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Entries from July 2020

Gaga for Galets! Rock collecting: caillou, roche, gravier, pierre and other stones in French

Gravel petanque
Gravel is handy for a lot of things--including pétanque (boules)! Read on to learn about another benefit of rocks. (Pictured: family members, including André, who is measuring, at a picnic in Fuveau).

Today's Word: ramasser

    : to pick up, gather

Audio file: Click to hear Jean-Marc read the following French sentence:
Rockhounding, ou géologie amateur, est l'étude récréative et la collecte de roches, de pierres précieuses, de minéraux ou de fossiles de leurs environnements naturels. Les Rockhounds sont ceux qui ne peuvent pas passer devant un joli rocher sans le ramasser pour le regarder de plus près.

Rockhounding, or amateur geology, is the recreational study and collection of rocks, gems, minerals, or fossils from their natural environments. Rockhounds are the people who cannot pass by a pretty rock without picking it up for a closer look. -Rockhound Times

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Dropping another caillou into the palm of my hand, I think I can carry a few more stones if I balance things just so.... I reach to pick up another when our 11-year-old golden retriever lies down in the very spot where I'm collecting, rolls over, and wags his tail.

Really, Smokey? Are you a rock, too? Or maybe a rockhound?!

I give in to scratch his furry tummy. The pause gives me time to consider this new obsession with the stones, rocks, and minerals found in our front yard. There is even a word for it--rockhounding! Mom and I are currently gaga over galets! But it crosses my mind, as I deposit a palm-full of rocks to the bare landing near the kitchen door (a project Jules is working on), that I may be stealing Mom's joy?

Mais non! Mom's joy is contagious and she's always believed there is enough to go around, whether that is money or passion or rocks. She'll share it if she has it (just don't ask her to share her cookie. Everyone has their limits!)

Meantime, there are plenty of rocks in this yard for both of us, but, just in case, why not collect another color and work on another area of the yard? I notice a charcoal gray stone and begin to ramasser a neat little collection when, Aha! I think of my caper plant…This deep gray would really show it off! Feeling like a real nerd as I swap out beige rocks (leave those to Mom) and replace them with the gray ones, I remember back to when this folly began....

Moms rocks
Mom's rock stash from this morning...notice the birdfeed, too. Mom's always feeding the doves!

Two years ago after Mom moved to France we began working on this garden together. Jules suggested we upgrade the gravel (which was super sparse) with a nicer, smoother, rounded type of pebble ground covering. We never got around to it (laziness has its advantages). Entre temps, we began noticing the many different types of stones in our yard... especially when the spring flowers and weeds died back, revealing a bare floor. Though the floor was covered with pea gravel, another type of ground covering revealed itself via those larger, butterscotch-colored rocks Mom kept finding here and there. This home having been built in 1960, it's possible those were here before the pea gravel.

Thanks, Mom, for the back stairs project. We were tracking in a lot of dirt, before Jules began covering the ground with her butterscotch rocks! It's taken months, which makes it all the more a treasure to have. Cécile repaired some of the broken tiles on the last step.

As we pick up stones and sort them, there are the occasional little découvertes that make this pastime so fun and satisfying: from the discovery of objects (lots of shells) to the discovery of the benefits. Rock collecting is:

--an activity we can practice with family
--gets us outdoors, in the fresh air
--good exercise (Mom would add it is great for stretching!)
...keeps us in contact with nature and la terre
--gives us something to look for and bring back from vacation, besides tourist trap items

And I might add one more to this list--our recent interest in rocks has given me a topic to research and to write about today--and for that I am most grateful. Off now to find my Mom and our lovable rockhound....

ROCK ON! I leave you with a few photos of rocks, and thank you for any edits for today's story. So helpful.

le caillou = stone
le galet = pebble
ramasser = pick, gather
entre temps = in the meantime
les découvertes (f) = discoveries
gratuit = free, free of charge
la terre = earth

A stone restanque (rock wall) at our vineyard crumbled. We had it rebuilt before we sold and moved on.

Our new town, La Ciotat, became our rock! 

Kristi beach in italy
Vacation last year in Sicily, and a beach of smooth galets. It's a good thing rock-collecting hadn't yet become an obsession!

Serre Chevalier rocks
Boulders in Serre Chevalier.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

The French words are in the story (Some Assembly Required!)

Diy bricolage kristi
Putting the finishing touches on our new spinning composter...My excuse for not putting the finishing touches on today's post. But if you read through to the end you will pick up a lot of French vocabulary! Edits are always welcome in the comments section. Merci! 

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Our new composteur rotatif arrived! It's a spinning contraption that'll transform kitchen scraps into garden compost within weeks...4? 6? 12?--on verra! I was surprised by the size of the package (picture a slim rectangular box), étonnant, given I'd ordered large barrel on a frame. Perhaps this delivery was for Jean-Marc? Had he ordered flat-screen TV?

Opening the cardboard colis I saw two stacks of long plastic panels and, beneath them, three large discs. D'accord! J'ai compris. The spinning tonneau and its frame were to be assembled entièrement! This flat puzzle was supposed to turn into a 3D moving entity! Looking at all the pieces--including a ton of nuts and bolts, I thought, Jean-Marc can put this thing together! He actually enjoys bricolage and is creative with it: witness his impressive sea urchin mop-spear--slapped together using my kitchen mop and stolen pieces from the silverware drawer, ie missing forks...).

On second thought, I'd better assemble it myself--or suffer a contraption-jalopy-of-sorts that might very well spit out screws and few prickly urchins (which reminds me: once this monster is built, I'd better let my husband know the compost rules: no animal proteins)!

Naivité and ignorance are necessary when diving into a DIY project or no one would persevere to the end. I opened the flimsy instructions pamphlet--more like a comic book comprised of squares: each square had an illustration of the next step. Only a handful of words involved. One of those words read "mark." I was to search for the panel with "the mark". Examining all the panels I may as well have been looking for The Mark of The Beast: hidden, elusive, deceptive.... 

Aha! Found it--an evil triangle no less! Why didn't the instructions indicate an "arrow," which is what this "mark" turned out to be? Ah well, no use arguing with a cartoon book! Onward!

The first step was awkward: balance (somehow!) the two giant disks three feet apart while attaching the panel (horizontally) to connect them. The rest of the assembly was straight forward: attach the remaining 6 panels in the same way. This would require a tournevis and some sort of outil to hold the bolts...

As for gathering the necessary tools: pas de problème! Gone were the days where I had to search in a messy, chaotic, storeroom. Last spring, during lockdown, my sister-in-law organized our cafoutche! Currently, I breezed in, selected a screwdriver and a wrench from the Wall of Tools, and whispered Merci, Merci, Cécile! once again on the way out of my She Cave. Admittedly, this composting tumbler is the first project I have gotten to.... (Though the She Cave is visited daily, as our dog food and chicken feed are now stored there.) 

Bon, back at the table on our front porch, it was hot and there was a ways to go... I grabbed the first screw and struggled to secure the bolt on the other side. 48 screws later my mind said SCREW IT! I'm done! My thumbs and my fingers were sore and I regretted working in the pretty top Mom had given me, when I should've worn an old T-shirt. But when my son suddenly arrived home from work, I had to keep going, if only to show off! Only, instead of noticing me, Max hurried in and out of the house, "I'm on my way to tennis! Love you, Mom!"

Mom? Don't you mean Brico-Mama? Queen of DIY? Did he even see my turning barrel contraption? It was almost done. But the mosquitos were now eating me alive, no thanks to all the sweat. 

I quickly assembled the frame and decided to leave the last screws (the ones I'd failed to put in first and now it was impossible to place them down deep in the barrel. Jean-Marc could help tomorrow....). I put down my tools and headed around the house to Mom's studio. I was going to say a grumpy goodnight and was in no mood to chat, so when Jules said she'd love to see my new composter, I explained:

"All that's left to do is lift the barrel and put screw it onto the frame. But I'm not going to do it now. I'm done! Too tired!"  

Mom was already following me back around the house, to the front porch. "Wow! I am so impressed!" she praised. "I am really proud of you! Look what you have done! You are a Marcus!" Mom said, referring to her family of beer-drinking builders and rebels.

I could almost taste a cold pression about now! Hélas, my beer drinking days are over. As for rebellion. Yes! This DIY project might be about that: a rebellion against the hamster wheel (even in France you can find yourself on one of those--always functioning in the same way, doing the same thing, day after day, year after year. Never testing the well of skills inside of you. Leaving others to do certain things for you. This composting tumbler project was a way to spin things around!

Mom, ever-willing to go for a spin, was already holding one end of the rotating barrel and I the other as we lifted it onto the frame in time for me to screw it into place. Those last two screws were almost impossible to tighten but Mom held on and as long as she did I didn't give up. 

Holy moly! The barrel was in place! It was revolving! But as it spun I saw a few holes here and there.... Oh no! Those last 8 screws were not extras after all.... I was ready to throw in the towel. Screw those screws! 

"I remember when your Dad built the storage shed..." Mom began.

"Really? Dad built those sheds?" How could I forget them, on either side of our trailer. They held whatever would not fit into a single-wide home--including, eventually, Dad. (Mom admits her own rebellion led to that. But we can't go back! We can only share our lessons with our children, helping them to persevere through the ups and downs of life.)

"And your rocking horse, do you remember?" 

"You built that?"

"Well, I had help," Mom said. "You always need a partner, a helper..." I looked up and saw Mom, tightening the last of those screws. It was finished! We stepped back to admire the amazing composting tumbler. "I'd leave it right there," Mom suggested.

On our outdoor dining table? Well, why not? At least until a few more family members could see it. Which reminds me, I now had a true appreciation for my husband's DIY projects. They may not be parfait, but the patience and perseverance involved--now that is perfection!

Thanks, Mom, for snapping the photo above, and for all the talents and wisdom you share. xoxo 


composteur rotatif = composting tumbler
on verra = we will see
étonnant = surprising
le colis = parcel, package
d'accord = OK
j'ai compris = I understand
le tonneau = barrel
le bricolage = DIY, home-improvement
le tournevis = screwdriver
l'outil (m) = tool
hélas = alas
la pression = beer-on-tap, draught beer
parfait = perfect

Help understanding French at - if you, like me, have any difficulty hearing/understanding spoken French, give David Tolman's French listening program a try. David has taught French online for 20 years, from his office here in France. Click on the words, below, to access one of David's lessons, and be sure to sign up for his helpful emails.


Mille mercis, Cécile, for cleaning up our cafoutche and creating these tool walls and more!

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

A bilingual message from Jean-Marc + Un Petit Accident while preaching


This morning while out on a walk I took a tumble and slammed into the ground of uneven wooden planks. I gashed my knee (le genou), elbow (le coude), knuckles (les articulations des doigts), and the palm (la paume) of the opposite hand. Jean-Marc reached down to help and, after I recovered, I laughed and said, Pride comes before the fall! That'll teach me to walk and preach to my husband about why we have two ears to listen! 

Pride and falling are themes of The Lost Gardens--the memoir we are writing about our years on 2 vineyards in France. While Jean-Marc opens up and tells the story of what led up to his falling apart, my chapters focus on our relationship and the promise we made that would see us through those rollercoaster years. The most recent installment in our online memoir, Chapter 16, talks about a therapy we stumbled on in the garden. I leave you with a quote that will help any relationship, friendly or intimate, followed by a bilingual message from Jean-Marc. 


The chemist who can extract from his heart's elements, compassion, respect, longing, patience, regret, surprise, and forgiveness and compound them into one can create that atom which is called love. --Khalil Gibran

Audio File: Listen to the French translation, click here

Celui, par quelque alchimie sait extraire de son coeur, pour les refondre ensemble, compassion, respect, besoin, patience, regret, surprise et pardon crée cet atome qu'on appelle l'amour. 

A Bilingual Message from Jean-Marc:

At a time when I am about to reveal what was the most intense moment at the Mas des Brun, I wanted to say how much this effort of writing our memoir helps me to consolidate the delicate scar of the loss of this promised land.

It also allowed me to talk about taboo subjects such as my father's suicide or my bipolar tendencies which I now accept and control much better.

I am aware that the progress of our book is slow but it is a new exercise for us.

I wish you a great summer.

Take care of yourself.

Jean Marc

À l'heure où je suis sur le point de dévoiler ce qui a été le moment le plus intense au Mas des Brun, je voulais dire combien cet effort de mémoire m'aide à consolider la délicate cicatrice de la perte de cette terre promise.

Cela m'aura également permis de parler de sujets tabous tels que le suicide de mon père ou de mes tendances bipolaires que j'accepte et maîtrise maintenant bien mieux.

Je suis conscient que l'avancement de notre livre est lent mais c'est un exercice nouveau pour nous.

Je vous souhaite un bel été.

Prenez soin de vous.


Jean-marc kristi smokey mas des brun
Kristi writes: I'll never forget the day this picture was taken, at the lowest point in Jean-Marc's depression, 2016. You wouldn't know it from the photo, and neither did our overnight guests, who asked for a picture. Everyone smiled for the camera. 

To purchase The Lost Gardens and begin reading right away, click the link below:

Vines mas des brun

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

S'Emerveiller: Dolphins in The Bay of La Ciotat

Bay of la ciotat south of france
The breathtaking Bay of La Ciotat. Left: L'Ile Verte (The Green Island). Right: Le Bec de L'Aigle (Eagle's Beak).  Even more beauty and grace dwell beneath the surface of the sea...

Today's Word: s'émerveiller

    : to be amazed
    : to marvel at something

Soundfile: Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the following French:

Le bonheur pour une abeille ou un dauphin est d'exister, pour l'homme, de le savoir et de s'en émerveiller. The happiness of the bee and the dolphin is to exist. For man it is to know that and to wonder at it. --Jacques-Yves Cousteau

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Cetaceans in La Ciotat 🐬

After Jean-Marc and I pulled into our driveway, I hopped out of the car and hurried past the fast-approaching chickens (whenever they see me they think "TREATS!"). I was heading straight into Mom's place, to curl up at the end of Jules' bed, beside Smokey, and share with them an unforgettable rencontre.

"Mom, you won't believe what Jean-Marc and I saw this morning! We were motoring through the bay of La Ciotat--advancing so slowly I could have swum faster than the boat! Oh, there must be a word for that kind of slow boating…" as I searched for a term Mom answered, as quick as a contestant on Family Feud:


"Trawling!" I said, impressed Mom knew the word. In return, I received an eye roll from Jules, who never ceases to be amazed at how I underestimate her knowledge in a particular area (like Mediterranean saltwater boat angling? Hmmm.)

La pêche à la traîne

That's it, he was trawling...or doing la pêche à la traîne, as he calls it, using his new fishing pole. And this time I was in charge of steering la barquette, via the long wooden lever, le gouvernail, on the back of the boat. I was aiming straight for Ile Verte, just as Jean-Marc instructed me to do...when something up ahead jumped out of the water!

The next time it leaped I clearly saw an aileron. Les requins ont les ailerons. Sharks have fins, I thought. Jean-Marc who was busy placing his leurre on his pole dropped his equipment when he realized we were in the rare company of les dauphins !

There were two and they were leaping out of the water par-ci par-là. Even swimming under our boat! Finally, the pair swam côte-à-côte,  porpoising along the sparkling surface of the sea. It was magical, rare and beautiful! Un vrai spectacle!

"Why didn't you dive in? Mom questioned, "The dolphins would have swum with you!"

Eh oui! Pourquoi je ne l'ai pas fait? All I can say is, bonne question! Maybe I was afraid that when they saw me, they'd think "TREATS!" 

I leave you with a video of the dolphins we saw. Wait until the very end, where you will see them jump out of the water at least three times. To view the video, click the center of the image below. If you can't view it here, see it on my Instagram page.


s'émerveiller = to be amazed, spellbound, struck 
la rencontre = encounter
la barquette = small boat, little boat
le gouvernail = rudder, tiller
Île Verte = The Green Island
un aileron = fin
le requin = shark
le leurre = bait, lure
le dauphin = dolphin
par-ci par-là = here and there
côte-à-côte = side by side
la bonne question = good question
Pourquoi je ne l'ai pas fait? = why didn't I do it?
The two dolphins we saw very near our boat. In the background, the hills near the seaside towns of Les Lecques and St Cyr-sur-Mer.

Max wakeboarding bay of la ciotat
Our son Max, wakeboarding in the Bay of La Ciotat.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

La Poubelle: How God handles the competition: A funny message from The Almighty

Smokey golden retriever at the pond
"I don't care if I am an artist or not, what worries me is writing good stories. Besides, when I start taking myself for an artist - which can happen to me in a moment of madness - I start to write any which way and I have to throw everything in the trash the next day. I am a craftsman, not an artist." -Harlan Coben. French translation and sound file below.

Today's Word: la poubelle

    : trash can, garbage can, bin

Sound file: hear Jean-Marc read the following French:
Je me fiche d'être ou non un artiste, ce qui me préoccupe, c'est d'écrire de bonnes histoires. D'ailleurs, quand je commence à me prendre pour un artiste - ce qui peut m'arriver dans un moment d'égarement -, je me mets à écrire n'importe comment et il faut tout jeter à la poubelle le lendemain. Je suis un artisan, pas un artiste. -Harlan Coben

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
"How God handles the competition: A funny message from The Almighty"

When I saw Mom heading to her butterfly chair, our golden retriever Smokey trailing behind her, I hurried outside to catch up with the colorful duo. They were headed over to the pepper tree, which also shades our little pond. Mom wore her purple muumuu--what a find at the friperie!--and Smokey sported a feathery train: a wake of turtledoves dragging along behind him, as jittery as a bride. 

"Mom," I said, hurrying over. "The latest episode of Charles Stanley was great! It's on listening to God."

As Mom tossed pockets full of seeds to her precious birds, I briefed her on the various ways to hear the Almighty, Le Tout Puissant (through His Word, through circumstances, through prayer, through people...) then shared highlights from the half-hour sermon, including the pastor's recipe for prayer, as he suggested here:

"Don't start by asking for everything you want. Start by listening. Say this simple prayer:

Heavenly Father, I need to listen to you….I'm gonna be quiet and I just want you to speak to my heart, and help me to listen carefully so that I can do exactly what you want me to do."

"Mom! I got down on my knees and began to listen. I tuned in, straining to hear any words at all from Above. I heard a lot of distracting thoughts but began to visualize my soul as a boat, a craft moving towards the Message on the horizon. I began to see any distracting thoughts as flotsam.

"Do you know what flotsam is?" Mom interrupted.

Of course I knew what flotsam was! Was this not MY visualization?

Mom proceeded to point out the pepper blossoms floating on the surface of the pond beside us: "Flotsam!" Mom shared.

I nodded patiently, eager to get on with my story. "So Mom, listen. I knelt there like that in silent prayer, wading through the flotsam, heading toward the Almighty on the horizon, the closer I got the more I could hear the message--until it was loud and clear! Do you want to know what I heard?"

"Yes. Tell me!" Mom was on the edge of her papillon chair.


Mom lit up. "Really?" she said, emptying the birdseed from her purple muumuu pockets in order to give me her undivided attention. As the turtle doves and Smokey settled at our feet, some eating, others sleeping, I told Jules the rest of the story, as I am telling it to you now, dear reader....

"Mom, after I heard the message, I headed downstairs to make your favorite cake. Passing by the end table, I noticed a carte de visite. A pink business card. It read masseur kinésithérapeute."

My brain imputed the data: Calling card...masseuse....

I knew better than to get all paranoid. After all, it wasn't as if this was a massage therapist. It looks like she's a kind of physical therapist, I reassured myself. She's working on Jean-Marc's injured knee. Still, I kept noticing the pretty pink paper, the elegant typography, her English (??) name, and my thoughts (Why the need for a card when there's internet?). Internet... Suddenly I was tempted to google her.

This suspicious circumstance was interrupted by a message from The Above:


Just as I stood wondering if this was truly Providence guiding me (the pastor said God speaks through scripture, prayer, and circumstances...), The Almighty radioed in again, this time with instructions!:


Jette-le dans la poubelle? This felt sort of wrong. Who am I to destroy my husband's papers? Besides, what if he asks about the card's whereabouts? (Would he? Would he dare!)

I soldiered on past the card, only to hurry back and pick it up again, and there I heard Le Tout Puissant once more:


I paused a brief moment when another thought, this time my own, surfaced: Who am I not to listen to the Almighty? And without the slightest feeling of guilt or wrongdoing, I chucked it! Je l'ai balancé! How easy it is to eliminate the competition (real or imagined...) when you listen to Le Tout Puissant, God Almighty!

Post note: After I finished sharing the story with Mom, who was now laughing, and I along with her, I heard a final command:

"Write that story!" It was Mom guiding me this time.  And I listened to her!

1994 marriage town hall kristi jean-marc
I hope my husband has as much fun reading today's post as I had writing it ;-) Happy 26th anniversary to us tomorrow, July 4th.Photo taken on our wedding day, July 4, 1994. Our church ceremony (photo here) was two months later, in September.

la friperie = thrift store
la carte de visite = business card, calling card
masseur kinésithérapeute = physiotherapist
je l'ai balancé = I chucked it, tossed it
la poubelle = garbage can
cheri = dear

Irises (gone to seed), bougainvillea, and sunflowers in our garden. Thank you for reading and have a lovely weekend!

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.