Archive for May, 2011

May 30, 2011

Allotment Essentials!

One of my Barbara-like hobbies is my beloved allotment and today I took possession of the one thing every parenting allotment-holder needs.

No, not a shed. Nor a polytunnel, although it has to be said, one is on the wishlist.

What every allotment needs needs is a slide.

With the best will in the world, most small children have a very short attention span and it doesn’t take long after arriving at the allotment before they’re off getting into some kind of trouble, or asking to go home.  I did find it a lot easier when they were little babies, as they happily slept in the pram while I got on with the work, but as they get older, it becomes more important to keep everyone entertained. With a bit of planning, the allotment can be a brilliant, fun and educational place to spend time as family.

So here are my rules for balancing allotment gardening with small children!

  • Try to have a patch of lawn, for playing and picnics. My local authority even encourage this in their literature. Remember to bring plenty of snacks, drinks, suncream, hats, gloves, wipes, nappies, maybe even a change of clothing, depending on how far away from home your site is. It’ll be worth it.
  • Make space for the aforementioned slide – or something similar; a sandpit perhaps or a wendy house. NB – if you do get a wendy house, make sure your kids aren’t scared of spiders. Our seems to be the European Spider HQ and therefore never gets used…
  • Once they’re old enough, give your kids a patch of their own for growing. Bigger seeds, like potatoes, beans, peas or plug plants are easier for them to handle when they’re little.
  •  Let them get involved in what you’re doing, assuming that they’re not going to do themselves harm. I did nearly get hit in the face by Eve wielding a hoe yesterday, so make sure they’re not going to harm you either!
  •  Allow for more of a creative approach to planting – fewer military drills, and more scattering.
  • Grow things kids like to grow – sunflowers; fruit; potatoes which are great for digging up like treasure. My children will eat some things straight from the plant like raspberries and peas.
  • Grow things you like to eat. It might sound silly, but there’s no point spending all your time there growing cabbages just because the books tell you it’s part of your crop rotation, if no-one will eat them! Just plan out your spaces a bit differently, and grow what you know you all like. You can manage the crop rotations differently and add plenty of organic matter to the soil to help make up for any imbalances.
  • Plan your time  – make sure you have a plan of the tasks you’re going to carry out before you get there, so you’re not wasting precious time on wandering around worrying that you’ve got too much to do. Do the job you went there to do, and then just before you go home, decide what tasks you’ll plan for the next visit. You won’t have a pristine allotment, but leave that to folk with more time on their hands. Besides, a few weeds are good for biodiversity. It’s odd, Eve is terrified of spiders but would happily keep a ladybird as a pet. Maybe because in this fleece, she looks like one…

Ladybird, ladybird...

  • Never compare your allotment with that of those folk with more time on their hands than you – you’ll just be discouraged. Although, I actually prefer my rather chaotic plot to the regimental rows.

Very Serious Allotment - this one's not mine...

Comedy Allotment - this one's mine, hurrah! Although do notice cordoned apple trees and potatoes...

  • Remember it’s a hobby, so don’t get stressed about it if you end up spending all your time there on a ladybird hunt instead of weeding. Which is what happened to me yesterday.
  •  Oh, and ALWAYS ask if they need the loo just before you leave the house, otherwise the minute you open the shed door, you’ll be heading home again!

Anyone else got any great allotment stories? I’d love to hear them…

May 25, 2011

35:35 Challenge…

Well. I’ll be thirty five years old in a fortnight. Although it’s not old, obviously, it’s a bit of a watershed for me as all my “life” plans ended at 35. I’ve managed what I consider to be the big things – I’m happily married and have two amazing children. I even have a job that is Good Enough – meaning that I can happily spend time on my hobbies and I’ve discovered lots of things about myself along the way. I know how best I study and am working hard on finding a balance to make it all fit.

But (and yes, I know I shouldn’t start a sentence with but, but there it is anyway) there is a bit of me that is wondering if that’s it. I could just do with a bit more excitement. I realise that at at the moment, free time is in short supply, but I want to make the most of what is there.

Recently, I went to my one and only ballet class. I’ve never had a yearning to dance, but I do love to watch the ballet and Eve, my daughter, loves the class she goes to. Mostly, I think I went along because I had a free voucher from the Open Day, and being a good Yorkshire lass, I didn’t want to waste it…

Anyway, off I went to the adult beginner class at the newly opened Northern Ballet building in the centre of Leeds, utterly terrified, to face a class of about thirty strangers and one instructor, the French ex-Principal Dancer, Natalie Leger. Oh, and a man who played the piano. The other students were an interesting mix from those who clearly fancied themselves as future reality TV stars, to a married couple in their sixties who had recently started dancing together. Everyone I spoke to was very welcoming, including the teacher, who, as well as being the tiniest, most sinewy adult I have ever met, was also very warm, engaging and inclusive.

Despite all this, I found the class almost impossible to follow. I know nothing of ballet, and it clearly showed in my lack of rhythm, timing, balance, poise, elegance and all the other attributes you might assign to a dancer. I also apparently cannot count or tell the difference between left and right.

After an hour and a half of utter torment, the class finished, and I left the room, exhausted and sweating,and went to the cold Leeds air. Upon which I burst into tears of exhilaration. Yes, it is true, I cannot dance. At all. Yet, I HAD danced. For a whole class. On my own. I felt so alive and thrilled with my own bravery and achievement and I wanted to do it all over again.

I want to feel like this more often.

So, here’s the plan. I’m going to try thirty five new things in my thirty fifth year. They don’t all have to make me cry, in fact, I’d like them to be a balance of the challenging, exciting, and just good old fun. They must all be something I’ve never tried before, and they must be relatively achievable – so no bungee jumping in New Zealand unless someone else is willing to pay the air fare. Some things I may only try once, and decide are not for me (like sushi) but some things might take hold and become a regular hobby. I’d just like to see.

So, does anyone have any ideas for me?

May 23, 2011

Chloé | Marcie leather shoulder bag | NET-A-PORTER.COM

Chloé | Marcie leather shoulder bag | NET-A-PORTER.COM.


Crikey, having total Margot moment in the five minutes’ peace before tidying up. How amazing is this Chloe bag? And more importantly, how much stuff could I fit into it?

May 22, 2011

The Hepworth Opening Weekend.

Today we braved the blustery weather and went to the opening weekend of the Hepworth in Wakefield, a major brand new gallery space to showcase the work of Wakefield born sculptress Barbara Hepworth. It’s an incredible building; dramatic, dark, imposing and beautifully situated  on the River Calder. Although the building looks pared back and almost severe, the welcome inside couldn’t have been more warm and friendly.

It has to be said that we nearly didn’t make it inside as the outdoor play area is really rather brilliant and the kids insisted on trying that out for a while before we even got through the door. What a great idea to have a play area. I do love how galleries, museums and stately homes are now encouraging the whole family to spend time together experiencing art, sculpture, design and history, as it means I get to spend time indulging in my fondness for art and the kids get to have fun too!

There are several gallery rooms holding a permanent collection of works, plasters and working models by Barbara Hepworth, pieces by some of her contemporaries, and the Wakefield Art collection. Between now and October 9th 2011, there is also a temporary exhibition of the work of Eva Rothschild entitled Hot Touch.

We got a great bag of craft materials to make our own homage to Eva.

Our instructions.

We had  a child paced (ie: very speedy) tour around the gallery, during which we were all very well behaved. Hepworth’s sculptures are just so tactile, I have to look at them clasping my hands together to stop myself from stroking them! Although it was a quick walk around, I was able to view some beautiful pieces of work, some of which I’ve already had the pleasure of seeing in St Ives, and I’m looking forward to another viewing at a more leisurely pace.

We then had a bit of badge making and a cup of tea, before heading home to make our own sculpture, and here it is!

Ta Da!

We are already blessed to live so close to Temple Newsam and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and the Hepworth will definitely be added to the list of regularly visited places. At the time of writing, the kids are safely in bed and I am just going to take a look through their Summer 2011 programme of events and activities to see what we might try next…

May 16, 2011

Action for Happiness

I was recently introduced to Action for Happiness. You may have seen the BBC Breakfast programme about it in January.

This is a movement of people committed to building a happier society, where people care less about what they can get for themselves and more about the happiness of others, founded in 2010 by three influential figures who are passionate about creating a happier society: Richard Layard, Geoff Mulgan and Anthony Seldon.

They’re bringing together like-minded people from all walks of life, drawing on the latest scientific research and backed by leading experts from the fields of psychology, education, economics, social innovation and beyond.

Members of the movement make a simple pledge: to try to create more happiness in the world around them through the way they approach their lives. The movement provides practical ideas to enable people to take action in different areas of their lives – at home, at work or in the community. I am hoping to find a local group, although most of the focus is London at the moment, I am hopeful that it spreads North…

There are no religious, political or commercial affiliations and people of all faiths (or none) and all parts of society are invited to become part of the movement.

I love this.

Especially the Ten Keys to Happier Living, which include some that are particularly pertinent for scanners: Keep Learning New Things, Have Goals to Look Forward To and Be Comfortable With Who You Are.

Maybe we should all take The Happiness Pledge…

May 14, 2011

Photography with a four year old…

In the interests of balancing lots of interests and spending great time with my family, I try to put the two together. Often the results are not quite as expected. Baking for example, is enthusiastic, but not terribly hygienic and photography becomes more about me holding my breath and trying to encourage discovery and experimentation, without the camera hitting the the floor…

To illustrate, here are some of my daughter’s photographs. We’ve been learning about photography together and to be honest, she’s getting to grips with it as fast as I am and she’s only four years old! I’m not quite sure what that means about my technical skills, but I love learning together.

Aurora in Italy

Aurora in Italy, by Eve

I know it’s a bit blurry, but I love it. This was actually taken in Pisa, 2009. And here’s a more recent one. Princesses are very important in our house!

Snow White in Temple Newsam

Snow White in the bluebell wood, by Eve

May 14, 2011

Being Present.

Being a scanner often means that your mind can race when you’ve started thinking about something new; a new subject to pursue, business idea or project to develop.

This is fine if your day is clear of other responsibilities. You can just open that blank white page and pour yourself into it.

For someone  like me, who has a Good Enough Job as well as two children, it’s not so easy. Very often I have to stick a pin into an idea and try to wait until there is space in my day to develop it further. Ooh, how frustrating this can be, for two reasons.

Firstly, when an initial thought takes hold, it’s the most exciting time. The first spark of a thought, the frantic scribbling down of ideas and plans and the initial planning is the only thing I want to do and not being able to is really tough. I worry that things will get lost or forgotten.

Secondly, and much more importantly is that it takes my mind away from the present. Which often includes my children. How horrible it feels to be waiting for their bedtime just so I can spend time on myself. When my first priority is always to be a good mother but my mind wants to indulge in my scanner self, I feel a huge conflict.

There are several ways I am going to try and deal with this:

  • To stick the pin in and deal with it. I am a grown up. Sometimes it just has to wait. As my priority is my family, sometimes I just have to accept that I don’t come first. This means trying to stay in the moment with them and not let my mind continually wander back to my plans. It helps if I can get at least some initial things out on paper.
  • Better time management. When do I want to do this? Lunchtimes, early mornings, when the kids are at Grandma’s and yes, when they’ve gone to bed. Which means I need to deal with my tiredness at the end of the day and get on with my projects instead of slumping in a heap, wine glass in hand, in front of the TV!
  • Sharing my plans with my family. As long as I am guided by them, and allow them to share their own ideas, and realise that what happens might not be exactly what I had in mind, there is lots of scope for just trying things out and involving the kids. This works especially well with some things that I am interested in – usually the Barbara side of my mind, by which I mean things like gardening, craft, home baking.
  • If I do this, I have to remember that the primary goal is their enjoyment. If they’re not having fun, then I stick the pin back in, and wait for another time.
So, it’s time to start putting these plans into action!
May 13, 2011

Learning Styles and the Reasons for Learning.

It is well documented that everyone prefers to learn a different way. Some prefer to learn by doing, others by watching someone else.

Me, I have two preferred methods. Firstly, I like to undertake my own research. Then, once I’ve done a bit of research,  I like to take classes.  A recently scribbled down list revealed to me that I’ve taken no less than twelve courses in the past ten years, in subjects from a Study of Leonardo da Vinci (the ultimate scanner?) to beekeeping.

I’ve been asking myself why this is, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t believe I’ve truly learnt something unless I’ve been taught by a professional and then examined on my knowledge at the end of the course. Anything less than this doesn’t feel like a valid learning experience. Much like Monica Geller from “Friends”, I like being graded.

That’s not true of some things though, mainly because I don’t get that far with all of my interests. It’s a truth of being a scanner that there often comes a point at which you’ve learnt enough about something and it’s time to leave it alone and move onto something else. Often with me, this point comes at the end of a small amount of research, which is a rather glorified way of saying I have a look around the internet, in some library books and a couple of magazines and then I’m done.

However, sometimes, I’m not done. Sometimes I really would like to carry on with a particular interest, but I struggle to find the time to fit it into my life. Previously, the desire to do everything has sometimes prevented me from doing anything, as the fear of taking just one path stopped me from taking a single step in any direction. As I’ve started to understand myself more, and helped by a passage in the ‘The Renaissance Soul’ by Margaret Lobenstine ( ) that helped me to see that life is long enough, so there’s no need to constantly rush, I’ve got better at this. My new reasons for not progressing with everything as much as I’d like are rather more prosaic: time and money.

Recently I had the opportunity to spent a day volunteering with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers ( and spent the day undertaking a variety of practical works, none of which I had any previous experience of. In all cases, to make the most of our time, we had to get stuck in, with supervision, and get working. There was no time for classroom education or researching a task. And, you know what? I loved it.

It may well have been the task, or the people, and it was certainly the feeling of making a contribution that made it such a great experience, but I have been thinking about it in terms of my own preferred learning styles too. I certainly learnt a lot and found it a positive day. So, I’ve decided to try different learning styles. By teaching myself, or asking friends with skills to pass them on, I may well learn more than I thought possible and enjoy the process too.

It also means that I will be financially more able to learn, as there will be no course fees to worry about. I can fit it into my life as there is no college timetable to consider and I can start right away, which will help me with the eternal struggle to balance life. But how do I cope with my belief that the learning isn’t valid without a test, without a professional grading my performance? I think that I need to understand more what the learning is for. Why do I want to learn? Is it to have qualifications? To be told that I’m brilliant? To tell others that I have a particular skill?

To understand this, I think I need to look at my previous courses; where I feel like I’ve succeeded and where I consider myself to have failed.

There are a few courses littered about my past that I started and never finished. The question is; why? Intermediate French is one. I happily passed the basic French course, which is about the equivalent to a grade A GCSE, which makes sense, as I already have that qualification, but I didn’t complete the next level up. On reflection, there are several reasons for this. One, was the time it took. This relates back to my earlier point about college timetables, which in this case was 16 hours a week; just too hard to find.

However, I think I would have tried harder, had I been enjoying the course. I simply didn’t enjoy learning about the language I might need to buy a house or set up a business in French. This is the crux of the matter. I learn so I can relate that learning to my life. The French I enjoyed learning was the language I use when I go to Paris every year. It’s one of my favourite places on Earth and I enjoy using the language I know when I’m there.

So, what does this mean?

  • That even though I think I am happier with some learning styles, I need to try others as they may be just as great, and will fit into my life better.
  • If I’m learning for fun and to use my skills in my life,  I don’t necessarily need to be examined to have succeeded.
  • Sometimes a formal course will not give me the type of knowledge I am looking for – I need to work with other people and ask them to share their skills.
May 13, 2011

An introduction…

Hello there,

Margot and Barbara is the distillation of many hours spent trying to make sense of my giant, sprawling list of interests. I’m a scanner. Multipotential. Dilettante. Whatever. What that means is that I will never find the perfect job, never settle down to just one thing. Never grow up. I’ve spent a long time and wasted a lot of tears trying to find the ONE thing that I was meant to do, but at the ripe old age of 35 (nearly!) I am at peace with myself. I’m fine. Great, in fact.

The initial reason for this is that a few years ago, I was given a magazine article by my sister in law. It was called “What Do I Do When I Want to Do Everything?”  and was my first introduction to the work of Barbara Sher ( ) and my start on the journey towards accepting and loving being a scanner. I did grow up, get married and have two amazing children, and I’m still a scanner. There is no one thing. It’s just who I am – and that is actually a brilliant truth. Without the endless hunt for the one true thing that I should do for the rest of my life, I am actually free to pursue as many things as I like, and enjoy the process of discovery and learning for its own sake, not just in case it should be my career. Life is pretty long. We’re always being told that it’s short, but I plan to be around for at least 50 more years. That’s half a Century of discovery! It’ll do.

There are loads of great resources on the internet for folk like me (and you?) if you look for it. I suspect you already have. One site I came across recently is which I think is awesome, especially for those of you who are wondering if you’re a scanner too. The scanner community is a friendly one.

Many scanner sites are run by incredible twenty-somethings who are having the time of their life. I am somewhat different, a bit older and a parent with a giant mortgage on a tiny house…

So this blog is going to be about:

  • Balancing motherhood with a scanner personality. Being a great mother is the most important role I could ever play and it comes before everything else, but I also need to embrace my scanner self. Combining the two is often a challenge!
  • A chronicle of activities, hobbies, passions, studies as I discover or continue enjoying them.
  • The quest to potentially turn some of my interests into money making enterprises, whilst at the same time, keep a roof over our heads.
  • Links to other scanner sites and helpful scanner stuff.

I guess for those of you not familiar with old BBC comedy, I should explain the title of this site too. Margot and Barbara are the two female leads in my favourite sit-com, The Good Life, produced by the BBC in the 1970’s.  Take a look here: They’re neighbours and friends, but polar opposites. Margot is a social climber who loves the finer things in life and Barbara is trying to become self-sufficient. Many of us have played that game “Which Friends character are you most like?” Well, this is my interpretation of that. In listing out all my interests, passions, work and hobbies, I realised that I am basically both Margot and Barbara. Haute Couture? Yes. Allotment gardening? Also yes. So, here it is.