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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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Rays of Light

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

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

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Mexican Fleabane in our concrete block wall

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

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

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

Current library bookshelf:
Philip Pullman – The Amber Spyglass

Lucy’s current playlist:
James – Nothing But Love

 

Bright days, flowers and socks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fortnightly favourites: daffodils, bee flies, cuckoo flower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outdoors every day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple Living Review: July

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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