August 2006

Took Athena into the vet today. She’s generally as healthy as a little Siamese horse, but there was some blood in her stool this week, and it’s been two years since she’s had a check-up, so I took her in. (It’s the same local vet that did exactly the right thing when I found the cat hit by a car, and they were very nice. They did have to break off my appointment, however, when an emergency came in, which I quite understand. Athena will wait, the dog who just ate a dozen roach traps won’t.*)

Athena, because she has been extremely healthy her entire life, has never gotten used to the vet. She likes the new people that will come and pet her, but she has never had to acquire Loki’s patient resignation with being poked and prodded.

The vet went to palpitate her stomach. Athena did not like this. And then the vet went to express her anal glands, and Athena went batshit insane.

Every vet I have ever experienced has had one tech who is built like Rosie the Riveter and who can wrap a cat like nobody’s business. This is an archetype. This tech got her wrapped, and Athena, denied the ability to claw her attackers, began making some really extraordinary noises. An angry cat can yowl with the best of them, but this went past yowl into a sustained scream of pure rage. I’ve never heard the cat make THAT noise before.

“In the future, you might want to drug her before you bring her in…” said the tech, putting the cat in a headlock.

The vet went to work. Athena lashed out with the only weapons at her disposal, and voided bowels, bladder, and anal glands onto the enemy. “AHA!” cried the vet, quite delighted, “we DID get a fecal sample after all!”

They took her off for blood work. The tech returned with Athena and said “She’s really sweet! She didn’t care if we took blood, she just didn’t want us fooling with her butt.”
I cannot blame the cat. This strikes me as a sensible attitude.

The end diagnosis, pending blood work turning anything up, is that she’s got Inflamed Bowel Disease. It’s hard to get a confirmation on–you need elaborate surgical biopsies–but it’s the most likely culprit. Since she’s quite healthy otherwise, and it’s a very minor expression of it, the vet doesn’t really want to put her on any drugs, so we’ll try controlling it via diet.

At a healthy nine years old, she is likely to have many more good years ahead of her, but she IS a geriatric cat now, so it’s good to catch this stuff early. Even if it does put me out $260 bucks. (Uf da!)

*His prognosis is good.

Ecology of the Yard

On a whim, as part of my efforts to do right by the garden, and partially also to establish a kind of baseline, (and for something to do while I ran off prints) I counted up the species I’ve seen in the yard.

It took a lot longer than I thought, and came as something of a surprise. There are over 160 species of plant and animal that I know of that either live in or visit my yard. That’s rather more than I expected.
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Dangit, you guys are too cool.

Got to the bottom of the Digger stack today, popped open the last two envelopes–and what do I find? A bag of Red Vines, and an adorable little messenger rat magnet. The messenger rat is adorning my fridge, and the Red Vines are adorning my gullet. Life is beautiful. My fans rock.

The last of the stack will go out tomorrow–then I’ve just got two more loose sketches to do for people, and I’m through the pile. (And if you’ve been sitting on your Digger vol 2 waiting for me to get through said pile, you can start sending ’em now…*grin*)

The funniest thing about this? Nobody has asked for the same character. I’ve gotten most of the cast requested, but it’s an almost eerie spread across the board. Trolls, Digger, Ganesh, the shadowchild, flaprat, Ed, Surka, a random hyena, Murai, the skins–but no duplicates! I find that bizarrely interesting. What are the odds?

Also, there’s a squirrel with her butt plopped into the window feeder. I was chasing her off, but then I got up close and personal, raised my hand to tap on the glass–and saw the nipples. My squirrel is nursing baby squirrels.

Aw, maaaaan. That’s not fair.

So Mommy squirrel gets a free pass on the feeder, because…well…she just does. Apparently the territorial range of a lactating female decreases by 50%, so I figure she needs to get her food where she can. Also, she has ear mites, and a small bald patch on her left cheekbone. This is probably less a sign of defectiveness than the basic hard knocks of bein’ a wild animal.

The eastern grey squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis is a native species, and probably doesn’t deserve the ire it gets from me, much as I love my titmice, cardinals, and Carolina chickadees, who would be at the feeder if her fuzzy butt wasn’t blocking it.

Earlier, a ragged molting Carolina wren, sans tailfeathers, looking like it had been dragged backwards through a blender, went skittering wildly on foot across the yard. I looked up in time to see a flash of green and an unsuccessful nab. Going to another window, I watched the wren chase a huge, bright green grasshopper (or katydid, bugger if I can tell) and finally pounce. It beat the unlucky bug against a stepping stone, bits of wing and carapace flying off, until it was a small green nugget, then swallowed it whole and slouched off. So that was pretty cool.

Sometimes I wish I had a garden paladin. I mean, I have James, and he’s pretty good for things like digging holes and mowing the lawn, but…well…somebody dedicated and brawny and not very bright, to make a valiant stand against the weeds. Then I could sip mint juleps on the veranda and read seed catalogs. Who wouldn’t love that?

Some women dream of cabana boys. I dream of paladins with broadswords +2 vs. weeds.

Of course, once I go down that road, I start seeing the whole garden in D&D terms. Clerics blessing the mulch and curing leaf blight. The berserker dwarf chopping down the trees and digging the holes. (Okay, I’ve got one of those already.) The rogue, master of poisons and pesticides, who you’d really rather not employ, but sometimes… And really, that goddamn English ivy just needs a few well-placed fireballs rolling through.

It’s a big job, a hard job, a job requiring strength and cunning, against formidable and persistent foes. Smite ten, and fifty grow in its place. You spend a lot more money on equipment than you’ll ever get back, and you frequently find yourself saying “Plan? I thought you had the plan! What was the plan, anyway?” It is, in short, a job made for a party of adventurers.

A garden party, if you will.

Did a little work in the garden before it gets punishingly hot, tossed some petunias into the bare patches. Blessed are the annuals, who hide our failures!

Gardening smells like sweat and basil, with a hint of pine from the bark mulch.

The tropical storm is supposed to hit us tomorrow, although it will have deteriorated to just drenching rains, which we could use. The coast may get whomped a bit, but in the Piedmont, where we live, it’s just gonna be wet.

Saw a dead cicada yesterday. Its lower shell was ripped off, and it was scooped out like an orange. The yard appears to be home to cicada wasps, amid all the other wildlife.

I am beginning to suspect that heat is tied to the sound of cicadas. This time of year, you hear them even in the house, a low hiss of static, the world tuned just a half degree to the wrong station and getting some interference.

Any heat is made hotter by a cicada soundtrack. They’re like the manifestation of summer. After weeks of hearing them, and rarely seeing them, you start to suspect that maybe there are no living creatures called cicadas, maybe they’re just heat given voice. Lightning has thunder, heat has cicadas. The dead husks are just a red herring.

Or maybe it’s not a voice but an unintentional noise, the rattle of invisible scales against bark, as the heat of the day scratches itself against the tops of the pine trees. I dunno, though. Heat here doesn’t seem scaly. Arizona heat, now, it had scales, rank on rank of serrated dust, like a horned toad. But heat in the south is a wet, smothering thing, a fever blanket hung off the treetops.

Possibly the cicadas here are just cicadas. But I wouldn’t count on it.

ID…and Ethical Dilemnas.

Woo! Thanks to an anonymous poster and Owlmirror36, we have an identification on my latest mystery weed!

It’s Elephantopus tomentosus, also known as hairy elephantsfoot, tobaccoweed, and my personal favorite, devil’s grandmother.

Despite my cynical expectation that everything is a voracious invader species…it isn’t. It’s a native wildflower.

It’s endangered in Maryland.

Here in the south, it’s listed as “widespread, but infrequent” from a coupla sources, when I can find it at all–it’s a bloody obscure little plant. Most of the listings have no distribution at all, so I don’t know if it’s incredibly common, or if nobody’s seen it in fifty years. (That some people recognized it from their childhood yards fills me with hope, though.)

Nowhere in the south is it in endangered, thank god, but the notion of pulling up a wildflower that’s endangered anywhere on the same continent makes my bowels knot. I cringe away from the very idea.

But it’s in a terrible place–it’s surrounded and intermixed with Japanese stiltgrass, which absolutely positively has to die before it sets seed, in an area that’s pegged to become the patio some day. (No, we can’t put the patio somewhere else. It’s the only possible spot.)

Ripping up a native wildflower endangered in part of its range, to put in a patio, though? Mommmmeeee! I don’t know if I’ve got that in me. But even leaving that aside, the stiltgrass absolutely, positively has GOT to go–it really is a voracious invader, and nothing eats it, and I can’t let that stuff set seed. I haven’t seen a single bunny since that stuff took over–it smothers anything that native critters might eat, and it must die. So I’m screwed–stiltgrass has to die, but it’s worked around and through the devil’s grandmother.

The only thing I can think of to do–and it’s not worth much–is pull as much of the intermixed stiltgrass by hand as possible, wait until the devil’s grandmother goes to seed, and then see if I can transplant a significant chunk of the stuff to somewhere in the yard where it can grow unmolested. James is pretty sure he can mow around the stuff and get the bulk of the stiltgrass, but the stuff will still ultimately need to be moved. I know many wildflowers don’t transplant well, so I’d really like to wait until it seeds, but I can’t let the stiltgrass set seed or it’s Katie bar the door back there. (And of course, there are no listings for when devil’s grandmother goes to seed.)

Anybody got any better ideas, or suggestions on transplanting wildflowers? The stuff has stems like iron and I can’t pull it up, so I suspect I’d be transplanting fairly large hunks of dirt along with it.

X-posted to gardening

Okay, okay, by popular demand…

I’m not sayin’ this is a dreadfully clever test or anything else–I whipped it up in a fairly short span to test James’s ability to pull Napoleon out of a lineup, and I was goin’ for a range of looks so that he couldn’t accuse me of stacking it full of Napoleon ringers– but since you asked to see it…


The correct answer is under the cut.

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So I’m working on my latest painting, featuring a big-eyed girl being menaced by an enraged puppet of Napoleon Bonaparte. (Look, don’t ask why. It’s just easier that way.)

James looked at this and said “His nose is too big for Napoleon.”

“What? It’s a puppet! And how do you know what Napoleon looks like?”

“I know what Napoleon looks like,” said James, unruffled.

“Oh, the hell you say.” I wasn’t letting this one go. (I have a hard time letting things go.) “You couldn’t pick him out of a line-up.”

“I could totally pick Napoleon out of a line-up!”

“Without the hat and the outfit and the hand?”

“I so could.”


And that, dear reader, is how I spent the next half hour assembling a Photoshop line-up of headshots in order to Prove James Wrong. I had to stick to oil paintings of the era, so that the look wouldn’t give it away, and photoshop out anything telling details.

“No Napoleon impersonators!” he yelled from the kitchen. “Or Elvis impersonators dressed as Napoleon!”

I started to scoff at this, then realized…internet…no, best not to think about it.

James, to his infinite credit, narrowed my chosen six down to two headshots, one of which was indeed Napoleon. But at the critical moment, he picked the Duke of Wellington instead, an irony I wasn’t about to let slip (the Duke of Wellington, for people not up on their Napoleonic history, defeated Napoleon decisively at the Battle of Waterloo.)

Still, he got points for reducing it to “people at Waterloo.”

“Aren’t you glad I don’t work at home any more?” he asked.

“Yeah. Things like this would seriously cut into my productivity.”

That I have a husband who takes this sort of thing in stride is a sign of how very fortunate I am…

A book arrived while I was taking a nap. I heard the thump, and went “Yay! My copy of Entropia! At last!” I jumped up, grabbed the package, opened it, and…

Funny, I don’t remember ordering the Manual of Perioperative Care In Adult Cardiac Surgery, Fourth Edition.

Also, my name’s not John, and this isn’t Philadelphia.

After a quick check in the mirror to make sure this wasn’t a Quantum Leap thing, I called Amazon. Their computers are down, so they told me to call back in an hour.

I am starting to wonder if the gods are conspiring to make sure that I never get a copy of Entropia. Somewhere, perhaps Dr. John is feeling the same way about his manual. (I wish this frustration on no man, but it’s nice to think that somewhere, someone is staring at their copy of Entropia going “Wait–what? This isn’t about sewing those little tubes together!”

Update: Amazon was very, very nice again, and the man on the other end sounded mortified–more that I got the wrong packing slip than the wrong book, by the sounds of it, but I can understand that. In his position, books come and go, but packing slips matter! So he’s rushing me out a copy of Entropia, second day delivery, and a mailing label to return the book, and has noted Dr. John’s account so that they know the book went far afield.

“Thank you for being honest,” he said, as I thanked him and signed off.

This amuses me–what am I gonna do with a manual for cardiac surgery care?–but I can see his point.

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