Sunday, September 23, 2012

Beautiful crochet mandala

I've finished the mandala and I absolutely adore it!

Finished mandala - front
It was completely absorbing from start to finish and fascinating watching the pattern develop.

Finished mandala - back

The weaving-in of ends wasn't too daunting as I'd done a lot of it as I went along.

It still needs blocking just to finish it off completely but I was so pleased with the end result I just wanted to show it now!

Close up of toning shades
Mandala, cushion and curtains
I'm going to stiffen the back, probably using iron-on interfacing and hang it behind the chair to brighten up the corner.


Pattern: By Carola Herbst at Etsy.  A very well written and detailed pattern full of step by step instructions, photos and charts.
Yarn: Rowan Summer Tweed, aran weight, in colours to match my dining room curtains and crochet cushion.
Hook: 3.5mm
Technique: Overlay Crochet.
Finished dimensions: 30cm diameter.  I wanted a much larger mandala than in the pattern, hence my choice of yarn.

I can't wait to investigate this technique further!

Asthma update

After weeks of feeling grotty and struggling through 2 marathons in the process, I went back to the doctor.  Thankfully it was my favourite doctor who listened to all the problems I've been having (sore throat, night cramps in both legs, running nose, headaches, generally feeling grotty) and changed my medications on a trial basis.

After 2 days of trying them I am starting to feel a bit better so I'm hopeful that they might be more successful.  As one of them is in a purple container, which is my favourite colour, they must be efficacious!

New meds!

Friday, September 21, 2012

World Alzheimer's Day

Today is the 18th World Alzheimer's Day.

It makes me sad that dementia has become such a problem that it has to have a special day but at least it is spoken about more openly now.

People often ask me now why I am still campaigning 7 years after my mum died and it's simple - so little has changed since I first started out on my journey.  Research into this devastating disease is still desperately under-funded but at least David Cameron has listened and has promised to make it a priority.

I would like to be able to focus on the good times with my mum but I know in my heart that I must still tell her story so that others become aware of how dreadful dementia is both for the person themselves and for those around them.

Today I shall be remembering how ghastly it was for my mum as she descended into the dark world of dementia and thinking of all those who are suffering now, together with their families and friends.

I miss you mum.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rosehip Syrup & other bits and bobs

I've taken a week off everything physical to try and beat whatever is bugging me and making the asthma worse.  I traditionally do this after my last marathon of the year as it allows me to recharge my batteries both mentally and physically.  But, with the Beachy Head marathon in just 4 weeks I really need to be in good shape and there is no denying that I am feeling grotty at the moment!

So I've taken to stalking our hedgerows as a gentle form of exercise.  They are laden with enough sloes to start a small distillery.

Sloe gin growing nicely!

The blackberries and hawthorn berries are glowing like jewels.  I've already made rosehip and bramble jelly which I hadn't tried before, which is sublime and I'll write up a recipe soon, and I am toying with the idea of trying hawthorn jelly (although the taste when they are raw doesn't really appeal so I may not bother!).

The haul of rosehips this year is phenomenal and I don't think we've ever had so many that I could be really picky and only choose the really beautiful and perfect ones.  I picked 2kg and there's at least 5 times that amount left for the birds.

I've been making rosehip syrup for years, whenever I could find a plentiful supply of hips as it's such a wonderful source of vitamin C to help ward off colds throughout the winter months. In our last garden we grew Rosa Rugosa which produced the most beautiful round hips and they made a lovely syrup.  Our hedgerows have 2 forms of Dog Rose, one with white flowers and one with pale pink flowers and the hips are a slightly different shape.

So, here's my recipe for Rosehip Syrup:


You can halve the quantities successfully as it's not always possible to gather so many hips.

1kg of hips, nice and ripe and no mushy ones
1kg of sugar - I've used caster sugar and granulated in the past with excellent results.  I've seen recipes using dark sugar but I think that might overpower the flavour of the hips.  This time I've experimented with Golden Caster sugar.
Boiling water (quantities within the recipe)
Warmed, sterilised bottles or jars with lids or corks (small bottles are best for this as once it's opened it doesn't keep well)

Gather the hips carefully as the thorns on our native Dog Rose are vicious!  I use a pair of secateurs or scissors to snip the hips off.  Wash them and get rid of any dried brown bits on the bottom of the hips.

A beautiful haul of Rosehips

Boil 2 litres of water (I use the kettle for this rather than a pan).  Most recipes tell you to chop the hips.  Well, I'm sorry but life is too short for that so I just toss them in the blender with a some of the water as it makes the grinding easier.

Chopping rosehips the easy way!

Tip all the minced rosehips and all the water into a preserving pan.  The mixture looks a bit like red lentils. Bring the water to the boil again then remove from the heat, give it a good stir, cover the pan and leave to steep for 30 minutes.

Chopped rosehips and water
Scald a jelly bag and tip the mixture into it with a bowl underneath to collect the liquid.  If you haven't got a jelly bag you can use a couple of pieces of muslin to line a colander but be careful that it is strained properly as the rosehip seeds have hairs that can irritate the gut.  Strain for 30 minutes then remove the pulp from the bag and put it back in the pan with another 1 litre of boiling water.  Stir, cover and leave for a further 30 minutes then strain this through the jelly bag/muslin into the other juice.

Throw away the pulp (it's good for the compost heap!).

Put the juice into a clean pan and boil rapidly until it has reduced by 1/2.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until it has all dissolved.  It's important to make sure all the sugar crystals have dissolved before you boil the mixture as they can spoil the look of the finished syrup.  Then boil the mixture rapidly, without stirring, for 5 minutes.

Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble!
Pour carefully into the bottles or jars and seal.  I use my large measuring jug to pour the syrup into the bottles.  Store in a cool dark place.

Liquid vitamin C
Enjoy a spoonful a day throughout the dark months of Winter or drizzle it over ice cream/pancakes.

Mandala and knitting progress

The mandala is growing nicely and I'm in love with this technique as it's so absorbing.  Using an aran weight silk/cotton yarn is not the easiest of options but I love the nobbly texture and of course these colours are perfect for the dining room.  I think I'll be playing around with this technique some more over the next few months.

My jumper is coming on slowly but surely but I can only work on it in daylight as I find the dark colours of the kidsilk haze difficult to see well in artificial light.


Mike's just finishing off some steps from the lawn to part of the patio.  There's a bit just below the patio that is just crying out for a bit of mosaic (you can see that Mike has kindly cross hatched it to provide a key for my mosaic).  I haven't done any mosaic for a while so I'm going to enjoy it.  

Steps in need of mosaic magic
I've got loads of tesserae (glass and ceramic) but I thought I'd make use of some of the bits and bobs I've dug up in the garden.  I've got loads of bits of blue and white pottery but I also have a few bits of brown and cream and some bits of old broken glass in various shades of green so I thought I'd go for muted colours.  

Broken bits

In the bottom left there are some makers' marks which I'd like to include if possible and I've got some Shisha Mirrors somewhere that could brighten it up too.  I think I've got some diamond shaped ones as well as circles.

Whilst rummaging around I found these ceramic bunnies that I made in pottery class a few years ago.  There are some hearts too (a motif I use a lot!).  They were made for a mobile but the firing wasn't right and some of the pieces were broken when someone else's pot fell on top of my things.  

The 2 small blue and orange bunnies were made in memory of Tango and Bluebelle by last 2 beautiful Rex rabbits who sadly passed away a few years ago.  I'd kept Rex rabbits for over 30 years but I decided not to get any more when they died.

Beautiful bunnies

Weather permitting, I'll make a start on the mosaic tomorrow.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Crochet mandala

Tinker and I settled down to a bit of crochet using this beautiful mandala design by Carola Herbst.  The pattern is very detailed and well  written.  I just had to remember that it used American crochet terms so I had to pay attention and change sc to dc etc etc.

In her design she used dk cotton but I wanted to use Rowan Summer Tweed, an aran weight as I wanted it to be bigger and more bulky.

There were a few false starts on the colour choices as I wanted it to co-ordinate with my curtains and cushion.

But eventually I settled on a good combo and I was off!

I'd never tried overlay crochet before and it is fascinating and very absorbing.  It's really interesting seeing the layers develop.  After an hour of hooky fun, this is what I'd done.

There are lots more rounds to crochet and I'm looking forward to watching the pattern develop.  Carola's instructions are really clear and very detailed.

I recently bought this book - Crochet Masterclass in which there is another beautiful pattern by Melody MacDuffee using overlay crochet (part of it is shown on the front cover).  Her piece uses embroidery cottons which sounds great fun as I have a large collection of many colours.

I'm looking forward to trying some new and more challenging techniques such as Clones Lace (using a .75mm hook, yikes!) and revisiting old friends such as hairpin lace - I don't think I've done that since the 1970s when I made shawls!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

International Crochet day

Today, 12th September, is the 5th year of International Crochet Day which was started by Jimbo and he's having a giveaway of his beautiful crochet hooks so pop over and have a look.

I shall be crocheting a mandala today to celebrate.

I didn't run on Sunday

It's so rare that I miss doing my long run on a Sunday that I felt I had to write about it!  I had such a ghastly day with asthma on Saturday, feeling grotty with a raging sore throat and very chesty and then kept waking up coughing throughout the night.  I didn't feel too bad when I got up but Mike very sensibly suggested I take a day off and just potter to let my body recover.

So I did, but my idea of pottering isn't quite as relaxing as it perhaps should be!

When the sun rose there was still mist trapped in the valley below.   I've tried and tried to capture just how beautiful it looks but never quite manage it.

As the sun peeped through the trees, the grasses shimmered and the seedheads dripped with sparkly diamonds. 

 So pretty!

The garden spiders had been busy making their amazing webs.

Mike was playing the piano and so I decided to have a bonfire!  

This tidy little fire is the last bit of it as I was too busy hurling branches onto it to take photo when it was in full flow.  We'd just finished cutting the hedges and there were about 8 trailer loads of branches to deal with - too thin and sappy to shred, so burning was the only answer.

When it was almost done I headed back up to the house for a well earned coffee, stopping at the pond to catch this lovely reflection of the sky.

The temperature was soaring by then so Tinker and I decided we'd do some weaving on the crochet blanket.  I daren't think how many hours this has taken so far and will take to finish - it takes me 15 minutes to double weave one row.  It will be worth the effort though as it's starting to look lovely.

When it cooled down a bit in the afternoon I went out with the camera to snap some more butterflies.

Silver Y moth on Lotus flower

Silver Y moth from the side

Small White on Eupatorium 

Small White male (?) - no spot

Plume Moth
The cyclamen are peeping through the undergrowth in the shady areas of the front garden.

As the day drew to a close we decided to make the most of what was forecast to be the last of the good weather and so we set up the sunbeds with a crocheted blankie each for when it got cooler.  You might also spot the bottle of wine and 2 glasses!

I love sitting outside in the evening and either knitting or crocheting.  In this case I was crocheting some ideas for another cushion cover.

I know I'm not taking photos of the sunset any more but this sky was so lovely I couldn't resist.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Swatch this

I've been meaning to make Glade (Ravelry link) by Marie Wallin from Rowan magazine 40 which came out in 2006. I've made lots of things from this issue and I bought the yarn for Glade years ago so it was about time I started it.

Glade by Marie Wallin
It uses 3 shades of Rowan Tapestry, sadly now discontinued, and 3 shades of the ever popular Kidsilk Haze.  I was drawn to the ripply pattern and lovely muted shades.

I looked at versions completed on Ravelry and one thing was obvious - sizing was a huge issue.  Quite literally in fact!  So I did my first swatch with the suggested 4mm needles.  It was an inch too wide and the stitches were very loose.  I undid most of it before I thought to save it to show.

Then I went down to 3.5mm needles and the gauge was spot on with much better stitch definition and a firmer fabric.

So I cast on the required number of stitches for the back and as I did I kept thinking that there seemed to be an awful lot more stitches than I'd expected given a gauge of 27.5 stitches to 4".  So I did a few rows and then measured it - 22".  That would mean a lower edge measurement of 44" which is 8" more than my hip measurement so would be incredibly baggy.  

I checked the pattern for the final measurements in case I'd done something silly.  I was working on a size 14 as my bust measures 38" and the diagram showed 18.5" after blocking.  Something didn't add up.  I read through the pattern, had a look at Ravelry to see comments from others and then I suddenly noticed the shape of the diagram in the pattern - it was like a bell; wide at the lower edge and tapering gradually to the underarm.  

Ding dong!

As you can see, the width arrow doesn't go right across the bottom so the measurement is referring to the underarm measurement.

I hadn't spotted that on the photo (above) as it's taken from the side and it looks as if it goes in at the waist and then out for the bust.  It doesn't and I suspect that's one of the reasons some knitters have been disappointed with their finished sweaters.  That shape is not good on anyone with a larger bust.

So, I've reduced the number of stitches at the bottom and changed the shaping to go in a bit at the waist and then out for the bust.  Hopefully that will work.  The other thing I will do is reduce the length of the sleeves as even on the model they look a bit too long for my liking.

The moral of this story is to always do a gauge swatch and read the pattern all the way through before you start so you are sure it does what you want it to do.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Jiminy cricket!

Look at this beautiful little fellow I spotted on my Begonia Luxurians.  He was huge!  I think he's an Oak Bush-Cricket and I've never seen one like him before.

Oak Bush-Cricket
I've just been out assessing the garden, thinking what to move where, what's worked and what has not  etc etc as one does at this time of year.

Herb border
The herb border by the patio looked pretty when in flower but annoyingly the lavenders are not all the same variety.  It was only a temporary planting anyway so that will be different next year.

 This Ballota was bought on a whim as I knew nothing about it but just liked its furry grey foliage.  I didn't even know if it flowered - it did and the bees adored it.

A buzzy friend

I tried and tired to get a photo of the huge number of bees whizzing to and fro each of the tiny, insignificant looking flowers but they were so fast and furious in their gathering of the precious pollen  that I couldn't capture them!

Magnolia Grandiflora
My Magnolia Grandiflora had 2 beautiful milky white flowers that filled the air with their lemony perfume.  I'm trying to grow it in a massive pot to see how it copes with it.  So far it's looking very healthy.

After the petals dropped I thought the cone looked so beautiful that I've saved the image to use as an embroidery design.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Marathon 28 done and dusted

Nerves?  Pah!
I had a lovely day and really enjoyed myself, smiling all the way round.  My breathing was OK throughout, my only real problem being a massive cramp in my left hamstring at around 18 miles.  Thankfully a nice man helped me to get rid of it by stretching my leg out.  I had my usual sore right knee and right hamstring pain up in my bum for the last 4 miles or so and the last 3 miles were slower than I would have liked.
Fab to see so many  100 marathon clubbers  there and to chat to old friends en-route.  I love out and back/roundabout routes like this 'cos as a slower runner I get to see all the speedy peeps which is inspirational.
Lovely to chat to Birdypie at the start and hope you enjoyed the half (lightweight!)   

Kent Coastal marathon 2012
The race starts and finishes in Margate which is part of the Isle of Thanet (which isn't actually an island any more, although it was in the past) and is home to the Turner Contemporary art gallery.  

As we passed Bleak House, where Charles Dickens spent the summer and wrote David Copperfield, there were lots of tourists taking a peak inside.  The first half goes through the pretty town of Broadstairs which was alive with people.  The beach huts there were busy and there was a lovely atmosphere.  I'd forgotten how "undulating" the first half is and some of the undulations are more like hills!  Nothing too onerous and thankfully the second half is nice and flat (well apart from that short sharp hill alongside the Turner Contemporary on the way back!).  

The first half was hot and sunny and being on the coast we were quite exposed - I've got a white band where my running watch was.  There was a nice breeze to cool us down though.

By the time I got back to Margate it was a bit overcast and not too hot and the sky remained grey for the rest of the day.  The town is being rejuvenated but I was quite shocked (not in a good way) at how it had changed from the last time I was there in 2007.  Many years ago Mike and I used to take part in what was known as the 'convertible convoy',  organised by the Lady Taverners,  in which a large number of people with Saab convertible cars would take disabled children from London for a day trip to Margate to visit the seaside and to try the various rides on the funfair known as Dreamland which is now derelict although there is a campaign to save it.

I was also shocked at the state of the beaches.  I'd heard in the local news that they had problems with smelly seaweed and they weren't wrong - the tide was in, the seaweed was plentiful and it stank!   No wonder local businesses worry that it will keep tourists away.  Part of the marathon route is right along the seafront on a wide concrete path leading to Minnis Bay and there are lots of beach huts there.  Last time there was a mass of people sitting outside their huts enjoying the sea view and I had to pick my way through them.  This time there was just a handful of die-hards there.

The section along the seafront is quite hard going as it's all on concrete which tires your legs out.  Once that was over though it was tarmac all the way.  The marshalls were superb and very encouraging and I got a lovely welcome when I crossed the finish line.  I took 28 minutes off my previous time from 5 years ago, coming home in 5:09, which was my goal so I couldn't be happier.

Heading towards the finish line

The 100 Club were celebrating 2 members - one who had completed her 100th marathon and another who'd completed 200!  I had a brief chat with Ruth (who's now well over 200) and Kaz (who's on 85) before heading off to get an ice lolly and the drive home.

As Wallace and Grommit would say, it was a grand day out!

Saturday, September 1, 2012


I've been bottling this up so I thought I'd air my fears on here in the hope that it would  make them disappear.  Tomorrow is the Kent Coastal marathon over in Thanet and will be marathon number 4 of the 5 planned for this year and my 28th to date.

Why am I especially nervous about this one, given that pre-race nerves are a normal part of marathoning?  Well it will be my first road marathon since London back in April which is when I first experienced breathing difficulties.  I know I've done 2 marathons since then but they were off-road and there wasn't quite the same pressure on beating my time in them as I was pretty confident that I could.

This one, well the time I set 5 years ago is 5:37 so technically I should easily get inside that as I'm frequently around the 5 hour mark for a road marathon these days.  Also, with a 1/2 marathon time of 2:00:59 at Paddock Wood that should see me well below 5 hours.

But, or rather BUT, the asthma has taken a real toll on my confidence even though I've found ways of continuing to train hard even when it's been at its worst.  What if the pollen count is really high and it brings on another attack?  My gunk quotient is high today (sorry, too much info!) which is making me anxious too.  What if the weather forecast suddenly changes to 'hot' which it was last time I ran it (hence the slow time)?  What if I start too fast and can't maintain the pace?

Oh what a whingey post.  I'm even getting on my own nerves but at least I've aired my fears which might help to quieten the demons!

I'll just do it and I'll give it my best shot just as I always do.