Pearl’s Comedy Coop…There’s More Than One Kind Of Dancing In Paris!

More Than One Kind Of Dancing In Paris

As promised yesterday, this is a draft chapter from a new book. Just as a very brief background, Pearl does not feel as if she fits in and so decides to become a comedian to solve all of her problems. (As you can guess, there is much more needed than that!)

The background for today’s illustration is a lithograph poster of performer Jane Avril by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Pearl seems quite at home on the stage, doesn’t she? And her banana hat matches the dancer’s dress and hair quite nicely too!

The evening for Pearl’s Comedy Coop stage debut finally arrived. Hanging over the nesting boxes was a picture of Pearl with one foot in the air. After her performance, this would be known as her “Trick Or Treat! Smell My Feet!” pose. Somehow Pearl had come up with “Admit One” tickets which she had passed out ahead of time.

After turning on the strings of lights draped above the seats and stage, I collected each ticket and helped everyone to their seats. Blanche had the best seat right in the middle so she would not miss anything. Gracie and Bessie were on her right. Emily and Amelia were on her left.

Then I laid out small, individual bowls.

“Would you care for complimentary roasted pumpkin seeds, madam?” I asked each of them, just as Pearl had coached me to say.

All of them chattered with excitement because this seemed like such a grand occasion. They didn’t get this particular treat every day. The strings of lights made all of us feel like anything could happen.

Blanche was the first to get to the bottom of her bowl, and she let out a cackle of delightful surprise when she saw Pearl’s face staring back at her from the bottom of the bowl. Everyone else hurried to see if theirs was the same, and they all were.

Pearl had been very resourceful and had planned extremely well. She had definitely fooled me with her comments about how she would “just be winging it” for her show.

There was no time to ask her about the tickets or snack bowls before she motioned for me to turn on the spotlight. As soon as it illuminated the brick wall backdrop, microphone, and stool, muffled clucks of excitement spread throughout the coop.

Pearl jumped and flapped to the top of the stool with confident precision. There were no fake falls or stumblings. She had definitely practiced this part well. Her audience sat waiting, quietly hushing each other.

Then everyone noticed her painted pink toenails. Low coos of amazement and approval could be heard here and there.

Then Pearl began.

“Trick Or Treat!” she called out to the audience as she held up her left foot with its bright pink toenail polish.

“Smell My Feet!” She called out as she switched to holding up her right foot.

“Trick Or Treat! Smell My Feet!”

All of the chickens were stunned and silent. They had never seen a chicken or any other animal look or do anything like this ever. I had a feeling this was not going to go as Pearl had thought it would go, and I was set to step in and rescue her.

“Why did the farmer cross the road?” she asked.

Then she paused, eyeing her audience from one end to the other.

“To feed the chickens!”

Much to my surprise, everyone thought this joke was funny. It made no sense to me, but to the chickens, it was hilarious.

Pearl was off to an excellent start. (I learned later this is a classic chicken retort to the old “Why did the chicken cross the road?” joke which absolutely no chicken ever finds amusing.)

Even more to my amazement, my chickens could hardly keep their seats they were laughing and cackling so hard. Pearl was an instant star as far as the other chickens were concerned.

“How many farmers does it take to change a lightbulb?” she called out.

“Who cares? As long as they feed the chickens!”

Again there was more uproarious laughter. Then they turned and looked at me as if to say, “Don’t you understand how funny she is?”

Pearl flipped over onto her back and pretended to be taking a dust bath while telling her next jokes. Each one appeared funnier than the last.

“Why couldn’t the farmer write with a broken pencil? Because it had no point, and…”

There was a long pause, and everyone held their breath even though we all knew what was coming.

“…He needed to feed the chickens!”

While everyone was laughing so hard they had tears coming from their eyes, I glanced up and saw a light flip on in one of the upstairs windows of The Bottle Cap Lady’s House. There seemed to be a shadow on the blinds as if someone was standing there, but it was hard to tell.

When my attention returned to the show, I noticed Pearl had pulled out a tall hat decorated with bananas. It looked like one Carmen Miranda would have worn.

Suddenly I couldn’t help from joining in the laughter. Before I knew it, she had the hat tied under her chin and had popped off a brown beak cover to reveal her matching hot pink “beak-stick” shaped like a heart.

“What did the farmer get when he crossed a refrigerator with a robot?” she asked her captivated audience.

“I don’t know!” they all called back.

“I don’t know either, but it keeps the lettuce nice and crisp while it goes outside to…”

The other chickens and I called out as loudly as we could, “…Feed the chickens!”

There was uproarious cackling and wing flapping throughout the coop. Everyone was laughing so hard, I seriously thought they would all lay eggs right then and there.

Pearl held up her left foot with its bright pink toenail polish, waggled it and called out, “Trick Or Treat! Smell My Feet!”

“Trick Or Treat! Smell Her Feet!” they called back to her.

Then she did it all again except she switched to holding up her right foot.

They repeated this call and response faster and faster until Pearl was beginning to do a wild and crazy kind of dance. Later she would name it “The Dipsy Doodle.”

“There’s more than one kind of dancing in Paris!” she announced. “And there’s more than one way of being a chicken!”

I glanced up at the second floor of The Bottle Cap Lady’s House. There was now clearly a dark silhouette standing out against the light in a bedroom window. Then as if someone realized I was looking their way, the light went out.

Pearl did her happiest jumping dance on top of the stool to signal the show was complete. She definitely left her audience wanting more.

It took quite a while to get everyone settled down enough to have their mealworm treats before bedtime. There were still more soft chuckles and cluckles of “To feed the chickens! To feed the chickens!” as everyone began drifting off to sleep.

As I headed for my own back door, I heard a sharp and raspy sound like laughter. It came from the far corner of my yard, behind the chicken coop.

“Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”

I paused before going inside. The light was back on upstairs at The Bottle Cap Lady’s House, but there was no silhouette at the window. Then the upstairs light flipped back off. The sudden darkness was almost as startling as the laughter I had heard.

Perhaps I had imagined it all. Perhaps this was another one of Pearl’s performance tricks. Either way, I had to wonder what The Bottle Cap Lady had seen and what it meant for my chickens.

Pearl’s desperate hope in this chapter is that the other chickens will realize ballet dancing (which they all enjoy performing) isn’t the only kind of dancing in Paris and so there really may also be more than one way of being a chicken.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! I did enjoy the challenge of adding Pearl into a work by one of my favorite artists. It’s exactly the kind of thing Pearl would want to do herself. Can you imagine Pearl in any other famous works of art?

Family Photo Friday!

Yes, there are no chickens in today’s photo! But why was this photo selected for “Family Photo Friday”?

Sometimes these “My Life With Gracie” stories may blur the lines between reality and imagination.

When it comes to writing genres, most of these stories could be classified as “magical realism.” This genre has a realistic setting and for the most part all seems normal except there are certain things which are “magical” but are treated as ordinary occurrences. (For example, I’ve never written anything like this: I could hardly believe it when Gracie spoke to me for the first time, and I was even more amazed that Gracie could dance ballet. If I wrote like that, these stories would not be the same at all. By treating things like this as plain everyday life, it may make it easier for readers to slip into Gracie’s world.)

It is important to mention this is not “magic” in the sense of witches and wizards casting spells. For me, it is the kind of magic found when a child believes teddy bears have genuine feelings and really do talk to them. I may never have outgrown my childhood imagination, and so perhaps this is why my stories write themselves as they do.

Magical realism has been described as the intersection of two worlds: the magical world and the realistic world. There are many story possibilities which happen within this intersection.

My hope is that readers will get caught up in the imaginary elements of these stories long enough to believe anything can happen. Chickens really do dance ballet and make drawings with pieces of chalk. Then the deeper meaning of the story can be revealed.

But getting back to this Family Photo Friday picture.

There are times when the imaginary story elements move into my reality in a most unsettling manner. This is what happened one morning just this week.

It was a little after 6 AM. I had just finished getting my chickens ready for their new day. The sun had not yet come up. It was still quite dark except for the back porch light and my flashlight.

As I went back in to get ready for work, a light flipped on next door. I heard a sharp and raspy sound like laughter.

“Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”

I stood at my back door, turned out the light, and looked to see what it might be. This was somewhat unnerving. Except for the guy who delivers the paper, I am the only person up and outside that early in the morning.

I studied the light that was on next door which had not been on when I went outside to do my morning chicken chores. Suddenly the light turned off. it was as if someone knew I was trying to see them.

Then I noticed the silence. The early morning birds had stopped their calls as had the fall crickets.

Immediately I thought of The Bottle Cap Lady, a character from the book I’ve been working on. Had she returned? I had written about her standing in the street at the end of our driveway laughing and yelling, “Ha! Ha! Ha!” One extra “Ha!” and a slightly different spelling, and The Bottle Cap Lady really had returned.

So there you have it. An imagined portion of my book had worked its way into my backyard reality in a most unsettling way.

This brief real-life event would work it’s way back into one of the chapters in the book I’ve been working on.

And I will share that chapter tomorrow! Then perhaps you will see how there seems to be a kind of dance between my real world and my imagined world.

Do you get the eerie feeling that anything could happen inside that house?  As have written before…Right in my own backyard were more mysteries than I could find anywhere else.

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

My Life With Gracie…More Alike Than We Realize

More Alike Than We Realize

My time with my chickens in the cool of the evening after work is something I look forward to each day. No matter how difficult the day has been, everything is quickly forgotten.

Even though Amelia is very independent-minded, lately she has been spending more time with me than usual. She will stand and look up at me and speak to me in a very low almost hushed voice. She tells me her secret thoughts.

I will tell her softly, “Amelia, I have good news for you. You and I are more alike than you realize.”

Then she will turn her back on me and hurry off to another place.

Soon, she will return and share more of her secrets.

Again I will tell her softly, “Amelia, you and I are more alike than you realize.”

Then she will turn her back on me and hurry off to another place again, but she will not wait nearly as long to come back and tell more of her secrets.

We will repeat this routine with each of her times away from me getting shorter and shorter, and then finally she will stay.

“Amelia, you and I are more alike than you realize,” I will tell her.

Her heart takes its own time in accepting this as true. Then I tell her some of my secrets, and she does not doubt any longer.

We can do this for days in a row, almost as if it was a game she has made up. Sometimes it feels as if we are starting all over again at a place of doubt. But it doesn’t matter. Eventually I know she will come and stay with me without hurrying off to another place. This is simply her process for understanding love and belonging.

Having been adopted by me six months into her life has something to do with this. She just needs extra assurance this is her forever home.

“I would not give you up for anything,” I tell her.

“Not even for six bags of sunflower kernels?” she asks.

Amelia can only count to six. That is all of the toes that she has. For her, six is the highest number there is. There is no higher number.

“Not even for six and then six more,” I always tell her as if it is one of my own secrets.

She closes her eyes with a quizzical expression whenever I tell her this. She looks as if she is trying to imagine that many, but she can’t. Then she will always smile because she knows however many it is, it is a great amount.

“You are mine and I am yours for as long as you want it to be that way,” I tell her.

Then she will say to me, “Yes, we are more alike than I realize.”

My Life With Gracie (and especially Amelia) reminded me we are more alike than we realize.

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

Lately I have been working on what I hope will be our next book titled “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” It continues to be a good yet challenging project. 

I have readers of all faiths and even no faith at all, and so there has to be a message for everyone.

As I think through this, maybe, just maybe, on that very first Christmas Day so long ago, Love was no longer far off, distant, and unknowable. Maybe, just maybe, Love was right here with us in warm, tender, and fragile human flesh.

Then maybe Love could at last say to people, “We are more alike than you realize.”

My Life With Gracie…New Ways Of Looking At The World

A New Way Of Looking At The World

Recently I’ve used some weekend time to experiment with other styles of illustration. This has mainly been driven the realization that any lengthy illustrated book, like a novel, would likely be quite expensive with full-color illustrations. Using black-and-white illustrations only would seem to be the best alternative.

But even so, as you can see in today’s main illustration above, I can’t get away from having at least some color! Even what appears to be black-and-white is actually a warm black-and-white.

When I put a filter over this illustration to make it truly black-and-white as below, it feels to me like some of the “life” went out of the illustration. See what I mean?

For further comparison, below are two different styles of the same basic illustration. On the left is what you would normally see here on “My Life With Gracie.” On the right is a different way of looking at the world, at least the world of my chickens.

Personally, I’m unsure which I prefer. (My chickens like the scratchy texture, but then scratching around is a good part of their day!) Most likely it will depend on the type of story and intended audience.

For me, one thing that really stands out as a major difference is the eyes. On the left, they seem blank and unblinking. On the right, they seem more alive.

Anyway, just wanted to share with everyone what I’ve been thinking about and working on.

Also even though we have finished our little series on “Gracie’s Summer Reading List,” Amelia spotted a book that we didn’t get to read yet. The title? “Amelia Bedilia Unleashed.” If that wasn’t enough to get her attention, the cover also has shiny glitter on it. Chickens love shiny things like glitter.

Thanks for looking and reading!

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

My Life With Gracie…The Gift Of Listening

The Gift Of Listening

There are things my chickens will tell to anyone who will listen. Those are things like how difficult it is to lay an egg, how there is a hungry-looking cat taking too long to walk through our yard, or how there is a mysterious pair of eyes watching them from the darkness of the brambles.

These bits of news will get picked up and shared throughout our little block by the songbirds.

But my chickens do not tell everything they know, and this is one of their greatest gifts.

This is not a gift uniquely given by chickens. It is also a gift given by any of the animals we share our lives with such as dogs or cats. Sometimes it is a gift given by other people, though perhaps not often enough.

This gift went unnoticed and unappreciated until after Gracie and I had a long and private discussion.

“It’s not anything I’ve told anyone but you,” I said. “People don’t like hearing things like what I just told you. They want to talk you out of saying things like that, even when they are true.”

“We have always told each other the truth, haven’t we?” she asked softly.

“Yes, Gracie. We have.”

She leaned against my leg and thought over what I had just shared with her. Then she gently tugged on my jeans to let me know she wanted me to sit.

When I did, she settled in to the hollow made by my crossed legs. It was a place designed just for a chicken like Gracie, or so it seemed. It would also be a perfect place for a dog or a cat, if I had either of those.

“Sometimes I feel as if my life has been one big waste,” I had told her. “I’ve made too many mistakes I can’t correct. Like the ones I just told you about. I have nothing. Most of the time I feel like nothing. Life demands I keep on smiling even though so often I feel like crying.”

She laid her head and neck across my leg. It was so much like the way she had laid across Bessie’s back when they were just young chicks. This was all she knew to do, but it was enough.

The first leaves of Autumn swirled around us, beginning to build the season’s ground of death and decay. Soon there would be a moist, rich foundation for a new start and renewed attempts at growth.

Connected again to the world around me, I felt reconciliation had somehow occurred. To share your shortcomings is a scary thing. Yet to find love and acceptance in the eyes of another life, even when that life is covered with feathers or fur, is a very healing thing.

I write this because it seems at times people have lost their connection to the earth beneath their feet and the animals with which we share it. From there, it is a quick step to losing our connection with other people.

Be sure you have eyes, real eyes, in your life that look back into your own. Make sure those eyes let you see yourself as part of something far greater and more glorious than you can imagine. You are.

Those eyes may be another person’s. If so, you are fortunate.

Maybe those eyes are a dog’s or a cat’s. If so, you are more fortunate.

And perhaps those eyes are a chicken’s. If so, you are most fortunate indeed, particularly if they belong to a chicken like my Gracie.

My Life With Gracie showed me the precious gift of listening with unconditional love.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! By the way, if you detected a strong bias towards dogs and cats and an even stronger bias towards chickens, you are correct, but no slight is intended!

My Life With Gracie…Waiting For Autumn

Waiting For Autumn

We are waiting for early autumn. We are waiting to let go. My chickens and I, we have things to release, and early autumn is the best time to begin.

Soon the summer heat will have passed, and cooler breezes will blow against their feathers and against my shirt.

The days are already getting shorter. Gracie and the others need a flashlight in the early morning to find their way safely down their chicken ladder. The sunset is coming sooner and stealing greater bites of our precious time together in the evenings.

But even so, we are waiting, somewhat impatiently, for early autumn.

It is the season to end all that we had tried to start, but failed. It lets us begin the forgetting process so that we can push on towards the cold blankness of winter and then on towards the warm promise of spring.

Early Autumn lets us begin the important forgiving process because often we must gently forgive ourselves for failing, even failing again and again.

Sometimes we must forgive ourselves for choosing the wrong hopes and dreams.

Sometimes we must forgive ourselves for choosing the wrong time for the right hopes and dreams.

Sometimes we must forgive ourselves for not having enough hope, not having enough faith…or just not having.

Sometimes we must forgive ourselves for not wanting to let go of those precious hopes and dreams that did sprout and grow and bear Summer’s fruit…but they were only meant for a season, just one season.

That may be the most difficult kind of forgiving to do.

Then will come Winter when our new hopes and dreams have a chance to incubate. In the darkness of Winter we cover our heads for warmth. With our eyes closed, we shut out the cold and then we dream of the world and the life we want for ourselves and those we love.

Finally will come Spring when we have a new chance to do again what we had tried and failed to do. Spring is a time when we can try to make the things we love fit into our lives one more time. We never give up hope.

But first we must wait for Autumn to have its turn at touching our lives. Autumn’s ground of death and decay lays the moist, rich foundation for our next ambitious attempts at new growth.

There really is a season for everything…and that does include a season for letting go.

My Life With Gracie taught me to gladly let go of what was meant to last for only a season anyway.

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

My Life With Gracie…Saturday Surprises!

Here is something a little different for you, our readers, and “Saturday Surprises!” seems to be the most appropriate name for this type of post. This morning when I went out to welcome my chickens into their new day after the passing of Hurricane Dorian, I found some bright and cheerful morning glory blossoms had beat me to it.

These had been slowly growing up the chicken wire, and today they have decided they like this spot and it is time to bloom. They are one of the most beautiful shades of blue there is. I thought it interesting that this is practically the same blue that I used in parts of Monday’s illustration about the hurricane that was coming our way. Sometimes life has coincidences like this, I believe, to remind us that neither the bad times nor the good times remain forever.

Everything around us may change, but pure and simple beauty, such as the beauty of the color blue, will remain the same.

Yesterday afternoon, I was able to leave work early, and when I finally got home, my chickens were glad to see me. They had huddled together in a protected corner under their coop. I quickly changed into my “chicken clothes” and sat on the ground inside their run area with them.

They gathered around me, and Amelia tugged at my jeans. This means she needs to be picked up and hugged, and of course, that is exactly what I did. We all sat there together in our little huddle and watched the wind as it swayed the tree limbs. Only occasionally would it blow some rain in where we were. (Their garden home is very sheltered, and I add additional barriers during bad weather.)

Then Emily and Gracie decided it would be a good time to scratch around for something to eat. Amelia decided she had enough hugging and decided to join them. (After all hugging is for silly little baby chicks, isn’t it? Definitely not for big independent grown-up hens like Amelia!)

Life had returned to normal, even while the hurricane was as close to our home as it was going to get before heading out towards the Atlantic Ocean. I’m sure that there are several life lessons in all of this, and I may write about them another day. For now, I’m just grateful for this new and surprising day!

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

Yes, there really is a chicken in today’s Family Photo! Can you spot her? (If it helps, this photo was taken with the camera pointing down towards the ground.) That’s Emily, or at least as much of Emily as will show up in a photograph taken early in the morning.

Emily is making her own assessment of the weather outside even though last night the birds in our neighborhood were giving their own predictions of what today would bring. (They really do listen to the bird calls around them, and last night there were bird calls which I have not heard in a long time and definitely not in the evening as the sun was setting.)

The other chickens are waiting on the roosting perch above and behind her. They won’t hop down until they know Emily is out of the way, and Emily won’t be out of the way until she takes those brave steps down the chicken ladder (in the lower right) to greet her new day.

Emily is almost always the first to venture out in the morning. She has learned that because she is the smallest, she has to get to the breakfast salad first to get her favorites before anyone else. She may also have figured out that on stormy days there is almost always something special for them like chopped okra with all of those seeds!

Hurricane Dorian was beginning to affect our area this morning, and all of my girls met their new day with cautious curiosity. It is one of the main ways they inspire me each day.

They always get up in the morning. (My record from the past is not so good! Now I have to get up because they always get up!) They always go down their coop’s chicken ladder every morning and look expectantly for something good. (Once again, my record from the past is not so good!)

They have a trust in each new day which I often lack, and so I am grateful for their morning reminders about how important it is to be brave even in life’s stormiest times. As I have said a time or two before, you can learn a lot from a chicken.

Best wishes to all of our friends and readers. Stay safe! Trust in the Goodness which brings you each new day!

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

My Life With Gracie…This New Day (Again)

This New Day (Again)

This is a redrawn illustration from a September post made last year about this time. Then it was Hurricane Florence. Now it is Hurricane Dorian. (My chickens and I live on the Atlantic Coastal area of Virginia. Even a nor’easter can be rough for us with high winds and flooding.)

A few things have changed over the last year. The style of drawing is slightly different to help with clearer printing. There is also one less chicken.

But we are still huddling together. Even though we are unable to stop the storm as it heads in our direction, we have each other. We are watching over each other, and we know Love is watching over all of us.

We are still thinking about our readers who have already felt the worst of the storm. We are still thinking about our readers who are bracing for a more direct impact yet to come from the storm.

We are still hoping our actions reflect our gratitude for the gift of this and every new day.

Our prayers are for the peace and safety of all our readers and those they love…two-legged, four-legged, furred, or feathered.

John, Gracie, Bessie, Pearl, Amelia, and Emily

My Life With Gracie let me know with certainty what it means to be brought in safety to this new day (again).

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