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:

Fires, trees and tinsel

Its been a while since our last blog, when we were looking forward to the supermoon. We knew some cloud was coming so we decided to go and see it rise the night before it was officially full, and we were treated to an incredible sight. The moon always looks big near to the horizon but this was stunning. Ours is not a professional camera, but we caught the mood of the evening with the drifting clouds and moonrise colours.

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Last month our 13 year old washing machine broke and while we waited for a new one to arrive, Brian took apart the old one in order to re-use any functional parts. What he came up with was a complete re-purposing: using the metal drum as a fire-pit!

He removed the drive wheel and bolted it directly to the bottom of the stainless steel drum, which provided a very stable base.

Here it is in use the first time:

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This is helping us dispose of all the garden twig waste we’ve accumulated beyond what we can use for habitat piles and kindling. It collects all the ash at the bottom, which can then be used as potash to give nutrients to plants in the garden. In the lighter months we can use it to generate heat and light when eating and socialising outdoors!

Before all the leaves dropped we had some bright colour in the garden from our cherry tree for a few days. The change between autumn and winter has not been a clear one this year, with cold days mixed with warm days and colours coming and going.

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Brian spent a day constructing this year’s Christmas tree, from ash this time, and the biggest one we have had. We took the removable end of our L-shaped sofa off and stored it in the bedroom to make room for the tree!

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It’s so big that we might get a few extra baubles to fully dress it. We also bought ourselves some new tinsel, as we are both strongly pro-tinsel. Now we have a sort of tinsel archway between the living room and kitchen, and on the corner of the cupboard is a little reminder of what this season means to us. There are things to decide and buy and do, but that is because we are lucky to have people in our lives that we care about, and fortunate to be here on the planet this Christmas. We aim to spread the joy!

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Current reading
Anne Tyler – A Spool of Blue Thread
Anne Tyler – Noah’s Compass

Current Soundtrack
REM – Ignoreland
Rumer – What The World Needs Now is Love
Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) – Pure Imagination

Looking to the moon and wildlife

With all the division and separatism going on in the world it seems almost incredible that everyone on the planet sees the same moon, sun and stars when they look into the sky. But we do, and the moon that will visit us all over the next few days will be a very rare full supermoon, the closest full moon to Earth since 1948. Find out more here. It was already looking big yesterday.

There is something deeply moving about a full moon and seeing our enduring, regular visitor glowing above all the changing world below. I’m still here, it seems to say, and it reminds us that so are we, able to be looking up at it once more.

Watching wildlife is another everyday way to find inspiration. On our staycation a week ago we saw these coots drifting across a mere in a very zen way.

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It’s the time of year for making Christmas cakes. We make three (one each and one for Lucy’s parents) and we currently have one made, and one in the oven right now, the smell of boozy fruit and spices filling the house.

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A jolly Santa watches over the baking process

 

Thank you all for reading and don’t forget to look for the moon!

Living Simply: October 2016

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Red and gold leaves, sunrises and sunsets and Strictly Come Dancing – there are many reasons to love the autumn and especially October! We’ve enjoyed it so much this year, and had a relatively simple month although there were some big purchases.

Our washing machine broke after 13 years of service, which is hugely impressive, so we didn’t mind at all spending a day in the city looking for a new one to arrive later this week. Lucy is on a week’s holiday from work and we made a special day out of it with a café breakfast and lunch, and another unexpected purchase shown below.

Here’s our October spending summary:
– An expensive food/drink month, average £16.13 per day but the treats were worth it
– Set of USB charging bicycle lights: no more batteries!
– Bus fares, one fill of petrol
– Green paint for our windows
– A washing machine
– A Christmas decoration
– Shoelaces
– Haircare, soaps
– A pair of Doc Martens!

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These were an unplanned buy, made after walking into the city to choose the washing machine and noticing that one of Lucy’s winter boots was slouching uncomfortably to one side. After a discussion about the fact most women’s shoes are badly designed for cold seasons (hard to wear with socks), we ended up in the Doc Martens shop investing in these. They weren’t cheap, but should last for years.

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The sky puts on a display on the way to work

October is a spectacular month full of free natural wonders. After the summer’s long days, to see sunrises and sunsets again as part of the office-hours day is a privilege. This month has been particularly stunning, with lots of rainbows and even seeing the full moon set one early morning. There is so much going on out there: every day something special.

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Early morning moonset

 

Lucy’s Book & Music Club

OCTOBER SOUNDTRACK:
Anohni – Drone Bomb Me
INXS – Never Tear Us Apart
Christine & The Queens – Safe & Holy
Tame Impala – The Less I Know The Better
Sophie Ellis-Bextor – Crystallise

BOOKS READ:
Anne Tyler – If Morning Ever Comes
Anne Tyler – Back When We Were Grownups

 

Colours in the sky, our home & nature

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We love a week of rain showers, and not just for the good it does the garden and wildlife but also because there’s always a chance of catching some rainbows. The last week has been spectacular although we didn’t both see the same ones at the same time, this picture is from Lucy’s cycle ride home on the 11th when just as the rain started to fall lightly this magnificent full archway appeared! Brian saw one like it at home the day before, and it’s been a week of colour in other ways too.

Oudscf5403r wooden windows needed maintenance, and dodging the showers Brian painted almost all of them. We like this green as it makes us think of an artists’ cottage. There’s still the insides to do.

 

 

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While the window paint was drying, Brian was painting the kitchen floor! This was completed on Friday.

(And, because the kitchen floor had a coat of paint on Friday, that meant it was still a bit wet at teatime, which meant we couldn’t cook, which of course meant we had to have a Chinese takeaway from across the road! It was the first one we’ve had for many months so felt like a real treat.)

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Colours in nature are changing for Autumn. This maple tree was well on the way to a red and gold transformation.

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The Spindle has stunning pink berries and a blush on its leaves at the moment.

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This time of year can be so beautiful and varied, from day to day and hour to hour things are changing and there is always something to notice and appreciate.

 

 

 

 

September spending review, cheese & a cold

It was a spendy September! We didn’t save any money, but it’s fine because most of it was costs that aggregate out over the coming 12 months. The good news is our food and drink spend has reduced compared to the last few months:

Food and drink: £14.08 per day
Transport: Annual MOT & service, car tax, two tyres, a windscreen wiper, two fills of petrol and a bus season ticket. We also found out our annual mileage has gone down from 8,000 to 6,000
Home: LED lightbulb, a tarpaulin, a storage box, tea light candles and a little vintage £1 milk jug!
Domestic: Toothbrushes, toothpaste, throat sweets, hair conditioner, soap
Clothes: A rare shopping month. We both bought trousers, Lucy bought two tops, a sports bra and a replacement pair of trainers
Misc: Birthday gifts, music downloads (3 songs)

We may have spent a bit less on food but we certainly didn’t enjoy it any less. For one thing, we rediscovered halloumi, and the tomatoes we grew this year make a perfect tomato and herb sauce mix to go with it, plus mushrooms and broccoli. For Lucy this goes with vegetarian sausages, while Brian also has some bacon.

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Halloumi Sunday

This Autumn we’re likely to buy a storage heater for our living room, for background heat and also with a convector for a boost when needed. For the time being, it’s not very cold and using our open fire on chillier evenings will be enough. We had our first fire on Tuesday night and Brian has prepared and stacked plenty of wood for the coming winter.

 

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First fire, with black poplar on the top

 

Last week we celebrated the fact Lucy hadn’t had a cold for almost a year. We’re not superstitious, so the fact she had a big stinky cold this week means simply that one was obviously due! It was treated with a sensible sick day off work, lots of sleep, a session of watching classic cartoons online and the invention of a new drink: a red berry fruit tea plus half a squeezed lemon. Works extra well when drunk in the bath.

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Home-made cold remedy as served in our funky pink 1960s bath

 

Lucy’s Book & Music Club

SEPTEMBER SOUNDTRACK:
The 1975 – Love Me
Gallant – Weight in Gold
Christine & The Queens – The Loving Cup
Perfume Genius – Fool
Paloma Faith – Ready For The Good Life

BOOKS READ:
Ann Patchett – The Magician’s Assistant
Hanya Yanagihara – A Little Life
Gretchen Rubin – Better Than Before
I also abandoned two short story collections, just couldn’t get into them so I gave up, because life’s too short!

The evolution of breakfast

A while ago we posted the recipe for Lucy’s breakfast flapjacks, which at the time were a healthier improvement on cereal. Now we’d like to update the recipe, as since then they have got significantly better in two main ways:
– Nearly all the sugar has been removed
– They are now set in the fridge rather than baked in the oven! (An idea we had when our oven went through a phase of tripping the electrics a few months ago.)

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Seedy Fridge Flapjacks
You will need:
A big tray and some greaseproof paper
250g block of unsalted butter
About 75g of molasses sugar or other really dark brown sugar
Up to 500g of basic porridge oats
4 tablespoons of fair trade cocoa powder
As much as you want of seeds, we use sunflower, brown linseed (flax) and hemp

Melt the butter completely in a saucepan. Take off the heat. Add the molasses sugar and squash it with a spoon to remove lumps, then mix. Add the cocoa, mix again, then add the seeds, and then keep adding oats until you get to the point where the chocolate mix can’t coat any more oats.

Line the tray with baking paper and pour in the mixture. Squash it down well with a spoon. Pop into the fridge! It feels so good to bake something without using the oven at all. It must be saving us a bit on our energy bill, as these are made at least once a week. Once they have set, cut through them with a knife (this below tray makes 12 squares) and store them in an airtight box in the fridge, with the clean bits of the greaseproof paper torn off and separating the layers.

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Lucy has two of these each day for breakfast, in a bowl with a serving of summer fruits, or kiwi fruits, or both, and a big handful of walnuts of almonds. Basically, there should be enough fruit and nuts to totally cover up the flapjacks, as demonstrated by this morning’s helping, below. On workdays, it all fits into a little pot which has separate compartments for the flapjacks and fruit, then you put it all together when ready to eat.

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This breakfast might be why Lucy hasn’t had a cold for a year, coupled of course with the reduced stress from simplifying our lives with Brian becoming a house-spouse!

This week we also:
– Sorted out our car for the year: MOT, new tyres, tax. It’s now 7 years old & doing fine.
– Embellished our cheap wall lights with some copper wire artistry (the glass Christmas decorations stay there all year round)
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– Had afternoon tea and cake for Lucy’s Dad’s birthday sitting in the garden
– Discovered Gallant on Later With Jools Holland. Singers should leap about more.
Strictly Come Dancing started, so it must be autumn. Fabulous!

Simple Living Review: Augfest 2016!

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A common darter dragonfly

 

We have just finished our summer staycation. Thanks to the wonderful weather, exciting Olympics, and time off together at the end of the month, August has felt like a big fun festival so we re-named it Augfest. It was also a bit of a spendfest too, but we know it’s a relatively small outlay for such a holiday season.

Spending report
Well, we didn’t save anything! But it is only the second month since we started our one-income lives that we’ve overspent, and it was all worth it:
Food and drink – £17.55 per day average! Includes ice creams, a bottle of wine, coffees, fish and chips, cheap beer from Aldi and many other goodies, but no restaurant meals – we don’t miss that at all
Clothes: The first pair of shoes for about a year: Brian bought some trainers. And some T-Shirts.
Luxuries: Music downloads, Open Garden, seaside parking, and tennis court hire!
Home and garden: Oven gloves, a wall-mounting TV stand (not yet fitted) and DIY items
Toiletries & health: This shampoo and conditioner, which smell amazing and work well which means Lucy can finally stop shopping around
Misc: Lucy would like to note that she spent 50p on a shiny colourful pencil to use at work and is delighted by it every day, possibly the best value for money material item in terms of enjoyment:

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During our staycation we’ve relaxed in the hottest weather, eaten our dinners outside in the cool evenings, and had plenty of leisure time. We visited friends and enjoyed an outdoor curry cooked in a dutch oven over an open fire followed by toasted doughnuts (they go crispy on the outside), a game of frisbee, a go on a trampoline and a unicycling demonstration.

We went to the seaside twice, to the same beach, the second time was in the early evening to see the sunset over the ocean.

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We’ve also been thinking about the fact that our simple lives need to be designed to suit us. There is no one right way to do it. When we started talking about thrift and de-cluttering and reading blogs about tiny houses and minimalism, we couldn’t really tell which of the many aspects of it were going to suit us, it was all exciting. There’s plenty to read and be inspired by about growing veg and fruit, making your own clothes and other crafting, baking, and going car-free and zero waste.

We’re now much more aware of what fits for us. It may change over time, but we have now embraced the fact that we don’t really want to grow too much veg and fruit, or do a lot of crafts, baking or creative thrifting  – although we still like reading about it online. Instead the things which provide us with the most fulfilment and reward are:
– Decluttering, but most of all, thinking of ways not to bring things into our lives in the first place
– Home and garden projects, such as making our seating area outside, creating real habitats for wildlife, removing all our carpets room by room, and dealing with the fabric of the house
– Appreciating our home & garden so that we don’t crave meals out or holidays or regular room make-overs for novelty
– Reading, writing, chatting, watching films and TV shows that make us happy – all very low cost hobbies!
– Being as low impact as we can, with less driving, more cycle commuting, re-using things and choosing natural products
– Taking a Photo of the Day of little special moments

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Four duck bottoms in a row!

 

Our simple life is all about noticing things, and not over-committing ourselves to activities and projects (however frugal or resourceful) that take away our time to notice things.

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Seedheads on a Willowherb

 

Lucy’s Record & Book Club:

August playlist:
Christine & The Queens/Perfume Genius – Jonathan
K D Lang  – Infinite and Unforeseen
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Antony & The Johnsons – Christina’s Farm
Benjamin Clementine – London

Books read & enjoyed:
Steve Toltz – Quicksand
Emma Donoghue – Room
Matt Haig  – Reasons to Stay Alive
I started a very big book too, so that’s why there weren’t many finished this month:

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Lucy’s beer and library books at the start of the staycation