un petit mot


Colmar (c) Kristin Espinasse
Today's story opens in the poetic place known as Colmar, France. Never miss a photo: sign up, here, for French Word-A-Day.

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le collier (kohl yay)

    : necklace

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Le collier de Nan a été apprécié par tout le monde.
Nan's necklace was appreciated by everyone. 

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

We met up with our friends Charles and Martha in Alsace last month. They said they had a special present for me, un cadeau that had not left their care during their multi-city périple (beginning in Florida) prior to our meet-up in Colmar.

The gift, Charles explained, was from Nan. I had not met Nan before--not en personne that is. Charles had introduced Nan to my Word-a-Day newsletter a few years back and, since, Nan and I have exchanged a few emails. I have a picture of Charles, Martha, Nan, and Jean-Marc taken, I believe, at a wine-tasting in Florida. Their smiling faces greet me each morning as I walk past our postcard rack, headed for the coffee machine.

The night that Charles and Martha presented me the gift, we were in a rush to make it to a wine dinner in honor of Jean-Marc. 

"I think it is best that I open the package after dinner..." I hinted to Charles. I didn't want to rush the experience (from the way Charles and Martha spoke of the gift, in hushed, reverent voices, I had a hunch that whatever was in that box would merit full concentration).

Currently my undivided attention was on the clock: we had a matter of minutes to shed our sweaty vêtements de long voyage, shower and dress for the dinner.

"Now's the time," Charles insisted, and something inside of me yielded, in time to trust my friend to put my priorities in order. Dinner could wait.

Meantime, we waited patiently until Martha and friends Kim and Bill could join us for le dévoilement, or unveiling. The honorable opening-of-the-gift ceremony would require an audience. 


Kristin & Jean-Marc
                                           Kristin & Jean-Marc 

When we were all gathered around the box, anticipation was so thick you could cut it like a satin-bowed ribbon! In that moment I was reminded that part of the pleasure that a gift brings is in the gift's opening! No longer feeling rushed, I took the time to open the box, carefully lifting the lid....

                                  (picture by Tante Michou)

Un Collier!

And what a necklace! To fully appreciate the handcrafted oeuvre--an intricately beaded neckpiece--you would have to be familiar with our life... a life of vines & vocabulaire.

The magnificent neckpiece paid tribute to both une vie en prose... and a life in vine rows! Never before had my husband's and my own passions been united in one precious link... le grand collier!

                     Pictures by Charles McGrath and Martha Melvin


The words read "perles", "syrah", "vivace", "dentelle", "carignan", "mourvèdre"....

On studying the necklace, I wished I were a bead artist or an artisan de perles--so as to not miss one precious detail! But soon enough I would see the necklace through the eyes of others. In the weeks to come, during wine tastings and family visits, I presented le collier to all our guests...


It was Aunt Michou's response that most touched me. She noticed the neckpiece immediately, pouring over each detail... She declared the collier "une oeuvre de l'esprit... une oeuvre d'art extrêmement émouvante qui vient du coeur et qui parle au coeur tout en comblant le regard." 

I could not have said it better, and so I listened, as les tantes appreciated this grande oeuvre de l'esprit et du coeur:

"Regarde!" said Aunt Marie-Françoise, "there is even a (little beaded) moon next to "lunatique". The necklace was partly made up of tags, or flaps, each beaded with French words symbolic of our work: many of the words came from my stories (trésor, vivace, sieste...) , and others of the mots represented the varieties of vines growing on our vineyard (Morvèdre, Syrah, Carignan), or the wines that came of them ("Dentelle", "Mistral", and "Lunatique").

(And I have so far failed to mention the colors!... in reference to our vineyard's name: Domaine Rouge-Bleu!)

"'Merci' est un des plus jolis," The 'merci' (flap) is one of the prettiest! Michou remarked, more than once. Aunt Michou pointed out how certain letters were punctuated by spheric perles (notice the "i"--of Mistral on the second photo below...).


                       These pictures are by Tante Michou...


      "Une intelligence de coeur et d'esprit" -Aunt Michou, praising the neckpiece.


A tongue-in-cheek detail was the blue and the red corks (from our Dentelle wine). Nan had thoughtfully included them in this thematic, truly dramatic neckpiece. Every detail, down to the silver "grapes and leaf" clasp on the back whispered our lives, lives entwined with vocabulaire and vines....

Charles remarked that it must have taken two years to complete the piece. Martha added that so much care had been taken....

But how to thank the artist? Comment la remercier? This is the question! Perhaps I could share with Nan this compliment, coming from our art-savvy aunt, Michou in Paris: C'est un bijou de haute couture. On imagine même que Christian Lacroix créerait une robe tout exprès pour ce collier! It is a work of haute couture. We can even imagine that Christian Lacroix would create a dress especially for this necklace!

And, while racking my brain for a proper thank-you, I'll borrow Aunt Michou's words (whispered while admiring the various beaded words of the collier): "'Merci'... est un des plus jolis"....

Meantime, while waiting for Mr. Lacroix' attentions... I'm pairing the neckpiece with a trusty pants-and-top combo. Many, many thanks, Nan! And thanks go to Charles and Martha, who did a wonderful job transporting le collier!

                                (Kristin, with daughter, Jackie, right).

Le Coin Commentaires
Comments, corrections, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box. P.S. While rushing to finish today's edition, I have not checked the French words or written the vocab section. Any help is appreciated. Sorry for any French mistakes! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this "piece" in the comments box

 => Check out Nan Heldenbrand Morrissette's site at Art4Life.

Thank you very much, Newforest, for creating this enriched list of words and definitions

un cadeau (des cadeaux) = present(s), gift(s)
un périple / grand voyage = a long journey, an adventurous trip
en l'honneur de = in honor of
vêtements de voyage = travelling clothes
le dévoilement = the unveiling
soulever le couvercle = to lift the lid
Quel collier! = What a necklace!

une oeuvre / un ouvrage = a work
une oeuvre d'art = a work of art, artwork
un chef-d'oeuvre = a masterpiece

une perle = pearl (jewelry)
une perle = bead (made of glass)
une perle 'fine' (en bijouterie) = a 'real' pear

    a person you qualify as:
        "une perle" = a gem, a real treasure!
        "une perle rare" = a real treasure

    in a literary sense:
        une perle (de sang, de sueur) = a drop (of blood, of sweat)
        les perles de la rosée = dewdrops

    but... (fam) une perle / une erreur grossière = a howler

un artisan = a craftsman
combler le regard = to satisfy/ to please the eye
tout en comblant le regard = (while) pleasing the eye at the same time
l'esprit = spirit, mind.

le vocabulaire = vocabulary
mots = words
la vigne = vine (here used in the plural)
    (but the drink -> vin = wine- is masculine! :-) )

un(e) des plus joli(e)s = one of the nicest / one of the prettiest

Related story: Read more about the delighful Aunt Michou in the story "cachette" and learn a favorite word she taught me, in the story chouia.

And, whatever you do, don't miss this post about aunt Marie-Françoise, who passes down the family tradition of lavender weaving

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


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Ma from Brasil

Totally gorgeous the necklace!!!Nan is a great artist!Thank you for this lovely post!
Greetings from Brasil. =)


The necklace is perfection. So many blessings remembered in a work of art. Thank you so much for sharing. Mary

Audrey Wilson

What a truly beautiful & unique gift ! One to treasure. What thought & effort has gone into this .
p.s it looks perfect with the trusty pant suit!

Anne Barbara Zarcone

Beautiful Collier! and you look stunning wearing your lovely gift! thank you for the bright spot in my email box. It's been such a delight receiving your letters and I'm learning French :)
Have a wonderful day, week.. can't wait to hear more from you.

With Gratitude,
Anne Barbara

gail bingenheimer

La vendeuse lui a montré dix de colliers, dont il n'a acheté aucune.
The saleswoman showed her ten necklaces , but she didn't buy any [of them].

Kristen est très femme.
Kristen is very woamnish.

Bill in St. Paul

Wow, what a beautiful and meaningful necklace! It must be quite the conversation piece at tastings and parties.

Amber...Peoria, IL

I love these types of things!!! The best gifts are those from the heart, made by the hands of people who care for us, who put their love into their work...those are the gifts we treasure and appreciate most! Beautiful!


Hi Kristin!
Back home last night and will need time to catch up, but I started with the latest story - the other ones will have to wait...

Woooow!!! What a remarkable "collier"! Today's story is, to me, THE story of the month, of the year, the story that links the hard work and glory of 'Words and Wine', stretching from the past few years to all the years ahead of you.

A unique and admirable "collier" indeed!
Une éblouissante oeuvre d'art, magnifiquement personnalisée en rouge et bleu par ces milliers de perles ...
Oeuvre de beauté, et de grande patience!

Kristin,these beads are a 'clever and artistic' representation of "la trame de ta vie" (the framework of your life)
I feel "une telle oeuvre d'art" deserves to be called...

Dear Nan, I understand Kristin will be the one wearing "le collier extraordinaire", but I also see it as a gift to both Kristin and Jean-Marc. I guess both of them must have inspired you to the highest degree, and you used your craftsmanship and talent to honour their creativities. Full circle!
One bead at a time, you created a symbolic masterpiece they will treasure for ever and ever.
I do appreciate, love and admire your beading skills!

PS Kristin, I don't feel like adding "des corrections" after these comments, so, I'll email them to you instead.
Bye for now, and have a good day!

Suzanne, Monroe Twp., NJ

Because of the care and thought that went into this, I can see the collier as a framed piece of art!

Sharon Althouse

The World is very small....

In a hurry, I checked my emails, but knew I had to read your post...I was fascinated by the necklace and thought, "I must see more of this artist's work!" I went to her website.

Gorgeous, beautiful...I wonder if she exhibits anywhere near my home IN FLORIDA?

So I click! Oh my goodness, the pictures of her work are taken by a friend in my town!!!!!!! She lives close by!!!! Out of all the world, she is here, in my state, near my town!!!!

Serendipity? I think I shall own a piece of her work, brought to me a world away by you!!!

Have a wonderful day, Merci...your necklace is stunning and perfect!!!

Linda R.

C'est beau. Truly a gift of the spirit, made and given with much love.

Nan Morrissette

Darling Kristi,

As you know, the work that we do for our spirits, whether digging in the garden, writing or weaving beads, must bring its own satisfaction. What we have poured into a piece is seldom understood by anyone who is not an artist of life in some way. I don't mean that to be critical or aloof; it's just the way things go. I almost never show my work. Most people do not understand what goes into putting 1,024 stitches per square inch on silk gauze or weaving thousands of seed beads one at a time. In normal busy lives, to spend so many hours on a few inches of work is crazy! Even perhaps a little selfish.

I do my work because of the pleasure the process brings, and the connection it forges between me and God. Your marvelous writing appears to us in its finished form, with no indication of hours of self-doubt and grinding determination on those days when the muse is missing. Unless one actually tries to write, especially for regularly scheduled publication, it all seems easy. And therein lies the art: To produce something beautiful and meaningful, even under pressure, seemingly without effort.

So your story and pictures today touched me deeply. As a fellow artist, you understand. You know. Your words, Jean-Marc's wines and my beads are all one. Along with our good friends, Charles and Martha they are gifts from God.

Love, Nan


Nan, so beautifully said. Thank you. Kristin, thank you for today's post, for sharing Nan with us. It's going to be a beautiful day.

Marianne Rankin

Nan, I'm not talented in a "crafty" way. But I do appreciate the immense effort that went into making the necklace, a wonderful gift with value because of both its uniqueness and the kind thoughts behind it.


As always, beautifully written work! And, this time, for a beautiful neckpiece by Nan. Nan is our very special friend who means the world to us. I'm so glad we were able to get the necklace to you... and, one of these days, we'll get Nan over to meet you in person!


What a touching and beautiful tangible friendship. The collier is outstanding and so are the people who made it, delivered it, and she who is wearing it.

Dianne de Poitiers

.... and bravo to Jean-Marc for being part of the ONE campaign. Check it out at



Julie S. from San Diego

Upon looking at the necklace for the first time, I thought it was made of fabric. I did not realize it was made up entirely of beads! As you said, it is a real chef d'oeuvre! I loved the pictures and the comments you posted made by the French tantes. How wonderful to have others who can point out the wonderful craft, love, and spirit that went into making this unique work of art for you. Art does come in many different varieties, as your posting today points out so well. Many thanks to Nan for this beautiful, unique gift we can all appreciate, and to you for sharing with us.


Ce collier est magnifique, une oeuvre d'art absolument. On s'imagine qu'a chaque fois que Nan enfilait une perle ou etait inspiree par un mot clef, elle pensait a vous deux, ce que vous avez accompli.

Maintenant vous allez devoir amenager une petite salle "musee" chez vous et le collier pourra y etre expose pour etre admire par tous vos visiteurs.


What a magnificent, beautiful, wonderful gift!

Julie F in St. Louis, MO

What a marvelous work of wearable art. It's just a very elaborate and beautiful sign of the how much we all get out of your stories. I may not be getting better at French (my fault, not yours), but through your stories I've come to have a better idea about what makes France tick. While I'm eager to see my home, dogs, and kids again (not necessarily in that order), I will miss France when I leave this week. Thanks for making each of my visits easier. And for making this one memorable for your personal thoughtfulness to me and my husband.

Mary S

Yes, this is a work of art worthy of framing, but I'd hate to see that happen! It is a gift of love that should be worn! I can see it with a jean's skirt and tee shirt in either one of the blues or reds in the necklace - whaalaa!- it would change the plain jeans to a very dressy and classy ensemble! So smart!


Kristin, that's absolutely beautiful. And so are you (especially in the white outfit with the necklace)!

Robyn France

Kristin--what a breathtaking work of art and spirit--isn't this blog wonderful bringing together those of us who love France, wine, friendship and beautiful gifts of the spirit--all kinds. It looks perfect with your white outfit--and what an advertisement for Rouge-Bleu--u will be a walking sandwich board, albeit a very elegant one.


While this absolutely amazingly beautiful work of art necklace is not one that can be worn every day, do you realize how much thought and consideration of every aspect of your and Jean Marc's life went into it?? What an honorable gift!!! I would give so much to have the talent to make such an honor, and even more to receive it. YOU are worthy!!

Jim, Carlsbad Ca.

Thanks, Kristin for sharing Nan's gift with us. As I've said before, I look forward to everyone's comments almost as much as I look forward to your blog. Nan, your post is so spot on ... an artists life is truely it's own reward. Thanks for sharing your beautiful spirit.


Only gifts like that come from the heart and touch another heart.(I seem to remember one from your Jules that was a special heart.) It is truly a work of art and in some ways it would be almost poetic to frame it and hang it on the wall somewhere in your house for all to see who visit. But make it easy enough to take out and wear. Have just started reading the "Summer of Kayta"....loving it. So beautifully written.


oops, I believe that is Katya!


Quel beau travail d'Art avec une belle signification! That was so pretty and thoughtful of Nan. You should frame it for keepsake.
When I read, at the end of your anecdote, asking for corrections, I was thinking...what correction? je n'ai pas vu de fautes(not that I'm that expert).Je me suis demandée si Kristin est dans la lune ou quoi. Then it dawned on me...Newforest could have been back. Yeah, Newforest to the rescue, when I saw her comment above. We missed you, Newforest *wave* Comment ça va?
Kristin, tu es belle en tailleur-pantalon blanc. Et ton mari JM est tellement beau aussi, vraiment un beau couple, vous deux!

Jill in Sydney

Gorgeous necklace. Tell Christian a slinky red or navy dress would suit!


I could just say ditto to Sharon's post about livig in Florida. I went to Nan's site & was just blown away with her creative artistry. When one puts heart & soul into their individual & collaborative creations,and then gifts it to another soulful creator, the circle completes itself.

Eileen deCamp

Beautiful necklace Nan! I went to your website and I love the Maya Angelou and Leaves necklaces. Just gorgeous! Your studio in Maine looks so bright and cheery!



May I send you a suggestion for your CINEMA VERITE?

Could you dedicate a special gallery to "LE COLLIER rouge et bleu"?...
collecting the photos shown here, but also adding extra close-ups on words... or any exquisite and minute details.... please?

one of these close-ups could be on the word "TRÉSOR" ... Oh! so appropriately placed in the centre!

Caroline in Melbourne

saved this post for a late night read in bed - and thrilled I did - when the world today has gone crazy - a superb story , a memorable gift and a lovely friendship - though not in person but through words. well done to Nan and Kristen!

Pat Cargill

Oh, Chere Kritin, this is a most beautiful gift and work of art. I know you are in awe, as we are, of this magnificent work of art. Beautiful. You inspire, my dear, those around you and those who read from far away. Many thanks. And blessings, xox, Pat

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