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Entries from January 2013

Inspiration all around as a Frenchman talks about cooking, childrearing, embarrassing language gaffes, and writing... in today's entretien with Marc Levy

Author Marc Levy
Marc Levy's books are available now, for the first time, in English! Learn about this former Red Cross worker who, in the decade since he began writing, has become most-read French author in the world. To all who dare to follow their dream... may today's interview give you wings!

un entretien (ontr-tee-en)

        1) an interview 

       2) management/service (a car check-up, etc...)

Audio File: Listen to our daughter, Jackie, read the following sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file
Aujourd'hui, lisez mon entretien avec l'écrivain Marc Levy.
Today, read my interview with the writer Marc Levy. 

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

Do you find it enormously reassuring to learn that someone's remarkable success happened later in life? Does it fill you with hope to discover that the respected novelist or chessplayer or... started out as a first-aid worker—unaware of a nascent talent within him? 

As a lifelong student of writing, nothing motivates me like another's bumpy or unlikely journey to literary success. It makes me believe that it's not too late to pen The Classic and Universal Story... the one that could be enjoyed by all generations till the end of time!

Reading about French author Marc Levy, and how he changed professions several times before happening upon his calling—as a writer, I am encouraged to plumb the depths of my own vocational well. Could it be that in this mad pursuit of writing, chess is really my calling?

One thing's sure, French will open doors either way. So it's a safe bet to continue pursuing language! I think even Mr. Levy would agree. Enjoy his words, below, about France, culture, and writing.  

...And, after reading the interview, take time to consider: the dream job you are so passionately pursuing (or currently practicing) may be, after all, but a means to an even more stimulating and meaningful métier--the one your heart is diligently fine-tuning, while you are busy chasing your dream!

:: Entretien avec Marc Levy ::

1. Why did you choose to leave France and make a home for yourself in the States?

Believe it or not, I originally left France to go to England, which makes me a terrible Frenchman. (There is a rivalry between England and France that dates back several centuries.) I had fallen in love with London and the British sense of humor, and I lived quite happily there for ten years.  I then moved to the States because I also harbored a deep love for New York City.  My son had also decided to study in the U.S., so my longstanding desire to be in New York provided the perfect pretext for me to follow him and play the overprotective parent!  But in all seriousness, I was attracted to the multicultural, multiethnic aspect of New York.  163 different communities and ethnic groups shared their lives there—it was as if the whole world had gathered in one place, and that place was New York.  It was a city in color that I wanted to be a part of.

2. You have a love for food and cooking.  What differences do you see in the American vs. the French approaches to cooking and dining?

The French cook with less of everything: salt, oil, sugar, sauce, etc.  It is fascinating to see, in fact, how much flavor you can produce when you do this.  But I’ve noticed that many new French restaurants are now adopting the trend of overusing ingredients.

The main difference between restaurants in Paris and New York?  The noise.  I’ve been in some restaurants where there is more noise in the dining room than food on your plate.  A restaurant in Paris that played its music as loudly as New York restaurants do wouldn’t last more than a week.  When we invite friends out to dinner, we usually want to talk to them, not yell at them.

3. You have an older son who was raised primarily in France and a young son whom you are raising in New York. What differences do you see in the French and American parenting cultures?

My older son was actually raised primarily in London.  It's a bit difficult for me to comment on contemporary French parenting culture, since I've been living outside of France for the past 15 years, but as far as I can tell, there aren't too many differences.  As parents, we all love our children with the same heart and want the best for them.

I suppose one subtle difference might be that in France, we focus less on the psychology of the child and more on his or her practical education.  For example, when I was at a friend's house, she had told her son he couldn't do something and he responded, "You're hurting my feelings!"  Our French friends laughed, as this is not very French—it would not garner a French child much sympathy when being scolded or told no.  Perhaps French parents are more old-fashioned, stricter in this way...or at least, mine were with me.

4. Some language learners are fearful of speaking English to a French person, afraid they’ll make an embarrassing mistake. Did you ever humiliate yourself in English? Any examples you are willing to share?

I do this every day.  One example that comes to mind is something I once said to a woman in the street. She was trying to light her cigarette, but her lighter wasn’t working, so as a proper French gentleman would, I offered her my own.  I asked her, “Do you want my fire?”  After she had left, the American friend I was with burst into laughter.  When I asked him what was so funny, he explained to me why that had been a ridiculous thing to say.  I was absolutely mortified!

5. Humor, or a good joke, is often “lost in translation”, making it even more difficult to adapt as an expat.  Did you ever find it difficult to appreciate the sense of humor in your adopted country, or to share your own sense of humor?

Yes and no.  Humor is one of the most important things in my life—it’s like a drug to me.  I have watched so many comedies and read so many books to try to better understand American and British humor.  What I have discovered is that the jokes we make are often very specific to culture, sometimes only understood in the country they are from.  For example, a joke about cheerleaders that Americans find hilarious would be confusing to the French, because we don’t have cheerleaders in France.

Living in a new place, you come to understand that it is much more difficult to share your sense of humor, but as implied in my answer to your previous question, sometimes you can make people laugh without knowing why.

6. There are some colorful expressions in French, such as “faire du lèche-vitrines” or “avoir un oursin dans sa poche”.  Can you share a favorite French expression?

One of my favorites is “Ce n'est pas tombé dans l'oreille d'un sourd”. The English equivalent is “It hasn’t fallen on deaf ears,” or that the information has been fully understood, but translated quite literally, it would be “It hasn’t fallen into the ear of a deaf man.”

7. Regarding pronunciation, what do you think about accents? (i.e. when speaking English, do you strive to lose your own French accent? Conversely, what do you think when hearing someone struggle to pronounce French?)

I would love to do that—if only I could get rid of the “z” and say “the” one time, as it should be!  But in regard to hearing a foreign accent in French, I find it very charming, and never ridiculous.  Especially when an American woman speaks French, it’s so sexy.

8. Regarding things getting lost in translation, how do you feel about having your French words—so thoughtfully chosen during the writing process—translated into English, or another language, now that your books are being made available worldwide?

It’s a real concern.  The initial English translation of my first book was so bad, it really killed me and almost ruined the story.  For a writer, finding a translator who understands your writing is as difficult as an actor finding the voice that will dub over his own.  (Dubbed voiceovers for foreign movies and television shows are very common in France.)  Translators are constantly underpaid and underappreciated, but their role is so important that they should really get a part of the royalties.  They aren’t just translating, but adapting the text, and to do so, they must be good writers.

When I received corrections for the English translation of my second novel before it went to print, I sat down with both versions in front of me, trying to go through and compare every word.  In the middle of this, the doorbell rang and the mailman arrived with the Chinese manuscript.  I went back to my desk and closed everything.  I learned that day that after a certain point, you must trust that the translator likes and understands your work, and wants to accurately reproduce it.

9. It is both fascinating and inspiring to read about your path to writing, and the failures that brought you there.  In one interview, we read about some of the words of wisdom you shared with your son.  You said, “The biggest mistake you can make in your life is to avoid any mistake by not doing anything.”  Could you please translate that into French for us, and so leave us with the courage to pursue our own dreams?

La plus grande erreur que tu pourrais faire dans ta vie serait d'avoir évité toute erreur en n'ayant rien fait.”


Please help me to thank Marc Levy for taking the time to talk to us today. Click here to leave a message and keep the conversation going in the comments box. Which answers, above, interested you the most? I'd love to read your response to Marc Levy's words, here.

A little more about Marc Levy + Win a trip to France!

With 13 novels published over the past 12 years—all of which have been #1 bestsellers in France and many other countries worldwide—Marc has nearly 30-million copies of his books in print in 45 languages. 

Before his first novel, If Only It Were True, was published in the U.S., Steven Spielberg acquired the film rights for DreamWorks. The movie, Just like Heaven, starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo, was a #1 box office hit. Since this remarkable introduction, US readers have not had easy access to Marc's subsequent work. That is, until now.

International e-book publisher Versilio is now releasing the English translations of Marc Levy's novels through Amazon, iTunes, and Kobo. Lovers of all things French—as well as fans of authors like Jodi Picoult, Sara Gruen, and Anita Shreve—should be thrilled for the introduction to this treasure trove of novels by France's best-known writer.

What's more, Versilio is running "The Marc Levy Paris Getaway Sweepstakes" in the US from Monday, December 1st through Sunday, February 10th, 2013. First prize is a long weekend in Paris for two, including roundtrip airfare and hotel. Other prizes include an iPad loaded with Marc's novels and a full library of Marc's novels in ebook. To be entered to win, participants need to answer 5 questions about Marc Levy's novel All Those Things We Never Said. Winners will be announced on Valentine's Day.  

 Click here for the Paris Sweepstakes information


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.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

coussin + before & after photos of my home office!

broccoli flowers (c) Kristin Espinasse
... and you were expecting a picture of a cushion, were you? See a stylish one in today's story.... Meantime, have a look at the new blooms in our winter potager! One of the joys of being a perennial newbie gardener is to be amazed to learn that broccoli flowers! (Ditto, on witnessing this artichoke bloom--in electric purple!). Now back to our story-column.


le coussin (koo-sehn)

    : pillow, cushion (seat, bed...)

le coussin péteur = whoopie cushion
le coussin de sécurité = air bag
le coussin de siège = seat cushion
coussins de feutre (just bought a pack of these "felt pads" to place beneath the side tables so they don't screech each time we move them) 

Golden barrel cactus (c) André Karwath
(Photo of golden barrel cactus by André Karwath)

Audio File (I couldn't find any colorful "coussin" expressions (apart from the French translation for whoopie cushion), in French, but I did come across an amusing "coussin" term :-). Hear Jean-Marc pronounce it, in the following sentence, from WikipediaDownload MP3 or Wav file

Ce cactus ...est parfois appelée "coussin de belle-mère" en raison de ses fortes épines. This cactus is sometimes called mother-in-law's cushion, because of its strong needles.

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

"Is it a bed sheet or a tablecloth?" (Or why I would fail Etiquette school... but could possibly stand a chance at Late Bloomer's Design Academy)

Despite a recent home-decor victory (an eclectic conversation piece, made for our stylish convives), it's taken several more weeks to follow another nudge of inspiration.

Then yesterday I happened upon "The January Cure" (going on over at Apartment Therapy), in which readers are following a month-long series of home-improvement prompts. This late in the game (how many days till January's over?) I chose the easiest item on the list:

"Get A Fresh Perspective in Just 10 Minutes".  

The exercise involved little effort and won points for its noncommittal nature. To sit, stare, and dream a little... now that I could do!

This particular prompt required focusing on one "problematic" area in the house. In a lickety-quick decision, I chose the dreary corner of our bedroom, which, these days, doubles as my office.

I wanted to see change in this industrious area of our home, and here was the chance to do something!, yet, no matter how easy the home-improvement exercise was supposed to be, I resisted.

Sitting in my bed, staring at that corner kind of depressed me. How could anybody create a story in that lackluster space? And yet, for the past 5 months this has been my busy writing nook. 

My mood quickly lifted as I thought about all the stories I had, in fact, managed to compose, however uncomposed my environment looked! I'd written a story about ant invaders, a nouvelle about the little Provençal Christmas tree, I'd drawn, via words, a portrait of a homeless man... and, recently, a punk rock shepherd...I typed essays about hopes, fears, and elephant tears... 

In all, nearly 50 stories were created in this little corner on this creaky card table. Maybe it was time to honor it? 

My desk "before"

After perusing all the impossibly cool interior decorating sites, I realized it didn't have to take a lot of time or money or brains to improve a space....

Start by clearing it off! my inner-voice prompted.

Good! Now what are the colors that you love? (I love green and red... spirited, like Christmas!) 

Super! Now hurry through the house and find the materials!  But first, take a snapshot of the "before"...

This last tip, issued from the gut, was most helpful. It was by taking a picture of the area that I was able to truly "see" the extent of the dreariness--and to face it! Staring at that snapshot, I knew that any improvement, no matter how small, would make a big difference!

my desk "after"

Not 10 minutes later, and my desk was transformed!  To cover the old card table, which belonged to Jean-Marc's father, I'd fished an old tablecloth (or was it a sheet?) out of a drawer (Ever since we were given the engraved linen, as a cadeau de mariage, I have never been able to determine whether it was a drap or a nappe. One day, out of sheets, I dared use it. (...The day came when we were out of clean table cloths; I felt a little smug, then, using the "sheet"!).

In the entryway, I grabbed the new cushion with red stripes (the one bought half-price--4.99!... only, once at the cash register the saleswoman informed me that the pillow inside the case was not included, but cost the same price as the discounted coussin! The price switch didn't bother me so much anymore: for now the coussin would enliven my mother-in-law's rush chair!

In the kitchen I unhooked the bread basket (there were two) from the wall--it would make a cozy in-box....

On the way back to the bedroom, I carefully collected the prickly holly (a gift from Jean-Marc, who collected it as a surprise for me, while out on a bike ride).

I snatched up the little teddy nounours, a sentimental gift from Kate, from its place on the buffet.

And, last but not least, I lugged back the large Italian Valpolicella affiche. The poster was a gift from Jean-Marc's dear cousin, Audrey, and her boyfriend, Julien. There's a whole 'nother story behind the art work--or the framing of it (will save it for another time!...)

The various items, each with a history and all with a sentimental value, would make this little writing nook a warm and inviting place. And the upside was, I no longer had to look at the dismal corner, when lounging in bed, staring off into the distance, dreaming....

I might even find further inspiration, what with a pretty corner to gaze at! Admiring my work, I thought about how it didn't take much to fix up a place, especially when you focused on a little "snapshot" of a space. 

And though I could not compare my design project with those of the professionals, it did seem to have one thing in common with the pretty "vignettes"  laid out in glossy magazines: such spaces are often more fantasy than functional. Just like a beautiful party-dress, pinned together and hastily retouched at the last minute, the wearer will have to walk stiffly to pull it off.... 'else risk coming undone!

Eyeing the nifty new working space, with its newly pinned "skirt", the question, now, is where to put my legs?!


Update: I wrote the first story (today's) at my new desk. My legs are as cramped as a charm school girl... but the strict structure keeps me in line, I like to think...

To comment, click here. Did you enjoy the before and after photo? Did you ever wonder what my office looked like? Did this before picture fit that image? Could you work at a desk like the "after" desk? Share your response to this story, here.

French Vocabulary

Check back to the blog, where I continue to update and edit this post.

le convive = guest
une nouvelle = short story
le cadeau de mariage = wedding present
le drap (du lit) = bed sheet
la nappe = tablecloth
le coussin = pillow, cushion
le nounours = teddy bear, teddy
une affiche  = poster


Ever rented a car in France? Share your tips on car rental companies here, in our handy reader travel guide.

Mediterreanean Sea
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Exciting update: after the more boring improvements to our property (did I tell you we put in a new septic tank? and had insulation blown in-between the ceiling and the roof?...), we are grateful to the sensitive lumber jack, who took out just enough treetops to create a view of the Mediterranean Sea below. The water is silver in this photo, you may have to squint... but I tell you, the surface sparkles like the night sky, bursting with étoiles!

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.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

Hound dog French: Pronunciation practice with my daughter

bicyclette and shop in Paris (c) Kristin Espinasse
A charming shop in Paris

ricain(e) (ree-kah(n) ree-kahn)

    : American (slang)

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French lyrics to the famous song, below: Download MP3 or Wav file

Si les Ricains n'étaient pas là, vous seriez tous en Germanie. If the Americans weren't there, you'd all be in Germany. -Michel Sardou, French singer

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

Ricane English and Hound dog French

The other night I received an unusual request from my daughter. Standing in the doorway, her voice was soft: "Can we practice English?"

"Bien sûr!" I said, patting the cushion beside me. We've come a long way since elementary school days, when my kids would stop me at the gates of their école maternelle: "Please don't talk, Mom. Pas un mot!"  

What had been embarrassment has turned, over the past few years, into fierté. "I am so lucky to have a mom who speaks English!" Jackie acknowledged, entering my bedroom.

Seated beside me now, my 15-year-old is determined. "I want to pronounce my r's like an American!"

"Really?" I say, beginning our lesson.

"Weally!" Jackie smiles, happy to jump in.

"No, rrreally," I correct her. 

"WWWeally," Jackie tries again, clearly struggling. Funny how that R humbles both of us, Jackie in English—and me in French! 

"Not 'wheely'."A wheely, I point out, "is something you do to show off on your bike! Try again. Rrrreally... rrrraspberry... rrrrow... row row row your boat."

Jackie laughs. She doesn't recognize Row Your Boat, but the rhyme is funny all the same. My daughter repeats the words, impatient when I don't respond right away.

"Corrige-moi!" She pleads, reminding me of her summer plans. She'll spend a month in Idaho, at her grandparents', and she wants to lose her accent, rrrrapidos

"OK. Listen up: rrrred... rrrromania... rrrrachel... rah rah rah shish boom bah! " 

My student laughs. The pop culture reference escapes her, but silliness is universal, and that she gets

Enough silliness, Jackie reminds me this is serious business! She only has 5 months to learn to speak like a star-spangled ricaine!

"But you don't have to sound like an American. Everyone will love your French accent!" I assure her.

Jackie shakes her head, and the look on her face is slang for nothin' doin! "I need to learn argot, too!" my daughter adds.

Jackie's wish to conquer her thick accent and to speak street English reminds me of my own aspirations to sound like a native. As an American, I have always wanted to speak French like Jodie Foster! 

Jackie urges me to talk in full sentences now, for more repetition and comprehension.

"OK," I agree, wondering what to talk about.... 

"It is a gift to be bilingual..." I begin.
(Jackie smiles, as she repeats)

Encouraged, I keep the drill going, sneaking in a few affirmations... Jackie repeats each line: 

Speaking French and English will open many doors for me... 

I enjoy studying language....

...and math, too!!... (Jackie shoots me a sarcastic look, but is obligated to repeat my English words... Which reinforces my idea...)

I know that the more education I get, the more opportunities I will have in life...

I organize my school supplies.... And enjoy keeping my room tidy.... I make my bed each morning... 

Jackie shakes her head as she repeats the last sentences. "OK, Mom. Can we work on the r's again?" 

As we go through Roxanne, row row, and raspberry shish boom bah, I steal glances at my daughter, admiring her profile as she twists her lips, trying to find the American r channel. If she keeps twisting, she just might reach it! Her silky hair cascades off her shoulder in a fountain of brown and blond. "What is it you call that style?" I ask, referring to her recent trip to the hairdresser's.

"Tie and dye."

The tie and dyed hair looks great on her; but the brown-roots-blond-ends wouldn't work for me, though. I go to the salon to reverse that effect!

As Jackie struggles with the string of "r" words, I reach over and pat her on the shoulder, sweeping her bottle-blond ends aside.

"Don't worry, Jackie. I am incapable of pronouncing certain words, too."


"The French word for 'truffle'... Impossible for me to pronounce it!

"Vas-y! Let me hear you say it!"

I shake my ahead, ashamed.

"Truffe! Go ahead, say it!"

I can't! I can't say the word. To say it is to appear a fool in front of my student. To say it is to lower oneself below even the Parisian mud puddles. To say it is to eat humble pie.... To say it is to sound like a hound dog. I don't want to sound like a hound dog in French! I want to sound like Jodie Foster!

"Say it, Mom! Come on, truffe!"

"You really want to hear it?"




French Vocabulary

bien sûr = of course
une école maternelle
= preschool
pas un mot
= not a word
= correct me 

la fierté = pride
ricain(e) = slang for American
(m) = slang 

vas-y! = go ahead!
une truffe = truffle

Our daughter, Jackie
Our daughter, Jackie. Highlights à la "tie and dye" or "ombré" hair is all the rage in France at the moment.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape (c) Kristin Espinasse

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.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Green juice and Tomettes (c) Kristin Espinasse
Green Juice and Tomettes (tomettes, and not tomates!)

It's a rainy day in Bandol, a perfect morning for some pancrêpes. Instead, Jean-Marc and I are drinking green juice (this time with fennel--and it's dill-like leaves--bergamot lemon, ginger, pomme, and celery). We'll definitely have pancakes this weekend! Read on... Meantime, put your pancake tips here in the comments and we'll keep them in mind for the next batch!

pâte (pat)

  1. batter (mix), pastry; dough
  2. base (for pizza)pasta
  3. play dough
  4. pulp (wood) 

la pâte à crêpe = pancake batter
la pâte à modeler = playdough
la pâte à pain = bread dough

Expression: vivre comme un coq en pâte = to relax and enjoy life, to be very pleased with one's living circumstances, to be in clover 

Audio File
Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the words, above, and the sentence, belowDownload MP3 or Wav file

Quels sont les ingrédients pour la pâte à pancakes?
What are the ingredients in pancake batter?

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

"Would you like me to go to the store and get ingredients for pancakes?" Jean-Marc is standing at the door to our room, a best-husband smile on his face.

Pancakes? What a complicated undertaking that was for this quiet and cozy morning. Why couldn't my husband just grab a couple cups of coffee and return to bed?

Well, if he wanted pancakes, he didn't have to go all the way to town.
"But we already have all the ingredients here," I point out. The informative tone of my voice tells Jean-Marc he might have first looked for the flour! 

"What's the recette for pancakes, then?" 

"But why don't you just make crêpes?" I suggest, not wanting to get all involved in the process of baking. Jean-Marc is an expert at crêpes. Why did he need to complicate things?

"Because I want pancakes! How much flour does it take?"

I sit up in our cozy bed. So much for a do-nothing Sunday morning. Jean-Marc would need a recipe, and for that he'd need me to get up and start searching for a cookbook.

...Then again, there was that Jamie Oliver recipe, the easy-to-remember one. I liked the one-two-three quality about it, like the fool-proof yogurt cake... only which number corresponded to which ingredient? How many cups of flour? Was it 2 eggs? And one of what? All these thoughts made me begin to grumble. 

Jean-Marc's patience was thinning, too. "It's a simple question, no need to pass by Australia, South Africa, and Chile to answer it!

He always says that when becoming defensive! But it is HE who has complicated things by involving me in the first place! 

"YOU are the one who's gone all the way to Chile by leaving the kitchen and coming this far to make your pancakes!

Harrumph! Throwing the covers aside, I follow the globe-trotter into the kitchen.


Standing beside Jean-Marc and the kitchen comptoir, I'm in pyjamas, he's wearing a raincoat. We are looking into a large mixing bowl, wondering whether or not to double the recipe. Suddenly, I am very hungry.

"Double-le," Jean-Marc decides.

As soon as we begin, I notice my husband's casual approach to cooking.

"But you didn't measure a full cup that time!" 

"Don't worry. Ça ira."

Doubtful, I hand over the poudre chimique

"What are you doing with the baking powder?!" Instead of dumping it in the center of the farine, in the "well", or trou, Jean-Marc is shaking it, ever so daintily, across the top of the flour. 

"Just dump it! There, in the center!"

Rather than rush him through the egg and butter stage, I quickly crack and measure them myself. 

"Je suis désolée, it's just that I don't have a lot of patience for these things... and I can't help but want to control things."

"Oh, si! Yes you have patience," Jean-Marc says, sweetly, stirring the pâte.

"Don't over stir...," I smile. "...just enough to wet the flour!"


I watch our 15-year-old daughter eat breakfast. "They're a cross between pancakes and crêpes," she notes, admiring the "starburst" pattern, as well (a happy accident. Our old sauteuse it so scraped up that the batter formed little jagged edges all around. Sun cakes!)

"Do you like them?"


"It was your Dad's idea. Wasn't that sweet?"

'Mmmhmm.Where'd he get the recipe?"

"Oh... in Chile!"


To comment, click here. Looking forward to more pancakes this weekend... or maybe tomorrow morning! Any tips? For buttermilk pancakes, have you tried the replacement (one TB of vinegar? Does it really work?). What types of flour do you use? Bacon grease or vegetable oil in the pan? And pancakes sans gluten? 

French Vocabulary

(click on the highlighted words to view the entries)

une recette = recipe
une crêpe = thin pancake
double-le = double it
ça ira = it'll do
la poudre chimique = baking powder
la farine = flour 
je suis désolé(e) = I'm sorry 

Bonne cuisine madame angeLa Bonne Cuisine de Madame Saint-Ange: The Original Companion for French Home Cooking. Order your copy here.




Jackie and Jean-Marc playing cards (c) Kristin Espinasse
Father and daughter playing cards, over the relaxing weekend. See the grape-cluster above Jackie? That is one of the gifts Caroline made. Click to enlarge the photo. Click here to comment.


Photo of a cabanon taken in Tulette. Marie-Françoise was here yesterday. Touring our new stomping grounds, she said, "come see..." She delicately lowered the branch of an almond tree, quizzing us about what we could see.... BUDS! Could it be that springtime is around the corner? And buds in your neighborhood?

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.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

How to say "care package" in French?

Since becoming winemaker and majority owner, along with Thomas Bertrand, of Domaine Rouge-Bleu, Caroline Jones has few free moments. Yet, she took time out during her busy first bottling last week, to put together a caring package for a friend.  Read on, in today's missive.

Question: How to say "care package" in French?
Answer: I'm not exactly sure—but here are some ideas!: 

  • un colis suprise
  • une trousse de soins 
  • un paquet de soins

Now for ideas about what to put into un colis surprise? How about something sweet, something nostalgic, and something healing? (see examples in today's story, meantime, share some care package essentials with us here. I would love some creative ideas for what to include inside un paquet de soins. Do you have any good ideas about whom to give une trousse de soins to? Soldats and étudiants often receive them, but I loved this blogger's idea about who to make up one for: give a care package to a homeless person.

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc list three ways to say "care package" in French, and hear him read the following sentence: Download MP3 or Wave file

Rien ne dit à domicile aux militaires déployés comme un paquet de soins. Nothing says home, to deployed military, like a care package. (Note: example sentence, in French, taken from here).

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

"What happened to the shepherd?" Jean-Marc asked, after walking the dogs Saturday morning.

I'd been wondering the same thing. Though I hadn't seen the punk rock berger lately, I had heard him, on Friday morning, somewhere in the bleating distance....

I was typing up the brebis story, struggling to meet a self-imposed deadline, when I heard the sheep, bells-a-clanking. I also heard a host of curious code words and whistles, as the shepherd steered his flock. A nagging dilemma arose: finish my story on time... or follow the bleating cue and get up and go meet the shepherd to find out about the bells, whistles and more!

"In a year it won't matter whether you posted a story or not!" I debated, as I pecked at the keyboard, grasping for le mot juste... 


"I don't know... " I answered Jean-Marc, feeling a wave of regret for missing a second chance to deliver the shepherd his gâteau. And now the berger was gone.... and he never got his slice of homemade chocolate cake (worse, I ate it, along with the rest of the cake in the pan—and all the crumbs too!)

The cake may have disappeared, but the intention had been there all along.... even as I typed the last words of the story:

 Little did the berger know—and little do we all know—that out there, somewhere, someone is trying to comfort us without our even knowing.

I still believed those words, which were quietly intended to comfort readers. Typing them filled me with hope, too, and I couldn't help wondering whether someone, somewhere, might even be trying to comfort me, just as the shepherd's cake had? 


In the kitchen I was pressing and pinching the bottom of a Bundt pan, forming the remaining crumbs into cake balls and transfering them, sheepishly, into my mouth. Meantime another ball, of anxiety, was stuck in my throat. Apart from the berger, there were other souci, the kind that are difficult to put your finger on. How much easier it was to put a finger on a cake crumb!


"Caroline sent this back for you," Jean-Marc mentioned, as he returned home from Domaine Rouge-Bleu, where he had been helping the new owners with their first wine bottling.

Something sent back? For me?!

Jean-Marc handed me the colis, then went about the business lighting the fire, which had gone out when he left the day before.

I peered inside the boîte and saw two potted plants....

How thoughtful of her! I remembered telling Caroline, when she and Thomas bought the vineyard, that there were some medicinal plants in the garden. They were given to me, as ornamental plants, by the Dirt Divas; later on, I was excited to learn that the plant, euphorbia peplus, had healing properties. Coincidentally, is used to treat skin cancer!

When Caroline moved to Domaine Rouge-Bleu she said she would be happy to dig up the plants for me, but she cautioned me about self-medicating, "Please be careful. This is a toxic plant!"



I heeded Caroline's precaution, planting the euphorbia in our new garden as it was intended (as an ornamental... but one I will keep researching just in case...); each time I pass by the plant, it reminds me of the Dirt Divas and of Caroline, too. Regarding the extra plants Caroline sent back in her care package, she noted:

"I found these bigger ones amongst the vines when I was pruning. They look a bit winter-hardy, not sure if they'll grow well but thought it worth a shot!" 

From her words, it was clear Caroline would keep researching too!


Wiping tears from my eyes, I peered back into the box and discovered a bottle of olive oil. Caroline and Thomas's first press! As I studied the bottle, thinking about picking those same trees with Jean-Marc, the tears were replaced with chokes of laughter on reading Caroline's tip:

Go easy with the olive oil - it's not filtered so quite peppery (nearly choked to death when we first tried it - but it has softened with age).

The cloudy olive oil was just what I had been searching for, ever since learning that the fresh press (when it's still cloudy) contains the most health benefits. No worries about the peppery taste. I could handle the healthy punch!


The tender nostalgia continued... the presents too! I pulled out this one next, handmade by Caroline from the corks of Jean-Marc's wine. I quickly hung the treasured souvenir on the wall of the cozy entry, stopping to admire the stylish handiwork of the winemaker-crafter.


I thought about how hard Caroline and Thomas have worked since moving to our former vineyard--and all the improvements they have made in less than five months.

 They've gone through the whirlwind harvest (the pictures hint at the busy and joyful time), they have continued to renovate the farmhouse, to plant a vegetable garden--they have even completed their first bottling!--and they have designed a new and knock-down-delightful label (Do you like it? Be sure to let Caroline and Thomas know your thoughts about it, in the comments box!)


      Caroline and Thomas, toasting to our new adventure, here at Mas des Brun.

 In spite of all the hustle and bustle--including the recent wine bottling (indeed, as I type this, Caroline is finishing up the last of the mise-en-bouteille today!), this busy winemaker took the time to put together a thoughtful package, un colis de soins, for a friend.

                  Caroline, checking the old barrels.

Yes, of course, someone, somewhere, is trying to comfort us without our even knowing. And while I was anxiously pressing the cake tin, gathering the very last crumb, someone, at the same time, in a different place, was busy filling an old wine box with a thoughtful thing or two--for me... and why not for you?  


If you enjoyed this story then it's safe to say that the thoughtful package touched and comforted us all! To comment on today's story, click here. 


French Vocabulary

le mot juste = just the right word
le souci = worry
le gâteau = cake
le colis = package
la boîte = box
la mise-en-bouteille = wine bottling


There's a new vineyard dog at Domaine Rouge-Bleu... and her name is "Mirabel". Meet Caroline and Thomas's kitty.

Did you enjoy this post? Thanks for sharing it with a friend!

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.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Troupeau (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse
A troupeau of sheep grazing on another pasture. Photo by Jean-Marc.

la brebis (breh-bee)

  : ewe

Note: brebis (masculine) refers to the cheese

brebis égarée
= lost sheep
du fromage de brebis = sheep's cheese
une brebis galeuse = a bad apple, a black sheep, or a personne indésirable

Audio File:
(check back later for the recording)

Il avait eu une époque où il croyait que ses brebis pouvaient tout lui apprendre sur le monde.  
There had been a time when he thought that his sheep could teach him everything he needed to know about the world. —Paulo Coelho
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

The Lost Sheepherder

"The berger says we can have one if we want one..." Jean-Marc calls, from the next room.

"What's that?" I turn off the tap, and set down the greasy sauteuse I am washing. Straining to hear my husband, I wonder if he thinks these are bionic ears, the way he's always chatting me up from the other side of thick stone wall.

"I said he will give us a sheep if we want one."

Our own mouton? My mind conjures up an Arcadian scene. I see a handsome and friendly grazer roaming our land all year long, living amidst age-old olive trees, the stone borie, and a soon-to-be-planted vineyard. As much as I like the picture, I remember my neighbor's frustration with her own sheep and goat. Du soucis! du soucis!  she shakes her head, whenever I ask about the pastoral pests.

"Oh... I don't think that's a good idea," I call back to my husband. "We already have Smokey and Braise to look after...."

"The sheep the berger is offering isn't for looking after," Jean-Marc corrects me. "C'est pour manger!"

My husband laughs at my misunderstanding. "And by the way," he adds, "I read your berger story and those aren't moutons you are referring to... Ce sont des brebis!"

Brebis! Of course! How unfortunate--as it was just the word I had been searching for in order to avoid so many "mouton" references in my story. But more than a synonym, I needed to once and for all understand that mouton did not refer to all sheep... only mature male sheep! 

Oh what do I know? I don't know anything.... I often think of that memorable declaration, made by a dear (and now estranged) friend. I will never forget her lively demonstration, which came after I had complimented her on her wise and gentle mind. Rejecting the compliment, she reached up and began pulling wildly at her hair. Shaking her head with the help of her hair-gripping hands, she put the matter straight, I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING!

I often recall that scene, and the humbling truth behind her message. No matter how many degrees she held, or how many books she had written, and no matter how spiritual she was, she focused not on how much she knew, but on just how little she comprehended.

"You must be so cold!" I said to the berger, who stood outside our front door. In addition to his newsboy cap, he had pulled a hood over his head. On closer look I saw he was soaking from the rain! Beyond him, his Border collie looked like a wet sock.

The shepherd shook his head, étonné, and I realized that he was clearly unfazed by the harsh weather.

Duh. He was a sheepherd afterall! A nomad, an all-weather wanderer, not some sort of sunny day sissy. Besides, who was I to assume, and what did I know about his taste in temperature? Just because I couldn't stand the cold and rain, didn't mean others couldn't tolerate it. 

Standing beyond our doorstep, the berger was asking for some exact dimensions regarding the boundaries of our land.

"Attendez," I said, grabbing my raincoat.

Outside, I hurried along a muddy trail, trying to keep up with the shepherd. After pointing out the boundary lines, I was slow to return home. I had so many questions for the berger, but didn't know how to ask them.

I pointed to his dog. "Noushka? C'est ça?" 

"Non, her name is Mieszka," Like the first Polish king.

I gathered Mieszka was the shepherd's endearing queen. Having played the dog card twice, what else was there to say?
"So, do you make cheese?" I questioned, as we stood in the rain, a mob of brebis before us. 

"No," he laughed.  "Meat".

"Oh..." I said, wishing to change the subject, and feeling guilty for being such a hypocrite (not two weeks ago I had made côtelettes d'agneau for my son and me, to go along with the unpalatable chickpea fritters).

"You sure you aren't cold?" I asked, changing subjects.

 "My nose is freezing!" He laughed. I thought about how one of those cagoules would serve him, the kind of mask skiers... or muggers.... wear.

I stole another glance at the berger, who might have been an outlaw. You never knew. He had already reminded me of one of those nonconformist types, the keep-to-themselves characters who never want their picture taken. What were they hiding from anyway? Probably les flics!

I pushed aside the chattering in my untrusting mind. What did I know? I don't know anything! How many times had I pegged an innocent for a criminal? Meantime, it was the ivy-league types that were stuffing helpless women into the trunk.

I didn't have a warm ski mask to offer the innocent berger, but I could give him something for the rain....

"Hang on!" I said, dashing back home to fetch a parapluie.

Returning, I stood with him for a few more minutes, the berger directing the umbrella over me, and I directing it back over him. If he was going to stay dry, I'd better go home.

"Would you like me to bring you some hot coffee?" As soon as I asked I realized my mistake. 
Dumb question! Another lesson learned from the dear, wise friend, the one I lost after a swift falling out with her husbandDon't ask, just give! My dear friend never asked what I wanted, she handed it to me.

"Non, merci," the berger said politely.  


"The berger saga continues," Jean-Marc mumbled, and I stuck my head around the thick corner to listen to the news.

"Last night the sheep got loose and stumbled into the neighbor's yard, eating all the artichokes in the potager!"

"Oh no!" I felt terrible for the shepherd, who had spent the previous morning braving the snow, then the rain--only to face another harsh reality!

I decided to bake a yogurt cake, adding extra heapings of cocoa for comfort. With any chance, I could track down the berger and offer him something for his troubles. How, I wondered, did he find the time to shop? (Maybe he slipped off to the market, and that's when the sheep got loose?). And where did he prepare his food? And was he sleeping in that beat-up estafette?

Worried he'd soon be moving on to other pastures, I threw the cake, still warm in the pan, into the back seat of my car, and tossed the spatula on top of it. Next, I drove up and down the road, below, beyond where the sheep were grazing.

When I couldn't find the berger, it occurred to me that maybe he was napping under one of the olive trees. After all, it was l'heure de sieste. Did sheepherders doze?

I worried that if I got out of the car to pursue him, I might disturb him from a needed siesta. Then again, maybe this is where his trouble began earlier? Maybe he needed to be awakened?!

All these assumptions were getting me nowhere, and the truth was, I was too chicken to pull over and hunt down the berger

I returned home and took the cake out of the car, hoping to find the courage to try again next time. But my failure in delivering the comfort food was really getting me down.

And then a warm thought encouraged me....

Little did the berger know—and little do we all know—that out there, somewhere, someone is trying to comfort us without our even knowing.


Read more about the berger, in the previous story.

To comment on this story, click here. These stories are never finished, and I will continue to peck at the keyboard even after hitting the publish button. If you see any typos or have any questions, feel free to join the conversation in the comments box.



le troupeau = flock, herd

le berger, la bergère = shepherd, sheepherder (more here)

la sauteuse = frying pan

le mouton = sheep

la borie
= a dry stone hut, pictures here 

du soucis! du soucis! = nothing but worry!

c'est pour manger = it's for eating

la brebis = ewe, female sheep

ce sont des brebis = those are ewes

1-SHEEP PHOTO copier

The book cover that never was. (Click here to see which book covers made the cut!)

Did you enjoy this post? Thanks for sharing it with a friend!

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.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Cabane de berger (the shepherd's wooden hut) photo by the Neurdein brothers. Here we have a slumbering sheepherder with his border collie and german shepherd (is it?) minding the troup. (When Mom sees this photo, she'll ditch her latest treehouse scheme... in favor of this fort-on-wheels with a nifty sliding door! Mom has had a hard time deciding where to anchor, here on the olive farm. This just may be the answer!) 


un berger (une bergère)

    : a shepherd, or shepherdess

la bergerie = sheep pen, sheepfold

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence, in French: Download MP3 or Wav file

Le berger amène ses moutons dans la plaine. Cela s'appelle la transhumance.
The shepherd brings his sheep to the flatland. This is called "la transhumance".

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

A Modern Day Nomad

Returning home from the doctor's on Monday, we ran into a roadblock along our driveway. Dozens of sheep, great and small, were feasting on the grass beside the olive trees! 

They're here! Hurry, get their picture! I said to Jean-Marc, who got out of our car to check the mail. Hurry! Before they wander off!

Sheep (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse
                           (Jean-Marc's photo)

Having collected the courrier, Jean-Marc made his way up the crowded and bleating path. There were sheep everywhere: in the road, in the meadow, and in the trees (or nearly!). I watched, amazed to see the peaceful-looking animals rip off and devour the thorny stems of the bushes, enjoying them like chewy licorice sticks.

Driving cautiously in my husband's wake, I rolled down the window to get a better look at the troupeaux, which included several nursing lambs—agneaux—and even a few black sheep. I smiled thinking of their proverbial brothers and sisters (and a few of my own family members...).

As Jean-Marc advanced, a shepherd appeared on the restanque just above. The two men began a lazy conversation. I struggled to get within earshot, but it wasn't until the shepherd whistled—and a Border collie materialized—that the path instantly cleared of its four-legged traffic and I was able to pull my car over to the side of the road. 

Jean-Marc, interested in some free soil amendment for his soon-to-be planted vines, was informing the berger about which pastures belong to us, and which were the neighbors'. As the men pointed and stretched their arms, measuring the expanse of the pâturage, I stole a closer look at the sheepherder.

He appeared to be in his early thirties, an unusual age for sheepherders, who, once upon a time, were either the very young or the very old (deemed useless to the family for anything but watching sheep!).

History had changed since the down-and-out times of early shepherding; it wasn't likely that this modern day berger was a burden to his family. Shepherds these days earn a living and, from all appearances, made enough to afford a smartphone! 

Apart from the portable phone, I noticed the shepherd's tattered wooden cane, une houlette. It had the famous hook at the end, useful for freeing the hoof of a trapped sheep, one that has fallen from the path.  

The shepherd tucked his canne under his arm, pausing to roll a cigarette as he listened to Jean-Marc. He was no ordinary shepherd, wearing a newsboy cap and a punk haircut. His short locks were punctuated by a single strand of braided hair that signaled nonconformist. Come to think of it, weren't punk rockers noncomformists who aspired to be nomads? This shepherd was the real deal, a living, breathing wanderer.

"Tomorrow, I'll park on the other side of the field," the berger informed Jean-Marc, pointing to his  beat-up shepherd wagon. It was one of those classic Estafettes, the kind Jean-Marc's grandmother drove during WWII, as she peddled house linens to the Pieds-Noirs in Morocco. 

"Ça marche," Jean-Marc waved goodbye to the sheepherder, before getting back into our car.

I still hadn't had a word with the shepherd, though I was itching to know him. What a fascinating story he must have to share. But I had a feeling he was a private type—he reminded me so much of  my rebel sister-in-law. And though I had so many questions, (just as I had for her), I didn't want to put him out and, admittedly, I didn't want to say something stupid or square to someone so authentic.

But then, wasn't I a little authentic too? How many times had I let my perceived squareness keep me from befriending the nonconformists? But I wasn't so straight as that.  Gone were the perfectly made-up face and fluffy hair. With a bandaged nose* and, wearing a sweater with holes (my dear mom's, for comfort), I might pass for a bohemian, like him.

Before putting the car into gear, I stuck my tattered nose out the window. "Nice dog!" I offered, admiring the hardworking Border collie, and noble chien de berger. "Is she good at what she does?"

A smile now stretched across the nomad's face, revealing a row of teeth as wandering as his sheep.

"Elle est la meilleure!" the berger replied, his enthusiasm as endearing as his smile.  "If one of these moutons ended up on that far off colline (with this, he stretched forth his cane, waving it for effect), Mieszka (mee-esh-ka) would be there in a flash, to steer her home."

It didn't take much, after all, to connect with the mysterious nomad who was so different from this heart-on-sleeves homebody. I had thought I had nothing to say, and yet, venturing the question, I was rewarded by the friendly, universal connection.  

To comment on this story, click here. Keep the conversation going by sharing your own stories about connecting with people so seemingly different than yourself. And what about Border collies and the intelligence of dogs? Notice any other themes in today's essay?  Thanks for sharing your thoughts, in the comments box.

 *bandaged nose: the stiches from the biopsy were taken out on Monday. Good news: this time the results came back benign, and not bcc!

Read about Jean-Marc's grandmother in the story "bouder" (to pout). It was Jean-Marc's grandmother who gave me some of the best mariage advice, namely ne jamais bouder! Click here for that story and the scene of the grandmother peddling linens from a military supply vehicle....


le courrier = mail

le troupeau = herd

un agneau =lamb

le mouton = sheep (some fun & colorful "mouton" expressions, such as "revenons à nos moutons, here)

la restanque = a kind of terrace held by a wall of stacked rocks

le pâturage = field of grasses from which animals graze 

la canne = cane

le pied-noir
= French citizen who lived in Algeria before independence. The term included citizens, like my mother-in-law and her family, living in other North African countries, such as Morocco, during or after wartime.

ça marche = that'll work

le chien de berger = sheepdog, such as a Border collie

elle est la meilleure = she's the best 

la colline = hill


Gus was so suprised and touched by the messages you left him for his 88th birthday. Gus writes (in typical Gus "all caps"):


Gus is pictured, above, with daughter Mary, who is, Gus tells us, "MY ONE FLOWER AMONG FIVE SONS".

Daisies in Sault village (c) Kristin Espinasse
Marguerites in the lavender town of Sault. Has a friend forwarded you this post? Sign up, here, to receive French Word-A-Day in your in-box.

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.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

Mealtime and How to say "I'm full" in French

Mont Ventoux (c) Kristin Espinasse
A typical country lunch in southern France... read on, in today's story.

rassasier (rah-sah-zee-ay)

    : to satisfy, to satiate; (reflexive) to have enough, to be filled

Audio file: listen to Jean-Marc teach us three ways to say I'm full (and not "je suis plein"!):  Download MP3 file or  hear the Wave file

  1. Non, merci. Je n'ai plus faim.
  2. Non, merci. Je suis rassasié(e).
  3. Non, merci. J'en ai eu assez. 


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

  "An outward focus and an outstanding lunch" 

On Sunday we were expected at Yves and Roseline's house for le déjeuner. I thought to send Jean-Marc ahead without me, not wanting to distract the other diners with my bandaged nose

"J'ai l'air ridicule!" I assured Jean-Marc. It's just comical. How will the other guests keep a straight face?

"Why don't you just cut it off altogether?" he joked. I did not share Jean-Marc's sense of humor, which only fueled my frustration. That's it! No use hiding out at home, alone, with my husband's words ringing in my head!

Lunch at Roseline and Yves's was a welcome distraction. For the repas de chasse, we were greeted by six of Yves's black-and-white spotted hunting dogs, les epagneuls. Our gentle host offered a warm three-kiss welcome, before ushering us into the house, to sit beside the fire with the other guests.

Yves's wife, Roseline, appeared with the first of several apéritifs... Inside the little clear glasses, or verrines, puréed avocado held a layer of crushed, sun-dried tomatoes. Another tray included individual servings of pumpkin potage with a slice of foie gras on top of each mini soup. We used spoons to dip into the small serving glasses; meantime Yves poured champagne.... 

Also on the coffee table were three kinds of savory petits-fours: one of the buttery pastries was made into little feuilletés à la tapenade, another ( a kind of puff pastry cup) held fruits de mer in a creamy sauce. There were also little pancakes with crème fraîche and smoked salmon on top....

If we were going to finish lunch by 4:30 pm, we'd better get crackin'. It was almost 2pm when we switched tables, leaving the living room for the dining room. Roseline disappeared into the kitchen in time to fry up two omelets, carefully mixing in the truffles that were unearthed near the vineyard just outside her kitchen!

After the omelette aux truffes, Yves brought out his offering:


 Lièvre aux truffes. Yves caught the hare himself, and he and Roseline prepared it with truffles, foie gras, and cognac.

The other guests at the table teased the host, after a pellet was found on one of the diners' plates (I think it was Jean-Marc who pulled it out of his own mouth!).

"Be careful not to break a tooth when eating at Yves!" one of the table mates winked.

The four-hour meal continued... A plate of soft cheese, including Saint-marcellin and reblochon, followed, before two "kings cakes"—les galettes des rois— were delivered to the table, following the recent Epiphany celebration.

What with all the outstanding food, this bandaged nose hardly stood out.  What a shame it would have been to have missed out on a traditional country French lunch, surrounded by down-to-earth hosts and their delightful convives


Update: I return to the doctor's this afternoon, to have the stitches taken out, and to learn the results from this third biopsy. Many thanks for the positive thoughts you sent me! 



le déjeuner = lunch
j'ai l'air ridicule
= I look ridiculous
le repas de chasse = hunter's meal
un epagneul = English springer
un apéritif = usually refers to a drink, but can also refer to a snack, such as an amuse-bouche that preceeds a meal 
la verrine = a little see-through glass or cup in which one layers mousse or other savory or sweet "pureed things", topped or mixed, with non-pureed items, too 

le potage = a thick soup
le foie gras = a kind of pâté made of duck or goose liver
les petits fours = little snacks or hors d'oeuvres, made of puff pastry
les fruits de mer = seafood
la crème fraîche = sour cream
le lièvre = hare
un convive = guest (see the convive post, here, and hear the word spoken)  

Some of the Rhône wines that were served: Domaine la Soumade, in the village of Rasteau.

Domaine Rouge-Bleu, in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes.

Blossoming-cover-kdpBlossoming in Provence is the perfect gift for a traveler, Francophile, or language lover, and the stories, with their in-context French vocabulary, make learning effective and easy! Click here to buy a book, and thank you! 


The baronnies hills and landscape (c) Kristin Espinasse
I wish I'd gotten a photo of the lovely Roseline (always too shy to ask to take a photo of the hostess. Will work on this!). Here is a beautiful landscape picture, taken not far from their home. Notice the galets that surround the vine trunks. In the distance, the Baronnies is a favorite area for hiking, horse-riding, hang gliding, and cycling.

Les Soeurettes (c) Kristin Espinasse
A snapshot from the archives. Smokey's sisters "les soeurettes". Would you like to add a caption to this photo?


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.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

veuve de la vendange

Winter Cabanon (c) Kristin Espinasse
I wrote the story "crush widow" two years ago. Were you reading then? (Photo of a modern cabanon with its carpet of white flowers taken in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes. In wintertime, the old, leafless vines always look, to me, like upended chicken feet—as do all the pollarded trees.)

la veuve de la vendange (lah vuv deuh lah von danzh)

    : crush widow

Audio file: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French words below: MP3 file or Wav file

On les appelle "les veuves de la vendange", ces femmes qui "perdent" leur mari chaque année en septembre, pendant le ramassage des raisins. We call them "crush widows", these women who "lose" their husbands each year, in September, during the grape harvest.

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

I learned a new term last fall, while guiding yet another enthusiastic and brave bénévole out to the vine fields to help my husband, Chief Grape, with the work load.

"Yeah," said Eugenia, sympathetically, as she speed-walked (wouldn't want to keep the Wine Chief waiting!) beside me in well-worn jeans and a grape-stained tee. "There is even a term for it!" 

It must have been in the way I looked: a little desperate? I hadn't meant to show any evidence of exasperation. After all, the harvest and its flurry were over... and yet we were still soliciting helping hands to tie up any harvest loose ends. 

"The harvest just keeps on going... and going... and going... At first it was two weeks, then four, then six. We began this vendange eight weeks ago!" I told our latest helper, as we hurried out to the field, buckets and sécateurs in hand. (I would soon leave Eugenia with Jean-Marc and another volunteer, Jeffrey, in time to dash back to the kitchen and stare into the fridge, wondering just what to throw together for an impromptu lunch for the assistants. I didn't dare serve last night's noodles: a collection of scraped-from-the-kids'-plates pasta... fit for a close-knit family, but nowhere near appropriate for our volunteers! 

Huffing and puffing our way out to the field farthest from the house, Eugenia disclosed to me the well-known term used in the wine industry. "They call women like you "crush widows".

Crush widows! It was one of those aha! moments. So I was not alone in this very lonely state, the grape harvest, when vintners disappear from their wives and from the home and can be found somewhere out in the field or in the "cave" for the remains of the day. 

But what Eugenia didn't tell me was that crush widows don't suddenly lose their status—and regain their lost love—after the grape crush. No! They wear their vine veils on into winter.... when their husbands are busy juggling the sales of their wine, the accounting, the bottling, the PR, and the pruning of their vines!
Pulling into the driveway last night I stopped in front of the cellar and lowered my window. I was lucky to find Jean-Marc outside and not lost to the depths of his cave

"Want to eat early tonight?" I had in mind a movie on T.V., one we could watch after an early meal... 
"I'll be at the vintners' meet-up. Remember?"
"Oh... that's right! (How I managed each time to forget...) Do you want us to wait for you for dinner?"
"I don't know when I'll be back..."
Voilà, une petite illustration of the term crush widow, which could well be a song by Ani DiFranco. I'd love to sing it now, with a feisty French accent!

This morning I woke up and checked the pan on the stove. His portion of rumsteak aux champignons was still waiting for him. I imagined Chief Grape had filled up on crackers, olives, and nuts during last night's vigneron meeting. This was all he needed to do! Join another Cercle de Vignerons!!!
Just then, my inner "Fairness Mediator" cleared her throat in time to remind me of the thousands of hours that I had given to starting up a website and filling it with stories. I remembered the day when Jean-Marc marched up to my computer and mumbled something about all my time being thrown into cyberspace... and for what benefit?!
I could be patient with Chief Grape. I could learn, as he eventually had to, to allow another's dream, and to do so encouragingly. And for what benefit? As Ani says, for the joy it brings.

To leave a comment, click here. If you like, let us know which city you are writing in from.

Jean-Marc & Kristi Espinasse (c) Sophie Roussel Bourreli 
He loves me. He loves those grapes. He loves me. He loves those grapes!

bénévole = volunteer
la vendange = harvest (read about a typical vendange, here!)
le sécateur = pruning shears 
la cave = wine cellar
le rumsteak = round or rump steak
le vigneron = wine maker 
aux champignons = with mushrooms
cercle de vignerons = wine society
What Smokey looking for? Click here to share a guess. (It's not snowing here in the south, near Bandol. Photo taken in Sainte Cécile, where it snowed a few years ago!).
When you shop at Amazon, entering the store via any of the links below, your purchases help to support this free word journal at no extra cost to you! Thanks for keeping this in mind, next time you shop online. Here are some on my picks:
The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It
The Widow Clicquot. Highly recommended! Both Jean-Marc and I loved this book, and took turned yanking it out of each other's hands during summer vacation. Click to see the reviews.
Kissing Bench
A cozy kissing bench for the garden. I'm looking for one of these in France, meantime, for US readers, you can get one at Amazon!

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.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Alsace window (c) Kristin Espinasse
A stylish window in Alsace. I love decor... even if decorating intimidates me. Read on, in today's story.

le convive (kon-veev)

    : guest

Audio File: listen to me read the sentence below (I may have made an error, by not making a liason between "convives" and "étaient"...: Download MP3 or hear the Wav file

Nos convives étaient sous le charme de la bouteille de lavande tressée par Marie-Françoise.
Our guests were charmed by the lavender bottle, woven by Marie-Françoise. 

Blossoming-cover-kdpBlossoming in Provence is the perfect gift for a traveler, Francophile, or language lover, and the stories, with their in-context French vocabulary, make learning effective and easy! Click here to buy a book, and thank you! 

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

Dégage, Marthe! (Move over, Martha!)

After a spell of I suck at almost everythingespecially decorating and cuisine—it was time to snap out of it, to quit wallowing alongside the dust bunnies and get on with the art of living!

An opportunity quickly presented itself when Jean-Marc invited colleagues over for dinner last Sunday. Rather than panic, I looked around the house and realized that, with a few thoughtful touches, our guests could be both comfortable and delighted.

After warming up the foyer—using candles and books and extra cushions before the fireplace—I turned my attention to the dinner table... comment l'embellir? Table artistry is not my strong point, but did it truly take strength to arrange a pretty table? Bien sûr que non! It only took thoughtfulness.... 

I was thinking about flowers when it dawned on me that dozens of deep purple marguerites were blooming in our driveway!

The flowers automatically brought to mind a trio of ceramic "poire" vases that were, thank goodness, unpacked after our move!

I hurried to get the little pears, snipping une poignée of purple daisies, in passing....

"Never throw out your books!" Mom always says, "they're great for decorating!" Good idea, but could you use books as a dinner centerpiece?

Pourquoi pas! I sang, running back upstairs, this time for the extra books. The excitement of decorating carried me from room to room, searching for forgotten treasures; meantime those nagging doubts began to be buried beneath all the growing enthusiasm.

Voyons voir... I would need small books... don't want to take up too much space on the dinner table... A stack of missels came to mind. But wasn't that too personal? Too revealing? Too preachy? 

Who cares! Transparency = Freedom! Hallelujah! Let it all hang out! I grabbed the prayer books before taking the stairs, two by two, hurrying back to the dining room.  

While arranging the books and the flowers I remembered the lavender wand that Jean-Marc's aunt had woven for us, as a souvenir from our vineyard in Sainte Cécile (on moving day she and her daughter Audrey came by to help. Noticing that the lavender in the driveway had not completely faded, Marie-Françoise began harvesting several of the flowers....).

The centre de table was coming together naturally, nothing like the designing conundrum I had imagined it to be... and when the guests arrived the "little centerpiece that could" suddenly came to life!

"Do you know what this is?" our French convive asked our American convive as she held up Aunt Marie-Françoise's lavender wand. And so a conversation between strangers began....

Joining in the conversation with my convives, I tell them the story of the bouteille de lavande, how it was handmade by Aunt Marie-Françoise. Pointing to the colorful ruban that held the flowers together, I shared the amusing details of this particular lavender wand.

"You know those ribbon loops that are sewn inside women's sweaters... to help when hanging the garment?" I questioned my guests, whose faces began to light up in recognition.

"Well... one day it occurred to Marie-Françoise to cut out the satiny loops from inside each of her sweaters... She tied all the colorful ribbons together, to make one long variegated strand with which to weave the lavender wand!"

Just like the smooth fiber weaving in and out of those flowers, our dinner guests, former strangers, began to connect in time to enjoy a cozy dinner.

I realized that I need not panic ever again when it comes to creating a centerpiece. Create a story instead. Better yet, put out a few favorite items... and let the story write itself. 


Post note: After the dinner party, that centerpiece (pictured below) continued to give off meaning: there was the winemaker's theme that revealed itself (for the little porcelain pears were a gift from a Sonoma Wine makers, Jann and Gerry); the bottle of Domaine Maubernard was a gift from one of our French guests (who made the wine), and our American guests are our friends Phyllis and Tim at French Country wines!

As for the hallelujah books, that theme hasn't yet revealed itself... such is the mystery of heavenly things! 

 To leave a comment, click here. What did you think of Marie-Françoise's creative use of the satin sweater loops? Have you thought of a second life for some item? Does decorating intimidate you? Ever had a small victory, like me? Thanks for your comments.


comment = how to
embellir = to make attractive, to embellish
la marguerite = daisy
la poire = pear
une poignée = handful
pourquoi pas? = why not?
voyons voir... = let's see...
le missel = book of prayers
le centre de table = centerpiece
le convive = guest
la bouteille de lavande = lavender bottle (synonym for lavender wand, a hand-woven collection of lavender flowers, connected by a ribbon (see a picture of Marie-Françoise making one here)
le ruban = ribbon 




Hallelujah / lavender wand /wine centerpiece. Why not? Have another idea? Share it in the comments box! Also pictured in this photo, a second lavender wand--woven by Eileen in Charlottesville, VA. I love the French/American duo, between the French made wand and the American made wand. One more note: the little plate beneath the candle is a part of a plate set, left to us by Maggie and Michael. The plates come from a Swiss hotel that Maggie's father bought, once upon a time. Maggie and Michael left us several beautiful items when we bought their house, last fall.

Did you enjoy this post? Thanks for sharing it with a classmate or a teacher or anyone interested in French language and life!

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.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety