They hopped the fence: how our ideas (and our chickens) take off

doves and pigeons by Kristi Espinasse
"Writing is for the birds!" Photo taken here in La Ciotat this morning, when things were peaceful....

Today's Word: les guillemets

  : quotation mark

I set out to tell you a story about fugitive hens (no worries, they're back) when every possible distraction known to man or bird befell me. Welcome to a typical beginning to each and every writing session.

If I am currently typing this on my mobile phone, squinting at a tiny screen while hunched over my kitchen counter, it is because I refuse to let them win!

Them are the hurdles I've suffered in the 37 minutes since firing up that godforsaken laptop in order to compose a colorful récit.

Them are different or the same every time. This morning thems a mind-numbingly slow computer (this binary slug no longer allows me to type guillemets, so I have to use italics instead--in fact none of the numbers or characters on my laptop's numeric keypad work. Type the small c-with its cedilla-and I get an empty space. A blank!).

Earlier, d'un seul coup, my lazy HP switched keyboards on me, from AZERTY to QWERTY, meaning every time I type m I get a point-virgule (or something--who can possibly recall details at a time like this?).

Ça rame! Ça rame! Waiting 37 minutes for my (relatively new) PC to warm up, an opening line to this story is thrumming on my mind (or was). But as fresh new computer glitches arise and test me, I've lost my story's delivery along with bits of my memory.

Extremely frustrated I want to slam something (not my laptop! How 'bout a pastis?) Instead, I stomp on over to the kitchen counter, where my smartphone is charging...and where I am now reduced to typing with two thumbs, which feels dumber than bad grammar. Au fait...

Them may have stolen a lot this morning–-nerves and nearly my sanity--but thems still haven't taken away my tenacity! I leave you with an unexpected vocabulary section (how different the words would be had all gone smoothly). 





un récit = story

les guillemets = quotation marks

un point-virgule = semi-colon

Ça rame = it's chugging along (literally, it's paddling)

d'un seul coup = all at once

un pastis = anis-flavored alcohol

au fait = by the way

amicalement = cheers, fondly, yours...


keyboard = le clavier

computer = un ordinateur

QWERTY = a standard English-language typewriter or computer keyboard on which the first six letters of the second row are q, w, e, r, t, and y --

AZERTY - The AZERTY keyboard first appeared within the last decades of the 19th century in France as an alternative layout to the American QWERTY version of typewriters


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

A Bundle of Joy: Celebrating The 17th year of this journal!

Bundle of oy

The anniversary of this French word journal passed quietly by last month, unbeknownst even to me. But now that I've put two-and-two together, I'm not letting this milestone go unfêted (another lapse into franglais?). In keeping this brief, I will share the one thing that comes to mind when I think about writing this newsletter to you, and that is "Bundle of joy."

Now here's the part that is étonnante: the act of writing does not = "bundle of joy" to me--nonpas du tout! (For a very long time that fact alone made me believe I was a writing imposter and not un écrivain...) Neither does putting together these blog posts--does HTML rhyme with "joie" in your universe? Heavens no!--unless you're a hacker or "pirate informatique" and btw don't you love French?! 

No, this "bundle of joy" of which I speak comes after delivery (just like a baby!)--after the uncertainty, after the effort, after the still-to-this-day doubt that maybe I've made a mistake in my delivery?

I read somewhere early on--or was it a friend who warned me...: Once the story is out there it is no longer your own. It belongs to the reader who will interpret it as only he or she can--based on each and every experience, good or bad, he or she has ever had.

That might have put me off writing then and there, except it didn't and now I look up from my computer screen and here I am in my 17th year of sending you these missives (I learned that word--along with a host of others and lots of grammar and geography too--from you. Your readership has been an education to me!).

As I pause today to mark this milepost in under 370 words, je tiens à vous dire, I have to tell you how deeply grateful I am for your "just show up and we've got your back" audience attitude. It reminds me we are on this creative journey together and this is why I write: for the connection and for the joy it brings.



Stone building with autumn leaves in france

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


Holiday progress report: I haven't begun to look for the santons (pictured last year)--and the box of ornaments is still waiting to be unpacked. Doubtful things will come together this season, but I do know where to find the recipe for this cake! Meantime, a story for you today about writing... and how to tell all those stories you've got up your sleeve--in one fell swoop

laquelle (lah-kel)

    : which

  • Laquelle is the feminine form of "lequel."
  • la raison pour laquelle = the reason for which
  • dans laquelle = in which

Audio File: listen to this sentence:  MP3 or Wav

Il faut écrire une histoire--mais laquelle?
(I) need to write a story--but which one?

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

Some nights I am badgered by that old foe, Angoisse. I know I'm not alone, that all over the world people are anxious about tomorrow. For some that may be a school exam, for others, a nagging problem at work or a visit with the doctor. For me, it is the blank page. What will I write about tomorrow?


I've trained myself to not think too much about the next day's effort. Why cut short today? Tomorrow will take care of itself! This is especially true regarding creative pursuits: best not to plan too much, otherwise you are forcing the scene. For what if--instead of your sled of huskies--a team of reindeer comes dancing onto the stage? IN A SLEIGH!

One must always be open to reindeer!

Still, I like to have a few tricks up my sleeve before firing up my computer and facing a giant and empty screen. So in the middle of the night I sometimes wake up--nagged by my familiar tormentor. Her name is "Laquelle" and her mission is to turn me back into a wall-starer, instead of the writer I've become.

Laquelle (or "which" in French--and boy is she ever one of those!) likes to taunt me with her namesake question, "Which one? Which story you gonna tell today, Big Shot?" She snaps her gum and waits for my answer.

And I fall for it every time. "I... well I could tell the story about Sunday's photo outing in the town of Céyreste! I could write about how scary it is to point my camera at the buildings after being chewed out by French homeowners. And how, pushing past this fear--lifting my camera to a decorous second story window--I glanced a scene just beneath it: there behind the glass doors of a senior center, a room full of elderly people were smiling sweetly at me--amused by the scene outside their window.  

 "Cute..." interrupts Laquelle, in her sarcastic way. "Anything else up your sleeve? Haven't you got a better story, Ms. Writer?"

"Well, there's the one I've been meaning to tell--tentatively titled "Five Bucks"--about losing my mouth guard in Phoenix. I was sure my sister's sheepdogs ate it... But, giving the dogs the benefit of the doubt, I offered my niece and nephew "5 bucks if you find my tooth guard anywhere in the house!"

Driving the kids to school the next day, my sister inquired about the hunt. "Any luck?"

Hopeful, I turned to have a look at the little faces in the back seat, but all I saw were shaking heads.

"No worries," Heidi said, a mischievous grin on her face. "I'll check the crottes when I clean up the yard!"

"Ew! Yuck! Beurk!" The kids and I cringed.

"Hey," said my sister. "Five bucks is five bucks!"

*    *    *

"That's a disgusting story," Laquelle says, twisting her face. No one wants to hear it--especially at breakfast time!"

"But my sister was only kidding!" I argue. 

Laquelle points to the clock on my nightstand: 2:36 a.m. "Maybe you'll get your act together by tomorrow?"

"Aha! I know one! I could tell about my 16-year-old's good news! As a part of her fashion school curriculum, Jackie was required to find un stage, or internship, at a fashion designer's--one who manufactures their own line of clothing. What luck it was when a good friend put her in touch with a hip boutique in Marseilles. She'll begin her 6-week training this spring!" 

"Is that all you got?" Laquelle, puffed, blowing on her just painted fingernails--and looking horribly bored.

"Well, it's just a sketch--I'd have to fill in all the details. Like how beautiful Jackie looked in her black and white equestrian themed top (a steal at the second-hand shop!), black pants, a thick knitted scarf--her hair tied up in a floppy bun!"

"No one likes a braggy mom," countered Laquelle, who had quit drying her nails in time to catch a great big yawn.

Gosh, it had to be 3 three a.m. by now. As I tossed and turned in bed, haunted by fragments of stories, an idea came at last.

"Knitting! I haven't yet talked about how I relearned to knit on the cruise last month! Another passenger--Celia--and I stopped into a cozy yarn boutique in Rouen, picked out several skeins and a pair of those circular needles. "These will make it easy for you," Celia said, agreeing to teach me. 

This began a series of knitting sessions--held in the ship's cocktail lounge. Julie and Nan joined us and--while other passengers were toasting with champagne--we were clinking needles!"

"But knitting's not cool," Laquelle said, patting me on the head with her still-wet nails. "Why don't you take up silk-screening like your sister-in-law. Now that's cool!"


My questioning put the little devil on my shoulder in defense mode: "Look," Laquelle said, "you want to share a story tomorrow but all you have are a bunch of scraps! Besides, you can't even decide which one to work on. And how do you know that you'll choose the right one?"

For once, Laquelle had a point. Which experience was worth recounting? To answer this question, it would take another, more meaningful question. The Big Question:

Why do you write?

I'm not sure of the answer. For one, I write to entertain--myself and others. In this case, any of the above story fragments could work....

And then I write to record my life. For this, I should choose the story of my daughter's first internship--a milestone! And also the story of "delivery"--in which a room of white-haired spectators smiled and, unbeknownst to them, encouraged a wayward photographer.

The dog-eats-mouthguard and knitting stories are more whimsical. They aren't for everyone, but they are fun and challenging to write. (Yes, for the challenge--perhaps this is one more reason to wake up and face the blank page each day.)

Perhaps it isn't so important to know why we do what we do. What's necessary--truly vital--is to follow that creative urge, to take it to wherever it leads you.

teddy bear window in Ceyreste
What encouraging looks were waiting, inside the senior center just below, as I trained my camera on this window!

To respond to this story, click here. Can you think of more reasons to practice an art? How do you push past your resistance to get started with a project? Which of the above stories would you most like to see developed? Add to the discussion here.

Selected Vocabulary
la crotte = dog doo
beurk! = yuck! 


I'd like to plant some cabbage beneath our window today. Oh, and I'd like the dogs to stop barking at the sheep--they have barked during this entire writing episode! WHOOF WHOOF. WHOOF WHOOF! I can't hear my thoughts! But one more thing I tell myself about writing is this: to persevere amidst the noise and chaos and incessant interruption is a writer's badge of courage! 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Bonjour. It's good to be back!

Near Shakespeare and Company bookshop
Last month's sabbatical began in Paris... More in today's letter. 

We will be back to the regular format of French Word-A-Day soon. Meantime, there's a letter waiting for you, just below, and a few ways to say 'hello.'

You know the word for "hi" in French. Here are some other oft-heard salutations. Have fun changing up your greetings next time you see a friend.

  • salut (hi!)
  • coucou (hey there!)

Bonjour! When last we spoke I talked about a one-month sabbatical. What I didn't tell you was how nervous I was about taking it. There was that risk of never coming back....

For decades (since young adulthood) I've lived with this belief that I am an all or nothing person. That, for example, if I dared keep this gig as a writer, I'd better keep on track--or veer off to The Land of Flake forever. (Flake--flakiness...).

But I have also secretly suspected that, deep down, I'm NOT an all or nothing person. That there is a resilient, flexible, can stop and start again soul at the helm of my personcraft, or being. Sometimes we just have to throw off our life jackets and test the waters. Thank you, dear reader, for waiting there on the raft for me! You promised to be there when I swam back. If you are reading now you can see my outstretched hand. I'm ready to get back on dry ground. Are you still ready?

One, two, three... heave

Before setting off for a new season of writing, I'd like to take a moment to thank those readers who joined me on the one week AmaWaterways Paris to Normandy cruise last month. What a warm-hearted and fascinating group you were.

Thank you Joan and Glenn, Jean-Marie and Mark, Chris and George, Celia and Martha, Julie and Brad, and last but not least, thank you Nan and Tom and Charles and Martha (these two showed up for a surprise visit when we docked outside of Paris!). Thanks also to readers Julie and John (who were on the cruise just before us, and who took the time to leave a message in my room. I was delighted to read it!). 

I would also like to thank my best friend Susan Boehnstedt (aka "Rouge-Bleu") of Critics Choice Vacations. Susan invited Jean-Marc and me to host the cruise, after highly suggesting our candidature to AMAWaterways! (Thank you Denise, at AMA, for making this possible!)

Going on this cruise was the best chance to see a beautiful part of France. And while it is hard to pinpoint a favorite endroit, or place--or a favorite thing about the cruise--I will share a comment by Jean-Marc, one that wonderfully captures the gift of cruising with AMAWaterways:

C'est bien reposant! How restful this is! (This, coming from an overworked winemaker and business man, is the best compliment one could give. So thanks to the hard workers at AMAWaterways for keeping an impeccably run boat. We enjoyed our chance to travel with you!

I leave you now with a few pictures from our cruise along the river (more photos to come). I hope these images will inspire you to travel the waterways of France. For more information, contact Susan at Critics Choice Vacations:  Phone: 480-831-9076


Les andelys

There were so many breathtaking landscapes along the waterways. We stopped in Les Andelys for a view from above.

Joan of arc rouen
In Rouen we stood where crowds witnessed the demise of Joan of Arc (flames once went up where now you see the plaque on a bed of flowers.)

  little boy in Normandy
I didn't get a picture of the irises that grown on these traditional rooftops. But I did get a snapshot of this little Norman boy as our tour bus cruised past.

3-susan honfleur
Taken with Susan's camera (that's her, left, me, right). I think Linda took this photo. Linda is Susan's longtime friend from their days in Douglas, Arizona. It was a pleasure to meet Linda and spend pre-cruise time together in Paris. I especially enjoyed our lunch together in Île Saint-Louis where we chatted about Susan (were your ears burning, Rouge-Bleu?). The picture was taken in Honfleur, where we froze. Thankfully Celia (mentioned in the Thank you section, above) had this handmade bonnet on hand. 

Linda and susan in honfleur
Here's Linda with Susan, in Honfleur.

Omaha beach France

The most touching moment of the trip was our visit to Omaha beach. I leave you with this image (more to come). This is Janet, whom I met on the cruise. I found her all alone. Lowering her umbrella, she spoke to the lost heros. Her gesture puts words to the gratitude in all our hearts.

French christmas music
Everyone loves this holiday CD! Listen to A French Christmas and "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 creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

le piege : the trap + book update

Snowy Vineyard (c) Kristin Espinasse
Photo of the vineyard where we spent 5 lively years! Thanks to your helpful notes, I will be writing the first draft of the memoir in private. Read on...

le piège (pee-ezh)

    : trap, snare, pitfall, booby-trap

Audio: Listen to the following words & example sentence: DownloadMP3 or Wav

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

piéger (verb) = to trap
piégé = booby-trapped
une voiture piégée = a car bomb
un colis or une lettre piégé(e) = a parcel or letter bomb
le piège à souris = mousetrap
la question piège = loaded or trick question
le piège à touriste = tourist trap
tomber dans le piège = to fall into a trap

Un piège, ou trappe, est un dispositif destiné à capturer un être vivant. -Wikipedia
A snare or trap is a device for capturing a live being.

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

I am trying to remember whether the French have an expression for "wow", because a teary wow! is just one of the reactions I am having to your ongoing messages of support, following the announcement that I am writing my memoir.

But isn't a memoir something someone writes at the end of one's life? some people wrote in, a little surprised by my decision.

There are many kinds of memoirs. In book publishing, memoirs are also a way to recount a specific period in one's life. A good book title narrows the scope of the subject; here are a few made-up ones to illustrate this point:  

  • Grappling: My 5 Years at a Wine Farm & How I Stayed Sober
  • Its What It's: How My Blog Readers Taught Me Grammar and Punctuation

(Come to think of it, that second "memoir" might be a lot of fun to write! It is true: I have and continue to learn punctuation thanks to the notes and explanations you send in. )

Though I will not know the title of my book until I have discovered its overriding theme, I like to think it is "A Love Story"--no matter how overused that title is. On the other hand, a How-To title could hint at a good portion of the book's content:

  • How To Become An Author, Editor, and Publisher When You Failed Language Class.

Sometimes book titles are borrowed from one of the chapters inside the memoir (think Me Talk Pretty One Day).

In my book, a particularly chilling chapter recounts a drastic measure taken towards a flawless life. That chapter is called:

  • Waking Up at The Wrong Time : Becoming Conscious on the Operating Table

Indeed, the book itself could be titled after that very chapter. Waking Up at the Wrong Time... such a title would so meaningfully evoke one woman's premature arrival at consciousness.

I realize that statement sounds absurd. How can one become conscious before becoming conscious?

Only eternity knows the answer. And Love is eternal... 

Once again, please accept my deepest thanks for taking the time to write in, following the previous three posts. The process of deciding to write a memoir--then typing the first three chapters online--feels just like going through the towel dryer--one of those old-fashioned French dryers where a flimsy rag passes between two rolling steel bolts. On the other end, out comes the towel, crisp at a piece of paper. It will take 280 to 330 sheets of this kind of paper to tell my story. 

To comment on this post, or to read what others are saying about this topic, please click here

 Another snippet from the book follows, just below my picture near the end of this post.

French Laundry (c) Kristn Espinasse
"Airing one's laundry in  public?" A few people wrote in, concerned about a tell-all memoir. Please trust me to know what to share - and what not to! My Mom has dug out her big red protective marker and my daughter will be reading the rough-draft! 

Jean-Marc will kick off his USA Wine Tour this spring. Check out his itinerary and see if he will be in your area. Click here

One thing I learned from readers' reaction to my post about the risks of writing: depending on your perspective, or life experience, a scene will evoke darkness of light - or both. I am always having to remind myself to adjust my perspective.

That's me, serving dessert. At the vineyard where we lived, we had many, many guests. Rarely did I meet a fellow teetotaler. In the meantime, there was lots and lots of wine to bring out. When Jean-Marc reached past me to pour the wine for a tablemate, I casually moved my plate out of the way, afraid a drop of alcohol would fall into my pasta--what if I ate the tainted food? Could I still believe I was abstinent? Would I be able to claim my end of another year chip

When emptying the bottles for the recycle bin, I would carefully rinse my hands, what if the alcohol seeped through my skin?!
I have relaxed a lot in the recent years. But I don't ever want to get to cozy around wine. The risk to relapse is ever present. 

I had not meant to write any more of my story online, having made the decision to write the chapters in private... and then, these thoughts rushed out. If you know anyone who might benefit from this story, click on the Prologue, or introductory chapter, where you will find a "share link" at the end of the post. From there your friend or family member can read through the first three chapters of my recovery story.  DSC_0390
"Love locks in Paris." Happy Valentines Day to you! Click here for your Valentine... a list of endearing terms and several heart photos I've taken just for you! 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


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


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

une muse (myooz)

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

"You are God's muse"

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

French Vocabulary

la nouvelle = short story

la historiette = anecdote, short story

la chèvre = she goat


  Smokey (c) Kristin Espinasse

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

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

a suivre

panneau de publicite (c) Kristin Espinasse
Panneau de publicité. An advertising signboard placed on an old cabanon. Click here to comment. To skip the debate, you might talk about the pretty flowers instead :-)

à suivre (ah swee-vrh)

                : to be continued

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

La fin de cette histoire? C'est à suivre.... The end of this story? It's coming up next.... 


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

Over a week ago that I wrote about 17-year-old Max's stint in French basic military training. At the end of the story, I ventured to note that Part 2 and Part 3 would follow... Mon oeil! Mon oeil! they would!

I thought I had learned my lesson about announcing story follow-ups, having discovered how any number of calamities can pop up in between (namely, lack of steam!)—only to make a struggling writer regret her best intentions!

“No more ‘to be continueds’! And no more multi-part stories'!” I’ve cried on occasions in which inspiration deflated almost as soon as the story suites, or follow-ups, were promised! But this time it isn’t want of inspiration, but lack of permission that has foiled the delivery of Part 2 and Part 3 of the ambitious Military Trilogy!

It was while picking Max's brains for details in which to build “Part 2” that my son looked at me alarmedly: "Mom, those are French military secrets! You can't share them with anyone!"

Il va sans dire, or goes without saying, that this killed la suite--and maybe even Part 3 of the not yet celebrated Trilogie Militaire! (Might as well forget “The Laundry Scene”! Saperlipopette! I wouldn't want to spill the soap! I never realized that something as banal as sorting military T-shirts and briefs—and then innocently blogging about the chore—might compromise La France!)

“Mom,” Max explained, “ce n’est pas de la rigolade!

No, this was no laughing matter. A country’s security was at risk (I refrained from questioning Max about the likelihood of top military secrets being doled out to a troop of skinny 16-year-old volunteers. These kids were, after all, being wooed by the French government, they were not yet being entrusted with top secret info. But it would have made light of the sincere and hard work that my son had carried out, this far, had I poked fun at any part of what was, ultimately, a serious military formation. Max was right, ce n’était pas de la rigolade! What's more (should any powers that be be reading...) Max could certainly be trusted to zip his lip!)

“But what about the part about becoming invisible? Can I share that bit?” I persevered, hoping to write Part Deux.

“No! Mom, you can’t share that!”

“But you didn’t even tell me how you manage to disappear so it’s not like I’d be sharing step-by-step instructions or anything,” I argued. 

Max calmly shook his head.

“OK, well then can I tell them about the see in the dark stuff?—that’s so cool to be able to see when it’s pitch black out—never mind everything’s seen in green!”

"You can share that," Max agreed, after all most armies had night vision equipment, didn't they? or some version of it—even if that amounted to no more than the bright shining lune

So there is hope, yet, for Part 2 of the Fabulous Military Triliogy! Now to finish the laundry... housework always jogs my imagination, now if it would only jog my pen!

A suivre... (Oh, brother, there we go again. Promises, promises!) 


Book Update: I hope to have another chapter for our red-penners, or voluntary readers, very soon! Thanks for sticking with me and for your patience and encouragements, which are always needed! (A little about these publishing projects here.)

French Vocabulary

mon oeil = yeah, right!

saperlipopette = don't miss this word's meaning--as well as a story on French cuss words!--here.

ce n'est pas de la rigolade = it's no joke, no laughing matter

il va sans dire = it goes without saying

la formation = training program

la lune = the moon

Training, training, training...

Smokey (background, to the right) says: Ce n'est pas de la rigolade! Serious stuff here! Now may I play?


Smokey: Ma, How do you say "blurry" in French.

Mama Braise: la langue* is a mystère. Now pull yours in!

*la langue = 1) language 2) tongue

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

étourdie + Win a French antique!

Kristin Espinasse. Photo by Alison Johnston Lohrey

To win the mysterious French antique, on offer in today's story, simply say hello, here in the comments box + let us know where you are writing in from. After randomly choosing a number, I will announce a winner on Friday. More about the giveaway, in today's story column.

Photo by Alison Johnston Lohry (Note to self: next time you post a photo of your person, choose any other post title... besides "Scatterbrained"! P.S. do you see a scar on my forehead? Ta da! This photo was taken four months after the first operation and a week before the second operation, the one mentioned in the previous post.)

 étourdi(e) ay-toor-dee

    : scatty, scatterbrained; flighty


Audio File: listen to our daughter, Jackie, pronouce today's word and example sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

Il est bien étourdi; mais, entre nous, son coeur est bon. 
He is quite featherbrained; but, between you and me, he has a good heart. —Voltaire, Complete Works of Voltaire 

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


I am having a fickle of a time deciding what to write about today. It isn't a matter of writer's block, or la page blanche, the difficulty here is l'embarras du choix! So many possibilities! Which path to choose when it is just too tempting to amble down each windy road and lose oneself in that whimsical place affectionately known as "Just Around The Corner"?

Enough dreaming, it's time to choose a topic! Let's see...

I might tell you about our daughter's renewed passion for  jumping (BMX bikes, this time—and not horses!). Jackie's hobby has me aching to line our concrete terrasse with mattresses! I watch, from the kitchen window, as our 14-year-old builds a new jump, adding yet another vineyard stone beneath the wobbly ramp (a repurposed wooden shutter) after each adrenaline-rich stunt.... 

Then again, I might write about some of  the readers who come to visit. But then there have been so many.... To write about one would be to leave out the others. Quel dilemme! Perhaps I could backtrack... beginning with a photo from the most recent visit? (See the end of this post.)

Encore une fois, I had thought to write a story about a thank-you gift, the one I am trying to think up  for the surgeon's assistante that I see this afternoon (stitches come out today!). What to give someone whom I know nothing about, but whose gentle confidence has touched me? Du vin? Des fleurs? 

I should also update you with the good news: Max, 16, passed part of his driver's exam!: oui, il a réussi le code! This brings him to the "hands-on" part of the exam: the actual driving with an instructor! (such a relief to turn over the co-pilot seat—still wet from my sweaty, gripping hands—to a trained teacher!)

As for writing topics, I also thought this might be a good time to bring up the subject of email... please forgive me if you have sent in a note and if I haven't gotten back to you! I am trying, but no matter how many activities I cut out, in order to devote time to answering email, I still can't manage to keep up with incoming messages. I feel terrible about this... please know that I read and appreciate every single word you send, whether via email or via the comments box. Thank you so much! 

There were about four or five or fifteen other lovely things, in addition to your treasured notes, that I wanted to talk to you about today, but time is up! So I will get to the fun part of this scatterbrained offering, this anti-essay that ran away to that curious "Just around the corner" place...

The G I V E A W A Y !

 In thanks for reading this French word journal, I want to offer you the chance to win a little treasure! The trésor is currently a secret, but here's a hint: anyone would love it: young or "wizened", man or woman. If you like French antiques, you'll love this historic memento, one from my collection... one I adore and would love to offer you!

You might frame the antique... or wear it (making an eccentric necklace or an avant-garde pin?); you could put it in a glass box or make a whimsical collage.... You could carry it around in your pocket as a lucky charm or use it to mark a page in a book (never mind the bulk!). It could make a cool paper weight... though you might have to tie an extra something to it.

To win this antique simply leave a greeting here, in the comments box, along with your city. Example:  "Hola from Jules in Puerto Vallarta!" 

 I will post the winner's name on Friday. No matter where you live in the world, you may enter the giveaway, by leaving a comment here. (Sorry, but no comments via email).

French Vocabulary 
(section under construction... please check back!) 

 la page blanche = "the white page" or "le blocage de l'écrivain" (writer's block)

l'embarras du choix = a great variety of choices, an embarrassing number of choices

la terrasse = a paved area (sidewalk) or patio

quel dilemme = what a dilemma

encore une fois = then again

assistant(e) = assistant

du vin = some wine

des fleurs = some flowers

oui, il a réussi le code = yes, he passed the driver's exam

le trésor = treasure


Alison Johnston2

I had a good tchatche, or chat, with artist, fiddler, and writer, Alison, who lives part of the year in the postcard pretty village of Sauve. Photo taken by Jackie Espinasse.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

bonne lecture

Lorguesbuildings 005
A nice place to read or write... bonne lecture! Today we talk about publishing one's blog posts... in book form! Read on! 

bonne lecture (bohn-lek-toor) n.f.

    : happy reading!

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

Why on earth would anyone pay for a book that they have read for free, on-line?

Now this is a timely question! Indeed, these days publishers resist blog-to-book projects (they are relying, in part, on the blogger's readers to figure into the targeted audience—and they are betting that such readers, no matter how faithful, will not be interested in buying what they have already read). 

The Cyberwriter's Plight Continues...
Certain readers, too, seem to have a bone to pick with bloggers who have the audacity to try to repackage and to resell their work. I often check out the reader comments at Amazon, on blogs that have been made into books (or "blooks"). It is always disheartening to read such a call to arms as: "Don't waste your money! You can read all of these stories for free, on-line!" It sometimes seems as though they (the readers) were against us: the very writers whose stories they enjoy!

Why, I wonder, shouldn't a writer (or blogger if you prefer...) collect their stories and offer them via another, or non-cyber, medium: in paperback form? Are we "bloggers" some sort of second-class "writerzens" because we have first offered our work here for free? 


Here are two or three examples of why it isn't, after all, insane, to purchase a book of stories that have already appeared before the eyes of many:

1) It is a reader-writer tradition! The writers of yesteryear saw their works serialized in newspapers or journals... before the stories were collected in book form, to go on to sell as classics! Daudet's Lettres de Mon Moulin comes to mind. Though I would not begin to compare my writing to that of The Masters, I know in my heart there is a place for these classic "stories of French life" to linger, beyond cyberspace...

2) And what about comparing a story to a song?! How many songs are just that, les petites histoires! And yet we listen to the stories over and over. Songwriters would have put down their pencils eons ago, had listeners refused to "revisit" their soulful ballads. Most of us listen to a heartening song dozens of times! And then we end up buying the album.

3) Or take the example of  the television series. As I stroll down the aisle at our mega supermarket, I see that French women are clamoring to buy a multi-volume set of Desperate Housewives (this, after they bought the Beverly Hills, 90210 series, when it finally came to France, years ago and Californication, after that). It didn't seem to matter that the viewers had recently seen the episodes... they wanted a copy for their video library!

Though my book "Words in a French Life," a compilation of stories that have appeared on this blog—before being published by Simon & Schuster—received modest sales (to date, it has sold nearly 50,000 copies—not the blockbuster millions-of-copies—but nothing to shake a finger at, either), the publisher was willing to bet that a "Volume Two" would not do so well. 

Perhaps. But should this stop me from publishing more books in the series? That is the question. Minus the backing of a big publishing house with a big PR team, I'm going ahead with my dream. And I am betting that a larger audience awaits, in addition to this blog. It may take time to reach these readers, but when I do, I cannot wait to wish them "bonne lecture!" and to thank them for finding me. All this jumping up and down and frantically waving my hands may just get their attention, after all.

And, psst, psst! I'm over here! 


For those of you who are just now tuning in, today marks Day 8 of a self-imposed "Publish a Book in 21 Days" challenge. Do you think I will make it? With your help I know I will! Here, now, are the next two stories that I'll need your help editing.

LE BETON: My son's mohawk... and career choices...

CROTTE: A Frenchwoman's dirty trick


Comments Corner

I didn't mean to rant today, just wanted to share some behind-the-scenes issues that pop up in one's writing life: specifically, the frustration in encountering roadblocks to publishing one's stories. The good news is that the publishing world is changing, and there are more and more opportunities for everyone: both readers and writers. And these are exciting times! To leave a comment about this post or this writing project, click here.

August 2005 004

                           The end of another writing day... sometime in 2004

Meantime, my book director (Hi, Mom!) and I are scrambling for an author photo for the back cover. Stay with me now... for I know the proposed picture may be a tad informal (is it the toads on those pajamas pants? or the "toadally cool" quotes, below the bug-eye frogs?) This aside, I hope to sell you on this photo for three reasons: One, it is in theme with the book (in which a desert rat struggles to adapt to a foreign culture—no offence to fellow desert rats... who may or may not wear frog pj's), Two, the writer's eyes are always "looking to" and imagining the next story, and Three, this photo was taken during the period in which the stories in the book were written. My son snapped the image, after he and his sister had won the most recent match of "Tickle to Death a Marathon Writer". They always knew how to keep me grounded, literally, when my sky-high writing goals began to get carried away.

 Or do you prefer a more "brushed" image (at least my hair got brushed, in this one). The good thing about a recent photo (this is from June 2011) is that it makes for less embarrassment during book readings (readers actually recognize you!). I once did a meetup in which a reader arrived... only to ask me where I was.... my answer was to offer my hand (here I am!, nice to meet you)! The woman was a little taken aback; she seemed to be looking for someone else... maybe she was, after all... we writers are so oversensitive! During yet another meetup, I had a similar mistaken-identity moment, only in the positive sense: "oh, so you're the word-a-day blogger... I thought you were much older!" Your comments are welcome here, in the comments box.

And then there's the photo from I recently posted, here. Voilà.

Correct Your French Blunders

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Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


Mr Cat (c) Kristin Espinasse. Photo taken in the town of Villedieu. "City of God" indeed.... The lovely man allowed me to photograph him. I had never seen a cat on a leash and was intrigued with the entire scene!

One thing's sure: there will be colorful characters in my next book (check out our progress on this, Day Three!, of the Publish A Book in 21 Days Challenge... and thank you for forwarding this post to a writer—a writer being anyone whose desire it is to write, and, especially, one who follows that desire. Read on, in the following missive. :-) Tip: put your cursor over the photo for more information on the image.

rédiger (ray dih zhay)

    : to write, to compose

bien rédigé = well-written

Mas la MonaqueMas la Monaque - rent this beautifully restored 17th Century farmhouse! Click here for photos and availability.


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

An Audience of Editors

In the last 24 hours an orage has swept into our little wine-making village, and the tempête is very much in theme with the writing and the publishing going on inside: here, in a messy office, where I have not changed out of my bathrobe.

Inside the pockets of that robe, there were two pieces of stale bread (I don't even remember eating any bread), just as there were yesterday. Voilà, the glamorous, rock star life of a working writer.

A working writer! I still have to pince myself when I read those words. I am, véritablement, a working writer! I am a writer who works, and I work as a writer, and, as a writer, I have work! (Come to think of it, the previous sentence makes for an excellent self-talk exercise! I should know, as I have used one of more versions of it during this decade of self-imposed writer's boot camp....

You Are A Writer When You Believe You Are
Over the years I have visualized myself, actively or passively (at night, en rêvant), in this "writer's position". It is uncanny the degree to which belief works itself out... and into reality—down to the most minute details (the other day I realized I was wearing the plaid blazer that I had romantically imagined writers wore once upon a time.... missing were the patches at the elbows. Then again, I do not rest my elbows when I write. So, good for you, Subconscious Mind, for omitting that detail, just before materializing my real-life writer's blazer!).

And then, last week, there I was wearing the felt hat that the writer in my earlier imaginings might have worn... while stealing out onto the streets, in search of writing grist. (I would have never built up the gumption to wear such a hat; voilà for the "upside" of facial scars. (See the hat, below.)

Ask and Receive
But what I could not dream up or even imagine—what far surpassed my own hopes and aspirations—was that there would be an audience of editors there to help me, every uncertain step along the way: selfless lecteurs and lectrices willing to assist with another's dream.

I hope that in the midst of helping me, your own goals will begin or continue to crystallize.... until what was once a glimmer in your mind's eye... breaks through your brain-chamber and comes to life!


And now for an editorial update! Thank you so much for the manuscript edits that you are sending in.  The corrections and suggestions are being incorporated as I receive them—in real time—so that when you click on one of the stories to edit, you will be seeing the very latest version. (There might be a several-hour lapse at times during which I am outside screaming at the wind or hugging a tree, slaphappily. More likely, I am engaged in less dramatic stress outlets—such as making a hasty family dinner or catching up on laundry (my eyes lit up this morning, when I realized that the green shirt that I was folding was the same shirt at that in the dédommagement story that you have helped me edit over the past 36 hours! I think I'll frame that shirt and stick it in my office—or simply wear it while I speed publish these next few weeks!)

All this to say Merci bien, merci beaucoup, for the excellent feedback and suggestions and corrections that you have taken the time to send in, via the comments box. And, finally, huge thanks to MOM, aka Jules, who has accepted the position of Book Director. Her energy and enthusiasm, alone, is enough to buoy all of us during the next two weeks and four days.... Yipes, off to work against the clock, now!


Please join me, right away, anyone who is so willing: help me to find any typos or mistakes or formatting errors or stylistic concerns... in the following two three stories:

LE SAPIN: A "complicated" woman longs to become as simple as a French Christmas tree.

SONGE (DREAM!): read about when William Faulkner came to visit me, with advice about how to write with ease... 

MOQUETTE (CARPET): this story was reconsidered... after Mom and her posse showed up in the "moquette" comments box, and insisted this story be a part of the story collection.

Post note: I am beginning to see a new theme to this story collection: more than French life, there will be stories on the writing life. This has the added benefit of appealing to a larger audience (all you writers out there!) I will try to find more writing-themed stories in the archives.

Le Coin Commentaires
To leave a comment on today's post, or to simply cheer me on—me and my editorial team (that'd be you), please click here.

French Vocabulary

un orage = thunderstorm

la tempête = storm

voilà = there you have it

pincer = to pinch

véritablement = truly, genuinely

le lecteur, la lectrice = reader

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Out searching for that "grist" I mentioned, in today's story.


The "writer's hat" looks even more stylish on our son, Max (did you read about him in today's stories to edit?); but writing is the last thing in the world he wants to do. He's content to actually live life, rather than to write about it.

And here is that beautiful husband of mine, with a message for you:

For the coming Holidays, look for our Rouge-Bleu wines here. If you can't find them, email Jean-Marc and he will help you. Thanks for your support !

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.