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

 

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

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!