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.
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
(If you have not read “Part 1,” and want to, please just scroll back to the post immediately prior to this one.)
We left off on the last post with my husband, Bill, and I out in Western Massachusetts having been to a Blondie concert, MassMoCA and the Museum of Dog. I’ve saved the historical sites for this part of the story.
As many of you know, I have been involved at some level with the Sabbathday Lake Shaker community for quite a few years. I have volunteered on work days, taught rug hooking, and demonstrated the craft for Open Farm Day and Harvest Festival there. I have unabashedly fallen in love with the place, so aptly known as “Chosen Land” to the Shakers, and with the people there. Along with a truly dedicated staff and team of volunteers, for whom the work is clearly deeply meaningful, there are the living Shakers themselves, Brother Arnold and Sister June. For them, Sabbathday Lake is home, and because of them, it is a sacred place that can not be, and I do not believe will ever be, considered wholly a museum.
In spite of my involvement with Sabbathday Lake and my interest in Shaker history, I had never been to any of the Shaker museums that are just a day’s drive or less from home. It was at the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace, in Adams, that the very kind and capable staff recommended a visit to the Hancock Shaker Village, only about thirty minutes from there. But first, let’s talk about the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum.
The Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum is extremely well done in every possible way. I would highly recommend you click on the link and thoroughly explore their website and then make plans to visit. Upon entering the gift shop, where you must purchase your tickets before going in to the homestead, you will be greeted by knowledgeable and friendly staff members who have a clear enthusiasm for the museum and its history. You will have the choice of having a docent give you a guided tour, using an electronic audio/visual tour device, or simply going through the home in a self guided way, reading the plentiful and detailed exhibit descriptions in every room. My husband chose the A/V tour and I chose to just walk through the museum on my own.
This museum is so professionally and engagingly arranged and annotated that I was taking mental notes on how this example might inform decisions for our own historical society back home. Every aspect of Susan B. Anthony’s remarkable life is covered, from her family of origin, to her early life and career as a teacher, to her work in the temperance, abolitionist, and of course, women’s’ suffrage movement. All of this history and context comes very much alive with the extraordinary collection of artifacts, documents, and ephemera belonging to her and/or her life story. I think my favorite artifact in the museum (a photo is in the slide show below) is the plaster cast made of her clasping hands with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I felt goosebumps as I looked at this incredible object. And, being a fiber/textile geek, I was also very interested in the completely hand-quilted replica of a quilt that Susan had made as a young person. Additionally, there are antique woven coverlets, linens, dresses, and the tools of carding and spinning in the home. It is beyond the scope of this post to tell the entire story, but again, the museum website is extremely thorough, much like the museum, so click on over to that for so much more information, including on the restoration of the home itself.
Susan B. Anthony died in 1906, fourteen years before women were finally given the vote in the United States. It is unfortunate that she did not live to see the final fulfillment of that dream, but she left behind millions of grateful women, including those of us who were not yet born. My grandmother was three years old in 1906 and seventeen years old before women had the vote. I have thought about that often, that my own grandmother was born in a time when she might never have expected to vote. It means that we have not had this privilege in America for very long. Let us never fail to exercise it.
Susan B. Anthony may have been certain that eventually her work would win the day, even if she wouldn’t live to see it. She is quoted as saying, “Failure is impossible.” The gift shop at her birthplace has silver toned bracelets with these words in them, and I couldn’t leave without one.
Here are the photos I took, with permission, which do not begin to do justice to the museum.
We took the staff at the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum at their word and went, the next day, Sunday, to the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Here are excerpts of the introduction on their website:
“Hancock Shaker Village began in the late 1780s, when nearly 100 Believers consolidated a community on land donated by local farmers who had converted to the Shaker movement. By the 1830s, with a great many more conversions and additional land acquisitions, the Shaker community peaked in population with more than 300 Believers and more than 3,000 acres……Eventually, forces outside the community, including the industrial revolution and the shifting of America from a rural to an urban society, worked against their continued growth and stability. By the early 1900s, with dwindling converts, the Shaker population at Hancock declined to about 50 Believers, most of them Sisters and orphan girls who had been adopted by the community, and only a few adult Brethren……Many outlying acres of land were sold off, and buildings were razed during the final decades of the Hancock community. In 1959, when the Shakers could no longer maintain their City of Peace, they sold the remaining property to a local group committed to preserving the Shaker heritage. The utopian village known as Hancock Shaker Village continues its life today as a history museum with 20 authentic buildings, a working farm and significant collections of Shaker furniture and artifacts.”
I have to objectively say that this is an absolutely lovely and beautifully curated museum village of over twenty historic buildings and thousands of Shaker artifacts, not to mention the extensive gardens, extremely knowledgeable and personable docents, and an onsite visitors’ and educational center. It is also a breathtaking venue for weddings and events. I say “objectively” because I have to remove the part of myself that compares it to Sabbathday Lake. This is not a fair comparison and should not be made. Sabbathday Lake is literally the only Shaker location on Earth that is an active Shaker community with a working farm, shops, gardens, and livestock that are not strictly for educational purposes, but are actually the continuing business in support of the living Shakers who have been conducting their spiritual and working lives there since 1783. Sabbathday Lake is the only place on Earth where you can attend an actual Shaker worship service. No Shaker museum in the country should be compared to this, because their missions are different. The other museums are doing critically important work in preserving and honoring the memory of the Shakers who no longer inhabit those locations and educating the public about Shaker life.
Having said that (and then I’ll leave this point alone, I promise), that part-of-me-that-was-comparing-and-should-not-have-been felt a profound sadness at Hancock. I left there, after having a truly wonderful visit, more committed than ever to my volunteer work at Sabbathday Lake with a renewed sense of just how precious that community is, how rare, how indescribably valuable, and how humbled I am by my luck to have it right here in my own backyard in Maine.
OK, onward. Hancock Shaker Village is a must see on your trip through the Berkshires and Western Massachusetts. It is possible to spend an entire day, maybe more, there going through each building, taking advantage of the tours and demonstrations that are offered, having a bite to eat in a remarkable fresh food cafe on site, and shopping the gift shop (where, incidentally, they sell products still made at Sabbathday Lake, as does the Mount Lebanon historic site which we will talk about in a bit). It was so much fun to do the right kind of comparing when we saw the Hancock dwelling house, the laundry room, the dining area, the meeting house and seeing how they were similar and yet different to these same spaces at Sabbathday Lake. Bill teaches soap making in the laundry room at Sabbathday Lake and was having a great time in its companion space at Hancock.
Across the street from the main village there is a path back to the reservoir and also leading to the Shaker cemetery, which characteristically has just a single stone representing all who are buried there. The gate was open to the actual burying ground, but out of reverence we remained outside the gate. It is a beautiful and peaceful place to visit and to remember the bustling Christian community that once existed there.
Here are a few pictures of Hancock Shaker Village, including pics of its iconic stone round barn. As before, I took a lot of fiber/textile related photographs. Notice also the beautiful lunch I had in the cafe there.
Finally, before heading for home, we went over the state line in to Mount Lebanon, New York to visit the Mount Lebanon Shaker Historic Site. Unfortunately, I did not take many pictures there, and, in any case, I would encourage you to also explore their website. Here is an excerpt from the history on the website:
“The Shakers at Mount Lebanon led the largest and most successful utopian communal society in America for 160 years, from 1787 to 1947.
From this central community developed the Shakers’ ideals of equality of labor, gender, and race, as well as communal property, freedom, and pacifism. From Mount Lebanon also grew the now famous Shaker aesthetic of simplicity, expressed in their objects, furniture, buildings, and village planning.
With over 6,000 acres and 100 buildings, Mount Lebanon Shaker Village was a driving force in the agricultural, industrial, commercial, and institutional activities of its day. The Village was divided into smaller “Family” groups (Church, Second, Center, North, East, South, and so on.), each with its own leadership, members, and commercial activities. As the Shaker community declined in population in the early 20th century, the site was gradually sold to various private owners, including the Darrow School, which still inhabits Mount Lebanon’s Church and Center Families, and the Abode of the Message which inhabits the South Family’s buildings.
Mount Lebanon was named a National Historic Landmark in 1965, and was recognized by the World Monuments Fund in both 2004 and 2006 as one of the 100 most significant endangered historic sites in the world.
The North Family today houses the museum and consists of 11 buildings on 91 acres. The iconic North Family Great Stone Barn – measuring 50’ wide, four stories high, and nearly 200’ long, was a testament to the ingenuity, faith, and perseverance of the Shakers. In September 1972 the barn was totally gutted by a catastrophic fire, leaving only its four massive masonry walls standing.”
I will say that those four masonry walls, still standing, are jaw dropping. There is an effort underway to restore that structure.
We were met in the visitors’ building by a friendly docent who again had great depth of knowledge about the history there. We did not have much time to explore the site because it was already mid afternoon and we had a five hour drive ahead of us to get home. I would very much like to go back there to walk the grounds. It’s important to note that much of what was the village is now occupied by a private school, so this site is not as intact as Hancock appears to be. Nonetheless, this is a very worthwhile destination. I was struck by this sign when you walk in to the visitors’ center/gift shop.
This sign affirms what many don’t realize, that the Shakers were not shut out from the world, but rather traveling widely to conduct their business. Nor did they spurn technology. In fact, the Shakers were extremely inventive and created new ways of making their work more efficient. Hancock Shaker Village’s website addresses the truths and legends regarding Shaker inventiveness:
“What did the Shakers invent? The Shakers were inventive people, embracing and often improving upon technology. There are many myths about Shaker inventions. Some are exaggerated truths; others are fiction. Because the Shakers, as a show of humility, often did not patent their inventions and improvements, it is difficult to say how many things they invented.Current scholarship indicates that the Shakers most likely invented the flat broom. They were one of the first to put garden seeds in printed paper packets for sale. They may have invented an early (but perhaps not the first) version of a circular saw. Authentication of many other Shaker inventions or improvements on existing technologies and items is debated and discussed to this day.”
The most observant among you may be asking, “So what about the other bracelet from Part 1? Where did that come from?”
On Sunday morning, before we left Adams, we went to a funky little cafe on its main street called the Coffee Liberation Front. I had a delicious fresh quiche for breakfast with equally great coffee. Bill had a rainbow striped “unicorn bagel.”
It turned out that one of the owners makes imaginative beaded jewelry, much of it with nods to different meanings and energies. Whether you believe in New Age concepts or not, her work is lovely. I chose a bracelet with “air” charms on it – a hummingbird, wings, feathers, a butterfly -things related to flight. I think I was drawn to it because, in both my life and my work, I am seeking as much freedom as I can create for myself. It, along with the “Failure is impossible” bracelet from the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum are happy reminders of both an enjoyable weekend away and my desired life direction.
I hope you have enjoyed these two posts highlighting our weekend away and hope even more you will visit some of the places I’ve described. If you have traveled to any of these places as well, I’d love to hear your impressions about them in the comments. If you have interest in Shaker life, I would very much encourage you to visit the Sabbathday Lake community in New Gloucester, Maine, just about half an hour south of the Parris House. There is truly inspiration everywhere.
Many readers know that I refer to Henry David Thoreau as my “dead soulmate.” He came in to the world two hundred and one years ago today, making it forever a better place. I have been a disciple of Thoreau for a long time now. Shortly after I moved to Maine in 2000, I picked up a copy of The Maine Woods and gained an even deeper appreciation for my new home, its history, and what the sheer wildness of this place does to the human soul. I have no good/bad judgment on what it does, by the way. For some people, it feels remote, under-populated, provincial in the small towns and villages, and swamping in the size of its so-called empty territories (which are not actually empty at all, just ask the wildlife). For others it’s a place of healing through nature, astonishing beauty, cut to the chase no bullshit truth, and a testing ground for self discovery. For me, it’s all of these things. One of my favorite passages from The Maine Woods comes from Thoreau’s experience climbing Katahdin. It reads as follows:
“Think of our life in nature, – daily to be shown matter, to come into contact with it, – rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we?”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, sums up life in Maine. If you’ve never had that feeling of sheer mind exploding existential wonder – who am I and where is this place? – please contact me. I’ll recommend some very fine mountain tops in Maine. I might even cheat a little and send you further over our western border in to New Hampshire’s Presidential Range too.
Ironically, I thought of Thoreau this morning as I took in the scene of my neighbor Becca’s field, which was hayed just yesterday. The hay is still on the ground and I expect the baler to show up any day now to gather it in to those big, fragrant bales that will become bedding, feed, garden mulching, and who knows what else for countless living things. Thoreau loved wildness. Just about a month or so ago I shot a video of this field burgeoning with fresh, colorful lupines, yellow and white daisies, and Indian paintbrushes. Ducks with their babies were living on the pond. My young Collie, Wyeth, and I were delirious with the lushness of it and I think my viewers could hear that in my voice. The field was wild. Not The Maine Woods wild with its roaming moose and potentially killer river rapids, but wild nonetheless. Today’s view of the field was decidedly domesticated. I thought of all of Thoreau’s remarks in Walden about the domestication of land and, more pointedly, the domestication of mankind. And yet, I also see a beauty of its own in this cut down field; it’s given its all and will now become a sustaining resource for others. My memory of it in full bloom juxtaposed against today’s scene is a fairly direct lesson in impermanence. That’s not a bad thing. If I could have Thoreau over for tea, I’d ask him about this line of thought.
For me, the haying of this field is the cracking of the doorway to fall. I know it’s only mid July, but July is a dearth month here in Maine, a month when beekeepers have to keep a sharp eye on their hives. The big spring pollen and nectar flow is over and not much is happening until later in the summer and early fall to keep their little charges in food. It’s the temporary dearth before the big dearth of late fall and winter. This is the time of year I notice my young apples forming on their ancient trees and start to imagine the smell of them cooking down in to sauces and pie filling. My goldenchain tree’s yellow blossoms have turned to tight, brown seed pods in anticipation of next spring. The hot, muggy days are interspersed with dry, cool ones.
Fall is my best season, and it’s coming, which brings me to the life metaphor that inspired this post.
I turned fifty three last month. It is not spring in my life anymore. In fact, it’s barely summer. Maybe it’s July, but it’s probably more like August, and only if I’m lucky. Like Becca’s field, I’ve given a bit of myself so that others may thrive and I’ve been privileged and honored to have that opportunity in this life. I regret nothing in my life as a mother, wife, or friend. But I do have regrets on the career side of my life, and they have nothing to do with having been a stay at home mom for ten years or putting my sons first; that was worth every moment. They have, instead, everything to do with not following my passions. I’ve written about this before, and will not belabor it, but on this, Thoreau’s birthday, it warrants consideration again, not only for me, but for anyone who isn’t quite living the life they have imagined. Or, as Thoreau put it in one of his most famous quotes (seen on tee shirts, tote bags, and tattoos the world over):
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”
Or maybe he truly got down to business in Walden in this single sentence:
If I ever got a tattoo (no…really…that’s not happening…but if), it would probably just be that short, two word sentence.
I’m simplifying my own working life down to three essential elements: making, writing, teaching. If an opportunity or venture does not clearly fit as one of the essential elements, I will not be doing it.* As I look to people in the creative world who I admire, I see that they know how to delegate to achieve their dreams. They do mostly the work that they love, and, importantly, that no one else can do because the creation is specific to its creator.
Simplifying demands the banishment of fear, or perhaps, its management. We may not be able to banish the feeling of fear, but we can certainly greet it and act in spite of it. Fear and love famously (or infamously) do not coexist, and creativity, which in my view is a form of love for this life and our world, is crushed under the weight of fear nearly every time. Thoreau’s take on go-big-or-go-home seems to have been expressed in this quote:
“I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be extravagant enough, may not wander far enough beyond the narrow limit of my daily experience, so as to be adequate to the truth of which I have been convinced.”
Thoreau knew failure and chose anyway not to respond with fear or a quelling of his expression. Thoreau didn’t live to see his super-stardom in the literary and philosophical world. When he succumbed to tuberculosis in 1862 it was too early to know that he’d one day be so influential to so many. He didn’t even see the end of the Civil War, a conflict whose outcome he cared about so deeply having been himself involved in the Underground Railroad from his home base of Concord, Massachusetts. His book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers was an outright commercial failure at the time of its publication, and yet I, and many others, revere that book today. It chronicles Thoreau’s time with his brother, John, on the rivers in 1839, before John’s tragic death much too young. Perhaps my own experience of losing a brother way too soon endears this book to me. I think I understand a bit of the love, grief, and desire to relive time that may have been at the core of Thoreau’s need to write it. Even Walden was only moderately commercially successful in its time and today is still the target of harsh criticism by those (in my humble opinion) who understand neither its author or its context.
I want to follow Thoreau the rest of my days, and follow him in his extravagant expression of who he was, not to copy his life or person, but to be inspired by it to find my own best way. The truth Thoreau was convinced of was broader and deeper than even he could express, for all of his eloquence, and yet he conveyed it somehow to those of us with a heart sympathetic to his message. His life story and the writing he left behind provide me with strength as I start to publish my own books in the next few years. I can not hope to be remembered at all two hundred and one years after my birth; I am no Thoreau. However, I can, and you can, take from his life and work the resonant threads and we can all be the better for them.
Happy Thoreau’s birthday & happy creating.
*Footnote: The online shops and the physical studio are not going away, but they are going to be increasingly delegated. If there is one thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older it’s that I can not do everything and I can not be who I am not.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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…
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!
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 HookIn 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.
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.
Today I put in most of the plantings for the Parris House vegetable and herb garden. As some of you who follow me on social media may recall, around the time I was planning to start my seedlings, our local water utility burst an underground water main directly in front of our home, sending thousands of gallons of water in to the basement. Unfortunately, this is the area where I usually have seedlings set up with grow lights. The basement was a complete wreck and the cleanup and recovery have taken a couple of months, so…this year…no seedlings.
Fortunately, Smedberg’s Crystal Spring Farm in Oxford, Maine always has a huge variety of vegetable and herb seedlings, so this year, that was my solution. I am usually picky with my seeds, selecting a lot of heirloom varieties, but this year growing my own plants was off the table and, having used Smedberg’s plants at times in the past, I know I will not be disappointed with my harvest.
I got the following in to the garden this morning, even though the weather on this Memorial Day is gray, cold, and frankly miserable: tomatoes (three varieties), bell peppers, banana peppers, swiss chard, kale, eggplant, slicing cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, lavender, basil, thyme, rosemary, and oregano. I have a good sized spearmint plant potted and over near the kitchen door, because let’s face it, that’s an invasive and if I put that in my raised beds it will party on until it’s filled them up. Also, our rhubarb has come up once again and it’s really time (maybe past time) to cut some of that and make something delicious with it. There’s still work to do, even though it’s getting so late in the season. I still plan to add some dye/flowering plants to the herb bed and also to the container area near the house. My husband put up the electric fence for me again this year and our stalwart plastic owl is standing guard as he has for many years (successfully) now. In looking over my plant selections I’m pretty sure my Italian DNA is showing.
Here are a few pics of the fledgling vegetable garden. I assure you that in a month or so, this is going to be lush and just starting to put off some food, that is IF it’s ever warm and sunny for more than a day or two at a time this spring. I’m starting to wonder.
I really couldn’t resist taking some of the spearmint, even though the plant is relatively young and small. I love mint in my iced tea and I make my iced tea a particular way. The recipe is right here for you, if you’d like to give it a try. Let me put forth the following caveats. I do not like my iced tea very sweet (sorrynotsorry to those of you in the South; I know this is considered an abomination down there). In fact, the only reason this recipe has honey in it is because a) I like the flavor of honey and b) I have bees and am about to extract my first load of honey (it will be called Tovookan’s honey and will be for sale – watch for it) in the next few weeks. It wouldn’t be ok for me to not use it in my tea, after all. Since I don’t have my own yet, the honey shown in the pic is from Beekman 1802, and it’s delicious. What I do not like is for sweetness to obliterate the flavor of a really good tea. Second caveat is that I like my tea like I like my coffee – so strong you could stand a spoon in it. Please adjust for your own taste. Third caveat (hello, Canadian friends!) – I am using King Cole tea which my son James dutifully picks up every time he goes to visit his girlfriend in Nova Scotia. This is a very popular Canadian tea that has ruined me for most other everyday teas, but if you can not procure this, just use your favorite. Each King Cole tea bag is made to brew 2 cups, so you just have to double how many you use in your recipe.
1 half gallon Ball canning jar or a half gallon container of your choice (but let’s face it, the canning jars are really cute)
3 King Cole Orange Pekoe tea bags OR 6 tea bags of your favorite tea
2-3 tablespoons honey or to taste (go ahead Southern friends, pour that jar upside down and count to 100)
1 lemon, cut in to quarters (lime is also tasty)
1 sprig of fresh mint, cut in to slices and put in to a tea ball
About 4 trays of ice (the Parris House icemaker broke about ten years ago, the repair guy said $600 to fix it – we use trays)
Fill your kettle with hot water and start it on the stove (or plug it in). Meanwhile, put the honey in the bottom of the jar, and cut up your lemon and mint. I don’t worry about the lemon seeds, but if they’ll bother you, remove them. I put my mint pieces in to a tea ball so that I don’t have to fish them out of the tea later. This may compromise the diffusion a little bit and you can certainly just put them in whole. However, do NOT put them in the jar yet.
Once your water is boiling, fill the Ball jar to about a third with it and then stir the honey from the bottom until dissolved. Add your tea bags, fill to about half with the hot water, and steep with the lid on for as long as you like. As I said, I like my tea super strong, so I let it get plenty dark, about 10 or 15 minutes (ok, sometimes longer – yes, I know it can get bitter – yes, I kinda like that). When steeped to your liking, remove the tea bags and add the ice. Notice that I have not yet added the lemon and mint. This is because I do not like the lemon to take on that “cooked” flavor that can happen when you’ve put the lemons in while the water is still too hot. I also think it alters the freshness of the mint. So I wait until most of the ice has melted and cooled and diluted the tea.
Once the water is not hot enough to alter the freshness of the lemon and mint (about room temperature), add those to the jar. Let these flavor the tea for at least an hour or two. I recommend getting them both out of the jar the same day, though, because I think the lemon starts to take on an odd flavor if left in the jar too long. I store the tea in the fridge so that the flavors stay fresh and so that when I use it it’s very cold.
Unfortunately, today is not an iced tea day. Today is a hot tea, hot coffee, or possibly even hot chocolate day here in Maine, replete with wood stove burning to knock the chill off. But…I have to think iced tea days are coming, so try making it this way and let me know what you think.
Happy Memorial Day and happy hooking.
P.S. I have not failed to observe Memorial Day; in fact, I am always deeply reverent of its origins and meaning. If you follow me on Facebook you will have already seen a Memorial Day post I wrote for the Paris Hill Historical Society today. Take a look by clicking HERE. Thank you!
One of our Parris House hookers, Edna Olmstead, is already harvesting and pressure canning green beans for the fall and winter. Another said yesterday at Tuesday group that her tomatoes were in. And, of course, the local farm stands, run by professional growers and farmers, are overflowing with produce.
Here at the Parris House our garden more resembles the tortoise, from the fable, The Tortoise and the Hare. I’m not at all saying that my tortoise is going to win the gardening race. It’s not. But it will, save for some unforeseen early withering frost, come through in the end.
This was my first year teaching at the Squam Art Workshops in June. I was in a bit of a tizzy preparing for it and I could not face putting the garden in before I got back, which was the second week of June. Additionally, I had really wanted raised beds this year, and my husband and sons had not yet built them. When I returned from Squam, like magic, the beds were in place. The menfolk had built them in my absence. We took a trip to Shaker Hill Landscape & Nursery in Poland Spring, Maine for a bit more soil and compost and I was ready to roll. Very late, even by Maine standards, but ready.
The following pictures were taken on Monday, August 3rd. I think what they show is promise. Itty bitty beans on the vine, harvestable salad greens (we’ve had some; they’re delicious), modestly sized basil, pumpkin and squash blossoms, and more. I think the biggest race against time out there is the corn, which is only past knee high at this juncture, but we all need a little suspense in our gardening, don’t we?
I will be teaching at Squam again next year, but will probably be more relaxed in my preparations. The garden will go in earlier. Five years ago I would have been beside myself with this year’s tortoise garden. I know better now. A lesson learned at Squam and in a million different ways in the steady growth of Parris House Wool Works: it’s the process that matters most, one day at a time, doing everything you know how to do with heart and commitment and as much love as you can muster. Those are the conditions for growth, even if you’re starting late in your season.
And now, some pictures…hope you all like green!
Just yesterday in the Maine studio a relatively new hooker was lamenting on how slow she is in finishing projects (actually, she isn’t…but…you know…). Another hooker immediately came to her defense, telling her to be patient, that this was normal in the beginning, and praising the work that she had done. I also assured her that her future work would start to go more quickly. Sometimes, we just have to be ok with the pace of things. So it is with our late blooming garden.
I will post another story in about six weeks on how the harvest has gone, taking pics as we pull things in. By then my favorite time of year will be in full swing!
Happy gardening, don’t worry if you’re a tortoise, and happy hooking! – Beth