Confessions of a Recovering Workaholic, Part 1

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

I have recently had to face the hard truth that I am a workaholic, and if you are too, you might want to read up here, because that life is not sustainable.  You might think it is, but it’s not.  Really.  It’s not.

As those who have been following my social media know, I have been reading and doing the exercises in the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron since the beginning of the year.  I just finished week ten, of twelve.   Week ten is really heavy on recognizing workaholism not only as an addiction or compulsion, but as a fear based way of living.  What makes us slide over the line in to workaholism?  Why do we think we have to be “on” 24/7/365 to succeed?

If you’re a small business owner I can already hear you, with some justification, saying, “Well, that’s just what it takes.”  To some extent, you’re right, especially if you are your small business, or at the very least, you are the one responsible for driving sales and growth.   It’s hard to ever totally shut off when there’s no guaranteed external paycheck, when you either make the sales, bring in the new students and customers, finish the custom orders, meet the shipping deadlines, pay attention to your social media and marketing, or else you don’t pay the bills.  If you have employees or contractors the pressure is even higher, because part of paying the bills is making payroll.  I get that and I know it can be overwhelming.  Kicking back for a day, or a week, or if you’re really burned out, a lot longer, can seem like professional suicide.  But, I have discovered something else that’s professional suicide:  overwork, overwhelm, and burnout.

So, I took the Chapter 10 workaholic quiz in The Artist’s Way and failed spectacularly, in that, I was guilty of every common marker for the problem.  No, I haven’t been taking at least one day a week off.  No, I don’t take vacations.  Yes, I do put off my family and friends because I “have to work” or I “have a deadline.”   Yes, I do cancel non-emergency preventative medical appointments because I’m “too busy.”   Yes, sometimes I realize I have not left my studio in three or four days because I’m trying to get it all done.  No, I don’t take myself on what the book calls “Artist’s Dates.”  Yes, I do blow off yoga and hiking and time in the woods and on the water because I “just can’t find the time.”  Yes, I “forget to eat.”  I could go on, but you get the idea, and some of you – I know that some of you – are living this way too.

Just stop.

Let’s go back to why we do this to ourselves.  We’ve already addressed that there is a baseline reality to some need for very hard work:  we are under tremendous pressure to pay our bills, make our deadlines, and pay the people who may be working for us or providing materials to us.  But do we really have to go this far down the workaholic rabbit hole to make that happen?  I’m taking the leap to find out, but more on that later.

The “why”s go beyond the very real financial and logistical pressures.  One “why” is overwhelmingly cultural.  Here in the United States we are raised (or were – I think it’s improving with subsequent generations) to believe that our value is not in who we are, but in what we can do, what we can produce.  We are an independent, bootstrapping, hyper productive, entrepreneurial culture of powerhouses….right?  Our heroes embody rags to riches stories.  We worship celebrities because of how they look and how large a venue they can fill, without ever knowing who they are.  We elect politicians not for the content of their character but for the alleged quantity in their bank accounts, because that’s how we define success.  Look, I have no objection to anyone becoming wealthy in America.  In fact, I applaud it if it is done in an ethical way that contributes to that person’s family and community, and I wouldn’t mind making it happen for me and my family.  What I object to is the metrics by which we value human beings in this culture and the way it drives us not only to work excessively and compulsively, but to work ineffectively and in ways untrue to who we are.

For some of us, another “why” is closer to our homes.  Perhaps we were raised by people who cared little about who we were as human beings and more about who they could mold us to become, either in their own image or according to some ideal in their minds.  (I regard that lack of acceptance and freedom as child abuse, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.)  These parents might appear well meaning, but the message they ultimately send is this:  you are not enough as you are, you can not be trusted to shape your own life and path, you are not what we expected and therefore are somehow disappointing.  It is no surprise that people raised in environments like this lack confidence, have trouble making decisions right for themselves, become people pleasers to their own detriment, and yes, try to compensate by working themselves too hard in order to prove their value.  It may not always be parents who cause this crisis of authentic identity and self worth.  It may be a highly critical teacher or role model.  It might be peers who are bullies.  It might be an abusive partner.  All of this is addressed magnificently in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, and without practicing psychotherapy without a license, I try to touch on this a bit when I teach my design class, Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can.

I have been living the workaholic life for at least the past fifteen years, but probably longer.  I started my ten year career in real estate in 2003.  Every good real estate broker knows the drill, or at least, what the drill might be if you’re a workaholic and insecure about making and being “enough”:  take calls at all hours of the day and night, show property on weekends, nights, and holidays, travel to anywhere your client needs you to to execute documents (although this is better in the age of Docusign, unless your client isn’t computer literate),  climb in every nook and cranny of every house, barn, attic, basement you show,  stand over open septic tanks breathing it all in, walk land during hunting season hoping your blaze orange jacket is enough, on and on and on.  My clients loved me. I was very well regarded in the field.  And here’s the punch line in real estate brokerage.   You’re an independent contractor, you have no benefits, and you don’t get paid unless the sale closes.  Many of those failure-to-close factors you have zero – and I mean ZERO – control over.  It’s stressful, sometimes lucrative, sometimes very not lucrative, and many people burn out.  After ten years, I did.  Spectacularly.  So what did I do?

I started my own business and carried those same workaholic habits right in to it.  Duh.  And with those habits have come some serious mental and physical health issues I now have to attend to, the need to work on improving relationships and friendships I have neglected, and a real subversion of my own creativity, because no one can create when the proverbial well is dry.

I’m done.

No, I’m not done with Parris House Wool Works.  On the contrary, I have big plans for Parris House Wool Works and for myself in a variety of arts.  However, I am done working all the time.  I am done not having a life outside of my business, and I am done thinking that who I am is so inextricably tied to what I can produce.  What does this look like in practice?

Well, I’ve taken the past two weekends almost completely off.  This weekend my husband, Bill, taught our soap class (which was delightful, by the way; we get the best students) and then we came down to our lake cottage, Sunset Haven, which is where I am writing this from today.  (No, blogging is not work for me.)  Unlike many times we are at Sunset Haven, we are not cleaning it for the next Airbnb visitors.  There was a rare gap in the rental calendar and we can just spend time here for ourselves this weekend.   We went to a cafe this morning and had breakfast, and then we did something unheard of for us:  we mindlessly walked around the Maine Mall, got a lilac scented candle (our own lilacs won’t bloom until well in to May), got some coffee, and came back to the cottage.   My husband is catching up on our personal finances and I’m blogging, lakefront.  It’s a winter wonderland here, the lake is still mostly frozen, and in a little while I’m going to take Wyeth for a long walk on the camp roads.  That doesn’t exactly sound like a Hawaiian luxury vacation, I realize, but this is a major departure for us.   It’s a first step.

What will this look like going forward?  I don’t know.  That’s why this post is titled “Part 1,” because I plan to keep our readers informed on how this lifestyle change is going.  I’m doing the journaling of this for me, I admit, but I’m also doing it for those of you following along who are also burning yourselves out in your own businesses or careers, or who are in danger of doing so.

What are you doing to take care of yourself this weekend?  How will you give yourself the time and space to approach your work this coming week well rested and fresh?  If you have been to the land of burnout, how did you recover?  How are you doing now?  Feel free to comment below.

Have a wonderful Sunday.  – Beth

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

2017 Paris Hill Hook In – Thanks to All Who Made It a Great Day!

 

On Saturday, November 4th, we had our Fifth Annual Paris Hill Hook In and I would say it was a great success.  We changed things up quite a bit this year.  Responding to feedback from hook ins that I’ve been an organizer and/or a vendor for, we reduced the number of guests from 62 to 50 this year in an effort to give everyone more space.  We also went from three vendors to four.  These are, to be honest, risky steps to take from the business side of conducting a hook-in, however, I would say that a good day was had by all and we plan to continue with these changes in coming years.

I would like to extend a bunch of “thank-yous” to the many people who made the day a success.

  • Firstly, I’d like to thank our guests for once again supporting this event, supporting our vendors, and being the reason the Paris Hill Hook In exists at all.  Thank you, all!
  • My husband, Bill, and 24 year old son, James, gave a herculean amount of assistance in setting up and then breaking down the hall.  They did lots of hauling, moving, and configuring on both ends of the event and I am very grateful for the help.
  • I’d like to thank the First Baptist Church of Paris and its Pastor Mary Beth Caffey for once again welcoming our event to their beautiful venue.  Given the choice between getting a larger venue to make space or scaling down, I chose scaling down because I believe traditional hooking events, in venues with history, character, and grace are becoming rare.  Our hooking heritage includes gathering in small, community spaces and supporting our home towns and villages.  Because First Baptist Church is willing to have us every year, we can continue that tradition.
  • For the Love of Food & Drink, our caterers, knocked it out of the park again with an outstandingly delicious breakfast and lunch.   Their kindness, conscientiousness, skill, and culinary excellence are a major part of what makes this event successful.
  • Our vendors are amazing!  A huge thank you to Connie Fletcher of Seven Gables Rug Hooking, Ellen Marshall of Two Cats and Dog Hooking, and Cherylyn Brubaker of Hooked Treasures.  And, of course, I was vending there too, and am very appreciative of everyone who shopped at my table yesterday.  Did you miss the event this year?  Click on all of our shop or web pages and shop the wonderful wares, just in time for the holiday season!

I am never able to get really great pictures at an event I’m personally running, so please excuse the lack of precision here.  However, you will get a feel for how the event unfolded and hopefully see some faces you are familiar with.  (To advance the slideshows, click on the arrows to the sides.)

Here are the pictures from setting up the day before.  The church was so silent, in contrast to the busyness that characterizes the actual event.

And here are the pictures from the day, complete with beautiful sunrise over Paris Hill.

Finally, here are the rug show pictures.  I was concerned that by scaling this event down the rug show would suffer, but no.  Our guests delivered with a great number and variety of rugs.  It goes without saying here that any design you see may not be copied without the artist’s/designer’s permission, so if there’s one you just love and want to track down ownership of, send me a message and I can try to get that information.  Some of them I know right off because they are either my design and/or hooked by one of the Parris House Hookers/Tuesday Group members, but others I’d need to make a few contacts on.

Were you there at the Fifth Annual Paris Hill Hook In?  We’d love to see your pics and hear your comments too.  Remember, if you are using social media to post about the event, include the hashtag #parishillhookin so that we can all find one another’s posts.

Thanks to all, again, and keep an eye on the website’s Paris Hill Hook In tab for information about next year’s event.

Happy hooking! – Beth

Playing Catch Up – News and Important Dates

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

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

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

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

Tovookan’s Honey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Project for The Stitchery

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

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

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

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

Learn to make soap with us!

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

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

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

Some of the garden harvest so far.

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

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

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

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

Happy hooking and thanks for reading!

 

 

 

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

 

Why We Hook the Animals We Love

This is my Welsh Corgi, Tru.  (If you really want to get to know her, she has her own Facebook page here.)  As you can see, she was sunbathing this morning while I was putting the finishing touches on the first pattern for the Parris House Hookers’ Circle subscription service, shipping this week.   As I posted on our Facebook page this morning, I am painfully aware that Tru is now about twelve years old, and that most of my time with her is behind us.   I never thought I could love a dog this fiercely until she came in to our lives, but here I am, pondering a post-Tru world even though as of right now, she is still happy, active, and healthy.

For this reason, I have been thinking lately that I need to gather up all the photos I have of her (there are many!), and also sit quietly with her, make a sketch of her sweet face, and hook it.    Now, I have never hooked an animal in a detailed way, the way I want to hook Tru’s image.   I want to capture the glint in her eye that still exists even though I see the encroaching cloudiness of cataracts.  I want to hook the pretty combination of “red” and white and maybe now a little gray that defines her face.  I want to add the teeny tiny white eyelashes and delicate fur in her ears.  I think this project is going to have to be refined and textural and multimedia, but since I can see it, I know I can make it a reality.

Prior to this I have not hooked many animals.  One of the most popular patterns in the shop is “Tesla’s First Snow,” which, rather than a late-in-life portrait, is a depiction of our big orange tabby, Tesla, as a four month old kitten seeing his first snowfall out the window.  After being initially perplexed, he wanted to “catch” the snowflakes as they cascaded down.   I snapped a picture of the scene and the result was this:

As you can see, this is a very primitive rendering of Tesla.  His back is turned to us so that, frankly, I didn’t need to deal with the detail of his face, although that is still true to the photograph.  This was done in 2012.  I learned to hook in 2011.  I was simply not ready to take on the complexities of Tesla’s face!   (In case anyone is wondering, he is named for Nikola Tesla, the scientist/inventor.  This happens when you have four sons who dig science.)

I also hook animals for Beekman 1802, and it is absolutely true that I love these animals I’m depicting.   I actually met Polka Spot back in 2014 on the day Jen and I first presented our work to Josh and Brent.  They kindly sent us on a farm tour with Megan, who was then their artisan coordinator, and we were thrilled to see the baby goats, Bubby the cat, Onder the dog, and, as they say, “every living thing at Beekman farm.”   Bubby passed away since then, and Polka has also “gone to Paris,” but both of them had distinct personalities.  Polka was one of the most regal animals I’ve ever encountered, and it was clear that she took her watch over the goats seriously.  Bubby was just one giant furball of love, demanding our attention while Onder ran in and out of the barn playfully.  Here is the menagerie I hook for Beekman 1802.

Last year I had a major commission for a customer’s beloved Pharaoh Hound.  The story on that is here, and the result is below.

Why are we willing to put so much time and effort in to these portraits of our favorite pets or animals?  Or, if we aren’t artisans ourselves, willing to commission someone else to create them?   I think it’s about the innocence, unconditional love, and nobility of character we so often find in our pets.  I don’t say that to anthropomorphize animals.  As my biologist/ecologist son, James, likes to remind me, “They don’t think the way we do.”   And, of course, he’s right.  They don’t think the way we do.   In fact, it’s impossible for us, really, to get inside their heads.  They are coming from an entirely different reality, biology, instinct than we are.  And yet…it is so easy to make important connections with them, and they with us.  We want to immortalize them in art because we know – we are so painfully aware – that their lifespans are much shorter than we’d like and that our own lives are so much better with them by our sides.

Sometimes they’re exasperating.  Tesla wants to kill my knitting if I don’t put it up and out of the way.  Tru wants to be directly under my feet if I’m preparing chicken for dinner.   Tesla is incapable of having a hairball in any location except on a carpet.  Tru occasionally gets so excited over visitors she pees at their feet.  Yeah.   And the fur.  It’s everywhere.  No vacuum on this planet is its equal.

Yesterday, my oldest son, Robert, shared this picture of his and his girlfriend’s, Tracy’s, cats peering out their apartment window in much the same way Tesla peered out at his first snow about five or six years ago.   They are Valentine and Playdough, respectively, and both are well under a year old.   Just the beginning of another generation’s connection with animals.

I hope you will share pictures of your animals and also pictures of artwork you’ve done inspired by them.  Feel free to tell their stories and what they mean to you.  I look forward to learning all about them.

Happy hooking! – Beth

Tesla one-upping Tru and snagging the sunny spot.

 

Giving Back – Our Choice for 2017

Back in the late fall, I announced that Parris House Wool Works was going to choose a worthy non-profit to support in 2017.  I knew that I could not give much – Parris House Wool Works is still finding its feet – but I wanted to give something, as much as I could.  I got a lot of absolutely great suggestions through the company page and my personal page, and I hope that by putting those threads out there all of those organizations got a little boost.  But ultimately, something really clicked for me just this month when my friend Betsy Brown posted an appeal for a girls’ camp here in Maine.  Betsy works at this camp, knows its strengths, its benefits, and most importantly, its girls.

Let me tell you a little bit about me, and it may become clearer why this cause hit me just right.

When I was a little girl growing up in southern NJ, I spent summers on Little Sebago Lake in Gray, Maine with my grandparents.   Many of you have read one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written on that experience.  If you haven’t, it’s here.    At any rate, I was phenomenally fortunate to be able to leave a situation in NJ not without personal problems and pressures and spend my summers lakeside with people who showed me unconditional love, who believed in me without exception, and where I could have new and empowering experiences like swimming, hiking, learning about plants and animals, cooking and baking, or just having the time to reflect.   Later, while raising my own sons, I would bear witness to the summer camp experience at Camp Hinds on Panther Pond in Raymond, Maine.   “Hinds,” as so many of us call it, is a Boy Scout camp where Scouts from all over the country spend weeks or more in the summer.  These boys are coming from a variety of life situations, and the experiences at Hinds can be life changing for them in the best possible ways.  My third son, Peter, an Eagle Scout, spent the most time there, but all of my sons experienced it in some way.

Fast forward to just the past few years when I have taught at the Squam Art Workshops, which is basically a wildly creative summer camp for grownups, attended mostly by women.   If you want to know what that was like, you can check on my previous post here.   I titled that post, “And the Universe Said Yes” because that is what it was like for me…decades…as in four decades…after my experiences on Little Sebago with my grandparents, I still needed and benefited from the empowerment (there’s that word again, but it’s irreplaceable in this context), camaraderie, unconditional love, and art and skill building that are the hallmarks of Squam.

And where do I go when I need to be creative, centered, feel my best about myself, and maybe discover more about myself?  I go to our own cottage on Little Sebago, Sunset Haven, and allow myself to breathe.

The benefit of a good summer camp with a loving staff, especially for children and young people not normally exposed to nature, empowering skills and activities, or even broad and caring acceptance, is immeasurable.  I know, because even though my “summer camp” experience was in a private home, it saved me in a number of important ways.

Some of the kids who need this experience most come from families who can not afford to pay for it.  One two week session at the camp I am about to introduce you to costs $1,450, which, to me, seems like a bargain given everything that this camp offers.  Take a look for yourself as I introduce you to West End House Girls Camp on Long Pond in Parsonsfield, Maine.

Photo courtesy the WEHGC Facebook page.

This introduction to West End House Girls Camp is taken from their web page:

Welcome to West End House Girls Camp. We believe in the power of camp to change lives.

For many girls, summer camp isn’t in the cards. That’s where West End House Girls Camp (WEHGC) comes in.  Building on the 100-plus year history of Boston’s West End House, WEHGC offers need-blind summer camp opportunities for girls and young women from all walks of life, many of whom wouldn’t otherwise have this experience.

WEHGC opened its doors in 2011 alongside the West End House Camp (for boys) on Long Pond in Parsonsfield, Maine.” We now support over 140 girls per summer and have plans to grow to accommodate over 300 girls per summer.

What do girls get out of our camp? On the surface, the things everyone gets from camp: Sunshine. Laughter. Campfires and new friends. But for these girls, camp is also a chance to feel safe, be themselves, and experience a judgment-free zone – things they may not experience elsewhere. They learn to make independent, responsible decisions when faced with challenges.

Ultimately, our goal is for campers to develop in a variety of ways. Whether it’s new skills, self-confidence, or a side of themselves they may not have known before, we want them to carry something special with them beyond their days at camp, into the real world – life-changing experiences.

I would encourage you to go their website and surf around.  Look most carefully at the “Values” page, where you will find a list of everything we need more of in this country and this world today, and perhaps some of the things these girls need most in their lives as well.   Their testimonials about what the camp has meant to them are here.

Girls and women need to know that they are valued, that they can achieve at a very high level, and that in spite of the challenges they face, they have within themselves the power to make a better life for themselves.  No matter what childhood situation we are coming from, we need to know that, and more importantly, be shown that.  I believe that West End House Girls Camp does exactly that, and I believe we are at time in America where this is as vitally important as ever.

I have made an initial pledge to West End House Girls Camp for $1000 this year, with a goal of another $450 if I can which would round out the cost of one entire two week scholarship.  I am humbled by the fact that I can not yet give more, but it’s a start, and if I can surpass the $1450 goal with the kind of growth I’m looking for this year, I absolutely will.  Chances are also good that I will not feel as though my support of WEHGC is over at the end of the year, and I will continue my support in to the future, hopefully in bigger and better ways.

If this is something that interests you as well, you can find the West End House Girls Camp donation page here.  I will be bringing you news and updates about the camp throughout 2017, especially on our social media.  You can follow them on Facebook by clicking here.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you will be moved to either support WEHGC also, or some other worthy nonprofit of your choice.  Our country and our world need a heavy dose of all that is right, good, empowering, and compassionate, one person, one act, one donation, one hour at a time.  It’s up to us.

Happy hooking! – Beth

Logo courtesy the West End House Girls Camp Facebook page

Save the Date! New Hook In Event in Belfast, Maine – April 22nd, 2017!

Beautiful downtown Belfast, Maine.

Looking for a new event to ring in the arrival of spring this year?  Get your calendar or digital device out and save this info!

When:  Saturday, April 22nd, 2017, 9 am to 3 pm

Where: The First Church in Belfast, UCC, 8 Court Street, Belfast, Maine

Featured Speaker: Rose Ann Hunter!

Sponsored by:  207 Creatives

OK, so you probably have questions…

Who is/are 207 Creatives?

207 Creatives is a collaboration formed by Connie Fletcher of Seven Gables Designs, Ellen Marshall of Two Cats and Dog Hooking, and me, Beth Miller of Parris House Wool Works.   It is our aim together to bring you the very best of fiber art and creative events, rug hooking patterns, supplies, & finished hooked pieces, and more.   Together we have three times as many ideas, resources, and experiences to pool than we would have alone, and we plan to use that to help make your creative experiences even better.

Tell us more about the featured speaker…

We are so excited to present accomplished fiber artist Rose Ann Hunter!  She will be doing a presentation called, “Enhancing Your Hooking with Historical Techniques.”   In her presentation, Rose Ann will share with us how she mixes and incorporates historical techniques in her rug hooking. Her imagination knows no bounds and you, too, will soon be talking about standing wool, quillies, shirring, tambor, and more.  Rose Ann’s bio on her webpage reads as follows:  “Rose Ann Hunter has been a textile structuralist for the last thirty years. She was chosen in 2005 as craftperson-in-residence at Old Sturbridge Village in traditional rugmaking 1790 to 1850 and lectures at various museums, conferences and guilds throughout New England and the US. She has adapted and developed over 30 techniques of rug making by recycling fabrics that are sewn, knitted or crocheted into folk art.”

Will there be great food?

YES!  There will be wonderful food at this hook in, provided by For the Love of Food & Drink.  If you have attended the Paris Hill Hook In for the past two years, you will be familiar with this wonderful catering company.  A fresh and delicious breakfast, lunch, and dessert, served by the friendliest people in catering, will be provided.

Will there be vendors?

Indeed.  There will be vendors, to be announced, who will have everything you need for the craft.  Yes, we know you already have stashes bursting down your doors, but hey, we’re hookers.  You know how it is.

What is the venue like?

People have been worshiping in this beautiful church in seaside Belfast for over two centuries.   The church hall where we will be hooking is spacious and light filled, and we are sure it will become a favorite hook in space.

Is this hook in replacing the Paris Hill Hook In in November?

NO!  The Fifth Annual Paris Hill Hook In sponsored by Parris House Wool Works will still be there this fall with bells on (or a bell in the church tower, that some of you have actually rung…).  I will be selecting a date for it soon and will get that information out to everyone.

How do we sign up???

We will be providing sign up information very soon, so please watch this page, our Facebook pages, and all of our social media for that.  In addition, we will be sending post cards for those whose addresses we have, and I will be putting the info in The Street Corner email newsletter.   If you are not sure we have your contact information and you would like a post card or email, please email me at parrishousewoolworks@gmail.com and we’ll put you on the list!

And there’s more…

We are still working on more fun details for this great new event, and will share more as we finalize those.   We hope you are as excited as we are and will come out and spend some time in one of the prettiest towns in midcoast Maine.   For more information about Belfast, please visit  Our Town Belfast.  

Thanks for reading, happy hooking, and we hope to see you in April!  – Beth

 

 

 

 

 

Maine Craft Weekend & Registration for the 2016 Paris Hill Hook In Happening Now!

exterior1 The Fourth Annual Paris Hill Hook In is not yet filled!  Join us on November 5th for a hook in that past participants describe as one of the best (and sometimes they say “the best) hook ins they have ever attended.  I chalk this up to our warm, welcoming, and historic venue, our amazing locally catered fresh food, and, of course, the good company of over 60 hookers coming together for a wonderful fall day.  We also have an informal rug show, the ringing (by you!) of the historic Revere Foundry church bell, and this year only we will pull the winning ticket for our Maine Medical Center raffle rug.  Don’t have a ticket for that yet?  No problem.  You can buy them now by clicking here or you can even buy them in person the morning of the hook in.  Once again we will be welcoming Kim Dubay of Primitive Pastimes and Cherylyn Brubaker of Hooked Treasures as our vendors, along with, of course, Parris House Wool Works.  There will be door prizes as well (it’s not a hook in without door prizes).

You can get a hook in registration form HERE, but there’s a doubly fun way to sign up.  You can join us this coming weekend for Maine Craft Weekend!  We will be participating by having the Maine studio open both days, Saturday and Sunday, October 1st and 2nd, from 10 AM to 4 PM.  Here is what you can expect:  Parris House Wool Works is located in the beautiful Paris Hill National Historic District of the Western Lakes & Mountains Region of Maine. You can find us at the 200 year old historic Parris House at 546 Paris Hill Road, Paris and we will be open both days to introduce you to the heritage craft of North American wool-on-linen rug hooking! Join us for refreshments, demonstrations, lessons in rug hooking, and a studio filled with everything you need for the craft, including hooks, frames, original patterns, and wool, as well as assorted finished decor pieces to purchase. You will also be able to buy a raffle chance on a 3’x5′ hooked rug to benefit the Maine Medical Center Kidney Transplant Program; drawing November 5th. Feel free to walk the historic village while you’re here! Walking tour maps will be available.  

2016-me-craft-weekend-logo4

We have recently added a variety of classes and events to our new calendar, and you may notice that the website is completely, beautifully re-imagined.  This creative work was done by Jacks McNamara of Root & Blossom Design.   Her services were extremely professional, but also warmly collaborative so that the site ended up looking like Parris House Wool Works, not a cookie cutter version of other sites.  I highly recommend her!

So, hopefully you will join us for Maine Craft Weekend, the Paris Hill Hook In, or any of the other fun classes and events we have scheduled for the fall and beginning of winter.

Happy hooking, and see you soon! – Beth