Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Hello 2020

2020 seems like the appropriate time to pick this little place back up a bit. As I write this, it is New Year's Day at 8:14 in the morning and my three young children + plus one groggy nephew have been up for much too long by now. Why is it that children always seem to miss the memo about sleeping in on mornings like this? In fact, chances are, they will wake up earlier than normal when given the false hope of you sleeping in a little. Case in point, my 18 month old this morning. The problem is not just the hope deferred of a nice little "lie-in" as the Brits say but also the very real reality of doing it all half comatose with a grumpy toddler in tow who is set on punishing you for the reality that he woke up about an hour and a half earlier than usual but is only tired enough now to make your morning somewhat miserable.

Isaline, Livia, Ruben


Livia and Matt

Me and Livia 


But I digress. The beginning of a new year is usually occasion for reflection on the previous year, and in this case, the previous decade. For the Sanders family, this has been an important decade for our family. It has seen our family move from a newlywed couple with more time than square footage to the total opposite as parents of three young children (ages 6.5 yrs, 3.5 yrs, 1.5 yrs). The last decade has moved Matt and I from scrambling to appear competent in our career beginnings to leaning in to the voice of hard earned experience. Ten years ago I wasn't sure if I could "hack it" living here in France and God in his goodness has graciously brought me to the final few months before I become a French citizen. We have been living in our beautiful parsonage in downtown Paris for about a year and a half now and it's finally beginning to feel like home.

Isaline and Livia

Ruben and Isaline

Isaline and Livia

Us, pre-kids

Me and Livia


I'd be lying if I painted a completely rosy picture though. While these have been fruitful years, they have also been full of their share of troubles, set-backs, and pick your butt off the ground already and get going moments. We have walked through miscarriage, cars breaking down and being impounded, stolen bikes, the worst stomach flu I've ever experienced, a hospitalized child, depression, dark moments and questioned faith, and a year full of bed bugs, to name a few. It was a decade of trials and humility. But in the end, the boulders of what truly matter have tipped the scale and outweighed the pebbles that life has thrown at us.





Matt and Livia


Isaline and Ruben

We are looking forward to 2020 and all that it brings, whether good or bad or most likely, somewhere in between. Here's to the adventure of what lies just around the corner!

Matt and Livia

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

In Honor of Back to School Month: A Diary of a Sanders Vacation in the South of France

Dear diary (Day -1):
We are finally going on vacation. After giving birth, packing up our house, and moving, we are going on a much needed family trip to a Christian center in the middle of nowhere down south. Goodbye concrete, hello sun. I can't wait to get this trip started.

Dear diary (Day 1):
By I can't wait to get this trip started apparently I meant I could wait. It took us 2 hours to get out of Paris between vacation traffic, nursing a newborn, and a last minute stop at Decathlon for travel sleeping bags. Once on the road the adventures were far from over: after 10 years of backseat driving I lost the toll booth ticket at one of the rest stops. Ever the brilliant problem solvers, Matt and I decided to turn around and go back to look for it...not realizing that meant exiting the highway. The fine for losing a ticket is to pay the rate for the entire highway. It occurred to us 5 minutes after said paid fine that it might have been a smarter idea to go as far as we could before exiting rather than pay the entire highway's worth after only a half hour of highway driving. Just a thought. It was an exhausting day; we managed to make progress but really only at a snail's pace due to stopping to feed Ruben all the time. And as (bad) luck would have it, there are two suburbs of Macon with the exact same name and only a couple kilometers from each other. The only difference is, one had our hotel and the other didn't. I knew when we pulled up in front of that school that something had gone a little haywire.

Note to self: remember not to pack all our extra condiments and food for the trip next time in the newborn travel bath. And especially, do not put a bottle of vodka in it for some mixed drinks you plan on making once the kids are in bed. Bathtubs are slippery things and when stopping at the gas station they just might slip out when the trunk is open and then specified vodka will be in a million pieces all over the ground.
Additional note to self: don't pack the baby carrier next to slippery bathtub or it too might end up on the ground with the wet vodka and now every place you stop afterwards will have your son smelling like vodka.

Dear diary (Day 2): It's a darn good thing we decided to break this trip up by stopping at Macon for the night because I'm not sure how long we would have been driving before arriving otherwise. The kids were thrilled to discover McDonald's for breakfast and we were thrilled to discover a restaurant where they couldn't break anything. After very slow but admittedly steady progress, we arrived at the village of Entrepierre. The center is a center for people or families in ministry and we were immediately in awe of this historic village and it's mountainside surroundings. 2 things decided to greet us upon our arrival besides the village and its scenery: Noah-worthy rain and a small scorpion on our doorstep.

Dear diary (Day 3): Although the scorpion didn't survive, today I found another intruder in our living room. Ever the quick thinking bug killer, I took the closest empty jar I could find and stuck it on top of the beetle, hoping that my toddler wouldn't go investigating for at least another 48 hours. The girls were anxious to explore the pool so like any good parents we smothered them in sunscreen and blew up Lord knows how many floaties and walked to the pool. Life was very good for a short lived while. The problems started when I decided to take Ruben (in his bouncy chair) back to the house to nurse. The door clearly was against me and after struggling in vain with the key for 15 or so minutes, I decided it was outright hostile. So back I went to the pool to get Matt to switch me places and help. That was when Isaline decided it would be a good idea to start training for a marathon, poolside. I tried to tell her off but she couldn't hear me because she was too busy faceplanting. It became clear from the blood gushing from her upper lip that she had cut it open and that blood wasn't going anywhere but out. Thankfully Isaline is okay and while I'd like to say she learned her lesson today, she's a toddler so we all know how that'll work out.

Dear diary (Day 4): In the interest of keeping things kid friendly today, we decided to plan a picnic at the center and visit the local berry farm in the afternoon. The picnic went fairly well but then afterwards I had to go and get all pedagogic. I believe that was my downfall. You see, when we arrived, there had been a bowl of fruit on our table to welcome us and it turns out that it had come from the center garden. I was right in the middle of a really great teaching moment explaining to the girls where the fruit had come from (the mirabelle tree we were standing underneath i.e. not the grocery store) when it started raining beetles just inches from my face. Unfortunately for me, these beetles were not the kind that I had found in our house a few days prior--that one was an inch long at best--these, however were 2 1/2 inch long black beetles falling on me. That left only one course of action: jump up and down while screaming in fright like a 2 year old. I'm not entirely sure if my girls retained much from the lesson.

Later we decided to check out the farm which apparently had an "activity trail" which was like a guided tour which led us around the farm. Of course by "kid friendly" they really meant more like triathlete friendly with it's steep drop off, near kilometer trail, and scorching sun. It became appropriately nicknamed the 'farm from hell' because, well, two bawling kiddos and a newborn...enough said.

Dear diary (Day 5): Today we thought that since 'kid friendly' had failed us, we might try 'adult friendly' and get all cultural. We hiked around a mountain top town (what they call a 'perched village' around here) but the only problem is that it really truly was on top of a mountain. I think I used up most of my mommy nag cards and just about peed my pants in fright every time the kids got near a ledge. Deciding after the fact that it was a bad idea to attempt site seeing with young kids, we started hunting for an easy place for dinner. Attempt number one led us on a 45 minute goose chase that ended with a closed restaurant and me sitting on the side of a country highway alone with our children and nursing Ruben. Thank you Waze. Attempt number 2 was McDonalds but before we could get there we stumbled onto an asian buffet that looked just about perfect at the time. Of course if we had known that it would cost us Livia's future college tuition to eat there or that Isaline would accidentally fall off the booster chair, grab the tablecloth, and take down half the table (including our drinks) on her way down, we might have reconsidered. Despite cranky parents and a 2 year old that smelled like diet coke for the rest of the evening, we did manage to make it to dessert with only half of the restaurant staring at us.

Dear diary (Day 6): Back to picnics and a nearby water play area. The natural wildlife has unfortunately been getting to Livia this week--she has now developed a paranoia of all things small and alive. The worst are the bees but even butterflies have been making her drop everything, scream "peur, peur, peur!" (fear, fear, fear) repeatedly and latch onto my arm. If she would stop doing it while I am either nursing her brother or spreading something on bread I would greatly appreciate it. She also has developed a Dora the Explorer obsession and keeps yelling "backpack" and "we did it!" at the computer screen.

Dear diary (Day 7): Today decided to get started with a bang. A literal one. Lighting struck our house and we lost power temporarily as we were trying to pack up. Next Matt lost his bank card. Thankfully he found it before we had to leave. We made it back to Macon and stayed in the same hotel we had stayed in the first time on the way down there. Admittedly, it was a less than ideal setting to watch France play in the world cup game. Even less ideal because we had gotten McDonalds again to go this time but they had left out a few important pieces like straws and whatnot. The cherry on top however was that we once again found ourselves in the middle of a thunderstorm and as a result the electricity went on and off the entire evening and even into the morning because lightning had struck the hotel. I say less than ideal because despite only mediocre cheering from the Sanders clan (I was mostly busy yelling at the girls to not get ketchup all over the bedding), France still won.

Dear diary (Day 8): We're back in Paris now. After surviving beetles and scorpions, I think I'm up for surviving the Paris metro now. Despite our adventures, vacation was still worth it. But I have to admit, I'm glad to be home :)

Monday, June 25, 2018


It's official: the Sanders family has moved! Not very far though; although, I wouldn't be surprised if moving here feels like living in another world. We've actually moved back to Paris proper. For those of you who were unaware that we were not living in Paris, consider yourself informed. We've been living in the close suburbs of western Paris-area, basically a 15 minute train ride away from actual Paris. It's hard to believe, but it's been about seven years that we've lived here! That's actually the longest literal place that I've lived in my whole adult life. Even if you're counting cities and not apartments, I only lived in Seattle during my college days for just under 5 years. Our church's senior pastor retired back in January and since then, the church parsonage has been sitting empty, just waiting for some new tenants :) Some of you might be thinking, 'But didn't you guys just have a baby as well?' Why yes, yes we did. Ha! I wouldn't recommend the combo but for a lot of various factors that I won't really get into, this is the timing that we got.

Here's a few little factoids about the new digs (pics to come at a later date!):

--We'll now be only about a 20 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower (I hear those wheels in your heads're wondering if we'll have a guest room in the new place, aren't you!)

--Napoleon is buried there (not in our new place, but down the road, lol...)

--Paris is divided up in a circular pattern like a snail (oh how fitting!) and cut up into neighborhoods called 'arrondissements'. They're numbered, so we're in number 7.

--In 2011, the population in the 7th arrondissement alone was 57,786... That's actually more than my hometown of Albany, Oregon ! (And the 7th is considered to be one of the less populated Paris neighborhoods!) Compare that to the surface area of the two places and the 7th arrondissement is more than 10 times smaller than Albany! (4.09 square kilometers compared to 45.97)

--It is stinking rich. One of the richest in Paris. But you might not know that just by walking around. It is a place of old money; people have been wealthy since the beginning of time and apparently don't feel the need to flash their bling around.

--This follows my last point, but since the 17th century, it has been home to the French upper class and aristocracy.

--There are a ridiculous amount of public demonstrations that take over the street our new place will be located on. Yes, my husband has told me before that he couldn't get back home right away because of the tear gas lingering in the streets!

--The place was actually a very old home originally which is extremely rare in Paris proper (we mostly have apartments in Paris).  When the church started meeting way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, they met downstairs in the house. They quickly outgrew the location and added a ginormous room onto the front of the house. Today, the first two levels of the house are used for church purposes and the upper two make up the church parsonage.

--This follows my previous point: we'll be living on site! This should be an interesting adventure full of advantages and challenges as well.

--And I'll just end on this: there's no yard but one of the little known gems of the parsonage is that it has a roof top terrace....lounge chair and chilled drink, I hear you calling my name...

Saturday, April 21, 2018

10 years ago Part 3 (the last and final!)

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One of the many churches in Rouen 

I recently had to take a French test in order to prove that I speak and understand the language so that I can apply for citizenship eventually. I was more than slightly terrified, which sounds odd for someone who has been living in a country for 10+ years, but the French are not like us straightforward Anglo-Saxons. We think that if you know your stuff, it'll mostly go alright for you on a test. The French are a whole different breed; they love their trick questions. In order to succeed at a French test, imagine that "the man" is out to get you, will throw everything in his power at you to make you fail, and then do alright in spite of that. In the states we have a minority group of "bad test takers"; in France no one thinks they're safe. Come what may, however, I couldn't help but feel proud of myself for being willing to be sitting in that chair, black pen in hand, and multiple choice answers in front of me. If anyone had told me that all these years later I would be doing that, I think I would have either peed my pants in fear or laughed outright in their face.

Sometimes it's easy now to forget just how hard it was for me in the beginning. When  Matt rolled that beast of a suitcase upstairs to his friend Grace's house, I really had no idea of the adventure that was awaiting me. Grace was a lovely hostess and I remember marveling at how at ease she appeared here when I was just starting to have my Dorthy moment. We were definitely not in Kansas anymore. The next couple of days were filled with "sight seeing" amidst drizzly rain although to be honest, since I was getting to hang out with Matt I'm not sure how much of the sights I actually took in, nor how much I actually noticed the rain.

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Matt and I trying to not to look awkward as we posed for the picture together 

Ever the gentleman, Matt drove me out to Rouen, the city that I would be staying in for the next school year. Once again, he arranged a place for me to stay for a couple of days before I would meet up with my French contact for the year. Saying goodbye to him felt like I was losing my one lifeline with the familiar. Suddenly it occurred to me that I had signed a year of my life away to this place. Nothing felt like comfortable home. The college aged girls I was staying with sweetly invited me out to a party that they were going to that evening but truth be told, I didn't feel like partying. I felt like the kid who had shown up to summer camp and then realized that she was actually at summer camp. I'm sure if I could have figured out a way to call my mom and have her come pick me up, I would have.

Bravery comes in the morning frequently and the next day I was ready to tackle the adventure awaiting me. Unfortunately, the adventure wasn't quite ready for me. Out of habit, one of the girls double locked the door on her way out to class. Even more unfortunate for me was my complete lack of familiarity with a European door. The thing had probably around 5-6 locks and other such doodads on it that I thought for sure it was just a matter of me not pulling on the right thingamajig. Somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour into a very frustrating process I began to realize that I was missing some important element (like a key) and that I would just have to sit in jail for the rest of the day. Thankfully, one of my hosts came home for lunch and suddenly my prison sentence was commuted to only half a day. I did, however, struggle with locking and unlocking that door for the remainder of my stay there. French lesson number one: Americans are just not used to old, complicated things and such things can only be learned the hard way.

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My first day finally successfully exploring the city of Rouen

I eventually met up with my French host Christine. She was one of the English teachers that I'd be working with throughout the year and in charge of helping me find housing. Because I would only be staying a school year, in the end, there were only 3 options available. 1) renting an apartment with some college kids above the landlord's place. 2) renting a room from the same guy in what I would eventually nickname the haunted manor. 3) living with the nuns. You think I'm joking but it turns out that even nuns need money to live on. Options number 3 and number 1 felt off the table to me (the nuns had very tight rules and the place was about as homey as a convent, pun intended...and living above my landlord didn't seem like the wisest idea in the world) so the haunted manor it was.

As it turns out, I probably would have been better off living with the nuns. Oh hindsight. I eventually realized that my landlord was an eccentric control freak which made for a wild ride of a school year. I look back now and laugh (mostly!) but at the time  I wondered what on earth I'd gotten myself into. My first clue was what I have affectionately dubbed the "three scraps scolding" in which I got in trouble because three small bits of paper had been found in the stairwell which indicated that I had not been keeping up on the housecleaning. It was the first of many scoldings. The guy was obsessively controlling--he alone had the only key to the mailbox and would stop by everyday to personally give us our mail.

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My quite possibly old haunted mansion...

We weren't allowed visitors of either sex to step in past the front gate on penalty of violating my rent contract (at least with the nuns it was only the opposite sex!). He couldn't stand for the storm shutters to be left open during a storm and I would come back from a long day of teaching only to discover that he had come into my room without my permission to shut them. One of the highlights however was the day that my housemate and I informed him that the fridge door was somehow damaged. I came home to a full fridge with no door in sight and a note saying that since the fridge was fairly new, the two of us would need to pay for a new one! My favorite moment, however, was the one time Matt broke the rules and came to help me clean the top floor on my last day in that loony bin. Due to my limited French, I hadn't understood some of the typed out and laminated signs in the bathroom. Apparently their was a whole tribute to Louis Pasteur and his contributions to good hygiene. It then went on to ask all gentlemen users of the toilet to pee sitting down as they do in the Netherlands to promote better bathroom hygiene! A guy who will tell you how to pee is clearly not a guy to be trusted.

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My bedroom

There were other adventures in that place as well. My bed was a joke from the first time I sat down on it. My lats underneath my mattress were made with flimsy plastic and I broke 2 of them immediately. For once my beast of a suitcase came in handy as it was big enough to support the mattress under the bed. I ended up sleeping on it for the rest of the year. I also very stupidly decided to rent out the balcony bedroom when all my life I have struggled with active (and sometimes violent) night terrors. Thank God he overlooked my stupidity on that one and we had no balcony flinging adventures. I did manage to scare the snot out of my housemate one night with my spine chilling screams (or so I'm told). Which must have been all the more bewildering for her because neither of us could speak the other's language well at all (night terror was somehow not listed in my phrase booklet). I remember that we would sit at the kitchen table, eating our breakfasts with one hand and a French-English dictionary in the other. Our rule was that we were supposed to speak to the other in their language. It made for very loooong drawn out conversations, let me tell you.

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My balcony view... 

I think now that I really would have liked her if I actually could have communicated with her. She seemed to me to be a funny, down to earth kind of girl. One day our new washing machine started going bezerk on us--I'm not kidding, it literally felt and sounded like a minor earth quake was happening. We both ran in from our respective rooms only to discover that darn washing machine rocking nearly 2 inches into the air on either side. Cleaning up the pots and pans on top of it (because yes, it was in the kitchen) we shared a good laugh that it was only a possessed machine and not something needing to be measured on the Richter scale.

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New York monuments (Twin Towers and the Brooklyn Bridge) made out of tp as a project by some of my students... 

To my surprise, my work as an English assistant in two French middle schools was one of the highlights of my stay in France that year. It was, and probably will be, the one and only time I've worked with middle school students in my life. They had us do everything from correct student's pronunciation, to creating English activity workshops with small groups, to teaching a class about American pep assemblies (I may or may not have led the class in a game of chubby bunny for that one...I plead the fifth to traumatizing French youth...). I had no computer when I came to France (laptops were a rarity then) so I was stuck using the school computers and internet at one of my two schools (for some reason it didn't work at the other). It meant that I had internet connection for about 2 days a week, in between my class schedule. I otherwise needed to buy an international phone card and call my friends and family from an available phone booth when I wanted to get in touch.

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 I sometimes wonder now what my experience would have been like, had I moved over here today in our "connected" world. The truth is, who knows? I might not have felt as homesick and alone but then I definitely would have missed out on my trial by fire. In my alone-ness I was forced to learn about the culture around me and highly motivated to finally speak that darn language.  I learned to stop taking small comforts like dishwashers and dryers and readily available music to listen to for granted. But most importantly, I learned what it was like to have my faith refined through fire. France has at times been my cross to bear but without it I would not have been able to savor the victories he has also thrown my way (such as learning this week that I actually passed that test!). With God, for every taking apart there is always an equal and even better building back up. I'm so grateful that he has brought me to this crazy, wonderful, frustrating like heck, delightful country. Here's to whatever the next 10 years bring!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Izzie turns 2

Aaaand then it happened. She stopped being a baby one day. Sigh. Why does this always happen to children? Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely enjoying less diaper changes, better sleep at night, and forgoing onesies but there's something about the blink and you end up with a teenager thing that killls me about parenthood. 
I've at least gotten a bit wiser with birthday celebrations the second time around. It's occurred to me that other than a little sugar and a couple of balloons floating around, the whole birthday concept is lost on the under three crowd. So that's what I did; I kept things reeeeallly simple. Cake, some extra treats, a few reused birthday decorations and, of course, balloons (have you ever seen a 2 year old who isn't crazy about balloons?)... The cakes might look a little tricky but I swear to you that they are as easy as pie....err, cake. I just made a basic chocolate cake, whipped up some butter cream frosting, cut and frosted with a spatula and added some piping that I improvised from a ziploc bag that I had snipped the end off of.  Here's the pin that shows how to make the butterfly shape. 

I love her expression in this candle blowing picture. She could not figure out why the heck we were all looking at her face. In case you didn't know, Izzie gets an old man grumpy face anytime she's perplexed, which was definitely happening here. 

10 things you should know about Isaline: 

1. She has two loves at the moment: cars and babies. About as opposite as you can get on the stereotype spectrum. Maybe she will turn out to be part time nanny, part time race car driver. 

2. Isaline was byyy far the more challenging of our 2 children as a baby. She is sensitive to just about everything. Food, new environments, dairy products, sleeping conditions, temperature, etc. Gotta love a high maintenance child. (don't worry, we do!) 

3. She cannot say Mama, Mom, Mommy, Maman, or any other version of the name for the life of her. I'm not kidding, I'm that cereal commercial in reverse where the dad is trying to get his baby to say 'Dada' and the kid keeps repeating 'Mama'. This drives me crazy most of the time with the exception of early morning wake ups and dirty diapers. 

4. Like any self respecting younger sibling, she secretly thinks the world of her big sister. Big sis likes her quite a lot as well :) 

5. She has a knack for breaking into the kitchen cabinets and spreading dried pasta and chicken bouillon all over the floor as well as shoving as much as she can into her mouth. 

6. She once managed to sneak an entire cup's worth of salt into a muffin batter just as we had finished up making it. 

7.  The kid cannot say Mama but she can sing the tune of 'Let it Go' and 'Peppa Pig' with surprising accuracy and pizzazz... 

8. She is naturally reserved and very good at giving her stalker stare at children at the park. I have yet to birth an outgoing child :) 

9. Her preferred method of dancing is head banging. (she gets that from her father)

10. Through Izzie I have discovered the joy of mothering. The second time around is full of unrealistic expectations let go of, the confidence knowing you did it once, and extra cuddles mixed with the hindsight in knowing just how fast it all goes.