The mini-meadow and more

Out in the garden there is an abundance of colour…

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Plenty of lifeforms are enjoying it as well as us! The mini-meadow is full of bees, hoverflies and butterflies (especially gatekeepers).  Brian saw a vole running into cover, so it’s exciting to know there are mammals in there. This year we have also got grasshoppers again after they were absent for a while. They are much harder to find and photograph than crickets!

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A very obliging cricket

One new visitor is this meadow long horn moth:

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As the sunsets get slightly earlier, it’s easy to catch a stunning sky on an evening walk. It was also a great month for cycling to work, often after a rain shower when everything is fresh and bright.

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Lucy has had a week’s holiday from work, so it is staycation time again. We finished July with a visit to a water garden, where we sat on a little bridge over a trout pond, took off shoes and socks and splashed our feet in the lovely (cold) water! That is our kind of ‘seize the day’ activity…

The rest of our staycation has included catch-ups with friends, including a trip to a family festival (just a shame we are all too big for bouncy castles), leisurely mornings, a lot of cake (cheaper than each choosing our own desserts though…), and relaxed evenings at home. 

JULY BOOKSHELF:
Patrick Ness – A Monster Calls
Anne Patchett – Commonwealth
John Boyne – Beneath the Earth
Philip Pullman – The Amber Spyglass
Rachel Joyce – The Music Shop

JULY PLAYLIST:
XTC – Summer’s Cauldron
Laura Marling – Soothing
Owen Pallett – The Riverbed
Perfume Genius – Just Like Love
Rufus Wainwright – Across the Universe
Eurythmics – There Must Be an Angel
Paloma Faith – Upside Down

June: A sunset, some sparkle, and living alongside wildlife

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June – midsummer – a beautiful time of year, and this year we took more time to enjoy it by having some long weekends, or sitting in the garden after work (sometimes with a gin and tonic each.)

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Sparkly sandals are a simple pleasure of summer. £15 well spent last year! This month was the first month since 2013 when we didn’t record all our expenditure. It felt like a big change for us to stop doing it but now we are settled and coming up for 2 years on our one-income budget, there really isn’t any need to do it.

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This day-flying moth was a new sighting for us. It’s called a Mother Shipton, named after the prophetess whose face the wings resemble.

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We also have a new house-mate! This is our porch, where a leafcutter bee has made a nest. We’ve seen it carrying in the pieces of leaf, and packing them in tightly.

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Another first for us was the experience of seeing the sun set into the ocean. On a very hot afternoon we headed to the coast expecting a cool evening sea breeze. It wasn’t much cooler there, but we enjoyed ice creams, fish and chips, and a walk along the shore before the sun turned deeper orange, then red, and then appeared to be swallowed by the sea!

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We collected some jam jars and added to our wall of candles. The Mexican fleabane was only sowed into the wall 1 year ago, and now looks like it was always there.

 

 

JUNE BOOKSHELF:
Kevin Maher – The Fields
David Whitehouse – Mobile Library

JUNE PLAYLIST:
Goldfrapp – Annabel
case/lang/veirs – Greens of June
Perfume Genius – Otherside
Ludovico Eindaudi – I Giorni
James – Nothing But Love
Radiohead at Glastonbury
Grizzly Bear – Mourning Sound
Years & Years – Shine – This month Lucy finished listening to all the music we own, A-Z, and de-cluttering unwanted tracks. This was the final artist of the alphabet. The whole process took 3 years!

Rays of Light

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Evening walks are a treat at this time of year, with the extra daylight hours. As the sun starts to move lower in the sky, you can catch rays of light as they hit the ground.

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We’ve also had our first evening meal in the garden, and gin & tonics, listening to people cheer and/or groan at a TV football match a few houses away, and watching the Mexican Fleabane slowly start to close up for the evening.

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Mexican Fleabane in our concrete block wall

The incredible diversity of flower shapes and colours in the garden, for attracting pollinators, is fun to observe. Watch and see where the bees like to go best – foxgloves are a favourite…the detail is stunning when you look closely.

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We like to do some Spring cleaning and de-cluttering. A few weeks ago this table had a big potted ivy on it and twice as many objects as there are now. The ivy had to go as it was covered in insects secreting sticky liquid all over the mirror and everything else! It feels so much fresher and cleaner after being pared back.

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Posting pictures like these, of our everyday life, feels like an incredible thing to be able to do, given how this week has unfolded for so many other people.  To have something you can even call ‘everyday life’ is an immense good fortune. We hope that in some small way this blog contributes to a message that every day of every life is special and we should act accordingly.

Current library bookshelf:
Philip Pullman – The Amber Spyglass

Lucy’s current playlist:
James – Nothing But Love

 

May Days

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Spring is turning into summer and it’s been a fun couple of weeks. We’ve heard hedgehogs snuffling in the garden (their mating ritual noises), there are plenty of birds feeding young, and we’ve seen mating ladybirds and shield bugs.

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Lucy’s bicycle went in for a service, which seems to be needed every 18 months when the chain starts slipping over the rings because everything is worn.  The week without cycling was enough time to realise that cycling a 15 mile commute is actually quite a significant thing to do, and so it’s not necessary to feel as if a day on the bus when it’s rainy or because of tiredness is a failure. It feels good to switch this thinking around and celebrate on all the many days of cycling instead.

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Cycling, pottering in the garden, woodland archery and fire-pit cooking…most of the things we like to do are free or cheap (after the upfront costs), and this fortnight there was also, of course, the Eurovision Song Contest, always a reminder that the TV license is good value for money! Last night was very entertaining and Portugal were worthy winners with a genuinely heartfelt and original song.

We had a day out today to an open garden, with tea and cakes, £18 spent in total which goes to charity, so that always feels like a worthwhile and fun thing to do. And they were really good cakes this time!

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Ridiculously floriferous – one of our hawthorns

 

Things change fast at this time of year. Breathe in the smell of the blossom, and enjoy the colours, and if it rains (as we badly need it to here), celebrate that too!

Current library bookshelf:
Philip Pullman – The Subtle Knife
Sarah Moss – The Tidal Zone

Ali Shaw – The Girl With Glass Feet

Lucy’s current playlist:
Thomas Dolby – Airwaves
Rufus Wainwright – Tiergarten
Crowded House – Love This Life
My Brightest Diamond – Feeling Good

 

 

Bright days, flowers and socks

It’s a cold and overcast day today (we’ve even got a fire lit indoors) but our blog is looking back on the bright moments and colours of recent weeks.

By our front door the Lithodora is in flower, a sea of blue stars.

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On woodland walks there are bluebells and purple orchids, but equally beautiful are  ancient woodland plants such as Herb Paris

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And the pretty flowers of wild garlic, which you can smell before you see!

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Light shines through the trees, which are not yet fully in leaf, creating a dappled semi-shade on the footpaths

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All the brightness and colour in nature inspires us to add to it with our human efforts and objects. Therefore, Lucy chose these socks for her birthday this year…

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And Brian brought in this spring bouquet, creating the most colourful mantelpiece display possible! (Last year’s birthday gnome was down off the shelf for the day, and beside it is a gnome candle, one of this year’s excellent gifts!)

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Current library bookshelf:
JK Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany – Harry Potter & The Cursed Child
Cordelia Fine – Testosterone Rex

Lucy’s current playlist:
LP – Lost on You
Case/Lang/Veirs – Greens of June
Tom Robinson – War Baby
Tori Amos – Space Dog

Dawn chorus & doughnuts

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We’ve had a week’s holiday, which started with a dawn chorus walk. We set out while it was still quite dark at 5.30, and walked through the mist to the woods. We heard deer barking and a mixture of birdsong. Soon we were watching a majestic sunrise through the trees and by the time we got back to the car the skies were blue and the air was warm. Before leaving the wood, we saw a muntjac deer chase a Chinese water deer off it’s territory very aggressively.

We went back to the woods a few days later with one particular treat in mind: jam doughnuts toasted over a fire pit! This makes the sugar melt and go crunchy, and the insides deliciously warm…we forgot to take toasting forks with us, so Brian made some out of branches.

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Garden wildlife is abundant, here is a female orange-tip butterfly (only the males have orange wing-tips) resting in the sunshine.

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There was also plenty of time for eating chocolate, sitting in cafés, seeing family, reading, pottering, baths, and experimenting with our cameras when we saw interesting scenes or shapes such as this twisty ivy on a tree trunk…

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Current library bookshelf:
Sebastian Barry – The Temporary Gentleman
Anne Enright – The Forgotten Waltz
Anne Tyler – Vinegar Girl

Lucy’s current playlist:
Talk Talk – Its Getting Late in the Evening
Goldfrapp – Anymore
Thundercat- Them Changes
Dua Lipa – Could Be The One

Fortnightly favourites: daffodils, bee flies, cuckoo flower

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Here’s something new to our garden – miniature daffodils, in pots right by our front door, their cheerful faces greeting us as we go past. We’ve now sat outside to eat for the first time this year, as the spring is in full flow.

We are taking a closer look at the garden and some of the recurring jobs it produces. This year Brian is doing a bigger cut-back on the willows and other trees, the plan being that they will then be cut every year, a much easier task. There is a very confident robin which follows us around as we work, and which yesterday flew within a few feet of Brian’s shoulder to pick some tiny insect off our porch wall. We’re also doing some landscaping to create a new flower bank, which we’ll show the results of when it’s done.

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The star of the show in recent weeks has been cuckoo flower, which fills a little secretive place in one corner of the garden, although we are spreading it around. One new sunny patch has been popular with this tortoiseshell butterfly.

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This weekend saw the arrival into the garden of one of our other favourite creatures, bee flies. It is definitely spring when we see them. Here’s one sunning itself, showing it’s amazing wings off perfectly for a photo.

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Lucy’s pledge to change her lunchtime habits to walk and read every day now feels like a settled, permanent change. There was only one day in March when it was too rainy to do it. After experimenting with different places to sit, now it makes more sense to stick to the same favourite spot and watch the changing seasons, as we do in the garden. This will need a different approach in the colder/wetter months – but there’s plenty of time to think about that!

Recent cycle rides home from work have passed under some very impressive skies. It can change so quickly that a photograph isn’t always possible, but there was just time to capture this towering cloud formation that seems as if it’s trying to climb up into the sun.

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Current library bookshelf:
Belinda McKeon – Solace
Sara Taylor – The Shore
Derren Brown – Happy
Robert Seethaler – A Whole Life

Lucy’s current playlist:
Final Fantasy – An Arrow in the Side of Final Fantasy
Anna Calvi – Morning Light
Sufjan Stevens – You Are The Blood
Shearwater – I Was a Cloud
Perfume Genius – Slip Away

Outdoors every day

March as usual is a mad mixture of weather and temperatures, unpredictable and good at reminding us we are alive and that every moment of every day is unique. Recently our focus has been very much outdoors, being productive and for leisure.

We started the month with a countryside walk and sheltered inside a church during a big rain shower. When we came outside again, these were the colours:

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It would have been easy to dismiss the afternoon as ‘probably wet’ and stayed indoors, but then we would never have enjoyed those lurid green fields and moody skies!

The birds and other wildlife are busy in the garden, as is Brian with numerous jobs. The highlights of recent weeks included a blue tit piercing winter-flowering cherry blossoms for nectar, blackbirds eating ivy berries, the first comma and brimstone butterflies, and this striking frog:

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On a morning walk Brian filmed a toad marching through the grass. He also spotted this uncommon white sweet violet:

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We always enjoy seeing this primrose every year. It was here before us and has reliably appeared every March for at least the last fourteen years, steadily growing and popping out more flowers. It might not be something we chose to put there, but we do love it.

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Lucy has been on a mission to get outside every lunchtime and find different places to read a few pages of a book. It makes such a difference to the working part of the day if you take a break and do your favourite things. Its surprising how many natural spaces there can be in a city. These crocuses are in a cemetery packed with flowers, birds and squirrels, the perfect place to recharge and get ready for the afternoon.

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Now we both have camera-phones (without paying much more than we already were for old ones) we are even more motivated to get outside and look around us for things to notice, appreciate and enjoy.

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Current library bookshelf:
Matt Haig – The Dead Fathers Club
Philip Pullman – Northern Lights
Chad Harbach – The Art of Fielding
Ali Smith – The Whole Story and Other Stories
Sara Baume – Spill Simmer Falter Wither

Lucy’s current playlist:
Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit
Crowded House – Love This Life
Squeeze – Tongue Like a Knife
The Bees – I Love You
Owen Pallett – The Riverbed

Seasonal life and light

Since we last wrote it has become Spring! As the season changes, we can really appreciate the fact that we are on a turning Earth and every day feels different, with more of nature awakening.

Mornings now mean sunrises, each one different, and sometimes it’s possible to look at it directly when it’s low and orange. How exciting to glimpse it through the trees…

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…and once you are past the trees, you get to see it owning the sky.

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In the last two weeks the ground has transformed into colour with snowdrops, winter aconites and crocuses, making our walks bright and cheerful.

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There’s also an abundance of hazel catkins this year, eye-catching where they hang on otherwise bare trees. As the sun sets at the other end of the day, it lights up their intricate details.

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We hope your days are warming with the spring and bringing hope and change.

Current reading:
Ali Smith -Autumn
Sara Taylor – The Lauras
Ann Patchett – State of Wonder
Neil Pasricha – The Happiness Equation

Lucy’s current playlist:
Milagres – Glowing Mouth
Christine & The Queens – Wandering Lovers
Lamb – Gorecki
Foo Fighters – Walking After You

The simple pleasures of feeling better

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Winter light on the lake

 

We’ve said goodbye to January, which turned out to be a month where for every single day one or more of us was ill! Like many people, the virus/cold we had came in two instalments. We watched the current events of the world unfold on the news from under blankets, or full of cough syrup, which made it all the more surreal.

There have been some big joys in our lives recently – we have a grandson in the family who we met as soon as we were recovered and fit to be around a tiny person! And, as always, we have been tuning in to the many small simple pleasures in the day, the satisfying things that make everyday life glow even (or especially) when we feel under the weather and/or baffled by the behaviour of some of our fellow humans.

Such as:

Not always thinking about saving money
There is a particularly effective ad campaign in the UK at the moment by a company who pay out less for buying your stuff, but save you lots of time. They make a good point, that sometimes it’s best not to take the most cost effective option (as long as you have enough money to get by, of course). For Lucy going back to work, feeling better but not fully back to normal, cycling in on cold mornings would not have been a good idea and so for once the bicycle was left alone for a week and she went to work using a bus pass. The bus goes door to door from home to work. Pure luxury and totally worth it.

This month Lucy has also bought two coats, and not the cheapest options available. It isn’t good value for money to have a cheap high-visibility cycling jacket, if the lining and zips break within a year and the coat is so thin it provides no warmth so requires a hoodie underneath. The new one below is much thicker and better quality. The coat with a furry hood is for cold winter days: properly warm and big enough to wear with layers underneath if needed. A much more practical choice than the last coat Lucy bought which was impractical: too small, not at all warm, and with novelty buttons half of which fell off within a week. It was only really purchased because it was in a sale (and it was purple).

Soup, tuna, or whatever we really want to eat
We both lost our appetites for several days. It was interesting to see what it was we first started to really crave. For Lucy it was soup, because it was the only thing that felt good for a sore throat. A lot of soup has been consumed in 2017 so far! Brian surprised himself by suddenly desiring tuna. Our bodies are obviously telling us what they want!

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Soup time on a day off sick

 

Birds in the garden
It’s a privilege to have a garden we can look at while keeping warm indoors. We put out stale wholemeal bread (don’t give white to birds, it causes them problems) and the garden birds were there within seconds, entertaining us. There were blackbird fights, a robin that could carry surprisingly large bread lumps, dunnocks and blue tits waiting for the bigger birds to go away.

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Robin in a curly willow waits to seize some bread

 

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Blackbirds enjoying the feast

 


There was no point planning to achieve any major tasks while we felt ill. The only big undertaking we had to do was to move 10 bags of coal that were delivered, and we certainly felt the effects of that afterwards. We needed to sleep, rest, potter gently around the house, and that was what we did most of the time. Because we didn’t want to make unnecessary trips to the shops, we also spent much less on food than usual (and have been able break some of our snacking habits.)

It feels good to share these little positive things. They are important in the world. We think that in a simple life, there is endless room for love, inclusion and compassion, and no room whatsoever for division, suspicion and persecution.

Current reading:
Ali Smith – The Whole Story and other stories
Ali Smith – The First Person and other stories
Kate Atkinson – Emotionally Weird
Kate Atkinson – Human Croquet

Lucy’s current playlist:
Siouxie & The Banshees – Dazzle
Amerie – Gotta Work
XTC – Wrapped in Grey
Marcella Detroit – I Believe: This song is 23 years old and more relevant than ever. I’m playing it several times a day right now. Read the lyrics here: