A New Book Coming…and I’m Writing It! What It’s About and How to Pre-Order

So, I’m writing a book.  For over a year I have been shopping a proposal to publishers.  I knew that I could self publish at any point, but I have wanted to collaborate with a publisher for many reasons, not the least of which is to tap in to a professional editor’s expertise in helping to make the book  something that will best serve my audience and that will have a viable distribution channel.   One publisher told me that the proposed book was too broad for their niche.  Another publisher told me it was too niche for their broad audience.  Fortunately, like Goldilocks, I found a match that was just right in Down East Books, headquartered in Rockport, Maine (yes, I know the image says Camden, but trust me on this), which is an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield in Maryland.

This book is both in itself, and is about, the realization of dreams.  I learned to read when I was three.  My mother always said I was two but I’m adding a year to that to make up for a possible exaggeration on her part.  I mean, maybe?  But no matter.  I started writing stories at about age five, drawing pictures to go with them.  I remember one in particular was titled, “The Foggy Frog.”  I collected frogs, the toy and figurine type, although I played with real live toads on the regular outdoors on the edge of the southern NJ Pine Barrens where I grew up.  I remember the pictures I drew.  I could recreate them even today.  By the time I was twelve I knew I wanted to publish books of my own.  I was twelve over forty years ago.  In the intervening four decades I had stopped listening to the inner me who wanted to write, make art, play music, and have a creative career.  People who meet me today think I’ve been working in the creative economy my entire life, but it’s only been since 2014 that I’ve worked in fiber art full time.  By the time my new book is published it will be 2020.  I will turn fifty-five years old in 2020.  I want you to hear something loudly and clearly in this:  it is never too late to realize a dream.

The working title of this book is,  Seasons at the Parris House: Heritage Skills for a Contemporary Life.  I have no idea at this moment whether or not that will be the title on the front of my book when it is released in 2020 but it captures the essence of what it is about.  Let me take an excerpt from my proposal to explain the vantage point from which I approach this project:

“When I was thirty five, eighteen years ago, my husband and I moved ourselves and our four then-little sons from the urban/suburban Princeton, NJ area, a region in which we had spent our entire lives, to rural Western Maine.  We went from a 1950s mid century modern cape on a suburban lot to a two hundred year old Federal home and barn in a National Historic District. Our new neighbor across the street had a cow in the backyard, much to our young sons’ amusement.   I was a stay at home mother with a degree in Business Administration/Marketing from the University of Delaware. I had, prior to becoming an at-home mom, worked in market research and in procurement and project management for a large defense contracting company on busy Route 1 in NJ.  I didn’t garden, I didn’t hook rugs, I didn’t keep chickens or bees, I had no idea how to can food. Upon arriving to the Parris House, I noticed that our apple trees looked like they needed some attention, but I had no idea what to do. Sometimes I baked. But it seemed as though almost everyone around me in my new home was proficient in at least one heritage skill, whether they were my age or old timers, and I thought, “That’s amazing.  I need to learn these things too.” That was the beginning of my journey of bringing heritage skills into my own life, without a big farm, without a lot of formal training, but rather learning them the way the people around me had learned them: the passing on of knowledge, often inter-generationally, from one human being to another.”

That was my situation upon the realization of one of my most fervent dreams to that point, which had been to move to rural Maine and raise my sons here.  What I know now is that the desire to work with my hands, create something out of nothing, grow and preserve food, keep animals and insects, and “practice heritage skills,” was not unique to me.  In the nearly two decades I have lived here in Maine and collected a new skill set, the yearning for these skills among the general population has only increased, including among people living in urban areas and people with little to no land at all to work with.  I tell people all the time that none of this is rocket science, but they often seem skeptical.  They seem to believe that heritage skills are complicated, mysterious, or beyond their reach.  They are not, and this book is for anyone who wants to make a start toward learning them.

I have always enjoyed the juxtaposition in my own life of living in a two hundred year old home in a National Historic District while always embracing the newest technology I could afford.  At the Parris House we have smart phones, smart lights, and smart thermostats.  This laptop I’m writing on right now, not to mention the fact that I use it to run a business that’s about 90% online, is a technological godsend.  We also have centuries old windows with wavy glass and completely pesticide free growing practices.   I dye wool in pots on top of a vintage gas range…and then sell that wool to anyone literally in the world who wants it via the internet.  You don’t have to live like Laura Ingalls on the prairie to embrace heritage skills, and you don’t have to completely forsake the solid methods of our ancestors to live a contemporary life.  Mix it up.  Make some dreams come true with it all.

The book will take you through the four seasons at the Parris House.  It will take a look at the historical contexts of the place, people who went before us, and lifestyle behind what we do here today.  Each season will have fiber art projects, recipes, growing tips, fun things for you to try yourself.  You do not need a farm.  You do not even need a lawn for some of these projects.   They will require no super specialized equipment, impossible to source ingredients, or secret codes to unlock. They will be simple, but not insult your intelligence.  Each featured project or recipe will result in something valuable, beautiful, and/or delicious but without unnecessary complication.  Many will be starting points or stepping stones to get you on your way to a deeper study of whatever it is you find you are most interested in.

It will have beautiful pictures, because I’m a visual person and I’m going to be taking lots of beautiful pictures for this project.

It will be a working book.   While I hope to make it visually inviting, it is not meant to sit on the coffee table or the shelf.  It is meant to be out and open on your kitchen counter or table, in your craft area, or even outside with you, as a reference and companion for the projects it contains.  Get it dirty, dog ear the pages, use the hell out of it.

For me personally, this book will be a grateful acknowledgment of Maine, of Paris Hill, and of the Parris House.  Without this setting, I would be a different person living a very different life.  That aspect will be strongest to me alone, though, because this book is really written for and focused on you in your place and in your life, be it urban or rural, east coast or west or somewhere in between, in North America or well beyond.

By the time this book is published, we will be gearing up here to offer seasonal quarterly retreats at the Parris House which will provide hands on experiences in fiber art and heritage skills, which will provide more learning opportunities for those who want to expand their making and doing.

Sound interesting?  I was brand-new-author-thrilled when I saw that Rowman & Littlefield had already put up a pre-order page for the book.  You can click on that HERE.   Please remember that publication is not scheduled until 2020.  In the meantime, I’m working hard!

If you would like to keep up to date on everything that’s planned for the next chapter (pun intended), a sign up box for our newsletter is at the bottom of every page of the website.  You will never be spammed.  In fact, the newsletter needs to publish a bit more often (as time allows…or doesn’t…).

For a glimpse of the Parris House homestead, enjoy the pics in the slideshow below.

That’s the big news from here.  Thank you for reading.  – Beth

 

You Can’t Always Get What You Want…For Example, Subfreezing Temps, Freezing Rain/Ice/Snow on Honey Bee Hiving Day

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.

These are the bee packages in the back of our Honda CRV, about to make the trip from Backwoods Bee Farm in Windham to the Parris House in Paris. It’s about a 40 minute ride. There are some drones hanging on to outside, but that’s no problem. Even if they had decided to fly around the car, drones (the males) can not sting. Only female bees sting.
Bill gets the smoker ready even though we barely needed it. Between the temperatures and how docile package bees generally are (they have nothing to really to defend yet except their queen), this was just a precaution.
The queen cage in the hive we call Fleur de Lis is installed. The queen is in the little wooden and mesh cage and will remain there until the bees release her by eating through a candy cork in the bottom of the cage. This takes just a few days. It is to ensure that she will be protected until it is assured that she will likely be accepted by the colony. We will check back to make sure that she is out, and later we will start looking for her and for her eggs to make sure that she is alive and laying. In the meantime, while she is in the cage, her attendant bees will make sure she is warm and fed.
Bill shakes/pours the rest of the bees in to Fleur de Lis.
Making sure they are all out, or as close to all as he could get today. Again, under normal conditions any remaining bees would fly out and in to the hive on their own, but not when it’s in the 20s F.
Time for the hive we call Hippy Dippy to get its queen, in her cage, installed.
Hippy Dippy’s queen goes in without any trouble.
Getting Hippy Dippy filled up with bees. They were not exposed like this for very long at all.
Getting ready to close up Hippy Dippy and go back in to the house to get the feed for both hives.

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

 

 

An Idea for Coming Years

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

Playing Catch Up – News and Important Dates

With Corgi Tru. She was the canine love of my life.

I haven’t posted anything on the blog since May of this year, after being reasonably consistent about popping something new up for you at least a couple of times a month.  May was around the time small and a few big things started to go wrong around here, starting with my Corgi Tru being diagnosed with terminal liver disease and cancer.  Tru was my steadfast companion for the past eleven years and the dog our four sons were raised with.  To watch her sicken, with one capability after another taken from her by the cancer, was both heartbreaking and demoralizing.  On June 13th, it was clear that prolonging her life was not in her best interest, and I had promised, from the day she arrived to our home, that she would know nothing but love and care for all of her days.  Our amazing friend and veterinarian came over that evening, and Tru passed away very peacefully outside on the grass with many of her loved ones holding and surrounding her.  I didn’t really get off the sofa for about three days – not for any length of time anyway – and from there it’s been a summer of more minor mishaps, from the annoying to the comical.  I will spare you most of those, but if you’ve been following the Facebook page you know that it’s included one of my bee hives swarming, having a lot of my inventory damaged in a microburst at a show in Portland, and then coming home that same night to find my favorite witness-tree birch on fire from a lightning strike, necessitating its felling.  A friend of mine said, “Girlfriend, burn some sage at your house!”

I feel like I’m starting to recover now.  Things are going a bit better and my spirits are always lifted as fall approaches.  It’s my favorite season here in Maine by far.  For a variety of reasons, summer is my least favorite season, plus, for me, fall is like my new year.  Instead of spring, or January, my new beginnings often happen in the fall.   This year especially, I am feeling the need to get back to learning, growing, changing, and moving forward.

So, let’s do a little catching up first.

Tovookan’s Honey

One good thing that happened this summer was that we bottled our first batch of Tovookan’s honey from the Parris House beehives.  We had about sixty pounds altogether and while I have sold quite a lot of it, I do still have some jars left.  If anyone is interested in a one pound jar, they are $10 and available at the Maine studio, OR they can be shipped.  Be aware, however, that shipping is running around $7 – $9, so I leave it to your discretion as to whether or not you’d like a jar from a distance.

I have also had the privilege of working with three publishers who I have long admired.  Down East Magazine currently has some of my rug hooking kits and finished pillows in their Summer Pop Up Shop at their headquarters in Rockport, Maine.  If you are traveling along the beautiful Maine Midcoast for the remainder of this summer and in to September, please stop in to the shop right on Route 1 to peruse not only my things, but a great selection of Maine Made products.

The holiday issue of Rug Hooking Magazine will also feature my pattern and project article as the centerfold pull out.  I remember when I first started hooking thinking it was a really big deal to have that role in an RHM issue, and now here I am.  As always, linen patterns and kits will be available for purchase through RHM when the magazine comes out.

Finally, I have a really lovely and fun project coming out in the fall issue of Making Magazine, assembled and edited by the talented and hard working Carrie Hoge, a fellow Mainer.  I don’t want to put any spoilers here, but the theme of the magazine this fall is “Lines” and my project was designed accordingly.  I loved making it and loved working the Carrie, whose outstanding photography truly captures the beauty of any project she’s shooting.

My work is also on display in the Maine Made kiosk at Bangor International Airport.  It’s so fun to know that busy travelers going in and out of the airport can take a moment to see my bee pillow in the kiosk.  It’s my hope that it brightens someone’s day.

I also just launched two new hooked pillows for Beekman 1802, a bee and a pink pig, continuing with the theme of animals you might find on the farm.   My Instagram post of the bee is the most liked post ever in the history of my IG account, so I’m expecting it to do well in the Mercantile.  It was also “liked” by one of my hooking heroines, who I will not name here.  🙂

So, let’s look forward to what’s coming up the last few weeks of the summer and in to the fall…

Project for The Stitchery

I have a beginner rug hooking class coming up at The Stitchery in Portsmouth, RI, this Sunday, August 27th that you can still sign up for!  We will be doing a double heart scented buckwheat pillow; this is the prototype, to the left.  For more information and to sign up, click HERE.

On September 2nd we will have another of our SUPER FUN beginner dye classes here at the Parris House.  To sign up, click HERE. 

Once again, I will be participating in the Sharon Springs Harvest Festival on September 9th and 10th in beautiful Sharon Springs, NY!  I will not be down in the vendor area this year, but rather I will be at Beekman Farm demonstrating and teaching rug hooking for our Beekman Neighbors who come to the farm tours.  I hope to have some of my exclusive-to-Beekman 1802 pillows for sale in the Mercantile, however, for any neighbors who want to shop for them on the spot at Harvest Festival. Normally they are made to order and purchased online with a 2 week completion time.

I will also be having a beginner class at Scarborough Adult Ed (Maine) starting at the end of September.  Follow the website and FB page for more information on that as it becomes available.  We will be doing Maine forest/camp themed projects, so this is not to be missed!

Learn to make soap with us!

On October 7th, we will have a soap making class again here at the Parris House.  To sign up for that, click HERE. 

The Hampden Hook-In, sponsored by The Keeping Room, will take place on October 21st this year and I will be there again vending.  Hope to see many of you there!

Last, but not least, for events, the Fifth Annual Paris Hill Hook In is set to take place on Saturday, November 4th.  If you have not signed up already, please do soon.  I have reduced the number of participants this year to fifty.  That’s a reduction of about a dozen spots because I am hearing so very many complaints at hook-ins about inadequate space.  If the majority of hookers feel that more space is needed at these events but still want to enjoy the more down-home and charming venues, then the sacrifice has to be made in the number of attendees.  Therefore, I only have a limited number of spaces left.  For all of the information on this event, click HERE.

Some of the garden harvest so far.

The Parris House gardens were not their best this season.  In speaking to a friend of mine who is literally a professional farmer about how relatively poorly I think my tomatoes are doing, she said right away that the nights have been too cold and the days of high heat too few.  I will say, though, that the Parris House apple trees are absolutely loaded, so let’s keep our fingers crossed for those!

And so we move forward.  Not every year is our best year, but in looking back over just what I’ve written here, I realize that some very good things have happened.  And just about two weeks ago, one other very good thing happened…

Meet Wyeth, our new five month old Rough Collie.  (Yes, he’s named for NC, Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth – I’m an art geek.)  My husband grew up with Collies and loves them, and since we have had the good fortune to live with my favorite breed for the past eleven years, I thought it was his turn to live with his.  Wyeth was born in Georgia right around the time his breeder family (Morris Oaks Farm) was making a move to Maine, and that’s why he came to us so relatively late for a puppy.  But this is perfect for me as he is already so well trained and socialized and best of all, housebroken!  He already loves the attention of our Tuesday group hookers, although I do my best to keep him both out of their hooking bags and away from their lunches.  Dog lovers everywhere will know the complexity of my feelings as I fall in love with this new puppy.  I still shed tears for Tru, and at the same time find joy in getting to know Wyeth.

I will be getting back on the regular-blogging wagon.  Tell me in the comment thread any topics you would like to see covered on the blog (can be fiber art, travel, gardening, beekeeping, whatever!), and if I choose yours I will give you an online or in person coupon for $5 off any purchase of $25 or more.   Also, don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter, which I will also be getting back to, by using the sign up box at the bottom of the web page.

Happy hooking and thanks for reading!

 

 

 

A Gray Gardening Day in May plus the Parris House’s Honey Lemon (or Lime) Mint Tea Recipe

Today I put in most of the plantings for the Parris House vegetable and herb garden.  As some of you who follow me on social media may recall, around the time I was planning to start my seedlings, our local water utility burst an underground water main directly in front of our home, sending thousands of gallons of water in to the basement.  Unfortunately, this is the area where I usually have seedlings set up with grow lights.  The basement was a complete wreck and the cleanup and recovery have taken a couple of months, so…this year…no seedlings.

Fortunately, Smedberg’s Crystal Spring Farm in Oxford, Maine always has a huge variety of vegetable and herb seedlings, so this year, that was my solution.  I am usually picky with my seeds, selecting a lot of heirloom varieties, but this year growing my own plants was off the table and, having used Smedberg’s plants at times in the past, I know I will not be disappointed with my harvest.

I got the following in to the garden this morning, even though the weather on this Memorial Day is gray, cold, and frankly miserable:  tomatoes (three varieties), bell peppers, banana peppers, swiss chard, kale, eggplant, slicing cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, lavender, basil, thyme, rosemary, and oregano.  I have a good sized spearmint plant potted and over near the kitchen door, because let’s face it, that’s an invasive and if I put that in my raised beds it will party on until it’s filled them up.  Also, our rhubarb has come up once again and it’s really time (maybe past time) to cut some of that and make something delicious with it.  There’s still work to do, even though it’s getting so late in the season.  I still plan to add some dye/flowering plants to the herb bed and also to the container area near the house.  My husband put up the electric fence for me again this year and our stalwart plastic owl is standing guard as he has for many years (successfully) now.   In looking over my plant selections I’m pretty sure my Italian DNA is showing.

Here are a few pics of the fledgling vegetable garden.  I assure you that in a month or so, this is going to be lush and just starting to put off some food, that is IF it’s ever warm and sunny for more than a day or two at a time this spring.  I’m starting to wonder.

I really couldn’t resist taking some of the spearmint, even though the plant is relatively young and small.  I love mint in my iced tea and I make my iced tea a particular way.   The recipe is right here for you, if you’d like to give it a try.  Let me put forth the following caveats.  I do not like my iced tea very sweet (sorrynotsorry to those of you in the South; I know this is considered an abomination down there).  In fact, the only reason this recipe has honey in it is because a) I like the flavor of honey and b) I have bees and am about to extract my first load of honey (it will be called Tovookan’s honey and will be for sale – watch for it) in the next few weeks.  It wouldn’t be ok for me to not use it in my tea, after all.  Since I don’t have my own yet, the honey shown in the pic is from Beekman 1802, and it’s delicious.  What I do not like is for sweetness to obliterate the flavor of a really good tea.  Second caveat is that I like my tea like I like my coffee – so strong you could stand a spoon in it.  Please adjust for your own taste.   Third caveat (hello, Canadian friends!) – I am using King Cole tea which my son James dutifully picks up every time he goes to visit his girlfriend in Nova Scotia.  This is a very popular Canadian tea that has ruined me for most other everyday teas, but if you can not procure this, just use your favorite.  Each King Cole tea bag is made to brew 2 cups, so you just have to double how many you use in your recipe.

1 half gallon Ball canning jar or a half gallon container of your choice  (but let’s face it, the canning jars are really cute)

3 King Cole Orange Pekoe tea bags OR 6 tea bags of your favorite tea

2-3 tablespoons honey or to taste (go ahead Southern friends, pour that jar upside down and count to 100)

1 lemon, cut in to quarters (lime is also tasty)

1 sprig of fresh mint, cut in to slices and put in to a tea ball

About 4 trays of ice (the Parris House icemaker broke about ten years ago, the repair guy said $600 to fix it – we use trays)

Fill your kettle with hot water and start it on the stove (or plug it in).  Meanwhile, put the honey in the bottom of the jar, and cut up your lemon and mint.  I don’t worry about the lemon seeds, but if they’ll bother you, remove them.  I put my mint pieces in to a tea ball so that I don’t have to fish them out of the tea later.  This may compromise the diffusion a little bit and you can certainly just put them in whole.  However, do NOT put them in the jar yet.

Once your water is boiling, fill the Ball jar to about a third with it and then stir the honey from the bottom until dissolved.  Add your tea bags, fill to about half with the hot water, and steep with the lid on for as long as you like.  As I said, I like my tea super strong, so I let it get plenty dark, about 10 or 15 minutes (ok, sometimes longer – yes, I know it can get bitter – yes, I kinda like that).  When steeped to your liking, remove the tea bags and add the ice.  Notice that I have not yet added the lemon and mint.  This is because I do not like the lemon to take on that “cooked” flavor that can happen when you’ve put the lemons in while the water is still too hot.  I also think it alters the freshness of the mint.  So I wait until most of the ice has melted and cooled and diluted the tea.

Once the water is not hot enough to alter the freshness of the lemon and mint (about room temperature), add those to the jar.  Let these flavor the tea for at least an hour or two.  I recommend getting them both out of the jar the same day, though, because I think the lemon starts to take on an odd flavor if left in the jar too long.   I store the tea in the fridge so that the flavors stay fresh and so that when I use it it’s very cold.

Unfortunately, today is not an iced tea day.  Today is a hot tea, hot coffee, or possibly even hot chocolate day here in Maine, replete with wood stove burning to knock the chill off.  But…I have to think iced tea days are coming, so try making it this way and let me know what you think.

Happy Memorial Day and happy hooking.

P.S.  I have not failed to observe Memorial Day; in fact, I am always deeply reverent of its origins and meaning.  If you follow me on Facebook you will have already seen a Memorial Day post I wrote for the Paris Hill Historical Society today.  Take a look by clicking HERE.  Thank you!

The Parris House, What’s Growing – Late Summer 2016

It’s been a little while since I’ve written here.  There’s been a lot going on – lots of work to catch up on, some health issues to attend to, plus summer is just a very busy, busy time here at the Parris House.  This is because we grow things, and every year we add to our growing repertoire.

Once thing to be very clear about here:  we do not have a farm.  Far from it.  We have a 1.3 acre lot in a National Historic District, a village setting.  We have 1.3 acres total and, it’s important to point out, I’m not sure our growing ventures take up even 1/4 of that acreage.  My point here is that growing things is not just for the heavily landed.  Growing things is for anyone who is so inclined, including apartment dwellers.  My son and his girlfriend live just outside of Philadelphia in apartments.  They just made the most delicious looking homegrown basil pesto.  So, no excuses…get growing.

It’s late summer now.  I think we can safely say here in northern New England that fall is right around the corner.  And yet, there’s still a lot of harvesting and preserving to be done.  I took a walkaround, camera in hand, here at the Parris House in order to share a little pictorial tour with you.

First, let’s talk about the bees.

 

This is my first year beekeeping, and yet…unbelievably…one hive has done so spectacularly that I have already been able to take six frames of honey off and still have enough to leave for them in the hive.  Whether there will be more this fall, I do not yet know, but since I was not expecting any this year, I consider myself fortunate.  I named my hives Fleur-de-lis and Hippy Dippy.  Fleur-de-lis has been the stronger, honey producing hive.  Hippy Dippy, perhaps true to its name, is a bit more relaxed, and even saw fit to go nomadic and swarm in late June, leaving me with a hive that had to begin again with raising a queen.  I never saw a psychedelic VW microbus leaving the hive, but the evidence points to a late June swarm. At any rate, I love them both.  It’s like having tens of thousands of pets in a very compact space.  The unexpected honey harvest, however, small as it is, left me with the just as unexpected need to get a home food processing license in order to be able to sell some of it.  Tovookan’s Honey is born.

Why Tovookan’s?  Well, you’re going to have to wait awhile for that story.  When the honey is jarred, labeled and ready to launch, we’ll talk about that.

I see my bee girls working all over the yard.  They’re relentless in their quest for nectar and pollen.

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Busy as a bee on burdock.

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See that creature way down inside this squash flower?  That’s one of our bees.

The Parris House bees are not the only ladies working hard to put food on the table.  We’ve still got these girls, and they’re still (albeit in a bit of a lull right now) providing us with the multicolored eggs we and our egg customers love.  $3/dozen.  Get ’em when you can.

 

Having said that, the hens are getting older now and we’re thinking some baby chicks to freshen up this flock will be in order in the spring of next year.

So…grapes.  In all honesty, the grapes are a crap shoot.  Will we get grapes before the birds and Japanese beetles have their way with them?   We have no idea.  I confess these fall to the bottom of our priority list, and maybe they shouldn’t.

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The Parris House garden is a bit off from what I had originally planned.  It got late in the season and instead of growing seedlings like I normally do, I got plants.  And I got them late, which means I had to pick from what was left at our local greenhouse.  This left me with not-my-usual-assortment and yet…it’s going to be great.  We are already harvesting kale, lettuce, hot peppers, and summer squash.  The pickling cucumbers are just starting to come in, which means I’d better get the canning jars ready (and also with my newly acquired home food processing licensing, I can sell pickles, relishes, jams, etc. also).  Additionally, the tomatoes are dangerously near to ripening which will mean days of preparation for canning and freezing.  The pics of the garden are numerous so here they are in slideshow format.

In spite of the still ripening produce in the garden, here in Maine, previews of fall are everywhere.  The Parris House apple trees, although in an “off” year, are still loaded with fruit that will make amazing pies, apples sauce, and other delicious dishes in just a short time now.  Again, there will be hours in the kitchen spent preparing them for jarring and freezing.

 

There is wood to be split and stacked…

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A composter to be tended and turned…

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Home built composter made from pallets by my conservation biologist son, James.

Our neighbor’s field has been hayed…

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And everywhere I look there are the signs of late summer in the types of flowers and plants in the yard and garden.  Yes, the garden.  In some cases I do not pull the “weeds” because I know the bees are feeding on them.

 

So that’s what our little village lot is growing this summer-in-to-fall.  We have big plans and a long way to go in making our parcel as productive as possible, but year by year we learn and improve on what we’re doing.  If you have pics of what’s growing on your slice of heaven, be it an apartment balcony, a tenth acre urban lot, or a 400 acre farm, we’d love to see them.

Happy growing.  – Beth