Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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?


Tales From The Web

Number Five, February 2009

The Things to Make You Smile, But In An Ironic Way, Edition

I don’t know about you, but for me January has been long, dark and slightly depressing. There have been protracted bouts of cancelling the car, I have read 11 eleven books (always a sign), my kids keep coming home from school with infectious illnesses which they pass on to other members of the family and a bad thing happened to some people I love. Being Ms Glass Half-Full, I have to admit there have been good things – I’ve got a new client, and a new writing gig which I can soon tell you about, a cheque which was lost in the post was kindly re-issued, Barack Obama was inaugurated and we’ve re-jigged things in the family routine to allow me more writing time. But somehow, the gloom has prevailed.

Now that it is a new month, and we had a great day yesterday celebrating a ninth birthday at the ice-rink, I am ready for perky. I’m ready for sunny. I’m ready to be amused. It is my self-appointed duty today to introduce you to some funny stuff.

I do love the Germans, and I also love laughing at them. Since some of my dear German friends read my blog, I have to avoid being too brutal. But this guy pulls no punches – he’s got the Germans down. His blog is called Ich werde ein Berliner, and is written in the same style as the now-famous Stuff White People Like: each post is part of a catalogue explaining the Germans. I especially like these on Christmas, cafes and Irony.

I have a blog crush on the Crabmommy. I am not a huge fan of Mommyblogs generally, but Ms Crabster has subverted the genre and produced something cutting, funny and dare I say it, ironic. Her manifesto is thus:

On this website I will never:
*speak of the enchanting constant joy and transformative wonderment of motherhood
*dispense little nuggets about what my child has taught me
*tell any mom to stop and smell the diapers “because it all goes by in the blink of an eye”
*make jokes about bowel movements and baby body fluids (because it’s not my thing and it can be found abundantly elsewhere)
*use the word “miracle”
*count my blessings
*chart my child’s developmental milestones
*seem to be in a good or grateful mood
*be mean about my friends or family because they’ll get me back

If you trawl through her archives, you can watch her craft toys from tampons, mock Gwyneth Paltrow and post embarrassing photographs of herself during her South African schooldays. But the ultimate post, and the one which converted me to a die-hard fan, is this one which starts: “Barack Obama is a great man, but frankly I voted for him because he is hot.” Go and read it, and see her justification for voting with your eyes. (If you are moved to comment, tell her I sent you and maybe, just maybe she’ll come and visit me so that we can share our Barack Obama crush and our weird South African past.)

Laura, aka Ms Honey Pie Horse, is consistently funny about many things: living in Germany, being married to a German and explaining things – including God and sex – to your children. For me her post on spa terrorism is a tour de force.

PaddyK, an Irishman living in Sweden, is the ultimate Internet snarkster, and has been oft-quoted in TFTW. Paddy has recently started an expat blog carnival, in which I have taken part, and through which I found Po, the spindrifting South African sea monkey. Po has drifted as far as England, where she likes, as is tradition in that country, to take the mickey. All her posts are funny, but see these two: Smallish Britten and Smallish Britten – unleashed. Watch out for the emperor in his new clothes, and then come back and agree with me on the sheer brilliance. Po, you deserve plaudits.

Ms Waffle, formerly of Belgium but now back in Ireland, mines a rich seam of humour, particularly with regard to raising three small children and working fulltime. I have long been, and still remain, a fan.

I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but the sub-theme of this Smiling/Ironically edition is Barack Obama. I may have mentioned that I am more than slightly enamoured of the Prez. A couple of nights I ago, I dreamt that I met him at a party and was able to advise him on his South African policy. He was deeply grateful. I have had discussions with friends as to the source of my crush and we agree that Barack is of a similar type to my husband: tall, skinny and intellectual, but with a twinkle in his eye. However, my friend Diane woke up to find that her own husband had actually turned into Obama. See what happens here.

The last post is nothing about humour, but it is the best blog post I have read this year – and that is saying a LAWT, since me, I go for quality – and I need to share it with you. Ian is a Canadian expat living in Germany and this year, when the canals froze in Holland, he drove 500 kms to go skating on the ice. 10 Things I Learned About Skating in Holland embodies everything that is good about blogging: great writing, a glimpse into a world unknown and superb visuals. Ian, I wish that National Geographic would pick up your post, publish it and pay you wads of cash. You deserve it.

On that note, I leave you, hopefully amused, uplifted and, most essentially,  fully equipped with the essential skill of how to order coffee in Germany and drink it in the most ironic fashion. Latte machiato, God forbid!

Yours sincerely

Little Ms Sunshine


The Extreme Cuteness

My son turned three this week, and is turning into a big boy. Big boy signs are eager use of potty at specific times of day, determination to do things by himself including laborious undressing at bathtime, and a rejection of the perambulator as a useful means of transport. He is a delightful child, loved to distraction by his parents, his sisters and all the little girls in his forest kindergarten, but one of the best things about him is his turn of phrase.

I give you some recent Ollie-isms:

Early one morning, as Mummy winds open the blinds: “Oh, today is purple!”

While out for a “walk” in the forest, 50% of which he spends being carried piggy-back by, you guessed it, Mummy:

Ollie: “Mummy, you are a nice girl.”
Mummy: “Thanks, Ollie, you are a nice boy.”
Ollie: “Oh, fank you, Mummy.”

Playing at Daddy’s feet, with two helicopters he has received for his birthday from very kind godparents and friends. One helicopter says to the other, “Darling, I’m just popping out to the shops.”

While “walking” in Mannheim:
Mummy: “Wouldn’t you like to walk now, Ollie? My back is getting a little sore.”
Ollie: “No. But fank you for the kind offer.”


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.)


I Shout at Inanimate Objects

I realised today as I loudly cursed the box of medicines that had just cascaded its contents down upon my head, while my children looked on amazed as their heretofore peaceful and aimiable mother was transformed into a shrieking harridan, that I have become my father. I shout at inanimate objects. Or at objects that should be inanimate but that have surprised me by falling on my head.

I will also use my children’s language as cues to burst into brief, two-line, atonal bursts of song. So if someone says “summer”, I immediately sing:

“Summer lovin’, had me a blaaaast”

This confuses children. They have not heard of Grease and they are not sure why their conversation about why summer is better than winter, or whether summer comes before or after autumn, has suddenly turned their mother into Showgirl. I hated it when my father did this to us, and now look at me. I also whistle tunelessly when happy, just like he does, and as my grandfather did too.

The other day, I found myself on the verge of air putting. Air putting, or air swinging, is the same as air guitar, but for golf. Whenever my father is standing still with nothing in his hands, he practises his putting or sets up his golf swing. He will also grab any nearby golf-club shaped object and swipe an imaginary ball with it. When I had my first golf lessons at the age of 25, the pro was astonished. She thought I was a natural talent. What she didn’t know was the only time I ever saw my father was when he was about to hit either a real or a fictive golf-ball; and since he is a very good golfer I had subconsciously adopted his stance, style and swing.

There I was in hospital with Lily this week, as she had concussed herself, and the air-putting urge came upon me in her hospital room. We were alone, having some one-to-one time, which is pretty unusual and special for us – though unfortunate that it took concussion for it to happen – and all the while I was quelling the desire to stand up and putt invisible balls. Instead, I grabbed paper and we did some drawing together. The urge to putt left me.

But I am also becoming my mother. I mutter to myself, especially when in engaged in household tasks that I despise. I also groan just like she does when I bend down to sweep or retrieve peas tossed to the floor by boldly gesticulating eaters. Note that I do not groan when doing yoga. Groaning is reserved for tiring chores only; pleasant activities that involve bending are groan-free.

I tend to talk to people when they are in different rooms from me. This works for the sharp-eared but for the very slightly deaf, like my dear husband, it is intensely irritating. When stressed, I also walk increasingly louder and faster until I am practically stomping. It is for this trait that my stepfather, who has a way with nicknames, calls my mother “Short Steps”, as in, “Don’t go into the kitchen right now. Short Steps is on the rampage.”

How is it that I have inherited the most irritating and ridiculous of my parents’ habits? I would rather have had her neatness, his attention to detail; or her memory for stories and his for jokes. I see the future – tuneless singing, aimless putting, talking to people who aren’t there, shouting at boxes – and I worry for my children.


Bloat, Wretches!

I found a link to the Internet Anagram Server (or I, Rearrangement Servant) on Smiler’s blog and have spent a happy half-hour browsing the anagrams for Charlotte’s Web. (Actually it was longer; there were 16457 of them.)

After some agonising, my top fifteen are:

1. Bloat, Wretches
2. Cable the Worst
3. Crab Hotel Stew
4. The Crow Bleats
5. Chatter’s Elbow
6. Lab Chews Otter
7. Hot Secret Bawl
8. We Rob Chattels
9. The Scarlet Bow
10. The Rectal Swob
11. We Latch Sorbet
12. We Chat Lobster
13. The Scrotal Web
14. To Claw Sherbet
15. Chatter’s Bowel

I think my favourite for its sheer random lunacy is “We Chat Lobster.” What’s yours?

Then, because that wasn’t enough, I tried anagramming my name. These were my favourites:

1. Tattler Cheroot
2. Treacle Hot Trot
3. Chalet Retro Tot
4. Chatter Re Lotto
5. Carrot Teeth Lot
6. Cattle Hero Tort
7. Cattle Retort, Ho!
8. To Race Throttle
9. Retract The Loot
10. Lac Hotter Otter

If you are tempted to play anagrams, please let me know and come back and tell me your favourites. Anagram Weekend = Meander Weak Nag!


Welcome to the Tea-Party

My grandmother was a milliner, and I have inherited her love of hats. I thought I’d share some of my favourites with you.

The Mad Fluffy Hat, or The One Liam Gallagher Most Wants to Borrow

The Doek, or The One That Cost Far Too Much But Was Too Adorable To Leave in the Shop

The Sparkly Beanie, aka Last Year’s Favourite

The Navy Stalker’s Hat, or The One on Which The Jury is Still Out

The Tea Cosy, or This Year’s Favourite

My love of hats means that my children have to leave the house wearing silly head-gear. Since I don’t post photos of them, here I bravely model their hats:

Hey, this one fits! Watch out, Mummy may be borrowing your hat.

Starting to feel a little coy in ill-fitting hat …

Mummy, I’ve been a good boy. Promise.

Which one is your favourite?


In Case You Miss Meez

It’s holiday time here at Charlotte’s Web and I’m taking a two week blogging break. I’m going to be completely offline and I’m looking forward to burying myself in books, musing over my novel and drinking really large glasses of wine.

Here in case you’re going to miss me, is my Meez (like totally copied from Litlove and Ms Tea):

Or, in case you find her irritating, here’s the real Meez, waving at you from behind one of those really big wine-glasses:




Bad Day at Grumpy Ranch

Actually, it started quite well: Lily eagerly going back to school, Ollie having a fabulous two-hour morning nap so that Daisy and I could do puzzles and draw each other princess pictures to colour in. It was still going well when Lily flung herself through the front door exclaiming joyfully about how wonderful school was. Daisy was pleased to have chilli con carne for lunch (note to self: I make this far too often. Mince may be a good cheap way to feed a big family but we’ve had spag bol, macaroni pie and the aforementioned chilli once too often this winter. I mince no more.). Lily opted for the rice in a bowl with chopsticks (she’s going through a Chinese phase) and Ollie was none too keen on the mince or the rice. Perhaps the mistake was giving everyone chocolate for pudding – there was a brief interlude of happiness, and then on came the grumps.

Lily developed a headache and had to lie on the sofa and listen to The Twits. Ollie and Daisy joined her; he kept getting stuck in the little corner behind the radiator where all the vital cords and wires live that keep this household permanently tuned to the glory that is the world wide web, I kept getting him out, and he kept kept clambering back in. Daisy lay on the other sofa from Lily, but UNDER the rug that covers the holes in the leather, where she kept putting her toes and fingers and other extremities into the holes, which, along with Ollie’s extreme attraction to electrics, was starting to cause Mama’s nerves to fray.

Then Lily gave up on The Twits and went upstairs to her new desk to do her homework, thumped down again to say she felt sick and thumped up again to have another go. This time she was followed by Ollie, who did his best to climb onto her chair with her, which is endearing but not when you’re trying to write “Ei. Ei. Ei. Eis. Eis. Eis” over and over again in your best German handwriting. She managed to get rid of him, and I told her she was allowed to shut her door.

While all this was going on, I was doing nine loads of laundry, then carrying it up two flights of stairs and packing it away. The laundry is in The Dungeon, so it’s a place to escape when things are getting hairy. Which they were. Daisy was in Lily’s room, scolding her for shutting her door. Lily was screeching that she needed to be left alone. I was screeching up the stairs to say (a) Please leave your sister alone, she’s trying to do her homework, (b) I told her she could shut her door and (c) You are not Lily’s mummy. Shortly afterwards, Daisy mentioned she would like some food, and I said “I am sick to death of food preparation, please help yourself to a piece of fruit” (note to self: when things are escalating, it is important for the grown-up in the house to remain calm and not make dramatic statements). After packing away the next load, I found Daisy at the dining-room table hacking away at a half-loaf of stale pumpkin-seed bread with a butter knife. I relented and made her a piece of toast. During this time, Ollie visited the cords behind the radiator about seven more times, climbed up on his high chair and tried to hug the window-pane and Lily huffed up and down the stairs a few times, the last time to mention that a wheel had fallen off the leg of her new chair and that she was coming downstairs to finish her homework.

The rest of the afternoon’s events are a bit of a blur but involved a fight over a small black Ferrari, Ollie tossing all his crayons onto the floor several times, Lily crumpling up a drawing Daisy had made for her, Daisy and Ollie breathing heavily over my shoulder while I tried to address cards and fill envelopes with photographs of the children for relatives in England (note to self: do jobs like this at night), while I persevered, getting more and more irritable until I flipped and said things like I can’t wait for bedtime, and I’ve had enough, and you three are driving me up the wall, and so on.

This made everyone very sad. Ollie had a big cry. Lily drew a picture of a heart crossed out and sad faces and an arrow showing that she would like to leave this family. Daisy did the same, but upped the ante by going upstairs, packing her penguin roll-on suitcase with some skirts, nighties and drawing materials, clomping downstairs and announcing that she was leaving. Lily cried and I did some crisis management, telling Daisy that, while things were not so wonderful at home today, there was no place in the world where she would be more loved than here. During these negotiations, Ollie also went upstairs, gathered Lily’s crocodile roll-on suitcase and dragged it down again, indicating that wherever Daisy was going, he was going too. We persuaded them both to stay, had a philosophical conversation about how horrible it would be to be “a norphan” and put on the pasta for supper.

Addendum: When I told my husband this story over the phone, he laughed. Later he sent me this:

I often wonder how you can find time for what you do, in addition to the care of the house; and how good Mrs. West could have written such books and collected so many hard works, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment! Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb.

Jane Austen


A Gender Meme

Oh, and I was worrying about what I was going to post today, and then I went to What We Said and found Mandarine’s Gender Meme. The world of bloggery is just packed with inspiration! I have been meming quite a lot lately, and I apologise, remembering with shame the days when I would just scornfully delete email memes that arrived in my inbox, but there we are, it’s fun and it’s keeping Mr Pomo away (he’s still muttering in his cave). This one also ties in with my Mars/Venus rant of a couple of days ago, and I think it’s supposed to reveal our inbuilt cultural and sexual prejudices, so it’s not always pretty. Here goes:

1. Three things you do that women usually do

Cook. Shop. Preen.

2. Three things you do that men usually do

Take out the rubbish. Carry in the groceries. Drive long distance and at night.

3. Three things you do that women usually don’t do

Scratch my bum without realising I’m doing it. Expect my husband to do the remembering and phoning for his family’s birthdays and anniversaries. Refuse to feel guilty if he forgets.

4. Three things you do that men usually don’t do

Hormonal eating. Remind myself to make sure a child has clean socks for the morning. Worry if everyone has had their five-a-day today.

5. Three things you don’t do that women usually do

Worry about the size of my bum. Wax. Give myself long and attentive manicures.

6. Three things you don’t do that men usually do

Mow the lawn. Change the oil. Hog the remote.

7. Three things you don’t do that women usually don’t do

Mow down other drivers with my Bondmobile. Focus on one extremely important something to the total detriment of all other somethings. Hold forth on my favourite theme to a rapt audience, warm to my topic, not notice the glazing, go up a gear, not sense that many are now asleep, finish and expect grateful applause from the one person left alive in the room.

8. Three things you don’t do that men usually don’t do

Clean the bath after I’ve used it. Collect my fingernail clippings after I have clipped them. Iron work shirts.

I now tag Pillowblogger, Funky Uncle Mustard and you!