Music Monday: That Other Hozier Hit

September 1, 2014

While I realize "Take Me to Church" is getting major play at the moment (pretty sure I heard it over a retailer's sound system the other day), I can't get enough of Irish artist Hozier's other big hit "From Eden". His voice. Those instrumentals. Swoon.

After having his entire Spotify offerings on repeat for weeks, I looked into this young man a bit more. Challenging the church he was brought up with and the powerful images from his "Take Me To Church" video portraying the deep-seated homophobia in Russia shows an impressive sense of self at such a young age, not to mention a great humanity. His talent extends beyond even his own music, as proven in his fantastic cover of Fun's "We Are Young". I for one am anxious to hear more from his first full-length album in October, or September if you're lucky enough to live in Ireland.

What about you? What have you been listening to lately?

A Mid-30s Birthday Wishlist

August 28, 2014

Birthday Wishlist: I Like Nice Things

There's something about hitting that halfway point on the journey through one's 30s, one step closer to 40, that makes one rethink the wants in life. Sure, I've always liked nice things, but creeping up towards 'middle aged' makes me think about having those coveted things that will last a lifetime: a leather skirt, a diamond necklace, a beautiful, classic handbag. With just over two weeks to go, here's hoping the birthday fairy is listening!

Nice Things poster | Me, in a nutshell.

Nike Flyknit Lunar2 | I love the knit pattern on this fresh sneaker style - and black is always a classic.

Black leather skirt | This is one of those pieces that I have always wanted, but never thought I could (a), afford or (b), pull off. After seeing Jessie of We The People in hers, I realized it can be more chic than bad-ass, and Mango makes it easy on the wallet.

Pave diamond bar necklace | I discovered this sparkler via lovely Austin blogger Kirsten awhile back and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Definitely a wear-forever kind of piece.

Arquiste for J.Crew No.57 | Notes of aged whiskey and cinnamon? Why, those are the smells dreams are made of.

Monogrammed travel bag | I've always wanted a nice carry-on that makes me feel like a first-class traveller even back in economy. This one's expandable, French and can be monogrammed. Très, très chic!

Leather biker jacket | Granted, I have a leather jacket, but my recent foray into the fairest of hair territory has upped my confidence in making everything in my wardrobe blacker and a little tougher. I love the way this waterfall neckline softens the look.

An everyday bag | This Madewell beauty is called 'the berliner satchel'. I mean, it might as well have my name monogrammed on it.

Classic ankle boots | Flat black boots will never go out of style. This lovely pair has the makings of a go-to shoe, to be resoled over and over again and softened to butter-like perfection.

Black and gold watch | While this little beauty is already sold out, a little birdie told me that there's one with my name on it just waiting to be sent. (thanks, Mom)

Want to see more of the things I covet? Check out my Pinterest board.

Getting Started Living Gluten-Free: Kitchen & Diet Revamp

August 26, 2014

The silver lining to a celiac diagnosis: all new kitchen supplies!
A celiac's kitchen_ all new cookware and appliaces

After some big moping - and probably a bit too much retail therapy - following my celiac diagnosis, I realized it was time for the self-pity to stop and the repairing of my body to start. After all these years of feeling foggy, bloated and just off, I finally had an answer, and a clear path of how to make it all better. I just had to get on the gluten-free train and stay there. The more I poked around on the internet, the more amazing-looking recipes I found, even for some of my favorite baked goods like cupcakes and banana bread. I was shocked. I could still bake without wheat flour? Who knew that flour also came from rice, corn, buckwheat, millet, sorghum and coconut? I sure didn't. I knew then that all was not lost and was convinced after tasting a few winning recipes that I would not feel deprived by what I did get to eat. A whole new world of cooking opened up to me and I'm diving into it, head-first.

A celiac's kitchen_ new baking recipe orange creme cupcakes A celiac's kitchen_ cooling a gluten free banana bread

Before I could even think about cooking, which frankly, was the only way I was going to be able to eat, we had to completely gut our kitchen and pantry. Apparently gluten for celiacs is a bit like peanuts for those with peanut allergies - even a microscopic amount can have disastrous consequences. While gluten doesn't always have the instantaneous and obvious response of peanut allergy sufferers, it can leave one sick for days with stomach flu-like symptoms, not to mention backtrack intestinal recovery in a significant way. After this disease has already driven me to the point of hospitalization and weekly iron infusions, I was not going to take any chances.

With my husband on board with making our home a 100% gluten-free zone and eating gluten-free with me, we set to work. Every kitchen cabinet was opened, sorted and cleaned. The oven was sprayed with heavy-duty cleaner and meticulously scrubbed no less than four times. All wood, plastic, bakeware and essentially anything that could contain traces of gluten went in the 'must go' pile. We even had to take the wood top off my high work table, as it had seen many a flour-covered day of cookie dough rolling, tortilla pressing and baked good mixing. Sticky gluten makes the best of friends with porous wood.

A celiac's kitchen_ getting rid of everything contaminated with gluten

Letting go of my ample cake and muffin tin collection was easy compared to what was next: the pantry. Everything came out so that the pantry could be scrubbed down as well, but it was the review of every single item with a fine-tooth comb that was most exhausting. Here I thought deciphering processed food labels with their plethora of unpronounceable words was hard, doing it German felt like my head might explode. Anything that made the cut, we wiped down and put in a pile to go back in the pantry. Gluten-containing foods (I'm still mourning the loss of my beloved jars of speculoos...) went either in the trash or the giveaway pile. The questionable ones, of which there were many, went into a bag to be researched. Some of the offending foods were not all that surprising - corn chips and corn four that stated they 'can contain gluten', often from cross-contamination in the growing or processing stages - but there were some, like a jar of nutmeg, that contained a stabilizer that is on the verboten list and had to replaced with a purer form from the bio store.

We do a lot more shopping at the bio store now for the products filled with fewer additives and other gluten-offenders, meaning that unfortunately it is quite a bit more expensive to be a celiac. I like to think that our lack of eating out helps balance this out, but I'm not sure that's always the case. When I really think about it though, isn't this how we always should have been eating? Fewer cheap additives and more actual nutrition? The body is a temple, as they say, and why hadn't we been treating ours as such? Because it's cheaper? Easier? Probably a bit of both, but now my health was raging against the machine that is modern processed food, so I had no choice but to listen.

A celiac's kitchen_ online gluten free food order

I was able to take solace in the new ingredients I was discovering and the new recipes I was trying. Ordering harder-to-find flours and processed foods* - let's be honest, there is still a place for cereal, pasta and the occasional cracker in my life - felt a bit like a treat rather than a punishment. Food that I had neglected to dabble in, like polenta, were brought into my new kitchen with gratifying results.

I mean, does this look like I'm not enjoying what I eat?:

A celiac's kitchen_ new food fried polenta and eggs A celiac's kitchen_ new recipe spicy chicken lettuce wraps and coconut rice
A celiac's kitchen_ old recipe chinese food A celiac's kitchen_ old recipe yellow chicken curry

Even more satisfying was when I examined some of my go-to recipes and realized, hey, these are naturally gluten-free! Favorites like homemade Chinese food (made with new, GF soy sauce) and chicken curry could stay in our regular rotation. These little victories have helped make the transition to living gluten-free not only bearable, but delicious and free of feelings of deprivation. Now, when I pass the smells emanating from a bakery, that's another story...

For reference, here are a few resources I found helpful after being diagnosed and having to transition my diet and kitchen:

Gluten-Free Goddess: How To Go Gluten-free
Gluten-Free Girl: New to Gluten-Free?
Equipping Your Gluten-Free Kitchen - What to Replace
University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center Jump Start Your Gluten-Free Diet eBook

* A note on the alcohol-free, gluten-free beer pictured here: it contains barley malt. Alcohol companies claim that distilling grain alcohols rids it of gluten, but many celiacs have a reaction to any grain alcohols, distilled or not. I got sick from drinking this beer, so it taught me that only personal experience can determine what is actually safe for me to consume.

Berlin Parks | Sunset from Volkspark Humboldthain

August 22, 2014

Berlin Park Volkspark Humboldthain iron fence and sunset beyond One day a few months back, my husband grabbed my hand and said 'we're going for a ride', a knowing smile on his lips. He was rather secretive about where he was taking me, letting on only that he and Bailey has discovered it on a walk awhile back. All three of us loaded into the car (the four-legged among us still terrified of public transport) and headed a short ways away, before parking next to an overgrown, forest-like green space.

As we headed into the park, we could see the sun getting lower through the trees and he urged us to go faster. We crossed fields, climbed stairs and scaled small hillsides as quickly as we could until... we reached the top just in time. The city was laid out before us, bathed in the golden light of sunset, with the background turning the most glorious colors. The juxtaposition of the harsh, jutting iron fence of the former WWII flak tower and vibrant graffiti against the painterly, pastel sky was pure perfection. It was clear this place was a new discovery only to us, with affectionate couples and small groups of friends already set out along the fence, some even bringing sustenance to enjoy the entire length of nature's show.

Between the oohing and ahhing and ample picture-taking, we managed a few moments of out own, holding each other in the warm glow of the day's end and overlooking this great city of ours.

Berlin Park Volkspark Humboldthain bunker platform with graffiti and iron fence framing sunset
Berlin Park Volkspark Humboldthain sunset through the iron fence Berlin Park Volkspark Humboldthain sunset over the city graffiti
Berlin Park Volkspark Humboldthain plane flying into sunset over city Berlin Park Volkspark Humboldthain people and dog watching sunset
Berlin Park Volkspark Humboldthain top of jutting fence and sunset beyond Berlin Park Volkspark Humboldthain futuristic sculpture
Berlin Park Volkspark Humboldthain sunset through the trees

Volkspark Humboldthain
Between Wiesenstraße and Brunnenstraße
13357 Berlin (Wedding)
S1/S2/S25 Humboldthain

My health questions answered: A celiac disease diagnosis

August 20, 2014

Iron to be taken via infusion, the last resort for those who can't absorb it for themselves
iron for IV infusion

Oh 2014, you've really been kicking my ass. This was supposed to be one of the best years of my life: moving to one of the greatest cities in the world, exploring amazing restaurants and creating a new life in an exciting new place. But instead, almost every aspect of our move was disastrous, not to mention the construction crew continually trying to extort all this money we didn't owe (we rent, by the way). Then there was the whole tax mix-up where we were left to live on a fraction of what we were used to for months while it got sorted out. Then, there's been my health. While my overall well-being has felt rather lacking for a while, it was this year that it really kicked me to the curb. It put on gloves and smacked me straight in the kisser. Repeatedly.

Where I last left off, publicly-speaking, was that after my stint in the hospital a few months ago, my health seemed to be improving and I appeared to be getting stronger. Gastritis was the answer and I was on medication to help this condition. Only, it seems when I finally got confident that I was well down the road to recovery, I unexpectedly got booted back to start. Do not pass 'Go'. Do not collect $200. I just steadily started to decline again into fatigue, constant hunger and a strange haze in my brain that made it hard to think clearly. All this despite my medication and twice-a-day iron supplements. When I got scarily close to being sick and passing out immediately after having a burger, a beer and my favorite ice-cream-cookie sandwich (gluten, gluten, and hmm, more gluten), I knew something was still seriously wrong. After another trip for tests with my regular doctor and a last ditch HIV-test on her part to explain my puzzling declining health - which was, unsurprisingly, negative - I was sent to see yet another specialist. In the waiting room, I remained skeptical. I had already been looked over by no less than five doctors since this all began and each one ticked their boxes of questions to ask, always ending with the same quizzical look and a head shake. No idea. If one more doctor should ask if I like meat again, as if I was some secret burgeoning vegetarian, I might just scream.

But as soon as we sat down in his office and started going over my symptoms, I saw that he thought differently than other doctors. Instead of merely going down a checklist, asking all the same questions I had already been asked a dozen times before, he started linking all my symptoms together to offer an explanation: the persistent anemia, the elevated liver levels, the continued fatigue and stomach distress. He thought I had celiac disease. I sort of nodded in understanding, but really, all I knew was that it was some 'wheat allergy'. I was rather surprised since I never noticed any correlation between feeling bad and consuming gluten before, but listened when he went over the signs of celiac and how it pointed to this conclusion. So I had my blood drawn and went home to wait for an answer.

In the meantime, I did research. As I started pouring over celiac websites, my jaw dropped: my symptoms were right on for the disease. Everything from the more tangible headaches, bloating, unexplained liver problems and anemia to the less concrete inability to concentrate, depression and fatigue. I knew in my gut, pun intended, that this is what I had. I had thought this was merely an eat-bread-and-get-a-tummy-ache thing, but my relief at finally finding the answer to all my health problems quickly dissipated as the reality of it set in: this was serious. The Celiac Disease Foundation defines it as "an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine," but it goes deeper than that. That damage it does to the small intestine? Yeah, that means your body can't absorb nutrients, which essentially means that no matter how much nutritious food a celiac consumes, if gluten is still in the mix, those nutrients just pass right through, leaving your body - and your mind - deprived of the necessary vitamins and minerals it needs to function. If this deprivation continues unchecked, it can lead to things like osteoporosis, cancer and even MS. Scary stuff. Way scarier than the prospect of never eating another doughnut.

Since the tests had already been done*, I also spent the week cutting out the gluten to see how I felt without it. I read all these accounts from people who swore that they immediately felt better after making the change, but it seems I was to feel worse before I started to improve. The second full day without gluten, my body reacted in a most unfavourable way, beating me down with food-poisoning-like symptoms. Apparently, when gluten breaks down in one's damaged digestive system, the resulting peptides enter the bloodstream and bind with receptors in the brain that mimic opiates like heroin and morphine, so when you take that abruptly out of your system... well, a drug withdrawal-like experience can be what you get. At least when I got the test results confirming I did in fact have celiac, I was at least thankful I already had a head start in de-glutening my life.

Being the food-lover that I am and realizing the extent to which this would affect my life, this diagnosis came as quite a blow. All those burgers I chowed down on, the weekend brunch spots we had yet to discover, my beloved Krispy Kreme I planned to consume every time I would visit the US, I would have to say farewell to, for good. I admit, I cried over this a lot while waiting for the test results, then had myself a big sob session once the diagnosis was confirmed. Retail therapy as means of distraction has also played a big part. It seems silly, I know. It's just food. Food that was making me terribly, unknowingly sick. Perhaps it's a sentiment of the privileged, but food is a luxury of choice, not to mention a powerful tie to memories. There's a huge emotionality behind it. Thanksgiving at Grandma's, Mom's Christmas cookies, your favorite cake on your birthday. Hungry? Feel like fill-in-the-blank-here? It used to be I could go out and get it. Now, if I'm out and I get hungry, I'd better damn well hope I remembered to stash a gluten-free bar or piece of fruit in my bag or I'm S.O.L. Friends invite you over or out for dinner? That's where that purse stash comes in. Again. It's a complete and total game-changer for what was our usual way of life.

While my heart is still heavy with its recent adieu to gluten, I'm trying to stay thankful that this disease is totally manageable. My focus for now is being kind to my body. Not wanting to risk any possible cross-contamination, eating out is off the table, so to speak, for the time being. Alcohol, coffee and milk are also on hiatus in an attempt to be as gentle and non-irritating on my digestion as possible. You see, once the gluten has been cut out, the body still needs another one-two years to get back to normal. Normal takes time for such a damaged system. So while my gut slowly repairs itself, I am still desperately in need of nutrition and am being hooked up to an IV once a week for iron infusions, since like even the most nutritious food, my iron pills remain mostly unabsorbed. It's been a real test to my aversion to needles, the first session resulting in me passed out cold within the first two minutes of starting the infusion. Thankfully, the second week I managed to stay conscious, with the nurse continually popping her head in with a worried expression, undoubtedly anxious to find me slumped over in the chair. Two weeks down, three more to go. As a good friend said to me, I am facing my fears head on and expect to be a pro with needles by the end of this. Perhaps this warrants another tattoo to celebrate...

first iron IV infusion was tough outpatient iron IV infusions improving

So I am doing all I can to move forward. I'm reading (and translating) labels with a fine-tooth comb, researching, cooking three meals a day, searching for hard-to-find ingredients/GF products online. Needless to say, it's been exhausting on my already taxed system and I still have a bit of an uphill battle ahead. I still have much to learn and even more to understand about where gluten is still hiding in our home. I still have days where my mind seems unable to handle much more than zoning out to a television series and my body can't quite handle the trek to the grocery store. But I have good days too. Days when I realize one of my favorite meals to cook is naturally gluten-free or when I find a recipe for baked goods that has a plethora of comments about how it's just as good as 'the real thing'. I am so thankful for the online resources and community that have already been a lifesaver during this period of adjusting to living with celiac and all its required day-to-day changes.

My hope is that I can share some equally useful information that might help someone who has just been diagnosed feel not so alone, not to mention delicious recipes that are gluten-free - and restores a deep enjoyment of food without any inkling of deprivation. It is my new road, one that I know I will stumble on and perhaps take a wrong turn here and there, but one that I am committed to for the health and well-being of my body and mind. It will get better.

*Changing one's gluten intake before a celiac test can alter the results and provide a false negative. If you think you might have celiac disease, talk to your doctor about what you need to do to be tested.

My first Berlin tattoo

July 25, 2014

esto fortis latin script forearm tattoo_ black and white background Ever since I was a young girl, I knew I wanted to be tattooed. Perhaps it was the influence of my artistic mother, but I always appreciated beautiful things and the idea of having something beautiful on my body forever held a strong pull. I spent my childhood going through all kinds of temporary tattoos while I waited until I was old enough for the more permanent variety. I got two small ones during my college years and while I always wanted more, I never got further than creating a ample Pinterest board of body art inspiration. In recent years, especially once I learned we were moving to Berlin, capitol of some of the world's most talented tattoo artists, I felt the intense desire to add to my collection.

A few years ago, a good friend complimented my strength at a time when I was filled with self-doubt and I knew this was a reassuring reminder that I wanted to carry with me in a permanent way. I had played around with ideas and different languages for a tattoo of words, but nothing felt quite right. It wasn't until I was in the hospital earlier this year, that I was reminded again by someone that we are braver than we think we are. Laying there, looking at my bandaged and IV-clad arm, I was struck with what I wanted. So often we are told to 'be strong' when things are bad, but bravery isn't something that we call upon only when confronted with an obstacle, it's something we harness in a proactive pursuit of the things we want in life as well. It has an almost heroic connotation. It's more than just strength during the hard times, but optimism that we will succeed in the good times as well.

While I liked the word 'brave', English lacks the romance and timelessness that I wanted, so I looked to the language that is the foundation for so many others: Latin. 'Fortis' can be used to mean both 'strong' and 'brave', which seemed to fit perfectly. Antsy to make it happen, I quickly booked an appointment with an artist recommended to me by a Berliner who has script tattoos that I admire.

esto fortis latin tattoo font samples esto fortis latin tattoo font sample on foreaarm

In the more than a month until I was set to be permanently inked in the most visible place I had been tattooed yet, I agonized over exactly what I wanted it to look like. The words themselves are only one piece of the puzzle. This was art, very permanent art, that needed to look as good as how strongly I felt about the words themselves. After many hours of font research, writing samples and several test runs with a black semi-permanent marker, I finally felt I had hit on something. I had taken a font that I liked, reworked the elements I didn't like, linked the words together and extended the beginning and end for that linear look I was going for... and came up with something I thought I would be happy to look at every day for the rest of my life. It was pretty when I looked at it directly, but I almost loved it even more when looking down my arm at it. Seemingly compressed, the rise and fall of the script almost resembled a heartbeat. The way it wrapped around when I twisted my arm gave it beautiful movement.

Tattoo artist Ela Pour at work latin esto fortis tattooing at Pech und Schwefel Berlin

My artist, Ela Pour at Pech & Schwefel, was very patient as we finalized the design details in my less-than-stellar German at my appointment. She was careful not to push me in any direction with the decisions, but was very diplomatic in offering her artistic opinion as we worked on finalizing the design. The last time I had been tattooed was over a decade ago and I admit when we first got started, I had forgotten how painful it was. In all fairness, during my research I had read that the inner arm is among the most sensitive places to get tattooed, so I wasn't too hard on myself about it. Though my latest piece is still relatively small, I did start to feel what I have heard from many who have had much larger pieces done, in that after awhile, you almost 'zone out' from the pain and become rather numb to it. Even so, I'm definitely going to need to channel the reassuring mantra that is now forever in my skin whenever I decide on my next piece of permanent art.

esto fortis latin script forearm tattoo_ from above kate wirth latin esto fortis script forearm tattoo and warby parker burke eyeglasses in shadow Pech und Schwefel tattoo store front Berlin Kreuzberg

Pech & Schwefel Tätowierungen
Mehringdamm 81
10965, Berlin-Kreuzberg
U6/U7 Mehringdamm
030 22509264

Top 10 German Drugstore Beauty Buys

July 22, 2014

Top 10 German Drugstore Beauty Buys

It's funny how when you move to another country, you are so focused on the big stuff - visas, residence permits, communicating day-to-day in a new language - that you can forget about the little things you have to adapt until you're standing in front of a drugstore shelf, tirelessly translating the key words on the fronts of bottles until something sounds like what you are looking for. That face wash you depended on since your teens may not be available in your new home, or as I found out, your skin has changed so much in a new climate, it has a whole new set of requirements.

It can be daunting to embark a major journey for new products that will work for you, let alone in a language you are still working to master, but I've compiled a list of my favorites after nearly five years here from the German equivalents of CVS or Walgreens to help. So if you're unsure of what's worth grabbing at your local dm, Rossmann and the like, take a look at these recommendations to see if there's something that might help fill a need in your beauty line-up.

Essie nail polish

Essie polish is one of the few US treats that don't pass the high cost of importing onto its customers. Bottles of OPI are an ungodly 16€ here, while Essie remains at a reasonable 8€. Still relatively new to the drugstore scene, the color selection is not comprehensive and the displays often go unreplenished for long periods of time, but at least it's quality polish at a good price. This perfect urban grey, Chinchilly, is one of my favorites, but it's hard to go wrong with other classics like Sugar Daddy or Wicked.

Essie apricot cuticle oil

Yes, another buy from Essie, but this is my new favorite product find. It doesn't soften my cuticles as much as I would like, but it makes my nails - especially manicured - glossy and beautiful. Plus, it smells deliciously like apricots.

Neutrogena Norwedische Handcreme

A long-time staple for me in the States, I was thrilled to discover this was sold here in Germany as well. Super thick and rich, this is a must for dry German winters, though my dry skin drinks it up year-round. The regular formula's scent is quite pleasant, but I stock up on the perfume-free version to have at our bathroom sink, my bedside table and in my bag at all times.

Loreal Elnett Haarspray

This European stylist favorite had been smuggled into the US for years before some retailers started to wise up and worked out a deal to sell it to us Americans directly - at a price. Now living in the glorious European Union, where this hair magic hails from, I can get it at a fraction of what they charged to import it in the States (for some reason, it's also much cheaper in Germany than it is in France). Even better, it comes in a multitude of variations - dry hair, colored hair, extra volume, extra strong hold - so you can pick just the right one for you. If you have used it, you love it. It's everything a hairspray should be (soft, lasting hold) and nothing it's not (hard, sticky or gross).

Syoss classic hair color

For the few years that I was a redhead, I relied on Syoss hair color for frequent color refreshes and root touchups. It's super cheap and I found the color was surprisingly better than more expensive hues. When I changed things up to a darker brown, I was equally impressed by the color performance. While I now leave my new platinum locks up to the professionals, if I ever go back to the auburn or brown shades, this will be my go-to.

Alverde NATURKOSMETIK AugenBrauengel

Strangely enough, I discovered this German beauty brand product through a French fashion and beauty blogger. A huge fan of her style, not to mention any beauty recommendation that really works and doesn't break the bank, I was floored to see someone in France importing a drugstore product from Germany because it was that good. I was never a big user of eyebrow product as I always found it either streaky or crunchy or fake-looking, but this product was a game-changer. It's the perfect balance of subtle color and gentle hold that takes your brows to the next level - without looking like you tried too hard.

Maybelline Eyestudio Lasting Drama Gel Liner

Admittedly, I'm not usually a fan of drugstore cosmetics, mascara aside, as I find they under-perform so drastically compared to more expensive brands. So when I picked this stuff up on a whim to replace some of my favorite dried out Bobbi Brown gel liners, I didn't have very high hopes. Boy, was I surprised. Not only is the color strong and easy to apply, but it stays on all day like its more expensive counterparts without fading or flaking.


I originally picked up this reparative oil for my legs that are overly sensitive and irritated from my shift from waxing to shaving last year, but then discovered that it works wonders on my face. Granted, my daily sunscreen routine since my teens has left me with only minor wrinkles thus far, but this stuff seems to smooth and repair what damage my facial skin has endured. I use a couple of drops around my eyes and on my forehead under my face moisturizer and at night, but my skin has shown definite improvement for the year or so that I've been using this. Better yet, it doesn't irritate my sensitive skin the way almost every anti-age product I've ever tried has.

Nivea honey & oil creme seife

Basic, creamy, superb-smelling soap. I rarely will use anything else and even my mother stocks her suitcase with these bars every time she comes to visit.

Garnier Ambre Solaire Sonnenschutz-Milch

A faithful Neutrogena sunscreen-wearer in the States, I quickly learned that Garnier was the European drugstore gold standard for sun protection. Great formulas and range of protection options, I always have a bottle of this stuff with me when I'm headed out in the sun.

How about you? Are there any German or European drugstore products you can't live without?

Stay tuned, as I will be showcasing more beauty buys I count on from the Apoteke (think high-end drugstore) and department/specialty stores...

A little piece of doggy heaven in Berlin: Grunewaldsee

July 16, 2014

Grunewaldsee Berlin_ shores at the dog lake

I had been hearing about the merits of Grunewaldsee for some time, but it wasn't until überlin wrote this post that I made up my mind we had to go - and soon. So once the weather finally looked like* it might be amenable for such a trip, we packed into the car and headed across town with the hopes of giving Bailey something to replace the swimming pool and great big ocean we left behind in California.

After a brief rainstorm upon arrival that threatened our commitment to this outing, we headed into the forest under relatively clear skies in search of this oft-talked about dog lake. But first, we encountered a retriever hell-bent on retrieving - a 'stick' that was actually more of a small tree. We watched and laughed at his determination for awhile, Bailey thoroughly confused since in her mind sticks are made for whittling down to toothpicks rather than carrying proudly. After what we had just witnessed, we continued on, eager to see Bailey's excitement at this new place so clearly dominated by all that makes dogs happy.

Upon first seeing the beach, Bailey raced ahead of us, straight down to the water where a large group of dogs were already running, swimming and playing with each another. It was like a doggy playground, a secluded forest and lake just for them. Bailey eagerly resumed her favorite water game of fetching the stick - which she only does in water, on dry land, forget about it - her eyes gleaming in anticipation of every throw that meant she got to dive back out into the water.

In addition to watching our dog have the time of her life, Grunewald was a treat for us as well. Like so many other green spaces in Berlin, it's a place to get lost in the trees and the quiet, forgetting that the big city lay just outside of its borders. On a hot day, it's a paradise of shade and cool water for both its two-legged and four-legged visitors.

Grunewald Berlin_ forest path entrance Grunewald Berlin_ determined dog with tree branch Grunewald Berlin_ dog with tree branch and confused Bailey Grunewald Berlin_ dog on forest path with tree stick Grunewald Berlin_ forest path Grunewald Berlin_ Bailey dog on forest path in the sunshine
Grunewald Berlin_ bench in the shade of trees Grunewald Berlin_ house fence and excited dog
Grunewaldsee Berlin_ dogs running on beach at lake Grunewaldsee Berlin_ dog coming out of lake with stick Grunewaldsee Berlin_ dog jumping into lake after stick Grunewaldsee Berlin_ dog swimming in lake Grunewaldsee Berlin_ dogs on lake shore after swim Grunewaldsee Berlin_ dog sitting in lake water Grunewaldsee Berlin_ stormy sky weather Grunewaldsee Berlin_ shores at the dog lake

* This is almost always impossible, as Yahoo weather will say overcast while it's bright and sunny outside or even leaving one's apartment in decent weather doesn't guarantee that alternating rain, pounding hail and hot sunshine won't confound the weather report for the length of the journey, as it did for us the day of this outing. Oh, Berlin weather...

Latest Germany home decor discovery: Urbanara

July 10, 2014

Urbanara shop collage home decor linens lighting bedding

Coming from the US, trying to create a home in Germany is hard. The whole install-your-own-kitchen (and lighting and window coverings and bathroom cabinets...) way of doing things can be a shock to an American renter's system, not to mention bank account. But it was the lack of a middle ground in home furnishings that really challenged my interior design sensibilities. It was either that ubiquitous Swedish superstore or specialty shops where light fixtures could run in the four-figures. Where were the German equivalents to retailers like West Elm and Crate and Barrel? As far as I could see, there weren't any. Or at least, any with designs worth putting in a stylish home. There's a reason so many European apartments are filled with Ikea.

Sure, after moving to Berlin, a whole world of opportunity opened up with the plethora of shops, boutiques and flea markets, but the abundance of choice, and time needed to scour said choices, can feel overwhelming. So after nearly five years of unfinished home projects, I've been eager to find a one-stop-shop to fill the remaining holes left in my interior design plans. Something modern, clean, homey. Something not Ikea. Enter Urbanara.

I happened upon its pop-up booth inside Bikini Berlin while exploring with a friend the other week and was immediately drawn to some of the light fixtures hung inside. Just what I had been looking for. A look at the price tag left me slack-jawed. This stuff was affordable. No 500€ light fixtures here. As if I needed to be further sold, the woman there told me everything was online and that my first purchase could be had at a 10% discount. I left with a brochure and visions of Tom Dixon-esque copper lights and graphic throw pillows dancing in my head. Making our home everything I had hoped it would be finally feels within reach - without sacrificing the rest of our lifestyle.

The best of summer sale: shoe edition

July 8, 2014

The best of summer shoe sales

What is a good summer sale binge if new summer shoes are not part of the deal? While I'm quite loyal to my Birks this year, it wouldn't hurt to add some other styles into the mix. These are a few of my favorites, some of which I've been stalking since they first came out, others I only just discovered with the onset of the sales. From simple flats to sexy wedges, there's something for every summer occasion.

Here's to warm weather, bare toes and shoes affordable enough to properly celebrate the season!