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

Looking to the moon and wildlife

With all the division and separatism going on in the world it seems almost incredible that everyone on the planet sees the same moon, sun and stars when they look into the sky. But we do, and the moon that will visit us all over the next few days will be a very rare full supermoon, the closest full moon to Earth since 1948. Find out more here. It was already looking big yesterday.

There is something deeply moving about a full moon and seeing our enduring, regular visitor glowing above all the changing world below. I’m still here, it seems to say, and it reminds us that so are we, able to be looking up at it once more.

Watching wildlife is another everyday way to find inspiration. On our staycation a week ago we saw these coots drifting across a mere in a very zen way.

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It’s the time of year for making Christmas cakes. We make three (one each and one for Lucy’s parents) and we currently have one made, and one in the oven right now, the smell of boozy fruit and spices filling the house.

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A jolly Santa watches over the baking process

 

Thank you all for reading and don’t forget to look for the moon!

Summer Staycation: drifting to a close

A stone with a sparkly smile

A stone with a sparkly smile

These have been the last few days of our summer staycation, as tomorrow we will both be back at work. As always, we started the holiday questioning ourselves and our use of time a lot: ‘Are we doing the holiday right? Is this what we should be doing with our time? Is this enjoyable or not?’ And then, fairly quickly settling into our natural groove.

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Our best day out came at the end of the holiday on Saturday when we went to a proper seaside resort for a proper seaside visit: ice creams, beach, fish and chips, gift shop browsing, and ice creams again! We came home with some excellent stones (pictured above and below), a lost golf ball that we found on the beach, and a new notebook for Lucy to do our budgets and to-do lists for the next few months (from the gift shop!). Lucy did most of the driving and started to turn around her difficulty with it and even enjoy it (and not only because she has decided she can have a bowl of chocolate cereal as a reward for each drive.)

Stone with a crescent moon, and red stripe stone

Stone with a crescent moon, and red stripe stone

On another day we had to wait in for an electrician after our hot water and oven stopped working due to a faulty RCD unit. This was annoying, but we did get a lot of decluttering done. Lucy found a practical use for a pretty guinea-fowl feather that was sitting around gathering dust by using it as a bookmark – seen here in our latest library book, which happens to be about decluttering!

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And on the day we went to the village library, we wandered slowly back finding some plum trees on the way where we collected some tasty fruit. We played ping pong nearly every day, and in the evenings we played card games and on the last night together Brian got the guitar out for some freeform improvisation!

After Brian’s son had headed back to his mum’s after two weeks with us, we ended the staycation with a burst of productivity: chain-sawing, chopping and moving a big stack of firewood. We were hot and tired, but glad to have something practical to show for our week as well.

Taking a rest in the middle of the job

Taking a rest in the middle of the job

Summer Staycation Week 1

Today is the halfway point of our summer staycation so we’re checking in with a quick blog about what this time has meant for us so far.

As always, by the time we have a holiday from work/school we’re all in need of some proper downtime. Garden pottering, reading, card games, napping, baking, baths, and gazing out of the window at wildlife are top of our list of luxuries. We’ve also recently invented the game of garden ping pong, which can be played on our small lawn with two ping pong bats and a ball – no table or net required, you just try to keep the longest rally going. Its surprisingly challenging and energetic and a lot of fun, especially when one of our trees steals the ball. In the evenings, bats visit our garden and all the swifts gather together to go up out of sight to sleep in the sky.

For days out this week, we had a family birthday meal, a coastal trip and a visit to friends. At the coast, we all rediscovered our love of the sea and pebbles, and made some natural sculptures.

Brian's pebble stack

Brian’s pebble stack

At our friends’ we enjoyed a curry which was made between all of us: we made the main curry and they provided delicious naan breads, onion bhajis, samosas and rice (plus tea and cake afterwards!). We went to visit their beehives and got to see inside (Lucy got the closest look, as she was wearing the spare safety outfit). We also got to play on their little boy’s giant trampoline, a new experience for Brian!

Like us, they have a mini meadow in the garden and we spotted this lovely longhorn beetle:

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And, just before we were about to head home, this bizarre insect turned up. We need to try and work out if it’s a parasitic wasp or a fly:

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The week has gone by at a leisurely pace, and now we’ve got another week off, with no particular plans at all. There are things we need to get done, but they’ll happen when the time is right.

A little rant from Lucy: While standing on the shore at the coast, I was also reflecting on the fear of driving which is always hovering over my shoulder on days out. This time I got really angry with it – not with myself, with the habit of being anxious. I’m reading ‘Daring Greatly’ by Brené Brown at the moment, and the anger plus the theme of the book together seem to have given me the kick up the bum I needed to ‘dare greatly’ myself and stride towards overcoming it for good. I didn’t drive back from the coast, but I did make a mix CD of songs that remind me of times when I’ve done something confident in the past, and I drove to the supermarket the next day, and to our friends’ today. I’m not going to put up with this worry obstructing our holidays any more!

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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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Starting the Spring staycation with cake, tiny houses and wildlife

We are now on holiday for a week, and as usual with us our relaxation has started with some edible treats! Lucy made a Victoria sponge cake, and decided it should have an Easter theme:

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It was also a good fridge-clearing exercise as the filling was made from all four almost-empty jars of jam which we had!

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While eating the cake we also enjoyed one of our other favourite things: watching Tiny House tours on Youtube! This time we discovered the fantastic channel Living Big in a Tiny House – there are some incredibly inspiring and uplifting interviews and tours on there.

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Having lots of free time ahead of us makes it easier to get on with all sorts of fun and/or productive things, without worrying that any of them will be the only things we can fit into the time we’ve got. In just two days we’ve done some leisurely breakfasting, cleaning, de-cluttering, sowing sweet peas and garlic chives, knitting, raking out the mini-meadow, cutting kindling, planning the garden, reading the papers, reading books, working on walking sticks and lots of silly laughing and resting.

Today was spent mostly in the garden, getting some sunshine and warmth on our skin, checking out the frogspawn in the ditch and improving things for wildlife. Raking the mini-meadow is something we do once a year to remove all the dead grass – just like a grazing animal would do. It feels brutal but it creates a seed bed for the more delicate wildflowers to come through. We’ve even had orchids before – all in a very small patch:

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The raked mini-meadow – ready for growth

There is a lot more we want to do this week, but having the luxury of time means that it should all feel like leisure, especially as we are doing it all together.

Friends of many species!

We’ve had lots of company this weekend – we’ve visited family and friends, played with two cats, and also had time to relax in the house and garden and notice the other wildlife companions we share our lives with.

There are still two nests in the garden. The wrens have still not fledged, and the parents zoom past our bedroom window finding plenty of food despite the weather. This year we also have our first ever song thrush nest, and these babies only hatched a week or so ago. Every summer we hear the song thrush but always in a tree in a neighbouring garden, and we wonder why it never sits in ours – but now we have a nest!

While stacking wood, we both experienced having a robin shoot past our head as it flew out of the wood shed. What was it doing in there? Later on, Brian found out, after investigating a tapping noise in there. The robin was attacking its own image in our green man mirror! It was whacking the reflection so hard it left marks all over the glass. The mirror has now been covered up, but the next day, while sitting in the bedroom, we had a visitor:

Hello!

Hello!

This little red face appeared at the window twice! It could probably see a vague reflection in the glass, but thankfully not enough to start beating itself up again.

Then there was a big rain shower, while the sun continued to shine. Looking outside, we saw these amazing rainbows. They only lasted a few minutes.

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What will we do with the rest of our week? We have lots of projects around the house and garden on our to-do list, and more firewood to collect, but we’re not making any plans and trying to let each day tell us what it wants to be. And we’ll try not to ever get so busy or stressed that we don’t notice the little pairs of eyes that might be noticing us!

 

Simple staycation part three: family fun and peaceful pottering

The final few days of our simple staycation have been a mixture of fun family trips out, and more gentle pottering at home. We’ve been musing on the fact that this was what most people used to do during their time off work, especially during school holidays – now we have the word ‘staycation’ to help explain that we’re not having the sort of holiday that you have to pack a suitcase for.

We went to the seaside for a family day out: Brian’s son got to hang out with his big brother all day (he also drove us, what a luxury), we played stone throwing games on the beach aiming at various targets, had ice creams twice, and fish and chips. We also brought home a stone with a sort of marine creature emblem, and a stone that looks a tiny bit like a hedgehog.

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During the quieter parts of the last few days, we’ve carried on pottering at our leisure. This included productive tasks like cleaning the car, pruning, and baking muffins. Also, we had a lot of fun: playing card games, watching Shed of the Year, and having a game of boule in the garden, which ended suddenly when there was a downpour (which Brian’s son encouraged by doing a rain dance a few seconds before!)

Today we went to a local Open Garden a few miles down the road with Lucy’s parents. The garden was inspiring as it was so full of colour and fragrance, and we enjoyed some impressive cakes. Swooping all around us were more swallows and housemartins than we have ever seen in one place before.

We finished our holiday with a long evening marsh walk, where we saw a young cuckoo and heard some sort of mammal chewing on something very nearby on the riverbank. We hoped it was a water vole, but couldn’t see it at all. Next Spring we’ll do a dawn chorus walk there to enjoy the magic of morning birdsong and wildlife rustlings. Brian received compliments about his home-made holly walking stick from a friendly passer-by (twice – we passed him at both ends of the walk!) As always, we also enjoyed the kissing gates!

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Thanks for all the lovely comments this week. One of the nicest things about the holiday has been time to read other blogs and be inspired by the many other people trying to simplify their lives in big and tiny ways. It all matters and it all adds up.

 

Simple staycation part two: letting days unfurl

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The last three days have all started the same way: with us thinking we would do something / go somewhere. And each day, that’s not what has happened – we’ve just been letting each day unfurl without a plan.

On Monday and Tuesday we didn’t use the car at all. Today we have been out twice, to do our food shopping in the morning and then for a marsh walk this evening.

Most of the time we have pottered around in the garden and house. Quite a lot got done, but only because we felt like it – there was no plan. Between us we gave the floors a big scrub clean, stripped loads of tree prunings (leaves go on the compost heap and branches will be used for fire kindling), potted up several shrubs, did weeding, made hummus without garlic, did laundry, cleaned the windows, and cleaned Lucy’s bike ready for going back to work.

But most of all we were on holiday, just enjoying ourselves. There’s been lots of reading, baking, napping, eating, chatting, looking at insects, taking photos and just appreciating home. Despite doing “chores” we’ve felt just as if we were staying in a holiday cottage. Little things like taking the time to open the windows in the morning and lean out to admire the garden view are what make it feel special and different to work days.

We really enjoyed our evening walk tonight – the weather was much cooler, we saw loads of wildlife (fish, damselflies, a young magpie), and we were celebrating too – we paid off our loan today! Lucy called the bank to do it, and was watched by a sunbathing blackbird through the window.

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And then we got a massive (for us) Chinese takeaway on the way home. After not having any takeaways for several months it felt like a very special treat!

Thank you for the lovely comments we have been getting – we still can’t believe it that people are reading what we write and taking the time to contact us!

Simple Staycation part one: mindfulness

A few days into our staycation, and we’ve been enjoying ourselves. We’re not sticking to any budget this week.

Saturday: After buying food supplies, we were too hot and tired for anything other than relaxing and reading. While Brian’s son chilled out indoors (coming out to swing on the monkey bar above the gate occasionally), we both sat in the garden, chatted and read bits of ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ from the library. There’s a lot we can chat about together on that subject, as its something we would both like to be better at. We were both contemplating the idea of “maintaining a half-smile” as a way of staying present and engaged with whatever we’re doing. It’s so easy to catch yourself out grimacing all the time, or with a totally gormless expression as your mind is off elsewhere..

Lucy fell asleep on the grass under the apple tree. Although we both still did some house & garden work, it was a mostly relaxing day!

The best bit was when, all of a sudden, all the winged ants emerged from inside the lavender pot and took to the skies at about 4.30pm. We watched and admired them! Ants do this every year and it’s an amazing spectacle.

Sunday:

A big breakfast for the 3 of us in a café, and then a drive to the seaside and dunes. We wrote in the sand, chased each other, tried to catch tiny fish and posed for photographs in the warm sea.

Brian made this orb sculpture in the sand:

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Lucy did the driving on the way home. Treating it as a mindfulness practice seems to help lessen the stress of driving. Basically: you can only think about the section of the drive that you are doing right now. Of course you have to safely plan ahead as you drive, but that does NOT include worrying about the very narrow section of road that’s coming up later on, or about parking the car when you get home. All you can do is the part that’s happening now. This way of thinking feels so different and it just goes to prove that stress, fear and worry are really a lack of mindfulness, a case of your mind trying to deal with things that haven’t happened yet, or may never happen. All you ever have to do is what you’re doing right now. That’s a relief!

We would still like to not own a car one day, but that will be a positive decision, not one based on fear of driving.

The holiday wine and chocolate orange got opened later as a celebration. Here’s a picture of Lucy’s evening: reading something wholesome while consuming treats!

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It feels good to know that however much we spend during our staycation, we’ll likely have nothing to show for it except photos and memories (and perhaps some body mass)! We’re not planning on doing any shopping for ‘stuff’, just lovely food and trips out that feel special.