My Little Girl Pearl, The Light-bearer

Thursday was my midweek day off with my new part-time status at work. I spent the morning drawing book illustrations like this one which is still a work in progress.

It was good to have an extra day at home with the chickens. One of the things I have at home but not at work is someone to jump up in the air and flap like crazy when they see me. But that’s what Pearl does almost every time I open the back door. She is the only one of my chickens who still does this.

But that is Pearl, my silly and ridiculously lovable Pearl.

Mid afternoon, I went out and sat under the camellias and read the newspaper. It began to rain about the time I turned to the comics page. The girls were plenty dry in their sheltered run, and I was only getting a few drops under the thick canopy of decades-old camellias. So we all settled in to wait it out. But Pearl seemed to be waiting for something special.

And then it happened, something totally unexpected for me but something I sensed my chickens knew would happen. They had seen it before on rainy late afternoons like this when I was away at work.

As the sky darkened from denser clouds, the fireflies began to come out. There were only a few at first, flashing on and off, dodging the raindrops. Any other day, they would not have appeared until late evening, three or four hours later. But there they were, more and more of them, dancing around us, bringing unexpected joy as the world grew darker if only because of a passing shower.

Now I understand much better why Pearl enjoys them, these little light-bearers, so much. She is a light-bearer too whenever she jumps up in the air and flaps her wings. I have to smile when I see her, no matter how cloudy my day may have been. She brings me joy.

Without a doubt, Pearl is one of my best egg-layers. But to me it’s not her most important job. Her best job is being a light-bearer. It’s what she was made to do, I think, and perhaps it is what we are all meant to do.

She looked into my eyes, hoping what I said was the truth, hoping to find her most needed answer there.

“I am out of jokes and silly hats and silly anything. How can you still love me?”

“I love you all the more, Pearl, when you have nothing to share except your heart.”

from “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”

Often we are the only light some people have. So jump up in the air. Flap your wings.

Dance with your own unique light.

Share your heart.

Lately I have not been as good about reading posts here on WordPress as I would like to be. I worry about missing some really great posts. (I think I am about two weeks behind. Ouch!)

So if you have something that you’ve posted recently you are particularly fond of and shares your own unique light, why not give me a link or two in the comments below? That way I will be sure not to miss it, and others who read here can find you better! (And it might just send some “likes” and “follows” your way from new readers!)

My Life With Gracie…Sunday Surprises!

This morning, I was putting on my chicken shoes as I do each morning. (If you have chickens, you know about chicken shoes, shoes specifically for mucking about with the chickens.) While tying one of my shoes, I looked up and saw this beautiful welcome to a new day. The Rose Of Sharon behind the chicken coop had begun to bloom, and the petals were just catching the morning sunlight coming over the roof.

This one is a Double White Althea, just in case you wanted to find one for yourself. I bought two of these several years before I had any chickens, and I used them to anchor the far end of my garden raised beds. Now they anchor our big chicken coop and run and provide afternoon shade for their afternoon free-range area. We will be enjoying these blossoms throughout the summer months, and the beautiful bronze-toned seed pods in the autumn months.

We are all hoping that your day will be filled with a few equally beautiful surprises!

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…Every Egg Tells A Story

Every Egg Tells A Story

There it was in the middle of the breakfast salad, a single just-laid egg.

Now this is unusual. Chickens may do many things in “just any old place,” but laying an egg is not one of them. That is done in the dark privacy of the nesting box. They are safe there. Their egg is safe there too.

So you see, this was definitely an unusual event. But I didn’t have time to ask “Who?” or “Why?” before heading off to work. There was only time to ask, “Is everybody okay?” No one said anything, and so I assumed all were well.

It had been a busy Wednesday morning. While I put down their breakfast salad and welcomed everyone to their new day, I mentioned next Wednesday we would have the whole day together because I wouldn’t be going to work. Then I gave them the weather report so they would know what to expect, though I had a feeling they already knew it was going to be an unusually warm day.

But that was all there was time for. No leisurely second cup of coffee. No discussions of what would be blooming next in the garden like the Japanese iris.

There was just enough time to get ready for work and to tell everyone what I always tell them. “Take good care of each other. Remember I love you more than anything here.”

I did wonder about the egg though. Since Gracie’s foot mishap, I have tried to be extra vigilant. What if something was wrong? What if they were too scared to say anything?

At least those questions kept me from wondering about other questions, bill-paying questions. The reason I would be home the next Wednesday and many more Wednesday’s afterwards was simple. With the economy the way it is now, I am moving to part-time. That means an extra day at home each week, but also twenty percent less pay.

But chickens don’t understand people economics. Nor would I want them to. They only understand chicken economics. We are the richest family on our entire street because we have more worms than anyone. Now we have more time to be a family together. Life is good!

Somehow all will work out fine.

That night as I went out at dusk to tuck everyone in for the evening, I heard the lightest two chicken feet land on the coop floor after hopping down from the nighttime perch.

It was Emily, of course. I know her sounds as well as I know her eggs by their shape and color. In the dimness, she made her way down the chicken ladder and hurried to me.

I scooped her up into my arms.

“That was me,” she said. “I laid the egg in the middle of the breakfast salad.”

“I know, Sweetie. Don’t worry. Sometimes things happen. But you are okay, aren’t you?”

“I am fine. I am just a little embarrassed. It was a very unseemly thing to do. I had to tell you or I would not be able to sleep at all tonight.”

More than any of the others, Emily is a proper lady with impeccable manners. Egg laying must, absolutely must, be done in the privacy of the nesting box and in the most ladylike manner possible and with hardly a peep.

“It’s just that I was so excited for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You get an extra day to enjoy us even more!”

I held her close and kissed the top of her head.

“You are so sweet, Emily. Yes, I do get even more time to enjoy you.”

She wasn’t excited about having more treat time or more backyard free range time. She wasn’t even excited about being able to walk through the garden more often. Emily was excited about being able to see the pleasure on my face from being with my chickens. She didn’t even realize that she herself was a huge part of why I look forward to spending time with them.

This is the heart of innocence.

“I just do not understand why you enjoy us so much. We are just little chickens, and I am the littlest of us all. Why do you even bother with us? You already have everything we see here. You are so big. When you stand close, I cannot even see all of you.”

I was unsure what to say.

“Why do you enjoy us so much?” she asked.

Again I was unsure what to say, but I knew this was an important question deserving an answer.

“You know, Emily, that is a question people have asked as well, just in a different way about themselves. Not about chickens, but about themselves.”

“What do you mean?”

I carried her over to where we could look up into the evening sky. The first stars were beginning to shine.

“Many thousands of years ago, someone wondered something like what you are wondering right now and even wrote it down.”

“What did they write?”

“They wrote, ‘What is man that you are mindful of him?’”

She thought about these words carefully.

“Did that person ever get an answer to the question?”

“If they did, they didn’t write down that part. But sometimes a question is best left unanswered. Sometimes a question is just meant to make us wonder with eyes as big and as wide-open as yours, Emily. Sometimes we have to find the answers to those kinds of questions for ourselves. No one can tell us the answers, and if they do, we are unlikely to really hear them. Some answers are best found in our own hearts.”

She seemed satisfied with this.

“Sometimes it’s best not to know all the answers,” I added because that seemed like an awfully long speech.

“Nobody likes a know-it-all, right?”

“Or a tell-it-all.” We smiled together. “But I am happy you told me about your egg and even happier you understand how much joy you give me just by being you.”

I placed her back in her favorite roosting spot, back in a corner next to Gracie. Her life and her heart were now secure for the night.

Perhaps this is a part of how the universe is intended to work. I cannot imagine a world where Light and Life and Love would not be looking forward to enjoying each person. Equally. Delightfully.

And if Light and Light and Love can do that so intensely with each one of us, can’t we do that too, even just a little, with each other? Even when we are different?

Yes, every egg tells a story.

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…Sunday Surprises!

That’s right! Yesterday was another great day to work out in the yard and garden, and we have yet another “Sunday Surprises!” 

This plant is called rose campion. It has soft fuzzy leaves like a similar plant called lamb’s ear. These are the most intensely colored flowers of any in my whole yard. The leaves are no more than four or five inches tall, but when it’s time to produce flowers, this plant soars high!

A gardening friend gave me a few of these many years ago, and they grew into a much larger bed than what you see here. (I think they need more sun than what this particular spot provides.)

This is my last clump of these self-sowing perennials. But I have saved the seeds and will be helping them to reclaim their section of the garden.

While I was surprised and very glad to discover this dotted splash of color yesterday, I miss having a huge blast of this over-the-top color that I get with a large bed or border of this amazing flower.

I might not have spotted them if I hadn’t noticed Pearl sitting and staring off into a distant part of the yard. She was studying this favorite flower. Its brilliant color is just as intense as the white of her feathers in the noonday sunlight.

Be brilliant! Be intense! You can do it! (And save your seeds!)

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…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…Sunday Surprises!

Sunday Surprises

This would normally be a “Saturday Surprises!” post, but yesterday was another great day to work out in the yard and garden, so nothing got posted. Instead, we have yet another “Sunday Surprises!” 

Yes, this is a picture of worms and dirt and soggy old hay. Not particularly the kind of photo that would get thousands of “likes” here or anywhere else. But to a chicken, it’s one beautiful mouthwatering photo!

The inspiration for this particular post came when I overheard Emily telling the others, “Our Daddy is the best worm hunter ever!” Who doesn’t want to be admired like that?

Over the years of taking care of my chickens, I have learned the best places and conditions for finding worms. Underneath bricks, pavers, and old logs are all prime spots. Wet days after a period of rain like we had this past week are always good. But even I had not anticipated the number of worms I would find under the straw bales I had put around their coop and run areas to act as a windbreak.

That was late fall. Now it was late spring, practically summer. The hay bales had gotten repeatedly wet over the months and had begun to break down. The worms from the yard had found a nice home.

There’s more than one kind of worm in my yard. Some worms are sluggish and fat. The chickens enjoy those for their gourmet appeal. Other worms are a bit leaner, longer, and livelier. The chickens enjoy those for the thrill of the hunt! They start thrashing around as soon as they are uncovered, and seeing them sends all of my girls into a frenzy.

After their breakfast feast, we sat and I told everyone about my Uncle Eddie who owned a worm farm. They were fascinated, completely entranced. I told them about how there were rows and rows of raised beds almost like tables. They were filled with soil and different kinds of worms. I told them about how he could just walk right in and fill up a bucket of worms in no time.

They were all ready to head for Uncle Eddie’s Worm Farm until I told them about the alligator he kept in his backyard. It had made its way up from Florida to the North Carolina coast after a hurricane, and Uncle Eddie had found it and given it a home. Having an alligator for people to look at helped his worm business. Who wouldn’t want to look at a live alligator while getting some worms for fishing?

My chickens were glad to hear that the alligator had his own little pond and drainage tile that made a cavelike shelter. They were not glad to hear that Uncle Eddie fed his alligator chicken legs.

No one wanted to visit Uncle Eddie’s Worm Farm after they heard that, no matter how many worms there were or how easy they were to find.

I suppose this just proves the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. But I think it also shows that sometimes what we are looking for just may have already been provided for us, right in our own back yard, right where we live. We just may need to do a little exploring.

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…Sunday Surprises!

This would normally be a “Saturday Surprises!” post, but yesterday was a great day to work out in the yard and garden, so nothing got posted. Instead, we have “Sunday Surprises!” From looking at this photograph, you may think I needed to do some serious weeding!

My house was built in 1920 and will be celebrating its one hundred year anniversary in December. Over the years, many different vegetables and flowers have been grown in my yard. Every now and then, my own turning over of the soil brings old seeds closer to the surface, close enough to sprout and grow. This spring, these delightful little flowers sprang up and bloomed.

Yes, something new for my chickens to look at and enjoy, but not taste. At least not this year. Perhaps next year after this spot has been protected and allowed to reseed itself.

Whenever I’m working in the yard, my mind wanders. As I studied these yesterday, I was reminded of Mrs. Brown, our elementary school lunch lady. Her husband’s name was “Chicken Brown.” At the time I wondered why anyone would name their child “Chicken,” and finally I just assumed giving people nicknames like this was one of the odd things grownups did which would never really make sense to me. He was a mechanic and wore overalls with his name on them. My grandfather was a mechanic too, and that made him okay by me even though he had a strange name.

Most people never give much thought to lunch ladies, not even ones married to someone named “Chicken Brown,” but I think perhaps lunch ladies have one of the most important jobs in any school. It’s not just in the preparation of the food (which back then was all prepared “from scratch” like the very best homemade meals). It’s something else entirely different. Lunch ladies have a rare opportunity to see children as they are outside of the classroom when they don’t need to impress any adults with how smart and good they are.

Several years ago after surveying the damage from a hurricane that had come close, but not too close, I spoke with Mrs. Brown briefly. I found that she was a very prayerful woman, and she prayed for the children that went through her lunch line. I think she saw things in our faces that no one else saw. She knew who was troubled. She knew who felt lost. Her prayers were like those old seeds in my garden soil. They didn’t sprout and blossom right away. But she planted them anyway with her kind words and smiles, trusting that one day all would be well.

Somewhere in your life, there has likely been someone like Mrs. Brown. They may not have been an elementary school lunch lady, but they wanted good things for you and for your life to turn out well.

Today may be your day to turn over some soil and see what happens. Or plant some seeds of your own into the life of someone who needs them. You may not see what happens, but love, kindness, prayers, little flowers, and an extra helping of real mashed potatoes are never wasted.

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

A Chicken’s Life Can Be That Way

A Chicken’s Life Can Be That Way“So what is that you’ve done there?” I asked Pearl as she was rearranging some sticks and pebbles and leaves in a cleared out area in the chicken run.

I had brought some of my unfinished drawings outside with hopes of getting inspiration. Some of them were just not coming together.

“Oh, nothing really,” she said.

“Whatever you do is never nothing.”

Pearl seemed glad to have sparked my curiosity. “I thought I might help you with the book.”

“How do you mean?”

“Look more closely.”

And so I did.

“I only see some twigs and pebbles and leaves and a few little feathers.”

Pearl added one more twig to the collection she had gathered, and suddenly an image formed.

It was a chicken, a happy chicken! I couldn’t really call it a drawing, and I couldn’t really call it a sculpture.

“Pearl, it’s beautiful, it’s perfect, and it’s so much like something you would do!”

She just smiled up at me.

“I’ve always known you were a collector, but I never knew you could do anything like this!”

“I thought you might need some help with the illustrations.”

She moved a few of the twigs and pebbles, and there was suddenly a completely different chicken pose. Then she added an azalea blossom, and suddenly there was a dancing chicken wearing a tutu made from the flower.

So I sat and just watched as she kept moving and rearranging and creating new images.

“I started making these last summer. When you were teaching Emily to draw.”

“I had no idea.”

“I taught myself how to do this, how to draw like this,” she said. I could not tell whether she had felt left out last summer, but it was likely she did. “I guess I have always gone my own way.”

“That was when you were getting over Blanche leaving us, wasn’t it?”

“May I show you something else?”

Pearl had not answered my question or waited for me to answer hers.

She went up to the darkest corner of her nesting box where I would have never thought to look. One by one, she brought out bits of torn paper and gift wrap she had collected when the trash truck came by on Tuesdays.

Each held a drawing made with the simplest of tools. These were her real drawings, ones on scraps of paper. She had used feathers shaped into pens, soft twigs frayed and turned into brushes, inks made from charred wood and milkweed sap, smudges of mud, and even what looked like the last of some bottles of white correction fluid and fingernail polish.

“Pearl, I had no idea.”

I sat next to her to examine them more closely.

“May I touch them? I will be careful. I want to spread them out so I can see them better.”

“Yes, that would be fine.”

“I don’t want to damage them.”

“You won’t. I trust you.”

I picked each one up as carefully as I had picked up Pearl when she was just a baby chick. As I spread them out in front of us, Pearl hopped up into my lap and whispered so only I would hear, “They are the story of my life.”

There was her life. Had I ever been so introspective? It takes a great deal of courage to look at one’s entire life laid out like cards, tiny snapshots of who we are. But Pearl had done it, and each of these was an expressive masterpiece.

“Most of these are full of light and hope,” I said.

“A chicken’s life can be that way.”

“But some of them are very dark and scary.”

“A chicken’s life can be that way too,” she said as only one who has known dark and scary can say.

We sat there looking at her artwork together. There were times I wanted to ask a question, but chose to stay quiet. I felt the drawings would speak for themselves, and if there was something they did not say, then maybe it was not important to know after all.

I placed one of my own unfinished drawings under one of hers.

“May I use some of these for our book, your book? Some of the chapters have things that only you experienced. Like this one with the opossum. I haven’t known how to draw those things because I wasn’t there.”

“I was there.”

“I know you were. And you lived to tell about it.”

“And draw it too.”

“You did.”

Life must create and create anew. With whatever it can find. Even useless throwaways. Pearl may have once thought about her own life that way. But no longer. Perhaps Life specializes in turning what others reject into priceless beautiful things, if not on the outside, then certainly on the inside.

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…So What Do You Do?


So what do you do when your “Best Girl Ever” and your “Bravest Girl Ever” turn three years old? Well, after you have given them all of their favorite treats including freshly-dug worms, you come up with a way for them to celebrate even more by doing what they love to do…giving gifts!

On their Hatchday last weekend, we very quietly started a new website titled “Gracie And Friends.”

For them, it will be an opportunity to share more free stuff with you, particularly games with a higher “ready-to-publish” quality. Along with Gracie and Bessie, I want to give my best too.

For me, it will be a chance to make more happy and colorful drawings of everyone when they were just little chicks. That was before the boys started crowing and had to move out into the country and before the girls started laying eggs. That was when they were all at their cutest and loved exploring all of the goodness the world has to give.

Right now we could all use some happiness and some goodness, don’t you think?

Just because you follow “My Life With Gracie” doesn’t mean you will want to follow “Gracie And Friends.” And the other way around is true too. While “My Life With Gracie” is more about my journey as a writer and illustrator, “Gracie And Friends” will have much shorter posts and focus on items to download and enjoy.

Just like in real life, Gracie and all of her friends give. Eggs. Stories. Drawings. Soft downy feathers for wild birds to use when they are building their nests. Games for other chickens and children to play for entertainment and to pass the time.

Giving is what we do. We don’t expect anything in return. Sometimes we may receive a gift and sometimes we may not. Either way, we are still happy. That’s just the way it is for Gracie and her friends, including me.

So moms, dads, kids, teachers, good dogs, good cats, and all chickens, we hope you will print, read, play, and have fun!

Click Here To Visit “Gracie And Friends” Where You Can Download A New Version Of “Worms And Hay Bales!”


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

I really did enjoy putting together “Gracie And Friends” along with a more polished version of “Worms And Hay Bales!” and hope you will enjoy them too.

Please feel free to share with others, particularly those with young children…or chickens! Maybe “Gracie And Friends” can help some people through COVID-19 by providing things to do and a big dose of happiness.

I’m also looking forward to including my boy, Lefty, on “Gracie And Friends.” He will give some balance, and I will be able to draw power tools and hammers which always fascinated him. (So not everything will have flowers, but of course, there will still be plenty of worms!)

We are currently working on a new card game that we will probably call “Scratch And Peck!” Watch for it!