Recipe + "willing to help" in French


Galette des rois (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Smokey's Temptation"

La galette des rois was not planned. I'd gone to the supermarché for eggs--to mix in with three overripe bananas (for sweet bread). Only, when I pushed my cart into Carrefour I saw the traditional stuffed cakes. "When is the actual date for eating these?" I asked the pretty check-out lady. "Epiphany," she said. " "When's Epiphany?" I wondered. "Today," she said. "...I think..." I love it when the French second-guess themselves. The world grows suddenly cozier.

serviable (sair-vee-yable)

    : willing to help, helpful

Example Sentence
I wish I could tell you more about the galette des rois, but I had another story planned for today. For those willing to help with information or an explanation about the galette des rois tradition--simply leave a comment here. Thanks, you're so helpful! Merci, vous êtes bien serviable!

You can even order a galette des rois on Amazon and try it for yourself. Click here and learn a few quick facts about the French King Cake for Epiphany.

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

On Becoming Serviable & Noël near Aix-en-Provence...

Jean-Marc's cousin, Sabine, invited the whole family over on Christmas Day. Because our clan is growing, it's a little more complicated each year to fit into the cozy reception room. I smiled noticing the clever diagonal position of the dinner table, allowing for 3 or 4 more seats to be squeezed in. As we admired the table's decor (set by 15-year-old Mahé), Sabine admitted that now that we're grown with kids of our own these winter indoor gatherings may no longer be possible. 

I had a good nostalgic look around the room as I prepared the tray of apéritifs. Each and every French face--how familiar they all were to me now. What a privilege it has been to be part of this family history in which year after year we stand here, a little taller or wider or wrinklier than the last time we gathered. And yet it is tricky seeing the physical changes, when the soul takes precedence, shining out from behind a loved one's eyes:

"And what have you made us?" my brother-in-law, Jacques, smiled, his eyes sparkling as he reached for a mini pancake.

"Oh. Blinis et tarama," I said, of the pancakes with their puréed fish-egg spread. The blinis seemed like a good idea at the time--back when I offered to bring a few dishes to the Christmas potluck. They are my husband's favorite and you could buy them by the dozen. All that was needed were a few small tubs of tarama, which could quickly be added once we got to Sabine's....

I studied my brother-in-law's face as he bit into the cold pancakes. "I should have toasted them," I said to Jacques, knowing full well I didn't mean it. (There was no way I was going to toaster four dozen mini-pancakes!) 

"You could use the oven upstairs," my mother-in-law whispered, as she found her way past me to the chair in front of the fireplace.

I was really hoping somebody wouldn't point that out. But there was no reason to feel guilty--after all, there was no time for dashing back-n-forth to the oven, now was there, when one had three more apéro trays to prepare! But I knew the truth: a good hostess would find a way to heat things!

Oh well. I wasn't a hostess! Just a lazy in-law. I quickly dumped a bag of bacon-wrapped prunes onto another platter. At least I'd thought to bring my mother-in-law's pruneaux au lard--leftovers from the previous night, when we'd gotten together at Jacques'. I figured she would be happy I'd thought to bring them.

Instead my mother-in-law said, "They taste better heated."

Standing there with the tray of stiff prunes, I looked down at my belle-mère. She was the only one in the room seated. I knew she was tired, but apparently not so pooped that she couldn't hand out a suggestion!

"They're good room-temperature, too!" I pointed out, as hot headed as a little chili pepper. Gosh, where had that feistiness come from? No time to wonder. Turning away I ran smack into Sabine, who smiled as she selected one of the little apéritifs on my tray.

"Looks delicious!" she said.

"Michèle-France would have liked them heated," I coughed. "They're better that way..."

"That's not a problem," Sabine said, taking the tray from me. I'll just pop them in the oven upstairs!"

Only, as she took the tray, a gaggle of teenagers ran up. Next an engine of grabbing hands worked itself across the platter as the kids went for their favorite: those pastry-wrapped mini hotdogs that my mother-in-law had also made.

"It's no use," I said to Sabine, as the mountain of hors d'oeuvres diminished right before our eyes. But Sabine only smiled, allowing the kids to continue picking from the tray.

"Stop it!" I shouted, slapping my son's hand as he grabbed for more. "Those are on the way to the oven. They'll all be gone before they've been heated! And God knows they are better heated!

While one of us grew even testier, the other was the picture of grace. "I'll be right back," Sabine said, disappearing to her kitchen.

"But there are hardly a dozen left! It's not even worth the time to heat them..." As I watched Sabine run up the stairs, I knew that there was a woman to idolize. But I needed more than an angel-faced mentor. Once and for all I needed to put my pleasure-seeking self behind me and learn how to serve others.


Ten minutes later, my mother-in-law lit up as she reached for a crispy bacon-wrapped prune. "Ahhh... nice and hot. They're so good this way!"

As I passed around the warm tray of appetizers, I wished Sabine were here to see the joy that came of her effort. Indeed, I wished I had made the effort. But it wasn't too late to do something thoughtful, after all--something that would further touch my mother-in-law.

"Sabine insisted on heating them for you..." I blurted out, before pausing to witness the effect. The news of this caring gesture caused my mother-in-law to melt from the warmth of so much tenderness. 

It was enough to make this little chili pepper mellow out, too ...and even remain calm when one of the aunts passed by with a surprise:

"Oh, I see someone made these too!" She said, dumping a plate of stiff bacon-wrapped prunes onto my steaming tray, adding "we can combine them!"

I cringed as I watched the cold prunes tumble onto the steaming mound, neutralizing the temperature of those that had just been warmed.

Where was the lesson in it all? Did good deeds, in the end, go unrewarded? Wise men ask such questions. This is one time I'm glad I'm not one of them. And thank goodness! Rather than rack my brain I realize I'm happier circling around the room with a tray of goodies.

Philosophy couldn't garner smiles like food could!

*    *    *

To comment on this post, click here. Thanks in advance! 

As well as the French King's cake, you can even buy blinis and tarama on Amazon. Click here to order and thanks for shopping. Your Amazon purchases help to support this journal.

Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone. Click here for photos

Recipe: Pruneaux au lard fumé

Are these as popular in your area as they are at a French Christmas table? I see they're also known as "Devils on Horseback."

=> Simply take dried prunes and wrap them in bacon. Fasten them with a toothpick before putting them in the oven for 8-12 minutes (350F?) Delicious tip: my mother-in-law stuffed each prune with a pistachio nut before wrapping them with bacon. These were the best!  

1-smokey sheep
Mobile sheepherding with Smokey

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Iris unguicularis and stone cabanon (c) Kristin Espinasse
This chair was left out sometime last year. It looks onto the boules or pétanque court. All "tied up" now, it may forever look on to the boules or pétanque court.... (flower note: the purple beauties are "iris unguicularis". Thank you, Margaret Brown, for identifying them in the comments box!

 For more stories of French life, thanks for buying the book Blossoming in Provence. Click here to order a copy.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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A Christmas story filled with French words

Pointu boats in Bandol, decorated in Christmas lights (c) Kristin Espinasse at

I have a little gift for you today. The gift of language. Today's word of the day--make that "words" of the day, for there are many here--is in the story below. You'll also learn about this photo--snapped December 19th in the town of Bandol.


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

Driving round and round the seaside town of Bandol, I heard a faint mumbling beneath my breath: 

"But of course there's no parking--everyone's set out to do their gift shopping just like you!"

Stalled at yet another crosswalk, herds of shoppers passing by my car, coats and purses scraping against my headlights, I looked up at the giant Santa. He seemed as troubled as I (just look at those eyes!).

Claras war

Troubled and nervous! With the rain pouring down on my windshield, I proceeded to the next stop--and yet another crosswalk. It was tricky to see the pedestrians--given their knack for appearing from behind dark corners and landing in the middle of the street! 

With stress and frustration mounting, I had an urge to peel out of traffic and head for a quiet place to wait things out. I had one hour until my daughter's school bus arrived. Instead of using it wisely (to hunt for presents), I could use it indulgently (to pout!).

Now was a good time for a pep talk!

Look, there's a fishing and tackle store! You'd never have seen it if it weren't for this parking dilemma! You're sure to find something for Jean-Marc in there... One less thing to worry about! See what happens when you consider the bright side of things? GOOD happens!

My emotions jumped from despair to the very heady feeling I had now--that of espoir! Hope born of humility--for isn't that how it works? Put aside doubt (Will I ever find a gift?) and pride (And not just any gift--the perfect gift!) and intolerance (why am I not finding parking NOW)--and experience grace!

Grace indeed! Not only did a parking spot appear, but so did a peaceful and inspiring scene! I locked my car door and hurried over to the dock, just a few feet away, to snap a photo of some old fishing boats. Pointus! Their little masts were lined with Christmas lights.

The scene! And the colors! That blue, that gold. It was right out of a Van Gogh Starry Night painting.

I pulled my new Smartphone out of my coat pocket and approached the line of boats. Clicking on the camera app I knew chances were slim, this time, that a grumpy homeowner would pop out of one of those port windows and scold me for filming

With my umbrella teetering on my shoulder, my hands were free to take several pictures before turning toward the boutique-lined streets, opposite the port.

My former cares had completely fallen away as I marched down the street to collect Jean-Marc's gift. I still had no idea what the gift was, but felt confident of finding it in the tackle shop I'd spotted while stuck in traffic. And to think what a pathetic doubter I'd been! All it had taken was a slight tweak to my attitude. How well I'd handled that! How wise I had become! 

Rounding the corner I stopped dead in my hi-falutin' tracks. Oh no! The tackle store was closed!

C'est pas vrai! Now what to do? That old familiar grumbling returned, a little more colorful than before--as echoed in the words of the grumpy shoppers who passed me by: "@$#! Why are shops closing at 5pm, days before Christmas?!"

 Yes! Dagnabbit! Why indeed? Now what was *I* to do?

As I stared at the cobblestone pavement, watching puddles form where pavers were missing, a little inkling came along--hoppity hop hop--like a one-legged bird.

The little inkling said: "Excuse me, Mam, but maybe you need to retake The Test?"

"The Test?"

"Yes, Mam," Little Inkling said, reaching for the toe of my boot to balance his one-legged self. "See, so far it's been easy. You remembered to slow down, to breathe. You readjusted your attitude. You gleefully snapped up that parking spot and enjoyed the impressionistic scene just beyond it... but somewhere between there and here you--if you don't mind my saying--somewhere along the line you got a little sidetracked.


I thought back to all those shoppers I'd skipped past... and that smug feeling I had at being the one person around here who knew just where she was headed! How impatient I'd become when that slowpoke (the one back there with the sagging bonnet and cane) dawdled in front of the chemiserie, blocking my way to the tackle store! 

A tackle store that was now closed! Shoot! If I'd only sped it up a bit, I'd have made it in time!

"No!" said Little Inkling, hopping excitedly around my foot. "That's not the answer."

"Well, what IS the answer?" 

As Little Inkling and I stood debating, the one towering over the other, SlowPoke--with her saggy bonnet and noisy cane--had eclipsed us! She hobbled up the street, the picture of perseverance.

Looking back down to Mr. Inkling, I laughed. "Well, I thought I'd learned to trust in the outcome. But now that this store is closed, it's true--I'm riddled with doubt again! How will I ever finish my Christmas shopping on time? I guess now's the real test--to trust another opportunity will soon appear."

(Here, Little Inkling cleared his throat...)

"Oh yes," I remembered, "And, meantime, to be patient with others along the way!"

"Très bien!" the little one-footed creature said. And, turning his beak up the path, my eyes followed his gesture until I saw a glowing light in the quincaillerie, or hardware store.

"Aha! I have just the idea for Jean-Marc! Oh, thank you, Little Inkling! Thank you!"

I hurried up the street, pausing cautiously at the crosswalk. As I stood looking left, right, and left again, ever the prudent American, someone leaped off the curb from behind me, landing right in the middle of the street!

I shook my head in appreciation, watching as SlowPoke traversed the rue, just like any French pedestrian worth her salt. Crippled or not, they sure know how to stop traffic!

Post note: the names of the characters in today's story have been changed, in respect of their privacy. But I can share with you their professions:

  • "Little Inkling" is a spokesperson for the non-profit "A Fish's Rights!" (spends his weeknights in front of the tackle shop, distracting would-be shoppers!).
  • "SlowPoke"-- she's a B-movie stuntwoman and a seamstress at the chemisier. 
  • The character known as "Kristin" goes by "The Birthday Girl" in real life--or at least on Sunday--when she'll turn 46! 

All three wayward souls wish you happy holidays--may the coming week bring you peace and joy! Thank you for reading and for all the encouragement you have sent me in 2013. I hope these stories encourage you, too.

Selected vocabulary

la quincaillerie = hardware store
l'espoir = hope
un pointu = classic Mediterranean fishing boat
c'est pas vrai! = No way!
la chemiserie = shirt shop

Listen to A French Christmas and "Mon Beau Sapin", "Saint Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 


Picture taken up the street from the tack shop. My perfect birthday gift would be for all those chairs to be filled with those who read and enjoy this blog! Let's see about a meet-up here, in the new year!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Braveheart (c) Kristin Espinasse
The other day while Smokey and I waited in the school parking lot for Jackie, kids filed past our car, occasionally stopping to point and to laugh: "Mais regarde sa langue! Just look at his funny tongue! Ahahahaha!"

"Laisse tomber! Don't worry about it, Smokey. They don't know your story." So many stories out there... how little we know of the "strange" looking people we pass on the street. The holidays are as good a time as any to open up our minds and our hearts.

le pin (pahn) noun, masculine 

: pine tree

le pin d'Alep = Provencal white pine

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read todays word, phrase, and example sentence: Download MP3 or Download Wav

Cette année, notre sapin de Noël est un petit pin d'Alep.
This year our Christmas tree is a Provençal pine.

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

When Jean-Marc suggested hunting for this year's Christmas tree in the forêt behind our house, our daughter wrinkled her nose. Now there was a grimace I could translate in French or English: it said that all her friends probably had real Christmas trees, the kind on display at the mall!

Our daughter's reaction made my husband even more determined. It was high time to lift the consumer veil from our children's eyes: A true arbre de Noël didn't always come from the checkout lane! Not this year anyway... not when a forest dense with pines crowded our back yard.

Allez! Jean-Marc persisted, dragging our 15-year-old Christmas tree snob off the couch.

I remained hidden in my room, where I'd taken refuge from all the holiday frenzy. There, in the quiet, I heard footsteps as my husband, our teenager, and the dogs crossed over the boules court on their way to the forest. 

Not 10 minutes later and they were back. The brisk foray seemed a bad sign... they must have encountered les chasseurs and had to postpone their search. I sank more deeply into my bed, wondering just when the tree chore would get done! Why didn't I keep the ugly plastic tree of yesteryear? It had been so easy to decide to part with it, while trying to cram our entire life into two economy trucks last September. What a dumb decision that was! (the tree, not the cheap movers—not one lamp broken in the deal!).

But what was the deal with our tree? I threw back the covers and got out of bed. In the living room I found Jackie back on the couch, watching TV. 

"Well, what happened?" 

My daughter smiled. "Rien". 

"But did you find tree?"

"Oh, oui..."

"Well, do you like it?"

"Oui," she nodded, and the stars twinkling in her eyes were proof of that. I felt a bit star-struck myself, bewildered by the peaceful atmosphere, when it was chaos I had anticipated.

My daughter followed me into the sas, the cozy entryway to our home, where a rustic fireplace and two felt-covered fauteuils have become a favorite resting spot.

There the tree stood, between the cozy sas and the dining room, punctuating the two spaces like a semi-colon that joins independent clauses—in this case santa clauses!

Leave it to that delicate, sweep of a tree to join all our Christmases of yesteryear, to the one just before us, the one I had tried to steer clear of!

Jackie knelt down on the ground to arrange the area beneath the tree. "Papa collected some mousse in the forest," she explained, as she borrowed some of the characters from the crèche, setting them on top of the deep green ground cover.

The door opened and Jean-Marc came in, his arms full of firewood for the cheminée. "Alors? Ça va l'arbre? Your daughter cut it down."

"It's beautiful!" I admitted. "What kind is it?"

"Un pin d'Alep."

I ran to my dictionary to look up the term. Un pin d'alep equalled a Provençal pine. What more could a hopeless Francophile want than a French Christmas? This year it would be un Noël Provençal

And what more could our daughter want than a real arbe de Noël. From the sparkle in her eyes, it was clear this year she had one.


Bonnes fêtes! Happy holidays dear reader. May the spirit of the season grab you... filling you with peace, love, and forgiveness. Thank you for reading these missives and for your encouragement to continue writing them. 



To comment on this post, click here



la forêt = forest

un arbre de Noël = a Christmas tree

 allez! = come on!

les boules = the game of Pétanque, read Gary's story

le chasseur = hunter

rien = nothing

le sas = (a synonym for sas is chambre, or room, but here it refers to a small entry way)

le fauteuil = chair

le papa = dad, father

la mousse = moss

la crèche = nativity scene

la cheminée = fireplace

amicalement = warmly (is "friendlily" a word?...)

Metro cuff
Paris Metro Cuff! It also makes a wonderful conversational piece -- to wear on your wrist.  A wonderful "conversation piece" for your wardrobe. Order one here.

    French christmas music
French Christmas Music: "Mon Beau Sapin", "Sainte Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 
Order CD here.


Smokey has taught himself how to eat, despite his little handicap (we won't go into details, but he may have learned the trick from a mama bird...). And he has a trick or two for keeping his tongue in place. Name this photo--your thought bubbles are most welcome! To comment on any item in this post, click here.

If you enjoy these words and photos, thanks for sharing them with a friend or classmate or teacher--anyone who loves France!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.


Hang on Santa! (c) Kristin Espinasse

 Do you feel like this Santa, during the holiday rush. Just hanging on? Waiting for it all to pass? Read on.

fêtard(e) (feh-tar, feh-tard)

    : party animal, someone who likes to party

Audio File: Listen to the following sentence in French Download MP3 or Wave file

Dans ma jeunesse, j'étais une fêtarde.
In my youth, I was a party animal.

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

Last weekend the pressure was on to begin decorating our home for Christmas. Have you got your tree up yet? my Anglophone friends wanted to know. Feeling worse and worse for procrastinating, I clung to the thought that most French homes wouldn't have a tree up by now... but a quick trip to the supermarket, for a few staples, revealed another story. 

There at the checkout line, Christmas trees were selling like hotcakes! I dragged my feet over to the display, to check out the stock of cellophane-wrapped trees.

There were two sizes and two prices : 35 euros ($45) or 45 euros ($60). I examined the two models that were on display (all the other trees were wrapped tighter than a bound umbrella, measuring not much longer than one either!). I noted the large gaps in branches, as well as the crooked aspect of the arbres. If these were the display models, surely the ones in cellophane were a sorry lot! I collected my groceries, and left the supermarket. I tried not to look at the other cars in the parking lot, as the drivers packed their sapins de Noël into their trunks. But averting my eyes wouldn't avert panic: Now even the French were on time for Christmas!

What had been worry, or guilt, quickly turned into grumpiness and finger-pointingness. I began to lash out, in my mind, at all the goody-two-shoes who were early to Christmas—with their goody-two-shoes trees and their goody-two-shoes decorations (by the way just where were our decorations? Having moved homes a few months ago, not all of our boxes were unpacked... which meant they could be anywhere! Now on top of finding a tree—we had to find the damned decorations! *&@!!!).

Shoving the groceries into the fridge, I hurried to my room to take refuge at the bottom of my bed. I began counting the days. It would all be over before long. Christmas would come and go... but then there would be New Year's Eve to deal with... and then Paques! And then What are your plans for Bastille Day? and What are you doing for Thanksgiving?

And to think that some of these celebrations are not even sacred observances. To the French, they are no more than traditions! This last reality made me even more frustrated.  

As I sank lower into my bed, I feared the unthinkable: was I, deep down, no more than a grinch? If not a grinch, perhaps a spoil sport? If not a spoil sport wasn't I, at bottom, just one big party pooper?

...or just pooped?

Worn out or not, it is peace I am after ... and, after all, it is peace we can share.

Best wishes to all during the holidays rush. To leave a comment, click here.


un arbre = tree (story here)
le sapin de Noël = Christmas tree (click here for the story)
Paques = Easter (story here)

  Capture plein écran 19122012 112834
Check out our YouTube channel and please sign up! I have a few videos ideas in mind: "How to Tie a Scarf" as well as Aunt Marie-Françoise's super easy chestnut cake. Any other ideas are welcome here, in the comments box. 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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le sapin de Noel

cadran solaire, sun dial, lamp post, lampadaire, pine tree, france, frenchSapin (c) Kristin Espinasse
I'm getting ready to film the first in a series of videos about our home renovation. Don't miss a clip! - subscribe to our YouTube channel. Forward this and tell a design savvy architecturally-minded friend about the channel. They might have fun following us on this project in the sunny South of France (...meantime we are freezing in this heat-challenged home). Photo taken in Serre Chevalier, near Briançon.

Sapin (sah-pahn) noun, masculine

fir tree, Christmas tree

Today's story is from Blossoming in Provence. Please keep my book in mind for your gift-giving needs! Your book support helps to keep this word journal going. Click here to order. Merci beaucoup!



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

When Max came into the kitchen announcing, "Papa a acheté un sapin," I folded the dishtowel, set it down and took a deep breath. I knew the Christmas tree would be trunk-size—all the better to fit into the back of our economy car—and not tall, like the spruce my mom used to whisk home (space limits were not an issue... Mom had the tree tied to the top of her '68 Camaro). 

"Cela suffira," I reminded myself, hoping to have finally learned a lesson. The tree, whatever it is, will be just what we need, and failing that, it will at least be real! Only, when I saw what my husband, The Nonconsumer, brought home this time, every nerve in my body became a live wire. 

There in the center of the salon stood the most abominable tree that I had ever laid eyes on. I knew better than to open my mouth lest the bassesse of language, French or English, should spew forth. Meanwhile my nerves began to short-circuit, and it was only a matter of time before the sparks reached my tongue, causing it to ignite.

"How much did you pay for it?" I questioned, teeth clamped.

"Twelve euros," Jean-Marc answered, jaws relaxed.

Twelve euros! That's 15 dollars... about how much he would spend on a decent bottle of wine—one that we might share in a single night. But a Christmas tree—that's something we could have spent a little more on, as we would enjoy it for an entire month! 

After a moment of silence so thick you could hang tinsel on it, Jean-Marc challenged me: "You can take it back if you don't like it." His remark was delivered with the coolness of a peppermint candy cane.

"It is not for me to take back. YOU take it back!"

My husband's next response was to slam the door. I watched the ripple effect as the tinsel fell to the floor. 

My attention drifted back to the artificial arbreA Christmas tree should be at least as tall as a child! I reasoned. Staring at the sapin de Noël, I noticed its mangled branches and its missing foliage. It was a fake fir, one so cheap that it came with its own styrofoam ornaments! And was that "presto tinsel" stuck to the branches? 

I thought about the nine-foot-tall Colorado spruce that was Mom's joy to decorate. The ornaments were not automatically glued to the branches. They were handmade! One year Mom covered the tree with white colombes and pheasant plumes. She took the ordinary blue boules and dressed them up with peacock feathers (using only the fancy tops, or  what she called the "eyes" of the feathers). Her zeal for holiday decorating didn't stop at the giant tree—she had those doves "flying" from the branches to the front door!

My eyes returned to the bedroom door, which had just been slammed shut. I looked back down at the Christmas tree. The longer I stared, the uglier it appeared. 

"It is the ugliest tree that I have ever seen!" I grumbled, pulling off what decorations Jean-Marc and Jackie had put up. I yanked apart the tree and shoved it into the stupid bag from which it came. Still smarting, I returned to the kitchen and slammed the dirty pots and pans around in the sink, the sink without a garbage disposal! Only in France!

"You're so complicated," my Frenchman used to say as I struggled to adapt to his country, to his ways, to his small-treed holidays. Over the years, I began to suspect that he had a point. Indignation turned to industry as, little by little, I began ousting the surplus and the superflu—learning the difference between want and besoin, all the while simplifying, simplifying

The sum of all that effort now stood before me, concrete in form, via this, the simplest tree.

"But I want a COMPLICATED Christmas treeeeeee!" I cried out, shoving the sponge back into the pan as I scoured and glowered. "I want a showy, superfluous, SUPERCALIFRAGILISTIC spruce!"

Just then I heard the rustle of faux branches and a whisper....

"Il est beau!" Max was saying to his sister. 

"Oui, regarde," she agreed, softly. 

I listened to the clanking of aluminum bulbs.... Peeking around the corner, I witnessed the scene. Max had pulled the tree back out of the bag and reassembled it. The branches, still tordues, now had a colorful array of bulbs, some chipped, some dusty, some new—all carefully hung. There were so many decorations that the empty parts, where branches seemed to be missing, were now filled in.

Jean-Marc was on his knees searching for an electrical outlet. Finding one, he plugged in the tree lights, but when he turned to reach for the switch.... my hand was already on it. Our eyes locked. 

My husband smiled as I flipped the switch. When the tree lights went on, the room came to a swift hush. In the silence she appeared: La Joie—an étincelle here, a sparkle there—happiness filling the room, its presence so real, so palpable, you could hang tinsel on it.


P.S. Special thanks to the readers who helped edit today's story! You can see their comments in the original post, from the archives.


Papa a acheté un sapin = Papa's bought a Christmas tree
çela suffira = that'll suffice
le salon = living room
la bassesse = baseness
un arbre = tree
le sapin de Noël = Christmas tree
la colombe = dove (read about the kind-hearted "dove man" I met in Sicily! click here.)
la plume = feather
la boule = ball
le superflu = superfluity
le besoin = need
il est beau = it is beautiful (tree)
oui, regarde = yes, look
tordu(e) = twisted, bent
la joie = joy
une étincelle = spark, sparkle

sentir le sapin = to have one foot in the grave
passer un sapin à quelqu'un = to dupe someone

le sapin de Noël = Christmas tree
*sapin also = coffin
*sapin is a color (vert sapin)

Avec un morceau de pain, on trouve son paradis sous un sapin. With a hunk of bread, one finds his paradise under a fir tree. 

Listen to French: hear Jean-Marc recite today's proverb:
Avec un morceau de pain, on trouve son paradis sous un sapin. Download sapin4.wav


Metro cuff
Paris Metro Cuff! It also makes a wonderful conversational piece -- to wear on your wrist.  A wonderful "conversation piece" for your wardrobe. Order one here.

    French christmas music
French Christmas Music: "Mon Beau Sapin", "Sainte Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 
Order CD here.


*   *   *
Our garage and kitchen door.
We'll begin our home tour with the door to the left... it leads into the kitchen. Would you be interested in following a video tour of our home? Any ideas on what to do with the space you are seeing here (garage + stairs leading to Jean-Marc's office + future guest room. The stairs to the right lead to the soon-to-be kitchen garden.)

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

de guingois

The scene was so classic that I wondered, as I snuck up to snap the photo, if it wasn't staged! Notice the underwear: one per "hook". Photo taken in Nyons (next to a chichi restaurant. Well, that oughta show 'em!).

Capture plein écran 21122011 083440It is exciting to watch the numbers as this self-published book competes with the "big guys". At one point, Blossoming in Provence made it within the top 400 in book sales at Amazon.

Many of you might be curious as to how those numbers, or popularity rankings, translate into actual book sales. If an author ranks #383 (or the 383rd most popular book sold at Amazon) he or she must be selling thousands of books, right? I checked those sales details this morning and here are the facts:

In the first four days since publication, 602 copies of Blossoming in Provence have been sold (most people bought one copy--though a few readers bought four copies each!) This means that over 550 readers have purchased a copy of Blossoming.

...That leaves 28,000 email readers without a book!... 

The question now is... Have you bought your copy of "Blossoming in Provence"? Please know that your individual purchase makes a great difference to me. Perhaps you are waiting to buy the book at some point in the future, when you can get around to it. Why delay?  Thank you for clicking here to order a copy now.

And thank you all for staying with me during these crucial first weeks of book marketing. I appreciate your patience—and even your interest—in the publication process. Merci beaucoup! 
(A special thanks to those who have blogged, Facebooked, Tweeted, or simply told a friend about "the new book on France").
de guingois (deuh-gehn-gwah)
    : askew, lopsided

marcher de guingois = to walk lop-sidedly
tout va de guingois = everything's going haywire

Audio File & Example Sentence: listen to the French word "de guingois" and to this expression: "marcher de guingois":Download Wav or MP3 

"The Marais, says Jacob Berger, a film director who lives and works in the neighborhood, is de guingois--that is to say, slightly askew."

--from the National Geographic article:
"Bohemian rhapsody: on the right bank of Paris history and hip embrace..." 

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

(Note: The following story was first published in 2008)

Another odd Christmas tree this year. I should have taken Mom's advice: get an artificial one! Apart from being good for the environment, those faux firs come in perfect shapes: full-bodied and symmetrical; especially, they're kilter—and not helter-skelter!

If I weren't such a procrastinator, I would have gotten the tree I wanted: Super Sapin! (Not a bird, not a plane.... ) Though our tree may not fly or save lives (it certainly won't save the earth), it does look as if it were set for take off, what with its long and HORIZONTAL arc... like a Boeing 747.

"It's lopsided!" I point out to Jean-Marc, after he has placed the tree. "Wait a minute..." I remark, suspiciously. "Didn't it come with a stand?"

"No. It didn't."

"You mean the nursery didn't have stands for sale?"

"They did, but the stands weren't any good."

They never are! He was just trying to get out of buying a stand! Next, I discover his solution: our umbrella stand. He's swiped our umbrella stand to use for a tree brace. Pas vrai!

If it weren't so amusing—to see that tree stuffed, de guingois, into the umbrella stand like a wet parapluie—I'd scream! But I am learning to laugh at these peculiarities. Take, for example, our bathroom light fixture, the one just above the mirror. When the screw fell out, we might have replaced it. Instead, a box of aspirin was set between the light and the mirror (now, when the box of aspirin pops out, all we have to do is pick it up off the floor (easier to see than a small screw) and stick it back in its place). Ta-da!

Chez nous, it is always a balancing act... a regular circus we are! From time to time, I find myself lamenting, "Why... why can't we just be normal?" Why do I have to lean to the side in order to see our Christmas tree as it should be? Why can't our tree stand be normal looking, like the tree stands of other French families? Why do we have to treat our pine as a parasol? Still grumbling about my husband's eccentricities, I gather the fresh laundry which I have strewn around the house on every free hook or chair back or table (any freestanding structure will do). Other housewives may have hung out their clothes on the line to dry today, but I don't trust the northern wind: sacré Mistral!

Collecting some dry underwear from the fire-stoker rack beside the cheminée, and reaching for some chaussettes sèches (slung over the candelabra), I notice the look on my husband's face... but I am quick to put him back in his place; after all, it is HE who is the oddball!

However different, there we stand, united in silence, our heads leaning to the same side as we study our Christmas tree.

"It's lopsided, you know."

"Yes, Dear," my husband looks over at me. Our eyes return to the lopsided tree as we stare silently.

"Il a pris un sacré coup de Mistral!" Jean-Marc offers, and our silence dissolves into laughter.

French Vocabulary
le sapin = fir (tree)
pas vrai = it can't be true!
de guingois = lopsided
le parapluie (m) = umbrella
sacré Mistral = blasted Mistral (wind)
la cheminée = fireplace
chaussettes (f) sèches = dry socks
il a pris un sacré coup de Mistral = it was hit by a mighty gust of wind


Braise (left) and Smokey (right) wish everyone a lovely celebration!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.