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

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