Say "six pack abs" and the French gutbuster!

Lorgues, France, farmers market, chalkboard, tomatoes, (c) Kristin Espinasse
Stripey awnings, ardoises, or chalkboards, curly handwriting, mysterious woman.... What's so French about this? Photo taken in Lorgues, France, where today's story begins....


le bidou (bee-doo)

    : tummy, stomach

Le bidou is slang and is also used in kid speak. (It is another entry in our Petit Lexique de Langage Enfantin /Glossary of Baby Talk.)

Audio File: MP3 or Wav file

Si tu veux muscler ton bidou fais des abdos... ou bien tu peux essayer la ceinture abdo! If you want to tone your tummy do sit-ups... or you could try the belt toner!

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

After a fun-loving picnic at my dear friends Tessa and David's--in which guests brought a savory or sweet dish and you couldn't help but sample every single thing from spare ribs to lemon pie--Jean-Marc and I waddled to our car for the long drive home from Lorgues.

As I reached over to buckle my seat-belt, the most curious scene unfolded before me. There, beyond the driver's seat, Jean-Marc stood adjusting another kind of belt—his latest inspiration: the French gut-buster.

Ah for the love of machin-trucs! Man and his gizmos! To his credit, many of thingamajigs that collect in our cramped cellier are of Jean-Marc's very own making. Take, for example, the fabulous mop-spear (half mop, half fork—used for hunting spiny sea oursins...) or the toilet paper distributor... born of a reclaimed wine-barrel handle. Wait! That last creation was my own.... Necessity truly is the mother of invention! 

("Necessity" also explains the crowded state of our utility closet. Jean-Marc's philosophy when it comes to hardware bits and bobs is: ne rien jeter and always keep a supply of silver tape! One of Jean-Marc's most trusted accessories, he uses the duct tape for everything from curtain alterations to mop-spear repair.)

But the gut-buster is something else. All the duct tape in France couldn't buzz and beep like this doodad. This is one device my thrifty and industrious husband could not whip up or rig together on his own. He had to order it on-line.

Jean-Marc tells me the battery-operated belt is a muscle toner and that--without any effort on the wearer's part--one can build one of those impressive tablettes de chocolat, or what we call in English "six pack abs."

Either translation works for Jean-Marc and so, apparently, does the chocolate and the beer!  For when he is not wearing his tummy-trimmer while driving long distances, he's sporting it while dining in front of the TV. (Only, in place of the chocolate and the beer--it is wine and cheese he's eating.)

As you can imagine, this spectacular contraption makes my husband an open-target. After the daily teasing I suffer (following the quirks in my own character), I can't help but retaliate!

"Ça va Miss France?" I chuckle, when he fastens his high-tech waist-slimmer, and settles on the couch with a glass of Prosecco and a dish of nuts. "Do you really think that thing works?" I question, as I sit down beside my husband with my own dinner tray (we've settled in to watch the one o'clock news, a cozy tradition, especially since our dining room disappeared).  

But Miss France is quick to poke back when challenged: "Look at your bidou," he says, patting my stomach. "You ought to try it for yourself. Ça te ferait pas de mal!"

My feathers are ruffled now and I turn the injustice into one last grande critique:

"Beurer?" I say, eyeing the manufacturer's name, stamped across the front of the belt. One more "r" and it would be too good to be true! Meantime, I can still have fun with the name....

"Beurrer! What a name for a waist-slimming contraption: to butter! Oh well, don't let me keep you. Butter up, Miss France. Butter those abs!  

                                     *    *    * 
Post note: I'm not laughing anymore. Earlier I spied my husband as he returned to his beloved utilities closet--this time for a scrap of rope to use to belt his pants! I guess the gut-buster is working, and so is Jean-Marc's ever-resourceful mind.

"Which stomach-toning contraption is Jean-Marc using?" you may be asking. It is similar to this one. And he gives the machin-truc a thumbs up! 

(And you can read about Jean-Marc's fabulous mop-spear in one or both of these books: Blossoming in Provence or Words in a French Life. One mop-spear, two different stories. It must be special--or he must be special!)

 French Vocabulary

le machin-truc = thingamajig
le cellier = storeroom or pantry
un oursin = sea urchin
ne rien jeter = don't throw anything away
la tablette de chocolat = chocolate bar (also used to refer to shapely abs) 
ça va? = how's it goin'?
ça te fera pas du mal = it couldn't hurt you
grand(e) = big, great
la critique = criticism 

Caromb, France, truck renault, windshield, (c) Kristin EspinasseMore examples of DIY repair and creation by those ever clever French.... photo taken in Caromb, in 2010

Who needs to hire an ironworker when you can build your own cat balcony? Photo taken in Brignoles, in 2006. 

Here's how things are looking outside our dining room. Nothing a little paint--and a grand stretch of bougainvillea over the top--can't soften! Do you think it will soften?

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

window expansion, lintel, façade, bouganvillea (c) Kristin Espinasse
Beneath the façade, you can see what this 19th century mas is made of. When the demolition workers opened the stone wall sand came trickling out, like fallen seconds in an hourglass. Rubbing la terre sableuse between our hands, Jean-Marc and I marveled at the building materials of yesteryear.

le linteau (lun-tow)

    : lintel, girder

plural: linteaux 

Audio File: The following French definition is from Wiktionnaire. Listen to Jean-Marc read it: Download MP3 or Wav file

Un linteau, c'est une pièce de construction qui se met en travers au-dessus de l’ouverture d’une porte ou d’une fenêtre pour soutenir la maçonnerie. A lintel is a piece of building material that is placed across and above the opening of a door or window, to support the stonework.

Check out the book/CD Pronounce it Perfectly in French.  

un linteau en brique, en béton = a brick or concrete lintel
un linteau en bois = a wooden lintel
un linteau en pierre = a stone lintel

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

After renovating the kids' rooms, last spring, we have turned our attention to the next item on our To Do list: 

  1. renovate kids' rooms
  2. new fireplace
  3. expansion of the dining room
  4. renovate kitchen... 

Mas de la Perdrix-002
This old photo of the farmhouse shows the original openings in the building. Our dining room is behind the fourth opening, bottom right. The window you see below, may have been built in between the two door openings (one was since closed)....

French window with wooden shutters, pots of flowers on the window sill, an old wine crate holds a spider plant (c) Kristin Espinasse
Happily, the expansion means reopening one of those doors. Sadly, it means giving up this cheery window. (But we can keep the beau-frère, or brother-in-law, Jacques.)

dining room, hydrangia, France, wicker chair, wooden beams www.french-word-a-day (c) Kristin Espinasse
Here is the living room, to the left. Picture taken the week we moved in (Notice the beautiful hydrangia that Maggie and Michael left us, after turning over their home to our care.)

stone mas, house, France, olive farm www.french-word-a-day (c) Kristin Espinasse
Maggie and Michael also gave us many photos of the mas. This one was taken in 1969.

In thinking over what sorts of "home improvements" were necessary, we vowed never to take away from the soul of the place

Each stone removed (or covered) has caused a lot of fluttering inside of both the walls and me. But we have a good feeling that the current project will only add to the place's charm.

The current project? We will be putting in a cozy window seat....

dining room, hydrangia, France, straw hat, fruit salad, wooden beams www.french-word-a-day (c) Kristin Espinasse
(Before photo) My mother-in-law taught me to work at the table. It's so much more enjoyable to prepare salad or soup this way. (Michèle-France likes to watch her programs while chopping.) I like to stare out the window, in between peeling potatoes... Once the window seat is in, we can work with the sun warming our backs. Or we can watch the boats go out to sea... while making minestrone....

Lintel installation. Stone walls, bouganvillea, vine trunk, mason (c) Kristin Espinasse
The new linteau.

But back to those stomach flurries... it hurts to see this old house wounded. Even the old sunflower (left) has its head hung low. I think it's whispering to our builder: doucement, doucement.

I look forward to showing you the sunnier side of this project, once complete. Meantime, has your heart ever gone out to a crumbling building? Are you affected by inert matter, like a slouching roof or a broken window? Simply stated, are you in love with architecture?

P.S While finishing today's post, the windows here in my bedroom shook. I think the rest of the wall has now come down... Let's hope the new lintel has done its job (gulp).


French Vocab
le mas = traditional farmhouse in Provence
la terre sableuse = sandy earth
doucement = carefully, gently

lintels or linteaux in France (c) Kristin Espinasse
More lintel pictures for you from here on down. This one, in Les Arcs-sur-Argens, sports a horseshoe..

cabanon and lintels or linteaux in France (c) Kristin Espinasse
Lintels also hold information. This one is carved with letters that read "Faite en 1948" built in '48. It is a custom to list the date of construction across the lintel. (Picture taken on our family hike in Queyras)

This linteau is made of wood. A concrete slab covers it. Which do you prefer: hidden or exposed beams?

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

Flower shop in Camaret (c) Kristin Espinasse
Houp-là! (Whoops-a-daisy!) Today's story was supposed to be about kumquats but I got completely off track. I should change the word of the day from écorce to hotte (see the missive, below...) but no turning back now! We'll get to the "peel" story later! (photo taken in Camaret-sur-Argens. The sign reads: Send flowers to those  you love. 9 euros for delivery all over France, in less than four hours.)

une écorce (ay-korce)

    : peel, rind; bark

une écorce d'orange
= orange rind or peel
écorce terrestre = the earth's crust
écorce de saule = willow bark
écorce cérébrale = the cerebral cortex

Audio File and French ExpressionDownload MP3 or Wav file

Entre l'arbre et l'écorce il ne faut pas mettre le doigt.
One should not put one's finger between the tree and the bark.
(Don't get involved in another's family's quarrel!) 

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

We enjoyed another break from renovation, yesterday, when friends from Nice came to spend the the day with us. After visiting the nearby vineyard Domaine Tempier, and lunch along the seashore in a favorite calanque, we headed back home for coffee.

When friends come to visit I can't help but seek their reassurance that the home "improvements" we are doing are truly améliorations--and not threats to the character of this endearing mas.

My friend Gilda is an artist who also has deep sensitivities regarding the preservation of le patrimoine (in addition to being president of Association pour la Protection du Dolmen de Clamarquier, she has a weakness for historical objects and is known to rescue outcasts including chairs (I can relate...), which she lovingly recanes, offering the rejects a second or third life). It was refreshing to see our home through an artist's and preservationist's eyes and to witness my friend appreciating its character.

In the kitchen, Gilda and I studied the large iron and glass enclosure over the stove. Visitors sometimes comment on it: "And you are going to get rid of that, aren't you?" they say, innocently enough. But Gilda saw the glass-and-iron hotte through the eyes of time, and was amused by its originality.

Fueled by Gilda's enthusiasm, I pointed out all the bells and whistles of the sometimes-rejected piece:

"Look," I said, pulling out the glass vasista-like window. "This opens up!"

"Isn't that interesting!" Gilda smiled.

"Yes, it is!" I agreed.

Turning the latches, which double as wonderful hooks for nets of onions and garlic and wild herbs one so often uses when cooking, I looked at the hotte with renewed appreciation. Never mind the naysayers, I decided. As for range hoods they just don't make 'em like this anymore!

la hotte or how to say range hood in French (c) Kristin Espinasse
A very efficient range hood -- though not everyone appreciates the style....

Should I stay or should I go now? (What old French hottes ask themselves during renovation.)

 Comments, corrections, and complaints (well, maybe not complaints!) welcome here. 

Enjoy archaeology? Read Gilda's article, Monument to Mankind, about the threat to the dolmen France:

Approximately 5,000 years ago man traveled all regions of France, including the Alpes Maritimes, and left vestiges of his presence which we can still find today in the forms of dolmens, menhirs, and tumuli. (continued here)
P.S. I didn't get a picture of Gilda and husband, Robert, but I did post one here a few years ago.  Robert is the author of Jean-Marc's favorite wine reads, the books Corkscrewed and Palmento

 By marcia fyfe

Photo by Marcia Fyfe

By the way, here's a picture of our old hotte--or the stove or range hood we had in our previous house. That's Jean-Marc, looking for a bottle of wine as we were setting up for another tasting. Those were the days! We will figure out where to do more wine meetups, once renovation is past.  

pool in sainte cecile-les-vignes
Speaking of our previous home, good news: it will soon be opened up as a Bed and Breakfast! Thomas and Caroline (don't miss the story about Caroline and pictures) purchased the vineyard last summer and have been busy with the harvest and renovations there.

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

Typography and a cheese shop in Salernes (c) Kristin Espinasse
Typography is the theme tying today's photos together. Enjoy and, if you know someone who appreciates lettering, please send this on!(Picture taken in Salernes, pottery-making village and more!)

pagaille (pah-geye)

    : shambles, chaos, havoc, mayhem, disarray; mess, disorder

Audio File: Listen to the next four lines: Download MP3 or Wav file

quelle pagaille! = what a mess!
mettre la pagaille = to mess up
semer la pagaille = to sow discord, wreak havoc upon 

Dans notre maison en rénovation, c'est la grande pagaille. 
In our home undergoing renovation, it's total chaos! 

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

I'm having a hard time deciding on the word of the day. Between bruit and poussière and marteau-piqueur... and craquer and crier and bagarre it is an embarrassment of choices as the French like to say. If only there were as many options for shelter....

Yesterday, only day three of renovation, and we began to snap. It happened when our bedroom (Jean-Marc's and mine) became host to yet another castaway: the muddy, odorous Braise. our 7-year-old golden retriever. (Our luck took a turn when it began to rain, leaving no choice but to bring the dogs inside a house overcramped with workers, plastic sheeting, and buckets of rubble.)

Under normal circumstances, one more boarder in our safehaven room would not have been a worry. But, as it was, our love nest--already bursting with two armoires, a bed, a giant lazy recliner and my corner office--was now home to our daughter, our clothesline, the living room sofa, Jackie's wardrobe (piled high on a fold-out armoire), an extra mattress, our 15-year-old's school affairs--including a chest of books--and a pile of baskets, chairs, and luggage, too. I might have added our dining room table to this list, but that would be an exaggeration, for we are using our pillows as individual table tops, preferring to eat in our bedroom, the only private room of our house. 

(It is amusing to think of a letter Mom once wrote to my then-boyfriend, in 1992: "Dear Jean-Marc," she began, "...just one bit of advice: give Kristi a room of her own. She needs her space.")

As I look around at the piles of wet clothing, dirty plates, books, garbage, people and dogs I think of natural disasters and les miserables who endured them. How grateful they would be for this warm room, for this cup of coffee, for the gentle melody playing in the background... it is the sweet snoring of our muddy dog, whose gentle ronflement tempers the pounding of the jackhammer. My eyes settle on the peaceful image of our sleeping beauty. If she can dream amidst the chaos, maybe I can, too? 

...Except that the workers have just now tumbled into our private space--on their way past the dining bed, past the wet clothes and dog, past this desk on which I type and over to the balcony to begin drilling on the back wall. Oh, to dream again!

French Vocabulary

le bruit = noise, din

la poussière = dust

le marteau-piqueur = jackhammer, pneumatic drill

= to lose it (to break down)

crier = to shout

la bagarre = fight, brawl

le ronflement = the snoring

  Typography for the dogs, in Marseilles (c) Kristin Espinasse

Pairing today's post with some snapshots of French typography. This first picture was inspired by Braise, the dog dreamer in our story. The sign reads "Biscuits for Dogs."

Telegraphe typography in Comps sur Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse
Looks like we are not the only ones undergoing "the works". This old post office in Comps sur Artuby is being fixed up. Will it be a private home or will it be what it says it is? You never know in France, where people move into bakeries and even historic little chapels--converting the once public sites into private nests. Do you know of an unusual place into which someone has moved? Comment here.

Typography at the butcher's in Visan (c) Kristin Espinasse

 At the butcher's in Visan. Notice the typography... and not the gruesome hooks above the old wall tiles!

 In our old stomping ground of Les Arcs-sur-Argens. This typography hints at a liquor store once upon a time.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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♥ $25    
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How to say "to fall for it" in French? + the charming "door curtain" (photos)

Poissonnerie or Fish Department (c) Kristin Espinasse
If you thought the previous story was a bit fishy... it was! (Photo of the fishmonger's taken in Brignoles.)

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

Today's word, an expression, really, comes from a comment following Monday's post. Claudette Kunsay writes:

Oh! Kristin, je suis tombée dans le panneau comme bcp d'autres !!! Et j'étais si fâchée contre ces hommes de loi!!! Je trouvais la situation ridicule mais, tout est possible. Oh, Kristin, I fell for it like a lot of others!!! And I was so mad at the authorities!!! I found the situation ridiculous but anything's possible.

Thanks, Claudette, for inspiring today's entry:

tomber dans le panneau (tohm bay dahn leuh pah noh)

    : to fall for it, to walk into the trap, to be duped

Audio File: Listen to me Claudette's letter (above) Download MP3 or Wav

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

I wanted to tell you about the kick I got writing the Paris catacombs story and all I learned in the process of creating fiction. But that will have to wait. Today is Day 2 of renovation and I hope to chronicle the messy process this time! 

Yesterday played to the tune of the jackhammer as a lonely demolishioner brought down the old brick fireplace....

French fireplace: bricks and wood (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse

(That rustic cheminée had character but it also had a bad habit of feeding on all the air in the house, going as far as to pull freezing cold oxygen in from the outside, via the window and door cracks. In return it gave back puffs of ashes which coated the floors, the furniture, and our dinner plates as we ate, wide-eyed, watching the disheartening process repeat itself.

The new fireplace--an insert--will send out heat via a network of pipes. The floors will stay a little cleaner, too--if one of us would once and for all wipe off the dogs' muddy paws before our goldens came in for the night. As for all the dog hair that carpets the floors....)

rock wall and demolition man (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse

To prepare for the destruction, we removed all bagatelles and cleared the foyer of its furniture before the demolitioner taped up a clear plastic curtain to prevent dust, or la poussière, from blowing into the dining room, which connects to the busy kitchen. 

(Here I'd like to add that plastic renovation curtain must be very much like plastic "packing bubbles"... for one of our kids had a hard time resisting the urge to poke at the curtain holes, rendering the plastic shield that much more useless and causing the other grumpy members of her family--who were resting on the opposite side of the curtain--to shout, "Stop that, Jackie!" and "Mais arrête! Oh! Ça vas pas, non?!")

Regarding moodiness during renovation, we held it together that first day, no matter how disorienting things were. It was even a little amusing to find that every time you went to set down your keys or your sacoche or your coffee cup, the desk or the table or the fireplace mantel was no longer there to hold it! And when you went to sneak another chocolate your husband brought back from recent travels, you wondered, for a split second, why a plastic wall of poked holes was blocking your path. Ah, oui! you shook your head as you detoured out of the house, across the driveway, and over to the other end of the house to enter from there.

In your slippers, walking out of the house to access the kitchen (via the garage), it was again amusing to pass your neighbor, the demolishioner, who took the occasional break in the back of his demolition van, amidst piles of rubble. Seated there, beyond the open van doors, he smoked his cigarette and patted the furry head of a new fan (Smokey).

...And when you smiled, in passing, wishing him bon courage, you were startled, delightedly so, when he paused to wish you the same.

"Bon courage à vous aussi, Madame," he bowed his head.

At first I took the demolitioner's encouragment as politesse... (Yes, thank you, and you too!) until I realized, coughing my way back across the house, encumbered by all the construction dust--my head ringing from the pounding hammer--that bon courage was something we were going to need a lot of these next weeks.

To respond to this story, you can leave a note in the comments box. Thanks in advance!

Mas des Brun
This isn't the first time this mas has undergone renovation. In the 70s the façade you see, above, and the rooms beyond it, were renovated. We are privileged to learn about the history of Mas des Brun (Brown's house) as Maggie and Michael, who sold us their home, tell it to us, via the thoughtful emails and letters they send us. I hope to share excerpts with you at some point.

To leave a comment--or to read the comments, click here.

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door curtain in Vinsobres (c) Kristin Espinasse

In honor of the plastic curtain that is protection our house from dust (if only it really worked!) here are some charming rideaux de porte I've spotted in France. The wind-whipped curtain, above, lives in Vinsobres, near our old village of Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes

Door curtain or rideau in Serignan (c) Kristin Espinasse
This door curtain lives in Serignan. Be still my heart, I thought, each time I passed it. Such charm. 

  Madras door curtain in Croation (c) Kristin Espinasse

This one lives on an island in Croatia. Can't you just feel the sea breeze? See how it moves the madras curtain. More themed photos on the way. After reading your responses to the sacoche post, and all the "bag" photos, it is a pleasure to come up with more themed-photo editions. To comment on the photos, or on something in today's post, click here.

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

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

vouloir dire & what does "Tanguy syndrome" mean in French?

Lighthouses in Brittany (c) Kristin Espinasse
My computer is still in the fix-it shop. Sorry to not be able to add the usual audio/sound feature. It'll be back soon -- in time to bring you more authentic pronunciations from Jean-Marc. Don't you love his voice? (photo of lighthouses in Brittany. A little tiny more about Brittany--or the Breton language--in today's column, where we talk about the name "Tanguy" and much much more...)

vouloir dire (voo-lwar-deer) 

    : to mean, to signify
    : to want to say


Qu'est-ce que je voulais dire? Je ne sais plus. J'ai un blanc de mémoire.
What was it I meant to say? I can't remember. I've drawn a blank. 

Qu'est-ce que cela veut dire? = What does that mean?
Que veut dire ce mot? = What does this word mean?

French Expression: savoir ce que parler veut dire = to be able to take a hint 

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

Were you a Twixter or a Kidult?

In the car on our way back to Castorama (this time for garden supplies--yeah!) I listened to a telephone conversation between Jean-Marc and the ferronnier. The men were talking about a large glass fenêtre we hope to incorporate into the front of our house.

After Jean-Marc described the squares-and-iron type of window, the ferronnier said he understood the style we were after: atelier d'artiste he called it. That should be possible to do, he assured us, only he had another question. Unable to remember what it was he searched his mind:

"Qu'est-ce que je voulais dire? Ah oui!...

As Jean-Marc continued driving and chatting with the artisan, I made a mental note to share the qu'est-ce que je voulais dire expression with you as it is something I hear so often. Perhaps it is not so much an expression as it is a very common conjugation of the verb vouloir dire which means "to want to say" among other things. The French say this at the end of a back and forth conversation when getting distracted from a follow-up point (or, I have sometimes noted, to soften the blow--as when my son says: "...qu'est-ce que je voulais dire? Oh yes, can you give me 10 euros please?)

Moochers aside--and changing subjects completely now--there was indeed something I wanted to tell you today. It was about another expression I learned....

After Monday's story about the pirates who moved onto our olive farm, Alyssa wrote in wanting to know the meaning of the French name "Tanguy". Did it mean "tan guy"? (I had to chuckle, having never made the obvious connection). Alyssa, I've just looked up "Tanguy" and learned it is of Celtic origin, from the Breton tan (fire) and ki (dog). Tanguy signifies a chien ardent or dog warrior. Wikipedia goes on to say that, since 1940, 14,617 Frenchman have been baptised by this name.

Next I saw Sarah's note in the comments box. Sarah wondered whether Tanguy was pronounced tanh-ghee . (Yes Sarah--tahn, like tonsil and ghee, like geek: tahn-ghee. Note: our Tanguy is far from one of those!)

All this to say that from that discussion I googled the name and learned a funny and popular modern expression. Urban Dictionary gives this definition:

Tanguy syndrome is an emerging phenomenon across the world that started in Canada....  It takes its name from a French-speaking film's young male character who spends his days at his parents' tanning, not working at the ripe old age of 28!

(Hmmm, maybe Alyssa has a point? meantime Wikipedia seconds the definition in its entry Le Phénomène Tanguy):

Une nouvelle expression est ainsi apparue pour désigner la classe d'âge de ces jeunes gens : la génération Tanguy. And so a new expression has appeared to designate the age group corresponding to these young people: The Tanguy Generation. 

Surfing the net for Tanguy, I also learned some funny vocabulary like les célebataires parasites, a term coined by Masahiro Yamada to describe a recent trend in Japonese society wherein twenty-somethings (25 and older) are not marrying--prefering to live with their parents and enjoy a worry-free and comfortable life.

And I learned we have a similar expression in English: boomerang generation, used to describe young people who leave the nest... only to return soonafter! These "rejeuveniles" or "twixters" or "kidults" or even "kippers" (kids in parents' pockets eroding retirement savings) as they are called may repeat the process a few times. (I admit I'm one of those having returned to both my mom's house once and my dad's house twice! And does moving in with one's sister count too? Yikes! I was one of those "parasite singles"!)

Bon, between artist's windows and parasitic bachelors today's essay got all off topic! I'll sign off with a question, as I'm curious to know about how YOU left the family nest: 

  • How old were you when you left home?
  • What was your first pad / apartment / home like?
  • Did you have a roomate?
  • How much was your rent? (if you feel like sharing...)
  • Any other memories about your first chez soi or home of your own?

Thanks for sharing your answers here in the comments box. After writing about my life it is a pleasure to read about yours! Click here to read what readers are saying.

Re that window we hope to build: I found a perfect example in this post at Lynn's Southern Fried French blog. Look at the second picture, with the cat! We love the window seat, too!

French Vocabulary

le ferronnier = iron worker

la fenêtre
= window

un artisan
= skilled workman, tradesman, craftsman (just add an "e" to the end of artisan(e) to make all these feminine)

bon = well then 

How to properly pronounce French words? Read this inexpensive book!


Cycling in Paris (c) Kristin Espinasse

127 Things to do in Paris! Thanks for continuing to share your excellent tips on where to go and what to see in France's most beloved city. Click here to see the latest suggestions.

Pronounce It Perfectly in French - with exercises in sound discrimination and accurate sound creation. Order your copy here.

 Thanks for forwarding this edition to a friend or twixter or kipster or just a cool or well-meaning homebody.

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

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

prendre sur soi

A cozy abode in a fishing village at the end of Marseilles. This homeowner must enjoy the occasional foray at the home supply store - look at the brightly painted façade and the neat house number and the well-hung plaque. I've always been impressed by people who know how to drill! I can't even get the @#*! nail in the wall without making a crack in the wall... and then the nail just sits there, dangling (or sticking its tongue out?). More "home improvements" in today's story column.

prendre sur soi (prahndr-sur-swah)

There are several definitions of this term, such as se retenir (to hold oneself back) or even to se faire violence (to work hard at containing oneself) but I really like this extended definition:

une compréhension d'autrui et développant un fort sentiment d'empathie. An understanding of the other person and developping strong feeling of empathy.

...for this is exactly what we ask of each other, when we suggest that the other prend sur soi or have the kind of patience needed for a certain circumstance. (The above definition was taken from the book Football: Planification et l'entraînement  Par Philippe Lerou)

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

Yesterday Jean-Marc and I managed to honor a self-imposed deadline for gathering all the materials needed to renovate the kids' rooms. The project has been looming for months and, left to me, would have been put off for another year or more... Then came the realization that Max is turning 18 in May. He could fly the coop at any moment. And if Max couldn't benefit long from the renovations--my Dad could (he and my belle-mère Marsha arrive in June, and will borrow Max's room)!

Jean-Marc was right, we needed to get this phase of the renovation completed assez vite! The kids' floors--no matter how much I loved the old, tomette tiles, were cracked or sunken, the showers were old and leaky, and the ceilings were warped here and there. 

Jean-Marc suggested we buy all materials in one place. If we went to Castorama, he explained, and opened an account, we could get 10 percent off the first purchase! The challenge was finding everything we would need in one efficient spree....

The idea of shopping for building supplies with my husband ranks at the top of the list of stress factors--somewhere between moving houses and giving birth. Each of us gets quickly worked up over the smallest detail and soon we are stomping off in opposite directions, Then YOU do it! echoing in our wakes. But there was no time for a meltdown yesterday; if we lacked patience we would just have to grin and bear it or, as the French say, prendre sur soi--restrain ourselves. (A quick prayer wouldn't hurt, either.)

Walking through the parking lot toward the giant building supply store I noticed the sign with the store's cutsy motto (echoing part of the store's name): C'est castoche! (castoche being a play on the argot term "fastoche" or "easy to do").

Entering the store, I thought of a motto of my own: not castoche but casse-tête! Renovation was nothing but a headache! But any cynical thoughts that traipsed across my mind quickly tripped and fell over the moment I saw the man in the wheelchair. 

Suddenly, the room before me came into focus. I noticed all sorts of people in the same boat as me, only some did not have the luxury of navigating the crowded store aisles on two feet.

After Jean-Marc and I had picked out the wood floors (and shared a look of relief and excitement for our progress) my back was so sore I had to sit down in the kitchen display aisle. Resting on a bar stool I watched a young lady carrying a squirming two-year-old. Her husband walked beside her, arms free. In another 15 years she'd feel like me if she didn't hand over her child and rest her own back! But it wasn't her posture that stole my attention, it was the calm expression on her face as she checked her supplies list. Yet another silent cheer, if she could do it so could I. I hopped up and searched for Jean-Marc, who had told me to meet him in the bathroom aisle.

In the salle de bains section our mission was to choose two shower units (base, doors, fixtures); I looked up at the giant display with yet another dozens of choices. Due to size limits, our options were quickly narrowed down to sample A or sample B. Easy-peasy! We were now on our way to choose bathroom tiles.

Again, the Great Wall of What To Pick? I stared at the range of colors and textures. We'd be stuck with our choice for a decade or more so we'd better choose wisely!  I remembered the elimination technique and went to work: No sparkly purple tiles, no pop-icon tiles (sorry, Marilyn!), no dated 80's dated tile ... Jean-Marc and I settled on a neutral color and took a small risk with the frieze, which included some industrial numbers stamped here and there. Kinda cool! we thought. (Then again, the couple choosing the psychedelic tile might have been exclaiming those same words. Maybe our taste was as bad as theirs? How could we know?)

I recognized some of the bathroom tiles I had chosen over the years, as my eyes perused the tile displays. Different life seasons, different tastes. Though I wouldn't go back to those tiles of yesteryear and in the future might wonder "what was I thinking?" (regarding this choice), it didn't matter.  Here is where we are today - the choice is ours. Get off the fence and choose.

Like this, and with the help of all the unknown shoppers who unknowingly spoke to me, we made it through our dredded shopping trip.

On the drive home Jean-Marc smiled at me. "5 hours later and we are still married!" he pointed out.

Had we really spent that long at the home supply store? Without arguing? Wow. We'd come a long way! Now to keep our cool when our home is buzzing with workers and dust and drilling next month.... 


French Vocabulary

assez vite
= quite quickly

la tomette
= kind of rustic country tile, often octagonal in shape

c'est fastoshe
= it's easy

la salle de bains (or bain)= bathroom


  Cat and trunk

Hanging pots... Remember macramé? It must have been all the rage in France, too. This delightful scene took place several years back, when my friend Barbara took me to visit a cheese farm in Tarradeau. I thought the farmer had such style and a nack for decorating. The chèvre cheese was good, too!

Pronounce It Perfectly in French - with exercises in sound discrimination and accurate sound creation. Order your copy here.


Steps (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Steps". Some people have such a knack for bricolage or do-it-yourself home projects. These whimsical steps were spotted in the town of Nyons, during a stroll with my mom or my mother-in-law. Memory fails me, and so does bricolage. But one can always exercise--both memory and creativity!

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

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

video of our home + "mas"

An old photo of "Mas des Brun"
Click to enlarge the picture, and many thanks to Maggie and Michael Moss, and to Maggie's brother Ian, for providing this photo of their second home that is now our own.

We moved here, to Mas des Brun (Brown's house), in September. See what it looked like then, in the latest video at the end of this post. Sign up to  our channel. We welcome your ideas and thank you for joining us throughout this renovation series. For the moment, we are brainstorming. (We hope to begin improvements in September 2013....) Please share this post with anyone who loves architecture or decoration!

mas (mahs) noun, masculine

    : une ferme provençale, or Provencal farmhouse

 Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc: 
Un mas désigne une grande ferme en Provence.

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

My first thought, on seeing the mas that would become our home, was c'est dommage! Funny words to utter on seeing the house of one's dreams!

"But what is wrong?" The realtor asked. 

"The place charming—it is just what we are looking for," I explained, "but I wouldn't want to spend the night here alone! It's too secluded."

"Not at all!" Christine assured me. Come have a look!"

I followed our realtor as she ascended the stone steps beside the garage. As she walked, she chatted about the property. "My parents live on the other side of the forêt," Christine said, pointing to the trees at the head of the stairs. "I grew up here and know the neighbors, who are just around the corner. You'll see...."

We waded past some overgrown buissons, and minded our hides while passing some prickly pear cacti. Just above, a great boulder marked the edge of a glorious field carpeted in wild flowers. Beyond, we caught sight of an historic borie!

une borie (c) Kristin Espinasse
    The view from the end of that field, where there is another well (inside this rock borie). You can just spy the boulder to the left of the photo, behind the chair. Below the boulder is the farmhouse.

Jean-Marc, the realtor and I stood at the edge of the clearing, two of us amazed to learn that part of the land belonged to the house we were visiting.

"Did you see the borie?! I elbowed my husband, who had already turned to the realtor.

"Is that part of the property?" Jean-Marc asked. How many times had my husband pointed out the stone structures, during a hike in the fields of Provence. More rare than the beloved stone cabanons, were the historic stone bories with their unmistakeable spheric shape. This one seemed to have a unique purpose as une couverture de puits. It covered yet another well that belonged to the ferme.

Christine confirmed that it was part of the property, along with all of the terrasses above it. We would visit those next, and admire the stone restanques that held the terrasses in place.

"Your neighbors!" Christine declared, and Jean-Marc and I brought our focus back to the field, in the middle of which a horse grazed peacefully. Just beyond, we saw the château.

I was delighted to discover the neighbor's potager and to see how the property was teeming with activity.... beginning with a couple of geese that rushed up complainingly. 

So the place wasn't isolated afterall! It was alive and soulful. Geese! Chickens! A horse and dogs! 

"Do you like sheep and goats? There are a few of those too..." the realtor smiled.

I couldn't wait to meet the neighbors, even if their châtelaine status was a bit intimidating. Then again, anyone with a yard full of chatty animals had to be down-to-earth kind of people.

Returning to the house, below, I gazed at its façade. The pictures we had seen didn't do it justice. It was a sweet and original farmhouse that had somehow escaped the horrors of modern renovation. The question now was, could we be as delicate and discerning in carrying on with the home improvements that were begun in the 70s? I would not want to gild the lys, as my grandmother used to say. And what a precious lily this was! 



le mas = Provençal farmhouse

c'est dommage = that's too bad

la forêt = forest

le buisson = bush

la borie = spherical stone structure, like a hut, found in the countryside of Provence where agricultural workers built them.

une couverture de puits = a cover for a well

la ferme = farm

la restanque = hand built stone wall terrasse

le château = castle

le jardin potager = vegetable garden

le châtelain, la châtelaine = a woman who owns a large house, a female château owner

le lys = lily


Lost in Cheeseland & an Interview!
I recently had the chance to be interviewed by Lindsey over at Lost in Cheeseland


VIDEO: If cannot see the following video of our home or mas, please click over to the French Word-A-Day blog, or to our YouTube channel (where you can sign up to be alerted to the latest videos that we upload). Having trouble hearing the video or viewing the full size? Click over to the channel to view. 


hitchhikers (c) Kristin Espinasse
Enjoy a funny thought bubble? Name this photo in the comments box. (Smokey left. His mama, Braise, is on the right)

Thanks for telling friends, classmates, teachers and family members about these words and stories from France.

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

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


roulotte gypsy trailer caravan wheels france tiny home (c) Kristin Espinasse
While filming Smokey (trotting the flower-flanked trails at a nearby calanque), my video recorder broke! For now there is a grand total of three clips at my YouTube channel. Thanks for taking a moment to view them and to subscribe to the channel. (Photo of Jean-Marc in a gypsy trailer we once tried to buy. Wish we hadn't let this one pass us by!)

rétrécir (ray-tray-seer)

    : to shrink

A popular film, Honey I shrunk the kids, was translated by the French: Chérie, j'ai rétréci les gosses.

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

Arrivant dans notre salle de bain, j'ai realisé que tous les éléments avaient rétréci. Arriving in the bathroom, I realized that all of the elements had shrunk!


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

I'd just as soon park a trailer at the edge of our property—and live there—than go through the tortures of renovation. Such flighty thoughts consume me, lately, as I watch giant tractors blaze past Mas des Brun, with a grumbling preview of what's to come. 

But fleeing from the chaos is not the solution. Last time I avoided a chantier I returned to find our bathroom had shrunk!

Two or so years ago, back in our former vineyard in Sainte Cécile, most of the major renovation was past us. We were now putting in wood floors in our upstairs bed and bath. The project was my husband's idea, after he could no longer look at the floor tiles there (I kind of liked them, and grew convinced they were some sort of Provençal classic—even if they were pink and flourishy, and even if you risked spraining an ankle each time you walked over the loose ceramic squares).

One day Jean-Marc breezed into the small guest bedroom where I had been holed up for the duration of the floor project (I secretly hoped to live there forever, and not have to deal with the towering mess down the hall. In fact, couldn't we just board up that side of the house, and forget about it? Just how much room did we need anyway? Besides, I wasn't getting a good vibe from the former bedroom... which was a wreck, what with the furniture piled high and wobbling with books, lamps, and whatever could be tossed up there so as to make room for the floor boards to go in. On occasion, I would venture into the room, take one look at the dusty heaps, and run out again).

When the work was nearly done, Jean-Marc was excited to tell me that the last floor board had been hammered down and would I like to see the results? 

Entering our bedroom, I had to admit the place looked much warmer minus the white and pink tiles. So far so good....

But I'll never forget walking, like Alice in Wonderland, into our newly finished salle de bain. Stepping past the carpentry tools, over the saw-dusted threshold, an astonishing new world appeared. Crossing the small and narrow bathroom, it seemed as though I was walking through another dimension.

Soon the spell broke and I realized this wasn't some sort of other world, something was seriously off, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

Then, when I went to turn on the faucet, I didn't feel the knobs right away. On close examination, the knobs were there, only they were a foot lower than before. Le lavabo was now below my hips!

Quickly I spun around and, just as suspected, I saw how les w.-c. had shrunk, too. If it were any lower to the ground it would be a turkish toilet!

Alarmed, my eyes darted over to the tub. Rushing up to it, I saw how la baignoire now reached below my knees! My eyes swept back over to the sink, where I now noticed how the foot of sink had disappeared beneath the wood planks.... Looking around in a daze, I realized what had happened, but it was too late to go back now—the floor of our bathroom and all that was attached to it had been submerged!

Jean-Marc, who now towered over the sink like a giant in a doll house, didn't seem fazed by the petit error.
"Well, what do you think?" my husband smiled, eager for a rewarding word.

What did I think? What did I think?

"I think the plumber forgot to unbolt the toilet... and the sink, and the tub before the carpenter raised the floors!"

"I couldn't get a hold of the plumber," Jean-Marc snapped, quickly growing defensive. "And if you are not happy with the results, then why don't YOU organize these projects!"

With that, the disgruntled giant stomped out of the room. I watched as saw dust flew up from beneath his heels, adding another dusty coat to all our junk that was crammed, stacked, and teetering in the corner of the room. I wanted to close my eyes and believe that on opening them, presto!, everything would be back intact—including our standard-sized sink.

Instead, I went to sit down on the edge of the tub, to collect my thoughts.... only the tub edge was not where it used to be!

As I sat sore on the floor, shaking in frustration, I had to admit he was right. If I wanted things done to my standards (or at least standard sized), I had better get off my butt and participate.


Post note: here we are now, two years later, faced with another renovation project. You'd think we'd have learned from experience, but it seems we're off to a "passionate" start, what with our first project (talked about in the previous post).

French Vocabulary

le chantier = building site, a place that is under construction

la salle de bain = bathroom

le lavabo = sink

les w.-c. = toilet

la baignoire = tub



  roulotte gypsy trailer caravan wheels france tiny home

 While we'll probably not move to a trailer at the far end of our lot, my mom, Jules, would sure like to! Look at the cozy bed in the back. She could read her novels and peek out the back window... to see how the arm-flapping, mouth-flapping, couple in the house on the hill is doing during renovation.

roulotte gypsy trailer caravan wheels france tiny home (c) kristin espinasse
The slow life near the sea... Wouldn't this roulotte be a cheerful addition to the olive field?

roulotte gypsy trailer caravan wheels france tiny home
Happy trails! See you very soon. If you have enjoyed this edition, please forward it to a friend.

Metro cuff
Paris Metro Cuff! It also makes a wonderful conversational piece -- to wear on your wrist.  A wonderful "conversation piece" for your wardrobe. Order one here.

  French christmas music
French Christmas Music: "Mon Beau Sapin", "Saint Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 
Order CD here.


basal cell carcinoma post op photo forehead skin cancer
One year ago... the fur is fake, the scar is real. Wish me luck for this Friday's dermatologist appointment in Marseilles. (The other spot on the tip of my nose seems to be growing.)

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

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

New video + saupoudrer + "quitte à le faire"

Viewing this edition via email? You'll need to click over to the website, here, to see the video. In the clip, Smokey and I have just returned from a hike (at a nearby calanque) in time to share the French word for "to sprinkle" as well as the useful term "quitte à le faire". You'll hear Braise, Smokey's maman, complaining in the background (she's stuck, stage left... in the chenil). You'll also see some of the old trees in the oliveraie just below, where fèves once grew. Hidden on the left of the screen, there is the stone cabanon that you saw in the previous video. Translation note: in the short film, you'll hear me refer several times to baking "powder". I really mean to say "soda". (The French word for baking soda is "la poudre chimique".)


saupoudrer (soh-poo-dray)

    : to sprinkle something with (sugar, powder, kindness)

saupoudrer de la farine, de poivre, de panure = sprinkle with flour, pepper, breadcrumbs 
saupoudrer de chance = to sprinkle with luck
saupoudrer d'amour = to sprinkle with love

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word and the terms, just above: Download MP3 or Wav file

You'll also hear the expression quitte à le faire. Can you guess what this term means, based on the context in which it is used in today's video? Share your translations in the comment box.


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

A lot of activity here at home today, beginning with the massive hole being dug up behind the mas. Along with many of our fellow country-dwellers, it is time to bring our fosse septique up to standard after the French government updated its rules and regulations concerning assainissement

Apart from the septic tank, we are kicking up dirt in other areas of our domaine. A huge machine, or excavatrice, rested in the olive orchard over the weekend, after it was used to blaze a trail from the oliveraie to the upper terraces, where Jean-Marc will plant his mourvedre vines.

Jean-Marc suggested this morning that, while we have access to the backhoe, or pelleteuse, we ought to use it to dig up the dirt we will need for our next vegetable plot. The idea is to build 4 buttes, or raised garden beds, through which we will run a drip system that will water our future potager.

"Want to have a look at the future garden?" Jean-Marc proposed.

Minding my steps across the muddy path with its deep, giant tractor-tire imprints, I gingerly followed my husband up to the terrace in question. Now was the chance to assess things. But once we reached the restful spot, all peace was lost.

I didn't point out the fact that the tractor had trail-blazed right over my experimental carrot patch! (how could the tractor operator have seen it, anyway, for the carrot tops hadn't yet appeared). Instead, I focused on my husband who was busy searching his coat pockets.

Jean-Marc produced a piece of paper on which he had sketched a diagram, based on my verbal description (and a few jottings) of our dream garden. But why, I wondered, were the beds square when they were supposed to be rectangular? And why were the four corners of the beds almost touching? There should be enough space between the beds for some sort of... ornamental object... maybe a circular bench or a tree. Yes! Wouldn't that be pretty!

As I proceeded to imagine, going as far as to raise my arms and spin, ornamentalement, Jean-Marc stomped his feet to the beat of reality. A bit dizzy, I stopped to listen to him.

"You need to get a tape measure and some markers!" he advised, unamused by my demonstration. 

"But I am ONLY brainstorming!" I informed Monsieur Spoilsport.

"Well we ONLY have the tractor till Thursday!" came his sporty reminder.

And on we went, spinning and stomping until the only ones with their feet on the ground were the four-footed creatures watching us. If only Braise and Smokey could go ahead with the renovations.... and save us all from the frustrations of home-improvement.


Follow Jean-Marc's journey as he plants a vineyard on the terraces surrounding this historic olive orchard. His new blog is called Mas des Brun.

French vocabulary:

le chenil = kennel (note: I'm looking for the word "dog run", which better describes the fenced area Jean-Marc created for our dogs to use during the daytime. Submit a term in the comments box. Thanks!

une oliveraie = olive grove

le cabanon = stone hut

la maman = mom

la fève = broad bean, fava bean plant

Vocabulary from today's story (please help by sharing translations in the comments box):


fosse septique









Our 15-year-old, Jackie, falling from the sky like an angel. Photo taken from beyond the trampolene, just beneath her... I love the peaceful feeling this image brings, and enjoy reminding our kids that, once upon a time, they fell from heaven, into our arms.

French christmas music
French Christmas Music: "Mon Beau Sapin", "Saint Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 
Order CD here.

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

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