Want to learn to hook? Already hook and want to learn more? Or maybe you’d like to learn some other heritage skill?
I recently had a student call the studio and say, “I want to learn to hook, but I want to make my own pattern. Can you teach me to do that all in one lesson?” The answer was, “Of course!”
We will be listing some new regularly scheduled courses for 2019, but maybe you’d like a custom experience too, scheduled at your convenience. At the Parris House in the National Historic District of Paris Hill, Maine, we teach rug hooking (beginner and specialty topics), wool dyeing, needle felted sachet making, cold process soap making, beginner rug hooking design and pattern making, and more. If there’s something you’d like to learn, get in touch with us and we’ll make it happen.
Art, craft, and homesteading classes make great:
friends & family activities
bridal party or groomsmen gathering activities
experiences for college and school students of all ages
special self care treats
inter-generational learning opportunities
We can create a custom experience at the two century old historic Parris House just for you or your group where you can leave with a memento of the occasion, be it hand crafted soap, a beautiful sachet pillow, a hooked mug rug, plus a new shared pastime.
To arrange a Parris House learning experience, contact us to get the process started. We look forward to introducing you to something new!
I have recently been trying to make a more conscious practice of gratitude. Anyone who follows this page knows that I have a lot to be grateful for in my life, so practicing gratitude is something I should certainly have no trouble with. However, I have to confess that as today dawned, which was the day we were scheduled to pick up our honey bee packages for the season, I was feeling decidedly ungrateful toward Mother Nature for dishing out what amounts to winter weather: high 20s (Fahrenheit, in case you’re reading this from the civilized world where temps are measured in Celsius), and a combination of freezing rain, ice pellets, and snow, depending on Mother’s whim, all day long. This is not great weather for bees who recently made the trip via motor vehicle from the sunny South. This is not what I wanted. I wanted weather at least in the 40s and a nice rising barometer. But no. This is what I got, so onward we went.
Before I go any further, let me clarify “we.” Congratulations are in order to my husband, Bill, who recently completed his beginner beekeeping class with the wonderful Master Beekeeper, Carol Cottrill. She was also my teacher for both beginner and intermediate beekeeping, and thankfully we also have two additional mentors in Master Beekeeper Vanessa Rogers of Backwoods Bee Farm (where we get our bees and equipment) and Eric Davis, who is currently serving as the membership coordinator for the Maine State Beekeepers Association.
So, today was Bill’s first day installing package bees in to our hives. Our three hives from last year did not survive the winter. The reasons for this are many, but the overarching reason is that I did not adequately keep their varroa mite load down. Last year was my second year as a beekeeper, and I was doing well. I’d even caught a swarm (my own, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit) to create a third hive, which was incredibly strong mid summer. However, after the illness and loss of my Welsh Corgi, Tru, I had a tough time keeping up with a lot of my responsibilities. I was not as vigilant with the hives as I needed to be. I had been beekeeping alone for two seasons, because my husband was deathly afraid of bees. I never even seriously considered asking him to assist me with them, so strong was his aversion. This is why the Parris House hives are built with all eight frame, medium boxes, to keep the weight of each box under control so that I can lift them alone, even when they’re full of honey and fairly high in the air. An eight frame medium box full of honey can easily weigh forty or fifty pounds.
Imagine my surprise when Bill showed an interest in helping me with the bees this season. Maybe surprise is too mild a word. I was shocked. However, I gladly went along with the idea and here we are.
Bill is a person who can look at a field of clover and pick out all the ones with four leaves. This may sound like a skill unrelated to beekeeping until you consider that spotting the queen among tens of thousands of other bees is a thing you need to be able to do. He’s also really in to science and biology, and understands systems and the kinds of interrelationships you might find at work in a hive. Perhaps best of all, he doesn’t stress or worry easily, or overthink situations. I possess none of these qualities; not a single one. For this reason, I think he’s destined to be a better beekeeper than I am. The stress and worry thing on my part was on full display as the weather continued its winter-esque rampage, never letting up, including by the time we were ready to put the package bees in the hive.
It was never my plan to hive the bees myself this year. As the new beekeeper this was an experience Bill had to have himself. Once you do it, you don’t forget how. It’s just that under normal spring circumstances, midway through April in Maine, you’ve got a day at least in the 40s F and if a few of the bees don’t make it in to the hives, they will buzz around a bit, “smell” their queen, and eventually make their way in. This is not the case when Mother Nature is being a sadist. In these temperatures, with ice falling from the sky, the few bees we did not manage to get in to the hives simply fell to the ground, went dormant, and quickly died. Both previous seasons I’ve hived bees I had an overwhelming sense of joy, as I did when I caught my swarm last June and popped it down in to its new home. This year I watched with sadness and contempt for the weather as we immediately lost twenty to thirty bees (an extremely small number, but still…) who fell to the sides of the hives and died on the snow below. You don’t want to stand there watching bees die on installation day.
At any rate, we survived and so did most of the bees. In the spirit of gratitude, I am going to list the positives. Bill did an exemplary job of installing these bee packages. He knew exactly what to do, put the queen cages in without a hitch, got the overwhelming majority of the bees safely in to the hives, and perhaps most extraordinarily, was not consumed by anxiety by the harsh conditions. (I will not sleep well tonight knowing that the weather is so inhospitable for our hives. He’ll sleep just fine.) Neither of us had ever used ball jar feeders for bees before, having always baggie fed. However, we were advised by one of our mentors to use jars until the weather improves, and Bill was able to make that adaptation without any fuss as well. There is no forage in our part of Maine right now. It’s just…still winter here.
I am also grateful that our bees are going in to hives that already have drawn comb, some honey frames on the box ends, and “sticky” frames available that still have traces of honey from last year’s extraction. This is as opposed to a never-before-used hive where they have to start from scratch in building their home. Maybe the thing I’m most grateful for is that the weather will be improving slightly over the next week or so. Hopefully the queens will release nicely and start doing their jobs, and the building up of the hives will begin.
I’m going to go out on a limb here with the positive thinking and be grateful for the honey these hives will provide later in the season.
Here are some pics of the installation process. You can see how bad the weather is.
This is a brief video of Bill shaking the bees in to Hippy Dippy. I have more of a pouring technique, but hey, we’re both relatively new to this. You can hear him at the end saying, “They’re not happy.” I’m not sure any of us were happy.
Note: It is a solid truth that if you ask five beekeepers a single question you will get ten different answers. So it is entirely possible that if you are a beekeeper reading this, you may decide there were other possible methods for achieving the goal today. I’m sure that’s true. This being only our third season, we take the advice of our experienced mentors and our own growing intuition and knowledge and do what we think is best at any given time.
That’s the news from the Parris House bee yard. Barring disaster, I’ll have updates as the beekeeping season continues.
Pray for spring and happy hooking. – Beth
You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need. – The Rolling Stones
I have recently had to face the hard truth that I am a workaholic, and if you are too, you might want to read up here, because that life is not sustainable. You might think it is, but it’s not. Really. It’s not.
As those who have been following my social media know, I have been reading and doing the exercises in the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron since the beginning of the year. I just finished week ten, of twelve. Week ten is really heavy on recognizing workaholism not only as an addiction or compulsion, but as a fear based way of living. What makes us slide over the line in to workaholism? Why do we think we have to be “on” 24/7/365 to succeed?
If you’re a small business owner I can already hear you, with some justification, saying, “Well, that’s just what it takes.” To some extent, you’re right, especially if you are your small business, or at the very least, you are the one responsible for driving sales and growth. It’s hard to ever totally shut off when there’s no guaranteed external paycheck, when you either make the sales, bring in the new students and customers, finish the custom orders, meet the shipping deadlines, pay attention to your social media and marketing, or else you don’t pay the bills. If you have employees or contractors the pressure is even higher, because part of paying the bills is making payroll. I get that and I know it can be overwhelming. Kicking back for a day, or a week, or if you’re really burned out, a lot longer, can seem like professional suicide. But, I have discovered something else that’s professional suicide: overwork, overwhelm, and burnout.
So, I took the Chapter 10 workaholic quiz in The Artist’s Way and failed spectacularly, in that, I was guilty of every common marker for the problem. No, I haven’t been taking at least one day a week off. No, I don’t take vacations. Yes, I do put off my family and friends because I “have to work” or I “have a deadline.” Yes, I do cancel non-emergency preventative medical appointments because I’m “too busy.” Yes, sometimes I realize I have not left my studio in three or four days because I’m trying to get it all done. No, I don’t take myself on what the book calls “Artist’s Dates.” Yes, I do blow off yoga and hiking and time in the woods and on the water because I “just can’t find the time.” Yes, I “forget to eat.” I could go on, but you get the idea, and some of you – I know that some of you – are living this way too.
Let’s go back to why we do this to ourselves. We’ve already addressed that there is a baseline reality to some need for very hard work: we are under tremendous pressure to pay our bills, make our deadlines, and pay the people who may be working for us or providing materials to us. But do we really have to go this far down the workaholic rabbit hole to make that happen? I’m taking the leap to find out, but more on that later.
The “why”s go beyond the very real financial and logistical pressures. One “why” is overwhelmingly cultural. Here in the United States we are raised (or were – I think it’s improving with subsequent generations) to believe that our value is not in who we are, but in what we can do, what we can produce. We are an independent, bootstrapping, hyper productive, entrepreneurial culture of powerhouses….right? Our heroes embody rags to riches stories. We worship celebrities because of how they look and how large a venue they can fill, without ever knowing who they are. We elect politicians not for the content of their character but for the alleged quantity in their bank accounts, because that’s how we define success. Look, I have no objection to anyone becoming wealthy in America. In fact, I applaud it if it is done in an ethical way that contributes to that person’s family and community, and I wouldn’t mind making it happen for me and my family. What I object to is the metrics by which we value human beings in this culture and the way it drives us not only to work excessively and compulsively, but to work ineffectively and in ways untrue to who we are.
For some of us, another “why” is closer to our homes. Perhaps we were raised by people who cared little about who we were as human beings and more about who they could mold us to become, either in their own image or according to some ideal in their minds. (I regard that lack of acceptance and freedom as child abuse, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.) These parents might appear well meaning, but the message they ultimately send is this: you are not enough as you are, you can not be trusted to shape your own life and path, you are not what we expected and therefore are somehow disappointing. It is no surprise that people raised in environments like this lack confidence, have trouble making decisions right for themselves, become people pleasers to their own detriment, and yes, try to compensate by working themselves too hard in order to prove their value. It may not always be parents who cause this crisis of authentic identity and self worth. It may be a highly critical teacher or role model. It might be peers who are bullies. It might be an abusive partner. All of this is addressed magnificently in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, and without practicing psychotherapy without a license, I try to touch on this a bit when I teach my design class, Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can.
I have been living the workaholic life for at least the past fifteen years, but probably longer. I started my ten year career in real estate in 2003. Every good real estate broker knows the drill, or at least, what the drill might be if you’re a workaholic and insecure about making and being “enough”: take calls at all hours of the day and night, show property on weekends, nights, and holidays, travel to anywhere your client needs you to to execute documents (although this is better in the age of Docusign, unless your client isn’t computer literate), climb in every nook and cranny of every house, barn, attic, basement you show, stand over open septic tanks breathing it all in, walk land during hunting season hoping your blaze orange jacket is enough, on and on and on. My clients loved me. I was very well regarded in the field. And here’s the punch line in real estate brokerage. You’re an independent contractor, you have no benefits, and you don’t get paid unless the sale closes. Many of those failure-to-close factors you have zero – and I mean ZERO – control over. It’s stressful, sometimes lucrative, sometimes very not lucrative, and many people burn out. After ten years, I did. Spectacularly. So what did I do?
I started my own business and carried those same workaholic habits right in to it. Duh. And with those habits have come some serious mental and physical health issues I now have to attend to, the need to work on improving relationships and friendships I have neglected, and a real subversion of my own creativity, because no one can create when the proverbial well is dry.
No, I’m not done with Parris House Wool Works. On the contrary, I have big plans for Parris House Wool Works and for myself in a variety of arts. However, I am done working all the time. I am done not having a life outside of my business, and I am done thinking that who I am is so inextricably tied to what I can produce. What does this look like in practice?
Well, I’ve taken the past two weekends almost completely off. This weekend my husband, Bill, taught our soap class (which was delightful, by the way; we get the best students) and then we came down to our lake cottage, Sunset Haven, which is where I am writing this from today. (No, blogging is not work for me.) Unlike many times we are at Sunset Haven, we are not cleaning it for the next Airbnb visitors. There was a rare gap in the rental calendar and we can just spend time here for ourselves this weekend. We went to a cafe this morning and had breakfast, and then we did something unheard of for us: we mindlessly walked around the Maine Mall, got a lilac scented candle (our own lilacs won’t bloom until well in to May), got some coffee, and came back to the cottage. My husband is catching up on our personal finances and I’m blogging, lakefront. It’s a winter wonderland here, the lake is still mostly frozen, and in a little while I’m going to take Wyeth for a long walk on the camp roads. That doesn’t exactly sound like a Hawaiian luxury vacation, I realize, but this is a major departure for us. It’s a first step.
What will this look like going forward? I don’t know. That’s why this post is titled “Part 1,” because I plan to keep our readers informed on how this lifestyle change is going. I’m doing the journaling of this for me, I admit, but I’m also doing it for those of you following along who are also burning yourselves out in your own businesses or careers, or who are in danger of doing so.
What are you doing to take care of yourself this weekend? How will you give yourself the time and space to approach your work this coming week well rested and fresh? If you have been to the land of burnout, how did you recover? How are you doing now? Feel free to comment below.
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
Happy Holidays! How is your gift shopping going? Have you remembered to treat yourself to something nice too? Here at Parris House Wool Works, we want to help. First, be aware that between now and December 15th, we are running a coupon code in the Etsy shop. You can save 15% off any order of $50 or more by simply using coupon code HOLIDAY2017 at check out.
Second, here are some great ideas for gifts, for you and your winter hooking/crafting, or for someone on your gift list. While these are our top ten recommendations, remember that the coupon code is good for anything in the Etsy shop.
So let’s do our top ten! Just click on the item title to find it in the Etsy shop. Please note where quantities and time frames are limited.
Holiday colors, 1 fat quarter each, hand dyed, cut or uncut – your choice. This is a great selection of wool to hook last minute ornaments for teachers’ gifts, hostess/party gifts, or just for your own tree.
We have two versions of this, so make sure you check the shop for both. One comes with our 10 x 12 box frame and the other with our 12 x 12 folding frame. Fantastic and economical way to get someone you love in to the craft you love. You can also customize it with a different pattern if you so choose. Limited number available.
This is a favorite frame of mine. Almost everything I hook that is not really large is hooked on this frame. I love its simplicity and portability. This frame is hand crafted by Bear Pond Wood Works in Hartford, Maine in solid, quality, no-knot pine. A great beginner frame, but also a great frame period. Limited number available.
Only one available! I pick our local antique shops for the prettiest, most unusual Maine items I can find. I love this antique hair receiver. Originally used to hold hair from combs and brushes, this could also be a jewelry holder, contain small silk flowers, or whatever your imagination comes up with.
So those are our top ten recommendations, but again, HOLIDAY2017 gets you 15% off any order of $50 or more on ANYTHING in the Etsy shop.
Please note that this sale runs through Friday, December 15th. Some of these items need to be made and/or assembled so anything ordered after the 15th is not guaranteed for holiday delivery. If we have an unexpected number of orders on the frames, it may also be difficult to have those in time for holiday delivery as well, so if a frame or a kit that includes a frame looks like the thing for you, please order right away. First come, first served.
Thank you and I hope you have a holiday filled with happy memories and happy hooking! – Beth
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.
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.
I’m pretty sure many of you will recognize this plastic tub, especially if you live in New England.
Disclaimer here: I realize that this is not a health food. I’m one of those earthy crunchy organic gardening, home canning, whole foods, clean eating, hiker/runner types. Even with THIS on the tub, I realize that this is not a health food:
However…like Grandma’s Christmas cookies, birthday cake on birthdays, and my husband’s home made French vanilla ice cream, there is a time and a place for everything. At the Parris House, there’s a time and a place for this classic New England recipe:
At the Parris House, the times for this are Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Now, I don’t make this recipe. I do all the cutesy decorating, bake some kind of dessert, and buy conversation hearts and gifts. This year dessert was cherry pie. I got the idea for punching heart shaped holes in the crust from 1840 Farm, but, of course, my version looks more like a “nailed it” meme than a faithful replication of the beautiful job Jennifer Burcke did with her pie.
No, it is my husband Bill who always makes the Never Fail Fudge. And before we go any further, I’d like to say that the trademark Marshmallow Fluff and the recipe Never Fail Fudge are the intellectual property of the Durkee-Mower company in Lynn, Massachusetts. I have full permission to blog this recipe. Do you know why? Because I actually spoke to the super nice owner of this company on the phone this morning, and had the privilege of thanking him personally for this confection, which, I might mention, while not a health food is also not chock full of bizarre chemicals that no earthly mortal can recognize. The sole ingredients are corn syrup, sugar, dried egg white, and vanillin. Period. Straightforward and no nonsense, the New England way. And while the Fluffernutter sandwich is not really for me, it too is something most kids in this part of the country have packed in their lunchboxes more than a few times, a simple straightforward treat that they could make themselves.
It turns out, actually, that this straightforward New England confection has been manufactured since 1920 and the company is still in the same family. The history is actually very interesting and can be found here, on the company website. You can also “like” Marshmallow Fluff on Facebook, which is kind of fun. There are also many recipes on the website, so surf around.
Never Fail Fudge is a rich, deeply chocolate, soft fudge that is truly never fail. We have not ever had a batch go wrong. If you do have a batch go wrong, the company website has an FAQ for that, but really…just follow the directions on the bucket. Here we go.
Bill super greases a 9×13 ceramic cake pan with lots of butter. The directions on the tub suggest 2 – 9x9s, which would be fine also, of course. He gets all his ingredients together prior to starting the recipe so that he is free to stir the fudge and pay attention to the temperature of the mixture.
The ingredients are: 5 cups sugar, 2 small 5 oz. cans of evaporated milk, 1/4 pound butter or margarine (we always use real butter), 1 – 16 oz. tub Marshmallow Fluff, and 1 teaspoon salt. These are the initial ingredients. Toward the end you add 1.5 teaspoons vanilla, 1 cup walnut meats (if desired – Bill doesn’t like nuts so we never get this part), and 2 large 12 oz. bags of semi sweet chocolate chips. This recipe in full is on the Marshmallow Fluff tub and the website.
Bill combines the first 5 ingredients in a large stock pot. The recipe suggests a 5 quart saucepan. All of these ingredients are stirred until well blended over low heat.
Once combined you will bring the ingredients to a boil, and we recommend stirring continually so it does not stick to the bottom of the pan and/or burn. Boil the mixture slowly, continuing stirring, until it reaches the soft ball candy stage. The recipe says this will be about 5 minutes, and interestingly, we use a candy thermometer but, in my conversation this morning, the company owner said he does not. My husband is an accountant, and also our primary cold process soap blender in Maine, so you can imagine that he likes the precision of the thermometer. If I made this fudge I might just use the more subjective approach. Either way, remember, it’s never fail fudge.
You will notice, as this is combined, stirred and boiled, it gets a little darker over time. It’s almost as though it’s caramelizing a little bit, but I don’t know for sure.
Once you have achieved soft ball status with this mixture, it’s time to remove it from the heat and add the vanilla, the nuts, and the chocolate chips. Stir until everything is blended and melted together.
Now it’s just a matter of pouring it in to your waiting buttered pan or pans.
It will be very hot at this point, so be careful. Allow to cool completely and then you can cut it in to chunks of your preferred size. It yields about 5 pounds of fudge, so this is a great recipe – and very economical – for gift giving as well. We give a lot of it away, and it always seems to be welcomed with enthusiasm.
As you can see in this next photo, Bill cuts the chunks pretty large. He made that ceramic bowl they’re sitting in too, but that’s another blog post.
I know from posting about Never Fail Fudge on our Facebook page that many of you are familiar with it, make it, adapt the recipe for different flavors, etc. Hopefully some of our readers are new to it and will try this amazingly simple and delicious fudge recipe. Many thanks to the Durkee-Mower company for permission to share, and for answering my phone call so promptly in snow bound Lynn, Massachusetts.
Happy hooking, happy candy making, and happy eating! – Beth
As most of you know, we had a blizzard here last Tuesday. Jen was visiting from Tennessee (and took all the pics for this blog post) and we decided that clam chowder was the best defense against the elements. By the way, this is what a Southerner looks like braving a blizzard…not bad, actually…
I will be the first to admit that I was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in New Jersey, and went to college in Delaware, so maybe I should be making Manhattan Clam Chowder. We all know that would be wrong, though. I also fully expect some New England native to look at what follows and find at least half a dozen things I’m doing “wrong.” I’m fine with that. I’m also fine with the fact that everyone loves my clam chowder, including natives. 😉
People ask me a LOT for my clam chowder recipe. And I never have one. I’m not being coy or secretive. I literally don’t have one. I don’t measure, I don’t think the chowder is ever quite the same twice, and like all soups, it’s always even better the second day. I’m going to attempt to show you how I make my chowder, but please accept the fact that it’s ok to make soup without a precision recipe – in fact, sometimes it’s better to – and have fun making your own approximate chowder recipes.
First thing I do is put a little olive oil in to the bottom of a very heavy stock pot. This one belonged to my husband’s grandmother. You can also use butter (yay, butter!), or any oil of your choice, but I like the flavor of either olive oil or butter. I then cut up some bacon (or salt pork), and start cooking it in the oil in the pan. This adds a little bacon or salt pork fat to the soup as well for flavoring.
Next I chop up a good sized onion and put that in with the saute-ing bacon. You can also add carrots and celery, but I did not have those in the house on this occasion. I even put kale in to the finished soup, but a dear Maine native friend of mine (who loves kale in other contexts) says that is positively taboo.
Next I dice about half a dozen potatoes and add them to the pot. I then add chicken or vegetable stock in enough quantity to cover the potatoes, depending on what I have in the house. This is a great reason to make stocks out of your vegetable bits or poultry carcasses or ham bones or what have you and then freeze them so that you can use them on the fly in soups. I did not have any left in the freezer, so I had to use store bought. Let everything simmer in the stock until the potatoes are just fork tender.
When the potatoes are fork tender, it’s time to add enough milk or half & half or cream (this is entirely up to you and your cholesterol levels) to make the soup creamy, but not so much that it makes the soup too thin in terms of vegetable to broth ratio. If you go with milk, which is inherently less creamy, you can use a little corn starch to thicken the chowder. Add a bottle of clam juice, and the clams. I used both fresh frozen chopped clams and a can of whole clams. Do not boil the soup vigorously or cook it too long after this step because you do not want your nice tender clams to toughen.
You can season this soup in any way that makes you happy, although I would avoid really strong flavors that will overpower the delicate taste of the clams. I just use sea salt (when needed) and freshly ground black pepper (not too much). And, as I mentioned, I like garnishing with cooked kale, although this is anathema in some circles and perhaps a safer bet is garnishing with oyster crackers (especially if you have a native Mainer at the table).
So, this is what it looked like by the time we sat down to eat. (Please excuse the chipped bowl. These were my grandmother’s dishes from her camp on Little Sebago Lake – see our blog post about Maine lake culture – and I can’t part with them even when they chip.) We served the chowder with mussels marinara (perhaps another blog post?), Teriyaki steak strips left over from the night before, a green salad, and my son’s home brewed cinnamon vanilla porter (definitely will be another blog post on that).
This is old fashioned home cooking. I am not a chef. I have no formal training. One of the things I love about making soups is that it is analogous to rug hooking in some ways. Hooking is forgiving in ways that knitting, cross stitch, quilting, and other precision crafts are not. There is so much freedom in hooking, so much room for experimentation and expression. So it is with soups. So just see what you’ve got sitting about in your fridge and have fun with soup making.
While Jen’s been visiting this week, she decided that the floors in the Parris House were video worthy. Here is her video tour of the creaky old floors in their full noisiness, since it’s winter. In summer, the floors swell with humidity and tighten up, but mid-winter it’s a creak fest here. Let’s just say we can’t even have stealthy pets let alone stealthy family members in this house.
We’re expecting another snowstorm too. This is what Tuesday’s blizzard looked like on the village green, Paris Hill Village. I shot this video while Jen and I were walking (staggering?) around in the storm.
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