chambre d'amis


The lavender is deep in bloom. This field was spotted yesterday, on the way home from Malou's garden.

aléa (al ay ah) noun, masculine

    : risk, hazard, chance

les aléas du métier = the risks of the trade
les aléas de la vie = the vagaries of life
après bien des aléas = after many ups and downs
les aléas thérapeutiques = unforeseeable medical complications

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word and expressions: Download MP3 or Wav file


  Exercises in French Phonics Exercises in French Phonics is... 
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"useful and practical"
"high quality material, good value for your money" --from Amazon customer reviews. Order your copy here.

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

New Life for an Old Hive

"Your mailman must love you!" Mom snickered, a few weeks back, on discovering our homemade bôite aux lettres. 

I laughed at Jules' comment, then quickly returned one item to the top of my Worry List: our mailbox! We really needed to find another solution! My husband had had one of his inspirations, this time to repurpose an old beehive into a postbox. All Jean-Marc needed to do was empty out the inside of an abandoned ruche and then block the entrance (to discourage any stinging "squatters"!). The mail could then be distributed via the top of the wooden box. A rough metal lid was salvaged and, voilà!, our new mailbox was good to go. Chief Grape added yet another of his no-nonsense touches by taping a computer print-out (with our family and vineyard name) across the front. Presto!, we were now legitimate letter candidates.


Still and all, or tout compte fait, I had my doubts. It wasn't that the paper address "plate" faded (running off in great blue and red rivulets, following the first tempête de pluie...). It was, among other inconvénients, the metal top, which was awkward and ill-fitting. One needed to wriggle it and pull (as one does a well-rooted tooth) to access the letters inside. And returning the couvercle back to the wooden box entailed a few slams of the fist.

I was doubtful this approach would please the busy facteur, but we carried on with our new courrier-system and the letters did arrive....

Then one day I looked inside an empty box. The top had flown off! I searched around only to discover that our mail had been distributed not by the facteur -- but by le Mistral! The northern wind had swooped in and carried off with it the ill-fitted lid-top along with the contents inside the mailbox. I ran around the vineyard, up and down the vine rows--hair flying in the wicked wind--hoping to collect all the letters. As for the bills....

The mailbox artisan (Chief Grape) was not one bit ruffled by the wind's shenanigans. He simply added a no-nonsense safeguard: stones! All we were to do now was to wrestle the lid back onto the box, slam it a few times with our fists, then set two giant stones across the flat metal top.

       (One of the stones. It sometimes takes three, depending on the wind!)

"Stone" rhymes with "groan"...

Most normal people experience that tickle of hope each time they reach for their mailbox--never mind that it is usually bills on the other side of the slot. There's always the chance that a real letter awaits -- or a winning voucher of some sort (one can always dream!). Often, family members will argue about who will have the honor of checking the mailbox. Not our brood. All you hear is groans:

"A toi de le chercher (You get it!)"
"But I got it last time! (C'était moi la dernière fois!")"
"Bon, j'y vais! (Alright. I'll get it, then!)"

As for our unlucky mailman, he has no one to argue with. It is his chore to remove the mailbox "weights", set the stones on the ground, wriggle open the stubborn metal lid, drop the mail into the box (brave any stinging squatters), return the lid--with a few pounds of the fist), bend over and pick up the heavy galets, and return them to the box-top.... 

Oh, well, Chief Grape Mailbox Artisan might say, c'est ce qu'on appèle les aléas du métier! 


Le Coin Commentaires

Have you ever "repurposed" or given new life to an ol' something and been pleased with the results? Are you a DIY person or do you have the luck (or bad luck...) to have a determined inventor at home? Do you like to check the mail and do you still feel hopeful (or dread-filled) each time you do? Comments and anecdotes welcome here.


DSC_0036 French Vocabulary

la boîte aux lettres = mailbox

la ruche = (bee) hive

voilà! = and there you have it!

presto! = 'voilà!)

tout compte fait = still and all

la tempête de pluie = rainstorm 

un inconvénient = drawback, disadvantage

le couvercle = lid

le facteur = mailman, postman

c'est ce qu'on appèle les aléas du métier! = it's what we call the ups and downs of the trade!



Sara midda's South of France: a sketchbook Sara Midda's South of France is a place of ripening lemons and worn espadrilles, ochre walls and olive groves, and everything born of the sun. It lies between the Mediterranean and the Maritime Alps, and most of all in the artist's eye and passion. Read the glowing reviews, click here.

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

Eiffel Tower Cookie Cutter -  handcrafted by artisans to last for generations. Order here.






Keep your camaras in your pockets, on your belts, and in your purses! Here's another tip: PULL OVER! The biggest mistake I make, time and again, is to let the scenes pass me by. As I drive on, now 100 meters, now one kilometer past the image, I am kicking myself for not reacting quickly enough - by pulling over or doing a U-turn in time to capture a scene. Yesterday, on the way to Malou's house, I let this scene go (another car was tail-gaiting me, besides!)... but I caught up with the image on the way home! Never be a danger to another driver, but do search for a large enough shoulder on which to pull over. This time I had my Nikon D60 (for a better price check out this one), but any camera can take a good photo... with a scene like this!


A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Bill in St. Paul

I love to check for the mail, like Kristin, in hopes of that something special. I think my "drive" comes from my college years when I'd stop by "the Hop" between classes to pick up the mail and see if I'd gotten any mail from my girlfriend. I don't get any mail from her anymore because I married her so I'm not sure what I expect to find in the mailbox now!

(Kristin, I can't believe that you had somebody tailgating you while driving in France!! Must have been a foreigner...tongue firmly in cheek.)


A million years ago, when I was a university student in England, the coveted temporary job for the Christmas break was delivering the post. (I've no idea whether that is still so.) Lots of additional people --- students, resting actors, and so on --- were hired to cope with the huge volume and the two daily deliveries of letters and two separate daily deliveries of parcels. The temporary jobs paid well, and so coveted were they that one had to apply in the summer to be sure of being selected.

You might be assigned to the sorting office or to do the delivery rounds, in which latter case, you were given an official postman's bicycle (in my case, several sizes too big). The very heavy canvas bag of mail went in the front tray, and off you slogged. The round got easier as the bag got lighter and it was such a delight to ride back to the main sorting office when the bag was empty, even if it was going to be filled up again for the afternoon round. No matter, becausenthere was time to refuel on sausage, egg and chips in the subsidised Post Office canteen before doing it all over again.

I remember with no fondness the hard-to-open letterboxes that required you to put the handful of post on the ground, force the cover open with both hands then hold it open with one hand while you grabbed the mail with the other and shoved it through the door, quickly pulling your hand back so the cover didn't snap down and sever a finger.

Tell Chief Grape that your pauvre facteur deserves something less tiresome than the current arrangement to deal with when he delivers the mail and will thank you for it. I know from experience!

Baci da Perugia! J.

Bruce T. Paddock

The repurposed hive, vagaries and all, seems like a charming solution — as long as I'm not the one lifting the rocks and pounding the lid.

Of course, you'd never get away with that in the States. First, mailboxes have to be USPS approved, and second, the first time the letter carrier encountered rocks, s/he'd simply take your mail back to the PO and tell you to pick it up there.

Yet another reason to be glad you live in France.


I do look forward to "snail mail" in la boîte aux lettres chaque jour, but it's been filled for some years now with requests for political contributions and offers for things we don't want.

The few good things are my Real Simple Magazine and the occasional discount offering from a favorite store.

The very best things, like French Word A Day, come par l'e-mail!


I have the most wonderful postman in the entire world, but even my "saint" would probably stop delivering to your wonderfully creative box. Have a super week-end. Mary


I became so frustrated with finding the right pedestals for my art, that I'm taking welding classes to build my own. A classmate is making a mailbox, complete with a hinge that slowly closes on its own after being opened. :-)

Sophie Day

I also use a stone to keep the lid in place on my compost container. It works like magic, even in a New England blizzard!


(just a few minutes at my disposal)

Hi Kristin,

"A la guerre, comme à la guerre" / "avec les moyens du bord",
and so,
Chief Grape's mailbox (with stones on the top) seems a perfect illustration of
---> 'make-do-with-what-you've-got'

(and now, you know the meaning of the 2 French expressions above)

Easier to imagine the new use of the old beehive with the photo you placed along the Vocab list. Great!

"Le brave facteur" will deserve a special "très grand merci"!


given new life to an ol' something?
Oh yes, lots of times......
The best DIY person at home (specially when wood is involved) is surely my husband.


I LOVE today's main photo. Beautiful. Thank you.

Cheryl in STL

What a creative man you've married!! But...that mail chore would run thin with me. The poor mailman! I guess it's a testament to his sense of duty and responsibility to his job!

Jules Greer

I think you should leave a bottle of your best wine in the mailbox for your 'Mail-Angel'.



p.s. Don't forget to create a little poem to accompany your wine.

Julie F in St. Louis, MO

Bonjour to our first cabanon of the season! As for always having the camera ready . . . my husband now is used to pulling over or stopping a hike at a moment's notice so I can capture the perfect scene. That's why I hate traveling with other people. Yes, I love their company, but I really hate feeling guilty for inconveniencing them as much as I regret missing a shot when I try not to inconvenience them. One of the benefits of traveling solo is not to have to worry about all of this!

Kathryn Winslow

If you have a handy carpenter friend, why not cut a mail slot in the front of la ruche? Some kind of plastic material could be attached to cover the slot for protection against rain, similar to that used for pet doors. Also, I envision some artistic lettering painted on the box, perhaps the name of your winery. For the occasional package, le facteur could continue to open the lid.

Herm in Phoenix, Az

Salut Kristin,

A beehive mail box is certainly unique and innovative! Probably, it’s the only one like it in Provence. Let’s see there’s email, gmail and, now, bmail?

I recall a mailbox in Scottsdale, AZ that was placed on top of a tall, maybe twenty foot, pole. A sign at the base of the pole said “Air Mail”.

With the advent of email and the internet, snail mail is slowly going the way of the dial telephone. The U.S. Postal Service keeps loosing money. They might end Saturday delivery soon.

À bientôt


Kathryn's ideas are excellent. I love taking landscape, animal photos with my dinky PowerShot.

Kristin Espinasse

Bill, loved your note about your correspondence with Ann :-)

Newforest, thanks, as always, for the great expressions and good to read about your own DIYer at home!

Mom, I like your bottle in the box idea! I feel so sorry for our mailman. 

Kathryn, this is a good idea! Now to invite a carpenter and an artist friend over for a glass of wine - and a mailbox fix!

Passante, I could feel the lightness of that empty-satchel ride back to the post. Wheeee! 

Time to go... Gary and Tim and Buddy and a few more readers are on there way over for a wine-tasting. If anyone is in the area and would like to visit our vineyard, dont hesitate to email us. We organize one or two tastings each week. Hope to hear from you!

Gail Donna

We humans aren't the only ones to repurpose old items. I still delight in remembering the bluebirds who set up housekeeping in an old cowboy boot and the Baltimore Orioles who wove shoelaces and old basketball netting into their swinging nest. Merci, Kristin, for your charming insights and reminders that this world isn't all traffic jams and Wal-Mart!


I am using a left-over section of a large wooden wall trellis as a screen door in the front of my home.

I put an arbor in my backyard against a large brick fence and as I was not able to walk through the arbor, I cut and nailed a wooden trellis to the back so I am able to grow flowers on the back as well as the sides.

I had no idea what to do with the large piece of left-over trellis section so I saved it. This past Spring I got the idea to try to use it as some type of screen door. It is more like a Dutch door as it only horizontally covers the bottom half of my front door where I lean it up again the side walls of the doorway.

Not a great idea for keeping flies out BUT, my dog and cat love it! They now have a screen to keep them in and others out. They have not discovered they might be able to push it over or escape, so I keep my eyes on them. Both of them just lay there and gaze out to the street and at people passing by in front of our home.


Tout d'abord, ai-je tort que ça s'écrit APPELLE, et pas "appèle" comme tu as écrit (c'est ce qu'on appèle les aléas du métier!).
In USA, it is unlikely that the mailman takes trouble to deal with the big stone to open la boîte aux lettres. You will get a note to go to la poste pour chercher le courier!
It has happened to me. Some crazy and drunk car thief slammed the stolen car in my mailbox, so it was knocked down on the road. I did not get a note of sympathy, instead, one that says for me to have the mailbox fixed and come to the post office to pick up my mail. He could not even deliver the mail to my door :-(

Stacy, Applegate, Oregon

Love Chief Grape's mailbox and got a good laugh out of his no-nonsense safeguard: plopping stones on top!

I do love to repurpose things. This is certainly a creative idea. I also like things to be functional and would grow tired of the drudgery involved in retrieving the mail…though it does sound like you get some exercise in the process. :)

Enjoyed your photos too!

Lisa A., CA

Hi Kristin,

I finally finished reading your book. I loved it!!! It took a little while, because I was reading it between reading my French text books for class. :) It was such a fun book to read...I lost count on all the times I laughed out loud at different moments you described. I could totally relate...loved, loved...loved it!!! Thanks so much for writing it!! Hugs!! Lisa

Kristin Espinasse

Millie, thanks for the correction ("appelle" and not "appèle"). I'll fix that very soon. Belated sympathies for your mailbox!

Lisa, I appreciate your feedback! So good to know you enjoyed the book!

Cathy, we use the very same trellis here, blocking the alcove within and around the stairwell, for the dogs. They sleep there at night (instead of wandering over the couch - to munch on it! Smokey that is...) They are handy, though flimsy (as you mentioned, the animals haven't seemed to figure out that the wall would come down in a breath! Though, they're a lot smarter than we realize...)

Gail, I enjoyed your note about the bluebirds' and orioles repurposing - using boots and shoelaces. Sweet image!

Eileen deCamp

I love the little cabanon and lavender. I feel sorry for your mailman too. Chief Grape had a great idea but maybe make a little hinged door or something for easier access.
We do love to check the mail at our house because our driveway is long and we can take a little stroll after lunch or dinner.


The photos are beautiful. I can only imagine the sweet aroma rising from the purple field.

I love your suggestion to pull over. It's true everyone is always rushing here or there and we need to learn how to enjoy the now.

Bella Vida by Letty
Have a great day.

Marianne Rankin

I don't have a mailbox; there is a slot in our front door through which the mail carrier puts the mail, which lands on the tile entry area. I have a narrow box on a small chest by the door where the mail can be put until we are ready to look at it, although when I'm home I go through it right away so it doesn't pile up. Most of it is "junk." I have written many letters in my life, and am always glad to receive them, though I get fewer as time goes on.

The challenge with the mail, which is certainly no imposition on the mail carrier, is getting him to not cram ALL of the mail at one time through the slot; it's really not large enough. I've complained to the post office that covers of magazines have been ripped off, pages torn, etc. I have to do that now and then to keep my mail from being shredded before I can look at it.

Mail delivery twice a day??? I used to think abolishing Saturday delivery would be a bad thing, but since there is so little "real" mail in what we receive, we will manage if it arrives only on weekdays. But I wish the Postal Service would charge the junk mailers more, so there would be fewer ads in the mail (they go straight to the recycle bin). The first-class-letter writers wind up subsidizing material they don't want.

On a road in the area, there is an interesting mailbox where part of it moves. It's shaped like a flying fish, and the wingline fins turn when the wind blows. I enjoy looking at it as I drive by.

Instead of a beehive, how about a small wine barrel or container of some sort?

Jacqueline Brisbane

Dear Kristin

2 little corrections:
“Tempête” de pluie (accent on 2nd e)....
It was, among other “inconvénients” (m)...
Also, I am torn about la pluie... Tempête ou rafale...? Well, I like both

It is a great thing Chief Grape does in re-purposing instead of discarding + saving on buying new material. Making it “facteur-friendly” would be good though. I bet he’ll come up with an ingenious hinge and hook system if we all ask him nicely!

JacqBrisbane (who repurposes vcr tape into crochet spiders and other things...

Kristin Espinasse

Marianne, What a great idea (re a wine barrel for a mail box!)

Jacqueline, thanks for these corrections. Off to fix them now....

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