May Days

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

Dawn chorus & doughnuts

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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.

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

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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…

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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

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

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

 

Living Simply: October 2016

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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