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Entries from January 2014

Champagne party & Kristi's book signing in Paris + mystery man

1-1-ann and kristi book signing

I realize most of you can't drop everything and jet over to Paris, but if you happen to be there already I would love to meet you! Feb 6th at 6:30 For more info RSVP at  

Now about that mystery man mentioned in today's title. I need your help to tell his story! So please read today's column and let me know how I may improve it!

First, today's word. Forgive the simplicity and obviousness of it, but often what is easy on the eye is exquisitely complex inside.

une plante (plahnt)

    : plant

 Audio File: Download M3 or Wave file and hear our son, Max, read the following sentence

Qu’est-ce donc qu’une mauvaise herbe, sinon une plante dont on n’a pas encore découvert les vertus ? What is, therefore, a weed, if not a plant for which we still haven't discovered its virtues.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

Thank you for responding to my note about the recent setback in my book project. I heeded your words, took a breather and let my book angels Erin and Tamara work their magic. With the wave of a wand, Erin ordered me to shoo!, or allez zou!, while she and Tami got to work: "Go turn on some Bob Marley…” Erin ordered, via email, adding with a smiley face, "Don’t worry…bout a thing…cause every little ting…is gonna be alright…” : )

Now that the book angels had my back once again, I was free to consider a needed addition to the manuscript: attribution! 

FE front-revised

The book might have gone to print and you wouldn't even know who the model was on the cover! This wasn't the only pépin, or glitch to my book release. I still needed ask my accidental model for permission to use his photo. My sneaky picture-cropping gesture, designed to protect his privacy, had its glaring weaknesses: that plant for one, a dead giveaway! Though some of you--during the book cover vote--mistook it for a stack of letters (interesting how the painted mailbox, located center picture, played tricks on your minds!) the plant was an obvious clue-in as to who is the well-known village figure on the cover.

To understand why, I'll need to take you back to the summer I moved to Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes. My husband was embarking on his wine adventure, having found 9  hectares of vines to tend. As Jean-Marc set about discovering the terroir, I discovered our new village.

The Plant Man
It was at the Saturday farmers market that I first laid eyes on Monsieur Farjon. I was mesmerized. There he was, two, three fruit stands away from me--standing at the head of the outdoor produce aisle chatting with a farmer.

1-sainte cecile mars015

Looking at this photo today I smile, shaking my head seeing that even then he was handing out plants to the locals, expounding on (just look at his passionate gestures!) the organic treasures that could be found along the gutter or in the weedy field relegated to the electric company or beside the busy roadway leading into Sainte Cécile. Sadly, most of the villagers regarded him as an eccentric. 

This made the man all the more endearing in my eyes. Almost as attractive as that bike! If there are two things in this world I love it is antique bicycles and strong French characters. But a new realm was soon to open up to me and with it, a third thing in this world to love: plants!

I did not approach Mr Farjon there at the market that day. I quickly snapped his photo and hurried off, lest he chase me down with that splendid vehicle and confiscate my camera!

Meantime--without ever having known whose photo it was I had taken--a spell had come over me. I began to notice leafy things. Specifically I developed an obsession for a certain pink (and sometimes white) wildflower growing in the most unexpected places: jutting vertically out of rock walls and coming up through cracks in the pavement. Could it be a weed? What a gorgeous mauvaise herbe at that! It would be perfect in my garden, which was currently a pile of rocks. If that plant could push through concrete, it could populate my barren yard!


One day while driving home from Bollène, I saw the weed-flower growing beside a telephone pole. At the same moment, I saw a farmer walking along the road. Chances are that guy would have information about the plant! I thought, running my car off the road and hurrying up to the stranger.

Serendipitous meeting
"That guy" turned out to be Robert Farjon. Not only had I stumbled onto the man I'd seen at the market, but I was about to learn, over the course of the next year, the extent of one man's knowledge of the Provençal plant kingdom--beginning with le lilas d'Espagne.

"Lily of Spain. That's just it's common name," Monsieur Farjon explained. "It's officially known as valerian."

Our brief encounter led to a surprise visit, when Mr Farjon rode his bike to our vineyard, a good dozen or two farm fields from the village. His bike's saddlebags were bursting with my next lesson: euphorbia, prêle, and "love in a cage" among others. Monsieur Farjon passed me a leafy bundle, as though handing over a delicate newborn, and so transmitted his instinct to protect and to revere les plantes

Those weekly (Tuesday) lessons--or "Mardis avec Mr Farjon"--lasted three seasons: spring, summer, fall. It was cold and windy the next to last time Mr Farjon rode his bike from Sainte Cécile all the way out to our farm. But we still saw each other, often crossing paths in the village. He always had a leafy example tucked in his pocket or hat band or in those saddlebags. He was ever prepared to share about plants.

No matter how rushed I always lended my ear, listening closely as he stuttered the name of the species in question shar-shar-shar-don mah-ree (chardon marie or "milk thistle"). His slight bégaiement only made him more endearing, and it was an exercise in French to coax those botanical words out of his mouth. 

1-Capture plein écran 21012014 093834-001

As I turn this book over and look at the photo on the back, I'm reminded of one of our last encounters. I can't quite identify the flower he is holding (les immortelles?), for that day I was more focused on the beholder. Just how many more chance meetings would there be?

Soonafter we decided to move, and my last visit with Mr Farjon mirrored the first. There he was on the side of the road, near a patch of wild dents de lion. I ran my car off the road and hurried across the street, feeling as scattered as a dandelion seed.

"Mr Farjon. I'm moving. It's been such a pleasure to know you..." At loss for a meaningful way to say goodbye, I reached down and gently plucked what some would regard as a pesky weed. 

Handing Monsieur the vibrant yellow flower that's strong enough to break free through concrete, I listened as he broke my heart.

"Adieu," Mr Farjon said with simplicity and with warmth. 

See you in heaven? So that was it? Did he not wish to see me again--or was he only being a realist (riding his bike from the village to our farm was one thing, but riding all the way to Mediterrannean sea.... No, not a possibility).

 After we moved to "appelation Bandol" Jean-Marc began another vineyard and I focused on my writing, collecting together stories from our time in Les Arcs (before we moved to Ste Cécile). When it came time to design a book cover, I stumbled once again across Mr Farjon--this time in my photo archives.

No, I couldn't use his picture... or if I did I'd have to ask. That meant I would have to contact him--Mr See You in Heaven! But what if he was already in heaven?...  

No, I didn't want to find out. Then, one morning last week I got up the courage to call his niece at her vineyard. This time I was the one stuttering.

"Je... je... je voudrais utiliser l'image de votre oncle...."

Mireille said she would pass along the message and get back with me. A few days after that I received this letter by email:

Bonjour, Kristi

Je viens de voir Robert ce matin et je lui ai montré ton projet. Il est tout à fait d'accord pour que tu imprimes sa photo. Il garde un très bon souvenir de ton passage à Ste Cécile.  Il m'a dit qu'il avait réalisé une centaine de fiches botaniques et qu'il les avait déposé à l'Espace Culturel de Ste Cécile.  

A très bientôt Mireille

Hello Kristi

Just saw Robert this morning and I showed him your project. He is entirely OK with your printing his photo. He holds a wonderful memory of your stay in Sainte Cécile. He told me he has written a hundred or so botanical papers and dropped them off at the cultural center in Sainte Cécile.

See you soon,



 I, too, hold a wonderful memory of Monsieur Farjon and I look forward to sharing more with you in the follow up to this book: the story of our passage in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes.... As Mireille says, à bientôt!

Leave a comment here.
Please let me know if all--or a part of today's column--would fit at the end of my book, in a chapter titled "A Note About this Book's Cover." Also, let me know here in the comments how you like the back cover of the book, which will look very much like the yellow and blue sample above. Many thanks!


Monsieur Farjon visited me at a book signing I did in Sainte Cécile. He brought along two bagfuls of just picked plants. As book sales were as slow as a snail's pace, we spent the time studying acanthus, milkweed and lunaria while the bookworms filed by my stand.

Two places to stay in the South of France:

“La Trouvaille”--a true find in Provence!  Affordable vacation rental in this beautiful old stone house in the charming village of Sablet. 

New rental in Provence! La Baume des Pelerins, in Sablet--spacious, comfortable the perfect place to return to after a busy day’s sightseeing, bicycling or hiking.


Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Paris meet-up! + "Ticket Restaurant": an idea worth spreading?

Bougainvillea plant and golden retriever (c) Kristin Espinasse
Looking in our kitchen window, Smokey says, "Ever seen those signs in French restaurants: "Nous acceptons les Tickets Restaurant?"

"Yes, Smokey dear, I've seen those stickers in the window--but you don't need a ticket to eat at this greasy spoon! Now take a seat and I'll be right out with your Croquettes du Jour!" (Photo taken after Friday's storm, which took down our bougainvillea. But it was a happy accident--it made such a pretty window frame!) 

ticket restaurant (tee-kay reh-stor-ahn)

    : meal voucher (offered to salaried employees)

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following Wikipedia definition (the English translation is found in the story column, below): Download Ticket MP3 or Wav file

C'est un support de paiement remis par l'employeur au salarié pour lui permettre d'acquitter tout ou partie du prix de son repas compris dans l'horaire de travail journalier. Il est en général utilisé pour le paiement d'un repas dans un restaurant, ou pour l'achat de nourriture dans un magasin. C'est un avantage social alternatif au restaurant d'entreprise.

HulstonExclusive French made clothes now available to purchase on-line. Thomas Hulston Collections.


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

Food stamps are in the news. Whereas they were once given to children and the elderly, today working-age Americans are claiming the "nutritional aid."

Out in my vegetable patch I'm sifting through seeds and the latest infos--finding it hard to believe that, back home, things have come to this. When I left Arizona for France, in '92, people were throwing food in the dumpster. Now, some are dumpster diving!

For those who don't want to glean à la Agnès Varda, victory gardens are back in style--just as they were during WW1. People are changing out their front lawns for rows and rows of lettuce, beans, and tomatoes. Some of these kitchen gardens are as attractive as the former, manicured, jardins that they've replaced--in many cases even prettier....

jardin de moins (c) Kristin Espinasse
Some are even growing medicinal herbs and flowers....

Personal potagers--and, when not possible, community gardens--are definitely one answer to the food crisis. (And the act of pulling weeds and planting seeds is calming in these uncertain times.) But as I plant rows and rows of fava beans and mangetouts (amazed at how prolific and easy they are to grow) I think about those who do not have the time to enjoy food-giving soil....

When you work from home, it's easy to nip out and dig a 10 minute trench for radish seeds or spend 15 minutes filling a large bucket with dirt and potatoes (use one "mother" or sprouted potato and get a 1.5 pound yield!) not such an easy task when you work 20, sometimes 60 or more minutes from home (unless your boss will overlook a bucket of patates in your south-facing cubicle?).

That's when a light goes off: le ticket resto--France's genial meal-voucher! What better time than now to introduce this European invention, which began in post-war England!

"That's not government aide," Jean-Marc points out. Les tickets restos are an employee perk."

He's right, and Wikipedia goes on to say:

A meal voucher is a payment aide offered by an employer to the salaried worker, permitting him or her not to have to pay all or part of the price of a meal consumed during work hours. It is generally used to pay a restaurant tab or the purchase of food in a store. It's an alternative advantage to a company cafeteria.

Jean-Marc and Wikipedia may be right about that, but if more companies would offer the "perk," maybe more people would meet their daily nutritional requirements as well as get a hot meal--in some cases their only meal of the day.

The French may not have been throwing out food when I arrived in the early 90s (as a starry-eyed girlfriend to a French national), but they sure appeared cushioned from need. It seemed everyone could see the doctor--who still made house calls, for under $20--and most workers received meal tickets--whether they needed them or not. It was another one of those citizen's rights.  (According to the popular food blog, Chocolate and Zucchini, French law requires businesses to provide a dining room for their employees. Where this is not possible they must offer tickets restaurants, so that an employee may eat in dignity and comfort (i.e. away from his or her desk). 

I remember a colleague's outrage on learning that not all employees received the same advantage. We were sitting in a busy bistro, in Marseilles, the scent of roasted chicken and potatoes wafting through the air, carafes of wine on every table, dessert--meringues, tiramisus, crème caramels on the rolled out tray. "Que desirez-vous?" the waiter had asked.

My colleague ordered the same several-course meal as all the other "employed" patrons were ordering (from Chamber of Commerce teachers, like us, to what looked like a variety of workers)--and she didn't forget chocolate for dessert!

"Un fondant," she said, ordering the chocolate cake with the soft, melted interior. 

Gosh that sounded good! But as a temporary worker (without the same meal ticket advantage) I opted for a cup of coffee.

To my surprise my colleague ordered a dessert for each of us and handed the waiter an extra ticket. "I'm a little hungry today," she said, batting her eyelashes. 

Her gesture was thoughtful--and we would just see if the extra ticket would work. She wouldn't be the first to attempt to use the meal vouchers in a sneaky way--some even succeed in buying alcohol and cigarettes and other non-restaurant purchases (it is not unheard of for a supermarket to accept tickets restos as payment for milk and butter--and maybe the latest tabloid? and a pack of gum to go with it?! And how about those préservatifs next to the check out register? Little did French Enterprise know her employee perks were also helping to curb unwanted pregnancy!)

Yes, there are abuses of the system. But overall restaurant tickets seem like a great idea in this economy. What, dear reader, do you think about the meal voucher scheme? Can you see your company handing these out (or do you have a lunch room, making it a moot point)? Would it incite you to order the chocolate mousse? Or would it come in handy when you ran out of hairspray or M&Ms (or, and Smokey would like to add, croquettes)? And would your local mini-market tolerate the substitution?

To respond to this post, click here.

Sponsored by: Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone. Click here for photos

Book signing Ann Mah and Kristin Espinasse 

Two book events--in Paris. Hope to see you at one of them!

  • My friend Robin is hosting a book signing for Ann Mah and me! (For those who participated in my bookcover vote, now you know which was chosen!) Robin has thoughtfully extended this invitation to French Word-A-Day readers and she encourages you to bring copies of Ann's and my own books if you already own them. As well, there will be books for sale. Owing to limited space, please contact Robin right away if you can make it to this book event. Her email is
  • Also, Ann will be giving a book talk with Patricia Wells, on February 5th at the American Library, 7:30pm.  The two authors will interview each other. I can't wait!

Note: I've had another big set-back in the production of the "First French Essais" book. The full-color photos I submitted (and carefully sub-titled) were too small for printing purposes! It's back to the drawing board as I toss those and go through 20,000 photos, looking for just the right ones to illustrate each chapter. And it just dawned on me that, because I tend to severely crop my pictures, I may have trouble finding photos of 300 dpi or higher!

Ever feel like giving up when you're this close? How do you find the motivation to pull through to the finish line? Comments welcome! Meantime, I'll have copies of Blossoming in Provence for this upcoming book signing....

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First almond blossoms. Pop! pop! pop! and the tree will soon be bursting with pink petals...stealing the spotlight from the bright blue sky. (P.S. in case you were wondering, nope--this photo's too small too! At only 735 x 777 pixels it won't print to 6x9!) Rolling up sleeves....

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Winetasting invitation! + "Allez, zou!"

  1-yellow flowers blue door
If flowers could talk (and who says they can't) then these are shouting ALLEZ ZOU! After oggling this sunshiny plant forever--and owning it, for a time--I broke down and ordered the Helianthus grosseserratus or "sawtooth sunflower" seeds. If you, like me, believe your garden or balcony or windowbox cannot live without this jumble of happiness, then order some seeds like I just did!

And now for some French to keep you in the know:

Allez zou!

    : let's go!, off you go!

from allez! (interjection) and zou (sound) (like shoo!)

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

I was going to write you a story when I realized that today's definitions are as entertaining and inspiring as anything I could cook up for you this morning! (So later I'll tell you about our secret magic wine barrel--the one that grows 300-year-old olive trees and maybe lilacs and figs and ladders to heaven, too! Thank God real life keeps fueling these anecdotes. A writer could not make this stuff up!) 

Now for those definitions I was telling you about. You can listen to them too! Just click on the following links and hurry down to the French words beneath. Allez. Zou!

Sound File: Download MP3 or Wave file and listen to Jean-Marc read all the French text, below (the first is by Wikipédia):

Dans la langue française, zou est une interjection, sûrement d'origine occitane, qui invite à un changement brusque et soudain dans l'attitude. In the French language, "zou" is an interjection, probably of Occitane origine, that invites a swift and sudden change in attitude:

  • Allez zou ! On s'en va. (Come on. Let's go.)
  • Allez zou ! J'achète ce pull-over. (Oh! I'm going to buy this sweater.)

And here's a wonderful definition from

  • Zou!–petit mot d'origine provençale qui appelle à l'action. Il signifie tout simplement « Allez! ». Zou!—a little word of Provençale origin and a call to action. It means, simply, "Go!" 
  • Zou! est le terme rassembleur par excellence; il est le point de départ des petites comme des grandes aventures. Il précède le premier pas de toute initiative. Il indique la volonté de laisser toute la place à l'action et aux résultats. Zou! in the most excellent rallying term; it is the starting point for both little and big adventures. It preceeds the first step in any initiative. It indicates the will to leave everything to the action and to the results. 

Did you enjoy this last definition and find it as cheering as I did? Did you read it a second time, too? May it be just the invitation to begin  your weekend. Allez, zou! Have a good one!

To respond to this post, or to add to it, click here.


Two places to stay in the South of France:

“La Trouvaille”--a true find in Provence!  Affordable vacation rental in this beautiful old stone house in the charming village of Sablet. 

New rental in Provence! La Baume des Pelerins, in Sablet--spacious, comfortable the perfect place to return to after a busy day’s sightseeing, bicycling or hiking.

Remember those "sawtooth sunflowers" I told you about, earlier? They, and we, lived here once upon a time--along with these beautiful plants you see in the photo (all gifts from Malou and Doreen, "the Dirt Divas").

When Caroline and Thomas bought our vineyard, Caroline thoughtfully dug up and sent back some of the plants--the first, "eurphorbia" (I'd heard it was an alternative treatment for that skin cancer, but Caroline urged me NOT to experiment. I listened to her... but wanted the plant, anyway). Caroline also collected seeds from my favorite sawtooth sunflowers (previously dug up at Malou or Doreen's and transplanted in front of our grape vines). But I've somehow misplaced the seeds! (They've got to be here, in a pocket... somewhere. Hence, my recent online order!

The good news is--and the reason for this long-winded introduction--you can soon meet Carolyn and Thomas at their upcoming winetasting (near Nice). I'll be there too and if you ask me, I'll even pass you a few of the sawtooth seeds I've been going on about! I'll put them in my pocket (on second thought maybe that's a bad place, after all?)

Very excited to have received this invitation from Julie and Dan, who are happy to extend it to you, too! Julie and Dan write:

You are cordially invited to a wine tasting on Saturday, 01 February 2014. Domaine Rouge Bleu ( is a Côtes-du-Rhône winery, ideally situated between the revered appellations of Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The wines of Domaine Rouge Bleu–Dentelle, Mistral, and Lunatique – have  garnered accolades from numerous concours events and wine publications, including Wine Spectator, RVF and Guide Hachette.

The proprietors, Caroline Jones and Thomas Bertrand, will lead a tasting of select Rouge Bleu cuvées and vintages and share their philosophy of terroir and their passion for the principles of bio-dynamic farming and natural vinification. Please join Caroline and Thomas at: Le Tire Bouchon 198 Chemin des Comtes de Provence 06650 Le Rouret 06 95 08 74 70 

*    *    *

Hope to see you there! I won't forget those seeds--and maybe I'll have some others...

Collecting cosmos seeds at Domaine Rouge-Bleu. About to stick them in my pocket. And then forget all about them.

Enjoy this bouquet and have a bright and wonderful weekend. 

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Not a cougar! A "wife hen"! + James Dean in France!

The James Dean of France... and why I'm not a cougar--in today's post. Read on!

maman poule (mah-mahn-pool)

    : mother hen

You can also say "une mère poule."

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc Download MP3 or Wav file

Une maman poule c'est une femme qui couve trop--ou surprotège--ses enfants. Alors qu'est-ce que c'est une femme poule? Cette expression n'existe pas. Mais le personnage, oui! D'après mon mari!

A mother hen is a woman who coddles--or overprotects--her children. So then what's a "wife-hen"? The term doesn't exist... but the character does! According to my husband!

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

"Freudian Slips are on Sale at the Mall. But I'm Paying Dearly for mine"

Last week it was LES SOLDES here in France and I promised to take my daughter to the mall--no matter how much I dread shopping. It's not that I don't love pretty clothes--the problem is finding them, i.e. striking a balance between price and quality--whilst not being faux-flattered by a salesperson, or talked into a buying that Made on Mars far-out dress.

This far out on our shopping trip my 16-year-old and I had managed to make down-to-Earth decisions and after two and a half hours--and a pair of baggy pants and a top for her--and a new blazer for me!--Jackie suggested one last trip around the mall:

"On fait un dernier tour vite fait?" she said, adding, with a batting of her eyelashes, "You are being sooo patient, Maman!"

I flashed Jackie a toothy smile, never mind my teeth were grinding. Anything to make my daughter believe I am patient. We were on our third tour or trip around the mall here at the Centre Mayol in Toulon and after leaving a popular surf shop--where we were jostled around by a troubled sea of shoppers--it came as a relief to enter a quiet boutique. 

It didn't take long to understand why we weren't being trampled on or waiting in long lines for a dressing room. The pricetags! I looked up at the name of the shop, which read "Harper's Bazaar". It shared the same moniker as the fancy magazine, which touts itself "sophisticated, elegant... the fashion resource for women who are the first to buy the best...."

But we weren't looking for the best! A happy-medium--or juste-milieu (yes, a "fair middle!") was what we were after. It was time to remind my daughter of our mission and I did so by a swift suggestion. "On se casse d'ici?" Let's get out of here!

Just as I was backing out of the store, a dazzling smile stopped me in my tracks.

"Je peux vous aider?"

"Oh no, thanks, we were just looking."

But my daughter was so transfixed by the salesboy that she bi-passed her usual timidy and pointed to a pair of shoes :

"Vous avez la taille 38?" Jackie asked. 

I looked at the silver high-tops in question. They were covered with menacing studs. "I don't think those will be in style much longer," I said, pointing to the metal accouterments.

"It's still the style," the salesboy was assuring. That's when I noticed more than his smile.

I stood staring at the tall, dark, and handsome figure before me when my mouth ran off before my brain could tame it:

"You have beautiful teeth!" I said, noticing the gap between his "front two." (The French have a delightful term for this: "happiness teeth" or les dents du bonheur.) 

Coming to my senses--and lest my daughter be horrified by my complimenting the salesboy--I cleared up any confusion: "When you are a 46-year-old woman you can finally say these things!

Only, that's when a heard a cough. Turning around I noticed the only other middle-aged woman in the store. She was shopping at the rack behind me. I wondered, was that a yes or a no cough? Was she agreeing or disagreeing with what I'd just said?

Never mind! Now was as good a time as ever to throw caution--and maybe my checkbook!--to the wind.

"Can my daughter try a 38 and a 39?" (Maybe the larger size would win us one more year of use, something that could be factored into the price, afterall!)

"Bien sûr," he said, running his hand through his untamed hair.

As the salesboy went to get the shoes, my mouth delivered another unbridled compliment. "You are very charming!"

"They call me 'The James Dean of Tunisia,'" he laughed, disappearing into the storage room. 

 I love it! More than a pretty face he was clever

"His name really is James Dean," his supervisor added, joining us in the shoe aisle. "His Tunisian name sounds exactly like it, anyway. He is called "Shahms-ay-deen."

"C'est incroyable!" I said, and spent the next few moments trying to pronounce the name I had just heard, until, soon enough, I was hearing the name of the 50s teen heartthrob--only with an ooh-là-là twist: Shahms-ay-deen.

"But how do you spell it in Tunisian?" I wanted to know, just as soon as the salesboy returned. And, as he wrote down his name (officially spelled "Chams-Eden), I asked if I could snap his photo (see below)....

If up until now I had convinced myself my compliments were no more than a sincere appreciation of an exquisite character, I was dumbfounded by what came next--what could only be explained as a Freudian slip...

This happened at the cash register, as Jackie and I waved goodbye to the dashing salesboy.....

"Thank you." I said. "My sister and I will be back soon!"

Postnote: In the whirlwind of recounting my story, I forgot to tell you why I am truly innocent--a veritable "wife-hen" and NOT a cougar! Anyway, it's what my husband calls me (a wife-hen, that is). But will he still call me this after reading today's missive? Nah. He NEVER reads my stories!

What a cutie. I mean what cute knees... er elbows... er what cute knuckles! 


Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

One good reason to learn French!

Field of mustard flowers in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes (c) Kristin Espinasse
One thing I love about studying French is the opportunity to improve my English! Just this morning I learned of another set of words I've been confounding all along. 

Thank you, Charles, who responded to my post "Zipper Politics." Charles writes:

You mention journalists having a heyday, but the correct expression is "field day." You were confusing heyday with field day.

Merci encore, Charles! Considering no other readers pointed out the mix-up--except to say I misspelled "hayday" (heyday)--I wonder if anyone else could benefit from the following clarification:

A field day is the fun a person has at the expense of another's i-m-p-r-o-p-r-i-e-t-y. (Whew! Yet another new term! Keep teaching French and I might finally learn English!)

=>Field day in French is choux gras (literally "fat cabbage." One wonders if there's a correlation between this and "to chew the fat"? Anyway, here is an example sentence for you:

L'affaire Hollande-Gayet fait les choux gras de la presse étrangèreForeign press is having a heyday field day with the Hollande-Gayet scandale

Heyday, on the other hand, is the height of someone's success. (You'd think they'd call it a "gold" or "diamond" day--rather than a modest "hay" day. Wait, there I go again--confusing words! That's HEY and not HAY day. But what the hey? (Guess it must stand for Hey! Look at him!

=>Heyday in French = l'âge d'or, l'apogée de sa gloire. Here's another helpful example for you:

Même à l'apogée de sa gloire, l'acteur le mieux payé de son temps ne se reposait pas sur ses lauriers. Even in his heyday, the actor, who was the highest paid of his time, never rested on his laurels. (from the article Charlie Chaplin et ses nombreux rebondissements. "Charlie Chaplin and his numerous comebacks")

Maybe you're one of the lucky ones and you already knew the difference between heyday and field day. In that case, I hope you learned some French from today's English lesson. I sure did! :-)

2-mustard field
Plane trees: 200 years old. This French journal: 12 years old and growing!

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I look forward to sharing more of France with you--via words, sound clips, photos, recipes and videos. Thank you for supporting these efforts. And thank you for reading this French journal. May you continue to enjoy it, share it, and support it.


P.S. Those photos of the mustard fields--both with yellow and white blossoms--were taken in 2008, near Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes. The last time I saw the old stone cabanon, pictured at the top of this post, someone had attached an entire home to it!--blending the buildings together seamlessly--and giving a new life to an abandoned and forgotten place. 

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Zipper politics in France (!)


Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise. You can't help but want to snap a picture of the sign when ambling through Shakepeare and Company in Paris. But did you know it's forbidden to take pictures inside the famous bookstore? Then again, the French are not known to behave in public. Case in point: France's president--who was spotted in the wee hours of the night, outside his alleged mistress's nest. His getaway vehicle? A scooter! 

They French are having a heyday with the scandal--known as the l'affaire Closer (after the name of the magazine that published the compromising pictures). They might have fun with today's photo, too--pointing out that their president took the words of wisdom to heart!

Could President Hollande's alleged mistress be an angel compared to his current missis, Valérie Trierweiler--famously known as "The Rottweiller." And is France's first lady (a girlfriend of the President's) still Première Dame de France? Inquiring minds want to know! Les esprits curieux veulent savoir!

une braguette (brag-et)

    : zipper, fly

HulstonExclusive French made clothes now available to purchase on-line. Thomas Hulston Collections.

Audio File and Example Sentence
Listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence: Click for MP3 or Wav file

  Qu'est-ce que ça veut dire "politique de la braguette"?
  What does "zipper politics" mean?

 Improve your French pronunciation with these Exercises in French Phonetics

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

By now you may have heard about the French president's mistress. I meant to talk about this in the previous post, but Conscience waved her finger once again:

"What's the point in spreading rumors--à quoi bon faire courir le bruitYou'd do well to mind your own beeswax! Mieux vaut t'occuper de tes oignons!"

Dear Reader, as  you are my witness, I did certainly mind my own business, or "take care of my onions"--and my snap peas and my parsley and my fava beans! I sowed hundreds of seeds this weekAnything but give into the temptation to gossip!

But not to acknowledge the country's current scandal would be to act as though one lived in Lala Land and not France (never mind the two are synonymous).

And so here's a brief run-down via the highlighted vocab words below (after all this is a language journal and not a tabloid!). 

La Casque - "The Helmet"
It all began when the president was spotted wearing his casque, or helmet, in the middle of the night. Shouldn't he be wearing a nightcap instead? This was the million-dollar question. And as he hopped onto his scooter and sped away from his alleged lover's borrowed apartment (only 500 meters from his presidental pad!) he was caught by a paparazzo. (Side note: The same paparazzo that snapped a photo of Mitterand's illegitimate daughter)

Jean-Marc snapped this photo of the newsstand and la dernière nouvelle!

La Belle Nana - "The Hot Chick" or "The Doll" or "The Babe"
Holland's purported love interest, 41-year-old Julie Gayet, is younger than his girlfriend by 6 or 7 years. She is also a relatively unknown actress who has dozens of films to her credit, including "Shall We Kiss?", "Les Gens Qui S'Aiment" (People Who love each other) and "Chaos and Desire"...

Photo credit Mireille Ampilhac

While Julie hid out all week the plot thickened... a report surfaced that she was recently awarded a seat at the prestigious Villa Medicis jury! The website "Express" writes: 

Francois Hollande's alleged mistress has been awarded one of the most prestigious jobs in French public life, amid unconfirmed claims that she is four months pregnant.

Enceinte? - "Pregnant?"
Those tabloids sure know how to sensational things! Who knows if the alleged mistress is enceinte but it sure begs the question: If it's true will Julie be the next Première Dame? Can there be two First Ladies? Can girlfriends be First Ladies? Will he marry her? Which her? Can you boot a First Lady out against her will? The honorable role is currently under questioning--what with France's unmarried or "celibataire" president.

(Side note: former president Nicolas Sarkozy must be having a good chuckle after taking the heat of marrying a Top Model when he split from First Lady, Cécilia Attias--who made headline news in France this morning:

"Cécilia Attias réclame un vrai statut de "première dame" (I'm having a hard time translating this one, but one thing's sure: all these women are demanding something!) (And if there is one thing President Hollande has never demanded any woman that is marriage (see two sections down....)

Valerie trierweiler

Photo by "Jackolan1"

Le Toubib - Doctor
When Valérie Trierweiler found out her boyfriend, the president, was potentially involved with the actress, JuJu, she went straight to le toubib. More than seeing a doctor, she checked herself into the hospital. While some French find it no more than a dramatic ploy, I think it does a lot to deflate the "grand legend" that the French are emotional toughies when it comes to la trahison, infidelity. No they're not! They break down just like anybody else!

Se Moquer de - To Poke Fun at"
The French are having a lot of fun with the Françoise-Julie-Valérie-and Ségolène imbrolio (Ségolène is the politician who ran for president before him--and mother of his 4 children whom he replaced with Valérie, pictured above). Someone even made a video game called  "Aidez François à rejoindre Julie!" (Help François get to Julie!). In the video game, you see François riding his scooter towards Julie's apartment--when two hurdles appear (Valérie and Ségolène, dressed in jogging attire).

Here's a peek at that (you may need to click over to to see it. It will definitely give you a chuckle after reading up on the current scandal!

J'me casse maintenant! - Gotta go now!
So  much for gossip mongering. I feel better (much less guilty) when I'm minding my onions, that is, minding my own business! Off now to toss out some more seeds. It's raining here in the South of France--perfect for "setting" future sunflowers--and tomatoes and green beans, too! And far far away from the glamorous and complicated capital!

To respond to today's story, click here. Have anything to add to the news? Were you aware of it? Should the president's private life be fodder for newspapers (and blogs?) Does a politician's love life affect his work? Comments welcome here.

Two places to stay in the South of France:

“La Trouvaille”--a true find in Provence!  Affordable vacation rental in this beautiful old stone house in the charming village of Sablet. 

New rental in Provence! La Baume des Pelerins, in Sablet--spacious, comfortable the perfect place to return to after a busy day’s sightseeing, bicycling or hiking.


"A nice way to start your day with a short read and a new word."

  Blossoming in provence book on French life filled with useful vocabulary, by Kristin Espinasse
Thank you very much, Delilah, for your helpful book review of Blossoming in Provence!:

Great way to learn French ...almost as good as taking a trip to the south of France. The writing is wonderful a nice way to start your day with a short read and a new word.

Click on the following links to order either: the paperback or the e-book


Cheese shop (c) Kristin Espinasse
My friend CJ reposted a clever diddy on Facebook. But I think the picture it's on is copyrighted so I'm reproducing the saying here (on a picture I took of a cheese shop in Salernes). Enjoy, and thanks for sharing this post with a friend!

  • Receive a free subscription to this French journal. Click here.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

mangetout + the thrill of sowing seeds

sugar pea bean stalk (c) Kristin Espinasse
Smokey and the Beanstalk... this snapshot reminds me of a favorite fairy tale. (Pictured: the near transparent "mangetout" bean that sprang up in December--alongside the wire fence of the dogs' pen.  I love the camera perspective. Had the lens been moved that much more we might have placed Smokey on a branch... and sent him on a celestial journey. To think that even a slight shift in perspective could put us on a higher path today....) 

mangetout (manzh-too)

    : sugar pea or snow pea or snap pea

Mange tout means, literally, "eat all"--for the sugar pea's popular advantage: no need to shuck it, you can eat it whole

In old French a mangetout is a reckless spender--somebody who eats up his or her savings.


Beautifully renovated and decorated home in the Luberon. 4 bedrooms and a study with a sofa bed, each with ensuite (full) bath. This villa comfortably sleeps 7-9 adults.

Audio File:
listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence Download MP3 or Wav

On ne l'écosse pas le mangetout. On le mange comme ça.
We don't shell sugar peas. We eat them as is.

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

This week I'm as restless as a leaf. I don't feel like writing stories. I feel like sowing seeds!

There is nothing more fun than rushing outside with a handful of graines--especially in the morning when the ground is dewy and pliable! I love to poke seeds at random--par ici et par là--increasing the odds.

The things that come up! And in the most unexpected (or forgotten) places: sugar peas in the dog pen (in December!), snapdragons beside the restanque (in January!), melons in a field of cane! 

Planting par hasard is the fun way to garden.  No longer limited by rules ("plant 5cm apart, in partial shade, after frost") you can enjoy a try everything! freedom:

Try over there by the clothesline... try there by the parked cars... try there by mailbox... try there by the telephone pole... try there by the barbeque and there by the compost bin and there by the water spout.... 

Sow tomatoes and sunflowers and that pit in the apricot you're eating. Why not! Then be amazed when a snow pea blossoms along a crooked fence, its bright green leaves embellishing it. Enjoy the faint purple hue of coriander flowers beside the yellow garden hose. Be astonished when the snapdragon seeds you shoved in your jean pockets, in Spain--then accidentally ran through a wash cycle--offered up a fuchsia bouquet in France!

Begin to feel like maybe, just maybe, you're a budding gardener genius after all. Feel a little heady that the grain of creation you hold in your hand--the seed that is no longer than an eyelash--will, in three months time, tower above your 74-year-old aunt!

Meantime, rush outside--any time of year--to your yard or another's. Keep plugging seeds under the snow, beneath the leaves--even in the pockets of the trees!


Post note: ever heard of seed bombing (a.k.a. aerial reforestation)? It's also a movement whereby citizens make seed balls (water+clay+variety of seeds) then "bomb" unsightly curbs, forgotten industrial yards, and your neighbor's junk yard. Imagine sunflowers growing where garbage once collected, or snap peas climbing a broken fence! 

To respond to this story, click here.

French Vocabulary

une graine = seed
par ici et par là = here and there
la restanque = stone terrace used in agriculture
par hasard = by chance

 Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone. Click here for photos.

This nigella, or "love in a mist" appeared beside the cellar, born of seeds gathered from our former garden.

You may remember this beauty, which popped up beside the pool at our old home. I harvested plenty of its seeds and planted them here in the back yard....


After trying my luck the past few years--planting seeds beside the garage, by the clothesline, in Jean-Marc's wine barrels... last March we had rock beds built! (But it's still more fun to plant everywhere else!)


I seeded the beds with a wild sweep of the hand (picture skipping stones, only you're holding seeds instead). In addition to some whole plants I bought (zucchini, raspberry) hundreds of seeds grew.  See what came up, here!



Pancho says: what are "tree pockets?"

I'm on my way outside, now, with a pocket of seeds--and also an answer for Pancho! I leave you with a letter I received this week:


I had to forward this to you to read as Claudia and I were made known to each through your French Word a Day blog. Maybe this will help you understand just a bit of how much we appreciate your writing. God bless and love to Jules.

Best regards, Barbara (and Claudia) 

Thank you Barbara and Claudia for the story you sent! Here is the link for others who might enjoy it, too--and the wonderful artwork!

In the town where my husband was born, it was a thrill to see author George Sand's garden--which reminds me to tell you this: notice the plants and flowers all around--especially when they go to seed. Then fill your pockets with seed magic! To know that a little bit of George Sand's jardin is growing in my back yard--it's enough to make me want to settle down, finally, and write a story!


Speaking of seeds, check out what I gave my best friend for Christmas--I got this package for the variety (and not for fear the world is going to pot. Then again... :-)


Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

une fillette + imitate your dog


Some pictures from home, and, as Maurice Chevalier would say, thank heaven for little girls.

une fillette (fee-ette)

    : a little girl

Audio File: listen to the French word fillette (file by Wikipedia):

Improve your French pronunciation with  Exercises in French Phonetics

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

(A story I told my daughter, in the dark, early morning hours before school started.)

Waiting at the bus stop in Bandol, warm inside our car, Jackie reviewed her textile lesson while I spied some of the technical vocabulary on her study sheet....

"Ourlet. Ha! I know that word. It's on the tip of my tongue... Oh yes, "hem"! Now to pronounce it: ohr.... ohr... ohr-lay!"

"Mom!" Jackie sighed.

"Oh, sorry!"

I left my daughter to study, turning my attention to the holiday lights that circled high up into the municipal arbres. The tree garland reminded me of Arizona, where our palo verdes and even our cactuses are illuminated this time of year. And just like back home in Phoenix, there were palm trees here, their trunks circled high with holiday lights!

As I admired the twinkling trees, a shiny spot tickled the corner of my eye. I looked over to discover the glittery backpack of a little girl who had just gotten out of her father's car.

I watched as the father adjusted the backpack. The little girl helped by lifting her lopsided ponytails out of the way. Next, the fair-haired darling spun around, lifted her face and her smile was met by a tender kiss as her father reached down and bid her bonne journée.

Look at that sweet little girl! I said to Jackie. But as soon as I spoke my eyes filled with tears.

Those little sagging socks at her ankles, that crooked part separating her pigtails, those pink and purple pom-poms that dangled from her backpack. How it all brought me back.

"You are all grown up now!" I looked over at Jackie, whose tie-dyed hair fell over her study sheet. Well into her teens--and with the groovy locks to prove it--she would soon trade fad for formality. Lately, she spoke of wanting a more soigné or sleek look. I could just see her cutting off her blond locks in favor of a glossy, dark carré, or blunt cut. The day was coming.

I ran my hand across my 16-year-old's soft head as we watched the little girl turn toward the bus. 

"Elle est mignon!" Jackie agreed.

The more I watched the little girl, the more I saw childhood slipping away as it now stepped, with its sagging pink socks, onto the bus....

"Look at my eyes. I'm crying!"

"Maman..." Jackie reached over and kissed my cheek.

I didn't mean to be over-dramatic by pointing out the tears. But I had learned, not too long ago, to let 'em see you cry!--a stretch after years of never letting 'em see you sweat! 

As my daughter lay her head on my shoulder, I told her a family history:

"When your dad and I split, twenty or so years ago,  I went to gather my thoughts at a nearby cafe. But those thoughts I'd been carefully collecting were suddenly blasted as I glanced over at a nearby table. 

The woman sitting there laughed with joy as she held a newborn baby in her arms. When my eyes hooked on that infant, a deep pulling began to rake through my body, collecting tears as it advanced. I quickly paid for my coffee and rushed off as tears poured out. I had never before felt that maternal instinct. And now it was too late. The father of my unconceived child had said it was over between us."

My throat grew tight as I told my daughter the story of her near non-existence. 

"But I came back! And I had you!" I said, giggling. It was time to lighten up the conversation!

"No, you had Max..." Jackie pointed out, in typical sibling rivalry.

"Yes, but then I had YOU. And what would life be like without my little girl?" I turned and looked out the window once more, in wonderment. 

The man beside the car in front of us watched his little girl climb the stairs of the bus. When her glitter and pom-pom backpack disappeared into the bus, he turned to me and smiled. Then he got into his car and drove off... as mysterious, as forgiving, and as promising as Father Time.

 *    *    *

To respond to this story, click here. Wondering about that split? Read about the one-way ticket home Jean-Marc bought me here, in Words in a French Life (the intro chapter!).

New rental in Provence! La Baume des Pelerins, in Sablet--spacious, comfortable the perfect place to return to after a busy day’s sightseeing, bicycling or hiking.

  Christmas tree sapin
How to take down Christmas decorations. Step 1: move the tree outside the house. Step 2: "Hey, it looks pretty good out here..."

Yellow flowers
Today's word was fillette. Can you spot another fillette somewhere in this picture? Where is Lily, Pancho's sister?

Olive tree

La voici! (Here she is!)

Lily and Pancho
Lily, Pancho, and Pouncers Rights: Whoever sees it move first gets to pounce on it!


The irises to the chair: Psst! "Don't turn your back on us!"

Our golden, Smokey. A survivor and an inspiration. We got his mom from the pound, and him from Heaven.

Say this now: Today I will imitate my dog. I'll turn sticks into flutes and I won't mind the critics when they say I'm doing things backwards. 

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

eplucher + new video!

Welcome home! Lily the 4-month-old huntress tiger greets Smokey--who returned home safely after Monday's great escape. More in today's story column.

éplucher (ay-ploo-shay)

    : to peel

Paris Monaco Rentals

France and Monaco Rentals: short-term holiday rental properties throughout France. Click here for pictures.


Listen: hear the French word éplucher:
Audio File from Wikipedia:

For more pronunciation help, check out the guide Exercises in French Phonetics!

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

Today's cozy word is éplucher -- therefore I thought we could sit down together, at the kitchen table, and peel some potatoes while I tell you a little story.

First, here's a picture of the kitchen table, so as to set the scene:

Pancho and lily and melisse flowers

The table, a gift from Maggie and Michael, who sold us their home, is not really in the kitchen--it's beside the kitchen--but it so close that you can do kitchen prep work there.

Bon, bref--on with today's story! (And have you picked out a paring knife yet? What? You thought *I* was going to peel this mountain of patates all by myself? Didn't your social sciences professor teach you the word "reciprocity"--or do you need to reread Chapter 12: Yanomamo Culture)? Reciprocity = I do this for you. You do this for me, i.e. I tell the story. YOU peel the potatoes!)

Now for the story... it began night before last when I noticed the front door was ajar. Next, I saw the empty dog bed!!!

"Max! You left the door open and now the dogs have run off!" 

 (Hang on a moment, to tell the story from this point in time would take two pages. Let's get right to the action! By the way, dear reader, who taught you to peel potatoes? Pick up the pace will you. The oven is pre-heating and we don't want to run up the electric bill!)

As I was saying, it all began this morning with a knock at the front door. There, on our doorstep, my neighbor Annie looked exhausted.

"Come on in!" I said, ushering Annie to the kitchen table.

As she passed by our two golden retrievers (who were passed out on their bed, having returned from an all-nighter), Annie wagged her finger. "Les vilains! You are bad dogs!"

Yikes. Something was up. I took precautions offering Annie the best seat at the table and proposing coffee or tea.

"Rien. I'm just in a bad mood," she explained. "Contrariée!

Annie went on to tell about how a couple of golden-haired dogs had wandered up to her place after midnight and torn down her chicken wire fence and almost feasted on her hens!

"Sensing the trespassers, my own dogs went berserk inside the house," Annie said, "doing almost as much damage to my own nest!"

"Oh no!" I'm so sorry, I said, wagging my own finger at the dogs to prove with whom my sympathies now rested (I didn't dare tell Annie how I'd rejoiced, earlier, when the dogs returned home from I didn't know where. No, I wouldn't tell her how I'd lain down on the gravel driveway, hugging my dogs close while singing 10 choruses of Hallelujah. Or how I remained on the ground, in a tight human-dogs grip, grateful for the way the near-tragedy had dragged me outdoors to experience a beautiful winter's day. How the countryside seemed to fill with color, right before my eyes! And the yellow of the daisies and the purple of the irises! The world was so alive and bright outside of the internet, the new Smartphone, and my cozy bed! It took a near-catastrophe to wake up and hear the birdsong that only a day before was but a muffling in my ears.

I might have shared this back-to-life thunderstrike with Annie, but this was not the right time to preach the gospel! It was time to assure my neighbor we would do our best to contain our dogs.

"I'm determined to do whatever I can to keep Braise and Smokey from wandering off. We built a large dog pen for them to run around in during the day--and we keep them locked up in the house at night--but sometimes they manage to slip through the loops! I'm so sorry ! Thank God they didn't eat your goose!" I knew Annie was particularly fond of her female oie--having lost the male goose last summer.

As I sat there, apologizing profusely, I noticed Annie eyeing a box of clementines. "Take these," I said, pushing the oranges towards my tired neighbor.

"I'll just have one..." Annie said. The look of delight in her eyes reminded me of my mother-in-law's post war childhood. To get so much as an orange for Christmas was like receiving a bar of gold! Michele-France often tells me the orange story during holiday season, and I could imagine Annie knew the same hardships, being of the same generation as my belle-mère.

"No harm done," Annie said, and it was as though her own memories--released along with the citrusy scent of that orange--called her back to grittier times, which in turn brightened her current perspective.

As Annie got up to leave, I kissed her on both cheeks. And I took the opportunity to slip several more bright orange clementines in her coat pocket, wondering how else to improve the situation. 

It occurs to me now, dear reader, that if we had any courage at all, we'd hurry up with this potato prepping and get these patates into the oven--in time to cook this gratin dauphinois--and offer the comfort food to the dear soul who suffered a sleepless night!

...Yes, but for the courage it takes!

 *    *    *

Sponsor's Message:
“La Trouvaille”--a true find in Provence!  Affordable vacation rental in our beautiful old stone house in the charming village of Sablet.

Pancho, Braise, and I made you a one-minute motion picture (if "motion picture" is a stretch, at the very least the footage will give you a sense of atmosphere).

Introducing "Slow Food: A Quiet Moment Peeling Potatoes." To watch the following picture, you may need to click over to the blog. Sorry about the vertical video frame. To see more scenery, click "full screen" (see the icon in the lower right corner of the video) 

 To comment on this post, click here. And many thanks for reading and for sharing French Word-A-Day with others.

Coming up: I've made a decision about the book cover and will share that with you very soon. Many thanks for your helpful votes!

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Recipe + "willing to help" in French


Galette des rois (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Smokey's Temptation"

La galette des rois was not planned. I'd gone to the supermarché for eggs--to mix in with three overripe bananas (for sweet bread). Only, when I pushed my cart into Carrefour I saw the traditional stuffed cakes. "When is the actual date for eating these?" I asked the pretty check-out lady. "Epiphany," she said. " "When's Epiphany?" I wondered. "Today," she said. "...I think..." I love it when the French second-guess themselves. The world grows suddenly cozier.

serviable (sair-vee-yable)

    : willing to help, helpful

Example Sentence
I wish I could tell you more about the galette des rois, but I had another story planned for today. For those willing to help with information or an explanation about the galette des rois tradition--simply leave a comment here. Thanks, you're so helpful! Merci, vous êtes bien serviable!

You can even order a galette des rois on Amazon and try it for yourself. Click here and learn a few quick facts about the French King Cake for Epiphany.

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

On Becoming Serviable & Noël near Aix-en-Provence...

Jean-Marc's cousin, Sabine, invited the whole family over on Christmas Day. Because our clan is growing, it's a little more complicated each year to fit into the cozy reception room. I smiled noticing the clever diagonal position of the dinner table, allowing for 3 or 4 more seats to be squeezed in. As we admired the table's decor (set by 15-year-old Mahé), Sabine admitted that now that we're grown with kids of our own these winter indoor gatherings may no longer be possible. 

I had a good nostalgic look around the room as I prepared the tray of apéritifs. Each and every French face--how familiar they all were to me now. What a privilege it has been to be part of this family history in which year after year we stand here, a little taller or wider or wrinklier than the last time we gathered. And yet it is tricky seeing the physical changes, when the soul takes precedence, shining out from behind a loved one's eyes:

"And what have you made us?" my brother-in-law, Jacques, smiled, his eyes sparkling as he reached for a mini pancake.

"Oh. Blinis et tarama," I said, of the pancakes with their puréed fish-egg spread. The blinis seemed like a good idea at the time--back when I offered to bring a few dishes to the Christmas potluck. They are my husband's favorite and you could buy them by the dozen. All that was needed were a few small tubs of tarama, which could quickly be added once we got to Sabine's....

I studied my brother-in-law's face as he bit into the cold pancakes. "I should have toasted them," I said to Jacques, knowing full well I didn't mean it. (There was no way I was going to toaster four dozen mini-pancakes!) 

"You could use the oven upstairs," my mother-in-law whispered, as she found her way past me to the chair in front of the fireplace.

I was really hoping somebody wouldn't point that out. But there was no reason to feel guilty--after all, there was no time for dashing back-n-forth to the oven, now was there, when one had three more apéro trays to prepare! But I knew the truth: a good hostess would find a way to heat things!

Oh well. I wasn't a hostess! Just a lazy in-law. I quickly dumped a bag of bacon-wrapped prunes onto another platter. At least I'd thought to bring my mother-in-law's pruneaux au lard--leftovers from the previous night, when we'd gotten together at Jacques'. I figured she would be happy I'd thought to bring them.

Instead my mother-in-law said, "They taste better heated."

Standing there with the tray of stiff prunes, I looked down at my belle-mère. She was the only one in the room seated. I knew she was tired, but apparently not so pooped that she couldn't hand out a suggestion!

"They're good room-temperature, too!" I pointed out, as hot headed as a little chili pepper. Gosh, where had that feistiness come from? No time to wonder. Turning away I ran smack into Sabine, who smiled as she selected one of the little apéritifs on my tray.

"Looks delicious!" she said.

"Michèle-France would have liked them heated," I coughed. "They're better that way..."

"That's not a problem," Sabine said, taking the tray from me. I'll just pop them in the oven upstairs!"

Only, as she took the tray, a gaggle of teenagers ran up. Next an engine of grabbing hands worked itself across the platter as the kids went for their favorite: those pastry-wrapped mini hotdogs that my mother-in-law had also made.

"It's no use," I said to Sabine, as the mountain of hors d'oeuvres diminished right before our eyes. But Sabine only smiled, allowing the kids to continue picking from the tray.

"Stop it!" I shouted, slapping my son's hand as he grabbed for more. "Those are on the way to the oven. They'll all be gone before they've been heated! And God knows they are better heated!

While one of us grew even testier, the other was the picture of grace. "I'll be right back," Sabine said, disappearing to her kitchen.

"But there are hardly a dozen left! It's not even worth the time to heat them..." As I watched Sabine run up the stairs, I knew that there was a woman to idolize. But I needed more than an angel-faced mentor. Once and for all I needed to put my pleasure-seeking self behind me and learn how to serve others.


Ten minutes later, my mother-in-law lit up as she reached for a crispy bacon-wrapped prune. "Ahhh... nice and hot. They're so good this way!"

As I passed around the warm tray of appetizers, I wished Sabine were here to see the joy that came of her effort. Indeed, I wished I had made the effort. But it wasn't too late to do something thoughtful, after all--something that would further touch my mother-in-law.

"Sabine insisted on heating them for you..." I blurted out, before pausing to witness the effect. The news of this caring gesture caused my mother-in-law to melt from the warmth of so much tenderness. 

It was enough to make this little chili pepper mellow out, too ...and even remain calm when one of the aunts passed by with a surprise:

"Oh, I see someone made these too!" She said, dumping a plate of stiff bacon-wrapped prunes onto my steaming tray, adding "we can combine them!"

I cringed as I watched the cold prunes tumble onto the steaming mound, neutralizing the temperature of those that had just been warmed.

Where was the lesson in it all? Did good deeds, in the end, go unrewarded? Wise men ask such questions. This is one time I'm glad I'm not one of them. And thank goodness! Rather than rack my brain I realize I'm happier circling around the room with a tray of goodies.

Philosophy couldn't garner smiles like food could!

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Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone. Click here for photos

Recipe: Pruneaux au lard fumé

Are these as popular in your area as they are at a French Christmas table? I see they're also known as "Devils on Horseback."

=> Simply take dried prunes and wrap them in bacon. Fasten them with a toothpick before putting them in the oven for 8-12 minutes (350F?) Delicious tip: my mother-in-law stuffed each prune with a pistachio nut before wrapping them with bacon. These were the best!  

1-smokey sheep
Mobile sheepherding with Smokey

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Iris unguicularis and stone cabanon (c) Kristin Espinasse
This chair was left out sometime last year. It looks onto the boules or pétanque court. All "tied up" now, it may forever look on to the boules or pétanque court.... (flower note: the purple beauties are "iris unguicularis". Thank you, Margaret Brown, for identifying them in the comments box!

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