Rays of Light

20170514_195911

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.

IMG_20170521_183811

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.

IMG_20170527_192620

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.

05 23 Foxgloves B sent me

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.

05 17 Ivy gone and jug added

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

may4

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.

may2

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.

may3

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!

may1

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

 

 

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:

20170305_164425

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:

20170306_124244

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

20170313_121942

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.

IMG_20170311_134259

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.

IMG_20170313_132727

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.

20170305_164321

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

January Dawns

When we mentioned Brian coming down with a cold in our last blog, what then actually happened is that we spent the next 10 days with some sort of flu-like virus. Lucy lost her voice for the new year and was then off sick for a few days before returning to work. We had to cancel plans with family and friends. Even so, we were safe and warm, together and without any pressure to accomplish more than the basics of daily life.

When we were ready to venture outside again, the atmosphere had changed from December to January. Our local jackdaw couple were attentively preening each other in an oak tree.

12-27-two-jackdaws-edit

We walked in the fields at sunset, a thin crescent moon overhead. The quality of light at dusk was so beautiful, when the day offers little in the way of sunlight these moments are memorable.

20170102_153733

There are treasures in the garden all year round. Busy little wrens, dunnocks and robins have been picking around for food and singing to us, and there are lots of gulls around, lining up on rooftops. On New Year’s Day morning we had a jay in our cherry tree, seen from the living room window while we were huddled around the TV watching a ballet! There is an exquisite flower out at this time of year too, Wintersweet, which has a powerful exotic fragrance similar to ylang ylang. Brian sowed these seeds around 15 years ago, and it has been producing flowers now for the last four winters.

20170107_140351

While the leaves are off the trees it is the perfect time to admire the beauty of the branches, and we have a 20 year old curly Hazel which comes into its own at this time of the year with its fantastical shapes.

20170107_141042

Now that we both feel better at the end of this first week of 2017, we’re excited about all the things we will do, make, see and discover during the coming seasons.

Current reading:
Dave Goulson – A Buzz in the Meadow
Ali Smith – Hotel World
Lucy Scott – My Tiny Garden
Kazuo Ishiguro – The Buried Giant

Current playlist:
Solange  – Weary
Paolo Nutini – Iron Sky
Christine & The Queens – Saint Claude

 

Emeralds, pincers and snippers

willow-em

Willow Emerald Damselfly

It isn’t often that we spot a species in the garden (or anywhere) that we’ve never seen before, but in the last month it’s happened twice already. First was a Willow Emerald damselfly by the ditch, increasingly being observed in our part of the UK, and then one afternoon we spotted this scurrying around on top of the worm compost bin:

pseudoscorpion

Our friendly local pseudoscorpion

It looks like a bug with pincers, and by typing that into a search engine we quickly found out what it is – a pseudoscorpion, a type of arachnid, very common, virtually everywhere but very rarely seen out and about. It seems to have several mites on it, so it’s a walking habitat itself! (Or are they babies?)

The mites are probably not annoying the pseudoscorpion as much as Lucy’s hair had started to annoy her, having got too long and heavy, so it was also time for a chop last weekend. Only a small amount of actual hair appears to have come off (see below), but it’s significantly shorter as a result – that’s the rebound effect of wavy/curly hair! This was the third home haircut session, and its one of the most rewarding things to be able to do ourselves for free.

hair

Freedom from heavy hair! (this all went in the compost)

This week marks the 1st anniversary of our decision for Brian to leave his job, and it’s  things like home-haircuts that best represent the principle of our decision and our hopes for what life would be like with more time and energy to do things for ourselves. Anything we can do which feels liberating is a step in the right direction.

This week we also:
– Enjoyed the Mercury Music prize and became fans of The 1975, and the winner Skepta
– Modified our woodshed and added more firewood for the coming winter
– Were taken out for a wonderful family meal, walk and catch-up: thank you!
– Went into a good amount of credit on our electricity bill, so await a reduced monthly Direct Debit…

Simple Living Review: Augfest 2016!

aug darter

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:

aug pencil

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.

aug beach

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

aug duckbums

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.

aug willowherb

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:

AUG books

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple Living Review: July

skipper

A Small Skipper butterfly enjoys our lavender

 

Last month was another minimal shopping month. We improved our daily spend on food and drink, which came out at £13.38 per day. As you can see below, we bought very little else of interest! –

Two fills of petrol
Bus season ticket
Glue stick
Nail brush
Flannel
Washing up liquid and giant laundry liquid
Toothpaste, toothbrush, floss
Sunblock and hayfever stuff
Soaps and bubble bath
Cycling trousers
Craft festival and various open garden entry tickets – this was where we spent this month, because it’s the season for leisure and fun and we enjoy nosing about in other people’s gardens! Open Gardens are ideal because the money goes to charity, there are usually some within a short distance, and you can have tea and cake too so it’s a good day out. We usually come away inspired by the colours and plants, but also proud of our own garden’s wildlife value, as often that is missing from very highly planned and horticultural gardens.

This month we had a new moth: this is a Beautiful Hooktip, and it feeds on tree lichens, so we are delighted that the garden is providing enough to attract it in.

moth

We also had flowers on our Small-Leaved Lime (Tilia cordata) tree, which are stunningly pretty and a good source of midsummer nectar for bees and moths.

buds

We’re lucky that as well as the trees and plants we have in the garden, there are other large trees nearby amongst the many houses. There is a big Oak tree not far away, and this Ash (below right) is a popular hang-out for rooks, jackdaws and starlings which we can see from our living room window (and this means we can easily run outside with the camera when a rainbow appears neatly beside it, like this!)

rainbow

We ended the month at a wonderful and generous party with friends, with all you could wish to eat, drink, chat and laugh about, not least the fact that we got massively lost and had to be guided to the house by following a very kind supermarket delivery driver who happened to pass by.

Rose

This month we have continued to feel engaged with the world and when the negativity escalates we try to see that within our small capacity we are doing something to try and live in a sustainable way and to share the message of living simply, peacefully and kindly. We’re coming to the end of our first single-income year and will soon be deciding on our approach to Year Two, but it is unlikely we will change very much. We seem to be on the right track, spending our money and time in ways that reduce stress, aim for sustainability and focus on what really matters.

Lucy’s Music & Book Club:

Music Playlist:
Chvrches – Recover
REM – I’ve Been High
Christine & The Queens – Starshipper
Alessia Cara – Here
Perfume Genius – Queen
Paloma Faith – Just Be

Books read & enjoyed:
Jackie Kay – Reality, Reality
Belinda McKeon – Tender
Ann Patchett – This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

 

 

Heatwave

Simple living definitely helps in a heatwave. Lucy took a few days off from cycling all the way to work, and stopped to get on the Park & Ride bus instead. Brian has been avoiding doing strenuous gardening and housework in the heat of the day and pottering in the shade or in the evenings. The new gravel seating area in the garden has now hosted our first few outdoor evening dinners. There’s no need to be rushing around and overheating: better to hang out in the comfort of the shade and be grateful to be there.

07 02 Achillea

Yarrow (Achillea) – a big garden success this year

 

loosestrife

Stunning native Purple Loosestrife in the boggy area of the garden

 

soup

Brian’s home-made mushroom soup at the garden table…

 

jam

…followed by home-made gooseberry & red berry jam, with the gooseberry bush itself in view

 

We’ve also been enjoying: smelling the jasmine which is now in flower, watching our tame Woodpigeon (Frank) go about his business, having a few summer days out, taking time to read the newspapers and thinking/talking about how the events of this year have given us a kick up the backside about how engaged we are with the world, and what we might do about it next. Articles such as this one about ‘hope in the dark’ are inspiring to us.

Simple Living Review: June 2016

window

Looking outside at the summer sky

We came to the end of June with a renewed sense of the power of living simply.  As events in the wider world continue on their course, it would be easy to feel powerless, but within the many articles we’ve read recently there have been some timely reminders of true positivity. Not going ‘la la la, everything’s fine!’ but acknowledging the reality, harnessing the inner and outer resources that we do have, and working together in the most positive way possible. Keeping our own lives simple is a way of avoiding wasting the limited time we have here on the planet on things that really do not matter. We’re always trying to live up to the title of this blog!

What did we spend and do this month?
We paid a year’s worth of insurance this month so we didn’t save anything overall, we also had an expensive month for food and drink (£15.15 per day), but considering we don’t go on holiday or to many events, having a curry night while watching Glastonbury on TV, for example, is a treat well worth having! Our food treats provide some of the most memorable and grateful times of our lives.

Other spending:
– Petunias for the garden
– A kettle (not had one since 2014)
– Music downloads
– Shoe insoles
– Moisturiser
– Some health supplies
– Some gifts
That’s it. It was a very sparse month on the Excel budget sheet!

 

cosmos

Bumblebee on Cosmos

 

The garden is full of colour and creatures. We plant things which attract a lot of bees, and it’s a great year for baby birds. Recently we are also being visited every day by an energetic and very loud Song Thrush, which sits in a tree or on a rooftop singing for hours on end and is becoming less shy every day, allowing us to walk quite close.

blackbird

Newly fledged blackbird

 

Its also the time of year to stand outside in the evening and enjoy the fragrance of Night Scented Stock. They are so easy to grow, and the scent is unbelievable. During the day, they smell of nothing, but after a certain point in the evening, start to release a rich and intoxicating clove-like perfume. Just as we love our flavoursome food, we love natural wonders like these as they are so simple, so accessible and are truly what matters, giving us great pleasure in our lives and inspiring us every day.

06 28 Night scented stock

Night Scented  Stock

 

Lucy’s Books & Music Corner:

Music
Song of the month: B-52s – Breezin’
Duran Duran – Pressure Off
Patty Griffin – Standing
Christine & The Queens – Tilted / Here
Arcade Fire – Wake Up
Benjamin Clementine – I Won’t Complain
The Last Shadow Puppets – Moonage Daydream (Glastonbury)
Tame Impala – The Less I Know The Better (Glastonbury)
Coldplay – Adventure of a Lifetime / A Sky Full of Stars (Glastonbury)
Sia – Alive

Books 
Ali Smith – How to Be Both
Ann Patchett – Bel Canto
Anne Enright – The Green Road
(And we read a lot of newspapers)

Summer Solstice

DSCF4652

Wandering in the garden at night is one of the gifts of summer. The hollows in our concrete wall (made from blocks found underground) are perfect for holding candles, and the effect is very beautiful, a simple glass ramekin from a dessert creating a lovely reflection in the light.

We had good views of the summer solstice full moon last night. It rose perfectly clear and bright, and then we watched as interesting mists and clouds swept across it. Our camera is not intended for night photography but sometimes captures nice effects anyway:

DSCF4726

We just like to stand quietly, watch and listen: maybe hearing frogs rustling in the grass, birds shifting about in the trees where they roost, and sometimes a special treat of an owl call. The fragrances change at night too. We collected white campion seeds from a roadside especially to bring it into our garden for night-time fragrance – it’s somewhere between hyacinth and jasmine.

DSCF4661

There is a peace and stillness in the garden at night that captures what matters to us. Trying to live a simple life is for us about taking a wider and less self-focussed view, caring about humanity and the world we live in, which is beyond politics but is essentially the most political thing we can do, by living it through positive actions on a daily basis.