What Size is Your Flower Pot?

Our summer salads making their debut at the Parris House.

I’ve been thinking a lot about pots lately.  I recently started my seedlings for this summer’s garden (yes, I know it’s terribly late, even for zone 5 in Maine) and after just a couple of days, the mixed salad greens have sprouted.  I love this particular mix, by Pinetree Garden Seeds right here in Maine, for its variety of flavors and colors.  As I looked at the tiny seedlings this morning, some of which will have to be thinned out, I thought, “There are this summer’s bountiful fresh salads, right there in that tray.”  I was projecting them in to their future, though right now they are the tiniest of sprouts.

This weekend I’ll be working on the raised beds, getting them ready to accept the seedlings that are only now emerging in my trays and for the seeds that are sown directly in to the soil.  For us, in this climate, planting time happens in the very last days of May or the first days of June.  Our growing season – at least without the aid of greenhouses and other warming equipment – is short and we have to make the most of it.  By September, and certainly by October, we’re harvesting the last of things save for hardy kales and the like, and winter squashes and pumpkins.

People who know me well know that I can find life analogies in almost everything, so here we go…

Right now these little divided pots my seedlings are being born in to are fine for them.  In fact, I would go as far as to say they are right for them.  They are providing a small space where the plants are watched over, nurtured, and not overrun by nature in a larger environment.  Some seeds don’t require this small space at the outset and can be planted in the bigger expanse of the garden or raised bed right away.  Seeds are all different, but one thing is sure:  very few seeds are meant to grow in a confined space forever.  My little salad greens will never become robust, zesty, hardy, ready-to-bolt-if-not-picked-in-time food producers if left in those little pots.  And – you saw it coming – it’s the same for us, and I think we know it.  We know when we are becoming metaphorically pot bound, when we can’t expand, when we can’t grow.  We know when we can’t breathe, when we’re thirsty, when the nutrients are scarce, both literally and figuratively.  It’s the way we’re made.  What to do when our pots are too small?  The garden continues to provide guidance.

These little salad sprouts are going to need thinning.  Of all the gardening tasks there are, this is the most painful for me.  I just hate thinning plants.  Hate it.  I know it has to be done so that the remaining plants are hale and hearty, with plenty of space to grow, growth being the objective, after all, but I can not completely shake the guilt of killing off the sacrificial plants.   It can not be too long delayed, lest the roots be intertwined and you damage the primary plants when you pull the others.  It is always harder to thin later.  Best to do it as soon as it’s required.

As it turns out, I hate thinning my life too, or at least, I used to.  As with thinning my seedlings, I’m starting to take comfort in the wisdom of it and know that it’s the only path for growth.   What I say “no” to is becoming as important as what I say “yes” to these days.  Some thinning is quick and painless.  For example, this morning I uninstalled Twitter from my phone.  I still have my @ParrisHouseWool Twitter account, but I don’t have to have the app on my phone.  I can visit it intentionally and with a purpose when I want to share something (for example, this blog post) and eliminate it as a distraction on my phone.   In a similar way, I can set my phone aside or in another room when I want an undisturbed block of time to write or do making work.  I can tell people – again – that email is the very best, by a large margin, way to reach me and stick to that as my preferred mode of communication.  Other things are less easily plucked and have to instead be moved through and out of the time pipeline.  Commitments made in “yes” mode have to be honored, but not renewed if they are not consistent with your life’s primary goals.  Once out of your time pipeline they have to become “no”s.   When “yes” feels like an obligation or a “should” but is not coming from a deep place of purpose in your life, say “no” and do not second guess it.  Say “no” and move forward with your remaining “yes” activities.   If you have a task or obligation that for some reason you can not eliminate, find help with it, paid or unpaid as the case may be, but exhaust all other options to weed it out before you do.

Still feeling pot bound after a good round of saying “no” and thinning the field?  Maybe you need a bigger pot.  I’m not talking about buying a four thousand square foot house.  I’m talking about living your life in a way that expands it.  Do not be afraid to plant yourself in a bigger environment if the one you’re in feels restrictive or is not providing for your needs or dreams, and do not be afraid to be afraid.  I had to learn this the hard way and have still not completely mastered it.   Three examples from my own life come vividly to mind.  The first is when I decided to take my work in person to Josh and Brent of Beekman 1802 to ask if I might become part of their artisan collective.  The second was when I was invited to teach at the Squam Art Workshops among a field of teachers I regarded as having much stronger credentials than mine.  The third was just recently, when I went out to Down East Books to meet my editor for the book I am currently writing.   In all of these cases I saw opportunities to plant myself in a bigger pot, and in all cases I was so nervous I was physically ill:  heart palpitations, nausea, GI upset I’ll leave to your imagination, feeling faint, sleeplessness the night before, all of it.  Train wreck status, really.  I knew I was nervous and afraid, even if I couldn’t pinpoint why (well, probably lots of past conditioning, but this is not the space for psychoanalysis), but I was hell bent on doing these things anyway.  I have found that the level of reward of doing something is almost always proportional to the level of blowing through the self imposed limitations, in this case, fear, required to get it done.  Related to this is that you don’t have to know up front every detail of how you’ll get whatever it is done.  You just have to start, have a general plan, and then do the steps as they present themselves.   Get in to that bigger pot or garden bed so you can thrive, even though that move is going to be uncomfortable and even though you can not – will never be able to – completely predict the outcome.

Your flower pot can almost always be bigger.  I know very little about ceramics, but I can see by watching my husband make pottery that sometimes a pot comes out small even if there’s plenty of clay on the wheel to make it bigger.  Sometimes this is because the potter didn’t draw it up and thin it out to its optimal size, leaving it somewhat stunted and leaden in its finished form.  The clay was there; it just wasn’t optimized.   But this a post based on gardening analogies, not pottery making analogies, so we’ll leave that there.

Part of last year’s Parris House garden harvest.

In the time it’s taken me to write this post, the pickling cucumber plants in my trays have also emerged just a little more from beneath the potting soil.  Their insistent progress even in the span of an hour or so inspires me, and it will be with great expectation that I plant them in the bigger space that they both need and deserve in just a few week’s time.  Today’s brave emergence is tomorrow’s harvest, for plants and for us.

In both a literal and metaphorical sense, what are you growing this year, and how much space are you going to need?

Happy gardening and happy hooking.   – Beth

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s In Your Blueprint?

This blog post has been taking shape in my mind for weeks.  There have been so many catalysts but I have not been able to quite put it all together until now.

As those who follow my social media may know, I’ve been working my way through the book, “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron since the beginning of the year.  I still have three and a half weeks to go with it and I already know that I’ll need to repeat the material to get maximum and ongoing benefit.  There’s just so much to work with.  But, so far, it’s been an amazing and eye opening journey in identifying and working through creative blocks, and learning more about why we often stray from our heart’s direction.

I have also been working through a program with life and business coach Mike Iamele, who is right down in the Boston area but works with clients all over the world.  One of the many things Mike invites us to do is discover five or six words that really capture our essence, the who we are that we bring to every venture, every relationship, every part of our lives.

These two experiences so early in the year have helped me to take knowledge that seemed intuitive and break it down in to the “why” of my evolution and direction in my business and my life overall.

To put it concisely, we are all here to do our own thing, and if we try to do someone else’s thing, it’s not going to work out very well for us or for anyone else in our lives.  It’s as if we are all built from a completely unique blueprint, and if we stray too far from our inherent design, we fail.   Like a structure built by lazy or inept carpenters, we eventually break down if the blueprint isn’t carefully and respectfully followed.  Who the architect of our blueprints is is a question best left to philosophers, scientists, and theologians, but I no longer have any doubt that the blueprints exist.

No one can read your blueprint as well as you can.  In fact, it’s probable that no one can read your blueprint at all except you.  Others will say they can, and they will attempt to push you in a direction that follows their idea of what your blueprint is or should be.  Don’t let them.  They may be well meaning, or they may have an agenda to use your gifts for their own benefit more than yours.  Either way, just say “no.”

I have been dialoging recently with book publishers, who I have learned know a great deal about individual blueprints.   In one conversation with a publisher, we both sensed that his publishing house and my proposal were not a great fit for one another.  Why?  Because in order to make my book work for his press, I would have needed to strip away a good deal of its essence, a major aspect of it that made it what I call “heart work” for me, and even he did not recommend I do that.  In speaking with the publisher who is much more likely to work with this project, that aspect of the proposal is not only fine, it’s desired.  On a second project, one that came to me unexpectedly, the book editor said to me, in so many words, “Only you can write this book,” going on to explain that every author can only write the thing that’s in her heart to write, and if she tries to write something else, it never works.  It literally makes for an unsuccessful book.

The business model for Parris House Wool Works is not what may have been expected by anyone on the outside, even though had I been brave enough to truly follow my blueprint from day one, it might look even more unconventional.  In a conversation with a friend today, we spoke about the differences between my studio and another we are both familiar with.   These differences are not good or bad, they’re just differences.  We are working with different blueprints.  As a result, some people prefer this other studio to mine, and some people prefer mine to that one, and that is something I actually love to see play out.  It means that the people who come to my studio are the people who belong there.  One of the most frustrating things a business owner can do to herself is try to be right for everyone.  Not only is it impossible, it stunts growth because energy is wasted trying to please those for whom your offerings, those things driven by your particular blueprint, are just not a good fit.  Like the publisher who doesn’t fit with my book proposal and vice versa, not every customer, student, client, whatever the relationship is, is meant to be yours.

The very best opportunities I’ve had in this adventure have come from following my own blueprint: my affiliation with Beekman 1802, teaching at the Squam Art Workshops and other amazing venues in New England, working with Making Magazine, doing some major commissioned work, and more.  All of these things have felt absolutely right and in keeping with who I am and what I want to achieve as an artisan.

Whenever I align my life and work with my blueprint, things fall in to place; not without hard work and careful attention, but they do come together.  When I do something because someone else thinks it’s a good idea for me, because I feel obligated, because this is what’s expected, or because “this is how it’s always been done,” I am less successful.  Additionally, when I crowd my days with too many things, leaving little time to reflect on and sense my best direction, I do poorly.  The blueprint is clear and uncluttered.  It is in our best interest to read it.

What’s in your blueprint?  Feel free to share a time, experience, or opportunity that felt true to who you are and what is in your heart to do.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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!

Depression Era Poor Man’s Cake, Courtesy My Grandmother (and a Coupon Code For You)

My grandmother, Mary Barnard, with my niece, Rose, my son, Robert, and my husband, Bill, circa 1991, at her Little Sebago Lake cottage in Gray, Maine.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother lately.  I often think of her in challenging times for so many reasons.  At the moment I am realizing that I can no longer realistically run Parris House Wool Works as alone as I have been, because I am running myself ragged (no, threadbare) keeping up with all of the wonderful opportunities I’ve been given.  I have one fantastic helper, a virtual assistant, already started, and two other people waiting for me to get my act and timing together in a smart enough way to hand them some work.  So really, not catastrophic, but the overwhelm is a bit much right now.  Additionally, and more actually truly sad, the canine love of my life, Corgi Tru, was diagnosed with cancer last week and is not expected to live the summer.  She is twelve and she’s had a fantastic life, but I wasn’t ready to face letting her go so soon.

I think about my grandmother in stressful times because I loved her so much and she was such an enormous influence on who I am today.  The very best times of my childhood were spent at her summer cottage on Little Sebago Lake in Gray, Maine.  I was a stressed out child, mostly due to circumstances at home but also because, well, I seem to have been born Type A (I’m working on it). The summer cottage time in Maine with my grandmother was the antidote to that stress.  There were no crazy expectations at the cottage.  I was always good enough.  In fact, I was great, or so my grandmother told me.  We played cards, swam in the lake, climbed hills to find wild blueberries, hiked to an abandoned cellar hole and cemetery, and ate.  We ate ice cream every night at 8 o’clock on the dot.  My grandmother didn’t scoop it out like most people do.  Nope.  She took the paper wrapping off the half gallon – a true half gallon back in the ’70s – and then cut the ice cream in to perfectly even bricks.  I will never know whether she did this just to have nice equal servings or because she had been a Depression era mom and this was the most efficient way to divvy up a box of ice cream.

As I said, my grandmother had been a Depression era mother to three children, my Uncle Courtland, my Aunt Dorothy, and my mother, Elizabeth, all born between 1920 and 1928.  She knew what difficulty really meant.  She lost both of her parents before she was forty herself, and she survived the indescribable worry that must have come with having a son and son-in-law serving in combat during World War II.   As a child I never gave any of these things a thought.  I just knew that this was the sunny grandmother who made my life a dream in the summers and had introduced me to Rudyard Kipling, Lewis Carroll, Grape Nut ice cream, daily diary keeping, Canasta, and, perhaps most pivotally, Maine.

I would often awake in the summer time to the delicious aromas of whatever my grandmother was already baking in the kitchen.  Sometimes it was homemade fried donuts, or cookies, or the recipe I’m going to share with you now, Poor Man’s Cake.  Poor Man’s Cake was a Great Depression recipe and I’d bet there are variations of it, if not this same recipe, in your family too.  It may even be older because my copy of the recipe from my grandmother says, “Poor Man’s Cake, World War,” which may indicate World War I.  Her brother, my great uncle Winfield Martin, had fought in France during the Great War and nearly died.  Thankfully, he recovered in a hospital in France, came home and lived a long and good life.  You will notice that this recipe has no milk, no butter, no eggs.  But don’t be put off.  Either this cake is the most delicious and addictive old recipe ever, or…it just is to me because so many memories are attached to it.

Here it is for you to try.

1 pound raisins in 2 cups water, boiled 15 minutes

Add to the raisins…

3/4 cup shortening and mix together

2 cups sugar

1 cup cold water

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp baking soda

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp salt

4 cups flour

1 cup chopped nuts

1/2 jar candied fruit (I don’t know what 1/2 jar measures out to, but feel free to wing it)

Mix all ingredients together.  Bake at 275 degrees for one hour in 3 greased and floured loaf pans.

I know that sounds like a very low oven temperature, but that’s what my grandmother did.  What you end up with is a very soft, very dark raisin/fruitcake, very unlike those doorstop fruitcakes often found in the supermarket during the holidays.  Sometimes she left out the candied fruit and it was more of a raisin spice cake/bread.

This week (May 22nd to May 29th) I’ll offer coupon code POORMANSCAKE in the Etsy and Shopify shops for 10% off your order of $25 or more, and let me know if you try the recipe!

Happy hooking – Beth

 

A Sneak Peek at the First Hookers Circle Project and How You Can Join Us!

Not everyone can join us in the Maine studio to hook together on Tuesdays.  In thinking about how we could create an online community to bring people from all over the country (and possibly the world) together in a common project, I came up with the Parris House Hookers Circle. 

As some of you may know, we shipped the first pattern for the Parris House Hookers Circle in March of this year.  If you’re not aware of it, here’s how it works. Every quarter (March, June, September, December) I will send out a new surprise pattern or kit (you choose!).    You can pay all at once up front and receive a 5% discount on your subscription, or you can pay in installments.  The details are explained on the shop listing HERE.  

So far, we have had three brave hookers sign up, and two of them, Pam Congdon Springer and Carolyn Cooke, have been participating regularly on our Hookers Circle closed Facebook group.  They signed up without having any sneak peek at all at what they might receive, but lucky you, you’re about to get a look at the first pattern we shipped in March and what two of these lovely women did with it.  Keep in mind that they chose the pattern-only option, not a kit with cut or uncut wool, so the color planning was all theirs.

When I set about designing a pattern for the March shipment, we were in the midst of some serious winter storms with spring nowhere in sight.  I thought it might be nice to do a pattern inspired by some of the woodland plants we see here in Maine in spring and then in to the summer, so I chose lady slippers and trillium.  On any hike in the woods of Maine you are pretty sure to see trillium, but the lady slippers are rarer, so much so that it is literally illegal to pick them.  I’m not sure why anyone would, but the state actually protects them as a relatively rare plant.

So here’s what my hookers circle members got in the mail…

Each member received an image of the original sketch as a jumping off point for their own color planning and hooking.

Each member also received a pattern drawn on the grain on high quality linen with 4″ edges all around.

They also received a special little extra in their packages, which for March was a bar of our handcrafted soap.

It took Pam and Carolyn no time at all to get started on their projects, but they posted progress pics throughout their hooking that were fun to see.  We were able to bat ideas around as the projects developed and offer constructive opinions and kudos on the work.  Another benefit of joining Hookers Circle is that mutual support as the projects unfold.

So, what did the finished projects look like?  Of the three members, I have finished pics of two, and permission to post so…without further ado…

This is Carolyn’s finished rug. She chose unconventional colors and a beautiful whip stitched binding that coordinates with the primary background. Her use of purple on the stems of the flowers, and then echoing it in the corners of the design, I thought was brilliant. I think she achieved a really beautiful result here, thinking outside the box.

This is Pam’s finished wall hanging. I absolutely loved the way she incorporated a natural object that you would absolutely find on a walk in the woods as part of the hanging apparatus. She used a coordinating button flaps to attach to the twig and then set the whole thing off with the proddy fringe along the bottom. I think her color choices are lovely. This is another spectacular result I would never have imagined when I was sketching the pattern.

So, this is our fledgling start to the Hookers Circle, a group I hope to grow to at least one hundred members.  No, I’m not kidding.  I really want to get Hookers Circle to at least one hundred members.  I know that that would require employing several people for about a week or so a quarter to draw, assemble, and ship the kits, but I think it would create a big version of the camaraderie that is already developing on our Hookers Circle Facebook group.

If you like this pattern, it will be available for general purchase one year from when it was released, so March 2018.  Hookers Circle members enjoy exclusive access to every pattern for at least one year.  Members can join at any point in the year and subscriptions will run on a rolling basis.  Want to join us in time for the June shipment?  Join here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peek at what’s been happening in the Parris House Hookers Circle.  I think spring is finally arriving here in Maine.  There’s still snow on the ground, but I think its time is short, and I will have to start thinking about warmer days and summer sun to inspire the June pattern and kit.

Happy hooking! – Beth

Always Do Your Best, Even When It’s Not “Enough”

Something happened this past weekend that made me think about intent, process, and outcome.  We can not always control outcomes, but we can control our own intent, our own decision making, our own process.  Here’s what got me started down that thought path.

This is my son Robert’s girlfriend Tracy, getting eye to eye with a stray cat.  While they were vacationing for his 27th birthday in Virginia this past weekend, they encountered a cat by the side of the road.  Being cat people, they stopped the car to make sure the cat was ok.  He wasn’t.  It was clear to them that he was injured and sick.  Because it was a Sunday, they had to search high and low for an animal hospital that was open, and finally found one in Charlottesville.  Transporting the cat to this open animal hospital involved several hours of driving for them (on my son’s birthday), and their feline passenger pooping in Rob’s car.

I wish I could say this story has a happy ending, but it doesn’t.  The cat was found to have FIV, which made adoption by Rob and Tracy impossible because they have other cats at home.  More importantly, the cat had a serious brain/neurological injury from what was likely being hit by a car, along with other injuries.  When Rob last spoke to the animal hospital, it was the vet’s opinion that the most humane thing to do would be to put the cat to sleep.

I felt bad for Rob and Tracy.  They love animals (in fact, so much that they build cat beds for their Etsy shop) and had done everything within their power to save this one, to no avail.  I also felt bad for the cat, because I love cats so much and, of course, we have our own crazy orange tabby, Tesla, here at the Parris House who is part of our family.  I told them that they had at least provided this animal with affection and kindness when he was so sick and injured, and that they had sacrificed their own vacation time in an effort to save his life.

This is just how life is sometimes, and we need to remember it.  If we are always obsessed with a safe and assured outcome, we will never take chances.  Sometimes – often – we’re going to win for our efforts.  But sometimes we’re not, and sometimes there’s no accounting for the difference either.  It’s just how it is.

There is a fair amount – more than we’re willing to admit – of uncertainty in life, actually.  It’s why I hug my sons tightly when we have to say goodbye (which is often; they are all grown men now).  It’s why I drive back to the house if I’m not 100% sure I unplugged the iron.  It’s why I take nothing – absolutely nothing – for granted.  It’s also why I do my best and leave the outcome to take care of itself, because it’s going to and maybe not in the way I thought.

Of course, the flip side to all of this uncertainty resulting in disaster is uncertainty resulting in success beyond our wildest dreams.   Life is filled with those unexpected results as well.  For example, I knew that when we approached Beekman 1802 with our work in 2014, there was an off chance they’d say “yes” to it, but I wasn’t really expecting it.  That trip went, and that relationship continues to go, so well that I could never have imagined it beforehand.  From that one chance we (my then biz partner, Jen and I) took three years ago has come many happy pillow recipients, new friends for me, and opportunities I could not have dreamed of.

The same could be said from my experiences teaching at Squam, or from an online friendship that resulted in the recommendation of a publisher for my as yet still a dream book (the proposal is in though…I’m taking a chance…).

We don’t know what’s going to happen in our lives, good, bad, or anything in between.  But we can control the intent, the process, and our own effort.  Therefore, with this one life – this one, brief, amazing, limited time only life – we have to just do our best.  Doing our best creates better odds for the outcomes we want, and better handling of disappointment when things don’t go our way.  When we do our best we have fewer regrets, knowing we gave it all we had.

Next Monday I’ll have a more fiber art related post (although this topic also applies to the way we approach our art), as I am traveling to Rochester, NY this weekend to teach a pretty large group of RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) students rug hooking.  When I interact with high school and college students I see young adults engaged in doing their best to make their dreams come true, and that’s inspiring.  I’ll have the whole story for you a week from today!

Have a great week, and give it your best.  – Beth

 

Seriously, Yes, You Are, and Yes, You Can.

I’ve addressed this topic before, but I think it bears repeating, and I encountered a catalyst for this post again just today.   At Tuesday hooking group we had the loveliest trio of sisters stop in for the first time.   One of them was looking for applique wool, and another was already a hooker.  As I showed them the kitchen area where we cut wool, have classes, eat, drink, and generally be merry, one of these wonderful women said something along the lines of, “I’m not artistic.  I can’t draw a thing.”

Stop.Right.There.

The answer is always, always, “Yes, you are and yes, you can.”  The ladies pictured at left (a different trio) were students in my design class of just that name:  “Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can.”  It’s a fun, information and skill packed, affirming class in hooked rug design where you start with a sketch of your own creation and leave with a fully finished pattern ready to hook.  I was inspired to create this class because I had, and have, heard, possibly a hundred times or more by now, “I’m not artistic.  I can’t draw.”

It’s never true.  As in…never.  

So, what’s the deal?  Why do people – primarily women – make this self assessment?  Certainly they are not being intentionally misleading.  If only they were.  No, they truly, really, sincerely believe that their creativity is inferior or non-existent.  This breaks my heart, perhaps because I’ve been right there and still struggle with the inner critic who I’m learning better and better these days to shut the  *&#% up.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s important to critique your own ideas and work.  We have to do that to make sure that whatever it is we are producing is something that we feel good about and that we applied ourselves for.  I’ve sold patterns discounted as “seconds” that my customers couldn’t find the flaws in, but I knew.  Likewise, I joke that my eraser is my best friend, because I use it more than I use my sketch pencil some days.  So, I’m not saying not to take pride in your work and I’m not saying you shouldn’t have standards, but I think you know where the line is.  You know when the inner critic is not the voice of your commitment to a job well done, but rather the voice of a bully.  You can sense it, and what I’m telling you is:  shut the bully down.

I don’t want to overstate the role of gender in this problem, but as an example, I also had a wonderful male customer stop in to the shop today looking for a particular blue (which, dang, I didn’t have at that moment).  He had a fantastic rug of his own design with him and I asked him to come in to the kitchen and show it off to the ladies who were lunching.  This man is someone who does amazing work and has a healthy commitment to quality.  I have heard him self-critique his work, but the tone is different from that of most of my female students and customers, and when he showed off his rug today he was able to take the many oohs, aaahs, and compliments in a way that showed a humble yet confident attitude toward his work.  Unfortunately, we don’t have nearly enough men rug hooking these days, but I do believe I notice that they bring to the art a confidence that many women, even the most accomplished, either don’t have or don’t show.

Going too far in to how girls and boys are raised in our culture relative to how they are encouraged to show self effacement vs. confidence is way beyond the scope of this post, but just make a mental note of the existence of these differences, and think about how those differences may affect you when:

  • someone pays you a sincere compliment
  • you are invited to try a new art or craft
  • you are evaluating  your own creative ideas or works
  • you are asked to share your work or teach what you know

Maybe you had parents or other important adults in your life who didn’t affirm your talent in some way.  Maybe you had that art teacher who condemned your efforts because she wanted an outcome from you that fit her limited vision instead of being open to and appreciative of yours.  Maybe you’re just an introvert (hello…raises hand…) who isn’t totally comfortable with the attention your talent might or does attract and it’s more comfortable to be dismissive of yourself.   I’m a major introvert who is learning to be comfortable with putting myself out in to the world for the sake of promoting work that I love.   Maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is that gets in the way of your embracing your own creative potential, it’s important to look at it, move it aside, and give yourself a chance at something you’ve up til now believed you “couldn’t do.”

I am thoroughly convinced that every woman, and the occasional man, who walks through the door at the Parris House has an innate and deep well of creativity within themselves.  I respect and honor that immediately and at face value, which is why I wholly reject any assertion that that person is bereft of talent.   This is not just wishful thinking on my part, or my stubborn clinging to a dearly held belief.  It is evidence based.  I don’t know how many students I have taught at this point, but it’s many, and not one – not a single ONE – failed to reveal to me his or her creative nature.  Further, my students always teach me something in return; everyone has something to offer in a creative context.

We are, by nature, creative beings.  How enthralling is that?  We are made for this creativity thing, and all we have to do is find a medium of expression that suits our individual nature.

To summarize, yes, you are and yes, you can.

To sign up for a creative experience at the Parris House, click HERE and bookmark this page because I am adding classes all the time.  I will be adding another date for Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can and am in the process of arranging for some guest teachers to come in for possible classes in art journaling, the intersection of water color painting and hooking, natural dye techniques, and more.

Happy (and confident) creating!  – Beth