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!


Baby’s got skills

May 27, 2008 at 6:36 pm | Posted in art, baby, blogging, cats, country life, country living, dating, dogs, faith, family, free knitting patterns, gifts, hat patterns, knitting, knitting for babies, Life, love, marriage, pets, photography, relationships, romance, stockings, yarn | 12 Comments

Dear little Yang KittenA couple weeks ago a friend phoned to ask me if I could use some of her barn wood. She and her husband were refurbishing some of the buildings on their farm and there was a stack of lumber from a section of barn that had to be rebuilt. She said they were going to burn it, but recalled that I had said I could use some old barn wood for making picture frames.

Two days later I pulled in at her place, meeting up with her and her husband to take a look at the pile of wood. It was a chilly spring day with gray clouds and a still-wet ground from an early morning shower of cold rain. As we stood there chatting, all three of us looking down at the pile of lumber I recalled the second email I ever received from my husband, back when we were first getting to know each other.

It was a Sunday afternoon toward the end of January, and he related to me the morning’s events including his having gone to a friends house who needed him to rebuild some piece of equipment (my husband is a mechanical engineer). He told me about spending a couple of hours in the drizzling rain, looking at a poking through an old pile of junk at his friend’s house to see what odds and ends might be there that could be used in the rebuild.

That was one of the very first clues I had that this would be the man I would marry.

You see, from my own childhood memories and life time of living a life influenced quietly by my country roots, there has always been this thing with my father, my brothers, my sister, me … you set things aside that you might be able to make use of later. Not as pack rats. No, this is a different thing. This is resourcefulness.

You put things aside and at some later time when you want to make something or repair something you go to your “store”. What do I have on hand I could use to make that with, or fix that with?

Sweet little Yin kittenI am not a person who has trouble letting go of things I no longer need, I am not a pack rat by any means. I am, however, a person who loves to make things and so when I look at piles of wood or “junk”, twigs in the yard, dried thistles growing in a field, scraps of wood siding that have been blown off our old barn, etc. I think to myself, “Hmm … I think I could make something with this,” and so I put it aside.

I have had the experience of both living in the country where you don’t just up and run off to the store every time you need something, and I have lived in the city where you did do just that. I do know what it is to be both ways.

One of the reasons I wanted to return to the country was that I wanted to live that simpler life again where you didn’t just up and run off to the store. Where you make do with what you have on hand, you let things in the environment stir your imagination rather than being entertained by bright lights and movie theaters and so forth.

When my husband told me about standing around in the drizzle for two hours on a cold January morning looking through and gazing at a junk pile, getting ideas of how to solve a problem by using whatever was on hand, I knew he was someone I wanted to know. As I learned more about him I found out that when he needs something he is more likely to create an invention, a work-around, a gadget, etc. to serve the purpose at hand.

Blu is wondering why there are little fuzzy balls of kitten running around the houseI loved that, because that is how my father has always been. You know, for all of the years I lived with my parents from childhood to adulthood, they always had the same washing machine. Anytime anything happened to it, Dad would fix it. Dad could fix it. He had skills along with the wit and imagination people who grow up on farms must have in order to survive. Mom is like that too. If she wasn’t, and if they weren’t, I don’t know how they would have raised five kids the way they did.

I once knew someone a little too well whose mantra was, “We’ll just buy a new one.” That’s an expensive way to live, and the expense is in a lot more than just the actual dollars you spend.

So, gas prices have gone up and other things have become more expensive as a result. All true. For me though, the changing economy is not something that I look at negatively, even though I know I could. My wish for us all is that we take this as an opportunity to learn new skills of resourcefulness, to pass along a love of resourcefulness to our children and their children.

Something is broken, how I could I learn to fix it myself? I need a new this, that, or the other thing … how could I make that or something like it myself? Someone needs a gift, what could I make that would give that person an “Ah, ha” moment? I’m bored.

Emily Knitted Hat for a Baby Girl Side ViewWell, we have a new pile of lumber from someone else’s old barn stacked up in the back of our barn. The time will come when we will use some of it to make some picture frames, maybe a bench, or … who knows. It will be fun figuring it out.

My husband has very cool skills, skills that I appreciate profoundly. When I need something, he is likely to come up with a clever way of building or rigging something to suit my needs. We want to go bicycling on the Erie Canal bike path, but we need to be able to take Blu with us. So my husband came up with a cool solution. We won a toddler stroller/trailer on eBay and this weekend my husband put his ingenuity and skills to work transforming it into a trailer with a special cage top to accommodate Blu (I’ll photograph it someone soon with Blu in it so you can see how cool it is).

I loved the fact that we needed something that wasn’t really available and he came up with a way to take something that did exist and turn it into the thing we needed.

When I needed a solution for hanging my paintings at Zambistro Restuarant in a way that would not damage their walls, he invented a system for hanging them that is completely unobtrusive and does not require any holes whatsoever in their walls, mouldings, or ceilings. How cool is that? Very cool, honey.

Thus the title of today’s blog: Baby’s got skills.

Tomorrow is his birthday, so today and this week I especially celebrate him.

Emily Knitted Hat for a Baby Girl Top ViewBefore I end off, I just wanted to let you know I have published the Emily Sweater Pattern, along with the pattern for a hat to match. I am sharing the hat pattern for free; the sweater with matching hat pattern together are for sale in both a print version and online download at my website or in my Etsy Store. The pattern is twelve pages with detailed tips, instructions, and closeup shots of stitches, etc. It also includes a full-color cover and two personal journal pages for recording your own project details and photos.

By mid-June I will be publishing at least three Christmas Stocking patterns, so be on the look out for those.

Hope you have a wonderful week!

Best wishes,

The Yin Yang of Spring

May 15, 2008 at 5:49 pm | Posted in art, baby, blogging, cats, country life, country living, faith, family, flowers, free knitting patterns, gardening, gifts, hat patterns, knitting, knitting for babies, Life, love, marriage, pets, photography, relationships, romance, summer, yarn | 21 Comments

Sweet little Yin the kitten on Fireflys farmYin Yang. That’s what we named Cat Cat’s two kittens because there are just the two of them and they cuddle together in a perfect yin yang. Yin is the darker kitten, Yang the one with more white on his/her body.

They are still very young but have just this week begun to take tiny wobbling little steps. They recognize me and Yin in particular seems to quite enjoy being up on my shoulder, nuzzled in my long hair.

Mostly they spend their time sleeping or nursing and almost always cuddling with each other and their sweet mother, Cat Cat. They get all of Cat Cat’s milk to themselves, so they are the fattest little kittens you can imagine. Yang’s tiny little tubby tummy nearly touches the floor when he shakily “walks” along.

Oh, they are just too cute, too scrumptious almost for words.

Dear little Yang kitten on Fireflys farmWhen we first realized Cat Cat was going to have a litter of kittens, we started telling friends and neighbors (anyone who would listen) that we would have kittens come spring and would be looking for good homes for them. Now that we see there are only the two of them, and with Cat Cat being such an outstandingly good natured kitty, we have decided both Yin and Yang should stay here on our farm with their mother. They will all three be our “magic” cats. How fun is that?

I love watching them as they have first begun to be aware of an environment just a wee bit larger than that created by their own bodies and that of their mother. When they first began to lift up their little itty heads looking around in fits and starts, heads tilted ever so slightly to denote a sense of curiosity, I felt a wonderful thrill of “life” rushing through me.

I find it interesting how just the tiniest little tilt of the head creates the definitive body language that communicates to an observer … curiosity. Interest. Awareness.

Pink tulips from fireflys cottageTheir growing sense of awareness born of kitten curiosity reminds me of the evolution of spring itself. Just this morning as I looked out the living room windows toward the river I felt almost as if I were in a lush jungle, the growth out there is so full and varied by now, but still the tender, pale green of early growth.

Wow. Much as I love winter, and I do love winter, this thing of springtime with everything waking up and living and breathing and growing in a progression that is both thunderous and subtle simultaneously, well it is a thing I would never want to miss. I do cherish each season in and of itself, just as I cherish the stages of life — each one separately wondrous in its own right.

Of course, flowers play a big part in that which I particularly cherish about spring. A couple of weeks ago I spotted some pale purple tulips growing on the property by our cottage, five miles down the road from the farm. Although it is only those few five miles away, we don’t get over that way very often so I cut the tulips (there were about a dozen) and brought them home to enjoy inside, in a vase by a sunny window.

Emily sweater a hand knit sweater designed by fireflyI was going to photograph them, but became busy and missed doing it in time. The morning I believed to be my last chance to photograph them, I found all of their petals laying on the table. So sad. I gathered the petals and put them in a box to dry in a cupboard. Then I went back over the cottage where I found pink tulips beginning to bloom, so I cut those and brought them home.

The pink tulips I did photograph in time, and I plan to use them as models for at least two paintings. Both the purple and the pink tulips were planted years ago by my mother-in-law at the cottage, which she refers to as “the place in the country”. It amuses me, because she lived in a small town, but always referred to the cottage as “the place in the country”. I can see why it would have been that to her, after all, she grew up in Buffalo and moved to a small town when she got married. To her, the cottage by the river, a good hour away from the small town where she and her husband raised my husband and his sister, was definitely out in the country.

By Los Angeles standards, the small town she lived in would be a place in the country, but her persepective was quite different.

Emily sweater stitch pattern detailNow she is nearly 93 years old, confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home and has no short term memory. She does speak from time to time about “the place in the country” and how close she felt to God whenever she was there. Occasionally she reminisces about planting flowers there, and I know she is recalling the tulips or daffodils or peonies she planted that grow there to this day. And here I am, a newcomer to a world she was long ago deeply familiar with and I get to see and enjoy some of the beauty she left behind, flowers which symbolize the love she had for the place and the time she spent there.

I will memorialize her flowers with my paintings and photography, and we are going to move them from the cottage over here to the farm. We have to do that, because they grow beside of an old dilapidated farm house by the cottage, and the farm house is going to be demolished. We want to move her flowers here to the farm to preserve them and ensure they continue to be enjoyed for years to come.

In other news … just this morning I completed the sweater I was knitting for our pastor’s little baby girl. I loved this project for a number of reasons. First of all, the baby girl who will wear it is very, very sweet natured. I have held her during church services a couple of times and she just smiles and winks and sleeps and squeezes my finger in her tiny little hand. So, of course I thought of her as I knitted this sweater for her.

Buttons and stitches detail on the Emily hand knit sweater by fireflyAnother reason I love the project is because of the stitch pattern I chose, “Ears of Corn”. That seemed appropriate for a baby born in a farming community where corn is such a prevalent crop. I love how the white cotton yarn showed off the stitch pattern so well.

I look forward to publishing the pattern in the next few days because it will be a very economical project for those who need to be economical in their knitting choices these days. I bought a two pound cone of high quality, beautiful white cotton yarn for just under $7. It was plenty of yarn for the sweater and will also be enough to make a matching hat and booties. I’m sure there will be more left after that as well.

[27 May 08 Update: The Emily Sweater and Matching Hat pattern are now available in my Etsy Store. A simplified version of the hat pattern is also available for free at ILiveonaFarm.com.]

For practical as well as decorative purposes, I used half a dozen bright pink buttons from the “stash” given to me by my friend Dorothy and the lady I lovingly call “Winny of the Buttons”, a stash I have immortalized by referring to it so many times in my blog. (Five-hundred years from now, will this blog still exist on the Internet?)

There were a total of eight of those buttons, so I saved two to use as a decoration on the matching hat whenever I get that made.

Dear little Yin the kitten on fireflys farmI recommend the “Ears of Corn” stitch pattern, because it is a very enjoyable and lovely little pattern to knit. Hope you enjoy my photos of the finished sweater and details.

Last week I mentioned my having opened an Etsy store; I have knitting patterns there as well as note cards and original oil paintings. I would like to share a few nice comments I received from recent customers (notecards and patterns):

“More than I expected the photos are simply gorgeous and delivery was quick!! Thank you!!” ~ dogquilter

“I am SO happy with the note cards. The pictures on your site don’t do them justice. You are an excellent photographer, along with your many other talents.” ~ Beverly K.

“I’ve been looking for a pattern like this for a long time. It is a hat I know my husband will wear! The hat and scarf are very classic. The extra pages are a nice touch!” ~ bonvino

“I loved these little prints on your blog. The cards are fantastic. I’ll be keeping one of each for me and sharing your art with my friends with the others … a gorgeous product!” ~ radarkaty

“I just received the Biscuit Blanket pattern and wanted to let you know how tickled I am! The presentation is beautiful and the extra pattern, recipe and project note pages are incredibly thoughtful! I can’t wait to get several of these made and on hold for Christmas gifts!!” ~ Filyaw

On that note, I will end off here and head for my studio where I intend to draw those pink tulips as well as some other flowers I will be painting over the next few weeks.

Wherever you are headed, I wish you well on the journey and the season.


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