So What Is Missing?

Last week, I made available an online version of “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens,” and while I was waiting for feedback, I uploaded the files to make a print copy with Amazon. I wanted to make sure that the cover and interior color images would print as expected.

I was pleased with the cover shown in the photo to the left. Though I must admit that I don’t like the “Not for Resale” that Amazon uses. (Barnes & Noble does not do this.) I was also pleased with the interior color illustrations as shown in the photo on the right.

The shorter length of only 8,000 words and lower page count allowed for color illustrations throughout, and that was good. But there was something missing. The book didn’t have the same “feel” as the old books I had saved from when I was a child.

One of my favorites was “Wood Woodpecker Drawing Fun For Beginners.” If you have followed my work for any length of time, you can probably guess why! (I have always enjoyed drawing.)

Most of the books saved from my childhood were about 25¢. This particular book has “29¢” printed on the cover, and so it appears to have been a bit pricier and more special than my other books. After all, Woody Woodpecker was quite popular back in 1959 when this book was printed! Fortunately, the  J.M. Fields Department Store sticker says “6/97¢” which may be why I was able to take it home with me. Either price certainly seems like a real bargain to me these days!

How do you know a book is truly treasured by a child even when you don’t know anything about the child or the adult they grew up to be? Where does that feeling begin?

As it turned out, the thing I thought of last was the thing that I should have been thinking about from the beginning. Can you spot it in today’s photos?

Next Time: Four Perfect Words To Begin Any Beloved Book

In keeping with the topics of drawing and coloring, for our Facebook fans, we have a free coloring page that you can download and print. Just go to our “My Life With Gracie” Facebook page and click the link there. It’s pinned to the top to make it easier to find. The coloring page will open in Dropbox, but you do not need a Dropbox account!

P.S. It is okay to print and color even if you are a grown-up!

 

Starting Over

“Sometimes we learn a little from our goofs,” said Pearl. “Sometimes we learn a lot from them. I should know. I have had more goofs than any chicken here.”

“Thank you for helping me to cheer up. So what do you think we should do with the story about you and Blanche and The Bottle Cap Lady?”

“I think we should start over again with the pictures. The ones you made. The ones I made. The ones we made together.”

She went over to her stash of drawings and pulled out a few.

“Remember when I told you these are my heart and my life?”

She spread her drawings carefully in front of me.

“If a story is good like a life is good, then you should be able to tell all of the important parts just in pictures.”

She looked up at me, and gave me a little hop up into the air for no special reason other than because she is Pearl.

“Pictures that show action, that is. Love is action. You told me that yourself.”

She rearranged her pictures so they were in the proper order to show me the story they told about her life.

“Then you can add some words. The words all depend on who gets the gift of your story.”

“The gift of my story?” I repeated back to her. “I never thought about a story as a gift.”

“Well, maybe you should. Blanche gave me gifts I never realized were gifts at the time. It is something to think about.”

Pearl seemed a little surprised at her own insights (or perhaps at my lack of them).

“Pearl, what is the most important thing about your story?”

“Blanche was my best friend ever,” she said. “Blanche tried to teach me about giving, but I did not begin to really understand until after Blanche left us that Easter Sunday. I wanted to be a light in the Bottle Cap Lady’s life, just like Blanche had been for me, so I gave a Christmas gift to her. It meant not getting my own gift because I was not in my own home and asleep when Santa Claus came. But I got an even better gift than I could have imagined.”

I was silent and just smiled at her.

“That’s it. That’s all. That is what you should tell people with the words,” she said and waited for me to say something. “That is my heart. That is my life.”

“And such a sweet and beautiful heart and life you have, Pearl.”

She gave me another a little hop up into the air for no special reason.

“Don’t you want to say something about how Gracie had said ‘silliness never saved a chicken’s life’ but you saved everyone from the opossum by being silly and scaring it off?”

“Not really. But you can if you want.”

“Don’t you want to say something about how The Bottle Cap Lady drank all of those soda pops and ate all of those candy bars?”

“Not really. But you can if you want.”

“Or how she lost her job at The Chicken Place because she kept falling asleep at work? And why she kept falling asleep at work?”

“Not really. But you can if you want.”

“Or how she roamed around the neighborhood saying strange things or doing strange things even in the middle of the night? Or how she stole eggs right from under you?”

“Not really. I don’t want to tell any of those things. But you can if you want.”

“Why is that, Pearl?”

“You know already. You told me yourself. Love fills emptiness. Love covers imperfection.

“I loved The Bottle Cap Lady when nobody else loved her. Even when she could not love me back and had nothing to give me, I still loved her. That is what Christmas is about. That is what Easter is all about too.

“Light and life and love are all about giving, just like Blanche said. People need to know that part most of all. Tell them whatever will help them understand that part.”

She gave me another a little hop up into the air, but this time for the very special reason that she had just shared some of her light with me.

“You are such a pearl, my little Pearl.”

Pearl and I put our heads together and made a personal inspiration video that uses the illustrations for “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” along with a song that seems to fit. You can get to it through our “My Life With Gracie” Facebook page or directly on our Vimeo page. You do not need a Facebook account or Vimeo account.

We are going to try to be more conscientious and always have something special pinned to the top of our “My Life With Gracie” Facebook page just for all of our fans!

Everyone Has Nightmares (A Possible Revision)

Here is a huge “THANK YOU!” to everyone who read Saturday’s posted chapter and commented. Sunday I reread all of the way back from the beginning and when I got to that chapter, it truly felt out of place and very jarring. It was a bit as if someone else had inserted a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, and so I worked on a rewrite which you will find below. It keeps the good parts, cuts out the scary parts, and also helps to make some connections to things which happened earlier in the book and prepares for action to happen later. There was also nothing in the original version to help anyone who has bad dreams, so I’ve tried to include something about that too.

Everyone Has Nightmares

The warnings from the other chickens had settled into Pearl’s mind but so had what she had seen and heard for herself. What was she to believe? Understanding people was definitely complicated, more complicated than understanding how to be a good normal chicken.

That night Pearl dreamed about being in The Bottle Cap Lady’s Chicken Freak Show. She didn’t remember how many times the dream came to her or many of the details, just that each time she would make it into the dream just a little farther until finally it felt as if there was no escape.

The dream always started with darkness. It was a darkness so dark it left Pearl thirsty for light. She would have given any and all of the treasures she had collected for just a small bit of light to be able to see even a little.

Each time the dream came to her, she went into it farther and farther, deeper and deeper, until it felt as if there was no way out. It was not just a bad dream. It was a nightmare.

At last, Pearl woke up startled and began calling out frantically. I had just gone outside with morning breakfast salad for everyone.

“What’s the matter, Pearl?” I said as I quickly put down the salad bowl. “Are you okay?”

At first, she acted as if she didn’t know me or trust me. Then she brushed her head with her wings a few times and looked around and realized where she was and that everything was fine.

She fluffed out all of her feathers to inspect them. It was as if she was checking to make sure they were all still there. Then she jumped and flapped into my waiting arms.

“You must have had a really bad night, but you’re safe now.”

She hid her head in the crook of my arm. I felt her trembling come and go. Several times she made sounds I hadn’t heard since when she was just a baby chick.

After a few minutes, her breathing became normal. She looked up at me and asked, “Is there any such thing as a Chicken Freak Show?”

“No, Pearl. That’s just something The Bottle Cap Lady made up. There’s no such thing as a Chicken Freak Show.”

“But in my dream, it all seemed so real.”

“That’s the way nightmares are, Pearl. Sometimes our imagination gets the best of us. Let’s not even call it a dream. Dreams are about things we want very much, like being a comedian with a silly new hat. Nightmares are about things we never want at all. Nightmares can seem very real, but they aren’t.”

“You are absolutely sure about there not being any Chicken Freak Shows.”

“I absolutely am. And if there ever was, I would do absolutely anything to keep you safe from it. Even if it meant being in a Chicken Freak Show myself.”

“That’s what I did in my nightmare. I took Blanche’s place in The Bottle Cap Lady’s Chicken Freak Show. I will always love Blanche so much. I never had a chance to tell her.”

“I am sure she knows from how you took care of her. There has never been a chicken with a bigger or better heart than you. And that is the absolute truth, just like there are no Chicken Freak Shows is the absolute truth.

“But I’m glad you told me about your nightmare. Sometimes when we keep bad things inside, they only get a more powerful grip on us. It’s good to talk about them. It lets light inside the darkness. Then nightmares go away. Don’t ever be afraid to tell me about them, Pearl.”

“If you love someone, is it ever for nothing? Is it ever a waste?”

“No, Pearl, I don’t believe love is ever a waste.”

“Not even in a nightmare that isn’t real?”

“Not even then, Pearl.”

“If you take someone else’s place in a Chicken Freak Show, only there’s no real Chicken Freak Show, does it still count?”

“Yes, Pearl, love always counts, even then. That kind of love is what holds this entire universe together. From the stars way up in the enormous sky above us all the way down to you little chickens right here with me. Love like that always counts.”

I felt her body relaxing at last.

“It’s not the kind of love you can hold onto and store up. It is the kind of love that sometimes bursts forcefully like the gushing water of a huge flood or that sometimes gurgles gently like the bubbling laughter of a little baby. Sometimes it is the kind of love that bleeds out slowly like a healing salve.”

I held her close to my face and felt the warmth of her cheek against mine.

“You have that kind of love in your heart now, Pearl. I know you do.”

We closed our eyes together, and with a kiss, I whispered, “I miss her too, Honey. I miss her too.”

Later I asked Gracie to keep an extra careful watch whenever I was away.

“Gracie, if you see The Bottle Cap Lady coming into our yard when I’m not home, you and the others should make as much noise as possible to attract attention. Pearl had a very bad nightmare about her last night. We all need to help her feel safe.”

“I will,” said Gracie. “We all have those from time to time.”

“But somehow this is different. She dreamed about being in The Bottle Cap Lady’s Chicken Freak Show. Do you remember how you told me once you felt there was a strange connection between the two of them?”

Gracie nodded and thought about this. She paced back and forth and then looked over at Pearl’s Comedy Coop stage which we had never taken down.

“Do you remember how the colors of the lights were changed for a time?” she asked. “It was always at night when everyone would have been asleep. What if Pearl isn’t the only one who has nightmares? What if The Bottle Cap Lady has dark and scary nightmares too?”

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe The Bottle Cap Lady was changing the lights because she couldn’t let herself go to sleep or else she would have a nightmare where she felt she had no escape. Just like Pearl. Maybe she was behind that mystery. Then whatever had caused the nightmares passed when her sorrowful season passed, and she could sleep again. Afterwards she put the lights back the way they had been.”

“That does seem a bit far-fetched, Gracie, but I am beginning to think with The Bottle Cap Lady, anything is possible.”

“Pearl’s nightmare will go away because she told you about it. But The Bottle Cap Lady does not have anyone to talk to about her nightmares, not a friend in the world. Chickens can tell these things.

“She is either afraid of something that might happen or plagued by something that has already happened.”

“You could be right, Gracie.”

“No matter what, we will all be extra watchful to help Pearl feel safe. Chickens help chickens feel safe, even when we don’t understand each other. Blanche was right about her.”

“What does that mean? The part about Blanche being right?”

“Just talk amongst chickens,” she said, brushing that part aside. She would say no more about it.

Gracie had wondered if she should tell me about how Pearl had been using the secret gap to visit The Bottle Cap Lady, but she decided against it. She knew that if she told me about it, I would close it up securely. If The Bottle Cap Lady did do something unpredictable like trying to take Pearl away, at least Pearl would have a way of escaping. It was not an easy decision for Gracie, and it weighed heavily up on her heart.

“I do have one idea,” said Gracie. “We could hire The Jump Rope Girls to be our ‘chicken sitters’ in the afternoon when they get home from school. She avoids them.”

“And what would you pay your ‘chicken sitters’ with?” I asked.

“What about cupcakes?” said Bessie who had been listening.

We all laughed together. Bessie truly would have followed through with laying the eggs and helping to bake the cupcakes.

“We can put that on our list of possibilities. In the meantime, I have complete confidence in how well you two girls can keep everyone safe, especially Pearl. I will let her know you will be watching out for her.”

When I shared this with Pearl, she was genuinely surprised that Gracie and Bessie understood about her nightmare and were going to keep an extra sharp lookout.

“Why do they want to keep me safe? They have never acted very friendly towards me.”

“Because you are a chicken, just like them. Chickens help chickens feel safe even when they don’t understand them. That’s what Gracie said.”

“Are people like that?”

“Sometimes. But I must admit that chickens seem to be much better at it than people.”

“Then this is sort of like the one hundred and twenty bones that all chickens have but we can’t see, right? It’s what we can not see that really should be keeping us together and helping each other and not what we can see.”

“That’s right, Pearl. I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

“How many bones do people have?”

“Grownup people have two hundred and six.”

“That’s a lot more than chickens. But then again people are a lot bigger than chickens. But we do have more feathers than people.”

“That’s not very fair, Pearl. People don’t have any feathers at all.”

“Then people must need a chicken’s help from time to time, don’t you think?”

“Yes, we probably do, Pearl, we probably do,” I said with surprise. “How can any little hen be as adorably cute and wise as you are, Pearl?”

“I guess it’s just ‘in my bones,’ especially when it’s time to…”

She paused, flapped her wings, and then we both laughed and said together, “Feed the chickens!”

I have pulled the eBook versions from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble until I have everything polished up and consistent. I am glad that there are no paperback versions out there yet, just my own proofs. Seriously, if you are disappointed by the eBook versions you purchased, I will be glad to personally refund you. Just send your email receipt to John.Spiers@yahoo.com. Thank you!