zone de confort

Never miss a word of photo: get French Word-A-Day delivered by email, here. Pictured: our daughter, Jackie, at the écurie, where today's story takes place... By the way, is anybody else as terrified by horses as I am?

zone de confort (zown deuh kohn fohr)

    : comfort zone

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the following French words:
Download MP3 or Wav file

sortir de votre zone de confort = move out of your comfort zone
oser quitter votre zone de confort = dare to leave your comfort zone

Capture plein écran 16052011 092531

The classic Bescherelle, the complete guide to French verb conjugation. Read the 5 star reviews, and order, here.

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

Out of One's Comfort Zone

At the horse stables where my daughter has her riding lesson, Jules and I are sitting on the freshly-mowed pelouse. Mom is wearing her bubblegum-blue poncho and her panama hat with the red silk roses. She has spread out her Mexican tapis, the bright blue one with all the giant red fish, making our trespass even more conspicuous.

I try to hold my tongue, after all, I have recited enough rules for the day (earlier, in the village of Tulette, I noticed Mom making a beeline toward the café, where two Moroccan men sat smoking. "Let's not talk to anyone!" I suggested, not wanting to get involved in another names-and-telephone-numbers exchange.  Mom indicated she wouldn't, but eventually, mon adorable chipie de maman, left me at the table in order to chat with the shopkeepers, making friends and appointments as she went...)

Back on the grass at the stables, I spoke: "This isn't such a good idea," I said, of the blanket and the feather oreillers that Mom had dragged out to the lawn beside the horse arena. "In France people don't lie on the grass!" 

Mom's response was to rap on the feather pillow, ordering me to take a seat! Next, like a starfish, she threw out her arms and legs, fell back on the pillow, and sky-gazed. "AHHHHHH!"

My back toward the barn and to the riders who were surely reporting us, I sat there, crookedly, unwilling to relax into the comfortable pillow beside me. Leaning sharply on my elbow, my eyes scanned the horse park, where I began questioning the quality of grass....

Perhaps different grass has different rules? I wondered. This grass here, with its wheat tones and dry patches... was different, wasn't it?, from Paris Luxembourg Gardens grass. There, you wouldn't dare relax (...or have the pelouse police on your back!).

My elbow grew sore and my back, at such a crooked angle, tired... along with my rules and resolutions. "Go ahead. Lie back!" Mom suggested, eager to share the world from her eyes-to-the-sky perspective.

When my head hit the pillow the first thing I noticed were the leaves in the tree above me. SUCH GREEN LEAVES! With the sun shining down through them, the tips were saturated with color.

The feuilles, shaped like giant outstretched hands, waved in the breeze, capturing all of my attention so that when the stable-owner marched up and towered over me, I could not see her for the tree leaves!

I scrambled to a seated position in time to be read my rights. Surely we were in trouble for suffocating the grass!

But, instead of a reprimand, all I heard were these inviting words: Profitez, mesdames, de cette magnifique journée. With that, the stable owner slipped by, a smile and kindness still sparkling in her eyes.


Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, feedback, and stories of your own are most welcome here, in the comments box.  

Let's create a fun list together....

100 (or so) Ways to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone!

I'll begin - with a few goals of my own:

1.  Ask the baker whether you might take her picture!

2. Go on a solo road trip

3. Give a talk at a library (or a school), sharing an idea or a hobby

4. Plant bird-of-paradise next to your mailbox

5. Stop the car next time something catches your eye (like the lady who sat out in front of her home, knitting)

6. Paint happy stars on a door, chez vous!

7. Tuck wildflowers into your hatband

8. Write a 40-page novel... for your eyes only and just for fun!

9... (Your turn to leave some tips here in the comments box!)


French Vocabulary

une écurie = horse stable

la pelouse (also le gazon) = grass

le tapis = rug

la chipie (pronounced "she-pee") = rascal, little devil

mon adorable chipie de maman =  my lively, mischievious, light-hearted and charming Mom

un oreiller = pillow

la feuille = leaf

Profitez, mesdames, de cette magnifique journée = Seize and enjoy this magnificent day!


On a recent walk near the river, Mom gathered wildflowers (chèvrefeuille, or honeysuckle, and genêt, or broom) for her hatband, or ruban de chapeau.

When you purchase any item from Amazon, using the following links to enter the store, your purchase helps to support this free language journal. Merci d'avance!

French Demystified: A Self-Teaching Guide 

I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany. Read review for this memoir

  Capture plein écran 16052011 090119
Wicker basket. For the farmer's market, for the beach, for a carry-on, for a picnic... (that's my mom, Jules's basket, pictured below!) Buy this multipurpose "panier" 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 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!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

surclasser un passager

Mom has arrived!  Here she is in her bump-me-up outfit (do you see Frida Kahlo on the cape?), the one that got her whisked into business class the moment she stepped onto the airplane. "Who can resist Frida?" Mom demanded, with that testy twinkle in her eye, when I asked for the specifics of her airline upgrade. (Picture taken last February, during my visit to Jules's home in Mexico.)

surclasser un passager

    : to upgrade or bump up a passenger

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words: Download MP3 or Wave file 

Hier, Jules a été surclassée dans son vol Mexico-Amsterdam.
Yesterday, Jules was bumped up for her Mexico-Amsterdam flight. 


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

Mom arrives

The call of the rossignol pierced through our flowery courtyard, tickling my ears with poetry. I was standing in the doorwell of the studio we had prepared for Mom, peeking out from behind the climbing jasmine, when I realized that there was some sort of delay over there in the driveway....

Wearing house slippers, I scuttled over to the front gate, beyond which I saw Jean-Marc unloading Jules's carry-on. "But where is Mom?"

"Elle est dans la cave," he answered. Alors comme ça, my chipie of a mom had disappeared into the wine cellar!

When next I saw a cloud of red, I recognized Jules in her favorite Frida Kahlo cape. She wore her panama chapeau with the thick red hat-band, in which she had tucked two red roses en soie.

"John bought these from the blind Mexican on the corner...." Mom explained, wanting me to know of her husband's thoughtful gesture the hour before her departure from Puerto Vallarta. 

"This one's you," Mom indicated, her hand reaching up to locate the first flower, "...and that one's me". She patted the silk flowers, "They represent his love for us".

I recognized another of Jules's attempts to bond her husband and her daughter. If only my darling mom knew that, just like that nightingale singing in the hedge, her family communicates clearly now and the best is yet ahead.


Postnote: Standing there in the driveway, no sooner did I have all of Mom's attention.... when four thieves rushed in and stole her affections!  I stepped back to offer my place to two tinsel-toothed teens and a couple of gushing goldens. Waiting in line, behind the dogs, my joy was not diminished in giving the others first dibs.

Le Coin Commentaires
To respond to this story or to today's word, click here.

French Vocabulary
le rossignol = nightingale
elle est dans la cave = she's in the wine cellar
alors, comme ça = and so, like that
la chipie = little rascal, little devil
le chapeau = hat 

Thank you for visiting our sponsor!

LES PORTES TORDUES (The Twisted Doors): The Scariest Way in the World to Learn and Listen to French! Check it out (if you dare).  



 Three characters in Villedieu (Vaucluse): one of the places I'd like to take Jules while she's here.

Capture plein écran 12052011 095657Le Trolley! Practical, attractive, and a good way to spare a tree or to avoid using yet another plastic sac! Check out the range of colors, here, click Shopping trolleys

Capture plein écran 12052011 095757

Capture plein écran 12052011 095845
 check out this one with matching boots (click here)!






Sunflowers can be just as happy on a small balcony as in a field wide as the breeze. Why not plant one this weekend? Photo taken in Cassis.

Check out the latest prices for Kindle, click here and consider ordering today! Your purchase helps support this free language journal. 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 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!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

Sur la production de la passion

In pursuit of one's shadow... read on. (P.S.: ever seen the shadow of a tongue?)

Sur La Production de La Passion
(On Manufacturing Passion)

During a telephone conversation last night, Mom and I talked about passion and peace (a dichotomy?) On the one hand, our passions drive us... and yet we are always looking for the road to La Paix.

"I spent several hours cruising the internet yesterday," Mom tells me. "I navigate from one creative site to the next." It is all overwhelming in the end. Finally, Mom concludes:

Perhaps I need to manufacture my own passion!

...Maybe I'll go out and buy some paint thinner... but then, I am so happy here (away from the blank canvas), resting quietly by the window, sharing this chocolate-chip cookie with Breezy!

Some say peace is what happens when we give up our passions. Just a thought and, along with Mom's cookie, quelque chose to snack on today....

Le Coin Commentaires
Your thoughts are welcome here, in the comments box.

Mustard-flower passion beneath still-sleeping vines.

Some are passionate about orchids... here's a wild one for you.

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 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!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

haut les coeurs!

"Heart in Burgundy" (c) Kristin Espinasse
Current events have us wearing our hearts on our former façades... and it's a good thing, n'est-ce pas?

haut les coeurs (oh lay ker)

    : lift up your spirit, take heart, be brave! have courage!

Thank you, Carolyn Foote Edelmann, for today's French expression: Carolyn writes, in response to Monday's seisme post:

Small thought - watching their dignity and fortitude, I think [the Japanese] may not want to be called 'victims'.

My Provencal neighbors had a phrase which sounded to me like "o, liqueurs!" - but was, in fact, HAUT LES COEURS! - [High the hearts]... I love it that this word, in France, implies "to infuse with courage".

Thank you for linking those of us who love France with a country I am taught to love (having lived through Pearl Harbor) as I never thought I would, watching their fortitude in the face of the impossible.


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

Universal Love

I am rooting through the medicine chest, looking for the small blue box that contains my mouth guard. I haven't worn the protective shield in over a month, but I need it now. Teeth grinding is up, along with that ticky tremblement just beneath my eyelid. Twitching and grinding - it is the body's way of responding to those things that are out of its control: like our dog's destructive behavior, like Japan, like Mother Nature.

I grab the small blue box and pry it open... when something flies past me... landing with a TING!  I bend over, narrowing my eyes, ignoring the annoying tremblement de la paupière. 

I see a heart lying there, on the floor... t'was a heart that had fallen out of that toothbox...

Suddenly it all comes rushing back to me...

I see myself back in Mexico, packing my bags. I see my mom reaching to hug me. I hear her voice: "I've put a little surprise in your toothbox... open it up when you are on the plane."

I'm on the airplane now... reaching into my backpack for the blue box. I open it up and there, beside the plastic tooth guard, is the tarnished locket-heart.

I hear Mom's explanation when I call her that evening to thank her.

"It was a gift," she says.  And she tells me the story of the bus ride, when the Mexican "street man" stepped on board. 

Listening to the poor passenger who had taken the seat behind her, Mom sympathized, pointing to her own losses: she took off her hat and pointed out her thinning white hair. Then she pounded on her chest, pointing out her missing breasts!

When she put her hand on her hip, the man could not possibly know about the once broken bone. Mom didn't have the Spanish words to tell him.

And so, without translation, the odd couple on the bus shared their rotten luck, without drama, without fuss. And when Mom stood to get off the bus, so, too, the Mexican man stood up.

Humblement, the street man reached into his frayed pocket and pulled out the little tarnished heart-locket. He closed Mom's hand over the gift, before sending her off with a mutual heart-lift. 


Standing there in the bathroom looking down at the treasure in the palm of my hand... I feel the quiet peace that has swept in all around me. The world outside the bathroom door might be in a state of chaos. But I no longer feel swept up in it, shaken or tossed. 


 Le Coin Commentaires
To comment on today's word or photo--or to ask our cozy community a question--click here to access the comments box. Corrections to French/English text most welcome.


  July2005 039

Mum's the word! Jackie (pictured sans maquillage, age 7) thanks you for your feedback on her story! She's written three more articles... one of which is très "edgy". (She doesn't seem to have a problem with self-censorship, as her mother does!) I warn her that posting the story might get her kicked out of school. Her roll-of-the-eyes response? "Et alors, la liberté d'expression? What about freedom of speech?" 

Exercises in French Phonics Exercises in French Phonics is... 
" a great book for learning French pronunciation"
"useful and practical"
"high quality material, good value for your money" --from Amazon customer reviews. Order your copy 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 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!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

A la recherche du temps perdu

                                                   "Jules & Frida."

À la recherche du temps perdu

    : in search of lost time; remembrance of things past*

*One of the English translations to Proust's famous "A la recherche du temps perdu". Have you read it? Pick up a copy, here.

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

In Search of Lost Time

On this journey I had the privilege to get to know my step-dad, who, all these years I misunderstood.

After asking John for his forgiveness, I listened meekly for his reply.

John answered, with a twinkle in his eye.

"Kristi, one thing you will discover about Mexico, is that the expats here are either "Wanted"... or Not Wanted."

With that, John confided, "Something I have learned in life is that everything changes. What's important is to be grateful for every moment."




"Angel Wings". When John presented me with this delicate poncho, I realized I had recovered those lost wings.

This story was written in February 2011. We are sad to say that John passed away on August 7th, 2016. Thank you for taking the time to read the story, 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 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!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice



Picture of Mom and me taken by Abdalla of Quebec. We met him and his lovely wife, Colette, who are here visiting Puerta Vallarta. I hope to share more about our meeting with these sparkling sweethearts sometime... 

raconter (rah kon tay)

    : to tell (a story)

raconter une histoire

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

 I visit my Mother's casita for the first time in 18 years... 

At night she tiptoes into the cuarto de visitas, the guest room. "Kristi... Are you awake?"

It is 2 a.m., it is 4:30 a.m. and now, this morning, she arrives at ten to six. Each time, I inch over, leaving room on the pillow as Mom sets her head gently beside mine and there, in the still of the night, she spills her beautiful 64-year-old mind.

I listen to her dreams, to her memories, to her inspirations, every thought unveiled in exquisite detail. Her interior life rushes out, unbridled, and it is my honor to be washed over by the beauty and the unbearable alike.

My heart both soars and it breaks, but I will not break the flow of Mom's story no matter how long it takes.  

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections are helpful and comments are appreciated and enjoyed. Thanks for leaving one: click here.

Have time for another story? Check out the archives, here.

Click photo to enlarge. Thanks again to Abdalla and to his wife, Colette, for this photo.


Jules and Breezy.

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 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!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice



"Mom and Me".  Photo taken Feb 1st, on arrival: read on... (sorry about the blurry image, but blurry, like love, covers a multitude of sins! That's my lovely mom, Jules, left.)

s'aventurer (sah ven tur ay)

    : to venture

synonyms: se risquer = to risk, oser = to dare


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

I arrived in Mexico yesterday, after almost cancelling the trip when Montezuma's revenge (or what the French might call a very bad case of gastro) struck the night before my flight was to leave Phoenix.

Because the theme of this trip is "to venture out of one's comfort zone", the moment was ripe to dare, or oser, to catch the plane ride to Puerto Vallarta - with a stomach in a million little pieces. And because the only risk was one of mortification and not of "contagion" (it wasn't the flu bug that I was carrying, but the remnants of food poisoning), I enplaned, careful to pack an étanche, or waterproof, paper bag au cas où.... or just in case!

I kept my mind off an upset estomac and on the happy memories that I had made thus far: a moment with my dear friend, Susan, and time with my sister, Heidi, and my niece and my nephew, who gave me a memorable pep talk: "You've got to be a daredevil Aunt Kristi! (We were sitting in the parking lot of Krispy Kreme in our pajamas. I had not wanted to do the doughnut run in pj's and would not dare get out of the car, though my family had gotten me this far."Truth is, I'm just a big wet chicken," I explained to my 7-year-old niece, teaching her the French expression for "coward", which is more than a chicken: a WET chicken! or poule mouillée.)

I watched my niece and my nephew swagger out of the car in flannel wear, along with my sister (clad in a fluffy leopard robe, slippers, and bedhead), and walk in to order doughnuts comme si de rien n'était! as if nothing were out of the ordinary. I began to wonder about reverse culture shock... or was it the new thing in the States to do the doughnut run in one's bed clothes? 

The next morning, with a stomach very much amiss (nothing to do with the doughnuts), I made my flight. The old wet chicken would have stayed in bed an extra day, just in case, but the new daredevil that my niece and my nephew saw in me remembered her guts, however groaning, held them high, and boarded that plane for the ride of her life.

Post Note: the flight was uneventful and, soon enough, any queasiness was replaced by butterflies, or papillons: My mom and her husband, John, were waiting for me at the end of the long hall, just after la douane, or Customs. 

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections are helpful and appreciated and comments are the best part of of this journal. Thanks in advance. Click here to leave a message.

Phoenix Readers: I would love to meet up with you! We are planning a hike on Feb 11th at 8:30 a.m. (at the Starbucks on or near 7th street and Thunderbird. Stay tuned for a confirmation! Please join us (so far Herm and Karen and Ed and Gail and my sister, Heidi, will be there!) I would be so happy to meet you so don't be shy -- it would make my day--et encore!--to meet you! 


My mom, Jules, and my other "sister", Breezy.

How do you say "sibling rivalry" in French? My sister, Heidi, and I packed a bottle of Jules's all time favorite perfume (now, Breezy, what can you say for yourself? Hum? Hum?):

Shalimar Shalimar Eau de Parfum by Guerlain. Introduced in 1925. Fragrance notes: an alluring, classic fragrance of exotic florals and vanilla. Order here

Note: Whenever you buy an item from Amazon (using the link above) your purchase helps to support this free word journal. Whether you buy a DVD or a dog bone, you will be contributing to this blog. Thank you for your support!

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 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!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice


Trompe-l'oeil (c) Kristin Espinasse

Picture of a "fools the eye" or "trompe-l'oeil" taken in the medieval village of Les Arcs-sur-Argens (Var, France).  

revivre (reuh veevreuh)

    : to live again

Listen to 13-year-old Jackie pronounce these French words (Download MP3 file

Aimer, c'est mourir en soi pour revivre en autrui. 
Love is to die to self so as to live again in others. --Honoré d'Urfé

Newforest (whom many of you know from the comments section) notes: I think "mourir en soi" means the same as "mourir à soi-même", which implies -> not to live for oneself any more, and to become free to give one's life to others, to put other people's happiness first. 


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

Guts & Gratitude

When Mom viewed Saturday's edition of Cinéma Vérité, she was transported back to France, to 2003, when, after breaking her hanche, she came to our village to recuperate. But once she arrived here to heal her hip, she began to notice a pain in her breast.... 

In the letter below, Mom recounts how she spent the hours leading up to her mastectomy. The idea of the surgery greatly troubled her and when the fear of the unknown became paralyzing she shot up... and proceeded to move every limb in her body in order to shake off the numbing unknown. Next, she flew out the door for a last-minute périple around the medieval village. What "unknowns" that troubled her heart were replaced by the "knowns" that had gotten her this far: namely, a community of caring villagers who had been there for her and her broken hip and who would be there for her even after this. 

Reviewing the snapshots of her former stomping grounds, Jules was overcome with gratitude: 

Darling Kristi,

You have flooded my entire being with memories of Les Arcs this morning. I used to run up those very stairs several times a day and night. I first started my voyage ascending in my trusty 'walker', then my cane, and finally achieved my freedom to practically fly up the cobblestone pathway to the castle above the night before my cancer surgery.

I remember that cool brisk evening. I was running all over the village, down to the train station, back up around the mountain to your neighborhood, back down through the village, across the bridge and up to the castle.

I was in another body that night, running from my fear, it was like I had a new body full of strength I didn't know I possessed... it was the longest night of my life. As I have said before of Les Arcs "It takes a village", they were my village and my family and without Les Arcs I would never be the person I am today.




Reading Mom's words, I can picture her in her straw fedora and borrowed hiking boots. I see her racing around in the dark night, stopping, par ici et par là, to look into the brightly lit households as the villagers, who poured another cup of mint tea (how many Moroccan families had taken her in and filled her with sweets?) or glasses of wine. I know she swept past her dear friend E's "home", no more than a cubbyhole at the back of a garage, where a mattress and empty beer bottles were evidence of her only comforts. Those, and her raggedy, gentle-natured dog.

Mom was a spirit that night, passing imperceptibly through the village, mentally tucking in all her friends before she tucked her own self in high up in a one-room loft, on loan from a friend. There, she slept peacefully... on no other than "Peace Street".

In Marseilles the next day nurses rolled Jules away on a stretcher. I stood outside the elevator, staring down at my Mom, who propped her head up and smiled back at me. The doors were closing and the nurses had asked me to step back please.

Mom winked at me. "I'm ready!" Mom chirped, to the French nurses, who looked at her bemusedly. "Roll me in! Praise God. I'm ready!"

That night the villagers drank their tea and their wine, depending on which household you peered into. And I like to think that they raised their glasses and toasted the free-spirited woman. Mom was no longer outside their windows looking in, but that doesn't mean that she wasn't busy blessing them.


Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections are welcome and to post a comment, click here.


Mom's departure 8.14.03 008
My beautiful mom, Jules, after the surgery in 2003.

Mom's departure 8.14.03 003
She didn't know it then, but another mastectomy awaited her in Mexico (the bad news). As for the good news: her husband was waiting for her. I cannot wait to see John and to thank him for all he has done to take care of my mom. I am only sorry it took this many years to express my gratitude.

Note: Mom celebrated her 5-year "all's clear" mark and is doing great! 

French Vocabulary

la hanche = hip

le périple = tour, journey

par ici et par là = here and there


Claras war
I could not put this book down!  I have packed it in my carry-on, to take to my mom. It has nothing to do with cancer, but everything to do with courage and today's verb, revivre! Order a copy 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 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!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice


Merry Minou (c) Kristin Espinasse
Respirez! Breathe in! And let out all your cares. Photo of a merry minou taken in Nyons.

respirer (reh spee ray) verb

    : to breathe

synonym : souffler

Note: I'm running behind schedule this morning... any terms and expressions related to "respirer" are most appreciated in the comments box only: click here.

Audio File and Example : listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words (Download MP3):

Pour bien vous détendre, il faut respirer profondément.
To relax, you must breathe deeply.

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

H20 and Hieroglyphics

In the corner of the room sits a small, opened suitcase. There are one, two, three books inside - stories I promised she would like. As soon as I can, I'll add my notebook, my eyeglasses, and my tooth guard. (Les dents, elles grinçaient encore hier soir, et je me suis réveillée dans la nuit en train de grignoter mon appareil dentaire!)

A few small piles are stacked beside the valise: jeans... "and bring your white skirt and shorts..." Mom suggested. "Tennies and flip flops...". Check check check. Check check. I will not pack too much... just this one carry-on. No more!

More than a scientific method of packing, I need a scientific method of relaxing. Jules has a tip on that one too, it amounts to these four words of wisdom: "Relax Within I Am."

I know who "I Am" is and I Am is not me... I am simply to break down these words and repeat, as following:

Re ("breathe in!" Mom instructs.)

lax ("breathe out...")

With ("breathe in!")

in ("breathe out...")

I ("in!")

Am ("out... ... ...")

I try this for a time until I begin to notice how my eyes won't stop watering. It is distracting and purpose-defeating (the goal of the exercise being to clear the mind!) to have to reach up and dry my temples and the tips of my ears each time. These are not tears; the water streaming from my eyes, down past my temples, oreilles, and onto my pillow, must be all that extra oxygen that I am breathing in. Or have I got that backwards?: water contains oxygen... No wonder I can't relax when all of the oxygen is leaking out of the corners of my eyes!

I decide to abandon the exercise. I notice that, malgré tout, peace and a certain stillness has encompassed the room. I look slowly over to the window, below which un étendoir steals the patch of sun shining there. On the drying rack I spy Max's basketball maillot, un torchon, some threadbare chaussettes... will I need socks in Mexico?


I breathe in! Above the drying rack I stare at the heart on the window. It is for my daughter. I had drawn it in the steam that had gathered there as I aired out the room this morning. We'd passed a restless night: she, whimpering non-stop from a stomachache and nausea, and I, listening helplessly to her suffering. 

The next morning I threw open the windows. "A little fresh air will do you good!" I explained. On opening the windows the glass quickly fogged up and I reached over and drew the heart. "For you," I pointed out, carving the letter "J" in the center. I signed "Mommy" in cursive, in the lower right slope of the coeur.

The rounded heart and letters had an unexpected exponential effect: my daughter perked right up! "Thank you, Mommy!"

The doodled heart might have been a sackful of her favorite candies or a life-size teddy bear. Her eyes shone in delight.

I sat beside Jackie, shaking my head about those backwards letters: I hadn't anticipated their changing direction... on closing the window... but the effect was not lost and I sat there basking in my patient's appreciation. The gesture had not taken a lot of thought... it had been more of an impulse. 


So much for methodology. In spite of any efforts I'd stumbled onto the tranquil moment and there rested, quietly, gazing at the coeur's reversed letters, or the hieroglyphics of the heart.

 Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections are most helpful and comments are the best return on these stories! To leave a message on the blog, click here

French Vocabulary (coming soon, please check back... meantime enjoy this poem by Newforest: many of you enjoy Newforest's commentary in the "Coin Commentaires" . Enjoy this poem, in French, in response to today's story.):

Sur le carreau d'une fenêtre,
dans la buée,
un doigt trace un coeur
pour J
♥♥ ♥♥ ♥♥ ♥♥ ♥♥

Message en gouttelettes,
Perles d'amour maternel, 
Larmes d'eau de rose
dans la buée du carreau.
♥♥ ♥♥ ♥♥ ♥♥ ♥♥

Larmes hiéroglyphiques,
remède magique
pour le mal au coeur de Jackie
maintenant toute ravie.
♥♥ ♥♥ ♥♥ ♥♥ ♥♥

Un coeur sur le carreau de la fenêtre
un langage à l'envers qui dit:
♥♥ ♥♥ ♥♥ ♥♥ ♥♥ 
Un soupir de bien-être
Oh! Thank you Mommy!


Newforest included this vocabulary guide... to help you with your translation :-)

-> le carreau = tile (ceramic)
Here, carreau (/ vitre) = pane (for a window)
le carreau de la fenêtre = the windowpane

-> la buée = steam, condensation, mist, blur (on your glasses, on a window)

-> tracer = to draw (lines)

-> un doigt = a finger

-> gouttelettes = tiny drops, droplets

-> Perles = pearls

-> amour maternel = maternal love

-> Larmes = tears

-> mal au coeur = stomach pain that makes you feel sick, nauseous. (avoir mal au coeur)
Emotionally speaking, it's what you feel in a sad/hearbreaking situation.

-> toute - here, it has the meaning of completely, thoroughly

-> ravi(e) = delighted, overjoyed

-> à l'envers = upside down, backward, inside out ... You read the newsletter, so you can guess the right expression in French

-> Un soupir = a sigh

-> bien-être = well-being



window (c) Kristin Espinasse

What would you name this one? Could you get away with this kind of window whimsy in your own neighborhood? Click here to leave a comment.

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 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!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice


Meet an extraordinary 8-year-old and a giant named Hefty in today's story. All photos by Braden (except for the one above...).

abracadabrant(e) (ah bra kah dah brahn [brahnt]) adj.

    : amazing, extraordinary

syn: invraisemblable (bizarre), extravagant

abracadabra : interjection , also, masculine noun for magical formula  

Audio file: Listen to "abracadabrant" at French Wikipedia...

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


When Jean-Marc needed to spend the day prospecting with an American wine importer, I offered to host the man's 8-year-old son, or traveling companion.

Doubtful about my decision, I ran to the phone and rang Jules, in Mexico.
"Oh, Mom. How will I do with him?!"

Jules told me not to worry. Instead she shared the story about "Hefty", the giant carnival hand:

"When I was a little girl," Mom began, "I had a horrible wart on my thumb... I was always trying to hide it. One day I was sitting on a tree stump, outside the carnival grounds, staring at my thumb. That's when Hefty appeared. The giant, noticing my sadness, assured me I would never shed another tear. I watched Hefty disappear into the carnival tent and, fast as that, return with a secret ointment. Abracadabra! The wart disappeared!"

As Mom told the story, I could sense her wonderment. The kindness of a stranger... it was such a small detail in the grand scheme of a child's being, and yet the carnival hand's caring gesture never left her.

I considered Mom's words. I might not be as giant, or giant-hearted as Hefty, but there is that unmistakable oddness, or rather, that awkwardness that amounted, did it not, to no more than self-doubt? 

I began to hope for a genuine gesture, like Hefty's, to somehow surface from deep within me. Maybe in this way my eight-year-old guest and I would enjoy the same simplicity?

"Don't worry," Mom assured. "And what an exciting thing... just think about your visitor and wonder just whom, after all, you are hosting."  Thinking about it that way... perhaps Einstein was coming for the day? Or Victor Hugo, or Gandhi, or some other hero... or hero-in-progress!

When Braden arrived I was as nervous as a bride. "Would you like orange juice? Milk? A pain au chocolat?" Our hero was not so hungry and, after a bite or two, I was wondering what to do? what to do? 

I spotted my camera on the comptoir.... 
"Would you like to take some photos, Braden?" 

     Braden enjoyed "styling" the subject before taking the pictures.

And—voilàwe were off! The rest of the day I spent in the privileged presence of an artist and visionnaire. As I followed the intrepid ingénu...  I began to notice ordinary things anew! And oh the possibilities... of pairing grapes with flowers and pumpkins and trees!



By the end of Braden's stay my narrow world was as wide as the Milky Way. And it's all thanks to Hefty whose heart went out. And to the child he helped, who then pointed the way to me:

"The potential of a child... is as endless as a giant's smile."


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

Sign up a friend or family member to French Word-A-Day


            The artist's self portrait. "Looking in" by Braden.

French Vocabulary

le comptoir* = counter

voilà = just like that! 

*Newforest, whom many of you know via "Le Coin Commentaires" offers these notes:
Originally, "un comptoir" (from the verb "compter") was a table used by a shopkeeper, on which he showed the goods you wanted to buy - he also used that table to count his money which he kept in a drawer. 

Nowadays, "un comptoir" can be found in shops and bars, in banks, post offices, libraries & commercial places.

For a kitchen: "un plan de travail", "une surface de travail" (I heard French people saying "la table de travail" but I believe "un plan de travail is the most common expression) 


Thank you, Braden, for a wonderful day! And thanks for taking the photos here.

 Gift Ideas...

Paris Hook PillowHand-hooked, heavyweight 100% wool face. Soft cotton velvet back. Order one here.




Eiffel lamp Eiffel Tower lamp: see the reviews, here.




Pie dish Emile Henry 9-inch Provencal pie dish in cerise red. Order one here.




Shalimar Shalimar Eau de Parfum by Guerlain. Introduced in 1925. Fragrance notes: an alluring, classic fragrance of exotic florals and vanilla. Order 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 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!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice