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Entries from December 2019

Regaler + Papilles + Coquilles?? The delight and downfall of our our tastebuds!

Christmas dinner

Half our household is ill after Christmas (was it the fruits de mer--or a stomach bug that is going around?). Before I return to my nurse duties, I will hastily post today's story (begun before the stomach storm). If you see a coquille (typo or misprint) I would be grateful if you'd point it out in the comments below. Merci!

Today's Expression: se régaler les papilles

     : to delight, excite the taste buds

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Mom said this was the best Christmas she has ever had. She seemed most excited about Smokey's present, a new collier or dog collar that will permit her more control when walking our 30-kilo golden retriever. Though I was busy setting the table, Jules insisted I come outside with her for a spin around the block. With Smokey prancing along, on his best behavior, it was clear to see he too was back on the road again.
Soon Max joined us, having sped up from behind on his longboard, in time to swoop up the leash and off he stole with our golden reindeer. What a delight to share a Christmas morning walk with all 4 generations (Smokey included). Without a camera in hand, our eyes and our minds etched the joyous scene in our hearts forever.

Apetizer salmon toasts citron cedrat

Returning home our Christmas guests had arrived and the festin began! It was my belle-soeur's idea to keep the meal simple, à la bonne franquette. Cécile was in the kitchen preparing trays of toasts with homemade tarama and smoked salmon--topped with the mild and tasty cédrat lemon she's been raving about. She also brought a selection of rustic cheeses. De quoi se régaler les papilles!

In the center of the room there was the Christmas tree and a bunch of colorful gifts (this year every single cadeau was wrapped with the help of a silk écharpe or a wool foulard, which amused a few of the members of my family)....

Max opening present wrapped in a scarf

"Where did you get so many scarves?" Max wanted to know. 

Laughing, I explained, When you are a 52-year-old woman, you have collected a scarf or two over the years!

Beyond Le Sapin de Noël, Jean-Marc prepared a platter of fruits de mer and later would make a tasty brouillade with those stolen, truffled eggs. And my brother-in-law, Jacques, made the richest chocolate cake you have ever tasted, and sentimental too, for it was my belle-mère's recipe.

It truly was one of the best Christmases ever, except that, as the saying goes: Toutes les bonnes choses ont une fin. Twenty-four hours after the meal, our guests began to be ill! It was either the coquillages or le gastro (which everyone blames). So I must hurry and end this story and get back to my patients! Low on blankets, I may have to wrap their chilled, fébrile selves in scarves as well. A woman can never have too many écharpes....

Kristi new scarf
le collier = collar
le festin = feast 
la belle-soeur = sister-in-law 
la bonne franquette = informal, simple, no-fuss meal
de quoi se régaler les papilles = enough to delight the senses
le cadeau = gift
une écharpe = scarf
le foulard = scarf
le sapin de Noël = Christmas tree
les fruits de mer = seafood
une brouillade = egg scramble
la belle-mère = my mother-in-law
toutes les bonnes choses ont une fin = all good things must come to an end
le gastro (gastro-entérite) = stomach flu
= feverish
cloué au lit = bedridden

Jean-Marc serving seafood
Poor Jean-Marc. He had no idea that 24 hours later he'd be cloué au lit, or nailed to the bed (bedridden)!


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Assumptions, insults, and stings: you can't escape these (not even in France!)

Joyeux noel

A very short and (hopefully) funny story to ease you past the holiday rush. Enjoy. The regular edition will be back after Christmas. All best wishes to you however you may celebrate.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Yesterday in church I noticed a young man (35ish?) glancing at me. Tall, with longish, rich brown hair, he was a new face at Sunday service. After a few more of his glances, perceived from the corner of my eye, I looked back at the stranger whose regard met mine, with a smile. I quickly returned to the songbook in my hands, my eyes now glued to Amazing Grace.

Before long, and a couple of he-stares later, my mind began to interpret things in a most colorful manner.  Why did he keep looking over at me? Perhaps it was the new way in which I am wearing my hair, wavy and free? My thoughts continued along that (unusually confident) theme until I corraled them, in time to focus on the words of Grace Infinie.

Ô grâce infinie qui vint sauver
Un pêcheur tel que moi!
J'étais perdu, Il m'a trouvé,
J'étais aveugle, je vois.

Next we closed our hymnals, and I settled into my pew, to listen to the pastor read from John 6, and talk about the meaning behind the bread and grape juice we were about to consume. He spoke about how various churches interpreted the symbols differently (Ouf! I wasn't the only one interpreting things!).

Speaking of interpretations, Mr Glance, was at it again... This time, on seeing I was without my Bible, he handed me his own. Gosh, he was attentive and I did not know how to interpret this attention. But when after church the tall, dark gallant (can that be a noun?) walked up to me, I braced myself, preparing to flash my wedding ring! Instead, his words rang in my ears:

"Bonjour. I haven't seen you here before."

"Oh, yes. I'm new."

"What brings you to La Ciotat?" he smiled, but before I could answer he offered a guess: "...La retrait?"


(At this point in my story, I may as well type LA FIN, because it really was the end of any and all illusions. All those adoring looks, those attentive glances--were surely because I reminded him of his grand-mère!)

Mr Glance's question hung in the air and, not wanting to correct (and so embarrass him), I mumbled something about my husband bringing me to La Ciotat and hurried out of l'église. I was on my way to a special lunch to celebrate my birthday, which happened to be Le Jour J, or the very day!

(My 52nd and not my 65th--or whatever the age of retirement is here in France!!!) 

On a positive note, over lunch my husband offered another possibility as a consolation: "Maybe he thought you were a rich American who came here for an early retirement?"

I'm not sure that explanation soothes my busted ego. But it does get my imagination going once again, and suddenly I see a beach, a faux pina colada, and suitcases of dollar bills--seagulls flying overhead and a gentle breeze. There, there now. Just let those words float away.
*   *    *

Dear Reader, when is the last time you were stung by a comment? I'll never forget the time I wore an ill-fitting dress and someone asked me when was the baby due? Tell us about an aggravating remark you once received, in the comment below. I could use a good laugh! Couldn't we all?

Birthday 52
A little older. A little grayer. A little more thick-skinned. But no where near ready to retire! (Thanks, Mom, for the photo.)

Jean-marc and kristi
At least not until I have finished my story.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Dévoiler: Jean-Marc's bilingual update

French Christmas lights and decor
Before he hurried off to work at the wine shop this morning, I missed the chance to have Jean-Marc record his letter. Worse, it did not occur to us to write it in French (so absent-minded during the holidays!). I admit--j'avoue--I had Google translate my husband's message (Tsk! Tsk!). If you see any coquilles (misprints, typos) feel free to point them out in the comments box. Who knows, it could lead to some interesting conversation :-) Merci d'avance!

Today's Word: dévoiler

    : to unveil

se dévoiler = to show your true colors/what you are made of

Chers amis,

Je voudrais m'excuser de ne pas avoir publié mon chapitre à temps. Je suis en effet assez occupé par mon nouveau projet de boutique de vin et j'ai besoin de temps tranquille pour pouvoir continuer avec notre mémoire.

Jusqu'à présent, ce fut un réel plaisir d'écrire à ce sujet. Non seulement cela m'aide à me souvenir de faits oubliés, mais il dévoile des blessures anciennes et enfouies qui tentent toujours de guérir. À ce stade, je suis sur le point de passer au cœur de l'histoire au Mas des Brun. J'aurai plus de temps pour écrire après Noël et je promets de poster mon prochain chapitre avant la fin de l'année.

Joyeux Noël à tous.


Dear Friends,

I would like to apologize for not posting my chapter in time. I am indeed quite busy with my new wine shop project and need quiet time to be able to continue with our memoir.

It has so far been a real pleasure to write about it. Not only it helps me remember forgotten facts but it unveils old and buried wounds still trying to heal. At this point, I am about to switch to the heart of story at Mas des Brun. I will have more time to write after Christmas and promise to post my next chapter before the end of the year.

Merry Christmas to all.
Kristi and Jean-Marc with Mr Sacks
Would you like to help support our memoir project? The first 11 chapters have been written and are available to read online. This is phase one of our book, which will continue to be re-edited as the story progresses. To follow along as we write about our vineyard experience, see details here.  photo by Suzanne Land.
    *    *    *

Smokey golden retriever Kristi Christmas
Helping Smokey with his note to Santa:

Me: So, Smokey, you say you would like a bone about this big?

Smokey: Yes, please. That'll do! 

Find the reindeer (or the dog pretending to be a reindeer?) in this photo.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.

French for mason jar & The Mystery of the disappearing eggs + truffles!

Eggs truffles foie gras
Look closely... Jean-Marc has some new products--including truffles!--in his épicerie fine. Stop by his Le Vin Sobre wine shop here in La Ciotat and check them out--along with a vast selection of French wine and champagne!

Learn the French word for mason jar and find a selection of the charming and useful French brand, Le Parfait, here.

TODAY'S WORD: le bocal

    : jar, mason jar, storage jar, glass container

(Today's audio is found below, along with the sample text--which holds the answer to today's mystery...)

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

This morning in our kitchen, while preparing an eye-opening second cup of coffee, I noticed something was amiss. Our little table-on-wheels was curiously vide. There had been fresh eggs there, carefully collected from our suburban hens over a two-week period. And just yesterday I was thrilled to add to my stash a impressive two-yolker!--an oeuf so big it was sure to have an extra serving inside. Merci les poules! But just where had that egg--and the rest of my stock--disappeared to? Was it another burglar? Or, on a lighter note, was somebody in my family playing a yoke on me?

Eh bien, ce n'était pas drôle! Studying the cardboard egg holder, all twelve slots were empty! My heart sank. There would be no omelets for lunch, no delicious yogurt cake for dessert, and no hard-boiled egg for Jean-Marc's daily packed lunch.... Not that he deserved the made-with-love gamelle! C'était lui qui a pris mes oeufs?  My blood began to boil before this latest Who Dunnit... Who dun mess with my supplies again?

Max Smokey pancakes
Don't tell? Is that what Max is saying to Smokey? Were these two the culprits?

I remembered the expensive crêpes mix Max bought from the supermarché... (following the in-store demonstration by the animateur de pancakes, Max felt obliged to buy the 15 dollar protein-enriched mix!). Had my son made a late-night snack for all his friends? I know all those eggs--veritable protein-in-a-shell (no need for a mix) were there when I went to sleep at 10!

Or was Jean-Marc the sticky-fingered voleur? (Back to assumption no. 1.) Surely it was my husband. It would be just like him to take kitchen supplies for yet another DIY project (remember when my MOP disappeared? And he created the mop-spear fishing implement for his sea-urchin adventures? Just what had he done with my eggs?! Were they being used for fish bait?!

More evidence could be found on the comptoir, via my brand new pèse-aliment -- the one I had bought for bread-baking. What was it doing out? The mystery deepened.... 

Stomping back to bed with the two cups of coffee I had been making for us, my words reached the bedroom before I did:

Jean-Marc. Do you know what happened to all the eggs? 

And this is the response I got (you can even hear it yourself via the soundfile below....)

Hier, j'ai reçu des truffes noires de Moustiers Sainte Marie dans les Alpes de Haute Provence. Je les ai mises dans un bocal avec des œufs afin que les œufs puissent s'infuser de l’arôme de la truffe. Yesterday, I received black truffles from Moustiers Sainte Marie in the Alpes de Haute Provence. I put them in a container with the eggs so that the eggs could absorb the aroma of the truffle.

Well that explains everything. And even though, as Jean-Marc later explained, he is only borrowing my eggs (we'll enjoy the infused version later, after he's sold those truffles) my husband is not out of the dog house yet--those bocaux he mentioned amounted to every last container he could find in our kitchen!

I had finally gotten all my jars and glass tupperwares back (from all those lunches I'd packed), and now they were gone again--back to his wine shop. How does he expect me to pack his meal? Oh, well, as Marie Antoinette might have said: let him eat truffles! On second thought, we need to find a better punishment....
*     *    *

Truffles eggs foie gras le vin sobre
In stock at Le Vin Sobre La Ciotat: Smoked salmon, foie gras, truffles and my eggs! Jean-Marc is simply storing the truffles there--pour bien profiter de leur arôme--to take advantage of the aroma they give off. He'll bring home the truffle-infused eggs once he's sold the truffles. Did you know the price for truffles changes weekly?--like a stock at the stockmarket! Thank you for reading today's story, and if you see any coquilles (typos or mistakes), feel free to send in edits via the comments. Always appreciated! I'm rushing to lunch now (no omelette today...). Max has offered to take me for a cheeseburger at our favorite burger joint La Vieille Chouette!

Listen to Jean-Marc's explanation: Click here for the soundfile

Le parfait mason jar
They may be trendy but I love these Le Parfait mason jars, (and use them interchangeably with empty peanut butter and jam jars, etc.) which permit you to see everything in your fridge--and I love packing Jean-Marc and Max lunches in them. Fill the bottom with pasta and the top with salad and slices of cheese. Miam miam
vide = empty
un oeuf = egg
une poule = hen, chicken, chook
eh bien = well
ce n'etait pas drôle = it wasn't funny
la gamelle = lunch box
c'était lui qui a pris mes oeufs? = was it he who took my eggs
le supermarché = supermarket
l'animateur = presenter
le voleur = thief
le comptoir = counter
le pèse-aliment = kitchen scale
miam = yum
Poules chickens hens
Colette and Edie--our suburban chickens who love to sleep on the fence. They each lay one brown egg a day. C'est géniale! 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.

Bagnole: Mom and I have wheels! (And learn the term "pinces crocodiles")

Victoria in lavender copy
Many thanks to my friend Beth for sponsoring today's word. Beth writes: Experience Provence at the peak of the lavender season.. Unpack and get to know our French village, with daily excursions to historical sights, markets and secret lavender fields nearby. Join us in our 13th consecutive year, making it easy for you to feel at home in Provence. Early booking discount ends Dec. 31.

Today's Word: la bagnole

    : car, ride, wheels (automobile)

La bagnole is the term used in colloquial or informal French for "car"

Click here to listen to the following sentence in French (notice in the English version how  the play on words is lost in translation)Je suis content de ma bagnole, peut-on appeler ça de l’auto-satisfaction? I'm happy with my car, can we call it self-satisfaction? --Philippe Geluck

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Sometime last spring we bought a used vehicle that ended up being a real lemon! I don't know the French word for flawed car but I doubt they use the term citron. (Funnily, my previous bagnole was a Citroën and it traveled well the first 12 years).

After the Citroën, we paid 6500 euros for the so-called lemon--a 2005 Suzuki Jimny--popular among French chasseurs and a reasonably-priced 4x4. I was wary about its history (more than a second-hand car, this used model had multiple hands and maybe even some toes as we were soon to find out...). But I really liked the shape of the jeep and the color: forest green. Plus, it rides (or rode...) like an old army truck (not that I should know) and reminded me of riding in our Grandpa's 4x4 through the Arizona desert, my sister Heidi at the wheel at 15, and I the copilot at 11. Pint-sized Thelma and Louises, we careened, unsupervised, across the desert floor, tumbleweeds spinning in our wake

So much for nostalgia--back to the future (last spring, 2019) where my pretty véhicule de loisir went kaput one evening while our son drove it. When the Suzuki would not start, Max and his friend hailed another driver who offered to lend some pinces crocodiles (pause one moment to fully appreciate that term!). Something about the jumper cables ("crocodile clips") intervention seemed to have damaged the engine. (Later, we learned that you cannot use the same crocodiles on a diesel as on an essence or premium fueled car--but don't take my word for it. I am only passing along snippets of info I got from Jean-Marc--and there were plenty of those over the past months as our little Jimny went from one mechanic to the next. Les garagistes were stumped. Someone initially thought the problem was the calculateur moteur (which had been fried from the jumper cable fiasco?). After buying two new calculateurs (the first didn't work) we waited and waited for the mechanic to locate la panne

After the first four months sans voiture, I quit asking Jean-Marc about the status of our Jimny, now domiciled in a sweaty garage in Marseilles (at least I hoped there was sweat! Were they even working on our automobile?). If not une pomme de discorde, the status of our car became a sore topic! Not only were we paying for car parts we did not need, we were also forking out money for insurance on a stationary vehicle! This went on for 8 months.  

Then one day a customer walked into Jean-Marc's wine shop and gave him the name of another mechanic--who immediately located the problem! It ended up being the réglage de l'injection, whatever the heck that means. What it means to me is we got our car back today. Woo-hoo!

After being housebound for almost three seasons, Mom and I now have wheels! If you think I was happy, you should have seen the look on Mom's face when I cruised into the driveway.
"It's like Christmas!" Mom giggled as she used her shirtsleeve to polish a spot on the muddy car. "I can't wait to go for a drive with you! And we'll take Smokey! We don't even need to get out of the car. Just leave us there!"

First things first. I've got to get my driving mojo back!
I admitted.

I'd used our family car here and there, but I've fallen out of regular driving in the past 4 years (since passing down my Citroën to our daughter). As I carefully navigated through La Ciotat last night, Mom was full of ideas for our new, mobile future: "Once you warm to the idea," Jules began, "we can tie a little cord around their ankles and take the hens with us, too! They'll love the freedom!" 

"What we really need, Mom, is one of those car cameras. So I can record these conversations and your colorful ideas!"

*    *    *
What do you think about such a program, Dear Reader? It could be like Car Karoké--but with feathers? I promise they'll be the plumes Mom currently wears in her black felt hat. The chickens can stay home.

Golden retriever Smokey in suzuki jimny
Smokey says: What's Car Karaoke? Can I play?

Many thanks to the team at Garage des Lavandes for fixing our bagnole! (And for the warm and furry welcome by your mascott!)
From the French Word-A-Day archives:
Don't miss this picture of Mom on her horse (and a spectacular scene here on the beach....)
Also, the Thelma and Louise reference from today's story in the post called "camionnette"
Looking for a holiday gift for anyone in the family? Click here to buy a copy of Words in a French Life, and give the gift of virtual travel.


le citron
= lemon
le chasseur
= hunter, huntsman
une pomme de discorde = bone of contention
le véhicle de loisir = recreational vehicle
le garagiste = auto mechanic
le calculateur de moteur
= Engine Control Unit (ECU)
la voiture = car
la panne
= the breakdown (what is broken)
les pinces crocodiles = slang for jumper cables (literally "crocodile clips")
la plume = feather

Corrections/Edit Welcome
See any mistakes in this post? I thank you for your help in the comments, below.

Sandhorst_Magdanz at villa
I have had the pleasure of dining with Beth (4th from the right) on this very terrace in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes. Find out more about her authentic tours at

Sandhorst_Magdanz at villa

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.

Lire: What are you reading? Recommendations welcome

Finding gilbert
Books make perfect gifts. Finding Gilbert won a Gold Award from the Society of American Travel Writers Western Chapter. Faculty at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, who judged the competition, wrote: “This is a gripping travel memoir of how childhood stories of World War II turn into a quest. A lot of travel is driven by the quest for answers–and this book fulfills that desire to find the truth in faraway places. This piece about a father’s love and fulfilling a promise to a French war orphan is well done, and a recommended read.” Order the book here.


    : to read

Click here to listen to the following sentence in French
Apprendre à lire, c'est allumer un feu, chaque syllabe qui est énoncé est une étincelle. To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.--Victor Hugo

Gift idea: There are many Kindle e-readers available, including a waterproof Kindle with twice the storage as well as an all-new Kindle Kids edition with access to 1000s of books.

by Kristi Espinasse

Not far from home, there is an old railroad track, un chemin de fer that has been converted into a beautiful botanical pathway with a variety of fruit trees waiting to be discovered: strawberry, fig, apple, almond, and pomegranate, among others still hidden....

The more I walk the path (these days with Mom, which is an added pleasure), the more we discover. Just last week all of the tree strawberries from the arbusier came out of hiding, revealing themselves via their deep red coats and the splashes of crimson they created on the ground where they fell, ripe for the taking.

Jardin secret

Hidden in plain sight in the center of our city, if this edible path were a book it might be called Le Jardin Secret. Speaking of books....

I was out walking along this peaceful voie, when the sound of protest became louder and louder. Plus loin, I saw a young couple strolling with their toddler, who was having a colossal meltdown.

Je veux lire! Je veux lire! JE VEUX LIRRREEE! cried le bambin, as he pounded his feet against the concrete. 

Have you ever witnessed such passion over the written word? One could only imagine which page-turning tome awaited him at home: Les Misérables?

Speaking of Victor Hugo, here is a bookish quote before we continue our shoe-stomping soliloquy:

To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.

Clearly that child's literary fire was lit, his face was red as the embers of... Dantés Inferno? We will never know which tale was calling him home, so I offered a thumbs up to the parents and walked on, wishing I had read more consistently to my children--instilled a story time to light their fire for la lecture. Now adults, they wish they had the reading bug, too. I tell them it's not too late! Ce n'est jamais trop tard! But these days, with smartphones, the internet and its endless feeds, it is harder and harder to settle down and read, to remain quiet and tuned in to a book, as people did in l'ancien temps.

I am reminded of a pleasant scene from childhood, which took place on a winter's day in Arizona. Sitting beside my mom in our tiny kitchen, the oven temperature set low, the door ajar, our feet rested on the warm oven door as Mom read a giant novel. Adding to the cozy atmosphere, was our dog, Benji, a long-haired mutt who dozed on the linoleum floor. I don't remember which book I was reading (if indeed I was reading and not daydreaming), but I like to think it was Jacques et Le Haricot Magique. That a little seed could grow big enough to reach the sky--and provide a leafy bridge from here to the heaven--is a story that fuels more than the imagination.... It lights a fire inside of me! 

I am on my way out to the garden, now, to plant some more magical beans.... One can always dream.

Jacques et le haricot magique

Dear reader, what memories does reading evoke for you? And what was the last (or best) book you read? Let us know in the comments, below.

lire = to read
un chemin de fer = railroad, railway
la voie
= path, way, lane
arbusier = arbutus unedo, arbutus tree
plus loin = farther ahead
le bambin = toddler
la lecture = reading
l'ancien temps = olden days
Jacques et le haricot magique = Jack and the Beanstalk

Eight Months in Provence
Eight Months in Provence. For anyone who has ever dreamed of living in France, here is an inspiring book that shows it is never too late! Order it here.

Smokey artichokes
I leave you with a picture of Smokey, in the wild garden we tended together. This picture is from the archives post Most Difficult French Words to Pronounce.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.