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Entries from October 2018

Grrr! Grumpy and grouchy and broody in French! (Plus a fiery recipe...)

Hen house poulailler chickens 
"Broody" is less useful to you than the French word for grumpy (unless you're a hen), so we'll feature the second term--in verb form--today. Two mini columns follow: the first is a response to Audrey, who lives near the Spanish border, and the second is an update on our moody poule.

Today's Word: ronchonner

     : to grumble, growl, grouse

Voici des verbs similaires à ronchonner : rouspéter, râler, grogner
Here are some similar verbs to grumpy: to complain, to moan, to grumble. 

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE  by Kristi Espinasse

Following the Recipe for Disaster post, Audrey wrote in asking for the bananes flambées recette (everyone else wanted the banana tart instructions, which I'll get to eventually). Meantime, Audrey wrote:

"Yes please, the recipe, as I have to follow a gluten-free diet it would be perfect for me & one I could do for guests...."

Voici, Audrey, here's the au pif recipe for an easy, and apparently gluten-free dessert--one Jean-Marc made recently for our friends Kathleen and Dean. Just look at that blue flame! Dean, watch your hand!

Jean-Marc making bananas foster


One ripe banana per person
Sugar to taste
Ice cream (we use vanilla or salt caramel!)

Melt the butter and begin turning the whole bananas in the pan, until slightly golden or seared. Sprinkle sugar over the bananas and add a half cup of rum (just enough to cover the bottom of the pan by roughly an inch) to the poêle. When heated, very carefully--at arm's length and away from curtains or dishcloths or billowy shirts!--ignite the pan liquids (the rum) with a match or un briquet. When fire subsides, transfer the bananas and a little of the butter rum sauce to a plate or bowl, beside a scoop of vanilla or salted caramel ice cream.
The deliciousness of this simple dessert will give you an amazed look similar to this one...  

Broody hen
Now, changing subjects, a little story from my Instagram about her (our hen, Edie). After sitting on her colocataire's unfertilized eggs, and brooding for one month (she would not leave her nest, quit laying eggs, and had to be plucked out--via the roof!--of her nest box each day for fresh air and exercise), now she spends all her time out of the henhouse. Each night I find her roosting on the rooftop (of said hen house). So, after dark, I have to grab the broom by our front door and head over to her. I place the end of the broom beneath her feet until she steps up onto the broom which point I deliver her like a pizza back into the hen house for the night). It is quite a scene! And it's entirely lost on the two of us.

la poule = hen
ronchonner = to grumble
la recette = recipe
voici = here you are
au pif = by guesswork, by eyeballing it (recipe)
une poêle = frying pan
la poule = hen, chicken, chick
colocataire = joint tenant, roommate

The unique sights, smells and sounds of the famous city are the luminous backdrop to these eleven tales whose colorful characters are lured to the City of Light and Love. Order a copy here.

Paris postcards Guy Hibbert

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!
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My story: Political elections + friendship: The stakes are high (L'enjeu est de taille)

Smokey lettuces
Random photo of Smokey and some lettuce as I don't have a politically-themed image for you!

On November 6, 250 million Americans are called to the polls. A portion of the senators, the totality of the representatives, a group of governors and local elected representatives will be renewed: the stakes are high. (translated from the French, below)

Today's phrase: être appelé aux urnes

     = to be called to vote, called to the polls

Click here to listen to the following sentence:
Le 6 novembre, 250 millions d'Américains sont appelés aux urnes. Une partie des sénateurs, la totalité des représentants, une palanquée de gouverneurs et d'élus locaux seront renouvelés : l'enjeu est de taille. --Grazia

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

The day before yesterday, while Jean-Marc and the neighbor were felling a few fire-hazardous pines near our new house, I began to think about some longtime friends and to puzzle, once again, over our unexpected estrangement.

It happened over politics, though I suspect the break-up began with the tree we cut down in our backyard. I never wanted that tree to be felled, but when it was declared a hazard ("If a branch broke off of that tree," another neighbor warned, "it could kill a kid!"), that is all it took for me to agree to have the tree taken down.

My dear friends, a married couple, were physically ill over the tree-felling episode, which they witnessed from their back porch. A tree is a sacred entity, and it must have been heart-wrenching for them to see that one come crashing down. But it would have been even more traumatic to me to see one of its heavy branches come down on my children who played beneath it each day.

Around this time the French elections were underway and my dear friends, who are a married couple, were busy rallying for Ségolène Royal. These expats had even drafted a letter to the politician in which they proposed a detailed strategy that, should Mme. Royal heed the instructions, would help her win the upcoming election. When my friends forwarded me the letter via email, I read it, surprised by their moxie to go telling a French president-elect what to do! Next I thought, good on them! for exercising their freedom of expression and for believing that they had the ability to effect a change in this world. I should exercise such precious freedoms too!

Newly inspired, I tried to respond to their forwarded letter, only it was hard for me to put my thoughts to words. The truth was, I knew so little about politics, in spite of getting an earful each day from my husband (anti-Ségolène) and again from my friends (super-pro-Ségolène!).

I thought to keep my reply simple, hoping both to encourage my neighbor to exercise his rights (and his wife's)... while not drawing too much attention to my own ignorance vis-à-vis the political debate). Here's the entire word-for-word response that I wrote:

Dear A,

I think your letter was helpful to Madame Royal and you have given some very good ideas. (Next I quickly changed the subject...):

It was nice bumping into you the other day while out on a walk. I will miss walking along that scenic path and the scent of the garrigue here in the Var!

My best to Z.


A few days later I received a surprising and disturbing response:

Dear Kristi,

I have received your email in which you try to give the impression that you support Ségolène.

Whom you support is your business. It is not my concern.
But when your daughter told us yesterday, when she and [name withheld] visited us, that both you and Jean-Marc support Sarkozy, it showed a certain double-faced nature, which didn’t come as a surprise.

What really disappointed me greatly is when the two girls started arguing the case for waging wars. “Having wars is good, so long as it does not take place in France.” That is what my ears heard. When I heard that my heart fell. That someone so young can make such a statement shows that they have been badly brought up, lacking any ethical and moral sense, showing no lack of respect for life.

With kind regards,


Reading the letter I was amazed. So many strange accusations and untruths. No! My 9-year-old daughter was not out touting war! (She happened to be out looking for candy, which these neighbors and good friends took delight in giving her.) No, she would not have said both my husband and I were for Sarkozy (an impossibility!).

No, no! no! Rereading the letter I was struck by the sentence "that is what my ears heard..." Could it be that my neighbor was so caught up in current politics that when a couple of 9-year-olds stopped by... they sounded to him like a team of warmongers?

I had to respond to the accusations, but I could hardly type the first word, and the second word is completely missing as you'll see...

Dear A,

I disheartened by your email.

As for the other harsh words, I am speechless.

I am not a Sarkozy supporter, for the record.

Reading your email and the accusations, my heart has fallen as you say yours has.



But the final words from my dear friend took my breath away:

Dear Kristi,

Please understand that I’m not angry with you.

The reason why I’m writing again is out of concern for your mental health and welfare generally.

Honestly, I don’t see one Kristi. There are two Kristis in one physical body, one Kristi who is totally unaware of what the other Kristi is thinking, feeling and doing. In medical jargon this condition is called schizophrenia. It affects thousands of people in varying degrees. If you don’t put the matter right now, it might get aggravated in the years to come. So I suggest you consulting with a reliable English-speaking psychoanalyst, I say English-speaking because that’s your parental language, not French, and all your earliest impressions are tied up with your first language. I realise that such psychoanalysts would be difficult to find in France, so you can try elsewhere.

Kind regards



No matter how many times I tried to find the words, I could not respond to my friend's letter. Sadly, I never spoke to the couple ever again. 

The letter left me deeply thoughtful and somewhat agitated. Were there several Kristis? A tree-felling Lumberjack Kristi? A two-faced Sarkozy-Segolène Kristi? Or a multiple-mugged People-Pleaser Kristi? 

I don't know that I know who I am any more than the next person does. Just who am I to know? I am both a very open and expressive public persona... and I am a fiercely private likes-to-live-in-her-own-room person, too.  I leave off, ironically, with a well-known aphorism: Know thyself. Some say it means "to pay no attention to the multitude". This brings me a certain peace when it comes to hurtful name-calling. 

          *    *    * 
(End photo: a sea urchin from our magnificent Mediterranean coastline. The interior of this "oursin" is protected by a delicate-yet-protective shell...a sea creatures version of "thick skin"! 

Oursin Sea Urchin (c) Kristin Espinasse

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!
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Recipe for Disaster & "To return the kindness" in French

Moonlight over le castellet
The perched village of Le Castellet, level with the moon

My website is experiencing technical difficulties... Let's get straight to the story before the lights go out!

Bananes flambées
bananes flambées
bananes flambées
bananes flambées

...that's how many times we ate the rum-drenched dessert last week (and tomorrow's guests are getting more of the same--or du pareil au même).

Now, I can hear of few of you chattering: "Rum-drenched bananas? Kristi's fallen off the wagon"...but I can assure you I am sober as a stick over here in La Ciotat--we've just had a very social week, and everyone knows that social in French rhymes with la bouffe. So when, last Tuesday, we invited two couples over for dinner, I needed to come up with a menu. Because our guests are excellent cooks (story here and also here), I was beginning to sweat it out, this tradition of "rendering the pareille" (very bad franglais. We'll straighten things out in the vocab section below....) So, I decided to knock two items off my side of the menu--and let Jean-Marc tackle those. One was le plat principal, the other was dessert! That left me to worry about an apéro, a salad, and a cheese plate--fastoche!

But, back when I was going to be responsible for dessert, I thought up a "tarte à la banane" in honor (or, in the necessity of using all) those bananas on our countertop. That is when, on second thought, a banana tart sounded terribly fade (and by that, I don't mean the dessert is "all the rage"--by fade I mean BLAND).

Then I remembered that one of the things my husband is good at (besides hunting for sea urchins, finding hidden beaches, and moving us to a new location every 5 years) is making bananes flambées. Ça y est! That is how Jean-Marc became in charge of dessert Tuesday night...and Thursday night (when we ate at Kathleen and Dean's--and offered to bring dessert), and Sunday (when my belle-soeur came for lunch) and again on Tuesday when we ate at Pascale and Patrick's--and again offered to take care of dessert...).

Now that we are (almost) done with an unusually social week, I can lower my hostess blinds and begin to reflect on all that cooked rum. What was I thinking? The only answer that comes to mind is one the French offer when admitting that dinner has "un tout petit peu d'alcool" in it: "...mais l'alcool s'évapore lorsqu'il est chauffé! But alcohol evaporates when it's heated" They always say!

Bref, that's the story of how things went bananas this past week. Maybe I should have stuck to tarts.

les bananes flambées = bananas foster
du pareil au même = more of the same
la bouffe = food, grub (slang)
rendre la pareille = to return the kindness
plat principal = main course
un apéro = aperitif, drink (often with snacks)
fastoche = easy
la tarte = tart
fade = bland
la belle-soeur = sister-in-law
bref = anyhow

Banana tart

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!
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Sans plomb, essence, caoutchouc, and a gas station story on French nonchalance

The sign on the back of the old truck says "(ride) in complete security...with Michelin tires". And in today's column, an oldie but goody from the archives--beefed up with extra vocabulary. Please share this post with someone who would like to learn French.

Today's word: "caoutchouc"

    : rubber

Audio File: Listen to french word for rubber, via the following sentence

L’essence sans plomb 98 est plus détergente que l’essence sans plomb 95 et se révèle plus corrosive, en particulier pour les pièces en élastomères (caoutchoucs). Ces deux carburants contiennent de fortes quantités de composants aromatiques qui sont très toxiques. Il faut donc éviter d’en respirer les vapeurs et ne pas s’en servir comme agent de nettoyage ou de dégraissage. (from Wikipedia)

Unleaded gasoline 98 is more detergent than unleaded gasoline 95 and is more corrosive, especially for elastomeric parts (rubber). Both of these fuels contain high amounts of aromatic components that are very toxic. Therefore, avoid breathing vapors and do not use as a cleaning agent or degreaser.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE...back in 2007

"La Station d'Essence" by Kristi Espinasse

At the gas station in Camaret-sur-Aigues I study the menu. I wonder whether to "fill 'er up" (faire le plein) with Sans Plomb 98 (better for the engine?) or Sans Plomb 95 (a few centimes less and just as suitable for my bagnole).

Opening the little door that leads to the réservoir à essence, I pause to re-read the sticker notice which cautions me to use fuel sans plomb. I have yet to make the mistake of filling the tank with another type of essence (having learned from my husband's mistake); perhaps all my neurotic double-checking has served its purpose?

I look up to verify which pump I am at: "No 2," the sign says. Right, number two. I will remember "pump number two" in time to answer the clerk at the pay booth. (And I will remember, this time, to check that the price matches the total on the screen. OK. Check, check.)

I pull out the nozzle only to return it to its carriage as I always do. "78 euros" are registered on the pump's screen. I am concerned that if I begin pumping, the truck ahead of me will have a surprise tab at the pay booth. I wait until the camion rolls past the booth before I pull out the gun once again, heaving a sigh of relief when the screen registers zero.

Next I try, as always, to set the nozzle to automatic. I want to pump as the pros do. I think it has something to do with hitching the nozzle's lever to some mysterious hook inside the handle. As always, the lever snaps back and I quickly give up. I'll never learn the trick, never mind that the other blond (at pump number three) seems to know it. Well, GOOD FOR HER.

When the lever snaps again, this time signaling a full tank, I resist the temptation to force in a few more liters. Don't take chances. Remember from experience that it's not worth the mess. I put the cap on the tank, turn the key and shut the little door. The screen reads 56 euros. (80 percent of that represents tax, as those who think about tax are wont to say. I should think more about tax.)

Pulling up to the pay booth I notice the attendant on the other side of the window. She doesn't strike me as someone who checks manufacturer's notices for fuel requirements or recalls the risks of tank overflow--though she does have on a tank top and you might say it overflows. And she doesn't seem to take her job too seriously. (Presently, she's filing her toenails.)

I marvel at her "filing-toe-nails-in-public" attitude which matches her unorthodox approach at manning the gas station pay booth. In the time that she makes me wait (she's finishing her pinkie toe), I think about how I could learn a thing or two from her: she with the hang-loose curls on her head and liberated legs (she's wearing cut-offs). The closest she has ever come to neurotic, I imagine, is in showing up for work every day.

la station d'essence = gas station
faire le plein =
to fill up (gas)
sans plomb
(m) = unleaded
un centime = cent, penny
la bagnole = (slang) car
réservoir à essence = gas tank
le camion = truck
l'essence (f) = petrol, gasoline

A French must: Embryolisse cream. I am down to the last drop (or squeeze) of this handy cream! My daughter and I both use Embryolisse (my twisted tube, left, hers, right) and it was extra utile for our recent trip--as one tube serves many purposes: makeup remover, face lotion (hydrating lotion seems misleading as it will not put moisture in your skin, but will help keep it there), and primer. Men, it makes a good aftershave! Order a tube here.

Also, I found this little wonder gadget "tube wringer" to help squeeze the last bits of cream (or toothpaste or you-name-it) from your favorite product. Check it out, or buy it here--it may well be the perfect gift for that hard-to-buy-for one on your list! 

Snapshot from Vaison la Romaine 

This next picture (Jean-Marc, his elbow broken, surveys the land where he would plant his grapes) was taken a year before we decided to sell our 2nd vineyard near Bandol...

Jean-marc broken elbow

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!
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Tout rikiki, fastoche, and the unexpected French word for "good luck" + my would-be 15 seconds of fame

Jean-Marc and Kristi Espinasse
There was just one eensy-weensy--tout rikiki--detail that would prevent a documentary film crew from interviewing an American about her French vineyard life: we no longer live on a vineyard. This logistical pépin was quickly patched up (filming will take place elsewhere...) only for another oops-a-daisy to arise: "Parlons-en," the journalist began, "de vin."

Normally, at this point, I would've thrust my trusty side-kick, Chief Grape, in front of me, but the story, part of a bigger compilation to air on France's Canal+, is from an American's vie-en-rosé perspective....

Just when it seemed this interview had bitten the dust (I admitted to the production team that months before my husband began shopping around for a vineyard, I quit drinking...)--so just when I was waiting on a "thanks but no thanks" email response from the interviewer, she came back with"ça ira!"

So now here I sit, at my kitchen table, practicing being filmed working at my ordinateur while blogging (that part, so feared when the interviewer suggested it, will be fastoche compared to talking about wine, comme si de rien n'était! As if there weren't a giant white elephant in the room, slurping on a mug of rosé)....

Wish me Merde! (That's "good luck" in French.) I'm going to need it. That or a giant mug of rosé. Oh gosh no. That's the last thing I need!


tout rikiki = eensy weensy
un pépin = snag
parlons-en = talk about
le vin = wine
vie en rosé (a play on vie en rose) = life in rosé, life's view from behind rose-colored glasses
ça ira = that'll work
un ordinateur = computer
fastoche = easy peasy
comme si de rien n'était = as if nothing were amiss
merde! = good luck!

Our former vineyard and sunflowers

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

Dazed in Reims: A boxing incident lands Max in ER

Received_263670764287816The following sentence is from the French translation, just below. "Knockout (KO) is the term, in combat sports, for the action of putting out a fighter as a result of a blow carried by his adversary and making him temporarily lose his abilities (the person is called "stunned")."(photo, by Max, of his boxing ring in Reims) 

Today's word : sonné(e) 

  : stunned, dazed

Example Sentence by Wikipedia:

Le knockout (KO, de l'anglais to knock out, « faire sortir en frappant ») est le terme signifiant, dans les sports de combat, la mise hors de combat d'un combattant à la suite d'un coup porté par son adversaire et lui faisant perdre temporairement ses capacités (la personne est dite « sonnée »).


  by Kristi Espinasse 

When I was still in Denver, last week, and scrolling through Instagram, I noticed photo of my 23-year-old son. It was a picture of Max, from the knee down, on a hospital gurney. 

My first thought was, remain calm. If he's taken the photo himself then he's just fine! My second thought was, "just fine" can be a temporary state! 

Studying the social media photo I noticed an Instagram stamp identifying the name of the hospital in Reims, the town in which Max is completing an internship for Lanson. (Had he had another accident on the way to work? Jumping a guardrail, that first month, landed him at the ER for stitches.). A Google search, this time, put me one push-of-the-button closer to my son, as I hit the direct-connect number on the screen of my telephone.

It was the middle of the night in the Champagne region of France when the switchboard operator answered. "Je vais vous connecter avec les urgences," she said casually. 

Les urgences ?! My daughter, Jackie, who was with me in Denver, hurried over to the phone just as I was connected with the ER nurse, whose French was surreal to me... 

She was saying something about a box. What did a box have to do with my son being unable to talk to me on the phone? 

"Attendez," I said, you can talk to my daughter.. elle parle mieux le français."

A moment later, Jackie hung up the phone in time to assure me that Max was OK, that they were just going to keep an eye on him overnight, as well as do a brain scan.... 

By the time Jackie hung up the phone, I realized I'd missed my chance to talk to my firstborn. The nurse had said her patient was a little confused, and so had not offered me the possibility to communicate with him. Still, Max could have listened to my voice--which would have been a source of comfort and reassurance. It might have even snapped him out of this stupor! 

How good it felt to hear his voice, the next day, when newly discharged from ER he was able to tell us exactly what happened. I leave you now with Max's account, in French and in English, following a newspaper clipping about Max's great-grandfather AL Young, lightweight boxer and champion from Ogden, Utah... and hero to his French great-grandson, arrière-petit-fils, who he would never have the joy to meet. 


Max writes:

À la fin de mon entraînement de boxe, nous finissions la scéance avec un combat “light”. À la fin du round, Billal (19 ans) et moi, avons décidés de continuer à boxer au lieu de nous reposer, nous étions donc le centre d’attention des autres boxeurs.

À ce moment là, j’ai baissé ma garde et il en a profité pour me mettre un high kick jambe avant sur la mâchoire.

Je tombe par terre et mes potes me relèvent immédiatement.

À partir de ce moment là je n’ai fait que répéter les mêmes choses. “Qui m’a mis K.O?”, “où est-ce que j’habite”...

Et là, ils se sont rendu compte que quelque chose n’allais pas.

Dans la foulée, ils ont décidés de m’emmener aux urgences de Reims où j’ai été pris en charge immédiatement.

Durant ce prochain mois, je ne vais pas faire de confrontations afin de ne pas prendre de coups à la tête, je me concentrerais uniquement sur mon cardio en faisant de la course à pied et en travaillant mes techniques sur un sac de frappe.

Et quant au scanner, tout vas bien ! 

PS: je ne me souviens pas de ces événements, c’est mon coach qui me les a racontés.


At the end of boxing practice, we ended the session with a "light" fight. At the end of the round, Billal (19) and I decided to continue boxing instead of resting, therefore we were the center of attention of the other boxers.

At that moment, I lowered my guard and he took the opportunity to put a high leg kick on my front jaw.

I fell to the ground and my buddies got me back up immediately.

From that moment on, I kept repeating the same things: "Who knocked me out?", "Where do I live?" ...

And there, they realized that something was wrong.

In the confusion, they decided to take me to the emergency room in Reims where I was taken care of immediately.

This next month, I will not do any contact sports in order not to get hit in the head. I will focus only on cardio training by running and practicing my technique on a punch bag.

And as for the scanner, everything is fine!

PS: I do not remember these events, it was my coach who told them to me.

(picture  below, taken 7 years ago, when Max was starting out boxing.)

DSC_0304For those of you who have expressed an interest in supporting this French word journal via a monthly donation, here is your reminder to use one of the link below. Many thanks in advance!

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.

Fillette: A look back in time


We return home to France in two days. Here is a vocabulary-packed story from 2014. Bye for now...and wish us bon voyage!

une fillette (fee-ette)

    : a little girl

Audio File: listen to the French word fillette (file by Wikipedia):

Improve your French pronunciation with  Exercises in French Phonetics


    by Kristin Espinasse

Waiting at the bus stop in Bandol, warm inside our car, Jackie reviewed her textile lesson while I spied some of the technical vocabulary on her study sheet....

"Ourlet. Ha! I know that word. It's on the tip of my tongue... Oh yes, "hem"! Now to pronounce it: ohr.... ohr... ohr-lay!"

"Mom!" Jackie sighed.

"Oh, sorry!"

I left my daughter to study, turning my attention to the holiday lights that circled high up into the municipal arbres. The tree garland reminded me of Arizona, where our paloverdes and even our cactuses are illuminated this time of year. And just like back home in Phoenix, there were palm trees here, their trunks circled high with holiday lights!

As I admired the twinkling trees, a shiny spot tickled the corner of my eye. I looked over to discover the glittery backpack of a little girl who had just gotten out of her father's car.

I watched as the father adjusted le sac à dos. The little girl helped by lifting her lopsided ponytails out of the way. Next, the fair-haired darling spun around, lifted her face and her smile was met by a tender kiss as her father reached down and bid her bonne journée.

"Look at that sweet little girl!" I said to Jackie. But as soon as I spoke my eyes filled with tears.

Those little sagging socks at her ankles, that crooked part separating her pigtails, those pink and purple pom-poms that dangled from her backpack. How it all brought me back.

"You are all grown up now!" I looked over at Jackie, whose tie-dyed hair fell over her study sheet. Well into her teens--and with the groovy locks to prove it--she would soon trade fad for formality. Lately, she spoke of wanting a more soigné or sleek look. I could just see her cutting off her blond locks in favor of a glossy, dark carré, or blunt cut. The day was coming.

I ran my hand across my 16-year-old's soft head as we watched the little girl turn toward the bus. 

"Elle est mignon!" Jackie agreed.

The more I watched the little girl, the more I saw childhood slipping away as it now stepped, with its sagging pink socks, onto the bus....

"Look at my eyes. I'm crying!"

"Maman..." Jackie reached over and kissed my cheek.

I didn't mean to be over-dramatic by pointing out the tears. But I had learned, not too long ago, to let 'em see you cry!--a stretch after years of never letting 'em see you sweat! 

As my daughter lay her head on my shoulder, I told her a family history:

When your dad and I split, twenty or so years ago,  I went to gather my thoughts at a nearby cafe. But those thoughts were suddenly blasted as I glanced over at a nearby table. The woman sitting there laughed with joy as she held a newborn baby in her arms. When my eyes hooked on that infant, a deep pulling began to rake through my body, collecting tears as it advanced. I quickly paid for my coffee and rushed off as tears poured out. I had never before felt that maternal instinct. And now it was too late. The father of my unconceived child had said it was over between us.

My throat grew tight as I told my daughter the story of her near non-existence. 

"But I came back! And I had you!" I said, giggling. It was time to lighten up the conversation!

"No, you had Max..." Jackie pointed out, in typical sibling rivalry.

"Yes, but then I had YOU. And what would life be like without my little girl?" I turned and looked out the window once more, in wonderment. 

The man beside the car in front of us watched his little girl climb the stairs of the bus. When her glitter and pom-pom backpack disappeared into the bus, he turned to me and smiled. Then he got into his car and drove off... as mysterious, as forgiving, and as promising as Father Time.

une fillette = little girl
un ourlet = hem
l'arbre = tree
le sac à dos = backpack, rucksack
une bonne journée = a good day
le carré = blunt cut, bob
elle est mignon = she is cute

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First french essais
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Yellow flowers
In today's post I mention a time in the future when my daughter will have a dark carré, or blunt cut.  Click here to see a picture taken 4 years after the story was written.

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!
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Esprit + Explaining your religion in France.....a tricky undertaking

Hoping to see some of you at tomorrow's Alliance Française (Denver) meetup! It's from 5-7 pm. 

esprit (es-pree) noun, masculine

  : mind;  wit; spirit

Audio File
Listen to my son, Max (12 years old at the time), pronounce today's word & quote:Download esprit.mp3

Il y a une  dimension spirituelle dans chaque relation. Lorsque deux personnes se réunissent, c'est que l'esprit le veut ainsi. There is a spiritual dimension in every relationship. When two people come together, it is because the spirit wanted it that way. --African proverb

Improve your French pronunciation with Exercises in French Phonics.


    by Kristi Espinasse

(story written in 2007)

I arrived to pick up my daughter at summer day camp where the director greeted me with a cheery "Hello!" After her warm English greeting and a bit of shoot-the-breeze papotage, she pointed to my daughter's necklace with its cross pendant.

"Are you Protestant?" she inquired.

Here we went again with The Religious Affiliation Question. I'd gone over this before with the Catholic priest during premarital counseling.* If it was difficult to describe my spiritual orientation then, I must confess that, thirteen years later, I still haven't quite pinned it down.

"No, I'm not Protestant," I began.
"Catholic?" the director guessed.
"No, not really," I answered, regretfully, for if I were Catholic I would have "l'embarras du choix" or quite a selection of churches to go to given the number of églises catholiques in France.
"But your children were baptized?"
Oh, dear! This is where things get complicated...
"Er, yes... in the Catholic church."
The director looked as confused as I felt.

"I'm not Methodist," I continued, by deduction. Perhaps Baptist? Was I Baptist after all? "Baptiste" is a popular French prénom that signifies "plonger dans l'eau." I myself was immersed in water, there in a desert church (on Central Avenue, to be exact) and not far from Katz Delicatessen where I would, years later, nurse a bowl of matzo ball soup and wonder about how to convert to Judaism. My boyfriend back then, Howard, had explained to me that, should we marry and have children, our family would observe certain rituals. Words like "bar mitzvah" were as foreign to me as the French language which, unbeknownst to me, was just around destiny's corner....

"I am Muslim," The director offered encouragingly. Catapulted back to the present moment, I looked over at my daughter's cross and realized how different life has turned out. No more visits to Katz's deli. I had lost my best friend when my relationship with Howard ended. But, just as it wasn't religion that separated us, I sensed that the same was true for the Muslim director and me.

I know little about the Muslim religion and when I admitted as much, the director's warm response included an invitation to a un congrès where villagers of all faiths come together in the spirit of breaking down barriers.

As I contemplate my religion, the vision of white robes swaying, hands clapping, and feet dancing takes me away... to Dorothy Love Coates & the Original Gospel Harmonettes...and to The Soul Stirrers and their thumb snapping tune "Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb." Tunes like "Oh Happy Day!" and Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" speak to me like no denomination can. "Amazing Grace," whether sung by Judy Collins or Ani Difranco, moves me like ministry.

I still hadn't answered the director's question. The time had come. I looked into her searching eyes with my own and, for the first time, understood the uncommon denomination that best described my faith: not Methodist or Mormon, not Born Again or Buddhist, not Catholic or Confucian.

"Do you know music?" I asked. "You know, 'le gospel..."
"Oui!" the director said in anticipation.

I cleared my throat and my conscience at once when the following words tumbled out:

"I'm Gospel."

                                    *    *   *

The director looked at me, her eyes bright with compassion. We were no longer American, French, or North African, no longer Muslim or Christian. We were soul sisters.

*  *  *


le papotage (m) = small talk; premarital counseling: don't miss the chapter "attendre" and learn about my wedding day and more, click here; une église (f) catholique = Catholic church; le prénom (m) = first name; plonger dans l'eau = to plunge into the water; un congrès (m) = conference: goh-spell = (French pronunciation for "gospel" music)

Keep up your French...and help support this free web journal when you purchase a copy of my book. Click here to order. Merci beaucoup!


Caper bush on Corsica with capers and flowers
I leave you with a beautiful caper blossom, thriving from the Mediterranean sea breeze. 

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.