Tag Archives: FenCon

Have A Great Weekend

Lots going on this weekend. My lovely and wonderful wife is showing jewelry at FenCon: I’ll be out at the NARBC reptile show in Arlington on Saturday morning, and then helping her with teardown on Sunday. I also hope to have multiple doses of good news by next week. Until then, music.

The Aftermath: FenCon X – 3

FenCon Patrons

FenCon Patrons

FenCon Patrons

And that’s it until next year. Next year involves both All-Con 2014, running from March 13 to March 16, and Texas Frightmare Weekend the weekend of May 2. After that…well, let’s just say the announcement is imminent.

The Aftermath: FenCon X – 2

FenCon Patrons

FenCon Patrons

FenCon Patrons

To be continued…

The Aftermath: FenCon X – 1

Triffid Ranch booth at FenCon X

And five years later, it all comes around to where this whole game started, with a booth at FenCon in Addison, Texas. It’s a little scary to realize how much has changed in the world since those early days, but the sixth Triffid Ranch display at FenCon went off with only a few hitches, a bowline, and an heaving line bend. The days where the dealer’s room was half-full of self-published authors are as dead as the mihirungs, but the move toward more unique handcrafted items keeps expanding, to everyone’s mutual glee. At this point, the surprise isn’t that someone’s offering carnivorous plants in the back corner. The surprise would have been if the booth hadn’t been there.

Cybersaurus

On a personal level, this show was a milestone, the least of which being five years of Triffid Ranch operation. So many longtime cohorts from my early writing days came out that we all joked that this was a Dallas Fantasy Fair reunion, and it wasn’t far from reality. While the actual attendance numbers seemed off (having everything to do with a local media convention that oh-so-coincidentally scheduled its big event for the same weekend, forcing a lot of local fans to choose between the shows), those that came out did so during particularly pleasant and refreshing weather. If you can convince a herd of Texans to come to anything indoors on one of the first reasonably cool weekends of the year, you can do just about anything.

Dread Pirate Moai

To be continued…

No Sleep ’til FenCon

We’re in the final hours left until September returns to hell and that most wondrous month of the year starts up. Oh, sure, there’s always that holiday at the end of the month, but right now we’re focusing on the sheer joy of stepping outside during the day and not crisping into a Free-Range Soylent Green Dorito. Air that doesn’t smell of burning flint, or even burning Manistee. Heck, by the end of this week, we might actually need jackets first thing in the morning. Summer is finally dead, and good riddance to bad rubbish.

Anyway, if things go quiet for the rest of the week, it’s because that rest of the week belongs to getting ready for the last Triffid Ranch show of the year at FenCon X this weekend. A last-minute additional table opened up today, so it’s time to go mad and bring out arrangements where I normally wouldn’t have the room. Since the Sarracenia are doing the same now that the heat broke, it’s only fair. Besides the usual plant craziness, it’s time to catch up on festivities with old friends (some of whom haven’t been out to a convention of this sort for twenty years, so this is a serious reunion for us all), as well as hanging out with friend and fellow Michiganite Tom Smith. And that’s not even mentioning everyone else in the dealer’s room.

In the meantime, back to the linen mines until Friday afternoon. The next Triffid Ranch show is next March at All-Con, so take advantage of the weather and come out for a viewing of the flora.

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.

Upcoming Shows: the June 2013 edition

Five years ago, the Texas Triffid Ranch started out as little more than a hobby with delusions of grandeur, with a stock comprised of cuttings and offshoots from my own collection of carnivorous plants. This year has already seen more shows than in the Triffid Ranch’s first two years, and the fourth quarter of 2013 is going to be a blowout. In the meantime, not counting tentative shows or definite shows where entry isn’t possible right now, here’s the schedule so far:

  • The remainder of June and July are going to be show-free at the moment, partially because of the heat, but things start moving in August. That begins the weekend of August 10 and 11, when the Triffid Ranch makes its first appearance at the Arlington NARBC reptile and amphibian show in the shadow of Cowboys Stadium. Expect lots of good craziness with other vendors (several of whom are old friends), a tremendous variety of reptiles, enclosures, and supplies, and one carnivorous plant nursery trying to keep up.
  • For the last five years, I’ve received requests about two shows in the Dallas area. One is beyond impractical, for a multitude of reasons. The other, though, was an entertaining notion. Several fellow vendors at other shows kept nuhdzing me about it. “Lots of people out there. They’re fun folks. You really need to be out there!” This year, I listened to them, which is why Labor Day weekend marks the first appearance of the Triffid Ranch at Anime Fest in downtown Dallas. Among other things, this marks the first Triffid Ranch four-day event, which should act as a good gauge for next year’s four-day All-Con in March. Besides, where else should I spend a birthday weekend?
  • And then there’s the big one. The event that started it all, five years ago. Specifically, FenCon X in Addison. Not only will this be a revelation as far as plants and arrangements are concerned, but this year’s show features several arrangements normally too big to show. Specifically, one big one is going to be a charity sale for the Arlington Archosaur Site, on behalf of a friend who sadly won’t be at FenCon to give me grief.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the end of things. Obviously, there’s the big Funky Finds Experience show in Fort Worth in November, as well as the possibility of another show at the end of the month. In addition, after having long, fascinating conversations with people coming up to Dallas for particular events, it’s time to consider events in Houston and Galveston. As always, details will follow.

Upcoming Triffid Ranch Shows: 2013 so far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If your friends all bought Christmas presents, would you do it, too?”

It’s that time. For the Triffid Ranch, the move for the rest of the year is toward prepping for winter (warm and very dry, according to the National Weather Service, with a higher likelihood of extremely brutal norther storms) and gearing up for 2013. Aside from plans for a tenth wedding anniversary gathering at the new Perot Museum of Nature & Science at the end of the month, we really don’t have that much planned for the holiday season. Since 1998, my New Year’s Day tradition has been to finish cleaning and clearing the house and yard, and I usually dedicate a week’s vacation on the Day Job to take care of that. Being able to see the floor and walls of my office, along with discovering that the boxes of magazines and papers I’d been dragging around since 1986 hadn’t been compressed into diamond from their own weight, is celebration enough.

This is why, in lieu of hyping Triffid Ranch activities, it’s time to give a high five to all of the friends, cohorts, colleagues, interested bystanders, and beloved thorns in my side that make working in the carnivorous plant trade so much fun. If you’re looking for something different as a gift for friends and/or family, for that special event around the Cephalopodmas tank, you can’t go wrong with any of these folks.

Carnivorous Plant Resources
As mentioned in the past, I’m a firm believer in the old adage “a rising tide lifts all boats,” which is one of the reasons I gleefully refer friends and cohorts to other carnivorous plant breeders and retailers when the need arises. On the West Coast of the US, you have both Sarracenia Northwest outside of Portland, with its open house every weekend for the rest of the holiday shopping season, and California Carnivores in San Sebastapol. On the East Coast, I can’t speak highly enough of Black Jungle Terrarium Supply, especially for those wishing to mix up their carnivores with orchids and arrow poison frogs. It may be a little late to pick up temperate carnivores from these three, but they’re definitely set with tropical plants, and at exceptional prices.

If you’re more interested in natural history and species preservation, you have options, too. The International Carnivorous Plant Society is an organization to which I have been a proud member for nearly eight years, with a one-year membership starting at $35. For those seeking even more action, North American Sarracenia Conservancy always needs volunteers to rescue plants in threatened habitat and move them to preserves, as well as bystanders interested in setting up those preserves in the first place.

In the literary front, I shouldn’t have to introduce you all to Timber Press, one of the two most dangerous book publishers on the planet, but if in case you missed out, give a click. This month, Timber Press is holding a 30 percent off sale on every title it carries, and that features Growing Carnivorous Plants by Dr. Barry Rice. When I conduct lectures on carnivores, Dr. Rice’s book is always at the top of the pile, and with good reason, so go get your own copy and kvell over the photos inside.

And on the subject of books, I’ll warn you away from Redfern Natural History and the tremendous selection of exemplary books on carnivorous plants. I’ll warn you away because your wallet will hate you as your library swears eternal fealty to you for your taste. One of these days, I’m going to sell enough body parts to pay for every volume I don’t already have, and I might even stoop to selling some of my body parts to do so.

Other Retailers of Note

It goes without saying that St. Johns Booksellers is the official bookseller of the Texas Triffid Ranch, and I’ll continue to link to St. Johns resources for as long as its owner will let me. I’ll also say that this bookstore and Sarracenia Northwest are two of the things that would get me to go back to Portland for a visit, and there’s absolutely no reason you can’t order online as well. We can cry about the decline of the independent bookstore or we can do something about it, and I make the stand here with no misgivings.

While not horticulturally related per se, I can’t thank the folks at Keith’s Comics and Roll2Play enough for their help over the years with materials for Triffid Ranch arrangements. Keith Colvin of Keith’s Comics has been a friend for twenty years as of next October, and he and his crack crew of enthusiasts always keep an eye open for items that would look really good alongside a Nepenthes arrangement. Likewise, Tiffany Franzoni of Roll2Play has been a welcome cohort and fellow vendor since the first Triffid Ranch shows back in 2008, and if she doesn’t have the game you need or a way to snag it for you, nobody else could help you, either.

Back to horticulture, Janit Calvo at Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center continues her unceasing efforts to promote miniature gardening, and you really should look at some of the items and guides she has for sale. Time permitting, I have a project lined up that should make her VERY happy, so go give her lots of business in the interim.

Finally, there’s my favorite form of porn, the FarmTek catalog. The Czarina actually smiles when she sees the latest FarmTek catalog all creased and marked up and drooled over, because although she worries about the day that I attach a 300-foot greenhouse to the garage, it’s still better than my writing for science fiction magazines. Both for me and for her.

Charities, Preserves, and Educational Facilities

It just opened to great fanfare, and the Czarina’s family takes it as a very high compliment that I passed up an early admission to the new Perot Museum in downtown Dallas to spend Thanksgiving weekend with them. It’s open this weekend, but I won’t be there. No, that’s reserved for December 28, when the Czarina and I plan to start a new tradition underneath the Protostega skeleton where we married a decade ago. After that, there’s always the after-hours events to keep us all busy, right?

This one I won’t be able to visit right away, but I owe an immeasurable debt to Tallahassee Museum for sending me down this strange road a decade ago. I still hang onto my Zoobilee memorabilia after all these years, and if time and money allow me to head back to the Tally area, I’ll meet you out there.

And then we have folks closer at home that could use support. I have lots of friends who say they support bats, but Bat World Sanctuary follows through, and they’re always conducting presentations and events throughout the US to facilitate bat education.

Upcoming Shows

Okay, so I fibbed slightly about this not having any self-promotion. However, while I’m always glad to see both new and longtime friends at various shows, one of the reasons why I tend to stick to unorthodox venues is that there’s a lot to do for the admission price. It’s all about an entertainment ROI, and all of these are worth making a trip.

ConDFW – February 15-17

All-Con – March 8-10

Texas Frightmare Weekend – May 3-5

FenCon – October 4-6

North American Reptile Breeders Conference February 23-24, August 10-11

And there you have it. If you have suggestions on other venues, retailers, or events I may have missed, please feel free to leave them in the comments. It’s all about the sharing.

Triffid Ranch shows: the schedule so far

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

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

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

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

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

“It won’t be that bad…would it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FenCon IX: The Aftermath

Triffid Ranch display

Five years ago, the Triffid Ranch had its first show at the now long-defunct Deep Ellum Sellum. A year later, we took the risk of going for a three-day show with FenCon. Five shows later, it’s still one of my favorites. Back at the first, a catgirl attendee just looked at the arrangement and sneered “Whoever heard of plants at a convention?” Well, after all of this time, the plants are now a draw for the convention all on their own.

(Speaking of which, the folks who came by for this year’s show got the last look at many different components of the traditional Triffid Ranch display. By the first show of the new year, expect a lot of new changes. It’s about time: a lot of the props and arrangements have been hanging on with spit and duct tape, and they really need replacement or revamping.)

As a heads-up for next year, the schedule for Fencon X in 2013 will be delayed by about two weeks, with it running the weekend of October 4. Since this also marks Texas-OU Weekend, if you’re planning to come to Dallas for the convention, reserve your hotel spaces early. The same holds true for attendees and vendors alike: since the guest list is full of major draws (including one who acted as a role model for me over the last ten years: friends have standing written orders that if I ever became as obsessive on a single subject as he does in public, they’re given full permission to stomp me to death), expect a lot of people. This may mean getting a second table space, just to show off larger arrangements for the first time. Either way, after the warm welcome from attendees and staff, we’re definitely in for 2013.

Customer

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I’d also like to tip the hat at the various staffers and volunteers from AggieCon at Texas A&M University. I haven’t been to one in nearly 13 years (when I topped Harlan Ellison’s story of being fired by Disney for suggesting an animated Disney porno film with my true tale of how I got my FBI record for allegedly selling government secrets to the Daleks), and it’s definitely time to return. With plants.

Dalek - Oblique

Speaking of which, this guy didn’t actually come into the dealer’s room, but he was apparently spotted in one of the party suites, drunkenly crying about how his creator didn’t really love him. It definitely beat his usual tactic of dressing up in a baseball cap and torn overalls, chasing Whitley Strieber while screaming “You will squeal like a pig! Squeal! SQUEAL!”

Elvis among the medusa head

Finally, while I didn’t have room for some of the more exotic arrangements I had planned (although that will be rectified for November’s Funky Finds Experience ), I couldn’t resist expanding a Euphorbia flanaganii pot with a touch of neo-Egyptian influence.
“I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Presley, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'”

It’s time to do something similar, only with more of an early Celtic feel. Anybody know where I can buy busts of John Lydon?

Have a Great Weekend

If you aren’t going to be at FenCon IX this weekend, I guess this will have to do…

Boosting the signal

It’s been a few weeks since any obvious, deliberate self-promotion has appeared here, but that has to change. The fall show season is heating up, and it’s no fun to do them when nobody else comes out.

Firstly, the Triffid Ranch returns for FenCon IX, our fifth show out there, and hopefully our best yet. It’s been eight years since I first heard about this show, and I apologize profusely for doubting its chances for survival back then every time I attend a new one. If you’re local, or if you have other reasons to come out to the Dallas area the weekend of September 21, hie thee hence. If you can’t get out there next week, make serious plans for FenCon X: I’ve been sworn to secrecy as to upcoming plans, which is easy because I haven’t heard anything, but I understand that 2013 will surprise everybody.

Secondly, the Triffid Ranch conducts its annual slowdown at the end of November as all of the plants go into winter dormancy, but there’s still time for the Funky Finds Holiday Shopping Experience in Fort Worth the weekend of November 10 and 11. Now that a lot of the insanity about parking issues at the Will Rogers Memorial Center have abated, this should be a spectacular show, and this includes my bringing out arrangements and items too big to display at other shows. As always, any excuse to come out to Fort Worth is a good one, and this is a pretty good excuse.

Finally, a regular complaint I hear is that “you’re not open for business between shows,” which suggests that maybe a venue for more regular shows might be a good idea. Because of this, I’m currently researching the option of more shows, particularly at the Dallas Handmade Arts Fair, or a more regular presence at a venue such as Lula B’s. Comments, criticisms, recommendations?

Things To Do In Dallas (And Fort Worth) When You’re Dead

To hear natives tell it, absolutely nothing happens in the Dallas area during the summer. “It’s too hot to do anything,” they say. “The real action hits in autumn, when the big yellow hurty thing in the sky stops trying to turn us into ash.” “We don’t even like going out swimming, because the water evaporates before you can dive off the high board.”

Yeah, don’t you believe it. If you fall for that, you’ll fall for the real whoppers, such as how getting a degree in journalism is a guarantee of high and stable income for the rest of your life. (Well, it is if you moonlight as something much less socially reprehensible than a music or film critic.) My problem is that I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, especially concerning the journalism degree, and then the rest of the summer is booked solid.

Anyway, to start the festivities, I sympathize with those who have families this time of the year. By the middle of August, the kids are both going insane from a two-month diet of cable television and the impending dread of the new school year, and they want to do something. Their parents are going insane with the realization that if they don’t take vacation time now, they won’t have any opportunity to take a vacation until after Christmas, and that they have a long four-month intervening slog in the linen mines until they’re paroled. Both take a good look outside, stick a finger out from underneath sunscreen and shade cloth, scream as the radiation leaves them able to see the bones in that finger before the flesh catches fire, and decide “Whatever we do, it’s going to be someplace with air conditioning and thick ceilings.” Not that I blame them in the slightest, as this is the time of the year that makes me impersonate the lifestyle of my totem animal and stay underground.

Well, the good news is that the Museum of Nature & Science in Dallas’s Fair Park is run by people who think like sane parents, which is why it’s hosting this weekend’s upcoming Discovery Days event, Discover Going Green, before school starts. The Triffid Ranch will be out there to show off a selection of carnivorous plants, carnivorous plant impersonators, and general oddballs on both Saturday and Sunday, so stop by and say hello.

As for the first serious Triffid Ranch show of the fall season, we’re now officially 45 days away from FenCon IX, running in Addison this September 21 through 23. Same hotel as previous years, but with luck, we’ll be seeing the first serious break in the heat about then. You may think you don’t want to deal with gullywasher storms on the weekend, but anything beats the smell of burning flint everywhere you walk. The start of autumn weather not only promises to make things easier on the folks coming out from places where the local hydrogen in the atmosphere doesn’t spontaneously fuse, but it may make for some particularly interesting plant arrangements.

And lest I forget, announcements for the 2013 Texas Frightmare Weekend see release next week, and along with that, first availability of passes. Naturally, the Triffid Ranch plans to crash the party again: at this point, the idea is to be the first in line for vendor’s spaces. Considering the crowds at the 2013 show, get your tickets as soon as they’re available, because the weekend passes could very easily be sold out six months before the show. It’s happened before.

Finally, last year’s drought put paid to previous plans, but it’s time to return to the Funky Finds Holiday Shopping Experience in Fort Worth the weekend of November 10. Any excuse to go to Fort Worth is a good excuse, and I certainly don’t have problems with spending the weekend at the Will Rogers Memorial Center. That is, if there’s room to squeeze in the Triffid Ranch. We’ll see.

Future Triffid Ranch projects

When I’m not making plans to offer fast food to the Harris hawk, it’s time to get ready for the next big Triffid Ranch show: FenCon this September. With that comes the advantage of doing live shows over mail order. Namely. being able to bypass the insanity of the US Post Office. Yes, Triffid Ranch Nepenthes may be a little more expensive than ones ordered from another nursery. However, they’re also going to be much larger than is practical or sane to ship, especially in the summer, and they’re going to come with pots that will damage your fragile little mind.

Figurine Front

For instance, check out this puppy, recently snagged at an estate sale. Deliberately fake Maya and Olmec pots of this sort were standard tourist fare throughout the Sixties and Seventies, and there was a time circa 1981 where it seemed nearly impossible to find a house in North Texas that didn’t have an authentic fake figure pot from Texcoco in it. Maybe I remembered it differently, but they seemed to be as common in Texas houses as anniversary clocks further north, and in the same spot of honor atop the monster console television in the living room. Then, with no warning, they all disappeared from the land, without so much as a sighting or two in garage sales to mark the passing of a long-running fad.

Figurine Side

I’ll state from the beginning that I’m a sucker for well-done fabricated artifacts, so long as I know from the beginning that it’s a modern fabrication, and this one has its merits. As can be noticed from the photos, though, this figure was damaged a few times before it ended up in the estate sale. The front cup, which is the perfect size for a succulent such as a Stapelia, was cracked at least twice in its life. The first time, the part was glued back in. The second time, a big chip came off and was lost. In order to be usable again, it needs restoration. And herein lies the dilemma.

Over the past few years, I’ve noted a decided change in the presentation of restored archaeological and palaeontological treasures. Until the late Eighties, the idea was to make the restoration match the new material as much as possible, to the point where telling bone from plaster was nearly impossible without X-rays. Now, though, I’m seeing a trend toward making sure the general public understands how much of a piece was reconstructed after discovery, with obvious white or grey patches to fill in for missing material. Since I’m also a sucker for modern museum displays, do I patch the spot so that nobody can tell where clay ends and Milliput begins, or does this repair beg to make the final piece look as if it were “borrowed” from a friendly museum prior to its appearance in a plant show? Questions, questions.

Upcoming Triffid Ranch shows

Ah, what a weekend. The existing greenhouse suffered quite a bit of damage from two hailstorms, including the big one we had last April, so Sunday was spent hanging out with my best friend as we replaced polycarbonate glazing. Next on the agenda is putting up a new greenhouse, specifically for the Sarracenia. Part of the reason is to build up humidity a bit so they don’t suffer through the summer: we’re already slipping into 20-percent relative humidity territory with the typical stout Dallas south wind, and we’re likely only to get worse. The other reason is to leave the top open to allow insects to come inside but to dissuade squirrels. The blasted treerats are not only back to their old habits of digging up pitcher plants and flytraps in search of magic coins hidden under the rhizomes, but we have one brat of a male treerat, whom the Czarina nicknamed “Big Bad Bob,” who sits outside the bedroom window and chitters at the cats all day. They aren’t threatened by him in the least, so he throws larger and larger tantrums until they deign to acknowledge him. It reminds me a bit of a writer I used to know.

I wouldn’t be bothered by the discovery of a truly giant red-tailed hawk that perches atop the old greenhouse, if she took the time to pick off the treerats. Instead, she joins in with glaring at the cats when they get in the window. I only knew about this because of the truly heroic amounts of bird guano on one side of the greenhouse, but I spooked her last Saturday and watched her take off toward the south. Now all that’s left is the amount of time before my friend Joey suggests naming her either “Shayera Hol” or “Lorraine Reilly”. (It could be worse. After the Harry Potter movies came out, I had regular dealings with a screech owl who would fly out of a big linden tree next to the garden and buzz past my head before disappearing into the night. Somehow, calling him “The Angry Inch” seemed appropriate.)

Once these developments are done, it’s time to get back to shows and events. The next official show is at FenCon IX this coming September, but depending upon the summer heat, a few shows at the Four Seasons Market in Richardson may be in order. After that, well, I haven’t heard anything yet from the Perot Museum of Nature & Science in Dallas about another Discovery Days event in November, but I’ll be the first to volunteer once the schedule is nailed down a bit. And so it goes.

“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?

The party’s over

The party at FenCon VIII is over for this year, and the next big Triffid Ranch presentation starts on November 5 at the Museum of Nature & Science’s Discovery Days: Reptiles and Other Critters weekend in Dallas’s Fair Park. This year’s FenCon was an interesting mix: so many people from my old writing past came by that the show started to resemble a Dallas Fantasy Fair reunion, along with a lot of kids. The latter were the greatest joys, because they always had great questions or anecdotes. (For instance, the son of one of our fellow vendors had an acquaintance who was snagged by “some weird plant,” and we managed to work out that his acquaintance was nearly the victim of a devil’s claw.) Among other premieres:

de Marigny (2011)
de Marigny (2011), $350
Remember the conversion effort on that Eighties-era hexagon tank from a while back? Here’s the final effect. This set includes a custom-cut glass top to keep in humidity and prey animals, and it contains a Nepenthes bicarcalata pitcher plant, a spoonleaf sundew cluster, and appropriate statuary. The top is arranged so that it can be used in conjunction with standard high-intensity reptile enclosure lighting, or (preferably) natural sunlight.

Uncle Sam's on Mars
Uncle Sam’s On Mars (2011), $35
The Viking 1 lander model was one for which I’d been searching for years. The clay bonsai pot was one I’d had for years, but that needed just the right elements for it to work. The Crassula in this low-key saikei arrangement is some strange hybrid that I haven’t been able to identify, but that demanded to be included with this pot and this model. Together, they’re a reminder of the Mars explorations that almost were.

iTerrarium Mark II
iTerrarium Mark II (2011), $150
Some may remember when David Shaw proudly showed off the first-generation iTerrarium, my efforts to reuse the nearly indestructible polycarbonate shell of a second-generation iMac. After cutting and buffing the rear handle into an access hatch to reach the interior of the iTerrarium, it was fitted with a single light socket for a compact fluorescent bulb (23 watts for carnivores) and a thermometer and humidity gauge on the inside. The iMac in question was a DV SE G3/400, so it still retains the original transparent graphite rear shell. Future versions will include custom paint on the rear shell (to both block and reflect excess light and to do something with the original Bondi blue shell), latches on the rear hatch to secure it for use for reptiles and amphibians, and electronic temperature and humidity gauges.

Well, that’s it for the moment, but it’s a start. Just wait until I’m done with the new projects for the Fair Park Holiday Market this coming November.

EDIT: You know that I’ve been married to the Czarina for a while when I start picking up her propensity for reasonably witty or at least memorable puns. Normally, I loathe puns, but describing the act of packing up everything and loading it into the cargo van on Sunday as a “Jenga tu Madre,” though, just fits.

No Sleep ’til FenCon

Time to get finished with the preparations for the latest Triffid Ranch show. If you’re going to be at FenCon VIII, stop by and say hello. If you aren’t, I’ll tell you what you missed. Selah.

Projects: The Dream of the Eighties

Some people have aching nostalgia for the 1980s. Not I. When I look at another technological or social development that makes humanity and its members a little more fun and I say “I love living in the future,” I mean it. I look back fondly on certain aspects of that decade, but only because I was in the middle of it at the time. I definitely don’t want to go back, save to visit with my previous self circa June 1984 and beat him to a pulp with a baseball bat. A little tough love applied then, and I wouldn’t have wasted the whole of the Nineties writing for science fiction magazines.

A lot of what was disappointing about the Eighties involved a lot of good ideas that could have been wonderful ideas if they’d merely cooked for a little longer. We came up with a lot of concentrated, powdered, and creamed stupidity, such as Panama Jack T-shirts or Phil Collins or selling arms to Iran to finance the contras. However, we also came up with some really innovative ideas that were hyped up, oversold, and ultimately discarded before they were really ready. One of those was the hexagon fishtank.

For those who don’t remember the hex tank, when it was first produced, it was the biggest innovation in aquarium design since all-glass aquaria appeared in the Seventies. (It tells you how old I am that I remember my first aquarium being a classic design from the Fifties, with a slate base, metal corner moldings, and gutta-percha seals on all of the corners.) It not only offered multiple viewing angles, but it was absolutely perfect for people living in small apartments without enough available wall space to justify a standard aquarium.

Unfortunately, some of those same assets led to the reasons why they fell out of favor. Since the aquarium had six sides, concealing filter hoses, aerator tubing, or power cords became problematic. The design encouraged height over width, which gave much less of an opportunity for decorations. (I might add that hex tanks coincided with the use of crushed-glass aquarium gravel, a fad I don’t miss. If the stuff was bad for the aquarist by scratching the hell out of the tank interior and slicing up unprotected hands, imagine how it made bottom-dwelling denizens such as Corydoras catfish feel.) Most of all, the trend in the Nineties and Aughts was toward really, REALLY big aquaria, and the square-cube law gets in the way of making comparable hex tanks. At that point, you’re better off getting a pond.

This is a shame, because while hex tanks may have faded into the same temporal netherworld inhabited by black lacquer waterbeds and console video games at convenience stores, they’re actually very nice for plantkeeping. The problem lies with bringing them into 2011.

The beginning of the project

This project started over a decade ago, when the Czarina and I first moved in together in 2002. Someone had given her a basic 20-gallon hex aquarium years before, and it had collected dust and dead bugs in a storage corner for years. We were desperately broke at the time, so when I mentioned how badly I missed having an aquarium at the time, she dragged it out and said “Have fun.” We got a lot of use out of it in our first apartment, and then in our first house, until we upgraded tanks recently when an old friend gave me his. In the meantime, this one sat, waiting for a new use.

The project really started last June, when I was prepping for a show that imploded disastrously. The original tank was going to hold an original plant display, but when the top literally shattered in my hands, I realized that this wasn’t going to happen. Worse, since most aquarium manufacturers stopped selling hexagon tanks, finding replacement glass tops was and is nearly impossible. That is, as far as aquarium-friendly tank tops are concerned. This made me sit down and re-evaluate exactly what I wanted to do, and why.

The first absolute is that the wood finish needed to be sent back to Hell. One side of the top molding on the tank already had a bad scrape thanks to the shattering incident, and that revealed that the finish was just paper-thin. The photo above shows the tank after a good sanding with sanding sponges, which also removed mineral buildup that was otherwise almost impossible to chip free. (When I describe Dallas municipal water as “crunchy,” I mean it.) Next was time for the stand.

Hexagon tank (closed)

The stand, to be honest, was a nightmare. The main composition was particleboard, which strangely wasn’t sealed at any of the joints or on the undersides of surfaces. The storage access door had a baroque handle that just screamed “We’re heading out to the mall to go see Top Gun for the 47th time,” with matching if barely noticeable hinges. It was time to strip down everything.

Closeup of hex stand

After removing the storage access door, I sanded everything down to where the surfaces were nicely scuffed, and then wiped it all down with a tack cloth to clean up the dust. The underside got the same treatment, as it had absorbed just enough water drippage over the last 25 years that the particleboard was starting to chip in one spot. As a general rule, when the woodgrain pattern started to disappear, it was ready for new paint.

Hex stand door and hardware

The door was next. The underside was completely untreated, so all of the hardware came out and front and back got a comparable sanding.

Taped-up hex tank

The stand could be painted at any time, but the tank itself needed to be taped off before it could be painted. (Trust me. You do NOT want to spend days scraping off paint overspray from the glass if you can help it.) As a little bit of advice to anybody doing something similar, take the time and effort to purchase genuine painter’s masking tape. Not only does it peel away from glass without leaving adhesive or little bits, but it also is much less likely to take chunks of paint with it. The edges were taped, then painter’s paper put over that to cover the glass, and then more tape atop that to hold everything in place. I also put painter’s tape along the interior of the tank lip for two reasons: firstly, to prevent any potentially toxic residue from building up on the lip, and secondly, to allow me to drape more painter’s paper across the top so I wasn’t scraping the inside of the tank, too.

Bottom of the hex tank
To make absolutely sure that the tape and paper are well-secured, always check things from the inside. If you can see anything through a gap in the paper or tape, the paint will find that gap.

Finally, it was time to finish it up. A friend of the Czarina’s works for a glass company, so he was able to cut a brand new top based on a template I gave him. The base and tank were both edged with a new RustOleum universal spray paint, complete with a hammered finish. A new handle went on the door after it was painted, and everything reassembled. While it still kept a dark finish, you’d never assume that this was the old Eighties relic that had started out back in June.

And you’re wanting to see the new Wardian case? It’s time to come out to FenCon this weekend to see it for yourself. It’ll featured in situ with plants and accountrements for your viewing and purchasing pleasure. And so it goes.