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.)

“Sure Things” And “Possibilities”

A Free Heart

This is part of a series I’ve shared from time to time about Amelia and how she wants to be the first chicken to fly to the moon and back. Here is the most recent posting if you are a new reader or just want a refresher before reading today’s story.

There are times when Amelia totally steals my heart away, as if she is the only chicken I have ever had or ever will have. She is both “sure things” and “possibilities” all wrapped up in one delightful feathery package.

While I am away at work, my chickens are secure inside their large covered run and coop. They have plenty of room to play, take dust baths, and simply sit and watch the world go by. But their favorite time is when I come home and open their expanded fenced-in backyard playground.

They can hardly keep their feet still long enough for me to undo the safety latch. Everyone is focused on my hand and the latch. The most important question in that moment is “Will it still open this time?” Once they hear the scraping metal sound they have been waiting for, they all charge out in different directions and into a world full of possibilities.

Most evenings, even when they don’t get to visit their backyard playground, I give them some corn kernels. It is my way of making sure no one goes to bed hungry or wanting.

One evening, I gave them their corn just before opening up the gate to their playground. Everyone quickly forgot about the corn.

They ignored what was a sure thing and went after what was a possibility. They trusted the corn would still be there after they explored in their playground. They pursued the chance, just the slight possibility, of finding an earthworm or a bug.

But then Amelia did what Amelia does best. She broke “the rules” of what you would expect in the most adorable way. While everyone else was scratching around for what might be found in the backyard, she slipped back into the coop to get some corn.

She gave me that look of, “You know what I’m doing, but you won’t tell anyone, will you?”

I winked at her to let her know her secret was safe. While everyone else was hunting for a possibility, she was taking advantage of a sure thing.

She went back and forth between hunting in their playground and getting corn from their run area. After she had enjoyed enough of both, she settled down into a cozy spot at my feet, quite content.

“Amelia, what made you different from the others this evening?”

“Different?”

“Yes, it was more than just cleverness. What made you do both things back and forth like that? You know, hunting for bugs and gathering up corn.”

Amelia thought about it for a while. “Cleverness” would have been a simple answer, but we both knew there was more to it than just being clever.

“It’s because my heart is free.” She said this as if testing out how it would sound for the first time.

“What makes your heart free?”

It felt like we were exploring new territory, just like being in a new backyard, just like scratching around to discover something wildly exciting.

“Being thankful, I think. Yes, if anything does it, it would be thankfulness. Not being thankful for someone or something puts your own heart in a cage.”

Amelia seemed to have surprised even herself with this answer because it meant she was the only one who could keep her world small.

We both sat there, thinking this over. Usually it is someone else taking our freedom from us that makes our world small, but this idea was different.

Eventually Amelia spoke again.

“When you are thankful for everything, it’s like there really isn’t a difference between the corn and the bugs. It’s all the same.”

“All the same?”

“We know you give us the corn. It’s a gift. Sometimes we think we are getting the bugs for ourselves, but we aren’t, not really. We forget you give us the opportunity to hunt for bugs. That’s a gift too.”

“And realizing that is what makes your heart free?” I asked.

“Yes, I think so. Just being thankful. Then it’s all the same. No matter what you have or don’t have. No matter where you are or aren’t.”

As the light became dimmer, the others came to get some of the remaining corn kernels before heading up to their coop for the night. No one seemed to notice there was less corn than earlier when they had gone out to their playground to explore and hunt.

Amelia was the last to go up as usual.

“Even you are a gift, aren’t you, Amelia? You are a gift to me.”

“Just as you are a gift to me.”

With that, she flew up into the coop to join the others for the night.

It was one of the last deep conversations we would have before she would go off to find out if she could be lost and not afraid. Maybe she was getting both of us ready for that day.

My Life With Gracie (and especially Amelia) made me aware of the power of thankfulness.

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