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Entries from November 2010

Fuir: A Story from Grenoble, France

Grenoble (c) Kristin Espinasse
Yesterday, in Grenoble: fleeing oeufs.


fuir (fweer)

    1.  to take flight, to flee, to run away
    2. to avoid, to shun

ListenDownload MP3 or Download WAV

     Le temps fuit. / Time flies.

French christmas music
French Christmas Music: "Mon Beau Sapin", "Saint Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant".
Order CD here.

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Tempus Fugit / Time Flies

Ever opened your eyes to find that 18 years have passed in "no time"?

"No Time": it must be that other dimension, such as the one we're sometimes in when driving. We arrive at Point B and wonder how we got there: as if automatically! We don't remember turning left, after the redundant ramshackle shed, and we don't remember passing the monotonous maple tree. (We did pass them, didn't we?) 

***

Grenoble. A birthday celebration. In the living room of longtime friends, I stood looking up at their son, who'd not yet been born when...

Have 18 years gone by since I moved to France, on the fly? 

The bearded boy looked down at me. Just how, I wondered, did time flee? (Can time flee? Or are two decades of Frenglish taking a toll? See?)

 ***

Champagne on the buffet, cake on trays... The guests gathered round with gifts. Jean-Marc offered a dusty, cobwebbed magnum of his uncle's Domaine du Banneret 1992. I wondered, did we pick those grapes, too? It was the year Jean-Marc and I shacked up. The year the bearded boy was brand-new!
. 

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                           Baptiste, 18 years old for the time being.

The wine went down in "no time". Next, we passed the bottle round to sign. It would now be a souvenir. Another one of those.

I stared at the magnum and imagined... this bottle... on a shelf... twenty years from now. A treasured keepsake of a former boy, now a journalist (and was that a thread of gray in his barbe?). I could just picture the bottle, next to the framed awards. Two decades from now....

"J'aurais trente-huit ans," added the birthday boy. Yes, he would then. He would be 38 years old one day. And I'd be sixty-two. I could see it as clearly as I could see the freckles on the back of my own hand as I clutched the pen and stared at the wine label inked over with signatures.

Pen in hand, I hesitated. What to say? Hopefully not something outdated!

I drew a tiny heart so as not to take up too much space. I'd already taken up a bit of time....
. 

French Vocabulary

Domaine du Banneret = an award winning wine from Chateauneuf-du-Pape 

la barbe = beard

 j'aurais trente-huit ans = I would be thirty-eight

 

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Smokey playing "Tug of Ear" with Mama Braise. Photo by Braden.

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On the way home from Grenoble, entering the Drôme.

Still reading? Check out Jean-Marc's cork story at the Southern Fried French blog

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Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


abracadabrant

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Meet an extraordinary 8-year-old and a giant named Hefty in today's story. All photos by Braden (except for the one above...).

abracadabrant(e) (ah bra kah dah brahn [brahnt]) adj.

    : amazing, extraordinary

syn: invraisemblable (bizarre), extravagant

abracadabra : interjection , also, masculine noun for magical formula  

Audio file: Listen to "abracadabrant" at French Wikipedia...


A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Hero-in-Progress

When Jean-Marc needed to spend the day prospecting with an American wine importer, I offered to host the man's 8-year-old son, or traveling companion.

Doubtful about my decision, I ran to the phone and rang Jules, in Mexico.
"Oh, Mom. How will I do with him?!"

Jules told me not to worry. Instead she shared the story about "Hefty", the giant carnival hand:

"When I was a little girl," Mom began, "I had a horrible wart on my thumb... I was always trying to hide it. One day I was sitting on a tree stump, outside the carnival grounds, staring at my thumb. That's when Hefty appeared. The giant, noticing my sadness, assured me I would never shed another tear. I watched Hefty disappear into the carnival tent and, fast as that, return with a secret ointment. Abracadabra! The wart disappeared!"

As Mom told the story, I could sense her wonderment. The kindness of a stranger... it was such a small detail in the grand scheme of a child's being, and yet the carnival hand's caring gesture never left her.

I considered Mom's words. I might not be as giant, or giant-hearted as Hefty, but there is that unmistakable oddness, or rather, that awkwardness that amounted, did it not, to no more than self-doubt? 

I began to hope for a genuine gesture, like Hefty's, to somehow surface from deep within me. Maybe in this way my eight-year-old guest and I would enjoy the same simplicity?

"Don't worry," Mom assured. "And what an exciting thing... just think about your visitor and wonder just whom, after all, you are hosting."  Thinking about it that way... perhaps Einstein was coming for the day? Or Victor Hugo, or Gandhi, or some other hero... or hero-in-progress!

When Braden arrived I was as nervous as a bride. "Would you like orange juice? Milk? A pain au chocolat?" Our hero was not so hungry and, after a bite or two, I was wondering what to do? what to do? 

I spotted my camera on the comptoir.... 
"Would you like to take some photos, Braden?" 

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     Braden enjoyed "styling" the subject before taking the pictures.

And—voilàwe were off! The rest of the day I spent in the privileged presence of an artist and visionnaire. As I followed the intrepid ingénu...  I began to notice ordinary things anew! And oh the possibilities... of pairing grapes with flowers and pumpkins and trees!

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By the end of Braden's stay my narrow world was as wide as the Milky Way. And it's all thanks to Hefty whose heart went out. And to the child he helped, who then pointed the way to me:

"The potential of a child... is as endless as a giant's smile."

 

:: Le Coin Commentaires ::
Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.

Sign up a friend or family member to French Word-A-Day
. 

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            The artist's self portrait. "Looking in" by Braden.


French Vocabulary

le comptoir* = counter

voilà = just like that! 

*Newforest, whom many of you know via "Le Coin Commentaires" offers these notes:
Originally, "un comptoir" (from the verb "compter") was a table used by a shopkeeper, on which he showed the goods you wanted to buy - he also used that table to count his money which he kept in a drawer. 

Nowadays, "un comptoir" can be found in shops and bars, in banks, post offices, libraries & commercial places.

For a kitchen: "un plan de travail", "une surface de travail" (I heard French people saying "la table de travail" but I believe "un plan de travail is the most common expression) 

*** 

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Thank you, Braden, for a wonderful day! And thanks for taking the photos here.

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Eiffel lamp Eiffel Tower lamp: see the reviews, here.

 

 

 

Pie dish Emile Henry 9-inch Provencal pie dish in cerise red. Order one here.

 

 

 

Shalimar Shalimar Eau de Parfum by Guerlain. Introduced in 1925. Fragrance notes: an alluring, classic fragrance of exotic florals and vanilla. Order here.

 

 

 



Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


siege auto

Menerbes Window (c) Kristin Espinasse
Never miss a photo. Sign up via email, RSS, or Twitter to access the latest edition. (Picture taken last year, in Ménèrbes).
  
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Exclusive Vacation Rental Properties throughout France.



siège-auto (see ezh oh toh) noun, masculine

    : car seat

Audio File: Listen to 13-year-old Jackie pronounce the words, below 
Download MP3 or WAV

Le siège-auto est obligatoire pour un enfant qui voyage en voiture.
The car seat is obligatory for a child who travels in a car.

 

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Mama Bear

I couldn't tell you what the weather was like, whether the sky was black or blue or bursting with sunlight. If the muguet vendors were out, standing on every floral curb and corner, I didn't see them, and yet it was the season. The only thing I could perceive was the fragile being in front of me.

The newborn in my arms was not yet a week old and it was time to take him home. "Home" was a former one-room cottage in the perched "village" of le Rocas Blanc (otherwise known as Marseilles' 7th arrondissement). With the new room extension—Jean-Marc had had the cellier converted—we were ready to live as a family of three!

Now if only we could get from la maternité to our little nest for three. Currently, we were faced with one big problem: no car seat for our newborn. We had thought of everything else, having ticked off the lengthy list that the maternity ward furnished. But nobody said anything about a siège-auto!

"But we can't leave!" 
"Pourquoi pas?" the nurses questioned.
"How are we going to transport the baby?"

The nurses pointed out what was to them the obvious: that my husband was here to drive us home

"But we don't have a car seat!"
"You will hold your baby in your arms!" one of the nurses instructed.

When I disagreed, the nurses looked at each other, suspiciously.
"Perhaps you are not ready to go home yet?" they suggested. 

I stared at the newborn in my arms, the helpless being that they were sending out into the world, without a seatbelt; if only he had his say! 

I overheard the nurses whispering to my husband.
"Il s'agit de 'baby blues'. Votre femme est dépressive. Il vaut mieux la garder ici...."

"Je vais bien!" I corrected them. A creepy feeling came over me: what was next... a visit from the psy?
"You just need some rest," one of the nurses decided.
"I just need a car seat!" I insisted.

"She is not ready to go home," the nurses concluded, looking past me to my "guardian".

Jean-Marc reacted quickly, with a solution.
"May we borrow this bed?" he asked, pointing to the tiny crib that our newborn son had slept in. The upper unit was detachable...
I shook my head. The bed didn't have a seatbelt!"
Jean-Marc promised to secure it, not to worry.  

***

I made Jean-Marc drive at a snail's pace, which only accentuated the terrifying traffic around us. We might have been in a war zone, ditching snares and sniper fire all the way home. Everything outside of our little car was greatly threatening... to a mother and her offspring. Every intersection insinuated injury. How would we ever make it home safe and soundly?

I sat shaking in the back seat, the landau beside me. Jean-Marc had rigged us in, baby and maternity ward escapée, safely. 

"Don't worry. We are almost home," he assured me. "Everything will be okay." And, after all, it was.

***
Postnote: Our son Max was born on May 17, 1995. Today's missive was a nostalgic "looking back". 


:: Le Coin Commentaires ::
Corrections, comments, or stories of your own are welcome in the comments box

More stories about adjusting to France and French life in my book "Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language". Makes a great gift! Excerpt:

When I was in college, I sold lingerie at Dillard's department store in Phoenix, Arizona. It was a summer job and I was saving for an upcoming exchange program in Lille, France... order the book, here.


French Vocabulary

le muguet = lily of the valley flower

le Roucas Blanc
= "The White Rock"

l'arrondissement
= district

le cellier
= storeroom 

la maternité
= maternity clinic or hospital 

pourquoi pas?
= why not?

le siège-auto
= car seat 

Il s'agit de 'baby blues'. Votre femme est dépressive. Il vaut mieux la garder ici... = It's called "the baby blues". Your wife is depressed. It is best to keep her here...

le psy (pronounced "see") = short (slang) for psychiatrist

je vais bien
= I am fine 

le landau
= pram, baby carriage 

 

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Smokey-Doo, might this be you? (or one of your five sisters?)

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With Mama Bear Braise, summer 2009.

With dogs
Braise, left, with friends Dean and Kathleen. Mr Smokey Bear is on the right.

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


matelas

Leaf Bare (c) Kristin Espinasse
Southwest of winter: bare trees & golden vine leaves. 

matelas (mat lah) noun, masculine

    : mattress

 related: sommier (box spring), surmatelas (pillow top), matelassé,e (quilted, padded)

cacher son argent/ses économies sous un matelas =
  to hide money/savings beneath the mattress
retourner son matelas (côte hiver, côte été) =
  to turn over one's mattress (winter side, summer side)
protéger le matelas avec une alèse =
  to protect a mattress with a mattress cover

You may listen to the above idioms here. Feel free to add more terms & expressions in the comments box.

Book Recommendation:
I am currently reading and being riveted by Victor Hugo's Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné (The Last Day of a Condemned Man) Read it in French or in English.
. 

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

For several months now, I've had the sneaking suspicion that our mattress is on its last leggy box spring. Unlike other worn-out items, which give a clear sign when they need replacing (the coffee machine malfunctions, the computer crashes...)—unlike these obvious indices—a mattress doesn't break. It will live on for as long as the user will tolerate the torture of coil springs and nightly flings.

Flings! I'm talking about "the trampoline effect" or what happens when you've a threateningly threadbare matelas and your husband decides to turn over—as he will nine times each night. 

To a mattress martyr such as yourself, the turning over of a spouse or a partner on a paltrily padded mattress sets into motion a series... of sauts (think of so many mattress springs from which you are separated but by a few strings!). One minute you are dreaming of flying and the next—tu voles, véritablement!

Just like moods, an old mattress has its ups and downs, literally des hauts et des bas. We've just read about the ups (triggered by a turning or shifting spouse); as for the "downs", they occur midpoint between his (or her) side of the bed and your side, wherein runs a valley deep as the Rhone.  You are fine as long as you cling to the hillside that is your own upper half of the mattress. But should you nod off at night... you might roll right down to the middle of the mattress, nose-to-nose with your miserable mattress mate.

The upside of an old mattress is being able to count—with the backs of your thighs—all the coins hidden just beneath. And if the mattress is really old and thin, you can even read your diary (should it be deeply penned). 

So, remember, the next time you recline... and can feel a dime... that's a sure sign of mattress decline!

 

:: Le Coin Commentaires ::
Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome in the comments box
. 

French Vocabulary

un indice = sign, indication

le matelas = mattress

le saut = jump, leap

tu voles, véritablement! = you fly, truly!

des hauts et des bas = highs and lows
. 

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LE JEUX DE CARTES.  15-year-old Max (above, right) and friend, Edouard.

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And that's Max (in the T shirt with bunched up sleeves). Edouard is on the right.

When you buy any item at Amazon, via the following links (and at no additional cost to you) your purchase helps support this French word journal. Merci d'avance.

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


tige

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How to Make Iced Tea on a French Vineyard.... also enjoy a free subscription to French Word-A-Day via Email or RSS
 

tige (tizh) noun, feminine

    : stem, stalk

Know any other definitions/uses for the word tige? Comment here.

Audio FileDownload MP3 or Download WAV

La tige de cette plante est longue et fine.
The stem of this plant is long and thin.
 

Book Excerpt
After two emotionally gray seasons in the Valley of the Sun, I sold my car and told myself I had enough cash to get by in France for six months. I knew the truth was more like three or four...
    --from Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language 

.
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

How To Prune Lavender (A Provençal Parody)

First, go rooting through your kitchen drawers for scissors. Grab the first pair you find. 

Next, head out to Lavender Alley: that row of fragrant Provence that lines one side of your dirt driveway. Be careful to slip past your husband and your beau-frère, who have sweat streaming down their faces, busy as they are building the cellar extension. You, too, are busy now, but you don't want to be prideful or a show off. You can, after all, do the chore without shouting it from the rooftops. And it isn't necessary to wave your Playskool scissors in the air, drawing attention to the fact that you'll be in charge of cutting back the lavender this year.

Now, kneel down beside the purple-headed herb. Run your hands over the drying flowers and breathe in the spicy sweetness that the plant releases. Ask yourself why it took you this long to volunteer to do the chopping chore? Become suspicious, even a bit indignant, that for the past three years your husband has been hogging the harvesting "chore" all to himself!

Relax. Feel the heat on your back. Heat? In November? So you are a couple of months late (the neighbors pruned their lavender eons ago). What's the rush anyway? Besides, if you hadn't procrastinated you wouldn't be outside on this bright November day!

What's that? Your husband has spotted you poised to work? Aw, shucks! Call back to him with a very modest, "il y a toujours une première fois!" Gush with gratefulness when he insists that this isn't the first time you've helped with farm work. Awwww.

Time to trim... Minding your back, bend at the knee until your torso is level with the lavender. Reach across and grab a poignée of the long-necked flowers. Notice how the individual stalks are shaped like linguine. Now, while pulling on the handful of "pasta", reach down with the scissors and cut the noodles from the base—as close as you can to the macaroni (the curly blue-gray leaves below). Snip! Toss the bunch of pâtes into a pile. 

Study the harvested heap and wonder about "Uses For Cut Lavender": you might stuff the bunches beneath your car seat so as to overpower the current scent ("Eau de Wet Dog"). Or... you could wrap a stalk around a bunch of flowers and make what the French call fagots, or little bundles of fire-starter (that is the definition you were expecting, n'est-ce pas?). Then again, you could stuff some of the flowers, sans tige, into pillowcases (a wonderful remedy for l'insomnie). Oh, and don't forget the lavender wands!

Lavender-bottle

Enough entrepreneurial imaginings. Allez, hop! Time to get back to work.... 

Feel your fingers cramping.... Remain stubborn, dismissing the sensible solution of returning to the house for proper shears, or sécateurs.

Pause (stretching out fingers) in time to look down the interminable row of lavender... you've got a long way to go, bébé!

Decide to break down the chore into manageable work units: you've pruned two and a half plants... you can return the next day to do two and a half more! 

***

Two weeks and two days later, on the eve of a visit from a journalist... realize, with panic, that your driveway looks like a bad haircut. Imagine, for one megalomaniac moment, the bad haircut on the cover of a magazine! Now let your bubble burst: this reporter is not coming for a feature article. He's not even coming to see you! Be suspicious, even a little bit indignant! Now get over it fast and get on with the chore . Do it for your husband, who will be speaking about his wines to said reporter.) 

Bon. Back to drawing board. Root around the house for a bigger pair of scissors, a step up from the classroom kind, and head out to the lopsided lavender lane.

Feel the sun on your back and assure yourself (of the two-week lapse) that you were only prolonging the experience — else you might never find an excuse to play outside on a workday. Speaking of play, time to speed up and quit pruning like a poet—with one dreamy thought after each felled flower. You'll never finish the job!  Allez, hop!

When the occasional car barrels down the country road, puff up! and hope desperately to be seen handling your farm's pruning!  

And when the mailman pulls up and walks right past you...PUFF IT UP! Greet him with a wave of the scissors. So he didn't recognize you in boots... he's used to your slipper salut.

Put the courrier under a rock for the time being. Look up at the lavender row: only two more to go, may as well take it sloooow.

Sit down... breathe in the aromatic blossoms. Feel drowsy....

Lie down. Eyelids drooping, gaze up at the sky, beyond the lavender, beyond the olive tree, beyond the cypress! Feel all of your senses stir: the cool earth beneath you, the heady flower fragrance, the sight of clouds traipsing across a great blue sky, the rustle of leaves, the taste of the lavender twig tucked between your teeth. C'est la vie! 

Feel smug that while others are busy reaching for the stars you yourself are happy, lowly as a nénuphar. (Pretend you have nénuphars. This is your story!)

Watch, with growing smugness, as your husband returns in time to discover your chef d'oeuvre: a perfect row of pruned lavender!

Lastly... hold onto your dropping jaw when he suggests that you see about the ragged rosemary hedge...  Become suspicious, increasingly indignant.

 

Le Coin Commentaires

Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box

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Lavender... and rosemary, too!

French Vocabulary

le beau-frère = brother-in-law

il y a toujours une première fois! = there's always a first time

une poignée = a handful

les pâtes (fpl) = pasta

le fagot = bundle of firewood

sans tige (f) = without stem

l'insomnie = insomnia

allez! hop! = let's get to it!

le sécateur = pruning shears

Bébé = Baby

bon = right, then

le courrier = mail

c'est la vie = this is the life!

le nénuphar = water lily

le chef-d'oeuvre = masterpiece

 

 When you buy any item at Amazon, via the following links (and at no additional cost to you) your purchase helps support this French word journal.

Exercises in French Phonics Exercises in French Phonics is... 
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Cookie cutter

 

 

 

 

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Still waiting for a seat...

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Smokey Doo. He'll eat anything!

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


poids

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Illusions in the desert... read on in today's missive!

Bedroom Paris apartment for rent. St Sulpice. 
215 euros per night (min.  3 night rental)
                       Click here for more photos! 

le poids (pwah) noun

    : weight

Audio: listen to these words, below: Download MP3 or WAV

prendre du poids = to put on weight
perdre du poids = to lose weight
quel poids faites-vous? = how much do you weigh?
de tout son poids = with all one's weight
un poids lourd = freight vehicle, semi-trailer truck

Today's list of idioms is a little light... won't you weigh in with your own "poids" expressions? Thanks for sharing a new term here, in the comments section.

  Belgium flyer Meet Jean-Marc... in Belgium, December 10th, 11th, and 12th!  He'll be at the Salon des Vins et Métiers de Bouche (Centre Sportif de Soumagne, Tel 04 377 98 11)

 

 

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

One Quick Thinking Camellaro

Last month, on the black-ashed island of Lanzarote, our family of four navigated the volcanic desert floor from the inside of a tour bus. We listened to Paul, our native guide, fill us in on all the island's "asides": its lava-rich legacy, its austere architecture (laws have local buildings standing no taller than a palm tree, or so it seemed...), and its inhabitants. Presently we were about to meet the lumpy, long-lashed locals as our bus was pulling into a camel station.  

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                                                                            Lumpy, long lashed locals...

I looked out the window, feeling a mixture of awe and apprehension....

We alighted in the parking lot and took our places in line, queuing up deux à deux as our guide had instructed us to. "Oh," Paul mentioned, motioning us to line up in twos, "and the heaviest person on the left...."

Earlier, Paul had enlightened us about the Arabian camels on the island: these were dromadaires (one hump and not two). The way we would  ride these gentle beasts was to sit on either side of the hump, on sturdy seats fashioned for the occasion. For this reason, the weight needed to be evenly distributed—or patatras!—the riders would come crashing down.

I wasn't so worried about falling as I was about fleeing—for that is what my experience had been: ripping through the wind on the back of a crazed quarter horse. But this wasn't a cheval and there was no risk, this time, in letting the reins slip. By the way... where were the reins?

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Apparently there would be no reins! This, after all, was a camel convoy. The only person holding on to a rein would be the camellaro, or camel driver. 

Presently our camel driver, Moroccan by custom, was eyeing our line-up. As he walked down the queue, his eyes weighed the would-be riders. Now and again, he stopped to switch the places of passengers, as we stood there, two by two, waiting to take our seats. 

Oh, yes, I remembered, heaviest person on the left.... I looked left, to my 15-year-old son, and told him to stay put, right where I had placed him! But the giggles coming from behind had me turning around in distraction. The couple—in tank tops, shorts, and knee-high socks—quickly quieted. 

"But he weighs more than I..." I insisted. The couple nodded their heads, humoring me.

I turned to Max. "You do weigh more than I! You are taller!"
"It's (my) muscles," Max chuckled, pinching my side. Yes, I had to agree, muscles weigh more than... than never mind about that!

The camellaro put a stop to my arguing when he placed his hands on our shoulders, Max's and mine, and moved to switch us! That is when every self-respecting bone in my body balked. I would not budge!

"But he does weigh more! He does..."

The camellaro didn't need to understand English to sense my "illusionment" and he was not about to dis me. Hell hath no fury like a disillusioned fille! 

Without missing a beat, he reached forward to where my daughter was standing, to the right of her "heavier" co-passenger (her father), and switched her place with mine.

And that is how I became a veritable poids plume, and, this time, not only in my mind.

 
Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome in the comments box, here.

 

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French Vocabulary

camellaro = camel guide

deux à deux = two by two

le dromadaire = dromedary (one-humped) camel

patatras! = crash!

le cheval = horse

la fille = girl

le poids plume = lightweight

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The little cages, or "muselières", around their mouths keep the dromadaires from nibbling at tourists. This lovely "lady" above, could not resist, time and again, nudging her son, who stood in line ahead of her (carrying Jean-Marc and me). Camel riding, we were told, is strictly regulated, in Lanzarote, where camels give no more than five rides (20 minutes each) per day.

 

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Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
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"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


fleurs de cimetière

Braise and Smokey French Halloween (c) Kristin Espinasse
Our Mot-Par-Jour models, Braise & Smokey.

les fleurs de cimetière (lay flur deuh sim tee ere)

    : age spots, "cemetery flowers"

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Le médecin m'a dit que j'ai les fleurs de cimetière sur ma peau!
The doctor said that I have "cemetery flowers" on my skin! 

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

I thanked the doctor for reassuring me that the small, flesh-toned bosse on my forehead—and the darker one on the back of my arm—were, after all, bénin. How many miserable moments had I spent pushing at or scraping or pinching the suspect "growths" which seemed to be spreading? I know better than to pick at la peau, but it was in those absentminded moments that I would reach up to my forehead and scratch at the knotty skin only to be startled to find it flaking off again! 

The médecin généraliste determined the bump on my forehead to be nothing more than an old scar, une cicatrice that I had simply forgotten about. As for the little lump on the back of my arm, the one for which I twisted the latter endlessly so as to get another look, it was nothing to worry about either. 

Afraid that the doctor might take me for a hypochondriaque, I laughed it off: "I'll bet you get a lot of false alarms like this...."

The doc replied with a sympathetic smile, which grew bigger as her eyes locked onto my hands, which were busy writing out a check.

"And speaking of spots..." the doctor said, "we call those 'les fleurs de cimetière'." I followed her glance to the backs of my hands where a sprinkling of  spots now came into focus. I hadn't noticed them so much before....

"Oh," I stammered. "I thought they were freckles!"

***

As I exited the doctor's office the score was "-2 plus 1":  I had two fewer things to worry about and one more "something" to agonize over: le vieillissement de la peau. Oh, well, leave it to the French to add a bit of floral flair to "age spots". And besides, "les fleurs de cimetière!" is a little better than the alternative: "senile spots" or "les taches séniles!"

 P.S. Next month I turn 43... so these are still freckles, n'est-ce pas

***
Post note: It turns out that "growth" wasn't harmless afterall -- it was basal cell carcinoma

. 

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, comments, and stories of you own are welcome, here, in the comments box.

Email this post
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French Vocabulary

le mot par jour = word a day

la bosse = bump, lump

bénin = harmless, benign

la peau = skin

le médecin généraliste = general, or family, doctor

la cicatrice = scar

le/la hypochondriaque = hypochondriac

les fleurs de cimetière = "cemetery flowers" (age spots)

le vieillissement de la peau = the aging of the skin

une tache (lentigo) sénile = "a senile freckle", or age spot

n'est-ce pas = isn't that so?

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On Friday we bottled 12,000 units of our Domaine Rouge-Bleu... including our 2009 cuvée! 
Note: these photos were taken one year ago. Look at Smokey. Oh, how they grow! 

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Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
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"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


vantard

Hunchback of Notre Dame (c) Kristin Espinasse
    The Hunchback of Notre Dame (spotted near the famous church). 

vantard,e (vahn tar, vahn tard) noun

    :  a bragger, boaster

se vanter = to brag
vanter = to praise, to speak highly of 
vantardise = bragging, boastfulness
... know any more expressions or idioms? Add them here!

Sound File: I asked our daughter, Jackie, to give us an example sentence for today's word... note: having technical difficulties with the audio, here... you may need to put your ear to the speaker...  Download MP3 or Download WAV

(Le vantard dit): Moi je suis allé à Disneyland Paris et pas toi! 
(The bragger says): Me, I went to Disneyland Paris and not you! 
. 

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

On the table de nuit, which doubles as a bibliothèque, I set down a steaming cup of Ricoré and lept!

"You see... I'm back!" I chirped to my daughter, bouncing up and down on the king-size bed feeling very much the Queen of Cozy in her soft robe and slippers.
...And this is my f-a-v-o-r-i-t-e  place to be, better even than Pah-ree!

13-year-old Jackie smiled as she surfed the net on my PC, in search of tonight's episode of The Twilight Zone. I promised my daughter I would be home by Wednesday night, that the time would go by dare-dare, and that we'd be back to our evening ritual of foamy hot chocolate or coffee and frissons. 

Having selected an episode (we decided to watch "Nightmare at 20,000 feet" again), Jackie became curious about my trip to the capital.

"How was Paris?" she asked.

Puffing up ever so conspicuously, I reached over to the book shelf, selected a hard-bound edition, and tossed it to my girl before rolling my eyes skyward with a nonchalant "no big deal". Still, it was impossible to contain a squeal:

Mommy saw this writer! I sang, pointing to the book I'd just tossed.

and this writer...

and this writer...

and this writer...

...and THIS writer!

One by one I tossed the books beside my daughter, who looked thoughtfully at the book jackets.

"You know him?" she said, pointing to a black and white author photo.

"Well... not him... but he was there... to listen to her:

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                                                   Ann Mah

I told Jackie all about Ann Mah's talk at Shakespeare and Company bookshop, where writers and authors and readers came to hear and to be endeared by a journalist who shared about feeling strangely foreign beneath her own skin. As Ann talked about her experience in Beijing, punctuating her story with savory bits about Chinese cuisine, I looked around the room and spotted some familiar faces and not a few Francophiles... 

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(That's Amelie, left. I also enjoyed meeting Irene and Susan and.... Wish I got more pictures...)

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  Sion Dayson, Christine Buckley, me, and Leona Liu

I couldn't see just how many book lovers and writers were present, having arrived an hour early so as to secure a front row seat. Downstairs and outside the bookshop more "bookies" and foodies and expats and travelers listened in as Ann's presentation was broadcast throughout the store... and all the way out the front door!

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                             With Ellen Fetu, professeur at the American School

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                 Dean and Kathleen, so happy to have seen them again

After Ann's talk, Jean-Marc served up his Domaine Rouge-Bleu red wine and the conversations flowed even if the passageways within the historic shop did not. In fact, some could not reach the winemaker and the wine... and so we stood stalled, but smiling, inebriated by the convivial atmosphere.

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 Can you spot the winemaker? Also at least one podcasting  blogger.

I met more writers the next night when I realized a life-long dream, that of participating in a salon or literary evening. Speaking of lifelong dreams....

My mind reels back twenty some years... to a forsaken strip mall off Central Avenue in Phoenix, Arizona. I am sitting alone at a snack bar willing it to be a French café... only each time I open my eyes the same seedy strip mall shakes me from my reverie.

I have just signed up for classes at Phoenix Community College but the campus, here in my native desert, feels as foreign to me as a far off city. I am not so studious. I do not want to go to class. I want to sit and think and think and think!

Thinking. Yes! That is what I want to do: to be with the freethinkers in Paris! What were those places called? Salons! 

But how to get from this seat in a seedy strip mall... to literary Paris?

Back now, to the future... where I am seated in the salon of a trailblazing travel writer. When Karen Fawcett took over Bonjour Paris, some 16 years ago, it was one of the first sites on the internet about the "City of Light". Back then, the French government tourist office, with its own nascent presence in cyberspace, included Bonjour Paris on its links page. Talk about a link exchange, avec le gouvernement français!

Seated now, far from that somber strip mall, but here, on an 18th century tapis, writers surrounding me, I sit cross-legged, beside mystery novelist Cara Black who is munching on a salad of endive and mesclun.  We are talking about characters and places, research and writing. Across a table of half-filled wine-glasses there are others who have followed their literary dreams: Ann is present, and presently chatting with Janet. There is Courtney and Laurel and Christine, who Jean-Marc calls "Chris"... and then there is Sadie, who breezed in late, and stole all our hearts with her funny stories about Paris pick-up lines (and, more humorously, her sock-it-to-'em send-offs, literal "send offs" which had her would-be suitors running the other way).  

From time to time, Karen asks another question, to which one by one the salonistas (for this isn't fashion, but fiction!) answer: What about expat life? What about writing?  Robin is doubtful about this latest question, but I remember enjoying all of her stories when we both took a class at The Paris Writers Workshop last summer.

As for how I came to France and to write and to sit in this oft dreamed of salon tonight, I look across the room to the only man in attendance. Though Jean-Marc did not bring me to France he is the reason that I have remained. What's more, I might still be seated back in that strip mall, thinking, thinking, thinking, having never realized this writing dream, were it not for my hero, whose shared misadventures keep my pen on-the-go.

....
Post note: re today's word "vantarde" (bragger), I hope that so much "name-dropping" does not make me one of those! 

Le Coin Commentaires

Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box
. 

French Vocabulary

la table de nuit = nightstand

la bibliothèque = bookcase

Ricoré = coffee and chicory beverage

Pah-ree = pronunciation for "Paris"

le frisson = shiver (in this example, from fear)

dare-dare = very fast

le gouvernement français = the French government

le tapis = carpet

 

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. 

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Smokey says: Moi, as a little whipper-snapper, one year ago...

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...and when I was still healing beneath the jaw and the eye (remember those clay packs?!)

Books by the salonistas that Karen hosted at her soirée:

"Kitchen Chinese: A Novel About Food, Family, and Finding Yourself" by Ann Mah

"Moonlight in Odessa: A Novel" by Janet Skeslien Charles

"Sorbonne Confidential" by Laurel Zuckerman 

"Murder in Passy" (now available for pre-order!) by Cara Black

"Slave Hunter: One Man's Global Quest to Free Victims of Human Trafficking," by Christine Buckley

... and "Words in a French Life", bien sûr!

 

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


sagesse

Autumn in the Rhone
Autumn Amblings... and the sound, in the distance, of leaves crunching underfoot

.

sagesse (saah zhess) noun, feminine

    wisdom, (good) sense; discretion

Idioms & Expressions

faire preuve de sagesse = to be sensible
la sagesse populaire = popular (or traditional) wisdom
agir avec sagesse = to act wisely
la dent de sagesse = wisdom tooth 

Do you know any other "sagesse" expressions? Thank you for sharing them with us here, in the comments box

 

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

(Note: this story was written 2 years ago... )

I am sitting at the edge of the bed, looking out the window at November. Once the pomp and parade of fall colors fade, what is left are the ashes of autumn. The earth turns in on itself and so do those who trod upon it. In the darkness, questions come to light, nagging issues such as, What is important in this life?

I look over to my teenage son, who is busy with the task of grooming. He's got my tattered trousse de toilette beside him, having fished out the clippers from inside.

"Max," I question, "If you were given the chance to share an important pensée with the entire world, what would that message be?"

Next, I brace myself for that flicker of genius to appear... the kind that graces children—and chance be ours when we're focused enough to hear!

I wait patiently for "the message" to be mysteriously channeled through my 13-year-old son with the overgrown toenails. I'm one to believe in the pureness of pint-sized knowledge and hope to be tuned in when Sagesse speaks, "out of the mouth of babes".

Leaning forward, I put my ear close to the chapped lips of the would-be child savant, and this is what I hear:

"Je ne sais pas, Maman."

With that, the messenger resumes his toenail clipping. That'll do, I decide, letting the answer linger a bit.

Doubt creeps in and I double check with the mini messiah. "'I don't know.' Is that it? Is that what you have to share with the world?"

"Mmmhmmm," Max replies, and I watch a few more nail clippings rocket through the air. Some messages come with fireworks, I decide, never mind these aren't sizzling.

Well, I can work with that. And so I do. I think about Max's "I don't know" answer to a meaningful life. The "I don't know" concept is, after all, brillant! For, with knowledge comes power and how many of us make the mistake of tacking pride on to that? Pride then squashes humility and things tend to go downhill (Pride goeth before the fall...) from there.

And knowledge, or too much of it, sometimes leads to fear. I listen to friends talk about the effect that all those info-packed newspaper headlines had on the economy. Panic sent people zipping up their pocket books. Companies shut down. People lost jobs.

I don't mean to give the big K, "Knowledge," a bad name... no, I'd never argue with my faith-filled mom when she tells me to fill up on The Word! Only, I sometimes wonder about how much I should strive to know when a lot of what I take in only serves to distract. Bits and pieces of this and that and, before I know it, I've gotten off track! There I am, left spinning in the superflu. My dad once said, "You think too much!" and, you know, I now think he's right: so busy are we sifting through a magnitude of facts, that the basic ideas get hidden beneath all those "informative" stacks.

Most times I'm guilty of assumption: when I think I know something and, in fact, I've got it all wrong. Such "insights" paint my perceptions and, busy with a wealth of tidbits, I'm circling through a Never Never Land of ideas again.

I once had a Mensa-ish friend, one of those brilliant types, but what amazed me was her humility. I'll never forget her response when asked about her know-it-ness. She abruptly raised both hands... and began hitting her head! "I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING!" she shouted, in all sincerity (none of that false
modesty). Her startling, head tapping show, wonderfully illustrates the concept of "I Don't Know!"

Knowledge isn't all bad, especially when it connects us to another:
Having known pain, one sympathizes with the sufferer,
having known poverty, one understands need,
having known injustice, one argues for the accused,
having known loss, one's heart goes out to the grief-stricken,
having known fear, one comforts the frightened.

                            *    *     *
I'm beginning to think that what is important in life is not how much we know, but what little we can focus on. In my case, the teenage toenail clipper sitting beside me. While I'll never understand the physics behind those "flying toenails," how they self-launch following each clip of the cutters, I can know the fondness I feel for a boy whose "message," in the end, is ever so coy.

:: Le Coin Commentaires ::
Comments, corrections, and stories of your own are always welcome, here, in the comments box.

 

French Vocabulary

 la trousse de toilette = make-up (shaving) bag

une pensée = thought

la Sagesse = Wisdom

Je ne sais pas, Maman = I don't know, Mom

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Dashing Smokey... looking quite wise, too!

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
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"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


fier

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The Chinese Mulberry tree that shades us in summertime...

fier, fière (fyer, fyeruh) adjective
1. proud; high-minded  Also: la fierté (f) = pride

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

"Comment lacer ses chaussures" 

 Note: this story was written in 2006. Jackie is now 13-years-old.

Walking down the couloir I hear a low hum coming from my daughter's room. Peering around the open door, I find Jackie sitting on the floor, one leg extended, the other bent (knee up). Her arms circle the bent leg with its scraped genou while her fingers are caught in her shoe-laces. With a sigh, she frees her hands from the tangle only to pick up the laces, once again, before repeating this mantra:

Pour faire un noeud
Je fais une boucle
Je tourne autour
Je passe par le petit trou
et je tire...
...Raté!


To make a knot
I fashion a loop
I circle around it
I pass through the little hole
and pull....
...Missed!


Jackie brushes a golden mèche away from her face and begins again. As my 8-year-old repeats the chant, I can just imagine the pressure she must be under. Earlier, her brother had warned her that if she couldn't tie her shoes by the time she was twelve, she would be la honte of middle school.

Behind the shoe-tying girl, tossed over an unmade bed, lies a very bedraggled "Bunny", Jackie's 6-year-old dodu. To say that the plush "pal" was fired or dismissed or laid off would be incorrect. Some time ago, Bunny was let go, as one lets go of a raft to then swim on one's own.

If only tying one's shoes were as easy as swimming... then our fish of a daughter would not be in such a predicament! I think about the disservice I have done my girl by opting for all those non-lacing Mary Jane's or the tennis shoes with the Velcro closures. What was a helpful shortcut for a busy mother is now a honteux obstacle for a determined daughter.

Hands now clasped in supplication, I stand quietly by the door listening to a few more shoe-lace tying attempts:

Pour faire un noeud...
To make a knot...


I listen, front teeth pressing into lower lip, until the last line of  the litany changes:

...et voilà!
...and there I have it!


With a soupir de soulagement I slip away unnoticed and continue on down the hall, my heart swelling. That's my girl! You did it!
. 

:: Le Coin Commentaires ::
Comments, corrections, and stories of your own are welcome in the comments box. Merci d'avance!


French Vocabulary

comment lacer ses chaussures = how to tie one's shoes

le couloir (m) = hallway, corridor 

le genou (m) = knee

la mèche = lock of hair

la honte (f) = the shame

le doudou = security blanket (or stuffed animal that comforts a child)

honteux (honteuse) = disgraceful

un soupir de soulagement = a sigh of relief

 

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Mille Bornes (Card Game)
First published in 1962, Mille Bornes (pronounced "meel born," French for "milestones") is an auto racing card game whose object, for each team of two players, is to be the first to complete a series of 1,000-mile trips.

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Behind the scenes of photo staging...

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Mama Braise (pronounced "BREZ", like PEZ), left, Smokey Bear, right

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That's my knee. You can imagine the contortions involved in photographing these animals.

Idioms & Expressions
le courage fier = lofty courage
faire le fier = to show off
fier comme Artaban = as proud as a peacock
fier comme un pou = "proud as a louse" (arrogant and vain)
être fier de quelque chose = to be proud about something
être trop fier pour mendier = to be too proud to beg
se tenir sur son fier = to hold a high-and-mighty attitude

     Feel free to add to this list. Share an expression in the comments box.

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
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"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.