Un Jour à la fois: One day at a time during the holidays + Tarte Tatin recipe
Joyeux Noël: A Christmas Message from Kristi

Which is more noble: "l'equilibre"...or "la perfection"? (A Christmas Story)

There is no perfect Christmas. Not in France, not where you grew up, and not even at the North Pole. So relax and enjoy the season. Instead of a word, today's offering is a quote by French philosopher Jean Grenier:

"Il est aussi noble de tendre à l'équilibre qu'à la perfection ; car c'est une perfection que de garder l'équilibre"
"It is as noble to strive for balance as for perfection; for it is perfection to maintain balance."

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

If tradition is to put up le Sapin de Noël at the beginning of Advent, then I'm 8 days late this year. So when my son Max called, Monday, asking if I needed help, I eagerly accepted. "I'll be there in 20 minutes," said he. Good, I thought, Max can help with my least favorite part: assembling our artificial Christmas tree and carefully unfolding every metal branch.

With 20 minutes until my son's arrival, I hurried upstairs to try and do something with my hair. The last time Max dropped by I was wearing the same two-piece velvet set (a gift from Mom I've  taken off only to sleep) and my hair had not been washed in days. There is a verb for this behavior: se laisser aller: If there is one thing besides my husband that keeps me from completely letting go...it's my grown kids, especially my son.

Upstairs I tried pushing back my long, graying hair with the help of an odd pair of sunglasses from our "everything drawer". When this failed to spiff things up, I reasoned that though it was flat, it was clean! Rummaging through my trousse de toilette I found a perfume sampler, spritzed some on, and hurried down the stairs, a ribbon of Chanel No 5 in my wake. For someone who works from home this is my current definition of presentable, though it doesn’t hold a candle to my office-worker days when dressing for perfection was my whole life. (I like to think my life is more balanced now, even if that means a lot of bad hair days.)

Max still hadn't arrived so I tore open the old cardboard box and put together the Christmas tree myself. I took my time, hoping not to have to straighten all of those pesky branches alone. Forty minutes passed and still no show. Harrumph! I was almost done with the chore and beginning to feel that familiar foe: resentfulness. Looking around at all the opened storage boxes and the chaos of Christmas decorations, I grumbled: Who tossed those bulbs and lights in there like this? It's one tangled broken mess! Why am I always stuck with Christmas decorating?  Next year I'm going on a cruise—and getting far away from Christmas!

Whoah! Pausing to figure out where this grumpiness came from, I realized the morning was (so far) an all-work-no-breaks déséquilibre. Currently, at 11 am, I was caught in a tangle of ornaments and there was still laundry and lunch to prepare. The thought sent me spiraling farther down into the holiday hurricane. I knew that if my son walked through the door at that moment, he would meet the least best part of me: Mother Cranky.

I needed some ADR or Adult Time Out. I sat on our family couch, gazing at my sleeping dog. After several deep breaths and recalling all my blessings, I felt much better, ready to attack again (the tree and not my family). Just then, Max appeared with the biggest smile on his face and his signature big bear hug. "Hi Mom. Sorry I'm late. The neighbor needed help.”

"Was it the elderly couple on the ground floor of your apartment building?"

"No, it was the lady en face. She couldn't open her window. Another neighbor tells me she fell last week."

”Well, that was kind of you!” As we chatted beside the tree, I noticed how calmly Max began unraveling the rest of the tree’s branches. Next, he helped sort out all the Christmas paraphernalia into three piles: "à donner", “à garder”,  and “à jeter”. He even took the keepers outside to dust them off and set up the nativity scene, having found the santons.

We were ready to decorate the tree only the Christmas lights were nowhere to be found. “That's ok, Mom,” Max assured me.

“But the lights are the best part of the tree!” I insisted.

“Let’s keep going. We can use this string of lights, here...” Max said, rooting through the giveaway pile. With that, we carried on until the last ornaments were hung on our crooked little tree.

It wasn’t perfect with its scrawny string of lights, but our Christmas tree was sweetly ornamented. Infused with the stories we told each other as we decorated, of neighborly love, of family, and the affection and care of a son for his mother.//

To leave a comment or to offer a correction, click here.   

Congratulations to our son, Max, who began a new job on Wednesday as sales manager at Château La Tour de L’Evêque. 🎉🎉 Picture taken after Grandma Jules sent him shopping for a few new costumes, or suits for work.

Max, chez lui (at his place). Thanks, Grandma Jules, for the beautiful suits! May he sell lots of wine from Château La Tour de L’Evêque.


Click here to listen to the French and English vocabulary

Le sapin de Noël = Christmas tree
se laisser  aller = to let oneself go
la trousse de toilette = makeup bag, toiletry bag 
le déséquilibre = imbalance
à donner = to give
à garder = to keep
à jeter = to toss, to throw away
le santon = traditional clay figurine from Provence
le costume = suit
en face = across the way


Congratulations to Jean-Marc and Max for finishing the Spartan Trail race in Morzine, the French Alps

Jules and Ricci walking
Mom (a.k.a. Grandma Jules) and Ricci on a sunset walk this week.

Mille mercis to readers sending in a blog donation for the first time, and to my returning patrons listed below. Your support keeps me going and I am truly grateful!

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 I so enjoy reading about your life. --Mary B. Washington, DC.

Hi, Kristi- I’ve been reading your newsletter for years and hope you have a merry holiday season! --Mary G

Merry Christmas to you and to your whole family!! Thank you for your loving sharing and encouragements to live day by day in Jesus. God bless you. Claudia P.

Little max and jackie christmas tree
Max and Jackie trimming the Christmas tree years ago. "Croire" (to believe) is a Christmas story written when Jackie first questioned the existence of Le Père Noel. Click here to read this story from the archives.


A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Suzanne Dunaway

Might I become a patron? Didn't know you were on Patron site....Beautiful men in your life. Anti-cranky solutions...just look at those faces!

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Suzanne. You are already a Patron. To be clear, I am not on Patreon. Blog donations are through Zelle (via bank transfer), Paypal, or by check. 

Ellen A

Congratulations to Max on his new position! He looks so much like Jean-Marc in profile in that nice blue "veste." Be sure to let us all know how we can order from Chateau La Tour de l'Evêque once he is in charge and will get credit for the orders! A very Merry (balanced) Christmas to you and your whole family.


Hi Kristi,

I have to tell you that my tree is up but no ornaments on it yet! I'm a bit late this year too!
Congratulations to Max and he looks very handsome in his new suits!
Thanks for sharing your story and I love all your beautiful photos!


Hi Kristi, your post resonates with me and I love the quote…something to reflect (and act) on. Congratulations to Max on his new job! He looks great in his new suits however I am certain it’s his personality and knowledge that will shine even brighter. The photo of your mom walking Ricci is heartwarming. All the very best of the season to you and your loved ones.

Suzanne in Monroe Twp, NJ

The hardest part of decorating is lugging boxes up and down the basement steps. But when it's all done and the lights are lit, I know it was worth it especially as the days are shorter. Happy Christmas!

Elizabeth L

Today’s post really resonated with me- I too have a handsome, kind son (actually I have 3) who calms me down when I get wound up. And our tree remains buck naked but at least up in its stand! At the end of the day, though, no one will remember when the decorations were up, but they’ll remember the loving time spent together. Enjoy your beautiful family at this holiday season; keeping equilibrium is crucial!


Chère Kristi,
Cette année, je fais le bilan et ressens une gratitude infinie pour toutes les saisons des fêtes que j'ai traversées en tant que mère célibataire avec mes deux fils. Ces souvenirs, même teintés de grogne parfois, occupent une place spéciale dans mon cœur. La magie des fêtes était présente, malgré les défis et les moments difficiles.

I wrote this with help from Chat Gpt:) which, I believe isn't cheating, it's learning!
Just like having your blog helps me learn in so many ways! I can truly feel how you feel which supports me in processing my own memories and emotions of the holidays as well as picking up some new french words and phrases! Not to mention, receiving the gorgeous photos of your family and daily life in La C!

For us, this year my sons and I won't be celebrating together but, doing our own thing. For me, it's leaving cold Wyoming for warm and sunshine to jouer au golf! :)

Gros bisous et joyeuses fetes!


Bonjour a' tous,
I have solved the annual worry of assembling the Christmas tree. For the last 20 years, mine has remained undisturbedd and in place in my formal living room. The room is guarded by large pocket doors that remain closed for most of the year and are then opened for the holiday season. Pas de probleme et beaucoup de temps rester pour autre choses!

Catherine Berry

Max is just one of your Christmas angels.

Carole Fitzgerald

Cher Kristi , I know exactly how you feel . Not much Christmas Spirit happening here . A friend was in tears this morning feeling overwhelmed and my daughter yelling at me on the phone last night. I know we will enjoy it on Christmas day but it gets a bit too intense every year. Congratulations to lovely Max on his job , looking very handsome . Good on him for being such a good neighbour. Sending Christmas wishes to all your family . Big hugs from Australia xxx


Kristi, A wonderful story. Your son is a handsome fellow and obviously you have raised him to be kind to others. Joyeux Noel from Canada.


cj Warley/Lamont

I can't believe how much Max looks like his father, Jean-Marc!!! It's been a while. I don't seem to be getting news from chez Espinasse and this post reminded me. I'm in Vienna, perhaps soon in Mauritius, starting off a new project. Back to French (and Creole?). Merry Christmas and I wish you all continuing success and prosperity in 2024. love and hugs, cj / Cathy

Karen in Northport, NY

Balance, definitely balance. Christmas is much more enjoyable now that I'm retired. I was going Grinch for a while after working all day then shopping, mailing, socializing, cleaning, cooking, decorating after, all In The Dark. Sunset at 4 frickin 30. But things are much more relaxed now. I will miss the multi course, multi hour, seven fishes Christmas eve dinner with family requiring travel. But sitting with my twinkly tree, good book, tv remote, healthish dinner, cats, and internet is bliss. Time to think and count those blessings. AND Definitely in the market for some imported wine. Like I need an excuse.

barbara michels

Max sure has turned out well. Jackie, aussi. Ricci seems to be settling in just fine. His breed is born to love and serve. Joyeaux Noel.

Andrea Hughes

Balance and being able to go with the flow are key to navigating the holidays!
My focus this year: CELEBRATE LIFE!!


What a great reflection. I am glad you took time to breathe and refocus your mind. Often, we get so caught up in preparations and expectations that we are not enjoying the process. Focus on what YOU want to get out of Christmas and let the shoulds & oughts go. The holidays aren’t as lovely as Norman Rockwell portrayed. The spirit of Christmas is in the love you share and give and has nothing to do with decorations, gifts or money. Delight in those gathered near and good times spent together. These are fleeting and a blessing to be cherished. Joyeux Noel & Bonne Anne.


Help! I love Uncle Jaques 3 cup cake and I've lost my recipe. I've used it many times because it's perfect for this non-baker to do. Will you post it again or please send it to me.

Kristin Espinasse

Hi Liz,
Happy to know you like this cake. Here is the recipe:


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