Gathering up the wild things, 2011

October 27, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Posted in art, Christmas, country life, family, Holidays, inspiration, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, relationships, shopping, travel, Vintage | 3 Comments
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This is what I see today, as I look out the window of my studio writing. Though I didn’t shoot that photograph today or this year, it is pretty close to what I see out there right now. Just imagine the same scene with darker clouds and a steady rain, and you will see what I am seeing right now.

What is the weather like where you are? How has the season evolved in your corner of the world so far?

A couple of days ago my husband and I did the coolest thing: I noticed over the past few months a number of older wild grapevines around our farm about 1″ to 1 1/2″ in diameter, and those grapevines got me to thinking. I love to cut wild grape vines and make wreaths with them, so I wondered if we could cut the thick old vines and fashion them into a very large wreath to hang on our barn. We have wanted to make a large outdoor Christmas wreath to hang on our barn and it was exciting to finally have a natural ingredient we could use to make one.

As you look for unique, inspired gift ideas for people on your list this year remember to check out our Knitter’s Eye Charts (as seen in Vogue Knitting and Interweave Knits this fall) and other gifts for knitters in the I Live on a Farm Etsy store.  Or, give an inspiring eBook or Kindle book to someone you love. My son carries a great variety of vintage-look Subway Roll Signs and Bus Scroll Prints representing New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Paris, London and more — he also creates custom signs with the same vintage look. You can find my original paintings, fine art prints, photographs, and note cards in my Fine Art Etsy Store.


There was a little window of opportunity two days ago when he got home from work, before it started raining, to get out and about and cut the vines we wanted to use. Cutting the vines off of our trees will help the trees survive longer, plus and it provided us with plenty of thick vines to coil around for a four foot diameter wreath. It is beautiful, rustic and hearty looking. We will still need to find things to add to it in order to make it more decorative and I hope to be able to light it up somehow at night so people will enjoy it as they drive by.

Our closest neighbors have a beautiful huge red barn, and they hang a large wreath on it every Christmas season. It is lit up at night with an outdoor light and is a very lovely sight to see if we happen to be out on a snowy winter night. I hope our wreath with bring the kind of joy to others that our neighbors’ wreath has brought to us.

We will hang it right over our quilt square, and it should harmonize with the square because of the double wedding ring pattern on the square. (If you are not familiar with the quilt square we have hanging on our barn, here is a link to my blog on that subject from back in 2008 when we first hung the quilt square.)

08dec08_2carolersoutsideWe have also been out gathering up wild things from our environment this week for use in a new generation of my Thistleonian characters. It was important for us to get out and gather the wild things I need for the little guys before the elements start making them look too weathered.

One of my favorite ingredients is not wild; I use soybeans to make their little arms. The farmers around us who are growing soy beans this year were out everywhere bringing them in a couple of weeks back, so that was our cue to get out to someone’s field and snag a few remnant bean stalks from the edge of a field. Though they are not “wild”, they are natural and perfect for Thistleonians. The soy beans inside are small and cream colored and are beautiful to use as accents as well.

I have also started drying milkweed pods– my all-time favorite of beautiful wild things to gather from the outside world. Beginning in early October I watch the pods (they grow in front of our barn, beneath our Quilt Square Block along with various wild flowers) for signs they are ready to harvest. What I am watching for is the first pods that burst open on their own to release their seeds and silky threads. When that happens, I can gather as many as I need and start getting them ready for drying.

I enjoyed spending time with my husband, driving around and raiding fallow fields and soy bean crop remnants to gather the items I need. We did this kind of “wild thing” foraging the first couple of years after I moved here but it has been a while since we did so and it was just great to get back out there and spend that kind of time together. I treasure him for many things, and this is an example of why. He not only supports me in theory on my various creative activities, he gets involved and plays the game with me on those things he can. (Thank you, dear husband.)

I am looking forward to spending some cozy time during dark and stormy autumn days (much like today) working on Thistleonians. I also have on my list of creative things to do the knitting of a new pair of knuckle gloves or fingerless gloves for myself, as the pair of Fetching fingerless gloves I made my first year in New York are frayed and will have to be replaced. I would also like to knit some socks for my mother and x-mother-in-law (what should I call her now?), lacey fingerless gloves and a scarflett for my daughter, a sweater for my grand-daughter, something I have not figured out for my son, and a new hat for myself. Oh, to be able to knit the many things I have on and in my mind to knit.

The past couple of weeks my husband, my son, and I have all been working to prepare for a group photography show in December at a nearby art gallery. The show will feature pieces by me, my husband, his deceased father, and my son along with poetry written by my father; I will do a poetry reading of some of my father’s poetry opening night of the show. This show will be at the local art gallery in one of the nearby villages and the opening will be Friday December 2nd in the evening. If you are in the Western New York area and would like an invitation to the show, contact me via email or with a comment on this blog and I will send one as soon as they are ready.

I have shot upwards of 75,000 photographs since I moved to New York — most likely many more than that. I went through about half of them in an effort to select the best ten for our show. I wanted the photographs I am showing to be of a fine art nature, to reflect my artistic ability with the camera as well as my eye for composition and color. The photographs needed to also reflect my particular artistic style and communicate something important about my vision as an artist.

After many hours reviewing photographs, I narrowed my choices down to a couple of dozen, then my husband helped me select the best fifteen of those. We tried to go with ten, but could not cut it down further than fifteen–which is still quite an accomplishment I think.

The photograph at the top of this blog is one I chose, and sprinkled in the blog you will find others. If you would like to see more, I have posted prints of some of them for sale in my fine art Etsy store as 8x10s.

We also went through my husband’s photographs as well as his father’s and chose fifteen of each of theirs as well.  My husband’s father brought cameras home with him from Europe after World War II ended, and he trained himself in the use of those cameras.  He shot some wonderful photographs at our cottage featuring family, friends, and the family dog.  You can see from the shots he captured that he had a good eye for composition as well as a understanding of the wonderful natural light in this part of the world.

My husband’s photography reflects his deep love of the landscapes from his childhood and lifetime spent on and around the Oak Orchard River.  He is also a self-taught photographer with a great passion for cameras and photographic technology.  He had devoted many years to studying cameras and photographic techniques and has gone out in the field with a variety of cameras and different types of film plus digital media to apply the knowledge he gains from his studies.

I haven’t seen my son’s choices yet for his photographs for the show, but I know they will be awesome. He has done some very interesting, and quite beautiful photography around the farm and our cottage but he also has some breathtaking portraits of The Duke (his English Bulldog), wild life photography, and street scenes in Los Angeles and New York City. I have no idea, out of his large body of work, which ten pieces he will choose to show … I am looking forward so much to getting a chance to see! The gallery owner also wants to devote a section of the gallery to display  his digital artistry, reflected in his reproduction New York Subway Signs and Vintage Maps.

Our photography show will primarily feature photographs shot over a period of sixty to seventy years in and around the same locations — but through the eyes of four different photographers, using various films and cameras and photographic technology as it has evolved. The photography will be gently tied together via the poetry of our fifth artist, my father.

Once we have everything printed, matted, and framed and hanging in the gallery I believe it will be very interesting to see our various takes on this beautiful environment we have all explored and enjoyed over the years.

Well, I have a two and a half year old crawling back and forth across my back while I try to write and my poor back just can’t take it any more this morning so I am going to end off here.

Here’s wishing you and yours a beautiful week-ending, and weekend coming up!


The river flows gently

September 27, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Posted in art, country life, country living, faith, family, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, relationships, shopping, socks, travel, yarn | 5 Comments
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Last week my husband and I took an early evening boat ride down the river, over at our cottage just a few miles from the farm. September and October are the most beautiful months for going out on that section of the river; the water is very clear and the trees are beginning to change to their autumn splendor.

While we were out we saw many Canada geese, heron, king fishers, and swans. We also saw quite a few turtles sunbathing on fallen tree trunks and limbs laying at water’s edge.

The temperature was cool, but not cold and we were very comfortable. He was standing up much of the way, as he piloted the boat along at five miles per hour. I shot hundreds of photos, and share with you today some of the best.

As I look outside my dining room window just now, I see a gentle breeze moving a bough of our great white pine, just outside the bak door. It dances, as if to beckon me out for a good time. The corn stands tall out in the fields, back behind that great old big willow tree I have spoken of and photographed so often on my blog.

So often life turns hectic, even on a quiet old farm like ours but no matter how hectic life becomes, I can always (if I remember to) stop for a few minutes and just go outside and stand still. I hear the quiet, and in the quiet I hear a dozen different sounds … geese honking as they do a fly by over the river, a distant tractor working in a field, little birds singing from the tangle below the willow, the soft movement of the river, Blu flapping his ears as he gets up from an afternoon nap.

Side Bar: My friend John Antonini is fairly new to blogging, but shares helpful advice about money, finance, and business. He just posted today, and I provided him with a beautiful photo of our river from last October to “dress” it up. Check him out, pretty please. 🙂

I recall the peace of the river, the feel of the boat slipping along still waters, the king fisher and heron calls as they glide along in search of their daily meal, the beauty of the early fall foliage against the crisp reflective surface of the water.

I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and feel that cool gentle breeze move against my face, and through my hair. I feel the sun’s warmth on my shoulders, comforting me against whatever pressures wait for me when I go back inside, to work.

Thank you farm, for being here. Thank you world, for being so lovely. Thank you husband, for bringing me here to share this life with you. Thank you my reader friend, for taking the time to share this moment of peace in an otherwise hectic day. You are treasured, all of you.

Last week I mentioned the book of inspirational poetry my father wrote and that I have published along with some of my photography from the farm. I changed the title to “I, The Wind”, the title of one of his poems. We both felt that title better communicates something about the poetry that will be found inside. It is available as an eBook, or for Kindle readers.

One of the poems in the book is titled, “Little Dreamer” and is a poem he wrote for me many years ago when I was a child. Dad always supported my dreams, and the dreams of all of his children–he is our best cheerleader, really. Here is a clip from the poem he wrote for me:

Go little dreamer dream your dreams
Just remember: they’re life.
Find your times of happiness
Heal your wounds from strife.
~Albert L. Zudfin
Excerpted from the book, “I, The Wind”

And, on that lovely note I am inspired to meniton what I am up to with my knitting this week. Remember the Foot Notes Sock Yarn Kimber Baldwin created in the Rhoda colorway in honor of my tree peony photographs? Well, I finally got started knitting something for myself with that beautiful yarn. I had planned to make a pair of socks, but I want a new, pretty scarf so I changed gears and started a lacy scarf.

Another reason for knitting the scarf project is that I wanted to use a complicated lace pattern that I have had a lot of trouble with because of the many distractions that make it hard for me to keep track of all the yo’s and K2tog’s and P2tog-b, etc. Right now I am at my prime time of being distracted and I decided it would be a perfect time to once again attempt to follow a complex lace stitch pattern.

Why, you might ask — when distractions are making it so difficult to do. I have had a project in mind for quite some time, a new way of writing up knitting instructions that I believe will help even the most distracted of knitters follow complex stitch patterns and knitting directions regardless of how confounding the information is and how muddled your mind is with distractions. So, this is a perfect time for me to test my theory to make sure it works before I move forward.

If you could have seen me on Sunday — trying to knit the most challenging lace stitch pattern I could find while a 2-1/2 year old was climbing over my back, under my arms, under my legs, over my lap. She tugged at my hair, grabbed my knitting directions several times and threw them away from me, jumped on my feet. Listen, if I could follow the directions (the way I wrote them) with all of that going on and still come out with lace formed with all the right stitches in and twists and turns in all the right places, I think I am on to something valuable that could help many, many other knitters.

Though the scene I described did eventually and temporarily plummet me into tears and despair, my lace came out okay and I soon rallied emotionally. There is a lot of work to do to bring this project of mine to the public, but I am working on it as I can and hope that before too much time I will be able to publish the results to your benefit.

As for the Rhoda colorway … Kimber is sold out of that right now, which is a shame because looking down at a piece of knitting with such a delicious play of colors just makes the knitting that much more fun and rewarding. I have written to her to find out what is going on with Foot Notes, and hopefully she will write back that many more hanks on being dyed as I write this.

One final shout out for the morning. You are aware, I am sure, of my son and his vintage-inspired subway roll signs, bus scrolls, retouched antique and vintage maps, and custom signs over at Flying Junction. I am doing my weekly shout out for him, in order to help build and promote his business. He has done so much for me over the years, patiently teaching me the how-to’s of designing and building websites, handling technical matters for me beyond my “pay grade”, and being a true friend as well as a wonderful son that there is nothing I could ever do for him that would be too much. If it wasn’t for him, I never would have started this blog. He was the one who suggested it and pointed me in the right direction. Anything I have to offer that you have enjoyed or benefited from, is in some way due to him and what he has done to make it possible.

You know, he even is the person responsible for me getting into oil painting–I don’t know if I wrote about this before. Back in 2004, at Christmas time, I was having one of the very worst years of my life, especially financially. The one highlight was that I had started painting watercolors again after not having done so for two or three years. I can’t tell you though, how stressed I was with life in general. It was one of those years that, because it didn’t kill me made me stronger.

That Christmas, my son took me out to an art supply store and bought me everything I needed to get started in oil painting. I would not have been able to do that on my one, not at that time, because it required an investment in supplies and tools that I just didn’t have money for. I remember that shopping trip like it was yesterday; it meant so much to me that he wanted to take me to the store and help me pick out what I needed. He also wanted to make sure I got everything I needed and didn’t leave off anything essential due to budget concerns.

From that time, each year for my birthday as well as Christmas he continued to provide me with shopping money for my art supplies. Because of his generosity and support I was able to stock up on a great supply of brushes and oil paints as well as other supplies and now I have created many, many beautiful oil paintings that are hanging all over the U.S., with quite a few of them in various locations in New York. [This photo, by the way, is how he “signed” the custom print he sent me for my birthday — printed on scrumptious watercolor paper, which is so appropriate for me. Very thoughtful and tastefully done.]

So, when you see me week after week mentioning his new business in my blog and my email newsletters please know these things about him. He needs my help now, because his business is young and is his sole means of support. He is passionate about his art, diligent about his business practices and outstanding customer service and for all of these reasons and more he deserves whatever support I can give him.

I suppose that about wraps things up for today. Now I have to switch gears and get some press releases sent out for a client of mine, so I must be off.


I wore a wool hat

September 20, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Posted in art, country life, country living, faith, family, free knitting patterns, health, inspiration, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, relationships, shopping, summer, Vintage, yarn | 6 Comments
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It has already been chilly enough recently, I wore a wool hat a couple of times last week. AndiIt is just now the last day of summer.  I remember the first year I was in New York, we went to my husband’s nephew’s farm–a couple of hours south of us– for a pig roast in mid-August and camped out a couple of nights.  It got down into the 40’s both nights and we were freezing all night long; mid-August.

That funny little hand knit skirt I was making last week for Sweet Pea is finished now, but she didn’t want to model it today. I’ll have to catch her in a modelling mood later this week so I can share that with you all. I will also share the pattern with you for free — it is very simple and a quick knit. She looks so adorable in it, you just have to see it! I’ll be sure to include directions for making it as a little girl’s skirt, not just a toddler’s skirt. I was going to call it Sassafras, but now that I have seen it on her, it makes me think of it more as a Flintstone skirt. Anyway, soon as I can get her to wear it for a photo shoot, I’ll share the photos and the pattern.

Have you heard about the HBO show, Boardwalk Empire? It is going into its second season in a week or so, and HBO did a very cool promotion in NYC using vintage subways they ran in certain neighborhoods. The story line (which takes place during prohibition era Atlantic City) and the promotion in NYC were of particular interest to my family because of my son’s vintage-look subway sign business. I guess he knew about it for a while, because he designed a very cool set of Atlantic City subway roll signs, paying homage not only to Atlantic City but giving a nod to HBO’s excellent production as well.

Today is beautiful; I am looking out the dining room windows as I type and I see blue skys with huge puffy white clouds dancing along.  We had gentle rain over night, but now it has cleared out leaving the trees and lawn looking rich and dazzling against that beautiful blue sky.  Summer is already a thing of the past for us this year, but we are looking forward to a couple of months of beautiful autumn.  One sugar maple tree on the bank of the river has started turning colors, but otherwise the trees are still green for the most part.

Our pumpkins never did take hold this year, which is sort of sad.  However, our favorite local farm stand already has a beautiful assortment of pumpkins out for sale and we bought a couple of huge ones the other day.  They look like standard field pumpkins, but are the size of a big moon over-sized pumpkin.  Very nice, and they have gorgeous huge stems on top.

For Sweet Pea’s Sincere Pumpkin Patch, my daughter and husband and I will buy a number of pumpkins from the farm stand and scatter them around where ours should have grown.  We will do that the night before Halloween, and hang a few ghosts in the branches of the old dead pine tree who stands guard over the patch.  It will be so fun to see how she responds to it all now that she’s older.

That pumpkin patch has been on my mind quite a lot recently, not only because fall is here but also because of a book project I have been working on with my Dad.  We created a book (hardback, eBook, and Kindle editions) combining some of his inspirational poetry and my photography of our farm.

Shortly after I married and moved to this beautiful farm, my parents came for a Christmas visit along with my son and daughter (they are young adults). My father brought a folder with his poetry, and we read through some of his poems while they were here. He and I talked about how lovely it would be to publish a book sometime with his poems and my photography, and so the concept of this book took root.

A couple of years alter they all came here again for a vacation in June, and we all spent a very magical week together with the most perfect, spectacular weather you could hope for.

At that time, my father was undergoing chemotherapy; he was diagnosed with prostate cancer about eleven years ago. When he came for that visit, none of us knew how the chemotherapy was going to turn out, and we all wanted to make sure that we lived that one magical week to the fullest while we all had the opportunity to be together.

My father got to drive my husband’s tractor and help tend to our large lawn — my son also had a hand at driving the tractor during that visit. My father had not been on a tractor since he was a young man living on a farm in North Carolina, so it was wonderful for him to have that opportunity.

While they all were here we worked together to plant our first-ever pumpkin patch, with six varieties of pumpkins. We also built a crude but artistic signpost, which we put up over the pumpkin patch. My son and daughter and I hand painted, “Sincere Pumpkin Patch” on the sign in a childish hand, to make the signpost look like it was put together by children.

The pumpkin harvest from the Sincere Pumpkin Patch that year was gorgeous, and we all felt it was a great reflection of those magic days we shared in June.

I am determined to make certain that my father has an opportunity to be a published author while he is still living, and that he will experience the joy of knowing that people are reading and enjoying his creative works, and feeling inspired and uplifted by his lovely words.  The book contains thirteen of his poems and fourteen of my specially selected photographs.

You can order the eBook directly from my website here, you can find the Kindle version in the Kindle Store by searching “J. L. Fleckenstein” — the title of the book is “The Measure of a Man”.  Or,  if you would like a beautiful, full-cover hardback version of this book you may purchase one for $26 by contacting me (email editor101 @

The hardback book is small (6″ x 9″) and rather slim, but expensive to print. There is very little profit on the hardback book, but is is so lovely I want people to have it in their hands and on their coffee tables or desks — so I am making it available that way by special request. I have to special order them one at a time for now, so there is about a two week lead time between when you order one and when it can be shipped. Worth the wait, in my humble opinion.

My father is doing very , by the way … turns out he is much, much more durable than cancer is.

I put together a reader survey this morning to get some feedback from my readers. It would be great to hear from some of you … would you be willing to take a couple of minutes to help? If so, click here.

I hope you have a beautiful, almost autumn day.


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