My weekly ramble

Anne & Mark’s Art Party 2016

Yesterday my husband and I went to the Opening Gala of this incredible event here in San Jose. It was the first time we went and I’m so happy we did. In this valley we live in – renowned for its creativity – it’s not always easy to find the Arts. Anne Sconberg and Mark Henderson wondered “where all the artists were.  They emptied their house, boarded up the windows, and put a call out to everyone they knew (not that many people) to come and hang their art.  They told everyone to invite their friends.  And they did it every year.  Turns out, most people don’t do that.  And there are a lot of artists out there. Their event — a One Night Stand for the Arts — exploded beyond their house, beyond a warehouse, and now headed towards the fairgrounds where they will set up shop for a week.”


Once we walked through the fairgrounds gates, we found ourselves in a different world where lots of things made you smile spontaneously. Like this lit up shark on remote-control wheels.


We spent hours walking around the galleries and the outside areas to see lots of hip, edge and cool things and an amazing range of Art of the area’s artistic community.


We listened to bands playing live music. We saw fire and aerial performances, live painting and lots of people dressed up according to the night’s theme “Through the looking glass”.


We stood in line too long at one of the seven gourmet food trucks and listened to poems of a Hawaiian writer in the “Spoken Word Lounge”.


We went through the “Rabbit Hole”, an installation in cooperation with the Lincoln High School and enjoyed a glass of wine at the “Mad Hatter Tea Party”.


My husband fell in love with wood artwork in the Main Art Gallery and I really admired these pieces, only made out of paper.


We made a wish with a star at this big light installation and walked through the sculpture garden.


And there was so much more to see…


This event is a vibrant mix from all ends of the spectrum, an “all media” extravaganza which is hard to find in the South Bay. Even people from San Francisco come down to San Jose to see what all the buzz is about and word is out that this is the best party of the year. If you live close, I highly recommend to check it out. They are open for gallery viewing today, Friday September 3oth and October 1st concluding in a closing bash featuring: “PIVOT: THE ART OF FASHION” at 8 pm. You can buy tickets here and you can find all other information on the website of Anne & Mark’s Art Party 2016.


Check out Jo’s Monday walk here.

12 tips for your next road trip

road trip  :  an extended trip in a motor vehicle

We LOVE road trips. Our preferred motor vehicle is a sleep-in van, right now it is an old, but still somewhat reliable Eurovan. We’d love to buy a newer model but unfortunately, Volkswagen doesn’t sell the model of my dreams in the US, such a shame! And it is even called “California”!! What an irony.

We’ve made road trips through the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal and Germany and in the US we’ve explored most of the big sights of California like Yosemite, Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Park, the Sierras, Lake Tahoe, Big Sur and so on. Our biggest trip so far was Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming (Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park) (Awesome!!). And the last one in June was NorCal and a bit of Oregon (Crater Lake Ntl. Park). So here are my personal, favorite road trip hacks:

1. Make a plan, but not a rigid one. Where do you want to go? When? How much time do you have? What do you want to see and how much time you’re willing to drive each day? If your road trip has only the purpose to get to a specific place and then drive back, you will probably drive several hours a day. Long story short, you need to be prepared for lots of driving! In order to get to see many places or sights and travel through several states you need to be willing to spend about 4 hours/day average in the car. If that’s too much for you, shorten your total route/distance or you simply need more time. Basically, plan based on your time available and your destinations with the knowledge on how much time you want to spend in the car each day. A good way to survive a day with 4-6 hours of driving is to drive 2 -3 hours in the morning, take a lunch break and find a fun activity like a short hike, a visit in a park or a dip in the ocean. Then continue driving for another 2-3 hours. Be spontaneous and flexible: Be willing to stop if you spot anything cool or to take an unplanned break if needed. It doesn’t always matter if you’ll arrive at your accommodation at 7pm or 10pm.

2. Make sure your vehicle is ready for the trip. You might think that goes without saying, but I’ve heard lots of crazy stories about broken-down cars on road trips and I think it’s always a good idea to check or have your mechanic check your car’s fluid levels, brakes, tires and anything else that could cause problems a couple weeks before your trip. Be sure your spare tire is fully inflated and that you have jumper cables and extra wiper fluid on hand. For any unscheduled emergencies you should…

3. …join a roadside rescue service. If you take enough road trips, eventually you will end up stranded on the side of the road outside East Wherever a few miles from Buford, equidistant from the four corners of Nowhere. Having that 800-number that gets you in touch with the local tow services and mechanics is going to save you a lot of hassle, and also shield you from some of the dangers on the road that none of us wishes to encounter. In the US that’s typical AAA, the equivalent of the ADAC in Germany and Europe. If you are an ADAC member traveling the US you just have to make a stop at AAA in any city in the US and get your membership card, since they do have an agreement for their services. Well, you DO need phone reception available. If not, you have to just wait for the next kind driver that stops, writes down your name and membership information and you have to believe in his trustworthiness! That’s what happened to me, alone with my girls on the way to Death Valley National Park.


4. Plan your accommodation. Camping, hotel or Airbnb? Think carefully about the kind of accommodation that complies with your needs and desires. You’re driving an RV or want to pitch a tent? Well, you need campground or RV park reservations. Plan to make these reservations ahead of time, depending on the month you’re traveling and the places you’re driving to. For quite some places in California you need to book as soon as six months in advance. You can book all State Park campgrounds on reserve america. Hotels are definitely more comfortable and you don’t need to haul all the equipment with you. Same here with the reservations though, if you don’t have one, you may spend one more hour around to find a decent place to stay. That can be quite annoying. In general we love vacation rentals, but for short stays an AirBnb might be easier.

5. Our credo is to mix it up: We always take our camping stuff, but also like to stay in hotels once in a while. Usually we stay 2-3 nights on a campground, then in a nice hotel to have a good, hot shower, a decent mattress and to enjoy a dinner that we didn’t have to cook ourselves. And after a few days of camping and savoring being dirty, our girls always love a clean room and maybe even a pool. It doesn’t have to be fancy.

6. Don’t move it every day! Especially when you’re camping, it can get exhausting to tear down your camp, set it back up and to drive a long stretch in between! You have to get in some days when you just explore the place you just woke up and to get some rest.


7. Have enough “onboard entertainment” for your kids and yourself. Make sure you have enough playlists on your phone or other devices, because especially in the US it is NOT easy to find a radio station that is worthwhile! We always make one playlist for each road trip, usually not more than 10-12 songs and play it almost every day. It sounds silly, but months later when you hear one of those special songs, you’ll be transported back to your trip in a musical way. Here you can find some must have songs for your next road trip. If you’re renting a car or RV make sure you have the right chargers for your electronic devices! Think about how much screen time for the kids you are ok with. Depending on how long we’re driving our girls can watch one, sometimes even two movies. Make sure to have other fun things to do. We always have card games, paper & markers, books and magazines or sticker books in the van. Personally, I love listening to audiobooks while my hubby takes a nap😉

8. Other important supplies: Have a few ziplock bags handy in case anyone gets car sick. And vice versa, always have a few snacks and plenty of water aboard of your vehicle.


9. Make the journey part of the fun.

  • Play games in the car like the license plate game or “I spy”. Have a sing-a long or make up your own road trip games.
  • Find special things along the way. We love to find weird sights that are on our way to the next stop like the “World’s biggest frying pan” in Long Beach, WA or the funnel wall in the Kunsthofpassage in Dresden, Germany.
  • Let the minors help navigate and scout the area. Get road maps or a Rand McNally Road Atlas and let everyone try to navigate the route. Use a sharpie to trace your route on the map as you go along. Even using Google Maps, the kids love knowing where are or where we’ll be going. Maybe they’ll find something cool along the way like Dunsmuir, CA aka “The home of the best water on earth”.



10. Everyone gets responsibilities. I usually make all the reservations and do most of the planning. My husband makes sure all the camping stuff is there and all other outdoor supplies are ready to be packed. He always insists on packing the van, too. In our case, that’s a bit like Tetris😉 My friends’ son e.g. is responsible for their cargo trailer. Our girls have to set up and take down the luggage tent, to help prepare meals and to wash the dishes afterwards. Older ones could be responsible for the travel funds and everyone has to make sure nothing is left behind. You don’t want to buy a new iPhone charger and new lighters on every road trip.

11. Keep the cooking simple and healthy. If you’re camping or staying in a vacation rental, choose easy dishes to cook that don’t require a lot of pots or pans. I’m addicted to one pan dishes from Pinterest. Use the fire pit to grill food, like meat, corn on the cob, potatoes or veggies in aluminum foil. And you don’t have to cook at all. It’s very German to have a cold dinner with just bread, cut meats, cheese and some veggies and fruit.

12. Take lots of pictures! 


Nothing behind me,

Everything ahead of me,

as is ever so on the road.

Jack Kerouac 


Here are some useful Apps and websites for your road trip:


field trip




trip advisor






And to get you in the right mood you might want to check out my favorite road trip movies:

Thelma & Louise, Little Miss Sunshine, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, The Motorcycle Diaries, Rain Man, We’re the Millers



My weekly ramble


This used to be our neighborhood. We moved to this “Veedel” (which means a city district in the local dialect) of Cologne in 2001, that was the first apartment my husband and I lived together. In November 2005 we bought our house in the same neighborhood. Both our kids were born while we lived in Ehrenfeld, so this place is a big part of my idea of home.


This summer my husband and I got to spend a day walking through these familiar streets and visiting our house and our tenants. We had a lovely, extensive German breakfast in on of our favorite places “Café Goldmund”. There we met an old friend, who plastered our whole house back in 2005 and saw a girl with a surfboard – in the middle of the city! And Cologne does not have an “Eisbachwelle” like Munich.


One of the biggest parties in Ehrenfeld is the “Körnerstraßenfest”, which takes place every year in July. It is organized by the residents of the street and there are plenty of flea market like booths, shops and cafés are open, bands play throughout the day and into the night. There is lots of dancing in the street and it is great fun.


Anywhere you walk in Ehrenfeld, you might get a great glance at the “Colonius”, the telecommunication tower of Cologne.


We walked past our old favorite bars “Lizbät” , “Die hängenden Gärten von Ehrenfeld” , and the club of my time in university “The Underground”.


You cannot visit Cologne and not have a “Kölsch”! That’s why we stopped at the Neptunplatz and sat in sun in front of the “Neptunbad” (my absolute favorite Sauna & Spa) sipping this yummy, clear and top-fermenting beer.


Germans are kind of obsessed with non-alcoholic drinks in cool, fancy bottles. Here are only two examples:


We had dinner with friends in “Meer sehen”. Every spring there is “Ehrenfeld Hopping”, when you can buy a pass and visit more than 40 bars and clubs. Really cool!


It was a lovely summer day, just the two of us and I cherish this time a lot. I love coming back to this place and knowing it’ll be always in my heart.

Don’t forget to check out Jo’s Monday walk here.


And thanks to Sarah at Extraordinary Chaos, Claire at Tin Box Traveller and Karen at Mini Travellers who just won Best Family Traveller Blogger in the prestigious MAD blog awards, the MondayEscapes link-up will continue. Check out all the cool travel blogs!


Master your own time!

Sometimes I wish the day would have more hours. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. There are so many things that we must do, should do, could do and want to do, but often there doesn’t seem to be enough time. I started a new, exciting job. My kids are back in school and their after-school activities have started again. My German classes are back in session, my husband is traveling, I want to write for this blog, I want to start a support group for H4-visa holders, but I need to cook, wash, clean, buy, take care, make happy as well. And then you also want to have some time for yourself, quality time with friends, time to work out, couple’s time and so on.

There are tons of time management apps and gadgets out there, but there are all designed to manage clock time. But clock time is irrelevant. We don’t live in clock time, we live in real time. Real time is mental, therefore we can create and manage it as we like. So I started reading about time management techniques and made a list of strategies that should help me to create more productive real time for myself.

Write it down. Make a list of the things that need to be done. I personally love “to do lists”! But making a To Do list is not necessarily a helpful time management activity. Sometimes these lists create inefficiencies and rather add to your frustration and stress in life. You have to use them right. Don’t expect to get everything done only in a couple days. Some tasks you write down and just leave them on the list without working on them right away. They are safe on your list. They won’t you anywhere. You decide what to do.


After you made your list you have to follow three steps: Read your list and take a moment for each item on the list. Then you have to:

1. Decide what’s important.  That is  probably the most crucial part of time management, especially for me. I’ve had always a hard time to decide what to do and what not. I found a few tools that can help you with the decision process and I like these four squares based on the Eisenhower Box or Decision matrix.


The decision about the importance of each task will automatically determine the next step.


2. Decide when. Label each task on your list with the time you’re planning to tackle it. Some things need to be done the same day, others in the next days and some can wait for a few more weeks or months. Decide when you want to do each one and add them to your calendar. Also plan how much time you want to spend on each task.


3. Make a schedule. A very important time management strategy is to keep a schedule. The most important time is to schedule your schedule. Take about 20-30 minute each morning to plan your day. Write down the things you want to work on and how much time you are planning for each item.

In order to finish the tasks on your daily schedule you can furthermore try to follow these tips:

Focus.  Try to focus on just one thing. If your task takes more than 30 minutes, try to work concentrated for 25 minutes and have a 5 minute break. Then start working again.

Avoid distractions.  Every time you get lost, your mind needs get back on track and valuable time gets lost if distractions keep adding up. Practice to not answer your phone. Do not answer calls or messages unless it’s a really important one or crucial for your business/project. Block out other distractions like social media, unless you use them for the project you’re working on.

do-not-disturb-please-stock-corrugated-plastic-sign-18x24When you absolutely have to get work done, especially when you have children😉 put up a “Do not disturb” sign.

Deligate. When you make your plan for the day, think about things you could asks others to do. If you have a multi-person household, you’ll need all hands on deck to get all your chores done. I just recently started to have my children do their own laundry and to go to the store and get some groceries. That gives me time to do something else.

Say no. That’s an essential time management tool, because it prevents you to do things you don’t necessarily need to do. Like volunteering one more hour at school, going to a meeting that won’t give you new information or going for a lunch with people that are not really important to you.

Reflect. At the end of the day, take a few minutes to check what you have managed to do and what you couldn’t complete or had to postpone. That will help you to make a better plan for the next day.

What are your best strategies to make more of your time? I’d love to read them, please leave a comment and feel free to share this post.

On this blog you can read many more articles about time management. I especially like the article about “The Power of the 25th hour”.

My weekly ramble

Berlin – I love you

I went to Berlin end of July with three girlfriends. These were probably the best four days of my entire stay in Germany. And not only because I could do two of my favorite things in the world: traveling and spending time with the ones I love, but because I’m in love with the German capitol. I wrote about this trip before in my post Time with friends, but I decided I want to share more pictures of this awesome time and this big, cool, crazy, lively and history-filled city.

Berliner Hauptbahnhof (central train station)

views from our apartment in “Prenzlauer Berg”

breakfast at “Café Liebling”

different views of the Alex


Siegessäule – Victory column

Brandenburger Tor

Checkpoint Charlie

Heckmann Höfe

“Einheit” (unity) in front of the “Historisches Museum”

Memorial of the Murdered Jews in Europe

boat tour on the Spree river

Berliner Mauer Gedenkstätte – Berlin Wall Memorial

Gin and Tonic / Berlin at night

Mädchenitaliener / Italian restaurant Berlin-Mitte

You have to see this city once in your lifetime!

And check out Jo’s Monday walk here:


My favorite bridge


I could take hundreds of pictures of this bridge.

The red gate to this beloved city.

The golden portal to the state I’m so blessed to live in.

It’s beautiful even when it’s foggy.

And I love how the edge of the café’s roof meets the bridge, trying to match its color.

via Photo Challenge: Edge

My weekly ramble

Glass Beach, Fort Bragg


The second last stop on our road trip in June was this famous beach in Northern California.

According to Wikipedia, Glass Beach is part of the Mac Kerricher State Park, but apparently it is also part of the Noyo Headlands Park . Anyway, it is a great place to walk and explore the beauty of the Pacific coast.


Glass beach is site #3 of three city trash dump sites where all kinds of trash was dumped between 1906 and 1967. Site # 2 (1943-1949) and Glass beach are located at the end of the path that begins on the corner of Elm Street and Glass Beach Drive. Everything from cars to batteries to bottles, cans and appliances were pushed over the cliffs into the ocean — a common practice of seaside cities for centuries. Mother Nature responded to this abuse with a nice surprise in the form of smooth, colored sea glass treasure in lots of different colors.


Unfortunately the high number of visitors of the last years kept taking glass away, usually the rare colors like blue and red. You can still search for rare ruby reds (from pre-1967 auto tail lights) or sapphire gems from apothecary bottles. Snap a photo, but please leave the glass behind for others to discover!


Our girls were really tempted to take “at least one, Mama”, but we told them not to take anything and instead they started creating some sea glass art on the beach.


How to get to Glass Beach:

From Highway 1, turn west on Elm Street (Denny’s is on the corner) and drive a few blocks to Glass Beach Drive. Park at the intersection and walk down to the beach.

Check out Jo’s walk here:


And Monday Escapes here:

Travel Monkey

re-entry blues reloaded

Here it is again. The re-entry blues. I wrote about this phenomenon back in March and now I’m dealing with it again. Every. Single. Time. I come back from Germany it seems to get me.

And the re-entry blues can be very sneaky. In my recent post about things you should keep in mind visiting your home country I mentioned all these great plans to avoid the re-entry blues. I planned projects I want to start with, I met friends and drank wine in the sunshine, I got back into my workout routine and I went back to school shopping with my girls. But still, you are tired, jet lagged, you suffer from a lack of motivation and energy and you need to ADJUST. Because you just left one country and in very little time, landed in another one. In my case these are two very different worlds. You’d think USA and Germany, two western, industrialized countries, what could be so different? The people, people. It’s the people. They are so different, it astonishes me every time. And this will apply for most of other countries in the same way.

But I’ve improved over the years. I can deal with this depression-like feeling much better now. There are tools that can help you get through it.

  • In my original post I said to make a list about all the things that are right about your life abroad and that you can appreciate.

But there are some other things you can try as well:

  • Get the rest you need and take enough time to adjust. A few days of artificial hibernation are totally ok. You probably just flew half around the globe, lots of you hauling along some miniature people. It’s exhausting.
  • Go to the grocery store and get the food that you really like or you ONLY can get in the place you live right now. (In California: Go get Sushi!)
  • Expand your circle of friends. It’s always good to meet new people. It will give you new perspective and right after summer you might be able to share your experiences with other people that just came back from visiting home.
  • De-clutter, donate or do something good. That’ll cheer anyone up.

It’s good to get back into your daily routine and to love where you are now, but I think it’s also important to process your visit back home.

  • Sit down and write about your stay back home. You don’t have to write a full paragraph. Just take notes that come to your mind first thing.
    • What was the best part? What did you like and why?
    • What was the worst experience? What was difficult and why?
    • Who disappointed you?
    • What were the best reunions?
  • After you’re done with that, let it sit for a while. Then you take some brief ideas for your next future stay in your home country. That’s my advice because I tend to forget all the stuff that stressed me out visiting Germany and I will draw a beautiful, rosy picture of the time. Scientifically people tend to remember negative events more than positive ones, but our brain also has some strategies to erase bad memories pretty quickly, because it’s easier to not deal with the negative ones. So, in order to improve your next trip home, it will help you to write down things you really WANT to do and stuff  you absolutely NOT want to do.
  • Share pictures of your adventures with friends and family back home and in your host country. Share your stories with all the people in your life and realize how special this bi-cultural life actually is.
  • Make a plan how to keep in touch with the people you will miss the most. Try to implement little things like writing a postcard to one of your loved ones. Set up a WhatsApp group with your best friends back home. We text so much each day, it’s easy to send a couple more messages.
  • Do not be dejected and don’t give up. This re-entry blues won’t last forever. You’ll get through it, stronger than you were before.


The coach I’ve been working with, Sundae Schneider-Bean, has a great video with even more advice to get over your re-entry blues.


picture on top ©



My weekly ramble

Fern Canyon, Humboldt County

My family and I visited this magical place in June while doing a road trip through Northern California and Oregon. We camped in Patricks Point State Park, about 25 miles south of the canyon and I rode my bike all the way up. It is not easy to get here, but it is totally worth it! Coming from the south we turned left of Highway 101 onto Davison Road. You have to make a quick stop to watch the Roosevelt elks hanging out on Elk Meadow. There are lots of them, I’m actually pretty sure that the population of elks in this area is greater than that of people.

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Than you proceed on the road and after about half a mile the pavement stops and you have to drive/ride up a very steep hill. I had to walk my bike for a bit and my husband pulled me with the car for about a mile. Our kids had a blast seeing their parents doing irresponsible things! The Golden Bluffs Road then continues for about 10 miles. You have to stop at the gate of Prairie Creek Redwood State Park, but if you paid the daily fee for another state park, you don’t have to pay again. That’s one of the advantages of the state park system. From the gate it’s about 3 more miles to the trailhead that brings you to the canyon. You are still driving or riding on gravel and you have to cross a couple streams, which being on a bike can get your feet wet.

You drive along the Golden Bluffs campground with windy sides along this beautiful beach and you can see more elks hanging out between the tents and the food storage boxes.


Once we reached the trailhead, we only had to walk about a quarter of a mile until you arrive at this grandiose divide in the cliff. It’s stunningly beautiful. Carved by a meandering stream, the walls shoot straight up 30+feet. They are covered with an emerald curtain of micro ferns that are kept moist by fog and waterfalls. Its beauty takes your breath away.


You can walk a loop that’s about a mile long, but we only walked in and back out the same way. This place is so much fun for the kids to walk across tiny streams and to climb over the fallen trees. “The prehistoric ambience led to the canyon being used as a filming location for The Lost World: Jurassic Park, BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs and IMAX’s Dinosaurs Alive! (Wikipedia) If you’re going to Northern California, this is definitely worth exploring!IMG_1469FullSizeRender 194FullSizeRender 193FullSizeRender 192IMG_0673


Three Word Thursday

Back to school!

After a long summer that wasn’t only relaxing, it is finally here: The first day of school!

It IMG_0043should be an official holiday for parents but unfortunately the first days are not everywhere the same. They differ between states, counties and even cities. Everyone goes back to school on divergent days. Private and public schools have different schedules and every school district might have a different calendar. In Germany at least every state or even a few states have the same summer vacation schedule. And the holidays only differ from state to state to have a better distribution of travelers and to avoid huge traffic jams on the already so busy German Autobahnen. You really don’t want to be stuck on the A 3 or A 8 going south in the middle of July!

Most children here seem to look forward to going back to school, to see friends, to have their routine and they totally need it after almost ten weeks of leisure! Our kids started asking about 3 weeks ago when they could finally go back to school. I honestly think that the summer break here is too long. It is helpful if you have family far away and you need the time to visit, but still, the length of this break is academically not reasonable. The US has in average a 180-day academic calendar while other industrialized countries have up to 240 days school in one year. “Kids score worse on standardized tests in early September than in late June.” 

Anyway, now the majority of students in California are back in school and ready to soak up some school knowledge. To be appropriately prepared for that, you obviously need the right outfit! That’s why everyone goes “back to school shopping”. That is a big deal here in the States. For lots of retailers the BTSS is one of the best-selling times of the year besides Christmas and Easter, it makes about 17 % percent of the full-year retail sales. In the Old Navy commercial Old Navy commercial they call the first day of school the “red carpet” of the students. Insanity! I don’t really know if the BTSS has the same status in Europe, but I definitely can’t recall that my parents took me shopping to get a fancy outfit for the first day of school and a new backpack with an engraved name every single year. Well, I know that has been a long time ago, but it seems that in Germany the school supplies still have a greater role in BTSS than the clothes. I found this great blogpost about German BTSS on “An Adventure A Day”. The peculiarity of German BTSS seems to be the sale of the “Schulranzen” or “Tornister”, which you get before your child enters first grade. But this backpack-like piece is meant to last for the whole four years of elementary school. The German kid explicitly picks a pattern and the parent buy not only the single bag, but the matching gym bag, pencil case, drinking bottle and lunch box. And these sets cost a fortune!!

I’m happy that we are done with the BTSS. My kids got a few new clothes in Germany, shoes and school supplies here and a skirt from Old Navy!  If you’re not done with your shopping yet, hang in there! Maybe these  do’s and don’t for back to school shopping can help you get through it.

Shoot! I forgot that I have to fill out these enormous pile of forms tonight… oh, I hate the first night of school. But the kids are super tired, will go to bed early and there is always wine!

Happy first day of school!