A Fascinating Look at the Invasive Bradford Pear

Invasive species are a massive ecological problem, and they are primarily caused by humanity - either intentionally or unintentionally. In the case of the Bradford Pear, it was 100% intentional. This article by Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post Magazine details each stage of human decision-making that led to the Bradford Pear menace.

My First Trip to Ireland Journal

I am doing a summer residency in the Canary Islands, and Dublin was a possible layover en route.  My sister and I talked it over, and we decided to spend a little less than a week in Ireland (with our base in Dublin) before I headed over to Gran Canaria.

I had never been to Ireland before; in terms of nearby places, I have been to London, and I've been to Iceland, and a number of places in southern Europe.  Some general notes: Ireland is known for wet, relatively cold weather (locals repeatedly called rain "liquid sunshine"); the biggest cities aren't as dense as I would have expected; there isn't really an Irish cuisine apart from Guinness and whisky; and there is a super dominant tourist shop called Carroll's which you can find everywhere you turn around.  

Ireland had just finished up a referendum on abortion when we arrived, so there were still signs up from both points of view on almost every utility pole and light post.  We were told they have around 20-30 days to take them down before fines are levied.  The results of the referendum were approximately two to one in favor of repealing the Irish Eighth Amendment and allowing abortion up to six months of pregnancy in Ireland.  A number of the signs referenced the fact that though abortion wasn't legal (prior to the referendum), Irish women were getting abortions - they just had to travel outside of the country to do so.

Our first couple days we explored Dublin.  We visited the National Botanic Gardens, the Dublin Flea Market, the Dublin Zoo, Dublin Castle, the Natural History Museum, and also walked around most of downtown including repeatedly dipping into the Temple Bar district, admiring the churches and other architectural stand-outs, and browsing the many Carroll's just in case one had slightly different merchandise in stock.  Then we took a day trip bus tour to the west of Ireland and very briefly saw the city of Galway and the Burren karst landscape (I could spend hours just in the Burren - it's often called a "lunar landscape" and it has a lot of rare plants living amongst its limestone crevices), and spent a decent bit of time at the Cliffs of Moher.  We stopped by Howth one day, and the last day we did another day trip bus tour up to northern Ireland - which is still in the UK - and very briefly saw Belfast and the Dark Hedges and explored a little around the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the Giant's Causeway, which is an area of basalt columns and hexagonal stones formed by rapidly cooling lava during an ancient volcanic eruption.

It was a really great trip and I learned a lot more about Irish history and Ireland in general than I knew before going.  We were super fortunate and despite the normal weather patterns, it was sunny and pleasant much of the time we were there, cloudy for a day, and only rained for two of the mornings!  My favorite part was the tiny amount of time I got to explore the Burren, and my second favorite part was the still small amount of time I got to explore the Giant's Causeway.  Both were fascinating geological phenomenons with their own micro-ecologies.  Although my calves ached after all the hiking I did!

One interesting fact I learned is that Ireland doesn't have any native snakes.  That itself was neat to learn (legend has it that Saint Patrick cast them out), but the tour guide contended flat out that there are no snakes in Ireland to this day.  I thought that was extremely unlikely - England has snakes, which is similar enough to Ireland that it's improbable that the island itself is inhospitable, and invasive species are a worldwide problem.  But so far my googling hasn't led me to a different conclusion despite reports of people intentionally releasing snakes - so far it appears none have managed to establish populations.  Hopefully that's true as I don't wish invasive snakes upon Ireland!  I just think it's very surprising that humanity hasn't managed to muck that up yet.

Photos will follow in a subsequent post!

Intercambiador ACART Residency Journal 10 - New Artwork!

Here's my second interactive sculpture!  It's had less time for the algae to grow on it, but so far I'm liking it.  With the snails piece, having them entirely underwater wasn't necessarily a "death sentence" for the snails as a number of species of snails are aquatic.  There are no aquatic pigeons, though, so I made this one to have its head jussssst above the top of the container.

I didn't take many in-process photos of this one primarily because a lot of pieces to this one were really delicate while uncured (the feet, the beak, the tail and wing tips) so I was mostly gently cradling it while sculpting and then went straight into curing it.  But to the right is a photo of it post-curing but pre-powdering.

Intercambiador ACART Residency Journal 3 - New Artwork!

When I skyped with Juan about coming here, he mentioned that some of my work that interests him the most are my interactive plant pedestals.  I really enjoyed making those, but I made those in graduate school - a period in which I spent almost all my time making artwork and had access to a large woodshop and other facilities as well.  Now that I teach and often only really produce work during the summers and while on residency, it's much simpler to create more transportable (and easily exhibitable, which is a bonus) two-dimensional work.  I've started to push back at that limitation already - my pieces that I made in France are so delicate that showing anywhere other than locally is pretty difficult, and the sculptures I made earlier this summer in Portugal are even more fragile due to the found branches and lichens I used.  I decided I'd take Juan up on the challenge to create some new interactive plant pieces, and began brainstorming even before leaving for Europe.  

The clay I helped Dr. John Pojman create, 3P QuickCure Clay, is waterproof, and that's an angle I've been wanting to explore for a while.  I decided I'd like to create a sculpture that I'd then house in a glass container underwater, and as algae grew in the container, as algae tends to do when provided with water and sunlight, the sculpture would become partially or totally obscured - except I would coat the sculpture in a glow-in-the-dark powder and provide viewers with a black light to set the sculpture aglow.  Even back in Portugal, I'd briefly toyed with the idea of sculpting Balancing Act (my painting of a tower of snails), but then I thought I'd save it for this project instead.

So when I started work in the studio, I began sculpting snails.  

A sculpture is different from a painting, though, and in order to have the 3D version of the tower actually stand on its own, I couldn't have the bottom snail be upside down.  I didn't want them all to be upright, either, though... so I decided to have one snail be on its side and have that snail be on the bottom of the tower in a nod to the potential instability of all the rest.

After assembling all my individual snails into a tower, I hastily patted some glow powder onto it and cured it (the tower was moderately unstable while uncured).  I thought the amount of glow powder that actually adhered to the clay wouldn't be sufficient for my purposes, so after thinking about it for a day, I sprayed it several times with an aerosol satin varnish and each time before the varnish dried I added the glow powder to it until I felt I had a fairly solid coating.

As all this was going on, the fountain water I had collected from the Real Jardín Botánico had been sitting in the window, slowing growing more algae.  Once the sculpture's coating seemed dry, I put it into a glass vessel I had purchased from a Chinese bazaar and poured the fountain water (and some additional tap water) in.

The piece will hopefully be ever evolving as the algae grows, but it's already far enough along for me to share some photos!

Intercambiador ACART Residency Journal 1

I arrived in Madrid at night on June 5th, and got a quick tour of the flat.  It's on the fourth floor, but luckily there's an elevator, so I didn't have to haul my luggage up four flights of stairs!  I have two roommates - Felipe and Farzane.  Felipe is a photographer and graphic designer originally from Venezuela who has been living in Madrid for some time in part due to the current political and economic crises happening in Venezuela.  He is not actually taking part in the residency, but there was an extra room available and he needed a place to stay.  He will live with me for my whole two months.  Farzane, who goes by Fari here since her full name is somewhat difficult for Westerners to pronounce correctly, is participating in the Intercambiador ACART residency and is from Iran and will only be here for one month, as two-month visas are very difficult for Iranians to get. There are supposed to be four artists every two months, but they could only find three (Fari, me, and someone else) for June-July and then that third person cancelled at the last minute due to a family death.  This is why Felipe is staying with us, and the residency directors are looking for someone (or two) to come for July.

The residency is jointly run by two directors - Juan and Marta.  Juan seems to be the primary day-to-day contact, though.  The studio we use is about a half-an-hour walk or metro trip (around 15 minutes of walking that way, though) away from the flat and is shared by around ten local artists as well.  One of them is a British expat named Will who tags along on most Intercambiador ACART outings.

Since Felipe and Fari got here first, I got the second-to-worst room in the flat, but it's better than the last available room and I got to do the Portuguese residency which is what made me a few days late, so I'm okay with it.  I may take Fari's room when she leaves at the end of June, though!

The first few days I took it pretty easy (just buying groceries and visiting the studio, really), particularly since my body seemed to take a little umbrage to the new water... Plus after my second day, a heat wave hit Madrid and we all started sweltering - it's been above 100*F every day since my third day here.  There's no A/C in many places here including in the flat.  The studio is below ground, though, and stays fairly reasonable, so it really encourages me to go there!

On my third day here I visited the Real Jardín Botánico.  It has some really nice outdoor gardens, but the highlight for me was, as usual, the greenhouses.  They had a greenhouse for palms, another for orchids and tillandsia, and yet another for cacti and succulents.  I also helped myself to some algae-ified water from one of their outdoor fountains - I'll tell you more about that in my next new artwork post!

I next took a trip to two different art opening receptions on my fourth day, and really enjoyed the second one which was an opening for an art magazine's third edition which focused on feminism and exposed me to some new names and pieces.  I also attended a studio opening the following evening and met a really nice artist named Andrea Hauer whose pieces are also very strongly within the world of "women's art" and were a nice follow-up to the magazine.

The next day, Juan, Will, Fari and I all took a late afternoon car ride about an hour north to a very large manmade reservoir lake to swim and cool off a little!  It was a real hike to get down to the lake from where we could find parking, though, and then a bit of a rock climb down to the beach - my foot was not super pleased but it made it in the end.  The lake was really pleasant to swim in - it was super clear and fish would swim around you if you stood still on a submerged rock.  As we headed back the guys decided we should take a detour to a dinner party.  When we arrived, though, it became clear that Juan actually didn't know the address specifically and only knew the general area.  After wandering around for a while, we headed back to the car to go get our own dinner elsewhere, but once we got to the car again Juan suddenly realized he had the address all along and we went back.  By the time we got inside, though, it became clear there was very little dinner to be had!  I was starving, as the lake plans had been sort of sprung on me and I didn't have time to make a lunch to take along and we weren't able to buy more than a couple pieces of fruit and some nuts near the lake.  Fari was in the same boat.  After a little over an hour, we told Juan to take us home so we could actually get some dinner - by the time we got home, it was 1am!

Cerdeira Village Residency Journal 6 Photos 1 - My Artwork

Here are a handful of photos of my overall exhibition space in the Cerdeira Village Elementos à Solta festival.  I already published individual piece images in my earlier posts, but here you can see some combined installation shots.

Cerdeira Village Residency Journal 5 - New Artwork!

When I was shopping at the market across from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, I saw a few azulejos tiles of rabbits, and I bought myself one of them - it reminded me a little of Albrecht Dürer's work.

After I finished the turtle sculpture, I decided I would do a rabbit and a bird as a partner piece to the turtle and nest mostly due to that market experience.  When I started looking at various images of rabbits in order to find one to sculpt, I decided that proportionally and structurally, a hare would be more interesting than a rabbit.  And given that I had been thinking about rabbits and hares due to this azulejos tile that reminded me of Dürer, I decided to base my sculpture off of Young Hare.

It was really quite fun sculpting a watercolor painting, as it were, and one that I highly admire.  I started off again with a styrofoam and wire base and then added QCC and began to form the body and head.  

I added the feet in three separate parts, and finally the claws and ears.  After every part was added, I detailed the fur and added some jackalope-esque branches in front of the ears.  This all took several days to come together, and obviously there were parts I had to construct myself in attempting to realize a three-dimensional animal out of a two-dimensional painting of it.

I had planned on sculpting a bird with the hare, but I liked the hare so much alone that I reconsidered.  As I was trying to decide what to do, I thought about how I would progress with the painting of the hare.  In the beginning I had thought about painting the rabbit in azulejos-inspired colors as well, but I realized when doing the turtle that the style that the shell and eggs looked quite good with it because they were fairly smooth, but when I tried to paint the turtle head and legs with various tints of blue, it got too busy and weird due to their pebbled surfaces (so I reverted them back to the clean white).  The fur of the rabbit is quite heavily textured, so I decided to paint it in a fairly realistic coloration through referencing Dürer's piece again but turning the colors just a little bit cooler in a nod to the azulejos theme and my own practice of using blue as a dominant color in my own work.

In deciding to paint it in naturalistic colors, though, I thought the two pieces wouldn't seem very related, so I figured I should do a bird - but a detachable bird, in case I ended up displaying the pieces separately as well or in case the bird didn't turn out so well.

I knew I wanted the bird to be in the azulejos color scheme, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to approximate an actual species/patterning like I did in the slider turtle shell design.  In the end, I decided the bird should be even more clearly a reference to the azulejos tiles; then there would be this strong representation in the bird and the eggs, a referential-but-also-naturalistic one in the turtle, and then an almost entirely naturalistic representation in the hare.

So here it is!  I also haven't accurately measured or titled it (though Young Hare will show up in the title somehow), but it is a mixed media ceramic sculpture including QCC, acrylic, and found branches.  Some of the photos below are of it in bright sunlight, so the cast shadows on the bird can be a little hard to parse, and all are against a brown/gray background which can make the branches difficult to differentiate too, but I will take photos of it in a white gallery space as well.

Cerdeira Village Residency Journal 3 - New Artwork!

When I woke up for my first morning in Cerdeira Village, I was still a little tired and quite sneezy - I thought I would escape from my Kansas allergies but there are apparently still plenty of plants I'm allergic to in Portugal!  I soon shook it off, though, and Julia and I made breakfast and started to get to know each other.  Next I went to set up my studio space; the atelier is downstairs and next door from the residency housing.  I took over two small pottery tables and a bigger workshop table and began working on my first piece.  

When I proposed my project for this very competitive residency, I took note of how ceramics-oriented the website was and my proposal was to make some fully 3D pieces out of QCC since of late I've been doing only relief work with QCC.  For my first sculpture, I decided I would create a slider turtle with branches growing atop its back supporting a nest.  I picked a turtle for a few reasons - 1) I'd sculpted two turtles a few years ago out of QCC but never felt I fully resolved their form and wanted to improve upon that work; 2) there is a multicultural myth that the world is supported on the back of a great turtle; 3) I hadn't seen very many animals in Portugal yet given that I'd only been there a couple days, but I had seen at least two different species of slider (red-eared and yellow-bellied) at the Estufa Fria in Lisbon.

I started the sculpture by carving a rough approximation of the shell out of styrofoam.  This was mostly to save on clay usage - I can only carry one bucket of it at a time due to the size and weight it occupies in my luggage, so I want to be smart in how I use it up - but also helps with the weight of the piece, which is important because I will have to ship my artworks back to the US and weight sharply increases the shipping costs.

Then I applied QCC in a relatively thin layer around the styrofoam and began to shape and detail it (hacking out bits of styrofoam as well if I needed to).  The shell took a lot longer than I thought it would to really shape properly; I did not finish it the first day.

I continued work the second and third days on the turtle.  After finally detailing the shell, I moved on to the head and feet.  I did them all separately so I could be very considered in my markmaking, and finally I assembled all the pieces and added a tail and other final detailing by the end of the third day.  I had planned to make the branches and nest out of the QCC as well, but I became enchanted by the local lichens that grow on the trees here and ended up pushing real branches into the turtle's back before curing the whole piece.

 Afterwards, I did add a nest and two eggs made out of QCC into the branches.

On the fourth and fifth days, I painted the turtle, nest, and eggs white.  I had got it into my head to reference the azulejos tiles so common to Portugal in the painting of the sculpture; the starting point was turning the natural light tan of the clay the bright white of the glazed tiles.  I had only brought one type of paint with me - my Golden OPEN Acrylics - which are great for normal painting needs but are really poor as a base coat due to their long dry time.  Here in Cerdeira Village, they seem to dry even slower - in fact, barely at all - and I ended up just going ahead and painting the turtle shell with an azulejos-inspired, painted-turtle-shell-based design on the sixth day here despite the shell still being faintly wet.  I also painted the eggs with a small decorative motif seen in the corners of some azulejos tiles.  The turtle and eggs took almost a week to dry, but aided by my eventual realization that I needed to put them outside in the sun to assist, they were handle-able by the time I needed to install them in their exhibition space the morning of June 2.

So here's the piece!  I haven't measured it yet, nor titled it (I've got some ideas mulling), but that will come.  It is a mixed media ceramic sculpture including 3P QuickCure Clay, acrylic, and found branches and lichens.

Leaving Lisbon - Cerdeira Village Residency Journal 2

The second and final day of my stay in Lisbon, I first went to the Estufa Fria.  It's a beautiful greenhouse complex in the Parque Eduardo VII (which I later found out is filled with prostitutes and drug sellers at night... but it was fine in the daytime!).  Though the entrance fee is normally quite cheap anyway, it was actually free for me - I think every Sunday morning the fee is waived.  As I walked in, I was greeted by a pool filled with fish, waterfowl, and turtles.  Then I walked through the main "cold" greenhouse which contains plants that can thrive in the standard Lisbon climate with just a little additional protection, and the two branching greenhouses ("hot," for plants that want a bit warmer and wetter environment like orchids and bananas, and "sweet," for cacti and succulents).  The plants all looked very happy, and I enjoyed seeing some that I keep as houseplants thriving in more natural yet massive plantings.

I then went to the Chiado district, stopped for a quick snack of bread and cheese at a little pop-up market and bought a few local desserts to try.  As I was walking around the area noticed a tall, decorative elevator with a short line of tourists waiting to get on called the Santa Justa Lift.  I decided to get in line; due to my foot, I couldn't handle the hike to the castle which is the more normal touristic look-out point to the city so this was quite an unexpected find!  The line moved relatively quickly, too, and I soon paid the 5.15 euro fare to get aboard.  Once up, I managed with tacit permission from the guard to sneak into a religious ruin and got chased out shortly thereafter by a different guard but not before taking a look and snapping a couple photos!  Then I soaked in the aerial view of the city.

After that, I took Tram 15 to the Belém district and saw the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos cathedral, which is spectacular.  Then I crossed the street as I saw there was a market; it was the first non-touristic shopping opportunity I saw.  All the normal touristic shops sell the same cheap goods for inflated prices (probably manufactured abroad, ironically); especially after traveling enough in a given region, I've found myself to be really not interested in their wares.  This market, though, was geared toward locals (many of the vendors only spoke Portuguese, which is both inconvenient for me but also a strong sign that they are not in it for the tourism angle).  I still actually only bought a couple things - primarily because my luggage was already completely full and I only plan to make more room while in Madrid through using up a lot of what I brought with me (clay, shampoo, lotion, contact solution, etc).  And most of what was being sold was not luggage friendly - vases and other home decor - or was something that I can also pick up in Madrid (scarves and jewelry).  I did buy a little brass dish that caught my fancy, though, and an eighteenth century azulejo tile.  The market was being held next to the annual Lisbon Thai Festival, which was quite random, so I strolled through that, too - it was quite small.

Then I rode the tram to the Torre de Belém, and took a look at it.  I might've decided to go inside, but by the time I got there it had just closed.  According to TripAdvisor, though, I didn't miss much - the outside is the real draw.

Finally, I had dinner at a place literally next door to my AirBnB as all the walking had done a number on my foot already, sampled a caipirinha, and went to bed.

The next day, I packed up my belongings and took taxi to the train station in order to catch my ride to Coimbra B.   I was going to be picked up there by one of the residency staff and driven the rest of the way into Cerdeira Village.  I apparently left the Coimbra B station on the wrong side, so it took a while for the residency staff member to find me, but he eventually did and off we went, driving past the famous University of Coimbra renowned for its medical training en route.  I had also requested we stop to get groceries, and that made the trip long enough that Nuno, the staffer, wanted to get lunch before groceries in Lousã.  He was so kind about my being vegetarian, and we walked to two different restaurants before he settled on a third and basically ordered off menu directly in the kitchen (he knew the waitstaff) for me and even requested they box up my leftovers, which is not even really a thing in Europe.  We also drove past Lousã's castle and a miracle-granting church-on-a-cliff (though really, in this part of the world, everything is on a mountainside or cliff...).

Then we came to Cerdeira Village, where I will be staying for two weeks on a residency.  From May 22nd through May 31st, I will be a normal resident, but from June 1st through June 4th, I will also participate in the Elementos à Solta (Art Meets Nature) Festival.  I was invited to do this residency as one of two sponsored international artists, meaning that Cerdeira Village is letting us stay and use their facilities for free.

The village is a traditional Schist village, which means the houses are made out of thinly stacked and mortared schist rock.  It is also carved into the mountainside; almost nowhere apart from in rooms is flat, and even in the houses there are flights of stairs and you are constantly called to go up or down inclines or stairs to get anywhere.  It is not an ideal site to have a foot injury (!) but luckily, it is not as bad of an injury as it could have been, and upon arrival it was exactly a week old so it already had some time to heal.  Plus, I'd already gotten some of my wanderlust out while in Lisbon so I planned to use the first few days to crank out some studio time.  I met the other sponsored artist, a Finnish woman named Julia, when she arrived a couple hours after I did, and we soon went to bed.  Free accommodations means we're sharing a room, and the room itself can house six people in three bunk beds; we were each set up on the bottom of two of the bunk beds.  I already hit my head on the bottom of the top bunk above me twice, and it took me about an hour of being super self-conscious about making noise while tossing, turning, sneezing, and whatnot next to a stranger trying to sleep, but with my own earplugs and a warm comforter, I eventually fell asleep.

Growing My Own Oyster Mushrooms

My good friend John Pojman sent me this box of grow-it-yourself oyster-mushroom-spore-inoculated sawdust for Christmas!  (I know, I should probably have posted this back then, but it's not a time-dependent post since they're growable year-round, so I just let this post kick around my drafts section while other more pressing posts went up, and then I just forgot about it for a while!)  I am always excited to have the opportunity to grow my own mushrooms from these type of kits as they make it super simple to do.   Here's what you can look forward to if you want to do this yourself!

Favorite Houseplants

Someone asked me the other day what my favorite, presently owned plant is.  I honestly don't know.  I imagine most people who have reached the stage where they own over a hundred plants would have a very difficult time answering this question; that's part of the reason why they own over a hundred plants!  I can narrow down my favorites into an only moderately long list, though.  This is in no particular order, other than me thinking about wandering through my house, porches, and office and what's in each of those spaces.

  • Polypodium formosanum 'Cristatum' "E. T. Fern"
    This plant is my favorite fern.  Hands down.  It's surprising, because I don't know that I can categorize other types this broadly - I don't have a definitive favorite cactus, for instance - but ferns are tricky for me to keep properly.  I'm too lazy to provide the proper care requirements (constant watering and higher humidity being the main problems) and while in my care ferns often are either in a state of slow (or quick) decline.  Not E. T. Fern, however!  This plant is the only fern I've ever kept that puts up with my drier conditions and still stays lush.  It is the most easy-going fern I've met, which is lucky, as I've only ever seen the one plant (that I own) for sale so if I killed it I'd be hard pressed to find another.  (I also briefly saw a smaller plant for sale on eBay and my mother snapped it up and when I idly looked again some time later there were no others available.)  It's also a footed fern, which is an aesthetic I really enjoy in a fern, and the fronds are very soft and have a pleasing form.  This is also probably my favorite of all the plants that spend year-round indoors with me.
  • Sansevieria masoniana "Whale Fin" or "Mason's Congo"
    My Sansevieria masoniana is the largest plant I own.  It's beautiful in a way I didn't know Sansevieria could be due to the off-putting oversaturation of S. trifasciata laurentii (though I now also have a number of other Sansevieria species that I enjoy aesthetically like S. cylindrica).  I've read that this species typically takes a really long time to send off new leaves; this is completely untrue of my plant.  I have had to cut pots off of mine because it sent off new leaves faster than I'd planned for and warped the pot around its rootball.  Repeatedly.  But there's something pleasing about such a happy houseplant and its mottled, red bordered leaves are really gorgeous.  I love my other Sansevieria, but this is my favorite of the genus.
  • Senecio jacobsenii "Trailing Jade"
    I do not get along with actual Crassula ovata jade plants (I know, I know, even black thumbs seem to get along with them) or a lot of other species within the Crassula genus, which is perhaps why I like Senecio jacobsenii so much.  We jive.  I also genuinely aesthetically prefer the trailing habit to the bushy style of Crassula ovata so it feels like I'm extra winning.
  • Sedum morganianum "Burro's Tail"
    My affection for this sedum in part stems from the fact that my beautiful, lush plant grew entirely from one small stem segment I picked up off the floor almost ten years ago in a grocery store in Queens and which was given to me for free by the cashier.  Slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly, then all of a sudden quickly, this little stem grew into a truly enviable specimen.  I also have the rarer version that has pointed leaf tips as opposed to rounded ones.  I aesthetically prefer the points, and I also like knowing it's a rarer form because I'm petty that way.
  • Selenicereus chrysocardium "Fern Leaf Cactus"
    This plant was also one that I grew out; I bought an unrooted cutting from a man at an antiques store, and it took ages to grow into something attractive.  In fact, it was only this year that it came into its own.  Nevertheless, it finally has and I think it's really lovely.  I have a couple Epiphyllum spp. cacti that occupy a similar visual (and functional) niche, but of the flattened cactus-reverted-to-tropical genre, this is the most spectacular.
  • xNeophytum sp. (possibly 'Firecracker')
    I am enamored of this plant.  Its bright red coloration year-round is spectacular and it's relatively easy-going to boot.  I think this is my favorite bromeliad (and I have a number of bromeliads).
  • Copiapoa hypogaea
    This is just a very aesthetically appealing little cactus to me.  It also seems to enjoy living with me, which it demonstrates by flowering and not rotting or etoliating or catching any pests or fungal infections.
  • Ariocarpus retusus var. furfuraceus
    I haven't owned this plant for overly long, so I suppose I may change my mind, but I'm currently really into it.  I enjoy its form as is, but it's a real stunner when in flower, and unlike some cacti (ahem, Echinopsis subdenudata 'Domino', I'm looking at you), the flowers last long enough to really appreciate them.
  • Ibervillea lindheimeri
    This is a lovely caudiciform as it's also a vine, so it grows rapidly yet in a relatively unobstructive way toward light and is therefore probably my most flexible houseplant in terms of indoor positioning.

It's hard to call out only one species of these genera, so the whole genus will have to do:

  • Mammillaria spp.
    While I've rotted out a number of Mamms in my time, we seem to have struck an accord of late and I'm a sucker for silken-haired cacti like M. hahniana or M. plumosa.
  • Pachypodium spp.
    Combining the best aesthetic aspects of cacti and palm trees, these plants are like miniature oases in and of themselves.
  • Euphorbia spp.
    Despite the toxic sap, I enjoy the alien yet varied forms these plants take on.
  • Stapeliad spp.
    I'm actually more reactive to their sap than Euphorbia sap, but I've been getting really into these lately.  I think part of it is that due to my anosmia I feel an affinity for stink flowers since scent never enhances or detracts from my opinion of plants anyway, while another part is that species like Caralluma look so soft and squidgy in the best of ways.
  • Gymnocalycium spp.
    Gymnos are so easy that they can be almost overly unchallenging, but man, it's hard to gripe at cacti that regularly flower, don't rot, and don't quickly etoliate.  These were the first cacti I had real success with and are probably to be credited with deepening my interest in keeping cacti early on when I didn't have access to the best light conditions.
  • Aloe spp., Gasteria spp., Haworthia spp.
    Honestly, all three of these (and their numerous crosses), hit the same sweet spot for me in terms of care requirements and aesthetics.
  • Agave spp.
    To me, these are like aloe with a bit more metal in them.
  • Rhipsalis spp.
    Soft cacti that straddle the line between tropical and succulent speak my language.

So there it is.  For someone who has as many plants as I do, that's actually quite a narrowing down!  I left off perfectly good species and genera that I keep and enjoy like Homalomena 'Emerald Gem', Phalaenopsis "Moth Orchids", Aglaonema "Chinese Evergreens", Saintpaulia "African Violets", Paphiopedilum "Lady Slipper Orchids", Echeveria, Tillandsia "Air Plants", Hoya, Philodendron, Ledebouria, Mesembs, Anacampseros, Sempervivum, and so many more (including a ton of cactus species), so don't tell me I didn't winnow.

I can also tell you the plants are on my never-again list: Opuntia spp. and all other glochid-bearing cacti.  I fervently hate glochids.  I will take firm spines or toxic sap any day over hundreds of nearly invisible, easily detached, reverse-barbed stabby hairs.  It's like the difference between bees and wasps - bees are defensive stingers; wasps are aggressive jerks that seek out trouble.  Glochids are the wasps of the cactus world and I will not invite them into my home no matter how aesthetically pleasing the plant that carries them is.

Though they aren't necessarily perma-banned like glochid-bearing cacti, I also tend to avoid Selaginella spp. due to its rabid desire for water, Crassula and Kalanchoe spp. (with a couple tentative exceptions) and annuals due to my own disinterest in plants that die no matter what I do, and larger plants like many Ficus spp. pretty much solely due to my limited and already overtaxed space.  It may also be of note that since one factor in my favorites and not-favorites depends on what thrives for me which changes due to local climate, some plants I enjoyed more in Baton Rouge aren't on the list now that I'm in Leavenworth.  That's the thing about favorites, though - they come and go depending both on historical performance as well as present conditions, and can also be usurped by a relative newcomer who nevertheless outperforms admirably!  So when I make this list again in a few years, it'll be interesting to see what stays, what goes, and what takes the place of the jettisoned.

Arilus Cristatus, The Wheel Bug

Hey, hey, I finally got to see another beneficial insect on my porch right before hauling my plants in for the winter!  This time, it was Arilus cristatus, the wheel bug.  As their ridged back portends, they are a type of assassin bug which in both its larval and adult stages preys upon aphids, caterpillars, and beetles - including my very common fall pest, the stink bug.  If manhandled, they can bite painfully but they are not aggressive and this fellow somewhat unwillingly posed for me for several minutes before flying off when I got the camera lens just a little too close.  As I was planning on bringing in my plants later that afternoon, I was OK with having scared it away temporarily; I don't think it'd be able to survive overwintering in my house.  Hopefully it'll return, though, to guard my sempervivum and sedum which spend the winter outdoors.

La Maison Verte Travels Part 5

Day 14 was sunny again!  I took a midday walk around the village to appreciate the weather, and as I was walking by a house, Erica (a transplant-turned-local orginally from Mexico) popped out to tell me about her bikes and how we at La Maison Verte should feel free to use them.  I then decided to pretty much invite myself into her garden to see it as the glimpses from the exterior of it were enticing, and then once in her garden her husband Morgan proffered some wine, and lunch... before I knew it, I'd spent the whole afternoon there, and gotten to sample homemade yogurt and rhubarb crumble (as well as veggies and salad) to boot.  Morgan then told me they were going to go wade around in some flooded road puddles later on and that I should come.  To be honest, it didn't sound that appealing but when in France...  I went.  At first we were supposed to walk but then everyone decided to ride bikes.  I am not great at riding bikes; I have one that I can just about get around on if I'm riding mostly flat streets, but it's a cushy bike that's been measured to my body, and I also haven't ridden on it for a few years now.  The bikes that are here are of random heights, hard seats, narrow wheels, and the terrain is variable.  I was not interested in riding a bike.  I thought I'd just bow out gracefully from the puddle-wading, then, but Morgan decided I would ride sidesaddle on the back of his bike instead.  It was hilariously awkward but moderately functional, so I just went with it.  The flooded road had a series of "puddles" that escalated quickly into pools and then frankly effectively turned into a stream.  We had a good time for a bit, but then the skies opened up and started raining hard.  And lightning followed, which freaked everyone out because we were all in water, surrounded by metal bridges.  So we all raced back.  The rain started to turn into hail, then rain, then hail.  It was a crazy but weirdly enjoyable end to the afternoon.

Day 15 was back to poor weather and I stayed inside working on artwork.

Day 16 Mathilde needed to go to Troyes to pick up some materials for the café she's constructing in the town (which will be the sole shop once it opens next year), so she brought us and Patricia along for the ride.  Troyes has a number of medieval churches, a tool museum that Patricia really likes, and is generally a nice small city.  We went to the biggest church, toured the tool museum, wandered about for a little while, and then all headed back.  I wanted to explore it more so I decided to head back soon.  Then I checked the weather forecast.  The only probably nice day was the following day; all the rest of the days in the extended forecast projected a lot of rain.

So on Day 17, I worked in the morning but went in the afternoon back to Troyes just to wander around for myself.  While at the train station, Mathilde was waiting to pick up some people from the other side of the tracks and we chatted across them talking about my visiting Troyes and my future plans for Paris until my train arrived.  I got on, and saw her through the window signalling NO, GET OFF!  I was so confused; I asked people on the train if this went to Troyes, and they said yes, but Mathilde was doing acrobatics on the other side viewable through the windows so I got back off, ran to the end of the train where there was a gap we could yell across, and she yelled, "That's not the train to Paris!" as the train made a noise that indicated it was about to leave.  I yelled back, "I'm going to Troyes!" and ran back to try to get the last door on the train to open.  I was in luck - I think perhaps the conductor saw the drama happening as I got a door open, stepped in, and the train immediately took off.  Since I'd been so cooped up in Marnay, it was nice to get to explore a new city on my own (and pop into some actual shops!).  Unfortunately, the prices on things here are really high.  I kept seeing things for 30 euros that would probably go for around 5-10 dollars in the US.

Day 18 was rainy again, as predicted.  Nonetheless, a British expat-turned-local named Andy had promised me he'd take me to a gorgeous botanical garden/greenhouse in a park in a town about an hour away called Sens, and we decided to go that afternoon.  Melanie joined us.  When we got to the park, there was about a fifteen minute walk inside to get to the greenhouses, and Andy was worried they'd be shut due to the weather (there was already some flooding in the park) but we figured we'd see when we got there.  Along the way, we got to see some white swans, geese, ducks, and then a black swan.  The black swan was such a character.  He knew he was beautiful, and wanted to be appreciated.  Once he saw us, he swam back and forth on a patch of stream like it was a catwalk, and he'd slow down and pirouette when he came to where we were to turn around.  We enjoyed the show for a while, and then tried to leave, but he moved the show up along with us like he didn't want us to go - but still with the overall affectation that he was deigning to display for us.  It was hilarious.  Melanie and I had to use the toilet, though, so we eventually left him and made our way to the WC.  I believe this was my first squatty potty.  I know I've seen them before, but I think I've never had the courage to use one until now.  They're actually quite easy to use, luckily!  Then we went into the greenhouses which were thankfully open.  They were really, really well put together.  There was an outdoor cactus and succulent section, a semi-tropical outdoor garden, an indoor cactus and succulent section, and a winding indoor tropical section.  I'd be happy to have the whole greenhouse transported to my house.  I knew more about all the plants than Andy and Melanie, so I told them trivia and then spotted some Mimosa pudica.  Neither of them had encountered the plant before (which I thought a little odd of Andy since it's a moderately common European houseplant) so they were thrilled to experience its sensitivity.  On the way back, Andy took a detour and showed us two local dolmens (one up close and the other from afar) dating back to the early Neolithic period.  They're like mini-Stonehenges, and it was really interesting to get to see them.  He also drove us past a menhir, which is a monolith from the same era.  This whole afternoon was a pretty much ideal excursion to my taste, so I was pretty satiated with my somewhat more eventful week and returned to the studio feeling much less cooped up.

Day 19 was entirely a studio day.  I sculpted with QCC on the door, which I'd finished preparing a few days earlier after finally getting Leo to fix the bottom of it, getting Kinga to loan me her scrapers, and after spending a long, hot afternoon myself scraping all the old paint off the door.

Day 20 was also committed to artwork.

Day 21 I mostly worked in my studio, but in the evening we took a quick trip over to the neighboring town of Saron-sur-Aube where we'd be participating in the Art & Jardins 2016 festival exhibition and sale.  We got to see some of the sites some other artists would be exhibiting in, and then got to visit the house we were displaying in so we could discuss who wanted what space and how we planned to exhibit.  I brought quite a large stack of my greeting cards with me since I knew I'd be participating in this, so hopefully they sell well!

Day 22 was another studio day.

Day 23 was primarily another studio day, but at 8pm we all went over to Mathilde's house for apéritifs and entrées (the latter of which, in French, means appetizer and not the main course) with many of the core group of friends (Erica, Guillon, Abril, Leo, Kinga, Patricia) and some new faces as well.  It was a lot of fun, and I learned I like prosecco!

La Maison Verte - Artwork 4

Here's my fourth piece!  It's titled Floating and is 3P Quick Cure Clay and acrylic on a 16x12" birch panel.  The whole thing is super shiny because I used a gloss varnish to seal and protect it, but I managed to get some images that aren't quite so glare-filled.  I also ended up gloss varnishing The Slightest Disturbance as well. 

La Maison Verte - Artwork 3 Progress Pics

I was much better about taking progress photos for this piece!  Here are some images documenting my process on Under the Bonnets.

La Maison Verte - Artwork 3

My third piece is pretty much done!  It's titled Under the Bonnets and it's 3P Quick Cure Clay, balsa wood, and acrylic on a 6x6" birch panel.