Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Alamo Bowl and New Year's

After a relaxing Christmas at the ranch, we headed to San Antonio where the Baylor Bears would be playing in the Alamo Bowl. My parents surprised the entire family with tickets to the game and two nights on the River Walk. Though I am not a huge football fanatic, the excitement surrounding Baylor's incredible 2011 football season after many so-so years, would make any Baylor fan incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunity to see them in a bowl game. The 2011 Baylor football season was a monumental year, finishing second best in the Big 12 and 13th in the final AP standings, which is the program's highest finish since 1986, and produced its first Heisman Trophy winner, RG3, or Robert Griffin, III.
Posing in front of the LCD image in our hotel lobby
We arrived in San Antonio the day before the game and enjoyed staying in the historic Gunther Hotel, which was decked out in Baylor colors. It seemed the entire Baylor Nation was on the River Walk, because it was flooded in green and gold. We enjoyed shopping, eating and enjoying the beautiful and festive Christmas lights along the river.

Enjoying the most amazing margaritas (with an upside down bottle of beer) at a River Walk bar

We also managed to fit in a bit of tourism and saw the Alamo film, "The Price of Freedom," at the IMAX, that my great uncle and cousin star in. It's not the best film version of the Alamo, but it was interesting to see my family in the film and as a Texan, it's a way to fulfill our duty to "Remember the Alamo."

In front of the huge Christmas tree in Alamo Square

The Alamo
The Alamo Bowl stadium was packed with over 65,000 people and it was fun to run into Baylor friends, including Drew and Spring, who were sitting a mere 3 rows in front of us. 

Sic'em Bears, with college buds, Drew and Spring

The Catlin Gang at the game (4 out of 6 are Baylor alums)

The game was incredibly exciting, and especially the outcome where Baylor won the game with a 67-56 final score against Washington. It was an amazing two days in San Antonio with my family and I will always cherish these memories and will forever Remember the Alamo Bowl!

From San Antonio, Jon and I headed to Austin with Laurel and Jason for two nights before New Year's. Jon had a list a mile long of things he wanted to do and places he wanted to go in Austin (Juan-in-a-Million, Waterloo Records, Run-Tex, 6th Street). Somehow we managed to fit it all in and made our way all over the city in record time. In order to avoid the chaos of downtown on New Year's Eve, we had our night out on the 30th. After discovering a couple new bars on far West 6th Street, we spent most of our time on East 6th Street, re-familiarizing ourselves with our old haunts. We had a great time bar-hopping, listening to live music, and enjoying all that downtown Austin has to offer. 

On New Year's Eve, we enjoyed a lovely couples dinner at a restaurant near their house and spent the rest of the night shooting off fireworks in their street with the neighbors. It was the perfect low key yet always fun New Year's Eve. There's no two people we'd rather ring in the new year with!

Early on New Year's Day, Jon and I caught a flight from Austin to Norfolk, Virginia, where we spent the next few days visiting his family in North Carolina. Though it was a short trip, we managed to visit with a lot of his family, to include his grandparents, parents, brother, sister-in-law and nephew, and many aunts and uncles. Jon is so blessed to come from a large family who mostly live around Northeastern North Carolina, which makes visiting many family members much easier. 

A beautiful North Carolina sunset over the sound in Columbia

With Jon's grandparents, Grandaddy and Grandmamma Hobbs
After many delicious meals on the farm, quality time catching up with family, a post-Christmas celebration, and shopping in the Outer Banks, Jon and I were headed back to the airport, each flying our separate ways. Jon returned to Germany and I went back to Texas for another 10 days. It was hard to believe that the Christmas and New Year's holidays were over, but we managed to make the most of our 17 days together in the States. We are so grateful we were able to see both our amazing families during this unforgettable trip home. We love and thank you for making our time with you all so meaningful!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Home for the Holidays

Yes, there's no place like home for the holidays. Jon and I were long overdue for a holiday season in the States and we managed to spend Christmas in Texas and New Year's in North Carolina. It was heavenly. After spending a few days in Dallas, Waco and Bryan, we headed south to Bandera for a country Christmas at the ranch. This is where I spent most all my Christmases growing up, and Christmas anywhere else doesn't feel quite the same. 

Ranch House
Ranch House, under the 'Texas Historic sign' stating the house was built in 1855.

We've always had strong traditions surrounding Christmas, and this year was no different. On Christmas Eve, we shared a dinner of tamales and chili before searching for Santa's sleigh in the sky (only to just miss him in our house delivering presents) and afterward we sing carols and read the story of Jesus' birth. Lastly, we open presents. 

Enjoying a glass of Riesling with Aunt Nean, Mom, Laurel and Mandy
This year, we had a guest appearance from Santa Jason, thinking Braxton would enjoy it. But alas, not so much. Poor Braxton was terrified of the man in the big red suit (aka, his dad) and couldn't even look at him. It did, however, definitely provide entertainment for the rest of the adults. 

Santa Jason, Laurel and a terrified Braxton

Santa Jason and an oh-so-happy Jon

Fireplace mantle
On Christmas morning, we woke to our stockings filled with goodies. After a lazy morning, we had a wonderful Christmas lunch in the dining room with turkey and all the fixin's. It was an absolutely perfect Christmas celebration surrounded by family in a beautiful setting. 

Opening stockings on Christmas morning

Christmas lunch

Braxton on Christmas Day

The Catlin-Hicks Family (with Aunt Nean and Uncle Dickie)

We stayed at the ranch the following two days after Christmas enjoying quality time with one another and all the animals and beautiful weather at the ranch. There was lots of sunshine and the highs were in the upper 60s. I loved not having to wear a huge coat every time I left the house. One of the "chores" we had to look forward to each day, usually twice a day, was to feed the donkeys bread. They go crazy over bread and my dad came up with an interesting way of feeding them to see how close they would get. So, we all decided to give the donkeys and Amigo, the horse, who also loves bread, bread kisses. 

Dad giving the donkeys "bread kisses"

Jon giving Amigo a "bread kiss" with Rambo looking on

Me and Rambo, the favorite miniature donkey

In order to utilize the huge barbecue pit behind the ranch house, Jon and Jason decided to have a barbecue cook-off with a pig Jason's boss provided him. Jason cooked it in the Texas-style, and Jon in the North Carolina-style, with a vinegar rub. Both finished products were absolutely delicious! 

Barbecue cook-off on the Barbecue pit

Dad and Braxton walking down to the pit with the guys

 On our last few days at the ranch, the weather was so perfect we wanted to spend as much time outside as possible. Laurel, Mandy and I had decided to take a walk along the creek and were met up by my dad on a four-wheeler. We decided to all pile on (along with Laurel's dog) and enjoyed the rest of the tour on four wheels.

Four adults and one dog on a Four-Wheeler

Ranch Vista
The beauty of the ranch, even in December, is so captivating and although I try to capture it in pictures, it simply doesn't do justice. I love this place like none other and have so many special memories spending time here with my grandparents as a child, summer family reunions, Christmases and other holidays and most recently, the place where both my sister and I were married.

On our last night at the ranch, we enjoyed a bonfire in the fire pit making smores and looking at the stars in the clear Texas sky. It was the perfect ending to another perfect Christmas at the ranch.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Walk in Bastogne, 1945: Part II

Two years ago, Jon and I participated in our first Bastogne Historic Walk and I chronicled it in the blog as "A Walk in Bastogne, 1945." You truly get the feeling you are stepping back in 1945 experiencing the way life was for the soldiers during the infamous Battle of the Bulge. The day after our friends, the Polkas, arrived, we embarked once again on another journey back to 1945 to explore Bastogne through the eyes of the many American soldiers who fought there. 

Two soldiers (re-enactors) running along the Historic Walk

In addition to Allison and JW, our friend Jeff came with us and we met up with Jon's brother, Neil, and his daughter, Sybil, in Bastogne. Allison and I participated in the shortest walk, 8 kilometers, while the rest did the full distance, 17 kilometers. During this time, you pass by several WWII encampments, portrayed by local re-enactment groups.
At the end of the Historic Walk, before entering the city of Bastogne

 It is incredible to see the vast number of authentic WWII uniforms, equipment, weapons, and vehicles as part of the display. The re-enactors take their jobs very seriously, as they don't break character attempting to provide a real depiction of their living standards and behavior during that time; drinking out of tin cups, cooking over an open fire and smoking Lucky Strikes.

Re-enactors in Bastogne

Jon, Neil and Sybil posing next to the half-track

Cemetery for fallen German soldiers

Soldiers on watch next to their fox-holes
During our walk, Allison and I were admiring a vehicle, when the driver asked us to come on board for a glass of strawberry wine. How could we refuse? 

After our walk, Allison and I had lunch and browsed the shops of Bastogne while we waited for the others to finish. Once all together, we took part in the "nuts-throwing ceremony" - an homage to General McAuliffe's single-word reply to a German surrender ultimatum. Just as he passionately said "Nuts," nuts are passionately thrown from the mayor's balcony to the crowd below to close the day's events. 

Our Posse before the parade

Jon, Sybil and Neil proudly displaying their nuts

This is truly such a special and unique occasion, and I'm so happy we were able to share it with our friends and family. It is an important reminder of this heroic battle fought by the American forces in the Battle of the Bulge during WWII.

A modern-day soldier with his cub-scout son

Five Days with the Polkas

I was so excited to receive an early Christmas present this year - a visit from the Polkas! After a rip-roaring good time together at Oktoberfest in 2009, I was so thrilled that one of my dearest friends from high school, Allison and her husband, J.W., made it possible to squeeze in one more trip to visit us overseas. Unfortunately, this would be a much shorter visit than before, only 5 days, but we still managed to see and do a lot in this timeframe. After picking them up from the airport in Amsterdam, we immediately trekked to the Kinderdijk with its 19 windmills strung out on both sides of canals. What would a trip to Holland be without windmills?

At the Kinderdijk

At the Kinderdijk

After a morning of admiring windmills and lunch at the best pannekoekenbakker in Thorn, we finally made it to our house where they received their "welcome" gifts.... clog slippers, of course.

Showing off their clog slippers

There's nothing better than being able to show off your town and a glimpse of your life to friends and family from home. I was so happy that Allison and J.W. loved Sittard and our way of life here. When Jon and I had to abandon them for a couple hours for church cantata rehearsal, they made the most of their time biking to town and perusing the shops and cafes.  

In the Sittard Markt

Jon's favorite statue, in Sittard

Although the weather can be quite cold, one of the best reasons for visiting in December is to see all the fantastically festive Christmas markets throughout Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. We first went to the Christmas-glammed town of Valkenburg, the Netherlands, to visit the unique market in the caves and enjoy a superb dinner. 

Valkenburg Christmas Market

Dinner in Valkenburg
On our way to my favorite Christmas market in Aachen, Germany, we visited the Drielandenpunt, where the borders of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands meet. 


Enjoying some cocoa and gluwein at the Aachen Christmas Market

Aachen Christmas Market
At the end of their stay, we spent their final day and night in Amsterdam to explore Holland at its best - canal-roaming, flower market perusing, cheese-tasting, Van Gogh admiring, Heineken-brewing and Anne Frank learning. And we still managed to fit in a bit of shopping as well. 

An Allie-Cat in a Clog


Jon and JW touring the Heineken Brewery

Amsterdam at Night

A post-dinner stroll through the Red Light District

We couldn't have asked for more beautiful weather during their stay and I was amazed how much we were able to fit in during their 5 days here. It was an incredibly wonderful visit and I'm so grateful to Allison and J.W. for making this trip a priority before their baby comes this spring. Thanks for the many good times and I can't wait for many more ahead!