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Wednesday
Dec182013

Cashmere

It's quite strange what this focus on running is doing to me. I had a horrible run a couple of weekends ago. It was supposed to be 20 miles (or at current pace somewhere around 3 hours 10). But all I could really focus on was how much other stuff I wanted to be doing instead of running, and at 10 miles I just stopped and wound up sobbing in frustration. Poor Clarkie was with me on the bike. It wasn't pretty. I do say nothing makes me quite as emotional as long distance running, but that was a bit extreme!

One of the big things I've been missing is good, solid, making-stuff time. I've been squeezing bits in here and there, but a good big chunk of time hadn't happened for ages. So I took some. Just a day, mind. Not that I got the project I'm about to show finished in a day, but I broke the back of it. It was lovely. I felt significantly more me afterwards, and managed some good runs last week too (not a 20-miler yet though - this weekend maybe).

So, the project. Mum occasionally throws some odd bits and pieces at me, and one time she arrived with a large, pale turquoise, cashmere tunic. The kind that you would expect tall Scandinavian women to wear with leggings and boots. I think she bought it cheap in Florida, it's the kind of thing she does, but sadly this one had been found by moths. Mum thought there was still a lot of cashmere there though, and knows I like a challenge, so had brought it to me to do with what I wanted. I started by throwing it in the freezer, to try and kill off any remaining moths, and then I let it kick around for a while. I don't think I was especially enthusiastic, but, y'know, cashmere.

One day I happened to be working from home. Our house gets a little chilly in the afternoon, what with the heating only being on morning and evening, and I found myself with the cashmere tunic over my legs like a blanket. It was good. Then I noticed the quilt swiss (or jelly) roll pack I had, which was kicking around waiting for me to come up with a cunning plan for it. It was a present from Annie. It had a dark turquoise fabric in, which suddenly seemed to match the cashmere rather well. And lo, a plan was hatched for both. 

I started out by darning the holes in the top. Initially I tried a few different wools I had around, and none of those worked terribly well. In fact, they looked terrible. I got a little disheartened, and decided to switch to unpicking a seam to get it to lie flat. Expensive woollies are mostly knit to shape, so you can unpick the seams without the thing unravelling (cheap ones tend to be cut from a big knitted sheet and fall apart). I did that, and realised I could unravel the shoulders and use that wool to darn the rest. Much better. 

bad darning good darning

Then I made the quilt top, and in one of a number of happy coincidences with this project, the swiss roll created a quilt top of just the right size. I went for a pretty simple pattern. I had three of most of the fabrics, two fabrics in turquoise, two in red and two in brown. So I made squares, then randomly distributed the squares into a top that more or less matched the slightly odd shape of the cashmere. 

With the top made and the bottom sorted, I found I had a piece of cotton batting just the right size left over from another project. Another of those coincidences. So I put a patch over the lousy darning, and got it all pinned together still with the neck and remaining sleeve attached at this point. I left it as late as possible to actually cut the cashmere, to avoid any unravelling. The quilting wasn't the easiest I've ever done because of the stretchiness of the backing (even with a walking foot), so I kept it simple and just followed the shape of the top. This bit always takes loads longer than I think. Longer than making the top, especially when the strips are ready-cut. 

I finished binding it a couple of days ago. I went for a pale cream/beige binding, which again just happened to be in my fabric stash, no idea where from. I had one strip of the turquoise fabric left, which I've interspersed with the cream just to tie it in a bit better. I did a hand-finished binding, which again took longer than I expected. I prepared the binding strip (2.5" wide, ironed in half) then finally trimmed the quilt. I machined the binding strip onto the right side, then rolled it round and hand-stitched down the back. 

Cashmere-backed quilt

There are still a bundle of ends to be sewn in, but that's done enough for me. There are a few imperfections in the quilting too, but it works. You can see the odd shape of the tunic in that photo. The neck and sleeves would have been on the left. It is a perfect length for me when I'm working on my laptop, as it covers from just above my waist to the floor (another coincidence?).

Cashmere-backed quilt 

I find it pretty amazing how binding the project changes the way it feels. Until then, it felt like a lovely piece of cashmere that I was adding extra layers to. After the binding it feels like a single object with a really soft back. I'm intending to spend a lot of time working at home over the next few months, working on a certain large document. I suspect this quilt will see a lot of use. 

Monday
Nov182013

Half way there

Last weekend I completed the 8th week of my 16 week plan. I skipped most of the fourth week, which was a bit of a cut back week and I had a bit of a cold. Other than that I've managed to get a lot of the miles done. I am discovering that I loathe intervals, so I may decide to swap them out for hill running (which in fairness I'm also not fond of) for the rest of the training plan.

Maybe. I keep believing maybe next time will be the time it clicks, but it hasn't happened yet and they are mostly just leaving me demoralised. 

I don't really want to comment on how well it's going. It was the end of November when everything fell apart last time, and although I know brain-wise that saying things about it can't possibly have any effect, heart-wise I just don't want to tempt fate. But that in itself tells you it's going pretty well so I may just as well get on with it. I did a 16.8 mile run in 2 hours 35 two Saturday's ago, and the big 10 mile tempo run was last Thursday, and I did it in 1 hour 24. If I can get through the next eight weeks without picking up a cold or bug of some description - which I think would be a record of some kind for me - I am in with a shout of a decent marathon run. 

My 'flu jab is booked for Wednesday. If you have a cold, you'll have to excuse me backing away with my hankerchief over my face. 

Clarkie's training for the half marathon has also ramped up, as she's determined not to run out of steam after 10 miles or so on this one. So for now our household activities seem to be reduced mainly to eating (lots), sleeping, working, running and washing (us and our clothes). It could be worse. 

Saturday
Nov022013

Batgirl runs again

Today was the 6th birthday run for Brighton and Hove parkrun. We haven't been going to parkrun much recently - marathon miles kind of take precedence - but I've got a study on tomorrow so I'm holding off on my long run until Monday. The birthday runs are an optional fancy dress, so I thought I'd revive the Batgirl costume I wore for the last Hero's Run I managed to get to.

DSC_1115

It was even warmer than I remembered, with every hot exhale getting circulated around inside that headgear. I was extremely sweaty by the end. I managed to keep it on for the full 5k though, and on the first lap on the way past the playground I heard one of the kids saying "Mummy, Mummy! I saw Batman!".

Tuesday
Oct082013

Marathon training, take 3

It has begun. My third and (please let it be so) final attempt on the marathon. 

This time I am following a training plan that appears, at least, to match the kind of running I've been doing over the summer. It consists of three runs per week (plus two sessions of cross training - or, as I like to call it, cycling to work), so I know I can fit that in. I found it on Runner's World. Basically you run an interval session, a tempo run and a long run per week, at paces calculated off your best recent 10k. For me, that was 8:19 min/mile pace - I won't list out all the other paces calculated off that, but my long runs should be around 9:20 - 9:35. 

I'm through two weeks now, and have surprised myself by struggling to go slow enough. My long runs of 10.5 and 12 miles have both come in around 9:10 pace. That might be helped by the first two miles being downhill it does seem that my trot pace is somewhere between 9:05 and 9:20. If I can keep that going I will be over the moon. 

The only snag is that it's cold season, and yesterday and today I have been feeling a little coldy. That is a fact of life at this time of year in the UK, even with the good weather we've had. I don't see any way around it - it's just not practical to lock both of us in the house and have some weird plague-style system for the Ocado delivery man. It may have been slightly fool-hardy to agree to teach first year undergraduates this term, but needs must. As ever, I have my best current cold-fighting plans in place:

  • Liberal use of the various medicines at my disposal. So my nasal spray that I used to think was only for hayfever? Now any time my sinuses feel bad, I'm using that stuff. I'll keep taking my anti-histamine all year round. My asthma inhaler seems to be helping my general cold resistance anyway, and I'll be taking decongestants as soon as I feel a hint of congestion.
  • Vitamin C and zinc tablets. Yeah, I know the vitamin C has had very mixed results in experiments, but Boots make a zinc and vit C tablet and it doesn't seem to do any harm. It's the zinc that's been shown to speed the time to kick the cold, and at the hint of feeling unwell I'm doubling my dose. It's still well under overdose levels, so I just take a tablet in the morning and one in the evening, rather than just one in the morning. 
  • I'm also going to be using my neti pot twice a day as often as I can. If nothing else at least it keeps the snot moving. If things start to go bad I'm going to be adding honey to the mix - yes, honey. The research is not comprehensive, I'm not using expensive honey, but I will say that having had a couple of nasty lumpy sinus infections (yum) when I started adding honey to the neti pot was when the lumps went away. Even if it's a placebo effect I will take it! 
  • I'm going to drink a lot of water/green tea. Although not as much as in the summer - it had a rather unpleasant side-effect when mixed with a high-fibre breakfast.
  • I will be napping and sleeping as long as I can, as often as I can. Saturday was a prime example. I was a teensy bit hung over after a lab social, and Clarkie very kindly let me have an extra hour sleeping in the morning. I then did my 12 miles, came home, ate, and fell asleep for another half hour before we went out. 
  • Where necessary, I will try and at least do an easy run, even if I don't feel up to the full scheduled work out. Some miles are better than no miles. 
I'm fighting to stay well. I'm faster than I've ever been. I'm in better shape with a better base running mileage than I've ever had going into marathon training. I am desperately hoping for sub 5 hours, and there's a hint of a suggestion of maybe getting under 4:30 at my current pace - but there are so many stages where this whole thing can go wrong, I'm just going to take it as it comes and see what I can do. Fingers crossed!

Thursday
Sep262013

Buying nothing still

I thought I'd write a brief progress report on my Buy Nothing Challenge, what I've noticed etc. 

Buying nothing has not been going smoothly. It's having an impact, but I'm not sure it's quite what I'd expected the impact to be. I don't browse Amazon much any more. I'm still massively irritated by ads. But I still occassionally trip and buy things. Some (most?) of them I justify. The small neoprene pouch I bought that houses my iPod and earbuds I justify by saying it will increase the life of both, and I certainly use it a lot. The scraps of leather I bought were definitely not for a new project, but for putting soles on my homemade slippers and has increased the life of them for sure (they'd both have holes in otherwise). Only trouble is I then came up with other projects for the leather (hello watchstrap) which meant I ended up buying tools. But the tools are reusable, and mean I can make myself new watchstraps instead of buying them - not to mention adding extra belt holes that mean I can carry on using one of my belts. 

The tights, well, yeah. I probably could have done without them. But the cold dragged on and on and on, and I wanted to wear my skirts and without tights that would have been impractical. If the cold weather had broken just a couple of weeks earlier I probably could have resisted, but it's just a pair of tights! 

And that's been one of the unintentional side-effects. I feel guilty about buying things. The joy I might get from a small purchase has been horribly tainted by the guilt, which in fairness has stopped me making a lot of small purchases. The Stuffa jacket I bought is definitely tinged with guilt. I didn't need it, but it was half price, the concept and packing it makes me smile, it seems to suit me, and yet I still feel a little... silly actually, as well as guilty about it. 

The big purchases too, the ones I've waited for, ummmed and ahhhed over, researched out of all sense of proportion, when I finally plump for something I am worrying that it won't be what I really want or need, because I really don't want to have to go and re-buy. The golf shoes I've just bought are a bit like that, even though the shoes I've been playing in are slightly too small and not waterproof in the slightest and that's pretty miserable. (All the rest of my new golf gear is only new to me, and I didn't really pay for it - it's other people's cast-offs.)

Plus what about rewards? I had a major milestone in my PhD in May, and at the end of reaching it I was exhausted. I wanted a reward, but felt that I couldn't buy anything. I felt I had no time for rewarding myself with a trip somewhere, or even a day off (although in hind-sight I probably should have taken time off to recover). I just ended up feeling a bit flat, like I had no recognition of this big achievement. It was very strange. I probably shouldn't associate stuff with achievement, but I wanted something. 

I can also feel a really big splurge coming on. The problem with researching is that you eventually find what you want. And when you do you can justify it in all sorts of ways. I want these boots from Conker. I need some winter boots to go with smart skirts/be less noticeable under trousers, because I'm rather assuming that I'll be needing to go to interviews again at some point (I'm thinking about the black ones - although I'd love the red it's not practical). I've checked, and they make them on a natural last and can make them totally flat. As luck would have it, we have an appointment in Exeter in October, which would be a good time to go and try them on. But boots are well outside my rules, and I do have a pair of smart shoes that would be ok. But if they fit and I like them, challenge and price be damned they are coming home with me! 

And that bag I was looking for? Meet Matthew. There may be one of these in grey-blue on order for me right at this moment. Just maybe. It's for my birthday. It's just a little early. 

So overall this has been an interesting way to examine my relationship to buying things, even more than my relationship to stuff. Actually, not buying stuff is easier for me when I am not earning much than I suspect it would be when I'm back to gainful employment. But this added layer of guilt is not something I was expecting. I will continue to try and mostly stick to the rules until the end of the year (splurges aside), but I recognise that there are limits to my dedication, and that actually feels pretty healthy.