Category Archives: Life List

The Big To Do List.

Renovation: What We Did – Bedroom Edition

Over the last ten years, or so, we’d rented and stayed in enough of the other apartments that we’d already figured out quite a few things that we did or did not like. We’d also  seen some variations of what you could do with a little place like this.

Most of our decisions came down to how to make this little apartment more spacious and comfortable.

We agreed on a set of mission guidelines and then applied them to every considered structural change or furnishing decision:  Open space, modern convenience, practical whenever possible but also the  occasional splurge on something special, and, without going overboard , some touches of mountain kitsch – this was an alpine vacation place after all.

View through the front door: Bedroom to the left. Minus one kitchen up ahead.

The bedroom in front was one of the more dramatic changes we put in. Originally there were two single beds, built along the walls in an L shape and a large cupboard/closet in the corner that took up most of the standing room when open.

Together with the sofa bed in the living room, the apartment could comfortably sleep four. The last thing we ever wanted to do was sleep apart on vacation, so we’d spent years sleeping on sofa beds and using the front bedroom as a large dressing room – a lot of wasted space for a place so small.

So we ripped out the bedroom wall  Continue reading

Renovation: Unveiling

Oh yeah, about that little vacation apartment. We went from this:


To this:


To this:

Continue reading

Renovation: A Recap


So right before all that reproductive stuff happened, Oliver and I had been in Austria checking out our itsy bitsy little vacation apartment, figuring out what renovations we wanted to do.

There it is!

Here’s a little recap.

* A small idea snowballed and suddenly, almost by accident we bought a little place in the Fall of 2009. You can read more about the why’s and what’s here.

* The original owners had been there since the building was constructed, so it was packed full of everything, including four sets of oil and vinegar. We left everything in place until renovation time, because moving anything left a gaping hole. You can see some ‘before’ pictures here.

* In August of last year we drove to Austria to make the arrangements. We had some interesting ideas, including using pink. You can read about my concerns here.

* And then it began. First step: get rid of everything. Everything included all the inner walls. Ouch. See it here.

All caught up? Ok. Renovation is only partly about destruction, tomorrow we’ll see some of the fun parts. Until then, below are some final pics of reaching zero, rock bottom, the empty shoebox.


…and then there was nothing left but the subflooring and some pipes.

I think this used to be the bathroom.

Time to start over from the ground up.

And then there was nothing but the shoe box it came in.

Remember that I said it was more like an Airstream trailer than an apartment?

The best joke I never planned.

Last year on April 1st, when he picked me up from the evening train from Munich, I took Oliver to a nearby hotel bar for a sundowner. After we ordered our drinks, I handed him a gift bag overflowing with colored tissue paper. He pulled out a bundle and unwrapped this book:

"One Man, One Book: Certain things in life that a man should know."

I had my life list, I told him and I knew he had one too, at least in his head. And since he hadn’t written one down, I explained, I thought I would give him a book of ideas to inspire him.

Then I told him to open it to a particular page and read the entry. As he flipped through the pages, I handed him a pen, telling him that he could already check something off.

He took the pen and his eyes dropped to the page. Reaching the bottom, I saw his brow furrow a little. I saw him read it again, the little crease getting deeper.

He stared at the page, and then looked up at me, bemused… or perhaps insulted?

Whatever it was, this was not the expression I was expecting at all. I took the book from him and looked at the page he had read.


I’d intended for him to look at this page:

Maybe I should have included a helpful arrow.

But instead he’d read this page:

(Translation: How to fake an orgasm.)

And that’s how I told him the first time I was pregnant.

(Translation: How to father a child.)

Renovation: Demolition

Hallway and kitchen: Before.

Hallway, bedroom and kitchen: Gone.

Living room: Gone.

Pink bathroom: Gone.

I come from a family of packrats where everything is sacred and has value, unless it’s covered in excrement or on fire. My visits home inevitably include a forced funeral for an old cofffee maker or toaster that isn’t good enough for Goodwill, but according to my dad not good enough for the trash.

What happened to the contents of this apartment was a cardinal sin in my family.

I used to be one of them. But moving around so much during college and then abroad pretty much cured me. Still I tried to give away what I could and I surveyed eBay to see what if anything was worth salvaging. But really, who needs an egg cooker that’s 20 years old?

With a few exceptions, pretty much everything went.  I like to think that the building manager had some local folks come by and collect some of the furniture and that maybe someone grabbed a knick knack or two on the way out the door. But realistically, most everything went into the dumpster.

Out with the old, in with the new.

There and back again.

Rolling back into Nürnberg at about 1 am on Sunday morning, we had just enough energy to have a commemorative bottle of wine and then hit the sack. Sunday didn’t seem too inspiring for doing much more than doing laundry so here I am, the following Friday, still unpacking.

Of course instead of doing that, I’ve decided to download the pictures from the camera and surf important topics on the internet. The clock is inching towards noon and I am still in my pajamas and my hair is pointing skywards, so I’ll keep this brief.

Project Renovation is well on its way. About half of the time we were there was spent meeting with contractors and selecting materials, and sorting out the contents of the apartment.

And what are those plans you ask? In short: we’re gutting the place and starting over.

It’s too bad there isn’t a tool like a potato peeler for apartments that we could just place at one end and drag through to clean it out, because that’s what’s  happening. If it all works out though, it’s going to be really nice and will finally suit our needs.

Most important will be rebuilding the bedroom to accommodate a double bed (instead of two singles) so we can finally stop sleeping on a sofa bed and installing a toilet without a shelf (yay!) so my husband can forget he ever had to learn the term ‘courtesy flush’. Some of you in Germany will know how wonderful a change that last one will be.

Here’s a cow.


Lift List – Wearing the Mink

To Do (in) Life List Item # 72. Wear the mink


One of the first things I noticed when I moved from San Francisco to Munich were the furs. Whereas, at that time in San Francisco, few would have dared venture out on the street in fur without a bodyguard in tow, the women in Munich were fearlessly strutting about. Young and old, not-so-poor to the very rich, as soon as it was cold out, they were all decked head to toe.

Once I got over the  shock of realizing that there were still places in the world unimpressed by PETA terrorist tactics, I also saw (and experienced) the logical reasoning behind it all: it got really damn cold in Germany.

It has to be relatively easy to shame starlets and fashionistas in California into turning away from furs when it’s pretty much too warm to wear them anyway, but it’s a whole other thing to try and do it in a country where you can still freeze to death on the street at noon. Although too expensive today to be considered utilitarian, furs are warm.

It still took me years to decide to ask my mother about my grandmother’s mink. It’d been hanging neglected in the back of a closet for over 35 years.

A hand-me-down from an older sister that married well, it was beautiful and always a little sad there, as if it knew it may never be allowed outside of the house again. But I either never had time, didn’t have space or couldn’t figure out when I would ever wear such a thing, so I didn’t pursue it.

Then after a few years of idle threats, this June my mother finally marched through customs in high summer with the coat over her arm. The right opportunity to wear it didn’t present itself until the last weekend in January, when the temperature dropped, tons of snow fell all over Germany and I found myself about to leave for an over night trip up north to attend a birthday dinner in a nice restaurant without a decent winter coat that I would be caught dead in.

So I decided to wear something dead instead. Here’s how it looked.

I think my grandmother would have approved.

This was taken while at home. To be honest, we were too distracted to take pictures on the trip. Furs are rather scarce up north, it’s more of a Bavarian thing, so Oliver was worried the entire time that I would be attacked by hippies. He busied himself scanning faces for signs of aggression and let documentation of the moment slip.

For the record, I support the ethical treatment of animals. I also equally support the ethical treatment of people. This coat was a loved status symbol for my grandmother, who didn’t have too many nice things. It’s a shame to waste it, so I’m wearing it. This one is checked but not crossed off the list, I’ll keep looking for further opportunities to take it out for a stroll.

Oh, and the feeling? Really wonderful actually. The luxurious weight and smooth swish of it when I walked was delicious. Ooh, yes I could get used to that feeling.

Life List – Not checked yet, but on its way

To Do (in) Life List Item #43. Move beyond the ponytail; Master 5 styles for my hair

When making up my List of Things To Do Before I’m Too Old, I realized that, although it’s been dyed, curled and straightened, I don’t think I can claim to have ever bothered to style my hair in anything but a ponytail. Other than the occasional professionally-done up-do at like, my wedding (skipped prom), that has been it.

Until last Wednesday.

Wait! Before I get to that – my pictures are all in America – you’ll just have to imagine the route that got me here:

Childhood – A massive braided ponytail. Worn every day. Heavy like a horse’s tail, it stung just as badly when wielded as a weapon. Also, bangs.

Freshman year –  Quickly learned that a dorky white  girl cannot wear a red bandanna headband in an inner city school without a WHOLE LOT of negative attention. Otherwise smoothly transitioned to wearing it down. Also, somehow avoided the Big Bang phenomenon of late early 90’s.

Sophomore year – Waves just all of a sudden turned into real curls. I also went freakishly prematurely grey. Very grey.

Remaining high school years – Mostly spent learning to deal with the curls and how to cover the greys. Also, discovered scrunchies.

College – Got up extra early, every morning, to wash and dry my hair into my Julia-Roberts-Mass-of-Curls that had to be just so for me to have a good day.

First Job –  San Francisco + the fog = Back to braids and ponytails. Hair now 75% grey = Dyeing is a way of life.

Germany – After a brief relapse into curls that were accidentally dyed black though a cultural misunderstanding with a Spanish hairstylist and the meaning of the words “not blond”, the  pony tail pretty much became a fixture.

As I said, until last Wednesday.

Here's me before, heading out to the salon.

This is me hoping this isn't a huge mistake.

This is me right afterwards, at a friend's apartment.

The reaction so far: My friends’ four-year old greeted me with polite distance, quickly excused himself and went to bed having no idea who I was. My husband keeps doing double-takes. A large portion of Thursday was spent being approached by co-workers who hadn’t recognized me and thought someone else had snatched my office. It’s like I’ve joined the witness protection program.

I still have to figure out four other things to do with it, but there you are, my new haircut and the first of five new styles.

I think I like it.

I say I have officially moved beyond the ponytail.

Life List – Let’s Tackle a Big One First

To Do (in) Life List Item # 19. Own real estate


Our Christmas present came early this year.

A few months back when I started putting together my Life “To Do” List, I included this one almost as an after-thought. As an kid from a from a middle class American family, this step was just assumed. A lot has changed since I left California and now these predictions about our generation not achieving the same life style as our parents are really starting to hit home. I wasn’t as shocked as some at the outcome of last years’ crisis, in part because I’d already accepted that I had set myself back more than just a few years by moving abroad and starting over from scratch. But I still figured I was bound to get there someday.

Over here in Germany it’s also a bit different. The German version of “The Dream” is to build a house, plant a tree, have a stammtisch and sire a son. But also prominent is the idea that you might skip the whole home-ownership thing and rent your whole life. In fact, in the major cities it’s usually more expensive to own and live in your own home vs renting.

In our case, what has really stood between us and owning an apartment though has been the uncertainty of where we’ll be in 18 months. Financial issues aside, it just hasn’t seemed worth it to go to all that trouble for something we would have to turn around and sell in a few years.

The Carinthian mountains and valley, and the Slovenian and Italian Alps.

Then it finally dawned on us: We do know where we’ll be, at least twice a year, on vacation. In Austria, tucked away in Carinthia is an alp with a little local ski resort where Oliver’s family has been vacationing for over 35 years. Their small apartment, about a 3.5 hour drive from Munich, was our escape whenever we needed some roommate-free time alone. It was where he took me, straight from the airport, when I arrived for my first visit*.

There it is!

The idea finally occurred to us when we were listening to a friend, in a similar situation, who had just shelved house-hunting in favor of renting, choosing instead to invest in a vacation apartment. With his family growing (at last count, three kids), they were facing significantly increased travel costs just to take a weekend vacation. When they learned their favorite hotel was building bungalows, they jumped at the opportunity to buy one. The hotel would even rent and service the apartment when they weren’t there, allowing them to offset a lot of the costs.

That turned the lightbulb on over our heads. Continue reading

Life List – Or – How I plan to learn how to properly prepare an artichoke before I die

It’s easy to drift into a daily routine where the furthest you look ahead is the next week or upcoming vacation. All too often I’ve heard myself saying that I have to do/try something “sometime” and then make no effort or plans to actually go that restaurant, see that town, do that thing.

I realized lately that I was being too relaxed about making plans and I needed a way to remind myself to do more than think about something. I’ve been tinkering with a master “to do” list of sorts for a few months. This is not a new idea; there are some good examples of people doing this online, my favorite though is this one.

I floated the idea past Oliver (my husband who is so organized that I almost expected that he already had a list hidden away somewhere, quietly ticking items off this whole time). He liked it and wanted to do it too. We put our heads together one night and came up with our own rules and lists. We’ll see how good we are at working through them.

Here’s my take on it: Life List. Bucket List. Whatever you want to call it. For me it’s My Big To Do List, a working list of things I want to achieve in my life going forward. Some goals are really big and some are more like tasks or activities, either way, they all fall under the category of things I want to do before I’m dead.

Here are our Rules: The goal is to always have goals, and to always work towards achieving them. The number of goals on the list should be kept at 100, so choices should be considered with care. Once on the list, the goal stays on until achieved. A new one can be added only when one has been crossed off. No cancellations unless it is no longer humanly possible.

Aim for a good balance of short and long term goals – aim low and high, both big and small – too many of one or the other will ruin the fun.

Oh, and have fun.

I’ve parked my list in the menu above. You can click on this link to have a look. Anyone else working on good resolutions or To Do lists this year?