Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Doorbell Bird

Often I am awakened by birdsong, which is a lovely thing. But in the spring, with all birds crazily vying for territory and trying to attract a mate, it can sometimes be, well, a little much. Especially when one of them makes a quite distinct sound, and you don't know which bird is making it.

Song Sparrow

I am fairly well acquainted with the common birds around here: robins, chickadees, crows, various sparrows, swallows which arrive in the spring, and lots of others that arrive from the south also. But this spring, I became acutely aware of a different sound. It came from high in the trees, often starting at first light, (which at the moment is 5:51 a.m. *grumble*) and carrying on throughout the day.

For lack of a better description, it sounded (to me) like a high-pitched doorbell. Ding-dong. Ding-dong. Over. And over. And over.

Then it would vary the song: Ding, ding. Ding Ding Ding.

Frantically (with some deep-seated desire to know what it was - perhaps a writers' trait, perhaps a crazy person's trait) I perused all of my bird books for an itinerant bird that came north in the spring to mate and raise its family. Of course books often give crazy, well-intentioned, written out descriptions of bird songs, such as "quick, three beers" (really?) and "Oh, dear me."

But none of them mentioned a doorbell bird. What is this darn thing? Ding-dong. Ding dong, over and over! Desperate, I found a bird identification site specific to our county. With that open on one tab, I then pulled up the Cornell Bird Identification site http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/search and began cross-referencing each bird. (Yes, I can occasionally get somewhat obsessed with research.) The Cornell site even has recorded sounds for each bird, and I played each possibility, but with no luck. I assumed it was a Flycatcher or a Vireo singing its mating song from high in the trees. But nothing sounded like my Doorbell Bird.

As a last resort, I tracked down the name of a bird specialist from the local Audubon Society. He was very helpful, and suggested I send him a recording. So quite early the next morning, there I was in my bathrobe, standing on the porch taking a cell-phone video (with audio) of the bird. Of course, it was far, far away in the trees, and the sound was faint. Anyway, long story short, the bird specialist was stumped also.

But this dang ding-dong bird was driving me nuts! Do you think I could catch sight of it? Nooo. It had to be a smallish bird, but when I grabbed my binocs to scan the trees where it was singing, I could never spot this rare bird. All I ever saw was the standard sparrows, wrens, chickadees, and the like. By now I was sure it was some rare species, totally off its course, and it would get written up in the bird books as a rare sighting. Maybe it was a never-before discovered bird, and I would even get the honor of naming it! What should I call it: The Doorbell Bird? The Ding Dong Bird? No, none of them sounded quite right.

But I was in luck. The bird specialist ( a very helpful man) agreed to come out in the morning and listen! Here was help. I would soon come to the bottom of this!

Eagerly awaiting an opportunity to show off my birding skills, and get written up the newspaper for my rare discovery (the writer's mind doth wander) I jumped back onto the Cornell site again, listening for all of the common birds around here: the sparrows, the wrens, the chickadees. We all know what chickadees sound like, right? "Chick-a-dee-dee-dee."



Lo and behold, on the song selection for a Black-capped Chickadee http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-capped_Chickadee/sounds  were six different calls. I had never listened to them before, because I was quite sure I knew about chickadees. Wrong!!!

Call #1, listed as Pacific Northwest Whistled Song, is the Ding, ding, ding, ding sound.
Call # 4, listed as Typical Song, is the dang Doorbell Song!

So, with virtual egg-on-my-face, I emailed the Audubon Bird Specialist back and told him he really didn't have to come at all. I was absolutely certain that my "rare" bird was actually a Black-capped Chickadee!

"You are not the first person who has been stumped by the various calls of chickadees," he wrote back, probably in an attempt to make me feel better.

But I do feel much better now. I know what it is! At 5:51 this morning, when the Ding-Dong sound woke me from high in the cedar trees outside of our bedroom, I simply pulled the pillow back over my head and mumbled "Shut up, you stupid Chickadee!"

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Accidental Kitten

Announcing - THE ACCIDENTAL KITTEN - Cat Tales #6 is now available.


As you know, we accidentally acquired another kitten, which I  blogged about here. That probably inspired the title, but not the story line. This one is a bit of a coming-of-age story, as a young man moves away from his family for the first time. And then of course there's a kitten . . . oh well, here's the actual plot summary:

Brian has left his parent's ranch and struck out for a life of his own. But renting a run-down apartment takes most of his money, and finding a job in the city proves difficult. When he meets a quirky young woman and then rescues a tiny kitten from certain death, things become more problematic. Brian can't afford a pet, and besides, he doesn't even like cats. What good are they?

This one, like the others in the series, is also priced at $0.99. Here's the link on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Accidental-Kitten-Cat-Tales-Book-ebook/dp/B00X2P5YVK/

Hope you enjoy it! As long as you keep reading these Cat Tales, I'll keep writing them!


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Girly-girl things

I have never been a girly-girl.

I hated dolls at Christmas. I wanted farm sets, with tractors and barns and horses that went into toy stalls and corrals. I played with those for hours.

I never had a sister to show me how to do make-up. Instead, I had two brothers who showed me how to be tough.

Fast forward to present day. I am about the same. I would rather clean the chicken pen than fix dinner.



 I do enjoy getting my toenails painted (in the summer) but fingernails? Forget it.

I am daily grubbing in the dirt: planting, weeding, cutting blackberries, hiking, taking care of animals and basically getting dirty. (I love dirt.)

So when my daughter decided to host a Jamberry party, with lots of designer nails to choose from, I initially balked.

Not for me. I don't wear that kind of stuff.

But being a supportive mother, I decided to at least look through the designs.

And O.M.G. I LOVE them. I find myself dreaming about being a girly-girl now, and wearing, you know, actual "outfits" (instead of just my newest pair of jeans and clean t-shirt.)

And picking out designer nails to go with my "outfits." (They even have some nails with horses on them! But none with cats, at least that I could find.) But Flowers. Yes! Lots of Flowers.

Here are my favorites so far.

But I also like:



So what do you think? Which ones should I choose?

Is there any hope for me ever being a real Girly-Girl?

P.S. To see even more spectacular nails from Jamberry, here's the link to my daughter's site: http://Cali.jamberrynails.net

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Botanical Oddities

Nature fascinates me, and I love all growing things.
 
But this one is a real head-shaker.

First, note this lovely Hawaiian Tree Fern.
 
Stepping back, notice the lovely blooming azalea, and the small blue-grey Deodar Cedar in the foreground, as well as the branching oak to the left.
But is all as it seems?
 
 
That Oak Branch to the left? It is actually GROWING out of the trunk of the Tree Fern.
And the Deodar Cedar tree is also.
 
 
In fact, here are some more starts of both cedar and oak sprouting just above the large oak branch.
 
There is a large Cedar of this variety about thirty feet away, as well as many oaks quite close. So I suspect birds sat here and dropped the seeds. Or perhaps woodpeckers planted them there.
 
Anyone else have some plausible explanation? *cue spooky music*
 
File this one under: Life Will Find a Way.
 
What do you think happened?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Cat Who Came To Stay

A few weeks ago a friendly, half-grown bright orange cat wandered out of the woods below our house, meowing loudly. My husband was working there, and called the little thing to him. Then, kind man that he is, he cradled the small cat in his arms and walked it up the hill to me. "I think it's hungry," he said.




And indeed it was. The little orange cat tore into the dish of dry food like he hadn't eaten in a week. Then, starved for attention, he crawled into every lap he could find, and asked for all the petting we could give him.

But where did he come from? As the cat rested and made itself at home, I began calling neighbors (we don't have many) and even going further afield to some outlying houses. No one knew of a small orange cat.

Because we live in the country, I assumed that someone dumped this adorable cat. But then, he might have snuck under someone's vehicle and accidentally been transported from somewhere else. I watched the ads for awhile, and made some overtures to find an owner, but I kind of knew that was a lost cause.

We figured him to be about 4-5 months old. An absolutely gorgeous cat. We thought about keeping him, but that was a ridiculous idea. We were already overloaded with three lovely tabbies, and guess who's in charge of feeding and litter box duty?

Our cast of lovely felines included: Lucy, eleven years, our ex-barn cat, (found as a tiny kitten in a briar patch) who now arthritically totters around the house in her old age.

Lucy

Bugs, whose adorable face on the website of the local animal shelter made me drive there and bring him home.

Bugs

Fred, AKA Fred the Bad Cat, also adopted from the animal shelter. This cat morphed from trouble-making kitten to mouse and rat-killer extraordinaire.

Fred

How would my current cats take to a stranger? Alas, not well. When Fred walked in the door and spotted the orange newcomer, he began yodeling in an eerie, high-pitched "I will destroy the interloper" voice. It scared the heck out of me.

Little orange cat, however, just stretched out in the hallway and napped. "Do your worst," he seemed to say. "I'm pooped."

But I was sure a fight would happen soon. Would I have to lock them in separate rooms? Frantically, I phoned a couple of friends who had recently lost their old cats and might be ready for another. We had to find a home for this small cat. We could not keep him.

One couple came over and visited, but did not totally fall in love with him. "Take him with you," I pleaded. "Please." But the cat stayed.

Another friend offered to take the cat, but was leaving on a trip and wouldn't be back for 9 or 10 days. "Okay," I said, tentatively. "Maybe. Unless . . ."

I knew the window of cuteness was closing fast for this handsome young cat. Everyone wants adorable tiny kittens, and older cats are almost impossible to place. If I expected to find him a home, I needed to do it now. So I should have said "Yes. You can have him. Definitely."

 

The Toy Basket

But I am afraid to say (against all of our better judgment) that this little orange cat was worming his way right into our hearts. The first night he slept tucked up close against my husband. Then he proceeded to find every old bit of string or ancient toy mouse in the house and throw them up in the air for hours, before leaving them all over the hallway for us to trip on.

And of course I vaccinated him. And then I wormed him. And then I vaccinated him again, and got him a rabies shot. Now, he has an appointment to be neutered. Oh, did I mention that we named him Chester?

Chester

He and Fred are the best of friends now. They rumble all over this property, and tear through the house like wild ruffians every night. And I suppose we are now a four-cat family. *sigh*

People sometimes ask me where I get all of the ideas for my Cat Tales.

Silly People.

*grin*


Monday, March 9, 2015

Walking the Dog - again

For those of you who've been wanting to read this one, or for those who'd like to read it again -

Walking the Dog is once again available, sporting a brand new cover.


Can the school therapy dog help Sophie overcome her troubled past? Or will it take the friendship of a boy named Jared?

Filled with guidance dogs, shelter animals, and one memorable orange cat, this timeless tale will stir your emotions as two young friends learn to navigate the sometimes difficult waters of growing up.

Here's the link for the ebook: http://www.amazon.com/Walking-Dog-Linda-Benson-ebook/dp/B00UEXAP2G/

and it's also available in print: http://www.amazon.com/Walking-Dog-Linda-Benson/dp/1619378361/

Have you read this one?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

My Favorite Part

For those of you who write, or for those of you who wonder about writers, I'll bet you believe that the favorite part of it all is either a) finishing the first draft, b) finishing the final edits, or c) seeing the final, completed product either in paper or digital format for the first time.

And you are close! For an author, these are all great milestones, to be celebrated with a glass of wine, a hot bubble bath or perhaps flowers (if you're very lucky.)


But my very favorite part of being an author? Believe it or not, it's picking out the cover.

I've been published by two different publishers, with varying degrees of choice in the cover design of my books. One of these publishers just went out of business, releasing me from my contract on two back-list titles. Which was okay with me, because after re-releasing The Girl Who Remembered Horses under my own imprint, as well as the Cat Tales stories, I was more than ready to bring these two titles out into the world once more.

In fact, I absolutely relished the idea of finding new covers for both Walking the Dog and Six Degrees of Lost.

I work with a fabulous cover designer, who has taught me so much. She works, at the moment, solely for a donation to an equine rescue site, which makes us both feel good.

We discussed several pictures for the brand new cover of Walking the Dog. Besides the fact that we wanted a girl and a dog in the picture (which both had to have the right look) the picture also had to convey emotion, and portray the poignant feel of the story. The image had to fit on a vertical cover too, with room for both the title and author's name.

After the picture is chosen, then we must decide on the font choice, color of font, placement, etc. Lots of things go into making the right cover. But because I am a visual person, I love these choices. It suits another part of my creative side.

After much back and forth, here is the brand new cover for the upcoming re-release of my book Walking the Dog.



What do you all think? *insert loud clapping here for my cover designer, who pulled it all together so beautifully*

P.S. A print edition of this book (with the original cover) is available on Amazon right now. And this new digital edition will be out very soon! I will let you know when - stay tuned!