Here at the Parris House we are almost-empty-nesters. All of our sons are grown, but our second son, James, is temporarily home teaching biology and environmental science at a nearby private school before he makes a big and permanent move to Canada. Our oldest son, Robert, is getting married in September and has been living in the Philadelphia area for years now. Our two undergrads, Peter and Paul, are always doing co-ops, internships, and research with profs during the summers and no longer come home except for holidays and short visits. Upon graduation from college, they will have permanently flown the nest also.
As it has for many empty nesters living in old houses like ours, it has occurred to my husband, Bill, and I, that a five bedroom, four bath, approximately 5000 square foot, 200 year old house and barn – no matter how well loved and historic – is an awful lot for two people to wander around in. The options become many. Downsize? Make the addition in to an apartment for visiting family and Airbnb guests? Or something else?
There is a lot to be said for keeping the Parris House. We like our neighborhood (most of the time…), we love the history of the house and we feel responsible for stewarding that. We raised a pretty happy family here and would like to give our future grandchildren the benefit of visits to “where Dad grew up.” It is a significant but not insurmountable thing that Parris House Wool Works is named for this location. Both my public and private studios are in this complex of buildings, the former in the main house and the latter over the garage. My husband’s pottery studio (Sunset Haven Pottery) is established in a finished, heated section of the barn, with the kilns conveniently next door in the garage. We have very good locations for our chickens, bees, and organic garden. We have enough apple trees to produce an abundant crop without so many that they are another big job to do. We are not down a long driveway, nor are we secluded, which, for me at this stage of life are drawbacks, but perhaps when I am 80 or 90 could be beneficial.
Perhaps the biggest factor in favor of keeping it is that my husband is a very change averse human being by nature. While I am always up for a move, an adventure, a big change, a “let’s chuck this all in and…,” he is decidedly not. The move from his home state of NJ to Maine was a very big deal for him, and moving from our home now of eighteen years to another, even if smaller, easier to manage, much cheaper to heat, and closer to work for him (but probably not newer – just not a big fan of non-antique homes), does not seem to appeal.
We have had a great deal of success with Airbnb for our Little Sebago Lake cottage, Sunset Haven. Several years ago I put together a small, exclusive hooking retreat there over a September weekend and I do believe a good time was had by all. We had a guest teacher, we went on a nature walk, we hooked, we ate lobster, and we laughed a lot. As Airbnb Superhosts, we get a lot of email from Airbnb. Recently we learned that some hosts do Airbnb Experiences, which are value added stays at some of the destinations. Hosts provide a class, an activity, a tour of the area, or something similar as part of the stay. It’s an intriguing idea and not unlike ideas that have occurred to me in the past for both Sunset Haven and the Parris House.
When we first purchased the Parris House the most common exclamation from our friends back home was, “You could have a B&B!,” to which our most common answer was, “Hell, NO!” But there’s a compromise solution in there somewhere between a full time B&B and a set of lovely rooms and bathrooms sitting empty and gathering dust.
Currently the upstairs at the Parris House looks like it houses four young men, because that’s what it’s been doing for the past eighteen years. But with the application of fresh paint, some careful vintage furniture shopping (I’m looking at you, My Sister’s Garage), and a program of wonderful weekend activities along with home cooked meals (thank you, Parris House hens, bees, and gardens), a retreat center could easily take shape. Bill and I are both Registered Maine Guides and beekeepers, he is a Reiki Master, soap maker, chicken keeper, and a potter (when he’s not at his professional job as the Controller for a Lewiston firm), and, obviously, I am a fiber artist, gardener, and hopefully by then, a published author. Together we have a skill set that could keep guests entertained and relaxed for a weekend away, and it would also be imperative to bring in guest teachers for additional class offerings. During non-class or activity hours, guests could assist with the daily tasks of gathering eggs and picking vegetables, take a turn in the beehives, pick apples, light the wood stoves, or, alternatively, they could do none of these things and simply knit, hook, read, or go out and sight see. Click through the slideshow below to see some scenes from the Parris House and Paris Hill Village.
For skiing we are close to Sunday River, Shawnee Peak, and Mount Abram ski areas. Hiking and trail walking/running are abundantly available, including at the Cornwall Preserve right down the street and the Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway. Norway Downtown provides shopping and great restaurants including Norway Brewing Company, 76 Pleasant Street, Cafe Nomad, and more. Also there for fiber enthusiasts and makers is Fiber & Vine and the Folk Art Studio there. Within the National Historic District of Paris Hill, just a short walk, you can golf at the nine hole Paris Hill Country Club which also has a cafe, or explore the Hamlin Memorial Library & Museum and the Paris Hill Historical Society. For those so inclined, the Oxford Casino is about ten miles away. There is also public access to Norway Lake, about seven miles away.
At most, the Parris House will sleep seven. There are three available bedrooms that will take two-person beds for couples (or singles to have more space!) and one, my favorite, that is a beautiful, vintage refuge for one. There are two baths that would be shared between the four bedrooms, one with laundry facilities. The fifth bedroom and bath would be for us and is with my work studio. So full retreat weekends would be somewhat exclusive because of that space limitation, although there are possible options for lodging elsewhere in the village as well. We are thinking these retreats could run, at first, once a quarter, and if they are well attended and in demand, perhaps more often, but that would be a lot to commit to from this time distance.
This is where you come in. Give us your feedback. Do you like the idea? Is this something that you could realistically see yourself doing? What classes and activities would you like to see offered? What seasons would be your favorites for a retreat? How far would you travel for a weekend away at the Parris House? Would you also like to see us run another retreat at Sunset Haven?
These retreats could not be offered before 2019, possibly even 2020, so this is some long range planning, but we were just interested to see what kind of response the idea brought.
In other news, I think there’s a football game or something on today. If you are a football fan, enjoy the day, and happy hooking! – Beth