Sunday, May 29, 2011

Finding inspiration in light and shadow

The play of light and shadow has inspired artists, poets, musicians and romantics of every persuasion down through the centuries. This week, as a kind of meditation and personal inspiration, I focused on really watching the changing light, shadows, and their effect on color. Here are a few scraps gathered up from this experience.

 Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.
– Martin Luther King Jr. 

  Assignment to self–

take note of the shadows:

follow the light:

  I had a dream there were clouds in my coffee...

Children's games with light and shadow are among the most ancient and enduring. They never fail to delight the young and young-at-heart.

These artists have captured that allure in their enchanting light and shadow play:

The Ice Book (HD) from Davy and Kristin McGuire on Vimeo.

I have a little shadow

that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him
is more than I can see.

–from My Shadow, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Poetry is an echo asking a shadow to dance
–Carl Sandburg



One participant in this week's giveaway will receive an art photo, printed on very beautiful handmade Japanese rice paper. The limited edition print is entitled Offered With Love and is signed and numbered. I will mail it anywhere in the world to the winner. All you need do to enter is to leave a comment on this blog before Monday June 6, but please be sure to leave a way to contact you if you do not have a Google account. The winner will be chosen at random on June 6.

I will love the light for it shows me the way.  
Yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.

– Og Mandino 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Week 52: Comings and Goings

Looking up towards the village of Montmirail

My blog has been entitled 52 Weeks in a French Village. I began this series of posts exactly a year ago. This is my 52nd week, and time for a change of direction.

As I was considering what my blog might become, a little voice started whispering in my ear. It accompanied me on walks, was there at meal times and often bothered me when I was trying to sleep. The voice became louder as days went past. It turned out to be the whispers of a lovely young woman with red hair and green eyes named Musetta. She was introducing herself to me and asking me to turn over my blog to her.

She seems out of another time, as her wardrobe appears vaguely eighteenth or nineteenth century. When I asked her about this she rolled her eyes and explained that she is not bound to any particular time. She wanders freely from past to present and even into the future. What, I asked, did she intend to publish on my blog? She patiently explained to me that she has a broad range of interests which she intends to share with my readership. "As long," she hastened to add "as the topics covered have something to do with improving the quality and beauty of daily life." She seems to believe that fun, beauty,  harmony and craft are of utmost importance. Her favorite expression, she told me is "Don't worry, be happy." From all this, I gather, she intends to offer light-hearted posts on any number of subjects. "And, don't forget to tell them I like giving things away." Starting next week there will be a giveaway as a way of introducing herself. "Of course the entire design of the blog must change." she told me. I knew this. When you come back next week, which I surely hope you will, you will not recognize the blog at all.

Musetta intends to post every week, and sometimes she will require my narration help. She may not adhere to a strict schedule the way I have. I think she's a little more spontaneous than I. We'll see what she has in mind.

Here's her portrait. She's not entirely pleased with it, but she recognizes she has to be patient with me. As time goes by and I get to know her, hopefully I can represent her better. So far I've found her to be very interesting company. She's very cheerful, energetic and just a little bit bossy.


Before I leave the village of Montmirail, I want to remind you about the wonderful course that my very talented friend Gail Rieke will be giving at the Maison Conti in October called Art Mapping, Invisible to Visible.

Gail is not only an incredible artist, but also one of the best and most patient teachers I've ever had the privilege to work with. So few teachers can really see beyond their own techniques and view of the world to be of real help to others.  Gail is one of those rare individuals who is able to understand each student as an individual and knows how to guide them in a direction just right for their own personal needs. The work created in her workshops is highly personal and individual.

Rieke Studios is famous as an inspiring and beautiful artistic space. Her suitcase wall was recently featured on the cover of Where Woman Create. Each suitcase contains a travel adventure/installation.

She creates a working environment full of magic and delight.

Her work sets the heart to dreaming of far off places, time travel and mysterious unseen worlds.

Gail is an expert book maker, creating journals of great beauty as well as practical utility.

She has invented new ways to put bits and pieces together in surprising ways to tell stories and reveal histories.

Form and function work together in her creations to enable expression.

She makes cases, enclosures, wrappers, boxes that are inventive and rich to hold the content of travel experiences.

Her goal in her own work is to capture an event or experience in a luscious object which can hold the original moment. In the process the journal and wrapping, as one explores them, become a new and sensual journey in and of themselves.

It has always been difficult for me to pin down in words the magic that Gail is able to weave in her own work. She is very generous in sharing her techniques and creative processes with her students.

A course with Gail is one of those warm occasions that wakes up the best of one's self.

If you're free in October, I can hardly recommend this course more highly! There are a limited number of spaces available.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Week 51: Mostly Food

Do you ever decide that you simply must get out of your boring routine of the same meals week after week, and resolve to cook new recipes? That's where I found myself at the beginning of the week. With my new cookbook A Year in My Kitchen, which I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I found it quite easy to quickly identify some simple and delightful alternatives to roast chicken or lamb chops which we make almost weekly for our own personal meals.

Without a doubt, our favorite new recipe involved the making of tomato jam. Goodness! It began simply enough by slowly roasting plum tomatoes with a light sprinkle of fine sugar, pepper and salt for several hours at very low heat.

The thing I like about Skye Gyngell's book is the concept of the tool box. These are recipes, techniques and spice blends which can be made ahead of time and used in many simple recipes to really dress up an otherwise ordinary meal. Her roasted tomatoes, which have many uses and applications are one of these.  They are also the main ingredient in another one, tomato jam. This concoction is simply out of this world, with an unusual and divine flavor. I won't give the recipe here, as I think that would infringe on her copyright. Besides, you really should just buy the cookbook. You won't regret it. Suffice it to say that besides the smokey tomatoes for your jam, you have chilies. garlic and ginger in this delicious thick sauce. I don't know if you can imagine this combination, but it is truly scrumptious on just about anything, with the possible exceptions of desserts.

The recipe we followed involved a warm lamb salad on greens, fresh shredded fennel and green beans, topped with the tomato jam. Yum!


We were extremely busy this weekend. I'm married to a man who doesn't like the word no. At Le Mans there was the motorcycle equivalent of the twenty-four hour car race on Saturday and Sunday. Our rooms were already all taken when another family called for reservations. These were people who had stayed with us before. Rick told them we'd find a way to accommodate them as absolutely every place in our area was entirely booked since months before. The Le Mans event attracts thousands of motorcyclists from all over Europe.

It may have been that Rick didn't entirely understand the French conversation, or perhaps when he said "sure," he didn't fully calculate the impact, but it turned out the reservation included not only the couple that we knew, but their children and grandchildren as well. This was fully six extra people for whom we had no rooms available. We were required to get very creative. We do have a fold-out bed in our study, so that was turned into a room for one couple. Our double inflatable mattress was put on the floor of one of the bigger rooms to accommodate the children and grandchildren. The couple who were displaced from their original room reservation were upgraded to our own apartment. That worked to take care of all the clients, leaving us, unfortunately without a place to sleep ourselves! Rick and I happen to have an extra mattress in our garage, which we put on the roof of the car and hauled down. We set that up in the studio for us. In the end it seemed to work.


With the coming of warm weather, the variety of fruit available at the market has blossomed, so when it came time to serve dinner to clients, I decided to make Marie-Claire's tarte. It is a standard here all summer long. 

It is so easy to put together,

and the results are always beautiful.

We served gazpacho to start. Rick got creative with the yogurt on top.

The weather these days allows for breakfast and apéritifs served out of doors. Dinner service on the terrace will follow soon.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Week 50: Storms, Gardens and Shops

One evening this week we had a wonderfully dramatic storm with rain beating down furiously, thunder ringing all around and great cracks of lightening illuminating the sky in sudden flashes. It was of Biblical proportions making one feel as if the end of the world was nigh.  Of course the next morning the sun was shining and the earth was sweet and calm again. I find the weather here so perfect. Storms almost always seem to come when we're tucked into our cozy apartment and we have a front row view across the valley as all the drama unfolds.

I have been enjoying our terrace this week, soaking up the sun and feeling as if I'm in a magical world. The fountain gurgles, everything is in bloom, the scent of iris and rose wafts through the air and the vines climb the walls creating a verdant secret garden. It makes it hard to concentrate on any kind of work. I feel like I'm greeting old friends when one by one the roses come into bloom. My favorite is the old fashioned pink climber on the trellis:

 She grows in and between this little purple bohemian:

Then there's Ghislaine de Feligonde, a very sweet smelling demur beauty:

And the extravagant and generous mutabilis:

We have four white blush tree roses arranged symmetrically on either side of the planters:

And the rather gaudy yellow climber adorns the front of the house almost all summer long:

It's a lot of roses for a small  terrace.

Our garden up above has many more rose varieties, mostly standard teas. They are just beginning to bloom. Rick just came in to show me the big bouquet he collected there. The bare spots will soon have huge dahlia plants which faithfully produce flowers for continuous cutting all through the season.


This week I officially opened up our boutique, by arranging cards, prints and small paintings. Visitors are beginning to frequent the village, especially on weekends. The castle is open for the season and Sunday drivers park outside the house and stroll through town to enjoy the calm and quiet charm.

For my blogger friend Janet, I took a photo of this found heart; left over ink in my mixing dish. She published one she noticed a few weeks ago. When I spied this, I was thrilled. I love the idea of finding random hearts here and there as one walks through the world. I'm all for happy signs and secret messages.

We also rearranged the downstairs sitting room for summer. During winter the chairs focus on the fireplace. There is nothing like a big roaring fire in our large fireplace when it's cold outside. But once the fire season is over, it's time to change the furniture around into a more communal arrangement.

We took a walk every day this week. Just below the village is an incredible field of poppies. It reminds me so much of Italy.