My Life With Gracie…Saturday Surprises!

Saturday Surprises

Here again is something a little different, and “Saturday Surprises!” seems to be the most appropriate name for this type of post. It’s just a glimpse into life here with my chickens.

These look very much like hydrangeas, but they are actually blossoms from our Chinese Showball Viburnum. The photo is taken from a “chicken’s eye view.” It was taken before the flowers have turned completely white because I like the pale green mixed with white. When this plant was smaller and in full bloom, there were hardly any stems or leaves showing, only huge white “snowballs.”

When we have a few warmer than normal days during the winter, I will be able to find small blossoms opening near the top where there is more sun. They are like a promise that spring really will come, and here is the fulfillment of that promise. Spring did come!

Definitely a “Saturday Surprise” wouldn’t you say?!?

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…Only For A Season

Only For A Season

Emily hopped unexpectedly into my lap. I was setting some pavers and bricks for a new garden path. Everyone else was pecking and scratching in their backyard playground, but Emily had slipped through a small gap in the fencing.

“I remember the first time you slipped through that little gap. None of the others know it is there.”

“Yes, sometimes there really are advantages to being the smallest,” Emily said.

“But you didn’t go off hunting for worms like the others would have done.”

“What was I doing instead?” she asked, even though she already knew what I would say.

“You were walking down one of the garden paths just looking at all of the beautiful flowers around you.”

“And why wasn’t I looking for bugs first?”

“Because, just like you told me, the bugs will always be there, but the flowers are with us only for a season.”

Emily smiled her happiest smile. Her love for the garden was something connecting us.

This was the beginning of what has come to resemble an old family story, one Emily and I tell to each other. It is the kind of story that gets told and retold, the kind that anyone outside the family might not completely understand, but we did. It is a story Emily loved to hear again and again, and one I never want to forget.

“I will always remember how you walked in the garden that day.”

“Can you draw me like that? Like how I was walking?” she asked as she had done so many times before.

“I have tried time and time again, but I can’t quite get it right. Still, it’s a picture in my heart, and perhaps that is the best kind of picture to have, one that can’t fade or become old and wrinkled.”

“And how was I walking?” she asked.

“In a way slowly to take it all in, and yet in a way quickly so as not to miss anything.”

“How can someone walk quickly and slowly both at the same time?” she asked. This was a new question she had decided to add to our story, and it delighted me.

“I am not sure. But you did. Beauty does that, especially when enjoyed by a heart like yours.”

“Beauty must be able to suspend time,” she mused. “But why do you suddenly look so sad?”

“Because when I was drawing a picture of your coop and some of the iris flowers, I realized how much the chicken wire fencing obscures their beauty from your view. You don’t get to walk through the garden as often as you’d like. I’m sure.”

“But when I do, I enjoy every minute of it. Do you know what I might like best about the iris blossoms? They have those yellow parts that look like big fuzzy caterpillars. You call them ‘beards’ but they look like ‘bugs’ to a chicken. I imagine if we were to eat one, it would tickle all the way down to my tummy.”

I imagined this tickling sensation with her, and we giggled.

“But I don’t hate the fencing or the chicken wire. They keep me safe.”

“They also keep you from seeing everything clearly.”

“Have you ever noticed how when you come home we are usually sitting close to the fence? Do you know why we do that?”

“I just always figured it was because you were eager for me to get home.”

“For some afternoon fruit? Well, maybe, but that is not the real reason. When we sit away from the fence, all we see is the fence. But when we sit close to the fence, we do not see the fence, just what is on the other side of the fence. We feel safe, but we also see the beauty.”

I felt there must be a lesson in what she had just told me, but I couldn’t ponder it just then. My mind was still trying to comprehend what she had said about beauty being able to suspend time. This is certainly not an idea that would occur to most chickens and certainly not to me on my own.

“Maybe you’d like to draw and paint some iris blossoms while we wait for them to bloom later this spring.”

“I would like that. With a picture, I can enjoy them all year round. They really are very easy to make. Just a chicken foot, three hearts one way, three hearts the other way, and three fuzzy caterpillars. It can’t get much easier.”

“Maybe you can teach me? It sounds like a very chicken way of looking at things.”

“It is,” she said. “But can we walk through the garden first though? Just you and me?”

“That would be beautiful,” I said, still feeling there was a lesson here with more chicken wisdom to help bring life into sharper focus. “You know, Emily, there is a very famous poem beginning with the words ‘she walks in beauty.’ It was written many years ago by someone named Lord Byron. He lived in England, and they have very beautiful gardens there. You walk in beauty, Emily.”

She either wasn’t sure what to say or hadn’t really heard me. So I just watched her walk on ahead.

She had all she needed, including a strong trust in the goodness of the world and everything in it. She just kept putting one foot in front of the other and believing.

Yes, surely there was a lesson or two for me to learn, and perhaps I would ask Gracie about all of this later. But for the moment, I thought it best to follow Emily through the meandering garden pathways and simply enjoy the beauty I saw in her heart.

Like the flowers she loves so much, her heart would be with me only for a season.

You can download a free photo of Emily’s drawing titled “Flowers And Worms” here and perhaps use it as a screensaver or desktop background. It may help to remind you to look for beauty, even in difficult times.

And if we are really lucky, I may be able to convince Emily to give us a lesson on how to draw and paint iris blossoms like she does. “Just a chicken foot, three hearts one way, three hearts the other way, and three fuzzy caterpillars.” Hopefully it will be as easy as she has promised!

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

John’s Reading List For Writers…“Save The Cat! Writes A Novel” by Jessica Brody

Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody

This book has an unusual title and cover, and to be honest, neither caught my attention in a positive way. (Could I really let my chickens see me reading a book with a picture of a cat on the cover? Cats love chickens, but not in a good way.)

Save The Cat! Writes A Novel is based on the Save The Cat! books by Blake Snyder. His books were written more for screenwriters, but in her own book, Jessica Brody adapted his ideas for novelists.

From reading this book, I learned that the building blocks of a successful screenplay and a successful novel are very much the same. Both are made up of “beats” which are events that work to transform the main character. Each has a specific goal to move the story forward.

Here are several “beats” that come in the beginning of a story.

The “Opening Image” provides a snapshot of the main character and their world. The readers gets a glimpse of what life is like for your main character. Think about the opening minute or two of a movie where the main character is just going about their ordinary, everyday routine while the opening music and credits are playing.

The “Theme Stated” tells what your character needs to  learn and how they need to change. But, of course, the main character is often complacent about their life and isn’t particularly eager to learn any life lessons and transform in any way because change can be painful and is often hard work. They need something to propel them forward into the story.

The “Catalyst” is something that disrupts the status quo world of the main character. It sends them off in a completely different direction whether they want it to or not. It’s what moves them out of their normal life and onto a journey of transformation.

The next time you watch a movie, look for these things. They have been there all along, we just have not been completely aware of them. (That is what convinced me this was a useful book.) The “beats” are built into the screenplay for a movie, and they can be built into a novel as well. They lay the foundation and hold the story together even though the movie viewer or novel reader is often not conscious of them.

This post just skims the surface of the first part of this useful book. A large section describes the different story types and the essential ingredients that make each as effective as possible. If you write only a particular type of story such as horror or romance, this larger section of the book may not be useful to you, only just the parts specific to your preferred genre. In that case, a borrowed copy from your local library might work best for you. That’s where I originally found this book and then bought my own copy.

Save The Cat! Writes A Novel has been a very useful resource for me and may be the same for you even if you choose not to add it to your home library.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! I am hoping to have a new “My Life With Gracie” story post each Saturday which seems to be our most popular day with readers. Thanks for reading!