Grateful for the Vessel and the Stand

November 25, 2009 at 4:08 pm | Posted in art, blogging, country life, faith, family, food, gifts, health, Holidays, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, relationships, romance, Thanksgiving | 12 Comments
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I have written often on the subject of gratitude. There is good reason for doing so, as I have experienced–and continue to experience–a journey of growth and enlightenment in my life based on my own feelings of gratitude, or lack thereof.

One of the most beautiful things I have learned along the way is that, to be grateful is to love, and that without love an understanding of gratitude cannot be enveloped within myself.

I am not referring of love for a person or thing, but rather love as a feeling and concept within myself . It is said that God is love. I have found that to be true for me, from my own personal experience.

From my experience, to the degree that I am filled up with or low on the feeling of love within myself I feel more or less connected to God, more or less a part of God. There is knowing this intellectually, and then there is living it. There is experiencing this feeling of love as an effect that has been caused from somewhere other than myself, and there is noticing that I am falling short on it then purposely straightening myself out to bring all or parts of it back.

This is what I have found to be true, and this is how I can manage to describe and explain my experiences and thoughts.

God is love. I know this to be true from my own personal experience.

When I explore and discover a depth of gratitude, I discover and experience a greater sense of love and thereby a deeper sense of God, a deeper connection with God.

My favorite realization about gratitude is that if I am thirsty and I have I have a drink of water in my hand, it is easy to be grateful for the water … but, there is so much more to be grateful for.

I am grateful for the vessel and the stand. The cup that holds the drink of water, I am grateful for that cup. I am grateful for whoever or whatever saw fit to design and create that cup, the vessel, that holds my drink of water. The cup has a stem and stand, and for these I am grateful too, for the support they afford the cup. Considering the vessel and the stand leads me to gratitude for the faucet I was able to turn that allowed my drink of water to flow into the cup.

I am grateful for the fact of the flowing water itself, and the pipes that lead it to my cup. Someone laid those pipes; in our case I even watched a few years ago as my husband dug the trench through our yard with this tractor that the pipes were laid in on an approach to our house. Prior to that, some workers came through the area and did the digging and the laying of the pipes that allow city water to come to our home so that we no longer have to use well and cistern water.

I am grateful for the all of the decisions and planning and funding and meetings and preparations that led to the workers who dug the trenches and laid the pipes that made it possible for us to have “city water” at our farm.

I am grateful for the abundant supply of water in our local streams, rivers, and lakes that makes it possible for a super abundance of water to be available for the city water, the wells, and the cisterns all around us. Grateful for the rain, grateful for the earth the rain falls on, the contours of the land that allow these waters to flow and move and arrive where they are needed.

I grateful for the weather that has allowed the rain and the snow to fall that supplies our rich water resources. Grateful even for the foul storms that have contributed to the motion. Grateful for the sunny days in between that have allowed some water to submerge into the earth and reroute itself in other ways so that our land is not flooded over with water unabated. I am grateful to my husband for bringing me here to this land, this farm, this river … this city water, and this drink of water I hold in my hands.

I am grateful for any man I knew or met before my husband whose behavior, attitude, and demeanor–good or bad–led to my ability to correctly perceive that this man is abundantly good and that we would be well suited to each other.

I am grateful for every seeming misstep I made in my life, those things I thought of in earlier times as missteps, that led me to this place I now call home. Each of those steps, no matter how painful, joyous, or uncomfortable, were correctly placed footsteps leading me inexorably in the right direction to a happiness I now cherish.

A simple drink of water, I am thirsty and this simple drink of water quenches my thirst.

My thirst is quenched and deeply, not only from the water making its way down my throat and into my belly but also quenched because of the myriad elements that led me to this drink of water at this particular time in this special place.

Tomorrow we will break bread and have a small feast of Thanksgiving foods and pumpkin pie. I will be grateful for the food, but I will look deeper and wider to find as much depth and breadth as I can for my gratitude. And in so doing, I will experience a fullness of love and a that for which I am most grateful … a closer connection with God.

I am grateful to you, whoever and wherever you are. Thank you for taking the time to read my entry and consider my thoughts today. If you have written to me, whether by comment or by email, I appreciate your words of encouragement and faith in what I offer here. I do this because of the love I feel within myself for you and for my brothers and sisters throughout this tiny world who are my fellow man.

Now, a toast for the good stuff … I raise my cup of water, and drink to love. Have a happy and loving Thanksgiving.


I dreamed pumpkins grew in trees

November 6, 2009 at 12:45 pm | Posted in art, country life, country living, family, food, gardening, Halloween, Holidays, knitting, Life, love, photography, pumpkin recipes, recipes, relationships, romance, Thanksgiving, yarn | 34 Comments
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We were expecting freezing temperatures overnight a couple of times this week, along with a few evening snow showers. So far we have had a good frost, some rain, and some cold temperatures … but no snow. Knowing that colder nights were coming, I began to worry about our pumpkins because they are out on the porch and in the yard for display purposes right now. However, I want to store and in some cases freeze some of them for cooking purposes throughout autumn and winter.

frostyleaves1Those worries led to an interesting dream the other night, some of it scary and some of it interesting. I dreamed we had pumpkins of all sizes and varieties growing everywhere on our lawn … and in our trees. Sunlight filtered through the trees and the plump pumpkins dangling from their branches, as if the pumpkins were apples in amongst the beautiful autumn leaves–it was quite beautiful, the images are still vividly impressed upon my mind. Our yard had become a split level yard and all manner of pumpkins were growing abundantly everywhere, the split level aspect of it making the scene even more dramatic.

Although the pumpkins were of many different varieties, they were a bright yellow-orange color. I think the Great Pumpkin himself must have inspired this dream.

frostyleaves4However, the beauty of the dream soon came to naught because when I approached any pumpkin and touched it, it fell to mush beneath my fingers … absolute lifeless mush. In a panic, I rushed from pumpkin to pumpkin, tree to tree, fruit to fruit testing the pumpkins and each and every pumpkin was ruined.

In my dream, the explanation was that a hard frost had hit the night before, and what had been a yard full of lovely ripe pumpkins ready for harvest became instead a scene of wounded, painfully translucent produce. In my dream I was upset with my husband because I had warned him that the coming frost might harm the pumpkins and that we should relocate them, but he was equivocal about the importance of protecting them from the cold. I told him that I assumed full responsibility for the loss because I could have moved them all myself but that I was upset with him for having a lackadaisical attitude about protecting them.

Perhaps I should have written this dream backwards, so that it started out scary and sad and ended up beautiful. That is how I remembered the dream: first I recalled the destroyed pumpkins, the mushy texture and the horrible feelings of losing them all as well as the sad conversation I had with my husband about responsibility. After recalling the nightmarish quality of that portion of the dream, I remembered the beauty of the opening scene with glowing orange pumpkins hanging from limbs and dazzling my eyes from multiple levels of spreading lawn.

frostyleaves3Now the beauty of the dream pumpkins shines brightly in my mind, completely overshadowing any negative feelings about the ruined crop of pumpkins.

Side Bar: For my knitting and other needle craft readers, I posted a new entry at The Knitting Blog this morning (9 Nov 09).

Speaking of pumpkins, we had a perfectly beautiful and fulfilling Halloween this year. I don’t think it could have been more perfect, perhaps the Great Pumpkin did visit us that evening–after all, the perfection of our Halloween began with the Sincere Pumpkin Patch we planted last spring.

Much of our modest pumpkin crop was scattered about our two front stone porches and stairways, lending a higher degree of rustic charm to our old farm house. The lawn was covered with a thick carpet of autumn leaves only recently fallen to the ground. Around the property and across the street over the river trees still had one third to one half of their colorful leaves intact. With so many of the leaves gone from the trees on the bank of the river, I could see the river clearly through our kitchen windows.

We had a high wind advisory, and what could be more perfect for Halloween Day than gusty bursts of wind stirring up whirlwinds of autumn leaves round and round the yard, against the house and windows, in short bursts of startling and magical fun.

Then there was a power outage in the middle of the day. Fortunately I had already cooked the fresh pumpkin soup and homemade bread we would be having at dinner, and my husband offered to cook the meatballs we were going to serve out on the grill if needed. We had fun gathering up all manner of candles and lanterns and arranging them around the dinning room in case the power was not restored before dark. We were expecting a couple of friends to arrive about dinner time and thought it would be fun to have to spend the evening in the dark, lit only by candles, on Halloween night.

LongIslandCheeseI don’t have a photograph of the pumpkin soup I created for Halloween because we ate it all up before it could be photographed, but I will share the recipe with you (see below). I used this Long Island Cheese pumpkin from our very own crop; my husband cut it up for me into large chunks and we froze what we didn’t use in this batch of soup.

When our friends arrived, I drew Jack o’ Lantern faces on three of our Howden’s Field pumpkins and the men took them out on the porch to carve, light, and display them. It was so beautiful to see big plump, carved Jack o’ Lanterns that we had grown ourselves. Standing together after the carving, watching the flickering candlelit faces of the Jack o’ Lanterns, gave us a definite feeling of completion to the goal we had set out for ourselves one year ago when we first decided to create the Sincere Pumpkin Patch.

jackNow we have to get on with the business of cutting up and freezing some more of our pumpkins, storing others, and giving some away … while we still have time. I’ll end off for now, I mean, I do have all of these pumpkins to deal with. Hope you and yours have a wonderful weekend coming up and that you enjoy a fall day as much as we enjoyed our perfect Halloween.


Pumpkin Coconut Soup

  • 3 lbs fresh pumpkin, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 to 3 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp raw or brown sugar
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 to 4 cups vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil

LongIslandCheeseCloseNote: Set aside 1/2 lb of pumpkin for roasting separately.

1. Melt the butter in a large crock pot on high.; toss pumpkin cubes in melted butter.

2. Cook pumpkin in crock pot on high for one hour.

3. Add spices and sugar to crock pot and stir well; add coconut milk and vegetable stock. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Continue cooking in crock pot until pumpkin is tender (varies depending on the crock pot you are using; my pumpkin was tender after one more hour or so on high in my crock pot).

5. Meanwhile, cut the 1/2 lb of pumpkin you set aside earlier into 1/2″ to 1″ cubes. Toss liberally with olive oil. Sprinkle black pepper, salt, and a bit of ground cinnamon and toss again to coat seasonings evenly over pumpkin cubes. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until pumpkin is tender when poked with a fork. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

6. Puree the soup in a blender or with a hand-held blender until smooth. (If using a blender, you should process the soup in small batches to prevent backsplash burns. Of course, be sure to put a cover on your blender also to prevent backsplash.)

7. Serve the pumpkin soup with a few pieces of the roasted pumpkin plopped down into it, a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt in the middle or crumbled blue cheese sprinkled on top. Garnish with a sprig of parsley or rosemary for color. Big, chunky fresh homemade croutons seasoned with cinnamon and butter are wonderful in this soup.

Variations: 1. Use only three cups of vegetable stock if you want a thicker soup. 2) For a richer, creamier soup, use only one or two cups vegetable stock and a total of two cans of coconut milk. 3) Add one to two additional tablespoons of sugar and increase the amount of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg if you would like a sweeter soup reminiscent of pumpkin pie.

Copyright © 2009 J. L. Fleckenstein ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

A sense of wonder

December 11, 2008 at 2:43 pm | Posted in art, baby, blogging, cats, Christmas, country life, faith, family, gardening, gifts, Holidays, knitting, Life, love, marriage, pets, photography, relationships, romance, snow, Thanksgiving | 23 Comments
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08dec08_2carolersoutsideWhere has the time gone; where have the leaves, the sky, the green grasses gone. It is nearly one full month to the day since I have posted.  My intent is to post once per week, to treat this blog as a weekly feature and responsibility that my readers depend upon. Regardless of my best intentions, time has lapsed. Here I am, at last.

We have enjoyed several snowfalls by now, a quiet and loving Thanksgiving has come and gone as winter reaches round our cheeks and necks, up our sleeves and down our collars. Cold, cold chill is in the air and the snow outside brings with it a sense of wonder.

Eight cats and kittens reside on our front porch, which is enclosed on three sides and offers some protection from the elements. Since the arrival of the first magic cat more than one year ago, we no longer hear critters great and small running around inside our old farmhouse walls and rafters. These cats are hunters and survivers, barn cats who roam our fields and the banks of our river.

08dec08_seqyek1The cats bring with them love, play, entertainment and … a sense of wonder.

As I write this entry a heavy, wet snow falls steadily and wind blows it hard against tree trunks, branches, sign posts, and window sills.

I think of holiday events coming in the days ahead, of treasures I have recently made in my studio, and of magical events coming in the days and months ahead. I am filled with a sense of wonder.

There is news to share … come spring a child will be born and my husband and I will become grandparents. Is that not something! I think ahead to Christmas times in the future and the fun we will all have creating and participating in that extraordinary magic light that children and childhood bring to Christmas. What plans we all have, what dreams.

08dec08_twodecorateThis is a time for dreams and love. I am not only referring to this time as for my family, but this time as for you and yours as well. You see, we all need to continue to remind ourselves and each other that we are the creators of our own feelings and attitudes towards life.

It is easy to forget that you are the one who gets to decide how you feel about and what you think about life … and yet, it is true. Sometimes it is a difficult responsibility to accept, and that is also true.

Several years ago I set out on a quest in my own life to resolve inner conflicts I had regarding money and finances and the material side of life. I have lived through and suffered through times of great scarcity. The most painful of those times were when I was raising my children alone and out of both work and money.

During those times, I would wake up each morning wondering how I would pay whichever bill was due that day, or buy a bit of gas to get to someplace I had to go, buy some groceries to last a few more days as I waited for a check to arrive.

08dec08_thistleonian2One particular Christmas many years ago I had no job and my car broke down a month or two before Christmas. We were so low on money that it hurt inside and out.

I write of these things not to bring sorrow or sadness to my readers, not to gain pity or sympathy. To have experienced adversity and found ways to experience joy and love and cheer in spite of my financial circumstances  gave me strength and inner lights that I would not trade for all the money in the world.

Without a job to go to and without a car to drive, that Christmas season I had much time on my hands.  Luckily I also had the full use of my creative mind and spirit.   I am not saying it wasn’t sad or worrisome to be in that situation but looking back on it I know that situation was an opportunity, not a tragedy.

With just barely enough money coming in to buy food and very basic necessities, but Christmas gifts were out of reach. However, I did have watercolor paper and paints, fabrics, art board, and various other supplies here and there in my home.

08dec08_littlesknitter2Watercolor supplies became portraits of nieces and nephews to give to brothers and sisters and their spouses. Scraps of beautiful red velvet fabric and snow white rope braid stashed away became handsewn Santa costumes and bags for two small bears I had on hand. I even happened to have a bit of actual gold leaf on hand in my art supplies, and my son and I made two magic boxes for the Santa costumed bears to “bear”. My son made the boxes — nice cube shaped boxes and tops. We covered them in wrapping paper and lined them with the gold leaf.

The two teddy bears with costumes, Santa bags, and magic boxes were gifts for my parents and one brother and his family; portraits went to others.

On Christmas Day when we gathered with family my children and I felt all tingly inside about the gifts we were bearing. I think the most wonderful moment that day was when we handed my younger brother’s gift to him.  As he opened his gift he found two portraits, one of each of his boys. They were two of my best children’s portraits ever. He instantly sprang to his feet and came across the room to embrace and thank me, with tears in his eyes. I had no idea the paintings would mean so much to him, and it touched me deeply that I had been able to do something for him that meant so much.

08dec08_littlestknitterHe told me that earlier, when we had arrived he had seen the shape and size of the packages we carried in and he had a feeling there were paintings involved. The thought occurred to him there might be a painting of his boys, and he trembled — literally trembled — in anticipation.  That is a touching Christmas memory.

I had no idea, no idea at all the solution to my Christmas problem would create such a deeply felt response in someone else.

It was a magic Christmas and one of my best Christmas memories. There were several years when we faced similar problems and in each case my children and I used our creativity and love to find and spread the real spirit of the season. Mostly, we found the spirit within ourselves by solving the Christmas problem when it arouse.

08dec08_barnA few years ago my mother told my daughter and I about what Christmas was like when she was a child in the rural farmlands of North Carolina. At that time, getting a walnut and a piece of citrus fruit as your special Christmas gift was a huge, magical experience. She shared memories with us of her parents going to their church on Christmas Eve, standing in line to receive nuts and oranges to give to their children.

Wonder of wonders, children receiving the humble gift of a walnut and possibly an orange on Christmas morning were cheerfully grateful and filled with an inner sense of magic and joy.

How do such memories compare with recent stories of stampedes of people “Christmas” shopping the day after Thanksgiving in the lustful glee of getting their hands on one of a limited supply of electronic gadgets or high priced toys at bargain prices.

Is it any wonder the world is in financial turmoil right now? Has mankind not allowed him/herself to become contorted out of shape emotionally and spiritually in thinking that happiness lies in items that can be procured from shelves in stores. Have people not traded their financial souls to the devil by buying far too much  “stuff” on credit , undoing their own future security and happiness in order to get the buzz of the “new” right now? 

08dec08_yinyangIn my experience happiness and pleasure and magical moments in life reside in the quiet, humble, simple corners and folds of the lives we live.

Fail to notice those little places and things, fail to value the humble bits in life and you will fail to cash in on the greatest gifts your life holds. Those are the gifts it would be tragic to miss out on, not the things that are found on a store shelf at a discounted price during a sale the day after Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, Christmas … gratitude for God’s gifts, the gifts of life. Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men. If we instill in ourselves the simple, clear and down-to-earth sense of wonder that this season is truly about we have a chance of instilling that same sense of wonder in our children and grandchildren and leaving traces of the magic we create in the lives of men to come.

08dec08_wreathThis holiday season I celebrate with the anticipate of a grandchild who I will endeavour to inspire with a sense of wonder about every day life.  Of course, we will amp it up to even higher proportions each and every holiday season.

What fun I will have showing her how to gather wild things from the environment, dry them in the oven, and organize them.  Then each and every November I will will teach her how to transform some of nature’s ingredients into magical little Thistleonian characters, miniature wreaths, table decorations, and Christmas tree ornaments.

I will write and tell her stories of both fiction and my actual life … the good stuff, the best stuff that holds all the magic and wonder of the better parts of life.

It is the winter, Christmas season … do you have your sense of wonder on?

Ho, ho, ho and merry times to you and yours. 🙂



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