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.

12-27-two-jackdaws-edit

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.

20170102_153733

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.

20170107_140351

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.

20170107_141042

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

 

Fires, trees and tinsel

Its been a while since our last blog, when we were looking forward to the supermoon. We knew some cloud was coming so we decided to go and see it rise the night before it was officially full, and we were treated to an incredible sight. The moon always looks big near to the horizon but this was stunning. Ours is not a professional camera, but we caught the mood of the evening with the drifting clouds and moonrise colours.

dscf5544

Last month our 13 year old washing machine broke and while we waited for a new one to arrive, Brian took apart the old one in order to re-use any functional parts. What he came up with was a complete re-purposing: using the metal drum as a fire-pit!

He removed the drive wheel and bolted it directly to the bottom of the stainless steel drum, which provided a very stable base.

Here it is in use the first time:

dscf5578

This is helping us dispose of all the garden twig waste we’ve accumulated beyond what we can use for habitat piles and kindling. It collects all the ash at the bottom, which can then be used as potash to give nutrients to plants in the garden. In the lighter months we can use it to generate heat and light when eating and socialising outdoors!

Before all the leaves dropped we had some bright colour in the garden from our cherry tree for a few days. The change between autumn and winter has not been a clear one this year, with cold days mixed with warm days and colours coming and going.

dscf5554

Brian spent a day constructing this year’s Christmas tree, from ash this time, and the biggest one we have had. We took the removable end of our L-shaped sofa off and stored it in the bedroom to make room for the tree!

dscf5634

It’s so big that we might get a few extra baubles to fully dress it. We also bought ourselves some new tinsel, as we are both strongly pro-tinsel. Now we have a sort of tinsel archway between the living room and kitchen, and on the corner of the cupboard is a little reminder of what this season means to us. There are things to decide and buy and do, but that is because we are lucky to have people in our lives that we care about, and fortunate to be here on the planet this Christmas. We aim to spread the joy!

dscf5631

Current reading
Anne Tyler – A Spool of Blue Thread
Anne Tyler – Noah’s Compass

Current Soundtrack
REM – Ignoreland
Rumer – What The World Needs Now is Love
Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) – Pure Imagination

Winter Cycling Report 2015-16

By Lucy

This winter I decided to keep a proper record of how I was travelling to work, and see how much cycle commuting I was doing. Here are the results:

graph

It definitely has not been a hard winter so I was surprised that I didn’t cycle more. But then it was a very wet winter, and while I don’t mind cycling in the rain when I can see where I’m going, cycling in the rain and in the dark is not fun, especially when you wear glasses (someone needs to invent and produce some teeny-tiny windscreen wipers).

Once I got a feel for how I was doing my challenge was to keep it above 60%. It dropped a few times but I got it back up just in time!

It’s not the most obviously motivating season to cycle in, but there are some things you get from a winter commute that are missing from the rest of the year. Setting off to work under the pre-dawn stars is always surreal, and being able to see a sunrise and a sunset on most days becomes easy to take for granted. Also, you never get too hot, and don’t have to wear sunblock!

DSC_0067

An inky blue pre-dawn sky with blurry crescent moon

 

This winter I have seen so many different skies including the rare rainbow coloured clouds earlier this month. I’ve also heard birds singing in the dark, felt every kind of weather on my face, smelled the first blossom of the year, sung Christmas songs to myself and seen one early-morning fox, with a big rusty orange tail, as it ran out in front of me.

I love the personal thinking time that I get on my bicycle before and after work and this can feel even more magical in the early mornings of winter. I can work through worries, use my imagination and, sometimes, just be meditative and mindful listening to the sound of my wheels.

Even on the Park and Ride days I get several miles cycling to and from the bus depot. I always appreciate the convenience of living near to this service, and on a rainy, windy or icy  day to be able to lock up my bike, head to the back of the bus and settle in with music and a novel is pure luxury. Then I get a nice 10 minutes walk to the office at the other end. However, the cost adds up and so I do always need a good reason to use the bus rather than keep going on two wheels all the way.

My bicycle has done me proud and I was going to give it a big clean up yesterday to welcome the Spring, but I’ve run out of rubber gloves so that didn’t happen. I am sure it can get me through my first week of Spring cycling as it is. And of course I’ll be tracking my stats for the next 3 months and will share how I got on. I’m aiming for 85% cycling at the least!

December 2015 Simple Living Review

DSCF3872

We’ve reached a milestone – our first December, and therefore Christmas, on one income. We have been living as if this was our situation for the last couple of years (living on one salary and saving all of the other one), but this was the first year where it was for real!

The amount of shopping we did this year was significantly reduced, especially on festive food items for ourselves, although we were also a bit more creative with some of our gifts.  We still have some Christmas spending to do, because we’re cooking a meal for some of our family in lieu of bought & wrapped presents. Next year we should have more energy to put into Christmas. This year we were definitely still feeling our way and getting over the stress levels which led to the changes which we made to our lives during the year.

What did we buy this month?
Food and drink: our average daily spend was £13.24. Last December it was more like £16, so we’ve definitely cut back. Between Christmas and New Year we had 5 ‘No Spend Days’ in a row which was pretty exciting!
Two fills of petrol – one at the very start of the month, and one on the last day of the month
Luxuries: Lucy downloaded 3 songs and bought a copy of a favourite novel from a charity shop for re-reading

12 01 Re-reading
Home/Garden: DIY gloves, a flannel, the Mahonia shrub and this little antique glass ink bottle we bought for 75p for our mantelpiece. The heart is from a craft shop and was something Lucy stuck to a box of truffles as one of Brian’s birthday gifts.

DSCF3877
Domestic: Big bulk laundry liquid, batteries, and sticky tape
Health/Wellbeing: A few medical expenses, and Lucy bought a half price epilator. Over the longer term this will save money on razor heads and it seems to be  much better for skin. The most thrifty and eco option is of course hairy legs, but this is one area where personal preference came first!
Clothing: Underwear
Gifts: compared to last year we spent around a third less on Christmas and December birthdays, which is what we were aiming for as we didn’t want to reduce it so far that we felt stingy. We also still have a good budget for birthdays and other occasions throughout the year.

Things we did and thought about:
Although we don’t celebrate New Year as such, as the month has come to an end we’ve been reflecting on where we are and how things are changing. Brian is finding it easier to pace himself on weekdays when Lucy is at the office, instead of pushing through too many physical and demanding jobs because it feels as if every moment must be productive to be justified. Sometimes the best thing to do is to take it easy, rest and enjoy life!

DSCF3852

Reflections in the river on a winter walk

To help with this, we’ve been thinking about how our home works, and ensuring we both have places we can relax, such as reading corners. Brian has rigged up the spare desk lamp down the back of the sofa, so when he wants to read he can lift it out and use it as a spotlight.

We also love music, but haven’t yet found a way to set up speakers so that we can easily listen to it. Everything we have is digital, and we sold all our CDs a few years ago, and neither of us have a proper mp3 player – it’s all on the laptop. But there must be a way around it!

Little things like this can make such a difference to how effectively you can enjoy your home and your life in comfort, and often they cost nothing. It’s been wonderful to have a chunk of time off together this holiday season, so that we can talk about and try out ideas like this. As always, it’s the simplest things which have the greatest value and give the most pleasure…

…such as making nerdy music lists, which Lucy will now be providing each month. These were the songs which provided the soundtrack to our December.

December 2015 – Songs of the month:
Neko Case – Hold On, Hold On
Laura Marling – Darkness Descends
Jónsi – Hengilas
Adem – Love And Other Planets
Kate Bush – Sunset
The Weeknd – I Can’t Feel My Face (for everyone who loved Strictly Come Dancing this year. It appears in this winners’ dance – although we voted for Kellie!)

Happy January!

 

A Warm Christmas

Hello everyone, we hope you had a wonderful Christmas. If there was a word for ours this year it would be: warm. It was warm because we spent  two days with wonderful family eating two incredible Christmas dinners and spending time with such lovely generous people. And, warm because the climate in the UK is ridiculous right now – on Christmas morning, we saw bumblebees feeding on the winter flowering cherry!

DSCF3819 cropped 1

Today we’ve been out for a walk in the rain spotting plant after plant which shouldn’t be in flower, it seems to be this way across the country as observed here and here (but we are very fortunate to be in a location not affected by the flooding.)

So it may not have been anywhere near to a white Christmas, but it was merry and bright!

We each have a Christmas cake this year. Here’s Lucy’s, she’s very attached to these 1980s Father Christmasses which belonged to her grandparents. Brian’s son kindly repainted them a few years ago! The icing and marzipan has proved a bit too much on our cakes this year and is mostly going in the bin so next year we might try something different. Santa will look just as good sleighing across some almonds, surely?

DSCF3773

Brian’s cake is much more classy, with deer footprints:

DSCF3779

We saved newspaper pages with pictures on during the year and these were used for some of our present wrapping. The Spock one worked particularly well! After the wrapping it was time for some yoga, with festive toes.

12 24 Sparkly toe yoga and gifts wrapped

We still have a main present to deliver, in the form of us cooking a special meal instead of buying gifts. Everyone has been so generous and we want to make this a very special occasion.

Now we have some time off together to relax and recharge after a year full of changes in our lives. Thank you to everyone who reads our blog, it is such a wonderful way for us to share some of what inspires us and be part of the big, colourful, welcoming world of people online who are trying to do something a bit different. Lets all keep shining our unique and individual lights!

DSCF3739

 

November Simple Living Review: major works and little pleasures

DSCF3572

Our November was a rhythm of super-busy days, and very slow and spacious evenings. Most of the super-busyness was down to Brian and his launch into many of the biggest projects that our home has been needing, for example:

 

DSCF3630

The concrete path  being smashed up…

 

This can only be done a very small amount at a time as it’s so strenuous, but he’s also been putting up guttering, and doing all the laundry, food shopping, cooking and gardening and firewood provision.

Moments of stillness made themselves possible, however. Coming out of the front door one afternoon to do another task, Brian was stopped in his tracks by a sparrowhawk which had just caught and killed a dove on the lawn! By keeping very still he was able to watch the whole process of it removing the feathers and eating most of the bird.

One little victory was finding a part to fix our fairy lights which had  a frayed wire. For just £1.89 we now have sparkle again!

DSCF3595

Watching ‘Annie Claus is Coming To Town’!

 

Our evenings in the glow of our lights have been pretty restful – partly because they have to be after such busy days, but also because it’s our intention to make them that way. We aren’t ones for going out in the evening (which is lucky as it saves us a lot of money!) and for us a perfect evening at this time of year involves lighting the fire, having dinner together, watching TV shows that we can discuss, and other things one or both of us enjoys like reading, making walking sticks, yoga etc, plus generally being silly and making each other laugh.

We had an expensive month because of buying the tools and materials for the home maintenance we’re doing. The tools are good investments, and there were a few other items like this in the month’s budget.

Food and drink: We were exactly on budget, spending our target of £10 per day and no more.  This is even with having a take-away, and a “home restaurant night” where we had shop-bought pies and a sticky toffee pudding. Wow!
Transport: Bicycle insurance renewal, spray oil, train tickets for a day trip and a bus season ticket, and one fill of petrol
Luxuries: Lucy bought some sparkly nail polish so she could get more into the spirit of Strictly Come Dancing on Saturdays, and for Christmas occasions. Its a lot cheaper than buying a whole party outfit. There were also some CDs borrowed from the library and an MP3 downloaded (Sam Smith’s Bond theme song, if you’re interested!)
Home & Garden: This was our big spend, all things which we needed and had budgeted for: guttering, a pick/mattock, some saws, the fairy light attachment, mower petrol and other DIY bits.
Domestic: Sewing supplies (Brian is fixing up his coat), washing up liquid and a nail brush
Dental and health: Toothbrushes, toothpaste, first aid and medicine cupboard stuff, and an investment of a mooncup
Toiletries: Half price sale stock-up
Clothing: Lucy’s final work cardigan and some tights
Gifts: We spent a bit, but mostly planned ahead so that we can get the most out of our gift budget this year.

Lucy’s now got her Christmas notebook out again, for writing down inspiring festive quotes and ideas. We’re ready for the season!

DSCF3586

 

 

 

 

Time for sunset walks & moon watching

One of our sunset walks

One of our sunset walks

Over the last few days we’ve been heading outdoors as much as we can. We did do the conventional thing on Saturday and had a look in the sales, but within a few minutes we’d remembered what a waste of our lives it is, and all we bought was one glass tumbler for £3.50.

Every other day, we’ve headed out for a local walk, either in our village or very nearby. No long drives, no unfamiliar routes, just pure leisure! We’ve seen all sorts of birds including a male bullfinch, a flock of long-tailed tits and a little grebe diving on a frosty mill pond, and four graceful deer running across a field very close to us.

Long-tailed tit taking off from the hedgerow

Long-tailed tit taking off from the hedgerow

Because our whole days have been pretty leisurely, we haven’t been heading out until the afternoon, so we’ve caught some spectacular sunsets. And then on the way home, we get to see people’s Christmas lights and trees in the dark! We’ve also been much more aware of the moon and how it changes from day to day.

Today we made an earlier start and had breakfast in the woods and enjoyed a full day’s sunshine and light through the trees. A friendly robin visited us to see what we were doing.

This is what the Christmas break means to us – time to appreciate everything around us.

Sunset walk with rooks and jackdaws

Sunset walk with rooks and jackdaws

Taking the time to notice the moon

Taking the time to notice how the moon changes from day to day

More of What Matters Spending Review: Month 9

DSCF1302

So, here we are on the winter solstice, marking the shortest day of the year and coincidentally the last day of our money month number 9.

The good news is that despite the time of year, we really do have some money left over! Not much – just about 8% of our income – but that’s better than nothing. In fact, only about half our extra spending this month was for Christmas, the other half was on unexpected car repairs.

The Christmas spend includes gifts, materials with which to make some gifts, our contribution of drinks for the Christmas dinner this year, and postage of cards.

Our food spend averaged £15 per day, higher than usual but it did include more meals out and takeaways than usual. There were two birthdays this month as well as Christmas coming up.

Here’s what else we spent:

Transport: As well as the big car costs, there were more bus trips than usual due to rain, and Lucy then purchased a season ticket to make this more cost effective. Also 3 fills of petrol.
Luxuries: Printing our regular seasonal mix CDs, and Lucy purchasing a notebook to write down daily goals etc. (bought in nature reserve gift shop as a reward for driving there despite nerves!)
Domestic: An umbrella, batteries, washing up liquid, loo rolls, ink for pens, sellotape and giant laundry liquid which lasts for months
Coal: 7 bags of coal, to last us well into the new year
Toiletries & health: Deodorant, soap, usual items
Gifts: All done – of course we can’t say what they were!

Our home is now decorated for the festive season, including a wonderful gift of some mistletoe. We’ll be trying to get the berries to propagate onto one of the trees in the garden – you can find advice abut doing that here.

Although a lot of bloggers are now looking back on 2014, we are not reviewing the year in this way as our financial & blogging year started in March. This is purely coincidental, but it does fit beautifully with the natural year and seasons. So for us winter is the last quarter of our calendar, and in the coming months we’ll be continuing to channel our resources and time towards what matters most to us: living simply, safely, more lightly on the planet, and happily.

Happy winter solstice!

DSCF1295

Loving Winter Evenings

It may be getting dark long before we get home from work, but this year we’ve been making the most of winter evenings.

Our evenings usually begin by lighting the fire. Over the years the way we do this has changed and become more reliable and easy for us both to do. The various stages of the fire-lighting process are our journey into our evening: getting kindling, making the kindling base with bigger bits on top, lighting it, adding bigger wood and coal when the flames get fierce enough, waiting for a hot bed to set in, and then keeping it going frugally.

Then it’s nice to have some treats and telly in the warmth by the fire. This is Brian enjoying one of his favourite combinations: a coffee, some treats, and watching the latest team on the quiz Eggheads say their names and ages. This is entertaining because the studio lighting (we assume) often makes them look a lot older than they are, which can be very satisfying!

Guessing the age of the contestants on Eggheads

Guessing the age of the contestants on Eggheads

It’s easy to feel like you have to eat stodgy, heavy meals in the winter, but we’re trying to avoid this and make more use of our wok and vegetable-based light dinners. When a bigger meal is what we fancy, we go for one where there will definitely be enough for two nights, such as spaghetti Bolognese – this is our vegetarian version with mushrooms and carrots, and whole-wheat spaghetti, so even this isn’t too heavy.

11 14 Spag bol night

Other things we enjoy like reading blogs and watching online videos, yoga, and just having a good conversation together are all extra cosy on winter evenings. And it’s definitely the best time of year for savouring the moment of getting into a lovely comfy bed!

Commuting in the dark is harder to love. For Lucy travelling by bicycle when the weather allows, safety and fun is increased massively by investing in some awesome lights. These fit on the wheel spokes and flash multi-coloured patterns as you go, and make you feel like you’re riding a Christmas tree on wheels!

11 22 New wheel lights

It’s been mild this year so far and we haven’t had to deal with bitter cold, ice or snow. But, if we set out every day with the intention to love the season, whatever its weather and challenges, we can enjoy every winter day. Like this, in 2013:

Our longest icicle competition on the living room window!

Our longest icicle competition on the living room window!

More of What Matters spending review, month 8

The making of Christmas cake #2

The making of Christmas cake #2

Today marks the end of month 8, and it’s been the most expensive month so far. We have done more shopping than during the rest of the year, but every item was justifiable. It was a high-spending month on food and drink, because we had a week off (which we tend to celebrate in an edible way) and we bought the ingredients for two Christmas cakes. We’ve also had a couple of take-aways and treats out, which we’ve thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated.

The little things add up too: this month required extra coal, new hoover bags, a watch battery and a dentist check-up. We also paid our quarterly phone & internet bill and annual bicycle insurance, and had a few sick days deducted, and all of this together has made it our lowest-saving month yet – but all for good reasons and we’ve still saved 30% of our income.

Here’s the full round-up of our spending:

Transport: 2 fills of petrol, some bus trips, cycle insurance renewal, and bicycle wheel lights for extra visibility
Domestic: Hoover bags, watch battery, tin foil, loo rolls, washing up liquid, 4 bags of coal
Health: Dentist appointment, and general supplies
Toiletries: moisturiser, haircare, deodorant, soaps
Clothing: 2 merino tops on special offer, t-shirts, tights and pants!
Gifts: We bought our first few Christmas gifts

Decluttering
In terms of additional stuff or clutter brought into the house, it would be no change this month, because we have de-cluttered about the same amount as we have acquired, including: CDs and discs of photos (carefully broken), a big water filter jug, tights with un-mendable holes in, craft materials (dried up glue sticks, scraps of fabric etc), and books.

2011_12290060

Now we go into month 9, a month when in the past we would assume we could not put a single penny into savings, because it’s Christmas. We get tempted to overspend on food, trimmings, and sparkly things at this time of year. But we’ve learned a lot since starting this blog, and there’s no need to have excess or waste in order to enjoy the season.

There’s going to be more stopping – to listen to one another, to be creative, to relax, to enjoy festive music, appreciate decorations, feel the warmth of fires and fruit punch, savour delicious food – and less shopping!