dear little sister

On trying and failing


Dear little sister,

Here is an excerpt of the list of things I’ve been failing at for years: getting up early, exercising regularly, keeping a diary, not procrastinating, photography, single tasking and keeping up with the scientific literature in my field. You know what I noticed the other day? The only way to repeatedly fail at something is to keep trying. So in a strange way, my personal list of repeated failures gives you a surprisingly good overview of the things I really value. Its full of things I want to have in my life, enough to keep trying again and again to achieve it. Many of these have been a constant aspirations for years! So I decided that instead of considering the length of this list a failure in itself, I am going to hope to keep many items on it for a long time. 

Having it written down here like this now, I also realise that progress is made, almost imperceptibly, with every attempt and ever period of success. I still don’t get up at 5 am to write profound blog posts every morning, but it’s an unusual day when I am still in bed by 8:30. A few years ago, that was considered practically the middle of the night! Have you heard the quote that people overestimate what they can do in a month and underestimate what they can do in a year? This is so true, and not just for our todo list.Skills, and habits, take time to grow, and  not just the 30 days so many self-help gurus would have you believe. In the end, trying, and failing, allow us to figure out what works for us, and whether something really is important enough to try again.

So let's celebrate our attempts instead of lamenting our failures (and then try again, of course!). What is it that you have been trying to incorporate into your life for a long time?

All the best,



This week


In a conscious effort to slow down and appreciate the little happy moments, here are a few things that brightened up my week.

These colourful leaves, by bringing the last of the autumnal cheer inside

These lemon cutoffs, by making everything smell fresh and clean

This candle, by adding instant comfort to long dark evenings

This cheerful soup, because autumn is pumpkin time

This lovely pot, by being a lucky find in a charity shop

Other favourites this week:

  • Heading out for croissants on a crisp, sunny Sunday morning
  • Naps, all cuddled up
  • Long walks exploring a new home

- Ricarda

make do and mend

How to make a rental apartment feel like home


"Make do and mend" is a series about how to make the most of things we already have. 

As anyone who has moved knows, it can take a while to make a place where one happens to live a home. It takes time to adjust to even the most perfect dream home, let alone a place that maybe doesn't tick all the boxes, or even very many at all. How does one feel comfortable in a space that doesn't immediately strike a chord, that is maybe serviceable and safe but not immediately welcoming? Setting down the suitcases in our new apartment, in a new city, a new country and a new life together, I had to take a deep breath a couple of weeks ago. Today I still wouldn't call this our dream home but we have settled in for now, and are, dare I say it, comfortable here. This post is therefore brought to you by my new cellar apartment, which is charmingly filled with lots of dark brown, chipped particle board furniture and grey lino floors.

Make do and Mend 3: How to make a rental apartment feel like home

  1. Clean every nook and cranny. Not only will it make the place look better and you less worried about putting a hand down anywhere, let alone a sandwich, but it also has a psychological effect. Most of us only clean at home and therefore a couple of hours of cleaning can feel like "claiming" a space. Home is where the cleaning is ;)
  2. Even ugly furniture looks better with nice things  on it. I brought a few familiar things from home, and then put the nicest ones out on the shelf when I got here. Sure, the teapot could have gone in the kitchen cupboard but I happen to like how it looks and so it is now proudly on display, along with my three books and a few cards from home. I was surprised to notice that it even worked in the bathroom, where my lovely, natural, minimalist cosmetics are displayed proudly on an ugly yellow plastic sink. They still make me smile.
  3. Light is everything. Blessed with hospital style white spotlights on the ceiling?  Get a floor lamp. Worst lampshade in history? They are usually easily changed and stored at the back of the cupboard. Nothing hides a million sins than indirect soft light.  Unfortunately it only really works in the evening but it's better than not at all. 
  4. Hide the worst offenders. Table cloths, cupboard spaces and throws are your best friend here. In our place, the most worn piece of furniture is by a long shot the dining room table. Years of wiping have almost taken the varnish off, and not in a vintage sort of way. Thankfully, table cloths are an instant solution to many a tabletop woe.
  5. Fix the problems. I know it can be annoying to fix what feels like problems other people have created. Unfortunately you are now going to have to live with them so you might as well do your best and fix them now. In our first week here, we went around tightening screws, complained to the landlord about a broken bed and shoved bleach tablets down the kitchen drain to deal with the smell. Life is better now.
  6. Resist the urge to rush out and buy a solution for every problem. I know it is tempting but from experience the first rush usually produces lots of things that are suboptimal or simply not needed at all. Live with the space for a little while, figure out what really bothers you and then find a good solution for that particular problem. It's worth it.
  7. See the good sides. I know it can be hard, especially at the beginning, but almost every space has its upsides. In our current apartment, we enjoy freshly painted white walls, quiet neighbours, a safe walk home at night and plentiful heating. All four significantly add to my peace of mind.

- Ricarda

growing up

Planning and studying


Last night I took a lovely evening off. I spent some time washing and masking my face, did my nails, cuddled up to watch a documentary on sloths. I also incorporated something new into my self-care routine last night. I planned my week ahead. 

Instead of locking my problems out and indulging in the repressed relaxation of not thinking about my to-dos or study goals, I took that time to figure out a schedule for the upcoming week. I was still in fluffy socks and sipping tea though. Comfy, happy and relaxed, planning of the upcoming week. I feel like this more calm and rational planning routine will make the plans a little more attainable. Less "Tomorrow I will finish all the coursework for the semester and also climb a mountain, deep clean the entire apartment and meal prep until Christmas". Instead I divided the tasks into smaller ones and assigned them time slots. I hope this i will give me the freedom to let the other stuff rest when working on one thing. Because that other stuff has a time slot later/tomorrow/on Saturday. 

In the last couple of weeks I have started multiple more or less successful attempts to get motivated and organised, to be more productive. This semester has been quite challenging in that regard. I don't have a lot of classes to attend, but a lot of reading and studying to do on my own. While this is great in a lot of ways, it doesn't provide a lot of structure. Up to now I have not been handling that all too well: Depending on how close a deadline or exam is I alternate between doing nothing all day long and "WHO NEEDS SLEEP WHEN THERE IS COFFEE AND WORK TO DO?"-days. Needless to say, neither period is ideal.

So in the spirit of doing more things because of internal motivation rather than outside pressure, I am trying to get myself to work on a schedule for the rest of November, see how that goes. For this experiment I will attempt to follow these guidelines I have set for myself:

- Be at a library at 9am Monday through Friday.
- Stick to the schedule, which gives me two hour slots for each subject or task. 
- Take the nights off. 
- Take one night at the end of the week to pamper and plan the upcoming week. 

What strategies help you sit down and get stuff done without immediate outside pressure? I would love to hear your tips!

- Henrike 

make do and mend

Making clothes last


Make do and mend is a series about how to make the most out of things we already have. 

Make do and Mend 2: Making clothes last

In this culture of cheap clothes and permanent access to shopping, it's easy to discard items when they don't look their absolute best any more. I am particularly prone to do this with clothes. In my mind, my clothes need to be hard working, and I don't want to spend half my life worrying about keeping something pristine. On the other hand, if I am honest, I don't want to wear something obviously stained either. As a result, I wear things out embarrassingly quickly. In a concerted effort to make things last longer, here are some ideas to taking care of your clothes (and mine, of course) to make them last as long as possible.

Remove stains using cold water
A surprisingly large number of stains can be removed using cold water. Blood, red wine and a large variety of non-oily food stains come out with lots of plain, old cold water. Don't get the stain hot if possible! Hot water has a tendency to set the stain, making it harder to remove.

Wash less
Controversial? Maybe, but I've recently made a concerted effort to judge on an item by item basis on whether it really needs a wash or whether I am just throwing it onto the washing pile out of habit. Some things last much longer than I would have expected.

Avoid the tumble drier
I know it's tempting and quick to tumble everything but nothing makes clothes wear out as fast as being constantly tumble dried. Line-drying is both better for the environment and better for your clothes.

Keep a stain remover bar on hand
Standing in front of a big shelf of stain removers at the supermarket the other day, I was overwhelmed by the choices. From collections of small bottles for all types of stains you could ever think of, to big tubs of "guaranteed stain removers" with their own plastic spoons, there as some of everything. Tucked away right at the bottom I finally found my stain remover of choice: a simple soap bar, packed in a card board box, which in my experience can handle pretty much anything I throw at it. Simply wet the stain, rub the soap bar over it, leave for 10 minutes and then wash normally. One bar lasts for years too!

Wash sorted by colour
Maybe an obvious one but from watching an ever-changing set of housemates over the last few years, apparently not as obvious. Wash whites with whites, and blacks with blacks.  When sorting colours, always keep in mind that the lightest is going to be the most affected. One red sock in a white load could be a disaster, whereas it won't make a difference mixed in with a lot of black.

Keep a small sewing kit handy
It really doesn't take much to fix on a couple of missing buttons, or sew up a pocket. A few different colours of thread, a couple of needles and a small pair of scissors is all you need.

Buy quality
Maybe another obvious one but high quality items last longer under the same conditions. My big problem is that I often find it hard to judge what is good quality. I've had expensive items fail rapidly and cheap ones last forever. Any hints on how to tell one from the other before spending the money would be much appreciated!

Have different clothes for different activities
As much as I am an advocate for a streamlined wardrobe, there is something to be said for having one outfit of clothes that you don't mind getting a bit dirty. About to do some heavy duty gardening, painting or even cleaning where a lot of bleach is involved? Pull it out and spare your normal clothes from suffering irreparable damage.

What are you tricks for keeping your clothes wearable for as long as possible? I'm eager to add to my repertoire!


Have an automatic


"Living lightly" is a series of ideas to make life a little simpler, happier and more wholesome.

Living lightly 2: Have an automatic

I frequently find myself with a spare half an hour or more in Birmingham, between meetings or trains. The first few times, I'd be frantically searching for a particular cafe I'd seen online, or trying to find a particular shop that was never as easy to get to as google maps made it seem.  Sometimes I'd decide that there wasn't enough time to leave the station, only to scroll through social media on a drafty platform for 30 minutes. 

These days, I have a favourite coffee shop. Is it the best coffee shop in town that deserves my undying loyalty? Certainly not, but it does have decent coffee, comfy chairs and free wifi. Most importantly, I know that it is exactly a 6 minute walk from the station, and open until 8pm. 

Letting my feet trace their default steps to this coffee shop has allowed me to reclaim that dead time between. Instead of scrolling through social media or buying things in the station shops just because I am bored, I now have the time to read or work or just sip. 

There are certainly times in life for exploring new places and a thrill from finding something new, but I find that the more restricted a timeframe is, the more it benefits from keeping things simple. For me, that means same path, same shop, same coffee, because when the margins are tight it is best to reduce the potential number of hiccups along the way. Life just runs more smoothly that way. Except that one time I poured a coffee over one of the baristas, of course. Thankfully, they still smile when they see me.


This week


In a conscious effort to slow down and appreciate the little happy moments, here are a few things that brightened up my week.

These winter boots, that keep my feet warm on long autumn walks

These three notebook, for organizing all my scattered thoughts

These stars above my desk, for inspired late night study sessions

This perfect tiny autumn leaf

These yoga blocks, for making it just a little easier

Other favourites this week:

  • A cozy night in featuring James Bond and pizza.
  • The joy of sharing tea and chocolates with my sister and my mum.
  • Taking the time to slow down and solve a crossword puzzle.

- Henrike