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

 

Hooking & Heritage Skills Lessons, On Your Terms

Want to learn to hook?  Already hook and want to learn more?  Or maybe you’d like to learn some other heritage skill?

I recently had a student call the studio and say, “I want to learn to hook, but I want to make my own pattern.  Can you teach me to do that all in one lesson?”  The answer was, “Of course!”  

We will be listing some new regularly scheduled courses for 2019, but maybe you’d like a custom experience too, scheduled at your convenience.  At the Parris House in the National Historic District of Paris Hill, Maine, we teach rug hooking (beginner and specialty topics), wool dyeing, needle felted sachet making, cold process soap making, beginner rug hooking design and pattern making, and more.  If there’s something you’d like to learn, get in touch with us and we’ll make it happen. 

Art, craft, and homesteading classes make great:

friends & family activities

holiday gifts

bridal party or groomsmen gathering activities

birthday celebrations

experiences for college and school students of all ages

special self care treats 

inter-generational learning opportunities

We can create a custom experience at the two century old historic Parris House just for you or your group where you can leave with a memento of the occasion, be it hand crafted soap, a beautiful sachet pillow, a hooked mug rug, plus a new shared pastime. 

To arrange a Parris House learning experience, contact us to get the process started.  We look forward to introducing you to something new!

 

Blondie, MassMoCA, the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace, Shaker Museums, Dogs, and the Impossibility of Failure – Part 1

These get explained at the end of Part 2.

Last weekend my husband, Bill, and I took a mini vacation trip out to Western Massachusetts.  The primary reason was that we had tickets to see Blondie at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MassMoCA), but also, we just really needed to get away.  We secured a cute, super retro (authentically; this was not a hipster re-creation), goin’-to-grandma’s style apartment through Airbnb for the weekend, which turned out to be perfect.  It was in a working class neighborhood of Adams, within sight of the old textile mill where it is probable the building’s original residents, in the 19th century, worked.  There was a huge Catholic church, convent, and school next door, clearly built by Polish immigrants.  This in itself was a small scale immersion in the history of the place and I spent some time online researching the town, its industrial history, and even the streets and buildings that surrounded us.

This trip was a three day, non-stop inspiration fest.  Let’s start with Debbie Harry of Blondie. She is 73 years old.  Her voice is different now, but it is still strong, and her energy level onstage is astonishing.  I went to this concert in large part because I wanted to get away for a weekend and because my husband really loves Blondie and a whole selection of other 80s era music I thought I’d prefer never to hear again.  As it turns out, I truly loved this concert and discovered that Blondie is making new music that I like infinitely better than the old hits.  It didn’t hurt that Debbie Harry came on to the stage wearing a jacket with neon-reflective multicolored honeybees all over it and has recently released an album called “Pollinator.”  The back of the jacket was emblazoned with a…well…blunt message about keeping planet Earth life-sustaining, which I also appreciated.

Debbie Harry and Blondie performing at MassMoCA, August 3rd, 2018

Inspirational messages taken from this experience?

  • Age is a number.  Aside from things beyond your control (truly random illness, accident, and the usual raw deals some people are handed health-wise), decisions you make today may well determine whether you’re literally or metaphorically rocking on stage at 73 or rocking in a chair unable to do much else.
  • Keep working.  Change.  Grow.  “Pollinator” is a great new album that doesn’t sound like previous work.  Debbie Harry and the band are not motoring around a golf course in Florida nor are they only playing the same familiar songs many of their fans probably came to hear.  I hope the work I’m doing even two years from now looks very little like what I’ve been doing for the past five, let alone in twenty years’ time.
  • Wear bright colors at least some of the time, whether you’re 23 or 73.

The next day, we went to MassMoCA.  We had been there about a month before but had been pressed for time and unable to see a lot of the exhibits.  So we went back with a whole day to spend in the museum.  This really was an immersion in every possible sensory exposure to contemporary art.  To be completely honest, I have not always been a fan of contemporary art, but I am coming to realize that I was probably just never looking in the right places.  MassMoCA is a fully engaging  museum of sometimes immediately resonant, sometimes baffling, sometimes repulsive works.  Very little of it left me feeling nothing, although there was a bit of that too.  If anything, though, those pieces – the ones that left me with nothing – were a lesson in the variety of human nature.  To someone, somewhere, they spoke volumes.  One of the exhibits that particularly fascinated Bill fell in to the realm of performance art.  It’s called the Cold Hole.  When unoccupied, it is just a large viewing window looking in to a chamber filled with snow, ice, and a square cutout with a ladder in it leading to frigid cold water.  Anyone who’s done a polar dip for charity in New England knows what it would feel like to jump in to the Cold Hole.  On the day we were there we were lucky to see someone actually jump in.  This act can be done by a museum go-er through special arrangement or by a performance artist, I believe.  I am not 100% sure, but I think on this day we saw a performance artist.

I could write an entire post on what I felt watching this woman as she approached the hole (for which I have no pictures), as she stood over it for quite some time preparing herself for the shock of the water, in that brief moment of free fall in, and as she pulled herself out and walked toward the viewing window.  Always one to create life metaphors, I had many.  I will let you draw your own.  As it is, this post on the weekend overall is going to have to be split in to two for time and length considerations.

The word that kept coming to me as I viewed the art at MassMoCA was “brave.”  As I looked at some of the work, or in some cases, interacted with it, I realized that these artists are incredibly courageous.  Even the work I couldn’t connect with, or, I’m acutely embarrassed to admit struck me as “I could make that…”  (a thought and phrase I abhor, but there I was having it myself), was nonetheless bold.  How many of us would have the courage to make a career of creating objects, sounds, or experiences for others to view that were intensely personal, time consuming, financially risky, and open to amateurs like me gut reacting with, “I could make that…?”  The truth is, I could not “make that.”  I can make what I can make, but not that.  Only that piece’s creator has that ability and honor.  I reacted to most of the art with deep astonishment, appreciation, and some kind of connection, but it doesn’t matter how I – one person – reacted to any of it.  The incredible, head exploding thing to me was the brave vulnerability of the artists, of all kinds, in putting their work out in to the world, saying what they had to say, and accepting both praise and criticism as part of the deal.  The “Mass” in MassMoCA of course stands for “Massachusetts,” but I could not help thinking of it also in terms of the masses of people who visit every year.  It’s a lot of exposure.  These artists should be wearing capes and tights.

These next images are unedited, taken with my cell phone in the museum.  Unfortunately, I can not take the hours today to edit each one of them, but at some point may go back and improve this image set.

 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the coffee shop on the premises, Tunnel City Coffee.  Bill and I went off our diets a little bit, but the scale told me on Monday that no harm was done.  We did split the cookie and the biscotti in to two pieces and shared them.

Delicious pastries and cookies at Tunnel City Coffee, North Adams, MA on the campus of MassMoCA

Inspirational messages taken from this experience?

  • Good coffee is always worth the extra money.
  • Eat the pastry occasionally, preferably with someone dear to you.
  • When you create, do it for you.  Not for the critics.  Not for the fans.  Not for that person who thinks, “I could make that.” For you.
  • Making art is inherently scary sometimes.  Be brave.  You might just find your work in front of millions of people some day.
  • Those last two things may well feel like jumping in to a cold hole.
  • You may often want to give up.  Do not, because at some point someone is going to stand in front of your work with their minds and hearts on fire taking it all in.

So what do you do with a little time to kill in North Adams after you’ve spent the day at MassMoCA?  You go to the Museum of Dog.   This is a little museum that’s only been open for four months.  You can tell that they are still putting it all together, but if a museum has a Rough Collie display like this, I’m happy.  Our Collie, Wyeth, would have been so proud.  We’re definitely taking him back there some day.

Collie display at the Museum of Dog, North Adams, MA.

Inspirational message taken from this experience?

  • Have a dog.
  • Go to the Museum of Dog as they develop and grow.
  • If there’s something you really love, share it with the world.

So, that was Friday night and part of Saturday in Adams and North Adams, Massachusetts.  The next blog post will be about how we spent another part of Saturday and then Sunday at the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace, the Hancock Shaker Village and Museum, and the Mount Lebanon Shaker Historic Site.  Look for that one later this week or weekend.

In the meantime, be inspired, wherever you find yourself.

 

 

 

 

Honoring Thoreau on His 201st Birthday

Many readers know that I refer to Henry David Thoreau as my “dead soulmate.”   He came in to the world two hundred and one years ago today, making it forever a better place.  I have been a disciple of Thoreau for a long time now.  Shortly after I moved to Maine in 2000, I picked up a copy of The Maine Woods and gained an even deeper appreciation for my new home, its history, and what the sheer wildness of this place does to the human soul.  I have no good/bad judgment on what it does, by the way.  For some people, it feels remote, under-populated, provincial in the small towns and villages, and swamping in the size of its so-called empty territories (which are not actually empty at all, just ask the wildlife).  For others it’s a place of healing through nature, astonishing beauty, cut to the chase no bullshit truth, and a testing ground for self discovery.  For me, it’s all of these things.  One of my favorite passages from The Maine Woods comes from Thoreau’s experience climbing Katahdin.  It reads as follows:

“Think of our life in nature, – daily to be shown matter, to come into contact with it, – rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we?” 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, sums up life in Maine.  If you’ve never had that feeling of sheer mind exploding existential wonder – who am I and where is this place? – please contact me.  I’ll recommend some very fine mountain tops in Maine.  I might even cheat a little and send you further over our western border in to New Hampshire’s Presidential Range too.

Ironically, I thought of Thoreau this morning as I took in the scene of my neighbor Becca’s field, which was hayed just yesterday.  The hay is still on the ground and I expect the baler to show up any day now to gather it in to those big, fragrant bales that will become bedding, feed, garden mulching, and who knows what else for countless living things.  Thoreau loved wildness.  Just about a month or so ago I shot a video of this field burgeoning with fresh, colorful lupines, yellow and white daisies, and Indian paintbrushes.  Ducks with their babies were living on the pond.  My young Collie, Wyeth, and I were delirious with the lushness of it and I think my viewers could hear that in my voice.  The field was wild.  Not The Maine Woods wild with its roaming moose and potentially killer river rapids, but wild nonetheless.  Today’s view of the field was decidedly domesticated.  I thought of all of Thoreau’s remarks in Walden about the domestication of land and, more pointedly, the domestication of mankind.  And yet, I also see a beauty of its own in this cut down field; it’s given its all and will now become a sustaining resource for others.  My memory of it in full bloom juxtaposed against today’s scene is a fairly direct lesson in impermanence.  That’s not a bad thing.  If I could have Thoreau over for tea, I’d ask him about this line of thought.

For me, the haying of this field is the cracking of the doorway to fall.  I know it’s only mid July, but July is a dearth month here in Maine, a month when beekeepers have to keep a sharp eye on their hives.  The big spring pollen and nectar flow is over and not much is happening until later in the summer and early fall to keep their little charges in food.  It’s the temporary dearth before the big dearth of late fall and winter.  This is the time of year I notice my young apples forming on their ancient trees and start to imagine the smell of them cooking down in to sauces and pie filling.  My goldenchain tree’s yellow blossoms have turned to tight, brown seed pods in anticipation of next spring.  The hot, muggy days are interspersed with dry, cool ones.

Fall is my best season, and it’s coming, which brings me to the life metaphor that inspired this post.

I turned fifty three last month.   It is not spring in my life anymore.  In fact, it’s barely summer.  Maybe it’s July, but it’s probably more like August, and only if I’m lucky.  Like Becca’s field, I’ve given a bit of myself so that others may thrive and I’ve been privileged and honored to have that opportunity in this life.  I regret nothing in my life as a mother, wife, or friend.  But I do have regrets on the career side of my life, and they have nothing to do with having been a stay at home mom for ten years or putting my sons first; that was worth every moment.  They have, instead, everything to do with not following my passions.  I’ve written about this before, and will not belabor it, but on this, Thoreau’s birthday, it warrants consideration again, not only for me, but for anyone who isn’t quite living the life they have imagined.  Or, as Thoreau put it in one of his most famous quotes (seen on tee shirts, tote bags, and tattoos the world over):

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!  Live the life you’ve imagined.  As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”

Or maybe he truly got down to business in Walden in this single sentence:

“Simplify, simplify.”

If I ever got a tattoo (no…really…that’s not happening…but if), it would probably just be that short, two word sentence.

I’m simplifying my own working life down to three essential elements:  making, writing, teaching.  If an opportunity or venture does not clearly fit as one of the essential elements, I will not be doing it.*  As I look to people in the creative world who I admire, I see that they know how to delegate to achieve their dreams.  They do mostly the work that they love, and, importantly, that no one else can do because the creation is specific to its creator.

Simplifying demands the banishment of fear, or perhaps, its management.  We may not be able to banish the feeling of fear, but we can certainly greet it and act in spite of it.  Fear and love famously (or infamously) do not coexist, and creativity, which in my view is a form of love for this life and our world, is crushed under the weight of fear nearly every time.  Thoreau’s take on go-big-or-go-home seems to have been expressed in this quote:

“I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be extravagant enough, may not wander far enough beyond the narrow limit of my daily experience, so as to be adequate to the truth of which I have been convinced.” 

Thoreau knew failure and chose anyway not to respond with fear or a quelling of his expression.  Thoreau didn’t live to see his super-stardom in the literary and philosophical world.  When he succumbed to tuberculosis in 1862 it was too early to know that he’d one day be so influential to so many.  He didn’t even see the end of the Civil War, a conflict whose outcome he cared about so deeply having been himself involved in the Underground Railroad from his home base of Concord, Massachusetts.   His book  A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers was an outright commercial failure at the time of its publication, and yet I, and many others, revere that book today.  It chronicles Thoreau’s time with his brother, John, on the rivers in 1839, before John’s tragic death much too young.  Perhaps my own experience of losing a brother way too soon endears this book to me.  I think I understand a bit of the love, grief, and desire to relive time that may have been at the core of Thoreau’s need to write it.   Even Walden was only moderately commercially successful in its time and today is still the target of harsh criticism by those (in my humble opinion) who understand neither its author or its context.

I want to follow Thoreau the rest of my days, and follow him in his extravagant expression of who he was, not to copy his life or person, but to be inspired by it to find my own best way.  The truth Thoreau was convinced of was broader and deeper than even he could express, for all of his eloquence, and yet he conveyed it somehow to those of us with a heart sympathetic to his message.  His life story and the writing he left behind provide me with strength as I start to publish my own books in the next few years.  I can not hope to be remembered at all two hundred and one years after my birth; I am no Thoreau.   However, I can, and you can, take from his life and work the resonant threads and we can all be the better for them.

Happy Thoreau’s birthday & happy creating.

 

*Footnote: The online shops and the physical studio are not going away, but they are going to be increasingly delegated.  If there is one thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older it’s that I can not do everything and I can not be who I am not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Informal Video Tour of the Work Studio at the Parris House

Something a little different for this post…

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.  

Happy watching and happy hooking.  – Beth

Join Us This Weekend, May 5th & 6th, for the Maine Pottery Tour!

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
  • Refreshments
  • 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.

 

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

 

 

Confessions of a Recovering Workaholic, Part 1

Wyeth feels no guilt about relaxing at our lake cottage, Sunset Haven.

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.

Just stop.

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.

I’m done.

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.

Have a wonderful Sunday.  – Beth

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Wool Dyeing with Acorns – A Serendipitous Experiment

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 hooking!  – Beth