how to cheer someone up in French

We weathered the storm in Phoenix. More, in today's letter. (Pictured, my niece "Ray-Ray".)

remonter le moral

    : to lift one's spirits, to cheer somebody up

Audio File: listen to the following words: Download MP3 or Wav file

A Phoenix, je suis allée rendre visite à ma soeur pour lui remonter le moral. I went to Phoenix to visit my sister and cheer her up.

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

I made a pact with my family when I offered to come to Phoenix last month. I wouldn't tell anyone I was visiting. This way, instead of juggling the where and when and how to meet up with friends--I could focus on just one thing: ma soeur.

I felt terrible about the unfriendly omission, but travelling from Marseille to Paris--on to Dallas then Phoenix--I had one goal in mind: to help my sister during a difficult time. And though I knew local friends would be happy to assist, this was a sensitive and personal time punctuated by delays and changes of plans.

To ease the guilt of not contacting friends, I reminded myself I was on standby--I was here in the desert to stand by my sister. The current situation at Heidi's was stop and go. We'd be headed to the garage, to pack up its contents, or on our way for a needed coffee break when my sister's cell phone would ring again. With it the familiar sinking feeling.... 

I would look over at my sister, watching as her strength kicked in yet again. Clutching her phone, her eyes blinked as she tried to focus. For a moment she quit biting her lips. But when she hung up the phone the latest news sank in, along with those gnawing teeth.

Despite the atmosphere, we laughed as much as we could. Still, it wasn't funny to witness the doors closing all around my sister--and sometimes falling off the hinge!

When the knob fell off the kitchen drawer as I was putting away the silverware, Heidi said don't worry about it. I watched her reach down, pick it up, and jam it back into place before carrying on with dinner, the laundry, and the kids' homework. 

And when I went to step into the shower my sister warned, "That one doesn't work." Then, when I dried my hands at the towel rack, it fell, hitting the tile counter-top with a loud clang! 

I used the powder room with trepidation. The glass wine cooler that was stored there made these menacing popping sounds. I was sure the minute I sat down the ice box facing me would detonate, sending shards of glass flying! As my body anticipated the sharp-edged attack I could feel what it must be like for my sister to live in this constant state of alert, never knowing what was around the corner. 

Driving back from the airport my sister rolled down her window to let in the evening breeze--but we both startled when the glass dropped--right into the door unit below. The cool night air turned into a cold chill that had my niece (in the back seat) asking for the window to be rolled up again. "I'm sorry, Honey. It's broken." 

I listened to my sister comfort her daughter, who now needed a blanket. That missing blanket spoke volumes.

"Here, Ray-Ray. Take my coat." I smiled handing my jacket to my 10-year-old niece. But it would take more than a few down feathers to comfort a family in transition.

Thankfully our Aunt and Uncle arrived, bringing with them good cheer. Next, Marsha and Dad came to offer long walks and funny stories for my niece and nephew. And, last but not least, Brian was there-- having been there all along.


Post note:

It's tricky to tell a story without telling the story. I hope I was able to update you, all the same, on last month's "sabbatical." I'm happy to say that if all those doors were closing behind my sister, a great big door has opened before her and, with it, a soul-mate to carry her over the threshold. 


1-photo 1

At the Camelback Inn, Phoenix. That's my nephew, Payne. But we call him Blurr--that's how fast he is on the football field! There's my niece Reagan--and that's me, left, and my sister, right. Hugged in between us are Marsha and Dad. 


With my niece. Brian calls her "Small Fry" and she loves the French translation Petite Frite. Hello Petite Frite, are you keeping up with our French Word-A-Day agreement? Love, Big Fritte.

(Maybe you are wondering "Why the black down coat in Phoenix?" That's because we were also in Denver... Denver friends, I promise to meet up next time. Thanks for your understanding!)

With brian

As you can see, my sister is surrounded by support. But wishes of bon courage never hurt anyone.... (That's Brian, right, and Luci and Linus, Brian's sheepdogs, front.) 


French christmas music
Everyone loves this holiday CD! Listen to A French Christmas and "Mon Beau Sapin", "Saint Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". Order CD here. 

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How to say "to get back together" (with an ex) (after divorce or breaking up)!

Homme (et) Femme: the writing is on the wall in Alsace (c) Kristin Espinasse
Aha! I hope this blog title got you to click open your email (for those of you who receive the posts directly in your inbox :-) Read on for the whole scoop. Photo of shop window and heart graffiti taken in Alsace.

se remettre ensemble (seuh-reuh-metreuh-ahn-sahmble)

    : to get back together after a break up 

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

I sat there at my desk blinking my eyes. Non, ce n'est pas possible. Staring at my sister's Facebook page, I saw the notice: "Heidi est maintenant amie avec Brian."

Such a simple phrase--it might have been a French grammar drill such as "Où est Brian? Brian parle avec Heidi"....

Only Brian hasn't spoken to Heidi in over 20 years--not since he and my sister divorced....

And now, after two decades of silence and estrangement they are friends on Facebook?!

Qu'est-ce qui se passe?! I rushed to the telephone and dialed Mexico. Had Mom logged on to Facebook yet? 

She hadn't....

  Heidi and Brian

Who? What? Where? Qui? Quoi? Comment? What were these two doing back together? And just what were the chances of that?!

Meantime, the Facebook updates continued... my sister posted this blurry sweet nothing:

Capture plein écran 21082013 113157
Chaque histoire d'amour est belle mais la notre est ma préférée

And this next update (spied on Brian's Facebook page) sizzled:

"Brian est en couple avec Heidi".

By this time I had heard the news before Facebook. Turns out my sister was working at a new real estate office when she ran into her ex's nephew (who worked at the same office).

"Hi!" she said. And when the nephew seemed confused, she added: "It's your long lost Aunt Heidi!"

My sister thought nothing of the run-in. And after flashing her confident smile, she all but forgot about the incident.

Until she received an unexpected message from her ex....

The cordial correspondence turned into an invitation to meet up. The rest is history--for Heidi and Brian at least. As for the rest of the family there was some catching up to do!

And I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to do so last week, when after a whirlwind 6 month second courtship, the reunited couple came here to France to share their re-commitment to each other. 

We took the lovebirds to Cassis.... (pictured: Brian, Heidi, Kristin and Jean-Marc)

  Capture plein écran 21082013 110518

Ate lunch before this view and enjoyed the sea breeze....

Capture plein écran 21082013 110827
And got to know each other again. As any little sister worth her salt, I paid close attention to the couple's vibes. Did my sister and her ex-husband still have that chemistry? Would they be able to accept one other completely? How would they deal with and overcome the same issues that once drove them apart? 

Facing Heidi and Brian from across the lunch table, I apologized for all the questions, but this time around I hoped to be more supportive then back then, when, as a 20-year-old bridesmaid I set down my champagne glass and stumbled out of their wedding--leaving early with my date. My own life loomed ahead of me and I had a hard time focusing on my sister's happiness when I was grappling with my own. 

Worse, in the years that followed, I didn't see my sister's sadness. The first few years as newlyweds are a delicate time for most--but I wouldn't understand that until tying the knot myself, years later. Now I "get" it--and I am thankful for the love and support of my family, who got me through those early years. Without the encouragement of my sister Heidi, and my Mom and John, and my Dad and his wife Marsha--and my Aunt Charmly and Uncle Tucker--my marriage might not have made it over the first hurdles either!  

My turn, now, to be here for my sister and Brian. 

"I'm not sure what I know about marriage," I admitted to Heidi and Brian, "and any knowledge I can share may be more like the blind leading the blind... But I am here for you both, now, and so is Jean-Marc. We will do whatever we can to support you and see you through!"

Brian was the first to respond: "Thank you!" he said, assuring me that my 19-year marriage with Jean-Marc had certainly given me my share of experience and wisdom.

I was touched by Brian's response. But back to that nagging question: what about the chemistry between him and my sister? Did they still feel those sparks? I needed to see it for myself!

Capture plein écran 21082013 110024
As the saying goes une photo vaut mille mots... More than sensing the chemistry, I loved hearing the couple tease and kid each other over any idiosyncrasies that popped up. This time, in addition to love, a good sense of humor will smooth any bumpy terrain along their road to Happy Ever After. 

To comment on this story, click here. Or share your own story of reuniting with a lost love.

Do you know of anyone who might enjoy this hopeful story of getting back together?  Forward this edition or use this form to send it on.

French Vocabulary

non, ce n'est pas possible = no. it's not possible

Heidi est maintenant amie avec Brian = Heidi is now friends with Brian

où est Brian? = where is Brian

Brian parle avec Heidi = Brian is talking to Heidi

qu'est-ce qui se passe = what's happening?

Brian est en couple avec Heidi = Heidi is in a relationship with Brian

une photo vaut mille mots = a photo is worth a thousand words


....And one more bit of good news:

Capture plein écran 21082013 123049
My niece, Reagan, and my nephew, Payne, were the first to spread the good news. "My mom is back with her ex," they said, in so many words--sharing the scoop with their friends--and even their dad--who says he is happy for the couple. 

Capture plein écran 21082013 122602
To my beautiful and big-hearted sister (pictured here with Smokey): I'm so sorry for stumbling out of your wedding way back when. Given another chance, I will celebrate with you and Brian until the sun rises!  To comment on this post, click here. 

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How to say "cleaning frenzy" in French! + photo vocabulary!

Old wooden boat in Giens, near Hyérès (c) Kristin Espinasse

Gone fishing! I'll see you in a week, when the next post goes out.
Meantime, keep up your French vocabulary by visiting the French word archives. Thanks for reading and for sharing our language journal with friends and family. See you soon--with more photos and stories from a French life! Bisous, Kristin 

la frénésie de ménage (fray-nay-zee deuh may-nazh)

    : cleaning frenzy 

... and if you are one of those loves-to-organize types, here's another term for you: la frénésie de rangement = organizing frenzy. Share this one with a neatnik!


    by Kristin Espinasse

The Quirky French Household

After a house full of guests leave today and Saturday, I've got a bit of time to get this boat in shape. My sister is arriving this weekend!!

The past week has been full of excitement, with a lot of bed schlepping and sheet wringing. The flurry began after one of the teenagers (there were 6 sleeping here this week) woke with welts up and down her legs. Next, my brother-in-law complained of the same--only in a different place (he hasn't been able to sit down since.) Mosquitos?

Bed bugs! I tore off all the freshly laundered sheets and began rewashing everything. Saperlipopette! We could have used a machine dryer for once! Meantime, Jean-Marc vacuumed and disinfected the mattresses. Result? Bed bugs were not the problem (for the record: no bed bugs at the Espinasse household! I repeat... pas de punaises de lit chez les Espi!).  The culprit was the mosquitoes, after all. We needed to buy a better repellent for this years invasion!

So much for scrubbing sheets and matelas. Meantime, my sister's visit! The house will get a good dusting and a lickety-split polish. No use worrying about appearances--but I am doubtful about some of the household quirks we have here in France. How will these bizarreries come across to those who are unaccustomed to them? (It's been years and years since my sister came for a visit. And this time she is bringing a very special guest. I don't want to cramp her style; as her little sister, I will be a reflection of her! I wouldn't want her significant other to think we're from the boondocks--or maybe even The Twilight Zone....

Anyone who has seen our new old place would be shaking their heads about the boondocks comparison. The truth is, this is an endearing house--cracks, cobwebs, and all. But back to those quirks... every French household has them. For outsiders like me, French homes take some getting used to. But now, after two decades, I don't notice cultural differences so much anymore. Yet I feel the need to explain certain european idiosyncrasies to my sister and her cheri. I'll list several here, in case my upcomping guests are reading:

That's not cardboard, those are our guest towels.
The upside to drying your laundry on the line is this: the bath towels double as excellent skin exfoliators (it's that sandpaper texture they develop after hardening in the Provencal sun. I hope Heidi and Brian will "get it" and, especially, will go with it. Their tender skin certainly will! 
Insecticide? Not!

Here, just a stone's throw from the city, it is normal to find an ant traipsing across your cheek as you slumber through your afternoon nap. I'm used to plucking them off, sending these and other friendly creatures on their way.

And the bees with which we cohabitate are harmless, too. I once had a guest pull back the freshly-washed bed sheets (and the mattress cover beneath them). Her curiosity led to a startling discovery: a row of meticulously formed mud houses. "There are spiders in my room!" she screeched.

"Those aren't spiders," I assured her. "Those are mud daubers. They wouldn't harm a fly. But they might eat one!" As my guest watched, wide-eyed, I scraped away the tiny, hollow mud balls and tossed them out the window.

(Best not to peek beneath the mattress cover when you sleep at my place! But I guarantee freshly washed, air dried sheets--free of bed bugs (I repeat pas de punaises de lit chez les Espi!).

Another concern about my sister's visit: all those spider webs I've grown accustomed to. I take it for granted that not everyone is as blasé as I am about les toiles d'araignées. Apart from an occasional pause--to marvel at their intrinsic designs--I don't even notice them anymore. But spider phobics will! Is my sister's beau one of those? On verra!

French Bricolage or why certain doors and things are off-centered, unbalanced, or defy reasoning

It is definitely a French thing. My friend Cari, also married to a Frenchman, will vouch for this: the French just don't see things "spatially" as we do. That said, most everything in our new (old) house is perfectly balanced (this is thanks to the British family--including a mathematician--who lived here before us). 

As for "most everything" being in harmony, I'm afraid I have to take the blame for first "off-set" to the natural balance around here. It happened when we renovated Max's bathroom. I suggested we reuse a shower door from our previous home. Only I didn't stay to watch the handyman install it.... And the handyman didn't question the size of the sliding doors. Result: the doors will not open completely.

Jean-Marc doesn't see what the big deal is. (Of course not, he's French!)  And he made it a point to demonstrate that even he, big guy he is, can squeeze through the 31.5 cm crawl space that remains. (Brian, if you are still reading, you're just gonna have to do like us and suck it in!)

I hope these tidbits about our beloved home have not been off-putting. I've got to go now--more towels to put on the line. And, Heidi, if you are still reading, brave sister, I leave you with a warm bienvenue chez nous!

Comments welcome here.

 Today we're talking about from quirky households to insects--to guests! Please jump into the conversation and leave a comment.

When you forward this story to a friend, you open up a whole new quirky world for another to enjoy. And they'll learn a bit of French vocabulary in the process. Thanks for sharing!

French Vocabulary

une bizarrerie = peculiarity

le matelas = mattress

le cheri (la cherie) = sweetheart

une toile d'araignée = spider web

le beau = the boyfriend

on verra = we shall see

le bricolage = do-it-yourself 

bienvenue chez nous = welcome to our place

Exercises in French Phonics: A helpful manual for pronunciation! "Really breaks it down for you on how to properly pronounce French words." (review by New Chic) Read more customer reviews, and order a copy here.

Reverse Dictionary 

spic and span = nickel (nee-kel)

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

Door curtains in Beaumes de Venise (c) Kristin Espinasse
Let's build our vocab with these pictures I took in the Vaucluse. Notice the green volets, a cement banc, white and blue rideaux de porte, the old rusty boîte aux lettres, and the furry chaton noir. See any other vocabulary in this photo? Add it here, in the comments box.


Bar toutous
The French word for this yellow object is une gamelle. But don't you love the synonym: bar à toutous (doggy bar). Other vocab in this photo: notice all the colorful affiches taped to the window of the office de tourisme in Sarrians. 

Please forward this post to a clean freak or an animal lover--may it bring a smile :-)

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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mailbox in French + mailbox photos!

French mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse boite aux lettres

One of the dumbest things about moving to France is leaving your sister behind. Today, mine celebrates a birthday and I won't be there to take her picture as she blows out her candles. But with any luck she'll have received the funny post card I sent which brings me to the theme of today's missive: mailboxes!

Mas la Monaque: rent this beautiful French home

Mas la Monaque - Rent this beautifully restored 17-century farmhouse. Click on the picture for photos & info.

la boîte à lettres (bwat-ah-letr)

    : mailbox, letter box

also boîte aux lettres

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

Today is my sister's anniversaire de naissance and I'm looking for a way to surprise her. I went through my photo archives, searching for a picture of Heidi, when another idea came to mind: put today's letter in theme with all those beloved mailboxes that I have captured over the years.

For the care packages and heartwarming letters found inside, the mailbox is the perfect symbol of thoughtfulness, which is just one of my sister's many qualities—for more, read on....

fleur de lis and butterfly bush (c) Kristin Espinasse
When I moved to France I was lazy about keeping up with the holidays we loved to celebrate as kids. I didn't realize how meaningful some of them were to me until a package would arrive in the mail bursting with colorful heart candy and "Be My Valentine" cards—the ones we used to swap as kids after Mom bought them at Bashas or Walgreens or at Metrocenter mall. 

For Easter, Heidi would send packages full of jellybeans, the bright colors and original flavors (peanut butter!) sent me right back to my American childhood, where my sister and I built forts and tree houses and castles in the sky... or at least imagined them from the top of the old shed where we ate our jellybeans while gazing at the clouds above us, dreaming about our enchanted futures.

beehive mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse boite à lettres fait d'une ruche
(Jean-Marc made our beehive mailbox when he tended bees back at our vineyard)

When I finally made it to college (on probation) I began to have doubts as graduation approached. What could I do with a degree in French besides go on to grad school? Yes! I would go on to grad school, then to super grad school. A masters then a Ph.D!

On learning about my plans, my down-to-earth sister had a memorable pep talk with me: You can't make a career out of school! 

Without Heidi's encouragement, I might still be writing my thesis instead of this "thrice-weekly" column from France, where I moved instead of into a graduate dorm (at Thunderbird School of Global Management... Not that I would have ever passed the entrance exam!)

boulanger mailbox and "plus de pain" (c) Kristin Espinasse boite à lettres chez le boulanger
Look at the French handwriting on the "no more bread today sign" in the baker's window. The pretty cursive reminds me of Heidi's neat penmanship, which is as unchanging she is. (You know what they say about lovely people: don't ever change!)

I once had the surreal experience of judging my own penmanship. When I say surreal, this is because I was in the unusual position of objectively seeing the writing. It happened one day when I noticed a card on my mom's nightstand and, reaching over to read it, I was struck by the untamed handwriting. The cursive leaned forward or backward--sometimes the letters were straight up and down. No two "e" were the same. The Y's had curly tails on one line, on the next they were uncurled.

"Whoever wrote this is a little flaky!" I remember thinking, dubious about Mom's latest admirer... when next my eyes fell on the signature. It was my own.

(I'm against handwriting analysis, as you can sympathize. Though I do believe my sister's handwriting--flowing, elegant, structured--happens to hint at her personality.)

hidden mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse boite à lettres caché

Continuing on with the bits and pieces about our sistership, I will never forget our New York trip, around 2006. I was excited to meet with my first editor, at Simon and Schuster! My sister and a group of ladies met up with me to celebrate. I wanted to blog about our girls getaway, but I worried about privacy. Heidi is a private person, I told myself. She will not want me to post her photo or talk about her.

So I made up my mind to post about other parts of that NYC trip... and to this day my sister teases me: "Remember that time you went to NYC all by yourself? she snickers, referring to the fact that I did not post one photo of our girls group (and there were some FUN pics to be sure!)

Her light-hearted comment made me realize how I tend to assume that people are one way... when really they might be completely different! I thought I knew my sister through and through; instead, I continue to learn about her each time we spend time together.

municipal mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse boîte à lettres municipale

 What else did I want to tell you about my sister (no, that's not her there on the right), now that I  know I can dish out the goods? Just kidding, Heidi! Your secret's safe with me. Not that you have many. If you did would you tell me? Of course you would! I'm your sister! (a blabbermouth no more. That was then. This is maintenant!) 

...That brings me to French. Heidi spoke it first. (She took writing first, too.) That makes me a copycat, which is a little sister's birthright!

Sack of potatoes mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse boite à lettres sac de patates
If mailboxes were people this one would be me. I think Heidi would agree. I may live in France and my life may seem glamorous but inside I'm still that potato-bellied little kid. I ate all the Dolly Madison's. I ate all the bologney sandwiches. I ate all the Pop Rocks. You did all the dishes after preparing the sandwiches and letting me have the last Hostess Cupcake. You still make sure everyone's got something to eat. 

mailbox in tree (c) Kristin Espinasse boîte à lettres dans un arbre
Second-to-last mailbox photo... time to bring this birthday tribute to a close...

Here is one of your biggest fans. Jean-Marc is always asking, "Have you talked to Heidi? How is Heidi? What's new with Heidi?" It's true. We all are fascinated by your life. That makes you a rock star (and we, the groupies). 

... I was going to say "guppies" instead of groupies and I'm smiling now, thinking again about the good old days when I would catch guppies and you were the groupie (Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin). Remember when Mom burned your Stairway to Heaven album? Afraid we'd receive subliminal messages!

Sacré Mom. She did the best she could. Looking at you, I'd say she did an amazing job.

With lots of love, and wishes for a Happy Birthday. I love you, Heidi!


 To comment on this story, click here. (Feel free to wish Heidi a happy birthday. The more wishes, the merrier!)  

French Vocab
un anniversaire de naissance = birthday
sacré = sacred, almighty ("sacré Mom" in this story is used in this sense: "You gotta appreciate our mom!" or "what a character Mom is!" 

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

Marseilles mailboxes (c) Kristin Espinasse boites à lettres marseillaises

Mailboxes in Marseilles. Did you enjoy this mailboxes edition? To comment, click here.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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La soeur - sister in French

Kristi and Heidi (c) Kristin Espinasse
My beautiful sister, and Mom's first-born, Heidi (right). Our mom, Jules, painted the quail and my mother-in-law, Michèle-France, gave me the owl (next to the rosary and the purse). Voilà... just another family photo. Do you sniff homesickness? 

127 Things to do in Paris! Thanks for continuing to share your excellent tips on where to go and what to see in France's most beloved city. Click here to see the latest suggestions.

la soeur (sir)

    : sister; nun

Audio File: listen to today's French word as well as the following expressions: Download MP3 or Wav file

l'âme soeur = soul mate
la belle-soeur = sister-in-law
la demi-soeur = half sister
la petite soeur or soeur cadette or, la soeurette = little sister

Ma soeur aînée s'appelle Heidi. The name of my older sister is Heidi.

la soeur jumelle
= twin sister
la soeur de race = soul sister
la soeur de lait = foster sister


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

00-1-602.... Please pick up the phone... I whisper, dialing my sister's cell. This isn't an emergency—I just want to hear her voice.

"Hey, Kristi!" my sister answers, and the melody in her greeting tells me she's got time to chat. In fact, she'll even call me right back—on her nickel.

I relax back into the pillows that are propped up against the wall where I might have put a headboard had I gotten my renovation act together—or followed through with my vow to tackle tiny projects (like the inspired centerpiece or the corner office).

This time my phone rings and my sister's voice drowns out my restless thoughts. I begin to wonder where Heidi is. She certainly wouldn't be languishing in bed staring at the cracks in the wall.... She'd be at the hardware store with her bullet list! 

I laugh when Heidi tells me she is sitting in her car, waiting for the pet store to open. She needs dog food for Winston and Truly, her sheepdogs, or chiens de berger anglais. (Took me forever to figure out what these dogs are called in French. But then I'm lazy.)

The idea that my sister is out of croquettes is strangely inspiring. She has the sort of household where the roll of garbage bags is located at the base of the garbage can: efficient, functioning. Only lately, since her divorce, has it begun to dawn on me that she doesn't have everything covered all the time. How could she?

"Me too! I chirp. "We're all out of dog food too!"

"Yeah," Heidi continues. "I was about to toss together some rice, some bouillon, and some dog biscuits and get by another day..." 

There is something so heartening in finding out that your sister who gets-things-done  (she's an Aries) has considered the same lazy solution as you have: wingin' it with the dog food.

"That's exactly what I was about to do!" I laugh, "only I was going to use pasta and some dried up ham that the kids were supposed to eat. I'll have to try the soup/rice/dog biscuit idea sometime!"

"It works when there's no other solution but it's not good for the dogs' digestive tracts," Heidi warns me, letting me in on why she's waiting in the store parking lot before opening hours.

I was kinda hoping she would have gone ahead with the throw-it-together dog mix, like me. But she's doing the best she can, and I could do as much. I grab my car keys and head out into the night. While my sister's market is about to open, mine is about to close. I hate that we live an ocean apart, but it comforts me to know that Heidi is always there for me and that sometimes, coincidentally, we are doing the very same thing—like running out of croquettes.

Such synchronicity is the next best thing to being together, and if I close my eyes I can almost hear my sister in the supermarket aisle, ever looking out for me. "Get that one," she says, "the dogs will love it and it's on sale!"              

Heidi and Payne


My sister, Heidi, with my nephew, Payne. Heidi is an associate broker at Coldwell Banker.

I rarely write about my older sister (the one everyone guesses to be younger than I), though you'll find a tender scene here or there in the story archives:

" sister Heidi and I, pint-sized Thelma and Louises at the age of 13- and 9-years-old, used to careen across the dusty desert floor, tumbleweeds spinning in our wake. With Heidi at the wheel, we killed time... this after a breakfast of burritos and beer...." (an excerpt from the story Camionnette. Read it here)

I also refer to Heidi in this poem, "We Three":

...I had a sister who was prettier than I.
Jackie looks like her...

Another picture of my sister, here.

Heidi's sheepdogs, Winston and Truly. Have a minute for another story, about an endearing figure in French pop culture & beyond? You will learn a word that you will want to sing time and again, "Yalla!" Read my story about Soeur Emmanuelle, click here.


Sunflowers for my sister (c) Kristin Espinasse
It may be cold and snowing (two days ago...) here in the South of France—and the sunflower seeds may still be dormant, planted last week one-inch below the surface of the earth—but it is always the season to give your sister tournesols. Picture taken a few years back, near Joncquières (Vaucluse).

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Chapter 1: Positano, Italy - Summer 2002

Postitano, Italy. Photo by Annwvyn.

Chapter 1: Positano, Italy - Summer 2002

We must bear with ourselves with patience and without flattery.

I am sitting on the floor of a luxury hotel room, tossing potato chips across the parquet tiles to my 9-month-old nephew, Payne.  My sister and her husband are out for an early dinner, and I have offered to babysit.

With a squeal of laughter, Payne scampers across the floor to fetch another chip, pausing as he passes by a tiny glass flask. I casually reach for it, tucking the airline sampler bottle behind me and throwing out another chip to redirect the toddler's attention back to the game. I can think of no better way to pass the time; besides, this activity seems to be a hit!

I take a hit from the little glass flask, having twisted off the aluminum top. C'est l'heure de l'apéro, I reason, calling to mind my husband, who is surely having a glass of wine at this hour. And my sister and her husband would have sat down by now at the dinner table, with glasses of champagne. Yes, it was cocktail hour for everyone including me. So no worries!

Looking out to the balcony, I watch the sun begin to set along the Amalfi Coast. To the right, the hillside is peppered with spicy-colored villas ranging from pepper red to saffron yellow. A true artist would call it a "pastiche", but what did I know? Inside of me the poet's flame had gone out long ago.

Out in the harbor, yachts are swaying, very much like my steps as I stand up and walk over toward my bed. The sea breeze filters in from the open French windows, and I reach out to shut them securely before returning to my cot. I'll just have a little rest. Pitching the last potato chip far over to the curtains, I buy another moment of shut-eye as Payne sets out to retrieve the salty prize.

*    *    *

Waking to the sound of laughter I see my brother-in-law, Doug, through the slits of my eyes. He is shaking his head.

"She's smashed!"

"Doug!" my sister objects, silencing her husband. I watch as Heidi makes a beeline over to my bed. 

"Well she is. She's smashed!" my brother-in-law points out. He's had a few drinks himself, and is ripe for an argument.

Heidi ignores him, kneeling down to have a closer look at me. Strings of pearls glimmer as the moon shines into the room reflecting off my sister. She looks so beautiful in a colorful silk dress. Her bright red lips are quizzing me.

Instead of answering, I'm shoulding: I should wear color, instead of black. I should buy some red lipstick! I should not have drunk those airline samplers!

The scent of Shalimar, our mother's favorite perfume, tickles the inside of my nose. I should buy a bottle of Mom's perfume, too! I think of our mother, who lives an ocean away, in Yelapa, Mexico. We haven't spoken for ages. There are no telephones in the jungle.

"Why are there potato chips on the floor?" Heidi's tone is part curiosity, part impatience. Her wheat-colored hair falls down her back, in waves. Doug tugs on a lock of it as he walks past to open the window.

"Smashed!" he declares.

A brisk stream of air rushes in to the hotel suite. A storm is brewing on the horizon and giant waves coming in from the sea are capped in white.

Suddenly the scent of my sister's perfume and the salty breeze sobers me. I sit up in bed as my eyes dart around the room searching for my 9-month-old nephew!

Payne's diaper is peeking out from the curtains, where he has finally managed to reach the last potato chip. My brother-in-law bends down, sweeping up the giggly baby. Plucking a few soggy morsels from Payne's lips, he  offers his son a tender kiss followed by a mock scolding, "No more beer chips for you, Little Guy!"

"Not beer, it's vodka!" Heidi says, picking up an upended flask.

"Ah... Mother's Little Helper!" Doug chirps.

My brother-in-law's "drink teasing" always makes me wince. But it was true, after chasing children all day, I found it extremely relaxing at night to have a glass or two of wine--until I discovered vodka.

My stomach began to knot as I looked over at my sister. I hated to disappoint her and her husband, after they had generously offered me this retreat. And here I was tossing chips to an infant! It was so ironic, so out of character for me, the mother who insisted on nursing her own son for over a year. And to think, when friends so much as offered a fingerful of whipped cream to my own son, I freaked out. Only mother's milk would do for 12 month old child! But potato chips for my sweet nephew?

I heard my brother-in-law in the bathroom, changing Payne's diapers. His words echoed my thoughts:

"Mother's Helper! Your aunt had a little bit of Mother's helper tonight," he sang, tossing the diaper in the trash. Next he reached for a towel to begin cleaning the potato chips off the floor. He was more amused than angry. Payne was okay, he assured me. No harm done.

But what about my sister? What must she be thinking!

Looking me in the eyes Heidi shook her head and I felt my heart sink. That was it. I'd done it this time! I should have stayed home.

Heidi plucked up the bag of chips, reaching in, ever so gracefully, for the last one. Tasting it, she shook her head once again.

"Italian chips suck," she said, reaching over to ruffle my hair. "Couldn't you have at least bought American?

 *    *    *

Postnote: Ultimately, I decided not to go forward with the memoir.  Here are two posts that hint at why:
1. L'Enjeu est Grand (The Stakes are High)
2. Le Piege (The Trap)

Chapters: click on the following links to read the other episodes

Let goThe opening quote, from the French 17th century thinker Fenelon, is from this book that gives me so much comfort and direction.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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me and Heidi (c) Kristin Espinasse
Photo taken in 2004. That's the tattletale, on the left, and my sister, Heidi (The "RuleBreaker"), right. Our mom, Jules, painted the quail and my mother-in-law, Michèle-France, gave me the owl (next to the rosary and the purse). Voilà... just another family photo. Do you sniff homesickness? 

rapporteuse (rah por tuhz) feminine singular of "rapporteur"

    : tattletale, tell-tale, blabbermouth
synonym: informer

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

When The French Break Their Own Rules

I am setting out this morning to write about those rule-breaking Frenchmen... when the absurdity of this story's title strikes me: for why, after all, have the French invented rules if not to break them!

Skipping quickly now to the heart of my story and to the examples I mean to show you (in my borrowed role of tattletale, or rapporteuse), I'll now highlight two rarin'-to-be-trespassed rules, the first leads in to the second so follow closely:

In the tiny town of Richeranges Jean-Marc and I stumble onto a Saturday-morning market. Though the stalls are filled with eye-catching items, Jean-Marc and I are in the market for a W.C. (or water closet or toilet or "powder room" if you like). Only, Richeranges—like most villages and cities in France—is hiding its public restrooms. 

While I search high and low for a loo, Jean-Marc slips into the nearest eatery... intent on breaking rule number 1 and rule number 2:

(French Rule Number One): Restaurants, Cafes, Bistros and the like are not public restrooms.

So much for Rule Number One. Jean-Marc breezes in, past the bartender which, in all honesty, is easy enough to do in a packed room, and heads straight for the W.C., which—cha-ching!—is vacant.

Le diable! I mutter, I who have just sneaked into the bar... creeping quietly in my husband's tracks. I know intuitively that it's now or never: run up and take his place! He'll let you in first.... this may be your last chance. Allez!

Every namby pamby nerve in my body freezes up. No matter how badly I need that "room", I'll not break this French rule! 

I watch as a line of rule-breakers forms outside the bathroom door. Too late now.

As I stand there, going green in the face, a woman walks into the crowded bar, about to break rule number two:

(French Rule Number Two: On entering a public lieu, always begin with Bonjour Monsieur or Bonjour Madame (or Bonjour Monsieurs-Dames)

The newcomer looks around the room impatiently and I'm wondering whether she, too, needs the toilet room?

"Well, no tables!" Says she, looking at me as if I were one in her party and did I have a suggestion on where we might go next?

"C'est plein!" she complains, shaking her immaculately-coiffed head. "Il n'y a pas une place!" She looks at me, expectantly and I'm wondering whether she's taken me for the maitre d'?

"Que faire... que faire..." she seems to be waiting for an answer but all I can lend is a lifting of the shoulders: I dunno.

I am so distracted by her dramatics that I forget my own dire need... instead, I find myself nodding conspiratorially. Next, I watch Madame slip, self-righteously, over to the lavatory; a willing enough customer, it wasn't her fault if the restaurant was out of seats!

Le diable! Why didn't I think of that?

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, questions, or stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.

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"Tendresse" (and tiredness after breaking more rules!)

"Pawtners in Crime" 

More rule-breakers! I meant to tell you about friends Eliane & Alain, who visited us last month with this merry group of  Marseillais. They tasted wine and shared tales of their "trespassings" (or how to break French Rule Number Three). And they left me with gifts, including an apple with a beak mark in it. "It's the best kind," one of the men explained. Always pick the ones the birds have gone for. They're the best!

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.