My Life With Gracie…A Season For Hands

A Season For Hands

This illustration is based on a previous “My Life With Gracie” drawing which has a blank neutral background. Each gives a different perspective.

Chickens love to be up high, and it is still a bit of a thrill for me to see one of them fly up to a perch above the others. Everyone has their favorite spot for perching. Bessie’s is my chair!

This love of heights all started when they are actually just chicks. They want to be on top of something, anything really, and look down. They feel safe. They feel accomplished. The entire world is just a hop and a flap away…or so they believe!

Children are like that too, at least at first, believing anything is possible for them.

But there are some cold hard realities in our world. For some, “anything is possible” becomes “something is possible” becomes “nothing is possible.”

Inside each homeless person you see on the street, inside each of us actually, is a child who at one time wanted so much to believe anything was possible for them.

Perhaps what scares us about someone less fortunate is we don’t want to face the possibility we could have been born as them. Maybe that is why we keep our distance, push them away, or don’t help when we could.

Unlike people, chickens don’t have the ability to help each other to do much of anything. Without hands, they can’t nudge or push or lift up each other. They only have wings to flap.

As baby chicks, Bessie was more advanced than Gracie. Bessie wanted to help, but all she was able to do was flap her wings and “peep” encouragement until her hatch-mate reached their new higher perch. She would hop and flap up, hop down. Hop and flap up, hop down. All the time peeping as if to say, “Do this! Just do this!”

If that didn’t work, she would try again later, and again and again if needed, until they were able to sit and admire the view from their higher perch together, side-by-side as friends. Bessie did the best she could without any hands to help Gracie who was much more timid and afraid. This was because of her hatching defects which made thing like this difficult.

Bessie never abandoned Gracie. I do believe she would have given up the wings she loves so much for a pair of hands if she could have used them to help Gracie get up to the highest possible perch alongside her.

Chicken world is not people world. But too often people world is not what people world could be and should be.

We can just stand on the sidelines “flapping and peeping” by offering only thoughts, prayers, and encouraging words…or we can instead use our hands, even if they get a little dirty and calloused, to help lift up someone who struggles to be where we are.

Regardless of our faith traditions, we can make a difference during this season of holidays.

My Life With Gracie made me appreciate being able to use my hands to lift up others.

I will do my best to post each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

A Season For Hands

My Life With Gracie…Perhaps The Perfect Gift

Perhaps The Perfect Gift

This illustration is based on a previous “My Life With Gracie” drawing which has a blank neutral background. Each gives a different perspective.

Thanksgiving Day makes it official each year. The holiday season has begun. For most people it is time to share a meal together with friends and family. It often also means sharing gift lists or at least gift hints for whichever wintertime holiday is next to be celebrated.

Some people, I believe, just seem to have a talent for always giving “the perfect gift.” For me, it is an elusive skill. Gifts never seem to work out as wonderfully as I imagine they will.

Yet this weekend, my chickens and I gave each other the perfect gift. We just sat with each other and enjoyed a pleasantly sunny Sunday afternoon.

With the changing time and fewer sunlight hours, there is little light when I leave for work and even less when I get home. There are no long pleasant summer evenings or shorter brisk fall evenings to sit and discuss what is on our minds or share what is in our hearts.

So Sunday afternoon was a wonderful and most perfect gift. It was our time to be, simply be, together.

It was exactly what all of us needed, and particularly Amelia who waited until the others had gone to take dust baths to have a private conversation alone with me.

For a moment and perhaps longer, I thought of how quickly time was passing. Her time and my time will one day end.

Perhaps chickens know this from the beginning, but it takes people longer to realize.

Even as little chicks, they had their special best friends with whom to perch on their favorite brick. Everything is right with the world when they are perched way up high on a brick with their best buddies! They value each moment together.

When Amelia and Emily came to live with me, all they brought with them was each other. That was all they had, and it was enough. How different the world of people would be if we never cared about taking things with us, and only cared about taking people we love with us.

Amelia and Emily will always spend time perching together, like Blanche and Pearl, like Gracie and Bessie. Mostly they just sit and share the experience of enjoying the world around them. Like old friends, though not really very old at all, they give each other comfort, warmth, and time together.

Perhaps the greatest gift we could ever give or receive is simply time together as friends.

What a terrible heartbreak it would be if we were to hear as someone’s last private words to us, “Couldn’t you spend just one hour with me?”

My Life With Gracie made me wonder if an invitation to perch might be a perfect gift.

I will do my best to post each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

Perhaps The Perfect Gift

My Life With Gracie…An Uncomfortable Truth

An Uncomfortable Truth

It had to come out sometime, but I still always kept the hope of never having to discuss it. Bessie was the first to find out. She was flabbergasted. People eat chicken eggs.

The topic came up after I helped Bessie put on the master chef’s hat and apron I had made for her. We were discussing how she wanted to help people learn to cook things like roasted pumpkin seeds for their chickens.

Then we started talking about corn which chickens also like, and I shared how people enjoy corn and cornbread. Bessie had never had cornbread, only corn. So she asked what was in cornbread.

Cornmeal. Wheat flour. A little sugar because we are in the south. Baking powder. Butter and buttermilk from cows. (We did have to take a side trip to discuss cows because by not being on a farm, none of them had ever seen a cow.) And, of course, eggs.

The word was out of my mouth before I had a chance to think. Eggs.

After a very long explanation, Bessie found peace with the uncomfortable truth of people (including me, their own Chicken Daddy) eating eggs. I will never forget her still-baffled voice when she said, “And all along, we thought you were just tidying up the nesting boxes!”

It did help to let her know without Lefty or The Emperor around, their eggs would never have real chicks inside to hatch. It also helped letting her know the people who received their eggs were truly grateful for all of their hard work and dedication. Everyone, absolutely everyone, said their eggs were superior in every way.

“This changes everything,” she said as she turned and walked away. “I’d better let the others know.”

After the longest time, she came back and began to set down certain rules while standing on my foot to make sure I had her full attention.

“If people are going to eat our eggs, then they’d better serve them on the best possible plates they’ve got in the house. No exceptions.”

So I brought out one of my Blue Willow plates for approval by all six chickens. I explained it was one my grandparents had owned and how I had eaten off it since I was a little boy. They were my favorite and most treasured plates.

Blue Willow Plate

Their unanimous decision was these plates would be suitable, particularly since they had two young chickens flying in the air. (Yes, I know these are actually not supposed to be chickens, and I know chickens can’t fly that way. But sometimes it’s not always wise to share too many uncomfortable truths in a single day.)

“If people are going to eat our eggs, then they’d better know how to cook them properly. No sloppy cooking.”

I reassured Bessie we would test every single one of her recipes until it was perfect in every possible way. I did let her know it might be wise to not completely guarantee success because not everyone would be able to use eggs produced by her and the others. We had mutual agreement about how less than superior eggs could produce less than superior results.

Then Bessie began to tell more about what she wanted to do as a master chef and the kinds of recipes she would like to share. She had originally wanted only recipes like roasted pumpkin seeds for people to make for their chickens, but now she also wanted recipes for people to make for themselves.

Her ideas were expansive and so very beautiful, designed to honor their eggs and all they did to produce them. She even wanted to create recipes that could be made for both chickens and people. I was amazed at her graciousness so soon after discovering what happens with eggs.

“One more rule. If people are going to eat our eggs, then there have to be pictures with the recipes, and I’m going to draw them so anybody, even a child, can follow my recipes.”

My eagerness to discover what would come next grew, but Bessie would say no more. She had clearly taken control over anything food-related and now drawing-related too!

All I could think to say was, “Yes, Chef.” And we both smiled.

My Life With Gracie (and especially Bessie) expanded my heart to new and unexpected possibilities.

I will do my best to post each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! This is the first post from a series. You may want to skip to the next post about Bessie’s dream of being a master chef.

An Uncomfortable Truth

My Life With Gracie…Thankfulness

Thankfulness

It was probably first-time Chicken Daddy ignorance, but in my rather shaky defense, there are no “Your First Chick” books the way there are “Your First Baby” books. So I had no idea you have to almost always cut things up for chickens to eat.

Sure, there are videos of chickens devouring whole vegetables bit by bit, peck by peck. Those are not my chickens. Mine have to have their vegetables cut up into pieces. Bite-sized pieces. I do this particularly for Emily who is the smallest and most perfect Little Lady ever. She needs dainty-sized pieces.

Although it may be tedious and tiresome, I do this each day because I love my chickens. This is also why I let them use my jeans and shoes to wipe off their beaks after they have finished eating. My chickens need me, even if it’s just to be their napkin.

I remember last Thanksgiving when they had their first pumpkin. I scooped out the seeds, held out a handful, and they all just looked at the seeds and looked at me as if to say, “Too big. So what are you going to do about it? We are hungry!”

And I’m sure they were. They had been eyeing their pumpkins for a few weeks with great curiosity and had watched all of the cutting apart with keen unblinking interest. They knew they were looking at seeds, just a lot larger than what they could handle.

And so I learned to roast pumpkin seeds which makes them smaller, intensifies their flavor, and gives them a pleasing crunch.

After learning this important lesson, I believed I was “home free.” All I needed to do was halve or quarter the pumpkin, and they would peck the flesh out and feast for days! But I was wrong. Again. It sat. For days. No one touched it. Not even an inquisitive peck.

And so I learned to blanch (and also freeze) pumpkin flesh which makes it softer while preserving the color and nutrition.

From these and other experiences, I’ve learned I am a lot more like my chickens than I want to admit. For most of my life, I’ve considered myself to be a very self-sufficient person. It’s not easy to ask for help, particularly when it’s something most people are expected to know how to do for themselves.

Over the years, I’ve learned to be thankful for help received along the way, but I never really considered being thankful for the need itself, the need for anyone’s help the way my chickens need my help.

Being thankful for need and lack seems strange at first. Yet I think perhaps there is a place to be thankful for all of the things I am unable to do on my own. They point my focus towards the Greatest and Only Helper for my chickens and for me.

My Life With Gracie gave me a truly thankful heart for everything I am unable to do on my own.

I will do my best to post each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

Thankfulness

My Life With Gracie…Gleaning Wisdom

Gleaning Wisdom

This illustration is based on my fourth “My Life With Gracie” drawing. It is still one of my favorites because it is the first one of Gracie dancing. You can see this illustration has a lot more happening!

Pomegranate seeds are a treat my chickens enjoy in autumn. These are never passed up, and that is what made me wonder if there was something wrong.

For a few weeks, I’ve noticed leftover corn kernels or fruit pieces in their run at the end of the day when I went to secure them in their coop for the night. I had just assumed they were given too much, more than they could eat. But the leftovers were gone in the morning.

This was a bit of a mystery, but I really didn’t give it much thought until the leftovers included some of their prized pomegranate seeds. What was going on?

So as I was making sure everyone was snugly in their coop for the night, I questioned Gracie about this. At first she seemed a bit embarrassed as they all looked at each other, unsure what to say.

Finally Gracie explained it had been her idea for them to leave food behind for the field mice who visit them at night. With all of the rain we have had, it was more difficult for them to gather food for themselves and their little ones.

So I quickly told them not to worry because they had been doing a wonderful kindness.

All looked quite relieved, and moved a bit closer to me when I said, “You know, that sounds like something The Rose Garden Princess would do.”

And just like that, we were all wrapped up in Gracie’s dream.

(For those of you who are new readers, Gracie wants to be a ballerina more than just about anything, and “The Rose Garden Princess” is a ballet project we are creating for her.)

Yes, kindness to strangers and wanderers is an ancient tradition of the Princesses who live in The Great Garden. (Feather’s rustled happily because they all could be princesses for the ballet.)

“Remember when you had no home of your own” is ancient chicken wisdom once heard long ago and passed down from momma hens to chicks. (Suddenly there were disappointed expressions on every face. But why? Then I realized they remembered never having a momma hen to teach them anything.)

I paused the story to let them know how proud I was of them for knowing this on their own without the guidance of a momma hen. They were all truly wise chickens indeed. (Everyone smiled and sat a bit taller. They were definitely feeling their parts in the ballet.)

And so one autumn evening the hungry field mice scampered into The Great Garden and began to jump and run about, grabbing scraps of food that the Princesses had not eaten. The Princesses were startled and became frantic because their peaceful garden home was being overrun by mice. (Together they pretended to be surprised in the most adorable way.)

Although much smaller, the field mice moved much faster and could hide in the tiniest and most unexpected places. More than either of those things, they were scary because they were different. They didn’t have beaks and wings. Instead they had sharp teeth and grabbing hands! (Serious shivers spread from one chicken to another, and Emily hid her head under her wing. Pearl hid her head under Blanche’s wing.)

But do you know what The Rose Garden Princess did? (Everyone leaned forward to hear better. Gracie moved closest of all, even though she started to feel a draft where her fluff feathers had molted.)

The Rose Garden Princess made promises with the field mice. They could come each evening to collect food left for them. In return the field mice would use their teeth to cut flowers from the garden and hold them as banners when The Rose Garden Princess and the other Princesses danced in the moonlight. (Joyful wings applauded along the perch at this delightful turn of events!)

Although it took a great deal of practice, what a grand and amazing dance it was! Some of the smallest field mice entered first, scampering and leaping in unison. They were joined by more field mice who carried flowers like banners. Then the Princesses began to dance onto the stage.

It all made for a great and dramatic spectacle, unfolding in The Great Garden as more and more mice and more and more Princesses joined in the procession. Mice carrying daisies, and then the Daisy Princesses. Mice carrying daffodils, and then the Daffodil Princesses. On and on it went, and each seemed more beautiful than the last.

Finally when everyone was certain there was no way for the dance to be any more breathtaking, The Rose Garden Princess appeared! (My chickens could not hold back their enthusiasm any longer. The sounds of their delight filled my little backyard garden.)

We all said “good night,” and they huddled closer together for warmth. It was going to be a chilly night, but not in our hearts.

There were a few still-excited whispers about who would dance as Daisy Princesses and who would dance as Daffodil Princesses and so on. Everyone was unanimous only Gracie could be The Rose Garden Princess as she had already led them in showing unselfish kindness towards others.

My Life With Gracie taught me always to have a generous and welcoming heart.

I will do my best to post each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! Right now I am revisiting some of my earlier cartoon illustrations and giving them a different twist.

Gleaning Wisdom

My Life With Gracie…About Diving In!

About Diving In!

This illustration is based on my third “My Life With Gracie” drawing. It is still one of my favorites because it reminds me of the joy of having a baby chick standing on top of my foot for the first time, but here I’ve added the joy of watching them explore the world for the first time.

From his first day out of his shell, Lefty believed that the world was made just for him. He loved to explore, and he didn’t want to miss a thing. He always tried to be everywhere at once, and almost succeeded too!

As a chick, he was at his top exploring speed non-stop throughout the day! Eventually he would wear himself out and just do a “splat”! He would flop down wherever he was with his wings and legs spread out and just instantly fall asleep.

Once his nap was over, he was up and moving full-speed again. He didn’t want to miss anything!

He was first to try whatever was new or different. Where others might hop up on top of my shoe to warily check out something, Lefty would hop up and use my shoe as a jumping off spot to dive right into it!

I miss that little guy, but I’m glad he is on a nice farm where he can crow and cock-a-doodle-do as much as he wants. I’m sure he has explored every possible inch of his new home too!

Lefty would always run as fast as he could back and forth along the fencing of the run with one foot on the fencing support and one foot on the ground.

To me, it would make more sense to have both feet running on the ground to move more smoothly and quickly rather than the clunky, uneven hobbling up-and-down, up-and-down movement. Then again, I’m not thinking like a chicken.

Soon after he moved out, Bessie took over his leadership role. It was an amazing transformation. She remembered how he ran along the run, keeping watch, exploring constantly, and so Bessie started doing the same things, even imitating his clunky up-and-down way of running next to the fence. I had to tell Bessie, just like I had told Lefty, “Slow down before you hurt yourself!” Neither of them ever listened to me.

But when you are excited and curious and hyper-alert, does it really make much of a difference? Where I might be concerned about looking silly or awkward or failing, chickens truly don’t seem to care. They don’t want to miss a thing!

So what is holding any of us back? And why even waste time bothering to answer that question? (Or that question!) Right now we could be exploring what we might never have another opportunity to experience. What’s the worst that can happen? Maybe we wear ourselves out and have to take a “splat” nap!

Dive in! Find out what’s at the bottom of that pile of leaves! Hey! Maybe I really am thinking like a chicken after all! The whole fullness of the world is waiting to be explored!

My Life With Gracie encouraged me to dive right in more often!

I will do my best to post each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! Right now I am revisiting some of my earlier cartoon illustrations and giving them a different twist. This one is inspired by all of you who don’t ever want to miss out on anything! (You know who you are!)

About Diving In!

My Life With Gracie…Kinds Of Beauty

Kinds Of Beauty

This illustration is based on my second “My Life With Gracie” drawing. It is still one of my favorites because it shows all six of my chickens as I think of them so often…just little chicks in awe of the world around them.

We are born with that same sense of awe as well, but at some point in life, it is often lost. Maybe a part of ourselves is lost along with it too.

What causes us to lose our sense of wonder? It may happen when we stop looking outwardly and begin to compare ourselves to others.

My neighborhood is home to so many songbirds, and they are almost always seen or at least heard in my yard. Yet my chickens never compare themselves to the songbirds. They never feel badly because they can’t sing like them, though they do have their own kind of singing. They never even try to imitate songbirds. But I do think they look, listen, and appreciate.

My house is right across the street from a vacant lot and a branch of the river. It’s marshy, and from time to time, tall graceful white egrets are wading there. My chickens watch them with interest, but they never try to walk like them or stand gracefully like them. But I do imagine they might like to go fishing or frogging with them!

My chickens don’t compare themselves to other birds. They don’t even compare themselves to each other. They are just fine being chickens, and they are just fine being who they are.

Even if a peacock came into the yard and presented a great display of feathers, their reaction would most likely be “Ho-Hum…I’ll bet all of those feathers get in the way of catching crickets.”

They don’t worry about being great singers, moving gracefully, or looking beautiful in the eyes of anyone else. Yet to me, they are all of these things and more, so much more.

Comparisons can be quite ugly when they make us doubt our own value, when they make us feel unworthy of life and unworthy of love. Comparisons can be even more ugly when we use them to try to make ourselves feel superior to someone else.

Oddly enough, the more you stand is awe and wonder of the beauty around you without any self-awareness, the more beautiful you become.

Everything and every person has their own unique kind of beauty. It’s there if you look for it. You are your own kind of beauty, and the world needs your kind of beauty.

My Life With Gracie taught me there are more kinds of beauty than we can ever count.

I will do my best to post each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

Kinds Of Beauty

Family Photo Friday!

Family Photo Friday

While I normally say “Hold onto your hearts!” for the photos shared on Fridays, this one is more like “Come and get it!”

This is a photo of one of Blanche’s first eggs. You can figure out which one is hers, right? Just as a refresher, you may remember from the last “Family Photo Friday,” I told you about Blanche’s plan to eat until she became to largest chicken ever. Well, that is just about the largest chicken egg ever! And it turned out to be a double yolk egg too!

Double yolk eggs happen most often when hens are just beginning to lay eggs while their bodies are still getting accustomed to the whole process. After all, there is a lot involved they need to get right! Plus it takes about 26 hours from start to finish to produce just one egg.

Since they lay later and later each day with this 26-hour cycle, eventually a hen will lay so late in the day they won’t start the whole process again until their body clocks sort of does a “reset” based on daylight. Then they begin laying early in the morning again. In the meantime, the get a well-deserved “day off”!

Blanche really struggled with this egg for an uncomfortably long time, and I’m sure you can see why. Not only was she still very new to laying eggs, but this one was huge compared to the ones beside it laid by Gracie and Bessie who were still larger than Blanche at the time. (But no longer!)

One of the things I always try to remember to do when I’m collecting eggs is to be thankful. I’m sure there are plenty of other things they would rather be doing other than laying eggs for me!

Once you have collected a still-warm egg from a hen’s nest, you may never look at at chickens or eggs the same. Both are gifts and treasures.

You can read more about all of my chickens on this page.

I will do my best to post each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

My Life With Gracie…From The Heart

From The Heart

This illustration is based on my first “My Life With Gracie” drawing. It is still one of my favorites of Gracie because of it’s simplicity and innocence. Even with an elaborate background, this drawing reminds me how we can be both helpless and hopeful at the same time. Perhaps this is one of life’s delicate balances which must be maintained to move forward.

Every morning, in the early morning, my chickens begin to stir. They are waiting for the sun to come up and give them enough light to see. They are reminded of their limited sight as soon as they wake up at the start of each day. This is because they are unable to see in darkness or even in dim light.

They are listening for the sound of the back door opening which means I’m on my way to open up their coop, give them their morning breakfast of fresh vegetables, and help them down the ladder if it’s still too dark for them to see clearly.

They hear the back door, and their first low soft peeps are almost imperceptible unless you are listening for them. They are speaking from their hearts both timidly and hopefully.

They want to know if it’s a predator they hear or if it’s really me coming to greet them into their new day.

Once they hear me talking to them, even though they can’t see me, they seem relieved and are eager to discover which of their favorites are in their morning breakfast salad.

Are we like blind chickens in the dim early morning light?

Do we recognize life is so much bigger than we are and can suddenly spin out of control or be lost in an instant? Yet do we also sense life has a grand design? And if a design, then a designer who desires it all to succeed?

Perhaps unlike chickens, we can too easily be blind to our own blindness.

My Life With Gracie taught me the importance of speaking from my heart even if doing so reveals my helplessness and hopefulness.

I will do my best to post each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

From The Heart