PMA Fresh Summit Recap

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This past weekend, I had the privilege to attend Fresh Summit, as a part of Team Fresh Summit (which was a group of bloggers brought together by PMA – Produce Marketing Association and Kitchen Play). I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited to learn about the produce industry and possibly be introduced to new brands that I haven’t seen before.

The conference was Friday/Saturday/Sunday, but I only could attend on Sunday. I figured that 7 hours on the expo floor would be plenty. I could meet all of the brands that I wanted to say “hello” to, and have extra time to stop by booths that caught my eye.

Before I braved the expo, there was a general morning session. While it was geared more towards people in marketing careers, I think I could apply quite a few principles from the speech to my blog. I wasn’t expecting much from the general session, but wow, time flew! It was one of the better sessions I’ve sat in for a conference (professionally and blog-wise).

After a meeting with PMA and the other bloggers of Team Fresh Summit, it was time to hit the expo floor. Can I just say…HOLY COW! I thought I knew the convention center’s size, but man…from the inside, it’s a whole different animal! I mean, look at the picture above. That’s a 3D Mardi Gras Mask made of berries. BERRIES. Plenty of booths were this extravagant, and it was quite a site to see!

I learned a couple of lessons during the expo, in case I’m able to attend this again: first off, I’m never bringing my DSLR to a conference/expo again. My iPhone takes great pictures, and weighs barely anything. It was kind of silly on my part to lug around a 15 lb. camera bag when I only took a handful on the DSLR anyway. :-P Also, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! I’m naturally shy, but after speaking to a couple of people, I found that it was easier to approach someone at a booth and introduce myself. I was doing fairly well until somewhere in the 2000s when I lost my prized list of brands that I wanted to meet with. ::sigh::

Needless to say, I didn’t meet every brand I wanted to meet with. I wasn’t bummed about it though…there were 1000 booths there, and the brands I did meet with were wonderful! I’m in shock that quite a few people actually took some time out of their busy day to talk to me…with 20,000 people walking around, that expo was booming! In fact, Fresh Summit can only be held in a handful of cities, because of the size that they require to make this event happen.

Another cool thing about the expo is that most of these booths had displays that were well-stocked like grocery stores. So much food…

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…and I found out from someone that every single bit of food leftover from the event ends up at the local food bank. I read a tweet from the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau that said the food bank received 300,000 pounds of food from Fresh Summit. Isn’t that awesome??!

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I’m a little bummed that I could only attend for one day, but at the same time, it was a wonderful experience! I’m so glad I was able to attend. :-)

At the end of the day, I have to admit my shoulders were on fire haha! The booths were so generous, as you can see below. That shopping bag was full! Also, according to my pedometer, I walked 4 miles that day….my body was aching the next day. At least after all of that sampling, I had a great work-out! :-P

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Thank you so much to PMA, as well as Kitchen Play, for my registration to Fresh Summit. I had a great time! If you ever have the chance to attend Fresh Summit (it’s going to be in Anaheim next year), definitely consider it. It’s so cool to learn about the produce industry, and to actually put a face to a brand that you buy in the grocery store. :-)

Disclosure: I was provided with a free registration to PMA’s Fresh Summit. All opinions are 100% my own.

Food Blog Forum Orlando 2013 Recap

Food Blog Forum 2013

I can’t believe that I’m typing out this recap right now. For weeks, I was anticipating attending this conference, and while I had a feeling it would be over in the blink of an eye, I still can’t believe it’s really over. Inspiring sessions, meeting amazing fellow bloggers and of course, seeing Mickey…it’s hard to put into words how wonderful this conference was, but oh man, if you ever have the opportunity to attend this conference, do it.

One of the biggest things that happened for me is that I walked away from this conference so inspired to make a huge change to this blog, and hopefully in the coming weeks, you will see those changes actually happen. I was waivering on making these changes for a while, but one session in particular let me know that this change is a good thing. I just hope you guys will be as excited about this as I am. (No spoilers yet…)

When I flew in to Orlando on Friday morning, I was pretty darn anxious. You see, I’m an introvert. There was no borderline on the Myers-Briggs test. I answered every question, except for two of them, in the introvert range. I can talk all day on Twitter and Facebook, but when it comes to being face to face, I’m pretty darn shy. I was nervous about what bloggers would think of me, and what I would think of them. All of this time, I’ve been speaking with many of these bloggers on social media, but it was going to be in real life this weekend. NERVES Y’ALL! NERVES!

The first person I met was Katie of Ruffles & Truffles. Katie and I used to blog for WeddingBee (I was Mrs. Ballet Flat…she was Mrs. Buttons) back in our wedding planning days, and the wonderful thing about WeddingBee bloggers is that when we meet each other, it’s like we’re instant pals. We have unofficial meet-ups from time to time, and when there was one in New Orleans, it was like we were all long lost friends. This was no different. Thanks Katie for letting me run around Magic Kingdom with you and your family. :-)

Food Blog Forum 2013

I was surprised at the park crowds on Friday…we were able to hit up a ton of rides in a few hours! I totally appreciated that our hotel rooms were in the Grand Floridian…it was a quick, easy boat ride back to the resort, so I could have ample time to get ready for the welcome reception that evening. This was the part I was most nervous about…I’m one of those people who constantly worries about what others think about me, so I was hoping I wouldn’t get too shy. I was so happy to see that everyone I met was super sweet. I was shocked that a few people knew of me before I introduced myself! Even more shocking…a couple of people told me I looked great and I inspire them (about my weight loss journey so far). I was seriously shocked…I’m pretty surprised when anyone tells me my weight loss journey inspires them. It’s still crazy and new to me. :-)

The food at the reception was absolutely wonderful. I was still quite full from eating a burger earlier in the parks (OMG…the portions at Disney are ridiculous), so I didn’t eat too much. I definitely focused a lot on meeting people, because the hour flew by so fast.

Food Blog Forum 2013

Afterwards, I met up with a few bloggers at Splitsville, which a bowling/dining place in Downtown Disney. I received an email invite to attend a little blogger get-together there, and we had a blast. I actually got a couple of strikes, which is SO NOT LIKE ME. We ate quite a bit of food….they offered everything from BBQ chicken nachos, to pizza, to sushi! There’s pretty much something for everyone here, and the food was pretty darn tasty! Since I haven’t had food like this in a long time, I definitely took no time to dig in. :-)

Food Blog Forum 2013

I was also impressed by the bowling alley. It had a vintage-y feel to it, and I think it would be a fun place to go if (when) I come back to Disney World with my family. :)

Oh, and I had to include this picture just for kicks. You know you’re hanging out with a bunch of bloggers when…

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{Disclaimer: We were provided with free bowling/food at this event by Splitsville.} 

During the get-together, I got to meet/talk to Katie of Katie’s Cucina (as well as her husband…they have a DIY blog together called Sew Woodsy). We were talking about our plans after this, and we realized (along with Alicia of Alicia Carlson Photography) that we all had the same plans to hit up Magic Kingdom. So after we finished bowling, we all headed back to Magic Kingdom right as the fireworks were ending, which meant going against the crowds. Oh boy…

Food Blog Forum 2013

You gotta love that when the fireworks end, the parks clear out pretty much. Splash Mountain had a 15 minute wait time (which actually was more like 5 minutes)…unheard of! Splash Mountain is my must-ride whenever I go to Disney World. I just love it…it’s so cute and fun, plus the drops are the BEST!

Food Blog Forum 2013

When the ride was over, it was pretty much closing time, so we headed out of the park and we were pleasantly surprised to see that the electrical parade was starting! I haven’t seen the night parades in a long time, so it was a treat to see. It was so cute…

Food Blog Forum 2013

The next day, it was time for the conference! When I walked in the conference center, we were all greeted with our generously full swag bags. Holy cow.

Food Blog Forum 2013

I claimed a seat, and immediately went to grab some breakfast. Disney sure knows how to fancy up a fruit salad!

Food Blog Forum 2013

OXO also had these little evil canisters of loveliness at the conference tables. I loved the idea of hugs and kisses, since their company name is OXO. :-) Is it weird that I want to put these canisters (minus the candy lol) on my Christmas wishlist?

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After I scarfed down some fruit and a bagel, I went to the back and was shocked by the amazing prizes being offered. Goodness….the sponsors were SO generous!

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I learned a good bit from the sessions, and the speakers were just awesome. There was even a Disney imagineer who spoke to us, and I was in awe of the research that goes into opening something at Disney. They’re really about making everything at WDW an experience. What a cool job to have!

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Here’s some of the key points that I took away from sessions:

  • Pursue an emotion vs. a certain thing (such as money) as a measure of success
  • The simple little things in life–these experiences mean a lot more to your happiness. Take a step back and notice them sometimes.
  • Overwhelmed by the idea of making a video? A site like animoto.com can turn your pictures into a video.
  • Don’t be afraid of shadows. They give you the third dimension in pictures.
  • Check out your mobile stats on Google Analytics. Mobile blog readers are on the rise, and you should adapt your blog to cater to them.
  • Pinterest is becoming a main referral source for traffic.
  • Designate a certain time everyday to devote to blogging/social media, and stick to it. Otherwise, the computer can become a time suck super quickly.
  • No comment (or tweet) left behind! Reply to all of them! (I need to get better with blog comment replies.)

During the conference, we had a great lunch, which featured chefs from various restaurant locations around the Walt Disney World property. It was such a treat to try these dishes in one spot. The theme was “Disney Kids”, so the meals were items that were offered on their kids menu. This wasn’t a menu like peanut butter & jelly and hot dogs. Of course, Disney goes above and beyond…even for the kids! It was all delicious!

Food Blog Forum 2013

Food Blog Forum 2013

After the conference, we had a small group meet up for an unofficial local food swap. It was fun to bring a taste of south Louisiana there, so I brought some bags of jambalaya mix from this company near Baton Rouge. The owners offered me a little discount on purchasing the mixes since I was purchasing quite a few from them (and they knew they were going to food bloggers), which I definitely appreciated. I have to wonder how TSA felt when they saw 15 bags of jambalaya mix in my bag…big cook-out in Orlando or something? Anyway, everyone brought a good variety of foods..I was pleasantly surprised by it all! If any of y’all from the swap try the jambalaya, please let me know what you think! :-)

Food Blog Forum 2013

The dessert reception at Fantasmic afterwards was so nice! There was some dry ice involved for one of the desserts, which was fun to watch. Everything I tried was delicious!

Food Blog Forum 2013

I’ve never had the chance to see Fantasmic before, either, so it was nice that the reception was during the show. This Disney fan really enjoyed every bit of that show…I sort of caught myself singing along with it. Sorry for those of you who had to hear that….

I was pretty tired after the reception, but since Magic Kingdom was open until 1am, I just kept on going. :-) I ended up really just shopping a good bit for souvenirs, and enjoying a Dole Whip. It was a humid evening, so the Dole Whip was definitely a hot item to get.

Food Blog Forum 2013

The next day, I packed up everything (SO glad I brought my large suitcase…the swag/local food swap (with the exception of liquids) took up my whole carry-on bag!), met up with Katie and her family and we headed to the brunch at Whole Foods together. While not everyone was able to attend, it was SO nice to see/talk to a few more people and say our good-byes. And of course, the food was awesome, especially the habanero cornbread topped with pulled pork, greens & peaches. Dearest Whole Foods, can I have the recipe PLEASE? So good..I ate two of them…oops!

Food Blog Forum 2013

There was also a mini Red Faced Runners reunion at the brunch. :-) Here I am with Katrina (of In Katrina’s Kitchen) and Karyn (of Pint Sized Baker)!

Food Blog Forum 2013

Before we left the brunch, I had to thank Julie (of The Little Kitchen) and Lindsay (of Love and Olive Oil) one final time for organizing this whole conference. These gals are as sweet as I imagined, and I’m so glad they took a few minutes to chit-chat. I know these two were busy the whole weekend, but they seriously never seemed frazzled. I would be a wreck…you gals rock!

Food Blog Forum 2013

I also have to give a special thank you to Walt Disney World, Whole Foods, Jaden & Scott Hair, Diane Cu & Todd Porter, and of course, the SUPER generous sponsors. I was absolutely blown away by this past weekend. I’ll never forget this conference, and I’m just so inspired to write, write, write (as you can probably tell by this lengthy post)! I hope to be able to attend this conference again next year, but based on how quickly the tickets sold out this past year, only time will tell!

 

 

 

 

Quick(er) Royal Icing

Magically Royal Icing

Tomorrow, I’ll be on a plane en route to Orlando, Florida for my first Food Blog Forum. Last year, I stalked Twitter and Instagram the whole weekend of the conference, and it sounded like everyone had a fantastic time. You really can’t go wrong with food bloggers and Disney. :-) After reading blog recaps last year, I just knew that I had to go to the one this year. I was so happy to see the dates, because there were no conflicts. You see, this weekend is sandwiched between my husband’s birthday and our wedding anniversary. It was the perfect date to go without feeling insanely guilty for missing a personal holiday. :-)

I’m sort of obsessed with all things Disney. There’s videos of me from a family trip when I was 3 years old at Disney World. I could see that while I was petrified of the characters (my reaction was OMG…Mickey is HUGE?! WAHHH!!), while at the parades and on the rides, I was beaming. Absolutely BEAMING. Even at home, Disney was the best! I was obsessed with the animated movies, Sing Along Song tapes & the books. Also, for the first few years of my life, my Uncle Brian had a picture of the infamous “Epcot ball” (as we called it) in the living room. He would point to it, and ask us “What’s that?” We knew that if we said “Epcot”, it would be a tickle war. So, I quickly learned other words…simply calling it a ball, a circle…ANYTHING but EPCOT! LOL! It’s one of the few memories I have of my uncle. He went to Disney World multiple times a year and had a killer pin collection. Disney was his thing. Sadly, cancer took my uncle when I was 5 years old, so I always tear up a little when I see the “Epcot Ball”…even as an adult. (Whew…I’m wiping tears writing this post. This is supposed to be a happy post, right?)

Anyway, it just goes to show you that Disney will always have a special place in my heart. Always. And while being at Disney World this weekend is a definite perk, I’m really looking forward to meeting so many bloggers that I consider my friends. While I’ve never met many bloggers in real life, I feel like I have a great friendship with so many of you. So, I’m very excited to finally meet and talk to those who are attending.

I thought it would be fun to psych myself up for the weekend by decorating some sugar cookies with a cookie cutter from Disney World. While decorated sugar cookies are usually very time consuming, I saw this post which made me think otherwise. This royal icing (originally by Sweetopia) eliminates the need for using both an outline and flood icing. It’s all in one. The consistency reminds me of a super thick flood icing, so while you can’t pipe many details, you can do a good basic cookie with this recipe. It took me three hours to go from cookie dough to decorated cookies. Crazy, right? I think I’m going to use this from now on for when I make multiple decorated cookies (especially for the holiday season). I’m so glad I found this! Make sure you follow this recipe perfectly, though (note: when the hand whisk vs. when to use your mixer).

Quick(er) Royal Icing
Source: The Way to His Heart, originally from Sweetopia

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 5 tbsp. meringue powder
  • 1 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 2 1/4 lbs. confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a mixer, add the water and meringue powder. Hand whisk the mixture for 30 seconds.
  2. Add the cream of tartar, and hand whisk again for 30 seconds.
  3. Add the confectioners’ sugar & extract, and mix with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer on low for 10 minutes.
  4. Optional: add gel food coloring to tint the icing to the color(s) of your liking.
  5. To decorate your cookies, add the icing to a squeeze bottle and pipe/fill the cookies with the icing. Allow the cookies to dry for a full 24 hours before serving.

IFBC Day Three

I woke up early on Sunday to attend day three of IFBC. The final day. I just couldn’t believe that this conference was coming to an end!

The first seminar was on time management, presented by Merry-Jennifer of Merry Gourmet and Marissa of http://marissabrassfield.com/. Both of these women lead very different lives, but seemed to really manage their time wisely. It was refreshing to hear both of their ideas.

Time Management

(I’m sorry about the overexposed pictures…I really didn’t check my camera’s settings that well after the evening before, when I took pictures of dinner in a dark room.)

One big tip I learned is that you don’t need to immediately respond to emails. Responding to emails, while it seems efficient, can actually take you away from what you were working on and then you have to take time to get back into that task. That is huge for me…I check my email far too often!

The second seminar that I attended was about food science, presented by Scott of Seattle Food Geek. I was excited to hear about sous vide and molecular gastronomy. While I’ve never dabbled into them, it was really neat to hear how it all works.

Food Science

He also spoke about the history of innovators in the food world, most recently the Modernist Cuisine books. By the way, don’t fall in love with that book unless you have some major moolah to spend on cookbooks, y’all. :-)

Sadly, after session 2, IFBC was over. It felt really weird knowing that I was walking to my car, no longer returning to Hotel Monteleone to meet with everyone for more sessions, meals or presentations.

I have to say that I walked into IFBC fairly intimidated. I’m normally very shy when it comes to meeting a bunch of new people at once, but this conference wasn’t that at all. AT ALL.

Merry Gourmet, Myself and Can You Stay for Dinner

This is me with Merry-Jennifer of Merry Gourmet and Andie of Can You Stay for Dinner? (also one of the fabulous coordinators of IFBC). They were both super nice and eager to talk to me! It was so great to meet and talk to these gals, even if Merry-Jennifer roots for the Gators. ;-) (sorry girl…it’s football season now)

Another example? Dianne Jacob sat down for lunch with me and a few bloggers who quickly became my conference buddies (since we happened to attend the same seminars). She was just so approachable and nice, and even offered a few tips to us to become better bloggers!

Wait, did I say I made friends at IFBC? Yes, I sure did! Shyness…what’s that? :-)

Oh, and you guys already saw that I spoke with Deb of Smitten Kitchen. Super sweet blogger!

All in all, I’m super glad that I was given the opportunity to attend this conference. I’ve walked away with a plethora of knowledge and inspiration for my blogs, and I also walked away meeting people I definitely consider to be my friends! If you ever have the opportunity to attend an IFBC, I would most definitely encourage it. :-)

 

 

IFBC Day Two

After a seemingly long, yet absolutely awesome day one at IFBC, I was super excited about what day 2 had in store!

I got there just in time to grab a quick breakfast before the first session about Recipe Development. The panel was made up of extremely accomplished women.

Recipe Development

From left: Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, Kate McDermott of Art of the Pie and Dianne Jacob of Will Write for Food.

This was an extremely informative session to me. I learned so much about recipe testing, development and writing. I mean, they even fancied up the title of a simple PB&J sandwich as a Fruit Preserves and Nut Butter Sandwich. Fancy, right?? The session absolutely got our creative juices flowing!

After the session, I just had to meet Deb. Had to. I’m such a fan of her fabulous blog, and can I tell y’all? She’s just super sweet and down to earth!

Me and Smitten Kitchen

After the first session, I rushed over to session 2: Writing about Food and Culture.

Food & Culture

From left: Dianne Jacob, Jamie Schler of Life’s a Feast and Jay Ducote of Bite & Booze.

I really enjoyed this session. All of the panelists had very different perspectives, pertaining to their culture. I usually don’t think about where a recipe comes from when I’m cooking, but it’s just a really cool thing to look into and think about once in a while. Being from New Orleans, I truly take some of the traditional foods that I enjoy for granted.

After this session, it was off to lunch.

Saturday Lunch

Can I say WHOA? This lunch was absolutely fabulous. Fabulous. One dish that I must recreate is jambalaya grits with BBQ shrimp. Yum!

After lunch, I hung out with Cara of The Boys Made Me Do It. We definitely made it a priority to cool down with a snowball.

Bananas Foster Snowball

This particular one was Bananas Foster. It was pretty darn awesome, and well worth the walk! We also ventured out to Southern Candymakers to obtain some NOLA famous pralines. Always a favorite in my family’s house, so I grabbed up a few for them to share. :-)

Pralines

After a walk in the Quarter, I headed back to the hotel for the cooking demonstration by John Folse, which was super awesome to experience. He’s a very talented chef, and shared with the group a sample of a delicious soup that made (almost) forget about how much heavy cream was included in the recipe! :-P

John Folse

After the session, we had a good break to explore the city. However, after my post lunch excursion around the quarter, I was done with sweating, so I lounged in the hotel. Hello, A/C!

The last part of day two was the dinner that evening. Once we found our seats up front (“B-line for the Besh!”, as some of us said), I couldn’t help but drool over the menu. The dinner sounded incredible!

Saturday Dinner Menu

My favorite part of the dinner was the dessert! White chocolate creme brulee…holy cow! I wanted to take 4 or 5 of those to-go!

Saturday Dinner

After we all enjoyed an amazing dinner, it was time for John Besh to speak. He spoke about so many great things involving the city, including how the restaurant industry came back after Katrina.

One thing that was great to hear about is that he (along with some other Food Network chefs) offers culinary scholarships to inner city youth in New Orleans. It’s wonderful to give our youth opportunities like that, and even more wonderful is that he requires them to come back to NOLA to work after completing culinary school in NYC. Just a really wonderful program, that probably wouldn’t be accessible otherwise, to some of the youth in the New Orleans area.

John Besh

As I was walking back to my car from the hotel, I couldn’t believe how amazing day 2 was. Such a whirlwind of inspiring sessions, wonderful food and great (new) blogger friends! I have to admit, though,  I was sad that day 3 was coming up. I didn’t want this conference to end!

IFBC Day One

As you may already know, I got the amazing opportunity to attend IFBC (International Food Bloggers Conference) this past weekend in New Orleans. It was such an amazing conference, and I realized that since I took so many pictures, I’m going to have to split this up into 3 separate posts for each day of the conference! :-)

Day one was an absolute whirlwind. I met my sister in the FQ (French Quarter) for lunch, and we enjoyed some fabulous mexican fare at Felipe’s. If you know me, you know I end up wearing my food half of the time, since I’m an absolute slob when it comes to eating. The result of my usual classiness? A big dollop of pico de gallo on my shirt. There was no stain, but I smelled like onions all day. So, if you met me at IFBC and smelled onions on me…sorry….I’m messy.

I ended up arriving at registration really early, and took in the views of the conference room.

IFBC Beginnings

Hotel Monteleone Chandelier

Yup, I took a picture of the chandeliers there.

Since I arrived so early, I sat close to the front and set up my iPad and started using up the free Wifi. Of course, I had to look at a pretty familiar blog first. :-P

My conference set-up

The first session was about blogging your values.

Blogging Your Values Session

I will say that the speakers presented some pretty good material, and I happily typed notes until one slide. The title had something to do with asking your readers for donations.

Uhh….what? Is this a new thing or something? (don’t worry…I’m not asking you guys for donations.) Would you, as a reader, even consider donating to bloggers who had a donate button on their blog? I’d really love to hear your opinions on this one. Personally, I don’t think I’d ever donate money to a blogger. I’d rather donate extra money to dogs in a shelter or something.  Sorry..

Food Photography Session

The second session was one of my favorites of the whole conference. Food photography….the amazingly talented Andrew Scrivani presented, and it was so cool to hear him talk about making everything food-related (and I mean everything) photogenic! One of the most interesting tricks he shared was to buy a t-shirt and use the white cardboard from the shirt packaging to bounce light onto your food. Can’t wait to try this trick!

After those two sessions, there was a wine social with appetizers. You guys probably already know that I’m not a wine drinker, but I did have two glasses, which were essentially chugged down since red wine is just way too bitter to me….I’m so classy. I really enjoyed the various foods that were offered though!

Wine Social Collage

After the wine social, we had a pretty awesome dinner where many local restaurants, as well as sponsors, made small tasting plates for attendees.

Day 1 Dinner

You think the food is gorgeous?? Look at the display booths! I was amazed at how awesome the booths were!

Day 1 Dinner Booths

After our bellies were full from dinner, day 1 of the conference was over. Some people went out to explore NOLA afterwards, while my tired self headed to my parents’ home to fall asleep at a decent hour. It was a pretty long day for me, so there was just no way I could go out afterwards!

Hilariously, I thought I was tired after day 1? Wait until you see how eventful day 2 was! :-)