I Love New York

May 7, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Posted in art, blogging, country life, country living, dating, family, flowers, free knitting patterns, gardening, knitting, Life, love, marriage, Mother's Day, photography, relationships, romance, socks, travel, yarn | 22 Comments
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Wouldn’t it be nice to sit down together, have a cup o’ joe, iced perhaps, and chat about a thing or two. Shall we sit out on the porch, or would you like to come inside?

From inside we can look out across the road at the trees growing along the bank of the river. They, like everything else around here right now, are alive with the early yellow-green of spring leafing nearly fully engulfing their swaying branches. The lawn is also vibrant with that yellow-green of spring grass, decorated with perfectly shaped healthy dandelions scattered throughout it. The willow, our grand willow as I like to call her, is plump with new leaves as she sways gently in rhythm with the breeze.

Come, sit with me on the porch to enjoy not only your cup o’, but the sounds of spring as well. As we sit and sip together, you will hear the wonderful voices of many different song birds and flights of Canadian geese coursing by at times. At times you will hear the river flowing softly down below and at other times you will hear the gentle rustling of millions of leaves as the inevitable spring breezes and winds ebb and flow. Isn’t it all so lovely.

The flowering trees here at our place and all over the area where we live were loaded down with an ample supply of blossoms this year, indicating it seems that they all enjoyed the early spring weather. Our crab apple tree was glorious with her heavy load of crimson blossoms that faded to a lovely, deep pink before falling to the ground in a colorful springtime carpet.

Our lilac tree is in full bloom today with purple blossoms reaching high into the sky, some dipping lower to the ground. The fragrance is so intense you can smell it even if standing twenty five feet or more away in the open lawn.

There is a deep sense of peace and satisfaction I get when strolling about the yard this time of year. Although I love the cold of winter and the beauty of snow, there is a precious feeling of comfort that arrives with the warmth and colors of spring. This is the changing of the seasons I so longed for when I was living in Los Angeles; the marking of time through distinct and delicious changes in season is ingrained somewhere deep inside me and I could never feel at home living without it.

I have to say this– though I never would have thought I would–I love New York.

It is such a surprise to find that New York was the home I yearned for, not NYC, but New York the state. I longed to live in the country, in a rural setting, with the changing of the seasons, a brief and tolerable summer, lots of snow, barns a plenty, and good down-to-earth people to live in harmony with. New York is all those things and more.  I know that now after living here for four years.

My husband and I just celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary, and Sunday will mark my fourth anniversary of living on the farm. Four years ago when we arrived “home” from our honeymoon, I sat out there on the back stoop watching my new husband mow the lawn on his tractor and waved to him as he passed in front of the barn. It was a strange little moment back then, to sit there a little bit stunned by my change in circumstances and really having the first opportunity to sit and think about what I had just done.

I had married a man I met online only three months earlier, I left behind almost everything I owned and drove across the country from Los Angeles to rural upstate western New York and landed on a farm … with a husband … on a tractor … and a barn. Up until that moment when I was sitting there on the stoop everything had been such a whirlwind that none of it had really sunk in. That was the first quiet moment by myself, and it just started dawning on me and I said the words in my head, “I live on a farm. I live on a farm and my husband drives a tractor.”

Now, four years later, it is still remarkable to think about. We are so very fortunate that it all has worked out, and that we are even better for each other than we thought we would be. I know things don’t always work out that way for people, but it did for us and we both continue to be grateful on a daily basis that we were touched by the grace of God and found each other and had the courage to make the decisions we made, seemingly in haste, that brought our lives together.

It is strange also how this blog has become such an integral part our story, our lives. I started writing it just about three months after I arrived at the farm and it quickly became a part of my work-a-day life. There is always this on-going dialogue with my readers even when I am not actually writing. Whenever I see beautiful, interesting, intriguing, and new things in my life, I think of how I would write about it so as to share it all with you, dear reader. You are my friend, and I always want to share whatever is happening in my life with you and the many others who open up my blog for a read and a chat.

And speaking of you, I have something exciting for you if you are into knitting, which many of my readers are. I have been working in consultation with Kimber Baldwin (Kimber Baldwin Designs, maker of Fiber Optic sock and lace yarns) on a very special project.

What I love about Kimber’s yarns is that she make low-contrast sock yarns. I have to be honest with you, I am not a fan of high contrast colorways in yarn. I do not care for striped or blotchy looking knitting items. All of my designs are based on solid colors with accents, but no variegated colorways. The exception to that is the Little Violet Who Christmas Stocking, which I designed using two of Kimber’s low-contrast colorways. The low contrast technique she has developed results in a nice subtle variegation in the yarn so that you have the benefit of an interesting texture to the color without the jarring contrast of high-contrast alternatives.

Kimber and I have been searching for synergistic ways to work together, partnering up my knitting pattern designs with her beautiful low-contrast colorways. Earlier this year however, we had a new idea that sprang up a bit ahead of spring itself. Kimber is designing a series of twenty four (two per month) of her low-contrast, scrumptious colorways inspired by my blog, my farm and farming community, my photography, and my works of fine art.

The series begins with May flowers from my farm, the two colorways for May will be Lilacs and Rhoda — Rhoda, if you remember, is what I named the gorgeous antique giant tree peony I found blooming in our yard shortly after I moved here back in 2006.  I fell in love with her graceful twelve inch blossoms and have continued to photograph her each year as her buds evolve and her blossoms open just before Memorial Day weekend.  I have featured her in paintings, and this year have created a 48″ x 24″ oil painting of a portion of one of her elegant blossoms as the centerpiece of my upcoming art show.

As Kimber releases her new colorways, I will design patterns using her yarns and I can hardly wait to design and knit a beautiful pair of socks for myself using the Rhoda colorway.

The winner of May’s Fiber Optic Yarn Give Away will get to choose between which of the two colorways to receive … so get ready!  To enter in the give away you will need to sign up here.  We want you to help us get the word out about this exciting new yarn series, so by sending other knitters to the giveaway you will be entered in the drawing multiple times, increasing your chances to win.  Just have your friend(s) mention your email address in the “Friend” field on the signup form.

Soon I will be able to announce the details of my summer art show.  I will have at least ten brand new pieces on display that I have been working on over the past several months.  The show will run from June 18th through July 28th, so if you are interested in visiting a truly beautiful country byway sometime this summer come to my neck of the woods and enjoy the land, the people … and my show!

Meanwhile, step outside and find something lovely to look at this fine, mid-spring day in May!


Copyright © 2010 J. L. Fleckenstein ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The joy of reading

March 26, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Posted in baby, country life, faith, family, gifts, knitting, Life, love, Mother's Day, relationships, yarn | 51 Comments
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Of all of my memories of school as a small child, all things related to books and reading and being read to are some of the richest in my treasure chest.

I loved paper, the sound of a library book with its heavy plastic protective cover closing with a soft yet decisive thud, and carrying a stack of books to the librarian’s desk with my mother by my side getting ready for summer reading.

I remember certain books with peculiar clarity such as Danny and the Dinosaur, those little Dick and Jane books, and Harold and the Purple Crayon.

The Story of Doctor Dolittle was especially dear to me, for when I read that book I created fantastically realistic, animated pictures in my imagination. Years later, even today, when I recall reading that story the pictures I created in my mind are more realistic to me than material world we all agree that we see.

For My Knitting Readers: I will not be having any more sales on my pattern downloads for the foreseeable future … well, that is after one that I am announcing right now. Sorry this is that last one, but at least you get this one last chance. Get two free knitting pattern downloads when you buy four (excludes “Three Scrumptious Christmas Stockings” combo pattern). Use code: LASTSALE at checkout when you shop at my website (not the Etsy store) between now and end of business on April 1, 2010.

Another vivid memory is that of our school librarian coming to our classroom to read aloud to us in first,  second and third grade. She was a very sweet older lady and I remember watching her throat as she read the stories because of the way her loose skin moved as she spoke the words. It was all a part of the experience, and I ate up every sensation I could discover related to books and reading.

Our granddaughter, Little Sweet Pea is one year old now, and during her first year her relationship with books was all about eating them. Not even the super heavy duty books meant for babies were safe from her little mouth and lightening fast little hands.  I love this photo of her with Dan (known affectionately in our home as “Dan The Hightway Patrol Man”–the initial caps being a very important characteristic of the pet name) with a book of nursery rhymes he gave her as a gift.

The attempt to eat and devour books changed suddently last week when I was reading a paperback (Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously by Adreinne Martini); it was a completely cool experience between Sweet Pea and I.

It all began when I had her in my lap while holding the paperback open with one hand and extending my arm fully out to keep the book out of her grasp should she lunge for it. She noticed that my head was turned in the direction of the book and that my eyes were intently focused on it. Leaning forward, she slowly and deliberately turned her head toward me and got her own eyes directly in the line in which mine were pointed. Then she just smiled at me. It was the sweetest moment, and so clever of her.

I realized we had a little opportunity right then and there for me to teach her something about what a book really is — not a giant teething biscuit, but something bigger and better with more long range potential. I showed her the cover and said, “book”. Then I opened the book and showed her the tiny printed words inside and said, “words” and gave a simple explanation that when she is a little bit older she will learn to look at words and know what they mean and that then she will be able to “hear” other people’s thoughts and stories and learn some cool stuff.

She opened her eyes wide and gave a look of new found appreciation for the thing called “book”. I closed the book again and showed her the cover, telling her the word for that as well. Then I pointed out the picture on the cover of balls of yarn and, pointing to each ball of yarn separately I said, “yarn, yarn, yarn,” etc. She was fascinated and pointed to each ball of yarn in turn.

As I continued to read the book over the next few days I would let her touch and hold it, examine the cover, look inside. She did not try to eat it, fling it, or mangle the pages. It was awesome to see the transformation in this one year old child on the subject of books: she learned to respect a book and treat it right and to let that book give her some of what it had to offer.

I think that is the thing with books, they have so much to give us. I love the feeling of excitement when standing in front of a well-stocked library shelf, knowing there is knowledge and enchantment ready for the picking in those beautiful, wonderfully bound treasures. Each book represents a little universe all its own, contained within the covers when the book is closed and dancing out magically on ethereal bands of thought and light when the cover is opened up.

A couple of nights ago I gave my daughter (Sweet Pea’s mommy) a break when little Sweet Pea was having a hard time with teething. In an effort to distract her from her worries I showed her a book my sister gave me one Mother’s Day many years ago. It is a smallish, but not tiny, picture book titled “Motherhood” and features a nice collection of mother and child shots in black and white of various wild and domestic animals. She and I looked through the first several pages together and I called out the various animal names, making a big dramatic deal of each one and laughing at any comical shots. We came to a page with a couple of shots of gorillas and I started slowly saying, “gor-i-lla” in a deep, funny and dramatic voice. Sweet Pea just loved that and came up with a funny squealing response to each of my “”gor-i-lla”s.

I returned her to her mommy, along with the book, and the two of them looked quite precious sitting together looking through the book. At one point Sweet Pea started trying to crawl inside the book, which gives you an idea just how much she liked it.

So now she gets something about what a book is, a bit of an idea of the treasures they hold inside. Over the coming year I plan to create a set of alphabet/phonics cards for her in watercolor. I have pictured the cards in my mind and am looking forward to the artistic aspect of it so very much. I will actually create a large watercolor painting featuring all of the letters of the alphabet and then use that to create the individual letter cards for teaching and learning phonics. You see, when Sweet Pea is a little more than two I will have the honor of teaching her phonics, as my daughter has graciously given me the task of teaching her to read. Oh, the fun we will have!

Being a grandmother rocks like nothing else has rocked before.

Now, back to Sweater Quest, I was given a copy of it by the publisher so that I could read it and review it for you, my reader.

It was an interesting read for me, because the author went on a quest to knit an item that I would not have any interest in knitting personally. However, the book is not so much about the sweater or even the knitting of the sweater. The story she weaves is really much more about knitters and the vast explosion of global community the Internet has opened up to we needle crafters who used to knit mostly in solitude or very tiny groups.  For me, her book is a celebration of the wonderful friendships and intricate web of knitting and fiber related community we are all so lucky to share online.

In her quest, Adrienne visits with and interviews some of the greater voices of knitting (among them Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Kay Gardiner, and Ann Meador Shayne). I enjoyed learning more about who these ladies are, why they knit, etc. but spoken from outside of their own blogs, books, and speeches. I found it surprising and entertaining to think I was going to read a book about the knitting of a sweater and to go instead on a traveling adventure, visiting with thoughtful unpretentious knitting leaders on their turf.

Adrienne is a funny writer with that self-deprecating humor that has come to be the trademark of many contemporary knitting writers. She pulls off the humor well while also putting out an interesting bit of knitting history (Fair Isle knitting and Alice Starmore specifically) and, of course, the interviews I described above.

Not being a Fair Isle knitter, or even an aspiring Fair Isle knitter, I had never heard of Alice Starmore (you will learn about her in the book if you are also not familiar with the name). Now however, after reading Sweater Quest, I think I know more about her than I want to … no criticism of either Ms. Starmore or Adrienne Martini intended.

Next week I will interview Adrienne (Tuesday, March 30th) and will offer a write up of the interview on a subsequent blog.  As a fellow Western New York Knitter Blogger, I am looking forward to meeting her over the phone and learning more about her, then sharing that with you.

So you are aware, I have two brand new, fresh copies of Sweater Quest available as give-aways for any readers interested in trying for a win. If you don’t knit, you still might enjoy the book because it is written to serve both knitters and non-knitters with an interesting and entertaining read.

There are two steps to entering my drawing for the book, the first is optional, the second is not.

Adrienne, through her book, has begun a conversation about why it is that knitters knit. I think this conversation is worth expanding online to the broader knitting community.  My non-knitting readers might be interested in learning more about why it is that we do this thing called knitting.  So, my first request of you is that if you do knit, would you please leave a comment to this post stating why you knit.

Second, to be in the running for one of the two give-away copies of the book, please follow this link and follow the easy instructions (it will only take a moment, I promise).

You must enter the drawing by April 30, 2010.  I will hold a random drawing (using some kind of automatic random name generator) on or before May 10, 2010 and announce the winner on both this blog and The Knitting Blog shortly thereafter.

Hope you have a beautiful weekend!


Life abundant and beautiful

May 7, 2008 at 3:17 pm | Posted in art, blogging, country life, country living, dating, faith, family, gifts, Holidays, knitting, Life, love, marriage, Mother's Day, photography, relationships, romance, travel | 20 Comments

The barn and yard at fireflys farmWhen my husband and I married two years ago, he flew to Los Angeles to pick me up. We stuffed my Ford Explorer full of as many of my belongings and as much of my clothing as we could possibly get it to hold, secured everything else in my storage unit and headed off toward New York on a nine-day cross-country honeymoon drive.

We arrived at the farm in Western New York in the evening on May sixth, where our new life together began with a relaxing night of sleep with the sound of peepers in the background as I drifted off, and song birds in the morning as I woke.

Though we were tired from the cross-country trip, my husband hoped I would go with him to church because, as he said, he wanted to show me off. Mind you, he had not told anyone other than his sister and other immediate family members, that he was getting married. No one where he worked knew what he was up to on his “vacation”, nor did anyone at his church.

His church, our church now, is a small tight-knit congregation of the most loving people you could ever hope to know. He has known them since he first started going to church many years ago and they are like family to me (to me now as well). The congregation is predominately older than we are, and the ladies there all loved him as if each one and all of them together were his mother.

Flowering crab apple tree on fireflys farmWhen we arrived at church that morning, we began mingling around in the fellowship hall and I came to know something about my husband … he doesn’t introduce me to people. He has very good manners, but he is a quite and private man and is not accustomed to introducing people to one another. So, I started introducing myself as people came up to welcome me … “Hello,” I would say and then I would give my first name and my new last name. One lady in particular, Grace, said, “Hello …” and then her mouth dropped open and her eyes became about as large as Florida oranges as she said, “You mean … ????” “Yes, yes … I am his wife. We were just married a few days ago.”

Well, that started quite a hub bub. Private man though he is, he was smiling and chuckling at the effect he had created on his church family by lobbing a surprise wife right into the middle of them all. I fell in love that dear group of lovely country people that morning and now, some two years later, it feels as if we have been good friends for years and years.

A full view of the flowering crab apple tree at fireflys farmBack at the farm, later in the morning, I started the long process of getting to know my new home both inside and out. Outside of course there was the barn, and then I came to realize the grandeur of our huge willow tree out toward the north east end of the lawn. My husband pointed out the various trees on the property and told me the names of the varieties and gave a bit of a rundown on when any flowering trees would be displaying their wares.

Centered in the midst of everything between the barn and the outlaying trees was a scrumptious delight … a flowering crab apple tree. Tall, full, and lush it was the epitome of life abundant and beautiful. The flowers don’t last very long–only a week or two–but my, oh my what beauties they are.

The petals are a deep pink-red, with a richly divine texture that makes me want to eat them. I fell in love with all of the trees around the farm, but I have to say the flowering crab apple won an especially dear place with me.

Last year, just as the crab apple began to show opening buds we suffered a hard frost and the tree made almost no showing of flowers at all. It was sad, and an unfamiliar experience for me because in the Los Angeles area you can pretty much depend on a flowering tree to flower each year.

Fireflys crab apple tree in golden morning lightThis year I hoped and prayed each day of spring as I saw the crab apple begin to show her buds. The tree was literally covered in wall to wall buds and I hoped, hoped, hoped and dreamed that this year a frost or freeze would not come take them all away. Please, please, please …

My prayers were answered and the crab apple, as you can see from my photos, is lush and deliciously covered with scrumptious blossoms throughout her abundant canopy.

I have actually noticed that all of the flowering plants this year have many more buds and blossoms than last year. Rhoda, the tree peony, has close to thirty buds this year (I might have already told you that in another post).

Our lilac tree out behind our barn is also showing signs of being heavy with blossoms. Everywhere around the area lilacs are beginning to show in wanton abundance.

I even have an abundance of flowers inside. My husband brought home the most wonderful bouquet of flowers I have ever received. A while back I gave him a list of flowers I like, and some notes about flowers for me indicating that I most love wild flowers. He took the list to the one florist shop in the village where he works and this past Valentine’s Day the girls at that shop did a fantastic job of creating a bouquet just for me that matched me to a “T”.

For our anniversary he went back to the same florist and said, “It is very important that there are daffodils in it … and, add some other stuff too.”

Closeup of crab apple blossom on fireflys treeThe result was a magnificent bouquet that was even better than the Valentine’s Day bouquet, and it could not have been more perfect for me. Delightful bonus of all — the bouquet stayed fresh and beautiful more than a week. Though some flowers have of course faded there are still many in there that look as fresh as the day he brought them home, almost two weeks ago. Sometime I have to stop in at that florist shop and thank the ladies for their craftsmanship.

Yesterday we hung the two new paintings I completed at Zambistro Restaurant. The chef loved them, and they do love very nice on his walls. I also completed a smaller painting (10″ x 10″) which I am calling “Corner Bistro”. I’ll post it on my painting blog later. For your info, I recently started an Esty shop as an experiment in yet another venue for selling my art and related products. I listed the “Corner Bistro” painting there this morning as well as some note card sets I put together featuring some of my artwork. You will see note card sets with paintings from the “Beginning with Barnum” paintings, some of my newer pieces and even a set featuring the monochromatic painting from last year of beautiful “Rhoda”.

Speaking of flowers, I am now going to shift gears and paint two large paintings of sunflowers for the restaurant. I also plan to do some watercolors as well as oils of some of the flowers around here on our place. It should be a beautiful adventure.

Hope you have a beautiful adventure this weekend, coming up.

Most importantly, happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who read my blog. May you always be treasured as the beautiful flower that you are. I dedicate today’s blog to my dear, sweet mother … she is the loveliest rose I have ever known.


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