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!


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,

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