Things to Do in Paris - 2013
La soeur - sister in French

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.)

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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


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Love this story. Great job and the shadow photo of jackie and horse is an award winner


What a lovely post! Have fun together, you two! And please say hi to Michèle-France for me. I'm still dreaming of her tapenade...

Priscilla Fleming Vayda

Good morning, Kristin. It's a rainy and cold day here in La Nouvelle Orleans. I hope that later today is okay for more Paris tips. I have been gathering together my favorite museums and garden spots but had to put all aside for a deadline of my own. So I will put myself back in Paris very shortly! I love that place. And Aix en Provence! Hope that works for you. Priscilla PS: Being of a greater age, I can relate to your belle-mère: I am older but not old. You were blessed to have her visit you!


Nice story, Kristin. Why are the cloth blinds placed outside the window? I love that picture. Did you take it?


I loved Nyons, could happily have moved there just for the winter,had we seen anything for sale we could have afforded. Meanwhile we stay here in beautiful, chilly Brittany and try to plan another trip South.


mary paulson

Thank you Kristin. I love your stories about your dear mother-in-law. I had some belly laughs this morning. Your words painted pictures in my mind. I think there is something so sweet about wanting to have Michele Frances with you when her son is gone camping with the children.Keep these stories coming. Mercie!


You at your best.


You know what? Your belle-mère should have her own cooking TV show. Maybe then people will see the sweet version of the French.

Thank you for sharing these moments with us.

Julie Farrar

Lovely character study of your belle-mère. After reading the story I think I'll make soupe de courgette myself tonight It's much easier than peeling pumpkins.

As for the memoir. Writing is an ebb-and-flow proposition sometime. Maybe as an experiment you can send the family off for one or two days only and vow something manageable, for example "I will write for one hour each day they are gone."

winn gregory

Moi aussi, Je l'aime cette histoire ou vignette. Votre ecriture, il est plus et plus meilleur, formidable. Excuse the fractured french. Winn ahh 'the cow laughs?' vide supra. only the french.

joie in carmel

Little Red Riding Hood, you didn't need protection, just good company. So sweet.
As for the writing, do it when it feels right. One hour a day or 3 a week. Don't force this one, let the words come when they are ready.
Oh, your protectors were Braise and Smokey!

Petra Douma

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

Why is there an extra "e" and "s" on barreés? Isn't "on" singular?

Lovely story and beautiful photo.

Kristin Espinasse

Marika, yes, I took the picture, but am not sure why the blinds are outside. My French aunt once suggested we put curtains outside our large windows to block the sun before it hit the window panes. She believed this would keep our room cooler (vs the sun heating up the window, then the room)

Petra, that may be a mistake. Jean-Marc suggested the extra e and the s, but he could be wrong.

Thank you very much for your positive feedback on this story. I have some more to add to it, but will leave as is for now. In case you missed the soup recipe, visit the post called feuilleton, and look for it just after the story

suzanne dunaway

If you do not wish to lose a finger when peeling a potiron, artichoke stems, and others, use a carrot peeler from Ikea, the best tool in my kitchen. Potirons are a snap and you save much more of the squash.

suzanne dunaway

Your spelling of mal barrees is correct. And your readers can see any correction on google by writing in 'how do you say xxx in french?' i've learned most of my french from google searches!

Linda R.

a lovely four days - what a wonderful invitation you extended. enjoy each others company.

Eileen - Charlottesville, VA

Love this Kristin! What a special time for you and your belle-mére!

Kathy en Californie

@Petra: Even though "on" is neuter/singular, the "es" is needed when it is referring to two women.


Thanks for the soup recipe from la belle-mere. Having the list of ingredients is what I wanted. I love that she cooks au pif, I am venturing into "winging it" and find it very liberating.


Today'a poat about your belle-mre is very heart-warming!


Sorry, belle-mère

Karen Whitcome - Towson, Md  USA

I envisioned peeking through that window as a peeping Tom would do, as I read this nice story. Your weekend with your mother-in-law reminded me of many I spent with my own - trying to find the truth behind who is actually the care-giver/protector and who is the actual protectorate. In either case, you had each other and captured another chance for memory and love, while allowing me some very fond memories, myself. Thank you for that!

I noticed that there are 2 interesting points at juxtaposition in this story. You wanted alone time but then called in a friend. And then there is the unwelcoming bed of nails on the window ledge with a welcoming rail (sans nails) sitting just above it. Very interesting, indeed. ;=)

Barbara Bell

I saw a book whose title I didn't recognize in the photo. How do I obtain a copy of "Wish, Prune, Pray"?

Lovely story, lovely ladies.


Your mother-in-law sounds like a wonderful lady to have around. When my kids aren't home, I leave a light on downstairs. I think I would be the same as you, wanting company in the woods. I want to travel alone some day, but I think the nights would be hard. It is the fear of the unknown, or just our overactive imaginations that get to us.

Have a wonderful week!


Thank you for this wonderful tribute to your mother-in-law. What tenacity and attitude!

Sheri Murphy, Bethlehem Pennsylvania

Read any of Cara Black's Aimee Leduc mysteries that take place in the arrondisements of Paris, put on your walking shoes, and explore the places she so vividly describes. If you get tired, visit one of the cafes she mentions.


Beautifully written. One of your best.

Shirley Babineaux

This sweet story definitely brought tears to my eyes.....

Karen from Phoenix

Love you story today. Mother-in-law's are so great to have around.



Thank you, Kristi. A truly heartwarming story. I enjoed it a lot, especially your belle-mere's remark about the wolf.. :-) A very nicely done referral to a famous fairytale. Wonderful job!

Ned Harris

I was struck by the remark in your story about your mother-in-law not being able to raise her arm much higher than the table. I have had the same problem since I tore the rotator cuff in my right shoulder about four years ago - but that has been corrected by a miraculous healing that I received last November through prayer. I'm attaching my testimony for you to read. And I want to refer you to the gentleman who prayed with me when that happened. His name is Mike Endicott; websites for his healing ministry are and I encourage you to look into this. You'll find testimonies similar to mine posted there, as well as a wealth of material. Both audio & video sessions are available.

By the way, thanks again for your recommendation of Wm. Gurnall's "The Christian In Complete Armour." It has become a daily reading of mine, and I find it very encouraging and helpful.


Ned Harris


Well, now I really read in the above commenter's advice for googling "how do you say xxx in french" phrase, and to no surprise of mine found so many interesting advices of all kinds to learning even more French! :-) so, thank you, Suzanne Dunaway!


In the picture of your work in print, I spotted "Wish Prune Pray" which I have not read. It's not available on Amazon. Any idea where I might find it? I love your courageous self-exposure
in all that you write. Art is risk. Thanks for the inspiration.

Lin Powell

The shadow picture is amazing.

I love the relationship you have with your mother-in-law. She seems like a wonderful person. Thanks for sharing.


The comforting presence of mothers, is there anything better?

Kristin Espinasse

Just back from seeing the film LINCOLN, and now catching up on these lovely comments. Thank you!

Lois and Barbara, Wish, Prune, Pray was another compilation of stories from this blog--specifically the posts about moving to the vineyard in Ste Cecile. I printed a limited amount of books, and that edition is now out of print. Thank you for asking about it.


I'm afraid that having to click through for the newsletter will have me giving up on word a day.


Our dear Kristi,
Today's post was wonderful!
Reading about the loving bond you have with dear Marie-France just filled my heart with smiles,and also brought me such happy memories of the times shared with my belle mere. We spent many hours in the kitchen (watching her favorite, Wheel of Fortune,but admittedly,far--as in light years!!--from my mine)while fixing dinner. The last years we were her caregivers, and as challenging as this could often be, I wouldn't change a second of it for anything. The opportunity to give back to a loved one is indeed a gift.
You are giving your mom in law moments she will cherish always,especially knowing how God graced her with such an incredible daughter.One born not under her heart but in it.
Love, Natalia XO
PS A favorite way to fix pumpkin was to bake unpeeled chunks, then top with some sugar and caramelize it under the broiler.
Really yummy!

Marianne Rankin

Why did you not want to go on the ski vacation? Not knowing how to ski? I admit that I would be frightened to downhill-ski (I've only done cross-country), but that's because I've never had lessons.

Nevertheless, your alternative activity was a good one, and I'm sure Michele-France was grateful for the company. I'm glad you have such a good relationship with her.

Our attitude toward people of all ages (not just "old" ones) should be that we will help when needed, and respect the efforts they make to do what they can themselves.

There are times when caring for folks or doing things for them can be difficult, but in retrospect, we will be glad we did. My mother passed away 10 years ago today, and required a good bit of assorted assistance the last few years, but I am happy I was able to do as much as possible for her.

avril rustage-johnston

Lovely story, Kristin, but what especially pleased me was to hear that you don't like to stay home alone at night; I thought I was the only adult with this 'condition'. I usually go to a nearby hotel if my husband is away, but I'm ashamed to admit it; now I'm a little less embarrassed.

Wells Edmundson

As medical director of a retirement community for almost 28 years, I have marveled at the paradox that ageing and infirmity is oten accompanied by wisdom...i frequently remind my charges that life is divided into three stages: youth...middle age... and 'hey you're looking good'. Feast on her wisdom!

Kristin Espinasse

Natalia, I am going to try your baked and caramelized pumpkin. Sounds delicious!

Marianne, no, I regret that I cannot ski. For this, I sometimes stay behind, when what I should do is take lessons!

Avril, it did cross my mind to check into a cheap hotel... But it might have been challenging to sneak in two golden retrievers...


I HATE staying in our large apartment alone, too. Am a scaredy-cat. Even if a child is home, it is OK. But alone, scary - the old floors creak, the windows rattle....Can fully understand that the company of your lovely mum-in-law makes all the diff! LOVE what you wrote today


What kind of dog is in the picture with the horse? It is so shaggy and adorable!

Nancy L.

Loved this post! It really captures the love and respect you have for your belle mere. It is a bit of a balancing act when we spend time with parents or in-laws who are advancing in age, isn't it? My mom is 92 years old and frail (as is ma belle mere)and I try to be cautious about cosseting them while in their company. It's important to provide help when needed, but to allow them to be independant too! God Bless you both!


as to the spelling of "barrées" while I'm no expert, I often look for advice from Laura Lawless who says:

"Agreement with on

There are two related debates about whether agreement is required with the subject implied by on:

Adjectives: In On est content (We/They are / Someone is happy), should the adjective agree?
feminine: On est contente.
plural: On est contents.
feminine plural: On est contentes.

Être verbs: In On est tombé (We/They/Someone fell), should the past participle agree?
feminine: On est tombée.
plural: On est tombés.
feminine plural: On est tombées.

There is no real consensus, so here's my opinion: On is a neuter singular pronoun, so there shouldn't be agreement, but it's pretty much up to you - or your French teacher. ;-)"

Kristen, - love your blog. It brightens up my day thrice weekly.


Dave C.


Hello Kristin: I love all your stories starring Michèle-France. And the way you described everything is always so vivid that it's like watching le feuilleton sur l'écran. :-)
When we immigrated to USA, an elementary teacher of one of my son was telling me that many US kids did not do well in school because of too much TV, and that my son did not watch TV. I smiled and said "je laisse mes enfants regarder la télé pour apprendre l'Anglais."


Your readers seem to be confused with the agreement with "ON". I think it depends on the context. "On est mal barrées" when referring to Michèle-France and you is as much grammatically correct as "on s'est mariés" for "we got married".

annabel garrad

Your reference to Le Mas reminded me of arriving at one 'toute seule' and feeling dreadful after the 23hr flight and a bout of bronchitis. I was so grateful for the 18 inch stone walls that muffled my coughing! I was definitely "mal barrée" and could have done with une belle mère surtout quand le méchant loup est arrivé quelques jours plus tard!
Thanks for a lovely story.

Stacy ~ Sweet Life Farm ~ Applegate, Oregon

Bless you for this sweet and heart-touching story. Leads me to believe you have all the protection you need.


Glad to have read today's story so that I could link up to this one.
J'adore ta belle mere!


Thank you for this beautiful story. My belle-mere passed away last spring and this brought me back to times with her. Her personality was much like your belle-meres, so much wisdom, love, and teasing too:)

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