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Entries from July 2015

The 5 senses in French + Smokey's Grief


Pictured: Sam and Breizh, in 2009. Smokey's parents met and eloped in Marseilles. It is the most amazing story ever. A miracle! Please read  "Chien Perdu" here. (But don't miss the update, below).

l'ouïe (wee) noun, feminine

   : hearing

Related Terms & Expressions:

  l'ouï-dire = hearsay, rumor
  avoir l'ouïe fine = to have sharp hearing
  avoir l'ouïe un peu dure = to be hard of hearing
  être tout ouïe = to be all ears
  à portée de l'ouïe = within hearing
  les ouïes des poissons = fish gills

AUDIO FILE: listen to Jean-Marc read today's example sentence: 
Download MP3 or Download wav



Les cinq sens. Nos cinq sens sont les suivant: la vue, l'ouïe, le goût, l'odorat, le toucher. The five senses. Our five senses are the following: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.

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

To sharpen. I spoke about the French word aiguiser in a previous post, and was set to feature the verb today, when plans changed. It may seem like a strange word choice following the news about our dog's death--but then my senses seem sharper since Breizh passed away on Saturday.

With the past four days being cloaked in sadness, I began to wonder if grief isn't one of our 5 senses... but of course it isn't, as evidenced by the following list (quickly counted on my right hand, beginning with le pouce, or thumb). 

  • la vue (sight)
  • l'ouïe (hearing)
  • le goût (taste)
  • l'odorat (smell)
  • le toucher (touch)

No, grief is not a sense, but a stirrer of the senses, as we see in these examples:

Soonafter our 9-year-old golden retriever passed, I saw something alarming, quelque chose I had never before noticed. Smokey, Breizh's 6-year-old son, was sporting a silver barbe, or beard.

I remember the day, not three months ago, that I saw Breizh's gray mustache (or was it white?)--after someone pointed it out to me. And I wonder, how many more things--evident, present, glaring--are we not seeing? 

J'entends. I hear a whistle in Smokey's breathing, one that wasn't there before. It is le souffle of sadness and it sometimes terminates with un gros soupir.

Patting his soft, lopsided head, I murmur: Je sais, Smokey, je sais. Elle est partie, notre Breizh. Elle est partie. But it's okay. It is okay. All will be okay.

Food was tasteless, but my appetite returned on day two, arriving on a rumble of hunger pangs. But for Smokey, who lost his mama, it would be 5 days before he would show any interest in his croquettes--the sound of which used to make him do twirls in the air! This morning, no air-twirls, but he did wag his tail excitedly as I set down his bowl. His hunger had finally returned.

Together, Jean-Marc and I buried Breizh before a field of sunflowers, in front of the laundry line where I go almost daily to dry our clothes.  A wooden wine box doubles as a headstone and a shelf where we can set mementos--like the mug with Breizh's picture, which doubles as a vase.

This morning, while collecting escargot shells from the surrounding field, to set beside the vase of bougainvillea, I remembered Smokey's unusual behavior, when days before he strolled up to the grave and lay down beside it.  He must sense she is here... I thought. Only to watch him walk off with half a cross!

Smokey! Bring that back! I called, hurrying up to him to retrieve the horizontal piece of the cross. Setting the broken tree limb back in place, over the grave, I stared at the cross I'd replaced.  Death, it seems, has a sense of humor, too. 

Smokey's hair has never felt softer, and touching him has its effet tranquillisant. I wish I'd saved a lock of Breizh's hair. Then again, what would I do with it? Wear it around my neck? No! Like those small plastic envelopes holding my children's first teeth, it would be forever hidden in a shoebox, somewhere discreet.


(These paragraphs were originally posted under the "sight" section, above. But I found a better example and needed to move this one somewhere else. The concluding section seems fitting.)

On the phone with my aunt, we were talking about the planet Pluto which has been making headlines lately. "It really makes you wonder how it all began. Consider the endless galaxies!" 

My aunt's words queued my mind which now pictured a vibrant midnight blue outer space with rolling waves of silver stars. Suddenly a smiling golden retriever jetted right past me! There was Breizh, riding an asteroid the size of a basketball! My head got whiplash watching her streak past me, a line of sparkly stardust in her wake. I watched as she disappeared into the future (or the past?). Oh the mystery of where exactly she is, the spirit of our sweet, golden girl.

I had to share the image of a beaming Breizh transported through space-- had to share the vision with my aunt, who very sweetly and politely responded, as if she, too, could picture that intergalactic dog of mine rocketing across the starry sky.

And it dawns on me now, clearer-headed days later, the delicateness that framed my aunt's sympathetic response. I hope to remember to react as she did the next time someone is grieving - to remember to see the intergalactic dog that is not. Nod your head wildly, utter your conviction - let her know that you see just what she sees... and so let her grieve. 

                                                  *    *    *  


Dear Reader, Thank you so much for your comforting words regarding Breizh. The empathy you shared, via the comments box and by email, helped to unblock further streams of emotion. 

Here is the most recent photo of our golden girl. At the time I took the picture I did not know it would be the last, or I would have taken a thousand more. As it is, this image fills me with peace, representing, so sweetly, her ongoing journey.


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

Goodbye, Breizh.


                         Breizh. May 17th 2006- July 25, 2015


Yesterday we said goodbye to our beloved golden retriever, Breizh (a.k.a. Braise, and Brez). We are so grateful, dear girl, for all of the happiness you gave us.  We can never thank you enough. Repose en paix.

I leave you, dear reader, with Jackie's words:

Tu étais toute ma vie, depuis mes 7 ans, ma première meilleure amie, ma fifille je t'aime, tu es parmi les meilleurs anges. 25/07/15

You were my whole life, since I was 7 years old, my first best friend, ma fifille I love you, you are among the best angels. 7/25/15. 

Braise and Smokey, golden retriever dogs
                              Breizh (right) and Smokey

Breizh leaves behind her 6-year-old son, Smokey, her vineyard family, and a pack of loving readers who have cheered her over the years. Thank you for your love and support.

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 help 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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

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

avoir de la veine + Learning French strengthens your brain!


A meaningful gift our recent guests left us: drawing by Bill Logie.  


    : to be lucky

: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following example sentence:
Download MP3 or Wav

avoir de la veine. Maggie et Michael, et nous même, avons eu de la veine de se rencontrer.
to be lucky. Maggie and Michael, and we ourselves, were lucky to meet each other. 

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

In our car, on our way home from a jazz concert at Domaine de l'Olivette, Jean-Marc and I were talking to two very special house guests. "If we could do it over again," I said, "I would have encouraged our kids to take up piano! I learned too late that when children practice a musical instrument they are forming their brains to be even more receptive to learning."

Maggie, who shared the back seat with me, smiled, admitting she would have enjoyed playing the harp. As soon as she said it I could picture her there, on our ancient olive farm, where she spent summers from the age of ten. The year was 1949....


I could see Maggie again, this time in her twenties--when this 19-century mas was first renovated-- strumming the harp on the balcony over looking the a field of olives. Beyond, the sea might have been glittering (a sea's way of clapping, you know).


Next, I pictured my mom, with that very same conjured-up harp, this time it is placed in the garden behind our home where apples, avocados and artichauts now grow....

I was daydreaming of the past and the future, of harps and artichoke hearts, when Maggie's next words woke me from the rêverie. "But you have already given Max and Jackie this gift," Maggie assured me. Your children speak a second language!"

It's true, speaking two languages has the same brain-strengthening benefit! Maggie's comment cheered me even more when I remembered that my own brain has been in training ever since learning French in high school. But lately my mind is forgetful.  

Writing is another way to train the brain. So I think I'll get some exercise now, by jotting down some of the things we have done with Maggie and Michael since the return to their former stomping grounds on Monday.

*    *    *

The picture is still crystal clear in my mind. I stood in the gravel driveway as Jean-Marc drove up with our guests. I squinted my eyes, trying to see beyond the reflection on the windshield--to the familiar faces inside the car. I searched for expressions that would be a clue as to what our invités were thinking of the changes to the land since they sold us their beloved home three years ago  (notably the absence of so many trees, as Jean-Marc prepares the land for vine plantings!).

Standing beside the weeping mulberry, a freeing thought came over me: Let go... let go!  Take the focus off your anxious thoughts - in time to see the twinkle in your guests eyes!

And that is how the three-day visit with the former propriétaires of our home unfolded, moment by moment, leading up to the much anticipated moment of truth: when we would learn just how Maggie and Michael felt about the changes they now saw.

As I reach this point in my story, I am overwhelmed with the meaningful moments from this week; perhaps it is best to choose just a few (followed by the touching conclusion I hinted to you about):

Shared meals
From our family favorite (Jean-Marc's barbequed daurade) to our neighbor, Annie's, Soupe au Pistou (shared with Annie and her daughter, Margot) we enjoyed several meals on the front porch, enjoying stories of this historic farmhouse and the surrounding land. 

Shopping in old St Cyr
Maggie and Michael did most of their errands and shopping in the old town of St Cyr, and it was a pleasure for them to return three years later, to buy a battery for Maggie's watch, to drink une noisette  (espresso with a splash of milk) at Cafe de France, and to stop in to the old quincaillerie, with me, to inquire about a knife-sharpening prestation (yay! the shop offers this service, and will aiguiser my dull set very soon, for 2 euros 50 per knife).

The Search For Breizh
Our 9-year-old golden, Breizh (mother of Smokey), had a seizure on Tuesday, causing her to be disoriented and to wander off. Maggie, Michael, Jean-Marc and I each set off in a different direction, combing the property in search of our dog. It was Michael who found her along the path less traveled, below the old stone cabanon. Breizh was panting heavily beneath a stickery bush, one with enough shade to protect her until help arrived (mille mercis, Michel!). 

Michael went on to walk the property line with Jean-Marc, helping Chief Grape to know just how far he can plant the next field of grapes.

    The cabanon, a former pig pen.

Boat ride
Tuesday evening we piled into Jean-Marc's small boat and rode leisurely up the coast, anchoring just outside the port. Huddled together in the bow, our guests enjoyed rosé and cacahuates and a view of La Ciotat, Les Lecques, and the ile verte.

Swimming with Maggie
On Wednesday our dear matelots , or sailers, treated us to lunch at Port d'Alon. Over salmon and shrimp salad Maggie told us of her father's love of swimming, and how he used to do laps across the calanque, or creek here not far from his home (where we now live today).

After lunch, Maggie and I swam out to sea. As we looked back I saw the waves we made returning to shore like salty tender memories. 

                       Where Maggie's father swam

Kitchen Tears
The day of our guests departure, I found Maggie and Jean-Marc in the kitchen--tears in the corners of their eyes. Maggie turned to me and said: 

"Among the blessings I count in this life--my husband, my children, my grandchildren--I count selling our home to you a true blessing!"

(This Blog Post)
As we ate breakfast that morning together, Jean-Marc looked up, his eyes bright as he said to our guests, "Kristi would like to write an edition about your visit!"

"Oh, no!" I explained, downplaying the idea I had since given up on. "Not really an edition! I just thought I would mention we saw you and..."  

The truth was, I so wanted to put to words the time we had shared with Maggie and Michael. "But," I explained, "while it is easy for me to write about Jean-Marc and the kids... the moment I write about friends the words risk coming out clumsily. And I wouldn't want to intrude on your privacy. And..." 

Awkwardly addressing the subject of What Can And Will Sometimes Go Wrong When Writing About Others, I heard Michael address me.

"Kristi, We think you are very sweet and we are not worried about your writing." Michael's words, like the opening scene by the mulberry tree, were so freeing. I called my Mom soonafter. 

"Honey," she said, "every since you moved to that house, you have truly written from your heart."


... to Maggie and Michael and to those who read these stories: Thank you for your support and words of encouragement. Each story written is a step farther along the writing path. And what a joy to write along a path flanked by olives and vines, and with the hint of the harp's melody coming from the terraces above....


  The old fireplace here at Mas des Brun, formerly Mas Fraser, as noted in the drawing by Bill Logie

Maggie and Michael recommended many books and movies that take place in France, or very near. Here is a favorite of mine and theirs, and another I have just ordered, recommended by Michael. 


SABLET HOME for high quality vacation rentals in the heart of Provence. Particularly suited to groups of up to four discerning travelers.  



Photo by Sheryl Simmen, who writes: "Some day, I hope you can be at my lavender party, Kristin Ingham Espinasse, as it was you who introduced me to French Lavender Wands."

Thanks, Sheryl! I'm putting your lavender party on my bucket list! And for anyone interested in making lavender wands or lavender bottles, see the post Tresser: To Weave. Click here.

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 help 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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

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

Meet Morrie & French fruit soup recipe

   Jean-Marc, returning to his vine fields after delivering me this tree!

Meet Morrie! We welcome to our vineyard a new tree, a morus alba pendula . This weeping mulberry tree, a permaculture gardener's dream, will lend a delicious dimension to today's recipe: French Fruit Soup. Read on!

French provincial magazineFrench Provincial--Australia's #1 magazine for French style and culture. Subscribe now

la cueillette
 (kuh yet)

    1. picking, gathering
    2. crop, harvest

Also: cueillir (to pick, gather, pluck) 

AUDIO FILE: hear Jean-Marc pronounce these French words: Download MP3 or Wave file

la cueillette des raisins, des champignons, des pommes et des poires....
  the gathering of grapes, mushrooms, apples and pears... 

la cueillette de la lavande, des fleurs sauvages....
  the gathering of lavender, of wildflowers... 

la cueillette à la ferme, au verger...
  harvesting at the farm, at the orchard... 


  • Update: the audio file for the previous post, chétif, is now up! Don't miss it--along with a picture of our audio man, here.

Exercises in French PhonicsExercises in French Phonics is a great book for learning French pronunciation. Order it here.

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

A Fresh New Perspective on Gardening

Sometime last spring, I looked out to my garden and thought: who are you kidding? You can't grow things - at least not consistenly. True, I've had a glory day or two (that five pound zucchini and the prolific roma tomato plant. And those ears of corn! But the courgettes and tomatoes this year are weird and I never got around to planting corn, which is like sabotage since it wasn't so hard to grow afterall--and why wouldn't you grow something if you knew you could?

Just look at this mess! On a recent foray out to the back yard, to my three-part garden--a wild part, a tamed part, a wild part--Even my husband pointed it out: "It's a jungle out there. You need to tame it."

It's true, my garden experiment has gone amuck. Even the tamed part was out of control. Standing there, wondering what to do,  I knelt down to pull a few weeds from the base of this jungle. A bright red ball caught my attention, and I turned and yanked a strawberry from the vine, popping it in my mouth. Those random strawberries  didn't seem to amount to much, but, if you stopped and added them all up....  They might equal bushells by the end of summer!

I sat back and took a fresh look at my edible forest. What looked like havoc was, finally, the self-caring garden I had meant to cultivate from the very beginning-- when I began watching every Youtube video on the topic of permaculture and food forests.

Permaculture ("permanent agriculture")  and forest gardening are ways to jardiner by which you observe how plants behave in nature. Nature doesn't have neat rows of tomatoes or straight lines of thyme. Wild fruit trees are surrounded by plants and vines, not more of the same.

A week or so ago I began carrying a small bowl with me to my garden, filling it with whatever could be harvested. Back in the kitchen, I photographed the tiny harvest. When I string all the pictures together - days later, I see my harvest from a new perspective. Instead of the lone fraise, I now have a small bowl of berries.  Determined to come back to the kitchen with a small bounty, I now venture out through my jungle - searching out the hidden cherry tomato and the looming raspberry. This morning I found a pumpkin plant! It must have come out of the pile of compost I tossed at the foot of the kale tree (a veritable arbre!).

These petites cueillettes captured by my camera are wonderfully rewarding visual harvests and further motivation to head out each day and hunt for something ripe. Were it not for this recent return to the forest - the field riot I had so been avoiding - I would have never had the thrill of discovering our first homegrown avocado--here on the seacoast of France! I would have experienced the ironic twist of fate that sometimes happens to those who give up:

Strangely, so many people give up just moments before they would have realized their goal.

Speaking of strange, this brings me back to my weird garden. My weird and WONDERFUL garden. That little avocado would have been dangling out there in the forest, unseen as I headed into the house to hang up my garden gloves for good.

And what about that book I have given up on? Or the pursuit that you have stopped pursuing? Could it be it is well within reach?....

Vegetable garden and nettles patch
  When my garden was tame.

Post Note
I'm glad my husband made that remark, which poked at my stubborn heart. I now return daily to my wild garden, to remind myself it is just as it should be: rambling, uneven, free--and producing! My favorite thing to do with the jungle food -- will the recent micro harvests -- is to make fruit soup (the soup part, admittedly, makes up for all the missing fruit and has the added advantage of being super refreshing at the start of another canicular day).

I leave you with this simple recipe, and wish you bon appétit! 




  • selection of fruit including berries, stone fruit, bananas for creaminess
  • teaspoon olive oil*
  • scissored or chopped herb leaves - such as mint, basil, lemon verbena, or the simple-to-grow anise hyssop (see it somewhere in the above photo)
  • squeezes of lemon or orange
  • dollop of yogurt - optional
  • seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax...), raisins, dried mulberries...
  • a little water  

Olive oil? you say. I know it sounds strange, but think of olive oil's health benefits!  I got the oil tip from Rachel (who taught me the easy Provencal Tomato Tart. She uses canola oil in her fruit salad, mashing it up with a banana and lemon juice for the dressing.)

Chop up fruit (I leave the strawberry tops on), add chopped herbs and squeezes of citrus, and top with yogurt and seeds. I then put my bowl under the tap and add a quarter cup of water. I know that is very strange and surely amateur -- but have you experience the current heat wave in France? Extra water (now flavored with so much fruit!) can't hurt--and how else to make fruit soup? :-)

Your suggestions
Tell us what you would add to this refreshing soup. Click here to comment.

Smokey, Breizh, and Morrie--our new mulberry tree!

Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone. Click here for pictures



It all adds up. Jean-Marc and I once made a meal out of this carrot, frying it with an onion and putting the glazed and sweet topping over rice.

Did you enjoy today's post? Maybe a friend would too! Thanks for sharing and see you in one week for another update.


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 help 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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

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

French Marriage advice, and weakness and sacrifice


Jean-Marc ("Chief Grape") and Kristi. My husband records the sound files for this journal (today's will be late), and I write the stories. Photo by Cynthia Gillespie-Smith

chétif (chétive)

    : puny, meagre; undersized, poor

un enfant chétif = a weak child
une récolte, une plante chétive = a meagre harvest, a puny plant

Nous n'avions pu voir qu'une vigne chétive, souffrante et d'une pousse peu égale.
We could only see a weak vine, suffering and from an uneven shoot 

AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word in the following sentence
Download MP3 or Wav

Chetif. Les vignes qui sont plantées trop près des oliviers sont chétives.
Weak. The vines that are planted too close to the olive trees are weak.

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

Chétif: When I am weak I am strong

The other day my husband said a word and I heard it, really heard it, for the first time.

When he said it again, days later, "...chétive..." I realized it was a word I'd been hearing dozens of times since immigrating to France, only, strangely, the French word for "weak" never stuck. Instead, it passed on through my brain filter and disappeared into the netherland of my mind. It was there somewhere, like a memory that returns when you sniff an orange... and you are thrown back, by decades, into a citrus orchard behind your old neighborhood, in Phoenix. Your mom is calling you home and you grab the jam jar of guppies, just collected from the creek, and hightail it out of the orchard where you were snacking on some very sour fruit. If I think much more about it, that long-supressed sentiment will surface like a foreign word, as if for the first time.

Half a life later in France, there are some things you don't allow your mind to think about, like homesickness or a nagging decision: one for which your husband is asking your blessing--or at the very least your support.

"The vines that I have planted around the olive trees are dying," Jean-Marc is saying. "They are chétives, very very weak..." 

Almost as soon as he's said it, he braces himself for my reaction to The Tree-felling Topic. But the current dilemma calls for a step back, and some reflection.

I think about the decision Jean-Marc made last spring, when planting his second field of grapevines. The lot in question is home to dozens of century-old olive trees. Any wine farmer with a thirst for mass production would have sold off the trees to maximize vine planting. Instead, Jean-Marc made the decision to save the old oliviers and to work around them.

Working around them has been hell. Broken tractor parts were nothing compared to a near-broken spirit, but this natural farmer carried on, going as far as to water each and every baby vine by hand. And now, a dry season later, he continues to hand-water his vines, waking himself before sunrise and carrying on until 10 or 11 am at which point he returns to do some paperwork before joining me at the table for lunch. 

This week, while walking to the table, Jean-Marc fell against it, catching himself during a dizzy spell.

As I type this, I wonder if my story is getting off track, but thinking it out on paper, with you as my witness, I begin to see more clearly: No, he cannot go on this way. Jean-Marc needs to be able to farm under less stressful circumstances. So, if he needs to move the olive trees, in the next fields that he will be planting, so be it!

"They will circle the field," Jean-Marc explains, fully recovered from his scrape with dehydration.

Studying my husband, standing there with clumps of dirt on his pants and wearing my wide-rimmed straw hat to protect his skin (he's finally listening to reason!), some sage thoughts from our neighbor, Annie, return: "Never fight with your husband over a tree." 

And to Annie's wisdom I will add: especially if the tree can be replanted....

                                                  *    *    *



The field above looks very different, now, from when Jean-Marc was seen watering all those baby vines (so small you cannot see them from the giant olive trees. These trees will stay, and Jean-Marc will carefully replant those baby vines that suffered at the foot of the great olive trunks. Then, next spring, he will plant another field - and those olive trees will be moved to the edges of the field. Read about our coming to live on this olive and wine farm, in the recent post "Risk in French." 


Summer fun with Smokey and Mama Breizh. Found these at the dumpster--the old suitcases and not the unruly models--who were supposed to pose beside the bags like pretend travelers, not fugitives. See the latest photos at Instagram.

Some of you have misplaced the easy Provencal Tomato Tart recipe. Here it is, again, and another favorite:

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 help 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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

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

Pillow talk, Ex-girlfriends and my Mother-in-law

Red sunflowers in a field of cinsault near Bandol, in Provence

My mother-in-law has discovered google translation as a way to read these posts in French.  I hope Michèle-France will enjoy today's story! (Picture of the red sunflowers growing in our field of cinsault grapes. To see the yellow tournesols, join me on Instagram.)

oreiller (oh-ray-yay) noun, masculine

    : pillow

My Other House is in France pillow - thoughtful gift for someone who loves France.

Related Vocabulary
prendre conseil de son oreiller = to sleep on it (re decision making)
une taie d'oreiller = pillowcase
une bataille d'oreillers = pillow fight 
les confidences (f) sur l'oreiller = pillow talk

Mas la Monaque: rent this beautiful French home

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

 listen to Jean-Marc read this sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

Ma belle-mère m'a offert son propre oreiller. My mother-in-law offered me her very own pillow.

 BLOSSOMING-IN-PROVENCEBlossoming in Provence, "The sort of book the one can read many times and still find it a pleasure." --JH

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

At a beachfront café in Marseilles, Jean-Marc is buttering his mom's toast. "Honey or the confiture d'abricot?" he asks.

"T'es gentil," my mother-in-law thanks her eldest son. "Abricot, s'il te plaît." Taking a sip of her tea, Michèle-France turns her attention my way. "Tu es toujours si jolie," she says. 

Uplifted by her words, I send a grateful smile across the table.

"I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on you," my mother-in-law continues.

My thoughts race back in time. Guiltily I wonder, Did I remember the exact moment too? Little by little, I begin to see the Espinasse family's apartment, in the Roy d'Espagne neighborhood, near the end of Marseilles. I don't remember the pine forest or the sea. I do remember the shining white tiles in the hall entry. I remember that it was just Jean-Marc, his brother, and his mother who lived there in the three-bedroom apartment. I don't recall which floor of the high-rise they lived on—or even taking the ascenseur—though we would have had to.

I do remember the kitchen, where Jean-Marc's mother prepared an exotic-to-this-American dinner (or was it lunch?): lapin à la moutarde. I remember sharing the meal with Jean-Marc's friends, Rachel and Stephan. I do not remember Michèle-France eating with us. Did she discreetly withdraw to her room, to leave us, les amoureux, to dine?

As I reminisce, Michèle-France fills me in on where it was, exactly, that we met the first time she laid eyes on me: 

"I met you in the hallway, after you shuffled out of my son's bedroom!"

I vaguely remember the awkward encounter. Had I been leaving Jean-Marc's bedroom? Behind me, the disheveled sheets would have covered the mattress. You could just see the desk, where Jean-Marc had been showing me his brand new 1989 Macintosh—when we lost interest in computers. I could also see the hook on the wall, where a green robe hung; it was a gift from Jean-Marc's sister. Was I wearing that robe when I met Michèle-France in the hall?!

I must have needed the bathroom. I could almost hear Jean-Marc assuring me no one was around—just go on down the hall. The restroom was at the end of it....

That is when I must have come face to face with Maman. My fears were now materialized and I could not have been more embarrassed. Jean-Marc must have come out of the room, in time to make the introductions.

Any discomfort quickly disappeared when Jean-Marc's mother smiled an unmistakably warm welcome. I will never forget her words: "You can stay as long as you like. You are most welcome here with us. Bienvenue!"

I could not take her up on her generous offer at the time, as I would need to return to Tempe, Arizona, to finish another year and a half of school at ASU.


Taking a sip of my café au lait, it is 20 years later now and I do not seem to have overstayed my welcome. My mother-in-law's eyes continue to glimmer la bienvenue!

Michèle-France sets down her tea and looks at me softly. Next she shares with me, for the first time, what her thoughts were that first time we met.

"I remember thinking: this girl will make my son happy one day!"

I return my mother-in-law's gaze. Her words echoed in my mind as I try to etch them there, on a gray-mattered blackboard.

"Oui, je savais que c'était toi qui le rendrait heureux!"

Almost as soon as she's said it, I recognize the beginnings of a rascal's smile as it spreads across my belle-mère's face... evidence her mischievous side is waking up.

"Yes, you were une bouffée d'air frais—a breath of fresh air," she winks, "especially after some of the girls he brought home!"

Recognizing the direction in which we are heading, I raise my hands, quickly inserting my fingers into my ears. "I can't hear you! I can't hear you!" I laugh. Next I begin to hum.

When I take my fingers out of my ears, my mother-in-law is in the middle of reciting a string of sultry names, "Ma..." (MArilyn? MArie? MAnon?) but I will not listen to a word of it—just as I won't listen when Jean-Marc's longtime friends tease me about les anciennes copines.

Jean-Marc laughs as his mom continues her innocent taquinerie, and when it seems safe to unplug my ears I hear this doozy:

"Ah, and that one! What-Was-Her-Name? Je l'ai jetée de mon lit! I threw her out of my very own bed!"

I can't help but appreciate the colorful scenes my mother-in-law paints with her words, and I finally give in, picturing Jean-Marc's mom yanking some hussy, some fille de petite vertu out of her very own bed (sheesh, Jean-Marc—your mom's own bed!).

On a final, tender note, Michèle-France colors in a bright ending to the story:

"But for you," my mother-in-law says as she reaches across the café table and squeezes my hand, "for you I would have offered my very own pillow!"


*    *    *

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French Vocabulary

la confiture d'abricot = apricot jam

t'es gentil = you're nice

Tu es toujours si jolie = you are still so pretty

la belle-mère = mother-in-law

un ascenseur = elevator

le lapin à la moutarde = rabbit with mustard sauce

bienvenue = welcome

le café au lait = coffee with milk

Oui, je savais que c'était toi qui le rendrait heureux! = Yes, I knew it was you who would make my son happy!

une bouffée d'air frais = a breath of fresh air

l'ancienne copine = old girlfriend

la taquinerie = teasing

SABLET HOME for high quality vacation rentals in the heart of Provence. Particularly suited to groups of up to four discerning travelers.  

   Jean-Marc and Kristi in 1993

In love in January 1993... only six months before Jean-Marc bought me a one-way ticket home! Find out what happened after that, in the intro to the book Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language (the Polaroid image includes Jean-Marc's notation "la cloche ) fromages"--which is the cheese restaurant where we ate that night.  

To pass along this post to a friend, see the forward and share buttons just below. 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 help 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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Another way to say "Mind your own business!" in French

Smokey tomato

Choose a better hiding place next time, Smokey! Now that you are found, let's go inside where it's cool and make a delicious and easy tomato tart. While it cooks we can take the leftover tomato scraps and do cleansing spa masks! Read about that, below. Meantime, today we learn a fun French idiom:

Est-ce que je te demande si ta grand-mère fait du vélo?
Literally: Did I ask you if your grandmother rides a bike?
Meaning: Mind your own business!


Style & comfort in the beauty of the Provencal countryside. 4 bedrooms & a study with a sofa bed, each with ensuite (full) bath. Villa comfortably sleeps 7-9 adults.


Exercises in French Phonics is a great tool for learning how to pronounce French. And so are these short clips by Jean-Marc. Listen to the following example sentence from the book Other Cats to Whip: The Book of French Idioms : Download MP3 or Wav file

    Est-ce que je te demande si ta grand-mère fait du vélo?

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

This morning, hunched over the kitchen sink, I caught my reflection in the pan of water just below....

Chouette! I could now see what I was doing as I rubbed the cherry tomato halves across my face--in a circular motion, for best results. The tomate cerise, having just come out of the frigo, was refreshingly cool on my skin, which began to tighen as the juice dried.

Tossing the used tomato halves into the compost bowl beside the sink, I ran my fingers over my forehead and down to my chin. I could feel the tomato seeds which were now stuck there too. Hopefully there would be no deliveries this morning -- no drop by visitors or maybe my neighbor? The last time I was caught red-faced, it really put a dent in my pride. Read more about that in the story se chamailler (to bicker, to squabble), below. (The first link is a recipe for the much-loved Provencal Tarte Tomate. You will be so happy you made this, so don't miss it!)

To leave a comment, or to read the comments, click here.

I've been making these Provençale Tomato tarts ever since Jackie's godmother brought one on a hike 21 years ago. Jean-Marc's ex-girlfriend was on that hike, too, and I think I needed to eat the entire tart to digest that! But there were more surprises in store... like the time the ex called my fiancé on our wedding day--and later showed up in a short black dress with plunging neckline. At our wedding reception in Marseilles, she had a pertinent question for me: When is the baby due? Read the story in the chapter Petite Amie ("Girlfriend") in the book Blossoming in Provence. She doesn't bother me anymore. These days with two kids, two dogs, and a busy farm run by a certain Chief Grape I have other cats to whip!


Last week I shared a new book published by Graham Clark (a former honorary Marseillais) & Zubair Arshad. Your feedback has been very positive: the images/cartoons are entertaining, but also serve as a very useful tool for French students to pick up new words and phrases that the French use in everyday life. 
Maria Alonso bought the US Kindle version and commented on Amazon that:
"This is a very good little book to teach students vocabulary and expressions. It is also a fine cultural tool as it serves to give a glimpse of the world from a French perspective."
I have a copy of the book, too, and my personal favorite idiom from this delightfully illustrated book is this one, just below, because I love bicycles and grandmothers and a good comeback (Hmmm. This one would have come in handy when my husband's ex asked me the baby question!):
Capture plein écran 07072015 090214
The Kindle version is still for sale on Amazon UK and Amazon US or, if you want something for your coffee table (or a great gift for a friend), the paperback version is shipped worldwide. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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 help 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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

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tresser & weaving with lavender

ice tea in wine bottles le thé glacé dans les bouteilles de vin

How to making iced tea in Provence.... (As for how to make lavender wands... read on!) 

tresser (treh-say)

  1. to plait, to braid; to twist
  2. to weave, wreathe (basket, garland)

synonyms: natter (to plait, braid), entrelacer (to interlace, intertwine)

French provincial magazineFrench Provincial--Australia's #1 magazine for French style and culture. Subscribe now.

: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word and quote:
mp3 or wav

Tressons, tressons ces fleurs, hâtons-nous, jeune amie, Les songes et les fleurs demain ne seront plus! Let us weave, let us weave these flowers, let us hurry, young friend, for the dreams and the flowers will be gone tomorrow. --from the book "Irlande: Poésies des Bardes" by D. O'Sullivan

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

"The time to pick the lavender is now, while it is fresh," Marie-Françoise explains, as I follow her over to the scented driveway where purple flowers mingle with rosemary in one long line, like juilletistes convoying toward the sea.

"We'll take a bunch from the bottom of the bush. You won't even know they're missing!" Following Marie-Françoise's example, I begin snapping up stems from the base of the lavender plants near our mailbox. My husband’s aunt has a knack for wildcrafting and before long she has collected enough spiked flowers for my lavender braiding lesson. I hand over the stems I've collected and our bouquet is now 34 flowers strong. Next, Marie-Françoise tosses out one of the flowers…..

 "Eh, oui! she says, noting my confusion.  "We'll need an odd number in order to weave them!"

It will soon be no secret how the French make lavender wands. First, we pluck off the leaves then gather the stems, tying a ribbon around the neck of the bouquet, just beneath the flowers.

Wondering how to help out, I reach over and put my finger on the ribbon, in time for my aunt-in-law to knot it. Next, she turns the bouquet upside down…..

I have only ever weaved ribbons through my hair as a child in Arizona, adding bright beads in turquoise, coral, and silver—colors that inspired the native Indians. I liked the ochre of Sedona, the blue of Navajo jewelry, and the silver in that lining along the eastern sky I would one day follow to France. I hadn’t yet discovered lavender or the fields of Provence, didn't know that one flower's essence would match my very own. Meanwhile France was budding within me, there along the edge of the Mojave.


Far from the desert, in the Rhône Valley, Marie-Françoise tells me that what we have here is lavandin—which smells just as good as lavender. “We will create une bouteille de lavande” she says, admitting the shape is more like an amphore than a “bottle.”

We’ll make the lavender bottle by weaving ribbon through the stems that have been bent back over the flower bundle.

Fishing out the longest ribbon, pulling it to the top, Marie-Françoise begins to weave. As she passes the ribbon through the bars she tells me hand-woven lavender has been used from time immemorial to freshen drawers and armoires and to keep out moths. The making of these Provençal pest busters is a family tradition. Not far from the Pont d’Avignon Marie-Françoise and her sisters would get together and weave up a lavender storm.  When out of ribbon, the sisters got creative—raiding their closets for old sweaters (in search of the satiny loops found inside--normally used for keeping the garment from slipping off the hanger). “String all the colorful ends together and voilà!  Ribbon for weaving!”

     Marie-Françoise finishing up another lavender "bottle".

Noticing the relaxed expression on my aunt's face as she weaves, I wonder whether her thoughts are drifting off, like mine, to yesteryear… to giggling French sisters rifling through an armoire and, for me, back to the desert, to coral landscapes and warm breezes through my braided hair, weaved with turquoise and silver linings from a French horizon.

*     *     *

This story appeared in France Today, where you can also read the whole story how we came to live on this vineyard in Bandol. Click here for the article. 

To leave a comment click here. Many thanks.



Check out the Lavender Lover's Handbook and more about lavender essential oil here.

French Vocabulary

tresser = to weave or braid
le (la) juilletiste
 = one who vacations in July
eh, oui = that's right
la bouteille de lavande = lavender bottle
une amphore = ancient jar for storing oil or wine


More in-context French vocabulary in the book Words in a French Life: Lessons and Language from the South of France

  Planting lavender
Jean-Marc and Breizh, planting lavender a year or so ago. 

Look how high that lavender's grown! Two dogs high, when Breizh stands directly beside it.

Happy 4th of July, to those who celebrate. And happy 21st wedding anniversary to Jean-Marc and me! Also, happy happy birthday to my dear father-in-law, John

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 help 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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

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