This reminds me of a shot that photogs used to do by smearing Vaseline on a lens filter to give the whole image a dreamy soft look. Re: the OOF cloning question - doing the clone work now is not really an option you would need to clone that branch out in the beginning before all the other PP.
Kurt, I agree about the distraction. I tried to clone it out but it looked cloned, so I left it. Any suggestions on how to take it out seamlessly? I didn't try the healing brush but haven't had any luck with it either...I am always open to suggestions though.