My Life With Gracie…The Goodness Of Giving


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Life With Gracie…Do Chickens Tell Ghost Stories?

Do Chickens Tell Ghost Stories

This is just one of the many questions I wonder about on a cool autumn night. So I sit outside once the sun has gone down, wrapped up in my jacket.

And I wait.

There’s a lit candle at my feet, and a flashlight in my hand. I’m ready to flip it on in an instant.

And I listen.

There are low murmurs coming from the chicken coop, and I suddenly become aware of sounds around me in the dark shadows of the garden. These are sounds I’ve never heard before though surely they have been there all along. Haven’t they?

I flip on the flashlight and head for the safety of my own back door.

And so I am left with a new question…Who is the real “chicken” here?!?

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! This is just a fun little post. Perhaps your own imagination will run a bit wild with the possibilities of ghost stories told by chickens?

“Just Farm Animals” (Part 2)

Just Farm Animals

This is a continuation of the previous post, and you may want to read it first if you haven’t already. Today’s illustration is based on one of Gracie’s bad dreams.

Perhaps Gracie had said this because she wanted to know who she is and what she means to me. It felt like the kind of statement made by someone who is hesitant to say exactly what is on their heart.

“Who told you that you were just a farm animal?” I asked.

“The crows,” she said as she stood up.

Neither my chickens nor I like the crows that occasionally come into our yard. They are loud, oily-looking, and they only seem to want to upset everything.

“What did the crows tell you about being a farm animal?”

“Crows are like you. They can have as much corn as they want. Chickens aren’t like you. Chickens are farm animals. We only get the corn you give us. If crows don’t like the corn in one field, they can fly to another field. We can’t.”

“Gracie, do you believe you are just a farm animal?”

She thought this over very carefully. She didn’t want to expose the bruises the crows had put on her heart.

She had seen their freedom and had heard what they said their life outside our garden was like.

“Gracie, it doesn’t matter what anyone says about what you are. When I look at you, I see a friend who I absolutely adore in every way. But even what I say doesn’t matter. What matters is what you believe about yourself.”

In her deepest heart, she knew all this was true, but what the crows had been telling her made her doubt both herself and me. Those crows will peck until they find a vulnerable spot, and then they are merciless.

“I can’t fly like the others. I can’t fly away, even if I wanted to, though I don’t want to, honestly I don’t want to. Even though the crows say it’s better to be like them and like you.

“I can’t even fly up to the perch here in our run like everyone else can. But I try not to let anyone know.

“I don’t have any choices. Not like Amelia. Not like the others.”

Her voice faded off. It was as if she had nothing more to say and even if she could say more, she felt her words and her actions couldn’t change anything.

“Gracie, I know how you feel. I may never be more than what I am right now.”

She looked up at me in surprise.

“Some people say I’m just a crazy old man who has chickens in his backyard.”

Suddenly she knew she was not as alone as how she had been feeling.

“Making a home for you and taking care of you is just about the only thing I’ve ever done right, or as close to right as I can do it.

“Sometimes I wonder about whether even that is true or not. But I really have tried.

“I don’t have the kind of life most people would think of as successful. But I wouldn’t exchange my life here with you for anyone else’s life.”

Gracie realized life was not exactly like what the crows had told her.

“People have their own kind of crows. You may not have known that. But we do.

“So I have to remind myself there aren’t many people with chickens in their backyards who dance ballet like you do.”

Gracie sat back down and rested her head on my leg to comfort me.

“I guess we are just stuck with each other. Aren’t we?” she asked softly.

“I guess we are, Gracie.”

I rested the palm of my hand on her back to comfort her, and we smiled together.

“You know,” she said, “I wonder if those crows had anything to do with Amelia leaving when she did.”

“It’s possible.”

“Sometimes they give me bad dreams where they won’t leave me alone and I can’t get away from them. They want to take every good thing in my life from me.

“Did you know she left before her feathers were completely back in after molting? She left almost as soon as they had grown back enough for her to fly.”

“I didn’t realize that.”

“It’s really something only another chicken would notice.”

Gracie hopped up into my lap so we could look at the clouds together as they were beginning to be tinted with sunset colors.

“I hate those crows,” she said.

“I do too, Gracie. I do too.”

Somewhere out there was Amelia. We both silently hoped she was safe and free from the crows in her life.

“Gracie?”

“Yes?”

“Crows make horrible ballet dancers.”

We clucked and chuckled together as we imagined how ballet-dancing crows would look. Soon the sun had set. Then I helped her up into the coop for the night.

“Sweet dreams, Gracie.”

My Life With Gracie helped me see we may never be more than what we are right now to the world, but there is no limit to what we can be to each other when there is love.

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

“Just Farm Animals” (Part 1)

Just Farm Amimals

Evenings spent with my chickens are the best part of almost any day. We share a treat of some fresh fruit and recount the day’s events or simply discuss whatever is on our minds.

“So Gracie, what is the best thing about being a chicken?”

“Well, I guess the best thing about being a chicken is being a chicken.”

She clucked at her cleverness.

“Chickens get to hunt for worms. I love the joy and anticipation of running with a worm I’ve just found. What is the best thing about being a person?”

“That is a tough question.”

“And you can’t just say ‘the best thing about being a person is being a person.’ You would just be copying me!”

“The best thing about being a person is watching chickens running with a worm they just found. That’s not really copying you, is it? Gracie, you are certainly in a fun mood today.”

“I guess so. Maybe not. But don’t change the subject. I do think it’s a good question even though the answer can’t change anything.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if it is the best, it is at the top. You can’t get any better. Ask about what is the worst. Then you have something to work on. You can get better then.”

“I see what you mean. So what is the worst thing about being a chicken?”

“Sometimes we care about people, but they don’t care about us,” she said without hesitating.

“I think that may be the worst thing about being a person too. When other people don’t care about you.”

We looked off together towards the part of the yard that had gotten overgrown over the years. It made a nice place for traveling birds like starlings and crows and thrushes to stop and rest as they came through our neighborhood, but we didn’t see any just then.

I enjoyed moments like this when Gracie and I shared things in common like how important is was to know we are cared for.

“After all, we are just farm animals,” she muttered. “Just farm animals.”

Our moment of connectedness was broken.

She looked down at the ground searching for nothing in particular, and then she moved as if to get up.

My Life With Gracie taught me words can make everything in our world change in an instant.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. This post felt too long, and so it is divided into two parts. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

The Evil King Of Darkest Night

The Evil King Of Darkest Night

This is the next in a series about Gracie’s dream of one day being a ballerina. It follows this portion of the story which introduces the field mice and this portion of the story which introduced The Evil King and Air Shadows without showing how they look.

A gray rainy and overcast day seemed perfect to continue working out the story of our ballet about The Rose Garden Princess. I began by reassuring timid little Emily if there happened to be a real-life Evil King, we would be able to smell him before he got anywhere near us. Nothing smells worse than a wet rat or opossum or raccoon or any other type of predator you can imagine!

(Everyone raised their beaks into the air as high as they could and sniffed.)

All seemed safe and so we entered Gracie’s dream again.

“I smell chickens!” bellowed the Evil King Of Darkest Night. “Smelly filthy nasty dirty chickens!”

He sniffed and wiggled his nose in all directions to pick up the smell of The Garden Princesses.

(Gracie and all of the others hunkered down with barely their beaks peaking out from their feathery pile.)

“Do we really smell that bad?” asked Emily who is always concerned about being as perfect a lady as possible.

“No, absolutely not. You smell wonderfully sweet,” I reassured her. “But sometimes evil characters say things to make you doubt yourself so they can take advantage of you.”

(Everyone nodded in agreement.)

“I will find you miserable chickens!” he screeched. “And when I do I will carry you away with me. You will lay eggs for me until you can’t lay any more eggs, and then I’m going to eat you! I will eat every last one of you! The last sound the last of you will ever hear will be the crunching of the bones of the others who have been gobbled up first!”

(Everyone muttered, “That awful beast! Chicken thief! Murderer!” But no one said it very loudly. After all, there really might be an Evil King Of Darkest Night.)

As he slowly moved through the Great Garden, all of the flowers that the Garden Princesses loved began to wither and turn to ashes. The Air Shadows swirled around The Evil King Of Darkness faster and faster as each carefully tended collection of beauty was destroyed.

(All of my chickens were silent. They did not know what to say.)

Finally Amelia spoke up. “You’re going to tell us he made it to the center of The Great Garden, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“And that he captured The Garden Princesses,” added Emily.

“Yes.”

“Will The Rose Garden Princess and the other Princesses dance in this part of the ballet?” asked Gracie. I could tell she was working out the choreography and costuming in her creative mind.

“I’m not sure. What do you think?”

“I think for this part the audience needs to stop and really think about what the world would be like if there was no beauty and no joy,” she said.

The others began to imagine it too, and I could tell they were more afraid of that kind of existence than they were of The Evil King Of Darkest Night.

Gracie continued, “Even if we had The Garden Princesses dancing as prisoners in this part, there would still be something pretty on the stage. We need the audience to think and think again of a world where there is no hope and no love.”

I considered what she was saying and then realized how right she was. “I understand exactly what you mean, Gracie. Beauty will always be beautiful even if held prisoner, even if sick and dying, even if crippled and unable to dance.

”There is something beautiful in the light of life itself.

“We really could have a world with no beauty or joy, with no hope or love. But if we don’t stop to think about how a world like that can creep up on us bit by bit, then it will be too late.”

“Air Shadows!” they all exclaimed at once.

“Yes!” I said in surprise. “It’s the things we can’t see which can take away beauty, joy, hope, and love that are truly scary. When those are gone and only shadows and memories remain, that is even scarier.”

I looked at each of them one by one and then said, “I can’t imagine my little backyard garden without the six of you and the beauty you bring into my life. Sleep well, my little princesses.”

And so I went back inside and drew a picture of a world without chickens to illustrate this part of their ballet about The Rose Garden Princess. It was not easy to draw. I wanted to include at least a hint of tail-feathers rushing away and off of the stage. But, no.

It made me sad to imagine a world with no beauty anywhere, not even the memory of beauty and love. There is something beautiful even in just their remembrances which are held like a treasure and locked away in our minds.

Without even those memories, what kind of existence would that be? It would be like falling into an endless black hole of fear and hopelessness. That is the scariest of all.

My Life With Gracie made me aware of how the world is not always a loving place.

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

Lost And Not Afraid

Lost And Not Afraid

“I think I need to travel far away,” she said to me as she sat in my arms, cradled snugly against my chest. “I think I need to go so far away that I’m lost.”

“Why do you want to do that, Amelia?”

“Then I will know if I can be lost and not afraid.”

I didn’t say anything. I just listened.

“Then I need to know if I can find my way back home again to you and the others.”

“Why do you need to know that, Amelia?”

She looked far off into the morning sunrise. “Because if I can make it back, then it means I really do belong here after all, and I will never need to go away ever again.”

“I see.”

“And if I can’t make it back, then that means something else. I don’t know what it will mean, but if it happens like that, then I will know.”

She looked at me to make sure I wasn’t angry or disappointed with her.

“What if I find out I belong somewhere else…even though my heart would be broken to never see you and the others ever again? It could be like that. You know?”

Then she said what troubled her the most. “What if I find I want to come back but can’t?”

“Amelia, you have been thinking about these things for a long time, haven’t you?”

“Yes. Yes, I have.” There was a silence all around us. Then she asked, “What do you think?”

“You should never make a decision out of fear…not a decision to be part of our family here, or a decision to remain, or a decision to go away. Love and fear don’t ever belong together.”

Amelia thought over these words carefully.

“I think you have to do what your heart is telling you to do. Either way, my heart will be broken. But you know that already, don’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

“If you don’t travel far away enough to answer all those questions, you will never be at peace. I don’t think you would be happy not knowing. Your unhappiness would break my heart even though I still had you here with me.”

“And if I traveled far away?”

“My heart would be broken every minute you are away, but I would know you are doing what you have to do, and that would make me happy for you, and so the pain would not be as bad.”

“Would you wait for me to come back?”

“Oh, yes. Without a doubt. I would wait for you and watch for you every day.”

“You realize I might not come back? And that you would be waiting for nothing?”

“No. I wouldn’t be waiting for nothing. You are so much more than nothing. I love you, Amelia. You know I would fly with you if I could, don’t you?”

“Yes. I know that now.”

“Do you need for me to help you pack? Is there anything you want to take with you?”

“No. I don’t really own anything other than myself.”

“Yes, I know. But I thought you might want to carry a little container of sunflower kernels with you. They are small, but they have a lot of energy in them that you might need.”

“Can I decide later? Maybe tomorrow?”

“Yes, of course you can. Take as long as you need.”

I held her closer.

“Would it be alright if I give you a good-bye kiss on the head now? I don’t want to forget later. And you might find that the time to leave is when I’m not here.”

“Yes, I guess that would be okay,” she said.

We both closed our eyes, not wanting the moment to end. “You are so much more than nothing,” I whispered in her ear.

My Life With Gracie (and especially Amelia) taught me never to make a decision out of fear…only out of love.

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

A Leap Of Faith

The Villain King

It was easy to tell Gracie was worried and trying to hide it, so I scattered around some sunflower kernels. While everyone else was enjoying their treat, I called Gracie to me to see what was concerning her.

“There’s been a monster creeping around here when it starts to get dark and before you come home,” she said all at once.

I could tell she felt a bit better just by saying something about it. So I asked her to tell me what it looked like, and she did.

“With a long narrow snout and all of those sharp pointed teeth, that sounds like an opossum,” I said. “Did it have a naked pink tail?”

“Yes,” she said, relieved I believed her and knew what she was talking about. It hurt me to see her trying to be brave while carrying such a heavy responsibility all alone.

“Gracie, Sweetie, you were right to be alarmed. Remember though, it’s an opossum, not a monster. It only becomes a monster if you let it become one in your mind. Understand?”

She nodded.

“But tell me, why didn’t you say something before now? Is it because you didn’t want to make the others scared?”

She nodded again and then added in her softest voice, “I didn’t want you to think I wasn’t a good leader. I don’t know how to protect anyone, not even myself, from something so mean looking.”

She waited to see if I was going to say I was disappointed in her. When I didn’t, she continued, “And he hisses the most evil things at us! So I just stood there, looking him in the eyes and not moving. But I didn’t do anything.”

She lowered her head, waiting for me to say something, even if it was something she didn’t want to hear.

“You are a better leader than you realize, Gracie. Are you afraid right now?”

“No. But that’s because you’re here.” She looked up and saw I wasn’t angry or disappointed.

“And when I’m not here…Have I made things safe for you even when I’m not here? You girls are more important to me than anything. I would never leave you without making sure you are protected. You do believe that, don’t you?”

Gracie took a while to think that over. She looked at the strong fencing I had used to build their home. She looked at how everything they needed was safe and secure, just like they were. She nodded.

“And what do I tell you every morning before I go away to work?”

“You say to be good to each other and take care of each other. Then you say to never forget you love us more than anything here.”

I smiled my biggest smile and said, “Exactly right, Gracie! Take care of each other. You don’t have to do it all. Just be someone the others look up to because you put them first.”

She looked at the others and then back at me.

“Most important of all, remember how much I love you. I would give up anything you see here to keep you with me. Are you afraid when you think about how much I love you?”

“No!” she said with so much amazement she actually surprised herself. “No! I’m not afraid then!” She fluffed out all of her feathers like she was a whole new girl ready for a fresh start. “I’m not afraid then!”

“Sweetheart, you just taught me a very valuable lesson. Thank you!”

Gracie looked stunned. “Me? What could I ever teach you?”

“Oh, you know what I mean, Gracie! You are so modest, and you teach me things all the time. But look. Let’s turn the opossum into part of our ballet about The Rose Garden Princess. We need an evil character to make the story more interesting. We can call him The Evil King Of Darkest Night. What do you say? Can you only pretend to be afraid? For the ballet? For your ballet!”

“Yes!” she clucked again and again, overflowing with more joy than I’ve seen in the longest time.

Gracie hurried back to the others to get a few sunflower kernels before they were all gone. She even did a few ballet leaps along the way, or certainly what might pass for ballet leaps…at least in my eyes if no one else’s.

She is so beautiful, my beloved little Gracie, and one day we will dance together, just as our hearts already do. It will just take a leap of faith.

My Life With Gracie gave me a chance to see fear only has power when we forget how much we are loved.

You can read more about our production of “The Rose Garden Princess” if you’d like. Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!