Broken bones and Broken French

It was this... or a picture of a broken elbow. Read on in today's story column. And for more pictures of our garden, and these citrons and these guavas, join me on Instagram!

le nid de poule

    : a pothole, or pit in the road's surface

Un nid de poule literally means "hen's nest"

Nov2014WHERE TO RENT IN FRANCE? Special thanks to our longtime sponsors--Marilyn, David, and Marianne--who have been a great support to my newsletter! See their French homes, below:

  1. Mas de Perdrix. A home in France that artists and writers love to rent.  Work on your creative project in this inspiring environment.
  2. France and Monaco Rentals: short-term holiday rental properties throughout France.
  3. Sablet home for high quality vacation rentals in the heart of Provence. 


Hear Jean-Marc pronounce the French words in his sentence: 


Nid de poule. La semaine dernière, alors que je faisais du vélo à Marseille,  j'ai roulé sur un nid de poule, ce qui a provoqué ma chute et la fracture de mon coude
Pothole. Last week, while riding my bike in Marseilles, I rode over a pothole, provoking a fall and an elbow fracture.

by Kristin Espinasse

Yesterday I watched as a medical taxi delivered my husband home from the hospital, where he'd landed 5 days before. I stood there, perched in the driveway, feeling as though a hundred hummingbirds were holding me upright.

Posed to fly into action, my heart took on a hummingbird's beat. True, I had been doubtful about readiness and how this would all pan out--the next 6 weeks of nursing my husband, "Chief Grape."  (We don't call him the chief for nothing! Jean-Marc is a force around this vineyard, sweeping through activities from dusk until dawn. But after falling off his bike and breaking his elbow, how will he make it through the next weeks? And will I have the patience--the unlimited energy--to be his doting nurse Kristi? Will I listen sweetly to orders? Cut up his steak? Zip up his pants after a potty break?)  

Such flippant thoughts--along with a host of fears and assumptions--coursed through my mind as I watched my husband painstakingly exit the taxi.  I felt guilty not to have chauffeured him myself, but having just gotten over the flu it wasn't possible. Gripped by a fleet of hummingbirds, I stood posed like a board ready to spring to action for my new nursing duties. And then the strangest thing happened.

I watched my husband collect his bag with his free hand and walk peacefully into the house where he quietly and efficiently carried out a host of tasks before retiring gently to bed--without so much as asking for a glass of water (or the feared bedpan that I might have to empty, nightly!). 

Reaching for my nightstand to turn out the lights last night, I heard Jean-Marc's rhythmic breathing beside me. Rocked by the familiar and comforting sound, my mind played pictures of my husband's homecoming: I saw him scribbling sloppy To-Do notes, with his left hand, and awkwardly spooning chicken soup into his mouth (much of it ending in his lap). I saw myself helping him carry in the wood, and remembered how he did not ask for help building the fire--nor to unpack his bag or to rifle through the household pharmacy for the supplies the real nurse will need this week, when she comes to our house to changes our patient's wound dressings.

Lying there in the dark, I watched as my mind reviewed all it had seen, when, suddenly, my heart skipped a hummingbird beat at the thought of an injured man's dignity.


To leave a comment, click here


Is Smokey trying to get out of nursing duties too? Or is he just playing hide-n-seek?

No, Smokey is just being silly, as always, comme d'habitude. Please share this post with a friend, via one of the share buttons just below. Mille mercis!

Click here to be on your way to fluency in French
To effectively improve your French, check out David Tolman's French lesson:

2-minute French lesson : French E's with examples from an interview with a French beekeeper

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

Handy tool in every French home

House in cassis

Visited Cassis last week with my belle-mère and my father. At La Plage du Bestouan we saw this charming home perched over the sea. More photos and videos of this past week's happenings--at Instagram.

la serpillière (sair-pee-yair)

    : floor cloth, mop, swab

une pompe serpillière = utility pump for draining flood water
la serpillière gaufrée = cloth with a deep waffle pattern, handy for soaking up water

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc Download MP3 or Wav file

Serpillière. Pour éponger l'eau de l'inondation nous avons utilisé des robes de chambre, des serviettes de plage et des serpillières. Floor cloth. To soak up water from the flood, we used bathrobes, beach towels, and floor cloths.

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

No Time for Jetlag!


Every since my Dad and my belle-mère left on Saturday, I've been remembering scenes from their visit. For when my family is near--even a stormy day is bright... et c'est le cas de le dire (and you can say that again!)

After Dad and Marsha's arrival and a good night's sleep, we were having café au lait near the kitchen, gazing out the window at the gentle rain when the weather suddenly changed gears. I remember sitting there, hoping for a second cup of coffee instead of a reality check, when my Dad voiced my troubled thoughts: "Do you think we ought to look outside the kitchen door--and check the evacuation drain?"

Opening that door caused one of us to begin running around the house, shouting a French version of  The Sky is Falling. Meantime my belle-mère Marsha spoke calmly. "Do you have a roasting pan?" 

(A roasting pan? To catch the sky?)

With no other bright ideas, I followed Belle-mère Marsha's example. The oven doors flew open, two roasting pans were yanked out, and we went to work sweeping the flow of water into the pans and emptying them into the kitchen sink. 

 An hour and a half later, with the help of my dad, my daughter, and a modest pile of absorbant flood tools (bathrobes, beach towels and floor rags) we managed to drain the kitchen of floodwater.

As Marsha swept the last of the water into the tilted roasting pans, and Dad and I took turns catching it, my belle-mère suggested we might invest in a utility pump for the future.

"You mean they make those?" Why hadn't I thought of it before? Something so powerfully... absorbent!

Wet dog
Old photo of Brez and Smokey. They're much bigger now, with fuller coats...

As if on cue, our two golden retrievers returned from the safety of higher ground (we'd moved them to an upstairs room for safety). Looking at all that golden absorbent hair, I finally had a bright idea of my own. Next time we wouldn't need a fancy pump! A couple of giant yellow sponges that could ring themselves out each time... ça c'est du pur génie! Pure genius!

 *    *    *
Update: Yesterday we had another storm when I was here alone. I had been monitering rainfall all afternoon, anxious that the flood doors would open the moment an important visitor was scheduled to arrive... See the story updates when you scroll down my Facebook page

Flood tools I wish I had!

Dad grele

La grêle! Just after the flood, when the sun broke through. We discovered just what kind of storm was going on outside while we were busy with the flood inside.... Here is Dad measuring the hail! To comment on this post, click here.


Smokey Golden retriever

Smokey's store is open! Today he is selling the Love You More pillows and these citrus trees--which make a home brighter. No matter which pillow or tree you buy at Amazon, when you enter the store via this link your purchase helps support this free word journal. Merci beaucoup! 

Promises to keep by Patricia SandsIn books: have you read Patricia Sands "The Promise of Provence"? The sequel is out: Promises To Keep.

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

alerte meteo

golden retriever dog halloween costume mask, vineyard, fall, autumn, vines, mont ventoux (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Best to be prepared! Good, Braise, one can never be too prévoyant... for holidays--or for the weather! Read on... (photo taken in Ste. Cécile-les-Vignes. We moved away from the vineyard one year ago.

alerte météo (a-lairt-may-tay-oh)

    : weather warning

Example Sentence: (Audio files will return, we're a little sunk at the moment...)

Une alerte météo, ou une météorologique, est un bulletin d'avertissement de l'imminence de phénomènes météorologiques dangereux. --Wikipedia

A weather alert, or une météorologigue, is a warning bulletin of impending and dangerous weather phenomena. 

Tools for language learning:

Blossoming in Provence, short stories about life in France (c) Kristin Espinasse, Blossoming in Provence. Build your French vocabulary by reading the short vignettes of life in France. You'll learn more than the language. Order here. (Makes a good, educational gift!)


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

I was in the supermarket parking lot when I overheard the couple next to me talk about the storm. "Chéri," the woman said, "did you hear the news? They've issued an alerte météo jaune...."

"Si, si," she said to her doubtful husband,"Just look at the sky...."

What a stroke of luck it was to hear the avertissement or I wouldn't have been aware of the upcoming change in weather. On the way home from the grocer's, I rattled off a game plan to my daughter:

Jackie, when we get home, you put away the groceries and feed the dogs. I'll gather the buckets and the towels and have your brother dig out the trench and... oh! I wish your dad weren't out of town tonight!

Rather than count our losses, we'd better add up our defenses. As the old French saying goes: Un homme averti en vaut deux. (A man forewarned is worth two men.) 

Yes forewarned is forearmed! Gathering our "sandbags" (sacks of dog food--and potting soil), I focused on fighting back this time. While the kids and I worked, I couldn't help think about the premonition from a few weeks back, when Jean-Marc and I were ankle-deep in water, working to dry out the house after the previous orage. I had wondered, then, just how a wife alone would cope. I just didn't imagine the answer would come so soon.

"Put them there and there!" I barked orders at Max who, in turn, questioned the dog food. "Just do what I say. Don't argue. Put those croquettes in front of the kitchen door!"

I dashed over to the clothesline to gather the linge and, as I stood there, unpinning my husband's T-shirts and carefully folding them into the basket, that calming feeling came over me. For a moment, I thought about how assured I felt. Until the sky darkened a notch and the horizon took on a dust-colored blur.

Balancing the wash basket on my hip I turned toward the house, when an eerie breeze swept past, ruffling my hair. A few loosened wisps caressed my face, like a menacing whisper in a back alley at midnight. I hurried inside and locked the door.


In bed beneath the covers, my eyes are glued to the sky. Every so often the room lights up with a flash and my heart beats count the moments until--KABOOM--another crush of thunder strikes. 

"Mom, is the house going to come down?" Jackie shifted beside me.

"Of course not, Honey." I took a lesson from my belle-mère, earlier in the day. Never let them see your weakness, only strength. But the truth was j'étais tétanisée! I was paralyzed with fear. They say what you don't know won't hurt you, which explains my change of perspective. Ever since the last storm I can't stop thinking of what could go wrong.

In between thunder strikes, I could hear dogs barking wildly in the distance. Oh mon Dieu! Had they been left outside? Were they being soaked by the downpour? The cries were heartwrenching torture. I had an urge to get into my car to locate the Forgotten Ones... when a flash of lightning sent a chilling warning. There is no way you're going to drive through this storm! 

The windows trembled and shook so hard it seemed they would burst. Lying there, listening to the downpour, I thought about our unsophisticated sandbag system and began to lose faith in our dog food dam. Was the water inching in by now? I'd better get up and check, but my fluttering heart was pinning me to the mattress. 

No matter how hard I prayed the storm only got worse! I could not figure out why faith alone wasn't solving this problem, illico presto! I began to sense a deeper assurance coming from within. Sometimes it isn't enough to wish the storm away, you've got to chase it yourself!

The next crashing boom flung me right out of bed. "Jackie," I said, feeling my way to the door (the power was out now), I've got to check things!" I found a lampe de poche and shined it across the entry, where the dogs looked up with squinty eyes. "It's OK! I said, assuring myself as well as our goldens.

Shining the light toward the kitchen I saw the seaux I'd put out to catch the water (should it flow in beneath the door, like before). Instead, the buckets were floating! 

Seeing the area just below the main fuse box was dry, I stepped up on a chair and flipped on the electricity, in order to use the kitchen lights to see. 

I grabbed the towels and threw them on the floor. Next began the folly of soaking and twisting, soaking and twisting. My daughter now by my side, we filled 6 buckets this way. Our pajama pants rolled up to our knees we squatted to the floor and when we could no longer hold up, we turned over the extra buckets and used them as seats.

I am terrified by the idea of electricity and water, the combination, but I kept my imagination intact; after all, the plugs were high and dry; I knew that the cords behind the refrigerator had been lifted after the last flood. Still, my body trembled until the last bit of water was gone. 

I watched Jackie pass the dry mop, impressed by her maturity. At 1:00 in the morning, she was staying with me until the last drop was gone. We'd screamed at each other when beginning the chore, but the stress worked itself into teamwork. And now we had the pleasure of sharing this accomplishment.

"Thank you so much!" I said, taking the mop from my daughter. "I didn't think there would be this much water." 

"De rien, Maman. It could have been worse."

I took a clue from my daughter, and thought about the bright side of things. We were lucky to have electricity--filling and emptying buckets in the dark would've been a challenge--and the storm was now over. Even brighter was a side of my daughter I'd just discovered, while chasing that storm together. To think I might have missed it, had my prayers been answered.

 *    *    *

Clothesline in Nyons (c) Kristin Espinasse,
We continue to dry out here at home. Meantime, may I share my clothesline passion with you. I'll upload more photos here (if reading via email). Please check back! (Pictured, a favorite "clothesline" find in Nyons--right next door to a fancy pants restaurant. "We'll show 'em." The neighbors seem to say.

French Vocabulary

prévoyant = foreseeing

chéri, chérie = darling

alérte météo jaune = be attentive
(for the other colors click here for Météo France's la Carte de vigilance)

si = yes (when answering a negative statement) 

un avertissement = warning

un orage = storm

le linge = linen (also clothing, when washing or drying)

la belle-mère = mother-in-law

être tétanisé = to be terrified

oh, mon Dieu = oh dear Lord

illico presto = right away

une lampe de poche = flashlight

le seau = bucket 

de rien = it's nothing (you're welcome)

 Corrections or comments welcome here.

  clothesline, laundry, Massif des Maures (c) Kristin Espinasse,
I often walked past this clothes line, on my way home in Les Arcs-sur-Argens.

  laundry or clothes line in Marseilles, rue Baussenque (c) Kristin Espinasse,

I think this one was taken in the charming Panier district of Marseilles...

Clothesline and pegs, or clothespins. Old weathered desk, flagstone (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Our clothesline in Les Arcs-sur-Argens. Sadly, that desk--a dumpster dive find of Mom's--got left behind.

clothesline, sunset, mont ventoux, france (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Our clothesline in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes.

Shop Amazon via the following links and your purchase helps to support this language journal.  Thanks.

Bicycles shopper back

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

une mare

Jules visits Serignan-du-Comptat (c) Kristin Espinasse
I didn't have the chance to run this by Mom and get her permission to post her photo... so I'm taking advantage of the fact that her computer is broken. She can kill me later (for the fabricated "rain dance" caption) when her laptop is repaired and she catches up on all the missed editions of French Word-A-Day. I know she misses the stories--and especially the comments, where she would send you her all caps LOVE! (Photo taken some time ago, in Sérignan-du-Comtat)

No photos off our flooded house to illustrate this edition, so how about a picture of Mom doing a rain dance? 

Speaking of the deluge, did you know that inundation is a defense strategy? The dutch used to flood land to hinder the Spanish army (see Hollandic Water Line). Meantime, Jean-Marc and I defended our own soggy turf here at home, trying to evacuate water flooding like an open dam into our kitchen and bathroom after Sunday morning's storm! Story follows. 

HulstonExclusive French made clothes now available to purchase on-line. Thomas Hulston Collections.


une mare (mar)

  1. pond
  2. puddle
  3. backwater 

une mare entre les rochers = rock pool
une mare de sang = pool of blood

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

I woke up yesterday morning with the delicious realization that it was Sunday. Dimanche! No need to rush out of bed--except to let the dogs out... after-which I could return with a nice cup of kawa and a cozy view of the storm with its thunder claps and pouring rain--quel spectacle!

As I lingered au lit a few minutes longer I enjoyed the windy scene outside the open window. There was a lone bamboo playing coucou, or peek-a-boo, just beyond the window pane. Now I saw her, now I didn't. For a moment, I wondered if she could see me too? Just because one couldn't see eyeballs didn't mean a plant didn't have vision! Perhaps one day we will be amazed to learn that, all this time, plants have been observing us, too!

My eyes travelled past the playful reed where, beneath the dark sky, the rain poured down. It was pleasing to know that the flowers and vegetables in the garden were getting cups full to drink this morning. I could almost see the extra blossoms and the fattened fruit (just this week I'd discovered three melons growing in our permaculture garden! How to say hot-diggity in French?).

Bon, enough admiring the splendours of nature, it was time to let the dogs out before they rained down on the tiled floor. Our golden retriever, Braise (pronounced "brez" like "Pez"), had a couple accidents last month, but we no longer awaken to a flooded entryway as long as we stay one step ahead of the deluge.

Stepping into the front room I cast a look around, to verify there were no accidental puddles. That's when I noticed the water seeping in from the kitchen....

Ah, another leak! For a split second I believed I could sop up the wet floor on my own... (allowing Jean-Marc to sleep in for once). And then, little by little, the gravity of the situation hit me. Mon Dieu--we were being inundated! 

Approaching the kitchen, it sounded as though someone had left the tap running. I hurried in to shut it off... when I realized the water wasn't flowing from the robinet--it was rushing in from beneath the kitchen door! Looking down, I saw my new leopard-patterned flip-flops were submerged. I began to back out of the room as my brain stammered, "towels... towels...thick absorbent towels..."

By now the water had followed me to the end of the second room--reaching my feet as I stood there slack-jawed and frozen. When I watched the water engulf our dogs, who were lying at my feet, and observed how their golden coats now doubled as sponges--I sprang to action.

JEAN-MARCCCCCCCCCC!!!!!! The house is flooding!!!!

A second later and Jean-Marc was hopping forth, managing to pull on his pants en-route.

He hurried outside, running through the rain, around the side of the house to unclog the water duct. Meantime, I dashed back-n-forth, grabbing towels... only to learn that my efforts to soak up the flow were akin to "a drop in a bucket". After twisting dry the useless towels I grabbed a salad bowl from kitchen drying rack and tried to evacuate the water this way, splashing the water into the bowl.... but the water rushing in from the kitchen door discouraged my efforts. Then I had an inspiration: I could sweep the water out the opposite door!

I ran and got our biggest broom and went to work. "Braise! Smokey! Là-bas!" First, I swept the dogs into the family room (conveniently up a level, on dry ground).

I was busy with all the water-sweeping when suddenly my hair stood on end. That is when I noticed that my husband's telephone charger was plugged in. My eyes traced the cord, the other end of which was now meeting the trickle of water which flowed out from the kitchen.

This was it. Electrocution! My fears of electric shock returned as I tried to stay calm. Jean-Marc appeared in time to shut off the mains, assuring me of the impossibility of an electrical accident, "And anyway," he said, " you would not be harmed because everything is up to standard." I still don't quite believe that things would automatically shut off, if the wires touched the water, but there was no time to argue--we were now up to our ankles in rainwater!

"C'est une mare!" Jean-Marc cried, stepping into the pool of water. My husband grabbed a second kind of broom (one with a wide wiper-blade on the end--a favorite of mine for mopping the floor and perfect for our mission!). Jean-Marc hurried to the kitchen. Ça y est, his efforts outside had worked and the water no longer rushed into the house like an open dam! 

Jean-Marc began sweeping the water out of the kitchen to the dining room, where I rerouted the flow--with the help of my broom--out the front door! We worked like this for the next hour, relaxing into our effort, buoyed now by our growing bantering.

"And I had been wondering if you were going to help me clean the floors today," I laughed.

Jean-Marc laughed at my jokes and listened as I pointed out all the positives:

"Good thing we don't have moquette! Can you imagine what a disaster wall-to-wall carpet would be? And thank heavens this happened on the weekend. What if it was a hectic school morning?"

 All the teasing and joking waned as we grew exhausted from the chore of evacuting what amounted to hundreds of liters of water. I began to wonder what I would have done if Jean-Marc hadn't been there? Worse, what if both of us had been away--as we were last weekend? What would the kids have done? And what if my belle-mère was the one house-sitting? 

"What would an elderly woman do under the circumstances?" I asked Jean-Marc. "Who would she call?"

"Les pompiers," Jean-Marc answered. "But the firemen wouldn't come for a little job like this."

"But this would be a big job--an impossibility for an older woman," I argued. "What would she do?"

"Call family and friends," Jean-Marc answered, sweeping the last of the water out the front door.

I couldn't help thinking of the future.... But any fears were immediately replaced by thankfulness. How lucky I am to have Jean-Marc. But what about those who are all alone?

That afternoon, yesterday, that is, we went and visited my belle-mère. What a hectic week it must have been for her after moving to a new apartment. Even though we helped with her move (Jean-Marc and his brother, Jacques, painting her new apartment and putting down new floors, their sister, Cécile, packing their mom's boxes, and me helping clean up her old apartment in Marseilles), my mother-in-law is on her own. After our flood, which revealed my own weaknesses, how much more I think about my belle-mère's challenges.

"You know," my mother-in-law said, as we walked arm and arm back to her apartment, having enjoyed an ice-cream on the beach, "I have seen a lot of lonely people in my life. As a nurse-on-call, I visited many households and I looked Loneliness in the eye. I am happy to say that I am not a lonely person. What a horrible thing that is."

I trust my belle-mère means what she says but, just in case, we are now only a stone's throw away.

"Quite a storm last night," my mother-in-law says, handing me her apartment key as we arrive home.

"Oh, those thunder claps! J'ai sauté du lit!" She chuckles. 

"Me too, I leapt up from bed when the thunder struck too!" I laugh as I help my mother-in-law into her apartment. I watch her walk to her room, to turn off the blaring radio she's left on in her absence. And I'm suddenly filled with a mixture of relief and gratitude--to finally live so close that we hear the same thunder and see the same rain.

...And given how loud she plays her radio... if I listened closely enough, I could probably hear Charles Aznavour from just across the gulf of La Ciotat, where my mother-in-law will tune into her favorite golden oldies program, and let her thoughts drift back to the comfort of the past....

La pluie ne cesse de tomber
Viens plus près ma mie
Si l'orage te fait trembler
Viens plus prés ma mie

*    *    *

To respond to today's story, or to comment on any item in this edition, please click here to join the conversation.

A soggy Mr. Sacks (c) Kristin Espinasse
Though the water rose to our ankles, Mr. Sacks was up to his buckle in rainwater!

Poor Mr. Sacks! Jean-Marc's beloved sacoche was rescued, though some of his contents didn't fare to well. (Jean-Marc tells me my passport is a little soggy. I wonder if it will still work at airport immigration?) 

French Vocabulary

le dimanche = Sunday

le kawa = coffee 

le lit = bed

coucou = peek-a-boo (also means "hi!")

bon = O.K. 

quel spectacle! = what a show!

Mon Dieu! = My Goodness

le robinet = tap, faucet

là-bas! = (move) over there!

la belle-mère = mother-in-law (can also mean step-mother)

La pluie ne cesse de tomber /Viens plus prés ma mie/Si l'orage te fait trembler Viens plus prés ma mie
The rain won't stop falling, come closer my dear/ if the storm makes you tremble / come closer my dear

Beekeeper Jean-Marc (c) Kristin Espinasse
In other news: first batch of honey here at Mas des Brun! Jean-Marc had the pleasure of making honey when we lived at the vineyard in Ste. Cécile, and he is now delighted to bottle his first batch of local honey from the hills of St. Cyr-sur-Mer. 

However, those were no honey bees that were buzzing above the ceiling of our family room (just beneath our daughter's bedroom! The droning grew louder and louder this week until, on Saturday, Jean-Marc intervened--donning his bee suit with built in mask and arming himself with a can of guêpicide. Now there are no more guêpes, or wasps, freeloading here at home. 

For Science buffs...
And speaking of wasps, they're not all bad. Did you read about the wasps that live in our figs, ripening them? Happy to report that this year's harvest is delicious (and every wasp made it out... well before we sank our teeth into the fruit. Don't miss the story, here--but first you have to promise you will still eat figs when you are done! Promise?)

Gladiator (c) Kristin Espinasse
What a week, between a wasp invasion, a move, and an inundation. Is it okay to fancy oneself a ... a... (well just what would you call this flying woman pictured above? Surely not a gladiator?) Photo taken at Parc Astérix, in Paris. 

Jackie and Michèle-France (c) Kristin Espinasse
Whatever she is, she has nothing on these dearies. That's our daughter Jackie (7 years ago...) and my belle-mère, Michèle-France. Though its an out-dated photo, one of the girls has not changed one iota. The other is enjoying day 4 of fashion school. Wish her luck! Our turn now to wish every one bonne rentrée, or happy back-to-school (or back-to-work, if that is the case). 

Comments welcome here. 

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


chalkboard (c) Kristin Espinasse

foutu(e) (foo-tew) adjective

    1.  damned, ruined, done for

    2. kaput, worn out, shot (exhausted)

    3. capable (elle est foutue de le faire = she's very capable of doing it)

Warning! today's word is slang and not appropriate for all social situations (!!!)


être mal foutu(e) = to be unattractive
être bien foutu(e) = to have a good body

Have another foutu(e) expression or definition or example? There are many (some unpublishable, here...) Please share it with us here, in the comments box!

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wav file

Notre réservoir d'eau est foutu! Our water reservoir is shot!


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

My 16-year-old is acting odd again. The other night he appeared in the kitchen... avec un bouquet de fleurs sauvage!

Max's floral apparition stopped me in my scattered tracks. I stared at the bunch of wildflowers—make that "the bunch with THE wildflower". Turns out Max had uprooted a large green bush which sported a single orange souci. I recognised the bush, which grows—or grew—beside the kids' trampoline. (I quite liked it there, the flower bush; it had served as a modest camouflage to the unsightly jumping apparatus!) 

As clumps of earth fell to the kitchen floor, bursting on contact, I tried to maintain a look of enthusiasm. "Oh... wow... Thank you, Max..." I couldn't help but wonder, to what did I owe this honor? Why, all of a sudden, was my teenager rewarding me? Could he sense the pressure his parents have been under?...

(By the way last time he offered me flowers, he was a toothless 8-year-old, as seen here:)


Salt Lake 2002 Winter Games Olympics (c) Kristin Espinasse

I forced myself to focus on the crumbling cadeau, though I was distracted with concern. It wasn't the uprooting of the buisson camoufleur that upset me. No, my inner turmoil was the result of a recent household calamity: our water tank had just burst, leaving us sans eau. Max's offering came at a comically inconvenient time! Accepting my son's gift meant I would have to give up some of the precious water we had collected, in buckets and containers strewn about our house. I looked over to the comptoir, where 5 bottles of water (a lifesaver from Dirt Diva Malou) came into view. How much would it take to nourish this little fleur and its family of feuilles affamées? And what about our thirsty family? 

In the end I did what any mother would do, and shot from the heart: I shot right over to the dwindling water supply and began to pour out enough eau précieuse to sustain that flower bush. Well, that was my noble plan, anyway. The survivalist in me had other ideas, and I watched, avec tristesse, as she snapped off a portion of the flower bush and tucked it into a small vase—a shot glass, actually—with just enough water to hydrate the little souci flower. Voilà, one less souci...

Max did not appear vexé. I watched as he trotted off, taking the stairs two by two. Before he disappeared into the cage d'escalier, I caught a glimpse of the ear-to-ear smile. He looked satisfied, downright high on that feeling that comes from spontaneous giving.  

My eyes returned to the countertop, over which a sinkful of dishes had stretched.... I looked over to the empty and dry casserole, on the stovetop. Nearby, a box of pasta rested unopened. Now if only our water tank would be as giving as our generous teenager.

Le Coin Commentaires
Did you enjoy today's story? Corrections are always welcome. Do you want to share a household calamity that you survived? Click here to leave a comment.

Word Study: one of the words in today's story has two meanings, both of which were exercised in the essay. This word was also featured in two different posts:

le souci = worry (read the worry story here)

le souci = flower (read the flower story here)

French Vocabulary

le souci = marigold flower

la cage d'escalier = stairwell

... Help! I didn't have time to finish the vocab section, as I had to hurry off to pick-up the kids from school. Would some of you like to find and define the French vocabulary in this story? Please share the words and definitions in the comments box only (no need to send them to me, better to post them for all to see!). Click here to add a word and definition to the comments box.


Jm k

 Time Machine. Chief Grape and I, a handful of years ago (Paris, 2005... at Willy's Wine Bar).

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


I like to run this photo (taken in the summer of 07', in Italy) every now and then. The words painted on the fence are inspiring: "To live well: love well and let others say what they will". ("Pour bien vivre, bien aimer et laisser dire.") 

le sanglier (sahn glee ay)

    : boar, wild pig

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

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

Those Swigging Swines!

I was surfing online, looking for information on how to discourage wild boars from gobbling up our grapes, when I stumbled into a forum wherein a poor soul, one with the same dilemma as my winemaking husband's, wrote:

Ici les sangliers font de véritables carnages dans les vignes : ils reconnaissent les meilleures grappes et nous les dévorent juste avant qu'on les vendange (d'ailleurs, ils ont même la délicatesse de ne manger que les grains puisqu'on retrouve les rafles de la grappe encore accrochées à la vigne) !*

Here, wild boars make a veritable carnage in the vines: they recognize the best grapes and devour them right before the harvest (what's more, they have the finicky tendency to eat only the fruit, given that we find only the grape stems left on the vine)! 

Jean-Marc would sympathize with this downhearted farmer, or vice versa, given that we spent a part of Saturday morning out in the field, among the vine rows of ripe grapes, testing a solution to The Gobbling Boar problem.

"Mais, regarde ça!" Jean-Marc pointed to the grape clusters, which were still intact--yet missing several bites full of fruit. Putain de merde! Ils mangent que les meilleurs!

Seeing the butchered fruit, Chief Grape was hopping mad, and his vengeance would come soon enough, only, in an animal friendly way....

ACME Transitor Radio Repellant
(would Wile E. Coyote approve?)

Jean-Marc reaches into a bag that he's been carrying and produces what looks to be like talkie-walkies, but, to my dismay (for it might have been fun to shout "Over and out!" in French--not that I know the translation) turn out to be transistor radios.

"Marche par là," my husband instructs, and I walk south, passing one, two, three... seven, eight, nine vine rows. My job is to march until I can no longer hear the sounds issuing from the transistor radio that Jean-Marc is holding.

As I advance, I occasionally become distracted--for the nearby garrigue (from which all the wild pigs issue) is draped in bright red berries! There are little white flowers which set off the tiny crimson balls and I'm about to reach for a bouquet of flower-berries when my husband shouts:

"Tu entends toujours?"

"Oui, oui.... j'entends! Oui, oui, je t'assure!"

As I walk on, I fall into further distractions, wondering, this time, which radio station we are listening to? What if the current program (some sort of noisy political debate) ends... and the next program contains classical music? Wouldn't, then, Jean-Marc's experiment backfire? I pictured the wild boars arriving en masse, lulled forward by Mozart and the inspiring symphony in the some sort of sanglier Shangri-la, where they would "find the light"... and a bounty of grapes to boot!

Never mind. It isn't my job to question Chief Grape; my duty is to go along with his latest inspiration or invention: this one being The Wild Boar Buster (after the Dust Buster, which was invented by some other lucky duck, else why would we be trying to scrape together a living on a boar friendly fruit farm?!)

When I can no longer hear the static voices on the radio, I stop in my tracks, turn back, and flap my arms suggestively, or in a way that suggests that even a boar could hear no more. I watch as Chief Grape sets down one of the cheap transistor radios--just beside the gnarled and woody base of a very old grenache vine. Voilà, repellent number 1 is en place. Our mission continues in much the same way, I, advancing in spite of distractions (this time I just had to reach for une poignée of romarin... and it was too tempting not to bend down and study an impressive ant colony).... each time Chief calling me back to the present étude with "T'entends? Est-ce que t'entends?"

"Oui, oui... je t'assure. J'entends!"

As I walk on I wonder about rain, about wind, about any number of kill joys--make that kill ploys--that might carry off or damage the repellent radios that Jean-Marc is leaving throughout the parcelle. But these concerns are nothing compared to my next souci. It occurs to me that hunting season begins next week and that this field will be soon be alight with chasseurs! These hunters/locals might have snickered when learning about the music played in Chief Grape's cellar (a comforting concerto with a positive influence on the wine that rests there), but what will they think this time--when they discover that the renegade winemaker is planting radios in his vineyard?

It's no use fretting about my husband's reputation. Besides, I know what he would say: "Laisse les parler!" Let 'em talk! 

Meantime, between the cheap radios and the chasseurs, I'm done worrying: up to the poor wild pigs to fret this time--though I secretly hope, next time I look out the kitchen window, to find them dancing a jig, or swaying a slow waltz.

Selected French Vocabulary and citations

mais regarde ça = look at that!

putain de merde = @$!#

ils mangent que les meilleurs! = they're eating only the best!

le talkie-walkie = walkie-talkie

marche par là = walk that way

la garrigue = wild mediterranean scrubland

tu entends toujours? = do you still hear?

une poignée = a handful

le romarin = rosemary

le souci = worry

French quote, from "fanfan", in the forum at

Exercises in French Phonics Exercises in French Phonics is... 
" a great book for learning French pronunciation" Order your copy here.


Vendange2004 024
In theme with the first photo, here's another picture taken in Italy, years ago, in a hilltop town not far from Ventimiglia.

DSC_0069 Since we're in a traveling mode, why not travel back in the archives, and read a lovely story written by my mom, Jules?


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 Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Time for a break... (Photo of "Ulysse" The Great Dane taken near Giens)


 saboter (saah boh tay)

    : to mess up

Example Sentence:
C'est 'l'autosabotage': elle fait de son mieux pour saboter ses efforts. It's 'self-sabotage': she does her best to mess up her own efforts.

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


Mom and I are sitting at the kitchen table, slicing kiwis and oranges, layering them into a pottery bowl. After each juicy couche we toss in a mixture of sliced, roasted almonds and some sucre vanillé.

I am still shaking my head. It is indulgent to wallow in self-pity for as long as I have this morning, but I go on stretching things... now that Mom is here to do the listening.

"I should have known better than to leave the quiches to cool outside overnight! I had a feeling that what I was doing was risky... but I did it anyway!" My mind replays the scene in which I walk out onto the patio, stretch before the morning sun, give thanks for the day ahead... when next my long, lifeless hair shoots up and stands on end! A loud cry escapes me as my eyes fix on two SHREDDED tarts--the savory mint and goat cheese pies in which we'd invested so much time last night.

I am shaking in anger from my high-ended hair all the way down to my twisted toes. WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS? I cry out to the field ahead of me. The rabbits run off, the nightingale's song stops... In the silence, I look down at the pies, noticing the claw marks... c'était les chats sauvages!


An hour later and I've salvaged as much of the quiche as possible (the parts still hidden under the heavy covering that I'd rigged in hopes of avoiding such a calamity), cutting up the pie into little squares and presenting it on a pretty platter. After making sure that no part of the salvaged quiche had come into contact with those feral claws, I could only hope that what remained was enough to feed some thirty French relatives...I'd have to supplement things with several slices of toasts de tapenade. Thank goodness we were only in charge of a part of the apéritif and not le plat principal!  

As Mom and I cut up the kiwis and oranges (we are also in charge of part of the dessert) I am once again obsessing over the details of this latest petite calamité. What would the talk show psychologists call it? That's it: sabotage or le sabotage de soi or l'autosabotage!

As I share my woes, I keep a swift eye on Jules, who is having difficulty peeling the oranges. "Mom, you need to get the white part off... don't leave it like that!"

After the sabotaged quiches, I don't want to end up with a sabotaged fruit salad or else we'll have nothing to bring to the annual family picnic!

I look up to make sure I haven't hurt Mom's feelings... I didn't mean to be disrespectful. Just because Mom no longer cooks doesn't mean that she doesn't know how to. She cooked for years--and sewed her girls dresses, and made us blankets, and the rest. Yes REST! These days, she is retired from all that.... Her days as a single mom rearing her children are over. 

Mom continues to skin the oranges and I try to suppress the urge to control my sous-chef. Instead I indulge in another round of rumination.

"I can't believe those cats ate the quiches! Granted, I set them outside on the table to cool, but I had covered them with two oven-racks, one roasting pan, a flower pot (now in pieces, on the ground) and a Heavy casserole. Surely that was enough protection? GRHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

As I obsess about the details, Mom studies me with sympathy, and so I indulge some more...

"Maybe I did it on purpose? Have you heard about those people that sabotage their own efforts? Yes! Why would I set myself up for failure?"

Jules is quick to dismiss any psychobabble: "Maybe it's not about you. Maybe its about the cats!"

With that, my storyteller Mom gives me one of her best:

"Just imagine Mama Cat out there on the eve of her day of honor (here, Jules lifts her knife and points out to the vines, to the wild Mediterranean forest just beyond)..." 

"It's Mother's Day here in France and we're about to go to a family picnic and bust our guts. Meantime, there's a poor old Mama Cat out there... lying flat on her back, eight little 'kids' piled on top of her."

"Just look at all these brats sucking the life out of me!" Mama Cat agonizes.

Crouched behind a nearby bush, a couple of Mama Cat's "teenagers" hatch a plan to help out their distressed mother....

They might rob the poulailler, just around the bend... or check out Madame Canard's nest, along the ruisseau, and see whether she's had her babies yet...

Around about this time a savory ribbon of flavor sweeps into their domain... threading through the vines, over the sweet honeysuckle, and into the wild thyme and lavender den that the cats have taken over.  The cheesy scent snakes around them, hugging their hunger pangs. The teenage cats look up and eye the farmhouse across the field of vines... There on a crooked iron table lie two pies! Only one obstacle is stacked up between them and the prize quiche... some sort of bizarre leaning tower of pots and pans and flower pots...

Mom didn't need to finish her story before the spirit of Mother's Day took hold... and soon I found myself cheering for the wild feral cats and for their poor mama lying lifeless beneath a heavy carpet of screaming brats.

And, just as I did as a child during storytelling hour, I'm now fancying myself the main character (one of the teenage hero cats), bringing home the bacon (or goat-cheese quiche), proud smile on my face....

Any frustration that I have felt over the sabotaged quiches (or, lately, in switching rôles with Mom, cooking all her meals), is replaced with a sense of satisfaction. Finally, it is an honor and a pleasure to care for our moms. 

With a renewed attitude, I am no longer obsessing and I've cut out the psychobabble. I can even resist the temptation to scold my sous-chef for sneaking the odd bite of orange while slicing up the rest of the fruit, imperfectly, but in her very own mama cat way.



Photo taken in Nyons, France. 


French Vocabulary

une couche = layer

le sucre vanille = vanilla-flavored sugar

c'était les chats sauvages = it was the feral, or wild, cats

toast de tapenade = toasted bread with crushed olive (and anchovy and caper and...) spread

l'apéritif(ive) = appetizer

le plat principal, or plat de résistance = main course

la petite calamité = little calamity 

le poulailler = henhouse

le ruisseau = brook, stream


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 Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety