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

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

 

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!

Simple Living Review: May 2016

Today we enter the final quarter of our first single income year and we’re starting to think about how we might budget differently in the future given how this first year has gone. May has been a really good month and we have saved 10% of our income.

What did we spend and do this month?
An average £13.44 on food an drink per day. We think next year’s target will be £12 per day instead of the very difficult £10 we set ourselves this year!
– Bicycle oil, biodegradable cleaner and an inner tube
– One fill of petrol
– Driving licence renewal
– A few bus journeys
– One choir attendance, one Open Garden day out
– Library loan of Game of Thrones box set
– Garden axe
– 20 bags of gravel for our new seating area (not all used)
– Dental floss, toothpaste, sunblock, soap, deodorant
– Birthday gifts

Brian completed the transformation of part of our garden. It started as a shady and neglected flowerbed and concrete path, and is now a gravel seating area with a flinty feature around the remaining area of soil which has our gooseberry bush in it. The wall at the end is made of the concrete blocks that were under the flowerbed which he dug out.

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We recently enjoyed our first proper sit out there together with cheese sandwiches and crisps, very sophisticated!

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We also enjoyed lots of fun and leisure time this month, such as the Eurovision Song Contest which was the perfect opportunity for Lucy to start work on her decorate-it-yourself garden gnome which she got for her birthday. Here is his journey so far:

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Stage one: hat and beard

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Stage two: Well on the way to gnome perfection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What did we learn?
This month has involved slowing right down and letting go of many of our self-imposed schedules and deadlines, to prioritise wellbeing. Our seating area is brilliant but was very physically draining to get done. We’ve realised that nothing in the house or garden is that urgent if we are safe, warm and dry – it can all slow down now.

It has been good for us to rethink a lot of things and talk to each other about it. For Lucy, doing a bit of the cooking and cleaning again has been pretty fun, as its an excuse to listen to music, sing and dance around a bit while achieving something productive!  So, we think we are getting better all the time at being able to adjust and compromise, which feels like a really powerful strength to have.

Goals for next month:
Next month we would like to stay slow and simple in our goals, and just take each day as it comes rather than set ourselves up with a list of things we must achieve. So, if we can relax and enjoy watching Wimbledon at the end of June untroubled by thoughts of what we should have got done, then it will have been a successful month!

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Lucy’s Books & Music Corner:

Music
Song of the month:
 Beach House – Lazuli
Penny & The Quarters – You and Me
Christine & The Queens – Half Ladies
Nao – Girlfriend
And Bonnie Raitt on Jools Holland’s show doing a cover of ‘Need You Tonight’ by INXS!

Books 
Book of the month: Anna Gavalda – Consolation
(There was a lot about this book I liked, and a lot I didn’t like, but it was the one which resonated most with me when I was enjoying it, so that’s why it had to be number one.)
Stephen Chbosky – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Tove Jansson – Travelling Light
Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Project

Middle of Spring

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It’s time to take a moment and acknowledge that we’re in the middle of Spring. Our tomato plants are growing, the evenings are long and light and we’re onto our last bag of coal for the fire so we hope that temperatures will keep rising too!

Here is where Brian is up to in one of the major tasks in our garden. This space used to be a concrete path that made the house damp and a flower bed that never really worked because of the shade. Now it’s being turned into a seating area that will get the morning sun and be protected from direct sunlight for the later part of the day. We still need to decide what to put on the ground. It’s too muddy to leave uncovered but we don’t want to just use concrete slabs.

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This week we’ve bought some new plants for the garden: a blackcurrant bush, a red Geranium, two Achilleas, a Salvia and the blue Lithodora below. The garden is heading towards being more low maintenance, colourful, relaxing and also more easy to socialise in.

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Soon it will be warm enough to sit outside and read a book in the evening after work…below is Lucy’s current stack from the library. Although at the moment its a bit too chilly for outdoor reading most of the time, our big living room window creates a wonderful warm reading space on the sofa which feels almost like being outside.

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We are lucky to have a ditch in our garden and Brian has also been improving the water flow and creating a sandy patch for bathing birds by trudging up and down on the clay bottom in wellies which has already attracted a tiny bathing Goldcrest. At the deepest end, this week we spotted a male Smooth Newt with a frilly back, and there’s lots of frogspawn too. As the moon waxes over recent days, we’ve also seen it reflecting in the water, a very beautiful sight.

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Lucy went to her first choir session last week, a free trial, which was very enjoyable and definitely fun to continue if we can integrate the cost into our budget without causing problems anywhere else. This is a challenge that will be motivating and inspiring, similar to when we had a loan to pay off or wanted to prove to ourselves that Brian could leave paid work. There are still areas where we can make savings with a few changes to habits and routines: toiletries, food, electricity usage for hot water.

If this is your favourite time of year make sure you take time to slow down and enjoy it so that it doesn’t flash past too quickly. Things change on a daily basis in Spring. Any day now we should see the first swallows arrive (and house martins, then swifts). The glass ones in our lean-to are eagerly awaiting the first sighting of some real ones!

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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

 

January 2016 Simple Living Review

January sunrise

We’re saying goodbye to January today, a month that hardly anyone looks forward to but which has actually been quite magical this year. Starting and ending the day with starry skies on cloudless days, beautiful sunrises when the sky is cloudy, and every day a bit more light and a few more signs of spring. Everything is waking up.

We have some very flirty birds in our garden now and today we spent an hour doing the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. The highlight was two tiny goldcrests with the brightest fiery orange crests we’ve ever seen, busily catching insects on the Norway Spruce.

This month has also been very motivating, and this has come from a diverse range of sources: reflecting on David Bowie, getting angry about events in the news, being moved by incredible music and writing, and seeing some of the ideas we care about becoming more mainstream (such as the new series of Tiny House Nation starting, and finding out about another tiny house series starting soon). The best thing we saw this month was Satish Kumar’s Earth Pilgrim documentary set on Dartmoor. Whenever we feel like we’re just a drop in the ocean, we look around us and realise we’re actually part of a tide!

Financial review

We’re been good savers this month, with 15% of our income left over. There were more No Spend Days than ever before. Here’s where the spend money went (other than the usual bills etc)

Food and drink: We averaged £11.75 per day. Our original £10 a day goal looks like it was quite unrealistic, but we’ll keep it for now as it is still motivating us!
Transport: Parking at the seaside, one fill of petrol, Park & Ride top-up
Luxuries: MP3 downloads, and a plain notebook to cover with fabric for Lucy’s next project
Home and Garden: We bought a handheld blender for making soups, £20
Health & wellbeing: Dental check-up, soap, shampoo and special offer sunblock (thinking ahead!)
Clothing & accessories: Lucy has to confess now to an impulse buy, a set of 3 sparkly stud earrings from a supermarket of all places. It was an unplanned purchase but they were really, really sparkly and it was only just after Christmas! (A £5 moment of weakness).

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Green tea break

 

As we get more used to our new balance of roles, some of the ways we spend our time are changing. Lucy is doing more reading and more yoga and is nurturing the thought of trying some creative writing and/or playing her guitar again. She has also developed a love of decaffeinated jasmine green tea!

Brian is managing his time more in tune with what he needs physically, to minimise pain and the risk of injury with his back, neck, wrists and knees. We’re almost ready to research and shop for new kitchen flooring as almost all the horrible sticky floor tiles have been removed. Once all the day’s work is done, evenings are often spent working gently on one of his home-made walking sticks. More about those soon!

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Words and music (Lucy’s nerd corner):

This month’s favourite songs:

David Bowie – Lazarus
Low – Point of Disgust
Love – the whole of the Forever Changes album
Billie Holiday – This is Heaven to Me
Antony & The Johnsons – Bird Gerhl and the cover version by The Unthanks

This month’s reading:

Colm Toibin – Nora Webster
John Boyne – A History of Loneliness
James Kelman – How Late It Was, How Late

December 2015 Simple Living Review

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We’ve reached a milestone – our first December, and therefore Christmas, on one income. We have been living as if this was our situation for the last couple of years (living on one salary and saving all of the other one), but this was the first year where it was for real!

The amount of shopping we did this year was significantly reduced, especially on festive food items for ourselves, although we were also a bit more creative with some of our gifts.  We still have some Christmas spending to do, because we’re cooking a meal for some of our family in lieu of bought & wrapped presents. Next year we should have more energy to put into Christmas. This year we were definitely still feeling our way and getting over the stress levels which led to the changes which we made to our lives during the year.

What did we buy this month?
Food and drink: our average daily spend was £13.24. Last December it was more like £16, so we’ve definitely cut back. Between Christmas and New Year we had 5 ‘No Spend Days’ in a row which was pretty exciting!
Two fills of petrol – one at the very start of the month, and one on the last day of the month
Luxuries: Lucy downloaded 3 songs and bought a copy of a favourite novel from a charity shop for re-reading

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Home/Garden: DIY gloves, a flannel, the Mahonia shrub and this little antique glass ink bottle we bought for 75p for our mantelpiece. The heart is from a craft shop and was something Lucy stuck to a box of truffles as one of Brian’s birthday gifts.

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Domestic: Big bulk laundry liquid, batteries, and sticky tape
Health/Wellbeing: A few medical expenses, and Lucy bought a half price epilator. Over the longer term this will save money on razor heads and it seems to be  much better for skin. The most thrifty and eco option is of course hairy legs, but this is one area where personal preference came first!
Clothing: Underwear
Gifts: compared to last year we spent around a third less on Christmas and December birthdays, which is what we were aiming for as we didn’t want to reduce it so far that we felt stingy. We also still have a good budget for birthdays and other occasions throughout the year.

Things we did and thought about:
Although we don’t celebrate New Year as such, as the month has come to an end we’ve been reflecting on where we are and how things are changing. Brian is finding it easier to pace himself on weekdays when Lucy is at the office, instead of pushing through too many physical and demanding jobs because it feels as if every moment must be productive to be justified. Sometimes the best thing to do is to take it easy, rest and enjoy life!

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Reflections in the river on a winter walk

To help with this, we’ve been thinking about how our home works, and ensuring we both have places we can relax, such as reading corners. Brian has rigged up the spare desk lamp down the back of the sofa, so when he wants to read he can lift it out and use it as a spotlight.

We also love music, but haven’t yet found a way to set up speakers so that we can easily listen to it. Everything we have is digital, and we sold all our CDs a few years ago, and neither of us have a proper mp3 player – it’s all on the laptop. But there must be a way around it!

Little things like this can make such a difference to how effectively you can enjoy your home and your life in comfort, and often they cost nothing. It’s been wonderful to have a chunk of time off together this holiday season, so that we can talk about and try out ideas like this. As always, it’s the simplest things which have the greatest value and give the most pleasure…

…such as making nerdy music lists, which Lucy will now be providing each month. These were the songs which provided the soundtrack to our December.

December 2015 – Songs of the month:
Neko Case – Hold On, Hold On
Laura Marling – Darkness Descends
Jónsi – Hengilas
Adem – Love And Other Planets
Kate Bush – Sunset
The Weeknd – I Can’t Feel My Face (for everyone who loved Strictly Come Dancing this year. It appears in this winners’ dance – although we voted for Kellie!)

Happy January!