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Category Archives: Environment

Why Plants are Like People

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I’ve planted a tiny garden on the balcony. I love helping plants to grow. I can’t wait to plant sweet peas and sit out on summer evenings with friends and a beer. On clear nights you can see the stars from the balcony and in the day it’s a beautiful sun trap. I drink tea out there and the cat loves it.

I neglected the balcony garden over winter, but a few weeks ago I got all the indoor and outdoor plants together and started work:

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While I was working I kept thinking about people and how we’re like plants. We should be growing but sometimes we need to change something to help us grow better.

Repotting

The lavender and the heather were too big for their pots so they’d stopped growing. Sometimes we need repotting. We need a new challenge, something that seems too big for us. It might be scary to say yes but we can’t grow until we do. It might be a new project at work, a new job or a new creative challenge. Maybe it’s having a child, starting a new relationship or learning a new skill. Sometimes we just need that bigger pot to get us started.

Relocating

The peace lily was almost dead. It didn’t have enough light in the hall. I’d tried it in a windowsill and that was too much light. I couldn’t seem to get it right and it seemed to be doomed. I was round at a friend’s and spotted a thriving peace lily in the bathroom by a frosted glass window. Maybe frosted glass was the perfect lighting for peace? I moved my peace lily into the bathroom as soon as I got home. Each time I washed my hands I sprinkled a little water onto the dying plant and within a day the leaves had started to stand up straight and now it’s thriving.

Sometimes we need to be in a different environment. Maybe it’s time to change job or move house? I was chatting to a friend about a job that had gradually changed to become nothing like the job she first applied for. She dreads Mondays. I told her a story: When a frog jumps into boiling water it jumps straight out because it’s too hot. But if a frog jumps into cold water and you gradually turn up the heat then it doesn’t jump out. It dies. We both laughed at the slightly awkward ending and its implications. You don’t always notice how bad something is becoming or how it’s affecting you until it’s too late. Perhaps it’s time to jump!

Pruning

Some of the plants need the dead bits removing before they will grow. Take off dead lavender heads or the old primrose flowers and many more flowers sprout up. My chives were half dead and half green so I cut all of it back so the plant could grow new healthy shoots without all the dead bits getting in the way.

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Sometimes there are old habits or old relationships which were life giving once, but now they’re sucking the life away from us and we need to let them go. Maybe we’re doing too much and need to cut something out to really thrive. It’s hard to do but we won’t grow properly until we do.

Separating

I was given a plant arrangement in a basket but I decided it was time to separate the three plants so they could stand in their own pots. It’s great to be doing things with support but we still need to stand in our own pot with our own clear boundaries. If it’s unclear where you end and someone else begins you might start to loose yourself or rely on someone else in an unhealthy way. We all need each other, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s okay to ask for help but when we expect others to meet our needs when they don’t want to or can’t, well that’s when problems arise. We can simply ask and we can say no to others if we need to. Another important boundary is to be able to say if something someone is saying or doing bothers us. That’s healthy and safe and it’s what makes relationships grow stronger if it’s done without blame and with love.

Weeds

Weeds are like controlling people. They gradually take over and suffocate who you are. Everyone is controlling at times, we react out of insecurity or we want to help others so we step in when we don’t need to. If you’re aware of it and concerned you might be doing it you’re most likely unintentionally controlling – that’s okay – you’ll apologise if it happens, you’re aware of your weaknesses and if someone lets you know you’re being controlling, you’ll take responsibility and change your behavior as a result. Good friends or partners let each other know if something they’re doing bothers them.

Unfortunately though – there’s a pattern of controlling behavior that continues over time like a weed choking a plant. This is an emotionally abusive relationship, if you’re in this by the very nature of it, you won’t be aware you’re in it. You’ll be feeling more and more anxious and less like you as your sense of self is being chipped away.

Here are a few things to look out for:

Abusive people continually tell you what to do. It’s fine to make suggestions from time to time but they start with “I think” or “I suggest”. If you’re continually hearing “You really should” or “You need to” then they’re trying to undermine you and make their voice the dominant voice in your life.

You probably apologise often and them.. never!

They try to change your memories of events to paint you in a bad light with statements like “All your friends thought XXX”. The best thing to do is to go to the people concerned and ask them what they thought. They’ll reassure you it’s not true – don’t let someone redefine history.

Abusive people do not legitimise others feelings – it’s part of something physiologists call ‘crazy making behaviour‘. Continually dismissing someones legitimate feelings causes the person to feel frustrated and rejected to a point where they’re feeling so insecure, hurt and misunderstood they start to act and feel crazy. The abuser then points this out as an overreaction and explains how they always have to put up with this crazy friend / partner. At this point the partner / friend usually folds or apologises and the abuse continues.

Abusive people blame you for their feelings instead of expressing them in a healthy way. So for example instead of saying “I feel X” or “When you say or do this I feel like X” they will say “You are making me… ” or “You have ruined my evening / lunch / weekend.” This is emotional blackmail – it causes you feel bad and stops you daring to raise an issue or express a point of view different to theirs. You have every right to express how you feel, just don’t blame another person for your feelings.

There’s a common misconception that if someone was being abusive towards you, you’d just leave or cut off from the relationship. The problem is the abuser will be incredibly kind and charming at times, inconsistent praise is also a ‘crazy making behaviour‘ and something like this takes place over weeks, months and even years to a point where your sense of self is so eroded that you’re less able to see things objectively or defend yourself. You’ll think there’s something wrong with you, not them. You’ll also be looking to the abusive person for validation so you’ll think you need them.

If any of this seems familiar, I’ve posted a couple of checklists below to help. If you answer yes to most or all of the things on the lists please speak to someone you trust or get help from an organisation like Living Without Abuse.

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I was thinking about how plants need light and water even after they’ve been pruned or re-potted so what does that look like for people?

For me it’s doing things I’m good at, being outside and being encouraged by others – that’s like water. And spending time with people who love me, challenge me and let me be myself, that’s like light.

What brings you life?

 

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2016 in Environment, nature, storytelling

 

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A lovely surprise

I popped into my local Waterstones at Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh. I was collecting a book I’d ordered. While I was there, I walked over to the picture book section to see if I could see my books. I was met with the most lovely surprize:

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Massive thanks to the folk at Waterstones for doing this! I’ve never seen a recommendation in a book shop for one of my books so it totally made my day. I offered to sign all the copies in the shop after that.

On the subject of surprises, I was sent a lovely video from Alex Howard of his lovely wee friend opening her surprise, a copy of the Grouse and the Mouse. Is Bagpipe secretly a chicken?!:

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2015 in Education, Environment, Writing

 

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The Wave Project

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The Wave Project Scotland started their surf courses for young people this week. I’m a volunteer surf mentor for the project. That means I buddy up with one young person to help them to reduce anxiety and gain confidence through surfing. I’m not a surf instructor – Coast to Coast Surf School provide that expertise. My role is more about high fives, enthusiasm and standing in the water while my buddy learns to surf. It’s about encouragement.

Surf Holiday

I’m going to surf school soon myself. I’m off to Cressy’s Surf Academy in Porthcawl, Wales next month. I’m certain the process of learning will help me to be a better surf mentor and I’m really excited about learning something new.

This is the first proper holiday I’ve had in FOUR YEARS! I know, that is ridiculous. Going on holiday was one of my new years resolutions. I’ve just not had much money or time since I’ve been freelance so it feels extra special to be able to finally afford to make holiday plans in 2015.

Adventure Holidays

I used to go on adventure holidays, before I became a freelancer. I was once snowboarder. An actual snowboarder who did four seasons of snowboarding. This is me and that is snow:

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Then I retired. Mainly because I spent most of the last trip in a neck brace, while everyone else had fun on the slopes.

I remember being ordered by a nurse to ‘Undressa!” in the Italian hospital reception. I looked around at all the other people – was that really how things worked in Italy? They nodded in assurance. She said it again much louder and with her hands in the air and I stared to undress. To be fair I had concussion and she was super scary so I wasn’t thinking straight. She just wanted my address for the computer. Thankfully my friends came to the rescue (and put my clothes back on).

I’m hoping surfing will be less dangerous, less embarrassing and more fun.

Loving Water

I’ve always loved water. I’d spend most of my time on family holidays in the sea or in the swimming pool. Our family holidays were in the UK so that got me used to cold water. I still go wild swimming now (I wrote about that here).

Surfing In Hawaii 

I have surfed once before, ten years ago when I went to Hawaii to meet NASA. I had one day off while I was there and I went for a surf lesson:

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The instructor taught us the basics on the beach. He also explained how the coral reef was delicate and endangered and so you can’t jump off your board feet first. If you touch the coral it dies and it cuts you.

We went into the water. A wave was coming and he told me to try getting up. And I did. I did it just the way he said and there I was, standing up and riding on a wave. He wasn’t expecting me to do it. I wasn’t expecting me to do it.

At first I thought ‘this is brilliant. I’m surfing’. But then I realised I didn’t know how to steer or stop and I was heading for a whole bunch of surfers waiting for waves. I started to shout “Excuse me!” and “Sorry” and “I can’t steer!” as people paddled and dived out of my path (you go quite fast) and in between my polite but loud warning calls and smiles, I was shouting much less politely to my instructor “HOW DO I STOP!?” and “WHAT DO I DO TO STOP?!” and “I DON’T KNOW HOW TO STOP!” I kept thinking I can’t jump off, the coral will die.

The instructor shouted “Jump and land with your legs on either side of the board!” That seemed like a really bad idea. So I stayed standing for a little longer and said a few more excuse mes to the children who were now being pushed on their blow up beds out of my path by parents. He shouted again “Jump and land with your legs on either side of the board!”

I was getting closer to the shore and realised I needed to do something. So I jumped. I landed with my legs either side of the board. It hurt a lot. I ricocheted off the board and into the water. I touched coral. I cut all of my legs on the flipping delicate coral. I killed the coral.

And from then onward I didn’t stand up, not properly. I sort of lost my confidence. I didn’t really have a desire to stand up. It seemed like a really, really bad plan. Plus my bum was killing me.

I pretended to try to stand to appease my instructor and I fell off sideways before I got anywhere near the bit with the reef. I just wanted the lesson to be over. My instructor was very keen for me to stand again, I was his best pupil since I’d stood up first time. Here’s a picture of me standing a bit to appease him (the man with the cap).

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No one got a picture of me at the beginning. The photographer comes at the end. There is thankfully no dangerous and endangered coral reef in Wales so I’m hoping I might find my inner surfer once again. If I have an inner surfer that is. Perhaps it was just a fluke?

Surfing Teenagers

I didn’t surf as a teenager but I went body boarding just once. I think I found my inner surfer then too. I remember thinking it was the best day of my life. This is me at the end of that day with my best friend Marianne. We were 14:

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It was properly fun and at the age when all the things you had fun doing are suddenly for children and you’re not really sure what you’re supposed to be doing anymore.

I loved wearing a wetsuit. I think it’s because I used to be fat. When I was around 13 I suddenly grew really fast and went really thin. I hated swimming at school when I was fat because people made fun of me. And then when I went super thin they called me daddy-long-legs. I had big feet and long legs. As soon as I had a choice I stopped swimming. I hated being in a swimming costume.

But that day, the body boarding day, I was just happy. Happy in a wetsuit. Happy with my best friend. Happy learning something new and having fun and in the water.

And now I’ve started swimming as an adult in the pool with a swimming costume. I got a bad back and swimming was good for me. At first I used to need take a deep breath in the changing rooms and say “You don’t have to be beautiful”. And now I swim most weeks. I’ve overcome my fear.

Surf Mentor

And that’s why I want to be a surf mentor. I remember being 14 and wanting to disappear. And I remember being scared. And I remember that day on the body board and being happy and not caring what other people thought and feeling good about myself. So I hope I might be able to help some young people to have fun and feel that good too. It felt like freedom.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2015 in Education, Environment, Events

 

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Kick It Cameron!

Last week, people kept sending me links to a video of this bird:

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The video was of a dancing capercaillie attacking skiers! It went viral. That same week I got a couple of lovely letters about my much less violent capercaillie children’s book ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron‘. I wanted to share these things with you.

Firstly, I’m sure you’re dying to see the video:

It reminds me of how important it is to observe nature from a distance! Male capericallies dance during the mating season but they also dance in defense. Sometimes they dance so hard they drop down dead. No joke. And there’s only around 1000 of them left in the wild in Scotland. That’s why we humans shouldn’t get too close. If they waste their energy dancing for us it might just be their last dance.

If you do want to see the phenomena that is a dancing capericaillie you could watch one from inside a bird hide. That way you don’t disturb the bird causing any unnecessary dance moves. I’ve been to RSPB Loch Garten Caperwatch the last three years in a row to try to see a dancing capericaillie. I live tweeted my adventures and even made a wee video about it. Did I see a dancing bird? You can find out here.

Alternatively, to dance like a capericallie without harming any capericallies in the comfort of your own home or school, you could follow the dance moves in Can’t-Dance-Cameron!

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And now, on that lighter and much lovelier note – I’ve received a letter from a Dad and one from a Mum all about just that:

 xxxx had to give a talk in school this week about an object that summed up ‘Scottish identity’. So, he took along his signed copy of ‘Cameron’ and talked for two minutes in front of his P2 class. His teacher said he did really well, and she was delighted to discover the book through him. She read it to the class after his talk and it went down a storm, with all the kids doing the Cameron Boogie at the end. The teacher has ordered a few copies for the school (she said she was struggling to find new books for P2’s with accessible Scottish themes). So, if you are planning a promotional roadshow to local schools any time soon, please include xxxx PS in Musselburgh to the list – you already have an established fan base there!

I just wanted to let you know how much we loved your new book – My daughter was given a signed copy of ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ for Christmas and I will make sure its kept safe so she can treasure it forever . She loves the book and we read it often and do the dances , we both love the beautiful pictures and the story of the book is very apt for my little late bloomer who took her time to find her groove like Cameron. We can’t wait for other stories to follow x

Writing is sometimes a lonely job – you don’t get much feedback sat at a desk by yourself. So getting letters like these is really one of the loveliest things about being a writer. It’s so great to know you’re making a difference – thanks to the parents who took the time to write them – you totally made my day!

 Image Credit: Laurie Campbell

 
 

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Meerkats and Capercaillies in Linlithgow

Independent book shops all over the UK are throwing ‘Books are in My Bag‘ big bookshop parties tomorrow.

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I’ll be part of the animal themed party at Far From the Madding Crowd Bookshop in Linlithgow.

At 11.30am and 12 noon there will be ‘cool creatures‘ sessions at the canal tea rooms – children will be able to meet and even hold real animals including a hedgehog, a skunk, a bearded lizard and two meerkat brothers who cuddle each other. Tickets are £3.

Seriously cute!

At 1pm I’ll be doing a free ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron’ story workshop in the bookshop!

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There will be:

  • Football with giant foam pinecones (more about that here)
  • Videos of actual dancing capercaillies at RSPB Loch Garten
  • Beautiful Scottish wildlife images thanks to Laurie Campbell
  • A naughty water-squirting red squirrel
  • Science experiments
  • A chance to make a red squirrel fridge magnet

You can also expect sounds effects, stickers, smells and a few surprises. We’ll be learning capercaillie dance moves along the way and dancing to music composed especially for the event by Sam Gallagher. Here’s a wee sample of the track, click play below:

About the Story

Cameron the capercaillie can’t dance. His family, the MacFeathers are the best dancers in the Cairngorms but sadly, when Cameron wiggles everyone giggles. Cameron meets a new friend, a red squirrel called Hazel Nut who takes him on a journey through the forest, will he learn to dance?

Craft and Signing

Afterwards I’ll be signing books and we’ll be making Hazel Nut red squirrel fridge magnets:

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More Animal Stories

At 2pm local Author Ewan McVicar will be storytelling in the bookshop.

Cake and Animal Masks

And if that’s not enough there will be animal mask making and cake all day!

Red Squirrel Fridge Magnets

I made a few squirrel fridge magnet examples last night, I based them on Hazel Nut in the book and tried to make a simple template for children to decorate. The naughty squirrels pegged up a family photo on the fridge when I wasn’t looking:

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Find Far From the Madding Crowd on twitter and facebook

 
 

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Capercaillie Stickers

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They’ve arrived! I really love them. I’ll be giving them to children at the Edinburgh International Book Festival events I’m doing on Monday and Thursday next week and at the Inverness Book Festival on Saturday 23rd August.

Choosing text and images

I wanted two types of sticker so the children could choose the character they identify best with. The red squirrel, Hazel is an older sister type character. She’s quite confident while Cameron the capercaillie is much less sure of himself (but he grows and changes through out the story).

The title of the book is ‘Can’t Dance Cameron‘ but I didn’t want to put that on a sticker – I don’t think children would want that as a label. I wanted to encourage the children so I chose a line from the book from Hazel:

You can dance!

And the final thing the crowd shouts at Cameron:

Kick it, Cameron!

I’m excited (and a bit nervous!) to say both Edinburgh Book Festival events next week are SOLD OUT!

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But you can still get tickets to the Inverness Book Festival here.

Make your own stickers and badges 

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The stickers were created using schoolstickers.com funky sticker maker. You can upload your own images and choose text and the great thing is, they don’t charge for the design – just for the stickers themselves.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2014 in Education, Environment, Events, storytelling, Writing

 

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Tales From Our Wild Park

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This is me holding a giant copy of the book I’ve written for Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park. It’s called ‘Tales From Our Wild Park’ and it launched yesterday at Glasgow Queen Street station.

The Launch

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That’s Paul Wheelhouse the Environment Minister in the middle and Fiona Logan (Chief Executive of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park) on the left and the park convener Linda McKay on the right – getting their photos taken at the launch. They were interviewed by the BBC too, you might have seen it on Reporting Scotland last night?

Behind them to the left is the green screen. It was used to create portraits of people in the park. For example, I stood in front of the green screen and cupped my hands and…. here I am holding a red squirrel in the Trossachs Forest!

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You can see all of the photos created by the green screen on facebook here. Read more about the launch on forargyle.com here.

Tales from Our Wild Park

It’s so exciting to see the book in print! It looks absolutely gorgeous. The designers (Create 48) and project manager (Aelred Nicholas) have done an amazing job in putting it together. This is one of my favourite spreads:

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John Muir’s quote, the designers beautiful word art, an amazing photo of the bog cotton and my writing.

The publication is 52 pages long. It focuses on five wild challenges:

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Half of Scotland’s population live within one hour’s drive from the park so really, the park belongs to all of us and this book is written for you. It sets out the priorities for the park over the next ten years and it invites us to get involved. It invites us to visit the park and experience the beauty of nature for ourselves:

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The book is free and is available at outlets across the Park. You can download it here.

My Brief

My role was to make the 150 page biodiversity action plan as relevant, engaging, exciting and easy to read as possible. I needed to write for someone with no background knowledge of the park. I read the action plan several times. Some sections, for example ‘our woodland habitats’, were several pages long. My challenge was to condense seven pages into the equivalent of two. Other sections like ‘red squirrels’ or ‘black grouse’ only had a few paragraphs so I needed to take what was relevant and research the topic elsewhere. I thought a lot about how to make things relevant to the public and proposed a general format for each wild challenge of:

  • Relevant quote
  • Descriptive intro
  • Why it’s important / why it matters
  • What we’re doing
  • How can you get involved / what can you do to help
  • Where can you see it / them (location and travel info)

Aelred loved this format and so I set to work on a sample spread. I wanted to check I was on the right track before I wrote the whole thing. I chose peat bogs first. I read the action plan section a few times and researched bogs in books and online. I spoke to a natural history expert, Kenny Taylor to find out more.

I submitted my first spread and received feedback. The good thing was the tone and style were just right but there were things I needed to work on. The team wanted more excitement and adventure. What is it like to climb the mountains and visit a peat bog? I’d suggested visiting Flanders Moss – the most famous bog in the park but this was the wrong type of bog.

This initial feedback was really useful and helped me to understand what the team were looking for. It also helped me to request the information I needed instead of coming up with it myself – like locations for mountain bogs (since there weren’t bog locations in the action plan). I asked for clarification on the angle of each section – for example with invasive non-native species I suggested as an intro we started off all gentle and beautiful and then switch to the destruction of the plants taking over. They liked that.

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I had to think about the best way to get key points and information across. Not everyone is interested in invasive plants (they’re not cute like red squirrels) so I didn’t want to use lots of text writing about each specific plant. Instead I suggested photos and a table.

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I wrote the rest of the sections and simplified the vision and overview. The feedback was good – just some minor changes and a suggestion to find some alternative quotes (apart from John Muir). I’d chosen John Muir because I love how he captures the heart of the beauty of experiencing nature with so much simplicity. Also, he’s from Scotland, he founded national parks in the US and it’s the year of Scotland’s homecoming. But taking the feedback on board, I found some other relevant quotes and they’ve really added something – like Billy Connolly’s quote about a sexy raincoat!

Aelred asked partner organisations for quotes too – they really bring the topics to life.

I love that about the creative process. When others contribute ideas and vision it makes the whole thing so much better as a result.

Feedback

The style is completely different to anything the park has published before. Feedback and so far has been really positive. One staff member told me how she cried when she read it. It’s been described as a publication that engages with the head as well as the heart. 

I’d be interested to hear what you think too!?

Edinburgh International Book Festival

I’m really excited to say ‘Tales of our Wild Park’ is going to all the teachers visiting Edinburgh International Book Festival School Gala Day on the 26th August. I’m doing three events at the book festival this year including an event at the Gala Day. I’ve written another book that came out this week, this one is for children but it also features a red squirrel and a forest! It’s called ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’. Read more about it here.

Find out more about Wild Park on the Wild Park 2020 website.

 

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