Family Photo Friday…My Bold Brave Amelia!

Family Photo Friday

Today’s photo is of my Amelia who is beginning to molt. You can tell by the pair of longest tail feathers that are still left and sticking straight up like an awkward flag to say, “It’s me, your bold brave Amelia!”

She has come a long way in her comfort level with molting. Her first time was extremely embarrassing. She didn’t want anyone to see her. This may have partly been because she didn’t want anyone pecking at her bare places, but it may also been she didn’t want me to see them. She knows how much I enjoy admiring her black and white patterned feathers.

I was reminded of a story and illustration I had shared the first time Amelia molted. It is titled “Feeling Vulnerable” and you can click the title to go to that page if you’d like. The lesson Amelia and I both learned that first molting season was this: “When we are feeling vulnerable, it’s probably because we are growing to meet new challenges.”

That was almost two years ago. Back then, I was trying my best to post at least three stories and illustrations a week. But as you can tell, I’ve slowed down a bit since then. Along with “Feeling Vulnerable,” there was also “While We Sleep” and “About Becoming.”

I read those three stories again this morning because they feel quite appropriate for this current year and season. Many of us are feeling vulnerable right now. There is a lot going on and a lot to process in our hearts and minds. That processing takes time. It is uncertain what we are becoming, but like Amelia, I am hopeful for what we shall become.

Amelia is no longer embarrassed by molting and change, as you can see from her photo today. (She actually posed for this.) When I get home from work this evening, those last two big tail feathers will likely be gone, but she will be eager for her new tail feathers to begin growing. They will help her fly to unimaginable places, and that is something to be excited about.

Thank you, Amelia. Let’s all be hopeful for what we shall become.

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!

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.

Emily’s Summer Drawing Camp (Part 4)

Emily’s Summer Drawing Camp

Summer Drawing Camp has definitely been good for Emily. Her artwork has helped her to be more self-confident as the goodness in her heart is expressed on paper right before her eyes. Her creation today fills in many details not found in the words as all good illustrations do.

It had been another week of evening thunderstorms with rain into the night. In the mornings, none of the chickens were particularly eager to do much of anything.

They wanted me to open the coop and let them out so they could check the weather and see what was for breakfast. But after their initial curiosity was satisfied, they were unsure just what to do. They might nibble a little here and there, but that was about it. Aimlessness is never good.

I missed those days when they could not wait to get down the ladder from their coop in order to greet their new day. Just seeing them hurrying down to examine everything in detail always makes me feel that anything is possible.

And that is how chickens look at the world most days.

“Today may be the day I will find the biggest earthworm in the entire world! It may take all of my strength to wrestle it out of the ground, but I will do it!”

But it wasn’t like that now.

A damp and humid melancholy seemed to cover us all. We longed for a spring-time breeze to freshen the air, perhaps one filled with the fragrance of daffodils and lilac blossoms.

If only the sweet osmanthus would bloom, it would quickly turn everything around with the clean and invigorating smell of its many tiny blossoms. It’s planted there by the path to our backdoor because I want to smell it to know for sure that I am home, the only home my chickens and I will ever share together.

“Emily, will you make a picture of our house and garden? Would you do that for me?”

“I would be glad to.”

“It has to be a special picture, please. Can you make it so that all of the flowers all over the yard are blooming all at the same time? Even though they don’t really?”

“I will need to do a lot of remembering for that.”

“Yes, that’s the point, I think. I want to remember and imagine and see it all at once. Even though life doesn’t work that way.”

“I will do my best.”

“I know you will. You always do.”

I thought back to how Emily had asked me if we could plant enough flowers in our garden so Amelia could look down from the moon and know which house was ours. Maybe I wanted to see all of the flowers blooming all at the same time because I missed Amelia so much.

Somehow Emily knew this. “She misses us too, and especially you.”

“How do you know?”

“Because we are practically like sisters even though we are different kinds of chickens. And I know I would miss you. We need a flag.”

“What do you mean?”

“A flag. A bright red flag to hang from a pole on the chimney. You can make it from the same red yarn that you used to secure Amelia’s travel bag. We need a flag.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“She will be able to see the flag from the moon. She will recognize the color. She will remember it from her travel bag. Even if no flowers are blooming, she will be able to tell which house is ours. Then maybe she will realize she misses us too and come home. We need a flag.”

“Now I see what you mean.”

“This is her home whether she realizes it or not.”

“That isn’t just wishful thinking, is it? Are you sure you aren’t trying to push what your heart wants onto her heart?”

“I don’t know how I know, but I know.”

“If I make a flag from the red yarn, I will have to learn how to knit.”

“If I can learn to draw and paint, you can learn to knit. We need a flag.”

“You can be quite persistent, Emily. You don’t give up, do you?”

“I know. But I am also persistent about who I love too. Love never gives up.”

So Emily and I both started our projects. Hers was to remember the past and imagine. Mine was to look towards the future and imagine. Both would represent home and the persistence of love.

My Life With Gracie (and especially Emily) taught me love is persistent. Love never gives up. Love always has a “Plan B.”

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

A Travel Bag For Amelia

A Travel Bag For Amelia

This is part of a series I’ve shared from time to time about Amelia and how she wants to be the first chicken to fly to the moon and back. Here is the most recent posting if you are a new reader or just want a refresher before reading today’s story.

“Amelia, I’ve made a bag of sunflower kernels for you, just in case you decide it’s time to travel far away when I’m not here.”

Amelia studied it carefully.

“There’s a sturdy loop of red yarn you can put your head through. It will be easier for you to carry around your neck, and you won’t lose it by accident.”

She looked at me the way she so often does, trying to figure out what it all meant.

So I explained, “This doesn’t mean I want you to go. It just means if you do go, I want you to be able to make your journey safely.”

She nodded to show she understood.

“And Amelia, there is just one more thing I put in there. It’s a little book for you with some drawings I made when I was just in the first grade.”

“What is first grade?” she asked.

“First grade is sort of like when you are just starting to learn what you need to learn in life. It’s like the first time you ever went outside to play on your own and to discover the world.”

I paused.

“Or sort of like what you might be doing now.”

“It sounds important. Don’t you want to keep it for yourself?”

“No. I’d rather you have it. I folded it up small so it won’t get in your way when you are flying. And I think it might help you if you want to come back home, but can’t.”

“Thank you.”

“I just want you to promise me you will read it only if you find that you are lost and want to get back home but can’t. It won’t mean much of anything to you otherwise.

“I know you’re worried about that. I don’t want your worrying to keep you from doing something you need to do.

“It’s not like any of the other stories I tell you and the others because it is to help you find your way home, but only if you want to come home and can’t.”

Amelia looked at the bag with its sturdy red yard and then back at me.

“Yes. I promise. I’m not sure I will be able to read any of the words.”

“It’s okay if you don’t know the words. I wrote it when I didn’t know very many words at all myself. So the pictures will tell the story for you…if you find you need them.”

“Does your story have a name?”

“Not really. But if you think it needs one after you read it, if you need to read it, you can give it one. Then you can tell me what it is.”

“Sometimes, like right now, I don’t understand you.”

“It’s fine when you do. It is fine when you don’t. I love you whether you understand me or not.”

“It’s like you know I will come back to tell you the names of the story…if I leave, I mean.”

“Maybe you aren’t the only one who wants to know if you can travel far away and not be afraid. Maybe I do too.”

Amelia looked surprised, but didn’t say anything.

“Maybe you aren’t the only one who wants to make sure you can get back home if your heart desires but can’t without help.“

“You must love me very much.”

“I do, Amelia. Indeed I do.”

“Would you teach me to read and write words. I might like to write a book about my travels one day. And it would help me read your book better if I ever needed it.”

“Yes, I will. We can get started right away. I have a feeling there is a great deal already in you that is worth writing down.”

I hung her homemade travel bag with its loop of red yarn where she could get to it. All she would need to do would be to fly up and out of the top of the doorway. The loose loop would fit over her head as she flew out and away. It would carry the only gifts I could give her for her journey. There were sunflower kernels for her body and a book for her heart.

And so Amelia began to learn to read and write. I didn’t need to teach her how to draw. She had watched me enough and had a natural talent for making marks, as all chickens do.

She learned a dozen words, the words I thought might be most important for her to know. Then there was no more time.

My Life With Gracie (and especially Amelia) taught me sometimes there is more to a gift than what is seen.

It looks like this may be my next writing project tentatively titled “Conversations With Amelia.” In my mind, it is shaping up to be more like a novel than a collection of stories like “Seasons Of Friendship.” This would mean, I think, fewer illustrations and no “chicken wisdom” at the end of each chapter.

If you’re thinking the small folded-up book in Amelia’s travel bag will be important, you just may be right! And if you are guessing the small folded-up book is based on something I actually made in first grade and still have, you just may be right again!

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

Life Questions

Life Questions

I have heard people say, “I hate my life.” Perhaps many of us have felt this way at some time. But what does this mean?

In the evening when I secure my chickens in their coop for the night to keep them safe from predators, we say our evening prayers. We pray to sleep well and warm, to be healthy and whole, and to be free from harm.

On some tough days, I may add, “Help us to love the life we have been given.”

This time last year, I had taken in Emily and Amelia, two refugee chickens. Every day they were accustomed to having time to run and fly free out in the country with a large double lot backyard.

I wondered if they were thinking “My life is miserable now.”

At first, I built a small temporary coop and run for just Emily and Amelia, then I worked on a large one to hold all six chickens. It was rather confining for the two of them, and not large enough for me to get inside and become better acquainted with them.

They were just a few feet away from the coop and run for Gracie, Bessie, Blanche, and Pearl. So they did have a chance to get used to seeing each other and talking with each other. They all began to sound more alike as “country chicken” and “city chicken” dialects blended.

When the large new coop and run were completed, it was finally time to join everyone together into one flock in their new home.

Emily moved in first. She seemed to panic a bit because she was separated from Amelia for the first time ever, but that was only for a few minutes. Her curiosity took over and she began exploring.

Amelia moved in next. When I picked her up she felt much lighter than I had expected. Later I realized she likes to fluff out her feathers for extra warmth and also to look bigger and braver than she really might be.

When I placed her down inside her new home, she didn’t run off to see what Emily was doing. Instead, she looked up at me and hopped straight up into the air. She hopped no more than six inches off of the ground which was all her plump little body would allow without any extra wing-flapping.

This was her way of saying, “Please pick me up and hold me.” In a single moment, she had captured my heart forever.

Having Emily and Amelia join our backyard flock helped me see how “my life” means several different things.

There is “my life which others have made for me.” This is based on the choices others have made. Some have had our best interests at heart, but others have not. This was Emily and Amelia moving from the country to the city.

There is “my life which I have made.” This is based on the choices we have made, the things we have done and left undone. This was Emily and Amelia being friends for each other and eventually Gracie and the others.

Finally there is “my life which I have been given.” This is based on who we are deep inside. It is made of those things which will always be there regardless of the choices others make for us or we make for ourselves. This was Emily and Amelia before they even hatched.

“My life which I have been given” is a wellspring of hope when we tap into it. This is who we are at our core whether we are free or confined, rich or poor, sick or healthy. It is who we are before people and circumstances begin to shape us or before we even begin to shape ourselves. This was what made Amelia need to be picked up and held. This was what made me need to pick her up and hold her too.

Perhaps we are most content when “the life others have made for us” and “the life we have made for ourselves” work in harmony with “the life we have been given.” But that isn’t always possible. Nevertheless, we can help and encourage each other along the way.

My Life With Gracie (and Emily and Amelia) helped me to think more deeply about the life I have been given.

Making new illustrations which will work better in print is taking some time. Hopefully you can see a difference in this Illustration and the one from last Saturday. Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!