“Just Farm Animals” (Part 1)

Just Farm Amimals

Evenings spent with my chickens are the best part of almost any day. We share a treat of some fresh fruit and recount the day’s events or simply discuss whatever is on our minds.

“So Gracie, what is the best thing about being a chicken?”

“Well, I guess the best thing about being a chicken is being a chicken.”

She clucked at her cleverness.

“Chickens get to hunt for worms. I love the joy and anticipation of running with a worm I’ve just found. What is the best thing about being a person?”

“That is a tough question.”

“And you can’t just say ‘the best thing about being a person is being a person.’ You would just be copying me!”

“The best thing about being a person is watching chickens running with a worm they just found. That’s not really copying you, is it? Gracie, you are certainly in a fun mood today.”

“I guess so. Maybe not. But don’t change the subject. I do think it’s a good question even though the answer can’t change anything.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if it is the best, it is at the top. You can’t get any better. Ask about what is the worst. Then you have something to work on. You can get better then.”

“I see what you mean. So what is the worst thing about being a chicken?”

“Sometimes we care about people, but they don’t care about us,” she said without hesitating.

“I think that may be the worst thing about being a person too. When other people don’t care about you.”

We looked off together towards the part of the yard that had gotten overgrown over the years. It made a nice place for traveling birds like starlings and crows and thrushes to stop and rest as they came through our neighborhood, but we didn’t see any just then.

I enjoyed moments like this when Gracie and I shared things in common like how important is was to know we are cared for.

“After all, we are just farm animals,” she muttered. “Just farm animals.”

Our moment of connectedness was broken.

She looked down at the ground searching for nothing in particular, and then she moved as if to get up.

My Life With Gracie taught me words can make everything in our world change in an instant.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. This post felt too long, and so it is divided into two parts. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

Emily’s Summer Drawing Camp (Part 2)

Emily's Summer Drawing Camp

This story may become part of the book I hope to write about Amelia’s journey to find out if she can be lost but not afraid. It is a continuation of the last part I shared here. With chickens, anything can happen.

“I want to draw Amelia,” she repeated more emphatically. Emily seemed startled by her own boldness. “You will teach me, won’t you?”

“There is nothing I would rather do,” I said.

Just like that, Emily’s Summer Drawing Camp began. Over the next few days, we looked at shapes and drew shapes.

There was the oval of an egg when you looked at it one way, and the circle of an egg when you looked at it another way. Emily thought this was fascinating. “One egg, but not one shape. I lay eggs all the time, but I never noticed that.”

“You’ve just discovered one of the biggest secrets of drawing. Look and study and look again. There are a lot of people who have never been to Summer Drawing Camp like you. Even so, they can tell whether something looks right or wrong, but they can’t tell you what it is or why. That is what you are learning to do.”

Worms from the garden were one of her most favorite subjects. These were difficult for her to draw because they kept moving, and she had to resist the urge to eat them.

“I love studying these shapes!”

“I thought you would,” I said as she was gobbling down her last worm model.

“Did you know chickens change shapes all the time? You make different shapes when you stretch out your necks or tuck them in close, when you fluff out your feathers, when you walk, and when you fly.”

“I will need to study those things if I’m going to draw Amelia, won’t I?”

So Gracie became our first drawing model. She would get up on a crate and make a ballet pose for Emily to draw. Gracie would hold still in the dance pose for as long as she could. It was great practice for both of them.

Then Pearl took over as our drawing model because Pearl hardly ever stands still. We watched Pearl do silly walks back and forth, and then Emily drew what she remembered.

Sometimes she remembered very well, and other times not so well. But the main thing was drawing the silly part correctly because that made it a drawing of Pearl. If she didn’t get the silly part right, Emily would add other details such as barred markings on the feathers to make the drawing look like Amelia.

One day before starting, Emily asked, “Is it true what you wrote in the book about friendship? Is it true drawing lets you do things you would never be able to do any other way?”

“Yes, that’s true. At least, I believe it’s true. Not everything is true just because you believe it, but there are some things that are true whether you believe or not.”

“I want to make a drawing of Amelia and me flying together in the sky.”

We had been practicing with just the old box of white chalk from the workbench, but I wanted this drawing of Amelia and Emily to be special. I found a box of colored chalk, and Emily began creating.

She worked carefully without saying a word. Her concentration was intense.

Finally she said, “I’m ready.”

This was not what I had expected to hear, not yet. She had only drawn Amelia flying in the sky. She had not drawn herself. This was not a drawing of Amelia and Emily flying together in the sky.

Maybe she was too embarrassed to tell me she wasn’t sure how to draw herself.

“Do you need anything else? Like maybe a mirror?” I asked.

“I’m ready now,” she said impatiently. “Let’s prop it up against the workbench like we always do.”

As soon as her drawing was in place for us to look at, she stood beside it, closed her eyes, and then she opened them again. She closed her eyes for a bit longer, and then she opened them again. The third time, she closed her eyes and kept them closed.

Slowly her wings began to stretch out until they were fully extended.

She trembled with excitement.

Her eyes opened wide, but she wasn’t seeing the garage or me. It was as if all she saw was sky and Amelia beside her, the moon above her, and the fields and forests and rivers below them.

She swayed from side to side as if being carried along by winds high into the sky above.

She looked to her right, then began opening and closing her beak. No sound or words came out, but I knew she was calling to Amelia. She was saying how delightful everything looked when they were flying up high together.

I am unsure how long I sat there on the garage floor watching Emily, but I didn’t dare speak or move. She had not been so happy for the longest time.

Suddenly Emily did several strong, fast wing flaps as if she was landing. She blinked her eyes, tucked her wings close to her sides, and looked at me.

“I was flying with Amelia,” she said. “Just like you said would happen.”

This was not what I had meant about drawing and believing, but it didn’t matter.

“I know you were, Sweetie. I know. That’s why you said you were ready. That’s why you didn’t draw yourself with chalk like you drew Amelia, isn’t it?”

“It was all so beautiful, and seeing Amelia was the most beautiful part of all.”

She hopped into my lap and sat down.

“It’s good to be back home,” she said as she rested her head against me.

“It’s good to have you back home.”

My Life With Gracie (and especially Emily) showed me drawing lets you do things you would never be able to do any other way.

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

Emily’s Summer Drawing Camp (Part 1)

Emily's Summer Drawing Camp

This story may become part of the book I hope to write about Amelia’s journey to find out if she can be lost but not afraid. It is a “fast forward” from the last part I shared here with you. Writing from a first person point of view as I do, I can’t go on the trip with her. This leaves Emily and me here at home. But it also provides a chance for Emily to explore and grow without leaving home.

Amelia had been gone for some time, longer than expected. Early spring had turned to early summer.

It was a lazy kind of Sunday afternoon, and I had decided to clean out part of the garage. I had asked Emily if she wanted to come and watch, but she didn’t seem interested. She still missed Amelia very much.

Eventually Emily wandered in and flew up to the highest thing stacked on my workbench. It was a safe spot out of the way where she would have a chance to see all that was there. And there was a lot there.

“What is that?” Emily asked. “It know that smell, but not that shape.”

“I’m not sure what you mean. There’s a lot of stuff on this workbench.”

She hopped down from her perching spot and pecked to point at a yellow and red box.

“Oh, that’s chalk. You use it to make marks on things.”

“Chickens are very good at making marks. Can I look at it? I won’t mess it up. I promise.”

“Sure, and even if you do mess it up, it’s okay because I don’t need it any more.”

Emily pulled out a piece of chalk. It was just a little short stub of a piece. She looked worried.

“It’s okay, You didn’t mess it up. And even if you did, it breaks really easily anyway.”

“This tastes like oyster shells. Just like you put in our dry food.”

“Yes, chalk is made out of seashells too. Do you know why I put oyster shells in your dry food?”

“No. Why?”

“It’s so you’ll have enough calcium when you make your eggs. The same thing that’s on the outside of the eggs you lay is in the oyster shells and in the chalk.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Your little body is amazing, isn’t it?”

“The chalk is white, and the oyster shell is white. But my eggs are brown. Why is that?”

“Well they are only brown on the outside. Underneath the brown, they are white.”

“So how does that brown get there on the outside?”

I looked around the garage and found an old can of spray paint. When I shook it up, the little ball inside rattled. Emily was fascinated with this.

“Is that thing rattling around in there something to eat?”

“No. And it wouldn’t taste very good either if you tried.”

“Does it make that sound because it has an egg inside?”

“Not exactly. It’s a little ball.”

“You aren’t going to shake me up are you?” she asked in a silly kind of way, knowing that would never happen.

I found a scrap of wood. “Let’s go outside. We don’t want to use this inside.”

I sprayed the wood with the paint. “Sort of like this. See.” Where the wood had been a pale sandy color, it was now brown.

She examined it closely and shook her head because the paint fumes smelled strange, even outside.

“I don’t like that. I don’t have one of those cans in me. Do I?”

“No, Sweetie, you don’t. You just have something in you that paints pretty brown pigment on your eggs before you lay them. It just sort of works like the can with the ball inside.”

“Pig mint? Like a plant pigs eat?”

“Emily, you are so much fun. ‘Pig mint’ is two words. ‘Pigment’ is one word. It means tiny little pieces of color.”

“I see. Can I have it? The chalk I mean, not the smelly can of pigment. If you don’t want it?”

“Of course you can. And I will find some paper for you to draw on too.”

She looked far away into the sky and then up into my eyes. “Will you draw with me?”

I could clean the garage another day. I could make phone calls and read books and do plenty of other things another day. But how many days does a person get to draw with a chicken, especially a chicken as special as Emily?

I found some colorful paper stored in a portfolio up in the loft part of the garage. Then Emily and I sat down on the cool concrete of the garage floor, and we drew.

It was great fun watching her draw. She held the chalk in her beak and would make a set of side-to-side marks in one spot with the chalk. Then she would hop up and turn in another direction and make another set of side-to-side marks in a different spot.

I copied the kinds of marks she was making on different parts of the paper. The only difference was I didn’t hop up and turn in another direction the way Emily did. I just turned the paper.

We stopped when we had filled the paper. Chickens are very thorough like that.

We propped our drawing up against the workbench so we could step back and look at it.

“Those white chalk marks on the blue paper sort of look like clouds, don’t they, Emily?”

“They do. They really do!”

She was very pleased with the drawing, and she was more pleased that we had made it together.

“I want to draw Amelia,” she said.

My Life With Gracie (and especially Emily) made me rethink my priorities. Today there is someone who would rather do something with you more than anything else.

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

“Sure Things” And “Possibilities”

A Free Heart

This is part of a series I’ve shared from time to time about Amelia and how she wants to be the first chicken to fly to the moon and back. Here is the most recent posting if you are a new reader or just want a refresher before reading today’s story.

There are times when Amelia totally steals my heart away, as if she is the only chicken I have ever had or ever will have. She is both “sure things” and “possibilities” all wrapped up in one delightful feathery package.

While I am away at work, my chickens are secure inside their large covered run and coop. They have plenty of room to play, take dust baths, and simply sit and watch the world go by. But their favorite time is when I come home and open their expanded fenced-in backyard playground.

They can hardly keep their feet still long enough for me to undo the safety latch. Everyone is focused on my hand and the latch. The most important question in that moment is “Will it still open this time?” Once they hear the scraping metal sound they have been waiting for, they all charge out in different directions and into a world full of possibilities.

Most evenings, even when they don’t get to visit their backyard playground, I give them some corn kernels. It is my way of making sure no one goes to bed hungry or wanting.

One evening, I gave them their corn just before opening up the gate to their playground. Everyone quickly forgot about the corn.

They ignored what was a sure thing and went after what was a possibility. They trusted the corn would still be there after they explored in their playground. They pursued the chance, just the slight possibility, of finding an earthworm or a bug.

But then Amelia did what Amelia does best. She broke “the rules” of what you would expect in the most adorable way. While everyone else was scratching around for what might be found in the backyard, she slipped back into the coop to get some corn.

She gave me that look of, “You know what I’m doing, but you won’t tell anyone, will you?”

I winked at her to let her know her secret was safe. While everyone else was hunting for a possibility, she was taking advantage of a sure thing.

She went back and forth between hunting in their playground and getting corn from their run area. After she had enjoyed enough of both, she settled down into a cozy spot at my feet, quite content.

“Amelia, what made you different from the others this evening?”

“Different?”

“Yes, it was more than just cleverness. What made you do both things back and forth like that? You know, hunting for bugs and gathering up corn.”

Amelia thought about it for a while. “Cleverness” would have been a simple answer, but we both knew there was more to it than just being clever.

“It’s because my heart is free.” She said this as if testing out how it would sound for the first time.

“What makes your heart free?”

It felt like we were exploring new territory, just like being in a new backyard, just like scratching around to discover something wildly exciting.

“Being thankful, I think. Yes, if anything does it, it would be thankfulness. Not being thankful for someone or something puts your own heart in a cage.”

Amelia seemed to have surprised even herself with this answer because it meant she was the only one who could keep her world small.

We both sat there, thinking this over. Usually it is someone else taking our freedom from us that makes our world small, but this idea was different.

Eventually Amelia spoke again.

“When you are thankful for everything, it’s like there really isn’t a difference between the corn and the bugs. It’s all the same.”

“All the same?”

“We know you give us the corn. It’s a gift. Sometimes we think we are getting the bugs for ourselves, but we aren’t, not really. We forget you give us the opportunity to hunt for bugs. That’s a gift too.”

“And realizing that is what makes your heart free?” I asked.

“Yes, I think so. Just being thankful. Then it’s all the same. No matter what you have or don’t have. No matter where you are or aren’t.”

As the light became dimmer, the others came to get some of the remaining corn kernels before heading up to their coop for the night. No one seemed to notice there was less corn than earlier when they had gone out to their playground to explore and hunt.

Amelia was the last to go up as usual.

“Even you are a gift, aren’t you, Amelia? You are a gift to me.”

“Just as you are a gift to me.”

With that, she flew up into the coop to join the others for the night.

It was one of the last deep conversations we would have before she would go off to find out if she could be lost and not afraid. Maybe she was getting both of us ready for that day.

My Life With Gracie (and especially Amelia) made me aware of the power of thankfulness.

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

A Travel Bag For Amelia

A Travel Bag For Amelia

This is part of a series I’ve shared from time to time about Amelia and how she wants to be the first chicken to fly to the moon and back. Here is the most recent posting if you are a new reader or just want a refresher before reading today’s story.

“Amelia, I’ve made a bag of sunflower kernels for you, just in case you decide it’s time to travel far away when I’m not here.”

Amelia studied it carefully.

“There’s a sturdy loop of red yarn you can put your head through. It will be easier for you to carry around your neck, and you won’t lose it by accident.”

She looked at me the way she so often does, trying to figure out what it all meant.

So I explained, “This doesn’t mean I want you to go. It just means if you do go, I want you to be able to make your journey safely.”

She nodded to show she understood.

“And Amelia, there is just one more thing I put in there. It’s a little book for you with some drawings I made when I was just in the first grade.”

“What is first grade?” she asked.

“First grade is sort of like when you are just starting to learn what you need to learn in life. It’s like the first time you ever went outside to play on your own and to discover the world.”

I paused.

“Or sort of like what you might be doing now.”

“It sounds important. Don’t you want to keep it for yourself?”

“No. I’d rather you have it. I folded it up small so it won’t get in your way when you are flying. And I think it might help you if you want to come back home, but can’t.”

“Thank you.”

“I just want you to promise me you will read it only if you find that you are lost and want to get back home but can’t. It won’t mean much of anything to you otherwise.

“I know you’re worried about that. I don’t want your worrying to keep you from doing something you need to do.

“It’s not like any of the other stories I tell you and the others because it is to help you find your way home, but only if you want to come home and can’t.”

Amelia looked at the bag with its sturdy red yard and then back at me.

“Yes. I promise. I’m not sure I will be able to read any of the words.”

“It’s okay if you don’t know the words. I wrote it when I didn’t know very many words at all myself. So the pictures will tell the story for you…if you find you need them.”

“Does your story have a name?”

“Not really. But if you think it needs one after you read it, if you need to read it, you can give it one. Then you can tell me what it is.”

“Sometimes, like right now, I don’t understand you.”

“It’s fine when you do. It is fine when you don’t. I love you whether you understand me or not.”

“It’s like you know I will come back to tell you the names of the story…if I leave, I mean.”

“Maybe you aren’t the only one who wants to know if you can travel far away and not be afraid. Maybe I do too.”

Amelia looked surprised, but didn’t say anything.

“Maybe you aren’t the only one who wants to make sure you can get back home if your heart desires but can’t without help.“

“You must love me very much.”

“I do, Amelia. Indeed I do.”

“Would you teach me to read and write words. I might like to write a book about my travels one day. And it would help me read your book better if I ever needed it.”

“Yes, I will. We can get started right away. I have a feeling there is a great deal already in you that is worth writing down.”

I hung her homemade travel bag with its loop of red yarn where she could get to it. All she would need to do would be to fly up and out of the top of the doorway. The loose loop would fit over her head as she flew out and away. It would carry the only gifts I could give her for her journey. There were sunflower kernels for her body and a book for her heart.

And so Amelia began to learn to read and write. I didn’t need to teach her how to draw. She had watched me enough and had a natural talent for making marks, as all chickens do.

She learned a dozen words, the words I thought might be most important for her to know. Then there was no more time.

My Life With Gracie (and especially Amelia) taught me sometimes there is more to a gift than what is seen.

It looks like this may be my next writing project tentatively titled “Conversations With Amelia.” In my mind, it is shaping up to be more like a novel than a collection of stories like “Seasons Of Friendship.” This would mean, I think, fewer illustrations and no “chicken wisdom” at the end of each chapter.

If you’re thinking the small folded-up book in Amelia’s travel bag will be important, you just may be right! And if you are guessing the small folded-up book is based on something I actually made in first grade and still have, you just may be right again!

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

Family Photo Friday!

Recently I’ve been getting over a bad cold. Chickens are great medicine for a cold. In the evening, I’ve been letting them play in a new section of the backyard. While I call it “play,” for them it is serious business. They are on the hunt for anything that is moving and edible!

So as you can see, they really don’t have time to pose for any photos, and so I mostly to take a closeup of their beautifully patterned feathers! That’s Amelia, my Barred Rock, on the right and Emily, my Golden Laced Wyandotte, on the left.

This reminds me of one of my favorite posts from earlier this year. These are definitely “curious tail feathers,” wouldn’t you say?

I can’t resist sharing one more photo because it really was a toss-up between which of these to share today. That’s Emily, my Golden Laced Wyandotte (again), on the left and Gracie, one of my two Buff Orpingtons, on the right.

Hmm…Emily must have been feeling particularly photogenic to be in both! Perhaps you can understand why Gracie says her fluff feathers are like a ballet tutu if you use your imagination just a little?

Anyway, I do hope my chickens are like medicine for you too and particularly for those of you who are just not feeling your “wing-flapping best” right now. Sitting with a little flock of chickens is just about the best “take your mind off your troubles” low-tech entertainment there is, and I hope we always have room for visitors in our backyard, even if only visiting through our stories and photos.

Things Chickens Won’t Tell You

Things Chickens Won't Tell You

This is a follow up to a previous post about “Omelette People” and “Cupcake People.” You may want to read that one first if you missed it.

One evening as everyone was preparing for the night, I picked Gracie up and held her close like I sometimes do when I’m helping her find the best nighttime roosting spot.

I whispered to her, “Can chickens tell who is an ‘Omelette Person’ and who is a ‘Cupcake Person’ just by studying them?”

I’m not sure why I whispered. It just seemed like the kind of question that needed to be whispered.

“It’s not something chickens are supposed to discuss with anyone who isn’t a chicken,” she whispered back.

“I don’t understand.”

“It is Old Chicken wisdom, like Old Chicken language.”

“I didn’t know there was Old Chicken language.”

“Yes, you know about it, or at least you’ve heard it spoken before.”

“When was that?”

“Do you remember the morning after Blanche had passed away? And Pearl stood at the top of the ladder after you opened the coop door? Do you remember how she was calling out, but you couldn’t understand what she was saying? She was calling out for Blanche. That was Old Chicken.”

“I remember now. It was the same way she was talking to Blanche earlier that week when they were getting settled in for the night. Pearl said something to her that I couldn’t understand. It was low tones and sounds I had never heard before. And then Blanche moved away from her primary protector spot and Pearl took her place.”

“Yes, that was Old Chicken too.” Gracie watched the others to make sure they weren’t paying attention to our conversation. “She was telling Blanche not to worry and she would be the one to protect both of them.”

She gave me time to think about all this.

“It was a very private moment between the two of them. That is why she spoke in Old Chicken. It was so no one else would understand. Not even other birds can understand us when we speak that way.”

“Gracie, I had no idea.”

“Please don’t ask me to teach it to you.”

“There’s really no need. And I don’t want you to break any of the chicken rules. I had a feeling what Pearl said meant something like that. I could tell how deeply sorrow cut into her heart.”

“So you are fine with only understanding New Chicken?”

“Yes. Chickens are remarkable. But I must admit to you I miss the time when I didn’t know all these things. I miss the time when we would just talk about your ballet dancing and chasing crickets across the yard. Life is never quite as simple as what we would like it to be, is it?”

Gracie looked up at me. Of all my chickens, she is the only one who looks so deeply into my eyes. She smiled.

“I miss those days too,” she said. “I love when you draw us as young chicks. Your drawings take me back to those simpler times, times that I miss too.”

That evening I had learned more than expected. Because Gracie had sidestepped my question about whether chickens can tell who is an “Omelette Person” and who is a “Cupcake Person,” I knew the answer had to be “Yes.”

My biggest questions remained unanswered. “Why do chickens still treat everyone the same, even when they know who will use their eggs selfishly and who will use their eggs generously? Why do they still give their best and treat everyone the same?”

It is the chicken way, but not always the people way. I still wanted to know why. Right in my own backyard were more mysteries than I could find anywhere else.

My Life With Gracie taught me there is more to life as a chicken than I had ever imagined.

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

Family Photo Friday!

Last Saturday, I set up what you might call “The Smallest Book Promotion Booth In The World” at out church’s annual Flower Festival. (All royalties from the book until December 31st of this year will go to support the mission of St. John’s Church.)

The little wooden stepladder was the one my chickens used when they first moved into their new coop. The dishcloth with the white chickens was a personal reminder of Blanche. The ceramic cookie jar to hold the bookmarks was one I had picked up at an antique mall as a Christmas gift to myself the first year I had my own chickens.

It was a great day to pass out free bookmarks with a description of “Seasons Of Friendship” as well as a link and QR code to direct anyone interested to the Barnes & Noble website. I also brought along some hard boiled eggs to give away as free samples!

I learned a great deal from this opportunity. In fact, I probably learned more about potential readers than they learned about me! There were also a lot of great questions about chickens and how they make eggs. The questions about the book itself really helped me to better understand what potential readers are looking for when selecting a book for themselves or as a gift.

Bessie’s cupcakes were very popular in the sidewalk Bake Sale Shop. She is working on the recipe to share with you soon!

Please consider leaving a rating or review on the Barnes & Noble page if you’ve read “Seasons Of Friendship” through a free download here or as a purchase there. I’ve heard ratings and reviews are very helpful with getting a book noticed! Thanks!

Visit the “Seasons Of Friendship” eBook page on the Barnes & Noble website.

Hopefully this will soon be available in paperback if all goes well.
A “proof” paperback copy should arrive in my mailbox on Monday!