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

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Simple Living Review: April 2016

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Bright new leaves opening on an English oak

 

We didn’t save anything this month but only because we stocked up on coal which will last into our next financial year. Our daily food and drink spend averaged £13.75, and we bought the following items:
– Second load of coal, as its been a long and cold start to the year
– One fill of petrol, one bus season ticket
– Choir joining fee
– Plants for the garden: blackcurrant, Achilleas, Salvia
– Clothes pegs
– Shampoo, conditioner
– Birthday cards and gifts

It was Lucy’s birthday at the end of the month and we had a day out at a water garden on a mission to see some ducklings, Brian’s son spotted three which were hiding in some leaves. There were also two surprises: a muntjac deer crossing a bridge towards us, and two cranes flying overhead!

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And this was the scene on Lucy’s birthday morning: tulips from work have been joined by a surprise bottle of Penderyn single malt Welsh whisky! This is an independent distillery which we like to support.

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As pledged, Lucy joined a choir before her 35th birthday but hasn’t yet managed to sing openly at home, so this is still a personal goal for the year, but it should be reached very soon. What she needs is a TV advert with a catchy tune on it, or something like that, to encourage her to burst into song in the living room!

Other goals for May: To put the glass back into our free second hand greenhouse, to research whether we need a new mower, for Brian to pace himself more when doing days of practical work and not try to do too much at once, and to start looking into switching electricity provider since they have dramatically increased our bill. And, as the days warm up, to spend more time enjoying the garden and all our busy Spring wildlife.

 

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Lucy’s Books & Music Corner:

Music
Song of the month:
 Christine & The Queens – iT
The National – Sorrow
Natalie Merchant – Wonder
My Morning Jacket – Wonderful (The Way I Feel)

Books 
Book of the month: Nathan Filer – The Shock of the Fall
Colm Toibin – The Blackwater Lightship
Jessie Burton – The Miniaturist
I also gave up on a few books this month (won’t mention those) and spent a lot of time reading about Victoria Wood with lots of classic sketches and lines remembered.

 

 

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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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!

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!

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!

Listening to Trees

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This weekend has been very relaxing and restorative. Like many, we were exhausted and paying the price for a week of spending too much time involved in the election: voting in it, watching it, and reading about it afterwards. This is not a political blog but it’s probably obvious that our approach to life wasn’t reflected particularly well!

So, we needed some positivity and peace, and we found it in the woods today when we went to look for bluebells and orchids. It was such a beautiful day, a perfect warm breeze carrying the smells of wild garlic and bluebells.

It felt wonderful to touch the textured barks of different trees and engage with something real and honest. Brian remembered that it was possible to listen to trees and hear their internal sounds – with a stethoscope, which we didn’t have! – but we tried it anyway, pressing our ears to the lovely cool trunks and listening carefully. And we did hear something – it sounded a bit like someone was inside the tree moving furniture, making muffled bumps and knocks with large silences in between. Is this the sound of the tree pumping all the water it takes up? Whatever it was, it was a very calming and soothing experience!

We also saw a big red deer, a holly blue and a green hairstreak butterfly. Being out in nature was exactly what we needed this weekend, and the fact we then came home and ate a big bowl of ice cream each didn’t hurt either!

Holly Blue butterfly on a Bluebell

Holly Blue butterfly on a Bluebell

Wild Garlic - it's edible and smells amazing

Wild Garlic – it’s edible and smells amazing

Bluebells and Orchids

Bluebells and Orchids

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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Lessons in Living Simply

This week has been packed full of little lessons in living simply. We’ve been swinging from losing ourselves in everyday stress, to returning and residing in a calmer place with appreciation of life’s wonders…before going down the hole of stress again, and so it goes on! Perspective can be really hard to hold on to sometimes. This is partly because we are due a holiday – we will be on staycation in a week, and we’re just tired. This is also traditionally Lucy’s busiest time at work.

One thing we never lose sight of is our privilege and the ‘first world problem’ nature of many of our worries. We are not struggling to survive, house, feed or clothe ourselves. Therefore it is even more important that we value simple pleasures, so that we are less likely to be wasteful or to buy and consume unnecessary things.

Here are some of our simple moments from this week:

Ducks know how to live

Ducks know how to live

On a day out yesterday Lucy and her mum watched this beautiful male mallard duck having a very thorough and exuberant wash, with lots of head-dunking, flapping and feather-smoothing. If you need a boost, seek out a duck!

White chocolate strawberries

White chocolate strawberries

Brian made these white lemon chocolate strawberries as a Sunday treat last weekend – simple and perfect!

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This week the smell of blossom has been very powerful. Every time we pass some and are hit by the wall of scent we know it’s Spring. On Lucy’s bicycle commutes, a regular blast of blossom aroma keeps her mind in the present moment.

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Lucy has been remembering to check out the moon every day. At the moment it’s a daytime and evening moon, and is looking down on us for most of the day.

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After the rushed breakfasts of working week days we always try to have some good long weekend breakfasts with radio and magazines. There’s something very relaxing about watching the steam coming off a nice cup of tea!

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.