Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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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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Things To Do Instead of Writing

You can spend time with friends, with old friends, who because you haven’t seen them for so long, seem like new friends, and with new friends, who because you feel so strangely at one with them, seem like old friends. You can drink wine with them in the afternoon, share your kids with them, wander new streets with them, and make extravagant promises to babysit their kids, once they have some.

You can spend an entire afternoon in Berlin looking for the perfect dress. You can look for something whimsical and floaty, with tea roses and cleavage, that looks like Jane Austen wore it to a party where there was croquet and Indian tea, but finally buy a twenty-first century dress, a little edgy, a little sharp, but with its curves in the right places. Also with cleavage.

You can drive long distances, to places you never dreamt of visiting, take trains where your children press their noses against the windows, ride bikes around the city of your dreams, bump into pedestrians and mutter sorry in two languages. You can float down a river, or down a leafy path in the Tiergarten and hear the white wolves howl at the daylight in the Zoo.

You can read A Quiet Flame and imagine the encroaching horror of Nazism in Thirties’ Berlin, and then read No one belongs here more than you and be swept away into an imagination and a sensibility that leaves you shell-shocked, war-wounded, but glad to be alive.

You can eat the best ice-cream outside of Elba in a glass palace of shops and elegance, merguez sausages and couscous in a leafy beer-garden, white asparagus with hollandaise sauce in an achingly hip urban square and the best rhubarb cake you can imagine in the courtyard of an Italian restaurant where you are introduced to the chef and the hostess by name.

You can climb with your children to the top of the Siegesauele, admire them hanging upside down and learning to swing and slide by themselves in playgrounds, watch them falling in love with your friends and weeping when they part, and see them take part in their lives with such spirit and joy that you want to shed tears of your own.

Instead of weeping, you shout, “Who loves Berlin?” and hear them yelling back, “Me Mummy! I love Berlin! I love it! I do!”


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Things Left Unsaid

I’m shamelessly lifting this idea from Ms Bleeding Espresso (she lives in Italy and bleeds coffee!). It is a list of 15 things I haven’t said over the years to various people, for fear of hurting them or making them angry, but also out of embarrassment, shame or shyness.

Here is my list of things – thus far – left unsaid:

1. You were a shining light of talent and beauty; it still breaks my heart that drugs took you.

2. Of all the people I know in the world, no-one deserves a loving relationship more than you.

3. I wish you would stop yo-yo dieting – accept your beautiful body and get on with it.

4. You were a lovely, funny, delightful friend and I wish you weren’t lost to us. Oh, and I still have your book.

5. I am sorry for the situation you are in, but it is of your own making: if you try to control people, they run away.

6. You are a boring narcissist – go away and come back only when you are prepared to show genuine interest in other people.

7. Being infantile is not attractive in an adult: grow up. Also, you are not as wise as you like to think you are.

8. You need to show love in your actions – mild protestations are not enough. Right now, I’m not sure I believe you.

9. Taking anti-depressants will never remove your pain completely – you need to ask my forgiveness for the hurt you caused and then you might start to feel a little better.

10. Thanks for giving me the experience of loving a jerk early in life – it helped me learn what to avoid.

11. I think you have forgiven me, but I am still sorry for that bad thing I did to you long, long ago – it was cruel, under-hand and selfish of me.

12. Living with you is the great joy of my life.

13. Stop living in fear! Have the courage to be your authentic self, and make the demands that you require.

14. Please stop babbling at me in dialect. I don’t understand you and I don’t want to.

15. Being engaged is not the same as being married. Get married already.

That was cathartic! I can recommend it. If you decide to lighten your own emotional load, please let me know in the comments.


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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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December Planning

Much as I like to subscribe to a spontaneous, seat-of-the-pants style of operating that would allow me to take up an invitation to go trekking in Patagonia with five hours’ notice, I actually have to be fairly organised. I’m divided. The real me is a dreamy, peripatetic traveller armed with a notebook and some chocolate, but the current me is a busy mother of three, with a job, lots of friends, a husband who would occasionally like my attention and three lunches to pack. Reality is that I vacillate between the two poles, being either relatively organised or utterly forgetful.

I have friends who are really organised, who get their tax returns back in January, who have colour-coded wardrobes, and who have a place for everything in their homes. I admire them, but try not to compare myself. Some of those friends don’t have children (which opens up many gazillions of free hours), others have live-in help (ditto) and others don’t work. When I’m beating myself up for not being perfectly organised, I have to remind myself that everyone’s situation is unique. My strategy is always people over things, so my children get more attention than the kitchen cupboards, my friends get more attention than the laundry and my husband, when he’s here, gets more attention than, say, the mop.

So, bearing in mind that people come first, and that Christmas is no fun when Mummy’s running around in increasingly small circles emitting a high-pitched shrieking noise, here is my answer to BlogLily’s request to share my planning for December:

1. To hand in my last two pieces of freelance work on 14 December, and to not work again until after New Year.

2. To use some of those free hours to work on my new collection of short stories (one in the writing, another six in the planning).

3. To enjoy and relish the week of 17 to 21 December, during which time I must bake and prepare for Daisy’s home birthday, Daisy’s kindergarten birthday and a joint birthday party I am hosting for myself and two friends (potential guest list 50-100?).

4. To have enough, but not too much food, in the house for the week of 22 to 28 December. We won’t starve, even if we don’t have immediate access to stem ginger, mince pies and rum-dipped dates.

5. To relax and enjoy the company of my darling family, especially that of my lovely brother who is making his first-ever journey to Europe to Christmas with us.

6. To buy less stuff.

It’s all about the fun, the love, about some – but not too much – gorgeous food and, if possible, much less stuff.


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My Fantasy Escape

My fantasy escape is a writing retreat in the African bush. I sleep in a large double bed with white linen and a mosquito net, and have a view of a waterhole where elephants come to drink, bathe and cavort with their babies. There are monkeys in the trees and warthogs snuffling in the shrubbery.

Silent staff bring me meals – exactly what I require, when I require it, without my ever having to ask – and are available take me on game drives should I wish it.

My family are permitted to make short visits. When they leave they do not cry, but cover me with kisses and wave cheerfully. I feel no guilt when they leave.

There is also yoga, but after the class all the other participants must melt away, unless I like them, in which case they may stay for dinner and be highly entertaining.

I swim in a pool that is the perfect temperature, and take outside showers.

There is a library of books and fat, comfortable sofas in which to read.

There is a verandah, with views, for contemplation.

The temperature never rises about 28° Celsius, and never drops below 18.

I write, and dream, and wake, and sleep, all to the rhythm of the bushveld. I watch sunsets and stars, sunrises and morning mists, but sleep through the heat of the day.

I live in the moment, meditate to the sound of beetles and birds, and write and write and write.

Can I go there now?

Thanks to YogaMum for the inspiration.


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The Forest Maker

I have this little brother, Andy. He is big and quite funny. He is also kind, dreamy, hard-working, full of empathy, sporty, outdoorsy, loyal and committed. For a living, he makes forests.

When he was growing up and in his early twenties, it was never clear what Andy was going to do for a job. He tried his hand at insurance and while his boss liked him, Andy found the relentless daily grind of office work unbearable. He also became bogged down by office politics – as a non-political animal, he just couldn’t understand it and was often hurt by people standing on his head to climb onto the next rung of the ladder.

He knew it was not for him and he left. He began making my mother’s smoked trout pate and selling it at local markets. This work suited him better: he was his own boss, he could work at his own pace and it allowed him more time to be outdoors. Andy’s smoked trout pate became very popular in KwaZulu-Natal and he even started selling it to a few shops, but it still wasn’t The Thing he wanted to be doing with his life. The family, as you can imagine, were wringing their hands. What was he going to do? Who was he going to be?

What nobody knew was that, in his heart, Andy knew what he was going to be. In his time off from the smoked trout pate business, Andy took his beloved black Lab Billy for walks in the indigenous forests of KZN. While there, he would collect seeds off the forest floor, take them home and nurture them. Achingly slowly, over a period of years, Andy developed a nursery of 4000 trees in his garden. He found he was spending more time looking after his trees than making trout pate. He joined local environmental groups, made contacts and began to be known as someone who knew a lot about indigenous trees.

Going indigenous is a big trend amongst South African gardeners because plants that are local to the area attract more birds and insects, whereas exotics leach the soil of precious nutrients and can be destructive. Andy began to sell a few trees from his home nursery, started to advise the lady gardeners of Pietermaritzburg on replacing exotics with indigenous and participating in drives to replace exotics in public spaces with beautiful indigenous trees.

And then his miracle happened. He was offered tenancy at the nursery of the local Botanical Gardens. He carefully transported his 4000 trees from the garden at home to the Gardens, where he now has a shop, staff and a public venue for his skills and knowledge. He is also involved in wholesale indigenous tree sales, participates in tree fairs and has become known as one of KZN’s top tree people. He still landscapes for lady gardeners, but he has also worked on golf courses and larger projects, removing hillsides of exotics and replacing them with indigenous. He is the forest maker.

My brother inspires me because he didn’t take the traditional route into the working world, but followed his heart. He ignored all the naysayers and did what he had to do. When he found his true calling and began to live it, his miracle happened. He is not an arrogant boss; he labours with his team, digging and hacking and hauling. He speaks brilliant Zulu. His employees love him. His employers love him. He is the gentle tree-man of KwaZulu-Natal. I am so proud of him.

And the best news of all, selfish sister that I am, that he is finally earning enough money to buy himself a ticket to come and spend Christmas with me and my family. This is his first visit to us ever and the best possible Christmas present I could have.