Time for a break... (Photo of "Ulysse" The Great Dane taken near Giens)


 saboter (saah boh tay)

    : to mess up

Example Sentence:
C'est 'l'autosabotage': elle fait de son mieux pour saboter ses efforts. It's 'self-sabotage': she does her best to mess up her own efforts.

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


Mom and I are sitting at the kitchen table, slicing kiwis and oranges, layering them into a pottery bowl. After each juicy couche we toss in a mixture of sliced, roasted almonds and some sucre vanillé.

I am still shaking my head. It is indulgent to wallow in self-pity for as long as I have this morning, but I go on stretching things... now that Mom is here to do the listening.

"I should have known better than to leave the quiches to cool outside overnight! I had a feeling that what I was doing was risky... but I did it anyway!" My mind replays the scene in which I walk out onto the patio, stretch before the morning sun, give thanks for the day ahead... when next my long, lifeless hair shoots up and stands on end! A loud cry escapes me as my eyes fix on two SHREDDED tarts--the savory mint and goat cheese pies in which we'd invested so much time last night.

I am shaking in anger from my high-ended hair all the way down to my twisted toes. WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS? I cry out to the field ahead of me. The rabbits run off, the nightingale's song stops... In the silence, I look down at the pies, noticing the claw marks... c'était les chats sauvages!


An hour later and I've salvaged as much of the quiche as possible (the parts still hidden under the heavy covering that I'd rigged in hopes of avoiding such a calamity), cutting up the pie into little squares and presenting it on a pretty platter. After making sure that no part of the salvaged quiche had come into contact with those feral claws, I could only hope that what remained was enough to feed some thirty French relatives...I'd have to supplement things with several slices of toasts de tapenade. Thank goodness we were only in charge of a part of the apéritif and not le plat principal!  

As Mom and I cut up the kiwis and oranges (we are also in charge of part of the dessert) I am once again obsessing over the details of this latest petite calamité. What would the talk show psychologists call it? That's it: sabotage or le sabotage de soi or l'autosabotage!

As I share my woes, I keep a swift eye on Jules, who is having difficulty peeling the oranges. "Mom, you need to get the white part off... don't leave it like that!"

After the sabotaged quiches, I don't want to end up with a sabotaged fruit salad or else we'll have nothing to bring to the annual family picnic!

I look up to make sure I haven't hurt Mom's feelings... I didn't mean to be disrespectful. Just because Mom no longer cooks doesn't mean that she doesn't know how to. She cooked for years--and sewed her girls dresses, and made us blankets, and the rest. Yes REST! These days, she is retired from all that.... Her days as a single mom rearing her children are over. 

Mom continues to skin the oranges and I try to suppress the urge to control my sous-chef. Instead I indulge in another round of rumination.

"I can't believe those cats ate the quiches! Granted, I set them outside on the table to cool, but I had covered them with two oven-racks, one roasting pan, a flower pot (now in pieces, on the ground) and a Heavy casserole. Surely that was enough protection? GRHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

As I obsess about the details, Mom studies me with sympathy, and so I indulge some more...

"Maybe I did it on purpose? Have you heard about those people that sabotage their own efforts? Yes! Why would I set myself up for failure?"

Jules is quick to dismiss any psychobabble: "Maybe it's not about you. Maybe its about the cats!"

With that, my storyteller Mom gives me one of her best:

"Just imagine Mama Cat out there on the eve of her day of honor (here, Jules lifts her knife and points out to the vines, to the wild Mediterranean forest just beyond)..." 

"It's Mother's Day here in France and we're about to go to a family picnic and bust our guts. Meantime, there's a poor old Mama Cat out there... lying flat on her back, eight little 'kids' piled on top of her."

"Just look at all these brats sucking the life out of me!" Mama Cat agonizes.

Crouched behind a nearby bush, a couple of Mama Cat's "teenagers" hatch a plan to help out their distressed mother....

They might rob the poulailler, just around the bend... or check out Madame Canard's nest, along the ruisseau, and see whether she's had her babies yet...

Around about this time a savory ribbon of flavor sweeps into their domain... threading through the vines, over the sweet honeysuckle, and into the wild thyme and lavender den that the cats have taken over.  The cheesy scent snakes around them, hugging their hunger pangs. The teenage cats look up and eye the farmhouse across the field of vines... There on a crooked iron table lie two pies! Only one obstacle is stacked up between them and the prize quiche... some sort of bizarre leaning tower of pots and pans and flower pots...

Mom didn't need to finish her story before the spirit of Mother's Day took hold... and soon I found myself cheering for the wild feral cats and for their poor mama lying lifeless beneath a heavy carpet of screaming brats.

And, just as I did as a child during storytelling hour, I'm now fancying myself the main character (one of the teenage hero cats), bringing home the bacon (or goat-cheese quiche), proud smile on my face....

Any frustration that I have felt over the sabotaged quiches (or, lately, in switching rôles with Mom, cooking all her meals), is replaced with a sense of satisfaction. Finally, it is an honor and a pleasure to care for our moms. 

With a renewed attitude, I am no longer obsessing and I've cut out the psychobabble. I can even resist the temptation to scold my sous-chef for sneaking the odd bite of orange while slicing up the rest of the fruit, imperfectly, but in her very own mama cat way.



Photo taken in Nyons, France. 


French Vocabulary

une couche = layer

le sucre vanille = vanilla-flavored sugar

c'était les chats sauvages = it was the feral, or wild, cats

toast de tapenade = toasted bread with crushed olive (and anchovy and caper and...) spread

l'apéritif(ive) = appetizer

le plat principal, or plat de résistance = main course

la petite calamité = little calamity 

le poulailler = henhouse

le ruisseau = brook, stream


The Greater Journey : Americans in Paris

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

Karen Fawcett

Is the kitty for sale or for loan? She looks so happy basking in the sun chez toi. Bises a tous!


"a savory ribbon of flavor"... Lovely!

Who's the cute pooch?


Beautiful story!


Get ready to laugh at me. When today's post appeared in my e-mail and I saw "saboter", my immediate thought was something to do with sabots, maybe "to clog dance" or "to put on clogs"!

Sorry about the quiches. Apparently human ingenuity is no match for resourceful cats on a mission.


I will miss you.

Your Mom is a gem. You seem to be your Mom's counterpart. You worry and she smiles! Happy Mother's Day to both of you.

Audrey Wilson

Bonne vacançes Kristin
I had a great time in Phoenix with my daughter . Hot air balloon flights & helicopter flights in the Grand Canyon. ! Spectacular !
i shall be posting photos on Facebook eventually. The cats obviously had a ball !


Have a nice rest, Kristin, but pleeeeease, don't ever stop these emails for good! They bring such sweetness and gentleness into my day (((hug)))

Sarah Towle

Happy Mother's Day Krisin and Jules!

Did you know the origin of the word sabotage? It's a cool story. I wrote about it here:

Have a lovely break!

Jens, Copenhagen, Denmark

Dear Kristi,

Enjoy your 'petites vacances à la plage'.

Nice little explanation from your Mom.


Kristin, you have a very special essence, a glow that radiates joy and impish fun. It's infectious and a dose a day is very becoming! Wish we could bottle it while you're away!!
Bonnes vacances, raconteuse supérieure!

Betty Bailey

Love story! Lovely Mom, your Jules!

Bonnes vacances!

Herm in Phoenix, Az

Salut Kristin,

Enjoy your break!

Great story today. . . . The cat’s meow! They say “Real men don’t like quiche”, but this one does! Apparently cats do also.

Today is Memorial Day in America and since many of our fallen war heroes are resting in peace on French soil, this video posted on the French Today blog seems appropriate.

Camille’s French Today website is an excellent site for French learning.


Chere Kristin, please give Jules a hug for me. She is such an inspiration for this mom of the same age. I hope you enjoy your vacance together.


Ah, Kristin! Your mom is not old. Many people continue to work into their 70s and 80s these days. Sixty-four is young in today's society when centenarians are not so rare! She is still mothering. She is mothering you! Happy Mother's Day!

Sophie Day

Will miss 'french word a day' next week. Amuse-toi! And loved the quiche-chats story. I always worry about leaving food to cool outside, but luckily have never had a 'petite calamite'. Happy Mother's Day and Memorial Day!

Fred Caswell

Bonne Fete des Meres aux "Jewels" et Kristi, two fascinating women and terrific meres!!!!

Affectueusement a tous --- Peace


Now we know where you acquired your storytelling ability. Brava Mama!


Happy Mother's day to both of you! I'm drooling for your tarts and thinking that your marauders gifted you with a great story to share as well as a lesson for usnall.

Fred Caswell

An interesting coincidence -- Fete des Meres a France and Memorial Day aux Etats Unis when we honor with ceremonies or remembrances not only those who sacrificed so much for their country but also our loved ones no longer here -- parents (especially moms) &/or other relatives and friends who have significantly enriched our lives. Both on the same date.

Probably 99% of Kristi's readers, already thought of that but this guy felt like adding it to the comments above.

Candy in SW KS

And you're not going to tell us who that gorgeous Great Dane is???!!!! Are you sure that he didn't steal the quiches to take home to his sweetie? There's a whole different story for JULES to tell - one of romance and heroism! Hugs to you both! Have a marvelous time filled with more stories and lots of love!

Karen Whitcome

I love your mother's "reality check" stories and how you weave them into your own!! :o)

Happy Mother's Day & enjoy your much deserved rest.

Maria Cochrane

Kristin - what your mom demonstrated in a imaginative and fun way is the art of reframing. Whenever someone cuts me off in the car, I always imagine that they are on the way to the hospital to give birth. That takes away my self-righteous angry reaction of 'how dare they!!'
I won't forget the cat story, though. It's precious. As you both are.
Reposez-vous pendant les vacances



Happy Mother's day French style - whatever that is. Enjoy your vacation.
I loved the story and started to think about where I have left things - such as a pot of soup over night on my deck which is 12 feet off the ground - but squirrels have been know to climb up and search for goodies. It is funny how you write about something and it triggers many thoughts of my own. Turkey is always left in the garage to cool over night and as I said soup on the deck. Who would have thought that the cats could have gotten into the quiche with all of the pots, etc coving them.But thanks to Jules who made you feel better, but creating a story of a family looking for food.
I'll be looking forward to stories about your vacation and mother's day. Enjoy!

Karen from Phoenix, AZ

Happy Mother's Day to you Kristin and to Jules! Enjoy your time together with family. I will miss your stories next week as they always make for a smile on my face.

Today is Memorial Day: To all of those who have served and are serving our country, thank you.

Audrey glad you had a great time in Phoenix! Maybe next time you visit your daughter some of us from FWAD could meet!


Here, today, it is a "Bank Holiday" and one week off will follow. The weather turned dull, cold, wet and miserable!
... which reminds me of the French proverb:
"Il faut prendre le temps comme il vient
et les gens comme ils sont".
(We must take the weather as it comes and people as they are)

Fair enough! but after today's story we might as well add a third part in the well known proverb and include "les chats sauvages"
" ... et il faut prendre les chats sauvages pour ce qu'ils sont"!
(... and we must take wild cats for what they are)

Not sure whether the quiches needed a whole night outside to cool down, but for wild cats in need of food, they were a perfect invitation. What a treat!... and the treat for the greedy felines turned into a delightful newsletter for all FWAD readers, enjoying Jules' fable written by Kristin! Perfect cooperation.

"Bonnes vacances de l'Ascension Kristin!
& bon retour pour les fêtes (et vacances?) de La Pentecôte"!
I'll be back around the 10th June.

How many elusive wild cats live in the background of our life?...


Do not worry at all about the absence of FWAD for a week.
FWAD ARCHIVES are a big treasure and it would take us weeks and weeks to explore all the past newsletters!
Plenty to enjoy! Mille et mille mercis to have them at our disposal.

Suzanne Dunaway

Are you sure that great Dane-looking chien was not the culprit?

Kristin Espinasse

Enjoying everyones comments. Thank you!

Newforest, your note about my leaving the quiche outside reminds me
that I forgot to add a very important point to the story (will see
about weaving it in later on): In fact, I did not leave the quiche
outside only to cool... but to be out of reach of kids, dogs, and a
certain Chief... It seemed less risky to keep the quiche outside...
than to leave them in the fridge or on the countertop where midnight
snackers might find them. Well, I learned THAT lesson!!!!

*note: this comment might be *sans* apostrophes and other types of
punctuation -- due to a glitch in the comments system (the glitch is
internal, only, so no worries about your own punctuation... or,
rather, no blaming it on the same glitch as I have :-)

Herm and others who have brought up Memorial Day - thank you! Here is
a famous war remembrance poem, In Flanders Fields, by Canadian
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. McCraie, a field surgeon during the
First World War, wrote the poem after seeing his friend killed during
the Second Battle of Ypres.

The English translation and touching story can be found here:

Au champ dhonneur
(translated by Jean Pariseau)

Au champ dhonneur, les coquelicots
Sont parsemés de lot en lot
Auprès des croix; et dans lespace
Les alouettes devenues lasses
Mêlent leurs chants au sifflement
Des obusiers.

Nous sommes morts,
Nous qui songions la veille encor
À nos parents, à nos amis,
Cest nous qui reposons ici,
Au champ dhonneur.

À vous jeunes désabusés,
À vous de porter loriflamme
Et de garder au fond de lâme
Le goût de vivre en liberté.
Acceptez le défi, sinon
Les coquelicots se faneront
Au champ dhonneur.

See the original post with a photo of a poppy field:

Bill Facker

Aha! Now I know where to go for a warm helping of quiche after a frivolous evening in the cellar ... Guard the Lunatique, my friends, guard the Lunatique! Aloha Kristin, and Mahalo for your continued giving! Bill Facker

Marianne Rankin

Yes, there are always two sides (at least) to every story. As Maria Cochrane noted, it's good to impute the best motives to people; as Jules recounted, we can do the same for animals. I try not to let having a bad day cause me to make others have a bad one, too.

We can be glad that whatever part of the quiches weren't eaten by people didn't go to waste. I tell myself that local critters - rabbits, maybe - can use and enjoy my strawberries as much as I do.

And especially in the USA, where the tendency is to make any holiday into a shopping day, it's good to be reminded of the day's intended purpose, and to be able to read "In Flanders Fields" in both English and French.

Cynthia Lewis

Thankyou, Kristin, for reminding us of the beautiful and equally sad poem from WWI: "In Flanders Fields". When I was young, the veterans sold red paper poppies around Veterans Day in November (here in the USA). These paper poppies were for sale everywhere you went; people wore them in their lapels,through a button hole of a sweater or anywhere you could twist and secure the metal stem covered in green paper. I miss those poppies. .
Have a restful and fun filled vacation!

Kristin Espinasse

Hi Candy, The gorgeous Great Dane lives at a beachfront cafe near in Giens. Here is the original post with the photo of Ulysse (the great dane) and the location of the beach:

Alberta Boileau

Thank you very much for some very treasured information in your comment re: In Flanders Fields. Jean Pariseau and I had been close friends as teenagers. Our lives went in different directions but we were always pleased to remember our young days whenever we met. I knew all about his research in Ottawa but your reference to "au champs d'honneur" prompted me to read more about him on the net. Thank you. Bonnes vacances a vous tous..........Alberte


Hi Kristin,
I read "Au champ d'Honneur" and clicked on the link. I enjoyed the marvellous field of poppies (one of my favourite photos!) Many thanks for photo and poem.
That 11th Nov 2008 newsletter reminded me of another one where there was a recording of "Le chant des Partisans"... I spent a bit of time in the Archives but couldn't find it. I'll try again.
Can you help, please? Merci à l'avance.

Barbara Andolsek Paintings

It's all in the perspective! Have a fanciful time-out.

Paula Zerrer

Hello Kristin and Jules - I am Paula from Columbia, Missouri. Kristin, I met your mother in Puerto Vallarta in February, just after you had been there to visit. Looks like you finally got her to come to France once again. Jules, I loved the picture of you smiling here on Kristin's website. I was one of several women who walked each day passed your apartment while we were vacationing. You graciously invited us to your apartment which certainly made us jealous as we had to return to a cold, snowy Midwest in too short a time. Thank you for your hospitality and stories. Kristin, I enjoy your stories also. However, I am the one trying to direct my daughter (age 34) instead of the one being directed! Enjoy your break and it was so nice to meet you Jules.


Ah, what a lovely story. I am always coming up with stories to make myself feel better (the woman in the minivan who raced around me on my bicycle was just a midwife in a rush to a birth!). Saboter reminds me clearly of my 8th grade French teacher getting in front of class, shrieking at us the story of its origin (supposedly factory workers would throw their sabots/shoes into the assembly line to mess up/sabotage the work) and how our late homework was indeed a form of sabotage, of her! She then burst into tears and ran from the room. Poor lady. Anyway, served me to never ever forget it. Happiest of Mother's Days and Memorial Days to all!


Hi Kristin,
Nothing urgent...
The e-mail I sent you about "apéritif" will simply have to wait till you're back from your holiday.
Bonnes vacances!


I came into the office to look up a recipe for using blueberries and read this post instead. I so love this story!!!!!! It has hit home on a day where I am feeling put upon by children and grandchild and I have to check myself with my husband who has only tried very hard to be helpful. So, thank you for again making my day.


I thought this adorable video would go well with your adorable story :)

Robyn Daniels

Bravo - I loved this story - it is one of your best - it conjured up a cartoon remake of you as 'Snow White' for me in my head. And as I love cats the story had me hooked too.

You are fortunate indeed in having a mother who can help you see the positive side of misfortune. I'm sure you will miss her sorely when she leaves. My mother has sadly been dead some time and there are times we all need our mom and her care and wisdom even when we are 'grown-up'. Treasure her!

I also wanted to share a culinary tip with you (and Jules) regarding oranges - I score mine down the side then slice them with their peel still on and let my guests peel them apart the juicy 'carwheels'and eat the fanned segments from the skin - just like eating a melon - so much more fun and satisfying - and - no peeling to do!
Bon appetit!


Robyn xx


I love your blog and read it all teh time so I've nominated you for a blog award

Keep up the good work :)


Dear Kristin,

I joined to Your "french-word-a-day" only last week. Actually, I was searching some internet source to improve my english language :) and found your nice story! Now I try to start my french too :) I am going to visit France next week and stay in Nice for the rest for 9 days!
I loved your story and will be very happy to read next one. Very cute Kitty! I have a cat too and by the way some times I leave porridge for my daughter to cool outside on our loggia too :)))...
Kindest regards from Riga (Latvia),

Cynthia Baita

Dear Kristin,
Every morning I look forward to "The Word of the day" and the wonderful pictures in France. It takes me away from my life here in Florida and wanting to go back to France for a much longer visit.
Have a good vacation, I will miss reading all the stories, and we will all hear from you soon.......


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