Archive for ‘Home’

March 25, 2014

My blog is moving!

Hello everyone.

After far too much deliberation, this week I am starting the process of converting my blog to a self-hosted WordPress.org site.

The new site will still be Margot & Barbara and you’ll still be able to find it at http://www.margot-and-barbara.com but there will be a few changes.

A new logo, for one. After realising that getting professional help in logo design and website building was going to cost me a month’s salary, I’ve opted for a DIY approach, with MASSES of help from Stephen without whom none of this would be happening. So my site will be ace, my logo will be hand-watercoloured and therefore terribly imperfect and wonky, but it’ll be all mine. As someone told me on Instagram the other day ‘integrity is magnetic’ so I’m hoping that people will appreciate the home-made quality of it! I’ll admit, I’m finding the whole thing one giant learning curve and I’m pretty terrified that I’m going to be writing into the wind with no audience at all. But I want to see if I can make this blog everything it could be and that requires change and a big old pile of bravery, so I’m going for it. Stephen did ask me how I’d feel about losing three years’ worth of writing and that made me gulp a bit, so lets hope it all goes according to plan!

The all new Margot & Barbara will be a bit more focused. I’ll have to get used to not writing about every little thought that pops into my head! I’m not going to be writing any more restaurant reviews, or Leeds event reviews, unless they’re about something I’m especially interested in. I shall leave that to the many talented Leeds-based bloggers out there.  I’m also dropping my blog-every-day plan. Let’s face it, it was never going to last, was it? So, three or four times a week will do nicely.

I’m keeping Three Good Things book reviews, and the occasional personal challenge/scanner-type post (because they’ve got fab feedback, and I enjoy writing them) and I will be doing more writing on gardens, flowers, grow-your-own and all things plant and food based and also travel and adventure posts. This shift is because of the feedback I’ve got from readers in the survey but also it ties in nicely with my own personal plans for the future.

The overall ‘green’ feel of Margot & Barbara (with the occasional glittery post for balance!) will stay and I and will be experimenting soon with making natural beauty products so I’m sure they’ll find their way into a post or two as well.  If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, you’ll find much of the same in its new home.

Later in the spring/summer will see the launch of the next phase of my changes and I’m SO excited to be getting things under way after a year of procrastination.

I really, really hope that you’ll come across and see me at my new site! Bye for now…

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March 24, 2014

The Latte Factor.

I first read about David Bach’s ‘The Latte Factor‘ through Guy Kawasaki on Twitter (who, incidentally, you should follow, he shares great stuff) and I’ve spent the weekend thinking it over.

The Latte Factor, for those of you who don’t know, is a financial theory that basically says we’re all spending money on lattes or other small, daily things, without them really adding value to our lives and if we put that money into a savings account instead, over time it would make us rich.  Whilst I’m not sure of the whole ‘Finish Rich’ element of this (does it just mean I get the fanciest coffin in the graveyard?) I am pretty convinced that I do spend money on small things without really thinking about them. Perhaps at the expense of my real financial or life goals.

In the past couple of months, because of big changes that are happening around here, I’ve been using YNAB to track all my expenses and pretty soon I shall have a really clear record of where my money is going each month. I already know that there will be a few areas that I need to focus on, and cut down, in order to achieve what I really want for the year. I’ve really enjoyed using YNAB, and genuinely think it’s worth the financial investment as it’s making me focus on my spending and saving far more than all my other methods have ever done. I can reconcile it against my current account and the smug feeling of knowing where every last penny is makes me feel so much more in control. It’s a good feeling. They do a month’s free trial if you fancy giving it a go.

Anyway, back to those lattes…

For me, it really boils down to mindful expenditure. Often, a cup of coffee represents time spent with friends and in that case, it’s absolutely worth the money, and a lot more besides. But the coffee I buy every time I wait for my daughter to finish ballet class is purely bought out of habit. I could wait for an hour without one and it would be just the same. So those are the times I could put £2.50 towards my real financial goals for the year. It may not be much, but it will all add up.

To note, and so I don’t back out of them, this year’s plans include: spoon making workshop, circus trip, Amsterdam, floristry, a new DSLR, taking the kids to the seaside in the summer, a myriad of short trips and a horticultural course at college. And that’s before I start on the blog plans and worrying about my ancient little car breaking down! So, those lattes could pay for a lot more than an hour’s wait at ballet class…

March 21, 2014

Book: The Ivington Diaries

Books about learning to garden can be a bit repetitive. After all, there’s only a handful of ways to sow seeds. Books on gardens, however, are wonderful. This example from Monty Don, has captured my attention and really made me want to learn more and visit more gardens to understand planting on a larger scale. It’s written as a year’s worth of diary entries, but with the years ranging over roughly a decade, so for example January 1st 1999 is followed by January 4th, 2004 and it’s utterly captivating.  Monty writes so engagingly he makes you want to walk around the acres of garden (sections have names;  spring garden, jewel garden, white garden) and take a peek into the potting sheds. He writes of practical matters, mulch being a favourite, and of the joy and artistry of creating a beautiful garden, not to mention the work that goes into creating such a garden from scratch and his words are accompanied by lush photography so you get a good overview of the different parts of the garden through the year.

The book format (even down to the paper and font choices), reminds me very much of Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diary which is an absolute favourite book of mine, so if you liked that, imagine a similar book set in a garden, and you’ve gone some way towards capturing the feel of this book.

The garden in question is at his home, Ivington, where he and his family moved following the collapse of the family business and the death of his mother. The house they bought and the creation of the garden seems to have brought their lives back together and in his own words ‘rebuilt’ him.  He writes with such love, attention and humour and, because the book is written as short diary entries, it’s really easy to dip into and read whenever you’ve got a free minute. I really recommend it, and think it would be a wonderful gift for Mothering Sunday…

The Ivington Diaries

March 19, 2014

Three Good Things.

Hello, and welcome to this week’s Three Good Things! It’s been a few weeks since I did my regular round-up of the small things in my life that have brought happiness to my days. Not because there isn’t any happiness going on, actually I’ve just been really busy enjoying life…

Anyway, without further ado, here we go.

One: Avoca socks

Avoca socks

I know, socks are not exactly the most thrilling of subjects. But when you’re trying to live a more minimalist lifestyle, a new pair of socks is a big deal! I only have five pairs of socks (two pairs of walking socks, one gym, two everyday) so I’ve taken my time to choose a new pair. I first saw these Avoca ones (which are designed in Ireland and made in Italy) a few months ago on a trip away to the Lake District and when the time came to buy new socks, decided to track them down, finding them in a little store in Harrogate, where I spent the day last week. More on the Harrogate trip later. Suffice to say, I love my new socks.

Two: The Grand Budapest Hotel. 

We paid our first visit to the Everyman cinema in Leeds on the opening night of Wes Anderson’s new film (which has its fabulous own website here) and it was such a great night. I loved this film so much. Aesthetically perfect, multi-layered (including being shot in three different formats to distinguish between periods), laugh-out-loud funny and overwhelmingly poignant, this is a triumphal return. As always, the whole film looks like it’s been shot through an Instagram filter, living in that parallel universe where all of Anderson’s films live. Which brings me neatly to number three…

Three: Pink.

I blame Wes Anderson for this. Ever since watching the above film, I’ve been obsessed with the colour pink. Not since Kay Thompson*  sang ‘Think Pink’ in Audrey Hepburn’s ‘Funny Face’ has the colour worked its magic through a film so much. The Grand Budapst Hotel in its heyday is a giant, frothy, towering fondant fancy of a hotel, and it is now all I can do not to paint my whole flat pink. Add to that the blossom trees near our flat that are teetering on the brink of exploding into confetti petals, and I’m totally sold that pink is my colour of spring.

So, those are my Three Good Things this week, what are yours? Do share…

*PS Kay Thompson is probably more famous for writing the ‘Eloise’ illustrated books about a small girl living in the Plaza in New York. They are all utterly fabulous and charming and you should read them. 

March 10, 2014

Our urban green space.

Though it’s not officially spring yet, the area I live in has begun to change and the little green space opposite our flat has come alive.

When we moved into the flat in November, the whole area was quiet, tucked up for winter. We hardly saw anyone and the space between our houses felt huge. Since the warmer weather has started to arrive, the streets are beginning to fill up. The birds in our trees are singing, snowdrops planted on the green are in full flower and people are emerging from their winter.

Early mornings on the green often start with tai chi practitioners, working slowly and deliberately through their sequence of movements. They are followed by dog walkers and people on their way to work. Afternoons now see children back from school playing on the make-shift swing or kicking a ball around.

Yesterday, children from the local Sunday school spilled out from the Church Hall, escorted by white-robed nuns, to run around and play football with some other boys and their dad, whilst another boy was pushed on the rope swing. Next to arrive were three rainbow-haired young adults with their ferrets—this is Yorkshire, after all — who allowed their animals to enjoy a run around on the grass in the fresh spring air. Later, the football and ferrets were replaced by a family with a frisbee and a dog who was having enormous fun chasing around after the flying disc.

It’s not a perfect space, I know that. We have early morning tai chi, but we do sometimes also have late-night drinkers. But they’re quiet, and one of our community minded neighbours leaves a bin liner hooked over the edge of the bench, so they’re tidy too. The same neighbour cleared the leaves away from under the trees, so those snowdrops had space to flower. I suspect she’s the guerrilla gardener responsible for their existence in the first place. She’s someone I’d like to know better.

Yesterday we threw our windows open to let in the air and witnessing people using the green over the whole day gave me a feeling of lightness and of happiness. And of the confirmation, yet again, of the importance of green space close to where people live. It’s not a big space but it matters. The people living in this area live in a combination of whole houses, flats that are created from those houses, and social housing. No matter what we live in, we share a common lack of green space of our own. The houses are huge, but they are not blessed with large gardens; certainly they’re not big enough to kick a football. So having somewhere across the street for a run about is vital. Study after study has proven the importance of the natural environment for people’s physical and mental well-being, and although the occasional trip to a National Park is a wonderful thing, what people do in their everyday life matters more.

I’m very thankful to see our community start to come alive and to use the green. And I look forward to becoming more involved in it as the spring turns into summer…

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 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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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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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 🙂