Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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What Are You Going to Give Up?

I love it when a Times Online columnist espouses one of my views loudly and publically on a long weekend so as to get the attention of all the reading masses on my behalf.  It means I get the feeling of being validated without having to get out of my pyjamas.

My opinion: Women can have it all, just not all at the same time.

Minette Marrin’s opinion:  Don’t even bother trying.

The esteemed Ms Marrin says the only way to ‘ do a demanding job, pay attention to family and friends, preserve a competitively toned body, maintain an elaborate beauty programme, including trips to dermatologists, depilators and assorted beauty bandits, keep up with tweets, emails, telephoning and aggressive networking, dress stylishly, shop for food, cook elaborately, entertain regularly, attend school functions, keep up with reading, listen to music and remember jokes’ is to be really rich and pay people to back you up. Nigella’s Team Cupcake, par example.

On the one hand, Marrin says the pressure on working mothers is unavoidable (until, Otter says, their husbands and partners wake up to the revolution and start doing their 50%). On the other hand, she says women can decide to ignore the aggressive consumerism that underpins much of the last paragraph and – now here’s the revolutionary part – just let things slide. (After all, Otter says, most of their husbands and partners have been doing the same and getting away with it for generations.)

Marrin doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t stop working, stop having babies or doing things that they love. She means they should stop competing with other women, stop trying so hard, drop their standards, do less.

And – here’s the rub – she says ‘fortunately, doing a lot less is quite easy when you try — or, rather, stop trying.’

She says we should think of each thing we give up as an opportunity gain. Giving up two hours at the salon means two hours extra to keep up with friends. Giving up cooking elaborate meals means more time with the family. Giving up fashion magazines means less lusting after and trying to afford inaffordable items.

Living in a land that still expects good mothers to be home by 12.30pm ready to cook the family a hot lunch, I’ve had to give up a whole lot of things in order to make time for what matters to me: writing, working, exercising and spending time with the people I love. Here’s my list of things that have gone out of the window:

1. Keeping up with the laundry. Why do it? So that some housewife in the sky will give me a good report? I address the piles, with the dubious but enthusiastic help of certain members of my family, on a need-to-wear basis.

2. Ironing. We embrace the crumpled look.

3. Sorting socks. Puh-leeze. I put all socks in a large container and then bring them out when my South African friends and family visit for them to sort. It makes them feel useful and they can go home and tell stories about how hard it is living in Europe. 

4. Baking. I’ve taught my children how to do it. One kid made biscuits this weekend, another made carrot cake muffins. Team Cupcake’s got nothing on us.

5. Complex depilation. None in winter; bikini, leg and armpit on a need-to-display basis.

6. Beauty salons. Expensive time wasters.

7. Highlighting my hair. Ditto, plus I get to be cutting-edge grey.

8. Posh creams. Ditto. Nivea is the way forward.

9. Long make-up routines. Nivea’s tinted moisturiser rocks.

10. Soaking pulses. Tins and cans are just as good.

10. Buying fashion magazines. Blogs are better written and more interesting and they never make me lust after a Prada handbag.

I love Marrin’s mantra of Just Do Less. If it speaks to you, then what are things you’ve given or are giving up? I need more time for reading and writing and will gladly accept tips.

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New York, New York

I thought I’d better write about New York before the last blister heals. It’s taken me a week to process the cacophony of images from my seven days in the city that never sleeps, but I am about ready to say something. I’m going to distill it under headings otherwise my post would read something like this: “Ooh, shops! BARGAINS. New shoes, see friends, meet bloggers. Shops! Drink red wine this instant. BIG buildings. Where’s the sky? Oh, the Park, lovely. Shops! Mani, pedi, wax and go. Shops! Flashing lights! Bring on the entertainments. I want the finest wines, $10 a GLASS?! …. no, sorry, just the cheapest will do. Shops!”

New York – The Literature

43% of poll respondents voted for One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell as the book I should take to New York, and I was secretly hoping it would be so. Unfortunately, it contained on page 23 the line “That was the defining moment of great sex – when the penis met the vagina” which I found unbearably irritating. So I packed The Age of Innocence instead, a lovely book where there are no penises and no vaginas and very few defining moments. Afterwards I read Chasing Harry Winston by Lauren Weisberger, which was the mix of humour, chick-lit and Sex and The City wisecracking I had been expecting from the Bushnell book.

New York – The Bloggers

On Day Two I met Emily, the Hobgoblin, Dorothy, Cam, Becky and Zoesmom at the Hungarian Pastry Shop on Amsterdam. There was the usual five-minute dissonance between the person and the blog that I am learning happens when I meet people off the Internet (including remembering to call people by their real names), and then that faded and we got on with having a lovely day: eating pastries, book shopping at The Strand on Union Square followed by a late and boozy lunch at Chat ‘n Chew, which is much better than it sounds. I had a fabulous Caesar salad. Then I started swaying on my feet, so pleaded jet lag and headed home while the others proceeded to another bookshop. I was really thrilled to meet everyone, and touched by how far some had travelled to be there – Americans have no fear of distances. It’s that pioneer spirit.

New York – The Shopping

Oh my God, how I love Macy’s. I could move in there – make myself a little nest in the handbag department and fall asleep every night to the comforting smell of leather. I have brought home a Macy’s handbag just to remind me of my spiritual home. Apart from the shopping, I love their pick and mix salad bar in the basement, where the salad associate created a bacon, avo and feta salad on baby spinach leaves for me. I am also in love with Anthropologie, a shop where I could own everything, but from which I have one fabulous T-shirt. We had a morning in Century 21, a downtown discount store full of designer bargains. My best shopping blow-out happened at the Designer Shoe Warehouse on Union Square, where I bought three pairs of utterly fabulous shoes. On Fifth Avenue I entered many shops – Tiffany’s, Harry Winston’s, Bendells – and just looked, but at Bergdorf Goodman’s I had a make-up accident at the Bobbi Brown counter.

New York – The Tourism

Immediately after our Bobbi Brown makeovers, V and I got on the Sex and The City tour bus, which visits 40 locations from the show (thanks for the hot tip, Ms Make Tea!). Most of the locations you see from the bus, but we got off at the three places – the Pleasure Chest, where Charlotte buys her Rabbit; the Magnolia Bakery, where Carrie and Miranda eat a cupcake; and Steve’s bar Scout, where we finished off the tour with a Cosmopolitan. For mild to strong SATC fans, I can really recommend this tour – it gives you a great idea of the city and the neighbourhoods you might want to go back to, it’s a lot of fun (the atmosphere gets very giggly after the visit to the Pleasure Chest), and the tour guides are actresses with a good line in patter. The cupcakes and the Cosmopolitans are thrown in too.

Some out-of-town friends fed me wine on the Sunday and got me up to the top of the Rockefeller Centre (70-something storeys). I didn’t want to go, because I’m not one for heights, but I was glad I did as the view was wonderful and my internal Manhattan map clicked into place up there. Later, we visited Grand Central Station to admire the ceiling, had a brief altercation with the Angriest Cop in New York, got on the subway and headed for the Village where we spent the afternoon strolling the streets and looking at everything.

I went to MOMA. It was amazing, and very digestible, I found. I didn’t get overload, which often happens to me in museums. I particularly enjoyed the Van Gogh exhibition, which focuses on the artist’s depictions of the night.

New York – The Cakes

Low carb, what? I had cheesecake at the Hungarian Pastry Shop, pecan pie at downtown Cipriani’s, sachertorte at the Neue Galerie and a cupcake at the Magnolia. They were all good, but I think I have become German in my baked goods tastes because I found them all far too sweet. V and I decided that our own cupcakes are better than those of the Magnolia Bakery, which have just too much frosting. Sickly. On the way uptown in the bus, I won an extra cupcake in the SATC trivia competition and I Left It On The Bus. Perhaps I have finally grown up.

New York – The Three Top Meals

Vegetarians, avert your eyes – I had to have a steak at Morton’s. It was unbelievable. We put on our cocktail dresses and went to the China Grill for an Asian fusion feast. The only downer was an extremely disgusting apple martini, which we quickly exchanged for a Cosmopolitan, because we were being very, well, cosmopolitan. We also had a fabulous late and boozy lunch at downtown Cipriani’s, which was seasoned with some flirty French waiters.

New York – The Pampering

We had a mani-pedi on Fifth Avenue, late one afternoon after shopping, and it was a mistake! Far too ridiculously expensive! We got the giggles, because they offered us the champagne spa, not to drink, but for our feet. I did enjoy see all the New Yorkers getting their weekly polishings on Sunday evening in the Village before the working week – men and women alike. I met the wax for the first time, and let me just say I’d take childbirth any day. The pain! The agony!

New York – The Shows

We saw the Rockettes in the Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular, which was just that, spectacular. We also saw Billy Elliot, which has just started on Broadway after a successful season in London. I cried, I laughed, I watched in awe.

New York – The Characters

We met the J Sisters – wicked wielders of the wax, the Angriest Cop in New York, Rickshaw Man, the Flirty French Waiter, the Undercover Cop to whom we tried to give our leftover Asian-Fusion and who told us that he didn’t “eat just anything”, sundry Grumpy Taxi-drivers, the Fifth Avenue Rip-Off Artists. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a single celebrity, though the Hobgoblin claimed to have seen Julia Stiles outside The Strand, and Denzel Washington had apparently eaten at downtown Cipriani’s two months before us. I loved the witty New York sense of humour, and the way everyone in America is an “associate” – the salad bar associate, the elevator associate, the till operating associate. I found almost everyone we met charming and helpful and though Germans love to claim that Americans are not sincere, I found the interchanges we had extremely pleasant compared to the Germans’ more businesslike style.

New York – New York

New York is exuberant, bold and flashing. I’d go back tomorrow. I never left Manhattan, but next time I will take to the river, cross the Brooklyn Bridge and try to see more shows. I also need to drink more Cosmopolitans. When you are forty, that is what you do.


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Going Grey with Obama

Please note that I:

am in very good company:

Barack going grey

I swear here and now, in the company of my three children and some discarded pieces of Lego, that if Obama gets in and becomes President of the USA, I will never dye, highlight or ever maltreat my hair again.

After all, we grey-hairs must stick together.


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Walking Tall

My status has improved. I am feeling rather elevated. I am walking around with my nose a few inches higher in the air than usual.

Here’s why:

 

 

Beautiful, aren’t they?

Here’s a picture of one in sepia, just to underscore its iconicity:

 

Let it be said that as a girl who prefers trainers or flip-flops, and who has never knowingly worn peep-toes before, I am getting a kick out of my new status. There’s a swing in my step. There’s a swoosh to my stride. I am towering over animals and small children and the odd crouching grown-up. I am enjoying the rarefied air of the tall.

Feels good up here. Wish you could join me.

*totters off to prepare lunch*


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I’m So Bursty!

I’m doing some research for an article on how trends like globalization, the need for sustainable development, and increasing connectivity, will affect IT generally and, specifically, the company who hired me to write the article. One of the trends that’s going to affect us all is the change in the way we work. My inhouse guru of all things techie sent me a link to a blog called Anne 2.1 where a tech wizard called Anne Zelenka talks about two work styles: busy and bursty.

Someone who is busy works a set number of hours, does required face time in the office, makes sure they leave later than the boss, behaves according to a received hierarchy. Some who is bursty is unconventionally productive, has flat networks, spends a lot of time online and surfing. The old paradigm does not like the new paradigm much, because it LOOKS so unproductive.

In another post on Web Worker Daily, Anne goes on to differentiate the two work styles:

Busy: Show your face during all standard working hours.
Burst: If you produce what you need to, we don’t care when you do it or how long it takes.

Busy: Immediate response to email required.
Burst: Use better ways to communicate when available including blogs, wikis, IM, chat rooms, SMS, and RSS.

Busy: Manage the hierarchy inside your company.
Burst: Connect laterally outside your department and company.

Busy: Always available during working hours.
Burst: Declarative availability.

Busy: Web surfing is bad.
Burst: Web surfing fertilizes and seeds the soil of the mind.

Busy: Long-term planning rules.
Burst: Try agile experimentation and fast failure instead.

She concludes:

We need the busy AND the burst economy. The busy economy gives us our groceries, our electrical power, and our newspapers every morning. However, many companies will find themselves at risk of not benefiting from the hyperproductivity of the burst economy because to the busy, it looks like an excuse for slacking off rather than blasting off.

With my declarative availability, blogging, frequent Web surfing, sporadic productivity, lateral connections, I just realised – thanks to Anne – that I am Ms Bursty. However, putting my new paradigm smugness aside, I’ve also realised that this style of work is wonderfully suited to work-from-home parents like myself. It’s a way to fit work and life together, so that the two need not be separated. I work according to need at strange times of the day and night, and in between I fit in managing a home and family. The classical divide of stay-at-home parent or working parent is being eroded, and I think that’s thrilling and amazingly empowering for women.

It’s heady but great out here on the cutting-edge.