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Entries from March 2023

Feu! Fire! Scary mystery solved here at home

Jackie smokey farm table
Jackie, getting ready for work, in a photo from a few years back, with our Angel, Smokey. Notice the old table and the bench. Read today about a mystery surrounding their disappearance. Reading via email? Be sure to click through to the blog for the whole story and photos.

TODAY'S FRENCH WORD: "rester bouche bée"

    : to be speechlesss, stand gaping, stunned

A DAY IN A FRENCH Kristi Espinasse

On Saturday morning I came downstairs eager to check on some homemade bread. Earlier, I'd transferred the dough to the pan and put the sourdough miche in the oven. If I was blissfully unaware of the shocking scene outside, it is because our shutters were still closed.

Our kitchen had a comforting aroma of levain when I took the bread out of le four. Then I went to open our giant shutters to let in the morning light. I slid open the heavy glass door, reached for the latch on the shutters, and pushed open the volets. What I saw next took my breath away. 

Black soot and ashes everywhere. Our wooden table for 10 had disappeared into a pile of ashes. Poof! Clay pots lay broken and scattered. The luscious green plants that had been inside them were nowhere to be seen in the charred mess. Je suis restée bouche bée. I stood speechless.

Fire on front porch

What? When? Who? Why??

My first thought was, Had Jean-Marc left a discarded log near the table? But that idea flew when a more fearful scenario gripped my mind. Did vandals do this? Were they leaving us some sort of message? Would they be back tonight?!! The thought gave me chills, especially as Jean-Marc was away for the weekend. It was just Mom and me at the house. A feeling of vulnerability took over along with the idea to decamp chez Jules...far from this creepy, helter-skelter scene.

Should I call the police? Or maybe the fire department? As I stood trying to figure out what to do next, our collared doves flew in for their usual morning treat. There was nowhere to land (at least not on the table where they took their breakfast), but the sight of these peaceful, innocent birds brought an initial relief. Still, I couldn't shake the fear that something sinister was behind this troubling scene, which made no sense to me: 


Doves and ashes

I got out my phone to record a video for Jean-Marc, and as I recounted the order of events I remembered the strange commotion from last night. Jean-Marc had just come to bed to fall immediately to sleep. I too was falling asleep when some loud noises woke me, around 11:30. Was that Mom? I wondered. (She lives in the room directly below us.) But no, the noise was coming from the other side of the house... 

“Jean-Marc, I hear something!” I whispered. My husband got up, still very groggy, and went downstairs. A minute later he was back. "Ce n'est rien."

"Il n'y avait pas de loup? No big bad wolf," I said, jokingly. I felt bad for waking him as he was leaving for the mountains at 5:30 am. So when I heard the same noise again, a few moments later, I didn't bother him. I now realize that must have been the second part of the table collapsing from the flames! All those heavy clay pots were crashing to the ground.

Jean-Marc woke before sunrise and did not see the rubble on the other end of the front porch as he headed to our car and began his journey north. By the time I discovered the damage and got Jean-Marc on the phone, he was already in the Southern Alps.

"There was a fire on our front porch and our table is completely gone..." I began. I also told him we had lost a work of art, un travail orfèvre! The hand-cut and welded bench made by my belle-soeur, Cécile, had gone up in flames, too.

Jean-Marc was speechless. “What happened?”

”I don't know!" And then, remembering my initial hunch, I said: “Did you put a log there?” for my husband sometimes removes a log (if it is too big, or the fireplace is too full).


Was that a no? Or an "Oh no!"?

Jean-Marc began to realize his mistake. "I had put a wedge of palm tree into the fireplace, but the piece was too big. I swear there wasn't one spark on it when I set it on the table!"

"You set it on the wooden table?" Je suis restée bouche bée...


After a moment of silence what happened next was a small miracle: 18 months of do-it-yourself marriage therapy kicked in, and thank God it did or I might be back in Arizona by now! The two of us managed to remain calm and understanding. Of course I was upset about the removed-from-fireplace log being placed on the wood table. Safety is a touchy subject in our marriage. But I understood Jean-Marc when he said it was an accident. How could I fault him when I once set a tortilla on fire in the oven (after wandering off from my cheese crisp in-the-making?). I was a kid then, but as an adult I have forgotten to turn off our oven more times than I'd like to admit.

Back to the porch fire, a few random factors led up to this accident. My husband was tired and suffering from a bad back. When he pulled the "log" out of the fireplace (checking that the wood had no sparks), he set it in the most convenient place: right outside our door, on the table. When I went to close the shutters I did not see the log (I was busy noticing how my husband had put away all his swim gear--towel, goggles, maillot de bain...) which had been splayed across the table. This clutter-free table made me happy, and I closed the shutters with a smile on my face.

Meantime, a tiny spark was slowly coming to life inside that palm tree wedge. It was a very dry wedge, too, as this piece of potential firewood was retrieved from our felled palmier that died three years ago. That little invisible spark became a flicker that, licked by the night's gentle breeze, became the flame that took down our farm table and prized bench.

We hung up the phone, Jean-Marc and I, after a calm, diplomatic, loving, and forgiving conversation. Five years ago, the conversation might have been different. But with each passing year, and daily marriage work, humility and gentleness grows. 

"Let's turn the page," Jean-Marc suggested.

"Ok," I accepted.

We agreed to get a new or used table and, more importantly, to heed the lesson On the Danger of a Hidden Spark (whether hidden in a log or in a marriage). Be attentive and put it out before it burns down the proverbial front porch. Remember only ever to fan the flames of love. 


P.S. Have you ever had such an accident? Please share your stories in the comments. Merci d'avance!

Wooden table and lunch with Max friends
For 15 years this farm table was the center of get-togethers, projects, and more.


(Click here for the sound file)

rester bouche bée = to be stunned
la miche = round loaf of bread
le levain = yeast, sourdough
le four =
le volet
= shutter
ce n'est rien
= it's nothing
il n'y avait pas de loup? = there wasn't a big bad wolf?
le travail d'orfèvre = work of art
la belle-soeur = Cécile
le maillot de bain = swimsuit
une bisette = a little kiss
tout est bien qui finit bien = all's well that ends well

DoYouHearLa is a high-quality newsletter I subscribe to. Produced here in France, Dave's language learning program is essential for improving your French listening skills. Interested in some French Ear Training? Click here for Dave's video

Kristi and doves
With one of Mom's doves. For the story, see the Instagram post here

Bye for now and remember, Tout est bien qui finit bien. All's well that ends well. Jean-Marc, wearing one of my hats, trying to make me laugh. Can you see Lili the cat in my arms?

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

La Colocation: Jackie's house-share in Lyon is featured in the evening news!

Lyon Leon fish brasserie france
In the video at the end of today's column, see our daughter's cool house-share in Lyon--featured recently on the evening news!

Sincere thanks to Michelle D, Felicia B, and Mary B. who sent in donations via Zelle. I'm sorry I wasn't able to send you a thank-you note as I did not receive your email addresses (or find them on file). To anyone who has ever supported this journal, MILLE MERCIS! If you have not received a personal reply from me, my note may have ended up in a filter or your email was not listed with your gift. Quelle horreur! I would not want my letter of acknowledgment and appreciation to go missing!

TODAY'S WORD: la colocation

    : house-share, apartment-share

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Carapace + pattes = carapater

At the weekend farmers market, I learned the most adorable French word: carapater. To better understand and appreciate this clever portmanteau--this mot-valise--let's conjure up an image of a carapace. Next, in your mind's eye, of some little feet, or pattes. Now imagine a turtle hurrying off.

"Carapter. C'est sympa ce mot!" I said to the woman behind the vegetable stand, who'd just murmured it. "Attention," she'd said, eyeing the orange she'd just set on the table. "Elle est en train de carapater!" It's getting away!

I watched the orange roll a little farther before grabbing it and bagging it with the rest of the newly-purchased fruits and vegetables. "Merci! Au revoir!"

"...Et bonjour à ta maman!

"Ce sera fait! Merci!"

On my way home from the Saturday market, I began to imagine this week's post--excited to have a new and colorful word in which to weld it together with more bits and pieces of family life... which brings us to our first photo:

Souder = to weld. Just look at those golden sparks! On Monday, my sister-in-law came over to repair a few metal meubles chez nous: there was the broken brasero (ours is placed on a wine barrel--perfect height!) and several of our green metal garden chairs had come apart (where the lower back meets the seat). After, we had lunch and enjoyed the cream-filled Tarte Tropézienne Cécile brought over:

Cétait une tuerie = It was to die for! This two-piece brioche cake is filled with a thick layer of lemon and vanilla cream, and topped with pearl sugar.

Tarte tropezienne cream cake france

Une part = a slice. Jean-Marc had two slices and Cécile and I had  1.5 slices... Then we tried to walk them off... all the way to the port....

 Se sauver carapater wooden boat
carapater = to scramble off.  When exiting his little wooden boat, it is vital to hurry off the edge of the bow before it glides away from the dock. Jean-Marc has mastered this technique and, as far as I know, hasn't fallen in the water yet... (Do you think he would tell me if he has?)
 Still life
La pochette surprise = surprise bag.  Cécile returned home to Marseilles with this little surprise bag...later, she texted me this lovely still life, composed of plants in our garden: dried "soucis" petals (calendula), dried bay laurel, aloe vera, kumquat, a calendula flower and a postcard of local doves in flight. The note says "a few little surprises for my favorite belle-soeur (this last part is an inside joke, as we are each other's only sister-in-law :-)

Kristi gravier gravelGravier = gravel Here's a peak at the newly-poured pea gravel. We are thrilled with this new space, which brightens up the front yard. This reconstruction was "a good that came of a bad" un bien issu d'un mal as, sadly, we lost our two magnificent palm trees to a palm moth (the larva feeds in the palm trunks).

Palm tree
Les palmiers = palm trees. Here's a photo of the two palmiers, from the blog archives. That's Max, who was upset with us for losing those trees. The fact is, after losing the first palm tree (it was too late to save it) we looked into anti-moth treatments to the tune of 300 euros per year (!). We opted not to treat the remaining tree as there was no guarantee this would save it and I didn't want the chemicals falling over the rest of our garden.

After Jean-Marc took down the second palm tree (all on his own), he then split a 500-liter wine barrel and made two deep planters, setting one atop the palm tree stump which he had leveled near the ground. Now tomatoes and vegetables will grow in its place.

Doves in a wine barrel
Ouistiti! = Cheese! Meantime the barrel is a fun prop for a couple of photogenic doves, none other than Mama and Papa who are willing models. A few sunflower seeds and they're happy to say "cheese!" 

Tchin-tchin= cheers. Max, came over for dinner before leaving for ProWein in Dusseldorf. He will be at the German Wine Fair through Tuesday. He continues to thrive in the wine business, following in his dad's tracks. Here they are toasting a Gigondas from Jean-Marc's cellar.
La colocation = house-share, apartment-share. I leave you with a news report featuring Jackie's new house-share in Lyon! Our daughter was in school when the episode was filmed, but you will be able to see the inside of the house she shares with 12 other locataires, or renters. Click here to see the report (the house is shown after a brief commercial).



Click here to listen to the following list in French

la colocation = house-share, apartment-share
= to flee, to run off
le mot-valise
= portmanteau
attention = watch out
= thanks
au revoir
= goodbye
c'est sympa ce mot
= that's a nice word
= to weld
le meuble = furniture
le brasero = brazier, barbecue
la tarte tropézienne
= The St. Tropez pie
une part
= a slice
c'est une tuerie
= it's to die for
le soucis = marigold, calendula
la belle-soeur
= sister-in-law
le gravier = gravel
un bien issu d'un mal
= a good that comes of a bad
ouistiti = cheese ("say cheese!")
= cheers
la/le locataire
= renter
une bisette = small kiss
un fauteuil = armchair

Lili cat garden furniture
Jean-Marc, putting together new chairs for the garden, and Lili, trying one out. Jules offered Jean-Marc the fauteuils for his birthday, which is coming up.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

"Bisettes"- a favorite new word + photo essay with family updates

La ciotat winter
End of winter in La Ciotat. By the way, have you ever wondered how to pronounce the name of our town? Listen to the sound file and find out....

I loved the French word bisette the moment I learned it and am using it now in email endings in place of "amicalement" (unless you are the IRS or some such other). See an example at the end of this post. 


    : kisses
synonyms for bisette include bécot (peck) and bise (kiss)

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

My goal is to write one essay per week chronicling our family life in France. But how to pick among the many little happenings both meaningful and dull? It isn't that our life is exciting, it's that when I look back decades from now I hope to have captured the right fragments de vie--enough to ignite more memories.

This may be why I ditched today's essay on sourdough starter . Levain! While the topic has enraptured my mind, I'm betting it isn't something you (or Future Me) are passionate about. So for today, I've decided to do a photo essay instead--and update us all on my family. Let's begin with Chief Grape...

Jean-marc puzzle
Jean-Marc. This his favorite T-shirt and doing a puzzle...Do you remember when we called him "Chief Grape"--after he took on his first vineyard? Two vineyards and one wine shop later, my husband is still pursuing wine, c-à-d, he is doing a little bit of export and offering personalized wine tours (contact him at [email protected] if you are interested in a wine tour). Jean-Marc is also excited to be making more wine in 2023 via two more Ephemera wine projects in France.

Max taking some plant starts
Max. Our 27-year-old swung by this week to dig up some plants from our garden to use chez lui. Jules and I helped Max transfer irises, rosemary, a baby aloe vera, and an avocado plant into these terracotta pots. Next, our aspiring green thumb invited Mom and me back to his condo, which Jules could not stop raving about. She loved the couch. She loved the kitchen. She loved the dining table. And she would love to babysit the place next time Max is out of town. Hint, hint, hint, if you're reading this Max....
Max and kristi march 2023
My firstborn and me.

Neptune plant
Jackie. Our 25-year-old is settled now in Lyon. She's finished the first week of computer school and is finding her way around. Jackie spent the cash Jules gave her on this lively plant which, désormais, will be called "Neptune" (after Jackie's interest in outer space. The unfathomable size of space is comforting as it puts life's stresses into perspective, according to J.).

 Jules a.k.a. Mama Jules or Mom is doing a little better after overdoing it. These flowers are for her. Mom's recent walk turned into a chase when she tried to help an errant photographer capture the right model (a certain exotic pedestrian and her prize dog who slipped the photographer's notice and were now halfway to the Vieux-Port). But by the time Jules caught up to the would-be mannequin it was too late--the spontaneous moment was lost, and the photographer was long gone.). Now Mom is recovering in bed, dreaming of her own camera. I think Jules would be an excellent street photographer. Don't you?

Kristi in garden with lili
Getting some vitamin D with Lili the cat, and enjoying the "tidy" part of our garden after JM and I carried hundreds of buckets of gravel, over the past week, to this area of the jardin. Now to keep the leaves off of it. (The wine barrels will be used to grow tomatoes.)

I hope you enjoyed today's photo update (or maybe an essay on yeast would've been more to your liking?). I leave you with my new favorite French word and hope you'll get a lot of use out of it in your emails or internet correspondence. I'm off now to geek out over some sourdough starter. It's like a whole galaxy in a jar!

Grosses bisettes,


A galaxy in a jar. It is amazing how flour + water = levain, or sourdough starter. I love the idea of "harvesting yeast" from the air, from the flour, from who knows where. In only 4 days the flour/water fermentation was active enough to use in some bread dough and the resulting loaf was delicious. (photo from a previous go at sourdough)

Follow me on Instagram or here on Facebook to ensure you are receiving the weekly posts (which don't always end up in your emails--owing to filters, a full inbox, and other issues beyond our control). Thanks for reading and on with the French word for the day... 

Listen to the following list via this audio recording:

Click here for the audio file

La Ciotat = a town near Cassis, in southern France
bisettes = kisses
amicalement = yours
le bécot = kiss, peck
la bise
= kiss
les fragments de vie
= pieces of life
le levain = starter, sourdough starter
(c'est-à-dire) = that is to say
désormais = from now on
le mannequin = model
grosses bisettes = big kisses


Tourterelles mama papa french dove birds
Jules's wild doves, Mama (left, with the white feather on her left wing...) and Papa. 

Lili napping on chair
Lili the cat having a siesta on the side porch, near the shoe rack beside our front door.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

Guess Who Moved to Lyon? + A useful computer term in French

Brise-bise shutters france
One of the vocabulary words in today's story is brise-bise, for these charming half-curtains seen across France

TODAY'S WORD: un logiciel

    : software

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Good news! Our daughter will be moving to Lyon to begin a 10-month intensive program in Web Design. Since returning from Miami in September of 2021, Jackie's path has been hit and miss and the highs and lows were beginning to take a toll. So after she completed a 4-week computer coding program, a guidance counselor at Pôle Emploi suggested she apply for an intensive study in Lyon, and this is how Jackie found herself, last week, awaiting the second selection. (16 out of 50 applicants made the first cut.)

While waiting, Jackie found a room in Lyon and did as much as she could to prepare for a potentially imminent departure. Then came the call. She didn't make the second cut.... and then, as fate would have it, they called back...and she was in!

This rollercoaster of emotions came to a peaceful pause Tuesday night. After a quiet knock at the bedroom door, Mama Jules appeared waving a 50-euro billet. Jackie and I were curled up on the bed, spending precious time together before her next-day departure. 

"Buy yourself a nice plant! It will make you feel at home in your new place. And you might think of getting some of those little half-curtains..."

A good idea given Jackie's fenêtre overlooks a busy street. "They're called le brise-bise," I added. 

"Thank you, Grandma!" As Jackie hugged her grandmother, I thought about Jules' perfect timing and her abundant generosity (générosité abondante--is that an oxymoron or a pleonasm? Oh, who cares about WORDS at a time like this! Sometimes GESTURES mark the moment, and I really appreciated Jules's thoughtful housewarming gift for her petite-fille.)

This isn't the first time our Jackie has flown the nest. So why does it get harder each time? And yet it was my eyes that were dry when we parted. My 25-year-old's were full of larmes. "I love you so much I don't want to leave you!" cried our 4-time fledgling.

How to say "ditto" in French? The truth is, I love Jackie so much I don't ever want her to leave le nid familial, and surely that is not the best thing for her. For either of us. So I watched, dry-eyed as she flew off Wednesday afternoon (in fact, she took the train. And lucky for us, Lyon is only a 2-hr train ride from nearby Marseilles).

Back in Jules's studio, a two-second walk from our front door, I am comforted by our daily mère-fille moment. The air is scented with Mom's favorite, Shalimar, which brings me back to my childhood in the desert. Our tête-à-tête is presided over by Lili the Cat who arrived on the heels of Smokey's departure last summer.

Jules' hair fell in a silver braid over her left shoulder, and she wore her bonnet for extra warmth. The space heater rumbled in the background and with it came my first pang of sadness. (That rumbling blade reminded me of "brown noise"--something Jackie often talked about. Ever since living in Miami, with a loud ceiling fan in her room, she has grown to appreciate the benefits of le bruit brun and its ability to neutralize a noisy environment. We enjoyed many talks about the subject, and categorizing various sounds became a kind of game.) 

My mind drifted back from the space heater to Jules. As Mom brushed Lili with her own rat-tail comb I rattled on. "Jackie's gone from fashion design to bartending to web design. Is computer programming really for her?"

I don't remember Jules's exact words, only her wisdom: This is not about computers. It's about the people Jackie will come in contact with. It's about the next phase of a young woman's life.... 

L'École de La Vie
As I listened to Jules, a couple of doves alighted on her window sill. The feathered duo is none other than Mama and Papa, her beloved wild birds, les tourtereaux. How serendipitous. Jules was now able to illustrate her point, and she did so while gazing at the love birds: "Don't worry about Jackie or school or what will come of this. This is about continuing the cycle of life."

Jules set down her rat-tail comb and headed to the counter to use the electric mixer I gave her. She poured a half-cup of dry dog food inside (Smokey's croquettes, which are, dorénavant, sustenance for the doves). Oh, the cycle of life with its sadness and joy! Mom and I covered our ears as the machine pulverized the croquettes. I laughed, thinking this is definitely not brown noise (does "red noise" exist?). I hope Jackie will laugh too, when she reads this from her new digs. Bon courage, My Girl! You've got this! 

le logiciel = software
Pôle Emploi = the public employement service in France
le billet = bill, banknote
la petite-fille = granddaughter
la fenêtre = window
le brise-bise
= half curtain, café curtain
la larme
= tear
le nid familial = the family nest
mère-fille = mother-daughter
le tête-à-tête = conversation between two people
le bonnet = knit cap, wooly hat
le bruit brun
= brown noise
l'école de la vie = school of life
les tourtereaux = lovebirds
dorénavant = from now on
Tourterelles doves mama and papa
Mama and Papa, the two doves from today's story, alighting on a pile of pea gravel. We are finally topping up the old gravier in our yard, which may have been poured when this house was built in 1960. Your comments and corrections to this post are much appreciated. Merci d'avance!

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety