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)!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Home for the Holidays

Before embarking on a crazy trek over the Atlantic for the holidays, we enjoyed a wonderful weekend in what feels like our European home, Wiesbaden. It felt just like old times attending the Squadron Christmas party and taking part in the Christmas market madenss. Although we hope to feel this way about our new home, it's quite comforting to know we are only a mere 2.5 hours away from this special place and many of our friends. The drive back North was pretty horrendous with the blizzard that hit Germany the night before our flight, and we weren't quite sure we were going to be able to make it to D.C. Although our flights were delayed and Dulles airport had been closed down the day before due to receiving over 20 inches of snow, we were the lucky ones who got through. We made it to U.S. soil and had a fantastic time playing in the mounds and mounds of snow over the next couple days in front of Jon's parents' house. We then headed down to the farm in North Carolina where we had tons of fun with Mark, Karen and Sam as well as the multitude of other relatives that live there.

It was my first Christmas with Jon's family and it was so much fun attending the local country church Christmas Eve Pageant and the infamous Christmas Night Hobbs gathering I'd heard so much about. There were over 35 people there and yet that was a small group! Quite different from the Catlin Christmases. We very much enjoyed the wonderful quality time we got with the family before embarking, yet again, down South on the 26th.
We arrived in San Antonio to spend a few days at the ranch and right away it felt like Texas with the sun shining and of course, no snow. After celebrating a belated Christmas, Jon and Jason became ranch workmen scheming up all kinds of projects. One of which was to build a massive bonfire from the dead wood they'd been cutting down. The whole fam took part in roasting smores and late night four-wheeler drives. It was such a blast and I can't believe we'd never done that sooner. I believe now it will not became a ranch Christmas tradition.

After four days at the ranch, we spent one night in BCS to stock up on DD pepperoni rolls, always a necessity when we come to Texas, and then on to Austin for New Year's. In order to avoid the crowds on New Year's Eve, we had our downtown extravaganza on the 30th and hung at Laurel and Jason's for the 31st. I can't think of any better way than to welcome the new year with the best of friends, who also happen to be family. Although it was stressful and hectic traveling transcontinentally over the holidays, it was so worth it to be able to have two Christmases with such incredible families. Oh, and to get our fill of Tex-Mex is also a mad bonus!

A Walk in Bastogne, 1945

On December 12th, we embarked on a walk through history to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne. The Bastogne Walk takes place every year and is a muli-national event for military, but also is open to the public. The walk begins and finishes in Bastogne, but primarily takes place in the surrounding countryside. Various routes and lengths are possible and we chose to do the 23 kilometer hike.

Throughout the course, we came across the campsites of U.S. paratroopers and soldiers from the year 1945. It truly felt as if I was a character in the Band of Brothers. Primarily the groups who played these soldiers were re-enacters from Holland and Belgium, speaking in Dutch and French. Accents aside, they did a superb job imitating the soldiers, cooking over an open fire, smoking Lucky Strikes, driving around in the old jeeps, motorcycles and tanks and re-creating the history of that time so authentically.

We came across the headquarters that was more of a living museum where we could talk to the various re-enacters, and view many items from 1945. There was even a medic station set up where soldiers were being treated. Although the re-enacters were happy to talk to passer-bys, it was clear that they took their roles seriously and were in the midst of war. As we were hiking, we came across a German soldier who had been captured. Unfortunately we missed the event where the partroopers did jumps out of an airplane, but we definitely plan to come back next year. 

At the end of the walk, we were asked to visit the fox-hole of two "soldiers." They were extremely friendly and let us take tons of pictures with their weapons and helmets. You could sense the pride they have in playing these roles and for them, it's not even their own countrymen they are re-enacting. That was the most striking thing of all. So many of the Belgians and Dutch are enamored with the history of the U.S. presence in WWII, that it is considered a hobby to re-enact these celebrated soldiers at these events. 

This event has become one of our favorites in Europe, and we look forward to taking part over the next few years.