même pas peur!
veuve de la vendange


Alsace window (c) Kristin Espinasse
A stylish window in Alsace. I love decor... even if decorating intimidates me. Read on, in today's story.

le convive (kon-veev)

    : guest

Audio File: listen to me read the sentence below (I may have made an error, by not making a liason between "convives" and "étaient"...: Download MP3 or hear the Wav file

Nos convives étaient sous le charme de la bouteille de lavande tressée par Marie-Françoise.
Our guests were charmed by the lavender bottle, woven by Marie-Françoise. 

Blossoming-cover-kdpBlossoming in Provence is the perfect gift for a traveler, Francophile, or language lover, and the stories, with their in-context French vocabulary, make learning effective and easy! Click here to buy a book, and thank you! 

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

Dégage, Marthe! (Move over, Martha!)

After a spell of I suck at almost everythingespecially decorating and cuisine—it was time to snap out of it, to quit wallowing alongside the dust bunnies and get on with the art of living!

An opportunity quickly presented itself when Jean-Marc invited colleagues over for dinner last Sunday. Rather than panic, I looked around the house and realized that, with a few thoughtful touches, our guests could be both comfortable and delighted.

After warming up the foyer—using candles and books and extra cushions before the fireplace—I turned my attention to the dinner table... comment l'embellir? Table artistry is not my strong point, but did it truly take strength to arrange a pretty table? Bien sûr que non! It only took thoughtfulness.... 

I was thinking about flowers when it dawned on me that dozens of deep purple marguerites were blooming in our driveway!

The flowers automatically brought to mind a trio of ceramic "poire" vases that were, thank goodness, unpacked after our move!

I hurried to get the little pears, snipping une poignée of purple daisies, in passing....

"Never throw out your books!" Mom always says, "they're great for decorating!" Good idea, but could you use books as a dinner centerpiece?

Pourquoi pas! I sang, running back upstairs, this time for the extra books. The excitement of decorating carried me from room to room, searching for forgotten treasures; meantime those nagging doubts began to be buried beneath all the growing enthusiasm.

Voyons voir... I would need small books... don't want to take up too much space on the dinner table... A stack of missels came to mind. But wasn't that too personal? Too revealing? Too preachy? 

Who cares! Transparency = Freedom! Hallelujah! Let it all hang out! I grabbed the prayer books before taking the stairs, two by two, hurrying back to the dining room.  

While arranging the books and the flowers I remembered the lavender wand that Jean-Marc's aunt had woven for us, as a souvenir from our vineyard in Sainte Cécile (on moving day she and her daughter Audrey came by to help. Noticing that the lavender in the driveway had not completely faded, Marie-Françoise began harvesting several of the flowers....).

The centre de table was coming together naturally, nothing like the designing conundrum I had imagined it to be... and when the guests arrived the "little centerpiece that could" suddenly came to life!

"Do you know what this is?" our French convive asked our American convive as she held up Aunt Marie-Françoise's lavender wand. And so a conversation between strangers began....

Joining in the conversation with my convives, I tell them the story of the bouteille de lavande, how it was handmade by Aunt Marie-Françoise. Pointing to the colorful ruban that held the flowers together, I shared the amusing details of this particular lavender wand.

"You know those ribbon loops that are sewn inside women's sweaters... to help when hanging the garment?" I questioned my guests, whose faces began to light up in recognition.

"Well... one day it occurred to Marie-Françoise to cut out the satiny loops from inside each of her sweaters... She tied all the colorful ribbons together, to make one long variegated strand with which to weave the lavender wand!"

Just like the smooth fiber weaving in and out of those flowers, our dinner guests, former strangers, began to connect in time to enjoy a cozy dinner.

I realized that I need not panic ever again when it comes to creating a centerpiece. Create a story instead. Better yet, put out a few favorite items... and let the story write itself. 


Post note: After the dinner party, that centerpiece (pictured below) continued to give off meaning: there was the winemaker's theme that revealed itself (for the little porcelain pears were a gift from a Sonoma Wine makers, Jann and Gerry); the bottle of Domaine Maubernard was a gift from one of our French guests (who made the wine), and our American guests are our friends Phyllis and Tim at French Country wines!

As for the hallelujah books, that theme hasn't yet revealed itself... such is the mystery of heavenly things! 

 To leave a comment, click here. What did you think of Marie-Françoise's creative use of the satin sweater loops? Have you thought of a second life for some item? Does decorating intimidate you? Ever had a small victory, like me? Thanks for your comments.


comment = how to
embellir = to make attractive, to embellish
la marguerite = daisy
la poire = pear
une poignée = handful
pourquoi pas? = why not?
voyons voir... = let's see...
le missel = book of prayers
le centre de table = centerpiece
le convive = guest
la bouteille de lavande = lavender bottle (synonym for lavender wand, a hand-woven collection of lavender flowers, connected by a ribbon (see a picture of Marie-Françoise making one here)
le ruban = ribbon 




Hallelujah / lavender wand /wine centerpiece. Why not? Have another idea? Share it in the comments box! Also pictured in this photo, a second lavender wand--woven by Eileen in Charlottesville, VA. I love the French/American duo, between the French made wand and the American made wand. One more note: the little plate beneath the candle is a part of a plate set, left to us by Maggie and Michael. The plates come from a Swiss hotel that Maggie's father bought, once upon a time. Maggie and Michael left us several beautiful items when we bought their house, last fall.

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Jackie Durham

Loved your centerpiece and the story behind it--I'm going to use the wand I bought in Provence for my next dinner party--too bad I don't have pear vases but I'll look for something else. Thanks for the inspiration. Jackie

Marika Ujvari

Kristi - I can't believe that you have so little self-confidence. You excell at everything you try. But even if this beautiful centepiece didn't occur to you, your beautiful personality would have lit up the room.

Marika Ujvari

By the way, I love Alsace and the 100 mile-long wine Route!!

Deborah Carter

Hi Kristin,
I love that you had the courage of your convictions to follow your sense of inspiration and present your table in a way that was perhaps outside the norm. So many of us follow convention, because to step outside of convention could invite comment! By being individual and unpretentious, it encouraged conversation and made your guests feel that they were really in a warm home and could relax and share. It's lovely! Deborah from Melbourne.


Wonderful - as ever. You should know that your creativity will guide you in all you do. Trust it - your goddess within!
We are very lucky to live just across the border from Alsace - so picturesque.

Suzanne Codi

As an artist and profesional florist, I can tell you that your centerpiece
was just wonderful!! I agree with all the previous posts, you have naturally creative instincts and just the fact that you used the lovely old Missels to raise the candle, and the contrast between the shapes and colors of the pears and Marguerites( always use local and if possible home grown, perfect!!)prove that you have an artist's eye. The composition is triangular ( classic) and always bunch items in 3s ( the 3 pears) You could TEACH table decoration, so raise that confidence level and no need to overthink, just go for it!! ( even just the 3 pears and Marguerites would have charmed your guests...

suzanne dunaway

What a brilliant centerpiece, you smart thing! But what did you COOK? We cooks love to know what you served, what anyone serves to an important set of guests. Perhaps we should share recipes on this site? I would love that.
My offering for an unusual table: Steamed crab are difficult to eat nicely. We spread The Inquirer or any low-rent gossipy newspapers on a table outdoors and let people eat with their hands and a picking fork. The newspapers' subjects really start off conversations--we even put out R-rated magazines once and the dinner was hilarous.


Difficult to follow the comment about the ENQUIRER with crabs but I too feel inept at decor and I loved every word of this post and commentary! (Suzanne, my world would be so nice if we were friends--your kind of dinner parties are the ones I am creating in my imagination and would love to attend in real life! Merci!)

Nan Morrissette

Although your lovely home is already charming and inviting, the idea of using books as the foundation of a centerpiece is delightful! Our books give so many clues about who we are, even to ourselves. Is this the Marie Francoise who is married to Jean-Claude? I am making a large beaded neckpiece to commemorate our visit last year and just finished weaving a tag (your term) with her name. Charles and Princess Martha took us to meet them. Kristie, Old Tom and I are so looking forward to joining you and Jean-Marc on the cruise in November. Lots of reading about the area to do prior to the trip. Peace in the New Year.

Debbie Ambrous - www.AFrenchOpportunity.com

I love the centerpiece. I've never thought of using books. Great idea!

Eileen - Charlottesville, VA

Beautiful centerpiece Kristi and I think I may have something in common with Aunt Marie-Francoise! :-)

Julie Farrar

I don't have much time this morning, but I just had to say "bravo" to your beautiful centerpiece. When you stopping fretting and just go for it, everything turns out well.

Susie Q. Finley

Also you can put books UNDER the tablecloth, especially if you are setting up a buffet. Varied heights add interest that way, too. Groups of three, five, seven are a good rule of thumb. Candles are great, also use of brass, silver, etc. make guests and family feel warm & welcome! Good job with the table!!!!

Diane Stanley

Any chance that a short how-to video could be made to show us how to make that lovely lavender wand? I do have lavender in my garden, or is it lavandin (not sure), but I would like to try making the wand. Seeing it done would help a lot. I'm not at all sure where & how to start the knot. But the actual weaving looks like it would be fun and even a peaceful patime.

I always love your blog. Thank you, Kristin, for enriching our lives.
Diane Stanley,
Oak Ridge, New Jersey

Claudette Kunsay

I just love it Kristi ! You are so lucky to be able to find gorgeous flowers still ! Here in Quebec, we are burried with snow !!! Tu as une très grande créativité et beaucoup d'imagination ! Don't you ever fail to trust it again ! And the colors ( flowers & candle) are my favorite ones ! Bravo Kristi, I wish I could be there to enjoy. What did you cook for your "convives" ?
Bonne journée à toi !
Clo de Sutton, Qc

Kristin Espinasse

Jackie, so happy to know youll try this one! 

Suzanne, so interesting to read the explanation behind the shapes -- for example the (accidental) triangle! Also, I took the photo from different angles before finding the right one to share.

Suzanne and Claudette, Jean-Marc made duck (magret de canard) with roasted pears (drizzled with his own honey, collected at Domaine Rouge-Bleu!) We had a truffle theme, after bringing home a 15 euro white truffle from Alba (it was enough to infuse a bottle of olive oil, which was used in the couscous that accompanied the duck. We had an entry (first plate) of colorful Italian pasta with white cream sauce (crème fraiche and slivers of the white truffle). Then we had a funny salad that resembled spagetti: pourpier. I made baked apples to go on top of vanilla ice cream (then sprinkled our guests sugared pecans on top!) Jean-Marc bought an industrial-size gateau de rois, which was a hit! We each had a slice alongside the ice cream and baked apples. Phyllis brought her hot-pepper chocolate cookies that she makes in her Madeleine home bakery in Texas! ... Did I leave anything out? Also, we had a bunch of petit fours--the savory kind--for starters (with drinks while sitting in front of the fire).

Nan, yes, this is Marie-Francoise, Jean-Marcs aunt (married to Jean-Claude). So happy to know you will join us on the cruise!!

Eileen, The other lavender wand on the table, and in the photo, was the one you made for me. I am kicking myself for not mentioning it in the photo caption, but I was running out the door to get Jackie for lunch (so no sound file, no vocab section in todays post).

Julie, That is so true, for all of us: when we quit fretting--and just do it--we are likely to succeed -- or at least progress!

Susie, thanks for the tips!

Diane, yes! I asked Marie-Françoise if shed do a video for us and she agreed. We will need to wait for the next lavender to bloom, in June or July.



Kristin, this isn't the first time I thought you and I were soul sisters, switched at birth! I so resonate with your statement that you love decor, even though it intimidates you. But how wonderful that you were inspired to create something beautiful in spite of that initial intimidation!

You have definitely inspired me to rethink the decor possibilities around my house--and I have plenty of books, for sure! I would love to put them to double-use.

Thanks, too, for the links to previous posts and people's websites. I loved the post on the making of the lavender wand--I have never heard of one before. It's beautiful!

Of course, I am learning so many new French words too. I'm looking forward to someone including a vocab comment, or I will need to pull out my French dictionary :)

Take care,
Love from Karene in So. Calif.

Pennie Vandenbroek

I love that you share your insecurities, Kristi! A wise older woman once told me when I was feeling low that artistic people are very sensitive about life. Her kind words made me feel, immediately, artistic and special. I too like to find other uses for things, and your center piece is a great example. You've probably heard the old saying, "necessity is the mother of invention." Today you inspired me to created an attractive sling for my broken arm from a pretty scarf. I feel much better. Thank you.


Kristin, je suis française et vis en provence, je lis ton blog tout les jours car cela me permet de réviser mon anglais! bonne soirée J

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Jos, so happy to know that a Francophone is reading. This will keep me on my toes, too :-) P.S. Are you anywhere near Bandol?

Tami in TX

The centerpiece is beautiful and reflects your heart, Kristi! I love that you used personal items and let them lead the conversations. That is pure artistry. Hugs!

mimi aka cigalechanta taylor

I like your centerpiece. Years ago I thought I was buying a stone statue for me pato/garden. I knew little French as I was looking at everything in this Avignon shop.
What arrived was a terra Cotta statue of David., 38 inches high. He couldn't be placed outdoors in our New England weather
so I placed him on the turn of the staircase and in his arm holding his sling,
I tucked three lavender wands I bought in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

Karen Whitcome (in Towson, Md)

I love the story and the centerpiece. I think we need a YouTube video on the making of making the wand even though you did share a blog post with us when it was made by the lovely Marie-Françoise. And why is it called a wand?

I use coffee table books (covers removed!!) under lamps, to hold up candles, and just to give different heights to arrangements anywhere around my house. The books bring color and a solid base.

Here's a tip: Never use scented candles in the centerpiece or even in the same room you dine in. It takes away from (and sometimes mixes badly with) the smell of the meal.


Sharing your process from doubt to inspiration was truly delightful. The table centerpiece very nice! I have a dear friend who decorates her house or should I say, thoughtfully arranges everything, with the intention of 'telling a story.' Your story inspires me to find a story relationship with 'my stuff' or I should get rid of it.


Love this post. There is never any reason why you should ever feel inadequate. You are so creative. Books are the perfect decorating tool. My rule- never discard a book. Share or give them away, but never discard. You can use them as tables, table bases for a tray, risers on the buffet, a centerpiece component-clever girl, the base for all kinds of things. You can even use a stack of them as bookends to control the rest of them. Also, I have a big old lavender plant in a pot on the deck. When it blooms and Marie-Francoise makes her video I am going to try the lavender wand. Have always loved them, but it looks so difficult.

anne wirth

Beautiful! Martha move over! You are discovering how multitalented you are.
I agree that a video of you making the wand (with Smokey helping on the side) would be great.

Vera Marie Badertscher

Brillian! Absolutely brilliant. Hope this gave your confidence a shot in the arm!


bonsoir Kristin, non seuleument je lis ton blog mais je l'ai aussi recommendé à des amis. J'habite à Sablet.

Jean Lillibridge

love the idea of using prayer books!


Our dear Kristi,
Another wonderful post and gorgeous pictures!
Especially enjoyed hearing about your entertaining (party! dinner guests!)life--you met the challenge not only with flying colors,but gave us all some much needed inspiration to open our eyes and LOOK(!) at what/how we can create with what we have.
This is not to even speak of the menu, which was nothing short of fabulous. Your friends were very lucky indeed to spend such a beautiful evening! And so are we to be a part of it now. THANK YOU!!!!!!!
Love, Natalia XO


The best thing about your lovely centrepiece is that you can see each other over the top!! ;-)

judi dunn

Kristin.... you are your mother's daughter... the 'artistic' gene just needs a challange to arise to the occaision! Your table and menu were both outstanding.. the dessert made me drool! Just always be your great self and you can solve any problem that comes your way! I am a 'tablescape' fiend myself and try and use any and every special event as an excuse to go wild on my table...once you start you will lways be able to come up with something interesting and beautiful. What a treasure he has in you.... Best wishes, Judi Dunn, Tallahassee. Fl.


I want to come to dinner at votra maison! You could have had dead flowers in a milk carton on the table with just candles and that food! But it looked darling. Finding things around the house always works, as do candles and a fire in the fireplace. No flowers, use small branches of leaves in a small wooden box. We all have those "treasures" that we have collected over the years and can't part with. All those items that you couldn't throw out because one day you might use them....well, voila, this is when you use them ;)

Joan Simon

Dear Kristin,

The centerpiece is beautiful. I would have felt right at home. I am decor-challenged myself; with big things- drapery, sofas. But I love to decorate seasonally. Now with all the wonders of Christmas put away, my house looks a bit spare. Your table decor inspires me to take a second look at some things I could use to spruce things up. Thanks so much.

Diane Young

You are a natural artist, for sure. My favorite color, lavender, would make any decoration beautiful to me. I would have spent all my time worrying about the food and forgotten about the centerpiece until the last minute. You're a hostess with the mostest.


Puhleeeeeze, Don't tell us you suck at anything. We will be dismayed. St. Claus is real at least the role and you are tres kool. Nuff said. ha! Ton fan.


Have enjoyed your writing for a long time now :)...thank you so much! I do hope this comment is private, but the conjugation of the verb 'to weave' is weave, wove, woven! You write so well, I just had to butt in and fix this! Bravo, for always pushing your limits...you are one sassy lady! Happy New Year to you and yours, Kristin!


I cannot imagine you touching something and not making it beautiful, le missel, lavande, poignee de fleurs...you know what to do. xx

Edie Schmidt


Your centerpiece is tres charmant! Sometimes it's fun just to use your imagination. Love those pear vases.
When our son married his French wife at a ceremony on the beach here in Savannah, I had lunch for between 20 and 30 folks including French relatives who had never been here before and I was really stressing out. I finally got out some white china bowls and filled them with local sea shells and put them on the buffet table on the white tablecloth. They looked very nice and they were also something folks could comment on.

Edie from Savannah

Stacy ~ Sweet Life Farm ~ Applegate, Oregon

I admire how you took a challenge and turned it into something so beautiful and meaningful, not only to your guests, but to your readers as well. I love both your centerpiece and the story it created!

So glad you shared your creative approach. I will keep it in mind the next time those doubts start shutting me down; for the outcome is so much more delightful!

Christne Jones

You'd give Martha Stewart a run for her money!

Janet smajstrla

I love the way the story of weaving the lavender wand was woven into the center piece and the weaving of lives together. Pure genius! Hopefully you will weave the inspiration and success of the centerpiece with the beautiful evening with friends into your heart so that it wards off those pesky feelings of inadequacy the next time they try to invade you. Looking at things with a new perspective is always good.
Nice job!

Allison Herron

FABULOUS!! It's really lovely and such a good idea to create a conversation centerpiece....depending on the people! Keep up the GREAT work - YES, you ARE creative!

Jennifer in OR

best.centerpiece.ever. ;)


You have a great eye for beauty and style, Kristi, (obvious in your photographs)now for the confidence! What a charming, unusual and thoughtful centrepiece - everything means something.I have loads of lavender here in Australia - and a wand I wove from Marie-France's instructions! I love the idea of the garment hangers as ribbons - how creative!

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Kiki, for the edit. Your comment is public, but no worries -- please know that edits are always happily received, and helpful to me!

Avad Fan

What a wonderful story, and I really love how you describe the art of living. You definitely can make it an art if you look at it that way. I am inspired to do that now as I prepare for a luncheon for 12 on Sunday. Thanks also for the reminder about the lavender bottles. I'll be pinning one of your pictures from that post so that I can remember how to do it when my lavender is back in bloom. It finally sounds like you are starting to settle into your new home. Warm wishes!

Kathleen from Connecticut

I love you center piece. You have inspired me to try some other types of center pieces by scouting around the house for objects which I would not normally use. Merci beaucoup!


Susie Q. Finley

Kristi: I thought about your decorating challenges off and on yesterday. Your photos of everything are gorgeous every time.Why not start in one end of a room, arrange it with your new-found style, and then step back from time to time and VIEW IT THRU YOUR CAMERA LENS as your "editor"? It will all have to be absolutely wonderful! Susie Q.


Dear Kristi, Your centerpiece was inspired, as is all your work as it seems to me. today I was sitting down to put on my shoes to go out to a meeting when my eye was caught by your 2009 book. I picked it up and was lost, one shoe off, one shoe on, while I read again about Sam and Braiseon the lam in Marseilles. Again my eyes were tearing and my hear was beating faster. You wote it so well that the tension is there, even years after the happy outcome.
I'm sure your house will always be warm andd welcomming. Peggy

Judi Boeye Miller, Lake Balboa, CA

You are very talented in so many areas! Great centerpiece and great story. I love the idea of using books! You must be, and you should be, very pleased with your creative talent that came out and so beautifully executed! Sounds like it was a fantastic dinner party!!!!

Mary-Gettysburg, PA

A question for you: Is it "un fuseau de lavande" or "une bouteille de lavande"...which is preferred usage. I've made many since your article first appeared about how to craft them.

Kristin Espinasse

Mary, Glad you brought up un fuseau de lavande... as it was just the synonym I was looking for for bouteille de lavande. Yes, both seem to be used, to designate the shape of those weaved lavender flowers.

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