Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Svenskt Bröllop

Two days after Clough Fest ended, we boarded a plane bound for Stockholm for my third visit to this beautiful city and Jon's first. I have been fortunate enough to meet the most wonderful international students at Baylor, due to my job in the International Office, and have kept in touch best with the Swedish exchange students from 2005. Especially with Maria. I knew we would have a special friendship the minute I met her. We shared so much in common; a competitive running spirit, a passion for food, a goofy/silly personality and a desire to live life large. During her four months at Baylor we were inseparable and I knew that although our friendship would someday span the ocean, we would keep in touch and I would visit her in Sweden someday. That finally came to fruition two years later when I moved to Germany and we had the first Texas Reunion in Sweden with all the other Swedish former exchange students. Since then she's visited our home twice, and I've returned a second time to Stockholm. This current visit, though, was special as it was to attend her wedding (or bröllop) to Jakob, another Swedish exchange student (although at TAMU) who I also met in 2005.

Me and Maria

Before the Svenskt Bröllop was to occur on Saturday, we planned to arrive a few days early to do some sight-seeing in Europe's most beautiful capital city between time hanging with our Swedish friends. Fortunately for us, the weather was perfect with plenty of sunshine and warmer temperatures. Stockholm spans 14 islands by the Stockholm archipelago, which means there's water everywhere. No matter what neighborhood you're in, there are bridges, canals and beautiful nature paths for walking and cycling along the water. At times, it's hard to believe you're in a city of almost 1.5 million. One of the most beautiful look-out points of the city is from the Skansen Open Air Museum, the oldest in Europe. This museum provides a look at Swedish life from the 1700s, with traditional farm houses, churches and other buildings moved here from throughout Sweden. 

View of Stockholm from Skansen Open Air Museum

No trip to Stockholm is complete without a visit to its most famous building... the City Hall. This is where the Nobel Prize Banquet takes place and houses the government offices. The building was built in 1923 and appears to be almost situated in the water, with outstanding views of the old town, Gamla Stan. 

Stockholm City Hall

Stockholm City Hall - posing with the Dala Horse

View of Gamla Stan from Stockholm City Hall

After touring the City Hall, we walked over to Gamla Stan, or the Old Town, situated on its own island. Here we saw the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace and enjoyed a delicious lunch of Swedish meatballs on the main square. We also visited the Vasa Museum, which houses the Vasa ship that sunk shortly after embarking in 1628. It was salvaged largely intact in 1961. Although it is nicknamed as "the great failure" it provides insight into life on a ship during that time period and the largeness of it and techniques used to built it are awe-inspiring. 

Stockholm Royal Palace

Lunch on Gamla Stan

The day before the wedding, we spent our final evening in Stockholm visiting the island of Fjäderholmarna in the archipelago. Only a mere 30 minute boat ride from the center of Stockholm, and we were completely immersed in nature with the most beautiful vistas. We enjoyed walking around the small island and enjoying a delicious dinner of smoked salmon with the Swedish sun setting as our backdrop. 

Fjäderholmarna boat dock





Dinner at Fjäderholmarna

Dinner at Fjäderholmarna

Sunset at Fjäderholmarna

The day of the wedding, we enjoyed a morning run around the former royal island of Djurgarden. It was the perfect day for a wedding!

View of Strandvagan from Djurgarden bridge

The wedding took place in a suburb of Stockholm, about 30 minutes away. The ceremony was in an adorable and traditional chapel in the woods. The reception took place at the magnificent Grand Hotel Saltsjöbaden. Both having studied in Texas, they share a love of the Lone Star State and especially its music. They incorporated several country music songs in the ceremony, to include "Forever and Ever, Amen" and "My Maria." It was absolutely beautiful and I felt so honored to be included in this special  occasion. 

Maria and Jakob's Ceremony (notice the singer wearing a cowboy hat)

Maria and Jakob exiting wedding chapel

The best part about the wedding, was that it became another Texas Reunion of Swedish friends. We were able to spend time with other BU friends, Richard and Peter, earlier in the week, but had more quality time at the wedding to catch up. I am so grateful for the opportunities to see my Swedish friends more regularly than if I was in the States, and am looking forward to many more reunions during the next two years. 

Richard, Sofie and their adorable baby, Linea

My first Swedish friend, Peter

New friends, Stephanie and Anna (Maria's cousin)
Jon, Richard and Peter lookin' studly

Mr. and Mrs. Clough

The arrival of Maria and Jakob - what a beautiful couple!

Maria and Jakob arrived to the reception by boat. After champagne and hors d'oeuvre, we entered the banquet hall for dinner, where 3 hours of toasts commenced. Although it was all in Swedish, Jon and I were sitting by fabulous translators who shared the gist of all the speeches. I felt honored to be asked to give a speech as well. The dinner was superb and consisted of Swedish delicacies, to include a main course of reindeer. After dinner, it was time for brandy, coffee, and dessert in the library before a night of dancing began. 

Reindeer.... it's what's for dinner

Me and my fabulous translator and dinner buddy, Richard

After the dancing ended at 2:00 a.m., a few of us felt the logical thing to do was go swimming. I will never forget the feeling of floating on my back in the water, looking at the dimly lit hotel with stars overhead and thinking, "I'm in Sweden, I experienced the wedding of one of my best friends, and I am happy beyond belief."

Me and Maria at brunch the following morning

Thank you, Maria, for including Jon and me in one of the most beautiful weddings I've ever experienced. We were so honored to attend and as I said in my speech, I will forever treasure our friendship that spans continents and endures the test of time. Din vän, alltid.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Clough Fest 2011

This July, something extraordinary happened in the greater Clough family.... the Afri-Cloughs moved to Germany! After two years of being in Africa, Neil got at assignment to none other than Ramstein, Germany, a mere 3 hours away. It's still hard to believe that we have family so close by and we've been taking full advantage of it during the short two months they've been here. Neil and Emily came over in July, but their girls, Sybil, Shannon and Cassie, stayed with their grandparents for another month. They had the big job of delivering them at the end of August when we had a fantastic family reunion. 

Cochem, along the Mosel River

We met up with them in the quaint town of Cochem along the Mosel River. The wine festival was just getting started there and we enjoyed touring around the adorable town, visiting their pretty hilltop castle and simply enjoying quality time with one another.

Jon and his parents outside our hotel balcony in Cochem

Cochem Castle

The Clough ladies at Cochem Castle

During the years of my courtship with Jon and marriage, I have loved spending time with his family. I am blessed with the most wonderful in-laws in the world, to include his loving and caring parents, hilarious and kind brothers, and two sisters-in-law I'm lucky enough to call friends. I am also fortunate enough to have three nieces, who have grown into three lovely young ladies over the past 10 years of knowing them, and one spirited nephew in North Carolina. While we've been in Europe and Neil's been all over the world, I was only able to spend time with my nieces on short visits to the family farm once every couple years. I'm now thrilled to be able to spend much more time with them over the next two years. Already in the short while they've been here I've managed to have the first of hopefully many slumber parties on pallets in the living room. 

Burg Eltz

On our way from the Mosel back to Sittard, we first stopped at Burg Eltz to see my favorite castle in Europe. Unforunately, it was undergoing renovations and much of it was covered in scaffolding. Despite the crane and half the castle being covered, it's still an impressive sight to see in the midst of a beautiful forest complete with a winding creek through the valley.

Burg Eltz

Once back in Sittard, we enjoyed a weekend of togetherness with cook-outs, treks downtown to the St. Rosa Festival carnival, apple-picking and family quality time. On Saturday, we did venture to the Dreilandenpunt, or place where Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands meet. Along with an outdoor art exhibit, observance towers, restaurants and playgrounds, the area also has a labyrinth that is surprisingly challenging. My labyrinth team of Cassie, Jon and me (aka, the winners) managed to find our way out pretty easily, but only out of sheer luck. Others were not so fortunate and got stuck in the rain while we tried to guide them out of the never-ending maze of hedges from a look-out point. 

Neil, Jon and David at the highest point in the Netherlands

The labyrinth at the Dreilandenpunt

Biking around Sittard

Like most weekends filled with good people and plenty of fun, our time together ended too quickly and Neil and his gang had to return to Ramstein for the start of school, and his parents had to return home to DC. We so enjoyed spending time all together and look forward to many more reunions in Germany and the Netherlands over the next two years!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wiesbaden Wine Fest

Immediately after returning from Texas at the end of July, I delved into the madness and crazy fun that is Vacation Bible School. I lead music and teach the kids a new song every day, which means I have to be full of non-stop energy for four hours each day. Despite my extreme exhaustion at the end of the week, I love spending time with all the precious kids and getting them excited about music. Three days after VBS ended, Jon returned home from his third mini-deployment this year. We celebrated by making plans to spend the upcoming weekend at the kick-off of the Wiesbaden Wine Festival. This is one of our favorite festivals in Wiesbaden and it's amazing how many different wine-makers set-up their tents around the market square. You could spend an entire week here (the festival lasts two) and not visit every single wine stand, but it's fun to try! Complete with three stages for music, tons of food vendors and delicious Riesling wine, we enjoyed livin' it up in Wiesbaden for a night. 

The best part about it were the friends from GK that joined us. We were so thrilled to be able to show off our old home to some of our new friends. In one night and a half day, we managed to show them the highlights of the city with a tour of the downtown, the beautiful Kurhaus park and some of our favorite bars and restaurants. 

A wine fest faux pas.... drinking beer!
We tried to entice our runner friends with a running tour of Wiesbaden on Saturday morning, but for some reason, they weren't feeling quite up to it. Although going back to Wiesbaden can be quite painful, knowing our home and friends aren't there anymore, I'm so grateful for the opportunity we had to live there. Despite its many differences, we certainly appreciate where we are now and the incredible friends we've made.

An old friend with new friends

Finally a Master

That's right, folks, I, Cathleen Clough, finally received my Master of Arts with an emphasis in International Relations. When I moved to Europe in 2007 and learned about the OU program, I decided this would be the perfect time in my life to get a Master's as I'm not working full-time. A year later I finally started the program and three long years later, I finished it. Needless to say, countless trips gallivanting around Europe became quite a distraction and prolonged the program much longer than I anticipated. I was so thrilled to receive my official diploma in late July and am even more thrilled to be able to brag to my husband that I am smarter than him. At least temporarily. 

My Hot, Hot, Hot Time in Texas

It feels like it's been an eternity since I boarded a plane bound for blazin' hot Texas on July 12th. And in a way it has. There has been so much happening the past two months and with many travels comes a lack of blogging. I'm finally getting around to updating all that's been taking place during the second half of our summer. My two weeks in Texas flew by too fast, as usual, but I made the most of them visiting lots of family and friends when I could. The main reason for going back was to attend my sweet Gran's 90th birthday. She is one incredible lady with so much energy and I of course wanted to be there during this special occasion to honor her life. And the best part was that it was a total surprise! I arrived first in Austin to spend three glorious days with Laurel, Jason and my adorable nephew. Braxton, then 10 months, had grown so much since the last time I saw him five months later. I felt so fortunate to be able to experience his first plane ride as we flew from Austin to Dallas, met up with Mandy, and continued on to Mobile, Alabama.

Braxton and me on the plane from Austin to Dallas

Mandy and me at Gran's apartment shortly after arriving in Mobile

 Our Catlin family reunion in Mobile was so much fun and I loved every minute I had to spend with my sisters, our parents, and Alabama family who we don't get to see often enough. The big party was on Saturday afternoon and there were over 80 people in attendance to help celebrate my grandmother's birthday. Although she's out-lived most of her best friends, it's evident that she still has so many people that love her and want to honor the wonderful person she is. 

Gran's beautiful birthday cake

Gran, Braxton, Laurel and cousin Brian

The Catlin Clan

On Sunday, we all attended church together and had brunch at Gran's retirement community. It was definitely a bittersweet day, knowing that we would all go our separate ways once more. I was so grateful for the decision and opportunity I had to go Stateside for this occasion. Being surrounded by family is the most uplifting feeling there is and I wouldn't have traded this weekend for anything. 

Braxton with his Bumpa

Gran and her grandchildren

Back in Texas, I continued my tour of the State by spending some time at home in Bryan. I love nothing more than to spend lazy days at the house by the pool, hangin' with my parents, eating lots of Tex-Mex and catching up with neighbors and friends. Unfortunately, I didn't get enough time to do just that, but I did manage to make a side-trip to Houston to see two of my dearest childhood friends. Allison and JW took me out to an incredible dinner at Haven and afterward we hit up some bars and had the best time catching up and planning their imminent trip to Europe. I spent the following day with Kelly and we enjoyed story-swapping over lunch and, of course, I love spending time with her adorable toddler, Allison. Although I wish more of my friends lived closer to Bryan, I am so glad these two friends are very near, which at least makes short visits possible. 

Allison and me
Allison and me 
Back in Bryan, I spent my last weekend in Texas hangin' with two my my favorite people.... my parents. I mean honestly, how did I get so lucky to have parents that I truly LOVE spending time with and have so much FUN with?! I raced back from Houston on Friday in time to meet them at a new wine bar downtown before having a delicious dinner at one of my favorite downtown restaurants. Before I knew it, the weekend was over and I was off to Dallas for my last three days of Texas heat before crossing the pond once more. 

Me and my dad, Lar

Luckily, Laurel had a work conference in Dallas during that time, so I got to spend my last few days with two more of my favorite people.... both sisters. We spent our evenings doing our favorite things....., eating at fabulous restaurants, shopping and LOTS of laughing. My last night we met up with... yep, you guessed it, two MORE of my favorite people (my list might be long, but trust me, not all my friends get the title 'favorite'). Judy and Claudia, who were first my mom's friends, but luckily I inherited their friendship as well, were so sweet to drive downtown to partake in a girls fest. We always have so much fun with these ladies and it was the perfect ending to a perfect trip. 

Me with Mandy, Judy, Claudia and Laurel

As usual, the waterworks came at the end of the night with my two sisters, but I simply feel fortunate that I have two people I care enough about that it always hurts to say good-bye, no matter how many times we've done it. Although it was scorching-hot and Texas was in the middle of their record-breaking summer heat, I loved seeing constant sunshine and getting to make the most of my summer wardrobe. Thanks to all my family and friends who made my time home so meaningful. Can't wait to be back!