To ask for guidance or advice in French
To humble oneself + what to give someone you've unintentionally hurt

A lively French expression + a creative use for an old T.V.!


Manigances is not the word of the day, but if it were I'd tell you all about our dogs shenanigans. Instead, read about my prized neighbor, in today's column.

une ortie (or-tee)

    : stinging nettle, white nettle


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

Faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties!
Don't push it (don't test grandma's patience!)

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

Once our golden retrievers were safely home and I'd finally claimed my husband's Forgiveness Flowers, I raced back up the hill to Annie's house. My 74-year-old neighbor lives at the edge of our north field, beside the borie-shaped well--where she had seen me chasing our dogs. I needed to let Annie know everything was okay. And I had to make sure no harm had come to her chickens!

I made my way past sky-high wildflowers, which grace the edge of Annie's place. Parting a curtain of giant yellow marguerites, I glimpsed Annie. 

"Ça va, Annie?" As soon as I said it I slapped my hand over my mouth. "Oups! I haven't brushed my teeth. Better not come close to me!"

"And I haven't got any teeth!" Annie countered, smiling to prove it. We shrugged our shoulders and kissed each other through the laughter. 

"J'ai un problème," I began. I told Annie about our dogs latest fugue--in which they were spotted stealing another neighbor's chickens! All chaos broke loose when yet another neighbor began ambushing the golden thieves, chasing away our dogs with grapefruit-size rocks!

"Are you kidding? They could have killed Smokey!" my son argued, when I spoke of the apology due our neighbor. It was my 18-year-old and his sister who had found our dogs, thanks to the foreign field workers (on the neighbor's property), who also filled the kids in on the drama. Using their muscular arms the Spaniards told the story of the stoning. Max pieced together the excited Spanish, and learned about the violent attack -- this time on our dogs. 

"Put yourself in their shoes!" I said to Max, trying to reason with my son. "They lost three of their own animals!"

"No they didn't," Max said of the rock-throwers. "The other neighbor did!"

That's when my husband put a stop to the argument. "On va laisser ça comme ça!" We're going to leave things as they are (no one was going to go anywhere!), he said, pointing out that the neighbor had yanked one of our dog's (telephone numbered) collars off, during the ambush, and so threatened to call the police and report us. We'll settle things then, my husband seemed to be saying.

Annie listened to the drama as I recounted it. "I've got to apologize to the poor lady who lost her hens. But I'm not sure which house is hers--the three homes are so close together. What if I end up at the mad guy's house? The one who tried to kill our dogs (believing his hens were next on the menu).... It was, as the French would say, une situation très délicate.

 Annie sighed, and held out her arm. "Come on, let's go have a cup of coffee."

Annie didn't have the answer, but the arm-in-arm stroll through her garden, and the drip coffee--reheated and served in mustard jars--eased my distress.

In this cozy atmosphere, I babbled on about my stubborn husband and son, as Annie shook her head, remembering aloud her own fiesty family. Soon we were laughing, even if the subject was tender as a feather (those poor chickens! I felt sick with regret!)

Rounding Annie's garden, passing by the wall of bright orange capucines and the riot of artichokes--I spotted the upturned T.V.

"Oh, Annie--you are my kind of friend!" 

The old T.V. reminded me of our knob-turner from the 70s. Only, instead of getting tossed out when flat-screens came along, this T.V. ended up in the garden--as a flower pot! My eyes trailed up the tree peony that came rocketing out of the broken screen--talk about 3D!

Annie seemed a little embarrassed and began explaining she'd run out of plant-holders, but I assured her the solution was pure genius!

Annie was tickled and it showed in her step as she tugged me along, now, to see the rest of her garden-- including rows and rows of fava and green beans. "I finally planted a potager this year," she said, and I remembered her gardener husband. How many years since he had passed? Wouldn't he be delighted to know his wife was growing things again! 

"You did all of this?" I praised, and for my attention I received another excited tug. This time we were off to see the prized irises!

Those flowers were beautiful indeed, but it was the knee-high patch off to the side that really caught my eye. 

"Les orties!"

Annie looked surprised by my interest. "You can have them all!"

"But don't you eat them?" I questioned, believing every French woman must have a repertoire of recipes for nettles.

"I can't stand them!" Annie admitted, "ça pique! ça pique!" She grabbed her trusty pick and motioned for me to stand back, refusing my offer to help.

Watching Annie, an old French expression trotted my mind, embarrasingly so:

Il ne faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties! (Don't shove grandma into the nettles patch!)

The lively expression caused me to smile to myself, guiltily, and when Annie turned to hand me the sack of orties, she couldn't know what I was thinking.

I was thinking about the miracle of living the French expressions I'd once only memorized from a book! I was thinking about how things only got better and better, once you stood up, dusted yourself off, and went in search of love. 

I was thinking about how I was now the proud new owner of orties! Not everyone is in search of stinging nettles--not everyone finds in them a pot of gold (or a pot of vitamins, when you make soup!). But then there was a time when I wasn't in search of stinging nettles either, preferring to adorn my outside rather than adore my inside.

The more I hang with geniuses like Annie, the more I get my priorities straight. And a big priority, presently, was to go find that poor chickenless neighbor--and to apologize.

A suivre... (to be continued, click here for part 2)

To respond to this story, click here.

The highlighted links within the post will bring you to more pictures. Simply scroll down the linked page to find them:

  1. Our golden retrievers - see Smokey's dad, too!
  2. Forgiveness bouquet - Jean-Marc is seriously good at picking wildflowers
  3. Borie-shaped well  (you'll also see pictures of our home)

French Vocabulary
la borie
= round stone hut
la marguerite = daisy
la fugue = runaway
la capucine = nasturtium
le potager = kitchen garden
les orties = stinging nettles
ça pique! = it stings!

Vegetable garden and nettles patch
I planted the stinging nettles below the boulder (left). I did have a doubt... maybe they'll spread like rumors and become a nuisance! But then I'll have plenty of nutritious nettle soup one day! See 101 Uses for Stinging Nettles


Here are some wildflowers coming up in the lower field. You can just glimpse the lawn chair (right) where Aunt Geneviève rested after our family picnic, over a week ago.

If you enjoy this word and photo journal, please share it with a friend! And many thanks for reading.

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It would feel like a dream to have a lemon tree in my yard. Since that is not possible, I'll settle for an abandoned TV.


Hi Kristin,
I don't write a lot - my female Boxer dog having a tumor growing in her belly since about 3 years and surviving, despite she is so "pleine de vie" and I'm taking care of her (no trip in the US last year, for the 1st time in about 15 or 20 years...) - but I'd like to let you know the following of the expression about the "Grand-Mère" ! Do you know, we are used to say : "Faut pas pousser Mémé dans les orties, sous prétexte qu'elle aime la salade" ? Funny, no ?!
Another stuff : a runaway is a "fugue", but this pejorative sense is not the only one ! We can also translate in : une escapade, which is more enjoying because it can be "une escapade amoureuse" or "entre amis" !!
Bien amicalement.
Have a very nice afternoon with my wonderful Mistral !

Patricia Sands

Thank you for introducing us to Annie. What a delightful neighbour to have! Good luck with resolving the ruffled feathers, so to speak, of les autres voisins.

Jeanne Asakura

I am new to your blog, taking up French once again after a 50 year lapse. Your stories and writing style are just marvelous. Today's, especially, reminded me of my wonderful Grand-mere.


Years ago, we lived in California, near my husband's parents, and they had a beautiful lemon tree in their back yard! My mother-in-law bought it for about $5.00 from add in the newspaper. It was one of those quick growing varieties. It had the biggest lemons -- maybe Meyer lemons? At any rate, growing a lemon tree might be easier than you think.


Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
Annie sounds like a fun neighbor! I remember the first time I saw stinging nettle in Belgium. I was trying to take a photo of some sheep and little lambs. I put my hand down near the fence and immediately felt a burning and stinging. A Belgian neighbor told me what they were. I didn't know you could eat them! Good luck with the neighbors and the dogs. We had a dog come by and take two of our chickens and my husband went to get his gun, but he missed. Be glad we are not your neighbors! :-)


Okay, I apologize in advance for saying this because maybe things are different in France than they are in the US, but... you MUST find a way to contain the dogs. It's just not good for them to be running free, messing with the neighbors, getting lost, and possibly killed. You felt so bad when the cats disappeared. How would you feel if the dogs did? Remember how terrible it was when the hunting dogs got to Smokey? And it's not right that they should be destroying neighbors' property.

Why not choose a piece of your property and fence it so they can lounge outside in peace and safety, not bothering a soul?

Okay, I'm done. Sorry!


I have enjoyed your blog for ages! and save it for later in the day so I can absorb calmly all the bon mots.
However, I am reading it less often because your casual treatment of your pets saddens me.....your dogs must not be put in danger and your cats needed to be confined.
Please take care of them,I miss your column.

Kathleen from Connecticut

Hi Kristin,

I know that you have a fenced in area for the dogs,but maybe you could do one of those electrified fences under ground around your immediate yard so that the dogs stay confined but still got to associate with the family.
Annie sounds like a read dear. Give her our best.


Rena Baer

Hi! Loved the article! Do u have any pictures of Annie's TV flower pot?


Hi Kristin,
I love your posts but the fact that your dogs have twice killed chickens is disturbing. I used to have chickens and had a dog kill all 24 of them. We were able to salvage some for the pot and freezer but it was a traumatic event. I agree with others that you must find a way to contain the dogs so that you can keep your neighbors and dogs.


What drama! It's good that you have an ally in Annie, to put in a good word for you, otherwise you might be getting rather unpopular in the neighborhood, as relative newcomers, one an American even, and now chicken-thieving dogs! I hope you husband and son keep in mind that that the description "grapefruit sized rocks" should possibly be taken with a grain of salt since it was heard second-hand in a foreign language. Does Max know the Spanish for grapefruit, or was the size of the rocks demonstrated by holding the hands apart, as you might do to show the size of the fish you caught, i.e., maybe an exaggeration?

Kristin Espinasse

(Resending this note, which did not post. I have amended the last few lines, to include a response to Nancy.

Jeanne, welcome! So good to have you with us, and many thanks for your positive feedback.

Elisabeth, love the expressions you shared. Also, re the Mistral, it is blowing strong here too! It kncoked over the table and chairs in todays picture.

Dreamer, I hope you get your lemon tree! But your remark about the TV was delightful.

Cyndy and Nancy, I you only knew what we do to protect our dogs (and others), you would not make such harsh and uninformed judgments. We did build that fenced in place, sealing it below with concrete--but they got out. We really do try our best, but despite our efforts, the dogs sometimes manage to get away. Sometimes they slip out when guests are here (guests who accidently open a door), sometimes, during a walk with us in the yard, they bolt when they hear a wild animal. There are times we cannot control everything, but we try. Currently, Im sad to say, one dog is chained (and we rotate them, throughout the day). One dog alone will not run off; but when two are loose they will run off.


Dearest Kristin: So glad to see you stand up for yourself against the harsh comments. I was so sad for you when I saw those. I've been reading your column now since 2004, and have gleaned that you and Jean-Marc are very responsible parents of both children and pets. Also that you are a very sensitive soul who wishes no harm to anyone, be it human or animal. So I knew those comments were very hurtful and uncalled for-- most especially in a public forum such as this. Take heart, your faithful readers are still here with you in spirit and word... Alisa


Living with neighbors can be so challenging! We once decided to get rid of our cat, in order to keep the peace with a cranky neighbor. Then, a few years later, he moved out of the neighborhood anyway!

Would it appease your angry neighbor if, along with the apology, you offered to pay for the lost chickens? I can't imagine anyone would still hold a grudge after such a gesture of good will!

Lanier Cordell

If you have a blender, rinse your nettles, toss them in with just enough broth then pulverize them. Pour the mixture into an ice cube tray and freeze. Pop the frozen cubes into a freezer bag or container, then drop them into soups, frittatas, vegetable dishes, stews...just about any savory dish you choose. I usually add fresh chickweed, dandelion greens, red clover, hawks beard and cleavers to the mix. Then I have these vitamin power houses on hand to add to just about everything. I generally add them in the last fifteen minutes of cooking so they don't over cook.


Our dear Kristi,
What a beautiful,touching post and picture!
You have given us such food for thought today: Living the life you read about (dreamed about!) in books!
We all want a life of happily ever after;sometimes we need to simply look around and see things through fresh eyes...
Aristotle said it(paraphrased):we're all responsible for our own happiness.
You give us inspiration to realize that happiness!
Natalia XO

Michelle C

Oh mon Dieu! Les orties are my arch enemy! They grow among my day lilies and other garden plants and sting and burn me when I unwittingly try to yank them, or when I brush past with bare legs. I never knew that they were good for anything. I have been plotting against them recently. As soon as I have a minute, I will don my garden gloves and sneak up on them (followed by the invasive poison ivy vines)! I must admit my surprise that they are useful for something. Is it just soup that you use them for? I still don't know if I can make peace with them long enough to discover their benefits.

Trina, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA

"I was thinking about the miracle of living the French expressions I'd once only memorized from a book! I was thinking about how things only got better and better, once you stood up, dusted yourself off, and went in search of love." Appreciated these beautiful, grateful words so full of inspiration; they came close to my heart as I now work to reinvent my life. Often one who previously tried through words and actions to inspire hope in others, I am now in need of a dose myself. Thank you for that, Kristi.

maryann new york

Whoa - reality check here. It is not acceptable to have dogs who kill chickens! I am definitely a 'dog person', I've had a dog or dogs all my life and they are precious to me BUT that does not mean that they are allowed to hurt other people or beings. It's all a matter of training and instruction that you give to them. They're not stupid and they can be taught not to attack other living things. Just think how human beings can act so ferociously in a war situation but yet are expected to return to peace time behavior. Dogs must be taught that blood lust is simply not acceptable. I've had big dogs and little dogs, herders and boxers and they all were able to understand that they should not kill or attack other beings. ANY justification or excuse for their killing of the chickens - TWICE, I understand, is terrible. Merely paying money to the owners is an insult to them.
Sorry to sound so judgemental especially since the only other time that I commented was to say that your husband acts very selfishly from what I can gleam from your posts. I really like your blog and I admire you very much for a whole slew of reasons and I really think that you could deal with a bit less apologizing and a lot more confidence in your own gut feelings.
I'm certain that if you knew me you would have equal if not more 'critiques' for me.
Be well, Maryann

maryann new york

typo 'glean' not 'gleam'

Diane Young

Les pauvres poules et les pauvres chiens. C'est dificile pour les animaux de vivre ensemble quelques fois. I had a friend with a German Shepherd who had to give him away because he was too predatory. I thought the idea about trying to get them trained sounded good. Perhaps there is a vet who can recommend a trainer to teach them not to poach the poulets. It's hard to go against natural instincts for humans. Imagine how hard it must be for animals. Dogs go for chickens; it's a fact of life. I think it's going to take an effort on your part and the owners of the chickens to settle this problem. Ar the chickens properly caged? Can you put some type of electric fence warning outside your doors so that the dogs can't take off? You certainly have my sympathy as a dog lover who refuses to live anywhere near chickens, but that's not much help to people like you and your neighbors who aren't in subdivisions. Keep the faith and work on the problem. We all think you are such a talented teller of tales and hold our interest. Keep the faith.

julie camp

I must have missed where Kristin asked readers for advice regarding her dogs (and cats). -julie-

Chris Allin

Amen, Julie! One thing I learned when my parents moved to the country is that country life is so very different from urban life. Especially concerning the balance of nature and the nature of weather. There is a delicate thread connecting the domestic and the wild which can be easily snapped either way. Beyond the beauty found in a country setting, horrible things can happen. I will never forget the time our horses got out of the pasture through a gate left open by a neighbor's child. They all grazed on the front lawn of the house, except the one we found dead in the middle of the road, hit by a driver who just kept on going. And it was one of our dogs who found and stayed by the horse and then alerted us. Who are we to judge what happens? Kristin shares her life with us in an honest way. Why not accept what she has to offer and the lessons learned as well.

Linda R.

Well spoken, Chris. On another note, I've never heard the expression "Faut pas pousser Mémé dans les orties ..." - one learns something new every day, including the word 'orties'. Annie sounds like a keeper - it's so nice to have kind neighbors in our lives. I have one, sauf elle est plus jeune que moi. I have appreciated you opening your heart to us week after week, Kristin - your family is to be commended for rolling with the punches - yours & ours : )

Faye Stampe, Gleneden Beach, OR

Hi Kristin! I see both sides --- many of us are animal lovers and worry about ALL animals -- not just yours. I'm sure you're doing the best you can and we know you loved the cats, and your pups. Your tone in the post was a wee bit defensive --- but I do understand that. I would be upset too if dogs got to my chickens. I'm sure there's a way to work it all out. I have been a huge supporter of keeping cats indoors --- but I do see the difference between urban and country settings.

Please don't take anything personal ---- I love your posts, photos and the pups.

PS: I am reading the book "Click Millionaires" and your website and you are mentioned. Loved it!


Hi Kristin,

I just listened to an interview you did with Scott Fox back in 2012. Thank you so much for sharing about your life in France and your writing. How blessed you are to have found a job that you love. I am also trying to turn my writing into a job because it is what I love doing the most. Thanks for being an inspiration! Merci!

Kristin Espinasse

Waking up, now, to these thoughtful replies. I would like to start with an apology if I was defensive in my previous comment. I just kept thinking: if only you could be a fly on the wall around here--then you would see how my days revolve around the animals and making sure noone is bothered (by any of us!).

Last night, when I learned Jane Goodall would be speaking in Paris (a 3-hr train ride from here), I thought: forget writing part 2 of your dog and chicken story--hop on the train and go hear Goodall speak! But I now realize the best I can do, is to be inspired in my own back yard (and put the cost of the train ticket and hotel back into my garden, spending time with my animals).

Faye and Jen, thanks for mentionning Click Millionaires. I had the great chance to be in Scott Foxs book. And though my blog and books have not made me a millionaire, I would not trade this job for a better paying one at McDonalds!

Julia ~ Falling Off Bicycles

Kristin, I'm so in love with all these encounters you write about. I so love how you share recipes and seeds and "small" things like that. It's all so enchanting and charming. Thanks for sharing.


Annie sounds delightful! Nettle is the delicious vitamin-rich food of my childhood. My grandmother and I used to pick it by the side of the road while enjoying a hike outside the city. I haven't had a chance to taste nettle soup in a while, but it's a favourite.

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Katia, and all who are responding to the stinging nettle info. The stories you are sharing are motivating me to cultivate this -- and other plants growing in the back yard! P.S. my dear friend Chris (another friend Chris, beside the dear reader who comments here!) tells me the Jane Goodall is speaking in Aix-en-Provence on Monday night at 8:30! This is much closer... so well be going. So happy! Would like to download her latest book, on plants, but I see she will be signing books too. I should take a lesson from some of you--and by both book versions :-)


I am wondering if a simple apology would be enough. I know your dogs are great, but from the neighbors' point of view they are not. Difficult situation.


I love dogs. I foster abused and abandoned dogs and find good "forever" homes for them. However, a dog that harms other peoples' animals is unacceptable. If you can't find a way of containing them then--heartless as it sounds--you must remove them from your life. Loose dogs that threaten livestock are often looked upon as fair game by farmers. They run the risk of being shot and killed--or painfully wounded. It's time to be a grown up about this and take adult responsibility for your animals. Owning a dog is a priviledge.

catharine ewart-touzot

oh wow the anti chicken killing dog comments abound today!..for certain it is a bad thing that I am equally certain you are more concerned about than any of the commenters..and the idea of getting rid of the dogs is really unacceptable. I have had "runaway" dogs in the past, just no matter what I would do they would get out and go exploring and then come home, and my live started to revolve around how to keep them inside the fence or house. I have fostered dogs in the past and some breeds just love to run, mine fortunately like to be in the house next to me. Sorry you are going through that agony, but equally certain you will find a solution. Loved your discussion about Annie she sounds wonderful. And one of the suggestions about freezing for later use is a real helpful idea.

Stacy ~ Sweet Life Farm

Dear Kristi,

I sympathize and have witnessed how differently our dear dogs can act while in the company of another. How very precious your accounting of your time with your dear neighbor Annie. I know I would love her! That she is one to learn from is evident. More and more I am seeking this simple, queit life; turning to nature for her strength and peace, priorities right now.

The afternoon before reading this post, I was at the creek commenting on how few stinging nettles were growing there this year. I have used them in the past and some current reading has revived my interest in nettles and dandelions. Thank you for the link to explore their many benefits. How wonderful to find nature’s healing free in our own back yards.

I am looking forward to part two of your story. I am glad that you do get the opportunity to hear Jane’s talk after all; what an extraordinary event.



Dear kristi
Enjoy your blogs! I, too, think U apologize too much sometimes...most of us know U do everything right with your animals...but life happens & when it does, we do what we can to make things right & move occurs to me ,frequently, that some "animal lovers" are often callus about people and think nothing of being harsh and hurtful to them....lack of consciousness can be a terrible thing! Bon courage et bonne chance!

Sarah L

Dear Kristi,

I've been reading on and off for years your wonderful blog. For the first time, I want to comment as a way of sending some love and good vibes your way. Just as some dogs are wired to run after the excitement of wing-flapping birds (and cause harm), there are humans who are wired to pass judgement, (and sadly, in a way that is critical and might also cause some pain). I am simultaneously amazed, befuddled, and amused that there are those who would write to you as if they are the know-it-all of all things, as if they are the arbiter of life and everything in it. I think many people, including some of your readers, have difficulty accepting what is, and appreciating that in spite of trying one's best, unfortunately things can still go wrong. Your dogs are part of your life, and a part of this enjoyable blog. Go ahead and apologize all you want (or not). You are just you being you (and your dogs, in spite of possible fencing and/or training, are just being dogs). You are generous and your personality is lovely. I rarely have the time to peruse the comments from your readers and so someone has probably written before, I imagine, that by virtue of sharing the intimacy of your life with us all, you make yourself vulnerable to feedback that might hurt. Those wired to pass judging comments might not intend or realize the critical way their remarks might be perceived. It hurt me to read some of the comments. It would hurt me more to think you might be hurt by them because you are the one giving so much. Things happen and life goes on...(although maybe not for all chickens). I hope this blog will too! It's a gem in my inbox when I find it there.
Thank you,
Sarah in Bay Area


You seriously need to apologize to ALL the neighbors, not just the one who lost the chickens. You have killer dogs that need to be restrained. Spare a thought for the poor people who lost, or may lose, their livestock. I raise ducks and I would have thrown more than stones at your dogs!

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