On Holiday…

by Lucy

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Hanging out in the woodshed on a sunny/rainy day

We’re on holiday! Its my first week of annual leave since Christmas and I have been very excited about it, as February/March is by far my busiest time at work and the speed at which the days can flash past is quite frightening. I love the Spring and want to savour it properly.

Having a holiday means something slightly different since Brian shifted from paid work to house-husband, and so now I try to do more cooking, fire-lighting, cleaning and gardening than I normally would, so that overall we are both doing less than usual and both feel like we are on holiday.

But of course the main thing about being on holiday is leisure and time together….lovely hours of pottering, reading, listening to music, watching films, chatting, stretching, walking and of course eating! Brian’s son gets to chill out and do his favourite things and we can relax into each day at our own pace.

For this holiday I decided to buy a bottle of wine. We saw a feature on TV recently which said the flavour of red wine is improved if you get air into it e.g. whizzing it in a blender. So, we tried this:

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Wine blending experiment

And it did make a difference. After a taste test we agreed that the aerated wine was more smooth and blackcurranty. Sometimes we share a glass between us as Brian only has a few sips and on Saturday we made one glass last the entire length of The Voice (even saving a tiny bit for the results show). The picture on the bottle has also inspired Brian to think about doing a mural on our living room wall. So, good value!

Practical activities don’t stop when we are on holiday. Having two of us at home is a good chance to tackle bigger jobs safely. This weekend we felled the remaining long limb of the willow tree, to turn it into a pollard, which we can cut back on a rotation every few years and use the regrowth for kindling. A renewable resource in our own back garden, and totally free.

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The final willow limb is pollarded

Now there is only really one big tree job to deal with (reducing our Christmas tree’s height), and then we will have entered a new era of having a low maintenance garden. Brian has been doing a staggering amount of work in recent weeks dealing with trees, compost, concrete, drainage and ground levelling.

Something else new in our lives soon might be me joining a choir. I recently went on a free singing workshop as a first step toward my goal of getting over shyness about singing by the time I’m 35. It helped me understand my voice better, and now I am trying to sing along with people who have the same range as me which includes Fiona Apple, Tracey Thorn, Alison Moyet, KT Tunstall, Beach House, Tears for Fears, James and, as I’ve discovered this week, Morrissey! Knowing I can hit all the notes properly helps me sing louder and be more relaxed. No one has said yet that they have had enough of hearing my singalong  of ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ coming from the bathroom, so I will continue…and soon I hope I can sing around the rest of the house too.

I have about a month to go to meet my goal, and the next term of the local choir starts in 2 weeks time, so…I think I will have to give it a go. If I like it, the cost of going can be offset by buying much cheaper toiletries. I recently discovered a new budget range based on natural ingredients which will save us loads.

How to get to the choir is an issue that’s been on my mind. As always, I want to give up driving because of my previous panic attacks but I also don’t want to ‘give up’ on anything, so I may try driving there if there is somewhere easy to park. Perhaps combining driving with singing, which releases relaxing and happy hormones, is the perfect combination of activities!

A week off in the Spring is always a special time and with plants, insects and bird activity increasing every day there are surprises and wonderful sights. I’ve now seen my first butterfly of the year, there are birds carrying lots of nesting material, and we have had an unexpected new colour of wallflower open up.

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A new colour of wallflower for our garden

This has got to be the best time of year – whatever time you can take to enjoy it, happy Spring!

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Home restaurant, home café

One of the most helpful approaches we’ve used since simplifying our lives is the idea that whatever we used to pay to go and do somewhere else, we can often do cheaper at home without losing anything of the experience. In fact, the experience is often better anyway!

With a bit of imagination, home can be often transformed into any number of different environments that help you relax, be creative or whatever it is you want to do. Here we’d like to share some of the ways we enjoy eating at home.

Home Restaurant & Café

When we feel like we need a special treat, we buy a ready made dinner that we wouldn’t normally have such as a curry or pies or pizza, add our own vegetables, and then deliberately sit down and eat it in our ‘home restaurant’. Here’s a photo of the day 6 years ago when we decided to start doing this consciously! (Note our spectacular 1960s carpet)

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Our first home restaurant experience, 2010

 

There isn’t much table dressing involved – maybe just a candle – and these days we also don’t buy wine more than once a year, but the difference is in the lack of thinking/cooking/washing up involved compared to a normal night and our mindset of feeling like we are having a special occasion. And do we miss actual restaurants? No! Now we can have whatever background noise we like and we never have to sit next to the toilets! Best of all, there is no journey home afterwards: we’re already there.

Last weekend was our 12th anniversary and we had a family curry night, and a pie night!

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12th anniversary pie night

We also like big Sunday breakfasts, hot drinks, cakes and treats, and these become more special if we sit down properly and regard ourselves as being in our home café.

 

Today is definitely a home café day. We’ve had a big breakfast and listened to the Archers and Desert Island Discs, then been out to a garden centre and bought some aubrietias with a Christmas voucher,  and then come home for a coffee and cake.

For Brian as a coffee connoisseur, coffee made at home is always a hundred times better than bought, and it works out much cheaper. Brian uses a milk frother and home-made wooden spoon to create the perfect coffee:

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the perfect coffee

 

Lucy likes the idea of sitting in a café writing, but this can also be done at home most of the time! A comfy chair, a notebook and a pen is all you need.

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hot drinks, cake and notebook: home café

 

One thing we are looking forward to now is enjoying the outdoor seating in our home restaurant/café! Its not been warm enough yet but here’s what we hope to be doing soon: cake in the sun sitting on the front steps!

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looking forward to sitting outside again soon!

February 2016 Simple Living Review

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After two years of writing our blog we’ve been through lots of changes, the biggest of which was Brian leaving paid work almost 6 months ago. February has been the first month where our new budget has really settled in, as we’ve been running it for a while now and have proved to ourselves that we can live well within it.

February Finance
We spent an average of £13.72 per day on food and drink, quite an expensive month, but it reflects the fact that we were busy in lots of other ways and did less cooking from scratch.

Our other main purchases were:
– A bicycle cover to make rainy days easier
– One fill of petrol
– Bus season ticket and a few additional trips
– Hairclips (Christmas money purchase)
– Postage stamps
– Thermal tops
– Gifts
– A pruning saw, latex gloves and clips for fixing in the windows of a greenhouse.

This greenhouse was probably our biggest challenge of the month. The building itself has not cost us anything. It belonged to our neighbour, who has had it since the 1980s but no longer uses it, and gave it to us in return for Brian maintaining her conifer hedge. A few weeks ago we climbed over the wall, removed all the glass panes, and then lifted the aluminium frame over into our garden.

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Brian has since cleaned all the moss and dirt off the frame, and at some point we will put the panes back in, and decide what to grow in it. Its not a priority, and Brian now needs to recover his back as he is currently paying for the more strenuous tasks which he did during the month.

In other news, we thought we might have to replace our fridge. Brian pulled it away from the wall in order to remove the final kitchen floor tiles, and found it had been leaking. Then we noticed the door was wonky, and today the door fell off completely. Brian put it back on and modified the hinge, if anything it is now a bit stronger than before. So we may have got away with that for the time being.

Next month Lucy will share her progress on a goal she set herself: to overcome shyness about singing before reaching the age of 35 (not long to go). Today she took the biggest step so far and went to a free singing workshop and learnt a lot about her voice (particularly that it is quite a low alto and she should stop trying to sing along with Kate Bush). This may result in a budget substitution, as the cost of joining a choir is something to consider. If that comes in, something else will go out.

This close to the spring, things feel naturally positive and although it has been a challenging month in terms of Brian’s pain and mobility, we know we don’t have to rush through life ticking off one task after another, and can take the time we need to look after ourselves and enjoy the world around us. One thoughtful wander around the garden this month led to this discovery:

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We have a mistletoe in our apple tree! It may have arrived naturally, but Brian also made lots of attempts to apply the gelatinous seeds to the bark himself in recent years, so it could be a success from this!

This month’s books and music

With lots of rainy/icy days and bus journeys for Lucy, there was plenty of reading and listening going on this month:

Books (I only finish books I enjoy, so all my listings are recommendations):
Rose Tremain – The Road Home
Patrick Gale – A Place Called Winter
Sarah Winman – A Year of Marvellous Ways
Elmore Leonard – 10 Rules For Writers
Brene Brown – The Gifts of Imperfection

Music:
This month I got back into Madonna in a big way! I’ve been listening to my mp3 record collection A-Z, so I must be about in the middle. Songs of this month:
Madonna – Vogue / Deeper & Deeper / Hung Up
Manic Street Preachers – I Think I Found It
Martin Simpson – Dark Swift and Bright Swallow
Neko Case – Prison Girls
Suede – It Starts and Ends With You