Buttoned up

May 21, 2007 at 2:33 pm | Posted in biscuit recipes, charity knitting, Christmas, country living, dogs, faith, family, food, free knitting patterns, gifts, Habitat for Humanity, knitting, love, marriage, pets, photography, recipes, relationships, romance, volunteerism, yarn | 16 Comments

Fireflys Vintage Button ShopI enjoy shopping for buttons, picking out special buttons for a particular project.

I especially enjoy shopping for buttons now because it consists of grabbing a cup of tea and heading to the comfy sofa in our sitting room to sort through my treasure bowls and tins of vintage buttons (graciously gifted to me by Dorothy and Winnie, friends of ours at church).

There is a small oil painting I recently created of one of the vintage buttons in the photo above up for auction at eBay. Take a look, if only to see the painting and see if you can find the button from the painting in the photo above … that could be fun.

Fireflys Hand Knit Teddy Bear Sweater with Vintage ButtonsThis morning’s task was to find buttons to put on the teddy bear sweater of my own design I just finished knitting. The sweater isn’t anything particularly fancy. It was more of an exercise in getting into the swing of designing and knitting sweaters; a precursor to designing and knitting a sweater for myself.

Blu watched and followed my every move, giving me his opinion here and there. My teddy bears were on the fireplace mantle watching the process as well, wondering which bear would get the sweater. I could almost hear them saying, “Ooh, ooh … pick me, pick me!”

I decided to use three mix-matched buttons on the front button band, but I also decided to use two round leather-covered buttons to secure the collar, hopefully making the sweater look a little more masculine. That was necessary because I decided to give the sweater to D. L. Merrill, one of the larger Boyd’s Bears added to my collection by my children one Christmas.

FIreflys Teddy Bear Models his Hand Knit SweaterHe liked the sweater and was more than willing to sit for a photo shoot, joined by a number of little buddies. Blu was an excellent consultant on the shoot, but that almost goes without saying. (See photos of Blu helping with photo shoots at the I Live on a Farm website.)

The pattern for this teddy bear sweater will be available a little later in the week.

Yesterday was a cool, rainy day. We spent the entire afternoon cuddling, napping, and watching a bit of television. I also took the opportunity to work on one of the Gracious Parcels blankets. I’ve got six out of seven strips of seven 7″ squares sewn together. Tonight I will finish the last strip and over the next couple of days I’ll sew the strips together and one blanket will be ready. If I could set aside most of one day for hand sewing I could complete one blanket in a day, but I don’t ever have an entire day I can set aside for anything so I make time where I can.

Close up of Vintage Button PlacementFortunately, the Habitat for Humanity house we are building isn’t quite ready for the family to move in, so the blankets will be completed in time to be given as a house warming gift, in spite of my limited sewing time.

Knitting and sewing–even writing for that matter–are slower going these days because I now have a fifty-pound (and growing) puppy who prefers to be on my lap whenever I am sitting anywhere. He is soft, and warm, and full of love…very difficult to say no to. When I knit, he gets up on the sofa and lays right up against me with his head, and as many other parts of him as he can fit, on my lap. As I sewed squares together yesterday, he kept changing his position in an attempt to get himself onto the squares. He loves blankets and he must have known those squares were destined to be a blanket of some kind. It was an amusing challenge to work around him.

Gracious Parcels Spring 07 Blanket Number One in ProgressYesterday I also made a strawberry shortcake from a recipe of my Grandma Johnson’s which I have adapted to my way of baking. The problem with this “short” cake is that it tends to come out large. The shortcake itself is about fourteen inches in diameter after baking. By the time it is cut in half and layered with strawberries and whipped cream, it is a very magnificent looking dessert. I will post a recipe for my version of the shortcake later this week.

Other farm news is that the grasses and dandelions are growing so rapidly on the three acres of lawn around the farm house and barn that we have no choice but to get the tractor out and mow more than once a week. My husband also has to get over to our cottage, a few miles down the road, to mow that lawn as well. I help him with the mowing at the farm; I take care of the area back behind the willow tree in front of the corn field north of the barn, from the road over to the other corn field to the east of the house. I also take care of the large area of lawn all along the eastern corn field, between there and the trees by our driveway.

Being out on the tractor for a while a couple of times a week is a wonderful experience. I appreciate the fact that my husband accepts my help with the chore, and that he lets me use his favorite toy: the tractor. Seeing deep blue skies above our corn fields, the woods, the neighbor’s fields, and our farm is beautiful and serene. The warmth of the sun mixed with the inevitable cool spring breezes in the air feels good inside and out. I feel myself expanding and filling up the largeness of open space before me. Ahh, the calm happiness of open farmland.

Fireflys Strawberry ShortcakeBirds fly here and there, landing on tree stumps, limbs, chopped off cornstalks, and what-have-you watching me do my work. I can even hear some of their voices calling out as I pass by the trees out behind our barn. They seem very interested in the work I am doing and have quite a lot to say to each other–or perhaps to me–as I go.

On that note, I suppose I will end off for the morning. Hope you have a wonderful day, getting going on a wonderful week.

Thanks for stopping by.

~firefly

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.

Nothing.

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.

~firefly

Weathering the nor’easter

April 16, 2007 at 4:13 pm | Posted in biscuit recipes, country living, dogs, faith, family, food, free knitting patterns, gifts, knitted washrags, knitting, love, marriage, pets, photography, relationships, romance, yarn | 19 Comments

Firefly Finds a Fancy Birdie in her BasementMany of my readers live in in the Northeast, so I suppose many of us are huddled in our homes or offices today, weathering the big nor’easter that came up over the weekend.

I love that word: nor’easter. Couldn’t ever have used it in relation to my life until now. It has such a dramatic, romantic sound to it. Makes me feel as if I should be out by the sea waiting for a ship to come home carrying my love.

I walk along an old stone wall by the sea. My long, dark cape blows and whips behind me, Blu is by my side. We pace to and fro together. Blu is alert, I am determined … praying silently. The wind blows rain past the hood of my cape, onto my cheek, my hair, my ears. The ship is late, my heart dare not move from its position of absolute certainty he will come home. I mustn’t take a breath out of pace with the clear mental picture I hold onto that I will see him this day, that the sea will give him back to me once more. I search the horizon, squinting against stinging ice cold rain. All I find is deeper, darker clouds threatening …

Oh, but wait … he’s just a few miles away in the village, safely working at his computer while I am safely working at mine. Sharp wind blow rain beats against the window panes on either side of my desk, bringing me back to reality. Whimsy. I’m a writer, what can I say.

Fireflys HandKnit Washrag I began my day by taking Blu out for his second morning business walk (he goes out with my husband at 4:00 a.m., and I take him out again about 6:30). He was very professional, he knew exactly what was expected of him and he executed it with the swift efficiency of a dog well accustomed to … well, need I get graphic here?

Later, after tea and biscuits for me and Nutro kibbles for him, we sat together in our fireplace sitting area. I lit candles for extra mood effect, and enjoyed a couple of hours of copy editing for a client with Blu’s sweet head nestled in my lap and the sound of raindrops tapping on our windows. It was another of those moments when I just had to take some time to quietly look at my life, contemplating for a few moments the little things I am grateful for. How many times as I sat at home in Los Angeles I longed to live in a place where there would be storms of note, barns, peace, a sweet dog, and a fine husband.

A long sigh, “ahhhhhhh” moment.

It is a little awkward getting back to the business of this blog, after a couple of weeks of absence. Too much has happened in these few short days to relate in one blog. Blu was ill last week, which was very stressful for all three of us. He had eaten something untoward in the yard (evidently) and had a very upset digestive tract. It weakened him and aggravated the back injury he had suffered when abused in his first home. After a trip to the vet and about 48 hours of antibiotics, he surprised us one morning by suddenly being back to his happy, joyful, playful, nippy self. It was a beautiful thing. Going through this experience only makes us love and cherish him more.

Detail of Fireflys Handknit WashragI have completed, I believe, three more paintings while I’ve been “off the air”. One is about to end at auction at eBay … literally within about one hour of this post. Another was purchased already, but I have posted it at my One Painting a Day Blog. I hope you will take a look at it, because I love the way this particular painting glows.

There is also a painting which I painted in oil on an Italian marble tile. It is up for auction as well, along with another of my knitting Thistleonians. Even if you don’t have an interest in the auction you should at least take a look at the painting because it is pretty cool for it to be painted directly on a tile. I have four more paintings on marble tile I am working on, and will show photos as they come off the easel.

Featured in the photograph at the top of today’s post is a handsome little character my husband and I found in a box in the basement labeled “Easter Decorations” by his mother. The box was old, dusty … hadn’t been opened for many, many years from the looks of it.

I eagerly awaited the opening of the box the day before Easter. Inside we mostly found plastic eggs and plastic grass. There was one ceramic bunny with a broken/repaired ear and the charming dandy of a fellow you see in the photo at the top of today’s post. I couldn’t share a photograph of him with you sooner because of that unfortunate Internet connection problem we had Easter weekend, but wanted to include it today before Easter is too far behind us for the photo to be relevant.

Fireflys Knitting Thistleonian EmmaIn today’s photos you will also see a photo of my latest handknit “mystery” project. It is a washrag made of worsted weight 100% cotton yarn on U.S. size 6 needles. I couldn’t find my little book where I wrote down the directions as I made it up, so I will have to postpone sharing the pattern with you until Thursday of this week. I like this washrag because it is nice and heavy, and the stitch has a good texture to it so it should handle dishes very nicely. It is 10 1/4″ square. I haven’t blocked it, so I pinned it to the pillow you see it on so you could get a good look at it.

Sweet little Emma, the knitting Thistleonian, has taken quite an interest in my knitting lately. She has decided she is ready to go out on an adventure, so I agreed to put her up for auction at eBay so she could find herself a new home. She is a sweety, and I will miss her. However, she will bring good fortune and excellent mojo to whomsoever she next lives with and I am more than willing to share.

The day is getting away from me now, and I have many other tasks to attend to. If you are in a stormy region, stay warm and safe. I will be thinking of you over my next cup of tea down by the fireplace with Blu, waiting for “the Daddy” (as he is now known between Blu and I) to come home.

~firefly

Copyright © 2007 J.L. Fleckenstein ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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