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!

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!

“The Scoop From The Coop!” April 2020

The Scoop From The Coop!

Here’s what has been happening lately. It’s what you might call “The Scoop From The Coop!”

WordPress Reading And Posting. I am sorry for not keeping up with my reading and posting here on WordPress, particularly my reading. Right now, work is often hectic with the Covid-19 pandemic that is happening.

I genuinely do feel sad about not being able to keep up with my reading here because I’m missing out on some really great posts from all of you! Hopefully things will get back to normal soon. In the meantime, I will make a point of catching up with your posts as best as I am able.

All My Chickens. Everyone is doing well here. We have been able to get enough organic vegetables from the local grocery stores. As far as the chickens know, life continues as normal, and that’s the way I want it to be for them.

I did have a bit of a scare last week because Gracie was not herself. She was having trouble with her left foot. At first I thought it was something called “bumblefoot” which chickens get and can die from. When I examined her more closely, I found blue-green bruising on the top her left foot. (This is an odd color and at first I thought it was a fungus or something similar. But I guess chickens bruise a little differently from people!)

I didn’t ask her how it happened. I have a feeling she was jumping down from somewhere and didn’t land the way she expected. It may also have been a ballet-related injury. It is still too early to know if she will be able to dance again. As with all things, if she must hang up her ballet slippers forever, she will take that news gracefully.

On the very positive side, yesterday evening, she was able to make it up the chicken ladder and to her favorite sleeping perch without my help and when I wasn’t looking too! So we are very hopeful.

Most important of all: Stay healthy and be safe! Thank you so much for reading and being a part of this creative journey with us.

Your friends,

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

 

 

My Life With Gracie…A Tea Party With Splat And Tumble

A Tea Party For Splat And Tumble

This is a continuation of last Saturday’s story and illustrations. You can read it here if you’d like.

“So which one of the snowchicks we made for you was your favorite?” asked Gracie.

We were enjoying a warmer and more comfortable afternoon in the winter sun.

“They were all special in their own way.”

“Yes, but that’s not what I asked.”

“Well, it’s hard to say. Especially if each of you girls made a different one. You know I don’t like to pick favorites between you.”

“How about this then. Which two were your favorites? Imagine we were having an afternoon tea party. Which two would you invite? Bessie and I have always wanted to have a tea party anyway.”

“Gracie, you know you shouldn’t have a tea party for snowchicks. They would melt.”

“You are evading my question again.”

“To be honest, picking two is much easier. It would be the two I named Splat and Tumble.”

“I knew you would pick them!” she said, looking pleased at how well she knew me. “But tell me why.”

“Splat reminded me of when you were all little baby chicks and would play until you would ‘splat’ yourselves. At least that’s what I called it.”

“At first you thought we were weak and sick when really we were just exhausted from trying to explore everything in the world all at once.”

“Yes, all of you, and especially Bessie, would run and run until you couldn’t run any more and had to take a nap. Sometimes you would go ‘splat’ while you were still running to discover something that had caught your attention. The first time, I thought you were all having sun strokes or something.”

My face flushed slightly as I remembered not knowing hardly anything about raising chickens back then.

“Oh, don’t be embarrassed,” she said. “You didn’t know any more about baby chicks than we knew about the world we had hatched into. We all learned it together.”

I had to chuckle at my own lack of knowledge. “Yes, I thought there was something wrong with all of you and I wanted to take you back for a refund!”

“I am so glad you didn’t.”

“Me too, Gracie. Me too.”

“And what about the one you named Tumble?”

“That one reminded me of all the times Bessie tried to coach you to fly up to the next higher roosting spot.”

“And I took a tumble time and time again.”

“Yes, but that never stopped you from trying, did it? And that never stopped Bessie from helping you either. She never gave up on you, and you never gave up on yourself.”

Gracie looked over at Bessie who was scratching and digging in a corner with earthworm potential. I watched Gracie’s body relax as she thought back to those long ago days.

Gracie had been the most timid of all the chicks. She had that lump on her side almost from the time she hatched, and she shielded it and herself from the others for safety. She only trusted Bessie. I remember how I had promised them both I would keep them together no matter what. I have broken many promises in my life, but my promise to them is one I must never break.

Gracie turned back and looked into my eyes.

“I know you have had your own splats and tumbles. Even though you have never told me about them, I know you have had them. I have seen them on your face.”

I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. I just listened.

Gracie looked more deeply into my eyes, never blinking.

“But I have also seen how you have a piece of Forever in your heart.”

Gracie turned, leaving me to think about what she had said. Sometimes the simplest words hold the deepest meaning.

She went over to where Bessie was resting after her digging adventure. She lay down beside her and then nudged her head under Bessie’s. In a moment, Bessie was resting her head on the soft comfort of Gracie’s neck and back. It was just like how they had done so often as little chicks when their lives were filled with countless splats and tumbles.

Surely they have a piece of Forever in their hearts as well.

And perhaps, when it snows again, Gracie and Bessie can have their tea party with Splat and Tumble, only we will make it an iced tea party instead.

My Life With Gracie taught me sometimes life gives us splats and tumbles. Both simply mean we are alive and growing with a precious piece of Forever in our hearts.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! May you find a piece of Forever in your own heart.

Family Photo Friday!

Family Photo Friday

It has been some time since I’ve posted a “Family Friday Photo” for everyone. These photos let our readers know that Gracie and the others are real chickens and the things that I write about are real as well. (But I will admit from time to time my imagination does creep into the story just a little. I really didn’t order ballet slippers for them all of the way from Paris.) 

Today’s photo was taken when Gracie and her brooder-mates were just one week old. That’s Gracie, the farthest one from the camera, my little Gracie. These are just four of the fourteen chicks I raised in the spring of 2017. The others in the photo are Rudy (a Rhode Island Red), The Emperor, and The Empress (both Brahmas).

There are few things any cuter than a little chick. Something you will notice about Gracie in this photo is how timid she was back then. Can you see this in the way she holds her head and body? Soon after she hatched, a lump began to develop on her side. It kept her from doing a lot of things that the other chicks did. It made her weaker and more vulnerable, and yet she became the leader of my backyard flock. (You may remember this if you read our first book “Seasons Of Friendship.”)

As a chick, Gracie would never have been able to survive without the help of her best friend ever, Bessie. Part of tomorrow’s story and illustration will look back at when Gracie and Bessie were newly hatched, and so I thought this photo would be a good one to show you today even though it is not as clear as I would like.

Tomorrow’s post will share one lesson Gracie taught me about facing life’s challenges and those things which may not seem fair. It does not solve life’s struggles like the lump on Gracie’s side, but hopefully it does help put things into perspective.

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…A Most Unfortunate Chicken

A Most Unfortunate Chicken

Today’s illustration has been provided by Emily. You may remember some of her previous artwork from the series titled “Emily’s Summer Drawing Camp.” This is the story behind her drawing for today.

“I really do admire all of you chickens,” I said to Gracie. “I would make a lousy chicken. Probably the lousiest chicken in the whole history of lousy chickens.”

“Chickens do not keep history the way people do. There are no lousiest chickens.”

“You know what I mean, Gracie. If I was a chicken, I wouldn’t have sense enough to come in out of the rain.”

“Yes, you would. We would make sure of it.”

“I know you would, Gracie, because you are so kind. But that’s not quite what I mean.”

We looked at each other, not sure who should speak next.

There was a gust of winter wind, and the others trotted over to where Gracie and I were standing. They gathered around her, and everyone turned slightly to face into the wind as it shifted a little more from the west.

“You see, that’s exactly what I mean!”

They all looked up quizzically. Only Gracie had an idea of what I was getting at because the others hadn’t been listening.

“He is telling about why he would make a lousy chicken,” she quickly explained.

“There are no lousy chickens,” said Bessie. “There has never been a lousy chicken in the whole history of chickens.”

“Chickens don’t keep history,” reminded Gracie.

“All the more reason why there has never been a lousy chicken,” said Bessie, confident that her point had been unmistakably proven.

The wind gusted again, and five beaks and bodies moved to point into its slightly changed direction. I kept my back to the wind and pulled the collar of my jacket up higher on my neck.

“See! There you go again!” I said.

Their confused expressions returned.

“You face into the cold wind, no matter how hard it blows. If I was a chicken, I would turn my back to the cold wind and wait for it to die down.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” said Gracie with utmost confidence. “Well, maybe only once or twice.”

“Why is that? Because you would teach me and make sure I didn’t?”

“That is a lesson you would learn for yourself the first time that an icy cold wind got up into your tail feathers!”

Everyone thought this was hilarious as they imagined me as a chicken with a beard in front and tail feathers in back. I had to chuckle some myself.

“You would not be a lousy chicken,” said Gracie, “But you would be a most unfortunate chicken until you figured it out for yourself.”

Then I realized there is a reason my chickens face into the wind. They are streamlined that way. The wind may be cold when it hits their faces, but the rest of them remains warm and protected. The wind can’t get up into their feathers.

Another cold gust of wind came at us from a slightly different direction and all of the chickens adjusted a bit to face more directly into it. This time I faced into the wind with them.

“Foofity boofity bottomy feathers!” Pearl began to say over and over until the words turned into a song. “Foofity boofity, boofity foofity, bottomy feathers for you, for you!” Her silliness made everyone laugh and soon the cold didn’t feel as cold any more.

My Life With Gracie taught me to face into the winds of hardships rather than turning my back to them.

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

This brief story was inspired not only by the cold winds we have been having this week, but also by some of the hardships that you, our readers, have had recently. (You know who you are.) Your ability to face those hardships head-on is an inspiration to us all.

Family Photo Friday!

Family Photo Friday

Today’s Family Photo is of Amelia, and particularly Amelia’s right eye rather close up! She is examining the camera very carefully while having her picture taken. Like almost every other chicken, Amelia is very curious. I believe the curiosity comes from trying to determine if something new can be classified as “food” or “not food yet.”

One of the most fascinating things about any chicken’s eyes are the tiny feathers which surround them. (You may remember Emily’s eyes weren’t quite right in a recent drawing I made of her.) Even these tiniest of tiny feathers still carry the distinct markings of light and dark which identify them as belonging to Amelia.

You will notice this is her right eye, and that does make a difference, at least for chickens. It would not have been so easy to get a closeup photograph of Amelia’s left eye, and here’s why. A chicken’s eyes develop differently before they hatch. The right eye is nearsighted and best for seeing things close up, like my camera. The left eye is farsighted and best for seeing things far away, and so she naturally examined my camera with her right eye.

Chickens can also use each of their eyes independently, so while the right eye may be examining your face, their left eye may be looking far away for potential danger. (Maybe everyone should have a chicken to guard their backyard!) Their eyes also have a double cone structure which helps them to track objects, like crickets and other insects. These special features serve them very well except they lack night vision which we have. It’s why they head up to their coop for the night as soon as the light gets dim.

All of this brings me to the reason why I’ve selected a picture of Amelia’s eye for this week’s Family Photo Friday. Our story post tomorrow will be about seeing.

For today, I hope we will all see just as Amelia sees: honestly, fearlessly, and clearly.

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

In most of my other posts except for those categorized as ”Family Photo Friday,” various amounts of fiction can creep in, and I often try to treat those fictional elements as actual events. I discussed this a little in the last “Family Photo Friday” post. “Family Photo Friday” is much more about how we really are here in our own backyard.

Today’s photo was taken in about the same time period as yesterday’s story and illustration which is almost entirely fictional. In reality, Pearl was a perfect protector and caregiver for Blanche all of the time that she was sick.

This is one of the last photos I ever took of them together. It is one of my favorites, not because of the quality of the photo, but because it shows Pearl’s strength and determination as she watches over Blanche who is taking a nap in the sunlight. (The sun had just been covered by clouds when I snapped this, so there is no brilliance to their white feathers, and the fencing on their run area gets in the way.)

For me, this photo is about how we all have strength and determination within ourselves that we can call on when needed. Pearl reminds me of this every day, and I love her for it.

In Pearl’s fictional story, just as in her real-life story, she will face many obstacles and difficulties, but they change her for the better without taking away the joy she has for life and in just being herself. There has never been a chicken like Pearl, and I tell her that every chance I have.

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

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!