Who Wouldn’t Love a Pot of Cheese

It was another rainy day in Brussels and Cyndi and I planned to see a few local sights. We bundled up and took the bus to the Cora (it’s like the local Walmart).


Riding the bus to the Cora

It was a short ride and a long walk and then we wandered up and down the aisles looking for christmas lights and license plate holders. They had everything we needed and Cyndi picked up a few more bags of sausages while we were there. We walked back to the bus and then rode to the stop for the Aldi and picked up some schnitzel for dinner.


I really, really wanted Cyndi to make chicken donuts but she wouldn’t go for it!

The rain had let up so we walked home from there. After we unpacked the groceries, we walked to The Open for lunch.


The cutest restaurant I have ever seen. And that was BEFORE they brought out my pot of melted cheese.

The Open is a local French bistro, about a block from Cyndi’s house. Cyndi suggested we visit since they had the best fondue in town. It was essentially a giant pot of melted racklette cheese with small potatoes in the bottom of the pot. It came with a salad and a trio of meats.


I would have licked the bowl but there were people in there…

From there we walked to the Arc de Triomphe which is literally two blocks from Cyndi’s apartment.


There is a lovely view of the Arc from the balcony in my room.

Access to the top of the Arc is through the Military History Museum, so we bought a ticket and went up to the top.


Looking at the city from the top of the Arc!

The views of the city were amazing! Since our ticket was good for the museum as well, we went down and walked through that as well.

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Made a few friends while we were there…

The air wing was our favorite part.


Lots of aircraft in the airwing

Across the parking lot from the military museum is Auto World so of course I wanted to see that!


Just missed the American Dream Cars

Sadly the American Dream Cars show doesn’t open until December 15th, long after I leave. But the rest of the cars were pretty amazing.

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A few of our favorite cars

We walked home from there, it was only two blocks. Cyndi made schnitzel and when Gil got home we had dinner and a movie. It had been a long day so we turned in early so we’d be well rested for our trip to Bruges!

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A Rainy Day in Ghent

Cyndi and I decided to spend the day in Ghent. It was cold and rainy so we bundled up and grabbed some umbrellas and took off. We took the Metro to the train station and arrived early enough to get a hot waffle and a cappuccino before our train arrived. We watched him make our waffles and the sugar was carmalized and formed a crunchy shell.


Tastes like heaven

It was a quick 30 minute train ride from Brussels to Ghent and when we arrived we decided to walk to the old city from the train station. We walked along the canal and admired the houses.


Fancy houseboat on the canal in Ghent

First up on our agenda was a visit to Gravensteen Castle. It was originally built in 1180 and it decayed over time, but the city of Ghent restored it in the late 1800s.


Gravensteen Castle

I paid for out tickets and we went inside. The top of the castle has some amazing views of the city.


Admiring Ghent

but the climb up there involves a lot of narrow, twisty steps.



As we passed through the castle, we also got to see the various torture instruments.


This was the guillotine they actually used in Ghent

And one room had weapons and armor.


No idea how they even carried this around!

My favorite room was the throne room.


TBH I would have preferred a more impressive throne. 

By the time we left the castle it had started to drizzle again. We decided to look for somewhere to eat lunch and I wanted to find some Waterloo Stew, a dish Ghent is supposed to be known for. Cyndi tried to Yelp it, but we weren’t having any luck so we decided to walk towards the cathedral and see if we could read a few menus along the way. That’s when we stumbled across Street Art Alley.


The entrance to the alley really caught our eye!

We walked through and saw some amazing art.


Cyndi loved this one.

I took a TON of pictures.


This one made us laugh.

When we got to the other side we realized we were walking away from the city center so we turned around and walked back through the alley.


Loved getting a new perspective on the way back!

The rain started coming down harder so we passed the cathedral and walked to a square that was surrounded by restaurants. We searched all the menus but there was no mention of Waterloo Stew. We were getting colder and wetter so we settled on a spot that had Ghent Stew.


Our server claimed this was the best stew in the city. Made with beef cheek and lavender, it was simmered over sixteen hours and he was right, it was amazing!

When we finished eating, I went inside to pay our tab since Cyndi had conveniently forgotten her wallet. They ran my card twice and it didn’t work either time. They didn’t take Amex so my backup card wasn’t any good either. I was starting to panic when I realized I had 50 Euro in my pocket. Lunch was 45 Euro so I had just enough left to buy bus tickets to get back to the train station. It was raining even harder so we decided to head home and pick up Cyndi’s wallet!

By the time we got home it didn’t seem worth going out in the rain again so Cyndi cooked a delicious dinner and when Gil got home we turned on In Bruges to do some research for our trip on Wednesday.

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Giving Thanks for NATO

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization sponsors a charity event each year. NATO countries and supporters set up booths where they sell items from their own country to raise money for charity. My sister and brother-in-law took me to this year’s event which was packed! Lots and lots of families wandered through the halls examining the wares from each country. We aren’t allowed to take pictures within the building, so I gave my sister my phone and we set off.


Photo ban at the NATO Charity Bazaar. 

We saw reindeer hides from Finland (which my sister’s Swedish friends told us make sitting outside in the winter OK), drinking horns from Georgia, and pottery from Poland (another item my sister’s friends highly recommended). As soon as we walked in we saw the Polish stand. While we were looking at the pottery, they convinced us to buy a raffle ticket because every ticket was a winner. I won two different tubs of cosmetics. I don’t read Polish so I have no idea what they do. Cyndi won fish. Three tins of fish.

I picked up a few Christmas gifts for some friends back home which I won’t list here on the off chance that any of them follow this blog (looking at you Bob and Angel!) Canada was my favorite stand because they were passing out shots of my new favorite drink, maple whisky.

In the cafeteria there were stands with native foods. We saw a giant pan of paella passing through on its way to the Spanish stand. The French were making racklette sandwiches. I got a hot dog from Denmark because my brother in law said they were highly recommended (he was right!) I also tried the Moose Milk. This was from the Canadians and it was the Moose Milk that convinced me Canada might be my new favorite country.

After picking up a few more items from Slovenia and Turkey we couldn’t carry much more so we headed home.


Of course I picked up some maple whisky and Glögg

Cyndi and Gil decided to take me out to dinner at their favorite restaurant Balls and Glory. We hopped on the Metro and rode to Central Station. Then we walked past the Grand Place.


Friday night the Christmas Markets open which I guess is when they light the tree because it wasn’t lit yet. 

Balls and Glory is a meatball shop, but they are meatballs like you’ve never had before. They flash freeze various sauces and insert them into the center of the meatball. Then it is baked (never fried) and served with a stump (a mash of potatoes, carrots and the vegetable of the day) and a salad. We decided to order multiple meatballs so we could try one of each.


I was the only one who thought the chicken was the best. Everyone else like the tikka masala better.

After dinner we walked over the St Catherine’s Cathedral.


Waffle trucks! Too bad we ate too many meatballs…

And then we walked through the Gallery to peek in all the windows of the chocolate shops.

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So much chocolate…

On our way back to the Metro we passed the Smurf museum. I had been the Smurf Assistant when I worked at Hardees in high school so I insisted we stop for a photo.


Nice hat!

My first weekend in Brussels was fantastic. Next week we will explore more of the city as well as Ghent and Bruges!



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Happy Birthday, Marines!

After landing in Luxembourg, I caught a train to Brussels. I upgraded to first class but as soon as I boarded I realized it was clearly a commuter train and there was no difference between the cars except the one I was in was basically empty. I wedged my bags up against the window and settled in. It was a three-hour ride from Luxembourg to the Central Station in Brussels. Thanks to T Mobile, I was in constant contact with my sister while she was at her hair salon and I was riding the rails.


All alone in the first class car…

I tried to stay awake and broke out my journal to pass the time. I was worried about missing the stop for the central station since all the announcements were in French. I tried really, really hard to stay awake but eventually the gentle motion of the train got to be too much for me and I passed out.


I woke up occasionally and saw random stations like this…

I was sleeping hard and suddenly realized the train had stopped moving. I looked out the window at what appeared to be a major train station and I heard the announcer speaking a lot of French. I knew just enough French to recognize the words “central station” in the middle of her announcement. I thought, “Oh shit, this must be it!” I grabbed my coat, my suitcase, and my overnight bag and ran to the door. I stuck my head out to make sure it was the right station, but there weren’t any signs. I could see the conductor on the other end of the platform start to get back on board and I didn’t want to miss my stop so I chucked the heavy bag off the train, grabbed my overnighter and my coat and jumped off right before the doors shut. The temperature had climbed to about 1 so I put on my coat and hat and looked around. The station was entirely deserted. No sign of life. At that point a text from Cyndi arrived.


Turns out I was nowhere near Central Station.

After I explained to her I was in a different station which had no signs but appeared to be very fancy, she figured out I was at the EU. She sent me a screenshot of her route to the station and it said she should arrive at 2:39. I assumed she was driving so at 2:35 I went out to stand on the curb so she wouldn’t have to park. Turns out I was all wrong about that as well. She had taken the metro to meet me. I waited outside for about 10 minutes and there was no sign of her so I went back into the empty station.


No people, no signs, no idea where I was…

Cyndi texted me that she had arrived but I still didn’t see any sign of her. She told me she was at the entrance to the station. That’s where I thought I was. She asked me what street I was on though really if there had been any fucking signs at that station I’d have been at the right one! Finally I saw her walking around a corner. I almost wept. I said, “Where is the car? I’m freezing!” She said, “I didn’t drive. I thought you were coming into Central Station and it is just a couple of metro stops from my house. We only need to walk the quarter-mile to the Metro station here because this is the only train station in the city that doesn’t have a Metro station attached.”

When we finally got to Cyndi’s house, Gil was waiting for us. They gave me a quick tour, showered me with gifts, and fixed me a snack. We had just enough time to get pretty before they took me to the Marine Corps Ball.


Cyndi thought we had a Dynasty vibe going on.

Several of Gil’s co-workers were seated at our table. There was a couple from Hungary, a couple from Poland, and a woman from Italy with her Danish boyfriend. The program was great. Of course my favorite part was when they sliced the cake with the sword.


Happy birthday, Marines!

We drank wine. A lot of wine.


Dinner was great, and that’s not the wine talking…

And then they brought out the pièce de la résistance,,,


Macaroons as big as your head.

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Since my sister Cyndi moved to Brussels, I’ve been planning to spend Thanksgiving at her house. I saved my global upgrades and closely monitored flights to Europe. I thought I’d scored a real deal when I saw flights to Luxembourg were only $600 so I jumped on it! I used my global upgrade certificates and wound up in a business class cabin from Chicago to Amsterdam to Luxembourg on KLM. Of course a couple of days later flights to Brussels dropped to $400, but that didn’t dim my enthusiasm. Besides I’ve never been to Luxembourg!


I got to the airport a little early, visited the KLM Air France lounge and had some champagne and a stroopwafel while they loaded my plane.

I was sitting in seat 1A, which I believe is the best seat on that plane! The rest of the seats are side by side, which either involves climbing over the person sleeping in the pod next to you or no window. We enjoyed another glass of champagne before take off and then once we did leave I put my feet up and turned on Guardians of the Galaxy 2 while I waited for dinner.


Preflight beverage!

On their first pass through the cabin, the flight attendants brought out a bowl of mixed nuts and a cocktail called the Flying Dutchman. Dinner came next and included a warm roll, a salad, and some vegetables.

By the time my lemon mousse arrived for dessert, my Tylenol PM had kicked in and I was ready to sleep. That’s the first time we hit the turbulence.


This was a full cup of tea BEFORE we hit the turbulence.

I tried to imagine the plane was just trying to rock me to sleep and so I flattened my chair, put on my sleep mask and totally crashed. I slept about an hour before we hit the next patch of turbulence. I was clinging to the side of the bed and focusing on not thinking of the wings snapping off and after about ten minutes it finally stopped. I dozed off until it started once again. This time I just rolled over and went back to sleep. When I finally woke up they were already serving breakfast. I chose the frittata and a bowl of fresh fruit.

We landed in Amsterdam without any trouble. I flew through passport control and got to my next gate early so I dropped 2 Euro in a massage chair and relaxed. Boarding the next flight was a little confusing because we passed through the gate and then walked down the jetbridge to a set of stairs and got hustled onto a bus. The bus took off and we drove around the airport and ended up in a parking lot full of planes. I climbed up the stairs and found my seat. KLM must not do upgrades or else they don’t have a lot of frequent fliers traveling to LUX, there were only four of us in the front of the plane so we each got our own row.


It was zero degrees. And the wind blew hard.

After takeoff they brought us a small bag of lunch with a bottle of juice, a bag of cookies, and a tiny sandwich. I was still stuffed from the first flight so I just had tea and then shut my eyes and took the short way.

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Flying into Luxembourg

When I woke up we had landed. I collected my bags and went outside to find the train station. Unfortunately, the train station was not anywhere close to the airport. When I asked around they said there was a free bus if I wanted to wait on the curb. I tried, but it was 0 degrees (celcius) and I could tell from the train schedules that if I didn’t catch the 11:00 train to Brussels, I would have to transfer to another train along the way. I finally gave up and caught a taxi.

My taxi driver was a kid from Mexico who had moved to Luxembourg with his parents when he was fifteen. He and I had a great time talking about taco shops and history and we got to the station just in time. I got to the train station just in time to buy my ticket and board my train. Next stop, Brussels!

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Preparing for Thanksgiving 2017

Since my sister moved to Brussels last summer I decided to spend my holiday break visiting her. When I saw her at my Nephew’s wedding, we outlined a couple of things we could do on my 10 day trip…


My bullet journal page where Cyndi and I brainstormed Brussels ideas.

Since our visit, I”ve booked my ticket and started packing my bags. Friday can’t come soon enough!


Only halfway through a two-week work trip but as soon as I get home I am off to Brussels, baby!

Five more days…


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A Day on the UP

After all the excitement of the record attempt, most of my DCMM friends went back to their hotels for a nap. Katie and I decided to spend our day instagramming the UP. Our first stop was Castle Rock.


MINIs invade the Castle Rock!

Brandy and Corey sent a message that they were at Deer Park so we went there next.


We decided to skip the deer feeding and go for some deer kissing instead.


Katie really likes deer.

When we left there, we found a little souvenir shop.


All of the shops on the UP sell fudge and smoked fish.

And then Katie hit a deer.


It was closed, but we decided we needed some souvenirs so we went to the fudge shop.


You literally cannot visit the UP without taking home some fudge.

Our next stop was the park that overlooks the bridge and as we arrived most of the other cars were leaving so we were able to get some great shots of our cars (of course).


The Mighty Mackinaw Bridge!

Brandy and Corey had finished feeding deer and the rest of the crew was starting to rouse so we decided to meet up for margaritas dinner. We ran into the Detroit Tuned crew and worked really hard to get our order in before they did. Corrine spent her time there constructing a giant margarita straw to access the pitchers on the other side of the room.


So much talent, no wonder she has a cape!

We left there and walked down to the harbor to check out the band. I saw my friend Yvonne along the way but she’d been denied entrance because of her new puppy baby. Also, there was a cover charge. We stood around for a while but then decided to skip it. Brandy, Corey and I were rolling out at 4 am and we felt like we needed to call it a night. That plan was totally disrupted by the fireworks show that started at 10pm, but it drew out my hotel neighbor and we had a lovely chat about our cars as we enjoyed the show.


Already ready for our next attempt in 2019!

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Six am came early, friends! We met at the Quality Inn since all of the DCMM people were staying there (except for me). We lined up and rolled into the Little Bear Arena at 6:25 and even though the doors weren’t going to open until 6:30 we were only about 40 cars from the front.


First row for the early risers!

We spent most of the morning watching the rest of the cars roll in and wandering around admiring them.


My favorite plate

At 9:15 they announced that cars were still arriving and they were delaying the drivers meeting until 9:45.


My friend Niki Pumphrey earned a well-deserved Best Dressed award for her MINI, which I love!

The excitement was palpable!


Chicago club President Steve Rosenblum recreated the bridge, this year even stronger!

When it did start, it was really hard to hear and I missed where the official count would happen. I did know we had to maintain a speed of 22 MPH in the parade zone and that we had to stay in our lane on the bridge. Also, we were going to drive pretty far south and then turn around and cross the bridge again before we returned to the Little Bear Arena.


My favorite graphics. Also, super British, no?

Corey and Brandy’s delightful offspring, Hannah wanted to ride in my car so I tasked her with a few photography challenges. Then we slowly rolled out though as soon as we turned the corner and left the arena grounds the cars in front of me suddenly took off! I learned Hannah had great balance when we careened around a couple of corners to keep up!

Traffic slowed WAY down as we approached the mighty Mackinaw Bridge. Our toll had been paid so we all proceeded through the tollbooth and slowly crossed the bridge.



Honestly, driving across that metal grate on a windy day is a bit terrifying!


Once we arrived on the Mackinaw City side, we stayed in the left lane and drove down to Seashell City.


Hannah got some great shots!

As we approached the exit where we were going to loop back to the north it got even more fun! The entire time we drove the fourteen miles from our turnaround back to the bridge, there were MINIs heading south. I was so grateful Hannah was taking pictures which freed me up to wave enthusiastically to the MINIs on the other side of the freeway and only involved a couple of close calls with Corinne and Devin who were ahead of me (sorry Devin and Corinne!)


Waving to MINIs. Enthusiastically. 

We drove back across the bridge, though this time we were in the paved lane and it was a lot less scary. Then we wound our way back through town, waving wildly to the locals who had come out to watch the show.


Still waving wildly!

We parked and went into the arena to grab some lunch and wait for the official tally.

After a hamburger as big as a human head, chips and a cookie, I went out to watch the rest of the cars arrive. Eventually, I found my friend Katie and we sat with a few other drivers in the bleachers. That’s where my friend Gary from #MTTS2016 found me to tell me they’d added a Marauder’s Map to the top of their Harry Potter MINI! I wanted to go check it out so Katie and I headed outside to admire more cars.


This car made me so happy!

There were some real beauties!


The force is strong with this one…

Eventually, we gathered back at the DJs tent for announcements and the final count. The event raised over $10,000 for the Van Andel Institute to research and cure Parkenson’s Disease. My friend Niki Pumphrey won an award for Best Dressed (well deserved, her Wonder Woman car is AWESOME) and then they broke the news. Our unofficial count was 1,328. We were 123 cars short of the new world record. So we all celebrated the fact that we were going back to Saint Ignace in 2019 to try again…


One of my all time favorite cars, the Harry Potter MINI!



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Determined to Smash Records

Even though work tried really hard to ruin my plans, I was able to get creative with my flight schedules and still do my part to set a new world record! August 5, 2017 was the day I (and 1,450 of my closest friends) would attempt to break the record for most MINIs in a parade. Our last attempt was in 2015 and while we were close, we didn’t quite make it. Still, it was such a good time, I was determined to be a part of this year’s attempt. Since I’ve joined so many more MINI clubs, I was super excited to see who else was going to go!

Originally I planned to take a few days off and drive around Lake Superior after the parade. That was the first part of my plan that got axed. I found out I had to leave for San Antonio the day after the parade and then South Carolina and New Orleans. I booked a flight out of Detroit for the day after our parade.

I thought maybe I’d take some time off before the attempt instead and meet the MINI club from Indiana to caravan to Saint Ignace. Then I was tasked with presenting at a conference in Southern California. So, I booked a flight out of Milwaukee with a red eye back so I could get a head start on my drive to the Upper Peninsula.

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My #MOTM2017 route got a little out of hand…

Both of my red eye flights were upgraded to first class, thankfully. The longest leg was from San Diego to Atlanta so I took a couple of Tylenol PM and had a bloody mary and then it was good night Irene! When we landed in Atlanta I had some time to kill so I stumbled over to the Sky Club and had a bagel. When I got on the next flight I sacked out again and once again slept like a baby.


Gloomy weather, not ideal for a 6 hour road trip after napping through a red eye. 

When I arrived in Milwaukee I noticed the sky was very overcast and the parking attendants gave me some very strange looks when I hopped in and dropped the top. I realized why they were puzzled when I got about 50 miles up the road and the deluge began. When it rains, if you go over 45 MPH the rain blows right past the windshield and you stay mostly pretty dry. That being said, when torrential downpours happen and your wipers are going at full speed, they sometimes spit water back on you. Also, the spray from passing trucks can sometimes make it over the top of the windows as well.

I got a little wet. I also knew that stopping would be worse and had to wait until the rain let up before I could even think of pulling over! At that point it didn’t seem really worth it, but I did it just in case things got worse.

Driving my car with the top up is slightly less fun and after my red-eye flight I was really struggling to stay alert. That’s when the first MINI appeared on my path! It was so exciting to see another one headed across the upper peninsula, I perked right up! Then the sun started peeking out and before too long we stopped long enough at a light I was even able to drop my top again. After a while we picked up a few more MINIs and then time seemed to fly as I zoomed across the Upper Peninsula.


I didn’t get a chance to meet this guy, but I was super excited to follow him!

I drove to the Little Bear Arena and picked up my t-shirt and registration packet. I also checked into my cute little motel and popped into the grocery store to buy some stale donuts, cheap wine, cups and paper towels.

The DCMM crew and my friend Katie from SD were all en route so we arranged to meet up at our favorite place on the UP, Weinerlicious! I got there early and realized that the Plastidip on my tires was beginning to fail. I wanted to be sure my wheels would pop when we broke the record, so I started trying to strip the Plastidip off. Lucky for me, Corey arrived soon after I did and as my Plastidip master, he realized I had not followed all of his teachings and the Plastidip had to go. He showed me a better way to peel it off and then started working on one of the wheels.


DCMM takes the Weinerlicious

By the time everyone else arrived, we were only done with one wheel though we’d made a good start on a second one. We went in and had a lovely dinner. I invited everyone back to my place for a Plastidip stripping party!


Brandy performed a critical function

Katie, Corey and Brandy came over to help. Corey and I finished the wheels while Katie detailed her car. Brandy opened the wine and what turned out to be shot glasses instead of cups. We all had a few shots of the really bad and very cheap wine and then called it a night. One day until our record-setting attempt and we were meeting at 6 am to be near the front of the line!


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DCMM Returns to the Dice Burger

Returning to Virginia to help out my parents seemed like a great reason to meet up with my friends at the DC Metro MINI club! Since I accidentally overpaid my dues and am still a member, I posted an invite to Dice Burger on the forum and hoped a few people would show up. It was a “surprise and delight” that so many people could make it!


Love meeting up at Dice Burger. And they love it when the MINIs show up!

When I arrived Craig, Alex, and Melissa were already there. I parked near them and had just finished hugging everyone when Rey and Hillary showed up. Craig’s new girlfriend Sierra joined us and then Haemish and Susan arrived. As we were placing our orders Ali and Mark arrived unexpectedly. We began pulling tables together and it was a good thing since Brandi and her girls arrived soon after we did.


MINIs begin to take the parking lot at Dice Burger

So many changes in the year and a half since I moved, there was a lot to catch up on! Melissa for married and moved very far away! Haemish and Susan got married, bought a house and are having a baby! Hillary moved and Corey is about to return from Okinawa and start his final deployment somewhere in MD!


Ali still flutters so that hasn’t changed!

Being with my old gang was very exciting as well as super productive! I’d recently found out my tie rods are frozen, which prevented anyone from doing an alignment. Alex and Rey explained what tie rods are and why they might be frozen while Brandi sent messages to Corey who explained how to fix them. I told everyone the horror story about my radio going silent for the last two hours of my 12 hour drive. Alex theorized it might be a short and they all cautioned me about after market stereos.


The best part of seeing so many old friends is just seeing so many old friends. Thankful they could help me with all my MINI issues!


Melissa reminded me that the one year anniversary of MTTS2016 is fast approaching.



Soon the Facebook memories will begin to reappear and not long after that we will begin to countdown until #MTTS2018

We also talked about who was going to MINI on the Mack and compared hotels to see how far apart we were (very close!)


This year we will have a smaller crew, but those of us able to attend will totally represent! #MINIontheMack

After dinner we moved out to the parking lot because we love to look at our cars (obviously) and since I’ve been gone so many people have moved farther away and had long drives home (but fun drives because MINI).


Our MINI meet ups always evolve into parking lot parties.

I showed everyone the damage from the hit and run My Precious sustained. Haemish suggested a paintless dent removal might be able to fix some of it. Ali took some pictures to send to a guy she knows. Hillary and I took a few more pictures before we said goodnight and headed home. Definitely adding MINI clubs in general and DC Metro MINIS in particular to today’s gratitude journal!


Thankful to have MINI Cooper Clubs, especially DC Metro MINIs!




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