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Entries from April 2015

S'esclaffer: Never do this alone in France

 Smokey gets his stitches out today (test results back next week). Here he is taking a break from that uncomfortable cone, the protective collerette he has worn for two weeks. 

Tomorrow is le premier Mai.  Click here to learn what the French are up to.


    : to guffaw, to burst out laughing

listen to Jean-Marc
Download MP3 or Wav

S'esclaffer, çela veut dire de éclater de rire bruyamment. Exemple: Je me suis esclaffé d'un gros rire devant les dames dans la magasin. To guffaw means to burst out laughing. Example: I burst out laughing before the ladies in the store.

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

By my 5th visit to the friperie, or thrift store, I was beginning to relax and even feel at home in what once seemed a secret private members only place for les démunis of our village.

"Mais non!" one of the volunteers insisted. "This shop is open to all!  Sales proceeds go toward helping those in need."

To think I could have been shopping here for years, instead of stopping in only to drop off sacks of clothes and bricoles! Once again, awkwardness and ripe imagination were to blame for robbing another of life's pleasures: getting out and rubbing elbows with the French.

And rub elbows I did as I squeezed through the rows, piles, and racks of second-hand clothing. Here is where I first spotted the bright green tunic (pictured here, at the end of this post). It seemed perfect--too good to be true. Why would anybody give up this pretty blouse? There must be a pépin.... Was the blouse secretly privately moche

"Do you like this top?" I asked one of the clerks, setting the matter straight.

"La couleur vous va à merveille, " the woman said, peering over her reading glasses for a better look. "The color really suits you."

"Merci!" I chirped, handing over one euro to the cashier before someone else discovered la chemise. After all, the place was buzzing with treasure-hunters. Looking around, the shop had everything: toasters, flower pots, wine racks, bed frames... and math teachers. Ah, there was Jackie's algebra tutor! So this is where she gets all those cool retro skirts....

"Bonjour, Valérie! " I said, kissing the institutrice on both cheeks. 

"How is Jackie?" 

"Fine! And you will never believe it: she is now sewing up a storm. (I knew Valérie would appreciate the news, as she herself is a talented seamstress. )

Valérie pointed out the piles of thrift clothing, "Tell Jackie to come here! She can pick out pants and tops and alter and recreate them as she likes!"

With that tip, Valérie blew me a kiss and hurried off to pay for  a few summer shirts. Still smiling in her direction, I watched as she picked up an old backpack. "Perfect for tomorrow's field trip!" She told the cashier. "How much?"

"I don't know," the clerk said. "Claudie, is this one for sale?"

The woman with the reading glasses looked up, "Je ne sais pas..."

"Elvire, do you know if this is ours... or someone else's?" 

"Antoinette..." is this our sac-à-dos... or a client's?"

Antoinette, in her endearing, whiskey-voiced French waved her hand and said: Qui sait! Vends-le! Who knows! Sell it!

As my eyes bobbed from one volunteer to the next, an amusing thought struck: What if Valérie was about to walk off with another client's bag!

That is when I heard the loudest, snorting laugh... The ridiculousness of the situation was just too funny. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt, and how good it felt to let go completely and share in the camaraderie!

Suddenly all activity in the shop stopped and you could hear a pin drop. Catching my breath I looked around. All eyes were trained on me. You'd think I had had une crise d'épilepsie the way the women were staring! The look on their faces was one of  sincere perplexion, even concern (not judgement or disdain).

What I had thought was chance moment of camaraderie, was just another awkward painful instant of being mal compris

Do you, dear reader, know the feeling?


To leave a comment, click here. Have you ever commited a cultural gaffe? What was it? And what else not to do when in France?




French Vocabulary

la friperie = secondhand clothes, thrift store
le démuni (la démunie) = destitute, helpless, down and out
une bricole = knickknack
le pépin = snag, hitch
moche = ugly
la chemise = shirt, blouse
instituteur, institutrice = school teacher
mal compris = misunderstood


Isn't friperie a fun French word? Here are some of your all time favorite French words. Click here--and add to this list!


Follow me on Instagram or Facebook and I will show you the nearby villages or what to see in the South of France! Many people write, asking for information, mais il suffit de me suivre...

Click here to follow me on Instagram - a wonderful site where you will find even more photos and info on France. Click here to follow me on Facebook.

If you prefer Twitter, click here. My post are automatically shared there.


And thank you for sharing today's post with a friend, who may enjoy these stories and photos--this last one taken in Vaison La Romaine.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Mois & May in France: two things to know

Muguet or lily of the valley for May 1st in France or premier mai en france. (c) Kristin Espinasse

Friday is May 1st. Be prepared by reading about the Muguet tradition : Click here or here. And many thanks to the writer Mary Ellen Gallagher, whose thoughtful notes and research inspired today's post. 

le mois (mwah)

    : month

ça fait des mois
= it's been months
arrondir ses fins de mois =
to supplement one's income
tous les trente-six du mois = rarely, once in a blue moon

Listen to Jean-Marc read this French sentence: 
Download MP3 or Wav

Le premier mai on donne du muguet et, pour certains, mai, c'est le Mois de Marie.
On May 1st we offer Lily of the Valley and, for some, May is the Month of Mary.

Tita-coverToday we have the pleasure of reading an excerpt from Marie Houzelle's novel " Tita." Marie and I met at The Paris Writer's workshop four summers ago and I am inspired by her success ever since she rode off on her bike that last day of school. The following story gives many helpful insights into French life and a certain May tradition. Enjoy, and merci beaucoup, Marie!

an extract from Marie Houzelle’s novel Tita

“At ten past eight, (my sister) Coralie and I hang our baskets around our necks and go to the garden to choose our flowers. Peonies, dahlias, sweet peas, narcissi. Mother said we can take only those that are completely open, and where at least one or two petals have started shriveling. I snip off the whole blossom… and we pull the petals off into our baskets. Then, intoxicated by the surfeit of scents, the sharp red ones, the acid yellow, the many shades of pink, the quiet white, we stand among the rose bushes, fingering the supple membranes, the soft shallow cups, warm from the afternoon sun.

Soon the organ starts and we’re all on the move again, for the procession. In front, four choirboys carry a statue of the Virgin Mary, and we follow… reciting the rosary as we walk, one Our Father, ten Hail Mary’s and again, five times, while the organ punctuates our prayers with crisp cheerful chords. After each decade of the rosary, the bearers stop in front of a different side chapel, where incense burns and lights shine on the statue. Then, as the rest of us pass the chapel, singing, we throw our petals to the Virgin. I so love to sing, I tend to get carried away and not pay attention to what I’m doing. But we need to be careful: there are five decades, five stops in front of chapels, and it doesn’t look good if we spend all our petals too soon and then have nothing to throw but air.

For each stop there’s a different hymn but in between chapels we go back to C’est le mois de Marie, where Mary’s compare to the spring, to a lily (pure), a violet (humble) and a rose (loving). During the last decade, the Virgin is taken to the middle of the chancel, and everybody faces her to recite her litany. In Latin, not in French… The Latin invocations sound so much more thrilling: Rosa mystica, Turris eburnea, Domus aurea … as if ivory, gold, morning were burned into the Virgin’s substance. The Latin, the sweet scents, the songs waft me above the ground, and I seem to swing there, light and swift. Giddy.

Our baskets are empty now, so we can skip and romp through the narrow winding street around the church and into the avenue, greeted as we pass by the many older people who sit in cafes, or on benches and chairs outside their houses, enjoying the fresh air and the action. Among the adults, all but a few devout women eschew the Mois de Marie ceremonies, which take place around the usual dinner time. But at nine thirty, when we children walk home, the whole population of the town is out.

*    *    *
To comment on Marie Houzelle's story, or some of the thoughts it sparked--about traditions, childhood, family, church or France--click here

Marie Houzelle 

Marie Houzelle is the author of No Sex Last Noon (I Want Press). Her stories and poems have appeared in Serre-Feuilles, Pharos, Orbis, Van Gogh’s Ear, Narrative Magazine, and the collection BEST PARIS STORIES. She lives in Ivry, just outside Paris, with her bicycle.

Tita’s Glossary

C’est le mois de Marie This is the month of Mary. So begins a hymn that continues “it’s the most beautiful month, to the blessed Virgin, let’s give a new song.” May has long been linked with the Virgin. Special month-long ceremonies started in Rome in the 18th century and, through the Jesuits, spread all over Italy and France. The word May comes from Latin Maius [mensis], “month of Maia”. Maia was an Italic goddess of spring, warmth and fertility.

Tita by Marie Houzelle

In Houzelle's first novel, Tita is a seven-year-old girl growing up in the south of France in the 1950s whose life seems to be defined by obstacles: the many foods that disgust her, the school that fails to challenge her, and parents who struggle to understand her. Tita is precocious and clever, but in some ways painfully inept. She is thoughtful but frail obsessed with rules and rituals, and determined to understand the nuances. Through Houzelle's sharp, straightforward prose (which captures Tita's perspective), the story of how Tita grows takes center stage. She learns the alternatives to those things that have held her back or held her down. She challenges social strictures that she feels are meaningless. She battles her mother to get what she wants, and when sometimes that turns out to be the wrong decision, she acknowledges it. At the novel's end, Tita is still a little girl, but her brilliance, potential, and unusual way of looking at the world will have won readers over. --Publishers Weekly

Click here to order Tita, in paperback. Or you can directly download it here, to read the e-book.

An outtake from this morning's photograph-the-lilies session. One of our lilies is blurred but the other, "Smokey of the Valley", is clearly doing well and will get his stitches out on Thursday. Smokey's test results will be back in one week. To comment, click here.


"Father and Son." And on April 23rd, Jean-Marc and Max planted 5 rows, or 100 vines, of cinsault in front of the little cabanon. These grapes will make a small reserved wine to have with friends and family. To comment, click here.


You can see many more photos in my Instagram gallery or this Facebook page. Click the follow button, and never miss a picture!

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Coursier: Delivering my dog's tumor to the post office...


Do you listen to the audio files in these posts? Here are the French men who record them: my 19-year-old son, Max, and my husband, Jean-Marc. The treasure of sound files for this blog dates back to when the kids were 7-years-old. Here is a gem you must listen to and share!: A nine-year-old Max, reading Rudyard Kipling's inspiring poem, "If". Click here.

coursier, coursière

    : delivery boy, delivery girl, courier, runner

Listen to Max read these French words:
Download MP3 or Wav

Hier, ma mère a joué la coursière en amenant la tumeur de Smokey à la poste! Yesterday, my mom played delivery girl by bringing Smokey's tumor to the post office.

Improve your French pronunciation with Exercises in French Phonetics. Click here. 

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

I often feel I am, as my mother-in-law says, pedaling in the choucroute, or slogging through daily life--especially life's duties! Ever a student of self-improvement, I crave information on how to render the everyday smooth and efficient. I'm an incurable web surfer and have a shelf of books with titles such as Remèdes de Grand-mère and Comment Vous Simplifier La Vie. And when I still can't get my act together, I turn to this paper-thin book by a 17th century French spiritual advisor.

My French veterinarian is also trying to simplify her life. On Tuesday, after Smokey's operation, she handed me an express envelope, with instructions on how to mail my dog's cancerous tumor.

"Just drop this off at the post office," she said, as casually as that.

"La poste?" the bizarre order was not registering.

"They're closed now," she said, looking at her wristwatch. "But you can keep it until tomorrow."  Shaking the bag, she offered. "It's specially sealed!"

Returning home, I put our furry patient, Smokey, to bed and turned my attention to the current dilemma: WHERE TO PUT THE TUMOR? Looking around the house, I weighed the possibilites:

...I could set it on the table beside the entry. No, Breize might eat it.

...Hide it in the armoire? No, it could be forgotton!

...Stick it in the bathroom! Only to sit and stare at it. No!

...Put it on the window sill.... And risk scaring away my new friend Tanja (who was soon arriving for a walk. Yikes, il faut se dépêcher! Better hurry up!)

I stuck the tumor in the kitchen, behind the toaster, and almost passed out when returning from my walk I found someone had tampered with the package--moving it from behind to toaster... to the cutting board! AK! WORST CASE SCENARIO!!!

In the end, no harm came to the The Little Tumor. (Whoever had moved it was impatiently reaching for the stash of baguettes, just behind le grille-pain, and had simply failed to return the non-bagette to its place (isn't that the way your own family behaves when hungry? Anything else--body parts notwithstanding--is no more than an obstacle between them and the food.)

The next day I delivered my dog's tumor to the post office, which, just like my vet and myself, is always looking for ways to simplify life! They have recently  installed several automated machines, or "mail it yourself" stations. Thankfully, one window remained, with a living breathing person behind it.

Handing the clerk my dog's tissues, I may not have chosen the most efficient option (French postal workers are not known for their speed), but I trusted Smokey's tumor would soon be spirited away, as the French say, comme une lettre à la poste!


 I met Tanja and Ricard (yes, like the famous French anise pastis--see him in the fence's opening?) on Instagram. Voilà, one great reason to finally sign up to Instagram: for the interesting and wonderful people and dogs you'll meet! For the latest photos from this French life,  join me here.


 Nice to meet you! Have you recently joined French Word-A-Day? You might enjoy the story behind this language journal. Read the intro to my book First French 'Essais'


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

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.

Get well soon, in French + photos from our winetasting!


 I pick up Smokey from the clinique in half an hour! His operation went well to remove the tumor and we will have results back in two weeks. Thank you for the thoughtful wishes you've sent in, including this exquisite note from my favorite calligrapher, Joy Fairclough, based in the South of France. See her Studio French Blue !)

bon rétablissement

    : get well soon!

Paris Monaco Rentals

France and Monaco Rentals: short-term holiday rental properties throughout France. Click here for pictures.


 AUDIO FILE: Listen to our son Max pronounced these French words:
Download MP3 or Wav

Bon rétablissment. Bon rétablissement, Smokey
Get well soon. Get well soon, Smokey

Improve your French pronunciation with Exercises in French Phonetics. Click here. 

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

I had this idea, before yesterday's wine tasting, that all our guests could line up for a photo with Smokey, our 5-and-a-half year-old golden who is underwent surgery this morning.

In my mind, I pictured a makeshift photo booth (we would use the loveseat in front of all those daisies...) and, one by one, have our portraits taken with The Wonderdog! (Can you just picture it now?) Kind of like the following photo, where I am standing in for Smokey....

My friend Michele, left. More here and here and here and here. And a video here!

But things never turn out quite as imagined. As it was, Smokey stayed inside to rest, and Jean-Marc and I hurried with finishing touches before our guests arrived.

...That is, one of us was hurrying. The other was still standing there in his grubby jeans after wrangling with his tractor for the last hour.

"Jean-Marc, shouldn't you get in the bath, now? Our guests will be here any minute."

"It is 2:30," my husband reminded me. "We have half-an-hour."

As torturesome as it is to watch my husband move so slowly... when I myself could just bolt into the future, I let go. After all, he'd pulled all those weeds this morning, planted the lavender, then vacuumed the three visible rooms in the entryway. I could not continue, now, to dictate his dressing schedule. Let him live with the consequences of his judgment!

I waved him off through gritted teeth. "Well, OK! I'm leaving to get Jacqueline at the train station. Keep your ears open for a knocking at the door, as I won't be here to answer it!"

There. Hopefully that would perk him up. Hélas, when I turned around to see if my words had any effect, all I saw was my barechested husband checking his emails. There was nothing to do but to try to see the current épreuve , or trial, for what it truly was: an opportunity to practice, once again, letting go of control.  

Looking into the rearview mirror as I drove out of our driveway, I saw the bright side, or how our combined efforts had paid off : our home and garden looked warm and welcoming and the sun was now breaking through the clouds highlighting several new blossoms on the lilac bushes!

I shook my head, a little ashamed at my behavior. My husband is right. I just need to relax, and trust the natural order of things.

Halfway down the dirt driveway, I saw the bright blue car arriving from the opposite direction. He was wrong!  Mr Relax was wrong! 

As the car approched our home, I pictured Jean-Marc undressing near the entry (our bathroom is opposite the front door, which I had left open...) I grabbed my phone to alert my husband... when a devlish thought popped into my mind. Yes, let it be. Tee-hee!

Pulling my car over to let the blue car drive by, I rolled down my window and  saw four lovely women smiling back at me. "Oh, hello Michele! Hello Ladies! Wonderful, to see you!"

"Are we too early?"

"Oh, no! No not at all. Jean-Marc is home! I'll just be a few minutes picking up a guest from the train station. Just go right on in, Ladies!"

Michele blew me a kiss and the ladies waved enthusiastically as the car lurched forward, disappearing into the surprising future!

And then another car entered our driveway.... It was Terry and Alex from Nashville! As I easily waved two more innocent guests by, a guilty feeling snuck in, lingering ever so briefly!

"Ah, they'll all work it out, don't worry so much about everybody!" I thought, remembering my husband's words from my nervous past. The question now was, will those same words assure him?

Mwahaha! ;-)

*    *    * 

Jean-Marc somehow managed to throw on a beautiful white linen top and be all presentable to the guests. Here is the scene I encountered on returning from the train station. Just look how relaxed he looks! And Breizh is sleeping like a baby. I will never know what happened. And it just goes to show, how beautifully things turn out... when you let go!

To leave a comment, click here.

When you order a copy of one of my French Life books, your support helps to keep this language journal going. Thank you. 


Don't miss this fun photos!


Here is my new friend Tanja, who I met here on Instagram. Her husband, Marc, took these photos.

 photo by Jacqueline Morstad

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

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.

Droit au but: Smokey update


Come to our home, this Monday, April 20th at 3p.m. for snacks and a winetasting. (We live near Bandol) To reserve your seat, email (p.s if the fava beans are ready, we'll try some :-)

Nov2014Mas de Perdrix. A home in France that artists and writers love to rent.  Work on your creative project in this inspiring environment.

droit au but (dwaht-oh-bewt)

  • to go straight to the goal, directly to the goal
  • to get right to the point

AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc read the French words (BTW: Did you hear the train whistle? My husband recorded this soundfile while laboring his vinefields! Today he is removing giant rocks, making room for more grapevines. You can hear his strained breathing as he speaks!) Download MP3 or Wav

Smokey est allé doit au but. Il a couru vers le monstre jusqu'à ce que ce dernier fasse demi-tour pour fuir dans la forêt pour toujours ! Smokey went straight to the goal: he ran toward the monster until the latter turned to flee into the forest forever.

This morning I turned to Facebook for help translating the English (above). Thank you, Dominique and Laurence, who offered helpful translations! 

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

Yesterday morning, while putting the finishing touches on my feature story for France Today (Ça y est! C'est fini!) Max popped his head into the bedroom. Reaching down, he patted our youngest dog, who was resting on the floor beside me, after Tuesday's biopsy.

"Ah, do I have a story about Smokey!" Max perked up, his eyes travelling from Smokey to the window, beyond which a great field meets the forest.

"See over there? That is where we saw the wild boar! Mathilde and I were playing fetch with Smokey, when I threw the stick... and a giant sanglier charged out of the forest to collect it!

"Oh mon Dieu! Where was Mathilde?" I asked, worried about Max's girlfriend.

"She stood frozen, tétanisée, between those two olive trees as the boar bolted towards her, the ground thundering beneath its feet!" 

Max threw out his arms, trying to describe the beast, which was thrice the size of our golden retriever. "I screamed for Smokey to come back, but he ran in front of Mathilde and charged on towards that boar!"

Max knew what everyone in these parts knows: a dog is no match for a wild boar! Screaming in vain, my son could not stop our dog from pursuing the threat, and so prepared for the worst as Smokey disappeared into the dark forest.

Then suddenly our golden reappeared! Rushing up to the beautiful demoiselle en détresse, he never once stopped to consider his weakness.

*    *    *

I hope you enjoyed Max's story about Smokey The Wonderdog. I shared several others with you, Tuesday, when I told you about that méchant lump. Bad news is the lab report came back positive for cancer. The vet was not able to operate, as planned, owing to excessive infammation. More info, below, in these posts shared on Instagram, and here's an uplifting comment we received on Facebook, this one by Vayia M:

He will be fine! Yes, he will!!! Only positive thinking, he deserves it!

 Yes, yes! Smokey, you deserve it :-)


(Yesterday's update, on Instagram) The lump could not be removed today. The surgery is in one week, when the swelling subsides. "It is unfair that dogs get cancer," the vet said, agreeing with Jackie, who tried to make sense of the diagnosis. Looking to the bright side, Smokey has hopeful options--this, in addition to the Super Giant Lucky Star that shines down on him.


His upside down umbrella did not shield him from the deluge of kisses he just received from Jackie. He's now planning on bringing this prop to the beach this summer. And the summer after that. Or, as Karen said, on FacebookAnd seven or eight summers after that!

To comment on today's post, leave a message here.

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Smokey, when he was a pup. What makes you think he's French? ;-)

If you are new to this French journal, you might consider picking up a copy of my Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France. Thanks for reading!

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

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.

Come to our winetasting Apr. 20th + Smokey's lump

Jean-Marc, laboring his 1st year vines. He is pushing a motorized plow, or motoculteur avec charrue, the idea being the plow would do most of the work. But as I snapped this photo from the upper field, I heard a lot of French cussing as my husband struggled to direct his new and unweildy assistant....

Please come to our home, this Monday, 3p.m. for the first dégustation of the season! 10 euro fee. We will try three wines and enjoy some snacks out on our balcony. We will also all lay hands on Smokey! So please come, and help cheer our littlest golden. Please send your confirmation message to me at

Déguster (day-goos-tay)

    : to taste


Beautifully renovated and decorated home in the Luberon. 4 bedrooms and a study with a sofa bed, each with ensuite (full) bath. This villa comfortably sleeps 7-9 adults.

: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the following French words: 
Download Deguster or Wav file
Venez déguster mon vin rosé le vingt avril. A bientôt!
Come try my rosé wine this April 20th. See you soon!

Improve your French pronunciation with the Exercises in French phonetics book. Click here. 

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

Smokey could use your thoughts and prayers at this moment, as he is currently in surgery for the removal of a méchant lump (a "mean" lump, as the doctor noted, on examing the bleeding, golf-ball size mass which grew rapidly over the past week).

Our wonder dog came into this world after his mother disappeared for a day in the bustling streets of Marseilles. She returned with a big surprise. Les chiots. Puppies!



We kept Smokey, the only male in a litter of girls, but almost lost him at the age of 2 months -- when he was attacked by two big dogs

Smokey was stapled back together and has learned to live with his handicap (a tongue that hangs out perpetually, making it difficult for him to eat; his astuce, or trick is to chew on his wrists after his meal. Perhaps the chewing produces extra saliva which helps to digest all the croquettes that are stuck in his throat...

Then there was The Attack of the Provencale Vineyard Monster (probably a wild boar, or sanglier, defending her babies). The unlucky run-in left Smokey with giant holes in his already lopsided face. Once again, he was stitched back together.

My dog and I even had joint accidents as in last November, while out on a walk. When a guard dog in a fenced yard burst out of the bushes, Smokey went flying, dislocating my elbow when I could not leg go of the leash


So now one of us has a crooked arm and the other, a crooked face. And up until now, we have been thrilled to walk this crooked path together. Because isn't that the way life is: never straight ahead - always an unexpected bend in the road.

Braise and Smokey, golden retriever dogs
                Smokey and Mama Breizh

Le tout, the most important, is to help each other along as best we can. To be gentle to each other, to find the kind word. To love, forgive, and to sacrifice. Nothing else matters. Everything else makes it difficult to practice these virtues.

Why does it always take a crisis to remember the essential? And then why do we blame ourselves for the fate of our loved ones?

Mon Smokey! You have helped yourself to heal in so many ways. Please, oh, please, use all your wonder dog powers to heal  today


To leave a message, click here.




Smokey. Photo taken three years ago. But he had that same uncertain look on his face this morning. Please keep our golden boy in your thoughts. Merci beaucoup!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
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Rabbit recipe + How to say DEADLINE in French?

French Word-A-Day goes out twice a week, but the stories continue in pictures over at Instagram. This snapshot, above, is subtitled "Following in a musician's steps, in Aix." I had been hurrying along behind the stranger, on my way to a meeting, when a little voice whispered: Snap out of it. Sometimes we are so clamped down on our track to the future that we are incapable of experiencing the present moment. This is also the theme of today's story. I hope you'll enjoy it.

la date limite

    : deadline, cut-off date

date limite de consommation = best-before date
date limite de conservation = expiration date
date limite de publication =  publication deadline

Nov2014Mas de Perdrix. A home in France that artists and writers love to rent.  Work on your creative project in this inspiring environment.

Listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence in French: Download MP3 or Wav file

La date limite d'utilisation est une date indiquée sur l'emballage de certaines denrées au-delà de laquelle leurs qualités ne sont plus garanties. The expiration date is a date indicated on the package of certain foodstuff beyond which their qualities are no longer guaranteed. (French sentence from Wikipedia)

Improve your French pronunciation with the Exercises in French phonetics book. Click here. 

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

This month marks two years since I began writing the back page column for France Today magazine. In addition to Le Dernier Mot, I have been given the chance to write a three-page feature for their June edition! Though I have finally adapted to a regular deadline (getting lots of practice here in my blog) I am panicked about this week's due date and my tendency is to clamp down and shut everything else out. Like this, I recently missed the chance to meet friends in Cassis, and I missed my dear friend Tessa's painting class. C'est dommage. The friendly breaks would have surely had a positive effect and would not have caused my little publishing empire to come crumbling down! 

By Wednesday this new deadline was looming when another date limite (you need to say those words with a French accent: DAT LEE-MEET) crept into the picture. That is when I remembered the skinned rabbit in my refrigerator

Mon Dieu! It was time to cook it or see it expire for the second time! That would be inimaginable after what Annie--and the rabbit--went though! 

Surfing the internet, I found recipes and diagrams on how to cut up a rabbit. Gosh! I hadn't gotten to that last part yet, couldn't it be cooked whole, like a roast chicken? In the middle of this dilemma, my husband walked in and there, I saw a solution...

Jean-Marc and I stood side-by-side in the kitchen, one of us holding a dull knife (I tried sharpening it), the other waving an instructional diagram through the air, in vain. (Jean-Marc will have nothing to do with convention.) 

In 9 no-nonsense whacks, the rabbit was now ready to be sauteed in pieces... For this, I did as Annie had instructed earlier, when that very morning I had flagged her down in her car as she drove past our house. Reaching for me from her car window, she held my hand as she relayed La recette grand-mère pour Lapin à la Moutarde.


               (Rabbit, covered with shallots, thyme and ready to cook)


  • Saisir or fry the pieces in butter
  • coat them with good mustard
  • add fresh thyme, salt, pepper
  • sauteed shallots if you like...
  • a little water into the shallow pan, or a bit of white wine (or both)
  • and into the oven at 175c for 45 minutes, turning several times, during cooking, to coat the rabbit in the pan juices

Squeezing my hand a few more times for courage, Annie added, "When the lapin is done, gently scrape off all the mustard and mix it with cream (I used sour cream), then recoat the morsels with this thick sauce and reheat, adding more liquid if necessary, so the meat doesn't stick to the pan."

As Annie drove off, I reached down and plucked up several branches of flowering thyme and headed back to the kitchen. I was a little confused as to why Annie's recipe called for only 45 minutes of cooking, and most of the online recipes called for hours and hours of slow cooking. And then, by coincidence, a guest last night (Marie, see her vineyard here!), whose son-in-law raises rabbits, explained: old rabbits are cooked longer, to make civet. Young rabbits are cooked quickly).

Bon, back to our story. There remained one question: when to serve Annie's rabbit and to whom


Because we had two helping hands here at the moment (including Gilbert, who you met here in the asparagus post, along with his dog Inès de la Frange remember her...) the answer was easy. But would there be enough rabbit for three hungry men and one curious cook?

Amidst all the questioning, the thought of how can I ever thank Annie returned. And then I remembered a comment I had read from the morning's blog post, wherein so many of you were writing in with tips and encouragements on what to do with Annie's rabbit.

Cynthia wrote: By all means, do make a rabbit stew and invite Annie for dinner.

Mais bien sûr! This would be the perfect way to thank my neighbor! The only question now was: would there be enough for 5? Annie accepted the invitation and wanted to know if it would be alright if she brought her daughter along....

"Oui, oui!" I insisted, mentally watching our rabbit stretch itself to accomodate lunch for 6. Jean-Marc had cut up 6 pieces hadn't he? And there went my worries, back on the hamster wheel: round and round... 

Returning to the kitchen to finish preparing the rabbit, a miracle occured. Just like Jesus and the fish, the rabbit multiplied! There seemed to be more pieces than before....


When it came time to sit down for lunch, our garden worker friends were famished from four hours of débroussaillement (clearing the jungle of bushes from our driveway).  Annie and Margot, Annie's daughter, were exhausted from pulling up the lilac bush and an exotic plant from their own garden (which they gifted to me). 

Returning to the kitchen to pull the rabbit out of the oven, I prayed the pieces had not shrunk from the cooking. Arranging the servings with economy, I sent Jean-Marc out with the plates and careful instructions: this one's for Annie... this giant piece is for Roland... and this little one's for you!

At the table I studied everyone's faces until Annie spoke.

"Bravo, Kristin! C'est délicieux!"

Thrilled with the compliment, and seeing my guests' plates were empty (good sign indeed!), I returned to the kitchen to serve up more rice. Peering into the oven I saw another miracle. Three servings of rabbit remained.

Crawling into bed for an afterlunch nap, I relived the previous moment in my mind's eye. There had been two ways to spend my morning: nailed to my keyboard, overworking my story (due in a few days...), or preparing a meal for some lovely characters.  

The true miracle was to have chosen the second. 


To respond to this story, leave a comment here in the comments box.


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Sitting down to lunch with my guests.

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"Where's my chocolate bone?" Smokey, a day or two after Easter. I post pictures daily at Instagram. Follow me, here, to see what's next...

le lapin

    : rabbit, bunny

Improve your French pronunciation with Exercises in French phonetics. Click here. 

AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc read this list of lapin terms and the example sentence which follows: Download MP3 or Download Lapin

le coup du lapin = whiplash
le civet de lapin = rabbit stew
le lapin nain = dwarf rabbit
poser un lapin = to stand somebody up, to not show up for a date.
avoir des dents de lapin = to have buck teeth

En France, les oeufs en chocolat sont apportés par les cloches de Pâques et non pas un lapin. In France, chocolate eggs are brought by the Easter Bells and not a bunny.

Lapin is also featured in this long list of French Terms of Endearment

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

Our neighbor stopped by yesterday with un petit colis for our family. But when she handed me the freezer bag I saw an eye staring back at me!

"C'est le lapin que je t'ai promis," Annie explained.

Well, the day had come! It had been easy, last fall, to accept Annie's offer as we strolled arm in arm. Walking  past her rabbit hutch, we were delivering les plantes sauvages we had just collected from the field that joins our properties. Her rabbits feed on the wild fennel, the plantain, and the luzerne, or alfalfa, that thrives at the foot of the giant fig tree. After 6 months of feasting, they are ready, themselves, to eat.... 

Standing on my front porch, this many months later, holding the chilled bag (which sunk right into my hands, molding into them as the bag's contents settled), I cleared my throat. "Thank you, Annie... I'll be right back!"

Hurrying to the kitchen I set the skinned rabbit gently in the frigo... eyes facing the back wall. Next, after a one minute composure pause, I returned with a cup of coffee for my guest.

Annie was sitting on the concrete bench that runs the length of our front porch. She is familiar with the cozy spot, having watched over this property for decades. The tenderness that she shared with Maggie and Michael, who sold us their home in late summer of 2012, was transferred to us like an Easter basket: brimming with treasures and sweetness, yet discreet and shining in the background, waiting to be found.


Unsure how to broach the rabbit topic, I pushed a small tray of Easter chocolates across the picnic table towards Annie. There were symbolic eggs and fish, turtles and the famous bells (in France, it is les cloches that deliver the eggs, and not the Easter bunny.... if only they could deliver me from this next chore...).

  Our grocer was out of Easter chocolates, but the boulangerie sold these

Chewing anxiously on a chocolate bell, my mind hopped through the fields of French history, as I tried to come to grips with the task at hand. After all, French countrywomen have kept rabbits from time immemorial! Most families had clapiers, or cage aux lapins and were skilled in animal husbandry. Even my aunt-in-law raises rabbits and turkeys for Christmas dinner!

...Others of us, habituated by the sight of chicken legs or hamburger patties, feel uneasy when presented with meat in its entirety...

Perhaps Annie sensed the thoughts burbling through my head like a pot of rabbit stew. And there, she offered her own wisdom ... in an industrialized world where chicken legs are shrinkwrapped and sold by the dozen: 

"Au moin on sait d'où ça viens et dans quelle conditions." At least we know where it comes from and under which conditions.


French Vocabulary
un colis = package
C'est le lapin que je t'ai promis = it's the rabbit I promised you
une plante sauvage = wild plant
le frigo = fridge
une cloche = bell




Most of us love most French culture, but is there anything the French do that doesn't appeal to you? Thanks for sharing here in the comments box.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Have you ever picked wild asparagus? Some call these thin green (and purple!) shoots "The harbingers of springtime." Pictured: les aspèrges sauvages picked around our house, and lined up in the back of an old remorque, or wagon.

une asperge

    : asparagus

asperger = to spray or to splash
une (grande) asperge = a beanpole (person)
une pointe d'asperge = asparagus tip
une botte d'asperges = a bunch of asparagus

Note: The term "syndrome d'asperger" (Asperger syndrome) is found on the same definitions page for "asperge" in some online dictionaries. Aparently the words are not related. Asperger syndrome is named after  Hans Asperger, 1906-80, Austrian pediatrician, who described it in 1944 (


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AUDIO FILE:  LISTEN HERE to Jean-Marc's  French pronuciation of today's French word: Download MP3 or Wav file

C'est la saison des asperges sauvages - on les trouve dans la garrigue Provençal et on les mange avec de la vinaigrette.

It's wild asperagus season - we find them in the wild scrubland of Provence and we eat them with with a vinaigrette.

Mas la Monaque: rent this beautiful French home

Mas la Monaque - Rent this beautifully restored 17-century farmhouse. Click here for more pictures.

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

When Jean-Marc mentioned he had two strong helpers for the day, and that we would be providing lunch for everyone--but not to worry he, Jean-Marc, would take care of it--I knew where this was going.... all the way to Guiltville! 

There was no way I was going let my husband work in the yard all morning and then run out to buy sandwiches from the boulangerie (his offer). I could do it. I would just have to set aside my own projects in time to organize a hearty meal.

The timing was bad as I have been counting on a free morning to finish two writing projects. A looming deadline feels like a noose around the neck and as the publishing date approaches, the rope tightens.

Chopping onions at the kitchen counter, a strange thing happened. My mind chatter was not in cadence with my body's vibe. The one was grumbling or fearful while the other was growing more and more relaxed and even a little giddy! And then a thought popped out:

I am so happy to not be alone today!

I realized, then and there, that I am no longer the person I used to be. I am more flexible, more experienced (just look at this mountain of efficiently chopped onions!), and more trusting.  I know deep down things will all work out. Just stay in the moment!

My negative mindchatter may have not caught up with the times (the person I am becoming), but even this is no longer something I have to try to figure out! Looking out the window, I saw my husband, my son, and our two helpers (Roland used to be a delivery driver until he and his friend, Gilbert, lost their jobs last week. Now, instead of delivering packages to our home as strangers, they are helping with our vineyard as friends).

The men formed a line and were passing wood from the truck to the garage when I spotted a fifth helper. Inès, a purse-sized yorkshire terrier belonging to Gilbert, was perched in the driver's seat, at the open window. There she quietly overlooked the human work chain.

 I felt like whistling a tune as I opened kitchen cabinets and drawers while putting together the day's au pif lunch, enjoying the very guesswork I once feared. 

Determined to avoid a trip to the store, I spotted a package of spaghetti... and soon saw we had a can of tomatoes, garlic, cream... and a jar of dried morel mushrooms which I grabbed and plunged into a bowl of water. A sprint to the garden and back... and now I had onions to begin making the pasta sauce!

And when Jean-Marc popped his head in the kitchen, asking for an apéro (the Frenchmens' code for "munchies to go with the wine"), a can of sardines appeared out of thin air! Whipping it open I poured olive oil over the little silver-skinned fish and cut up a dry baguette (no need even to toast the slices!). "Just crush the sardines over the bread," I hinted, delivering the snack tray to the picnic table on the front porch. "The olive oil is from a friend's grove!" (I learned this last astuce from the French. To make anything sound fancier, give it an origin!)

"And the morel mushrooms are from the Ardèche..." I announced, as we ate our presto spaghetti. 

When Roland and Gilbert raved about les champignons, I used another French trick. Le flirt. "Je commence à vous connaître," I'm starting to know your likes. I see you appreciate les produits du terroir... 

"Au fait," Gilbert said. Did you know you have a lot of wild asparagus growing on your land? 

Pushing our empty plates aside, I followed Gilbert down the gravel driveway, Inès de la Frange (Inès "with the bangs", for she is the first uncoiffed Yorkshire terrier I have seen) leading the way.

As we circled an old olive tree, Gilbert shared a few tips. "Il faut avoir l'oeil," he began. You've got to know how to spot the asparagus. Reaching out, he plucked a two-foot high pousse--one I'd walked right past.

"Regardez," he motionned. "If it has these little branches up running up the sides it's too late." He tossed the example. "Best to pull these out, as they'll only crowd your land with prickly bushes!"

Snapping up another aspèrge sauvage, Gilbert said it could be eaten cru, or raw. "Or you can blanche them.... then make a vinaigrette!"

Handing me an asparagus, Gilbert showed how to pinch it at the right spot. "Pinch it until you find the soft part, then break off the rest."

"Here, " I said, walking back to the house. "Take some home with you." But there was no giving back the treasure I'd received.

At the table the rush of emotion felt something between endorphins or joie de vivre. I was so happy I could pop. The enriching and down-to-earth experience was just the Rx needed to loosen that noose around my neck.

But there was one more nervous inkling that wouldn't go away: I wanted so much to take a photo... one to represent the moment. I knew exactly what it needed to be, but did not have the courage to ask for it.

Once again, my body was ahead of my mind and I felt myself reaching for my camera. "Est-ce que je peux prendre votre photo?"

I leave you, dear reader, with the outcome. Enjoy. It is one of my favorite photos and a precious souvenir of yesterday.  

P.S. Now if I'd only gotten a picture of Inès de la Frange!


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I would love to read your asparagus stories. Please share memories and recipes. Or talk about stepping out of your comfort zone, and what the outcome was. Click here to comment.

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Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Your best wishes needed at this time.

Very sorry for today's hasty letter. I'm in a hurry as I need to be in Paris by 9 a.m. for three days of community service. The authorities contacted us after the herdsman I wrote about filed a complaint. Turns out we are being prosecuted--not for misrepresentation but for empoisonnement! That punk rock shepherd I profiled in January is now claiming his herd suffered gastro-entérite--or le gastro--after grazing in our mustard pasture. (Jean-Marc had sown la moutarde as a cover crop or soil amendment before planting his vineyard.) 

The fact that sheep waltzed onto OUR property to enjoy a free meal doesn't seem to faze the French police, who informed us that when we made the verbal agreement, allowing the berger's flock to feed on our land, we were unwittingly taking responsibility for the said grazers' santé.

I am trying to see the good in this even if I am reluctant head out, now, for some punitive community service. The 8-hour chore I have been assigned is absolutely surreal:  le nettoyage des ossements des Catacombes ( the cleaning of the catacombs ), i.e. Paris's underground cemetery of bones.

It took a moment to understand the punishment, owing to the confusing French legalease, and misleading words such as le nettoyage de l'ossuaire municipal. ("Ossuaire" threw me, but I recognized the terms municipale and nettoyage and so assumed I was to clean the floor of Town Hall--and not a wall of skulls and femurs!

Good news is the State is paying for my train ticket. All I am to do is to provide a personal scrub brush. (The municipal order that I received via registered mail contained a small packing list.)

  • votre brosse à dents (your toothbrush)
  • un flacon d'huile d'olive (a small flask of olive oil)
  • le plan des Catacombes de Paris (map of Paris catacombs, see attached).

A further note--an instruction, actually--states "une goutte par tête" or "one drop per head"). I guess they'll fill me in on the rest (is the olive oil some sort of skull emollient?).

We are scheduled to meet in the underground cavern, in one of the bony tunnels . I've printed out the map of the former stone mine-come-cemetery. So much for claustrophobia! Off now to catch my train. 


P.S. If they think I'm bringing my own toothbrush--get out! I'm taking Jean-Marc's. He's the one that got us into this mess! ...And if you believe that you will believe today's entirely fishy story:-) Click here to learn what the French do on April 1st.

Were you fooled by today's story? At what point in the letter did you know this was a blague, or joke? I'd love to know! Click here to comment.


 I have never been to the Paris catacombs. Have you? Would you like to see the historic underground cemetery? Join the discussion here in the comments section.

 Crypt of the Sepulchral Lamp in the Catacombs of Paris. Photograph taken by Michael Reeve, 30 January 2004
Paris catacombs. (Photo: Michael Reeve)

FRENCH CLASSIC NET SHOPPING BAG - made and knit in France!

PARIS METRO CUFF - bracelet and handy map!

TISANES - FRENCH HERBAL TEAS - My family drinks them every night, to help drift off to sleep.


LAGUIOLE STEAK KNIVES are for sale in many of the local French market stands.

FRENCH KITCHEN TOWELS by Garnier-Thiebaut.

PARIS PEACE T-SHIRT - "so many people have stopped to ask me where I got it" -Betty.

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

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.