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Entries from February 2013

La soeur - sister in French

Kristi and Heidi (c) Kristin Espinasse
My beautiful sister, and Mom's first-born, Heidi (right). Our mom, Jules, painted the quail and my mother-in-law, Michèle-France, gave me the owl (next to the rosary and the purse). Voilà... just another family photo. Do you sniff homesickness? 

127 Things to do in Paris! Thanks for continuing to share your excellent tips on where to go and what to see in France's most beloved city. Click here to see the latest suggestions.

la soeur (sir)

    : sister; nun

Audio File: listen to today's French word as well as the following expressions: Download MP3 or Wav file

l'âme soeur = soul mate
la belle-soeur = sister-in-law
la demi-soeur = half sister
la petite soeur or soeur cadette or, la soeurette = little sister

Ma soeur aînée s'appelle Heidi. The name of my older sister is Heidi.

la soeur jumelle
= twin sister
la soeur de race = soul sister
la soeur de lait = foster sister


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

00-1-602.... Please pick up the phone... I whisper, dialing my sister's cell. This isn't an emergency—I just want to hear her voice.

"Hey, Kristi!" my sister answers, and the melody in her greeting tells me she's got time to chat. In fact, she'll even call me right back—on her nickel.

I relax back into the pillows that are propped up against the wall where I might have put a headboard had I gotten my renovation act together—or followed through with my vow to tackle tiny projects (like the inspired centerpiece or the corner office).

This time my phone rings and my sister's voice drowns out my restless thoughts. I begin to wonder where Heidi is. She certainly wouldn't be languishing in bed staring at the cracks in the wall.... She'd be at the hardware store with her bullet list! 

I laugh when Heidi tells me she is sitting in her car, waiting for the pet store to open. She needs dog food for Winston and Truly, her sheepdogs, or chiens de berger anglais. (Took me forever to figure out what these dogs are called in French. But then I'm lazy.)

The idea that my sister is out of croquettes is strangely inspiring. She has the sort of household where the roll of garbage bags is located at the base of the garbage can: efficient, functioning. Only lately, since her divorce, has it begun to dawn on me that she doesn't have everything covered all the time. How could she?

"Me too! I chirp. "We're all out of dog food too!"

"Yeah," Heidi continues. "I was about to toss together some rice, some bouillon, and some dog biscuits and get by another day..." 

There is something so heartening in finding out that your sister who gets-things-done  (she's an Aries) has considered the same lazy solution as you have: wingin' it with the dog food.

"That's exactly what I was about to do!" I laugh, "only I was going to use pasta and some dried up ham that the kids were supposed to eat. I'll have to try the soup/rice/dog biscuit idea sometime!"

"It works when there's no other solution but it's not good for the dogs' digestive tracts," Heidi warns me, letting me in on why she's waiting in the store parking lot before opening hours.

I was kinda hoping she would have gone ahead with the throw-it-together dog mix, like me. But she's doing the best she can, and I could do as much. I grab my car keys and head out into the night. While my sister's market is about to open, mine is about to close. I hate that we live an ocean apart, but it comforts me to know that Heidi is always there for me and that sometimes, coincidentally, we are doing the very same thing—like running out of croquettes.

Such synchronicity is the next best thing to being together, and if I close my eyes I can almost hear my sister in the supermarket aisle, ever looking out for me. "Get that one," she says, "the dogs will love it and it's on sale!"              

Heidi and Payne


My sister, Heidi, with my nephew, Payne. Heidi is an associate broker at Coldwell Banker.

I rarely write about my older sister (the one everyone guesses to be younger than I), though you'll find a tender scene here or there in the story archives:

" sister Heidi and I, pint-sized Thelma and Louises at the age of 13- and 9-years-old, used to careen across the dusty desert floor, tumbleweeds spinning in our wake. With Heidi at the wheel, we killed time... this after a breakfast of burritos and beer...." (an excerpt from the story Camionnette. Read it here)

I also refer to Heidi in this poem, "We Three":

...I had a sister who was prettier than I.
Jackie looks like her...

Another picture of my sister, here.

Heidi's sheepdogs, Winston and Truly. Have a minute for another story, about an endearing figure in French pop culture & beyond? You will learn a word that you will want to sing time and again, "Yalla!" Read my story about Soeur Emmanuelle, click here.


Sunflowers for my sister (c) Kristin Espinasse
It may be cold and snowing (two days ago...) here in the South of France—and the sunflower seeds may still be dormant, planted last week one-inch below the surface of the earth—but it is always the season to give your sister tournesols. Picture taken a few years back, near Joncquières (Vaucluse).

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
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mal barre = up the creek, in big trouble, screwed

Paris window (c) Kristin Espinasse
When Paris looks a little like Provence. Note the subtle details: the outside-the-window cloth blinds, the "pigeon discourager" (can you see those sharp little pins on the window ledge?) the peek inside the stylish interior... 

mal barré (mal-baray)

up the creek, in big trouble, screwed

AUDIO FILE: listen to Jean-Marc read the French words below: Download MP3 or Wav file

c'est mal barré = it's not looking good 

Si le mechant loup se pointe ce soir on est mal barrées!
If the big bad wolf arrives tonight we are in big trouble!

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

When I encouraged Jean-Marc and the kids to go on the ski vacation without me, I was looking forward to some time alone—even if the thought of staying on my own in this old mas in the forest scared me.

Why not have a friend over? I thought, only to realize that though I have a thousand friends they are all on the other side of this computer screen, reading this post, an ocean or a continent away. 

Then my mother-in-law popped into mind, and soon I was speeding along the seacoast on my way to Marseilles to pick her up and bring her back here to babysit me!  It might have occurred to me then and there, in the parking lot beside my belle-mère's apartment, that I had not chosen the best protector. But it was too late now. Standing outside the passenger side of my car, I reached past my mother-in-law, pulling the seat belt with me to buckle her in. I waited patiently as she pulled her tired feet into the car. "All in?" I checked, before gently shutting the door.

Back home I had Max's room all dolled up for my mother-in-law. I'd stolen extra pillows from all our bedrooms in order to make a cozy headboard for her to relax into as she read the gossip magazines Voici or Paris Match or her favorite fashion mag, Elle. "I've been reading this one for 50 years," she's fond of telling me.

Entering the TV room on our way to the stairs that lead to Max's room, my mother-in-law hesitated. "I think I'd better sleep here on the couch," she explained. Her eyes were fixed on those stairs. Looking over at the escalier I saw, for the first time, how steep those stairs were--and there was no handrail.

"You can take my room," I said, insisting when Michèle-France argued that the couch was just fine. As I helped her up the 4 or 5 stairs that lead to my room, I heard a noise and looked over my shoulder at the cracked window behind me. No one was there, but that vulnerable feeling returned. Maybe I should have brought my sleeping bag and camped out at my mother-in-law's? But her apartment is too tiny for a 4-day visit, no matter how appealing the thought of curling up in her armchair was just now.

That evening I spied my mother-in-law making our soup. She sat in front of her favorite feuilleton, or soap opera, having dragged the little side table into the room. She had set the vegetables on the table and the soup pot on the floor between her feet. I watched as she slowly peeled the pumpkin, letting the skin fall onto the table; next she cut off little pieces of pumpkin, letting them fall into the soup pan on the ground below her. 

As I walked into the room she startled, having been caught watching her soap—but it wasn't the feuilleton that upset me, it was the fact that she'd begun peeling those tough vegetables. I didn't want her to hurt herself. If you have ever peeled a French pumpkin, or potiron, you know how difficult it is to remove the skin without cutting off a finger in the process!

"I have my system," Michèle-France explained, and I smiled as I watched the vegetables drop into the pot. (Having taken a seat beside the chef, in order to try my hand at cutting up the onions, my pride was hurt when the pieces I cut missed the pot, landing on the dusty floor beside it.

"You need to work on your aim," my mother-in-law teased. Then suddenly her face looked pained. She explained that after her accident ten years ago, she cannot raise her arm much higher than the table, and therefore this gravity system works for her. I watched as a piece of carrot hit the pan on the ground below us.

When we finished the soup prep we carried the pot and the peelings (wrapped in the newspaper that had protected the table) back to the kitchen. My mother-in-law dragged her feet behind me and I couldn't help but fret over the stair she was about to descend to get to the kitchen or the old floor tiles that could trip her up at any time. Noticing me watching her she cracked a joke, as is her style; and then on a more serious note she said:

"I am not an old lady. I am a lady who is advancing in age."

Though my belle-mère did not mean to embarrass me, I was a little ashamed at how my watchful eye that followed her every step had not gone unnoticed.

At the kitchen table, we ate some pot roast along with our soup. My mother-in-law brought the cold rôti, along with a few other leftovers, including salade frisée, from her fridge in Marseilles. Only, seated there at the table, I noticed her difficulty in cutting her meat.

"Je peux?" I ask, hoping not to sound insulting.

"S'il te plaît," my mother-in-law appreciates the offer.

Reaching over, I cut up her viande into small pieces, as I used to do for our kids, when they were little.

Next, I got up to check the front door, making sure we were locked in for the night. Returning to the table I answered the telephone. It was my beau-frère, checking in on us.

"So how is your bodyguard?" Jacques snickered.

"What's he saying?" my belle-mère interrupted.

"He is asking about my garde du corps."

"Ah!" my mother-in-law laughed. "Well, if the big bad wolf shows up tonight, we are up the the creek!" 

I look over at my bodyguard, who can barely lift her fork to her mouth, because of a troubled shoulder. True, she won't be fending off any thieves should we have the misfortune of receiving a visit tonight... worse, she may even be a liability (for how can I head for the hills -- jumping out the back window, without her? I couldn't leave her like that. I'd have to drag her with me!).

And yet, her very presence is enormously comforting to me. After dinner I say goodnight, leaving my mother-in-law to watch her evening programs. Shutting the door to my son's room, I crawl into his empty bed, beneath the covers. There, I curl up and the sound of the television and my mother-in-law's occasional response to it soothes me.

Michèle-France may not be a bodyguard, but she's no old lady either. Her feisty character and loving presence are all I need to fall restfully to sleep.


French Vocabulary

le mas = an old farm house in the South of France

la belle-mère = mother-in-law

un escalier = stairs, staircase 

un feuilleton = soap opera (more here)

le rôti = roast 

la salade frisée = curly salad

je peux? = may I

s'il te plaît = please do

la viande = meat 

le beau-frère = brother-in-law (can also mean step-brother or half-brother)

How to properly pronounce French words? Read this inexpensive book!


Friends and shadows (c) Kristin Espinasse
At the stables, near Nyons, where my daughter used to ride.

Words... and more words (c) Kristin Espinasse

Memoir update: bad news, I put the memoir project back on the burner last week. I didn't want to be glued to my computer during my mother-in-law's visit and, being an all or nothing person, it was easy to convince myself that I'd dropped out of the project once a couple of no-write days slipped by. à suivre (to be continued, I hope!) (Pictures, some other books I published over the years, including one house-published edition. I seemed to have so much energy, back then... Blossoming in Provence, not pictured, was the latest publication.)


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

Things to Do in Paris - 2013

Notre Dame (c) Kristin Espinasse
Le vélo = popular transportation when in Paris.


We are working on another city guide and when I say "we" I mean you and me! If you have been to Paris recently please help us out by sharing:

  • hotel or apartment or B&B suggestions
  • restaurants, cafés,  bistros
  • nightclubs, theaters, shows
  • unique shops, bookstores...
  • kids or teens - fun stuff and ideas for young ones
  • babysitters in Paris?
  • outdoor attractions (parks, markets, landmarks...)
  • helpful websites & books
  • taxi cab, train station and metro tips
  • tipping information or fees to expect
  • ATM and bank info
  • free or unusual things to do in Paris
  • best time/season to visit Paris
  • any place one should visit or any thing one should do when in Paris....

Click here to leave a tip or suggestion - or to see the recommendations. I'll post a link to the answers in Monday's post.

See the "share buttons" at the end of this post and be sure to forward this Paris guide to someone who is planning to visit France.

Mille mercis!

P.S. Where to Rent a Car in Paris? Readers have sent in their favorites in the France Car Rental guide. Thanks for adding your recommendations, too! 

love locks (c) Kristin Espinasse
Love locks in Paris. Note: I have just erased my previous message, here, about wanting to put up a lock next time I'm in Paris. After L&C wrote in (see first comment) I realize these locks are becoming damaging to the city's landscape. It is good to be aware of the issue and it brings me to one more tip I could have mentioned, in the bullet above: How to be a good guest when in Paris? Thanks for sharing your Paris suggestions in the comments box.

For more information on Paris, use this handy Google search box: 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

Un meli-melo - a collection of miscellany, hodgepodge

Wildflowers (c) Kristin Espinasse
That's Mama Braise and she's got two wildflowers just for you. Do you know what kind they are? Reaching my ankle, they are low to the ground (unlike poppies, which would have been my guess... ) Click here to classify this fleur sauvage in the comments box.

un méli-mélo (may-lee-may-loh) 

    : a collection of miscellany; mishmash, hodgepodge
    : chaos; muddle

Cool! While researching the French word méli-mélo, I learned a neat English word: farrago = "a confused mixture" (and a good name for my wardrobe.... more on that at the end of this page)

Audio File: Listen to today's word and the following examples: Download MP3 or Wav file

méli-mélo de la mer = seafood platter
méli-mélo de légumes = an assortment of vegetables
feuilleton mélo (mélodrama) = a soap opera 

Aujourd'hui un méli-mélo de choses à partager avec vous. Today a mishmash of things to share with you:


Chaussettes (c) Kristin Espinasse
The white tights I wore to my wedding were as sexy as socks. I'm still trying to avoid French fashion "don'ts" or fautes à ne pas commettre. Meantime God gave me a French daughter--and budding styliste (stee-leest)--who helps when she can.

P.S. If you are new to French Word-A-Day and enjoy reading about life in France, you won't want to miss my wedding story... and the surprising female guest that Jean-Marc invited. Read it for free, here. (The story also appears in the book Blossoming in Provence)little cabanon in the back (c) Kristin Espinasse

Irises? Lilies? Two patches of these purple beauties have bloomed next to the stone cabanon, above the oliveraie. Spring is near... To comment, click here.

Jean-Marc will kick off his USA Wine Tour in March!  Click here for more info and to see what other cities he'll visit.  

Pronounce It Perfectly in French - with exercises in sound discrimination and accurate sound creation. Order your copy here.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

Un feuilleton: French for soap opera + recipe for Pumpkin-Ginger soup

bird cage, window, france, clock, Les Cages aux Oiseaux (c) Kristin Espinasse

My mother-in-law's French is so colorful and I love to listen to her stories -- no matter how many times she repeats herself! Jean-Marc's mom, Michèle-France, has a great sense of humor and does not take herself too seriously, either. She is a real moulin-à -paroles, or chatterbox, but when my ears go numb I can always tell her to zip it!  and she won't be offended. A little more about my belle-mère's recent visit in today's feuilleton, or sketch. (Picture, above, taken in the town of Sarrians.)

un feuilleton (fuhy-tohn)

    : soap opera ;  an essay or sketch

from feuillet sheet of paper (feuilleton is also a novel--or work--that is published in installments)

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

"What ARE you doing?" I say to my mother-in-law, who is seated in front of the TV. Suddenly she has that deer-in-the headlights look in her eyes as I pass by her on my way to the kitchen.

"I'm watching a feuilleton," she admits. "It is the only one I follow," she's quick to add.

My mother-in-law needn't explain her guilty pleasure. I used to watch soap operas too and feel just as embarrassed when caught. I would quickly switch channels to the news station when Jean-Marc appeared, as he inevitably would, at the climactic moment of revelation (was Brooke pregnant with her father-in-law's child? Would Taylor make it out of the Harem alive?)  I could not blink an eye as I waited for the moment of truth... but that moment was occasionally interrupted when Bonjour! Jean-Marc arrived home early for lunch. Grrrhhh! 

Amour, Gloire, et Beauté ("The Bold and The Beautiful," funny how titles are lost in translation...) was my weekday fix as a young, out-of-work expat. And if my then-boyfriend thought the daytime dramas were débile, he was unaware of their educational aspect. I learned street French thanks to the smut tube, and no longer spoke like a textbook. (i.e.  Marie fait sa toilette. No she didn't! Marie got ready, however you said that in French. I listened closely to Brooke and to Taylor, who never uttered the humiliating-sounding French word. I hoped I never had to either!)

I don't watch TV anymore (which may explain the downward spiral of my French) but I have nothing against my mother-in-law watching her feuilleton--(Plus belle la vie is her nightly drug) especially while she is making our evening meal: a velvety pumpkin-ginger soup. She chops as she watches.

I study my mother-in-law with the deer-in-headlights eyes. The problem with being quick to admit guilt is that you inadvertently highlight another crime, one you might have gotten away with!

Pointing to the pumpkin I am furious. "You were supposed to wait for me to help you peel those!" I say, casually taking the seat beside the chef.  "I used to watch soaps, too," I admit, "they're really language lessons..." 

My mother-in-law's eyes are bright. "Yolo! yolo," she sings.

"What are you saying?"

"I don't know, but--yolo! yolo!--I hear it all the time," my mother-in-law says, pointing her knife to the smut tube.

"Yolo... yolo..." I practice as I chop. I am a little suspicious learning modern-day slang from my children's grandmother (had she heard correctly?) but who am I, a sous-chef, to argue?  

Post Note. I just looked up yolo, a word all the French teens are using. Turns out it's an acronym for You Only Live Once. What will the Academie Française think of this latest "borrowing"?

(Yolo! Yolo! Please forward this post to a friend :-)

  =>Read a favorite story about my mother-in-law

Michèle-France's Pumpkin/Ginger Soup Recipe:

My mother-in-law is an au pif or "by guesswork" cook. The following recipe was a last-minute inspiration and includes a combination of what was in the fridge (potatoes, ginger)--and what jumped out at us at the market stall (those vibrarnt orange potirons, or pumpkins!). To make this easy, delicious, and healthy soup you will need: 

  • cubed pumpkin, one large wedge (to visualize the size, think 1/4 of an American football)
  • two medium onions, chopped grossièrement (coarsely) 
  • three carrots, no need to peel the organic kind, the skin has a lot of the vitamins 
  • ginger root - how much to use? We used four or five standard "olives" worth. Olives, footballs, how do you measure things?..) P.S. not sure if we peeled this one or not. 
  • two bouillon cubes (you may use a can of chicken broth? In France, that is hard to find... so bouillon cubes it is!)
  • four medium potatoes, peeled (you can leave skin on if the patates aren't too clumped with dirt)
  • cream is optional (sour cream or liquid cream... you could even put a little milk in? ) 
  • salt, pepper i.e. all the usual suspects...

Soup wandNext...
Put all ingredients in a deep pot and cover with water -- just enough to cover the surface of the vegetables. Bring to a boil. Simmer 30 - 45 minutes. Did I leave something out? Let me know in the comments box, where you may also share your soup tips.

Let it cool a bit, then mix. If you do not already have one of these handy soup mixers, buy one now it will change your life! Also works for sauces, dressings, dips, and smoothies!  Click here for more info.


Chez Marie (c) Kristin Espinasse
Photo taken in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes.


Aubergines (c) Kristin Espinasse
picture taken in Suze-la-Rousse. 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

Une sequelle: The aftermath or scars after an accident

Smokey (c) Kristin Espinasse
One of the "séquelles" that remain after the two-dog attack on Smokey (years ago!) is that hanging tongue. Read about another, in today's story. 

une séquelle (say-kel)

    :  aftereffect, aftermath scar, legacy

Une séquelle est une lésion qui persiste après la guérison d'une maladie ou blessure. Mot également utilisé lorsque l'on parle d'une conséquence plus ou moins lointaine qui est le contrecoup d'un évènement, d'une situation. A séquelle is a lesion that persists after the healing of an illness or injury. The word is equally used when talking about a consequence, more or less distant, that is the aftershock of an event or situation.

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

Dog Therapy

In the parking lot not far from the sea, the sky is barely visible beyond a canopy of parasol pines. The tall thin trees slant permanently and I sometimes wonder if it is the aftereffect of the wind, forever blowing on them?

"Look, Smokey, there's a friend!" I say, when we encounter the first hikers on our 20-minute parcours. Only, as our parties pass each other I notice the impersonal looks on the hikers' faces. As their black Labrador pauses to sniff Smokey, I smile at the different members of the group, but each set of eyes is glued to the path.

I tug on Smokey's leash, careful not to delay the hikers. "Maybe they've got other things on their mind," I explain to Smokey.  You know how it is on a hike, some people are quick to offer a cheery hello, while others are lost in thought—and still others have invisible signs marked "Do Not Disturb!" 

Farther along the sentier, we spy a trio of women. A little white dog is trotting alongside the ladies, who are already waving their hands and puckering their lips, in one warm extended greeting.

"Isn't he nice!" the women remark,  as they bend down to pet Smokey. Their encouraging words are touching. 

"It is wonderful therapy," I admit, telling the women a little about Smokey, who benefits so much from these friendly encounters. As I talk, I feel myself relaxing.

"What is her name?" I ask, smiling at the little dog with the long white hair.

"Etoile." The three women have that gentle confidence that comes from being a veteran aunt or sister or friend or caring co-worker. I feel their affection. With a spring in our step, Smokey and I walk on.  Au revoir, we say goodbye to "Star" and her twinkling entourage.

Next, we pass a bulldog who hops along, all but dragging his stomach with him. Walking alongside the wobbling gourmand a young couple is lost in a bubble of love. The lovers wake briefly when the bulldog and the golden retriever exchange growling menaces. Yanking our respective leashes, the couple and I take a moment to exchange a friendly "no worries" greeting.

For the rest of our journey it is people-only encounters and I notice how some hikers can't resist reaching out to caress Smokey while others keep to themselves. Occasionally I notice a look of distaste, and I remember to pull out my tissue and wipe my dog's slobbering face. He can't help it, all that frothing at the mouth is just one of the séquelles of the attack he endured as a puppy. 

Heading down the hill toward our car, I see a couple walking toward us. I quickly reach for the tissue and clean up my dog. Noticing some of the slobber is dripping down my pant leg, and another bit is dangling from the cuff of my sleeve I quickly brush the two together. Beurk!

"Il est magnifique," the woman with the red hair cheers and her partner, who reaches to pat Smokey on the head, assures me this is so.

I hear the woman repeat her words, adding a few more for good measure, "Il est magnifique, comme sa maitresse!"

The extra generous words take me by surprise and I can't help but be moved by the manner in which strangers reach out to one another. I have to wonder, Why us

As the strangers walk off, I bend down to examine Smokey's crooked face, as I caress his golden chest. It is easy to see why he is so loved.  And suddenly, I feel a little lucky about how, once again, some of that love has rubbed off on me. It's another of those gifts that our animals bring us: connection with the world out there.

To comment, click here. I'd love to read your thoughts about your animals. How does your cat or dog or... behave with other animals? Has your pet ever led you to a friendship? Healed you of a wound, internal or external? Click here to leave a comment or to read one.   

* To read about Smokey's attack, click here.

Dog Therapy (c) Kristin Espinasse
Have you read A Dog's Life by Peter Mayle? Click here to read the reviews.

French Vocab

parcours = training course (for walking, jogging...)

le sentier = path

une étoile = star

au revoir = goodbye

une séquelle = scar, aftermath

beurk = yuck, gross
Il est magnifique = he is magnificent

comme sa maîtresse = like his mistress 


An unusual place to write a story about quitting wine, but when my dear cousin-in-law gave me the poster, I couldn't help but smile to myself. Book update (and thanks for asking me to check in! I began chapter 2 on Friday and will continue this evening. When "blocking" the book in my head, various scenes, so vibrant and memorable, floated naturally to the surface of my mind. If each of these scenes is a chapter, this means the book will go forwards and backwards in time (i.e. the Prologue begin in 2013, while Chapter 1 unfolds in 2002. Chapter 2 opens up in 1994, just before our wedding...) My question to you now: Do you find it bothersome to read a book that goes backwards and forwards in time?

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Une embuche: Obstacle, pitfall, difficulty in French + My Writing Process, deadlines, and How to finish a post

Jackie (c) Kristin Espinasse
Ride on! I mean, write on... difficulties, barriers, discouragement, and all. More, in today's story column, below. (Picture of our daughter, Jackie)

une embûche (ahm-bewsh)

    : pitfall, obstacle; difficulty;  piège, or trap set for someone

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word and the following examples: Download MP3 or Wav file

semer d'embûches = to load/fill with obstacles/challenges
une question pleine d'embûches = a loaded question

A chaque chemin ses embûches, chaque humain un jour trébucheEach road has its pitfalls, every human, his a day of faltering. —Daniel DesbiensIn Books:

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

One Page at a Time

A broken barrier
is just one of the rewards that have come out of this decision to write my personal narrative. I have come across many obstacles on this writing path, but perhaps the biggest one has to do with my method of churning out a story.

Though the particular writing technique I use also happens to be the secret to my productivity, it is, ironically, the very reason I stay stuck, unable to create more than a vignette, an anecdote, or an essay.... 

You see, for ten years I have practiced writing before a blog audience. In this very post, the one you are now reading—very likely via email—I taught myself to write. To put it differently, your inbox has been my classroom and you have been the attentive, if accidental, teacher.

My compositions are read le jour J, that is, the very day the story is written, most often in the hours that follow publication. The moment I hit "publish", it's too late to go back. The story is on its way through cyberspace, soon to arrive in your inbox. No way to reach into your Gmail or Yahoo or AOL account and add the needed comma or the missing modifier—not that I know what one of those is. I'm still learning--grammar, punctuation, precision and, lately how to be a relaxed writer. ("Free write!" you say, and I am reminded, among other things, to let loose!) 

The growing pressure to say what I have to say by the lurking deadline is just the ticket I need to eke out (BTW, you taught me to spell it eke, and not eek) another story. It is thanks to you, the reader, that I am able to quickly narrow down a topic and set to writing about it.  As I write, I edit and fine-tune, aware that the clock is ticking, this story--in whatever state it finds itself--will soon go out to a live audience. Are the words clear enough? Have I said all I meant to say? Will you still like me after this latest installment? Am I supposed to care? How could I not care?!...

This brings me to the "tell-all" memoir I mentioned last week. After reading your emails and letters, I have decided to write the first draft of the book "off blog", in private. And here is where I am confronted with my biggest writing barrier: after writing for an audience, can I write for myself? Won't I fall off the wagon? 

Without you, to report to, could I churn out more that a few paragraphs without a "live" deadline? Would a self-imposed deadline be enough? Would I respect it? Would I take it seriously, feel the pressure innately?

All one can do is try. I began trying this week, to break down that barrier that I had put up when I told myself I can only write under these specific conditions--and no other!

And now for the good news.... Alone in my writing nook, I have completed the final two parts of chapter one

Though I have finished the first draft of chapter 1, all 15 pages, the rest of the narrative looms ahead of me. Last night I had a "will never realize this dream of memoir-writing, what was I thinking" moment. The future is riddled with doubt, and if I focus beyond the current "page", I will never make it.

Or, as my very loving sponsor reminds me, "You will make it, Darling Heart, you will—one day at a time

Any kind of buzzer could be used to signal a deadline. For today's writing deadline, I'm using these cowbells! Ring-a-ling-ling! Time is up now... this edition is going out...

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

le piege : the trap + book update

Snowy Vineyard (c) Kristin Espinasse
Photo of the vineyard where we spent 5 lively years! Thanks to your helpful notes, I will be writing the first draft of the memoir in private. Read on...

le piège (pee-ezh)

    : trap, snare, pitfall, booby-trap

Audio: Listen to the following words & example sentence: DownloadMP3 or Wav

  How to properly pronounce French words? Read this inexpensive book!

piéger (verb) = to trap
piégé = booby-trapped
une voiture piégée = a car bomb
un colis or une lettre piégé(e) = a parcel or letter bomb
le piège à souris = mousetrap
la question piège = loaded or trick question
le piège à touriste = tourist trap
tomber dans le piège = to fall into a trap

Un piège, ou trappe, est un dispositif destiné à capturer un être vivant. -Wikipedia
A snare or trap is a device for capturing a live being.

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

I am trying to remember whether the French have an expression for "wow", because a teary wow! is just one of the reactions I am having to your ongoing messages of support, following the announcement that I am writing my memoir.

But isn't a memoir something someone writes at the end of one's life? some people wrote in, a little surprised by my decision.

There are many kinds of memoirs. In book publishing, memoirs are also a way to recount a specific period in one's life. A good book title narrows the scope of the subject; here are a few made-up ones to illustrate this point:  

  • Grappling: My 5 Years at a Wine Farm & How I Stayed Sober
  • Its What It's: How My Blog Readers Taught Me Grammar and Punctuation

(Come to think of it, that second "memoir" might be a lot of fun to write! It is true: I have and continue to learn punctuation thanks to the notes and explanations you send in. )

Though I will not know the title of my book until I have discovered its overriding theme, I like to think it is "A Love Story"--no matter how overused that title is. On the other hand, a How-To title could hint at a good portion of the book's content:

  • How To Become An Author, Editor, and Publisher When You Failed Language Class.

Sometimes book titles are borrowed from one of the chapters inside the memoir (think Me Talk Pretty One Day).

In my book, a particularly chilling chapter recounts a drastic measure taken towards a flawless life. That chapter is called:

  • Waking Up at The Wrong Time : Becoming Conscious on the Operating Table

Indeed, the book itself could be titled after that very chapter. Waking Up at the Wrong Time... such a title would so meaningfully evoke one woman's premature arrival at consciousness.

I realize that statement sounds absurd. How can one become conscious before becoming conscious?

Only eternity knows the answer. And Love is eternal... 

Once again, please accept my deepest thanks for taking the time to write in, following the previous three posts. The process of deciding to write a memoir--then typing the first three chapters online--feels just like going through the towel dryer--one of those old-fashioned French dryers where a flimsy rag passes between two rolling steel bolts. On the other end, out comes the towel, crisp at a piece of paper. It will take 280 to 330 sheets of this kind of paper to tell my story. 

To comment on this post, or to read what others are saying about this topic, please click here

 Another snippet from the book follows, just below my picture near the end of this post.

French Laundry (c) Kristn Espinasse
"Airing one's laundry in  public?" A few people wrote in, concerned about a tell-all memoir. Please trust me to know what to share - and what not to! My Mom has dug out her big red protective marker and my daughter will be reading the rough-draft! 

Jean-Marc will kick off his USA Wine Tour this spring. Check out his itinerary and see if he will be in your area. Click here

One thing I learned from readers' reaction to my post about the risks of writing: depending on your perspective, or life experience, a scene will evoke darkness of light - or both. I am always having to remind myself to adjust my perspective.

That's me, serving dessert. At the vineyard where we lived, we had many, many guests. Rarely did I meet a fellow teetotaler. In the meantime, there was lots and lots of wine to bring out. When Jean-Marc reached past me to pour the wine for a tablemate, I casually moved my plate out of the way, afraid a drop of alcohol would fall into my pasta--what if I ate the tainted food? Could I still believe I was abstinent? Would I be able to claim my end of another year chip

When emptying the bottles for the recycle bin, I would carefully rinse my hands, what if the alcohol seeped through my skin?!
I have relaxed a lot in the recent years. But I don't ever want to get to cozy around wine. The risk to relapse is ever present. 

I had not meant to write any more of my story online, having made the decision to write the chapters in private... and then, these thoughts rushed out. If you know anyone who might benefit from this story, click on the Prologue, or introductory chapter, where you will find a "share link" at the end of the post. From there your friend or family member can read through the first three chapters of my recovery story.  DSC_0390
"Love locks in Paris." Happy Valentines Day to you! Click here for your Valentine... a list of endearing terms and several heart photos I've taken just for you! 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

l'enjeu est grand

I will always be there for you (c) Kristin Espinasse
I stumbled across this photo this morning. I think it speaks volumes after today's story, which is dedicated to my husband.

Today's word is an expression: l'enjeu est grand

    : the stakes are high (there is a lot at risk)

Audio File: listen to me say this phrase Download MP3 or Wav

Je ne sais pas quoi faire. L'enjeu est grand.
I don't know what to do. The stakes are high. 

All kinds of "steaks" or "enjeu" expression here, if you are looking to improve your French. If you are looking to relate to life... then please read my story, below. It's a follow up about the memoir I would like to write... 

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

Do not allow yourself to get excited by what is said about you. Let the world talk. —Fenelon

Jean-Marc and I are lying on our backs in the dark. It is 5 in the morning and I've had insomnia for the first time in years. My mind is spinning after the recent revelations I have shared on my blog. But no matter the positive reception, no matter the encouragements, I can't help but fear what's coming next—if I go ahead with plans with this tell-all memoir.

The thought sends chills and I pull up the covers. "I feel hungover," I joke, turning to my husband. But just like the aftermath of a drinking spree, will I regret being so loose with my story? So much has already come out, in the previous posts. The sharing of my sobriety is detoxifying. There are cold sweats and headaches now, ten years after my last drink.

Jean-Marc laughs. "It's all that pastis you swallowed last night!" As he shifts beneath the covers, pockets of warmth are freed, enveloping me. With the warmth, comes a sense of security. It seems safe to broach a subject that is bothering me. 

"There are a couple chapters we need to talk about..." I begin. Though I have gone over the sensitive material many times in my mind, I forget that Jean-Marc is hearing the chapter outline for the first time. So busy spitting out the controversial details, I am unaware of the growing silence in the room.

"If I could just get past these chapters," I conclude, "I think I can tell the rest of my story." 

Jean-Marc turns over, his back is now to me. In 19 years of marriage, such body language is easier than French to interpret.

I quietly get up to make our tea, realizing that my number one supporter may no longer be able to cheer me to the finish line. Without him, I will not make it past chapter one. I won't even want to.

Stopping at the bathroom sink, I splash water on my face. Looking into the little mirror, I see scars all over: a huge "H" on my forehead, an "L" down my nose. Stitch, stitch, stitch. The latest one, a dent near the tip of my nose, tells of ongoing struggles.

Damn it! I think, shutting off the tap. He's still mad at me. But haven't I paid for my past follies? If my squeaky-clean daily living wasn't enough, I'd coped with skin cancer in the last year and a half. It is as though the recovery work that began in me a decade ago continues to push up "toxins"—to the very surface of my skin!

Climbing back into bed with the hot mugs, I hand Jean-Marc his tea, setting mine down on the nightstand beside a stack of notebooks. Slipping under the covers I still feel the chill in the air. I ask Jean-Marc what he is thinking.

"About a lot of things..." My husband's words feel condemning.

But what did I expect? I deserve the cold shoulder—I have put him through a lot. I will continue to pay penance for my actions, not because he asks me to—but because I need to! I will bring Jean-Marc his morning tea... I will write my stories, always focusing on the good things...  I will wear sunscreen!

"Listen," I say, defensively. "I don't have to write this book. I can stop now, call it quits after those two chapters. I have received several notes... readers telling me that because of my coming clean, they are finally going to quit drinking. If writing those chapters has helped someone, it has been worth it. I need not go any farther!"

"But this book," I continue, "is not about drinking. As for the chapters I have just told you about, I don't have to include them. I can just omit the information and the story will be: "I got drunk, I fell down, I got sober, I started a blog, became an author, moved to a winery! stayed sober through that, and skin cancer—and lived happily ever after!

Re the controversial parts, I can drag myself over the coals sharing all my faults and revealing all my transgressions. And YOU can be the hero at the end of every episode, cheering me on and on!

But by not sharing the whole story, my behavior—recounted across those revelatory pages—won't make a lot of sense! All the colorful exploits will be taken out of context. Either I tell the whole story, or quit now.

The look on Jean-Marc's face tells me he's coming round... but just in case, I assure him:

Yes, I can just stick to blog-writing and keep typing these skipping-through-lavender-fields lighthearted anecdotes. And you can be the one who is always hiding encouraging notes in my robe pocket, gifting me with cherry trees," I say, referring to the opening chapter in the book that I still so deeply want to write. 

"I told you," Jean-Marc mumbles, "write what you need to write." 

Another period of silence passes in which each of us reaches for our computers and our tea, to surf the net, silently. Checking my mail I am struck dumb by a letter.

The forwarded email has accidentally ended up in my inbox. In the letter, someone I admire—who has also shown a lot of affection toward me—is telling another friend about the first two chapters of my memoir. Concerning the Prologue story, she writes:

This one is about her marking her 10th anniversary of sobriety. And, yes, if you read it and get the impression her husband is a jerk, he is.

I am stunned as I read my friend's words. I know she cares about me, but I had no idea how she felt about my husband! Farther down the email, I see the recipient's response:

I can appreciate what this woman went through to get where she is and should I assume that the rest of the manuscript details what it took for her (and out of her) to get where she is today? 

They were talking about us—me and "The Jerk"! My heart fell as I began to realize the consequences of my sharing. Write enough about my husband—no matter how lovingly—and somebody out there is going to think he is a connard!

It occurred to me then that no matter how sensitively I told my story, I was putting my husband's reputation at risk.

"You have my permission," Jean-Marc said, setting down his tea. "I don't care what anybody thinks about me."

"But you should care. It might hurt you one day. Someone might mistake you for a connard!" 

The more I thought about it, I realized what danger I was putting him in. Though a few illustrative sentences about Jean-Marc's behavior might balance out my own questionable behavior in one of the dramatic chapters, would readers be left with a bad taste in their mouths? And would that be what they remembered?

Only I will know all his proofs of love and the lengths he has gone to to pull us through.

Next I thought about the risk to my own reputation. Did I really want to be labelled? You know, she's an alcoholic... complete strangers would say. Should I choose to go ahead with my story, there would be other colorful labels that would crop up, too! 

Having built up a blog in the past ten years, with supportive (and down right adoring) readers, do I want to risk off-putting any one of them with some tidbit from my private life? 

I began to think about all of the people that would read my story, from my French aunts to my grandchildren to the lady at the flower stand, to whom I had given my card. Did I want them to know everything about me? What would be the consequences?

In ten years would family members look at me and say, "But Kristi, what were you thinking?"

Would my husband still be here?

Is it really worth it? Even if I were to work with an agent and a publisher—and be paid for my story—would it be, in the end, at my very own expense?


Monday morning now. My husband is laughing again. After a particularly painful weekend, he is back to his chipper, teasing self when I bring him his morning tea.

"Pray for me, that I might tell this story," I whisper.

"I already have," Jean-Marc smiles.

"Are you just saying that? You didn't pray!" I say, poking his side. 

"Yes, I did," he pokes me back, and I'm touched, believing him.


My mom supports me, my sister too: "Call me every day," Heidi insists, encouraging me to tell my story, if it will help me. "I think it will help others," I say. 

"You bet it will help others!" my sister agrees.


Post note: To my friend who wrote that Jean-Marc is a jerk. He has not seen your letter and I am not mad at you. I only ask that you will remember to withhold judgment. I want to tell my story but I am terrified of anyone judging my husband or myself, which will happen, I know.

Jean-Marc may not always be an angel, but he is my Prince Charming. His love has swooped me up, quite literally off the ground.

A final word: when I have my doubts about sharing my story, including the bad decisions I have made, it gives me great courage to know that readers are not judging me. I read every comment, here are just a few that speak to me, as I continue to weigh whether or not to share certain details of my story:

If it gives someone else the courage to make important changes, it will be worth it. Hopefully, it is therapeutic for you as well. There is no shame in past weakness overcome, or, at least held at bay. --Rob T

Kristin- You may never see my comment-- there are so many. And it doesn't really matter. Stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and focus on you. You are a brave, strong woman. It takes guts to admit that you aren't perfect, but none of us are. This "confession" only makes me admire you more. We all have weaknesses, skeletons, "fallings down" or however you want to put it. We are human. Be true to yourself. I wish you the very best. Write this book for you. I will read it and so will many others. Much love sent your way- Teresa.

To comment on this story, or to read the comments, click here. 

Chapters: click on the following links to read the book that I am currently writing

Tom mann

Jean-Marc (here with Tom Mann) will kick off his USA Wine Tour this spring. Check out his itinerary and see if he will be in your area. Click here.

If I continue writing... I'll tell you the story of moving to a wine farm. Yes, I was tempted there. No, I never tasted so much as one drop of Jean-Marc's award winning-wine. I swear.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.


Empty bottles (c) Kristin Espinasse
"The evidence". Thank you for the generous support you sent in, following the previous post, "So Much for Anonymity! In the ten years since this blog began, I've wanted to share the very personal story but never trusted myself enough to do it. Wednesday, I took the leap. Your comments give me the courage to continue. If all goes well, the telling of my story will be a ticket to peace, and not a train wreck. Update: After the prologue, written Wednesday, read Chapter 1 here.


le témoignage (tay-mwhy-nazh)

    : testimony, witnessing, testifying 

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read his sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

Je vous conseille de lire le témoignage émouvant de Kristi.
I encourage you to read Kristi's moving testimony


faux témoignage = perjury
porter témoignage = to give evidence

Our 15-year-old daughter Jackie. Remember the photo? It would make a good book cover? What would the title of my memoir be?  The story is about what happens when you quit something that is harming you... and begin chasing a long lost dream, one that comes true!


"I'm writing a very important story today," I said to my daughter, as I drove her to school on Wednesday. "Wish me luck!"

"Comment dire 'merde' en anglais?" Jackie responded.

"No, Turkey!" I laughed, "We don't say that in English!"  


*The French really do say "Merde!" as a way to wish each other "Break a leg!"

Chapters: click on the following links to read the book that I am currently writing

 Sweet-n-Sour (c) Kristin Espinasse

Salé Sucré, or Sweet-n-Sour, and such is life, oui, c'est la vie! 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.