February – a round up

Oh man I sat down today to start writing on what I thought was quite a good idea. I wanted to do a little summary of what had taken place on my blog in the last month, taking a little peek at what I enjoyed writing and what you seemed to like reading. Seemed like it would help me with feeling my way through what I want my blog to be and what direction or focus I wanted to take with it. Good idea yes?

Well so I thought until I sat down to write…and then sat some more. I had made a little note of the posts I had written and how many likes each one had received expecting, well I don’t know what exactly but I certainly didn’t imagine I would simply sit there with my head in a jumble not knowing what to make of it all or what to say.

Maybe that is indicative in itself, maybe my blog is a little bit of a jumble. And if it is, well that is okay. When I dusted off my blog and restarted it, I spoke about opening up my blog to new topics and parts of my life in my post Starting Anew.  I made a decision to write about all sorts of things until I found what worked for me and I suppose this is what I have done.

If you missed any of my posts this month, here is a quick little summary for you and me:

Time to Talk – ‘Time to Talk Day’ and the importance of talking when it comes to mental health.

In Defence of Winter – many people seem to wish winter away in their longing for spring and summer, this was my look at why I love the season.

What next for Mr B’s Button Jamboree? – a look at why my button jewellery business hasn’t quite gone to plan and what I have learnt from the experience.

My Veganuary Experience – my experiences of taking part in Veganuary (asking people to go vegan for the month of January – see what they did there!) as well as some of the recipes I made.

A Need for Control – a little look at how I could turn my anxious need for control into a positive force to move me forward.

Discovering a Love of Urban Photography – how I began to fall into love with urban photography whilst on our travels.

Seeking a Feeling of Achievement – my new approach to getting things done and achieving what I want to with my work and life.

So yep quite a jumble of topics there and honestly I am no clearer in what is my thing or things to write about. I enjoyed writing about winter, my photography and my new approaches.  Popular ones were the posts about Veganuary, urban photography and my button jewellery business.  A quick glance at January shows my travel posts on Hadrian’s Wall and our Big Adventure seemed to go down well as did my Anxiety, Harry Potter and Me on Facebook.  All as clear as something very unclear to me (complete brain fail there on what a good ‘unclear’ thing would be!). For now then I will continue as I am until I find it is no longer working for me or I settle into a groove of what is me.

Am going to give myself a small pat on the back for writing 8 articles in February – working out at 2 a week!  I didn’t want to put myself under pressure with writing this blog and give up before it had really got started simply because I had set my goals too high. So I thought aim for 1 a week, try for 2 if you can….I not only can, I did! So 2 a week is now the aim, try for 3 if I can (note to self, the week before you go away for 3 weeks is possibly not the best time to aim for writing more…).

I am wondering if this post may seem a little self-indulgent, I hope not and that you will find it of interest even if you have already read all the posts mentioned. So what do you think? A good idea to do this at the end of each month?

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Seeking a feeling of achievement

I have decided to take a new approach to my writing, my work life and my attitude to getting things done.  If I want to make writing my living (and I really believe that I do), this has to become my priority.  My writing has to be the most important thing in my day, the thing I do even if I achieve nothing else work related that day.

Spending some time the other day reading through some of the links I had saved about freelancing and writing made me realise a few things about myself and how I approach my working day.  I confess that I am a list addict, I like to have lots of things on my ‘to-do’ list…mostly so I can tick them off and feel that little frisson of achievement each time I do.  However I have a tendency to get to the end of the day or week and feel that I haven’t really achieved anything significant.  The things I tick off are the easily dealt with rather than what would actually move me forward or allow me to develop myself/my work better.  I confuse activity with achievement.

I read about the ‘eat that frog’ approach of starting your day by tackling the biggest, most difficult, most important task first thing in the day.  This means achieving the big task of the day before your willpower, attention or energy is used up by all those other seemingly ‘urgent’ tasks.  Getting that sense of achievement first thing in the day and using that to fuel the rest of the day free of that feeling of ‘oh I really must do that task’ (and invariably moving it to another day) struck a chord with me so new approach part 1 is – do the most important task first thing in the working day.

This leads me very nicely on thank you to the next thing I realised.  If freelance writing is going to work for me, I need to write and I need to make it the big thing in my day, my most important task.  Okay so I was already trying to write everyday but being brutally honest I wasn’t managing to do anything on at least half the days in a week and on some days when I said ‘yep I have written today’, what I had actually done was insert photos or played around with formatting blog posts.  This is not writing!

Writing needs to become something I do every day, a habit in my life (disclaimer – at the same time though I need to accept that occasionally it simply won’t happen and not to beat myself up over my ‘failure’, I need a goal not another source of anxiety).  Only by making writing part of me will it become something I get quicker, better and more confident at.  So new approach part 2 is – to write 500 words a day (somehow seems more ‘right’ than the 1 hour of writing I was trying to do).

This explains why I was to be found the very next day after reading those links, early in the morning on my sofa, still undressed, taping away and getting words down on ‘paper’.  I had woken up thinking ‘oh maybe I will start this tomorrow…or even next week’ and then I thought no, this needs to start now – I need to start eating that frog, stop making excuses and stop putting things off.  And so I wrote.

One other thing I read was that by telling people what you want to do or what you want to achieve, this is how you make things happen.  So I made that very first early morning rambling about my new approach into a blog post…I hope you enjoyed it.

Discovering a love of urban photography

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I didn’t really start wanting to take ‘proper’ photographs until I was in my thirties.  Sure I took holiday photos and snapped away at events such as birthdays or whenever one of my pets did something fun/cute.  Nothing serious though.  My interest was created when Phillip aka ColobusYeti started taking photography seriously and I saw how good the photos he was producing were.  Mine seemed so poor next to his!  So I bought myself a decent camera and got photographing.

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Over time I started getting a feel for the type of photographs I enjoyed taking – landscapes, bare trees in winter, small or quirky details that I would spot in the world around me.  Not people though…no no no…definitely not for me!  I liked taking photographs and playing around with them on Lightroom, did I love it though?  No that did not happen until our travels and I fell in love with urban photography.  And I fell hard.

I had often dabbled with urban photography, yet it wasn’t really until we lived in Tokyo for 6 months though and I walked the streets exploring the city I had fallen in love with that I really felt that this was me, this was what I wanted to photograph.  Cities, buildings, streets – all that evidence of people’s lives and impact on their surroundings is simply, well inspiring to me.  So I thought I would share some of my favourites from my travels – hope you enjoy them.

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Oh yes…and I also discovered how much I like black and white photography….

A need for control

Control is a funny old thing.  The feeling of needing to control every aspect of my life (and if I am being honest aspects of other people’s lives too) has been something that I have lived with for many years.  My anxiety tells me that if I can do this, I will worry less.  Yet I know this is a lie, trying to control things has bought me nothing other than more anxiety when I couldn’t control things or when I felt I couldn’t cope with everything I ‘needed’ to do.  It has damaged relationships with others and bought me nothing other than unhappiness.  I try not to and am much better at letting life happen unplanned yet I still catch myself doing it, beat myself up over it….and repeat.

What though if I can change how I see this need for control?  What if I can see it as an ally, as something I can use rather than as a negative that I want to fight against.  If I can accept that I am responsible for how I feel, think, behave and act (and I do believe that I am), think what I can do with with a little control in those areas.  It becomes a tool to push me, to drive me to take charge and change the aspects of myself or my life that I am not happy with.  I can use that control to develop new habits, to achieve things I want to and have the sort of life that I want rather than view myself as a passive person desperately trying to control what happens to me.

Now I know that there are things outside of my control and there always will be.  I can do nothing about that other than coming to terms with it and working on good old acceptance.  I am though in control of me and starting to realise that with that, I can change my world.

My Veganuary Experience

Have you heard about Veganuary, the campaign launched in 2014 to encourage people to try going vegan for 1 month in January?  I heard about it for the first time in December last year and decided to take part in Veganuary 2017.  Picked a good year too – it was their biggest one yet with nearly 60000 people signing up to it!

I have been a vegetarian for 20 years now (was amazed when I worked out it had been that long!) and had started gradually reducing my dairy intake for the last year for health reasons.  Changing to a plant based diet had occasionally popped up in my mind over the years and was something I had been considering more and more so Veganuary seemed perfect timing.

So how did it go?  Well it proved not to be as challenging as I always thought it would be.  Cutting down on the dairy already and a reasonably healthy tilt to our diet meant that many of our meals were already vegan or could be made vegan with little tweaks.  There were a few shocks though…farewell salad cream (sob sob).

We started early with this seriously tasty roast vegetable and hummus pie on Christmas Eve.  Off to a very good start!

Roast vegetable and hummus pie

I do like to try new foods and recipes so have been having a good old rummage through Pinterest (why not give me a follow!) and have come up with more recipes than I have time to cook!  So far some of my successful ones have included

Vegan Gingerbread Cupcakes (my photo does not do the taste justice!)

Vegan gingerbread cupcakes

Homemade Pizza

Homemade vegan pizza

Sweet Potato Fry Nachos

Sweet potato fry nachos

Vegan Haggis, Neeps and Tatties

Vegan haggis, neeps and tatties

And made ventures into the world of Buddha bowls

buddha bowl

(lets not talk about the less than successful meal attempts…..)

Taking part in Veganuary made me more adventurous in trying new meals and I have discovered the weirdest of things can actually be seriously tasty (yep I am looking at you mayonnaise made from chickpea liquid and you gooey cheese made from potato and carrot).  I have discovered new ingredients that I love – nutritional yeast where have you been all my life?!  It helped break my dislike for vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli and even brussel sprouts…next stop mushrooms (possibly)…

To be fair we don’t eat out very often so I haven’t really had to face that hurdle.  Being someone who finds having to ask things in restaurants brings on serious anxiety stresses, it is something that freaks me a little.  Still I am all about trying to challenge myself now so it may actually turn to be a good thing that I have to question staff now about my options.  Eating round other people’s houses is another thing that will bring challenges I imagine…think I will simply offer to take my own food to avoid stressing people!

So where do I go from Veganuary now we are in February?  I intend to continue with a vegan lifestyle as best I can and as much as is practical.  Having taken that step I have gained so much and feel that many of my reasons for not doing it sooner seem..well…a little selfish.  I am enjoying both what I eat and doing something that I feel for me is a positive thing.  Would love to hear your stories of Veganuary if you took part!

What next for Mr B’s Button Jamboree?

Buttons on wooden table

Initially I started this blog because I was starting my own little business up (see my very 1st post ‘And so it begins….’!).  At the time I had big dreams of creative enjoyment and success, expanding from my simple button earrings into more elaborate pieces as my business took off and I became more confident.  The blog was to follow this journey and yet instead it became a reflection of how things stalled and stopped.

My plan was to start small and as sales grew, so would my range and my ability. However a year after opening my Etsy store Mr B’s Button Jamboree, I realised that I had stopped developing and growing.  Yes I had added a few new things like my hemp bracelets, felt brooches and fabric buttons, when I looked at my range though I could see that I had not reached the potential I had hoped to.

So what was behind this stagnation and lack of progress in my plans?  One reason is that very word – ‘plans’.  I spent so much time reading and planning, drawing up new plans all the time, constantly changing things. Too much time.  Hours were invested working out social media, SEO keywords, listings, business plans….and not making or experimenting with new products.  I sabotaged myself.  I feared failing and people thinking my button jewellery was rubbish.  So I over-planned, trying to be the most prepared I could be and drew back from pushing myself to try making new products because I was afraid of not being good enough.

Things then became more complicated as I took on work preparing photos for our microstock portfolio..  This is incredibly time consuming yet something so important if we are to achieve our plans of mobile working. I have since also started writing freelance for blogs.  This does not leave much time for my button business and the combination of it all leaves my brain somewhat frazzled and exhausted.

Setting up my little business has not been without its positives though and when I remember to stop and take stock of these, I am grateful for what it has bought me. Without it I am not sure I would be here now talking to you. Not only did it introduce me to the world of blogging, it has given me a community of friends and support on Instagram (why not pop over and say hello!) that has made so much difference to little old introverted, solitary me. My confidence is still shaky and yet it has also grown. I have learnt the joy and comfort of sharing my thoughts and feelings with others…and that there are some truly awesome cats out there!

@buttonjamboree Mr B's Button Jamboree Instagram

My favourite Instagram photos from 2016

So where does this leave me and Mr B’s Button Jamboree? To be truthful, I am not quite sure. I am not quite ready to say goodbye to it and still want to get more creative with what I make.  Whether it fits in to how my life is going is a different matter.  Whatever happens though I am glad that I tried it…it has given me confidence, bought me friends and taught me valuable lessons.  Watch this space for what happens next I suppose!

In Defence of Winter

Frosty moorland at Geltsdale in winter

Photo by ColobusYeti

It seems that as soon as New Year has been and gone (if not even sooner), I start hearing people wishing the winter away for warmer and longer days. You rarely hear people say that it is their favourite season, all the others have their fans but poor old winter seems to be the one in the corner with no friends.

I love winter, okay it may not be my favourite season yet there is something about the season which really speaks to me. It has much that comforts and brings me pleasure. The cold and stormy weather when it comes encourages hiding away and cosy times wrapped up in blankets. There are moments of stillness that you simply don’t seem to find at other times of the year, things are resting, waiting for the work to be done in spring. When I wake up on a cold, sunny day with frost clinging to the grass and plants or breathe in that cold crisp winter air, there is a delight that no other season equals for me.  And if it snows…boy am I like a small kid!

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People accuse the winter of being too bleak and I guess that yes it can be bleak, that bleakness though is something I enjoy. Seeing nature stripped back to its bare bones is something that brings me so much pleasure. Trees stripped back to their bare forms are a sight so intriguing and beautiful to me, tracing the branches and twigs show the life of a tree in a way I cannot see when it is covered with leaves. It is now when I feel most connected to the living world around me.

Tree silhouetted against a sunset

Photo by ColobusYeti

At the same time though winter is not colourless, there is always something to spy whether it is the red berries on holly or the sunshine splash of winter jasmine. Winter sunsets seem to have hues and brilliance missing from their summer counterparts. And that moment when you see the first snowdrops peeking their way through the ground! Followed by the bright colours of the crocuses and all the signs of nature waking up again! This sight always makes me smile.

I like the personality of winter, it seems quite introverted to me with a little hint of temperament! Apart from the big dollop of festivities in the middle of it, winter seems to have periods of being withdrawn and then exploding in to life before settling back down for a little snooze again.  So yes I love winter, it feels like a kindred spirit. It provides time for contemplation and thought that I don’t seem to find at other times of the year, it is a time of beautiful bleakness and of a feeling of resting soon to be erupt into the joys of spring.