Yeah, right … whatever

May 15, 2007 at 12:10 pm | Posted in country living, dating, dogs, faith, family, food, free knitting patterns, gifts, health, knitting, love, marriage, Mother's Day, pets, photography, relationships, romance, yarn | 32 Comments

Swallows in Love at Swallow Hallow Trail

I suppose it could get old, hearing about how beautiful and perfect things are here, in my life.

I mean, come on … really. Could anyone’s life that perfect?

Actually, no.

My life isn’t even as perfect as my life is.

Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

Actually, no.Swamp Land in Alabama New York

Let me es’plain.

Sunday in church, the sermon was on the subject of accepting and being grateful for your life–your life, in and unto itself, not in comparison to anyone else’s life. Gratitude for the grace of one’s own life.

Listening to the sermon brought to mind many of the realizations I have come to over the past several years about my life, being grateful for even the ugly parts and the wrong turns (not just the good stuff). It also led me to thinking about my blog writing and the focus of the posts I tend to write.

My husband once asked me if perhaps it could be that I make it all sound too perfect, too unbelievably good and perfect for people to accept at a gut level. It is a valid question.

As I recalled his question Sunday during the sermon, and as I considered the focus of my blog, today’s subject came to my mind.

Crab Apple Trees in Bloom During Golden HourWhat is with all of this perfection, anyway? Is it real, imagined, slight of hand perhaps?

Honestly, all of the perfection and beauty I speak of does exist in fact. At the same time, if my viewpoint were different, none of it might exist–being overshadowed by alternate realities.

If I were to assume a different viewpoint about my life I could write about decaying barns in western New York slipping into oblivion as we sip our morning coffee and tea. I could write of a misunderstanding here or there between my husband and I. I could tell you about the fallen trees and branches littering the ground in the New York swampland … I could, for that matter, mention the fact that western New York is basically a swamp (at least around these parts where we live). I could tell you about Blu having an accident in the house one morning, or about a squirrel that met an unfortunate end when he went one way to avoid me and my reactions led me in the same direction. I could deliver plenty of bad news.

But no.

Mine is a different view.

I choose instead to tell you about the incredible lighting I saw on the crab apple blossoms on our tree across the road, above the river at 6:30 in the evening the past few days as God’s light created a perfect setting for the delicate white and pink blossoms. The blossoms, in that golden light, looked very much like floral arrangements carefully crafted for a lovely young bride to carry down an aisle.

I choose to tell you about Swallow Hallow Trail in Alabama, New York where we walked yesterday and saw pretty views of swampland reflecting blue sky and giving shelter to happy little birds.

Pretty Swamp Pond Near Fireflys FarmPretty, isn’t it?

I also choose to tell you about a delightful little emerald pond not too far from our farm that becomes covered over in duckweed during spring and summer, where we stopped to shoot some photographs Sunday morning.

Or, about the thrill I felt when I found a family of wild geese Friday evening in another nearby pond, during an outing with my dear husband and our sweet dog, Blu.

Hey, I can’t help it if this stuff exists, I just notice it, photograph it, and write about it.

And you see, that’s how life works.

I made a conscious decision (and I have made a string of conscious decisions similar to it) to celebrate life and to embrace it wholeheartedly. That means I don’t get to pick and choose which parts I am grateful for. This is all per my own directive to myself, not from any external source or force. I decided to choose to be grateful for it all. It is a conscious decision, and it has required real work, and at times will power, to get to where I’ve got it right. I choose to focus on what is right and good, and to ignore as much as possible those things which are not. Why not?

Wild Geese and their young at a pretty little pondPerhaps life is a double-edged sword made up of 50% perception and 50% illusion, or something like that. Perhaps earlier in my life I was perceiving hardship and I was experiencing the illusion of hardship. That was the side of the double-edged sword I was existing on.

I am certain that if my focus had been on perceiving beauty and perfection at that time that I would have experienced the illusion of beauty and perfection and ease rather than hardship.

And believe me, sometimes I still goof up on it and I find myself dwelling on something unhappy or convincing myself I’m tired of this, that, or the other thing. But nowadays I am so fluent in gratitude and seeing the beauty in life that I pretty quickly come back to the beauty side of the doubled-edged sword.

No matter what road you live on, whether it is in the city or the country, beautiful perfection is out there waiting for you to notice it and love it.

Fireflys Hand Knit Teddy Bear Sweater Progress Beauty and perfection is in your life, available for you to notice, to get it, to appreciate it in your heart and soul. What I have found, is that when I focus myself on these things, I find my heart swelling with wonder and my mind dances with delight and I just want to shout out jubilantly, “Look what I see! Isn’t this some good stuff!”

When I write, I have a very definite agenda of sharing what I have focused on in my life and shouting out with joy that I see it and that I appreciate it and that I am willing to show it to others. My agenda is to share what I am seeing here with you specifically so it will inspire you to take a look around your life and see the fine things there, no matter what other realities exists, that you could shout out in joy about.

No matter what else is going on around you, beauty and grace are there. Your life is beautiful, and worthwhile, and perfect because it is your life. When you actually fully embrace your life, you will see what I’m talking about.

That’s the secret to my happiness.

You get bombarded with enough bad news on television, the radio, and the newspaper. Squabbling politicians do everything possible, with the help of the media, to keep us all embroiled in upset, upheaval, worry, disgust, rage, angst, anxiety, darkness, and just plain bad manners. Television and movie producers make sure we get more than our fill of blood, violence, depression, anger, murder, mayhem, loss, pain, suffering, evil, hatred, lewdness, and so forth. We get it, we get the point. There is ugliness in the world, there is evil, some people have very bad manners, are insanely intolerant, and so on and so forth. Blah, blah, blah.

I choose to offer some relief. I figure if I keep putting out some beauty into the world through my photographs, my philosophy, my personal realizations about life, my stories, patterns, recipes, Thistleonians, and paintings, I can do my part to create a better world.

I feel a responsibility to do so, because I have an ability to do so.

Sampling of Three of Fireflys PaintingsIf you ever have gotten to the point with all of my blogging about how good and right and beautiful and seemingly perfect my life is where you think, “Yeah, right … whatever,” … don’t despair. Turn the looking glass of perfection toward your own life and find the many good things you have to be thankful for, shine a light on them, focus on them through the lens of a camera or merely through the quiet lens of your own private awareness. See the beauty that is you, embrace the perfection that is in your life and let that beauty and perfection outweigh and outshine all the rest..

On to other business: I have completed three paintings recently, and they are all up for auction at eBay as well as being posted on my One Painting a Day blog. There is a Vintage Button painting, Apples in a Basket, and Three Pear.

The teddy bear sweater is so close to being complete … close, but no cigar today.

I am also cooking up a new batch of Knitting Thistleonians. I’ll show them as soon as they are done.

Tweet TweetIf you haven’t read it yet, my mother’s journal entry regarding her life growing up on a farm in North Carolina is available at the I Live on a Farm website.

Have to run. Here’s to the perfect beauty in your life, outside your own front door.

Tweet, tweet.


Copyright © 2007 J.L. Fleckenstein ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

In anticipation of you

May 11, 2007 at 2:53 pm | Posted in biscuit recipes, country living, dating, faith, family, food, free knitting patterns, gifts, Holidays, knitting, love, marriage, Mother's Day, photography, recipes, relationships | 14 Comments

Fireflys Yard Continues to BloomWherever my mother lives, there are flowers. Our homes in North Carolina and California were surrounded by flowers, roses in particular. Flowers have always, and always will, make me think of my mother.

[Be sure to read my mother’s journal, just posted today at I Live on a Farm on the Johnson’s Farm page.]

Several years ago I made a Mother’s Day card for my mother. On the front I used a photograph of some California poppies in a pretty little blue vase. I shot the photo while I was up in Santa Rosa at the beach house my previous in-laws rent every spring and fall. My mother-in-law has a beautiful collection of blue vases and bottles which she brings to the beach house whenever she goes there, using them to decorate the place.

I used a filter in Photoshop to make the photo look a bit like a watercolor painting, and printed it out on the front of the card. I looked all through my computer yesterday to try to find the artwork, but I couldn’t. It must be on the hard drive of a previous computer. Oh well, I still have the photograph … somewhere.

Inside the card, I printed this message:

Fireflys Tree Peony Approaches Bloom Time“Mother’s Day was invented in anticipation of you.”

Mom, do you remember that card?

To my readers: If you would like to send an eCard to your Mom (or a friend) similar to the one I made my mother, here is a link to a free eCard I made for that purpose.

I have a lovely and wonderful mother, and I wish I could be with her this weekend to give her a big hug–maybe take a nice long walk together.

Before she moved to Colorado, we were only living a few minutes away from each other in the foothills north of Los Angeles. We used to get together several evenings a week to go on fitness walks. As we walked along in her neighborhood we would say hello to various neighbors who seemed to look forward to seeing us come around again other nights. Sometimes we would stop and chat with this one or that, then get back to our walk.

It was a beautiful time between us, and we had opportunities to speak about many things we might never have had the time for if it weren’t for those walks. The few times I have been to see her in Colorado since she moved there, if the weather is nice we get out and walk together. It is very sweet.

Fireflys Crab Apple Tree Comes Into BloomMy mother is an interesting woman. She was born on the kitchen table in a farmhouse in North Carolina when the world was much more innocent than it is today. She was the second twin in an identical twin birth, and the last of thirteen babies my grandmother bore on that farm.

My mother lived through the Depression in the farm house built by my grandfather and some of my mother’s brothers. It started out as a log home, with an out-house.

Picture that in your mind and then think about the fact that my mother was one of the first employees at Earthlink. She used to set up the phone centers in local areas that provided local area access to Earthlink customers in Southern California. She was working right along side some rather punky looking tech geeks, and doing her part to contribute to the technology we are all relying on right now to write our blogs and stay in touch and expand the world we live in.

She is in her 70’s and she still has lovely, soft brown hair–naturally that way, no color treatment or enhancement. She says she has some gray hairs in there somewhere, but I can never see them. I have more gray hairs than my mother probably ever will. How does she do that?

She is gracious and proud, quiet, and gentle. I cannot ever remember her being angry with me. If she was, she hid it well. I do remember getting in trouble when I was a kid, but that’s different than having her actually angry with me about anything. There were a couple of times when I was in my 20’s and freaked out about something or other and raised my voice at her, but I don’t recall it ever being the other way around.

She taught us to sing in the evenings as entertainment. Those were lovely days and times. Dad bought Mom an electric organ and she would play it and sing sweet old songs, and we would all stand beside and around her and sing with her. It was a joyful and gentle way of being.

Oh, a pretty purple flower in Fireflys gardenWhen I was eight or nine years old and got my EZ-Bake Oven for Christmas, Mom taught me how to use it. She quickly graduated me to using her oven and the Jiffy cake mixes, etc. She encouraged me to explore my love of baking and continues to share recipes with me even to this day.

She is a master seamstress. She might not say that herself, but I have seen it. Most of my childhood clothing was made by her, even my little wool coat and the larger wool coat handed down to me by my sister when she out grew it. Our dresses and those wool coats were finely made and tailored, and if I had known enough to look at their details back then, I am sure they would have been much finer than anything purchased at a store.

One of my favorites was a white corduroy jumper with little red flowers printed on it. She also made a matching red shirt to go with it. My sister and I both had that outfit. Oh, I remember so richly when she was making it, how I admired the beautiful fabric and thrilled at each progressive step as the dress came closer and closer to being mine. Funny how certain pieces of clothing when you are a child hold a promise of magic and when you finally wear the special garment you do feel magical within it. The feeling of magic in the memory of it all stays with you for a lifetime.

Another favorite item was a little piece called a grasshopper. It was a skirt on top and shorts underneath. Man, oh man … the feeling I had when I went to school in my grasshopper. I knew there were shorts underneath, but to everyone else I was wearing a skirt. The shorts suited the tomboy in me, the skirt created a magical illusion. And my mother had made my little grasshopper for me, which made it extraordinary and special and something no one else would have.

When I was twelve I started learning to sew, and when I was a teenager I started making many of my own clothes. There was a time when I decided to sew myself a velveteen jacket. The collar had a special notched detail I was looking so forward to working. However, when I got to that part of the jacket everything went wrong. I lacked the skill needed to pull off such a complicated detail, and I cried in frustration and loss. Mom came to the rescue. She sat patiently listening to me as I lamented about the problem I was having turning the corner and trimming and notching and so forth to get the thing to turn out right.

An old fashioned flower growing on a vine by Fireflys barnAt some point I turned to her tearfully and solemnly. I apologized to her and said that I didn’t think I had it in me to be a seamstress and that I was so sorry to disappoint her.

It all seemed so serious to me, and I did feel that I was letting her down by being inept at something she could so with such grace and skill. She reassured me there was no disappointment, and she helped me get the notched collar right on my jacket.

I never did learn to be anywhere near the seamstress that my mother is. She is a true artist, I am just someone who can sew if I have to. I don’t own a sewing machine to this day; she still has the one she used to make all of our clothes.

I remember one funny story about that sewing machine. Mom used to bring in sewing for a place called The Button Shoppe in Charlotte, North Carolina to make extra money. The projects she worked on for the shop were very interesting at times. Once she sewed a beautiful royal blue, sequined cape for a wrestler. Sometimes she sewed hospital gowns by the dozens (I believe). Dad made her a large wooden sewing table with a drop down hole in it for the sewing machine. The table was in one corner of their bedroom and that is where she would work.

One day when she was hard at work at the sewing table, I stepped to her door to say something to her, but she didn’t hear me because of the sound of the sewing machine. I was fairly mischievous, so I got the idea in my mind to see how close I could get to her before she would notice me. I crept closer and closer calling her name, but she never noticed me.

I got all the way up to her, and still she didn’t know I was there, so engrossed was she in her work. So, I knelt down and crawled up under the table to see if she would notice me then.


Hmm. There I sat for a while wondering what I should do. I didn’t want to startle her by crawling out all of a sudden. I waited a good long time, caught in my own mischievous trap. Finally, after a long time of considering my situation, I waited until the sewing machine wasn’t running and I quietly and gently made myself known so I wouldn’t startle her. We both got a good laugh out of it, and it is a pleasant silly memory to this day.

Watercolor Painting by J. L. FleckensteinShe is a woman of high morals and values, but she could be a bit naughty too. I remember her helping my older brothers cut the insides out of some old books so they could smuggle bubble gum into school to sell to other kids. Bubble gum was banned, and they were being rebel bubble gum bootleggers with help from Mom.

My mother’s food was and still is something to look forward to. She had a family of seven to feed, and always did it so well. Southern fried chicken and vegetables, pinto beans and cornbread with ham and coleslaw, spaghetti night, hamburgers with chips on Saturday night, Sunday’s pot roast with vegetables and gravy and biscuits … perfect lemon meringue pie with a graham cracker crust.

Once when we were little, she served us chocolate pudding and cornbread for dinner. The experience was electric for some reason … chocolate pudding for dinner, and with corn bread. How unusual; what a treat! I was certain no other children on the street had a mother who would treat them to such a luxury out of the blue.

Years later I found out from her the reason we ate that meal. We were a bit short on grocery money, and what she had on hand was the ingredients to make chocolate pudding and cornbread. To her, it was an embarrassing situation but I have to say, the way she handled it, we children felt it was a sublime treat. I never would have guessed it was a solution to a problem.

That’s what Mom’s can do. They can take an extraordinary problem or situation and put things together in such a way that a child feels everything is right in the world.

I caused plenty of problems for my mother growing up, but I never once doubted if or how much she loved me. I told my husband once when we were getting to know each other that my life has been a river of change. As I write this article, I realize Mom’s love and regard has been one of the few true constants in my life. She is a buoy I can always find no matter the raging of the sea.

Of all of the many things I appreciate from both of my parents, perhaps what I appreciate most is the fact that they never put any pressure on any of us to be anything other than who and what we are. With tolerance, love, and guidance they allowed each of us to reach out into life and see what was there and how we fit into it. We were not perfect children by any means, but they gave us the opportunity to grow into ourselves without undue pressure that might of pressed us in unnatural directions.

Mom reads my blog, and I must say it is a special treat when she posts a comment. Certainly you have seen her mark here at times.

She is a special, magical creature. I think she is a national treasure.

This is the Flower that Reminds me of My MotherEvery flower I see reminds me of my mother, and always will. She’s just that kind of lady.

If I were to pick a flower that reminds me most of my mother, I think I might pick the dandelion. I see her in all flowers, but perhaps the dandelion is most like her. It is tough, resilient, and perfect. It is bright and sunny and fills this world I am living in with special warmth no other flower brings.

Mom, I still do believe Mother’s Day was invented in anticipation of you.

Happy Mother’s Day.

The photograph of a watercolor painting above is a painting I did of my mother back in 1995 from a slide my father shot of her while she was preparing a picnic on a beach in the Virgin Islands.

Just one more thing … I put up two more post-card sized paintings on my One Painting a Day blog that I would love for you to see. One is of more pears on the stone window sill, and the other is of a vintage button. I am very happy with both paintings and would love for you to see them.


Dandelion farming

May 7, 2007 at 3:13 pm | Posted in baby, charity knitting, country living, dating, dogs, faith, family, free knitting patterns, Habitat for Humanity, hand knit dishcloths, knitted washrags, knitting, knitting for babies, love, marriage, pets, photography, relationships, romance, volunteerism, yarn | 17 Comments

Fireflys Dandelion FarmWe live on a farm, but as I have said before … we are not farmers. We have (or had) corn out in our fields, but we didn’t put it there. We dream of a vineyard and fruit orchard on our acres one day, but there will be much to learn in order to get there.

When I lived in the high desert north of Los Angeles for a couple of years with my children, we tried planting some raised gardens. We enriched the soil, and put up wooden planks to build up areas to grow our vegetables and watermelons and flowers. We covered the planted area with plastic to help keep the ground warm inspite of plunging temperatures in the evenings. We watered, we waited, we watched.

When the time was right we removed the plastic covering and continued watering and watching and waiting.

Fireflys Borrowed Farmers Combine TractorThen one morning we pressed our noses against the window and to our delight saw rows and rows of green plants poking their little heads up in our gardens. The feeling of excitement was electric; we dressed quickly and rushed out to inspect our little green babies.

Arriving on the scene, we looked down with proud faces and saw … tumbleweeds. Rows and rows of the healthiest little baby tumbleweeds we had ever seen.

No carrots, no marigolds, no watermelon vines. Tumbleweeds.

We were tumbleweed farmers.

Cherry Blossoms at Fireflys CottageAt least they were healthy, sturdy, and vibrant. We had done well by our tumbleweeds.

I warned my husband before we married about my “farming” experience, but he wanted me anyway. So, here I am.

Friday evening at dinner I told my husband that it was becoming embarrassing that we still had much of last year’s corn standing in our fields. The farmer who rents our land and works it comes from a family of skilled, knowledgeable, and respectable farmers but he lacks the enthusiasm and love of the work to do it with the prudent order that I tend to associate with the concept of professional farming.

As I told my husband, I wondered what our Amish neighbors must think of us when they go by and see the dead corn stalks standing in the fields bearing cobs of corn never reaped. I wondered if we should put up a large sign on the side of our barn declaring to the world that we do not farm our own land.

Our borrowed farmer did show up late Saturday afternoon with a big ol’ combine. He was out there working in the fields with lights on the combine late into the evening. We heard the drone of his efforts as we drifted off to sleep.

More Cherry Blossoms at Fireflys CottageBy yesterday afternoon most of the corn was finally cut and I believe this morning it is all gone.

As for my husband and I, we actually are farmers–of a sort.

We are dandelion farmers.

The crop comes in strong; we cut it weekly and the next day it is back in full force.

This kind of farming suits us well and we find that we are quite adept at it. We plan to continue on with our dandelion fields for many years to come. Blu enjoys sampling them when he is out in the yard, and judging from his “business” report, he can’t get enough of them.

Side Bar: Blu is sleeping on a comforter beside my desk as I write. I enjoy hearing his breathing and looking over at his sweet face resting on one of his front paws. Interesting to note, Blu uses his front paws very much like hands. We haven’t ever seen another dog that uses its front paws quite so much like hands.

Back to the blog …

Frost in Early May on Fireflys FarmIn Southern California, dandelions were regarded only as lawn pests and “weeds”, but here in the countryside of Western New York they are lovely and loved.

I am amazed to see their fresh, bright faces the next morning after the lawn has been mowed. They are full-grown, sturdy, and have a look about them as if nothing has happened even though just the evening before a tractor rolled over the lawn whacking off everything in its path.

As we drove around this weekend on various errands, to church, to the cottage, etc. I saw dandelion carpets gracing apple orchards whose trees were in full pink and white bloom.

Yes, I have come to love dandelions and will never begrudge their return or their longevity again.

Fireflys Hand Knit Teddy Bear Cardigan ProjectI have a few projects I am working on in present time. First of all, I do still knit–just so you know.

I have enough green wool yarn to knit a cardigan for myself, and I want to design my own pattern for it. However, I was having some trouble deciding exactly what I wanted to do, so I thought it would be a good idea to start with a teddy bear cardigan of my own design.

The problem is that I don’t have much experience knitting adult sized sweaters. I’ve made many baby sweaters in my time, but only one adult sized one. My plan is to freshen up my hands-on experience with knitted sweaters by first designing and knitting a teddy bear cardigan, then I’ll design and knit one for a baby, and then I’ll move on to the cardigan I will design and knit for myself.

The teddy bear cardigan is coming along well, and I hope to finish it this week or by the weekend.

I haven’t started the second hand knit wash/dish cloth in lavender cotton yarn to match the green one, but I might be able to get to that next week sometime. However, I have the Gracious Parcels blankets to sew together, and that will take some doing plus, it takes priority over designing and knitting the second dish cloth.

Speaking of Gracious Parcels, I have started a community blog for Gracious Parcels. The idea with the Gracious Parcels blog is to create an open blogging community for anyone who has contributed at least one 7″ square to a Gracious Parcels blanket. Anyone can view and read the blog, but those who are contributing members may post blogs, photos, share patterns, etc.

Please check out the blog sometime, and if you would like to be a contributing member, leave a comment in any post there expressing your interest and I will contact you via email.

We have had frost twice within the past week, this morning included. After Blu’s morning business report, I walked around with my camera to capture some of the sights for you. I have a terrible problem though: there are so many interesting things I find that it is difficult to narrow down the selection of photos. I used to try to limit my photos to only three per blog, but sometimes three just isn’t enough. This is one of those days.

In closing, I will leave you with several photos from the morning’s walk about the farm, plus a few I shot over the weekend here on the farm and over at our cottage. The white blossoms you will see are wild cherry trees–so beautiful.

Please have a cup of tea, coffee, or what-have-you with me and enjoy the view.

Have a wonderful day, my friend.


While Cherries in Bloom at Fireflys Cottage

Wild Cherries in Bloom at Fireflys Cottage

Pretty Things at Fireflys Cottage

Pretty Flowers at Fireflys Cottage

A Bird in Fireflys Willow

A Pretty Branch at Fireflys Farm

A Chipmunk in Fireflys Willow

Fireflys River on a Frosty Morning

Even the Moon is Out on a Frosty Morning at Fireflys Farm

The Sweetest Thing on Frieflys Farm

A Wild Goose Goes Walking By


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