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In: House

May 1, 2012

Good Night Moon

Man, I feel like I am running on steroids these days. No idea where all this energy is coming from, but I take it. After we finished the new guest room it took me only 2 weeks to complete the new nursery. And now we will get started on ripping down wallpaper in the big basement room. Just trying to get as much in the house done as possible before the third trimester heaviness and then newborn craziness sets in.

Luckily the nursery wasn’t too big of a project because the walls were already a neutral tan color that anybody can live with, so we didn’t have to paint for this room makeover. It is definitely a more toned down baby room than Milo’s bright blue and green, but hey – nothing to say against saving some time and effort and working with what you got. So all I had to do was to bring in a little bit of color and some baby appropriate decor. When I found these two mustard colored metal stars at my favorite thrift store for $6 the theme was set and stars and moon and night in general.

Perfect to set the mood for a well sleeping baby, right? I decided to pair the mustard yellow with a dark night blue and found those brand new black-out curtains for $10 on Craigslist. On the wall opposite of the crib I painted a big moon in the same color as the metal stars and added two wooden stars. Milo already loves that trio, he goes over to his brother’s room every morning and says hello to the moon. There is something about murals that makes him talk to our walls a lot.

For above the crib Linc and I made this starry night sky light board. I’ll post a separate tutorial for this thing soon. 

The most time-consuming project was painting all these tiny wooden stars yellow and stringing them up to hang as a mobile above the changing table.

See how Milo is thoroughly testing the new room for his little brother? I am afraid he loves it almost more than his own room right now and I really need to come up with something spectacular for his now empty wall.

Some other wall space in the baby room was filled with these prints I found and put in cheap frames from Walmart. That’s also where the $15 neutral rug came from.

Since Milo already switched to his big boy bed, we were also able to move the crib over and put the comfy nursing rocking chair in the room. Together with a new crib skirt and color matching sheets this room is officially ready to welcome baby in a few months.

All set for sleepless nights. Bring it on, baby!



So, now that the guest room moved into the basement we had an entire empty room to set up as new baby room. (More on the brand new nursery soon in a separate post.) Instead of keeping Milo’s room as a nursery and moving him into the new room, we decided that it would be better for him to stay in his old room for various reasons. First, there will be enough changes coming up for the poor little spoiled only-child. Secondly, he has grown to really love the tree I painted on the wall for him and says good night to it every evening. Thirdly, I just wanted to do something completely new for our new addition.

This is what Milo’s room looked like until now:

One change that was going to be inevitable for Milo has occurred a little sooner than expected. Since he figured out how to climb out of his crib a few weeks ago, we already had to move him to a real bed. Well, a real mattress that is. Until he becomes a less active sleeper we are keeping his new twin size mattress on the floor for safety reasons. He already tumbled out of it once, but was only startled, not hurt. Which is better than a fall from out of a crib.

The transition to his new bed went unexpectedly smoothly. Milo had already been wanting to lay down on the little pad in his play tent for the last couple of weeks, so all we had to do was slide the mattress right into the tent and he never wanted to go back to his crib. For the first couple of nights we kept the crib in his room – just in case. The good thing is that when Milo is tired, he really just wants to sleep. So all we have to tell him is to go to sleep and he will stay put on his mattress. That is still with the help of paci and blanki of course, but we will give him some more time with them. One step at a time.

Another change you might notice is that I did indeed take down the other way-to-high-therefore-useless shelf that came with Milo’s room. It has been unused and collecting dust for almost a year now, so there is my justification to get rid of it once and for all. Now the wall above his bed is kind of bland and definitely needs some nice art or other decoration bolted to it. I am thinking about a kite, bird or sun to go with his outdoor camping theme. Or I will build a bigger tent to span over his entire new bed.

Oh, and on an equally happy note I gotta tell you that the previously reported severe tantrum phase only lasted about a week or two. These days Milo is actually pretty happy and only occasionally gets upset when he can’t have an iPhone or paci. He seems to understand better what we explain to him and why he can’t do certain things. This probably goes together with his talking improving day by day and him being able to express himself better and better. I guess it still takes a lot of parental intuition and imagination, as well as English AND German knowledge to make sense out of what he says sometimes, but he just keeps happily chatting away and explaining the world to us.

Yesterday Milo and I went for our routine walk to the fire station where we usually have to wait for the fire trucks to come back. This time the fire trucks where there, but Milo still pointed to the bench and said: “Sit down wait”. Later when he wanted the neighbor’s boy to come play cars with him he said: “P(l)ay car Zach down”. Or he points at the elephant in his book and says: “Bfffff water” with a gesture of water spraying out of the elephants trunk. It’s sooooo cool to get to this stage where you can have almost real conversations and you get to actually hear what is going on in this little kid’s mind.

April 10, 2012

Welcome Back!

We did it! One day before our house was populated by some German visitors we officially finished the new guest bedroom in the basement and I have to say that it turned out great. We have been working on this for approximately six weeks and it was a real joint effort in the Tran house. Without my handyman I – the surface pretty maker – could not have done such serious handy work as installing lights and new drywall. Looking back, we actually accomplished a lot more than I dared to hope for in my original post about the basement plan. Here is the gist of it.

Just a reminder – this was the colorful craziness we had bought into a year ago:

And this is the new toned down guest oasis:

On our way to the final result we encountered many tedious tasks, such as removing wall paper with lots of water, vinegar, and persistant scraping.

Priming the walls with No-VOC primer because there is not much opportunity for ventilation down there and we did not quite want the baby to be born a natural paint addict.

Splitting the room’s lighting from the overall basement circuit and installing two new recessed lights instead of the one dim boob light.

For the sake of installing the new light switch in the room we also decided to take down the bead board paneling on one of the walls which we had never quite understood why it was there.

After taking it down we realized why it was there: Because the previous owners installed the wall framing flush with an existing corner and putting up drywall would have made for an ugly overlapping edge.

Which left us with the exact same problem – how were we gonna accomplish a smooth wall with drywall. Our solution: Using extra thin drywall and extend it to the part around the door over the existing drywall. Not exactly the Holmes-on-Homes way to do it, but good enough.


The trim and doors in this room were wearing many different shades of yellowed old white, so they got a fresh white coat as well .

I didn’t even have to bother with taping off the door hardware because on my mission to de-brassify this house and bringing it entirely to the 20th century I also switched out all the door knobs and hinges for brushed nickel ones.

On the final stretch I got sick and my awesome hubby had to paint the room all by himself with the perfect shade of light grey that I had found on the oops-paint rack at Lowes for $5 (and even No-VOC!). It’s amazing what a difference No-VOC paint makes. It might take an additional coat, but the smell during application is minimal and the next day the room is absolutely smell free.

It is actually a little lighter than shown in this photo (more like what you see next to the door above):

Finally, we cleaned the carpet and filled the room with all the existing stuff from the old guest room, plus a yard sale chair and a free dresser.

We are gonna hang some more framed postcards to fill the back wall, add a bookshelf and wall art to the reading corner,  and eventually also have to find a prettier solution for the electric box and modem corner:

But so far it is the most finished bedroom in our house and I am seriously worried that I won’t ever see my husband in our own bedroom again.

March 24, 2012

Living Underground

Our biggest task this year (besides pushing a baby out and taking care of a newborn) is to finally tackle the basement. When we moved in last year the lower level was sort of left alone as it was – hideous wallpaper and everything. Lincoln uses it for his home office and I spend only dark evenings down there anyway, so it didn’t really bother me too much what it looked like. What can I say – I am done ignoring that wallpapery mess down there. And we have to make some room shifting happening this year to fit in another child.

So here is the plan. The baby will move into the current guest bedroom, the guest bedroom will move into the playroom in the basement. We don’t have guests all year round anyway and for those few weeks the basement should not be too uncomfortable. The room is actually bigger and more isolated from noisy kids, the only downside is that it doesn’t have a window. But since it is mainly for sleeping anyway, I think everyone will be okay. This is what the playroom was styled like when we moved in and all we had to do was adding a few toys.

Looks totally appropriate for playing, but not really like a calming retreat for people that need to recover from touring DC all day. So, the blue, the wallpaper, and at least half of the toys will have to go.

In the main part of the basement things aren’t as colorful, but it looks even crazier. There is stuff everywhere, an oversized couch occupying half of the room, and Lincoln’s work stuff spreads out wherever there is still space. Currently he has a photo studio set up on one side of the room, his extended desk area on the other side, and garments anywhere in between.


The master plan for the big room is huge. And will take some time. And might have to wait until after baby a.k.a next year. Check out here the before and planned after of furniture arrangements:

The main goal is to separate work area from living area and confine work stuff to the area that it belongs in. Of course that also requires a comprehensive desk and storage solution that Lincoln has been planning passionately and might share in another post.

These floor plans were made with the free online software homestyler and they even let you shoot a cool 3D panorama view of the designed space. Of course all with limited design options, but this is an approximate idea of what the space will look like. The shelf will be built in as a closet with sliding mirror doors. The desk and work area will be on one side of the room and the lounging area on the other side. Milo will get a small play corner for his train table and other supplies as well.

Phase 1 of the project will be to neutralize the play room due to the urgency of impending baby invasion. We already started stripping down the wall paper and priming the walls. More on that soon.

Phase 2 will be to fix the lighting situation. Currently all lights in the basement are hooked up to one switch, so if you want light in the big room, you are necessarily gonna wake up the guests in the other room or vice versa. We have to separate them into two circuits and will also upgrade them to recessed lights with brighter shine power. The current boob lights are just too dim and won’t fit any bigger light bulbs.

Phase 3 would be to tackle the walls and closet building-in in the big room. But as I said, let’s stay realistic here and see when we actually get to it.

Oh yeah, in the above floor plan I also made the laundry room a little bigger, but that is not really gonna happen. Unless we decide to build a small bathroom in the basement at some point, then we would need the additional storage area.

Okay, enough of unrealistic dreams for now and back to finishing the new guest room.

January 4, 2012

Forever And Three Years

On January 1st, 2012 I have officially worked for my company greeNEWit for three years. What started out as a commission based position with some volunteering hours has grown into a full time salaried position as manager. And I am still having fun.  greeNEWit and me, we are a match made in heaven and I could never imagine working for any other company. Today I want to tell you how we met and became such a great team.

About 3.25 years ago I started my job hunt in the US. After 6 months in the US my green card hadn’t arrived yet, but I was getting antsy and wanted a job lined up by the time I would finally be allowed to work. While I probably would have become a photo journalist in Germany I did not see too many opportunities in that field in the US and therefore shifted my focus to my minor that I had in university: ecology. The rest of the job market already started to go down hill, but green jobs were booming, so I jumped right on the green wave. After a few spontaneous applications sent to random green companies I realized that volunteering was a better way to go. So I started hanging out at the Green Building Institute.

On the side I also went to the Green Fest in DC, a big exhibition with green vendors and service providers. This is where I handed out my generic “business” card to many prospective employers and also Matej from greeNEWit. He said that they were looking to hire an energy auditor, but then never got back to me. Fast forward a few weeks later when I was volunteering at a networking event at the Green Building Institute. That’s where I met the two other greeNEWit guys Jason and Josh. Looking back I got a pretty accurate impression of both those guys. Both very enthusiastic about their mission, Jason the sales guy selling the world to me, and Josh the financial person being more elusive (probably still calculating back and forth if they could really afford to hire their first employee and if so, whether it should be a small girl recently immigrated from Germany).

Company Bike Ride

The rest is history. What was supposed to be my first job interview ever turned into a really great conversation at Panera’s. You know the feeling you have at a first date and you go home knowing that’s it? How you can’t stop smiling and are so nervous to hear back from the guy if he wants to see you again. Yep, I kinda fell in love with greeNEWit that day and we are still inseparable.While things have been a little up and down success-wise over the past years, we never ever ran out of fun at work. When jobs were low, my “bosses” found me a side job at a partnering company. When things went well, they made sure that I still got the personal time and pay I needed to lead a balanced life.

Holiday Party 2011

Now we got a new big contract that is bringing in some good moneys, got me a nice raise, and a manager position that is still somewhat flexible to accommodate family life. At least every other week the whole company gets together for spontaneous or planned happy hours, Frisbee sessions, bike rides, birthday lunches, or other parties. I feel extremely lucky to have a job that I like and where every single coworker/boss is a really good friend that supports me and understands me on a personal level as well as on a professional level. Thank you guys for everything you have done for me and for making me look forward to work every morning!

Peace and love,


December 27, 2011

Goal Keeping

When I was in high school I had this thing going with a few friends when we would each write down our goals for the next year and at the end of the year sit together and see how far we got to accomplish them. Then for some reason I abandoned that tradition for a few years. Then I picked it up again for a few years in university just doing it for myself. Then I sort of forgot about it again. Until my boss came up with the same idea in summer this year and made all employees fill out a goal sheet for themselves (that we then shared with each other, cause we’re friends like that).

Surprisingly some of my most productive years were those when no official goal review was taking place, but it is still nice to have it all written down and official – makes you feel so much more accomplished when you can actually check things off a list. You know, like checking chores off a chore list instead of just randomly vacuuming and not receive the slightest reward (other than clean floors). And it’s also interesting to see how much of the goals actually became true or which ones got kicked off the priority list throughout the year and got replaced by others. Sometimes you find yourself not looking at the list all year and in December you realized that you have actually worked towards them all year. Sometimes you might want to pull out the list when you need to orient yourself or need another kick in the butt. I guess this kind of goal review is the same thing that some people call New Year’s Resolutions, but those have the connotation of being unrealistic and abandoned somewhere mid March. So let’s stick with goals and get them done.

The categories on our company provided goal sheet were: Career, financial, family, health, spiritual, personal development, big rocks. But really, any categorization or just a random unorganized list will work. These categories just help you think of all the areas where you might want to set goals. So let’s take a quick look at this year’s result for Nicola Tran. I don’t want to bore you with all the details, so here is just a quick summary:

Physical / Health goals:

Epic fail! I did not do 100 sit-ups every day, go to exercise once per week, take a dance class in fall, nor sleep 8 hours every night. Of course I have great excuses for all of those items and some are not completely in my hand. Admittedly this category was not one of my biggest priorities this year, especially since I am generally pretty healthy anyway. But for it to stay this way, I should really gear up and get my butt moving. The biggest problem is that I have not found a class that really excites me or where there are cool people I can connect with. I have never been a sport fanatic that works out just to work out. For me it is about socializing and having fun. Finding a sport that really motivates me is gonna be one of the big goals for 2012.

All other areas

of life have been going really well this year. We found an awesome house that we are slowly but surely making a home for our family memories. It also brought back some creativity into my life and decorating it gave me a hobby that I spend all my free time on. Now if only it was a hobby that I could enjoy together with others that would be awesome. But at least it gave me a good reason to revive our blog and practice my writing skills.Another great side effect that came with the house was moving into a real nice community with great neighbors and lots of kids. This is what I have always wanted and am so grateful that Milo has the opportunity to grow up here.

At work it has been going really well this year too. First off, this was the first year I have worked completely full time with no maternity break, only nine vacation days taken, and I still enjoy working. We landed a new contract with a local utility company that allows to install energy saving items in homes at no charge to the customers. It’s a really nice program that benefits the residents, property owners, the environment, and of course our company. Somehow I became the manager of this program and it’s a really diverse and fun job. We are growing rapidly these days and are adding more and more cool people to the team. My coworkers/bosses are some of my best friends and always there for me. Which is probably why they gave me an incredible raise at the end of this year that exceeds all my financial goals and will make our next year way more comfortable financially. Buying a house had a big impact on our finances, but we managed to scrambled through this year and I am excited looking at next year’s monthly budget with so many more possibilities.

Said raise will also enable me to fulfill my big rock on the goal list. This category is for something big that you always wanted and does not necessarily fit in any of the other categories. Since we moved into this big house my big rock has become to hire a house cleaner. I just spend so much time keeping this house clean that takes away from the few free / family hours we have. Freeing that time up and still having a clean house has become my number one dream this year and will be fulfilled beginning next year. Yay!

Happy new year everyone!


December 15, 2011

Fake For Real

An artificial Christmas tree would have never happened in my hypothetical German household. It’s just not in my nature. In my family we have always had a real pine tree with real candles – cats and toddlers running around and never a problem. This being said, sometimes you have to make compromises as a wife. Lincoln comes from the opposite side of the Christmas tree spectrum. He was raised with an artificial tree with electric light strings. Can’t blame him, people prefer what they know.

So after long discussions I gave in to purchasing an artificial tree. The argument of long-term payback got me. But that’s it. As a compromise it was completely up to me to pick our tree for the next few years and off I went on a quest for the most real looking artificial tree. I had been stalking Craigslist posts for weeks, passed on one sad looking plastic tree that I found and finally had to bite the bullet and get a new one at Target for more than I wanted to spend. But my heart just wouldn’t have survived anything less real looking than this Virginia Pine with cashmere tips that is conveniently pre-lit with lots of lights:

At least it was on sale for 50% of the regular price, but those $100 better pay back over the next ten years. Considering that we would pay about $30 for a real tree each year, it has to last at least 4 years. More if it really wants to be a good investment.

When I started setting it up I almost wanted to send it right back. Not that there was anything wrong with this particular tree, but dealing with artificial trees was just not what I expected it to be. It was supposed to be convenient. Not take 3 hours to pick all the branches apart to create a nice shape. Not needle all over the place like a real tree. Stand up straight unlike a real tree, …

You can tell I am still not a believer. But, it is up now. And looks actually pretty good. We put up my ornament collection that I gathered / made for less than $25 and positioned it in front of one of the front windows. A timer turns it on every evening at 5 and off at midnight, so that we don’t have to worry about it and can enjoy it automatically.

Here is a sample of each ornament up close:

  1. About 15 fresh pine cones found behind our house. I glues a white bow on top of each to hang them
  2. Ten snowy pine cones. Thrifted at 2nd Ave for $1.90.
  3. Eight wooden snowflakes. Found at 2nd Ave for $1.90. And they came with the free paper snowflakes for the kitchen window.
  4. Six felt snowflakes. Found at Joann Fabric for $0.50 each.
  5. A bunch of epsom-salted silver balls. Made after this tutorial from ornament number 7.
  6. Some epsom-salted white balls, made from ornament number 8.
  7. Silver glass balls. Found at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet for $1.99 for 20 pieces.
  8. White glass balls. Found at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet for $1.99 for 20 pieces.
  9. Twine wrapped around and glued on some mismatched golden balls that I had found at Goodwill for $1.50.
  10. Yarn wrapped around some of the golden balls. I didn’t get further than this prototype, then the tree was full and I ran out of glue power.
For the top I got this frosty twig snowflake form Target. My original intention was to replicate it from twigs and epsom salt, but you know, I get lazy sometimes.
By the way, Milo has been really good with the tree so far. When he first approached it I told him not to touch it and ever since he doesn’t go near it. Just points at it five-hundred times a day saying “no, no”. I swear he thinks the word for Christmas tree is “no”.
So now that I officially experienced both worlds, I have to say I am still an emotional fan of real trees, but a pragmatic owner of an artificial one. Here is why:
Real tree Pros:
  • smells good
  • looks a 100% real > has the calming effect of mother nature
  • less hassle setting up
  • fun choosing / cutting the tree
  • cheaper at first
Artifical tree Pros:
  • Less waste of natural resources*
  • cheaper in the long term
  • no mess with sap or needles (except for a few fake ones when setting up)
  • holds up for more than 4 weeks > can be enjoyed longer
* As for the ecological argument I know that it is ambiguous because all Christmas trees are grown specially for this purpose anyway and you could buy the ones with roots and plant them afterwards. Manufacturing the artificial ones on the other hand uses natural resources as well. But I still believe that if you keep reusing the artificial one long enough the production cost is less than the every year freshly cut cost. At least I am telling myself that as the best argument next to the price factor.
Which one do you prefer?