Existing Only Briefly

My husband gave me another first-class treat today. The chance to go to Houdan for the Vernissage of the exhibit Les Petits Bonheurs sans enfant. An afternoon, a couple of hours just for me, to be inspired, to meet and exchange with other artists.

The whole way there, while there and on the ride home, I was on cloud 9, lost in my own thoughts, high on inspirations and the potential of possiblities. And then came the fall, the frustration, the feeling of inadequacy, that I am not doing enough to be creative, not creating enough, not creating often enough, not giving myself enough time. I am not challenging myself – not pushing the boundaries – staying safe as I make things that are easy and simple, things I already know how to do… Yet, at the same time I know that I am doing a lot, creating almost each day, always with an idea, an eye, a thought for a new creation…

This exhibit was beautiful. Ephemeral. I was transported. Two artists working in their seperate universes, bringing their work together. Two seperate ideas, philosophies, exhibiting their different worlds harmoniously, brought together by a common theme, images of what is brief, fleeting, temporary.

Jeanne Petit creates the rustic yet vivid clocks, and Christine Van Amerongen draws and paints the still lifes of fruits and vegetables “that never last long, always ending up under her knife and in her soup pot”! Each artist works in her own studio with her own style, materials, color palette and isn’t it neat to see how well the pieces compliment and work with each other when brought together for the exhibit, even though the two artists never discussed the specifics of their pieces with each other.

I loved being at the exhibit. The inspiration was intoxicating! I loved the feeling I had as I looked at the pieces, the warmth and happiness I found in the the bright colors, the comfort and joy I felt from the organic lines in the paintings contrasted by the geometric roundness of the clocks… the textures! I liked being in the room surronded by these images, icons of what is transient, ephemeral. Of being reminded to savour the moment, relish the taste that won’t last forever, the minute that will pass, the color that will fade, the changes that will come.

Posted in creativity, exhibits, reflections | 6 Comments

たからぶくろ Takarabukuro

Traveling is always a little more of a treat when you have a unique bag inwhich to put all your special treasures, whatever they may be. In Japanese, we call these treasure bags Takarabukuro. Very soon, we’ll be hoping on a plane to travel over the Atlantic (Eyjafjallajökull willing). My eldest is crossing off the days on his calendar.

I constantly have ‘work-in-progress’ projects going on and great ideas for starting new ones. I also tend to be somewhat ‘last minute’ with my projects, working best under pressure – pressure from deadlines or upcoming departures, the timing being just perfect to do all those ‘other things’ on my list that don’t involve ‘getting ready for our trip’! This week, while I should prioritize my time with the packing, washing and seperating of summer clothes, preparing back-up activities for the kids in case of very likely flight delays, I’ve decided, instead, to make dates with friends in Paris, get some long term projects completed and to take out my collection of fabric, ribbons, thread and my Pfaff to start new creative projects just before we go!

A couple of years ago, when my eldest son was about 10 months old, I made him a bag for our travels by train, plane and automobile. A takarabukuro, treasure bag for his favorite toys. My youngest son, last week showed me that he knew how to put on the back-pack all by himself, from just having observed his older brother. At almost 16 months, and at his 3rd trans-Atlantic round-trip flight, I think it is time he had a bag of his own!

Thibault has his special travel back-pack for his cars and books and so yesterday I made a special one for Damien… He was so so proud! Both boys decided to put their backpacks on around the house… pretending they were boarding the airplane. We’ll most likely use the bags this weekend to ‘test them out’ as we will be returning to Paris for a couple days…

I used fabric that I had bought back in October; Robert Kaufman‘s “Cat’s on the Loose” – curious, finicky, fussy, mischevious, cute, coy, cuddly, playful! A theme not unlike Damien’s current disposition with the mischief growing ever stronger within him. I lined the bag with red checkered fabric that I think compliments the blue nicely and creates a nice fun, bright, energetic color palette which is suitable for a little 16-month old boy. I added a pocket to the outside and a matching one on the inside. I sewed two-inch gussets in the bottom corners with a system to adjust the shoulder straps. I also added a touch of Brazil by adding a little flag, as both boys where born over there…

For our upcoming trip, I will most likely use either this takarabukuro, or this new one for my cross-stitching projet du jour. Now Thibault and Damien each have their own takarabukuro for their favorite treasures too!

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Wordless Wednesday – Backyard Blossoms

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What’s for Dinner?

What’s for Dinner? I hear this often, asked by my husband, my eldest son, I even pose myself the question and recall interrogating my mother on the subject when I was a kid. My Uncle André has the tendancy to ask my Aunt Jacqueline this very question just as she’s clearing the lunch table. Desserts – baking tarts, flans, cakes, cookies, muffins and cupcakes have always been easier for me. But Dinner? I used to rack my brain to find ideas, innovative meals, different dishes than the same ones we have week after week.

Asparagus Gruyère Tart

I enjoy trying out new recipes, experimenting with new ingredients and flavours, discovering, learning, creating. But I didn’t always. Often a new recipe can appear overwhelming. All those steps. Ingredients I’ve never used before, know not how to cut, what they should even look like in order to buy them. And then cooking alone in the kitchen, no one to ask questions to when you get stumped, no one to give you pointers and tips… And of course doing anything for the first time takes a lot more time to do than what is familiar and quick, extra time to read the recipe once through, more time to look in the different aisles at the supermarket to find unfamiliar ingredients, more time still to read the recipe over and over again as we prepare and cook the food, time we don’t always have, or are too tired to make.

Salmon with Leeks

While I lived in Brazil, the first Friday of every month, my French friends and I would get together for Tasting Workshops. We would spend the afternoon cooking new and different recipes in one of our kitchens. Each time, we’d meet at a different one of our houses and pick different themes – Verrines, Italian, North African, Asian… sometimes we’d meet on other occaisions to make jams, or pastries, or French classics. In the evening, we would each return with our husbands to the house where we prepared the food and all together carefully and appreciatively taste our various creations. Earlier in the week we’d meet to choose the recipes and delegate the shopping lists – one to buy pantry items, another to buy fruits and veggies, meats and one to buy the exotic ingredients. It was for sure a fun and stress-free way to throw dinner parties!

Spicy Coconut Chicken Casserole

I learned that in new recipes, all the steps listed aren’t really that overwhelming to tackle. I learned that just because a recipe calls for an ingredient I am unfamiliar with doesn’t mean that it is impossible to make. I learned that it is not that difficult to order a new cut of meat from the butcher, or an unfamiliar spice at the delicatessen, even in a foreign language! It was fun to cook with friends, to prepare a full course meal complete with appetizers, entrees, dessets and after dinner treats. To work together as a group, a team, all the while chatting and laughing, and sharing in the kitchen.

Crustless Broccoli-Cheddar Quiches

Thanks to these Ateliers Dégustations, I am more eager to try new recipes, experiment with new ingredients, prepare new and exciting side dishes, season main dishes a little differently, and find creative ways to present the dishes. I feel less stressed when choosing what to make for dinner and more confident when planning a menu. I am getting better at adapting recipes and substituting ingredients…

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Fennel and Garlic

I try to find recipes that are easy, quick and especially convenient. Something I can prepare quickly and leave to bake or simmer while I give baths and get the boys ready for bed. (I bathe my boys at 6:30pm, we eat as a family around 7pm, then we brush teeth, read bed time stories and tuck the boys in by 8pm). My photos here are of recipes from Everyday Food, but I also collect recipes from Modes & Travaux, Esprit Femme, Marie-Claire Idees, O, Martha Stewart Living magazines…

Lemony Sauteed Shrimp with Broccoli and Peas

Other noteworthy recipes that I’ve tried but didn’t take pictures of…
Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta
Braised Chicken with Shallots
Chicken and Basil Stir-Fry
Mediterranean Tuna-Noodle Casserole
Pan-Seared Turkey Cutlets with Wine Sauce
Pasta with Goat Cheese and Roasted Asparagus
Spinach Risotto with Peas
Tomato and Olive Penne
Zesty Chicken Salad


Posted in adapting, creativity, family, Food | 1 Comment

My Paris Love Affair

I’ve been living in Paris, on again/ off again, since 1995. Paris is a city that I will never tire of. Though I have come and gone, returned and then left again, each time I am in Paris, even with its familiarity, I feel giddy with excitement as though it were my very first visit.

We generally try to get to Paris atleast once a month, especially as we are but one hour away. This May, however, we will go three time in the month! To visit with family, see old friends and just take advantage of the city…

This past week, I was in the city for four nights, what a treat! Paris is an old friend, ever devoted and loyal – as I revisit the old, favourite, usual places…

– as I see the same old sights through the young bright eyes of my free spirited children…

– accomodating as I happily adapt my daily plan of action because I haven’t just myself to consider…

– and extremely reliable as I do somethings new in addition to my somethings old

Paris, with your dog-shit covered sidewalks, with your not-always-so-friendly service, with your flare and prestige in art, fashion, food and culture, with your history and beauty, with your everlasting, unwavering faithfulness, you will forever be my city, my sanctuary, my security.

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Wordless Wednesday – A Glimpse of Triumph

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Matryoshka Patchwork

Another project completed, Another one newly begun! I started cross-stitching these matryoshka dolls from my Red Book at Christmas time and finished it two weeks ago. Monochrome red Russian nesting dolls on linen, I was a bit stumped with what to do next – finish it into a pillow, frame it to hang on the wall? I settled on making it into a tote bag, the front pieced together like a quilt, the back and lining made with matching fabric, the bottom finished with 7-inch gussets.

I find that the mixed and matched fabrics, all different, yet all coordinating, go well with the feel of the typically colorful matryoshka dolls. Russian textiles are often rich with colour, with vibrant, busy, and boisterous prints and I wanted to mimic that feeling…

In contrast, the back of the bag is of just one fabric, of one print yet still in harmony with the overall ambiance. The lining, matching three pieces of fabric on the front, is also made with one fabric/ print.

I really love the way this bag turned out. I think it rightly reflects my personality – which is also a patchwork piece, mixed and matched by my experiences of having lived in different countries on different continents. I collect dolls from around the world and own two sets of nesting dolls. The dolls also echo my personality – with the many layers that make up my background. Each doll representing a change, a move, a new experinces, a connection to other people and places. Just as the dolls fit into each other, I too fit in nicely to different surrondings, cultures, and languages. These colorful experiences, of different size, different importance, repeating and connected, have become my routine, my habit, my security.

Designer Fabrics :
Manuel Canovas, Colefax and Fowler, Jane Churchill

Posted in creativity, quilting | 4 Comments

Festival de la Laine

Over the weekend, I went to another tremendously inspiring, wonderfully creative exhibit. The exhibit, Festival de la Laine (Wool Arts Festival) is going on until May 6 at the Bergerie Nationale in Rambouillet.

The show presents 50+ artists and designers, International, European and local, who use wool – spinning it, boiling it, scratching it, brushing it, pulling it, weaving it, knitting it, dying it – in art, jewelry, textiles, fashion, accessories, decorations – in conventional and non-conventional ways. Some of the pieces were truely amazing!

A selection of noteworthy inspiring sources :
Ronel Jordaan from South Africa… using nature as her source of inspiration she makes beautiful items for home decor.

My favourite piece from the Wool & Wood contest organized by Ateliers d’Art de France.

Also present where the sheep of course, who provide such soft fleese used in the masterpieces, and some of the tools needed to create such beautiful pieces – knitting needles, looms, spindles, knitting nellies, etc. from Homespun.

I came home with a small paper bag full of these beautiful wool felt flowers, made by a selection of designers from the Association Feutre Art Textile. I hope to use some as brooches, or as decorations on bags and keychains, or they even look pretty in this dish as a center piece!

Although I am just an ocassional knitter, since about the age of 10, I have always been drawn to fibers, to the process of creating textiles, whether it be through weaving or knitting, of dying the textiles, embelishing them with embroidery or perles, of sewing these bits and pieces of textiles to make garments and accessories. When I attend exhibits of this caliber, I always feel like I am not being creative enough, that I need to push the limits of my creativity further, that I am thwarting my creative passion. I am filled with both a frustrating and exhilerating emotion when I visit these expos…

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Good Luck Wishes

Last night, as my husband returned from work, he brought me home some Good Luck. In France, on May 1st, small bouquets if lily of the valley are given with special thoughts and good luck wishes. My husband gave me my muguet early.

This tradition goes back to the Renaissance, when Charles IX, King of France from 1560 to 1574, gave muguet to those around him as good luck charms. Lily of the valley bloom in the spring making them perfect to celebrate the new season, the arrival of longer days and to wish for future blessings. This tradition is also celebrated in Switzerland, Belgium and in Andorra. Joyeux 1er Mai ! Happy May Day!

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Finished Stitches

I’ve been on a roll these past weeks. That is to say, a creative roll, making progress on various projects, even completing some. But I have taken short cuts on the home front (neglecting the ironing, dusting, and vaccuming….), I am lucky to have a tolerant and supportive husband! We can’t do everything, and it is true to say that when we put our time and energy in one concentration, it is lacking elsewhere…

I don’t quite remember when I began stitching these leaves, sometime while we were living in Brazil, something like ten! months ago… well, Saturday evening I finally finished it and yesterday I framed it!

You can view my progress of the project. I love the subtlies in the variations of green threads, making the leaves glow a little, almost as though I had framed real leaves…though it is hard to make out from the picture. The fern is my by far my favourite, like green lace, it was the most difficult of the three branches to stitch. If you look at the original design you will notice I didn’t stich the frame around because I found it too confining.

Originally I thought this made a nice kitchen-y design, but in the end, I decided to hang it in our bedroom instead, as it matches the leaf & fern shades I made in Februrary.

I still have the ‘home sweet home’ sampler to finish. Guess what? I’ve misplaced the thread, again! I wonder if I will ever get it finished! I have already started looking at new cross-stitch ideas. I spent a whole morning flipping through my cross-stitch library, books and magazines looking at all the beautiful designs. I made a list of the DMC references, from about four books, for about 7 designs. I wrote down about 108 numbers.

DMC is a French company that makes embroidery floss which is known internationaly and referenced by authors and designers worldwide. In France I’ve seen one skein of thread priced between €1.35 to €2.50. In the US, these same DMC threads, made in France, thus imported, are priced from 25¢ to 44¢. That is quite a significant difference! I added up the total. If I wanted to stitch all the designs I like, it would cost me €145. However, since we will be traveling to the USA this summer, I will most likely purchase my threads there, for a grand total of €15! No wonder there is a decline in needlepoint crafts in this country, it is quite an expensive hobby! and I’m not sure the French even realize that the price is significantly higher… Lucky me that I can buy my supplies outside of the country – it’s just so unfortunate that the threads in the USA are so clearly marked for sale only outside the European Union, because then I could make a fortune re-selling them here!

Posted in counted cross-stitch, creativity | 1 Comment