Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Gemütlichkeit is: home

It's Tuesday again; but this time, it's a special one.  The first two days of work this week are done and I only have two more to get through before I pack my bags, drive to Munich and fly back to California for two blissful weeks at home

I am so excited about this and have been for weeks.  Of course, the last few days, it is all I can think about.  By far my favorite thing to do at home is go out to dinner with my parents (or lounge around the in backyard with them).  As I have gotten older, I have learned how to appreciate my parents as two amazing people and not just as my parents.  I have grown to not only love them and need them but to thoroughly enjoy their company and the joys they add to my life by being themselves.  I feel so lucky to have my family. 

Peter is coming along this time, too.  It will be his first trip to California in one and a half years. I know he is as excited as I am, even if it's for different reasons.  The greatest joy having him together with my family.  Nothing makes my heart happier than my mom, my dad, my sister, my dog and Peter together.  It's rare that I have all those wonderful people (yes, my dog is a person) in one room. 

I don't think it matters where you come from or how much you love the place you live now, nothing gives you that warm, comfortable feeling quite like home.  It's so heartwarming to be taken back to your roots, back to what is simple, to see the people that have always loved you and always will.  Home is a time when things were simpler, a time when people were more genuine and place where you were free to run, play and explore.  It's a place where you can just be who you are.

Needless to say, I will be taking a break for about two weeks starting this Friday.  I am hoping to come back with my batteries recharged (by the sun, obviously) and a fresh perspective on all these obstacles I have been running into lately.  Spring is on it's way and I want to be ready to enjoy it!

Here are some pictures of what's waiting for me at home:
It's hard not to want to go home when home looks like this.


Girl's best friend. 
Do you have a great hometown?  Do you enjoy going home?  What's your favorite thing about it?  Your favorite thing to do? 

Monday, February 27, 2012

On slowing down

Lavender in Sardinia last summer.  Surrounded by quiet and nature.  
Today I want to talk to you about a little something that I read about on Holly Becker's blog, Decor8, this week.  Holly writes about a movement called Slow Living, which I had never heard of before (there are some beautiful pictures from Paris accompanying the post, and I highly suggest checking it out).  Have you heard of this movement?

This movement really speaks to me and, I think, encompasses a big part of what this blog is all about.  The idea is basically that we can improve our lifestyle by attempting to slow down, minimize our distractions and simplify our lives.

There is a quote on Wikipedia by Beth Meredith and Eric Storm summarizes the movement:

Slow Living means structuring your life around meaning and fulfillment. Similar to "voluntary simplicity" and "downshifting," it emphasizes a less-is-more approach, focusing on the quality of your life. … Slow Living addresses the desire to lead a more balanced life and to pursue a more holistic sense of well-being in the fullest sense of the word.[1]

I try and apply these concepts to my own life, but it can be really hard to come through with it in the modern world.  It seems to constantly be my intention to live more simply, but I never have the guts to give up all of the things that make my life "complicated" and really make the changes.

Things have been especially complicated and stressful around here lately, making the concept of simple living all the more enticing and out of reach.  I am hoping that life will soon get to a moment where things calm down, but sometimes, it doesn't feel like it is in your control.

My favorite "slow" place: Magician Lake, Michigan.  My heart's home. 
The lake, where I'm content.  
Do you find you are caught between the desire to simplify and not knowing how to?

Do you agree with these ideas?

Do you think they are idealistic?

Do you implement these strategies in your own life?  If so, how?  Are you successful?  I'd love to hear from you!

Just Peter and I on a hike in the woods after Christmas.  

An evening lazing in the garden last summer. 

My favorite evening routine.  

An autumn walk in the park. 
(The pictures here are of moments in my life that have felt peaceful and simple.)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Food on Friday: tabbouleh, aka our favorite dinner ever

People think I'm French.  All the time.  It's' really weird.  I don't know a word of French and I do not like stinky cheese.

Or they think I am Spanish.  When I lived in Spain for a while, no one ever suspected that I was a foreigner.  They stopped to ask me for directions and always looked surprised when what came out of my mouth was a horrid excuse for their beautiful language.  But, I love Spain and Spanish women are oh so cool.  I really like it when people mistake me for a Spaniard.

Sometimes, they think I am Italian.  Obviously, no one ever thinks I am German. 

But no one ever guesses what I really am: a combination of Swedish and Lebanese.  (Which as gas station attendant once told me meant I was French, anyway.)

The funny thing about being both Swedish and Lebanese--aside from constantly being mistaken for a sultry European--is that you grow up eating a lot of different kinds of foods.   For example, my Swedish grandpa makes excellent Swedish coffee cake and Swedish pancakes.  (He also always tried to get us to eat pickled herring.  Um, no, gramps.  It only worked on poor Peter, who eats anything and who's mom is Scandinavian, too.)  However,  when I visited my grandparents on the other side of the family, it was always hummus, pita bread and tabbouleh.  And, my dad has stories about how his grandma, or his Sitto) used to smoke a water pipe.

The food from the kitchens of both of my sets of grandparents is like a blankie for my soul.  It makes me feel happy, warm, safe and loved and I know that the special ingredient (unfortunately unavailable in supermarkets)  has always been little pieces of my grandparents' hearts.  So, of course, when I moved to Germany and started my life with Peter, I had to share some of the love with him.  Because my Swedish grandpa is still alive, he's had the opportunity to taste Grandpa's freshly made coffee cake and some pickled herring to boot.  But, with both my grandparents on my dad's side gone, I have had to do my best to recreate some of their recipes.

From the moment Peter first had tabbouleh and hummus, he was obsessed.  He loved it as much as I did.  I was surprised, quite honestly, because it is nothing like what Germans are used to.  But, he's an adventurous eater  and enjoyed the freshness of both foods.

Then, for a while last summer, he tried out the vegan thing.  Tabbouleh and hummus became our go-to foods.  They are vegan and, I believe, gluten free (great for all you health nuts) and, there is almost no cooking involved.  We tend not to eat them as often in the winter--winter in Germany requires soup--but love them in the summer.  I would pair them with whole wheat (or gluten free) pita bread for a really fresh and healthy meal. The chickpeas in the hummus provide a lot of protein and, while I am not a nutritionist, I imagine there are a lot of vitamins in the tabbouleh.  Of course, if you can't live without the meat, you could serve them as side dishes to cinnamon chicken (yes, try it...it's Delicious), pork or a real Middle Eastern specialty, lamb. 

I have tried to find the tabbouleh recipe that reminds me most of the kind my dad's family makes.  Because I tend to make tabbouleh on the fly and don't have bulgar around, I often substitute quick cooking couscous.  I don't really notice a difference, since I like my tabbouleh light on the bulgar/couscous and heavy on the greens.

This is a great, healthy spring/summer dinner (we're getting there!) and I hope you enjoy it.



1 cup of fine bulgar wheat (or quick cooking couscous)
3 bunches of parsley
1 bunch of fresh mint
4 tomatoes
4 green onions or 1 white onion
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt (I use pepper, too)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Wash the bular wheat in a deep dish by filling it with water and gently pouring out the water so that it will take away any impurities. Leave the bulgar to soak in cold water for 30 min.  (If you are using couscous, cook it according to the instructions on the package and let it cool completely before mixing it with other ingredients.) Finely dice the tomatoes and onion and chop the parsley and mint. Mix together the oil, salt and lemon for the sauce. Squeeze the bulgar wheat between your hands to press out the water and mix all the ingredients together.  Serve with pita bread. 

Tabbouleh and cinnamon chicken.  Oh, and in Germany we serve our tabbouleh with tortillas because we have yet to find pita bread anywhere.  Maybe someday, I will try my hand at that, too. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Rast Hack

That chest of drawers is a Rast hack!  From Aubrey and Lindsay's Little House Blog.  

Have you ever heard of this?  A huge sensation on DIY blogs, the Rast Hack takes the Rast, Ikea's most inexpensive, unfinished dresser, and turns it into something fabulous and one-of-a-kind.  The dresser is ridiculous; it costs a mere 19 Euro, 34.99 USD or 15.99 British Pounds.  But, after a Rast Hack, the dresser often looks like an expensive designer piece.

I am dying to try it out in my house!  As soon as we get into spring and I can paint with the windows open, I am planning on refinishing a bunch of our furniture anyway.  I can't wait to try my hand at jazzing up a Rast.  I have so many places I could put it and so many things that I could do with it.

Which of the following Rast Hacks is your favorite? (Click the links in the photo credits to see how they did it!)  Have you attempted one?  Are you tempted to?  I would love to hear your thoughts!

The original Rast dresser from Ikea. 

A Modern Rast Hack by Kate Miss of For Me, For You.

An adorable 50's inspired Rast Hack by Nancy Marcus of Marcus Design.
A very girly Rast Hack by Sita Montgomery of The Family Room.
And a more masculine look from Ikea Hackers.
An industrial look, also from Ikea Hackers

A traditional Hack from Erin of A Charming Nest.
Finally, a whimsical Rast Hack from Laura of Rambling Along (via Hodge:Podge).  Unfortunately, there's no how-to with this one.  But, maybe you could figure it out?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday afternoon at the zoo!

One of the beautiful--and often frustrating--things about Peter's and my jobs is that we have unpredictable hours.  Sometimes, we are home in the middle of the day on a Tuesday and then we are working on Saturday or Sunday.  Sometimes our schedules are completely opposite and other times they are perfectly in sync.  In the end, we are generally either happy to be home on a workday or complaining about having to work on the weekends. 

Today was one of those Tuesday when we both found ourselves home during the day.  It didn't take long for us to come up with a good idea about how to pass the time: the zoo!  We are both big animal lovers and nothing puts a smile on our faces like furry friends.  Plus, it was a perfectly sunny day!  It couldn't have been better.  


The most adorable, playful polar bears we've ever seen.  This one kept throwing this box up onto the rocks and then throwing it back into the water and jumping in after it.  He also put it on his head and threw it up in the air.  So cute!  Video to come later in the week!
This polar bear was pretty happy that it was cold and sunny.

This one had a tire to play with.  He was fascinated by the fact that it was bouncy and would put his weight on it like this so that it would bounce back up.

Fritz, the silver back and the MAN.

Fritz is it!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dear Germany...

Some days, you are inspiring.  I hear your church bells or see your old cities walls and I am amazed.  Some days, you thrill me.  I laze in your beer gardens or skip down your cobblestone streets.  I stand in the shadow of a towering cathedral or pass by 500 year old houses on my way to work.  Somedays, I  know that I am right where I am supposed to be; I feel at home.  

But, then, Germany, there are days like today.  Days like today, you get the best of me.  You are cold and exclusive.  You feel nothing like home.  You laugh at me when I trip in a puddle or miss the bus and  you confuse me with your funny language and your complicated ways. Some days, you make me feel like the alien I am. 

Germany, being away from home is not always easy.  I think people who say it is are probably lying.  I am not saying that you are not worth it, because, Germany, you are.  But, somedays, like colicy baby, you leave me with a headache on the verge of tears and cursing myself for ever wanting this.    

Those days, I thank God that you have jelly doughnuts, Germany.  Your jelly doughnuts (Berliners or Krapfen) get me through the tough days, the days when I want to give up.   

Germany, I love you but I don't always like you.  Luckily, I always like jelly doughnuts.  

Living room part 2

Since I couldn't post them all yesterday, I decided to post a few more pictures of our living room today.  Today's been gloomy so we have been really lucky that we have such a great place to relax.  There are also a few pictures of our little entry hall and the stairs that lead up to our bedroom. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Living room part 1

Flowers from Peter for Valentine's Day.  So late-wintery with the branches and very fragrant (and so much more creative than roses). 
Today I finally bring you the tour of our living room!  It's been a long time coming, but I finally got things together enough to take a few pictures this morning.   It's a work in progress, of course, but it's already quite comfortable.  Lucky for us,  a great place to unwind at the end of the day.  

So happy with the gray wall.  Plan to switch out the gold blanket on the back of the couch with a citron or bright yellow one for spring. 

Love this bottle sitting on our bar cart.  The details in it and the wooden cork are amazing.  Can't wait til it's empty so I can use it as a vase. 

The bar cart.  Peter's collection of whiskey and a cute owl candle from my mom. 

The TV area, the wall opposite the couch.  Still very much under construction. 
 Well, I hope you've enjoyed...and don't forget to let me know what you think!  Oh, and be sure to check back tomorrow for part two of the living room tour and a few pics of the entry hall!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Inspiration from around the web

Hope you getting through the midweek hump alright.  After at least 14 days of below freezing weather, we finally made it into the plus degrees today.  Nevertheless, I got a chill in my bones on the way to work this morning and it lasted all day.  Luckily I have a very clean and totally cozy apartment to take refuge in on days like today. 

I wanted to share with you a few adorable interiors that I have seen around the web the last few days.  These places really got me wanting to start redecorating...already...ha!  In all seriousness, though, they got me feeling really creative and the first image I will show you gave me some ideas about the color palette I should use in my beige guest room!

Image by Petra Bindel, via Pinterest.

I love everything about this modern but warm attic workspace.  (The image is by photographer Petra Bindel.) The colorful artwork brightens up the white walls, while still giving off a very fresh and clean vibe.  The busy, plush rug is perfectly juxtaposed by the modern yellow chair.  And I would kill for that black desk.  The vibe is eclectic but pulled together. 

I have been very dissatisfied with the colors I have in my guest room.  But, I tried to imagine this with my beige wall and I think it would work quite well.  I am thinking that black with bright yellows, red/oranges and greens would look good.  It may be time to paint my desk black.  What do you think?  I just can't stop starring at this picture!

Via the veda house.

The next image is from the veda house.  It's the lovely bedroom that I am particularly enamored with.  It's really comfortable and looks like a great place to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.  And, though I'd never have the guts to have black floors, I think they look pretty cool here.  I was also pleased to see that my 2 Euro discount market rugs resemble something more designer-ish.  What do you think about this?  Have you ever thought of painting your floors black?  Would you ever actually do it?

Photograph by Katie Stratton for the veda house.  I love the levels of height and texture here.

Finally, I just have to share a few pictures of the veda house's home tour with Katie Stratton (of Katie's Pencil Box, which you all know I L.O.V.E).  I read Katie's blog everyday and am always inspired by it.  Today she posted some really great advice about making a house a home.  Her house is beautiful and perfectly put together.  I found myself looking at these images, saying, "Hum, what a great idea.  I hadn't thought of that."

Photograph by Katie Stratton for the veda house. 
Katie has a wall which is painted black and surprisingly doesn't look jarring.  I would be so scared to do this, but she pulls it off effortlessly.  The vintage furniture is the perfect antidote to such modern, minimalistic walls.  Although I have my debates about dead animals in the home, the cowhide rug works perfectly in here and I am kind of really envious of it.   She has a great eye, doesn't she? 

Photograph by Katie Stratton for the veda house

What really struck me about the photo above was--you guessed it--the slanted ceilings.  Those and the "A Hard Day's Night" poster to the left of the bed.  I love that the poster is not centered over the bed, that it's slightly askew.  I had never really thought about positioning a picture like that (although there have been plenty of opportunities, with all my attic apartments).  I don't think it would work without the tall red and white striped pillow, which creates a gradual step down from the picture to the linen pillow. 

In my opinion, Katie's keen eye and tendency toward the unexpected are what take decorating from being nice enough to being professional looking (without being the wrong kind of professional looking) and breathtaking.  Going by the rules or being too methodical about decorating can make your home look like a model in a growing suburban subdivision.  Taking risks and allowing your personality to shine through is what really makes your home interesting. 

My advice is to focus on details and to look both at the whole and at the small corners.  By looking at or thinking about the whole, you will prevent yourself from getting rid of something that might compliment your space just because it looks junky in the store (or on the street).  I have to remind Peter to do this all the time.  When I first brought home this chair, he thought I was crazy for thinking it was the holy grail of abandoned furniture.  (It's crushed velvet!  It's green!  It's floral!  It's huge!)  But, I could picture how it would look in our space as a whole.   Now that I have added it to our living room, he has to admit it works with everything else.  It isn't nearly as crushed velvety, green or floral as it looked on the street.  And, it is super comfortable.  He has no complaints. 

That being said, it is not enough to only think about the big picture, because a nice big picture cannot be stunning without a lot of details.  You may have a beautiful bookcase or a big black wall, but it's how you accessorize them that decides if your look works or not.  How is your bookcase filled?  (Books should always be placed into a book case in various directions--vertically, horizontally, slanted--and should never be the only thing in your bookcase.)  Do you have feminine or soft items around the room to tone down the black wall?  Do you have art?  Do you have trinkets? 

Personally, I think all little corners of your home should be filled with many things that you love and/or use on a daily basis.  Paint brushes look beautiful in a glass jar.  Jewelry and nail polish look nice placed on trays on a dresser.  Boxes, books and cups of pens look great on a desk.  Making sure that your home is filled with pretty little spaces (think: things you can easily take a close up picture of, like this) is as essential as the bigger picture when pulling your home together. 

Well, I hope you have liked some of these home and some of my thoughts on decorating for this Wednesday.  As you know, I am not a professional; I am just really passionate (and maybe a little snotty) about decorating.  What are your secrets to a cozy, well-decorated home?  Do you have any?  What do you think about the spaces above?  What are your biggest challenges when it comes to decorating?  Your biggest triumphs?  I am looking forward to having you share!