"Unfit mother" in French + A Celebration

The following is a curious choice for word-of-the-day on the eve of our son's 21st birthday, but the term mère indigne popped up in today's story. I then found an old word-a-day soundfile from when Max was 11 years old. So there you have it. An almost ready-made post! Here we go:


    : an unfit mother

ECOUTEZ: Listen to a then 11-year-old Max pronounce the example sentence for indigne:
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Qui ne continue pas à apprendre est indigne d'enseigner.
He who ceases to learn cannot adequately teach.
--Gaston Bachelard

"It may be broken but it tastes the same"

    by Kristi Espinasse

Dear Max,

In a matter of hours you will turn 21--and I will not make the mistake I made a few years back when I forgot to wish you Happy Birthday first thing in the morning.

(Quelle gaffe! And for the record: of course I knew it was your birthday! Especially after that first cup of coffee.)

Almost as soon as I gave birth to you in Marseilles, I learned a most dreadful French term: "mère indigne." It was used by parents in a seemingly joking sense: "Je suis une mère indigne!" French moms would say, exaggerating some oversight in the realm of nurturing (like forgetting to give their child homemade dessert, after the homemade main course). And there I was still trying to figure out how to make soup! (Water + veggies, Max. Don't sweat it.)

I won't go into the fears and regrets I had as a young mother in a foreign country before internet (where last month I learned how to make ravioli lasagna for your sister, who turns 19 in September). No! I would rather focus on my réussites, and one of my and your father's biggest successes (apart from your adorable sister) is YOU!

Now for a confession: I am still trying to figure out what to do for you on your birthday, and I thought, somehow, this open letter could be a part of that--if only to record noir sur blanc, my sincere intentions:

SO MAX, here's the agenda for MAY 17th....

1. Wish you Joyeux Anniversaire -- before the rooster crows! Before that first cuppa!

2. Take you shopping. While I believe less and less in shopping, this is one occasion where I believe in it BIG TIME ("big time," not as in "I'm gonna spend big on you!"... big time as in I won't make Mistake No. 2 again: appointing your sister as personal shopper (I was tempted to recycle last year's gift--the one Jackie picked out and charged on my card--that expensive activities "box" where you were to pick among skydiving, car racing, rafting...but I am not THAT desperate (if practical. And increasingly frugal). Besides, it came as a relief that you would not be jumping out of an airplane. Please choose the Romantic Dinner For Two for you and Mathilde. And hurry up before the coupon finally expires!!).

3. Make you your grandmother Michèle-France's gâteau chocolat! This year I'll use real birthday candles and not the ones I scrambled for in time's past (like those fondue candles--exhibit A, below--swiped from I Can't Remember Where...). And I'll try to make a more uniform cake even if, as I have always told you and your sister, "It may be broken but it tastes the same!"

                         A toothless Max

4. I've elected your Dad to cook one of his specialties: magret de canard with pears in honey! (I'll make the rice to go with it!)

5. Toot-toot! I'm going to ask readers to finish today's post and then come back and read this piece about you HERE.

And then I am going to brag to our guest, Chris--friend and wine importer from Portland, about what a wonderful son you are. I'm going to tell him--make that everyone!--about the rainbow-colored flowers you brought me, yesterday, out of the blue. And about how you and your sister dragged me out of the house, last night, to watch you two play tennis. And about how you taught Jackie all your tricks. And the complicité you two share. What a gift to a parent to see her children enjoying each other's company!

My favorite moment from yesterday, Max, was hearing you call out to me, as you have since you first learned to speak: "Mom look at me! Mom watch this! Maman! Regarde-moi!" Last night I watched you run up to the tennis net and--tucking both feet beneath you as you jumped--clear it! That smile on your face. That delight. That wish, want, or need to impress me. No matter how old you are my favorite words will always be: Look Mom! Regarde-moi! Say it at 30! Shout it at 65! I will be watching you forever--delighting in all you accomplish, whether that be graduating college...or urging your sister to call for a second interview (your encouragement worked! Jackie got her first summer job at the water park!).

Happy birthday, Mr Max. You know I love you. Now don't take me to the cleaners. I'll teach you that English idom when we go shopping later! Because if there's one place you and your sister are complice--or partners in crime--it's at the mall!


Jackie and Max in Aix-en-Provence.

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ceder le passage

Bull dog by the sea (c) Kristin Espinasse
Name this photo! Click here to add a picture title or a thought bubble. (Photo taken near St Cyr-sur-Mer).

céder le passage à quelqu’un

: to yield (when driving)

A Day in a French Life… by Kristin Espinasse

I woke up this morning with the nagging doubt that the kids might not make it to school today—worse, that we might be stranded on the side of the road, our thumbs awkwardly stuck out as we begged an early morning ride.

I should have filled the tank yesterday! And now, our car was almost out of gas. The nearest station is in Camaret, but that would mean backtracking. I could drive to Tulette, but was the pump open this early?

Just as I began calculating the distance from Sainte Cecile to Pierrelatte, Max offered  a solution. “There’s one near my collège. I’ll drive us there.”

Well, why not ? He has completed his cours de conduite, and the drive would count towards the 1000 hours kilometers of road time he would need to accumulate in order to get his license (but not before the age of 18).

Max, Jackie, and I buckle up and are soon on our way to Bollène, driving past fields of grapevines and little yawning villages, window shutters opening as we speed by. The morning sun feels good on our faces and the drive is relaxing, after all. As passenger, I feel pretty secure driving with our 17-year-old, who has completed an excellent driver’s training and knows the rules of the road by heart. He is probably a better driver than I am, but experience has merits of its own, namely precaution, which in my book trumps skill.

As we drive, I offer an ongoing commentary. “Always anticipate an obstacle—a little kid that bolts from a side street… or a dog… or a grand-mère or…”

Max interrupts. ”Mom, je sais!”

“I’m sure you know, Max. In fact, I think you are a very good driver and I feel safe riding with you. But it isn’t you I am worried about so much as the other driver out there. You must be alert! Practice defensive driving!”

Here Max shares the story about his driving instructor who had an accident in the very spot over which we are now driving. It was a head-on collision. He was driving with a new student.

“Did she survive?”

“Yes, the car just spun off the road… ”

The next few kilometers are passed in thoughtful silence. When Max picks up speed, I perk up.

“You need to slow down!” I remind him again. Only, for each reminder, Max has an argument.

“But Mom, the car is registering kilometers-per-hour, not MPH.”

It is too early for me to calculate (or divide?) kilometers to miles and so know whether Max is going too fast or too slow for my comfort zone. I cut to the point. “Well, it feels fast to me—so slow down!”

Nearing the village of Rochegude I have to look over at the odometer again.

“Max, what is the speed limit here?” 


“Then why are you going 84?”

“Mom! Old cars show a higher speed. We are really only going 80.”

“This is not an old car. Slow down!”

As we approach the gas station, it occurs to me that I won’t have to do the messy chore this time!

“Your driving instructors have taught you to fill the tank, haven’t they?”

“Yes,  but I can’t do it this morning. It will make my hands reek and I’ve got to go to school afterwards!”

I shake my head. He sure has an excuse for everything from faulty odometers to smelly gas pumps—and it all seems to work in his favor!

After I fill the tank, Max fires up the engine attracting the attention of the student in the next car’s passenger seat. Subtle Max, you are subtle! Careful, now, not to kill the engine as you did on the way in! You won't look so cool putt-putting out of here, just as you putt-putted your way in!

At the industrial roundabout in Bollène Max slows, observing the yield sign.

I watch as cars speed around the busy circle, or camembert. Although a little nervous, I trust that Max will take his time. Only, when a lumber truck passes carrying a forest of giant logs, I notice Max does not stop!

I watch as the semi-truck’s wheels spin past our car, which is presently entering the roundabout , right on the heels of the giant truck!

Our car slips in so close behind the semi that I fear we will be sucked in beneath the truck’s back tires. Looking up from the passenger seat, I now see a tower of lumber above us. The ends of the neatly cut trunks are so near our faces I can count the many circles that represent the tree’s age. Will we live as long?


In the school parking lot I am lecturing Max, who, as expected, has an argument for every point I make. And when he doesn’t have a point, he simply replies, “Quit screaming!”

Finally, I make an ultimatum:

“Max, you are NOT going to explain things away and have the last word each time! Now, listen closely. I am going to say it one more time and this time you will not interrupt me—do so and you will lose driving rights for two weeks!"

I finally get the chance to make my point without being cut off. “What you did was dangerous and there is no justifying it!”

I wait, lest one more peep come out of the reckless driver. When not one peep is made, I am satisfied and have to turn my face away, lest the smirk upon it degrade its authority.

Despite the grave situation that was now past us, it feels so good to have the last word. Cathartic, even! I can now see the allure “le dernier mot” has for my ever righteous kids!

But that self-righteous feeling soon gives way to simple humility and gratitude. Thank God none of us had the very last word this time!


Le Coin Commentaires

Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.

French Vocabulary

le collège = junior high school

le cours de conduite = driver education

la grand-mère = grandmother

je sais = I know

le camembert = the popular round cheese is also a synonym for roundabout

le dernier mot = the last word




Max likes to lift things, just look at those arms!


Smokey likes to eat things. Just look at that tongue!


No matter what you like to do, it's nice to stop to rest and to look in a new direction. To comment on a photo, click here.


Click Millionaires
Very excited to be featured in Scott Fox's "Click Millionaires"! I'd do well to read the book to find out how to become one!  Meantime, I will continue to thank those lucky stars for allowing this creative freedom to work from home -- or from anywhere in the world. How many millionaires can boast such a quirk--or, rather, perk? ...So much for creative freedom!

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              Click to enlarge this photo, taken in Villedieu (near Nyons). 

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apocope + favorite blogs on France

A child care center in Flayosc. Seems like yesterday that my son went to the crèche... read on in today's story column. 

une apocope (ah-poh-cowp)

    : the dropping of one or more syllables (or letters) at the end of a word

Ado, MacDo, frigo, véto, resto... the French seem to love abbreviation. This is not to say that others of us are not guilty of truncating terms: in English, for example, we say fridge... Can you help list more wee words or apocopic terms in French or in English? Click here.

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

Note: the following story was written in 2008, when Max was 13 years old. Our son turned 17 yesterday...
There is something in the air around here and it smells like Adieu, like goodbye to a time and a place; fleeting and fading... like freckles on a child's face.

It has me dragging my legs to bed while the sun is still shining or putting too much symbolism into the shape of the odd cloud that floats by my bedroom window. The angst, though passagère, is palpable, present as a foreign fragrance in the air.

"Do you smell something rotting here?" I ask the boys while rooting around for the culprit, who I suspect is hiding in these kitchen drawers. I wonder about the strange scent: is it a rat's adieu that I am sensing? And yet...the mouse traps are empty....

Max and his friend, Jack, shake their heads, a bit disappointed to have missed a rotting-rodent sighting.

"No, there's nothing there, Mom." Max confirms. "No mice," Jack seconds.
"Are you sure?" I question, giving the kitchen drawers a good tug while searching for the source of the odor.

The boys insist that they can't smell a thing, and I notice how they slip out of the kitchen lest they catch the foul fever that has seized me.

Surely the smell of something "turning" pervades the air? Oh well. I shut the drawers with a heavy sigh and return to the heap of children's clothing that needs sorting. As the giveaway pile grows, that palpable, perfumed something returns....

I pull one of the little t-shirts close and breathe in the scent of Nine-Years-Old. How long has he had this t-shirt? Four years? It was oversized to begin with and now it is easily too small for my son. Why haven't I given it away yet?


I set the shirt aside and curl up into a chair. Staring out the window, I notice the clouds pass even faster than the years have. I get up, turn my back on the clouds, and search the drawers again; this time for sweets. I am going to make a cake and quit staring at Time.

Later that night, my ears perk up when my son calls for me. "Give me a kiss goodnight, Mom?"

"You bet!" I say, wondering whether this might be the next-to-last time he asks.

"You know," I remind my son, pushing a lock of hair out of his face. "You are still a kid."

"Yes, mom... I am still twelve."

Suddenly, the air seems a little lighter, sweeter....
"And you will still be a kid when you turn thirteen...." I remind him. 
Max offers a doubtful look.
"No, Mom," Max argues. "I'll be a teenager."

That sweetness lingers for a moment before the scent molecules rearrange themselves once again, putting a bit of spice into their chemical makeup. I now understand what I have been sensing all along, and while I may have mixed feelings about it, one thing's sure: It smells like teen spirit.*

                                *     *     *

:: Le Coin Commentaires & Favorite Blogs on France ::
Comments, corrections, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box. Tip: no need to include a Web Site URL in the sign-up box (only if you would like to share your blog or website).

Speaking of websites, now's the time to share a favorite French-themed blog or website. Lynn at Southern Fried French tells me that  the blog A Small Village in France is hysterical and a favorite read. Check it out and share your favorites here!
Test your French comprehension with this bilingual story by our daughter Jackie. Have you read her essay on makeup?  You can read it here in French or in English! 

French Vocabulary

adieu = goodbye

passagère = brief, passing;

Smells Like Teen Spirit = song by Nirvana

Smokey says: it's hard to pose when looking sunward.

By the way, the shutters need painting... or is that a lizard that you are noticing, dear Smokey?

Thanks for forwarding this post to a friend! 

Still reading? Check out our Best Tips for Learning French! and while you are there, be sure to share a tip of your own.

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!
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l'ici et maintenant

Window in Serignan, Vaucluse (c) Kristin Espinasse

Share today's "photo du coeur" with a friend...

l'ici et maintenant

    : the here and now, or le moment or l'instant présent

Audio File: (I'm afraid our super French word pronouncer (Chief Grape) is away... that means you're stuck with me and my recording. Listen at your own péril...): Download MP3 or Wav file

L'ici et maintenant. Dans l'ici-maintenant je ressents de la paix.
In the here and now I feel at peace.

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

My husband is running a bath, this after two days without water. Our plumber was able to temporarily fix our reservoir, meaning that tonight our beloved Chief Grape will escape the dreaded bird bath—and youpi! for that, for it is no fun standing in a vintner's bucket, pouring cups of cold water over a tired body.

I am in the next room, folding clothes (in order to free-up the bed, so that we can eventually get some rest). As I fold, I listen to glorious sound of rushing water, along with the occasional squeaky shift of a man settling into his bath. 

Max strides into the bedroom and plops down onto the bed. "I'm going to rest here a bit," he says. 

I turn towards our son, amazed at his decision to spend time with his old lady. My étonnement increases, when our 16-year-old offers an apparent compliment: 

"You smell like pamplemousse," he remarks. 

I touch my cheek, remembering the moisturizer that I have just put on. It has a citrus scent? I hadn't noticed... in fact, I hardly remember putting on the lait hydratant

Inhaling another whiff of grapefruit, I am transported to the present moment, having stepped off the ruthless timeline of the past (in which I am regretful of those things I've left undone—anything from unanswered emails to the sinkful of dishes) and the future (in which I worry about our water problem and my upcoming surgery). But here, in the pamplemousse present, I awake to life around me, including the unchacteristic attention of our teenager.

"Tiens," Max says, handing me one of his earphones, which I stick into my oreille, following Max's example. I push the clothes out of the way and lie back on the pillow.

"Can you tell me what she is saying?" Max wants to know. It isn't the first time I've been asked to identify English lyrics, only, the music is usually not to my liking (i.e. it is rap, instead of rhapsody).

I recognise the song by Dido. Quelle coincidence! It was once a favorite of mine... I listen in, intent on clarifying the words for Max:

My tea's gone cold, I'm wonderin' why
I got out of bed alone
The morning rain clouds up my window
and I can't see at all...

As I communicate the lyrics to Max, he begins to sing along with me... 

and even if I could it'd all be grey
but your picture on my wall, it reminds me
that it's not so bad, it's not so bad...

As Max and I sing, I hear splashing now and again, as Jean-Marc relaxes into his bath. To him the noise coming from the bedroom must surely be an amusement, what with Max and me belting it out like a couple of tone-deaf dogs...

And I want to thank you for giving me
the best day of my life...
Oh, just to be with you,
is having the best day of my life.

I muse at how perfectly the lyrics fit this treasured moment of togetherness. Though I can't be sure that this is the best day of my life... I am quite certain, here in l'instant présent, that this is the best minute of my life.

As for the other worries and regrets, they just don't exist in the peaceful here and now, where a mother-and-son duo howl like a couple of hound dogs:

 And I want to thank you for giving me
the best day of my life...
Oh, just to be with you,
is having the best day of my life....

Le Coin Commentaires
I love to read your comments--and so does my mom! So please don't hesitate to leave a message. If you don't know what to say (personally, I get very nervous and tongue-tied when it comes to leaving comments on blogs!), simply say "bonjour" and be sure to let us know which town your are writing in from (this is my dad's favorite part). Click here to leave a comment.

Psst... Mom and Dad, if you are reading, check out the recent article in ASU News: Expat alum offers Francophiles a word a day! Mom, Dad, I know how worried you were when I came in close to last in my class--almost failing high school. But I've been working hard, ever since, to make up for that! Click here to find out how.

French Vocabulary

youpi! = yahoo!

un étonnement = surprise

le pamplemousse = grapefruit 

le lait hydratant = moisturizer

tiens! = here!

une oreille = ear

quelle coincidence! = what a coincidence!

l'instant présent = the present moment, the here and now


The vinter's buckets that I mentioned in today's story. Just imagine Chief Grape's bird bath dilemma!


Blossoming in Provence

 S'il vous plaît...

S.V.P.!: I need your help in getting out the word of my latest book! 

Thank you very much if you have already purchased a copy of Blossoming in Provence. Your purchase is one of the best ways to help me to continue publishing these educational "stories in a French life". 

If you enjoy this free newsletter, please consider supporting it by buying a copy of my book.

You might consider buying a copy for a friend of family member. Would someone at your office or at your school enjoy these short stories? Blossoming in Provence is a book for all ages. Both men and women enjoy the book, making it a perfect gift for a birthday or even for Valentine's Day.

Thank you very much for your support and for helping me to get the word out about Blossoming in Provence. When you click over to the page at Amazon, you will also notice the possibility to share the page via Twitter and Facebook and email (let your mouse hover over the "like" button, just beneath the books title.

Voilà. I've peddled my book for the month! I appreciate your patience and will now take off my sales hat and put back on my chef's toque (it is time to send out this post and to hurry and prepare lunch for the kids).


While editing my photo archives I discovered this picture, taken a few years after I wrote the story, above. Serendipitous, considering the pamplemousse scent that Max describes.

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!
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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).

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!
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Our Smokey, all grown up now, would like to add: Je suis toujours le fils de mon père. ("Still the son of my father... even if he does live far away, in Marseilles.")

fils (feece) noun, masculine

    : son

C'est bien le fils de son père = he is very much his father's son
être le fils de ses oeuvres = to be a self-made man
le Fils de l'homme/de Dieu = the Son of man/of God
le fils âiné, cadet = the older/younger brother
tel père, tel fils = like father, like son
Know of any other "fils" expressions? Thanks for sharing them in the comments box. 

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

Carry a child and one day he'll carry you

In the geography of child-rearing, there are sacred endroits, or turning points, before which a parent stops, shakes her head, and wipes her teary mirettes. Much as a cartographer does, she will, there on the map of her rugged heart, carefully pencil in these notable landmarks. 

Before our first child was born, I was given one of those "baby memory books". It was sealed with a ribbon and, inside, apart from the journal lines, it had a place in which one could paste the baby photos. Though I had the best intentions, I have always felt terribly guilty for not keeping up with the record books, by noting down every "first" in the life of my children. 

Çela dit, I did have the time to note a few pre-birth impressions, before all that "journaling momentum" that I'd built up flew out the door the moment our fils was born. After that earth-stopping event, it was all I could do to keep track of feedings, diaper changings, and hormones raging (my own; baby blues?).

But a recent "first step" of our son's is something I hope never to forget. Unlike a first tooth, the experience has been a near mystical moment. Indulge me now, will you, as I take up space in this public journal to sketch in an uplifting instant.

June 26, 2011 :  Max, 16 years and 41 days old. On this otherwise ordinary summer evening... our son reached down, picked up his mother and carried her off!

As go mystical moments, everything around the event is either dulled (in comparison) and forgotten, or--quite the opposite--everything around the event is crystal clear! My experience was twofold:

Forgotten were all those "unimportants". I remember walking into Max's room that night. In robot mode, I had been going down my bedtime list: "Max, don't forget to pick up these clothes off the floor. Open your window for some fresh air! Remember to take your asthma and allergy meds. And I know school's out - but don't stay up too late!" With that, I set down my laundry basket, threw out my arms and waited for my favorite moment: le câlin, or hug. It was the only natural, non-automated part of the "tuck-in" schedule.

I still don't know what bit him, but I noticed a magical smile on my son's face as he turned away from his computer. Max's sourire grew and grew until he seemed possessed...  possessed by happiness! In his holey socks, he slid across the wooden floor, over to the door, pulled me into the room.... and swept me off the floor!

Crystal clear now, were the events I'd mourned (having never noted them down): first tooth, first step, first chagrin! The first time he ran away... his first girlfriend!

There stood my son and, with one strong arm beneath my back and the other beneath my dangling legs, I was suspended in midair, held secure in the arms of my firstborn. 

I shrieked as Max began to turn... and spin with me! We twirled round and round, stopping to gasp for air after so much laughter. I could not believe my own son could now carry me! As if sensing my doubt, Max tightened his hold, swooping me up higher and higher! How to describe the experience of that moment when the one you once held up... is now holding you! I felt like a child in my own son's arms, there was that warmth and security, there was that sacred glimpse of eternity!

As we spun round the room, breathless and laughing, all those moments I had failed to record in the baby memory book came back to me. Our son's first swim... his first solo bike ride... his first time behind the wheel, as driver! The privilege was now mine--to review these events, in my son's arms, whirling, literally, with the moment!

I know it was indulgent, this sudden role reversal, but I enjoyed every second. And, looking up into my boy's starry eyes, more than his weary mother, I was a newborn, cherished and adored. Witnessing the reflection in my son's dazzling eyes, I might have even been his prize.


Le Coin Commentaires

What about role reversal? It has a negative connotation. But what about the positives? Share your own experience or talk about the other joys of family, and how we sometimes "carry" one another in life. To leave a comment, click here.


  Jaxnmaxpainting 017

 Our son, Max... at an age when I could still spin him around! Photo taken 8 years ago. For a recent photo of Max please click here.

French Vocabulary

un endroit = place

les mirettes (f,pl) = eyes, peepers

Çela dit = that being said

le fils = son

le câlin = cuddle, hug

le sourire = smile


Tom b
Click to enlarge this photo of a recent winetasting here at our vineyard. Would you, too, like to visit us? Leave a message in the comments box to let me know.

The smiling faces are, from left to right: Bruce, Sandy, Kathy, Dick, Nancy, Dave, Tom, Jean-Marc, Kristin, Bill, Jules, Ann, Janis.

Capture plein écran 20062011 182757
Jean-Marc, I, and Tom.

French shopping bag I Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material. 1-Percent of the sale of this bag will support the conservation work of the nature conservancy. Order the I Heart Paris bag here.

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A View with A Room (c) Kristin Espinasse

A good place to glander... in a cozy room, flowers on the windowsill. Photo taken in Villedieu sometime last fall. 

glander (glahn day)

    : to loaf about, to do nothing (especially when you should be working)

Example Sentence
  On se sent un peu coupable quand on glande, n'est-ce pas?
  We feel a little guilty when we loaf about, don't we?

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

Verbs in a 16-year-old Boy's Life

The following words will help catch us up on a few goings-on in a young Frenchman's life. I'm jotting them down now, via these verbs, in case my future mind conjugates the memories into fleeting units.  


Conduire, or "to drive". Though I haven't written about it, Max is learning to drive via la conduite accompagnée. Living in the country has never had more perks than this: the ubiquitous wide-open country roads - perfect for practicing behind the wheel! But no matter how empty the roads are around here, a mother's heart still flutters like a country butterfly at every road bend. 


Rêvasser, or "to daydream" - Max is dreaming about the future and yesterday morning he mentioned joining the Air Force! I had to speed-dial his grandfather on Father's Day to tell him the latest -- and to mention that his Air Force captain's shirt now fits Max to a T. (Now, will he choose the French Armée de l'Air or the American Air Force, should he follow his latest dream?) Update: Max would like to join the American Air Force....


Piocher, or "to pickax" - Mr. Max planted seven willow trees (gifts from Dirt Diva Malou, who, along with Dirt Diva Doreen, is helping us camouflage an eyesore of a concrete fence).  Max still has cloques, or blisters, to show for his work driving that pickax, or pioche, into the cementlike ground. (That ought to teach the poor guy to wear a pair of gants!)


Glander, or "to loaf about" - (I think this is on Max's list of things to do, or "choses à faire"...) meantime...


Bosser, or "to work" - Our son is helping a lot with farm work... pulling weeds within the vine rows, helping to tidy up the cave, or cellar, and, his favorite, tasting some of the wines! He tells me his dad is paying him le SMIC (or was that le SMIG, with a "g": minimum wage, or what he would call, the minimum of minimum wage or le bas de SMIC/G!). ...And who wouldn't mind earning minimum wage for wine tasting?! Seriously, giving credit to Max, there is very little dégustation going on around here - and a lot of grueling weeding instead!

Speaking of work, this is our chance to share some very good news. Jean-Marc (alias "Chief Grape") has received another mention for his wines!!! Click on the image, below, to read the fine print and thanks again for all of your support in getting the word out on his Domaine Rouge-Bleu reds and rosés!

Le Coin Commentaires The Comments Corner

What are some of the verbs in this season of your own life? Here are a few of mine: jardiner or "to garden", adorer, or "to love" (just watched and loved this film!), souhaiter, to wish (a very Happy Father's Day to all the pères out there!), and, finally, poireauter, or "to wait around a long time", patiently, for the fruits of daily effort to appear after all these years. There are little glimmers here and there, and doesn't this keep us following our dreams? Click here to comment.

Wine spectator
French Vocabulary

la coinduite accompagnée = driving as a learner, assisted by an experienced driver

le gant = glove

la dégustation = tasting (wine), sampling (cheese)

le SMIC = Salaire Minimum Inter-Professionel de Croissance

    => also: le smicard (la smicarde) = minimum wage earner

le SMIG = Salaire Minimum Inter-Professionel Garanti

I forgot to make Mom these red peppers! Ever since Jean-Marc made them for her (in Marseilles, so many summers ago), they have been one of her favorites. 

Chief Grape's Roasted Peppers:

Take 3 or 4 red peppers (or mix, using green and yellow peppers). Put them in a baking dish, then into a piping hot oven. When peppers begin to blister or the skin blackens, shut off the oven and let the poivrons sweat. (Tip, cook them in the evening, then leave them to sweat overnight). When the peppers are cool, cut them open, scoop out the seeds, and reserve the juices in a bowl (adding half a cupful of olive oil). Chop up the peppers and add to the olive oil mixture. Add more oil, if needed, to cover the peppers. Add salt, pepper, pressed garlic, and herbs. Add fresh basil, if you like, or parsley. Delicious on crackers and bread, and a tasty accompaniment to grilled fish and barbecue. Leftovers are good in quiche, in this Provençal tomato tart, or in this olive cake!

Serve with a glass of Domaine Rouge-Bleu rosé :-) 


"Love ya, Baby!" (Je t'aime bébé). In my day we celebrated the last days of school by signing each others yearbook (or we might sign a T-shirt, if we felt risky). How times have changed! (Pictured, our 13-year-old daughter, Jackie). And, yes, bra straps are still "in".

And now for the best photo tip in the whole wide world (and it's no secret so let this be a reminder): Always, always have a camera on hand! For this reason, pocket cameras are ideal! Here is the one I use daily.


                    La sauge, or sage, from the garden. Thanks, Dirt Divas!

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cheveux blancs

Our son, Maxime, examines some weight-lifting equipment on his birthday. Notice the patch, just above his ear (read on, in today's story...). Never miss a word of photo: get French Word-A-Day delivered by email, here

les cheveux blancs (lay sheh veuh blahn)

    : white hair


le cheveu gris = gray hair
les cheveux poivre et sel = salt-and-pepper hair

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

A seize ans, notre fils, Maxime, a déjà quelques cheveux blancs!
At sixteen, our son, Max, already has a few gray hairs! 

Check out Easy French Reader: A fun and easy new way to quickly acquire or enhance basic reading skills. Click here to order.

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

Sage at Sixteen

Well, Mr. Max, you turned 16 yesterday! And, mon pauvre fils, we spent the landmark occasion doing errands, or les courses, but you did not complain.

Having picked you up from collège, we headed over to Orange, for your appointment chez l'orthodontiste. From time to time, as I drove, I would look over at you, Max, as you sat there in the passenger's seat, earplugs in, listening to your favorite song, Mocking Bird. A cloud of calmness settled over you and I had to ask, a few times, "Est-ce que ça va?" You assured me it was.

Now and then, my eyes fixed on that patch, over your left ear. I'll never forget when, earlier this week as you sat in the coiffeuse's chair, the hairdresser shut off the electric shaver and announced, Votre fils a des cheveux blancs!

Unbelieving, I got up out of my chair and went to see the very same: a patch, no bigger than the tip of an eraser, of white hair! 

You were pretty cool about that, too, taking the information in stride, just as you are taking this afternoon of errands with the same calm and collectedness.

When we pull into the grocery store drive-through, to collect our commande, you ask whether it's too late to buy a can of sirop de menthe....

But when I try to amend our order, the machine balks. After several attempts to add the sirop de menthe to our virtual cart, I dissolve into a mist of exasperation. My forefinger punches the menu screen until I finally give up.

That is when, Mon Fils, you quietly exit the car, come around to my side of the vehicle, and say in a soft voice: "I'm going to try to figure it out, Mom."


You may have received a few cadeaux on your birthday, but I wonder whether you are aware of the gift of peace and serenity that you have clearly shown me, this week? Your newly-won patience was again evident in the car ride, at the grocer's and, later, at the sports-goods store, where we would try out a gamme of weight-lifting equipment, only to leave the shop empty-handed when all of those "promotions" added up, costing your mother a lot of confusion. I needed time to figure things out--to decide just which set of barbells, which bench press, which curl bar... would be best for a growing boy. When I broke the news to you, I braced myself for your disappointment. Instead, you responded with a tender smile, and that serene gleam in your eye. "T'inquiète pas, Maman. Je peux attendre."

Last night at the dinner table, after blowing out your birthday candles, you told Grandma Jules and me that you have had a very long life, that it feels as though you had been around forever - and not a mere 16 years.

As I listen to your wondrous thoughts, my eyes return to that patch of gray, just above your ear. Though I don't understand the metaphysics of time and space, of one thing I am certain: in my hopes, in my prayers, in my wishes and in my far-flung dreams... forever, my dear son, you have been with me.


Smokey and Braise (c) Kristin Espinasse
Smokey (left) and Momma Braise illustrate that tender, mysterious, and sacred Mother-Son bond. (Photo taken in 2009, when Smokey was a wee whippersnapper.)

Le Coin Commentaires

Corrections, comments, or stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box. 

  French shopping bag I Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material. 1-Percent of the sale of this bag will support the conservation work of the nature conservancy. Order the I Heart Paris bag here.

French Vocabulary

 sage = wise

mon pauvre fils = my poor son

Orange = a city in the Vaucluse

est-ce que ça va = is everything OK?

la coiffeuse = hairdresser

Votre fils a des cheveux blancs! = Your son has some white hair!

le cadeau = present

la commande = order

le sirop de menthe = mint syrup

mon fils = my son

la gamme = the (product) range

(ne) t'inquiète pas, Maman. Je peux attendre = don't worry, Mom. I can wait

le cadeau = gift, present

And how about a Reverse dictionary for some of the English terms?:

now and then = de temps en temps

a patch (of white hair) = une tache

to take something in stride = accepter quelque chose sans sourciller

empty-handed = les mains vides

une bougie = candle

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France Magazine subscription

In film:  Paris Je T'aime Paris I love You.



We had to round up some candles... (1 = 10... +1 x 6!) (left to right: Kristin, Jackie, Max)

Max, I love your smile, I love your engaging sense of humor, I love that twinkle in your eye, that faith that says "I will try". I think you are cool (I think you're a geek), I think you are intense, I think you are very, so very sweet. Enigmatic, charismatic, diplomatic... are just a few words to describe you, Mr. Moose (from "Maximousse", not his name, but a term of endearment all the same). The two photos, above, are by Jean-Marc. The one below Jackie took.

Kristin and Jean-Marc (c) Jackie Espinasse
Max, you have brought so much joy to our lives. Your mom and dad thank you (and your sister, too, though she won't admit her appreciation just yet!).

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!
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recensement militaire

Mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse
Something scary arrived in the mail... read on.

 le recensement militaire 

    : registration (military), census, counting (votes)

Audio File: listen to our son, Max, read his letter (below) from the mayor, including the term "recensement militaire": Download MP3 file or Wav file

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

"I begin to be adult"

Our 15-year-old son has received a letter* from the mayor. It reads:

Monsieur Maxime Espinasse

Né le 17 mai 1995

Est invité à passer en Mairie, Service "Etat Civil" à compter du 17 mai 2011...

Et obligatoirement avant le: 30 juin 2011

Pour son recensement militaire, muni de la carte d'identité française et du livret de famille de ses parents (Copies + Originaux)

Le Maire,
Max Ivan

( *For the English translation, go to the end of this post.)


Why does the mere act of reading the words recensement militaire make my tear ducts tingle?

15-year-old Max has the answer, in halting English:

Because, says he, I begin to be adult.


Post note: I did not correct my son's English... and I didn't tell him that his becoming adult is not the reason for my frisson.

Update: Jean-Marc tells me that military service in France is no longer obligatory. Nevertheless, boys and girls must respond to the recensement militaire, by registering at the local Mairie. 

Le Coin Commentaires
To respond to this post or to share a story of your own, click here

French Vocabulary
le frisson = shiver, shudder


Jackie and Max, kids, French, France www.french-word-a-day.com (c) Kristin Espinasse

Max, kids, freckles, French, France www.french-word-a-day.com (c) Kristin Espinasse

Max, kids, toothless, chocolate cake, candles, French, France www.french-word-a-day.com (c) Kristin Espinasse

Max, kids, teenager, snow, hairstyle, French, France www.french-word-a-day.com (c) Kristin Espinasse

Max, braces, teenager, kids, French, France www.french-word-a-day.com (c) Kristin Espinasse

Max, airsoft, mont ventoux, French, France www.french-word-a-day.com (c) Kristin Espinasse

* Mr. Maxime Espinasse

Born May 17, 1995,

Is invited to come to Town Hall, to the Registry Office, voluntarily on May 17, 2011,

And involuntarily not later than June 30, 2011,

For his military registration and to bring with him his French-identity card (the original and copies) and his family-record book (the original and copies).

The Mayor
Max Ivan 

  July ceremony

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L'Occitane Hand Cream Honey, almond and coconut oil are blended with Shea Butter to create this unique and extremely effective moisturizer.

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Gypsy Caravan (c) Kristin Espinasse
I fell in love with this roulotte, or gypsy caravan, in Hyères. Don't show my mom this photo -- or she'll be text messaging me in seconds--and in ALL CAPS--instructing me to cash in the kids' college fund -- and buy the wooden trailer! Travel, Jules might argue, is the best education. More photos in the upcoming photo blog.

*     *     *

Holy moly! After Monday's ooh-ooh taboo topic, we'll steer clear of Hallelujah... Hobos & Hippies in today's word-a-day!

saisonnier, saisonnière (say-zohn-yay, say-zohn-yair) noun

    : itinerant, seasonal worker

adjective: seasonal (Also: la dépression saisonnière = seasonal depression)

Audio File* & Example Sentence:
Download MP3 -or- Download Wav file

C'est parce que le travail que recherche le hobo est par essence mobile et saisonnier (travaux publics, moissons, etc.) qu'il adopte précisément ce mode de vie et nul autre. A la difference du vagabond, pour lequel "faire la route" se suffit à soi-même...

Anyone care to translate the example sentence? Answers welcome in the comments box!

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

"...the less I have, the more I am a happy man..."

Hippies, Hobos, and How To live life. Such are the thoughts of a 14-year-old. It is late and my son should be in bed. Instead, he tiptoes down tommette* tiled stairs, to the kitchen, to join me at the dinner table, where I have sat down to a late meal, solo.

Max shares with me his day, including les rabs* he ate at the cantine* (he loved the broccoli quiche, which dispels yet another self-made myth: that the French don't like broccoli. I guess you have to team it with eggs and a buttery crust, to experience such broccoli lust). 

I notice the highlights in my son's hair, sun-kissed blond -- and, come to think of it, too long? He'll need to get it cut again soon. Then again, maybe this is the style he's after? As if reading my mind, Max says:

"I am not a hippie... but I think like them."
"Oh really, how's that?" I ask, pushing my plate over to a still-hungry boy.
"I think they are right to bring peace and love into this world," Max states, before quickly finishing off my plate. He is growing and ever hungry for food and, more and more, for meaning; I wish I could give him platefuls of it... instead of asking him to share notes.

When my teenager is not sharing sage words, it is song that he passes along. I leave you with the thoughtful lyrics to one of his favorites. Enjoy them, below, and let Max and me know what you think of the paroles. (The French lyrics follow).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
la tommette (tomette) (f)
= hexagonal floor tile; le rab (m) = seconds (second helping of food); la cantine (f) = cafeteria, dining hall
"Like a Hobo" by Charlie Winston

I’ve always known
Since I was a young boy
In this world, everything’s as good as bad

Now my father told me always speak a true word
And I have to say that is the best advice I’ve had

Because something burns inside of me
It’s everything I long to be

And lies they only stop me from feeling free

Like a hobo from a broken home
Nothing’s gonna stop me
Like a hobo from a broken home
Nothing’s gonna stop me

I’ve never yearned for anybody’s fortune
The less I have the more I am a happy man
Now my mother told me always keep your head on
Because some may praise you just to get what they want

And I said mama I am not afraid
They will take what they will take
And what would life be like without a few mistakes

Like a hobo from a broken home
Nothing’s gonna stop me
Like a hobo from a broken home
Nothing’s gonna stop me

Comme Un Vagabond
J’ai toujours su
Depuis tout petit
Que dans ce monde, tout est aussi bon que mauvais
Mon père m’a dit un jour de toujours dire la vérité
Et je dois dire que c’est de loin le meilleur conseil que j’ai reçu
Parce que j’ai quelque chose qui brûle à l’intérieur
C’est tout ce que je désire être
Et les mensonges ne font que me priver de ma liberté

... French lyrics from GreatSong.Net


Selected Hobo Terms
Tokay Blanket
: drinking alcohol to stay warm
Banjo : a portable frying pan
Blowed-in-the-glass : a genuine, trustworthy individual
California Blankets : newspapers, intended to be used for bedding
Padding the hoof : to travel by foot
Spear biscuits : looking for food in garbage cans
...do not miss many more colorful terms at the Wikipedia entry for Hobo

Three Random Words:
= to burst out laughing
un hochet (m)
= rattle (toy)
un orteil
(m) = toe

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!
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