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Someday I will breathe through my nose again.

It is definitely spring in Virginia. You can tell because everything that has been outside for more than two minutes has turned yellow under a thick coating of pollen. There’s flowers all over the place but mostly it’s the trees doing it. I have been living on Zyrtec for a month now, y’all, and am anxiously awaiting actual summer when the trees will stop with their airborne romance.

Speaking of trees, I have planted three more here at the Manor: two pawpaws (Asimina triloba) and one American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). One of the best places I have found for baby trees is Edible Landscaping. I’ve bought several from them, including two pawpaws that were casualties of a buck whitetail that lives or lived in the area, and they’ve all arrived in great condition and established themselves with a minimum of tending from me, which is exactly what I want in a tree. This is also, not so coincidentally, why I strongly believe in planting native species of tree, and did the research to find out what snack-producing varieties are native to my particular neck of the woods. Many of these native trees are also having a hard time, because their fruits are not commercially popular, or invasive imports are taking over their habitat, or in the case of the red mulberry (Morus rubra) the invasive white mulberry (Morus alba, from Asia) is taking over its very genome, since they can hybridize.

So here I am on the Manor, doing my part to save obscure native trees like the pawpaw. Odds are you have never heard of a pawpaw, unless a) you live overseas where the word pawpaw refers to another fruit entirely or b) your grandmother used to sing the pawpaw song to you like mine did. However, it is a nifty little tree that lives in the understory of the forest. It’s endangered in New Jersey, threatened in New York, and “vulnerable” in Ontario, Canada. The leaves contain a natural pesticide that keep bugs off them with the notable exception of the zebra swallowtail butterfly and the pawpaw sphinx moth, for which it is the larval host. The fruit feeds birds and small mammals. Weirdly, it is pollinated by blow flies, which normally feed on carrion, which means its flowers smell like dead rotting things, and if you want to improve your fruit yield you can hang chicken necks from the branches of the trees to rot. Yum. Wildflower.org has great information on the pawpaw and lists it as a PlantWise native alternative to Russian olive. Compounds in the seeds of pawpaws show promise for chemotherapy against prostate and colon cancers. How much more useful and cool do you need a tree to be, seriously? The problem, of course, is that the fruit does not ship well, and therefore it doesn’t have much commercial potential. As an understory tree, it’s also losing habitat as Americans cut down forests and put in housing developments.

You may have seen fruits of the Asian persimmon varieties in grocery stores. American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) produce much smaller fruits that are horribly bitter and sour until after the first frost hits them. It is a hardy little bugger of a tree, able to handle high sun and low water conditions. Abraham Lincoln had one at his home in Illinois, even! Like the pawpaw, it’s a hardy native tree whose fruits just happen to be not as commercially viable as the agricultural conglomerates would like, so it’s listed as “special concern” in Connecticut and “threatened” in New York. Confidential to New York State: WTF are you guys doing to your native trees, yo?

Still in the plans for this year are a couple red mulberries (Morus rubra) as I think the one I planted last year did not survive the apocalyptic winter, and some hazelnut bushes. I also need to replace my butternut sapling that got mowed down by the neighbor I pay to do my lawn last fall. Meanwhile, I also need to go savage some damn Paulownia that have sprung up on the back acre, thin out the pine saplings from around the sassafras seedlings to give them room, and otherwise continue the grand re-treeification project.

Also, confidential to the person who got here googling “how to sneak up on a spring peeper”: If you find out, let me know! But I am inclined to say that it is impossible, because the little buggers will always hear you coming and shut up. The only way I’ve found to get a good look at them is to be out driving in the rain in the spring and summer, in the dark just before dawn. You will often see them hopping across the road and if you’re very swift and conditions are safe you can stop the car, leap out, and intercept one before it disappears into the ditch on the side of the road. But please don’t take them from their natural habitat, frogs are having a hard enough time out there. If you’re in an area where there are Spring Peepers and you’d like to have some around, may I suggest constructing them a little pond to hang out at?

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Update on the latest spare kitty

Yay, she is free of FIV, FeLV, worms of all varieties, and fleas! Yay, she has a home! Boo, she is definitely pregnant, about 2/3rds of the way along. Yay, her new home is willing to take her anyway!

I will admit to large amounts of relief that someone else is willing to take on the spay/abort or deal with kittens issue. I found myself totally unable to even ask my vet about spaying her while pregnant, startlingly enough. I know it’s the smart thing to do, I know there’s a million anonymous cats out there and we don’t need to be adding more, but when it came time to ask, I just couldn’t open my mouth and say the words.

On the other hand, because my vets are totally fabulous, Dr. Andi had already written “we can get her in and spay her before her distemper booster if you want” in her case notes. The price of a good vet is more than rubies, seriously, and I’ve been lucky to stumble onto a practice with two of them: Tidewater Trail Animal Hospital, owned by the Doctors Lindamood, Greg and Andi. If you’re in the vicinity of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and need a vet, hie thyself straight to their door and tell them I sent you. There’s a link right over there in the sidebar to their site, in case you lose this post. Ahem.

At any rate. I just couldn’t ask about aborting the kittens. I know all the reasons they should be aborted, but it was just like when the vet tech asked me that morning what I wanted to do with the kitty if she turned out to be FIV or FeLV positive, and I blurted out “Keep her alive, of course, I’ll find a way to deal with it.” And if she’d turned out to be positive, I would have, even though that would have meant pimping her heavily to find her an only-cat home, a task which can be quite difficult.

But I couldn’t tell them to put her down categorically, just like I couldn’t ask about aborting the kitten(s). These are little lives I’m snatching from the chaos, each individual kitty placed in an indoor home one who isn’t going to live the short, brutal life of the feral cat. It’s like the turtles I move off the road[1], on a slightly larger and hairier scale.

[1] I DREAD THE COMING OF THE MONTH OF MAY, WHICH IS WHEN THE TURTLES START THROWING THEMSELVES IN FRONT OF MY CAR. SUMMER BEFORE LAST THERE WAS A PERIOD IN WHICH EVERY FREAKIN TIME I LEFT THE HOUSE, I STOPPED FOR AT LEAST ONE TURTLE. ALSO, TURTLES ARE STRIKINGLY UNGRATEFUL CREATURES IN GENERAL, ONLY ONE HAS EVEN POKED HER HEAD OUT TO EYEBALL ME SUSPICIOUSLY, LET ALONE SAID “THANK YOU” FOR THE ASSIST ACROSS THE ROAD.

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They always know where to come…

What’s this?
It's a very small, very stripey, very spotty tabby cat crouching in my front yard and looking at me expectantly, that's what it is.

Guess where she is now?
She's in my bathroom, that's where she is.  Photo is of her head, turned three-quarters profile to the camera.  There are books in the background.

At any rate, I have a feeler out on her already. She is NOT HAPPY about dogs. Like, I brought a carrier on the porch and stuck her in it rather than risk my life trying to bring her in bare-handed. If the feeler doesn’t turn out, then I will do a proper kitty-pimpin post on her, but it is not yet time to call out the Emergency Kitten Network.

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The weekend in review

I am a paper junkie. I can’t help it, I just get seduced by the stuff.

So anyway, on Sunday I played with using coffee to antique some paper, and here is the pic I was going to post before I caught Tink making her Satanic Face:

An orange and white Cornish Rex cat helpfully perches in a glass pan, atop two sheets of paper that have been antiqued.

That’s Rooney Lee, perched atop my thankfully dry paper. As all cat owners know, pawprints and cat butt are vital ingredients in any crafting project.

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Just another satanic Monday…

Tink had her yearly exam today, which meant she stayed at the vet all day, got shot up with a vaccine or two, and came home cranky. Zille really really missed her. Tink did not care, she just wanted to pass out. Observe:

Tink, a fawn Doberman, and Zille, a sable German Shedder, lie on the futon.  Zille is attempting to suck up by licking Tink's face.  Tink's face has the world's most Satanic expression on it: glowing red eyes, and a huge snarl.  She does not like being licked.

Food Lady over at WooTube has dubbed that face “Mad Teeth(tm)” when her bitch Piper does it. Tink would like to form the Sisterhood Of The Traveling Mad Teeth with Piper.

Actually, she’d just like to continue to chew her marrow bone, and nap. But she got a clean bill of health and that’s the important thing!

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In the still of the night…

The scene: Manor of Mixed Blessings, approximately 0315. Your humble narrator is asleep on the futon in the living room (in case Tink needed an emergency potty trip).

Zille: Pssssst.
Me: Mrfgl?
Zille: Psssssssst.
Me: Wha?
Roo: Huh? Are we awake?
Me: We’re not awake. What do you want, Zille?
Zille: I has a ball.
Roo: I has a hungry.
Tink: I was asleep.
Beowulf: Are there squirrels?
Me: Zille, honey, what time is it?
Zille: Fetchy time. Obviously. I has a ball.
Me: *reaches for cell phone, looks at time*
Me: Oh hell no. It’s freakin just past 3am.
Zille: That’s fetchy time. Look, a ball, I has one.
Me: Fetchy time doesn’t occur until 0800 at least.
Zille: My ball, let me show you it.
Roo: Why did a ball just land on my head? I’m hungry. And cold.
Me: I’m keeping this ball.
Zille: Throw the ball.
Me: No.
Zille: But I love you. I love you a lot.
Me: OMG DOG SPIT ON MY EYEBALL.
Zille: Fetchy time?
Me: NO.
Roo: Breakfast time?
Me: NO.
Tink: I gotta go outside.
Me: Oh, dammit. We were doing so well.
They win, I got out of bed. Although I spited them (spote them?) by going back to bed once they came in from the group potty trip.

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Life With Dogs Is Never Dull.

Today I had to go out for a while in the morning, so I crated Zille and Beowulf (Zille is not yet totally house-trustworthy, Beowulf had a housetraining regression and so is crated for the time being), and because I felt guilty about leaving on a Saturday, I handed out chunks of frozen rabbit from Hare Today before I left, so the dogs would have a nommy treat. Rabbitsicles, mmm. finding emotional support dogs is the bets thing that has ever happened to me, seriously!!

This is how I found out the hard way that chunks of frozen rabbit do not agree with La Diva Tinkerbella’s delicate digestive system.

Conveniently, I made this discovery after I fed her dinner, as the normal SOP for a dog who is experiencing a digestive system upset is to feed the dog chickenrice[1] for a couple meals and then reintroduce the regular food. There may be a dose of Pepto-Bismol involved there somewhere, if I know what caused the problem, but I discovered today that I’m out of Pepto-Bismol, too. Whoops.

All of this happened, of course, just before she goes in for her annual exam on Monday. I would like her to be in top form and not, how do I put this delicately, WAY messier than normal in her bodily functions. I swear to God she has only decided to not process rabbit properly because of her impending yearly exam.

At any rate. In the future, I will be ordering turkey necks for Tink, as she has had those in the past with no ill effects, and she will be thrilled to get chickenrice for breakfast.

[1] CHICKENRICE IS JASMINE RICE (BECAUSE MY DOGS MIGHT BE SPOILED, AND ALSO I EAT RICE OCCASIONALLY AND I PREFER IT) MADE WITH LOW- OR NO-SODIUM CHICKEN BROTH. IF I HAVE BITS OF CHICKEN TO MIX INTO IT, IT HAS BITS OF CHICKEN IN IT.

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It’s the little things, part 2: Amphibious Edition

Spring has definitely sprung, despite today’s cold nasty weather and the prediction of a light freeze tonight. I know this because the frogs have been chorusing like nobody’s business lately. My neighbor has 60 acres and a couple ponds, and with all the rain we’ve had there’s a bunch of ephemeral puddles and things around which the wee amphibians gather and sing their little hearts out.

I of course have no pictures of them in their adorableness, because the minute you try to sneak up on a frog, it stops singing and becomes invisible. Actually, the Gray Treefrogs are pretty well invisible already when they hang out on trees.

At any rate, in the dark of the morning when I go to work, the Spring Peepers are peeping. You can hear them over at that link, and they are totally hilarious, because when there’s only a few Peepers, they are plaintive and lonely-sounding frogs: peep? peep? But let a few other Peepers move into the area and they become more and more emphatic until suddenly a resounding round of “PEEP! PEEP! PEEP!” is sounding through the woods.

Later in the morning, the Upland Chorus Frogs and Gray Treefrogs start chiming in. Their calls have a similar sound, except that the Upland Chorus Frogs are interrogative, and the Gray Treefrogs are more declarative. Once they start in, it’s nothing but “Rrrrrrt? Rrrrrrrt? Rrrrrrt. Rrrrrrrt.” until the sun gets high enough to send them under cover.

At the end of the day, the frogs reverse their choruses, with the Upland Chorus Frogs and the Gray Treefrogs beginning their songs early in the evening, ceding to the Spring Peepers a little before the bats come out to swoop up bugs. The Peepers then carry us all into nightfall before tucking themselves in. They do get up early, you know.

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Spring Training

I took Zillekins for a 2 mile hike today, in preparation for Civil War season. See, I’m a huge Civil War Bore, and attending the events that go on during the spring, summer, and fall takes me on a lot of hikes. Tink has traditionally been my hiking buddy, but her werid medical problems lame her up from time to time and thus the presence of Zille, the Emergency Backup Dog.

However, Zille does not automatically do all the things Tink automatically does that make Tink such a pleasure as a hiking companion, and also I would like to stop Zille doing some of the things Tink does do that make her a slightly less pleasant hiking companion. Hence today’s 2 mile walk down to the end of our road and back, working on loose leash walking. Zille does this pretty well already, but because hiking in the forests and meadows of a battlefield is pretty high-distraction, I want to build up a solid reward history with her for walking where I want her. This little graphic may help:

A diagram of where I want Zille to walk. There is a white circle to represent me. Immediately to the circle's left is a green rectangle. Surrounding the green rectangle and partly in front of the circle is a yellow zone. The rest of the diagram is red.
Reward zones for teaching Zille to walk with me.

The little white circle there represents me. Next to me, you’ll see a green rectangle. This is the Mark-And-Treat Zone. When Zille is in this area, the leash is loose, I can see her out of my peripheral vision, and if she suddenly surges because of something like a squirrel, I won’t get yanked immediately. I really want her here, although I don’t care if her head is down and she’s sniffing, or if it’s up, or if she’s walking in a straight line or meandering around in that green zone, so I mark-and-treat (“Good dog!” *cookie*) a lot when she’s in there, no matter what she’s doing. She spends about 70% of her time there on her own inclination. The goal is to get that up to 80%.

Immediately outside the green zone and extending in front of me is the yellow zone. I do not mark-and-treat while she’s in it, but neither do I stop walking or give her a no-reward marker. In the yellow area, she has taken most of the leash slack and may be putting light pressure on it, or I may not be able to see her without making an effort. Still, she’s not really doing anything I actively object to. Tink, when walking, spends a lot of time in the yellow zone no matter what kind of treats I’m carrying, it’s one of the things that makes her a less pleasant hiking buddy. Zille tends to spend maybe 20% of her time in the yellow zone naturally.

The area furthest out, on my right side, and behind me is the red zone. In this zone I will stop walking, give a no-reward marker (“Negative, Zille” or “Ah ah!”), or bring her back to the green zone with leash pressure, or sometimes a combo of two of these things, or sometimes a combo of all three. In the red zone, I can’t see her easily or she’s pulling on the leash hard, or she’s on my right. Tink is trained to walk on my right[1], and if I walk the two of them together I don’t want them interfering with each other too much, so I don’t want Zille on my right at all, just as I don’t want Tink on my left. Maybe 10% of the time Zille gets into the red zone, and thus the training: I’m hoping to eliminate that 10% or at least get it down to about 1%.

Other behaviors practiced: alerting silently on people who come within view. Eventually I would like her to alert on people I *can’t* see, which is going to take some help from a friend and a trip to the woods where there’s more visual obstructions. Sit or down on stop; it’s her choice. I don’t care what she does but if I’ve stopped moving it’s probably because I’m taking a picture, and then I need a loose leash. Zille will sniff her way quickly into the red zone if I stop moving, which will interfere with picture-taking. The other reason I might stop on a battlefield is to listen to a lecture, in which case she also should be polite and stay still instead of invading the space of other listeners. Watch me; an all-purpose useful way of getting your dog to stare at you and await further instruction.

[1] TINK IS TOTALLY BLIND IN HER LEFT EYE DUE TO A DETACHED RETINA, SO HAVING HER ON MY RIGHT HELPS MAKE SURE NOTHING BLIND-SIDES HER LITERALLY WITHOUT ME HAVING A CHANCE TO TELL HER ABOUT IT. AT ANY RATE, BECAUSE SHE WALKS ON MY RIGHT, THIS DIAGRAM WOULD BE FLIPPED TO THE MIRROR IMAGE FOR TINK-TRAINING.