Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rock, Flag and Eagle Extravaganza

To celebrate all things USofA, we threw a 4th of July bash for over 30+ neighbors and friends at our home. Needless to say, it was a huge success and even the weather cooperated beautifully. We had a typical American-style barbecue, with a few added Clough touches, such as lots of spicy Pico de Gallo, plenty of Mojitos and Margaritas, and wacky games.

Rather than just a normal spoon and egg race, we implemented an ultimate relay race through our three backyards. If someone's egg broke, they were then allowed to try and steal an opponent's egg. Needless to say, it got very interesting and I think all the Dutchies thought it was quite entertaining. We also had a traditional water balloon toss game that turned into a water balloon fight, as well as a Pinata with mini-liquor bottles inside.

My favorite part of the party was seeing so many people coming together from all over the U.S., our Dutch neighbors (at left), and even an Italian couple (below left), to celebrate something that is virtually an insignificant holiday in these foreign lands, but yet for one day, we could be as obnoxious about USA as we wanted and everyone was supportive and having fun with it. You can bet that "Livin' in America" by James Brown was our theme song for the afternoon.

The most meaningful moment was when Jon gave a mini-speech recognizing those from our host nation as well as our American friends and then proceeded to read aloud an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence. I feel so proud to be from such an amazing country, yet so blessed to be able to experience other parts of the world. It truly was an extravaganza of Rock, Flag, and Eagle!

Playing Catch-Up

So.... how's it going? After three months of non-stop entertaining, company, festivals, class and other distractions, I thought it was high time to update the blog with everything that's been going on the past three months. I'm utterly embarrassed that it's taken this long to share the many wonderful events we've been a part of, and will summarize these happenings as briefly as possible below.

Family Frenzy

We've been so blessed to have many members of the Catlin and Clough gang make it over for a visit and we've enjoyed being able to have more than two visitors at a time thanks to our new spacious house. At the beginning of May, the Catlin women ascended up the Netherlands and despite the poor weather most of the week, we enjoyed touring around Holland and Belgium in springtime.

Of course, this included meeting up in Amsterdam and a trip through the canals (posing in the Red Light district), 

A visit to the world-renown, Keukenhof Gardens, to see the tulips.
Keukenhof Gardens

Tulip fields on the edge of Keukenhof Gardens.

And two days in the medieval city of Brugges.

Enjoying a delicious Flemish meal.

An afternoon snack of waffles with cream in the adorable town of Haarlem. It was so wonderful to be able to spend this time with my sisters and mom and I can't wait to host them here again!

In early June, we welcomed David and Beckie to our home and had a fantastic time hanging around the local area and tour-guiding them through one of our favorite places in Germany, the Rhine River and Wiesbaden.

Wine-tasting in Bacharach

On a hillside above Bacharach with the Rhine River below. 

The weather was absolutely perfect and in addition to doing some traveling, they also helped us with yard work, establishing a garden and planting beautiful rose bushes. It was wonderful to get their professional expertise, now if we could only have them come help us every few months!

We greatly enjoyed hosting them and were thrilled to be able to show them our old stomping grounds of Wiesbaden as well as our new home in Sittard. While in Wiesbaden, we went to the Wilhelmstrasse Fest, our favorite festival of the year, complete with fun rides, great music, and an incredible variety of food. The strangest thing happened as we pulled off the autobahn into the city, I had the feeling of coming home. Never in my time there did I ever think I would consider Wiesbaden home, and although it will never be my home home, or Texas for that matter, it felt so comforting to be somewhere so familiar filled with such incredible memories. I hope I will someday feel that same way about our new home. All in due time, I suppose.

A mere few weeks later we had a visit from the Afri-Cloughs (Neil and his family who are now living in Africa). During their week-long layover back to the States, they visited us for four days and it was such a blast having a house full of family!

Although we did enjoy some outings to a nearby Wildpark,

some caves in Valkenburg

and shopping in Sittard, we most enjoyed quality time hanging at the house and catching up on their past year living in Niger.  When they left on July 1st, the house felt so empty and quiet. I miss those three girls and their laughter and can't wait to visit them this winter!

Music Festivals

Apparently, our new location is situated in a hotbed of nearby music festivals during the summer. I had the opportunity to see two of my all-time favorite bands, the Pixies and Aerosmith, in May and June. We are excited to see the different groups that will be playing at these festivals over the next few years.

Pinkpop Festival was the last weekend of May in Landgraaf, NL, about 30 minutes from our house. Although they mostly have big name pop bands, such as Pink, Mika, John Mayer, and Green Day, they also have some more obscure bands as well.

I was thrilled to be able to see the Pixies and though it's been 20+ years since their heyday, it was incredible to see them play live all the songs I've listened to a million times before.

Graspop in Belgium at the end of June was a completely different kind of festival who focuses more on the metal, but still has some big, mainstream names. The day we attended, we saw Stone Temple Pilots, Motorhead and Aerosmith.

Although both Frank Black and Steven Tyler are contenders for the title 'King of Scream,' I was utterly impressed with Steven's ability to sing all his songs with the same gusto as before, despite his age. The show was full of such energy and I could not wipe the goofy smile off my face the entire time they played. It was truly a dream come true!

Texas Reunion in Sweden Part II

The end of June was jam-packed with three big events; Graspop, a visit from the Afri-Cloughs and Cat's return to Sweden for another reunion with her BU exchange student pals.
Unlike my first trip to Stockholm in September of '07, the weather was superb and I was finally able to experience the gorgeous Swedish  summer I've heard so much about. The temps were in the mid-70s with crystal blue skies and I was able to make the most of the outdoors, especially since it never really gets dark there. As I was there the week of Solstice, the days were at their longest and the sun would mostly disappear at 1:00 a.m. only to start ascending again at about 3:30 a.m. I know this because I stayed out until 5:00 a.m. just to investigate.

I was able to see Maria, my friend from fall '05 at Baylor, for five straight days, which is the longest time we've spent together since our BU days.  I was also able to meet up with Richard twice, also from Fall '05, and Peter, from Spring '05. The day I arrived, Crown Princess Victoria's wedding was taking place, so although I like to think it was a "welcome to Sweden" parade and party for me, the streets were filled with spectators wanting to catch a glimpse of the royal couple.

Richard and me at the Texas Longhorn Steak House enjoying a margarita and Lone Star.

I was able to see a lot more of Stockholm this visit and enjoyed taking a boat trip out to the archipelago and dinner on the island of Vaxholm.

My friend, Rebecca, met me there three days into my trip, and while the Swedes were working, we were able to do the tourist stuff (like visiting the original Ice Bar), while still meeting up with the locals in the evening. I feel so fortunate to be able to maintain these connections and friendships with these wonderful people who are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. I can't wait for another reunion and we've all vowed that it will be a lot sooner than another three years!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bon Temps in Beaune!

Over the Easter holiday, we trekked down to the Burgundy region of France to enjoy delicious wine, French cuisine, cycling through the vineyards and charming, small-town French culture. We used Beaune, the Burgundian wine capital, as our base for exploring the region. I had traveled to Beaune seven years earlier with Laurel as an overnight stop through France and have such fond memories of this adorable town. I was thrilled to have Jon experience all that this wine village has to offer.

We left on Thursday to get a jump start for the weekend and stayed overnight in Luxembourg City. This was my first time to Luxemburg, and despite my doubts, I must say I was very impressed by this small city/country. The old town is perched above a deep ravine with a river at the bottom that snakes around the city. We enjoyed an evening of bar-hopping and dinner in the old town and a gorgeous, and extremely hilly, run down the gorge, up the gorge and through the city the next morning. I was surprised at how much art, culture and nightlife Luxembourg had to offer for being such a small place sandwiched between France and Germany, and we look forward to many more overnights here in the future on our journeys South.

When we arrived in Beaune on Friday afternoon, we immediately hit the ground running with the main attraction in town.... wine-tasting. The town has several wine cellars, or caves as they call them, where you can taste several different Burgundian wines and of course have a chance to buy them at the end of the tour. Most of the Burgundian grapes are Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, however these grapes would never be listed on the bottle as the classification is buy the terrain/soil and specifically the village/plot where the vineyards are located. Needless to say, after two straight days of wine-tasking we learned a lot, although we barely skimmed the tip of the iceberg. Although we have a great interest in learning more about wine and expanding our wine collection while in Europe, it seems the knowledge is endless. We bought several bottles over the weekend and although the keeping time for most of them is 8-10 years, I guess it's nice to know that we have something to look forward to!

On Saturday, we had planned to bike through the vineyards, but it rained all day, so we enjoyed the bustling market that morning and did more wine-tasting in the afternoon. This was no ordinary farmer's market that I was used to in Germany and the Netherlands, there was the usual, flowers, cheese, meats, bread, but also several hand-crafted items, mustards (Beaune is only 20 minutes from Dijon - home of Mustard), and the most beautiful gourmet food stands I've ever seen! We were being offered duck wrapped in pate, escargot, chicken feet, etc. It was truly extraordinary to see the food that was available here and despite the rain, the place was packed with locals doing their Easter dinner shopping.

After the market, we visited the one historical sight in Beaune - the Hotel Dieu. It is the former hospital of Beaune (15th century) that served as a hospice facility and is an incredible example of Burgundian architecture with the colored tiles.

After the tour, we spent the rest of the day sheltered from the rain in three more wine caves.

Later that night, we attended a candlelight service at the Notre Dame church across from our hotel. We had stumbled upon the Good Friday processional to the church the night before and were invited back on Saturday to see this moving ceremony. Although the service was Catholic and in French, it was incredible to be in this beautiful church, surrounded by other believers who are thankful to have the "light" alive again.

By Sunday morning, the weather had cleared up, so we trekked to the same bike rental place Laurel and I had frequented seven years before, with the same shop owner still there. He provided us a great 14 mile route with plenty of sights and wine-tastings along the way. As it was early spring, the vines were still pretty dead-looking, but the scenery and villages we passed through were still quite beautiful.

Because it was Easter Sunday, we thought we would be the only people who were frequenting the various wine cellars along our route, but apparently many French people had the same idea. Most of the places were absolutely packed, but we still managed to taste/buy some wine.

On our way back, we found a great place for a picnic in the midst of a vineyard, under a cherry tree against an old rock wall. We enjoyed our delicious lunch we picked up the day before at the market of brie cheese, dried pepper sausage, baguette and of course, Burgundy wine. The perfect Easter feast! I was feeling very French.....

While Jon was feeling very patriotic.

Jon's favorite bike trick. So graceful.
On Monday, it was time to head back home, but we managed to make one last stop at a beautiful Chateau just south of Beaune. It also had the unique and colorful Burgundian tiles and a gorgeous courtyard in the center. The weekend was quite a success and Beaune was just as charming and delightful as I remembered. We will be able to relive this past weekend's memories for a long time as we have the wine, which we can't drink for 8-10 years, as a keepsake. Merci beaucoup, Beaune!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Family, the "Big Easy," and Back Again

Despite a mostly dreary and unexciting February hangin’ at home (apart from Carnevale celebrations), I spent the last week of the month back in the good ole USofA to attend a friend’s wedding in New Orleans. As I had to transit through Dallas, I was able to spend two days catching up with Mandy and Laurel (who took a day off work to hang out) and was even able to attend my great aunt’s 85th birthday celebration. It was wonderful to be a part of this event and be able to see my cousins as well, as I feel I miss so many of these occasions living abroad.
After two glorious days in Dallas and lots of much needed sister time, I boarded a plane bright and early to New Orleans. This was only my second time there and I enjoyed exploring Uptown and the beautiful mansions on Charles Avenue during the morning. That afternoon I was able to hook up with Elizabeth, the Bride and my former roommate at Baylor, to help her run some errands and get ready for the rehearsal and dinner. I loved being reunited with my Baylor friends, Crystal, Leslie, Angie and their husbands. This is the third wedding in one year we’ve been able to reunite at and it’s been wonderful to spend so much time with these ladies as we’ve been spread out all over the country post-college.

The wedding festivities were all so much fun and one thing is for certain, Louisiana people really know how to party! After the wedding, the gang all went to Bourbon Street where we fested ‘til the early morning hours. I got one hour of sleep before hopping a plane on Sunday morning back to Dallas where Charm was waiting for me. She was so sweet to drive all the way there to pick me up, have lunch with our dear friends, Judy and Claudia, and then turn around to drive back to Bryan. I loved being able to spend three nights at home, in my old bed and be able to stuff myself with TONS of Mexican food.

Although it was wonderful to be back in Texas with family and longtime friends, my goal is to begin to make Sittard, the Netherlands my new home by meeting more friends and becoming more involved. It can be difficult to be ping ponged back and forth between these two extreme lives of stability and ease and adventure and complexity. I am so grateful for the many opportunities I do have to take part in these important occasions back home all the while still being able to live a wonderful life abroad. I enjoyed every minute with all that I was able to spend time with and thank you for the effort you all made to make this happen!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Charmen Eye for the Cat and Jon Guy

Much like the TV show on Bravo ("The Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"), we needed a little help with a make-over of our own; getting un-packed, settled and spicing up our new home. This is our first house to live in as a married couple and despite the appearance on the outside, it's quite spacious! We have a massive basement, a beautiful and open ground floor, four bedrooms upstairs and three (no, I'm not mistaken) backyards. It's quite different from our tiny and cozy 4th floor apartment in Wiesbaden. Although we do miss being in the middle of the action living on "Italian Alley," we are loving the fact that we have a driveway, two toilets and plenty of storage space.

When Charm arrived, so did the snow, which made for some beautiful scenery, but also very cold days. Although Jon was more concerned about showing her the sites and local area - Charm was all about business, and getting down to it. She was there to be a motivator and wanted to see progress at the end of her 11 days. And boy did she! Although I won't post the before pics in an effort to save space, I did include the after pics so you can get a glimpse of the transformation that occurred. I'm sure you can only imagine what it looked like before. Jon was the best and most understanding husband to move in our stuff while I was still in the States, and the first week alone was spent sorting through boxes and moving them to the basement. When Charm arrived, it was time to fill all the empty space with trips to IKEA and another fabulous find, RD4, which is the Dutch version of Salvation Army. The crazy thing is that because the trend is to go modern in Holland, you can find some really great antique-esque furniture for insanely low prices. We located one of these stores right around the corner from our house, which could be quite dangerous.

Although we were in "Extreme Home Makeover" mode,  we didn't work Charm to death the whole time she was here. We did manage to have some fun, mainly due to Jon pushing us out the door. The kick-off parade for Carnevale took place right around the corner from our house the first Saturday Charm was in town and we enjoyed seeing all the crazy costumes, hats and music that was played to jump-start the Carnevale season.
After church, we drove to the nearest castle, Kasteel Hoensbroek, which looked gorgeous covered in snow and surrounded by an iced-over moat.
Although the weather was overcast and rainy/snowy most of the time, we spent a day exploring Valkenburg, one of the most popular Dutch tourist spots. After lunch and meandering aroud the medieval town, we visited a chocolate shop that won the "Best Bon Bon Award" in 2009 for all of Holland.
As Jon hadn't started training yet, his days were pretty much free and he was such a good sport to put up with us day in and day out. One thing I didn't expect was how opinionated he would be about the color schemes, which furniture he thought should go where and so on. It made for some interesting discussions! He did manage to escape the women for a bit and have some guy time with his buddy "Snowy" on our terrace. 

However, "Snowy" couldnt' quite seem to keep up with Jon, and the next morning, we had a big surprise when we looked outside.
But, later that evening he was doing much better and was even able to help Jon grill steaks. I think Jon appreciated having guy time and was relieved "Snowy" was on the mend.
And now the house post-makeover shots;
Entry hallway
Living Room
Living Room
View of Kitchen/Dining area from living room
View of living room from kitchen/dining area.
Kitchen. Of course we did a lot of work to the upstairs and Jon has taken upon himself to transform the basement into his lair, but the living area seems to be where we spent most our efforts. Thanks again Charm for coming to see us and all your hard work. Seriously, we couldn't have done it without you! We look forward to hosting lots of family and friends in our home so please... plan a visit! I now feel we are somewhat caught-up on our two-month long hiatus from blogging. Needless to say, we've had a lot of projects to distract us, but we will be better about keeping you all posted on our adventures in getting acquainted with Holland. Tot ziens (later)!