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

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

Looking to the moon and wildlife

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

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

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

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

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A jolly Santa watches over the baking process

 

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

The evolution of breakfast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emeralds, pincers and snippers

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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

 

 

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.

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Yarrow (Achillea) – a big garden success this year

 

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Stunning native Purple Loosestrife in the boggy area of the garden

 

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

 

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…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.