Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


Season’s Greetings

To all my blog readers, old and new, I wish you a happy Christmas season, surrounded by family, friends, fabulous food and a mountain of new books.
See you on the other side!

A snowy Heidelberg (thanks to siutung on Flickr)



Reading Firsts

‘Tis the season to be unbelievably busy and my attention span for reading is like that of a fruit bat in an apple orchard. I’m swooping from one thing to the next, discarded books in my wake (first 20 pages of The Finkler Question, opening paragraph of C, first half of a Phillip Kerr) and a strong sense of dissatisfaction. It’s a bit like being faced down by a plate of Christmas cookies: everything looks delicious but nothing I eat can placate my appetite.

Until my 10-year-old handed me a book. ‘Here, Mummy,’ she said. ‘Please read this. I think you’ll enjoy it.’

My history with German books is not good. I have read the first couple of pages of Der Vorleser and the first chapter of a Charlotte Link novel, but I gave up through sheer laziness. Reading in German is work and I like my reading to be pleasurable. However, when a book comes with L’s strong recommendation – it being one she selected and bought with her pocket money and during the reading of which she made happy noises – I had to give it a go.

Luckily, Als die Steine noch Vögel waren is a slender book, coming in at 122 pages. Marjaleena Lembcke tells the story of growing up in Finland, as one of seven children in a household that struggled to make ends meet. One of the children is Pekka, who loves everything: his bed, the moon, the smell of his mother and all the birds of the world. Pekka believes that all stones were once birds and could one day fly again so he spends much of his time throwing them, hoping to encourage them to fly once more.

Pekka was born mentally and physically disabled and spent the first two years of his life in hospital, having multiple operations. When he finally joins his family, he has to learn how to walk and speak. When he does, however, the family find a joyous soul bursting with love.

But Pekka didn’t just love us, he loved everyone and everything. When people came to visit us, Pekka would sit opposite the visitor and watch him carefully for a while. Then he would say, ‘I love you.’ Our guests would either be embarrassed or would feel as if they were melting. They couldn’t know that Pekka loved everything. He loved the chair on which he sat. He loved his bed, his socks, the carpet and Grandmother’s apron. He loved Mother’s smell and Father’s beard. (My translation)

Pekka’s joy infects his family and sister’s story. He views the world differently and his alternative philosophy helps the family keep their spirits up when money is tight and Father considers emigrating to Canada. He is also a survivor, who emerges unscathed from a choking incident, being knocked out several times and having a bout of leukamia, which turns out to be wrongly diagnosed anaemia.

This is a lovely, gentle, sweetly written book which I enjoyed immensely. It was a light and satisfying read and a perfect antidote to my reading troubles. A cucumber soup, perhaps, to those heavy and overly sweet Christmas confections.

So, I’ve read a whole novel in German! And in October, I read my first e-book. I have yet to devise an e-book strategy, but I thought for my first experience, I had better select a page-turner to ensure that I actually read the thing. I choose Belinda Bauer’s Blacklands, a much-acclaimed crime debut, and while it was a great read, I now feel a sense of sadness that I don’t own the physical book. I feel cheated.

Despite the instant gratification of selecting an e-book and downloading it on the spot, at the moment I have no great desire to read another one. I have friends who travel frequently and download books for their journeys, and  I can see the logic and convenience in that, but right now my life doesn’t require huge travel (though I live in hope). Some of my Litopia pals have published e-books and I plan to read them over the holidays, but let’s just say that for now, I’m not convinced.

Do you have an e-book reading strategy? Are there books you need to see on your  bookshelves and others you are happy to have as digital copies only?


Channelling Mrs Prothero

I am not one for fits of rage. If I am angry with you and you are not one of my children, I indulge in a little judicious slamming, some quiet muttering and a style of loud walking that I inherited from my mother and which has earned her the nickname of “Captain Footsteps”. At my angriest, I might give vent to cutting words. The same goes for my depressions. When I am down, I am not extreme. There is no breast-beating, I don’t go off my food or stop sleeping. I have very gentle declines, so mild as to be hardly noticeable.

Which is why it took me three days to realise I was having one this week. Vital clues to a decline are: engrossed reading (2000 pages in 2009), slightly increased chocolate intake, heightened need for sleep and an inability to leave the couch. So far, so enjoyable. What awoke me to the fact that I was having a decline was one afternoon, while the children were having a post-prandial game of Wii tennis, when my husband called up the stairs, “Where is the Queen? In her parlour, having another little lie-down?”. I thought God, I have been lying down for a week. Just like a Victorian lady, having a fit of the vapours.

I’ve just finished reading Mary McCarthy’s The Group (487 pages) and in it Mrs Prothero has to cancel everything on discovering that she once entertained a man to dinner who has since had a night in jail:

“A jailbird!” she repeated indignantly, with a wobble of her receding chin, so loud that Yvonne, coming down the stairs, could hear her. Clutching her wrapper around her and holding Yvonne’s arm, she retired upstairs to her bedroom and canceled the car, which was to take her to the hairdressers at eleven.

Clearly I have been channelling Mrs Prothero. Needing to lie down and cancel the car. On reflection, I think it is because December looked like this:


In a few short weeks, we had a 40th birthday party, a seventh birthday party, Christmas to plan, prepare and shop for, a New Year’s lunch for 12, multiple social engagements, adorable house-guests who were sleeping in our bed necessitating us to sleep in the cellar, parties and end-of-year engagements for the children to attend and a slew of disgusting ailments, including the flu (all four grown-ups, one child) and a stomach flu (all three children) that required frequent wiping of puke and poo. Apart from the illness bit, I love it all and throw myself into the planning, preparation and jollity that makes the season fun.

Then January came and I was tired. So I lay down and cancelled the car.

I’m glad to say I can feel my energy creeping back. I got off the sofa and took the kids to see Madagascar Two a couple of days ago, and yesterday we went toboganning. My creative juices are churning and I am looking forward to school starting on Monday so that I can attack the last quarter of my novel. I want to get back to my healthy eating and get back on the treadmill. I am thinking of ways to generate new editing work. I am full of resolve.

Mrs Prothero is no more.


Welcoming in 40

On Saturday night, Germany’s Top Husband and I celebrated our 40th birthdays. The high point was dancing till 3am to a fabulous ska band with my friends and family. The low point was falling off the stage while holding my three-year-old and landing on him (he survived, but my dignity was impaired). Mostly I looked like this:

img_09227Sometimes, I am impossibly cool.

If you find that image disturbing, I can redirect you to a video of the band, Ngobo Ngobo, playing a medley of their songs:

And if that’s too stimulating, you could meditate on an image from the local Christmas market:

If Christmas doesn’t end soon, I’m climbing that statue.


Happy Christmas

I’m going to take a little blogging break while I enjoy Christmas with my family. The Forest Maker has arrived, after some airport complications, and I am loving spending time with him. I am reading, making stuff with my kids, wrapping presents, planning desserts for various parties, sipping red wine in the evenings with my husband, watching DVDs and relaxing.

Happy Christmas to all of you. I leave you with an image of Christmas in Germany:

Gingerbread in the window


Alcoholic Christmas Muffins

Has anyone else noticed how much fun Christmas is for the children? They’re the ones getting stockings filled with treats, presents under the Christmas tree, and, if they live in Germany, daily mini-treats in their Advent calendars. Children get to decorate the gingerbread men, decorate and eat the Christmas cookies and in our house, they even get to decorate the tree. The grown-ups don’t get a look-in.

Here’s a German muffin recipe to console the grown-ups and bring them a little Christmas cheer. It contains amaretto and dark chocolate and is not for children, unless they have very sophisticated palates.

Amaretto and Chocolate Muffins:*

150g flour
100g ground almonds
2 tsps baking powder
1 pinch salt
2 tsps vanilla extract (or if you live in Germany, one packet vanilla sugar)
2 eggs
120g sugar
150g softened butter
2 tbsps amaretto (I doubled this)
60g dark chocolate shavings

Heat the oven to 180°c.
Prepare a muffin tray with 12 muffin cases.
Pour yourself a generous glass of red wine and commence sipping.
Sift the flour, baking powder, salt.
Have another large sip of red wine.
Beat the eggs with the vanilla extract, sugar and amaretto till it’s creamy.
Slowly beat in the softened butter.
Mix the wet and dry ingredients.
Taste, with bare finger.
Taste again, to ensure it’s adequately alcoholic. If not, add more amaretto.
Mix in the chocolate shavings.
Eat the leftover 40g of chocolate.
Fill each muffin case two-thirds full.
Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
While you wait, eat any remaining muffin dough and sip your red wine. If necessary, pour yourself a second glass.
Remove the muffins from the oven. Allow to cool (about a minute will do) and then eat with your red wine.

I had one for breakfast this morning with coffee. I think I have a hangover.

* Apologies for the metric measures.