The mini-meadow and more

Out in the garden there is an abundance of colour…

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Plenty of lifeforms are enjoying it as well as us! The mini-meadow is full of bees, hoverflies and butterflies (especially gatekeepers).  Brian saw a vole running into cover, so it’s exciting to know there are mammals in there. This year we have also got grasshoppers again after they were absent for a while. They are much harder to find and photograph than crickets!

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A very obliging cricket

One new visitor is this meadow long horn moth:

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As the sunsets get slightly earlier, it’s easy to catch a stunning sky on an evening walk. It was also a great month for cycling to work, often after a rain shower when everything is fresh and bright.

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Lucy has had a week’s holiday from work, so it is staycation time again. We finished July with a visit to a water garden, where we sat on a little bridge over a trout pond, took off shoes and socks and splashed our feet in the lovely (cold) water! That is our kind of ‘seize the day’ activity…

The rest of our staycation has included catch-ups with friends, including a trip to a family festival (just a shame we are all too big for bouncy castles), leisurely mornings, a lot of cake (cheaper than each choosing our own desserts though…), and relaxed evenings at home. 

JULY BOOKSHELF:
Patrick Ness – A Monster Calls
Anne Patchett – Commonwealth
John Boyne – Beneath the Earth
Philip Pullman – The Amber Spyglass
Rachel Joyce – The Music Shop

JULY PLAYLIST:
XTC – Summer’s Cauldron
Laura Marling – Soothing
Owen Pallett – The Riverbed
Perfume Genius – Just Like Love
Rufus Wainwright – Across the Universe
Eurythmics – There Must Be an Angel
Paloma Faith – Upside Down

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On Holiday…

by Lucy

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Hanging out in the woodshed on a sunny/rainy day

We’re on holiday! Its my first week of annual leave since Christmas and I have been very excited about it, as February/March is by far my busiest time at work and the speed at which the days can flash past is quite frightening. I love the Spring and want to savour it properly.

Having a holiday means something slightly different since Brian shifted from paid work to house-husband, and so now I try to do more cooking, fire-lighting, cleaning and gardening than I normally would, so that overall we are both doing less than usual and both feel like we are on holiday.

But of course the main thing about being on holiday is leisure and time together….lovely hours of pottering, reading, listening to music, watching films, chatting, stretching, walking and of course eating! Brian’s son gets to chill out and do his favourite things and we can relax into each day at our own pace.

For this holiday I decided to buy a bottle of wine. We saw a feature on TV recently which said the flavour of red wine is improved if you get air into it e.g. whizzing it in a blender. So, we tried this:

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Wine blending experiment

And it did make a difference. After a taste test we agreed that the aerated wine was more smooth and blackcurranty. Sometimes we share a glass between us as Brian only has a few sips and on Saturday we made one glass last the entire length of The Voice (even saving a tiny bit for the results show). The picture on the bottle has also inspired Brian to think about doing a mural on our living room wall. So, good value!

Practical activities don’t stop when we are on holiday. Having two of us at home is a good chance to tackle bigger jobs safely. This weekend we felled the remaining long limb of the willow tree, to turn it into a pollard, which we can cut back on a rotation every few years and use the regrowth for kindling. A renewable resource in our own back garden, and totally free.

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The final willow limb is pollarded

Now there is only really one big tree job to deal with (reducing our Christmas tree’s height), and then we will have entered a new era of having a low maintenance garden. Brian has been doing a staggering amount of work in recent weeks dealing with trees, compost, concrete, drainage and ground levelling.

Something else new in our lives soon might be me joining a choir. I recently went on a free singing workshop as a first step toward my goal of getting over shyness about singing by the time I’m 35. It helped me understand my voice better, and now I am trying to sing along with people who have the same range as me which includes Fiona Apple, Tracey Thorn, Alison Moyet, KT Tunstall, Beach House, Tears for Fears, James and, as I’ve discovered this week, Morrissey! Knowing I can hit all the notes properly helps me sing louder and be more relaxed. No one has said yet that they have had enough of hearing my singalong  of ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ coming from the bathroom, so I will continue…and soon I hope I can sing around the rest of the house too.

I have about a month to go to meet my goal, and the next term of the local choir starts in 2 weeks time, so…I think I will have to give it a go. If I like it, the cost of going can be offset by buying much cheaper toiletries. I recently discovered a new budget range based on natural ingredients which will save us loads.

How to get to the choir is an issue that’s been on my mind. As always, I want to give up driving because of my previous panic attacks but I also don’t want to ‘give up’ on anything, so I may try driving there if there is somewhere easy to park. Perhaps combining driving with singing, which releases relaxing and happy hormones, is the perfect combination of activities!

A week off in the Spring is always a special time and with plants, insects and bird activity increasing every day there are surprises and wonderful sights. I’ve now seen my first butterfly of the year, there are birds carrying lots of nesting material, and we have had an unexpected new colour of wallflower open up.

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A new colour of wallflower for our garden

This has got to be the best time of year – whatever time you can take to enjoy it, happy Spring!

Summer Staycation: drifting to a close

A stone with a sparkly smile

A stone with a sparkly smile

These have been the last few days of our summer staycation, as tomorrow we will both be back at work. As always, we started the holiday questioning ourselves and our use of time a lot: ‘Are we doing the holiday right? Is this what we should be doing with our time? Is this enjoyable or not?’ And then, fairly quickly settling into our natural groove.

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Our best day out came at the end of the holiday on Saturday when we went to a proper seaside resort for a proper seaside visit: ice creams, beach, fish and chips, gift shop browsing, and ice creams again! We came home with some excellent stones (pictured above and below), a lost golf ball that we found on the beach, and a new notebook for Lucy to do our budgets and to-do lists for the next few months (from the gift shop!). Lucy did most of the driving and started to turn around her difficulty with it and even enjoy it (and not only because she has decided she can have a bowl of chocolate cereal as a reward for each drive.)

Stone with a crescent moon, and red stripe stone

Stone with a crescent moon, and red stripe stone

On another day we had to wait in for an electrician after our hot water and oven stopped working due to a faulty RCD unit. This was annoying, but we did get a lot of decluttering done. Lucy found a practical use for a pretty guinea-fowl feather that was sitting around gathering dust by using it as a bookmark – seen here in our latest library book, which happens to be about decluttering!

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And on the day we went to the village library, we wandered slowly back finding some plum trees on the way where we collected some tasty fruit. We played ping pong nearly every day, and in the evenings we played card games and on the last night together Brian got the guitar out for some freeform improvisation!

After Brian’s son had headed back to his mum’s after two weeks with us, we ended the staycation with a burst of productivity: chain-sawing, chopping and moving a big stack of firewood. We were hot and tired, but glad to have something practical to show for our week as well.

Taking a rest in the middle of the job

Taking a rest in the middle of the job

Summer Staycation Week 1

Today is the halfway point of our summer staycation so we’re checking in with a quick blog about what this time has meant for us so far.

As always, by the time we have a holiday from work/school we’re all in need of some proper downtime. Garden pottering, reading, card games, napping, baking, baths, and gazing out of the window at wildlife are top of our list of luxuries. We’ve also recently invented the game of garden ping pong, which can be played on our small lawn with two ping pong bats and a ball – no table or net required, you just try to keep the longest rally going. Its surprisingly challenging and energetic and a lot of fun, especially when one of our trees steals the ball. In the evenings, bats visit our garden and all the swifts gather together to go up out of sight to sleep in the sky.

For days out this week, we had a family birthday meal, a coastal trip and a visit to friends. At the coast, we all rediscovered our love of the sea and pebbles, and made some natural sculptures.

Brian's pebble stack

Brian’s pebble stack

At our friends’ we enjoyed a curry which was made between all of us: we made the main curry and they provided delicious naan breads, onion bhajis, samosas and rice (plus tea and cake afterwards!). We went to visit their beehives and got to see inside (Lucy got the closest look, as she was wearing the spare safety outfit). We also got to play on their little boy’s giant trampoline, a new experience for Brian!

Like us, they have a mini meadow in the garden and we spotted this lovely longhorn beetle:

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And, just before we were about to head home, this bizarre insect turned up. We need to try and work out if it’s a parasitic wasp or a fly:

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The week has gone by at a leisurely pace, and now we’ve got another week off, with no particular plans at all. There are things we need to get done, but they’ll happen when the time is right.

A little rant from Lucy: While standing on the shore at the coast, I was also reflecting on the fear of driving which is always hovering over my shoulder on days out. This time I got really angry with it – not with myself, with the habit of being anxious. I’m reading ‘Daring Greatly’ by Brené Brown at the moment, and the anger plus the theme of the book together seem to have given me the kick up the bum I needed to ‘dare greatly’ myself and stride towards overcoming it for good. I didn’t drive back from the coast, but I did make a mix CD of songs that remind me of times when I’ve done something confident in the past, and I drove to the supermarket the next day, and to our friends’ today. I’m not going to put up with this worry obstructing our holidays any more!

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Sunlight on Life

DSCF1742At the end of our week off work, we are feeling very fortunate to have had this time together and to be able to choose how we spent each day. It has been a very mindful week, with lots of time spent outside in the warmth of the sun. The sun can only shine on the present moment, and we can only reside in the present moment.

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It has been a week of peace and productivity: walking, chatting, playing catch and card games, sowing seeds, laughing, pottering in the garden, taking photos, reading, knitting, watching birds and frogs, eating delicious food and Easter chocolate, relaxing, seeing friends and family (and being treated to a very generous family meal out), and making a composting toilet in the woods!

Here is our composting toilet project – this was taken during construction, since then more cover has been added. But from this position, the person on the ‘throne’ gets a wonderful view, while being concealed from anyone on the paths. The toilet is a mango chutney barrel with a friend’s broken toilet seat attached on a piece of wood.

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The other big achievement this week was that Lucy did her furthest drive ever in our car – taking the three of us about 65 miles to the coast, which may not seem that big a deal, but having always been a very nervous driver and not having driven at all since Christmas, it was a major event! It means we are ending the week with more confidence and skills than we started it with.

Seedling protection

Seedling protection

The garden has been coming to life and is full of very busy & noisy birds, frogs and emerging insects. All the seeds we have sown are coming up, and today these seedlings received protection from blackbirds and wood pigeons who like to pull things out of pots.

Who, me? Yes, you!

Who, me? Yes, you!

There were so many wonderful sights, sounds and treats this week, it has been a very special family time together. Peaceful, productive and sociable, we couldn’t have asked for more.

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Simply a week off!

We managed to spread out our holiday this year so we could take a week in the autumn, rather than working right through from August to Christmas as we have always done before. Taking a holiday at this time of year has given us a chance to really appreciate the autumn colours and take our time doing some of the jobs which need doing.

Brian’s son was with us for the first half of the week, and we didn’t put ourselves under pressure to do or achieve anything expect relax and be together! The priority was doing whatever we wanted. We quickly both came down with colds that had been lingering around for a while, which is annoying but does help make us look after ourselves. We enjoyed: going to the library, baking, having friends round for soup and cake, playing card games, reading an interesting novel twice (Lucy), making a wooden spoon and watching a sparrowhawk catch and eat a dove (Brian), working on a you-tube channel and juggling with apples (Brian’s son), organising firewood, napping, and indulging in some proper family TV like Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor, and the Wizard of Oz (and dancing around to the music).

For the second half of the week, we’ve carried on at our slow and restorative pace.

We went for a walk and enjoyed the autumn colours, and collected some fantastic pine cones which we can use to make a Christmas display.

We love autumn colours

We love autumn colours

We did some slow shopping for groceries, enjoying it rather than rushing through it. We grooved around to our latest seasonal mix CD in the car on the way! The shopping included some special treats:

Treats. Brian is stirring his coffee with the wooden spoon he made this week.

Treats. Brian is stirring his coffee with the wooden spoon he made this week.

This time of year is also chimney sweeping time. For the last 10 years we’ve tried to do this on a Sunday, or even by taking a day off especially, which has made us feel rushed and stressed because it takes up a lot of time and energy. We did this year’s sweep today, and doing it during a holiday week was so much more enjoyable as we could take our time. Seeing the brush appear is always a nice moment!

The brush appearing at a jaunty angle

The brush appearing at a jaunty angle

Giving the room a deep clean afterwards is also a great motivator to do some de-cluttering. There wasn’t anything to de-clutter in the living room but we ended up removing all the nick-nacks from the shelf above the kitchen window and throwing most of them away! The little glass bottles that which were up there will make an interesting display somewhere we can appreciate them more easily.

Now we still have a weekend to get fully over our colds and enjoy more of what autumn life has to offer.

Simple staycation part three: family fun and peaceful pottering

The final few days of our simple staycation have been a mixture of fun family trips out, and more gentle pottering at home. We’ve been musing on the fact that this was what most people used to do during their time off work, especially during school holidays – now we have the word ‘staycation’ to help explain that we’re not having the sort of holiday that you have to pack a suitcase for.

We went to the seaside for a family day out: Brian’s son got to hang out with his big brother all day (he also drove us, what a luxury), we played stone throwing games on the beach aiming at various targets, had ice creams twice, and fish and chips. We also brought home a stone with a sort of marine creature emblem, and a stone that looks a tiny bit like a hedgehog.

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During the quieter parts of the last few days, we’ve carried on pottering at our leisure. This included productive tasks like cleaning the car, pruning, and baking muffins. Also, we had a lot of fun: playing card games, watching Shed of the Year, and having a game of boule in the garden, which ended suddenly when there was a downpour (which Brian’s son encouraged by doing a rain dance a few seconds before!)

Today we went to a local Open Garden a few miles down the road with Lucy’s parents. The garden was inspiring as it was so full of colour and fragrance, and we enjoyed some impressive cakes. Swooping all around us were more swallows and housemartins than we have ever seen in one place before.

We finished our holiday with a long evening marsh walk, where we saw a young cuckoo and heard some sort of mammal chewing on something very nearby on the riverbank. We hoped it was a water vole, but couldn’t see it at all. Next Spring we’ll do a dawn chorus walk there to enjoy the magic of morning birdsong and wildlife rustlings. Brian received compliments about his home-made holly walking stick from a friendly passer-by (twice – we passed him at both ends of the walk!) As always, we also enjoyed the kissing gates!

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Thanks for all the lovely comments this week. One of the nicest things about the holiday has been time to read other blogs and be inspired by the many other people trying to simplify their lives in big and tiny ways. It all matters and it all adds up.