Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Coming straight to you live from the wedding of Miss (now Mrs) Leyla!

You just gotta love the power of the blackberry - (even though I've been threatened with a blackberry intervention all week!)
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The fountain across the street from my building:


Monday, December 29, 2008


Well, I managed to stay up until 10 last night, thanks to the help of Aimee, Ms Kyliemac, Leyla & Alisa. I've got to say, after a month of sleeping on various couches and beds, it was nice to finally be back in my own bed. At least until 6:30am this morning when someone decided to start scrape paint off the wall next door. Who does that?? I seriously almost knocked on the door and asked them to move to another wall . But instead I just got up and caught up on blogs, which means I will probably nap on the plane today.

Because yes, I am insane. For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to go to England less than 24 hours after I got back from the US. Honestly Samantha, what were you thinking? No, in all seriousness, I thought Miss Leyla might need help with some last minute things/ decorations before the wedding. Hopefully that will be the case and I won't just be in the way. So back to the airport I go, this time with just one small suitcase and my purse. I realized last night that this will be my 5th trip to England this year, lucky me!


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Can someone tell me why on Earth I thought I could manage three suitcases of varying sizes, a laptop bag and a large purse by myself? It must have been all that mac & cheese talking.

Getting back to chez moi from the airport was absolute hell, thanks to several non-working escalators and elevators. But to quote a few different people (who saw me struggling yet did not offer to help), "Bienvenue en France !"


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Coolest thing ever

I cannot believe I forgot to post about this - I'd heard about it before, but only really took notice of it a few weeks back while showing a co-worker where I lived.

I'm talking about Google Street View, ie. one more reason to love the internet. If you haven't checked it out yet, I highly encourage you to. My family has now been able to see where I live and "walk" around my neighborhood. It was so bizarre - like "This is where I live - that's the rich people door and here's the servant door where I go in". "This is my grocery store" and "This is where I go buy my bread". And "There's the Luxembourg gardens on your right and the Pantheon on your left".

It is too too cool, and a great way to get your Paris fix if you're far away!

FYI: It's also available for other major cities in France, the US, Australia, Japan, Italy, Spain & New Zealand).


Friday, December 26, 2008

I hope everyone out there had a very Merry Christmas! We took advantage of the glorious sunshine and went skiing - one of the advantages of my mother's new location is having a ski station a mere 15 minutes away.

Any guesses as to which run I took on my first run down? (Click to enlarge)
I was tempted to get some spray paint and put a "K" in front of it.

My favorite part of the day was watching the sun set from that high up. The blackberry doesn't do it justice (but hey, it was cold, can you blame it?) - the sky was filled with all kinds of pretty pinks and purple-y blues.I'm hoping to go skiing in February in France, so my only problem now is how to get my ski clothes back to Paris as they're currently taking up half the space in my suitcase! I might need to do some creative repacking this afternoon....

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It turns out that my family is sort of upset this year that I asked them to give my present money to charity. Not by the principal of it, but by the actuality - they are really bothered by the fact that that means I don't have any presents to open. Which has resulted in them buying me a bunch of small "crap" gifts. I keep telling them to stop, that I don't need any of this stuff. Nor do I have room for it (in my suitcase or my apartment). I haven't even done that much shopping myself - most of this trip has been about spending time with family and eating all the things I miss while in France (though I did raid my mom's jewelry store and I bought a new dress for Miss Leyla's upcoming wedding). And I'm currently going through all of the clothes I shipped back to the US in April, and it's like Christmas all over again - finding clothes that I'd completely forgotten I had. Including my winter coat - I froze those past few weeks in Paris, but I didn't want to spend money on a coat when I had a perfectly good one at home.

So 2008 was all about the down-sizing and I'm planning on continuing that into 2009 as well. But will someone please remind me of that when the soldes start in just a few weeks?? Me + sales = bad news. I'm trying to limit myself to just buying a pair of dark grey boots though, to replace the ones I had to throw out - I literally wore the soles off of my old ones while walking around London Thanksgiving weekend!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On the (new) road home


Monday, December 22, 2008

I am getting so tired of living out of a suitcase!! And I would say that I'll be happy to finally be back in France, but with the way my work schedule is looking for the next few months, the end is no where near in sight. Which is why I took advantage of The Company's luggage reimbursement offer and bought myself two fancy new suitcases, lol.

We left my dear grandmother's house yesterday, armed with left-overs (my favorite being the cookie salad) and made our way back up north. Except this time, we weren't heading towards C-town. You see, my mother got a new job a few months back and moved to the other side of the state. I'd been hoping she'd get a job near the Twin Cities (easy access to the airport, better shopping, etc), but no luck.

It's kind of unsettling to think we will no longer be going back there. I always loved coming home at Christmas - it was the only time I got to see all of my friends from high school. They are so funny and I'm really going to miss hanging out with them this year. It's also really weird to think about my dad being buried there. I would always stop by and visit at least once during my time home and it's sad to think that I won't be able to do that anymore. On a positive note though, I am very relieved not to have to face everybody else in town and all their questions, like "Oh, how's Fabrice doing?" or "How come the Frenchie didn't come with you this time?" And we now live a lot closer to the major ski stations in MN, so at least I'll be able to go skiing at least twice before heading back to France.

But I don't know - it's just strange. My home is no longer my home. Every time I come back to MN now, it will be to a city I don't know, where I know no one, with no family near by. I guess it just kind of takes away the meaning of "home"...

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

80 and fabulous

My grandma absolutely rocks. She just turned 80 and is still going strong. She lives on the farm with my uncle and gets up at 4am everyday to milk the cows.

She's like super-grandma, she lifts weights every morning, can do one-handed push-ups and she can juggle like a mad woman. She cross country-skis the half-mile down to the mailbox and back every day during the winter.
And so I sit here, listening to her talk to my mom and my aunts in Finnish, and I think "Man, I'm so lucky I got to come home for Christmas this year."

When my grandmas moved to the US, there were no planes, she had to come by boat to New York and then by train the rest of the way to MN. They didn't have a phone, so she wasn't able to call home at the drop of a hat. She didn't get to fly back to Finland once a year, and email and internet were still decades off from being invented. She went years without talking to her family.

All things considered, us expats have it pretty easy nowadays, huh?

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80 and fabulous

My grandma absolutely rocks. She just turned 80 and is still going strong. She lives on the farm with my uncle and gets up at 4am everyday to milk the cows.

She's like super-grandma, she lifts weights every morning, can do one-handed push-ups and she can juggle like a mad woman. She cross country-skis the half-mile down to the mailbox and back every day during the winter.

And so I sit here, listening to her talk to my mom and my aunts in Finnish, and I think "Man, I'm so lucky I got to come home for Christmas this year."

When my grandmas moved to the US, there were no planes, she had to come by boat to New York and then by train the rest of the way to MN. They didn't have a phone, so she wasn't able to call home at the drop of a hat. She didn't get to fly back to Finland once a year, and email and internet were still decades off from being invented. She went years without talking to her family.

All things considered, us expats have it pretty easy nowadays, huh?

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

During the weekend my co-worker spent in Paris, we talked a lot about what it meant to be bilingual. I think this is something I've mentioned before, but at least in my mind, unless you are able to spend six months in both countries per year, it's pretty much impossible to be bilingual. Fluent yes, but bilingual no. You see, for me, part of being bilingual is being bicultural. And the longer I stay in France, the more I lose of my American side. My co-worker argued against this, saying "No way - if you moved back to the US tomorrow, no one would ever think you were anything BUT American".

Which may be true, but they'd probably think I was an idiot then. As more and more time goes on, I forget how things go in the US and especially this trip, I find myself stumbling over the simplest things. I forget that stores are open on Sundays. That incoming calls on my cell are not free. That the news is not on at 8pm. That you can't buy liquor in the grocery store (in MN anyways). That priorité à droite doesn't exist here and that you can turn right on a red. That I don't need to put my fighting gloves on before dealing with any kind of administration. That I don't need a 10 or 15 dollar minimum purchase in order to use my bank card. That some people really do eat at 5pm. And the list goes on and on. My repères are becoming French repères. My "normal" is becoming French normal.

I no longer know who all the big American stars are. I try to watch TV but the channels are filled with shows that I've never heard of and actors I've never seen before. Same goes for the radio. I'm not up on the latest gossip, nor do I know the latest slang. I'm starting to use direction translations of French when speaking English, not to mention how many English words I've forgotten. So all of this just makes me believe that you can't ever really be truly bilingual. The adoptive country will always eventually start to push out the home country. Of course if I ever moved back to the US, it'd come back pretty fast, but then I'd slowly forget all of the French parts.

Anyone else have an opinion on this? And how do people do it when they have a third or even a fourth culture thrown into the mix? (Fned, I'm thinking of you!)


Friday, December 19, 2008

On a cold winter's morn

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday giving

One of the things I really appreciate about being back in the US is the opportunity to volunteer again, to be able to help those less fortunate than I am. It's not that the French don't care about that kind of stuff, it's that they haven't ever really had to - the government is expected to fill that role. Sure, there are a few things like Restos du Coeur or the Secours Catholique, but it's not anywhere near as prevalent as it is in the US.

But so I'm happy to be here, helping out in my own small way. By dropping my change in the salvation army kettle, by picking up an extra box of pasta for the food shelf, buying a small present for Toys for Tots or by helping serve a holiday meal at the soup kitchen. Sure I'm helping others out, but I'm also helping myself - it's such a good reminder to be thankful and appreciative of what I do have, especially given the current economic situation. Which is why I was inspired this year to write on my Christmas list - "Merry Christmas everyone. Despite everything that's happened this year, I'm very lucky to have a job I enjoy, a great family and a whole crew of wonderful new friends. I really don't need anything else. So please take any money that you would've spent on a Christmas present for me and donate it to a good cause instead (I listed a couple of charities I support here). There are millions of other people out there who are less fortunate than I am, and that extra 10, 20, or 50 dollars will go a lot farther for them than it will for me."

I don't mean to be on my soap box here, but thought I'd post about this quick. If it incites even one person to give a little, I'll be a happy camper. When times get tough, donations are the first thing up on the chopping block, but yet now is the time when they're needed the most. In the same way that I believe every vote counts, I also think every dollar counts. So even if you think you can't give much, just give what you can. United Way is doing a campaign now asking young people to give $5 each, and then to send the message on to their friends. Just think about - you go without your latte for one day, and so do five of your friends and so do five of each of their friends and on and on - it's a snowball effect, and pretty soon it all adds up. If everybody just gave a little, it would go a long way.

It's something to think about anyways as Christmas approaches....

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Don't worry, it's not my vehicle

Lest anyone think I'm not having a good time here, let me assure you, I am! Work is going very well, and I spent an absolutely wonderful weekend in Minneapolis with family. So the constant reminders of Fab are not "ruining" my trip in any way whatsoever, but they're just kind of like a rock in your shoe that you can't find. Not painful, but just present at ever step, no matter how hard you try to shake it out.

Which brings me to the caption of this picture, and one of Fab's favorite sayings: "there are two seasons in MN - winter and road construction". There was a huge snow storm yesterday that covered much of mid and northern MN, dumping over 10 inches of snow on certain cities. I was supposed to drive back to W-town last night, but stayed in the cities an extra day, with the hopes that the snow plows would clear things off by morning.

Sunday started off with rain, which is the worst of all because then it freezes and the roads become one big ice rink as the temperatures drop. Cars were going into the ditch left and right. And then the snow came, making it a double-whammy because then it covers up the ice and you can't see it. The snow plows were out salting all night, but it didn't really help because it was too cold for the salt to melt the ice. Parts of MN got down to -37•F with the wind chill. Minneapolis was a balmy -16•F when I left this morning. I bet France is feeling pretty warm right about now, huh? :) It took me a good 20 minutes to unfreeze my doors this morning - the car had been completely ensconed in a layer of ice!

And because my boss is "thrifty" (cough cough), I am staying at a co-worker's house all this week. It's been great so far, besides her lack of internet (God forbid). I spent a ton of time today setting up my blackberry to act as a modem for my laptop, but then I left the frickin' cable at work, so another blackberry post it is. I am currently sitting in front of their fireplace, with a glass of wine, watching "E! True Hollywood Stories", while my hosts cut apart a deer they shot this weekend. Cuz I am in Minnesota after all.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

One-stop shopping

You know how there's "Kyliemac's America"? Well, I think there must be a "Ksam's Minnesota", because all this redneck stuff I've been seeing is not the Minnesota of my youth!

I'm pretty sure I've posted this pic before, Fab and I came across this store during our last trip back to MN. I still laughed when I saw it, but it was just another reminder of what happened. As much as I love my home state, being here is not unlike being in Bretagne. There are (painful) memories every where I look. I can't even eat at my favorite restaurant anymore without thinking about Fab. How crappy is that?

I guess that's one of the main things I like about Paris - unlike Brittany or MN, it's not tainted. The memories there are 100% mine and mine alone.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Well, the Macdo sign was apparently not an anomaly because I came across this one a few towns down the road, on my way to Minneapolis today.

I showed yesterday's pic to my co-worker though, and just about died laughing when he said "Maybe it's the name of the employee of the month??". Which, given the Mexican population of W-town, may not be far from the truth!! LOL

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Friday, December 12, 2008

One of the things I don't really like about being here is the mini-Republican enclave that is W-town. Minnesota in general is a blue state, but there are counties here and there that are hard-cord Republican, and The Company just happens to be located in one of them. This means that the majority of my co-workers are as well, which has lead to some testy conversations over the years.

The right-wing tendencies manifest themselves in other ways though - there are anti-abortion signs everywhere, people are not really very tolerant of foreigners (or even non-white Americans for that matter), and don't even get them started on homosexuals. It just kind of comes with the area though, and I've gotten used to it while here. But that doesn't mean my mouth didn't fall wide open when I saw this on my way home tonight:
I mean, what the hell? What on Earth is "Jesus" doing written on a McDonald's billboard? I pondered that the rest of the way home, and it's still bothering me today. I'm a huge believe in the separation of church and state, and I don't see how religious affiliations of any kind belong in the public domain. Or could one argue that since McDonalds are franchised, the franchise owner is free to put what he likes on his billboards??

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

So far, things are going really well at work. While I like the flexibility of working from home, I do miss the office environment, so it's nice to get a little taste of that every so often. Not to mention the after-work happy hours, lol! I'm starting to wonder though how my co-workers actually get anything done. I've been back three days now, and I honestly haven't accomplished that much. Which isn't a big deal, because I'm mainly here to put in some face time and "connect" with my co-workers, not to actually accomplish anything major. So far, my basic day has been:
8:00 - arrive, drop off my stuff, stop in by everyone's cubicle to say hello
8:30 - go downstairs to get some coffee. run into random people from other departments and stop to chat
9:00 - call a few of my customers before it's the end of the day in France
10:00 - go on break
11:00 - get a bit of work done
11:30 - go to lunch (they eat early here). end up with a really long lunch break because whenever one person leaves, there's always someone else who's on their way down
1:30 - go back upstairs, chat some more with co-workers
2:00 - get a bit more work done
3:00 - go on break again
4:00 - everyone gets ready to go, spend half an hour chatting again
4:30 - finally able to get some real work done since the office is empty

So on one hand, I think the open-space office is nice because it's so conducive to sharing (which is important in our line of work), but on the other hand, it also means that it's super easy to get distracted. But my co-workers travel just as much as I do, if not more, and work 60hr+ weeks, so they deserve a bit of down time when they are actually in the office.

Either way, I'm really enjoying myself. I mainly hang out with girls in France, and while I love my girls, one of the things my trip to Tunisia made me realize was how much I miss having guy friends. Though I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule, it's not really common to see boy-girl friendships in France - it's like the word "platonic" doesn't exist. So it's kinda nice to be back in that atmosphere again - besides one of my managers and the secretary, all the rest of my co-workers are men, and they're a great bunch. The atmosphere is so relaxed and laid-back, and there are always jokes flying left and right. And I think they like having me around too, it mixes things up a bit in such a testosterone-filled office!

PS. I don't really like to talk about the specifics on my blog, but for those of you who are wondering, I work for an engineering company with clients all over the world. It's a really bizarre and precise science, but they really are on the cutting-edge of technology and it's been exciting to see first-hand some of the new products they are working on.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tunisia, part two

This last trip to Tunisia was a bit of a whirlwind, and a disappointing whirlwind at that. Things still aren't tiptop with my client, and we ran in to a lot of cranky people in the process, especially in the capital, Tunis. People were just in general not very friendly, the food we ate was terrible, and the hotel was the kind of hotel that leaves you worrying about going home with bedbugs.

I'd also been hoping to meet up with a fellow blogger while there, but that fell through as well. Which wasn't that big of a deal because we ended up getting back to Tunis after dark anyways, and it's not really safe to be wandering around at night. We did venture out briefly in order to take a few pictures, but all of the unsavory characters that were out and about quickly scared us back into our hotel. I got a few quick pics in beforehand though:I'm glad my first trip was not like this, or I wouldn't have wanted to go back! The highlight of my trip was seeing this upon exiting our original hotel:
And funnily enough, the hotel receptionist who totally shot me down last time (ie. the whole "I was talking to the man" thing) came up to me after dinner this time, to give me a bar of chocolate, saying "I won't be here tomorrow when you check-out, so I just wanted to say goodbye". How strange is that?? It was really damn good chocolate though, lol!


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Marché de Noël

For the fifth year in a row, my best-laid plans to go to Strasbourg were foiled. I swear I will make it there some day! Knowing that, I decided to visit the marché de noël at La Défense after hearing that it was the largest Christmas market in the metro area. It was my first visit out to La Défense - I'd been wanting to go check it out since this summer, but was always too lazy to buy an extra ticket out to zone 3. However thanks to Karina, I found out that if you take line 1 out there, you can just use your regular zone 1-2 ticket roundtrip (but you do need a zone 1-3 ticket if you take the RER - who knew?). So guess who will be making another trip out there in the near future to check out the shopping mall...
The market itself was a bit disappointing though - the decorations were great, but 90% of the stands had nothing to do with Christmas. Just the regular knick-knacks that you find at any other market, though there seemed to be some kind of rule that your stand had to say "magique" some where on it if you wanted to participate. We saw magic wallets, magic hats, magic toys - the list went on and on.The only Christmas-related stand there:
But who cares, when you've got vin chaud and gooey raclette cheese to keep you warm right??

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Here I am on the RER, on my way to the airport yet again. I'm heading back to the US for the rest of the month. I'll be spending two weeks with the company and then a week with my family.

As I'm sitting here in my fatigue-induced haze, I'm thinking about what a crazy week it's been. Dinners with friends, book-signings, Tunisia, and rhum-rhums with bloggers from all over France. And then Saturday night brought about the culmination of months of toil by K&K - the long awaited episode 200. I am so proud of these ladies and all of their hard work. There was an excellent turn-out and the whole night was a resounding success. Even though I know I'm going to be exhausted at work tomorrow, they were right - it was totally worth delaying my trip by a day to attend it.

And on that note, I wish y'all a happy Sunday - I'm off to check-in, with the hope that my suitcase is not over-weight!

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Thursday, December 4, 2008


Seen on the way to work....
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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

On the road again

Most of you know this already, but I am off to Tunisia again for the rest of the week. It's yet another trip that got added in at the last minute - I'd originally been planning on going back in January and then staying a few extra days to travel. I admit that I was really looking forward to having this week in Paris in order to rest up for this weekend's shenanigans and my upcoming trip back to the US, but it just wasn't in the cards. So off I go!

As a side note, I went to the Naughty Paris book signing last night, and if any of you out there are looking for a Christmas present for a friend (or a girlfriend!), I'd highly recommend it, and it'd be a great way to help a fellow expat out!

PS. Fned, here's a list of some English-speaking bookstores in Paris - maybe it'll help you find your mystery bookshop....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Alright, there has been a request for more details about the snogging incident. As a side note, I still maintain that "snog" is quite possibly the ugliest word in the English language. But anyways, so there we were, at some strange sort of restaurant that turned into a bar after-hours, forcing people to squeeze in and dance amongst the tables where they could, when we met a group of Irish boys from Cork. I am 100% incapable of telling you any of their names because I could not understand a single word any of them were saying. I'm not quite sure what the problem was - I've been exposed to my fair share of accents over the years and I usually do quite well - but in this case, it was a big, giant FAIL. The minute they opened their mouth, all's I heard was Charlie Brown's teacher: wah wah wah waaahhhh. Me: "I'm sorry, I have no clue what you just said". Irish Boy: "Wah wah wah? Wah wahhhh waaah wah". Me: ????? A couple of them kept trying to talk to me as the night went on, but I was just like "Dude, it's not even worth it."

Which brings me to scarf boy. Who apparently did not care that I did not understand him. After all, who needs words when you can snog? And that is what he tried to do for the rest of the night. To be fair, I did think he was cute at first. And when he asked me to dance just a few minutes after Leyla dared me to kiss someone, I thought "Hey, this is going to be easy". And so, kiss him I did. For a grand total of ten seconds. Maybe I've been lucky, because up until now, I've never kissed anyone that literally disgusted me. I always figured people were exaggerating when they said others were bad kissers. Now, I know that is not the case. The man was a bullet kisser. Did everything you are not supposed to do. And so I pulled away and said "Maybe we should just dance instead". To which he replied "Wah wah wahhhh".

Interpret that as you will.

Luckily, a few minutes later, Elisabeth came up and said she could no longer find Leyla & Mel, providing me with the perfect excuse to get away. They came back with a few Eton boys, and then some more Irish boys were found. Meanwhile, I was avoiding scarf boy (who was circling like a shark) to the best of my abilities. He finally caught me at the end of the night, and since I couldn't understand him, we just sort of stood there staring at each other and smiling stupidly. Which left me wondering how on Earth people fall in love without speaking a common language?

At one point, I understood something that sounded fairly close to "Facebook" and realized he was asking for my name. For whatever reason, I gave him a fake name (which I have now edited out - don't need the poor man googling it and coming across this post) and said "Look for (fake name) from Minnesota - I'm the only one!". Which was a complete lie because there are about a million girls named "fake name" in Minnesota. But I couldn't help myself, he had three strikes against him - he was on the shortish side, a terrible kisser, and oh yeah, I COULDN'T FRICKIN' UNDERSTAND A WORD HE SAID!

Poor ol' scarf boy. Who is either called Fred Claus or John-Paul. Still not really sure....


Monday, December 1, 2008

The one in which I'm the token American

What to say about this weekend? I feel so much pressure now that people I actually know are reading this blog! It was so much easier when things were anonymous.... :)

So should I blog about the fact that we almost missed our ride on the London Eye but how once on, we all suprised Miss Leyla with our Russian hats?

Or about how we went to the Absolut ice bar, a bar made completely out of ice (there's a shocker) that was so cold that even the glasses were made out of ice and you had to wear a special cape?

Or about how fantastic our lodging was? Seriously, these apartments had everything, right down to dishes, a dishwasher & a washing machine!

Or maybe I should write about how we rode around London on a party bus that allowed BYOB? (very dangerous, I might add)

Or about how I was dared to "snog" a boy at the bar, and how, when the opportunity presented itself a few minutes later, I immediately regretted it and spent the rest of the night trying to avoid scarf boy?

Or maybe I should blog about how, while zooming across London at 2am in a funny little taxi, I had another one of those "How on Earth did I go from small-town MN to this?" moments...

But instead, I will just say a big thank you to Leanne for all the time and effort she put into organizing the weekend. It was a ton of fun, and I really enjoyed meeting everyone, especially those of you I'd been hearing about for so long now (hi Elisabeth!!). I can only hope that Miss Leyla had half the fun that I did, and I am definitely looking forward to the wedding at the end of the month.

Now if only I could find a dress to wear....