Pillow talk, Ex-girlfriends and my Mother-in-law
Meet Morrie & French fruit soup recipe

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-suppressed 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:

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


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Mary H

Bless Jean-Marc for saving those beautiful trees et vous--les deux--for your decision to move the others. You are saving the soul of the earth--and our souls too.

Heather in Arles

I am having a stupid day so far...nothing major, just things not "going the right way" "as they should"...so thank you for the shift in perspective plus most certainly for coaxing a smile out of me to boot with that fabulous last photo. Un grand merci et Bisous,


Hi Kristin,

As always, love the photos and the story...and glad Jean-Marc is borrowing your sunhat.

Have a questions about the verb tense and translation of the topic sentence:
"Nous n'avions pu voir qu'une vigne chétive..."

I thought that read as "We had only been able to see the weak vine..." As in the pluperfect tense (avions pu.)

And thought "nous ne pourrions voir que ..." would translate to "could" in English.

If you have a moment, "could" you clarify for this reader who may have been away too long from her French grammar books?

Thank you et Bon Courage to you and Chief Grape!

Nan Morrissette

Very wise, my Dear. It always breaks my heart to see a tree felled. But sometimes it becomes a necessity... They grow so large their heavy limbs reach over the house, for example... Not good it an area such as our central Florida, which is prone to severe thunderstorms and the occasional tropical storm and hurricane. We are facing the tree-cutting dilemma right now and I am preparing myself to be rational and calm. Your story today helps tremendously. How did you know I needed you?

Love from horribly hot for many weeks Florida,

Kristin Espinasse

Hi Trish,  I think my translation is wrong.  Could anybody else help us here?  Thanks!

Hank Sweet

That is a gorgeous photo of you two!
Keep blogging


I love your insightful words and pictures. They tell a wonderful story - heartbreak surrounded by love and joy.

Audrey Wilson

I know how you feel about felling beautiful trees I was recently by the Canal du Midi & saw the devastation caused by the disease to the plane trees which lined the canal. Many felled,their beautiful arching shapes over the Canal lost . They are re-planting,but it will take a long time to to regain what has been lost;
I wonder how many of us appreciate the hard work that goes into that glass of wine we're enjoying ?!! Bon Courage Jean-Marc !


Oh I am so sorry about the trees...it is a hard decision to make. This story really hit home because we have had several trees in our yard hit by lightning and my husbands wants them removed immediately. They are still living and giving shade which we really need. I have been angry at him over this decision. I guess like you I should let it go because in the long run they will probably die...


It always amazes me that even big ancient olive trees can be safely moved and thrive in new homes.


What a great find! Those suitcases look like they're right out of an illustration in an old novel, and I love the photo with the dogs running :-)


Jules Greer

Darling Kristi,

May God continue to bless you and our precious Jean-Marc. When I think of the two of you I always feel great peace because I know that you will remember what I taught you long ago...

'Whether I turn to the right or the left, my ears will hear a voice behind them saying "This is the way, walk in it.'

Thank God for His Holy Spirit who is here to guide us, comfort us, and show us the way to walk throughout the hills and valleys of our lives. Jean-Marc, a true man of the earth, a lover of the soil of life has surrendered to his path in this life and God is with him. I could cry I am so touched by your wisdom in todays story.




Your story today helped me to remember that when obstacles get in your way, you just need to pick yourself up, and move around them. At times we need to also run them over. The obstacles are never ending on my end, and I know I am not alone on that. Hope you are enjoying the summer.


P.S. Glad you aren't running over the trees.;) I too did not know you could move them successfully.

Ken Curtis

Such gorgeous and old olive trees. Having lived in France for 5 years I do envy you and Jean-Marc the pleasures of being wine producers and the skills required, but now living on the south coast of Turkey am harvesting our pomegranates, plums, grapes and even citrus and starting to make wine here from them. But likely not enough time left in life to ever come even close to the Gran Vins of France. Isn't living in paradise nice...?

Jules Greer

Hi Honey,

Just now as I glanced once again at the photo above of Jean-Marc watering his baby vines I was struck by the thought of wondering what he will end up finding to plant throughout those magnificent olive trees. So many images have popped into my mind...being an artist I immediately planted beautiful grass, with lazy sheep trying to sleep in the shade as happy baby goats tried to climb up into the ancient arms of your olive trees. A peaceful field to shelter all who toil in the hills of vines above. A tribute to the French life we all dream about.




I didn't know one could replant olive trees... How marvellous!



Struck by the depth of your love and concern for Jean-Marc and how infrequently we seem to see that these days, I wanted to thank you for sharing it.

I am in Scottsdale and understand where your memory took you! Lovely citrus groves en mass.

French by birth, "LaChapelle" but loving your instruction on the language because I know only what you have been sharing.

Have a lovely day.....I look forward to each post.

Cynthia P. Lewis

So very nice to "hear" your voice today! My very best wishes.


Thank you for sharing that lesson with us, Jules. We often forget, and need the reminder to trust that all is well.

Chief Grape

I think some of you are mistaken about the olive trees. We will just pull them out of the ground and move them at the edge of our block in order to make a vine parcel without trees in the midlle.

Chris Allin

Dear Kristi,

Such beautiful, encouraging thoughts from your mom. Patience, persistence and a positive outlook can help you down the path your mom writes about. You and Jean-Marc seem to be well on your way. May peace be with you both and give you courage~

Chris Allin

Bravo, Jean-Marc.! Already seeking solutions to Mother Nature's challenges. We have faith in you...may your efforts be rewarded with many more thriving vines~

Cynthia P. Lewis

Many thanks for a delightful post! I,too, love the photo of you and Jean-Marc.

Until Chief Grape's clarification, I was thinking that those ancient olive trees could be transplanted like the venerable English boxwood here in the mid-atlantic states. But trees create their own mini-climates, so to speak. We have huge oaks and pines which dictate to us what we can plant near them.

Those are wonderful suitcases ... can't imagine anyone discarding them. And so nice to see Breize (sp) chasing Smokey.. Best wishes.

Trina, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA

I 2nd that, Kristi.

Julie Farrar

Tell JM to take care of himself. I know he's a son of the South (southern France, that is), but this heat wave your country is having is nothing to take lightly.

As for the tree dilemma, I say move the trees. My husband has an attitude that if something is green and growing it must stay. We have trees and bushes in our yard that are always in the way of us using our yard for much. I know that they are not on par with ancient olive trees, but I have a gardener's perspective -- everything can be moved and/or replaced. While the trunks of the trees in your photo are a work of art, your livelihood depends on the vines JM plants.

I just suggest that if you have to take the trees out, then save some of the wood and make something from them -- a table, a chair, a picture frame, a planter for flowers.

Trina, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA

Thank you for sharing those words of wisdom with all of us, Jules. With a mother who offers such wise advice, it no wonder Kristi has been able to follow her heart.

As you could cry being touched by the wisdom of today's story, your words brought tears to my eyes. I am living in my mother's small "5 miles from the beach" house in Florida. My mom died barely 1.5 years ago; it still seems like yesterday. As I decide what to do and where to go, your words of wisdom bring more comfort than I can express. Thank you.

Cathy - California

Glad to learn it is possible to transplant large olive trees. I guess I assumed it would not work. But, why not?

As a gardener in Southern California I have learned to monitor myself while trying to do too much in the hot sun. I feel for Jean-Marc.


Can almost feel the soul of these magnificent oliviers...bon courage, JM! As the daughter of a rice farmer in SW La., I know the difficulty farmers deal with at times. My father so loved what he did and would have had it no other way...difficulties and all! Love of the earth was his legacy to me and I am so grateful.


To love a man of the earth is never easy, but always worth it.

Kristin Espinasse

Thinking of you, Trina.


Our dear Kristi,
You have wrapped us in hugs with your beautiful words and pictures!
Also must tell you how wonderful it was to hear from dear Jules again!
You all are in our prayers always.
Asking God to send you continued blessings.
Natalia. Xo

Ken Scupp

We hosted a couple of amis français last weekend at our cabin in VT and made the tomato tart recipe. It was a big hit and delicious. Thanks PS- That was quite a dumpster find. They appear to be in very good condition. Good luck with the tree replanting.


Whenever I transplant something it never seems to do well. Bon chance with your replanting of the olive trees.
I love the picture of Smokey and Breizh circling the luggage. Are they sniffing them out to make sure that there isn't any contraband in them?

Terri Savage

A lovely story, Kristen, of devotion, commitment and abiding love well told. Your blogs are the most fun for this stateside Francophile. Thank you so much!


Hi Kristi,

I made your French tart the other day, only I used Peccorino Romano cheese from Costco. The tart was very rich (I may have overdone the cheese sprinkling) and absolutely delicious!

My husband hadn't seen the mouthwatering photo, and when I told him I was going to make a tomato tart he wrinkled his nose and said, "Ewww!" But after I served it, his double portion was gone in seconds, and his tune changed to, "Good, Honey!"

Re des oliviers--how could you transplant trees that are over 100 years old? Their roots must be so vast, both deep and wide. Would they live without their elaborate root systems? Also, it might be hard to get all the roots out of the ground when you start the vine planting.

Sorry to be Ms. Negative--I sound like my husband, don't I? The result will probably be fabulous.

Lin Powell

That is a really beautiful picture of the 2 of you.
And of course dogs always take beautiful pictures.

Linda C.

I, too, love beautiful old trees -- thank goodness there is a way to move and save most of them (I hope without too much intensive physical labor!). But I was more concerned about Chief Grape working hard in the fields on a hot day and without drinking enough water. That can be very dangerous! Please take care of yourself, Jean-Marc!

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

Moving those enormous trees seems impossible to me, but then I have never tried to do it. If they could have been sold, and replanted, then clearly they can be moved to a new place nearby.

google translate choked on une pousse peu égale. Could make no sense of it, while you have a simple translation.
It seems that 'we could only see' in English matches Nous n'avons pu voir qu

'avions pu ' seems to match English 'had been able' to see, but is one literal and the other a real translation of how the same thing would be said in English?

It is so interesting to learn about vines and olive trees, as much as the French language.

Frantzie Couch, Lawton, OK

Your story about Jean-Marc's dedication to saving the olive trees and to hand-watering the young vines made me think of the tribulations of Gerard Depardieu's titular character in the beautiful movie "Jean de Florette." The movie, situated in Provence, is based on a novel by Marcel Pagnol, and is the first of a two-part movie (the second movie is "Manon of the Spring"). These two movies are my absolute favorite French films. If you haven't seen them already, I hope you find time to watch them soon. I know you'll continue to take loving care of Jean-Marc.

Loy Fraser

It's hard to believe you can easily transplant such large trees???


Kristin AND Jean-Marc, What a touching real-life story. I have a little one of my owns that might make you smile. Yesterday was Bastille Day, as you know. My husband is no longer able to travel, so I brought France to us! We had REAL French bread, real French Brie, I sent for stems of lavande, I ordered a Provencal tablecloth, a French film, and to top it all of, we drank a bottle of Rouge-Bleu 2010, which I had purchased from you before you moved. It was delicious, and tasted like the Provencal countryside. I closed my eyes and purred. Oh, how I wish I could buy it in Indiana!!! Or whatever you produce between the oliviers!!! Bonne chance moving them. And thanks for helping to make our day perfect!!!


In reading your post, I wondered about the words, "When I am weak, I am strong". Maybe the weakness of the vines caused you to think about weakness and strength, making you want to be stronger for your husband, strong enough to give up your dreams for another's. Is this what you had in mind when you wrote these words?
I thought the reference was from the Bible, so I looked it up. In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul writes about his difficulties, which he asked God to remove, but God told him that His (God's) power is perfected in weaknesses; His grace was enough for Paul during hardships, difficulties, persecution, etc. As we learn to see our weaknesses and trust in God's grace to see us through them, we will be strong.
Just as you needed to let go of the old trees' being in their original places, sometimes in life we need to let go of how we want things to go in our lives (even much bigger issues), and we need to trust God that He knows what is best for us. It isn't easy, but it brings joy and strength.
It sounds like maybe this is what happened with you. It sounds like you are happy with your decision to honor your husband by giving your willingness to have the trees replanted.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It helps others of us to think through some of these things ourselves.

Leslie NYC

Of course, when I look at those ancient oliviers, I see them saying, "PLEASE let us live in peace". It will be traumatic for them, hopefully not fatal, to be moved. If anyone can do this , it is a provencal, so I wish you luck. Your hearts will guide you.
So nice to hear from Jules, even without her ALL CAPS. How is Smokey?
Bon courage!

Kristin Espinasse

Susie,  I loved reading about your Bastille Day you offered your husband.  Delighted you drank some  Domaine Rouge-Bleu!
Loy, and to those who wondered about replanting those massive olive trees: theses trees have roots forming a tight ball,  and not roots that spread out. Still,  a lot of care will need to be taken,  getting them uprooted and moved.

Kristin Espinasse

Leslie,  Smokey is doing very good!  It is his mama, 9-year-old  Breizh,  who is declining.  But today she woke up with a smile. Good days and bad.

Joanne Ablan

Hi, Kristin, You make a lovely couple. Is mustard a viable crop or not? I know nothing
about farming. I do know, however, that the Tomato Tart with Mustard gets a 5 star,
2 thumbs up, rating from me. I made it with local Heirloom Tomatoes. I just love it
when recipes are affordable, simple, elegant, and delicious. Thanks for posting it.
Joanne, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA.

Georgia from Northern CA

Merci, Kristin, for the recipes! As soon as our green tomatoes turn red, I will try La Tarte a La Tomate (sorry, don't know how to put the accent mark on the "a").

What a lovely picture of the two of you! And your dogs are just fine romping around! So Cute!

Now for our dilemma. We have a lovely apricot tree up on our hill which has not produced any fruit since we planted it about 6 or so years ago. It seems wasteful to keep watering it in our CA drought, but I do not wish to cut it down either. I have offered to give it away to no avail. Perhaps we should put it in our plant nursery bed (if there is enough room) where we deposit plants that seem to be on their last legs. But magic seems to happen there as most things seem to turn around and flourish! A couple of months ago we had beautiful Amaryllis blooming.

Thanks for your thoughtful post today to help me rethink our apricot tree! And I am sure Jean Marc's care with his vines will bring bountiful harvests in the years to come!

Bill Gill

My mother (who just turned 90 last week, in the 2nd year of her retirement!) has been living in her home in St. Pete Beach since 1972, and has an orchid tree in her front yard which hangs over the house, when allowed to do so. One of my jobs, when I visit from New York, is to cut back the overhang to keep debris off the roof, and prevent blow-down damage in high winds. This tree is gnarlier than any apple tree I've ever seen, and must be older than any home in the neighborhood. As much of a pain it is to keep after it, I'd never consider cutting it down; moving it, I'm sure, is totally out of the question. I can certainly share the difficulty of a decision like moving, no less cutting, productive olive trees. May the God/dess show the way for all who face decisions involving our rootbound relatives!

~ Bill

Diane Young

I was told by one of my yardmen that I should not trim any of my trees until Winter and not to trim much off one that might kill it or make it one-sided. So I pray not to have lightning strike any and cause damage to my or my neighbors' houses this summer - to say nothing of hurricanes. My first concern seems to be the beautiful trees. God be with you and Jean Marc and you deal with these difficult decisions. And above all, husbands are more precious than trees, bien sur.

Wayne Peterson

Olive trees deserve deep respect and gratitude. They have been serving humans for millennia and our duty is to love and care for them as the sacred living organisms they are. (Read Julia Angus's book Olive Odyssey) I had a vague idea of Jean Marc's character and values through your column but reading about his decision to preserve the olive trees I have come to admire and respect him. Well done Jean Marc.

Wayne Peterson

Perhaps to offset the cost of moving the trees, but perhaps more importantly, to give pleasure to those who want to help preserve them, you might think about letting your readers "adopt an olive tree". Several people could adopt a single tree so that each adoptee's contribution could be relatively small. In return they could get a picture of the tree and a certificate and most important the knowledge that they are contributing to keeping the olive trees safe and intact on your property.

elizabeth Taza

what a decision to make and a huge undertaking I REALLY pray for you both

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