Starting This New Year

For the first time in my life, we did not celebrate Christmas this year. For our family in California, the price of flights to Paris for New Years was less than a quarter of what it would have been for Christmas. I thought I was sentimental about trees and ornaments, but it turns out I’m not. Christmas passed without much notice and with no regrets for Rick and me. Instead everyone arrived on New Year’s Eve and spent the first week of 2020 with us at Maison Conti. New Year’s Day has always been my favorite moment of the year anyway, so I found it an especially nice time to come together.

Let’s begin by talking about the food. Most of the family loves to cook, and all of us like to eat. The main celebratory meal we had together was on the 1st. It included the essentials, such as oysters, foie gras and roast beef.

But there were a few surprises too. Emily, being a vegetarian and an excellent cook, always has something special to share for our meals together. This time it was a galette made with a crust of ground nuts, topped with avocado purée and mushrooms. I have added a link to the recipe as I highly recommend this dish. It was spectacular.

We bought some beautiful côtes de boeuf from our local shop. They directed us to cook them over an open fire, so we turned our downstairs fireplace into an indoor barbecue.

We had several organized activities planned for the holiday, but most free time was spent walking, sitting by the fire, reading, chatting and doing crossword puzzles.

The weather was mild but not bright and sunny.

In the past we have often done some crafts projects together during holidays. One year, inspired by Calder, we made lo-tech mechanical toys. (Calder had a fabulous collection of handmade puppets which he used to create magical circus performances for his friends.) We have often done sewing projects. This year we decided we would make a book together, and I was left to arrange it. I prepared all the pieces in advance, so that we could put the journal together in a reasonable time frame.

Since I have had so much fun with eco-dyeing, I decided to begin by having everyone make a title page using this technique. I collected leaves and asked James to bring me some eucalyptus from the U.S., which he kindly did. Eucalyptus is one of the best leaves for this process.

I chose to show them how to create a little book that binds the pages together with elastic so that pages are easily added and removed.

Everyone seemed pleased with the results. Each had a unique book well put together. Each cover and the decorative inner lining pages were different one from another.

Several people have told me since that they have put their little books into daily use.

Another project we did together was some canning. We made pear chutney, lime pickle and pickled vegetables.

One day we decided to show Daniel the first house we bought in France, which is about an hour northwest of Montmirail. We visited the old haunts on a very chilly day.

In those early days, we literally lived in the middle of a forest beside a little stream. The old house has fallen into some disrepair these days. It is really a little paradise in summer, but not so much in winter. It’s hard to picture now the life we lived there, especially at this time of year. We used to roam the woods looking for fallen branches since there was only a small fireplace and no central heating.

After everyone had gone back to their own homes, ours got very quiet. Still, it has given us some time to get a few things done around the house and to start projects of our own. I’ll share some in future posts.

Collections

One of the projects I began in October when my friend Gail Rieke gave a workshop here was a little collage piece made by pasting bits of marbleized paper on a black background. When we have workshops everyone brings something to share, and there were many scraps of these bright papers to choose from. I find them so attractive.

At another workshop some years ago, I brought a stack of pastel portraits to play with. I explained to Gail that there were parts of each that I liked but that in general not many of the faces satisfied me completely. She suggested that I cut them up and work only with the parts that pleased me, so I created a little book.

Once I had sliced up all the portraits I had lots of little abstract blocks left on the cutting room floor. I began to play with those and came up with a grid that I liked a lot. I pasted them onto the black paper and framed it. It still hangs in our house and I still enjoy looking at it

Since then I have enjoyed the idea of making collage pieces in a grid pattern. Something about the geometric layout made with brightly colored forms and abstract imagery appeals to me. Working with black paper has its challenges. Although I do like the way it makes colors pop, it’s not a very friendly surface. It’s difficult to draw on to make a framework to follow for pasting, and any extra glue is very visible. My grids therefore are a little wonky, but that doesn’t bother me. I accept the handmade quality.

I have a big cupboard with several baskets of collage materials all nicely organized and ready to be used. Old papers and stamps are readily available at vide greniers (garage sales) or brocantes (junk shops). I have a large collection, so I like to find ways to incorporate them into projects. After a couple of tries I was able to get the marbleized paper glued down neatly enough, so I decided to make a little book of similar bits, paste them down in little grids and call the book Collections.

Quite an array of random faces in various colors from several countries, from the past and near present. The famous and infamous included.

I completed eight pages with various arrangements of stamps and papers and then put them into my drawer. I have a big stack of pages from several projects which are waiting to be put together into little books.

Perhaps in the dead of winter I will find the time and space to finish them.