I haven’t gotten a lot done this week because I’ve been recovering from a very nasty ankle injury, but I had a friend suggest that a video tour of the work studio might be interesting to some people, especially the makers out there. I shot this with my cell phone, so it looks like a FB live, not wide screen. This is not a magazine shoot ready working space. In fact, it’s extremely functional. We’re planning to paint it this summer when I’ll probably be doing some beautifying for it, but right now it gets the job done. I hope this is an encouragement to those out there working out of spaces that do not look like a magazine spread (although I plan to have one some day!), and for people building viable businesses where they are with what they have. Oh, and Wyeth’s in it and he’s pretty cute.
I am just getting my feet wet in making video and populating our YouTube channel, but if you’d like to never miss a video (some of them are how-tos and instructional) you can subscribe to the channel HERE.
I’ve been thinking a lot about pots lately. I recently started my seedlings for this summer’s garden (yes, I know it’s terribly late, even for zone 5 in Maine) and after just a couple of days, the mixed salad greens have sprouted. I love this particular mix, by Pinetree Garden Seeds right here in Maine, for its variety of flavors and colors. As I looked at the tiny seedlings this morning, some of which will have to be thinned out, I thought, “There are this summer’s bountiful fresh salads, right there in that tray.” I was projecting them in to their future, though right now they are the tiniest of sprouts.
This weekend I’ll be working on the raised beds, getting them ready to accept the seedlings that are only now emerging in my trays and for the seeds that are sown directly in to the soil. For us, in this climate, planting time happens in the very last days of May or the first days of June. Our growing season – at least without the aid of greenhouses and other warming equipment – is short and we have to make the most of it. By September, and certainly by October, we’re harvesting the last of things save for hardy kales and the like, and winter squashes and pumpkins.
People who know me well know that I can find life analogies in almost everything, so here we go…
Right now these little divided pots my seedlings are being born in to are fine for them. In fact, I would go as far as to say they are right for them. They are providing a small space where the plants are watched over, nurtured, and not overrun by nature in a larger environment. Some seeds don’t require this small space at the outset and can be planted in the bigger expanse of the garden or raised bed right away. Seeds are all different, but one thing is sure: very few seeds are meant to grow in a confined space forever. My little salad greens will never become robust, zesty, hardy, ready-to-bolt-if-not-picked-in-time food producers if left in those little pots. And – you saw it coming – it’s the same for us, and I think we know it. We know when we are becoming metaphorically pot bound, when we can’t expand, when we can’t grow. We know when we can’t breathe, when we’re thirsty, when the nutrients are scarce, both literally and figuratively. It’s the way we’re made. What to do when our pots are too small? The garden continues to provide guidance.
These little salad sprouts are going to need thinning. Of all the gardening tasks there are, this is the most painful for me. I just hate thinning plants. Hate it. I know it has to be done so that the remaining plants are hale and hearty, with plenty of space to grow, growth being the objective, after all, but I can not completely shake the guilt of killing off the sacrificial plants. It can not be too long delayed, lest the roots be intertwined and you damage the primary plants when you pull the others. It is always harder to thin later. Best to do it as soon as it’s required.
As it turns out, I hate thinning my life too, or at least, I used to. As with thinning my seedlings, I’m starting to take comfort in the wisdom of it and know that it’s the only path for growth. What I say “no” to is becoming as important as what I say “yes” to these days. Some thinning is quick and painless. For example, this morning I uninstalled Twitter from my phone. I still have my @ParrisHouseWool Twitter account, but I don’t have to have the app on my phone. I can visit it intentionally and with a purpose when I want to share something (for example, this blog post) and eliminate it as a distraction on my phone. In a similar way, I can set my phone aside or in another room when I want an undisturbed block of time to write or do making work. I can tell people – again – that email is the very best, by a large margin, way to reach me and stick to that as my preferred mode of communication. Other things are less easily plucked and have to instead be moved through and out of the time pipeline. Commitments made in “yes” mode have to be honored, but not renewed if they are not consistent with your life’s primary goals. Once out of your time pipeline they have to become “no”s. When “yes” feels like an obligation or a “should” but is not coming from a deep place of purpose in your life, say “no” and do not second guess it. Say “no” and move forward with your remaining “yes” activities. If you have a task or obligation that for some reason you can not eliminate, find help with it, paid or unpaid as the case may be, but exhaust all other options to weed it out before you do.
Still feeling pot bound after a good round of saying “no” and thinning the field? Maybe you need a bigger pot. I’m not talking about buying a four thousand square foot house. I’m talking about living your life in a way that expands it. Do not be afraid to plant yourself in a bigger environment if the one you’re in feels restrictive or is not providing for your needs or dreams, and do not be afraid to be afraid. I had to learn this the hard way and have still not completely mastered it. Three examples from my own life come vividly to mind. The first is when I decided to take my work in person to Josh and Brent of Beekman 1802 to ask if I might become part of their artisan collective. The second was when I was invited to teach at the Squam Art Workshops among a field of teachers I regarded as having much stronger credentials than mine. The third was just recently, when I went out to Down East Books to meet my editor for the book I am currently writing. In all of these cases I saw opportunities to plant myself in a bigger pot, and in all cases I was so nervous I was physically ill: heart palpitations, nausea, GI upset I’ll leave to your imagination, feeling faint, sleeplessness the night before, all of it. Train wreck status, really. I knew I was nervous and afraid, even if I couldn’t pinpoint why (well, probably lots of past conditioning, but this is not the space for psychoanalysis), but I was hell bent on doing these things anyway. I have found that the level of reward of doing something is almost always proportional to the level of blowing through the self imposed limitations, in this case, fear, required to get it done. Related to this is that you don’t have to know up front every detail of how you’ll get whatever it is done. You just have to start, have a general plan, and then do the steps as they present themselves. Get in to that bigger pot or garden bed so you can thrive, even though that move is going to be uncomfortable and even though you can not – will never be able to – completely predict the outcome.
Your flower pot can almost always be bigger. I know very little about ceramics, but I can see by watching my husband make pottery that sometimes a pot comes out small even if there’s plenty of clay on the wheel to make it bigger. Sometimes this is because the potter didn’t draw it up and thin it out to its optimal size, leaving it somewhat stunted and leaden in its finished form. The clay was there; it just wasn’t optimized. But this a post based on gardening analogies, not pottery making analogies, so we’ll leave that there.
In the time it’s taken me to write this post, the pickling cucumber plants in my trays have also emerged just a little more from beneath the potting soil. Their insistent progress even in the span of an hour or so inspires me, and it will be with great expectation that I plant them in the bigger space that they both need and deserve in just a few week’s time. Today’s brave emergence is tomorrow’s harvest, for plants and for us.
In both a literal and metaphorical sense, what are you growing this year, and how much space are you going to need?
Many of you know that my husband, William Miller, of Sunset Haven Pottery, enjoys making ceramics. After several years of attending the Maine Pottery Tour, this year he decided to open his own pottery studio to the public and be on the tour instead. There are at least forty studios on the tour statewide this year. Make ours one of your stops!
We will be open both days, here at the Parris House, 546 Paris Hill Road, Paris, Maine, from 9 AM to 5 PM. Here’s what we’ll be offering:
Lots of beautiful Sunset Haven Pottery pieces for sale, just in time for Mother’s Day
Pottery studio tours and demonstrations
A chance to try your hand at the pottery wheel if you’d like
A raffle to win a piece of Sunset Haven Pottery
So come on out and join us to see what happens at the Parris House that’s not fiber art, for a change!
Watch the slideshow below for a preview of what we’ll have available.
I have recently been trying to make a more conscious practice of gratitude. Anyone who follows this page knows that I have a lot to be grateful for in my life, so practicing gratitude is something I should certainly have no trouble with. However, I have to confess that as today dawned, which was the day we were scheduled to pick up our honey bee packages for the season, I was feeling decidedly ungrateful toward Mother Nature for dishing out what amounts to winter weather: high 20s (Fahrenheit, in case you’re reading this from the civilized world where temps are measured in Celsius), and a combination of freezing rain, ice pellets, and snow, depending on Mother’s whim, all day long. This is not great weather for bees who recently made the trip via motor vehicle from the sunny South. This is not what I wanted. I wanted weather at least in the 40s and a nice rising barometer. But no. This is what I got, so onward we went.
Before I go any further, let me clarify “we.” Congratulations are in order to my husband, Bill, who recently completed his beginner beekeeping class with the wonderful Master Beekeeper, Carol Cottrill. She was also my teacher for both beginner and intermediate beekeeping, and thankfully we also have two additional mentors in Master Beekeeper Vanessa Rogers of Backwoods Bee Farm (where we get our bees and equipment) and Eric Davis, who is currently serving as the membership coordinator for the Maine State Beekeepers Association.
So, today was Bill’s first day installing package bees in to our hives. Our three hives from last year did not survive the winter. The reasons for this are many, but the overarching reason is that I did not adequately keep their varroa mite load down. Last year was my second year as a beekeeper, and I was doing well. I’d even caught a swarm (my own, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit) to create a third hive, which was incredibly strong mid summer. However, after the illness and loss of my Welsh Corgi, Tru, I had a tough time keeping up with a lot of my responsibilities. I was not as vigilant with the hives as I needed to be. I had been beekeeping alone for two seasons, because my husband was deathly afraid of bees. I never even seriously considered asking him to assist me with them, so strong was his aversion. This is why the Parris House hives are built with all eight frame, medium boxes, to keep the weight of each box under control so that I can lift them alone, even when they’re full of honey and fairly high in the air. An eight frame medium box full of honey can easily weigh forty or fifty pounds.
Imagine my surprise when Bill showed an interest in helping me with the bees this season. Maybe surprise is too mild a word. I was shocked. However, I gladly went along with the idea and here we are.
Bill is a person who can look at a field of clover and pick out all the ones with four leaves. This may sound like a skill unrelated to beekeeping until you consider that spotting the queen among tens of thousands of other bees is a thing you need to be able to do. He’s also really in to science and biology, and understands systems and the kinds of interrelationships you might find at work in a hive. Perhaps best of all, he doesn’t stress or worry easily, or overthink situations. I possess none of these qualities; not a single one. For this reason, I think he’s destined to be a better beekeeper than I am. The stress and worry thing on my part was on full display as the weather continued its winter-esque rampage, never letting up, including by the time we were ready to put the package bees in the hive.
It was never my plan to hive the bees myself this year. As the new beekeeper this was an experience Bill had to have himself. Once you do it, you don’t forget how. It’s just that under normal spring circumstances, midway through April in Maine, you’ve got a day at least in the 40s F and if a few of the bees don’t make it in to the hives, they will buzz around a bit, “smell” their queen, and eventually make their way in. This is not the case when Mother Nature is being a sadist. In these temperatures, with ice falling from the sky, the few bees we did not manage to get in to the hives simply fell to the ground, went dormant, and quickly died. Both previous seasons I’ve hived bees I had an overwhelming sense of joy, as I did when I caught my swarm last June and popped it down in to its new home. This year I watched with sadness and contempt for the weather as we immediately lost twenty to thirty bees (an extremely small number, but still…) who fell to the sides of the hives and died on the snow below. You don’t want to stand there watching bees die on installation day.
At any rate, we survived and so did most of the bees. In the spirit of gratitude, I am going to list the positives. Bill did an exemplary job of installing these bee packages. He knew exactly what to do, put the queen cages in without a hitch, got the overwhelming majority of the bees safely in to the hives, and perhaps most extraordinarily, was not consumed by anxiety by the harsh conditions. (I will not sleep well tonight knowing that the weather is so inhospitable for our hives. He’ll sleep just fine.) Neither of us had ever used ball jar feeders for bees before, having always baggie fed. However, we were advised by one of our mentors to use jars until the weather improves, and Bill was able to make that adaptation without any fuss as well. There is no forage in our part of Maine right now. It’s just…still winter here.
I am also grateful that our bees are going in to hives that already have drawn comb, some honey frames on the box ends, and “sticky” frames available that still have traces of honey from last year’s extraction. This is as opposed to a never-before-used hive where they have to start from scratch in building their home. Maybe the thing I’m most grateful for is that the weather will be improving slightly over the next week or so. Hopefully the queens will release nicely and start doing their jobs, and the building up of the hives will begin.
I’m going to go out on a limb here with the positive thinking and be grateful for the honey these hives will provide later in the season.
Here are some pics of the installation process. You can see how bad the weather is.
This is a brief video of Bill shaking the bees in to Hippy Dippy. I have more of a pouring technique, but hey, we’re both relatively new to this. You can hear him at the end saying, “They’re not happy.” I’m not sure any of us were happy.
Note: It is a solid truth that if you ask five beekeepers a single question you will get ten different answers. So it is entirely possible that if you are a beekeeper reading this, you may decide there were other possible methods for achieving the goal today. I’m sure that’s true. This being only our third season, we take the advice of our experienced mentors and our own growing intuition and knowledge and do what we think is best at any given time.
That’s the news from the Parris House bee yard. Barring disaster, I’ll have updates as the beekeeping season continues.
Pray for spring and happy hooking. – Beth
You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need. – The Rolling Stones
I have recently had to face the hard truth that I am a workaholic, and if you are too, you might want to read up here, because that life is not sustainable. You might think it is, but it’s not. Really. It’s not.
As those who have been following my social media know, I have been reading and doing the exercises in the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron since the beginning of the year. I just finished week ten, of twelve. Week ten is really heavy on recognizing workaholism not only as an addiction or compulsion, but as a fear based way of living. What makes us slide over the line in to workaholism? Why do we think we have to be “on” 24/7/365 to succeed?
If you’re a small business owner I can already hear you, with some justification, saying, “Well, that’s just what it takes.” To some extent, you’re right, especially if you are your small business, or at the very least, you are the one responsible for driving sales and growth. It’s hard to ever totally shut off when there’s no guaranteed external paycheck, when you either make the sales, bring in the new students and customers, finish the custom orders, meet the shipping deadlines, pay attention to your social media and marketing, or else you don’t pay the bills. If you have employees or contractors the pressure is even higher, because part of paying the bills is making payroll. I get that and I know it can be overwhelming. Kicking back for a day, or a week, or if you’re really burned out, a lot longer, can seem like professional suicide. But, I have discovered something else that’s professional suicide: overwork, overwhelm, and burnout.
So, I took the Chapter 10 workaholic quiz in The Artist’s Way and failed spectacularly, in that, I was guilty of every common marker for the problem. No, I haven’t been taking at least one day a week off. No, I don’t take vacations. Yes, I do put off my family and friends because I “have to work” or I “have a deadline.” Yes, I do cancel non-emergency preventative medical appointments because I’m “too busy.” Yes, sometimes I realize I have not left my studio in three or four days because I’m trying to get it all done. No, I don’t take myself on what the book calls “Artist’s Dates.” Yes, I do blow off yoga and hiking and time in the woods and on the water because I “just can’t find the time.” Yes, I “forget to eat.” I could go on, but you get the idea, and some of you – I know that some of you – are living this way too.
Let’s go back to why we do this to ourselves. We’ve already addressed that there is a baseline reality to some need for very hard work: we are under tremendous pressure to pay our bills, make our deadlines, and pay the people who may be working for us or providing materials to us. But do we really have to go this far down the workaholic rabbit hole to make that happen? I’m taking the leap to find out, but more on that later.
The “why”s go beyond the very real financial and logistical pressures. One “why” is overwhelmingly cultural. Here in the United States we are raised (or were – I think it’s improving with subsequent generations) to believe that our value is not in who we are, but in what we can do, what we can produce. We are an independent, bootstrapping, hyper productive, entrepreneurial culture of powerhouses….right? Our heroes embody rags to riches stories. We worship celebrities because of how they look and how large a venue they can fill, without ever knowing who they are. We elect politicians not for the content of their character but for the alleged quantity in their bank accounts, because that’s how we define success. Look, I have no objection to anyone becoming wealthy in America. In fact, I applaud it if it is done in an ethical way that contributes to that person’s family and community, and I wouldn’t mind making it happen for me and my family. What I object to is the metrics by which we value human beings in this culture and the way it drives us not only to work excessively and compulsively, but to work ineffectively and in ways untrue to who we are.
For some of us, another “why” is closer to our homes. Perhaps we were raised by people who cared little about who we were as human beings and more about who they could mold us to become, either in their own image or according to some ideal in their minds. (I regard that lack of acceptance and freedom as child abuse, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.) These parents might appear well meaning, but the message they ultimately send is this: you are not enough as you are, you can not be trusted to shape your own life and path, you are not what we expected and therefore are somehow disappointing. It is no surprise that people raised in environments like this lack confidence, have trouble making decisions right for themselves, become people pleasers to their own detriment, and yes, try to compensate by working themselves too hard in order to prove their value. It may not always be parents who cause this crisis of authentic identity and self worth. It may be a highly critical teacher or role model. It might be peers who are bullies. It might be an abusive partner. All of this is addressed magnificently in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, and without practicing psychotherapy without a license, I try to touch on this a bit when I teach my design class, Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can.
I have been living the workaholic life for at least the past fifteen years, but probably longer. I started my ten year career in real estate in 2003. Every good real estate broker knows the drill, or at least, what the drill might be if you’re a workaholic and insecure about making and being “enough”: take calls at all hours of the day and night, show property on weekends, nights, and holidays, travel to anywhere your client needs you to to execute documents (although this is better in the age of Docusign, unless your client isn’t computer literate), climb in every nook and cranny of every house, barn, attic, basement you show, stand over open septic tanks breathing it all in, walk land during hunting season hoping your blaze orange jacket is enough, on and on and on. My clients loved me. I was very well regarded in the field. And here’s the punch line in real estate brokerage. You’re an independent contractor, you have no benefits, and you don’t get paid unless the sale closes. Many of those failure-to-close factors you have zero – and I mean ZERO – control over. It’s stressful, sometimes lucrative, sometimes very not lucrative, and many people burn out. After ten years, I did. Spectacularly. So what did I do?
I started my own business and carried those same workaholic habits right in to it. Duh. And with those habits have come some serious mental and physical health issues I now have to attend to, the need to work on improving relationships and friendships I have neglected, and a real subversion of my own creativity, because no one can create when the proverbial well is dry.
No, I’m not done with Parris House Wool Works. On the contrary, I have big plans for Parris House Wool Works and for myself in a variety of arts. However, I am done working all the time. I am done not having a life outside of my business, and I am done thinking that who I am is so inextricably tied to what I can produce. What does this look like in practice?
Well, I’ve taken the past two weekends almost completely off. This weekend my husband, Bill, taught our soap class (which was delightful, by the way; we get the best students) and then we came down to our lake cottage, Sunset Haven, which is where I am writing this from today. (No, blogging is not work for me.) Unlike many times we are at Sunset Haven, we are not cleaning it for the next Airbnb visitors. There was a rare gap in the rental calendar and we can just spend time here for ourselves this weekend. We went to a cafe this morning and had breakfast, and then we did something unheard of for us: we mindlessly walked around the Maine Mall, got a lilac scented candle (our own lilacs won’t bloom until well in to May), got some coffee, and came back to the cottage. My husband is catching up on our personal finances and I’m blogging, lakefront. It’s a winter wonderland here, the lake is still mostly frozen, and in a little while I’m going to take Wyeth for a long walk on the camp roads. That doesn’t exactly sound like a Hawaiian luxury vacation, I realize, but this is a major departure for us. It’s a first step.
What will this look like going forward? I don’t know. That’s why this post is titled “Part 1,” because I plan to keep our readers informed on how this lifestyle change is going. I’m doing the journaling of this for me, I admit, but I’m also doing it for those of you following along who are also burning yourselves out in your own businesses or careers, or who are in danger of doing so.
What are you doing to take care of yourself this weekend? How will you give yourself the time and space to approach your work this coming week well rested and fresh? If you have been to the land of burnout, how did you recover? How are you doing now? Feel free to comment below.
We’ve been fielding a lot of questions about when this year’s Belfast Hook In would be and about how to sign up. Here are the answers!
This year’s event will take place on Saturday, April 28th, 2018 from 9 am to 3 pm. We will be gathering again at the First Church of Belfast, 8 Court Street, Belfast, Maine.
We are so pleased to announce that this year’s guest speaker is Doreen Frost of Vermont Harvest Folk Art! She will be speaking on The Art of Punch Needle Embroidery.
Doreen’s full bio can be found here, but she is an accomplished folk artist and author from Pawlet, VT who creates marvelous designs and finished pieces in punch needle embroidery. This is a different art than punch needle rug hooking, instead using fine fiber threads and very fine punch needles. We are looking forward to hearing her speak about her inspirations, her art, and her techniques. She will also be available for questions and have materials for sale if you are already a maker in this craft or would like to become one! Please visit her site at http://www.vermontharvestfolkart.com for more information and a look at her beautiful and original artwork.
As before, we will have an informal rug show and our breakfast and lunch will once more be provided by the friendly chefs of For the Love of Food and Drink. We will have vendors and door prizes, and of course, lots of wonderful camaraderie as we gather again to celebrate our heritage craft.
Ready to sign up? You can find and print the registration form here, or, contact us at email@example.com, or, call Beth Miller at 207-890-8490. Need a flyer to rally your friends? Click here. In response to feedback from last year’s event we are capping attendance at 96 this year, so please register soon! Registration is $38 before March 1st, $40 thereafter. Registration deadline is April 21st.
This blog post has been taking shape in my mind for weeks. There have been so many catalysts but I have not been able to quite put it all together until now.
As those who follow my social media may know, I’ve been working my way through the book, “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron since the beginning of the year. I still have three and a half weeks to go with it and I already know that I’ll need to repeat the material to get maximum and ongoing benefit. There’s just so much to work with. But, so far, it’s been an amazing and eye opening journey in identifying and working through creative blocks, and learning more about why we often stray from our heart’s direction.
I have also been working through a program with life and business coach Mike Iamele, who is right down in the Boston area but works with clients all over the world. One of the many things Mike invites us to do is discover five or six words that really capture our essence, the who we are that we bring to every venture, every relationship, every part of our lives.
These two experiences so early in the year have helped me to take knowledge that seemed intuitive and break it down in to the “why” of my evolution and direction in my business and my life overall.
To put it concisely, we are all here to do our own thing, and if we try to do someone else’s thing, it’s not going to work out very well for us or for anyone else in our lives. It’s as if we are all built from a completely unique blueprint, and if we stray too far from our inherent design, we fail. Like a structure built by lazy or inept carpenters, we eventually break down if the blueprint isn’t carefully and respectfully followed. Who the architect of our blueprints is is a question best left to philosophers, scientists, and theologians, but I no longer have any doubt that the blueprints exist.
No one can read your blueprint as well as you can. In fact, it’s probable that no one can read your blueprint at all except you. Others will say they can, and they will attempt to push you in a direction that follows their idea of what your blueprint is or should be. Don’t let them. They may be well meaning, or they may have an agenda to use your gifts for their own benefit more than yours. Either way, just say “no.”
I have been dialoging recently with book publishers, who I have learned know a great deal about individual blueprints. In one conversation with a publisher, we both sensed that his publishing house and my proposal were not a great fit for one another. Why? Because in order to make my book work for his press, I would have needed to strip away a good deal of its essence, a major aspect of it that made it what I call “heart work” for me, and even he did not recommend I do that. In speaking with the publisher who is much more likely to work with this project, that aspect of the proposal is not only fine, it’s desired. On a second project, one that came to me unexpectedly, the book editor said to me, in so many words, “Only you can write this book,” going on to explain that every author can only write the thing that’s in her heart to write, and if she tries to write something else, it never works. It literally makes for an unsuccessful book.
The business model for Parris House Wool Works is not what may have been expected by anyone on the outside, even though had I been brave enough to truly follow my blueprint from day one, it might look even more unconventional. In a conversation with a friend today, we spoke about the differences between my studio and another we are both familiar with. These differences are not good or bad, they’re just differences. We are working with different blueprints. As a result, some people prefer this other studio to mine, and some people prefer mine to that one, and that is something I actually love to see play out. It means that the people who come to my studio are the people who belong there. One of the most frustrating things a business owner can do to herself is try to be right for everyone. Not only is it impossible, it stunts growth because energy is wasted trying to please those for whom your offerings, those things driven by your particular blueprint, are just not a good fit. Like the publisher who doesn’t fit with my book proposal and vice versa, not every customer, student, client, whatever the relationship is, is meant to be yours.
The very best opportunities I’ve had in this adventure have come from following my own blueprint: my affiliation with Beekman 1802, teaching at the Squam Art Workshops and other amazing venues in New England, working with Making Magazine, doing some major commissioned work, and more. All of these things have felt absolutely right and in keeping with who I am and what I want to achieve as an artisan.
Whenever I align my life and work with my blueprint, things fall in to place; not without hard work and careful attention, but they do come together. When I do something because someone else thinks it’s a good idea for me, because I feel obligated, because this is what’s expected, or because “this is how it’s always been done,” I am less successful. Additionally, when I crowd my days with too many things, leaving little time to reflect on and sense my best direction, I do poorly. The blueprint is clear and uncluttered. It is in our best interest to read it.
What’s in your blueprint? Feel free to share a time, experience, or opportunity that felt true to who you are and what is in your heart to do.
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.
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
My second son, James, is a biologist/ecologist, a recent grad of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is at home right now, teaching biology and environmental science at Hebron Academy. He also serves on the board of the Center for an Ecology Based Economy in Norway, Maine. He is here until his Canadian girlfriend, Beth, graduates also this spring. Then he’ll be gone to Canada to start his life with her. But…for the time being, he’s home, and we have learned a LOT from him about nature, plants, soil science, composting, climate change, birds and animals, and more.
As a result, we were not surprised when he announced he was going to try to make a bread meal out of acorns, which is something native peoples did prior to the arrival of Europeans on this continent, and which people who like to try this sort of thing still do today. It’s a long process. The primary issue is that the tannins need to be removed from the acorns before they are fit for human consumption. Tannins are found in every day beverages, like tea and coffee, but acorns are extremely loaded with them. This makes them not only bitter, but prone to causing the types of gastrointestinal upset not spoken of in polite company or professional blog posts.
To get the tannins out, James needed to soak the acorn meal for an extended period of time and change the water frequently. He told me that some people will even put their bundle of acorns in to a running stream to let the tannins be leached out over time in the moving water. Before he could do the leaching process, he had to crack the acorns open, pull the meat out of the shell, and then grind it all up in the food processor. When he reached the point where he needed, “a cotton dish towel, or cheese cloth, or something” to hold the meal, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. I said to him, “How about if we wrap it in white wool and see if it will dye it?” Fortunately, he was game. And I knew that the water would be changed so frequently (several times a day in the beginning) that the wool would not get weird or stinky on us.
So the process began. The water was changed frequently over the course of weeks. Every once in a while we tasted the meal. Sure enough, the bitterness was dissipating, and the wool was getting more and more nut colored. I knew that at the end of the process, when the meal was ready for drying and baking, I’d have to mordant the wool, but this could obviously not be done while the acorn meal was still wrapped in it.
Finally, one day, James declared the meal ready for baking. He took it out of the water, and the wool, and dried it on sheets in the oven. The dried meal was then frozen in jars until he baked a bread with it at Christmas time. It’s…an acquired taste. There was some residual bitterness, but it also had an earthy, nutty quality that I very much liked. The reviews were mixed with the visiting brothers, girlfriends, cousins, and grandparents. If you’d like to try processing acorn meal and baking with it yourself, there are many resources on the web that can guide you.
I took the wool, mordanted it as best I knew how in a hot bath of white vinegar (I know there are better mordants for a natural dye like this, but this is what I had on hand), rinsed it, and dried it.
I like the color. It’s a soft, nutty, slightly mottled tan, a little darker and yellower where the meal actually sat all that time, and I have a half yard piece – or I can put it in to fat quarters if you prefer – to sell. I will be pricing them at $14/fat quarter. (Contact me if interested!) This wool is truly one of a kind as I don’t think I’ll be processing acorns again anytime soon. Or maybe I will. Maybe I will find a process more suitable to dyeing specifically and give it another try. This was serendipitous, kind of akin to the Thai iced tea dye I did a while back after noticing how brilliant the color of the tea was when it spilled on my counter top.
Natural dyeing is not my area of expertise. I do not currently teach it, because I feel that I don’t know enough about it. I do plan to invite someone wonderful who does, however, to the Parris House in the summer or fall, so keep an eye on “Classes & Events” for when I can get that scheduled.
Happy Holidays! How is your gift shopping going? Have you remembered to treat yourself to something nice too? Here at Parris House Wool Works, we want to help. First, be aware that between now and December 15th, we are running a coupon code in the Etsy shop. You can save 15% off any order of $50 or more by simply using coupon code HOLIDAY2017 at check out.
Second, here are some great ideas for gifts, for you and your winter hooking/crafting, or for someone on your gift list. While these are our top ten recommendations, remember that the coupon code is good for anything in the Etsy shop.
So let’s do our top ten! Just click on the item title to find it in the Etsy shop. Please note where quantities and time frames are limited.
Holiday colors, 1 fat quarter each, hand dyed, cut or uncut – your choice. This is a great selection of wool to hook last minute ornaments for teachers’ gifts, hostess/party gifts, or just for your own tree.
We have two versions of this, so make sure you check the shop for both. One comes with our 10 x 12 box frame and the other with our 12 x 12 folding frame. Fantastic and economical way to get someone you love in to the craft you love. You can also customize it with a different pattern if you so choose. Limited number available.
This is a favorite frame of mine. Almost everything I hook that is not really large is hooked on this frame. I love its simplicity and portability. This frame is hand crafted by Bear Pond Wood Works in Hartford, Maine in solid, quality, no-knot pine. A great beginner frame, but also a great frame period. Limited number available.
Only one available! I pick our local antique shops for the prettiest, most unusual Maine items I can find. I love this antique hair receiver. Originally used to hold hair from combs and brushes, this could also be a jewelry holder, contain small silk flowers, or whatever your imagination comes up with.
So those are our top ten recommendations, but again, HOLIDAY2017 gets you 15% off any order of $50 or more on ANYTHING in the Etsy shop.
Please note that this sale runs through Friday, December 15th. Some of these items need to be made and/or assembled so anything ordered after the 15th is not guaranteed for holiday delivery. If we have an unexpected number of orders on the frames, it may also be difficult to have those in time for holiday delivery as well, so if a frame or a kit that includes a frame looks like the thing for you, please order right away. First come, first served.
Thank you and I hope you have a holiday filled with happy memories and happy hooking! – Beth