Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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The Marcus Aurelius Meme

One of the tacit themes of Balthasar’s Gift is that everyone we meet, whether we like them or not, has something to teach us. It’s an adage I strongly believe in and try to remember, though not always with success. In novels, we like to see protagonists learning and achieving something with that knowledge – it’s called character arc, and if it doesn’t happen, we feel that characters are flat, wooden or too self-satisfied.

Litlove’s Marcus Aurelius Meme made me think of this, and so I am shamelessly plundering her ideas bank on this Tuesday morning to give you Gifts I Have Received from Other People:

From my mother, the Gift of Relentless Optimism: Her glass is not just half-full, it is overflowing. She believes in a benevolent and provident universe, and although she doesn’t have much in the way of material things, she leads a life that is surprisingly full of good luck and serendipity and Things Landing in her Lap. It’s been the experience of a lifetime being the child of a person who lives like this – guileless and believing in the good.

From my father, the Gift of Willingness to see the Funny Side. He is one of the funniest people I know and in another world, would have been a stand-up comedian instead of a lawyer. I love his take on the world and, when I remember to see the humour in a situation instead of freaking out and railing at unfairness (which he is also known to do – call it the Gift I’d Prefer Not to Mention), problems do diminish.

From my children, the Gift of Living in the Moment. There’s nothing like a baby to make the best-laid plans transmute into a spaghetti of terrible chaos. Though I have, and often still do, fight to plan ahead and organize, the moments when I allow myself to to sniff a child’s head, feel their warm limbs wrap around mine and melt into the joy of right now, this very second, are the best in the world.

From my husband, the Gift of the Oblique View. He has never been one to follow the pack, even when I first met him as a 17-year-old teenager. He holds the surprise factor of having viewpoints, ideas and ways to explain the world that knock me off my perch. My office (what my bedroom is known as during daylight hours) is next to his and I get a kick listening to him explain software to his clients on the phone. When a sentence starts ‘It’s like broccoli …’  I lose track of my protagonist’s problems and tune into the vagaries of global human resources management, because I have to know why software is like broccoli.

From my friends, I receive the Gift of Being Vastly Entertained. I love people to be amusing, witty, intelligent, provocative, a bit off-the-wall without injuring others and I have a treasure trove of people who do all of the above.

What gifts have you received from others?

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Giving Thanks

Today my daughters dragged me to church. I have religious beliefs, but they are private ones, and I don’t feel the need to worship communally. I also have a suspicion of organised religion that stems from the days when my family used to go to church with another family whose mother my father ran off with. That didn’t seem like very Christian behaviour to me. I’m also not keen on the concept of a Christian God who presides over a Christian Heaven to the exclusion of everyone else, and neither do I like being lectured to. However, D had received an invitation to an Erntedank or Harvest Festival service at the Evangelical church (that’s the Protestant one) here in the Burg and with, the fervour of a new schoolgoer, believed that it was compulsory not optional. L likes singing and “being in God’s house”, so we went, the two girls with joy in their hearts and mother sulkily kicking at lamp-posts along the way, saying “Do I have to go?” in a whiny voice.

Of course, when I got there, I enjoyed it. The reverend, or whatever Anglicans call their leaders, is young and kind of vibey and didn’t lecture. The church was filled with people I know. I sat next to a woman whose kid was in the same kindergarten class as L, and who has a voice like an angel, so I enjoyed listening to her sing. Since it was a children’s service, the hymns were easy and rousing, and although I didn’t know most of them, I managed to sing along. The church was prettily decorated with pumpkins, apples and other produce from neighbouring farms, and with bread baked by local bakers, while the sun streamed in through the stained-glass windows. Apart from the moment when D spoke loudly to me during a prayer, it was a pleasant hour and a half.

Later, I delivered D to a birthday party. All the attendees were little girls with whom she was first at kindergarten and with whom she has started the big adventure of school. We went to scout a local restaurant as a party venue for our fortieth at the end of the year, where the manageress is a friend of our babysitter. Later I went for a run, passing a family I know flying kites in a field, and towards the end, coming across the partygoers hunting for treasure at one of the playgrounds. After my shower I went to fetch her, but the party was running late, so I went upstairs to another friend for a cup of tea while we waited for it to come to an end. As D and I were trying to leave, the parents were flooding in to collect their kids and three of them stopped me to arrange play-dates.

Today in the church, we gave thanks for the harvest, for having enough food to eat, clothes to wear and roofs over our heads.

I also want to give thanks. I am grateful for community. However much I might see myself as a foreigner, alien to the Burg and various German habits that I find touchingly odd, it turns out I belong.

We have made friends, a place and a life for ourselves right here in this little Burg, and I give thanks for that. I am also grateful for my wider community in Germany, my community of expats and past and present work colleagues whose broad world-views I inhale eagerly. I am grateful for my friends and family around the globe, in South Africa, England, Dubai, the USA, Canada, Scotland and Ireland, who provide a backbone of support and the knowledge that while we may be far away, we are still loved. I am grateful for my online friends, some of whom I have already met and others whom I am about to meet, who are just as real and just as wonderful.

Today as we came away from the restaurant, L said, “You want to have a party for 120 people? You have a lot of friends.” I said to her, “Well, we are nearly 40, so we have had a long time to make friends. We have also lived in lots of countries, where we have met lots of people. And we like having friends.”

It’s true. I love my friends. Thanks to each and every one of you, near and far, who make my life so special.


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10 Things My Kids Love About Germany

One of the posts that consistently gets hits here is 10 Things I Love About Germany. It contains reference to cake, walking, coffee shops and great holidays. Today, while sitting in a coffee shop and eating Schwaebsiche Apfelkuchen, I asked my children what they love about Germany, and this is what they came up with:

1. Berlin. The best city in the world, even better and prettier than London (where two of them were born).

2. Swimming in the summer and skiing in the winter.

3. The coffee shops serve very LARGE slices of cake.

4. Being able to speak two languages.

5. Lots of Italians live in Germany, so you get really good pizza and extra good ice-cream.

6. Having lots of friends who speak different languages (English, German, Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, Greek).

7. Going ice-skating in winter.

8. Our friends P and M who are kind and funny and let us sleep over at their house.

(Please note that the grown-ups love P and M too, for exactly the same reason.)

9. Kika – the children’s TV channel.

(The grown-ups love Kika too. It is advert-free and age-appropriate.)

10. There are lots of different sports you can do – cycling, walking, skiing, swimming, gymnastics.

Germany – the land of outdoor living, great food, wonderful friends and big cake. How can you not love it?


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From the Frontline

… of suburbia, here is my life today:

Having a slight hangover, after cooking dinner for five girlfriends last night. We ate guacamole, a butternut and feta gratin, green salad with asparagus, carrot and walnut muffins with marscapone orange cream. We drank some bottles of rose, my favourite summer drink.

Sniffling somewhat, from the hayfever that prevents me from enjoying early summer with my whole heart.

Worrying about how Chapter Six has gone all spongy in the middle and how I am going to give it its edge back.

Reading other writer’s blogs for tips and finding this from Scott of Poetic Chaos:

When I get stuck while I’m writing, it’s usually because I realize there’s a problem with one of the characters. I’m not ‘getting it’ where they’re concerned. One of the ways I try to work around that is free writing. I’ll just open a new window and start writing for ten or fifteen minutes. Sometimes, it turns into a two way conversation between the character and I. Other times, it’ll be a journal entry, or just free association.

If I really get stuck, I play around with scenes that I’ve already written, and try writing them from the ‘stuck’ character’s perspective. It lets me into their head a little more, and gets me in tune with the character.

And I think a lot of voice is like that. It’s about tuning in. Sometimes, you’ve just got the frequency off a little bit – if you jiggle the knob, you’re going to get that clear crystal picture.

Enjoying the sensation of worked-out muscles in the gluteus maximus from my run yesterday and aerobics class with the Tommy the Teletubby on Monday.

Wondering if I will ever lose the five kilograms I joined the gym five months ago to lose, and considering my friend G’s tip to go and have my thyroid tested, but fearing that my thyroid will be fine and that the way forward will be a sparrow’s diet.

Puzzling about how I have got myself into hosting a sleepover for four girls between the ages of six and eight this weekend, and steeling myself to be firm with the one invitee who knows no boundaries. The solution may be to tranquilise with DVDs and popcorn.

Dreaming of leaving for Berlin next Thursday for six whole days of aloneness and writing.

Missing my husband.

Feeling inspired by this piece of wisdom, collected at Pippa’s Porch this morning:

The easiest thing to be in the world is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don’t let them put you in that position.

What’s happening in your world today?


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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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Royal Duties

Today, the Queen and Princess went to France. It was gruelling.

First of all, the Fairy Godmother collected them in her navy limousine, forgetting that both the Queen and the Princess prefer to travel in silver vehicles. However, they were able to forgive her because the back of her limousine is strewn with red velvet heart-shaped cushions – perfect for a little light napping. The Fairy Godmother drove the whole way to France, without forgetting the way once.

On arrival in France, the Queen and Princess were forced to sip hot French coffee and – wait for it – nibble on crusty little croissants. Then they went unto the shopping portals, which are, it must be said, far far better than the portals of Pietermaritzburg. They swished from shop to shop in their gowns, occasionally purchasing an item (the Fairy Godmother had to carry their bags, and the money) or rejecting one on the basis of not being up to royal standard.

After much swishing and shopping, the Fairy Godmother insisted it was time to sit down and partake of victuals. Having placed the Royal Family in the prime spot in the tavern of her choice, she proceeded to feed them buckwheat pancakes of various flavours, followed by dessert crepes of fruity deliciousness. The Queen called royally for the finest wines known to humanity, but the Fairy Godmother shushed her, saying only cider was served at the tavern. The Queen was somewhat surprised to be served her cider in a tea-cup, but she enjoyed it nevertheless.

Once refuelled, the Royals and their loyal attendant swept out into the streets of France for more touching, oohing, jumping up and down with excited little shrieks. Between the three of them, they gathered more bags. Finally, after a sit-down and a loo-stop, they felt it was time to say farewell to France and travel to Germany in Fairy’s limousine.

“But, I have a treat for you, dear Royals,” cried the Fairy Godmother. “Before we leave France, I wish to swish you through the Enormous French Supermarket where we can treats made by artisans in hovels and other treats made in food factories.”

So the Queen, the Princess and the Fairy Godmother visited the Enormous French Supermarket where the citizenry were gathered in their droves, purchasing and partaking of treats. The Queen and her daughter fell upon the following treats:

Violet-flavoured yoghurts
Almond-flavoured yoghurts
Saucisson (for the Prince)
Chocolate chip cookies (for the little Princesses and the Princeling)
Dijon mustard
Sirop de Citron Vert
Red wine, clearly the finest known to humanity
Breads

and many other products not always available to the good burghers of Germany.

They had a delightful day, and retired to bed, happy in the knowledge that, once more, they had fulfilled their royal duties.

Please admire …

photo-662.jpg

…….. the Royal Pump.


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Tales From the Web

Number 2, October 2007

Welcome to Tales From the Web. This is the second edition of my magazine, where I select my favourite posts from the around this lovely Web that interlaces us all. I have no editorial policy except that I select things that amuse and delight me, and I presume that, since we are friends, they will delight you too. If they don’t, then go away and read I Can Has Cheezburger – which I love – or Perez Hilton – who I love too. This is a place to celebrate writing; funny, beautiful, insightful, clever, uplifting writing. No cats in hats or celebrities’ nethers here.

One of the things I’ve learnt since I started blogging is that good bloggers support each other, sometimes by commenting, sometimes by just turning up and sometimes by pointing out what a good job someone has done. I tend to have my favourites, but I’m always looking for new writers who inspire. If you come across a talent, please tell me! If you have a talent, please tell me! I’m chasing the delicious tidbits and I want to snare them in my web.

Of as today, my magazine has a name: Tales from the Web. The name was donated by Helen (of A Was Alarmed fame) and for her trouble she wins a box of Belgian chocolates. Unlike this magazine, the chocolates will not be virtual.

So here’s this month’s round-up, in no particular order of preference. If you like a post, go and tell the author. It’s call blog love and it’s good. Enjoy!

Eve, of The Third Eve, is a writer I’ve recently discovered. I’m fascinated by many of the topics she tackles, but recently she has been posting about the challenge of raising boys in a society that no longer tolerates the unique boy energy and wants to medicate it into oblivion. Here’s a snippet:

I’m no expert on boys but I do know that many boys do not fit in. Some manage their oddness by becoming leaders; others manage it by being kicked out of school; others are medicated into oblivion. I have friends whose brilliant son reacted to stressors in their family life (stressors created and denied by the parents, but obvious to nearly everyone else) by developing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). So many times, bright, sensitive boys develop symptoms in response to the environment–a sort of personal early warning system that functions to tell grownups to slow down. Their symptoms are labeled and ignored in the name of Education. Or Medicine. Or Science.

Read more of Eve’s post here: Bad Boys, Bad Boys, Watcha Gonna Do?

Please read Courtney’s beautiful post on growing more like her mother – When did this happen? – which celebrates her surprise discovery, but questions why families tend to pigeonhole their members.

Amity, who blogs at Noble Savage, is another writer I’m just getting to know. I feel we have something in common – we are both expats, stay-at-home mothers with a fiendish writing habit, and married to British men. Her latest post contains not only complete surprise that, despite having just moved into a new house which she is busy redecorating, she appears to be hosting two parties this weekend, but also a seriously dirty coffee mug. Take a look here. Believe me, it’s worth it.

How is it possible for a ballerina to become an engineer? Lia tells us how, in her post Naivete and Tenaciousness. I know Lia, and it never ceases to fascinate me that she has had these two disparate careers. I believe that she’s training for a third career now, but I’ll let her reveal what it is in her own good time.

Not on Facebook yet? Here are Ian in Hamburg’s tips for trying to persuade/beg/stalk people to become your Facebook friends: How To Get Back in Touch.

Ms Healing Magic Hands went into her labyrinth to do a healing and peace meditation and came out angry. She’s very angry at George Bush, not only because she has a son in service, but because she believes he understands “neither liberty, patriotism, nor humanity”. Read her post here.

I’m a bit of a fangirl when it comes to poet and essayist Kyran Pittman’s blog Notes to Self. Every post is a jewel. She says she strives for quality over quantity, which is a great goal, one which the IntraWeb could adopt to good effect. First, make yourself a cup or tea or coffee, then pick a post (any post) and enter her world. You’ll be so glad you did.

Amy Winehouse might not be going to rehab (no, no, no) but YogaMum and I are. Read her brilliant post Rehab for Busy Moms and see if you wouldn’t want come along.

Befriend a new blogger! My friend K (who I can now officially out as Kerry, seeing she’s done so herself) bravely offered herself up a victim to come on Charlotte’s Very Busy Tour of Berlin. She’s back from Berlin and blogging, about having twins, what it means to be married to the step-parent of one’s own children and a very inspiring photography course. Visit K at Kerry’s Khaos.

Now for the fashion pages of my magazine. Do you have a geek in your life? Or perhaps you are one? My dearly beloved has started a new blog focusing on that oxymoron Geek Chic. Take a look and see what well-dressed geeks are, or should be, wearing today: Dedicated Follower of Fashion.