Archive for ‘Learning: Challenges, goals, minimalism and scanner-life.’

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 3, 2014

A week away from blogging.

I’ve just accidentally had a week away from blogging and for the first time in ages, felt completely fine about it. No anxiety. No little voice inside my head telling me I must write a blog post. Perhaps it was because I was so busy learning new things and enjoying myself, or perhaps I needed a break.

What I have come to realise is that the busier and more excited I am about my ‘real’ life, the less anxious I am about blogging. And the less time I spend on social media, with the notable exception of Instagram. When I’m busily doing stuff (instead of just talking about doing stuff, a bad habit of mine), I have things to photograph even if I don’t have the time or inclination to write.

During the week off, I’ve concluded that my daily blogging is too much for me, at least until the day that blogging becomes my full-time job! I knew that I was probably setting myself up for problems when I started it but, to quote Edison, I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work…

The other thing I’ve started doing this week is analysing my survey results. These have been really helpful; thank you so much to everyone who has completed it. There’s still time if you’d like to get involved. I’d love to have more feedback and I promise it only takes two minutes. The link is at the bottom of the page.

Based on the survey results I shall be blogging on the subjects you’ve said you like the most, and reverting back to blogging several times a week. The other, bigger changes to the site are still under construction and I hope to unveil them in the next few months! I’m glad that I’ve got to a point where I’m more comfortable with combining my blog with the rest of my life and I’m really excited about what my future plans might bring, it feels like a good place to be.

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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 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?

February 3, 2014

Holstee Lifecycle: a manifesto for life

Monday mornings can be the most challenging time of the week. I invite you to be cheered, find a bit of time to reflect and just enjoy this; the Holstee Lifecycle, based on their well-loved Manifesto but with bikes…

 

 

January 27, 2014

Best iPhone Apps.

As someone who is trying to approach a more minimalist lifestyle, I’m trying to cull many the things that I don’t really need and make better use of those that I do.

This week’s plan is to apply that logic to my iPhone. When I initially took possession of my 64gb phone, my initial response was to put everything on it. All the apps in the world. Because I could. Apps I’d never heard of got installed just in case I ever found the time to try them or the energy to use them. The problem now is that my phone is a jumbled mess of folders, apps and tools. I need to streamline it. There’s no point in having every productivity and list-making app in the known universe, if I never actually use any of them!  Despite a plethora of such productivity tools, I’m more than likely to be found with a notebook and pen in hand, writing lists, than I am using Evernote. You just can’t beat a Moleskine…

Apps I use:

The big ones: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram: These are so obvious, I wasn’t even going to list them, but they form the backdrop to my social life, so they probably should be at the top!

Springpad: I initially used this for keeping track of lots of plans and lists, but now it’s used for two things only: keeping a list of cultural events I’ve attended and keeping a list of books I’ve read or plan to read. I love it for that, because it adds images of book covers to the list so it’s really clear to see what’s on there.

Shazam: Not a productivity app, but one that listens to music and identifies it, so I can spend too much money buying music in iTunes.

IMDb: For deciding whether we should watch a film or not. But mostly for ending arguments about which actor was in which film, what that character was called, and if we’ve actually seen that film or not…

Vimeo: Like YouTube, but more attractive. With Kinfolk.

Afterlight, VSCOcam, A Beautiful Mess, Pro HDR, Snapseed. All photography apps, because at the moment I don’t have a camera and so iPhone photography is the only way for me. 

Duolingo and Mindsnacks French: Fun French study.

WordPress: For last minute blog posts alterations and on-the-go blogging.

Booking.com and Airbnb: We use these for microadventures and last minute hotel bookings.

As you can see, I’m only using a handful of Apps, and big, well-known ones at that. So I could do with your help.

Are there any iPhone apps that you love? What should I be keeping or adding to my phone, when I get rid of all my clutter? And is there a productivity App that is better than a Moleskine notebook and pen?

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 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.