My Life With Gracie…Snowhens And Snowchicks

Snowhen and Snowchicks

Near the end of the day, I heard soft whispers.

“You ask him.”

“No, you ask him.”

“It was your idea.”

Finally, Bessie spoke up. “When you make our morning breakfast salad…tomorrow morning, that is…would you be able to include grated carrots?”

“I think so. Sure. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no reason in particular. It’s just we didn’t get any this morning or the morning before. We thought you might be out of them.”

“Oops. Sorry about that!”

“No worries,” she said. Then there was an almost uncomfortable pause. “And before you grate them, can you snap off the tip ends and put them in without grating them?”

“Yes, I guess so.” I was beginning to wonder why there were suddenly so many special requests. Usually my chickens are happy with whatever I give them. “Any reason why?”

There was a soft chorus of delighted chicken giggles.

“Do you think it would be okay if we have a little free range time before going up to roost for the night?” asked Gracie. “I will keep watch over everyone so you don’t have to. You can go in and start making your dinner if you’d like.”

At this point, I knew something was up because they were trying so hard to be nonchalant. “Thanks, Gracie. I think I will. You aren’t trying to get rid of me, are you?”

Gracie just smiled.

From the back window I watched. They were definitely collecting things from under the holly tree and shrubs. But they were being very secretive about it. Gracie and Bessie were trying to block my view, just in case I might be watching from the back window. (They know me very well, don’t they?)

Later, as I made sure they were in their coop securely for the night, Emily asked, “I was just wondering about this. So will there still be snow all night long the way you told us when we woke up this morning?”

“Yes, that’s right. Same forecast as this morning. You did have plenty to eat today, didn’t you? So you can stay extra warm tonight?”

“Oh, yes. I did.”

“Good. You’re the smallest, and I worry about you staying plenty warm, particularly on a cold and snowy night.”

“I will be fine,” she said.

There was another soft chorus of delighted chicken giggles.

“You girls snuggle up closer, and fluff out your feathers for more insulation.”

The next morning started like any other morning except it was colder and there was a blanket of snow in our yard and in part of the chicken run. When I returned home from work, I discovered what all of the secrecy had been about. They had prepared a surprise for me and had a great time doing it.

Much of this had been Bessie’s idea, I guessed, because she is the one I most expect would have said, “If there can be snowmen, why can’t there be ‘snowhens’ and ‘snowchicks’?” She is always concerned about fairness.

Still, it didn’t matter whose idea it was. It didn’t even matter how they had done it. What truly mattered was how they had simply enjoyed the anticipation and the doing. My joy in receiving their surprise was nothing compared to the joy they held in their hearts while preparing it.

I am at a time in my life when I don’t go searching for the delightful or for the extraordinary. Those joyful things come to me like freshly fallen snow. I anticipate them. I keep my eyes open. I look for ways to share them as my own surprises for others.

Even when there are no more chickens in my backyard to build snowhens and snowchicks in February, I know there will somehow be delightful surprises for me right outside my own backdoor. And I also know my chances of discovering those delightful surprises will be greatly increased by my willingness to give delightful surprises to others. This is probably one of the greatest secrets Bessie and my other chickens have shared with me. They give simply for the joy of giving. Love provides them with gifts to give.

My Life With Gracie taught me to look for and to create delightful (if only temporary) surprises.

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…Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day

You may have noticed for the past few weeks Emily and Bessie have been doing the artwork for our posts. This has given me extra time to work on the illustrations for our next book.

Emily shared this drawing with me as soon as I got home from work on the evening before Valentine’s Day. While her beak and comb looked calm, I could tell by her twitchy tail feathers she was eager to give me her latest drawing. Who would have ever imagined that a slightly faded sheet of red construction paper could end up being so beautiful?

“Emily, that’s very pretty, and I like it tremendously. Do you need help adding some words like maybe ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’? I can spell the words for you.”

She shrugged her shoulders as if she was unsure what more needed to be said.

“It’s not really about Valentine’s Day,” Emily confessed. “I know you wanted a picture to share with everyone for Valentine’s Day. I’m sorry for letting you down. I don’t have a Valentine’s Day drawing for you.”

“What do you mean? There are valentine hearts all over it.”

“I know. But they are what you would call an artistic afterthought. They just fill the empty spaces between the chickens.”

“I see.”

“The drawing really isn’t about all of those valentine hearts. The most important part is all of the chickens who are dancing ballet. That’s what the picture is really about. I was hoping you would like that part the best and not worry about Valentine’s Day.”

“Why is that?”

“Because you’ve told us how you often think about us dancing ballet at night when you are trying to go to sleep.”

“That’s true. I always seem to sleep better when I imagine dancing ballerina chickens.”

“So this picture is really to wish you sweet dreams and a happy tomorrow. And it’s not for just one day, it’s for all days.”

“I think it’s the most wonderful picture you have ever made, and it’s much better than a picture for only Valentine’s Day.”

We smiled together.

“I am so lucky to have you in my life, Emily. This drawing has you all over it.”

“I don’t understand. None of those dancing chickens are me. They are all Gracie. She is the best dancer.”

“When I look at this picture you’ve drawn just for me, I can’t help but see you. But I don’t see you on the paper. I see you in my heart.”

Her comb blushed a bit redder and she hurried off to put away her art supplies for another day.

I thought about placing her drawing by the lamp near my bed. It would be the last thing I would see before turning out the light and the first thing I would see in the morning. But for that Valentine’s Day Eve, I just sat and enjoyed the pure beauty of who Emily is.

My Life With Gracie (and especially Emily) taught me love, real love, isn’t just for one day. It is for all days, and for sweet dreams, and for a happy tomorrow.

We have also included a sheet of “Art By Emily” Valentine’s Day cards you can download, print, and share. There are no words on the front or inside. When you print, cut, and fold them, you can add your own words if you’d like. I think they might also look nice framed…maybe on a bedside table?

Here’s wishing you, our readers, sweet dreams and a happy tomorrow!

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

John’s Reading List For Writers…”Wired For Story” by Lisa Cron

If you are writing any kind of story, but particularly a novel, this book is for you. I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough. Wired For Story by Lisa Cron completely changed how I looked at writing a novel and just about anything else!

I checked out this book from our local library early last summer. Read it. Renewed it. Reread it. Took notes from it. Then I went out and bought my own copy!

Wired For Story is about how our brains think in stories and what our brains look for in stories. By tapping into the way our brains process stories, we can write compelling and meaningful stories. (This is not about tricking or manipulating readers the way annoying “click bait” does online.)

The story is what creates beautiful writing…not the other way around. —- Lisa Cron from her website

So what does that mean? To me, it means story has to come first. You may use the most sophisticated words in the dictionary and sound like a literary genius, but if your story doesn’t hold anyone’s interest, you have wasted your time. You may have a beautiful piece of writing, but no one will want to read it. Once you’ve hooked the reader with good story, then they can appreciate beautiful writing.

Throughout her book, Lisa Cron pairs a “Cognitive Secret” about how the brain works with a “Story Secret.” Here is an example from the first chapter.

Cognitive Secret: We think in story, which allows us to envision the future.

Story Secret: From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next.

No one told me this when I took “Creative Writing” in high school. The focus was on saying things in a unique way and using lots of sensory description. (This was boring, and I was honestly not very good at either of those skills. I still am not.) By mastering beautiful writing, we would be able to make our readers feel like they are experiencing the story for themselves. Looking back, I wish I had asked, “Why are those things so important when no one cares what happens next to my main character?” Story has to come first.

Even if you only write blog posts and have no further aspirations, what you write here on WordPress must make the reader want to continue on to the next sentence, the next paragraph, and the next post.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, a story is not about the plot or even what happens in it. Stories are about how we, rather than the world around us, change. They grab us only when they allow us to experience how it would feel to navigate the plot. Thus story, as we’ll see throughout, is an internal journey, not an external one. —- Lisa Cron “Wired For Story”

That one short paragraph from the first chapter completely changed how I wrote my first novel about my chickens. It went from being about “some cute and interesting things that happened to Pearl” to being about “how Pearl faced some tough challenges that changed her for the better.” This is not an external journey (what we do). This is an internal journey (how we change).

If you are a writer, this book belongs in your library! It will likely change the way you write your stories, and I believe the change will be for the better. By the way, you can also find some valuable free resources on Lisa Cron’s website. Check it out, and if you find the information there helpful, look for this book in your local library or bookstore. I don’t think you will be disappointed.