Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Feline medical emergencies (or not-an-emergency-yet-but-could-turn-into-one-if-we-wait-much-longer, almost-emergency) are now only allowed on Tuesday mornings. Apparently, it’s only on Tuesday mornings that we can get in and out of the veterinarian’s office in record time…

How maddening. Typical vet visits have been taking too much time for my peace of mind (and the sanity of my cats) during the past few years. Forty minutes in the waiting room for a five-minute procedure for which we were on time for a made-two-weeks-in-advance appointment? I know the vet is really very good and, being very good, is very popular and also by virtue of being good will see emergencies before a routine, non-life-threatening-if-not-done-immediately procedure. I also know that appointments can run late. (Being too early because you were, for once, actually able to catch the cat on the second or third try is worse than running late—you figure appointments are always going to run late, so your being five or ten minutes behind shouldn’t really matter. But adding too-early time to waiting time is absolutely hellish.) Yet still… Forty minutes for a blood draw on the cat who doesn’t have such thick skin it takes a couple of tries?

Humph. That was just a week ago.

Therefore, when I noticed last night that Russell the Red was walking around a bit squinty-eyed, my first thought after examining him more closely was "Oh, good, I have the next two days off with no immediate plans and the vet is open late on Wednesdays, so we have plenty of time for a long wait."

The closer examination had revealed a swollen, gunky, smelly (*gaugh*) ear, which recalled the memory that a night or two previously there had been a rumpus followed by a yelp... I had already checked over the other boyo who usually comes out the worst in these encounters; he was apparently fine (he’s rather fluffy and won’t miss the tufts of fur that still marked the battlefield the next day [damn predator species and their penchant for striking prey when most vulnerable; it’s a miracle that any cat in my house is still willing to step into a litter box]) and neither combatant had been exhibiting any obvious signs of distress until I noticed Russell’s unintentional half-wink and slightly-pinker-than-usual skin tone above an eye.

[So innocent when they are sleeping! Russell at peace, with the bully aspect of his personality well-hidden.]

*sigh* Here we go again… It’s a week shy of exactly eleven months since the last time Russell was walking around with an abscess in his ear. (Yes, I checked the date. And yes, I had written it down. I’ve learned that it will pay off in the long run to keep track of seemingly-inconsequential things when it comes to critters.) The house being over-populated with cats, abscesses have become quite routine around here; being a scab picker and pimple-popper myself means caring for an abscess has become an off-hand routine as well, and nearly one of the easiet things to do to a cat. (Too bad they started keeping tighter regulations on medicines; we even used to have a small home supply of Clavamox for just such occasions; a quick phone call request for a script sans appointment worked once, too.) Spring is in the air and the boyos are duking it out, never mind that they are all fixed and have been living together for eight years… *sigh again*

Back to the waiting… I didn’t want to call the vet office too early, so it wasn’t until well after ten this morning that I remembered to do so. It was closer to eleven by the time the second try reached the receptionist, and she was able to confab* with the vet. "Surgery day today, can you drop the cat off and Doc will take a look between surgeries?" Um, I would if this weren’t the cat that has seizures when you lock him up. "We are prepared for that." Yeah, but why put the cat through it? How about I see how getting a hold of him goes and we just swing 'round when we can? I’m not doing anything today. "Sure."

Paying large installments every year into your vet’s kids’ college funds does pay off.

[The fighting isn't so continuous that Bits n Pieces can't take a decent nap most of the time...]

I strapped Russell into his harness and leash (we discovered last year that he can travel this way without freaking out; when confined by walls, his ventricular arrhythmia kicks him into seizures—I can't even close him into a large dog crate), plopped him in the truck and off we went… Oh, as much as I love to see them, please let today not be a day the local boys in blue have set up a speed trap across the street… I can only imagine what we must have looked like: a giant white pick-up truck heading down the highway with a big orange tiger cat at the wheel… (I am normally a very good and responsible driver, but two trips with a seizuring cat in a carrier is enough to make even the most law-abiding citizen a little bit reckless. Besides, I did have the leash snubbed so Russell couldn’t get down to the floor at my feet. Live and learn…)

"So sorry we didn’t call ahead; hard to juggle phone and truck and cat all at one time. We’re doing well and can wait however long we need to. No hurry." I had even taken my iTouch (yes, I know it is an "iPod touch" *phhbbtt*) so I could watch Doctor Who episodes (the new series—I highly recommend it) if we had to wait awhile...

"However long" wasn’t long at all; in fact, it turned out to be the shortest visit we have made in years! We waited just a little bit before we actually met with the vet (sometimes they just take the cat by itself while you wait) for a quick exam (which included temp and weight checks—yikes, time to add some "lite" kibble back into meals!). Russell had his ear cleaned and had his antibiotic shot (relatively new and wonderful—no more trying to pill a cat twice a day for two weeks!), had his photo taken for his records (somehow over the years we’ve missed getting pictures of a few of the kids and I keep forgetting to email my own photos so the cats don’t look like they were being strangled in their mug shots), the bill was paid, we even waited in the still-empty waiting room a bit more to see how Russell would handle the ride home, and we were back in the truck and pulling out of the parking lot all within half of an hour of our pulling into the parking lot. Thirty minutes. That was it. Just thirty minutes... I can’t remember the last time I was in and out in thirty minutes with a four-footer in tow. (Unannounced arrivals without a critter merely to order/pick-up a script refill or to make an appointment typically take 15-20 minutes.)

Just when you have about reached your tolerance limit, you get such a gift. And we got to Russell’s infection quite early so aside from as many warm compresses as he’ll put up with, we’re good to go. Which is why I was fully prepared to call in favors owed… (FYI, I’m making such a big deal because 1. Cat-bite abscesses are nasty things and 2. They are even nastier when they are in the cartilage of an ear. Untreated or too-far-gone infections can result in serious deformity or actual loss of the ear.)

[Having never been let outside in his entire life, the problem here was not that Russell was on the wrong side of the door; he's still inside. The problem was that I was on the wrong side of the door.]

Upon consideration, they must not schedule appointments with the secondary vet on surgery mornings. I had noticed that the parking lot was, remarkably, empty but for us. Still… Thirty. Minutes. (I’m making such a big deal about this because, well, I have cats. I don’t have any therapy cats who would be used to frequent road trips; I have cats who get stuffed into a carrier once a year barring medical emergencies and not counting those who need twice-yearly blood tests; and further more, cats who have contact with only one person. Trips to the vet are Big Deals around here.)

To be fair, it was this self-same vet who came out to the truck once a couple of years ago to personally apologize after I lodged a complaint about waiting forty-five minutes for an appointment to have a tech remove one staple. (Just one, the cat had taken care of the rest herself. Even allowing for the emergencies they had had earlier, this was a bit too much.)

As I said, single-handedly making up a significant percentage of a vet’s practice over the last 15 years does, eventually, pay off in unexpected dividends. (Visit fees get a multiple-patient discount when I haul in two kids at a time, and seizure medicine is cheaper when purchased in bigger batches.) How nice that the unlooked-for benefits kick in just at the times I am working towards a good fuss.

Please, please remind me of today as I start this year’s rounds of annual appointments and all of the hours of waiting that come with them!

* I decided to make sure I wasn't making up this word. I'm not. "Confabulate=to discuss." Who knew?

Monday, March 29, 2010


The hummers are coming, the hummers are coming! Winged variety, that is.

Hummingbird Arrival Map

One of the few acceptable shots of a hummingbird (male ruby-throated; only breeder/regular resident in the East although other species will show up during fall migration) I have been able to take. Of course, the background got in the way and you have to look for the bird. *sigh* And that is absolutely NOT the feeder one should use; see article linked below for tips.

Good thing I didn't get around to putting my feeders up yet ("my" resident birds typically don't arrive until April 21st); the feeders and any early migrants would be washed away today... Pouring buckets in Cape May County this morning; I love the rain for the green it gives us, but enough already! Algae-green coating every surface is not what I mean.

For anyone interested, here are some fact pages about feeding hummingbirds that I put together ages ago... Feeders and Feeding Hummingbirds (The article is several years old; I will check it later for accuracy and post updates here.)

Couldn't resist. A friend is a hummingbird bander, and he has to cut out and roll these things himself! Eep. And I thought molding plastic bands to perfect shape for shorebird legs (as close to a perfect circle as you can manage) was difficult...

Friday, March 19, 2010


Having a house at the shore has many benefits. Like the view.

And having a house on the bay comes with some, um, interesting, ah, maintenance issues. Like when the marsh grass—or at least the bits of it that are scoured off after a severe winter—goes floating off and arrives on your doorstep.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


The crocus (stunning), spring peepers (ear-piercing) and I (sunburned) are celebrating the vernal equinox a few days early...

Addendum:These photos are dedicated to Dr. Sydney Radinovsky: entomologist, folk-dancer, photographer, and biology professor extraordinaire… I’m a geek, so naturally my college Spring Breaks were not spent on some southern beach; one was spent on one of Dr. Radinovsky’s traditional road trips from Lancaster County, PA to Big Bend National Park, TX, along with another biology professor and a dozen other fellow science majors.

Back at school again, a few of us were hanging around one of the bio labs one day, perusing photos from our trip. I had a few that I thought were passable enough to share with the man who offered a crash-course in photography (25 days, 25 projects) during the summer. (Which alas, I never took, having at the time absolutely no experience with 35mm SLR’s. Still don’t, really.) After giving my prints serious consideration—and staring aghast at my itty-bitty 110 negatives (remember those? My very first camera, a Christmas present when I was about ten, was a 110 point-and-shoot. By the time I went to college I had a pink plastic 110 that, if I remember correctly, came out of some lost-and-found box somewhere)—he told me, with a straight face, "You have the eye, but you need a better camera."

Dr. Radinovsky retired a few years after I graduated. We sent him off with a party and some fancy-schmancy, top-of-the-line camera equipment… Within a couple of years of embarking on new adventures, the healthy, clean-living, fun-loving, spry little leprechaun of a man who had so much more to do with his life, was dead of a heart attack. (No need to wonder why I’m as selfish as I am; Fate is an impartial, unfeeling, indifferent thing and so I hold on to the good things I have with both hands.)

Dr. Rad., I just wanted to let you know… I finally got a better camera.

Monday, March 15, 2010


No matter what the calendar or astronomical charts or meteorological forecast all say (and I understand that they don’t agree with each other), we had our first thunderstorm of Spring on Sunday.

Complete with hail.

I love snow, but hail is pretty neat, too. When it is this size, at least, and doesn’t fall long enough to batter the beejeebers out of newly-leafed-out vegetation. (So far, I’ve just seen a few maple trees in flower—one is in my front yard, and I passed another farther inland that had already dropped flower bits all over the road shoulder.)

This bit-smaller-than-a-pea stuff was large enough to pass as real hail although it was, thankfully, quite a bit smaller than some of the hail I remember from childhood. "I remember when the hail broke windows…" she says in a wavery old lady’s voice. (Eep, I’ve begun to use the words, "when I was a kid"! Another age milestone I would rather not have reached.)

There was, of course, the requisite thunder to go along with the hail shower. I’ve heard worse (more impressive) concussions, but the over-saturated ground was acting as a great conductor for the pressure waves. There seemed to me to be an extra sort of up and down effect as the house shook—or rather, as it jumped.

The spring peepers around my property did beat the thunderstorm by a day. I was glad to finally hear them; I am usually the last to complain about too much rain, but this winter has been wet enough to drown a frog…


My two-legged nephew turned one last week. My baby brother turned 35 two days before that, as he so gleefully enjoyed pointing out. I really didn’t need (or care) to be reminded and told him so, but our mother had the last word: "Ahem, I am twice as old as you are!"

The brat—er, brother—is rightfully proud of the little bugger—er, boy. He’s a hoot, and a remarkably happy baby. Lil’ Man did fabulously throughout the day with 30 odd people milling about his house. (It may, however, take days for my four-legged nephews to recover. Poor pussycats.) He only lost it once, when everybody cheered at the end of the singing/cake-and-candle ritual, but quickly recovered.

Father and son. Definitely Daddy's Boy.

How do you start this thing? (Or Where's first? He figured out reverse on his own.)

Binkies are better! (The red icing dot was courtesy of Lil’s Man’s crazy Uncle G.; the rest is the result of Lil’ Man’s taste test: icing was OK, cake—not as good as a binky.)

Saturday, March 13, 2010


As stated in the previous post (please feel free to scroll down if you missed it), I live in the more rural part of what is in actuality a rather rural county—if you don’t count the beach resort towns that line the Atlantic Coast. My couple of inland acres back up to a large parcel of "Green Acres": nominally protected land. (I must admit, the county is doing better to limit development in some respects, such as limiting lot size out here in the sticks. Didn’t stop a house from going up in my front yard five years ago, though; it just squeaked by the lowest required size by about a square yard... Rats. I knew I should have offered the previous neighbor cash for that acre years ago.)

There used to be a riding center behind the now-treed former-hedgerow (we were all once farm fields out here many years ago); it was abandoned for reasons unknown to me, then some years back was leased to a woman who wished to rescue horses. But she didn’t stop at horses. Unfortunately, she also wasn’t as thorough about maintenance, either, and there were gaps in the fence.

Believing the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence isn’t, apparently, limited to humans, and various critters have found their way from their side of the trees to mine. I’ve taken in house cats that decided they too wanted to live the high life my indoor-only crew were living, rather than having to fend for themselves outside in the cold and snow...

Finding horses in my yard didn’t bother me in the least; worrying about them when they started wandering down my knee-deep-in-grass driveway towards a blind curve on a major highway did. (No, I didn’t keep them, although it was a fleeting temptation—I like horses and they were lovely in looks and temperament. I called their keepers and had them led back to where they belonged. You should have seen the well-tramped trail they had made along the back property lines! I think they spent more time out of their pasture than in it…)

Even with experience of various creatures showing up in my yard or on my doorstep, things got really interesting the drizzly spring Sunday morning in June when I looked out my front window and saw this:

Being who I am, I of course ran for a camera first to snap a few photos. Then I went outside to investigate the large brown cow placidly grazing in my front yard. But by the time I had gathered my wits (and stopped hopping around the house yelling "There’s a cow in my front yard!" to nobody in particular), the cow had moved. And when I stepped out onto my front deck and the screen door accidentally slammed behind me, the cow really moved. It, in fact, bolted off down the driveway at a pretty good clip.

Visions of absolute mayhem (remember that blind curve on a major highway at the end of my drive?) flashing before my eyes, I took off after the cow (planning to do what other than gaze in horror at the carnage when it met with a car smaller than it was, I have no idea) only to find it had stopped halfway down my driveway.

It had stopped because there was police car in the middle of my driveway right in front of it, with two police officers gamely standing their ground next to their cruiser.

[photo of said situation not taken out of respect for the nice police officers]

It seems that my neighbor had also looked out his window and had seen a cow in his front yard. He didn’t grab a camera, he called the cops. (Not that two men and a car would have stopped it; I have pretty much no experience with cows, but to me it was a really big cow… In hindsight, I’m lucky I didn’t end up with sides of beef in my drive; those men must have had nerves of steel. Or were too surprised to find a cow charging them to draw weapons.)

So there we all were, on a drizzly, Sunday morning in June, standing in my drive: the old man from next door, two of the county’s finest, myself, and a large tan bull. Yup, bull. (I may not know cows, but I know what a bull looks like.)

Things sort of went downhill—in a comical way—from there… I had immediately deduced that our visitor came from the horse rescue out back and figured he was probably friendly. I didn’t feel the policemen or even their car would be able to stop the bull if he decided to charge to the road again, so I did the best I could—no one else was coming up with a better idea. I went back to the house for a hank of clothesline.

I’m sure there is to this day an occasional mention in the police station of the crazy lady who tied up a bull with a clothesline to a utility pole and spent the next hour petting him until his owner could be found to take him home… But I don’t mind, because at one point in the back-and-forth communications with the police station to track down said owner, I heard the dispatcher on the other end of the radio go "moooo….moooo…moooo…." Which the officer on the receiving end took in stride. We have a respectable county zoo, and at least one of the uniformed gentlemen had been out on similar calls for other escapees. I believe he said something about bison, so a large cow was likely a walk in the park.

I don’t live all that close to the zoo, but having something more exotic than what was likely someone’s 4H project grown too large to keep show up in the yard isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. My neighbor voiced it before I could, in fact: "What’s going to show up next? An elephant?" I’m still waiting; a lynx or other big cat would be cool, too, so long as the dog isn’t outside at the time…

The bull’s name, by the by, was Teacup.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Living in "the country" has many advantages. There are the obvious ones, like trees (for which I gave up fantastic sunsets at the shore house; it was a fair trade). Neighbors you don’t have to bless when they sneeze. Property large enough to actually wander around in. And there are the unexpected perks, such as the anticipation of what will show up in your yard next.

Like a rainbow…? How cool was that?! The end was actually in the yard next to the house when I arrived home, but by the time I had raced down the drive for the camera and back out for this shot, it was starting to diminish. Alas, no pot of gold. (If you don’t count the house itself.)

Often it is quite straightforward, such as a species of bird you hadn’t noticed before. My yard list is over 100; the bald eagle flying over less than two months after I moved in was, however, not expected. I went out looking for a bobwhite I thought I had heard. As I was grumbling at a local mockingbird for mocking me, I happened to look up in time to see the eagle. Still to this day haven’t seen or heard bobwhite in the yard, but I have had a few more eagle sightings since that first one. (And anticipate more as the number of nesting pairs in the county rapidly increases.)

Sometimes it is exciting—hearing coyotes sing in your backyard; how cool is that? Sometimes it is terrifying—hearing coyotes sing right under your bedroom window in your backyard at an ungodly hour of what could loosely be termed very early "morning". (Ah, what a rush when the old primitive brain stem kicks in to tell you "Hey, stupid, you’re prey!" EEK! I’m never going outside after dark again…)

It is usually a stray pet that wanders through. And gets kidnapped and brought inside.

I had once considered adopting a dog from a shelter. I even went looking for one. Always ended up playing with the cats first, so when I brought home a cat instead of a dog, I firmly stated "I’ll get a dog if one shows up on my doorstep." Now, this wasn’t as prophetic as I like to make it sound, given where I live. That "not a cat" is Fidget within a day or so of her showing up at my door, found and not being turned into the pound (the fresh hair cut was the answer to fur so matted on her ears it was thicker than a heavy wool felt cape I own; and I'm happy to report she shed the excess 7 pounds with which she also arrived).

Eventually, just about anything might show up on my doorstep. The five lined skinks love-love-love my decks and the debris accumulated thereupon (and I love-love-love the skinks!). Had a rabbit that used to hop around the decks occasionally, and toads still do. Still waiting with breathless anticipation for one of the deer to figure out the steps; apparently I haven’t yet container-gardened anything enticing enough; but if the herd keeps increasing and I get ambitious, one day it will happen.

Sometimes something shows up that wouldn’t have occurred to you, but in hindsight you should have seen it coming.

There used to be a well-used riding center behind my house—barn, indoor arena, pastures—but it was abandoned before I moved here. The county claimed it as Green Acre land (a dubious classification for protection despite the fancy name; they sold Green Acres containing state-endangered salamanders to a local college a few years back on the basis that education of the children was more important than an obscure little amphibian. Goodness knows we needed the school, but you would have thought there would have been just-as-suitable land somewhere elsewhere… What’s the point of calling land "protected" from development if you don’t protect it?). A handful of years ago, a woman leased the property to start a horse rescue. We needed that, too. Unfortunately, she wasn’t the best person for the job. The least of the problems were that they had missed a few places when repairing fencing, and the horses were smarter than they may have been given credit for being…

Granted, I did have some lovely, green, uncut grass on my side of the hedgerow that year. And I didn’t mind the horses—free lawn service, mowing and fertilizing both!—but my nice, long, well-grassed drive leads straight out to a blind curve on a major highway. Not good, so the horses were sent home again to their side of the eventually-repaired fence.

The horses were not really all that unusual, given where I live. The large llama I spotted through the trees one day was, although technically it stayed on its side of the fence and was never actually in my yard. But as the folks had, apparently, been taking in other stray beasties than horses (I’m sure the dog and two of my cats came from back there) and what showed up one drizzly spring Sunday morning really shouldn’t have surprised me…

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Is five deer enough to call a herd? There were definitely five: two does, three yearlings. Three does, two yearlings? Maybe there were seven… They kept stopping and walking, stopping and walking, and every time I looked away and looked back they disappeared and I lost count. Deer don’t look camouflaged (not like the woodcock with its quite obvious "can’t see me" patterning) but oh, are they ever! That particular shade of non-descript brown, and those long skinny legs—amazing how well they blend in, even into the thin cover of my back yard.

(Unless it's summer, that is. These are three bucks who came wandering through early one summer. That blur barely visible above the tail-end sticking out from behind the tree would be #3. Can't remember, but there may have been one or two others, as well. See? Five. Magic number.)

Trouble is, they could see me inside the house perfectly well, so I wasn’t able to get any photos the other day. Bit skittish, this batch of deer. And that’s not a bad thing, given where they are living. Apparently there’s a newer neighbor around the corner who takes shots at them from his deck (much to the dismay of the gals who run the therapeutic riding center whose property also happens to meet up with his backyard as well as mine). I admit that I myself have been tempted to invite one of my hunting friends over for a visit during deer season; I love venison…

So instead of the "find the deer" photos I would have loved to have posted—and I regret even more missing a very artistic shot of a deer being trailed by the most wonderful water ripples it left in its wake as it walked through the flooded yard—I give you Galadriel. Born in the house and never let out, this was apparently her first-ever encounter with one of the deer:

Something’s out there!

What could it be?

I hope it doesn’t like cat…

She bolted soon after I snapped that last picture. Can’t blame her, really; she was young and had only had free run of the house for less than a year, so mammals this large were beyond her experience. (Wonder if she ever saw the horses? Yes, we’ve had horses visit—and other unexpected creatures—but that’s a story for a different day.)

Galadriel's brother Russell, on the other hand, appears to have slept through this chance at seeing a deer...