May Days 2018

The last couple of weeks have been brilliant for enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of nature. These ferns were showing their spore-bearing parts in the sunlight.

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 The hawthorn trees in the garden all have different blossoming times and this one is the biggest, frothing on top of the woodshed! It has been full of birds including fledglings which may well have been hatched in there.

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 Everything is growing rapidly in the woods, creating light and shadow.

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 Cow Parsley is one of our favourite spring plants, creating soft verges along roads and cycle paths.

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Lucy has been making sure to go out at lunchtime and relax. Working near a river makes this easy to do, especially when there is wildlife close by. These Egyptian Geese had eight chicks with them, many hiding behind the tree.

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Rivers are very photogenic at this time of year with the sun reflecting the green of plants and blue of the sky in the water.

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Many of our recent walks have been alongside rivers and other watery places.

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Every year we cast a few seeds (found wild or given by friends as this one was) of a new plant in the garden to see whether it will grow here. 2018’s is this yellow poppy, which we can enjoy while we hang out laundry or sit in the garden.

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In the last week the foxgloves have started to open. We watched the Chelsea Flower Show on TV, where many white foxgloves had been used, but these wild ones are our favourites.

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We’ve spent a lot of time in the garden so far this spring, but it was only this weekend that we spotted a second mistletoe in the apple tree. It is very welcome there!

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Library bookshelf:
Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Deborah Levy – Swimming Home
Deborah Levy – Hot Milk
Rachel Elliott – Whispers Through a Megaphone
Jessie Burton – The Muse

Playlist:
Paul Simon – Peace Like a River
Duran Duran – Pressure Off
Wild Beasts – This Is Our Lot
Panjabi MC – Mundian To Bach Ka
Manic Street Preachers – International Blue
Years & Years – Sanctify
Sigala & Paloma Faith – Lullaby

 

 

 


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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

 

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

January Dawns

When we mentioned Brian coming down with a cold in our last blog, what then actually happened is that we spent the next 10 days with some sort of flu-like virus. Lucy lost her voice for the new year and was then off sick for a few days before returning to work. We had to cancel plans with family and friends. Even so, we were safe and warm, together and without any pressure to accomplish more than the basics of daily life.

When we were ready to venture outside again, the atmosphere had changed from December to January. Our local jackdaw couple were attentively preening each other in an oak tree.

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We walked in the fields at sunset, a thin crescent moon overhead. The quality of light at dusk was so beautiful, when the day offers little in the way of sunlight these moments are memorable.

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There are treasures in the garden all year round. Busy little wrens, dunnocks and robins have been picking around for food and singing to us, and there are lots of gulls around, lining up on rooftops. On New Year’s Day morning we had a jay in our cherry tree, seen from the living room window while we were huddled around the TV watching a ballet! There is an exquisite flower out at this time of year too, Wintersweet, which has a powerful exotic fragrance similar to ylang ylang. Brian sowed these seeds around 15 years ago, and it has been producing flowers now for the last four winters.

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While the leaves are off the trees it is the perfect time to admire the beauty of the branches, and we have a 20 year old curly Hazel which comes into its own at this time of the year with its fantastical shapes.

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Now that we both feel better at the end of this first week of 2017, we’re excited about all the things we will do, make, see and discover during the coming seasons.

Current reading:
Dave Goulson – A Buzz in the Meadow
Ali Smith – Hotel World
Lucy Scott – My Tiny Garden
Kazuo Ishiguro – The Buried Giant

Current playlist:
Solange  – Weary
Paolo Nutini – Iron Sky
Christine & The Queens – Saint Claude

 

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!

Sun Dogs, Gloves and Cakes

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This week we are on staycation, meaning that Lucy is off work, and Brian is having more leisure than on regular house-husbandry days. It’s also half term, and we’re enjoying some family time.

This week is also a good opportunity to get moving on some cost-saving ideas. We’ve already made a few changes since becoming a one-salary/one-home-maker team:
– Lucy’s mobile phone switches provider this week, saving £36 per year
– We’ve now moved nearly all our email archive into a new inbox as our internet provider will be the next switch, saving £200+ per year
– We’ve been conducting experiments on our electricity usage and whether we change supplier or just change our habits as a result, we should make savings there too.
– We’ve tested the area around our bungalow to see if damp is likely to occur and found that the concrete path is too high and in some places slopes in the wrong direction, and been discussing what to do about this
– Lucy has had her second home-haircut from Brian, definitely salon standard!

The last few days have also given us some perfect autumn weather and we took advantage of this with a long walk yesterday through woodland (also collecting free chestnuts), a community orchard (picking some free and delicious apples), a pretty village, and a church. It was the perfect day for Lucy to try out her fingerless gloves which she has just finished:

Completed fingerless gloves

Completed fingerless gloves

And on the walk back, the sky treated us to a stunning ‘sun dog’ alongside the setting sun. There were two, but the one on the right was misted over by cloud.

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Then as we emerged from the woods back to the car, the nearly full moon was hanging so low and big in the sky it was truly breath-taking (it made one of us go ‘Whoah!’ anyway).

A gibbous moon

A gibbous moon

Today the first of our gathered cooking apples were to put to good use in this spiced apple cake.

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This may seem back to front, but earlier today Lucy also went to the library and got books about Christmas crafts, decorating homes with natural materials, and…giving up sugar!

However, the goal is not to give up sugar completely, but to try to half the amount she eats, and favour home-made cakes on special occasions over processed stuff as everyday treats. This is something we’ve both done before with varying degrees of success, but any way in which we can be healthier is worthwhile, even if you don’t cut something out completely (if you find this sort of thing works for you, you are a moderator – if not, you are an abstainer – try the quiz here!).

Tomorrow is our holiday treats day, as we’re going into the city to spend the cinema voucher Lucy’s parents gave us last Christmas on seeing the new James Bond movie! There’s enough on the voucher for popcorn and treats as well (but not for Lucy – she’ll do something like paint her nails instead, as opting out of cinema snacks is an easy win towards the sugar goal!)

Thanks for reading, and we’ll be back at the end of the week for a proper update on our October spends, saves and simple living goals.

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

A simple Sunday picnic and walk

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Today we treated ourselves to one of our favourite simple days out: making a cake, and taking it to a nearby nature site to eat after a walk.

After filling the house with the scent of lemon drizzle cake baking, we cut it in half, made a flask of hot water and packed up mugs, teabags and milk. We went a few miles down the road to a nearby village which has a woodland and meadow walk, where we heard all kinds of birds in full song for Spring including a blackcap which we spotted in the hedgerow.

The village also has a beautiful churchyard which is looked after for wildlife and is full of wild flowers. Importantly, it also has excellent benches for picnics where we could rest, savour our tea and cake and admire the view.

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There were lots of wild flowers not yet open, and so that is a good excuse to come back again soon – with more cake of course…