Flemish Giant

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The Flemish Giant is one of the largest rabbit breeds, alongside breeds including the Checkered Giant and Beveren. Flemish Giants were used to create the British Giant breed in the 1940s. It originated in 16th century Flanders (the northern, Dutch-speaking region of Belgium). Some of its ancestors are said to be the Steenkonijn (Stone Rabbit) and now-extinct European Pantagonian (not to be confused with the still-existing Argentinean Pantagonian).

The first breed standards were written in 1893, around the time it was exported from Belgium and England to the U.S. to try to improve the size of meat rabbits. Around 1910, the breed began gaining real attention when it appeared at many small livestock shows around the U.S. In 1915, the National Federation of Flemish Giant Rabbit Breeders was created, and the breed has today grown to become one of the most popular rabbit breeds.

Flemish Giant next to a Shetland Sheepdog, Copyright Stamtisclan

Fully-grown, Flemish Giants weigh about 15 pounds, and can weigh up to 22 pounds. It takes about a year and a half for them to reach their full size. The longest Flemish Giant on record was about 32 inches long. They come in fawn, black, sandy, blue, white, light grey, and steel grey.

Flemish Giants are very docile and loving, though they need frequent handling and interaction with humans to do this. Just like all rabbits, improper handling or sudden noises and movements can scare them and lead to aggression.

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My characters Eszter, Marie, and Caterina discover a Flemish Giant named Schatzi about four days after they escape into a large, well-stocked house near Hannover. Schatzi and a baby mouse (whom they name Nessa) were abandoned when the owners fled from the approaching Allies. At first, Eszter wants to kill Schatzi for food, but Marie says the rabbit wants to live as badly as they do, and even has a name in her cage.

Nessa and Schatzi come along with them and their friends on their travels through newly-liberated Europe, and help to heal these young survivors’ wounded hearts and souls. When they’re living on a strawberry farm in Béziers, France (run by Eclaireuses et Eclaireurs Israélites de France, a Jewish scouting organisation), Schatzi is accidentally bred with a Checkered Giant. Nessa is also accidentally bred.

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In America, Eszter and her husband Jákob start a mousery and rabbitry based on these original litters, and are able to support themselves with this business. Schatzi dies in June 1959, and Nessa dies in late 1948, soon after their arrival in America. When Eszter’s family and friends flee to Morristown after the Newark Riots of July 1967, Nessa and Schatzi are disinterred and reburied in their new backyard.

P.S.: Since Easter is coming up, I urge all my readers to NOT buy their kids real rabbits, chicks, ducklings, or goslings! Click on the below buttons for more information on this very important message.

Meet some of my animal characters!

I though it would be nice to take a quick break from the more intense, research-heavy posts I usually do for something fun and lighthearted. As a lifelong animal lover, I never miss a chance to include some animals in my ensemble casts. A few of these animal characters are prominent enough to merit their names being bolded in my cast lists (because I’m that old-fashioned writer who still makes a list of characters for the frontal matter).

In no particular order, some of my animal characters and a little about them:

Kroshka (1908–27 April 1933), the little Pomeranian that could of my first three Russian novels. Kroshka’s person is Svetlana Lebedeva, who gave her the name Kroshka because it’s Russian for “crumb,” and really suited her tiny little size. All Kroshka’s people were eventually taken away, and Svetlana’s father was shocked to escape from prison and come home to find her still there. No one ever figures out just how she survived on her own, and if she had any help from people or other dogs.

It was really emotionally difficult to write her final chapter, “A Modern-Day Argos,” when she reunites with Svetlana’s cousin Nadezhda. Kroshka kept herself alive for 25 years because she knew some of her people were still out there, and once the last had come to America, she knew her time was up. She’s buried in the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, and Svetlana wears the key to Kroshka’s coffin on a chain around her neck forevermore.

Copyright José Reynaldo da Fonseca

Snezhinka (Russian for “snowflake”) is a snow-white Pomeranian whom Svetlana finds on 10 June 1933. While she and Nadezhda are taking a walk the morning before Nadezhda’s long-awaited wedding, a runty puppy Pomeranian begins following them. Svetlana, a nurse, instinctively understands she’s malnourished and must’ve been living on the streets for awhile. She wonders if Snezhinka might be the reincarnation of Kroshka, sent into her life to heal her heart.

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Andryusha is a Samoyed owned by little Kittey Vishinskaya and bought for her by dear friend Pyotr Litvinov in early 1921. Kittey had polio in January 1919, and went through a long, slow process of relearning to walk. Using a guide dog was her final stage before being able to walk unassisted again. Like Kroshka, Andryusha also comes to America. He’s named after Kittey’s murdered father Andrey.

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Branimir is a Kabardin horse, the last character I ever created on my first computer, the 152K Mac, in September or October 1993. For the longest time, he was unnamed. A few years ago, I finally gave him the same name I gave a little grizzly bear statuette my surviving uncle got me when I was recovering from my accident in 2003. Branimir is a Serbian, Bulgarian, Slovenian, and Croatian name meaning “peaceful protection” or “world protection.”

Lyuba and Ivan can’t bear to part from Branimir after they’ve gone through so much together, so they bring him to America and board him at a Long Island stable till they move to Minnesota in 1929. They also bring him with them when they move to Hastings (near the Twin Cities) for four years of university. I’m not looking forward to writing Branimir’s eventual death and funeral scenes!

Mängukaru (Estonian for “teddybear”) is a Great Dane adopted by Katrin Kalvik-Nikonova’s family in 1937, when he’s about three years old.

Chernika (Russian for “blueberry”) is a Pygmy goat who keeps Branimir company during those four years in Hastings. He’s named by Lyuba and Ivan’s youngest child, Tamara. Pygmy goats are excellent companions for solitary horses.

Copyright Jen Smith, Source Papillon Ears

Rakushka (Russian for “seashell”) is an orange and white Papillon whom Ivan gets Lyuba as a tenth anniversary present in September 1933, when she’s pregnant with their seventh child Irina. She’s still going strong now at 15 years old. Toy breeds tend to live longer than large, giant, and medium breeds. One of the three canine Titanic survivors was a Pomeranian who reportedly lived to 25.

Nessa (Hebrew for “miracle”) is an ivory satin mouse discovered by 14-year-old Eszter Kovács in the large abandoned house she and her friends Marie and Caterina escape into in late March 1945. They don’t immediately discover Nessa, and marvel at how she was able to survive for four days with barely any food and water. When all the characters are in Béziers, France, on a strawberry farm, Nessa is accidentally bred, and thus begins the mousery by which Eszter and her husband earn a living in Newark. Nessa lives about three and a half years, very old for a mouse, and dies soon after arriving in America.

Schatzi (German for “sweetie”) is a Flemish Giant rabbit whom the girls also find in the abandoned house. She’s also accidentally bred on the strawberry farm, and forms the basis of a rabbitry. Both Nessa and Schatzi are healing balm for these young survivors’ souls. Schatzi dies in June 1959.

When her people escape to Morristown after the Newark Riots in July 1967, both Nessa and Schatzi are disinterred and reburied in their new backyard.

Bernhard (called Ben and Bentje) is a Kooikerhondje puppy found by Jakob DeJonghe in the fall of 1943. His original name was Adolf, and he was owned by one of the cretins who hurt Jakob’s mother last year. Ben is named after Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands, and serves as a war dog in both The Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies. He comes to America with Jakob in 1946.

Copyright Pleple2000

George is a cat owned by Emeline Troy of my contemporary historical family saga. To no one’s shock, he’s named after George Harrison. Emeline frequently calls him Georgiekins. He’s a runt with beautiful smoky-blue eyes, off-white medium-length fur, and a few grey, black, and orange patches. Emeline adopts him in 1972.

Jitterbug is a black, white, and orange guinea pig owned by Granyechka Likachëva’s children. She’s a lot older than most guinea pigs now, at age eleven, and I’m not looking forward to her death either. Jitterbug is the first subject oldest surviving child Violetta draws after polio forces her to switch from her right to left hand. She figures it’s not difficult to draw a round oval with little feet, ears, and a face.

WeWriWa—Meet Jitterbug

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a bit after last week’s. Igor has pulled his chair up close to Violetta, but not too close to seem presumptuous and untoward, and begun making smalltalk with 11-year-old littlest sister Flora. He’s agreed to meet their geriatric guinea pig, who at eleven years old is extremely old for a cavy.

Flora behaves somewhat strangely when going into her room because there’s an iron lung inside. Though Violetta doesn’t need it anymore, she insists on sleeping in it every single night just in case.

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Flora pushes back her chair and skips off to her room.  She opens the door just enough to slip inside, then shuts the door quickly.  When she returns, she repeats this business with the door.  Igor wonders if perhaps she doesn’t want company to see a mess on the floor or unmade beds.

Flora sets a black, white, and orange guinea pig in Igor’s hands. “This is Jitterbug.  We’ve had her since I was just a baby.  I don’t want to lose her, but she’s a lot older than most guinea pigs ever get.  Guinea pigs are even cuter than cats or dogs.  I’d love to have a pet rabbit too, but my parents say we should only have one pet at a time.”

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The longest-lived guinea pig on record was named Snowball, and lived to 14 years and 10.5 months. Snowball passed away in February 1979. That record is now contested (but not officially confirmed) by the owner of Sweetie, who was supposedly born in October 1996 and passed away 10 July 2014, at the ripe old age of seventeen.

The Jordan Staircase and Joy

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Jordan Staircase of the Winter Palace, as painted by Konstantin Ukhtomskiy

The Jordan Staircase is the main staircase of the Winter Palace, the Tsar’s official, primary winter residence until 1905. It received its name because every year, on the Feast of Epiphany, the Tsar would descend the staircase for the Blessing of the Waters ceremony by the Neva River. At the edge of the frozen water, the St. Petersburg Metropolitan dipped a golden cross into the river thrice, through a frozen hole, in commemoration of Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan River. (Speaking from firsthand experience, the Jordan River is more like a little creek, not nearly as wide and wild as all the songs make it out to be.) The Tsar then received some of the water to cross himself with, and there was a gun salute from the opposite bank of the river.

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Copyright Jennifer Boyer; originally posted to Flickr as The State (Jordan, or Ambassadors’) Staircase.

A fire broke out in the Winter Palace in 1837, and when the Jordan Staircase was rebuilt, the gilt bronze handrails were replaced by white marble, and the pink columns were replaced by grey granite. The ceiling of the stair hall depicts the Greek deities at Mount Olympus, and also contains alabaster statues of Wisdom, Justice, Grandeur, Opulence, Fidelity, Equity, Mercury, and Mars. In the middle of the first landing, there’s an 18th century marble sculpture, Allegory of the State.

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The Jordan Staircase served as the focal point for arriving guests at state functions and receptions. They would enter the Winter Palace through the Ambassadors’ Entrance in the central courtyard, pass through the colonnaded ground floor, and then ascend the staircase to the state apartments.

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Joy, a male spaniel, was acquired by the Tsesarevich Aleksey in 1914, possibly late 1913. Like many other members of his family, he was crazy about animals, and had many pets, a number of whom he’d rescued as strays. Joy accompanied the family into exile, and was a comfort and loyal companion to his young master even under the worst of circumstances. In my alternative history, Joy provides that same comfort and love after Aleksey is rescued and carried back to his room by one of the liberators.

Alyosha and Joy

Joy was the only member of the Imperial Family to survive the massacre at Yekaterinburg in real life. The other two dogs were murdered along with their people, but Joy got away. One of the guards, Mikhail Letemin, took pity on him, and when the White Army reached the city eight days later, Joy was rescued by Colonel Pavel Rodzyanko, serving with the British Expeditionary Force in Siberia.

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Joy was blind by this point in his life, though he seemed to constantly be looking for his young master, and was very depressed his people had gone away. In Omsk, former lady-in-waiting Sophie Buxhoeveden came to see him, and he gave her an ecstatic reception, seeming to recognise her scent and thus expecting his people to soon be coming back. Colonel Rodzyanko took Joy to England, where he lived out his days by Windsor Castle and was buried in Sefton Lawn. He never emotionally recovered from losing his master.

WIPpet Wednesday—Party prematurely ended

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Here’s a recent picture of my geese, who are kind enough to let me get really close to take pictures and videos. It’s getting harder and harder to tell the four babies apart from the adults. Their rapid growing-up, over only two months, just drives home one of the things I wrote about in Pet rabbits, chickens, and ducks should be for keeps, not just Easter (my fifth-most-viewed post). The cute baby stage doesn’t last long in animals, and you have to understand and respect how quickly animals mature. A stuffed animal stays cute, unlike a real-life counterpart.

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WIPpet Wednesday is a weekly bloghop hosted by K.L. Schwengel. The caveat is that excerpts must be related to the date in some way. There are 15 sentences this week, for the 15th of the month.

These lines are from the opening chapter of Part II of my alternative history. A large banquet is held for Aleksey’s 18th birthday in August 1922, on the eve of his leaving for Paris to study at the Sorbonne. All seems to be going fairly well until his grandmother, the always-opinionated Dowager Empress, starts suggesting brides for him. A distant cousin has the nerve to challenge her wisdom in arranging marriages, and then one of Grand Duchess Olga’s sons suffers a cerebral hemorrhage. This is the fourth generation to be afflicted by hemophilia.

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The Dowager Empress (then just the Tsesarevna, the wife of the Tsesarevich) and her firstborn child, the future Nicholas II

“I can’t believe how eager you are to marry off your grandson, after how spectacularly you failed at arranging your own children’s marriages,” some distant cousin at the next table said. “Is this your way of trying to make up for your past mistakes?  I suppose at least you’re making the effort as early as possible, instead of inviting the risk of a romance with a commoner or first-cousin.  God knows, we can’t afford to jeopardize the dynasty with an unequal marriage and let those scheming Vladimirovichi steal the throne.”

A stunned silence filled the room, with everyone frozen.  Just as Mikhail had opened his mouth to finally break the silence, a loud squeal pierced the air.  There was no doubt in anyone’s mind as to the cause of the squealling when Konstantin pushed back his chair and ran towards the source.  It was just a question of which young prince had hurt himself, thirty-five-month-old Savva or eighteen-month-old Yulian.

The squealling had given way to an eerie silence by the time Konstantin came back to their table, little Prince Savva motionless in his arms.  Olga, heavily expecting a third child, had turned pale and now pulled herself up.  She and her sisters followed after Konstantin and left the hall.

“This banquet is over,” Mikhail announced. “I’ll deal with the upstart who insulted me and my mother later.”

“Why are you adjourning our party?” another distant cousin asked. “I’m sorry the child hurt himself, but that’s no reason to put a premature end to the celebration.”