My Little Girl Pearl, The Light-bearer

Thursday was my midweek day off with my new part-time status at work. I spent the morning drawing book illustrations like this one which is still a work in progress.

It was good to have an extra day at home with the chickens. One of the things I have at home but not at work is someone to jump up in the air and flap like crazy when they see me. But that’s what Pearl does almost every time I open the back door. She is the only one of my chickens who still does this.

But that is Pearl, my silly and ridiculously lovable Pearl.

Mid afternoon, I went out and sat under the camellias and read the newspaper. It began to rain about the time I turned to the comics page. The girls were plenty dry in their sheltered run, and I was only getting a few drops under the thick canopy of decades-old camellias. So we all settled in to wait it out. But Pearl seemed to be waiting for something special.

And then it happened, something totally unexpected for me but something I sensed my chickens knew would happen. They had seen it before on rainy late afternoons like this when I was away at work.

As the sky darkened from denser clouds, the fireflies began to come out. There were only a few at first, flashing on and off, dodging the raindrops. Any other day, they would not have appeared until late evening, three or four hours later. But there they were, more and more of them, dancing around us, bringing unexpected joy as the world grew darker if only because of a passing shower.

Now I understand much better why Pearl enjoys them, these little light-bearers, so much. She is a light-bearer too whenever she jumps up in the air and flaps her wings. I have to smile when I see her, no matter how cloudy my day may have been. She brings me joy.

Without a doubt, Pearl is one of my best egg-layers. But to me it’s not her most important job. Her best job is being a light-bearer. It’s what she was made to do, I think, and perhaps it is what we are all meant to do.

She looked into my eyes, hoping what I said was the truth, hoping to find her most needed answer there.

“I am out of jokes and silly hats and silly anything. How can you still love me?”

“I love you all the more, Pearl, when you have nothing to share except your heart.”

from “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”

Often we are the only light some people have. So jump up in the air. Flap your wings.

Dance with your own unique light.

Share your heart.

Lately I have not been as good about reading posts here on WordPress as I would like to be. I worry about missing some really great posts. (I think I am about two weeks behind. Ouch!)

So if you have something that you’ve posted recently you are particularly fond of and shares your own unique light, why not give me a link or two in the comments below? That way I will be sure not to miss it, and others who read here can find you better! (And it might just send some “likes” and “follows” your way from new readers!)

My Life With Gracie…Every Egg Tells A Story

Every Egg Tells A Story

There it was in the middle of the breakfast salad, a single just-laid egg.

Now this is unusual. Chickens may do many things in “just any old place,” but laying an egg is not one of them. That is done in the dark privacy of the nesting box. They are safe there. Their egg is safe there too.

So you see, this was definitely an unusual event. But I didn’t have time to ask “Who?” or “Why?” before heading off to work. There was only time to ask, “Is everybody okay?” No one said anything, and so I assumed all were well.

It had been a busy Wednesday morning. While I put down their breakfast salad and welcomed everyone to their new day, I mentioned next Wednesday we would have the whole day together because I wouldn’t be going to work. Then I gave them the weather report so they would know what to expect, though I had a feeling they already knew it was going to be an unusually warm day.

But that was all there was time for. No leisurely second cup of coffee. No discussions of what would be blooming next in the garden like the Japanese iris.

There was just enough time to get ready for work and to tell everyone what I always tell them. “Take good care of each other. Remember I love you more than anything here.”

I did wonder about the egg though. Since Gracie’s foot mishap, I have tried to be extra vigilant. What if something was wrong? What if they were too scared to say anything?

At least those questions kept me from wondering about other questions, bill-paying questions. The reason I would be home the next Wednesday and many more Wednesday’s afterwards was simple. With the economy the way it is now, I am moving to part-time. That means an extra day at home each week, but also twenty percent less pay.

But chickens don’t understand people economics. Nor would I want them to. They only understand chicken economics. We are the richest family on our entire street because we have more worms than anyone. Now we have more time to be a family together. Life is good!

Somehow all will work out fine.

That night as I went out at dusk to tuck everyone in for the evening, I heard the lightest two chicken feet land on the coop floor after hopping down from the nighttime perch.

It was Emily, of course. I know her sounds as well as I know her eggs by their shape and color. In the dimness, she made her way down the chicken ladder and hurried to me.

I scooped her up into my arms.

“That was me,” she said. “I laid the egg in the middle of the breakfast salad.”

“I know, Sweetie. Don’t worry. Sometimes things happen. But you are okay, aren’t you?”

“I am fine. I am just a little embarrassed. It was a very unseemly thing to do. I had to tell you or I would not be able to sleep at all tonight.”

More than any of the others, Emily is a proper lady with impeccable manners. Egg laying must, absolutely must, be done in the privacy of the nesting box and in the most ladylike manner possible and with hardly a peep.

“It’s just that I was so excited for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You get an extra day to enjoy us even more!”

I held her close and kissed the top of her head.

“You are so sweet, Emily. Yes, I do get even more time to enjoy you.”

She wasn’t excited about having more treat time or more backyard free range time. She wasn’t even excited about being able to walk through the garden more often. Emily was excited about being able to see the pleasure on my face from being with my chickens. She didn’t even realize that she herself was a huge part of why I look forward to spending time with them.

This is the heart of innocence.

“I just do not understand why you enjoy us so much. We are just little chickens, and I am the littlest of us all. Why do you even bother with us? You already have everything we see here. You are so big. When you stand close, I cannot even see all of you.”

I was unsure what to say.

“Why do you enjoy us so much?” she asked.

Again I was unsure what to say, but I knew this was an important question deserving an answer.

“You know, Emily, that is a question people have asked as well, just in a different way about themselves. Not about chickens, but about themselves.”

“What do you mean?”

I carried her over to where we could look up into the evening sky. The first stars were beginning to shine.

“Many thousands of years ago, someone wondered something like what you are wondering right now and even wrote it down.”

“What did they write?”

“They wrote, ‘What is man that you are mindful of him?’”

She thought about these words carefully.

“Did that person ever get an answer to the question?”

“If they did, they didn’t write down that part. But sometimes a question is best left unanswered. Sometimes a question is just meant to make us wonder with eyes as big and as wide-open as yours, Emily. Sometimes we have to find the answers to those kinds of questions for ourselves. No one can tell us the answers, and if they do, we are unlikely to really hear them. Some answers are best found in our own hearts.”

She seemed satisfied with this.

“Sometimes it’s best not to know all the answers,” I added because that seemed like an awfully long speech.

“Nobody likes a know-it-all, right?”

“Or a tell-it-all.” We smiled together. “But I am happy you told me about your egg and even happier you understand how much joy you give me just by being you.”

I placed her back in her favorite roosting spot, back in a corner next to Gracie. Her life and her heart were now secure for the night.

Perhaps this is a part of how the universe is intended to work. I cannot imagine a world where Light and Life and Love would not be looking forward to enjoying each person. Equally. Delightfully.

And if Light and Light and Love can do that so intensely with each one of us, can’t we do that too, even just a little, with each other? Even when we are different?

Yes, every egg tells a story.

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 Goodness Of Giving


With all that has been going on with current events this week, it was difficult to look at the news this morning, and so I turned it off. It was not that I didn’t care. It’s more a feeling that it has all become too much. Perhaps there is such a thing as “compassion fatigue”? When I went out to feed my chickens this morning, I was reminded of a passage I had written for “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.”

Gracie looked up at me and asked, “Why do you look sad?”

“Because the world needs more goodness in it than I think we will ever be able to give it,” I said. “Now without Blanche, we are just five chickens and one old man.”

“Maybe you should write a story or draw a picture so people will know it’s not good to hurt chickens or steal eggs.”

“Gracie, most people already know those things. We can’t lay enough eggs and write enough books for the amount of goodness the world needs.”

As I sat watching everyone enjoying their breakfast salad, I also remembered what Bessie had told me.

Bessie had been listening in and had gotten that serious look of hers. It’s the look she always gets when she has something very important to say. She hopped up onto my shoes. This is also what she does when she has something very important to say…

“If you are a writer, you make your best writings. If you are a drawer, you make your best drawings. Then you hope what you do will go to someone who will do the most good with it.

“Chickens lay eggs. Some get used for omelettes. Some get used for cupcakes. You can only do what you can do. The rest will be up to whoever receives your gifts. But you can’t stop giving what you are meant to give.”

I tilted my head and looked at them while I thought this over.

“He looks just like a chicken!” Bessie whispered to Gracie.

Then I realized I was doing exactly what they do when they are thinking over things I’ve explained to them. How amusing!

They stood looking up at me with all of the innocence of two just-hatched chicks and all of the wisdom of two well-aged hens.

At times, events can seem overwhelming, but just as Bessie has said, that shouldn’t stop us from giving gifts of kindness, no matter how small.

The world of chickens, the world of people, and perhaps even the entire universe are all built on the goodness of giving. Let’s all keep giving the gifts we are meant to give, the gifts of kindness.

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

A Chicken’s Life Can Be That Way

A Chicken’s Life Can Be That Way“So what is that you’ve done there?” I asked Pearl as she was rearranging some sticks and pebbles and leaves in a cleared out area in the chicken run.

I had brought some of my unfinished drawings outside with hopes of getting inspiration. Some of them were just not coming together.

“Oh, nothing really,” she said.

“Whatever you do is never nothing.”

Pearl seemed glad to have sparked my curiosity. “I thought I might help you with the book.”

“How do you mean?”

“Look more closely.”

And so I did.

“I only see some twigs and pebbles and leaves and a few little feathers.”

Pearl added one more twig to the collection she had gathered, and suddenly an image formed.

It was a chicken, a happy chicken! I couldn’t really call it a drawing, and I couldn’t really call it a sculpture.

“Pearl, it’s beautiful, it’s perfect, and it’s so much like something you would do!”

She just smiled up at me.

“I’ve always known you were a collector, but I never knew you could do anything like this!”

“I thought you might need some help with the illustrations.”

She moved a few of the twigs and pebbles, and there was suddenly a completely different chicken pose. Then she added an azalea blossom, and suddenly there was a dancing chicken wearing a tutu made from the flower.

So I sat and just watched as she kept moving and rearranging and creating new images.

“I started making these last summer. When you were teaching Emily to draw.”

“I had no idea.”

“I taught myself how to do this, how to draw like this,” she said. I could not tell whether she had felt left out last summer, but it was likely she did. “I guess I have always gone my own way.”

“That was when you were getting over Blanche leaving us, wasn’t it?”

“May I show you something else?”

Pearl had not answered my question or waited for me to answer hers.

She went up to the darkest corner of her nesting box where I would have never thought to look. One by one, she brought out bits of torn paper and gift wrap she had collected when the trash truck came by on Tuesdays.

Each held a drawing made with the simplest of tools. These were her real drawings, ones on scraps of paper. She had used feathers shaped into pens, soft twigs frayed and turned into brushes, inks made from charred wood and milkweed sap, smudges of mud, and even what looked like the last of some bottles of white correction fluid and fingernail polish.

“Pearl, I had no idea.”

I sat next to her to examine them more closely.

“May I touch them? I will be careful. I want to spread them out so I can see them better.”

“Yes, that would be fine.”

“I don’t want to damage them.”

“You won’t. I trust you.”

I picked each one up as carefully as I had picked up Pearl when she was just a baby chick. As I spread them out in front of us, Pearl hopped up into my lap and whispered so only I would hear, “They are the story of my life.”

There was her life. Had I ever been so introspective? It takes a great deal of courage to look at one’s entire life laid out like cards, tiny snapshots of who we are. But Pearl had done it, and each of these was an expressive masterpiece.

“Most of these are full of light and hope,” I said.

“A chicken’s life can be that way.”

“But some of them are very dark and scary.”

“A chicken’s life can be that way too,” she said as only one who has known dark and scary can say.

We sat there looking at her artwork together. There were times I wanted to ask a question, but chose to stay quiet. I felt the drawings would speak for themselves, and if there was something they did not say, then maybe it was not important to know after all.

I placed one of my own unfinished drawings under one of hers.

“May I use some of these for our book, your book? Some of the chapters have things that only you experienced. Like this one with the opossum. I haven’t known how to draw those things because I wasn’t there.”

“I was there.”

“I know you were. And you lived to tell about it.”

“And draw it too.”

“You did.”

Life must create and create anew. With whatever it can find. Even useless throwaways. Pearl may have once thought about her own life that way. But no longer. Perhaps Life specializes in turning what others reject into priceless beautiful things, if not on the outside, then certainly on the inside.

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

Happy Hatchday, Gracie and Bessie!…Here Is Your “Worms And Hay Bales” Game!

Worms And Straw Bales

Today is our Hatchday celebration for Gracie and Bessie. They are three years old. That is all of the toes they can see on one foot, and so it’s kind of a big deal. Here is their Hatchday gift to you, our readers!

“Worms And Hay Bales!” (Worms Optional Version)

Object Of The Game Two chicken players are racing to get to the end of a winding trail through their yard. The winner is the first player to reach the end of the trail and land on Space 36.

How To Set Up Place the game board between the two players. Each player places their marker next to, but not on, Space 1. Place the dice in a good area for rolling so as not to disturb the game board, markers, and worms (if you are using them). That is it! You’re all set up to play!

Special Note: You may want to borrow markers and a die from another game to use when playing “Worms And Straw Bales!” at home. That way you can start playing right away! Along with the PDF below for the game board, there is also one for the game playing pieces. This is just in case you want to make ours using scissors and a glue stick.

How To Start Playing For the first game, players roll to see who gets the higher number. That player gets to go first. (After the first game, the loser of the last game gets to go first.) Players take turns rolling and then moving their marker foreward the number of spaces shown.

This will be as few as one or as many as six, but remember that sometimes just moving one space can have advantages depending on where you land! And sometimes moving all six spaces might not work out so well. Here’s what we mean.

Land On The Bottom Of A Straw Bale If a player lands on a space which is the bottom of a straw bale, they must move their marker to the top of the straw bale. This means being on a higher numbered space and closer to winning!

Land On The Head Or Middle Of A Worm If a player lands on a space which is the head or middle of a worm, they must move their marker to the tail of the worm. This means being on a lower numbered space and not as close to winning.

Land On Another Chicken’s Space If a player lands on a space which is already occupied my another player, they must move to the next space with the lower number. “I was here first” is the rule to remember when this happens. (The player may need to move again based on the directions for that space.)

Land On An Arrow Sorry, but these are just to help you make sure you are moving in the correct direction! (Players do not get to move up when they land on an arrow.)

Declaring The Winner! The game is over when one player lands on Space 36. This can be an “exact number” roll or an “enough to get you there” roll. (It is best to decide this before you begin to play.) If you are playing at home with your own chickens, it is strongly recommended that the winner receive at least one worm as a treat.

“Worms And Straw Bales!” Game Board  Print one of these on card stock paper if you have it. If you want to use your own dice and markers, that’s all there is to do!

(Optional) “Worms And Straw Bales!” Game Playing Pieces Print one of these if you want to use our dice and markers. Card stock paper works best. If you want to add your own colors, that would be great! Just be sure to do it before you cut out your pieces. (Cut on the solid lines, fold on the dashed lines, and glue together one side at a time.)

We hope you will enjoy playing this game as much as we enjoyed making it to share with you. And if this game helps pass the time during this unusual season the world is going through right now, then it truly will be a very Happy Hatchday for all of us.

Thanks again!

Gracie, Bessie, and John

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

This type of game may seem a little “old school” when compared to may of the electronic games and other options which are available these days. Still, I would like to believe there is a special joy found in games like this, even if only for chickens!

Remembering Blanche And All That Really Needs To Be Said

Dedication Page

Today, April 21st, is our day to remember Blanche who told us “Farewell” in her own way on this day last year when it was Easter Sunday. This post is mostly at Pearl’s request, and it features the illustration from the dedication page of our next book which is about Blanche and Pearl and The Bottle Cap Lady. The book is dedicated to Blanche, who will always be Pearl’s best friend ever.

The illustration style is one that Pearl likes best. It uses drawings made on pieces of torn scraps of paper she collected over time. This is not the easiest for me to do, but it is Pearl’s story, and so she gets the final approval whenever possible. I do like the idea of rescuing things thrown away like this scrap of paper and then turning them into something beautiful. That is what happens in this story to more than just the things blown out of the trash truck each Tuesday and then collected by Pearl.

She has also been considering a change in the title to The Bottle Cap Lady with the subtitle Or How To Explain Christmas To Chickens. But there is still plenty of time to decide.

Here is an excerpt Pearl asked me to share with you today as we remember Blanche together.

The only words I ever recall Blanche telling me directly were “Thank you.”

She said this to me on one of her last nights with us when I took her in for a warm bath and was drying her off. There was no one else around to hear her, only me. She nodded after she said those words, and I held her closer still. She had not been able to get up to the coop by herself that Good Friday night.

She would talk to me when the others were talking to me, all in a group. But we never really had a heart to heart conversation.

I’m unsure why that was. Perhaps she felt it was helping to protect Pearl in some way. Not that she was afraid I would hurt her or Pearl, just that it was safer if the others always thought they were my favorites rather than the two of them.

I suppose sometimes “Thank you” is really all that needs to be said. But we really need to listen carefully when someone tells us “Thank you.” Sometimes what they really may be saying is “Farewell.”

from “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”

We appreciate you for remembering Blanche with us and look forward to sharing this full story with you soon.

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

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…Worms And Straw Bales!

Worms And Straw Bales

“So, I suppose you know what will be here very soon,” said Gracie. She was trying to hide her excitement.

Bessie stretched out her neck to examine my face for any telltale clues. “You haven’t forgotten, have you?”

“It’s your Hatchday in only a few more days, right?” I asked, trying to appear as aloof as I could, but not quite managing it successfully. The day is almost as special to me as it is to them.

“Yes! Don’t act like you have forgotten either! Will there be anything special for us to give like last year?”

Last year for their Hatchday, we made our first book, Seasons Of Friendship, available as a free download before it was officially released for sale.

But this year, our newest book is much longer with thirty-five chapters instead of twelve, and there are at least three times as many illustrations. It’s not ready yet.

“I was thinking since we can’t give everyone a free read this year, we might want to give everyone a free board game instead. It would still be a gift to celebrate your Hatchday.”

“Will it have earthworms?”

“You know, it really has to have earthworms.”

“Otherwise who would ever enjoy playing it?”

“Exactly!”

They nodded together in agreement.

“I’m sure if we put our heads together, we can come up with a brilliant board game.”

“One that includes worms?”

“Yes, one that includes worms.”

And so we sat together and thought and thought and then thought some more. Finally, Gracie asked the question they had been hesitant to ask. “So what is a board game?”

“That’s a very good question. I suppose you do need to know what you’re trying to think up before you can think up a new one.”

“We don’t know much about being bored. There is always something to do right here in our own backyard.”

“I see. This is a different kind of board. But you can play a board game whether you are bored or not.”

Bessie tilted her head to one side trying to understand. “Are you deliberately trying to confuse us?”

“Not at all. A board game is made on a board, like the boards of your coop. But really anything like stiff paper can be used.”

“And what do people do on this board?”

“They move small things around.”

“Like small chickens?”

“Yes, they can move little pictures of chickens around on the board.”

“Back and forth and down and up like chickens really move?”

“Yes, I suppose so. Until one of them gets to the end and is the winner.”

They looked at each other and then at me and said together, “We have the perfect bored-or-not-bored board game for you!”

“Land on a worm, move backwards and down!” said Gracie, a fierce hunter who will dig down as deep as she can to snag a tasty earthworm.

“Land on a hay bale, move forwards and up!” said Bessie, a strong flyer who reaches high places effortlessly.

And that was the beginning of “Worms And Hay Bales.”

The rules they made up are quite simple.

“Land on a worm, move backwards and down. Land on a straw bale, move forwards and up!”

It doesn’t get much easier.

It had to be a game chickens can play because any of our readers who have chickens would certainly want to play with their chickens. Over the following days, we worked out everything for the game, and as disappointed as they were, I finally convinced them the game would work best without real worms.

“They would always be moving off of the board,” I explained, “And if anyone wanted to play at home with their own chickens, most of the game would be eaten before it even got started.”

The sadness on their faces was almost heartbreaking, but they could see the likelihood of this happening, since that is exactly what happened when the two of them played a test version. We settled on having real worms as prizes for the chicken winners and candy worms for the people winners. Everybody likes getting a prize.

During all of our planning, I realized we have never really discussed their tradition of giving gifts rather than receiving gifts on their hatchdays. Somehow to them it just seems natural, and if I were to say, “That’s not the people way of doing things,” I’m sure they would simply reply, “It is the chicken way of doing things.”

I must admit I do like the chicken way of doing things.

My Life With Gracie (and Bessie) reminded me every life (even yours and mine) is a gift to the world, and gifts are meant for giving.

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

Watch for “Worms And Straw Bales” next Saturday which is Hatchday for Gracie and Bessie when they will be three years old! There will be game rules and PDF files to download and print so you can play with your own chickens…or children! (Genuine edible earthworms not included.)

My Life With Gracie…Only For A Season

Only For A Season

Emily hopped unexpectedly into my lap. I was setting some pavers and bricks for a new garden path. Everyone else was pecking and scratching in their backyard playground, but Emily had slipped through a small gap in the fencing.

“I remember the first time you slipped through that little gap. None of the others know it is there.”

“Yes, sometimes there really are advantages to being the smallest,” Emily said.

“But you didn’t go off hunting for worms like the others would have done.”

“What was I doing instead?” she asked, even though she already knew what I would say.

“You were walking down one of the garden paths just looking at all of the beautiful flowers around you.”

“And why wasn’t I looking for bugs first?”

“Because, just like you told me, the bugs will always be there, but the flowers are with us only for a season.”

Emily smiled her happiest smile. Her love for the garden was something connecting us.

This was the beginning of what has come to resemble an old family story, one Emily and I tell to each other. It is the kind of story that gets told and retold, the kind that anyone outside the family might not completely understand, but we did. It is a story Emily loved to hear again and again, and one I never want to forget.

“I will always remember how you walked in the garden that day.”

“Can you draw me like that? Like how I was walking?” she asked as she had done so many times before.

“I have tried time and time again, but I can’t quite get it right. Still, it’s a picture in my heart, and perhaps that is the best kind of picture to have, one that can’t fade or become old and wrinkled.”

“And how was I walking?” she asked.

“In a way slowly to take it all in, and yet in a way quickly so as not to miss anything.”

“How can someone walk quickly and slowly both at the same time?” she asked. This was a new question she had decided to add to our story, and it delighted me.

“I am not sure. But you did. Beauty does that, especially when enjoyed by a heart like yours.”

“Beauty must be able to suspend time,” she mused. “But why do you suddenly look so sad?”

“Because when I was drawing a picture of your coop and some of the iris flowers, I realized how much the chicken wire fencing obscures their beauty from your view. You don’t get to walk through the garden as often as you’d like. I’m sure.”

“But when I do, I enjoy every minute of it. Do you know what I might like best about the iris blossoms? They have those yellow parts that look like big fuzzy caterpillars. You call them ‘beards’ but they look like ‘bugs’ to a chicken. I imagine if we were to eat one, it would tickle all the way down to my tummy.”

I imagined this tickling sensation with her, and we giggled.

“But I don’t hate the fencing or the chicken wire. They keep me safe.”

“They also keep you from seeing everything clearly.”

“Have you ever noticed how when you come home we are usually sitting close to the fence? Do you know why we do that?”

“I just always figured it was because you were eager for me to get home.”

“For some afternoon fruit? Well, maybe, but that is not the real reason. When we sit away from the fence, all we see is the fence. But when we sit close to the fence, we do not see the fence, just what is on the other side of the fence. We feel safe, but we also see the beauty.”

I felt there must be a lesson in what she had just told me, but I couldn’t ponder it just then. My mind was still trying to comprehend what she had said about beauty being able to suspend time. This is certainly not an idea that would occur to most chickens and certainly not to me on my own.

“Maybe you’d like to draw and paint some iris blossoms while we wait for them to bloom later this spring.”

“I would like that. With a picture, I can enjoy them all year round. They really are very easy to make. Just a chicken foot, three hearts one way, three hearts the other way, and three fuzzy caterpillars. It can’t get much easier.”

“Maybe you can teach me? It sounds like a very chicken way of looking at things.”

“It is,” she said. “But can we walk through the garden first though? Just you and me?”

“That would be beautiful,” I said, still feeling there was a lesson here with more chicken wisdom to help bring life into sharper focus. “You know, Emily, there is a very famous poem beginning with the words ‘she walks in beauty.’ It was written many years ago by someone named Lord Byron. He lived in England, and they have very beautiful gardens there. You walk in beauty, Emily.”

She either wasn’t sure what to say or hadn’t really heard me. So I just watched her walk on ahead.

She had all she needed, including a strong trust in the goodness of the world and everything in it. She just kept putting one foot in front of the other and believing.

Yes, surely there was a lesson or two for me to learn, and perhaps I would ask Gracie about all of this later. But for the moment, I thought it best to follow Emily through the meandering garden pathways and simply enjoy the beauty I saw in her heart.

Like the flowers she loves so much, her heart would be with me only for a season.

You can download a free photo of Emily’s drawing titled “Flowers And Worms” here and perhaps use it as a screensaver or desktop background. It may help to remind you to look for beauty, even in difficult times.

And if we are really lucky, I may be able to convince Emily to give us a lesson on how to draw and paint iris blossoms like she does. “Just a chicken foot, three hearts one way, three hearts the other way, and three fuzzy caterpillars.” Hopefully it will be as easy as she has promised!

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

Blanche And Pearl…“They Only Ever Had Each Other”

Blanche And Pearl...”They Only Ever Had Each Other”

Today seemed to be a good day to share one of the illustrations which I’ve been working on while my chickens helped some with a few pictures for “My Life With Gracie.” This illustration work really is work!

This is one of four large illustrations for How To Explain Christmas To Chickens. It is for the first section titled “Blanche And Pearl.” Each section will begin with a large illustration and then each chapter will have a smaller panoramic banner illustration. (Imagine just the bottom third of this drawing.)

It is a drawing challenge for me to work with only black lines and gray tones because I definitely miss being able to use color which adds so much life and emotion to a drawing. But with the cost of color printing, it is the only affordable alternative for a book of this length. Having grown up with only a black and white television, I am comfortable seeing the world without color, and I think perhaps the drawing style may somewhat recall a previous time period.

Some things are the same as the drawings which I’ve done from the beginning such as the low horizon line which gives a “chicken’s eye” or “child’s eye” view of the world. Also the illustrations which include people, such as The Bottle Cap Lady, will only show no more than the lower body, not the face. (Not because I can’t draw faces, but because the chickens are the main characters. It’s also important to the story’s message for The Bottle Cap Lady to be anyone anywhere, and facial details or a regular given name would interfere with that.)

You may notice a bit more realism in this drawing. Much of this is because the novel explores Pearl’s real genuine emotions about not being accepted by the other chickens and then later losing Blanche and needing to face life alone. Those themes don’t seem suited to a lighthearted cartoon style of drawing. There are also many straight lines and angular shapes, and only the chickens and the German iris use curved lines and rounded shapes. I think this contrast helps bring attention to the smaller elements in the drawing like the chickens. (Often Pearl feels small and insignificant, though she never gives up hope.)

My goal is for this illustration to capture the relationship between Blanche and Pearl and the feelings expressed by this key sentence from the story’s first part: “They only ever had each other.”

You may be thinking this doesn’t look like a typical Christmas illustration or sound like a typical Christmas story. You are quite right. But then Pearl is not a typical chicken and The Bottle Cap Lady is not a typical neighbor either!

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

How does this drawing look to you? Can you tell which chicken is Pearl? And is this Pearl as you might imagine her in a world of black and white? I live with these chickens and with these illustrations, so it’s often a challenge to see things with different, and perhaps more critical, eyes. Your perspective, even if not-so-favorable, is truly appreciated.