Love affairs of June

June 27, 2008 at 2:19 pm | Posted in country life, country living, faith, flowers, gardening, gifts, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, travel | 13 Comments
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Close up of a hosta petal on fireflys farmYou know what the problem is with June? There are just far too many things to love, be in love with, and fall in love with for the first time.

My latest love affairs?

Well, let me see now … I will begin with hostas.

This is a plant I had never heard of before I came to live on the farm. My sister-in-law introduced me to them; she has been in love with hostas for quite some time. They are lush and lovely with large flowing leaves slumping into deep and luscious mounds. When I was told they practically grow themselves, requiring very little care, I was in.

I figured even a plant adoring non-green thumb lady living on a farm like me could do well with a plant that could be described that way.

Close up of another hosta leaf on fireflys farmMy husband agreed, so a couple of evenings ago we went on a hosta hunting adventure with the sister-in-law and her husband.

She knew of a gentleman who used to be in the hosta business, but is now retired. With a phone call to him, we were allowed to stop by and visit the inner sanctum, “back 40” greenhouse he never shows anyone any longer. We braved mosquitoes and who knows what hidden deep-woods vermin as we walked through a wooded area back to a private and protected green house. It was full of hostas of many varieties.

We left with twelve hosta plants well-established in pots which we will transplant along the west side of our barn and on either side of a charming back porch we never use as an entrance or exit, but are fixing up to look inviting and attractive nonetheless.

More close up hosta leaves after the rain on fireflys farmThis morning we got some summer rain, and the hosta leaves looked quite beautiful holding drops of rain water.

I had a great time out there photographing them, and put together a new set of notecards at my Etsy shop featuring shots of the hostas, in case you are interested.

Once I was out in the yard with the camera in hand, I ran into a big problem. There are so many pretty things to photograph I just shooting. When I came in to review my photos and select three for my blog (I try to limit myself to three shots so the pages are not too slow in loading) I found there were too many subjects and they were all so pretty I could not choose what not to show.

So, my apologies if today’s blog loads slowly, I decided I am going to show several shots not just three. There was a lot of pretty stuff out there and I want to share it all with you.

Frankly, it is a good problem to have. Would it be awful if the reverse were true — if I had to say, sorry I have no photos today because today I found nothing magical or beautiful out there in the world. Now that would be sad.

Lots and lots of strawberry preserves firefly made on the farmLast weekend my husband spent much of the day out in the yard cutting out excess brush, taking out some shrubs and small trees that had become very old and misshapen, trimming other trees and shrubs, filling in spots here and there with top soil and so forth. We have a small porch out back, off toward the street. We never use that door to enter or exit, no one knocks at it. I love it because it has old, weathered chippy paint which will make a great back drop for some of my photography.

Before he did that, it was pretty much overgrown with wild and ungainly shurbbery, wild flowers, and such. Now it is open, with most of the brush from around it cleared out. It faces north and is on the west end of the house, facing the barn. We plan to plant six hostas at the old porch, three on each side of the stairs and landing. We chose two each of three varieties, starting with a smaller one that won’t grow too large. Those two will go up front, on either side of the lowest stair. Next we have two of another variety which will grow to a medium size, and they will go back behind the two smaller ones, and of course the last two grow to be quite large and will go toward the back.

I also plan on setting several terra cotta pots I planted with geraniums a couple weeks back up on the porch, maybe coming down the stairs.

Hand knit quart size Jammie gift bag designed by fireflyAs it all comes together I will share photos with you. For today I am sharing a couple of photos I shot on the porch this morning. You see all those jars of strawberry preserves? Last week I made 218 ounces of strawberry preserves with most of the strawberries we picked out at Partyka Farms (see last week’s post for more about Partyka). What you see in the photo isn’t even all of the preserves I made.

The strawberries we picked were such a deep, rich red color that preserves are a brilliant deep red–very different from most strawberry preserves I have ever seen. Also, because the strawberries were a tart variety, the preserves have a much stronger strawberry flavor than they would have had if the berries were sweeter to begin with.

I am working on building up a stock of goods to have in the part time store I will be opening on our sun porch (“Firefly’s Studio & Pantry” it will be known as) and some of the preserves will go in the store. I want to see if I am able to sell preserves and if so, how much they will go for. Then I will know if I want to make up even more of them next year. It is a fun experiment.

The photo of the canning jar in a hand knit bag–if you aren’t already familiar with it–is the quart size “Jammie” from a pattern I designed featuring hand knit bags to use as gift bags for jars of jams, jellies, preserves, and other canned goods to make the presentation of those items even finer. The pattern, if you are interested, is also available now in my Etsy shop.

Now, out by the barn things are still a bit wild and wooly, but this time of year it looks pretty cool that way. On the west side of the barn where we will be putting in more of the hostas, we have a bunch of wild flowers growing, plus wild grape vines, and wild strawberries.

Wild raspberries beginning to grow on fireflys farm

Side Bar: There is a bird on my window, outside of it. Twice while I have been writing he has landed onto a little slip of wood out there which he seems barely able to hold onto. He pecks on the window, turns his head to look inside, turns it the other way to look inside again, and the he’s off.

Back to the Blog: We meant to get out there and remove quite a lot of that wild grapevine, but we didn’t get to it in time. It tends to grow so ravenously that we have trouble making our way through it to get to the raspberries. That’s a shame, because so many raspberries end up going to waste.

This year the wild raspberry crop we have coming in looks huge compared to what we got last year. I am hope to be able to gather plenty for eating fresh and plenty more for making into some preserves. So far, in spite of the grape vine, it looks like I will be able to do just that.

Milkweed plant blooms on fireflys farmEarly last autumn I gathered wild milkweed pods which I dried and used in some dried arrangements and I used some with my little Thistleonian critters, which some of you will remember (you can search for “critters” or “Thistleonian” in my blog to see what I am talking about). Anyway, amongst the wild flowers growing in front of barn last year, we had a few milkweed plants and I did my first pod gathering right there. This year I think we have two to three times as many of the plants, and I have been following their flowering stage this year.

Of course, there are tons of milkweeds growing wild in fallow fields all around here, and I will gather plenty out in those fields but I like the idea of being able to find some right here on the farm. They are some of the prettiest pods I have seen when they are dried, maintaining a pale green color on the outside and a pale, soft yellow on the inside.

Now these dainty little coral colored flowers are not wild. I forget what they are called, but I picked them up a Partyka’s market a few weeks back and planted them in two stone planters we have out on our front porch. Even though the kittens spend all of their play time out there, and seem to sometimes sleep in one of the planters, these flowers are doing great, multiplying in number at a great pace.

So you see, it is June and there are many things to be in love with. All I have done here is give you a sampling of what I found while out in my yard for thirty minutes or so.

I hope you get a chance to look around this weekend and see too many pretty things to share.

~firefly

Too weird not to tell

June 20, 2008 at 6:33 pm | Posted in Christmas, country life, country living, dating, faith, family, gifts, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, Quilt Trail, relationships, romance, summer, travel | 10 Comments
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Firefly is getting ready to make strawberry preservesI woke up at 6:00 a.m. today fresh from a weird dream. Usually if I preface a statement about one of my dreams with “weird” it is totally redundant (to anyone who knows me that well) … but of weird dreams, this one was especially weird in some of its features. Too weird not to tell.

I was involved with some business people is some sort of company, and I was the annoying “talent” in the mix. There were these two “suits”, a woman who was in charge and a man, and they had set up a meeting with some potential client without “info’ing” me. I heard about the meeting (after all, it was my dream so it was difficult to keep it from me) and crashed it, which really annoyed them even more.

The meeting was at a very nice restaurant, and I remember the colors were very pleasing. So, this meeting is going on and I’m there annoying these two conservative “suits” by my mere presence as an observer.

I suppose the meeting became boring because all of a sudden I was off in a different dream that was a movie. There were these two little girls who were twins and they lived in a war torn area, and there were bombs going off in the distance and these little girls were some sort of heroes who were spies or some sort of operatives working for “good”. They had red hair.

So that went on for a while, and then everything morphed back to the world where the restaurant and meeting were. I thought to myself, “Wow, that was quite a flight of fancy, wasn’t it?” And I had a sense that my being distracted by my imagination was probably going to annoy the “suits” even more.

Blu greets Dorothy as she arrives at fireflys farmI walked (somehow I was not at the meeting anymore and had to return to it physically), anyway I walked back and as I approached the table I noticed the woman “suit” was in fact Catherine Bell (the actress) and she was confiscating a bunch of my knitting needles which I had apparently brought to the meeting and left at the table while I went off to imagine the red haired child heroes in war torn wherever.

She was stuffing a bunch of my knitting needles into a big purse, and then I noticed the guy “suit” was also confiscating some of my needles. They both were so antagonistic to me, it was perturbing. I said, “Hey, what are you doing with my knitting needles?” And Catherine Bell looked up at me as she continued stuffing them into her bag and said, “We’re just going to take these now and put them away.”

“Why?” I asked, innocent and dumbfounded yet cognizant that they were really wanting to hurt me by taking those needles away and it was some kind of punishment.

Then I grabbed some of the needles out of Catherine’s (now that she has handled my knitting needles, I feel familiar enough with her to refer to her by first name only) hands and then I noticed they were bent all out of shape–the needles, not her hands.

I said, “Why did you bend my knitting needles?” Then I grabbed more and they were all bent, and I looked at her and she looked smug and scolding all at the same time–you know how people get those two looks on their faces simultaneously.

Just so you know, the needles were not just slightly bent. They had to have been put through some kind of incredible thick metal bending machine. They had perfect “U” shapes bent into them, they were bent in several places, bent at right angles … it was incredible. Catherine had bent all of my needles she had gotten a hold of.

I started crying and said, “Why would you do that to me, why do you want to suppress my creativity?”

Fresh strawberries from Partyka Farms in the blue bowl firefly bought at a garage saleAfter sobbing for a few minutes as I drew more and more mangled knitting needles out of her bag I woke up and said out loud, “That was weird.”

Okay, why Catherine Bell? I don’t have anything against her, but I’m also not a particular fan or anything, and I don’t dislike her or associate her with anything unhappy or antagonistic. She’s just, ah, Catherine Bell.

Honestly, I just don’t get it.

And that’s how my day started, today.

Yesterday, however, ended with my husband and I out at my friend Lora Partyka’s farm picking nine quarts of fresh, deep red strawberries in her U-Pick field. While we were picking berries it started raining, lightly at first so we kept picking. By about the time we got our ninth quart basket filled up it started raining pretty hard so we high-tailed it back to our truck and ended off.

Back across the road at her farm market we sat down to a couple of dishes of double-scoop Perry’s Ice Cream. It was perfect. Going out to a local farm market for Perry’s Ice Cream is my favorite “date” we go on. We haven’t ever been to a movie in a theater together because there just aren’t any theaters within miles and we would both rather watch movies at home away from crowds anyway.

So, my favorite date is to just head over to a farm stand with an ice cream bar and sit outside at one of their tables together eating, chatting, listening to birds, and enjoying the sunshine (or rain as the case may be).

It was a great way to end a few days of very hard work I have been engaged in publishing my new hand knit Christmas Stocking Patterns. You might be surprised if you knew just how many hats have to be worn by a person engaging in the adventure of self-publishing. I wear them all — designer, knitter, technical adviser, editor, writer, photographer, copy editor (both technical and language), proof-reader, typesetter, graphic artist, web master, Internet technical advisor … well, you get the picture. My husband takes care of the printing for me, and the printing is superlative I must say. Then I do the cutting and the packaging or prepping online downloads. Then there is the marketing (both retail and wholesale), sales (not the same hat as marketing) and the order fulfillment and customer service.

I love it, I love the technology available today that makes it possible for me to press forward in this cottage industry, but this week–because I was working on essentially four patterns simultaneously–has been a particularly hard-pressed week. I’m bushed.

My eyes were so bleary last night by the time I went to bed I just loved the feeling of lying down and closing them. I couldn’t sleep for a while because I had just come off of all that production (I finished all of the final touches last night so we could start printing today) but even without falling asleep it felt awful darn good to just lie there with my eyes closed and my back against the bed, resting every part of me.

Today I am writing this quick blog, but mostly I am in the midst of washing, cutting, smashing, and measuring strawberries. Later this afternoon I will be making strawberry preserves and strawberry shortcake as a relaxing break from the publishing business. Those strawberries smell so, so good — their deep sweet smell is wafting all the way up the stairs to my office area.

If you are in Western New York and want to experience a treat, check out Partyka Farms in Kendall. They have plenty of U-Pick strawberries to go, plus all the other produce they’re selling right now, a summer grill, the ice cream bar, gift shop, free playground and picnic tables — oh, and they are selling bulk groceries now like spices, nuts, dried fruits, soup mixes, rices, pastas, etc. (I still cannot believe what a great price you get on spices from a place like that selling bulk-I can buy a good sized tub of whatever spice for just over a dollar.) I have so many strawberries from the U-Pick that I’ll be making about 24 8-oz jars of strawberry preserves.

By the way, you can get a free map to the Country Barn Quilt Trail at Partyka’s as well, because Lora is the organizer of the trail. Over the past couple of months we have added a free audio tour on the trail. People access the audio tour right from their cell phones, and at each barn you come to there is a sign with the stop number to dial in. When you dial in that stop number, you will hear a voice recording telling the story of that quilt block, the people who did it, sometimes something about the history of their farm or their barn, etc. I happen to know quite a lot about it, because I, er, ah … did all of the voice recordings for Lora (she liked my voice, what can I say–she “gets” me and would never mangle my knitting needles, unlike Catherine apparently). The stories that go along with the quilt blocks are very endearing, and the audio tour adds a dimension to the Western New York quilt trail that others don’t have.

Is this place heaven, or what?

Just a bit more here … last week my friend Dorothy rode her bicycle over here one afternoon to work with me on painting the feed sack fabric details on the “Friendship Ring” quilt block we were going to hang at our church as a part of the Country Barn Quilt Trail. She looked so cute on her bicycle (she even had rhubarb for us in the little basket on the front), I asked her to go back out to the street while I grabbed my camera, and then ride back in along our circular driveway so I could photograph her. As you can see, Blu thought she looked mighty cute too.

A couple of mornings later she came back so we could finish up and mentioned she had been by a garage sale near her place where she bought an old maple school desk. She told me there was another one with a matching chair, and I’ve been wanting one of those so I ran inside and got my husband and Blu, we piled into the truck and headed over. Turns out there was a block-long garage sale at a row of cottages and we had a wonderful time picking up some very cool little things. I got the maple school desk (I’ll show it another time), but also found the beautiful, simple blue bowl you see in one of the photographs. It is such a gentle, summer sky color of blue and I thought it would look perfect cradling strawberries–which it does. I got it for 25 cents, and it turns out it is an artisan china bowl made in London.

And the cute little vintage, folding stools in the photo below … how cute are they. I had never seen anything like that. They are for fishermen, I’m sure and I got the two of them for $1 … my, oh my!

Three houses in a row had plenty of picture frames (and pictures in frames) which I need for my own art, so we came home with a bunch of great frames.

Treasures firefly found at garage sales and an auctionThat large picnic basket you see in the photo, well I got that at an auction up the road at the end of May. I’ve always wanted one of those, and I got this one for $11.

What is the point of all of this? Mostly I just want to say that things can be good, no matter what people are saying about the economy. There are things to do and things to have that don’t cost very much money. People are always having garage sales where you can find treasures for peanuts, and useful things for even less. You help the other guy because he gets a little bit of extra cash in his pocket and a little more room in his house or garage and he helps you because you get to experience the fun of garage sale’ing as a form of inexpensive entertainment and bring something home to boot … and no calories!

Even if you live in a city, the country isn’t very far away and in spite of high gas prices it probably would cost less to take a drive out to the country to follow a quilt trail, visit a farm market, grab an ice cream at a roadside stand, and buy healthy, economical produce at a farm market or U-Pick field than it would cost to take the family out to dinner and a movie right around the corner. Plus it would last all day and you get to take stuff home with you.

Now, how cool is that?

Have a beautiful, creative weekend … and sweet dreams!

~firefly

Feminine ways

June 11, 2008 at 3:16 pm | Posted in art, cats, country life, country living, dating, faith, family, flowers, food, gardening, gifts, knitting, Life, love, marriage, pets, photography, relationships, romance, summer, travel, yarn | 11 Comments
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a pretty little bouquet of wildflowers on fireflys dinning room tableLast week I met my sister-in-law in one of the nearby villages to have an afternoon tea and listen to a lady speak about “vanity” collectibles; the presentation was called, “Vanity Fair”. The flyer we read that led us to the tea described the woman as an antique collector of women’s vanity items such as perfume, powder puffs, and compacts.

My sister-in-law wanted to go and I wanted to spend time with her, so I agreed. I have to say though that, for me, spending an afternoon hearing about antique powder puffs and compacts was not exactly my cup of tea–uh, excuse me, no pun intended. You see, I grew up as a tomboy, and still have quite a lot of my tomboy traits still intact.

When I was a kid I was an accomplished tree climber above all other talents … if there was a tree, I was up it. I loved playing army with my brothers and their friends but felt squeamish and awkward whenever I was invited to play Barbie with some of the girls my age.

I had a few dolls, mostly baby dolls, and I loved them. I even had a doll carriage when I really little and love doll carriages to this day. I enjoyed a little doll named Penny I had for a while. She was more of a homemaker doll than a freakishly proportioned high fashion model, so she appealed to me where Barbie did not. One Christmas Santa brought me a little kitchenette for my Penny doll, and that was pretty cool–I loved the chairs best of all for some reason.

There was also a little doll called Hi Hiedi. She had a little button on her belly and when you pushed it in she would raise her hand as if to say, “Hi”. She was cool. So yes, I had dolls and I played with them a bit but I had a real problem with the the whole Barbie concept for whatever peculiar reason. I never even had my own Barbie doll, so you know it was never on a wish list in my mind.

The kittens find Blu to be quite a curiosity as he eats strange things and hurls right afterwardsThe worst part was when one of the girls wanted Ken and Barbie to kiss, and she’d make me hold the Ken doll while she held the Barbie and closed her eyes and made the kissing noise for them. To this day I still have the picture burned into my mind of her round face, closed eyes, and puckered up mouth as she made a slobbery kissing noise. I probably can’t get rid of it because I violated her privacy so badly by peeking even she told me not to look … yes, because the other thing I remember about that moment is feeling very badly that I saw something that would certainly embarrass her if she knew. She looked really stupid and I felt bad for having witnessed it. I was a compassionate tomboy, you see even if a bit naughty.

As for afternoon tea, the first time I ever went to an afternoon tea was many years ago with my one very dear “girl” friend. When I was younger I enjoyed the company and camaraderie of men much more than that of girls or women. Please don’t start throwing things at me or clicking away from my post … most of my readers are women and I love you all. I am an evolved tomboy now with a decidedly feminine side that I thoroughly appreciate and enjoy.

So all these years ago my dear friend asked me to go with her to Rose Tree Cottage in Pasadena to have a proper English Tea. I’ve always been fond of drinking tea, so having tea served in the afternoon with scones, coddled milk (which I had never heard of before then) and jam sounded scrumptious. Oh, and it was scrumptious. Those ladies really do know how to serve tea. The only problem for me was that all of the other women customers were so ladylike and dainty looking in their hats and gloves and perfect little dresses. I was wearing a dress, but I had on cowboy boots underneath it. I was worried I might suddenly cuss or something (not that I was real big into cussing, but in a stressful setting like that I was worried my inner cowboy/sailor might pop out and cause me to do something very out of place).

Sweet little Yin sits in a stone planter on fireflys porchWell, that was all a very long time ago and the truth of the matter is that now I love going to afternoon tea. It is a lovely experience and it is feminine. Somehow over the years I have mellowed into a comfortable mix of softened up tomboy and feminine woman. Perhaps motherhood did that to me, I don’t know. Certainly any of the experiences I have had in life (and lived through) that brushed and scalded and broke away my rough and hard edges have certainly added to my femininity.

Whereas that first, proper afternoon tea caused me quite a lot of anxiety and discomfort now a proper afternoon tea is soothing, relaxing, and refreshing. Ironically, the week before I left Los Angeles with my husband to get married and move here to the farm, my sister gave me a bridal shower that was an afternoon tea, my best friend took me out to her favorite place for an afternoon tea, and the lady I was renting a room from took me out to the Huntington Museum in Pasadena for … an afternoon tea. Tea, tea, tea. It was great. In fact, I was downright girlie that entire week leading up to “him”.

Now I love tea cups and tea pots and flowers and, well I just love lots of feminine things. I hope I never lose my tomboy edge, but I have come to accept and enjoy the fact that I am, after all, a “girl”.

And I honestly believe it is the art, beauty, and gentle effect of tea that has helped lead me down that particular path in my life. It is a good path that I have enjoyed following so far and have discovered some pleasant things along the way.

Three new hand knit bags by fireflyAs for the afternoon tea learning about antique ladies’ vanity items … turns out it was quite interesting and I enjoyed it quite well. The lady speaker brought along a beautiful collection of vanity items (mostly antique compacts) from the 1920’s. She arranged everything very scrumptiously on a large table with plenty of props (including an actual 1920’s flapper dress and hat) to bring the subject to life. It was her first time making a presentation and she admitted privately afterwards that she was not confident whether or not she had done very well. We told her she had been great and seemed to be a natural. I was amazed to learn that compacts were such a big thing back then and that in fact many of them were designed by highly educated, manly engineers. Isn’t that something.

The tea and desserts served along with it were wonderful as well — chocolate chip cupcakes with a graham cracker crust and soft meringue topping, strawberry sorbet, and a sliver jelly tart. My husband was away in Manhattan at a trade show that day, and I loved spending the afternoon with his sister. It was the kind of afternoon I could imagine spending with so many of my treasured readers … not all at once mind you, but you get the idea.

Bosc Pears from Local Farm Market original oil painting by J L FleckensteinBy the way, I am conducting an online survey on behalf of a client of mine — my best client, really. He has faithfully continued to utilize my services for writing, web design and maintenance, etc. for three years now. It’s funny, we have never met face-to-face but I work for him all the time and have known him longer than I have known my husband.

At any rate, if you would be willing to participate in the survey I would really appreciate it. [The survey is complete now, winner to be announced shortly.]

I’m going to hold a drawing of those who do take the survey and the winner will receive a beautiful print of my latest painting, “Bosc Pears from Local Farm Market”. The print is inkjet on 100% cotton canvas, 8″ x 10″ (approximately) and ready for framing. It will be signed and numbered, and is print #10 out of a limited edition of 100. Ideally, I would like to have men and women take the survey … so if you have a husband, brother, father, etc. who would be willing to do it they will be entered to win the print as well. It should only take a few minutes to complete, and none of the email addresses will be kept for anything other than holding the drawing and notifying the winner … I promise.

Also in a photograph up above you will see three hand knit bags I just finished earlier in the week. They are knit from a fingering weight linen yarn in a pretty blue about the color of the ocean and a nice spring green. The two colors look beautiful together, so much so that I plan to make myself a sweater sometime in the months ahead of the same yarn in those same colors.

After I finish publishing the Christmas Stocking patterns (available within a week or so in my Etsy store) I’ll publish the pattern for these little bags. Oh, and these bags are called “Jammies” because they are made for jam and jelly jars, or larger vegetable canning jars. The next round of photos will show them with the jars inside them. They look beautiful that way because of the lace pattern and how the filled jars look peaking through. They are a perfect summer project and lovely gift idea, which I think people are going to enjoy.

Off to other adventures now, and hoping your adventures today are pleasant!

~firefly

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