How to say snack in French?
il parait + video interview on French TV

mailbox in French + mailbox photos!

French mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse boite aux lettres

One of the dumbest things about moving to France is leaving your sister behind. Today, mine celebrates a birthday and I won't be there to take her picture as she blows out her candles. But with any luck she'll have received the funny postcard I sent which brings me to the theme of today's missive: mailboxes!

la boîte à lettres (bwat-ah-letr)

    : mailbox, letter box

also boîte aux lettres

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

Today is my sister's anniversaire de naissance and I'm looking for a way to surprise her. I went through my photo archives, searching for a picture of Heidi, when another idea came to mind: put today's letter in theme with all those beloved mailboxes that I have captured over the years.

For the care packages and heartwarming letters found inside, the mailbox is the perfect symbol of thoughtfulness, which is just one of my sister's many qualities—for more, read on....

fleur de lis and butterfly bush (c) Kristin Espinasse
When I moved to France I was lazy about keeping up with the holidays we loved to celebrate as kids. I didn't realize how meaningful some of them were to me until a package would arrive in the mail bursting with colorful heart candy and "Be My Valentine" cards—the ones we used to swap as kids after Mom bought them at Bashas or Walgreens or at Metrocenter mall. 

For Easter, Heidi would send packages full of jellybeans, the bright colors and original flavors (peanut butter!) sent me right back to my American childhood, where my sister and I built forts and tree houses and castles in the sky... or at least imagined them from the top of the old shed where we ate our jellybeans while gazing at the clouds above us, dreaming about our enchanted futures.

beehive mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse boite à lettres fait d'une ruche
(Jean-Marc made our beehive mailbox when he tended bees back at our vineyard)

When I finally made it to college (on probation) I began to have doubts as graduation approached. What could I do with a degree in French besides go on to grad school? Yes! I would go on to grad school, then to super grad school. A masters then a Ph.D!

On learning about my plans, my down-to-earth sister had a memorable pep talk with me: You can't make a career out of school! 

Without Heidi's encouragement, I might still be writing my thesis instead of this "thrice-weekly" column from France, where I moved instead of into a graduate dorm (at Thunderbird School of Global Management... Not that I would have ever passed the entrance exam!)

boulanger mailbox and "plus de pain" (c) Kristin Espinasse boite à lettres chez le boulanger
Look at the French handwriting on the "no more bread today sign" in the baker's window. The pretty cursive reminds me of Heidi's neat penmanship, which is as unchanging she is. (You know what they say about lovely people: don't ever change!)

I once had the surreal experience of judging my own penmanship. When I say surreal, this is because I was in the unusual position of objectively seeing the writing. It happened one day when I noticed a card on my mom's nightstand and, reaching over to read it, I was struck by the untamed handwriting. The cursive leaned forward or backward--sometimes the letters were straight up and down. No two "e" were the same. The Y's had curly tails on one line, on the next they were uncurled.

"Whoever wrote this is a little flaky!" I remember thinking, dubious about Mom's latest admirer... when next my eyes fell on the signature. It was my own.

(I'm against handwriting analysis, as you can sympathize. Though I do believe my sister's handwriting--flowing, elegant, structured--happens to hint at her personality.)

hidden mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse boite à lettres caché

Continuing on with the bits and pieces about our sistership, I will never forget our New York trip, around 2006. I was excited to meet with my first editor, at Simon and Schuster! My sister and a group of ladies met up with me to celebrate. I wanted to blog about our girls getaway, but I worried about privacy. Heidi is a private person, I told myself. She will not want me to post her photo or talk about her.

So I made up my mind to post about other parts of that NYC trip... and to this day my sister teases me: "Remember that time you went to NYC all by yourself? she snickers, referring to the fact that I did not post one photo of our girls group (and there were some FUN pics to be sure!)

Her light-hearted comment made me realize how I tend to assume that people are one way... when really they might be completely different! I thought I knew my sister through and through; instead, I continue to learn about her each time we spend time together.

municipal mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse boîte à lettres municipale

 What else did I want to tell you about my sister (no, that's not her there on the right), now that I  know I can dish out the goods? Just kidding, Heidi! Your secret's safe with me. Not that you have many. If you did would you tell me? Of course you would! I'm your sister! (a blabbermouth no more. That was then. This is maintenant!) 

...That brings me to French. Heidi spoke it first. (She took writing first, too.) That makes me a copycat, which is a little sister's birthright!

Sack of potatoes mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse boite à lettres sac de patates
If mailboxes were people this one would be me. I think Heidi would agree. I may live in France and my life may seem glamorous but inside I'm still that potato-bellied little kid. I ate all the Dolly Madison's. I ate all the bologney sandwiches. I ate all the Pop Rocks. You did all the dishes after preparing the sandwiches and letting me have the last Hostess Cupcake. You still make sure everyone's got something to eat. 

mailbox in tree (c) Kristin Espinasse boîte à lettres dans un arbre
Second-to-last mailbox photo... time to bring this birthday tribute to a close...

Here is one of your biggest fans. Jean-Marc is always asking, "Have you talked to Heidi? How is Heidi? What's new with Heidi?" It's true. We all are fascinated by your life. That makes you a rock star (and we, the groupies). 

... I was going to say "guppies" instead of groupies and I'm smiling now, thinking again about the good old days when I would catch guppies and you were the groupie (Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin). Remember when Mom burned your Stairway to Heaven album? Afraid we'd receive subliminal messages!

Sacré Mom. She did the best she could. Looking at you, I'd say she did an amazing job.

With lots of love, and wishes for a Happy Birthday. I love you, Heidi!


French Vocabulary
un anniversaire de naissance = birthday
sacré = sacred, almighty ("sacré Mom" in this story is used in this sense: "You gotta appreciate our mom!" or "what a character Mom is!" 

 Marseilles mailboxes (c) Kristin Espinasse boites à lettres marseillaises

Mailboxes in Marseilles.

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Karen Bates

This is lovely I miss those wacky post boxes it was wonderful to see your pics. My mad (English) neighbour mounter her obligatory green one on a rusty old stove in her field which was secured by fraying bungee straps, wish I had taken a photo of it now!
Happy birthday to your sis,

Lesley Bosley

I always enjoy your photos - and the 'letterboxes' are great
- best wishes,
Lesley from Oxfordshire, England

Linda R.

Joyeux anniversaire, Heidi. I'm glad Kristin shared you with us for a day.


How lovely to see people express themselves in such a delightful way! No utilitarian, dull letter boxes in Provence. Happy birthday to Heidi from Maryland, USA, land of the dull mailbox.

Chrissy Heyworth

I second what Linda said. I feel as if I have been allowed into a special relationship here. As the oldest of 4 girls, you can imagine that I too have some sister memories like yours. Joyeux anniversaire, Heidi, and good job, Kristin, with the feel good message for your sis. The mailboxes are the frosting on the cake.


I loved reading this story. Happy birthday to Heidi. I think you both share a wonderful bond. (I always wanted a sister.)

Nancy,                     Cambridge

Well, the first item on this little sister's daily list is to go post a birthday card to her big sister, so she receives it by April 1! Thanks for the wonderful reminder...

Lana, Omaha Nebraska

I am always amazed at how you can take an ordinary subject that goes largely un-noticed and make us really look at it. I think that is the what makes an artist. They make us really look at something we see but never really notice or think about -like mail boxes! How fortunate Heidi is to have such a wonderful birthday tribute from a sister who loves her. Thank you for sharing with us.

Tom - Jersey City

Your tribute to Heidi was beautiful and made me think of my own sister, Linda, whose birthday is also today. We sadly lost her to cancer 2008. She and Heidi had a lot in common.

Priscilla Fleming Vayda

Bonjour Kristin. Love both the writing and photo illustrations of the mailbox piece. Good job as I tell my grandkids! And happy birthday to your sister. Thanks for sharing the sister stories; I am the oldest of three so I can relate to your thoughts, but from the other side. Sometimes being the oldest is a drag; I am considered bossy as I was the one mother always sent out to get the gang in the house! I am now 80 and they still kid me about sibling order. Keep up the good work and please keep sharing with your devoted readers. Priscilla of La Nouvelle Orleans

Susan Dautel

Loved today's post and post boxes! And this little sister is lucky to have just made arrangements to drive down to see her big sister for an April birthday (nice to be on the same continent). It's a 5-hour drive, but she's so worth it. And the gift: a day helping her clean her garage! She cleaned mine on a visit to my house, and I thought sweetly of her every time I pulled my car in. Happy birthday to your Heidi and to my Kathy! Susan



I have so many images of you tucked deep within my mind - all of the grace and beauty you brought along when you arrived long ago to be my first born child. I will spend this day in rememberance of all you brought into my life - and perhaps later on I will come back with a few stories that will make me laugh and you cringe. You were a tough one to raise - too much like your own mother and grandmother in so many wonderful ways. And of course we must not forget your great-grandmother Nell who perhaps was the one who started us all down this path we seem to travel. Adventure runs deep within our souls - and you are now back on that path once again - I see it now radiating throughout your spirit. Hang on - I see you flying once again into the future that is full of joy and blessings. I love you Honey - you have always been my 'Star'.

My deepest love to you -


Kristin Espinasse

Tom, so sorry you lost your sister to cancer. Heidi does the Susan G. Komen cancer walk, yearly, after our Moms experience.

Lana, thank you for that thought. If Joie and Ruth are reading--I saw your notes in Mondays post and was super encouraged thanks!

Mom, just saw your comment. Cant wait for Heidi to read her birthday wishes. Keep them coming and happy birthday to the March babies out there.

Jan Francis

Happy Birthday Heidi, this is going to feel like a very special one since you will receive greetings and good wishes from all over the world! Sounds as if you have some exciting
plans for the next year! All good wishes,
JanF Bellingham WA

Barbara Langston

I loved the mailboxes! And, my husband and I live in Fountain Hills for 8 months of the year, Boston the other four. In 1983-84 I attended Thunderbird and it was the perfect education for my love of international travel, business and intrigue. I'm not sure you would have liked it so much - not many Frenchmen!

Herm in Phoenix, Az

Salut Kristin et tout le monde,

Having met your sister a couple years ago at the Phoenix FWAD meet-up, I can say with confidence that Heidi is “one charming gal”!!! Happy birthday, Heidi!

The citrus blossoms are out in Phoenix now and the fragrance is awesome!

À la prochaine

Julie from Edinburgh

Happy birthday Heidi. Aren't sisters wonderful. I too have a big sister who is all the things I would like to be. Great photos Kirstin. We don't have mailboxes here in Scotland. The mail just comes through the main front door. I prefer the french boite aux lettres. prolongs the intrigue of what's in the mail.


un anniversaire de naissance IS TO birthday
Kristin IS TO Heidi


Happy Sisters
Happy Days
Happy Mom
Happy Readers

Jean Lillibridge

Love the pink shirt on Jean Marc

Gwyn Ganjeau

Man, Kristin, you are so good at sharing the love. and once again you gave us the opportunity to do it as well! Happy Heidi Day, Heidi! I may just go buy myself a cupcake to celebrate!

Sue Lennox

Happy Birthday, Heidi!


OK Kristin, I know I am nitpicking, but the photo of the window of the boulangerie - I read the cursive as "Plus de Pain", not "Pas de Pain". Am I mistaken?? What am I missing?





Hi Kristin

Liked the photographs, as usual. Small typo: 'dummest', should be 'dumbest'.

Diane Young

Happy Birthday, Heidi. Hope your mailbox has good things in it. With email we don't get as many greeting cards in the mail, but I hope we'll still get slow mail, as it's always a pleasure to open a paper card from a friend or relative on our birthdays.
Thanks, Kristi, for all the mailbox photos. Congrats on having a super sister.


Joyeux anniversaire, Heidi. It would seem that Kristi had a good example to follow. And imitation is a high form of flattery. I enjoyed the recitation of shared memories as a lot of them evoked similar ones of mine, albeit without the joy of a sister who would understand (two younger brothers just didn't get it, much of the time).

Cassie Alexandrou in Dallas, TX

Happy birthday Heidi. Through your sister's beautiful writing, I feel as if I've gotten to know you just a little bit.

As for the mailboxes....leave it to the French to have mailboxes with personality!


Heidi, may your special day be as colorful as your Kristin's mailbox pix - and filled with treasures of the heart! Thanks Kritstin, for writing this wonderful peek at some treasured moments in your growing years together.

Richard Williams

Happy Birthday Heidi! Your sister is a "nut", but that is in a nice way! Love her writing. Too bad she couldn't come to the U S with Jean Marc on the wine trip.

Edie Schmidt


Here's a happy birthday wish for Heidi. I just called my younger sister Sara to wish her a happy birthday so I know all about the importance of sisters! I'm the middle of three and we all try to get together for summer family reunions. We've been pretty faithful considering the fact that we don't live as close to one another as we would like.
But I can't imagine a world without my sisters and it's always a treat to get a letter from them!

Edie from Savannah

joie blair

Happy Birthday Heidi. I also am the older sister, however I think she is more like you, and me like Kristin. You showed your sister how things were to be done, and I showed mine how not to do them.
And now Kristin with camera in hand I am about to set out to photograph the mailboxes of Carmel. Even though the Postal service sets standards they are not followed around here.

Bruce Taylor

These are lovely photos, Kristin. Thanks for sharing. One of Yerda's favorite photo subjects is door hardware. France has wonderful examples.

Looking forward to see Chief Grape in Seattle on Friday. Yerda's in SF securing her long-stay visa for the summer so I will carry our banner.

Bruce and Yerda from Rival

Bruce Taylor

Forgot the main reason for this message! Happy Birthday, Heidi.

But where's a photo of Heidi? I'd love to see the birthday girl.


Bon Anniversaire, chere soeur de Kristin!!

Christine Allin

Happy Birthday to Heidi! As a mother of two
daughters in their 30's, I love reading Kristen's sister stories...and especially the loving mother messages from Jules. What
fun you must all have when you are together!

Mailboxes...when I lived in France in the "60's in two different houses, both had
mail slots in the front door. What would that be in french? (I never even thought about it!)

Christine Allin apologies for spelling your name with an "e" Kristin! I should be more careful as I often deal with people trying to correct the spelling of my last name by replacing the "i" with "e".

Kathleen from Connecticut

Happy birthday Heidi....and I hope that you get actual. real birthday cards and not just the email ones. Unfortunately, I too have resorted to using email cards when I am too late to send an actual card though the snail mail.
Unfortunately here in the US they are trying to decide if we will keep Saturday delivery of mail. So many people are doing everything on line that there may not be a use for MAILBOXES. I hope that this does not happen. Your photos are great and show the variety of mailboxes in France. There are probably not the regulations about height and so forth which we have here. And then we have all of those kids who get such a charge out of smashing mailboxes.

Glad to get to know your sister....what a great relationship you have with your family.

Kathryn Duchene

We who have, or have had, sisters are very lucky. I know I have been. Thank you for sharing your sister with us! Happy Birthday Heidi!

Vicki, San Francisco Bay area

Happiest of birthdays to you, Heidi! I hope your day is filled with blessings! It is a blessing to have a sister who loves you so much and remains close, in spite of the physical distance. My own sister lives in the same state as me, yet we are emotionally estranged. I'm sure you treasure your special relationship. It's an intangible gift of much worth!

Lynn at Southern Fried French

Hi Kristen, aren't you lucky to have such a sister. Happy birthday Heidi! I feel like I know the whole family now.
And as to your previous post with the cute window photos---I know that window in Gigondas! I've photographed that house many times, it's creative in a slapdash, unintentional way.
Hope the brave new memoir is progressing well.
gros bises, Lynn

catherine polinard

I hope you have a wonderful birthday, Heidi.

Bill Facker

Beautiful messages from both your Sister and Mother ... You are a lucky woman, Heidi. Happy Birthday! And from a fellow Aries .. RAVE ON, FIRECHILD, RAVE ON !!!

Kristin Espinasse

Nick and David, thanks for the helpful edits -- enjoying every birthday wish that everyone has taken the time to wish Heidi. I will call her soon, and let her know about her surprise :-)

For those who asked for a picture of Heidi, here is a favorite one (scroll down to see it):

and Herms note reminds me a few more here, in the Phoenix Hike post:

Frederick Roberts

Mailbox edition. Fine indeed!


Our dear Kristi,
What a beautiful tribute you wrote to Heidi!
You two truly give meaning to "Sisters are forever friends"!
Happy birthday,Heidi! May God grace you with all blessings!
Love, Natalia XO

Claudette Kunsay

J'ai beaucoup aimé ces photos de boîtes aux lettres. C'est un joli présent pour ta soeur Heidi. You are so lucky to have your sister. I had two sisters and I lost them. We were very close and always had lots of fun together...I miss them everyday. Alors profitez bien de vos moments partagés. I do wish "JOYEUX ANNIVERSAIRE" to you Heidi, celebrate well. Wishing you to realise your dreams...
Bisou, Clo

Stacy ~ Sweet Life Farm ~ Applegate, Oregon

Joyous Birthday Heidi! I hope you are enjoying this day in celebration of beautiful you!

What a lovely tribute, Kristi, so very clever and caring. I simply love the mailbox theme. I got a good giggle upon seeing, once again, the mailbox Jean-Marc created out of the beehive. I also laughed at your handwriting comments. One story came to mind I’ve got to share as it is right in theme. I adored the writing of my best friend who I met in high school. She said she copied my handwriting, though I remember it was me copying hers. For years, we sent each other cards and letters many times a week, even though we lived within an hour of each other. She was living at home during college when this custom brought some confusion to her dad --- he couldn’t figure out why his daughter was writing and mailing letters to herself! I still say her handwriting is the prettiest and she still says it looks just like mine (which changes, much to my frustration, all the time).

Thank you for sharing your sister's birthday and your sweet memories with us.

N Vandenberg, San Antonio, Texas

Happy Birthday Heidi! Thank you for sharing this family bond with your readers. Truly lovely.


Wishing your lovely big sis Heidi a wonderful birthday!!

Dana (San Antonio, TX)

Bonjour Kristin!
I really enjoyed today's blog, Heidi sounds like a wonderful sister! And your tribute to her was jut lovely!

Bon anniversaire Heidi!

~ Dana

Dana (San Antonio, TX)

I meant to say "just lovely". Sorry about the typo. :)

Marianne Rankin

I've seen a few really interesting mailboxes, some of which look like little houses. My favorite is one that looks like a flying fish: the fins spin when the wind blows.


Happy Birthday, Heidi! ! ! :) Such colorful mailboxes! Thanks for such a lovely post, Kristin!

Karen from Phoenix

Happy Birthday Heidi. Hope to meet up with you soon.


Bonjour! I am totally new to your blog, but I am already quite enchanted. Happy birthday to Heidi.

Eileen - Charlottesville, VA

Hi Kristin,
Nice tribute to your sister Heidi! Love all the photos of the mailboxes.

Mara in Wisconsin

I am sister-less, but so grateful that my two girls have each other!

To address the question about "plus de pain" rather than "pas de pain," this is short for "Il n'y a plus de pain," "There isn't any more bread." They are sold out, but the shop may still be open to place an order or pick up pastries if this is a boulangerie/patisserie combination, as some are.


Your post really struck a chord - as someone who was once told 'your writing makes a pretty picture but doesn't communicate well' I sympathize. My writing has been much like yours, except everything in mine is a sharp point, e's, n, m, r, s ...
I also got a degree in French (et un séjour à Besançon) and intended to go to Thunderbird. Life intervened. I have two lovely daughters. And I am finishing my second graduate degree (LIS, not French). Merci a vos postes.

Carolyn  Dahm,  Sharon, MA

Joyeux Anniversaire Heidi! You are one lucky lady to have such a wondeful sister and it sounds like she's been extra lucky to have you as well. Wish I had a sister!

Hope you had a wonderful day Heidi and received some good snail mail in your box.

Kristi-thanks again for a precious story. LOVE the mailboxes as I've always had a thing for mailboxes and letters. One of my resolutions this year is to write letters more often as I love giving and receiving them. You've inspired me to start! I have a PO Box right now so unfortunately no charming mailbox. Someday....

Have a great day Kristi and I look forward to Friday's post.

Madeleine Dobronte

I loved these pictures of the mail boxes. It was so enjoyable. Thank you.

Peggy Bruns

It's so timely you mentioned buying cards at Bashas. I just read in the AZ Republic that Eddie Basha died the other day.

Judi Boeye Miller, Lake Balboa, CA

It is so lovely to see how much you honor and appreciate you sister, Heidi! I lost my dear sister, Debbie, in 2003 and am today in the throes of cleaning out the garage and shed of all the old 'collectibles' and 'momentos' and it's been heart wrenching, filling me with smiles and tears, reliving the wonderful moments again, and yet saying one last 'good-bye' to her - trying to decide what 'things' to let go of and what to keep... Sisters are very special and I'm so glad to read your beautiful tribute to yours - even miles away, I'm sure she is always near and dear to your heart! xxoo Judi

Brian Landauer


Thank you for one of the best birthday tributes I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Ironically, I just read it to your sister (who has been so busy over the past two days that she never saw the blog). Tears everywhere...well done.

Kristin Espinasse

Brian, so happy to see your message! Very touched you read Heidi her surprise - I could not have imagined a better or more meaningful delivery! Hugs to you both.

Kristin Espinasse

Judi, just saw your message (for some reason these comments are not showing up in my mailbox, where I usually read them). Sending bon courage and warmest encouragements as you sort through these lovely memories and decide what to keep. 

Judi Boeye Miller, Lake Balboa, CA

Thank you so much! I had a little 'fall down' this afternoon and your words helped me to pick myself up again - and continue on! Sorted all the crystal today. Making headway. Thx! Judi

Nanci E.

How lucky to meet Heidi,her husand and Jean Marc's nephew on the eve before her birthday at the L.A. wine dinner. You have a beautiful family.


Not to be a critic, but it's BOLOGNA, NOT BALONEY

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