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?

February 8, 2014

Photo of my week #4

This week, we finally made it to dinner at a local Mexican place, Pinche Pinche. I loved it, especially the churros!

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February 7, 2014

Book: The Shambling Guide to New York City.

Friday is supposed to be for my ‘Home’ posts, but it seems to be drifting in the direction of ‘Books’. However, that still seems fitting and so I’m happily going with it. In fact, the whole blog has become distinctly more book, magazine and paper orientated—whether that’s a sign of Winter hibernation or that I should just give in and write a blog about paper remains to be seen…

As I mentioned last week, I seem to have accidentally become a big fan of fantasy novels and so I found myself wandering in the fantasy section of Waterstone’s earlier this week, seeking a follow up book to The Night Circus, which I loved.

Sitting amidst all the gothic-looking fantasy novels was this book. I’ll admit that the cover quote from Scott Sigler did it for me. ‘If Buffy grew up, got therapy and found a real job, it would look like this’. I was obsessed with Buffy when I was away at agricultural college. I used to get it recorded (on VHS, no less) so that I could watch back to back episodes every time I came home. I bought all the box-sets, fan-books, action figures, magazines. I even queued to meet James Marsters but wasn’t able to stay long enough to actually see him; a fact which still makes me sad…

The Shambling Guide to New York City

Anyway, I digress. I bought Mur Lafferty’s urban fantasy novel ‘The Shambling Guide to New York City’ and, after a day, I’ve finished it. It’s brilliant. Fast-paced and contemporary, with the wry humour and wit that Buffy was great at, and a mix of comedic and slightly disturbing that only a novel containing zombies can probably manage. I love that she creates characters that I care about, even if they happen to be Death Goddesses, water sprites or vampires. It’s lots of fun and hugely engaging right from the start. I think that it would be a really good introduction to fantasy novels for those of you who might be as sceptical as I was about fantasy as a genre.

A whole series of ‘Shambling Guide’ novels set in different cities are planned with the second—set in New Orleans— to be released later this year; I already know that I will be waiting impatiently for its arrival.

What I really want to know, though, is why I’ve never heard of Mur Lafferty before? She’s ace. I’ve had a quick read of her blog and noticed that she’s a pod-caster so they’re next on my list…

February 5, 2014

Three Good Things: another paper-based edition!

Quite by accident, this week’s Three Good Things has a paper-based theme again. I think it’s because I seem to spend so much of the winter huddled inside, awaiting Spring! Here are the things that have been making me smile this week…

One: Frankie magazine

Thanks to my lovely friend Kay, I have issue 56 of Frankie to read. Even though it’s their December edition, they’re Antipodean, so there’s plenty of sunshine between the pages, as well as beautiful arts, crafts, photography. There is also a iguana, which I initially thought it was a pet. Until half of  it appeared, cooked and nestled on a plate between rice and beans. But I have decided to gloss over that page, with a shudder…

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Two: The Night Circus

I’ve just finished this novel by Erin Morgenstern and so I’m officially in mourning; a slightly empty ‘what will I do with my life now?’ feeling that appears at the end of a great book. Unfortunately, I passed it along to a friend before I remembered to photograph it for the blog.  Highly recommended.

Three: Zebra Notepaper from Rifle Paper Co. 

Because no matter how many productivity apps I have on my iPhone, I’ll always turn to pen and paper. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as crossing things off a To-Do list, and this pretty note paper from Rifle Paper Co. (bought in Waterstone’s) actually makes me want to get organised!

What are your Three Good Things this week? I’d love you to share them with me!  I will link to any Three Good Things posts you write, in next week’s edition of this series. 

February 4, 2014

Allotment rules.

Earlier this year, I paid a visit to my sodden, mud-covered allotment and made a promise to it that this was going to be a brilliant year.

2013 saw the arrival of my first letter from the council—the letter designed to either make you quit or get cross. In my eight years of allotment holding, I’ve never had it quite so bad. I was tempted to write an angry letter in return, telling them all about the end of my marriage, that I was living with my parents and that I had enough things to worry about without the threat of losing my beloved plot. Instead I opted for a feeble “if you look hard enough, you can see I’ve planted things” kind of response, with a tug of the forelock in the direction of the council as I did so.

Since making that promise, aloud, to my plot—on a day when thankfully, the site was otherwise empty—I’ve since done precisely nothing. Not a single thing. And I know from previous experience that the start of every year is slow, and then Spring pops up seemingly overnight because I’ve not been paying attention and all of a sudden I’m rushing to catch up.

So it’s time for a plan. And seeds. Hurrah for seeds and their promise of greatness. I didn’t manage to save any seeds last year, due to the above-mentioned life changes, so I’m shopping for all new ones. I tend to get my seeds from online suppliers like Sarah Raven but this year I’m heading up to RHS Harlow Carr for a day’s wandering around the site for some much-needed inspiration and then to the shop for stocking up.

So that I’m not setting myself up for failure, I have some rules for my allotment:

  • Only grow food we like to eat! Sounds simple, but sometimes desire for crop rotation and doing things ‘by the rules’ leads to oddities in planting plans. Runner beans are a great example of something that’s easy to grow but that I really don’t like to eat.
  • Don’t grow things that are attention-seekers: Some plants cope really well without a lot of attention (such as sweetcorn) and some do not. Growing things that require more time than I have will lead to failure.
  • Grow things that cost more to buy: Maincrop potatoes don’t require a lot of attention but are cheap to buy. More interesting varieties such as Pink Fir Apple cost more to buy, so are more worth growing.
  • Grow things that taste their best when absolutely fresh: Sweetcorn, peas and strawberries are great example of this and so are all on my wish list.

Inevitably there are conflicts between these rules—plants that are more interesting to eat often are harder to grow! Where there is conflict, my heart and stomach will always rule over my head, naturally…

After much deliberation, crop rotation planning and thinking about my rules, here’s my wish list:

  • sweetcorn
  • parsnip
  • carrots
  • peas
  • borlotti beans
  • squash/pumpkin
  • dwarf french beans
  • beetroot
  • bush tomatoes
  • spinach
  • corn salad
  • waxy potatoes

Also—dahlias, sweet peas, ranunculus. I long for cutting flowers this year.

I’ve not decided on varietals yet, so if you’ve got any suggestions for me, that would be great!

What are your gardening plans for the year? What would you grow based on my rules? Do let me know…