How I met my husband

October 25, 2006 at 2:59 pm | Posted in country living, faith, family, free knitting patterns, humor, knitting, love, yarn | 32 Comments

Official I Live on a Farm Lavender Hat CompleteBefore I get into that story, for the knitters who read my blog I posted the instructions for Stage 2 of the Lavender Hat this morning. I am entirely pleased with my hat design, it came out just as I pictured it in my mind. Stage 2 directions are on the same page as Stage 1 and further down. Enjoy!

I believe it is a bit of a miracle not only that my husband and I met, but also that we are married. The truth is, I am certain there were a series of little miracles over a period of at least ten years that led me to where I am right now, here on this farm with a very dear man I love. I also believe it is a story worth sharing.

I cannot share the story in just one blog … not if I am to be kind to my readers. The story would be far too long and it seems to me blogs are most enjoyable when they are smaller, segmented writings easy to confront and ease through over a cup of coffee or tea. Ten years worth of miracles surpasses the reach of most cups of coffee, even a Venti® Extra Foamy Latte from Starbucks, which is what I would love to have in my hand this very moment … but alas, the nearest Starbucks is tim-buck-too many miles from here for that to happen.

Side Bar: It is cold here today, and my feet are aching from being too cold. I’ll hold my thoughts while I run to my room and grab my husband’s leather slippers …

… okay, I have returned. The slippers instantly gave warmth and comfort to my poor little toes. I also stopped by the kitchen and grabbed a little cup of coffee (I am not supposed to be drinking coffee right now, so let’s just keep this between us) and a piece of peanut butter toast. Now I’m set to continue.

Fireflys Water WellContinuing with the blog: About twelve years ago, I was in the midst of raising my children on my own; a single mother living in the foothills of Los Angeles. Most of my immediate family still lived in Los Angeles at that time, though my two older brothers had by then moved to Denver with their families. We are such a large, close family that their moving away was painful to us all even though it was a good move on their part.

My x-husband had remarried shortly after we divorced (literally the day after the divorce went through was when he got married). That was all fine, no problem to me at all. However, he and his wife were not and are not kind hearted people. For reasons best left unspoken here, they were very hostile toward me on a very personal level from 1987 (when they got married) until about 1996. I call that period of time “the ten year war”. Life is difficult enough when a family splits up, hard enough on the economics of both parents and terribly difficult on the children for too many reasons to count. The ten year war created duress of a magnitude I am still relieved to this day does not exist for my children or for me, or my family, any longer.

The last four years of the ten year war I was involved in volunteer work in a literacy program in the inner city areas of Los Angeles. The work was vital to the lives of homeless people and at-risk youth we were devoted to helping, and I was very devoted to the work. I was not independently wealthy in any way, shape, or form. It was an extremely difficult time financially, but a very rewarding time spiritually and emotionally. However, the stresses of the ten year war added to never having enough money and raising two children, one of whom was a teenage girl who was starting to suffer from migraine headaches regularly, got to me after a while. It all got to me pretty badly there toward the end.

About that same time I started hearing and reading inspiring stories of people who had hit the bottom in their lives for one reason or another and who discovered the power of gratitude at their lowest point. In each case, gratitude discovered and embraced was a key ingredient in each person’s situation turning around for the better.

Fireflys Cottage FoliageIt got me thinking, but I wasn’t sure what to do with that I was thinking about.

One evening one of the toilets in our apartment started overflowing … quietly. Hours later, just before bedtime, one of the kids discovered a flood of water in the bathroom, down the hall, into my bedroom and into the other bathroom. For a couple of hours the kids and I sopped up all that water using every towel and blanket we had and dragged them all over to the laundry room to wash and dry. By the time the last load was finished, the kids had long since gone to sleep and I was exhausted and sore.

There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with the toilet, so there was nothing to fix. Why it had overflowed, I could not discern.

Three days later the same toilet overflowed again, only that time I caught it a bit sooner and it only flooded the one bathroom completely and the second bathroom. Again I used towels to sop up the water, and dragged them over to the laundry room to wash and dry. I also cried quite a bit … woe was me.

Still, nothing seemed fixable on that toilet.

Fireflys Cottage FoliageThree days later, the thing overflowed again. Only that third time I caught it even sooner and only the two bathrooms were affected, and less so than the second time it overflowed. That third time, I started crying right away. Life was overwhelming enough without an overflowing toilet and I (though I am embarrased to admit it) felt sorry for myself.

As I started to sop and mop the floor, I remembered the stories about gratitude and it occurred to me, through my very sincere tears, that perhaps I could apply something about gratitude to my situation just to see what would happen.

Of course right away I thought, “Yeah, right … there isn’t anything in this situation to be grateful for.”

But then something occurred to me. I realized I could genuinely be grateful for the fact of having running water that could overflow through a toilet; afterall, there are many people in the world without running water.

Then I thought I could also be grateful to have a floor that water could overflow onto, because some people do not have floors beneath their feet. That led to a realization that I could be grateful for the walls and ceilings of our home that sheltered us from the elements, because some people have no such shelter.

I was grateful to have a toilet in the first place, because it would be so uncomfortable to have no toilet to rely on … even one that overflows.

Fireflys Cottage FoliageI thought about my aching arms and back and realized I could be grateful for the health and strength of my body that I could use to such a degree it could get so sore from work.

Grateful also that I had a life with enough contrasts in it that I could see my life at that time was somewhat or very unpleasant … what if life had always been like that or worse and I had never seen happier days or times?

The more I found to be grateful for, the more I saw I could be grateful for. My life turned inside out, my thoughts and attention turned outward rather than inward as I saw my life as a a thing of beauty full of so many things to be grateful for that it would be difficult to list or count them all.

By the time I finished cleaning up the water, I was completely full of genuine feelings of gratitude and goodness and all of my unhappiness felt lifted away.

Shortly after my chore was complete I was thinking about what had just occured and I had a terrible wonderful thought: I realized that in feeling sorry for myself and my condition of late, and by focusing negative thoughts on what seemed to be negative aspects of my life I was in fact showing a complete and utter disregard for my life, and all of the gifts from God contained within it. I feel to my knees, closed my eyes and directed my thoughts toward God and humbly said, “I am sorry. I didn’t mean to not appreciate my life.” And I cried some more, quite a bit more.

I call that day, without meaning any disrespect at all, “the day I found God in my toilet”. It is appropriate, because God is in every aspect of life and life is beautiful, even when it hurts or looks ugly. It is all a part of the whole, and God is in every part of it … to me, this is my belief, not something I am trying to push or force on anyone but rather, want to share in case it may be of help.

Another realization I had later that day was that my life is like a river, with currents ebbs and flows. There is scenery along the banks, and places to arrive at up ahead. I began to see clearly that the currents of my life are the river me. That river is my life force, my purpose, my drive, and desires.

The problem with me was that I had a tendency to fight against the river me. I saw that as life seemed to disappoint me, I had turned myself around against my own current and was trying to fight my way upstream against the natural flows of my life. Fighting against the current tended to leave me exhausted, unhappy, and unable to see clearly what was going on around me on the banks of the river me. I could no longer see ahead to the places where I might land here or there.

When I examined my life while mopping up the water, I put my attention correctly on everything that was good and right and beautiful about my life, about the river me. And in so doing, turned myself around and into the flow of me rather than against the flow of me.

That was the first of a series of miracles, the beginning of a journey leading me to this beautiful place with this wonderful man … and isn’t it something there is a thriving, glorious river right across the road and visible from at least half of the forty windows in our home. I can see and hear it from my art studio, which is surrounded by windows on three sides.

Oh, and that toilet never overflowed again.

This weekend we will have been married exactly six months. Though we have joked over the past few months about people who celebrate monthly “anniversaries”, the truth is we are both feeling rather excited about reaching the six month mark of our sweet marriage. We have not even known each other a year, and yet everything in our lives has changed dramatically and positively. It is a miracle, and it is worthy of being shared.

Thank you, for reading.

(The next part of this continuing story can be found here.)


Copyright © 2006 J.L. Fleckenstein ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Vintage buttons for knitted projects

October 23, 2006 at 2:21 pm | Posted in country living, faith, family, food, free knitting patterns, knitting, love, recipes, soup recipes, squash recipes, yarn | 18 Comments

Fireflys Cottage FoilageSaturday was a busy and productive day. In the early afternoon we drove over to our cottage on the river–five miles down the road from the farm–because my husband needed to pick up some tools. He suggested I come along with him because he thought it might be my last opportunity to see and photograph the brilliant foliage of the maple trees growing on the bank of the river. He has been telling me how glorious the maples are on the river bank when their leaves go to full yellow color; he had a hunch Saturday would be the day to witness and capture them at their peak.

His descriptions, though vivid, did not prepare me for the sight I saw as we approached the cottage, Instantly I saw a mass of glowing yellow leaves stretching all along the steep river bank. When we pulled onto the lawn in our pickup truck, I saw the little foot bridge leading over to our old gutted farm house, and the sweet little pump for the well beside it. Umbrellas of glowing yellow light hung magestically over everything, and leaves lay strewn in a gracious, growing carpet on the ground.

I ached inside, wanting so much to share the visual excitement of this magical world with my loved ones and with you, my readers. As I write today’s blog, I am simultaneously downloading the photographs from Saturday so I haven’t seen them yet and am not certain how well I captured the nearly overwhelming beauty of the day.

Fireflys Cottage FoliageOur elevator that takes us down to the river provided a unqiue vantage point from high up within the tree canopy, creating a backlit effect with the leaves against the sky beyond. The tree limbs and trunks were dark, almost black in contrast and bits and pieces of grey sky shown through.

I mentioned in an earlier post the possibility of hosting a retreat here on our farm sometime for several readers of my blog. I am convinced autumn would be the perfect time of year for such a retreat, should we decide to have it. The climate is perfect for cozy knitting and visiting and eating scrumptious foods and increasing beauty unfolds every single day.

By the way, I posted the recipe for my butternut squash soup today, in case you would like to check that out. Saturday afternoon (after the cottage) I made a double batch of peanut butter cookies as our contribution to the hayride fare. I’m in the midst of tweaking my peanut butter cookie recipe and will post it as soon as the cookies are as scrumptious as I want them to be.

Fireflys Cottage FoliageWe went to the church an hour early Saturday night so I could make several batches of popcorn on the stovetop, which was a first for me (I have always used an air popper, but we don’t have one here). My mother used to make popcorn in a big sauce pan on the stove; I loved the excitement as a child of watching her shake the pot to keep the popcorn from scorching and the rapid fire pop, pop, pop of exploding corn inside. I followed the directions on the popcorn jar (pretty much) and the popcorn came out very good indeed. We filled a number of one-gallon ziploc bags with the popped corn (buttered and salted) so everyone on the hayride would have something tasty to munch on as we rode along, singing and laughing and trying to stay warm.

I wore the Lavender Hat I knitted last week and it did keep my head very nice and warm, even though it was a fairly cold night and a bit of rain fell on us here and there along the way. There were several children in the wagon and I sang a few Halloween songs for them I remember from my childhood.

Fireflys Cottage FoliagePeople can be such a surprise: a rather quiet gentleman from our church who no one knew could sing, sat in a corner of the wagon singing quietly to himself. I noticed he had a very nice singing voice, and told him I thought he sang quite nicely. Encouraged, he increased the volume and started singing all kinds of show tunes. It was a great medley, which I think we all enjoyed very much.

The roads had many dips and bumps and pot holes from recent snow and rain, so our ride was at times a bit like a roller coaster. Of course, that made the children laugh and squeal with delight. After an hour of hayriding, we returned to the church for hot corn chowder, freshly pressed apple cider, hot cocoa, coffee, various cookies, and apples and pears from local trees.

Sunday after church we went to vsit with our friend Dorothy and her husband; I have mentioned Dorothy a few times in earlier posts. She is a wonderful older lady who has taken a particular hand in making me feel very welcome here. Recently she took me to a couple of local yarn stores in a nearby village. I purchased a few vintage buttons that day, and she told me not to do that any more because she has a large button collection from her mother and grandmother that she is willing to share with me.

So, on Sunday we went to Dorothy’s house for a pancake lunch and button sharing. I never would have thought a person could have a collection of buttons so huge … jar upon jar of buttons in all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages. Dorothy definitely has buttons. She very generously gave me an entire tin of unsorted buttons plus she allowed me to look through those that were already sorted and pick out any I liked to bring home with me. I promise I was not greedy, but even so I did come home with some real treasures.

Fireflys Lavender Hat and ButtonsI need a couple of buttons for the finishing on the Lavender Hat, and am certain to find what I need somewhere in the hundreds of buttons I came home with. What a treasure; what a treat. And, so appropriate with Halloween just a week or so ahead!

I have a little bit more work to do on the Lavender Hat, stage two so please be patient with me. I had hoped to post the directions for stage two of the pattern today, but that will have to wait until Wednesday because I have five or six more inches to knit. In the photo you can see a bit of the removable band I am knitting, which is the essence of stage two and is the feature that makes the hat truly match my Lavender Scarf.

That is it for today. I wish you a wonderful day and week and will bring more to you in a couple of days.


Golden leaves, knitted leaves

October 20, 2006 at 3:01 pm | Posted in country living, family, food, free knitting patterns, knitting, recipes, yarn | 14 Comments

Fireflys Autumn Colors Number 1When I make my special cranberry apple pie during the holidays, I save a bit of crust to cut into the shape of leaves to decorate the center of the top crust. I usually cut out four leaves freehand, place them in the center and then form three berries for the center of the leaves. It makes a beautiful presentation.

It is raining here again, as it has for the past three days. To me, this weather looks and feels much like winter because this is about what winter was like in Los Angeles. I realize I am in for true winter before long and I know there will be discomforts I am not accustomed to. Some well-intentioned people here in the community have warned me and made jokes about what my first winter will be like; how unprepared I most likely am for the reality of it versus my preconceived ideas of it. What they do not know is that I have a secret weapon to draw on: I am hearty inside, where it counts most. A strong suit of mine in life is my ability to persevere and to find goodness and beauty and things to be grateful for even in very difficult situations.

Fireflys Leaves of Autumn Number TwoMy father tells me I am like blue steel: steel that has been heated to the brink over and over again until it is tempered, beautiful, and incredibly strong (well, I don’t know if he said “beautiful”, but it sounds good). My father is a wonderful man … both of my parents are wonderful people. No, seriously … I know many people would say that about their own parents but I say this not because they are my parents but because of the fine spirits I have found them to be during my lifetime — really getting to know them as people — especially during my adult years. We have become much more than family; we are truly stalwart friends to each other on whose strength and loyalty each can depend no matter the circumstances. Together they and my children and I have weathered storms and circumstances that might bring others to their knees.

From leaves, to blue steel, to honest freindship of kin … and back again to leaves. The leaves on the deciduous trees in western New York are going through the many stages of brilliant color changes in preparation for their eventual dropping to the ground. Many are already dropping, others are changing from yellow and gold to rust and brown. Still others have not yet begun the journey from green to yellow to peach to orange and so on. It is a magnificent ballet of life outside, in the trees. As a breeze or strong gust of wind blows, some number of leaves join in the current and swirl around, dancing by my window as I type these words to you.

Fireflys Leaves of Autumn Number ThreeYesterday I walked across the road to the bank overlooking our river and shot some photos through the leaves to the pulsing current of the river below. Last week’s snow and this week’s rain have given the river height, speed, and flow. We hear it coursing by in the background from inside the house, a relaxing steady sound. I am in a land of so much water, I am delivered from a land so dry … I will survive the winter emotionally no matter what it brings. Yes, I am up north and this will be a real winter the likes of which I have not seen in North Carolina as a child, in Los Angeles as a teenager and adult, or in Denver as a visitor the past several years. It will be terribly cold at times, but I will remain warm and grateful inside … and luckily I do have this charming, very warm new husband to cuddle up to if things get really bad.

Speaking of warmth, on Monday I will share with you my recipe for Butternut Squash Soup … which can be made with other winter squash as well. I started making my squash soup in Los Angeles for my children and I; we would have it with fresh homemade yeast bread. Oh yum, yum, yum. I have made it twice now in New York from squash purchased from a roadside farm stand. We will be having it again sometime this weekend; it will warm both your belly and your mind, as it does mine.

Fireflys Lavender HatI completed stage one of my Lavender Hat and am sharing the pattern today, because for some people stage one of the hat will be hat a’plenty. Over the weekend I have a band for the hat (stage two) I am knitting to add for warmth … one of the special features I hinted at earlier in the week. I added the knitted leaves on top as a decoration because I am in love with the beautiful leaves of fall, and because they remind me of the leaves on my pie crust mentioned above (I will be sharing that pie recipe soon, I promise). This hat is designed to match the Lavender Scarf pattern I published on an earlier blog.

Tomorrow night we go on the hayride … I hope you and yours have something dear planned for this weekend.

Have a beautiful day, and a great weekend as well!


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