Seasonal life and light

Since we last wrote it has become Spring! As the season changes, we can really appreciate the fact that we are on a turning Earth and every day feels different, with more of nature awakening.

Mornings now mean sunrises, each one different, and sometimes it’s possible to look at it directly when it’s low and orange. How exciting to glimpse it through the trees…

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…and once you are past the trees, you get to see it owning the sky.

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In the last two weeks the ground has transformed into colour with snowdrops, winter aconites and crocuses, making our walks bright and cheerful.

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There’s also an abundance of hazel catkins this year, eye-catching where they hang on otherwise bare trees. As the sun sets at the other end of the day, it lights up their intricate details.

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We hope your days are warming with the spring and bringing hope and change.

Current reading:
Ali Smith -Autumn
Sara Taylor – The Lauras
Ann Patchett – State of Wonder
Neil Pasricha – The Happiness Equation

Lucy’s current playlist:
Milagres – Glowing Mouth
Christine & The Queens – Wandering Lovers
Lamb – Gorecki
Foo Fighters – Walking After You

Spring walks and garden finds

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Over the last few days the signs of spring are everywhere, especially at ground level. We spotted a bright patch of Sweet Violets on a walk. Their fragrance is stunning, almost jasmine-like but entirely unique.

It seems to be a very good year for Lesser Celandine. In the woods, verges and in our garden there are more  of these perfect yellow stars reaching up to the sun than we can remember seeing in past years.

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Many of the trees are still wintery and bare although on closer inspection there are buds forming. However, there is plenty of blossom to enjoy, such as on this Cherry Plum tree in a churchyard.

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One of our favourite non-native wild flowers grows in our garden (although it doesn’t really like to be there and never gets any bigger). Lungwort has beautiful jewel-like flowers in rich purples and pinks.

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Now our holiday week is at an end, although we made it last into Monday morning by having breakfast together in the city before Lucy went to work. That was a very special start to the day and well worth £10! And today in the garden, Brian found something unusual underground while clearing the rubble from our demolished concrete path: we think this is a leg bone from some butchered beef:

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Whatever it is, it has been down there a long, long time. Amazing what you can find outdoors!

Winter Cycling Report 2015-16

By Lucy

This winter I decided to keep a proper record of how I was travelling to work, and see how much cycle commuting I was doing. Here are the results:

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It definitely has not been a hard winter so I was surprised that I didn’t cycle more. But then it was a very wet winter, and while I don’t mind cycling in the rain when I can see where I’m going, cycling in the rain and in the dark is not fun, especially when you wear glasses (someone needs to invent and produce some teeny-tiny windscreen wipers).

Once I got a feel for how I was doing my challenge was to keep it above 60%. It dropped a few times but I got it back up just in time!

It’s not the most obviously motivating season to cycle in, but there are some things you get from a winter commute that are missing from the rest of the year. Setting off to work under the pre-dawn stars is always surreal, and being able to see a sunrise and a sunset on most days becomes easy to take for granted. Also, you never get too hot, and don’t have to wear sunblock!

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An inky blue pre-dawn sky with blurry crescent moon

 

This winter I have seen so many different skies including the rare rainbow coloured clouds earlier this month. I’ve also heard birds singing in the dark, felt every kind of weather on my face, smelled the first blossom of the year, sung Christmas songs to myself and seen one early-morning fox, with a big rusty orange tail, as it ran out in front of me.

I love the personal thinking time that I get on my bicycle before and after work and this can feel even more magical in the early mornings of winter. I can work through worries, use my imagination and, sometimes, just be meditative and mindful listening to the sound of my wheels.

Even on the Park and Ride days I get several miles cycling to and from the bus depot. I always appreciate the convenience of living near to this service, and on a rainy, windy or icy  day to be able to lock up my bike, head to the back of the bus and settle in with music and a novel is pure luxury. Then I get a nice 10 minutes walk to the office at the other end. However, the cost adds up and so I do always need a good reason to use the bus rather than keep going on two wheels all the way.

My bicycle has done me proud and I was going to give it a big clean up yesterday to welcome the Spring, but I’ve run out of rubber gloves so that didn’t happen. I am sure it can get me through my first week of Spring cycling as it is. And of course I’ll be tracking my stats for the next 3 months and will share how I got on. I’m aiming for 85% cycling at the least!

Sun Dogs, Gloves and Cakes

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This week we are on staycation, meaning that Lucy is off work, and Brian is having more leisure than on regular house-husbandry days. It’s also half term, and we’re enjoying some family time.

This week is also a good opportunity to get moving on some cost-saving ideas. We’ve already made a few changes since becoming a one-salary/one-home-maker team:
– Lucy’s mobile phone switches provider this week, saving £36 per year
– We’ve now moved nearly all our email archive into a new inbox as our internet provider will be the next switch, saving £200+ per year
– We’ve been conducting experiments on our electricity usage and whether we change supplier or just change our habits as a result, we should make savings there too.
– We’ve tested the area around our bungalow to see if damp is likely to occur and found that the concrete path is too high and in some places slopes in the wrong direction, and been discussing what to do about this
– Lucy has had her second home-haircut from Brian, definitely salon standard!

The last few days have also given us some perfect autumn weather and we took advantage of this with a long walk yesterday through woodland (also collecting free chestnuts), a community orchard (picking some free and delicious apples), a pretty village, and a church. It was the perfect day for Lucy to try out her fingerless gloves which she has just finished:

Completed fingerless gloves

Completed fingerless gloves

And on the walk back, the sky treated us to a stunning ‘sun dog’ alongside the setting sun. There were two, but the one on the right was misted over by cloud.

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Then as we emerged from the woods back to the car, the nearly full moon was hanging so low and big in the sky it was truly breath-taking (it made one of us go ‘Whoah!’ anyway).

A gibbous moon

A gibbous moon

Today the first of our gathered cooking apples were to put to good use in this spiced apple cake.

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This may seem back to front, but earlier today Lucy also went to the library and got books about Christmas crafts, decorating homes with natural materials, and…giving up sugar!

However, the goal is not to give up sugar completely, but to try to half the amount she eats, and favour home-made cakes on special occasions over processed stuff as everyday treats. This is something we’ve both done before with varying degrees of success, but any way in which we can be healthier is worthwhile, even if you don’t cut something out completely (if you find this sort of thing works for you, you are a moderator – if not, you are an abstainer – try the quiz here!).

Tomorrow is our holiday treats day, as we’re going into the city to spend the cinema voucher Lucy’s parents gave us last Christmas on seeing the new James Bond movie! There’s enough on the voucher for popcorn and treats as well (but not for Lucy – she’ll do something like paint her nails instead, as opting out of cinema snacks is an easy win towards the sugar goal!)

Thanks for reading, and we’ll be back at the end of the week for a proper update on our October spends, saves and simple living goals.

Summertime is Happening…

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…so we are going to make sure we enjoy it! Time can seem to go by so fast, and especially so in the summer, even though the daytimes are longer.

There are many simple pleasures to enjoy at this time of year, by slowing down and keeping plenty of time free to really experience each moment.

Some of our favourite simple summer pleasures are:

  • Growing the brightest annual flowers we can find (see above!)
  • Ice creams: a lot of pleasure for a small amount of cash (we never have ice cream available at home – we don’t have a freezer – so it is always a special treat and makes for a memorable day)
  • The feeling of getting into the shade on a hot day
  • Watching the insects pollinating our plants
Meadow Brown butterfly on Cosmos

Meadow Brown butterfly on Cosmos

  • Reading and writing outdoors
  • Having bare feet
  • Catching the very last of the daylight and listening to the birds going to bed
  • A cold glass of water
  • Cycling in the sunshine – Brian had a spontaneous trip out today in fact
  • Having a cooling wash and change of clothes on a humid day
Some more of our bright summer flowers - Livingstone Daisies in a watering can (& the blue one is Borage)

Some more of our bright summer flowers – Livingstone Daisies in a watering can (& the blue one is Borage)

  • Picking salad in the morning before work
  • Being able to eat outside during lunch breaks at work
  • Wearing sunglasses and sunhats…
  • …or enjoying the strange sensation of warm rain!
  • Watching our garden wildlife with their young, such as this spider living in a kale leaf with eggs about to hatch:
Our beautiful kale-nesting spider with her ball of eggs!

Our beautiful kale-nesting spider with her ball of eggs!

  • Keeping the curtains open until almost bedtime
  • More people cycling and playing sports in parks
  • Fish and chips after work (we enjoyed this one day last week!)
  • And of course the seaside…we haven’t been yet, but it’s now only 2 weeks until our summer staycation so we’ll be visiting soon.

We love every time of the year but it can be easy to take for granted the unique things about summer: the hours of light to start and end the day, the colours and sounds of wildlife, and the freedom to move between the indoors and outdoors in comfort most of the time. This summer we’re going to make sure that we enjoy every day and appreciate this bright and lush season.

Tricolour Chrysanthemums - Rainbow Mix

Tricolour Chrysanthemums – Rainbow Mix

30 Days Wild in June: the first 10 days

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We are doing 30 Days Wild, making a conscious effort to engage with wildlife and the natural world every day in June. Here’s our first update, from the first 10 days.

1 June: Read a wildlife gardening book from the library and discussed making a pond

2 June: Went out in the garden at nightfall to look at the rising full moon and Saturn through binoculars (Saturn appears as a gold blob – but still exciting to know it’s there!). There was also a newly fledged blackbird in the salad tank this afternoon.

3 June: Watched urban peregrines during lunch break: could see the wings of the chicks as they exercised from within the nest platform

4 June: There were an amazing amount of bees in the garden. We tried taking photos but they were too quick for us so we just enjoyed the sounds of their buzzing.

5 June: Lucy ate her breakfast outdoors next to a pond with a moorhen and chicks.

6 June: Although we enjoyed UK wildlife today of course, the highlight was visiting a wildlife park with loose small monkeys! Lucy got to stroke the tail of a tamarind as it scampered past – very soft!

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7 June: A morning in the woods where we admired this cardinal beetle on cow parsley. Then an evening walk where we saw a glossy red fox running with a young rabbit in it’s mouth.

8 June: Put garden clippings all along the back of the garden where we keep a long strip of habitat piles. Once it got dark we went out to listen for hedgehogs. There were lots of interesting noises, and a few bats flying around, but we haven’t seen hedgehogs for a couple of years. We’re not giving up hope though.

9 June: Scattered leftover native cornflower seeds near the roadside coming home from work.

10 June: We had an unexpectedly close wildlife encounter: a fledgling blackbird (probably the one in the picture below) came into the house and got into a panic, and had to be gently escorted back outside by Brian! Then we had an evening walk alongside farm fields, and heard a tawny owl – our first in the village for several years, but we would probably hear them more often if we had more evening walks.

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Immersing ourselves in the natural world so much lately has been brilliant and makes our lives better every day. It also means we spend more time thinking and talking about ways that we can help wildlife: creating a pond, putting up nest boxes for sparrows and planting more wild food sources are some of the ideas we might be writing more about soon!

Nature Every Day

My best wildlife photo so far, a blackbird in full song

My best wildlife photo so far, a blackbird in full song

By Lucy

I’ve signed up for 30 Days Wild, a challenge with The Wildlife Trusts (in the UK) to do one wild activity for every day of June.

This is good timing as I’ve been trying to increase my daily awareness of wildlife this year already. Although trying to protect wildlife and the environment lies behind virtually every decision I make in life in one way or another, I often let the busyness in my mind block my actual everyday appreciation of it. During the winter I even realised I was often cycling all the way to & from work without noticing anything that I could tell Brian about when I got home – and yet being out in nature is one of the main reasons I say I love cycling! I had just got into some really bad habits.

In an effort to switch my internal chatter off and tune back into my surroundings, I’ve started recording a daily wildlife update in my diary. This can be anything from nature: creatures, plants, scenery, weather or astronomy. If I sit down at 10pm and have nothing to write, I know something needs correcting in the way I live my days!

It doesn’t matter to me to know the name or status of everything I see. I’m as happy noticing ‘flowers’ as I am noticing something I know the name of, and as happy looking at blackbirds as I am encountering something rare. It’s all wonderful, and I don’t want to waste another day not appreciating it!

I found this super-bright caterpillar in the soil when gardening

I found this super-bright caterpillar in the soil when gardening

Egyptian goose couple that came right up to the bench I was eating lunch on

Egyptian goose couple that came right up to the bench I was eating lunch on

Simple Springtime Scenes

The sunny weekend got us outdoors for most of the time. It’s wonderful to enjoy again the simple pleasures of feeling the sun on your skin and warm breeze blowing your clothes and hair.

It was perfect weather for drying laundry:

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And while Lucy was cutting kindling sticks there were plenty of busy birds around, including this blackbird which appears to be impaled on a piece of bread:

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We went out to the garden centre for some compost, and our first plant of the year: some cheerful polyanthus. We also bought a mango chutney barrel because we think we can turn it into a compost toilet! We’ll definitely be writing more on that soon…

In the woods, the early morning sunlight was shining on the mossy logs. A perfect place for a breakfast sausage roll and pastry as enjoyed today by Brian!

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The blue skies show up the interesting colours and textures of trees – dead or alive – and it seems amazing to think that soon there will be green leaves everywhere.

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The season cycle is greater than any human routines we might try and impose on the world. That is something we’re very grateful for.

Wormery Day

by Lucy

Today it was time for the annual job of digging out all the lovely compost at the bottom of the wormery.

Here’s what was behind the door:

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I half filled 3 compost bags before I started reaching the layer where things weren’t rotted down fully. This can go on all our growing beds before we plant out, and then later on we can add some more to give things a boost.

Like last year there were a few items that had found their way into the wrong bin: this time it was an asthma inhaler, a toothpaste tube and two wrappers from hemp seed bars. The bar wrappers were a useful indicator of the age of the compost, as we haven’t bought those type of bars since last Spring!

Digging out the wormery is not actually a very smelly or mucky job, UNTIL you get to the layer where things have only half-decomposed.

Today will be remembered for the fact I encountered the STINKIEST THING I HAVE EVER SMELLED IN MY LIFE. I don’t even know what it was: it was white and gloopy, and resembled the faecal sacs which parent birds take out of their nests. My best guess is that it was some semi-rotted garlic. I flung it as far away as I could but the stench stayed in the air for quite some time.

This was a lovely satisfying job to do on a Saturday afternoon though, and as well as gaining us 3 free bags of ‘black gold’, the added pleasure is watching the birds which come in to see what they can scavenge afterwards. It doesn’t take them long!

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Weekday fuel

06 04 Summer cycling

by Lucy

I love cycling to work. If I managed it 5 days a week I would be riding for 7.5 hours. I think I average about 5 hours a week. What I am sure of is that the more I cycle, the more I eat!

Over the last few months I’ve managed to find my perfect cycling workday diet. I am not perfect at sticking to it, but I know that when I do, I feel better.

Breakfast: I have tried eating breakfast before I leave the house, but I can’t do it. My body is not relaxed enough to digest it while cycling. It works better for me to set off early and have breakfast in the office before work (or in the summer I often stop by a bench on my route and eat it in the great outdoors).

My perfect breakfast: One home-made oaty cocoa flapjack, 2 kiwi fruits and a small mango or large banana, all chopped up in a bowl, maybe with some nuts. A few variations have included summer fruits, and fruit salad made by Brian’s son at school!

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10 08 Fruit salad breakfast

Mid Morning Snack: A banana or apple and some almonds or walnuts

Lunch: The aim is to bring my own lunch to work every day. In the past I was much more disorganised and would end up eating things like sausage rolls and pasties and chips.  I’ve realised now that it’s better for me to spend a bit more and get something healthy like a falafel wrap or soup if I haven’t managed to bring anything, as long as it’s not more than a couple of times a month. When I bring my own lunch to work, it is usually home-made hummus (garlic-free) sandwiches, or last night’s leftovers.

I would usually have wholemeal bread!

(I would usually have wholemeal bread, this must have been quite a disorganised day!)

After that I have my second flapjack of the day.

Mid-afternoon (pre-cycling home) snack: Banana and walnuts or almonds. I sometimes forget to eat my afternoon snack, and then feel very hungry on the way home!

Great things about these foods:

  • They are pretty healthy for the calories they provide
  • There is hardly any packaging but things are easy to transport. I carry a LOT of Tupperware around every day!
  • Very low cost compared to more processed stuff

(On top of this I sometimes have other treats such as office birthday cakes, a pub lunch  and the occasional ice cream in the summertime! But these don’t really help in fuelling my cycle rides…)