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Tuesday
Mar252014

Cute cat shot

There is almost nothing cute about this cat. She hisses when you get close, and bites if you get closer. She craps in my veg patch. She is our neighbour's cat, who is not allowed in their house. We nicknamed her Roadkill on account of the delicate and ladylike positions she gets herself into when sunbathing.

Let sleeping cats lie

We lost* a panel in the side of our greenhouse in the first storms of the winter, back in December. The cat has adopted this position throughout the rest of the winter, sometimes for so long that I've gone out to get hissed at, just to check she's still breathing. 

The cute cat pic was just a pretext for posting a knitting update:

Progress

There's more, but not quite enough. Fortunately I've already done the back, and Clarkie is kind of used to me by now and isn't really expecting it to be finished. Of course, that's all the more reason to get it done!

 

* I say lost. It's plastic, so it blew out and hit the back of the house. We still have it, we just haven't put it back yet.

Monday
Mar242014

Denim TLC

Around here, pretty much every time we buy a new pair of trousers they need shortening. I get a bit lazy about that, particuarly with jeans - historically I've always just trodden away the backs until they fall off. Takes maybe two or three years, looks really untidy, means you get really soggy trousers on wet days, but hey, it was easier than getting out the sewing machine and turning them up, right?

I guess I must be getting old or something, because that just doesn't make as much sense any more. But my latest pair of jeans (two years old now) were only a little bit too long. Close enough that I thought I could just get away with flicking over the hem, and leave it at that. But I noticed that I've started to tread through the back again, and really, as part of this whole "make it better" thing, I need to fix that to keep the jeans going for longer. The problem with fixing something that is already at the right length (well, has a hole already at the right length) is that you have no material to turn over for a new hem.

I started by cutting the jeans along the fold that was already there. Then I cut a strip of some spare lightweight denim I have hanging around - about an inch deep, slightly longer than the circumference of the jeans - and stitched that to the front side of the jeans. I then flipped that inside out. That encases the raw edges of both the new piece of material and the jeans, and gives an edge that looks like this:

Jeans

I then stitched the two pieces together a couple of times, to make the join good and strong. (I've also stitched over the raw edge of the extra strip to limit fraying. You could also fold this under and catch it in the rounds of sewing.) Around the back where it had already started wearing away I've tried to stabilise that with a bit of zigzag stitch. 

Jeans

It isn't perfect. There are a couple of places where I've joined the two pieces of fabric too close to the edge and haven't caught the raw edges properly. But it's an awful lot better than it was. Now my jeans look all neat, and I'm surprising myself with how much I like it. 

Jeans

No, I didn't knit those socks. Actually, at the moment I'm knitting as fast as my spare time allows on Clarkie's birthday present. Clarkie's birthday (and actually any date, but this one is important) always sneaks up on me. We've worked out this might be at least partially because I never actually know what the current date is, but it's a little embarassing. Her birthday is this coming Friday, and her present currently looks like this:

Knitting in progress

I think I might be in trouble...

Tuesday
Mar182014

Esoteric embroidery

Before I even start to explain this project, I should preface it with something of a warning. Even Clarkie, who is reasonably used to me by now, looked askance at me and suggested this was a bit weird. But there's a peculiar sort of logic to it, honest! It all starts with Target...

See, we tend to buy the majority of our clothes in the States. Stuff is cheaper over there, and we have the time to do clothes shopping properly. This includes our underwear, which we buy in multipacks in Target. Neither of us has particularly fancy taste in underwear, but there is a set of reasonably strict criteria for me at least: boy shorts for cycling (no seams in awkward places), low-rise bikini otherwise, preferably no pastel colours, not white. Clarkie has her own set of criteria. This time, for whatever reason, we both alighted on the same multipack, and neither of us could see any alternatives we liked. 

Now, I am prepared to share a great many things with Clarkie, but there are some barriers to us sharing clothes. So we ended up with two sets of matching pants* (and various other non-matching bits and pieces) and came home. As I was sorting the laundry one day, I started thinking about how it would be great if there were an easier way to distinguish the two sets.

I thought about marking them with the fabric pen I own, and then remembered that the last time I used it I ended up with an ugly pair of socks I didn't want to wear, and if I'd wanted ugly there were other sets of pants I could have bought. 

Then for some reason, I thought about embroidery. Now, I don't have a long history with embroidery. I can chainstitch, but the embroidery threads I have are left over from making friendship bands way back when. So I'm not entirely sure where that idea came from. But once it arrived, well, it stuck. I thought I could chainstitch flowers on my set. So I started with the orange pair.

Orange pants, green flower

And frankly, I got bored with chainstich and flowers from there. I googled embroidery patterns, and my eyes were opened to the myriad possibilities. I stumbled across new stitches... And almost before I knew it, the dark blue pair ended up with a robot head on the back right. 

Blue pants, grey robot

(Mmmmm... Split stitch and some french knots.)

We were watching the Winter Olympics at the time. These next two pairs are therefore now my Sochi pants.

Grey pants, rainbow

Those french knots aren't quite as regular as I'd planned. Still, the effect was what I'd hoped. And I'm really rather pleased with the rainbow. 

By this time I'd got into the colour of the pants dictating what should be on them. The next pair was bright pink, and in homage to the small pink tank I once knitted... Well...

Pink tank pants

After I finished those I had a day off ill, catching up on some of the programs I've recorded that Clarkie isn't so interested in. One of which happened to be the embroidery episode of the Fabric of Britain. Split stitch took on a whole new significance. The next pair of pants were turquoise, which I chose to interpret as sky blue. 

Turquoise pants, yellow sunshine

Why yes, that is on the back of the pants. I couldn't resist.

That left just one more pair. A purple pair. I couldn't think of a relevant item. I googled purple, and got flowers. But then, from out of left field (further out than embroidering your pants, if you can believe it), there was a purple cow amongst the flowers. I was sunk. The next problem was drawing a simple enough cow that I could embroider it. Oh, and then actually doing the needlework.

Purple pants, cow

I'm kind of pleased with it, although I do think I over-stretched slightly with that one. Although, as Clarkie kept pointing out as I was muttering over it, it is just a pair of pants. 

So, I now have a set of seven pairs of decorated pants. I have to say, I'm actually rather pleased with them. And sorting the laundry is much, much easier now...

 

*Please note, I am English, pants does not mean trousers.

Thursday
Feb202014

A new challenge

Last year I challenged myself to buy nothing. It was a really interesting experiment, and although I wasn't all that successful I learnt some interesting stuff about myself and my relationship with buying stuff. Turns out I do swap money and time, and expect rewards to be in the shape of stuff. Who knew?

At the end of the year we headed off to Florida, and I fell off the buy nothing challenge with a bump. In fact, we spent New Year's Eve shopping at the outlets. And I have to be honest, it just wasn't all that much fun. I filled some holes in my wardrobe, but ended up over stuffing a load of other drawers at the same time! It felt a little like I'd broken my shopping habit, and didn't really want to get it back again. 

So, what about this year?

Well, this year starts with a novel financial situation for me. I am finishing up my PhD, and although I am funded through to the end of March I received my last paycheque just before Christmas. I have almost nothing coming in now until I'm done and get a job (barring the odd bit of teaching work). I'm not that worried - I have enough savings to see me through a good chunk of time, I have a lot of clothes and toys to play with, and I'm generally pretty cheap to run these days. But it's still something to think about, especially in combination with not really enjoying the shopping much.  

This year I've therefore decided that instead of concentrating on not buying stuff, I'm going to spend my energy on the stuff I already have. I'm going to try and iron out minor irritations with stuff, like trousers being too long, or that irritating thing on my bike where my toe clip hits the mudguard on my front wheel on tight turns. I'm going to try and fix things I like to keep them in use, like darning the place on my running socks where my left big toe rubs holes, or repairing some seams, or truing my bike wheels. I'm going to try and learn how to alter some clothing too, so rather than being a bit meh it actually fits. 

Some of this will need bits buying. And that's ok. But where there's a choice between paying someone else to do it or learning how to do it myself, well, I'm going to get a little mustachian about it. And things don't have to end up perfect (perfect's too much pressure, although nice if it happens!). I'm just aiming for better than when I start. 

I guess you could call this the 2014 "Make it better challenge"? It may have similar outcomes in a way, but I'm hoping that by phrasing/framing it in a more positive way it will feel better!

Tuesday
Feb042014

WDW Marathon Weekend 2014

I know, this is a long overdue report. What can I say? I've been trying to pour all my words into a certain long document that I need to write, and this has got lost in the meantime. Here now though! Warning, this might get a little long...

Walt Disney World don't just do a marathon in January. They make it an entire 4 days of events. It all starts with the Pluto family 5k on the Thursday, then there's the brand shiny new Minnie 10k on the Friday, the Donald half on the Saturday and the Mickey full on the Sunday. They even do certain "Challenges" - the Goofy Challenge is the long-standing half and full double, and this year for the first time they had an official Dopey Challenge - all four races. (There has been an unofficial Dopey challenge previously, before the 10k was introduced, but this year it went official.) I don't think that if you're in good enough shape to do a half and a full that adding a 5k and 10k beforehand will hurt that much if you run them easy, which is not to belittle their efforts at all. Y'see, all four of the adult races start at 5:30am. This means being in corral by 5 at the very latest, which basically means 3am wake up calls four days in a row. 

Bearing that in mind, we weren't doing the Dopey. However, our involvment in the weekend did start with the 10k in a supporting role. Pat lives near my parents in Kissimmee and has done so much in various ways to help when we go over there (thanks Pat!). She was running the inaugural Minnie 10k as her first ever 10k. We saw her just before the finish, and my ever-trusty photographer (thanks Clarkie!) snapped her in her Belle shirt! 

DSC_1225

Pat only started running a couple of years ago, and although she claims she only walks she did 10k in 1:34. That is shifting for a walker. She was a little disappointed to not break 90 minutes but for a first ever attempt that's pretty close. 

Saturday was the first of our 3am wake up calls, with Clarkie doing the Donald half. Clearly since she was running I had to take the photographs - so they are rubbish and there aren't many! Still, I did take one halfway decent one of the fireworks at the start.

DSC_1271

That was 5:30am. I was wearing jeans, tshirt and a thin jumper and I was plenty warm enough standing still. It was 100% humidity and 21C. It was so far removed from anything we'd been training in. By the time she finished (which I was too busy cheering for and didn't get a picture of) poor Clarkie looked like she'd run through a shower. The time is a long way off what she was hoping for and had run in training at 2:43:43, but that time really doesn't tell the whole story. 

Next day was my turn, and if it had been the same conditions I would have been stuffed. My training times had me finishing in about 4:05. I was hopeful of 4:30, but really desperately wanted sub-5. Fortunately there had been thunderstorms overnight, so for me it was still 100% humidity but only 17C when I started. Unfortunately, I screwed up right from the start. I struggled to get some food in at that time of the morning, but managed. The problem was the water. I was hydrated, but felt thirsty, but didn't want to queue for the loos. I drank a bit more on the way to the corral, decided I couldn't possibly need the loo again, and headed straight into my corral. Big mistake. I still had plenty of time at that point and really should have just drunk a bit more and queued. By the time my corral started, I was seriously considering heading for the bushes!

Still, we got underway, and I started out very comfortably. Too comfortably, actually. I got to 0.8 miles (first drinks station), checked my watch and saw 11:32 for the first mile. I haven't run a mile that slowly in... oh... I don't even know how long. So I picked the pace up a little. Got to three miles and the first toilets and had to stop. So it ended up taking slightly over 33 minutes for the first three miles. At that point I decided to let my hopes of a properly fast time go and just enjoy as much of it as I could, so when I saw Clarkie at 4 miles (ish), I was able to tell her not to worry - I know sitting in the stands and watching the splits be less than you'd hoped is hell! 

So I relaxed into it as best I could. My splits were 5m 55:38, 10m in 1:45:54, 13.1 in 2:19:40, 20m 3:41:17. That half speed is way down on my training runs. Over 20 minutes down. 10 miles I can normally comfortably do in around 1:30 or slightly under even as part of a much longer run. And that 5 mile split is just crazy, given that I'd done a 40 minute 5 mile just before Christmas. Still, I kept going. And I kept drinking at all the stations. At 12 miles I had a banana and that gave me a stitch for the next mile so I stopped taking the food - although I had my bags of raisins (my preferred race fuel!) and kept munching them. I sort of got to 19 miles before I really noticed, but after that it got hard. All I wanted to do was put my head down somewhere and nap! Even the bins were looking like potential rest stops. I started drinking the Powerade as well as the water to try and wake up.

By 24 miles I was sloshing, but my body was still after more liquid. It was the strangest feeling. I kept trying to fool my body by taking the water in my mouth and spitting it back out, but no good. By now I knew my sub-5 was pretty much gone, let alone any of my other goals. 

Somewhere around 24.5 miles I heard someone shout Ellie. It woke me up - I only had Eleanor on my bib and the writing hadn't really been big enough for people to read. It was Pat! And my parents! That gave me a bit of a lift, and I managed to break back into a run again. I managed to run the uphills (ha! small rises I wouldn't even notice normally) into Epcot, but had to have a little walk around the back. Then ran again from the United Kingdom past 25 the miles and into France, past Japan, US and Germany before I had to have a bit of a walk past Norway. The official photos show I managed to run past Mexico. (Um. See this map for this bit to make sense.) I walked a bit more towards the fountain, but ran under the ball past the gospel choir out back. Another little walk before finally running the finish. 

DSC_1338

My personal race photographer struck again. The sunglasses are hiding a few tears - the thought of finishing at all was pretty emotional! I finished in 5:05:08. So I only narrowly missed out on my sub-5 goal, took 1 hour 5 minutes off my last effort at this particular race, and managed a 53 minute personal best at the marathon distance, and was disappointed.  

After three and a bit weeks of letting it sink in, I am not so disappointed. I am not a morning person so the 3am wake up calls two days in a row probably had an effect, let alone the difference in conditions. I am a significantly stronger running thanks to the training I did than I ever expected to be - nearly strong enough to do a marathon, and I've already run three. I stayed well from the start of October to the end of January, which is a first. And I have some very pretty bling and a rather nice race shirt to show for it. 

Medals in Epcot

I use Fetcheveryone to log all of my running, and Fetch allows you to see who else has entered the same races as you. Only six of us Fetchies entered the WDW marathon, and so far only five have entered a time. I am currently the fastest finisher, in spite of having the worst pb prior to the race. This suggests to me that it really wasn't good conditions for Brits! So, I guess if I really want to see what I'm capable of, I need to enter a UK marathon. I swore that one would be my last. Immediately after the race, I wanted to do another. Right now? I'm not sure. The itch is still there, but the training is not so much fun. I'll wait a bit and see.

(Oh, and Clarkie has more photos of the entire thing here!)