Fruits, fragrance and watery places

Checking the diary, we don’t think it has rained since 2 June. This has been an exceptional heatwave and dry spell. Any rumour of rain is very exciting. Today a bit of rain was predicted on the week ahead forecast – we hope it is true!

With everything so dry, we’ve been enjoying watery places even more than usual as it’s such a relief to see them. Some of the best ones from walks over recent weeks are below!

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Water lilies and shimmering reflections 

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Sunlight on duckweed creating patterns of brightness

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One of six thriving moorhen chicks in a city wildlife pond

In the garden we are enjoying a harvest of the blackcurrants and gooseberries that grow with no intervention from us. A few handfuls of garden fruits with breakfast is an amazing free treat.

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We love pollen beetles, and they have been enjoying anything yellow they can land on, such as this native perennial sow thistle, which they are visiting more than anything else. This is the most we’ve seen on any flower.

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This summer the jasmine is having its most floriferous year. When the day cools down towards the evening, and we can have a comfortable look round the garden, it’s fragrance is rich and delicious and makes us feel very privileged to be experiencing it.

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Library bookshelf:
Sheila Heti – Motherhood
Patrick Ness – More Than This
Michele Forbes – Ghost Moth
Philip Hoare – Risingtidefallingstar
Deborah Levy – Black Vodka

Playlist:
First Aid Kit – Rebel Heart
Van Morrison – Warm Love
The Beta Band – Dry the Rain
Sheryl Crow featuring Annie Clark – Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer solstice moth & meadow magic

A few weeks ago we showed the moth pupae that we’d found in the garden. On Friday 22nd June, the first moths were seen, and by Saturday 23rd we could see six or seven of these stunning creatures flying, feeding, resting and mating.

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They are Five-Spot Burnet Moths, named because they have five spots on each wing (although their spots are often fused, as in our moths). They appear very strikingly black and crimson, but in certain light their wings have an iridescent greenish shine.

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They arrived in our mini-meadow because we had planted a food plant of their larvae (caterpillars), meadow vetchling. The larvae also feed on bird’s foot trefoil. In these photos the adults are feeding on nectar from knapweed. They stayed for a couple of days, and have now gone to find new habitats, but at least two pairs mated and we hope they have left some eggs so we can enjoy the next generation.

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Elsewhere in the garden our foxgloves have been busy with bees, as accidentally captured in this photo! In the last week they have mostly finished flowering and have a promising amount of seed pods – we hope for more foxgloves in the future!

We try to keep our garden as wild as possible, actively increasing the food-plants and habitats. This can be done on a larger scale in the wood and meadow, where Brian has now been re-wilding to as great an extent as we can for the size of the site. This view shows the meadow with many willows and alders planted in the last 5 years.

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Creating better habitats for wildlife is one way that we can take action and do something with a positive impact. Although we cannot introduce the large herbivores which bigger re-wilding projects use, we have two species of deer moving through the site, and Brian is also acting as a “keystone species” (one that by its natural behaviour makes the site better for lots of other species). Most important is not to over-manage, but to enable the site to be dynamic and changing over time. We get lots of inspiration from the Knepp Estate’s films and posts.

Brian made the annual pilgrimage this week to see a site where he planted many trees as a volunteer in the 1980s-90s. The trees now have real presence, and there is still a large honeybee colony active.  Its not only the trees which have grown – this photo shows an oak tree with a massive ivy growing up it! Ivy does not kill trees and it provides food and habitat for all kinds of wildlife. And a natural wonder for humans to enjoy too, when it grows as big as this!

 

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Oak tree with huge woody base of an ivy, known as an ‘ivy bole’ or ‘ivy todd’

 

 

Library bookshelf:
Mark Cocker – Our Place: Can we save Britain’s wildlife before it is too late
Paul Kalanithi – When Breath Becomes Air
Neel Mukherjee – State of Freedom
Sheila Heti – Motherhood
Patrick Ness – Release
Michele Forbes – Ghost Moth

Playlist:
The National – England (It’s not a football song!)
Perfume Genius – Alan
St Vincent – Sugarboy
Nakhane – Clairvoyant
First Aid Kit – Rebel Heart
Van Morrison – Warm Love

 

 

 


Mini-holiday moths & more

Taking a few days holiday recently was a really good idea. Often the summer can rush in very quickly and suddenly you realise it’s the middle of June. We’ve been able to slow down and appreciate it this year, especially when we got to give a woodland tour to friends visiting for the first time. There were lots of small creatures on display in the woods and there has been plenty of activity in the garden too.

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We’ve had this moth before but never caught it for a photo, this is a Blood-Vein moth.

 

Small rivulet moth in driveway

This is a first for the garden, a Small Rivulet moth, camouflaged effectively on the fence.

 

 

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Oedemera nobilis – Thick Legged Flower Beetle

 

These beetles caught the eye of our friends in the wood (especially as they were at just the right height for a 3 year old to spot!) and this one was in the garden contrasting spectacularly with a buttercup. The buttercups have been bright and beautiful this year.

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There aren’t many non-native plants in the garden, because we focus on creating habitats for wildlife. We grow lots of food plants for creatures of all kinds (and at all stages, including larvae of insects) and we don’t tidy up too much, keeping plenty of thick vegetation and big piles of prunings where things can live, hide and feed. We’ve also made this ‘hotel’ by drilling holes in a bit of tree trunk and fixing it to a sunny wall in the woodshed. Spiders have been using the biggest holes, and solitary bees and wasps like the small ones.

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The most exciting discovery in the garden was this:

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There are at least six of these, and they are Six-Spot Burnet moth pupae (or possibly Five-Spot, we won’t know until they come out!) This is a first for our mini-meadow. They need long grasses, so they are exactly the kind of creature we created the mini-meadow for. The adult moth is black with deep red spots, a thing of wonder, and we can’t wait to see them! Here is a photo from another site in 2007 –

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Library bookshelf:
Deborah Levy – Hot Milk
Jessie Burton – The Muse
Neel Mukherjee – State of Freedom
Paul Kalanithi – When Breath Becomes Air

Playlist:
Manic Street Preachers – International Blue
Years & Years – Sanctify
Christine & The Queens  Girlfriend
James – Better than That
Patty Griffin – Kite Song
Muna – I Know a Place
Hot Chip – Slush
The National – England

 

 

 


May Days 2018

The last couple of weeks have been brilliant for enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of nature. These ferns were showing their spore-bearing parts in the sunlight.

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 The hawthorn trees in the garden all have different blossoming times and this one is the biggest, frothing on top of the woodshed! It has been full of birds including fledglings which may well have been hatched in there.

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 Everything is growing rapidly in the woods, creating light and shadow.

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 Cow Parsley is one of our favourite spring plants, creating soft verges along roads and cycle paths.

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Lucy has been making sure to go out at lunchtime and relax. Working near a river makes this easy to do, especially when there is wildlife close by. These Egyptian Geese had eight chicks with them, many hiding behind the tree.

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Rivers are very photogenic at this time of year with the sun reflecting the green of plants and blue of the sky in the water.

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Many of our recent walks have been alongside rivers and other watery places.

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Every year we cast a few seeds (found wild or given by friends as this one was) of a new plant in the garden to see whether it will grow here. 2018’s is this yellow poppy, which we can enjoy while we hang out laundry or sit in the garden.

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In the last week the foxgloves have started to open. We watched the Chelsea Flower Show on TV, where many white foxgloves had been used, but these wild ones are our favourites.

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We’ve spent a lot of time in the garden so far this spring, but it was only this weekend that we spotted a second mistletoe in the apple tree. It is very welcome there!

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Library bookshelf:
Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Deborah Levy – Swimming Home
Deborah Levy – Hot Milk
Rachel Elliott – Whispers Through a Megaphone
Jessie Burton – The Muse

Playlist:
Paul Simon – Peace Like a River
Duran Duran – Pressure Off
Wild Beasts – This Is Our Lot
Panjabi MC – Mundian To Bach Ka
Manic Street Preachers – International Blue
Years & Years – Sanctify
Sigala & Paloma Faith – Lullaby

 

 

 


Lilac Time

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This was the sunset last Monday bank holiday, after we went out for an early evening picnic since the daytime had been too hot for us! We took sausage sandwiches to a nature reserve and sat on a bench perfectly placed for watching deer. We also heard and saw a cuckoo and a barn owl, and smelled the bluebells.

There’s been a few visits from swifts, although at first they didn’t hang around. We hope they’ll soon be here every day to provide their summer soundtrack of whistly screams. We also found out this week how endangered they are, and we’re going to find out if there are any nest boxes suitable for our house (being a bungalow, it might be too low for them).

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The real theme of this week has been lilacs, they are flowering everywhere. We had a walk in the village and smelled all the ones we saw which we could reach! This enormous one is on a field boundary. From a distance it looks like a big purple rectangle.

Since we plan to do as much walking as we can, this year Lucy’s birthday acquisition is this rucksack. It sits neatly in the bicycle pannier for lifting out at work, and when we go on a walk from home its the right size for anything we would want to bring.

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The plan was also to get some sandals and it was a lot of fun looking for some…however, in the meantime an older pair that had been disregarded as too scruffy from years of going through muddy puddles while cycling have scrubbed up really well with shampoo and a nail brush! Here they are drying off (in our snazzy 1960s pink bath.) They will definitely do for the time being.

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This weekend is cool and damp, but we are lucky to have big windows that show us the garden from every room. Some days the living room is like a bird hide – lately we’ve seen great tits and sparrows within a metre of the window collecting insects in this border.

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The kitchen looks out onto the driveway hedge and trees, and this week the hawthorn blossom is coming out. It seems like every time we walk into the kitchen the view has changed and got even more blossomy!

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Library books:
Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Donal Ryan – All We Shall Know
Rachel Elliott – Whispers Through a Megaphone

Playlist:
SuRie – Storm (deserved a higher score at Eurovision!)
Paul Simon – Peace Like a River
Janelle Monae – Neon Valley Street
The Lilac Time – Salvation Song (had to listen to them after naming this blog post after them!)

Spring weeks packed with nature & treats

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There has been so much going on in the Spring! We could hardly keep up over the last couple of weeks.

First, the flowering of snakes head fritillaries which we planted in a nice wet boggy area..

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This wonderful misty-morning sunlight was also stunning in the wood…

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All the tadpoles are active and growing rapidly….

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It wasn’t just nature celebrating the spring, it was also Lucy’s birthday. It rained all weekend, but we enjoyed being indoors…

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After eating the banana cake, we went on to invent a new super-rich home-made hot chocolate drink using cocoa powder and chopped dark chocolate melted in milk, and finally perfected Lucy’s everyday breakfast recipe which now = oats and almonds soaked overnight in soya milk, plus a kiwi fruit and some red berries (and some more chopped dark chocolate on most days)!

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As the sun and rain shared the skies for a few days, some spectacular shades of blue were seen next to the wild cherry blossom and hawthorn leaves…

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Over the last week, with sun and warmth, there has been a bluebell burst….

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This hawthorn shield bug was found having a wander about on Brian’s t-shirt, so he placed it onto a log to photograph it…

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This bank holiday weekend has been really hot. We had a spontaneous trip to the seaside for the full fish & chips, ice creams and beach experience!

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And although its too hot to venture out yet today, yesterday we had three walks (and one picnic), the last one a beautiful evening visit to a local nature reserve….

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Library books:
Salley Vickers – The Cleaner of Chartres
Sarah Perry – The Essex Serpent
Sally Rooney – Conversations With Friends
Donal Ryan – All We Shall Know
Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Playlist:
Siouxie & The Banshees – Dazzle
Grizzly Bear – Sky Took Hold
SuRie – Storm (less than a week until Eurovision!)
Cud – One Giant Love
Massive Attack – Paradise Circus
Joan Armatrading – Down to Zero

 

Frogs, floods & garden friends

 

 

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Until a few days ago, our ditch has been busier with frogs than ever before. One night-time visit to see them showed there were at least 35. In the daytime, we could see up to 17 at a time but they were really tricky to photograph.

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Their frogspawn is in a new shallow shelf area which Brian dug last year. They must like it here because it warms up quicker than the deeper, darker water. The frogs have now gone, and the tadpoles are starting to emerge. This should be a good frog year with lots of tiny froglets in the grass in the summer. We’ll have to be very careful when mowing the lawn…

After the heavy Easter rain, one end of the ditch filled to its highest ever level and we had to cut a channel to help it drain into the other end rather than flood its banks.

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It was pretty exciting watching the water rush through, and at one point a female newt travelled down!

We also found a flood when we went for a walk, which usually is quite a long walk past a mill and houses. However, this was what the start of the footpath looked like on the day:

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Lucy was able to get this far as she was the only one wearing wellies. Instead of the walk, we found a pool next to the river which was good for skimming stones in.

The overcast days this week were ideal tree pollarding days as the sun couldn’t get into Brian’s eyes. He found this unusual branch on the willow. This genetic anomaly is called fasciation – a flattened stem.

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A sunny day yesterday was a good opportunity to dry some laundry in the garden. We had forgotten how much pollen beetles love the colour yellow, but within seconds, Lucy’s cycling jacket was covered in them.

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Although the frogs have gone, we have still been going out into the garden at night,  to see if any newts are in the ditch predating the tadpoles. A few nights ago Brian was casting the torchlight around the house and found this new housemate:

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This is a noble false widow spider, the first false widow spider we have ever seen. Its living in a hole in the wooden boards under the eaves of the house, and emerges at night. It is our most venomous spider (in the UK) but is a non-aggressive species and is no worse than a bee or wasp sting to most people. This photograph was taken standing on a chair in the dark, using a mobile phone on the zoom setting. Quite tricky!

Library books:
George Saunders – Lincoln in the Bardo
Salley Vickers – The Cleaner of Chartres
Sarah Perry – The Essex Serpent

Playlist:
REM – Pilgrimage
David Bowie – Loving the Alien
Siouxie & The Banshees – Dazzle
St Vincent – Save Me From What I Want
Erasure – Breath of Life

 

In the woods and on wheels

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Here is a Scarlet Elf Cup fungus which Brian found in the woods. We are definitely not experts on fungi but this one is very distinctive. It isn’t poisonous, and some people consider them edible, but we’ll be leaving it where it is.

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After being off-road for the snow week and then while we replaced a broken derailleur, Lucy’s bicycle got back on the road a couple of weeks ago and it was very exciting to be cycling again. Even the return of ‘helmet hair’ was welcome! Its a great time of year to be passing by the verges with their new flowers every day.

 

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Brian has been doing a lot in the woodland, to make it as good a site for conservation as possible. These willows have been planted as a renewable firewood resource for us and  future generations. They have been recently pollarded to keep the re-growth out of each of nibbling deer. In a year’s time they will be up to fifteen feet tall.

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Now we have a week off together and so far the theme has been: rain. Our ditch is very full and we have lots of frogs – about 18 seen together, lots of spawn, and a newt! This is the wettest Easter we can remember. We just got in from a walk at the university which started as a nice rabbit-watching wander about, but ended with us getting so wet walking back to the car that foam came out of the knees of Brian’s trousers. Most of our clothes are now hanging up over heaters around the house, while we sit and eat chocolate and dry off. We thoroughly enjoyed getting wet knowing that we were going home to a warm, dry house.

What we do for the rest of the week will be guided by the weather a bit, but there’s always something nice we could be doing…such as making a banana cake…and eating it.

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Library books:
Salley Vickers – Cousins
Elizabeth McKenzie – The Portable Veblen
George Saunders – Lincoln in the Bardo

Playlist:
Final Fantasy – That’s When the Audience Died
Tegan & Sara – Hang On To the Night
Coldplay – O (Fly On)
REM – Pilgrimage
David Bowie – Loving the Alien

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The woods and the snow

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While the weather was good in February, Brian spent lots of time in the woods. It probably isn’t easy to figure out what this photograph is of. When one of the poplar trees falls over, its shallow roots lift up a plate of soil and leave a sort of pond. This is where Brian is standing – the water is the pond, and his shadow is cast onto the plate of soil that was previously underground! You can see what it looks like in the below photo.

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Another mystery photo below. What caused the marks on this tree branch?

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We looked this up online and found that it is caused by woodpeckers in the summer, making holes in willow to get sap. What a lovely thought, that we are providing sweet drinks for woodpeckers on hot days!

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On other walks together we visited favourite places which were all wetter than usual, creating some lovely reflections.

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And then it snowed! This was the result in our garden of the ‘Beast from the East’. We particularly like the way the teasel heads got covered.

It was lovely while it looked like this and all we had to do was take photos, but it was challenging too, as in this country snow is so rare that we don’t have winter tyres or other preparations. The buses stopped, and when they came back they were unpredictable, so that Lucy ended up walking the last 3 miles home from work one afternoon. Any ideas we may have had before of how great having a White Christmas one year would be are now more realistic!

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Other things we have done recently: we got rid of a chair from the bedroom which was being used as a bedside table. We haven’t replaced it with anything, and the empty corner is making cleaning so much easier. Its been a long time since we decluttered an entire piece of furniture, and it was exciting!

In our shopping, we’re trying to eliminate palm oil. Recently documentaries have opened our eyes about how devastating the effects of palm oil cultivation have been. Really, we knew about this already, but needed a kick up the bum to take action. It is in so many products, that avoiding it has made us very mindful shoppers, and the added bonus is we have massively reduced how many biscuits, cakes etc we could buy – now if we want a treat we usually make it ourselves!

 Library books:

Emily Fridlund – The History of Wolves
Virginia Woolf – The Waves
Rabih Alameddine – The Angel of History
Gail Honeyman – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Elizabeth Strout – My Name is Lucy Barton
Anne Tyler – A Patchwork Planet

 Playlist:

Joanna Newsom – ‘81
Radiohead – Present Tense
Patty Griffin – Kite Song
XTC – The Loving
Thomas Dolby – Cruel
David Bowie –Fill Your Heart
James – Don’t Wait That Long
Smiths – Oscillate Wildly
Joan as Police Woman – Tell Me
REM – I’ve Been High

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Yuletide rest

A new tradition for us is to make sure we have a bit of holiday before Christmas, and this weekend was four days off. We like the pre-Christmas weeks, and taking our time over things to really enjoy them. Our tree has been up for a while now, using alder branches from the garden again, and this is our biggest ever tree!

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Our living room is small but we can pack in a lot of decorations….

Its been a cold December so far. Not much snow, but some very frosty mornings, which can be an issue if you forgot to bring in your laundry.

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It also brings some wonderful wintery skies and bracing walks.

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During our long weekend, Lucy has had a bit of a cold, and the cranberry mince pies made today reflect this…the tops are meant to be stars, but not having the right sort of cutter, she went for the easy option.

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Watching lots of Christmas crafts on TV has inspired the knitting to come out again, and this time without any pressure to develop as a knitter – if all you make is simple scarves, that is fine! It should be a relaxing hobby. We also went to the library and have a good stack of winter reading, all free of charge.

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This will be our last blog of 2017, so thank you for reading our simple living stories, and have a relaxing festive season.

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(Yes, that is a gherkin decoration on the tree!)

 

Recent reading:

Patrick Gale – Notes from an Exhibition (re-read)
Anne Tyler – Breathing Lessons
Sarah Winman – Tin Man
Matthew Quick – The Good Luck of Right Now
Ali Smith – Winter

Current listening:

Aimee Mann – Patient Zero
Jessie Ware  – Alone
Alison Moyet – The Rarest Birds
Sia – Chandelier
Radiohead – The Numbers
Case/Lang/Veirs – Supermoon
Clean Bandit  Symphony
Elbow & John Grant – Kindling (Fickle Flame)