Archive for January, 2014

January 21, 2014

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

This weekend sees the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. The birds that live in your garden, and in the trees outside my flat, are a great indicator of the health of the natural environment. Although the decline in farmland birds continues to be a source of concern and a priority for biodiversity specialists, the number and diversity of birds in our back gardens is something we can all do something about, by feeding the birds over the winter, providing habitat – instead of cutting down trees and replacing green with tarmac or decking – and planting pollinator-attracting plants (which will in turn attract insect eating birds!)

The RSPB are asking that we join in with the Big Garden Birdwatch by spending an hour of the upcoming weekend recording the number and variety of birds we see in our gardens. I don’t even have to go outside to do this, so plan to spend a nice leisurely hour with a cup of tea and a notebook.

By joining in, not only will you be making a contribution to a vitally important study, when you register to take part you will also receive a £5 voucher to spend in the RSPB shop – I’ve got my eye on a new bird feeder to accompany the wildly successful first one we attached to our window last month.

Alongside the hour long study, the RSPB are running a series of Big Garden Birdwatch events, and have lots of ideas of how you can help care for the birds over the winter. I do hope you’ll get involved!

Blue Tit illustration

Blue Tit: Image from RSPB

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January 20, 2014

Editorial Calendars: do they work?

Trying to wrestle my blogging timetable into some kind of manageable shape has long been a battle of mine. I’m continually torn between wanting to create good quality content, which takes time, and trying to ensure that I write enough posts to maintain a regular readership.

Slow Blogging; the creation of content that is considered, as well written as I can make it and not created purely for page rank is important, but I’m currently enjoying the discipline of writing a post to a given theme each day. Having it all laid out in a spreadsheet helps me to see at a glance what subjects I’m covering each week and reduces the panic about want/must/should/need to write something. All of those feelings are obviously self-imposed, but they are real, and this is helping me to banish them.

By forward planning, even though I have to find the time to write a post to publish each day, knowing in advance what that post will be about means that I need less time to create each one. I’m also finding that it helps me to ensure that I’m not covering similar topics too closely  together. Spending some time thinking about the seasons, special days and events and determining what I can write about that will tie in with those subjects, whilst remaining true to the Margot and Barbara themes, has also resulted in lots of ideas!

My method of creating an editorial calendar is simply a spreadsheet, with the dates down the side and the days of the week across the top. I’ve added in special days (such as Mothering Sunday) so that I know what’s coming up, and then started to populate it.

One thing that I’ve realised is important (and was raised by Kay in the comments of my blogging schedule post) is retaining enough flexibility to move posts around if I get invited to an event, or a product to review. Having a combination of posts that are time-limited and those that are not, means I can move things around if necessary.

Elizabeth at Rosalilium gives great advice here about different tools you can use to create your own editorial calendar. But for the moment, my simple spreadsheet is working really well for me, helping me feel as though I can fit my blog around my work and life. I highly recommend you try using one for your blog too!

January 18, 2014

Photo of my week #1

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Finding time to study this week has been a challenge…

January 18, 2014

The Weekend Pages #1

Welcome to the first ‘Weekend Pages’ post! Here you will find links to my favourite internet finds of the week.

On the Harvard Business Review Umair Haque’s post about having a year that really matters struck a chord with me, as 2014 is going to be a huge year of changes and I want to make it as good as it can possibly be.

In 2013, Team AWOL  (Recep Yesil of Turkey and Erik Nohlin of Sweden) cycled the Transcontinental Race from London to Istanbul. You can find more about their journey here. But what we have really loved is watching the four-part video. Part one is below. If you’re a fan of cycling, adventure and friendship I think you’d like it too.

 

Finally, this week I’ve signed up to the 100 Happy Days challenge, and will be adding a happy photo to my Instagram account each week with the #100happydays tag. Even the worst of days can have happy moments and I like to try to remember to be grateful for them. Let’s see how many happy moments I can capture!

What great things have you found online this week? Are you taking the 100 Happy Days Challenge? I’d love to know…

January 17, 2014

Matt Sewell Print.

As we continue the journey of making our new flat feel like home, we’ve started creating and buying art and craft pieces that feel like ‘us’. My proudly made letterpress work hangs in the sitting room, together with a new print from Matt Sewell.

I had the very good fortune to meet Matt at a book launch and signing in Colours May Vary  last year, where he signed a copy of Our Garden Birds for me to give to my mum for Christmas. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have bought one for myself as it was definitely a gift I handed over begrudgingly!

Anyway, back then, I was painfully coveting one of his giclée bird prints for our home. Since we’ve moved into this flat we’ve both become avid bird watchers. I’m going to write about this a bit more in the coming weeks but suffice to say, I’m a little surprised by how important these little birds have become to us over such a short period of time.

This month, the prints were back in stock and in a rare ‘sod it’ moment, I went ahead and bought a blue tit print. We have many little blue tits dancing on the branches outside our home and so it felt like a very fitting choice. Needless to say, my collector’s mentality now wants a row of prints along the wall but for the moment this little guy will do very nicely indeed.

Matt Sewell print

Have you bought or made any new things for your home this month? I’d love to know…

January 16, 2014

REN Rose Otto Bath Oil

Like many of you, I was given beauty products as Christmas gifts. Luckily for me, the people who bought them know my taste and so there’s nothing that I don’t love.

REN Rose Otto bath oil tops my list of the best beauty gifts ever. (Thank you to my lovely boyfriend!) The smell is incredible, and because it’s an oil, it moisturises so well that there’s no need for any additional post-bath moisturiser. REN make wonderful products, without many of the nasties such as parabens, sulfates or mineral oils. The base oil for this product is sesame, and the fragrance is based on the Rose Otto and Palmarosa oils it contains. I’ve been feeling ill for a week now, and bathing in this oil has helped relax and soothe my poor body like nothing else.  The bottle is glass, so can be recycled, although I tend to keep mine and reuse them as tiny posy vases.

As you might imagine, I’ve been using this oil quite a lot since Christmas. In fact, I’m about a third of the way down the bottle already. Many Christmas beauty and fragrance gifts will now be still unopened, as people wait for special occasions to use them. My advice to you? Open the packaging and use the products. Be lavish! My mother is notorious for keeping special beauty and fragrance products for ‘best’ – and so many times the products have spoiled before she’s even had the chance to use them. Shelf lives for ingredients are not indefinite, especially when it comes to natural ingredients like essential oils. They need to be stored appropriately and used within a certain time.

And, the best day of your life is today. It’s the only day of your life. What’s already gone is history and who knows what the future holds. So, open your special beauty products and enjoy them today. And while I’m on the subject, wear your favourite clothes too. Put your best shoes on to do the school run. Wear your favourite dress to the cinema. Or just to potter around the house. If your favourite things make you happy, you should make today a great day and use them…

REN Rose Otto Bath Oil (image from REN)

REN Rose Otto Bath Oil (image from REN)

January 15, 2014

Three Good Things: get well soon edition.

I’ve been ill all week with a chest infection and feeling pretty sorry for myself. Thankfully, I have been taken care of very well by my lovely boyfriend and now I’m back on my feet and, a week late,  ready to crack on with 2014!

So, this week’s Three Good Things is the Get Well Soon edition…

One: Flapjack from Millies

When I’m feeling poorly, I tend to indulge myself in whatever food I fancy. My opinion is that it’s a good way of making myself feel better, or at least forget that I’m ill for a while anyway.  I discovered these flapjacks a couple of weeks ago, and OH MY GOODNESS, they are amazing. And, they have lots of healthy seeds and goji berries in them, which totally offsets all the sugar, right? (In my head, yes.) If you ever find yourself in Leeds, then I completely recommend you get along to Millies Local and Organic Store and buy yourself one. Or a bundle. You’ll find them near the cash tills, assuming I’ve left any…

Flapjack from Millie's Organic

Two: Planning travel

Lying in bed feeling sorry for myself has been rubbish. I get to the point where I’m just cross and bored with my own illness. Taking myself out of the situation by planning future travel is an excellent way to cheer myself up. As a result of this, and thanks to my back issues of Lonely Planet magazine, current plans for the year include Paris, Amsterdam, a bit of Scandinavia and Oxford. I plan to travel alone, with friends, with my beloved children and with my equally beloved boyfriend. I’m very excited about these plans. Now I just need to pay for them!

Lonely Planet magazine

Three: Long baths.

Long, warm baths are just the thing for helping to soothe away the soreness that comes from being ill. A favourite bath oil, a fragrant candle, and a good book complete the picture. Heaven.

Bathroom

What have your Three Good Things been this week? I’d love to hear from you.

Let me know if you write a Three Good Things post, and I’ll link back to it in next week’s edition.

January 14, 2014

A Year of Ethical Fashion

The brainchild of the famous Pip Lincolne of ‘Meet me at Mikes’, the Year of Ethical Fashion is a blogger challenge that I first came across when Ruthy of Minibreak Mummy wrote this post about Who Made Your Pants? – an ethical underwear company.

Pip’s challenge is for people to:

  • wear clothes you already own
  • buy from ethical companies
  • make your own clothing
  • buy second-hand and vintage
  • swap with other folk

This subject resonates heavily with me, as I have long raged about cheap fashion. The nasty truth is that if you’re paying very little for your clothing, the chances are that someone, somewhere is paying a far heftier price. A lack of regulated working conditions, no sick or maternity pay, no regular breaks for food or the toilet, not to mention horrific factory disasters such as the recent fire in Bangladesh; the worst disaster in the garment industry’s history. And this is even before we start talking about child labour.

My own rules for clothing purchases have long been this:

  • Only buy what you NEED – and then wear your clothes, don’t leave them languishing in a wardrobe with the tags still on because you’ve got so much stuff!
  • Only buy what you LOVE – that way you’re not wasting money, resources and someone’s work on something you’re ambivalent about. (I realise that necessary clothing might not fit into this – but I think that work clothes that make you feel good do actually make life better…)
  • Look after your clothes properly. Wash according to the instructions. Take proper care of your belongings. Realise that resources are not infinite and treat them accordingly.
  • Get stuff repaired – I had my beloved (only) pair of jeans repaired at the end of last year, and they have months of life in them now.

One final point. The campaigning group Labour Behind The Label, suggest that one thing we could all do, regardless of where we shop, is to write to clothing companies and ask them about their labour policies. The more pressure they receive, especially from their customers (because that’s where their profit lies!) the more likely they are to improve their supply chain and those people who are making our clothes for us will receive a fairer deal. Sounds like an excellent idea to me. Take a look HERE for their guidance on doing this. 

I’ll be following this challenge with interest this year (and wearing what I already own) and I’m really hoping to come across some new ethical companies in the process.

A Year of Ethical Fashion

January 13, 2014

My Shiny New Blogging Timetable

New year, new blogging schedule! I know, we’ve been here before, but I’m spending the month of January doing the Rosalilium Big Blogging Bootcamp and it’s fired up my enthusiasm for Margot & Barbara and so I have huge, ambitious plans for the year. Expect more changes to come…

Yes, yes, undoubtedly it’ll all come crashing down around my ears some time around March, but let’s be optimists, shall we?

Part of what I’ve been working through is trying to get a better grasp on themes for Margot & Barbara. At the very core of my blog is my scanner-type nature which means I’m interested in pretty much everything and that has always resulted in a blog that’s all over the place. And I’ve always thought that was fair enough, because at least it’s genuinely me. BUT – I’ve realised that for my own sanity and so you know what to expect, a bit of a schedule might help. It would help me to stop feeling stressed about ‘I should/could/must blog’ and put me back in control, using (for the first time) an editorial calendar, because I can plan in advance what I’m going to write about so will spend less time in a last-minute panic!

So, here goes.

Monday: LEARNING:  Challenges, scanner and multipotentialite writing, things I’ve learnt about blogging, and lots of writing about happiness. Because that underpins everything else I write.

Tuesday: GREEN: It’s ‘Barbara’ day. Including cycling and recycling, natural, organic and ethical beauty, my allotment and other gardening topics and any other green-themed posts.

Wednesday: THREE GOOD THINGS: A weekly post about three good things in my life that I’m grateful for. As before, I’d love you to share in Three Good Things and write your own posts to link up.

Thursday: LUXE: It’s ‘Margot’ day on Margot and Barbara! Here I’ll write about travel, fashion and beauty, restaurant reviews and lovely hotels. Where I can, I’ll focus on the environmental aspects. I call this eco-luxe. ‘Light’ green, if you like. I’ll also write about the arts, and Leeds based events here; going out and having fun definitely belongs on ‘Margot’ day… And yes, I know that ‘green’ and ‘luxe’ are polar opposites and I make no apologies for that. It’s who I am. Read my About Me page, if you want to know more.

Friday: HOME-LIFE: Including books, films, cooking, family, my attempts at crafts and the birds I see out of my window; today is all about staying in and living slowly.

Saturday: THE WEEKEND PAGES: A weekly round-up of the best things I’ve found on the web. Articles, blogs, life-hacks, online stores, everything is open for inclusion here.

Sunday: PHOTO OF MY WEEK: One photo that sums up my week.

Ta-da! What do you think? Feedback is very welcome from you, my lovely readers. Only be kind, I know it’s ambitious, but that’s what January is for, isn’t it?  And do let me know what kind of posts you like the best. 

January 6, 2014

2014 Resolutions

Happy new year everyone! As we’re a week into 2014, I’m firmly closing the door on the Christmas and New Year festivities (which I’ve totally loved this year) and getting back into the swing of everyday life. The start of a new school term always brings about a return to routines and the end of Quality Street being an acceptable breakfast food, just as I’ve got used to the idea…

Traditionally the start of January is resolution time. Usually I like to write a giant list of resolutions for the year, some of which I manage to complete and some I don’t. I wrote recently about needing to be honest with myself about the things that I really wanted to do and forget the things that I think I should want to do. So, no marathon running goals for me, this year or ever. Although I think that if you want to make changes to your life, you should start them today, whenever today is, rather than waiting for January 1st, there is something tidy about making new starts in a new year, so I do find New Year’s Resolutions somewhat seductive.

2014 is going to be a year that contains many changes. My career, my home life, and the way I spend my time are all going to change, and not all of those changes are my decision. So, rather than trying to control everything, I’m going to try and go with the flow a little more. Which is terrifying to me! But, I think that trying to force things to happen is bound to end in failure. It is important for me to recognise what I can control and what I cannot.

Therefore my list is short, and perhaps a little vague. But here goes:

1 – Study for my RHS Level 2 exams.  I’ve written about this before, and it’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a while (and really wanted to do) but life has got in the way of my plans. I’m determined to make it happen this time though. And I’m hopeful it may lead to more opportunity and who knows, perhaps a career shift.

2 – Make time. For my family, my friends, my boyfriend. Much of 2013 was challenging, sometimes it was painful and introspective, and it was a year in which my friends all supported me, but I feel as though I gave back little in return. I want to redress the balance and make time to visit my beloved friends and family and support them in whatever they are doing. My boyfriend has a year of change ahead of him too, and I want to be a supportive partner to him as we embrace our future together. (As an aside, I feel far too old to be saying boyfriend, but what’s the alternative? Partner makes it sound like we’re in business together…hmm)

3 – Say ‘yes’ more. And say ‘no’ more. Contradictory as ever…but by which I mean that I want to be brave enough to say ‘yes’ to the right opportunities that come my way, and say ‘no’ to things that I don’t want, need or feel like the right ‘fit’. And I’m not talking specifically about possessions when I say ‘things’, it’s really just a goal about being authentic and true to myself.

4 – Keep cycling. This is a bit of a vague goal, I appreciate, but I have really been enjoying cycling and I want to carry on improving, at my own pace, and just enjoying the ride. I have no challenges, competitions, sportives in mind at all. It will just be me, my bike and my boyfriend by my side.  Though, if you’re in Leeds and fancy a snail’s pace bike ride with a cafe stop in the middle, I’m your ideal companion!

5 – Visit somewhere new. Doesn’t matter where, I just want to keep exploring and having micro-adventures. And I really, really, want to go to somewhere I’ve never been in Europe in 2014. Fitting adventure into everyday life instead of waiting for a big chunk of time is something I’ve enjoyed in 2013, and I want to do more of it.

6 – Move towards being a ‘zero waste’ home. This is a huge goal and one in which I am going to be moving at an evolutionary pace, not aiming for an overnight revolution! On the back of reducing our reliance on the supermarket, the next step is reducing the amount of waste we create – less packaging, which in turn means less recycling. More composting and home-grown food! Which takes me nicely onto number 7…

7 –  Try my hardest to grow as much of our food as possible. 2013 was a dire year on the allotment for many reasons. I paid it a visit over the Christmas period and made a promise to it that I’d try my hardest to make 2014 a great year. Yup, I talk to my allotment. I appreciate that’s odd.

8 – Try yoga. We have a wonderful looking yoga centre near us and I’d really like to have a go at yoga, to benefit my (still too high) blood pressure and improve my flexibility. This is the year in which I’m finally going to do it, instead of just talking about it!

So, there we have it. Only eight things on my list this year. In addition to this are my usual ‘eat well, read more, learn new things’ goals, but they’re so heavily ingrained into my personality that I don’t need to specifically list them. As long as I’m breathing, I’ll be reading…

What are your goals for 2014? And do you have any advice for me in achieving mine? I’d love to hear from you.