My Life With Gracie…Magic Pictures

Magic Pictures

“Amelia and I are going to be writers,” Emily said.

“Yes, I know. Amelia told me. I have to find a typewriter. Didn’t she tell you?”

“No. Yes. Well, you don’t understand. She wants to write the words. I want to paint the words.”

“That sounds like a very interesting combination for making words. We definitely have to work to make this happen then.”

She seemed relieved and chittered happily as she flew up to her favorite perch so we would be more eye-to-eye. Her confidence and faith in me warmed my heart.

“You know, I’ve been having dreams about you and Amelia and your new typewriter.”

“You have? Really you have? We have been having dreams about a typewriter too because we don’t know what one looks like. We imagine all sorts of things.”

“I’m sure you do, and especially since you have such excellent imaginations.”

Gracie had been listening in to all of this and called up to Emily, “Tell him about your letters you have been painting.”

Emily looked a little embarrassed, though I wasn’t sure why. She draws and paints very well.

“I already know some alphabet letters,” she said. “I remember them from when you were writing out some of Pearl’s jokes into Chicken. Do you remember?”

“Yes, I remember. That was fun. All of you did a nice job of helping me to make an alphabet for writing words in Chicken.”

“Do you remember everyone’s favorite letter?”

“Yes, I do. It is the Ÿ because it looks like a chicken who is eating an earthworm. It’s source is an ancient greeting between two chickens which means ‘I wish you many earthworms.’ But that isn’t a letter on American typewriters.”

“That is why I want to paint the letters and the words.”

“Will you show me the letters you have been painting?”

“I’d rather not. Only because I’m not sure they will be like the ones the typewriter will make.”

“I see. I have a feeling your painted letters will add more meaning to the words that the typewriter makes. So in the meantime, you want me to imagine your painted letters and words, just like I want you to imagine my typewritten letters and words. At least for now.”

“That’s right.”

“That seems only fair. And I’m sure what you have done is quite wonderful in it’s own way.”

Gracie had still been listening from below. “Ask him how to make the letters into words.”

“Words are like magic pictures,” she said. “So I need to know how to turn letters into words. But there are some secret words I want to know how to spell so that I can paint the letters that make the words.”

“So you already have words you want to make and you won’t tell me what they are because they are secret?”

“Yes. That’s right.”

“And you want me to spell them for you anyway? Without knowing what they are? That seems impossible.”

“I know,” she said, rocking back and forth quite happily. “I have secret words.”

“If I’m not able to make it work out with the typewriter, if that turns out to be impossible too, will you still love me?”

“What kind of question is that?” she asked.

“Well sometimes people are that way. When you can’t give them what they want, they don’t love you any more.”

“People are very confusing.”

“I know.”

“That’s not the way chickens are. If we love someone, we love someone. Forever.”

“That is a nice word. ‘Forever.’ I like that word.”

“It is one of the words I want to paint.” Then she realized she had let one of her secret words slip out.

“I am sure it is. Just like ‘Amelia’ and ‘Friend’ are special to you. Will you tell me a little more about ‘Forever’?”

“Not now. It will be in Amelia’s poem and in my painting.”

“That’s fine. Words really are like magical pictures, and anticipation can be so much fun.”

Emily blushed.

“Wait! That’s one of your secret words too, isn’t it? Anticipation!”

She flew down from her perch giving me her happiest chittering ever.

Magic Pictures

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! This particular post has gone through several revisions for story and illustration, even after posting. Thanks for reading!

My Life With Gracie…Waiting For Autumn

Waiting For Autumn

We are waiting for early autumn. We are waiting to let go. My chickens and I, we have things to release, and early autumn is the best time to begin.

Soon the summer heat will have passed, and cooler breezes will blow against their feathers and against my shirt.

The days are already getting shorter. Gracie and the others need a flashlight in the early morning to find their way safely down their chicken ladder. The sunset is coming sooner and stealing greater bites of our precious time together in the evenings.

But even so, we are waiting, somewhat impatiently, for early autumn.

It is the season to end all that we had tried to start, but failed. It lets us begin the forgetting process so that we can push on towards the cold blankness of winter and then on towards the warm promise of spring.

Early Autumn lets us begin the important forgiving process because often we must gently forgive ourselves for failing, even failing again and again.

Sometimes we must forgive ourselves for choosing the wrong hopes and dreams.

Sometimes we must forgive ourselves for choosing the wrong time for the right hopes and dreams.

Sometimes we must forgive ourselves for not having enough hope, not having enough faith…or just not having.

Sometimes we must forgive ourselves for not wanting to let go of those precious hopes and dreams that did sprout and grow and bear Summer’s fruit…but they were only meant for a season, just one season.

That may be the most difficult kind of forgiving to do.

Then will come Winter when our new hopes and dreams have a chance to incubate. In the darkness of Winter we cover our heads for warmth. With our eyes closed, we shut out the cold and then we dream of the world and the life we want for ourselves and those we love.

Finally will come Spring when we have a new chance to do again what we had tried and failed to do. Spring is a time when we can try to make the things we love fit into our lives one more time. We never give up hope.

But first we must wait for Autumn to have its turn at touching our lives. Autumn’s ground of death and decay lays the moist, rich foundation for our next ambitious attempts at new growth.

There really is a season for everything…and that does include a season for letting go.

My Life With Gracie taught me to gladly let go of what was meant to last for only a season anyway.

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

My Inventive Miss Bessie

Every Good Thing

Bessie can be such a strong advocate for fairness and social causes. I began to get a glimpse of this when we were discussing eggs some time ago. She inspires me with her ability to ask difficult questions in search of fairness, even with things most of us might consider inconsequential.

“What’s that flat wooden thing?” Bessie wanted to know. “Can you eat it?” It smelled of food.

“It’s a popsicle stick. It holds ice cream or other cold treats so people can eat them.”

“Do chickens get popsicles and ice cream?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because no one has invented them for chickens yet.”

“Is that all? That seems like a very flimsy reason.”

“Well, people lick popsicles. Chickens don’t really lick anything. They peck.”

“That makes no sense. You don’t pop them. You lick them. Why do you call them POPsicles when you don’t pop them? Why don’t you call them LICKsicles?”

There really wasn’t much I could say. It certainly sounded logical to me.

“I will invent a PECKsicle. It will be just for chickens since people don’t peck.”

And that was the beginning of PECKsicles.

What would she use? How would it look? Would I dare to give it a taste? I had to admire her inventive spirit and the power of the three simple words “I will invent!”

My life with Gracie (and especially Bessie) showed me inventing is a very wonderful kind of giving, especially for those who feel left out.

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!

My Life With Gracie…An Uncomfortable Truth

An Uncomfortable Truth

It had to come out sometime, but I still always kept the hope of never having to discuss it. Bessie was the first to find out. She was flabbergasted. People eat chicken eggs.

The topic came up after I helped Bessie put on the master chef’s hat and apron I had made for her. We were discussing how she wanted to help people learn to cook things like roasted pumpkin seeds for their chickens.

Then we started talking about corn which chickens also like, and I shared how people enjoy corn and cornbread. Bessie had never had cornbread, only corn. So she asked what was in cornbread.

Cornmeal. Wheat flour. A little sugar because we are in the south. Baking powder. Butter and buttermilk from cows. (We did have to take a side trip to discuss cows because by not being on a farm, none of them had ever seen a cow.) And, of course, eggs.

The word was out of my mouth before I had a chance to think. Eggs.

After a very long explanation, Bessie found peace with the uncomfortable truth of people (including me, their own Chicken Daddy) eating eggs. I will never forget her still-baffled voice when she said, “And all along, we thought you were just tidying up the nesting boxes!”

It did help to let her know without Lefty or The Emperor around, their eggs would never have real chicks inside to hatch. It also helped letting her know the people who received their eggs were truly grateful for all of their hard work and dedication. Everyone, absolutely everyone, said their eggs were superior in every way.

“This changes everything,” she said as she turned and walked away. “I’d better let the others know.”

After the longest time, she came back and began to set down certain rules while standing on my foot to make sure I had her full attention.

“If people are going to eat our eggs, then they’d better serve them on the best possible plates they’ve got in the house. No exceptions.”

So I brought out one of my Blue Willow plates for approval by all six chickens. I explained it was one my grandparents had owned and how I had eaten off it since I was a little boy. They were my favorite and most treasured plates.

Blue Willow Plate

Their unanimous decision was these plates would be suitable, particularly since they had two young chickens flying in the air. (Yes, I know these are actually not supposed to be chickens, and I know chickens can’t fly that way. But sometimes it’s not always wise to share too many uncomfortable truths in a single day.)

“If people are going to eat our eggs, then they’d better know how to cook them properly. No sloppy cooking.”

I reassured Bessie we would test every single one of her recipes until it was perfect in every possible way. I did let her know it might be wise to not completely guarantee success because not everyone would be able to use eggs produced by her and the others. We had mutual agreement about how less than superior eggs could produce less than superior results.

Then Bessie began to tell more about what she wanted to do as a master chef and the kinds of recipes she would like to share. She had originally wanted only recipes like roasted pumpkin seeds for people to make for their chickens, but now she also wanted recipes for people to make for themselves.

Her ideas were expansive and so very beautiful, designed to honor their eggs and all they did to produce them. She even wanted to create recipes that could be made for both chickens and people. I was amazed at her graciousness so soon after discovering what happens with eggs.

“One more rule. If people are going to eat our eggs, then there have to be pictures with the recipes, and I’m going to draw them so anybody, even a child, can follow my recipes.”

My eagerness to discover what would come next grew, but Bessie would say no more. She had clearly taken control over anything food-related and now drawing-related too!

All I could think to say was, “Yes, Chef.” And we both smiled.

My Life With Gracie (and especially Bessie) expanded my heart to new and unexpected possibilities.

I will do my best to post each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! This is the first post from a series. You may want to skip to the next post about Bessie’s dream of being a master chef.

An Uncomfortable Truth

My Life With Gracie…Gleaning Wisdom

Gleaning Wisdom

This illustration is based on my fourth “My Life With Gracie” drawing. It is still one of my favorites because it is the first one of Gracie dancing. You can see this illustration has a lot more happening!

Pomegranate seeds are a treat my chickens enjoy in autumn. These are never passed up, and that is what made me wonder if there was something wrong.

For a few weeks, I’ve noticed leftover corn kernels or fruit pieces in their run at the end of the day when I went to secure them in their coop for the night. I had just assumed they were given too much, more than they could eat. But the leftovers were gone in the morning.

This was a bit of a mystery, but I really didn’t give it much thought until the leftovers included some of their prized pomegranate seeds. What was going on?

So as I was making sure everyone was snugly in their coop for the night, I questioned Gracie about this. At first she seemed a bit embarrassed as they all looked at each other, unsure what to say.

Finally Gracie explained it had been her idea for them to leave food behind for the field mice who visit them at night. With all of the rain we have had, it was more difficult for them to gather food for themselves and their little ones.

So I quickly told them not to worry because they had been doing a wonderful kindness.

All looked quite relieved, and moved a bit closer to me when I said, “You know, that sounds like something The Rose Garden Princess would do.”

And just like that, we were all wrapped up in Gracie’s dream.

(For those of you who are new readers, Gracie wants to be a ballerina more than just about anything, and “The Rose Garden Princess” is a ballet project we are creating for her.)

Yes, kindness to strangers and wanderers is an ancient tradition of the Princesses who live in The Great Garden. (Feather’s rustled happily because they all could be princesses for the ballet.)

“Remember when you had no home of your own” is ancient chicken wisdom once heard long ago and passed down from momma hens to chicks. (Suddenly there were disappointed expressions on every face. But why? Then I realized they remembered never having a momma hen to teach them anything.)

I paused the story to let them know how proud I was of them for knowing this on their own without the guidance of a momma hen. They were all truly wise chickens indeed. (Everyone smiled and sat a bit taller. They were definitely feeling their parts in the ballet.)

And so one autumn evening the hungry field mice scampered into The Great Garden and began to jump and run about, grabbing scraps of food that the Princesses had not eaten. The Princesses were startled and became frantic because their peaceful garden home was being overrun by mice. (Together they pretended to be surprised in the most adorable way.)

Although much smaller, the field mice moved much faster and could hide in the tiniest and most unexpected places. More than either of those things, they were scary because they were different. They didn’t have beaks and wings. Instead they had sharp teeth and grabbing hands! (Serious shivers spread from one chicken to another, and Emily hid her head under her wing. Pearl hid her head under Blanche’s wing.)

But do you know what The Rose Garden Princess did? (Everyone leaned forward to hear better. Gracie moved closest of all, even though she started to feel a draft where her fluff feathers had molted.)

The Rose Garden Princess made promises with the field mice. They could come each evening to collect food left for them. In return the field mice would use their teeth to cut flowers from the garden and hold them as banners when The Rose Garden Princess and the other Princesses danced in the moonlight. (Joyful wings applauded along the perch at this delightful turn of events!)

Although it took a great deal of practice, what a grand and amazing dance it was! Some of the smallest field mice entered first, scampering and leaping in unison. They were joined by more field mice who carried flowers like banners. Then the Princesses began to dance onto the stage.

It all made for a great and dramatic spectacle, unfolding in The Great Garden as more and more mice and more and more Princesses joined in the procession. Mice carrying daisies, and then the Daisy Princesses. Mice carrying daffodils, and then the Daffodil Princesses. On and on it went, and each seemed more beautiful than the last.

Finally when everyone was certain there was no way for the dance to be any more breathtaking, The Rose Garden Princess appeared! (My chickens could not hold back their enthusiasm any longer. The sounds of their delight filled my little backyard garden.)

We all said “good night,” and they huddled closer together for warmth. It was going to be a chilly night, but not in our hearts.

There were a few still-excited whispers about who would dance as Daisy Princesses and who would dance as Daffodil Princesses and so on. Everyone was unanimous only Gracie could be The Rose Garden Princess as she had already led them in showing unselfish kindness towards others.

My Life With Gracie taught me always to have a generous and welcoming heart.

I will do my best to post each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! Right now I am revisiting some of my earlier cartoon illustrations and giving them a different twist.

Gleaning Wisdom

My Life With Gracie…Our Greatest Joy

Our Greatest Joy

Saturday’s special post will be all about Pearl’s comedy debut. Just remember with chicken humor, you either get it or you don’t! But I hope you do!

While setting up “Pearl’s Comedy Coop” in my backyard, I realized Gracie and I have spent a great deal of time together turning the dreams of others into realities. Pearl, the stand-up comedian. Amelia, the first chicken to fly to the moon and back. Bessie, the master chef. (We still have work to do there!)

Yet as much as Gracie wants to be a ballerina, we hardly ever spend time working on turning her own dream into a reality. She never complains. She never feels abandoned. Her heart never turns hard with jealousy towards the others.

Whenever I’ve tried to make my life all about me, the effort leaves me feeling disappointed and frustrated. There seem to be some people who can make everything all about themselves and do it quite well. But that’s not me, and that’s not my Gracie.

Maybe for us, our greatest dream is to make the dreams of others come true. Perhaps to gain your dreams, you must lose them in a greater dream.

My Life With Gracie reminded me there is something special about finding my greatest joy in the joy of others.

I will do my best to post each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

Our Greatest Joy

My Life With Gracie…The Gift Of Dreams

The Gift Of Dreams

Lately my chickens haven’t been laying as many eggs as usual. This is their molting season, starting with Gracie and Bessie and now Amelia. It’s just a part of another one of those cycles making up the pattern of chicken life.

But I think Gracie has been feeling a little embarrassed. Though I tell each one how they will always be beautiful to me in ways they would never understand, Gracie has been more to herself, sitting away from me rather than at my feet as usual.

To be honest, I haven’t been feeling too much like a “spring chicken” either. So when I’ve gotten home from work lately, after some fresh fruit, we talk together and dream together. I do this for Gracie, yet I wonder if I don’t do it a little for myself too. We talk about her secret love and desire to be a ballerina.

At first we discuss mostly how no one will notice her missing fluff feathers while she is wearing her new ballet tutu I will make for her. She has always been so extremely proud of her fluff feathers, even more than when she got her first wing feathers. (Quite honestly, Gracie was the one who pointed out to me how fluff feathers look very much like a tutu if you use your imagination.)

Of course I will need to learn how to sew one, and of course I can’t start sewing until we know what color fabrics to use for it and for her matching ballet slippers. And it only makes sense before choosing a color palette and fabric, we need a theme and a mood and what we want to express through the art of dance. Those things are totally up to Gracie and the others. It is not always easy to get a unanimous decision from a flock of chickens.

Currently we are leaning towards doing an entirely new and original ballet production, perhaps named “The Rose Garden Princess.” You see, all of my chickens were stunned to learn there was an entire ballet called “Swan Lake” but nothing, absolutely nothing, featuring chickens. But we can change that, and indeed we will change that because we share a dream. We do have a unanimous decision on that!

“Maybe The Rose Garden Princess is captured by The Evil King and taken away to his Kingdom of Darkness where she is forced to lay six eggs every night,” I suggest. (Frightful expressions all around the coop!) “Maybe even in her captivity she is able to dance, and unbeknownst to The Evil King while dancing she creates a plan of escape for herself and the other captured princesses.” (Delightful expressions all around the coop!)

Before long, the light begins to fade and it’s time for everyone to go up to bed. I tuck them all in for the night so they will be safe from predators like The Evil King, and we all drift off to sleep dreaming our beautiful ballet dreams.

We press on through our awkward and troubled-filled times because we have a dream of something grand and glorious and altogether wonderful. And today may be the day!

My Life With Gracie gave me the gift of dreams.

I will do my best to post each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

The Gift Of Dreams

My Life With Gracie…About Dreams

About Dreams

It is difficult to imagine life without dreams. What kind of life would we have where the thought “One day I will…” simply does not exist?

To take away someone’s ability to hope seems like a terrible thing to do. To tell someone, “You will never…” seems like one of the worst kinds of hurts.

My chickens came into my life when I was unemployed. As an older guy, there didn’t seem to be too many job possibilities for me. Looking back, taking on “six more beaks to feed” seemed like a very poor decision financially.

Paying my bills and feeding myself took all off my resources, and I still fell short. The baby chicks were time consuming, and they needed a coop and a run which I would have to design and build. How would it be to spend money I needed to pay for my own house just to buy materials to build a home for six feathery little chicks…six balls of fluff I could almost hold in both hands…if they’d only be still long enough?

Yet my old dream of having backyard chickens became a reality at perhaps one of the lowest parts of my grownup life. Although it may not have been the most “grownup” decision at the time, those little baby chicks gave me hope and dreams. They kept me going.

So I can’t tell Gracie or any of the others, “You will never be a ballerina. Chickens cannot dance on their toes.” And I can’t tell Amelia, “You will never be the first chicken to fly to the moon and back.”

I simply tell them, “One day you will…or perhaps something even better.” That’s because each of them is “My Something Better.”

My Life With Gracie helped me see a dream can live as long as you have someone to share it.

I will do my best to post each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! Lately I have been reworking some of my first illustrations and stories. You can view the reworked version of this post here.

My Something Better