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

 

 

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.

IMG_20170429_170103

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

20170419_124237

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

20170419_124719

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

IMG_20170428_1502072

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…

IMG_20170429_170112

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!)

IMG_20170429_150652

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

Dawn chorus & doughnuts

20170409_063327

We’ve had a week’s holiday, which started with a dawn chorus walk. We set out while it was still quite dark at 5.30, and walked through the mist to the woods. We heard deer barking and a mixture of birdsong. Soon we were watching a majestic sunrise through the trees and by the time we got back to the car the skies were blue and the air was warm. Before leaving the wood, we saw a muntjac deer chase a Chinese water deer off it’s territory very aggressively.

We went back to the woods a few days later with one particular treat in mind: jam doughnuts toasted over a fire pit! This makes the sugar melt and go crunchy, and the insides deliciously warm…we forgot to take toasting forks with us, so Brian made some out of branches.

20170411_143327

Garden wildlife is abundant, here is a female orange-tip butterfly (only the males have orange wing-tips) resting in the sunshine.

20170411_091125-3

There was also plenty of time for eating chocolate, sitting in cafés, seeing family, reading, pottering, baths, and experimenting with our cameras when we saw interesting scenes or shapes such as this twisty ivy on a tree trunk…

20170408_175540

Current library bookshelf:
Sebastian Barry – The Temporary Gentleman
Anne Enright – The Forgotten Waltz
Anne Tyler – Vinegar Girl

Lucy’s current playlist:
Talk Talk – Its Getting Late in the Evening
Goldfrapp – Anymore
Thundercat- Them Changes
Dua Lipa – Could Be The One

Living Simply: October 2016

dscf5461

Red and gold leaves, sunrises and sunsets and Strictly Come Dancing – there are many reasons to love the autumn and especially October! We’ve enjoyed it so much this year, and had a relatively simple month although there were some big purchases.

Our washing machine broke after 13 years of service, which is hugely impressive, so we didn’t mind at all spending a day in the city looking for a new one to arrive later this week. Lucy is on a week’s holiday from work and we made a special day out of it with a café breakfast and lunch, and another unexpected purchase shown below.

Here’s our October spending summary:
– An expensive food/drink month, average £16.13 per day but the treats were worth it
– Set of USB charging bicycle lights: no more batteries!
– Bus fares, one fill of petrol
– Green paint for our windows
– A washing machine
– A Christmas decoration
– Shoelaces
– Haircare, soaps
– A pair of Doc Martens!

dscf5465

These were an unplanned buy, made after walking into the city to choose the washing machine and noticing that one of Lucy’s winter boots was slouching uncomfortably to one side. After a discussion about the fact most women’s shoes are badly designed for cold seasons (hard to wear with socks), we ended up in the Doc Martens shop investing in these. They weren’t cheap, but should last for years.

10-19-sunrise

The sky puts on a display on the way to work

October is a spectacular month full of free natural wonders. After the summer’s long days, to see sunrises and sunsets again as part of the office-hours day is a privilege. This month has been particularly stunning, with lots of rainbows and even seeing the full moon set one early morning. There is so much going on out there: every day something special.

dscf5436

Early morning moonset

 

Lucy’s Book & Music Club

OCTOBER SOUNDTRACK:
Anohni – Drone Bomb Me
INXS – Never Tear Us Apart
Christine & The Queens – Safe & Holy
Tame Impala – The Less I Know The Better
Sophie Ellis-Bextor – Crystallise

BOOKS READ:
Anne Tyler – If Morning Ever Comes
Anne Tyler – Back When We Were Grownups

 

Simple Living Review: March 2016

 

DSCF4282

Taking time to appreciate the simple things

March: always the month for us which rushes past the fastest, and this can sometimes mean spending very little (too busy to go shopping) or sometimes spending a lot (too busy to be frugal!). It has been an expensive month this time, but we saved about £25 so we’re still in credit.

We spent an average of £15 per day on food and drink, even higher than last month, however that has to be balanced against the volume of practical jobs that got done as a priority over cooking from scratch. If we had paid someone else to do things for us instead, it would come to a lot more than what we overspent on food and drink!

Our other main purchases were:
– Minor bicycle repair
– Two fills of petrol (unusual!)
– Library borrowing of DVD (Wild)
– Ikea reading lamp
– LED lightbulbs and outdoor light
– Two Lilac bushes
– Sunblock
– Jeans and t-shirts (Brian’s first clothes shopping for almost a year)
– Silver necklace chain to replace one which broke in 2014
– Gifts

March projects and progress

03 01 Stool holes

Warning! Varnished stool slots

From cutting slots into our kitchen stools (above) on 1st March to reducing the height of the Christmas tree on 31st March (below), Brian has had quite a relentless month of practical work of all kinds. The serious tree work was the biggest challenge, and he had help from his friend Andy on a couple of days which made a big difference. Dealing with the trees (and some hedges) has created numerous piles of plant material in all sizes from thick trunks to tiny sticks, which will now keep him busy sorting and storing them for use on our fires next winter.

Here is a before and after of the Christmas tree:

DSCF4280

DSCF4304

It may look horrendous now, but this will grow again and is already being visited by the same birds as before, including blue tits in a nest box. The important thing is that it is now manageable for the future.

This month’s books and music

Music
Song of the month:
Manic Street Preachers – Postcards From a Young Man
Owen Pallett – The Secret Seven
Martha Wainwright – These Flowers
Meilyr Jones – Love
The Smiths – The Boy With the Thorn in His Side
Gossip – Heavy Cross
Years & Years – King

Books (I only finish books I enjoy, so all my listings are recommendations):
Book of the month:
Elizabeth Gilbert – Big Magic
Matthew Quick – Silver Linings Playbook
David Nicholls – Us
Carson McCullers – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (re-read)
John Boyne – The Absolutist
Natalie Goldberg – The True Secret of Writing

February 2016 Simple Living Review

DSCF4062

After two years of writing our blog we’ve been through lots of changes, the biggest of which was Brian leaving paid work almost 6 months ago. February has been the first month where our new budget has really settled in, as we’ve been running it for a while now and have proved to ourselves that we can live well within it.

February Finance
We spent an average of £13.72 per day on food and drink, quite an expensive month, but it reflects the fact that we were busy in lots of other ways and did less cooking from scratch.

Our other main purchases were:
– A bicycle cover to make rainy days easier
– One fill of petrol
– Bus season ticket and a few additional trips
– Hairclips (Christmas money purchase)
– Postage stamps
– Thermal tops
– Gifts
– A pruning saw, latex gloves and clips for fixing in the windows of a greenhouse.

This greenhouse was probably our biggest challenge of the month. The building itself has not cost us anything. It belonged to our neighbour, who has had it since the 1980s but no longer uses it, and gave it to us in return for Brian maintaining her conifer hedge. A few weeks ago we climbed over the wall, removed all the glass panes, and then lifted the aluminium frame over into our garden.

DSCF4075

Brian has since cleaned all the moss and dirt off the frame, and at some point we will put the panes back in, and decide what to grow in it. Its not a priority, and Brian now needs to recover his back as he is currently paying for the more strenuous tasks which he did during the month.

In other news, we thought we might have to replace our fridge. Brian pulled it away from the wall in order to remove the final kitchen floor tiles, and found it had been leaking. Then we noticed the door was wonky, and today the door fell off completely. Brian put it back on and modified the hinge, if anything it is now a bit stronger than before. So we may have got away with that for the time being.

Next month Lucy will share her progress on a goal she set herself: to overcome shyness about singing before reaching the age of 35 (not long to go). Today she took the biggest step so far and went to a free singing workshop and learnt a lot about her voice (particularly that it is quite a low alto and she should stop trying to sing along with Kate Bush). This may result in a budget substitution, as the cost of joining a choir is something to consider. If that comes in, something else will go out.

This close to the spring, things feel naturally positive and although it has been a challenging month in terms of Brian’s pain and mobility, we know we don’t have to rush through life ticking off one task after another, and can take the time we need to look after ourselves and enjoy the world around us. One thoughtful wander around the garden this month led to this discovery:

DSCF4030

We have a mistletoe in our apple tree! It may have arrived naturally, but Brian also made lots of attempts to apply the gelatinous seeds to the bark himself in recent years, so it could be a success from this!

This month’s books and music

With lots of rainy/icy days and bus journeys for Lucy, there was plenty of reading and listening going on this month:

Books (I only finish books I enjoy, so all my listings are recommendations):
Rose Tremain – The Road Home
Patrick Gale – A Place Called Winter
Sarah Winman – A Year of Marvellous Ways
Elmore Leonard – 10 Rules For Writers
Brene Brown – The Gifts of Imperfection

Music:
This month I got back into Madonna in a big way! I’ve been listening to my mp3 record collection A-Z, so I must be about in the middle. Songs of this month:
Madonna – Vogue / Deeper & Deeper / Hung Up
Manic Street Preachers – I Think I Found It
Martin Simpson – Dark Swift and Bright Swallow
Neko Case – Prison Girls
Suede – It Starts and Ends With You

 

A clean chimney, a clean bicycle, and other joys of the season

Autumn leaves like little stars on the pavement

Autumn leaves like little stars on the pavement

Here’s a roundup of some of the things shaping our lives at the moment, now we’re into our second month of being a one-salary/one-homemaker household.

Home maintenance
Based at home, Brian has been tackling some of our longstanding home issues, and uncovering new ones that we hadn’t previously been aware of. Among a big list of jobs, the main activities have been felling a big willow tree and dealing with all the material, and making a start on all the roof repairs: lifting the tiles, preserving the wood, putting in new felt and then putting some new guttering up temporarily while we focus on another job before we come back to the roof.

We have some damp issues due to the concrete around the house which is laid too high and in some places is sloping toward the house. This all needs smashing up, removing and some other solution put in place – we are not sure what!

Today we also did our annual chimney sweep. We took all our belongings out of the room, covered the furniture with sheets (and one over the fireplace with a hole in, after this photo was taken)…

Our living room ready for chimney sweeping

Our living room ready for chimney sweeping

…and two hours later everything was swept, clean, put back in place and we were enjoying our liveliest fire of the year.

We like trying to spot faces and other shapes in the flames...

We like trying to spot faces and other shapes in the flames…

Helpful habits
One of the ongoing niggles Lucy has had over recent years is over bicycle maintenance – how often, how much, how to do it and how to motivate yourself to do it! The solution seems to be this: spend about 20 minutes every Saturday removing crud and grit, checking that the moving parts sound and look ok, oiling everything and pumping the tyres – whether or not it seems to need doing. Just do this every week. Then no problems will go unnoticed, and it’s always clean. It certainly seems to be working, and the bicycle ran really well last week!

The bicycle after it's weekly clean

The bicycle after it’s weekly clean

We can still do whatever fun things we want!
What’s becoming clearer is that there doesn’t have to be any limit on fun now our income is reduced. Most of the things we enjoy doing are free anyway – for example, we like reading library books about home design and interiors, discussing what we like and dislike about the styles, but this doesn’t make us want to actually go out and buy anything.

New books from the library

New books from the library

There’s also ways to make other occasions more affordable. This week Lucy took a day off to go on a family daytrip to a museum in another town, travelling by train – the museum itself was free entry (and the lunch ended up being a treat, but that was unexpected!).

At this time of year we are also starting to feel quite festive, not in a commercialised way, but because we can’t resist the cosiness and sparkle of the Christmas build-up. We’re feeling ready for the season: two Christmas cakes have been made and are being fed with brandy (one more still to make), Lucy has bought some good value (and low-chemical) sparkly nail varnish, and we love nothing more than snuggling up to watch a Christmas film, the more sentimental the better, because they are all about the best in people – and its nice to have a season where that is celebrated! (Click here for a post from the Positively Present blog which captures the messages of Christmas films. It’s not only us that love them!)

Thanks everyone for reading and subscribing. Enjoy the rest of this November!

Cosy Colourful Autumn

DSCF3377a

This weekend we stayed close to home with just a couple of trips out for food. This is always a colourful time of year, but this year one of the trees in our garden has given us a surprise display that we’ve never seen before:

DSCF3368

These leaves are from our North American Hawthorn, and we’ve never seen this ‘traffic light’ effect before. We don’t know what causes it but they are stunning to look at.

At this time of year our attention turns indoors, and we’re spending more time reading and baking, but the garden is still beautiful with lots of things in flower – as you can see reflected in the window of our book cabinet!

DSCF3329

Although we still need to clean our chimney for the year, we’ve started having fires and on a chilly evening the warmth and glow couldn’t be more cosy. One of the things we keep meaning to do is to light candles more often, but we usually forget – not tonight though, as we have been enjoying the first use of this candle holder which Brian bought years ago and has never used.

DSCF3381

None of this costs much to enjoy, all it needs is for us to pay attention.

Simple Living Review, Money Month 3 (Year 2)

Can't wait to eat that kale!

Can’t wait to eat that kale!

It’s the 21st, which means it’s the end of another money month and time to look back and review how we’re doing. We’re now 15 months in to deliberately simplifying our lives, and it really is becoming easier and easier to want and spend less. Our lives are increasingly being lived in a different way, where time is our main currency – and we’re also getting better at how we spend that!

This month actually felt very financially spendy. Lucy bought some jewellery, but it was with birthday money. We also had lots of other little costs, such as medication for hayfever season and the annual sunblock supply, which we thought would add up much more than they did. We have actually had one of our best months ever in terms of total money saved, and it equated to 35% of our income.

Here’s what we bought other than the usual food, drink and consumables:
– A pair of long handled shears
– Floor mats for the car
– Fixing bicycle wheel
– Jewellery with birthday money
– 3 visits to Open Gardens
– A set of second hand metal shelves for the garden
– A ceramic frying pan
– A nail brush
– Sunblock
– Father’s day trip

Time has been on our minds this month, and how to slow it down. Spring seems to flash by so fast. Lucy has found that part of her problem was having too many hobbies and things to do every day, and by spreading them out a bit more, each day feels more spacious and lingering. For example, it’s now yoga every other night instead of every night, giving time for more evening wanders in the garden together, reading, etc.

The best area of savings was our work-related food. The plastic containers bought last month have continued to be brilliant for Lucy, providing a full breakfast, lunch and snack every day. (And by reducing the hobbies, there’s more time to spend on making the food up the night before!).

Carrot, hummus and lentil chips every workday!

Carrot, hummus and lentil chips every workday!

It’s going to be a more expensive month next as we have a big bill to pay and clothes to replace among other things, but there’s always areas of the budget we can focus on reducing when other ones are high.

Our garden harvest will start being useable soon, this year we are focussing on kale, salad and tomatoes. It’s going to be a tasty summer!

Kale protected from pigeons

Kale protected from pigeons

Year 2, Money Month 1…the month in review

DSCF1880

An unexpected flower pops up by the corner of the woodshed

We were excited to start the second year of our mindful spending adventure on 22 March. Having paid off a loan last year, now our goal is simply to spend as mindfully as we can, because all of our consumption has an impact on the planet, and our own peace of mind.

Month 1 of year 2 was an average month for us, which is good! We saved 34% of our income.

What did we buy:
Aside from food & drink, transport, gifts and everyday consumables, we bought: a second hand yoga book, sweet pea seeds, hairclips, music mp3s, shoelaces, t-shirts, hair conditioner, and a hemp rucksack!

Highlights of the month:
– The hemp rucksack was a worthwhile expense as it is very small and light and is encouraging Lucy not to carry such a lot of stuff around. A rucksack is also much better for your back compared to a shoulder bag
– Watching ‘Tiny House Nation’ on More4 has given us a weekly boost of simple living inspiration
– We spent a lot on food this month, even though we were also treated by our family! But if we’re going to spend, food is a good area to spend on, as most of it is healthy and good quality.
– Brian has pollarded several of the tallest garden trees, which is a sustainable way of getting extra firewood as they will then be left to grow back for the next few years. We are making good progress on our home to-do list
– Lucy has knitted one fingerless glove and learned how to cast on in crochet
– We discovered we had two forks which neither of us ever use because we disliked the shape. So Brian spent Sunday afternoon filing them into a much nicer, curvier style – now we have two unique and bespoke forks!

forks

The UK election build-up is also quite motivating in a weird way. Because it is all so frustratingly far away from what we would like to see, we are spending a lot of time together discussing our feelings about everything and articulating our desire for change!

There are no obvious purchases we need to make in the coming month, so we have a good chance of saving our highest percentage yet – and enjoying the challenge whatever the outcome.