Family Photo Friday…My Bold Brave Amelia!

Family Photo Friday

Today’s photo is of my Amelia who is beginning to molt. You can tell by the pair of longest tail feathers that are still left and sticking straight up like an awkward flag to say, “It’s me, your bold brave Amelia!”

She has come a long way in her comfort level with molting. Her first time was extremely embarrassing. She didn’t want anyone to see her. This may have partly been because she didn’t want anyone pecking at her bare places, but it may also been she didn’t want me to see them. She knows how much I enjoy admiring her black and white patterned feathers.

I was reminded of a story and illustration I had shared the first time Amelia molted. It is titled “Feeling Vulnerable” and you can click the title to go to that page if you’d like. The lesson Amelia and I both learned that first molting season was this: “When we are feeling vulnerable, it’s probably because we are growing to meet new challenges.”

That was almost two years ago. Back then, I was trying my best to post at least three stories and illustrations a week. But as you can tell, I’ve slowed down a bit since then. Along with “Feeling Vulnerable,” there was also “While We Sleep” and “About Becoming.”

I read those three stories again this morning because they feel quite appropriate for this current year and season. Many of us are feeling vulnerable right now. There is a lot going on and a lot to process in our hearts and minds. That processing takes time. It is uncertain what we are becoming, but like Amelia, I am hopeful for what we shall become.

Amelia is no longer embarrassed by molting and change, as you can see from her photo today. (She actually posed for this.) When I get home from work this evening, those last two big tail feathers will likely be gone, but she will be eager for her new tail feathers to begin growing. They will help her fly to unimaginable places, and that is something to be excited about.

Thank you, Amelia. Let’s all be hopeful for what we shall become.

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

Family Photo Friday…Unexpected Discoveries

Family Photo Friday

You may need to look a bit closer than usual, but Gracie and Bessie really are in this photo. Well, not all of them, just their feathers!

This bird nest, perhaps a robin’s nest, was on the ground after a recent day of strong wind. When I picked it up and examined it, I was surprised to see soft feathers from Gracie and Bessie woven into the nest.

With no rooster around, they would never be using their own warm downy feathers to protect and comfort baby chicks. Yet they were still able to help another bird’s family.

Giving. It’s just what they do, including feathers for wild birds to use when they are building their nests.

Do any of us really know how far the gifts we give may travel or whose lives will be touched?

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

Family Photo Friday…First Month Hatchday Celebration!

Family Photo Friday

I apologize for the low quality of this photo. When it was taken, I never imagined I would be sharing any of these “baby” photos with the whole world! But it looks like Gracie had some idea. That’s her in the lower left corner. She is smiling shyly for the camera while everyone else is enjoying some homegrown sprouts. Bessie is the one in the upper right. She is standing on the sprouts and trying to get the best ones before anyone else.

This photo was taken close to the one-month Hatchday celebration for Gracie and Bessie and their other hatchmates. They had definitely grown a great deal in only one month, and those fresh sprouts helped them grow even more.

Tomorrow we will celebrate their Third Hatchday with lots and lots of worms and other special treats. Three is a big number. Three is an important number. Three is all of the toes they can see and count on one foot, and for them, it’s a really BIG deal!

They will also be giving you a gift of their “Worms And Hay Bales!” board game. It’s a great game to play at home with your own chickens…or children if you are not fortunate enough to have any chickens of your own.

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…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.)

Family Photo Friday

Family Photo Friday

For some time now “My Life With Gracie” has had as our slogan “Free Eggs (if you are close by) And Free Stories (even if you aren’t)!” It’s just sort of what we do.

Earlier this week on Tuesday, we were fortunate enough to give a half-carton of eggs to Carol, one of our very good friends at work. Then on Wednesday, we found out that she was retiring.

At the end of the day Thursday, she came to say “Good bye” to each of us still left in the office and not working from home due to Covid-19. She let me know that her husband was preparing a special dinner for them to celebrate her retirement, and that I would never guess what he was preparing.

Do you have any ideas? Well, I didn’t. I guessed a nice steak dinner or something extravagant like that. But I was wrong. He was going to prepare a “breakfast for dinner” meal featuring eggs from my girls along with sausages and fried potatoes with onions and all of their other breakfast favorites.

My girls were so excited to hear this when I got home yesterday evening. They never imagined their best gifts would be used to celebrate such a wonderful and happy occasion.

And so I was reminded again how my chickens always give their very best, even though it may seem modest and even humble to them. When I think about Carol and all of the years she has spent helping people in the healthcare field, what really stands out is how she has always given her very best, just the same as my girls. So I guess it just seems fitting in a way.

I have a great deal of gratitude today for everyone out there who always gives their very best, no matter how humble or insignificant that best may seem. We all have a part in making the world a better place, even if it’s just one egg at a time!

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

Family Photo Friday! (Hier Wache Ich!)

Family Photo Friday

Today’s photo is a wonderful treasure. The sign says “I Guard Here! Enter At Your Own Risk!”

My chickens and I receive this gift last year, shortly after Seasons Of Friendship was published. It came in a large envelope packed with other surprises from one of our most valued readers named Susanne. She lives in Germany and wrote a variety of posts here on WordPress for a time. Her original drawings and cartoons were what attracted me to her site, and I also especially liked her haiku poems and the photographs which she skillfully paired with them.

One of the things I am enjoying most while illustrating How To Explain Christmas To Chickens is being able to create a visual world beyond what the written world describes. For example, in Seasons Of Friendship, I hid a pair of Gracie’s ballet slippers in one of the illustrations. Most readers have missed this when reading through the book and didn’t know there was anything hidden until reading the “Epilogue.” Then they go back and search for them. It was one of the things that many readers enjoyed about the book.

Yesterday’s post shared a sample illustration from How to Explain Christmas To Chickens. So will there be some hidden objects with special meaning in the drawings? You can be sure that’s definitely something I will be working on.  This particular sign may work very well in the chapter titled “The Opossum.”

I will also be considering the inclusion of other not-so-well-hidden items like the one in today’s “Family Photo Friday” when possible. They will be things which remind us of you, our readers here at “My Life With Gracie,” and serve as a kind of secret between us. (One of the things Pearl will receive as a gift at the end of the novel is a secret, something that will not fit into a Christmas present box, but will fit into a heart quite nicely.) 

My chickens and I are truly grateful for receiving this wonderful gift and even more grateful for Susanne’s friendship and encouragement. (My chickens like how this sign helps them get a good night’s sleep too!)

We also want to gratefully thank all of you, our readers, for your friendship and encouragement. So be on the lookout for a drawing of this sign and perhaps other not-so-hidden objects in How To Explain Christmas To Chickens…and of course, a very well-hidden pair of ballet slippers for one very remarkable chicken!

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

It has been some time since I’ve posted a “Family Friday Photo” for everyone. These photos let our readers know that Gracie and the others are real chickens and the things that I write about are real as well. (But I will admit from time to time my imagination does creep into the story just a little. I really didn’t order ballet slippers for them all of the way from Paris.) 

Today’s photo was taken when Gracie and her brooder-mates were just one week old. That’s Gracie, the farthest one from the camera, my little Gracie. These are just four of the fourteen chicks I raised in the spring of 2017. The others in the photo are Rudy (a Rhode Island Red), The Emperor, and The Empress (both Brahmas).

There are few things any cuter than a little chick. Something you will notice about Gracie in this photo is how timid she was back then. Can you see this in the way she holds her head and body? Soon after she hatched, a lump began to develop on her side. It kept her from doing a lot of things that the other chicks did. It made her weaker and more vulnerable, and yet she became the leader of my backyard flock. (You may remember this if you read our first book “Seasons Of Friendship.”)

As a chick, Gracie would never have been able to survive without the help of her best friend ever, Bessie. Part of tomorrow’s story and illustration will look back at when Gracie and Bessie were newly hatched, and so I thought this photo would be a good one to show you today even though it is not as clear as I would like.

Tomorrow’s post will share one lesson Gracie taught me about facing life’s challenges and those things which may not seem fair. It does not solve life’s struggles like the lump on Gracie’s side, but hopefully it does help put things into perspective.

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!

Family Photo Friday!

Family Photo Friday

Today’s photograph is of Emily after she and the others had finished their Thanksgiving Day feast of baked sweet potatoes and pomegranate poms. In the background, Gracie is taking care of an itch.

We started with dessert, the pomegranate, because since it was a holiday, “dessert first” was fine. Emily is more ladylike with this treat, and so I usually hand feed this to them. She doesn’t like to get the juice from the poms on her face. The others just shake it off, and so they are more likely to grab too hard and splatter juice in all directions. Emily, above all, is a proper lady.

I had not expected Emily to let me take her photos and especially this closely. She is normally shy, but I think their Thanksgiving Day menu put her in a good mood, or at least good enough to not be so shy with the camera.

Emily had a very rough late fall molt and lost all of her neck and head feathers except for a few that hung down in back like a pony tail. (Can you really call it a “pony tail” if it is on a chicken?) But her feathers have come back enough to keep her neck warm, though they still have a bit more to go before they are at their fullest and most iridescent.

I appreciate that she allowed me to use her photo for today’s post even though she is still not at her “feathery best.” You can see the tiny cream-colored feathers covering her ears. It looks as if she may be waiting to hear me say, “I almost forgot. I have one more Thanksgiving Day treat for you!” Chickens are always hopeful.

In the photo below you can see how shy Emily really is while Amelia’s boldness is undeniable. This photo was taken several weeks before Emily’s late fall molt began.

We are truly thankful for all we have and for you, our readers. We hope that all of your days, holidays or not, are filled with many wonderful things, including the small things in life like sweet potatoes and pomegranates or anything else that you particularly enjoy.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated. Some strange mix-up happened with this post earlier today. Hopefully it is okay now. Thanks!