Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Texas July 4th

Three weeks after returning Stateside, we made our way back down to Texas to spend the Fourth. We were hoping to host the Catlin crew at our home for an un-packing weekend, but as our household goods were not due to arrive for another two weeks, we decided to all gather in Bryan. Though it was so much fun to participate in 4th of July festivities in the USA this year, Jon and I were missing our annual "Rock, Flag and Eagle" bash we hosted each year in Sittard. We will always cherish these memories of our US friends and Dutch neighbors coming together to celebrate all things American!

On the morning of the Fourth, we attended a children's parade and festivities at a neighborhood park. Though it was hot, hot, hot, we enjoyed a patriotic morning and fun music with the kids, before spending the afternoon cooling off at the swimming pool. And of course, no July 4th is complete without an awesome fireworks show. That night, we drove out to a great viewing spot of the George Bush Library on the side of the highway, popped the tailgate and were wowed with a spectacular fireworks display that seemed to be shouting, "Welcome back to America, Cathleen and Jon."

Nothing says July 4th like watermelon!
Braxton loved pushing the babies, Conan and Boulan, around the park
Clough Family photo

Boulan and Conan hangin' in a tree

The Catlin gals and boys

Conan's first swim in the pool

Two days later, I celebrated the second anniversary of my 29th year. It was such a treat to be surrounded by my entire family on my birthday as well as some very special friends who drove up from Houston to spend the day with me - the Spencers! It was so much fun to have both our families together even though it was a bit chaotic. We enjoyed a Tex-Mex lunch before hitting up the pool and some much needed catch-up time. I'm so appreciative to them for making the effort to load up the kids and road-trip to Bryan to spend the day with us. We always have a blast with the Spencers and I can't wait for them to visit us in Norman next month!

Birthday lunch at Papa Perez
That night, Jon had arranged a birthday dinner surprise for me at the local Messina Hof winery. Located in the beautiful countryside just outside Bryan, he treated us kids (myself, Laurel, Jason and Mandy) to a fantastic dinner! We discovered we love their gewurtztraminer wine and we're thrilled to find a place to replenish our stock of European gewurtztraminer we shipped over.

The meal, wine, company and setting was absolutely divine, and I'm so grateful to Jon for being so thoughtful to surprise me with this wonderful evening. He really is the best at planning surprises and in the midst of all the craziness happening in our first month back, I'm so impressed he pulled it off. 

An after dinner photo shoot in the vineyard. 

Showing off our wine buys 
After dinner, we enjoyed a night out on the town and were joined by the Polkas who were also in Bryan this weekend. I'm so bummed we don't have any pics of us all together, as it turned out to be quite a memorable night. This was such an incredible weekend filled with lots of fun times with family and reunions with friends. It's still somewhat bizarre knowing that I can see my family so much more often now, and that the "goodbyes" are only for a few weeks at a time instead of several months. We're certainly trying to take advantage of our proximity to Texas as much as possible and are having a blast sharing in these special occasions with those we've missed for so long!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

We'll meet again. Don't know where, don't know when....

Sitting in my house in Norman on a rainy summer afternoon, writing this post and seeing these pictures from our final days in Sittard almost seems like a lifetime ago. So much has happened over the past two months and the more time that passes, the more our time in Europe seems like a distant fairytale. Did we actually live there? I guess we did, because we certainly have the pictures (and countless souvenirs and wine) to prove it. Partly we feel this way due to our incredible send-off we were given by friends and neighbors. How could we not be depressed looking at these pictures knowing that we are an ocean's distance away from these wonderful people and our home for three monumental years.

Our final weekend in Sittard, we took part in two evenings of farewell with dear friends. On Friday night, our favorite neighbors, the Hilkens, hosted a dinner for our fellow neighbors on Pater Schreursstraat to say farewell to us. We enjoyed hamburgers, delicious sides, cake, and the company of all our wonderful Dutch neighbors we've had the pleasure of living near the past three years. Everyone was so thoughtful to bring gifts for Conan in addition to two very special presents for Jon and me. One was a bronze replica of a statue in the Sittard square and the other was a photo book of our three years living in Sittard. Pia was so sweet to create this and we will treasure these pictures of Sittard, our street and various festivals and parties greatly. It truly was the most thoughtful farewell gift we could have ever received!

Beautiful cake (complete with pirate details) made by Nadine Hilkens

In addition to the surprise of two outstanding farewell gifts, we were also serenaded to a custom-written song about our time in Sittard by the entire group. The song included 5 verses, written by Nik,  to the tune of Irish ballad, "Wild Rover." We were blown away by these kind and thoughtful gestures that made this evening so very special.
Jon holding up the sheet music to our customized Farewell song
Everyone taking part in the serenade
After dinner, we enjoyed a sing-along with Hans. My favorite part was hearing everyone bust out to old Dutch folk songs. Although obviously unfamiliar to me, hearing them sing reminded me that although we come from very different places, they have displayed the true meaning of being a neighbor. Although I have cherished the friendships made with our American friends from GK, I feel richly blessed by the many Dutch friends I have made through church and by living on Pater Schreursstraat.

Thank you, Peter and Pia, for being such wonderful neighbors who have helped to make our time in Sittard so meaningful. Being your next door neighbor has been one of the best parts of living in the Netherlands and we appreciate all that you have done for us during our three years there. We look forward to visiting you on Pater Schreursstraat in the future, as this street will always hold a special place in our hearts. 

Farewell to Pia and Peter Hilkens
The next night, we gathered with our favorite GK friends for a farewell dinner on the square. This evening was special as it was a joint farewell with the Grimms, who were leaving a mere week after us. I have mentioned this countless times, but we truly could not have been more blessed with outstanding friends during our GK assignment. Right from the start, we met the McKiernans and Grimms who we became fast friends with. A few months later, our friend-base expanded with more and more fabulous ladies who I ended up having some of my favorite times in Europe with. Through countless Bunco nights, girls trips, and partying at local festivals, we have maximized our time as ladies-of-leisure in Europe. Now that I am back in the States leading a very different life, I know that I will look back on this time with these incredible ladies, as some of the best times of my life. 

Dinner with the Moones, Kelehers, Cavanaughs, and Grimms
Though some of our dear friends moved a few months before us, I was so happy to have this evening with those of us remaining to have one more night for the books. And what a night it was! After dinner, we searched for a fun place to dance, and having no luck, ended up at the "Belgian bar" with some colorful characters. Needless to say, we ladies managed to have a great time dancing to the oldies and interacting with the locals. Unfortunately, I don't have any pics with Cara and Erin as they left before the camera came out.

Breakin' it down with Katy

Oh how I'll miss these ladies!

The guys hanging outside with Conan

Saucey ladies!
The following day, several from our group were supposed to run the Maastricht run, only to find out that registration was full. So, we made our own plans to run around Sittard. Unfortunately, I couldn't take part in the run as I was on Conan duty, but we managed to have a picnic afterwards in the park in order to have one last gathering of friends. It was an emotional farewell leaving the park, but was the perfect culmination to a perfect weekend spent with those who mean so much to us. Although I don't know where or when, I know we'll meet again. Tot ziens!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ahoy.... it's a boy! - Newborn Photos

Before I get too far updating the blog with State-side activities, I wanted to post Conan's newborn photos taken at 3 weeks of age. It's hard to believe that he's now 3 months old! Time truly is flying by too quickly. I had no idea how complicated newborn photos were to take, and thought I could maybe manage to take some cute shots on my own. Boy was I wrong. Not only did our basic "automatic" setting not cut it in the quality of the photos, but also the elements that have to be considered such as a warm room (heating lamp required for this), adequate lighting and a creative eye were all missing. 

Luckily, my talented friend, Katy Moone was up for the challenge and took some outstanding photos! She helped create my vision of a pirate-themed photo with a "treasure chest," pirate flag, and hat and eye patch that did not want to stay on.  Thank you, Katy, for the time you spent with us to create these beautiful and magnificent photos. They are greatly treasured!