Stella Wants My Wifi

Image credit: Wunderground

The weekly blog post is pretty late this week, partially due to my overall work load and partially because I just haven’t been able to quite settle on a topic.  As I sit here tonight working on this post, Winter Storm Stella is popping our power on and off, and my wireless router keeps resetting.    The wind is howling, we can’t keep the wood stoves lit because of the down drafts, and the snow continues to pile up.  I can’t really tell you how much snow there is, because in some places it’s drifted to about three feet and in other places the wind has swept the ground clean.  Corgi Tru couldn’t go out tonight before bedtime until my husband shoveled a way for her.   A window pane blew out of one of our attic windows and we had to take a shutter down that was in danger of being ripped off the house.  In a nutshell, it’s pretty harsh here at the moment.

Our part of the northeast was largely shut down today, but this is Maine; storms roll in, they are extremely unpredictable in terms of actual outcome, and we do whatever we have to do to navigate through them.  We do this more or less from October through April.  We put up with this for the love of Maine…or something.

Always being one to see life analogies in natural situations, I am finding Stella informative.

I worked pretty much nonstop through this past weekend.  My current to-do list includes a super-exciting-project-I-can’t-talk-about-yet, two more design/writing projects I can’t talk about, two classes I can’t announce yet, two to three designs that are still under wraps, a floor sized custom order, an upcoming trip to Rochester, NY to teach college students, an outstanding Beekman 1802 order, continuing to set up my new Handmade at Amazon shop, tweaking Shopify to help our Hookers Circle members have the option of paying in installments, and the every day operations of the existing online shops and the physical studio, which are a full time job by themselves.   Oh, and I’ve also just begun training for a four mile run in May.  😉   There is absolutely nothing unusual about this, not for me, not for any other small business owner out there. We all do it.  We all work this hard or harder.   We’re not heroes.  We just have dreams and love what we do and get a little OCD about it sometimes.

I think we all try to make it look to each customer like she is the only customer we have and that her order is the only thing we have to attend to that day.  My Tuesday hooking group knows better, because they are here in a big group together and sometimes need to wait a turn, or sometimes have to hear me say, “I’m so sorry; I didn’t get to that this week” (which I invariably feel terrible about), or see the projects I’m working on that have to ship the next day.   They see when I mess up, and they see when I pull something off just the way they’d hoped.

One of the issues with online shops is that the context of a business is much harder for a customer to see from the distance and filter of the internet, and the illusion we so carefully try to maintain of any one customer’s order being all we have to do that day is virtually complete (pun intended).  Miraculously, 99.9% of the time, things still go smoothly and to expectation.  (That other .1% tho…) This is where social media comes in, of course.  Business owners use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all the other social media sites to try to recreate, in the virtual world, the first hand knowledge that our Tuesday group experiences in the physical world. Unfortunately, I can’t fit a couple thousand of you into the Parris House.  Fortunately, however, you fit just fine in our online community, which I cherish.

So where am I going with this?

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  (Thanks, Robert Burns.)

Stella rolled in here this morning and disrupted everyone’s plans.  She even disrupted the plans of those who had planned specifically for her when she didn’t perform as forecast.  Nature is that way.   Small business is that way too.  I have a planner.  Who am I kidding?  I have several planners for different purposes.   I am vigilant about using these tools to plan out every single day of my business life, and yet…sometimes something akin to Stella bursts through and disrupts everything, whether it’s an actual event that demands the rearrangement of my schedule, or just something that breaks my concentration or flow and throws off the rest of the day.

The lesson here is this:  I can work through Stella, even as she makes a play for my wifi, and I can work through almost anything the serendipity of running a small creative business throws my way too.

What Stellas have you faced down recently that have taught you just how resilient you are?  Because I know you all have Stellas, I’m offering a coupon code in the Etsy shop this week only (ends Friday night at midnight):  MYPERSONALSTELLA.   This will get you 10% off any order of $25 or more.

Happy persisting and happy hooking.  – Beth

 

 

 

 

“Shut Up and Sing” – A Guide to Why Those in the Humanities Will Not Be Silent

This pattern was the catalyst for several “unlikes” on social media recently.

This post is not overtly political.  I am not asking anyone to believe what I believe, vote the way I vote, or agree with everything I think.  Rather, this post is about the free expression of deeply held beliefs and values and why creative people, especially, are generally not able to remain silent even when others fervently wish they would.

Over the past several weeks I have noticed “unlikes” on my Facebook page, and was even taken to task by a follower on my Instagram page after posting quotes, images, or other content that even subtly reflected how I am feeling these days about what is happening in our country and our world.   With each of these posts I have netted more followers than I have lost, but that is actually irrelevant.  If something I post offends anyone, I am actually very comfortable with that person leaving my online community, because no artisan, no business, no community is the right fit for everyone.  It is not my intent to offend, and in my view, none of my posts are offensive.  People who interact with me in person, especially, know that I go out of my way to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable in my home and at the Parris House Wool Works studio, both of which happen to be under the same roof.

I have a friend who is a musician.  He is not shy about his values and convictions, and sometimes expresses these in public or on his social media sites.  As a result, some people find it appropriate to tell him to “shut up and sing.”   I have other friends with creative businesses that are often in the public eye.  On the rare occasion they post something “controversial,” invariably there are comments pleading with them to “stick to business” or “don’t get political, just tell us about what you’re selling.”  I recently had an artisan instructor tell us at the beginning of her workshop, “I apologize, but I wear my politics on my sleeve.”  I immediately responded with, “Don’t apologize.  We need people like you.”

Outside of my own circle, I still see this every day.   People don’t want actors and celebrities to use their platform to speak of anything that matters – so deeply and at such a core level – to them.   People feel uncomfortable in the art museum when confronted with images that challenge their world view, and judge the artist harshly.  College professors are starting to feel pressure to censor themselves just in case some of their course content is “offensive.”  Religious leaders are asked to moderate their messages in churches, synagogues, mosques, et al, even though the founders of the world’s great religions were by far not people who wanted everyone to be comfortable in their views; indeed, they wanted people to question their views and discern truth.  It is all around us:  people desiring to speak out and others wishing those same people would just shut up already.

For many people, especially artisans, creatives, artists, and people in the humanities, silence is simply not possible, nor should it be desirable for the rest of us.  It is also not possible for many scientists, engineers, and others in STEM fields to remain silent, but for the purpose of this post, I’m speaking of people in the humanities.

Most people do not go in to the arts or humanities to become rich or famous.  Some people do achieve wealth and fame in these fields, but it is a minority.  I love seeing people become rich and famous in these endeavors; it’s well deserved, but I think it’s rarely the goal.  I believe that most people who go in to the arts/humanities do so because they have something to say, something that comes from a place very central to who they are and from which they can not be separated.  This applies to many entrepreneurs as well, who have sought to create something independently because through their venture they too have something to say, something they want to offer to the world, something that matters intensely to them.   Again, here is the critical point to understand about creatives:  what they do can not be separated from who they are.   Asking them to deny that fundamental fact of their humanity by asking them to remain silent is not only unfair and cruel to them, it robs us of their perspective and insight.

Worse, it objectifies them.  When we tell a musician to “shut up and sing,” what we are really saying to that person is this:  “You are an instrument for my entertainment.  The fire inside of you that creates the art I find beautiful enough to pay for and follow is only acceptable when it is channeled in a way that I agree with.”   When we tell entrepreneurs and artisans to only talk about their products, we are saying, “I’m not interested in who you are or what you think, even though you’ve created these beautiful things for me and for the world from that very place within you that wants – needs – to express itself.”  We are asking that artist or business person to cut themselves up and only hand us the pieces that we find useful, that don’t offend us, that don’t challenge us to view something from another perspective.

People with something to say are gifts to us, whether we agree with them or not.   Throughout history, our artists and creatives have often acted as our collective moral compass, willing to point out that our emperors are naked. They have also been the metaphorical canaries in the coal mine, often ahead of most of us in sensing threats to liberty and instances of injustice.   They rattle our comfort zones, and even if we disagree with them vehemently, they exercise and test our ability (or inability) to defend our own positions.

Whether it’s my page or anyone else’s, feel free to engage in constructive debate and discussion, or even feel free to “unlike” or “unfollow,” but please, don’t say “shut up and sing” or its situational equivalent.   The people who make our art, music, poetry, literature, and who start the creative businesses that inspire us are complex, driven, deeply thinking and feeling human beings.  When we seek to silence them or reduce them to whatever we see as their “primary function,” we diminish ourselves.

Get out there and express yourself, as only you can.

 

 

 

 

Today I Received a Gratitude Journal

I just got back from the gym.  I’ve started working out at the gym again this year because, you know, your body adapts to whatever activity it’s used to and you need to shake it up some.  In my case, my body was adapting nicely to sitting down hooking rugs and working at my desk.  This is an unacceptable state of affairs for a person who was a certified personal trainer and avid runner in another life, and who, for the past four years or so has poured almost every spare moment in to building a business.  For 2017 I have decided I need to crawl out of that metaphorical cave and take care of other aspects of my life, one of which is my fitness level.  To say that I’m grateful to have a nice, clean, pretty quiet gym in town is an understatement.

Last week I saw that the Squam Art Workshops, for whom I had the privilege of teaching in 2015 and 2016, was having a sale on their gratitude journals and the cherry on top of the offer was that all profits were going to a non-profit organization that I am a member of, will be volunteering for, and strongly support.   This seemed like just the right offer at just the right time, because I’ll be honest, I’ve been feeling a bit pessimistic lately.

This morning on the way home I stopped by the post office to drop off today’s shipping and, lo and behold, the journal arrived and it is lovely.  The cover, as you can see, has a dew laden spider web on it, which is a familiar and beloved sight to me when I actually get up and outside early enough to see these in the grass, on my apple trees, or in the nooks and crannies on the outside of my barn.

Contrary to what you might expect, for me gratitude arises less often when things are at their very best, but more when things are not perfect.   Maybe it’s the contrast of what seems very dark with what is light.  Just as in rug hooking we are unable to clearly see an element we have hooked if we put too close a value next to it in the background, in life I think we see the bright spots especially when we are faced with darker challenges.

I plan to put this journal in my 1840 Farm tote that goes almost everywhere with me, alongside my rug journal, and use it spontaneously to record those flashes of light and gratitude that can arise at any moment if we’re really paying attention.   I can see cases where the gratitude journal might feed ideas for the rug journal, and vice versa.  When it comes right down to it, I’m a writer at heart – someone who scribbles down everything from random thoughts, to to-do lists, to sketches of what I just saw in my head, to sometimes rambling blog posts like this one.  However, you don’t have to have that continual urge to document to just take a notebook or a scrap of paper and write down what you’re grateful for each day.

I am grateful for many things in my life, from my ability to go to the gym and run or lift weights to everything I have learned in the world of fiber art over the past five to six years.  I am grateful to you, the people who read my blog posts and support my business.  I am most grateful for my family, my husband, my four sons, and my sons’ girlfriends.   I am grateful for the Parris House and Sunset Haven, these quintessentially Maine spaces I call home.  I’m also grateful to live in a country where my voice can be heard and my actions can make a difference, whether through my donations to the lives of young women, my volunteer work for civil liberties, or my faith community’s commitment to our local refugee population.

One of the tag lines I use for Parris House Wool Works is, “Hook what you love.”  Maybe this year our challenge could also be, “Hook what you’re grateful for.”  I know I will be thinking along those lines as I design this week’s new pattern.  What are you grateful for today?

Happy hooking! – Beth

 

Time to Get Out Your Calendars and Write Down These Dates

I am a planner junkie.   In fact, I have a planner, two workbooks, a wall poster calendar, and several calendars around the Parris House to keep me as organized as possible.  That’s not to say it’s always 100% effective, but I’m a writing-it-down kind of woman.   The particular organizing and planning system I’m using right now is created by an amazing Australian woman named Leonie Dawson.  She’s no nonsense and ethereal simultaneously.  Not sure how else to describe her but her work and life planner are highly effective, as is she.  To take a peek, click HERE. 

Regardless of what kind of time keeper/planners you use, however, I’ve got some dates for you to write down, so grab your planner, rip your calendar off your wall, whatever it takes, and write these down:

January 23rd:  Last day to register for the Intro to Hooking class I’m teaching at SAD44 Adult Ed.   It’s going to be fun!  We’re making cute 8″ x 8″ Valentine themed mats that can then be finished as pillows or table toppers or wall hangings – your choice.  Classes will be Monday, January 30th and Monday, February 13th.  FMI, click HERE.

January 28th:  Beginner Dye Class at the Parris House.  This is one of the most fun classes I have here.  You learn three different methods of wool dyeing and leave with a full yard of your own hand dyed wool, ready to cut and hook with, or use with any other craft you please.  FMI, click HERE. 

February 4th:  Intro to Cold Process Soap Making at the Parris House. You will learn the art of cold process soap making *and* leave with 2 pounds of freshly made soap, a recipe to use at home, a soap mold, and safety equipment. FMI, click HERE. 

March 11th:  Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can, beginner rug pattern design class at the Parris House.  Another great class that’s super fun!  You will learn genres, design tips and tricks, getting your pattern on the grain, and so much more.  You will leave with a completely finished linen pattern of your own design, all ready to hook.  FMI, click HERE. 

April 1st:  Soap making again!  See earlier description, but for tickets for this date click HERE. 

April 22nd:  207 Creatives Belfast Hook In, First Church of Belfast, UCC, Belfast, Maine.   Many of you already know about this event and are even signed up for it, but for ALL the information, click HERE. 

We are finalizing some summer dates for my classes at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village this year, so follow their page at THIS LINK for updates on my and many other great classes.

September 9th & 10th, Sharon Springs Harvest Festival, Sharon Springs, NY.  You know you want to go to one of the premier fall festivals on the east coast and meet the Fabulous Beekman Boys, so why not make this the year?  I will be there vending again this year and am hoping to persuade some other New England artisans to join me.  FMI, click HERE. 

November 4th, Fifth Annual Paris Hill Hook In, Paris Hill, Maine.  You read it here first!  Pencil (or better, do it in ink) this in on your calendar and I will have all of the information and registration forms coming by April.  In fact, I will have registration forms with me at the 207 Creatives Belfast Hook In, so ask for one there.

On the planning table for possible classes to be held at the Parris House are art journaling, ecoprinting/dyeing, a permaculture class, and natural dye techniques, so do stay tuned.

As I add more dates, you can always see what’s happening on our Classes & Workshops tab on the website and on our Events section of the Facebook page.

Plan to join us for some or all of these events and in the meantime, happy hooking!

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

Blank Linen

As I’ve been on Facebook and other social media the past week I’ve seen lots of jokes and memes about not knowing what day it is during holiday vacation.  While I can not abandon business entirely during the holiday season, there were times in the past week when I too noticed a surreal disconnection from every day life.  I’ve had family visiting, and the Parris House is the locus of much of the extended family holiday celebration as well, which means, well…a lot of work along with all the joy and never quite enough time in the day.

Today we are “de-decorating,” as my husband puts it.  The fog of festivity is clearing and we have a brand new year.  There are so many metaphors for the new year:  clean slate, blank page, and more.  As a hooker, I’m thinking of it as a bolt of blank linen.  When one of these bolts lands “thud” on my doorstep I’m never quite sure what it will turn in to.  A combination of planning and serendipity conspire to use that linen up and the next thing I know I’m ordering another.

This year I’m leaning hard toward the planning side of things with an open mind and heart for serendipity as well.  Some of the most important opportunities I’ve had in my work and in my life have come unexpectedly, so while I can not rule out the unexpected, I’m also doubling down on the planning portion for the year.  Customers and friends, online and in 3D, of Parris House Wool Works may notice some changes.  My word for the year is “bold,” and my plan is to move my skill set and my venture to a new level in 2017.   I will be learning how to do new things, offering new products and classes, and starting some large projects.  I also plan to support one major non-profit effort, which I will announce later this month.  It is more important to me than ever that I give back somehow to make the lives of others better, even if I can only do it in some small way.

This afternoon I read a discouraging post about an acquaintance’s fiber shop in upstate NY.  Her sign, and those of other business owners in the area, had been vandalized with hate symbols.  It’s no secret that these types of stories were much too prevalent in 2016, and here was another – involving someone I know and whose products I use – in the opening days of 2017.   The people of her town got together, however, and started cleaning the vandalized surfaces almost immediately.  Her sign was back to normal very soon after the attack.   The cleaning up of the town was an act by the townspeople of defiance, perseverance, and love in the face of defacement and hate.  There’s a lesson here for us in the way we look at 2017, this new year, and that is:

We have a new year, a clean slate, a blank linen.   We can persevere in love for what is right and in defiance of what is wrong until we achieve our goals and set new ones, even when we experience setbacks beyond our control.  In the achievement of a better 2017, there will always be people to help us along the way.  As Fred Rogers (my childhood hero) famously quoted his mother as saying, “Always look for the helpers.”

What are your plans for this year?  What will you use your “blank linen” for?  What achievements in 2016 are now stepping stones for an even better 2017?  I invite you to share your plans, dreams, and goals for 2017 on our social media pages and your own using the hashtag #blanklinen.  They do not have to be hooking related, or fiber art related; there is no limiting parameter for your posts and shares.   You have already achieved a great deal in your life.  What’s next?  None of us came this far to only come this far.

Have a wonderful 2017 and I hope to see #blanklinen peppering social media as you share your dearest dreams and achievements.

Happy hooking – Beth

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Goats and Gumption

GoatMilk

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

1 –  chiefly dialect:  common sense, horse sense

2  – enterprise, initiative

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

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

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

Faintly

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

BabyGoatFront

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

GrownUpGoat

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

GoatGoRound2

We clearly have a thing for goats.

But where does gumption come in?

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

That’s gumption.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NotAllWhoWanderareLost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy wandering and happy hooking.  – Beth

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

Sail On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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