Change Up Your Clean Routine

I love a clean house, but I hate giving away the ridiculous amount of time it takes to get there.  I like things to be neat and organized, and I don’t want to have crusty food on the table or crumbs all over the floor.  With three kids, it can seem like nothing is ever clean, and I often want to throw in the towel and give up trying.

However, with a few simple strategies, it is possible to have a clean home in less time.

Are you one of those people that cleans on a certain day or time of the week?  When I was single and also when I was first married, I would spend several hours on Saturday morning cleaning.  Everything got done then: the bathroom, the kitchen, the floors, dusting, etc.

After T-Rex was born, I struggled to keep up with the routine and standards I had maintained for years.  Three or four hours on a Saturday morning was not something I had to give anymore.

Teach your children to clean up their own toys (age appropriately) and, in turn, to be a good steward of the things they have.

Teach your children to clean up their own toys (age appropriately) and, in turn, to be a good steward of the things they have.

Shortly before Screech was born, I discovered Stephanie O’Dea’s Daily 7.  You may know Stephanie from Crockpot 365, a challenge to use her slow cooker every day for an entire year.  Awesome – but I’ll have to save my Crockpot love for another day.

Stephanie’s Daily 7 (based on the The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey) rocked my world.  I loved the idea of having little tasks to do every day so that the house stayed pretty clean the whole week through.  Why not clean the bathroom while you are already there supervising little boys in the shower?  Why not take the extra five seconds to put your dish straight in the dishwasher instead of leaving it on the counter or in the sink?

We don't have a dishwasher - at least not the kind you plug in!  We have to keep things clean because that 19" of counter space you see is all we've got.

We don’t have a dishwasher – at least not the kind you plug in! We have to keep things clean because that 19″ of counter space you see is all we’ve got.

The concept seems so simple – and, it is – but putting it into practice made a huge impact on my household productivity, not to mention my stress level.

The boys love to help by pushing the buttons on the washing machine.

The boys love to help by pushing the buttons on the washing machine.

In trying to make this Daily 7 idea work for me, I realized that not all of her 7 fit my situation, my home, or my personality, so I came up with my own version.  I encourage you to make your own list as well based on the particular needs of your family and living space. Here are mine:

  1. Clean up after yourself and help children do the same.  Duh, but a great reminder.  Be an example – your kids are watching!  Help them to accomplish what you eventually want them to do on their own.
  2. Make beds right away.  If you don’t already do this, make it a habit.  And, along the lines of #1, this is a chore that even very young children can learn to do.  It makes a huge difference in the appearance of your home.
  3. Wipe down bathrooms.  When you’re in the shower, scrub it.  When you’re waiting for the kids to finish their bath or shower, give the rest of the bathroom a quick clean.
  4. Do a quick clean up before naps and bedtime.  Less toys scattered about the house means more focus for me during downtime and at night.
  5. Keep the kitchen sink empty.  Put your dishes straight in the dishwasher.  It’s an extra 5 seconds, but the aesthetic payoff is huge.  If you don’t have a dishwasher (I don’t in Germany), try to wash the dishes right away and stack them in the drying rack instead of leaving them on the counter.
  6. Vacuum the entryway and around the dining table.  These are the areas most prone to debris, and you can eliminate that dirty house vibe with a quick swipe of the Hoover.
  7. Wipe down dining table and kitchen counter.  Simple, but highly effective.

By now, you may be thinking, this sounds GREAT!  But, what about the rest of the house?  I can’t just vacuum the entry way and under the table.  Eventually the rest of the floors are going to get pretty grody.

Before we bought a dryer, I had to wash one load of laundry per day in order to give it time to dry on the rack.

Before we bought a dryer, I had to wash one load of laundry per day in order to give it time to dry on the rack.

What works for me is to do one or two “big” chores every day.  Here’s what that looks like in my house:

  • Monday – Grocery shop, put away food, quickly organize fridge and pantry.
  • Tuesday – Wash sheets and towels.  Dry and either fold or put back in their places.  We only have one set of bath towels, so I just hang them back up after they’re dry.
  • Wednesday – Vacuum and mop.  Beat or wash rugs.
  • Thursday – Sort and pre-treat laundry.  Dust house.
  • Friday – Wash and dry laundry.  Meal plan for the upcoming week.
  • Saturday – Fold and put away laundry (can also be done on Friday night while watching a movie).

I don’t have to clean the bathroom or wipe down the kitchen because that’s done daily.  The kids pick up their own toys, and the bedrooms look neat because the comforters and pillows are in place.  This leaves more time for hanging out together, taking care of other priorities, and – of course – traveling on the weekends.

We do the German thing and use a brush to clean up under the table, but if you have a Dust Buster, I'd recommend using that instead!

We do the German thing and use a brush to clean up under the table, but if you have a Dust Buster, I’d recommend using that instead!

You may have noticed I don’t do a Martha Stewart job on my house.  You’ll never see me cleaning my light fixtures with a Q-tip.  My home is meant to be lived in, not shown off.  But, I’ll concede – every now and again the house needs a bit more than the above routine.  So, twice a year we do a “deep clean” in our home.

This little helper is cleaning his own kitchen!

This little helper is cleaning his own kitchen!

Most people do spring cleaning.  I prefer to do a late winter cleaning because it takes me several Saturdays to accomplish such a formidable task.  I’d rather be stuck inside scrubbing on a dreary, cold day than a beautiful, warm, sunny one.  We also do a fall cleaning once the chilly rains begin in late October, again because there’s no advantage to traveling then.

We use our Saturdays for deep cleaning because, truthfully, there just isn’t time during the week.  And, now that the boys are a little older, we can give them easy tasks to keep them occupied and help us out.

I compiled a list of items to be completed as part of the deep clean, and I filed it in my Household Notebook.  I am not publishing it here because it’s specific to my apartment, and you probably wouldn’t get much use out of it.  But here are several links to exhaustive deep clean lists that are extremely helpful when making your own deep clean checklist:

We’re midway through this year’s late winter cleaning, and we should be finished by the time the sun decides to show its face.  Then, we’ll have plenty of time for exploring all that Germany and the surrounding countries have to offer, and a clean home where we can return and relax after our adventures.

Have you implemented any of these cleaning strategies?  Any tips that I may have left out?

Signature-Marigold

Make Four Weeks of Pancakes in 10 Minutes

After my Freezer Meal adventure, I’ve been trying to find ways to keep up the convenience.  I’m always looking for ideas that help me have fast and healthy meals ready to go.

I recently read this statement somewhere (probably on Pinterest) – “We are pancake people.”  And I thought, YES!!!  So are we!!  Every Sunday for almost our entire stay in Germany, I’ve made pancakes for breakfast.  We LOVE this weekly tradition.

But we have no Bisquick here, so all pancakes must be made from scratch.  Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you.  I once bought a few boxes of the healthified version of Bisquick when we lived in the US only to realize that by the time I added all the extra ingredients that I wanted, I may as well have just made the whole thing myself.

And, seriously, making pancakes yourself is SO easy.  And you know what is just as easy??

Making four weeks of pancakes in only a little more time than it takes to whip up just one batch!

We have tried tons of different pancake recipes, and the recipe you find below is my own creation based on years of taste-testing experience.  Note that I use this recipe to make three different pancake bases: plain delicious buttermilk pancakes, cinnamon pancakes, and chocolate pancakes.  Use them either as is or as a springboard to discovering new family favorite flavor combinations.

To add some pizzazz to the buttermilk base, try throwing in some blueberries (fresh or frozen), strawberries (diced or sliced), or mini chocolate chips.  Really, you can add anything you like to this one.

To dress up the cinnamon base, stir in some chopped pecans or walnuts, pumpkin puree, gingerbread spices, or chopped white chocolate.

To add variety to the chocolate base, toss in some chocolate shavings (left over from making amazing chocolate chunk cookies), peanut butter chips, dried cranberries, or toasted, chopped almonds.

Thrifty Travel Mama’s Easy Pancake Mix

1 cup unbleached, all purpose flour (3/4 cup if making chocolate pancakes)
1 cup whole spelt or whole wheat flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder (if making chocolate pancakes – I like lots of cocoa but you can use less)
1 Tbl ground flax
1 Tbl wheat germ
1 Tbl cinnamon (if making cinnamon pancakes – I like lots of cinnamon but you can use less)
2 tsp natural or brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

First, assemble the cast of characters. We’re all about getting some healthiness in with our pancake fix, so this quick and delicious breakfast mix is not afraid to get its whole grain-flax-wheat germ thang on.

Next, get your materials ready. I store my pancake mix in glass jars formerly of spaghetti sauce fame. I assemble my mix on sheets of parchment paper.  You’re also going to need some measuring cups and spoons… obviously.

Start with some good ol’ flour. If you don’t like the taste of whole wheat, try whole spelt.

For the chocolate pancake mix, make sure to only use 3/4 c white flour instead of 1 whole cup. Then add 1/4 cup of cocoa powder and turn that whitey tighty mountain peak into a dark and brooding volcano.

For cinnamon pancakes, give the pile a nice spicy shower.

To all mixes, add two teaspoons of natural, granulated (or brown) sugar. You can leave this out if you’d like or substitute another dry sweetener.

Next, get your flax and wheat germ out. If you need to do this when no one is looking, then so be it!  There’s no shame in sneaking some health food in the family breakfast game.

Finally, swirl some rising magic onto your mountain – add the baking soda and baking powder. A pinch of salt is good but not required.

Carefully gather two opposite sides of the parchment paper together. Gently place one of the folded ends into the opening of the jar. Slowly shake the dry mixture so that it falls into the jar and not all over your counter. If you are running out of room, gingerly tap the jar on the counter to settle the mix down a bit lower.

Whew! Mine just fits. If you’re selected a jar that is much too small for your mix, simply dump the mix back onto the parchment paper and go in search of something bigger. I use jars but plastic zip top bags or containers would work just as well.

You really should make the chocolate mix – it just comes out so darn pretty.

Now gather all the mixes together…

…add fancy schmancy labels to the front….

…and cooking instructions on the back. Mine are super simple so that Doc Sci can be the pancake chef if I need to feed the baby (or want to sleep in a few extra minutes – ha, yeah right!).

Pancake Cooking Instructions

Dump mix into a large bowl.  Whisk ingredients around a few times.  Then, add the following:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups of buttermilk (a 500g container for those in Germany)*
  • 1 Tbl oil (I use sunflower oil)

* – If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make your own or use plain milk.  But, I highly recommend real buttermilk.  It reacts with the baking soda to produce some real dreamy pancakes.

Using a whisk, combine the wet ingredients with the dry just until smooth but not lump-free.  If the batter is too thick, add a few tablespoons of milk to the batter and whisk several more strokes.

Pour pancake portions one at a time onto a hot griddle, and fry until golden on both sides.  I’m not an expert on pancake cooking methods, so if you need more instruction on flipping the perfect flapjack, Google it!

Pancake batter can be whipped up the night before and stored in the fridge until ready to cook.

What about you?  What are your family’s favorite pancake flavors and mix-in combinations?

Household Notebook

I finished my Household Notebook – yay!

Well, “finished” as in as complete as any project done by a perfectionist could possibly be.  I’m doing my best to let it be what it was intended – a tool that our family USES – and not merely a piece of art that adorns my desk.

So, what exactly is a Household or Family Notebook? 

Our family’s Household Notebook – turquoise!

I suppose it’s not the same for everyone; but, for us it’s a collection of documents to manage our family “business” better.  It will help me be even more organized, and it should provide valuable information for Doc Sci or anyone else who might need to take over daily affairs for some reason.  It should also provide quick access to vital information during an emergency situation.

I started out researching what other people had in their notebooks (using Pinterest and Google, of course).  I made a huge list of ideas, and then I narrowed that list down to 15 categories.  In those 15 categories, I wrote down items that were appropriate to the category and would be referenced or used frequently.  I then searched for existing templates that I could use as a springboard to design my own documents.

When poking around online, I noticed some people had four binders instead of one.  Other people used their binders exclusively to pay bills and didn’t include anything else like meal planning or personal health records.  I didn’t want my notebook to be a replacement for a file cabinet – but, I also didn’t I want my desk to be overwhelmed with a library of resources.

Ultimately, a Household Notebook needs to be something useful for that particular household.

So, what’s in my notebook?

Categories.

My 15 categories and a few examples of the documents in each are as follows…

  • Contact Info
    • Emergency phone numbers
    • German & American contact numbers
    • “In case of emergency” document
  • Planning
    • 2012 and 2013 at a glance
    • Important dates (birthdays, anniversaries, etc)
    • Yearly calendaring list (everything from dentist appointments to dryer cleanings)
    • German and American holidays including daylight savings schedules (they’re different for the two countries)
    • Doc Sci’s work schedule and my weekly schedule
    • Party planning checklists
  • Home Management
    • Deep cleaning checklist
    • Storage unit contents – Germany and USA
    • Stain removal guide
    • Garment care symbols
  • Meals
    • Grocery lists for regular grocery stores
    • List of items only available at specialty shops
    • Meal planning sheets
    • A list of staple meals
    • A list of meals to try (and space to write the verdict)
    • Restaurants to try (and space to write the verdict)
    • Seasonal produce guide for menu planning
    • Stockpile inventory
  • Family
    • Children’s current sizes and measurements
    • Chart with American and European sizes, including shoes
    • Children’s daily schedule and routine
    • Babysitter notes for nights out
    • Birthday party ideas
    • Chore chart ideas
  • Health
    • Medical history for each family member
    • Physician phone numbers
    • CPR instructions
  • School
    • School contact info and phone list
    • Home school weekly planning sheet
    • Home school year overview
  • Money & Finance
    • Family budget
    • Wallet contents including card numbers & contact numbers
    • Password log
    • Yearly schedule of the best time to buy household items
    • Auto insurance coverage details
  • Travel
    • Ideas for local family outings (not overnight)
    • Vacation destination idea list (overnight)
    • Packing lists
    • Before-we-leave checklist
    • Frequent flier mile information for all family members
  • Expat Living
    • Copies of passports
    • Resources for renewing visas
  • Projects
    • Generic to do list
    • Generic project work sheet
    • Generic week at a glance schedule for completing a project
  • Holidays
    • Thanksgiving guest list, meal planner, and grocery list
    • Thanksgiving week planner
    • Christmas card labels
    • Gift gift lists
    • Christmas cookie swap party planner
    • Christmas guest list, meal planner, and grocery list
    • Blank copy of December 2012
  • Blog
    • Ideas page for future posts
    • Yearly calendar for planning
  • Activities
    • Local public pool schedules
    • Local sport club classes for kids
    • Ideas for activities during summer and holidays
  • Lists
    • Items I frequently (and currently need to) request from the US
    • List of topics to research
    • Household items to fix
    • Generic sheet for thoughts on a particular topic

Using the documents I found online, I created my own set of documents in Illustrator that fit our family’s situation (living abroad, don’t own a home, etc.).  I also had to make sure all the pages matched and looked pretty!

My funky European two-ring binder.

After designing all the documents, I organized them into folders on my computer hard drive that matched the categories above.  That way, when I need to print out new menu planning sheets, I can just open the “Meals” folder on my computer the same as I could flip to the “Meals” tab in the notebook.

The only tabs I could find that would reach beyond the page protects had to be cut by hand. Not great for someone who can’t snip a straight line to save her life!

I wanted to print out the documents at a lab so they’d look nicer.  Unfortunately, I don’t know of any existing print labs in my city, so I had to settle for our HP Deskjet. Surprisingly, Illustrator did a great job with color, and what I saw on the screen was how it looked on paper.  Sweet!

Some reference documents went in page protectors, and some were just hole-punched and placed in the corresponding category tab.

Page protectors are very cheap here – both in terms of quality and money.

I bought a plastic envelope to put in the back of the notebook to hold takeout menus and other small scraps of paper that didn’t fit anywhere else.  Unfortunately, it was too big, so I’ll have to check a few other stores for smaller pouches.

My too-big plastic envelope.

I have a few finishing touches to put on the notebook (for starters, filling in the budget and phone numbers by hand).  After that, I’m looking forward to how this notebook will help streamline my “mama” job and make life easier for Doc Sci when I’m out of it for a few weeks.  I think my Household Notebook will be a great tool for our family in the years to come.

p.s. – I’ve made a Pinterest board with links to all the documents I used for ideas.  You can view the board and links here.

How about you?  Do you have a household notebook? Why or why not?

Insurance Makes the (German) World Go ‘Round

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - InsuranceGermans LOVE insurance.

It comes in all shapes and sizes and seems to make the world go ’round in the way that lawsuits do in America.  In contrast to the sue-happy American culture, the insurance-addicted German culture makes things possible here that aren’t there (say, sending your child to school with a peanut butter sandwich for lunch).

Of course, we have your garden-variety health and auto insurances here.  Both are required.  In fact, we cannot legally live in Germany without health insurance.  And auto insurance is a whole ‘nother ball game – a separate post for a rainy day.

But, the flavor of insurance I find most interesting – and applicable to families with children – is the personal liability insurance, or Haftpflichtversicherung.

We found out about this insurance several months after we moved here. The policy provides protection in the incidence of all kinds of personal accidents: throwing a ball through a neighbor’s window, tripping an old lady, bicycle collisions, and any other “oops” moments that involve damages.

I’d never heard of such thing before moving to Germany, and I assumed it had to be expensive.  Wrong.  It’s actually quite cheap.  We have a family plan that costs something like 7 euros per month for a gazillion euros of coverage.  It’s the one kind of policy us non-insurance crazed foreigners really should have.

When Doc Sci finally went to purchase a policy (after we lived an entire year here without it – eek!), the agent told him that one of her clients rode his bike in front of a tram and somehow got the bike stuck in the tram track.  The tram driver slammed on the brakes, and passengers went flying.  Some of the elderly ones sustained injuries requiring hospitalization.  The guy riding the bike was responsible for the whole thing – but lucky for him, his insurance paid for it all.  Had he been without a personal liability policy, he would’ve had to pay out of pocket for all injuries and damages.

(By the way, the story wasn’t a sales pitch; Doc Sci had already signed on the dotted line.)

I recently learned that some landlords will not rent to tenants without this personal liability insurance.  In the US, renter’s insurance will cover the tenants’ belongings as well as any accidental damage to the property.  In Germany, renter’s insurance only provides protection for the stuff.  We aren’t required to carry this kind of policy where we live, but most likely we’ll need it when/if we move.

Before we had this oh-so-German insurance, I was on the edge of a freakout whenever my kids got a stick or a rock anywhere near someone else’s car.  Or rode a bike too close to an elderly person in the park.  Or visited a new friend’s house (especially if said friend had no children).

Now that we have the policy, I still maintain a level of caution, but at least that caution is several steps down from the former paranoia.  I hope we never have to make a claim, but at least if we do, we’ll be covered.

Dashboard Confessional: I Bought a Dryer

So here’s the truth: I’m a spoiled, rotten, American.

And, I happen to live in what could arguably be called the richest country in Europe.

Many families all over the globe do not have a washing machine.  Or clean water.  Or electricity.  Nor could they read this post if it were printed out and placed in front of them.

And here I am, a hoity-toity snob who showers in what most of the world would deem drinking water, tosses expired food that the hungry would gladly eat, and uses a smartphone that was probably made by minimum wage workers in China.

I know all of this, and I often find it difficult to live with these facts.  I do what I can to share what I have (little by Western standards; enormous by the rest of the world’s).  Yet, it’s still hard.

Honestly, I always feel the most guilty when I get something that makes my life easier.  So know that when I tell you I got a dryer, I am not bragging.   And I know I don’t deserve it.

But, we should do our best to make the best of our circumstances whatever they may be, keeping mind they could change at any time.

Here’s where I currently find myself.. About to have baby #3.  And a massive increase in laundry.

It’s not that I mind drying my clothes on a rack.  I really don’t.  I have a schedule for which days to wash which sheets and which days to wash towels, fitting in loads of clothes between the large items.  But there is absolutely no way my neat little system can handle the explosion of newborn clothing.

After research and number crunching, we decided to purchase a condenser dryer (kondenstrockner). It requires no ventilation and can be set up anywhere in the house.  Good thing, since the only space we had was the utility closet.

I ordered the dryer on Amazon.de.  I LOVE this website.  Not only does it have much better prices than the retail stores in my city, but it often includes FREE delivery which is a must for people like me without a car.

Here’s a look at our new workhorse.

Though we took careful note of the dimensions of each potential dryer we considered, we forgot to measure the doorway to the utility closet! Luckily, Doc Sci is not just a theoretical genius. He figured out how to shimmy it in anyway.

Next, he built some IKEA shelving around it for storage. We have the same setup around our washing machine which is located in the kitchen.

Then, I filled up the shelving with pantry goods.

Then it was time to test our new machine. Apparently, he is a basketball fan. (Beko is the dryer brand, and BBL is the German basketball league.)

Here we go!  First things first, load the dryer with wet laundry.

Turn it on. Then run to the internet to help figure out what all the German settings mean. Press start (at least that’s in English).

After the load finishes, remove the lint trap.

Clear the lint out and hand it to your two year-old who thinks dryer lint is the coolest thing. Ever.

And, don’t forget to empty the water reservoir! This type of dryer collects the steam from the clothing and puts the resulting liquid in here. This water can be reused in humidifiers and irons as well as to water plants or hand wash delicates.

After emptying the water, shove the tank (gently) back in underneath the condenser, and you’re ready for another load.

Home Improvement: Bathroom

When I set out to make some improvements to the bathroom, I was rather discouraged.

Furniture of any kind is expensive in Germany, even the cheap-o particle board stuff.  You really have to stumble across a rare find.  Or hope IKEA carries what you need.  I just so happened to luck out in both areas.

Lidl has closeout sales several times a year.  The warehouse where the sales are held is only a short bike ride away from my flat.  At one of these sales, I came across a tension rod shelf for 5 euros.  I snatched it up and upon arriving home discovered this shelf fit very nicely in the space above the toilet.  It’s now home to paper product storage: toilet paper, paper towels, wet wipes for little bums, tissues, and pull-ups.

When collecting packaging for my hallway Pinterest project, I had the idea to paint old milk and juice cartons for storage on the teeny tiny shelf above the potty.  Though I’m pleased with the outcome, I think these containers could use a little pizzazz.  I just haven’t yet figured out how to add some.  Any ideas for me?  Leave a comment or link below.

For under-the-sink storage, IKEA came to my rescue.  As I was browsing the catalog, I could barely believe my eyes.  IKEA Germany sells a cabinet for only 9 euro!  (Fyi, I looked this up on the IKEA USA website and it sells for $29.99.. I wonder why?)

IKEA also scored more business from me in the form of new hand and body towels.  I love the pop of color that inexpensive towels can provide.  I also purchased a bin to store said towels, so they’re not shoved in our small toiletry cabinet.

So there you have it, a tour of my bathroom.  Don’t say I never share anything personal on Thrifty Travel Mama!

Home Improvement: Huge Cork Board Wall

For some reason, I feel like the living room improvements will never be done.  I add things here and there, but it never seems complete.  I always wish I had more on my walls, more decorations above the TV, more color to contrast the black & white.

In reality, I’m not as discontented as I sound, well, not on a daily basis anyway.  Our living room is worlds better than when we first moved in, and I know it will evolve little by little until the day we move out.

But suffice it to say, I’m not in the mood to show you all of the living room.  Yet.

I would, however, like to show you a very fun Pinterest project that helps with my white wall despair: a gigantic, humongous, gargantuan cork board wall!

The wall’s design is the brainchild of Amber Interiors.  If you want to put one of these up the “right” way, head here for instructions and pictures.

Since I cannot drill into the wall, I did not do this cork board up all proper.  Instead, I used a mixture of sticky adhesive tape and glue.  Though cork board itself is extremely light, a piece of this size is rather heavy to hang without screws or nails.

I covered mine with family photos and small mementos of places we’ve visited (ticket stubs, postcards, stickers, coasters, business cards, etc.).

The boys LOVE this wall.  Not only do they get excited seeing photographs of themselves, but they also enjoy pointing out mama and daddy.  It serves as a great link to our friends and family back home, as it allows us to put faces they rarely see with names they often hear.

As for the cost, I bought an insanely huge roll of cork for 20 euros.  Since it was only 2mm thick, I also bought a roll of paper-backed Styrofoam to support the thin cork.  Amber Interiors uses panels, but my German hardware store only sold it by the roll or in typical bulletin board rectangles.  Since it was cheaper to buy the roll, I went with that.

Even after covering almost the entire living room wall, I had plenty of cork left over.  I’ve put up cork boards in the hallway and the kitchen, and I still probably have enough to cover another wall somewhere in the flat.

My favorite part about this cork board wall is that it can be anything I want it to be.  If I find a better way to display family photos, I can put something else up in their place.  I could change my decor weekly if I had that kind of energy.  Options are one of creativity’s best friends.

What about you?  Do you have a place in your home that could be home to a cork board wall?  If you’ve already got yourself one of these beauties, leave a link to your project.

Home Improvement: Kitchen

Of all the improvements we’ve made to our humble abode, I am most excited about the upgrades in the kitchen!  I guess that’s a bit obvious, though, since I naturally spend most of my day in there.

First up, counter space.  My stellar Barbie kitchen came with exactly 19 1/2″ of usable counter space.  I have another 13 1/2″, but it’s in the corner and therefore only good for making piles.

Doc Sci and I figured out that the height of the counter and the height of the washing machine were only 1/2″ different.  We bought a particle board shelf at the local hardware store for 6 euro and voila!  I now have a whopping extra 34″ of usable counter space.  Incredible.

Added countertop (right) and new shelf (left).

We purchased a utility shelf from IKEA that fits exactly around our washing machine.  This allowed us to take advantage of a lot of previously wasted space and get the microwave off the top of the washer.  The unit shakes like crazy when it spins a load, and I was always afraid I’d find the microwave on the floor one day smashed to bits!

Organized "pantry."

Also at IKEA, I bought storage boxes for my shelf that supposed to serve as a pantry.  Now, I can group like items and find things with ease.  I also no longer have to battle cascading piles of bagged pasta that do not stay put.  Unfortunately, I wish I would’ve stocked up on these boxes.  I ended up wanting a few more for the shelf above the washing machine, but IKEA discontinued the style only a few weeks later.

Since counter space is at such a premium, I couldn’t waste any room storing cooking utensils.  I only have three drawers in the entire kitchen, so I can’t exactly fill them up with bulky soup ladles.

Tension rods above the stove.

One day, I got the genius idea to use the walls for storage.  I searched the hardware store to see what kind of curtain rods could be found.  I was able to put up two tension rods above the stove, and one adhesive rod on the wall to the left of the sink.

Adhesive curtain rod and shelf in the corner.

Lidl offered an adhesive holder on special one week that was originally meant for the shower but works brilliantly affixed to the tile in the corner.  I also found some dish brushes at IKEA that suction cup to the wall.

Kitchen command central: weekly meal plans, grocery lists, recipes, etc.

I saw the idea to add cork boards to kitchen cabinets on Pinterest.  I knew this would help with clutter on that 19 1/2″ of counter space, but I wanted my cork boards on the outside of the cabinets.  I can’t remember my own name if it’s not written down and shoved constantly in front of my face.  So, I went for functional instead of pretty.

Though I still have washing machine hoses running across the floor and no place to store my glass recycling, I’m stoked and thankful for how the kitchen is shaping up.

Do you have any suggestions for improving my eensy weensy kitchen?  Leave a comment below.  I’d love to hear it!

Home Improvement: Hallway

I wouldn’t normally consider a hallway of much importance when improving my home.  But, in our flat, we only have one hallway and it’s become something of a multi-purpose area.  It connects all the rooms, doubles as a laundry room (our drying rack often resides there), hosts the only landline phone in the house, and offers the best indoor space for Bobby car racing.

As I mentioned before, I hate plain, white walls, but regulations prevent us from drilling any holes.  I about went bonkers standing there month after month folding load after load of laundry.  Something had to be done.

Lidl to the rescue!  I scored a world map (auf Deutsch) for 3 euro, and picked up some colored tabs to mark where we’ve visited.  (In case curiosity gets the best of you, we purposely didn’t post any tabs on the United States.)  I then printed some of our signature manhole cover shots to “frame” the map.

We invested in a cordless phone, so any calls during naps wouldn’t wake the boys.  Only then did I discover we had caller ID included on our phone line!  This is especially helpful since we do not have an answering machine.  Score!

I also put up a piece of cork board where I posted important phone numbers and the occasional coupon (2 for 1 Burger King kids meals anyone?).

On the other wall, I hung extremely light canvases I found at Depot for 2 and 3 euros (the other canvas was 2 euro at Lidl).

Sound is a major issue in our flat as we have NO carpet.  Often the simple act of closing the door before I take a shower in the morning is enough to wake up T-Rex and Screech.  Doc Sci thought it would help to have some carpet to absorb sound.  As it turns out, he was right.  Such a smarty pants!

Unfortunately, textiles in Germany are extremely expensive.  Our hallway is very long, and we could not afford a rug for the entire length.  Solution?  Duct tape together eight IKEA bathmats, and voila!  A hallway rug.

So, there you go.  Our longest and perhaps most often-ignored room in the house, redone.   Do you have any other ideas of improvements I could make to the hallway?  Leave a comment; I’d love to read it!

Shuttered

After a delightful albeit short weekend trip with no kids and no husband, I’m back in Germany and back in the swing of things.  Screech has started daycare three mornings per week, and T-Rex is back in kindergarten.  Unfortunately, one thing that is not back to normal is the afternoon nap.  Why?  Because someone decided our building needed new windows.

I’ve never seen windows replaced in the US, but I was under the impression you just pop! out goes the old and in goes the new.  Well, well, well, that certainly is not the case here.

Our building is at least 30 years old, maybe more.  Though the paint was peeling and the winter wind noticeably came through the cracks, I’m not sure why now was the time to upgrade.  What ever happened to German quality, “it’ll last you forever”?

So, since the end of July, we have endured countless hours of deafening noise.  It’s like trying to curl up next to a jackhammer.  Aint’ happenin’.  You see, the workers have to cut the old windows out… of the concrete.  We have four “normal” windows, two balcony window/door combos, and an additional door to the main balcony.  All those pups had to be yanked out and fully replaced.

That’s gotta take forever!  Yeah, you betcha.  It took the team an entire day to cut a huge hole in our bedroom and then install the new window/door/wall.  In fact, it took them a week just to put up the scaffolding.  Can’t work too hard, ya know.

Thank goodness we happened to be in Berlin for two of the four days.  When we arrived home, all of our things were covered in a thick layer of sawdust.  Grrrrrrreat.  I thought it was just my favorite hausmeister (super) telling the men not to bother using the plastic covers on our things because I’m an annoying American that barely speaks the Deutsch.  Nope – as it turns out, we just HAPPENED to be the apartment the team worked on during the two windiest days of the month.  I’m still cleaning sawdust out of my spice rack.

The outside blinds.

But, on the up side, these windows do have one incredibly valuable feature – shutters!  Back in our first flat here in Germany, I told you about the windows that had the blinds on the outside.  The new windows more remind me of hurricane shutters; fortunately, I see the threat of hurricanes in Germany as next to nothing.  It’s much more likely that I’ll have my mailbox robbed.

Shuttered balcony door.

Fully closed.

We were told that this tilt feature didn't come with the new windows. Hogwash - that's only if you don't have an engineer for a husband.

At least I no longer have to tape black pillowcases to the window in the boys’ room to keep out the light that so regularly wakes them in the mornings.  More sleep = always a good thing.

The only concern my worst-case-scenario mind has is – what if there’s a fire and all the shutters are closed and we need to get out?  Yeah, I think like that.  I know, I know.  Paranoid weirdo!  Luckily, I discovered that two of our windows and the other balcony door do not have the shutter feature.  Whew!

Wait, I’m on the 6th floor (7th US).  Isn’t that too high for a fire truck ladder?  Cripes!