The Advent of Santa: Days 7 through 15

December 15, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Posted in art, Christmas, country life, country living, faith, family, Holidays, humor, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, relationships, Santa Claus, September 11, shopping | 22 Comments
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My Advent of Santa continues, though I slipped up for several days in a row. I do that with advent calenders every time I attempt to follow them. I start out with the most sincere intentions that this will be the year when I finally follow the advent every single day. Inevitably I reach some critical point in the holiday season when the advent calendar is missed first one day, then another, and then several in a row as I focus my attention on completing various Christmas projects.

Without further explanation, I offer you the following assortment of Santas, nine in a row for today (see how bad I am). All but the two really little Santas are from my children, given to me as they moved through their teenage years into early adulthood. They are especially dear to me, of course.  These Santas reflect my their personalities, sense of humor, and the close bond we have.

This is one of the tiny ones, which I bought for myself I think at a Joann’s Fabric store many years ago.

This one they bought for me Christmas 2001, after September 11th.  They chose him because he is a Fireman Santa.

Another of the tiny ones I bought for myself.

They gave me this one the year before I moved to New York.

This is the first Santa they ever bought me, back when they were still kids.

A bobble-head Santa they bought me the year I moved to New York.

A Boyd’s Bears Santa they bought me because I love and collect Boyds Bears.

This one they gave me because he is goofy, and sometimes I am as well.

Happy Holidays!


The Story of Christmas Joe

December 21, 2006 at 2:02 pm | Posted in charity knitting, Christmas, cookie recipes, country living, faith, family, fiction, food, Holidays, humor, knitting, love, recipes, relationships, stockings, yarn | 14 Comments

Christmas in My Pocket

“Christmas in My Pocket”
The story of Christmas Joe and a particular important experience.

by J. L. Fleckenstein Christmas 2004

And so it was Christmas.

And, there I sat … all alone, on a stoop, outside of the remains of what used to be the inn where most of my life I ate, drank, and made merry with my good friends.

Friends. That was something I still had and was glad for it.

But, the inn, much of the town, my home, the fields … all were gone. There had been a bad flood and about half of us lost pretty much everything we owned. Luckily, no lives had been lost but many were pretty close to ruin.

The folks who had been left with nothing were taken in by those whose homes were left standing; but it was the loss of the fields that really hit the entire town terribly hard. Some folks were already talking about moving away. ‘Course, they said it would only be temporary; they’d make a little money and come back as soon as they saved enough up to rebuild. That wasn’t likely to happen though. Usually, once someone moves away from a little place like this, they don’t ever look back; the tracks of their footsteps disappear entirely leaving no sign in their hearts of any way or any reason to come back home.

Thinking about it all as I sat there on the stoop just made me let out a sigh as my shoulders sagged a bit further toward the ground.

Well sir, I was sitting there feeling a bit sorry for myself, which I hate to admit but it is the truth. You see, like I said at the start, it was Christmas and I wanted to give something to my friends but I had nothing, nothing at all. The only “belongings” I had been able to find in the place where my house once stood was some pieces of broken glass from my windows and a handful of tangled, thick wire of some kind.

It might sound kind o’ silly (and it probably is) but I carried the broken pieces of glass and tangled wire around in my pockets all the time. It was all I owned at that point, and though it wasn’t much, it was comforting somehow to reach in my pockets and feel something there. I never looked at them after that first day, because if I looked at them I would see it was little scraps of junk. As long as I didn’t look, and just felt them in my pockets, I could pretend there was something in there of value, something left for me.

I was having me a real bad case of feeling discouraged and it didn’t feel very good. I’d been carrying that bad feeling around with me for a long time, but it was getting worse now that Christmas had arrived. It felt like I was falling into some big black hole in my heart when the next thing I knew, this white haired man came walking down the road, heading my way.

He was wearing a nice warm coat, good looking boots and a hat and he just looked plump and happy, like he was doing okay. He came right up to me smiling like we were good friends and said, “Why hello there Joe, how are you doing today?”

Don’t ask me why, but I just fell right into answering him as if we were old friends, without really thinking anything about it. “Oh, I’m doing okay I guess. How about you?”

“Why, thank you so much for asking. I’m doing fine, just fine.” And he smiled in this real content sort of way and for some strange reason it made me smile a little bit too, even though I really didn’t think I had anything to be smiling about. When I noticed I was smiling, it didn’t feel right because I hadn’t smiled in quite some time. So, I sort of fought against it a bit, and I think my face started twisting around and I was probably making some strange faces or something, because that man, he started looking at me in a real curious way, turning his head this way and that … and I just went right on trying to make that little smile go away.

Well, all that effort sort of wore me out, so I just gave in and let the little smile go right on ahead and show on my face, unnatural though it was. The strange thing was, if you want to know the truth, once I quit fighting it, it sort of felt good to smile a little and then it felt natural and then I felt like it was okay, and that maybe I must have something to smile about, even though I hadn’t figured it out yet.

Okay, well, to get on with my story here … the man, he said to me, “Joe, when I was walking up to you, you looked as if you had something important on your mind. Is there anything I could help you with?”

I looked into his eyes and I could see he was a friend, and I just couldn’t really stop myself from telling him about my problem. I told him I was feeling pretty down with it being Christmas and all, and for the first time in my life I had nothing to give my friends, on account of having lost everything in that flood. He nodded with much understanding, listening carefully to everything I had to say. When I was finished, he said, “Yes, yes … I see now. Hmm. That is very interesting, very interesting indeed.”

Well now, that puzzled me, I just have to tell you flat out. It was not at all what I was expecting him to say after hearing what a terrible position I was in.

“So, Joe, you have nothing, nothing at all, is that right?” and his eyes kind of flickered down at my pockets and then I was sure I saw some kind of a little twinkle dash across his face or something.

“What? Oh, oh well … I do have some, ah, things … a couple of little stupid things in my pockets,” I explained to him and then I started feeling really embarrassed about the “precious” pieces of junk I’d been carrying around.

I pulled my hands out of my pockets real fast and held them down tight at my sides, trying to sort of cover up my pockets and act like there wasn’t really anything there.

With a tender, reassuring smile he said, “Oh, come on now Joe. We’re old friends, aren’t we?”

I thought about that for a minute. I couldn’t rightly remember being his old friend, but I couldn’t remember not being his old friend either, so I just kind of stared back at him with a blank look on my face. But then I started to have an odd sort of melting feeling all inside me, and the next thing I knew I was reaching in my pockets and pulling out my two handfuls of junk.

Well, I’ll tell you, he got real excited about that time. He got this big ol’ smile on his face and said, “How beautiful, where did you get such treasures?”

“Huh!?”, and I looked down at my hands too. Well now, there really isn’t much explanation for it. There, in my hands, where there ought to be a couple little piles of junk I saw two little boxes made of frosted glass held together with real fine melted metal of some kind, sort of like a stained glass window but made into a box.

Gasping for air and pretty much jumping right out of my skin, I said, “Whoa, whoa … what the heck?”

He didn’t seem to even notice I was close to having a fit, and all he said was, “My, my, my Joe. You are quite an artist aren’t you. Why, those are the most beautiful little gems I have seen in a very long time. Is this what you are giving your friends for Christmas?”

“Well, I … I … well, I … I ah, I guess I could do that.” I was truly and completely amazed as I held the little boxes up and looked at all of their fine details. They were truly grand, grand little Christmas boxes. Tears of happiness started burning the heck out of my eyes.

And then, something occurred to me right then and there. I looked up real quick at that man and I leaned forward and squinted and looked right into his eyes. And he leaned forward and squinted and looked right back at me. And we just stood there leaning and squinting that way for a couple of minutes until I said this: “You’re him, aren’t you?”

“Who?” he said right back, straightening himself up.

I straightened up too and said, “You know who. HIM.”

“Joe I don’t have even the slightest idea who or what you’re talking about.”

“Come on, I know it’s you. Saint Nick, the Big ‘Claus’ man … S-a-n-t-a.” And I looked at him in a very clever, satisfied way, rocking up and down a couple of times on my heels to really make my point.

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“No, I am not.” He looked at me in this real tough, strong sort of way which I have to say did make me shut up for a minute.

“Okay, well then how in the heck did these boxes come to be?” I asked.

“Why don’t you tell me,” he said softly.

“Look, I’ve just had some old junk in my pockets for a while now,” and I told him all about finding the pieces of broken glass and the tangled wire where my house used to be and how I had carried them around in my pockets but never took them out to look at them, and just kept fiddling with them and pretending they were something really valuable so I wouldn’t feel so bad.

Suddenly he said, “Ah ha, that’s it!”

“That’s what?”

“That’s IT!”

“It’s what?”

Chuckling he said, “Well, you did it. You made them. You just said so yourself.” Now that sounded like a very peculiar explanation to me (doesn’t it sound peculiar to you hearing it right now?) and I wasn’t quite sure I could abide by it. I stopped talking and just thought about it for a little while. Then I sat back down on the stoop and thought some more, and he sat down and watched me think for a while.

After a bit I said, “Now, for me to believe that’s what happened, why I’d have to believe in … magic.” I whispered that last word and sort of looked around to see if anyone was listening in on us.

Whispering back he said, “Yes, well … you do seem to.”

“Seem to what?”

“Believe in m-a-g-i-c. I mean, just a little while ago you did accuse me of being … well, you know who,” and he sort of raised his eyebrows up a couple of times to rub it in.

“Hmm,” I thought to myself.,

“Hmm, hmm, hmm,” more thinking, “is this something I can agree to?” He did have a point. I mean, I know I’m a grown man and all, and I do believe in Santa. Everybody I know believes in Santa … and I had to admit that Santa is definitely magic.

I looked at him again and squinted and looked real close at him, but this time he just laughed, patted me on the shoulder and shook his head as if I was hopeless.

Well, I got sort o’ distracted at that point, because I was starting to feel a lot better. It really was starting to feel like Christmas and I had two wonderful gifts I could give my friends. And, as long as I was getting the hang of believing in magic, I came to realize I had Christmas in my pocket … it was there whenever I needed it. All it took was a little imagination.

That jolly old man and I parted company about then. He said he had some things to take care of and thought he ought to leave. Without even stopping to think about it, I reached out and gave him a big hug and said, “Merry Christmas!”

He hugged me back with a big, warm bear of a hug that left me feeling safe and secure and, well, sort of magical all inside and out.

As he started to walk away, he turned back and said, “Oh, Joe my friend, I almost forgot. I have something for you. That’s why I came over this way today.”

“Something for me?” I smiled.

“Oh yes, of course. You didn’t think I would forget my old friend Joe at Christmas, now did you?”

And with that he pulled a little package out of his pocket and said, “Here you go Joe. Have a warm Christmas memory on me.” As he handed it to me, his eyes twinkled again, he smiled a smile at me through his nice fluffy white beard and mustache and gave another hearty laugh.

Now, I have to tell you, when he laughed, it really did look like that stomach of his moved like a bowl full of jelly. And he did have this very merry sort of way about him, and it did seem like I had known him all my life, even though I couldn’t quite remember him exactly. But, I’m not an argue-er, and if the man said he wasn’t Santa, who was I to tell him he was wrong?

Oh, and do you want to know what was in that little package he gave me? Some big fluffy marshmallows, hot cocoa mix and a few cookies. That night I shared my marshmallows, hot cocoa, and cookies with my friends when we were all exchanging Christmas presents. It is a truly good, warm Christmas memory.

So, now it’s sort of become this little tradition of mine to tell people my story and give them a few marshmallows, hot cocoa and cookies.

And so, it is Christmas.

Have a warm, Christmas memory on me … a guy named Christmas Joe.

Copyright © 2004, 2006 J.L. Fleckenstein ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Creating a prefect Christmas

December 13, 2006 at 3:17 pm | Posted in charity knitting, Christmas, country living, dating, faith, family, free knitting patterns, Holidays, humor, knitting, love, romance | 17 Comments

Fireflys Teddy Bear TreeThat’s what we dream of each year … isn’t it? And, what is the perfect Christmas?

Is it the vision on a television commercial, or is it reflected in a perfectly decorated set on a movie? Is it the scene you see drawn and painted on Christmas cards? Perhaps a vision of Christmas from when you were a child and everything still felt like exquisite and unchallenged magic?

Side Bar: My eBook, “A Christmas Story” is available now to download. You may click on the picture at the right, or follow this link to get to the download page for more information about the story, the price, etc. Please remember that at least 50% of the proceeds from the eBook sales will be donated to our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. The money donated from the sale of this eBook–100% of it–will go directly into the funds needed for the house that is currently under construction for a local single mother and her three children.  You can either download the book online then print it out, or order a CD to be shipped to you.

Back to the Blog: Each year there is a plan that begins forming in the mind. The gifts, the food, the decorations, the activities, the smiles, the joy, the … perfection.

When I was in my twenties, a young mother, an awkward housekeeper, an aspiring writer … the dream would begin forming sometime in early fall. It would grow, and I would work, and the dream glistened and called me forward. The closer to Christmas it was, the harder I worked at bringing the elements of my physical world into alignment with my golden city dream, sitting on the glowing top of Mt. Imagination. Stress would inevitably take hold, often I would get sick just before the holidays because of the stress and the worries and the overspending and the pressure of it all.

Fireflys Teddy Bear Tree detailChristmas would come, many things would yet be undone. Of course the holiday was beautiful and sweet, but bittersweet a little bit too because of the stress, the flu, the breads that were never mixed and baked, the extra special touches to the presents that never quite materialized. The golden glitter of the perfection I had dreamed was sprinkled here and there across reality, but did not fully adorn the picture as I had dreamed it would.

What is amazing to me, looking back on it, is that it took me so many years to realize that was how it worked and that, the truth be told, it’s all good. It’s all cool. There was no need to stress, ever. Not ever.

The truth of the matter is, at least for me, I know for a fact that I will not ever reach the summit of Mt. Imagination when it comes to Christmas. Christmas has a deadline, each and every year. And I have a BIG, BIG imagination. My Mt. Imagination is tall and the fact of the matter is, I get tired sometimes and have always had a lot of other responsibilities than just this Christmas season game.

So, one year I realized I could just let go. I would dream my dreams of the perfect Christmas, but I knew the mathematical probability of my ever pulling it off was very slim. Slim indeed.

However, I could dream the perfect Christmas up in my mind, and I could add to it all I wanted. After all, Mt. Imagination is free to become and be whatever you can make it. And I say, make it big and grand because you need to aim high. Not just at Christmas, but in life. Aim wildly high. Wildly high.

Your aim at Mt. Imagination will pull you along. And here is the secret I have discovered … enjoy the road along the way. Relish and delight in the obstructions and the glories and the momentary accomplishments and details and don’t forget to look at the single individual flower growing by the side of the road along the way. The details of the journey are grand. They are in fact grander than we give them credit for I believe.

Fireflys Grapevine WreathWhen I share my photos with you and I tell you of the beauty of the cornfields, the temperature, the cottage, the rain, the knitting, the food … I’m just sharing my love of the details with you. I believe key to my own personal journey and finding this lovely place along the way is that I came to feel such utter and sincere and simple, clean gratitude for it all. I even came, finally, to love and appreciate Los Angeles a bit before I left to come here. I had resisted Los Angeles for many years; resented Los Angeles for tangling me up in its twisted vines and brown grasses for so many years, lost in details I didn’t much care for.

But, I did come to love and appreciate Los Angeles and Southern California there at the end and I was glad it had come to that, because really so much of the things I am grateful for in life happened in Los Angeles. That’s where we were cowboys, where my children were born, where my family (mother, father, brothers, sister) shared the best, the very best years of our lives together.

So, how do I create a perfect Christmas now? I dream, just as before. I picture it all perfect in my mind and I build Mt. Imagination up to and beyond the clouds. And then I relax and start creating. Whatever I can manage to do within a sane budget and without making myself or those around me crazy, I do. And, I am willing to let go of any number of things that are very nice dreams, but are not make-break points in the creation of a perfect Christmas.

To create a truly perfect Christmas this is what I do: as I create, as I work on decorations, or food, or gifts, or stories I consider and reconsider the true meaning of Christmas. Because Christmas isn’t in any of those details anyway. The Whos down in Whoville had it right: it is all within us and what we create together and it is all about love. Brotherly love, love for mankind, generosity in spirit, kindness of heart and temper. Smiles, touches, gladness. It is about the healing touch that someone named Jesus Christ brought to a troubled planet a little over 2,000 years ago. No matter who or what Jesus Christ was or is in your own opinion, he did bring a healing touch to this planet. Man, prophet, or son of God he brought a much needed healing touch that left a profound and ever growing mark upon our world. We could use that touch today and today we each have the capacity to deliver that healing touch unto each other. That’s Christmas, in its perfection.

I was planning on telling you this morning about my teddy bear tree. It is a creative solution to a problem. For me, Christmas trees have always been a very important part of our Christmas celebration. Large, live, beautiful trees bedecked with ornaments made by hand, ribbons, popcorn, etc. For my husband, not so. He lived here on this farm for a long time by himself and for the past nine years did not set up a Christmas tree. He doesn’t like the idea of purchasing a cut tree which is what I have always done. We agreed early on I would compromise with him and we would have an artificial tree. He had one stored in a closet that he had not looked at in many years.

When he got it out the other day, it wasn’t what he remembered and it wasn’t what I expected. It was smaller than I had hoped, and more artificial looking than he remembered. It was actually a little depressing for me when I saw it, and I struggled with what to do. I didn’t want to create a problem with my dear husband, but the tree was a bit of a culture shock to me. I felt a bit like Charlie Brown’s little sister when she is out in the pumpkin patch with Linus on Halloween.

So, I did the only logical thing a woman can do at a time like that. I took a nap. A long, long nap.

When I got up we talked about the tree and as it turns out we both agreed it wasn’t what we wanted. I told him I was willing to try to work with it and see what I could do, and he said he was willing for us to buy a very nice, large, scrumptious looking artificial tree. Still, I wanted to try to create a feeling of love for that little tree. Even though it was artificial, it just seemed wrong to reject it in my mind the way I did. I literally felt bad for the little thing.

As it turns out, my sister-in-law has an “extra” artificial tree that is large and plush and so forth and we are going to use that this year, rather than the littler one we were struggling with. My husband offered to take the littler tree upstairs for me to use in my “teddy bear” area. I haven’t told you about my teddy bear area yet.

Fireflys Teddy Bear Tree detailBefore I met my husband face-to-face, we already knew we were getting married and had discussions about the house and what we might do with it, how we would create it into a home for the two of us, etc. He told me about a little landing at the top of the stairs that he thought would be a good place for my teddy bear and miniature furniture collection. Though most of my belongings are still in Los Angeles in storage, I did ship my teddy bears and some of my miniature furniture here just before we got married.

Last night I put lights on it, and as I was arranging my teddy bears around it, I started putting teddy bears in it. And soon it was the center piece of a glowing, warm, and perfect Christmas setting. When my parents and son are here this Christmas, that is what they will see when they come upstairs to go to bed at night. So, the little tree that wasn’t quite right as it turns out is just perfect.

And, life continues to be beautiful. But, I have to say, I do have a hand in making it so. This incident with the little tree could have become a real “incident” if it weren’t addressed with love, affection, and regard by both of us.

The spirit of Christmas reigns and it is perfect in its imperfection.

Here’s wishing you a perfect day.


P.S. The wreath is one I made from grapevines that were growing on our barn, pinecones gathered from our yard, and other ingredients provided by dear friends and loved ones nearby.

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