Let the wild things flourish

August 1, 2008 at 4:12 pm | Posted in biscuit recipes, country life, country living, faith, family, flowers, food, gardening, knitting, Life, love, photography, Quilt Trail, recipes, travel | 10 Comments
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Unpredictable, lush, and abundant. That is how my garden grows.

When I look out at our barn these days I sometimes catch my breath at the wild, vibrant sprays of color from the many of wild flowers growing there underneath our quilt block. This accidental farming business is a pretty good deal that gets better and better as summer evolves.

The other day I was out picking a few more raspberries when I noticed a huge thistle shrub growing out beside of an old garage foundation behind the house. Purple top hats nestled on the tops of hundreds of thistle blossoms were being nibbled by a wide variety of bees. I grabbed the camera and shot some photos of the thistles as well as the flowers by the barn.

While I was shooting the flowers in front of the barn, I noticed what I thought was a hummingbird darting around, so aimed my camera toward her in an effort to capture a clear image. This was a fast little creature that never stayed still long enough for me to get a good look at it with my eyes. It did give me the distinct impression of a hummingbird, but a very small hummingbird only a little over an inch tall.

I shot as many photos as quickly as I could in hopes there might be a jewel of a shot. Alas, my lens was not quick enough that day; I did get some fairly good shots though. They were clear enough to confirm that it did resemble a hummingbird but there were some other things I was certain a standard issue hummingbird would not have. For instance, notice the long antenna … not very bird-like, I’d say.

And check out the furry looking “coat” on this critter … also not very bird-like IMHO. I also noticed the creature had some sort of arm looking things it would use to balance itself with as it drank the nectar of the pretty wild flowers. Well, I have never seen a bird with arms before, have you?

So, I sent several of my photos off to my husband at work for his help in identifying the strange creature. He told me it was a hummingbird moth. Wow, that is something I did not know existed. It was wild how similar this little guy was to a hummingbird. He moved so quickly that it was hard to figure out that he wasn’t a hummingbird.

I had quite a bit of fun with the little mothman. He either didn’t notice me standing there shooting photos from three feet away or he just didn’t care. Perhaps he is accustomed to the paparazzi, being such a rare and beautiful creature as he is. I could hardly wait to share these photos with you today.

Last week my husband and I set out for Partyka Farms again, but to pick blueberries rather than strawberries. My friend Lora was kind enough to let us pick our own berries even though they don’t offer “You-Pick” on their blueberries. It was a beautiful summer day, not too awfully hot. We were way off in the blueberry bushes chatting and enjoying both sunshine and shade as we picked four quarts of gorgeous blue berries.

We gave one quart to Dave’s widow down the road and I made several jars of blueberry preserves with most of the rest of them. We had some berries left and last Saturday we enjoyed a late lunch of scrambled eggs and corncakes (like pancakes but made with cornbread batter instead of pancake batter) which I mixed a bunch of fresh blueberries into. That proved to be a delicious combination and a nice surprise.

The blueberry corncakes were so good, I decided to use up more of the berries in some homemade biscuits the next morning. If you haven’t used my Blue Ribbon Biscuit Recipe yet (or even if you have) you should go out and get some fresh blueberries and make yourself some Blueberry Biscuits. Just add a handful or so of washed blueberries into the biscuit dough after you have cut in the butter but before you add in the buttermilk.

Now those were some good biscuits, topped with some of the blueberry preserves I had just made.

Tomorrow, Saturday August 2nd, I will be displaying some of my art at The Cobblestone Society Museum in Childs, NY as a part of their annual Old Tyme Day event. Should you happen to be one of my western New York readers, perhaps you would like to come by. The event runs from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Saturday only. I will displaying a few examples of my portraits in watercolor and will have a few of my small oil paintings, prints, and notecards there as well. The Cobblestone Society Museum is 100% volunteer run and operated and is a good group to support if you can in some way.

For my knitting readers, I wanted to let you know I have been getting myself set up at Ravelry.com as a designer and now have a store there where most of my patterns are available for download. Of course, the full range of my available patterns can be found in my Etsy shop, but in case you are a part of the Ravelry crowd, I wanted you to know you can find me there either as firefly8868 or as the designer J. L. Fleckenstein. If you have knitted any items from my offering of free or retail patterns and would like to post your finished or in progress items there and link them to my patterns … feel free. It would be fun to connect up over there as well as there on my blog.

I have to run now, because there are things to do in order to get ready for that show tomorrow.

Have a beautiful day and a lovely weekend!

~firefly

The accidental farmer

July 22, 2008 at 3:25 pm | Posted in baby, country life, country living, faith, family, gardening, knitting, knitting for babies, Life, love, marriage, Quilt Trail, relationships, romance, summer, yarn | 8 Comments
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Lush growth surrounds fireflys barnBefore I begin today’s post, I wanted to thank any of my readers who left comments last week of condolences for the family of our friend Dave. They are grateful for your messages and thoughts, comforted by the thought that now even strangers know something of the good man they had in their lives.

When my brother knew he was dying he started saying, “Life is for living, and you have a lot of that left to do. ” He was very firm about it that he did not want any one of us to be mired down in sadness or loss, or to leave our own living behind because of his passing.

Within one hour of his passing my sister’s step-daughter gave birth to a new baby boy. I remember so clearly standing in the room at the hospice with my second oldest brother. We were consoling each other at the passing of our beloved Dan when someone stepped in with news of the baby’s birth. We looked into each other’s tear rimmed eyes and I said to him, “Circle of life.” He smiled thoughtfully, nodded and said, “Yes, circle of life.” We hugged each other hard, embracing each other as well as that thought … the circle of life.

Now, we move on again as the circle of life continues rolling, spinning, rising, creating. My husband and I have been gathering wild, black raspberries from canes along the west side of our barn the last couple of weeks. About ten years ago the wild canes started appearing out there, so my husband tells me. The first two summers I was here we gathered some of the berries — enough for snacking and having berries on cereal. I was a bit squeamish about picking them at times because the canes are all intertwined with a ton of wild grape vines and with the grape vines come many, many, many Japanese beetles.

I might be a bug in my own right (you know, being “firefly” with a light up butt and all) but I have to be honest with you … I am a bug scaredy cat. I don’t mind spiders, I think of them as our Special Ops whose special mission it is to protect humans from being overrun by bugs. I warned my husband when he and I were exploring the possibility of my moving out here and marrying him that I am a bug wuss. The subject of what kinds and numbers of bugs thrive around the farm came up more than once in those early conversations. He accepted me anyway, and not once has he made fun of me or made me feel like a sissy for my squeamishness and squeals when I encounter any of the many bugs that flourish around here.

The last couple of summers when we picked raspberries I was not an aggressive picker, and when we neglected to bring in the berries some days and many dried up and died on the canes, I was a wee bit relieved because of the bugs I had not had to confront.

This year it is different though. As I have mentioned on previous posts this summer, I have become quite the preserve making maniac this summer — well, for me the quantity of preserves I am making seems maniacal, although I am certain it is nothing compared to a real farming woman.

For me, it is huge compared to my experience with the activity prior to the past couple of months.

The raspberries are so abundant this year, and I am so much into making jam that I have been both dedicated and aggressive as a raspberry picker. Yes, there are millions of Japanese beetles out there all over the grape vines, mating and doing whatever else they do. They don’t disturb the raspberries at all, they just eat the grape leaves and mate and multiply.

I get out there and I pick, and pick, and pick swatting mosquitoes, squealing and hollering about and saying, “Yuk” quite often as I encounter the bugs but I keep picking. I am determined not to waste these abundant, beautiful raspberries. My husband is quite brave and goes back into the thick of them in spite of what he refers to as their prehensile thorns. We come back from our picking adventure with raspberry juice stained hands, bloodied hands and arms, mosquito bitten legs … and our berry picking baskets are full, even brimming over.

I have been able to make 18 8-ounce jars of deep, black colored raspberry preserves plus a couple of Raspberry Crumble desserts, and he has enjoyed fresh berries on cereal and still there are a ton of berries yet to pick. The flavor of the preserves is fantastic — raspberry flavor as deep as the color is dark. These wild raspberries are dark purple, almost black — not the red kind you find at the store. And no, they are not blackberries. They are indeed raspberries.

I call us “accidental raspberry farmers”. Evidently we have quite a knack for wild raspberry farming, because the wild canes are flourishing all around our property. Most of them are out by the barn, but we also have them over by our willow tree, around several other trees throughout the yard, and at each corner of the old foundation of a garage we have out back. By the willow tree we have canes that are producing beautiful honey colored raspberries that taste like wine.

I am quite proud of our crop whenever we bring in our baskets full of berries, and even though the raspberries come and plant and grow themselves … I am cool with that kind of farming. As a matter of fact, if other berries, fruits and vegetables had a similar system I think I could get into farming in a very big way.

The only problem I have run into with this raspberry farming is that I appear to be allergic to them. When we are picking them I start itching, and then I start feeling prickles randomly as if I am being poked by some little raspberry fairy with a teeny, tiny sharp little bugger of a needle. Within a day of picking, if I have itchy prickles all over and have to take a strong dose of anti-histamine to get it to stop. (It is strange, writing about it I am starting to get the itchy prickles all over again, even though we have not picked raspberries since Saturday. Oh well.)

Once they are cooked, of course there is no problem. So, I don’t eat the fresh berries and I am going to experiment with wearing some kind of neoprene gloves or something while picking and handling them so this allergic reaction thing doesn’t get progressively worse. I am bound and determined not to be discouraged by allergies when I have finally found a crop that I can “grow” in such reliable abundance.

Yesterday we also went out to our friend Lora Partyka’s farm and she let us pick our own blueberries. We picked four quarts worth, and we need another four quarts so I can make blueberry preserves, a Blueberry Crumble, and a couple of other things. You see, I just can not stop making preserves this summer. So far I’ve done strawberry, sour cherry, and raspberry and now I’m about do those blueberries. Our kitchen is beginning to fill up with beautiful jewel toned jars, just too fun. I’m going to have to knit up a lot more Jammie bags before the holidays!

Notice some knitted items in my photo selection today? I have completed another Christmas Stocking design, as you can see. I am calling this one the Chimney Sock Christmas Stocking, and I hope to have the pattern available for sale in my Etsy store within a week or so.

The other little item is a baby sock from a set I am designing called, “Sweet Baby”. More photos will appear as I continue to develop the set, and the pattern will be available sometime in early August.

Now I am off to some client related activities, as I work on designs for a couple of websites I have been contracted to create.

And that circle of life just keeps on going. Bugs, rain, wild flowers, raspberry canes, Blu, the willow tree, the barn, work to do, a marriage to enjoy … how is your circle doing today? I hope it is flourishing and glowing with a special light and vitality.

~firefly

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!

~firefly

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