Monday, March 25, 2013

A Texas Baby Shower

Shortly after hosting our visitors in mid-February, I traveled to Texas for two glorious weeks of sunshine and milder temperatures. The main purpose of this trip was to return home for a baby shower, but also to enjoy one final solo trip home before I have my constant companion. I reveled in the one-on-one time I got to spend with each of my sisters and parents, knowing that come May, visits home will forever be changed. I'm thrilled to be starting this new time in my life, but being the baby in the family, it's been a little difficult for me to give up this status to now having a baby of my own. Luckily, I've had lots of years to prepare for this (I am 30 for crying out loud!) and so many wonderful opportunities for quality time with my sisters and parents during my many extended overseas visits the past 6 years.

My fantastic hostesses
The baby shower was held in Bryan the first weekend I was home, and my two friends Allison and Kelly took the lead on the planning, while Laurel and Mandy helped a great deal with the logistics and day-of prepping. As they all lived out of town and had to travel to Bryan the day of, I stressed to them that I wanted this to be a simple, no-fuss cake and punch affair. So, the day of, I was quite surprised to see that they had planned a travel theme for the shower! All the details were so adorable and Allison did a great job gathering the decor to include an antique suitcase, a travel-themed diaper cake and actual cake, a globe, and a 'cargo' mini-suitcase for cards. I am so blessed to have such incredible friends and sisters who took time out of their hectic lives to throw me this shower in my hometown. Oh how they spoil me!

Main table decor
Suitcase Cake
'Cargo' mini-suitcase for cards
Diaper cake Allison made - the details were incredible!
Standing next to Baby C's name banner - it's 99% official - at 30 weeks.
Charm and me - she was so sweet to open up our home for the shower, as the hostesses were all out-of-towners.
As most of my high school and college friends are scattered throughout the country, the attendees were some family and lots of family friends. I was so excited both my aunts and cousins could be there, as well as have the opportunity to catch up with many neighbors and life-long family friends. 

Aunt Robin and cousins, Carly and Macy
Allison and Kelly
Sister pic with Mandy and Laurel
The day of the shower was absolutely gorgeous and we were able to sit outside in the courtyard to enjoy our cake and open gifts. Due to traveling back to Europe, I had requested to receive gift cards, but also got some adorable clothes and other items. I was overwhelmed with the generosity of everyone and immediately felt much more prepared to plan for this baby.

Adorable "Mom's Treasure" outfit - one of the many pirate-themed gifts
My diaper bag - a gift from my sisters
Lar made an appearance at the end of the shower with my sweet nephew Boulan
Charm and Aunt Nean after the shower 
This weekend was not only a great due to the shower, but also for the wonderful family time we were able to spend together. Especially with my sweet nephew Boulan. I got to meet him for the first time when I was home for Thanksgiving and he was only 5 weeks old. Now at 4 months, he's grown so much and is such a good, sweet, happy baby. He loves to smile and his little expressions will just melt your heart. I can only hope for a baby as good as him.... but I'm not going to hold my breath. Braxton spent the weekend with Jason at his parents, but I was able to hang with him during my next weekend's visit to Austin. At two, he is such a toot, but is still absolutely precious. I'm so thrilled that Baby C is going to have two boy cousins to play with and learn from that are so close in age!

My newest nephew, Boulan - wearing his "I heart Aunt Cathleen and Uncle Jon" onesie
Considering we're planning a transcontinental move the same time as having a baby, prior to returning home in February, I had done essentially no baby-prepping. This trip was the perfect time for me to focus us on 'all things baby,' and finally start thinking about prioritizing what all I will need for the first 6 weeks of his life, and what we'll need for after we return Stateside. Luckily, having an older sister with two boys, has been a huge lifesaver. Laurel's advice and knowledge has been indispensable, and not to mention all the amazing hand-me-downs I'm getting. I'll never have to buy one piece of clothing for Baby C.... ever! 

In between hanging with friends, eating lots of Tex-Mex and chillaxin' with my mom, I spent lots of time sorting through Laurel's baby items, ordering the essentials off my registry, and starting the baby book (I make no promises it will ever be finished, but I'm going to start this adventure of mommy-hood optimistically thinking it will be completed at some point in his lifetime). I knew that once I returned to the NL, I would be consumed with moving prep, last-minute travels and soaking up the last few remaining months of life in Europe. I have six weeks to go in my pregnancy, and while most people at this point are putting the final touches on their nurseries, I am nesting in a different way - purging my house of unnecessary items for the move and looking to acquire those last remaining must-have items from Europe. I figure once we get to Oklahoma, I'll have eons of time to prep the nursery and do all those things I haven't been able to do here. In the meantime, I have two more sets of visitors to look forward to, final fiestas to plan and a new car to break in. 

Throughout our relationship and marriage, Jon and I have recognized that we like to make things as difficult as possible, and having a baby is no exception. Actually, it just wouldn't feel right any other way. We began this European adventure by marrying and moving to Germany a week later, so it's quite fitting that we're ending our time here by having a baby and moving Stateside 5 weeks later. Let the fun times begin!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Operation X2: Tim and Kevin Visit Europe

Immediately after Carnaval, Operation X2 commenced, as the guys like to call it. We spent the first couple days hanging around Sittard and the local area before embarking on a road trip across Germany. We visited the American Cemetery in Margraten and Maastricht our first day. Though the shops were still closed due to Carnaval and parades were still in full swing, we enjoyed walking around the old town of Maastricht.

American Cemetery in Margraten

A tribute to Castle Gray Skull at the Helpoort in Maastricht
The following day, we trekked to one of our favorite lunch spots in the quaint town of Thorn, De Pannekoekenbakker. We each ordered delicious savory pancakes before heading to the nearest Trappist brewery to our area, Achel. It has a unique location situated on top of the border of the Netherlands and Belgium. The brewery is actually in Belgium, but part of the monastery complex is in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, the monastery was not open for visitors, but the group still enjoyed tasting the different varieties of Achel beer in the cafe and exploring the extensive beer store. 

We returned home just in time for an evening bike tour of Sittard. No trip to the Netherlands is complete without doing as the locals do and cycling around town.

Lunch at De Pannekoekenbakker in Thorn

A visit to the Achel Trappist Brewery
After two days of low-key touring in the local area, we kicked it up a notch the third day and embarked on a tour of Germany toward Bavaria hitting up some of our favorite highlights along the way.

First stop was the massive Cologne cathedral. Though we have visited this incredible landmark numerous times, it never ceases to amaze me how incredibly gigantic this gothic cathedral is. After a tour of the cathedral, we visited the Früh brewery to experience some local kölsch beer. Kölsch is the beer of Cologne and can only be brewed in the city, as the brewery has to have sight of the Cologne cathedral. 

Cologne Cathedral

Jon, Kevin and Tim lighting a candle for their pal Ted

Cologne Cathedral interior
From Cologne, we continued to Koblenz, where we stopped for a tour of the Deutsches Eck (or German corner) landmark. This spot is significant as the Rhine and Mosel rivers join at this location and now is a symbol for German unification with a massive statue of Kaiser Wilhelm.

We hopped back in the car, snaking along the Rhine River to the mighty Marksburg Castle. As it is low tourist season, we managed to get a private tour of this best preserved castle on the Rhine River. After the tour, we stopped in the charming village of Bacharach and elsewhere along the Rhine River road for picturesque views of the many castles in this area.

At the Deutches Eck monument in Koblenz

Touring Marksburg Castle

Touring Marksburg Castle

Pfalz Castle along the Rhine River
After a long day of driving and sight-seeing, we eventually made it to Wiesbaden where we stayed the night. We wanted to show the gang our old stomping grounds and we enjoyed a night of eating at our favorite restaurant and visiting some of our favorite bars. 

Prost at the Paulaner Beerstube

We spent the next morning showing them around Wiesbaden, to include the Kurhaus casino, Kurpark with green parrots, market square, and a trip to the Neroberg. Located on a hill above Wiesbaden, the Neroberg was one of our favorite places to go running and escape into nature. Not only are there excellent views of the city, but also a beautiful Russian Orthodox church from the 1700s. 

The Cloughs at the Kurhaus in Wiesbaden

Atop the Neroberg in Wiesbaden

A view of Wiesbaden from the Neroberg

The Russian Orthodox church on the Neroberg

That afternoon, I split off from the group to return to Sittard, while they continued southwest to Bavaria.  I really hated to leave the gang, especially since I did not expect to have so much fun being pregnant and cramped in the Xterra with these four for hours on end. This was the first time I had spent quality time with Becky, Tim's wife, and she was an absolute delight, and of course it's always entertaining to be around Jon, Tim and Kevin and hear their hilarious stories and discussions.

The four of them drove to Bamberg where they embarked on a beer tour of the city's many breweries. Armed with a backpack and beer mug provided by the TI, they hopped from brewery to brewery tasting the variety of different beers. Not only is this city known for its beer, but it's also known for its well-preserved historic center with a large number of half-timbered buildings and idyllic setting located on a river.

Jon, Kevin, Tim and Becky in Bamberg

After one night in Bamberg, Tim and Becky caught a train the following day to Berlin to visit his sister, while Jon and Kevin continued south to Munich (via Nurnberg) for two nights. They continued to have a fantastic time touring this incredible city while also visiting plenty of breweries there as well. 

Operation X2 was quite a success and I'm so grateful to these three for making the effort to take time off to visit and take part in a European adventure with us. Jon and I both are so blessed to have so many incredible friends who have come to visit, and though we don't see them often, it almost makes the time together that much sweeter. Thanks, friends, for helping to make our time in Europe that much more special!

The Final Carnaval

It's hard to believe we experienced our last Carnaval this past February! I guess I shouldn't be so final about it, considering there's always a chance we might be back in Europe during this festive time of year, but we'll just never know. This has been without a doubt one of our favorite festivities while living in both Wiesbaden, where we celebrated Fasching, and Sittard, where they celebrate a different version, Carnaval. This year, we were blessed with beautiful clear skies and sunshine, though the temperatures were still quite frigid. We layered up and headed to the parade route with our usual gang of revelers for one amazing final Carnaval. 

The Indian and the Sailor with 28-week baby bump
Along the parade route

Although we don't fully understand every culturally-local nuance that takes place during Carnaval, on the day of the parade the streets are filled with outrageous costumes, raucous music blasting from floats and a wash of festive colors everywhere. The energy and enthusiasm is contagious, and whether simply a bystander, or a parade participant, everyone is sporting a costume or the Carnaval colors and are in exuberant moods. 

The guys along the parade route

Along the parade route - models of buildings on the Sittard square

Along the parade route with a couple more stragglers

I'm gonna miss these gals!
This year, we had special guests visit us just in time to take part in the wacky festivities. For six years, Jon has been trying to get his high school buds, Tim and Kevin to visit us in Europe and finally (and just in time, I might add) they made it over in February. Kevin arrived first in Amsterdam where he and Jon spent a day and night exploring the city. Tim and his wife, Becky, arrived on Sunday morning, the day of Carnaval, but still managed to rock out at the parade despite their jet lag. 

Tim, Kevin and Jon
Doing our best YMCA pose
We arranged for our group to dress as the Village People, where we studied up on our characters by watching the original music videos for 'YMCA,' 'Macho Man,' and 'In the Navy' over and over again. Tim, Becky and Kevin were great sports to wear the get-ups we provided for them and had no problem getting into character immediately.

Oh yeah.... synchronized clapping

Ladies pic

The Carnaval revelers

Sittard square
Though it was somewhat of a sentimental day, knowing it was one of our last major festivals to spend with friends, it was without a doubt one of the best Carnavals yet with fabulous weather, excited visitors, dear friends in tow and plenty of 'macho men'. I will always cherish our many Carnaval memories that always brings a bright spot to the middle of our long dreary winters. Alaaf!