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Entries from March 2013

prendre sur soi

A cozy abode in a fishing village at the end of Marseilles. This homeowner must enjoy the occasional foray at the home supply store - look at the brightly painted façade and the neat house number and the well-hung plaque. I've always been impressed by people who know how to drill! I can't even get the @#*! nail in the wall without making a crack in the wall... and then the nail just sits there, dangling (or sticking its tongue out?). More "home improvements" in today's story column.

prendre sur soi (prahndr-sur-swah)

There are several definitions of this term, such as se retenir (to hold oneself back) or even to se faire violence (to work hard at containing oneself) but I really like this extended definition:

une compréhension d'autrui et développant un fort sentiment d'empathie. An understanding of the other person and developping strong feeling of empathy.

...for this is exactly what we ask of each other, when we suggest that the other prend sur soi or have the kind of patience needed for a certain circumstance. (The above definition was taken from the book Football: Planification et l'entraînement  Par Philippe Lerou)

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

Yesterday Jean-Marc and I managed to honor a self-imposed deadline for gathering all the materials needed to renovate the kids' rooms. The project has been looming for months and, left to me, would have been put off for another year or more... Then came the realization that Max is turning 18 in May. He could fly the coop at any moment. And if Max couldn't benefit long from the renovations--my Dad could (he and my belle-mère Marsha arrive in June, and will borrow Max's room)!

Jean-Marc was right, we needed to get this phase of the renovation completed assez vite! The kids' floors--no matter how much I loved the old, tomette tiles, were cracked or sunken, the showers were old and leaky, and the ceilings were warped here and there. 

Jean-Marc suggested we buy all materials in one place. If we went to Castorama, he explained, and opened an account, we could get 10 percent off the first purchase! The challenge was finding everything we would need in one efficient spree....

The idea of shopping for building supplies with my husband ranks at the top of the list of stress factors--somewhere between moving houses and giving birth. Each of us gets quickly worked up over the smallest detail and soon we are stomping off in opposite directions, Then YOU do it! echoing in our wakes. But there was no time for a meltdown yesterday; if we lacked patience we would just have to grin and bear it or, as the French say, prendre sur soi--restrain ourselves. (A quick prayer wouldn't hurt, either.)

Walking through the parking lot toward the giant building supply store I noticed the sign with the store's cutsy motto (echoing part of the store's name): C'est castoche! (castoche being a play on the argot term "fastoche" or "easy to do").

Entering the store, I thought of a motto of my own: not castoche but casse-tête! Renovation was nothing but a headache! But any cynical thoughts that traipsed across my mind quickly tripped and fell over the moment I saw the man in the wheelchair. 

Suddenly, the room before me came into focus. I noticed all sorts of people in the same boat as me, only some did not have the luxury of navigating the crowded store aisles on two feet.

After Jean-Marc and I had picked out the wood floors (and shared a look of relief and excitement for our progress) my back was so sore I had to sit down in the kitchen display aisle. Resting on a bar stool I watched a young lady carrying a squirming two-year-old. Her husband walked beside her, arms free. In another 15 years she'd feel like me if she didn't hand over her child and rest her own back! But it wasn't her posture that stole my attention, it was the calm expression on her face as she checked her supplies list. Yet another silent cheer, if she could do it so could I. I hopped up and searched for Jean-Marc, who had told me to meet him in the bathroom aisle.

In the salle de bains section our mission was to choose two shower units (base, doors, fixtures); I looked up at the giant display with yet another dozens of choices. Due to size limits, our options were quickly narrowed down to sample A or sample B. Easy-peasy! We were now on our way to choose bathroom tiles.

Again, the Great Wall of What To Pick? I stared at the range of colors and textures. We'd be stuck with our choice for a decade or more so we'd better choose wisely!  I remembered the elimination technique and went to work: No sparkly purple tiles, no pop-icon tiles (sorry, Marilyn!), no dated 80's dated tile ... Jean-Marc and I settled on a neutral color and took a small risk with the frieze, which included some industrial numbers stamped here and there. Kinda cool! we thought. (Then again, the couple choosing the psychedelic tile might have been exclaiming those same words. Maybe our taste was as bad as theirs? How could we know?)

I recognized some of the bathroom tiles I had chosen over the years, as my eyes perused the tile displays. Different life seasons, different tastes. Though I wouldn't go back to those tiles of yesteryear and in the future might wonder "what was I thinking?" (regarding this choice), it didn't matter.  Here is where we are today - the choice is ours. Get off the fence and choose.

Like this, and with the help of all the unknown shoppers who unknowingly spoke to me, we made it through our dredded shopping trip.

On the drive home Jean-Marc smiled at me. "5 hours later and we are still married!" he pointed out.

Had we really spent that long at the home supply store? Without arguing? Wow. We'd come a long way! Now to keep our cool when our home is buzzing with workers and dust and drilling next month.... 


French Vocabulary

assez vite
= quite quickly

la tomette
= kind of rustic country tile, often octagonal in shape

c'est fastoshe
= it's easy

la salle de bains (or bain)= bathroom


  Cat and trunk

Hanging pots... Remember macramé? It must have been all the rage in France, too. This delightful scene took place several years back, when my friend Barbara took me to visit a cheese farm in Tarradeau. I thought the farmer had such style and a nack for decorating. The chèvre cheese was good, too!

Pronounce It Perfectly in French - with exercises in sound discrimination and accurate sound creation. Order your copy here.


Steps (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Steps". Some people have such a knack for bricolage or do-it-yourself home projects. These whimsical steps were spotted in the town of Nyons, during a stroll with my mom or my mother-in-law. Memory fails me, and so does bricolage. But one can always exercise--both memory and creativity!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Weather vane or "une girouette" (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Cat on a hot tin wire." Girouettes are a works of art and if you look closely you will discover characters, even dramas! Photo taken a few years back in Pernes-les-Fontaines.

une girouette (zshee-roo-et)

: weather vane, wind indicator

être une vraie girouette = to be capricious, fickleto be a weather vane (as changeable as the weather)

une girouette d'affichage = destination indicator. (You know those digital tapes or screens that run along the front of a bus, telling which direction the vehicle is headed? Those are called girouettes, too! girouettes d'affichage)

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

Yesterday morning I waffled back and forth like a rooster beneath a falling sky. My hair flew up, twirling around me, as I retrieved fallen laundry from the clothesline. I snatched a dried sock from the rosemary bush, some underwear dangling on an olive branch, and a T-shirt that had flattened the patch of newly-bloomed anemones. As my eyes scanned the countryside I was thankful the wind hadn't carried off the laundry any farther. I looked down into the muddy dog run, no towels had ended up there this time (it was vacant. Braise and Smokey were safe inside the house.) 

The girouettes are spinning this morning as a violent wind continues to sweep through the Mediterranean. Residents in Marseilles have been asked to empty their balconies, lest objects fly off landing on the streets (and the citizens) below. Certain roads along the littoral are closed because of the risque de submersion, or threat posed by the giant waves coming in off the coast. Even the scenic route des Crêtes, (taken last week, when I went to collect my bodyguard) is off limits.  

"C'est infernal ce vent!" Jean-Marc grumbles as he gets out of bed to batten down the hatches. I watch my husband pull the wooden shutters closed locking them with a metal latch. Certain volets are old and warped and won't shut completely, as evidenced by the darkening patch of sky peeking in.

Jean-Marc isn't sure his gesture will make a difference.  "C'était peut-être pas la peine."

"Yes, it's good, it's good," I assure him, a little spooked by the wind after an exceptionally creaky night. Earlier, when Jean-Marc got up in the middle of the night, he left our bedroom door open. I listened as it creaked back and forth, eventually slamming shut on its own. The windy rafales are so strong they are blowing right through the tiny spaces between the window and door frames.  

"What kind of wind is it?" I ask Jean-Marc.

"Un vent d'est," he answers.

"Yes, but what is it called?"

"Un vent d'est..."

I was hoping for a colorful name--like a Tramontane or a Sirocco or even the ubiquitous Mistral.  But with or without a name, my mind could still conjure up a colorful memory.

I thought about the times the cold Mistral was replaced by a warm vent d'est, how it would blow through Sainte Cécile, where we lived in a 300-year-old house with loose roof tiles. When the windy Sirocco blew through I would tell the kids to put their hands over their heads as we entered or exited the mas. I was always so afraid one of those tiles would come crashing down on our heads, after hearing about flying-tiles, or tuiles-volantes.

 We eventually had the loose tiles refixed, but I never lost the habit of throwing up my hand to cover my head. It's a handy tip to keep in mind when navigating the windy corridors of France, where the charming old buildings are the slightest bit menacing on a day like today. 

Oh dear, I hadn't meant to leave you on a discouraging note, so I'll end with a new term I learned this morning, a synonym for "au revoir"--and a welcome addition to our list of ways to say goodbye in French:

Bon vent!


French Vocabulary

c'est infernal = it's hell

le vent
= wind

C'était peut-être pas la peine
= maybe it wasn't worth the trouble 

une rafale
 = gust of wind

le vent d'est = east wind

le mas = old Provençal farmhouse

bon vent
= goodbye (literally "good wind" - a term used by sailors, to wish someone a safe journey) Note: when expressed with an agressive tone, Bon vent changes meaning (instead of goodbye it means good riddance!)

Smokey medal
I'm still sans ordi--or computerless--after my PC bit the dust Monday morning. Without any photo archives to illustrate this post, I had to swipe a few pictures from Google (no copyright worries--I photographed these pictures and used them in a post about a French cheese shop. Not that a girouette or a dog have anything to do with that, either. Read the short, cheesy story here.)

Max, our 17-year-old, will have two grains de beauté suspects, or "suspicious moles" removed today. The dark spots on his back and side appeared "smeared" or "shadowed". The doctor is not worried, but prefers to err on the safe side. How about you -- have you had your spots, moles, and questionable growths checked lately? What's keeping you? Maybe it is time for a prise de conscience.

To comment on any item in this edition, or to see the comments, click here

Exercises in French PhonicsExercises in French Phonics is... 
" a great book for learning French pronunciation"
"useful and practical"
"high quality material, good value for your money" --from Amazon customer reviews. Order your copy here.

51Qckm1DSfL._SL500_AA280_I Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Jacques (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Primroses, stuffed cats, and other this's-n-that's." More than a few things are off today, including this photo which I am unable to straighten or edit - given that my computer crashed this morning. More, in today's missive. (Photo of my brother-in-law, Jacques, who has spent the past two weekends with us, helping to fix the upstairs ceilings. Click image to enlarge it.)

amour-propre (ah-more-prohpr)

    : self-esteem, self-love, self-worth; pride

blesser quelqu'un dans son amour-propre = to be a blow to one's ego

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

I am getting a kick out of the French definition for the verb vexer: être offensé dans son amour-propre or "to have one's pride offended". I don't know, French definitions always sound so dramatic to me and this is only one of the reasons I love foreign language.

But vexer, that may explain my response this morning as I stood in the kitchen in my purple pjs tucked into orange ski socks chanting positive affirmations for the beginning of the work week.  (This was after I realized I was incontinent and before I discovered my computer had crashed, and the reason for which I am typing this post on my son's keyboard. I have to crane my neck to look up to the screen, which is placed on a shelf next to a bong. A BONG?!...)

But back to my story, lest I lose the courage to work in these unusual surroundings. Back to hurt or offended pride... yes, I was standing there in the kitchen, tissues stuffed in more places than my pockets, psyching myself up for another Monday, when my son stumbled into the room.

"There is nothing to eat in this house!" Max lamented.

I begged his pardon, for there was always something to eat in this house. When was the last time he skipped a meal? Besides, I said, reaching for the bread bag, there was brioche! (I quickly peered into the bag to verify the brioche was not growing green fuzz on its back. And even if it were (which, ouf!, it wasn't) would I be the first parent in the history of the world to have plucked off a spot or two of green fuzz before thrusting the miserable bread back at her child?).

Pourquoi je ne peux pas manger le petit déjeuner comme tout le monde?" Max complained.

"So you want to follow the sheep?" I countered. "And do like everybody else does? Be numb to your own decision making? Well, a good box of GMO flakes will help you with that! And you can buy it with your own money!"

Meantime, I pointed out, there is brioche or oatmeal or yogurt or oranges or bananas for breakfast. With that, I grabbed my tea and tore out of the kitchen.

To the young man left holding the bag of brioche it must have been quite a sight, that of a pride-hurt mama stomping off in big orange ski socks over sagging purple pjs and a faux fur vest (snapped up from my daughter's giveaway pile—the extra layer almost keeps me warm). 

I am nothing if not a mix—of new and used, thoughts and things, stuffed tissues. I do the best I can. At times I make do. And sometimes, just sometimes, I wish others would too.

French Vocabulary

ouf = phew

Pourquoi je ne peux pas manger le petit déjeuner comme tout le monde? = why can't I eat (a normal) breakfast like everybody else 


game of boules (c) Kristin Espinasse
My brother-in-law and Jean-Marc taking a break from repairing the ceilings in the kids' rooms. 

    => How to properly pronounce French words? Read "Exercises in French Phonics"! 

Front porch (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Front porch". The woody branches of the almond tree (left) and the fig tree (right) are coming to life, though you cannot see the little leaf buds from this far.

Re that bong I mentioned (you were wondering, weren't you?). What I saw on Max's desk was not a bong. Find out what it was in the first few paragraphs of this story, click here to read it.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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"Lawn Chair (c) Kristin Espinasse
We lived and worked on this organic vineyard in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes from 2007-2012. (See today's story column for a special memory about that time). Jean-Marc will be in SEATTLE soon, check out the latest stop in his USA wine tour, here.

le gazon (gahzoh(n)

    : lawn, grass

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's French word as well as the list of terms, below: Download MP3 or Wav file

semer du gazon = to plant grass
la motte de gazon
= turf, sod
le gazon anglais = an immaculate, well-kept lawn
le gazon artificiel = AstroTurf
la tondeuse à gazon = lawnmower
tondre le gazon = to mow the lawn

Le gazon est composé de nombreux brins d'herbe.
The lawn is made up of many blades of grass.  "Gazon" entry at Wikipedia

Cultural Etiquette & Synonym for gazon (= pelouse)

Ever noticed how a finger-wagging Frenchman will appear out of nowhere to begin chasing you while you walk--and now dash!--across the municipal grass? This was just one instance of culture shock I suffered when moving to France.

But how was I to know the grass was off limits? Back in Arizona, we throw blankets across public lawns and nap on them! Not something you want to do in France (though, as with French grammar, some exceptions do exist).

Please share your France lawn story or grass gaffe here,  in the comments box. Meantime, if you see a sign that reads Ne pas marcher sur les pelouses or Pelouse interdite or even Nos pelouses centenaires sont réservées pour les petits oiseaux (our centuries-old lawn is reserved for the little birds)... you'll know to keep off the grass!

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

Today's story is a favorite memory about a struggling-yet-determined Frenchman, who in 2006 set out to live his dream of wine-making. In the short essay "Surrogate Mother" or Mère Porteuse, you will learn about Jean-Marc's fierce mothering instinct and his tender beginnings as a wine farmer of 25,000 orphaned vines. Click here to read the story.


Smokey's Field (c) Kristin Espinasse

Pictured: our former kitchen. Though I never learned to be a grand chef, I could whip up a delicious, easy yogurt cake - and so can you! Click here - I'll bet you already have all the ingredients in your kitchen.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice