It’s only stuff

New Ikea chair with Joost’s prized Dutch cushion

Have you ever walked into an Ikea showroom and thought ” Why can’t I live like this”? Simple design, no clutter, everything matching perfectly. Well until last week, we have and I have to say, it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.

When we got on the plane 4 months ago, we left with 5 suitcases of clothing and personal items. We stored our most cherished pieces of furniture as well as books and photos and some things we thought we couldn’t live without. We got rid of everything else. The idea was that we would live more simply in Basel with a lot less stuff.

We did though send things over. We packed winter clothes, and some photos and the Kitchen Aid mixer and all of Charlie’s books and every little piece of important plastic item he has ever owned. The idea was that we would move into our new home in the beginning of September and our things would arrive shortly after. If only that has been the case…

A few days before moving into our new home, we went to Ikea and bought everything we needed. Couch, chairs, dining room table, beds, dressers, nightstands, lamps. Everything – we had nothing and needed to furnish a house. The house literally looked like an Ikea showroom. Wood floors, white walls, and  Ektorp and Malm everywhere. For a few days I really liked it. It was clean, sparse and with the huge windows in the house it had that Nordic feeling. But then, I really started to feel as if I was living in a hotel, or worse in Ikea. It just lacked personality. There was nothing to say it was our home.

New(old)  cow I bought for $5 and old dog under mom’s quilt

The original estimate for our container to arrive was mid September as they had picked it up on July 10. At the end of September, after numerous emails, I found out that our container did not leave until August 10 because it had gone through secondary inspection by customs in LA. I thought it was a BS story but after seeing the boxes that had been slashed and then resealed with the bright green US customs tape, I believe it. Why did they have to open the boxes labeled “Charlie’s stuffed animals”? The new arrival date was set for mid October. As time went on, despair began to set in. For one, we were cold. We arrived here in August with summer clothes. By October, Fall had set in and it got really cold.

The other issue is we missed “our stuff”. Charlie in particular. He had been adjusting remarkably well but he needed his most treasured possessions, in particular his Pokemon comic books. He has read them all a million times but he needed them. I needed the little things that would turn the house into a home. Things that reminded me of where I came from. And I needed my mixer! As the election crisis was worsening, I just wanted to bake and bake to relieve the stress.

We did buy some small purchases to try to turn Ikea into Casa Ouendag. There are amazing  thrift stores here where you can buy everything you need and antiques for next to nothing. It’s incredibly expensive to throw away things so items get donated to organizations like the Salvation Army and are reused. I bought a great side table for $5 that Joost hated but learned to love. On a  trip to Holland, we bought a funky sheep’s head that was named Juliana and a great light up globe lamp that makes me very happy.

Finally, we got word that our things would arrive on November 10. Charlie and I whooped it up. Because we had had so many ups and downs with the move I wasn’t counting on it but it did arrived. The delivery man was originally from Jamaica, now living in Munich. We had a great discussion on the art of living simply and of using money wisely, for things that are important like travel. He unloaded box after box into our garage where we could slowly go through and bring things in.

It has been great opening these boxes after four months. There are things I really shouldn’t have brought like tupperware and tablecloths but there are other things that have brought us so much joy. Wooden spoons that were my mom’s and always part of our household, Charlie’s horrible stuffed green dinosaur pillow, quilts, pictures, favorite books and art. Not a lot of things, but things that say this house is ours.

The collection and Opa’s handmade trucks

This exercise has made me think a lot about the importance or lack of importance of stuff. I am really glad that we got rid of so much when we left but I am so glad that we have here some of the things that we do have. Things in themselves are not important but the memories that are attached to them help me feel grounded. Charlie now feels more at home because of his books as I do with the art and quilts. It also makes me think of all the refugees around the world that leave their homes with nothing. We have refugees here in Basel. They get what they need from donations, people’s cast off items. On top of everything you go through, to not have anything left to tie you to something must be terrible.


My mom’s bird on top of a new(old) mosaic coffee table

On this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my health, and friends, my boys and this new life we have. I am also thankful for “my stuff”. For it reminds me of my past and those that are important to me.


Favorite picture of my Dad and Charlie


the Baseler Herbstmesse


On July 11, 1471, the Emperor Friedrich III granted the Mayor of Basel, Hannsen von Berenfels, the right to hold an Autumn Fair in Basel “in perpetuity”. For the last two weeks, we have been celebrating the 546th Autumn Fair in Basel, an event that brings about a million visitors every year depending on the weather.

546th! What was going on in the US when Mayor von Berenfels organized his first fair? Well the Native Americans were going about their lives and had yet to see a white man. By the time Columbus landed, Basel was already celebrating their 21st Fair which would have had some of the same components it does today.

The main objective of European fairs has always been trade and commerce and it is still the case. Where you used to be able to buy material and goats and silk and spices, today you can buy candles and handmade pottery and jam and scarves and fondue pots. There is still a contest to attract customers, those with the loudest voices or free handouts win.



There is also fun. In the Middle Ages the entertainment probably consisted of juggling and dancing little people. Today, there is a ferris wheel where you can see all of Basel and merry-go-rounds and bumper cars.


And what’s a fair without food? Charlie and I made the rookie move on our first day to the Fair and decided to try everything at once, after 5 items, we saw the error of our ways but we did have fun. There was Chinese food served in a pop-up pagoda and raclette and stewed plums with whip cream on top and chocolate covered fruit and mangenbrot (stomach bread) which is a specialty of the fair. It’s supposed to be good for digestion but it is chocolate covered ginger bread…..


thumb_img_2062_1024Trying to choose our favorite item was tough. It was a toss-up between the Alpen macaroni which is macaroni noodles with bacon in a cream sauce with melted cheese on top and apple sauce and the fondue cheese in a hot dog bun. That was definitely the best experience. They start with a closed hot dog bun with a hole in the middle and pour in piping hot fondue cheese. You get a napkin and that is it. Then you just start making your way into the bun and cheese. It is an amazing thing but between the two of us, we could not finish one. I think it must be a big hit with the late night crowd.

The fair closes tomorrow. We have been 3 or 4 times to eat, buy some yummy things and just take in the atmosphere. In 2 weeks, the Christmas markets will start in Basel which feature more things to buy and more yummy things to eat. I guess I will eat my way through the dark days of winter.