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Friday, July 25, 2008


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I had an uncle who returned from WWII with serious mental problems. My grandmother would not allow him to be "locked up forever" in a back ward at a VA hospital and for the remainder of her life, he lived with her. Due to his mental illness, he was heavily medicated and rather oblivious to anyone else's feelings. He was able to hold down an uncomplicated job at the post office and toiled there for thirty years. After the Christmas rush each year, he and my grandmother would come to visit. In the thirty years he came to visit, he only ever brought me one gift. It was a large, shiny, metal, hand-cranked pencil sharpener. Dad mounted it to the wall in a closet and whenever we had to sharpen a pencil, we thought of Uncle B. The man whose life was blighted by the horrors of war is gone now and so is the house with the closet with the pencil sharpener. I hope he knows that I still remember his gift.

Debra Rose

I have known a lovely, handsome, caring man just about forever. We had dated from age 14 to 17 and it ended. Then in our 50's we reconnected. We lived about 2+ hours apart, and had been dating long-distance, driving back and forth from time to time, for about 6 years when he gave me a birthday gift that stunned me. It was a painted heart-shaped wooden wallhanging with a couple of dangly ribbons, on the wall, and on it was some sort of buzz-kill saying about "Friendship". Turns out that all those years he thought we were just friends, even though he had spent many weekends at my house. How disappointing. I saw the writing on the wall. That was the beginning of the end for us.

Mary E

Bonjour, Kristin!
I should have written long ago; as an ex-expatriate (now back in California) I enjoy reading your blog as a way of invoking my own, somewhat distant, memories of French life. Thank you for that!
I hope you don't mind, but I want to offer a slight correction to today's column. "Sensé" should actually be "censé." They are both words, but mean entirely different things. (By the way, I should admit that I have made, at one time or another, most of the gaffes recounted in your list of French faux pas.) Best wishes to you!


je suis censé faire .... sans le "de".
"Nul n'est censé ignorer la loi"...

Bon courage!

cheri Wilke

About ten years about we hosted a high school student from St. Petersburg, Russia. Her name was Alexandria, but we called her Sasha. She was about 15 when she arrived, with the most beautiful hazel eyes and the sweetest round face I had ever seen. About a day or two after she settled in, she began dispensing gifts. My 14 year old daughter came running down stairs with a beautiful shawl, my husband received a tin of caviar. I was sitting on the sofa when I heard a tinkling sound as Sasha came down the stairs. She came through the living room doorway holding a tray. On that tray was the most beautiful tea set I had ever seen. The light caught the gold leaf on it, making glitter before my eyes. I was speechless. She had carefully packed and brought this amazing gift all the way from Russia in her suitcase; cups, saucers, creamer, sugar bowl, plates and the lovely teapot. My throat had a lump, I will never forget that sweet girl or that gift. Today it sits in my china hutch and I see her face and smile every time I look at it.

Jennifer in OR

So, I'm guessing the lavander wand is now safely tucked in the gentleman's sock drawer? Very sweet story!

Last Christmas, I opened a gift from my husband, a waffle maker. This was good, I'd wanted one and asked for one. Then, I opened a gift from his grandmother, the exact same item. Dang it! "Oh, I really, really needed two, we have a big family, this is actually perfect, thank you!"

Then, one of my best friends gave me a book on how to raise children. Hmmm. Hidden message or simple encouragement? I'm still not sure!

Great post!


I spend summers in Provence and have always wondered if there was somewhere I could find directions on how to make un fuseau de lavande. Any ideas?


My husband gave me an exercise machine for Christmas one year........was he trying to tell me something????
I've been reading your blog for years; Richard Patocchi introduced me to it. (I took a class from him at the local college.) I enjoy your blog immensely!
I have a tutorial on lavender wands on my blog:
Maybe it will help a bit.
Regards, Laura


Thanks for the story of the lavender wand. I bought one recently and now I know its proper french name. I also enjoyed the whole gift-giving account.


I would have loved to receive such a thoughtfully made gift! But for a man of his generation, it might be perceived as too personal or feminine. An object like this, that is put in a personal place like a drawer and seen every day, has a slight overtone of intimacy or connectivity. Sorry, but that's what I've learned from a trial & error experience of my own. Having said that, I think that beneath the inscrutable French reserve there are people who yearn for caring attention or a receptive ear to hear them. Last month there were 3 suicides in our town (near Paris). This is culture that needs more down to earth communication and even some hugs. Don't give up on being a beacon of warmth, Kristin.


Is weaved actually a past participle? I've always used woven. Anybody else want to chime in on that? OK, Webster's 9th says weaved is a second choice.

Carol Reed

I love these lavender bouteilles. I grow lavender every year here in Northern NY even though it's supposedly not possible for it to make it through the winter. I've found that if it's close enough to the house and sheltered, it will survive. Now I can't wait for next year's crop to try this. Merci.

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