Today’s Blog is For the Birds

Today’s Blog is For the Birds

“What are you looking at?”

I jumped at the sudden voice behind me. I looked around and found my Cleric, my Gypsy and my Young Hero crowded around behind my chair. They were looking over my shoulder at the computer screen. I sighed.

“I’m just looking through some of my old photos I took while bird watching.”

“Why?” inquired my Young Hero.

“Well, it’s been so long since I’ve had the opportunity to get out and take a nature hike and do some bird watching, I’m starting to develop cabin fever.”

Elf“Oh, no! Cabin fever? Is it serious? I hope I have enough healing herbs!” My Cleric pushed her way past the other two, and felt my forehead. Then she grabbed my wrist to check my pulse.

I pulled away and laughed. “Relax! It’s not a real illness. It’s just an expression. I just mean that I haven’t had the opportunity to get out and enjoy nature for so long, I’m getting cranky.”

“Oh-oh. She’s not all that nice to be around when she gets cranky!” my Gypsy informed the others in a stage whisper.

“Thanks a lot!”

He smiled and gave me a rakish wink, then turned back to the computer screen. “I would love to see some of the photos you have taken of the birds. I have a deep interest in birds myself.”

“Do you, now?” I chuckled.

“I do, as you well know.”

“Yes,” my Young Hero chimed in. “In the past, the Gypsy could often be found lounging against a wall, cleaning under his fingernails with his stiletto, and whistling like a meadowlark.”

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“I remember.” I smiled.

“Do you remember the time I told my uncle about the Gypsy?” My Young Hero did not wait for a response before continuing. “I told him the Gypsy knew the name of every single bird,” he related. “And I told him the Gypsy was so good at imitating the birds, sometimes they answered him!”

“What did your uncle have to say about that?” my Gypsy asked.

My Young Hero replied, in perfect imitation of the gruff old Dwarf, “Bah! An astounding feat thet should take him far in life…”

My Gypsy doubled over with laughter. “That sounds like something he would say!”

The rest of us nodded in agreement.

My Gypsy’s attention returned to the computer screen. “That’s a nice picture of a Great Horned Owl,” he said admiringly. He hooted softly, like the owl.Purgatory Creek, Eden Prairie 114

“He looks sleepy,” my Young Hero noticed.

 

 

“Yup. He was napping on a fallen log when I spotted him. You can see that in the next photo.”Purgatory Creek, Eden Prairie 177

 

 

 

 

 

“What other birds have you seen on your bird-watching treks?” my Gypsy wanted to know.

“Well, I have been actively bird-watching for many years, now, so I have seen scores of different birds – waterfowl, song birds, waders, shorebirds, woodpeckers, game birds…” I replied. “This folder,” I indicated the pictures I was currently viewing on my computer screen, “are raptors.”

“Raptors?” My Young Hero looked confused.

“Birds of prey,” my Gypsy informed him, before I could respond. “Falcons, osprey, hawks, eagles, owls…birds with sharp, hooked beaks; strong, curved talons; and sharp eyesight. Birds that hunt and eat other birds or mammals.”

My Cleric drew closer. “May we see these photographs?” she asked with undisguised interest.

“Sure. Let’s see now, what’s the next photo? Ah, yes, here’s a pair of Bald Eagles. They were feasting on some roadkill as I drove past. They flew into a field, and I pulled over to the side of the road and captured a few quick images. I didn’t stay long, as I didn’t want to disturb their meal.”
Sherburne NWR and Sand Dunes State Forest 005

“That’s good,” my Gypsy nodded approvingly. “The roadkill may have been a fortuitous find for the eagles. Birds of prey do not make a kill every time they make an attempt. Sometimes, scaring them away from a meal may trigger starvation.”

I nodded, and brought up the next photo.

“Is this another eagle?” my Young Hero asked.

“No, this one is an Osprey,” I replied.
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“Ospreys are a bit smaller than Bald Eagles,” my Gypsy lectured us. “They’re fish eaters. They dive feet first to grab a fish, which they carry back to a nest or perch to consume. This Osprey may have just finished a meal.”

“You really do know your birds,” I replied. “This one had actually just delivered a fish to the nest, and was taking a break on a nearby pole. He flew off shortly after I snapped this shot, heading back toward the lake, possibly to grab his own dinner.”

I brought up the next photo. “Care to identify this one for us?” I challenged my Gypsy. “It was the subject of great debate in several online birding groups to which I belong.”
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He looked at the picture and smiled confidently. “Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk.”

“Not a Cooper’s Hawk?” I baited him. “It looks a bit large for a Sharpie.”

“A female Sharp-shinned Hawk can be as large as a male Cooper’s Hawk,” my Gypsy retorted with a superior arch of his eyebrow. “Her head looks small compared to her body, she has a broad chest and narrow hips, and her legs look long and thin. And the bold streaking on her chest and belly, which marks her as a juvenile, would be much finer in a Cooper’s Hawk, and confined to her chest. This is definitely a Sharpie.”

My Young Hero laughed and advised me, “I told you he knows every single bird! There’s no fooling him!”

“Is this what my hawk looks like?” my Cleric inquired, studying the photo closely.

“No, your hawk doesn’t really exist. Your hawk is larger than the Bald Eagles we were looking at a few photos back, but is marked like this bird, an American Kestrel.” I brought up a photo of the small falcon.

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“What a beautiful bird!” she exclaimed, happily.

“American Kestrels are the smallest falcon in North America, as well as the most colorful,” my Gypsy informed us. “They are fierce little predators, and you should be pleased your hawk was modeled on a bird such as this,” he told my Cleric.

“I am,” she replied. She turned to me and said, “I am glad you know so much about birds – almost as much as the Gypsy here! You chose well when you gave me my hawk.”

I smiled. It is not often my characters are so openly appreciative of my writing! On the rare occasion one shows such approval, it makes me want to sing like a bird!
Three hikes 112Spring Peeper Meadow and MN Landscape Arboretum 051

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If you would like to learn more about my Cleric’s hawk, or any of my characters, stop back from time to time. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Shadows of the Past

Shadows of the Past

I was absent-mindedly dusting the plethora of knick-knacks, curios, mementos and framed photos decorating our family room, while I pondered the topic for my next blog post.

“Who are the people in those pictures?” asked a voice at my elbow.

I nearly dropped the wood-framed photo I was holding. “Why do you always have to pop up like that and scare the living daylights out of me?” I scolded, as I finished dusting the photo and replaced it on the shelf.

“I am so sorry, Mistress! I did not mean to startle you!” my Cleric apologized, blushing deeply. Her serious blue eyes darted back to the photos on the shelf next to us. “They look very old. Er, I mean the pictures, not the people.”

“Some of them are very old,” I agreed. “Miles and I have a lot of vintage family photos on display here, going back several generations.”

“So, then, they are as shadows of the past?”

“That’s one way to describe them, I suppose,” I agreed. “The photos on this shelf are some of my immediate family.”

Mead Family 002I picked up the photo I had just been dusting. “This one is me and my parents and sister. It was taken about (mumble mumble mumble) years ago.”

“You look so young!”

“I wasn’t born my current age, you know,” I retorted.

I returned the photo to the shelf, and picked up another one to dust.

“This is a picture of my parents taken about 15 years before the other photo.”Mom and Dad Mead 001

“They made a handsome couple.”

“Thanks.”

“How did they meet?”

“They both belonged to United Skaters, a roller skating club.”

That statement was met with a blank stare.

“Never mind, it would take too long to explain.” I went on to the next photo. “This is a photo of my father, when he was in the Army. I guess that was more than 80 years ago.”Sam Mead in Army uniform 001

My Cleric admired the photo. “He was very handsome.”

I smiled my agreement, and put the photo down. I picked up the one next to it. “Here he is, many years later, when he worked on the railroad. I don’t remember the exact year the photo was taken, but it is probably only about 50 years old.”Sam Mead at work 001

“He was a hard-working man?”

“Oh, yes! He sometimes worked two part-time jobs, in addition to his full-time position with the railroad, just to make ends meet.”

“You admired him. You got along well with him.” It was a statement, not a question.

I nodded. “My dad was a good man, a fine husband to my mom, and a great father. He set an excellent example for my sister and me. I not only admired him, I genuinely liked him. We were close. I got my quirky sense of humor from him.”

“And your short stature?” my Cleric suggested with a giggle.

I glared at her, and replaced the photo, but my Cleric could not take her eyes off the images of my father. After a few moments, she sighed wistfully. “I wish I had had a good relationship with my father,” she admitted. “The shadows of my past are much darker than those of your past.”

I chuckled. “Your father, the Ambassador, was difficult, wasn’t he?”

“He was much more than difficult, Mistress, as you well know! He was stern and demanding and unyielding and cruel!” my Cleric exclaimed, her face contorted with anger. She blushed at her own outburst, and quickly picked up another photo before I could respond.

“Is this your mother?” she asked. She picked up the first photo we had looked at, and held the two photos side by side. “She looks like the same lady.”Barbara Mead and her roses 001

“Yes, that’s my mother,” I said.

“You say that with such pride! Tell me about her.”

“Mom was one of those amazing people who could do everything,” I replied. “She sewed, crocheted, knitted, and tatted; she cooked and baked; she had the most beautiful garden in the neighborhood and our home was filled with indoor plants she cultivated herself; she beat everyone at Scrabble; and she could complete the New York Times’ Sunday crossword puzzle in under an hour, in ink.” I sighed.

“You do not take after your mother, do you?”

“Me? No. I can’t sew a button or a hem, I’m all thumbs with crochet hooks and knitting needles, I can burn water, I can kill a plant just by being in the same room with it for too long.” I paused. “But I’m pretty good at Scrabble, and I’ve solved more than a few crossword puzzles in my day,” I concluded.

My cleric carefully placed the pictures back on the shelf. She had a faraway look as she spoke. “I wish I had known my mother. I do not know if I took after her or not.”

“Well, you know that she was a Cleric, like you. She served at the same temple at which you served.”

“Yes, that is doubtless the only thing I do know about her. She died in childbirth, delivering me, and in my entire life she was seldom spoken of in my presence.”

“Well, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you learn more of your mother now, as you return to your homeland in book three.”

Elf facing rightMy Cleric’s head shot up, and her eyes widened. “Really? I will learn of her during this adventure?”

“You might.”

My Cleric grabbed the feather duster I was holding, and dropped it haphazardly on the sofa. She took my hand and urgently tugged me toward the hallway.

“Whoa! Where are we going?”

“We are going to go write my story!” she replied, her face radiant, her blue eyes sparkling. “I want to learn about my mother. I want to discover more of the shadows of my past.”

I smiled, and allowed her to pull me toward my office.

If you’d like to learn more about my Cleric (and her mother) and all my other characters, feel free to stop back. I’ll keep the porch light on for you.

Agents and publishers, are you paying attention here?

Agents and publishers, are you paying attention here?

It was Thursday already. I had only a few days left to get my blog post written for the coming week. I walked into my office, mentally juggling a few ideas, and stopped dead in my tracks. Some of my characters were crowded around my computer, in animated conversation over something on the screen.

“What in the name of good literature is going on here?” I screeched.

My characters whirled around to face me.

Elf“Oh, Mistress, you startled us!” my Cleric exclaimed. “We were not expecting you.”

“I wasn’t exactly expecting any of you, either,” I replied tersely, as I pushed my way past them to my computer. “Who gave you permission to use my computer? How do you even know how to use a computer?” I quickly checked my writing files, fearing one of my characters may have hit the delete button at the wrong time, but everything seemed present and unaltered.

“It isn’t rocket science,” my Arrogant One replied smugly. “I’ve watched you often enough. I’ve become rather adept at surfing the web.”

I stared, slackjawed, not knowing how to react to a medieval elf throwing around modern idioms.

“Oh?” I proceeded cautiously. “Just what sites have you been surfing? And why?”

Dwarf“The laddie just be showin’ us some o them blog posts o yourn,” my Dwarf responded, grinning broadly as he shoved the Arrogant One aside. “And he be showin’ us some o them social media sites o yourn, too, where ye reposted yer blog. Did ye realize thet the posts thet we helped wit’ be the ones thet got the most comments on all o them sites?”

Before I could reply, my Cleric gushed, “Everyone seems to think we are quite amusing, Mistress!” Her eyes were shining with pride.

“And your readers seem to think you are an exceptional writer,’ the Arrogant One informed me with a derisive snort. “As if it took any talent to simply record events as they unfold.” He sneered.

“What are you talking about?” I demanded.

“What be we talkin’ aboot? What be we talkin’ aboot?” My Dwarf grabbed the Arrogant One and pushed him toward the computer. “Go on, show her!”

I made a move to stop the Arrogant One as he reached for the keyboard. He arched an eyebrow at me and said, in a voice dripping with sarcasm, “With your permission?” I eyed him for a long moment, then moved back and nodded, hesitantly.

I watched with envy as the Arrogant One’s fingers flew over the keyboard. I thought about asking him to do my typing.

“Here.” He nodded toward the monitor.

I read the comment he had highlighted. “LOVE IT!!!! Are the first two books published? I’d love to read them!”

“That was a comment on one of the first blogs you allowed us to help you write.”

I hated that smug tone and arrogant smirk.

“Show her more,” my Dragon urged, and my half-dwarf and my Gypsy both nodded eagerly.

“Here.” The Arrogant One highlighted another comment.

“Brilliant!” I read. “I love the way you write, Marge. Such a flow with dialogue, and your voice is perfectly placed in the fantasy Medieval realm, of which, I’m a huge fan!”

I smiled, but the Arrogant One deflated me quickly. “I can’t understand what your reader means – your voice is perfectly placed in the fantasy medieval realm. It’s our voices you record.”

I am the writer,” I reminded him.

“You are little more than a stenographer, recording our exploits,” he stated with a dismissive snort.

Dragon“Oh, stop being so supercilious, before you end up on my dinner plate! Show her some more,” commanded my Dragon, smoke curling from her nostrils.

“Oh, all right! Here!”

“I love how your characters are so palpable with distinct personalities!” I read. “I’ll be sticking around, for sure! Another great read Marge!”

“We’re distinct!” my Dragon practically purred.

“Show her more. Show her something about me,” my Cleric implored.

“Oh, do try not to be so pleased with yourself,” the Arrogant One scoffed at her. “As I remember, the comments about you were not all that favorable.” He quirked an eyebrow at her in his typical, infuriating manner.

“There was one that was very flattering,” my Cleric insisted. “Please show the Mistress that one.”

“Oh, all right. Give me a moment.” The Arrogant One scanned through the comments, then said, “This must be the one you mean.”

I read the highlighted remark. “This has got to be my new favorite writing of yours Marge! Oh… and I like your cleric. So direct and bold! Quite intuitive, too. I’m impressed how you create characters with such depth. Excellent!”

My Cleric and I both beamed at that comment.

“And here is another one that should stroke your already over-inflated ego, Mistress Writer,” the Arrogant One said with a sneer.

“Your creative thinking process is amazing! Another delightful read! I enjoy your stories ALOT! Keep ’em comin’!”

“Yes, that does stroke the old ego,” I agreed.

“These are only a few of the many comments you have received, Mistress, indicating that we characters, and your writing, are well liked by your readers,” my Cleric informed me. Her broad smile lit up the entire room.

Before I could respond, my Dwarf interrupted. “So, why be it, then, thet our tales ain’t been published yet?” he demanded. “It be plain enough thet we be exceptionally entertainin’, and thet ye be a fair enough writer. So, why be it thet ye ain’t found an agent nor a publisher yet what likes our tales?”

“I wish I knew, my friend,” I replied softly. “I keep sending queries to agents and publishers who deal with Young Adult Fantasy novels. If I ever hear back from them at all, it is another rejection.”

Elf facing rightMy Cleric placed her hand on my shoulder. “Do not despair, Mistress. You will find one, eventually. Did you not tell me once that many successful writers received countless rejections before someone finally took a chance on them?”

I nodded. “The author of the Harry Potter fantasy series received 12 rejections from publishers even after she secured an agent. Madeline L’Engle received 26 rejections before getting A Wrinkle in Time published, a book that went on to win the Newberry Medal and become one of the best-selling children’s books of all time. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times before it was published. Carrie by Stephen King was rejected 30 times before it was published. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of stories I could relate about highly successful writers who all started out with countless rejections before someone finally published their work.”

“Then, we will see our stories published some day?” My Dragon looked hopeful.

“I will not rest until I see your stories in print,” I promised.

Even the Arrogant One smiled approvingly at that.

If any agents, book editors, or publishers would like to meet my characters and learn a bit about their stories, feel free to stop back from time to time. I’ll keep the porch light on for you.

10 (or more) Things You Might Not Know About Me

10 (or more) Things You Might Not Know About Me

“What are you doing?”

I looked up to see my Cleric staring at me.

“I’m wasting time, answering one of those silly surveys on Face Book.”

“What is the survey about?”

“It’s called 10 Things You Don’t Know About Me. The idea is to share lesser known facts that you think might be of interest to your friends.”

“Oh, fun! So, what are you sharing with your friends?”

My Cleric curled up on the couch and listened attentively as I read:
“One – I can’t ride a bicycle. When I was a kid, my parents didn’t think it was safe to ride a bike in the city. BicycleWhen I was older, I attempted to learn several times, but I seem not to have the necessary balance.”

“So, you are unbalanced?” My Cleric quirked an eyebrow.

“That’s not what I said, smarty-pants!”

She smiled, and gestured for me to continue.

“Two – In spite of swimming lessons as a child, as a teen, as a young adult, and as an older adult, I still swim like a rock.”

My Cleric looked confused. “Rocks do not swim.”

“Exactly.”

“Oh.”

“Three – I’m a lifelong slob. Back in second or third grade (when I rode my dinosaur to school), my desk and papers were constantly messy. My teacher used to make me stay after school at least twice a week to clean them out, but it never helped. The problem was so bad, the teacher finally made some of my classmates stay and clean out my desk and papers. I guess she figured peer pressure would force me into becoming neat. Never happened. I remained a slob long past my school days; I’m still a slob today. If anyone would like to come over and clean my house, I promise I would not be offended.”

“Your house is not that messy,” my Cleric assured me. “Your office, however…” She gave me a knowing look.

“Uh-huh. Moving right along…”

“Four – I can’t color inside the lines. Color PencilsColoring books for adults are all the rage these days, and I have thought about getting myself one. I really enjoy coloring. But I would be too embarrassed if anyone saw my efforts. Trying to stay inside the lines would stress me out – just the opposite effect coloring is supposed to have.”

“Yes, there is no sense doing something to relax if it will have the opposite effect,” my Cleric agreed.

“Five – My penmanship looks like the scratchings of a drunken chicken.”

“Hmmm…reviewing items 3, 4, and 5, I think I detect a pattern.” My Cleric smiled ever so sweetly. I cleared my throat and continued.

“Six – I do not believe in UFO’s, alien abductions, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or any reports that Elvis is still alive.”

 

Do not believe in them

“You do not believe in these things…yet you believe in the existence of your characters – elves, dwarves, ghosts, magic users, dragons.”

“Yup.”

She cocked her head and studied me for a moment. “You are very strange.”

“Yup.”

She chuckled. “Continue.”

“Seven – I am a horrible conversationalist. I’m shy, introverted, and socially awkward. I hate having to make small talk. But this makes me an excellent listener, so people rarely notice how quiet I am.”

“You can not converse well, yet you can write wonderful dialogues for your characters!”

“I don’t write those, remember? I just record what all of you say and do.” I winked.

She chuckled again, and nodded.

“Eight – I am on the 10-most-wanted list of the Fashion Police. I wear what I am comfortable in, typically torn and stained sweatshirts that were old when Jesus rode a tricycle; and jeans, usually black, brown or dark green, whether or not they match the sweatshirt.”

My Cleric looked at me, wrinkled her nose at my rumpled outfit, and diplomatically made no comment.

“Nine – I can’t read music. I had music in school. The teacher was great – I was not. I felt like I was trying to read ancient hieroglyphics.”

“Well, if it is any consolation, I can not read music, either.”

I smiled.

“So, that was nine items. What is last on your list?”

“That’s it. I can’t think of a tenth item that most people don’t already know about me.”

“I presume most people know that you were a successful freelance writer with several hundred published articles in local, regional and national magazines, in addition to a few pieces of magazine fiction and poetry; and that you are now an aspiring author, working on a series of Young Adult Fantasy novels.”

Yes, I think everyone knows that.”

“Do they know you are a nature lover, birdwatcher and amateur photographer?”

Westwood Hills 149

 

“Yup.”

 

 

“Do they know you lived most of your life in a place called New Jersey, near an ocean, and only came to this place called Minnesota about a dozen years ago?”

“Yup, they know that, too.”

“Do they know you hate cold weather?”

“Oh, yes! That’s one of the few topics on which I’m very vocal.”

“Do they know that you are extremely short?”

“Hey!” I protested. “I’m not that short! Besides, nice things come in small packages.”

My Cleric giggled. “I believe your father used to remind you that poison does, too.”

I glared at her. She cleared her throat and quickly continued.

“Do they know you used to have horses?”

“Yup…and birds and cats and dogs and rabbits. I think most people know that about me.”

“Do they know you used to volunteer at a wildlife rehabilitation center?”

“I have shared that information several times.”

“Hmmmm…” The Cleric studied me, her cornflower blue eyes searching my brown ones, as if the answer could be read there. Perhaps it could, as she asked, “Do they know the song that means the most to you is Fill the World With Love, and that your greatest fear is that you have not lived up to that ideal?”

My jaw dropped. “I…I didn’t know anyone knew that,” I stammered.

“It is amazing how well one can come to know another when one lives in that person’s mind and heart.” My Cleric graced me with a warm smile.

“Someday, perhaps I will know you that well,” I replied, returning her smile.

“Perhaps…if you ever finish writing my book.” She winked at me, and skipped out of the room, humming a familiar tune.

If you’d like to get to know me and my characters better, feel free to stop back from time to time. I’ll keep the porch light on for you.