Hound dog French: Pronunciation practice with my daughter
Inspiration all around as a Frenchman talks about cooking, childrearing, embarrassing language gaffes, and writing... in today's entretien with Marc Levy

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 KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

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