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

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Middle of Spring

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It’s time to take a moment and acknowledge that we’re in the middle of Spring. Our tomato plants are growing, the evenings are long and light and we’re onto our last bag of coal for the fire so we hope that temperatures will keep rising too!

Here is where Brian is up to in one of the major tasks in our garden. This space used to be a concrete path that made the house damp and a flower bed that never really worked because of the shade. Now it’s being turned into a seating area that will get the morning sun and be protected from direct sunlight for the later part of the day. We still need to decide what to put on the ground. It’s too muddy to leave uncovered but we don’t want to just use concrete slabs.

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This week we’ve bought some new plants for the garden: a blackcurrant bush, a red Geranium, two Achilleas, a Salvia and the blue Lithodora below. The garden is heading towards being more low maintenance, colourful, relaxing and also more easy to socialise in.

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Soon it will be warm enough to sit outside and read a book in the evening after work…below is Lucy’s current stack from the library. Although at the moment its a bit too chilly for outdoor reading most of the time, our big living room window creates a wonderful warm reading space on the sofa which feels almost like being outside.

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We are lucky to have a ditch in our garden and Brian has also been improving the water flow and creating a sandy patch for bathing birds by trudging up and down on the clay bottom in wellies which has already attracted a tiny bathing Goldcrest. At the deepest end, this week we spotted a male Smooth Newt with a frilly back, and there’s lots of frogspawn too. As the moon waxes over recent days, we’ve also seen it reflecting in the water, a very beautiful sight.

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Lucy went to her first choir session last week, a free trial, which was very enjoyable and definitely fun to continue if we can integrate the cost into our budget without causing problems anywhere else. This is a challenge that will be motivating and inspiring, similar to when we had a loan to pay off or wanted to prove to ourselves that Brian could leave paid work. There are still areas where we can make savings with a few changes to habits and routines: toiletries, food, electricity usage for hot water.

If this is your favourite time of year make sure you take time to slow down and enjoy it so that it doesn’t flash past too quickly. Things change on a daily basis in Spring. Any day now we should see the first swallows arrive (and house martins, then swifts). The glass ones in our lean-to are eagerly awaiting the first sighting of some real ones!

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January 2016 Simple Living Review

January sunrise

We’re saying goodbye to January today, a month that hardly anyone looks forward to but which has actually been quite magical this year. Starting and ending the day with starry skies on cloudless days, beautiful sunrises when the sky is cloudy, and every day a bit more light and a few more signs of spring. Everything is waking up.

We have some very flirty birds in our garden now and today we spent an hour doing the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. The highlight was two tiny goldcrests with the brightest fiery orange crests we’ve ever seen, busily catching insects on the Norway Spruce.

This month has also been very motivating, and this has come from a diverse range of sources: reflecting on David Bowie, getting angry about events in the news, being moved by incredible music and writing, and seeing some of the ideas we care about becoming more mainstream (such as the new series of Tiny House Nation starting, and finding out about another tiny house series starting soon). The best thing we saw this month was Satish Kumar’s Earth Pilgrim documentary set on Dartmoor. Whenever we feel like we’re just a drop in the ocean, we look around us and realise we’re actually part of a tide!

Financial review

We’re been good savers this month, with 15% of our income left over. There were more No Spend Days than ever before. Here’s where the spend money went (other than the usual bills etc)

Food and drink: We averaged £11.75 per day. Our original £10 a day goal looks like it was quite unrealistic, but we’ll keep it for now as it is still motivating us!
Transport: Parking at the seaside, one fill of petrol, Park & Ride top-up
Luxuries: MP3 downloads, and a plain notebook to cover with fabric for Lucy’s next project
Home and Garden: We bought a handheld blender for making soups, £20
Health & wellbeing: Dental check-up, soap, shampoo and special offer sunblock (thinking ahead!)
Clothing & accessories: Lucy has to confess now to an impulse buy, a set of 3 sparkly stud earrings from a supermarket of all places. It was an unplanned purchase but they were really, really sparkly and it was only just after Christmas! (A £5 moment of weakness).

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Green tea break

 

As we get more used to our new balance of roles, some of the ways we spend our time are changing. Lucy is doing more reading and more yoga and is nurturing the thought of trying some creative writing and/or playing her guitar again. She has also developed a love of decaffeinated jasmine green tea!

Brian is managing his time more in tune with what he needs physically, to minimise pain and the risk of injury with his back, neck, wrists and knees. We’re almost ready to research and shop for new kitchen flooring as almost all the horrible sticky floor tiles have been removed. Once all the day’s work is done, evenings are often spent working gently on one of his home-made walking sticks. More about those soon!

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Words and music (Lucy’s nerd corner):

This month’s favourite songs:

David Bowie – Lazarus
Low – Point of Disgust
Love – the whole of the Forever Changes album
Billie Holiday – This is Heaven to Me
Antony & The Johnsons – Bird Gerhl and the cover version by The Unthanks

This month’s reading:

Colm Toibin – Nora Webster
John Boyne – A History of Loneliness
James Kelman – How Late It Was, How Late

December 2015 Simple Living Review

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We’ve reached a milestone – our first December, and therefore Christmas, on one income. We have been living as if this was our situation for the last couple of years (living on one salary and saving all of the other one), but this was the first year where it was for real!

The amount of shopping we did this year was significantly reduced, especially on festive food items for ourselves, although we were also a bit more creative with some of our gifts.  We still have some Christmas spending to do, because we’re cooking a meal for some of our family in lieu of bought & wrapped presents. Next year we should have more energy to put into Christmas. This year we were definitely still feeling our way and getting over the stress levels which led to the changes which we made to our lives during the year.

What did we buy this month?
Food and drink: our average daily spend was £13.24. Last December it was more like £16, so we’ve definitely cut back. Between Christmas and New Year we had 5 ‘No Spend Days’ in a row which was pretty exciting!
Two fills of petrol – one at the very start of the month, and one on the last day of the month
Luxuries: Lucy downloaded 3 songs and bought a copy of a favourite novel from a charity shop for re-reading

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Home/Garden: DIY gloves, a flannel, the Mahonia shrub and this little antique glass ink bottle we bought for 75p for our mantelpiece. The heart is from a craft shop and was something Lucy stuck to a box of truffles as one of Brian’s birthday gifts.

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Domestic: Big bulk laundry liquid, batteries, and sticky tape
Health/Wellbeing: A few medical expenses, and Lucy bought a half price epilator. Over the longer term this will save money on razor heads and it seems to be  much better for skin. The most thrifty and eco option is of course hairy legs, but this is one area where personal preference came first!
Clothing: Underwear
Gifts: compared to last year we spent around a third less on Christmas and December birthdays, which is what we were aiming for as we didn’t want to reduce it so far that we felt stingy. We also still have a good budget for birthdays and other occasions throughout the year.

Things we did and thought about:
Although we don’t celebrate New Year as such, as the month has come to an end we’ve been reflecting on where we are and how things are changing. Brian is finding it easier to pace himself on weekdays when Lucy is at the office, instead of pushing through too many physical and demanding jobs because it feels as if every moment must be productive to be justified. Sometimes the best thing to do is to take it easy, rest and enjoy life!

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Reflections in the river on a winter walk

To help with this, we’ve been thinking about how our home works, and ensuring we both have places we can relax, such as reading corners. Brian has rigged up the spare desk lamp down the back of the sofa, so when he wants to read he can lift it out and use it as a spotlight.

We also love music, but haven’t yet found a way to set up speakers so that we can easily listen to it. Everything we have is digital, and we sold all our CDs a few years ago, and neither of us have a proper mp3 player – it’s all on the laptop. But there must be a way around it!

Little things like this can make such a difference to how effectively you can enjoy your home and your life in comfort, and often they cost nothing. It’s been wonderful to have a chunk of time off together this holiday season, so that we can talk about and try out ideas like this. As always, it’s the simplest things which have the greatest value and give the most pleasure…

…such as making nerdy music lists, which Lucy will now be providing each month. These were the songs which provided the soundtrack to our December.

December 2015 – Songs of the month:
Neko Case – Hold On, Hold On
Laura Marling – Darkness Descends
Jónsi – Hengilas
Adem – Love And Other Planets
Kate Bush – Sunset
The Weeknd – I Can’t Feel My Face (for everyone who loved Strictly Come Dancing this year. It appears in this winners’ dance – although we voted for Kellie!)

Happy January!