My Life With Gracie…Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day

You may have noticed for the past few weeks Emily and Bessie have been doing the artwork for our posts. This has given me extra time to work on the illustrations for our next book.

Emily shared this drawing with me as soon as I got home from work on the evening before Valentine’s Day. While her beak and comb looked calm, I could tell by her twitchy tail feathers she was eager to give me her latest drawing. Who would have ever imagined that a slightly faded sheet of red construction paper could end up being so beautiful?

“Emily, that’s very pretty, and I like it tremendously. Do you need help adding some words like maybe ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’? I can spell the words for you.”

She shrugged her shoulders as if she was unsure what more needed to be said.

“It’s not really about Valentine’s Day,” Emily confessed. “I know you wanted a picture to share with everyone for Valentine’s Day. I’m sorry for letting you down. I don’t have a Valentine’s Day drawing for you.”

“What do you mean? There are valentine hearts all over it.”

“I know. But they are what you would call an artistic afterthought. They just fill the empty spaces between the chickens.”

“I see.”

“The drawing really isn’t about all of those valentine hearts. The most important part is all of the chickens who are dancing ballet. That’s what the picture is really about. I was hoping you would like that part the best and not worry about Valentine’s Day.”

“Why is that?”

“Because you’ve told us how you often think about us dancing ballet at night when you are trying to go to sleep.”

“That’s true. I always seem to sleep better when I imagine dancing ballerina chickens.”

“So this picture is really to wish you sweet dreams and a happy tomorrow. And it’s not for just one day, it’s for all days.”

“I think it’s the most wonderful picture you have ever made, and it’s much better than a picture for only Valentine’s Day.”

We smiled together.

“I am so lucky to have you in my life, Emily. This drawing has you all over it.”

“I don’t understand. None of those dancing chickens are me. They are all Gracie. She is the best dancer.”

“When I look at this picture you’ve drawn just for me, I can’t help but see you. But I don’t see you on the paper. I see you in my heart.”

Her comb blushed a bit redder and she hurried off to put away her art supplies for another day.

I thought about placing her drawing by the lamp near my bed. It would be the last thing I would see before turning out the light and the first thing I would see in the morning. But for that Valentine’s Day Eve, I just sat and enjoyed the pure beauty of who Emily is.

My Life With Gracie (and especially Emily) taught me love, real love, isn’t just for one day. It is for all days, and for sweet dreams, and for a happy tomorrow.

We have also included a sheet of “Art By Emily” Valentine’s Day cards you can download, print, and share. There are no words on the front or inside. When you print, cut, and fold them, you can add your own words if you’d like. I think they might also look nice framed…maybe on a bedside table?

Here’s wishing you, our readers, sweet dreams and a happy tomorrow!

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

Bessie’s Best Ever Brown Sugar Pound Cake

Bessie’s Best Ever Brown Sugar Pound Cake

Bessie has been eager to make this cake again. She likes it because there are a lot of bowls an a lot of mixing, but I just like it because it’s seriously delicious with a cup of coffee.

I asked her why she drew herself five times in her recipe illustration. “That’s because it took that many pictures of me to show how excited I am about this recipe,” she said in her most matter-of-fact way.

We will make it again this weekend which will be the start of Shelter Week at St. John’s Church. That’s when we open our doors to feed and provide a nighttime home for our guests who have no home. While visiting, they will also receive gifts of personal items and brand new cold weather gear including items like boots and long johns. We always strive to give our best, and each night a different group provides the evening meal. My girls and I are in charge of the cakes for our group Sunday night because our cakes are the best. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, our cakes are the best because we use only the very best eggs!

Bessie likes to call this a “One Big Bowl” recipe because everything ends up in “One Big Bowl” before it goes into the cake pan. She was sorry she ran out of space and wasn’t able to fit everything into just one picture. Even so, her drawing should help you get everything set up correctly before the last bit of mixing, and then pouring, and finally baking.

Ingredients for Bowl One

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Ingredients for Bowl Two

1 bag toffee bits (8 ounces)
1 cup chopped pecans

Ingredient for Measuring Cup

1 cup whole milk

Ingredients for the One Big Bowl

1 and 1/2 cups butter, softened (3 sticks)
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 cup white sugar
3 eggs

Directions For The First Part In The Picture

Preheat oven to 325°. Butter and lightly flour the inside of your 12-Cup Tube Cake Pan and set aside. Be sure to “bang out” the loose flour that doesn’t stick to the butter. Bessie likes this part even though it is a little noisy because it means we are going to bake a cake!

Bowl One Add flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix with spatula. Set aside.

Measuring Cup Add milk. Set aside.

Bowl Two Add toffee chips and pecan pieces. Mix with spatula. Set aside. (We use Heath’s English Toffee Bits in the 8 oz. bag.)

One Big Bowl Beat butter until creamy. Add brown sugar and white sugar, beating until fluffy. Stop and admire your work! What a beautiful color, right? This is called “creaming butter and sugar.” Bessie has a natural talent for this. If you have never creamed butter and sugar before there are excellent videos online that will help you. Now it’s time to add your “secret ingredients.” Add first egg. Beat until blended. Add second egg. Beat until blended. Add third egg. Beat until blended. Bessie insists that these must be done one at a time and not all together, and I trust her on this. She is much more of an egg expert than I am!

Now that you have Bowl One, Bowl Two, Measuring Cup, and One Big Bowl prepared using Bessie’s picture, you’re ready! You can finally put it all together into what may be the most amazingly delicious cake you have ever tasted! It’s practically guaranteed if you are using the very best eggs from well-loved chickens, of course!

The Last Mixing, And Then Pouring, and Finally Baking!

Begin beating your ingredients in your One Big Bowl again but this time on a low speed and gradually add about 1/3 of flour mixture in Bowl One to the butter and sugar mixture in your One Big Bowl.

Continue beating on a low speed and add 1/2 of milk from the Measuring Cup.

Continue beating on a low speed and gradually add about another 1/3 of flour mixture from Bowl One.

Continue beating on a low speed and add the last 1/2 of milk from the Measuring Cup.

Continue beating on a low speed and add the last 1/3 of flour mixture from Bowl One. Beat until just combined.

Use a spatula to fold in toffee bits and pecans from Bowl Two. Try not to get distracted by why it is called “folding.” This totally confused Bessie the first time she made this cake and it almost did not get into the oven. I can still remember her exact words. “How can you fold it if it is not paper? This makes no sense at all.” Just remember, sometimes “why” questions are best saved for after the cake is baked…because they are often forgotten by then!

Directions For Getting Your Cake In The Oven

Spoon batter into prepared tube pan. Bang it firmly on your countertop a time or two to release any bubbles. Bessie also likes this part because it’s the last thing to do before putting it in the preheated oven!

Bake 1 hour and 10 to 15 minutes (depending on your oven) and test to see if a wood pick inserted near the center of your cake comes out clean. You can add a few more minutes if needed. Cover with foil to prevent extra browning if necessary.

Let your cake cool in pan for 30 minutes. Remove from pan, and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Special Note: If some of the cake looks imperfect, don’t get crazy the way Bessie did the first time she made this cake. Once the cake is cooled, we get to cover all the imperfections with a Yummy Brown Sugar Blanket! 

Warm And Yummy Brown Sugar Blanket!

1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz.)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put sweetened condensed milk and brown sugar into a sauce pan and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Lower heat and continue to boil and stir for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, whisk in butter and vanilla extract.

Drizzle over the cake while it is still warm from the pan. It will be difficult to work with once cooled. Spatulas, fingers, and even very careful chicken feet can’t spread it very well once it has cooled. (Trust me on this.) There will be plenty of it, and you may want to put the extra into the center hole of the tube cake so it will ooze out when you cut the cake. A little vanilla ice cream on the side is nice too!

Bessie and I hope you will enjoy making this cake and sharing it with those who are special to you! And even if you don’t bake this cake, please remember what Bessie has so wisely said.

“Chickens don’t need blankets, but people do. Make sure you blanket people with a love that warms every part of them. And don’t forget that love covers imperfections.”

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

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!