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Entries from February 2013

So much for anonymity

Kristi and Jean-Marc Espinasse
 "This one's for you!" (pictured: that's me with the cake, my husband, right, gets all the wine around here--even when we lived on a vineyard, where wine all but flowed from the garden hose.)

A (Very Special) DAY IN A FRENCH Kristi Espinasse

Yesterday a delicate and meaningful milestone quietly passed. Waking up, I searched for a way to respectfully acknowledge the date, lest it pass as another ordinary day. Quietly walking out to the bedroom terrace, I looked around at the countryside.  As far as the eye could see, there was greenery: olive and almond trees, the forest, and the sea.

It was a relief to wake with a clear head and no regrets. Breathing in the morning scent, I closed my eyes. Now was the time. I offered up the simple acknowledgment, and thanks. There was a moment of complete and utter silence, and then seagulls cried in the distance. A train passed, blowing its horn. The neighbor's dogs barked. My robe sagged, and I reached down to tighten the belt. It was both an ordinary and an extraordinary day.

"You can take me to lunch," I hinted to Jean-Marc, both reminding him of the important date—and suggesting how he might help me to mark the occasion.

"How about with a big glass of cognac?" he chuckled.

"That is NOT funny!" No matter how many times I tell him that such jokes, given the circumstance, are in bad taste, he cannot help himself.    

"OK, then how about a six-pack?" my husband continued.

"T'es terrible!"

"I'm very proud of you," Jean-Marc assured me, planting a kiss on my lips. His tenderness provoked flashbacks of years ago, when I would discover little notes stuck in a book I was reading or in the pocket of my robe.

"Çela fait dix jours. Continue, Mon Amour... That makes ten days. Keep it up, My Love," the encouragements read, and "Trois semaines! Fier de toi, Ma Chérie! Three weeks now! So proud of you, My Dear!"

The scribbled notes were encouraging but had I foreseen the future, I might not have had the guts to continue on the new path, not knowing that some of the rockiest parts were just around the corner. The hand-written notes would stop. The sores would begin to open.

A decade has passed and I am still on that fragile path; despite all the setbacks, I have never once veered off track. And even if I wouldn't be celebrating the 10-year mark with a glass of champagne, I was looking forward to eating out with my husband.

Only, when my daughter ran up, asking to bring a friend home for lunch, plans changed. Five months at the new school, and she, too, had passed a delicate milestone: the courage to invite a new friend home!

Well, at least I no longer have to fret about what to wear to the restaurant! The positive thoughts continued as I set about tidying the house, and preparing for my daughter's special lunch.

But as I hurried to fix up the house for our important guest, I felt a familiar rush of panic. There won't be time to finish the cleaning AND to get the meal started. Recognizing the anxiety—that old foe that I could not cope with ten years ago—I was able to put a stop to it. No, there wouldn't be time if I insisted on a perfect outcome. But there was plenty of time otherwise!

What was important, after all, wasn't how the house looked or what we ate, it was how our guest would feel. I wanted Jackie's friend to experience that good and cozy and welcoming feeling and to leave with a desire to return! 

"Promise to come back and see us?" I said, kissing my daughter's friend goodbye after lunch.

"Oui!" came the shy response.

Noticing the look in the young lady's eyes it seemed a guardian angel was smiling back at me. If I had gone to the restaurant to celebrate and be pampered, I would have missed this heavenly encounter.

At the end of the day Jean Marc presented me with a gift. Gently tapping on the door to the bedroom, where I had been putting away a stack of freshly folded clothes, he curled his finger several times, signaling to me to follow him.

I was a little leery of whatever he was dragging me out to see. After polyester pajamas, discount branch shredders, and T-shirts I could never wear in public, I never knew what kind of gift was up his sleeves.

"Will I like it?" I asked, nervously, letting my husband lead me by the sleeve.

Opening the front door, I saw the little cherry tree posed just beyond the welcome mat, like a gushing guest. I looked closely at the delicate, leafless branches. The tiny buds were burgeoning.

"Congratulations!" Jean-Marc said. "I'm so proud of you!" 

The burgeoning continued, inside of me, as teardrops surfaced like the little buds of the cherry tree. Fragile as its branches, my sobriety continues.

Update: February 3rd, 2019, I celebrated 16 years of sobriety.

Golden retriever Smokey resting on the balcony overlooking the vineyard and hills

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens

Chapter 1: Positano, Italy - Summer 2002

Postitano, Italy. Photo by Annwvyn.

Chapter 1: Positano, Italy - Summer 2002

We must bear with ourselves with patience and without flattery.

I am sitting on the floor of a luxury hotel room, tossing potato chips across the parquet tiles to my 9-month-old nephew, Payne.  My sister and her husband are out for an early dinner, and I have offered to babysit.

With a squeal of laughter, Payne scampers across the floor to fetch another chip, pausing as he passes by a tiny glass flask. I casually reach for it, tucking the airline sampler bottle behind me and throwing out another chip to redirect the toddler's attention back to the game. I can think of no better way to pass the time; besides, this activity seems to be a hit!

I take a hit from the little glass flask, having twisted off the aluminum top. C'est l'heure de l'apéro, I reason, calling to mind my husband, who is surely having a glass of wine at this hour. And my sister and her husband would have sat down by now at the dinner table, with glasses of champagne. Yes, it was cocktail hour for everyone including me. So no worries!

Looking out to the balcony, I watch the sun begin to set along the Amalfi Coast. To the right, the hillside is peppered with spicy-colored villas ranging from pepper red to saffron yellow. A true artist would call it a "pastiche", but what did I know? Inside of me the poet's flame had gone out long ago.

Out in the harbor, yachts are swaying, very much like my steps as I stand up and walk over toward my bed. The sea breeze filters in from the open French windows, and I reach out to shut them securely before returning to my cot. I'll just have a little rest. Pitching the last potato chip far over to the curtains, I buy another moment of shut-eye as Payne sets out to retrieve the salty prize.

*    *    *

Waking to the sound of laughter I see my brother-in-law, Doug, through the slits of my eyes. He is shaking his head.

"She's smashed!"

"Doug!" my sister objects, silencing her husband. I watch as Heidi makes a beeline over to my bed. 

"Well she is. She's smashed!" my brother-in-law points out. He's had a few drinks himself, and is ripe for an argument.

Heidi ignores him, kneeling down to have a closer look at me. Strings of pearls glimmer as the moon shines into the room reflecting off my sister. She looks so beautiful in a colorful silk dress. Her bright red lips are quizzing me.

Instead of answering, I'm shoulding: I should wear color, instead of black. I should buy some red lipstick! I should not have drunk those airline samplers!

The scent of Shalimar, our mother's favorite perfume, tickles the inside of my nose. I should buy a bottle of Mom's perfume, too! I think of our mother, who lives an ocean away, in Yelapa, Mexico. We haven't spoken for ages. There are no telephones in the jungle.

"Why are there potato chips on the floor?" Heidi's tone is part curiosity, part impatience. Her wheat-colored hair falls down her back, in waves. Doug tugs on a lock of it as he walks past to open the window.

"Smashed!" he declares.

A brisk stream of air rushes in to the hotel suite. A storm is brewing on the horizon and giant waves coming in from the sea are capped in white.

Suddenly the scent of my sister's perfume and the salty breeze sobers me. I sit up in bed as my eyes dart around the room searching for my 9-month-old nephew!

Payne's diaper is peeking out from the curtains, where he has finally managed to reach the last potato chip. My brother-in-law bends down, sweeping up the giggly baby. Plucking a few soggy morsels from Payne's lips, he  offers his son a tender kiss followed by a mock scolding, "No more beer chips for you, Little Guy!"

"Not beer, it's vodka!" Heidi says, picking up an upended flask.

"Ah... Mother's Little Helper!" Doug chirps.

My brother-in-law's "drink teasing" always makes me wince. But it was true, after chasing children all day, I found it extremely relaxing at night to have a glass or two of wine--until I discovered vodka.

My stomach began to knot as I looked over at my sister. I hated to disappoint her and her husband, after they had generously offered me this retreat. And here I was tossing chips to an infant! It was so ironic, so out of character for me, the mother who insisted on nursing her own son for over a year. And to think, when friends so much as offered a fingerful of whipped cream to my own son, I freaked out. Only mother's milk would do for 12 month old child! But potato chips for my sweet nephew?

I heard my brother-in-law in the bathroom, changing Payne's diapers. His words echoed my thoughts:

"Mother's Helper! Your aunt had a little bit of Mother's helper tonight," he sang, tossing the diaper in the trash. Next he reached for a towel to begin cleaning the potato chips off the floor. He was more amused than angry. Payne was okay, he assured me. No harm done.

But what about my sister? What must she be thinking!

Looking me in the eyes Heidi shook her head and I felt my heart sink. That was it. I'd done it this time! I should have stayed home.

Heidi plucked up the bag of chips, reaching in, ever so gracefully, for the last one. Tasting it, she shook her head once again.

"Italian chips suck," she said, reaching over to ruffle my hair. "Couldn't you have at least bought American?

 *    *    *

Postnote: Ultimately, I decided not to go forward with the memoir.  Here are two posts that hint at why:
1. L'Enjeu est Grand (The Stakes are High)
2. Le Piege (The Trap)

Chapters: click on the following links to read the other episodes

Let goThe opening quote, from the French 17th century thinker Fenelon, is from this book that gives me so much comfort and direction.

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens

mener a la baguette

New roommates in 1993. We are eating in Place Thiers, just off the Vieux Port, in Marseilles
Courtship at La Cloche à Fromages restaurant in Marseilles. The year was 1993 (the handwriting is my husband's). Little did I know the adoring Frenchman, was really the authoritaire Frenchman! But that is only my side of the story. According to him, I'm the bossy one. What's sure, is neither of us has a lot of patience. Read on.

mener à la baguette (meuh-nay-ah-lah-bah-get)

    : to boss somebody around

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

La femme qui porte la culotte mène sa famille à la baguette. 
The woman who wears the pants bosses her family around.

Improve your French pronunciation with Exercises in French Phonetics. Click here. 

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

The Taming of the Shrew

A nice, hot cup of tea was calling me Friday evening at the end of a busy week. I had just put the kettle on the burner when Jean-Marc rang, asking me to come film him at the newly-cleared terrain down the road, where he will plant his mourvedre vines next year.

Reluctantly, I switched off the gas burner and went searching for the caméscope my husband gave me for my 45th. Finding  it with Jean-Marc's affairs, I shook my head. Some birthday present!  Next I searched for my keys, the ones my husband is always displacing after borrowing my car. Having shot through the house, upturning every nook and cranny, I finally found the keys but was now boiling like the tea kettle should have been, the one that would not be filling my cup anytime soon!

Coming to a screeching stop at the foot of the future vineyard, I saw my husband through the cloud of dust I'd  just kicked up. He was at the end of the muddy field, sowing soil-amending cereal. It occurred to me that before I put on my galoches, and slopped all the way over there, I better double check the camcorder. 

Zut de zut! The memory chip was not in its place, just like my car keys weren't, earlier. The frustration of it all! It was enough to make a wife ... write!

"More grist for the writing mill," I grumbled, burning my tires on the way back out of the field. An attitude adjustment was on the horizon but, busy spinning my wheels, I just hadn't caught up to it yet. 

The next time I returned to the parcel, I had the caméscope, the inconvenient chip, and my daughter (who I collected in the interim, as school was letting out at the same time).

Jackie was now ducking in the passenger seat, horrified as busloads of her peers streamed past our roadside parcel, where a man and a women stood flapping their arms.

Jean-Marc (flap! flap!): No! You need to stand over there and aim at this way!
Me (flap! flap! flap!) : YOU are telling me how to take a picture? But I know how to make a video!

Our daughter wasn't embarrassed so much about her expressive parents as she was about word getting out that she lives on a farm. No matter how many times I tell her that people in Paris and London and New York--along with all the stylish kids at her school--dream of swapping fashion and design for mud and chickens, she won't believe it.

Looking around at the mud and the arm-flapper facing me, I'm beginning to wonder if I still believe it? 

"Stand over there!" Jean-Marc clucked out his orders.
"What? You want a busy street for the background of your video?" I huffed. "Well HAVE IT YOUR WAY! If it were me," I sniffed, "I'd MUCH rather see a field of ancient olive trees in the back ground!" 

As I stomped across the muddy field, following my husband instructions, Jackie shouted from the passenger seat, "Can we please go?! J'ai honte!

"Tais-toi!" Jean-Marc and I clucked, flapping our arms at each other, and now at our daughter, who ducked as yet another school bus passed. I was just as embarrassed as Jackie was, for aside from the buses, carloads of locals drove by, gawking as they got a closer look at the new, spirited landowners.

Back home, I put the tea kettle on the burner and was on my way to change into my pj's when the phone rang.

"Chérie..." Jean-Marc began, in his sweetest voice. "You are right, the video would be much nicer with the olive trees in the background... "

Back at the parcel, I waited for the wall of dust I'd once again kicked up to clear.... when it occurred to me that I ought to check my camcorder. Had I put the chip back in after uploading the previous video?

Zut de ZUT!!!! 


Comments Corner

This post continues here, in the comments box. Ask a question or help by answering one. Share a story or give feedback on today's episode. Thank you for enriching this journal by your own life experience. Click here to leave a comment or to read one.



My It girl, 15-year-old Jackie, whose plan is to lose her French accent and sound more like a ricaine. Click here if you missed that story.

French Vocabulary:

le terrain = ground, field
le caméscope = camcorder
zut de zut = well if that doesn't beat all!
j'ai honte = I'll die of embarrassment! 
les galoches = mud boots
tais-toi! = shut up!
chérie = darling 


Has a friend forwarded you this post? Receive your own copy of French Word-A-Day - click here to enter your email address in the sign-up form.

Exercises in French PhonicsExercises in French Phonics is... 
" a great book for learning French pronunciation" 


The cherry or almond blossoms are budding here in Bandol... though this photo was taken back in Ste Cecile, some time ago...
In 1989 I quit selling girdles and came to France, mistakingly thinking I was at least as strong as the "drawers" i once sold. Click here to read the story (and to see the "before" picture of this kitchen!)

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens

parler en public: video of my talk + bribing Shakespeare and Company bookshop

Speaking upstairs, at Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris

Best tips for speaking in public--share them (or see them) here in the comments box and help those who plan to give a speech in the coming year!

Photo, above: A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to talk at Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris, in 2010. See the right-hand corner of the screen, where the video camera captured a part of the speaker. The video follows, after today's story column.

Today's word: parler en public 

    : to speak in public 

Audio file: listen to Jean-Marc read the French words, below Download MP3 or Wav file

La bouche sèche, les mains moites, des sueurs froides, et la voix coincée ou les balbutiements--le trou de mémoire--adieu, maintenant, la peur de parler en public! Dry mouth, clammy hands, cold sweats, the voice that's stuck or stammering--the mind that draws a blank--good riddance, now, to the fear of public speaking!


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

Reader Debbie Ambrous wrote with good news: after publishing her first book A French Opportunity (available in paperback or Kindle), she will present it to a live audience! Only, like 99 percent of the population, Debbie is uncertain about her upcoming presentation. In her email, she asks if I have any tips for her presentation? 

As someone who has passed out (twice) before a live audience I'm not sure I'm the one to answer Debbie's question. So I am asking readers, now, to please share helpful public speaking tips--and pointers on how to organize and prepare for an upcoming talk--here. Meantime, I will tell you about a very positive public speaking experience with you. The following story was written three years ago....

* * *

Désaxé refers to a "mentally disoriented" person. It also means off-centered. I might have been both on Monday night, while speaking before an audience in Paris. Instead, I did not feel the familiar disorientation, at least not mentally. There was calm, peace, and deliverance on the day of my discours

Oh to be delivered from the chains that bind us!
 Troubled and tortured no more! Free to enjoy daily life without the nagging nerves that keep us from the present moment, detached from those oft-crossed connections that cry feed me, fill me, comfort the out-of-control me.

By grace I have been set free in other areas of my life and so recognized the miracle on Monday night. And it didn't even matter that my body trailed behind, still smarting from injuries of times past. As my skin sweat, as my nose ran, as my hands searched for a place to rest behind the mic and the brightly lit stand... my mind juggled, with ease, enough inner conversations to amuse even Docteur Freud et Cie.

There, in a second story arrière boutique packed with books and book lovers, I stood. My back to Notre Dame, which lit the rippling River Seine below, I looked out over the hushed room, far as my blurry eyes could see. That is when that proverbial pin dropped, giving volume and clarity to the clatter of voices within me.

Untroubled yet astonished by the mind's ability to juggle, I listened to the handful of conversations in my head... and marveled at how words marched out of my mouth, by memory.

As my speech continued to deliver itself I tuned in, now and then, to the other speakers within. One of them was saying: You need to wipe your nose. In about thirty seconds it will drip, you have another twenty seconds to talk, but, I'm warning you, get ready to pull out that Kleenex in your pocket.

Another voice, busy taking account of the number of frozen faces in the room, went like this: they look so serious. They may be bored. Yes, the audience looks bored! Get ready to bifurcate at the next paragraph... Lighten up, speed up, or perhaps a joke? No, don't take the risk. Steady goes...

Meantime, the first voice reminded, Okay, time now to search for that Kleenex. Perhaps you can turn your head, toward Notre Dame? No, that would be even more conspicuous. Why not use your scarf? Just act as if you are drying your sweaty brow.

A third voice suggested: Indeed, you are going to look very bad wiping your nose. This voice was dismissed by another, which argued, You'll be horrified if it drips! It is okay to wipe your nose.Blow it if you have to!

While one voice monitored my vital signs and another, my speech—getting all my memorized points across to the audience, a fourth voice monitored the obstacle course beneath me: Careful not to trip over the mic cord, it said. Keep your lips close to the mic, but don't burn your chin on the light bulb, just beneath.

Kristin Espinasse

If the look on my face was one of amusement and delight, the video camera (there on a bookshelf to my right) was sure to be capturing it all. I would later learn that the captured image was completely désaxé (with the sweaty speaker all the way to the right of the screen. Looking at her, I watch her wipe her brow, her nose. I watch as she runs her hand through her hair. I watch as she takes in a deep breath before stepping up to the mic, at which point she nearly steps off screen. It doesn't matter that her body has not yet caught up with her mind. Off-centered or désaxé, she is doing, after all, just fine.

(The following clip begins with an explanation on how I managed to book a talk at the famous Parisian bookstore.... If you cannot see the video, below, click over to the blog to view it. ) 


Le Coin Commentaires
This story continues in the comments box. Share tips on public speaking. What do you do to calm your nerves? How do you prepare for an upcoming speech? To snack or not to snack before walking on stage? I found it helpful, when seized with jitters, to reach out to the audience; asking them a question is a great way to diffuse all the bottled up nerves (see examples in the video, above)--and the plus is that all attention is temporarily redirected to the audience (in time for the speaker to catch his orher breath)! Thanks for responding to this post, by leaving your comment here.


Related stories:
"Ange" - about George Whitman's passing, and meeting this beloved character for the first time.



AmaLegro ship
Jean-Marc and I are hosting the AMA Waterways Paris to Normandy cruise on this ship, the Amalegro.  More information on this November getaway, here in this brochure.

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens