My Life With Gracie…Worms And Straw Bales!

Worms And Straw Bales

“So, I suppose you know what will be here very soon,” said Gracie. She was trying to hide her excitement.

Bessie stretched out her neck to examine my face for any telltale clues. “You haven’t forgotten, have you?”

“It’s your Hatchday in only a few more days, right?” I asked, trying to appear as aloof as I could, but not quite managing it successfully. The day is almost as special to me as it is to them.

“Yes! Don’t act like you have forgotten either! Will there be anything special for us to give like last year?”

Last year for their Hatchday, we made our first book, Seasons Of Friendship, available as a free download before it was officially released for sale.

But this year, our newest book is much longer with thirty-five chapters instead of twelve, and there are at least three times as many illustrations. It’s not ready yet.

“I was thinking since we can’t give everyone a free read this year, we might want to give everyone a free board game instead. It would still be a gift to celebrate your Hatchday.”

“Will it have earthworms?”

“You know, it really has to have earthworms.”

“Otherwise who would ever enjoy playing it?”

“Exactly!”

They nodded together in agreement.

“I’m sure if we put our heads together, we can come up with a brilliant board game.”

“One that includes worms?”

“Yes, one that includes worms.”

And so we sat together and thought and thought and then thought some more. Finally, Gracie asked the question they had been hesitant to ask. “So what is a board game?”

“That’s a very good question. I suppose you do need to know what you’re trying to think up before you can think up a new one.”

“We don’t know much about being bored. There is always something to do right here in our own backyard.”

“I see. This is a different kind of board. But you can play a board game whether you are bored or not.”

Bessie tilted her head to one side trying to understand. “Are you deliberately trying to confuse us?”

“Not at all. A board game is made on a board, like the boards of your coop. But really anything like stiff paper can be used.”

“And what do people do on this board?”

“They move small things around.”

“Like small chickens?”

“Yes, they can move little pictures of chickens around on the board.”

“Back and forth and down and up like chickens really move?”

“Yes, I suppose so. Until one of them gets to the end and is the winner.”

They looked at each other and then at me and said together, “We have the perfect bored-or-not-bored board game for you!”

“Land on a worm, move backwards and down!” said Gracie, a fierce hunter who will dig down as deep as she can to snag a tasty earthworm.

“Land on a hay bale, move forwards and up!” said Bessie, a strong flyer who reaches high places effortlessly.

And that was the beginning of “Worms And Hay Bales.”

The rules they made up are quite simple.

“Land on a worm, move backwards and down. Land on a straw bale, move forwards and up!”

It doesn’t get much easier.

It had to be a game chickens can play because any of our readers who have chickens would certainly want to play with their chickens. Over the following days, we worked out everything for the game, and as disappointed as they were, I finally convinced them the game would work best without real worms.

“They would always be moving off of the board,” I explained, “And if anyone wanted to play at home with their own chickens, most of the game would be eaten before it even got started.”

The sadness on their faces was almost heartbreaking, but they could see the likelihood of this happening, since that is exactly what happened when the two of them played a test version. We settled on having real worms as prizes for the chicken winners and candy worms for the people winners. Everybody likes getting a prize.

During all of our planning, I realized we have never really discussed their tradition of giving gifts rather than receiving gifts on their hatchdays. Somehow to them it just seems natural, and if I were to say, “That’s not the people way of doing things,” I’m sure they would simply reply, “It is the chicken way of doing things.”

I must admit I do like the chicken way of doing things.

My Life With Gracie (and Bessie) reminded me every life (even yours and mine) is a gift to the world, and gifts are meant for giving.

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

Watch for “Worms And Straw Bales” next Saturday which is Hatchday for Gracie and Bessie when they will be three years old! There will be game rules and PDF files to download and print so you can play with your own chickens…or children! (Genuine edible earthworms not included.)

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!

My Life With Gracie…Snowhens And Snowchicks

Snowhen and Snowchicks

Near the end of the day, I heard soft whispers.

“You ask him.”

“No, you ask him.”

“It was your idea.”

Finally, Bessie spoke up. “When you make our morning breakfast salad…tomorrow morning, that is…would you be able to include grated carrots?”

“I think so. Sure. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no reason in particular. It’s just we didn’t get any this morning or the morning before. We thought you might be out of them.”

“Oops. Sorry about that!”

“No worries,” she said. Then there was an almost uncomfortable pause. “And before you grate them, can you snap off the tip ends and put them in without grating them?”

“Yes, I guess so.” I was beginning to wonder why there were suddenly so many special requests. Usually my chickens are happy with whatever I give them. “Any reason why?”

There was a soft chorus of delighted chicken giggles.

“Do you think it would be okay if we have a little free range time before going up to roost for the night?” asked Gracie. “I will keep watch over everyone so you don’t have to. You can go in and start making your dinner if you’d like.”

At this point, I knew something was up because they were trying so hard to be nonchalant. “Thanks, Gracie. I think I will. You aren’t trying to get rid of me, are you?”

Gracie just smiled.

From the back window I watched. They were definitely collecting things from under the holly tree and shrubs. But they were being very secretive about it. Gracie and Bessie were trying to block my view, just in case I might be watching from the back window. (They know me very well, don’t they?)

Later, as I made sure they were in their coop securely for the night, Emily asked, “I was just wondering about this. So will there still be snow all night long the way you told us when we woke up this morning?”

“Yes, that’s right. Same forecast as this morning. You did have plenty to eat today, didn’t you? So you can stay extra warm tonight?”

“Oh, yes. I did.”

“Good. You’re the smallest, and I worry about you staying plenty warm, particularly on a cold and snowy night.”

“I will be fine,” she said.

There was another soft chorus of delighted chicken giggles.

“You girls snuggle up closer, and fluff out your feathers for more insulation.”

The next morning started like any other morning except it was colder and there was a blanket of snow in our yard and in part of the chicken run. When I returned home from work, I discovered what all of the secrecy had been about. They had prepared a surprise for me and had a great time doing it.

Much of this had been Bessie’s idea, I guessed, because she is the one I most expect would have said, “If there can be snowmen, why can’t there be ‘snowhens’ and ‘snowchicks’?” She is always concerned about fairness.

Still, it didn’t matter whose idea it was. It didn’t even matter how they had done it. What truly mattered was how they had simply enjoyed the anticipation and the doing. My joy in receiving their surprise was nothing compared to the joy they held in their hearts while preparing it.

I am at a time in my life when I don’t go searching for the delightful or for the extraordinary. Those joyful things come to me like freshly fallen snow. I anticipate them. I keep my eyes open. I look for ways to share them as my own surprises for others.

Even when there are no more chickens in my backyard to build snowhens and snowchicks in February, I know there will somehow be delightful surprises for me right outside my own backdoor. And I also know my chances of discovering those delightful surprises will be greatly increased by my willingness to give delightful surprises to others. This is probably one of the greatest secrets Bessie and my other chickens have shared with me. They give simply for the joy of giving. Love provides them with gifts to give.

My Life With Gracie taught me to look for and to create delightful (if only temporary) surprises.

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