poix (pitch) + Night blindness while driving

How to say "life vest" in French: bouée de sauvetage

Barcelonnette France christmas decorations (c) Kristin Espinasse
                           Decking the French halls in the town of Barcelonnette. 

bouée de sauvetage (booay deuh sove tazh)

    : lifebelt, lifeline, lifebuoy

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

I sit and I listen. I try to ignore the temptation to go upstairs and work on the computer. Email can wait. So can senseless surfing. This is where I need to be: facing my belle-mère, listening. As for the internet, which beckons, it can be a black hole in which I can throw every "spare" minute. I don't want black holes. I want fountains of light; presently I see them in my mother-in-law's eyes.

If I look closely, aligning my pupils with her own, then, more than light, I see the very fires of her soul. Heat enough to purify my own pathetic wanderings until I am back on track, engaging in life.

I train my eyes on the seventy-one-year-old speaker. Keep focused! none of this nervous glancing around the kitchen to dwell on yet another dusty distraction. The dust will always win, winning our very bodies in the end!

Lifesavers... she is talking about life savers....

"Elles sont mes bouées de sauvetage." "They are my lifeline," my mother-in-law is explaining. And I hear, once again, about the wonderful women in her life. The selfless "sisters" who check in with her twice a week. 

"Elles sont tellement occupées... mais elles sont toujours là pour moi."  "They are so busy... yet they are always there for me." I hear about her dear friends Katherine and Eliane: two French women who are, to my mother-in-law, veritable heroines.

Their relationship skirts the boundaries of "race" and religion (my mother-in-law being a proud "pied-noir" and an unconvertible atheist). Her "angels" are evangelical but my belle-mère doesn't mind their differences just as long as they don't preach to her!  

"Et qu'est-ce qu'on se marre! On se marre comme des petites vieilles!" Oh, and how we laugh! We laugh like little old women!" With that, my mother-in-law's eyes twinkle like sunlit drops from the Fountain of Youth.

She is laughing now, her heart 200 kilometers away, back home in Marseilles, where her angels are gathered with their own families. After a few more chuckles of appreciation for her friends, I watch her reach up to clasp her upper arm. Her shoulder is hurting her again; her laughing trails off and her mind returns to the present, where pain tortures her limbs.

My own heart is now light years away from the internet. I reach over to rub my belle-mère's back. I do not know whether she likes this outreached hand on her back, but I learn as I go.


French Vocabulary
la belle-mère
= mother-in-law
le pied-noir = a "black foot" (a North African born French woman or man) 


Bien dire magazine Keep up your French with Bien Dire (magazine subscription). A 52-page magazine to improve your French that you'll enjoy reading! Full of interesting articles on France and French culture, Bien-dire helps you understand what it is to be French order here.


Smokey says"reftrovers... mmm mmm!" 

golden retriever puppies france vineyard dog
Smokey: back when leftovers were rare! (pictured Smokey and his 5 sisters)

Did I tell you that my mother-in-law is the best cook in the world? Here is one of my favorite recipes of hers... one that Jean-Marc uses this time of year. (Currently the recipe is in French only... you are welcome to help translate it!). Click here to go to view this recipe

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


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


Being English and having married a "pied-noir" 48 years ago ... being an evangelical with many atheist friends ... being 71 years old ... having hurting limbs ... loving my daughters and their spouses ...

I can relate so much to what I have just read.

Thank you Kristin for this touching account :-)

gail bingenheimer

Il ne s'est jamais servi du service de thé qu'il a hérité de sa grandmère.
He has never used the tea service that he inherited from his grandmother.

Christine Dashper

I agree with Rainbow, Kristin, this is a truly touching piece. Thanks!!

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Salut Kristin,

Being almost as old as dirt, I’m the “patriarch” on my family tree. My parents, sisters and beaux-parents (in-laws) have all passed away. Enjoy your père, mère et belle-mère now. The memories will be priceless later. Sounds like you’re on the right track!

À bientôt

Marianne Rankin

It's good of you to keep in touch with your mother-in-law. How did you do it - did you install Skype on your computer so you can see her?

My mother-in-law passed away in August, at age 97 1/2. Fortunately, she was able to live her whole life in her own home. I made a point of visiting her, which was easy, because she lived a little over a mile away.

I recently attended a birthday party for a friend who turned 65. More than gifts, what she appreciated was people coming to her celebration a week before Christmas, some from quite a distance (I was relatively close at 47 miles).

Keeping in touch is the best present.

I hope the Espinasse family had a wonderful Christmas.

Julie F

What a lovely story, Kristen. Don't we all know the pull of the computer and daily chores. For this Christmas season I put it aside, too, to drive my daughter from St. Louis to Atlanta so she could spend 36 hours listening to her méme (granny?) tell her own tales before we drove home again to surround ourselves with more family. Talking is always the best present we receive.

Annette Heath

I love the lesson....I so agree that we spend too much time at the computer. Time that is often a waste. Merci pour your wise words about being really PRESENT in the moment...with our loved ones and dear friends. Bonne Annee Kristin, to you and your loved ones. Annette

ann ceraldi

Kristin, you're so fortunate to have a good relationship with your belle mere! After 20 years of trying with my own in laws, I finally gave up. If only they had been atheist! We are an atheist family, and my in laws are devout catholics. They would never leave us alone, constantly preaching and bringing up religion. My father in law even said that our children were no longer welcome in his house, since they had not been baptized! Now I have no contact with them at all, but my husband still drives to visit them occasionally. It's sad that some people become such a slave to their religion that it blinds them to what is really important in life--love and family!
Wishing you and your family a very happy new year!

Tamara Dever

Just wanted you to know how excited I am that my parents gifted me with a copy of your book for Christmas! Can't wait to dive in. Thank you for writing and publishing. :)

Ann, I'm sorry your in-laws don't understand the true meaning of God's love and are instead caught up in rituals. :(


Oh Kristin, you are so right! How many times have I been distracted by the internet when I am talking to a love one. Some times the people in our life are boring and repetitive but can the internet be more important than the memory jewels that they share with us. What is more important than being there to share these memories. Thanks for the insight!
Happy New Year!

Julius Lester

Sometimes your short vignettes are like prose-poems, and this is one of your best.

Mike Hardcastle

This comment is also on the recipe link where half of it is more appropriate but I'm keen to get advice.
I loved the inference that your mother in law is teaching you without lessons that it is far more important to sit and listen than it is to be distracted by the odd patch of missed dust although I suspect that you don't really need teaching. Her 'sisters' network sounds wonderful. My neighbour has just lost her husband and she is bemoaning the fact that there is a multitude of widows in our small village. I go over to see her a couple of times a week to try to lift her spirits.
The recipe looks marvelous and I will print it out for future reference. It could easily be converted to a pate recipe. I won't do the translation though, you have readers far more scholarly than myself.
Incidentally I can thoroughly recommend 'Je Sais Cuisinier' for the recipes and their simplicity, which suits a beginner like myself, still in only my second year or learning to cook.
I could do with a little advice from one (or more) of your readers. I have 12 for dinner next Monday and have decide to give them Chicken Cacciatore as the main course because it can be prepared, and for the most part cooked in advance, but what is the traditional accompaniment? I was considering penne pasta. The rest of the meal is easy: pate to start, cheeses after the main, and I shall make some ice-cream with a little Cointreau, chopped peaches, and crumbled meringues (you have to do something with the egg whites) for dessert, with bread from 'the best baker in all of France' bien sur.
Please help all you chefs de cuisine.
Thanks for another good daily read Kristen and Bonne annee to you and yours,

Myra  (New Orleans, LA)

In addition to the lovely story, I so enjoyed the photo. It reminds me of New Orleans, as viewed down Chartres St. toward the St. Louis Cathedral. It truly is beautiful!

Thank you for sharing the photo and the story.

As in prior requests, the weather here in New Orleans is absolutely perfect! Beautiful sun shiny skies, maybe 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Dry and gorgeous!


Such sweetness. I can connect on so many levels with these precious moments that you described. The struggle to stay present in the moment and the blessing that come with a listening ear. Thank you so much for sharing this moment in life. Mary

Jules Greer

Julius you must have been typing your comment at the very moment Kristi and I were talking on the phone. I had just told her her story was elevated to prose, I am honored that you THINK LIKE I DO... I was also telling Kristi to keep on opening up and sharing her thoughts and reactions to life (she is constantly censoring (sp?) herself. I can just see the day comingg when she let's herself out of her cage - I feel the freedom coming - we all just received a scrap of what she is capable of today. As I keep telling Kristi, "The next seven years are going to be your best."

Mike - you are so cute now that you are in the fog of 'LOVE' Of course we are all going to help you along your new path with all kinds of tips and receipes. As I always tell Kristi, ALWAYS look into their eyes, and always lay your hand upon their arm, shoulder etc. = that's how you really make the love FLOW. I am so happy you have found this wonderful person and new life.

Kristi - I love you so much...what joy you bring to my life.



Mike Hardcastle

You have brought tears to my eyes.
Need I say more,

Pat Cargill

I am moved by today's story. I remember how difficult it could be to just "be" with my Mother at times. Having just lost her December 13, I am slowly going through the mourning process and it is nothing like nothing...all the frustrations and hurts and other "stuff" of the past are meaningless when one's Mother has died. Yet living with each other can be very difficult.

My heart goes out to Ann whose in-laws' cold, closed hearts have turned against children and grandchildren. "Truth is one, paths are many" Satchindinanda used to say. We are all perfectly flawed and pefectly perfect in our own ways. Living with open minded hearts, appreciating our differences, and lowering/disappearing expectations help us to live without regrets.

I am trying not to look back with regrets...it is hard right now. Every cell is sad and of course, I know I could have done more, been more, loved more and especially, listened more. This is the paradox of living, that those of us left behind when a loved one passes are acutely aware of our limitations. I find comfort in knowing that this is one of life's most important lessons and your blog totday tells this so beautifully. Thank you, Kristin.

Best wishes to you and everyone for a beautiful, peaceful, life-full-of-loving New Year.

p.s. We saved a couple bottles of Rouge-Bleu for Christmas Eve--greatly enjoyed and appreciated by all. Many thanks, J-M et famille.

Karen from Phoenix, AZ

Pat, I am so sorry for your loss. It is hard without Mom. I lost mine back in 1997 way to soon. Dad is gone as well (2002). I still think of them everyday and wish they could have seen what wonderful men my boys have become.

Mike, I second what Jules said. She said it so wonderfully.

Krisitn, Thank you again for the beautiful story. Your love comes right through the words.

Happy and Safe New Year to all FWAD followers.

Mike Hardcastle

The important thing Pat is to accept that we cannot change the past, we are only able to take what we have learned into the future. My marriage was better than many and we were together for 46 happy years but I still looked for reasons to reproach myself after Carole died. It did me no good and eventually reason won through.

Best wishes for the future,


Sharon Auckerman

Beautiful post today! And as someone in my 60's I know how important it is to keep in touch with friends on a regular basis. My parents are alone a lot because they do not pick up the phone and call because they feel no one wants to be disturbed. I wish they could feel the closeness I feel when I call friends and family just to ask, "how are you today?"

Mama Jules words today were just at touching as your story.

Happy Holidays to all of you.

Joyce Hoover

Just continue being you and thank you for all you give to us. Sincerely Joyce Hoover

Alicia Snyder

I am in a menu planning quandry!
We have been coming to Paris/French environs for the past 10 years.

You'd think I'd have some idea of what to serve some franchophile friends after an entre of rich onion soup (made with a broth of carmelized beef bones)!

Any ideas out there?
Merci beaucoup.

Alicia in Albuquerque

Stacy, Applegate, Oregon

I am so touched, so glad I took a few minutes to read today's post and comments. It is timely Kristi, on many levels. My prayers of the past few days have been about remaining present to the gifts right in front of me.

Pat, I am moved by your sharing and sorry for your loss.

The comments here are rich with wisdom and love. Now I must return to my Mom's company, as her visit will be over in a few more days. I don’t want to miss out on another minute.


Kristin, loved your post. Looking in the dictionary for 'se marrer' and its not in mine- which is rather old. You interpreted it to mean 'to laugh' but does it have another conotation or meaning?

Fred Caswell

Chere Kristi, your lesson is for eternity.
When you share so honestly you gain the love of all your readers.

I so yearn to once more walk with you and feel your hand as you steady my unstable gate as we climb a hill or steps! Figuratively, your hand and heart has, de temps en temps, steadied me as I climb the unpredictable hill of life. Mille remerciements!!!!

Housebound yesterday and this morn by a blizzard but able to dig out the car. xo Peace

Fred Caswell

Probably our English word "buoy" (one meaning -- the floating ring used to help or save someone from drowning and struggling to stay afloat) comes from the French "bouuee de sauvetage"?

You frequently throw your readers a blog buoy to help us stay afloat in life's changing currents.



I can identify with comments by Pat, Karen and Sharon and everyone who so beautifully responded to your poetic afternoon with your belle-mere. I am proud of the ASU student who has become a very mature, sensitive, versatile and talented person. I love your WEB Page and if you do not mind, I will share it with my students in French 322 and FRE 451 - French Poetry of the Nineteenth Century. It will be a good learning experience for all. Bonne et prospere nouvelle annee 2011. [Je n'ai pas d'accents]. AGruzinska

Mike Hardcastle

After the soup how about something light, say pan fried salmon or sea trout fillets (about 2 minutes for the trout and more for the salmon depending on the thickness, but do not overcook) serve it with tagliatelle in an olive oil sauce and crisp french bread (ask for the plus bien cuits) nothing else needed, cheese - a hard a soft and a blue, and buy the dessert from your patisserie.

Now does anyone know anything about accompaniments for Chicken cacciatore?
I hope your dinner goes well,


Mike Hardcastle



It has just registered with me that you do not live in France hence my unnecessary instruction on how to ask for the crispest crusted french loaf. If you decide to try my suggestion and would like the recipe for the sauce I will continue to look on this page for a couple of days at least, just in case someone does respond to my request.



Sylvain Gallais

Merveilleux livre, et quelle belle ecriture! Le prochain, en Français ? A faire ecrire par les enfants: "un jour de maman"...
Tres heureux d'apprendre que Kristin a ete etudiante a ASU, qui devient de plus en plus international.
Et tres heureux d'avoir confirmation, si besoin est, que le bonheur est chose simple et facile a creer.
Bravo Kristin ! Nous aimerions que tous nos etudiants a ASU vous ressemblent.

Meredith Hodgson

Bonjour Kristin,
My name is Meredith and I learned of your blog from my belle-mere over the Christmas holiday. Her name is Susan Hodgson and she was friends with your mother years ago. I will be taking French 101 at my college spring semester so my belle-mere thought I'd like your blog...and I do! I look forward to visiting often.

Pat Cargill

Karen, Mike and Stacy, many thanks for your words - they mean a lot. Best wishes, Pat


What a lovely young woman you are to listen to your "elders" with love, respect, kindness, and compassion - to really form a human connection rather than an internet one. I wish more young people were like you.
Thank you for putting yourself out there in your blog, I cherish it.
Heureuse nouvelle annee.

Hawi Moore

This is so touching


nice information with nice photos.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)