Monthly Archives: October 2012

Have a Great Halloween

Yes, music in the 1980s was a bit, erm, different, wasn’t it?

Requiescat in pace, Pat Graham

My grandmother

I have one photo of my maternal grandmother, Pat, dating from her retirement celebration 25 years ago today. Like many, she retired the day she turned 65, but she wasn’t worried about seeing the world or doing all of the things she wanted to do when she was younger. Instead, the first thing she did after she retired was ask me to call her, which I think was surprising for the both of us. For me, it was a surprise, because she regularly joked about how she assumed that I’d rejoin the human race once I turned 21, and there she was, right on the dot, holding open the door. I think I surprised her by returning the call.

When I refer to my grandmother as a major inspiration, a lot of this was because she was a force of nature with no fear of man, beast, or god. Much was made of how I had a grandmother who needed a hip replacement after breaking her natural one falling off a barstool, but the family stories didn’t continue and relate that she broke it beating the hell out of a biker who tried to steal her cigarettes. The guy had maybe 150 pounds and forty fewer years on her, and apparently he was crying and begging for someone to save him when four people peeled her off him. It wasn’t that she was deliberately picking bar fights or anything: she was just a very private and very focused individual who didn’t tolerate fools or knaves. Out of all of her descendants, I think she called me up back then because I had the most in common with her, and I returned the respect by being my own person as much as I could.

The author as walking dead, 1987

At times, I wonder what sort of person my grandmother would have been if she hadn’t been born where and when she was. Out of all of my friends, she reminds me the most of one friend who is very happy hanging out with friends for conversations, but who also needs and desperately craves time by herself. Back in the 1940s, that Just Wasn’t Done, and while she loved her family, I think she also wondered what could have been if she’d been able to throw propriety in the lake. To this day, I could see her becoming a noted explorer or historian, if she’d just been given the opportunity, and those sorts of opportunities simply weren’t available to her at that time.

As it was, while she couldn’t do it herself at that point, she was intensely curious as to what I was doing. When I dabbled in theatrical makeup and went full George Romero for Halloween 1987, she asked for photos and also asked how I pulled off the “peeling face” effect. (She was surprised to discover that it was nothing but toilet paper, liquid latex, and a bit of stage blood.) I changed hair color, and she asked for details. She told me that she was going to get her nose pierced after I got mine done in 1991, just to see what it was like, but I never knew for sure if she did it. After a while, it became a regular gag as to how she was more of a hellion than I was: for one birthday, I sent a card that featured a little old lady on the left and a gaggle of fully Mohawked punks on the right, and the caption “My friend and your friends finally meet.” Oh, and she completely lost it with laughter when I introduced her to Monty Python’s “Hell’s Grannies” skit:

At the time, the only issue she had with anything I did involved my fascination with reptiles. After purchasing my first savannah monitor, I made several attempts to come up to visit, with plans falling apart at the last minute, and she made only one demand. “If you come up, you’d better not bring that DAMN REPTILE with you.” For Christmas in 1989, I purchased a dinosaur hatchling sculpture from John Fischner, the noted dinosaur sculptor, and asked her what she thought when she received it. “You know, when I opened it, I just saw an eye, and I thought ‘If he mailed me that DAMN REPTILE, I’m going to kill him.'” She had no problem with dinosaurs, though, and was so charmed by Fischner’s babies that they became regular presents over the years.

She was also very interested in my writing career back then, such as it was, and insisted that I send her copies of everything I wrote. A lot of it just led her to smile and nod, but she loved my articles on natural history, and I made a point of dedicating one article on the animals of the Burgess Shale to her. Even as her health failed in the late Nineties, she kept asking for new pieces, and as I moved more and more often to online-only venues, I’d print them out just so she could have a hard copy. When I was quoted in an article at the beginning of 2000, she went well out of her way to hunt down a copy of the New York Times for that article, just to say that she had a grandson who could get his name in the Times without it being prefaced with “convicted axe murderer and cannibal” and followed by “before being taken out in a hail of police gunfire.”

Today would have been her ninetieth birthday, and a combination of emphysema and strokes caused her to miss her eightieth. Every time I go into the greenhouse, there’s not a time where I don’t regret that I can’t send her more photos of the latest pitcher plant. Requiescat in pace.

The Chinese Lantern Festival at Fair Park – 3

Chinese Lantern Festival - Czarina

I’d be lying if I said we attended the Chinese Lantern Festival at Fair Park solely for the Czarina, but it’s also mostly true. She wanted to catch this from the moment she heard about it, and I figured “Well, this should be interesting, but it’s for her.” How was I supposed to know that one particularly primordial end of Leonhardt Lagoon would be full of dinosaurs?

As for this first photo, for some reason, the Festival had two animatronic dinosaurs, probably brought out during the Museum of Nature & Science’s move, on display as well. Not only was nobody complaining, but at the end of October, it was actually quite charming.

Chinese Lantern Festival - Apatosaurus

Chinese Lantern Festival - Triceratops

Chinese Lantern Festival - Triceratops

Chinese Lantern Festival - Ouranosaurus

And for those who now regret not coming out to the Festival while it was running, the Festival was such a success that it re-opens on November 1 and runs until January 6, 2013. I recommend getting out there this weekend, while the weather remains this pleasant. Of course, this being Dallas, we could have this sort of weather holding out until after Christmas, but make plans to visit it early anyway. Maybe next time, I’ll come out there with fully charged batteries in my camera, just so I can photograph the rest of the dinosaurs.

The Chinese Lantern Festival at Fair Park – 3

Chinese Lantern Festival - Longhorns

One of the biggest selling points in the promotion of the Chinese Lantern Festival at Fair Park is that this isn’t a touring exhibition. This was designed specifically for Fair Park, and as such, it has a lot of touches endemic to Texas. Hence, longhorns.

Chinese Lantern Festival - trees

Chinese Lantern Festival - tower

Chinese Lantern Festival

Chinese Lantern Festival - Peacock and peahen

More to follow…

The Chinese Lantern Festival at Fair Park – 2

Chinese Lantern Festival

When the Chinese Lantern Festival opened at Dallas’s Fair Park, the automatic assumption was that this was going to be more like a Japanese lantern festival, with paper lanterns filled with candles being released into the sky. This was more of an ongoing exhibition of what could be done with silk, wire, and lighting. It includes everything from the childlike (a landscape of cartoonish pandas playing and ambling through the undergrowth) to the surreal (a gigantic dragon composed of porcelain plates and cups, outlined in neon). A high point, and the festival is nothing but highlights, is the tremendous lotus in the middle of Leonhardt Lagoon, which opens and closes slowly while frogs on lily pads slowly rotate around it.

Chinese Lantern Festival - Lotus and Frogs

Chinese Lantern Festival - Kirin

Chinese Lantern Festival - landscape

More to follow…

The Chinese Lantern Festival at Fair Park – 1

Texas Star ferris wheel

This time of the year gives plenty of reasons to visit the State Fair of Texas, and the Czarina and I finally got out there the Thursday before its closing on October 21. Those who haven’t attended before can’t understand the sheer joy of wandering through Fair Park this time of the year, especially at night. By the end of October, the skies are as clear as they’re ever going to get, adding a particular clarity to everything outside. Neon doesn’t just glow: it snaps. With the air quality comes a certain crispness to both vision and hearing, and it’s perfectly reasonable to just stand in one spot, watching people and events, without ever visiting a single event. I was first exposed to this when I lived across the street in Exposition Park two decades ago, and the sight of the Texas Star ferris wheel in full neon still thrills me to no end.

Big Tex burning up

“I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE, AND I GIVE YOU FIRE!” (photographer unknown)

This year, it was eventful, too. The news of Big Tex, the mascot and symbol of the State Fair, catching fire on October 19 reached an international audience. Some people cried. Others told dark jokes, such as the tale of two fellow Texas icons being caught fleeing the scene and giving their only statement to the police. In my case, thanks to the batteries in my camera dying at the worst possible time, I told myself “Oh, I’ll get a photo of Big Tex at night next year.” Now my biggest regret is that we’ll never see the ultimate in Lone Star daikaiju, with Big Tex going into battle against the Sinclair dinosaurs in Glen Rose.

The real reason to go to the Fair this year, though, was to see the Chinese Lantern Festival, wrapping around both sides of the old Museum of Nature & Science and taking over Leonhardt Lagoon. Let’s just say that anybody seeing the Festival during the day was definitely missing out.

Chinese Lantern Festival gate

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Cat Monday

Leiber

Have a great weekend

I detest the film sampled for this song (this is what I get for being a George Romero purist), but somehow the song makes it work.

Lunch With Garden Writers: oh, the humanity

On very topical notes, I have to admit that Today’s Garden Center magazine has a brilliant method of attracting press coverage for garden stores, by inviting local garden writers to lunch to let them look around. I love the idea. LOVE it, and I may expand upon it. In fact, I may resurrect the idea of the “Manchester United Flower Show” as such a luncheon. Of course, I say this as a former writer, and I can imagine the aftermath.

Now, I say this as someone who knows a lot of garden writers, and counts many of them as good and dear friends. I also count a lot of other specialist writers as friends, and know that this won’t work in other venues. Political writers, for instance, are used to this sort of treatment, and always compare a quiet little luncheon to that one they had with “their close personal friend” in the White House or the Governor’s Mansion. Sports writers are easy to feed, but the subtleties of general garden luncheon cuisine are beyond them. And don’t get me going about the insane entitlement issues with film and music critics throwing temper tantrums unless they get freebies and exclusives for them to sell on eBay. (As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, an inexplicably still-employed local writer out here, back when he was a film critic, was notorious for throwing tantrums and fits about getting freebies and exclusive interviews in exchange for positive coverage, and then savaging the venue because he got everything he wanted. He now can’t figure out why his name is a profanity among the music community; I myself was nearly stomped to death at a music festival in 2000 because a band assumed that I worked with him and wanted revenge.)

I don’t mean to imply that garden writers are this bad. Heavens, no. You’ll never hear of a plane full of journalists heading to the Independent Garden Center Show being called “the zoo plane“. Nobody’s going to write a tell-all on the Garden Writers Association on their coverage of garden events. We’re definitely never going to see a film featuring a GWA junket starring Bill Murray:

More’s the pity. Considering some of the absolute loons with whom I associate in gardening circles, on both sides of the counter, I’m not only thinking that these luncheons should be encouraged. They should be mandatory. If the luncheons don’t scare the hell out of the shade of Hunter S. Thompson, we’re not doing it right.

The First Annual Reptile & Amphibian Day – Turtles

Dallas - Fort Worth Herpetological Society display
Back on October 13, I accepted an invitation from the Dallas-Fort Worth Herpetological Society to show carnivorous plants at its first annual Reptile & Amphibian Day. The photos continue, starting with the one reptile most herpetophobes can tolerate. Yes, it’s time for turtles.

Tortoise

As far as local turtles and tortoises are concerned, the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is about as large as we get. To see a truly exceptional specimen, make plans to visit the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park Dallas to see one the size of an 18-wheeler tire. This Aldabra tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea was about as large in life, but nowhere near as snuggly.

Aldabra tortoise shell

And then we come to the stalwarts. The Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) doesn’t make it this far west, more’s the pity. One of the first turtles I ever kept was a beautiful male Eastern rescued while attempting to cross a highway in northern Michigan, and if you’re able to get out to the Fenner Nature Center in Lansing, you can still see him. One of these days, I need to head up that way to visit: I know perfectly well that the turtle won’t remember me, or recognize me, but I know I’ll recognize him.

Eastern box turtle

Texas, though, isn’t lacking in box turtles, and these two are native to my immediate area. On the left is a classic example of a three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis), and on the right is an ornate or Western box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata). Both are steadfastly terrestrial turtles, although they both like the occasional soak, but the ornate box turtles are generally found more in cattle fields and plains, while the three-toes tend to stick to scrub and forested areas. Either way, I’d recommend them as pets, but I heartily recommend working with captive-bred turtles, as they’re rapidly disappearing in the wild thanks to fire ant depredations of their nests and habitat destruction.

Three-toed and ornate box turtles

A few friends may remember “Stella,” the three-toed box turtle I rescued in the late Nineties. Stella became best-known for falling madly in love with Leiber, and she’d chase him all over the house, desperately trying to get him to notice her. What’s funny is that she actively tried to attack humans, earning her the nickname “The World’s Meanest Box Turtle,” and I joked that this was a turtle so hostile that she had zimmerit on her shell. She looked harmless but tried to wipe out all mankind: by comparison, ornate box turtles all look vicious, but they’re almost always sweethearts. Go figure.

Ornate box turtle

Finally, we have the height of herpetological cuteness: box turtle hatchlings. Well, they’re almost as cute as crocodile monitors, but you can’t convince the Czarina of this. And so it goes.

Box turtle hatchlings

And there’s more to follow…

Catching Up: the First Annual Reptile & Amphibian Day – 1

Whew. It’s been an interesting week. Between strangeness at the Day Job, weather fluctuations, preparations for moving a greenhouse from underneath a dying silverleaf maple, and a resolution of the issues with Cadigan and Leiber (it turns out that Cadigan’s issues lay with cat litter that was too rough for her to use), the last few weeks have been a bit different. I haven’t even started with discussing the upcoming Shadow Society Halloween event this weekend and the upcoming Funky Finds Experience show two weeks after that. *deep breath* You know it’s a rough time when I do the math and realize that if I live exactly another six months from today, I’ll have outlived H.P. Lovecraft.

Triffid Ranch display

Anyway, on October 13, I accepted an invitation from the Dallas-Fort Worth Herpetological Society to show carnivorous plants at its first annual Reptile & Amphibian Day. As opposed to most Triffid Ranch shows, which are intended to show and sell plants, this one was purely a “look, but don’t purchase” show. Not that this was a problem: it meant that we had a lot of attendees who simply wanted to learn more about carnivorous plant care, as well as more who had never seen any carnivore other than Venus flytraps This worked out remarkably well.

Display detail

Partly because of more abnormally dry weather, and partly because I was rebuilding and propagating stock after last month’s FenCon, the examples were a little small. This time around, it was a basic presentation of the major groups of carnivore (sadly missing both a Heliamphora or Cephalotus this time around, due to the insane dryness), with demonstrations on how their traps worked. This led to one of the most satisfying things a carnivorous plant enthusiast can hear from interested laypeople: “You mean that there are other carnivores besides flytraps? COOL!”

Greater Dallas - Fort Worth Bromeliad Society display

And don’t think I was the only purveyor of botanical wonders at the show. Shawn Crofford of the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth Bromeliad Society was out as well, demonstrating the value of bromeliads in providing nesting habitat for arboreal frogs and other amphibians. (And yes, that’s a life-sized cutout of a saltwater crocodile in the background. One of the draws was a whole set of Masonite cutouts of various giant reptiles, from leatherback turtles to reticulated pythons, to give attendees a sense of scale. It definitely confirmed that if I’m going to raise salties in the back yard, I’m going to need a bigger pond.)

Turtle and tortoise display

And then there were the folks out to see the real beasts perform. Snakes, turtles, lizards, frogs, salamanders, toads…I think someone brought a few caecelians, and only the regular influx of new attendees kept me from exploring the far side of the display hall. Next year, then.

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Cat Monday

Cadigan

Have a Great Weekend

Gnomes With Homes

As mentioned a few weeks back, my friend and cohort Amanda Thomsen just announced the impending release of her new book Kiss My Aster at the end of the year. In order to celebrate, I once again tried to mail her something I found for her about three years ago, but wasn’t able to send until now. In the past, she had various flimsy excuses as to why she couldn’t give a mailing address, usually involving words such as “stalking,” “restraining order,” and “a shotgun full of rock salt if you show up here,” but I suspect she’s learned to trust me a bit. Either that, or the praying mantises in the back yard need feeding. I reciprocated her trust by sending her…a garden gnome.

Porcelain gnome

Now, this isn’t just any garden gnome. Strictly defined, this is a fossil gnome. Jason Cohen, the co-owner of Curiosities in the Lakewood area of Dallas, has a penchant for finding all sorts of little odd things, and one of his many suppliers came across a spoils pile from a German porcelain factory that produced dolls and other household items in the early Nineteenth Century. When figures either misfired in a kiln or broke afterwards, they were dumped out into a huge spoils pile behind the factory, and weeds and vines rapidly overgrew the pile after the factory shut down. The way Jason understood it, construction of a condo building led to a bulldozer moving a big chunk out of the hill, and this must have been one hell of a hill, and passersby collected as many of the figurines and fragments as they could find. Most of these consisted of full doll figurines, doll heads, and various disarticulated limbs, and I personally claimed a head about the size of my thumb that was intended to have inset eyes and hair. (I need to get photos of this, because I really need a life-sized version of this for a Euphorbia project.) This gnome, though, was a bit special.

Why is he special? It’s not because of his distinctive patina. He actually cleaned up quite nicely after being buried in earth and mud for nearly two centuries, which says a lot for modern porcelain cleaning techniques. He was unfinished at the time he was buried, so that’s not it. Just take a look at the side, though, and it’s painfully obvious.

Armless gnome

Yep, Juergen here was a casualty, probably of the Great Gnome/Flamingo War of 1877. Oh, sure, historians may tell you that the worldwide stock crash of that time was due to excessive Prussian speculation, but the reality was that this was the year the war between gnomes and flamingos went global, probably aided by the development and distribution of the Winchester repeating rifle a few years before. If I had the time, I’d build him a prosthetic hand, and then he’d be a fossil cyber-gnome.

Sadly, though, I had to send Juergen to Amanda right away, because he couldn’t stay. I personally felt sympathy for him, but as a dedicated flamingo loyalist, I couldn’t defend him from my highly loyal forces.

Gnome vs. Phororhacos

In the ongoing garden war, the gnomes need to learn one very important thing. Unless one talks about worms, moles, or cane toads, every potential threat is, by definition, Death From Above.

Death From Above

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Cat Monday

Leiber

Have a Great Weekend

Freebies through Snail Mail

Triffid Ranch freebie letters

Get ’em now, before they’re gone.

All of a sudden, a lot of history for the Triffid Ranch ends all at once. It’s been over a year in the coming, but the old mail drop on Royal Lane in Dallas shuts down once and for all next week. It’s a space that I snagged shortly after moving back from Portland in 1997, and it’s amazing to look at what’s happened in the nearly one-third of my life since I put down the first deposit on it. At the very least, it was intended as a space to receive manuscripts and review copies of books back from my writer days, and it served that goal admirably well. For 13 years, it was in a perfect location (even as closer mail stations shut down over the years), but with the last move, it went from being convenient to a major obstacle.

In the interim, both the Czarina and I have done our best to inform customers and friends (which aren’t always mutually contradictory) of the new address, and it’ll be repeated below for your edification. After October 17, though, the old address will be toast. No more. Finis. Bereft of life, it’ll be pushing up the daisies. This is now an ex-address.

And along that line, I also had a bit of bad news involving Triffid Ranch extras. Since 2008, I had ordered those metallic Triffid Ranch buttons from Rachel Dukes and Mike Lopez of Poseur Ink, through their side-business Mod Buttons. Rachel just informed me that she’s shutting down both her button and her silkscreening side-businesses, just literally days before I was going to put in a new order. This doesn’t to say that the Triffid Ranch won’t offer more buttons in the future, but Rachel and Mike’s buttons were always a hit, and once these are gone, that’s it for that design.

What does this have to do with the price of eggs? Well, while organizing other things, I just came across a collection of envelopes with the old Triffid Ranch return address on them, filled with stickers, buttons, and postcards for a big promotional blitz in 2009. I definitely don’t want them to go to waste, which they won’t, and I definitely want them to go to people who’d have fun with them.

Here’s the deal. Right now, I have 30 envelopes, all going to the first people to give a mailing address to “buttons (at) txtriffidranch (dot) com”. (Obligatory online privacy notice: your mailing address, either E-mail or print, will NOT be used for anything other than sending this envelope, nor will they be sent to any third party for any reason without your direct written permission.) Or give me a direct message via the Facebook page or through Twitter. Distance isn’t an object (I’d still love to hear from someone wanting a Triffid Ranch button at the US South Pole Station), and neither is hearing from someone who received buttons and stickers in the past. Just give me a yell before October 17, and it’s yours. Heck, if you want to send ones to friends or cohorts, that’s all right, too. While you’re at it, feel free to pass around word, because there’s always someone new who needs a Rachel and Mike button who didn’t know they needed one.

Remembering where I was on this date in 1997, the last fifteen years have been an interesting trip. Let’s shoot for the next fifteen years being more interesting, shall we?

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.

Essential Viewing: Life From Light

When I tell people that I don’t watch that much television, it’s not that I’m snooty about what I’m watching. Honestly, a lot of it comes down to having the time: between the Day Job and working on the plants, I don’t have the time. Oh, I’ve tried, but setting up a laptop to view while repotting Sarracenia is more trouble than it’s worth. But when it involves a BBC Scotland documentary hosted by Professor Iain Stewart on the origins of plants? I’ll make the time.

EDIT: And while I’m at it, have I mentioned often enough how badly I wish BBC America would put Sir David Attenborough’s classic miniseries The Private Life of Plants on DVD?