Joie de Vivre + A must-visit beach in La Ciotat, close to Paradise!
French Word-A-Day: Brevet + Max's exciting news!

French Word-A-Day: Gourde + summer camp in France

Photo taken this morning, while out on a walk with Dad and Smokey (can you find him in this photo?) My family leaves soon. We are busy making memories. Speaking of les souvenirs, here is a story from 2006, when our son, Max, was eleven years old and on his way to camp....

une gourde (goord) noun, feminine
   1. gourd, flask, canteen
   2. simple (mind), maladroit
   3. Haitian currency (the Haitian gourde)

gourd, gourde (adjective): dull, numb (cold); dopey, clumsy

On appelle familièrement gourde une personne un peu sotte.
Informally, we call someone who is not very bright "gourde".

                                  --from the French Wikipedia, "gourde"

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by Kristi Espinasse

(From the 2006 blog archives...)

I hope he finds his way to the bathroom at night
, I think, wrapping a piece of tape around my son's new lampe de poche before using a permanent marker to label it "ESPINASSE, Max". One of the first things I learned when I moved to France was that the French always capitalize last names; presently I could use a lesson on how to label dark socks....

I examine the navy blue chaussettes in one hand and my navy blue marker in the other. The dark socks will be difficult to mark, just like the flashlight and the gloves were. Too late to order iron- or sew-on labels. I remember the roll of tape. Sure, it will come off in the wash... but then the packing instructions indicate that there will be no laundry service during the first week of summer camp! I stick a piece of labelled tape on the foot of each sock, happy to tick one more item off the list. I hope his feet will be warm enough.

The light blue bob is easy to mark: ESPINASSE, Max (just under the bill), as is the tube of crème solaire. Will he think to put on his hat? Will he protect his little freckled nose with the sun block? And the back of his neck? The merciless Alpine sun now haunts me.

Max sits on the edge of the bed, twirling his Equipe de France soccer ball. "Mom!" he protests, embarrassed to see me labeling even the little packets of Kleenex.

"But it says here to mark 'TOUTES les affaires'," I explain, waving the list titled "Trousseau de base." My son points a finger to his temple and taps it. A little dingue you are, he signals. His sparkling eyes and toothy smile soften my defense.

I open the smallest bag, and move the new orange toothbrush and the comb aside. I hope he'll find relief up north from his chronic allergies... with that, I slip the tissues in and zip the small tote shut.

When I've labeled every sock, bottle, comb, tube, gourde and packet, I turn to my sparkly-eyed son. I feel like a dope marking so many unprecious items against loss, when all I really want returned from camp is this eleven-year-old boy.

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French Vocabulary

une lampe de poche = flashlight; la chaussette (f) = sock; le bob (m) = cap (hat); la crème solaire (f) = sunscreen; toutes les affaires (fpl) = all of the belongings; trousseau de base = (packing) basics: clothes, accessories, linens...; dingue = crazy; la gourde (f) = canteen

Max is now all grown up, and enjoying summertime with friends. No more camp, but there is always petanque! (Max is in the white shorts and dark blue T-shirt).

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Kathleen from Connecticut

Yes, things must be labeled. Even when you are a senior going into a nursing home, from where you will not return home, you have to mark all of clothes so that when the laundry cleans them, hopefully you will get them back. ( I have been doing this for a client of my husbands.) Yours was a happy sending off, even if at the moment you were uncertain, he was going to unfold his wings and become more independent.
Look at him now. What a handsome young man who had a wonderful upbringing and now is making his way in the world. You have to be sooooo proud.


Patricia Sands

Dear Kristi
Before adding a comment about camp and sending our precious children off with their labelled possessions, I happened to click on the Snoopy graphic. Of course I landed on your 2013 post about your "packed bag".I have always admired your authentic, honest voice and your courage to be truly candid about your feelings and your life. So, in retrospect, may I just add my kudos for that post and the way you live each day ... and share it with all of us. We are blessed to 'know' you.


That body of water and the wiggly trees - so pretty and inspiring. Blessings to you and your family. Thank you for your photos and writing - always enjoy.

Leslie NYC

Beautiful and true, your story!

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you,  Patricia!

Julie Farrar

Oh yes, I remember that time well. My daughter went to an 8-week out of state camp with her cousins. She jumped out of the car and couldn't say goodbye fast enough. It was the same with all of her athletic camps until high school. As for my son I thought sending him to a nearby camp for two weeks would help build his independence and confidence. It was only a few years after he came from Russia. Sometime during the first week I got a report from them that he wasn't adjusting well and seemed very homesick. However, they suggested I NOT come for parents weekend and they will give him extra attention to make camp work for him. That second week he was gone was agony for me, but when I picked him up at the end of it, he was a smiling boy who had discovered he loved whacking golf balls. But I never suggested an away camp again.

Suzanne Dunaway

Wow, before I arrived at the petanque men I thought, "Labels on socks? Isn't Max a little old for camp?" So funny. Thank heaven for the last part!

Fred A Caswell

Would very much like to read about the status of EVERYONE'S health, especially JM's, if it is OK with all. Affectueusement


Dear Kristi, Your love and care for your son, then and now, are a beautiful Mom's heart!! Well done from my point of view. God bless, C-Marie

Cynthia Lewis

Dear, dear Kristi,

You express the feelings in a mother's heart so very well. I remember this touching post and it reminds me of the time I looked at my first baby through the nursery window (babies not allowed to stay with their mothers at that particular hospital) and thought to myself that she would only be "mine" for a short period of time. You are a wonderful mother!

I'm glad that you are having a great visit with your family.
Best wishes for all,

Chris Allin

Dear Kristi,

This is one of those stories that gives a surprise tug on the heartstrings at the very end...
and usually leaves me with a sentimental tear in my eye and an added awareness of the tender moments in life.
Thank you for that ~


You must read the poem "The Summer-Camp Bus Pulls Away from the Curb" by Sharon Olds.
Here's a link:


Kristi - Loved your tale - it brought back such fond memories of packing the kids off to camp for lots of summers. I, too, labeled everything when I sent my son and daughter off to camp each summer. I had a stamp made with each one's name and address and we stamped everything. The summer my son was going in to the 8th grade, he wrote home one week to tell us that his cabin leader had taken them on a panty raid at the girl's camp on the other side of the mountain. He was thrilled to report that he'd gotten a red pair and a black pair (must've been from a cabin with older girls!)and that he'd left his own underpants in their cabin. When I reminded him that his name and address was in what he'd left behind he was mortified! Needless to say that made it very easy for the counselors at the girls camp to find out who the guilty party was!

Kristin Espinasse

Thats so funny,  Vicky!

Diane Young

Boy, if I had been at camp when Vicky's son was at the boys camp, it would have been a different result. The boys camp counselor would probably have been arrested. Wow. have times changed since the '40's and '50's! I tried but had no luck locating Smokey in the photo. Glad your family has been with you this Juin..Tres agreable, n'est-ce pas?


Our dear Kristi,
Today's post puts us in a happy time warp of life's special moments.It's hard to believe that the lovely son whose socks you were labeling for camp has,with your love and guidance,become such an accomplished young man.
Always dear Kristi,your beautiful words wrap our hearts in hugs.
Natalia. xo

Paula Hubbard

This blog entry brought a tear to my eye. My sons are 31, 33 and 35 now. I remember sending each off to some adventure or another with your same motherly concerns. I packed stationary and stamped envelopes addressed to me to encourage them to write home. My favorite memory is a letter from my middle son (the toughest on the outside, but a softy inside). He casually mentioned at the end that he was grateful that his tent had not been the one rifled through by a bear. He signed it: "Don't worry Momi, I love you". Be still my heart.

Kristin Espinasse

Diane, Smokey is behind the fourth tree from the left. You can just see his nose poking out the one end,  and the rest of him poking out the back.


What a wonderful telling of a special time! You must be so proud of your son, at the same time, wondering just where did the time go - but oh, the beautiful memories. It's so great. That you have put them down in words over the years, to bring them back to the present, now and then. True treasures - our memories of loved ones over the years.

Vicky from Athens

Diane - he was in camp during the 80's. Even that was a time of innocence compared to today! I've forgotten what happened to the counselor but I'm sure he was punished in some way ... probably lost all of his days off. Ah, for the good old days!!

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