Home for the Holidays: Travel Essentials On the Plane

November 20, 2014



Travel Essentials: On the Plane


As soon as I even start to daydream about a travel destination, my mind immediately goes to: but what am I going to pack? Just as important as what I put in my suitcase is what I'm going to take with me on the plane. There are so many things to consider: comfort, entertainment, food, all those bulky items you don't want to cram into your suitcase. For those who fly often or if you're just like me and hate the fly in general, having the right things with you can help make your experience in transit as pleasurable as possible.

In an effort to make travel over the holidays - especially for those of us trekking halfway around the world - a little more bearable, I've compiled a list of what I think makes for an improved travel experience:

A nice carry-on | Even if you're stuck back in the cheap seats, you can help yourself feel a little chicer when you invest in a nicer carry-on. Not too nice, as you never know you'll be late to a connecting flight and they insist there's only room underneath the plane for your precious investment bag, but nice enough to make you smile and stand up a little straighter when you de-board alongside ratty old duffles and student backpacks. Right now, I'm loving this new print from Herschel.

A change of clothes | If like me, you've experienced a travel snag that meant unexpectedly spending a night somewhere or lost luggage (Heathrow Terminal 5, I'm looking at you), you've learned the valuable lesson that you always, always, put a change of clothes - if not a few, plus multiple underthings - in your carry-on. While you're at it, throw in a travel-sized deodorant, face wash and mascara, so when airlines do throw a wrench in your travel plans, you don't have to look as disheveled as you might feel.

Multi-purpose personal bag | Just the thought of one of my nice handbags in those dingy x-ray bins has always kept me from carrying an actual purse as my 'personal item'. A much better idea? Stow that nicer bag inside a larger, more durable bag so that when it does fall out on the x-ray belt or you end up deplaning on the tarmac to a bus in the middle of a rainstorm, you won't be any worse for the wear. At your destination, you can use this for mini-trips or carrying home market finds. I've been using my large foldable Longchamp tote for this for years and it never lets me down.

Passport organizer | While it might seem unnecessary, I love to have all my documents and papers all in one place when I travel to reduce stress in what can so often be a stressful experience. I love all the paperless solutions our technology provides us these days, but I'm very much a plan B kind of girl: if your phone can run out of juice/not connect right when you need to pull up a reservation, it probably will. Why not have all this info, along with all your IDs and information in a dedicated place, just in case. Ahhh, don't you feel better already?

Small items bag | With so much you want to have at your fingertips while living in a tiny seat for half a day or more, the more organized you are, the more tranquil and easy your travel will be. Some may call bags within bags overkill, but I call it a Type A's travel dream. Plus, I'm always dying to get all my creams and lip balms out of that heinous ziploc bag ASAP. A travel-themed bag makes it all the more apropos.

Layers | Why try to cram even more into your over-filled luggage when instead you can wear more on the plane? Layering up with things like this poncho, even over your coat, means you get more precious space in your checked baggage, more outfit possibilities at your destination and an option to curl up with in your seat beyond those yucky airplane blankets.

Large scarf | Unless you're headed somewhere tropical for the holidays, you're gonna need a scarf when you get there. So why not take your largest, fluffiest one on your person and it can double as a pillow/blanket/personal entertainment tent. I'm obsessed with this one from Zara right now. Ridiculously large and ridiculously soft.

Your bulkiest/easy-on/off shoes | Those people who can go on vacation with one pair - or, hell, even two - of shoes have my admiration for self-control. My handle isn't 'shoegirl' for nothing. Any good holiday will include multiple kinds of excursions, which of course, require multiple kinds of footwear. Travel in the winter means bulky boots, which can take up half your precious clothes space if they go in your luggage. Instead, wear a pair of cozy, yet put-toegther-looking boots (you're not shuffling around your living room, after all) that will be easy to slip on and off for security checks, keep you warm and comfy in transit and be great at your destination. My favorite are UGGs, of the non-elephant-feet persuasion, of course.

Cozy socks | Let's be honest, you can't possibly get comfortable enough to sleep with your shoes on. Well, I can't sleep on planes, period, but I do like to make myself a little comfortable on long flights. I'm not talking breaking out the flannel pants and facial masks (people, this isn't a pyjama party), just comfortable enough to stretch my toes in what little room my super long limbs are allowed. I've stolen a pair of these Wigwam ones from my husband because they are the ultimate in warmth and cushiness. It's the sock equivalent of a slipper. Just remember to slip your shoes back on if you head the lavatory. Eww.

Earplugs and eyemask | If you are one of those lucky folks you can sleep on a plane, you might as well make it as restful as possible. Blocking out the light and noise around you is often the only way. Sweet dreams, traveler.

Snacks | While it's true you don't really work up an appetite being sedentary for hours and hours on end, it helps to get some food at some point in your travels. There might be meals or snacks for purchase, but if you have food restrictions, like myself, there's never a guarantee. After reading several accounts of folks requesting GF meals but never getting them, not to mention the thought of multiple layovers with perhaps one terminal restaurant serving a safe option for me on the opposite end of the airport, I figured I'd better be safe rather than starving and bring my own food. These bars have been a staple in my bag at all times, the solid fruit and nuts packing a serious filling and nutritious punch. Plus, they are super delicious. Find what what fills you and slip a few in your carry-on.

Facial mist | It may seem like something only those pampered folks up in first class would do, but for good reason. Airplane air is devoid of moisture, which does the same for your skin. Slathering on layer after layer of creams can just turn your face into a greasy mess, so I like to live as the better half do and bring a travel size bottle of this stuff in my carry-on for a little bit moisture whenever I'm feeling parched. Just don't forget to do touch-ups if you're wearing make up to save yourself from looking like an Alice Cooper wannabe.

Noise-cancelling headphones | Those slightly-inhebriated guys that think they're hilarious. That baby crying. The deafening whir of massive engines keeping you thousands of feet in the air, hurtling along at hundreds of miles per hour. Sometimes, amidst a plane full of people, all with different ideas of how to spend their time, you don't want to be reminded you are captive for an unnatural amount of time with all these strangers. Some good noise-cancelling headphones are worth their weight in gold on the long hauls to restore your sanity. Santa, you wanna hook me up with these beauties for my return flight..?

Back-up battery | Too many hours and too few connections with time to scout power outlets to recharge before the next leg of your journey can mean the technology you so greatly depend on to keep you busy during your travels can fail you. Having a back-up power source to save you when the on-flight entertainment is a disappointment can be a lifesaver.

Before boarding, I always buy a large bottle of water (do you really want to be that person who keeps flagging down the flight attendants for constant refills for your Saharan-like insides?), as well as some magazines that feel like a treat and can distract you from turbulence when concentrating on a book is out of the question.


How about you? What are your go-tos for traveling?

Ace & Tate Glasses Home Try-On

November 18, 2014

ace and tate eyeglasses home try-on collage art jane george dustin
I was one of those kids in grade school who, while all my classmates were getting called 'four-eyes' and suffering through orthodontia pain, actually wanted to have glasses and braces. Perhaps it was because I knew I was a true nerd at heart, or perhaps I just liked the idea of looking smart, but I eventually got my wish - in spades. The braces I had for five long years, all the way through my first year at university (*ugh*), and my vision has gotten progressively worse, making day-to-day functioning without glasses an impossibility. My overly-sensitive eyes are grateful that glasses are still trending in a big way and that marketplace for affordable frames is growing larger all the time.

ace and tate glasses home try-on art in greyhound grey

Like Warby Parker and Jimmy Fairly before it, Ace & Tate is the newest kid on the block selling on-trend, affordable frames and donating to those in need with each pair sold. Based out of Amsterdam, this eyewear is available in Netherlands, Germany and UK. Similar to Warby, it offers home try-ons free of charge and a few locations at which to try on a sampling of frames in person. What particularly attracted me to the company was its positioning, not just as affordable eyewear, but as a stylish brand that understands that us fashion-loving folk enjoy changing up our glasses as much as our shoes or bags. Finally, a company that gets it!

ace and tate glasses home try-on jane in spotted havana

After my last attempt at getting Warby frames over here - via my mom in the US - which was a shipping (looked as though they had run over the package, repeatedly) and customs nightmare (interrogated me, made me wait an hour, then charged me an arm and a leg), I realized I should try to find affordable frames offered in my own country. Since I hadn't bought a new pair of glasses myself for a year and half, I figured it might be time to start looking again. So I began with Ace & Tate.

ace and tate glasses home try-on george in fudge havana

Since my visit to the Voo Store, which stocks some of Ace & Tate frames to try-on, left me wanting to see more colors and styles in the light of day, I placed my order for a home-try on box. There's just something about being able to stare critically at yourself in the mirror (or in my case, having to take selfie after selfie because my vision is so poor, I can't actually see myself in the mirror without my glasses on) without a store-full of people watching you. Needless to say, having five days to try out frames in one's daily life is ideal, and thankfully, Ace & Tate lets you do just that.

ace and tate glasses home try-on dustin in bio black 2

I placed my order - free, with a credit card hold - and five business days later, they arrived. The slim, paper-covered package felt special, but I realized the brilliance of it when I unwrapped it to uncover the pre-posted return label on the box underneath. All I had to do after my five-day trial was simply seal it up and drop it off in a mailbox. Easy-peasy. Furthermore, when I opened the box, I was seriously impressed with quality of the frames. Designed in its Amsterdam studio, frames hand-crafted at a family-run factory in northern Italy (save a few of the sunglasses styles, which are made in China) and lenses custom cut in a Dutch lab, these are a Europhile's dream. These felt surprisingly sturdy and well-made for such affordable frames.

ace and tate glasses close-up made in italy

Getting to live in these for a couple of days is eye-opening. The Art frames in greyhound grey were at the top of my list, but after trying them on, they felt a little uninspiring and falling too on the taupe side of grey for me. The George was a very nice shape and color, but similarly did not wow me. The more feminine Jane frame, which isn't my usual style, was surprisingly flattering, though the color available for home try-on was not the one I would choose. The Dustin in bio black felt like another possible winner, bold and black to match most of my current sartorial choices. With this experience surprising as it was, I might just order another home-try to see if there are more styles that might be just what I am looking for.

How about you? Which ones do you like?

ace and tate glasses home try-on box with instructions and personal note

While I may wait to try on some Warby Parkers while I'm in the States next month before making a decision on new eyeglasses, I have definite plans to purchase some sunnies from Ace & Tate. Unlike some other companies, Ace & Tate does not charge more for prescription sunglasses, nor for thinner, high-index lenses (very generous for someone with stronger vision needs, like myself), making them the most affordable prescription sunwear I've seen yet. I think I'm leaning towards the Robin or maybe the Bradock... Decisions, decisions.



All the opinions are my own, I have not been compensated or paid in any way. I only write about products or companies I believe in.

Lichtgrenze: 25-Year Anniversary of the Fall of The Berlin Wall

November 14, 2014

Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons along Spree river at Bürgeramt Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus

The Berlin Wall came down when I was 10 years old. Living in California, we had just experienced the Loma Prieta quake and were still cleaning up, rebuilding and a bit shell-shocked ourselves when Berlin had it's own life-changing event. I vaguely remember seeing news footage of The Wall being broken down and people celebrating, but world events weren't high on my list of interests in the fifth grade. Even so, I was too young to understand what had happened before to make a simple city wall coming down such a momentous occurrence. It wasn't until I was living here in Berlin, and until this anniversary celebration that I began to witness the impact for myself.

Last weekend, Berlin put up the art-installation Lichtgrenze (light border) to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of The Wall and the success of the Peaceful Revolution - 8,000 white balloons lining 15km of its former path through the middle of Berlin - which lit up in the night. The balloons, which had personal wishes and messages attached, were released into the air on the evening of November 9th, the same night that marked the beginning of the end of The Wall. But it was not only the continuous line of lights that really drove home the city's divide, but the stories that reminded us of all the people who lived - and those who lost their lives - during this tumultuous time. The 80-year-old woman who leapt out of her apartment window right where the wall was starting to go up, but broke her back in the attempt to flee. The man who was shot when caught as part of a group escaping the East through underground tunnels, the truth of which only came out after the fall of The Wall. The young soldier who took a chance trying to get a little girl back to her family, separated in the chaos and haste with which The Wall was going up.

These 'Wall Stories', stationed every 150 meters along the Lichtgrenze, were telling of the way of life around The Wall. The oppression. The violence. The sadness. Rare video footage from the time was also shown on large screens at several notable locations along the path as well, showing everything from politicians to soldiers to sobbing children saying goodbye to family that ended up on the other side. At once upsetting and uplifting, experiencing these reminders of The Berlin Wall brought to life this time in history and just how monumental The Wall coming down was for the people of Berlin back then. Without this moment in history, I'm almost sure we never would have ended up living in this city and it certainly wouldn't be the amazing place that it is today. We were very lucky to have been a part of the celebration, 25 years later.


Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer Russ and Bailey dog walking between memorial and line of celebration balloons Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ Berliner Mauer sidewalk plaque Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ film set up at Kapelle der Versöhnung Chapel of Reconciliation Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ line of balloons on sidewalk with people walking past Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ Bernauer Strasse 1961 photograph wall mural Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ white balloons through Mauerpark with dog on the grass Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons at night along Spree river at Bundestag Paul-Löbe-Haus
Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons along Spree river path with Fernsehturm TV tower in background Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons at night along Spree river from Bundestag
Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons down Norwegerstrasse and along Bornholmerstrasse Bridge Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloon against night sky and moon
Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons up graffiti stairs to Bornholmer Strasse Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons down Norwegerstrasse to Fernsehturm TV tower from Bornholmerstrasse
Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons down Schwedter Steg

The Great Gluten-Free {German} Pretzel Taste Test

November 6, 2014

Germany gluten-free pretzel taste test_ 3 Pauly Seitz and Balviten brands with hummus

Being diagnosed with celiac whilst living in the land of beer and pretzels almost seems like a cruel joke. But as I've discovered with the ample baking I've been doing of late, being gluten-free doesn't mean giving up all the good stuff, or even the things traditionally made with gluten. While my first try with gluten-free beer was a bit of a bust (made me terribly ill), I've been a pretzel-lover long before I called Germany my home and was committed to finding a good gluten-free option. And so I set off on a taste-testing mission to find a safe version to satisfy not only my snack cravings, but my rather high food standards as well.

I will say up front that I did not include Schär pretzels, the ubiquitous brand for the gluten-free in Germany, because frankly, I think they suck and refused to buy them again solely for the purpose of this review. They belong in that category that I so often hear other celiacs refer to as "it's not horrible...", but that's not how I want to eat. I want to enjoy all my food, regardless of what it's made of. Gluten is not the answer to good food, as so many people are lead to believe with sad options like this. Amongst the first processed GF foods I tasted, these pretzels made me nearly cry with disappointment and I swore to never again feel so let-down by gluten-free foods. Thankfully, there are much better options out there.

I found an assortment of stick pretzels at a gluten-free online retailer I order from regularly and set to work over lunch one day last week. I had my husband weigh in for a second opinion, but as our dog wolfed down pretty much every one we let her try with no discerning preference, alas, there was no tie-breaker vote for the best ones. We ate them plain and dipped in our favorite lemon-coriander hummus, for different taste experiences. Good news for those with other allergies: these are all lactose-free and the first two claim to be safe from nut contamination as well.

Here is what I found...

Germany gluten-free pretzel taste test_ Polish Balviten Paluszki z solą salty sticks salzstangen

Balviten Paluszki z solą (Salty Sticks)

These long, thin pretzels from Poland seemed most like 'regular', made-with-gluten pretzels we had tasted before. The salt was not overwhelming and because of it's super-slim shape, it was more of the light, crispy outer part than the denser, more starchy consistency of heftier pretzels. My husband declared these his favorites, but there was something a bit chewy about the insides, almost as if they were a bit past their expiration date (they weren't), that turned me off. But I'm a big texture nut, which is often times just as important to me as the taste. I'm also partial to a snack that feels a bit more substantial, not making one down the whole bag in order to feel satiated. That said, these corn-based sticks are a good option for a light pretzel that makes you wonder why you ever ate gluten in the first place.

Buy them here


Germany gluten-free pretzel taste test_ 3 Pauly Mais salzstangen

3 Pauly Mais Salzstangen

These were the thickest and saltiest sticks of the bunch, with a slightly more airy consistency than the others. The light, nutty taste balanced well with the salt, but something inexplicable fell a little short for both of us on this one. On their own, they were a little lackluster, but it was as a dipping pretzel that these seemed to shine for their thickness, consistency and flavor. These seemed the most like a GF option trying to replace a gluten-filled one, rather than standing on its own as a good pretzel, regardless. While called 'corn salt-sticks', they are made from both corn and potato. With a flavorful dip, these are a solid option.

Buy them here


Germany gluten-free pretzel taste test_ Seitz salzsticks

Seitz Glutenfrei Salzsticks

Perhaps because I was a die-hard fan of Newman's Own thick pretzel sticks in the States (pre-diagnosis, of course), these sticks with their solid crunch quickly became my favorite. They are the heartiest of the bunch, harder with a more distinct, browned outer flavor that I just love. These had the least salt of them all and the strongest flavor, which is why I thought they stood up well on their own as well as with dips. These corn and rice pretzels are now regulars on my gluten-free online orders, but for those looking for a more traditional, lighter pretzel experience, you might be happiest with the Polish brand.

Buy them here


Germany gluten-free pretzel taste test_ lemon coriander hummus for dipping

And if you can get your hands on this fantastic hummus, that made me change my entire stance on hummus, I would highly recommend adding this to your GF pretzel, or other cracker/chip, routine. (We found it at denn's Biomarkt)

Happy snacking!

Traveling to Portland, Oregon

November 4, 2014

Portland Oregon_ boats and bridges_ photo by D. Kelley

After hemming and hawing over the dates - and waiting for my husband's frequent-flier miles to get high enough - it's finally happening: I'm headed to the States for the holidays. It has been over three years since I've been back in my home country and five since I've spent a Christmas outside of Germany. At this rate, I wonder if what used to be reverse-culture shock during my trips 'home' will now just be culture shock from the way of life that is now so foreign to me.

What has me particularly excited is that I will be spending a month at my parent's new home in Portland, a city I have never been to, so it will feel like a real holiday. Consistently voted one of the best cities to live in, both in US and internationally, Portland is clearly more than just the hippie-vibed ridiculousness of Portlandia. Apparently, it reminds my mom a lot of her previous laid-back home on the California coast, just without all the drug problems and weekly stabbings. It also gives Berlin's lush green spaces and waterfronts a run for their money. Add to that a West Elm and a Target, and I'm already a fan.

But really, aside from seeing my family for Christmas, one of the things I'm anticipating most is the food. More importantly, all the gluten-free food. Ever since my celiac diagnosis, travel as a way of life for us has taken a major hit. Everything from jetting to to far-off lands where they don't understand what gluten even is to just staying with friends whose entire kitchens are contaminated with the stuff, eating safely away from home has seemed a dangerous prospect. But Portland, oh wonderful Portland, has countless restaurants and food trucks - and even a brewery, for goodness sakes - that are 100% gluten-free. That means I can eat out at any number of spots without hounding the wait staff for every details of their food preparation or risking accidental glutening from an unknowing kitchen and set my already glacially-slow recovery back even further. Compared to the few Berlin spots I can eat at worry-free, it seems Portland is a celiac's paradise.

Of course, somewhat begrudgingly, I will have to do more than eat. I am greatly looking forward to exploring this beautiful city and hopefully some of the surrounding areas. So if anyone has any recommendations of great things to see and do, or great gluten-free restaurants, please let me know in the comments. In the meantime, will be counting the days until I get there, watching Portlandia and planning my tour of GF baked goods and food trucks.


*Thanks Mom, for the lovely photo.

Eating {gluten-free} in Berlin | Herr Nilsson Godis candy shop

October 31, 2014

Herr Nilsson Godis Berlin_ Scandinavian candy store_ Godis sign in shop over candy bins

It only seemed right that on All Hallows' Eve I recognize a place that, amongst all the gluten-filled packaged candy mocking me with their tasty-yet-dangerous promises, is an oasis of gluten-free options for sweets in Berlin: Herr Nilsson Godis. I discovered this Scandinavian candy shop, conveniently located right in our neighborhood (with a second location in Friedrichshain), through a fellow Berliner who Instagrammed it's sugary goodness, beckoning me to make a beeline there immediately. The charming Swedish name - 'godis' means candy, adorably close to the word 'goodies' - made me love it even more.

Inside the small shop, one wall is lined with all manner of fruity and sugar-coated treats, while the other is composed of mostly chocolate and liquorice. Then there are all of the jars of larger, sugar-coated tubes, candy necklaces and specialty Scandinavian imports. You can choose your bag, large or small, and fill it up till your heart's content. There are even logo-emblazened goods like tote bags and glass jars to be filled with treats and given as the best gift ever. That smiling, hopped-up-on-sugar monkey logo dares you to make your choices without breaking the bank or falling into a sugar coma before you get to the end of the block. Even adults will have a hard time not feeling like a literal kid in a candy store, resisting the urge to run around as if in Wonka's wonderland, tasting everything on display. Now if only they had a giant gummy bear tree...

The best bit? Not only do they have tons of gluten-free options, but all the candies are labeled for any food allergies or preferences you may have: contains gluten, may contain gluten, contains nuts, vegan, etc. It is a merciful beacon in a landscape of all the places I could no longer enjoy post-celiac diagnosis. It is often hard not to feel left out when seeking out goodies for special food needs, but Herr Nilsson Godis lets everyone get their sugar rush on without relegating us sensitive types to the unsavory world of carob and the like, which really only masquerade as real sweets.

So it is on this sugar-centric holiday that I pack my little bags full of sour watermelons and cinnamon-dusted chocolate-covered almonds, my Herr Nilsson favorites, and head off to my first-ever big-screen viewing of the original classic "Halloween" later tonight. Who says Halloween is just for kids?


Herr Nilsson Godis Berlin_ Scandinavian candy store_ tasting sour watermelons and cinnamon-chocolate almonds in bowls Herr Nilsson Godis Berlin_ Scandinavian candy store_ candy jars in the shop Herr Nilsson Godis Berlin_ Scandinavian candy store_ food allergy information sign in shop
Herr Nilsson Godis Berlin_ Scandinavian candy store_ chocolate candy bins Herr Nilsson Godis Berlin_ Scandinavian candy store_ fruity candy bins
Herr Nilsson Godis Berlin_ Scandinavian candy store_ logo tote bags Herr Nilsson Godis Berlin_ Scandinavian candy store_ shop shelves with imported treats Herr Nilsson Godis Berlin_ Scandinavian candy store_ shop front

Herr Nilsson Godis
Stargarder Strasse 58
10437 Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg
S Prenzlauer Allee / Tram 12 Stargarder Strasse
Tel: 030 604 086 86
Additional location on Wühlischstraße

Our Berlin Apartment: A Completed Kitchen

October 29, 2014

Berlin apartment_ kitchen counter sink and GRUNDTAL Ikea wall storage shelves and hooks

The silver lining to my celiac diagnosis a few months back was that it kicked our kitchen projects into gear. Since our home budget was going towards replacing all our kitchen items that could be contaminated with gluten - everything from cooking utensils to anything with a non-stick coating to all my bakeware - we figured we would just focus on the whole room and finally get it done. We had the basics in place, like bottom cabinets and our larger appliances, from our major Ikea kitchen design at move-in, but there were still many things left un-done.

Unexpectedly buying all new cookware and appliances meant the cost to finish the rest - mainly wall storage and lighting - had to be kept in check. I decided I could live without fancier lighting fixtures and forgo the pricey solid stainless shelves I had wanted, so we headed back to none other than Ikea for the rest. Instead of the EKBY shelves, we got the bargain GRUNDTAL for our plates and bowls, which also conveniently allows for hooks to hang pans and strainers on. For smaller glassware, we used a combination of GRUNDTAL pieces - rods, hooks and wine glass racks - and a LIMHAMN shelf for drinking glasses that satisfied my craving for a solid stainless steel shelf at a reasonable price. Finally putting together the incredible 30€-a-piece UDDEN upper cabinets (now discontinued, I believe) we had bought months earlier and mounting them on the far ends of the main wall helped anchor the space, not to mention gives us some place to throw more cluttered items that we can keep out of sight.


Berlin apartment_ kitchen string shelves on black wall with food storage jars
My beloved knock-off string shelves (scored on a Monoqi flash sale) on the opposite wall were put up with the plans of displaying food stuffs in glass jars to inspire cooking from scratch, so I finally got around to adding the Weck glass I'd been coveting to my collection of Ikea jars for convenient storage. I was smitten since the first time I was served Müsli in one of those adorably glass-lidded, strawberry-logoed little gems one brunch back in Wiesbaden. Even better, I since discovered that, conveniently living in the country that Weck glass hails from, it can be ordered directly from the manufacturer at a fraction of the cost it is in stores or on Amazon. So I bought a few different-sized sets, all with the same size opening for mix-and-match tops, along with glass and Tupperware-like lids. Now they act as display, storage and leftover containers in the fridge, and the smaller ones are even the perfect size for yogurt or dessert bowls. I can't recommend these seriously hard-working multi-tasking containers enough.


Berlin apartment_ kitchen pantry GRUNDTAL Ikea storage shelves above door
The pantry - which we are incredibly lucky to have in Europe, land of almost no built-in storage - worked out just fine with a combination of old shelves that we had brought with us from the States and from our previous apartment, including high storage above the door. In my dreams, there would be clean, coordinated built-in shelves all the way around, but there are realities to accept (1) when you rent, and (2) when you are an expat that may decide to move to another country on a whim, which makes such permanent investments frivolous, at best. We have plenty of space for food, dishes and cleaning supplies in there, which is more than good enough for me.


Berlin apartment_ kitchen pantry with shelves organization Berlin apartment_ kitchen RANARP Ikea white pendant lights with black wall and shelves

Finishing touches like lighting and other decor proved easier and more affordable than originally planned. I stopped fighting the aversion to all-things Ikea and decided on the RANARP fixtures, which I love and already have small wall-mounted ones above our bathroom sink. The gold accents and black-and-white knit cords add just enough special detail to elevate these from just another cheap fixture to something clean, modern and worthy of a more design-oriented look (they're also on serious special right now at Ikea Germany through mid-November!). Going from one fixture to two in this window-less room has made all the difference in the world. A small but impactful detail was the addition of Instagram magnets (via Sticky9) on the fridge. They are fantastic for getting all those Instagrams that sit virtually on your smartphone into real, tactile life while making a uniform and organised display out of something personal. I must say for the price I was expecting a bit more substantial magnets with crisper image quality, but as someone who is hardly crafty enough for DIY and with its generous three-for-two set deal a few months back, it was definitely worth it to bring colorful pops to an otherwise black and white room.


Berlin apartment_ kitchen refrigerator with Instagram magnets and Fiestaware pitcher against black wall

Berlin apartment_ kitchen Ikea black cabinets and large stainless steel sink
It's also worth noting that the extra large, stainless steel sink I had my heart set on back when we fist designed our kitchen, the one that every single Ikea employee who helped us fought me on because of the concessions it meant for the rest of cabinetry to be built around it, remains one of my favorite parts about our kitchen. It's deep enough to not have to do dishes the minute they get dirty without that pesky pile-up around the sink (OK, not usually) and the extra-wide cabinet below perfectly houses all our recycling bins (German are serious about recycling - I've even heard you can be fined for doing it wrong), keeping them organized and out of sight. The only small complaint I have is for the heavy-duty faucet I chose, which while convenient and damn gorgeous, sits a bit too high above the sink and often ends up spattering my counters with water profusely when I wash dishes.

As always, I still feel there are little tweaks I'd like to do - more graphic neutral-colored linens, nicer lighting in the pantry, some under cabinet lighting for better food preparation and photography, and perhaps some framed art for the black wall - but at least now there is enough lighting that I won't unintentionally chop off a finger mistaking it for a carrot and a place to put most of our things. It's taken a bit longer than I'd like, but having a finished space that I designed myself (hooray for higher counters and cabinets for us tallies!) where I will be spending a lot of time working on my new life of gluten-free cooking makes me seriously happy, not to mention feeling even more at home.


Berlin apartment_ kitchen Weck glass container with almonds


Music Monday: Lucius (in Berlin next month)

October 27, 2014



There's something to be said about the whole package in music. Back in the day, groups not only had to have talent, but they had a look. Coordinating hairstyles and sparky dresses were de rigueur. Sure, it's all for show, but growing up in a time of flannel-shirted and stringy-haired musicians, I can't help but be smitten with band members that work as hard on presentation as they do on their pipes.

Lucius is all about this throwback style, complete with coordinating haircuts and a '60s-esque, lullaby sound to match. Their big hit "Turn it Around" begs you to dance and clap along, while this Lennon cover shows they have the vocal chops to be more than just two lead singers in matching outfits. I can't help but be a fan.

I for one will be slipping on a mini skirt and painting on some thick-winged liner - all the while fighting the urge to chop some super short bangs over my sink - and heading to their show here in Berlin next week, my first live music in far too long. Who's with me?

The Look for Less: The Furry Clutch

October 24, 2014

The Look for Less: The Furry Clutch

What is it about this turn of the weather that is making me crave all things soft and fuzzy: scarves, jackets, even accessories? Perhaps it has been my rather trying year, having me seek out comforting things. Or maybe it's just the perpetual chill in my bones that make me want, nay, need, to stay warm. Either way, my tactile awareness is at an all-time high.

Lucky for me, faux fur is having a major moment.

Enter: The furry clutch.

It's like the grown woman's equivalent to a teddy bear. It's soft. It's comforting. Best of all, it's meant to be coddled and clutched, just like you know you want to. The more serious fashionistas out there may insist on the monster-face bag, à la Fendi (sorry bargain shoppers, the Zara knock-off is already sold out), but I'm one for a dash of subtlety with my trendy pieces. These single-color versions - from the natural to the outspoken brights - are high on my list for the season. After all, don't we all deserve something warm and fuzzy to make us feel all warm and fuzzy?




10th Berlin Festival of Lights

October 16, 2014

10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral Fernsehturm TV tower pink flower illumination

Having arrived in Germany just in time for the 200th Oktoberfest in Munich, we serendipitously arrived in Berlin for the 10th anniversary of the Festival of Lights. Years back, when Berlin Instagrammers I had started following posted photos of this magical event, I knew it was one for the bucket list. Lucky for me, we now live in this wonderful city and can look forward to this every year.

With my husband away on business and our own romantic stroll through the illuminated city postponed unit next year, I grabbed my new-to-Berlin friend and we headed out to our first light festival experience together. The Berliner Dom (cathedral) was high on both our lists, with its ornate old-European architecture, so we started there. Walking around from the back, we were greeted by stunning lights projected from across the Lustgarten, perfectly backlit by moody, cloud-covered skies, the impact surpassing any photos I had seen. Each new illumination seemed even better than the last, making it hard to tear ourselves away and continue on our tour of lights.

The evening was perfect autumn weather, mild and surprisingly dry, making the stroll down Unter den Linden a very pleasant one. One bike taxi saw my DSLR and heard our English, nearly insisting we get a ride to Brandenburger Tor, as it was 'very far away'. We chuckled at being mistaken for tourists that didn't realize it was only a 20-30 minute leisurely walk down one of the main drags of the city, with more illuminations along the way to see. While we talked about how much we loved our new city - mine for not-yet-a-year and hers for only a week - we took photos and reveled in the fact that neither of us felt ill-at-ease being two women out near midnight in a major European capital. Germany has been good to us, Berlin especially so, and that night was just another reason why we had fallen so hard for this new home of ours.

While I barely made a dent in experiencing the long list of illuminations around the city, it felt like a right of passage to take part in one of Berlin's amazing traditions as an actual Berliner (ahem, Berlinerin). I may venture out again to see more of the festival, running through the end of this weekend, as I am greedy to take in more of this enchanting show. I would highly recommend you do the same if you are in Berlin. Like Christmas and New Year's, it is a year-long anticipation well-worth the wait.

10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral love amore words illumination up-close 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral pink yellow geometric illumination 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral green tiles illumination 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral graphic illumination 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral illumination projection at Lustgarten 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral girl painting illumination 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral geometric illumination reflection on fountain 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Humboldt-Universität floral and water nature illuminations 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Humboldt-Universität waterfall illumination through iron fence 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Humboldt-Universität Juristische Fakultät
10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Station Microsoft Berlin fire illumination 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Station Microsoft Berlin numbers illumination
10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Station Microsoft Berlin front numbers illumination 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Brandenburg Gate Brandenburger Tor crowd illumination


Berlin Festival of Lights, every Octber
see map for illuminations around the city