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Entries from August 2013

Braise the dog update + how to say "different strokes for different folks" in French

Happy Art (c) Kristin Espinasse

Happy Art (or L'art joyeux). The other day I was snapping a picture of this lively fishing boat, or pointu, when a passerby sniffed Quelle horreur! ("How tacky (that boat is)!" I was struck by the comment until I rememembered we don't all see things the same way or, as we say back home, Different strokes for different folks! Even if I wouldn't paint a boat in the colors of a rainbow (had I only one boat to paint), I think this bubbly bateau fits in beautifully here in the port of Sanary-sur-Mer. Taking the hint from today's French expression, we could say, il faut de tout pour faire un port. (It takes all kinds to make a harbor.)

I received some touching feedback from our French readers when recently I posted a "reverse" vocabulary entry (the English term or phrase first, followed by the French translation). I think it's time for another, which would bookend this edition nicely--given the last section includes a letter from Francophone reader Marie-Pierre. Today's reverse entry is...

"different strokes for different folks"

    : Il faut de tout pour faire un monde

The French equivalent means, literally, it takes all kinds to make a world. Another way to say it is this: chacun ses goûts (to each his own). Know another way to say it? Comment on this expression, here, or continue reading the rest of this edition, below. 

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

(This story section will return next week. I have a lot of updates for you--such as Max's first car (can you guess it?) and his summertime job. I could also tell you about the first ever concombre I just harvested (Youpi!!) and the mongolian tournesol growing behind our house. I haven't even mentioned the sacks and sacks of home-grown produce our neighbors, Josette and André, keep delivering--fèves, then haricots verts, then tomates, then a giant bushel of lavender! Our home smells like un champ de lavande. Best air freshener ever!

I leave you with some colorful clichés taken over the past two weeks. Enjoy the photos, and see you next week.

Passez un bon we,

Comments welcome here.

French Vocabulary + Audio File:


Il faut de tout pour faire un monde = it takes all sorts to make a world
le concombre
= cucumber
youpi! = yay! 
le tournesol = sunflower
la fève = fava bean or broad bean
la tomate = tomato
un champ = a field
la lavande = lavender
bon we (week-end) = happy weekend
un cliché = picture (also means photo negative) 
passez un bon we = have a good weekend 


sunfllowers or tournesols (c) Kristin Espinasse
View from the kitchen window


With any luck, I thought, these sunflowers will be thriving when Heidi and Brian arrive! The entwined tournesols reminded me of the reunited couple

In the background, you can see Jean-Marc's green market stand.  He bought it with the plan to sell some of his wine roadside! I may let you know if that happens... Meantime, it was so funny, Sunday, to see Aunt Marie-Françoise stride up to the stand and chant "Melons! Achetez des bons melons de Provence!" Melons! ("Step right up and buy some good melons from Provence!") A chorus of chuckles erupted from the front porch, where 20 some family members had just returned from the beach, after an end of summer picnic. 

Heidi in Cassis (c) Kristin Espinasse
In Cassis during my sister's visit, we passed this graffito. The message was serendipidous, given that my sister Heidi and her ex ex, were visiting us in France--celebrating their reunion. After 24 years apart, they are happily together again. The sign above reads "You can't beat this love". Read the story of their reunion here.

All decked out in Cassis, where French windows are full of wonder and whimsy.

Sometimes French mailboxes are as expressive as French window boxes. More mailboxes here in the French mailbox post

  French mailboxes (c) Kristin Espinasse

I love to read the names on the front. The white one on the bottom belongs to the Cassan and the Migraine family. I wonder, does a "Mr. Headache" really live here?

"Babiol" it's both the name of this shop and a favorite French word. And that's a French Vanna White. Just kidding. That's my beautiful sister! (Little sisters love to kid--even though they're poor sports when they're teased.)

Mongolian sunflower or tournesol geant (c) Kristin Espinasse
The mongolian sunflower growing behind our house, in the potager. When Cousin Audrey saw it, she said it looked like a shower head. (I recently heard creative people can see forms and familiar shapes in the objects they gaze at: whether tiles, clouds, clusters of trees, or sunflowers...) What have you seen recently? (I see hearts everywhere, and recently a "pig" jumped out of the cluster of leaves on a backyard tree! I blinked my eyes, but it was still there, green and rustling in the wind.) Comments welcome here.

That bale of lavenderI told you about... and an update on Braise (left). Occasionally someone writes in to say "so many pictures of Smokey... but what about Braise--is she okay?" Braise is doing fine, though she worried me last week, when she had three accidents in the house (pee-pee par terre, or "puddles" on the floor). It wondered whether she was getting old, but she is only 7. Then I realized the fault was mine! Owing to summertime, we are sleeping in a little later. This means Braise and Smokey have to hold it an extra hour... No more grasses matinées, or sleep-ins, until 7:30 am. If we make it to the front door an hour earlier, we'll avoid all those accidental puddles.  


I love your site and find delight in seeing photos of my native, favorite Provence. The word of the Day is helpful to me as I am using it the other way around for perfecting my English knowledge...
    One small correction however in the usage of "from the bottom of the heart": it is a personal expression used for a personal feeling avec un sens de provenance (mouvement), and one should say "du fond de mon coeur"  ie: je te remercie du fond de mon coeur"au"fond de mon coeur" means "deep inside of my heart"(pas de mouvement) ie: je garde son souvenir au fond de mon coeur
Merci de me permettre ce commentaire et dans l'attente de votre prochaine lettre. [Thank you for allowing me this comment and I look forward to your next letter.]
Bien amicalement.

Thank you, Marie-Pierre, for the correction and for the helpful example you shared. --Kristin

The stone structure behind the dogs is known as un cabanon. Some say they were used to house farm animals, others say they sheltered farmers during a blistery Mistral. Have you heard of other uses for these beloved structures, salt and peppered across the French countryside? Comments welcome here.

And that's Smokey whispering into Mama Braise's oreille. What is he saying?  Home sweet home (c) Kristin Espinasse

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

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

how to say "from the bottom of the heart" and "shooting star" in French?

Cassis (c) Kristin Espinasse
When nature frames a lovely scene.... Photo taken in Cassis.

Dear Readers,

French Word-A-Day is free thanks to sponsors
 and readers like you! Whether you have read my language journal since October 2002--or whether you have just signed on--I thank you du fond du coeur for supporting this educational enterprise!

More than learning a new French word or phrase, I hope you will come away from the vocabulary-rich stories with a sense of connection and the reassurance that we are not so different from each other, no matter where we call home.

I have many more stories and snapshots to share with you. Meantime, thank you for giving me the platform with which to diffuse the words and impressions that dash through my mind like shooting stars, or étoiles filantes.

The following note is from Cynthia L., who wrote in wishing to send a donation:

This is such a small amount for something which I thoroughly enjoy and would not miss reading "for the world"! Now I wonder how the French would handle that expression. 

Thank you, Cynthia, for your wish to renew your support--and thanks to all who help keep this French word journal going!

P.S. Cynthia, the French equivalent to your "for the world" would be "pour rien au monde". (And your thoughtful comment is much appreciated!!)


You've read about some of theses characters in my French word journal. The lovely lady on the left is Cousin Audrey (Marie-Françoise and Jean-Claude's daughter). C'est moi, author of this blog, hugging her (Audrey is so dear it's hard not to!) and that's my son, Max, to the right. We are surrounded by his friends. From left to right: Paul, Hatim, Antoine, and Ed). "Come on, Audrey," I giggled, let's pretend we're cougars! which point the boys' smiles went as crooked as an awkward moment (see what I mean?)

Thanks again for your support of this French word journal. See you next week with many more photos--and faux pas--from France! To comment on this edition or to share your encouragements for this language journal, click here.

Il faut donner sans se souvenir et recevoir sans oublier.
Always give without remembering and always receive without forgetting.”― Brian Tracy


fishnets (c) Kristin Espinasse
In the South of France, people adorn their doors and steps and windows with all sorts of things. This time it's fish nets! Photo taken in Cassis. 

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

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

How to say searchlight and intruder in French?

Brebis, mouton, sheep, olive trees, south of France (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse,
In addition to the visitors we invite (read about these guys, above), we had some unwelcome guests recently. A story about a prowler, or un rôdeur de nuit, in today's column.

 faisceau de lumière (fay-so-deuh-loo-myer)

    : light beam 


Example sentence (and handy retort!):

Still smarting from a recent disagreement? Why not forward the following quote (mwah ha ha ha! That'll get 'em!) est plus facile de reconnaître les erreurs chez les autres, mais dirigeons vers nous le faisceau de lumière ! It is easier to recognise failure in others, but let's turn the search light on ourselves.

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

A Prowler Appears

While refilling Smokey's and Braise's gamelles on a scorching hot day, I was pleasantly surprised by our neighbor.

"Oh, bonjour Annie! Quel plaisir de vous voir!"

There beneath the parasol pine trees, Annie walked slowly up our gravel driveway, her every step hindered by an enthusiastic welcoming crew: our golden retrievers.

"Smokey. Braise. Poussez-vous!" (No matter how bad my accent is these days--or that skedaddle is more fun to say!--all dog commands are still issued in French. Our bilingual dogs respond to it.) 

Annie waved her finger in a gesture of "not to worry," and I remembered that she is used to animal herding. She walks her feisty goat and her sheep each evening, keeping those two in line, whether in French or in Provençal (a sheep's second language).

"I have something to ask you," Annie said as she gently patted the welcoming crew.

"Bien sûr!" I emptied the dogs' water bowls next to the sunflowers which now tower beside the front door. After refilling the gamelles with fresh water, I encouraged Annie to come inside. It was too hot to chat here on the patio and, besides, I had a question of my own for our next-door voisine.

We sat down at the kitchen table, a pile of freshly-picked roma tomatoes between us. I'd get to my question soon.... First, I was curious to know what Annie had to say.

"Did you hear all the commotion last night?" she began.

Having no idea what Annie was talking about, I guessed I hadn't. Quel bruit? I hadn't even heard her goose honk. Ever since the second goose passed away, last month, things were sadly quiet in the field above our house, where Annie lives.

"My dogs went crazy--barking like mad around 1 a.m.," Annie explained, adding that last night she was all alone (her grown children, my age, were away). 

I was on my own too, I told Annie, anxious to know why her dogs were barking. 

Annie continued, "I got out of bed and headed toward the kitchen, where my chien-loup was going mad. That's when I saw a faisceau de lumière out in the field..."

The words faisceau de lumière were puzzling. I could picture the "lumière"... but wasn't a faisceau a kind of dessert? I jogged my brain, trying to eliminate the image of a villain dessert traipsing through the countryside. But then, just what was it Annie had seen lurking out there?

Annie kept mentioning the faisceau de lumière until I understood from context that it was a beam of light she had witnessed--and not a creamy dessert (or "faisselle"). The faisceau was shining across the field between our homes. Yikes! It seems we had an unwelcome visitor last night! 

"What did you do?" I quizzed Annie, anxious to know la suite.

"I stuck my head out the front door," Annie said, illustrating her gesture.  I could just see her brave face poking out the cracked door. "It's not something I would normally do..." she said of her courageous peekaboo, "but I just had to know what was out there!"

Next, she said the light faded away as the intruder disappeared.... That's when Annie asked if I'd noticed the light from my end of the field... Whoever was lurking was now lurking in my yard!

Just then, Max appeared in the kitchen door well startling me. But the sight of my son in his bright-colored boxer shorts was unmenacing.

"Good morning, Max!" I said. "Listen. Annie says someone was lurking around here last night. Someone with some sort of lantern...."

Max mentioned that when he returned home from a party, after midnight, he had used his telephone screen to light the path to our front door.

Annie and I perked up... until Max added he had arrived home after 1:30 am. Annie was certain, having looked at her clock, that the prowler was in the field at 1 a.m. Max would have arrived a half hour later. That meant Annie and I were all alone at the time of the mysterious visit!

"You have my phone number," Annie assured me. 

"Thanks," I said. "And don't hesitate to call me, either. I'm right next door--not far at all!" We would look out for each other, the one a middle-aged housewife, the other a gentle-spirited widow.

It was a comforting thought. However, one had to face the facts. I studied Annie in her dainty débardeur with its lace bretelles. And there I sat in my T-shirt dress. Both of us had our hair tied back with bobby pins. Should we encounter the prowler tonight, would we be the picture of intimidation and ferocity?

There was no use fearing. I shared with Annie that I was croyante, unsure of whether she might be an atheist, like my belle-mère. If that were the case, perhaps these non-religious words could comfort her: the old adage "nothing to fear but fear itself!"

I sat there fumbling through a personal translation of Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous words... rien a craindre sauf la crainte... I couldn't be sure if Annie was getting the gist of the idea, but her next comment eased my troubled mind in the same way the holy scriptures do:

"Don't worry," Annie chuckled. "Come to think of it, the visitor we had last night was probably no more than a lost soul who had wandered up the hill after the town's "summer night" festivities. "He probably had a pretty girl on his arm," Annie smiled. "Just a couple of lovers who had snuck up to the forest."

 I liked that idea much better than a torch-bearing psychopath. Speaking of unstable types, Annie shook her head and pushed a carton across the table.  "My hens are not themselves these days," she admitted. "But here are a few to enjoy."

"Freshly-laid eggs! Thank you, Annie!"

With that, I remembered the roma tomatoes I had for my neighbor. Filling a bag I handed them to her and then picked her brain about canning this year's harvest. And, just like that, we put a lid on the big bad prowler!

Post note: Remember the men who came to prune all our olive trees? There in the orchard they found many lost items--including a blue satin g-string. Ah là là! It seems this wasn't the first time lovers have lurked in the surrounding fields!

To comment, click here. 

Capture plein écran 16082013 163713

How To Learn A New Language with a Used Brain by Lynn McBride is now in paperback! Order here.

  Exercises in French PhonicsExercises in French Phonics bestseller on French pronunciation and how to pronouce French words correctly! (click here)


 French Vocabulary 

 la gamelle = water bowl

quel plaisir de vous voir = what a pleasure to see you

poussez-vous! = beat it! (move out of the way!)

bien sûr = of course

la voisine (le voisin) = neighbor

quel bruit? = what noise?

le débardeur = sleeveless T-shirt

les bretelles = spaghetti straps

un croyant (une croyante) = one who believes in God

Help answer this reader's question:

Melissa is anxious to find a novel to read that takes place in Avignon or nearby, to enhance her connection to the area. (She does already have your first book....)

If you've not already written about a favorite roman, then perhaps you could post to poll ideas from your readers? 

Answer Dave's question and share your favorite books that take place in or near Avignon. Comment here.
Cassis, Var, France, Mediterranean sea (c)
We had such a touching visit with my sister Heidi (to the left) and Brian, her first husband... more about the reunited amoureux soon! 

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

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

How to say "cleaning frenzy" in French! + photo vocabulary!

Old wooden boat in Giens, near Hyérès (c) Kristin Espinasse

Gone fishing! I'll see you in a week, when the next post goes out.
Meantime, keep up your French vocabulary by visiting the French word archives. Thanks for reading and for sharing our language journal with friends and family. See you soon--with more photos and stories from a French life! Bisous, Kristin 

la frénésie de ménage (fray-nay-zee deuh may-nazh)

    : cleaning frenzy 

... and if you are one of those loves-to-organize types, here's another term for you: la frénésie de rangement = organizing frenzy. Share this one with a neatnik!


    by Kristin Espinasse

The Quirky French Household

After a house full of guests leave today and Saturday, I've got a bit of time to get this boat in shape. My sister is arriving this weekend!!

The past week has been full of excitement, with a lot of bed schlepping and sheet wringing. The flurry began after one of the teenagers (there were 6 sleeping here this week) woke with welts up and down her legs. Next, my brother-in-law complained of the same--only in a different place (he hasn't been able to sit down since.) Mosquitos?

Bed bugs! I tore off all the freshly laundered sheets and began rewashing everything. Saperlipopette! We could have used a machine dryer for once! Meantime, Jean-Marc vacuumed and disinfected the mattresses. Result? Bed bugs were not the problem (for the record: no bed bugs at the Espinasse household! I repeat... pas de punaises de lit chez les Espi!).  The culprit was the mosquitoes, after all. We needed to buy a better repellent for this years invasion!

So much for scrubbing sheets and matelas. Meantime, my sister's visit! The house will get a good dusting and a lickety-split polish. No use worrying about appearances--but I am doubtful about some of the household quirks we have here in France. How will these bizarreries come across to those who are unaccustomed to them? (It's been years and years since my sister came for a visit. And this time she is bringing a very special guest. I don't want to cramp her style; as her little sister, I will be a reflection of her! I wouldn't want her significant other to think we're from the boondocks--or maybe even The Twilight Zone....

Anyone who has seen our new old place would be shaking their heads about the boondocks comparison. The truth is, this is an endearing house--cracks, cobwebs, and all. But back to those quirks... every French household has them. For outsiders like me, French homes take some getting used to. But now, after two decades, I don't notice cultural differences so much anymore. Yet I feel the need to explain certain european idiosyncrasies to my sister and her cheri. I'll list several here, in case my upcomping guests are reading:

That's not cardboard, those are our guest towels.
The upside to drying your laundry on the line is this: the bath towels double as excellent skin exfoliators (it's that sandpaper texture they develop after hardening in the Provencal sun. I hope Heidi and Brian will "get it" and, especially, will go with it. Their tender skin certainly will! 
Insecticide? Not!

Here, just a stone's throw from the city, it is normal to find an ant traipsing across your cheek as you slumber through your afternoon nap. I'm used to plucking them off, sending these and other friendly creatures on their way.

And the bees with which we cohabitate are harmless, too. I once had a guest pull back the freshly-washed bed sheets (and the mattress cover beneath them). Her curiosity led to a startling discovery: a row of meticulously formed mud houses. "There are spiders in my room!" she screeched.

"Those aren't spiders," I assured her. "Those are mud daubers. They wouldn't harm a fly. But they might eat one!" As my guest watched, wide-eyed, I scraped away the tiny, hollow mud balls and tossed them out the window.

(Best not to peek beneath the mattress cover when you sleep at my place! But I guarantee freshly washed, air dried sheets--free of bed bugs (I repeat pas de punaises de lit chez les Espi!).

Another concern about my sister's visit: all those spider webs I've grown accustomed to. I take it for granted that not everyone is as blasé as I am about les toiles d'araignées. Apart from an occasional pause--to marvel at their intrinsic designs--I don't even notice them anymore. But spider phobics will! Is my sister's beau one of those? On verra!

French Bricolage or why certain doors and things are off-centered, unbalanced, or defy reasoning

It is definitely a French thing. My friend Cari, also married to a Frenchman, will vouch for this: the French just don't see things "spatially" as we do. That said, most everything in our new (old) house is perfectly balanced (this is thanks to the British family--including a mathematician--who lived here before us). 

As for "most everything" being in harmony, I'm afraid I have to take the blame for first "off-set" to the natural balance around here. It happened when we renovated Max's bathroom. I suggested we reuse a shower door from our previous home. Only I didn't stay to watch the handyman install it.... And the handyman didn't question the size of the sliding doors. Result: the doors will not open completely.

Jean-Marc doesn't see what the big deal is. (Of course not, he's French!)  And he made it a point to demonstrate that even he, big guy he is, can squeeze through the 31.5 cm crawl space that remains. (Brian, if you are still reading, you're just gonna have to do like us and suck it in!)

I hope these tidbits about our beloved home have not been off-putting. I've got to go now--more towels to put on the line. And, Heidi, if you are still reading, brave sister, I leave you with a warm bienvenue chez nous!

Comments welcome here.

 Today we're talking about from quirky households to insects--to guests! Please jump into the conversation and leave a comment.

When you forward this story to a friend, you open up a whole new quirky world for another to enjoy. And they'll learn a bit of French vocabulary in the process. Thanks for sharing!

French Vocabulary

une bizarrerie = peculiarity

le matelas = mattress

le cheri (la cherie) = sweetheart

une toile d'araignée = spider web

le beau = the boyfriend

on verra = we shall see

le bricolage = do-it-yourself 

bienvenue chez nous = welcome to our place

Exercises in French Phonics: A helpful manual for pronunciation! "Really breaks it down for you on how to properly pronounce French words." (review by New Chic) Read more customer reviews, and order a copy here.

Reverse Dictionary 

spic and span = nickel (nee-kel)

 A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone. Maison des Pelerins, Sablet.Click here for photos.   

Door curtains in Beaumes de Venise (c) Kristin Espinasse
Let's build our vocab with these pictures I took in the Vaucluse. Notice the green volets, a cement banc, white and blue rideaux de porte, the old rusty boîte aux lettres, and the furry chaton noir. See any other vocabulary in this photo? Add it here, in the comments box.


Bar toutous
The French word for this yellow object is une gamelle. But don't you love the synonym: bar à toutous (doggy bar). Other vocab in this photo: notice all the colorful affiches taped to the window of the office de tourisme in Sarrians. 

Please forward this post to a clean freak or an animal lover--may it bring a smile :-)

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

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

RECIPE: Annie's Soupe de Poissons


A fish shop in Brignoles. 

 la soupe de poissons (sewp-deuh-pwa-sohn)

    : fish soup

Jean-Marc has been catching lots of little fish these days. Last time it was une rascasse! Apart from being unappetizing to look at, they are too small to eat. "Faites la soupe de poissons!" Make fish soup! our friends tell us. Recipe, in today's story....


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

It's the first week of August and we've got tomatoes coming out of our ears! (Now there's an expression to add to our growing list of English and French idioms...).

In the potager the other night, I was harvesting tomatoes when I realized there was no way we could eat them all before they rotted. I needed to learn how to can! Meantime, why not give some away?

I thought about our neighbor, Annie.... but almost as soon as the idea popped up that old faulty thinking kicked in: Annie's probably busy with her family. Or she might be resting. Or maybe she doesn't feel like company. It's 7pm--too late now anyway...  There seemed to be any number of reasons to stay put, and not risk stepping out.

But as I mentioned before, I'm working on such self-defeating and ingrained thoughts. I will no longer let doubtful thinking keep me from enjoying new experiences!

Quickly, I filled a paper bag with the best tomatoes and marched faster than my darting thoughts, right up the little dirt path, to the field between Annie's place and ours. Arriving at the edge of her garden, I heard a chorus of alarms: first there was the horse, which whinnied. The goose was next...honk! honk! honk! Then the dogs and the chickens chimed in. I didn't hear a complaint from the lapins, though. What should they sound like?

Barking, neighing, clucking and honking, the creatures approached the property line. I stood on the other side of the rope, not daring to venture any farther. Looking around I saw no sign of Annie.

And then I heard bleating... Turning toward the field above her house, I saw my neighbor walking her goat and her sheep. What an endearing sight!  A rare and beautiful glimpse of another place and time. I wondered if Annie had any idea how peaceful and lovely she looked.

Apparently not. As I walked up the dirt path, she held out her cane in a gesture of warning. "I'm not very presentable," she apologized. "I'm wearing my pajama top. The long sleeves help keep the mosquitoes away!" Annie smiled, offering a friendly welcome despite initial standoff. Next, she pointed to her pants, which were missing a zipper. The waist was nearly held together by a rubber band.

How refreshing it was to be around someone so down-to-earth. I raised my hand in a thumbs-up gesture. "No worries, Annie! So many of my pants are busted, too! Rigged together now with rubberbands, safety-pins, or, in a pinch, an old tie from Jean-Marc's office days!" How I wanted to say these words to Annie, but I couldn't find the French to express myself. And so I smiled and said instead, Quel plaisir de vous voir tous!

Pointing to Annie and her walking companions--a feisty young goat and a tired old sheep--I wanted to let her know how treasured an image they were, but I should be careful not to gush.... or come off as the hopeless Francophile that I am! I love French country life and the uncomplicated characters whom I sometimes have the privilege of knowing. 

I kissed Annie on each cheek and patted her goat and her mouton which, after a cursory greeting, returned to their foraging. (Chinese mulberries grow here like weeds and are a favorite to eat!)

"They are so sweet, Annie!" I didn't know goats acted like dogs, and were so outgoing. The sheep, on the other hand, seemed shy--especially for his giant size.

Annie told me that they were rescues, but that it wasn't so easy keeping up with all the animals. Picking up the ragged tail of her mouton, she laughed: "I just trimmed him. It's a little uneven but I did it my best!"

"You did an excellent job!" I assured her, impressed that she used kitchen shears when she didn't have the electric kind, made for the task. 

As I admired her handiwork, I saw the heavy sharp hooves of the animals and took a few discreet steps backward. Steel-toe boots would have been better than these flip-flops... 

Annie pointed to my skirt, below which my bare legs were splotched with red dots.

"Careful, the mosquitoes are getting you."

"Next time I'll wear my pajamas," I smiled, handing Annie the tomatoes I'd brought her. "I'd better get back. Jean-Marc wants to go on a boat ride and I keep finding excuses not to go."

Suddenly, Annie's expression turned concerned. "Go with him when he wants to take you on that boat. One day you'll be my age and you won't be able to enjoy such things anymore."

Annie's words struck me like a thunderbolt. Somehow, coming from this peaceful soul, the suggestion finally took hold.

"I've been out a few times..." I explained. "We went fishing last night. Jean-Marc caught a rascasse! We are saving all the little fish, freezing them, and plan on making la soupe de poissons at the end of summer!"

"I used to love to go fishing!" Annie said. She turned her gaze out to the parched field, beyond which the great blue Mediterranean beckoned.   

"Why don't you join us?!"

Annie smiled and quickly changed the subject. Taking my arm, she shared with me another recipe, (after the fava stew ingredients she suggested last time).
Max plays soccer 030
A classic wooden fishing boat in the South of France, photo taken in Giens.


"Saute all the fish in olive oil. First, add onions and garlic to the pan, frying them in the oil. Then add salt and pepper and wild herbs," Annie said, waving her arm, indicating all the plants growing here in the field: thyme, fennel, laurier...

I was curious whether one emptied the fish, or did we keep the insides--as well as the eyes

Annie confirmed that the entire fish was used. "The fish and the herbs will thicken in the pan. Next you can add some water to adjust the texture. Finally add a bit of saffron..."

"OK, I think I got it... olive oil, herbs, saffron, eyes and tails and stomachs..." I winked.

Annie smiled. "I'll remind you of the recipe at the end of summertime."

Now that was something to look forward to--the promise of another visit with Annie. With any luck, maybe we could see each other again before then? For even more lovely than the image of Annie walking her sheep and her goat, is the picture of her with her fishing pole--casting a line far out to sea.  



le potager = kitchen garden

la rascasse = scorpion fish

le lapin (la lapine) = rabbit

quel plaisir de vous voir tous = what a pleasure to see you all

The World is your Oyster. Photo of young girl with telescope, my daughter Jackie (c) Kristin Espinasse,
"The world is your huitre." Photo of Jackie when she was 7 years old. My girl, keep your vision steady and you will achieve your goals. Read a letter by Jackie in which she asks a work related question: Est-ce vraiment aussi dur qu'on le dit de trouver du travail? Click here to read her bilingual note.

Lunch in Provence. Schedule a vineyard tour with Jean-Marc. Join us in Chateauneuf or another Provence vineyard town (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Last month we met up with Rick (center, to the right of Jean-Marc) and his family and friends for a vineyard tour in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. After tasting at three caves, including Uncle Jean-Claude's, we had a sunny lunch and enjoyed talking about France, wine and writing. If you are interested in touring the vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and beyond, Jean-Marc is your man. Actually, he's MY man, but I might share him for a day....

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

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

manger ses mots

Hanging out on the line (c) Kristin Espinasse

Socks on stage, taking a bow in front of the curtains. I have always been a sucker for whimsy. I love French architecture and adore the building blocks of language... 

manger ses mots (mahn-zhay-say-moh)

    : to speak inarticulately, to mumble 

Aha! and you thought manger ses mots (to eat one's words) meant to admit you were wrong. Relax! You're thinking of the English idiom. The French one has a very different meaning. Both, however, paint a colorful scene in the mind's eye. More expressions imagées in today's column, below.

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

The day I quit believing the lie that I was a bad student I fell in love with the French language. I could now relax and absorb all the lessons floating around me--and all the words, too. Idioms were a new and delightful discovery! Expressions such as revenons à nos moutons and faire du lèche-vitrines took hold of my soul, bubbling up through me in delight and possibility.

Certain colloquialisms were so full of quirky imagery. They took me beyond the classroom--to see and perceive the world around me in a new and light-hearted way. That the French referred to window shopping as "licking windows" (or "window licking"--either way is funny!) taught me they had a wonderful sense of humor and a refreshing down-to-earthness behind their mysterious exteriors. The self-depreciating, humane, and humble side of the French is especially apparent in their turns of phrase.

"Elle a des oursins dans la poche," a French friend whispers, and I'm no longer intimidated by the bombshell at the party; instead I'm amused by the new saying I've just learned ("to have sea urchins in one's pocket" = to be a cheapskate). That woman may be a knock-out... but it turns out she's a cheapskate! Tee-hee! The two images are funny (and heartening) when joined together.

Though I still put the French high up on a pedestal, I can now pose my ladder beside it and climb up to reach their outstretched hands, joining them in this language tango. "Etre aux petits oignons?they say, spinning me round and round. "Don't be fooled. We're not perfect! We're just as goofy and clumsy as the rest of the world. We don't take ourselves as seriously as you might think!"

As I fell in love with the French language, getting cozy with the lingo, a funny thing happened: I developed a new appreciation for l'anglais. Suddenly, all the English idioms that once flew off the tip of my tongue--now projected themselves across the technicolor screen of my mind. How colorful English was, too! I'd never quite seen it this way before!

Having developed a theory that the French have a word for everything, and that their expressions are the liveliest, I've come to discover that some idioms are much more interesting in English than in French. Here are just a few examples, you can add your own in the comments box which follows:

Between you and me and the gatepost - There's something adorable about this English expression--yet it translates to hum-drum boring in French: soit dit entre nous = just between us. (You mean that's it? Don't they have a more charming match for this one? At the very least, can't we have a word-for-word equivalent: C'est entre toi et moi et le montant de porte?)

Kiss and Fly (Name of airport drop off zone)
I was taking family to the airport when I noticed the sign above the temporary parking curb. "Kiss and Fly"--how delightful! ...And what a let down to discover the French translation (noted just beneath the sign): Dépose Minute.

To Get One's Knickers in a Twist (To get flustered, agitated)
Personally I don't use this expression (I find the "Keep your hair on!" expression just as funny). Sorry if the "knickers" idiom offends anyone--but you've got to admit that it is one of the more colorful expressions we have in English! Let's see if the French translation does it justice (checking my dictionary now...)

...and the equivalent is (dot-dot-dot) s'emporter. Ba dump bump! To fly off in a rage doesn't quite cut it. Although "to get into a tizzy" is kind of funny! How about we use that one?

*    *    *

Your turn to share your favorite English expressions--the more colorful the better. Are some expressions funnier in English--or, if we search deeply enough, can we find a just-as-humorous French equivalent?


French Vocabulary

revenons à nos moutons = let's get back to the topic
faire du lèche-vitrines = to go window shopping
être aux petits oignons = to be perfect
l'anglais = english    

Hats in St. Tropez (c) Kristin Espinasse
Chapeau! or hats off to you for working on your French a little each day. Please share today's post with a friend who might enjoy the same.

Kristi and Mr Farjon (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse
Photo from 2008. With Mr Farjon, "The Plant Whisperer". 

With an approach that is as charming as it is practical, Espinasse shares her story through the everyday French words and phrases that never seem to make it to American classrooms. Book blurb by Simon and Schuster

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

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety