Fruits, fragrance and watery places

Checking the diary, we don’t think it has rained since 2 June. This has been an exceptional heatwave and dry spell. Any rumour of rain is very exciting. Today a bit of rain was predicted on the week ahead forecast – we hope it is true!

With everything so dry, we’ve been enjoying watery places even more than usual as it’s such a relief to see them. Some of the best ones from walks over recent weeks are below!

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Water lilies and shimmering reflections 

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Sunlight on duckweed creating patterns of brightness

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One of six thriving moorhen chicks in a city wildlife pond

In the garden we are enjoying a harvest of the blackcurrants and gooseberries that grow with no intervention from us. A few handfuls of garden fruits with breakfast is an amazing free treat.

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We love pollen beetles, and they have been enjoying anything yellow they can land on, such as this native perennial sow thistle, which they are visiting more than anything else. This is the most we’ve seen on any flower.

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This summer the jasmine is having its most floriferous year. When the day cools down towards the evening, and we can have a comfortable look round the garden, it’s fragrance is rich and delicious and makes us feel very privileged to be experiencing it.

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Library bookshelf:
Sheila Heti – Motherhood
Patrick Ness – More Than This
Michele Forbes – Ghost Moth
Philip Hoare – Risingtidefallingstar
Deborah Levy – Black Vodka

Playlist:
First Aid Kit – Rebel Heart
Van Morrison – Warm Love
The Beta Band – Dry the Rain
Sheryl Crow featuring Annie Clark – Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer solstice moth & meadow magic

A few weeks ago we showed the moth pupae that we’d found in the garden. On Friday 22nd June, the first moths were seen, and by Saturday 23rd we could see six or seven of these stunning creatures flying, feeding, resting and mating.

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They are Five-Spot Burnet Moths, named because they have five spots on each wing (although their spots are often fused, as in our moths). They appear very strikingly black and crimson, but in certain light their wings have an iridescent greenish shine.

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They arrived in our mini-meadow because we had planted a food plant of their larvae (caterpillars), meadow vetchling. The larvae also feed on bird’s foot trefoil. In these photos the adults are feeding on nectar from knapweed. They stayed for a couple of days, and have now gone to find new habitats, but at least two pairs mated and we hope they have left some eggs so we can enjoy the next generation.

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Elsewhere in the garden our foxgloves have been busy with bees, as accidentally captured in this photo! In the last week they have mostly finished flowering and have a promising amount of seed pods – we hope for more foxgloves in the future!

We try to keep our garden as wild as possible, actively increasing the food-plants and habitats. This can be done on a larger scale in the wood and meadow, where Brian has now been re-wilding to as great an extent as we can for the size of the site. This view shows the meadow with many willows and alders planted in the last 5 years.

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Creating better habitats for wildlife is one way that we can take action and do something with a positive impact. Although we cannot introduce the large herbivores which bigger re-wilding projects use, we have two species of deer moving through the site, and Brian is also acting as a “keystone species” (one that by its natural behaviour makes the site better for lots of other species). Most important is not to over-manage, but to enable the site to be dynamic and changing over time. We get lots of inspiration from the Knepp Estate’s films and posts.

Brian made the annual pilgrimage this week to see a site where he planted many trees as a volunteer in the 1980s-90s. The trees now have real presence, and there is still a large honeybee colony active.  Its not only the trees which have grown – this photo shows an oak tree with a massive ivy growing up it! Ivy does not kill trees and it provides food and habitat for all kinds of wildlife. And a natural wonder for humans to enjoy too, when it grows as big as this!

 

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Oak tree with huge woody base of an ivy, known as an ‘ivy bole’ or ‘ivy todd’

 

 

Library bookshelf:
Mark Cocker – Our Place: Can we save Britain’s wildlife before it is too late
Paul Kalanithi – When Breath Becomes Air
Neel Mukherjee – State of Freedom
Sheila Heti – Motherhood
Patrick Ness – Release
Michele Forbes – Ghost Moth

Playlist:
The National – England (It’s not a football song!)
Perfume Genius – Alan
St Vincent – Sugarboy
Nakhane – Clairvoyant
First Aid Kit – Rebel Heart
Van Morrison – Warm Love

 

 

 


Spring weeks packed with nature & treats

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There has been so much going on in the Spring! We could hardly keep up over the last couple of weeks.

First, the flowering of snakes head fritillaries which we planted in a nice wet boggy area..

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This wonderful misty-morning sunlight was also stunning in the wood…

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All the tadpoles are active and growing rapidly….

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It wasn’t just nature celebrating the spring, it was also Lucy’s birthday. It rained all weekend, but we enjoyed being indoors…

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After eating the banana cake, we went on to invent a new super-rich home-made hot chocolate drink using cocoa powder and chopped dark chocolate melted in milk, and finally perfected Lucy’s everyday breakfast recipe which now = oats and almonds soaked overnight in soya milk, plus a kiwi fruit and some red berries (and some more chopped dark chocolate on most days)!

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As the sun and rain shared the skies for a few days, some spectacular shades of blue were seen next to the wild cherry blossom and hawthorn leaves…

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Over the last week, with sun and warmth, there has been a bluebell burst….

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This hawthorn shield bug was found having a wander about on Brian’s t-shirt, so he placed it onto a log to photograph it…

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This bank holiday weekend has been really hot. We had a spontaneous trip to the seaside for the full fish & chips, ice creams and beach experience!

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And although its too hot to venture out yet today, yesterday we had three walks (and one picnic), the last one a beautiful evening visit to a local nature reserve….

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Library books:
Salley Vickers – The Cleaner of Chartres
Sarah Perry – The Essex Serpent
Sally Rooney – Conversations With Friends
Donal Ryan – All We Shall Know
Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Playlist:
Siouxie & The Banshees – Dazzle
Grizzly Bear – Sky Took Hold
SuRie – Storm (less than a week until Eurovision!)
Cud – One Giant Love
Massive Attack – Paradise Circus
Joan Armatrading – Down to Zero

 

Frogs, floods & garden friends

 

 

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Until a few days ago, our ditch has been busier with frogs than ever before. One night-time visit to see them showed there were at least 35. In the daytime, we could see up to 17 at a time but they were really tricky to photograph.

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Their frogspawn is in a new shallow shelf area which Brian dug last year. They must like it here because it warms up quicker than the deeper, darker water. The frogs have now gone, and the tadpoles are starting to emerge. This should be a good frog year with lots of tiny froglets in the grass in the summer. We’ll have to be very careful when mowing the lawn…

After the heavy Easter rain, one end of the ditch filled to its highest ever level and we had to cut a channel to help it drain into the other end rather than flood its banks.

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It was pretty exciting watching the water rush through, and at one point a female newt travelled down!

We also found a flood when we went for a walk, which usually is quite a long walk past a mill and houses. However, this was what the start of the footpath looked like on the day:

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Lucy was able to get this far as she was the only one wearing wellies. Instead of the walk, we found a pool next to the river which was good for skimming stones in.

The overcast days this week were ideal tree pollarding days as the sun couldn’t get into Brian’s eyes. He found this unusual branch on the willow. This genetic anomaly is called fasciation – a flattened stem.

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A sunny day yesterday was a good opportunity to dry some laundry in the garden. We had forgotten how much pollen beetles love the colour yellow, but within seconds, Lucy’s cycling jacket was covered in them.

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Although the frogs have gone, we have still been going out into the garden at night,  to see if any newts are in the ditch predating the tadpoles. A few nights ago Brian was casting the torchlight around the house and found this new housemate:

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This is a noble false widow spider, the first false widow spider we have ever seen. Its living in a hole in the wooden boards under the eaves of the house, and emerges at night. It is our most venomous spider (in the UK) but is a non-aggressive species and is no worse than a bee or wasp sting to most people. This photograph was taken standing on a chair in the dark, using a mobile phone on the zoom setting. Quite tricky!

Library books:
George Saunders – Lincoln in the Bardo
Salley Vickers – The Cleaner of Chartres
Sarah Perry – The Essex Serpent

Playlist:
REM – Pilgrimage
David Bowie – Loving the Alien
Siouxie & The Banshees – Dazzle
St Vincent – Save Me From What I Want
Erasure – Breath of Life

 

The woods and the snow

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While the weather was good in February, Brian spent lots of time in the woods. It probably isn’t easy to figure out what this photograph is of. When one of the poplar trees falls over, its shallow roots lift up a plate of soil and leave a sort of pond. This is where Brian is standing – the water is the pond, and his shadow is cast onto the plate of soil that was previously underground! You can see what it looks like in the below photo.

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Another mystery photo below. What caused the marks on this tree branch?

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We looked this up online and found that it is caused by woodpeckers in the summer, making holes in willow to get sap. What a lovely thought, that we are providing sweet drinks for woodpeckers on hot days!

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On other walks together we visited favourite places which were all wetter than usual, creating some lovely reflections.

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And then it snowed! This was the result in our garden of the ‘Beast from the East’. We particularly like the way the teasel heads got covered.

It was lovely while it looked like this and all we had to do was take photos, but it was challenging too, as in this country snow is so rare that we don’t have winter tyres or other preparations. The buses stopped, and when they came back they were unpredictable, so that Lucy ended up walking the last 3 miles home from work one afternoon. Any ideas we may have had before of how great having a White Christmas one year would be are now more realistic!

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Other things we have done recently: we got rid of a chair from the bedroom which was being used as a bedside table. We haven’t replaced it with anything, and the empty corner is making cleaning so much easier. Its been a long time since we decluttered an entire piece of furniture, and it was exciting!

In our shopping, we’re trying to eliminate palm oil. Recently documentaries have opened our eyes about how devastating the effects of palm oil cultivation have been. Really, we knew about this already, but needed a kick up the bum to take action. It is in so many products, that avoiding it has made us very mindful shoppers, and the added bonus is we have massively reduced how many biscuits, cakes etc we could buy – now if we want a treat we usually make it ourselves!

 Library books:

Emily Fridlund – The History of Wolves
Virginia Woolf – The Waves
Rabih Alameddine – The Angel of History
Gail Honeyman – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Elizabeth Strout – My Name is Lucy Barton
Anne Tyler – A Patchwork Planet

 Playlist:

Joanna Newsom – ‘81
Radiohead – Present Tense
Patty Griffin – Kite Song
XTC – The Loving
Thomas Dolby – Cruel
David Bowie –Fill Your Heart
James – Don’t Wait That Long
Smiths – Oscillate Wildly
Joan as Police Woman – Tell Me
REM – I’ve Been High

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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

 

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

Living Simply: October 2016

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Red and gold leaves, sunrises and sunsets and Strictly Come Dancing – there are many reasons to love the autumn and especially October! We’ve enjoyed it so much this year, and had a relatively simple month although there were some big purchases.

Our washing machine broke after 13 years of service, which is hugely impressive, so we didn’t mind at all spending a day in the city looking for a new one to arrive later this week. Lucy is on a week’s holiday from work and we made a special day out of it with a café breakfast and lunch, and another unexpected purchase shown below.

Here’s our October spending summary:
– An expensive food/drink month, average £16.13 per day but the treats were worth it
– Set of USB charging bicycle lights: no more batteries!
– Bus fares, one fill of petrol
– Green paint for our windows
– A washing machine
– A Christmas decoration
– Shoelaces
– Haircare, soaps
– A pair of Doc Martens!

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These were an unplanned buy, made after walking into the city to choose the washing machine and noticing that one of Lucy’s winter boots was slouching uncomfortably to one side. After a discussion about the fact most women’s shoes are badly designed for cold seasons (hard to wear with socks), we ended up in the Doc Martens shop investing in these. They weren’t cheap, but should last for years.

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The sky puts on a display on the way to work

October is a spectacular month full of free natural wonders. After the summer’s long days, to see sunrises and sunsets again as part of the office-hours day is a privilege. This month has been particularly stunning, with lots of rainbows and even seeing the full moon set one early morning. There is so much going on out there: every day something special.

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Early morning moonset

 

Lucy’s Book & Music Club

OCTOBER SOUNDTRACK:
Anohni – Drone Bomb Me
INXS – Never Tear Us Apart
Christine & The Queens – Safe & Holy
Tame Impala – The Less I Know The Better
Sophie Ellis-Bextor – Crystallise

BOOKS READ:
Anne Tyler – If Morning Ever Comes
Anne Tyler – Back When We Were Grownups

 

Colours in the sky, our home & nature

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We love a week of rain showers, and not just for the good it does the garden and wildlife but also because there’s always a chance of catching some rainbows. The last week has been spectacular although we didn’t both see the same ones at the same time, this picture is from Lucy’s cycle ride home on the 11th when just as the rain started to fall lightly this magnificent full archway appeared! Brian saw one like it at home the day before, and it’s been a week of colour in other ways too.

Oudscf5403r wooden windows needed maintenance, and dodging the showers Brian painted almost all of them. We like this green as it makes us think of an artists’ cottage. There’s still the insides to do.

 

 

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While the window paint was drying, Brian was painting the kitchen floor! This was completed on Friday.

(And, because the kitchen floor had a coat of paint on Friday, that meant it was still a bit wet at teatime, which meant we couldn’t cook, which of course meant we had to have a Chinese takeaway from across the road! It was the first one we’ve had for many months so felt like a real treat.)

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Colours in nature are changing for Autumn. This maple tree was well on the way to a red and gold transformation.

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The Spindle has stunning pink berries and a blush on its leaves at the moment.

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This time of year can be so beautiful and varied, from day to day and hour to hour things are changing and there is always something to notice and appreciate.

 

 

 

 

Simple Living Review: March 2016

 

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Taking time to appreciate the simple things

March: always the month for us which rushes past the fastest, and this can sometimes mean spending very little (too busy to go shopping) or sometimes spending a lot (too busy to be frugal!). It has been an expensive month this time, but we saved about £25 so we’re still in credit.

We spent an average of £15 per day on food and drink, even higher than last month, however that has to be balanced against the volume of practical jobs that got done as a priority over cooking from scratch. If we had paid someone else to do things for us instead, it would come to a lot more than what we overspent on food and drink!

Our other main purchases were:
– Minor bicycle repair
– Two fills of petrol (unusual!)
– Library borrowing of DVD (Wild)
– Ikea reading lamp
– LED lightbulbs and outdoor light
– Two Lilac bushes
– Sunblock
– Jeans and t-shirts (Brian’s first clothes shopping for almost a year)
– Silver necklace chain to replace one which broke in 2014
– Gifts

March projects and progress

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Warning! Varnished stool slots

From cutting slots into our kitchen stools (above) on 1st March to reducing the height of the Christmas tree on 31st March (below), Brian has had quite a relentless month of practical work of all kinds. The serious tree work was the biggest challenge, and he had help from his friend Andy on a couple of days which made a big difference. Dealing with the trees (and some hedges) has created numerous piles of plant material in all sizes from thick trunks to tiny sticks, which will now keep him busy sorting and storing them for use on our fires next winter.

Here is a before and after of the Christmas tree:

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It may look horrendous now, but this will grow again and is already being visited by the same birds as before, including blue tits in a nest box. The important thing is that it is now manageable for the future.

This month’s books and music

Music
Song of the month:
Manic Street Preachers – Postcards From a Young Man
Owen Pallett – The Secret Seven
Martha Wainwright – These Flowers
Meilyr Jones – Love
The Smiths – The Boy With the Thorn in His Side
Gossip – Heavy Cross
Years & Years – King

Books (I only finish books I enjoy, so all my listings are recommendations):
Book of the month:
Elizabeth Gilbert – Big Magic
Matthew Quick – Silver Linings Playbook
David Nicholls – Us
Carson McCullers – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (re-read)
John Boyne – The Absolutist
Natalie Goldberg – The True Secret of Writing