Category Archives: Art & Literature

See through the SMOG

Something kind of awesome happened last week – My friend showed me this clipping from the Isle of Wight County Press about Nathusius’ pipistrelles on the island. ‘What’s so spectacular about that?’, you might ask… If you read the article, you’ll get to the last paragraph and see a species list – including scientific names! (For a quick guide to scientific names and how they work, check out my 2013 blog post Spectacular Vernacular.)

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For a general circulation newspaper, this is pretty much unheard of, as most newspapers pitch their reading level pretty low. I immediately tweeted my kudos to them (omitting the fact that the binomials should have been in italics, as I didn’t want to be too picky! – Points for trying!). I’m not sure if they were super keen, or they generally pitch their text at a higher level than average, or perhaps they were needing to fill that extra inch of column – who knows!

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This was then going to spark one of my ranting blog posts about the dumbing down of science (and, let’s face it – I would have ended up ranting about Neil Degrasse Tyson again).  However, a bit of research googling and I was soon down the rabbit hole in a world of quantification of reading levels, journalism practices and more:

First of all, just because you can read at a certain level, and you enjoy reading, you don’t necessarily want to recreationally read at the level of which you are capable. This may explain the huge trend in the popularity of teen / young adult fiction read by adults: Hunger Games / Twilight / Harry Potter anyone?

(Should point out here that when I left the pub to join the queue for the midnight opening of Waterstones for the Half Blood Prince, surrounded by 10-year-olds in costume, I made sure to request the adult cover, because I’m like, totally grown up and stuff…)

The Impact-Information website says:

“People like to read recreationally two grades below their actual reading skill.”

While wikipedia postulates that:

“The average American reads at a 7th or 8th grade* level which is also consistent with recommendations, guidelines, and norms of readability for medication directions, product information, and popular fiction.”

*ages 11-13

Google have been doing some interesting reading age level comparisons which sum up some popular uk newspapers and their average reading pitch. The Media First website corroborates this, listing The Sun’s reading age level as between 7 and 9.

But to really quantify the reading level of any piece of text, be it an online article, an essay, or even the book you’re writing, you can use a SMOG Index calculator (I’m not even kidding – it stands for Simplified Measure Of Gobbledygook). This genius bit of formula takes the complexity of your text and quantifies it, giving it a score which equates to reading levels!

Fancy SMOG Indexing some of your own (or someone else’s) writing? Try this tool here! You simply paste a section of text into the box and click ‘calculate’.

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A SMOG score of 9-10 is equivalent to Entry Level 3 (age 9 to 11); a SMOG of 11-12 is Level 1 (GCSE grades of D-G) and 14-15 is Level 2 (GCSE grades A-C).

For example, the blog post I referred to in the first paragraph – Spectacular Vernacular has a smog score of 16.6 – meaning that it is pitched at around A-Level reading level. I’m pretty happy with that. I try to pitch my blogs at a minimum of teenage reading level, without too much jargon (unless the whole point is explaining the jargon!).

I was always taught that in scientific or academic writing, you should assume two things:

  • Your audience is intelligent
  • Your audience knows nothing about the subject

So you give them the credit of intelligence, and assume that they will understand once you have explained it, but you take nothing for granted and make no assumptions about prior knowledge. I’ll certainly be using the SMOG tool for future writing (fiction and non-fiction), and would love to know what you think about writing, reading and communicating science to the public.

SMOG index: 17.3     😉

Bracket Beads

This is a great project for families, forest school, or anyone wanting an excuse to potter around in the woods. I’ve been looking at uses for Birch Polypore (aka Bracket Fungus), and aside from the well-known use as a razor-strop, there are loads of uses! From tinder for fires (which works beautifully, burns hot and long) to using as a field dressing / plaster (it has natural antibacterial properties) – scroll down for more on this! – the Polypore us a super-versatile and often overlooked gem of the woods! After a bit of experimenting, I have come up with an easy technique for making Bracket Beads!

First you need to get yourself some Birch Polypore, which you find on Silver Birch trees! Here’s what they look like:

As with any foraging, don’t strip the whole tree of its fungi; just take what you need – and one large bracket is more than enough for beads! Here’s the tutorial on how to cut & shape the beads:

I’ll be doing some more on natural dyes shortly, but these were dipped (dry) into water that had some red cabbage steeped in it for 10 minutes.  You can see the transformation in the instagram clip below.

Sneak preview of next week's blog! #tw #bushcraft #dyeing

A post shared by Morgan Hughes (@thereremouse) on

And here’s the ‘how to’ on making field dressings / plasters from Birch Polypore:

An accidental post about christmas and feminism

Make a cup of tea, this may be a long one.

*I should qualify this post by stating something that may alienate most of the feminists in the room: I love men. Most of the men in my life have been (and are) emotionally intelligent, progressive, thoughtful, supportive and respectful to women. 21st century Renaissance Men, unashamed polymaths who cook, clean, read, travel, play music, view women as – well, as other humans (novel, eh?).  I was raised by my Dad, who believed (and still does) that I could do anything. Be anything, He never pushed me into a mould. I have three large beardy brothers who treat their partners like queens and equals, and have always simultaneously defended me and refused to take any shit from me. I grew up in what I suppose you could call a benign patriarchy. I didn’t grow up damaged by how men viewed or treated me. It is true that I had no good female role model growing up (the less said about that the better) and so struggled with my ‘femininity’ in the sense that hair, clothes, makeup, all that stuff – was very alien and I felt for decades like an impostor in the world of girls. So it’s small wonder that now, at the age of 40, I am still on the fence about whether or not I should be a feminist. Do I really have to?

Family gatherings in our house are via Skype - my two brothers (above) and me & my hubby below.
Family gatherings in our house are via Skype – my two brothers (above) and me & my hubby below.

This all started at 8am this morning on twitter, when my friend posted a link to a blog post about unpaid ‘Emotional Labour’. The cliff notes are: “Women tend to be the ones in relationships who do the birthday shopping, arrange family get-togethers, all that jazz. This creates an emotional burden on them – why should women do this alone, with no help from men?… etc.”

True that women do this stuff more often. But rather that jumping on the feminist bandwagon, I wonder, really, just why that is the case…

Whilst admitting that certain gender stereotypes are genuine and not just perceived, I find it hard to believe that men prioritise these things as highly as women do but simply want women to do it because they’re either lazy or because they don’t see why they should. I seriously doubt that men are telepathically organising things in some sort of conspiracy to make us buy and write all the birthday cards. So if there is no conspiracy, then why do we women adopt this burden if it is perceived by so many of us as an unfair one? In my mind, it has to be for one of two reasons:

  1. They are doing it in spite of not wanting to. They are buckling to self-imposed social pressure, largely put upon them by other women. The same reason they need the latest fashion, gadget, car, whatever. They are conforming to a media-induced state in which they are oblivious to the fact that they are both the producers and end users of the same concept of ‘normal’ life/womanhood. In a self-perpetuating cycle of supply and demand, they choose a life of constraints, of insatiable feelings of inadequacy, and of guilt. This is the 21st century, and in our western society, we really are pretty much free to be who and what we want, and women who are stuck conforming to what their husbands think they should be doing/wearing/cooking have it in their own power to vote with their feet. It’s not always been this way, and it’s not this way everywhere, but it is here. It is now.
  2. They are doing it because they want to. I certainly fall into this category. I don’t feel ’emotionally burdened’ by remembering birthdays and buying presents. It gives me pleasure. I like remembering the birthdays of my friends and family. It bonds us. I like it when they remember my birthday, too. Because I value it, I help to perpetuate the practice in my tribe, in my community, even in my digital community. The things that leave a bad taste in my mouth – I don’t take part in. For example, I very rarely buy or send christmas cards. Because it’s bullshit. It’s wasteful (resources, money, air/road miles) and also it affronts my inner rebel – I will buy you cards all damn year if I see ‘no reason’ cards that remind me of you – but I’m not buying cards because it is what I ‘should’ do in order to be ‘normal’. My closest friends and I exchange gifts at christmas and birthdays, but this makes me happy. I value that particular tradition. That is a personal choice. I think if I never bought a gift for a friend ever again, they would feel no less loved, no less admired by me. I certainly hope so anyway. I suppose growing up with very little money, as we did, love and esteem was shown in words, deeds and time spent with each other. Isn’t that the way it should be?

My husband does not really value social gift-giving. He’s far more introverted than I am (not shy, just less of a social creature) and as such he doesn’t value social bonding, interaction and the rituals that enhance those interactions as much as I do. And that is his prerogative. He is a grounding force in my life – a touchstone in an insane world. I value his sensibility, his humour and his rationality, which balances out my tendencies toward neuroticism and rebellion. He’s kind of awesome. But he doesn’t remember people’s birthdays (except mine – I’ve beaten that into him!), buy presents and cards, etc because that stuff just isn’t in his landscape. Deal breaker? Hardly.

Admittedly, the pressure is perhaps a bit less for the two of us than it may be for most people to socialise, fraternise and interact in a socially acceptable way, as neither of us have family close by. So, I admit that perhaps I don’t have direct experience of how huge the pressure can be to do all of these ’emotional burden’ tasks. Am I over-simplifying to just say ‘don’t do them unless it makes you happy’? Is it really that hard? I’d genuinely like to know what people think – do you, like me, just opt out of the traditions that people expect of you if you don’t like to? Am I being naive?

I once told my therapist how I had spent a long time knitting a scarf for my mother, and within a week she had given it away to her sister, and my feelings had been deeply hurt. His reply was that I should ‘do it with love or don’t do it at all’ – meaning that if I was giving a gift and expecting gratitude, I shouldn’t be giving it.

To give without risking emotional injury, a gift needs to be given freely with none of your OWN emotional attachments. Of course it makes me happy to see people enjoying something I have given or made, but those are perks. The purpose of giving is because it makes you happy to do it. Additionally, when you truly give something to someone, it is now theirs to do with what they will. And thinking about it rationally, whatever her reasons for giving away the scarf were (perhaps her sister needed it more, perhaps she felt she was ingratiating herself to her sister, or perhaps she just didn’t like or need it and was passing it on) – it was hers to give away because I gave it to her. Would I prefer that she kept it hanging around, causing her guilt or stress if she didn’t like it? Absolutely not. I let go of the scarf and learned my lesson. And it feels great.

So if you give something – be it a card, a present, or your time, if you do it for the right reasons, you’ve nothing to fear from feminists who think you’re conforming, selling out, or whatever. The sweeping conclusion that every woman buying cards and presents is conforming to masculine, patriarchal, outdated ideals puts just as much pressure on women!

I was a vegetarian for 15 years because I felt that I should be, as a conservationist/environmentalist. I compromised my lifestyle be cause of well-meaning, yet overwhelming pressure from my peer group. And likewise, I feel under extreme pressure to call myself a feminist. If I enjoy my freedom to work, be educated, vote, live, travel, express myself freely, choose not to have children, love freely and think freely, shouldn’t I be a feminist? If I don’t call myself a feminist, am I sending the message that I’m ungrateful for sacrifices of women who fought hard for the recognition of my equality? I hope not. But I’m just not ready to put on the t-shirt.

Ism ism ism. What would John Lennon say?

A Dangerous Life

We moved from sunny Wolverhampton (in the West Midlands of the UK) to Stuart, Florida in 1984 (I was 9), which was just in time for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Neverending Story, shortly to be followed the following year by The Goonies, and then in 1986 by Stand by Me and Spacecamp.

I remember my memories of my first week in America being that of discovering the existence of Cheerios and watching The Empire Strikes Back with my two brothers and three American cousins. Then, as now, movies were the backdrop against which our childhood was constructed, block by block, day by day, scene by scene.

The point of all this is that Generation X grew up in a time when we genuinely believed we could have an Adventurous Life. The characters in The Goonies were dysfunctional kids (like us) from broken homes (like us) who spent entire summers riding their bikes around the neighbourhood getting into moderate mayhem (like us).

There’s an amazing anthemic song by Ed Harcourt called ‘Born in the 70s’ that has a verse that really sums up this childhood urge for adventure :

“And like my daddy said, I’ve tried to be myself
Sometimes daydreaming for hours, wishing for a dangerous life
Cut the leash some slack, run into the morning light
Race the trains by the track, until my mouth feels dry”

I should clarify that in these fantasies of danger there was never any imagined GENUINE threat – things were always going to be okay (bad guys were always thwarted by bands of plucky kids if those kids stick together, etc.) – more like what the BBFC or MPAA would deem to be ‘Mild Peril’.

But either way, I wonder if it is this that caused the famous ‘disenfranchisement’ of Generation X: that the reality of growing up into an ‘ordinary’ life  after the seeds of lust for adventure were sewn so deeply in us at a young age left us disappointed.

Its funny how this was my landscape. A landscape painted by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (and to a lesser degree by Stephen King and John Hughes). And it’s not one of those you-had-to-be-there things (Like when I made my husband watch The Princess Bride and he thought that really you’d have to have seen it as a child to love it so fervently!)… If you watch Stand By Me now, it still has that #LucasBerg (there you go, internet, you can have that one – you’re welcome) magic. It isn’t just the nostalgia for my childhood.  These were and still are really great films.

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By the early 1990s, the era of Coming-of-Age-Kids-Adventure films was well and truly over. Though Generation Y /Millennials have had an amazing cinematic landscape – Jurassic Park, Jumanji and Harry Potter to name a few, they simply don’t have the wide-eyed innocence of Flight of the Navigator or ET (Though School of Rock comes very close!).  Until…

In 2011 JJ Abrams made my year when he released his homage to exactly those 1980s films: Super 8 (Which you can watch on Netflix and if you haven’t seen it, you really, really should do that today). Now, the thing with Abrams is that he has the touch – he has the ability to create new, fresh and effortlessly RELEVANT (colour me Simon Cowell) work, while uplifting his source material with the highest amount of warmth, respect and just a touch of nostalgia. Look what he did for Star Trek. Flawless.

So I am so very excited for ‘the kids’ this year. I trust Abrams to #LucasBerg the heck out of the new Star Wars.

As for me and my childhood fantasies of a Dangerous Life, it’s safe to say that my brothers and I survived the 1980s, and the most ‘mild peril’ we encounter (blissfully often!) these days is airline food.

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I may still be a typical disenfranchised Gen-X-er, (Weirdly, the world is ours now – and won’t it be weird when we’re OAPs in care homes, still listening to Nirvana, Metallica and the Pixies?), but I find my adventure every day, and thankfully it doesn’t involve kidnapping, finding underground pirates, dead bodies on railroad tracks or aliens in my wardrobe.

Anyway, so looking forward to Star Wars is what I mean…

 

39 Rules for the Modern Human

Okay so in extreme irritation at Country Living’s recent (easily as recent as 1815) ‘39 Rules for Being a Modern Gentleman‘ (eg: ‘Avoids lilac socks and polishes his shoes’ or the flippin amazing ‘Tips staff in a private house and a gamekeeper’) and the Daily Mail’s awful response: ’39 Rules for Being a Lady’ (eg: #38: ‘Takes off her stilettos on other people’s parquet floors‘. yeah I like, totally identify with that. Right on, Libby – you’ve definitely got your finger on the pulse of the modern woman.) I felt that the only proper response was to come up with my own list.

So here you go.  Nigh on 41 years of wisdom, largely accumulated from making loads of stupid mistakes, engaging in fruitless efforts and time wasting.

    1. Surround yourself with your own tribe. (Whatever their race, creed or background – YOUR people).
    2. Do awesome things.
    3. Be excellent to each other.Bill-and-Ted-31
    4. Don’t sweat the small stuff (and EVERYTHING is small stuff).
    5. Spend your time as if it was a finite resource (It is!)
    6. Look at the world as if you’ve just come out of a tunnel.
    7. Notice the seasons.
    8. Turn towards. *The secret to long-lasting relationships!
    9. Read. *However, life is too short to finish a terrible book.
    10. Look up.
    11. Walk the Walk (Don’t just Talk the Talk)emerson
    12. Don’t hold on to hate/resentment – you are the only person you are hurting.
    13. Have adventures.
    14. Dance it out.
    15. Cook and eat actual food, that didn’t come in a box.
    16. Love hard, for as long as it lasts.
    17. Speak your words as hard as cannonballs. *RW Emerson
    18. Family and friends are the most important thing in life. bach
    19. Watch great movies, and great TV.
    20. Top-up. Wherever your energy comes from. The ocean, the woods, in the arms of your family – go there. Often.
    21. Live passionately.
    22. Live compassionately.
    23. Gung ho. (Work together)
    24. Buy decent shoes and look after your back.
    25. Forgive yourself.
    26. Share the sweets.
    27. Find your thing. (Or things – watch this awesome TED!.)
    28. It’s okay to get muddy.
    29. Cultivate a few skills for the apocalypse.
    30. Don’t feed the trolls.
    31. Push past your limits. Surprise yourself.
    32. Take responsibility for your health, your personal development and your happiness.
    33. Play. Whether it’s board games, xbox, volleyball – whatever. You should be having fun.
    34. Be nice to animals. We don’t have dominion over the Earth – we SHARE it with them.
    35. Try to see more sunrises and sunsets.
    36. Laugh more.
    37. Sleep well.
    38. Tell them you love them.
    39. Have good role models.

 

Guest Blog: Ethnobotany

I’ve got a treat for you this week – my good friend Yoke has agreed to guest blog for me about her interest in Ethnobotany – the relationship between humans and plants throughout human history. Yoke is a botanist from the Netherlands, and we’ve been cooking up a few projects lately, including a planted willow coppice for basketry and a Dyer’s Garden in a local allotment – more on those in coming months! 

Yoke examining heathland plants on Barr Beacon, 2013
Yoke examining heathland plants on Barr Beacon, 2013

Ethnobotany – by Yoke Van Der Meer

I have been in love with plants (and nature as a whole) all my life and have also been professionally involved with plants since 1980. I started as a florist in the Netherlands and then progressed into Horticulture when I came to England in 1983.

The more I work with all kinds of plant life the more I like it and this even includes ‘WEEDS’ or our native plants as I prefer to call them or even wild flowers as many are pretty as well as useful…. Or ‘PRETTY USEFUL’!!

A plant in the right habitat looks good and often has a purpose to fulfil either to provide shelter or food for creatures such as our bees or slugs but often to improve or stabilize the soil and make it better for themselves or follow-up plants in succession.

Plants are interesting when you start learning about them and it is good seeing them close-up with a lens with their tiniest details in how they are beautifully and skilfully designed.

Ever since I helped out in 2008 at the ‘Jardin Etnobotanico de Oaxaca’, in Mexico, [Check them out of Facebook – Ed.] I’ve had a desire to create something similar in England. It is more obvious to have such a garden in a country or even just a region when the biodiversity of plants and creatures is enormous. There is also a great tradition in Mexico of using their plants for all sorts of uses. Our plants are often not as glamorous looking….

Anyway; I searched google to see whether there was something similar but all we have in the Western World seem to be ‘Physic Gardens’ and some Botanical Gardens have small areas devoted to various native plants for use to Mankind. But I did come across an Ethnobotanical Garden at the University of Kent. It has useful plants from all over the world and not just England or Britain!

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So maybe it’s not so interesting to start such a garden here with just our natives? In the ethnobotanical gardens of Oaxaxa they celebrate their plants by showing them off and giving guided tours to explain about their use as food, medicinal, building-material as well as more pleasurable uses such as in art, dyes, teas, etc. The director does not like having labels and interpretation boards messing up his garden as it is also a beautiful designed, ornamental garden. Here the knowledge of our plants is limited in books and the knowledge of a few, ‘crazy’/eccentric people.

There is a desire to be more close to nature but at the same time our busy, material lives don’t allow us to…

We do like to buy ‘British’ and even local produce. But, how do we encourage people to love our natives as well as learn about them? Our wild plants grow in many habitats and it is possible to condense this into a small area as how it has been done for many decades in the Netherlands, who have made heemtuinen (Translated: native gardens / A botanical garden, heembos or Heempark is an artificial, often fenced landscape element, aimed at the indigenous, wild flora and fauna show. The concept was introduced by Jac. Thijsse (1865-1945).)

The original idea of Thijsse was that of an educational park close to the people. The emphasis was not on kind of knowledge but on the understanding of communities. Thijsse received for his 60th birthday in 1925, the little areaThijsse’s Court in Bloemendaal. He founded this together with Leonard Springer with diverse plant communities in Kennemerland. Thijsse’s Court is the oldest botanical garden in Western Europe.

Here in the western world we are losing natural habitats all the time because of pressure for people to live and work and also because of ignorance about the value of plants in the first place! I therefore feel there should be some sort of renaissance for the native plants if not for real somewhere, then maybe in the form of a blog; informing people about some of the uses many of our plants have had in the past.

I am very grateful to Morgan who wants to introduce me as a guest on her lovely site and hoping that this introduction will be followed up by a series of blogs including pictures taken by my partner Matt Summers for many years on numerous walks.

-Yoke Van Der Meer, September 2015

*You can keep up to date with Yoke’s adventures here at Yoke’s Magic Garden

Ella Carstairs and the Chamber of Secrets

Ever have one of those moments when you end up somewhere you hadn’t planned to be, but it turns out to be special – SO special you could almost believe you were meant to be there?  That happened to me this summer, on a rainy day in Norfolk.

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Straw Marquetry of Kinfishers by Ella Carstairs

I was searching around the internet for things to do in the rain in Norfolk, and found a website recommending the Straw Museum. As it was only 10 miles from where I was staying, and it happened to be on a Saturday (the museum is only open Wednesdays and Saturdays), I thought I’d give it a go, and I’m so very glad I did.

You might have read my recent blog post on the making of corn dollies. I got the patterns from the Guild of Straw Craftsmen website. Well, it turns out that in 1989, the Guild was founded by a lady named Ella Carstairs. What does 86 year old Ella do now? She runs the Straw Museum!

Ella is a force of nature. An incredibly talented artist (and singer!) and a true British eccentric. There’s a fantastic bio of her on the Hole and Corner website which  perfectly sums her up:

“Meeting Ella Carstairs is like finding a meadow in the middle of a dual carriageway.”

You can see her for yourself here in this clip above, teaching the fantastic Ade Edmonson how to make a corn dolly! The clip is taken from Ade in Britain (Season 2, Episode 4 – you can watch the whole season on Amazon Instant Video – episode 12 has basket weaving in Northern Ireland!)

The museum itself is laid out in the form of a series of wooden huts, each with a different collection of straw art: one mostly marquetry and quilling (above), and others general straw work – hats and so forth (below).

Ella was full of fascinating information about the use of straw for crafts – including the use of straw in clothing, such as Princess Margaret’s wedding dress (pictured below) into which straw was embroidered with great detail.

I particularly loved the marquetry work, which seems to take hours upon hours and is done with such attention to detail that it took my breath away. The three cranes (below) and the kinfishers at the top of the page (Ella’s work!) were the most stunning. Ella tells me that she devotes most of her time to music these days and it is looking forward to a performance of a new arrangement of it coming up soon. Though she doesn’t do much straw work at the moment, her passion for the impressive collection of hand made artefacts from around the world is huge, and Ella’s joy for life is quite infectious!

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But by far, the highlight of the day was the incredible privelege of meeting the vivacious, funny, quirky, sassy Ella Carstark – an encounter I’m not likely to forget easily!

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Hapa Zome Happiness

Let me warn you right now. If you read this blog post you may become addicted to flower pounding. Hapa Zome is the ancient Japanese art of beating natural dyes into cloth.  My friend Helen and I had a go this morning, and I must confess I’m feeling pretty evangelical about it…

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You will need a rubber mallet (I got mine from Go Outdoors for £2), some material (A cheap, cream-coloured fitted sheet will cost you about £3 from Sainsbury, Morrisons or Dunelm – just cut it into the size you want), and some flowers and leaves – this is where you can go wild – we used a combination of garden flower petals (rose of sharon, lavender, carnations, etc) and fresh herbs from the supermarket (mint and thyme), as well as some roadside plants (fennel works wonderfully) – but you can just experiment and find your own favourites!

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Lay out your plants and flower petals in the design of your choosing, on top of one piece of the fabric. (Do this on a flat, smooth surface that can take a pounding – we used some birch logs.)

Cover your design with a second sheet of fabric and smooth it down so it is as flat as possible…

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Now, section by section, take your rubber mallet and bash the heck out of it. Make sure you don’t move your sheets or dislodge the material – go around the edges and middles of all of your leaves and flowers.

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You will see that the colours become immediately visible.  When you’ve finished, peel apart the two pieces of fabric and remove the remaining leaves and petals, and voila! You have two fabulous little Hapa Zome creations!

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I can think of no better time and place for doing this than whilst camping – make Hapa Zome using your tent peg mallet, and then use your creations to make bunting for your campsite!

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One last thing – as with any natural plant dye – if you want your creation to last, you will need to have treated your fabric with a mordant – in this case, Alum is the best one. Rather than order alum directly from chemical suppliers or dye shops, you can pop to your local garden centre and pick up some hydrangea food – it’s exactly the same thing! Simply spray your material using a 10% alum-water mixture until it is wet and allow to dry before you do the Hapa Zome! – Please send me photos of your creations! Spread the addiction!

The Science of Salieri

I1558386_10152001588301447_9192734424621195153_n (2) took an online test and scored 67% right brained.

According to the (now disproved) theory, the right brained among us have an aptitude for Language and Art, and the left brained among us prefer Science and Maths.  Still, the myth persists, and I’ve always found this a bit odd because I’m great at science and language; rubbish at maths & art…  Maths, though conceptually beautiful and THE ONLY TRUTH, usually makes my brain explode, and art is almost always completely over my head. But biology, geology, chemistry, poetry and music make my synapses glow.

Music is a strange spanner in the works, as it is creative, expressive and emotive, yet fundamentally mathematical. Even its effects on our emotions can be quantified according to the notes, chords, progressions, etc. My ‘right-brain’ doesn’t give me the discipline to learn music properly but it does give me the creative urge to write music. So I know I’ll always be a Salieri rather than a Mozart, more John Lennon than John Williams, and I’m just fine with that.

But what concerns me is that this right-brain-left-brain pigeon-holing can have detrimental effects on how we see our own potential. I was always told at school that you had to be good at maths to be a scientist, and that’s simply not the case. It is only due to my own stubbornness that I persevered with science (If there’s one way to get me to do something, its to tell me I can’t do it).

It makes me wonder how many of our potential future natural historians, conservationists and biologists shy away from the sciences in school, college and university because they also happen to be creative souls, and think that the two are mutually exclusive.  Let’s not forget that science is interpretative – that’s the whole point. We’re explorers. We’re cultivating and feeding a sense of wonder – what could be more poetic than that?  I’ve ranted before about how biology is (erroneously) seen as a soft science.  Approaching something analytically is not the sole domain of the theoretical physicist, and mathematicians do not have intellectual property rights over logic.

So, for the record, if you love science AND literature – you can be a scientist OR a writer OR both. Or neither for that matter.  You don’t even have to be good at something to love it and to get something out of it (like music for me!). The possibilities of what you can do in life are endless, and I don’t care if you’re 15 or 50. If you’re in a box, you walked into it (although someone may have held the door open and ushered you in).  Step out of the box.  Do whatever you like.

Where your main roots run: Letting go of Social Media

Sometimes using social media for work is akin to spinning plates whilst walking on a balance beam.  In these times of austerity, the reality is often that we are increasingly asked to deliver the projects, deadlines and outputs that we have always been asked to deliver, only with fewer staff, less hours, higher stress levels, more pressure…16126702631_460ebc97a1_z

So with all of these stresses in recent months, I’ve had to re-evaluate my life on Facebook, Twitter and the like, and to initiate my own ‘cuts’ in order to prioritise what’s important and, moreover, to keep myself sane.  Thoreau said:

“…simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.”

It all started a few weeks ago, when I was feeling particularly stressed with juggling it all, and I realised that although I find digital comms and social media incredibly enjoyable (both personally and professionally), it was FOLLOWING ME EVERYWHERE and something had to give.  But what?

I started by asking myself what was I spending time doing that I resented…  And what did I wish I was doing more of?  What was important?  My instinct in pressure situations is to walk away, and so I even toyed with the idea of getting rid of Facebook and twitter altogether.P3270122

I am torn about Facebook as I use it for groups, and more than anything else, to keep up with my family in the US, so as much as it takes from me, it gives back more…  But the advertisements, the pressure to be ‘friends’ with people you barely know (though this can be mitigated somewhat by setting everyone you don’t know well as ‘acquaintances’ and set your posts to be seen by ‘friends except acquaintances’), and the fact that you can’t turn off Facebook messaging make it a bittersweet experience for me. Its really not been easy.  I’ve deleted blogs and Facebook pages, turned off almost all notifications, deleted every app I could and removed myself as administrator from over 10 Facebook groups. I’m learning to let go.

On the other hand, I have spent 5 years at work building up my social media presence (to some acclaim) and I don’t want that to be for nothing.  Its easy to focus on the negative, but I used to be evangelical about Twitter, and I seem to be letting something that used to lift me up, somehow bring me down… But I figured it out:

I removed Facebook and Twitter from my phone.

I realised that every time I saw my phone, I was seeing notifications that screamed for my attention.  Let’s face it, we’re not delivering kidneys here, people… Facebook and Twitter can wait until I am at home (or work) for their allotted time.  If people need me, they can text, email, Skype, etc.  I’m not unreachable.

The KEY is that these things have to be on MY TERMS.   I have, for example, left Instagram on my phone, because (a) I love pretty pictures and find it relaxing to look through them and (b) I love TAKING and SHARING photos. So Instagram stays.

The other thing I have done is completely rearrange my icons on my phone. Gone are Facebook and Twitter.  My Calendar, Wunderlist, Banking, Email and other ‘productivity’ apps are all relegated to a later, less important screen.  My home screen now only has these:

Audible, Kindle, Headspace, Instagram, Camera and Withings.  Things that make me happy.  Things that contribute to my day, and most importantly, things that don’t chase me.

Stripped down to the necessary and the real, life is a little freer. I get the occasional urge to tweet something, but if I start thinking that Twitter NEEDS me to post things IMMEDIATELY, I’m kidding myself. Rein in that ego, girl; the twitterverse goes on without you…

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