dear little sister

The moments between


Dear little sister,

I've come to value them, the moments between. The ones that don't belong to the last activity and don't belong to the next. They are like the white spaces between photographs hung up next to each other, making us appreciate each image on their own yet tying both together. Without them, days become one long rushed tumble from one thing to the next, leaving us exhausted and wondering where time went. It's the little moments that give it structure. The seconds gazed out the window, or leisurely wiping down the kitchen counter. Tying my hair up, for the millionth time that day. Just being sat, a little longer, when the book is finished or the tea cup empty. To just bet.


make do and mend

Cushions and comfort


Make do and Mend 5: Cushions and comfort

When we moved into this little apartment, we quickly noticed that, while furnished, it was seriously lacking in comfort. The only soft place to sit was a (buckled) bed frame with a thin mattress, a duvet and a couple of pillows, lumpy from too much washing and use. A sofa would have been the ideal solution, but is out of the question due to money, space and lack of permission. In search of at least a little comfort, we have been trooping from store to store, squeezing cushions and pillows and putting them back. It's difficult, having high standards and a tight budget, especially when in a new place with a serious language barrier. And so, we've made do, with lumpy pillows and hard chairs.

Normally, I try to be very deliberate with purchases, buying things only after due consideration and if I really need them. Lately, I've learned that there are a few exceptions to this rule. If it is second hand, within my budget and I love it on the spot, I will buy it, in honour of what Sarah calls the immediate yes. In the worst case, I end up not using it and bringing it back to a charity shop, donating a little money in the process and using up no extra resources. When I found myself circling back to the big bin filled with super-soft silk scarves for the third time the other day, I realised it was time to bring one home. Digging through the softest cloths in all colours of the rainbow, and all prints the universe can think off, I pulled out two square pieces in almost perfect condition, one white and one blue. Decision made.

As I stood at the sink at home, washing the second-hand smell out with just a little bit of laundry detergent, I contemplated what to do with them. Christmas present wrapping? Decadently wearing a silk scarf under my thick woollen one? Maybe pillow cases for our lumpy pillows? 

In the end, there was no sewing required. Two corners knotted together, pulling tight, and then the other two, did the trick. The tension of the cloth turned our lumpy pillows into firm, comfortable cushions, just the right size for our hard chairs. Turned upside down, you can't feel the knots at all, and when we move,  leaving the pillows behind, I can just undo the cloths, keeping them around for another use. If you are making do, you might as well make do with silk. 

make do and mend

Christmas tree


Make do and Mend 4: Christmas tree

Casually written between the milk and the lentils, "Christmas tree" remained unchecked last week as we hauled our weekly grocery shopping to the tills. Instead, we stopped at the stall selling fir trees on the sidewalk, filling the winter air with their resiny smell. I love the smell of Christmas trees, and the glossy green of their needles. Eyeing the trees, our arms full of groceries, it quickly became apparent that the trees were too big and heavy for us, and our  apartment and budget simply too small. "Maybe tomorrow", we said, as we trundled home, knowing full well that tomorrow the decorations would still be 400 km away, and the apartment no bigger.

On the way home we  debated options. A wreath? Some branches? Some branches would be good, but they don't seem to be commonly sold here in France. "Something like that", I say, as I point to a fallen branch under the yew tree we happen to be passing at the time. "In fact, why not that one?". So we pick it up and break it apart and carry our little bit of evergreen home with us. Propped in a jar, it's size is just right for our tiny home. And the decorations? There is always a way, even in a tiny flat with mostly empty shelves. Silver cookie cutters, hung up with sewing thread, for a bit of sparkle. Fairly lights, carefully untangled from the gifted advent calendar, for light. Three tiny red baubles, saved from a birthday present last week, to add a bit of colour.

In the end, as ever, it doesn't take much. It's not about the tree, and the matching decorations, and the perfectly curated collections of ornaments that make the warm, joyful feeling I associate with Christmas trees. It's about a bit of green, and a bit of sparkle, and the time spent putting it together and enjoying it. It's about the things we feel when we do what we do. As we sit wrapping presents and sipping tea by the light of fairly lights and candles, our little yew branch could not have brought more Christmas cheer if it had been a full size tree.

That is the lesson I learn over and over again, as I write this series and try to navigate life a little more simply and a little more sustainably: There is (usually) another way than the obvious one, and with a bit of time, thought and effort, a solution can be found. Sometimes, that does involve buying something (if we didn't already have fairly lights, I would have gone out and got some) but more often than not, it's a matter of asking yourself what it is that you are trying to achieve here, and keeping your eyes open for something that will fill than need. Sometimes, you end up literally tripping over it.

- Ricarda

little things

Low waste this week


In an effort to lower my impact on this planet, here are a few little moments this week where I tried to tread more lightly and that made me happy.

These little decoration, made of leftover wrapper paper from my birthday and some thread, added much needed festive cheer.

This handy piece of string freed the windows, cutting down on the amount of artificial light needed.

These bowls of precooked food avoided me having to open a couple of tins later in the week.

This pile of spices in washed out jars, because everything looks better in jars.

This little bundle, no plastic bag needed for carrying.

Other low waste success this week
  • Asking the lady in the supermarket if I can use my own bags.
  • Researching sponges and their environmental impact. More on that later.
  • Planning the food for the week ahead, so that nothing remains in the fridge when we leave on Thursday

- Ricarda

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