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Entries from August 2015

Devoiler: The Secret My Husband Kept from me


Smokey's Excellent Vacation - We just returned from the Ile d'Oléron with all four--make that five!--members of our family. From a nightly game of Yam (Yahtzee) to regular forays to the ocean, we had a restful and memorable time together. See all the pictures right here. (And did you spot Mr. Sacks in the photo above?)

Thank you for your thoughful responses to the previous story, "Hostile." After reading your comments my Dad wrote to say, "Your readers are incredibly caring!"

I am deeply touched by your words and very grateful for this endearing writer-reader relationship. I hope it continues for a very long time! 


Today's Word: DEVOILER

    : to reveal, to disclose

dévoiler un secret = to reveal a secret
dévoiler ses batteries = to show one's hand (cards)
dévoilé = laid bare

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

Toward the end of our vacation, I learned my family had been keeping a secret from me.  To the relief of my husband, I was not angry on finding out the truth. I was only surprised at how little my family knows me--to think it necessary to spare me the grief. 

Le secret was revealed late one night, after Jean-Marc had taken me into his arms for the second time. "There is something I have to talk to you about," he said. The tone in his voice was unfamiliar and it woke the inner stranger inside of me.  As different as we are to one another--as mysterious as our hearts are even to ourselves--our married souls occasionally reveal an ongoing conversation, so that we will be thinking exactly the same thing at the moment one of us voices it (if not in unison).

Except this time. This time I could not have fathomed what my husband was about to say--his thoughts being nowhere on the cusp of my mind. Even my trusty vibes had abandoned ship. Instead, like a drawstring that closes a hood, it felt as though my skin was shrink-wrapping around my bones, and I held my breath, wondering: What is he going to say next? 

(To be continued...  Click here to read Part 2)


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Vendange + Hostile? (Please don't sign off after reading this!)


Readers call him anything from "Hunk of Burning Love" to "Chief Grape" (and some other things, read on...). Here is my husband in his vines, at this morning's unofficial harvest.  More pictures will be posted, soon, at Instagram (see here).

Today's story includes sensitive material (and the F word). Please do not be offended or sign off for this transgression. And if I have made a horrible mistake, in this emotional state, please allow a second chance just as you  sometimes need one too!

la vendange (von-donzh) noun, feminine
  1. grape/wine harvest or vintage; grapes (harvested); grape crop

vendanger (von-don-zhay) verb
  1. to pick or to harvest grapes

Comme les vendanges, les amours tardives sont les plus délicieuses. / Like the grape harvest, love gathered late is the most delicious. --Jean Amadou

:: Audio File ::
Listen to my daughter pronounce today's word & quote:
Download vendange.mp3 or Download vendange.wav 

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


In an ideal world, my husband would be married to a vigneron - or at least a woman who drinks wine. She would love the sun, love to travel and thrive on the unexpected.

I was once like that--back when Jean-Marc married me. Lover of wine, sun and travel. They say people don't change. But I did. Partly for the better. Partly for the worse.

Weeks like this one bring out the worst in me. The flurry of the unknown: the wine harvest and the house change-over (we are leaving our home to my brother-in-law and his family on Friday, while we go on vacation. But first, I would like to find all the cobwebs, the rings around the sinks, and the dustbunnies and remove them--along with all our dirty sheets--before my houseguests arrive to spend the day with us...lunch and dinner...and before my husband, our kids, our dog, my husband's bike and I leave them and pile into my brother-in-law's small car (we've sold ours) and drive through the night to the west coast (where we will pass the time until our rental home is available at 4pm (but where will we go for shade, and what will we do with our dog?)

I am nervous about finishing the housework, nervous about what to cook for family, Friday, nervous about the overnight drive (is it safe? Will we stay awake? and Friday's family lunch, dinner what will I make?). Each question is another tick in a time bomb.

Last night I exploded. And every deep-seated fear and insecurity inside of me poured out, onto my equally-riled husband. He was unable, then, to take me into his arms at a time when I needed it the most. (Well, would you hug a volcano? Would a volcano hug a volcano?)

This all reminds me of an upsetting email I received.  David writes:

When I read the post in which you noted that one of your readers had formed the opinion that JM is a "jerk", my thought was "of course". Despite your conscious mind's extollling JM's virtues in your blog, your disguised and sublimated hostility to your husband has been a feature of your blog since I first started reading it several years ago. Highly likely that some readers will form negative feelings toward JM as they sense your sublimated hostility to him.  Before your confession I thought maybe you just had contempt for Chief Grape's being a dirt guy instead of city guy. Although that might be a factor in your subconscious too.

Your 'confession of being a recovering alcoholic seemed to fill in your pattern of hostility, to wit: that JM should change professions to become a winemaker could easily be interpreted by someone in my profession as being the ultimate passive aggressive act against you.

Your ambivalence re: writing your memoir on-line has been interesting to observe. You are 'in the weeds' and you know it, but haven't yet had the insight as to why.

Waking up this morning alone in my daughter's bed, the following words jogged through my brain as they do each and every morning for as long as I can remember (ever since I discovered how uncourageous I truly am, some 13 years ago): 
Thank you God. Thank you. Thank you God. Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy....(I fall asleep and wake again...) Forgive us our trespasses... This is the day the Lord hath made.... Forgive me. Forgive me Lord. Thank you. Thank you God. Keep my kids and husband safe. Smokey. My mom safe. John safe. My dad and Marsha safe. My sister, Brian.....Michèle-France...

When I am done pleading with God,  I lie there frozen, wondering. What will happen today?

Of course no one can know what will happen. I did not know, two days ago,  that I would find another lump on my dog.  I am helpless to change the course of life, but I am capable of standing up for myself and for others while innocents fall.


I will begin by answering David's email. And I am sincerely sorry, Dear Reader, if the following words offend you as they do me (and I pray my Aunt--or anyone she knows--is not reading):
Dear David,
FUCK YOU! You don't know my husband, or me, or my family.

Bon débarras!

Post Note:
I was supposed to write about our unofficial grape harvest. But all of this was ticking inside of me. Everything is okay now. And if you were driving past our vineyard early this morning, amidst the leafy vines laden with grapes, you saw a man and a woman in a deep embrace:

"Désolé pour hier soir."
"No, It is me who is sorry."

Smokey knows the secret to enduring love. Meantime, we are packing up our precious dog and taking a one-week leave. See you in September!

(not hostile. Only human)

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Glaçon: A Wife's Revenge + Ratatouillaisse recipe


Just discovered another photo of Jean-Marc and his side-kick Mr. Sacks, in Italy. Don't miss the collection of Mr Sacks photos!

JEAN-MARC IN WINE SPECTATOR - Please read about Jean-Marc in this week's online edition of Wine Spectator! The story is called Parched in Provence.


TODAY'S WORD: le glaçon

    : ice cube

French definition of ice cubes from Wikipedia:

Les glaçons domestiques se réalisent en plaçant un bac à glaçons dans un congélateur. Sous l’action du froid, l'eau du bac (de préférence de l'eau chaude selon l'effet Mpemba) gèle dans le bac, puis il suffit de démouler les glaçons.

Domestic ice cubes are made by placing an ice tray in the freezer. Activated by the cold, the water in the tray (preferably from hot water according to the Mpemba effect ) freezes in the tray, then simply remove the ice from the mold.


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

The other night, I crawled into bed with a tall glass of freezing cold water. I had forgotten just how much I love ice cubes! And then a heatwave hit France - sending me back to the nostalgic past. Sitting in front of a cheap fan (air conditioning is as rare as ice cubes here), looking out the window at the parched countryside,  glimmers from my Southwest American childhood come back, reminding me of how we managed to keep cool in the Valley of the Sun.

ICE CUBES- Everyone used them in their cups, adding sun-brewed tea or pop from the fridge. You either bought your bag of ice cubes at the store, or your refrigerator door magically produced them (as at my friend Vanessa's house). Some people made their own ice cubes, bien sûr.

NO ICE CUBES IN FRANCE-is an exaggerated statement, but not that far from the truth. If you have been to France, you know exactly what I mean. Restaurants serve one (maybe two?) ice cubes when you order a soft drink. But forget about ice in your water!

Indeed, forgetting about ice became my coping mechanism when I moved from Arizona to France. So much so that now, 23 years later, it just wouldn't even occur to me to offer you an ice cube in your drink. My unconscious reasoning? The ice tea has already been chilled... in the frigo!

Press me and I might offer another explanation: Have you seen our ice cube trays in France? I've tried the plastic sack molds, only to watch a piece of blue plastic break off with each individual cube. I've used the built-in trays (in a new freezer we once had) but the "tray-flip" mechanism never worked...and was broken when it was banged on the counter in frustration. And I've attempted the "flexible" molds (you bend them inside out and still the tiny ice cubes cling on for dear life!!). All such effort produces a few broken cubes (the rest end up on the floor) and several frozen fingers. Might as well stick those in your cup!

But when the temperatures hit triple digits last month, I was desperate to cool down and so resorted to using those crappy flexible molds to make a small cachette of cubes (hey, each for his own. If you want ice cubes around here--make them yourself. Suffer icy fingerburn!).

Then, last week, Jean-Marc took my precious, Rare Ice Cube Collection and dumped it into a bucket to chill a bottle of his rosé! Hell hath no fury that describes the degenerative effect this had on me. (Because we had a guest at the time, I could not dump the icy bucket over my husband's head and pour his rosé into the Mediterranean!

The next day, I decided to see what French store-bought ice cubes are like--and they're huge! That evening, I carefully chose four--enough to fill a small canteen. I took the accoustic, stainless steel canteen to bed with me (see opening paragraph) and, each time Jean-Marc nodded off to sleep, I jiggled my drink, smiling when a percussion of cubes sounded off in sweet revenge.

Done with my evening reading (and drinking), I shut off the lights. No matter how many times I read my well-worn prayer book, I'm still just a little devil. 

                                   *    *    *

Smokey-our father
Smokey's prayer: Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy Rainbow Bridge come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Dog Heaven...


Another picture from my Instagram, titled "Generous Neighbors". Now read on for what to do with summer vegetables...


My friend and artist Yvon Kergal posted his delicious Provençal recipe. I made it an my family loved it. Now see Ann Mah's post for the hit recipe in English .

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Illegal Alien, Moi? Carte de sejour & Lettre de motivation

Scroll down my Facebook feed and you'll see French artist and friend Yvon Kergal's recipe for carmelized "Ratatouillasse" (apparently a valid scrabble word, though no other definition found...) It's the most delicious hamburger-ratatouille combo ever! 

TODAY'S WORD: une carte de séjour

    : residence permit

AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc:
Download MP3 or Download Wav file

Pour obtenir ma carte de séjour, je dois faire une lettre de motivation.
To obtain my resident's permit, I must write a letter of motivation. 

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

There comes a time in every parent's life when they want to run away. But this morning's escape wish comes at an inopportune time. Far from leaving my home, I am scheduled, tomorrow, to ask the French government for a new carte de séjour: my 10 year resident's permit has expired for the second time and I am once again in a precarious sans-papiers situation, no more than an étranger en situation irrégulière.

Add to that this morning's meltdown after my flesh-n-blood French counterparts returned from the States only to glander for days...while Mom does the cooking, cleaning and laundry rattrapage. And while caring for my kids actually releases endorphins in my body--the comfort I get in being able care for my children while I still can--it is for the very same reason (their burgeoning adulthood) that I am at odds with their relaxed attitudes: in order for them to succeed in life, they must learn to organize! 

But I should talk! Lack of organization is what has put me in this clandestin situation with the French authorities. "You do realize that your residence permit expired 3 weeks ago?" The woman behind the security window is not smiling. 

"Yes," I admit. "Veuillez m'excuser. I have been caring for a family member... who has since passed away." (I felt guilty using this information to my advantage, but surely Breizh would want to help in keeping me united with my children and my husband,  the family she looked after for nine golden years. Come to think of it, this may explain the sudden onslaught of emotions on entering the Préfecture in Toulon. As Jean-Marc and I sat down with an audience of immigrants (all waiting impatiently for their number to be called by a French authority), I burst out in tears.

"What is wrong?" Jean-Marc asked.

"I don't know! Je suis très émotive....."

Maybe it was the sight of so many people waiting to plead for residency... a 6-year-old boy, oblivious to his situation... a young mother wearing a headscarf... an older couple looking as fragile as the numbered ticket, somewhat wet and crumbled, in my hand.

I used to be awed by the expats in literature and yearned to be one of them. Decades later and I am a part of the expatriate community in France. But a funny thing happened the moment I became an official expat: the term suddenly didn't fit me at all. It sounded unpatriotic. Though I had left the States, I felt no less an American.

I once heard the term "immigrant" used by Americans in online expat forum. My first reaction was, how can you consider yourself an immigrant? Have you fled a war-torn country? Isn't an immigrant someone who comes to a country for a better quality of life?

Back at the Immigrations waiting room in Toulon's Préfecture, I look up at the surveillance camera and imagine what the authorities are seeing among the group of immigrés: a woman with tears streaming down her face,  sandwiched between a 6-year-old and an older couple. The tears are misleading given the catharsis taking place. I am so grateful to be here in France, having come here 23 years ago pour une meilleure qualité de vie. And it is the very reason I wish to stay here: to help my children understand the gift they've been given and to share this culture with others, by talking about the French way of life.

As I type this letter to you, I hear dishes clattering and silverware falling into the kitchen drawer. My daughter is done vegetating from her jetlag. When she's finished with the dishes, she has promised to help me with my lettre de motivation (A document the French government has asked for).  I began practicing with Jackie yesterday, by reading her the first line of my letter....

A l'attention dé Préfécture du Var. Chers Monsieurs. Chers Madame. Je suis très motivée de rester en France car....


 "Maman!" Jackie says, "It is called a une lettre de motivation... but that doesn't mean you begin it with "I am motivated." And never use "car"! We quit using car ( "because") after 5th grade!"

"OK. How about parce que... "

"No! Don't use parce que! You must not use "because" at all! In France, you must use argument to convince people!

*    *    *

Looks like I have a lot of work to do to get this letter ready for tomorrow. And I realize, now, I have one more point to add to the list of arguments as to why I should remain in France....

Dear Monsieur le Préfet, would you be so kind to grant me ten more precious years in France, car... parce que... ETANT DONNE QUE ... given that I have so many things to learn and to share.

A parent tries her best to raise considerate and responsible kids. I was so touched to receive, just after writing this story, a lovely note from Gail and Fred, the couple in Portland who allowed Max to stay at their home all on his own. Gail writes:

I just got my computer back and wanted to send Max a thank you for the way he kept the apartment. It was clean and neat...couldn't have had a better intern in the space. Also, he left a bottle of wine and tea set that I will write and thank him for.

glander = to veg out
rattrapage = to catch up
clandestin = clandestine
étant donné que = given that 

La Ciotat 8.16.03 047

Picture of me and my daughter, taken 12 years ago in La Ciotat. Everything else that I would like to teach my children is summed up in this famous poem: Read Desiderata in French and in English here

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.