Saturday, June 14, 2008

Flood Stories No. 2: More rain! Also, mild blasphemy!

Hey, guess what? More rain! We got three separate rounds of fairly heavy rain (the first one had slushy hail, too, which was a first for me -- imagine being under a tall building, with a couple guys on the top floor throwing snow cones at you) this afternoon, from about 4:30 to 5:30 PM. Awesome.

Well no, not really. It's actually kind of le suck, as the French would say,1 but oh well. We've got however many feet of water now, so what's a few more inches? The city attempted to reason with the storm, erecting hastily-written, but clear, signs --

but these were sadly ineffective.

The first storm also included what might have been a tornado (they did sound the sirens and everything), though that was never made official. I was a little disappointed: I figured if we were to get really, superfantastically lucky, maybe the tornado would pick up all the water from our river and drop it somewhere else. Maybe I expect too much from tornados. I did enjoy the last one. (At the time of the tornado, I lived about half a block south of the church pictured at the link. Good times.)

Still, I got to see cool swirly clouds anyway, which is my main interest in tornados. I just want to see clouds do something different from the norm. So this was cool:

And anyway. The latest rain did eventually end:

12 And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." (Genesis 9:12-16, New International Version)



1(If they didn't speak French very well.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Flood Stories No. 1: You, lady, are unforgivably callous.

Gist of a phone conversation had by one of the front desk personnel:

FRONT DESK: [name of store]

LADY ON PHONE: Hi. I was just wondering if you were open?




LADY ON PHONE: So, is everything 50% off, then?

FRONT DESK (presumably in an if-voices-could-kill tone): No.

LADY ON PHONE: Oh. Okay, bye.

To put the above conversation into some kind of context:

We are having what everyone continues to insist on calling a 500-year-flood going on immediately behind the store property. There are ducks, now. And carp. On the premises. (The ducks aren't unusual, exactly, but carp, I think, is a bit unprecedented. Both are adorable, if also bad omens.)

Ducks. Not a good picture, I know, but they're there. The ducks are the sort of brownish objects about a third of the way up from the bottom, next to the center pole of the fence. They were much easier to see in real life, possibly because they were moving.

The local TV stations, and what few local radio stations haven't already been bought out by Clear Channel and DJed by robots, have been running non-stop flood-related stuff, particularly Channel 9, which has a particular interest in the floods because it's centered in Cedar Rapids.

Shortly before I arrived today (a co-worker saw me walking and offered me a ride), I was told that instead of the inch or two of water on the floor in the greenhouses that we were expecting yesterday, the prediction was now three or four feet, which meant that a lot of the work I did yesterday was going to have to be re-done.

Everybody else was going to have to redo what they'd done yesterday too, in order to accommodate the additional water.

Crack teams of sandbaggers, seemingly assembled out of nowhere, were wandering all over. Most of them were teenage boys, which is not really a demographic known for staying on task, so there was extra confusion.

The store, it turns out, is not actually insured against floods. (Flood insurance is too expensive, said the boss when I asked about this yesterday. I winced. She then shrugged and said, well, five-hundred-year flood, what're you going to do?) There's been speculation that if the damage is too bad, we might just fail to re-open entirely, rather than start again, though I think the possibility of this actually happening is pretty remote.

And so on. Pesticides were spilled (from a height, on people's - not mine - torsos and faces), glass objects were broken (didn't witness that one), a good time was had by all.

And then this lady, who apparently has nothing better to do than shop for bargains, wants to know if everything's been discounted yet.

She wasn't even the only individual like that: I'm told (by the same front-counter person) that a lady brought purchases up to the front counter, which was piled high with merchandise of all kinds because, you know, everything had to be three or four feet up off the floor, and we've only got just so much counter space, and when she wasn't rung up fast enough (because everybody who could have rung her up was trying to get stuff up off the floor or sandbag or something), she hollered, "HELLO" in a snotty way.

Front desk person came very close to bashing the lady's head in with a shovel. As she put it later when she was relaying the story to WCW and me,

Oh my god, who's thinking about buying plants at a time like this? [Interruption in the tirade as WCW and I both admitted to having thought about buying plants today, kind of undercutting her point.] Well, okay, but you guys are kind of a special case. I mean this lady was just, la la la, got nothing better to do, guess I'll go shopping. Oh my god! Why don't you go volunteer to sandbag or something, you useless, selfish . . . [non-verbal noise of frustration] You know, I've been sitting around at home crying already, a lot, 'cause of all the stuff on TV - it's just so frustrating and sad. And then to have to deal with these people on top of that - I don't know why we're even open, we should just make people either help out or go away.
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Side note: yes, I have internet access, for the moment, though it's still likely to be sporadic. The husband is anxious to evacuate; the boss expects me to at least attempt to come in tomorrow. One of them is going to win: could go either way. So posting will not resume the usual daily schedule for some time.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I walk by this every day on the way to work. Normally, the small storm-drain-like slit you see under the road behind the white car is a full-on tunnel, about maybe 12-15 feet high. This was Thursday morning.

I tried to get a picture of the same spot Friday morning, but couldn't get near enough to get it, and when I tried to use the zoom on the camera, I couldn't tell what part to zoom on. The tunnel from the first photo is more or less under a maroon car, except that you'll probably have to click on the picture to see the car, 'cause I'm that far away.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I don't really have any particularly awesome pictures of flooding. Floods are really very boring natural disasters, when it comes right down to it: you get all the same damage as, like, a tornado, but it's all very slow, and they don't translate well to pictures because, of course, pictures of floods look a lot like pictures of lakes or creeks or other bodies of water, with the exception that bodies of water generally don't have buildings and trees and cars in them. If running water was clear instead of muddy, then floods would be cool, 'cause you'd be able to see all the junk under the surface and it'd be all nice and surreal. But turbid water? What could be more ordinary than water?

Actually, no: floods are the second most boring natural disaster. Droughts are more boring than floods.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Also: I'm sort of looking forward, in theory, to having some time off of work, because with the heat and such, it's not been so great lately and it's been wearing me out. So I was thinking, yippee! Finally a chance to get some stuff done at home! The husband is getting antsy, wants to evacuate and go south to Fairfield or Mount Pleasant (about an hour south in both cases), which takes me away from all the stuff I want to do, and piles a bunch of stress (adjusting to a new place and everything) on top of me besides. So between us there is Conflict, which is not unheard of, but is unusual enough that it makes an already-bad situation that much worse, and given that we were both anxious to some degree or another already. . . . Well. You see the problem. It's uncomfortable.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

PATSP is closed due to flooding.

Lost internet service this morning around 7 AM, and according to Qwest, it's not coming back anytime soon because the server is underwater. Why Qwest chooses to put their servers in basements, instead of flood-safe, tornado-safe third floors or something, I don't know.

Also there's some concern about work: as far as I know we're still open indefinitely, but there is a creek behind the store, and the water is rising, and at some point we're going to have to shut off water and electricity and see what happens. The thinking is that all the plants are likely to make it, though the back greenhouses may or may not be in the same place next week that they're in this week.

Posts will resume at whatever point I can routinely access the internet again; I have absolutely no idea when this might be. They keep calling this a 500-year flood, on the news. This would be a more helpful term to me if I remembered the last 500-year flood, obviously.

Melancholic (Ludisia discolor)

One of my family's darker running jokes revolves around the assumption that Dad is kind of perpetually put-upon and abused and resigned to not having control of how things go. The resignation part, at least, is true; the rest of it isn't so much, or at least it wasn't at one time: since I got married (in reality, if not by law), I don't have nearly as much contact with them as I used to. Things may have changed.1, which footnote is long and probably slightly self-pitying and has no plant content whatsoever so read at your own risk

At one point in the fairly distant past, Mom and Dad's Sunday school class did a thing where they took personality tests, or (more probably) read descriptions of personality tests from a book, and the descriptions of the various types were presented by analogy to characters from Winnie the Pooh, though the actual personality categories, and the system they come from, were old as dirt.2 I suppose it makes it more entertaining and memorable if it's related to familiar stuff. Anyway. Dad was labeled an Eeyore, or melancholic, which apparently pleased him enormously, because he started responding to observations with "Thanks for noticing," and plans with "Not that it matters," all in the same low monotone. He was doing it for the humor value, but I don't think it was entirely a joke to him.

Ludisia discolor reminds me a little of Dad that way. I've had a couple cuttings of this plant for about a year now, having received them in a Garden Web exchange last June, and so you would think that I would know something about how to take care of them by now, but boy would you be wrong. Although mine did root, and are still alive, they've never seemed to be all that happy with me. I give them water, and they thank me for noticing, and they grow new leaves – not that it matters - 'cause then they lose leaves right away to make up for it. They're resigned to the situation, but it's clearly not been the kind of environment they wanted. This has been going on for about a year, and now they're getting Dr. Seussian – long, twisty stems with a little tuft of foliage on top.

So, if I don't know anything about how to grow them, you'd think I wouldn't really be qualified to talk about how to grow them, and you're probably right, if you're going to insist on experience and knowledge-having and all that. But you're already here, so you may as well make the best of it. Besides, we're not just depending on me: I've been reading around, and I'm learning, too.

There are, it turns out, a number of species of orchids called jewel orchids. All of them have certain things in common: they're small, terrestrial plants with attractively-patterned leaves. Ludisia discolor (sometimes Haemaria discolor; Ludisia is more correct, as best as I could determine, but sometimes one also sees Haemaria) is the most commonly available of the group, and has velvety dark red leaves with highlighted veins in red, gold, or white, depending on whose description you happen to be reading, what variety it is, and how it's been taken care of.3

LIGHT: Ludisia discolor is not, surprisingly, a plant suitable for very bright conditions. Too much light will cause the leaves to bleach out slightly. It's not dramatic; leaves just get thinner and redder than normal. I used to have mine in a spot where it got a bit of direct sun, mostly filtered sun: it wasn't bleaching in this location, but I moved it to a darker spot anyway, for the sake of humidity. Too early to tell whether the amount of light in the new spot is going to be an issue. The plants at work are doing okay in fairly bright light, though they're under a few layers of shade.
WATER: A lot of people grow these in straight water, for long periods of time, including the person I got my cuttings from; this obviously eliminates watering as a concern. Naturally, they grow in soil, and the instruction I see on-line is that one should grow them in soil which is "moist but not wet," a description that clarifies very little for me but lets me know I've been letting mine get too dry, probably. A few places suggest growing these in sphagnum moss, which has the right kind of loose texture to maintain moist-but-not-wet conditions, though if you let it dry out once then you're kind of boned, 'cause it's hard to re-wet. The plants we got a few months ago in a tropical shipment from Florida were planted in sphagnum, and seem happy enough there. My own plant, the two cuttings, is planted in regular potting soil, and that's apparently okay.

TEMPERATURE: Cool at night (to 60ºF / 16ºC), room temperature during the day (70-80ºF / 21-27ºC). I'm not sure how flexible this is; I didn't see that addressed anywhere. Given that the plants are from southeast Asia, though, it seems like cold is a bad idea.
HUMIDITY: I think this is where I've screwed up. (Says the plant, Oh. Well, thanks for noticing. . . .) A lot of sites are fairly insistent about these needing a lot of humidity, and quite a few suggest terrariums as the ideal growing situation. I ran into a surprising number of stories where people said, basically, that they had a Ludisia that sucked until they put it in a terrarium, and then it was cool. I don't think terrariums are probably mandatory – certain people say the same things about Saintpaulia ionantha, and yet Saintpaulia will grow just fine in a lot of homes without humidity-boosting – but it's something to consider if yours isn't doing well. Mine did start hanging on to its leaves better when I moved it from the bedroom to the bathroom.
PESTS: I had a brief run-in with spider mites, or else actual spiders. I never saw either one actually on the plant, so I never knew which it was. The leaves didn't get the dusty look that plants with mites get, either, but there was webbing, and it looked more or less like spider mite webbing. I haven't really seen any reference to any pests being a huge issue on these, so I'm going to say this isn't a major concern, though I'd still watch for mealybugs and spider mites, just because one should always watch for those.
GROOMING: Pretty minimal. Basically just pulling off the occasional dead leaf.
FEEDING: Pretty minimal. They're slow growers and don't seem to need much in the way of food; various websites back me up on this.
PROPAGATION: Cuttings root slowly, but easily, in water or soil. The parent plants are said to resprout, though I haven't witnessed this personally: mine have only recently gotten to the point where they're big enough to cut back, and I don't want to do that yet.

Ludisia discolor has a few named varieties, though I haven't seen any in person except H. discolor var. dawsoniana, the one pictured here: it has reddish veins on a red-black background. A variety with white veins also exists (H. discolor var. ondina), and there's said to be a green version with white veins called "alba." The species itself is naturally a solid red-black with a white central vein.

Plants are self-fertile, though I didn't find any specific information about how to sprout seeds or pollinate flowers. Seeds don't necessarily come true to the parent plant; they can sometimes have a different coloration, though as far as I can tell, the variation is very limited: veins can be more prominent or less prominent; the leaves can be black, black-red, or green; the veins can be black, black-red, gold, or white, and that's that. Not all the combinations of those options are permitted, either: a variety with black-red veins and green leaves would be pretty interesting, but it apparently doesn't work that way.

Unlike almost every other orchid, jewel orchids are grown for foliage, not flower. The flowers are, I suppose, cute, and one can definitely see the family resemblance, but they're not the traffic-stoppers that their more flamboyant relatives are known for:

I don't know that there's any particular trick to getting them to bloom; mine haven't yet, but like I said, they've not been treated properly. The flowers in the above picture were already on the plants we received at work in March, but we did have plants budding in early December. I didn't get to see the whole process from bud to bloom, because they all sold first.

The flowers aren't especially long-lived, by orchid standards, but they will hang around for a few weeks. I didn't detect a scent.

Is it a good starter plant? Well, kinda: it'll hold itself together while you learn, assuming that you bother to learn. And as orchids go it's not terrible, though it's also not what you first think of when you hear orchid.4

But it's probably not the place you want to begin with your houseplant hobby, either. God knows enough houseplants come up with melancholy spells all on their own; no sense starting out with a Debbie Downer orchid. I say, build your confidence first, then start buying the tragic plants.


Photo credit: All mine. Wish I could have come up with photos of the other varieties, though. The species form, actually, is very nice in a Dieffenbachia 'Sterling' kind of way. Check the site in footnote 3.

1 I'm now more or less beyond the reach of the immediate and extended families, and I'm definitely outside their particular belief system, so maybe I'm not seeing the full picture, but from here it looks like they are just getting increasingly afraid of everything, including and especially thinking and other people.

They never had a lot of friends to begin with, being basically shy people, but I don't think they have any now who aren't part of their church, or who weren't part of some previous church. And they go to small churches, as a rule.

When I was a kid, they had other friends. I remember. I was there.

Neither one of them were great students, either, and I guess mostly what they learned in high school was that they're not good at learning. This is not, I think, actually true, but they believe it, and everything they encounter that they fail to understand immediately just confirms it for them. This is something else that has gotten a lot worse over time. I mean, I remember them trying to learn stuff when I was a kid. Dad played guitar (not well, but still), and they were at one time genuinely into trying to learn about the Bible, even; I don't think this is the case anymore, though it's hard to articulate exactly why. I suppose it's because when you're trying to learn things, sometimes you actually do, and it's exciting, and you want to tell people about it: learning can be energizing, and they never seem to be excited about anything more thrilling than if the Wal-Mart has something in stock that they weren't expecting to see there. Instead they're just bitter, Dad especially.

It's like, oh my god, my parents are turning into old people. Old people who don't drive faster than 25 mph or travel more than 15 miles from home, who bitch about kids these days and mean it. Dad's already been complaining about rap music for, like, twenty years. What comes next? Cat collecting and conspiracy theories? I don't think I'm ready for this. They're not even that old. Chronologically, I mean. (They're 56.)

My younger siblings, who are 30, 17, and 13 (brother, brother, sister, respectively), all still live at home, and always have, and the two youngest are being homeschooled because Mom and Dad can't afford the private Christian school in town and don't want the kids learning anything alarming (People of other faiths don’t worship Jesus! Or even necessarily want to! Plants and animals evolve! Sometimes boys are attracted to other boys, instead of girls! The U.S. Constitution doesn't say everybody has to be Christians!) and poisoning their delicate little minds. 'Cause, you know, just look what happened to the firstborn.

(Wait a minute, you may be saying here. You're trying to tell me that your thirty-year-old brother doesn't know that gay people exist? Aren't you gay yourself? Yeah, well, I'm fairly sure he knows, on both counts. And I think the two younger kids know too, at least that gay people exist. They may or may not know they're related to any; I barely ever see them, and they've not been permitted to meet the husband. I don't even know whether they've been told of his existence for sure. It's a singular thing, to be treated as threatening by your own family, when you haven't even done anything.)

So anyway. My original point: their world gets smaller and smaller, and scarier and scarier. What news they get comes from pretty blatantly biased sources. We literally haven't lived in the same worlds for about sixteen years, and it's increasingly awkward to talk to them: we don't share enough assumptions in common.

(Though, me being me, sometimes I can't resist anyway, like the time I told Dad about running into something on-line from the 2000 election about how people shouldn't vote for Gore because if they did we'd end up with - gasp! - $2/gal gas. [Can't re-find it, but I did run into this gem about Candidate Bush, in 1999, "bashing" the Democrats for letting gas get to $1.64/gal, and saying, among other things, President Clinton “must jawbone OPEC members to lower prices." Yeah, okay.] Dad came back with something like well, if all those liberals would let us just drill in ANWR, we wouldn't have these problems.*sigh*)

The whole situation is a lot like having a trick knee: I mostly don't think about it, sometimes for months at a stretch, but when it does make itself felt, it's painful and awkward and inconvenient. And this, like it or not, is one of two times of the year when it tends to make itself felt (late April to mid-June, which includes my Mom's birthday, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and the anniversary of the day I came out to them), the other being mid-November to late December (my birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Dad's birthday). Hence the family being on my mind, and this whole TMI digression, which I hope you will excuse.

Also: please don't tell me it could be worse (I know) or that they might come around eventually (they won't. I know them better than you do.).

2 I believe they were the melancholic-sanguine-choleric-phlegmatic classification first proposed by Hippocrates, which is about as accurate as Myers-Briggs, astrology, or any other system that attempts to classify billions of people into a small, manageable number of types. Which is to say, it's not especially accurate, but it's a good source of conversation. I guess.
3 The others, which I've never seen for sale except on the internet, are primarily in the genera Macodes, Anoectochilus, and Goodyera. They can be purchased on-line from this site, though I do not know these people, nor do I necessarily endorse this business or its products, so caveat (as always) emptor. If nothing else, though, the site has decent pictures of the other species, which is good because it's nearly impossible to find public domain pictures of some of them.
4 What I still always think of first when I hear the word "orchid," though it's off-topic, is testicles. Why? Because in medical terminology, which I know more than my fair share of, thanks, that's what "orchid" means. E.g. an orchidectomy is when they remove a testicle (orchid = testicle; -ectomy = removal of), and cryptorchidism is when there's an undescended testicle (crypto = hidden; orchid = testicle). The "testicle" meaning came first: the genus Orchis has paired bulbous underground structures for storing water that, if you're an ancient Greek philosopher / naturalist named Theophrastus, remind you of testicles. (I was unable to find a picture, so I couldn't check to see how good the resemblance actually is.) For what it's worth, avocados (Persea americana) are also named for testicles, but in a different language (the Aztec word ahuacatl), and "testicles" itself comes from Latin, meaning "witnesses," though it's not clear how the concepts are related: multiple explanations exist. So now you know.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New Plants Week Bonus: Zygoneria 'Adelaide Meadows'

I mentioned earlier that one of the new orchids in this last batch was remarked on by every co-worker who saw it, and was widely regarded as the best orchid ever, or something like that. This is the one in question. It's not that it has the biggest flower, or the most impressive patterning, or the most elaborate construction: what makes this one stand out is the color.

It turned out to be very difficult to get the color right in the picture; it's a very weird shade, in between blue and purple, which I've seen before in other orchids but not very often. Plus I think the other orchids I've seen with this color were Vandas.

Zygoneria is another transgeneric hybrid, between the genera Zygopetalum and Neogardneria (specifically, Zygopetalum Titanic x Zygoneria Dynamo. I couldn't locate Dynamo's parentage.). Neither genus appears to be common in orchid crosses otherwise.

Incidentally, I apologize for the lack of plant profiles lately; I've been having some difficulty with Ludisia discolor, plus there's been more actual work than usual lately, and it's hot, so I'm having to expend a certain amount of energy just to hold myself together. We'll get there fairly soon, though, and it's going to be Ludisia. (UPDATE: And then it was.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pretty picture: NOID weird orchids

This first one actually got more impressive looking later on, when more buds opened and it was a long string of these flowers, each one a little longer and pointier than the last. Of course I didn't get a picture of that. But you can imagine.

The picture on this second one doesn't quite do the flower justice, mainly because the flowers were tiny, as orchids go, and you can't really tell that from the picture. Something like 1.5 to 2 inches across (3.7-5 cm), small enough that the fineness of the pattern was impressive.

I don't suppose anybody knows off the top of their head what the names would be?

Monday, June 9, 2008


Urgh. The last few days have been murderous, heat-wise, and I'm really not sure at all what I'm going to do about this. I had to leave early on Saturday because I just couldn't take it anymore; a couple days before that, one of the greenhouses was at about 90% humidity, with a temperature of 106ºF (41ºC), which when I put those numbers into the National Weather Service's heat index calculator, the number it spit out was a heat index of 216ºF (102ºC). Granted, after a certain point, the actual number of the heat index stops being meaningful, but still. I have a proposal to run by the boss, but so far, she and I haven't been in the building at the same time for like three days now, so I haven't had the opportunity.

Anyway. So I came home on Saturday and napped, and then I slept Saturday night, and then I napped again Sunday morning, for a total of a little over 13 hours, and then I felt more or less okay again, but goddamn. And, as WCW helpfully reminded me, this is only the beginning of the summer, not even officially summer yet, even: there's a good three months of this ahead.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Pretty picture: Impatiens 'Voodoo Mix'

I enjoyed this one. The customers didn't seem to care for it so much, but I thought it was nice.

I'll concede that the colors kinda clash. I think that's why I like it.