Posts tagged ‘learning’

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 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 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?

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

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!

December 23, 2013

Happy Christmas!

Well, 2013 has been an interesting year, to say the least. I’ve gone through huge life changes, only some of which I’ve shared here. Life today is pretty good. I’m writing this in a fairy-lit sitting room, while my children sleep peacefully next door. I know that I’ve got some wonderful relationships and lots to look forward to. But I’m tired too. In need of a little break to re-charge my batteries a bit.

And so, I’m taking the advice of Luci at ‘Mother. Wife. Me‘ and having a blogging break until the New Year. A year that I have many plans for. Cycling, yoga, gardening, micro-adventures, maybe a bit of luxury, some volunteering and a lot of learning. I’m hoping to spend some time rebuilding old friendships and creating new ones. I’d like to see a bit of the world I’ve never been to before. I shall play games with my children and go on dates with my boyfriend. It will be a good year. I feel it in my bones.

I’m hoping that this blog will grow too. I have lots to improve and I’m going to state my intentions here and now to join the Big Blogging Bootcamp hosted by Elizabeth at Rosalilium. I know that it will be the kickstart that I’ve been looking for and I’m very much looking forward to it.

So, for now I wish those of you who are celebrating, a very Happy Christmas, and a wonderful 2014 to you all! I’ll catch you in a couple of weeks.

Love from Liz

Potted Christmas Tree

December 13, 2013

Bringing The Garden Indoors.

Now that I’ve moved to a third floor flat, I am without a garden of my own. This is offset somewhat by my allotment and we have a shared garden, but it’s overlooked by several large trees. This makes for wonderful bird watching – I appear to have become an accidental twitcher – but means that the garden is darkened, covered in leaves, and any plants would need to compete with lots of tree roots so it doesn’t bode well for much growing.

So, to satisfy my green fingers,  I want to bring some of the outdoors into our home.

The first thing I did was plant ‘Paperwhite’ bulbs into little terracotta pots. I have a handful of these around the flat and they’ve brought a bit of cheer and a heady fragrance into our home. Although you can force these in the dark, I just left them in my mother’s greenhouse for a few weeks and they’ve flowered quite quickly. I love that the bright green shoots are mirrored in the green that has grown on the old terracotta and they look wonderful against the pale walls; a touch of next Spring in the early days of Winter.

Paperwhites in pots

I’m currently reading through ‘The Virgin Gardener’ by Laetitia Maklouf again, which has some great ideas for gardening without a garden. I’m going to have a go at growing succulents, as I was really inspired by the Alpine House at RHS Harlow Carr earlier this year. The structure of these little plants fascinates me, and they’ll be a great way to add greenery to our home.

Alpines at RHS Harlow Carr

There will of course be herbs in the kitchen, but I’m on the lookout for the best plants we can have in the rest of our home too. I’m after plants that will last well, help clean the air, cope with the temperatures and look great too.  I’ll be doing a spot of research over the next couple of months, but if you’ve any fabulous suggestions, do let me know!

December 6, 2013

Hello road bike!

As you may remember, I recently sold my Pashley Princess, after a long, painful time deciding what to do. Rather wonderfully, I have been given a road bike on a long term loan and I love it.

Riding a road bike after a Pashley is such a different experience. To start with, it felt a bit as though I was constantly on the verge of tipping over the handlebars, despite everything being set up properly, purely because I was used to the ‘sit up and beg’ style of the Pashley. Getting used to the different handlebar style, the brakes, the gears, (and the tiny saddle!) took a bit of time, but now I feel as though I’m flying. I’m clearly not flying, but actually travelling at rather more sedate pace, but still compared to the Pashley, it’s seriously speedy!

Road bike

Walking down a very muddy bridlepath!

Sometimes, and I know this is weird, I develop a relationship of trust with a machine, even though I know it’s not sentient. I feel that way about my little car, and now I feel that way about this bike. I know that for some serious road cyclists this bike is considered a bit of a workhorse, a winter bike, rather than one that is built for speed. It’s not carbon fibre, for a start. But for me, as a novice, that’s what makes it so special. It’s the Welsh Cob of the road bike world! And, given my love for the Welsh Cob (for those of you who are not horse lovers, the Welsh Cob is a beautiful but study native pony) then this feels exactly the kind of bike I should be riding.

I’m so incredibly grateful for it and really looking forward to spending some time building up my fitness so I can ride for longer. At the moment, I can manage 25 -30 miles with a much-needed stop for cake. In my defence, it’s hilly round here! With the Tour de France coming to Leeds next year, I am hoping that the momentum around cycling that is building up in advance will be maintained beyond, and Leeds will become a place that’s great to cycle, for sport, for commuting, for families. And I’ll be there, on the Kona Honky Tonk (silly name, splendid bike) with a grin on my face…

November 30, 2013

The End: #BEDN 30

Well, it’s the last day of ‘Blog Every Day in November’ and time for a few reflections. Clearly I’ve not blogged every day – it’s a real struggle for me to manage that – but I’ve written slightly more frequently than usual. And that’s been reflected in my statistics, which has been a really pleasant result.

Overwhelmingly, BEDN has been a blogging learning curve for me. I’ve really enjoyed writing a post from a prompt, meeting new bloggers and reading new blogs and trying to find the time to write more often. I’ve realised that I really need to make an editorial calendar (as recommended by Elizabeth at Rosalilium, founder of BEDN) in order to keep on track.

The first time I missed a day, I was quite anxious, thinking that I’d somehow ‘failed’ the challenge, but I came to realise that I should just be enjoying the process when I could. One of my favourite mantras comes from my lovely friend Jo – ‘Don’t use your plans as a stick to beat yourself with’ – and, remembering this helped when I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. And then came my usual up and down feeling about my blog anyway; the feelings that make me question the future of my blog. They’re usually enough for me to go quiet for a few days, before making the inevitable decision to stick with it!

Having spent a bit of time thinking about an editorial calendar, I’ve then spent some time thinking about content. As ‘Margot & Barbara’ has such a variety of content, it can often feel a bit disjointed, and I was wondering if a regular schedule of content might help that. One thing I’ve decided to do is bring back my ‘Three Good Things’ post for Wednesdays and then find a regular time for blogging each week, which should help me to balance that and the rest of my life.

I’m also going to tidy up my categories, so I have fewer, more coherent categories that should hopefully clearly show both the ‘Margot’ and ‘Barbara’ sides of the blog, and perhaps try my hand at a few more fashion and beauty posts, as I’ve enjoyed the few that I’ve done previously. I especially like the challenge of writing fashion and beauty posts that are both luxe and green at the same time, which is a win-win for this blog!

So, lots to do, changes to make, and hopefully a fresher, new and improved Margot & Barbara. Huge thanks to the inspiring Elizabeth at Rosalilium for creating ‘Blog Every Day in November’, it’s been a really fun challenge. I’d definitely try it again.