of a seven-year-old who suddenly realizes that most plants in science fiction are unmatched by some of the weirdness in the “mundane” world.

Anyway, FenCon VIII looks as if it is going to be the convention’s best show yet, and the con staff wants to guarantee this. Because it’s offering a last chance at discounted rates and online ordering over the Labor Day weekend, the Texas Triffid Ranch is going to offer a free three-day regular admission pass to a lucky blog reader. Details will follow soon, and feel free to spread the word. Something interesting to do in Dallas in autumn that didn’t involve Red River Rivalry: who’d have thunk it?

Books and Gardens and Stuff: The Lies Our Parents Tell Us About Gardening

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Billy Goodnick, but he’s a Santa Barbara garden designer best known for his Crimes Against Horticulture listings of particularly inappropriate or borderline offensive of trees, shrubs, and other boundary plants. I have a couple of particularly good examples here in Dallas that I need to photograph for him, but that’s not why I’m bringing up the subject.

No, the reason why Billy is, once again, keeping me from mowing the lawn around the Sarracenia area is because he’s running a contest. He recently finished Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott’s new book The Informed Gardener, and offers a free copy to the individual who has the best gardening myth to share. Feel free to head over there and enter, and then come on back.

Got it out of your system? Excellent. I myself had heard some great ones over the years. “Mixing sand into the ‘black gumbo’ clay in Dallas will soften it up.” (No, that’s a great way to make concrete, especially in summer.) “If you grow watermelons and carrots too close together, the watermelons will taste like carrots.” (That’s merely a great myth to explain why your watermelon cultivar was affected by viruses or simply bad growing conditions.) “Using charcoal grille ashes on your garden will kill your plants because of the lighter fluid fumes.” (Charcoal grille ashes will kill your plants because the highly alkaline and mineralized ash will burn the roots, not any long-volatilized or long-combusted lighter fluid fumes.) Oh, and “Watermelon seeds are poisonous if swallowed.” (Watermelon seeds used to be highly prized as a snack when roasted, and they were extremely popular in the Southern US around the turn of the last century. I have yet to track down exactly why this story popped up, but I suspect it had everything to do with the assumption after World War II that roasted watermelon seeds qualified as “poor food”.)

Now, these and others may be annoying, or potentially destructive, but they’re not dangerous per se. I have one, though, that had a fair chance of being lethal. Worse, it came from a professional who should have known better.

25 years ago next Tuesday, I first started work as a groundskeeper for a Texas Instruments facility north of Dallas. Technically, I was in charge of two of them, and I’d spend four days a week mowing and trimming the two acres of space on one site and then spending a day on the other. Back then, the big sites were named for the town in which they were located (Lewisville, McKinney, Lubbock), or for the road on which they were located (Forest Lane, Lemmon Avenue, Central Expressway) if they were within the immediate Dallas area proper. My main horticultural evil laboratory was at the old Trinity Mills site off Interstate 35 in Carrollton, and the smaller one was in the middle of an older industrial park space on Surveyor Road at the edge of Addison. Trinity Mills was a fabrication facility for TI’s Defensive and Strategic Electronics Group (DSEG), and Surveyor was a general supply warehouse for Trinity Mills and most of the other TI plants and offices in the area. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Since Surveyor Road was so much smaller than Trinity Mills, basic maintenance could be done over the whole area within a day. Basic mowing, kipple pickup off the parking lots, edging, and whatever else needed to be done right away. The problem was that there was just enough time to do the basics, but not enough for larger projects. For instance, we had a big pile of sand in the back of one parking lot for the eventuality of the lot being frozen over in an icestorm, and I had time budgeted to trim back the Bermuda grass attempting to claim its summit. However, there wasn’t enough time to move that huge pile, one wheelbarrow at a time, to a place where the Bermuda grass and other weeds weren’t an issue. Well, technically, I had the time, but it wasn’t seen as a priority to the four layers of management above me who wanted to make sure my TPS reports had cover pages on them.

One day, that changed. My boss’s boss noted that a big linden tree out in front of Surveyor was looking a bit shaggy, and he squeaked a bit about peasants and livestock. My boss interpreted that as a directive to clean up the tree, so he sent me out with a pruning bill, a pair of hedge clippers, and a warning “Don’t get too carried away. That tree is concealing a big transformer for the building, and I don’t want anybody to notice it.”

Well, “don’t get too carried away” still meant removing nearly a ton of dead or bedraggled branches, and I went into the job with all the enthusiasm a 20-year-old being allowed to play outside on a weekday can muster. No, scratch that. It was with all the enthusiasm a 20-year-old being allowed to play outside on a weekday, with implements of destruction, can muster. If I’d been any happier, I would have vibrated all of my molecules into a new quantum state. I chopped and lugged, and sawed and buzzed, and hauled for a while when the pile filled an entire parking space, and generally made me feel incredibly sorry for the people inside who were stuck in their cubicles all day. (Well, almost. Many of them were also the same people who’d dump their car ashtrays onto the parking lot, shove all of the accumulated garbage in their cars out a door, and then tell me “I’m just giving you job security.”)

At this point, I’d been going to town for about four hours, and I was starting to slow down due to the summer heat. Right then, I felt a sharp pain on the inside of my elbow, and then a very unpleasant tingling. As I watched, I got a lovely welt that kept growing as I watched, and the tingling started spreading up my arm.

To this day, I don’t know what critter tagged me, but I could tell that it wasn’t a honeybee. When honeybees sting humans and other large animals, the barbed sting remains trapped in the wound, exuding venom from a very ingenious pump system attached to the venom gland. The bee usually pulls free, tearing this apparatus away from the bee’s body and leaving it to continue shuttling venom below the skin. This is why, by the way, you should never pull a bee sting with your thumb and fingers: that action squeezes even more venom into the site. The best option is to use the flat of a knife, sharp or butter doesn’t matter, to scrape the sting away. In my case, no venom gland and no attached sting, but something got me. And since I’m very sensitive to beestings, this meant seeking medical advice right away.

I managed to get into the building before my right arm went completely numb, and I managed to explain the situation to both my immediate supervisor on the site and the very surprised security guard at the front door. Notice of envemomation, symptoms, and possible courses of action. Both of them figured that getting me to a hospital or care clinic was my only option, but my supervisor realized that according to TI policy, he’d have to get advice from a medical officer before letting me go see a real doctor.

At that time, each larger TI facility had an on-duty nurse for first aid issues, and Surveyor deferred to Trinity Mills’s nurse. The problem was that the nurse in question was, how do I put this, raised in an alternate dimension where medicine and biology ran in a different direction than on Earth. I still remember my jaw hitting my sternum when she told me with authority that mosquitoes didn’t drink blood: they attempted to drink blood plasma, but they died as soon as they bit an individual. Not only did she confirm this when I asked her about this, but when I pointed out that I was pretty sure that female mosquitoes ingested blood to increase the viability of their eggs, I was told this was “liberal propaganda.” Since I was about as low on the company hierarchy as you could go and not give access badges to the bacteria in the septic system, I shut up right then and prayed that I never needed real medical advice from her.

Wouldn’t you know it, this is the one person keeping me from getting to medical care. She insisted upon talking to me, even though my teeth were starting to chatter from the pain of the tingling, asking about symptoms and what I was doing when this happened. I stuttered them out, finishing with “I didn’t see what got me. It could have been a wasp or hornet, or even a spider…”

“Paul, spiders don’t live in trees.”

“I don’t know if it was a spider. I don’t see a puncture, but I can see the welt,” which was now about the size and color of a tomato.


“Okay, whatever. All I can tell was that it’s tearing into me.”

“PAUL. Spiders do NOT live in trees.”

Between the pain and my naive assumption that I was talking with someone nominally classified as sentient, I didn’t realize what she was asking for about another five minutes. She wasn’t going to let me go until I told her “spiders don’t live in trees.” As soon as I admitted that, she finally let me go: two or three steroid injections at the local quack shack later, I was no longer worried about dying of heart failure or seizures, and my boss drove me home himself to make sure I was going to be all right. The whole time, doctors and bosses are chuckling ruefully “Spiders…in TREES? Was she SERIOUS?”

Both of those facilities shut down about three years later, and I have no idea where that nurse went when she was no longer needed. I still hope to this day that she didn’t become an insurance adjuster. She kept insisting that she knew from some grand authority, some hillbilly Professor Lindenbrock or Challenger, that spiders couldn’t live in trees for some reason, and I finally realized she’d have shot herself in the head rather than admit she might have been wrong. I have to admit, though, in my more bitter moments, that I have a fantasy involving someone finding a dessicated coccoon in a live oak tree above her garden, with “DEATH FROM ABOVE” written in the web surrounding it.

Contest: The Saga of the Joey Box Continues

Just as a friendly reminder, the Joey Box contest is still open, and you still have 14 days to enter. Look at it as getting an item in the mail that isn’t accumulations of school supplies.

Contest: The Saga of the Joey Box

The addiction started half my life ago, when I was a beginning film critic for a long-forgotten science fiction magazine at the end of the Eighties. I started up a friendship with one Joey Shea, better known as “Joey Zone,” a fellow contributor and general troublemaker, and he and his lovely wife Cheryl LeBeau rapidly became People To Talk To. Shortly after we first made our acquaintance, I received a big package from Joey. It was full of band fliers, old horror magazines, toys, and other New England exotica, with a little note reading “The best thing about moving is that you can give away crap and people think you’re such a generous bastard.” I still have that note in my files somewhere, along with most of the items in that big envelope. I promptly put together a comparable box of Dallas ephemera and dropped it off in the mail.

Unbeknownst to me, I’d received my first Joey Box. I’d also sent my first one, and the tradition stuck.

I don’t want to get into a “when I was your age” tirade, but there was a weird fire to the world during the zine period between 1984 and 1999. Any number of people discovered that publishing their own magazines was a lot easier than they’d been led to believe, and they further discovered that a market existed for their publications. The end result was a lot of bush-league rivalries, drama, tears, screaming, and attempted homicide. It was a wonderful time to be alive, especially when you’d meet people via one zine or another and they’d send you a huge box of stuff in the hopes of convincing you their home town was the best in the world. You’d then reciprocate with a huge box, and your friends and their friends would fight like Romero zombies over who got the best stuff left over.

Now, Joey and Cheryl are up in Connecticut, so they had access to club schedules, movie promos, and demo tapes from all over New England. I couldn’t match the variety, but I could match the volume. Dallas was a great place at that time for all sorts of promo materials, and the Joey Boxes only got bigger once I started working for a local weekly called The Met in 1994. By 2000, they were getting a bit ridiculous, as one had to be split into three separate boxes because the one was too heavy for UPS. I kept waiting for the notice that Joey had broken both of his femurs trying to pick up the latest box, or that Cheryl would call in tears because Joey was dead from zine poisoning.

In recent years, I’ve had to cut back on the size of Joey Boxes, mostly because so much promo material is online instead. Nobody puts three weeks of effort into a band poster any more when they can just start up a new page on Facebook. It’s the same situation with Joey, and not just because he quit zine illustration for a library science degree a few years back. We still keep up the tradition, though, and we try our best to keep it going.

So now it’s time to expand the Joey Box concept. I can’t guarantee you’ll need a forklift to get it inside the house, but it should make things interesting.

So here’s the contest. I have five separate packages awaiting the winners. Each one contains Triffid Ranch stickers and buttons. Each one also contains at least one issue of Gothic Beauty magazine, containing my gardening column, or the May 2011 issue of Reptiles with my article on carnivorous plants in herp vivaria. Each one will contain a gardening book out of my collection (I’m phasing out the book selection I used to carry at Triffid Ranch shows, so this is your gain). Other than that, each one will be different in its contents. Best of all, all are sealed up beforehand and selected randomly, so I won’t know which one is going where.

Now here’s your shot. Send an old-fashioned postcard or envelope to the contact address for the Triffid Ranch, with your name and mailing address. Out of the postcards received by July 30, 2011, five participants will each receive a randomly selected Joey Box. This is open to everyone on the planet, so don’t worry about not being able to play because you don’t live in the States. (In fact, I’m reserving an additional Joey Box for the person with the most interesting mailing address, so if you know someone at an Antarctic research base, send the addy.) Many may enter, and all will receive Triffid Ranch buttons and stickers for their efforts. And for those worried about their addresses used for spurious purposes, here’s the privacy policy.

As always, feel free to pass this on to friends and neighbors. Half of the fun of something like this is the sharing.

EDIT: For those on Facebook, you have the option of another contest entirely for a Joey Box via the Triffid Ranch page. Look at it as Christmas in July, with Jack Skellington driving the sleigh.