Merci Beaucoup Thursday, Jun 17 2010 

I have agonized over how to begin the end of this adventure. I have found that I have the same emotional ties over writing this blog in the same way as I would have with a book I don’t want to end. But like all good things, it must end, and as Fyodor Dostoevsky says in The Brothers Karamazov, “To a new life, new places, and no looking back!”

Thank you to GOD who was, is and continues to be faithful in spite of my faithlessness and loves you and I more than we can possibly conceive.

I owe thanks to so many wonderful readers, faithful in encouragement when I was down, sharing joy with me when I was ecstatic, praying for me when I was subject to fear.

Thank you to Molly DesRoches, who, in spite of my neurotic breakdowns, stuck with me through thick and thin and helped me to see the brighter side of things.

Thank you to my family who prayed, sent care packages, called and loved me from 6,000 miles away.

Thank you to my aunt and uncle who had chocolate chip cookies and ice cold milk waiting for me when I landed in Minneapolis, not to mention a warm bed and boundless hospitality.

Thank you to the wonderful, amazing, intelligent, patient and kind teachers without whom I would never have the language skills I possess now.

Thank you to my classmates for making the world an exponentially smaller place.

Thank you to Laura Trude and Laura Vein (aka Laura the Chef) for coming to visit me overseas. It means so much to me to have such intelligent, beautiful women care enough to drop everything to visit.

Thank you to ALL the students at the Aumonerie, specifically Marthe, Francois, Thinh, Louis, Jean Christophe, Guillaume, Benedicte, Pierre and Jean Baptiste who made me always feel welcome and, with their love, helped me grow in my language as well as in my faith.

Thank you to Mary Elise Holmgren, without whom I’m sure I would never have had the social circle I now possess.

Thank you to the Arneberg-Larson grant for the generous scholarship which helped fund this adventure.

Thank you to my French advisor and instructor, Dr. Sarah Mosher and the Office of Study Abroad at the University of North Dakota.

Thank you to the Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie for their help and accommodation.

And thank you, all of you, for making this the most enjoyable writing experiences of my career. The next adventure is just around the corner, and I am excited to share it with you. You can follow my writing at a new blog called “His Glorious Undertaking” and see where life leads me next.

“And now, unto Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless and with great joy– to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!” Jude 1:24-25

Kelli Bren


Numbers Tuesday, Jun 15 2010 

While I sat in my bare little dorm room in Caen, I came to realize that almost my entire existence while overseas was dominated by numbers. Now that the experience is over, I thought I would share them with you so you can enjoy them too.

7,000- Number of grams of Nutella Hazelnut Spread purchased and consumed
5- Number of countries visited
240- Number of hours spent in a classroom
4- Number of times my financial skin was saved by a dispersion of money by the University
1- Number of scholarships received
18- Number of masses attended in Eglise St. Pierre
21- Number of days I thought I’d die of pneumonia
1- Number of beer types deemed remotely ingestible
5- Number of loads of laundry done over a span of 4 1/2 months
6,000- Number of  times I deeply desired a Swiffer
4- Number of care packages from Mom and Daddy
17- Number of cards from the USA
11- Number of awkward shirtless, gown-less chest x-rays taken (a group total)
10- Number of scarves added to wardrobe
2- Number of visible melt-downs in a classroom
100- Number of baguettes purchased
5- Number of blush-causing faux-pas
2- Number of visitors from the USA
4- Number of 8 € phone cards purchased to call home
16,000- Number of grams of pasta purchased from Carrefour
Infinity- When I’ll be hungry for pasta again
7- Number of minutes between trams
4- Number of teachers
1- Number of times caught pass-less on tram
2- Number of times the “stupid American” card was voluntarily put into play
70- Number of trips to a patisserie expressly for gluttonous purposes
55- Number of practice DELF tests
36- Number of seeds planted in hopes of flowers
0- Number of survivors
1- Number of WWII 550 KG bombs found on campus
40- Number of trains taken
5- Number of minutes it takes to get to class in a dead sprint
7- Number of pretend boyfriends accumulated
200- Number of tram rides
50- Number of times voltage converter was dropped and did not break
250- Number of handouts in class
1- Number of 50 € stamps purchased for taxation purposes
1,200- Number of pictures taken
40.5- Number of pairs of seins in Nice at the topless beaches
2- Number of trains taken in the wrong direction
22- Number of flavors of gelato tasted within a 24 hour window of opportunity
10- Number of times I was the recipient of random acts of a French stranger’s kindness
83- Number of blog posts
0- Number of regrets
Innumerable- Number of individual people to whom I owe thanks

[Please stick around for the finale post and link to my new blog coming very soon!]

Inner Child (A Picture Post) Tuesday, May 11 2010 

You might remember from a post earlier this month my bemoaning the fact that I had too much studying and time-wasting to do to visit the beautiful green hills that surround Caen. This past Sunday, the bemoaning came to an end because I got to visit one of the beautiful green hills with my friends. And while my French textbooks collected dust, I “parled” French and pique-niqued at Colline aux Oiseaux with Molly, Mary Elise and Louis.

Colline aux Oiseaux (Bird Hill) is a beautiful park tucked inside Caen with such care and discretion that you’d never know it existed unless you searched for it. The second weekend Molly and I were in Caen, we went to the Mémorial de Caen, the World War II, Cold War and Peace Movement museum that has reaped international acclaim for its beauty and expensiveness. Colline Aux Oiseaux is just behind the Mémorial, and I was struck by how much had changed in my life since I had walked those same steps to the Mémorial de Caen almost 4 months ago.

Louis preparing for the pique-nique!

Mary Elise and the Dijon mustard that tried to kill me.

This is the second "EXCITED ABOUT BREAD!" picture that Molly and I have taken.

The sun peeked out between the clouds that threatened to take over the sky, and we perched on the hill to enjoy the panoramic view of Caen while we ate our sandwiches, cornichons (pickles), a salade aux legumes (vegetable salad) and tarte aux fraises (strawberry tart) from the marché dimanche (Sunday market). Far below where we enjoyed our lunch was a miniature version of Basse-Normandie, complete with special monuments (Basilique de Lisieux) and the Drakkar (Norwegian ship) of Cherbourg.

Petite Basse-Normandie. On the point to the left is Cherbourg and the little Drakkar boat and to the right is Lisieux. Between the two and almost obscured is a small house signifying Caen.

After the petting zoo which included “Love Me Pet Me Love Me Pet Me Feed Me Love Me” the donkey (and his brother “Grover”) and some chèvres adorables (cute goats), we walked around the beautiful and extensive gardens nestled next to the hill. There is a hedge maze for children next to the rose garden, and to our embarrassment, we found it wasn’t nearly as easy as we had thought it would be.

Cute, non? :)

Tres Belles Fleurs

The hedge maze that turned out to be a tad complicated to navigate...

The beautiful rose garden that, in about a month, will be fairly bursting with roses.

Flowers poured from anywhere there was a little dirt to grow something. We wandered through a miniature German vineyard and a sweet English garden with flowers fairly dripping from the trellises. I believe it may be possible to spend the whole afternoon in such a lovely place.

Flowers dripping off the trellis in "Devon, England."

We sang show tunes (and elicited ‘looks’ from passers-by) and when we encountered a gently sloping hill, Mary Elise, Louis and I were obliged to roll down it, squealing. After rolling down the hill and picking the grass from our clothes, we fed the resident ducks and lusted after the ice cream for sale outside a little cafe.

It was a perfectly wonderful day, and I have decided that I am, at heart, 8 years old.

The Funny Things We Say Monday, May 3 2010 

The Quote Book of this oddessy has grown! When you factor in jet lag, culture shock, late nights, early mornings, French men, hunger and lack thereof, you will find that we said some pretty funny things. Enjoy!

At the Minneapolis Airport, predeparture: “So you don’t have any livestock? Small farm animals? Nothing like that? No? Good. You look like a Chicken Smuggler. That’s why I asked.”–TSA agent to Kelli

Upon arriving in France, at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris: “We’re going to have to ask you to remain in your seats as we switch ports. It looks as though we’re parked in the wrong spot.”–Our pilot

“Don’t your intestines have enough length to, like, wrap around the earth, like, four times?”–Kelsey Baumann

“My left boob was just compromised by a deaf Frenchman!!!”–You know who you are

Upon being critical of the French cultural kisses: “Lingering bises tend to be sort of like Magellan circumnavigating the globe.”–Thomas Carlson

On finding shoes that will fit big feet in a country where big feet don’t appear to exist: “GERMANS. Now THOSE are some big women!”–Kelsey Baumann

On warding off bride gifts from other foreigners: “At least you haven’t gotten a goat yet.”–Danielle Beyer, to Kelli

On the topic of the goodness of Kebab meat: “It’s meat with garlic shoved in it. How could that NOT be good?”–Kelli Bren

On the potency of a certain kind of beer named Elephant: “Elephants. They’ll get ya every time.”–Kelsey Baumann

Upon realizing she’d begun a collection of pet-named creepers: “Now I gotta watch out for KFC AND Goats?!”–Kelli

When we realized we were getting sick of eating the same thing over and over: “EAT THE ______ RAVIOLI!!!”–You know who you are

On the taste of French milk: “Whoo, boy! This milk…. man! It’s like sucking on a cow’s nipple!”–Kelsey Baumann

In reference to the pet name we coined for pining French men: “Shoot that chien!”–Kelli

In honor of Thomas’ Magellan quote and after a series of cultural kisses: “You just got Magellan’d!”–Molly DesRoches to Kelli

While walking into the Trouville casino: “I feel like I’m walking into hell…”–Kelli

Franglais (French-English) fun with Desperate, pining French men: “Roti that Pigeon!” and “Pose that Lapin!” (Literally translated, “Rotisserie-bake the pigeon, “Stand him up!”)

In Lisieux at the childhood home of Saint Therese: “C’est le cheveux de St. Therese! C’est le vrai cheveux de St. Therese!”–Wrinkly Little Nun

On being ill: “My throat feels like I swallowed a cat.”–Danielle Beyer

On our dress-up day in Oral Communication Class: “Well! This will be the second time I’ve cross-dressed…”–Preston Leslie

While at the D-Day Beaches: “Okay, so what were the 4 countries that helped liberate France in World War II? USA, Great Britain, Canada and…?”–Danielle Beyer
“The Germans? No, wait, that’s not right.”–Laura Fugelburg

“I’m so hungry I could eat my own hand… but I don’t know where it’s been.”–Danielle Beyer

On an inappropriately short skirt on a woman in a bookstore: “And we’re back! On a ladder! Man, that’s so awkward. Do people not look in the mirror? They’re called full-length mirrors. Use them.”–Kelli

“There is a giant head statue in Paris. So clearly, I had to pick its nose.”–Danielle Beyer

In Salzburg, Austria, on board our tour bus: “You look like a grown up Gretel [from The Sound of Music]!”–Peter, our tour guide to Kelli

On the French strikes that cause so many problems with travel: “SNCF, wrecking lives one train ride at a time.”–Molly DesRoches

“Let me reflechier on that for a second.”–Molly DesRoches, Franglais Fluent

“I oublied that.”–Molly DesRoches

“My milkshake bringeth more menfolk to the yard. Verily, ’tis better than thine.”–Molly DesRoches

“That makes my heart happy!”–Kelli

“I don’t need sweets because I’m with you!”–You know who you are

On calling home at Easter, my cousin’s big news: “Grandma told me I’d make a good stripper.”

“Everything on you sparkles!”–Thomas Carlson

On not understanding anything in class: “Comprende.”–Anne

“I just got kamakazi kissed!! The nerve!”–Kelli

[rancorous laughter] “It’s my personal joke: You said ‘Merci Beau Cul’ when you meant merci beaucoup.”–Nordahl’s Father to Kelli at Chateau des Ravalet (Depending on how you pronounce “beaucoup,” it could sound like you’re saying “Thanks, nice tush!”)

The Road Less Traveled Wednesday, Apr 28 2010 

I haven’t always loved peace and quiet the way I have now. For a long time, I thought that a big city with its crazy atmosphere and non-stop lifestyle was what I wanted. But priorities, along with so many other things in our day-to-day growth in life, change, and I have decided that I am irreversibly in love with the peace and beauty of the countryside.

Caen is a city that is home to over 100,000 people (Fargo-size), so it is not a booming metropolis, nor is it a small city. There are always things to do, places to go and people to meet in Caen, and if you need proof, consult my accolades of the city earlier this month. But as beautiful as architecture is and old-town sights are, I crave the quiet of the hills that surround Caen. I can see them from my window and they seem to taunt me, just out of reach for a busy student with more French language studying than she can possibly conquer.

But recently, I vacated my stuffy dorm room and my studies, and Molly showed me the most delightfully calm and beautiful place. The area near the hippodrome is right on the edge of Caen, and just far enough away to be “away from it all.” On a lazy Saturday or Sunday, you can amble down to the River Orne and soak in the sunshine with a book and a picnique. The river flows very gently and almost imperceptibly while the ducks lazily tool around in pairs.

More lovely peacefulness

The river, along with the fine houses that tower above the river and look out on the hippodrome and horse-race track, look like something from a Monet painting when the sun sparkles on the river and dazzles your eyes. The wrought-iron gates that protect properties from one another and the boats pulled up on the man-made shores are green with lichens and moss. The grasses slope down the sides of the river and mingle with the weeping willows who, like graceful ladies, dip their branches, like toes, into the current.

The River Orne that runs along the hippodrome in Caen

As you meander past the hippodrome and into the campagne, the cottonwood trees filter the sunlight, their leaves reflecting the sunshine as they wave in the breeze. People bike, walk, and run along the river’s edge. Old men, who seem to have stepped from a different era in time, walk from one tiny village on the outskirts of town to another via the main route and the whole place is completely picturesque and utterly serene.

Peaceful road that leads into more countryside...

Wherever you are, I hope you find peace, serenity and the chance to “be still.” Happy Spring!

Castle Creeping Saturday, Feb 27 2010 

Since I am still on the mend, I can’t venture too far from “home” until I can manage to breathe and not cough up a vital organ. Therefore, since it was a beautiful day in Basse-Normandie (which means that it wasn’t raining), I decided to grab Molly and go Castle Creeping. There is a medieval castle just outside my door (about a 1/4 mile away) and until today, I had yet to throughly explore it.

William the Conquerer constructed Le Chateau Ducal in about 1070 AD. Although a lot of it was destroyed due to heavy bombing in 1944, a startling amount remains for the general public to roam, free of cost and almost year-round. It’s a remarkable display of workmanship, brute force and architectural intelligence. Molly and I couldn’t shake the feeling like we were walking on a very significant piece of history, and the sensation was awesome.

Here We Go to the Castle!

Le Chateau Ducal is about a football field long and wide. The ramparts on the North and West are the most intact and there is a large museum built into one side of it (we didn’t go inside due to time constraints).

When you get to the top of the Chateau, there are really beautiful views of the city. You can see dozens of churches (some only if you know where to look) along with many other famous Caen landmarks such as the pier, the unfinished spires of Eglise St. Jean and Eglise St. Pierre.

On Top of the Castle

In addition to enjoying a real-life history lesson, we delighted ourselves in people-watching and realized with real clarity that there are obnoxious teenagers, adorable children and doting parents in every country.

To learn more about Le Chateau Ducal, click here and click the English Flag icon in the left hand corner to translate the website into English.

Many thanks again to Molly for her photography. Her pictures were much more superior to mine on this trip! : )

A Trip to World War II and Galette Land Sunday, Feb 7 2010 

The idea of World War II strikes a different chord with the people here. As the memories and real-life experiences of the men and woman  fade away with age, the memorials and grant founders seek out the individuals who aided in the war effort and their stories.

We went to the World War II Memorial of Caen yesterday with our friends Mary Elise and Louis. It was a brisk day, and we walked a long jaunt up and down the hills of the countryside to the outskirts of the city.

The memorial is something that you must first prepare yourself for utter sobriety.  After all, the war impacted the whole world. There were 50-70 million deaths as a result of World War II alone.

The museum is entered through a small, reflective door and beautiful entry-way in a long flat stucco façade, which symbolizes the Allies’ improbable breach of the “impregnable” Nazi Atlantic Wall. Inscribed in French across the façade are the verses: “Pain broke me; brotherhood lifted me. From my wound sprang a river of freedom.”

The Museum by Night

We saw so many interesting things here. Everything from the Vichy (think hard, all you Casablanca buffs!) to the Resistance to the Holocaust to the Cold War and beyond.  It was beautiful, horrifying, amazing and terrifying at the same time. I urge everyone to attend this place if you have the chance to do so.


This is what the city looked like circa 1944. Can you imagine coming back to your “home” and finding this?  Living here gives a person a whole new appreciation for what the American, Canadian, French and British GIs did for this country and the liberty of their own countries.

GIs outside of what may be present-day Eglise St. Pierre

After we left the memorial, we went to our friend Louis’ dorm where he made us the most amazing galettes we had ever tasted. I took diligent mental notes so when I return to the United States I can make them too. Get ready to have your culinary palate blown to smitereens because galettes are just that good.

Louis making Galettes

We had the regional cider (pronounced in French like “see-druh”) and enjoyed the awkward pauses that people who don’t share a fluent language usually do. It was a perfectly delightful evening.

God Bless France and the French!

If you want to learn more about the museum, visit the website here.

To learn how to make Galettes (but not Louis’ because he probably has a secret recipe), follow and bookmark this link.

Friday Follies Friday, Feb 5 2010 

There is nothing like an open-air market to make you feel like what you’re eating is right-from-the-Earth-good-for-your-soul.

Since Laura and Danielle headed out for Paris this morning, the rest of us decided to take a leisurely Friday afternoon wandering the beautiful streets of old-town Caen and explore the market scene.  The sky was cloudless, the air was warm and the sunshine divine. For you midwesterners braving windchills that make eskimos shiver, it was about 45 degrees today.

We walked to a market about 2 miles from the University. There we discovered fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, every kind of meat imaginable, cakes, sweets and patisserie (pastry). Everything from hot wine to fur vests and furnature could be found at the market. I wandered around with my eyes wide open, my heart full and a giant “American Smile” on my face.

If you breathed deeply, you could smell the poissonnerie (fish market) and the frying of soft, gooey ham and Swiss galettes (the French version of a burrito). The people bargained, picked up and squeezed fruit and walked with such flair and pizzazz that I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. As a group, we

Walking to market in the morning

decided that somewhere in their education process, the French Children are taught how to look French. Everyone is chic. Everyone is well-dressed and put-together. Everyone wears stilettos (except for the men who wear pointy-toed dress shoes. Kelsey shudders at the thought!).

There were stacks upon stacks of roses and daisies and flowers of every shape and size. Beautiful fathers and beautiful mothers with their beautiful children waited in line for crepes and murmered to eachother in indistinguishable French. I looked on with sheer happiness.

Beautiful Flowers at Market

Fresh Produce at Market

The World's Best Clementines. Combined, we ate about 12 of them.

We discovered another couple beautiful Gothic Cathedrals and more interesting shops (including a Violin shop!).

Getting back to the University was quite the challenge, however. Because it is Friday, everyone decides to go home for a few days and brings along a giant suitcase. The tram, therefore, was completely packed to the point of pain. My baguette I had just purchased somehow got sqashed in half and the dude behind/next to me muttered obscenities when the tram shifted and something/someone squashed him the wrong way. Har har, little did he know that I UNDERSTOOD HIM!!! Nevertheless, we made it home and are safe and sound.

Tonight we are planning a big dinner of orange rice and shrimp, green beans and cookies. (I am le Chef c’est soir!) Between the lot of us, we are a culinary wealth. Chances are if one doesn’t have it (whatever it may be) the other one does.

It has been one week since we’ve been living here and in some ways, it feels more like a year. In other ways, it feels like we’ve been her for five minutes.

Stay tuned for weekend adventures!