Avoir du Cran (To be brave in French) + Mom and I get in a little fight & end up at the circus

Circus curtains billetterie
The curtain is now opening on today's pièce: a feisty (and sentimental) mother-daughter story. My mom loved these circus curtains, seen on a recent walk together. Jules sewed our dresses when my sister and I were little, and these rideaux remind me of our visits to the fabric store.  

TODAY’S WORD: "Avoir du cran"

    :  to have guts, grit, to be brave

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Do you believe that our behavior can provoke the universe? I can't help but wonder when, hours before her eye exam, Mom appears in my room and declares, "I do not want any more doctor's appointments!"...only to be issued, hours later, a slew of new rendez-vous.

Whether or not our conduct stirs the Powers That Be, it moves mere mortals. Not sure how to respond to my mom (or how to deal with the let-down), I choose to reason with her: “But Mom, how many doctor visits have you had in the last year?” I challenge, knowing well we’ve not suffered more than a handful--one or two times to the family toubib, to renew a prescription, and two aller-retours to the ophtalmo after severe pain revealed too much pressure in Mom's eye. But never mind the facts, Jules's mind was made up.

"I'm not going!"

"Mom!  We can't cancel. We're going!"

Sensing some sort of diatribe on my part, Jules quietly exits, shutting the door behind her, against which I unleash a string of gros mots: @#%!! @#%!! @#%!! 

Well, that got her attention. Mom returns. We exchange stubborn looks. I offer an I'm sorry but...!

I'm sorry but do you realise I've arranged my day around this eye exam?
I'm sorry but do you know how hard it is to get a doctor's appointment anymore?
I'm sorry but I am the one handling your healthcare as you don't speak French or drive!

Suddenly, Mom approaches the bed to sit beside me. After a few deep breaths, we are on a walk down memory lane as visions of our life back at the trailer park come flooding forth--including the time Jules tossed our toys out the window after my sister's and my roughhousing damaged our family’s new bean bag, spilling les haricots all over the living room. Mom had her gros mot moments @#%!! but who could blame her as she struggled to raise two girls on her own while working full-time? And yet somehow this single mother managed. Even more, Mom signed us up for Brownies, Girl Scouts, gymnastics, and band, and somehow managed to buy everything from my clarinet to my sister's first car. When my sister had a car accident Mom nursed her back to life and made Heidi return to school to finish the year, despite the scars from several broken bones, in time to go on to college. Heidi became the first one in Jules’s family to graduate from college, and with a degree in journalism! Meantime Jules's worries weren't over: her youngest (moi-même) dropped out of community college and returned home. (I eventually followed in my sister’s footsteps, graduating from college with a degree in French, and began writing after moving to France.)

First car and trailer
My sister's 1970 Camaro in front of our home. That's Shaw Butte Mountain in the background.

"All I want now is peace and quiet," Mom admits, as we sit in bed holding hands, hours before her doctor's appointment. "I am so grateful to live here with you and not to have to worry any longer."

Turning to Mom, I would like to say I understand the struggle and that, at 56, I'm tired too! But one must press on! Only, unlike Mom, I have not been worn down from the stress of trying to pay for ice skates, braces, or clothes at the beginning of each school year. Through it all, we never received the admonition, “Money doesn’t grow on trees!” Instead, Jules instilled a work ethic that had my sister and me earning first an allowance, then cash from babysitting and a paper route, and finally our first paycheck jobs by the age of 15.

"And now here we are in France!" Mom whispers, squeezing my hand. It never ceases to amaze Mom that she is living on the Riviera after surviving in the desert. (Our neighborhood was a senior citizen mobile home park, but Mom convinced the landlord to let us in as she was first to rent a space when it opened. We stayed 11 years. Before it was demolished, we moved on, and Mom eventually settled into a beautiful cabin near Saguaro Lake. Then to Mexico for 22 years before coming to live with us in France.)

“I am so proud of my daughters,” Mom says, turning to me. Jules has kindly forgotten my earlier slur of cuss words and a peaceful truce is once again underway. This wasn’t the first and won’t be our last mother-daughter fender-bender, but we have acquired some tools to hammer out the dents along the way--our shared vulnerability being one of them. Another is forgiveness. Finally, there's grit--the French call it "le cran". Indeed it takes courage and endurance to love and to keep on loving. I love you, Mom. This one's for you. xoxo

Update: we made it to the doctor's appointment in time for Mom’s follow-up eye exam. The good news is her eye pressure has stabilized. But she now has to undergo a series of shots to treat the edema, or swelling, inside her right oeil. For that, Jackie will drive her grandma to Marseilles. Wish Mom luck as the first eye injection is today!

Jules getting ready
A favorite picture of Mom taken from the post "Conciliabule: Living With Adult Kids and Grandma"

Jules at the eye doctor waiting room
My beautiful Mom, in the doctor's waiting room, gazing out the window to the Mediterranean. I will always be moved by Mom's strength, courage, and perseverance in the face of so many challenges, beginning in her childhood. Elle a du cran! The French would say. She has guts!


Click to listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French and English vocabulary words

avoir du cran = to be brave, to have guts
le rendez-vous =
appointment, meeting
le toubib
= doctor
aller-retour = round trip
l’ophtalmo = eye doctor
la diatribe = tirade, rant 
le gros mot= swear word, cuss word
l'oeil = eye
Elle a du cran = she has guts!
le conciliabule = secret meeting, Ecclesiastical council

Heidi Jules Kristi Busters Restaurant
Heidi, Mom, and me celebrating Heidi's college graduation from NAU, at Buster's Restaurant & Bar in Flagstaff, Arizona


Sincere appreciation to readers supporting this journal via a donation! I would be too tempted to slack off from my weekly writing deadline if it wasn't for you!

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Thank you for the wonderful newsletters! They are so well constructed and so much fun, supporting my learning to speak French and about French lifestyle and culture, too! I’m so appreciative that you do this. Also love your book! --Martha 

Kristi and Jules at the circus trailer

Photo of me and Mom admiring the circus curtains. If you have time, read the story of how my mom sowed the seeds of books (and writing) into my heart. Click here to read "Fireside" (Coin du Feu)

Your corrections and comments are welcome and appreciated. Click here to leave a message. in the comments section at the end of this post.

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

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

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

Calin: A Hug in French, Family Reunions and My Break in the States

Dogs in golf cart
Some friendly characters encountered back in the Southwest, USA.

"The book’s chapters weave through the realities of being a mother, wife, and daughter living in an adopted country with different rules, cultural norms and language nuances." Read Carolyne Kauser-Abbott's review of Blossoming in Provence.


    : a hug

Rien ne vaut le sentiment d'être avec sa famille--et un câlin.
Nothing is worth the feeling of being with one's family--and a hug.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Salut! Ça va? My two-week congé is over and I am home now in France--back to the murmur of French, to the scent of the Mediterranean Sea, to bright yellow mimosa and extended family. Sunday's cousinade, or gathering with the cousins near Aix-en-Provence was a joyous occasion even if I am still queasy with le décalage horaire. Surely jetlag was responsible for the confusion when my aunt-in-law, Annie, said I could set down the dirty dishes dans le potager. Now for me, potager means "vegetable garden," but who am I to question the authority of une véritable countrywoman?

Balancing a stack of dessert plates I was headed to the garden when doubt stopped me in my tracks. This time I consulted Cousin Sabine…
"Dit, Annie tells me the dirty dishes go in the potager???"

"Ah," Sabine laughed, "Maman is referring to le comptoir! We call that le potager. Voilà dear reader, an old-fashioned term for you the next time you're referring to the kitchen counter!

I spent a lot of time at the kitchen counter--er, le potager--back in the States, where my daughter Jackie and I had the chance to spend time with our American family. This short and sweet réunion de famille began with a brief stop in Denver, where my sister Heidi nurtured us back from desynchronosis or time zone syndrome. While filling up on everything from homemade tacos to spaghetti and meatballs, I savored time with my nephew and niece, Payne and Reagan, who came home from college CU Boulder for a visit before Jackie and I ubered back to the airport, direction Californie. I was headed to the desert on a very specific mission: to hug my dad.

From cousinade to "calinade"
While family back home often reassure me the phone is marvelous technology, rien ne vaut une bonne câlinade--nothing compares to holding your loved ones close. So, after, several calins back in Colorado, it was time to hug a few more family members. My little sister, Kelley flew in from Washington State, followed by Heidi, and we spent 4 memorable days in Palm Springs with Dad and belle-mère Marsha, enjoying lots of time at le potager, chatting at the kitchen counter, and lots and lots of hugs! But the best was seeing Dad looking so fit, healthy, and happy, grâce à son épouse, Marsha, who is also a doting hostess to us girls. And it was great to finally enjoy our "coffee with Kristi" as Dad calls our father-daughter chats, in the same room instead of on different continents, technology permitting.

Over breakfast of fruit and Raisin Bran, I watched Dad toss blueberries directly from the carton into his bowl. "Dad, don’t you wash the pesticides off those berries?" My father smiled: “I think the body does a good job sorting these things out.  I'm not worried.” I like Dad's relaxed attitude and realize all the stress of keeping my food clean is more harmful than a handful of unwashed berries. It's these bits of no-nonsense wisdom—and Dad’s endearing presence I miss so much...and the fact I can’t see the blueberries--those little things he does daily that speak of his philosophie de vie. So I soak in as much together time as possible and make a vow with my sisters to visit more often.

While chasing each other in golf carts, accompanying Dad and Jasper to the dog Park, or gathering around the potager/comptoir…we all seized the chance to laugh, shed a few tears, and encourage each other. All of these are important for an expatrié, for anyone living an ocean apart from loved ones. Yes, the telephone is a marvelous invention (and Whatsapp and FaceTime, too) but those warm hugs are vital. Rien ne vaut un bon câlin!

COMMENTS - To read the comments or to leave one, click here. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my story.

Heidi Kristi Kelley Dad Marsha Jackie

Heidi, Me, Kelley, Dad, Marsha, and Jackie.

Kristi Heidi Kelley sisters
A sister sleepover, with Heidi (center) and Kelley (right)


First study the French terms below, then click here to listen to them

salut = hi
ça va = how are you?
la cousinade = reunion of cousins
le décalage horaire = time difference, jet lag
le potager = kitchen garden, kitchen counter (in old Provençal)
dit = tell me
la réunion de famille
= family reunion
la câlinade = a made up word for hug fest
le câlin = hug
la belle-mère = stepmother (can also mean mother-in-law)
la Californie = California
grâce à son épouse = thanks to his wife
la philosophie de vie
= life philosophy 
rien ne vaut = nothing equals 

With much appreciation for your donations to my French word journal. Merci beaucoup! 

Odile G.
Dan St G.

Sherry P.
Bill and Mary
Martha and Charles M.

Thanks again for your blog and amazing photos. Odile

I look forward to reading your stories and looking at the beautiful photos, and appreciate the time and care that you put into trying to make everything just right. Be of good courage! Peace and all good, Sherry

Love the blog and stories of life. It's also a good media for Martha & I to keep up with you folks. Thanks again for all the good reads. Charlie and Martha

Don't miss the story about my belle-mère, Marsha.
And a favorite memory "Joie de Vivre" about Dad's visit to La Ciotat

Desert landscape
In addition to seeing my family, the scent of the desert and its familiar landscape brought me back to my roots. This year marks 30 years since I said "I do" and permanently moved to France from the Arizona Desert.

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

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

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

Faute de Frappe: Funny Surprise After My Dad Hits the Wrong Button

Autumn fall leaves salon de the in lyon france
By the time the leaves turn gold in Lyon, we'll be meeting up with part of my American family. Read about our virtual meetup in today's story, and pick up a host of new French words.


    : typing error,
    : error made when hitting the wrong button

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

I wish I had a written transcript of our accidental family video chat, week before last. The surprising live conference began when my dad tried ringing me via Messenger and, d’un coup, several family members burst onto the screen--POP! POP! POP!--one by one appearing before us en temps réel...

POP! - My little sister manifested from her living room in Washington State. I could almost hear the crabs snapping their claws on Shaw Island where Kelley and her husband Brad (also visible) catch them.

POP! - And there was my daughter in Lyon, hair tied back and wearing stylish non-prescription glasses. Was she at school?

POP! - Then suddenly my husband popped onto l’écran! Beyond Jean-Marc's seatbelt, just past his left shoulder, I could see the familiar landscape of the Southern French Alps as he drove north for a week of hiking and biking. 

These sudden POPS were followed by a couple of POTENTIAL POPS as Jules, Heidi, Max, my nephew Payne, and niece Reagan were being automatically dialed up in La Ciotat, Denver, and Boulder. Mon Dieu! I felt the need to warn my mother and my sister of their imminent exposure. Au fait.... Was Mom entirely dressed? (Slim chance in this heatwave!) And Heidi…Just where would she be? Hopefully not in the W.-C.! No use transferring my own insecurities onto others--besides it was too late, here we were, THE ORIGINAL POPS, staring at each other, wondering what the heck had just happened. Indeed, qu'est-ce qui vient de se passer?

"Hi Dad. Hi Everyone!" I giggled. “Dad, did you accidentally hit the ‘Family’ tab?” (That's the name of our Messenger chat group. We use it for sending each other photos, updates, and milestones. But this time, with his unintentional frappe, Dad was teleporting his kin into a live conference!)

"I don't know,” my father replied, in his characteristic innocence and étonnement. “I was just trying to call you." Dad was referring to our weekly appel, the one he’s affectionately dubbed "Coffee with Kristi”, but today's call with all the gang was more like Happy Hour! All we needed was champagne… and sparkling water pour moi.

As we smiled at each other, a little tongue-tied from the surprise, Brad chimed in with news about his and Kelley's upcoming visit to France, and would Jackie be available to dine with them in Lyon? 

Jackie lit up, "Oh, I’d love to! Avec plaisir!" And just like that the screen came alive with conversation.

I sat back and enjoyed seeing my family’s faces, thinking it amazing how quickly we’d all showed up to this unscheduled party. And how easy it would be to reach everyone again if ever in need or—soyons fous!—just spontaneously.

Maybe that’s what Dad was thinking when he “accidentally” hit the wrong button and POP! POP! POP! POP! he got a sudden burst of smiling faces in return. It all just goes to show that, sometimes, it pays to throw caution to the wind… and hit the Family Button.

This one's for you, Dad, OUR ORIGINAL POP❤️.  

To leave a comment, or to read one, click here. My Dad, who is hopefully reading, enjoys a brief weather report so please include one along with the city you’re writing in from. Merci. Click here to comment.

Dad and family
Une faute de frappe led to everyone in this picture (except Max) being virtually teleported into our live video conference. Left to right: Max, Dad, Brad, my belle-mère Marsha, Jackie, Kelley, Me, and Jean-Marc. 

Below: A screenshot of the message I sent after our chat ended. (Re “Marsha joined the chat”: Dad shares his account with my belle-mère Marsha.)

Screenshot of video chat


Click here to listen to the French words

une faute de frappe = a typing error
d’un coup = all at once, in one go
en temps réel = real time, instantly
l'écran = computer, phone screen
Mon Dieu! = My God!
le W.-C. = water closet (bathroom)
au fait = by the way
Qu'est-ce qui vient de se passer? = what just happened?
un appel = phone call
l’étonnement = surprise
pour moi = for me
avec plaisir = with pleasure
Soyons fous = be a little wild, be a little crazy
la belle-mère = stepmother


Mille mercis to the readers listed below who have recently sent in blog donations, or purchased our memoir--or bought postcards! Your contributions go a long way in not only backing this journal but also in inspiring me to maintain my writing momentum during the summer break. Your support means a lot, and I'm truly grateful. Amicalement, Kristi

Sue W.
Joan C.
Joan L.
Patty C.

Leslie B.
Judith L.
Sandra D.
Kitty W.P.
Suzanne P.
Jacquelin H.
Marshall & Caroline M.

"Our dear Kristi, wishing you & Jackie many more delightful getaways! xox" Patty C.

"…avec des câlins pour la façon dont vos splendides écrits nous enrichissent." Kitty W.P.

My son Max, up to his usual shenanigans--cuz Mom can't have enough hats!

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

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

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

“Smala” & Family Visit to Cassis, Aix-en-Provence, Marseilles

My family visiting Cassis: Kristi, Reagan, Heidi, Payne, Jean-Marc, and Max

TODAY’S Word: smala (smah-lah) noun, feminine

    : entourage, big family (famille nombreuse)

from the Arabic, zmalah: tribe

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

This first week with my American family has gone by en vitesse! Beaches, the farmers market, snorkeling in the Mediterranean and even cliff diving (for the guys). What a whirlwind good time it's been with Heidi, Payne, and Reagan since they flew in from Denver to Marseilles via Munich. So far we've visited La Ciotat, Aix-en-Provence, and Cassis and now my sister and her kids are in Paris (those last two cities rhyme if you pronounce them correctly…).

It was the first time my 19-year-old niece and 21-year-old nephew have been to France (not counting when Payne was a baby), and it was fun to hear their reactions to the culture (for them, the French light switches were backward, the toilet handle wasn't a handle (but something you pulled--thus the verb "tirer la chasse"--and a few other bizarreries in their Aunt Kristi's household for which we can't blame France!

A highlight of my family's visit was meeting up with my French family, thanks to Max who organized la sortie. My belle-soeur Cécile, beau-frère Jacques and his girlfriend Mariem joined us at the Vieux Port in Marseilles at Ciao Marcello for pizza. Though half the group could not understand each other, in the end language wasn't a barrier and our our mini réunion de famille was un succès.  After a 2-hour lunch we kissed each other goodbye. That is when a cozy feeling came over me as foreign word began to echo in my mind…. 

Smala. The word, borrowed from Arabic, means big family or entourage. As the word smala filled my mind, so did an appreciation for this chance to finally have my family in France for an extended period of time—time enough to, well, be a family in France: cooking together, cleaning together, caring for our Mom/Grandmother together, and especially laughing and loving together. At one of our big dinners on the front porch, I looked over at Jules and said: “Can you believe we are all here? All your kids and all your grandkids! We are all here because of you… “ Jules was visibly moved.

I was kicking myself this morning for not boarding the TGV to Paris with my sister and the kids for even more time with family. But I have a few obligations here at home....and just as soon as I typed those words I realized "will those obligations matter a year from now?"

The truth is, downtime is good. It is now thundering outside and the rain is pouring down—a good time to sit back and review some photos from this past week. I leave you with some of my favorite pictures and we'll see you next week for more updates from le bercail (another cozy word for home). 

Prenez soin de vous et à bientôt,


To leave a comment, click here. I would love to know what city you are writing from. Merci.

Another highlight of my sister’s visit was visiting Flavia and Fabrice in St. Maximin. I wrote a story about a memorable meal there a few years ago, « Pour Vivre Heureux Vivre Caché » (To Live Happy, Live Hidden)


My nephew and niece is Cassis

Heidi, Reagan, and Payne in Cassis

Thank you so much, Jean-Marc, for driving us around and for being a great guide.


Click here to listen to the French and English terms

la smala = entourage, family
en vitesse = quickly, rapidly
Cassis = Cassis
Paris = Paris
tirer la chasse = to flush the toilet
bizarreries = peculiarities
la sortie = the outing
la belle-sœur = sister-in-law
le beau-frère =
la réunion de famille
= family reunion 
un succès = a success
le TGV (le train à grande vitesse) = fast train
le bercail = home (slang)
Prenez soin de vous et à bientôt = take care and see you soon

Heidi, in Aix

Ana and Max making us dinner chez Max

To the following readers who this past week sent in a blog donation or purchased our online memoir, your contribution towards publishing this blog is the key to its longevity! I am sincerely grateful for your support. Merci beaucoup! --Kristi

Susan D.
Jed M.
Eileen D.
Jeanine C.
Virginia G.
Deborah H.
Susan H.


Sisters. Thanks to my son’s lovely girlfriend, Ana, for this photo.

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

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

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

Say "Pink Flamingo" in French + Reverse culture shock

Sunflower and pink flamingo
Sunflowers--and come see the exotic pink bird in our garden... at the next wine tasting here at Mas des Brun, August 6th. We hope to see you! Contact [email protected] for details.

le flamant rose (flamahn rowz)

    : pink flamingo

Audio File: listen to today's word and example sentence, read by Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wave file

Flamant Rose. En Camargues, les flamants roses sont des espèces protegées. Pink Flamingo. In the Camargue, pink flamingos are a protected species..

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE… by Kristin Espinasse

"Reverse Culture Shock"

After missing the London-Nice connection, Jackie’s bag made it all the way home from Denver! My 16-year-old was sleeping off her long voyage when Chronoposte arrived with the beat-up valise, but when Jackie awoke her first instinct was to ask for that bag.

“It’s in the garage, Sweety. Have Max carry it up for you.” I left my daughter to root through her suitcase (sur place, for there was apparently no time to wait for her brother!). Moments later I heard a knock on my bedroom door.

“Mom, there’s a surprise for you in the garden….” Jackie said, wearing that crooked smile her father wears when he’s up to something.

I couldn’t help but wonder what my husband (assuming he was in on this) had installed, erected, or otherwise “fashioned” in the backyard. Would it be pleasing to the eye? Would it involve a thick band of silver tape as so many of his solution-inventions do?

Climbing the stone steps beside the garage I followed the girl in cutoffs, my heart swelling as her ponytail swept from side to side. How Jackie had changed in four weeks, after spending time with my sister and family in Colorado and Idaho!

“Mom. I need to take the TOEFL test. I want to go to the University of Colorado, in Boulder!” she announced, almost as soon as her plane landed….

TOEFL? Boulder? Go away from home? But that was a few years away! For now we were here together, here in a garden in the south of France--here on a treasure hunt! My eyes scanned the verger, its floor covered with paille. But nothing looked out of the ordinary … there was the comfrey and the row of chives I’d recently planted, the little plants leaning out of their toilet-paper roll jackets (which were supposed to eventually compost, according to the experts).

With an anxious motioning from my daughter, I moved on to Sector Two, where four raised beds made of local stone held a chaotic forest of herbs and vegetables. “Say ‘hot’ or ‘cold’, and help me find it!” I begged, when suddenly a bright something to my right began drenching my peripheral vision, in pink!


Turning, my eyes met a plastic pink flamingo.

"It’s from Heidi," Jackie pointed out.

Well, that was odd, I thought, staring at the unnatural object. Sort of kitch! Normally my sister has better taste than that. 

It would be necessary to hide the thing. But would I remember to pull it out when my sister came to visit? In the words of Walter Scott, “Oh! What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” No! The whole scenario was too complicated. I’d have to fess up, and let my sister know that this one was a bomb. Not at all my style.

“Heidi said you would understand,” Jackie smiled, eager to know my thoughts.

Understand? Now it was I rooting through the pockets of my mind’s valise, trying to make associations. Pink flamingo… understand… pink flamingo? Little beads of sweat formed over my brow as I came close to failing The Recognition Test.

Was it something to do with our childhood, Heidi's and mine? My mind raced back to the Arizona desert, where coyotes and quail, and rattlesnakes roamed. Were there pink flamingos, too?

“Mom!” Jackie’s impatience woke me from my reverie. “Heidi said it’s something you (you Americans) do. You put these in people’s gardens … to surprise your friends! 

My mind began to perk up and I was back on the streets of Phoenix, rolls of toilet paper in hand, laughing with a gaggle of girls as we played a prank on a friend. Once the cactus and the citrus trees and the mesquites in the front yard were covered … we’d leap out of the yard and run like bandits.

I vaguely remembered an occasional pink flamingo in those desert gardens, but it never registered then (at 12-years-old). Except in retrospect. Yes, it was another kind of prank! Not the kind kids were good at (owing to the expense of the plastic birds.). Toilet paper could easily be stolen from the bathroom!

It was surreal, standing there in my garden, listening to my French daughter teach me a lesson in American Pop Culture. Surreal may well be the definition of reverse culture shock: when something is so intimately familiar to you that you can’t recognize it at all.

"You mean out of all the stuff you bought in America, you managed to cram a giant flamant rose in your suitcase?"

"Aunt Heidi helped me," Jackie shrugged her shoulders and that crooked smile was back.

As we gazed at the kitchy pink bird, I threw my arm around my daughter and broke out into what the French call a fou rire—a serious case of the giggles. That sister of mine. She’s priceless. And so is this cheap pink flamingo!

Would you keep the pink flamingo--and “own it” when your French compatriots come to visit, questioning your sense of style? Or would you plant it in your neighbor’s garden, and so introduce the prank to French culture--which seems to have its own version: garden gnomes! Click here to comment.



Not everybody is thrilled with this new arangement. Some are getting their feathers ruffled over it! A pink imposter?

Pink flamingo and corn
Breizh is not happy with the new setup either, and is remembering a sarcastic French expression: Tout nouveau tout beau (A new broom sweeps clean). Harrumph! Time to chew on an ear of corn, if ever it will grow.

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

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

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. 

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

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

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 :-)

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

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

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

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 postcard I sent which brings me to the theme of today's missive: mailboxes!

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!


French Vocabulary
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!" 

 Marseilles mailboxes (c) Kristin Espinasse boites à lettres marseillaises

Mailboxes in Marseilles.

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

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

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

La 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:

"...my 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).

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

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

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

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.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety