Thank you Dad

April 29, 2008 at 6:35 pm | Posted in art, blogging, country life, country living, dating, faith, family, flowers, gardening, gifts, knitting, Life, love, photography, relationships | 22 Comments

One of the beautiful flowers in the bouquet fireflys husband gave herThe summer of my seventeenth birthday I was invited to attend my best friend’s older sister’s wedding. My friend was named Rudy, and oddly enough he was the younger brother of the guy who had been my boyfriend the year before. I was a senior, Rudy was a freshman and for some reason we just really hit it off as friends and continued to be best friends for a couple of years–an entirely platonic friendship. Some of my best times in high school were with Rudy, and hopefully the same was true for him of the time he spent with me.

When he invited me to attend his sister’s wedding and reception, I was very excited: they were a very large Mexican-American Catholic family and the reception promised to be one of those big, noisy, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” type receptions. There was a snag, however. I needed a somewhat formal dress to wear, but I didn’t have any extra money at the time to buy one. Without a new dress, I felt I could not attend the wedding.

Another of the beautiful flowers in the bouquet fireflys husband gave herSitting with my father one afternoon, I lamented my problem and he listened very kindly. He and I have been very close ever since I was a little kid, and I could usually share my problems and thoughts about life with him and get some good feedback or at least a patient ear. I did not want to ask him and my mother to buy a dress for me, in fact I would not have thought to do so. From when I was a young teenager my sister and I baby sat for spending money and always bought our own clothes. Putting a drain on family finances for something as superfluous as a new dress to wear to a wedding was not anywhere on the radar in my mind.

After hearing me out my father came up with a suggestion which I cherish to this day. He asked if I happened to already have a dress that would suit the occasion, and I said I did but that I had already worn it a couple of times and it no longer felt special. He said, “Well, one thing you could do is breath new life into the old dress.” Hmm. Breath new life into the old dress. What an interesting idea. I told him I would give it a try.

A day or so later, I took the old dress out of my closet and hung it on the door of my bedroom. I stepped back and looked at it for a couple of minutes and then I got the idea — created the idea — that it was in fact, brand new. The interesting thing is that a feeling did wash over me just like the feeling I would get when I did in fact have something brand new. That was a very intriguing phenomenon. In fact, it felt so good that I did it a couple more times until I completely had the feeling all inside and out of me that the dress I had already worn a couple of times and owned for at least a year was instead brand, spanking new.

A grapevine comes newly to ife out by fireflys barnThe day of the wedding, that wonderful feeling of “the new dress” continued through the day and the long, happy party afterwards. I danced all afternoon and into the evening in that “new” dress, and I felt pretty and happy and full of magic the entire time.

Today, yesterday, and for some of the tomorrows ahead, people have been and will be talking about how bad the economy is. Things are so expensive. Gas prices have soared. Food costs too much. Money will not go so far. It is and will be in the press, and believe me the press will not rest on this subject no matter how discouraged the population gets … they will “press” onward and remind you and I constantly of just how bad things are and will be.

Okay. Fine, the cost of gas has gone up, food prices have gone up, some people will not be able to buy some of the new stuff they would like to buy in the months or year ahead. Sometimes it will be me, sometimes it will be you. It will affect us all and it seems we have no choice in the matter.

The fact is, however, we have a considerable amount of choice. The most important choice any one of us can make is how we choose to regard our lives and the economy. Is something being taken away from us, or are we being given an opportunity?

A dear country flower on a pretty little vine by fireflys barnPersonally I have this little rule that adds to my own happiness in life: If the press is promoting an idea, I do my best to think the opposite of that idea. If they promote the idea that life sucks because money is tight, I am bound and determined to create my own attitude that life is wonderful in new ways because expenses are shifting.

I would not be the spiritual being that I am, the artist or creative person I am, if I allowed my attitudes about life to be sculpted by merchants of fear who would have me think that all of the dresses in my closet are old and that no new dresses are on the horizon. (I’m speaking figuratively, you get that right?)
It does not have to be bad news that gas prices have gone up and affected the cost of other goods and services. We can all create whatever attitude about gas and food and heating and so forth we choose to.

fireflys river in the morning light with fogI can walk out in my yard, stroll around and see one beautiful little thing after another that delights my heart no end. I can gather pods and twigs and feathers and nuts as I go along and make pretty little things to hang in my windows or sell in an Etsy store.

I saw a piece on Good Morning America today featuring people living in cities or suburban neighborhoods who are turning their little pieces of lawn into vegetable and herb gardens. One lady and her husband grow all kinds of lettuces and other vegetables and supply them to a local restaurant. The restaurant gets a better price from these folks than he would from a commercial outfit, plus the produce is as fresh as can be and organic. The couple earned about $100 per week last year on their back yard garden and hope to double that amount this year. It is an inexpensive side business requiring very little financial investment and only about ten hours of work each week.

Right there you have an example of a couple of people who could be discouraged by economic news, but instead looked toward economic news as an inspiration and an opportunity. Perhaps they looked out at their lawn one day, maybe that lawn was old and tired and shabby looking … an eyesore even. Perhaps it was too small for their dreams and there was no lovely view beyond it. And yet, for some reason they looked at it in an entirely new light and breathed new life into that lawn. I don’t know if it worked that way, but maybe it did.

What about you? Do you need to breath new life into your marriage, your job, your relationship with a friend or loved one? Could you stand to breath new life into your own home, an old faithful family meal, the neighborhood you live in, your relationship with God? What little piece of life could you breath new life into today?

Jen, one of the owners of my LYS (Local Yarn Shop), said to me of my blog, that I have a way of making the ordinary seem extraordinary. If that is so, I am certain it is because my father gave me that idea of breathing new life into my old dress. So now I pass the gift of his advice on to you. I hope you can put it to good use.

Today is our second wedding anniversary and I am off to the kitchen to make up a big batch of his favorite cookies before he gets home from work. What a trip, I have a husband and I’m making him cookies in the middle of the afternoon. Standard issue for some people, completely unexpected turn of events for me in the middle of my life.

Breath in, and …

One more thing: Recall the painting I was working on recently of two golden Bosc pears? I completed it and have put up a photo at my One Painting a Day blog. This is my favorite painting I have ever created. The day I finished it I told my husband I was sure I was in love with my painting. I could not stop gazing about it or thinking about it when I was not gazing at it. It felt just like love. We are going to hang it, and another I just finished, at Zambistro Restaurant later in the week. It is going to be very difficult to part with this one.


Life is for living

April 24, 2008 at 2:46 pm | Posted in art, blogging, country life, country living, dating, faith, family, free knitting patterns, knitting, love, photography, relationships, yarn | 17 Comments

Firefly sees her first rainbow of the yearThe world changes swiftly from the gray-brown of a lifeless, after-snow-melt winter to the earliest burst of green liveliness that comes in spring. Golden light filled mornings and evenings cast long streaks of brilliant, reviving light cutting through tree limbs and shrub branches, glowing with fresh little pale green leaves.

Dandelions are already blooming in the yard, the flowering crab apple tree out near our barn is covered in deep, dusty red leaves and tiny buds. Rhoda (my heirloom tree peony) is crowded with more than thirty buds amid abundant new growth. And I saw my first rainbow of the year this morning, just as I stepped outside into early morning light with Blu.

Ahh … the changing of the seasons, the rebirth of life, the beginnings of a new year. Why is it that New Year’s Day is in the middle of winter rather than the middle of spring? Yesterday felt like the beginning of a new year to me; perhaps I’ll readjust my thoughts regarding the timing of that particular celebration.

Fireflys Magic Cat Gives Birth to two heatlhy kittens on the farmPrecious gift of all, two healthy baby kittens were born on our front porch yesterday afternoon. Cat-Cat, the magic cat that adopted us last October, turned out to be a girl and showed up pregnant this winter. She had a litter of three, sadly one was still born. The other two, however, are lively and healthy and strong. Cat-Cat is one of the sweetest tempered little cats I have ever been introduced to, and she has been a welcome member of the farm family and now we will have the joy of two little kittens tumbling around and entertaining us over the next couple of months.

This winter we had several cats living in our barn, but now they all seem to have disappeared. Cat-Cat, however, had a special little hut on our front porch and was allowed to come in the house often. She is a very well mannered, petite tuxedo cat with a perfect moustache marking on her face. She is here to stay, and we are very happy about the arrangement. Of course, we will have her spayed now we know she is a girl and we will find good homes for her little ones if we don’t end up keeping them here as well. Well mannered cats are a perfect addition to an old farm house and barn for many reasons.

Fireflys hand painted Double Wedding Ring quilt block for the barn quilt trailSpeaking of barns, we have been working on a fun new project related to our barn. My good friend, Lora Partyka (Partyka Farms in Kendall, NY) started the Country Barn Quilt Trail of Western New York a couple of years ago … I don’t recall if I have mentioned that before. We wanted very much to join the quilt trail this year and now we officially have. Last weekend my husband, daughter, and I prepped and painted our quilt block and yesterday my husband and I mounted the quilt block on our barn.

If you are unfamiliar with quilt trails, they started in Ohio and have spread to other states. Very simply put, the idea is for people with barns to put up hand painted quilt blocks on their barns and then other people pick up maps showing where all the barns are and drive around looking at them. The quilt blocks are usually 8′ x 8′ so they will show up well from the road. Quilt trails are a great way to encourage tourists to visit an area and also to raise awareness of the beauty of America’s barns and their preservation.

Fireflys quilt block after she and her daughter applied aging techniquesSince Lora began the Western New York Quilt Trail more than forty squares have gone up all around the county we live in. We chose the Double Wedding Ring pattern for our block, because of our recent marriage and also because the “ring” or circle of the design relates to the name of our farm and the history of this place.

Our barn is 200 years old, and in designing our quilt block I wanted to embody the beauty of the fabrics I remember from quilts my Grandma Johnson made in North Carolina, using feed sack cloth. Many other people who put up quilt blocks paint them in solid primary colors, but I wanted very much to use historic colors and to paint fabric designs rather than having solid colors. I knew that even if the details of the designs can not be seen from the road, the fact that details are there will give the impression of feed sack cloth.

We also wanted the quilt block to have an aged appearance so that it would look as if it belongs on our old, historic barn. My daughter has quite a bit of experience with painting and finishing techniques that give an appearance of age to a piece, so with her advice and guidance we were able to make our quilt block look beautifully aged.

Fireflys barn with the quilt block installedOnce the block was in place on the barn, we were all extremely pleased with the look and feel we had accomplished. It was a very enjoyable group activity … and now other people living closer to us want blocks on their barns so we will be working with them to create blocks that have a similar look and feel to ours (I think it would be very cool if all of the quilt blocks in our part of the county had this similar look and feel).

This is an exciting project because the quilt trail is expected to bring quite a lot of tourism to Western New York, which will be very good for the economy. The New York Department of Tourism has become very interested and will be doing quite a lot to promote the trail, journalists have written a number of articles about it, and the enthusiasm of farmers and others in the county is wonderful to behold.

Hats off to Lora for dreaming this dream and making it a reality. I am thrilled and honored to have an opportunity to lend my talents and some volunteer hours to help keep the dream growing and blossoming, just like the daffodils growing on lawns, roadsides, and riverbanks all around us this spring.

I am very, very close to completing two large paintings to add to those on display at Zambistro Restaurant; they just need to dry a bit longer so I can put some final touches on and then we will hang them (next week sometime) and I will photograph them to share with my readers here.

A pretty dandelion in Fireflys yard on the farmDue to the hours I have needed to put in on helping out with the quilt trail (I designed a rack card to promote it and designed and built the website for the trail), and some extra things I have needed to do to help my daughter over the past month, I am behind schedule with the Christmas Stocking designs for the book. Unfortunately, it means I will not be able to publish my book by the end of August. That is okay, because the quilt trail helps many people and the County at large, so my time was well spent there. And, helping my daughter get through her situation takes precedent over publishing as well.

However, what I have decided to do is I will go ahead and publish a few of the Christmas Stocking patterns over the course of the next two or three months as individual patterns. That way anyone who was looking forward to the book will be able to at least get patterns now and make some stockings this year. There will be plenty more designs and other supportive information for the book, and I don’t want you to have to wait for patterns if I had gotten you interested in making stockings this year.

I have a baby sweater for our pastor’s baby girl which is nearly complete … photos will be on my blog next week of the completed sweater and shortly after that I will publish the pattern (there will be a matching hat). It is looking oh so sweet and soft.

Three years ago, my oldest brother passed away. He was only 52 years old at the time, it was early April 2005. When he knew he was sick and that there was a strong possibility he would not live much longer he said me, “Life is for living, and that’s what I want you to do.” After he died I started reaching further out into life, being even more adventurous than I used to be and making sure to fully embrace with gratitude all that life has to offer.

In a few days my husband and I will celebrate our second wedding anniversary. The marriage is even more fun and more rewarding and full of even more love than I first imagined … and I have a pretty good imagination, so you know I imagined it being great. We are both amazed that it has already been two years, can you believe it?

Firefly in her barn before the quilt block was installedYesterday was a fine day, a day of life and living. It was a simple and straight forward day, marked by a pretty rainbow, the start of new game in the life of our barn, a day for dandelions, and the birth of two kittens. No fireworks, just life beautiful, clear, and simple.

Here I am Dan: I live on a farm. I live on a farm in New York and my husband drives a tractor. You helped me get here. I know you would love it here too, you would love my husband, and love to see me living this, my brand new life.

To my readers, I hope you have been having a great week, and wish you and yours blessings for the coming weekend.


Using a bit of imagination

April 10, 2008 at 2:57 pm | Posted in art, baby, blogging, charity knitting, country life, dogs, faith, family, flowers, free knitting patterns, gifts, Holidays, knitting, knitting for babies, love, marriage, pets, photography, relationships, romance, snow, socks, stockings, travel, yarn | 15 Comments

Firefly starts a baby sweater for a friendA couple of weekends ago my husband and I drove down south of our place, and down a ways south of Buffalo to a little town called Brocton, near the shore of Lake Erie. A couple of days before our drive there had been a nice snow fall in Western New York, and with below freezing temperatures for a few days afterwards the snow was still on the ground all across the lovely countryside. In fact, there had been no wind to speak of so the snow still clung to the branches of trees which created quite a winter wonderland effect.

Isn’t it so strange for me to be writing of a pretty snow fall that was only a couple of weeks back when here it is warm and sunny, spring time weather with birds chirping and singing, flowers blooming in the front yard and buds showing on all of the trees.

That day, the spring time winter wonderland day, the skies were a beautiful soft bright blue with big fluffy white clouds slowly meandering by. The shadows cast on ground, field, and wood by the large clouds combined with the elegant white snow covered brances and boughs of trees created an almost mystical lighting effect.

Silk Stocking by FireflyMy husband commented ruefully that the scene we were seeing should have come back at Christmas time, or between Christmas and New Year’s. The interesting thing to me was that the scene we were feeling conjured the exact same feelings as if it were the holidays. Afterall, we were on a nice long drive as if to see relatives and we were seeing a magical display of nature, Blu was with us and we all felt quite cozy in the car together.

I suggested to my husband that we should both pretend that particular drive and the snowy scenes we enjoyed had indeed happened this past Christmas; that we should both file the memories in that folder in our minds rather than the “Spring 2008” folder.

He agreed, and so that is what we did.

All it took was a bit of imagination and the two of us agreeing. Very cool, I think, that my husband was willing to disagree with the laws of the physical universe with me and reorganize time a bit to suit our mutual fancy.

Blu begins to notice the geeseSomething I never could understand is people who have a problem with children telling “stories”. Equating the imaginative rearrangement of reality to suit their own private fancy with the telling of a harmful lie is something I cannot for the life of me think with. There is a distinct differentiation, and it is completely healthy for children to use their imaginations and to share the things they are imagining openly other children and with adults rather than feeling they are being naughty and being taught to withhold and hide their thoughts.

Please. Have you ever heard of a guy named Mark Twain? What was he all about?

Where would the world be if it were not for the ability of grown up people to also wildly use their imaginations of think up outlandish new thoughts and ideas. Those imaginings develop sometimes into great inventions, innovations, and accomplishments as well as masterful pieces of art, literature, and entertainment.

I shudder to think where I would be if it were not for my imagination … probably baking in the dry heat of Southern California rather than living on the banks of a rushing river on a farm in Western New York.

So, for us that day was the day after Christmas 2007 and we were enjoying a perfectly wonderful winter holiday drive.

Our destination, by the way, was Woolgathering Yarn, a charming yarn shop in Brocton, NY. The owner, Barb Albert, had graciously agreed to take a look at some of my patterns to see about carrying them in her shop. I loved her shop, it was large and well stocked but also cozy and inviting. She had a couple of racks with some recently dyed yarns hanging and they looked quite scrumptious. Her customers were warm and friendly, and I definitely got a great feeling of community there.

I overheard Barb speaking with one customer about a friend in their knitting group who had received some bad medical news recently, and they were coming up with a plan to put together some kind of blanket for her. I have some extra squares for the Gracious Parcels blankets on hand, so I offered to contribute some to their effort to give them a head start. It was good to know that some of the Gracious Parcels squares would go to give healing comfort and support to a woman who these kind and warm hearted ladies obviously cared so much for.

Woolgathering Yarn is now carrying some of my patterns, and I look forward to getting to know Barb and her customers more.

Our next stop was back up toward Buffalo to East Aurora, home of The Woolly Lamb (sorry, they don’t have a website). Owner Sharon Kabel had also agreed to meet with me and take a look at my patterns.

Oh, it was nice to be in The Woolly Lamb, I must say. The store is huge and just filled from counter to ceiling with yarns, yarns, and more yarns. I have not been in such a large yarn store for a quite a long time. I wanted to linger there, squeezing and stroking the luscious fibers for hours … but that would have been awkward. It was a piece of heaven, and I know I will be going back not just to drop off more patterns (she ordered some and wants more) but also to shop for yarns not carried in my LYS.

Beautiful BluIt was a beautiful day, and encouraging for business purposes. My husband and I are doing this business together and turning it into another way for us to enjoy time together doing things we would enjoy doing even if it weren’t for business. We love taking long drives together and exploring new territory, so it will be a great adventure to weave the pattern publishing business into that aspect of our lives.

Speaking of publishing, I completed another Christmas Stocking for the book. I have the next one designed in my mind, and only need to pick up one more color of yarn to bring it off. Meanwhile, however, I have had to briefly pause while I make a baby sweater for the pastor of our church. She has a new baby girl and I want to make a sweater and matching hat for her. I am using bright white 100% cotton yarn, and am working the “Ears of Corn” stitch pattern which seems very appropriate for a baby born in this farming community where corn is one of the major crops.

Meanwhile, Blu is beginning to recognize the existence of geese. This is new for him in spite of the fact that he is a bird dog. He won’t ever be used for hunting birds, but it would be nice to see what should be his inherited instincts coming into play. This past Saturday we had him out in the yard and tried to get him to take notice of the large gathering of geese out in the wheat field and under the willow tree.

The first time he caught sight of them he stood very still, alert with ears pricked and a strong stance. A couple of minutes later he turned around and ran to the back door to come back inside. We chuckled mildly to each other at that sight.

Two Bosc Pears oil painting underwayLater in the morning he got another shot at it. That time he tried as hard as he could to act casual and pretend there were not a million geese in his yard. Finally, however, he did stand still again and look toward them in an alert stance. That second time he didn’t run away. He didn’t run toward them or make a peep, but he didn’t run away. We will take that as progress.

I have three oil paintings going now, in addition to everything else on the burners. These will be for the restaurant. What you see in the photograph is the beginnings of a painting of two lovely Bosc pears … still at a very crude stage of development (the painting, not the pears).

I don’t usually like to show incomplete paintings, it is almost like standing out in the street in underpants. However, I decided to let you into my studio for a little glimpse today so you could see another place where my imagination leads me.

With that, I wish you and yours a fine spring day.


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