Practicing With Mistress Writer’s Magic Box

Practicing With Mistress Writer’s Magic Box

Elf facing rightHello, cherished readers! Cleric here. I fear the news this week is not encouraging. Both Mistress Writer and Master Miles are still sick.

Mistress Writer returned to her doctor for what is termed a follow-up. She came home with two new medications in addition to what she was already taking. Master Miles’ doctor also put him on several new medications. They both have strict orders to rest during their respective recuperations, so Mistress Writer was unable to prepare this week’s blog.

Cleric caring for sick Mistress and Mastercamera for blogI devoted much of my time this week to caring for Mistress Writer and Master Miles, administering their medications and preparing their meals. In my spare time, however, I practiced using Mistress Writer’s magic box, the one she calls a camera. About a month ago, Mistress Writer starting teaching me and my fellow characters how to use this device, but this is the first time since then I had the opportunity to practice. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/03/24/magic-or-technology/

Cleric and camerabirdwatchingMistress Writer loves to observe the birds who visit our yard, something she has been unable to do during her illness. Therefore, I decided to surprise her by using her magic box . . . er, her camera . . . to capture images of the birds on our deck and in our yard. That way, she can enjoy them once she has recovered from her malady. I hope you will enjoy them, too.

Directly after Mistress Writer took ill, we had one last, big snowstorm. I was surprised to see a Red-breasted Nuthatch visit our deck in the snow. They are not a common visitor to our yard.

Another surprise was the female Wood Duck who came right up onto the deck to eat alongside some American Robins. Normally very shy, she ignored my presence as she gobbled up as much food as she could.

The flock of more than 100 American Robins that over-wintered in our neighborhood thinned out once the snow was gone, but many robins still visit our yard and deck.

The Dark-eyed Juncos, whom I have come to expect here in the winter, have extended their stay, still coming to the yard and the deck even though all the snow has melted.

The Common Grackles have returned from their winter homes. I love the way their feathers iridesce in the sunlight.

 

Another bird who has returned is the European Starling. Mistress Writer does not care for this bird, as it is an invasive species that harms many of the native songbirds, but I still find it beautiful.

European Starling

The Red-winged Blackbirds are back as well – the very recognizable male with his red epaulettes, and the delicately beautiful female, a much plainer brown bird.

 

We have numerous woodpeckers in the yard, ranging in size from the diminutive Downy to the immense Pileated.

The male Northern Cardinal has been serenading us each morning from his perch in a neighbor’s tree.Northern Cardinal

I had to ask the Gypsy lad to identify a hawk that has been worrying our backyard songbirds. He said it is a Cooper’s Hawk who has been eyeing the small birds from the trees and even venturing onto the deck railing to hunt them.

Since all the ice on the pond has melted, we once again are enjoying a number of waterfowl, including a small raft of Bufflehead.

Buffleheads

Numerous Mallards have been swimming in the pond and visiting the back yard in search of food.

PhotographerCleric and camera 2I know I am not as skilled as Mistress Writer in capturing images of the birds who visit us, or in describing them for you, but I hope you have enjoyed my efforts. And I hope Mistress Writer will be well enough to prepare next week’s blog. Thank you, cherished readers, for allowing me to entertain you in her absence.

Please come back next week and see if Mistress Writer has recovered. We will leave the porch light on for you.

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Magic or Technology?

Magic or Technology?

Looking foward to relaxingIt had been a long day. I was finally home, and all I wanted to do was grab a huge bowl of ice cream, sit down, put my feet up, and maybe watch some television with my husband. Instead, I found my characters waiting for me in the living room.

Out of the jumble of excited comments that greeted me, I could only make out a few. “Did you get it?” “Where is it?” “Can we see it?”

I scowled. So much for ice cream and television. “Can you see what?”

Elf facing rightCleric tilted her head and furrowed her brow. “We thought you said you were going to purchase a new . . . what do you call that type of magic box?”

laptopI sighed. Even after all these years in this world, Cleric and my other characters still struggled to understand some things. I tried not to sound annoyed when I answered her. “It’s called a laptop computer. Yes, I did purchase a new one. The old one was a piece of junk, and I was unable to use it any longer.”

My Gypsy pushed to the front of the assembled group. “So, can we see your new laptop computer?”

I shook my head. “Afraid not. I didn’t bring it home.”

“You purchased it, but you did not bring it home?” My Bounty Hunter gave me a perplexed look.

“I left it at the store. Their tech department is going to set it up for me.”Set up

My Old Dwarf gave me a look that clearly said he thought I was a bit strange. “They be settin’ it up? Where? Be they placin’ it way up on a shelf or on top o a big, tall piece o furniture?”

tech setupI shook my head again. “They’re going to prepare the laptop so I can start using it as soon as I bring it home. Between the time the computer was manufactured and now, there have probably been several updates issued. The technicians will install those updates for me. They will also install my preferred browser – the program I use to access the internet – and a word-processing program – the program I use for writing. They will eliminate any unnecessary software, and they will install a top-of-the-line anti-virus program.”

computer virus“Wait!” Dragon gaped at me. “Anti-virus? Did you not once tell me a virus, a type of germ, makes people sick? Do germs attack inanimate objects in your world?”

I tried not to chuckle. “Yes, I did explain to you that viruses and germs make people sick. But a computer virus is not a germ. A computer virus is a piece of code that can harm a computer.”

“Code?” My Arrogant One frowned.

I sighed. “Let me try to explain in terms you might understand. Computer code is a set of instructions that tell the computer what to do. Think of code working in the same way the words to one of your spells work.”

Sorceress nodded. “So, the anti-virus code is like the wards Dragon places on something to protect it.”

I nodded. “That’s a good enough analogy, I suppose.”

My Gypsy frowned. “So how long will the store have to keep your new laptop?” How long will it take for them to get all this done?”

“It should only take a few days, depending on how many orders they have to complete before working on mine. They’ll call me when the laptop is ready for me to bring home.” I looked at my characters and narrowed my eyes. “Why are you all so interested in my new laptop, anyway?”

gypsy-facing-right“We want to see what it can do.” My Gypsy’s tone of voice placed an unspoken duh at the end of his explanation, as if it should be obvious to me.

Backyard 050I folded my arms across my chest and glared at them. “You know what a computer can do. You’ve snuck into my office on more than a few occasions to read my stories on my desktop computer. You also took my laptop computer into the conference room to read the anthology that contained two of my short stories. You even managed to download the book onto the laptop. How you can manage that when you don’t understand technology is a mystery to me.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/12/02/its-here/

My Gypsy grinned. “Cleric remembered all you had done to get the book onto your big computer, and we just did the same thing on the laptop. That is the nice thing about your magic boxes. Someone with no knowledge of your system of magic can still get them to work, just by pushing the right buttons. It is not like our magic, where you need to have magical ability in order to cast a spell.”

I laughed. “That is because it isn’t magic. It’s technology.”

“So, what is the difference between magic and technology?” My Foreman asked the $64,000 question.

“I think my Gypsy pretty much summed it up. Technology can be learned, but one must have magic within them.” The expressions on the faces of my characters told me they did not understand. I raked my hand through my hair and tried again.

turning on the lights“If I asked if someone would turn on the lights in here, one of you would walk over to the switch on the wall and flip it to the on position. The lights would go on. It wouldn’t matter which of you did it – it would work just as well for my Old Dwarf or my Foreman as it would for Dragon or Sorceress.” I looked around and saw all my characters were nodding.

creating light by magic“Now, if I asked if someone would cast a spell creating light, only those with magical ability would be able to do it. Even if the rest of us were given the right words to say and the right components to use – and we recited those words precisely and combined the components correctly – we could not produce light.”

examples of technology“But not everyone can use what you call technology, either.” My Young Hero frowned. “For example, I cannot drive a car. I cannot use your communication device that you call a cell phone. I cannot use the things we see in stores that you call cash registers. I cannot use the thing you termed a sewing machine that your friend uses to create clothing. And I cannot take a picture with that other magic box, the one you call a camera.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, I can’t use a sewing machine, either. My mom didn’t have the patience to teach me. But most people can learn to do such things. People who do not have magical power can never learn to cast spells.” I had a sudden idea. “Say, since the weather is improving, the temperature has gone up, and most of the snow is gone, maybe some of you would like to go on a nature walk with me tomorrow and take some pictures. I will teach anyone who is interested the basics of using the camera. That way, it might be easier for you to understand the difference between magic and technology.”

The next morning, I was surprised to find all my characters waiting to go on the nature hike with me. I looked at my Foreman and the two lads. “I thought the three of you would be working with your horses today.”

“We are easing into that.” My Foreman ducked his head, cheeks flaming. “We rode yesterday for the first time since the beginning of winter. We are all a bit sore right now.”

“A bit?” My Gypsy snorted, rubbing his rump. “More than a bit, I think.”

My Young Hero nodded. “We thought we would go with you this morning and do some walking to ease our muscles. We can do some more riding this afternoon or tomorrow.”

I smiled. “Okay, let’s go to Memorial Park in Shakopee. They have open water already, and for the past week, my friends from this area have been posting photos on social media. They’ve been seeing a lot of different waterfowl at that park.”

Squirrel near snowPhotographerThe first thing we saw at the park was a squirrel. “Well, this will be a good opportunity for me to show you how to use the camera.” I removed the lens cap and showed my characters how to use the viewfinder and shutter button. Then I explained how to use the zoom feature, and what settings to use. “Since this is your first time using a camera, I think you should leave the settings on automatic. Then you won’t have to try to remember so much.”

I snapped a shot of the squirrel and showed my characters how to view the photo I had just taken. “Okay? So, who wants to try?”

“Are you being honest with us?” My Arrogant One viewed me suspiciously. “We really do not have to intone an incantation or use any spell components?”

I raised an eyebrow. “I am being completely honest. This is technology, not magic. Have you ever heard me recite an incantation, or have you ever seen me use spell components, when I have been taking photographs?”

The elf furrowed his brow, then shrugged. “No. No, I have not.”

“You’ll see. The photos taken by those of you who are adept at magic will be no different than the photos taken by the non-magic users among you.”

All my characters still looked doubtful.

“Let’s go over to the river bank to start. I see a number of waterfowl on the ice by the opposite shore. There are also numerous birds swimming in the open water.”

writing spellcamera strapWe walked the few yards to the river, and my characters gathered close as I gave them their final instructions. “Take turns with the camera. Just be careful not to drop it. When you are taking pictures, you need to have the strap around your neck.” I took out a notebook and pen. “And I’ll keep track of who takes what photos so when we get home and I download them onto the computer, you will be able to see there is no difference between the photos taken by the magic users among you compared to the ones taken by those with no magical ability.”

The rest of the morning was spent photographing the various waterfowl on the river, birds in the trees, and a few mammals. When we got home, I downloaded the photos onto my computer so my characters could see the results of their efforts.

bounty-hunter“Okay, I think most of the photos turned out exceptionally well.” I turned to my Bounty Hunter. “You were the first to attempt taking photos. You captured three images – a pair of swans and a flock of Mallards on the ice on the opposite side of the river, and some really good shots of the Wood Ducks in the protected cove to the right of the first photo you took.”

My Bounty Hunter turned a critical eye on his photos. “Yes, I believe you are right – they are not too bad!” He smiled proudly.

foreman“Our second photographer was my Foreman. He took two pictures of a pair of Blue-winged Teal.”

My Foreman and the others crowded around the monitor to see. “They are not as good as I had hoped.” He looked downcast.

“That was due to the limitations of the zoom feature on my camera. The teal were pretty far away. I think these are good images, considering.”

gypsy-facing-rightMy Gypsy clapped my Foreman on the back. “I bet my images are no better than yours. I also took photos of birds quite distant from us.”

“Yes.” I nodded. “You got six shots of some Hooded Mergansers which were only slightly closer to us than the teal. Again, not bad images considering the distance.”

young-hero-facing-leftMy Young Hero stepped forward. “I believe the first image I captured was from a distance, but the other three were closer. How did they turn out?”

“The Redheads with the Ring-necked Duck were about as far as the swans and Mallards my Bounty Hunter took, not quite as far as the birds my Foreman and my Gypsy took. It turned out very well, as did the images of the closer Redheads.”

My Young Hero looked at his images on the monitor and grinned. “You’re right! They are as good as the others!”

Elf cleric“And how do my photos look?” Dragon, in her customary guise of an elf maiden, pushed to the front of the group.

I brought up her images on the monitor. “You got some excellent photos of the Canada Geese!”

Dragon smiled and acquiesced.

Stu-04-NatGal“And my ducks?” Sorceress moved closer to the monitor.

I smiled. “Your Mallards are excellent as well.”

arrogant-one-facing-right“And my images?” My Arrogant One looked nervous.

“Your Trumpeter Swan images are superb!” I pointed at the monitor. “I particularly love this first close-up.”

The elf drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak with both hands. “That is my favorite as well.”

ElfI looked at the remaining photos. “Cleric took some shots of birds in trees – a Black-capped Chickadee, three shots of a Northern Cardinal, and a Pileated Woodpecker. They are all exceptionally good.”

Cleric blushed, but a smile spread from ear to ear.

I brought up the final three images. “My Old Dwarf captured the only images of mammals today, other than the squirrel I photographed at the beginning of the hike. He got an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, a Red Squirrel, and an Eastern Chipmunk. Nice photos!”

DwarfThe dwarf grinned. “I be liken’ furry thin’s moren feathery thin’s. They do na be hidin’ so easy, and they do na be takin’ off the minute I be tryin’ ta look at ’em.”

I smiled at the old reprobate. “So, looking at the images you all took today, can we agree that the photographs taken by the magic users were no better than those images taken by the non-magic users?”

Everyone nodded.

“But ye do na be provin’ anythin’ by thet, lass.” My Old Dwarf shook his head.

I tilted my head and furrowed my brow. “I think I have proven that technology, unlike magic, can be used by everyone.”

“Eh, I been thinkin’ aboot thet, and I be sayin’ thet be twaddle. There be some magic items what kin be used by anyone. Back in me ownest world, I been havin’ a ring o takin’ me places.”Ring of transportation

I raised an eyebrow. “A ring of what?”

Sorceress cleared her throat. “I believe he means a ring of transportation.”

“Aye, thet be what it be called. Tha wearer o such a ring kin be goin’ anywhere jus’ by tha power o tha ring. Anywho, I been havin’ such a ring, and it been no problem fer me ta be usin’ it. Ye be seein’, lass, tha power be in tha ring, not in tha user. Thet means e’en a dwarf liken meself, what be havin’ no magical power whatsose’er, kin be usin’ tha ring. An’ I be arguin’ thet it be tha same wit yer magic box what ye be callin’ a camera. Tha magic be in the item, so’s even non-magical folk kin be usin’ it. It still be magic, though, not thet teck-noll-o-gee stuff ye be blatherin’ aboot.”

I gaped at my Old Dwarf, who stood before me with a smug smile on his face. How do I argue that point? I sighed.

So, what is your opinion? What is the difference between magic and technology? Are objects like cameras magical? Let me know what you think. Be sure to come back next week and see what my characters are doing. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Working on the Calendar

Working on the Calendar

Month of Novembermarge.jpg“Wow! I can’t believe it’s already the middle of November!” I could feel the beginnings of a real panic attack.

My husband, Miles, nodded. “Five weeks from this Sunday is Christmas.”

I could feel myself start to sweat. “Did you have to remind me?”
Miles
Miles grinned.
Days turn into weeks
I frowned and raked my hand through my hair. “I have to get working on my presents for my sister and my son! I have to get them done in time to mail them.”

Elf facing right“Are you making calendars for them again this year?” Cleric had been listening and now joined the conversation. “The ones featuring your wonderful photographs of the birds we have seen this past year?”

Calendar“Well, I don’t know how wonderful my photos are, but, yeah, that’s the plan. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much time to work on them. And I didn’t take nearly as many photos this year as I have in past years, so it will be harder to find photos I can use.”

“Mayhap I can help?” Cleric shuffled her foot back and forth. She ducked her head and peeked at me, eagerness showing in her soft cornflower eyes.

“Well, I guess two pairs of eyes are better than one.” Before Cleric could get too excited, I added, “It’s tedious work. We have to look through an entire year’s accumulation of photos and pick out the best ones for each of the 18 months, plus one for the cover.”

Cleric furrowed her brow and rubbed her neck. “Eighteen months, Mistress? I thought your years had only 12 months.”

I chuckled. “They do, but I usually do an 18-month calendar. It will have the 12 months of one year, and the first half of the following year. That way, I can use more photos . . . presuming I have enough.” I frowned. “This year, I might have a hard time finding enough for a 12-month calendar.”

“I am certain you have more than 12, or even 18, photos you can use, Mistress!”

“Perhaps, but I usually try to use more than one photo per month, sometimes as many as four.”

gypsy-facing-right“Why do you use so many?” My Gypsy, who had been listening quietly from his chair by the window, came over and joined the conversation. “Why not just one per month?”

“Mostly for aesthetics. One big photo per month might be beautiful, but if I prefer to vary the number. Some months I place two photos side-by-side, some months I position two photos with one under the other. Some months I arrange three, and some, four. I just think it makes the calendar more interesting.” I paused, then mumbled, “Besides, in past years I have had too much trouble picking just 13 to 19 photos from an entire year’s worth of images, not that I will have that problem this year.”

“Then, it is a good thing that Cleric and I are going to assist you this year.” My Gypsy waggled his eyebrows and gave me a lopsided grin.

I turned to Miles. “If anyone is looking for me, Cleric, or my Gypsy, we will be in my office, working on the calendars.”

Miles dropped a quick kiss on my forehead, winked and commented, ‘I didn’t think there was enough room in that office for more than one person.”

office-and-bookshelf-for-blog-002

* * *

office - getting down to workAfter spending more than a few minutes clearing off some chairs and moving an assortment of files and papers from my desk, the three of us sat down facing the computer monitor.

computer mouseMy Gypsy started to reach for my computer mouse. “How do we begin?”

I gave his hand a gentle slap. “We begin by not touching anything.”

He frowned. “Then how do we see the photographs?”

“I think Mistress means you and I do not touch anything.” Cleric raised an eyebrow at the lad.

“Exactly.” I reached for the mouse. “I have all the photographs stored on the external hard drive, arranged in files according to date. We’ll start with the ones from last November and December, any photos taken after I created the calendars last year.”

I clicked on a few icons and brought up the files of photos from 2017. “Hmmm…”

“What is it, Mistress?” Cleric tried to see what I was looking at.

Thumbnails“It seems I was late doing the calendar last year, too. So, we can’t use any photos taken before November 28. The next date I took any photos of birds was December 29.” I opened the file, and the monitor was immediately filled with thumbnails of the photos.

“These are hard to see.” My Gypsy craned his neck and squinted.

Song Sparrow“No problem. I’ll bring them up one at a time and we can see them.” I clicked on the first photo, making the single image fill the screen.

My Gypsy nodded as he looked at the image. “That looks like a Song Sparrow on the deck eating the millet spray you offer.”

Cleric examined the photo. “That would be a good image to include. It is a bird we see a lot here in the yard and on the deck.”

I frowned and shook my head. “Yes, it’s a good bird to include, but the image is not good enough. It’s not sharp enough. I want images that are crisp.”

White-breasted NuthatchWe passed over several others, including an image of a White-breasted Nuthatch taking a peanut from a bowl. “That’s a good one.” My Gypsy argued. “It’s very crisp.”

“No, it’s just not good enough. I didn’t get the entire bird in the photo – I cut off part of the tail.”

Cleric sighed. “You are very fussy, Mistress! The picture looks good enough to me.”

I nodded. “Yes, I am fussy. I know I took better photos. We just have to look for them. I told you this was a tedious job. Are you sure you want to help?”

Cleric blushed. “Oh, yes, Mistress! I did not mean to complain!”

We went back to examining the first set of photos. The only one all three of us could agree on from this set was a Red-bellied Woodpecker in a snowy tree.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

“Well, let’s see what I took in 2018.” I opened another file.

It took us a while to find enough photos for the cold-weather months. I scowled. “You know how much I hate the cold! So, the only photos I take in the cold are those I can take through the glass windows on the French doors to the deck.”

American Tree SparrowMy Gypsy was glad when I accepted one of his favorites, an American Tree Sparrow sitting on the deck railing. “It is a good, clear image. You can see all the identifying marks – the rusty cap and line through the eye, the dark spot on his chest, and the two-colored beak. Also, the expression on his face makes it look like he was posing for the camera. I really like this image!”

Blue JayCleric smiled when I also accepted her suggestion, the Blue Jay who was sitting in a tree. “I like the varying shades of blue, violet, gray, and black on the Jay. And, even though I enjoy the photos of the birds on the deck and in the feeders, I love to see them in the trees. I also like the way this bird is looking straight at the camera. He almost looks amused at having his picture taken.”

Dark-eyed Junco (1)I included one of my favorites, too. “I love this image of the Dark-eyed Junco. They’re known as snow birds and arrive here shortly before the cold weather sets in for the season, so this one is perfect for one of the winter months of the calendar. And this image is interesting with the bird holding one leg up underneath him to keep it warm. You can also see the safflower seed he’s eating.”

Once we had all the photos we needed for the winter months, I was hoping it would be easy to find the ones we needed for the warmer months. We had many more photos from which to choose. When Cleric and my Gypsy took a trip down memory lane with each set of photos, though, it slowed things down to a crawl.
Sandhill Cranes
“Oh, I remember this nature walk! It was at Carver Park Reserve, and we found these two Sandhill Cranes in a field right near the entrance to the park.” Cleric smiled and clapped her hands at the memory.

“I do not remember that.” My Gypsy frowned.

Cleric wrinkled her brow and tilted her head. “I do not believe you went with us that day. You remained here, to work with your horse. Mistress took me with her to help convince the birds to pose for her.”

The lad nodded. “Oh, of course! I remember you telling me about it when you returned home.”

GoslingAs I opened another folder and started going through the photos, my Gypsy pointed to one he remembered. “I was with you that day. It was early spring at the Arboretum. Most of the Canada Geese were still sitting on their nests, but two pairs already had goslings following them around. They were extremely protective of their young, but Cleric finally convinced one pair to let you take this picture of their smallest baby.”

DucklingI nodded, remembering. “This will be a good photo for the calendar, along with that late-hatched Mallard duckling we saw at Shakopee Memorial Park in July.” It took me a few moments to find that image. “Were you with us that day?”

“No, I missed that one, too. But I am sure Cleric was there.”

Cleric nodded. “I remember how surprised you were when we saw the fuzzy duckling. You said it must have been from a second nesting, as all the others were older and already fully feathered.”

I nodded and brought up two photos of the older ducklings. “I don’t think we’ll use the images of the older ducklings, though. We have better photos to use.”

Bald Eagle on office buildingAs we looked through some photos from Purgatory Creek Park, Cleric pointed to an image of a Bald Eagle on the roof of an office building adjacent the park. “Are you going to use that one?”

“No, I used a similar one last year. I think this year I should use a picture of that young eagle that was making a practice nest on the streetlight.” I quickly found those photos.


“I remember that!” My Gypsy chuckled. “The branches and vegetation he was using kept sliding off the light!”

As we continued to go through the photos, Cleric furrowed her brow. “We have a good number of photos of birds we saw on our nature walks. We should balance that with images of birds at the feeders. You should use this one of the young Baltimore Oriole on the hummingbird feeder, and the one of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird on the same feeder later that day.”

“And I like the Gray Catbird and the Yellow-rumped Warbler on the feeder poles.” My Gypsy pointed to the images.

American Robin (3)“Okay, we’ll include them, and this close-up I got of the American Robin. But there are still some from our walks I want to use. I want to include a few of the Eastern Bluebirds and two of the Common Yellowthroat.”

Cleric looked at the photos I had chosen and nodded. “And do not forget some of the photos you have taken of waterfowl.” She pointed at several images. “You took wonderful images of the American Coot, the Lesser Scaup, and the Pied-billed Grebe at Memorial Park in Shakopee.”


“And the Horned Grebe and the Ruddy Ducks at Purgatory Creek,” my Gypsy added, also pointing at the images on the monitor.

“I will include them,” I agreed.

Wild Turkey (2)I checked the images we had chosen and the spreadsheet where I listed the photos according to the month for which they would be used. “We still have a few months to fill. I think I’ll include that image of the Wild Turkey I took at Westwood Hills Nature Center. It would be perfect for November.”

It took us all day, but we finally found enough images for the calendar, including three of Red-winged Blackbirds (an adult male, a juvenile, and an adult female), one of a White-throated Sparrow, and one of a Swainson’s Thrush I would have overlooked if it hadn’t been for my characters helping me.

“This was so much fun! Now we have to start thinking about the calendars you will create next year.” Cleric smiled. “We need to plan lots of nature walks!”

We look forward to all our readers joining us for next year’s nature walks. Who knows what we might find! Of course, that’s a long time from now, so meanwhile, be sure to return each week to see what my characters are up to. We’ll leave the porch light on for you!

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Colorful Autumn Nature Walk

Colorful Autumn Nature Walk

Arrogant One facing rightstill raining

“I cannot believe it is still raining!” My Arrogant One stomped his foot and scowled as he looked out the door at the gloomy drizzle.

ShedBounty Hunter

“And I cannot believe you have not yet repaired the leaky roof in the shed.” My Bounty Hunter glowered at his companion.

My Arrogant One drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak in both hands. “I have done my part. I do not see you offering to help!”

Dragon breathing smoke

Dragon shook her scaly head, and black smoke drifted from her snout. “I cannot believe you two are still complaining about everything! Did you learn nothing from our recent exercise, the Gratitude Scavenger Hunt?”

(Part 1) https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/23/were-doing-what/
(Part 2) https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/30/gratitude-scavenger-hunt/

My Arrogant One rounded on the bulky beast. “Oh, and I am to understand that by virtue of the fact you participated in that assignment, you are suddenly Little Miss Sunshine?”

Dragon blinked. “I do not believe there was anything sudden about it. I have always had a sunny disposition.”

What?” My Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter screeched in unison, and several other of my characters doubled over in laughter.

sorceress-facing-right“You are one of the most mercurial individuals I know.” Sorceress raised an eyebrow at her reptilian friend. “I am always tempted to consult my star charts before approaching you, to determine if you are more likely to aid me or incinerate me!”Elf

Cleric nodded, and she fidgeted with the silken cord belting her robes. “I fear I must agree with Sorceress. You are subject to extreme mood variations.”

dragon looking rightfireplace2Dragon harrumphed and glowered at her companions. “I see. Well, you do not have to worry about approaching me at all. I am going to the conference room and bask in front of my fireplace.” She stomped away in high dudgeon, and the rest of my characters resumed their complaining.

Two days later, the change in both the weather and my character’s attitudes was nothing short of amazing. The day dawned clear and bright and unseasonably warm after several weeks of cool, rainy weather. My characters chatted amiably during a rushed early morning meal. Anxious to be enjoying themselves outdoors, they gobbled their breakfast and dispersed to their individual activities shortly after first light.

My Foreman and the lads headed to the illusory stable to spend the day working their horses. Cleric, Sorceress, and Dragon went out to gather botanicals for their spell components. My Old Dwarf went with them to look for rocks and pieces of wood that might prove suitable for carving.

camera for blogMy husband saw me gathering my camera equipment and gave me a big smile. “No need to ask what you’re planning! Nature photography! Do you have someplace special in mind?”

I returned his smile and held up a brochure from a nearby wildlife preserve and nature center. “I think I’m going back to this preserve. I really enjoyed it last time I went. It has a variety of habitats – a big lake, a hardwood forest and a native pine woodlands, wetlands, prairie, and savanna. What are your plans for the day?”

Miles sighed. “I need to take my car in for servicing today. Then I have to stop by one of the lumber yards and pick up some roofing shingles for the shed.”

I nodded. “Well, okay, I’ll try not to miss you too much!” I gave him a hug and a quick peck on the cheek before we were interrupted.

“Mistress?”

I turned around and saw my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter standing there. To my experienced eye, they appeared suspect.

I furrowed my brow. “Yes?”

“Would it be possible for us to join you today?”

I had rarely heard my Arrogant One sound so meek. My frown deepened. “Why?” Realizing how rude I sounded, I backpedaled. “I mean, why would you want to? I didn’t think hiking and nature photography held much interest for either of you.”

“Quite the contrary!” My Bounty Hunter’s eyes widened, and he assumed an open and guileless demeanor. “We have enjoyed past nature walks we have taken with you.”

“And we must wait for Master Miles to purchase the necessary supplies, so we can repair the shed roof. Therefore, we have nothing pressing on our agenda for this day.” My Arrogant One seemed nervous, clutching his cloak and shuffling his foot.

I hesitated, an uneasy feeling coming over me as I watched my two characters standing there awaiting my decision, displaying uncharacteristic patience and courtesy. “Well, okay, but you know the rules. You’ll wear modern garments and take no weapons or magic paraphernalia.”staff

My Arrogant One’s eyes widened. “Not even my staff? You yourself use a walking stick, and my staff functions perfectly as such.”Walking stick - Marge

I narrowed my eyes and considered. “Very well, you may take a walking stick – but remember that is to be its only function.”Walking stick - Bounty Hunter

My Bounty Hunter’s mouth curved into a smarmy smile. “Then I, too, will bring one – I have a thick longbow that easily doubles as a walking stick.”

My uneasy feeling grew stronger.

“Okay, but I want no trouble from either of you on the trail today. If we encounter other people, they best not be able to tell your walking sticks are anything other than just that.”

They both nodded, but as I turned, I thought I saw them exchange furtive glances.

“Meet me at the car in 15 minutes.”

*  *  *

It took less than a half hour to drive to the preserve. I parked near the nature center and the three of us piled out of the car. I grabbed my camera and equipment, and we all took our walking sticks. I locked the car and pointed to a path exiting the parking lot to my left. “Let’s start with the trail to the lake.”

“Why not start at the nature center? We are right here.” My Bounty Hunter pointed to the building surrounded by bird feeders adjacent to the parking lot.

I shook my head. “I’d like to finish our walk there. Right now, there’s too much activity around that area. School groups go in and out all morning, and it can get noisy. The birds tend to stay away. But things quiet down in the afternoon, and the staff refills the feeders then, so our chances of seeing birds there will be better at that time.”

My two characters nodded. I led off, expecting them to follow me. Instead, they hung back a bit. I thought I heard them arguing, but when I glanced back over my shoulder, they were already scurrying to catch up with me.

We had not yet gotten out of the parking lot when my Bounty Hunter grabbed me by the arm. I yelped and pulled away.

He raised an eyebrow. “It is a good thing Cleric is not with us. She would be squealing right now.” He used his walking stick to point to a reddish-brown snake slithering across the blacktop.October Hike - snake 2

I ducked my head sheepishly, realizing my Bounty Hunter’s intentions had been harmless. “Uh, yeah. It looks like a Red-bellied Snake.” I took a few quick shots of it before it reached the edge of the asphalt and disappeared into the grass, and we continued walking toward the lake.

My Arrogant One studied the trees. “The foliage is surprisingly colorful! I did not think this would be a good year, with the earlier drought followed by the heavy rain over the last few weeks.”

I nodded. “I had the same misgivings. Glad to see we were wrong.” I took a few photos of the trees.

As we walked toward the lake, I pointed out the animals I saw, identifying them for my two companions as I took photos. “There’s an American Robin in that tree. There’s a White-breasted Nuthatch on that tree trunk, and another hanging upside down from that pine bough. And there’s an Eastern Chipmunk on that rock in front of the fallen log.”

We passed out of the woods and found ourselves next to a large lake.

“Canada Geese.” My Arrogant One pointed. “We have them on our pond, and we seem to see them on every outing.” He leaned on his staff and watched the birds swimming in the clear blue water.

I nodded, maneuvering to a good spot to get some photos. “They’re very common.”

“Look!” My Bounty Hunter pointed to some birds soaring silently overhead. “Those strange looking birds are not Canada Geese. What are they?”

“American White Pelicans. They’re one of the largest birds you’ll see in North America, and they have massive bills that they use to scoop up fish.” I tried to capture a few images of the birds in flight.

The squadron of pelicans landed on the far side of the lake, too distant for my camera to get any good shots. We left the lake and took the trail to the left, skirting a large wetland adjacent to the lake. We found two more Canada Geese there and I took their photos.

Then my Arrogant One pointed. “Are those not the tall birds you like so much? I believe you called them Sandhill Cranes.”

I nodded and smiled, taking photos of two crossing the meadow toward the tree line.

My Bounty Hunter tapped me on the shoulder and pointed. “Another one.” I snapped a quick photo as it tried to hide in the tangle of vegetation.

October hike - Sandhill Crane 3

As I turned, I spotted a few American Goldfinches eating the seeds of the wildflowers in the field, and I stopped to take several photos. “They flit around so quickly, it’s hard to get a clear image of them.”

After I got their pictures, I took some shots of a tall tree in the middle of the meadow, decked out in its coat of autumn yellow, then took several more photos of the fall foliage.

As I turned around, my companions were standing a few feet away, huddled together, examining their walking sticks and holding a whispered conversation. I furrowed my brow but held my tongue as they quickly rejoined me on the trail.

As we approached another section of woods, my Arrogant One pointed at something with his staff. “I am seeing a lot of similar-looking birds in the trees and bushes along the forest edge. What are they?”

“Fall warblers can be very confusing, but I believe they are Palm Warblers.” I took aim and snapped a few quick photos.

“That one looks different.” My Bounty Hunter pointed at another bird in a nearby tree. “Is that the one the Gypsy identified for me once as a White-throated Sparrow?”

I nodded. “I’m impressed you remembered!” I snapped the photo.

October Hike - White-throated Sparrow 1

My Bounty Hunter also spotted a Blue Jay high up in a bare tree, and my Arrogant One pointed out an Eastern Bluebird on an old fence post. I got photos of them both. Then, just before we entered the next wooded area, we found another snake. “This one looks like a Garter Snake.” I snapped his photo as well.

“Look here.” My Arrogant One pointed. “There are several different types of berries along this path.”

“They’re good food for the birds.” I took some photos of the berries before looking up at the nearby trees.

“Look! The berries have attracted some Cedar Waxwings. Those birds are basically fruit eaters. In the fall, hundreds of them can gather and strip a berry patch in minutes.” I scanned the trees. “This is a very small flock.”

“That one looks different.” My Arrogant One pointed to one of a pair of birds sitting on a bare branch. “But the one with it looks like the Cedar Waxwings you just showed us.”

“They’re both Cedar Waxwings. The one that looks different is a juvenile. I’m surprised there aren’t more with the flock.” I focused my camera and got a shot of the two birds.

October Hike - Cedar Waxwing with juvie

We continued along the path, and I took some more photos of the trees and wildflowers. Once again, my companions lagged behind. They were again whispering, but they quickly stopped and hurried to catch up with me.

Soon we were back at the nature center. There were numerous birds and critters feeding on the seed that had fallen from the feeders, or watching from the nearby trees. I identified a Red Squirrel, another Eastern Chipmunk, some Fox Sparrows, some Dark-eyed Juncos, some more White-throated Sparrows, and both male and female Northern Cardinals.

Finally, I figured I had taken enough photos, and I turned to my companions. “Ready to go home?”

“Already?” They both seemed disappointed.

“Miles will probably be home by now with those roofing supplies you need. And I need to start making dinner if we want to eat tonight.”

My two characters nodded reluctantly, and we walked across the parking lot to the car. As we took our places in the vehicle, I wondered about their behavior, their whispered conversations, and the furtive glances I thought I had seen them exchanging several times. After turning it over in my mind, I decided maybe I was just being paranoid. I decided it best not to spoil the good time we had had by confronting them. If something was afoot, I would probably find out soon enough.

Be sure to join us again next week. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Still Out Sick – Gypsy Filling in With Recycled Blogs

Still Out Sick – Gypsy Filling in With Recycled Blogs

gypsy-facing-rightHail, good readers! Prithee allow me to introduce myself. I am the Gypsy, sidekick and best friend of the Young Hero about whose exploits Mistress Writer has penned numerous tales. I fear I must report Mistress Writer’s malady has not improved since Dragon so kindly and so capably filled in for her last week. But, alas, now Dragon and half our number are ill as well. Dragon has beseeched me to fill in this week in presenting to you readers an entertaining and informative narrative. However, I most humbly confess I am no scribe!

Since any attempt I would make to author a blog would bore the average reader into a coma, I decided to just . . . what is the word Mistress Writer and Master Miles use? Oh, yes! I decided to recycle two earlier blogs.

Reviewing previous blogs, I have found several times in the past when Mistress Writer was ill. I narrowed down the accounts to two instances. Once, she was afflicted with a very bad cold. Another time, she had contracted an ailment she termed cabin fever. I selected these two blogs to recycle today as Mistress Writer seems to be suffering from both maladies now.

wren 2Also, both blogs relate to birds, a subject near and dear to my heart. I do not mean to brag – after all, I am the Gypsy, not the Arrogant One – but I am extremely knowledgeable about birds. I could identify every bird in my world by sight and by ear, and I have become almost as well versed in the birds of this world. I daresay I play an important role in the first of the two blogs I selected, identifying some birds for my less knowledgeable companions, and relating information about various types of birds. I hope you find both blogs entertaining and informative.

https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/todays-blog-is-for-the-birds/

https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/05/20/backyard-birding-bliss/

gypsy-facing-rightCharing shoes 2I do hope you enjoyed the two blogs I recycled. If so, I would consider it a great personal favor if you could leave a comment for Dragon. She warned me what would happen should I not do a good job filling in for her and Mistress Writer. She will char my shoes with my feet still in them – a threat she often makes to Master Miles. And I am most fond of both my shoes and my feet!

I sincerely hope that Mistress Writer and Dragon will have recovered sufficiently by next week that I can step down from my position as temporary scribe. We hope to see you again next week, when we can ascertain if that has happened! We will leave the porch light on for you!

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A Ducky Day for Collecting Flora (and Overhearing a Murder Plot?)

A Ducky Day for Collecting Flora (and Overhearing a Murder Plot?)

horses-all-gone-for-blogfireworks5 for blogThe weeks following our return from our Memorial Day outing were strained. No one wanted to leave the house. We didn’t even go out to celebrate Independence Day on July 4, as we feared another outing might end the way the Memorial Day weekend outing did.

Picnic table by lakeThe Secret TrailMy characters, my husband, and I had gone on a picnic the Saturday before Memorial Day. After lunch, Miles decided to stay in the shade of the trees and take a nap, while my characters and I went on a nature hike. We followed a trail we had never seen before and found ourselves in another world. We embarked on an odyssey that seemed to stretch for days. When we finally found the way back to our own world, we discovered we had been gone only hours.

(If you missed it, the chronicle of that adventure began with the weekly blog on May 27, https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/05/27/lost/ and continued through the blogs posted on the following eight Sundays)

The incident left us all unsettled and on edge, so I wasn’t surprised when I heard voices arguing one morning in the conference room.

sorceress-facing-right“We must go out and collect the botanicals we need to restock our spell components.”

I recognized that voice. Sorceress spoke in clipped tones and sounded irritated.

Elf“I know we are running low on components, but I just do not want to leave the house.”

The second voice belonged to Cleric. Her voice was low, and she almost sounded as if she were about to burst into tears.

I descended the stairs by the conference room, and saw Sorceress and Cleric facing each other in the middle of the room. Cleric was fidgeting with the cord on her robe, as Sorceress stood with her arms folded over her chest, tapping her foot impatiently.

Sorceress nodded at Cleric’s last statement. The sympathy on her face was in direct contrast to the sharpness of her voice. “You are being unreasonable. We both need the botanicals, and I am not going to go collect them by myself.”

Cleric continued to fidget with the cord that belted her robe. Finally, she blurted, “But what if we end up in another world again?”

Sorceress rolled her eyes and snorted. “That was one isolated incident. I highly doubt it will happen again.”

“I do not care. I am afraid.” Cleric lowered her eyes and blushed furiously.

Dragon breathing smokeI entered the conference room, but before I could say anything, Dragon slammed shut the book she was reading in the corner of the room and stomped over to face her friends. The large beast scowled at the two women, and dark smoke started to drift from her nostrils. “Cleric, a portal to another world could just as easily materialize within this house as without, you know. In fact, it has, on several occasions, if you will remember. And Sorceress, everyone is not as confident as you . . . or as unrelenting. Now, if you two are going to do nothing but argue, please go do it elsewhere!”

Sorceress and Cleric were stunned into silence for several moments. Then pandemonium broke out as the three started yelling at each other and gesticulating wildly.

I waded into the fray and held up my hands for silence. “Excuse me. Excuse me! I know everyone’s nerves are still on edge, but that’s no reason to snap at each other.”

The three companions hung their heads and mumbled in unison. “Sorry.”

Without taking a breath following her apology, Sorceress continued, “But the botanicals are essential, this is the best time of year to collect them, and I am not doing it without help.”

dwarf“I kin be helpin’ ye, lassie.” My Old Dwarf entered the room and joined the conversation.

Sorceress started to scoff, but Dragon glared at her and went to stand next to my Old Dwarf, placing her hand on his shoulder. Sorceress quickly marshaled her features into a tight smile. Her voice was strained as she replied to the dwarf. “I thank you, but I doubt you would know a pansy from deadly nightshade. Besides, you have no need of the plants.” She gestured at Cleric. “Cleric uses the botanicals in her spell components, as do I, so she is the one who needs to assist me in collecting them.” Her tone invited no argument.

I furrowed my brow. “Dragon, don’t you also use botanicals in your spell components?”

Dragon narrowed her eyes. “There are very few spells for which I need components. My power is beyond that.”

I raised an eyebrow. “But there are some?”

Dragon nodded.

“Good. Then you will accompany Cleric and Sorceress while they collect the plants they need, and you can get the few things you require for your spells. You can also provide protection for the other two. And my Old Dwarf can go with you to provide additional protection as well as some muscle for carrying everything home.”

As Sorceress and Dragon started to object, I gave them a look that immediately silenced them. “No arguments. Go. But, Dragon, before you leave the house, you’ll shapseshift to a less conspicuous form. And, you, my rotund friend, will not wear your armor or carry a weapon.”

Another look from me quelled any disagreement on that point. Fifteen minutes later, I watched as Dragon, in her customary guise of an elf maiden, left the house with Sorceress, Cleric, and my Old Dwarf. All four wore jeans and t-shirts and carried large sacks for the items they would collect.

* * *

“Last year, Cleric and I found an area where wildflowers abound. There are several large meadows along a dirt road, divided by small woodlots between the fields, and a large pond. We will go there.” Sorceress led the group down the street to the main road.

Dragon raised an eyebrow and tilted her head. “Are these places where collecting is allowed, or will we need to be discreet?”

Sorceress furrowed her brow. “Discretion is always called for, but they are not areas posted as private property; nor are there any warnings against collecting specimens. As long as we do not take too many specimens from any one area, and we fill in any holes where we harvest entire plants, we should be all right.”

“I do na be understandin’ why ye do na jest be magickin’ tha flowers and stuffs ye be needin’.” My Old Dwarf spoke around the bite of apple he was munching.

Sorceress rolled her eyes. “The components of a spell must be precisely developed from natural ingredients. Conjured plants would not work properly.” Her tone of voice indicated she felt this was common knowledge, something the dwarf should know, but he just shrugged.

The four companions continued along the road, arguing and sniping at each other, until Sorceress turned down a dirt trail. “The first meadow is just down here, a little way into the woods.”

Cleric stopped dead. “I . . . I cannot go on.” He eyes were wide and sweat beaded her forehead.

wildflowers along the fence“Aw, lassie, there be no need ta be afeared. The beastie an’ me be here ta be protectin’ ye.” The dwarf patted Cleric’s shoulder.

Sorceress sighed. “Let us just commence. The quicker we start, the quicker we can gather what we need and return home.”

Cleric looked at Dragon and the dwarf. They both nodded and smiled encouragingly at her. She sighed, squared her shoulders, and followed the path to the first meadow.

Her friends followed her and looked around. Dragon nodded approvingly. “Oh, yes, this is perfect!”

Bee on flowerButterfly on flowerCleric walked over to some yellow flowers and started examining them. “Be careful! Gently shoo away any bees, butterflies, or other pollinators before collecting the botanicals. I understand from conversations with Mistress that the pollinator populations are declining here. Do not harm any of them.”

For the next several hours, three of the friends collected flowers, leaves, stems, roots and fruit from the numerous meadows along the dirt road, while the dwarf stood guard and munched a seemingly endless supply of apples from his pockets and pouch.

Dragon kept track of what they were collecting.

“Bell flowers.”

“Bee balm.”Bee Balm

“Two different types of milkweed.”

“Ornamental onion.”Ornamental Onion

“Vetch.”Vetch

“Thistle in three stages – blossoming, in full flower, and gone to seed.”

“Black-eyed Susan.”Black-eyed Susan

“Woodland Sunflower.”

“Prairie coreopsis”Prairie Coreopsis

“Burdock.”Burdock

“Bird’s foot trefoil.”Bird's Foot Trefoil

“Clover.”

“Queen Anne’s lace.”Queen Anne's Lace

“Juniper berries.”Juniper berries

“Purple coneflower.”

“Anything else?”

Cleric nodded. “I have a lily I cannot identify. Should I harvest it?”

Unknown lily
“Yes. If we are unsure of its identification, we cannot be certain of its properties, so we must research it in the books in the conference room. It is easier to research it if we have a specimen, rather than attempting to remember its exact appearance.”

The companions continued their work for several hours. Finally, Sorceress sat back and sighed. She looked over at the piles of botanicals Dragon had organized. “This is enough for today. I daresay it will take all week for us to properly prepare what we have collected. We will return here again in the fall to harvest more.”

The three magic users packed up to head for home.

“Ohhhhh. Me tummy be hurtin’ bad, real bad!” The dwarf started moaning and clutching his stomach.

Sorceress snorted. “How convenient, now that it is time for you to help us carry these heavy sacks.”

“You probably just ate too many apples.” Cleric reached into her pouch. “I have some healing herbs that should quickly put you to rights.”

“We should go over by the pond and rest while we wait for the dwarf to recover.” Sorceress pointed to the body of water adjoining the field.

Dragon agreed. “Good idea. I am fatigued.”

“Oh, look!” Cleric pointed to some birds in a nearby tree. “It is a shame Mistress is not with us! She would love to see that one. She calls it a Common Yellowthroat, but the way she gets so excited whenever she sees it, it cannot be very common.”

Common Yellowthroat
“Is that other bird its young?” Sorceress pointed to a smaller bird in a nearby tree.

Fledgling Eastern Phoebe

“No, I believe I have heard Mistress call that one an Eastern Phoebe.”

“And what is that one?” Sorceress pointed again.

Black-capped Chickadee

“That is a Black-capped Chickadee. That is one we see a lot in the backyard.” Cleric looked proud that she could remember. “Oh, and there’s another one we have at home! Do you see the American Goldfinch eating the thistle seeds? I am glad we did not take too many thistle plants. The birds rely on the seeds as a major source of food.”

American Goldfinch

“Mistress would love the ducks here in the pond. Look – there are even some fuzzy ducklings!” Dragon watched the waterfowl with rapt attention.

It took a while, and quite a few herbs, to settle the dwarf’s stomach, but the companions didn’t mind spending the time watching the birds. By the time they were ready to go home, though, the afternoon sun hung low in the sky, and many of the ducks in the pond had already settled down to sleep.

Dragon frowned. “Is there a faster way to get back home, a different way than the route we took to get here?”

“We could be goin’ cross-country, instead o be followin’ tha roads back.” Dwarf pointed. “It be a lot closer thet way. Ye be knowin’ – tha way tha birdies be goin’.”

Sorceress rolled her eyes. “I believe the correct phrase is as the crow flies.”

“Din na I jest be sayin’ thet?” The dwarf sighed and shook his head. He picked up several of the sacks full of botanicals and started off.

“Wait.” Dragon frowned. “Just in case this route takes us onto private property, I best cast a spell of concealment on all of us.”

“Ye be knowin’ full well, beastie, thet a dwarf can na be majicked.”

“And you know full well that a spell of concealment does not affect those who are to be concealed, but those from whom something is to be concealed.”

“Eh. I be forgettin’. I be guessin’ thet tummyache still be affectin’ me.”

“I have more healing herbs.” Cleric reached for her pouch.

The dwarf made a face at the thought of consuming more of the bitter herbs. “Nay, lassie! I be feelin’ a whole bunch better now!”

Sorceress chuckled. “Amazing recovery.”

As soon as Dragon had cast the spell of concealment, the four companions started off across the meadow. In half the time it had taken them to reach the first meadow earlier that day, they found themselves back in the subdivision where they lived with Mistress Writer and Master Miles.

“Look! Is that not our neighbors, Mace and Gloria?” Cleric pointed to a couple sitting on a gazebo in a lush yard.

“It is.” Dragon glowered at the two troublemakers.

The dwarf stopped and looked around, wide-eyed. “We best be gittin’ outten here right quick-like, afore they be seein’ us!”

Sorceress scoffed. “They cannot see us, remember?”

“I be forgettin’ agin.”

“Shhh. What are they saying?” Dragon furrowed her brow, tilted her head, and cupped her ear.

“What . . .?” Cleric started to ask.

“Shhhh.” Dragon tried to listen to the couple’s conversation. “Let us get closer.”

As the companions crept over to the gazebo, they could clearly hear what Mace and Gloria were saying.

“They’ve been nothing but trouble since we moved here. We need to do something about them, and soon.” Mace frowned.

Gloria laughed a deep, throaty laugh. “Don’t worry, darling! I’ve got it all planned.”

“Oh?” Mace quirked an eyebrow.

“Remember the mushrooms?” Gloria smiled smugly. “Is it my fault some poisonous fungi got mixed in with them?”

“Poison mushrooms?” Mace’s eyes widened, and a smile spread across his face. “Do you think you can get our . . . friends . . . to eat them?”
Stroganoff
“Oh, darling, do you know anyone who can resist my stroganoff?” Gloria simpered at her husband. “By this time next week, we will have one less headache with which to contend in our happy little neighborhood.”

Dragon shoved the dwarf toward the side yard, then reached back and grabbed her other two friends by their arms and practically dragged them along. Once they had reached the street, Dragon let go of them.

Cleric wailed. “Mace and Gloria are going to try to kill Mistress Writer and Master Miles! We must warn them”

Sorceress scowled. “How do you know it is Mistress Writer and Master Miles they plan to murder?”

Dragon snorted. “Mistress and her mate are not among Mace and Gloria’s favorite people. Remember the trouble with Mystery?” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/the-return-of-the-neighbors/

Cleric nodded. “But it matters not whom they plan to murder. We must alert the authorities!”

The dwarf glowered in the direction of Mace and Gloria. “No need. I kin be takin’ care o those two. Just let me be gittin’ me axe.”Dwarf
Are Mace and Gloria planning to kill Mistress Writer and Master Miles, or is someone else the target of their nefarious plot? Will they succeed, or will Mistress Writer’s characters intervene? Be sure to come back next week and find out what’s going on in the neighborhood. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Lost

Lost

Holiday“So, what do you think we should do for the holiday?”

I wrinkled my brow and tilted my head, considering my husband’s question. “Holiday? What holiday?”

Miles chuckled and shook his head. “Memorial Day.”

I frowned. “It’s Memorial Day already? Where did the time go?”

Miles smiled. “Yup, it’s this coming Monday.”

I continued to frown. “I hate that it’s a holiday. It used to be – and still should be – a day for remembering and honoring those who died in active military service. Now, it just the beginning of the summer season, and an excuse for a three-day weekend, with barbecues, picnics, beach parties, etcetera.”


“What be this aboot a bar-be-cue and pick-a-nick?” My Old Dwarf stomped across the room and joined the conversation, a wide grin on his face. “Be ye needin’ me help ta pack up tha food?”

I scowled at him. “Barbecue and picnic. They’re the only two words you heard, aren’t they? I was just saying how Memorial Day is no longer observed in the way in which it was intended.”

“There be nuttin’ wrong wit honoring yer war dead by throwin’ a feast in their memory, lass, an’ raisin’ a mug or two in recognition o their courage and sacrifice. Thet be tha way we Dwarves be doin’ it!”

My husband smiled and shrugged at me. “Can’t argue with the Dwarven way!”

“Be thet ta mean we be goin’ on a pick-a-nick?” My Old Dwarf’s eyes brightened.

I sighed. “I suppose we could go on an outing.”

Elf facing right“What is this about an outing?” Cleric entered the room and caught part of the conversation. “Are we going on another nature trek to take pictures, Mistress?” Cleric’s eyes sparkled with anticipation, and she fidgeted with the cord on her robe.

I shrugged. “I suppose we could do some nature photography as part of the outing.”

“As long as ye do na be forgittin’ tha food!” My Old Dwarf smacked the flat of his axe against his palm for emphasis.

blue-dragon-facing-leftNow Dragon entered the room and the conversation. “Nature photography? Food? What is transpiring?”

“This coming weekend is Memorial Day weekend, and Miles thinks we should do something to celebrate. My Old Dwarf wants to have a picnic or barbecue, and Cleric would like to go on a nature hike. Do you have any preferences?”

“Yes. I think we should stay at home and enjoy a day of rest.”

arrogant-one-facing-rightMy Arrogant One, who had been right behind Dragon, grimaced and stuck his nose in the air. He commented in a petulant whine, “I thought you said it was a holiday. I suppose you are proposing a stayiday, like our last vacation was a staycation?”

I rolled my eyes as I remembered what my Arrogant One had said about that vacation. “The concept of vacation is new to me; however, I do understand it to involve travel away from one’s place of residence. We have traveled nowhere. For the past two weeks, we have not once taken leave of this place.

And when I had attempted to explain the concept of a staycation to him, he had declared the word to be merely another term for boring.
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I sighed. “Yeah, I agree. I guess staying home to celebrate a holiday would be much the same as staying home for a vacation.”

“It be all set, then.” My Old Dwarf rubbed his hands together. “I be helpin’ wit tha food.”

“Of course you will.” Dragon sighed a puff of smoke at the old reprobate, who just laughed at her.

“Ye be seein’, beastie. It be a whole lot o fun!”

Dragon lifted an eyebrow and snorted. “I suppose I will be required to go.”

I nodded. “I think it would be nice if we all went. And besides, you’ve enjoyed these outings in the past.”

“Very well.” Dragon shrugged. “It might not be completely unbearable.”

“I will let the others know.” Cleric started to leave the room.

Miles“Wait a minute! We haven’t even decided where we should go, or on which day of the three-day weekend.” I looked at Miles. “What do you think, honey?”

“Why don’t we go Saturday? We should be able to prepare enough food by then. And we can go to your favorite picnic area by that woodland lake.”

I nodded, and Cleric skipped off to inform my other characters of our plans.

My Old Dwarf grasped Miles by the arm and led him off to check out the freezer. “Be ye thinkin’ we be havin’ enough vittles, or be we needin’ ta go to tha market?”

The rest of the week passed quickly as we prepared for our outing. The night before our trek, I called all my characters together. “It’s been a while since we’ve all gone on an outing. Let me remind everyone of the rules. First, all weapons, wands, staffs, and spell components will be left at home. Second, you will all dress in the modern garb of this world. Third, you will behave in a civilized manner. Last, if we encounter anyone, you will tell no one who you really are. If anyone asks, you’re some out-of-town relatives and friends, visiting for a few weeks.” I glared at them. “Do you all understand?”

Everyone nodded. My Arrogant One sniffed disdainfully. “This is not our first outing! We do understand the rules of deportment.”

“That’s rich, considering the last time we went on an outing, I had to remind you that you could not wear your robes.”

My Old Dwarf snickered.

“And I had to remind you that you could not go wandering around in public in your chain mail!” I scowled at the two of them.

Everyone murmured promises of good behavior, but the next morning when we were packing the car, it was as if we had gone back in time. Everything was just as it had been the last time we went on an outing.

Despite the previous night’s agreements, I had to confiscate several weapons and one staff, and neither my Old Dwarf nor my Arrogant One wanted to change their outfits.

I frowned at my Old Dwarf. “I’m sorry, but I’ve told you before that you just can’t wander around in chain mail. It would draw too much attention.”

I turned to my Arrogant One. “And I have told you that your robes are far too extravagant for an outing like this.”

It took another 15 minutes, and a lot of animated discussion, to convince them, but by the time Miles had loaded the picnic hamper and coolers into the car, everyone was presentable and ready to leave.

Ninety minutes later we arrived at one of my favorite picnic areas, a beautiful lakeside venue. My characters were eager to get set up, and they piled out of the car the moment my husband had it parked. Miles and I unloaded our supplies, and my characters helped us carry everything down the trail to the picnic table in the shade of the trees by the lake.

Picnic table by lake

camera for blogEveryone pitched in and helped my husband prepare the food. After a huge lunch, I suggested we go exploring. “I know Cleric wanted to assist with some nature photography, so I brought my camera. You’re all welcome to join us if you wish, to check out the resident wildlife.”

Easter 128“I’m sorry, honey.” Miles looked at me apologetically. “With the medications I take, you know I can’t tolerate the sunlight. I must stay here in the shade. The rest of you go enjoy yourselves. I’ll just clean up everything here and then take a nap under these trees.”

I gave my husband a quick kiss, grabbed my camera, and headed down the path. Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden was right behind me, along with Cleric and Sorceress. When I turned around to see who else was coming, though, I stopped dead in my tracks.

My Old Dwarf, my Bounty Hunter, and my Arrogant One were back in their medieval apparel, weapons drawn, ready to engage in a melee. My Foreman, my Gypsy, and my Young Hero were also in their traditional attire, astride their horses, preparing to joust.

 

What is going on here?” I think my sister in Connecticut, some 1300 miles away, could probably hear me shriek.

Dragon shrugged. “They wanted to hold a tournament. I did not see the harm.”

Didn’t see the harm?” I gaped at her.

Dragon sighed. “Do not fret. I have cast a spell of concealment. No one will ever see them.”

I frowned and crossed my arms over my chest. “No. This is not going to happen. You three dismount. Everyone get rid of the weapons and return to the clothes you were wearing when we left the house this morning. Now!

“Oh, Mistress, why can we not . . .” My Gypsy started to wheedle but stopped when he saw the look I shot him.

Muttering and sighing, all my characters returned to modern gear. The horses and weapons disappeared, fading slowly out of existence.

“Come on. We’ll all go for a nature hike. I daren’t let any of you out of my sight!”

Grumbling, my characters trudged along as we headed down the trail that took us around the lake and into the woods on the other side.

My Old Dwarf walked next to Dragon and whispered to her. “Sometimes I be wishin’ thet tha lass be a wee bit more understandin’ aboot us. It be difficult ta be tryin’ all the time ta be fittin’ inta a new life. Oh, I be knowin’ thet we be livin’ here in her world for a good long time now, but we a been livin’ in our own world a whole lot longer afore thet! It be hard ta be givin’ up tha life we been knowin’ then.”


“Indeed!” Dragon nodded. “I wonder how well Mistress Writer would adapt to being ripped from her own familiar world and finding herself suddenly dropped into a totally alien society.”

“Now thet be a thought!” My Old Dwarf chuckled at the notion.

small figure on trailNeither Dragon nor her companion saw the small figure on the side of the trail. It was only slightly smaller than the squirrels that were scampering through the tall grass. It had a white beard and long, rabbit-like ears. A sly grin spread across its stony face as it listened to the conversation between my Old Dwarf and Dragon.

Despite their initial grumbling, all my characters joined in with enthusiasm when we started to see wildlife along the trail. They began a friendly competition to find, and identify, each animal along the way.

My Gypsy was first, much to Cleric’s disappointment. He pointed to two birds in trees near the lake “Look! There are two male Red-winged Blackbirds!”

Not to be outdone, Cleric pointed. “And there are the females!”

 

My Young Hero spoke up. “There’s a Song Sparrow.”

My Gypsy looked where the other lad was pointing. “No, that is a Swamp Sparrow. That one is a Song Sparrow.” He pointed at another small bird in a nearby tree.

Sorceress pointed at a group of birds on the lake. “I believe I have heard you call those large birds Canada Geese, Mistress.”

I nodded.

Dragon pointed at a single goose, closer to the shore. “There is another one. What a lovely reflection!”

“That Mallard also has a beautiful reflection!” My Bounty Hunter pointed.

My Arrogant One pointed at a bird on the wooden fishing pier. “Is that another of the same type, a Mallard?”

My Gypsy nodded.

Our attention was drawn to a nearby copse of trees, where we heard a persistent tapping. We followed the trail away from the lake and into the woods, looking for the source of the sound. “There!” My Foreman pointed. “A Red-headed Woodpecker!”

“Red-bellied Woodpecker,” my Gypsy corrected him, as I took some photos.

“An’ there be three right furry little bunny rabbits.” My Old Dwarf pointed.

My Gypsy looked where the dwarf was pointing and laughed. “I believe two of them are squirrels.”

The Secret TrailWe continued along the trail, enjoying the warm weather, the scenery, and the camaraderie. We had walked a considerable distance when I spotted a path off to the right, marked by a sign proclaiming it a Secret Trail. “Hmmm. I thought I knew every trail in this park, but I don’t ever remember seeing that one before.”

I began to lead the group up the overgrown steps rising from the forest floor.

“Stop!” Dragon cried out. “This trail does not feel right.”

“What do you mean?” I called back over my shoulder from the top of the steps.

“Mistress, take heed! There is something amiss here.” Dragon was wide-eyed, and the color had drained from her delicate elven features.

I immediately turned around. “Let’s go back, then.”

But the woods at the bottom of the steps looked different. I could not see the trail leading back toward the lake. From our position at the bottom of the steps, steps which also looked much different than the ones we had started to climb, the trail branched off in three directions. To the right, the path was choked by protruding tree roots. To the left, the trail was lined with boulders. Straight ahead, a wide avenue passed under a canopy of trees.different steps

Wide avenue

This was not the park where we had had our picnic, where we had just been hiking and taking wildlife photographs. Where were we?

Where are my characters and I? How did we get here? Will we be able to find our way back to the picnic grove, and to my husband? Be sure to come back next week for another exciting episode. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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And on this Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I, as well as my characters, wish to offer tribute to all who have perished in the service of their country. They will never be forgotten!

Memorial Day 3