Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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Too Much Time in the Temple

(In which I attempt to write a post that doesn’t continue bullet points or a numbered list. I am horizontal thanks to the rain-again-sun-again summer holidays, so I am not sure if I can manage joined-up thinking. But I am going to try. Because you are worth it.)

So, I have worked out what the Germans do when their kids are on holiday and it’s raining. Do you want to know? They go to Ikea. I found this out yesterday, when I went to Ikea four times and each time I found the whole of Germany there, packed in, admiring the Ektorps and snaffling those maxi-packs of tea lights and little scratchy baskets to put things in. I, however, was actually trying to buy an Ektorp (two in fact) and it took me four visits in one day in order to go from selecting the slip cover fabric to actually slipping the cover over my new sofas.

I made an initial reconnaissance mission to select a sofa model (kids placed in Ikea kindergarten so that I could think without having to pull three-year-olds off sofas or buy large boxes of Swedish biscuits to placate people) last week, but that doesn’t count for the purposes of this post, because it’s, well, so last week.

Let’s focus on yesterday, shall we? Because yesterday was special. (At this point, I am sorely tempted to list, but I’m not going to.)

Visit one was to buy the sofas. The very helpful lady told me that the slip-covers of my choice had run out in the Mannheim branch but that she would kindly reserve me two at the Walldorf branch. I would have to collect them on the same day, otherwise they would be sold to someone else. I paid for the sofas – buying some absolutely essential throw cushions en route – and then headed to the goods depot to get my sofas delivered. However, the delivery fellow told me that is only possible on Saturdays (yesterday was Monday). The depot dudes told me that since I had paid and my sofas were now out of the warehouse and at the depot, I would have to collect them yesterday. Cue multiple complicated phone calls to Germany’s Top Husband (GTH) and babysitter and the next visit to Ikea was planned.

During my second visit to Ikea yesterday, I was accompanied by GTH, who was providing the muscles of the operation. As he was in the process of having a busy working day, in which he had a two-hour window for sofa-hauling and the 40-kilometre round-trip, he was hoping that we would be able to fit both sofas in the back of our bus.

Alas not.

He didn’t really speak to me on the way home.

GTH returned to Ikea with me – his second 40-kilometre round-trip, my third – to fetch the second sofa. He had a nourishing Ikea frankfurter and coffee while I negotiated with the depot dudes, and was a little chattier on the way home.

Then he relieved the babysitter, and I left on my fourth visit to Ikea, this time to the Walldorf branch – a 50-kilometre round-trip, to collect the slip-covers without which I could not live.

Last night I dressed the first sofa in its lovely new covers. This morning, GTH muscled in the second sofa with back-up from me. I dressed it too. I was happy. They looked pretty. The kids played pirate ships with the packing cases. They were happy. Ikea is a good, good place, a temple of earthly delights, of herring, sofas, and candles, bringing happiness to all.

Except for Germany’s Top Husband, who never wants to go there again.


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Green and Fabulous

If you want to be green but can’t face wearing hemp, if you get frozen in the supermarket deciding whether to buy the organic Italian apples wrapped in plastic or the non-organic apples that are loose and local, and if you feel guilty every time you let the tap run but still have to bath now and again, then Christie Matheson’s book Green Chic: Saving the Earth in Style is the book for you.

As Matheson says in the introduction, ” … we need to embrace the fabulousness of green living. And it is fabulous. Being green can help you look gorgeous, have a killer wardrobe, feel amazing, travel in style, create a home that’s an oasis, host fun parties, eat incredible food, and drink phenomenal wine, all while feeling more connected to your friends, family and nature.” She says that while buying an eco-friendly cashmere jersey will not stop global warming, it is the change in mindset, in starting to become conscious consumers, that will help us to reduce our individual contributions and encourage systemic change.

This week I bought some clothes for my kid, who needed shorts and T-shirts for summer. I have heard that you should wash new clothes before wearing them because of the chemicals shops spray on them to make them hang nicely, but I had never believed it until now. He put on one of his new T-shirts and within an hour had a rash across his neck. Cue parental guilt and vows only to purchase organic cotton tees from now on. Green is clearly not only good for the planet, but good for our health too.

Matheson’s book is clearly divided into useful chapters, from being green at home, to eating and drinking green, beauty, fashion, transportation and travel. There’s even a chapter on how to throw a green party. When I read blogs on the environment, like the No Impact Man or wonderful books like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, my main reaction – apart from being grateful that there are people out there who are actually doing something about the environment – is to be intimidated and then feel guilty. Although in many ways we are a fairly green household, there is still room for improvement: we run two cars, still sometimes buy food in plastic wrapping, drink bottled water, forget to switch our computers off, even (aargh, pains me to admit) use paper napkins sometimes. Once I feel guilty, I get overwhelmed and can’t imagine how I could even start to change these things that prey on my conscience.

What Matheson does so well is to praise the baby steps. She’s not saying we all need to get solar panels tomorrow, but she is saying that we should be aware and start to make small changes in our lives. Very kindly, like a lovely big sister, she points out the small changes we can make. Here are some that resonated with me:

* Time how long your standard shower takes and then challenge yourself to cut it down

* Keep a full fridge (if you don’t have a large family like mine, fill it with organic wine instead of food) and only run a full dishwasher

* Avoid PVC in any form – it is evil

* Choose local and non-organic over organic food that has travelled a long distance (but long-distance organic is better than long-distance non-organic)

* Eat more whole food – it puts less strain on the environment than processed food (bye-bye chilli rice cakes … sniff)

* Cut back on meat – it is also a strain on the environment

* Use chemical-free lipsticks – the chemical ones contain a long list of hideous ingredients which we eat since they are on our lips. Yuck!

* Edit your closet so that you only shop for clothes you need

* Buy organic rather than conventional cotton, which is the most pesticide-intensive farming in the world

* Drive smoothly (no abrupt braking) and stick to the speed limit

* Switch the car’s air conditioning off and open a window

* Use the car wash instead of washing it yourself (or you could leave it dirty, like mine)

I have cherry-picked (ahem, nature pun alert) the tips that I can actually imagine myself doing, but there are many more which might resonate with you in this excellent book. For US readers, Matheson includes a long list at the end of her favourite eco-friendly retailers, many of whom have websites.

To celebrate all that is green, I would like to offer Green Chic to one of my fabulous readers. Just put your name in the comments if you’re interested, and in the course of this week I will draw a winner.

Now I’m off to town (on foot) to return some books to the library (borrowing, not consuming)!


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39 Things I Have Learnt

Next week, I will be 39. I am thrilled about 39. Really, I am. I’m convinced that my fortieth year is going to be the most exciting year of my life. I feel it in my bones. I sense adventure, success and happiness and I’m embracing it all with joy.

To celebrate my birthday, here are 39 Things I Have Learnt:

1. If you don’t have the time or inclination to polish your boots with polish and a brush, a baby wipe will do just as well.

2. Cooking, if you have time and sufficient inclination, is not drudgery. It is relaxing, calming, recuperative, creative and feeds people.

3. We all breathe too shallowly.

4. Walking is better for our bodies than jogging, but swimming is best.

5. The only way to keep weight in check is to balance input and output. Eating fewer carbs helps too.

6. We can’t all be famous, but if we blog, we can pretend we are.

7. Writing every day leads to writing every day.

8. There is no such thing as “finding your other half” or “being completed” by someone else – the only way to have a successful relationship is to be a whole person already.

9. Living for your family, while satisfying at the time, can be pointless if you carry on doing it after they have left home.

10. Even very old people want to have sex.

11. Empathy is more useful to another person than sympathy.

12. No one person can be “everything” to another person. We get what we need piecemeal from all the people around us.

13. Love is all around, actually.

14. Children need time and laughter from their parents far more than they need expensive stuff and trips to fun-fairs.

15. Women should stop judging each other’s choices and stand up for each other – if someone’s anti-fashion or obsessed with her looks or works or stays home with her kids or breast-feeds or bottle-feeds or eats local or eats vegetables from Kenya, you don’t have to be her friend but don’t judge her.

16. We can’t protect our children from every little hurt or wound, but we can provide a safe place for them to come home to and talk about it.

17. I am scared of global warning and the aftermath of AIDS, but I am angry about patriarchy.

18. I don’t think any woman anywhere will be truly free until no woman is raped, abused, forced to wear clothing to hide her body from the gaze of men, prevented from getting educated or expected to carry out all the home and child-care in exchange for men’s benevolence.

19. Getting out of bed to care for the children when you’d rather lounge there, eating chocolates, filing your nails and watching Friends reruns hurts, but is also rewarding.

20. Speaking your truth is brave.

21. When you do speak your truth – without the intention to wound or hurt – you are not responsible for the reaction of others.

22. Fear is a bad philosophy of life.

23. Children get far more joy out of paper, glue, scissors and paint than they do out of big shiny plastic things from the toy-shop.

24. Being passive-aggressive is abusing the truth.

25. Whether you’re a man or a woman, earning a salary is only a small part of your responsibilities.

26. Whoever earns the most money does not own the remote control.

27. Partners who ask “What can I do to help you?” are very, very sexy.

28. What goes around, comes around.

29. A half-finished household task makes a job for someone else. Always complete.

30. We don’t have “one chance to accept God into our lives”. God, or the divine, is already there – whether we like it or not and whether we believe or not. And if you don’t believe me, climb a mountain, listen to music or hear a baby’s gurgling laughter.

31. Gossip hurts both the gossiper and the gossipee.

32. Using children as a weapon is low.

31. Having good friends, even if it’s just one or two, is essential to a happy life.

32. People who use others as audience, or mirrors in which to view their own reflections, are bores and best avoided.

33. It’s better to have a warm and friendly home than a perfect one.

34. Money, while great to have, is not the be-all and end-all. Love is.

35. Shopping destroys, in more ways than one. It’s soulless, bad for the planet, addictive, pointless and far too much fun for its own good.

36. Those who abuse apostrophes should apologise.

37. People who have benefitted from an iniquitous system – Apartheid, patriarchy, national socialism – should find a way to give back.

38. There is no such thing as too many books.

39. The only way forward is with love, and a sense of humour.

(I pinched this idea from the lovely Sognatrice of Bleeding Espresso, who recently turned 31.)


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Buy Nothing Day

Today is Buy Nothing Day! According to the website:

It’s a day where you challenge yourself, your family and friends to switch off from shopping and tune into life. The rules are simple, for 24 hours you will detox from consumerism and live without shopping. Anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending!

The only thing I need to buy today is butter, for a cake I was going to make tomorrow. Any tips on butterless cakes?