Monday, October 28, 2013

DIY wall art for a baby/toddler room

How do you decorate a baby/toddler room without spending a lot of money?  And how do you do it in a foreign country without a Hobby Lobby in sight?  I found myself asking these questions while debating what to do with the big, long blank wall in Sophie's new room.  H wants to be involved in all decorating decisions.  He doesn't always like the things I pick.  The toddler room decoration negotiations commenced.

At first we talked about painting but with all the moving craziness I don't feel like painting any walls right now.  Not with Sophie running around.  I'd rather wait until she's in Kita.  So paint was out.  Then we talked about wall stickers but they aren't recommended for children under three and we have textured wallpaper which can make them fall off.   Wall stickers were out.  I picked out some children's art prints but including the cost of framing I was looking at close to €300.  Why is framing so expensive?!  I would have gone ahead with the wall art but H didn't like the same things I did.  All the prints that I passionately loved he hated.  Stalemate.
Children's wall art is not complicated.  Some of it I thought I might be able to do myself.  First thing was finding the supplies. I picked up a big canvass for €4,99, some mirror stars stickers €1,70, and a little box of painted flowers and hearts also €1,70 at the Danish furniture store.  Finding paint and printed paper was a challenge because I have Sophie all day and I did not want to take her on an hour train ride each way just to check out art and craft stores all over Berlin.  After a lot of thinking I checked and found two books of scrapebook paper, €8 each.  I also bought acrylic paint because the blues I had weren't working with my color palette.  I found an owl template on the internet and I sketched out my idea.  I was inspired by the prints, a video of another DIY I saw a long time ago and a scrapbook our friends in Hamburg gave us before we left.

rough draft
I worked on the picture when Sophie was napping or after she'd gone to bed at night.  It was very simple and easy to do.  The background I painted and the elements in the foreground are all craft materials.  It took a little less than a week to finish.

I still had a lot of empty space and lots of left over craft paper.  Inspired by a fabric banner I saw at Zara Home over the summer I checked out some banner making tutorials.  It turns out to be super easy.  I made two in one night. 

Made from paper and white glue.

I'm wary of over decorating with all the different patterns in the scrapbook paper.  I don't think I'll put anything else up on the walls even though I have a bunch of other cute ideas.  Sophie's room is already pretty colorful.  The only thing it still needs is curtains. 

So far I'm happy with how it's turned out.  I plan on taking any decorating decisions very, very slowly that way I don't end up with things we don't need.  I am an impulse buyer.  Yesterday I was close to ordering some overpriced stuffed owl bookends but that pink Elephant up there ended up doing the job just fine. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Berlin day 1: my feet hurt

I would like to use this as an opportunity to call attention to something everyone already knows.  Berlin is a big city.  Like it's bigger than Chicago and it's way way way bigger than any other German city.  It has real city blocks.  I got off at the wrong train station because I'm a rookie who just jumped on the train without checking (how hard could it be?) and found myself lost and walking aimlessly with my toddler.  After half an hour looking for the U I gave up and caught the next regional train where we needed to be.  Then more walking and standing and walking.   Lots of carrying my stroller up and down stairs because everyone in Germany knows that the elevator is reserved for perfectly healthy adults who just don't feel like using the stairs and I'm too impatient to wait for them to go first. 

I learned that Tauentzienstra├če is not the place for me.  It's got one of my favorite landmarks but the shopping there is not good.  It's too spread out and crowded.  So many buses full of tourists blocking the sidewalk.  The Zara kids section didn't have Sophie's size in jeans and no place had children's raincoats.  The line at the Starbucks was so long we skipped it and the changing room at Karstadt was just ok.  I am going to visit Schlossstra├če next week because they have a Primark but I've been informed by my husband that the best shopping is at Alexanderplatz.

Today was a little test run.  Wednesday is more serious business as we are going to a new playgroup.  Sophie did not throw a tantrum, for the first time in weeks.  She napped in her stroller and generally acted like she used to in Hamburg.  I hope this is a sign she is starting to adjust.   Sophie was so exhausted she fell asleep at 7:30.  That's perfect because it's Zombie Monday!  Last year the Hubbs realized how awesome the Walking Dead is so he'll be watching it with me.  :)


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Moving in Germany

The first time we moved was from Dresden to Hamburg six years ago.  All we had was my four suitcases of clothes and H's bachelor furniture.   Since the moving company didn't have much to move they did a really good job.  

The move took two days.  One day our stuff was packed and we worked on the apartment.  After we returned the keys we spent the night at H's family in Berlin before meeting the movers at our new apartment in Hamburg.  It only took them half a day to unpack us.  They were done by the afternoon.

The difficult part of that move was returning the apartment.  H had installed everything: floor, wallpaper, kitchen and cabinets.  The real estate company wanted the apartment back in the same condition it was before.   The movers took out the kitchen for us but we had to take out the floor and scrape wallpaper off the walls.  Why the real estate company wanted it that way I will never understand.  It took both of us working without breaks almost six hours to take everything out.  The wall paper was the worst.   When we were finished it was a bare concrete box but H got his full security deposit back.

Because we moved while I was waiting for my visa we had to drive back to Dresden some weeks later to pick it up.  A big part of moving is going through all the German bureaucracy.  You have to register your family, your car(s), and your dog.  Mail has to be forwarded, addresses have to be changes for everything.  New Internet and utilities must be set up.   Things get lost.  It's chaos.   We're usually without Internet for at least a week because it's next to impossible to get an appointment sooner.

The second move was from Hamburg to Malente.  We took the apartment unpainted and it needed some work.  Since I was pregnant and working H had to do it on his evenings off.   Returning the Hamburg apartment was easier.   It came with a kitchen and wall paper so we only had to take out the floor we'd installed and paint the walls.    Again, we got the full security deposit.

We used the same moving company that moved us from Dresden.  They did a pretty good job except that the second day they showed up hungover and probably still drunk from the night before.  I guess they decided to hit up the Reeperbahn?   I didn't ask.  But you could smell all of them from 15 feet away.  Since they were so hung over they did some complaining about how much stuff we had.  Even though we didn't really have that much.  Our Hamburg apartment was under 700 square feet and uncluttered.   For a group of men who weren't sober enough to drive they did a relatively good job.  They only thing they broke was a vase, no big deal.

Since Malente is close to Hamburg and we didn't have too much stuff the movers packed and started unpacking in one day.  We were able to drive to the new apartment and spend the night in our bed surrounded by boxes of our stuff.  We only had the movers put together the big furniture and chose to unpack most of the boxes ourselves.   Registering everything in a small town was much easier because there are no long lines at the tiny Rathaus.

This time we didn't want to have drunk hung over complaining movers.  We switched companies.  H did a lot of research, reading reviews of companies that had broken things and tried to cover it up so the insurance wouldn't have to pay.  He was very careful to pick a moving company that didn't have a bad reputation.  Switching moving companies might have been a mistake.  Or maybe we just have too much stuff now?  Three beds, one crib, four wardrobes, two sofas, dining table, chairs, many little end tables etc..  I can understand how movers get tired.  Packing and unpacking for eight hours a day is probably tedious.  But that doesn't excuse how awful they ended up being.   It's important to note that most moving companies will only pay for damages you report within 24 hours of your move so it's vital, no matter how tired you are, to go over everything and make sure nothing is damaged or missing.  Even though moving companies have insurance they are not going to tell you they broke something. 

This move from Malente to our little Eastern Berlin suburb has been the worst concerning the moving company.  They might have been sober but they broke a lot of stuff.   They cracked our entrainment set in two places and lost a rather necessary piece of it.  They broke the back of Sophie's wardrobe.  They broke some glassware.  They gouged our coffee table.  Some of the work they did was half assed.  Like putting up a curtain rod in one of the bedrooms but not putting up a curtain?  They were lazy putting up the shelves.  They didn't unpack anything in the cellar so we had a tower of boxes to go through down there.  When moving the twin beds they scratched the wood floor in Malente.  This was less than an hour before we had people coming to look at the apartment.  I just barely managed to get the floor stained and waxed in time.  Our furniture also showed up at the new place kind of dirty.  I was glad I never got around to washing to sofa covers because it would have been for nothing.

One of the conditions we had for the apartment in little Eastern suburb was that we needed to take it with zero work.  We didn't want to paint or install floors with a toddler and dog running around.  We were a little nervous but happily when we got here on Wednesday it was perfect and clean.

We didn't have to paint the apartment in Malente since it wasn't painted when we took it.  It still took H longer to turn it over than he planned.  This was annoying for him because we took the apartment in pretty bad condition.  The oven, drains and floors were filthy but off course we weren't allowed to return it like that.   We expect to get the full security deposit back.

It took the movers two days to pack our stuff this time and one day to unpack.  Sophie, Redige and I left for Berlin on Tuesday morning.  It took us five hours to make the drive.   That extra hour and a half was entirely due to me driving a reasonable speed and making frequent toddler stops.  We stayed in a nice hotel in Potsdam.  H arrived much later after he'd done everything to return the apartment.  The unpacking day was the worst because everyone was tired and Sophie didn't have a proper place to nap or play after we checked out of the hotel at noon.  I was never so happy as when the movers left.  Sophie fell asleep less than half an hour after they were gone.  Since he knew we'd be home H made an appointment weeks in advance for the Internet.  For the first time ever it was set up the day we moved in.

Moving companies are expensive but H's employer pays for it.  Our first move was only around €3000.  Our last move was twice that.  I'm interested to see how much their insurance pays for all our broken/missing furniture.  Hopefully they will be fair about it. It takes us about two weeks to settle into a new place.  There is so much to do.  I need to change my address for all my student loan paper work and magazine subscriptions.  I'm excited to get a (Berlin!) library card and finally get unpacked someday.  We still have a mountain of boxes in our dining room.  Unpacking always takes longer than I think it should.  That's because there is so much cleaning not to mention the two little ones we have to take care of :)

Moving is stressful and picking a good place to live is important.  Especially in Europe where so much quality of life depends on things like the availability of public transportation, the proximity of food within walking distance, Kindergartens and things like parks and tress and grass.  I feel like every time we move we have an opportunity to improve our situation.  Considering how crazy the last 12 months have been we really got lucky finding this place.  It's close enough to the city for me but also to H's work and should be quiet and safe enough for Sophie and Redgie.   So I feel lucky and relieved that the hardest part is over.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Ikea hell

I like Ikea.  Even though I don't like building my own furniture.  It's one of my happy places.  Give me inexpensive modern minimalist furnishings any day.  Furniture with no sentimental attachment.  That is good for me because we move a lot and our furniture can't always go with us.   I save my sentimental attachment for my family, my dog and my clothes ;) 

Anyway, we decided to replace our ugly €20 bookshelves we bought as newlyweds six years ago and pick up a couple organizer like things to organize the stuff we already have.   And curtains, since our bathroom currently has none.  That's important.

In my head I imagined we would go to Ikea in the morning, swiftly breeze through picking up said few things.  We'd be home before noon and unpacked by the end of the day.  Then we could enjoy our weekend.


First we didn't even leave by noon.  Since Sophie is teething she was terribly grumpy and couldn't seem to fall asleep in the car like she normally would.  So the first thing we had against us was a grumpy toddler.

Second, since it was chilly today I thought it might be a great day to wear my newly re-soled cowgirl boots.  Which just so happen to have three inches of heel.   Now these boots used to be quiet comfortable but those were the days before life came with a squirmy ten kilo child insisting on being carried by mama and not papa.  Normally I don't have any problem carrying her but normally I wear flats. Always flats and always the more comfortable shoes made by mankind.

My breezy browsing through Ikea with Sophie sitting pretty in a shopping cart was replaced by me lugging both her and my million pound baby bag.   Clearly I have spoiled my feet with moccasins because they were screaming with every step.   Suddenly I was grumpy too.  Wondering why Ikea was so damned big and why I had to walk a mile just to get to the one changing room in the whole place.  I was ready to quit before we even started.

So if you want to make a  normally plesant trip to Ikea more like hell follow these steps:

1.  Bring a cranky 18 month old who hasn't napped properly.

2. Wear stupid shoes.

3. Realize you can't fit everything in your family car because of the car seat.

4. Carry everything yourself instead of offloading heavy baby bag on spouse.

5. Leave late, don't eat a proper lunch and make sure you didn't get enough sleep the night before.

One a more upbeat note, in my misery I committed to drinking more red wine in the form of six positively lovely and huge punch bowl red wine glasses.  After we got home I decided Redgie and I needed some quality time.  While the Hubby and Sophie made dinner Redge and I walked to the beverage market. We took our time finding a good bottle of lieblich red wine, Spanish not German, as I have been advised.

So today had a happy ending.  And I learned absolutely no more heels, ever.  Never, ever, ever.   Which might mean now I need new ankle boots :)  (or maybe I'm just kidding, my husband reads this sometimes).