True Iridescence

True Iridescence

“Why do you always draw me small? Like I’m still a just-hatched chick?” asked Emily as she peered over my sketch pad.

I thought about this for a moment because I wasn’t completely sure how to answer.

“I draw everyone as a just-hatched chick sometimes, even Gracie.”

“Yes, I know, but you’ve never drawn me as a grown-up hen with my comb and wattles and everything.”

“That’s true.”

“So?”

Emily is seldom persistent like this. She only gets this way when it’s something really important like when everyone else isn’t giving her space to eat breakfast salad or mealworms. It is not always easy for her because she is the smallest.

“Maybe part of the reason is I never really saw you growing up every day like the others. I used to visit you and Amelia when you were little. You probably don’t remember because the world was so new to you then, but I did.

“There were twenty-four of you in that huge brooder box and playpen. There was so much going on all of the time. It was tough to keep track of who was who, except for Amelia. She liked to fly up to the top of the play pen and walk around.”

“Yes, I remember. There were a lot of us. But I didn’t stand out from the others did I? Not the way Amelia did?”

Her heart would have loved for me to say I had picked her out right from the beginning as a very special baby chick, but I had to be truthful.

“What matters is how you stand out now. Even with people, it’s not easy to see who is special in a crowd. It takes time and time together.”

“So it’s not because I’m smaller than all of the others?”

“No, not at all.”

“Is there anything else?”

“Well, when I draw you so young, it helps me imagine you as if you had always lived here with me from your very first day. Sometimes I wish you and Amelia had been here with me from the beginning.

“But if you had been here with me from the beginning, I would not have been able to choose you. I like how I was able to choose you because of who you are rather than who you might become after you got here.”

She seemed pleased with all of this and turned to look for sunflower kernels.

“And Emily, to be totally honest, I’m not sure I can draw your grown-up hen feathers as beautifully as they truly need to be drawn. I don’t know how to draw iridescence, and everything about you is iridescent.”

She stood a little taller and poked out her breast a little farther. “You always know exactly what to say.”

“I just speak from my heart, Emily, and my heart adores everything about you.”

My Life With Gracie (and especially Emily) taught me the biggest hearts are often covered with iridescent feathers.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

Life Questions

Life Questions

I have heard people say, “I hate my life.” Perhaps many of us have felt this way at some time. But what does this mean?

In the evening when I secure my chickens in their coop for the night to keep them safe from predators, we say our evening prayers. We pray to sleep well and warm, to be healthy and whole, and to be free from harm.

On some tough days, I may add, “Help us to love the life we have been given.”

This time last year, I had taken in Emily and Amelia, two refugee chickens. Every day they were accustomed to having time to run and fly free out in the country with a large double lot backyard.

I wondered if they were thinking “My life is miserable now.”

At first, I built a small temporary coop and run for just Emily and Amelia, then I worked on a large one to hold all six chickens. It was rather confining for the two of them, and not large enough for me to get inside and become better acquainted with them.

They were just a few feet away from the coop and run for Gracie, Bessie, Blanche, and Pearl. So they did have a chance to get used to seeing each other and talking with each other. They all began to sound more alike as “country chicken” and “city chicken” dialects blended.

When the large new coop and run were completed, it was finally time to join everyone together into one flock in their new home.

Emily moved in first. She seemed to panic a bit because she was separated from Amelia for the first time ever, but that was only for a few minutes. Her curiosity took over and she began exploring.

Amelia moved in next. When I picked her up she felt much lighter than I had expected. Later I realized she likes to fluff out her feathers for extra warmth and also to look bigger and braver than she really might be.

When I placed her down inside her new home, she didn’t run off to see what Emily was doing. Instead, she looked up at me and hopped straight up into the air. She hopped no more than six inches off of the ground which was all her plump little body would allow without any extra wing-flapping.

This was her way of saying, “Please pick me up and hold me.” In a single moment, she had captured my heart forever.

Having Emily and Amelia join our backyard flock helped me see how “my life” means several different things.

There is “my life which others have made for me.” This is based on the choices others have made. Some have had our best interests at heart, but others have not. This was Emily and Amelia moving from the country to the city.

There is “my life which I have made.” This is based on the choices we have made, the things we have done and left undone. This was Emily and Amelia being friends for each other and eventually Gracie and the others.

Finally there is “my life which I have been given.” This is based on who we are deep inside. It is made of those things which will always be there regardless of the choices others make for us or we make for ourselves. This was Emily and Amelia before they even hatched.

“My life which I have been given” is a wellspring of hope when we tap into it. This is who we are at our core whether we are free or confined, rich or poor, sick or healthy. It is who we are before people and circumstances begin to shape us or before we even begin to shape ourselves. This was what made Amelia need to be picked up and held. This was what made me need to pick her up and hold her too.

Perhaps we are most content when “the life others have made for us” and “the life we have made for ourselves” work in harmony with “the life we have been given.” But that isn’t always possible. Nevertheless, we can help and encourage each other along the way.

My Life With Gracie (and Emily and Amelia) helped me to think more deeply about the life I have been given.

Making new illustrations which will work better in print is taking some time. Hopefully you can see a difference in this Illustration and the one from last Saturday. Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

How To Draw Friendship

How To Draw Friendship

“What are you doing?” asked Gracie.

It was an unexpectedly warm spring evening, and I was enjoying being outside with my chickens.

“I’m reworking some of the drawings I made of you.”

“That’s odd. Why would you do that? Why not just work on something new?”

“I need to redraw them so they can print better. The ones I’ve been making will print too fuzzy, and you aren’t a fuzzy chicken.”

Gracie tilted her head, trying to figure out what a fuzzy chicken might look like. She didn’t understand digital graphics and the printing process, and I don’t understand it all either.

“Can I see?” she asked.

“Sure. What do you think?” I held up my iPad and she studied my drawings carefully.

“Is that supposed to be me?” she asked. “And is that supposed to be Bessie?”

“Yes. Don’t you like the drawings?”

“Well, I guess they are okay. If that’s what you’re going for. I like it better when you draw on paper with a pencil.”

“What’s the difference?”

“You’ve got everything in there and it doesn’t fit together. Too many big colors. Too many little shapes. Too many of everything! People aren’t going to be able to find us.”

“You’re sure? I took art classes, a lot of art classes.”

Gracie shook her head sadly. My drawings just weren’t going to receive her approval. But I did trust what she had to say. I wanted her to be pleased with my drawings, even if no one else was. These were drawings of her and for her.

“So what do you suggest?” I asked.

“Well, the colors are the main thing. You’re picking colors you like, not colors we like.”

“I see. So what colors do you like?”

“Colors that go with our feathers. Colors that go with our eggs. Soft colors. Hen colors, not rooster colors.”

“I think I see what you mean.”

“So why is it important that they print better?”

I was hoping she would have forgotten that part, but she is a very curious chicken.

“It’s a surprise, Gracie.”

“For me?”

“Yes, it’s a surprise for everyone who knows us really, but it is especially a surprise for you and Bessie. Your Hatchday, the day you and Bessie hatched out of your eggs, is next month.”

“Well, I don’t want to hurt your feelings or anything, but these drawings need to be good, and not just good for printing.”

“What makes a good drawing?”

“A good drawing makes people feel something when they look at it. A good drawing of chickens has to make people feel something good when they look at it.”

“What makes you feel good, Gracie?”

“Friendship.”

“Like with you and Bessie?”

“Yes, exactly. Draw Bessie and me and our friendship. Use colors that go with our feathers and go with our eggs. People will like those drawings.”

“Anything else?”

“It would be nice if there were little flowers sometimes. We are girls, and girls like flowers. Girls especially like flowers we can eat.”

“I understand.”

“That’s all. Just draw friendship. Chickens know a lot about friendship…and nice colors.”

Gracie had said all she wanted to say and went off nonchalantly to find something to eat before going up for the night.

I knew she was eager to see the new drawings I would make following her advice. She just wouldn’t let on about how eager she really was.

As I was securing the coop for the night, I asked, “Are you sure you didn’t take art classes, Gracie?”

She chuckled. “You’re being silly again!”

“You’re right. I just got carried away with adding more and more because…well, because so many good things come into my heart when I am drawing you. I didn’t realize all I needed to do was simply to draw friendship.”

“And…?”

“And I’m not going to tell you what your Hatchday surprise is!”

Then it was my turn to walk away nonchalantly.

My life with Gracie taught me girls like flowers and especially little flowers they can eat. (I just would NOT recommend following this advice when choosing a gift unless it’s a gift for a chicken.)

You will notice a few subtle differences in today’s illustration. Perhaps the greatest is the use of highlights in their eyes which give the drawing an extra bit of “life” not possible with the crayon tool I was using before. Gracie has seen and approved today’s drawing. (Deep sigh of relief!)

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

The Trouble With Words

The Trouble With Words

Gracie was quite emphatic that we had to do something immediately. We had to help The Big Boy at the end of the street because he needed eyeglasses much more than the new bicycle he had gotten for Christmas.

As with most concerns which my chickens have kept to themselves, it often takes a good deal of questioning to get to the bottom of the real story.

She insisted we had to take up a collection or have a yard sale or a bake sale or something to raise money for The Big Boy’s eyeglasses. It was causing The Little Boy at the end of the street a great deal of stress and tears.

Chickens may not totally understand and they may often misinterpret, but you do have to appreciate their caring hearts.

“Gracie, tell me why you think The Big Boy at the end of the street needs glasses.”

“He keeps telling The Little Boy ‘You’re a chicken,’ when he is clearly not a chicken. He is a boy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, The Big Boy will ride his new Christmas bicycle back and forth in the street and in circles around The Little Boy and say ‘Chicken! Chicken! Chicken!’”

“I see. Does The Little Boy ever ride his own new Christmas bicycle back and forth in the street.”

“No.”

“Not even a little?”

“No. We’ve seen him rolling it when The Big Boy is not around.”

“I see.”

This was not going to be an easy explanation.

“Gracie, it’s like this. He was calling his little brother ‘Chicken!’ because he was afraid to ride the new bike he got for Christmas.”

Gracie looked very puzzled.

“Gracie, when people say ‘You’re a chicken,’ it is like saying, ‘You’re afraid.’”

“People think that about chickens? That we are afraid?”

“Well, not all people, but some people.”

Gracie sat down in a huff. “That is very insulting to chickens!”

“I know.”

“And they need to stop doing that!”

“I know, Sweetie.”

“Why do they do that?”

“Well, I think The Big Boy wanted The Little Boy to get up the courage to ride his new bicycle and not worry about falling off or crashing.”

“So he was trying to help him?” she said, still perplexed.

“Yes, I guess you could say it that way.”

“And he was helping him by pretending he couldn’t see well enough to tell he was a little boy and not a chicken,” she said, still doubting this whole confusing situation.

“Yes. Sort of like that.”

“I will never understand people.”

“I agree with you. Neither will I.”

We both chuckled and shook our heads.

“Gracie, I love you.”

“What’s not to love? I’m a chicken!”

“Yes, that’s it, Gracie! He was calling his little brother a chicken because he loved him. He didn’t want the even bigger boys to pick on him even more.”

“So it was a good thing?”

“Well, is being a chicken a good thing?”

“Absolutely!”

“You are so right, Gracie. And I would never call you a scaredy cat.”

The same puzzled look came over her face again, but she quickly decided to leave her “scaredy cat” questions for another day.

My Life With Gracie taught me the importance of saying what you mean and meaning what you say.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

Family Photo Friday!

Family Photo Friday

This is probably a “hold onto your heart” photo even though it doesn’t have any cute baby chicks in it. I came across this while considering how to bring some of these posts together into a possible book. This photo is both sad and happy for me, though much more happy than sad. I still miss these two that I raised from hatchlings, but their new home was what was best for them.

In the foreground is Lefty, my big boy who had begun to crow and had to move out to the country. (Roosters aren’t allowed in my city, only no more than six hens.) Then there is Rudy who I had to take to be with him for companionship. (As bold and sure of himself as he was, he got very lonely very quickly! Since then, they have raised many baby chicks of their own.) In the back is Otis, a big gentle dog. He was genuinely glad to have his own chickens to watch over and protect from predators.

Lefty and Rudy were the start of a real farm. Their new family then added more chickens and eventually ducks, quail, pigs, and goats. This week, they have been caring for and bottle-feeding a baby calf who lost her momma.

It’s interesting how things often have a way of turning out for the best all by themselves. Lefty is finally the real “cock-a-doodle-doing” farm rooster he was hatched to be!

If you’re thinking of starting a farm, just get a big gentle farm dog like Otis and a spirited rooster like Lefty. The rest just might fall into place!

Pearl’s Life Coaching Flowchart #2

Pearl's Life Coaching Flowchart #2

With spring slowly coming to our part of the world and daffodils blooming in our little backyard garden, Pearl thought it might be good to offer a little help with answering one of life’s most challenging questions: “How can I have more joy in my life?” So she has prepared her second flowchart as a “Life Coach.” (You can read her first flowchart here if you’d like.)

It’s also a great opportunity to wear her new Daffodil hat. If you don’t have a Daffodil hat of your own, you may consider making one. If Pearl can do it, so can you!

Please keep in mind this is all from Pearl’s unique chicken perspective. Whether or not this carries over to a human perspective is something you can decide for yourself.

Special Note: Pearl is planning to have “Ode To Joy” from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony playing in the background when she delivers this message at our local university.

Let’s get started. Go Beethoven! Go Pearl! (She will be using Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” as her flowchart test item.)

“Can you eat it?”

Since Pearl is a chicken, and eating is something chickens and people both have in common, this seems to be a good place to start.

You’ll notice Pearl doesn’t ask whether it tastes good or not. There are very few things a chicken won’t eat, and what they won’t eat, there’s almost always another animal that will eat it. (You would be amazed at the number of things chickens will not eat but which people will eat!)

Pearl’s Bottom Line: Things you can eat are definitely a reason to jump for joy!

You cannot eat a song like Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy.” Well, I guess you could eat the sheet music if you were truly desperate. But you can eat something else while listening to Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy.” To be fair, we should count that as a “No.”

“Will you be able to eat it later?”

This is more important than you might think. Just because you can’t eat something today, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to eat it tomorrow. Never forget shoelaces can turn into earthworms!

Often things just need a little time to get soft and mushy and ripe. For example, a hard green tomato will turn into a soft red ripe tomato if you give it some time.

So if your answer is “Yes,” you have a reason to jump for joy. Even if you can only give it a “Maybe,” don’t despair. There’s always tomorrow.

Pearl’s Bottom Line: Everything deserves another chance to become food for chickens.

Nevertheless, you cannot eat Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” or the sheet music no matter how many times you say “Maybe” and wait. Looks like another “No.”

“Can it eat you?”

Now we are getting to the flip side of this whole eating thing. Just because you can’t eat it, doesn’t mean it can’t eat you!

So if it can’t eat you, that’s definitely a reason to jump for joy even if you can’t eat it. If it can eat you, proceed with caution!

Pearl’s Bottom Line: If you can’t eat it, and it can’t eat you, then you are safe even though everybody’s stomach might be grumbling. Jump for joy just a little, and then go find something to eat!

Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” cannot eat you…unless it is being played on an accordion by a very gifted bear. If that is the case, continue on with “Yes.”

“Has it eaten you yet?”

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve got reason to celebrate! You haven’t become someone’s dinner! Jump for joy…and then run!

Pearl’s Bottom Line: Just look around, and you’ll probably find more reasons to jump for joy than you can count! Pearl’s own “Ode To Joy” has triumphed in the end!

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

The Evil King Of Darkest Night

The Evil King Of Darkest Night

This is the next in a series about Gracie’s dream of one day being a ballerina. It follows this portion of the story which introduces the field mice and this portion of the story which introduced The Evil King and Air Shadows without showing how they look.

A gray rainy and overcast day seemed perfect to continue working out the story of our ballet about The Rose Garden Princess. I began by reassuring timid little Emily if there happened to be a real-life Evil King, we would be able to smell him before he got anywhere near us. Nothing smells worse than a wet rat or opossum or raccoon or any other type of predator you can imagine!

(Everyone raised their beaks into the air as high as they could and sniffed.)

All seemed safe and so we entered Gracie’s dream again.

“I smell chickens!” bellowed the Evil King Of Darkest Night. “Smelly filthy nasty dirty chickens!”

He sniffed and wiggled his nose in all directions to pick up the smell of The Garden Princesses.

(Gracie and all of the others hunkered down with barely their beaks peaking out from their feathery pile.)

“Do we really smell that bad?” asked Emily who is always concerned about being as perfect a lady as possible.

“No, absolutely not. You smell wonderfully sweet,” I reassured her. “But sometimes evil characters say things to make you doubt yourself so they can take advantage of you.”

(Everyone nodded in agreement.)

“I will find you miserable chickens!” he screeched. “And when I do I will carry you away with me. You will lay eggs for me until you can’t lay any more eggs, and then I’m going to eat you! I will eat every last one of you! The last sound the last of you will ever hear will be the crunching of the bones of the others who have been gobbled up first!”

(Everyone muttered, “That awful beast! Chicken thief! Murderer!” But no one said it very loudly. After all, there really might be an Evil King Of Darkest Night.)

As he slowly moved through the Great Garden, all of the flowers that the Garden Princesses loved began to wither and turn to ashes. The Air Shadows swirled around The Evil King Of Darkness faster and faster as each carefully tended collection of beauty was destroyed.

(All of my chickens were silent. They did not know what to say.)

Finally Amelia spoke up. “You’re going to tell us he made it to the center of The Great Garden, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“And that he captured The Garden Princesses,” added Emily.

“Yes.”

“Will The Rose Garden Princess and the other Princesses dance in this part of the ballet?” asked Gracie. I could tell she was working out the choreography and costuming in her creative mind.

“I’m not sure. What do you think?”

“I think for this part the audience needs to stop and really think about what the world would be like if there was no beauty and no joy,” she said.

The others began to imagine it too, and I could tell they were more afraid of that kind of existence than they were of The Evil King Of Darkest Night.

Gracie continued, “Even if we had The Garden Princesses dancing as prisoners in this part, there would still be something pretty on the stage. We need the audience to think and think again of a world where there is no hope and no love.”

I considered what she was saying and then realized how right she was. “I understand exactly what you mean, Gracie. Beauty will always be beautiful even if held prisoner, even if sick and dying, even if crippled and unable to dance.

”There is something beautiful in the light of life itself.

“We really could have a world with no beauty or joy, with no hope or love. But if we don’t stop to think about how a world like that can creep up on us bit by bit, then it will be too late.”

“Air Shadows!” they all exclaimed at once.

“Yes!” I said in surprise. “It’s the things we can’t see which can take away beauty, joy, hope, and love that are truly scary. When those are gone and only shadows and memories remain, that is even scarier.”

I looked at each of them one by one and then said, “I can’t imagine my little backyard garden without the six of you and the beauty you bring into my life. Sleep well, my little princesses.”

And so I went back inside and drew a picture of a world without chickens to illustrate this part of their ballet about The Rose Garden Princess. It was not easy to draw. I wanted to include at least a hint of tail-feathers rushing away and off of the stage. But, no.

It made me sad to imagine a world with no beauty anywhere, not even the memory of beauty and love. There is something beautiful even in just their remembrances which are held like a treasure and locked away in our minds.

Without even those memories, what kind of existence would that be? It would be like falling into an endless black hole of fear and hopelessness. That is the scariest of all.

My Life With Gracie made me aware of how the world is not always a loving place.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

Family Photo Friday!

Family Photo Friday

Hold onto your heart, and get ready to count! How many baby chicks can you find in this photo? Believe it or not, there are fourteen!

This was taken when Gracie and her hatchmates were not even a month old while out for a backyard excursion. The portable playpen kept their exploration confined so I wasn’t chasing baby chicks in a dozen different directions.

After a long period of playing, everyone decided it would be good to take a nap in the last sunny spot left for them as their play area became filled with shadows. You can see how they like to cuddle up close and how they sometimes like to rest their heads on one another.

These were some of the best days of my life. It was when the answer to the question, “What are you going to do today?” always had the answer, “I’m going to take my chickens outside to play!”

Those were wonderful days when my little chicks were learning about their world and I was learning about them. They were such joyful days for all of us.

And if you weren’t able to find all fourteen, did you find the one little chick who fell asleep before making it to the others?