Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Memories of Christmas Eve

For me, Christmas Eve is now a day for remembrance and reflection. 30 years ago my dad died and he was buried on this day and it's now 10 years since my mum went into a special care home for the last few months of her life. I shall be thinking of them both a lot today.

Last year I wrote this blog for ARUK about the memory tree I created the year before for our village church (you can read more about it here). Interesting that I was up to 31 marathons then and now my tally has crept up to 40.

Several months back I was asked by the lovely Felicity at to think of a piece of music that was either special to my mum or reminded me of her. She was putting together a list of 'memory tracks' that reminded people of the loved one they had lost to dementia. Musical memories seem to last longer as dementia takes hold and there are lots of people providing music therapy in Care Homes.

I thought long and hard as there has always been music in our lives but what came to mind was Three Little Maids From School Are We from The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan. The reason I chose this was that mum sang this when she was at school and we often used to have sing-alongs with me and mum crooning whilst Mike played the piano. Although my dad wasn't a lover of G&S, mum and I often went to see performances whenever we got the opportunity.

Since then I've tried to think of a song that reminds me of my dad and they're all rather unusual! When I was little he used to drive me to the Newsagents to collect the newspaper on a Sunday morning after Church and he would sing really old songs to me (such as this one which I believe was performed by Billy Cotton?) but the one I remember best is Little Brown Jug (originally a Folk Song but also a hit for Glenn Miller) and I always chuckle at the line " and when I die, don't bury me at all, just pickle my bones, in alcohol"!

Having typed all that I'm feeling much happier and will be singing my heart out as I drive to the doctors to collect my prescription of asthma drugs (let the good times roll!!!), deliver the last few cards and pop in to see a lovely lady who is living with dementia.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Noo Shoes

This post is all about my new running shoes and is for anyone who, like me, needs a shoe with the maximum amount of cushioning available. I have a touch of arthritis in my feet so need a shoe that helps absorb the stress of pounding out the miles, especially on longer runs (by which I mean anything over 15 miles).

I've been wearing ASICS Gel Nimbus ever since I started running marathons and, apart from a couple of years ago when the latest design was too narrow in the toe-box, I have found they offered just the right amount of cushioning. Of course the efficacy of the cushioning diminishes over time and I change my shoes after about 500 miles to avoid risking injury.

As I run between 1500 - 2000 miles a year this means I get through a fair few pairs each year. Whoever said that running is a cheap sport obviously wasn't a marathon runner!

So why am I writing this?

Because after pounding out 2 of Traviss's marathons on concrete (in Deal and Dymchurch) within a few days of each other my feet were not at all happy! More specifically it was my left foot that was very sore after the first marathon so I gave it a bit of a rest and crossed my fingers it would be OK at Dymchurch.

Well I survived it but my poor left foot was quite tender afterwards and it looked as if there was some internal bruising. Poor sore foot. I felt rather guilty about it so I allowed it just a few gentle plods to recover. But it was still sore after a few days and so common sense prevailed and I gave it a complete rest for a few days - no running, just brisk walking.

During that time I started to look for a solution and I remembered reading about a brand named HOKA One One which is favoured by the ultra-running community. I'd dashed past their stand at the London marathon Expo but didn't have time to stop and look at them properly. All I remembered was that they looked big and chunky!

I read everything I could find about them and then asked an expert, namely Traviss, who has run a ridiculous number of 100 mile ultra-marathons this year alone so I reckoned that he would offer good advice. He told me that he's been wearing them for over 4 years and wouldn't wear anything else now for really long distance running. Also, he assured me that most ultra-marathon runners wear them because of their superb cushioning and longevity.

That was a good enough recommendation in my book and he told me to speak to Keith at and so I did. I explained that I required a neutral shoe (as I neither over-pronate nor under-pronate) with the maximum cushioning, I'm a mid-foot striker (i.e. in my running stride I land right in the middle of my foot rather than on the heel or toe), my feet are average width, I need shoes suitable for running on tarmac rather than off-road and I love purple and green - not that the colour is a deal-breaker of course but a girl can dream!

Keith came back to me really quickly and suggested that I try this model, the Hoka 'Conquest'. So I ordered a pair and they came with free postage the very next day which was fantastic service thanks Keith.

The first thing I noticed was that they didn't seem as big as I thought they would be so I put them next to a pair of my existing shoes for comparison:

They didn't feel heavier either and so I weighed them. My ASICs Gel Nimbus, above left, weighed 305g and the Hokas weighed 292g so are actually lighter.

I tried one on and struggled to adjust the laces which have what's known as a Race-Lace system which I wasn't familiar with. I have a high instep and found it a bit awkward to get my foot in initially. I mentioned the tightness to Keith and he suggested that I could take out the insole to give myself more room if need be. The laces are much thinner than conventional laces too. I'm still not sure if I like this so-called speed-lacing system but it isn't a problem because they were supplied with standard laces as well so if I can always change them at a later date.

There's plenty of room in the toe box, and after a walk around inside I headed off to the treadmill to give them a trial before deciding if I should keep them.

At this time my left foot was still slightly sore but I couldn't feel it at all in the Hokas as the cushioning was so good. I'd tried running the same day using my other shoes and it still felt a bit sore so the extra cushioning certainly made a difference. After a couple of miles I decided that I liked them and so I headed out along the lanes to give them a proper test.

I'd heard people say that they make you change your gait because of their rocking motion but I didn't notice any difference at all. I deliberately chose a hilly route to see if my foot hurt on either the uphills or the downhills and it didn't hurt at all. Amazing!

I've done about 60 miles in them so far and my longest run has only been 10 miles so they still need to be tested over longer distances but my initial reaction is very positive. They'll get a proper test in early January when I do my next marathon.

For anyone who like me suffers from arthritis and needs extra cushioning then they are definitely worth a try.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

One person's junk…….

….…is another person's treasure.

I grew up with parents who collected things and recycled everything they could. Knitted items were either passed on to friends or undone and re-knitted or crocheted into granny blankets. Fabric bits were saved and turned into patchwork. My clothes were all home-made either from my sisters hand-me-downs or from jumble-sale finds and bits of fabric/buttons/lace etc were saved 'just in case' of need in a craft project so it's hardly surprising that I'm a self-confessed hoarder of anything that might be useful in the future!

Charity shops (aka Thrift stores across the pond) and garage sales or auctions are like a magnet to me and it was on one of these forays that I came across this lovely piece of petit point. It was in a pile of about 7 different pieces, some made for chair seats and some framed to hang on a wall, most of which were not to my taste but this one caught my eye.

It looked as if a keen needlewoman/man might have passed away and their possessions passed to the shop. So sad. The work is very neat and detailed but unfortunately it is badly out of shape as whoever made it didn't use a frame. You can see how the design is leaning to the left. Undeterred, I could see it would make a very pretty cushion cover and so it came home with me.

I steamed it gently on top of a towel and stretched it as much as I could and this is what it looked like afterwards. Much better, although there are a couple of ridges where the wool had been threaded under the stitches. No matter, it's still beautiful and well worth the £4 price tag with funds going to a local Hospice.

Steaming it couldn't make much difference to how dreadfully out of shape it was though. I've put this file at a right angle to the edge of the table to show just how much the whole material, not just the embroidered section, leans to the left. This is either because a frame wasn't used or that the fabric wasn't mounted correctly onto the frame (you need to lace up the sides to keep the edges straight)

I'm undecided whether to make it into a square or round cushion. I do know that I'll be edging it in a blue and brown braid (I love making braid) or perhaps a two/three-colour i-cord. The back will be either dark blue or mushroom fabric.

Here's a close-up so you can see the detail in the shading.

Which leads me onto my second find, this rather unpromising bundle of haberdashery, "yours for £5 Madam":

It might look like a load of old tat but there's treasure in there!

Just look what I found inside (with apologies for the strange silver lines in some of the photos - they're our venetian blinds reflected in the granite worktop):

Lots of lace and edgings with a bodice bib and collar

I love rummaging through bundles like this as you never know what's hidden inside. I've only thrown a few pieces away which were too discoloured or raggedy to be useful.

Although rather tattered this crocheted piece is rather interesting in its construction so is worth keeping for reference. I particularly like the central square motif but find the over-use of picots a bit OTT (I thought they were tatted at first but they are in fact crochet).

These 2 pieces will be soaked and washed to see if the linen is worth salvaging.

Same with this doily. Some of the crochet rounds are damaged but the linen seems OK. It could possibly be enlivened with some bright embroidery as it would fit rather nicely on our little table in the gazebo - hmm, that's got me thinking now!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Catching my breath

I haven't done much knitting/crochet/embroidery or running this week as I felt in need of a bit of a break. Of course, when I say I haven't done much running that is relative and I have still run 4 days this week already.

In the meantime I've been looking at all the things I've been meaning to write about on my blog but haven't had the time so the next few posts will probably appear to be completely random and unrelated.

A quick fix

I made this cabled-yoke cardigan from Vogue Knitting magazine 2009 several years ago and I absolutely adore it.

One of my favourite cardigans

The colours were chosen to match this old blouse form Boden and I bought the mohair yarn in a sale so it cost very little to make.

But, and it's one of those really annoying 'buts', the placement of the 2 button closure means that unless your chest is flat as a pancake, which mine is not, it gapes when worn (not exactly like this but it sort of juts out from the bust which is not attractive!):

Simulation of the annoying gape!

I also regretted my choice of the 2 vintage buttons I used.  Although they are lovely and have sentimental value, as they came from knitwear my mum made in the 1930s, I think they are too small and round.

Tilly and I went rummaging around in my button collection and we found 3 of these large flat rust-coloured buttons which we both agreed were ideal.

Tilly inspects my choice of buttons

The next thing I did was cut the existing buttons off very carefully and looked at where the new buttons should sit to avoid any gape. This involved the use of safety pins in different places until I was happy with how it closed.

The existing buttonholes were grafted together and I created new buttonholes by snipping into the knitting exactly where I wanted them.  Eek, that was a bit scary! No worries though as mohair is so hairy and sticky that no stitches came undone in the process. Next I sewed all around the new openings using buttonhole stitch to strengthen them and prevent fraying.

Mike wasn't around when I took this photo and it looks as if the buttonholes aren't spaced evenly 
because my arm is lifted, but they are!

I really like the new buttons and think they look much better.

Darn it

OK, why am I showing photos of what looks like a heart-shaped box with tulips on top?……..

View from above

View from the side

……Because this little box has been with us about 20 years now. It was originally just a plain box, made of compressed cardboard, which I decorated with a yellow glaze and then stencilled to match the decor in the downstairs cloakroom in our previous home. It was just the right size to hold 3 spare toilet rolls and it sat on top of the wood panelling Mike made to enclose the cistern.

Now being a lover of anything heart-shaped I certainly wasn't going to get rid of it when we moved to our present home and found it didn't fit in with our current decor. No siree! My little box was re-purposed or up-cycled or whatever re-using something called nowadays and lives in the craft area of my office.

This is what I use him for:

My darning materials

Each time I make a pair of socks, a cardigan or something that will inevitably need darning at some stage I put a small amount of the yarn inside the box so it's easy to find when needed.

As we started to get ready for the colder months I amassed a huge pile of socks that needed some TLC together with Mike's favourite cardigan which needs an annual overhaul. I made Mike this cosy 'Morrigan' cardigan back in 2009 and it quickly became his favourite. This of course meant that it has suffered wear in all the stress points notably elbows and cuffs.

In this next photo you can see evidence of previous repairs, all nice and neatly woven in but this year it required a huge patch as his elbow was hanging out of a massive hole! I usually like to disguise repairs but I had a limited amount of the yarn left anyway and it was alway going to show so I opted for a crocheted patch which I sewed in place.

The cuffs had almost completely worn away and I hadn't got enough yarn to re-knit them and so I opted for a border of double crochet (UK term) which served its purpose well enough. As the cardigan is now confined to use around the house it doesn't really matter that it has wavy cuffs.

Several pairs of my socks needed attention around the heels and I quite enjoyed using my darning mushroom (which you can see in my box above) to make them wearable again.

Holey heels

There's loads more to write about but I don't want to make this post too long so there may be a few more posts coming up soon.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Marathon 40 of 60, a quiz and some Cows

Yes, there are indeed some cows, not real ones though - they're crocheted and it's all in a good cause. Here's Tilly inspecting the bull hat:

But first I must write about marathon number 40 which I completed on Friday. There are lots of photos of the sea and sky to tell the story, with a few people thrown in for good measure (not thrown into the sea, I hasten to add!).

The race was held in the village of Dymchurch which has a history of smuggling. It also played a huge part in the defense of our country and I'll write more about that in January next year when I'll be running another similar event, the Martello Marathon.

Rachel, Traviss and team handing out race numbers before stocking the table with drinks and goodies for the aid station. Traviss has run either 3 or 4 x 100 mile ultra marathons since I ran the first of his events the Fowlmead Challenge in October. How amazing is that?!!!
Runners beginning to gather at the registration point
The forecast was not too bad other than being cold with perhaps a bit of drizzle but at least there wasn't any wind which would have been horrible on the coast. I always think the sea looks mean and moody when the weather is overcast so here are a few photos to give you a feel for it:

It was another out-and-back route on concrete, along the top level, which we had to complete 5 times (with an extra bit at the start to make up the mileage) and I know I said it last time but I'm really enjoying this type of marathon for a change. This is the view to the East.

This is the view to the West

I went down some steps to the lower level and chuckled at this notice on the ground:

These pretty little birds (perhaps Sandpipers? I'm not good at identifying sea birds) flitted along the edge of the waves

Looking West towards Dungeness Power Station

Looking East towards Folkestone and Dover
After I'd registered and collected my running number I wandered off for a look around the immediate area. 

My wanderings took me along the seawall and around the back of this pub. I wondered how it got its name being that it is many miles away from the  City of London! A 16th Century inn, it was originally called The Seawall Tavern (which seemed a bit more in keeping) but during a storm in 1775 a ship named The City of London was blown ashore and collided with the inn, causing substantial damage. The ship's figurehead and timbers were used to repair the building and the name was changed to reflect this. It serves as a memorial to those who lost their lives all those years ago.

Here you can see one of the many beacons across the land. Nowadays they are lit for special occasions such as the Queen's Jubilee in 2012 rather than as warning signals for the defense of the country (see here for more details).

There were flocks of starlings balancing on the telegraph lines.

We'd been informed that it was international day of the Ninja (yes, really!) and Traviss had asked us all to wear black running gear. Here's a photos of us all at the start:

Can you spot me? I'm on the far right next to the man wearing a white tee shirt. I've got my face covered with my buff as the cold was affecting my asthma!
It was very strange not wearing my purple (well, it was purple once) cap with the crochet on and people kept saying they didn't recognise me without it. I wore my ARUK vest underneath my black top and I still wore mum's ring which made me feel better.

I was delighted to see some familiar faces at the start line. Best of all was spotting Claire who I mentioned last week and we were both doing our 40th marathon that day. After a couple of laps we realised that we were running at about the same pace and Claire suggested that we could run the remainder together to help each other along as we weren't trying for a particular time. 

This was an excellent idea as both of us were still feeling the effects of the previous marathon 5 days before (Claire with her hamstring and me in my left foot which objected to the pounding on concrete). Chatting with her really helped pass the miles and it was great to catch up. 

We were trying to remember when we'd last seen each other and I thought it was at the Beachy Head marathon 2007 (where Claire and a few other people ran the route twice, yes twice - they started at 3am!) but she reminded me it was at the Hastings marathon later that same year. Still a long time ago.

I love the light shimmering on the sea - very moody

The last lap and a half we ran/walked to help take the pressure off our sore bits. This is a really useful strategy if you're tiring in a long distance event as the change of pace seems to re-energise your legs. By walking I don't mean ambling along, it was a brisk walk and not for very long, just perhaps a walk break of around 100 metres occasionally. 

These next photos were taken during the last lap:

The turnaround point was adjacent to a firing range, surrounded by barbed wire.
Towards the end the weather brightened up and the sky turned from grey to blue. We had to run past this massive rock on each lap. Claire was being my artistic adviser and suggested I include our shadows  in the photo.

The view towards Folkestone was much prettier than first thing. Now Claire knows a thing or two about rocks (as it's her specialist subject) so I can state with confidence that these rocks, which form part of the sea defences, are known as 'rock armour' (more photos of examples here - Rock Armour). I also learned that the sparkly bits in these igneous rocks are a mineral known as Mica (see Claire, I remembered!)

Heading for the finish line

We crossed the line together in 5:24:25 and the smiles on our faces sum up our delight. So that was Claire's 40th marathon before she turns 40 next year and it was my 40th marathon out of 60 before I turn 60 in 2017. Only 20 more to go then! 

Thanks for your company Claire xxx

When I arrived home it was time for a cuppa and to tell Mike all about it. Just look at that medal (it weighs a ton and is serious bling!) and the giant Toblerone which was included in the amazing goody bag for all finishers.

The Quiz

Although there was a cup of tea in the previous photo we need something sparkly to celebrate my 40th marathon and it just so happened that it was the village quiz that same evening. So after a nice soak in the bath we dressed up and headed off to meet our fellow teammates Gordon and Judy to share some bubbles with them before we headed off to the quiz.

They were amazed when they realised that we'd walked to the village (it's only just over 1/2 a mile) and couldn't believe I was so chirpy. I actually like to park my car at least 1/2 mile away from the start/finish area of a marathon as I find that a nice walk after a marathon helps to stretch out my legs.

The quiz was well attended and it was a fun evening. We were on table 'K' and so called ourselves 'Team Koko'.

There was one very contentious question - who wrote the theme to the James Bond movies? The answer was given as John Barry who only arranged the theme which was actually written by Monty Norman (check out the link Glenys where it says 'James Bond theme'!). Of course Mike, being a composer, knew the correct answer but when he queried it with the quizmaster he was told that Google gave him the answer and of course most people have only heard of John Barry. Well Google needs to get it's facts right then!

Despite that debacle we managed to win the 'categories' section of the quiz which included General Knowledge, History and Geography, Christmas, Film and performance. There was an additional section which involved identifying small sections of the faces of famous people and recognising different items such as a 'Bit coin' (which we didn't know). Guess what? - we won that section too.

Hoorah for Team Koko! 

These are the lovely goodies we took home

What a great way to end the day!

Now, about those cows

I mentioned previously that I'd been busy knitting and crocheting things for various charities. This was a very fun idea which came about because of me typing "hoorah!" on a comment on Facebook! I love random things like that.

As a result of that I was contacted by Andy from White Star Running and asked if I could make something for them as a raffle prize, along with free entry to one of their races and other goodies, with the proceeds going to Alzheimer's Research UK. Of course I was delighted to oblige and we finally agreed that I'd make a cow hat because they organise what are known as the Bad Cow races.

Having scoured Ravelry for a suitable pattern I sent a few photos for Andy to choose his favourite and he chose this crochet pattern for a cow/bull hat. What fun. The pattern was well written and included a variety of sizes - I chose the 'teen/adult' size which fitted me and Mike perfectly. I used Red Heart 'Soft' which was a nice yarn to work with and is very soft.

I made the girl hat first and loved it so much I decided to crochet a second one for the boys so they had 2 to include in the raffle!

Every girl cow deserves a pink bow and curly ties.

For the bull I added some little horns and gave him a white flash on his nose.
Two moos 
Andy asked me if I could please add their logo on the back but I was a bit short on time so did an approximation which seemed to work OK.

The raffle started here on Facebook on Friday. A £1 donation gets one entry into the raffle to win entry to one of they races, a tee shirt and a cow hat and has already raised over £100. Thanks guys, excellent work xxx.

Now all I've got to do is catch up with all the other things I need to write about on here…...