Lunch in Arles, "Séjour" in Camargue, wild horses and a cool rancher's hut
Un Coup de Pouce: a helping hand from our daughter

French for "fighter, warrior, survivor" + Fate, Love, and Dogs: Our golden retriever is “un battant”

These are our dog’s parents. That’s “Sam” on the left and Breizh, right. They lived life to the fullest and are over the rainbow bridge now. We hope to keep their son, Smokey, on this side of that colorful arc-en-ciel for as long as possible. Read on, in today’s post.

Today's Word: un battant

    : fighter, warrior, survivor

French Audio/Listening: Click the following link to hear Jean-Marc pronounce the French words in the following story. Then scroll down to the vocabulary list to check your French comprehension.

Click here for the sound file

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

“Universal Love”

On the eve of our dog's surgery, we had a whiskers-to-whiskers talk (whiskers, because at 54 I may have a few myself...). "Smokey, tomorrow you're going to have le she-rur-rur-zher-ee," I explained. "But here's the deal: your mission on earth is not over yet. We all need you here with us, and it is not time for you to leave our family. D'accord?

Our golden retriever had une bosse on his chest that had grown to the size of a tennis ball (and was as hard as one). Finally, we made the difficult decision to remove the lump. The doctor said the dangerous part would be the anesthésie, given our dog's advanced age. Therefore, we decided to remove several lumps while Smokey was under anesthesia, as the actual surgery was the “easy” part, according to our veterinarian. 

La Salle D'Attente
In the waiting room with two other patients (an energetic cocker spaniel and un chat de gouttière). Smokey, was uncharacteristically calm as the assistante vétérinaire sat beside me to complete a questionnaire concerning our chien. “Do you want the supplemental blood test for seniors to determine whether Smokey is fit for surgery?”

That’s when tears began to flow.

"Oh, ça va bien se passer!" the vet’s assistant assured me.
"He is twelve-and-a-half years old," I reminded her, wiping away les larmes.
"Ne vous inquiétez pas...."

The stranger's empathy must have opened up a few chambers in my heart because the catharsis that came with it brought more than release, it brought a mysterious energy.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
Lean not on your own understanding

In all your ways acknowledge Him
And He will make your path straight.
                                Proverbs 3:5-9.

Those were the words that escaped as I drove away from the vet’s without our beloved “pet” (à vrai dire, I have never thought of Smokey as a pet). I don't know why my mind recalled these particular Bible verses, there are so many others that would seem more specific to the occasion. But those words coming out of my mouth, in repetition and in various tones and cadences, sustained me until I arrived at the next (unplanned) destination: le supermarché.

In an emotional spree, or frénésie, I selected lots of goodies for Smokey’s No. 1, full-time caregiver (my Mom): a box of almond-covered Magnums  (chocolate-coated ice cream bars), her favorite raspberry jam (aptly named “La Bonne Maman”), an exotic fruit juice (la canneberge this time) and more Greek yogurt—comfort food to dry Mom’s tears (tears I don't ever remember seeing before). I also put three extra big boxes of Kleenex into my cart.

"Smokey is everything to me. He is my whole life," Mom admitted, her face awash with worry when I took him away that morning.


Loading the groceries onto the tapis roulant, I paused to inform the cashier, "Those are the green kiwis and not the one-euro-each yellow ones from New Zealand."

"Pas de souci," she smiled, ringing in the fruit at .75 a piece.

"By the way, did you ever find your glasses?" I asked la caissière, remembering how troubled she was last week, asking other employees if they’d seen her lost lunettes. We customers in line promised to jeter un oeil on the way out to our cars.

"Oui!" she said. “Je les ai trouvées.”

Oh, quel soulagement!” I smiled.

When the cashier finished ringing up my groceries and asked if I had a store fidelity card, I said I hadn't gotten around to it. That's when she left the register, walked around the counter, took out her own wallet, and selected a card inside of it...

"What are you doing?" I asked, but the cashier didn’t answer. 

I did not realize the extent of the cashier’s gesture until I got into my car and looked at the store receipt, which was reduced by 25 euros, thanks to “des remises immédiates salariés.” (She had used her very own employee discount.)

I was blown away. Why she took this risk on me instead of someone in need is a mystery.

Passing other drivers on my way home, I looked beyond our individual windshields and said:

Bless you! To the white-haired lady behind the wheel,
and bless you! to the conductor with the beard,
and bless you!! to the solo driver in the N95 mask— 

That may seem like a strange thing to do, blessing strangers from behind a windshield, but hadn't the cashier done the same from behind her plastic store shield before stepping around the barrier to deliver the blessing?

I remembered the vet’s assistant and how a stranger’s sympathy began this whole domino effect—only instead of pieces falling down, hearts were opening up. And I realize now that the mysterious energy that came when I left my dog in the hands of Fate, was Fate itself or one facet of a complex and universal love—a love we are led to trust.

I hurried home to tell Mom about what happened when I left the vet’s, about all the goodness along the way. But if those first two hours flew on angel's wings, the next three were deep in the pits of hell as we waited and waited for a call from the vet's office. During the long attente my faith à froler le superstition. In a canine version of Step on a crack brake your mama's back, I navigated a host of possibly-fatal actions while waiting for the vet’s call:

...On the way to our mailbox I stalled: Do you really want to check the mail now...or check it later? What if it’s bad news? (reflecting further bad news from the vet!)
...and when lunchtime came there was the question of eating or not eating....then chewing or not chewing...while my dog was under the knife...
...Ditto with nap time.  Could I lie down or might resting be symbolic of eternal rest? A superstitious voice whispered.
...finally, a nagging question: Should I call the vet for an update or would calling irritate the staff (and somehow this would affect the outcome?)....

WHY WEREN’T THEY CALLING!!?! Did Smokey NOT wake up from the anesthesia? 

Finally, 5.5 hours after dropping off our dog for surgery, news came in the form of an SMS from our beloved dog:

Coucou, Je suis en train de me réveiller. Tout va bien. Smokey” (Hello, I am waking up now. All is well. Smokey). I burst out of bed, flew down the stairs and over to Mom’s to share the good news:

"Smokey sent an SMS...I mean, the vet sent an SMS!" 

We were giddy! Exaltées! A little while later I walked into the vet's and heard my dog barking! “He heard you first,” the receptionist pointed out, letting Smokey into the waiting room. If Smokey was quiet and calm this morning, now he was wagging his whole body, which was covered in stitches. Stitches on his calf, stitches on both his sides, stitches on each side of his chest, stitches on his private parts... While he was asleep, they even burned away the large growth in his mouth!

C'est un battant!” the vet's assistant said, sharing that two doctors and one anesthesiologist worked on Smokey!

Oh oui! Un vrai battant! Smokey is a true survivor. And when earlier he disappeared into the operating room, his spirit seemed to float back out, blessing everything in its furry wake, reminding us: when facing Fate, abide in trust--and take comfort in Universal Love. As the words of a familiar verse promised, It will set your path straight!

Jules and Smokey
Both Mom and Smokey are doing great. Merci infiniment to Dr. Trapes and the team at La CiotaVet, here in La Ciotat. 💕


un battant = a survivor
le she-rur-rur-zher-ee
= lighthearted rendition of "chirugerie", or surgery. The correct term is "intervention chirurgicale"
d'accord? = ok?
une bosse = a lump
une anesthésie = anesthesia 
la salle d'attente = waiting room
un chat de gouttière
= alley cat
le chien = dog
ça va bien se passer! = everything is going to be ok
une larme = tear
ne vous inquiétez pas = don’t worry 
à vrai dire = to tell you the truth
le supermarché = supermarket
la frénésie = frenzy
pas de souci = no worries
la caissière = the cashier 
Bonne Maman = Good Mom
la canneberge = cranberry
le tapis roulant = “the rolling carpet” (conveyor belt)
l’attente (f) = wait
frôler = verge on
jeter un oeil = have a look
je les ai trouvées = I found them
le soulagement = relief
des remises immédiates salariés = immediate employee discounts
exalté = giddy

A dashing Smokey at 7
A dashing Smokey, back in the day (2016?)

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Edward Bornet

I am so happy for Smokey. I have followed his adventures for years. The day after Christmas we lost our Tess at age 12 1/2. Anne and I were just crushed. I hope for much more Joy to youall from having Smokey with you.

Richard Swarb

Well said. Matt. 4:4.

Karen Cafarella

So happy for Smokey. Sending big hugs to you all

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Edward. I am so sorry about Tess. My heart goes out to you and Anne. 

Lisa Kennedy

Brave, sweet, Smokey! I actually held my breath as I read your newsletter today, Kristi, until your words about the SMS you received from Smokey via his vet. I was so relieved and happy for you all that this amazing pooch was out of surgery. God Bless Smokey for a speedy recovery. Thanks for sharing this inspiration-filled news today.

Kristin Espinasse

That is a good one! Merci.

Kristin Espinasse

Hugs back, Karen—from Mom ans Smokey, too.

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Lisa. Smokey is doing so well now, one week after surgery. 


So glad Smokey came through surgery! Love the picture of Jules and Smokey - so sweet ♥


Quelle bénédiction!

Smokey has plenty of life left in him--I have to meet him on my next visit to La Ciotat!


Such good news is so welcome! Thank you and bon recuperations to Smokie - he is a sweetie indeed. L etc

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Beth. I love this photo too and want to frame it 💕


Oh my, I cried and cheered and held my breath until the photo with Mom <3 Love to all of you from Colorado USA. Especially from Newton our beloved chien (golden retriever/poodle mix)

Dale A Spann

So glad to hear that Smokey came through with flying colors!


What a beautiful and touching story!! Thank you for sharing with such lovely words and descriptions. Being a dog lover, I could feel the trepidation and anticipation.

Mais tout va bien!!

Kathi K

Your very moving post reminded me that love, kindness and goodness surround us--if we live with an open heart.

In challenging times and difficult situations, we can, like you, trust that all will be well. Faith over fear, right?!

Long live Smokey! He's blessed to have such a loving family.


Our dear Kristi,
Only one thought to add to your truly most beautiful and sensitive post: the power of prayer is limitless,Especially in times like these.
So relieved and happy for such good news and wishing you all continued joy and health. You made my day.!
As one who has also walked the same path (so many times!),aside from the familiar prayers that always bring comfort, Robert Frost comes to mind,too; the only way out is through.
Arms around you tight.

Robert Wildau

Ever since we arrived in France in 2010 and I started reading you I've always found your dogs and especially Smokey so endearing. Glad you all will have him with you a while longer. Robaire from Aix

Chris Allin

Dear Kristi,
I was almost afraid to open this. Oh the tears of anguish it brought forth, but they turned into happy tears. I am overjoyed for you all that Smokey is doing well now.
Our Henry has had and still has lumps. Plus he has gone through two scary episodes…we thought we were going to lose him.
Continue taking such good care of Smokey. Of course love is the best medicine. Every day is a precious gift with our aging pups.


Wonderful news, Kristi! Ever happy for Smokey and you, your mom and the whole family.
With love,


So happy for you. Sending love and in due course, tummy rubs -- for Smokey not you!

Mary Lynn B Redmond

I am so happy Smokey is doing well! Best wishes to you all!
Mary Lynn


So happy Smokey is doing well! I love the photo of Jules and Smokey!
Have a nice weekend!

Andrew Kleeger

All dogs are special, but Golden Retriever dogs are “specialer” … I had Guinevere when I was a young boy. I tear up thinking about her to this day, and she’s been gone nearly sixty years!


Great news!

Julie Farrar

I held my breath and held back my tears as I read. I'm so happy for everyone who loved so hard on Smokey.

Uhm, and just as an aside -- since you are the best of dog lovers -- next time you're on Instagram go follow the accounts "The Dogist" and WaffleNugget". They take you through all the emotions of dogs-in-the-family and how essential they are to our lives.

Carole Sendmeyer

So happy Smokeyis recovering! I had the opportunity to meet him (and your clan too) when a group of wine appreciators visited chez vous in 2012. Best thoughts for you all. Carole

Marianne Rankin

I"m delighted that Smokey is doing so well!

My cats - Isabella, 13, and Lily, 17 - know that Smokey has some good years left.

May you all enjoy them to the full!

Sharon Marchisello

So glad Smokey pulled through his surgery. May he be with you, healthy and happy, for many more years.


I am so relieved that he came out so well. Love that dog. i do not even know him. But I am a dog person and seem to connect to others who are as well. He is a part of your family and your bond with him is so very strong. I said good by to my little Yogi in September and now in tears of joy for Smokey and sadness for Yogi. And here comes Goldie - my other pup. She hears me crying and always comes to sit in my lap. Enjoy all the years you have with him and please scratch his ears for me. So glad you made it Smokey.

Gordon Lyman

A touching post. Thank you much.

Joanne Fischer

Sending loving and warm hugs to you, mom and Smokey. So happy he came through the surgery in good shape! He definitely is a fighter. 😘😘😘


Beaucoup de baisers Smokey.
Nos animals sont tellement precious

Kathleen Bidney

I too read your story, afraid to get to the end and have bad news, but alas, yeah for Smokey 👏He is a fighter and such a love. I know how much he means to Jules and to you and your family. He is special 💕 as was his Mom. Long live Smokey!!!!

Sheryl Wells

Oh Kristi
We are so happy Smokey is okay.
Our Mulligan who was 13 in January
had numerous lumps on his back removed. Now he had a Hotspot
On his tail and the vet techs shaved his tail leaving a bit of fur on the bottom. With the cone on his head he looked like a golden lion. The fur is starting to grow back. Hugs to Smokey.


I am glad Smokey is doing well. Our pets are so much more than that. They are like one of our children. The child who gives us so much less trouble in life. Your mom is just like my was with our dog Ove. When we would visit she was so much happier to see him. ;). I’m not kidding.

barbara michels

So happy for Smokey. He is a record breaker for a Golden.

Leslie NYC

Beautifully told story, with so many lovely turns.
And the photo says everything about love, not hesitating to show your love.
Thank you.

Janie Lanier

Loved your story of Smokey. He’s such a character. So glad he’s still with you. Love is reflected in love.


So glad for all of you that Smokey came through his surgery well! Wishing him a long heathy time ahead!!


I never think of our cat, a 'pet'. I call him a 'retiree', 18 years a member of our family. He deserves everything we have in our hearts, our hands (caresses and treats) and how we are so mindful of him every single day. He's our focal point. He is being cared for with the upmost attention until he's ready to move on...just like Smokey.

Smokey, faithful friend and family member~Hats off (or on) to you for the rest of your days!

So happy we had the chance to meet:) and hope to see you again!

Kristin Espinasse


Dana Ivey

Such a heart-warming story. As always, thanks for sharing your insights-- and your life-- with all of us. So often helpful and inspirational.

Janine Cortell

I am so relieved for Smokey and for you and your family. Our companions are so precious.
They are our children. Wishing Smokey many more years.

Lisa Smith

Dear Kristi, I am remembering when Smokey was just a wee pup, and now he is a senior statesman. How time flows on.
Grateful the surgery was a success, and to see he and Jules together.
Sending much love, light and healing to them both, and extra hugs to you.
Lisa xx

Suzanne Dunawat

Oh, thank heaven, thank heaven, thank heaven. I did not know about your maman....


Andrew, I was so touched by your message, it brought tears to my eyes. My teenage son died in 2009, and his little terrier, Zero, died just a few years ago. Not many people understand this, but I feel that I lost two of my babies. This is a burden I will carry for the rest of my life.
Thank you for understanding.


Of course Smokey would come through with flying colors. He is young! I am surprised he doesn't have the cone of shame on, or was that for the photo? You are a good boy, Smokey , and here is a big biscuit for you (virtual)! Thanks for sharing Smokey's vet journey,

Patty Cargill

Ah, dear Smokey, still on your mission and bringing so much joy. 💓 Love & hugs, Kristi, J-M et Bonne Maman! (That's what I buy, too.)
From a crisp, clear morn in SW Virginia ~


ma chere Kristi: What trepidation & fear you experienced when Smokey went into surgery; but, what joy & a great sigh of relief when you received your happy news. Compassion & fate were certainly in your corner on that day; the assistant prior to Smokey's surgery, the cashier at the supermarche. You passed all that on when you were driving & blessing strangers. Would that we all did that! What a wonderful world it would be! Enjoy your family, your Smokey & life! Bonne journee! Fondly, Ann

Suzanne Codi

So glad Smokey is a battant!! We remember meeting him almost 11 years ago( !!!) when he was a young pup! And now he is an elderly Gentleman, and still the joy of your whole family! And I agree with you about not thinking of him as a " pet", he is one of your children, bien sur!!! Bises to him from all of us, and Luna too!

K. J. Laramie

So much love and faith in this precious story! Thank you for multiplying it even more around the world! The sweet photo of Jules and Smoky holding hands just melts your heart!


This precious story was certainly meant for such a time as this. Bless you for sharing it. My neighbors here in Hawaii have a Golden. Her name is Billie. I bring breakfast treats to coffee hour every Sunday at their house and leave with my heart full from Billie's ❤. Golden retrievers are a gift of love to all mankind and womankind .

Leslie in Oregon

Bob, our 16-year-old Long-Haired Dachshund, and I are sending a huge "Well Done" and happy "Congratulations!" to Smokey and you and your Mom. I understand how you felt before Smokey's surgery and until you got his SMS, and I know how you have celebrated since. I have no words to describe how much our late Golden Retrievers (Rosie and then Henry) and Bob (a fellow rescue dog whom Henry trained to be a Golden Retriever during the l1 years they both were with us) always will mean to me. And I am grateful for every day I have with Bob, who despite kidney disease bounces along wagging his tail as he always has. I trust that Smokey, whom I have adored throughout his life and always considered a Wonder Dog, has many more happy years ahead of him. (As a big Golden [so long and tall he was slim at 100 pounds], Henry was not a candidate for a long life, yet he lived 14.35 years.) He is a happy boy, surrounded by love.

Kristin Espinasse



You so completely captured the emotions of taking a beloved animal to the vet and waiting waiting waiting for the good news after the procedure. But not only that, you captured the miracle of how vulnerability and uncertainty mingled with gentle kindness can lead to hearts being opened and goodness being multiplied like loaves and fishes. Bravo. Masterfully written.

Ms. Laraine Lippe

What wonderful news about Smokey! So glad he is un battant!


So glad it all turned out so well. Smokey is truly un battant! We had to send one of our sweet kitties to l'arc-en-ciel in December and she was only 13 - so sad. hope you and Smokey have many more happy years together!

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Douglas! I appreciate your thoughts, and love the loaves and fishes reference.


Dear Kristi.
Sending love for a good recovery for Smokey and hugs to you❤️ Love the photo of his parents. Stay safe all of .you in Ciotax. X

Teresa Schirmer

Cher Kristi,
The tears are flowing.... There just aren't enough words to console... tears of joy & tears of past memories. I am so very happy that all is well...
I absolutely, always , look forward to your entries!
Warm regards,

Karen Whitcome

Dear Kristi. Just getting around to reading this post. I loved the spiritual paying-it-forward and will practice doing the same. A very emotional but happy story of love, faith, & courage. All the best!


Such a sweet post. Thank you for sharing.

We just lost our beloved 14 1/2 year old Lab, Scout. He taught us unconditional love and loyalty and enriched our lives in so many ways. He is forever in our hearts. Enjoy the special blessing of your sweet Smokey. He's really an angel in disguise.

Debbi Schwarz

Kristi, I've so enjoyed your posts for years and having goldens myself, I get it! So glad that Smokey came through the surgery well. This post really touched me-the fact that you were so nervous about Smokey but you thought to ask the cashier about her lost glasses. You really have a gift and we are all so thankful!

Kristin Espinasse

Rose, I am so sorry to learn of Scout's passing. Sending hugs and love your way.

Jeanine Woods

Je pleure des larmes de joie après que j’ai lu cette histoire de Smokey! Smokey est un très important membre de votre famille et je suis soulagé qu’il aille bien. C’est vrai qu’il est un battant! Votre histoire a touché les cœurs de beaucoup. Merci.

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