I Promise You an Herb Garden

When I told one of my dear friends that I was feeling a bit blah lately, she surprised me with a cute herb growing kit to cheer me up! I was touched by the caring gesture, but I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of trepidation, too. What if… the herbs don’t grow?

My maternal grandmother had a green thumb, but unfortunately for me, it’s not hereditary! My previous failed attempts at keeping even low-maintenance house plants alive discouraged me from developing a deep interest in gardening.

In my household, it’s my patient husband who tends to our little backyard garden. For the most part, I help by staying out of the way. But when the time comes to rake and collect all of the fallen crunchy leaves, I’m happy to do it!

As for the herb growing kit, I’m going to follow the instructions to the letter. I want my herb garden to grow!

top: basilic, coriandre
center: ciboulette
bottom: persil, thym

If it doesn’t grow, at least I can say my French vocabulary grew by five words:

basil: basilic

chives: ciboulette

cilantro: coriandre

parsley: persil

thyme: thym

Another way to say chives in French is civette, which sounds like civet, the cat-like mammal found mainly in Southeast Asia. For clarification, I asked my dear friend in Toulouse which word he uses for chives and he said ciboulette — so that’s the one I’m going with, too!

Sowed on June 9, 2021

Wish me luck! 🌱

Do you like gardening? Tell me in the comments below!

Orange Haze Over the San Francisco Bay Area

What’s new in the Golden State?

In California, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is nearing 750,000.

During this past 3-day Labor Day weekend (September 5-7, 2020), temperatures fluctuated between 97-103 °F (36-39 °C) in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live.

On Sunday morning, we had a relatively small (yet still scary to me) 3.4 magnitude earthquake.

At the same time, wildfires burned throughout the state. Sadly, hundreds of firefighters are still trying to contain them.

Today is Wednesday, September 9, 2020 and look at the sky:

Skies over San Francisco: Sept. 9, 2020 at 9:45 am (PDT)

I took this picture with my phone (no filter) at 9:45 am (PDT) today, which also happens to be the 170th anniversary of California’s statehood.

The orange glow is said to be a result of wildfire smoke that’s trapped in the atmosphere, which explains why there is no smoky smell.

Apocalyptic. Beautiful. Confusing. Dramatic. Eerie.

These are some of the words I’m hearing to describe today’s skies. It’s a bit disorienting, too. Is it dawn or dusk, a sunrise or a sunset? But since it’s not changing, it’s like the sky is on pause.

What does the sky look like where you are?

Bein’ Green in 2020: the Châteloy Lavoir in Hérisson, France

🌿Bein’ green: respecting the environment, keeping it clean, and free of trash

In the summer of 1995, I participated in an international volunteer project. I went to Hérisson, a charming commune with about 600 residents, located in the Allier department in central France. We were tasked with simple landscaping projects, like clearing brush from the castle’s garden. One of my group’s other project sites was the Châteloy lavoir.

What’s a lavoir?

Starting in the 17th century, many towns in rural areas built communal wash-houses, or lavoirs, for the purpose of improving hygiene. The washing would be done exclusively by women. The three-part process called the “big wash” would take place only a few times a year.

First, linens and clothing would be soaked in a wooden tub in the home. Then they would be laid flat and covered with ash. Next, hot water would be poured over the layer of ash. After this process, the washerwomen would bring the linens and clothing to the lavoir for rinsing, beating, rinsing again, and then brought back home to dry on a clothesline. To protect their knees, the washerwomen would kneel in a box that was open on one side. The lavoir became a social gathering place as it provided women the opportunity to visit with their friends.

Lavoirs can be found in countries, like Italy, Spain, Finland, Portugal, Switzerland, Costa Rica, India, Côte d’Ivoire, Laos, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

With the invention of washing machines, lavoirs were eventually abandoned. Some were vandalized or destroyed. However, many places in France still have the structures intact, like the one in Châteloy (pictured below).



Madonna and Child statue guarding the Châteloy lavoir (photo taken August 6, 1995)


🌿Bein’ green: to be of the color between yellow and blue; color of grass, plants, duckweed

While we did not touch the lavoir itself, we cleared the lavoir area of weeds and we trimmed the grass. We also painted the rusted gate a dark shade of green.


Châteloy lavoir gate “Before” we began work (1995):



Signs welcoming us and describing our work plan were posted around Hérisson:


“After” we finished working at Châteloy lavoir (1995):

Notice the gate hinges painted dark green!


Fast-forward 25 years


In January 2020, French public television channel, France 3, filmed a segment on Hérisson for their Hors Sentiers series.

Host Stéphanie Vinot and tour guide Chrystelle Blanchard went on a short hike (8 km/ 5 miles) through the picturesque medieval Bourbonnais village.

They featured the 10th century château and its towers and dungeons, as well as l’Aumance, the river that runs through Hérisson.

Before proceeding to the Église St-Pierre in Châteloy, they made a quick stop at the Châteloy lavoir.



© France 3 TV (2020)


As the lavoir appeared on my screen, it was instantly familiar: a rectangular cement structure in the ground filled with stagnant water covered in bright green duckweed.

The statue of the Madonna and Child (installed in the late 1970s) was still standing protectively over it.

Even the gate we painted makes a brief appearance in the video:

© France 3 TV (2020)


🌿Bein’ green: to be gullible, naive

Perhaps other volunteer groups have come to repaint the gate over the years. But if you told me that right there is my group’s original green paint on the gate, I’d believe you!

I couldn’t help but get misty-eyed and gush: The gate is still there! And it’s still green! How it warmed my heart to see it. Sentimental me.

Take a virtual tour

For a less sentimental and more practical view of Hérisson in 2020, watch the video by France 3 TV ▶️

(Video) Randonnée : dans l’Allier, à la découverte du sentier de l’Aumance | © France 3 TV | All rights reserved.

For more information:

🌿 🦔 Hérisson means hedgehog!

Wednesday Postcard: Point Reyes, California

Photo by E. Cooper

Bonjour! This week’s carte postale features the Point Reyes Lighthouse and National Seashore, which is located about 30 miles/ 48 km north of San Francisco, California.

Construction of the Point Reyes Lighthouse began in France in 1867. Its lenses were designed in 1823 by physicist, Augustin-Jean Fresnel.

a 375 millimeter Fresnel lens

Considered to be the windiest place on the Pacific Coast, Point Reyes is also foggiest from July through early September.

Coastal dunes at Point Reyes Headlands

On the postcard above, notice how no one’s around the lighthouse.

It’s making me nostalgic for more social times like when my family and I went there during Labor Day weekend in September 2017 and it looked like this:

September 2017

For more information:

Fresnel lenses – U.S. Lighthouse Society

Point Reyes – National Park Service

Point Reyes National Seashore Association

Until the next Wednesday Postcard, à bientôt. Take care and stay safe!

Wednesday Postcard: Gérardmer, France

Tour du lac en bateau | Lake tour by boat

Bonjour! This week’s carte postale features the Gérardmer lake located in the department of Vosges in the Grand-Est (formerly Lorraine) region of France, near the German border.

For more information:

Hautes Vosges Tourisme Gérardmer

Until the next Wednesday Postcard, à bientôt!

Wednesday Postcard: Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Photo on postcard: G. Lewis

Bonjour! This week’s carte postale features Pu’u ‘Ō’ō, a volcano on the big island of Hawaii that suddenly stopped erupting in 2018 after its crater floor and lava lake collapsed.

My brother and sister-in-law sent me this postcard in 2009 during one of their trips to Hawaii.

According to the National Park Service, the park encompasses the summits of two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa – extending from sea level to the summit of Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet/ 4,169 meters. 🌋

For more information:

Hawai’i Volcanoes – National Park Service website

The Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō Eruption Lasted 35 Years – USGS website

Until the next Wednesday Postcard, à bientôt!

Wednesday Postcard: Santa Cruz, California

Bonjour! This week’s carte postale comes from Santa Cruz, located on California’s central coast, about 75 miles/ 120 km south of San Francisco.

Points of Interest include:

For more information:

Spotlight: Santa Cruz – VisitCalifornia website

Until the next Wednesday Postcard, à bientôt!

Wednesday Postcard: Yosemite National Park

Bonjour! This week’s carte postale features the California Tunnel Tree located in California’s Yosemite National Park:

Photographer – C. Loberg

This giant sequoia was cut in 1895 to allow stagecoaches to pass through the center of the tree. A mature tree can reach a height of about 300 feet/ 91 meters and more than 50 feet/ 15 meters around!

For more information:

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias – National Park Service website

Until the next Wednesday Postcard, à bientôt!

Meudon Observatory Park

Meudon Park clouds trees blue skies What do Rodin, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Johnny Depp all have in common? They once lived in Meudon, a charming suburb located about 6 miles/10 km southwest of Paris!

In France, there are many beautiful parks and gardens. At the Meudon Observatory, I got to see artfully trimmed trees, manicured lawns, as well as a splendid view of the Paris skyline.


L’Observatoire de Paris – Meudon

Le Parc de l’Observatoire de Paris – Meudon

Astronomer Jules Janssen founded this observatory in 1876

You can see the Eiffel Tower and Sacré-Cœur from the park

Watch my short video of the view from Meudon:

visiting with my friend, M. Didier

For more information:

Lavender Days

It’s September and everyone is back at school, the wind is starting to blow, and pumpkin spice everything is popping up everywhere! While autumn is my favorite season, I’m still hanging on to those dog days of summer – like the time the family and I went to Lavender Days!

The 3rd Annual Lavender Days event was held on the weekend of June 23-24, 2018 at Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company in Fairfield, California (about 47 miles/ 76 km northeast of San Francisco).

The scent reminded me of France (photo credit: Jennifer)

We attended two brief presentations. The first was by a local lavender farmer who described her years-long process of building a lavender labyrinth.

The second presenter brought three types of lavender. She described each of their distinctive traits: English (good for cooking and making wreaths), Spanish (looks like a pineapple with bunny ears), and French lavender, which is what most people think of when they see swaying purple fields in Provence!

Family-friendly activities: potting your own lavender plant and making sachets

In between presentations, another local lavender farmer treated us to a lavender oil-making demonstration using the copper distiller he brought. (Hint: it takes lots of lavender and many hours to get about one gallon.)

That’s the copper distiller in front of the white canopy

It was triple-digit weather that June afternoon, and unlike hardy lavender that thrives in the heat, we needed some refreshment to cool down. Fortunately, they were selling gelato! They had raspberry and stracciatella, along with two special flavors. In honor of Lavender Days at the olive oil company, they also offered honey lavender gelato and vanilla gelato with lemon-infused olive oil and sea salt!

raspberry, stracciatella, honey lavender, and vanilla with olive oil and sea salt

(Photo credit: Jennifer)

For more information:

Volunteering in Hérisson, France

In the summer of 1995, I participated in an international volunteer project in Hérisson, France through CIEE: Council on International Educational Exchange (who partnered with Concordia in France).

As soon as I got home, I wrote an article about my experience and it was published in the Spring 1997 issue of CIEE’s Student Travels magazine.

My article had to be edited for length for the magazine, but here is my original article:

I spent last summer on a group volunteer project in Hérisson, a tiny medieval village in central France. Our goal was to spruce up the town’s 10th-century castle.

Three weeks is a perfect length of time for a workcamp, the commonly used term for international volunteer projects like the one I participated in. There was no time to be bored. We all made the effort not to waste a single moment we had together.

Our projects included cutting acacia trees lined up along the road that were blocking the view of the castle, pulling weeds, repainting an old rusted gate, erecting a bench, clearing dead branches from the castle’s rose garden, and clearing ivy from the garden walls.

We worked Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (8h à 13h), with a half-hour break in the middle.

There were ten volunteers (ranging in age from 18 to 31) working on the project from, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Japan, Poland, Spain, and the United States.

There were two group leaders (animateurs): one leader was from Québec, Canada, and the other leader was from Riom, France. She brought along her dog, Mireille, who became our mascot!

Accommodations were simple, but adequate. We slept in sleeping bags on cots or mats on the floor in a school cafeteria, where we also cooked and prepared meals.

We did grocery shopping in nearby Cosne-d’Allier. Each day, two of us took turns cooking, washing dishes, and cleaning the shared living areas.

In our spare time, my new friends and I played cards and sports, like soccer, and a bowling game called pétanque. We taught each other curse words, tongue twisters, and jokes in our respective languages, sang acapella, and frequented pubs.

While we usually spoke English (since we were all at different levels of French), I did try speaking French as much as possible with the two group leaders. My French vocabulary improved significantly.

Weekends were especially great. We visited two other workcamps in Vieure and Néris-les-Bains, went swimming and kayaking in a lake, and attended the annual Bourbonnais gospel concert.

At a festival in nearby Venas, we saw people folk dancing in traditional Bourbonnais costumes! We saw rope-making demonstrations and how they bake brioche in a brick oven.

There were also animals wandering freely among us in the plaza. At another festival, we danced in the streets to live music.

We spent the night inside the Chapelle Saint-Mayeul in Le Brethon after our hike through the Tronçais Forest, which is the largest oak tree forest in Europe!

When we got back to Hérisson, we helped out with a flea market (antiquités brocante) and I helped direct traffic! It was so much fun helping out with the community event.

The local community in Hérisson was warm and welcoming. Residents would greet us and ask how we were and how our work was progressing.

After work each day, some of the residents would give us tours of Hérisson. We visited the town museum, an old mill, and the Eglise Saint-Pierre de Chateloy. We also visited the home of an older woman who made hats and she let us try them on!

Several community members gave us lots of bottles of wine, homemade baked goods, and jam. Their friendliness made me feel more like a neighbor than a tourist.

It’s a bit of a cliché, but everyone at my workcamp shared the same hopes, dreams, and fears! We all wanted to have a better understanding of different people and cultures. It was the common goal that brought us all together.

©1995 by Darlene 🦔 << Hérisson means hedgehog!


Note: It appears that CIEE does not offer the international volunteer project program at this time.
To learn more about other educational exchange programs that they offer, visit their website here. (This post is not sponsored.)