To take off, to get off the ground. Can you say this in French?

Mom in the garden

Mom's wish before she took off this morning (it could be custom fit to speak to any one of us, no matter our hearts desires!). Read to the end and find out. (Photo of Jules admiring the poireaux, or leeks, which went to seed, beautifully.)

décoller (day-ko-lay)

    : to take off, to leave the ground (flight)
    : to unstick, unglue, blast off


Mom in the garden

Dear Mom,

You look so happy in the above photo, but the truth is I have never seen you so blue. It was Monday, June 23rd, the night before your departure... 


It was your idea to drag out the lawnchairs--including the chaise longue we found earlier, while dumpster diving. :-)

"We can lie out and watch the stars!" you cheered, but the sadness in your eyes gave away your tristesse.

Hipster (2)

 Chin up, chin up! Allez courage!

But you shot through the garden, and I ran after you, snapping these memories, "...until next year, when you return. It'll go by fast!" I swore over and over.

(By the way, there's the little green Aloe Vera sign, left, the one I made you promise to take when you ran into the store to buy me the soothing plant (this after my do-it-yourself skin peel left my nose all ablister! Next time I'll consider having the dermatologist remove the spots. Though I really do think that euphorbia peplus plant may be the ticket for my little problems!)


 Overheard on the lawnchairs: "I just know the sunflowers are going to open the day you leave...."


"It doesn't matter, Honey. Just look at all the blooms we can see today! By the way, Honey, if you post my picture please tell everyone that Karen in Phoenix gave me this dress! She would be so please to see how it looks."

"I will Mom, I promise. And it looks beautiful on you." (Sniff. Sniff.)

Too bad that hose is in the picture. But there's no way I'm stopping to put the tuyau away--not when I can be enjoying every moment with Mom. 

Walking (2)

"Keep your eyes on the horizon, Honey, and never ever look back!"

"OK, Mom. And is there anything else you'd like to say before you leave?"

"Keep building your garden!"

*    *    *

I will, Mom. I'll do my best to keep busy with a valorisant pursuit, one I can share with others. But I'm going to need your to rescue more orphaned chairs to fill up the garden! So unpack those hiking boots--the ones you pulled out of the dumpster--and leave them here. You're going to need them next time we go treasure hunting!



Post Note: Please send good thoughts to Jules. Her 9:30 a.m. flight was delayed when, suddenly, Air France's air traffic controllers went on strike! She has a long, long voyage ahead of her (now that her flight took off, or managed to décollé, two hours later than scheduled.

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

Fava beans-snap peas-mom-artichoke
                                     Today is your story. Write on!

Tenir tendrement, bercer

    : to cradle

AUDIO FILE: Jean-Marc recorded the example sentence, below, in lively Marseilles. Enjoy! Download MP3 or Wav

En regardant bien cette photo, on dirait que les fèves, les artichauts, et compagnie sont en train de tenir tendrement ma maman. Looking at this photo, you could say the favas, the artichokes, and the rest are cradling my mom.

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

Today is "Wordless Wednesday"... except it's Thursday. Please have a look at the photo, above, of my Mom in the garden….and would it be possible for you to write today's story? You know, your interpretation of Mom in the garden, her thoughts at that moment etc.  Make up something good and mix in as many French words as you wish!

Mom and I will be anxiously awaiting all of your stories.  Just post your words here in the comments box. Mom loves this idea; actually she made most of this post up while I was emptying the dishwasher. 

 *    *    *
Sorbonne Confidential Laurel ZuckermanPARIS WEBLOG 
I would like to thank Laurel Zuckerman, author of Sorbonne Confidential. See her Paris Writers News for our talk about publishing and France. I especially had fun with the question Do you have a favorite word in French? Read the intervew here.
Almond harvest 2014
Up next: Three professional French skiers help us get a handle on the almond harvest! To comment on this post, go here.

Share this post and help spread the French word. Merci beaucoup :-)

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

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

en panne

Flax flowers

Never stop receiving these words and photos (this one, with flax flowers, taken in the back yard)

Today's word reminds me we need a Plan B! Recently I've learned that French Word-A-Day is not delivering to all subscribers. Rather than panic (changing mail carriers), I'll continue sending out these posts via Feedburner. But before we lose each other, please take a moment to connect with me here, via Twitter where I may update you au cas où, or in the event....  

panne (pan)

    : breakdown, failure

tomber en panne = break down (car)
une panne d'éléctricité = power failure
une panne sèche = out of gas
avoir une panne d'oreiller = ("a pillow breakdown") to oversleep

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence (and today's word and the phrase tomber en panneDownload MP3 or Wav file

Que faire en cas de panne ? 6 consignes pour préserver votre vie et celle de vos passagers si vous devez vous arrêtez sur la bande d'arrêt d'urgence. What to do in case your car breaks down? 6 instructions to save your life and those of your passengers if you have to stop on the emergency lane.

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

Wearing her Panama hat and her Mexican poncho, Jules inhaled the fresh pine air and wiggled her toes, seemingly oblivious to the exhaust fumes trailing up from the road below. Not two days after she arrived in France, Mom was barefoot on the shoulder of the highway! She may have been shoeless and stranded after my car broke down, but she was smiling bright.

I sat down beside Mom, beneath a shady umbrella pine, and we waited as cars whizzed by. "Here, hold this." I handed over my purse as a makeshift écritoire. Fishing out some old receipts, I scribbled "EN PANNE" across the flimsy paper. Next I colored in the ballpoint letters and tucked the notes on my car's front and back windows, sous les essuie-glaces.

"Lucky for us Max was home and is now coming to the rescue," I chirped, mirroring Mom's  attitude. She was in such a good mood--even after loosing a shoe (her sandal broke back at the pépinière, as we tromped up and down rows of apricot and cherry trees, eventually coming to our senses and choosing a specimen that would fit in my small Citroën).

Mom and the Papyrus 

Shooting the breeze as we waited, I thanked Mom for the tall, leafy papyrus, which was recovered from the passenger seat and now stranded beside us, here on the bande d'arrêt d'urgence. "I've got another pair of sandals for you!" I added, remembering my collection--all gifts from mon beau-père John, who sends them along with Mom each time she comes to visit from her home in Mexico.

When my son arrived, I argued when he got into my car and tried to start it. "I wouldn't do that if I were you! There is a really strange odor... What if the car explodes?!

Max brushed me off and got into my car and--amazingly--drove off! I watched as the car lurched forward and back, all the way up the road. 

"What is he doing?!" 

"He is taking care of things," Mom announced. "He's 19 years old. His friends' cars must break down all the time, Honey. He knows what he is doing."

Five minutes later Max was running back to us, sans voiture. "I found a parking space opposite the mechanic's."

"He's just saved you a hundred dollar tow fee," Max's grandmother pointed out. "Smart kid!"

Normally, when my son's street smarts kick in, I remind him he gets his brains from me (nevermind I was last in my class to graduate). But this time it was normal to give credit to the bright-eyed grand-mère who stood clasping her hands in admiration.

Looking at my son (who finishes high school this week) I had to admit, "You get those brains from Grandma Jules!"

Max won't be graduating last in his class, because he's madly studying for the baccalauréat. Wish him luck! He'll need to pass this high school exam to make it into a university.

To respond to this story, click here


 Son Max, his grand-mère Jules, and the papyrus she gave us. The sign above the tip of Mom's hat is serendipidous. It reads Merci. Thanks Max!

My beautiful maman. Plates full of salad and jam jars filled will water, we're enjoying every moment together, Mom and I! Those are Jean-Marc's muddy docksiders in the background--beside another bouquet of his vineyard wildflowers.


tomber en carafe = slang for to break down on the side of the road
une écritoire = writing tablet
en panne = broken down
un essuie-glace = windshield wiper
la pépinière = plant nursery
bande d'arrêt d'urgence = emergency lane
le beau-père = stepfather, father-in-law

Jean-marc and vines

In other happenings, Jean-Marc scored when a wine nursery gave him a couple dozen orphans! These Tibouren vines are an ancient variety primary grown in Provence. See the babies, above, with their waxy red "hats". The shoots will soon break through the wax and leaves will appear. Presto, a grape is born!

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

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

How to say lawn chair in French

almost summertime (c) Kristin Espinasse 
Has a friend forwarded you this French word journal? Sign yourself up for the free newsletter and never miss a word or photo. Photo of front porch, where Mom and I will soon have coffee. The wind blew off the makeshift curtain (an attempt to shade the area at lunchtime...)

Rent an apartment in Monaco
Villa Royale apartment in Monaco. Large studio with beautiful sea views in the residential district of Bea

la chaise-longue (shez- lowng)

    : lawn chair 

Elle est dans le jardin, en train de lire sur sa chaise-longue. She's in the garden, reading on her lawn chair. 

Mas de la Perdrix - visit this charming rental in the south of FranceProvence Villa Rental Luberon luxury home; 4 bedrooms, 5 baths; gourmet kitchen, covered terrace & pool. Views of Roussillon. Click here

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

"I could hear you girls giggling all night long!"  Mom called out.

I looked up from the flower bed, where I had been experimenting with an ice plant (could one really stick a griffe de sorcière in the ground.. and it would grow?). "Good morning Mom!" I chirped, waving the experimental cutting.

A second-story window framed my mom and the morning sun dazzled her eyes, which sparkled with life. She had her silver hair tied back and her olive complexion was as fresh as the morning dew that covered the plants beneath me. I could tell Mom was full of energy today. Perhaps we could do something special to mark this, her second-to-last day in France before returning home to Mexico?

"Come have your tea with me?" I stood up, shook the dirt from my hands and pointed to the picnic table. 

Mom was down in a flash and we were reliving the previous evening, in which I had the pleasure of spending time with Ann and Katia, a writer and a beloved podcaster. I rarely have the occasion to speak in person with people who do similar work to my own, and it was interesting to talk about the highs and lows of creative work.

Mom loved my friends and I assured her that they found her just as endearing. "I'm sorry I talked too much..." Mom apologized, as we took our cups of tea and walked from the front porch to the meadow, below, to have a look at all the plants among the olive trees. 

"Don't worry about it!" I said, feeling a little ashamed for having elbowed Mom the night before. Having realized she was three-quarters of the way through her life story, I wondered: had Mom gotten to the part where she was rescued? Strapped onto a lawn chair and lowered onto a Mexican panga boat to be transferred from the remote fishing village to a city hospital? Ironically, that would be the beginning of her nightmare.).

I was sorry to have been disrespectful to my Mom and regretted my words from the night before (along with a few other things I'd said during her four week visit to France). And now Mom would be leaving soon. Had we said and done all we had wished to say and do?

"I just want to lie here in the garden," Mom said, "here under this olive tree. I'll go get the other lawn chair."

"Stay there! I'll get it for you!" I dashed off, past the wild fennel and the bright red poppies, to the terrain de pétanque--where those "witches fingernails" I'd been transplanting grew--and snatched up the chaise longue.

We arranged the lawn chairs along the slope, until we were looking up at one of the ancient olive trees. "I'd like this one to be mine," Mom suggested. "Could you put my name on it?"

It was a lovely idea. I could then sit by the tree and think of Mom while she was an ocean away....

"Look over there," I said, pointing to a figuier I'd discovered the day before. The little fig tree (really a series of shoots from an ancient trunk) had been completely overrun by an invasive bush. The night before, I'd gotten the long-handled shears and freed it of its leafy invador and could now admire it from where Mom and I were sitting. "OK, I said, this one is Jules! And do you know what I've named the little fig tree?"

Mom's eyes were bright with curiosity. 


We sat there laughing beneath the olive tree, remembering yesteryear--before one of us moved to Mexico and the other to France. Back when we shared tall glasses of milk and those favorite fig-filled cookies.

"Fig Newtons..." Mom said, reminiscent.

"I'll call him "Newey" for short." I winked at my mom, who smiled as we gazed at our trees, affectionately. 

As the wind blew through the trees' branches, causing the leaves to rustle, our conversation carried on, lackadaisically. I no longer hoped we were making the most of our time, but knew that this cozy moment was the yesteryear of tomorrow--as comforting and sweet as those fig-filled cookies.

*    *    *
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   Calanque (c) Kristin Espinasse

Making memories with Mom. After Mom befriended this guy, she handed me the ball to play.

A Jules by the sea (c) Kristin Espinasse

The game of retrieval (c) Kristin Espinasse

Don't tell Smokey and Braise... We'll bring them the next time!

How to clean a French window (c) Jules
Tidying up the house before tidying up ourselves... and heading out to explore another seaside town...

Mama Jules
Mom, "la capitaine", at the port in La Ciotat. I think it's time to name Mom's fish purse à la Mr Sacks. Suggestions welcome in the comments box!

Kristin Espinasse - la Ciotat
At the seaside market in La Ciotat, I bought a jujube tree and a few other natives to plant in our garden, beside the Mediterranean strawberry tree, or arbusier. What are some other local trees and fruit-bearing shrubs that you would suggest? Meantime, Mom and I are busy trying to identify more than trees... but all of the edible weeds and medicinal plants here in the olive field or meadow: plantain, fumeterre, fennel, lucerne, chardon de marie, pissenlit... and heaps of thyme and rosemary.

Jules in Provence (c) Kristin Espinasse
I'm going to miss you so much, Mom. Come back soon! And thank you for being my sweet maman. While her adoring husband is waiting for her back in Mexico, help me wish Mom bon voyage, here in the comments box.

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

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


Pétanque and potager. Been planting lettuce, kale, and goji berries beside the boules court, turmeric, too! It looks like the Braise and Smokey are busy with a game now... OK, as long as they don't stop for a healthy snack! 

faciliter (fah-seel-ee-tay)

    : to ease, to make easier

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

Ma mère est là pour faciliter cette transition.
My mom is here to help ease this transition.

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

One of the reasons I wanted Mom to come visit, the week after we moved to Bandol, was so the kids and I wouldn't be alone while Jean-Marc was away at harvest. (He wanted to help Caroline and Thomas, the new owners of Domaine Rouge-Bleu during their ten day vendange).

The other reason I needed Mom here was for her ability to instantly infuse our new home and our environment with a unique essence: that of family, of love, of timelessness. Once Mom arrived it would be as though we had always been here forever, along with the French and British predecessors of this 19-century mas.

Indeed, as I hear Mom's voice echo throughout the meadow—where she is off on her morning walk with two happy dogs—it is as though I have never left home, whether that be the Arizona desert, where I grew up... or the bustling city of Marseilles, where Mom arrived in time to greet her first grandson... or the quiet village of Les Arcs-sur-Argens, where Jules came to help with the growing family, only to learn that tumors were growing inside of her. Mom literally left a piece of herself in France that time, before returning home to Mexico to have the other breast removed.

From the boules court where I am picking figs....

Figs-hunting with Smokey...


...I spy Mom exploring the ancient restanques and the future vegetable garden. Jules is wearing my old hiking boots and another of her loose ponchos (she never did have the reconstructive surgery, after her mastectomy--and hated those constrictive prosthesis bras which would gradually inch up, finishing the journey by strangling her at the neck! The ponchos and other loose-fitting clothing have become Mom's carefree solution).

I wave from beneath the figuier, shaking a fig at my fellow explorer down below. When Mom sees me she lights up, shaking a discovery or two of her own.

"Look!" Mom shouts, waving an exotic flower "the only one in the meadow". I don't have the heart to tell her that the delicate blue flower grows à gogo in a neighboring field. I watch as Mom returns in time to fill a shot glass with water and place the "rare" blue specimen (a chicory) on my desk. "Honey, always keep flowers on your desk," Mom smiles.

After the flowers, there will be gifts of pine cones ("look at the teethmarks!" Mom enthuses. "I wonder what wild animal was hungry for this one?"), and feathers (Mom loves to stick them in her hat, along with the wildflowers), and intricate leaves, "for your souvenir book," Mom suggests. In the evening I will tuck the leaves and the feathers into my journal, and do a sketch, as Mom suggests, of the little potager garden we are planting. I want to document where I've planted things--in case it all grows out of control! Meantime, lettuce, kale, rhubarb, turmeric, blueberries, gojiberries, beets, verbena, celery, and cilantro are coming up like like morning sun. A brand new day....

After sharing two decades of France with my Mom, I couldn't wait for her to be here to usher us into this next chapter of our lives. Like the opening paragraphs of a great novel, Mom is helping to set the scene of this mysterious and promising new beginning. It is her commencement as well; the start of a new year--her 66th. Happy birthday Mom!

Selected French Vocabulary

la pétanque = game of boules. See Herm's poem.

le potager = kitchen garden

boules (f)  = synonym for pétanque

la vendange =  harvest (definition, photo, and story here)

le mas = country farmhouse

une restanque = a support wall made of stones

à gogo = galore, in great quantity



Some family photos for you. There's Mom, outside with Max. Inside, that's my mother-in-law, Michèle-France, and 15-year-old Jackie.


Jean-Marc, Michèle-France, Jackie, and me.


Jules, Max, Jacques, Michèle-France, Jackie, and Jean-Marc, before serving Jackie's birthday cake.


La famille. To comment on any of these photos, click here.

My brother-in-law, Jacques.

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

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

How to say "leash" in French: laisse

From Mexico to France. Mom, out walking Smokey R. Dokey along the boardwalk in St. Cyr-sur-Mer. Following our big move south, the dog leashes are still packed.... I know they're around here, somewhere. For our Sunday stroll by the sea, belts doubled as dog laisses, or leashes. (I thought to use the belts on our bathrobes, but 14-year-old Jackie said something like, "la honte!" (or how humiliating to been seen walking the dogs... with the help of terry-cloth leashes!)

une laisse (less)

    : leash

Example Sentence:

Merci de tenir vos chiens en laisse.
Please keep your dogs under control by using a leash.

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

After I finished setting up Mom's room, I stood back and had a look at the overall effect. The scene looked uncannily like that of my childhood salon, where Mom had her bookcases, a low-lying canapé, and all her favorite babioles. It is funny how we sometimes recreate, if unconsciously, cozy corners of the past. Do you think Mom will be snug and comfortable here? I put out a fresh bowl of fruit, to sweeten things.


Mom's room will revert to my office, in three week's time , when Jules returns to Mexico. Not thinking about that, now....

I'm a little slow going these days. Adjustment blues. In the kitchen I turn in circles... when suddenly there's a rap on the window. It's Mom--absolutely brimming with enthusiasm I LOVE YOUR HOME! I LOVE YOUR HOME! Mom's mood is contagious and I can't help but break out in one great smile. 

We were on our way to the la pépinière, to buy more mulch and some dill that I wanted to plant--when we got off track and ended up at the chair brocante's... we found two powder blue crapauds anglais--those cozy English chairs that one sips tea in while eating finger sandwiches (just a wild guess). "Mom, we can't drag those home." Mom: Sure we can! And so we did.

"Always keep a deck of cards out," Mom suggests. "It will liven up this corner." Mom is right, that petit coin was a little sleepy before that deck came out!

Meantime... Donne la patte. Gimme your paw, Smokey! Mom trains our golden. (Side note: see the room beyond? That's the  TV room. You can just spot one of Mom's paintings. It has already moved. We're just trying things out, Mom says, rearranging paintings, bibelots, and the rest. We're also trying out the powder blue chairs--but are considering making covers for them (Jean-Marc doesn't like the color).


 Mom and I take a break from decorating, and head upstairs (just past the TV room) to my bedroom. There's a balcony there... convenient for reaching the tree top! I pick a couple of figs for la goûter.

Mom eats les figues... washing them down with Bandol rosé! (The wonderful black recliner belonged to Maggie's father, a Scottish man, who moved into this mas in the 60's. See a photo of Maggie and Mike, who sold us their home, here). Maggie's father loved this chair. I hope he would be pleased to know Mom loves it, too. It has wheels! I'm just waiting for Mom to ask me to push her around--wheee! (The answer is non!--those wheels are not for racing.)

Jean-Marc says the crapauds are comfortable. Now I won't worry anymore about the spontaneous purchase. How much do you think the old chairs cost? Leave your best guess here, in the comments box.

Outside the cabanon de cochon, Jules is giving Smokey etiquette lessons. Mom can't speak French, but she's learned a few commands:

donne la patte (gimme your paw)
assis! = sit
couché = lie down
là-bas! = scram! (literally "(go over there!")


Jackie, left, missing her friends back in Sainte Cécile. Grandma Jules offers a sympathetic oreille...

Jean-Marc and Jules look at boats. The colorful ones, there, are known as "pointus"--they are the classic fishing vessels of yesteryear. Perfect for catching daurade or loup... but not so practical should you want to cruise over to the islands of Frioul. Do you want to visit the island of Frioul? Pack a picnic... throw in the anchor... go for a swim among the rocky island coast....


Voilà. It's time for me to think about lunch, then pick up Jackie to share it with. Au fait, here she is with Grandma Jules, shopping in Sanary-sur-Mer. Jackie didn't end up with the mustard yellow vest, but it sure looked cool on her! We didn't buy anything (on a fait du lèche-vitrines), but gathered ideas for her upcoming 15th birthday, on September 18th!

If you are new to this word journal, bienvenue! You can read more about Jules and Jackie and our Franco-American family in the books Words in a French Life and Blossoming in Provence. Thanks for reading!

French Vocabulary

le salon = living room

le canapé = sofa

le canapé-lit = sofa-bed

la babiole = knick-knack

la pépinière = plant nursery

le crapaud = toad 

le fauteuil crapaud = squat armchair

la brocante = second-hand shop

le petit coin = small corner (also toilet room)

la goûter = snack time

le cabanon = stone Provencal hut

le cochon = pig

une oreille = ear

la daurade = sea bream

le loup de mer = sea perch 

voilà = so there you have it

on a fait du lèche-vitrines = we went window shopping (literally "we licked windows")

au fait = by the way

bienvenue! = welcome!

ça y est = that's it


Ça y est. Jackie is the tallest female in our house! To comment on any of the photos or items in this edition, thanks for using this link.

Mom got the cool belt-leash (the leather one, with fringe. I got stuck with the nerdy one--that looks like a tie... trying to look like a belt... trying to look like a leash.)

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

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


Sheep in Les Arcs (c) Kristin Espinasse
Who (or what) is your muse? For me it can be a scene, like this one... and suddenly inspiration comes! Photo taken in Les Arcs-sur-Argens, where we lived from 1999-2007. 


I tried to find a French synonym for une muse, but I landed on a French definition instead. Here it is, along with the day's story, written two summers ago:

une muse (myooz)

    : une source d'inspiration pour un écrivain, un poéte, ou une artiste 

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the definition to muse: Download MP3 or Wav file

la muse verte = absinthe (the drink that is said to have inspired 19 Century writers)
invoquer sa muse = to call on one's muse
courtiser les muses = to court the muses
taquiner la muse = literally to tease the muse (to give a go at poetry)
les muses = The nine Muses

un musée = museum (from the Greek mousaion, or "a seat or shrine of the muses")


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

Last night I dialed up Mexico and listened as Jules picked up the phone at the other end of the jungle. I felt grateful to hear my mom's voice and immediately asked whether she would like to hear about the fictional nouvelle that I had begun.  

Mom was game. Only, as I heard myself recount the historiette (involving a senile goat that wears recycled espadrilles), I realized—before Mom even suggested it—that I still wasn't addressing the muse... or was it that the muse wasn't addressing me?... or rather neither of us was addressing but rather a-skirting. Quite simply put, we were, both of us, the muse and I, conveniently and once again skirting the heart's history. Whether or not skirts were involved is beside the point. Let's see, is there a point?

"I think you use humor to deflect," Mom pointed out, in so many mom-wise words. "Underneath the guise of comedy, lie your profound stories." 

I offered a few mumbly yah-yahs and you're right about thats. Mom was unconvinced. That is when she reminded me of a line she had just heard in a movie, words that stirred her heart, and maybe they would stir up my own in time to share a few true lines. 

"You are God's muse"

 "You are God's muse," Mom said, quoting the film. She left enough silence for the words to find feeling in my mind. We are God's muse.... 

Later that night, after the house had fallen to sleep, I reluctantly put my espadrille-shoed chèvre aside. I reassured myself that the story could be told another time. Next, I thought of Mom's words:

"Remember, you are God's muse. Just fire up that computer, put your hands over that keyboard and LET IT RIP!"

I opened a new window on my computer screen. I took a sip of coffee, staring for a thoughtful while at the proverbial blank page. Finally, I typed in the title of my story. My throat tightened followed by a stinging in the eyes. Closing them, I felt wet lashes.

I looked up at what I had typed: only a word, no more than a title. It read, Naked

Next, I closed the word document and shut off the computer. I walked down the quiet hall to the bedroom, where I changed into my pajamas. I can't sleep without them.


   "Locked" in St Paul Trois Chateaux (c) Kristin Espinasse

French Vocabulary

la nouvelle = short story

la historiette = anecdote, short story

la chèvre = she goat


  Smokey (c) Kristin Espinasse

Forward today's story to a struggling artist. Thanks. (Picture of Smokey taken two summers ago. What is he thinking? Click here to add a thought bubble.)

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Chief Grape and his puzzle
Jean-Marc's latest pastime. Read on in today's story column.

un casse-tête (kass tet)

    : jigsaw puzzle, brainteaser
    : difficult problem, headache 

Note: un casse-tête is a synonym for puzzle. The French more often call a puzzle "un puzzle" or "un jeu de patience".

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read today's word and the following example sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

Les premiers puzzles se faisaient en peignant une image sur la surface d'une fine planche de bois que l'on découpait ensuite à l'aide d'une scie à chantourner... le mot anglais "puzzle" signifiant d'une façon générale une énigme ou un casse-tête. The first puzzles were made by painting an image on the surface of a thin wooden board that was then cut with help of a jig saw... The English word "puzzle" means, generally speaking, an enigma or a brainteaser. —


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

There is nothing so soothing as watching an overworked man piece together a jigsaw puzzle. Sitting quietly beside the crackling fire, a puzzle piece held gently between rough, calloused fingers, my husband is lost in concentration. I have had the chance to observe this "pieceful" scene, almost nightly, ever since Jean-Marc cleaned out the cellier, salvaging this old puzzle in the process.

Just outside the window, the rows and rows of grapevines—now leafless, woody, and sleeping like a log—no longer vie for his attention. For a rare moment, Jean-Marc is at peace.

On the table before him, my husband has laid down one of my mom's largest oil paintings—it appears to be the perfect base on which to construct his scattered oeuvre!

(Jules will not be shocked to learn that her painting currently serves as a foundation—au contraire—she is known to roughhouse with her art: scrubbing down dusty paintings and, sometimes, completely obliterating scenes with a coat of wet paint!

Sometimes Mom forgets her plein air paintings, leaving them out in the rain—only for them to survive, blessed by God's tears, dried by the muse or le Mistral!

Yes, by unwittingly lending her painting as a puzzle support, I think Mom will even be honored to learn that she is participating in this restorative effort, one that has an especially calming effect on her treasured—and tired—beau-fils.)

From the kitchen, where I am putting away dishes, I pause, enjoying the scene of a tired man "puzzling". The scene is restful, even to me. I sit down at the kitchen table to sip a steaming tisane and watch my husband work, this time effortlessly.

Initially, Jean-Marc tried to interest our daughter (owner of the puzzle) to participate with him in this jeu de patience. When Jackie eventually lost interest (or patience?), Jean-Marc continued working on her puzzle without her.

As I observe my husband I am humbled by his appreciation and interest in our daughter's puzzle. Watching him devote all his concentration to the subject, I can't help but feel a little ashamed at an unfair remark I made many years ago, before we broke up for the first time:

The heated scene took place on a busy street in Marseilles and went something like this:

Me: "You are so macho!"
Him (hugely offended): "Je ne suis pas macho! JE NE SUIS PAS MACHO!

I can't even remember what the subject was then, but tonight, sitting here sipping my tea, it is hard to contain my smile as the puzzle in the next room begins to come into view, piece by piece....

I now see two fuzzy kittens clinging side by side—innocent and helplesssuch a fragile couple!

How sweet to see a big strong man putting together a kitten puzzle! I think, when suddenly my mind returns to the accusatory scene on the busy city street, some twenty years ago.... 

Macho? What was I thinking?! I look over, affectionately, at the puzzle maker and feel a strong sense of gratitude for one man's care and diligence in piecing back together the innocent and fragile couple. It takes puzzle maker's patience. This I know for sure.


Learn more about our exciting (and rocky...) courtship, in the intro chapter to Words in a French Life. And in the follow-up book, "Blossoming in Provence", a girlfriend-come-wife learns many more lessons in patience!

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections and comments regarding today's story, or edition, are welcome here, in the comments box

French Vocabulary

le cellier = storeroom
une oeuvre = a work (painting, book, film) 
au contraire = on the contrary, just the opposite
plein air = a painting produced outdoors
Mistral = strong wind coming from the north or northwest
le beau-fils = son-in-law
une tisane = herbal tea
un jeu de patience = puzzle 


Rose hips (c) Kristin Espinasse
The pieces of Nature's puzzle.

Puzzle statue in Ramatuelle (c) Kristin Espinasse

A puzzle statue we spotted in Ramatuelle. I hope you enjoyed this edition. Keep up your French with the following, highly recommended book:

Exercises in French Phonics

Exercises in French Phonics bestseller on French pronunciation and how to pronouce French words correctly! (click here)

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

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

baratin & baratiner

Prince 2 CV Citroen (c) Kristin EspinasseDoes one need to hit the road to sell books on French life? Not when your MOM is busy pounding the pavement! Read on... (photo taken in Briançon). Note: the next word goes out in the new year. Meilleurs Voeux! Bonne Année!

le baratin (bara-tehn)

    sweet talk, smooth talk

baratiner = to sweet-talk somebody, to chat someone up
baratineur, baratineuse = smooth talker 

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words (above and below): Download MP3 or Wav File

Pour vendre des livres il faut avoir l'art de baratiner!
To sell books, one must know the art of sweet talk!


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

The Pick-Up Artist

You know what they say about a good salesman: He or she could vendre de la glace aux esquimaux! This is especially true of my dear mom, Jules, who is busy selling my book on French life to lovers of Spanish! For the past ten days, Jules has made it her mission to convert the tourists who flock to her little neighborhood along the Bay of Banderos, in Mexico.

Dressed in her trademark linen poncho (her latest one, in white, was a Christmas gift from her husband John), a red turtleneck (to match her red Converse tennis shoes), white pants and her trusty fedora, Mom sets out to beat the previous day's sales record.  

Like any saleswoman worth her salt, Mom knows that one of the best ways to market a product is to get out there and pound the pavement! In Mom's charismatic presence, travelers are forgetting for a moment that they are in Puerto Vallarta... when they begin to perceive the hum of the accordion as Mom dances up and down the boardwalk at the marina, picking up yet another potential bookbuyer with her sweet baratin. "Bonjour, Monsieur!...."

Every salesman has a challenge to overcome. In this case, that would be the absence of a tangible product to peddle! This doesn't discourage Mom one bit and, minus an actual copy of Blossoming in Provence, Jules manages to sell the goods "sight unseen", via verbal promissory notes extracted from the innocent tourists. "You will buy my daughter's book when you get home, won't you?! Merci, Madame!..."

Having worn a trail along the docks, Mom heads to The Coffee Cup, where more unsuspecting travelers are having their first cuppa, unaware of the lively scene about to take place.

This is when Jules fires up the computer (The Coffee Cup has three or four of them, reserved for customers), and logs on to

"Oh, Kristi!" Mom slaps her hands to her heart. "You are at number 31 in Hot New Releases!"

A few of the customers look over, in curiosity. For the sake of drama, Mom grabs onto the sleeve of the customer beside her. "Look! That's my daughter," Mom exclaims, pointing to the screen. "This is the book she published in 21 days--and now it is topping the bestseller charts!" (Like any saleswoman worth her salt, a little bit of exaggeration--or what, in all due respect, we might call "artist's license"--is par for the course!) 

And so it is that my dear mom has spent the past ten days--betting that the Hispanophiles who visit Puerto Vallarta are really Francophiles in waiting. Win or lose, she is certainly selling books in the process!

Thanks, Mom!

Le Coin Commentaires
To respond to this post, please click here

See a photo of Mom, her husband John, and me in Puerto Vallarta. Click here and don't miss the story!

If you haven't yet... please click here to purchase your copy of Blossoming in Provence. Many thanks for your support--and for giving my dear mom a day off work today :-) 

 French Expression:

vendre de la glace aux esquimaux = to sell snow to Eskimos
le baratin = smooth talk
Bonjour, Monsieur! = Hello, sir!
Bonjour, Madame = Hello, Ma'am 


  word sculpture in Jonquieres France (c) Kristin Espinasse

An interesting sculpture in front of the town hall, in Jonquières (Vaucluse)

Dreaming of coming to France in 2012? Check out these posts for some fun ideas on what to do once you get here:

And check out Where to Rent a Car in France?

Exercises in French PhonicsExercises in French Phonics bestseller on French pronunciation and how to pronouce French words correctly! (click here)



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

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



These ladies light up my life. Mom and I had an inspiring visit with the Dirt Divas. I wish I had had a tape recorder with me to capture some of the chippy bantering! From left to right: Malou, Jules, Doreen, Kristin. Click to enlarge the photo.

avouer (ah voo ay)

    : to admit

avoue-le! = admit it!

Example sentence: J'avoue que je suis un peu sauvage. I admit that I am a bit unsociable.

The Greater Journey : Americans in Paris

The Greater Journey is the enthralling, inspiring—and until now, untold—story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work. Order The Greater Journey here.


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


I decided not to tell Mom until she got here. Why ruin her trip? Why get her thinking on something, ticking about it, when, instead, she could experience another day or two of peace? Besides, she had 24 hours of travel ahead of her and I wanted that trip to go as smoothly as possible.

And so I waited until she arrived to admit to her that I had broken a promise (that is, I think I had promised? It seemed I had. If my guilty feelings were any indication, then I had surely given Mom ma parole).

When I finally told Mom about the broken promesse, prefacing the avowal with enough of a lead-up that Mom was poised to receive une bombe... I let it drop, my little firecracker: Mom, I am so sorry....

... but I did not get around to having your latest painting framed! It is still rolled up, as you had left it, and I am afraid that it might be damaged, having been stored in that position for this long....

Closely, I studied Jules's face, not being able to stand another instant of guessing what her reaction might be. Suddenly, all the worry lines that had built up during my long lead-in to THE AVOWAL... disappeared.

"Is that it?" Mom questioned. I assured her it was. Only, instead of being disappointed, Mom seemed utterly pleased! Oh, that's nothing!, Jules assured me, falling back onto her pillow in relief.

On the subject of pillows... I notice Mom's head has been resting a lot on her oreiller in the last week... (This brings us to Secret No. 2.... : Mom's Avowal)

By day four or five of Mom's visit, my suspicion is growing.... and by lunch on the 7th day, I have lost my appetite. A lump in my throat, hopelessness rising inside, I look across the picnic table to Mom. Something is just not right. That contagious charisma that shines out from within has been replaced by a dull regard.  

I begin to string together the clues:
She's not brushing her hair...
She's sleeping till noon... 

I suspect Mom's reclusive behavior has to do with her medications... the ones she promised she would bring with her to France this time! My eyes begin to smart. There's that pinching sensation that warns that tears are on the way. When I resist (holding my eyes tight), I feel my very own anxiety ignite... 

That evening I fight the urge to retreat, to lick my own wounds up in the privacy of my room. Instead, I stop by Mom's window in the courtyard. The shutters are open and Mom is seated on the other side, framed by the room's light. She is wearing her brightly colored dressing gown with the glittery sequins. If only the colors in her sunken soul matched her vibrant robe.

I carry a garden chair over to the window and its ledge becomes a table between Mom and me. My question breaks the silence. "How are you feeling?" Having asked THE QUESTION, I brace myself for Mom's avowal.

She admits: "I've been halving my medication..."

The information sinks in. My chippy of a Mom has done it again! Though I feel like screaming, I decide, instead, to try for once to learn from past lessons. I calmly ask Mom to tell me exactly how many pills remain. Mom produces two packets, two different medications. She pulls out the sheets of tablets and begins counting. "Well... if I cut them in half, then..."

"No half doses!" I remind Mom. "Now, tell me, how many days do you have left?" I hear the macabre irony as the question rings in my ear, for, without medication, Mom is not truly living: she is suspended, in time, like a deer frozen before headlights.

Mom explains that she was not able to get four weeks' worth of her medication, and I am reminded of the shoddy situation of health care elsewhere. Not everyone has the privilege of walking into their pharmacy and leaving with enough medications to meet their needs. 

My heart goes out to my mother and to her husband, who tries hard to meet all of her needs. Only, this time, it was an impossibility.

I learn about how he has saved coupons in order to be able to stock up on the supply of medications that Mom would need for this trip. Only, they were a week short of being able to benefit from the 2-for-1 offer... and so Mom left with "almost enough medication". Because the idea of traveling all the way back to Mexico, having just gone off her meds, frightened her, she began dividing for the future!

Mom tells me that the secret she's been keeping has only aggravated her symptoms.  "But, Mom!, you should have told me, immediately! Transparency!," I remind her, "is the key to peaceful living."

As soon as I've preached my latest sermon, I am struck by the absurdity of my cloudy philosophy (I remember my own secret...). From now on, I might do well to practice transparency before illuminating others on the virtues that lead one to peace. 


Post note: so I made Mom a deal: why not make it our goal to accomplish two monumental-to-us tasks: to get the painting framed and to get to the doctor! 

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections and comments are welcome. Merci d'avance! Click here to leave a message.


Related story: This isn't the first time our mother-daughter relationship was put to the test. Once, I locked Mom out of the house (I don't think I've written about that one...!!!) and another time, two years ago, Mom came to France without her anxiety medication. We had to live through a trying power outage, which only added to the moodiness (click here)!

French Vocabulary

chippy = (adj = rascally; noun = rascal)

ma parole = my word

la promesse = promise

une bombe = bomb

un oreiller = pillow

la robe = dress 



"The Courage to Face Another Day". A trompe-l'oeil in the village of St Roman de Malegarde.

Shop like the French!

Capture plein écran 12052011 095657Shopping trolleys--seen everywhere in France--are practical, attractive, and a good way to spare a tree or to avoid using yet another disposable plastic sack! Check out the range of colors, here, click Shopping trolleys (or click on one of the trolleys here)

Capture plein écran 12052011 095757 Stripped trolley

  Doreen mom

"Missing Malou". Kristin with Doreen and Mom. (Photo by Malou)

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

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