The Story of Christmas Joe

December 21, 2006 at 2:02 pm | Posted in charity knitting, Christmas, cookie recipes, country living, faith, family, fiction, food, Holidays, humor, knitting, love, recipes, relationships, stockings, yarn | 14 Comments

Christmas in My Pocket

“Christmas in My Pocket”
The story of Christmas Joe and a particular important experience.

by J. L. Fleckenstein Christmas 2004

And so it was Christmas.

And, there I sat … all alone, on a stoop, outside of the remains of what used to be the inn where most of my life I ate, drank, and made merry with my good friends.

Friends. That was something I still had and was glad for it.

But, the inn, much of the town, my home, the fields … all were gone. There had been a bad flood and about half of us lost pretty much everything we owned. Luckily, no lives had been lost but many were pretty close to ruin.

The folks who had been left with nothing were taken in by those whose homes were left standing; but it was the loss of the fields that really hit the entire town terribly hard. Some folks were already talking about moving away. ‘Course, they said it would only be temporary; they’d make a little money and come back as soon as they saved enough up to rebuild. That wasn’t likely to happen though. Usually, once someone moves away from a little place like this, they don’t ever look back; the tracks of their footsteps disappear entirely leaving no sign in their hearts of any way or any reason to come back home.

Thinking about it all as I sat there on the stoop just made me let out a sigh as my shoulders sagged a bit further toward the ground.

Well sir, I was sitting there feeling a bit sorry for myself, which I hate to admit but it is the truth. You see, like I said at the start, it was Christmas and I wanted to give something to my friends but I had nothing, nothing at all. The only “belongings” I had been able to find in the place where my house once stood was some pieces of broken glass from my windows and a handful of tangled, thick wire of some kind.

It might sound kind o’ silly (and it probably is) but I carried the broken pieces of glass and tangled wire around in my pockets all the time. It was all I owned at that point, and though it wasn’t much, it was comforting somehow to reach in my pockets and feel something there. I never looked at them after that first day, because if I looked at them I would see it was little scraps of junk. As long as I didn’t look, and just felt them in my pockets, I could pretend there was something in there of value, something left for me.

I was having me a real bad case of feeling discouraged and it didn’t feel very good. I’d been carrying that bad feeling around with me for a long time, but it was getting worse now that Christmas had arrived. It felt like I was falling into some big black hole in my heart when the next thing I knew, this white haired man came walking down the road, heading my way.

He was wearing a nice warm coat, good looking boots and a hat and he just looked plump and happy, like he was doing okay. He came right up to me smiling like we were good friends and said, “Why hello there Joe, how are you doing today?”

Don’t ask me why, but I just fell right into answering him as if we were old friends, without really thinking anything about it. “Oh, I’m doing okay I guess. How about you?”

“Why, thank you so much for asking. I’m doing fine, just fine.” And he smiled in this real content sort of way and for some strange reason it made me smile a little bit too, even though I really didn’t think I had anything to be smiling about. When I noticed I was smiling, it didn’t feel right because I hadn’t smiled in quite some time. So, I sort of fought against it a bit, and I think my face started twisting around and I was probably making some strange faces or something, because that man, he started looking at me in a real curious way, turning his head this way and that … and I just went right on trying to make that little smile go away.

Well, all that effort sort of wore me out, so I just gave in and let the little smile go right on ahead and show on my face, unnatural though it was. The strange thing was, if you want to know the truth, once I quit fighting it, it sort of felt good to smile a little and then it felt natural and then I felt like it was okay, and that maybe I must have something to smile about, even though I hadn’t figured it out yet.

Okay, well, to get on with my story here … the man, he said to me, “Joe, when I was walking up to you, you looked as if you had something important on your mind. Is there anything I could help you with?”

I looked into his eyes and I could see he was a friend, and I just couldn’t really stop myself from telling him about my problem. I told him I was feeling pretty down with it being Christmas and all, and for the first time in my life I had nothing to give my friends, on account of having lost everything in that flood. He nodded with much understanding, listening carefully to everything I had to say. When I was finished, he said, “Yes, yes … I see now. Hmm. That is very interesting, very interesting indeed.”

Well now, that puzzled me, I just have to tell you flat out. It was not at all what I was expecting him to say after hearing what a terrible position I was in.

“So, Joe, you have nothing, nothing at all, is that right?” and his eyes kind of flickered down at my pockets and then I was sure I saw some kind of a little twinkle dash across his face or something.

“What? Oh, oh well … I do have some, ah, things … a couple of little stupid things in my pockets,” I explained to him and then I started feeling really embarrassed about the “precious” pieces of junk I’d been carrying around.

I pulled my hands out of my pockets real fast and held them down tight at my sides, trying to sort of cover up my pockets and act like there wasn’t really anything there.

With a tender, reassuring smile he said, “Oh, come on now Joe. We’re old friends, aren’t we?”

I thought about that for a minute. I couldn’t rightly remember being his old friend, but I couldn’t remember not being his old friend either, so I just kind of stared back at him with a blank look on my face. But then I started to have an odd sort of melting feeling all inside me, and the next thing I knew I was reaching in my pockets and pulling out my two handfuls of junk.

Well, I’ll tell you, he got real excited about that time. He got this big ol’ smile on his face and said, “How beautiful, where did you get such treasures?”

“Huh!?”, and I looked down at my hands too. Well now, there really isn’t much explanation for it. There, in my hands, where there ought to be a couple little piles of junk I saw two little boxes made of frosted glass held together with real fine melted metal of some kind, sort of like a stained glass window but made into a box.

Gasping for air and pretty much jumping right out of my skin, I said, “Whoa, whoa … what the heck?”

He didn’t seem to even notice I was close to having a fit, and all he said was, “My, my, my Joe. You are quite an artist aren’t you. Why, those are the most beautiful little gems I have seen in a very long time. Is this what you are giving your friends for Christmas?”

“Well, I … I … well, I … I ah, I guess I could do that.” I was truly and completely amazed as I held the little boxes up and looked at all of their fine details. They were truly grand, grand little Christmas boxes. Tears of happiness started burning the heck out of my eyes.

And then, something occurred to me right then and there. I looked up real quick at that man and I leaned forward and squinted and looked right into his eyes. And he leaned forward and squinted and looked right back at me. And we just stood there leaning and squinting that way for a couple of minutes until I said this: “You’re him, aren’t you?”

“Who?” he said right back, straightening himself up.

I straightened up too and said, “You know who. HIM.”

“Joe I don’t have even the slightest idea who or what you’re talking about.”

“Come on, I know it’s you. Saint Nick, the Big ‘Claus’ man … S-a-n-t-a.” And I looked at him in a very clever, satisfied way, rocking up and down a couple of times on my heels to really make my point.

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“No, I am not.” He looked at me in this real tough, strong sort of way which I have to say did make me shut up for a minute.

“Okay, well then how in the heck did these boxes come to be?” I asked.

“Why don’t you tell me,” he said softly.

“Look, I’ve just had some old junk in my pockets for a while now,” and I told him all about finding the pieces of broken glass and the tangled wire where my house used to be and how I had carried them around in my pockets but never took them out to look at them, and just kept fiddling with them and pretending they were something really valuable so I wouldn’t feel so bad.

Suddenly he said, “Ah ha, that’s it!”

“That’s what?”

“That’s IT!”

“It’s what?”

Chuckling he said, “Well, you did it. You made them. You just said so yourself.” Now that sounded like a very peculiar explanation to me (doesn’t it sound peculiar to you hearing it right now?) and I wasn’t quite sure I could abide by it. I stopped talking and just thought about it for a little while. Then I sat back down on the stoop and thought some more, and he sat down and watched me think for a while.

After a bit I said, “Now, for me to believe that’s what happened, why I’d have to believe in … magic.” I whispered that last word and sort of looked around to see if anyone was listening in on us.

Whispering back he said, “Yes, well … you do seem to.”

“Seem to what?”

“Believe in m-a-g-i-c. I mean, just a little while ago you did accuse me of being … well, you know who,” and he sort of raised his eyebrows up a couple of times to rub it in.

“Hmm,” I thought to myself.,

“Hmm, hmm, hmm,” more thinking, “is this something I can agree to?” He did have a point. I mean, I know I’m a grown man and all, and I do believe in Santa. Everybody I know believes in Santa … and I had to admit that Santa is definitely magic.

I looked at him again and squinted and looked real close at him, but this time he just laughed, patted me on the shoulder and shook his head as if I was hopeless.

Well, I got sort o’ distracted at that point, because I was starting to feel a lot better. It really was starting to feel like Christmas and I had two wonderful gifts I could give my friends. And, as long as I was getting the hang of believing in magic, I came to realize I had Christmas in my pocket … it was there whenever I needed it. All it took was a little imagination.

That jolly old man and I parted company about then. He said he had some things to take care of and thought he ought to leave. Without even stopping to think about it, I reached out and gave him a big hug and said, “Merry Christmas!”

He hugged me back with a big, warm bear of a hug that left me feeling safe and secure and, well, sort of magical all inside and out.

As he started to walk away, he turned back and said, “Oh, Joe my friend, I almost forgot. I have something for you. That’s why I came over this way today.”

“Something for me?” I smiled.

“Oh yes, of course. You didn’t think I would forget my old friend Joe at Christmas, now did you?”

And with that he pulled a little package out of his pocket and said, “Here you go Joe. Have a warm Christmas memory on me.” As he handed it to me, his eyes twinkled again, he smiled a smile at me through his nice fluffy white beard and mustache and gave another hearty laugh.

Now, I have to tell you, when he laughed, it really did look like that stomach of his moved like a bowl full of jelly. And he did have this very merry sort of way about him, and it did seem like I had known him all my life, even though I couldn’t quite remember him exactly. But, I’m not an argue-er, and if the man said he wasn’t Santa, who was I to tell him he was wrong?

Oh, and do you want to know what was in that little package he gave me? Some big fluffy marshmallows, hot cocoa mix and a few cookies. That night I shared my marshmallows, hot cocoa, and cookies with my friends when we were all exchanging Christmas presents. It is a truly good, warm Christmas memory.

So, now it’s sort of become this little tradition of mine to tell people my story and give them a few marshmallows, hot cocoa and cookies.

And so, it is Christmas.

Have a warm, Christmas memory on me … a guy named Christmas Joe.

Copyright © 2004, 2006 J.L. Fleckenstein ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Two delicious cookie recipes

December 18, 2006 at 12:57 pm | Posted in Christmas, cookie recipes, country living, faith, family, food, Holidays, knitting, love, recipes, relationships, romance, stockings | 18 Comments

Fireflys Fireplace Sitting AreaTommorow my parents arrive late in the afternooon … preparations are still under way. Yesterday we finished getting the sitting area by the fireplace ready for the holiday. It is in a part of the house that has not been remodelled or restored, and so was a bit rough around the edges. Transforming it into a cozy place for visiting was enjoyable, not very difficult, and didn’t cost anything. With a bit of imagination, rearranging a few pieces of furniture, and placing several inexpensive tea and votive candles here and there the area took on a new life.

Now an area of the house that tended to be passed by without pausing is a warm and inviting stopping off place to sit, gaze out the window, and chat … with or without a fire going. Three hand knit Christmas stockings are hanging, and we are awaiting the arrival of the stockings I knit for my parents and my son to complete the grouping.

Now for my cookie recipes: Peanut Butter Maple Cookies and Firefly’s Chip Chips. Later I’ll add these to my recipes page, but for now they will reside here in the body of my blog. Both of these cookie recipes of mine have my dear husband’s stamp of approval … so please enjoy!

Peanut Butter Maple Cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.


    1 cups (two sticks) softended butter
    1 1/2 cups real maple syrup
    2 tsp vanilla
    2 large eggs
    2 cups natural style chuncky peanut butter
    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp baking soda
    2 1/2 cups flour
    1 1/2 cups flour


Beat the softned butter with maple syrup until creamy.

Add vanilla, eggs and peanut butter. Beat well, until creamy again.

In a separate bowl, stir together the salt, soda, and 2 1/2 cups flour until well mixed. Add gradually to peanut butter mixture, mixing very well after each addition.

With the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour, mix in 1/4 cup at a time until you reach a good cookie dough consistency. You don’t want the dough to be crumbly at all, or the cookies will come out far too dry. But, you also don’t want it to be too sticky because thent hey will be too gooey.

If you mix in all of the 1 1/2 cups flour and the dough is still too gooey to be cookie dough, mix in a little more flour until it is right.

Because of the maple syrup, the dough will be stickier than normal cookie dough, but it needs to be firm enough to hold its form during baking.

Rolls heaping tablespoonfuls of the dough into balls, place on ungreased cookie sheets. Using a fork dipped in flour, press each cookie longways and side ways to make the criss-cross imprint on top.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes; remove from oven. Let cool on cookie sheet for two or three minutes before removing to cool completely on wire racks.

This recipe should make about 48 cookies.

If desired, before baking place three peanuts in the middle of each cookie and press in slightly. However, when I did this (as in the cookies in the photo) the peanuts tended to fall out after baking. So, I actually don’t recommend it.

Closeup of Fireflys Fireplace Sitting AreaNow for Firefly’s Chip Chips (possibly renamed later, but that’s the best my foggy mind could come up with this morning).

Firefly’s Chip Chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.


    1 cups (two sticks) softended butter
    1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
    1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
    2 large eggs
    2 1/4 cups flour
    1 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp salt
    1 12-oz. package Nestle Chocolatier Bittersweet Chocolate Chips
    1 12-oz. package Nestle Butterscotch Chips
    1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)


Beat the softned butter until creamy.

Add sugar and vanilla to butter, and beat again until creamy.

Add eggs to butter mixture, and beat again until creamy.

In separate bowl, stir together the salt, soda, and 2 1/2 cups flour until well mixed. Add gradually to butter mixture until well mixed.

Fold in chips and nuts.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake about 11 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges.

Remove from oven and allow to cool on cookie sheets for three minutes or so before removing to wire cooling racks to cool completely.

Be sure to eat one hot off the cookie sheet, and offer the same to anyone else who is home; they’ll love you for it.

This recipe should make three dozen scrumptious chip cookies.

I have to go now, but I wish you a wonderful day!


Let’s have a sit by the fire

December 15, 2006 at 2:59 pm | Posted in Christmas, country living, faith, family, food, free knitting patterns, Holidays, knitting, pumpkin recipes, recipes | 24 Comments

Fireflys Iced Pumpkin LoavesDoesn’t that pumpkin bread look tasty? Let’s pretend …

You just came to my door, I welcome you inside. “Coffee?” I ask, and you reply, “Yes, thank you.” I grab two cups of steaming brew and hand one to you. We head for the sitting area by the fireplace to enjoy a cup of coffee and some of this tasty, moist pumpkin bread together.

A warm fire is crackling, and you can see our barn outside the windows on either side of the fireplace. Handmade Christmas stockings for my husband, myself, my daughter, son, and parents hang from the mantle. My little caroling critters are on one of the window sills, with little votive candles adding a warm glow to their little bodies and hand knit scarves. Other candles of various sizes are scattered around on the hearth, the coffee table, the stone window sills, and the mantle. The candles add their dancing flames to the warm scene.

Fireflys Barn in December with SnowThe coffee is perfect and warms our hands as well as our hearts. You have a couple of slices of pumpkin bread, and so do I. Christmas music plays softly in the background … and what is that I see outside, why I believe it is starting to snow. Doesn’t the barn look pretty in the snow fall? The farmer came early this year, so the corn fields are all plowed now. I would have liked for you to see the fields when the corn was still standing there all golden. Oh well, we wouldn’t want things to be too perfect I guess.

Last Saturday my husband and I spent the day with his sister and her husband baking Christmas cookies. We thought the day would consist of my sister-in-law and I making cookies while the men read, snoozed, sampled, and went on a manly shopping trip without us. My husband took his slippers and a bag full reading material he wanted to get caught up on while we were there. I had this image in my mind of him in one of their reclining chairs, snuggled up in slippers and fleece shirt, reading and enjoying cookie samples all day long as they come off the baking sheets.

We started by making cut-out sugar cookies, a tradition in their family since they were children. I don’t ever recall doing sugar cookies with frosting in our family, but I might be wrong. Certainly it wasn’t a tradition, if it ever did happen. We had other traditions though, like making candles in quart-size milk cartons using crushed ice and melted wax colored with crayon shavings. Every year my mother would make at least one beautiful Christmas candle that way … it was magical.

As for cookie baking this past Saturday, as it turns out the men worked with us … it was wonderful. Her husband manned the ovens, while my husband helped with the cut-outs and later, drop cookies. After all the cut-outs were complete, we started in on the peanut butter maple cookie dough I made ahead of time. After that, it was pecan pinwheels she had prepared the dough for ahead of time, and then we ended off with ginger snaps of mine. The guys helped us with it all.

When we were finished, we all took off for a town down south of Buffalo to an amazing restaurant they knew of. We had a delightfully scrumptious dinner … mine was grilled veggies seasoned with chipotle and garlic over a bed of rice pilaf; relatively healthy and very, very tasty.

Next we went to a place called Gander Mountain to do a bit of Christmas shopping … my husband and I both found things to buy one another there (but I can’t say what, because he reads my blog … hi honey).

Fireflys Critters are Singing AgainOn the way home we stopped on the main street of a nearby small town and took a walking tour in icy cold wind to see the vintage window displays that were resurrected there this year in all the store fronts. They were so fine, so beautiful. Characters of all kinds engaged in a myriad of wintry and Christmasy activities, dressed in impeccable costumes with lots and lots of fake snow. The back drops in the various scenes were as fine as any stage decoration I’ve seen at a live play. My husband told me the displays were wonderfully magical to behold when he was a child and toured that same street with his family. I was grateful to have had a chance to see some of the magic he witnessed so long before I knew him.

One night this week my husband and I put icing on our portion of the cut-out Christmas cookies. It was a pleasant evening, sitting together at the kitchen table chatting and icing the cookies. Yesterday morning I used some of the left-over icing to decorate some petite pumpkin loaves I baked this week. They are ready and waiting for the family to arrive next week.

Yesterday I also baked up a batch of one of my favorite cookies featuring oversized bittersweet chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, oatmeal, and brown sugar. On Monday I will post my recipe for them, as well as the peanut butter maple cookie recipe I just developed.

By the way, I found the recipe I used for Ginger Snaps in The Joy of Cooking. I had never made them before, but I love the recipe. Everyone agreed they are wonderful cookies. They were a little too good, and now they are mostly gone so I will need to make more for next week. They have that wonderful cracked surface of ginger snaps you buy at the store, but they are soft rather than hard as bricks. Quite delicious. If you have the Joy of Cooking, or can get it at the library, the recipe is called Ginger Snaps. Very excellent and I recomment it as a wonderful surprise Christmas cookie.

I haven’t done this much Christmas baking in quite a few years. I am enjoying it so very much, here in my new home on the farm.

Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing a cup of coffee, a sit by the fire, and a couple of slices of pumplin bread with me. It will be a holiday memory I will treasure.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend … we certainly plan to.


Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: