I Still Believe in New Year’s Resolutions.

The wild turkeys in Old Brick’s field, adjacent to the Parris House. They have no need of New Year’s resolutions. They just live their lives. Alas, I still need resolutions.

I still believe in New Year’s resolutions. My rational mind isn’t a fan, but my heart is still in them. I think it’s the new beginnings aspect. I love change. It’s why I love the seasons in Maine and even the crazy swings within the seasons. For example, as I write this, it is 14 degrees F with a wind chill of 3 in Paris, Maine. Saturday is forecast to hit 51 degrees and Sunday we may have an ice storm. While I am not happy that some of the weirder weather is likely the result of man-made climate change, the variability that Maine weather has always dished out is something that has been cherished (or not…) by generations of Mainers.

It’s not just the need for change that drives my advocacy for New Year’s resolutions though. It’s more about making promises to myself and others and committing to keeping them. I do this with inconsistent success, but the successes that I have in keeping some of them make my life better and often make life better for the people who have to interact with me.

What better time to seek change than at the turn of a decade? I know, I know…some would argue that the decade does not turn until January of 2021. I’m not on that train. I’m writing 2020 on my checks now so it’s a new decade. Case closed.

I do a major reassessment and make adjustments three times a year: on my birthday in June, on the first day of fall, and in January. These are not evenly spaced and I claim no special logic here. It’s just how I do it. This year’s January reassessment is somewhat major. I feel a big shift coming in 2020, not only for me but for the world. I sense a real fatigue among those around me. I saw a lot of social media posts about 2019 that amounted to, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.” Part of my reassessment this year is based on the following question: “What can I do to position myself, my life, and my business better to assist in helping out where I can in this new decade?”

It turns out, the corny old adage is true: you can’t offer water to others from an empty cup. Or to put it really bluntly, if you don’t have your own shit together, there’s no helping anyone else, at least not in the most significant ways possible.

With that in mind, here are my resolutions for 2020. They are not particularly unique. These involve the fundamentals of life, which are not unique. They are universal. If you don’t have your mental and physical health, your finances, and your creative life where you want them, there’s room to grow. I am not happy to admit that at almost 55 years old, I still need to work quite a bit on all of these fundamentals, but here we are, and while these are my resolutions I am hoping that what I have written may help some of you with yours.

The rocks at White Point Beach on a recent trip to Nova Scotia.

Travel more/see more people I care about.

This holiday season I was so fortunate to have almost all of my people home for a visit. My four sons, my niece, and all of their significant others except one were home. We are able to get everyone together about every two years. I am now coping with the post-holiday amplification of missing them, so this year I’ll be planning trips to visit them. That will mean trips to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada, Connecticut, Texas, Massachusetts, and possibly North Carolina.

Dog-friendly Airbnbs are our go-to accommodations and, as Airbnb Superhosts ourselves, we enjoy meeting other hosts. We have often put off travel because it was “too expensive” or “we can’t get the time off,” but this year we are making a major effort to make it work.

Detail of a hooked pillow for Beekman 1802.

Hook/make art/be creative every day.

I’ve told the story of Deanne Fitzpatrick admonishing me to hook every day several times before on the blog and in our social media. I have never forgotten it. I have also never heeded her sage advice, although I’ve recommended it to others. Until now.

The retail side of Parris House Wool Works has been all consuming for a long time. It’s a major income stream for the overall venture and it has taken a herculean effort to get it where it is now, which is not even a fraction of where it needs to be. Ergo, I barely hook anymore, and most of my hooking is – you guessed it – for retail clients either through my own shop or Beekman 1802. What has changed significantly is that I now have considerable help with the retail end of things and I need to channel time freed by that in to actually making.

In 2020, the daily hooking commences for real. This has been my first resolution in 2017, 2018, and 2019 and it hasn’t happened. It gets real now because, honestly, I’m getting kind of angry at myself and the world about not doing it. Hooking every day will get me through my backlog of customer projects and then I can get started on some heart and art projects. Some of these pieces may be challenging to look at or process. Look for those after March (yes, I’m that backlogged on customer pieces).

My first ever book publishing agreement for Seasons at the Parris House, which will be available for purchase in June of this year.

Write every day.

Today I’m writing this blog, tomorrow it will be the weekly newsletter, next week it will be some finishing elements of my book and also some work I’m doing as a contributor to another artist’s book. I also have an open invitation to write for a couple of creative publications, including one that has also asked me to pitch a book. If the daily writing isn’t any of those things, it’s going to be the morning pages as prescribed by Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way or I might…I just might…start on another book idea I have. I should probably check in with my current editor on that one, right?

Writing daily can also include sending letters to the editors of newspapers, emails to our Senators and Representatives, or a handwritten note to someone we’ve lost contact with. Writing daily can be an act of resistance in a world that needs to hear the cumulative voices of dissent every single day.

But writing daily, even if it’s in a journal that no one else will ever see, keeps us in contact with our language and with ourselves. It helps refine and focus our thoughts and, in the most fundamental way, it makes us better writers through the timeless principle of practice. Practice will never make perfect, but it sure does make whatever we’re doing better.

There is no better place for meditation, prayer, or sheer awe than the deck of a Maine schooner on Penobscot Bay.

Develop a more consistent meditation/prayer practice.

I recently loaded the Headspace app on my phone and it’s highly effective. I can understand why so many people are using this app and are willing to pay for it. I have been using it almost every morning for three months and I have noticed a change in my ability to focus, stay calm, and maintain important boundaries. I also am more aware of when I am not able to do those things and can more quickly recover from a lapse.

The app is by far not my first exposure to a meditation or prayer practice; it simply makes it more of a habit. I have a long history of reading about/studying/attempting the practice of meditation. Some authors I’ve found helpful as a modern, western person are Thich Nhat Hanh, Howard Kabat-Zinn, and, Dan Harris. Dan Harris is a modern meditator, self described “fidgety skeptic,” and also has a fantastic podcast called 10% Happier. It’s all well and fine to educate oneself about the scientifically supported benefits of meditation, but if you’re not doing it, it’s not that helpful. So recently, I starting making myself actually do it.

The nice thing about meditation is that it’s a practice open to athiests and “believers” alike. I am not an atheist, although I have absolutely no issue with those who are and deeply respect their reasons for being so. My own belief structure is complicated and humble enough that I totally get other humans being atheists.

My own faith tradition is Roman Catholicism and I have found, in the past year, the only Jesuit parish in Maine down in Portland. Part of my resolution that falls under meditation/prayer is to attend Mass more often at this parish and possibly become more involved in the substantial community outreach they provide. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, created a meditative practice known as the Daily Examen which I am also working on incorporating in to my every day life. I have always regarded the Jesuits as the hippy radicals of the Catholic world, often leading progressive change and causes within the faith and forsaking the pressures of local and national politics for the more revolutionary, and sometimes uncomfortable, message of their Christ. I hope to include some ancient Christian iconography in some of my art pieces in the future.

Eat good food.

Take care of my health.

Some of you may recall that in November I sustained a debilitating back injury packing out the Paris Hill Hook In. I was almost completely incapacitated. My very wise doctor said, “You’re going to need strength training and yoga from here on out if you want to try to prevent this in the future.” So, after a couple of months of healing and a lot of holiday over-indulgence, I have begun.

My current practice includes strength training at the gym 3 times a week, walking/running 4 times a week, and yoga once a week. This is more than do-able for me. In fact, in a past life, decades ago when I lived in New Jersey, I went to the gym six days a week and had a personal trainer certification. I was pretty strong and never had to worry about whether or not my pants were going to fit or I was going to incapacitate myself with a random injury doing normal tasks. It would be easy to say that I’m too busy to do this, until I have a flashback of being completely bed-bound in November by an injury caused by not doing these things.

Hand in hand with this is the truth that eating junk doesn’t fuel a good workout or good overall health. So, I’m paying even closer attention to what I eat and how it benefits, or doesn’t, my health goals. I have been using the Weight Watchers app as a tool for this for nearly two years and it is highly effective, but there is also a food tracking component to my Fitbit app that’s pretty good as well. I have observed, in myself and others, that most modern Americans have no idea how many excess and/or empty calories they are consuming in a day, and most have no idea what a healthy portion size looks like. I was among these and food tracking has helped me to gain that knowledge.

It’s easy to make up excuses. So very easy. I have a great imagination so I’m the best excuse maker ever on this stuff. But even without a great imagination. the reality is that I have Hashimoto’s disease and a cardiac nerve path defect that manifests in ways that sometimes end with electrocardioversion. (Good times in the ER, those.) I also have an ankle and a shoulder that are cranky and weak from previous injuries and a family history of heart disease and diabetes. I know that every possible physical vulnerability I have is made worse by inaction, so in 2020, I’m taking better action. And before anyone calls out my age, age is no excuse. I met a woman several years older than I am in the gym yesterday who is built like iron and told me she runs up and down Paris Hill at 4:30 in the morning. That’s a 7 mile round trip with insane inclines. How does she do it? She put the work in. I have to also.

Caveat: some people have legit physical or mental health differences that might prevent a resolution like this one from being realistic. Most of us don’t. We just have excuses.

Make your own unwrapped/no packaging products.

Reduce waste at the Parris House.

I was given a great zero waste living book for Christmas this year, Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. I’ll be mentioning it and showing it off in the newsletter this week. (To subscribe, click here.) I had put it on my holiday wish list because I have been increasingly interested in zero waste living, which I regard as a bit of a misnomer. I’m not sure anyone can get to zero waste living, but I think many of us can get to low waste living.

Here at the Parris House we have already made some inroads on this in previous years. I have long purchased used clothing at thrift shops, sometimes with the tags still on, and I generally only have clothing I wear on a regular basis. We compost food scraps and also give them to our chickens. We grow a lot of our own vegetables in the growing season, which cuts down on the considerable packaging grocery store foods come with. We often make our own soap and laundry detergent and try to buy some things in bulk to reduce individual packaging impacts. We are slowly but surely getting the food storage here to all reusable glass containers instead of plastics that wear out and end up in the landfill. And there’s more, but we are not nearly where we need to be.

As a result, those of you who may stay at the Parris House during our upcoming retreats may notice that we do not provide individually wrapped tiny bars of soap or shampoo and lotion in little single-use plastic bottles, but rather provide dispensers in the showers/baths instead. You may notice a stainless steel bowl on the kitchen counter in to which all the food scraps go. You may also notice where we fall short of minimizing waste and we invite you to make suggestions. One place I know we fall short is in our packing and shipping materials and I will be looking at fixing that this year.

Bees know how to get down to the essentials and make sure there’s enough honey to survive.

Take better care of my business/financial life.

Starting and growing a business requires a huge amount of resources. Parris House Wool Works has been bootstrapped, meaning there have been no outside investors or outside capital-bearing angels. There have been no massive loans. There are no get-rich-quick schemes in a business based primarily on a heritage craft. In fact, I am aware of a few out there that have never turned a profit and are run strictly out of love and devotion for our art. I am not in a position to do that. And in case anyone is wondering, there are also no get-rich-quick schemes to be had from those annoying spam calls we get on our phones, no matter how insistent the robo-caller.

In 2020 I will be getting even more serious than ever (which is saying something) about growing this enterprise in to something that can not only properly pay its own bills but have enough left over to do more significant charitable giving. I do not expect the growth I am looking for to occur in 2020, however, my target for some of its financial goals is 2025 with the major groundwork laid this year.

Often we don’t want to look at, talk about, let alone write a blog post about the financial side of what we do, especially when what we do is largely a labor of love as well. But we have to. I believe the more transparent and honest we are about needing to cover our expenses and then some, the more we embolden others to take up important projects too. In doing so, we are saying that yes, you can be successful while being nice, but you may not be successful if you are “nice” in ways that sacrifice your own well being.

When an enterprise starts to take better care of itself financially, it may look like the following: no longer giving away massive amounts of goods and services “to be nice,” pricing products and services with an adequate profit margin on them instead of racing to the bottom to “be competitive,” cutting some products and services completely out of the line or adding new ones, not being willing to take on debt or additional debt on unstable demand for whatever the requested product is, managing inventory in a way that may not satisfy everyone external to the business, not giving away the owner’s time for free, saying “no” in the short term to be able to say “yes” more often in the future, vetting new ideas carefully using measurable standards, and more.

That’s it, but it’s more than enough to work on.

Identifying what isn’t optimal in your life isn’t being negative or “tempting the universe to give you more of the same.” It’s the very foundation of making your life better. That’s why I do these sometimes harsh reassessments several times a year and each time I create a resolution, even if I fulfill it only part way and part of the time, I notice growth for the better in my own life. I have a lot to work on this year. Feel free to share your own hopes, dreams, and resolutions (those things that make hopes and dreams come true) in the comment thread.

Happy new year and happy hooking! – Beth

2018 at the Parris House – A Visual Year in Review and a Pondering of Gratitude

We are in the last hours of 2018 and I find myself thinking about the psychological concept of negativity bias, explained on Wikipedia this way: “The negativity bias, also known as the negativity effect, is the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things.”  I admit I fall victim to this.  If someone asked me “How as 2018?” I might respond with a long sigh…even a groan.  I mean, hey, I listen to a LOT of NPR.  My political and social proclivities are known to most of you.  No need to elaborate here.  But I’ve got a great antidote to our natural negativity bias.  Go back and look at your Facebook or Instagram photos from 2018.  Yes, it’s a known hazard of social media that we post our “highlight reels.”  This does have the effect of perhaps sugar coating things and, it is ever important to say, we should never judge our own real lives by the highlight reels of others.  But I am arguing here that these photos can also serve as a gratitude journal of sorts, assembled perhaps unintentionally but there nonetheless.

The working title of my upcoming book is A Year at the Parris House and that’s exactly what these photos, culled from the Parris House Wool Works Facebook page and posted during 2018 show. While these are highlights, and specifically highlights related to my fiber art and homesteading life, they also represent a good part of my personal reality and one that I enjoy sharing with others.  It doesn’t mean that nothing bad happened to me, my loved ones, my friends, or especially my country during 2018.  But these photos are one hundred and seventy five or so touchstones for gratitude.  They show in my professional life: a book contract, a successful gardening and beekeeping season, an article and project in Making Magazine, my first book advance, a writing and making trip to my beloved Nova Scotia, work on a major commissioned piece, my ongoing work with Beekman 1802, happy times teaching and demonstrating skills and arts (here, at Beekman 1802, and at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village), two hook-ins (Belfast & Paris Hill), and our remarkable Get Hooked at Sea trip aboard the Schooner J&E Riggin with so many other talented souls.

I shared some personal points of gratitude too, including another trip to Nova Scotia for the graduation of my son James’ girlfriend, Beth, from Dalhousie University, and the highlight of my entire year, the wedding of my son, Robert, to his beautiful bride, Tracy.  My relatively new Collie companion, Wyeth, has been at my side for all of this.

2019 is already shaping up to be another year of gratitude.  I am working on another magazine project and article, finishing up that major commissioned piece, finishing up my book manuscript, and starting the redecorating/sprucing up of the Parris House for its opening in 2020 as a fiber art/homesteading/heritage skills center, just in time for the publication of my book.  I am also in the beginning stages of a new teaching initiative I’m brainstorming with some cherished collaborators and, of course, Ellen Marshall of Two Cats and Dog Hooking and I are already taking registrations for Get Hooked at Sea II.  I may even get to Rhinebeck this year (fingers crossed on the new vendor juried application) and I will definitely be back at the Sharon Springs Harvest Festival.  On a personal note, my two youngest sons, Peter and Paul, and Paul’s girlfriend, Gabi, are graduating from college in May.  I have reached an age where not knowing what else a year will bring is met with anticipation rather than anxiety, although, being no stranger to tragedy in my own life and in the lives of those I love, I am hoping all of us can avoid that unknown this year.

I would encourage you to look back at your own photos from the past year and linger over them long enough to remember the moments in which they were taken.  Most importantly, remember the people in your life who made that moment possible and take some time to thank them for their part in making the best of whatever 2018 dished out.  We do nothing, achieve nothing, are nothing, alone.  In my case I need to thank my family, my friends, my VA, Paul McCoy of Practically Arts Studio, my assistant, Heather Daggett, the Tuesday group, my online customers, and all of the makers, including Ron Adams of Bear Pond Wood Works and Edna Olmstead, who have helped stock the shop with good things since day one. I need also to thank Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Brent Ridge, and everyone at Team Beekman 1802 for continuing to afford me an opportunity to better make a living with my art and also spread the art to a wider audience than I would have on my own. To every venue and every publication that has ever hosted me for teaching or writing – including Beekman 1802, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, Telstar Adult Ed, Stitchery in Rhode Island, Portfiber, Rug Hooking Magazine, Making Magazine, the Schooner J&E Riggin, and now my publishers at Down East Books/Rowman & Littlefield.   To mentors who have generously taught me so much: Connie Fletcher of Seven Gables Designs, Susan Feller of Susan L. Feller, Artwools,  Eric Davis, Vanessa Rogers of Backwoods Bee Farm, Carol Cottrill, Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily, David Homa of Post Carbon Designs, Edna Olmstead, Mike Iamele and the incredible people in our Mastermind group, Britt Bolnick of In Arms Coaching, and more.  I know I am risking leaving someone out by name; there are just so many to thank as this year winds down.  If you tried to write a paragraph like this, who would you come up with?  Perhaps take some time in the next few weeks to privately and even publicly thank them.

I don’t expect all of you to look at my pictures.  I have compiled them here as much for my own future reference as for your possible enjoyment.  There are about one hundred and seventy five of them, so click through some, all, or none, but do click through your own and, if you feel called to, tell us what you were grateful for in 2018.  Sometimes gratitude is just the fuel and inspiration we need to go out in to the world and help right the things that are wrong in it.

Thank you to every single one of you for your support in 2018 and I wish you a very happy, prosperous, and beauty filled 2019.  – Beth

*Note on clicking through…be sure your cursor is pointed on the side arrow which will appear as you hover on either side of the photo.  The arrows tend to shift up or down a little bit as the photos appear.

 

A New Book Coming…and I’m Writing It! What It’s About and How to Pre-Order

So, I’m writing a book.  For over a year I have been shopping a proposal to publishers.  I knew that I could self publish at any point, but I have wanted to collaborate with a publisher for many reasons, not the least of which is to tap in to a professional editor’s expertise in helping to make the book  something that will best serve my audience and that will have a viable distribution channel.   One publisher told me that the proposed book was too broad for their niche.  Another publisher told me it was too niche for their broad audience.  Fortunately, like Goldilocks, I found a match that was just right in Down East Books, headquartered in Rockport, Maine (yes, I know the image says Camden, but trust me on this), which is an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield in Maryland.

This book is both in itself, and is about, the realization of dreams.  I learned to read when I was three.  My mother always said I was two but I’m adding a year to that to make up for a possible exaggeration on her part.  I mean, maybe?  But no matter.  I started writing stories at about age five, drawing pictures to go with them.  I remember one in particular was titled, “The Foggy Frog.”  I collected frogs, the toy and figurine type, although I played with real live toads on the regular outdoors on the edge of the southern NJ Pine Barrens where I grew up.  I remember the pictures I drew.  I could recreate them even today.  By the time I was twelve I knew I wanted to publish books of my own.  I was twelve over forty years ago.  In the intervening four decades I had stopped listening to the inner me who wanted to write, make art, play music, and have a creative career.  People who meet me today think I’ve been working in the creative economy my entire life, but it’s only been since 2014 that I’ve worked in fiber art full time.  By the time my new book is published it will be 2020.  I will turn fifty-five years old in 2020.  I want you to hear something loudly and clearly in this:  it is never too late to realize a dream.

The working title of this book is,  Seasons at the Parris House: Heritage Skills for a Contemporary Life.  I have no idea at this moment whether or not that will be the title on the front of my book when it is released in 2020 but it captures the essence of what it is about.  Let me take an excerpt from my proposal to explain the vantage point from which I approach this project:

“When I was thirty five, eighteen years ago, my husband and I moved ourselves and our four then-little sons from the urban/suburban Princeton, NJ area, a region in which we had spent our entire lives, to rural Western Maine.  We went from a 1950s mid century modern cape on a suburban lot to a two hundred year old Federal home and barn in a National Historic District. Our new neighbor across the street had a cow in the backyard, much to our young sons’ amusement.   I was a stay at home mother with a degree in Business Administration/Marketing from the University of Delaware. I had, prior to becoming an at-home mom, worked in market research and in procurement and project management for a large defense contracting company on busy Route 1 in NJ.  I didn’t garden, I didn’t hook rugs, I didn’t keep chickens or bees, I had no idea how to can food. Upon arriving to the Parris House, I noticed that our apple trees looked like they needed some attention, but I had no idea what to do. Sometimes I baked. But it seemed as though almost everyone around me in my new home was proficient in at least one heritage skill, whether they were my age or old timers, and I thought, “That’s amazing.  I need to learn these things too.” That was the beginning of my journey of bringing heritage skills into my own life, without a big farm, without a lot of formal training, but rather learning them the way the people around me had learned them: the passing on of knowledge, often inter-generationally, from one human being to another.”

That was my situation upon the realization of one of my most fervent dreams to that point, which had been to move to rural Maine and raise my sons here.  What I know now is that the desire to work with my hands, create something out of nothing, grow and preserve food, keep animals and insects, and “practice heritage skills,” was not unique to me.  In the nearly two decades I have lived here in Maine and collected a new skill set, the yearning for these skills among the general population has only increased, including among people living in urban areas and people with little to no land at all to work with.  I tell people all the time that none of this is rocket science, but they often seem skeptical.  They seem to believe that heritage skills are complicated, mysterious, or beyond their reach.  They are not, and this book is for anyone who wants to make a start toward learning them.

I have always enjoyed the juxtaposition in my own life of living in a two hundred year old home in a National Historic District while always embracing the newest technology I could afford.  At the Parris House we have smart phones, smart lights, and smart thermostats.  This laptop I’m writing on right now, not to mention the fact that I use it to run a business that’s about 90% online, is a technological godsend.  We also have centuries old windows with wavy glass and completely pesticide free growing practices.   I dye wool in pots on top of a vintage gas range…and then sell that wool to anyone literally in the world who wants it via the internet.  You don’t have to live like Laura Ingalls on the prairie to embrace heritage skills, and you don’t have to completely forsake the solid methods of our ancestors to live a contemporary life.  Mix it up.  Make some dreams come true with it all.

The book will take you through the four seasons at the Parris House.  It will take a look at the historical contexts of the place, people who went before us, and lifestyle behind what we do here today.  Each season will have fiber art projects, recipes, growing tips, fun things for you to try yourself.  You do not need a farm.  You do not even need a lawn for some of these projects.   They will require no super specialized equipment, impossible to source ingredients, or secret codes to unlock. They will be simple, but not insult your intelligence.  Each featured project or recipe will result in something valuable, beautiful, and/or delicious but without unnecessary complication.  Many will be starting points or stepping stones to get you on your way to a deeper study of whatever it is you find you are most interested in.

It will have beautiful pictures, because I’m a visual person and I’m going to be taking lots of beautiful pictures for this project.

It will be a working book.   While I hope to make it visually inviting, it is not meant to sit on the coffee table or the shelf.  It is meant to be out and open on your kitchen counter or table, in your craft area, or even outside with you, as a reference and companion for the projects it contains.  Get it dirty, dog ear the pages, use the hell out of it.

For me personally, this book will be a grateful acknowledgment of Maine, of Paris Hill, and of the Parris House.  Without this setting, I would be a different person living a very different life.  That aspect will be strongest to me alone, though, because this book is really written for and focused on you in your place and in your life, be it urban or rural, east coast or west or somewhere in between, in North America or well beyond.

By the time this book is published, we will be gearing up here to offer seasonal quarterly retreats at the Parris House which will provide hands on experiences in fiber art and heritage skills, which will provide more learning opportunities for those who want to expand their making and doing.

Sound interesting?  I was brand-new-author-thrilled when I saw that Rowman & Littlefield had already put up a pre-order page for the book.  You can click on that HERE.   Please remember that publication is not scheduled until 2020.  In the meantime, I’m working hard!

If you would like to keep up to date on everything that’s planned for the next chapter (pun intended), a sign up box for our newsletter is at the bottom of every page of the website.  You will never be spammed.  In fact, the newsletter needs to publish a bit more often (as time allows…or doesn’t…).

For a glimpse of the Parris House homestead, enjoy the pics in the slideshow below.

That’s the big news from here.  Thank you for reading.  – Beth

 

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

Something a little different for this post…

I haven’t gotten a lot done this week because I’ve been recovering from a very nasty ankle injury, but I had a friend suggest that a video tour of the work studio might be interesting to some people, especially the makers out there. I shot this with my cell phone, so it looks like a FB live, not wide screen. This is not a magazine shoot ready working space. In fact, it’s extremely functional. We’re planning to paint it this summer when I’ll probably be doing some beautifying for it, but right now it gets the job done. I hope this is an encouragement to those out there working out of spaces that do not look like a magazine spread (although I plan to have one some day!), and for people building viable businesses where they are with what they have. Oh, and Wyeth’s in it and he’s pretty cute.

I am just getting my feet wet in making video and populating our YouTube channel, but if you’d like to never miss a video (some of them are how-tos and instructional) you can subscribe to the channel HERE.  

Happy watching and happy hooking.  – Beth

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

An Idea for Coming Years

Here at the Parris House we are almost-empty-nesters.  All of our sons are grown, but our second son, James, is temporarily home teaching biology and environmental science at a nearby private school before he makes a big and permanent move to Canada.  Our oldest son, Robert, is getting married in September and has been living in the Philadelphia area for years now.  Our two undergrads, Peter and Paul, are always doing co-ops, internships, and research with profs during the summers and no longer come home except for holidays and short visits.  Upon graduation from college, they will have permanently flown the nest also.

As it has for many empty nesters living in old houses like ours, it has occurred to my husband, Bill, and I, that a five bedroom, four bath, approximately 5000 square foot, 200 year old house and barn – no matter how well loved and historic – is an awful lot for two people to wander around in.  The options become many.  Downsize?  Make the addition in to an apartment for visiting family and Airbnb guests?  Or something else?

There is a lot to be said for keeping the Parris House.  We like our neighborhood (most of the time…), we love the history of the house and we feel responsible for stewarding that.  We raised a pretty happy family here and would like to give our future grandchildren the benefit of visits to “where Dad grew up.”  It is a significant but not insurmountable thing that Parris House Wool Works is named for this location.  Both my public and private studios are in this complex of buildings, the former in the main house and the latter over the garage.  My husband’s pottery studio (Sunset Haven Pottery) is established in a finished, heated section of the barn, with the kilns conveniently next door in the garage.  We have very good locations for our chickens, bees, and organic garden.  We have enough apple trees to produce an abundant crop without so many that they are another big job to do.  We are not down a long driveway, nor are we secluded, which, for me at this stage of life are drawbacks, but perhaps when I am 80 or 90 could be beneficial.

Perhaps the biggest factor in favor of keeping it is that my husband is a very change averse human being by nature.  While I am always up for a move, an adventure, a big change, a “let’s chuck this all in and…,” he is decidedly not.  The move from his home state of NJ to Maine was a very big deal for him, and moving from our home now of eighteen years to another, even if smaller, easier to manage, much cheaper to heat, and closer to work for him (but probably not newer – just not a big fan of non-antique homes), does not seem to appeal.

We have had a great deal of success with Airbnb for our Little Sebago Lake cottage, Sunset Haven.  Several years ago I put together a small, exclusive hooking retreat there over a September weekend and I do believe a good time was had by all.  We had a guest teacher, we went on a nature walk, we hooked, we ate lobster, and we laughed a lot.  As Airbnb Superhosts, we get a lot of email from Airbnb.  Recently we learned that some hosts do Airbnb Experiences, which are value added stays at some of the destinations.  Hosts provide a class, an activity, a tour of the area, or something similar as part of the stay.  It’s an intriguing idea and not unlike ideas that have occurred to me in the past for both Sunset Haven and the Parris House.

When we first purchased the Parris House the most common exclamation from our friends back home was, “You could have a B&B!,” to which our most common answer was, “Hell, NO!”  But there’s a compromise solution in there somewhere between a full time B&B and a set of lovely rooms and bathrooms sitting empty and gathering dust.

Currently the upstairs at the Parris House looks like it houses four young men, because that’s what it’s been doing for the past eighteen years.  But with the application of fresh paint, some careful vintage furniture shopping (I’m looking at you, My Sister’s Garage), and a program of wonderful weekend activities along with home cooked meals (thank you, Parris House hens, bees, and gardens), a retreat center could easily take shape.   Bill and I are both Registered Maine Guides and beekeepers, he is a Reiki Master, soap maker, chicken keeper, and a potter (when he’s not at his professional job as the Controller for a Lewiston firm), and, obviously, I am a fiber artist, gardener, and hopefully by then, a published author.  Together we have a skill set that could keep guests entertained and relaxed for a weekend away, and it would also be imperative to bring in guest teachers for additional class offerings.  During non-class or activity hours, guests could assist with the daily tasks of gathering eggs and picking vegetables, take a turn in the beehives, pick apples, light the wood stoves, or, alternatively, they could do none of these things and simply knit, hook, read, or go out and sight see.   Click through the slideshow below to see some scenes from the Parris House and Paris Hill Village.

For skiing we are close to Sunday River, Shawnee Peak, and Mount Abram ski areas.  Hiking and trail walking/running are abundantly available, including at the Cornwall Preserve right down the street and the Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway.  Norway Downtown provides shopping and great restaurants including Norway Brewing Company, 76 Pleasant Street, Cafe Nomad, and more.  Also there for fiber enthusiasts and makers is Fiber & Vine and the Folk Art Studio there.   Within the National Historic District of Paris Hill, just a short walk, you can golf at the nine hole Paris Hill Country Club which also has a cafe, or explore the Hamlin Memorial Library & Museum and the Paris Hill Historical Society.   For those so inclined, the Oxford Casino is about ten miles away.  There is also public access to Norway Lake, about seven miles away.

At most, the Parris House will sleep seven.  There are three available bedrooms that will take two-person beds for couples (or singles to have more space!) and one, my favorite, that is a beautiful, vintage refuge for one.  There are two baths that would be shared between the four bedrooms, one with laundry facilities.  The fifth bedroom and bath would be for us and is with my work studio.  So full retreat weekends would be somewhat exclusive because of that space limitation, although there are possible options for lodging elsewhere in the village as well.  We are thinking these retreats could run, at first, once a quarter, and if they are well attended and in demand, perhaps more often, but that would be a lot to commit to from this time distance.

This is where you come in.  Give us your feedback.  Do you like the idea?  Is this something that you could realistically see yourself doing?  What classes and activities would you like to see offered? What seasons would be your favorites for a retreat?   How far would you travel for a weekend away at the Parris House?  Would you also like to see us run another retreat at Sunset Haven?

These retreats could not be offered before 2019, possibly even 2020, so this is some long range planning, but we were just interested to see what kind of response the idea brought.

In other news, I think there’s a football game or something on today.  If you are a football fan, enjoy the day, and happy hooking! – Beth

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