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Entries from December 2012


Joyeux Noel (c) Kristin Espinasse
"This side of Christmas". Picture taken in Bollène.

confier (kon-fee-ay)

    : to confide in, to entrust

Audio File: Hear today's word spoken, along with this French quote: Download MP3 or listen to the Wav file

Il ne faut confier son secret qu'à celui qui n'a pas cherché à le deviner. 
One must only share one's secret with the one who has not sought to guess it. --Diane de Beausacq

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

I was in our cellier, hanging laundry along a network of string that zig-zags from one end of the small room to the other, when I heard my husband call out.

"Madame asked me to tell you that she finally got her tooth pulled."

Madame? Tooth? Finalement? I stood there, a wet sock in one hand, a gant de toilette in the other, trying to make sense of the "news". 

Peering around the corner, I saw Jean-Marc pitch another log onto the fire. 

"Our neighbor," Jean-Marc offered, sensing my confusion. "T'étais au courant?"

Was I aware? I had to stop and think, étais-je au courant? Well, I should be aware! ...but had somehow lost awareness—or, to put it plainly, I'd forgotten!

Distressed, I began to jog my memory. "La voisine... oui, sa dent.... la dent de la voisine..." I returned to the cellier allowing my mind to continue the exercise of remembering; meanwhile my hands continued the exercise of laundry.

Yes... I vaguely remembered the conversation. My neighbor had come by with a gift of farm fresh eggs. I had been touched by her offering, given her hens had been on strike for weeks. 

"Elles sont têtues! They're stubborn but they've had a change of heart," my neighbor said of her moody chickens. We were seated at the dining room table, drinking tea and eating the remains of a sweet cake that previous visitors had brought by.

My neighbor said she couldn't stay long, she had to get home to chop some wood for the fire that heated her cottage. It seemed a tiring task for a retired woman, and a widow. I didn't want to pry but went ahead and asked how she was feeling. I remember coaxing the information out of my neighbor, who isn't one to complain or to talk about herself.

That is when she must have admitted to having a toothache. I remember urging her to see a dentist.

"It's something we put off," I sympathized, "I know. I have a bad tooth that needs looking at, too, but I'm afraid of what the dentist will find!"

My neighbor nodded her head, and her eyes were bright with understanding. " puis, on a un peu peur..." and we're just a little bit afraid," she admitted, at which point it was my turn to vigorously nod my head.


In the cellier, I shook out another wet sock and another wash cloth. How could I have forgotten her tooth? I must have been quite interested in that tooth—concerned enough to make my dear neighbor feel compelled to send the update that would put my mind at ease

But my mind was far from eased! It was troubling to think that the information she had shared may have gone in one ear and out the other. Could I have been as careless as that? To want to comfort my neighbor... only to move on to the next deed on my list, forgetting the one that came before it?

No! I sincerely care about my neighbor! She is discreet and undramatic about aches and pains and matters of the heart. An attention-seeker she is not, precisely the kind of person who needs attention! It is the self-effacing types who go unnoticed; meantime, others—my grandmother would call them "squeaky wheels"—vie for our attention, demanding time and energy that could be offered to toothless angels.

I thought about some of the squeaky wheels, or, as Mom calls them "toxic relationships" that have derailed my focus. Whether pushy or manipulating or narcissistic—they are caustic! These are individuals who make me feel I should do this or I should do that (most often for them!). They say, in so many veiled words, "you owe me!" 

It is time to reclaim needed energy and to get attention back on track and focused on toothless angels. I have chosen 7 people to pay more attention to in the coming year. Far from "squeaky wheels" you wouldn't even know it if they cried themselves to sleep last night, and sadly, they may have.  

In order to be of more use to loved-ones, it may help to spend less time with online correspondence (email, Facebook, et compagnie...) in order to correspond with those very near and dear "toothless" angels. What about you, do you have any relations toxiques that you'd like to swap for angels in need? 

...Or maybe you need to carve out time to get a tooth fixed? I'm going to try to pick up the phone and call my dentist now....

With wishes for a peaceful and healthy new year, take care,


P.S. how do you know if a relationship is toxic? How do you feel in the presence of this kind of relationship? What do we really owe another? When you give, do you expect something in return? What are your resolutions for the new year? What and what will you focus on? What will you give up? Who really needs your help? Will you help someone you are mad at? Can you forgive? Does someone need to forgive you? Thanks for sharing!

To comment, click here. 



le cellier = cellar

finalement = finally

t'étais au courant? = were you aware?

un gant de toilette = wash cloth

la voisine (le voisin) = neighbor

et compagnie = and the rest


  Golden retrievers (c) Kristin Espinasse

 Smokey's parents: that's Sam, left, and Mama Braise on the right.

Smokey has his papa's "not one for the limelight" personality, never mind he's our star!

Smokey. Why wear a hat... when you can wear a cool patch! Read the story "Newbie Knitter" from the archives. 
To comment on any item in this edition, click here

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
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billingual video of Jean-Marc + un pointu

If you are not seeing the video, with Jean-Marc and the Provençal boats, then click here to enjoy the clip at the blog. Sign up to our YouTube channel to learn when new videos are uploaded. Click here

un pointu (pwan-too)

    : a little Provençal fishing boat

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

Last night I hurried around the house, turning on the electric wall heaters that were shut off on our departure.

C'était bien dépaysant, my husband remarked as he lit the fire, warming up the cozy foyer. He was right, our family's three day getaway had been a good opportunity to escape the daily grind. Just like the fire coming to life in our cheminée, I felt a spark of excitement as I moved through the house, preparing it for a quiet night. Rien de tel que son chez-soi!

We weren't the only ones to enjoy a change of scenery. While we were in Italy, our dogs sojourned in the village of Cuers, where Jean-Marc had found a private dog carer—for a fraction of the price we normally paid at the "dog hotels".

Arriving at the homey chenil, we were greeted by a petit French woman with a crown of black curls who resembled both Edith Piaf and Chrissie Hynde. We followed her around the little townhouse, to the back yard where the dogs would play, then into a spacious chambre, where they could rest. When Braise and Smokey became more interested their new enviroment than in us, we quietly snuck away.   

From Cuers, 17-year-old Max took the wheel, driving us towards the country border. We passed our old stomping grounds of Les Arcs-sur-Argens, with its tender memories, then Cannes, Antibes, Nice, Menton....

"I never dreamed I'd one day have a French son who would chauffeur me to Italy!" I chimed, taking a moment to acknowledge a future that had manifested beyond my dreams.

In Vintimille, the Italians were hidden at home, en famille, the day after Christmas.  Many of the shops were closed, so we engaged in an old French sport: faire du lèche-vitrine, or window licking (a less barbaric translation would be "window shopping").

We strolled the quiet streets arm in arm: first I clung to my daughter's arm, next,  to Max's--until both of us became aware of the awkwardness, at which point our arms quickly untangled and we coughed up a change of subject: "T'as vu les pères noëls? Did ya see all the Santa Clauses? Just like in France! "

I couldn't help but want to hang on to the kids, for who knew how many more family escapades the future held? Max could leave the nest in a little more than a year.... And Jackie has mentioned wanting to return to the school she attended last year, which means she would become a boarder--never mind we're not a boarding family! (Wasn't that for aristocrats?) 

Even if the kids don't move away in the next couple of years, who says they'll want to come along with us for another getaway? We were already very lucky to have them with us this time. They could have easily stayed home and enjoyed the company of friends versus this holiday with the old folks.

Keeping in mind the elusive future, this may have been our most relaxing holiday. Unlike family vacations of years past, the kids got along and even seemed to enjoy each other's company. It was as though they, too, sensed it was the end of an era. 


 To comment on this story, click here.

 P.S. we stayed the two nights in the wine-making mecca of Barolo. Jean-Marc found this sweet, reasonably-priced B&B, which included homemade pastries at breakfast and Illy coffee (JM's favorite). We are not affiliated with the B&B or with Illy, in case a suspicious thought crossed your innocent mind....


c'était bien dépaysant = it was a good change of scenery

rien de tel que son chez-soi = there's no place like home

 le foyer = entryway

une cheminée = fireplace

le chenil = kennel, dog carer's

Vintimille = Ventimiglia

en famille = with family

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


Mailboxes (c) Kristin Espinasse
Mailboxes in Marseilles. All photos (c) Kristin Espinasse unless otherwise noted.

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26 actes de gentillesse

Thank you very much for the warm holiday greetings. Wishing everyone much joy, surrounded by the things you love this time of year: family, friends, cats, dogs, birds... or solitude. Whatever brings you peace! See you in several days for the next edition. (Photo taken at Domaine Rouge-Bleu, our home from June 2007-Sept 2012. We now live near Bandol. No snow in either city, at this time!)

26 actes de gentillesse

: 26 acts of kindness

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

En mémoire des victimes de la tuerie de Newtown, certaines personnes ont décidé de faire 26 actes de gentillesse. In memory of the victims of the Newtown massacre, certain people have decided to do 26 acts of kindness.

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

26 actes de gentillesse

I first heard about it on my friend Ann's blog. Then Gwyn referred to the same idea. Responding to my Christmas tree story, she wrote: trying to resolve the tragic events of last week, i saw the following story. people all over the world are doing 26 random acts of kindness--one for each of the people who lost their lives at the school...

I had just finished reading Gwyn's words when, there, in my box-springed refuge, I stirred. I got up and left my bed.

My boots flew on so quickly and, next I knew, keys in hand, I was headed out of the house. Flying down the dirt road in my little car, I felt as high as a super hero fueled by desire... le désir d'aider quelqu'un. But who? How? And would it require superhuman strength?

One look at my hands, which gripped the steering wheel as I sped out of our driveway, reminded me of my weaknesses. My fingers were beginning to be covered with itchy red patches. The neighbor's mimosa was blooming and with each new bud my skin reacted with yet another swelling plaque. Et qu'est-ce que ça gratte!

I forgot about my itchy, mere mortal status the moment I arrived in town, and saw a man struggling with his wheelchair. How quickly the chance to practice an act of kindness had arrived! I parked my car and hurried towards the man, when a pang of doubt slowed my steps: "What if your compassionate gesture is taken as an insult?" Come to think of it... just how did another's dignity factor into things? 

The doubt was fleeting and I rushed up to the man-on-wheels. "Je peux vous aider?"

"Non," he grumbled, looking past me. "I need somebody stronger!" I watched him point to the guy behind me, who intervened. With his attention focused on the other, I disappeared into the crowd at the farmers' market.
And then, on my way home from town, I spotted a woman struggling with her market purchases. The heavy bags were slowing her down, so much so that she had to stop to rest.

I pulled my car over to the curb and lowered the driver's window: "Bonjour Madame! Je vous amène chez vous?"

I saw an ever-so-slight scowl, which I took to be a look of discomfort. The women shook her head non, she didn't need my help! Worse, my would-be kind gesture seemed to interrupt her momentum, as she pushed off, resuming her encombered journey.  

I put-putted home. Gone was the superhuman energy I'd felt on beginning this kindness journey.

Only that's when I spotted the granny in the gumball-size car! It was one of those voitures sans permis, the itty-bitty cars you see here in France, the ones that anyone can drive, without a license.  Granny's gumball was stalled by the side of the road. As chance would have it, it was stalled 10 meters from my mailbox!

I stopped my car at the end of our driveway and unhooked my seatbelt. Finally, the chance to help someone in need! I looked over at the unfortunate one and saw how her jaw quivered as she tried again and again to start the engine of her voiturette. What a horrible feeling that must be, to be stuck on the side of the road. But never fear! Help is near!!

I bounded out of my car, only, as I reached the end of the driveway, Granny sped off! I guessed the gumball unstalled....

Dragging my feet into the house, I almost tripped over Braise. Dégage! I shouted. My dog ran off, sensing my sour, defeated mood.

In the kitchen, I went to get a glass of water when I noticed a sinkfull of dishes... and breakfast plates that were still out on the table! Why doesn't anybody help around here?!

When my husband unwittingly arrived into the kitchen, a smile on his lip-puckered face, a kiss was the last thing on my mind.  And oh, I had a mind! A mind to let out all my frustrations, and who better to let it all out on than my family!

And there it hit me. It is so easy to set out to be kind to a stranger. What is more difficult is to practice la gentillesse on a close one. How motivated I am when it comes to practicing patience on a stranger. But I have so little tolerance for any slackness on the part of my immediate family. 

And there I'd set out to participate in 26 actes de gentillesse! But with three failed attempts at helping a stranger, I was slacking as much as my family with their breakfast plates. 

My fingers began to itch and the sore state of my body infiltrated my mind where a battle raged: I'm tired. I'm hungry. I'm itchy! This is not a convenient time for me to be kind! 

Finally a little whisper could be heard above the protests... Sinon maintenant, quand? If not now, when? 
And who better to practice kindness on... than a husband, a teenager, a dog? From there, such acts can be extended outward, like the best helping hand.


Comments welcome here. It is such a pleasure to read your words, after struggling to write my own!

 Ann Curry came up with the idea for "26 Acts of Kindness". Some are making it "27 Acts", keeping in mind the shooter's mother. To comment, click here.


le désir d'aider quelqu'un = the desire to help someone

et qu'est-ce que ça gratte! = and boy does it itch!

je peux vous aider? = Can I help you?

non = no

bonjour madame = hello, Mrs.

je vous amène chez vous? = Can I bring you to your house?

la voiture sans permis = a special car that can be driven without a driver's license

la voiturette = mini car

dégage! = beat it!

la gentillesse = kindness

sinon maintenant, quand? = If not now, when?



  Kristin and Jean-Marc Espinasse

Kristi and Jean-Marc (it is my husband's voice you hear in most of the sound recordings at French Word-A-Day :-)

Enjoy these words and photos? Thanks for sharing French Word-A-Day with friends, classmates, teachers and family members--anyone who loves France!

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Braveheart (c) Kristin Espinasse
The other day while Smokey and I waited in the school parking lot for Jackie, kids filed past our car, occasionally stopping to point and to laugh: "Mais regarde sa langue! Just look at his funny tongue! Ahahahaha!"

"Laisse tomber! Don't worry about it, Smokey. They don't know your story." So many stories out there... how little we know of the "strange" looking people we pass on the street. The holidays are as good a time as any to open up our minds and our hearts.

le pin (pahn) noun, masculine 

: pine tree

le pin d'Alep = Provencal white pine

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read todays word, phrase, and example sentence: Download MP3 or Download Wav

Cette année, notre sapin de Noël est un petit pin d'Alep.
This year our Christmas tree is a Provençal pine.

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

When Jean-Marc suggested hunting for this year's Christmas tree in the forêt behind our house, our daughter wrinkled her nose. Now there was a grimace I could translate in French or English: it said that all her friends probably had real Christmas trees, the kind on display at the mall!

Our daughter's reaction made my husband even more determined. It was high time to lift the consumer veil from our children's eyes: A true arbre de Noël didn't always come from the checkout lane! Not this year anyway... not when a forest dense with pines crowded our back yard.

Allez! Jean-Marc persisted, dragging our 15-year-old Christmas tree snob off the couch.

I remained hidden in my room, where I'd taken refuge from all the holiday frenzy. There, in the quiet, I heard footsteps as my husband, our teenager, and the dogs crossed over the boules court on their way to the forest. 

Not 10 minutes later and they were back. The brisk foray seemed a bad sign... they must have encountered les chasseurs and had to postpone their search. I sank more deeply into my bed, wondering just when the tree chore would get done! Why didn't I keep the ugly plastic tree of yesteryear? It had been so easy to decide to part with it, while trying to cram our entire life into two economy trucks last September. What a dumb decision that was! (the tree, not the cheap movers—not one lamp broken in the deal!).

But what was the deal with our tree? I threw back the covers and got out of bed. In the living room I found Jackie back on the couch, watching TV. 

"Well, what happened?" 

My daughter smiled. "Rien". 

"But did you find tree?"

"Oh, oui..."

"Well, do you like it?"

"Oui," she nodded, and the stars twinkling in her eyes were proof of that. I felt a bit star-struck myself, bewildered by the peaceful atmosphere, when it was chaos I had anticipated.

My daughter followed me into the sas, the cozy entryway to our home, where a rustic fireplace and two felt-covered fauteuils have become a favorite resting spot.

There the tree stood, between the cozy sas and the dining room, punctuating the two spaces like a semi-colon that joins independent clauses—in this case santa clauses!

Leave it to that delicate, sweep of a tree to join all our Christmases of yesteryear, to the one just before us, the one I had tried to steer clear of!

Jackie knelt down on the ground to arrange the area beneath the tree. "Papa collected some mousse in the forest," she explained, as she borrowed some of the characters from the crèche, setting them on top of the deep green ground cover.

The door opened and Jean-Marc came in, his arms full of firewood for the cheminée. "Alors? Ça va l'arbre? Your daughter cut it down."

"It's beautiful!" I admitted. "What kind is it?"

"Un pin d'Alep."

I ran to my dictionary to look up the term. Un pin d'alep equalled a Provençal pine. What more could a hopeless Francophile want than a French Christmas? This year it would be un Noël Provençal

And what more could our daughter want than a real arbe de Noël. From the sparkle in her eyes, it was clear this year she had one.


Bonnes fêtes! Happy holidays dear reader. May the spirit of the season grab you... filling you with peace, love, and forgiveness. Thank you for reading these missives and for your encouragement to continue writing them. 



To comment on this post, click here



la forêt = forest

un arbre de Noël = a Christmas tree

 allez! = come on!

les boules = the game of Pétanque, read Gary's story

le chasseur = hunter

rien = nothing

le sas = (a synonym for sas is chambre, or room, but here it refers to a small entry way)

le fauteuil = chair

le papa = dad, father

la mousse = moss

la crèche = nativity scene

la cheminée = fireplace

amicalement = warmly (is "friendlily" a word?...)

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", "Sainte Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 
Order CD here.


Smokey has taught himself how to eat, despite his little handicap (we won't go into details, but he may have learned the trick from a mama bird...). And he has a trick or two for keeping his tongue in place. Name this photo--your thought bubbles are most welcome! To comment on any item in this post, click here.

If you enjoy these words and photos, thanks for sharing them with a friend or classmate or teacher--anyone who loves France!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
♥ Contribute $10    
♥ Contribute $25    
♥ Contribute the amount of your choice


Hang on Santa! (c) Kristin Espinasse

 Do you feel like this Santa, during the holiday rush. Just hanging on? Waiting for it all to pass? Read on.

fêtard(e) (feh-tar, feh-tard)

    : party animal, someone who likes to party

Audio File: Listen to the following sentence in French Download MP3 or Wave file

Dans ma jeunesse, j'étais une fêtarde.
In my youth, I was a party animal.

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

Last weekend the pressure was on to begin decorating our home for Christmas. Have you got your tree up yet? my Anglophone friends wanted to know. Feeling worse and worse for procrastinating, I clung to the thought that most French homes wouldn't have a tree up by now... but a quick trip to the supermarket, for a few staples, revealed another story. 

There at the checkout line, Christmas trees were selling like hotcakes! I dragged my feet over to the display, to check out the stock of cellophane-wrapped trees.

There were two sizes and two prices : 35 euros ($45) or 45 euros ($60). I examined the two models that were on display (all the other trees were wrapped tighter than a bound umbrella, measuring not much longer than one either!). I noted the large gaps in branches, as well as the crooked aspect of the arbres. If these were the display models, surely the ones in cellophane were a sorry lot! I collected my groceries, and left the supermarket. I tried not to look at the other cars in the parking lot, as the drivers packed their sapins de Noël into their trunks. But averting my eyes wouldn't avert panic: Now even the French were on time for Christmas!

What had been worry, or guilt, quickly turned into grumpiness and finger-pointingness. I began to lash out, in my mind, at all the goody-two-shoes who were early to Christmas—with their goody-two-shoes trees and their goody-two-shoes decorations (by the way just where were our decorations? Having moved homes a few months ago, not all of our boxes were unpacked... which meant they could be anywhere! Now on top of finding a tree—we had to find the damned decorations! *&@!!!).

Shoving the groceries into the fridge, I hurried to my room to take refuge at the bottom of my bed. I began counting the days. It would all be over before long. Christmas would come and go... but then there would be New Year's Eve to deal with... and then Paques! And then What are your plans for Bastille Day? and What are you doing for Thanksgiving?

And to think that some of these celebrations are not even sacred observances. To the French, they are no more than traditions! This last reality made me even more frustrated.  

As I sank lower into my bed, I feared the unthinkable: was I, deep down, no more than a grinch? If not a grinch, perhaps a spoil sport? If not a spoil sport wasn't I, at bottom, just one big party pooper?

...or just pooped?

Worn out or not, it is peace I am after ... and, after all, it is peace we can share.

Best wishes to all during the holidays rush. To leave a comment, click here.


un arbre = tree (story here)
le sapin de Noël = Christmas tree (click here for the story)
Paques = Easter (story here)

  Capture plein écran 19122012 112834
Check out our YouTube channel and please sign up! I have a few videos ideas in mind: "How to Tie a Scarf" as well as Aunt Marie-Françoise's super easy chestnut cake. Any other ideas are welcome here, in the comments box. 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
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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 to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
♥ Contribute $10    
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Join Kristin & Jean-Marc on a Seine/Normandy River Cruise!

Join us in Paris for the next AMA river cruise!

Remember that river cruise that my best friend Susan (a.k.a. "Rouge-Bleu") and I went on last month? I have some very good news to share with you: Jean-Marc and I will be hosting the next one along the Seine—and we would be happy if could join us!

I'm going to let Susan tell you all about it here. Susan writes:

Since coming back from France a few weeks ago and experiencing AMA Waterways first hand, I have worked with AMA Waterways (my most favorite river cruise line) about the idea of becoming an onboard host on one of their sailings along with Domaine Rouge-Bleu & French Word-A-Day,  and this request was recently approved!

The best part for any of those joining us is that the guest hosts and those who will be doing the special lectures onboard are author of French-Word-A-Day, Kristin Espinasse (my best friend for 30+ years from high school) and her husband Jean Marc (famous wine maker and former owner of Domaine Rouge-Bleu, where he remains a partner).

The cruise departs and returns to Paris 8-15 NOV 2013 with a focus on Normandy and charming towns along the Seine. There is an optional 2 day land portion in Paris following the sailing. For complete details on the day/day itinerary, please click this link:

The reason I love AMA so much (over many of the other cruise lines) is because of all that is included with their river cruise:

  • 7 nights deluxe cruise accommodation in an outside stateroom - 82% of the staterooms with French balconies
  • Life enriching tours and excursions daily with personal headset included
  • Culinary Delights – Bites & Sights excursions
  • State-of-the-art Infotainment System in all staterooms featuring free high-speed Internet access, hit Hollywood movies, extensive music library & English language TV stations
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi access on board
  • Terry bathrobes and white-on-white plush bedding in all staterooms
  • Gourmet dining with all meals included during your cruise
  • Free-flowing red & white wines from Europe's great wine regions, beer & soft drinks with every dinner on board
  • Bottled water in every stateroom replenished daily
  • Cocktail Reception, Welcome Dinner & Captain's Gala Dinner
  • Transfer from the ship to the hotel in Paris if opting for the land portion
  • 2 nights hotel accommodation in Paris, including daily buffet breakfast with land portion booked
  • Special highlights including lectures, theme dinners, cooking demonstration, onboard music performances and afternoon/evening piano music
  • Bicycles to explore on your own & guided bicycle tours
  • Services of professional Cruise Manager
  • All English language on board in a non-smoking environment (smoking permitted only on the Sun Deck)
  • All transfers are included if one opts to purchase the complete cruise, land & air package
  • All local taxes. Port fees and taxes are not included in the quote on the flyers.


Very few cabins left - please don't delay in reserving your place
There are a limited amount of cabins left on this sailing and the special promo of $500 off per cabin and $100 per person onboard ship credit runs only through Jan 31, 2013. Cabins must have deposit on them by 31JAN 2013 in order to qualify. In order to qualify for this promo, all sailings must be booked with Critics Choice Vacations.

Look over the flyer, below, and if you would like a quote on a cabin, I would be delighted to offer you one!

Click to view page 1 of the flyer or Click to view page 2 of this flyer

Warm regards,

Susan Boehnstedt, ACC, DS 
President,  Critics Choice Vacations 

Phone/Fax: 480-831-9076 


Click to view page 1, the full version of the flyer:

Capture plein écran 15122012 181942

Capture plein écran 15122012 181704

Click to view page 2 (above), the full version of this flyer


Best Friends (c) Kristin Espinasse

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
♥ Contribute $10    
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le sapin de Noel

cadran solaire, sun dial, lamp post, lampadaire, pine tree, france, frenchSapin (c) Kristin Espinasse
I'm getting ready to film the first in a series of videos about our home renovation. Don't miss a clip! - subscribe to our YouTube channel. Forward this and tell a design savvy architecturally-minded friend about the channel. They might have fun following us on this project in the sunny South of France (...meantime we are freezing in this heat-challenged home). Photo taken in Serre Chevalier, near Briançon.

Sapin (sah-pahn) noun, masculine

fir tree, Christmas tree

Today's story is from Blossoming in Provence. Please keep my book in mind for your gift-giving needs! Your book support helps to keep this word journal going. Click here to order. Merci beaucoup!



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

When Max came into the kitchen announcing, "Papa a acheté un sapin," I folded the dishtowel, set it down and took a deep breath. I knew the Christmas tree would be trunk-size—all the better to fit into the back of our economy car—and not tall, like the spruce my mom used to whisk home (space limits were not an issue... Mom had the tree tied to the top of her '68 Camaro). 

"Cela suffira," I reminded myself, hoping to have finally learned a lesson. The tree, whatever it is, will be just what we need, and failing that, it will at least be real! Only, when I saw what my husband, The Nonconsumer, brought home this time, every nerve in my body became a live wire. 

There in the center of the salon stood the most abominable tree that I had ever laid eyes on. I knew better than to open my mouth lest the bassesse of language, French or English, should spew forth. Meanwhile my nerves began to short-circuit, and it was only a matter of time before the sparks reached my tongue, causing it to ignite.

"How much did you pay for it?" I questioned, teeth clamped.

"Twelve euros," Jean-Marc answered, jaws relaxed.

Twelve euros! That's 15 dollars... about how much he would spend on a decent bottle of wine—one that we might share in a single night. But a Christmas tree—that's something we could have spent a little more on, as we would enjoy it for an entire month! 

After a moment of silence so thick you could hang tinsel on it, Jean-Marc challenged me: "You can take it back if you don't like it." His remark was delivered with the coolness of a peppermint candy cane.

"It is not for me to take back. YOU take it back!"

My husband's next response was to slam the door. I watched the ripple effect as the tinsel fell to the floor. 

My attention drifted back to the artificial arbreA Christmas tree should be at least as tall as a child! I reasoned. Staring at the sapin de Noël, I noticed its mangled branches and its missing foliage. It was a fake fir, one so cheap that it came with its own styrofoam ornaments! And was that "presto tinsel" stuck to the branches? 

I thought about the nine-foot-tall Colorado spruce that was Mom's joy to decorate. The ornaments were not automatically glued to the branches. They were handmade! One year Mom covered the tree with white colombes and pheasant plumes. She took the ordinary blue boules and dressed them up with peacock feathers (using only the fancy tops, or  what she called the "eyes" of the feathers). Her zeal for holiday decorating didn't stop at the giant tree—she had those doves "flying" from the branches to the front door!

My eyes returned to the bedroom door, which had just been slammed shut. I looked back down at the Christmas tree. The longer I stared, the uglier it appeared. 

"It is the ugliest tree that I have ever seen!" I grumbled, pulling off what decorations Jean-Marc and Jackie had put up. I yanked apart the tree and shoved it into the stupid bag from which it came. Still smarting, I returned to the kitchen and slammed the dirty pots and pans around in the sink, the sink without a garbage disposal! Only in France!

"You're so complicated," my Frenchman used to say as I struggled to adapt to his country, to his ways, to his small-treed holidays. Over the years, I began to suspect that he had a point. Indignation turned to industry as, little by little, I began ousting the surplus and the superflu—learning the difference between want and besoin, all the while simplifying, simplifying

The sum of all that effort now stood before me, concrete in form, via this, the simplest tree.

"But I want a COMPLICATED Christmas treeeeeee!" I cried out, shoving the sponge back into the pan as I scoured and glowered. "I want a showy, superfluous, SUPERCALIFRAGILISTIC spruce!"

Just then I heard the rustle of faux branches and a whisper....

"Il est beau!" Max was saying to his sister. 

"Oui, regarde," she agreed, softly. 

I listened to the clanking of aluminum bulbs.... Peeking around the corner, I witnessed the scene. Max had pulled the tree back out of the bag and reassembled it. The branches, still tordues, now had a colorful array of bulbs, some chipped, some dusty, some new—all carefully hung. There were so many decorations that the empty parts, where branches seemed to be missing, were now filled in.

Jean-Marc was on his knees searching for an electrical outlet. Finding one, he plugged in the tree lights, but when he turned to reach for the switch.... my hand was already on it. Our eyes locked. 

My husband smiled as I flipped the switch. When the tree lights went on, the room came to a swift hush. In the silence she appeared: La Joie—an étincelle here, a sparkle there—happiness filling the room, its presence so real, so palpable, you could hang tinsel on it.


P.S. Special thanks to the readers who helped edit today's story! You can see their comments in the original post, from the archives.


Papa a acheté un sapin = Papa's bought a Christmas tree
çela suffira = that'll suffice
le salon = living room
la bassesse = baseness
un arbre = tree
le sapin de Noël = Christmas tree
la colombe = dove (read about the kind-hearted "dove man" I met in Sicily! click here.)
la plume = feather
la boule = ball
le superflu = superfluity
le besoin = need
il est beau = it is beautiful (tree)
oui, regarde = yes, look
tordu(e) = twisted, bent
la joie = joy
une étincelle = spark, sparkle

sentir le sapin = to have one foot in the grave
passer un sapin à quelqu'un = to dupe someone

le sapin de Noël = Christmas tree
*sapin also = coffin
*sapin is a color (vert sapin)

Avec un morceau de pain, on trouve son paradis sous un sapin. With a hunk of bread, one finds his paradise under a fir tree. 

Listen to French: hear Jean-Marc recite today's proverb:
Avec un morceau de pain, on trouve son paradis sous un sapin. Download sapin4.wav


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", "Sainte Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 
Order CD here.


*   *   *
Our garage and kitchen door.
We'll begin our home tour with the door to the left... it leads into the kitchen. Would you be interested in following a video tour of our home? Any ideas on what to do with the space you are seeing here (garage + stairs leading to Jean-Marc's office + future guest room. The stairs to the right lead to the soon-to-be kitchen garden.)

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
♥ Contribute $10    
♥ Contribute $25    
♥ Contribute the amount of your choice


window shutter box lace wooden chalet clay pots rooster  in Queyras (c) Kristin Espinasse

Thank you for the encouraging feedback you sent in, following Monday's video! I learned so much from your comments and am reminded to just keep on keeping on! If you haven't yet, check out our Youtube channel--and look for the "subscribe" button! Today's picture was taken in the Queyras valley, near the French Hautes-Alpes.

douze (dooz)

    : twelve

les douze apôtres = the twelve apostles

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

Et vous, que faites-vous le 12-12-12 à 12h12? 
And you, what are you doing on 12-12-12 at 12:12? (

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

In the kitchen this morning, I overheard Jean-Marc talking to our daughter, Jackie.

"Aujourd'hui, c'est le 12/12/12."

His words reminded me of the very special day. It's my mother-in-law's birthday! I think we'll call her at 12:12 and tell her twelve times that we love her. On t'aime! On t'aime! On t'aime!...

And then give her 12 good reasons why:

Elle est très drôle.
She is so funny. 

Elle est très intuitive.
She is veryintuitive. 

Elle est sensible.
She is sensitive. 

Elle est courageuse.
She is courageous. 

Elle fait le meilleur gâteau au chocolat du monde.
She makes the best chocolate cake in the world. 

Elle raconte les meilleures histoires.
She tells the best stories

Elle a de très bons goûts de décoration.
She got great taste for decoration. 

Elle est très fidele en amitié.
She a very faithful friend.

Elle est généreuse.
She's generous. 

Elle est attentionnée.
She's considerate. 

Elle est très discrète.
She is discreet. 

Elle fait la meilleure tapenade.
She makes the best tapenade.

Listen to the above text. Hear Jean-Marc list une douzaine qualities of his mamanDownload MP3 or Wav file

Happy Birthday to my beautiful belle-mère. Thank you for the dear children you have given me and thanks for sharing your son with me!


mother-in-law kiss france wicker chair antiques blue bottle french

Chez ma belle-mère. At my mother-in-law's. Picture taken by Jean-Marc.

french yogurt cake golden retriever tile floor bake fruit prunes
Time to make some cake! Smokey and I added prunes to this one. Click here for the famous yogurt cake recipe--the easiest, fastest cake to make! You probably have all the ingredients on hand...

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", "Sainte 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 to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
♥ Contribute $10    
♥ Contribute $25    
♥ Contribute the amount of your choice

Lèvre: lip in French, new video (recipe demo with Smokey)

green chandelier bookstore books shakespeare and co (c) Kristin Espinasse
No matter how hard I try, I can't make today's image match today's word. Picture taken at Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris.

une lèvre (levr)

    : lip

du bout des lèvres = half-heartedly

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc pronouce today's word, the expression, and this sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

Elle a des lèvres expressives. She has expressive lips.

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

On Thursday Smokey and I were feeling inspired to film another video. It would be a good way to take the mind off Friday's dermato appointment (bad news, the new year will begin with more stitches...), and so we threw our collective energies into demonstration—a cake demonstration!

I dusted off the dining room table before setting out all of the ingredients for the traditional French gâteau au yaourt. Jean-Marc happened to be passing by, and his unexpected appearance made me nervous.

a va la star?" As soon as he saw the video set up he couldn't help but poke fun at the self-styled présentatrice. And it didn't help things to be caught wrestling our handicapped dog up onto the dining chair.

"Oui, ça va," I said casually, grabbing Smokey's slippery legs and heaving my furry cohost up onto the seat only for him to come tumbling down on me once again. 

Jean-Marc shook his head.

Never mind what he thinks. I'm going ahead with my project! And so what if my husband's presence is unsettling, this is a good opportunity to learn to block out all outward distractions! ...But first, I might put the outward distraction to work.

And so I had Jean-Marc hit the "record" button for me, seeing as it was several feet away from where I was sitting (admittedly on top of my cohost, should he slide off the set once again).

Jean-Marc did as I asked, only he couldn't help but try to frazzle me on his way out the door (stopping to wave at the camera and, in so doing, dispelling my concentration).

Never mind - just get on with it, I told myself. With the camera rolling, I grabbed the bottle of vegetable oil—as one would grab a baton—and I ran with it!

So much goes through the mind while the body tries to remain poised before a camera. As I cracked the eggs, their shells as stiff as my own exterior, I realized that seconds were elapsing without words. Say something! You've got to say something! I panicked.

"In France we have these beautiful brown eggs...."

After a bit more stammering I caught sight of my cohost, who was having a sudden attack of stage fright. Pausing to mollycoddle Smokey almost cost me the rest of my concentration, but soon we were back on track.

The video was finished before we knew it and I decided to go ahead and upload it for our Youtube subscribers, a modest number of viewers who might, if we were lucky, have a thing or two to say about my and Smokey's latest vlog effort.

But before uploading the clip, I stopped to review the footage and that's when I noticed how parts of it were unflattering. Specifically, there were a few "middle-aged moments" that made me cringe. 

"There are some bad angles," I admitted to Jean-Marc. "I look a little old."

Jean-Marc smiled, "that's because you are old!"

His sourire broke the news to me softly, and though he was teasing I saw glimmers of truth and was surprised by the effect that truth had on me. I felt energized! No, I was not old, but I was no longer a young woman either. With this realization I could now begin to enjoy the freedom of not having to try to look like one

"I'm posting the video!" I smiled and hurried to my room to upload it.

Only, once the video was live, it wasn't thinning skin or a slackening jaw that drew my attention, it was a bizarre puckering reflex that caught my eye. On viewing the footage I noticed how, every minute or so, my mouth would suddenly contort. I watched, amazed, as my lips screwed up and over to the side. It looked as if I were trying to suck something out from between my front teeth, something like chewing tobacco!

The ungraceful gesture taught me a thing or two about myself. One, no matter how much control we impose on our bodies to remain poised, there will always be a little unruly part of ourselves hell-bent on breaking free, and two, no more excuses about my bad French--with pucker lips like these, pronunciation ought to be a cinch.

Enjoy the video and thanks for your tips on how to improve!

The recipe for the yogurt cake is found here.

French Vocabulary

le dermato (dermatologue) = dermatologist
le gâteau au yaourt = yogurt cake
Ça va la star? = how's the starlet
la présentatrice = the show host
oui, ça va = yes, everything's fine
le sourire = smile 


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
♥ Contribute $10    
♥ Contribute $25    
♥ Contribute the amount of your choice