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!

Family Photo Friday…Unexpected Discoveries

Family Photo Friday

You may need to look a bit closer than usual, but Gracie and Bessie really are in this photo. Well, not all of them, just their feathers!

This bird nest, perhaps a robin’s nest, was on the ground after a recent day of strong wind. When I picked it up and examined it, I was surprised to see soft feathers from Gracie and Bessie woven into the nest.

With no rooster around, they would never be using their own warm downy feathers to protect and comfort baby chicks. Yet they were still able to help another bird’s family.

Giving. It’s just what they do, including feathers for wild birds to use when they are building their nests.

Do any of us really know how far the gifts we give may travel or whose lives will be touched?

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…So What Do You Do?


So what do you do when your “Best Girl Ever” and your “Bravest Girl Ever” turn three years old? Well, after you have given them all of their favorite treats including freshly-dug worms, you come up with a way for them to celebrate even more by doing what they love to do…giving gifts!

On their Hatchday last weekend, we very quietly started a new website titled “Gracie And Friends.”

For them, it will be an opportunity to share more free stuff with you, particularly games with a higher “ready-to-publish” quality. Along with Gracie and Bessie, I want to give my best too.

For me, it will be a chance to make more happy and colorful drawings of everyone when they were just little chicks. That was before the boys started crowing and had to move out into the country and before the girls started laying eggs. That was when they were all at their cutest and loved exploring all of the goodness the world has to give.

Right now we could all use some happiness and some goodness, don’t you think?

Just because you follow “My Life With Gracie” doesn’t mean you will want to follow “Gracie And Friends.” And the other way around is true too. While “My Life With Gracie” is more about my journey as a writer and illustrator, “Gracie And Friends” will have much shorter posts and focus on items to download and enjoy.

Just like in real life, Gracie and all of her friends give. Eggs. Stories. Drawings. Soft downy feathers for wild birds to use when they are building their nests. Games for other chickens and children to play for entertainment and to pass the time.

Giving is what we do. We don’t expect anything in return. Sometimes we may receive a gift and sometimes we may not. Either way, we are still happy. That’s just the way it is for Gracie and her friends, including me.

So moms, dads, kids, teachers, good dogs, good cats, and all chickens, we hope you will print, read, play, and have fun!

Click Here To Visit “Gracie And Friends” Where You Can Download A New Version Of “Worms And Hay Bales!”


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

I really did enjoy putting together “Gracie And Friends” along with a more polished version of “Worms And Hay Bales!” and hope you will enjoy them too.

Please feel free to share with others, particularly those with young children…or chickens! Maybe “Gracie And Friends” can help some people through COVID-19 by providing things to do and a big dose of happiness.

I’m also looking forward to including my boy, Lefty, on “Gracie And Friends.” He will give some balance, and I will be able to draw power tools and hammers which always fascinated him. (So not everything will have flowers, but of course, there will still be plenty of worms!)

We are currently working on a new card game that we will probably call “Scratch And Peck!” Watch for it!

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!

Family Photo Friday…First Month Hatchday Celebration!

Family Photo Friday

I apologize for the low quality of this photo. When it was taken, I never imagined I would be sharing any of these “baby” photos with the whole world! But it looks like Gracie had some idea. That’s her in the lower left corner. She is smiling shyly for the camera while everyone else is enjoying some homegrown sprouts. Bessie is the one in the upper right. She is standing on the sprouts and trying to get the best ones before anyone else.

This photo was taken close to the one-month Hatchday celebration for Gracie and Bessie and their other hatchmates. They had definitely grown a great deal in only one month, and those fresh sprouts helped them grow even more.

Tomorrow we will celebrate their Third Hatchday with lots and lots of worms and other special treats. Three is a big number. Three is an important number. Three is all of the toes they can see and count on one foot, and for them, it’s a really BIG deal!

They will also be giving you a gift of their “Worms And Hay Bales!” board game. It’s a great game to play at home with your own chickens…or children if you are not fortunate enough to have any chickens of your own.

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

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.)

Family Photo Friday

Family Photo Friday

For some time now “My Life With Gracie” has had as our slogan “Free Eggs (if you are close by) And Free Stories (even if you aren’t)!” It’s just sort of what we do.

Earlier this week on Tuesday, we were fortunate enough to give a half-carton of eggs to Carol, one of our very good friends at work. Then on Wednesday, we found out that she was retiring.

At the end of the day Thursday, she came to say “Good bye” to each of us still left in the office and not working from home due to Covid-19. She let me know that her husband was preparing a special dinner for them to celebrate her retirement, and that I would never guess what he was preparing.

Do you have any ideas? Well, I didn’t. I guessed a nice steak dinner or something extravagant like that. But I was wrong. He was going to prepare a “breakfast for dinner” meal featuring eggs from my girls along with sausages and fried potatoes with onions and all of their other breakfast favorites.

My girls were so excited to hear this when I got home yesterday evening. They never imagined their best gifts would be used to celebrate such a wonderful and happy occasion.

And so I was reminded again how my chickens always give their very best, even though it may seem modest and even humble to them. When I think about Carol and all of the years she has spent helping people in the healthcare field, what really stands out is how she has always given her very best, just the same as my girls. So I guess it just seems fitting in a way.

I have a great deal of gratitude today for everyone out there who always gives their very best, no matter how humble or insignificant that best may seem. We all have a part in making the world a better place, even if it’s just one egg at a time!

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!

Saturday Surprises

Here again is something a little different, and “Saturday Surprises!” seems to be the most appropriate name for this type of post. It’s just a glimpse into life here with my chickens.

These look very much like hydrangeas, but they are actually blossoms from our Chinese Showball Viburnum. The photo is taken from a “chicken’s eye view.” It was taken before the flowers have turned completely white because I like the pale green mixed with white. When this plant was smaller and in full bloom, there were hardly any stems or leaves showing, only huge white “snowballs.”

When we have a few warmer than normal days during the winter, I will be able to find small blossoms opening near the top where there is more sun. They are like a promise that spring really will come, and here is the fulfillment of that promise. Spring did come!

Definitely a “Saturday Surprise” wouldn’t you say?!?

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