Tag Archives: Czarina

Reminder: December Midtown ArtWalk

Just as a friendly reminder, the December Midtown ArtWalk is scheduled for the 19th, and we have reason to celebrate. The soft opening for the Triffid Ranch space occurred right between the Czarina’s and my birthdays, so we brought out separate birthday cakes that pretty much summed up our relationship. Yeah, it’s that bad.

opening_cakes_1opening_cakes_3

opening_cakes_2

Anyway, this month’s ArtWalk is special for one particular reason: at the end of the month, we celebrate 13 years of wedded bliss, so it’s time for a party. You can imagine my disappointment at discovering that the theme for a thirteenth anniversary isn’t tacos, so this is one tradition that changes on December 19. Come out for the carnivorous plants and the jewelry, and stay to place bets on whether we’ll survive to see 14.

Twelve years of marriage…

As of this evening, the Czarina and I celebrate a full 12 years of marriage: a full quarter of my life. Naturally, that’s absolutely no way that I could possibly make her shake her head in dismay and horror, and so in tribute to the great Dave Brockie, I believe this should be played at our fiftieth wedding anniversary:

Introducing Ipomoea batatas

Sweet potato vines

Although she rarely has any involvement with actual growing facilities at the Triffid Ranch, the Czarina asked for an exception this year. While my dislike of sweet potatoes isn’t on a par with that of butternut squash or bell peppers, planting them for my own use never really came up on the radar. However, she adores them, and she regularly shares roasted sweet potatoes with our cat Leiber. Yes, the cat loves sweet potatoes, and since his consumption seems to cut down on piles of cat vomit randomly encountered in the dark, that’s a reason alone to try my hand at growing my own.

The reality is that half of the fun of experiencing a new plant is not knowing anything about its initial growth, and watching the whole process. The other half is having a growing area that was criminally underutilized. Since the big silverleaf maples came down two years ago, this space had little to no shade during the worst of the summer heat, and the usual assemblage of tomatoes, white potatoes, or other essentials burned off by mid-June. When the Czarina gave me a stored sweet potato that had started sprouting and asked if I could plant it in the space, I told her “I’ll do what I can, but I can’t make any promises.” I knew they could handle Texas heat, but could they handle our ridiculously low North Texas humidity?

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. The growing area had become the depository of nearly five years of kitchen compost, dead Sarracenia and Nepenthes leaves, extra potting mix from repottings, and the occasional bag of grass cuttings dumped on top to keep things moist. Five years of earthworms, ox beetle grubs, and the occasional armadillo later, and the soil in that depository had become a fluffy, rich loam, absolutely perfect for both growing and harvesting any root crops growing in it. Harvesting wasn’t a matter of digging out as it was simply brushing off dirt and hauling it in.

Sweet potato flower
But I get ahead of myself. Much like the sweet potato cousin the moonflower (Ipomoea alba), the biggest issue with sweet potatoes is getting them established. I suspect both species work in symbiosis with fungi in a commensual relationship, because the first year of trying to get either to grow is a bear, but after that first year, the seeds or tubers practically sprout the moment they touch the ground. I don’t know if I actually got any sweet potato seeds in the growing area this year, but judging by the number of stunning flowers growing under the foliage, I may luck out. Unlike other members of the genus Ipomoea, these flowers remain hidden under multiple layers of foliage, and I suspect that they fluoresce extensively under UV light, possibly encouraging night pollinators.

Sweet potato foliage

About that foliage, that’s one thing about sweet potatoes. It’s not shy about taking over the planet. By the beginning of August, mowing the lawn around the greenhouse was a proposition, as the sweet potato vines spreading outward tend to wrap around and tangle up lawn mower blades. This was about the time we discovered that sweet potato leaves made excellent additions to stir-fry or as a substitute for spinach in various recipes. At that point, the questions was whether the sweet potato would ask for UN citizenship to protect it from the Czarina’s depredations. It actually worked out well, because until Halloween weekend, it was growing new leaves faster than she could strip them out. In the meantime, the vines also offered great shelter for praying mantises and anole lizards, so building a trellis alongside the greenhouse and encouraging sweet potatoes to act as shade plants might be an option.

Sweet potato stems

Sadly, with Halloween came the threat of cold weather, and if there’s one thing that will ruin a sweet potato harvest, it’s the rot spread by dead and dying vines killed off by a good frost. This meant that they had to come out and start curing in a high-humidity area before they went bad. As mentioned before, the soil was so loose that the only hardship was finding the base of the plant. I say this after the vines had swallowed a rain gauge, two sprinkler heads, and a chiminea, but lifting up the mat of intertwined vines finally revealed the crown of the plant, and some quick grubbing around it came across the first of the tubers.

Sweet potato harvest

Having never done this before, I fully expected the usual beginner’s harvest: two or three tubers, and won’t I feel great about my accomplishments? Apparently, though, all of those composted Sarracenia leaves contributed to the tilth, because one removed tuber would reveal another. And another. And another. By the time things were finished, I managed to get nearly 15 kilos of tubers out of that tiny little space, and I still think I missed a few.

Sweet potato harvest

With the soil not consisting solely of Black Prairie clay, cleanup was remarkably easy: a quick wash with the hose, setting them in the sun to dry, and a quick inspection for damage or rot. Both the wife and the cat were even more impressed by the harvest: Leiber has never had interest in raw sweet potatoes before, but he looked half-tempted to take a chunk right then and there.

Monster sweet potato

Another thing about this adventure is the realization that what we think of as “typical” sweet potato sizes are more dictated by market pressures than by any plant-imposed maximum. The first few dug up were “typical” in size, and then this one revealed itself. I now understand the source of canned sweet potatoes, as this one was too big just to cook up and eat, so it became the core of several batches of sweet potato bread. I had no real interest, but judging by the way friends were tearing into it, it was that much more for everybody else.

Sontaran head

Finally, we got this beast, nearly the size of a soccer ball. Upon seeing pictures of this one roasting in a casserole dish, after FIVE HOURS of roasting to get it cooked all the way through, old friend Cat Sparks exclaimed “That’s not a sweet potato! That’s a Sontaran‘s head!!” I couldn’t disagee, and if I can get more spherical ones such as this, I may have a viable replacement for pumpkins for Jack O’Lanterns that can grow in our heat. But first, I’m training the next batch to climb up trellises, grow up onto the roof, and shade the garage. I have my priorities in order.

EDIT: Since people started asking about the sweet potato bread recipe, here’s the Czarina’s own recipe, in her own words:
So, I’m giving you the recipe for sweet potato bread. However, be warned. I’m renaming it ‘crack bread’. You have no idea how addictive this bread is. On one side, it is low in carbs, and does have some protein, but it’s not calorie-free.
You’ve been warned.

Sweet Potato bread-

2 cups of brown sugar
1 cup of white sugar
3 eggs
2 cups of cold mashed sweet potatoes
1 tsp of vanilla extract
2 3/4 all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 (or less) tsp of salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup of chocolate chips, dark chocolate preferably.

Now this mixture will get Thick, so I’d pull out the mixer. I nearly killed my little handheld mixer.
In a bowl, combine sugar, eggs, sweet potatoes, and vanilla. mix well.
add all the spices, mix well.
combine flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder, and mix in gradually into your sweet potato mixture. Lastly, add chocolate chips, or if you prefer, a cup of pecans.

Bake at 350, for about 45-50 minutes, testing to see if a toothpick will pull out cleanly at the center of the bread. Time may vary on oven. One mixture equals about three smaller loaves for me.

Now don’t say I didn’t warn you.

“Let’s go dark, and see what we find…”

Winter moon

It’s my firm belief that almost any holiday can be improved by adding a touch of Halloween to it. Christmas? Already been done, to great effect. Easter? Well, the man did say “This is my body: take of it and eat.” Arbor Day? That’s any given day in the Triffid Ranch greenhouse. There are limits: Veteran’s Day in the US and ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand. However, the ones generally labeled “overly commercial” can be amped up quite a bit by adding a touch of darkness at the right time, under the right circumstances.

One of the best in that category is St. Valentine’s Day, and not just because of roses and chocolate. Go out tonight and stare up into that absolutely magnificent full moon starting to rise this evening, and just tell me that you don’t have the urge to take after one of the most famed unorthodox yet incredibly devoted couples in movie and television history:

(Well, okay, so our relationship is a bit closer to this, but that can’t be helped.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to pick up the Czarina and take her out to dinner. That full moon isn’t the only sight of uncommon beauty around here.

Cat Monday, the Explanation

Cadigan/Leiber/Steadman books

Every once in a while, people come across this silly little blog or actually come to the house and visit, and they ask about the cats. Well, they don’t ask about the cats per se, but they ask about the names. Everyone knows that cat people have a thing about odd names, but people who know me know that I have a thing for reasonably obscure ones, too. This is a deliberate effort to confuse visitors, so they don’t stick around long enough to discover that I don’t name the plants. Believe it or not, it works remarkably well. The only problem is that they continue to ask about the cats, wondering “Why would you choose those names?” When they realize that I used to be a professional writer before I came to my senses, they simply smile and nod, instead of screaming and running for the door. Not that I mind their screaming and running, but the Czarina has issues with this when her parents come over: they have enough of a problem with the life-sized Nanotyrannus head hanging over the toilet in the spare bathroom.

As it turns out, a run on a used bookstore week before last dredged up some beauties, giving me the opportunity to illustrate the examples. Well, that and torment the increasingly more sporadic visitors when they come by.

In the case of Cadigan, she actually had things pretty easy. Her story actually starts twenty years before she was born, when a then-girlfriend came up and told me “You HAVE to read this book.” At the time, I got a lot of that, and was already starting to blanch over the word “cyberpunk” being thrown around about it. At the time, the word was less a description of a certain subgenre of science fiction involving situations where technology outstrips ethics and becoming more of a marketing catchphrase, like “steampunk” today. Worse, by 1992, the subgenre itself had gone from being more punk to more cyber, attracting both writers and readers with an unhealthy obsession with downloading their personalities into computers and leave the meat behind because, as I wrote later, “they couldn’t get laid in Tijuana with a jockstrap full of $100 bills.” (Yeah, I was a little angry back in the early Nineties.) After trying my best to plow through many of the more recommended books at the time, and realizing that the people who read Bruce Sterling novels do so because they can’t handle the depth of characterization in Microsoft operation manuals, I shuddered and gulped, and took a chance on her recommendation. And that book damaged my fragile little mind.

For those who know Pat Cadigan, you already understand why I named my little orange cat after her. For those who don’t, let’s just say that they both have the same curiosity and general attitude about life. Science fiction enthusiasts talk about how Arthur C. Clarke developed the idea of the geosynchronous communications satellite but failed to patent it, but if Pat had the time back in the early Nineties to file patents on many of the ideas in her novel Synners alone, she’d own half of the planet right now. Bill Gates would be her personal doormat, and Steve Ballmer would dance every time she shot at his feet. Just tell yourself, tell yourself, that you could look into the eyes of a kitten with exactly the same expression that Pat gets when she’s on a roll and not think of naming that kitten after her?

Sadly, Leiber was a mistake, at least as far as naming him was concerned. He also had the glint in his eye as a kitten, encouraging me to name him after the much-missed author Fritz Leiber. (The Czarina’s nickname itself came from Leiber’s famous chess ghost story “Midnight By the Morphy Watch,” included in the pictured collection, because of her intensity in learning how to play chess.) Both the grey fur and the green eyes were regular themes in his novels, so it seemed like a good idea. Something happened, though, while I was living in Tallahassee at the end of 2002, and I came back to find him a bit broken. He’s a sweet cat, and enjoyable in his own way, but to call him “dopy” is to be nice. I once had a dog that was smarter than Leiber is, and this was a dog who regularly walked into sliding-glass doors. Combine this with his incessant one-note chirping, over and over and OVER all night long, and I’ve threatened on more than one occasion to rename him “Doctorow”. In that situation, the name might fit, because if this cat could speak English, all he could manage would be “Humperdidoo!”

And the third book? Well, we’ve run out of cats, but this one had particular significance back around 1997 when it came out. Not only did I have a ginger cat named “Jones” at the time, but I also had a savannah monitor at the time named “Steadman”. When friends would ask for that story, and they learned very rapidly not to ask again, for anything, I just told them the tale of the baby lizard I brought home for my birthday in 1997. The hatchling lizard that went into a large cage, loosened his bowels for maximum effect, and very promptly managed to make the inside resemble a Ralph Steadman painting. That was the day, after removing him from said cage and having to climb inside to clean the filth he’d managed to spatter on the ceiling, that I first coined the phrase “a stench that could burn the nose hairs out of a dead nun,” and he rarely disappointed me in new opportunities to use it. Most savannah monitors tend toward personalities that blend David Bowie and Sid Vicious, but Steadman was pure G.G. Allin. In that case, he was the perfect personification of my writing career at that time.

That about sums it up at the time, although the Czarina makes vague noises about another cat, and I’ve made my choice of next pet very plain. With the next cat, the deal is that s/he who pays the adoption fee gets to name the beast, so I suspect she’s saving her pennies in anticipation.

Chinese Lantern Festival 2013 Dinosaurs – 5

Chinese Lantern Festival - Dinosaurs

Chinese Lantern Festival dinosaurs

For some reason, the Chinese Lantern Festival has three animatronic dinosaurs alongside the lantern ones, all out roaring and waving at passersby. Not that I’m complaining, because any festival is a good excuse for more robot dinosaurs.

Chinese Lantern Festival dinosaurs

Among other sights, I found this hottie standing by the back door of the old Dallas Museum of Natural History, posing alongside the big mammoth skull still in the old space. I know this was my wedding anniversary, but I took her home anyway: how many second chances would a guy get with someone this wonderful?

Czarina

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.

Personal interlude: the Czarina’s first encounter

Deep Ellum on a Saturday night

For those outside of Dallas, the photo above is of a parking lot on Elm Street in Dallas, in the famed Deep Ellum area. Just about half my life ago, it was just an empty field, with scattered patches of hardened mud mixed with the weeds. In September 1990, I met the Czarina in that field for the first time, although we didn’t know it at the time. I was there with my then-girlfriend after buying a new pair of motorcycle boots from a shop across the street, investigating a cluster of small vendors selling T-shirts and jewelry in the middle of the field. All I knew was this cute girl was selling handmade necklaces and rings from inside a guitar case, and if I’d known then that I’d marry her a full cycle of the Chinese calendar later, things would have been VERY different.

Anyway, the Czarina’s birthday is next week, so even if you don’t know her, wish her a happy birthday anyway. This year, I need to come up with something to top that initial bout of kismet, and that may be a bit tough.

Tales From The Ranch: May 2013

Lookout Point

When most couples finally get a spare weekend free, they have all sorts of options. They could decide to spend more time with their kids, roughly about the time the kids are finishing up college and asking their parents “Mind if I move me and my English Lit degree back to my old room while I try to get a job with the local Borders store?” Others, with much younger children, have a relaxing time, hoping that nobody notices the recent Google searches on their computers for “recipes for laudanum”. In our case, our only children either mew or capture wayward insects, so holiday weekends belong to the Czarina’s family. Yep, it’s time for a new assemblage of “Tales From The Ranch” photos, including even more natural history and Texas history than before.

Quarry Face

Those stories are due over the next few weeks, but let’s start with the biggest news. The Czarina made a really impressive fossil discovery while we were wandering along the bottom of what was a limestone quarry in the mid-Seventies. As is her wont, she looked down, chirped “I wonder what that is?”, and promptly started attacking it with sharp implements. Fond memories of our wedding night. A few minutes of chipping through limestone shards and thick mud revealed this little surprise:

Calvinosaurus egg

Okay, we know that the stone of the quarry itself dates to the Pennsylvanian subperiod, but with various workings from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic. There’s always the possibility as well that this may have been introduced by Palaeoindians from another location and left in what is now the quarry. When we excavated it, I wasn’t going to get overly excited until we had the chance to look at the other side and view any markings on a surface that hadn’t seen sunlight in over a quarter-billion years.

Calvinosaurus egg 2

The markings confirm it: it’s a Calvinosaurus egg, and it’s probably still viable. Just wait until the guys at the Arlington Archosaur Site get a look at this! Better yet, is there any chance of officially describing Calvinosaurus czarina before it goes on a madcap rampage through downtown Dallas?

Texas: The Original Deathworld

My friend Dave Hutchinson in the UK and I have an ongoing challenge. He asks me for reasons why he should come to Texas for a visit, and I immediately respond with the most horrifying thing I can find. Giant spiders, baby birds that eat other baby birds, photos of my state legislators. He then screams like a wounded rabbit, tells me that Texas is nothing but a nightmare manufactured in a factory run by asylum inmates and powered with psilocybin mushrooms, and I show him something even worse. I then inform him “the inmates went catatonic ten years ago, and so now the whole place runs off ketamine fumes.” Trust me: he’s not hiding behind his sofa just because of the Daleks.

On easygoing days, I just tell Dave about mesquite thorns and the time an armadillo jumped up and nearly knocked out my front teeth. Other days, I describe the joys of second-degree sunburn and fire ant stings. A few asides about watching cicada killer wasps collecting fresh hosts for their young, and he’s glibbering and meeping. It’s on special days, though, that I tell him about the weather. He knows the normal progression of Texas summer from “hot” to “my eyeballs are melting” to “my guts are steam-broiling just looking at the thermometer”, but he doesn’t believe me about the torrential thunderstorms we get.

Not that I blame him for the concern. When the forecast in the UK is for torrential rain, that presupposes all of two inches over the space of, oh, a couple of days. In severe storms, that two inches may come down in the space of hours. When I told him about how an average storm in Dallas might give us two inches of rain within about twenty minutes, there we went underneath the couch again. Were I closer, his left leg would be a full six inches longer than his right, just from my grabbing him by the ankle and pulling him out from underneath the couch to show him the baseball-sized hail we occasionally get. He still doesn’t believe my story about how I got the Harry Potter scar on my forehead from a full sheet of plywood caught in the winds of a dust storm thirty years ago.

“Dust storm?”, he’d squeak. “What were you doing: riding sandworms or something?”

“Nope: feeding pigs. Same thing around here, really.”

Baaaaaaaack under the sofa. I think the Daleks are under there, too.

What’s really sad about this is that I used to get the Czarina into the same state. After a decade of threatening to adopt crocodile monitors and having to explain to her mother the other meaning of the term “fluffer”, nothing fazes her any more. Nothing. I’ve tried to get a response out of the Elbows of Doom, but anything that might get them to slide of their sheathes and drool venom on the floor is something that’s already so dangerous and insane that the Elbows might be a blessing. We’re talking “going to a science fiction convention and telling everyone around that Firefly has to be one of the worst genre television shows made this side of Lexx” dangerous. I’ve tried that, too, and she just pats me on the head.

I know this won’t last, though. The moment I start insulting Project Runway, I’m doomed.

Well, that’s what I thought. And then Dallas caught the tail-end of the second big storm front of the week. Based understandably on events in Oklahoma the day before, we were all bracing for the worst, or at least a repeat of March 2012’s tornado nightmare. This time, no tornado, no hail, no boom. No boom tomorrow, either. Instead, we got blinding rain, the sort where you have to hold your hand over your mouth when moving in it to keep from suffocating. Naturally, it’s during the height of it that the Czarina calls up to ask if I need a ride home from the Day Job.

“Not at all. In fact, I’m planning to bicycle home.”

“Okay, whatever you say. No starlets, now.”

Dave couldn’t believe this. He simply refused to accept that I’d be crazy enough to do this. That’s when I upped the ante and told him “I just bet her $5 that I could make it home without being hit by lightning. $10 if I held a golf club over my head the whole way.”

“$10? You value your life so little that you’d do something like that for $10?”

“Well, if I bet anything more than that, she’d figure I was cheating. If I get hit by lightning, she inherits everything, and she knows I’m worth a total of $11.32, if she wants to take the time to cash in those deposit Dr. Pepper bottles.”

“That’s horrible!”

“Absolutely. If she hangs onto the Dr. Pepper bottles for another 30 years, they may be worth more as collectibles than for their deposit.”

And there goes Dave back under the couch, and he’s got the Cybermen and Sontarans under there with him. Should I tell him about our hailstorms, or just invite him out in September to see one for himself? And should I cover the floor with blankets so he doesn’t stain the carpet under our couch?

It Came From The NARBC: Varanus salvadorii

One of the things that keeps my marriage to the Czarina so fresh and exciting is that she doesn’t know what will happen next. I’m literal in this: she doesn’t know, and she’s usually scared to death to find out. Take a look at this situation: she leaves me to my own devices on a Saturday morning, and I make a beeline for the big NARBC Arlington reptile show. As soon as I get there, I run into old friends who came out to observe the wildlife (reptilian and human), and one let me know “By the way, did you know about what’s around the corner?” He points around the corner, and there it is:
Crocodile monitor

Yes, at the show was one of my favorite reptiles: Varanus salvadorii, the crocodile monitor. Even better, for a species notorious for its aggression and savage intelligence, here was one that was pretty much dog-tame. Of course, he’s still small: believe it or not, he’s only about half the size of a fully-grown adult.

Crocodile monitor profile

In previous years, I would have been able to sneak something like this home and surprise the Czarina, probably with it curled up like a big scaly cat at the foot of the bed. However, modern technology has its advantages, so I let her know my plans. Via Facebook, of course, so all of our friends could get a comfy seat and pop an extra-large batch of popcorn. If I played my cards right, people would ask about the blood tornado spotted just east of downtown Dallas.

Crocodile monitor 2

The reason why this beauty was available was that its owner was incredibly fond of him, but an exciting business opportunity required selling him for capital. I understand, and did some calculations. The best thing about having a rainy day fund? It’s raining somewhere.

Big scaly kitten

To make matters better, this gentleman was selling two crocodile monitors, both of which with the same mellow disposition. I immediately had to let the Czarina know: “They’re a breeding pair. We could have HATCHLINGS.” Her immediate response: “NO, WE COULDN’T.” That didn’t stop me: I’d already picked names. “G’Kar” and “Na’Toth” worked, but then a friend suggested that “Paul and Caroline” would work, too. After all, these lizards were just like us: they alternated between cuddling and her demonstrating her superiority by gnawing on his head. (Apparently, crocodile monitors don’t have much in the way of Elbows, so teeth had to do.)

Crocodile monitor pair

Now, this big one was friendly, but see the one in the back? I was warned by her owners that this beast had the personality for which crocodile monitors are known throughout the world. That look says “Oh, I’m going to kill you, Sheriff, but I’m gonna kill you slow.”

Crocodile monitor portrait
The worst part is that I can’t understand why the Czarina has such an issue with keeping one in the house. All she did was yell and froth about “the damn lizard will eat the cats”. I really don’t understand. How could she possibly say “no” to such a cute widdle face?

Yet more “I Would If I Could” moments

The mantra “If I could be in sixteen places at once” becomes particularly forceful these days. Well, I wouldn’t say “forceful” so much as “whiny”. At this point, the Czarina no longer tries to wake me up when I start crying bitterly in my sleep. Instead, she just acts the way she does when she dreams that I’ve done something wrong: one punch to the throat, and the sounds of my choking on my own blood eases her back to slumber. These days, she gets so much practice that she could take down Mike Tyson with one shot.

The reason why I’m whimpering and sobbing when I should be dreaming of repotting Sarracenia? Let me count the ways. Among other things, discovering that the Australasian Carnivorous Plant Society is hosting a carnivorous plant show at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden in Mount Tomah, New South Wales next month…yeah, I heard that catch in your throat.

Oh, but it gets even worse. I’ve wanted to hit the Philadelphia Flower Show for a while, and discovering that it’s running on the same two weekends as the ACPS show is rough enough. Discovering that it’s paying tribute to the centenary of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show by going with a British theme is worse. Of course, being the wiseacre that I am, I’m wondering how far they’re going to go with the theme, or if some enterprising individual starts offering distinctive potting sheds for sale.

Ah well: at least I won’t be there, blatantly plagiarizing valid commentary on British gardening television. We should all be thankful for small miracles.

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

I’m starting to worry about the Czarina. Something’s wrong with her. For the last few days, she’s been oddly…agreeable. Since I, like Bill Cosby’s kids, cannot sleep through the night unless I’ve had a good beating, a few suggestions on garden ornamentation are usually enough to guarantee that I’m completely unconscious for twelve hours or more at a time. That could be the concussion talking, too, but I like to think it’s because I made particularly good suggestions.

However, I guess the dent in the top of my head left by her sharp elbows has made her remarkably sympathetic. Either that, or she’s worried that the top of my skull can double as a guacamole bowl, and she hates guacamole. (Hey, she puts up with my multiple foibles, including that horrible deformed tumor atop my neck, so I give her no grief about her one flaw.) The first sign was that she revoked a longrunning ban on new citrus. For years, she insisted that I was only allowed two citrus trees for my own personal use. If I felt so inclined to sell them, she stated, she was fine, but if they were staying, TWO. Only TWO. I kept that promise, sticking to a Rio Star ruby red grapefruit I grew from seed and a Buddha’s Hand citron. Now, though, she comes to me unbidden and asks “How hard would it be to raise a Mexican lime tree so we can make Key lime pie?”

You know, some guys would take horrible advantage of their wives being in such a flexible state, and she regularly thanks Crom, Issek, and Nyarlathotep that I have no interest in football or other pro sports. Instead, I brought her out to the local garden center and picked out a beautiful little Mexican lime tree of her very own, and a new “Pink Lemonade” blueberry bush to replace the one the drought took out last summer for myself. I wasn’t worried about her, but I was concerned.

Now, though, I’m worried. Under most circumstances, any suggestion of outre front yard ornamentation would bring on her impersonations of Tomoe Gozen. However, I showed her a lovely photo archive of the lawn dinosaur Dug the T-Rex, and she actually asked “Is this something you’re wanting to do for the front yard?”

Yes, I’m taking her to the doctor. That’s after I cover the entire back yard with greenhouse polycarbonate and turn it into a Nepenthes nursery. When will an opportunity like this come again?

A decade later, under the sea turtle

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

Married under the Christmas Origami tree

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

Acrocanthosaurus

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

Front of the Protostega

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

Top of the Protostega

The Czarina and the Lake Heath mosasaur

The Czarina at the Perot Museum

Ten years later

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

Have a Great Weekend

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

*SIGNAL LOST*

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

Anniversaries, all coming together

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

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

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

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

Status updates

It’s been an interesting day so far. As mentioned earlier this week, the Czarina underwent emergency dental surgery this morning to remove a very aggravating wisdom tooth. Between the anaesthetic when she came out of surgery and the gauze packed into her jaws to stanch the bleeding, she was too far out of it to object when I called her “Alvin”. The real shame was that she got very upset with me for even suggesting making our very own “David After Dentist” video, so she made me swear that I wouldn’t record her and then put the results on YouTube. Hmmm. It’s about time for me to set up a Vimeo account, isn’t it?

If there’s an immediate good side to the situation, other than having two wisdom teeth lying in an envelope on the kitchen table and a lifetime’s worth of memories of your One and Only asking “Is this going to be FOREVER?”, it’s that this broke the dominance battle between the Czarina and Cadigan. As soon as we got home, Cadigan smelled disinfectant and latex, and immediately figured “Oh, you poor dear. You got fixed, too.” When last I left them, Cadigan was perched on the bed, guarding the whole area against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Leiber, he was just confused, but then that’s his life story.

With that interlude over and done with, it’s back to plants. Between warm temperatures and high humidity over the past week, including point-blank fog and mist yesterday, the carnivores are happier than they’ve been in months. Now if I can just find the lone grasshopper that sneaked into the greenhouse and took big chunks out of some of the plants I was going to show at this weekend’s show in Arlington…

EDIT: I shouldn’t jinx things, ever. Five minutes after sharing this, I got a call from the Czarina. “I think she stained the bathtub.” Now I have to ask “So what was that beast eating?”

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn: Cadigan

One of the biggest liabilities to having a packrat memory is having a realistic assessment of your own accomplishments and achievements. This is one of the biggest reasons why the Czarina and I don’t have any kids of our own, and prefer to adopt others for Halloween and Christmas. (Let me tell you: the best thing about our adoptive daughter Jenny is that we adopted her when she was 25. School’s already finished, she already had her own job and her own place, and we didn’t need to give her The Talk.) Namely, I remember all too well what I was like when I was a kid. I wasn’t a leather-jacket- and motorcycle-boot-wearing monstrosity until my early twenties, because I understood the value of the statute of limitations. Heck, I pulled stunts back in high school so secretively that I still can’t talk about them, but let’s just say that I’m quietly glad that the demolition of that high school removed most of the best evidence. If you see a little aluminum box in the wreckage of the newspaper staffroom, about so long by yea wide, just call the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. NOW.

The Czarina feels the same way, even though she wasn’t the sort to get into trouble in high school. In fact, we regularly joke that we should be glad we didn’t meet back then, because they tell jokes about that sort of spectacle. “Susan Foreman and Herbert West, sitting in a tree,” and comments along that line. My mother-in-law used to tell the Czarina, only half-jokingly, “I hope you have kids just like you.” Combine the two of us, and I dare anybody to say that without screaming.

Well, we figured that we’d bypassed that. Who knew that it still applied to one’s cats?

Here’s the situation. We’ve introduced previous readers to Cadigan, the newest member of the household. She’s about seven months old, which is the feline equivalent of mid-adolescence. For a cat, she carries an impressively human amount of teenage angst and rebellion, to where I expect to come home to find her with a purple Mohawk. Naturally, since the Czarina is home much more than I am, this means that I’m the Good Guy, who brings home treats and the occasional bit of chicken. This also means that all of her dominance displays and all of her subversive behavior aim right at the Czarina. She’s going to lose in any pack quarrel, but she hasn’t quite realized it yet.

It started with the Czarina’s bathtub. We can both attest that the secret to married bliss is having separate bathrooms if at all possible, with hers in the bedroom and mine on the other side of the house. This works extremely well on weekdays when I have to get up much earlier than she does, and the cats only harangue me in there when they’re particularly worried about something. A few rumbles of thunder, and Leiber tries to climb into the shower. Therefore, it was rather surprising to see Cadigan rush out of the Czarina’s bathroom in a furtive manner, and even more surprising to hear the Czarina’s scream of rage.

“PAUL! Come here! Did you see what your daughter did in here?”

I looked inside, and wished I hadn’t. “Well, either she mistook the bathtub for the litterbox, or someone dumped a dead copperhead in here.”

Now was NOT the time to bring up the first thing that came to mind, which involved the John Waters movie Pink Flamingos. In fact, to avoid judicious application of the Elbows of Doom, I wasn’t going to bring up John Waters at all. We went out into the living room, and there was the cat, perched on the back of a chair, with a very self-satisfied expression on her face. I should hope so: she’d managed to lose about four pounds just thirty seconds before, and she only weighs two.

That’s when I realized that when faced with disciplinary issues involving children, human or otherwise, we both default to the lessons taught to us by our parents. The Czarina started lecturing the cat, who was about as threatened by this as being grounded for a month. Me, I suddenly understood why my father was on so many business trips during my high school years. I no longer had worries about Cadigan getting a Mohawk. She was going straight to “sneaking off and getting married in Vegas to a guy she met on the bus” territory.

And the dominance battles continued. Another massive dump in the bathtub, and another. This wasn’t a matter of a potential health issue: I was rather familiar with similar expressions of displeasure (having become quite good at doing them in double-parked convertibles that blocked in friends’ cars back in the late Eighties), so it was a matter of finding the issue and fixing it. Cadigan wasn’t angry at me: she was angry at the Czarina, so I had to be the good cop.

“Now, Cadigan, your mother is halfway to getting an ice cream scoop and turning you into a Davy Crockett cap. Do you REALLY want that?”

“Shut up! She’s not my real mother!”

“Apologize. NOW.”

“What are you going to do: ground me?”

“I’m serious, young lady. I’ll give you a bath if I have to.”

“You should be glad you got me fixed already! I could come home with KITTENS!”

That went over about as well as can be expected. After she learned that she actually got punished for her exploits in the bathtub, she learned that the best way to get our collective goat farm was to jump onto the kitchen table and skip off as soon as we noticed. Yeah, about as subtle as a ball-peen hammer, that one. It’s minor, but it gets just the right response, and it’s rapidly become the feline equivalent of playing with matches or stealing my credit card to buy new ringtones.

We aren’t helped at all by the realization that we haven’t dealt with a kitten in the house in a solid decade, and Leiber wasn’t rebellious. In fact, he was so neurotic that he spent his nights meeping until someone yelled “SHUT UP, CAT!”, in which case he knew we hadn’t abandoned him. These days, he sticks to his new role as the elder statesman, mostly by climbing onto the couch and giving his most disapproving expressions to the new interloper. That’s when I remind him “Go ahead and laugh, cat. I have permission to get that crocodile monitor after all.”

And won’t that be fun? Speaking from experience, the lizard wouldn’t waste its time with the bathtub. He’d go straight for the dishwasher.

September 20, 2002

2012 is full of personal and professional anniversaries, but one of the two most important happened ten years ago. A few days over a decade ago, I pulled into Tallahassee, Florida, and my entire life changed a day later.

Economically speaking, 2002 was pretty much defined by the shakeouts from the dotcom bust, and my previous career as a technical writer correspondingly suffered. Half of the job postings in my line of work were excuses to claim that experienced professionals were considered before hiring the CEO’s grandchildren, and the other were nonexistent jobs posted by recruiters seeking new names for databases. By mid-March, I finally resorted to working as the wine manager of a liquor store, which both helped remove any urge I had to drink and sharpened my loathing for the Southern Methodist University contingent. I saw a lot of horrible and pitiful things during those days, including things that brought on sympathy for at least one person I previously loathed (and that’s a story for another day), and everyone rejoiced when I received a job offer from a tech company in Tallahassee. The day after leaving the liquor store, I was driving my Plymouth Neon along Highway I-10 to Florida, narrowly missing two tropical storms in the process, and pulled into Tally on a beautiful warm Friday afternoon. Get set up first, I thought, learn where everything was, and then come in for my first day rested and ready.

To cut to the punchline, the job didn’t work out. The company was still mired in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and my team was responsible for maintaining and updating a software suite that was once the jewel of that particular industry. Sadly, said software suite had a whole collection of frat-brother “understandings” attached to it, particularly involving partnerships with other companies that hadn’t survived the crash, so the plan was to produce a new, top-of-the-line version for the Aughts. The company’s finances didn’t allow this, and when the CEO killed the new version, he also killed the need for several programmers and a technical writer. I got the informal word about the layoff literally an hour after I’d purchased plane tickets to come back to Dallas so the Czarina and I could get married, but had to wait two weeks for the final word if I wanted to get any kind of severance. There I was, two days before Christmas and five days before the wedding, back to where I was at the beginning of the year.

If you think that this is a pity party, though, don’t worry. In many ways, this was the best thing that ever happened to me. Among other things, I don’t want to think about what would have happened if we’d both moved to Tally and then received my pink slip. Worse, I can only imagine what would have happened had we still been there when the real estate bust started four years later. For a glorious three months, though, I was in a whole new world, and a trip on my second day to the Tallahassee Museum gave me my first exposure to a carnivorous plant in the wild. It was all over after that.

In the meantime, the two of us look back on that last decade and chalk up everything to our long-distance relationship in those three months. I learned how far I could push myself, especially when I moved back. (By the time I hit the Texas border, I figured “Hey, I’ve only been driving ten hours straight. What’s wrong with going on to Dallas and sleeping in my own bed?” The Czarina still hasn’t forgiven me for that one.) In her turn, she learned how to trust herself and her own instincts. We both remain friends with a whole load of people we met during those days, and several were vital in efforts to start up the Triffid Ranch after I started getting the hang of growing carnivores. We definitely aren’t the people we were in 2002, and we absolutely weren’t the people we could have become if I hadn’t taken that job and fallen in love with Florida natural history. As it should be.

With the sudden surprise news that the Perot Museum is opening a month early, we’re thinking very long and hard about celebrating our tenth anniversary the way we started things: looking at the undercarriage of a prehistoric sea turtle. Now it’s time to see what the next decade brings.

Nemesis sighted off the port bow

We all have a nemesis in life. All of us. If we’re lucky, we’ll only meet that nemesis in our final days, when it’s far too late for it to cause any damage. If we’re very lucky, we find a nemesis that can be used against our enemies, or against our friends for comic effect.

I say this because I’ve discovered mine. Her name is Miss Sweetie Poo, and she’s an essential component of the Ig Nobel Prizes, the annual award for scientific endeavours that should not and must not be replicated under any circumstances. The Ig Nobels are to the real Nobels what the Golden Raspberry Awards are to the Oscars, only with more duct tape, more paper airplanes, and less butthurt whining from the organizers of the Saturn Awards about the similarities between their winners. This year’s Ig Nobel ceremony is next week, and as usual, its selections will lead to the absolute best head explodey.

Anyway. As I was saying, Miss Sweetie Poo is my one serious weakness, in the form of a cute 8-year-old girl. That weakness is the fear of conducting a lecture or presentation, or merely showing off plants at a show, and hearing these words, over and over:

See, this is why the Czarina and I don’t have children. It’s also the reason why I won’t let her rent children, either. We have a niece who’s a few years too old for the position, but I’m sure that she’ll be open for suitable compensation to fill in. I’ll make some particularly devastating point during after-dinner conversation, lunge for the kill…and get knocked out of the air like Green Lantern being smacked with a big yellow pillow. (Please note that the Czarina can’t get away with this. Not only does she not have >the right voice to pull it off, but I know where she’s ticklish. Besides, her reputation precedes her, with lots of other people seeing her angry and crying “Not the elbows! Not the elbows!”, and she’s certainly not afraid to use them on me if I get out of line.)

The Aftermath: Discovery Days at the Museum of Nature & Science

Texas Triffid Ranch table

Last weekend’s Discovery Days show at Dallas’s Museum of Nature & Science went off without a hiccup, even with the slightly melancholy vibe running the entire weekend. As of September 16, when the current Planet Shark exhibition closes, so will the Science Museum building, previously known as The Science Place for the last three decades. Considering the amount of time I’ve spent over the last quarter-century in this building (the original Robot Dinosaurs exhibition opened on my 21st birthday), this was a second-to-last opportunity to say goodbye to an old and dear friend.

The welcome sign at Discovery Days

The idea was simple: come out with a sampling of carnivores for exhibition, and answer questions the attending kids had about the plants and how they lived. As with last year’s Discovery Days show, both kids and adults kept me on my toes with thoughtful, sharp, and detailed questions about carnivorous plant physiology and habits. What was new this year was the number of visitors, both from out-of-state and out-of-country, who had great insights. When I wasn’t talking to a Romanian engineer about Transylvanian dinosaurs (and he was absolutely amazed that such a thing existed) and his world-famous countryman Baron Nopsca, I was helping to identify pitcher plants on Luzon in the Philippines. If I was twitching by the end, it was only because of the sheer amount of information that attendees shared, and I only hope that I was able to return the favor.

A small selection from my carnivorous plant library

As I did last year, I brought out a cross-section of reference books on the subject to show examples of plants I didn’t have in my collection at the moment, but it may be time to get an iPad and go electronic. My back still hurts from hauling them out of the car on Sunday evening.

Sarracenia lid and lip

All of the plants were popular, but the big Sarracenia hybrid was the belle of the ball. In fact, a couple of people made precisely that comment. Not only did she draw interest in the first place, but she was ultimately more accessible to understanding basic passive-trap physiology than any other plant there. (In particular, one attendee had a slight freakout when I was demonstrating with a UV light how the lid interiors and lips of the pitcher fluoresce under ultraviolet light, and she literally squeaked “It’s a sonic screwdriver!”) That said, most of the kids liked her cousin…

The provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador

I was regularly asked if I named individual plants, and I was half-tempted to nickname the two Sarracenia purpurea “Red” and “Harold” for the duration of the show. Considering the number of Canadians, not to mention us Canadian anchor babies, out to see the sharks, that may or may not have been prudent. Bringing “Red” out, though, was especially important for one four-year-old with a look in her eye that I knew well from her age: “Don’t you DARE patronize me.” She wanted everything explained to her exactly the way I would have done with her parents, and she asked as many questions as she could about the hairs on the lip and composition of the debris in the bottom of the pitchers with her admittedly slightly limited vocabulary. I hope to run into her again in a few years and see how far she leaves me in the dust in scientific inquiries.

Nepenthes ampullaria

And the other surprise hit? Explaining the number of mutualistic relationships between carnivores and various animals had some kids engrossed, especially when I told them about the relationships between Nepenthes ampullaria and the frog Microhyla nepenthicola. Frogs that nest and breed in pitcher plants? Oh, that shattered a few fragile young minds. (I’ll say the greatest satisfaction came with a group of teenagers who claimed that they were there to watch out for little brothers, and they must have hung out on Saturday afternoon for an hour, asking every question they could. I don’t know if they were too fascinated to pretend to be nonplussed, or if I treated them like adults, but they asked some of the sharpest questions the whole weekend long. And so much for kids today being lazy and stupid, eh?)

As mentioned before, this was the last actual event at the old Museum, but I’ve been assured that the crew wants a carnivorous plant presence at the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science, which opens next year. In the meantime, I’m planning to organize one last outing to the current Museum on September 16, where those of us who remember the two separate museums in Fair Park can come out and have one last look around. For the Czarina and myself, it’ll be particularly important, as we were married under the Protostega in the Texas Giants Hall at the old Museum of Natural History, and this is as close to renewing our vows in the same place as we’re going to get.

Happy birthday to the Czarina

Today is the Czarina’s birthday. Look busy.

Show aftermath: July with the Shadow Society

Triffid Ranch booth at the Shadow Society

Four years ago this week, the Triffid Ranch debuted at Convergence 14, a goth convention held that year in Tampa. Last weekend, the latest Triffid Ranch show ran at The Shadow Society, a monthly gathering at the Crown & Harp here in Dallas. Back then, the Czarina and I were traveling by car across the continent, so this wasn’t much of a show. Last weekend, the available space was at a premium, so the idea was to come out with a sampler. A selection of beginner carnivores, a few loss-leaders to demonstrate that carnivorous plants consist of more than Venus flytraps, one flytrap globe so nobody asks “Hey, where are the flytraps?”, and stickers and buttons. Between this and a very pared-down setup for the Czarina, we barely squeezed in everything into the car, just like four years ago.

You know what else was just like 2008? No matter how much or how well the organizers promoted the show, the opening of the Olympics kicked our butts.

Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a complaint. Yes, the show was a bit sparse on attendees, but the both of us have done shows where vendors outnumbered attendees by two to one. The July Shadow Society event still featured a lot of interesting folks, this gave a field test of a new lighting system for the new display shelves, we vendors had a great time comparing notes on upcoming events, and pretty much everyone made plans for Convergence XIX in Austin next spring. We also used this time to plot and scheme on plans for the Shadow Society event at the end of August. Between this and the North American Reptile Breeders Conference in Arlington that weekend, who says that Dallas and Fort Worth are lacking in odd attractions?

Detail: Triffid Ranch booth at the Shadow Society

And with that, here’s a gentle reminder that the next Triffid Ranch show will be at the Discovery Days: Discover Going Green family event at the Museum of Nature & Science on August 11 and 12. As I keep telling people, come for the biodiesel, and stay for the carnivorous plants.

Introducing the Deathmobile

The Deathmobile

For obvious reasons, the mood around the house this last week has been lower than Whitley Strieber’s credibility among the SETI community. Tramplemaine’s death hit us both more than we realized, and I’d like to thank everyone who expressed their regrets. The house is a lot larger and a lot more quiet without him in it, and it’s going to take a while to recover.

Not that we can’t get some humor out of loss. When the Czarina gets particularly shaken, she takes after her mother and hyperfocuses on little things that don’t need to be knocked out right then. Last Monday, for instance, I practically had to sit on her before she realized “You know, scheduling a tooth cleaning with the dentist right after taking your dying cat to the vet isn’t a good idea.” (Not that this is such a good idea all of the time, because sometimes reality impersonates fiction.)

And with this, she’s continuing to obsess over my upcoming birthday. Never you mind that her birthday is a little over a week. Every few hours, she asks “So what do you want for your birthday?” Right now, the only thing I can do is try to make her laugh, and the best way to get her to laugh is to annoy her.

That’s when we came across this, erm, unique vehicle, parked alongside a gas station. It was short the expected Australian motorcycle punks in bondage pants, but otherwise it had its moments.

The front of the Deathmobile

And that’s when I got the Czarina. “You know, I do need a garden cart. This will work, won’t it?”

The back of the Deathmobile

What scares me is that she’s going to take me up on one of my suggestions one of these days. This thing simply won’t work without a trailer hitch.

Views from Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 11

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Explanations of what you’re seeing may or may not follow: if you have questions, get out here before November 5 to see it yourself.

Chihuly 28

Chihuly 29

Chihuly 30

Chihuly 31

Chihuly Boat

As a tip for anyone wanting a similar effect with a fountain or pool: the illusion of depth was produced by adding black dye to the water. For those who want to keep fish and other life in the pool, there’s no reason why you can’t go with a blackwater arrangement.

Chihuly Boat 2

Chihuly Boat 3

Views from Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 10

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Explanations of what you’re seeing may or may not follow: if you have questions, get out here before November 5 to see it yourself.

Chihuly 23

Chihuly 24

Chihuly 25

Chihuly 26

Chihuly 27

Views from Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 9

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Explanations of what you’re seeing may or may not follow: if you have questions, get out here before November 5 to see it yourself.

Chihuly 13

I’m the last person who will fuss about visitors arriving at a particular time to see the Chihuly exhibition at the Dallas Arboretum, but I do recommend coming out for the Chihuly Nights shows (currently, running Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights) about an hour or two before dark. This way, you get a chance to see the displays and how they interact with the rest of the gardens, before night falls, the lights come on, and the foliage disappears into the black.

Chihuly 14

At around dusk, visitors start noticing something interesting and a bit disturbing. Contrary to suspicions, the sculptures aren’t lit internally. Instead, they’re illuminated through cunningly hidden spotlights, and the refractive properties of glass do the rest.

Chihuly 15

Chihuly 16

Chihuly 17

When I first started posting these, a few smartaleck friends joked “”Chihuly? I first read that as ‘Cthulhu’. In this grotto, with this lighting on glass this color, I can’t disagree that there’s quite a bit of H.P. Lovecraft in the air on a hot summer Dallas night.

Chihuly 18

Chihuly 19

Chihuly 20

Views from Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 8

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Explanations of what you’re seeing may or may not follow: if you have questions, get out here before November 5 to see it yourself.

Chihuly 6

Chihuly 7

Chihuly 8

Chihuly 9

Chihuly 10

Chihuly 11

Chihuly 12

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

And the extended weekend is over. You ever have one of those extended holiday weekends where you start by telling yourself what you’re going to accomplish at the start, and you wake up the next Monday morning sighing “Wow, I got everything DONE!” as you’re walking into the shower? Me, neither. It was, however, still an awfully productive time, what with odd weather, surprise trips, and visits from strange wildlife. Thirty years ago, my professional garden career started when I was dragooned by my mother into helping a friend of hers clear out her flower beds. Three decades later, I still have dreams that I’ve died and gone to Hell, and my eternal punishment is to pull Bermuda grass root nodules out of North Texas clay. This…wasn’t quite so bad.

On the more humorous side, this was the weekend where I learned exactly how extensive the Czarina’s vocabulary can be. It started innocently enough, as she was reading one evening, and I shared one of my upcoming project ideas with her. “You know those eight-foot-tall gumball machines you see in supermarkets?”

“…yes?” The Czarina doesn’t have prominent eyebrows, but what she has were both rising toward the ceiling, ready to strike.

“Yeah. I just figured out how to convert one into a terrarium.”

“Oh, really.” No interrogative at the end of that sentence. Instead, the emphatic period at the end sounded like the last nail pounded into a coffin lid. I understand playwrights call it “foreshadowing”.

“And even better, I figured out how to make it a useable terrarium AND still dispense gumballs.”

“REALLY.” At this point, her famed elbows were sliding out of their sheaths, and the noise of the venom drooling onto the floor from each one was exactly the sound of spare mortar splashing off a bricklayer’s trowel onto a bottle of Amontillado. Oh, she’s going to LOVE this, I thought.

“Yeah. All I need is a Plexiglas tube and some sealer at the bottom and a good cap at the top to keep out moisture…you don’t think I can do this, do you?”

“Oh, no. I believe you can do this,” she said to a paralyzed Harry Dean Stanton who was now really regretting leaving Ripley and Parker to look for the ship’s cat. “What I want to know is where you’re planning to put it while you’re working on it.”

“Well, there’s the garage…”

“NO.” The sound of the crypt sealing forever, the sound of a crocodile dragging its prey underwater, the sound of the crowd at a science fiction convention when I idly mention that Firefly bored me to tears. Death wasn’t in that voice, because Death was so spooked by that voice that he took a new job in Calgary.

“Well, there was this guy clearing out his garage at that apartment complex down the way, and he had it for sale for only fifty dollars…”

“The fact that it wasn’t in the garage when I got home is probably the only reason you’re still alive. Why didn’t you bring it home?”

“…he had to sell it right then, and I couldn’t bring it home on my bicycle.”

See? Bicycling to and from work IS healthy for you. Well, that and pricing storage spaces, so I have the room for the next gumball machine I come across. Just don’t tell her, okay?

EDIT: Somebody told, and that’s where her eloquence in English profanities came to the fore. Heck, she threatened me with defenestration after she threw me out a window.

Views from the Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 7

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition.

Chihuly 1

All of the glassworks in the Chihuly exhibition are large, but this one was so big that it needed a whole new base.

Chihuly 1 base

Chihuly 2

Chihuly 3

Chihuly 4

My knowledge of glassworking is miniscule at best, but I still knew that addition of various elements gives particular colors to the final glass. That said, would you have guessed that adding neodymium would lead to this shade?

Views from the Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 5

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Keep an eye on this blog over the next few days, because there’s a lot to see. Just keep in mind that the photos don’t come close to displaying the beauty of the Arboretum, and that the best way to experience it is in person.

Chihuly 5:2

Chihuly 5:1

Chihuly 5:3

Crape myrtle trunk

Agave blooms

Views from the Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 4

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Keep an eye on this blog over the next few days, because there’s a lot to see. Just keep in mind that the photos don’t come close to displaying the beauty of the Arboretum, and that the best way to experience it is in person.

Black grass 1

This unidentified plant is reason alone to make a trip back to the Arboretum, just to identify it. Finding good black plants for goth gardening is hard enough, but something at lest twice my height?

Black grass 2

Black grass 3

Dragonfly 1

Among the trees were dozens of absolutely gigantic dragonflies, even for North Texas, and one was absolutely fascinated by one particular point on a Chihuly spearpoint. The beauty was seeing it on the tip. The humor came from when it kept sliding off and attempting to get right back.

Dragonfly 2

And then we had simply surreal. As the sun set, more and more wildlife came out, including Mexican free-tailed bats, toads, geckos, and lots of frogs and katydids attempting to drown out the noise from the omnipresent cicadas. The best surprise was the rabbit that leapt out of the undergrowth with a large mouthful of something. It was probably grabbing up grass and fern stems for a nest, but boy howdy did it look as if it was dragging a dead rat back into the shrubbery.

Rat-eating rabbit

Jerry Junkins garden

And speaking of eating rats, I’d heard about the Jerry Junkins garden at the Dallas Arboretum. Having worked for the man when he was CEO of Texas Instruments in the late Eighties and early Nineties, I was absolutely floored that the garden wasn’t full of poison ivy and stinkweed. (Those of us who worked at TI during his obsession with the Malcolm Baldridge Award for Corporate Excellence aren’t surprised that Southern Methodist University’s technology school is named for Junkins. We’re just waiting for SMU to continue the tradition and open a psychiatric hospital named for Charles Manson, a culinary school named for Jeffrey Dahmer, and a music scholarship program named for G.G. Allin.)

Views from the Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 3

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Keep an eye on this blog over the next few days, because there’s a lot to see. Just keep in mind that the photos don’t come close to displaying the beauty of the Arboretum, and that the best way to experience it is in person.

Chihuly 3: 1

Chihuly 3:2

Chihuly 3:3

Chihuly 3:4

Chihuly 3:5

Chihuly 3:6

Views from the Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 2

The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Keep an eye on this blog over the next few days, because there’s a lot to see. Just keep in mind that the photos don’t come close to displaying the beauty of the Arboretum, and that the best way to experience it is in person.

Chihuly globes 1

Chihuly globes 2

Chihuly globes 3

Chihuly globes 4

Chihuly globes 5

Now here’s a feature of garden design at the Arboretum that just stunned me when I saw it. The gardeners in charge went to especial efforts to offer complementary plants to go with the glassworks, but the addition of “Black Pearl” peppers with these globes was truly inspired.

Black Pearl peppers

It’s one thing to use the black-purple foliage on Black Pearls to make the globes pop. After dark, the flat finish on the leaves accents the glow of the sculpture under spotlights. But to continue the globe theme with each plant…now that was genius. (I’ll also add that when the fruit ripens, it turns a translucent red that resembles uncut rubies, so the theme gets even stronger.)

Views from Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 1

The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Keep an eye on this blog over the next few days, because there’s a lot to see. Just keep in mind that the photos don’t come close to displaying the beauty of the Arboretum, and that the best way to experience it is in person.

Chihuly 1

Chihuly 2

Chihuly 3

Chihuly 4

Chihuly 5

Introducing Anolis carolinensis

Last weekend was a time to get busy at the Triffid Ranch. We haven’t truly moved into traditional Texas summer weather yet, and man, beast, and plant understood this, because we were all going a bit nuts. I spent Saturday and Sunday making a new raised bed edge for the Czarina’s tomato garden, pruning and trimming various bushes on the property, clearing clover out of the Sarracenia pots, clearing clover seeded from the Sarracenia pots out of the horsecrippler cactus, repotting Bhut Jolokia and Trinidad Scorpion peppers for the next big show in September, deadheading orchids, and watering the flytraps. By Saturday evening, by the time the Czarina got home, my usual lament about not having access to the 57-hour day was coming off my lips with the raging froth at the clover. At least I didn’t have to deal with the squirrels digging up the Sarracenia, at least since a big female Harris’s hawk started using the rooftop as a dining room table and my greenhouse as a commode. (With the hawk, the only beef is with bluejay feathers blowing off the roof. Other than that, “Shayera Hol” is welcome here for as long as she wants to stay. I don’t even mind her sitting on the greenhouse, staring at the cats through the window.)

Around the Triffid Ranch, taking the time to smell the roses was secondary to taking the time to watch the critters, and it was a day for critter-watching. Moving a brick in the tomato bed dislodged a rough earth snake (Virginia striatula), a snake so sweet-tempered and inoffensive that even serious ophidiophobes tend to soften a bit upon seeing one. Lots of Mediterranean geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus)hid among the bricks as well, waiting for nightfall. And then, as I was moving a batch of dragonfruit cactus pots, this little gentleman moved just enough to let me know he was there.

Sunbathing Carolina anole

The first common misconception about the Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) is that, because of its common nickname “American chameleon,” it can change color with the range and definition of Old World chameleons. While A. carolinensis can switch between various shades of green and brown, it has nothing on true chameleons. However, true chameleons don’t have the brilliant scarlet dewlap, which looks as if the lizard were brushed with powdered rubies, that male anoles flash to signal territorial claims. This fellow wasn’t worried about other anoles trying to take his space, but he also wasn’t taking an eye off me.

Carolina anole closeup

The other assumption about Carolina anoles, at least in North Texas, is that they’re escapees from captivity that went feral. Although a lot of anoles may have been released in the wild in the Dallas area from the days when they were inexplicably popular offerings in pet shops, this is actually native habitat for A. carolinensis, and they range south to the Gulf of Mexico and north into Arkansas before moving east all the way to the Atlantic. They don’t get as large in Dallas as they do in Tallahassee, but considering some of the gigantic anoles (not to be mistaken for the introduced Cuban anoles in the area) I used to catch in Tally, I’m actually a bit happy. This one was about as long as my hand, which suggested that he was getting both plenty of insects and plenty of drinking water. Anoles will not drink still water, and prefer to drink dew from plants, so I suspect the mister system in the greenhouse may have made his life a bit easier last summer.

"I'm ready for my closeup now, Mr. deMille."

When I was a kid in Michigan, I dreamed of one day keeping an anole as a pet, and would camp out at the pet sections in department stores to stare at the lizards. I know today that the vast majority didn’t survive more than a few weeks of that treatment, and many more died due to substandard care with their future owners, but lizards were a rarity up there and color-changing ones nonexistent. I became enough of an insufferable know-it-all on the subject that when showing my little brother a cage full of them at a K-Mart, I related “Look: Carolina anoles.” This peeved the toad overseeing the pet section, and he proceeded to correct me: “They’re chameleons.”

“No, they’re anoles. Anolis carolinensis. They’re native to the East Coast.”

He pulled out a cheap booklet entitled “All About Chameleons” from a shelf, and promptly showed me pictures of anoles, and then flashed the cover again, emphasizing the word “chameleon.” I then asked if I could see the book, and promptly read to him the first several paragraphs about anole habits and scientific nomenclature. He grabbed the book back, sneered “You’re just making it up,” told us to get out before he called the head manager, and went back to the dreams of a K-Mart pet shop manager. Probably involving how, when someone finally gave him command of a Constitution-class starship, he’d get into pissing matches with seven-year-olds and win.

Well, that was then. Now, I figure the lizards are happier and healthier in the yard than they’d ever be in captivity, and I encourage moonflowers (Ipomoea alba) and trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) to give the anoles and geckos more cover. This fellow sat atop that fence top with a very catlike demeanor, and when he was done watching me, he skittered off to do whatever anoles do in their off time. He’s always welcome to come back, and bring his harem with him, too.

Very, VERY bad ideas

For those unfamiliar with The Pitcher Plant Project, I heartily recommend spending a few hours going through the blog . Of particular note, though, is taking a look at The Sarracenia Sink, because I’ve been suggesting to the Czarina that I could up the ante a bit. Many of my neighbors are renovating bathrooms and kitchens, which means that a lot of perfectly serviceable toilets are left out front in time for Large Trash Day. I figure that it’s just a matter of sealing up the bottom, filling both bowl and tank with Sarracenia soil mix, planting a nice collection of pitcher plants and sundews, and bringing it to the next Triffid Ranch show. Not only is it a perfect example of classic Scottish frugality to make the world a better place, but Mother Scotland even gave me a perfect name for the arrangement: “The Bog Garden”. All it would need is an Ewan MacGregor action figure in it, and it would be perfect.

The only problem with this plan lies with the Czarina. See, her family is Welsh, not Scot, so she doesn’t agree that this is a brilliant plan. In fact, she stopped rolling her eyes or jabbing me with her elbows when we drive by an abandoned toilet and I suggest upcycling it. She only had one thing to say if I continued on this line of inquiry. I didn’t exactly hear what she was planning to do to my neck after she ripped my head off, but based on her tone, I’m going to have to surprise her with the end results.

World Horror Convention 2013: a new Triffid Ranch show?

Until very recently, I’ve been reserved about doing out-of-town Triffid Ranch shows for many reasons. Not that I haven’t had convention and event promoters asking. At least three times a year, I’m asked, very nicely, by the folks at a big steampunk convention in Oklahoma about attending, and I decline, very nicely, and explain why. Namely, it comes down to pure economics. Doing a show in Texas outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is expensive enough with gasoline, vehicle rental, hotel accomodations, and food allocations. Combine that with the necessary legal permits required to transport plants across state lines, and I do NOT want to make Wikipedia for being the guy who introduced some horrible invasive species or deadly floral disease to a new area, and the finances get a bit thin. When I explain to the steampunk convention crew how many plants I’d need to sell just to break even, they blanch and apologize for up my time.

(As a sidenote, I’ve been planning to compose a little essay on why vendors to shows and conventions choose the shows they do and why. In the interim, let’s just say that repeated nagging to attend a gaming convention with an admitted attendance of 200 to 400 people, screaming “You never got back with me!” at another convention, and literally whining about how it was in my best interest to cancel an existing commitment and reschedule isn’t the way to do it. And yes, that really happened last year.)

Recent news makes me reconsider this assessment. For the last fifteen or so years, I’ve received regular postcards from the folks at the World Horror Convention, a big traveling show hosted by a different city each year, asking about becoming an attendee. I had considered being a vendor at the 2011 WHC in Austin, until I saw it was scheduled opposite Texas Frightmare Weekend, and the logistics came into play. (The fact that I’d sooner live in Houston than so much as soil a gas station restroom in Austin had something to do with it, too.) This year’s WHC is in Salt Lake City, which is just a little too far to travel in the summer with a truckload of plants. In 2013, though, World Horror comes to New Orleans.

I reiterate: New Orleans.

My first encounter with New Orleans was fourteen years ago this coming November, when I was invited by the god-in-human-form Robert Fontenot to be a guest at a new genre and pop convention in New Orleans called ExotiCon. I’m still good friends with many of the people I met there in 1998, and I came back for the next two shows run by Robert. So did the Czarina, with her now ex-husband, and she’s still famous for running the world’s most quiet convention party at the 2000 show. I still tell him, to this day, that were he insane enough to try this again, we’d both come down, without hesitation, and do our best to promote the show as much as we were able. In the intervening years, we’ve looked at other excuses to head down that way, and just haven’t quite had the opportunity.

Well, now that may change. I’ve already contacted the WHC 2013 crew for further information, but the thought process ran roughly similar to this:

Negative: One solid day of driving between Dallas and New Orleans, and flying down there with plants isn’t an option.

Positive: New Orleans.

Negative: Considering the cost of renting a cargo van, including mileage, it may actually be cheaper to buy one.

Positive: New Orleans.

Negative: A big portion of the trip entails going over the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, which is one of the most knuckle-whitening, anus-puckering trips I’ve ever made…in a truck full of carnivorous plants.

Positive: New Orleans. Oh, and did I mention the food?

Negative: Phytosan permits, hotel reservations, trying to go anywhere outside of the hotel, old writing acquaintances terrified of leaving the hotel for fear they might miss out on an editor they haven’t already harangued, going back home, and all of the usual logistics of doing a big show combined with the logistics of doing one outside of Texas.

Postive: NEW ORLEANS.

I haven’t brought this up with the Czarina, but that’s on the plate for this evening. I pretty much know what the answer will be, though, without asking. If I don’t check, I know what that answer will be, and if I’m going to be rolled up in a fetal ball while she beats me with a rolled-up magazine and screams “WHAT the hell is WRONG with you?”, I’d prefer for it to be something worthy of the offense.

A pressing need to buy some land

One of the many reasons why the Czarina and I are coming up on ten years of successful marriage is because we always bounce our insane business ideas off the other before we do anything. (Well, that’s one reason. Another one is that a steady diet of science fiction television shows as a kid meant that I have a decided attraction to women much smarter than I am. Friends went crazy over girls in Slave Leia outfits, while I had much more interest in the Maya/Delenn/Saavik/Martha Jones girls in school. The Czarina, in turn, has one particular type: Rik Mayall.) The idea is that we hone project proposals and show concepts until they’re stable and reasonable, and then let the other burn big holes in those proposals and concepts with acetylene torches and thermite. If they don’t collapse, implode, or catch fire after the interrogation, then they’ll probably work in real life. After a decade of the Czarina giggling with glee as some of my business proposals crawl on the floor, begging for a quick death, preparing for an oral defense of my Ph.D thesis is going to be a doddle.

Don’t think that we necessarily enjoy this. It’s bad enough that we’ve watched a lot of retail concepts, ones that would have worked at any time other than the worst recession in the last 80 years, died because the concept planned for profitability in three years instead of six. We both have equipment purchased from once-successful and once-popular companies at their liquidation sales. Most of all, I was in incredible lust for a defunct garden center in Plano a few years back: the garden center had been in business for 30 years before the founders sold it to their son, he decided to neglect the longtime customers in favor of getting into high-end landscaping, and defaulted on his business loans when the real estate bust hit and his big clients decided not to pay their bills. It’s not just because we wanted to avoid really bad business ideas, such as starting a street-corner circus troupe or opening a bookstore with no money down.

As far as that garden center was concerned, I didn’t go for it for multiple reasons. The least of which was having three-quarters of a million dollars on hand, which is what the property was valued at the beginning of 2009. (The garden center itself was recently bulldozed to clear the land, because any other potential buyers felt the way I did.) The other big reason is that while the Triffid Ranch is nowhere near ready for a full-time retail presence, getting a more serious growing environment is becoming pressing. This requires buying land, and the rest of the garden center can wait.

Right now, two things conspire against me on finding a suitable tract of property, properly zoned for agricultural activities and not harboring hidden munitions dumps or chemical waste caches. (Don’t laugh. Around here, it happens.) The first is that North Texas is flat, meaning that only the occasional creekbed and the even more occasional lake or reservoir prevents farmland from being used for other things, such as strip malls or apartment complexes. In fact, those minor impediments have never stopped local developers unless city ordinances, state laws, and smacks in the head stop them. I once watched as a large apartment complex was condemned because the developer built right to the edge of a creekbed, and a sudden gullywasher wiped out the foundations on five buildings and the tennis court. This means that odd little spaces perfect for carnivorous plant propagation just aren’t available.

The other big part of the conspiracy lies with the owners. The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex owes most of its growth, most of its problems, and most of its desirability on being able to expand outward, and only $4 gasoline has made the idea of living a two-hour drive from one’s place of employment unacceptable. During the real estate boom, developers bought every last bit of farmland they could get, with intentions to flip it to anyone actually planning to use it. Some of these developers are hanging on in the hopes that 2006 land prices will return, because Some Guy told them that it would happen any day now. Others were foreclosed upon, and then their banks went under and their assets acquired by other banks that themselves blew up. The same thing happened during the oil bust of the late Eighties and the bank bust of the early Nineties, when the game was “This is Thursday, so our owner is Hibernia Bank”. If the property has a sign on it, you have a 50/50 chance of the contact name and phone number being four years obsolete, with the realtor returned to a more suitable career in child pornography or regional magazine journalism, and a lot of good lots had the big wooden signs chainsawed down three years ago. They might come back onto the market before 2020, and the Dallas Cowboys might win a shutout World Series pennant this year, too.

This is why I feel particular jealous rage toward the Idiot Gardener, who apparently found his perfect locale. I’m certain that the Czarina can sympathize with his wife: we regularly drive past a failed experiment with Home Depot for a landscape supply outlet, already set up as a full greenhouse, and she has to listen to me whimper about how all I need to do is sell body parts to take over the space. Telling her “I didn’t say they had to be my body parts” doesn’t help, either.

And so the search continues. Licensing and financing issues are entertaining enough, but then we get into the discussions of renting said land versus buying it. Now that’s one route I won’t take unless I can’t help it, as a particular favorite nursery of mine shut down in 2000 when the property owner decided to sell the space and gave the nursery 30 days’ notice. (I’ll note that the property is still up for sale and still empty, as the price quoted by Some Guy as its value isn’t close to a reasonable price.) One thing is absolutely certain, though. If anyone had told me a decade ago that I’d be researching farmland prices and checking for spring flooding, I’d have called that person a loony. Today, I’d hand that person a spare smartphone and said “Call this realtor and see if anyone’s made an offer on that corner lot.”

“JUST ONE FIX…ONE FIX…ONE FIX…”

Even though we haven’t actually hit classic Texas high temperatures yet, we’ve reached summer for all intents and purposes, and the Czarina and I finally have a little bit of free time. Most couples look at an impending holiday or just a free weekend as an opportunity to get out of town. The Czarina and I look at each other and ask “So who wants to vacuum the bedroom?” Having two big back-to-back shows, along with the insane preparation for both, cut into our general household duties, leaving the carpet in the living room filled with…bits. We think they’re claw caps from where the cats use the scratching post to hone their already ridiculously sharp armaments, but we’re not sure. I won’t even get into the dust rhinos underneath the Czarina’s favorite chair, or the three cats’ worth of cat fur I got out of the carpet last night, or that we were both so horrified at how badly our housekeeping had lapsed that we were vacuuming and sweeping at close to midnight.

What you have to understand as well is that I grew up in a rather singular household. My father comes from a very long run of packrats, and the old Scottish frugality is very strong on his side of the family. These days, it’s called “upcycling,” but when I was a kid, it was called “growing up Riddell.” I just looked in wonder when I’d visit friends’ houses and see them using garages for holding cars, instead of band saws, acetylene torches, and enough scrap wood to rebuild the USS Constitution. When I was eighteen, I read a book review in Twilight Zone magazine that talked about how “Grandma could stretch out a Thanksgiving turkey forever, until it was mid-July and she was trying to figure out how to make turkey-flavored Jell-O from the bones.” All I could think was “Are we related?”

My mother, on the other hand, was a budding minimalist, and was notorious for pitching anything that sat in the same place for too long without a purpose. I only saw my parents get into one fight as a kid, and that was when my mother decided to donate my father’s high school prom tuxedo to Goodwill. I could sympathize on both sides, and still do: I’m notorious for letting the schmutz pile up in my office for weeks and months, until one day something snaps and everything else is secondary to stripping the place clean and rebuilding.

And that’s what’s going on this weekend. No shows for a couple of months, until FenCon IX in September, although the call of Four Seasons Markets has promise. The summer heat hasn’t really started, and I’ve never had any interest in sitting around in shorts while watching ball games on a perfectly good Saturday. So what’s the option?

That’s right: I’m taking inspiration from The Idiot Gardener and hislatest run of fence porn, and putting up a new greenhouse. If you don’t hear from me by next Wednesday, just feed what remains to the plants, okay?

Things to do in Fort Worth when you’re dead

This weekend will be dedicated to getting everything ready for next week’s Texas Frightmare Weekend show at DFW Airport (and check out the PDF vendors’ list), but those readers who don’t need to go insane with repotting Bhut Jolokia peppers or Medusa head Euphorbia might want to take note that the annual Spring Festival at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden‘s Japanese Garden is this weekend. Go have fun, and if you hear random screaming and cursing from the east, that’s just me.

And speaking of Dallas, I’d also like to note that the big Dale Chihuly garden glass exhibition at the Dallas Arboretum opens next weekend. Obviously, opening weekend is out, but just watch us stay away after that. For the people who come up to the Czarina and request to see her famed elbows, just tell her “Chihuly sucks” and watch them go to work firsthand. It’s like some oddball fusion of a world-class boxing match and a Ginsu commercial.

Plans for Next Year: The Arlington NARBC

It all started innocently enough. It started as a request from very old and dear friends Martin and Jen, asking for advice on a frog enclosure. Jen is a bit of a frog enthusiast, so in the midst of a major updating and repainting of her house, she thought “You know, that wall support in the living room would be just the perfect size for a vivarium.” I couldn’t agree more, so I promised her that I’d take her to the next reptile show on the schedule so she could search for just the right amphibians. Oh, and to get that vivarium as well.

NARBC

Now, luckily for her, the next big reptile show in the Dallas area was the North American Reptile Breeder’s Conference show in Arlington, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth. This wasn’t just a regular reptile and amphibian show: this the event for which I waited the entire year. Lizards, snakes, arrow-poison frogs, T-shirts, vivarium plants, enclosures of every shape and size…for us herp junkies, this isn’t heaven, but it’s close enough for government work.

Anyway, Jen was enthused and thrilled by the prospects, but I worried about Martin. I’ve known Martin for nearly 13 years, and to say that he’s one of the most understated men I’ve ever met is itself an understatement. He’s a man of particular tastes, and he wanted to come along partly to see why Jen and I were glibbering and meeping about the possibilities. The other reason was so he could make absolutely sure that we didn’t come back with something that would have no choice but to snuggle at the foot of the bed in the middle of the night until the spare bedroom was converted into habitat. I tried to tell him “You know, crocodile monitors prefer to sleep on your head, not your feet,” and he was strangely unreassured by this news.

Making matters more problematic was that the Czarina was out of town for that weekend. At the moment all three of us started on our little jaunt, she was on the other side of the continent, and she was terrified that I was going to come home with a critter we could call our own. What really scared her is that I’m very literal in my promises to her. It wasn’t just enough for her to beg “Promise that you won’t get a crocodile monitor,” “Promise that you won’t buy ANY reptile,” or “Bring home a lizard, and I SWEAR that my elbows will be buried up to my shoulders in the top of your skull until you twitch like a galvanized frog carcass.” That’s just a challenge. For instance, as I told her later, she said absolutely nothing about critters that followed me home, and if that Salvator’s water monitor or matamata just jumped into the car of its own volition, I couldn’t be held responsible. She didn’t have to say anything, but the sound of her elbows sliding out of their sheathes and drooling venom onto the floor was enough. I couldn’t actually hear them from San Francisco, but the sound of the venom burning holes in the hotel carpet travels almost that far.

Greater Dallas-Fort Worth Bromeliad Society

Besides, my real personal interest was in the plants. After a particularly anaemic garden show at Market Hall in Dallas, I nuhdzed the folks at the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth Bromeliad Society about talking to the folks at the NARBC about a booth. The attendees were thrilled, because they usually have problems getting good bromeliads for frog and gecko enclosures. The Bromeliad Society folks were thrilled, because they were running out of plants by the time I left on Saturday afternoon. Everyone wins, as I like to put it.

Bromeliads

Now here I went (relatively) mad, picking up a large collection of Tillandsia for future arrangements. No Catopsis berteroniana at this show…yet, but I already have one at home, so that just meant more for everyone else.

Ruby the red tegu

Now, if I hadn’t been a man of my word and told the Czarina “I really don’t want to twitch like a galvanized frog carcass,” I could have come across some real surprises. One of these was Ruby, a red tegu (Tupinambis rufescens) with the sweetest disposition I’ve ever seen in a tegu. Technically, it wasn’t a monitor (just being the South American equivalent), but I knew that this would be a minor caveat when the Czarina went digging for my occipital lobes with a melon baller. Sadly, I had to leave Ruby for someone else, because the plants are enough work on their own.

Zac Freer

Zac Freer wasn’t one of the subjects of the show, but that’s not for lack of trying. You know how people assume I’m insane because I get all squidgy and sappy about giant lizards? Zac gets that way about crocodilians. He and his wife were out at the show to look around, and he’d already adopted a Dumeril’s boa for the trip home. I’d already turned him into a carnivorous plant junkie at a show last year, so now I got to see him in his native habitat.

Blue-tongued skink

Oh, and remember how the Czarina kept insisting “No crocodile monitors”? I checked several times, and she said absolutely nothing about Australian blue-tongued skinks.

Black Tree Monitor

And she absolutely said not a peep about not getting a black tree monitor. Problem is, there’s that issue with subtext, such as when she insists that “have fun on your weekend off” does not give me permission to install concrete dinosaurs in the front yard or heckle the Pope while dressed like Colin Baker. I swear, if she wasn’t such a good cook, I’d have problems with her being so arbitrary and unreasonable.

And for Martin and Jen? Well, while Martin isn’t exactly a herper, he wasn’t waving a marlin spike around while yelling about reptiles. (He was yelling about getting a pair of golf shoes because that was the only way to get around with all the blood on the floor, but he does that every time we hang out.) Jen, though, was in heaven, and we had to talk her, very gently, out of getting a stunning pair of red rat snakes to go with the four Dendrobates auratus arrow-poison frogs she purchased for her new vivarium. When I’m recommending to friends that they might want to start out a bit small, it’s only because I know that Jen will be breeding her own by next year and running a small zoo full of exotic frogs by the beginning of 2015.

Very seriously, it’s not just a matter of doing this next year. The plan, the grand glorious plan, is to become a vendor for next year’s show. True, most of the most interesting carnivores available will still be in winter dormancy, but there’s a lot to be said about tropical sundews and bladderworts, early-rising butterworts, and lots and lots of Nepenthes. Now I only have another 11 months to get everything together, and then we’re golden.

There’s always time for orchids

It’s always amazing what shows up at Gunter’s Orchids in February. (This is why the Czarina doesn’t worry about me when she goes out of town. Other wives take off on a week-long vacation in San Francisco and worry about their husbands doing things that require delousing, castration, or deportation afterward. Me, I go straight for the nurseries as soon as she’s on the plane, and usually in search of things to surprise her when she gets back. This Valentine’s Day, it was a beautiful Cattleya that she spotted as soon as she walked in the door.)

Orchids at Gunter's

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

And should I mention that Gunter’s has a regular orchid gazing event in the middle of March that’s worth the trip to Dallas?

Have a Great Weekend

For those outside of the US, you may have noticed that yesterday was the source of a lot of noise from this side of the Pond. (No, not THAT Pond. It’s bad enough that friends who knew the Czarina before they knew me are starting to call me “Rory”.) Yesterday was the day we Americans celebrated the first big holiday of the year, where we all remember that day a third of a century ago, when one of the great cultural heroes of our age rose from his grave, looked down at his shadow, and realized that he had to wait six more weeks until spring.

Ensuring marital bliss, one aneurysm at a time

The end of January, particularly this January, can be the most cruel of times for Texas gardeners. The wild fluctuations in temperature and humidity, one day below freezing and the next too warm for jackets, tempt even the most wizened souls to attempt something in the garden. Logic tells you that anyone planting anything frost-intolerant in North Texas before the middle of March is an idiot, and that your only options are putting in dormant fruit trees and maybe a batch of brassicas, such as bok choi or Brussels sprouts. One look outside on a morning like today, though, and logic gets shouted down: “C’mon. LOOK at it. We could probably get in a good two dozen orange trees and a row of tomatoes before lunch.”

It’s especially rough on me because of the weather. Having barely survived the big bout of flu that took us both down over the last two weeks, the Czarina listened to my coughing nearly to the point of vomiting and stated with authority “You are NOT allowed to get pneumonia this year.” Although I fear her proclamations as much as her elbows, I think she’s being completely unfair. If I get pneumonia, syphilis, Dutch Elm Blight, and kuru before May, I’ll have enough purchase points to get Captain Trips and hemmorhagic fever for free. The dealer will even throw in a couple of intestinal parasites and an ingrown toenail if I get in before the deadline.

The Czarina’s complete and total inflexibility on these matters is why I don’t tell her about some of the new projects I have planned. She won’t let me get a crocodile monitor, she won’t let me get a display case for a crocodile monitor, and she definitely won’t let me set up my orbital laboratory and death ray, even if I pay for it from my own allowance. Is it really my fault, then, that I spend my rainy day fund on new garden sculpture?

And yes, the sound you hear from the horizon is the sound of Czarina elbow piercing the top of my skull. You’d think I’d have learned after I told her I wanted to have a Meet the Feebles-themed birthday party just after we got married.

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

As far as the Czarina is concerned, Chinese New Year celebrations outshine those for the Gregorian New Year, so she’s making extensive plans for the upcoming holiday. I don’t give her any grief, considering my annual outpouring of ancestral patriotism, and instead just smile and nod. A second New Year celebration that incorporates parades, dancing, and Buddha’s Hand citrons? What sort of monster would I be to complain?

Of course, like a dying weasel, the previous year has to get in one or two more good bites before going back to Hell. Or, as the Czarina notes, “The Year of the Rabbit lives up to its name. Ever notice how, when you try to put a rabbit back in its hutch, it’ll always kick and claw you one last time before you let go?” The fun started on Saturday, when an old friend of ours announced that he was coming back to town, and that he was throwing a party way out in Waxahachie. Waxahachie is an old Comanche name for “What the hell are you doing out there?”, so I fueled up the car, stocked up on food and drink (mostly for the party, but I wanted at least a little something for myself), and moseyed down the road a spell. About a mile away, the timing belt on the car decided to give up its life in sacrifice to the Lords of Chaos, leaving me stuck in the middle of long-dried Cretaceous seabed. At about midnight.

Oh, and did I mention that the Czarina was stuck at home with a bad bout of the flu?

If years and years of moviewatching actually did some good, it was in teaching me the importance of “never get out of the boat.” I knew better than to wander around in the dark instead of staying with my vehicle. Worse, one of the ranches down the road actually has castle towers out in front, and I already knew how that would turn out. I can’t sing, I look terrible in fishnet stockings, and honestly, Tim Curry doesn’t do anything for me. Suffice to say, the adventure actually started when the tow truck arrived, and I had the singular pleasure of hanging out with one of the flat-out funniest tow truck drivers I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve known some wits of the highway in my time. (As a recommendation, should you be stuck anywhere south to southwest of Dallas, I can’t give the guys at 3D Towing in Midlothian a high enough compliment. Fast, competent, honest, and exceedingly friendly on a Saturday night, and that’s hard enough to find anywhere.)

As of this moment, the car is locked up for repairs, including a replacement timing belt and a new radiator. Considering what I paid in repairs on my old car circa 2002, I’m not complaining, but let’s just say that I’ll be doing a few more plant shows this year to replace the chunk of liver and lights that this took out.

And then there’s the saga of the tree. Last summer’s insane drought was rough on most of Texas’s trees, but it demonstrated the inherent weaknesses of some introduced species. One of the big silverleaf maples in our back yard had been there since the house was built, and survived the droughts of 1980 and 2006 with aplomb. The one-two strike of our bad freeze in February and the drought all summer, though, stretched it beyond its tolerance, and it finally gave up sometime in September. And so it goes. I suspect that the woodpeckers are going to miss it more than I will, but there’s still something sad and diminishing about seeing what seemed to be such a gigantic tree cut up into lengths and stacked at the edge of the front yard, and the stack isn’t even chest-high. Better there, though, than landing atop the garage in our next big snowstorm.

Well, as another booster of local delights used to say, “Aside from that, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think of Dallas?” Here’s hoping that the Czarina is right and the new year really starts the week after next, because I’m looking forward to turning the Year of the Rabbit into hasenpfeffer.

“I want you to pass me that trowel as hard as you can.”

Mary at Black Walnut Dispatch once again hits a nerve. Responding to concerns that the cable channel HGTV is removing the last of its gardening programs, presumably for more programming friendlier to advertisers wanting to sell $80k in house renovations at a time, she’s suggesting her own line of amped-up garden shows. I don’t disagree with her, and in fact I’ve been arguing for years that gardening and horticulture shows need to get more gonzo.

The reason that this hits a nerve is because it connects with a longrunning tradition in the Riddell household. Neither the Czarina nor myself are much for serious television-watching these days, and that’s only partly because we swore to the other that either one has legal permission to shoot, club, or garrote the other if terminal television addiction becomes apparent. Running something as background entertainment while engaging in hands-intensive activities is perfectly acceptable, which is why the Czarina drops in a few episodes of Midsomer Murders while doing pearl restringings. I’m a bit more partial to reruns of Primeval while potting up butterworts, but that comes with the territory. Either way, as mentioned in the past, our greatest fear is finding ourselves flipping through 8800 channels looking for one program that sucks marginally less for a half-hour, and watching friends getting addicted to the latest soon-to-be-forgotten “hit drama” is another sour note. (This leads to all sorts of interesting situations, such as when the Czarina tries to get decent Web access that doesn’t require either FIOS television or a telephone land line as part of the deal. It’s like trying to get a cell phone plan where you have the choice of texting or a party line.)

In most years, though, that changes on our anniversary. In most years, we get a nice out-of-the-way hotel or housesit, and spend our time relaxing. By “relaxing”, this usually means the Czarina fires up the cable or satellite connection, turns on HGTV, and we watch until what comedian Bill Hicks referred to as a “hump of hate” is filled. I’m amazed at her ability to digest horrible “flip this house” gibberish and walk out still sane, but she’s usually taking notes on new home repair techniques and materials. When we’ve both reached our saturation point on the advertising, especially with the annual special-television-offer flotsam that’s advertised twice every commercial break, it’s time to go home, thankful that we don’t do it more than once per year.

This last year, though, we had to skip out. The Czarina didn’t believe me when I told her that I wanted to stay home and shovel out my office, and I used the opportunity to prove her wrong. No: Prove Her Wrong. (Okay, so she proved me wrong, because I still have one box that needs to be sorted and pitched. However, I proudly state that fourteen boxes of obscurantia have been sorted, filed, indexed, shredded, and donated, and I even have two boxes of old financial papers that will make great kindling for a bonfire this weekend.) She went in to her Day Job to fend off the worst of the Boxing Day freakiness, and I covered the living room with ever-growing piles of detritus. I finally got the space cleared out, pitched the last worn copy paper box, bound my cracked and bleeding hands as best as I could, looked up at the calendar, and realized “We skipped out on our inoculation against excessive consumption, didn’t we?”

No fear, though. The Czarina has Plans this weekend, and they involve reminding her why we don’t need to get a replacement for the television any time soon. By the time we’re done, we may both have ideas for what makes the perfect gonzo garden show, and then it’s time to look for sponsorships. I figure that the teaser ads for the pilot episode could start with this little missive, with severe apologies to Chuck Pahlaniuk:

The first rule of Garden Club: You do not talk about Garden Club.
The second rule of Garden Club: You DO NOT TALK ABOUT GARDEN CLUB.
Third rule: If gives up and goes inside to watch television, the garden is over.
Fourth rule: Only two guys to a garden.
Fifth rule: One garden at a time.
Sixth rule: No fertilizers, no hydroponics.
Seventh rule: Growing seasons will go on as long as they have to.
And the Eighth and final rule: If this is your first night at Garden Club, you have to weed.

Ah, Nepenthes

Nepenthes pitcher plants are on my mind as of the last week, and not just because I’m researching plans for a new greenhouse. (The Czarina offered last year to build a new Nepenthes greenhouse, and not just so she can demonstrate that the claw hammers in the house get used on something besides my head. She one with a bungee cord wrapped around it that she calls “Mjolnir”, and you’d swear that she can throw it around corners.) Last year’s drought still hasn’t ended, we’re not exactly looking as if we’re going to repeat 1990’s or 2007’s record rainfalls, and I’m in need of a new growing area that maximizes humidity without drying up a municipal reservoir to do so. I’m also looking for something that’s not too big and not too small, but juuuuuuust right.

All of the carnivores suffered last year from North Texas’s ridiculously low humidity, but the poor Nepenthes just looked ridiculous. As a rule, both lowland and highland Nepenthes can squeak by with average daily humidity going above 50 percent, with their producing larger and more elaborate pitchers the closer the relative humidity goes to “too thick to breathe, too thin to waterski on”. This is why I’m viciously jealous of Hawaiian Nepenthes growers, and it’s not helped by the Czarina hinting that we could always set up shop in Galveston. Dallas’s air may be a bit thicker than it was when another resident with lung issues moved here, but it’s not sopping wet enough to keep the Nepenthes outdoors, much to my regret.

And the history of the genus keeps getting more interesting. Longterm carnivorous plant enthusiasts may be familiar with the Nepenthes “Queen of Hearts” introduced by the wonderful folks at Borneo Exotics, but not know much more than the basics about it. Well, it turns out that “Queen of Hearts”, cultivated from seed saved from a cleared forest in the Philippines, is a new species now named Nepenthes robcantleyi.

As is the case with many Nepenthes species, N. robcantleyi may be extinct in the wild, or examples may still be available in hidden areas of Mindanao. Fellow carnivore enthusiast Fran├žois Sockhom Mey is keeping closer tabs on developments than I could, so I refer you to him. From this hemisphere, though, it’s time to get that greenhouse built, because I will have one on display by the time the decade is over.

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

Radio silence over the last week, mostly due to having a surfeit of vacation time at the Day Job that needed to be burned off or lost. This meant that, like the protagonist in too many really downbeat novels, I had to face my deepest darkness. Instead of, say, traveling up the Mekong to stop Colonel Kurtz or prevent Tyler Durden from setting off the last bit of Project Mayhem, I went waaaaaaaay deeper. I cleaned out my office.

The basic aspect of sweeping clean the Augean Workspace was relatively painless compared to the sifting. I didn’t realize how many boxes I had that were full of correspondence from the late Eighties and early Nineties, check stubs from companies dead a full 15 years, and holiday cards from people who meant a lot to me half my life ago. That’s not counting newspaper cuttings on subjects that must have had some significance in 1992, but that were completely clue-free today. The local paper recycler loves me, and not just because I’d been dragging around boxes full of obsolete catalogs because “I’ll get around to sorting it one day.” That went double for my once-voluminous magazine collection: when the Czarina and I got married in 2002, I had a full 25 legal boxes full of archived magazines, not counting my separate archive of magazines for which I’ve written. Now, I’m down to two, and one of those is solely a collection of Bonsai Today back issues that are nearly impossible to replace.

Along that line, going through all of that correspondence from my writing days, I’ve made a resolution for 2012. I spent a good four years trying to warn writer and publisher friends about the inevitable implosion of Borders Books, and took nothing but grief for doing so. After about the eighth missive whining about how I was a really negative vibe merchant who was bringing down the entire world for suggesting that Borders employees should get out while they had the chance, I stopped responding “What: like your trousers?” Likewise, going through that two-decade-old mail made me realize that publishing itself, particularly science fiction publishing, hasn’t changed at all since then, other than the names of the big players. You have some new names, and a lot of older names that are now greyer and fatter than they were back then, and a few who became trivia questions about fifteen minutes after their funerals. Because of that, I’m just going to smile and nod concerning publishing in 2012, mostly so I can laugh and point at some of the bigger casualties after the fact. Me, vindictive? Naah. I promise that when I celebrate the demises of several smaller publishers based on their current output, I’ll keep the music down and only pull out the cheap champagne.

On brighter subjects, yesterday marked nine years of marital bliss between myself and the Czarina, and we were promptly informed by a good friend that this was our pottery anniversary. Considering that our day was spent poking through antique stores poring over old pots, planters, and Wardian cases, it fits. Discovering that our next anniversary is “tin” brought forth actual screams from the Czarina, by the way, as I’ve already mentioned that I’m planning to have a party to celebrate the occasion. Costumes for the waitstaff, perhaps?

Anyway, back to the linen mines. Four boxes of old papers remain, and I may actually be finished with cleaning, dusting, sorting, and pitching by next Monday. By Tuesday morning, it’ll be time to get back to gardening preparation, as 2012 is probably going to be as intense in that aspect as 2011. I hope not, but I’m trying to be realistic. In the meantime, get ready for another Joey Box contest: I just sent off Joey and Cheryl’s box for the year (nearly 20 kilos’ worth), and I have a lot of other items that just wait for new homes.