Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


Awakening the Inner Cave-Dweller

We’re down to one car here at Fun Central. My 12-year-old Renault Scenic died unceremoniously a few weeks ago and we decided not to replace it, because we are good Germans and like to think about the environment. This does put some pressure on me and Germany’s Top Husband, though, in terms of negotiating who gets the car when. I was fondly imagining I’d go grocery shopping this morning until he pointed out that he had a suit day in Heidelberg and the car was his. Off  he went, leaving me staring into the empty fridge wondering what the hell I was going to have for breakfast.

Turns out, it was a peach. Not a peach that was lingering in the fruit-bowl, but a peach that I had to hunt down by foot and then drag home, skin and eat.

There is something intensely satisfying about bringing your food home on foot. Here’s what I managed to scavenge by going into the Burg’s thousand-year-old town centre and walking around the shops there, instead of driving to the supermarket outside town:

1. Butcher: Thuringer sausages, both plain and spicy; marinated lamb chops (got the fourth free just by chatting to the lovely lady – that wouldn’t have happened at the supermarket); free-range eggs.

2. Greengrocer: a butternut (never to be found in a German supermarket), peaches, apples, grapes, cucumber, red peppers, a tin of marinated giant beans, a lettuce.

3. Schlecker: muesli, cleaning cloths, bin bags, snacks for the kids.

4. Bakery: Brezeln, both plain and cheesy, and a free chat about Germany’s chances for Saturday.

Then I dragged the whole lot home and pounced on my peach.

I have become a fan of the caveman lifestyle idea. Those of you who have been with me a long time know that diets have come and gone. There was Shangri-La, there was low-carb and long, long ago in the mists of time, there was Weight-Watchers.

But the caveman diet, I’m telling you, is the way forward. It has various names and proponents (paleolithic, caveman, primal blueprint), but the basic idea is the same: eat the way our ancestors ate, move the way they moved, and rest the way they rested, thus becoming fitter, leaner and healthier. It makes a lot of sense to me. Without wanting to repeat what the experts say, I point you to the best blog I’ve found on the caveman lifestyle: Mark’s Daily Apple. Check out his About section for tons of useful background information.

I’ve been acting the cave-dweller for the month of June. I’ve lost kilograms and centimetres, which is always pleasing. I am also happier, better rested and far less grumpy. And right now, I’m off to the pool in my mammoth-skin bikini for some caveman-like romping.

Want to join me?


Project: Thin, Grey Novelist

So my goal for this year, my 39th as it coincidentally happens to be, no smack of a midlife crisis in this corner, is to get fit, learn to accept my grey hair and finish my novel. I thought you might like an update.

Getting Fit

I am attending the gym regularly (three to four times a week), despite having been called a Teletubby by a fitness instructor. I’ve attended two more of his classes since then and he tore a strip off someone for being five minutes late, and the next time gave someone else a lecture for chewing gum in class (admittedly a dumb thing to do in an aerobics class). I clearly got him on a good day. I also do my circuit and am getting stronger, and can go for longer and faster on the treadmill and cross-trainer. I have only attended one spinning-class and I loved it, but have not gone back. I must because it’s a brilliant fat-burner, but I do get sore nethers.

Writing a Novel

I have just submitted my difficult and by no means perfect Chapter Four to my writing cheerleaders. Their job at the moment is to say “Yay! You did it! I love this bit.” Later on, when there is a full novel to read, they will be allowed to provide critique. I am now starting Chapter Five, which in theory should be a breeze because it’s a part I wrote three years ago, but we no longer have the computer it was on and I’ve lost the print-out, so there’s a chance I’ll be reimagining it from scratch. Also, I am planning a writing retreat on my own, probably in the Black Forest, sometime in June and I am very excited about that.

Going Grey

This part is going well. My hair is doing the job all by itself with no input from me. I had a moment in a department store in Karlsruhe when I saw a lady with multi-coloured hair like mine fixed into a rigid helmet with a pouffe-like thing going on front, and my mother-in-law had to forcibly restrain me from running into the nearest hair salon and shrieking for highlights. A couple of days ago I heard an insert on my favourite source of information, Woman’s Hour, that as more and more women of a certain age are refusing to go grey and are dyeing or highlighting their hair blonde, that blonde is becoming seen by the young (see how that ages me) an older woman’s colour. Young women now favour chocolate brown red and black as their hair colours of choice.

Well, mine is neither blonde, brown, red or black. It is, as you see below, stripey:

But, because I am growing up, I am happy about that:


Red and Green II

The image is not so pretty, today. Red and green describes the colour of my eyes. I woke to find them greenly glued together, and when I finally prised them open, the insides were red. So after dropping my people at their various Higher Institutes of Craft-Making and Fun-Having, I went to the doctor. There I sat and I sat and I sat. I sat for two and a half hours, amongst moaning pensioners, expectorating teenagers and quietly wilting people of the middle years. Once I finally had the attention of a doctor, I was told it was a virus and that I need to go home, take paracetamol and rest. I basked in the light of his wisdom for a full three minutes. All in all, not a satisfying experience.

Damn, I’m cross. Cross at the waste of my time (I read my book, but still, the principle!), cross that I’m sick, cross that I can’t rest, cross that I can’t go to gym, cross that I have a precious 12 hours a week to myself and that today’s three hour allocation was balled up into a doctor’s prescription and tossed into a sanitised bin. He offered me a doctor’s note, and then when I said I work from home, made his swiftly becoming unfunny joke that there’s no being written off sick for mothers. Ha! I laughed not!

I’m fantasising about sending my children to a school with longer hours, about committing the sin of not providing a hot lunch, about having a bit more time to myself. We had dinner with newly-arrived US friends on Friday and I was explaining how school only lasts until 12.20 because the entire fabric of German society is based on the hot lunch.

Friend’s husband: So what do you give them in summer?

Me: A slightly cooler lunch.

Cheer me up, won’t you? See that shiny little badge over there on the right? Please go and vote for me in the category Best Overseas South African blog. That would really make my day and I promise to stop complaining about my health and my very extremely tough lot in life if you do. While you’re there, you could vote for my friends the fabulous Cooksister and the inspiring Vanielje Kitchen too, but save a little vote for me and my red-and-green eyes.

While you do, I’ll just lie here in the foetal position, groaning slightly. Then I’ll slap myself and go and tidy up the remains of Hot Lunch #1,026 (sausages, carrots and new potatoes).


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.)


Setting the Record Straight

I owe my husband an apology. What I blithely defined as the “man-flu” was really the Big and Nasty Flu. And I should know, because now I’ve got it. Frankly, I’ve had it with illness, mine or anyone else’s, and would like some health to come flooding our way this month.

Let the record show that:

  • Before Christmas, Daisy had a bout of flu that relocated to her hip so that she couldn’t walk. Quaintly known as Hueftschnuepfen (hipsniffles), this meant no kindergarten for some days and a visit to hospital for X-rays and scans to ensure that she didn’t have arthritis. She didn’t.
  • After Christmas, just as kindergarten was starting again, Daisy contracted the quaintly named Gurtelrosen (shingles) which made her infectious to anyone who had not had chickenpox. Ollie was immediately innoculated and neither he nor Daisy could hang out with any other kids, except Lily.
  • Just as we got Daisy back to kindergarten, Thomas came down with the Big and Nasty Flu, which Daisy also contracted, so she stopped going to kindergarten.
  • I had a one-night stand with BNF, except mine was in the form of severe vomiting.
  • Ollie caught the gastro from me, and had to be rushed to hospital, where he spent four days recovering with a drip in his head.
  • Three days ago, on Ollie’s return from hospital, I got the BNF in its full form and have been laid flat since then. This is the first time I have been able to look at a screen without the lights hurting my head, and that’s probably because I’m nursing a hot toddy laced with A LOT of whisky.

Here are some good things:

  • Everyone, except me, seems to be on the mend.
  • The sun shone today and the children went out for a bike ride.
  • Lily has only missed one day of school since starting in September, so I think she’s rounded the corner from being a little kid who catches every bug to a tougher big kid.
  • It’s the weekend, so I can actually lie in bed and groan while Thomas feeds and entertains the small people.
  • Our wonderful friends have helped us with grocery shopping, taking the non-sick children for play-dates and ferrying them to their afterschool activities. Thanks and you know who are!
  • Daisy missing kindergarten means she’s missed out on the headlice epidemic, which given her full and bounteous head of hair, is a great relief.

Here’s what I’m hoping for:

  • A return to our normal routine on Monday
  • Rude health for all

And now I’m going to make myself a fresh toddy and head for my bed. Night night.


Five Things You Might Not Know About Charlotte

This is via Helen – a list of things about myself other bloggers might not know. The idea is to develop a repository of people who may be subject matter experts in certain areas, not necessarily professional ones, so that other writers will have a wealth of research material to dip into …

… and it’s just another chance for navel-gazing, which I can never resist.

So, here are five things you might not know about Charlotte:

  1. I have a phobic fear of legless critters – worms, snakes and fish. I can eat fish, but only if it is shaped like a rectangle. I can’t eat worms or snakes.
  2. I am obsessed with travel. I have lived in Pietermaritzburg, Johannesburg, Cape Town, London (twice), Atlanta Georgia, and various small towns near Heidelberg, Germany. This year I have been to Italy, France, South Africa, England and will shortly go to Switzerland. Next year I hope to go to California, Corsica and South Africa. I believe I will keep moving for the rest of my life.
  3. I have had two home births, one accidental and one planned.
  4. I have meditated on and off for 25 years. I believe that I have spirit guides and angels in close companionship and that meditation brings me closer to them. They have also been near me in times of difficulty, and when this happens, I smell roses. I also believe in reincarnation and the rule of karma.
  5. I have suffered from cracked heels my whole life. I have recently discovered that two tablespoons of walnut oil per day cures them.

Consider yourself tagged!

P.S. Here’s the list of participants from Sharon. She asked us to include this:

Remember that it isn’t always the sensational stuff that writers are looking for, it can just as easily be something that you take for granted like having raised twins or knowing how to grow beetroot. Mind you,  if you do know how to fly a helicopter or have worked as a film extra, do feel free to let the rest of us know about it!



I’m not a fan of hospitals. I’m not particularly keen on doctors. I know many personally, and think they are great people, but once they don their white coats and come over all official on me, I get scared. Fortunately, I have had great health in my life and have not needed doctors or hospitals much. Like Emily, I have had to go to hospitals to visit others. Mostly, these have been very sad or traumatic experiences – visiting my grandfather on his deathbed, visiting my very ill grandmother or watching my brother in ICU and wondering if he would make it out (he did). But apart from having tonsils out at the age of three and giving birth to a baby at the age of 31, I’ve had no need of hospitals.

As a journalist, I had to go to hospitals now and again. Working the seedier side of the crime shift meant trying to get an interview with the victim/survivor, preferably at their hospital bedside. My most memorable hospital visit took place when I was a cadet reporter on The Star, one of Johannesburg’s largest daily papers. I had a two-month trial period in which to impress upon the news editor that I was the most worthy of all his candidates and that he should give me a full-time job. I gratefully and enthusiastically took every job he handed me, and had some success: some front page stories, a few by-lines, an op-ed piece. I was quietly confident that all was going well.

One morning when he told me I was off to the Johannesburg City Hospital with a photographer to capture pics of Father Christmas visiting the children’s ward, I was pleased. Just a few photo captions here and there, a few smiling children, a genial Father Christmas; compared to many of my assignments thus far this would be a piece of cake. The photographer I was going with was seasoned – Joao Silva, who later made his name as one of the Bang-Bang Club, a group of four South African photographers who captured the violence (hence the “Bang-Bang”) in South Africa’s townships in the early Nineties and transmitted their images to the world, helping to sway international opinion against the apartheid government. He’d photographed war, famine in the Sudan, unspeakable things in towns just near where I lived. So, in comparison, Father Christmas at the hospital with the children was for him an easy and pleasant way to spend a morning.

We arrived at the children’s ward. There were little people with their limbs in casts, others attached to drips but smiling broadly from under their completely bald heads, others who didn’t appear to see us. The ward was brightly decorated for Christmas, tinsel everywhere, and outside the hot, December sunshine griddled the pavements. As I looked around at the faces, some animate, others not, I could feel my heart come into my throat. Inside, I was delivering myself a stern lecture: “Pull yourself together, you’re a journalist, a professional, here to take down names and write some captions, this is an easy job, just wait for Father Christmas and then it will all be over.”

Father Christmas arrived, incongruously dressed in his winter red and white suit, and started making his rounds of the beds, delivering presents and hugs. Little arms stretched up around his neck, ruffled his overtly fake beard. Joao started snapping. Those who could unwrapped their single present delightedly, the nurses helped the ones who couldn’t. To my horror, I felt tears in my eyes. Frantically dabbing at the tears now streaming down my cheeks, I was trying to write notes and take names. My tears turned to sobs. Joao patted me, then got on with his job, professional that he was, while I gave up all attempts at journalism and gave in to weeping. Eventually a sister took pity on me, led me away, still sobbing, sat me down, gave me tissues and fed me sweetened tea. When Joao had finished, he collected me, still a damp wreck, and took me back to the office, where I used his notes to write my captions.

A couple of weeks later, the news editor told me I would not be getting a position on the newspaper. While everything I had produced had been of good quality, he suspected that I did not have what it took to be a journalist on a newspaper. I was disappointed and angry, and within weeks, found a job on another paper. There I covered the crime beat, saw some horrific things, was often scared out of my wits by the dangerous situations I found myself in. Six months into that job, after suffering repeated nightmares, I quit newspapers and gave up my dream. It was never going to be for me. I didn’t have the professional distance that it took to be a journalist in South Africa at that hard, challenging moment in the country’s history. My morning in the children’s ward should have made that clear.