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Come squee with me, baby trees edition

The weather has been pretty good for baby trees lately. While I’m worried about the persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) that I planted, and the red mulberry (Morus rubra) that I planted last year is almost certainly dead, the baby pawpaws? They are growing like gangbusters. Also thriving are the trash pines (I really need to thin them) and the sassafras is doing spectactularly this year, for reals.

The main reason I have pawpaws is, let’s face it, the fact that when I was a wee girlchild my grandmother used to sing me a song:
Where oh where oh where is Andrea?
Where oh where oh where is Andrea?
Where oh where oh where is Andrea?
Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch!

Come on, girls, let’s go find her
Come on, girls, let’s go find her
Come on, girls, let’s go find her
Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch!

It’s got the same tune as “Ten Little Indians” and it’s the sort of repetitive song that little kids like to sing endlessly to drive their parents nuts but for me it is warm fuzzy memories of getting to spend the night with my grandmother.

And now, I have a pawpaw patch:
A shot of a clear space, with some tall oak trees in the near background.  There may, if you squint just right, be some saplings in there that are pawpaws.

All right, fine, they’re not huge yet, so here are some individual pictures. Please keep in mind that healthy leaves on a pawpaw look all floppy and wilted.
A baby pawpaw tree, slightly out of focus and maybe 18 inches tall, but even with the poor photography you can see it is bravely putting out leaves and growing its little heart out.

This baby pawpaw tree, about a foot tall, is a straight stick crowned with a little clump of longish, floppy green leaves.  It looks like the tree equivalent of a muppet.

This baby pawpaw tree is shot from above and arches up toward the camera.  It is pretending to be a dead stick, but if you look down near the ground you can see it has put out two branches with brave little leaves on them.
That’s the one I planted last year, and it looks as if it’s opting for the “shrub” version of pawpaw growth patterns. I’m OK with that, just as long as it doesn’t die.

Then there’s the baby sassafras trees, which I deeply adore as their little leaf clusters look like green rose buds. Also you never know what kind of leaves you’re going to get from a sassafras tree, they come in solid, “mitten”, and trefoil shapes, often in the same leaf cluster. If you happen to bruise their leaves (which I try not to do on the babies) then the sweet smell of root beer wafts into the air. Before the link between safrole (the aromatic oil the tree produces) and liver cancer was discovered (although it is disputed by some), the roots of the sassafras tree where what gave Root Beer its name.

Here’s leaf clusters that haven’t opened yet, plus flowers, on an adult sassafras tree (only adult trees think about grown-up tree things like flowers):
A collection of branches against the sky.  The branches are studded with what look like green rosebuds, about 2 inches high and tightly furled.  At the base of these clusters are rings of little non-descript flowers.

Here’s a baby with just a single leaf cluster that’s just starting to open:
A leaf cluster, shot from above.  The center is still tightly furled into the faux-rosebud, but four leaves have opened enough to see that they're all the solid kind, shaped like an almond, sort of.

Here’s a slightly older baby sassafras, unfurling its leaves. You can see all three types of leaf in this particular cluster:
A cluster of six sassafras leaves.  The three outermost are all solid.  Two of the innermost are trefoil, with a largeish central point and two smaller points, one on each side.  The other inner leaf is a mitten shape, but you can't really tell because the photographer got a crappy angle.

Oh there we go, the photographer got her act together.  This is the same cluster of leaves, this time shot from above so you can see the mitten-shaped leaf more clearly.

Finally, I could not resist this gang of juvenile sassafras trees, all hanging out together. They’re probably skipping school or something:
Four adolescent sassafras trees hang out together.  They look, if it is possible for trees to have an expression, as if they are up to something shifty.

There’s a saying in the south, used to refer to land exhausted by farming or other maltreatment: too poor to grow sassafras. Sassafras grows anywhere, and is often the first tree to move in when land is clear-cut. If your land is too poor to grow sassafras, you are in deep trouble. So it gives me a little thrill to see that the back acre, though damaged and blighted, is at least not too poor to grow sassafras. Get on with your bad selves, little trees.

Oh and because a) I can’t possibly walk around my massive 2.5 acre property without a bodyguard and b) she needs the practice standing still while I take pictures, Zille came along. I think she had fun.
Zille, a sable German Shedder, smiles into the camera with bright eyes, ears up, and lolling tongue.

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Decisions, Decisions

The 145th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox is coming up this weekend. I can’t make it on Saturday because I have class in the morning, then in the evening I will be taking the spare kitty to the airport (provided she still hasn’t given birth, so far so good). So I’ll be going down on Sunday and hanging out for about half the day.

The question is, which dog do I take with me? My choices are Tink or Zille.

Reasons to take Tink: Handles crowds of people well, including re-enactors. Is not terribly bothered by gunfire. Knows the ropes as far as keeping the leash slack while I pause to take pictures, and standing still being quiet and respectful during remembrance ceremonies. Is my best buddy. Will stand at the side door staring pathetically out after me and Zille if I don’t take her.

Reasons not to take Tink: Has hysterical barking meltdowns at the sight of other dogs who do not resemble dogs she already knows, which means if they don’t look like a German Shedder or a Doberman, she’s going to have a fit. Pulls on the leash while walking. Will attempt to mug re-enactors for food since one once gave her a piece of beef jerky out of his haversack TWO YEARS AGO. Refuses to poop on leash unless she feels she has a sufficiently large audience, bonus points if I have forgotten to carry poop bags. Joints are iffy and she may not be able to handle a 4-hour trip with lots of walking without being ouchie later.

Reasons to take Zille: Great leash manners. Does not have hysterical barking meltdowns at the sight of other dogs, although she might quietly gruff at one who looks really funny to her (like Corgis). In fact, the only thing she will have a hysterical meltdown about is me leaving the house with Tink and not taking her, too. Since she is not mostly blind, will not require as much vigilance on my part to keep people from sneaking up on her blind side and startling her. She will be the Emergency Backup Dog for Sesquicentennial Madness and thus needs the training.

Reasons not to take Zille: Crowds make her a little nervous, and she doesn’t have as much experience with gunfire, so I will have to concentrate on her at times I would rather be listening to historians or watching guns fire. Occasionally pulls on the leash while I’m trying to take pictures. Being a dog of obviously high quality, will attract more attention than Tink and require me to answer more dog questions when I would rather be chatting with historians and re-enactors. Gets car-sick.

Taking both is unfortunately not an option since I want to be able to take pictures. Hrm. I may just flip a coin Sunday morning.

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Cat-related miscellany

1) The Spare Kitty is still pregnant. This is good news, as her new owner is flying in to collect her on the 17th. She needs to not go into labor until he has at least gotten her through security. I’m pretty sure that the arrival of kittens on board does not represent enough of an emergency to divert a flight, so if she wants to give birth in the air then that’s just fine and dandy — as long as we get her stripey self on that plane!

She is very mightily pregnant, though, and kind of uncomfortable I think. She spends her time lying stretched out on her side or eating and drinking, with the occasional trip to the litter box. If you cradle her swollen tummy you can feel a kitten kick you, sometimes.

2) After two years of having the thing taking up space in a box in Roo’s room, I have finally installed the Cat Veranda. It turned out to be way easier than I thought it would be, which accounts for why it was sitting around in a box for two years. I propped the door open so the kitties could take a look, and of course it was the intrepid Rooney Lee who tried it out first:

Rooney Lee, an orange and white Cornish Rex cat of amazing handsomeness, sits in the cat veranda and looks like he thinks he might be getting away with something, being in THE GREAT OUTDOORS like this.  The cat veranda is the size of a very very small window-mounted air conditioner, and mounted in almost exactly the same way.

I think he at least will enjoy it, he made another visit to it later in the afternoon when it was full of sunbeam, so he could take a bath in the sunshine and fresh air. I installed it as part of major renovations I was doing with Pagenstecher Group Remodeling to the two cat rooms, which now have fresh coats of paint and Pergo laminate floors, on top of which we’ll put some lovely jaipur carpets, to replace the grotty brown carpet (here’s where we got our carpets from: Next up, putting all the furniture back in them!

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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 (find more details about the control of bugs outside the house and termites East Brunswick NJ). 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. 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.


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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.
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.