une girouette - weather vane in French

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!

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.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety