Bonne Fête: Celebrating Moms Twice!

Bonne fete maman
Read about two inspiring women in today's story. One of them is my Mom, who sends sincere thanks for all the loving messages and prayers you sent her, following the previous post. Merci beaucoup!  Read to the end for a full update and picture of Jules.

TODAY’S WORD: Bonne Fête Maman

        : Happy Mother's Day, Mom

TODAY’S WORD: LE TRAVERSIN

        : bolster (a long, log-shaped pillow)

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Sunday morning, with ten minutes to spare before church, a rack of summer pants caught my eye. A little boutique on Rue des Poilus was going out of business, and everything was on sale. It was Mother's Day in France, and though we already celebrated American Mother's Day two weeks ago, I decided to observe it twice this year by offering Mom a nice pair of summer pants. We certainly had something to celebrate: Mom was getting a second lease on life after checking into the hospital last Monday.

Though she asked me not to visit this weekend, I missed Mom terribly. Besides, she needed shampoo, Kleenex, and a fresh towel after a week in the hospital (hospitals in France do not provide these essentials). I decided to surprise her with a brief visit—just 30 minutes. "Pas plus!" No more! After all, she had kicked me out a few times and gently told me not to come back over the weekend. I finally understood how exhausting it is to receive visitors, even your own daughter, when you're in a hospital.

Running late now for church, I grabbed a pair of black linen pants from the outdoor rack and hurried inside to pay when a woman of a certain age appeared at the entrance. "Coucou!" she said to the owner, wishing her the best with a wide smile. For as reserved and shy as the boutique owner and I were, Madame was exuberant. Impeccably styled with her hair teased and lacquered, she held a colorful bouquet of peonies and a bright yellow bag labeled "fine Belgian chocolates."

"Elles sont magnifiques!" the owner smiled.

"I bought them for myself—for Mother's Day!" the woman boasted, stepping into the boutique. "Et oui, les chocolats aussi!" she grinned.

As I watched her, she reminded me of Mom, just a few years ago. How I longed for her to return to her vibrant, adventurous self. But I knew Jules' fatigue wasn't from a lack of zest for life—it was from an undiagnosed health issue the doctors were only now beginning to understand.

Shaking myself out of my reverie, I turned to the lady with the flowers. "Quelle bonne idée!" I said, admitting, "My kids haven't called me yet!" It wasn't fair to imply they had forgotten La Fête des Meres. I knew that, after church, I'd be returning home to a nice lunch on the terrace with Max and Ana, though Jackie would be at work. The idea I wouldn't see my daughter on Mother's Day saddened me.

The woman with the flowers turned to me, her smile radiating right through me. She shook the bouquet and smiled, "On n'est jamais mieux servi que par soi-même!"

Admiring her style with her leopard purse, her slacks/jacket ensemble, and T-shirt avec des paillettes, I just had to tell her how cool she was—in an indirect way (à la française!). "I love your attitude. And that’s such a great phrase. Could you please repeat it?"

"Bien sûr! On n'est jamais mieux servi que par soi-même."

As I struggled to remember it, Madame encouraged me to write it down, waiting patiently for me to open my phone and find my notes. I mouthed the translation as I typed: "If you want to get something done, you have to do it yourself." It was a wonderful lesson from a dynamic woman, who shared she was eighty-five and always looking on the bright side. I couldn't wait to get to the hospital and share the encounter with Mom while she opened her presents (du coup, I also got her a box of chocolates and flowers, compliments of  my sister Heidi and me).

At the Hôpital Européen in Marseille, I knocked quietly on door number 3404. Mom sat up in bed, surprised to see me and Jean-Marc. She looked more beautiful than ever, without makeup and her trademark Panama. Une beauté naturelle! "I'm so glad you are here," she admitted, revealing her loneliness. When she reached out to hug us, I saw the bruises up and down her arms. "They're bloodthirsty here," Mom laughed, making light of the many prises de sang she had given the nurses.

I noticed Mom no longer had her new favorite pillow—the "traversin" she had discovered in her room that first day. She had shared that room with two different patients before being transferred to her own room, in which the traversin was forgotten.

"Mom, you’ve got to speak up. Ask for what you need! By the way, did they ever bring you that bottle of water? And are they giving you your eye drops—three different kinds a day? I hope they are remembering to take your blood pressure from below your knee!" (We learned that, in France, for those who have had breast cancer, protocol is not to take blood pressure from the arm. Something about lymph nodes and swelling.)

Not wanting to wear Mom out with reminders, I delivered the bottom line. "Mom! You know what Grandma Audrey used to say: 'The squeaky wheel gets the oil.' Do you know what that means?"

"It means bitch, bitch, bitch if you need something!"

Now that we were laughing again, I broke the news to her. "You will be here a few more days. I'll be back on Tuesday. In the meantime, you've got to advocate for yourself!"

"If only I could advocate for better food," Mom laughed. "Today's was the first good meal all week. So when I was done eating, I took that little menu included with each meal and flipped it over. On the back, I wrote 'BEST MEAL YET'."

I hope the chef will understand Mom’s English. But if Jules gets desperate enough, she might take Madame Flower’s advice and head down to the cafeteria to serve herself. Remember, dear reader, on n’est jamais mieux servi que par soi-même!

***
Post Note: Hurrying out of the boutique on my way to church, I rounded the corner and was surprised by a lovely young woman sitting on one of the steps. It was Jackie, waiting in the wings to surprise me with a “Happy Mother's Day, Mom!”

Madame Fleurs
"Madame Fleurs" and the shop owner, two lovely women I met on Sunday.


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FRENCH VOCABULARY 

Click here to listen to Jean-Marc pronouce the French and English vocabulary

Bonne Fête, Maman! = Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!
l'église
= the church
Rue des Poilus = Poilus Street
les pantalons = pants
elle me manquait = I missed her
Pas plus! = No more!
Coucou! = Hi there!
d'un certain âge = of a certain age
Elles sont magnifiques! = They are magnificent!
pour la fête des mères = for Mother's Day
Et oui, les chocolats aussi! = And yes, the chocolates too!
le zeste pour la vie = zest for life
Quelle bonne idée! = What a good idea!
ensemble avec des paillettes = outfit with sequins
à la française! = in the French way!
Bien sûr! = Of course!
On n'est jamais mieux servi que par soi-même = If you want to get something done, you have to do it yourself
du coup = as a result / so
L'Hôpital Européen = The European Hospital
la prise de sang = blood sample
une beauté naturelle = a natural beauty
le traversin = the bolster pillow

”LES POILUS” (a historic note from Odile GOUGET)

Kristi, You mentioned la Rue des Poilus in your post. I thought your readers might be interested in knowing that "les Poilus" is the nickname that was given to the soldiers of the First World War (La Grande Guerre). 
One reason may be that in the trenches they grew their beards and moustaches and therefore all looked hairy.
Another reason may be that "avoir du poil" means to be brave. Les poilus were the brave men fighting on the front contrary to 
"les embusqués". In France during the First World War, an "embusqué" was an able-bodied man of mobilisation age who was away from combat positions. "Embusqués" included a wide range of categories: those exempted and deferred on health grounds, except for the obviously incapacitated, soldiers in the rear, men in the auxiliary services and the territorial army, workers assigned to the armaments industry, and civil servants with surplus pay. Protected from danger, the ambushers were generally despised and, at the same time, often envied. 
Best wishes from
Odile
 

Jules and breezy
A favorite picture of Mom, with Breezy, taken before she moved to France in 2018. As of today, Thursday, Mom has been in the hospital for 11 days—all for testing. Yesterday she was transported via ambulance from Marseille to Aubagne for a special TEP, or PET scan. We hope this is the last test and that she’ll be released soon. She is desperate to return home to her cozy studio, for a good snuggle with Ricci. Please keep Mama Jules in your thoughts and prayers for healing and for her insurance to kick in. The hour of reckoning is upon us! We can’t thank you enough for your caring notes 💗

Below is a beautiful painting Mom did years ago, representing our family here in France. The deer from left to right are Jean-Marc, Max, me, Jackie, and Grandma Jules. I brought the painting to the hospital to brighten Mom’s room and to leave her in good company when we are away from the hospital and she is on her own.  

IMG_2839_Original

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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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Convoquer: Leap of Faith & Mom goes into the Hospital

IMG_2727_Original
Missing Grandma Jules at this celebration for Max's 29th birthday in beautiful Cassis. An update on my mom in today's story. From left to right: Jean-Marc, Ana, Jackie (reflected in the mirror) Max, and me. (If this, or any photo in this post is not showing, click on the link or somewhere in the empty square to bring it up. My blog site is experiencing issues!)

TODAY'S WORD: CONVOQUER

    : to summon, to call in, to convoke
    : to be asked to attend

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A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

"Leap of Faith"

Friday was set to be a joyous celebration of our son’s 29th birthday. Instead, it turned into a poignant reminder of the delicate balance between joy and worry that our family is experiencing lately.

Before we left for dinner in Cassis, Max went around the yard to his grandmother's studio in a last-ditch effort to get Jules to join us for the festivities. "What a beautiful dress," Max said, pointing to the panther robe my sister and I had gifted Mom. It was hung on the rack above the kitchen island, beside her bed, where I had begun packing her bag for the hospital.

"Would you try it on for me?" Max persisted. Beyond, two of Mom's doves, Mama and Papa, perched on the bars of her kitchen window, as if waiting for her reply. Talk about lucky ducks:  six years ago, when Mom moved in with us and found them in our back yard, it was like winning the bird lottery for those hungry tourterelles! The three of them were fast friends and would sit in the garden all day long, the birds landing on Mom's head, her arms, her legs, while Mom fed them sunflower seeds. But, for the past two years, Mom has not spent much time outside, as she has been drawn to her bed, fatigued. So the birds watch over her now from afar, and hurry round the yard to my place when they need food. 

Back in the studio, Mom stood beside Max, hesitant to answer his question. I could tell she was too tired for an impromptu fashion show, yet her eyes lit up. Anything for her darling grandson.

After helping Jules put the robe on over her nightgown, Max stood back in awe. "You look beautiful, Grandma! Won't you come with us tonight? We are going to the hotel in Cassis where Jackie is bartending tonight. Ana will be there, too! And we’ll have a beautiful table overlooking the sea!"

"Oh, that sounds wonderful, Max. Another time," Mom smiled, pinching his arm affectionately. She needed to rest, and the stress of waiting to know whether she would be able to go to the hospital, to undergo several exams, was beginning to take a toll.

Last month, after the doctor scheduled Mom’s four-day hospital stay for May 20th, I waited anxiously for a message from insurance alerting me that Mom’s expired medical coverage had been renewed. Each day, I checked our mailbox twice, sometimes three times. Meanwhile, I waited for the hospital to call to confirm the date. 

When May rolled around and still no news from insurance, it dawned on me that, here in France, it was the month of jours fériers. With all the national holidays, would Mom’s file ever be processed? Finally, on Tuesday, a letter arrived informing me that her dossier was incomplete. But how could that be? I had carefully included each item on their checklist! What's more, they were now asking for four additional documents, all of which would be impossible for me to furnish on time (or any time for that matter!). 

C’était la panique! But there was no time to clam up. Better to reach out. Ask for help! 

Jean-Marc got on the phone, explaining the situation, and, miracle of miracles, le fonctionnaire on the other end admitted the setback was their fault and that our dossier was indeed complete. Only, he would now have to send it to another office for validation.

"But this could take weeks!" I cried to Jean-Marc.

"There’s nothing we can do but wait," my husband shrugged.

But we didn’t have time to wait. May 20th was only six days away!

I tried contacting the hospital to inform them of the situation, that, malheureusement, we would need to cancel (if indeed they were still expecting Mom. It seemed more likely she had fallen through the cracks, completely forgotten). I began to wonder if it was worth it to keep calling when, even if I did get through (instead of being rerouted each time and automatically disconnected), it meant losing our appointment and therefore losing contact with the hospital’s internist—in which case Mom would really be set back. 

Then, on Friday, I was surprised by a brief message on my answering machine: "Vous êtes convoquée à l’hôpital lundi à 15 heures."

Wait. What? In the eleventh hour, the hospital calls to confirm? This posed yet another souci: I needed to warn them we wouldn’t be showing up! Not without insurance! As I struggled to know just what to do next, I kept hearing the nurse’s authoritative voice replay in my head:

"Vous êtes convoquée à l’hôpital lundi à 15 heures."

We were being convoked. Well, in that case, why not simply follow orders? Why complicate things? Just follow the plan and trust everything will work out. These thoughts were immediately freeing, and my anxieties began to fall away, finally.

These past three weeks have been especially nerve-racking, with Mom getting worse by the day. Apart from making her as comfortable as possible, I feel so helpless. I burst into tears at the most unexpected times and in inappropriate places—much like a friend of ours who lost her son, only the loved one I’m grieving is still with me. But for how long? How serious is Mom’s condition? It began with a sharp pain behind her eye, which eventually was diagnosed as inflammation…uveitis. But there was something beneath even this, the doctor explained, suspecting some sort of autoimmune issue.

Watching Mom grow more and more tired by the day, and after the disheartening news from insurance, I could not wait one more minute for word from insurance confirming her coverage. I called my sister Heidi and it was easily decided: Mom would go into the hospital on Monday! We would stick to the plan. She would undergo testing, with or without l’assurance française! From here on out we would depend on the holy assurance from above and from within: the conviction that if Mom needed to go to the hospital, she would go!

Now that our decision has been made, I feel relief mixed with fear. But more relief than fear. This is a leap of faith and, come what may, we will continue to trust that everything will work out. Sometimes, all we can do is trust in the process and hold on to hope. Tout va bien se passer. And, with all hope, Mom will be feeling better soon. Given her positive, grateful, and faithful attitude, she is halfway there! Now, let’s get her all of the way through this with a collective prayer: if each person reading this would pause and take a moment to think of Jules, to wish her all good health and healing, I am certain this unified prière will begin to work inside every cell in her precious body. And before long, we’ll have a second chance to dine in Cassis, with Mom in that smashing panther robe. I can already feel the sea breeze! 

 

Mom panther robe Max

Jules and Kristi at the hospital in Marseille

Update: We checked Mom in to the hospital on May 20th. She is undergoing testing through Monday or Tuesday of next week. Thanks for keeping Jules in your prayers. If you like, leave her a message below. Merci!

COMMENTS
To leave a comment or an encouraging note to Mom, click here. I will read her your messages.

REMERCIEMENTS
A big thank you to our readers for their donations. Your support is invaluable and truly helps in the creation of this French word journal. I am sincerely grateful!

Judy F.
Cate S.
Conrad N.

Paige H.
Trish A.
Linda H.
C-Marie P.
Judith C.

So enjoy FWAD and your insightful writings. Thank you! (Glad Chief Grape is home.) --Paige H.

FRENCH VOCABULARY

Click here to listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French and English vocabulary


convoquer
= to summon

l’anniversaire
(m) = birthday

la tourterelle = dove

la panique = panic

le souci = worry, concern

Vous êtes convoquée à l’hôpital lundi à 15 heures = You are summoned to the hospital on Monday at 3 PM

malheureusement = unfortunately

le/la fonctionnaire = the bureaucrat

l’assurance française = French insurance

Tout va bien se passer = Everything will be alright

la prière = prayer

Jm poster boat
An exciting surprise awaited Jean-Marc on his return from New Zealand to La Ciotat: A municipal poster, currently showing in town, features his wooden boat!

PROVENCE WINE TOURS
Jean-Marc is back and ready to begin his Provence Wine Tours. Contact him for more information at [email protected]

Ricard sign in Marseilles
I've added some color to this snapshot (taken on the way home from the hospital in Marseille. Good to see these old signs are still up).

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.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
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Banderole & A Warm Welcome Home to Jean-Marc

IMG_1927
Look who's back! Jean-Marc has returned from New Zealand. Today, read about the sweet reunion while learning several new French words and phrases. Photo taken on Tongariro.

TODAY’S WORD: " LA BANDEROLE"

    : banner 

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A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

On the eve of American Mother’s Day (which differs from La Fêtes des Mères here in France if only by the date) our matriarch Jules was up all night, busy contemplating the sky. Lying in her cozy bed, gazing out la baie vitrée beyond the pine trees to a patch of sky blanketing our sleepy seaside town, Mom was guessing the exact celestial location of her beau-fils, who, after 3 months away, was en route from New Zealand to France.

“I didn’t sleep all night!” Mom said, excited to see her “Number 1 Son” as she calls him. It was rare for Mom to appear on my doorstep before noon, but this was not a normal day. “What time will he be here?!” Jules pressed.
“Mom! I’ve told you many times. Jean-Marc touches down in Marseille at 10:15 a.m. By the time he goes through immigration, collects his bags, clears customs, and meets Max for the drive home, it will be noon.”

“Grandma, I need your help with the Welcome Home banner,” Jackie said, diverting her grand-mère’s attention. It was my daughter’s idea to create une banderole, but we didn’t have many craft supplies and we were running out of time. Shouldn’t we put our energy into something more reasonable—like making dessert for our reunion lunch?

“Oh, Mom. Come on! We’ll figure it out. Where are the felt tip pens?” 
“They’re upstairs,” I relented. “I’ll get them….”

Motion has a way of stirring creative thought and by the time I reached the top of the stairs, boom! It hit me. A roll of wax paper. Ça fera l’affaire! Returning with the pens, I grabbed some papier de cuisson from the drawer beneath the microwave and unrolled 4 feet of wax paper.

“Will you write the sign?” Jackie asked.  
“But you are the one with the pretty handwriting!” Realizing this was no time to dawdle, I accepted the honor and sketched the words “Welcome Home” in all caps before grandmother and granddaughter went to work decorating l’affiche. Jackie drew the mountains Jean-Marc had climbed (Taranaki and Tongariro) on one side and, in the center, she doodled a partial world map joining France and New Zealand via a dotted line with an airplane flying midway along les points.

Jules, who normally paints scenes using her palette knife, paused for several moments holding a foreign object in her hand: a Sharpie. To Mom, a pen was something you wrote with; nevertheless, she painted, this time, with words:

“Jean-Marc is the Greatest Son in the World!” she exclaimed, in one stroke, and “I love my beautiful son!! XOXO Mom” in another. A final flourish read, simply “I love you” (enclosed in a pink heart). 

A bright yellow orb shone from the right side of la banderole. Beside le soleil the words SO PROUD OF YOU! summed up our collective message. Finally, to the lower right, I carved out an old-fashioned heart with our initials JM + K. Voilà our heartfelt banner–and there I’d thought it would be a complicated project. Sometimes you’ve got to trust in la spontanéité. Speaking of which…the queen of spontaneity had an idea:

“Here, take my credit card and go buy some of those little patisseries at the baker!” Just like that, Jules had graciously solved our dessert dilemma. Meantime, Jackie could not find any balloons but located some sparklers and attached them to a bottle of rosé to be carried out as the family sang Bienvenue, Papa! 

We had just pulled everything together, including the cake run, when we heard voices in the garden--and those weren't the neighborhood cats. Max came in first, in time to hurry over to la banderole and add a final message for his dad: it read “Vigneron du monde!” (Worldwide Wine Maker!) En effet, if Jean-Marc had left for New Zealand in the first place, it was for more than climbing mountains, he was there to help a team of winemakers as well as to reach new summits in his own wine path: he even managed to make 50 liters of rosé on the side. (Unfortunately, there was too much sugar in the grapes or this would have been his 5th batch of Ephemera: a series of ephemeral wines he makes now and then, from various locations: Willamette Valley, OR,  USA, Etna, Sicily, Italy, and Provence, France).

His own ephemeral journey over, here he was now, in the flesh, our Chief Grape! He had dropped 4 kilos but that mischievous grin was bigger than ever as he stood there on the threshold of our home. Ricci ran up, and we all held our collective breath. Would she recognize the disheveled voyager? After all, we had recently adopted her before Jean-Marc left for New Zealand. 

Our little shepherd approached cautiously until a warm recognition came over her. Ça y est. Son maitre était de retour! With that, the room erupted in cheers:

“Bienvenue, Papa!”
“Papouche!!”
“Welcome home, Chérito!”
“There’s my son!”
“Woof! woof!”

Jean-Marc’s eyes glassed over as he hugged each of us, deeply touched by the warm welcome. “Merci pour ce chaleureux accueil. Merci, merci, c’est gentil,” he repeated, his voice full of emotion. In the distance, the colorful banner added extra cheer, reminding me of the spontaneous joy that comes from following a loving hunch. Bravo, Jackie, for the symbolic banderole. It will be a tradition from here on out, wax paper and all!

***

Post Note: After the heartfelt reunion everyone ran to the beach to jump into the sea—everyone, except Grandma, Ricci, and me. As my husband often reminds me, "Just do what you want to do!" Chacun fait ce qu’il a envie de faire! I leave you with that little bit of Chief Grape wisdom, along with a touch of my own (learned from a French grammar teacher in college): “There are exceptions to every rule.” Do what you want to do—go to the party or don’t if you don’t want to, but know when you must go.

This is how my husband and I were able to give each other the freedom to pursue our personal interests these past three months. He climbed mountains, and I dove deep into my own challenging and rewarding pursuits, including writing and caring for my Mom. This together-apart fusion reminds me of the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

“Aimer, ce n'est pas se regarder l'un l'autre, c'est regarder ensemble dans la même direction.”

Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction. 

IMG_2634_OriginalJackie and Jules, our resident artists working on the Welcome Home banderole. All that was missing was a paw print from Ricci! What could we have used for that? Half a beet? Spontaneity says It's not too late to add it now.

COMMENTS
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Corrections are welcome and appreciated.

REMERCIEMENTS

Sincere thanks to readers for sending in a donation towards creating this French word journal. Your support makes such a difference and I appreciate it!

Chuck V.
Carol L.
Mazzie W.
Debra M.

 

Jean-Marc and Ricci swim
Jean-Marc and Ricci's reunion, followed by our dog's first swim!  

FRENCH VOCABULARY 

Click here to listen to the French words and expressions banderole

La Fête des Mères = Mother's Day

la baie vitrée = bay window

le beau-fils = son-in-law

la grand-mère = grandmother

une banderole = a banner

la spontanéité = spontaneity

le soleil = the sun

le papier de cuisson = wax paper

l’affiche = the poster

les points = the points (the dots)

Vigneron du monde = Worldwide Wine Maker

Ça fera l’affaire = That will do the trick

Ça y est = There it is

Son maître était de retour = Her master was back

Chérito = (a term of endearment, similar to "dear" or "darling")

le chaleureux accueil = warm welcome

Chacun fait ce qu’il a envie de faire = Everyone does what they want to do

Aimer, ce n'est pas se regarder l'un l'autre, c'est regarder ensemble dans la même direction = Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction

IMG_1926
Félicitations, Chief Grape, for following your dreams to New Zealand and making wine.

PROVENCE WINE TOURS
Jean-Marc is back and ready to begin his Provence Wine Tours. Contact him to reserve a date at [email protected]

IMG_1928
Jean-Marc on the top of Taranaki. Where will he go next?

Kristi and Jules cruise
Wait! Maybe it's time for me and mom to travel next! (I'm only dreaming. We are still waiting for Mom's health insurance to renew so she can get to the bottom of her current health issues. So I have made this hopeful poster/dream board of the two of us, to look at until this dream comes true!)

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.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety