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

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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!]

Saying Bonjour et Au Revoir Tuesday, May 25 2010 

This part of the trip is always about what little things need to be completed last-minute so that the experience of studying overseas finishes with such a smooth ride that you almost don’t recognize its finale. I seem to have accumulated an enormous list telling me what last-minute things I need to do before I leave Caen. Who do I need to visit? What words of encouragement do I need to speak? How in God’s green earth am I going to fit everything in my suitcase??!?

Within the last week, I have been saying goodbye to people here who I know I may not see for the rest of my life. It’s a difficult situation because I deeply love my friends in France and have been blessed excessively by their presence in my life these past 4 months.

When my friend Martha asked me to play violin last week at the Feast of the Pentecost Mass and consequently her confirmation service, I couldn’t think of another way to be a bigger blessing. I met Martha the very first Sunday in Caen at Eglise St. Pierre. Molly looked at me like I had lost the last remaining marble when I told her that I was going to thank the pretty violinist for playing in church. I had no idea what to say to Martha! I stumbled through bad French while she looked on at me, amused, and then asked in a perfect American accent, “Are you American?” My jaw must have hit the floor because she laughed and we instantly became friends. She introduced Molly and I to the “other girl from Minnesota,” Mary Elise Holmgren. Mary Elise, in turn, introduced us to many people from the Aumonerie, the Catholic student organization that has been the source for so many wonderful conversations and friendships.

My sister, Marthe, whose friendship has shrunk the world by a whole ocean.

"The other Minnesota girl," Mary Elise, who helped Molly and I make so many irreplaceable friends.

Friends at the Aumonerie house during a BBQ

Since that time, I have made friends with people from all over the world, on every continent and from every financial, educational and even emotional status! I have laughed with, cried with and been angry with people. With my friends, I have giggled until my stomach muscles begged for respite, been introspective and frightened out of my mind. During this journey, when all else failed, we held hands and prayed. It has not been an easy time, but one that with faith and friends is far from impossible. I grieve to say goodbye to my wonderful friends from my classes, but know that they’ll always be close to my heart.

Preston Leslie and me at a cello recital in Abbaye Aux Dames.

Mary Elise, Molly and the birthday boy, Louis Guillotte

Me, François Cogez and Molly in the garden at the Aumonerie house

Today, I welcome one of two Americans friends to France for the last 14 days of staying in this beautiful country, rich with culture and sights to see. Laura Vein [“Laura the Chef”] is currently making her way north to Caen to see me while I struggle through the last little hoops of my education at the Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie. While I pass my exams, she’ll be soaking in the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of Caen… and then, it’s off to more exciting adventures when Laura Trude arrives on Sunday. We will be traveling from Paris to Nice, Nice to Monaco, Monaco back to Nice, and then Nice to Dijon. From Dijon we return to Paris and catch our respective flights. There will be many pictures, stacks of stories and many adventures.

Stick around while we wrap up this journey as friends!

April in Paris Monday, Apr 19 2010 

My Spring Break Travels ended up in Paris, the Gem of the West. Staying in Paris was a quick stop-over from a long train ride from Salzburg. I saw so much and so little at the same time, because the city of Paris is not something you can just see for one day and say that you’ve seen the city. You might not be able to see the city in a whole lifetime!

The river Seine and the walls of the canal, protected by UNESCO.

Paris was founded by a tribe of Gaulish people called the Parisii in about the year 250 BC, although archeological finds have seen evidence of inhabitation from as early as the 4th millennium BC. The Parisii settled the land known today by the world as the “Île de la Cité,” a little island in the middle of the Seine River in Paris. All was well in the world until the Romans invaded. And then the Vikings invaded, and then the rest of the world invaded (almost including Attila the Hun, who swung just south of the city, thanks, it is said, to Saint Genevive, Patron Saint of Paris!).

Today, there are no Turkish invaders, no Attilas, and the closet thing to a Viking invader was me, a 3rd generation Norwegian-American who can barely scrape together a sentence in the Norwegian language. Paris today is a vast city of art, culture, tourism, haute couture and history. Its streets ramble in all directions and getting lost is a serious concern. Such a cultural melange was never seen! Chinese, American, Spanish, Italian, French, Irish, English, Saudi Arabian… it’s not crazy to be surrounded by people with entirely different backgrounds and all be interested in the same city.

Lovers from all over the world flock to Paris. They bring locks to fasten to this bridge and then they throw the key into the Seine to symbolize lasting love. Aww.

So many famous sights are within a stone’s throw from each other: Place de la Concorde (where the guillotine was set up for many years as a grisly reminder of the 1,300 deaths from the French Revolution), Arc de la Defense, La Louvre (which houses over 33,000 pieces of art!), Les Jardins de Tuilieries, L’Orangerie Museum, L’Arc du Triomphe, and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel seem to point in a straight line. They point directly down the Champs-Elysees and cut a line through the heart of Paris.

The Famous Pyramid Entrance to the Louvre by American Architect, I. M. Pei, thought to be "the most controversial artwork in Paris" because of the mass dislike voiced by the Parisians. It lines up perfectly with L'Arc du Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde!

Place de la Concorde, the Obelisk which replaced the Guillotine from the French Revolution that stood here for many years to remind the people of the grisly revolt.

It’s possible, of course, to write a BOOK on Paris with such famous and historic landmarks, let alone cover it in one fell swoop with a blog post, but I will try to convey the visit I had with the famous city just a few days ago.

After so many days of rain and clouds in the other locations we visited over Spring Break, it was a delightfully blue sky that greeted me and Molly when we opened the curtains to our youth hostel. We stayed at an “all women’s” hostel which had a shocking amount of man-like women roaming around (in other words, it wasn’t an “all-women” hostel as we had expected!). Nonetheless, we left bright and early to take in Paris before our train left for Caen that night.

Me, next to the Notre Dame de Paris!

Jardin de Tuileries, the gardens that replaced the Palais de Tuileries when it was burned down in a revolt. It's beautiful, and the Parisians enjoy lounging around the pools, soaking in the sunshine. In the distance, you can see L'Arc du Triomphe and the Obelisk in the Place de la Concorde.

We took advantage of the Free Walking Tour provided by Sandman’s (check them out here!) and managed to see so many beautiful things in only 3.5 hours that I felt compelled to circle them on my map in order not to forget where we had been. Paris is enormous! Its people are in a hurry, just like any big city, and I was glad that it was spring and not summer because Paris certainly WOULD sizzle!

Probably my favorite activity of the whole day was partaking in mass at the Notre Dame de Paris. It was utterly awesome to be in such a famous cathedral. People were shockingly quiet throughout the service, and I was pleased. Molly and I moved on to find a sumptuous lunch before catching our tour. We saw the Louvre (but only from the outside!), the Tuilieries gardens, L’Arc de Defense (France’s department of defense), countless statues, bridges, landmarks and avenues. When we finished our tour at the Grand Palais and Petit Palais (both false names as neither were palaces but constructed for the World’s Fair in 1900), I was EXHAUSTED!

This is where we ended our Free Tour with Sandman's. The Petit Palais is not a palace nor is it petite. It is, however, very beautiful with its gilded doors! It's used today as a museum and conference hall.

The last stop of the day was at Montmarte, “Hill of the martyrs” where Saint Denis, the 1st bishop of Paris, was decapitated for his beliefs. It now is home to the very famous Basilique du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre. It was built between the years of 1875 and 1914 and consecrated in 1919. From the basilica, you could see a sweeping vista of the city, a beautiful sight.

When I crawled on to the train at Gare de Saint-Lazare, Paris, I had walked about 15 miles and was utterly spent. I couldn’t quite remember a time when I was so tired! Our train was blessedly speedy and comfortable (and NOT delayed due to ash and volcanic eruptions!!!), and with our Carrefour Market suppers, Molly and I were happy as clams.

Montmartre, the "Hill of the Martyrs" with the beautiful Basilisque du Sacre-Coeur

My little dorm room had never looked so inviting or comfortable as it did that night. I crawled into bed, thanking God for His protection throughout my travels. It was a delicious, inspiring, beautiful week, one that I’d gladly repeat.

Click here to see Paris and the famous landmarks on a map!

Click here to see more of the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur in all its beauty.

Brothers and Sisters (A Picture Post) Monday, Apr 5 2010 

On Easter Sunday, I went to church at Eglise St. Pierre and reveled in the joyous ambiance that is the epitome of Easter Sunday. Sun streamed into the stained glass windows and the smell of incense filled the sanctuary. As the organ blasted arpeggios and powerful chords, I closed my eyes and soaked in the happiness.

Eglise St. Pierre, where I worshiped on Sunday (It was a lot more populated on Sunday!)

I came home after going to Sunday Market where I bought a fantastic galette and a baguette. I ate the last of my Peeps and Bunny Mallows–sweet, sweet taste of America!–and felt that all was right with the world. Just when I thought it could get any better with a mid-afternoon nap, I got a call from Molly asking me if I wanted to come over to the Aumonerie house for Easter celebration. The Aumonerie is a group of students who meet at least once a week to worship and fellowship together.

I have one brother who I love to pieces. Everybody should have such an awesome brother, but unfortunately for all of you, he’s mine. But yesterday, I got a whole bunch of amazing brothers and sisters through the Aumonerie to supplement my sibling cache! That is by far the best Easter present I’ve ever received! Jean Christophe, François, Thinh, Joseph, Mary Elise, Molly, Martha and I sang songs while accompanied by instruments and laughed ourselves ill over silliness. We played games and had an Easter Egg Hunt outside in the grass. We danced around like kids and ate amazing food. My fingers were joyful when my sister Martha let me play her violin.

The Aumonerie House, where I spent Easter!

Lovely Spring Daffodil

Martha, Mary Elise and Molly

Jean Christophe, being funny with a scarf and Mary Elise playing guitar

Easter Egg Hunt!!!!!

Jean Christophe found an Easter Egg! Haha

Being Funny with Ballet, Mary Elise and François

Jean Christophe, Me and Martha goofing off after the Easter Egg Hunt

It was a joyous day, one that will remain forever in my memory as one of the best Easters I’ve ever had the privilege to celebrate. Christ the Lord is Risen! Alleluia!

Wrinkly Nuns Saturday, Mar 13 2010 

Today I left with Molly and Mary Elise to go to Lisieux, France to visit the basilica constructed in the honor of Saint Thérèse, patron saint of Russia and missions. Saint Thérèse was born Thérèse Martin on January 2, 1873 in Alencon, France. She was the youngest child of Louis and Zeile Martin. When she was only 4 1/2 years old, her mother died, and her father moved the family to the little town of Lisieux.

I have waffled with several reasons to make her remarkable but have settled on the fact that she had a profound childlike faith, and that is why people are drawn to her. She is recorded as saying about prayer, “I quite simply tell God what I want to say to Him, without making beautiful sentences, and He always understands me…”

To honor the life of the saint, the construction of a basilica was begun. The Basilica of St. Thérèse of Lisieux was begun in 1929 and was completed in 1954 with work stopped during the war years. Remarkably, the basilica was largely untouched by the extensive bombing that the rest of Lisieux suffered during World War II.  Three archetects supervised the construction of the basilica. Louis-Marie Cordonnier, and his son Louis-Stanislas Cordonnier and his grandson Louis Cordonnier were all responsible for the beautiful structure today. It was funded entirely by donations, and almost every inch of the ceiling is covered in mosaic tiles which glitter spectacularly because of the perfect placement of the windows. Because there are no columns, on occasions that the church is full to capacity, every one of the 4,000 pilgrims or parishioners can have an unobstructed view.

A view of the inside of the Basilica. You can see the Mosaics on the ceiling.

Basilique de Lisieux

Molly is a spiritual soul, one who has a great big heart and a hug for anyone in need. She has a very sweet and deep tie to Saint Thérèse for reasons she will have to explain to you herself. It was with childlike joy and rapture Molly greeted the basilica. Mary Elise and I were blessed by her excitement and sheer happiness.

Molly, very excited to get to Lisieux!

Later in the day, we walked around Lisieux and made our way to Les Buissonnets, the house in which Saint Thérèse grew up before entering the Carmelite Cloister in 1888. It’s a beautiful little house situated in the middle of a garden. The people inside who give the tours year-round are nuns, and this is where I found the most fantastic thing I’d seen all day.

It’s true: my favorite part of the day was meeting a tiny, wrinkly nun in Saint Thérèse’s house. She was one of the cutest and most precious individuals I had ever beheld, and this, you remember, was after regarding one of the most beautiful basilicas ever built. I listened very closely to the short tour, trying to decipher the Catholic religion, the French language and the cultural differences. But this tiny woman with two hearing aids, snow-white hair and her uniform Habit was the sweetest, kindest person I think I may have ever seen. She listened to my French and told me sweetly that I spoke very well. I almost hugged her.It was a fantastic day.

“He doesn’t need our great deeds, but only our love.”–St. Thérèse

To learn more about the life of Saint Thérèse, her beatification and canonization, click here.

Click here for beautiful pictures and more information on the Basilica of Lisieux.

Follow-up to the D-Day Beach Day Sunday, Mar 7 2010 

When my head hit my pillow last night after having the fullest day I’d experienced in France yet, I was struck by sudden realization. It is my obligation and honor to tell the readership about what went through my head.

I am a Christian and am not ashamed to proclaim so. All day I prayed for direction: when I was lost, when I was cold, when I was waiting for the taxi. God and I were on a real and very beautiful date. When I climbed into bed, I thanked Him for his continued protection and care of me and my friends. I thanked him for my country, for France, for the sacrifice of the servicemen that so deeply moved me. And then, He spoke to me.

When God speaks to you, it’s not like he shouts in your ear or even is audible. It’s like a tug on your heart that leads you to realize things that were not clear before. It’s like the veil is lifted and you can see clearly again.

As moved as I was about 9,000 gravestones sitting on the hill of Omaha Beach, there is One who died for me personally because He would rather die for me than to live eternally without me. Why had I not seen it before? Christ, free of sin and full of grace, came to save me. I didn’t (and don’t!) deserve it! But the most amazing thing was yet to impact my mind.

Vista Overlooking the American Cemetery

I realized with unexplainable joy that there was no marble marker for my Savior’s grave. He died at the hands of men, was buried and three days later, rose from the dead in Victory over sin!!!

For mankind is doomed to die, but there is One who lives because He is without sin. Through Him we are guaranteed eternal life! Do you know Him? He is truly worth your awe and reverence and love.

Click here to find out more about what Christ did for YOU.

If you feel led, worship and listen to the words of this beautiful song.

Sunday Sunshine Sunday, Jan 31 2010 

Preface: Molly and I have a faith that dictates the way we live our lives. Because of this same faith, our friends and families are praying for our safety and well-being and we are continually being blessed by one person or experience at any given time. We cannot stress enough how grateful we are to all of you who are supporting us financially, through meaningful relationship, prayer and intercession.

Today we walked with utter determination to Eglise St. Pierre (St. Peter’s Church) in the beautiful old part of Caen. The church is under construction, so the front of the church (what might be referred to as a Chancel) is beautifully white while the rest of the church has been hurt by pollution over the centuries. In time, the whole church will be white just like the Chancel. It certainly won’t be finished during the time I am here, but someday I’d like to see the finished product.

This is where we went to Church. Oh La La, non? :)

I had never gone to a mass in Europe before, and I had most certainly never attended a mass in a gothic cathedral the size of Eglise St. Pierre! We walked in, nearly breathless from our power-walk, and we were immediately compelled to sit down in awe. The music was breathtaking. A string quartet and flute played prelude music and we were struck by how many individuals turned out to worship. And even though I am not catholic, I was amazed at the feeling of complete spritual unity in the church.

I understood about .5% of the sermon, about 50% of the liturgy and about .0001% of conversation after the service. OH YEAH! WE MADE FRIENDS!!!!

Because there was a violinist in the church, I took a giant breath, summoned all the French language I could muster and walked up to the beautiful woman and said, “Bonjour, je m’appelle Kelli. Je suis un etudiante international. Merci pour ta musique au’jourdhui. Je joue la violon aussi.” (“Hi, my name is Kelli. I’m an international student. Thanks for your music today. I play the violin too.”) Her eyes lit up, and she asked without a trace of French accent, “Are you American?” and I grinned ear-to-ear. We had a French friend! Her name is Martha. Her mother is American and her father is French. She was so kind and wonderful! We met Mary (who’s also American!) and many others whose names, I am ashamed to say, I have forgotten. We are going to another church funtion later this week. I can’t wait!!!

After a lot of French that I didn’t understand, Mary, Molly and I went to the market in search of a beautiful little chicken for lunch, some potatoes and a nice crunchy baguette. We found everything we needed for a picnic lunch in my room and tromped back to our dorm, our new friend Mary in tow, to rejoice in another successful day.

The chicken was amazing, the potatoes delighfully full of olive oil and the dipping sauce that came with the chicken creepily full of liver. Eek.

Here's lunch! Nom!!!

Now the Africans are playing soccer outside, the clouds are rolling across the sky in a beautiful pattern and another day is winding down. Tomorrow we hope to finally access the illusive telephone enigma, my tram pass and a whole day of orientation duties. I am painfully unprepared for the language challenges headed my way, but I know that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and “God did not give us a spirit of timidity…!” Bring it on, France!