The French word "sous-vide" + Win "Flirting with French"
The French word topinambour--it saved French lives during WW2

The French word "tomber," the cops, and my mother-in-law


Enter to win this French holiday CD (pictured below)
Simply tell me a favorite song of yours here in the comments.

My mother-in-law might say "something by Elvis or Gainsbourg." That's her, right, in Nyons. Look at those trusty shoes she is wearing--the last thing I packed for her before the firemen whisked her away, yesterday! Read on.

tomber (tohm-bay)

    : to fall

Audio: Listen to Jean-Marc MP3 or Wav

Depuis son retour de la clinique, Michèle-France est tombée quatre fois dans son appartement.
Since her return from the clinic, Michèle-France has fallen four times in her apartment.

Tis The Season... Already?
Yesterday, at the bakery to buy croissants for my mother-in-law, I saw a tray samples beside the cash register. The famous pompe à l'huile cake was on display and for the taking! Reaching for a slice, the scent of fleur d'oranger reminded me of Christmas with our French family. (Cousin, Sabine makes the famous "olive oil cake".) I will need to get this recipe for you (can't wait? Find it on page 254 of this book, of all books or free on the internet). Meantime, here is a lovely CD to set the mood....

To enter to win this CD, simply tell me your favorite song here in the comments box.

French Christmas CD

French Christmas Music: "Mon Beau Sapin", "Saint Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant".  Order CD here or enter to win it when you tell me your favorite song here in the comments.

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

"A Hunger for Life"

Arriving at my mother-in-law's for our breakfast date, I was unable to enter her apartment building. I'd forgotten the secret numbers to la digicode box, that push-buttoned "Open Sesame!" on the wall beside the entrance. 

When Michèle-France did not answer her phone, I waded through the scratchy buissons beside the entrance and peered into her living room window. That's when I saw my mother-in-law lying motionless on the floor!

"C'est moi! C'est moi!" I shouted, tapping on the window, but my mother-in-law could not turn to see me. Recognizing my voice she struggled to remember her digicode number--and succeeded! 

I typed the four digits and hurried into the bâtiment, expecting to find the next door open (my husband had told his mother to quit locking her door--in case of an emergency like this one--the fourth time she'd fallen since returning from the clinic).

Manque de chance! Michèle-France's door was locked! 

"The keys are on the door!" my mother-in-law insisted, straining to carry her voice.

"No, there are no keys on the door!" I repeated, carefully eyeing all three keyholes and running my fingers over them as a personal sanity check. I looked everywhere, pausing only to concentrate. Keep calm and the keys will appear! 

So much for calm. Instinct kicked in and I flung myself at the door, once, twice, three times....

Running back outside I began forcing the windows. Flimsy as they were they would not give! I ran around to the side of the building and began yanking the metal shutters of her bedroom. I could almost pry them open but for an out-of-reach latch.

Returning to the front windows I shouted to my mother-in-law not to worry, but we would have to call the fire department. This was a last resort--for my mother-in-law would have preferred to keep this latest slip between the two of us. She was desperate not to return to the clinic, which is where her worried family would send her after this morning's chute.

On my tiptoes I peered back through the window and saw my mother-in-law had managed to turn her head. I smiled back at her, throwing kisses through the glass that separated us. Her face lit up and I assured her I'd be right back.  

Now... what was the French version of 911? The numbers finally came to mind for the emergency call but try as I might I could not dial 17. Instead 177 kept appearing on my mobil phone screen. I tried to steady my hands and on the fourth attempt I heard a French woman's voice. I'd dialed the police department!

"Désolée! I meant to dial the pompiers," I explained.

The woman assured me not to worry and began the questioning. Where was I calling from? What was my name? Was my mother-in-law alive?


I ran back up to the window, knowing perfectly well the answer. "Oui!"

"OK," the officer said. The police are on their way, but you will need to contact the fire department. Dial 18....

"We just need the pompiers--not the police!"

The officer assured me this was protocol on hung up. Hands steady this time, I dialed les pompiers. Five minutes later a team of three firefighters, two men and one woman, was standing outside my mother-in-law's bedroom window. They pulled on thin white gloves and began prying open the metal shutters, this time with success!

Luckily the bedroom window was open and one of the pompiers jumped through it to open the front door. Next, the police arrived (all three of them, including one woman) and began interrogating me.

Your name? Your birthdate?  Your telephone? Your address? Where were you born?

"The Philippines," I answered, keeping an eye on my mother-in-law, who answered "Maroc",or Morocco, for her birthplace. She was being interrogated too--by the fire department. They had lifted her off the cold floor and set her gently into her chair.

I noticed how tenderly the firefighters handled my mother-in-law, whose humor kicked in as she began flirting with the youngest member of the team. Those handsome French uniforms! But I cringed when they responded to her with  "ma petite dame" and other terms of endearment that, to a strong-willed woman like my mother-in-law, translated to "LITTLE OLD LADY!"

Looking closely, she appeared to be another, weaker person. But this was owing to the absence of her teeth. I hurried to the bathroom to get them for her--the moment she asked for them.

And her hair... She had always kept it up--along with her nails--fiesty-fiesty red! Her hair was dyed a more delicate shade--strawberry. But lately, her hairdresser was not returning her calls, not since she asked for a favor: could he make one exception and do a house call?

"She will need a change of underwear, " the female firefighter said, waking me from my seat at the hair salon. I had been watching my mother-in-law getting all dolled up in the next swivel chair.... until it all disappeared to the present moment. There she sat, barefoot and sparsely dressed. Her snowwhite hair reminding me of the underwear I needed to be getting.

"J'y vais! I'm going to get them!" I answered the firefighter, hurrying to my mother-in-law's bedroom to grab the culottes ... when the phone rang. It was my husband. Only, just as soon as I heard his voice, my own began to crack. No words would come out.

"I'm on my way," Jean-Marc said. 

It was stupid and indulgent to cry when everything was going so well. Things could have been so much worse! Jean-Marc arrived almost at the same time as the auxiliaire de vie, or care assistant, who was scheduled to see my mother-in-law that morning. Now the apartment teamed with 10 unexpected guests. And then the neighbors passed by, casually peeking past the front door where my mother-in-law sat completely exposed.

After I hurried to shut the door, the room hummed even louder with all the questioning by the various municipal workers, who were all going beyond the call of duty. So much so that my mother-in-law began to unbridle her heart--telling her full story to anyone who would listen: "All those months in the hospital. Then the clinic. All that physical therapy. FOR THIS! I've been lying on the floor for 4 hours. Let me tell you--all you young'uns--getting old SUCKS!"

No, she didn't really say those last three unseemly words, but she was thinking it. I could see it in her eyes as a blanket was thrown over her lap and the professionals  cooed, "Dear little old lady, all will be well!"

*    *    *

All alone in the apartment--my mother-in-law having been carted off in a wheelchair, followed by an entourage of helpers, I looked around nostalgically. I recognized all the framed photos of family, the wooden armoire with the carved doors, the favorite watercolors by her artist friend. In a cut crystal vase the branches of bruyère I'd brought last fall were dried up and colorless. I had the urge to stuff them in the garbage like a menacing note. 

I took off my coat and rolled up my sleeves. My husband had left the keys and I would lock up just as soon as the dishes were done and the bed was made. This time I wasn't going to leave my belle-mère's apartment in disarray. Not like the last time when chaos hit so suddenly. 

Hanging the kitchen towel to dry I noticed the sacks of croissants I had brought for our breakfast date. They were still sitting on the window sill where I'd dropped them before trying to break into the apartment.

But one of the sacks was missing....

An image of a fireman running back to the building crossed my mind. So that is what he'd come back for--her breakfast. In all the haste my mother-in-law managed to remember that buttery, rich croissant! Chances are she will be just fine--as long as she keeps that hunger for life.

To leave a comment or to read one, click here. And tell me your favorite song to enter to win the Fernch CD, mentioned earlier!

French Vocabulary
le buisson = shrub, bush
le bâtiment = building
manque de chance = no luck
désolé(e) = sorry
la chute = fall
le pompier = firefighter
la culotte = panties (U.S.) knickers (U.K.)
auxiliaire de vie = home health aid, care assistant
la bruyère = heather
la belle-mère = mother-in-law

France Today Free Gift

Do not miss France Today's special subscription offer--a wonderful Little Black Book of Paris! Click here to check out the free gift with subscription


You may wonder why I've been busy transplanting dozens of strawberry plants. Because my family loves  un bon milk-shake à la fraise (the healthy kind). If you haven't gotten a Nutribullet yet, please consider this one here. And this model, right here, is priced lower than the one pictured above. A perfect holiday gift for my mother-in-law. Now to get her back out of that clinic!

When you shop for anything at Amazon, entering the store via one of the links in this letter or at the blog, your purchase helps support this free word journal. Merci beaucoup!

*    *    *

Don't forget to enter to win the French CD--and forward this so a friend has a chance to win too. On second thought, why lower your chances?

A Message from Kristi
Thank you for reading my language journal. In 2002 I left my job at a vineyard and became self-employed in France. "French Word-A-Day" has been my full-time occupation ever since. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on the creative process of writing. My wish is to continue offering posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens