Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


The Commenters’ Meme

First Jeanne did it. Then Sol did it (and tagged me). Then Aphra did it. Now I’m doing it and I think you should do it, especially if you are doing NaBloPoMo, are locked into an insane 31-day cycle of daily blog posting and are looking for something to post today. Consider it my gesture of support.

The rules:

1. List the last 10 commenters on your blog.

2. If you’re on the list, you’re tagged.

The list:

1. (un)relaxeddad of Relaxed Parents

2. Emily of Telecommuter Talk

3. honeypiehorse of Our Feet are the Same

4. Jen of Jen’s Den of Iniquity

5. Jeanne of Cook Sister! (you don’t have to do it again, Jeanne)

6. Pete of Couch Trip

7. Natalian of Twaddle and Twak

8. Amity of Noble Savage

9. Ian of Letters Home

10. Lisa of Lisa’s Words at Play

Now for the questions:

1. What’s your favourite post from number 3’s blog?

Oh this one, without a doubt. It made me laugh (exploding potatoes! wobbly towers! rude Germans!) and made me feel better about the craziness that happens in my home. Laura is a new blogger – an American living in Bavaria, with her German husband and two children – so please go and shower her with some bloggy love.

2. Has number 10 taken any pictures that moved you?

Funnily enough, Lisa has just been on holiday to the shores of Oregon and taken some lovely moody seascapes, but my favourite picture – which did move me – was that of her hotel bed bestrewn with the pages of her manuscript. It made me look forward to the moment when I print mine out and start going through it. You can see the sea in the picture, as well as Lisa’s tiny and adorable dog nestling in the bedcovers, but it’s the atmosphere of creative work being done that I love. It’s a great picture.

3. Does number 6 reply to comments on his blog?

The fabulous Pete? You betcha!

4. Which part of blogland is number 2 from?

I’d say Emily has carved out her own unique space. She always says she’s not a book blogger, and would love to be, but when she posts about books it’s interesting and insightful. Emily is a little like me in that she won’t be categorised as a certain kind of blogger, and reserves the right to publish on whatsoever she chooses, but the consistent thing about is that she’s always funny. Go right now and read her Alcoholic Meme – the mint juleps! I want some! P.S. Only 4 days till I actually meet Emily. I wonder if there will be cocktails?

5. If you could give one piece of advice to number 7, what would it be?

Spread your love around! You are such a great blogger, and your blog deserves some attention. Go visit people and leave comments. They will politely return the favour and you will make some wonderful blog friends.

6. Have you ever tried something from number 9’s blog?

The lovely Ian is a repository of travel stories, insights into Germany and great recipes. I took his advice on how to deal with a weird Chinese blogger who was completely lifting my blog word-for-word and posting on his site. I have also heeded his example, and tried to ride my bike more.

7. Has number 1 blogged something that inspired you?

Yes, his encyclopaedic knowledge of music. See his Patti Smith post here. Don’t give up on the NaBlos, U-Dad, we need more music posts!

8. How often do you comment on number 4’s blog?

Frequently. I love Jen’s take on life and what she writes chimes with me.

9. Do you wait for number 8 to post excitedly?

I don’t like to put pressure on Amity since she has a new baby, but I do love it when she posts. She’s honest, combatative and funny.

10. How did number 5’s blog change your life?

The Cook Sister rules! Jeanne is the most dedicated blogger – every post is well-researched, well-written, usually funny, always informative. Although her main focus is food, she has an over-arching world-view that informs everything. She’s the poster child for high-quality blogging and has been the deserving recipient of multiple blogging awards. She has inspired me to aim for quality writing and not insult people with the “I picked my nose today” type of posts that you see all over the blogosphere. She also gave me the recipe that forms the basis of my Just So Easy Afro-Teutonic Beer Bread. Thanks to Jeanne, I bake bread and that’s life-changing in and of itself.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to pack for New York.

It’s not easy, but someone’s got to do it.



NaBlo Round-Up

Well feather me gently and call me ticklish, I made it: 30 damn long days of daily posting. All amidst my busiest working month since I left the mother ship in 1999 to make sproglets. All amidst week-long headaches, a family bout of conjunctivitis and sundry other coldy things, two weekends of lying in bed sickly, my mother’s visit. I am pleased that I did it and relieved that it’s over.

Thanks to all my cohorts who Nabbed alongside me: Kerryn, Helen, Aphra, Lizzy, YogaMum, Lia, Jeanne, (Un)Relaxeddad (who’s about to be a dad again), Susie, the Costa Rica Jen, the UK Jen, Reed, Bine, the very wise Mandarine, Amity, Thordora, Dorothy, Kristine, Ms Magic Hands, Ms Waffle, Gill, Sognatrice and the very lovely Stuntmother – You Did It! Hooray, and pass the gin.

To my new Nablo friends: Alida, Chantelle, velocibadgergirl, texasgurl, Dublin City Girl, Robin and Amanda, You Did It Too!

To Eden, who organised the whole damn thing, well done! From 2000-odd participants last year to more than 6000 this year is quite an achievement. And if you are moved to send me a prize, please don’t hold back.

To those who fell by the wayside, you choose life over blogging, which was probably the sane call.

To those who turned up and commented even when I was mining the deepest depths of lint-bearing rock, thank you.

To those who sent me a Ning friend request, but never once turned up and commented, well there you go. Some people just can’t mingle.

To the weird guy in Korea who wants to sell me stuff, go away. I don’t want to be your friend.

To those who have Xanga or Live Journal blogs, I tried, but I absolutely cannot read them.

To those who insulted my ears with their latest listening pleasure every time I turned up at your blogs, I left again immediately without reading or commenting. Keep your music in your iPod.

To those who have complicated design thingies that take 10 seconds to load, I left. Sorry.

To those who were trying to sell stuff on their blogs, I left. Not sorry.

To those who abused apostrophes, I left.

But to those who were witty, wonderful, wise, and know how to use an apostrophe despite deep propaganda that this (I ate two cake’s) or this (the cat ate it’s cake) is The Correct Way to Punctuate, keep on bloggin’! For every crap blog out there, there’s a good one.

And to those of you who kindly gave money to a cause that lies dear to my heart, thank you, thank you and thank you again. In the (not necessarily grammatically correct) words of the South African struggle, each one, help one. That’s the only way forward.

And I’d also like to thank my grandmothers and my cat, who are all dead, but who were definitely rooting for me in heaven. Thanks guys, any prizes I may or may not get I will dedicate to you.

And now, would someone please beat me over the head with a very heavy object so that I can relax …






Lilac-breasted roller

(Thanks to David Moore for the photo)


Six Truths and a Lie

*Updated! Number 2 is the lie – I was an early developer and the first girl in my class to wear a bra. I think whether it comes early or late, puberty is not much fun.*

The lovely Robin of Brussels tagged me for this, and I was glad of the chance to insert one big stonking lie into these utterly fascinating random itemettes about moi. I’m getting pretty damn tired of me; don’t know about you patient Internetters out there. The whole of December I propose to post about rubies, coal mining, lilac-breasted rollers and the rules of bridge, so as to avoid mining my own self to its utter dredges anymore.

I’m not putting in the rules, because surely we all know them by now, but you know, seven things, seven people, one lie, tag, tag, tag, etcetera.

Guess the lie!

1. At school, I played Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

2. I was the last girl in my class to start wearing a bra.

3. When my teenage boyfriend wanted to teach me how to ride his motorcycle, I said, “Only if you teach me how to smoke as well.” I rode the motorcycle once, but I carried on smoking for seven years.

4. If I lived alone, I would eat apples, popcorn and chocolate. That’s a balanced diet, isn’t?

5. I would far rather visit China than Japan.

6. I have six siblings – one brother, four step-brothers and a step-sister. The last time I saw my step-sister was at my father’s wedding, 12 years ago. I believe she is very nice.

7. My inner rock chick is Gwen Stefani.

‘Nuff about me.

I ain’t taggin’ no-body.

But please feel free to lie boldly if you so please.


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?



While sick, I’ve caught up on my reading, including two memoirs that are very different from each other. Both try to tease out the past, but one takes a journalistic approach and aims for veracity, while the other floats in and out of what I guess is creative non-fiction territory. In her foreword to The View From Castle Rock, a collection of stories about her family and herself, Alice Munro says:

I was doing something closer to what a memoir does – exploring a life, my own life, but not in an austere or rigorously factual way. I put myself in the center and wrote about that self, as searchingly as I could. But the figures around this self took on their own life and color and did things they had not done in reality.

Her book is divided in two parts: one dealing with her Scottish ancestors and why they might have come to Canada, and the other with her own childhood and girlhood in Fifties Ontario. In the final section of the book, Messenger, she visits countryside near Chicago as an adult to seek out the cemeteries where family members who did not settle in Canada are buried. So she looks at her family’s past, her past and her present.

The book is beautiful; lively with attractive prose and depictions of settler life. I particularly enjoyed the part that dealt with the family’s sojourn on board ship – how fears of the youngest child’s being tossed overboard meant that they had to “tether” him at night (I think I would have done the same), the imagined relationship between an elderly and self-indulgent father-in-law and his matter-of-fact and acerbic daughter-in-law, hints of a love affair, dances and sightings of whales. While not wealthy or able to secure upper deck berths, the family are luckier than most and survive the journey intact and and well. It is only once they hit the shores of their new land, that their tragedies and dramas – possibly imagined by Munro, possibly not – unfold.

I also loved the section dealing with Munro’s childhood and girlhood in backwoods Ontario. The imagined and the real were threaded together imperceptibly, but I still desperately wanted to know which bits were fiction and which were true. While I enjoyed what she was doing, there was a part of me wanting clarification. She provides that in the foreword, saying that some characters “did things they did not do in reality”:

They joined the Salvation Army, they revealed they had once lived in Chicago. One of them got himself electrocuted and another fired off a gun in a barn full of horses. In fact, some of these characters have moved so far from their beginnings that I cannot remember who they were to start with.

Perhaps it is the journalist in me that wants to separate out fiction and non-fiction, or I must read more creative non-fiction and learn to go with the flow. As Munro asserts, they are just stories. Let me say, they are lovely stories, full of candid humour and insights into the oddness of the human condition. I’ve never read any Alice Munro short stories, but I guess they are full of the same.

I have also just finished reading another memoir, the craply titled Ja No, Man, by a young Canadian ex-South African called Richard Poplak. I sighed a little when I picked this book up. You know how movies set in the Eighties always have the same signifiers: someone playing with a Rubix Cube, people wearing day-glo clothing while Flock of Seagulls plays in the background? This book is covered with the same signifiers that shout Eighties South Africa to me, and its tag is A memoir of pop culture, girls, suburbia … and Apartheid. I thought it was going to be superficial, mindless and vaguely celebratory of what was really a horrible time to live in South Africa.

I’m glad to report that it isn’t. Poplak’s book is darkly funny, disturbing, and very well researched. He backs up his memories of growing up in Johannesburg in the Seventies and Eighties with acid offensives against the Apartheid state. He presents the eerie strangeness of being a child who only knows black people as servants, the indignities of Veldskool where he learnt about the immiment Communist threat and how to fold a flag, and the barbaric discipline of South African schools, where he was regularly sent for “six of the best”.

Poplak’s family left South Africa only a few weeks before Nelson Mandela was freed, so his book does not contain any reference to the miracle of the Rainbow Nation. While this might have eased his vituperative edge, it also means that the memoir is very specifically of its time and of its place. There is no sentiment, no schmaltz; Poplak addresses those two decades starkly. He makes no apology for not including black experience in the book – this is his experience and he presents it frankly, sometimes so frankly that I squirmed in uncomfortable recognition.

Towards the end of the book, he says:

It is a strange thing to be severed from the community of man – to be an island – as we were in South Africa. Isolation, both cultural and geographic, causes a certain kind of backwardness. The pastiche you create of the world, assembled from snippets of popular culture, hearsay, half-true news, and folkloric assumptions, is a patchwork quilt. Adrift, you create a world that only nominally hints at civilization. We were a quasi-democratic quasi-dictatorship, with a culture as anemic and as weirdly translucent as those deep-sea species of fish seen on the Discovery Channel. The flag Oom Piet raised with such reverence, the national anthems we sung with such forced gusto at assemblies – these were dead symbols for a dead country.

Richard Poplak and I and many millions of others are the products of Apartheid, and this dead culture. Thank goodness it is dead, and a new South Africa is rising from the ashes, but many are still paying the price of that cold grey time.

Poplak’s approach is very different from that of Munro. He says in his author’s note that it is both an act of memory and a work of journalism – if he remembered a certain tree as a jacaranda, he went back and checked that it was a jacaranda. He changes the names of teachers, certain schools and schoolfriends, and also clearly states that there are no composite characters, fictional places or made-up situations. His book is rigorous and factual, while Munro’s is swirling and exploratory.

It was an interesting experience reading these two different approaches to the memoir, neither better than the other, back-to-back. I would really appreciate any tips on good creative non-fiction, as it’s clearly a genre I want to explore more.


The Not-So-Famous Five

Jill has kindly leapt in with inspiration on this grey Sunday. I have to do her Five Post Meme, which means I must:

1. Post five links to five of your previously written posts, relating each to the key words family, friends, yourself, your love and anything you like.
2. Tag five other friends to do this meme. Try to tag at least two new acquaintances (if not, your current blog buddies will do) so that you get to know them each a little bit better.
3. Don’t forget to read the archived post and leave comments.

My mother and stepfather are about to move in with my brother, who is a tenant in the house where my father grew up. The Hermitage is a part of who I am – a store of sensory memories, redolent of happy times and sad ones. I am pleased that it is still there and will be receiving my mother’s loving touch.

Long ago (about 10 years in blog time) I wrote about my different categories of friends – old friends, new friends, Mummy friends, blog friends. Here is my ode to friendship.

Here’s a post on how my interest in cooking developed from boiling pasta four times a week to something a little more challenging.

Having spent the best part of the last two days in bed sleeping off the Siberian perma-headache and its mate the green and crusty eye, I have to say thanks to my husband who is a superstar.

As we head into the family season of multiple birthdays, Christmas and more birthdays, I am always relieved that the German style of celebrating children’s birthdays is calm, sane and sensible. It’s more about having fun than eating, more about crafting something interesting than receiving expensive gifts. Here’s my post on Birthday Party Madness.

I’m going to tag five new friends:




Amanda at Age-Old Songs

Chantelle in the Quiet Room


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?


The Sickly Seven

In the interests of meeting my NaBlo deadline, here is a Seven Random Things meme I was tagged for by Velocibadgergirl. I think I’ve done this one, or versions of it, a few times, so forgive me if my answers aren’t of startling interest or novelty. You probably won’t choke on your cornflakes in surprise.

1. I don’t like doctors. As people, I’m sure they are delightful, but I just don’t like being their patient. Yesterday, I visited a doctor after a two-week head cold morphed into something altogether grosser (permanent headache, green and crusty eye), and I grabbed the prescription for an antibiotic and pain-killers Without Asking Him What Was Wrong. I just had to get the hell out.

2. When I’m sick (oho, a meme with a theme!), any healthy eating goes out the window. Yesterday, I ate n chocolate chip cookies and amorettinis. I also ate Chinese noodles (MSG heaven), toast with peanut butter and Nutella, and my husband’s stonking beef curry with bread. Clearly, I don’t lose my appetite when unwell. There’ll be no wasting going on around here.

3. Apart from having my tonsils removed as a child and one colonoscopy to find a non-existent bowel problem, I have never had any operations. I suppose you could call an episiotomy an operation, but since the need for that was caused by a bloody doctor (really, I do love doctors), it doesn’t count. Actually, I am as healthy as a horse. Many horses. (Just not today.)

4. My parents are also really healthy and have had no operations, except that both have genetic high cholesterol and about eighteen months ago, my mother had a triple heart bypass. (Note to self: time for another cholesterol test. But (whiny voice) that means going to a doctor! Yes, it does. Now off with you!)

5. I do, however, love going to homeopaths. I’ve only been a couple of times, but I love that they make time for you, ask questions and even seem to listen. They’re like psychologists, but with organic pills. I know about the placebo effect, but I’m still convinced that homeopathy and acupuncture cured my migraines. (Except now I have the Siberian perma-headache, so maybe not.) Perhaps doctors just need to learn from homeopaths and Spend Some Time Listening. If they can get their patients to sit still, that is.

6. I think sick-notes for stay-at-home parents would be a great invention, and job creation project. I asked my doctor for a sick note from my children yesterday and he laughed and said (auf Deutsch), “It is not possible.” Actually, it is possible – all you need is a registry of people who are home alone and bored like grannies and retirees, who you then call up when you have a sick note and they come around and cook nourishing meals and play old-fashioned card games with your children. (I realise that this scheme is full of holes, but allow me to dream.)

7. I don’t need a lot of sympathy when I’m sick: I need to be left alone. This means when others are sick, I’m not overly sympathetic. I’ll leave them alone and bring them the odd cup of tea or meal, which is what I expect for myself. This was dramatically heightened when I was giving birth – I Vanted to Be Alone, and became extremely irritable if anyone came from another planet to disturb the process I was working on very well by myself on Planet Childbirth. I apparently even kicked my lovely, sweet, gentle midwife when she got too close to me. Clearly for me, sickness and childbirth are things to be Borne Alone.

I’ll be off to bed then. Feel free to bring cups of tea, but don’t feel you have to stay.

(Oh, and I’m not tagging. But if you need some NaBlo content, here’s your meme.)


Deutsch and I

Two days ago, I was railing against the daily posting horror that I have taken on for myself. Some very kind cheerleaders turned up, tagged me for memes, asked me questions and gave me ideas for the last few posts of November. Today, I’m responding to Dorothy, who asked, “Personally, I’d love to hear about how you deal with the language stuff — how long have you known German, are you perfectly fluent, do you run into language trouble, etc.”

I arrived in Germany in 1996, with barely a word of German. As a last-ditch measure, I had taken some German lessons in Johnnesburg in the month before leaving, but it was a minute introduction to the language. As part of my husband’s contract, the company paid for our German lessons with an excellent language school who sent our teacher to meet us at the company. Having given up a busy and demanding job as a corporate journalist in South Africa, to be unemployed and more than a little depressed in Germany, the lessons were the highlight of my week. After scaring off one teacher with our typically South African response to her news of a break-in in her car (“They didn’t rip out your stereo? Slash your seats? Pour beer/urine everywhere? Well, you got off lucky then”), we hit on the wonderful, stellar Bernd.

Bernd was cool, and a brilliant language teacher. Although his English was fluent, he didn’t use it once after the first lesson. For the first four months, we met with Bernd – together – three times a week for an hour. Then, when my life changed and the company hired me too (as a technical writer; very scary) I met Bernd on my own once a week for the next three years. The goal was to become conversant in German, never to have to write it, since at the time we imagined that our stay in Germany would be short. We certainly achieved that goal and were conversationally fluent in German by the time we left for England in early 1999.

I think there are different levels to learning a language. The first is to get by in shops and restaurants and we achieved that in the first three months. For many immigrants the next challenge is working in German, and although I was surrounded by German at work (all my emails were in German, as were all my meetings), the company was rapidly becoming more English-speaking. I had a few English friends whose German was better than mine, and they would tell me which emails were relevant or deletable, and also gave me the run-down after meetings to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. The next level in a language is to make friends, and that started happening after a year, although I never felt I was representing myself fully.

The England move was an odd one, and was definitely motivated by me. Firstly, I missed English. I missed English newspapers, English TV and easy access to English books. I also knew I wanted to have babies, but that doing it in German scared the daylights out of me. One friend I had had asked for painkillers during childbirth and had been given a footrub! I decided that giving birth was weird and scary enough without having to go through it in a foreign language. Also, to many English-speaking South Africans, England is the motherland, so it seemed a natural progression. It was, and it wasn’t. Four years later, with two babies in tow, we were back in Germany.

As our children were heading for baptism by fire in German kindergarten, we made a concerted effort never to say anything negative about Germany or the language, but to always encourage their efforts to learn it. We read them German books, let them watch some German telly, and encouraged them to play with German children. Now, of course, their German is far better than ours and I’m really proud of their ability to switch effortlessly from one language to another.

I do run into language trouble occasionally. When I apologise for my German, most people are charmingly encouraging and swear that my German is very good. They seem to like my odd English/South African accent. I find myself getting strangely tongue-tied now and again (usually in places of authority like doctor’s offices or when visiting Rathaus officials), which is a strange sensation because in my own language I’m fairly eloquent. When I write notes to Lily’s teacher, I usually have to do two or three versions before I’m confident that it’s correct. I suppose it’s all humbling, though it’s not particularly pleasant.

To answer Dorothy’s question, I am perfectly fluent in that I can make friends and attend dinner-parties in German. I have the advantage over many immigrants in that I look kind of Teutonic, if on a small scale. However, there is 2% missing – the 2% that cracks dry jokes, that makes cultural references, that reads books and comments on them. This is why I relish my English-speaking friends, because with them I am completely myself. I relish blogland, because it is an island of English in my German sea. I relish reading and writing in English.

I suppose I could hone that 2%, read some books in German, read German blogs, develop a line in German witticisms, but it appears I don’t want to. If I lost that 2% then maybe I’d start putting up lace curtains, sweeping the street and sniffing people’s bins. I keep that 2% safe and protected because there’s a part of me that will be forever English.