Tag Archives: Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2013

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2013 – 9

You’re now in the final stretch. Either all of the family obligations are done, or you’re still taking care of the final bits and drabs. You’re stocking up on sugarplums, or you’re stocking up on Jack Daniel’s. Congratulations: now all you have to do is get past the rest of the winter.

Through the dreary expanses of January, it’s not enough to idly consume. Yes, a good Internet connection and a Netflix account gives you a strategic advantage over those of previous generations. Anyone old enough to remember when Christmas Eve alone meant maybe three television stations, all loaded with inspirational programming, and maybe five all-Christmas music radio stations, was the extent of entertainment options can appreciate this more than most. Now take away those, and just look out onto the cold, and it’s no surprise as to the high levels of alcohol abuse and mental illness in far northern climes. When going outside is a physical threat, staying next to the fire and singing to oneself makes a bit of sense.

Not that we get this in Texas, where the danger is being outdoors in the summer. It’s correspondingly easier to initiate some kind of social interaction, but we’re still all hit with the same basic human response of finding social interaction worth the effort. Contrary to popular opinion, Dallas is a bit more than shopping malls, and if you’re not in the mood for orchid and organic garden societies, there’s plenty to do this time of the year, depending upon your interests.

With such a range, any decent list might go on for pages, so the resultant list is a shoutout for fellow vendors and survivors of many of the preceding year’s Triffid Ranch shows and events. After all, the highest compliment I can pay them all is that they didn’t kill me when they had the chance.

Tiffany at ConDFW

To begin, one of the first fellow vendors I ever met when starting Triffid Ranch shows was Tiffany Franzoni of Roll2Play, back when the company alternated between online sales and booths at science fiction and gaming conventions. Roll2Play now has a full-time permanent locale, featuring both game sales and rentals. Even better, since there’s no point in buying a boardgame if you don’t have someone else with whom to play it, Roll2Play offers free gaming space for live demos, regular tournaments, and playtesting for new games. It also has a well-stocked snack and drink cabinet and a determination to become a local community hub: during Icepocalypse 2013, Tiffany opened the store to neighbors without power so they had power to charge cell phones and heat to thaw out during the extended blackout. Games, activities, carnivorous plant displays, good conversation…it’s worth the trip, even across the whole of Dallas proper from where we are.

Another option is to keep an eye on the Keith’s Comics Web site for new events. I’m proud to have known owner Keith Colvin for twenty years now, and there’s a lot to be said about his chain of comic shops running through the Metroplex. However, Keith also understands the meaning of community, so he regularly sponsors movie screenings and other events throughout the year. Among others, Keith also arranges mass screenings of television show season premieres at the Angelika Film Center Dallas, so if you’re not in the mood to watch something by yourself, it’s worth the time to come out to a free showing with about 300 or so other fans.

Manager at Rockwall Half Price Books

Finally, I’ve been lucky enough to be a vendor at several shows alongside crews from Half Price Books, and it’s been interesting watching as Half Price evolves along with the publishing industry. Dallas is now bereft of independent bookstores selling new books, Borders has been gone for two years, and Barnes & Noble isn’t long for this world, so Half Price is moving into new book signings and events. While the Triffid Ranch is taking a hiatus from sales, I’ve been given a standing invitation for a presentation and lecture at the Half Price flagship store, and that’s on top of HPB’s regular events in that space. Details will follow as i get them.

More to follow…

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2013 – 8

(Can you believe it? I thought Cephalopodmas was today, not yesterday. Hence, let’s make up for lost time.)

So…has the threat of January blues hit you yet? Has the threat of bad movies, worse television, and unlistenable radio, even in the days of unlimited options via the Interwebs, convinced you to crawl into a burrow and hibernate until February? Are you prepared to sleep through the year until February 2, the 35 anniversary of the day Sid Vicious rose from his grave, looked down at his shadow, and realized that he had to wait six more weeks until spring?

Not that I blame you, and if the plants cooperate, then get to work. If they aren’t, then there’s always the infrastructure that can be dealt with before the weather warms up. A good way to do this is by building community, and carnivorous plant enthusiasts have a lot more options for this than we did, say, 20 years ago. Another reason for the Triffid Ranch hiatus? With the hiatus, I’ll finally have the money to make charitable contributions to folks who really deserve assistance for their work.

Sarracenia under UV with blue spots

The first and most obvious option is to give a shoutout to the International Carnivorous Plant Society, the largest carnivorous plant organization in the world today. We’re miniscule compared to, say, the American Orchid Society, but the increasing variability and variety of new carnivores means that nobody’s getting bored. At the very least, access to the ICPS seed bank makes the annual membership worth the cost, even if it didn’t come with the quarterly newsletter and access to its archives.

If you’re looking for a bit more activism, then take a look at joining the North American Sarracenia Conservancy, a group dedicated to both informing the general public of the threat to Sarracenia pitcher plant habitats and preserving the genetic diversity of the genus in propagation. As someone who just finished cleaning out Sarracenia pools in preparation for the rest of the winter, I can appreciate the hard work the NASC does, and plan to contribute as much as I can next year to assisting its efforts. Besides, several carnivorous plant enthusiast friends are proud members, and any excuse to hang out with them is a good one.

Triggerplants by Douglas Darnowski

Triggerplants by Douglas Darnowski

Speaking of those friends, I still owe an incredible debt of gratitude to Ryan Kitko for introducing me to triggerplants nearly a decade ago, which is why I keep plugging the joys of the International Triggerplant Society. (Go figure: the heat loss and power outage caused by Icepocalypse 2013 killed off other plants, but they managed to set off germination in both triggerplant and Roridula seeds that I was about ready to write off. Now it’s just a matter of making sure that fungus doesn’t take them out, as Roridula in particular suffers from serious issues with damping off.) One of the biggest reasons for the current hiatus is to focus on cultivation of new species of triggerplant, and if things work out well, this should mean some big, impressive specimens by May of 2015, thanks to the Society.

Finally, as a shoutout for other friends, I’m going to compile a list of reptile shelters next year to assist with finding homes for reptiles and amphibians where the owners simply can’t care for their charges. One I highly recommend is Tucson Reptile Rescue, not just for their work but for the sense of humor they show when bringing up adoptable animals to the public. Give early and often to offset the costs of feeding and heating, and if you’re so inclined to visit, consider adopting a lizard, turtle, or snake that needs a good home. They’re good folks, so please help if you can.

More to follow…

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2013 – 7

Sooner or later, every hobbyist hits the point where the ideas you have are ones that can be realized by building them yourself. This might be a particular prop, a particular tool, or, in the case of gardening, just the right container. In that case, having the right tools to make the right tool matter just as much as anything else.

Besides bonsai tools, tools and supplies intended for model-building and model train displays work extremely well for miniature garden design and construction, and with the general death of the mom-and-pop hobby shop in the Nineties, online sources stepped in to fill the niche. Between power tools for drilling and tapping, and specialty filing and sanding options, you can’t go wrong with Micro-Mark. I’ve been buying from Micro-Mark for nearly 15 years, because sometimes a job can only be finished with proper application of a Flex-I-File.

About the only issue I’d have with Micro-Mark is with its selection of casting resins and mold-making supplies, but that’s not because the company sells poor products. It’s because sometimes you need more options. That’s why I was extremely glad to discover Reynolds Advanced Materials last week. You’d be amazed at how much epoxy putty gets used on various projects here at the Triffid Ranch, and Reynolds carries several specialist varieties that should be essential items in any miniature garden designer’s toolkit. Even better, for those with access to a brick-and-mortar store, Reynolds offers all-day training seminars/a> to get the best use out of casting and molding materials, and two-hour product demo classes to fill in experienced users on new products. Between resin-casting and making food-grade molds, the Czarina and I already have plans for a late anniversary present, as soon as the Dallas locale offers new classes in the new year.

More to follow…

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2013 – 6

In the Northern Hemisphere, at least, January is a good time to focus on all things indoors. (This gives the benefit of the doubt to regular readers from South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as occasional readers from Argentina and McMurdo Air Force Base in Antarctica.) If you’re not getting snow, you’re getting rain, and if you aren’t getting rain, you’re getting squirrels in the attic. (Or, in my case, the greenhouse. I spooked a big one this morning that was big enough to fit with a saddle.) Even sunny days don’t do much to warm the bones, and sunny days are at a premium. Therefore, the best option is to stay inside, turn on every full-spectrum light you own, and spend January and February focusing on staying warm and sane.

The spectre of January gives lots of options for winter horticulture, which includes setting up a workstation for terrarium and miniature garden care and maintenance. Setting up a workstation means procuring the right tools, and procuring the right tools means either making your own or using ones originally designed for other purposes. The best tools for actual plant arrangement maintenance are ones already developed for bonsai and penjing, and the only question is finding the right sources.

In the past ten years, I’ve depended upon two different sources for bonsai tools and supplies, and one is practically around the corner from me. That one, Dallas Bonsai Garden, just finished a major redesign of its Web site and inventory, and it’s been a lifesaver at times. If you’re not sure where to start with tools, may I recommend the 5-piece black metal toolset?

Now, if Dallas Bonsai Garden doesn’t quite scratch the itch, then another very highly recommended source for bonsai tools and supplies is Stone Lantern, based out of Georgia. Not only do I recommend Stone Lantern for tools, supplies, and netsuke figures, but also for its bonsai-themed blog Bonsai Bark. Yes, it’s predominately aimed at serious bonsai enthusiasts, but just about everything in Bonsai Bark can act as inspiration for miniature garden and terrarium enthusiasts as well.

More to follow…

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions – 5

Over the last year, I’ve become more and more of a miniature garden enthusiast, especially thanks to the influence of Janit Calvo over at Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center in Seattle. Part of the reason is that while it’s perfectly reasonable and understandable to buy a miniature garden already constructed and ready, half of the fun is in constructing something completely new. Janit already shares a lot of her best ideas, but you always have those days when you have that itch on the back of your brain where you know exactly what you need to make the perfect miniature garden, but you don’t know where to find it. As with books, sometimes the only option for that perfect part is to make it yourself.

The good news here is that miniature gardening and standard model building have a lot of overlap, both in understanding of scale and in available tools. Some people, such as the Czarina, sigh “that’s the danger,” and they’re RIGHT. Given my druthers, I’d have a workspace comparable to Shawn Thorsson’s, and this comes from someone trying to figure out how to build a custom vacuum plastic former like his. The Czarina and I keep getting into arguments about this: she seems to think that the garage should be used for sheltering the car from our bouts of foul Texas weather, and I counter that the car can stay outside while I’m designing mockup lunar plant growth chambers.

David Gerrold's Vindication (2013)

The next few Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions installments will go into specific tools and supplies, but let’s look at sources for items with easy applications with miniature gardens and arrangements. That starts with going with experts in the subject, and that’s why I recommend spending a few hours poking around Squadron Models. At bare minimum, consider the merits of getting a Squadron Essential Tool Kit if you don’t already have these tools on hand. Either way, the tools listing can be dangerous as well.

This is all good, but then there’s subject matter. As great as Squadron is, it lacks in selection of dinosaur figures what it meets with space subjects, and I’m constantly asked about sources for decent dinosaur figures. That’s why I send everyone over to Dan’s Dinosaurs for moderately-priced prehistoric animals figures best-suited for miniature garden applications. Even with the name, Dan’s Dinosaurs is also an excellent source for models of plants and animals that predate or postdate the dinosaurs, so go crazy with Deinotherium and Scutellosaurus additions to an arrangement.

Now let’s just say that you don’t want to go with dinosaurs, and science fictional material won’t cut it for you. In that case, head toward the Space Store’s selection of space models. Speaking from experience, most succulent miniature garden arrangements just beg for an accurate Viking 1 lander somewhere among the sands, and I’m still waiting for someone else to credit the equally successful Luna missions by setting up an arrangement with a Lunkakhod 1. Likewise, if you really need astronaut figures for your arrangement, the Space Store has those, too.

More to follow…

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions – 4

So you’re already foodied out right now. Between corporate parties and banquets, family and friend gatherings, and random passersby desperately trying to throw their excess chocolate fudge and spiral-cut ham at you, you’re feeling like a Burmese python with a gut full of bowling balls. Here in the States, you’re getting ready to cook up a 20-pound turkey next week while trying to find room in the refrigerator for the leftovers from the Thanksgiving one. (Either that, or you belong to a family like mine, where your grandmother is so determined to use every last scrap of turkey that she’s boiling down the bones to make Jell-O.) By December 26, you’ve not only sworn that you’re never going to eat like that again, but you’re going to spend the entire next year photosynthesizing. And if you haven’t hit that point, you’re having really disturbing dreams involving fantastical desserts that shouldn’t exist, such as when friends asked me to make Cthulhufruit vodka Jell-O shots. (No, I’m not making them out of turkey-rendered gelatin.)

Well, you say that now. Now, that last batch of oatmeal cookies brought in by well-meaning co-workers is sitting so hard on your stomach that you’re afraid to use the restroom without being nicknamed “Cannonball” afterwards. (So said “Fire In The Hole”.) By mid-January, though, you’re not just starving, but you’re starving for something besides the usual winter fare. If you’re eating soup, you want something other than chicken noodle. If nothing else, you want to turn up the heat.

This is where it gets fun. It’s time for recommendations local and otherwise, and then a recommendation for a road trip.

Let’s start with the local. For the last nearly 16 years, I’ve been making a modified tandoori turkey for friends and family, with lots of experimentation with ingredients and cooking techniques. I’ll share the recipe here one of these days, but in the early days, I used to have to depend upon bottled tandoori masala mixes for the spices. That’s before I discovered the wonderful folks at Dallas Spice Market, practically up the street from where I live these days. Four ounces of Dallas Spice Market tandoori masala mix is enough for an entire turkey, and I can state with authority that it works equally well with everything from brisket to portabella mushrooms. Do NOT get me going about their ground pepper mixes.

If you’re wanting something more specialized to hit that spice tooth, let me let you in on a little secret. I’ve been a Defcon Sauces addict for the last five years, ever since I came across their Habby Horse horseradish sauce. Everyone specializing in the extremely spicy keeps up the mantra “it’s all about the flavor, not just the heat,” but Defcon sauces and rubs follow through. If you’re sick to death of ham and turkey for Christmas dinner, try some of the Habby Horse with a fresh-smoked brisket. It’ll peel the enamel off your teeth in big floppy strips, but that’s what my little brother Eric and I call “Taco Bell mild”.

Finally, half of the fun of experimenting with spice is coming across new mixes and new concepts that wouldn’t have occurred to you otherwise. That’s why I, for one, look forward to next year’s Zest Fest at the Irving Convention Center the weekend of January 24. Acre upon acre of vendors, samples, and baskets to carry home all of your loot, and all of it the exact opposite of “bland”. Two recommendations: don’t assume that you won’t find something worth taking home, and don’t forget to bring a bag with a stout, comfortable handle to carry it away. If it has wheels, you’re definitely planning ahead.

More to follow…

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2013 – 3

Okay, so far, we’ve been discussing getting through the nightmare that is January and February with physical resources. Books and plants, among other things. Sometimes, though, you need a change of scenery to get by. Sometimes, all you need is the plan of a change of scenery, where you know that you’re going to be someplace wonderful in a few months. It also has to be something different: what’s the point of going to Hawaii in January when every experience you have is one held by every tourist visiting the islands? (That’s why I recommend New Zealand instead. It’s a much further trip, but where else are you going to see keas and tuatara?)

With the promise of getting away from the cold, it may seem odd that I’d recommend a trip to Canada, but that’s what I’m doing. More importantly, I’m recommending a trip to Alberta. Drumheller, specifically, to the Royal Tyrrell Museum. That’s because the Royal Tyrrell just re-opened its world-famous Cretaceous Garden after an extensive renovation. The only thing more jarring than wandering through the Garden’s cool damp and looking through the windows out on the badlands surrounding the museum would be seeing meter-high snowdrifts out on those badlands. Because of that alone, make the trip.

A little closer to home, I actually have a reason to visit Austin. Specifically, my next trip through Austin on my way to San Antonio is a perfect one to visit the Hartman Prehistoric Garden at the Zilker Botanic Garden, just to see a reasonable view of plant life in Texas during the Mesozoic Era. Between this and the Austin Nature & Science Center, and I’m in trouble. (Alternately, for those seeking reasons to ransack the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, combine a trip through the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and a drive due south to Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose for much the same effect.)


Going a bit further afield, I’ve needed to make a trip back up to the Pacific Northwest for various reasons, and the biggest one is to visit the only US state refuge specifically set up for a carnivorous plant species. This is the Darlingtonia State Natural Site, southwest of Portland and right along the Pacific coast. Much like the Portland Japanese Garden, I missed out on visiting the Natural Site when I lived in the vicinity, and it’s time to go back and claim to be gathering data on plant growth and soil temperatures.

Finally, speaking of fighting winter blues, might I make a suggestion? What always works for me is a good swim, preferably in an actual lake or river with no chlorine or other additives. It’s even better when said lake is full of wildlife, and the water is clear enough that you can watch them from waaaaay off. Between alligators, anhinga, manatees, and swimming year-round, how could any other place beat going for a swim in the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park?

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2013 – 2

Mischa with "The Mullet of Metal"

(Most sites and blogs put together lists of interesting sites for tips on gifts this holiday season. Let’s assume that family members and friends are already taken care of, and you yourself might need something to do through the long winter. Keep checking back every day between now and New Year’s Day, and with luck, you might find something of interest.)

I’m regularly asked if and when the Texas Triffid Ranch will start online sales of plants and arrangements, and I have to be honest. Part of the reason why the Triffid Ranch doesn’t ship plants is because most of the plants and arrangements are too large and too heavy to ship on an economic basis. It’s not fair to charge, say, $10 for a plant and then another $60 on shipping for the rest of the assemblage. The other reason, though, is that I have plenty of mentors and friends who do offer online sales, and I can’t recommend giving them your business highly enough. If asked whom I prefer, I’m going to tell the absolute truth and say “all of the above,” because each one has something to offer.

To start, just about everyone in the carnivorous plant trade owes a debt of gratitude to Peter D’Amato of California Carnivores, if only because of the seminal reference guide The Savage Garden. If you end up in the North California area next year, consider a trip to the nursery location, but also don’t be afraid to order plants all year round.

On a more personal level, I sincerely regret that I didn’t get hooked on carnivorous plants about six years earlier. This way, instead of wasting time with a writing career when living in Portland, Oregon, I’d have spent almost all of that time ransacking the inventory over at Sarracenia Northwest. While making plans for your own arrangements and displays, you might want to check out SN’s series of instructional DVDs, just to get everything ready for when you’re ready to start your plant collection.

And on the other side of the continent from these two, we have Black Jungle Terrarium Supply, in central Massachusetts. Black Jungle carries a lot of carnivores, but it also specializes in dart frogs and dart frog supplies, and a lot of fascinating non-carnivorous plants. By way of example, check out Black Jungle’s collection of ant plants (plants with specializations that encourage ants to nest inside), and if you really want something different, consider a bioluminescent mushroom kit.

With all three venues, I’ve purchased plants, including some that hold places of honor in my personal collection, and never had an issue, and I recommend all three without reservation. One day, I hope to return a tiny sliver of the goodwill and knowledge they’ve offered me, but I’m going to have to work at it.

More to follow…

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2013 – 1

Cover: Miniature Gardens by Janit Calvo

Okay, so you’ve taken care of holiday obligations. Whether you’re buying presents for Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, or Yak-Shaving Day, if said holiday happens before the end of the year, you probably already have all of your shopping done, the packages wrapped, and the gift exchanges planned. You’ve done all you can for everyone else, but what about yourself?

Seriously. Once the holiday obligations are done, the next few months in the Northern Hemisphere are going to be miserable. Short days and long, dark, cold nights, and nobody wants to get out into it. New movie releases are so bad that the term “Sargasso of January” applies to the much-hyped and equally unwatchable films, and even Netflix can’t help if you’ve already watched every episode of Farscape. It’s time for outside stimulation, and at affordable prices.

With this in mind, it’s time to put together a list of resources and venues intended to keep you safe and sane in this post-holiday season. Hang on and check back every day between now and New Year’s Day, because it’s going to get FUN.

Firstly, for the last five years, St. Johns Booksellers in Portland, Oregon has been an official partner with the Triffid Ranch for books and other print materials of all sorts. Owner Nena Rawdah has been a friend and cohort for a full third of my life now, and I don’t just recommend the store because I owe her for not killing me when she had the chance. I’m also recommending the store, should you live in the vicinity, because of its newly revamped and updated interior, perfect for author readings and other opportunities to get out of the January Oregon damp. And if you don’t have the opportunity to get to the Portland area, well, call or E-mail about your book requests. I can state with authority that it has quite a palaeontology selection in its science section, because that used to be part of my library.

Also in Portland is one of my favorite publishers, and I’ve related for years that the little pine tree logo on the spine of a Timber Press book is an automatic endorsement of the contents inside. Without fail, Timber Press books get me through long and tough Januarys, and now might be the time to purchase your copy of Janit Calvo’s Gardening in Miniature in preparation for March and April. And if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, it’ll give you plenty of preparation for things to do during the long, dark June.

More to follow…