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Entries from November 2014

How to say "wise" in French?

Autumn in the Rhone 
Autumn and the sound, in the distance, of leaves crunching underfoot


sagesse (saah zhess) noun, feminine

    wisdom, (good) sense; discretion

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read these expressions:

faire preuve de sagesse = to be sensible
la sagesse populaire = popular (or traditional) wisdom
agir avec sagesse = to act wisely
la dent de sagesse = wisdom tooth 


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

(Note: I am away until end of next week. This story was written 6 years ago... )

I am sitting at the edge of the bed, looking out the window at November. Once the pomp and parade of fall colors fade, what is left are the ashes of autumn. The earth turns in on itself and so do those who trod upon it. In the darkness, questions come to light, nagging issues such as, What is important in this life?

I look over to my teenage son, who is busy with the task of grooming. He's got my tattered trousse de toilette beside him, having fished out the clippers from inside.

"Max," I question, "If you were given the chance to share an important pensée with the entire world, what would that message be?"

Next, I brace myself for that flicker of genius to appear... the kind that graces children—and chance be ours when we're focused enough to hear!

I wait patiently for "the message" to be mysteriously channeled through my 13-year-old son with the overgrown toenails. I'm one to believe in the pureness of pint-sized knowledge and hope to be tuned in when Sagesse speaks, "out of the mouth of babes".

Leaning forward, I put my ear close to the chapped lips of the would-be child savant, and this is what I hear:

"Je ne sais pas, Maman."

With that, the messenger resumes his toenail clipping. That'll do, I decide, letting the answer linger a bit.

Doubt creeps in and I double check with the mini messiah. "'I don't know.' Is that it? Is that what you have to share with the world?"

"Mmmhmmm," Max replies, and I watch a few more nail clippings rocket through the air. Some messages come with fireworks, I decide, never mind these aren't sizzling.

Well, I can work with that. And so I do. I think about Max's "I don't know" answer to a meaningful life. The "I don't know" concept is, after all, brillant! For, with knowledge comes power and how many of us make the mistake of tacking pride on to that? Pride then squashes humility and things tend to go downhill (Pride goeth before the fall...) from there.

And knowledge, or too much of it, sometimes leads to fear. I listen to friends talk about the effect that all those info-packed newspaper headlines had on the economy. Panic sent people zipping up their pocket books. Companies shut down. People lost jobs.

I don't mean to give the big K, "Knowledge," a bad name... no, I'd never argue with my faith-filled mom when she tells me to fill up on The Word! Only, I sometimes wonder about how much I should strive to know when a lot of what I take in only serves to distract. Bits and pieces of this and that and, before I know it, I've gotten off track! There I am, left spinning in the superflu. My dad once said, "You think too much!" and, you know, I now think he's right: so busy are we sifting through a magnitude of facts, that the basic ideas get hidden beneath all those "informative" stacks.

Most times I'm guilty of assumption: when I think I know something and, in fact, I've got it all wrong. Such "insights" paint my perceptions and, busy with a wealth of tidbits, I'm circling through a Never Never Land of ideas again.

I once had a Mensa-ish friend, one of those brilliant types, but what amazed me was her humility. I'll never forget her response when asked about her know-it-ness. She abruptly raised both hands... and began hitting her head! "I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING!" she shouted, in all sincerity (none of that false
modesty). Her startling, head tapping show, wonderfully illustrates the concept of "I Don't Know!"

Knowledge isn't all bad, especially when it connects us to another:
Having known pain, one sympathizes with the sufferer,
having known poverty, one understands need,
having known injustice, one argues for the accused,
having known loss, one's heart goes out to the grief-stricken,
having known fear, one comforts the frightened.

                            *    *     *
I'm beginning to think that what is important in life is not how much we know, but what little we can focus on. In my case, the teenage toenail clipper sitting beside me. While I'll never understand the physics behind those "flying toenails," how they self-launch following each clip of the cutters, I can know the fondness I feel for a boy whose "message," in the end, is ever so coy.


French Vocabulary

 la trousse de toilette = make-up (shaving) bag

une pensée = thought

la Sagesse = Wisdom

Je ne sais pas, Maman = I don't know, Mom

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

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


Capture plein écran 03112014 104029
Everyone puts "Laguiole" on their "to buy" list when coming to France. But did you know you can get these popular French knives online? Click here.

Tune Up Your French: Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Spoken French 


Dashing Smokey... looking quite wise, too!

See you at the end of next week, with a fresh update after my trip!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

French for "To go beyond one's limits"

Love Well (c) Kristin Espinasse

The painted sign reads: "To live well, love well, and let the others say what they will!" Pour bien vivre, bien aimer, et laisser dire

 se sublimer (seuh-soo-blee-may)

    : to transcend oneself, to go beyond one's limits

Audio File: listen to today's word in the following story, written and read aloud by Jean-Marc! Download MP3 or Wav file

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

(Note: I am away for a few weeks. Today's story is a rerun. Enjoy!)

"Un jour dans la vie d’écrivain de Kristi..." by Jean-Marc
A Day in Kristi's Writing Life... by Jean-Marc
Aujourd’hui, je voudrai vous parler de ce qu’est le quotidien de notre chère écrivain.
Today, I want to talk to you about what is a typical day in the life of our dear writer.

Kristi se lève vers 6H le matin, ouvre la porte pour que Smokey (qui alors aboie et réveille toute la maison), puis Braise sortent quelques minutes) puis, elle va gentillement nous préparer le thé.
Kristi wakes up around six in the morning, opens the door so that Smokey (who then barks and wakes up the whole house), and then Braise, can go out a few minutes) then she kindly prepares us tea.

Ensuite, elle revient dans notre chambre pour boire le thé, consulter ses emails sans malheureusement pouvoir y répondre car c'est bientôt l'heure d'écrire son édition.
Next, she returns to our room to drink the tea, to consult her emails, without, unfortunately being able to respond to them for it is soon time to begin her edition.

C’est au tour de Jackie et Max de se lever et alors que je vais accompagner Maxime au bus, c’est Kristi qui le plus souvent s’occupe d’amener Jackie à l’école. 
Now it's time for Jackie and Max to get up and while it is I who takes Max to the bus, it's most often Kristi who takes care of getting Jackie to school.

Il est 8 H 30 et Kristi, le plus souvent, n’a toujours pas idée de ce qu’elle va écrire. Pour elle, l’inspiration est souvent synonyme d’improvisation.
It is 8:30 and Kristi, most often, still has no idea what she's going to write. For her, inspiration is often synonymous with improvisation.

Ce léger stress et la pression de devoir écrire une édition la plus parfaite en moins de quatre heures, tout en ayant à inclure sponsors, photos, messages vocaux, est une réelle prouesse d’artiste, surtout lorsque cela se produit en moyenne trois fois par semaine. 
This slight stress and the pressure to have to write the best edition in less than four hours, all the while including sponsors, photos, vocal messages, is a true prowesse of the artist, especially when this is reproduced, in general, around three times a week.

Dans ce délicat exercice, elle a le don de se sublimer pour produire une histoire qui va elle, engendrer un moment de bonheur à ses lecteurs.
In this delicate exercise, she has the gift of transcending herself in order to produce a story that will itself engender a moment of happiness for her readers.

Pendant ce temps là, Kristi a un grand besoin de calme et ne se donne que quelques courtes pauses pour aller grignoter un fruit.
During this time, Kristi has a real need for calm, and she only gives herself a few short breaks to go and snack on some fruit.

Une fois l’édition terminée, elle prépare notre déjeuner, va faire balader les chiens et puis, après avoir mangé son repas, elle va décompresser par une petite "sacro-sainte" sieste.
Once her edition is finished, she fixes our lunch, goes to walk the dogs and then, after eating her lunch, she goes to decompress by a little sacred nap.
Vient ensuite l’heure de lire les commentaires qui sont pour elle la récompense des efforts fournis dans la matinée. Elle va ensuite avoir un tout petit peu de temps pour répondre aux très nombreux emails et de s'occuper de nos enfants, de rencontrer quelques amis, de tenir la maison propre...
Next up, it is time to read the story comments which are for her the reward for her morning efforts. She'll then have a little time left to respond to numerous emails and to take care of our kids, meet with friends, and keep the house clean.

Voilà, je pensais vous pourriez savoir à quoi ressemble une journée type dans la vie de votre écrivain. Comme vous le voyez, cela ne lui laisse pas beaucoup de temps de loisirs.
So there you have it, I thought you might like to know just what a typical day looks like in the life of your writer. As you can see, it doesn't leave a lot of time for leisure.
Aussi, j’espère que vous serez indulgents si elle ne répond pas toujours aux très nombreux emails qu’elle reçoit. Sachez néanmoins qu’ils sont tous lus et appréciés.
Also, I hope you'll be indulgent if she doesn't always respond to the numerous emails that she receives. Know, however, that they are all read and appreciated.
Même si Kristi travaille énormément, elle se considère privilégiée de pouvoir être en contact avec de si nombreux lecteurs qui ont tous également du talent, de la sagesse et un grande âme.
Even if Kristi works alot, she considers herself priviledged to be able to be in contact with so many readers who all have, equally, talent, wisdom and great souls.

You've Got Mail! (c) Kristin Espinasse
Jean-Marc, standing next to a mailbox at our cousin's house near Aix. When André and Annie (aunt- and uncle-in-law) hung their boîte à lettres one this magical plane tree... the tree responded by reaching out... for the longest hug in history (it took a decade or two to complete the hug!) Maybe someone should contact the Guiness Book of Records?

French christmas musicA reader favorite for the holidays:
French Christmas Music: "Mon Beau Sapin", "Saint Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". Order CD here.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

"See you" in French... and I hope you win this prize!

Potimarron seeds
What to focus on? Take your pick! Car, seeds, dirty dishes, compost... Smokey. Ah, there's a comforting place to rest the eyes.

Today's Prize: Desiderata poem, framed
What do you do when bad things happen? Answer here and enter to win today's prize (more info below).

à bientôt (ah-byen-toh)

    : see you soon!

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc Download MP3 or Wav

Je pars quelques semaines. A bientot!
I'm going away for a few weeks. See you soon!

    => A French Christmas: order this  favorite CD

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

The next two posts have been pre-programed to go out during my 3 week absence. But before I go I want to thank you for sticking around during a turbulent month wherein my mother-in-law began falling, one of our dogs disappeared,  I lost half of French Word-A-Day subscribers, and our neighbor stabbed his parents to death before running head on into the train that passes right below our vineyard.

For the woman who tweeted "Hate chu Kristin Espinasse and your $@%!! perfect French life," please think twice before jumping to conclusions (and learn to spell!).  

I take that parenthetical jab back, because up to this point--122 words into this ramble--my spell-checker has already caught 6 coquilles, or typos, and off I trot, dumbly unaware of the grammar trespasses I'm making as this essay advances....

But to where? Just where are we going, dear Reader? More than this aimless essay, don't the times feel this way--ungrounded? (Unless your name is Rosetta, and you've just made a historical landing on some far off comet.)  

I wasn't going to tell you about the sad and horrific event in our neighborhhood or share the "hate tweet", but the heart is as unpredictable as the times. And though this essay could be better with a good outline, a rough draft, a shot of vodka, and an editor... it will amble forward as the others have before it.

Step after step, word after word, it is a great privilege to continue on this writing path and I thank you for having big enough hearts to listen to whatever I have to say.

I especially enjoy hearing what you have to say. The past few posts have included questions that have enabled me to get to know you better. Reading your answers to the question "Have you ever won anything?" I was unprepared for the heartache and laughter your words unlocked.

Keeping in theme with today's story, here is another question for you:

What do you do when bad things happen? 

Answer it and enter to win one of my favorite things (more info below). Thanks again for reading these missives. See you in a few weeks.



To leave a comment or to answer today's question, click here.

French Vocabulary
une coquille = typo

Happy endings, with Breizh, who is home now, and Smokey.

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


"DESIDERATA". Today's prize is a framed poem that will lighten anyone's heart. Note: Giving away the English version, but you can read--and listen to--the bilingual version here!

To enter to win, click here to answer today's question: "What do you do when bad things happen?"

In addition to entering the contest, you may want to go ahead and order this inspirational poem as a gift, click here.

Catherine topinambour

Thank you, Catherine, for showing me what my topinambours will look like, once planted. So much to look forward to! And a lovely message to end this post:

Pleine de bonnes choses à venir. So much to look forward to. Thanks for sharing these positive words with a friend--who might enjoy receiving this French journal.


"Never air your laundry in public!" my grandmother might say (there's her needlepoint pillow, "Pall Mall", just above). But how else to show real French life? This is, after all, how the majority of the country dries things this time of year. Sure, tumble dryers are catching on, meantime....

Drying rack

If you would like to catch up with the times--the ecological times--you can get your own "French dryer" here!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

The French word topinambour--it saved French lives during WW2

Hidden in Paris Corine Gantz

Enter to win a copy of the book Hidden in Paris. Answer the following question:
Have you ever won something? Click here to answer.

topinambour (toh-pee-nam-boor)

    : jerusalem artichoke, sun choke, helianthus tuberosus

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

Pendant la guerre, manger des topinambours a permis d'éviter la famine.
During the war, eating jerusalem artichokes helped avoid famine.


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

After what seemed like months I finally received the package of seeds I’d ordered. Ripping open the box, I reached for packets of maïs doux, épinard géant d’hiver, amaranthe rouge and ail chinois. It was strange how such a small order was delivered in such a large box--unusual for a company practicing sustainability.

Flattening the boîte for recycling, an earthy scent arose tickling my nose. Reaching into the package I pulled out a lump of dirt. More dirt followed and what looked like crottes! A thought crossed my mind: Perhaps one could go too far on this path of permaculture? Things were getting a little too natural for even my sensibilities!

I grabbed the receipt, my eyes traveling down the list to a vaguely familiar word: topinambour. Must have ordered them during my latest seed shopping spree… Why? Like a patient waking from a retail therapy coma, I had no answers—only a bizarre purchase to account for.

I took out a few more tubers, examining them. No two were alike. And which way was up? Which end was the root end for planting?

      The forest for the trees--or the tubers from the tiles...

With soiled hands, I pounded the keyboard for information. In addition to crotte-like tubers, an internet search brought up pages and pages of bright yellow sunflowers. The tournesols were only too familiar. I’d seen them in cozy French gardens and even in charming municipal displays. How I’d yearned for them, trying in vain to locate the exact flowers in seed catalogues.  

But what were they doing here, in a search for ugly tubers or topinambours?

Slowly connecting the dots, I realized I’d accidentally happened upon them—right in my mailbox--after ordering a légume ancien--forgotten vegetables our ancestors once grew!  Next came the quest to know everything possible about this absolutely charming vegetable, the Jerusalem artichoke (a.k.a. “The sunchoke” “the Pear of the Earth” and, my favorite, “The Truffle of Canada”).


Not only were the "sunroot" flowers beautiful to look at, they were, according to the internet, a cinch to grow in almost any soil (even in sand!) and they came with a host of benefits: they can be eaten raw or cooked, diabetics favor them for the inulin, which helps diminish or eliminate the need for insulin, neighbors plant them as “privacy shields” (the plants shoot up quickly, as high as 10-12 feet), animals love them (good for chickens!) and survivalists plant them in their yards. “When the supermarket shelves are empty,” one gardener said, “I’ll have 3 years worth of food!”

Sunroot flowers
Photographed by Paul Fenwick, 19th March 2005

Bon, one could get tired of even “truffles”… still with their golden blossoms and nutty-tasting tubers, what wasn’t there to love about these so-called Pears of the Earth? An internet forum revealed the downside: 1) intestinal response (gas) and 2) the tubers have an invasive characteristic. As little as a portion of one tuber could yield dozens and dozens and dozens more. Practically impossible to harvest every single one, the plant lives on to infinity and beyond—sometimes invading neighbor’s gardens!

After reading all the horror stories, including the tuber’s attractiveness to pigs—of which we have many (a serious sanglier problem), I went to sleep and had nightmares—so worried was I about the one or two Jerusalem artichokes I’d already planted, a vision of endless sunflowers having goaded me on and on. But where had I planted them? I could not exactly remember. Tossing and turning all night long, drenched in sweat, I tugged at the sunchokes in vain. No matter how deep I dug, in my dreams, more came up—totally invading my garden as they marched their gnarled “feet”, toward my neighbor’s yard! I woke several times in the night, drenched, only to fall back asleep to the same tuber war! Reaching, grasping, yanking, I could not oust the invader!

The next day, while serving coffee to our especially animated guest (a specialist on planting grapevines), I talked about the Jerusalem artichokes I’d ordered.

“An excellent and advantageous food!” he chirped, only to grow uncharacteristically quiet. A peaceful look transformed his face and when next the farmer looked up he said:

“Thanks in part to your country and to the topinambour, France was saved during the war… from invasion and famine.

It was yet another coincidence, to be holding this homely tuber on such a memorable day: Armistice, or Veterans Day. 

leave a comment and automatically enter to win today’s giveaway.

French Vocabulary
la crotte = dog doo
le maïs doux = sweet corn
l'épinard géant d’hiver = giant winter spinach
amaranthe rouge = red amaranthus
ail (m) chinois = Chinese garlic
la boîte = box
le tournesol = sunflower 
bon = well (after all)
le sanglier = wild boar


Leave a comment and automatically enter to win today’s giveaway.  Click here.


Hidden in Paris Corine Gantz

Enter to win a copy of Corine Gantz' book Hidden in Paris. Simply leave a comment in the comments box or answer this question: Have you ever won anything? If so, what? Enter here.


 Capture plein écran 03112014 104029
"Laguiole" (with the little bee on the handle)! Did you know you can get these popular French knives at Amazon? When you purchase anything at Amazon, using the links in this newsletter or blog, you help support this free word journal. Click here.

Color therapy to lighten the mood and dog therapy to hug the heart. Did it work? 

Thanks for reading today's edition and for sharing it. Don't forget to enter to win a copy of Hidden in Paris. Click here to answer the question: Have you ever won something?

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

The French word "tomber," the cops, and my mother-in-law


Enter to win this French holiday CD (pictured below)
Simply tell me a favorite song of yours here in the comments.

My mother-in-law might say "something by Elvis or Gainsbourg." That's her, right, in Nyons. Look at those trusty shoes she is wearing--the last thing I packed for her before the firemen whisked her away, yesterday! Read on.

tomber (tohm-bay)

    : to fall

Audio: Listen to Jean-Marc MP3 or Wav

Depuis son retour de la clinique, Michèle-France est tombée quatre fois dans son appartement.
Since her return from the clinic, Michèle-France has fallen four times in her apartment.

Tis The Season... Already?
Yesterday, at the bakery to buy croissants for my mother-in-law, I saw a tray samples beside the cash register. The famous pompe à l'huile cake was on display and for the taking! Reaching for a slice, the scent of fleur d'oranger reminded me of Christmas with our French family. (Cousin, Sabine makes the famous "olive oil cake".) I will need to get this recipe for you (can't wait? Find it on page 254 of this book, of all books or free on the internet). Meantime, here is a lovely CD to set the mood....

To enter to win this CD, simply tell me your favorite song here in the comments box.

French Christmas CD

French Christmas Music: "Mon Beau Sapin", "Saint Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant".  Order CD here or enter to win it when you tell me your favorite song here in the comments.

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

"A Hunger for Life"

Arriving at my mother-in-law's for our breakfast date, I was unable to enter her apartment building. I'd forgotten the secret numbers to la digicode box, that push-buttoned "Open Sesame!" on the wall beside the entrance. 

When Michèle-France did not answer her phone, I waded through the scratchy buissons beside the entrance and peered into her living room window. That's when I saw my mother-in-law lying motionless on the floor!

"C'est moi! C'est moi!" I shouted, tapping on the window, but my mother-in-law could not turn to see me. Recognizing my voice she struggled to remember her digicode number--and succeeded! 

I typed the four digits and hurried into the bâtiment, expecting to find the next door open (my husband had told his mother to quit locking her door--in case of an emergency like this one--the fourth time she'd fallen since returning from the clinic).

Manque de chance! Michèle-France's door was locked! 

"The keys are on the door!" my mother-in-law insisted, straining to carry her voice.

"No, there are no keys on the door!" I repeated, carefully eyeing all three keyholes and running my fingers over them as a personal sanity check. I looked everywhere, pausing only to concentrate. Keep calm and the keys will appear! 

So much for calm. Instinct kicked in and I flung myself at the door, once, twice, three times....

Running back outside I began forcing the windows. Flimsy as they were they would not give! I ran around to the side of the building and began yanking the metal shutters of her bedroom. I could almost pry them open but for an out-of-reach latch.

Returning to the front windows I shouted to my mother-in-law not to worry, but we would have to call the fire department. This was a last resort--for my mother-in-law would have preferred to keep this latest slip between the two of us. She was desperate not to return to the clinic, which is where her worried family would send her after this morning's chute.

On my tiptoes I peered back through the window and saw my mother-in-law had managed to turn her head. I smiled back at her, throwing kisses through the glass that separated us. Her face lit up and I assured her I'd be right back.  

Now... what was the French version of 911? The numbers finally came to mind for the emergency call but try as I might I could not dial 17. Instead 177 kept appearing on my mobil phone screen. I tried to steady my hands and on the fourth attempt I heard a French woman's voice. I'd dialed the police department!

"Désolée! I meant to dial the pompiers," I explained.

The woman assured me not to worry and began the questioning. Where was I calling from? What was my name? Was my mother-in-law alive?


I ran back up to the window, knowing perfectly well the answer. "Oui!"

"OK," the officer said. The police are on their way, but you will need to contact the fire department. Dial 18....

"We just need the pompiers--not the police!"

The officer assured me this was protocol on hung up. Hands steady this time, I dialed les pompiers. Five minutes later a team of three firefighters, two men and one woman, was standing outside my mother-in-law's bedroom window. They pulled on thin white gloves and began prying open the metal shutters, this time with success!

Luckily the bedroom window was open and one of the pompiers jumped through it to open the front door. Next, the police arrived (all three of them, including one woman) and began interrogating me.

Your name? Your birthdate?  Your telephone? Your address? Where were you born?

"The Philippines," I answered, keeping an eye on my mother-in-law, who answered "Maroc",or Morocco, for her birthplace. She was being interrogated too--by the fire department. They had lifted her off the cold floor and set her gently into her chair.

I noticed how tenderly the firefighters handled my mother-in-law, whose humor kicked in as she began flirting with the youngest member of the team. Those handsome French uniforms! But I cringed when they responded to her with  "ma petite dame" and other terms of endearment that, to a strong-willed woman like my mother-in-law, translated to "LITTLE OLD LADY!"

Looking closely, she appeared to be another, weaker person. But this was owing to the absence of her teeth. I hurried to the bathroom to get them for her--the moment she asked for them.

And her hair... She had always kept it up--along with her nails--fiesty-fiesty red! Her hair was dyed a more delicate shade--strawberry. But lately, her hairdresser was not returning her calls, not since she asked for a favor: could he make one exception and do a house call?

"She will need a change of underwear, " the female firefighter said, waking me from my seat at the hair salon. I had been watching my mother-in-law getting all dolled up in the next swivel chair.... until it all disappeared to the present moment. There she sat, barefoot and sparsely dressed. Her snowwhite hair reminding me of the underwear I needed to be getting.

"J'y vais! I'm going to get them!" I answered the firefighter, hurrying to my mother-in-law's bedroom to grab the culottes ... when the phone rang. It was my husband. Only, just as soon as I heard his voice, my own began to crack. No words would come out.

"I'm on my way," Jean-Marc said. 

It was stupid and indulgent to cry when everything was going so well. Things could have been so much worse! Jean-Marc arrived almost at the same time as the auxiliaire de vie, or care assistant, who was scheduled to see my mother-in-law that morning. Now the apartment teamed with 10 unexpected guests. And then the neighbors passed by, casually peeking past the front door where my mother-in-law sat completely exposed.

After I hurried to shut the door, the room hummed even louder with all the questioning by the various municipal workers, who were all going beyond the call of duty. So much so that my mother-in-law began to unbridle her heart--telling her full story to anyone who would listen: "All those months in the hospital. Then the clinic. All that physical therapy. FOR THIS! I've been lying on the floor for 4 hours. Let me tell you--all you young'uns--getting old SUCKS!"

No, she didn't really say those last three unseemly words, but she was thinking it. I could see it in her eyes as a blanket was thrown over her lap and the professionals  cooed, "Dear little old lady, all will be well!"

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All alone in the apartment--my mother-in-law having been carted off in a wheelchair, followed by an entourage of helpers, I looked around nostalgically. I recognized all the framed photos of family, the wooden armoire with the carved doors, the favorite watercolors by her artist friend. In a cut crystal vase the branches of bruyère I'd brought last fall were dried up and colorless. I had the urge to stuff them in the garbage like a menacing note. 

I took off my coat and rolled up my sleeves. My husband had left the keys and I would lock up just as soon as the dishes were done and the bed was made. This time I wasn't going to leave my belle-mère's apartment in disarray. Not like the last time when chaos hit so suddenly. 

Hanging the kitchen towel to dry I noticed the sacks of croissants I had brought for our breakfast date. They were still sitting on the window sill where I'd dropped them before trying to break into the apartment.

But one of the sacks was missing....

An image of a fireman running back to the building crossed my mind. So that is what he'd come back for--her breakfast. In all the haste my mother-in-law managed to remember that buttery, rich croissant! Chances are she will be just fine--as long as she keeps that hunger for life.

To leave a comment or to read one, click here. And tell me your favorite song to enter to win the Fernch CD, mentioned earlier!

French Vocabulary
le buisson = shrub, bush
le bâtiment = building
manque de chance = no luck
désolé(e) = sorry
la chute = fall
le pompier = firefighter
la culotte = panties (U.S.) knickers (U.K.)
auxiliaire de vie = home health aid, care assistant
la bruyère = heather
la belle-mère = mother-in-law

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You may wonder why I've been busy transplanting dozens of strawberry plants. Because my family loves  un bon milk-shake à la fraise (the healthy kind). If you haven't gotten a Nutribullet yet, please consider this one here. And this model, right here, is priced lower than the one pictured above. A perfect holiday gift for my mother-in-law. Now to get her back out of that clinic!

When you shop for anything at Amazon, entering the store via one of the links in this letter or at the blog, your purchase helps support this free word journal. Merci beaucoup!

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Don't forget to enter to win the French CD--and forward this so a friend has a chance to win too. On second thought, why lower your chances?

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
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♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

The French word "sous-vide" + Win "Flirting with French"

Mediterranean sea

To enter to win today's book--a copy of Flirting with French--tell me your favorite thing to eat. Click here to enter.

Today's delicious fish caper begins somewhere near the sea in La Madrague, east of La Ciotat.... but before we begin, a question for those who have had difficulty viewing these emailed posts: how are things looking today? Thanks for reporting any formatting issues to

le sous-vide (sew-veed)

    :  vacuum-sealed (in a plastic bag)

emballé sous vide = vacuum-packed

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

Le poisson était présenté en sachet sous-vide.
The fish came in a vacuum-sealed bag.

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

Sunday morning was quickly turning into a day of galère rather than a day of repos. There was my husband--lying on the floor wrestling with the dishwasher--my clean kitchen now teeming with screwdrivers, filters, even the vacuum cleaner (what in tarnation was he going to suck up this time?)

I took a deep breath, pivoted on my heels, and was on my way back out to the strawberry patch to continue planting all those leafy offshoots, when I heard the victory cry: "Ça y est! Je l'ai réparé!"

Jean-Marc had located the imposteur: a morsel of broken wine glass that had lodged itself into the dishwasher motor.  "Je suis assez content de moi!" my husband declared, holding up the shard for an admiring glance.  Examining it, I was contente too (we wouldn't be forking out $$$ to the repair man this time!).

This got me thinking...

"Why don't you go to the farmers market and get some daurade to barbecue for lunch?! You could stop at the lone fisherman's stand. His is more expensive--but it's local!"   

"D'accord!" my husband agreed. He was in such a good mood I might have asked for lobster, too, but le homard not something you find here, in turquoise blue Mediterranean waters--though you'll find plenty of sea urchin, now that oursin season has begun! (Don't remind my husband of this fact, for no delicacy compares to his beloved oursins, which taste even better when you hunt for them yourself!)

As luck would have it, we were not having those damned urchins today. No, not we! And by the time Jean-Marc had cycled back from the farmers marché , Jackie and I had set the picnic table, adding a bowl of greens from the potager and a tray of new fromages to tide us over until le pièce de résistance! 

My daughter and I were now seated table-side on the front patio, picking at our salads and cheese--en train de patienter--when Jean-Marc hurried by, pausing only to yank several branches of rosemary from the bush behind my chair.

"What's that for?" I asked, remembering he only used romarin for mussels. "I thought we agreed on sea bream?"

"C'est pour faire parler les bavardes!" Jean-Marc snickered. "It gives the chatterboxes something to talk about!" 

"Ha ha! How much longer?" I shouted as The Rosemary Thief ran down the path on his way to the barbecue.

"Cinq minutes!" came the answer as an unusually giant bundle of herbs disappeared around the corner.

Ah, the famous five minutes! Jackie and I looked at each other when both of us automatically began betting.

"I'd say this particular five minutes translates to..."

"Twenty!" Jackie guessed, beating me to it.

A little while later Jean-Marc returned with three grilled daurades, which looked so good my daughter and I forgot to check our stopwatch.

"Wow!" I cheered as Jean-Marc lowered the platter and three entire daurades were grilled to perfection. Their silver skins cracked with a light charcoal finish and their eyes looked right up at the cook... who would soon eat them--as would his daughter (just as her great-grandmother did and the generations before her who'd lived through war et revolution. Fish eyes were nothing to throw out! Fish cheeks neither!)

"Voilà. Just what you asked for, ma chérie." Jean-Marc purred, serving the crispy-skinned fish. "Daurade sauvage."

"Oh, yes! I can tell it's wild. It looks so... sauvage!!"

"Mmm mmm!" Jackie agreed adding a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of citron before taking another bite. The meat was moist, tender, and faintly sweet. Jean-Marc had obviously spared no expense! 

"I know it's a little more expensive," I admitted, setting down my knife to savor the next bite, "but it's so worth it! Don't you agree?"

"Only the best for my chérie!" Jean-Marc insisted. I could tell he was in an especially good mood, which was strange given he'd just emptied his pockets to pay for high quality. 

"Au fait, what did it cost? I wondered.

"Trente euros."

"Thirty? For three fish?! Ten euros each... Well, no wonder it's so good! None of that farmed fish! Besides, you get what you pay for!"

Jean-Marc smiled as he listened to me go on and on about fish quality and how, anyway, it was less expensive than if we were eating daurade in a restaurant--where a single fish could cost up to 27 euros! Just ask my unsuspecting Dad, who treated us to lunch (seaside in Cassis) when he was here last month.

"Well... maybe we could serve this when Sophie comes over next weekend?" I suggested, taking advantage of the generous atmosphere to milk it some more!

"Anytime," Jean-Marc laughed--admitting he'd bought all three fish on sale at the grocery store!

Jackie and I dropped our forks.

"They were out of daurade at the fish stand, so I rode my bike to the supermarket. Found these sous-vide! They were fished in Greece, and are now on special--three for 14 euros! When I got home I removed the packaging, tossed it behind the bushes and put it on a platter.

I looked over at the rosemary bush, his partner in crime. And had he also used its branches to camouflage the taste of cheap fish?

But the fact was, the fish was delicious--and Jean-Marc deserved the well as a reminder:

"Next time, let's make it local. Better for the environment!"

That smirk returned to my husband's face. Uh-oh, I know what that meant. Prickly sea urchins! And lots of them (the season is now open through April!). My husband would be only too happy for any excuse to go underwater hunting--for the love of les oursins. 

"On second thought, Greece isn't so far away...."


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To respond to this story, click here--and be automatically entered in today's drawing. See below...

French Vocabulary
la galère = pain, chore, hell
le repos = rest
je suis assez content = I'm quite pleased
la daurade = sea bream
d'accord = OK
le homard = lobster
l'oursin (m) = sea urchin
le potager = vegetable garden
en train de = in the middle of
patienter = to waiting, waiting
le romarin = rosemary
le citron = lemon
chérie, chéri = darling
au fait = by the way

New rental in Provence. In the charming village of Sablet--this spacious home is the perfect place to return to after sightseeing, bicycling or hiking.See photos here.

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"Laguiole" (with the little bee on the handle)! Did you know you can get these popular French knives online? Click here.

Jackie daurade

Jackie, enjoying the not-so-local daurade, or sea bream.

The winner of Friday's giveaway is Rhonda! Rhonda, your name was drawn randomly, and your reminder, "Pets can be such a comfort for those suffering from Alzheimer's" is a good one.  I will contact you today, so get your address ready so I can send you your book.

Meantime, for all readers, here's another chance to win another book.....

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In today's story we learned about Jean-Marc's great-grandmother, who ate the eyes right out of the fish on her plate! We learn even more about French culture--via the language--in William Alexander's latest "Flirting With French". 

To enter, simply share your favorite delicacy (if not fish eyes!) Click here to share and enter. 

Meantime, I'm taking advantage of the rain to plant many more seeds... and to divide these. Chives! Lots of them. Can't wait to see all the purple flowers some day. In front of the chives, I've planted fraises--strawberries (all free, given they were shoots from the mother plant!). Also planting fèves, or fava beans, pois chiches, or chickpeas, and more comfrey.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.