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!

Remembering Blanche And All That Really Needs To Be Said

Dedication Page

Today, April 21st, is our day to remember Blanche who told us “Farewell” in her own way on this day last year when it was Easter Sunday. This post is mostly at Pearl’s request, and it features the illustration from the dedication page of our next book which is about Blanche and Pearl and The Bottle Cap Lady. The book is dedicated to Blanche, who will always be Pearl’s best friend ever.

The illustration style is one that Pearl likes best. It uses drawings made on pieces of torn scraps of paper she collected over time. This is not the easiest for me to do, but it is Pearl’s story, and so she gets the final approval whenever possible. I do like the idea of rescuing things thrown away like this scrap of paper and then turning them into something beautiful. That is what happens in this story to more than just the things blown out of the trash truck each Tuesday and then collected by Pearl.

She has also been considering a change in the title to The Bottle Cap Lady with the subtitle Or How To Explain Christmas To Chickens. But there is still plenty of time to decide.

Here is an excerpt Pearl asked me to share with you today as we remember Blanche together.

The only words I ever recall Blanche telling me directly were “Thank you.”

She said this to me on one of her last nights with us when I took her in for a warm bath and was drying her off. There was no one else around to hear her, only me. She nodded after she said those words, and I held her closer still. She had not been able to get up to the coop by herself that Good Friday night.

She would talk to me when the others were talking to me, all in a group. But we never really had a heart to heart conversation.

I’m unsure why that was. Perhaps she felt it was helping to protect Pearl in some way. Not that she was afraid I would hurt her or Pearl, just that it was safer if the others always thought they were my favorites rather than the two of them.

I suppose sometimes “Thank you” is really all that needs to be said. But we really need to listen carefully when someone tells us “Thank you.” Sometimes what they really may be saying is “Farewell.”

from “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”

We appreciate you for remembering Blanche with us and look forward to sharing this full story with you soon.

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

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

“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

 

 

Blanche And Pearl…“They Only Ever Had Each Other”

Blanche And Pearl...”They Only Ever Had Each Other”

Today seemed to be a good day to share one of the illustrations which I’ve been working on while my chickens helped some with a few pictures for “My Life With Gracie.” This illustration work really is work!

This is one of four large illustrations for How To Explain Christmas To Chickens. It is for the first section titled “Blanche And Pearl.” Each section will begin with a large illustration and then each chapter will have a smaller panoramic banner illustration. (Imagine just the bottom third of this drawing.)

It is a drawing challenge for me to work with only black lines and gray tones because I definitely miss being able to use color which adds so much life and emotion to a drawing. But with the cost of color printing, it is the only affordable alternative for a book of this length. Having grown up with only a black and white television, I am comfortable seeing the world without color, and I think perhaps the drawing style may somewhat recall a previous time period.

Some things are the same as the drawings which I’ve done from the beginning such as the low horizon line which gives a “chicken’s eye” or “child’s eye” view of the world. Also the illustrations which include people, such as The Bottle Cap Lady, will only show no more than the lower body, not the face. (Not because I can’t draw faces, but because the chickens are the main characters. It’s also important to the story’s message for The Bottle Cap Lady to be anyone anywhere, and facial details or a regular given name would interfere with that.)

You may notice a bit more realism in this drawing. Much of this is because the novel explores Pearl’s real genuine emotions about not being accepted by the other chickens and then later losing Blanche and needing to face life alone. Those themes don’t seem suited to a lighthearted cartoon style of drawing. There are also many straight lines and angular shapes, and only the chickens and the German iris use curved lines and rounded shapes. I think this contrast helps bring attention to the smaller elements in the drawing like the chickens. (Often Pearl feels small and insignificant, though she never gives up hope.)

My goal is for this illustration to capture the relationship between Blanche and Pearl and the feelings expressed by this key sentence from the story’s first part: “They only ever had each other.”

You may be thinking this doesn’t look like a typical Christmas illustration or sound like a typical Christmas story. You are quite right. But then Pearl is not a typical chicken and The Bottle Cap Lady is not a typical neighbor either!

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

How does this drawing look to you? Can you tell which chicken is Pearl? And is this Pearl as you might imagine her in a world of black and white? I live with these chickens and with these illustrations, so it’s often a challenge to see things with different, and perhaps more critical, eyes. Your perspective, even if not-so-favorable, is truly appreciated.

“How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”…An Update And A Possible Cover!

How To Explain Christmas To Chickens

I finished the major editing work for “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” on Christmas morning. Approximately the last third of the novel takes place on the days leading up to Christmas and then Christmas day itself.

Each day, I edited what would happen on that day. This helped with details and continuity. Would the pomegranates still be ripe enough for Pearl to use them to make ink for her letter to Santa Claus? Would anyone be laying eggs during the shortest days of the year? Both of these were important elements to the novel’s ending which needed to be feasible to me. Now you may not believe that chickens talk with people who love them and can dance ballet, but as I see it, the other details need to be accurate. (If this seems a little idiosyncratic, I won’t argue with you. It seems that way to me as well.)

After Christmas, I began putting the edited text into publishing format which includes a final check of what I call “the ability to be easily read aloud.”

Everything was moving along nicely, but then on New Year’s Eve, I found a post on Twitter from a publisher in England. They were providing an open submission day – one day only – on January 2, 2020 in honor of their 20th year of publishing.

Honestly I had never considered the traditional publishing route. Who would want to publish stories about backyard chickens? Even ones who enjoy dancing ballet?

But perhaps it would be worth an attempt for no other reason than the publisher is named Chicken House, Ltd. They are located in England. Some of our very favorite readers are in England!

It seems sort of a natural fit, doesn’t it? When Gracie and I looked at their website, we found they were featuring a mystery book about ballet! When she saw that, she knew it was the right thing to do because the publisher must surely like chickens and ballet.

So I had a good deal of quick learning to do. In all of the books I’ve read about writing a novel, I’ve always skipped over the chapters about submitting to a publisher. I never felt that my odds would be very good.

But I kept reminding myself of all my chickens had taught me. I thought of fearless Amelia who launched herself on a journey to fly to the moon. (That story will perhaps be our next novel.) I thought about Pearl, eternally hopeful Pearl, who has never given up no matter how many times her goofy plans may fail. (That story is this current novel.) Most of all, I thought of what Gracie had told me.

“Life is a gift, and so is a talent. Wherever there is a gift, there is also a giver. But do not trust the gift. Trust the Giver of the gift.”

But you will read more about these things in “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” whether traditionally published or self-published.

For now, we are waiting the required six weeks while the folks at Chicken House, Ltd. review our pitch letter and first three chapters. If we have not heard from them, we will just continue with self-publishing as we had planned all along.

Gracie thought you might enjoy a peak at our possible cover design if self-published, and so that is today’s illustration. Hopefully it strikes the right balance between playfulness and seriousness. It could also serve as an illustration for the last chapter of the novel.

It is still difficult for me to say where this book would fit in a bookstore or library. My goal is for it to appeal to a wide age group without fitting into any particular standard genre. Sometimes I think of it as an adult book pretending to be a children’s book, and other times I think of it as a children’s book pretending to be an adult book. Either way, like a bank of snow, there is more than what you see.

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…Christmas Eve Wisdom and Wishes

“The most important thing to know about laying an egg is that it is about giving. Light and Life and Love are about giving, not getting. Don’t ever make any of these things about getting.”

Chicken Wisdom from Blanche in
“How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”

We are so thankful for all of you who have been following along with our adventures and bits of “chicken wisdom.” More than anything, we want to help bring peace and joy into your heart. With everything we share here, that is our goal.

For my chickens, they just go about their daily routine doing what chickens do. For me, I just draw illustrations and write words to go with them. There’s nothing special in any of those things.

So if anything here touches your heart, it’s not from my chickens or me. It’s from something far greater. It’s from the source of Peace and Joy. It is from Light and Life and Love.

“My Life With Gracie” wishes you Peace and Joy…and Light and Life and Love…and a very Merry Christmas too!

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

Family Photo Friday!

Family Photo Friday (Christmas Edition)

Today’s photograph still has chickens, only chickens made of glass. This is our Christmas tree which is still being decorated. (Just a few ornaments are added every day to extend the anticipation.) These have been collected over the years, but the wooden tree is new this year. (No needles to vacuum up!) The smallest chicken ornaments were purchased many years ago for my first Christmas tree in this house long before I ever thought of having my own backyard chickens. (Funny how that worked out!)

The newest ornament, the one for this year, is a pair of ballet slippers. If you are a regular reader or just a recent reader, you know that all of my chickens, and especially Gracie, love the art of dance. Ballet is their favorite, and Gracie wants to be a ballerina and dance the part of “The Rose Garden Princess.”

If you read “Seasons Of Friendship” here for free before publication (or purchased the book from Barnes and Noble after publication), you know there is a pair of ballet slippers hidden in the illustrations. I enjoyed hiding them, and Gracie enjoyed finding them. Hopefully you did as well! This and other challenges may be a regular part of future books.

I’d like to take a quick moment to remind everyone “Seasons Of Friendship” is still available and all royalties through December 31, 2019 will go to Gracie’s favorite group of women at St. John’s Church in Portsmouth. The ladies do a great job of helping those in our community who need the gift of friendship, the kind of friendship that gives from the heart.

If you have been considering purchasing a copy for yourself or as a gift, please use the links below. We would like to be able to make a $100.00 donation for the year if at all possible, and we still have quite a ways to go.

(The royalties are $1.00 on the eBook and $0.62 on the paperback due to an increase in printing cost. So as you can see, my girls aren’t going to be getting a sauna or a pony anytime soon! We would just like to provide something uplifting to readers that will also be uplifting for our community.)

“Seasons Of Friendship” is now available as an eBook for $2.50 through Barnes & Noble! Go there for “Seasons Of Friendship” eBook!

“Seasons Of Friendship” is now also available as a paperback for $12.50 through Barnes & Noble! Go there for “Seasons Of Friendship” paperback!

Four Parts, Twelve Chapters, Seventeen Full Premium Color Illustrations, White 70 lb. Paper, 5.5” x 8.5” with Matte Cover.

We are truly thankful for you, our readers, and are so appreciative every day for the gift of your friendship!

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

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

Be on the lookout for upcoming information about our next book, “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” It will be our first novel. That’s right, a real 32,000-word, 240-page novel, not just a collection of stories!

“Pearl, My Little Girl, You Sure Have Changed!”

Today’s post is my current best version of Pearl as she will likely appear in “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” The background is a scrap of old gift wrap which fits the story’s two main characters: Pearl and The Bottle Cap Lady.

And so she began studying the lights which she hoped would be new friends to take the place of the fireflies and Blanche.

Over the next evenings, more of these lights appeared up and down our street. Some blinked. Others did not. Some had colors which Pearl had never seen before. The more she studied them, the more she wondered if they were truly fireflies. She had to find out. She would need to sneak beyond the boundaries of our safe yard.

Pearl moved quickly from one front yard to another, hiding behind the shrubbery. She would lay very low and then wait to see if anyone or anything had noticed her. She listened for dogs. She watched for silent cats.

When she got as close as she dared to the yard that had the most lights, she was amazed at what she saw. There were strings of lights just like there had been when she did her comedy show in our backyard, but there were more of them and with many more colors than she could have ever imagined.

Her heart beat faster. What a wondrous sight! Perhaps this was where Blanche was. It was certainly a beautiful place. Blanche belonged in a beautiful place.

There were lights and decorations everywhere, just as the wrens and songbirds had described. Some looked shiny and new, but most had the worn look of some of the things Pearl had collected after they had fallen out of the garbage truck. Still the strings of Christmas lights made everything appear beautiful against the darkness of the night.

Pearl wandered slowly through the decorations. They seemed to be set out in groupings to tell stories, and she studied them to figure out what those stories might be. In some places there would just be an assortment of odds and ends. Those didn’t feel like they had come from the pages of a story book like the others did, but they were still beautiful.

Blanche had to be somewhere close by.

Just as Pearl was ready to call out for Blanche, the front door opened. A dark shadowy lump of a figure stepped out onto the porch and sat down in a rocking chair. Pearl squinted her eyes to see more clearly.

From “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”

If you have followed my posts for a while, you know the illustration style for this book has really been a struggle for me. No matter what, I always seem to come back to this particular colorful cartoon-like style, and so I guess it’s what is best for my chickens and for me!

The app that I have been using up to now, Tayasui Sketches, has been fine until a recent update has made it difficult to use on my iPad due to the size of my files. The “new Pearl” above was drawn using Affinity Designer.

Because of this change, Pearl is no longer a “Raster Girl.” She is now a “Vector Girl.” (Unless you work with graphics, these terms may not mean much, and really, it’s the results that count. But for some reason, “Raster Girl” and “Vector Girl” make me imagine Pearl wearing a motorcycle jacket and singing “Born To Be Wild.” But that is another drawing for another story!) Anyway, there was a huge learning curve for me to make this transition, but the results were worth it.

You may notice a few differences in how Pearl is drawn. This is especially true of the outlining which does not use the standard blueish-gray that has been in all of my other chicken drawings. Instead the outline colors vary based on the portion of Pearl they are outlining.

Moving back in time, below is an illustration of Pearl in the same pose (without a hat) from “Seasons Of Friendship.” Some subtle changes were made for improved printing quality.

Moving even further back in time, below is the original post illustration of Pearl and The Bottle Cap Lady. It was made when their story was just a two-part post. At the time, I had no idea of ever developing their transformations into a 32,000 word novel or even of ever trying to publish a book.

You will notice how an irregular crayon drawing tool was used for outlining which did not do well in print. Because of that, I changed to the smoother outlining you see in the illustrations for “Seasons Of Friendship” directly above.

After comparing the illustration below with the one at the very top, hopefully you will agree with me when I say, “Pearl, my little girl, you sure have changed!”

My Life With Gracie...How To Explain Christmas To Chickens (Part 2)

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!” For November 2019

The Scoop From The Coop!

The last few weeks have been very busy ones for my chickens and for me as well. (This has been our busiest season at work.) It has been difficult to complete any new stories or drawings to share with you, but we have still tried to stay up with our reading here on WordPress. Here is what has been happening lately. It’s what you might call “The Scoop From The Coop!”

Bessie has been eager to get back into the kitchen. Partly because with the colder temperatures it is the perfect season for baking. She hopes to have some recipes to share with everyone very soon. It has been wet and dreary here for quite a few days, and that is not the best for her when it comes to making the illustrations for her recipes.

Straw bales have been purchased and placed around the run area to serve as wind blocks. Everyone enjoys getting on top of them and surveying from this higher perspective or making a nice dustbath in a protected corner. They are convinced there are millions of bugs hiding inside the bales of straw too! So Gracie and the others have something new to provide protection from the cold and amusement as well. As for me, I think they are perfect for sitting.

Our search for an old and inexpensive manual typewriter continues. Emily and Amelia have been very patient, though they are just as eager as ever to be writers. For now, Amelia’s words are kept safely in her heart, a perfect place for them.

“How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” is going well. It just may not be available through Barnes and Noble for this year’s Christmas season. There is much more work involved with a novel than I had imagined. Right now my extra time is spent editing and illustrating. My goal now is to at least be able to share a free draft copy with our regular readers here sometime in December. It may likely not have illustrations at that time. This is not such a bad thing because the story truly should be able to stand on its own, and I believe it does. More to follow soon.

Pomegranate season is here! One of our local grocery stores has some very large pomegranates at a very good price, and so I’ve stocked up for the holiday season. My chickens love these special treats, and they even have worked their way into playing a key role in one chapter of “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” I will be sitting on one of those straw bales I told you about earlier and hand-feeding pomegranate pips to my chickens beginning next week on Thanksgiving Day. The hard part will be making them last!

Most important of all: We have a continued appreciation for YOU, our readers! Thank you so much for reading and being a part of this creative journey with us. You make the gray dreary days and the cold windy nights much brighter and warmer for us!

Your friends,

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