June: A sunset, some sparkle, and living alongside wildlife

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June – midsummer – a beautiful time of year, and this year we took more time to enjoy it by having some long weekends, or sitting in the garden after work (sometimes with a gin and tonic each.)

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Sparkly sandals are a simple pleasure of summer. £15 well spent last year! This month was the first month since 2013 when we didn’t record all our expenditure. It felt like a big change for us to stop doing it but now we are settled and coming up for 2 years on our one-income budget, there really isn’t any need to do it.

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This day-flying moth was a new sighting for us. It’s called a Mother Shipton, named after the prophetess whose face the wings resemble.

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We also have a new house-mate! This is our porch, where a leafcutter bee has made a nest. We’ve seen it carrying in the pieces of leaf, and packing them in tightly.

17 June - Sheringham sunset

Another first for us was the experience of seeing the sun set into the ocean. On a very hot afternoon we headed to the coast expecting a cool evening sea breeze. It wasn’t much cooler there, but we enjoyed ice creams, fish and chips, and a walk along the shore before the sun turned deeper orange, then red, and then appeared to be swallowed by the sea!

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We collected some jam jars and added to our wall of candles. The Mexican fleabane was only sowed into the wall 1 year ago, and now looks like it was always there.

 

 

JUNE BOOKSHELF:
Kevin Maher – The Fields
David Whitehouse – Mobile Library

JUNE PLAYLIST:
Goldfrapp – Annabel
case/lang/veirs – Greens of June
Perfume Genius – Otherside
Ludovico Eindaudi – I Giorni
James – Nothing But Love
Radiohead at Glastonbury
Grizzly Bear – Mourning Sound
Years & Years – Shine – This month Lucy finished listening to all the music we own, A-Z, and de-cluttering unwanted tracks. This was the final artist of the alphabet. The whole process took 3 years!

Rays of Light

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Evening walks are a treat at this time of year, with the extra daylight hours. As the sun starts to move lower in the sky, you can catch rays of light as they hit the ground.

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We’ve also had our first evening meal in the garden, and gin & tonics, listening to people cheer and/or groan at a TV football match a few houses away, and watching the Mexican Fleabane slowly start to close up for the evening.

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Mexican Fleabane in our concrete block wall

The incredible diversity of flower shapes and colours in the garden, for attracting pollinators, is fun to observe. Watch and see where the bees like to go best – foxgloves are a favourite…the detail is stunning when you look closely.

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We like to do some Spring cleaning and de-cluttering. A few weeks ago this table had a big potted ivy on it and twice as many objects as there are now. The ivy had to go as it was covered in insects secreting sticky liquid all over the mirror and everything else! It feels so much fresher and cleaner after being pared back.

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Posting pictures like these, of our everyday life, feels like an incredible thing to be able to do, given how this week has unfolded for so many other people.  To have something you can even call ‘everyday life’ is an immense good fortune. We hope that in some small way this blog contributes to a message that every day of every life is special and we should act accordingly.

Current library bookshelf:
Philip Pullman – The Amber Spyglass

Lucy’s current playlist:
James – Nothing But Love

 

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

 

 

Heatwave

Simple living definitely helps in a heatwave. Lucy took a few days off from cycling all the way to work, and stopped to get on the Park & Ride bus instead. Brian has been avoiding doing strenuous gardening and housework in the heat of the day and pottering in the shade or in the evenings. The new gravel seating area in the garden has now hosted our first few outdoor evening dinners. There’s no need to be rushing around and overheating: better to hang out in the comfort of the shade and be grateful to be there.

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Yarrow (Achillea) – a big garden success this year

 

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Stunning native Purple Loosestrife in the boggy area of the garden

 

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Brian’s home-made mushroom soup at the garden table…

 

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…followed by home-made gooseberry & red berry jam, with the gooseberry bush itself in view

 

We’ve also been enjoying: smelling the jasmine which is now in flower, watching our tame Woodpigeon (Frank) go about his business, having a few summer days out, taking time to read the newspapers and thinking/talking about how the events of this year have given us a kick up the backside about how engaged we are with the world, and what we might do about it next. Articles such as this one about ‘hope in the dark’ are inspiring to us.

Simple Living Review: June 2016

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Looking outside at the summer sky

We came to the end of June with a renewed sense of the power of living simply.  As events in the wider world continue on their course, it would be easy to feel powerless, but within the many articles we’ve read recently there have been some timely reminders of true positivity. Not going ‘la la la, everything’s fine!’ but acknowledging the reality, harnessing the inner and outer resources that we do have, and working together in the most positive way possible. Keeping our own lives simple is a way of avoiding wasting the limited time we have here on the planet on things that really do not matter. We’re always trying to live up to the title of this blog!

What did we spend and do this month?
We paid a year’s worth of insurance this month so we didn’t save anything overall, we also had an expensive month for food and drink (£15.15 per day), but considering we don’t go on holiday or to many events, having a curry night while watching Glastonbury on TV, for example, is a treat well worth having! Our food treats provide some of the most memorable and grateful times of our lives.

Other spending:
– Petunias for the garden
– A kettle (not had one since 2014)
– Music downloads
– Shoe insoles
– Moisturiser
– Some health supplies
– Some gifts
That’s it. It was a very sparse month on the Excel budget sheet!

 

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Bumblebee on Cosmos

 

The garden is full of colour and creatures. We plant things which attract a lot of bees, and it’s a great year for baby birds. Recently we are also being visited every day by an energetic and very loud Song Thrush, which sits in a tree or on a rooftop singing for hours on end and is becoming less shy every day, allowing us to walk quite close.

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Newly fledged blackbird

 

Its also the time of year to stand outside in the evening and enjoy the fragrance of Night Scented Stock. They are so easy to grow, and the scent is unbelievable. During the day, they smell of nothing, but after a certain point in the evening, start to release a rich and intoxicating clove-like perfume. Just as we love our flavoursome food, we love natural wonders like these as they are so simple, so accessible and are truly what matters, giving us great pleasure in our lives and inspiring us every day.

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Night Scented  Stock

 

Lucy’s Books & Music Corner:

Music
Song of the month: B-52s – Breezin’
Duran Duran – Pressure Off
Patty Griffin – Standing
Christine & The Queens – Tilted / Here
Arcade Fire – Wake Up
Benjamin Clementine – I Won’t Complain
The Last Shadow Puppets – Moonage Daydream (Glastonbury)
Tame Impala – The Less I Know The Better (Glastonbury)
Coldplay – Adventure of a Lifetime / A Sky Full of Stars (Glastonbury)
Sia – Alive

Books 
Ali Smith – How to Be Both
Ann Patchett – Bel Canto
Anne Enright – The Green Road
(And we read a lot of newspapers)

Summer Solstice

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Wandering in the garden at night is one of the gifts of summer. The hollows in our concrete wall (made from blocks found underground) are perfect for holding candles, and the effect is very beautiful, a simple glass ramekin from a dessert creating a lovely reflection in the light.

We had good views of the summer solstice full moon last night. It rose perfectly clear and bright, and then we watched as interesting mists and clouds swept across it. Our camera is not intended for night photography but sometimes captures nice effects anyway:

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We just like to stand quietly, watch and listen: maybe hearing frogs rustling in the grass, birds shifting about in the trees where they roost, and sometimes a special treat of an owl call. The fragrances change at night too. We collected white campion seeds from a roadside especially to bring it into our garden for night-time fragrance – it’s somewhere between hyacinth and jasmine.

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There is a peace and stillness in the garden at night that captures what matters to us. Trying to live a simple life is for us about taking a wider and less self-focussed view, caring about humanity and the world we live in, which is beyond politics but is essentially the most political thing we can do, by living it through positive actions on a daily basis.

 

Fun for Free – Bin Lid Bird Bath

Mostly this summer has been hot and dry, and when our ditch dried up we started worrying about our garden birds. There was no need to go out and buy a bird bath however as we remembered we had this bin lid (the bin itself has tomatoes growing in it):

The bin lid bird bath (the white blobs are sticky tack to plug the air holes)

The bin lid bird bath (the white blobs are sticky tack to plug the air holes)

Filled with water and sitting out on the lawn, it wasn’t long before it started to attract customers for drinks and baths.

Our first visitor was a blackbird

Our first visitor was a blackbird

And soon after, a large wood pigeon

And soon after, a large wood pigeon

So simple, but exactly what our garden friends needed. We were happy to help!

Plus: Fun for almost free…
Not quite free, but costing under £2, today Brian and his son have been dipping shop-bought pretzels in chocolate! A lot of fun for very little…they’ve not dried yet but we’ll be enjoying them later.

Chocolate dipped pretzels!

Chocolate dipped pretzels!

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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