Knitting, and painting, and writing …

June 30, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Posted in art, country life, faith, family, gardening, gifts, health, inspiration, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, relationships, summer, travel, women | 9 Comments
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Good morning … I hope you are having an enjoyable summer so far.

I give mine mixed reviews.

I spent the first part of June in Denver visiting with my parents, which was wonderful of course but not without some bittersweet feelings as well. I love living here on the farm in New York, an I would not trade my life here with my dear husband for anything. We enjoyed our sixth wedding anniversary this past April and continue to feel amazed and blessed that our 3-month online courtship and subsequent marriage worked out so very, very well.

It is, however, not fun at all to be 1,500 miles away from my parents. They have always been two of my very best, dearest friends as well as parents who I cherish, respect, and love. I wish circumstances were such that we could all live close together so that I could help them more. Dad continues to give prostate cancer a run for its money, and Mom does an incredible job taking care of him through that battle. When we all lived in California, very close to each other, my kids and I were on hand to help them if needed … and of course during all of the years when I was raising my kids my parents were very nearby and always on hand to lend a hand, a hug, or a listen whenever it was needed by us.

We have a dream that by some miracle the universe aligns and Dad and Mom are able to come and live here with us. Miracles can happen, and we will continue to pose that dream to the universe and see what we along with the universe can make happen.

Meanwhile, there is love and there is a wealth of technology for staying in touch at least.

I came back from Denver with bronchitis and then had the fun of that segueing to a sinus infection back in New York. I am much better now, but much of June was devoted to the trip and the recovery.

I did manage to take a brief little vacation, right in our own backyard, with my husband last weekend. I shot a number of photos during the vacation using the Instagram app on my Android phone and shared those on Facebook and Twitter. That little app is so amazing, and quite fun to use. I am planning on creating an Instagram chronicle over the course of this summer as a photo journal of a summer living in vacation.

Every year I am stunned all over again at the complete, innocent and rustic beauty of this place and the environment around it.

Creatively, I am enjoying a very productive time these days. I created two small oil paintings while on the mini-vacation, am almost complete with my watercolor of the swans, and have started writing my first novel. I am determined to write at least 500 words each day for the next several months until my first novel is complete. I realize 500 words per day is a tiny little writing target, but making sure I do at least that much work on the novel will ensure I do produce a full-length book over the next year. I have also been knitting: I completed a Biscuit Blanket as a mystery gift to someone I have not met as of yet, am making another attempt at a summertime blanket for myself, and am working on a new design for something I am calling a Friendship Square … more on that later.

Oh, yes … I also managed to make a triple batch of strawberry-rhubarb-cranberry preserves that resulted in a 26 jars of some very delicious jam. The strawberries and rhubarb were locally grown, and the cranberries were from a stock of frozen cranberries I always have on hand. Oops, I just remembered another thing … my husband and I got this year’s Sincere Pumpkin patch going.

I also have been creating some new art prints for knitters … I posted two of my new designs this morning in my Etsy store. They are philosophical, and slightly humorous. I hope you will enjoy at least taking a look at them and enjoying the sentiment as well as the pretty colors I am using.

That is about it for me for now. I want to work on some more paintings today, because I have the August Art Trail to prepare for and a beautiful day to thoroughly enjoy.

Warmest wishes to you and yours.

~firefly

I wore a wool hat

September 20, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Posted in art, country life, country living, faith, family, free knitting patterns, health, inspiration, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, relationships, shopping, summer, Vintage, yarn | 6 Comments
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It has already been chilly enough recently, I wore a wool hat a couple of times last week. AndiIt is just now the last day of summer.  I remember the first year I was in New York, we went to my husband’s nephew’s farm–a couple of hours south of us– for a pig roast in mid-August and camped out a couple of nights.  It got down into the 40′s both nights and we were freezing all night long; mid-August.

That funny little hand knit skirt I was making last week for Sweet Pea is finished now, but she didn’t want to model it today. I’ll have to catch her in a modelling mood later this week so I can share that with you all. I will also share the pattern with you for free — it is very simple and a quick knit. She looks so adorable in it, you just have to see it! I’ll be sure to include directions for making it as a little girl’s skirt, not just a toddler’s skirt. I was going to call it Sassafras, but now that I have seen it on her, it makes me think of it more as a Flintstone skirt. Anyway, soon as I can get her to wear it for a photo shoot, I’ll share the photos and the pattern.

Have you heard about the HBO show, Boardwalk Empire? It is going into its second season in a week or so, and HBO did a very cool promotion in NYC using vintage subways they ran in certain neighborhoods. The story line (which takes place during prohibition era Atlantic City) and the promotion in NYC were of particular interest to my family because of my son’s vintage-look subway sign business. I guess he knew about it for a while, because he designed a very cool set of Atlantic City subway roll signs, paying homage not only to Atlantic City but giving a nod to HBO’s excellent production as well.

Today is beautiful; I am looking out the dining room windows as I type and I see blue skys with huge puffy white clouds dancing along.  We had gentle rain over night, but now it has cleared out leaving the trees and lawn looking rich and dazzling against that beautiful blue sky.  Summer is already a thing of the past for us this year, but we are looking forward to a couple of months of beautiful autumn.  One sugar maple tree on the bank of the river has started turning colors, but otherwise the trees are still green for the most part.

Our pumpkins never did take hold this year, which is sort of sad.  However, our favorite local farm stand already has a beautiful assortment of pumpkins out for sale and we bought a couple of huge ones the other day.  They look like standard field pumpkins, but are the size of a big moon over-sized pumpkin.  Very nice, and they have gorgeous huge stems on top.

For Sweet Pea’s Sincere Pumpkin Patch, my daughter and husband and I will buy a number of pumpkins from the farm stand and scatter them around where ours should have grown.  We will do that the night before Halloween, and hang a few ghosts in the branches of the old dead pine tree who stands guard over the patch.  It will be so fun to see how she responds to it all now that she’s older.

That pumpkin patch has been on my mind quite a lot recently, not only because fall is here but also because of a book project I have been working on with my Dad.  We created a book (hardback, eBook, and Kindle editions) combining some of his inspirational poetry and my photography of our farm.

Shortly after I married and moved to this beautiful farm, my parents came for a Christmas visit along with my son and daughter (they are young adults). My father brought a folder with his poetry, and we read through some of his poems while they were here. He and I talked about how lovely it would be to publish a book sometime with his poems and my photography, and so the concept of this book took root.

A couple of years alter they all came here again for a vacation in June, and we all spent a very magical week together with the most perfect, spectacular weather you could hope for.

At that time, my father was undergoing chemotherapy; he was diagnosed with prostate cancer about eleven years ago. When he came for that visit, none of us knew how the chemotherapy was going to turn out, and we all wanted to make sure that we lived that one magical week to the fullest while we all had the opportunity to be together.

My father got to drive my husband’s tractor and help tend to our large lawn — my son also had a hand at driving the tractor during that visit. My father had not been on a tractor since he was a young man living on a farm in North Carolina, so it was wonderful for him to have that opportunity.

While they all were here we worked together to plant our first-ever pumpkin patch, with six varieties of pumpkins. We also built a crude but artistic signpost, which we put up over the pumpkin patch. My son and daughter and I hand painted, “Sincere Pumpkin Patch” on the sign in a childish hand, to make the signpost look like it was put together by children.

The pumpkin harvest from the Sincere Pumpkin Patch that year was gorgeous, and we all felt it was a great reflection of those magic days we shared in June.

I am determined to make certain that my father has an opportunity to be a published author while he is still living, and that he will experience the joy of knowing that people are reading and enjoying his creative works, and feeling inspired and uplifted by his lovely words.  The book contains thirteen of his poems and fourteen of my specially selected photographs.

You can order the eBook directly from my website here, you can find the Kindle version in the Kindle Store by searching “J. L. Fleckenstein” — the title of the book is “The Measure of a Man”.  Or,  if you would like a beautiful, full-cover hardback version of this book you may purchase one for $26 by contacting me (email editor101 @ ILiveonaFarm.com).

The hardback book is small (6″ x 9″) and rather slim, but expensive to print. There is very little profit on the hardback book, but is is so lovely I want people to have it in their hands and on their coffee tables or desks — so I am making it available that way by special request. I have to special order them one at a time for now, so there is about a two week lead time between when you order one and when it can be shipped. Worth the wait, in my humble opinion.

My father is doing very , by the way … turns out he is much, much more durable than cancer is.

I put together a reader survey this morning to get some feedback from my readers. It would be great to hear from some of you … would you be willing to take a couple of minutes to help? If so, click here.

I hope you have a beautiful, almost autumn day.

~firefly

Painting in a boat on the river

August 30, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Posted in art, blogging, country life, country living, faith, family, knitting, Life, love, marriage, relationships, romance, shopping, summer, travel, volunteerism | 5 Comments
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Read my blog on Kindle.

I have lived here just over five years, started writing my blog five years ago in early August.  It is circumstantially strange, but the blog inevitably became an integral part of marriage.  I suppose it is conceivable it will always be that way.  None of us know how long this blog relationship may last, it is brand new territory for us all after all.

It’s funny, because I can go back and see what we were up to on or about this date back at the beginning of our marriage, and see more clearly how our lives and activities have evolved over this little bit of time.  In 2006 on this date I was writing about the ice cream social fund raiser we had at our church the night before.  Today I am writing about a little time we spent on the river last night and the Artists of The Oak Art Trail event of this past Saturday.   Beautiful times, beautiful experiences, beautiful home.

Yesterday afternoon when my husband got home from work, on a spur of the moment we headed over our cottage and went out on the river.  I grabbed a few tubes of oil paint, some brushes and palette knives, and a few gesso-prepped boards invarious sizes.  He grabbed his tackle box and rods, and we rowed a little ways out into the river before he left the boat to slowly drift.  I am not a plein aire painter particularly, although I do love painting outdoors.  I am usually meticulous in my drawings and painting techniques, working in my studio where I can focus and study and paint with an eye toward fine details at times.  But I have longed to be sitting in one end of a boat painting with my husband fishing in the other end.  So many things have happened over the past five years that we never once, until yesterday, fulfilled that particular longing in our hearts.

The river was beautiful and peaceful.  We drifted downstream slowly, toward a center island in the river.  The shadow and light was perfect, with dapples of sunshine in the trees, on the grasses, and flowers.  As we drifted toward the little island, a swan came out from behind it and was not at all disturbed by our presence.  I created a tiny little painting — it is probably only about 2 1/2″ by 3″ or something.  But, I had to mix paints quickly while sitting sideways in the boat, just a field paintbox propped against the side of the boat holding an impromptu palette, a small assortment of brushes and knives, a rag, etc.  And the scenery was changing as we drifted, so I had to paint quickly.

This was the first painting I think I have ever done where I didn’t fret as I worked on it.   I just mixed the paints and got to painting without a drawing or anything planned out … no opportunity to be meticulous in the least bit.  It is a sweet little painting, a little token to commemorate the first of our little adventures in the boat doing somethings we both love — fishing for him, painting for me, and being together in the tranquility of our mostly private little piece of the world.   Heaven.

I am into my fourth blissful day in a row this morning.   We have plenty of good days in life, but they don’t always come one right after another like this.  I write about the good and the best days, but there is no need to mention the lesser days of struggle, heartbreak, strife, or loss.  Those are the days and times that give us strength and contrast.  We all have them — you have them as well, I am certain.  If you didn’t, your life would be stagnant and we all know stagnant waters are … well, they’re stagnant.

This river of life — my river, your river, the rivers of life and living that flow through and around us all — this river is best when it is moving.  It can move slow or fast, but the transitions and bubbles, the white water, and the ripples all work together to create the stuff of life.

On Saturday our Art Trail event came off beautifully.  I wish you could have been here … actually, some of you were.  This was the fourth or fifth year of the art trail, but only the second year of the “loop” created by the art group I am a part of, Artists of The Oak.   In the first couple of years of the trail, there were only three to six visitors total.  Can you imagine how discouraging that was to any artists involved in it. You prepare works of art, get all set up and ready to greet the public, and believe it might be possible someone will see something you have created and actually want to pay some money and take it home with them.  Then, to have three or four people show up over the course of several hours.  Well, it is a heart breaking experience really.

Then last year at our urging the event was moved to the last Saturday in August (as opposed to early October) when there are plenty of vacationers around.  We volunteered to have several artists come to our place and set up tents on our lawn so that the public could see more art and artists with less driving.  Plus, there seems to be something very inherently lovely and inviting about this little piece of Earth.  With our grand old willow tree and the fields bordering our lawn on two sides, and the river right across the road the setting is quite beautiful.  The end of August is the best weather you could hope for an outdoor event of this kind, and with a few artists all together at once place we figured that even if no public showed up for the event at least we would all be together enjoying a beautiful summer day.

So, last year’s event saw an increase from three or four people to thirty-five to forty visitors … very encouraging.

This year we all pitched in on the costs for printing 2,000 full-color flyers about our “loop” in the Trail as well as 1,000 oversized postcards about our group.  We started getting the flyers and postcards out three months in advance and all of the artists helped get those flyers distributed around the county.  I wrote a press release that really told our story, and some of the papers in Western New York gave us some great coverage.

I think I mentioned last week that our regional arts council had dropped the ball on this event, leaving us and me in particular, with quite a lot of work to shoulder in making sure the event was executed well and continued to move upward rather than becoming stagnant.  For me, there was a quite a lot of frustration in the process because I kept thinking there was going to be interest and activity and action and accomplishment on the part of the arts council … some care.  However, that was not the case and as the date was coming into view the realization that we were pretty much on our own dawned more and more clearly.

Regardless of that frustration, the day of the event everything was in place and beautiful.  The weather was perfect and the tents on the lawn looks inviting and festive.  The accordion player who had generously agreed to come and play for an hour or so stayed on for most of the day.  His electronic accordion is now cordless, so he was able to wander around playing as he strolled by the tents along with visitors.

We had a potter and four painters here at our place, two of the painters worked on on paintings live as the day progressed; the potter brought her wheel and threw some pottery as she had time to.  We even had enjoyed a fly-by visit from two bald eagles, one flying so low in great big circles that we were able to clearly see his bald head.   Our dear friend Roger helped my husband with set up the night before the event, and came back Saturday to continue pitching in and helping out wherever he could … he is that kind of guy.  He manned the free helium balloon tent, blowing up balloons all day and giving them out to adults and children alike.

Our other dear friend, Larry, baked give different types of cookies and made several large air-pots filled with coffee (French Vanilla and Hazelnut), along with a big old jug of iced tea and another big old jug of lemonade.  He brought his big baker’s display case and had a set up under one of the tents (which he brought), right beside of another tent (which he brought) that was set up with chairs borrowed from our church so that people could sit and enjoy the live music.

Larry gave away free cookies, coffee, iced tea and lemonade all day long to anyone who wanted something.  He chatted with people and made them feel very warm and welcome.  This was all done at his own personal expense and effort because he wanted to do something helpful and fun for the community.  This is not a man with many extra pennies to rub together, but he gave of himself freely and generously with a heart full of love.

There was a young girl who came by and played classical, acoustic guitar for a while.  We gave her gas money so she could afford the drive over, but other than that she played out of the goodness of her own heart.  Larry sent her home with a gallon size ziploc bag stuffed full of cookies … good ol’ Larry.

Ours was only one of four locations staged by members of our group.  There was another stop, Marti’s on Main in Albion, an art gallery started by Kim Martillotta-Muscarella–a member of our group.  She hosted several artists at her place, plus the public was able to walk through the gallery and see many works of art on display by various members of our group.  Arthur Barnes was on hand at his historic cobblestone building, and another artist was nearby at another historic building demonstrating his painting techniques.

Concurrent with our “loop” of the Art Trail was the portion of the trail that was organized and promoted by the arts council.  On our loop, we had an estimated 150 to 200 visitors who came through.  That was a tremendous increase from the three or four visitors in the first two years and that is because of our efforts, our organization, and the fact that we put quite a lot of care into what we were creating — we, the artists in Artists of The Oak.  In speaking with a fellow who was on the other portion of the trail organized by the arts council … he had five visitors.  So, that disparity clearly demonstrates the contrast in the effectiveness of our efforts as compared to those of the arts council.

The only reason I am pointing this out is that it is really important for people to realize that you can create a big difference by investing yourself in an activity and taking care of it yourself rather than waiting for someone else to do it.  I think the biggest difference between what we did and what the arts council did was that we cared and put ourselves into what we were doing, we truly cared about the end results.  We didn’t just want to be able to say that we did it, we wanted the results of what we did to count for something and we wanted the event to be memorable for everyone concerned — memorable as a good thing, not memorable as a failure.

Next year we will do our Art Trail again but it is going to be our Art Trail, a distinctly separate event from the one that is put on by the arts council.  They should continue to do their event and invest themselves into in what ever way and to whatever extent their mission statement dictates they should.  I wish them success and good times.

As for Artists of The Oak … as wonderful as this year’s event was, next year’s will be even better and we will all invest ourselves in it even more than we did this year.  I hope to see more of you as well!

~firefly

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