Pictures from Grignan + an emergency visit to the vet--and the French word "epillet"

Jackie (c) Kristin Espinasse

 Sweet 16! Today, September 18th, is Jackie's birthday and we've had chocolate cake for breakfast and look forward to Chinese food for dinner. (Meantime she's begun another day at fashion school. But after our dog's recent drama, and Jackie's hands-on response, I think she'd make a great veterinarian! Read on, in today's French infused story column....

un épillet (ay-pee-leh)

    : foxtail or grass seed

Ever found an épillet on your dog? Comment here

 Bescherelle conjugation guide.   Capture plein écran 16052011 092531"This is without a doubt the definitive guide to conjugation of French verbs... an indispensible reference and not overwhelming for beginning students." Order it here.--M. Savoir (Amazon reviewer)


Foxtail (c) Curtis Clark
Audio File and Example Sentence: Listen to Jean-Marc Download MP3 or wav file

Lorsqu'un chien se met brusquement à se secouer les oreilles au printemps ou en été, penche la tête, refuse qu'on le touche… il y a probablement un épillet là-dessous !

In spring or summer, when a dogs begins abruptly to shake its ears, lower its head, and refuse to be touched... there is probably a foxtail there beneath!

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

On Monday I picked up Jackie from the bus stop and enjoyed a lively conversation with our soon-to-be 16-year-old. Driving home, we talked about motivation, about keeping on top of things, and how all this helps in pursuing one's dreams. It was refreshing to see how receptive Jackie was, vs. our sometimes draining dialogues which make me feel like such a nag, and leave my testy daughter feeling guilty, too.

Despite the renewed mother-daughter complicity, our life is good outlook was challenged sooner than expected. Arriving home, Jackie agreed to feed the dogs and help bring in the laundry on the line and fold it. Instead of grumbling, she approached her daily 15 minute chore (part of a new routine this school year!) willingly. 

"That's my girl!" I cheered, "and thanks--I really appreciate it!" Even Braise, our golder retriever, was in a good mood, and we laughed as she jumped and danced while waiting for her croquette dinner to be served.

Then suddenly Braise fell to the ground and began yelping in pain. We watched as she mowed her head across the gravel, her cries growing more insistent. When we got her to stand up, she couldn't walk a straight line, but advanced crookedly across the yard--all the while lowering her left ear. And when she suddenly began shaking her head, as dogs do their bodies, after a bath--we realized something was amiss.  

Hordeum murinum, or foxtail (c) Curtis Clark
My heart sank with the realization that this could be it--the dreaded "death torpedo" pet owners fear: those nasty grass seeds, or foxtails, that catch in a dog's coat and travel up and into the ear or eye or nose. I heard all kinds of horror stories--that once inside, they travel to the brain or the lungs, killing the animal! 

Jackie was posed and calm as she held Braise close and instructed me to have a look inside our dog's ear.

"OK, OK! Here we go....." the least I could do was to mirror my daughter's composure; just as important, we didn't want to be a ball of nerves in front of our suffering dog.

Indeed, animals are so sensitive--and intelligent. In contrast to the wild cries and head shaking pain, Braise remained as still as a monument, modeling a quiet bravery that hinted at the delicateness of the situation.

"It must be excruciating, the pain!" Jackie remarked, as I peered into Braise's ear, pulling and prodding to get a closer look. But all I saw was dirt--the kind I should have been regularly cleaning out. Now guilty feelings intermingled with all the worry.

As the moments passed, without another complaint from our dog, we nurtured a growing hope that maybe whatever had "gotten" her had somehow disappeared.

"Maybe it was only the beginning of an ear infection?" I said to Jackie.

"Peut-être," Jackie hoped, and we held our breaths as we slowly released Braise from our grip.

Our brave patient took a few uncertain steps, as though she herself were nursing the same espoir. Only she didn't make it far before she fell over, beside the withering lavender bush.

Seeing Braise disoriented like that, we were sick to our stomachs with worry. We watched helplessly as Braise plowed her head across the gravel, her muffled cries rising in her dusty wake.

Something was horribly wrong.

"Jean-Marc!" I shouted up to the second floor, where Jean-Marc was working in his office. A moment later four of us were careening down the road, to the veterinarians. Jean-Marc had asked Jackie to stay behind, but our daughter insisted Braise needed her comfort and assurance.

Quelle chance! The vet was still working at 7pm, and she welcomed us into her office.

Jackie and I tried to heave Braise onto the steel examination table, when Jean-Marc waved us aside and picked up our clinic-phobic dog. "Allez, hop, up you go!" I could see Braise's hair falling in a sheer layer across the steel surface beneath her--so terrified is she of doctor's offices.

When the vet warned that our dog must remain completely still, Jean-Marc steadied her in a head lock and I hugged her body tight. Jackie murmured assurances: Bravo! C'est bien, Braise! T'inquiète pas, mon chien! C'est bientôt fini! 

We all watched as the vet directed the special tweezers into Braise's oreille. She too was impressed by Braise's bravery. "Most dogs would go crazy about now." 

"She wants us to help her," I said, remembering back to the scene at home. Braise would have let me stick forceps in her ears, so desperate was she; her quiet obedience was such a contrast to her throbbing pain, making her message loud and clear: do what you need to do to fix this! Her composure was remarkable. It was as though she had gone to another place in her brain--doggy nirvana--where she was waiting out the traumatic moment. 

"Voilà!" The vet pulled out the so-called torpedo of death, and cleared up one or two idées fausses, or rumorsin the process. "It is rare that this would kill a dog, she said, offering the bit of broken foxtail for our viewing. "But they can be dangerous. It's not just the ears they menace, they are often found in between the fingers and toes... " (This helpful tip was followed by a demonstration, in which the vet collected a dozen more broken foxtails from between Braise's paws!)

"The danger here," she said, is when they pierce the skin and travel through the body... sometimes puncturing the lungs!"

The vet encouraged us to cut back the grasses on our property and to check our dogs every day. It would be extra work, given we have two large and furry golden retrievers, but I could just add that to the kids chore list. And of course, I would do my part, too. Living here in the countryside, it would take a family effort to keep back those lurking torpedos... but the good news was, we now had a wonderful new veterinarian, just around the corner.

To comment on today's post, and share your own experiences and insights into today's word or story, click here. Thanks for sharing today's post with an animal lover.

 "Torpedoes of death" -- it's a chilling term, but I learned so much from Carla Jackson's article on Hordeum murinum or "Hare Barley" and how it menaces man's best friend. 


Rollerskating in Fréjus (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Rollerskating with Braise in Fréjus, in 2007. (Jackie was 10-years-old)


   French shopping bagI Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material. 1-Percent of the sale of this bag will support the conservation work of the nature conservancy. Order the I Heart Paris bag here.

More Photos from France

If you can't make it to France just now... we've got you covered: enjoy these virtual tours of some of my favorite villages in Provence and beyond. 

Grignan, France (Drome) (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Matchy matchy. A blue door coordinates with a whimsical bag...

Grignan, France (Drome) (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Roses and "grignandises" -- or sweets and temptations from Grignan.

Grignan, France (Drome) (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Always room for another pot of flowers...

Grignan, France (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Time to put Grignan on your bucket list.

Grignan, France (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Roof tops, or toits, and a blue horizon.

Grignan, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, visit
Don't steal the café sugar. You never know who's a tattletale. Story here.

Grignan, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, visit
The village of Grignan is known for its famous resident (Madame de Sevigny) and for its roses--but don't tell that to the valerian flowers, which shout their presence from the very rooftops.
Window and stork in Grignan, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, visit
 Another Grignan resident.

Grignan, France (Drome) (c) Kristin Espinasse,
I will add more photos to this collection. Please click here and see when the next postcards from Grignan are posted. 

To comment on this edition, click here.

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Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

une morsure

Antique shop front in Salernes (c) Kristin Espinasse

A butter and cheese shop in the village of Salernes. Would this be a good photo for a book cover? If so, what might the book title be? Leave your answer here, in the comments box.

Chief Grape's USA wine tour will have him in the Washington DC area on 03/10, 03/11 and 03/12 and in Madison WI on 03/14. Click here to see all the cities Chief Grape will be visiting


une morsure (mor-sewr)

    : bite

une morsure d'araignée, de serpent  = spider bite,  snake bite
une morsure de chien = dog bite 
morsure du vent, du froid = biting wind, frost

Audio File: (Oh, man, here we go again. Not a Francophone in the house to record today's example sentence. I'll give it my best... but listen at your own péril! Update: I tried, but could not do it! My American accent drowned out the French words! Waiting for Max to return from driver's school. He have to do the recording this time!)

Example Sentence:
Une morsure est une blessure faite par la bouche d'un animal, incluant les humains.
A bite is a wound made by the mouth of an animal, including humans. --Wikipedia

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Un Mystère

Smokey made it  home first. Shivering and wet, he hopped from paw to paw until I took the hint and brought him a big bowl of croquettes.  After the two day escapade, he was affamé!

Braise arrived next. Only, as she bounded up to the back porch I noticed her head was covered in blood. Given her energetic arrival, I did not panic, but carefully parted her fur, looking for the wound.  

In addition to the tear along her ear (which must have flopped over onto her head, soaking it in sang), there were four gaping holes in her side! 

"C'est curieux," the vet commented, after we arrived at the clinic. "Normally, if this were une morsure the wound would not be so clear cut...."

I studied at the punctures in Braise's side, and wondered what--or who--could have gotten to her? My stomach weakened at the thought: Could a human have done this?

Impossible! No, she must have run into something sharp. A set of fire-stokers, par hasard? A barbed-wire fence? No, the hooked metal would have pulled at the skin. These wounds were too neat, like holes made by a tiny cookie cutter. 

The mystery was troubling, and I watched, in a state of half-attention, as the vet took care of Braise.

When the vet pushed an aiguille into Braise's front leg, I saw the patient's furry jambes slide out from beneath her until she was lying like a mop, completely anesthetized.

The petit doctor picked up our 30 kilo dog who, when lifted, all but eclipsed the vet in size. "Puis-je vous aider?" I reached for Braise's legs, but it was too late, the vet heaved her up onto the operating table. "J'ai l'habitude," she explained.
Standing beside the table, I caressed our dog. Reaching over to lift her paupières, I saw only the whites of Braise's eyes, which had rolled back. I wondered if she could sense my presence and if it comforted her?

"Vous n'êtes pas obligée de rester," the vet said. I looked over at her hands which were wet with blood. My eyes blurred at the sight of needle, thread, and dog ear.

"Oh... ça va. Je reste." It occurred to me that my presence might be a distraction, but it seemed too late to back out now. Braise had just heaved a gentle sigh. Maybe she wasn't so far away after all... perhaps close enough to be comforted?

With one hand on our dog, I gripped the table with the other. It was only a precaution... in case this new-found nonchalance dissolved into waves of queasiness... and landed me on the floor, supine as our canine! 

When the 45-minute operation was over (I lasted 10 minutes, only to end up chatting with a testy boxer dog in the waiting room), the doctor wrapped Braise's fury torso in one great bandage. 

I couldn't help wondering about those wounds, but the vet put my thoughts to rest by concentrating on the positive: "Braise was lucky. The attack could have been at a more critical place--like the throat."

(Oh, the thought of it!) 

"By the way, what about the other dog?" The vet inquired.

"Oh... Smokey... he is fine. I just hope he tried to help his mother during the attack!"

The vet studied Braise, thoughtfully. "Or maybe it was the mother who was defending the son?"

Of course! Chances are it was Braise who was looking out for Smokey. It wouldn't be the first time she saved his life.


French Vocabulary

une croquette = kibble (dry dog or cat food)

affamé = starving

le sang = blood (learn the expression "bon sang" + a dashing photo of Jean-Marc)

c'est curieux = that's strange

une morsure = bite

 par hasard = by coincidence

une aiguille = needle (learn a ton of "needle" or "aiguille" expressions, here!)

une jambe = leg

puis-je vous aider? = can I help you?

j'ai l'habitude = I'm used to it

une paupière = eyelid

vous n'êtes pas obligée de rester = you aren't expected to stay 

ça va. Je reste = it's okay. I'll stay



           "Mother Love". Photo of Braise and Smokey, taken two years ago. 

Le Coin Commentaires

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 golden retriever and French antiques keys

The next day I took Braise's son Smokey to the vet's... 

For the record, trying to keep a dog occupied in the doctor's (vet's) waiting room, is just as challenging as trying to keep a couple of toddlers occupied in the doctor's waiting room. The kids are grown up now, but I have a feeling that Smokey will never lose his need for one's full attention. And seriously, Smokey, how many times can one play Pat-a-cake? (Pardon me, I meant Paw-a-cake.)

Here's a French version of the game, one that Smokey particularly likes to play (keeps him busy during entire waiting room visits).


(sorry, the video is a bit dark. I found it on YouTube.)

Lyrics in French/English: Tape Tape, Petites Mains

Tape tape petites mains
Clap, clap little hands

tourne tourne joli moulin
turn, turn, pretty mill

nage nage gentil poisson
swim, swim, nice fish
vole vole papillon
fly, fly butterfly

Youpi! (Oui!)


Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!