On Fall, the Empty Nest, and What's Going On at Parris House Wool Works

Clothesline
Clothes hanging to dry on my new clothesline at the Parris House.

Last night the temperature dove down to 43 degrees Fahrenheit here in Paris, Maine.  We had gone for a walk around Paris Hill village after dinner last night and the air felt decidedly September-ish.  I know that there are heat waves to come, days of impossibly muggy and hot misery (by Maine standards), but midway through July  I am thinking about my life and plans this fall.

This year fall looms especially large for me.  I love fall.  It’s by far – far and away – my favorite season.  But this year I plan to make a lot of changes, and a lot of changes are inevitably planned for me.  The largest of these is the monumental empty nest.  My youngest son, of four, is headed out to Troy, NY to embark on his education in applied physics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  The college drop off thing is now familiar; my oldest being 25 we’ve been at this for seven years.  It never gets better though.  I cry at each initial college drop off, not wanting my sons to see that but not being able to control it either.  We are the antithesis of helicopter parents.  We are happy for the freedom we’ve given our boys and taken joy in how beautifully, competently, and independently they’ve handled that freedom.  But still…when you take leave of a young adult that first day…well, it hurts.  When you take leave of the youngest one, your entire life changes.

I plan to be one of those empty nesters who takes her grieving (let’s be totally real here – that’s what it is), and grabs every consolation prize the empty nest has to offer.  And there are many.  For example, if I want to make scrambled eggs for dinner, it’s happening.  If I want to make no dinner and order out, it’s happening too. My husband and I, who prefer the company of our sons over any other, will not have to consider what they would enjoy most when planning an outing.  I can’t say there will be less laundry for me to do, because our boys have done their own from a pretty young age, and honestly, except for dinner, they also cook for themselves.  There IS the whole thing about being available for my sons. As parents, we are always on call.  I suppose that doesn’t change entirely when they leave home, but it is diminished.

In other words, the empty nest is not only a new birth of freedom for the offspring, but for the parents.

My photo for this post is our new clothesline here at the Parris House, and symbolizes things I am doing simply because I can.  I have started hanging my clothes out in the fresh air to dry, because I like to and because I can.  There’s no draconian homeowners’ association in our village to say I can’t, and no silly town ordinances.  I can do whatever I want here.  I can have my hens which provide us and our variety of egg customers with beautiful farm fresh eggs.  I can put my garden where I want it, as big as I want it.   I can have bee hives next year to similarly supply honey.  If I want to build an arts building here in the future (and I do), I can.   I can paint my exterior doors purple.  Yes.  It’s happening.  This fall.

I also plan to apply this new found time and freedom to my work with Parris House Wool Works.  This fall we plan to add an ecommerce module, using Shopify, to our website, so that you no longer have to click over to Etsy via a link, but can shop right from the home page.  In the Maine studio we are adding Apple Pay to our many methods of payment.

We are still working on finding the right assistance for making instructional and just plain entertaining videos for our YouTube channel.   One of my primary resources for this, family friend Brandon Pelletier, is, ironically, heading off to college in August too.  We have also been asked if we could create on-line courses as well and that is something we will be turning our attention to this fall.  In a business where I’ve worn just about every single hat, this is that rare thing I don’t think I can pull off without external expertise, but I do feel that I will have a little extra time to devote to developing these things.

We will also be offering more kits.  While our philosophy with students is to encourage hooking your own thing of your own design in your own chosen colors as soon as you possibly can, we know that kits can be very useful for beginners or also just a relaxing pastime for more experienced hookers.

There will more classes and workshops offered in rug hooking and other skills and crafts at the Maine studio.  Just as it’s been all year, I will be teaching some, and bringing in other artisans and experts for others.  I have found that I enjoy teaching more than almost anything else, and need to do more of it.  Watch our Classes & Workshops website tab and our Facebook events tab as these are added.

We have new soaps and other bath products set to come out for the holiday shopping season as well as a 2016 Parris House Wool Works Calendar.  Look for these in the October/early November time frame.

Finally, we started Parris House Wool Works because we love rug hooking.  With our focus on patterns and supplies, and providing custom patterns and supplies on demand, sometimes same day for custom patterns, to both on line and in studio customers, guess what?  I’m not doing a lot of rug hooking.  That’s also going to change this fall.  We plan to offer more finished pieces, and more art pieces, particularly more pieces that reflect our own sources of inspiration and our own developing styles.  The “hook what you love” mantra is going in to full effect.

And that may be the most important thing of all.   Hook what you love.  I say it to students, hooking friends, people who ask my opinion.  Just hook what you love, and let the chips fall where they may.  That is the juncture where business becomes art and a way of life.  When your nest empties, you do a lot of thinking about how you want to live your next life chapter, and the admonition “do what you love, love what you do,” the one that started Parris House Wool Works to begin with, is the one that’s with me most.

Happy rest of the summer, happy impending fall, and happy hooking!  – Beth

On Goats and Gumption

GoatMilk

I’ve had two recurring themes on the brain this week:  goats and, for lack of a better term, gumption.  Gumption is one of those funny sounding English words that leaves you wondering who first came up with it.  It is described by Merriam Webster as:

1 –  chiefly dialect:  common sense, horse sense

2  – enterprise, initiative

Sometimes events just bring us recurring themes.  For example, that beautiful Ball jar of milk in the top picture is not from a cow.  Nope.  That milk, with the delicious cream on top, is from the goats of a new student and member of our Tuesday group, Terry E., who generously brought it to hooking along with some fantabulous homemade goat milk mozzarella.  The Saturday before, during her hooking lesson, Terry and I had talked about goats and their indefatigable ways.  Terry has way more one on one time with goats than I do, but I’ve spent a little time with them as well.

One thing I know about goats is that they are born with that bouncy, LOOK AT MEEE, nothing is impossible nature.   When Jen and I went out to Sharon Springs, NY a little over a year ago to present our hooked wares to Beekman 1802 (something that in itself took all the gumption we could muster), Josh and Brent were incredibly kind to send us with their right hand woman, Megan, to see Farmer John’s new baby goats at the Beekman farm.  The instant we walked in to the barn the babies were clamoring to see who was there, what was going on, and how they could be part of the action.  They were so sweet, so affectionate, and so off the charts charming that Jen and I left there vowing to have goats some day.  Will this ever happen?  I can’t speak for Jen, but as the empty nest imminently approaches for me, I’m thinking that after 25 years of raising kids, I may not want to dive in to raising “kids.”  Terry’s goat milk is great.  I may not need to add goats to the big flock of chickens already living in my barn.

I’ve been hooking a lot of goats since we joined the Beekman 1802 Rural Artist Collective.  I’ve been hooking Faintly, a goat born on the Beekman Farm several years ago…

Faintly

And I’ve been hooking Baby Goat (in fact, I shipped another one today), because well, it’s spring and baby goats happen…

BabyGoatFront

And I’ve been hooking Grown Up Goat, because you’ve got to have those to make baby goats, right?

GrownUpGoat

We even have a goat design in our Etsy shop, independent of Beekman 1802, called Goat Go Round.

GoatGoRound2

We clearly have a thing for goats.

But where does gumption come in?

Well, goats have gumption.  Try telling a goat it can’t do something or go somewhere.  Try telling a goat not to love on you while you’re trying to get something else done in its presence.  Try telling a goat not to eat something…you know, anything not nailed down and sometimes things that are nailed down.

That’s gumption.

I’ve been seeing a lot of gumption this week, along with all things goat.  The aforementioned Terry, as a new student, is tackling one of our most challenging designs, A Murder Among the Magnolias.  When she left here on Tuesday she had the first crow finished absolutely beautifully.  If you aren’t familiar with this pattern, this is Jen’s completed version of it:

I’ve also been part of a business coaching group on Facebook listening to the stories of other fledgling women entrepreneurs as they navigate their way to their true callings, and sharing our own.  Inspiring and loaded with gumption.

An artist friend of mine told me this afternoon about how gumption and listening to his inner voice landed him a significant sale, but then this man’s entire existence is about gumption…and faith.

And then the newest issue of Rug Hooking Magazine landed in my mailbox.  There’s an article in there for hookers who want to design their own patterns, but believe they can not draw.  The article promotes using stencils to create rug designs for the drawing challenged, and I confess, this is not a bad idea.  Stencils are fun and easy and produce pretty rugs, especially when combined in interesting and unique ways.  But…I never accept it when a student tells me she can’t draw.  I just don’t.  Stencils may be a good confidence builder and learning tool, but at some point you’ve got to just fearlessly grab an art pencil, a LARGE eraser (I’ve got a big eraser here and I’m not afraid to use it!), a metric ton of gumption, and start drawing.  Yes, yes, you can.

Recently Jen got up the gumption to start sketching out her own patterns.  Heretofore she had successfully partnered with our go-to realistic style artist, Dan Rosenburg (who is still doing custom patterns for the Maine hookers when I know the style requested is more his than mine), and together they created some absolute marvels, including A Murder Among the Magnolias, 1796 House, Southern Elegy, Victorian Rose & Bluebird, and our WWII and Atomic Age patterns.  (To see all of our patterns, please go to our shop section, “Patterns.”) What she is coming up with all on her own now is absolutely fabulous, and I can’t wait until we can get them up in the shop for all of you to see, and to hook.  You will not be disappointed.  Rather, you will be enchanted.

One of the questions in the business coaching group I’m part of this week was, “What fear or limiting belief is holding you back from something you really want to do?”  Or, in the context of this blog post, “Where do you need to apply gumption and simply do whatever it is you really want?”

Maybe you really believe you can’t draw and therefore can’t create a pattern that’s really, really you.

Maybe you think you can’t hook in 3s and 4s or do fine shading.  Or conversely, maybe you think you can’t hook primitive.

Maybe you think you can’t break out of a style box you’ve been in for a lot of years now. (If this is the case, see the inspiring articles in this issue of Rug Hooking Magazine on steampunk, portraiture in bright colors, and more.)

Maybe you think you can’t make a career or business out of something that’s an absolute passion for you.

Maybe you think no one would be interested in your craft if you set out to teach it, or maybe you think you don’t know enough to teach it.  Try it out on an 8 year old.  Having taught a few children now, I can assure you that there’s a future for this craft if we all apply gumption and spread it around.

Two weeks from today I will teach my first class at the Squam Art Workshops.  Am I nervous?  Absolutely.  But I have the love of our craft to steady me.  The attendees this year were so very interested in rug hooking that my class was one of the first to sell out.  That’s not about me; they don’t know me yet.  That’s about our craft, this craft which was born of gumption (remember? enterprise, initiative, horse sense?) as a way to decorate and cover cold New England and Canadian Maritime floors.  Our foremothers and forefathers in the craft used what they had, which turned out to be burlap sacks, repurposed wool clothing, and lots and lots of gumption, to start a heritage we still enjoy today every time we pick up our hooks.

And, I’ll bet they had a goat, or two, or ten.

Let’s be like them, and like their goats!  Let’s apply our gumption to our craft and to our lives.  Let’s try new things, believe in ourselves, and make beautiful rugs along the way.

Happy goats, happy gumption, and happy hooking!  – Beth

It’s a New Week – Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

NotAllWhoWanderareLost

Every Monday I try to put a graphic or post on our Facebook page that’s motivational.  This week, I’m writing my own because from Friday afternoon through the weekend, so many things pointed in the direction of Tolkien’s much used (overused?) quote from “Lord of the Rings”:  Not all those who wander are lost.

Let’s start with Friday afternoon.  My youngest son, Paul, was being inducted in to the Cum Laude Society at Hebron Academy.  Cum Laude is an honor society, similar to Phi Beta Cappa at the college level, for outstanding high school students.  It’s not just about grades, but also about human qualities of compassion, leadership, enthusiasm, and others.  He is the second of our sons to be inducted in to Cum Laude, and needless to say we are very proud of him.

There is always a guest speaker at Cum Laude ceremonies.  This year it was Hollis Hurd, a prominent attorney who has written a book called, “You Just Have to Be Smarter than the Rope.”  It’s an advice book he wrote for his grandchildren, and for young people in general.  He spent most of his speech outlining a concept in the book called “reverse engineering.”  The examples he used were about how, during his lifetime, he has reverse engineered goals.  One example was how he looked carefully at the steps he’d need to take to become a partner in a law firm.  He worked backwards from that goal through the steps of what kind of law student he had to be at what point in his education, and the step by step career milestones that would lead to that goal.  Another example was how he won a military drill competition at his high school.  All very plotted, very calculated, very linearly driven from point A to point B.  He recommended the students pick a goal, far in the future, and work to it on the straight and narrow until it is achieved.

Do I think this is admirable?  Heck, NO! I thought this was terrible advice for young people.  It is way at the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum of how we raised our four sons, all of whom are experiencing tremendous academic, personal, and working life success.

I regret not visiting with Mr. Hurd after the ceremony and saying, “With all due respect, not all those who wander are lost.”

I thought of all the goals and plans I made in my teens and twenties, and the ones I worked to in that fashion, only to realize perhaps they were not what my spirit really craved.  Did I get a degree in business administration/marketing, and then work in corporate America, because I was told I’d never get a job in music or art or writing or teaching English, my first loves?  Yes, yes I did.  Did I settle down for way too long in suburban New Jersey when my heart was firmly planted in rural Maine from the time I was a toddler?  Yes.  Why?  Because I was afraid to wander.  I was afraid to take the side path and try it.  The advice given to the beautiful, bright young students with a thousand paths in front of them at Hebron Academy on Friday afternoon was, “Don’t wander…at least not too much.”

I know this generation, though.  I’m sure many, many of them will not heed that narrow advice.  Yay for them.

Fast forward to Sunday.  I ran out a favorite running path, Mount Mica Road in Paris, Maine, for the first time since last fall.  It was positively exhilarating.  I have run this country road many times, but every time I do I see something different, notice a different plant or shadow or scent.  Something.  I have wandered off the road to check out the abandoned cellar hole of a farm long gone.  I discovered 19th century grave stones to the side of the road in another area I’d passed scores of times before unnoticing.   I found them because finally I took my eyes briefly off the familiar path and caught the sight of hewn granite in the brush.  Later on Sunday I climbed Streaked Mountain in Paris with two of my sons, James and Paul.  James is home from college for the summer, an aspiring ecologist/wildlife biologist.  He and Paul went off the trail a few times to observe some early spring plant, or sometimes just some thing left a decade before by a careless hiker (for example, an old pop top Old Milwaukee can).

Were I not off the metaphorical trail I set for myself in my younger years, there would be no Parris House Wool Works.  I worked in real estate for a decade prior to founding this company with Jen.  Real estate was a logical fit for me, the business/marketing college graduate, the person who grew up in a family business, the person who knew how to do sales from attending the occasional trade show.   I have no art training.  I never went to an artisan school.  I had no background in textiles except for the fact that my father’s business was clothing manufacturing.  But I was eager to get off the path I’d so carefully constructed for myself, and in the stupor of grief following my mother’s death, looking for what I called then and call now a “zen craft,” I wandered in to Artful Hands in Norway, Maine and asked hooking guru Connie Fletcher to teach me to hook.

That was one of the best detours I ever took.  And the evolution of Parris House Wool Works has been marked by serendipitous events and opportunities we could not have imagined, let alone planned.  We have a very long way to go; we are very fledgling in this endeavor.  We have a lot of planning to do, but more than a little wandering too to find out about the things we can’t possibly see now.

Not all those who wander are lost.  On this Monday morning, I would encourage you to wander.  Be ok with uncertainty, because it often brings opportunity, surprise, and joy.

Happy wandering and happy hooking.  – Beth

Streaked2015
The summit of Streaked Mountain, Paris, Maine. May 3rd, 2015

Sail On

SailOn
Our ODay Puffin on Little Sebago Lake, Gray, Maine

I have graduations on the brain.  My youngest son, Paul, the last to leave the nest, is graduating from Hebron Academy here in Maine in just about a month.  In August he will be off to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York to study physics and embark on his adult life.

A couple of days ago, Josh and Brent of Beekman 1802 posted on their Facebook page that they had been chosen to speak at a university commencement ceremony, and posed to their FB community the following question:  what would you tell a university graduating class?  The response I gave was different than the one I’ll end with here, but this one is still at the heart of it.  But first, some context…

Jen and I have been doing a lot of thinking, consulting mentors, and strategizing about the future direction of Parris House Wool Works.  This is just what small business owners do.  It’s a bit like sailing; as you learn both your boat and your waterway better, and the purpose of your voyage becomes clearer, navigational adjustments must be made.  What you can’t control is the wind.  The wind is going to work with you or against you as you make your way, and it’s best to pay pretty close attention to which way it’s blowing, and work with it.

You may be thinking that I’m going to say that the wind represents our externals – customers, competitors, suppliers, the overall health of the economy, the size of our market – that sort of thing.  But I’m not.  Equally beyond our control is something internal and inherent:  our passions.  What is it we love?  What is it we would do even if we weren’t being paid?  What gives us energy instead of draining us at the end of the day?  Speaking for myself, and I suspect for a lot of people, I can’t control that.  When I really love doing something, I could eat, sleep, and breathe it, and there’s no way around that.  It’s beyond liking it.  It’s beyond mild or even moderate interest.  It actually feels as though it’s who I am and if I’m not engaged in it in a significant way in my life, I’m not going to feel whole.

Clearly, fiber art is a passion for me.  Hooking is my primary outlet for that passion, probably because it intersects so nicely with other passions I have: New England history, Maine heritage crafts (Waldoboro style was invented here), historical craft and home activities, color (glorious color!), nature, wool, I could go on.  I am learning, though, that all things fiber are exciting for me.  I love the feel of yarn between my fingers as I knit, the free and color rich process of (newly learned for me) applique, the satisfying evolution of a braid rug as I lace the coils one to another.  I love the anticipation I feel as wet wool fabric hits the dye bath and becomes a color that minutes before  was present only in my imagination.  I love watching a new student discover with awe and delight that YES she IS a creative person and that this creativity is limitless in the context of wool, linen, and her own capacity to bring her project into being.

There’s no help for this.  It just is.  So while Jen and I work out the details of our journey as fiber art entrepreneurs, one abiding truth is clear:  I can’t not do this.  Maybe the reason this is so clear to me is because I have done quite a few other things for a living.  I’ve been a market research analyst, a procurement coordinator in the aerospace industry, a financial analyst (that was the worst), a family daycare provider (my own business), and, for a decade, a real estate broker.  I’ve sold Avon, Longaberger, and quite a good number of houses.  Real estate sales had elements of a passion, but ultimately it still felt like a job and after a decade I hit the wall with it…hard.

When I started Parris House Wool Works in 2011, fresh from my latest reminder of mortality after my mother’s death, I never considered the possibility of failure.  I still don’t.  I am working harder than I ever have in any other career, more hours, more mental and creative exertion, more investment of heart.  The difference is I’m sailing before the wind.  I am reminded of this quote by Howard Thurman:  “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  It was by this philosophy that my husband and I raised our four sons, telling them to find their passions. Now we have a historian, an ecologist/wildlife biologist, an electrical engineer, and a budding physicist in the family.  Had we tried to impose our own passions and interests on them, we could not have hoped for such wonderful variety.  They set their sails according to their own breezes and gusts.

So to get back to where I began, what would I tell young graduating seniors?  Well, what I said the other day in response to Josh and Brent’s Facebook post was that these students are of such a promising generation, so genuine, so accepting, so hard working, that they absolutely must stay true to themselves and to their values, even if others are inclined to quash them.  A big part of that is always following that thing that makes you come alive, the things you live for, your passions.  It’s about trimming the sails to that wind that simply is and enjoying the voyage.

This advice is not just for our young people.  It’s for all of us.  Get out there and do what you love.  Sail on.   – Beth