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Entries from September 2023

Heartwarming in French: Ana & A Gift for the Birds

Ana and Loca
Today's story is part wedding anniversary, part birthdays, part peanuts, and part people. You have already read a little about Max's girlfriend, and today you'll learn more about Ana (and why we love her).

Are the photos in this newsletter appearing? If not, view all of them here at the blog.

TODAY'S WORD: “Qui réchauffe le cœur”

 : heartwarming, that which warms the heart

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

This week marks 29 years since Jean-Marc and I walked the matrimonial carpet at La Paroisse Saint Antoine de Padoue in Marseilles, inching our way down the cathedral's central passage toward a no-going-back "Oui" or I do!

It is hard to believe almost three decades have passed since tying the knot here in France. I had to laugh, recently, overhearing my husband make a dermatological appointment for each of us, proof we are barreling toward retirement ensemble.
"Chérie," my husband says, putting his hand over the phone. "C'est pour un contrôle, oui?"
"Oui," I nod. Yes, just a checkup.

After making the dreaded yearly appointment, we rejoined our grown kids, including Ana (Max's petite amie whom we've adopted along with her two dogs) on the front porch, for a celebratory lunch. I've got my sunhat on, for prevention and to keep my rosacea at bay, and Jean-Marc has cranked out a fabric awning over our terrasse. These days even he can't tolerate le soleil

As I'm setting the table, Max calls out, "Maman, il y a des vers dans les cacahuètes!"
Worms in the peanuts? Mon Dieu! I beeline over to where the kids were enjoying an apéro, to find the jar of nuts slithering. I'm so embarrassed for Ana to see this! As for my kids, it wouldn't be the first time they've found expired food chez nous. And my son is quick to point it out! Honestly, now that it's just Jean-Marc and me at home, the food doesn't circulate as often. (I can't speak for my own Mom, who lives in a studio around the side of our house, with her own pantry and fridge.)

"Max, please toss those peanuts into the compost!" I urged, before escaping to the kitchen to recompose myself. But it was too late, all my sloppy and negligent parts had spilled out into the light of day. Gone was the cool urban housewife-writer I may have been trying to impersonate; in her place, a negligent nut (that is to say I should've been seated outside with my family, instead the lively nuts took center stage). 

Returning to the front patio, still red in the face (not from rosacea this time...) I found Max, Jackie, and Ana on the ground, beside a few small piles of peanut shells. Nearby, dans les parages, a flock of familiar doves paced back and forth in anticipation.

"What are you guys doing?" 

"We are preparing the peanuts for the birds," Ana explained, heading The Stale Peanut Initiative.

"But you don't have to bother with that..."

"Ce n'est rien," Ana assured me.

"But the worms..."

"The birds love them!" Ana pointed out. Beside her, Max sat on the gravel, using the kitchen scissors to cut up the rubbery cacahuètes--and Ana and Jackie were using their fingers to break up the peanuts. As for the slithering vermin? Même pas peur! The industrious trio was too busy feeding the hungry to worry about a few unsavory visitors.

In the end, the kidults cracked every nut (even this one, who overcame the embarrassment). Those stale legumes became fodder for the doves that have been struggling since the drought. It was heartwarming to see these young people salvaging those peanuts. They could have easily chucked them into the compost, instead, they considered the birds.  

“Look at those beautiful kids. You and Jean-Marc are truly blessed. Happy anniversary!” Jules raised her glass and sipped some champagne from the apéro, as I updated her on all the activity out in the yard. 

After our 29th anniversary lunch, a day after Mom’s 77th birthday, I brought out the chocolate cake Jean-Marc had chosen for Jackie’s birthday and we sang Joyeux Anniversaire to our daughter who recently turned 26. What a week of special days! It was a lot to keep up with. No wonder those worms slinked by unnoticed. This cool urban housewife’s been busy with more important things, like writing about all these blessings.

    COMMENTS: To comment, click here

Les Tourterelles and Izzy the Beagle.


Click here to listen to Jean-Marc and me pronounce these words:

Qui réchauffe le coeur =
= together
Chérie, Cheri = dear
pour un contrôle = for a checkup 
La petite amie = girlfriend 
la terrasse = patio
le soleil = sun
Maman, il y a des vers dans les cacahuètes! = Mom there are worms in the peanuts!
= before dinner drinks and munchies
chez nous = at our place
ce n’est rien = it’s nothing
la cacahuète = peanut 
même pas peur = it doesn’t scare me
la tourterelle = dove, turtledove
Joyeux anniversaire! = happy birthday! 

Mom walking Kristi down the aisle
Mom walked me down the aisle in her black tuxedo. To the right, my French mom, Christine, who hosted me during my 1989 exchange program in Lille, France.

Kristi Ingham Jean-Marc Espinasse
September 24, 1994. At the evening celebration and dinner, after our church wedding

Sincere thanks to readers who recently sent in a blog donation, jumpstarting the fall season of future stories and vocabulary. I appreciate your help in publishing this journal week after week. Ça réchauffe le cœur! --Kristi

Rob B.
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Kathleen B.

"Thanks for the time you take to write your blog and share your stories." Marcy W.

"Thanks Kristi for always making France come alive and transporting me there." Ellen H.

“Bonjour, Kristin. How impressive that you remember my aspirations to learning several languages. I have recently begun an online class (live, with other students!) in Norwegian with hopes of improving my conversational abilities. Maintaining my low level of French is mostly reading your missives, for which I am truly grateful! This year I did get to use my Spanish in Mazatlan, and my Japanese in (you guessed it) Japan, and those fluencies added a great deal to the enjoyment of both trips. Even decades after my formal studies, I have somehow been lucky enough to remember a surprising amount. "Foreign" languages have really added a lot to the quality of my life, and thanks for being part of it.” Ginny B.

Kristi and Jean-Marc Espinasse 2023
Here’s to our anniversary! I loved my Mom’s comment after she realized how long Jean-Marc and I have been married:
“29 years? That’s a record, Honey. Most people have married 3 or 4 times by then!” Sacré Mama Jules. (Jules, you are one of a kind, xoxo)

Click on the book cover, above, to discover a new, French-themed read for the week.

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

Vineyard tour & lunch Châteauneuf-du-Pape with my Little Sister

Kelley Brad and Fraternity brothers  and wives
One of the prestations Jean-Marc offers within his wine business is Provence vineyard tours. Sometimes I get to join him--especially when my sister is the customer! Read on in today’s histoire.

TODAY'S WORD: La Prestation

    : a service, offering, performance

Translation of opening sentence into French:
L'une des prestations que Jean-Marc propose dans le cadre de son entreprise autour du vin est la visite de vignobles.


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

C’est la rentrée and Jean-Marc’s vineyard tours are off to a promising start this fall season thanks to an unexpected client: ma soeurette. (Not to be confused with ma soeur aînée, Heidi in Denver.)

My little sister Kelley, her husband, Brad, his 5 fraternity brothers, and their wives are here visiting from Seattle, renting connected villas in Roussillon. Because the group shares an appreciation of fine wines, mon beau-frère et petite soeur asked Jean-Marc to show them some typical southern French wine estates.

Mais avec plaisir!

Last Friday in Châteauneuf-du-Pape the skies were a rich Provencal blue and the air refreshing after the recent canicule. Fields of leafy green vines flanked the narrow chemin leading up to the partly-standing chateau. Cruising towards this historic landmark, we were suddenly engulfed in a familiar scene: tractors, buckets, secateurs, and vendangeurs…. This visceral environment we were now experiencing was none other than our old stomping grounds—et c’est le cas de le dire.

Excited to be back during harvest time, I lowered my window to inhale the scent of crushed grapes as Jean-Marc sped toward the chateau ruins, where our tour was about to begin. 

Entering the Southern Rhone village from the north side, Uncle Jean-Claude's caveau, came into view and it was like passing through a movie set. This part of town was untouched, as one had left it decades ago…. From the passenger seat I recognized the patina of old stone buildings which filed by in a blur of nostalgie. What a privilege it was to have spent so much time here during harvest--even if, back then, the overriding feeling was when are we going to stop picking grapes for the day? And stop sniffing for "la pourriture" or Noble Rot?

Here we were back, now, as tourists, having swapped our grape-stained t-shirts and caps for linen and straw hats. Pulling into the chateau parking lot I spotted my sister Kelley! A giant hug soon bridged our one-year separation. My brother-in-law, Brad, joined us, followed by his fraternity brothers and their wives. After a warm introduction, Jean-Marc stood in front of the massive ruins of the old castle for a brief history about Châteauneuf-du-Pape terroir and an overview of our imminent excursion…and just like that we were off to the grape fields, in a curious convoy of three rental cars and one all-terrain vehicle

On the way, we passed through Châteauneuf-du-Pape again, via le centre ville. How it had changed! I saw high-tech cellars, modern cafes, and chic boutiques. No time to shop we were headed for Le Bois de Boursin, to see Syrah vines planted among large galets roulés. Carefully stepping out of our vehicles, I noticed all the ladies made it across the large, smooth stones in their sandals, which meant the next two fields would only be easier to navigate (for the girls anyway... as for the rental cars we’d see about that….).

Pulling into the next lieu-dit, "Grand Pierre" (to witness Grenache in sandy soil) wasn’t a problem. But when it came time for all four cars to back out of the narrow path at the top of the field, that took skill (one thing the fraternity brothers were actively demonstrating. But were they ready for the final challenge?).

On our way out of Le Grand Devès (having viewed Mourvèdre planted among limestone) Jean-Marc and I, in our 4x4 Jimny, headed the convoy. Suddenly the dirt path turned into a deeply-creviced, rocky, inhospitable terrain. “Jean-Marc,” I said between clenched teeth, “I don't think this is a road…at least not for rental cars!” Glancing into the rearview mirror, I could see the rest of our group through the dust, bobbing up and down when miraculously those cars morphed into hot rods! I guess they were determined to finally taste the world-renown wines they’d been hearing about for the past hour. 


At the recently-acquired Château Maucoil, owner Bernard DuSeigneur offered our dusty group a warm welcome, followed by a barrel tasting in the cellars. He then escorted us back to the chateau’s terrace, to a long table set with fine linens and adorned with greenery from the gardens—a beautiful backdrop for the 5-course meal to come. We were amazed this vineyard owner, along with three helpers and one lively chef, would be serving us throughout this mouthwatering déjeuner sur la terrace.

I could go into detail about every bite—the soupe au pistou that rivaled my belle-mere’s, the delicate cod on a bed of fennel and seaweed, the roasted guinea hen cooked in the estate's wine, the artful cheese plate and its zucchini-ribbons—but the chef merits the extended commentaire. Animated, flirtatious, and full of saucy anecdotes, Jean-Claude Altmayer was what my belle-mère would call sacré—as in sacré Jean-Claude. I’ve never entirely understood the meaning of that word, but never mind. Here we were immersed in one sacré experience, among family and new friends including the vineyard owner himself.

We raised our glasses, toasting to a return to this magnificent table in three years' time….I hope everyone will rent four-wheel drives then. Who knows where Jean-Marc will take us next?

*       *       *

Table at Chateau Maucoil

Bernard DuSeigneur Kelley  Kristi vineyard lunch
Bernard DuSeigneur serving his wine from Chateau Maucoil on this lovely terrace with a view.

Kristi and Kelley
A smiley ouistiti for our father, Kip from Kristi and Kelley.

To comment on today's story, click here. Would love to know the town you are writing in from!

The definitions, below, are in context, and the words may have multiple meanings.

Language pronunciation: Click here to listen to the French and English terms

la prestation = service
l’histoire = story
c’est la rentrée = it’s back to work
la soeurette = younger sister
la soeur aînée = older sister
le beau-frère
= brother-in-law
la canicule = heatwave
le chemin = road
le vendangeur
= harvester
c'est le cas de le dire = you can say that again
le caveau = cellar
le terroir = soil, land
le centre ville =
town center
le galet roulé =
le lieu-dit
= location, site, locale
sacré = 1. quite the character (person)
sacré (repas)= 2. On hell of a (meal)
Ouistiti! = Cheese! ("smile for the photo")

Jean-Marc Espinasse barrel tasting chateau maucoil
Would you like to join Jean-Marc on a Provence Wine Tour? Click here or simply hit return and send a note if reading this via email.


Wholehearted thanks to readers who sent in a blog donation following last week's post. Your support means a lot, and I am truly grateful! Amicalement, Kristi

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Natalia & Rod & Les Mignons

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"To thank you for sharing your life, your courage, and because I can pretend I'm in France every time your blog comes out. Amicalment." Carol T.

Harvesting grapes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape when the kids were little.

Jackie in chateauneuf-du-pape
Happy birthday to Jackie who turned 26 on Monday! Here she is some 20 years earlier in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. To comment on this post, click here if reading via email.

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

Trépidant: French for hectic + Things we can't control....

Calananque in La Ciotat
The sea and coastline, or littoral, in La Ciotat, France


    : frantic, hectic, chaotic, turbulent
    : exciting, thrilling, exhilarating

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Out on a morning walk with Izzy The Pocket Beagle, my mind jumps from thought to unrelated thought: Does organic milk have growth hormones? Do readers unsubscribe when I write about non-French-related topics? Is it time to rename my blog to better reflect the theme of my writing? What about an anti-depressant? Should I wash that gray right out of my hair?

So much mind talk! As I walk, I am aware of a high-level anxiety that has moved in lately. Is it that second cup of coffee? Or could it be hormonale? Though September is a little trépidant, what with la rentrée, there is nothing particularly stressful going on in my life. I'm just frustrated about goals that are not being reached on time (everything from home improvement to health). Struggling to get in my morning steps, tugging at Must Sniff Everything Izzy, yet another idea materializes, pushing aside all the other flotsam in my mind: Même effort. Même resultat.

Same effort. Same result.

Could it be that I am not really making enough of an effort when it comes right down to it? Argh! With that thought, my anxiety ramps up a notch...and I walk, and I walk! Rounding a corner we come to an abrupt halt when Izzy decides to pee in front of la boulangerie. I watch the deep golden puddle begin to trickle down the sidewalk, aware that no amount of effort could pick that up. This liquid mess is suddenly symbolic of Things Impossible to Handle. Things out of our control. Perhaps même effort = même résultat isn’t the only equation.

"Lord, I turn this ALL over to you. All of it. Everything from le pipi to the need to achieve. It is in your mighty hands. Amen." 

Looking out over the golden-trickled boardwalk, I notice a woman d'un certain âge in the glittering turquoise bay. Wading waist-deep in the sea, she's wearing a large floppy hat and pushing a purple donut-shaped raft. Inside there's a scrawny Chihuahua. I am not sure what the lord has in mind with this lively image that followed my prayer, but now that I've settled down to describe it I think I might be that Chihuahua. And Lord, you know who you are. You are the one pushing this little purple boat, la paix qui dépasse toute compréhension.

    *    *    * 

Izzy on blue arm chair
Izzy in the blue fauteuil.

To comment on today's post click here. Your edits are much appreciated too. Thank you!


Thanks in advance to readers considering sending in a blog donation for the first time. Your contribution will go a long way not only in backing this journal but also in encouraging me to keep this publication going. Your support means a lot, and I'm truly grateful. Amicalement, Kristi


Click here to listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French 

le littoral = coastline
trépidant = hectic
hormonale = hormonal
la rentrée = back to school, back to work
même effort. même resultat = same effort. same result
la boulangerie = bakery
le pipi = pee
d'un certain âge = of a certain age
la paix qui dépasse toute compréhension = the peace that passes all understanding  

Morocco seaside boat
From our coastline to yours, Morocco you are in our hearts. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the citizens of Morocco following the devastating earthquake last Friday, near Marrakech. We are saddened and sorry for the anguish and loss Moroccans are experiencing.  

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

Bonne rentrée: Happy return to work or school (or a new fall season)

Dog on the beach in Cannes France Le Goeland plage
Returning to work or to school or real life demands after summer break? France wishes you Bonne rentrée. Some lucky dogs are still in vacation mode, though.  Photo taken in Cannes, where Jackie and I stopped after Villefranche. In the following story from the archives, Jackie is 16 and on her way back to school.... Le temps vole! Be sure to read to the end for a personal update and photo.

TODAY'S PHRASE: "bonne rentrée"

    : Happy back-to-school! Enjoy the new school year!

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

The following entry is from the 2014 archives. I took a trip down memory lane reading it, recently, and hope you'll enjoy the uplifting message and some more of Mom's wisdom.... 

This morning, and for the first time since summer began, I woke up in a pitch-dark room. Gone was the comforting view of the forest and with it the daily wake-up ritual of searching for my favorite tree (the old umbrella pine at the top of the hill. When I focus on the curve of that arbre I see the outline of a giant heart. Any anxieties that woke up with me disappear beneath the promise of that tree).

This morning no light, no forest, no heart. The buzz of Jean-Marc's réveil jolted our family into a new reality: la rentrée! Back-to-school for our daughter (the remaining fledgling in our nest) means a new schedule for everyone. No more sleeping in 'till seven. No more pep talks with Mr. Pin Parasol. Funny how...with the pursuit of a dream, whether writing or winemaking...each day feels like the first day of class, and, waking to the uncertainty of the next 24 hours, we are like small children approaching the giant gates of the schoolyard. Shaking in our boots as we stumble forth, into the unknown. A new day.

Recently even a big-hearted pine tree could not coax me out of bed. You know the old ditty: Mama said there'd be days like this, there'd be days like this my mama said....

Yes, but just what did Mama say to do on days like this? To find out the answer I called my Mama and here is what she said: "Focus on others, not yourself!" The message was delivered firmly but with love.

Facing a new work day, I sucked up and wrote about another's pain, sharing my mother-in-law's situation instead of my own. Next, my thoughts traveled over to you, dear reader, and how you are surely experiencing "days like this." I wondered, Did you, too, dial up my Mom, who gave you the same answer: "Focus on another!" Because that would explain the outpouring of support following the previous post. I did not expect so much sympathy over a seemingly unsentimental subject: email. You must have read between the lines of the story -- when suddenly a heart came into focus

I'm looking out my bedroom window now and the big-hearted tree is finally coming into view. Ouf! It's back! And with it a new day. But I didn't want this day to end before sending you a sincere remerciement. Thank you so much for looking past your own pain and focusing on another's. Your empathy is deeply touching!

This post was supposed to be about back-to-school and the French penchant for wishing everyone bonne rentrée, or happy first day of classes. But we haven't gone too far off theme: "Happy return," after all, is the universal topic, the bonne rentrée everyone's talking about. Yes, many happy returns! May each day be a new day--with new hope and new courage for all. Whatever is hurting you, let it gently blend into this friendly forest and reappear as the giant heart of compassion: the balm to heal all wounds. Bon courage.



Post Note: The entry, above, was written during our first years at Mas de Brun, our second vineyard and the subject of our memoir The Lost Gardens.

To read the comments or to leave one, click here. I enjoy reading your updates and appreciate your corrections to my text.


Click here to listen to us read the French & English vocabulary

Bonne rentrée = Welcome back to school!
le temps vole
= time flies
un arbre
 = tree
le réveil = alarm clock
la rentrée = when the summer is over, return to school
le pin parasol = umbrella pine
ouf! = phew!
un remerciement = thanks
bon courage! = good luck!
amicalement = yours, best wishes 


image from
An old class photo with students from La Ciotat, France

Mille mercis to the following readers who sent in a donation following last week's entry. This truly is a reader-supported journal and I appreciate your help in keeping it going!

Cate S.
Lori R.
Lynn K.
Betsy F.
Diane C.-C.

Mazzie W.

“You bring me joy reading about all your encounters, for all these years.” Betsy 

“Hello Kristi. Look forward every week to reading your journal Keep safe.” Mazzie

"I'm enjoying rereading Words in a French Life and tales of your early days in France when the children were young!" Lynn 

by Chatgpt

"Bonne rentrée" is a commonly used French expression that translates to "good back-to-school" or "happy return." It is typically used in France and other French-speaking countries to wish someone well as they return to school or work after a break, such as summer vacation or a holiday.

This phrase is often heard in the weeks leading up to the start of the school year in September, and it reflects the sentiment of encouragement and positivity for the upcoming academic or work-related challenges. It's a way for people to express their hope that the return to daily routines and responsibilities will be successful and enjoyable.

"Bonne rentrée" can be used in various contexts:

1. **Informal Conversations**: Parents may use it to wish their children a good start to the school year. Friends and colleagues may also exchange this expression to offer encouragement and support as they resume their regular activities after a break.

2. **In the Workplace**: Colleagues might use it to greet each other as they return to work after a holiday or vacation. It helps create a positive and welcoming atmosphere.

3. **School Environment**: Teachers may use it to welcome students on the first day of school, and students might say it to each other to express good wishes for the academic year ahead.

4. **In Social Media**: It's not uncommon to see "Bonne rentrée" posted on social media platforms by individuals, schools, or organizations as a way of marking the return to regular schedules.

Overall, "Bonne rentrée" is a simple yet meaningful expression in French culture that reflects the emphasis on education and work-life balance. It's a way to encourage and motivate individuals as they transition back into their daily routines, and it serves as a reminder that new beginnings can be filled with opportunities and positivity.

Izzy the pocket beagle and Kristi under some palm trees in la Ciotat
Izzy and Me under some local palm trees. I am still dog-sitting and enjoying the company of this pocket-size beagle. Also, this week I fudged a little (Cette semaine, j'ai un peu esquivé) by posting a story from the archives and breaking a months-long streak of “one new story per week.” You would think the break would be refreshing, but, like a kid who ditches class (or an employee who takes a sick day from work) I spent my time ruminating about the consequences. Can you relate? And what are those real or imagined consequences? I'm going to title the above photo "Focus on the Horizon"--another of Mom's wonderful bits of wisdom. Just keep your eyes on the prize and whatever is below that skyline--don't give it too much time!

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