Archive for February, 2014

February 22, 2014

The Weekend Pages #4

This edition of The Weekend Pages is devoted to one thing —The VELOBerlin Film Award, which combines two of my favourite things —film and bicycles, so we’ve spent a lot of this week watching all the short films and then entering into huge debates about what we should rate each one.

I think the film above, Bike, the first time, might be my favourite so far, as it contains shots of Paris, my favourite city, as well as some great looking bikes. But I also loved Experiments in Speed, seen below. I do love a bit of British eccentricity…

There are 18 films to watch and the range is extraordinary, from cartoons to emotional films about litter-picking children in Asia, via a documentary about the Devil. No, not the real one, the chap who follows all the major bike races wearing a Devil costume. If you’ve ever seen the mountain stages of the Tour de France you’ll know exactly who I mean…

The full range of films can be seen HERE. Don’t forget to vote!

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Margot and Barbara is changing! I’d really appreciate your feedback. Click HERE to take part. Thank you 🙂

February 21, 2014

Book: Glaciers

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After tearing through a handful of roller-coaster fantasy novels, including the Mur Lafferty one I wrote about recently and the first Terry Pratchett novel I’ve read in years I felt in need of something a touch calmer. A moment of tranquility, before another fast paced hurtle though a different world.

Enter Glaciers, written by Alexis M. Smith. I’d been bought this book as a gift a few months back, but not been in the right frame of mind to read it. This time, it was exactly what I was looking for.

Glaciers is a short, beautiful and somewhat melancholy book based on a day in the life of Isabel, a book restorer who lives in Portland, Oregon. Each chapter is brief, with wistful, memory-laden references to Isabel’s own history interwoven with that of the postcards she collects and vintage clothing she wears. Lightness and humour are provided by her friendship with Leo, and the nearly-but-not-quite love with a soldier who is called back to battle leaves a bittersweet feeling and a lingering wonder about what could have been and indeed, what still might be.

As a debut novel, I think it’s incredibly accomplished, with the beautifully drawn character of Isabel being someone you care for right from the start. It’s a quick read, but one that stays on your mind long after the last page has been read. Beautiful and highly recommended.

Have you read anything great recently? I’d love to hear your book recommendations!

February 19, 2014

Three Good Things: learning something new.

Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of Three Good Things!

Sweaty Betty

One.

I’ve wanted to try a yoga class for such a long time but never plucked up the courage to take myself to a class, until I discovered Yoga Kula, a yoga centre really close to home. They offer a free trial class, which seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. I joined a level one Hatha class and I loved it. I’ve since returned for a second class and I’m doing a workshop on Friday night. So it’s safe to say that I’m hooked on yoga. The lovely folk at Sweaty Betty were handing out goodies at my first class, which is where the products in the photo above comes from. I’m going to put the water bottle on my bike–the colour ensures it’ll be seen when I’m on the road!

Watercolour box

Two.

I’ve not done any watercolour painting since I was at school, but I really love the time I spend doing art and craft activities with the kids and I’ve had a real yearning to try some more myself. Thanks to my boyfriend for the watercolour set above, I now have the chance to try! I’ll try to pluck up the courage to share some of my work over on Instagram.

Flow International

Three.

I finally got my hands on Flow InternationalHurray! Although it’s described as a magazine for paper lovers—and indeed it is — I was really drawn to the strap line at the top: Simplify your life, Feel Connected, Life Mindfully, Spoil Yourself. That sounds like my kind of life…

What are the little things that have been making you smile this week? Do share your Three Good Things with me…

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Margot and Barbara is changing! I’d really appreciate your feedback. Click HERE to take part. Thank you 🙂

February 18, 2014

The Leeds Minimalist Group.

On October 21st, Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus aka The Minimalists, will be arriving in Leeds as part of their international ‘Everything That Remains’  book tour, and in anticipation of that, a local group has been established to welcome them to our fair city but also for us to chat about minimalism and provide some support to each other. Our esteemed leader, Wendy, describes the meetings as ‘probably the most fun, enlightening and interesting experience of your life…’ And so I went along to the first gathering with high expectations!

Thankfully, Wendy is completely brilliant, and so that first meeting was held in a pub and not only was there beer, but there was also free food. There is basically nothing better at bringing people together than food and beer so the chat flowed freely as we all introduced ourselves and talked about our backgrounds and why we were interested in minimalism. Everyone had their story to tell and it was a fascinating and truly fun evening.

Now, long term readers of this blog will know these things about me:

1 — Habitually, I’m a collector. From Blythe dolls to vintage Penguin paperbacks, I have always loved a good collection. I blame my antique dealing parents for that!

2 – Despite this, I’m on an unexpected journey—because of big changes in my life— towards a minimalist lifestyle.

For me, having a collection that you love and have meaning for you isn’t the same as Keeping Up with the Jones’ — a competitive fast-track to debt and anxiety. Mindless spending on stuff is where my problem lies and, as I’ve been more mindful about where I spend my money, that has, in turn, reduced my level of possessions. From shopping locally, to operating my ‘one in, one out’ paperback book collection, I am making lots of changes which are having a beneficial effect on my stress levels and my bank balance. I may even be sending those Penguin books off to the charity shop…

I may never reach the levels of minimalism as my boyfriend, who has 100 items that will all fit into one bag (if you exclude his bike), but I do have very few possessions now and a genuine interest in continuing the journey towards reducing them even more. Fewer things means more head-space, I’ve found.  Plus, by getting rid of all the clutter, the possessions I want to keep have the space to shine. For me, simplicity and minimalism is fast becoming a route to happiness.

If you have any interest in minimalism at all, or even a curiosity to see what a group of people who get together to talk about this looks like, please do come along to the next gathering. I promise you that it’ll be fun, you’ll be made really welcome and you may come away with a desire to join in with us!

The next gathering will take place in The Tetley Bar and Kitchen. The gallery is open until 8pm if you wish to visit before the meetup starts. Entrance is free.

Date: Thursday 6th March

Time: From 8pm

Location: The Tetley Bar and Kitchen, The Tetley, Hunslet Road, Leeds LS10 1JQ

Hope to see you there…

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Margot and Barbara is changing! I’d really appreciate your feedback. Click HERE to take part. Thank you 🙂

February 17, 2014

How to make friends.

On my recent blogging course, during a discussion about networking, the discussion turned to making friends. In that context, we were talking about making friends with other bloggers —I’m going to write about that next week, but I’m also interested in making friends more generally.

But it’s hard to make friends as an adult, isn’t it?

As the school gate, I have two friends. Many of the other parents will nod a ‘hello’ but that’s as far as the relationships go. We attend the same meetings, parties and sports days but are merely acquaintances because of biology. Giving birth to a child at the same time does not automatically create friendships, I never found. I suspect much of this is because instead of going to antenatal class, I gave birth ten weeks’ early and so never had the chance to meet other prospective parents and make those early connections. Still, the two friends I do have, I made because we discovered that we have other things in common alongside children. A love of wine, for a start. And the same sense of humour. So although I’ve never made lots of friends through school, the ones I have are fab. Even though they keep bugging me to take up ceroc dancing…

My long term friends, from college and work, are scattered around the country— actually, the globe. We make plans to meet, but they’re often scuppered by poorly children, other responsibilities, work commitments. These are the friends I’ve had forever. You probably have some too. They’re the ones who know all about your first kiss, or who held your hair back when you were sick after one too many drinks at college. The ones you were with when you tried to tape the songs from the Top 40 without getting any of the DJ speaking on (showing my age, there) and pored over the latest issue of Smash Hits with.  The friends who you don’t need to see for months, but as soon as you catch up, it’s like you were never apart. Although those bonds are strong, the length of time between meetings leaves for huge gaps of time to be lonely in.

So, the answer has to be finding new friends. Not to replace those long term friendships but to add to them. More friends! These ones are the folk you can get the chance to grab a coffee with, or go to evening classes together, because they’re local. These friends are the ones who will stop you feeling lonely on a day-to-day basis. And possibly, one day, you’ll have known them forever too…

Here’s how I am finding friends:

1: Twitter. Leeds is a wonderful city in which to find people through Twitter. If you’re in Leeds, you should be following @peopleofLeeds, a rotation curation account. I’ve met some of my closest ‘tribe’ through Twitter; people who I consider to be some of the closest friends I’ll ever have the good fortune to have, plus a good number of other people who are less close, but lots of fun. I know that in many cases, we’ll never meet in real life, but they’re still true friendships. However, plucking up the courage to ask someone if they fancy meeting up for coffee has led to some genuine ‘real life’ friendships, so I’d tell you to go for it. Just make sure you arrange to meet somewhere public for the first time. 

2: Blogging. Through blogging, I’ve met some wonderful people, both locally and further afield. Getting invitations to events means I have to be brave and often turn up alone. A glass of wine or two later, I’m hopefully chatting to someone who may continue to be a friendly face. This year, I’m hoping to get to a blogging conference or two and meet some people that I’ve chatted to online for a while. I’m going to write more about blogging friendships next Monday.

3: Trying something new. By trying new things, even if they’re a challenge, I start to feel better about myself. Which, in turn, makes me happy. Happy people attract other people, I’m sure. And if all else fails, at least I’ve tried something different and so I’m living a fuller life.

4: Following my own interests, goals, desires and dreams. Sometimes, people come to you when you’re not actively looking for them. By following my own interests, I go to events, take courses, and join online and offline gatherings. Being in a place surrounded by people with the same passion as you, you’re very likely to be able to strike up a conversation, which sometimes leads to longer term friendships. Do what you love and the friends will come.

How do you make new friends? I’d love to chat about this with you all…

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Margot and Barbara is changing! I’d really appreciate your feedback. Click HERE to take part. Thank you 🙂

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February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine’s Day!

“Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery (author of The Little Prince)

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Margot and Barbara is changing! I’d really appreciate your feedback. Click HERE to take part. Thank you 🙂

February 13, 2014

George & Joseph cheesemongers, Leeds.

It’s safe to say that avoiding supermarkets is a lot easier if you have brilliant local alternatives. Specialist shops might mean that you need to go from place to place rather than buying everything from under one roof, but the pleasure you can take from buying your food from someone who really knows their stuff turns food shopping from being a chore to a delight.

In North Leeds, one such shop is George & Joseph, a cheesemongers in Chapel Allerton. Tucked away down Regent Street in LS7, this little gem specialises in Yorkshire cheese and warm welcomes. I’ve been in a few times now, and always come away with gorgeous wax paper-wrapped cheese which we’ve thoroughly enjoyed. There’s something for all palates ranging from soft, mild goat cheese to strong blue cheeses as well as the crackers, chutneys and platters you need to serve your cheese on.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Fleming

Photo courtesy of Stephen Fleming

The first time we visited, Stephen the friendly owner of George & Joseph recommended the Old Winchester cheese which has become a firm favourite. It’s not a Yorkshire cheese—it’s from Lyburn cheese makers in the New Forest— but its firm, almost crunchy texture and strong nutty, Parmesan-esque flavour have got me firmly hooked. It’s genuinely my favourite cheese of all time. And that’s not a thing I say lightly.  Also, the cheese is made with a vegetarian rennet, which means its great for those looking for an Italian style hard cheese without the animal rennet that Parmesan always contains.

I’m thinking that a George & Joseph themed cheese tasting evening might be round the corner. Although don’t expect me to share the Old Winchester…

Do you have great local stores near you? Are there any other places in Leeds I should try too? Let me know!

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Margot and Barbara is changing! I’d really appreciate your feedback. Click HERE to take part. Thank you 🙂

February 12, 2014

Margot and Barbara is changing!

Margot and Barbara turns three in May.

As well as planning a party, I’m also planning lots of changes.  Narrowing the field of subjects I cover and creating a new logo for a start. Moving to a self-hosted site and keeping my fingers crossed that some of you come with me! Spending a lot of time day-dreaming about the ways I could turn my blog into something more. Something bigger, better, brighter. Something—maybe, just maybe—that could turn into online and offline projects as part of my career change? Dare I think about that?

Before I get too carried away, I am in huge need of your help. The people that read my blog are the best people to ask about the future of it! So, I would be HUGELY grateful if you could take the tiny survey that I’ve created. It’s only four questions, so it’ll only take you a couple of minutes, I promise!

And for those of you who are local, there may be birthday cake in it for you…

Click HERE to take the survey. Thank you so much.

February 11, 2014

Living Naturally Soapnut shampoo bar.

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In an attempt to reduce the amount of plastic we use, I’ve been reviewing all my toiletries. I know already that I’ll decide not to replace some things; I’m very attached to my favourite beauty products!  Because of this, I’ve been going for quick wins where I have no emotional resistance. Shampoo was first on my list.

I have no particular brand preference but my dry, curly hair has to be washed, or at least dampened every day. Goodness knows what I do in my sleep but I always wake up with it sticking up like a scarecrow. The daily washing doesn’t help with the dryness though—although I rarely use a hairdryer so at least it’s not getting heat damaged too.

My friend Jo suggested soapnuts as a solution to my packaging dilemma, and gave me this Soapnut shampoo bar from Living Nature to try. Soapnuts are basically dried husks of the berries from the soapnut tree. You can find out more by clicking here. They’re really good for people with excema or skin conditions that react badly to the chemicals in a lot of toiletries or laundry products, so if you or a member of your family suffer in this way they’re definitely worth investigating.

The soapnut bar I tried is apparently suitable for the whole body as well as the hair, but I decided to approach it the old-fashioned way for this trial, and just washed my hair in the sink. The bar lathered up quite nicely and it definitely felt like it was doing a good job of cleaning my hair. What I hadn’t initially realised is that, as well as the soapnuts and Dead Sea salt, the soap bar also contains several oils (olive, coconut, palm and castor) which left my hair feeling really moisturised. I think if you have oily hair already, this might not feel so great, but it helped combat the frizz I get with my dry hair so was a real benefit to me.

Other ingredients in the bar are essential oils of lavender, rosemary, cedarwood and cypress, so it smells gorgeous, slightly medicinal and woody. I think it probably goes without saying, but it’s also handmade, vegan and free of any chemicals.

I really enjoyed this product and, given that the oils help with the dryness of my hair, it might have actually helped me to find a replacement for styling products too! Definitely a keeper…and it’s made me wonder what other soapnut products we could try.

Have you tried any soapnut products? Or other packaging-free shampoo? I’d love to hear from you!

 

February 10, 2014

How to be an expert.

I’ve been mulling this subject over in my mind for a while now. On the cusp of changes at work, and possibly to my career, I’ve been trying to work out what, if anything, I’m expert in.

Being expert doesn’t come naturally to a scanner—we’re generalists. But naturally there are some subjects, through passion, experience or damn hard work, in which I’m more expert than others. Horses, through a degree course and years of practical experience, is one area I used to be confident about. I’ve not even sat on a horse in the past four years though, so does that mean I’m no longer expert? I’ve worked on a community and environmental grants scheme since 2007, so I think that’s something I’m quite good at. Eight years of being an allotment holder makes me relatively confident about growing vegetables and fruit—but not in horticulture generally, in which I am very novice. I don’t consider my three years of blogging to make me anything other than a novice blogger; I wonder how other bloggers feel?

In an age where anyone can declare themselves an expert merely by writing the word in their Twitter biography, how much value does it hold? (and how many Social Media Experts does one society need?) Who decides what makes that person an expert anyway? Where does the burden of proof lie?

When everyone has been given a voice, through blogs such as mine, or other online platforms, is opinion being mixed up with being expert? Just because I think something doesn’t make me an expert; in that case, my opinion should rightly be of less value than that of someone else who has had decades of practice or study in a subject area. During an evening spent with a friend recently, we discussed his passion for anthropology, and Native American culture in particular. Only after decades’ worth of study and travel is he finally feeling confident enough to write papers for publication.  He has the authority now to have opinions of his own, and not to parrot those of other people—and yet he still doesn’t consider himself to be an expert in the subject.

They say the path to career happiness lies in working out what you’re good at, what you enjoy and where the crossovers are. So I need to work out first what I’m good at. What I’m expert in. But how do I go about finding out and being sure? Is it all a matter of acquiring some more self belief? Or is everyone else just bluffing?

Do you know?