|The countryside around Montmirail|
I generally greet the new year with good cheer. I'm mostly an optimist, or at least I view the troubles of the world as not entirely implacable. The road leading on into 2014 is uncertain, yet the energy that is available at the start of a new year, with a collective acceptance that we are transitioning between an end and a new beginning, is invigorating. I like goals and resolutions. Let it all unfold. We'll do our best to keep up.
Christmas is the one time of year that my whole family comes together. In over thirty years, there is only one holiday season which we didn't spend all together. We have our traditions, but we also evolve in our methods of celebrating. We seem much more interested in projects and activities than in actually giving gifts, though, of course, that occurs as well.
With the addition of two little people into the mix, the focus definitely has shifted. Quinn is all on board, and Zinnie is old enough this year to begin to get the picture.
|Quinn will be 5 in January, Zinnie will be 2 in February|
One thing Zinnie enjoys is eating, and Christmas affords many opportunities for that. It seems to me that we spend most of our time in the kitchen, either cooking, cleaning up or consuming delectable dishes that one or the other of us just has to share with the family. We seem to save up all our best recipes for this one holiday. This year one of our clients gave us a pheasant he had just bagged in the woods close to our house. The bird was a real beauty. We sang "Alouette, gentille alouette, alouette, je te plumerai" as we plucked him of his bright red and brown feathers.
Quinn put on some shows. He is becoming quite interested in clowning, acting and story telling. Hmmm, I wonder where that comes from?
|Puppet theater / activity in the atelier|
|Jos tells a story & Quinn provides the sound effects|
I introduced an activity this year that involved giving everyone something we had discovered during the previous year. From me it was a tool called a brush pen, and I just adore the marks you can make with it. James gave us each a video called Stories We Tell (a very fascinating true family tale) and challenged us for next Christmas to discover some kind of previously unexplored history story to share with the family. Emily used her sewing machine to deck us all in her handmade creations.
|Emily and James try out the brush pen|
It was really nice to have James visiting. He is on his way to England in a few days to defend his thesis for a Ph.D. from Warwick University. Meanwhile, he and Quinn flew a few paper airplanes.
|Quinn flies his paper airplane|
The weather over the holidays went from balmy and bright to blustery and gray. We took advantage of one of the more pleasant days to take a walk in the forest of Vibraye. We had it all to ourselves on the afternoon of Christmas.
|Forest of Vibraye|
We made a gingerbread house.
The Maison Conti is quite cozy this time of year.
Emily, Jos and the kids left the day after Christmas to visit the other half of their family in Belgium. James stayed on. Before the new year, we took the opportunity to have a bit of an adventure not far from home, wandering some of the back roads and seeking out a few landmarks, many of which we had never seen before.
In Montdoubleau is this ruin of a castle which we have often passed, but never stopped to explore. It was built in the 11th century. In the 19th century it began to tumble down when a brick making factory was erected nearby, undermining the hill on which it sits. This bit, which is leaning precipitously is the last standing fragment. I found it rather magical.
|Chatêau of Montdoubleau|
Another spot we have wanted to visit was the church of Saint Pierre in the nearby and unremarkable town of Souday. Nestled between a filling station and a hairdresser, you find one of the oldest standing churches in all of France, or so we've been told. Parts of the structure go back to the 9th century. This was the period in history when Charlemagne was alive and when the Vikings were still terrorizing England and mainland Europe.
|Chapel of the church of Souday|
The church, of course, has been expanded and rebuilt in the 12 centuries since its establishment, but we could easily identify some of the most ancient brick work.
|The painted ceiling in the chapel of the four major apostles of Jesus is quite charming|
A large stone plaque which was carved centuries ago, and worn down by hundreds of years of foot traffic is on display in the chapel.
This little church has seen quite a lot of history. It was rebuilt in the 11th century, destroyed by the Huguenots in the 16th century and struck by lightening in the 19th century.
After Souday, we took James to our favorite church in Lavardin, which is considered one of the 156 prettiest villages in all of France. It calls itself "the most French of the French villages." That is a bold claim, but apparently this area is thought to be quintessential French, in accent, cuisine and landscape.
Even in winter, everywhere your eyes alight in this little town, you have a beautiful view.
|Lavardin city hall|
I have certainly put many photos of the church of Saint Genest up on this blog. We visit this lovely village every few months, yet I continue to take photos of it whenever I am there and it never ceases to charm.
The frescos which were painted in the Middle Ages by local artisans, were covered over when they went out of fashion. They were only rediscovered in the late twentieth century when the walls were being cleaned. They are among the most lovely frescoes I have seen. The colors are surprisingly vibrant after all these hundreds of years.
We were particularly interested in visiting a place we heard about last fall, a significant 3rd century Roman site. This small Roman town, which covers several acres of land, was discovered in the 1970s. It sits in the middle of farm land south of Le Mans. It includes an amphitheater,
baths with an aqueduct,
and a temple site with a reflecting pool.
The day proved to be a fantastic voyage through the past, an appropriate activity, it seemed to me, as we zoom into the unknown future.
May the year ahead bring you love and laughter! One thing I learned this week is that the earth is closest to the sun on January 3rd. It seems counter-intuitive, but there you have it.
|Castle of Montmirail, with a sliver of a moon. "2014" is written in lights over the door to the city hall|