French Friday: Ah, Those False Friends…

The more I speak French with my daughter the more I’m reminded that my native language and American English share a fair amount of false friends. Faux amis in French designate words that look exactly the same in both languages but have very different meanings.

I made my first acquaintance with false friends over my very first trip to New York City in the mid 1980s. The American couple who hosted me described one of their friends as being special. Although the French adjective spécial (e) also means unique, it is not the first choice to describe someone who has a very special place in your life since spécial is also used to describe someone or something that exists away from the accepted norms. It took me a while to understand that my friends were speaking highly of their special friend and didn’t find her peculiar.

More than a decade later I made closer encounters with more false friends.

When one of my daughters invited a kindergarten classmate for a play date, I met a precocious six-year-old boy who spoke eloquently and was a huge fan of the adverb actually. Which I instinctively translated in actuellement. But, actually means in fact and not currently which is the translation of the French actuellement.

Years went by, yet I could still occasionally think in French. Once, because of an injury I needed physical therapy. Frustrated with the slow progress, I expressed my concerns. My PT kept telling me that I would eventually recover full usage of my left knee. Although his warm smile was encouraging I had a hard time believing him. In fact, I freaked out, unable to accept that he meant that in the end I would be able to use my knee as I used to. In my mind, he meant possibly, which is éventuellement in French. Ultimately, my PT was right: I finally fully recovered.

When my daughter talks with me, texts me, or e-mails me, she makes the effort to do so in French, and I do too, although it would sometimes be much simpler in English. If only to avoid those false friends…

Of course, my daughter has always been able to avoid the classic ones, such as pain, which means bread in French and not hurt, or coin, which designates a corner in French and not some currency, or still store, which is a blind in French. She knows that when real estate agents claim that location is key to a property they are not talking about a rental but about localisation.

But when she read passer un examen, she naturally assumed that the candidate had been successful after taking the exam. In fact, passer un examen means to take an exam. To pass an exam is être reçu à un examen.

False friends are confusing to nonnative speakers. But they can be fun, too.

When recently my daughter told me in French that she didn’t like people who lectured her, using the English noun lecture, I had to smile. A lecture in French is a reading. People who give you moral lessons don’t lecture you. They give you a lesson or a sermon. They sermonne you. By the way she wasn’t talking about me 🙂

I’m not immune to my own mistakes if I don’t pay attention. When I bump into adjectives such as comprehensive, for example, I must remember that it doesn’t mean understanding as it does in French, but detailed, complete, which are my French détaillé(e) and complet (ète).

Or when I instinctively use design instead of designate, thinking of désigner, which means to designate.

Below is a very short list of words that have the potential to create mistakes, more or less funny. I picked a few nouns, adjectives, and verbs from American English and not British, which has its own set of false friends. If you took French in high school or college, you may have met some of these false friends too.

A cave: une grotte and not a cellar

Confidence: confiance and not a secret

Grand: grandiose and not tall

Sensible: raisonnable and not sensitive

Rude: impoli and not rough

Confection: friandises and not ready-made-clothes

Notice: avis, préavis and not instructions

To demand: exiger and not to ask

 

Witnessing my daughter’s immense progress and occasional setbacks reminded me that she and her siblings didn’t have it easy, contrary to what many English native speakers have so often told me. You don’t automatically become fluent in your parents’ native language only because they are your parents. You have an edge, but only work will make you bilingual. Which explains why my daughter is so, so close to be.

But I knew all along that she would.

Eventually.

 

 

 

French Friday: Living the Year in Which You Were Born

On the morning of his birthday my husband woke up announcing that this was an exceptional birthday since he was the age of the year in which he was born, an event that could only happen once in a lifetime. And maybe not for everyone, he added, already calculating. Anything about math puts him in a good mood. I’m the other way around. But you know what we say about the irresistible attraction between opposites?

By the time the smell of fresh coffee, golden biscuits, and breakfast quiche – birthdays call for special treats – wafted through the house, my husband had already asked our friend Google for more information.

“So,” he said, reading from his phone, “I’m celebrating my Beddian birthday.”

“Your what?”

“Beddian. When your age matches the last digits of your birth year.”

“But, why Beddian?”

“This is a pretty cool story. Sad too. Still cool.”

And cool it is. Sad too.

In 2007 an artist who had also some interest for math was walking her grandkids in Manhattan. As often, she stopped by the neighborhing firestation, so the kids could admire the fire trucks. That day, Bobby Beddia, one of the firemen, announced that today was a very special day since he was turning the age of the year in which he was born, adding it could only happen once. The artist had never paid attention to the possibility and told the fireman that he should contact a mathematician to share his discovery. In fact she was already planning to approach one of her friends and surprise the fireman with the idea. Unfortunately, a few hours later Beddia and another fireman died extinguishing a fire, near Ground Zero. To honor his memory the woman continued her investigation. The result is a theorem called the Beddian theorem.

As I said les maths et moi ça fait deux or maths and me make two. So this is what I remember after reading the theorem: A Beddian Birthday can only fall in an even-numbered year and doesn’t happen to everyone of us.

My husband being my husband was very much into this Beddian theorem and called our kids to inform them about their own Beddian birthdays. The sad part, I realized, is that we won’t be with them to celebrate. The saddest part is that maybe they won’t even still be alive.

For the complete story about the Beddian theorem, the Beddian birthday, and of course fireman Bobby Beddia, read this 2007 article in the New Yorker. It’s the first article written on the topic. It’s short, compelling, totally worth reading.

Neither my husband nor I had ever heard of a Beddian birthday until now. When I searched for a potential photo to illustrate this blog post, however, I bumped into this greeting cards website.

Even young kids can celebrate Beddian birthdays

The American website Zazzle makes Beddian T-shirts and has a French version, although the message on the T-shirt is in English and the event doesn’t seem to be particulary celebrated in my native land.

Mes amis français, célébrez-vous? Et si oui, comment appelez-vous cet unique anniversaire?

At home, Beddian birthday or not, I had already planned a day of cooking and baking anyway, so all was good.

My husband has still time to prepare my own.

 

Did you know about the Beddian theorem?

Have you already celebrated your Beddian birthday?

Is there a chance you will?

 

 

 

French Friday: Pipi in Paris … and Elsewhere

 

So many cultural facts jumped to my eyes when I moved to the USA from my native France!

However, when last week my husband forwarded me a link about newly installed public urinals in Paris he not only gave me an idea for a French Friday post but he also pushed my memory button on. I suddenly remembered the top cultural difference that I immediately noticed upon my arrival in California.

Wow! I thought. There are so many places pour faire pipi. And they are free and clean. They even have changing tables and are handicapped accessible.

I kept raving about the fact that toilets in the States were no longer a place to avoid and no longer a daily challenge. And our numerous French visitors confirmed my first impression, even if they were initially shocked to see that most stalls didn’t have full-sized doors and that it could be possible for someone to peek. At first, I was surprised, too. Years later, I can attest that no one has ever peeked. In fact, I’ve stood in long patient lines in women’s restrooms, everyone of us assuming that each stall was occupied while in fact some were not. No one peeks in American restrooms. Only visitors do 🙂

Back to the early 90s. Yes, doing number #1 in the U.S. was far easier than in France. French public restrooms were fewer, rarely free, and sadly much dirtier.

For more true stories on the subject, scroll down to read about our family toilet adventures in the City of Lights.

Despite the dire situation for all Parisians, men, though, had an advantage, thanks to urinals found in most metro stations and also in public spaces. My husband argues that they were filthy and that as a boy and teen he felt uncomfortable using them. I totally get him.

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Still, men had an edge. French girls and women had to learn one lesson: hold it.

Things changed in 1981 when the first sanisette was installed in Paris.

Kiosque à journaux et sanisette à Paris le 20 octobre 1984, France. (Photo by Mohamed LOUNES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

It cost one French franc to use them, but they were clean and private.

Fast forward to 2018. Has the French pipi scene improved?

Sanisettes are free, but many close at 10:00 p.m. since they can be used for drugs and prostitution deals. Cafés still forbid their restrooms to anyone who’s not a paying customer.

So it remains a challenge to find clean free restrooms throughout France, including in Paris.

No wonder alleys, building entrances, and street corners have turned into Men Restrooms. Women still hold it.

Which explains why men were on designers’ mind when they invented the uritrottoir, a noun created from urinoir and trottoir, which mean urinal and sidewalk in French.

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The French company based in Nantes installed the first uritrottoirs in Nantes in May 2017 and their arrival didn’t trigger vehement reactions.

In Paris it has been another story.

This summer a few uritrottoirs have been placed in the city.

From the Ville de Paris’s twitter account

This what CNN wrote about it.

A quick linguistic note: French people may contradict me, after all I’m not an expert on male toilets, but I never used or even heard of pissoir. In French urinals are called urinoirs, pissotières or vespasiennes.

Here and there are two additional articles, if you read French.

Residents in Île Saint Louis, one the most posh Parisian neighborhoods, argue that they spoil the look of the historical landmark.

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Visitors to the area, though, applaud the idea.

When I browsed through the articles, whether pro or con, I quickly noticed that almost every person interviewed on the topic was a man.

Of course, they love the uritrottoir.

The idea answers a need. Neither the pungent smell of urine wafting around nor the vision of men using the street as their urinal is particularly interesting. Also the uritrottoir is environmentally correct since there is no need to flush and yet odors are neutralized, thanks to hay placed inside the red metallic containers. They even come with flowers grown on top. How bucolic!

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But, I wondered, what about us? Where is our female uritrottoir?

It’s not men’s fault, of course, that nature has provided them with a handy way to relieve themselves in public. But I was still a bit upset to witness the absence of comments about a pretty huge gender-based inequality. This is why I was happy to find this humorous and so right-on post on the topic. I wish you all read French.

 

To conclude on the important topic of faire pipi in France:

*Two family bathroom adventures in my homeland, back in the early 2000s, with our little kids.

Soon after lunch, the girls asked for a bathroom. That would be a challenge. Paris closed most of the few public WC or water closets in the city, the cafés and restaurants forbid the use of their facilities if you are not a customer and the stores have no public restroom. Your only hope is that the public restroom called sanisette will work.

I dug in my pockets, emptied my purse, searching for the precious French francs the sanisette would accept. I felt my youngest daughter tensing. “I don’t really need to go,” she said. After three lemonades, I didn’t think so.

“I’ll go with you,” her older sister offered.

“That’s nice,” I said.

“You can’t,” my middle daughter announced. “It says one person at a time.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s just if you are too big and can’t fit inside.” Then a horrible thought came to my mind. You can be too small for a sanisette. I remembered a horrible story about a young child who drowned in one of them.

“Anyway,” the big sister went on, “it’s out of service.”

She was right. A sign had been hastily hung but in polite French asked messieurs and mesdames to look for another pipi room.

We took the car and slowly drove across the city, detectives on the look for a restroom. We saw a few more sanisettes out of service and more, which for some strange reason didn’t accept my change. After fifteen minutes of unsuccessful search, we decided to go to a café.

When the waitress came with our orders, I asked for “les toilettes, s’il vous plait?”

“Downstairs.” She pointed with her chin in direction of a dark stairway.

My three girls stood up as one and dashed to the toilets. They came back as fast as they went down.

“It’s locked,” one said.

“Maybe someone is inside,” I offered.

“No, we knocked. Come on, Maman,” they begged me.

I followed them down the narrow, poorly lit stairway, to a small closet at the end of the hallway. I turned the knob. The door didn’t budge. I knocked timidly and then louder. “Il y a quelqu’un?”

Nobody answered and I returned to the same waitress. “With all the homeless people,” she said, sweeping an invisible crowd of vagabonds with her opened arms. “We have to reserve the toilettes to our customers.” She handed me a key.

Why didn’t she give it when I asked for the restrooms? Wasn’t I a customer? Did we look like a homeless family? Anyway, homeless people need restrooms too.

The toilets scared my six-year-old and I walked in with her. It was smaller than a plane’s restroom, if such a thing is possible. With my back squished against the door I felt a puddle under my feet. “Just water,” I told my little girl whose big eyes searched for comfort in this unusually dark and smelly closet. I was glad the light was dim so I wasn’t able to check the nature of the liquid on the floor.

We hurried to the exit and found with relief the cozy café with its sophisticated waitress behind the counter. I had never paid so much attention to the French toilets than now.

Not representing the café where it happens 🙂

A few days later, we decided to take the children on a tour of Versailles and the Petit Trianon. A thin permeating rain fell on the French kings’ residence and we ran to the entrance to seek harbor. We bought our tickets, left our coats and umbrellas, as it was required.

“La salle de bains, s’il vous plait?” asked my daughter in her best French and most polite tone

Les toilettes,” I whispered. “Not the bathroom.”

Les toilettes sont dehors,” announced the lady behind the booth.

“Outside?” I said. The lady only nodded. “Then, can we get our clothes back?”

With another nod, she handed us our coats and tickets. Outside, the drizzle had intensified. More menacing clouds circled above us and we hurried before it poured across the paved courtyard, following the toilettes sign. We reached the door, drenched and freezing, wondering why the most famous French historic landmark had no restrooms inside the château. I took the girls to the ladies section and bumped into a woman whom I quickly identified as the dame pipi. I had forgotten about the ladies who govern the few French public restrooms. I searched my purse for a few coins.

“What are you doing?” whispered one of my daughters.

“I need some change,” I said, as if I had known all along that paying to go to the restroom was the most normal thing. Happily, I found one euro which I handed to the lady.

“That will be four euros,” she said. I must have looked puzzled since she specified, “Aren’t you all going?”

“Yes,” I said, hoping that perhaps I would get a package price. After all, France is one of the few countries that offer all kind of discounts when you have children. However, it didn’t seem to work for the toilettes since the lady insisted, “Then, you owe me four euros.”

I handed her the money and we all went to the restroom. The girls hurried. Did they think that it would be more expensive if they stayed too long? I wondered if I should try to explain my daughters why in France you have to pay four euros to go to the restroom when you visit Versailles. I wasn’t enough French anymore to find a justification and I felt sorry that my daughters might remember more about their restrooms experiences in France than the richness of Le Louvre and the grandeur of Versailles.

 

*Away from home, toilet breaks present challenges. For outdoorsy people, even more so.

Yosemite, the National Park I know best, has installed some toilets, flushing or not, even in remote spots. And when I camped in Havasupai, Arizona to hike the Havasu Falls the rustic eco friendly toilets amazed me. Not the case at the top of Mount Everest, it seems.

Now I’d like to hear from my blogger friend Curt, currently on a thousand mile hike on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail).

Curt began his hike in Ashland, Oregon and travels south to Mount Whitney, California. A seasoned hiker and a nature lover he writes from the bottom of his heart, with serious knowledge, humor, and humility, too, about the extraordinary landscapes of the west of the United States and about his numerous adventures as he explored them and keeps bumping into nice people, like these two French hikers.  The raging fires in California had the potential to impact his current plans. But he remains a real trooper and his most recent post shows him in good spirits.

If you have a minute, pay a visit to Curt’s blog. Through his posts and photos you’ll get the chance to follow a rare trip along the legendary PCT.

Seriously, I wanted to acknowledge Curt’s 1000-mile hike since a while. You may remember that in French we have an expression to describe something ridiculously easy: c’est du pipi de chat (it’s cat’s pee). Well, what Curt is doing is certainly NOT du pipi de chat.

If you are just reading this post or returning to it, this is an article posted on August 31, 2018 in the New York Times about the uritrottoirs being vandalized.

 

 

 

RESPECT

La Reine de la musique soul est morte.

The Queen of Soul Music has died.

Je n’ai réalisé qu’hier que je connaissais toutes les chansons d’Aretha Franklin.

Only yesterday did I realize that I knew each of Aretha Franklin’s songs.

Pas les paroles dans leur intégralité, mais leur mélodie et refrain.

Not every single word of the lyrics, but the melody and the chorus.

Ce n’est pas souvent qu’une chanteuse laisse une telle empreinte musicale.

It’s not often that a woman singer leaves such a musical soundtrack behind.

J’ai aussi réalisé en entendant les chansons d’Aretha Franklin passées sur toutes les chaines de télé et les stations de radio que je les avais toutes entendues alors que je vivais encore en France.

I also realized, listening to Aretha Franklin’s songs, played on all TV channels and radio stations that I had heard all of them while I still lived in France.

Il y a eu aussi bien sûr la comédie musicale des Blues Brothers en 1980 qui l’a fait davantage connaitre de notre côté de l’Atlantique. Un succès phénoménal en France.

There was of course the musical comedy The Blue Brothers in 1980 which gave even more visibility to Aretha Franklin on the other side of the Atlantic . A blockbuster in France.

Il y eut aussi une amie de campus qui n’écoutait pratiquement que des chanteuses. Quand je lui rendais visite, on sirotait nos cafés en écoutant Patti Smith, Annie Lenox, Pat Benatar, Rickie Lee Jones, ou bien encore Janis Joplin.

There was also a girlfriend on the campus who listened almost exclusively to women singers. When I paid her a visit, we sipped our coffees listening to Patti Smith, Annie Lenox, Pat Benatar, Rickie Lee Jones, or still Janis Joplin.

Et il y eut ce fameux duo Aretha Franklin Annie Lenox Sisters Are Doin It For Themselves.

And there was this infamous duet Aretha Franklin Annie Lenox Sisters Are Doin It For Themselves.

De toutes les chansons d’Aretha Franklin, j’ai toujours préféré I Say a Little Prayer and Respect.

Of all her songs I’ve always prefered I Say a Little Prayer and Respect.

I Say a Little Prayer est une telle consolation quand rien ne va plus.

I Say a Little Prayer is such a soft consolation when things go down.

Quant à Respect la chanson ne m’a vraiment donné la chair de poule qu’après des années de vie aux États Unis.

As for Respect it’s only after many years spent in the U.S. that the song gave me goosebumps.

Le mot Respect s’écrit et se traduit de la même façon en français et en anglais.

The noun Respect is spelled and translated the same way in French and English.

Le sens n’est sans doute pas tout à fait le même dans les deux pays.

The meaning is probably not exactly the same in both countries.

Un demi-siècle plus tard la chanson Respect a encore la même pertinence. Je ne sais pas ce que ressens à cet égard.

Peut-être juste du respect.

Half a century later the song Respect has still the same relevance. I don’t know what I feel about it.

Maybe only respect.

French Friday: Avoir une Autre Langue C’est Posséder une Deuxième Âme

I have some serious competition. My daughter is discovering French expressions à la vitesse grand V or at a very high speed. Even though, I still have une longueur d’avance sur elle or I’m still ahead of her, once in a while she reminds me of an expression I no longer use. The only reason being the limited number of people I speak French with.

It’s a little bit my fault since I did everything I could to avoid French people in my first years in the USA, knowing they would keep me away from improving my English. Then I moved too often to even have time to reach out beyond school, work, and neighbors. And let’s be frank: although there are quite a few French people in the States they don’t really form a community as other foreign-born people do. So in the end, my only regular French interlocutor remains my husband. I lucked out since his French is stellar. But the two of us cannot use an entire dictionary on a regular basis.

This explains how my daughter forwarded me a pretty crude French expression the other day and I had to admit that I had forgotten about it. However, it did remind me of an equivalent, almost as vulgar. I try to exemplify the best of France on my blog, so I will skip them 🙂

Yesterday the same daughter forwarded me a BuzzFeed article about France. There were a few mistakes, mostly due to translation. I sent her a link to the French newspaper Libération, so she could get the facts right.

As I read the French article I noticed the noun amende, which means a fine.

Its homophone amande, spelled with a A, means almond.

A few words then rushed to my mind.

Un trombone in French is both a paper clip and the musical instrument.

Baguette designates both the infamous French bread but means also chopsticks or still a magic wand in baguette magique.

Aïe means ouch, while its homophone ail means garlic.

Un tourniquet can have so many different meanings in French. It can designate a turnstile, a medical tourniquet, a sprinkler that rotates, a revolving display or still a merry-go-round on a playground. The other merry-go-round is also called a carousel from the French noun carrousel. But that’s for another post titled What Happens to French Vocabulary Abroad?

The French Emperor Charlemagne – the one who supposedly created school for French kids – is also supposed to have said that speaking another language is to possess a second soul.

It sounds so pretty in French: Avoir une autre langue c’est posséder une deuxième âme.

Based on my modest experience, I simply wonder if we start paying attention to our native language only when we know at least another one and start to understand our native land only when we’ve left.

In homage to Yosemite and to my kids, who still teach me so much, a photo from the magical park

French Friday: The World Is Your Oyster

Wondering words from a wanderer, as migrants keep fleeing their native lands and pressing against borders and gates in the United States and many European countries.

 

Many moons ago I wandered tree-lined California streets with names I had never heard of, you, a baby propped up in her stroller, eyes wide open on this big new world.

“This is University Avenue,” I read. You giggled. “Here we are on Waverley Street and this is Ramona Circle. Middlefield Road takes us to the park.”

Your belly laugh encouraged me to practice and map this new town in my head, next to Paris metro lines that I knew like the back of my hand.

You adored the playground, even though you didn’t walk yet.

“La balançoire,” I said when I sat on the swing, you, tucked on my lap, the sky a promise above our heads.

“Le sable,” I told you, sand slipping between my fingers. Time stopped when we sat in the sandbox, together, with nothing to do but wander and wonder.

Were you as dizzy with dreams than I was when we slid down “le toboggan,” my arms wrapping your round waist, your laugh catching in your throat as the speed increased?

“Le tourniquet” was your favorite and mine too. The sun played peek-a-boo between the eucalyptuses, heady with a fragrance neither of us had ever smelled before. The merry-go-round continued its route, taking us round and round while never leaving our new corner of the world.

One morning, a squirrel darted in front of us.

“Oh!” you exclaimed, equally surprised and delighted.

“Un écureuil,” I said.

You giggled. To you, every word was a surprise and a delight.

You tried to repeat and your attempts made you laugh again.

One day, you would call “Squirrel! Squirrel!”

Another word filled with too many strange sounds for your mother to ever pronounce it the right way, but it would reassure her that you could: you would belong.

One day, I read this strange sentence: “The world is your oyster”.

I opened my dictionary.

In French, the expression means “le monde t’appartient”.

The world belongs to you.

And one day, you greeted passersby with a loud, cheerful, unmistakable “Hi” that they reciprocated with equal exuberance.

I sighed with relief.

You belonged.

A knot tied my throat.

Would you remember where you came from?

Maybe one day, I imagined,

you will wander and wonder through

foreign streets,

foreign smells,

foreign words,

a baby in the crook of your arm,

hoisted up on your shoulders.

And you will read out loud the names of the streets you wander through.

Words will bump against the roof or your mouth,

linger at the top of your tongue

trip on your lips.

Words that you won’t ever pronounce the right way will belong to your baby,

who maybe one day

will wander and wonder…

 

Because we are only wanderers who wonder in this oyster-world that belongs to us.

French Friday : Her Cupcakes and Mine

Wherever you live in the U.S., I bet there is a place nearby that carries French macarons. When I lived in France you could glance at them through the windows of fancy salons de thé, particulary in Paris. That was it.

Americans go gaga over macarons. And the French are crazy for cupcakes. Which didn’t exist in France until fairly recently.

As for me I baked my first batch of cupcakes for my oldest daughter’s birthday somewhere in the mid 1990s in California. Cupcakes are very popular with school-age kids. It makes sense due to their individual size and to the countless decorative possibilities. With kids away from home I no longer bake cupcakes, but I always explore dessert recipes. Especially when I have to use an ingredient that could go to waste. Which was the case with a huge container of strawberries on Wednesday. The weather was warm, so I decided to make a no-bake dessert with strawberries.

On Wednesday, my friend Katie Cross released her novel You’ll Never Know, the third book in The Health and Happiness Society series.

 

This cupcake makes me want to bake. And eat, too.

Rachel has lost weight. Lots of weight. For months now she follows a healthy diet, exercises regularly, and stays away from her beloved frosting-covered cupcakes. Rachel should be proud of her achievement and be content. After all, she’s healthier than ever and looks fantastic. But she may have shed pound after pound Rachel still sees the chubby girl she used to be whenever she glances at a mirror. Exercising has soon become an obsession. Now training for a marathon, Rachel ignores her best friend’s advice when she suggests slowing down. No way. Rachel must run this marathon. Her life depends on it. Only then will she be truly successful and happy. But when Rachel trips on the treadmill and badly injures her ankle, the marathon is soon out of the question. Rachel fights against her physician’s orders and still believes that she can make it in time for the run. For now, however, she’s unable to train and is losing herself.

In You’ll Never Know Katie Cross tackles the topic of women’s relationship with food, the quest for perfection and everlasting happiness with a set of relatable characters. Rachel’s mother is, as it is often the case, the reason behind her daughter’s unhealthy relationship with food. She’s a binge eater and even though she’s not instantly likeable, she still loves Rachel and will grow through the novel. Because she has her own reasons for hiding her broken heart behind bottomless bowls of cereals, loads of bacon, and super sized sodas.

Fortunately for Rachel she has her friends, the rocks that keep her sane when she feels lost. Each one of them has her own personal story and relationship with food and exercise too, but like the musketeers, the young women have each other’s back.

Rachel, on the other hand, has never trusted men and has preferred serial dating to the risk of an honest relationship. And when one young man she really liked stuck around she broke up. Was she afraid to be liked in return? This will change, though, when she meets an intriguing young musician who slowly becomes a friend.

At the heart of the story there is the bakery, the lovely Frosting Cottage, the place of temptations that Rachel wants to avoid at all costs, but can’t any longer when one of her friends offers her the chance to work there. Initially 100% against, Rachel finally accepts, now that she can’t train for the marathon and needs a job to stay away from her depressed and depressing mother. Now not only surrounded by delicious looking cupcakes she must also bake them. And frost them. Rachel’s living her worst nightmare. And yet, this is while working at the Frosting Cottage that she will start therapy – first against her will – and embark onto a real change journey that will bring back her early childhood and take her to the roots of her problems.

There is a lot to love in this novel. Being a French native I adore desserts and perhaps even more making them, so I particularly enjoyed the bakery setting and the baked goods’ yummy descriptions.

Whether sharing Rachel’s exact same life experiences or not, You’ll Never Know will resonate with any young or older woman dealing with the destructive power of self-hate and the illusion that the way you look affect your level of happiness.

In any life situation hope is never out of reach, even when it seems inaccessible. You’ll Never Know remains a positive novel, which tells of the power of female friendships, the importance of professional therapy, the necessity to forgive self and others, and the realization that happiness comes from within.

This is a novel by a woman for women. Best read with a cup of coffee or tea and a cupcake too.

Chance is you’ll want to buy one from the Frosting Cottage. They are the bomb. Too bad they are also fictional. So if you want a real summer cupcake, you may want to try mine.

 

Not as impressive, but cute, no?

Here’s the recipe.

Although a three-step recipe should be easy as a pie, I managed to mess up. I read 4 cups of strawberries and not 2 1/2. Which was great to use most of the strawberry container but a bad idea since the frozen yogurt would drown under. So I added a little bit of vanilla extract. Also, I didn’t have any snap cookies at home but some lemon thins. I figured that the recipe was already tweaking a typical cupcake recipe, so I went along my mistakes.

There was a consensus of opinion among my small home-based culinary judges.

Husband and wife agreed. Not bad these Strawberry Fro-Yo Cupcakes.

Now, here are the different places where you can find Katie’s novel You’ll Never Know. I hope you’ll give her a chance.

Amazon

Nook

Kobo

iBooks

 

BON APPETIT!

FRENCH FRIDAY: Thirteen French and American Habits. Treize Coutumes Françaises et Américaines.

On Tuesday I read a blog post that made me smile for several reasons:

1- It’s written by a blogger I had the chance to meet in person and she had not blogged since a while. So I was happy to read her again.

2- Born in Togo, she has lived in France for several years before moving to Canada. We share a common land and an immigration experience too.

3- Her post, about some Canadian Habits she hasn’t yet adopted after five years spent in Canada, matched the post I had just written for my weekly French Friday. In fact, two of the habits she described as still being foreign to her happened to be two of mine as well.

If you read French, I encourage you to pay a visit to Madame Gaou who started to blog, first from Toronto and now from Montreal. Si vous lisez le français, je vous encourage à lire le blog de Madame Gaou. Ses billets sont tour à tour drôles et émouvants. Toujours très personels et sincères.

Since I’ve lived in the United States for more than twenty-five years, many American habits are now mine. And yet, I remain a little bit French too. So here are Thirteen French and American habits I’ve either kept or not yet adopted. It felt natural to write this post in the two languages that I speak every single day. No need for Google translator today, my friends 🙂

 

I Don’t Wear PJs In Public

The first time I saw my neighbor walk her kids to the bus stop in her pajamas I thought something was wrong at her place. It appeared that more moms followed the same fashion. Sometimes they even drove in their nightly outfits to the convenience store, and not only early Saturday mornings. To be honest I envied their carefree self-confident attitude. My French upbringing tsked tsked in my head. So I’ve never worn PJs in public in the USA. Heck, I barely wear sneakers in the street 🙂

Je Ne Me Promène Pas En Pyjama En Public

La première fois que j’ai aperçu l’une de mes voisines accompagner ses enfants à l’arrêt de bus en pyjamas j’ai pensé qu’il y avait un problème chez eux. Mais rapidement j’ai remarqué que d’autres mamans suivaient la même mode. Parfois elles conduisaient au magasin du coin de la rue dans leurs pyjamas, et pas seulement tôt le samedi matin. Pour être franche j’ai envié leur attitude insouciante et décomplexée. Mon éducation française me rappelait à l’ordre. Donc je n’ai jamais porté de pyjamas en public aux USA. Pensez donc, je ne porte même pas de baskets dans la rue 🙂

I Don’t Bring My Own Wine To Restaurants

Maybe I’ve an edge. My husband is a wine connoisseur and has been seen going through the wine list before the menu. Choosing a glass of wine is part of our going out experience. We figure that if we trust a chef to create a menu we should also trust the sommelier to come up with a wine list. My husband has often made great finds while browsing through these lists and spoken with many sommeliers across the country.

Je N’apporte Pas Ma Bouteille De Vin Au Restau

Aux USA il est en effet possible d’apporter sa propre bouteille de vin dans certains établissements. Si vous avez vérifié et pouvez le faire vous paierez cependant un corkage fee, qui varie en moyenne entre $10 et $20. Mais le corkage fee peut monter à $75 et voire au-delà de $100 dans un restaurant haut de gamme. Choisir un verre de vin est un vrai bonheur pour mon mari qui lit toujours la carte des vins avant le menu. Si nous faisons confiance à un chef avec son menu pourquoi ne pas faire de même avec un sommelier ? De plus on peut faire de belles découvertes en explorant une carte de vins et entamer de bonnes discussions avec des sommeliers, comme nous le faisons partout aux U.S.

Drive-Thru? Thanks, But No Thanks

Years ago, witnessing my son’s efforts to make me a normal American mom I finally gave in and used the Starbucks’ drive-thru. And drove away without our order.

“MOM!”

“Oops.”

Fortunately no one was following me, so I backed up and offered an apologetical shrug to the puzzled barista.

Now, on a hot day, when I am with my grown-up kids I do an occasional drive-thru. Alone? Never.

I’m a terrace and not a drive-thru kind of girl.

Embed from Getty Images

Drive-Thru ? Merci, Mais Non Merci

Lorsque mon fils était au lycée et espérait me transformer en une véritable maman américaine, j’ai fini par accepter de commander nos cafés sans bouger de notre voiture. Et je suis partie sans attendre la commande.

« MAMAN ! »

« Zut ! »

Heureusement aucune voiture ne me suivait, donc j’ai fait marche arrière et offert un haussement d’épaule contrit au garçon qui n’y a rien compris.

Avec mes enfants et s’il fait super chaud j’accepte un occasionnel drive-thru. Seule ? Jamais.

Je suis faite pour les terraces, pas pour le drive-thru.

I Eat Three Times A Day

Early childhood education leaves it marks, like it or not. I grew up eating breakfast, lunch, an after school snack, and dinner. I brought up my kids under the same rules. Now I stick to three meals a day. I don’t snack unless I hike, and I don’t skip a meal unless I’m sick.

Je Mange Trois Repas Par Jour

L’education reçue pendant notre petite enfance laisse des traces, qu’on le veuille ou non. J’ai grandi sous la sainte trinité: petit déjeuner, déjeuner, diner. Et un goûter après l’école, bien sûr. J’ai élevé mes enfants de la même manière. Maintenant je m’en tiens à trois repas par jour. Je mange entre deux si je fais des randonnées. Je ne saute pas de repas à moins d’être malade.

No Ice Cubes, Please

In my early years in the States I witnessed many strange things. Most were not strange per se, just different from my French lifestyle. In France, ice cubes were only used on hottest summer days and never with wine. On both costs of the country, I saw women adding ice cubes to their Chardonnay. To make it last, one of them told me. I didn’t judge her, only noticed. As I had noticed the ice cubes added to water at the restaurant, even at the height of winter. Freezing-cold water won’t ever be my thing. I just filter my tap water and keep the pitcher in the fridge.

Pas de Glaçons, S’il Vous Plait

Au cours de mes premières années aux USA j’ai vu beaucoup de choses étonnantes. La plupart ne l’étaient que parce qu’elles étaient différentes de mon mode de vie français. En France, les glaçons étaient réservés aux étés chauds et on n’en ajoutait pas à son vin. Sur les deux côtes des U.S., j’ai vu des femmes ajouter des glaçons à leur vin blanc. Pour le faire durer, m’a dit l’une d’entre elles. Je ne l’ai pas jugée, j’ai seulement remarqué. Comme j’ai remarqué l’eau glacée servie dans les restaurants, y compris au cœur de l’hiver. Glaçons et eau glacée ne seront jamais mon truc. Je filtre l’eau du robinet et garde le pichet au frigo.

I Don’t Ask For a Doggie Bag

I try to order based on my appetite, so I can finish my plate. Occasionally my husband asked for a doggie bag when we took the kids to our favorite Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. There were still great leftovers that he gathered and gave to one of the homeless people we passed on our way to our car. Even though I have not made this American custom entirely mine, I applaud the fact that no food should go wasted. Seems hard to inforce in France where for so long not finishing a plate at a restaurant was considered stylish. I never followed this French custom, based on my upbringing. But the doggie bag custom is embraced by most people in the States.

Je Ne Demande Pas De Sac À Toutou

J’essaie de commander en fonction de mon appétit et de terminer mon assiette. De temps en temps quand nous allions dans notre restaurant chinois favori à San Francisco mon mari emballait les bons restes qu’il donnait à l’un ou l’une des sans abri sur notre chemin de retour vers notre voiture. Même si le doggie bag se traduit litéralement par sac à toutou, la plupart des américains emmènent le reste de leur assiette pour leur consommation personnelle. Si je ne pratique pas cette coutume j’applaudis l’effort anti-gaspillage. Je me souviens que finir son assiette dans un restaurant français n’était pas de très bon goût. La coutume américaine d’emporter ses restes chez soi est par contre suivie par beaucoup.

I Don’t Do Black Friday

When I landed in California for the first time I swore to try every American thing. But Black Friday could not be my thing. I was never a shop ‘till you drop kind of person back in France. And I quickly realized that I preferred cooking, baking, hosting Thanksgiving and eating the leftovers the day after rather than shopping. So I easily resisted the call of the deal. Still do. Sadly Black Friday is now a French thing too, even though Thanksgiving is not celebrated there.

Le Vendredi Noir N’Est Pas Pour Moi

Quand je suis arrivée en Californie je me suis promise d’essayer tout ce qui se faisait aux Etats Unis. Mais Black Friday ou Vendredi Noir n’est pas pour moi. Je n’ai jamais été une folle de shopping en France. Je préfère cuisiner, faire de la pâtisserie, recevoir le jour de Thansgiving, et manger les restes le lendemain au shopping frénétique, donc je résiste facilement à l’appel des affaires du siècle. Black Friday aux Etats Unis était récemment encore réservé au lendemain de Thansgiving, toujours célébré le quatrième jeudi du mois de novembre. Les soldes commencent tristement maintenant le jour de Thanksgiving. Tristement aussi l’Europe et la France s’y sont mises aussi, Thanksgiving ou pas.

I Eat Dinner Before 8:00 P.M.

Gone are the times when I didn’t like a six o’clock dinner invitation. Because of our children’s school schedule, however, we started to eat dinner sooner than in France. In fact, the reason why Americans eat dinner earlier than the French is easy to understand. Sunup and sunset are much earlier across the USA than they are in France. School and work schedule follow and mealtimes too.

Je Dine Avant 20 Heures

Fini l’époque où je n’aimais pas une invitation à diner à six heures du soir. À cause des horaires de classe de nos enfants nous avons commencé à diner plus tôt qu’en France. En fait, la raison pour laquelle les américains dinent plus tôt que les français est facile à comprendre si vous avez vécu aux U.S. ou simplement visité. Levers et couchers de soleil sont plus précoces qu’en France. Horaires d’école et de travail suivent et les heures de repas aussi, bien sûr.

I Carry a Travel Mug When I Shop

I always carry a thermos filled with water with me, since I want to limit the use of plastic bottles. I also take my coffee/tea mug if I leave home in the morning. I no longer leave them in my car but will sip from them when I shop and go on with my day. Customs remain personal choices. My husband has not made his this very American habit, even for his early morning commutes. Ordering coffee to go is also natural to me now, while it felt strange for many years.

A thoughtful Mother’s Day gift from my daughter. I LOVE this travel mug, which keeps water fresh, even when left in the sun.

Je Me Déplace Avec Mon Thermos

Je posséde different thermos que j’utilise tous les jours. Plus de bouteilles plastiques pour moi. Et je conduis, fais mes courses avec mon café ou thé si je ne l’ai pas fini avant de partir de chez moi ou simplement si j’en ai envie. Mon mari par contre n’a jamais adopté cette coutume très américaine même lors de ses trajets de travail matinaux. Commander mon café à emporter m’est maintenant naturel, alors que je ne l’ai pas fait pendant des années.

She also bought me this coffee/tea travel mug, which I use a LOT.

I Wear Baseball Hats

In France I used to wear berets and hats of all sorts, but no baseball hats. They simply didn’t exist when I lived there. Maybe because I’ve mosty lived under sunny climates, maybe because my husband was often offered baseball hats when he attended professional conventions and seminars, I discovered how practical baseball hats could be. I wear one almost every day and not as a fashion statement. First and foremost, I love baseball hats for sun protection and for the occasional bad hair day.

Je Porte Des Casquettes de Baseball

En France je portais des bérets et plein de chapeaux, mais pas de casquettes de baseball. Elles ne se faisaient pas du tout quand je vivais en France. Peut-être parce que j’ai beaucoup vécu sous des climats ensoleillés, peut-être parce que mon mari a reçu de nombreuses casquettes promotionnelles lors de conférences et séminaires, en tous cas j’ai adopté relativement tôt le port de la casquette de baseball. J’en porte une presque tous les jours, mais pas en accessoire de mode. C’est ma protection #1 contre le soleil et aussi mon alliée quand mes cheveux sont indisciplinés.

I Talk to Total Strangers

This is my most prefered American trait of character. Okay, sometimes some conversations carry TMI, but as much as I was initially uncomfortable when people I had never met talked to me, I miss these impromptu discussions when away from the States. More frequent in small towns and in the great outdoors, even in New York City and Los Angeles people still interact with each other in the U.S. And I do too.

Je Parle À De Parfaits Inconnus

Les conversations spontanées sont une véritable signature américaine. Parfois, je le reconnais, certaines personnes en abusent et vous déballent toute leur vie dans la queue au supermarché. Mais si ces échanges m’ont tout d’abord surprise et presque inquiétée après l’anonymat parisien, c’est ce qui me manque en premier quand je suis loin des États Unis. Même à New York et Los Angeles les gens parlent très facilement entre eux. Et je le fais aussi.

I Use Coupons

I had no idea what they were when I spotted them in the very thick Sunday paper (another surprise). Soon, though, I understood the value coupons offered. Years later, I still don’t clip as faithfully as many American customers do, but I collect coupons of interest and use them.

J’Utilise Les Coupons D’Achat

Je n’avais aucune idée de ce qu’étaient les coupons quand je les ai tout d’abord découverts dans le très épais journal du dimanche (la taille de ce journal hebdomadaire était aussi une autre surprise). J’ai rapidement compris, cependant, que ces coupons offraient des rabais sur toutes sortes de produits, beaucoup que je n’utilisais pas, mais parfois pour un gel douche que j’aimais ou bien encore un produit d’entretien nécessaire. Je ne découpe pas scrupuleusement les coupons comme beaucoup de consommateurs américains le font, mais je garde ceux qui m’intéressent. Particulièrement pour les utiliser dans les drugstores de quartier. Aux États Unis les pharmacies sont situées dans les drugstores, ces magasins qui vendent presque tout : produits d’hygiène corporelle et de ménage, médicaments sans prescription et vitamines, mais aussi petits gâteaux, bonbons, alcool, papeterie dont de gigantesques sélections de cartes pour souhaiter n’importe quel événement et célébrer n’importe quelle personne dans votre vie, et tant d’autres choses. Suffisament pour y utiliser tous ces coupons.

What follows is a perfect combo for the person I am now: a French American

No To Creamers, But Yes To Peanut Butter

When I arrived in California I had no clue what creamers were. These flavored or unflavored tiny containers intrigued me. So I tried. Once. I prefer my coffee black. To my recent knowledge creamers don’t exist in France. Peanut and also almond butter, though, live in my fridge. I discovered peanut butter over my first visit to New York City in 1986 and brought back a jar to Paris. Not too popular back then 🙂

Non Aux Succédanés De Crème, Mais Oui Au Beurre de Cacahuète

Lorsque je suis arrivée en Californie j’ai tout de suite remarqué ces petits pots parfumés à la vanille, au caramel, au mocha, et à tant d’autres parfums. En vente dans le rayon des produits laitiers, mais aussi en libre service dans les cafés, les restaurants, les hôtels, les stations services puisqu’on peut aussi y faire le plein en café, et bien sûr chez les copines quand on boit un café ensemble, je me suis laissée tenter. Je préfère le café noir. Beurre de cacahuète et maintenant d’amandes, en revanche, ont leur place dans mon frigo.

 

Whether you also make your home away from your native land, live somewhere between past and new habits or not, tell me…

Que vous fassiez votre vie dans votre pays natal ou pas, viviez entre anciennes habitudes and nouvelles coutumes, dites moi…

P.S. Et bien sûr Bonne Fête Nationale à mes lecteurs et lectrices qui vivent en France! Ici Bastille Day comme on appelle le 14 juillet, sera calme, mais nous penserons à notre pays et à ses habitants.

 

French Friday: A Voice that Gave me a Chance

People leave their mark in many different ways. Sometimes it’s a voice calling you to offer you a chance.

Years ago, when my family had settled in the California foothills, I looked for local writers and soon met women who would become critique partners and friends too. One of them, old enough to be my mother, had been a journalist and was a very skilled writer. One day, upon reading one of my short stories, written for adults, she told me it was a great fit for Valley Writers Read, a program aired on Valley Public Radio, NPR in Central California. Valley Writers Read showcased readings by local authors, both professionals and amateurs. There was an impressive array of authors and I was certain they would decline my story. However, I followed my mentor’s advice and when she found my latest draft ready, I submitted my manuscript.

Months later, my phone rang. When I picked up the call I heard an unknown, deep warm voice.

“I am Franz Weinschenk,” the man said. “The host of Valley Writers Read. I’m calling you to let you know that your story has been selected for the program.”

“Oh, thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

“Thank you. Now, you’ll have to make arrangements with the studio to record your story.”

“Oh, no! I cannot do that. I mean…you know…my accent…would be distracting…no, really, I can’t read…”

“I could suggest someone who would read for you,” Mr. Weinschenk started. “But I think you’re making a mistake. It would make much more sense if you read your story yourself.”

He had a point since the main character was a French woman. So we made a deal: I would read  passages written from the French character’s point of view and someone else would read the narrative. This is what I wrote about my initial experience.

Over the following years, I drove down to Valley Public Radio three more times to record some of my stories. The second time, although I had already considered recording my own voice, Franz Weinschenk laughed and said he could not possibly find anyone to read my essay I Am an American. Thanks to the warm welcome at the recording studio, I came to look forward to the experience and didn’t even suggest a reader for my third story.

 

A longtime Valley educator, author, and radio host Franz Weinschenk has just passed away at the age of 92.

No longer in production, Valley Writers Read is still available through the radio’s archives. I could not find The Mug Quest, my first story, but I easily retrieved my two latest recordings.

Here is I Am an American, an essay about the meaning of becoming an American for a French-born woman.

Here is Welcome Home, a fiction story based in the California foothills.

Valley Writers Read gave me the chance to be in the company of well-known and award-winning authors such as Mark Arax, Davis Mas Masumoto, Bonnie Hearn Hill, or still my friend/mentor Flora Beach Burlingame. What an honor.

Meeting with the men and women at Valley Public Radio has been such a pleasant and enriching experience.

And Frantz Weinschenk’s unforgettable voice will always ring good luck to me.

 

If you have a little bit of time, whether you live in California or want to discover a different huge area of the Golden State, often so little known, I encourage you to listen to Max Arax reading from his book The King of California and his piece The Big Valley.  He’s the best journalist and writer when it comes to the valley. Also look for The Perfect Peach, David Mas Masumoto’s yummy family cookbook. Bonnie’s fast-pace writing guarantees page-turner stories and Flora’s novel, based on her great grandfather’s experience as he taught the freedmen in Texas is historically and humanly very enriching.

P.S. The photos that I chose to illustrate this post have been taken aboard Eagle 2, a sheriff helicopter, that my son and I were fortunate to ride once, in 2014. The chopper took us above sprawling Fresno and parts of the Madera county. This area of California produces most of the veggies, fruits, and nuts Americans find in their supermarkets. It is also the gateway to Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks.

French Friday: In French and English, Stories and Songs For Our Times

 

 

In this first part of the 21st century, immigration is politicians’ main focus, whether in the U.S. or across Europe. It is also on most citizens’ mind, regardless of their political opinions.

I’m not an expert on immigration reform, but it is clear that unlike the immigration of the 1990s, for example, global conflicts, armed or not, are now the #1 reason for people to flee their native land.

The social and economic roots of gang culture in Central America or the wars in Africa and the Middle East are far too complex to allow me the right to write anything about them.

Like you, I am only a witness of their consequences.

Our children are, too.

And since they witness other children in distress they ask questions and deserve, if not lengthy answers, at least some explanation.

Children can be sometimes self-centered, but they are also instinctively and immensely compassionate.

Over the last weeks, as I kept thinking of all the children, directly affected by immigration policies or disturbed by the current news reports, I wrote down a list of books that address the topics of exile and immigration and have been written just for kids. I only list them, linking to the authors and illustrators’ websites, whenever available.

 

 

The Journey Written and Illustrated by Francesca Sanna

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey (in English and Arabic) Written by Margriet Ruurs, Translated by Fallah Raheem and Ilustrated by Nizar Ali Badr

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation Written by Edwidge Anticat and Illustrated by Leslie Staub

Refugee by Alan Gratz

This is a novel for older readers. A must read that I discovered after Librariahn reviewed it on her blog.

Refugees and Migrants (Children in Our World) Written by Ceri Roberts and Illustrated by Hanane Kai

Global Conflict (Children in Our World) by Louise Spilsbury

This book is a good start for children who want to understand why people leave their native land for a foreign country. And it’s great for their parents too.

Strictly No Elephants Written by Lisa Mantchev and Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

This Picture Book is much lighter in tone and is the only book in this short selection that’s not addressing immigration per se. It is, however, a wonderful story that tackles differences. Differences often scare people and convince some to keep anyone looking, living, or speaking differently at bay. There is a happy ending to this charming and yet meaningful book designed for young children.

 

Yesterday night I decided to add a list of French songs to these books. I was really lucky to find an article that includes some of my favorite songs about immigrants, refugees, or simply foreigners.

The song Mercy, inspired by the birth of a baby girl aboard the humanitarian ship Aquarius in the Mediterranean Sea in 2017, represented France this year at the Eurovision, a singing competition. Mercy’s mother had fled her native Nigeria to escape violence and prison. The child’s father was already jailed in Lybia. The song didn’t win the competition but gave a face to the 21st century’s human migration stories.

Here is a version with English subtitles and the real baby Mercy.

A year after her birth, she and her mother are two of thousands in one the largest refugee camps, based in Sicilia.

 

 

 

P.S. About the flowers that illustrate this post.

Last week my husband picked a bouquet of lilies at Trader Joe’s because it was our anniversary. The cashier asked him about his plans for the day. Learning that we would celebrate our anniversary, he announced that the flowers were on Trader Joe’s. We still don’t know if it’s a store policy or if the cashier took the initiative.

The lilies have bloomed a day at a time, releasing an exquisite fragrance that filters through the house. I love flowers of all kinds, but this bouquet has been particularly gorgeous. Each flower has opened, slowly and perfectly. Well chosen bouquet to start with, for sure 🙂

But I also believe that it carries a random act of kindness. The smallest are often the ones that matter most, particularly during hardship and heartbreaking moments. On my side, I just try to return each one.

I wish you all a beautiful weekend and also a safe and meaningful Fourth of July!

 

 

 

 

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