Archive for November, 2013

November 30, 2013

The End: #BEDN 30

Well, it’s the last day of ‘Blog Every Day in November’ and time for a few reflections. Clearly I’ve not blogged every day – it’s a real struggle for me to manage that – but I’ve written slightly more frequently than usual. And that’s been reflected in my statistics, which has been a really pleasant result.

Overwhelmingly, BEDN has been a blogging learning curve for me. I’ve really enjoyed writing a post from a prompt, meeting new bloggers and reading new blogs and trying to find the time to write more often. I’ve realised that I really need to make an editorial calendar (as recommended by Elizabeth at Rosalilium, founder of BEDN) in order to keep on track.

The first time I missed a day, I was quite anxious, thinking that I’d somehow ‘failed’ the challenge, but I came to realise that I should just be enjoying the process when I could. One of my favourite mantras comes from my lovely friend Jo – ‘Don’t use your plans as a stick to beat yourself with’ – and, remembering this helped when I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. And then came my usual up and down feeling about my blog anyway; the feelings that make me question the future of my blog. They’re usually enough for me to go quiet for a few days, before making the inevitable decision to stick with it!

Having spent a bit of time thinking about an editorial calendar, I’ve then spent some time thinking about content. As ‘Margot & Barbara’ has such a variety of content, it can often feel a bit disjointed, and I was wondering if a regular schedule of content might help that. One thing I’ve decided to do is bring back my ‘Three Good Things’ post for Wednesdays and then find a regular time for blogging each week, which should help me to balance that and the rest of my life.

I’m also going to tidy up my categories, so I have fewer, more coherent categories that should hopefully clearly show both the ‘Margot’ and ‘Barbara’ sides of the blog, and perhaps try my hand at a few more fashion and beauty posts, as I’ve enjoyed the few that I’ve done previously. I especially like the challenge of writing fashion and beauty posts that are both luxe and green at the same time, which is a win-win for this blog!

So, lots to do, changes to make, and hopefully a fresher, new and improved Margot & Barbara. Huge thanks to the inspiring Elizabeth at Rosalilium for creating ‘Blog Every Day in November’, it’s been a really fun challenge. I’d definitely try it again.

November 27, 2013

Motivations: #BEDN

This BEDN post prompt (which I’m completing on the wrong day!) is an interesting one for me. I’m motivated by many things; learning, challenges, the environment, being a decent person. I want to be a great mother; I’m a separated parent, and I’m working hard to try to ensure my kids are happy. I want to be a good friend, which I often find myself failing, mostly because I’m so busy. I’d like to get better at that. Overwhelmingly, I want my time on Earth to be a positive one. I want to do some good. I’m very aware that this is a bold statement to make. And I’ve no grandiose plan, just that this is my underlying feeling about life. So, I try to be a good person, even though I make mistakes and am nowhere near perfect.

The other thing that motivates me a lot is self-improvement. I’d like to be good at things. Accomplished. Even though I know that it’s unlikely I’m going to be great at anything because my interests are spread over so many things. It’s both the pain and joy of being a scanner. But the idea that I could, perhaps, be the best version of me that it’s possible to be, is one of my greatest motivators. It’s the cause of many a plan, many a challenge. I like to put pressure on myself, perhaps too much sometimes, to be better than I am. And I fail. All the time. I wrote a bit about how I should just learn to enjoy my hobbies instead of setting challenges recently. It’s still something I need to be mindful of, especially because of the time of year.

When it gets to November, every year without fail, I start thinking about the year that’s coming up. By Christmas, I’m ready to draw a line under the current year and crack on with the next. Given my current thinking, that I need to quit making goals that I don’t really want to achieve (running a marathon!) and instead be honest with myself about what I’d like to happen, I need new plans. Achievable, honest, and not overwhelming plans that reflect my real motivations. So, I shall be spending the next month having a mull over what these might be.

Watch this space, I’ll probably share them…

What are your motivations? Do you set goals? I’d love to hear from you…


November 22, 2013

What’s in my Wardrobe? #BEDN 22

I missed the ‘fashion’ prompt for Blog Every Day in November, but I thought I’d return to it, even though I’m late! Goodness knows what subject I’m missing today, but it’ll all work out one way or another. Anyway, here goes.

Last week, I was listening to a podcast about simplifying your life. It’s a subject that I return to often, and the podcast, about a simple capsule wardrobe, promised to be interesting. After a few minutes, the woman who was speaking on the subject – who was basically offering instruction – mentioned how many pairs of shoes she had in this ‘capsule’ wardrobe.  Forty pairs. Forty… Needless to say, I rather took offence at this and, after a little rant about how the hell she was supposed to lecture anyone on simplicity owning forty pairs of shoes (and eighty items of ‘workout gear’, apparently) I stopped listening.

My shoe list?

  1. Red Converse All Stars. Worn almost daily.
  2. Sam Edelman sandals for the summer.
  3. One ancient pair of Office sandals, much loved, falling apart and destined for the bin, as I don’t think I can mend them again.
  4. One much loved and oft-repaired pair of knee-length boots for the winter
  5. One pair of smelly, yet comfortable trail running shoes. I should probably replace these, as I think much of the support in them has been all compressed over time.
  6. My new walking boots.
  7. One pair of red, painfully expensive Bottega Veneta intreccio flats. Cared for as though they were my third child. Worth every penny.
Favourite red shoes.

Favourite red shoes and black trousers.

Take that, simplicity lady! I will admit though, I have a handful of other pairs of designer shoes that I keep in storage for my daughter. I was planning to sell them off, but second-hand shoes don’t sell well, even those as barely worn and well looked after as mine. So, we’ll see if she ever wants them…

These Louboutins are in storage for my girl!

These Louboutins are in storage for my girl!

When it comes to clothing and fashion, I think I’m an odd combination. I love fashion, utterly adore clothes and yet I have a tiny wardrobe. I was reading yet another article about capsule wardrobes recently (I’m on a bit of a roll with this subject) and the author stated that you should take your ten favourite pieces to use as a basis. In all honesty, I think I’d struggle to come up with ten things that I own that I really love.

Let’s see…

  1. Arcteryx softshell jacket. A gift from my lovely boyfriend. Perfect outdoor gear. Not exactly on-trend but cut really flatteringly around the waist and hips unlike so much outdoor gear.
  2. French Connection skinny jeans. Recently repaired. I love these, and I can’t find a replacement pair. Fingers crossed that they make some similar ones soon. Often skinny jeans are cut so low the world can see your underwear when you sit down. Not so with these.
  3. Reiss sequin-backed long sleeved grey top.  Not really everyday wear, but perfect to put with jeans to make me feel dressed up yet comfortable. Gorgeous.
  4. Long sleeved navy blue dress. Also from Reiss. The kind of dress that works equally well with my red flats in the summer as my long boots in the winter. Plus, it has pockets. Dresses with pockets are awesome.
  5. Whistles stripy linen top. Worn all summer, now full of holes. I have no idea where the holes have come from, but I’ve sewn one of them up twice now. Destined for the bin. Sad…
  6. Black Calvin Klein jersey wrap-around dressing gown and matching trousers. Because being comfortable at home is very important. I quote often get changed into these when I come home after work, it helps me feel as though I’m in a place to relax. Plus, feeling a tiny bit put-together whilst curling up on the sofa watching a film and eating chocolate is rather nice. Obviously the elasticated waist helps with this too! Ha…
  7. Ancient black biker-style jacket from Next. Cost per wear must be utterly nothing now. It’s falling to bits but I like it so much.
  8. Black slim capri trousers from Gap. Also ancient. Worn with red Bottega Veneta flats to fool myself that I’m gamine in an Audrey Heburn-like way. I’m laughing out loud as I write that. I’m about as gamine as a hippo. Still, they feel flattering, and go with lots of other things. I think they’re in dire need of replacement though as they’re rather a faded black now.
  9. My underwear. I have a thing about matching underwear, and I know I’m cheating a bit here as it’s not one item, and feels more of a philosophy than is practical, but I feel like I’m a properly organised grown up if I can get my underwear to match everyday. This includes socks, which more often than not I fail at.
  10. My brand-spanking new Whistles jumper, which is a beautiful blue with black lace cutouts.
  11. Ooh, look, I’m on eleven! My, also-new, peter-pan collared top from Hobbs. Black, with a white collar, it goes well with both jeans and black trousers.
  12. Old green belted mac from Zara. Torn in a handful of places and in need of a bit of TLC. I love it, but I think it’s time might be up.
  13. Yup. That’s it…
Whistles navy jumper with black lace cutouts.

Look at my giant hand! New Whistles jumper.

So. I can get to twelve things, if I include my nightwear, my underwear and a top that I’m about to throw away.. And, really and truly, that’s about all that’s in my wardrobe, save a couple of vests, dresses and jumpers, a couple of old things that I use for working on the allotment and more specialist stuff like running or horse riding stuff.  There are a handful of reasons behind my tiny wardrobe, which I think I’ll return to later in the month.

But for now, I’d love to know what your favourite pieces of clothing are…

November 21, 2013

World Television Day: BEDN #21

It’s World Television Day! Hurray for that. I love telly. I don’t have one though. My dad, upon hearing this news, was aghast. He told me I wasn’t being fair to my kids. What Dad didn’t consider was that with Netflix, the various online catch-up channel options and the DVD player on my laptop, we don’t actually need a TV in order to watch programmes or films. Plus, y’know, I don’t let them watch it all the time, because they will get square eyes. That’s definitely true, because my mum told me…

I remember one of my friends at high school didn’t have a TV and it was never really an issue because in their huge, bustling family life there was always so much happening. Her father eventually capitulated in order to watch an Olympic Games (I dare not try to remember which), but I seem to remember the TV was on loan and went back to the shop the minute the Closing Ceremony was over. Life then went back to its usual busy reality and I don’t really think the telly wasn’t missed. TV or not, I was always a bit envious of my lovely friend and her big, yet close-knit family. And the fact she had a proper clothing allowance and so was able to go shopping without her mum from a much younger age than I was! Anyway…

TV for me these days is a bit of a hit and miss affair. I have several shows that I adore, but rarely watch a whole series from beginning to end. I get easily bored, and life often gets in the way of the TV schedule, and then I forget to do the whole on-demand thing in time. I even missed the start of the new series of Borgen. (I’m definitely going to catch up with it though, so no spoilers!) And I’m probably the only person I know who still references episodes of Friends like they’ve just happened. Seriously. From the window of our new flat I can see a woman in another house regularly hanging out of a window to smoke, and the other day I said that we were watching her as though she was Ugly Naked Guy. See? Never grows old…

Mind you, neither will The Good Life, and that ended roughly around the same time I was born. Other series I’ve seen from start to finish are an eclectic bunch that includes The West Wing, Buffy (but not Angel, for some reason) and The Darling Buds of May…Hmm. An odd collection there.  I have a lot of fondness for The Big Bang Theory and How I met Your Mother too, but I’m not chasing every episode down. I love a good crime drama and am really looking forward to watching David Suchet bring Poirot to a close later this year. Nothing beats a bit of Sunday night Agatha Christie in the winter evenings. A gentle murder mystery after a giant roast dinner feels like a terribly British way to spend an evening.

The one type of TV show I don’t really watch is reality TV. It means that I have to abandon Twitter on a Saturday night because my entire time line is filled up with stuff I don’t understand. I’m not utterly against reality TV, I’ll admit I watched the first series of Big Brother as much as the rest of the world did. But I just know that I only have one life, and so if I’m going to spend some time of it in front of the telly, then I’d rather be watching a great film, well-crafted drama, or a teenage vampire slayer save the world, than cringing on behalf of some misguided individual who thinks they can sing and is basically being encouraged to make a fool of themselves in front of millions. It’s all just a bit too much schadenfreude for me.

The list of programmes that (according to the rest of the world) I should have watched is legion. Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead. I only managed a handful of episodes of The Wire and I never even watched The Sopranos. One day, when I’m really old, poorly or bored, I shall hope to come across some vintage channel that will allow me to make up for this sacrilege. Until then though, I shall carry on referencing Friends as though it’s box-fresh, missing most of the great programmes, and watching the odd episode of comedy. Life’s too short to spend it all watching telly, as much as I love it…

November 20, 2013

Just Me

I’m going for a run in the morning. Well, I say ‘run’, but given that I’ve not been out for nearly a year it’s more likely to be a short, red-faced limp around the park, but at least its a start.  However, the most important part of the whole thing is that I am going to run alone.

I’m not very good at doing things alone. I like my own company when I’m at home, but when it comes to going out, I prefer to find a willing accomplice. When it comes to running, its in case I get mugged, get lost, have an accident, or more likely, just fail to maintain the necessary level of enthusiasm and just give up, go home, and curl up on the sofa instead.

But it’s not just when it comes to running. There’s a new exhibition at Somerset House that I dearly wish to see. I’m not even sure when it’s on, but mostly, the reason I know that I won’t get there is that I won’t find someone to go with me. My lovely boyfriend, who is quite often my partner-in-crime draws the line at Isabella Blow exhibitions, it seems! Even if I could find someone to tag along with, I doubt we’d be able to organise our diaries anyway.

I’ve had a handful of occasions when my desire to do something outweighs my fear of doing things alone. But mostly, and definitely when it comes to running, my fear of doing things alone keeps me from doing things at all. But waiting for someone else to share my plans, experiences, or even running habits means waiting too long. Exhibitions close, opportunities disappear, days pass. What I need to do is realise the bottom line: if I want to do something, it means I have to pluck up the courage to do it on my own. And it’s not like I’m a child – I’m 37 years old, for heaven’s sake. Why am I so scared the whole damn time? Well, sometimes, I’ve attempted to brave things alone, and it’s gone wrong. A particular example is the tech event I attended on my own, only to find that everyone else there not only knew loads more about tech than I did, but also knew each other. My nerve just couldn’t hold and I left, in tears, for the first bus home. Yet, the letterpress workshop, which kept me awake for two nights with nerves beforehand, was utterly wonderful, and a real highlight of my year.

This is in danger of sounding like ‘One is Fun’, the most depressingly named cookbook of all time (sorry Delia) but it’s not meant to be like that. It’s meant to be a call-to-arms. A wake-up call to myself. The truth of the situation is that I’ll never know how things will turn out unless I give them a try. And the good thing is, that if I try to be brave enough to fly solo, there will be no more waiting. As my theme tune says, ‘The Time Is Now’. So, self, it’s time to get cracking…

November 19, 2013

Newsflash: BEDN #19

Today I shall be at a celebration event at which John Craven (of Newsround and latterly, Countryfile fame) will be presenting awards to amazing people who have been volunteers for a range of ‘Access to Nature’ environmental projects. There will be tears as these fabulous folk get a bit of well-deserved recognition and I’ve heard there will be cake too! Sometimes, I just love my job.

From childhood, John Craven has been a bit of a hero of mine, I was a regular Newsround watcher from a young age. As long term host of Countryfile, he’s on his way to ‘National Treasure’ status, and I’m very much hoping that I get the chance to say hello to him today.

It’s not the first time I’ve met one of my heroes. I met Mark Todd (Olympic gold medal winning three-day eventer, show-jumper and all round equestrian superstar) many years ago and he was just as I’d imagined and a thoroughly nice man.

It’s always a bit of a risk though, isn’t it? Meeting someone you’ve admired can leave you feeling a bit underwhelmed, or even make you realise they’re not the person you thought they’d be.

Still, I’m pretty confident that John Craven will be as lovely as he appears on TV and it’s going to be a great day.

Have you met any of your heroes? Or anyone famous? What where they like? I’d love to know!

November 16, 2013

Hobbies: BEDN #16

It’s Hobbies Day on #BEDN! Yay! Or, perhaps boo…

You see, for a scanner, everything is interesting. And therefore everything is potentially a hobby. On a great day, that can make you feel like you’re on top of the world but on a bad day it’s just impossibly frustrating as the knowledge that you’ve only got one life and are simply not going to get the chance to try everything that takes your fancy, never mind actually get any good at tennis, piano-playing, photography (or whatever subject is this week’s passion) is all too real.

To deal with my endless interests, I’ve always written plans, annual lists of what I want out of my life. When moving house the other day, I came across a handful of my notebooks and had a quick read through.

They made for depressing reading. Year after year, I’d written the same goals about my hobbies, about things I wanted to try or improve. Yet for some reason, I’ve never achieved many of these goals. I suppose there are many potential reasons for this. It could be a genuine lack of time or money. It could have been for reasons outside my control. But in honesty I think there are two main issues.

One – that I have far too many goals for my hobbies without any sense of prioritisation. Without knowing where to start I procrastinate endlessly, because the fear of choosing one thing over another feels like taking a one-way road and cutting other routes off forever. This is clearly not true, I can change my mind whenever I like!

Two – that I need to do the things I want to do, not the things I think I should want to do.

Which means allowing myself to just enjoy doing something for fun not purely for a challenge or to improve. It means going out horse riding just to enjoy a hack around the countryside instead of to improve my half pass. It means cycling to spend time with my boyfriend instead of purely to increase my distance. It means a slow walk in the woods instead of a hike around The Three Peaks. It means reading a novel for pure enjoyment and escapism instead of picking a ‘must-read’ improving classic. Sometimes, I need to slow down, and allow a hobby to be just that – something I do for fun!

And I need to recognise when, really, I don’t want to do something. For example, I’ve written ‘run a marathon’ on one of my wish lists for a few years in a row. Do I want to run a marathon? No. I do not. But I’ve written it because I think I should want to run a marathon. Because I’m a runner (or have been, at least) and that’s what runners do. They run marathons. But I’m bring honest with you and myself here – I never, ever want to run a marathon. A few miles of running around the local woods will do me just fine, thank you.

And, if I stop turning every hobby into a challenge of one kind or another, then I’ll probably end up doing more anyway because it takes the self-imposed pressure off.

I’m going to ride my new bike this week. And do you know, the highlight will be the grin that my new pink bar tape gives me, not the distance I cover. Because hobbies should be fun and I’ll do well to remember that…


November 14, 2013

Workspace: BEDN #14

I’m really fortunate to have a great employer, one who understands that life is complicated and flexibility is key to maintaining a happy workforce. I’m also lucky in that I really like my job. I’ve made many of my closest friends at work, who have seen me through highs and lows and been there through many of the really important moments in my life.

One of the ways in which my employment is flexible is that I’m allowed to work from home, which means that I get to stay tucked up in our cosy new flat instead of trudging into the office. On those days, though I miss the office chat, I do get to spend my day surrounded by the pretty views from the windows.

Autumnal trees

I find myself peering out the window staring at the trees on a daily basis. There are squirrels playing, little blue tits dancing along branches and magpies pinching insects. And that’s before I’ve even started looking at the little green over the road, with dog walkers, tai chi practitioners, wedding parties coming out of the church. It’s better than telly. Which is good, because we don’t have a telly…

November 12, 2013

A Month without Supermarkets Update: BEDN #12

So, we’re 12 days into November and I thought I’d give you a bit of an update about how we’re getting on without supermarkets. We’ve had some notable successes and failures over the past few days, which have provided us with much food for thought (no pun intended!) and set us on course for what comes next.

Here’s what I’ve learnt:

  • Organisation is key to living without supermarkets. On the couple of occasions that we’ve failed, it’s because of a lack of organisation.  Mostly discovering that we’ve run out of milk. Next plan – freeze some milk. Supermarkets are often the only place open on the occasions when you discover that you’ve run out of something vital, and sadly we don’t have a local corner shop that would fill the need for somewhere at short notice, or late at night.
  • Vegetable boxes are great; we’ve really enjoyed using ours. BUT – in order to make the most of them, we’ve needed to be pretty organised. Eating the vegetables in some kind of order of their longevity, rather than leaving the salad until it’s a wilting, soggy mess is important, and has helped us minimise waste.
  • To make sure that you can cook genuinely great food from a veg box, you need a decent stock of the other stuff – herbs, spices, carbohydrates, dairy, protein. In short, everything else. Otherwise you find yourself going “Oh, we’ve got a great squash in the veg box, we could make curry/risotto/soup”, only to discover that you lack everything but squash…
  • Also, getting a veg box rather turns food planning on its head a bit. Often, we might decide to cook something because we’ve seen a recipe or have a hunger for a particular thing. Getting a veg box means that you cook with what you’re sent, not with what you’ve decided to buy from the supermarket. With Abel and Cole, we’re able to see a few days in advance what we’re getting, which means the cookbooks come out, and I have a lovely time planning what to do with what we’re having delivered.


  • Because part of our hope for this project was to reduce waste, we’re making a lot more use of the freezer too; we’ve made breadcrumbs from stale bread, cooked in bulk, and frozen bananas to make smoothies.
  • There’s a lot less packaging waste from this kind of shopping, simply because there’s a heck of a lot less plastic. It wasn’t part of the original plan, but it’s now something we’re actively seeking to do.
  • We will never be able to do a one-stop-shop at anywhere but a supermarket – not even the central market in Leeds, which is wonderful, stocks everything we’d like. I think we’ve pretty much accepted this, and decided that because the time spent on food shopping in local shops or markets is a joy, rather than a chore, that helps to make up for it taking more time.
  • Having said that, time is precious and short supply here. So, if you’re as busy as us, I recommend that once you’ve found your perfect butcher/baker/cheesemonger, it’s a good idea to stick with them and build some kind of routine, in order to reduce the amount of time you spend on food shopping, even though it is fun! A great case in point is the Leeds Bread Co-op . We’ve just signed up to a regular order, that we will collect every Wednesday, hopefully it will help us stay a bit more organised (see point one!) and the bread is splendid.

Overall, the whole project is going really well. It’s making us appreciate our food more, think about what we’re buying and how we’re cooking it. We’re wasting less food, using less plastic, and really enjoying ourselves in the process. We’ll be continuing with this beyond the month of November, that’s for sure. And even if we do end up buying last-minute milk from a supermarket, if the overwhelming majority of our food comes from elsewhere, then I think we’ll still consider this to be a great success…

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November 10, 2013

Something Different: BEDN #10


I’ve never had poetry on the blog before. This excerpt (from ‘A Few Figs from Thistles’ by Edna St Vincent Millay) was letterpressed by one of my fellow students on the West Yorkshire Print Workshop course and given to me.

Not only is it beautiful, I think it sums up my life rather well…