Tuesday, April 21, 2015

And so begins a very busy week

I'm trying desperately not to think of what's coming up; I mean, 3 marathons in 4 days? Really? What was I thinking!!!!

In the meantime there have been interviews and conference calls aplenty. My favourite interview so far was with Jules from BBC Radio Kent. She's lovely. We had a nice chat about how special the London marathon is and that this will be my 10th running of it, which means it's 10 years since mum passed away. I can't believe how those years have flown by and yet here I am, still banging on about the need for more investment in dementia research and still running marathons. You never know where life will take you do you.

I've been concentrating on crochet and gardening to keep me sane with some community work thrown in as we've entered our pretty village into Britain in Bloom in the small village category. I'll share some photos of what we've been doing over the next few weeks. I love the idea of it as I am a keen conservationist  and spent a happy few hours on Saturday creating a stumpery behind the village pavilion whilst helpers brought old stumps and branches for me to create a perfect habitat for invertebrates and small mammals.

Here's a sneaky peak but I haven't got time to show everything we've been doing at the moment. Someone found an old roller in the undergrowth and gave it pride of place at the end of the stumpery!

Eat your heart out Andy Goldsworthy! He's actually one of my favourite landscape sculptors and I have many photos of his amazing work.

My crochet blanket grows and grows and I'm still enjoying it enormously. I'm up to week 12 now and the CAL is on week 15 so I'm catching up slowly but surely but after today I will have neither the time nor inclination to do anything other than eat, sleep and run!

Nearly a square again

Corner detail

She may look all sweet and sleepy but this little lady has helped my crochet efforts enormously by playing football with my yarn whenever she spots it. She's a very good dribbler!

The only thing for it was to make centre-pull balls from my hanks of yarn. I know you can get snazzy machines to do it but I rather enjoy the process of preparing the yarn by hand. I just used an empty toilet roll, dangled one end through the hole, wrapped the hank of yarn around my knees (Mike was busy or he'd have held it for me as he's well accustomed to this sort of task) and wrapped the yarn around in a figure of eight, turning the toilet roll as I went along. When I'd finished I just tucked the outer end under the outer threads, gently eased the ball off the roll and squished it down. Easy-peasy and not as pounceable as a ball.

Sitting and crocheting by the window is always enjoyable as there's always so much going on in the garden. The white posts are marking the area in which I grazed the horses last week and have been left for a while so Mike has a guide line to mow along.

Mr Pheasant with his harem. Mr and Mrs New Duck haven't produced any ducklings yet.

Which reminds me - this is what pheasants love to do; create a dust bath in the flowerbeds. They don't care if there's a plant in the way either!

This pair of moorhens seem to be building a nest in the pond at the moment. They always make me smile when I see them flying as they have really long legs which dangle floppily below.

The first batch of apple blossom appearing from the hairy buds

Glorious, pristine white flowers of the cherry set against the coppery coloured new leaves which turn green when mature. Just look how blue the sky is: perfect!

Yesterday ended with this swoosh of clouds. There was an almost violet tinge to everything.

Last week I had a good deep-tissue massage with Mary Massage Lady who worked into the knotty bits of my muscles, including my neck which had seized up again. She gave me strict instructions not to do any knitting or crochet for a couple of days and I was very good and did as I was told for once.

I shall be heading off into London tomorrow to collect my running number and do a bit of leafleting for join dementia research, then there's just the small matter of 3 marathons to run in 4 days!

Friday, April 10, 2015

A cornucopia of pleasures

I'm really enjoying the weather at the moment. The sun is out and it's been dry for a few days now (not throughout Easter of course when it was cold and rainy for 3 days!) and everywhere looks so beautiful that I just want to spend all day outdoors drinking it in. The birds and bees are doing what they do best at this time of year and the lambs are busy gamboling so the best thing I can do is share some photos from my runs and other outdoorsy things along with progress on my afghan, which has slowed a bit due to sore hands from too much gardening.

It's a pattern full of interest and makes a refreshing change from granny squares and ripples. Not that there's anything wrong with them it's just that I have a plethora of both plus I really like overlay crochet.

I'm very glad I took this photo as I've made a mistake on the dark navy round I started late last night - I've made the first flower into the wrong part of the stitch - bother! Although it also looks as if the flowers are slightly to the right of the stems that will be corrected on the next round when the stitch is anchored.

I've created the cluster inbetween the v stitch, ie in the body of it ……..

Rather than into the top of it where I've inserted my hook here:

At least I'd hadn't got too far to rip back. Serves me right for doing it when I was most likely too tired and not concentrating.

Hairy Horse

You know that Spring has finally sprung when the horses start to moult. I took this photo of Esther through the kitchen window. There were 5 rooks pecking away at her bottom, getting rid of any bugs but then taking away some of her hair for their nests. A mutually beneficial act!

Esther has a very thick coat and only needs a rug when the temperature stays low for a long period. I just rubbed my hand across her back and look what came off:

As the farrier was due yesterday I took the opportunity of giving her a really good brushing to help speed up the process of moulting. She looks all sleepy and mellow doesn't she.

She just investigated what I'd got on my hand in case it was something to eat and then let me get on with it.

After about 5 minutes of brushing I'd got nearly a bucketful which I left for the birds to use as lining in their nests.

Which reminds me, the pampas grass flowers I put by the compost heap are getting smaller and smaller with a convoy of birds taking them for their nests. Plus, all the dead plant stems and small twigs left on the flowerbeds are being tidied for me by pairs of birds which is exactly what I'd hoped for.

Time for some Nature

The sun has brought some butterflies out. So far I've only seen Peacocks, as seen below, and small tortoiseshells but there are plenty of bees buzzing around which is why it's so important that there are nectar-rich flowers available for them to build up their strength.

The lanes are bedecked with primroses.

The deciduous woodland is full of wood anemones with the promise of bluebells and wild garlic to come very soon.

Another beauty is the Lesser Celandine which is often spotted along the hedgerows. Its cheery buttercup-yellow petals shine out from the undergrowth above its pretty, marbled, heart-shaped leaves. 

You might think that William Wordsworth’s favourite flower was the Daffodil, but it was actually the lesser celandine about which he wrote three poems. Here is a verse taken from my favourite:

To The Small Celandine

Pansies, Lilies, Kingcups, Daisies, 
Let them live upon their praises; 
Long as there’s a sun that sets Primroses will have their glory; 
Long as there are Violets,
They will have a place in story: 
There’s a flower that shall be mine, 
‘Tis the little Celandine. 

You may be familiar with the gorgeous purple flowers of Viola riviniana aka the Dog Violet which, unlike many other violets, has no scent. You can make a Violet tea using the fresh leaves but I'm not fond of the flavour even though I believe it's renowned for its demulcent properties and might be good for me!

What you may not have seen before though is a white version. I'd never seen it before we moved to our village where there's a large patch growing in a verge. They look so delicate and fresh. Native wild violets are an important food plant for Butterflies such as Fritillaries.

This next beauty is one of my favourite wild flowers. It is Cardamine pratensis but it's common name is Lady's Smock or the Cuckoo flower as it usually appears with the arrival of the first cuckoo (although we don't get nearly as many cuckoos as we used to).

This is another plant that has been used for it's medicinal properties as it contains a high level of vitamin C and was used to help prevent Scurvy in olden times.

I still have lots more to write about and loads of photos to share but I can't bear to be away from the garden too long as there's so much to do.

The main reason I'm writing this is now that there are very high levels of pollution across the UK at the moment and there has been a horrible thick smog lingering over the valley all day. Health warnings have been issued for asthmatics and people with lung problems.

I spent a couple of hours outside this morning but was sensible and didn't run today which turned out to be the right decision as a massive coughing fit sent me scuttling back inside. I shall just have to get on with some crochet which isn't such a bad thing after all.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Crochet and Marathon 43 of 60

First may I present my progress on the lovely Sophie blanket:

Such pretty roses

Viewed in close-up you can see the flecks in the yarn

It's getting harder to photograph - I had to stand on a stool for this shot!
It needs a good blocking but I haven't the time or patience at the moment. Better do it soon though!

Now about that marathon

Last year I ran my first attempt at 2 marathons in 2 days in Dover - you can read about them here where you will see that the weather was near perfect, all sunny and bright with no wind.

This year was a bit different: You know when you hear the weather forecast and you think "maybe it won't be that bad"? Well it was worse!  I left home in heavy rain and strong winds and drove through the same but with the addition of fog for good measure.

I'll let the pictures tell the story:

View from the car when I arrived

View from the car whilst plucking up the courage to get out of the car - this doesn't give any indication of how windy it was - 30+mph with 45+mph gusts!!!

Not too foggy looking across to the Ferry Port

Race HQ

Sharon taking registrations and handing out numbers. She then went and spent the rest of the day being a marshal getting soaked and being blown around

Karen, our Race Director who organised everything and took care of us in what could be described as Biblical (but without the plague of locusts) weather conditions!

I'm not sure I would have enjoyed a ferry trip yesterday!

At the race briefing Karen said that they couldn't erect the race gantry for health and safety reasons and that the time would be displayed in the back of a van parked by the finish line. We passed that 12 times as it was an out and back route along the sea-front then out along the pier.

For the first few hours it rained and blew and gusted which really sapped your strength. I was lucky to have the company of Lynn for the first 9 miles until she dropped back for a bit of a break (she'd done the day before as well and was feeling the effects a bit).

The bit along the seafront was challenging - going one way you had a tailwind which should have helped except there was also a crosswind thrown in which caught you unawares and threw you off-balance. On the way back along that stretch you were battling against a headwind, leaning forward and struggling to move onwards. I clocked my speed at one point and noticed I dropped to 14 minute miling (from 11 or 12 minute miling) whilst battling that section.

Then we ran along the length of the pier and back and boy oh boy that was difficult. I don't know how the marshals at the turnaround point managed to stay upright! I concentrated on the colour of the sea to take my mind off it - on one side the sea was a deep turquoise yet on the other side it was much darker with more grey/green in it. Further out to sea it appeared to be brown. 

Karen spent a few hours in her car, popping out to shout encouragement whilst recording our numbers. During a dry spell she put out the speakers and we had some music to boogie along to when we went past. Last year we did a bit of Gangnam style together, this year I gave her my best twerk (with apologies to the poor man running behind me who had to witness such inappropriate behaviour from someone of my advancing years!).

There was a lifeboat bobbing around at one point and I gave them a wave and they all waved back and sounded the siren. Simple pleasures took my mind off my aches and pains.

On my last 4 laps the section on the pier became almost impossible as the gusts were so strong and the ambulance men were getting very concerned about our safety. When the going got really tough I thought about Wendy who sadly can't run any more and to whom I dedicated this marathon. As time wore on and conditions worsened the Port of Dover Exec was called in to check the wind speed and the course was diverted to avoid that section as it was too dangerous. I managed to finish just before that but there were still people out there doing another couple of laps so it was a wise decision.

Before the start as I was already soaked to the skin, I made the wise decision to leave the camera in the car for fear of it getting damaged so the only photo from during the race is this one taken by Sharon:

I can't believe I'm still smiling!

I'd made the decision just to get round rather than worry about a time and in my mind I thought I'd be happy to finish in 6 hours. In the end I scraped in around 5:19:59, only 17 seconds slower than last year, so was very happy with that.

Now I've got a few weeks until the next madness which sees me doing 3 marathons in 4 days (whose stupid idea was that then?!!!!!), the last of which will be my 10th running of the London marathon. No gimmicks this year, just running; which is exactly what I did in my first ever London marathon back in 2005.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Cutting, tidying & a 10th anniversary

At this time of year I'm always playing catch-up with my gardening chores as there's just so much to to. I was desperate to get all the pruning done on shrubs and trees before the sap started to rise and my hands are really sore from all the chopping, sawing and pulling which is not good for arthritic hands. Ouch!

I did, however, enjoy taking some photos whilst snipping:

The colourful stems of these dogwoods need to be cut back hard each Spring to encourage them to produce their brightly coloured new growth which gleam throughout the winter months. The stems you see in this next photo have all grown since I pruned them last March. It's a procedure known as 'stooling' whereby the stems are cut back to within 6" of the ground each year. It is suitable for the more vigourous dogwoods but not for  Cornus 'Midwinter fire' which you can just see peeping through the stems of the red one. That requires a much gentler pruning regime and I haven't pruned it at all this year.



I grow lots of different Buddleias and I delay pruning some of them to spread the flowering season so that there's still lots of lovely nectar left for the butterflies and insects well into the autumn. As this part of the garden get battered by strong winds, I'd already reduced the height of this one by 1/3 in Autumn to reduce wind-rock which can disturb the roots.

It doesn't matter that they are already sprouting leaves, which often happens in a mild spell, as a good hard pruning encourages the stems to produce bigger flowers.

I took a moment to admire the beautiful bark.

I took this one down to a framework of about 15".

One of the benefits of all this pruning is that you get lots of woody sticks you can use to prop up plants in the borders instead of using bamboo canes (as long as the stems aren't bendy they are ideal). Here's my selection of brightly coloured stems together with 2 brown ones which look like small trees but are in fact the stems of cardoons which you can see here to the right of the gazebo as you look at it.

Of course, being immersed in the garden I spotted loads of weeds, some of which required eviction immediately before they set seeds and wreaked havoc amongst the beds. 

May I present public enemy number 1 - bittercress (aka Cardamine hirsuta):

Oh but look at its pretty little leaves and the sweet white flowers I hear you cry. Well, look a bit closer and you'll see 2 brown seedpods forming amongst the flowers. If allowed to ripen, which they do in the blink of an eye, they will scatter themselves far and wide whenever something brushes against them. When ripe, even the slightest touch sends them flying all over the place and they will grow absolutely anywhere!

It's flourished this Winter because the damp conditions suit it perfectly and it's all over the gravel drive as well as the flowerbeds.

Now is also a good time to get rid of the old growth that's been left on plants over winter. Here you can see the lovely fresh green chives peeping through.

It's really easy to pull out the dead stems and I leave them on the flowerbed so that the birds can use them as nesting material. What's left will then go onto the compost heap.

It's a good idea to try and get some of the dead growth out of ornamental grasses such as this Festuca Glauca 'Elijah Blue' before the new growth comes through.

I used my fingers as a comb to remove as much as possible. You can't get it all out but it makes it look much neater.

10th Anniversary

On Tuesday, the 10th anniversary of mum's death, I had a conference call with several people about join dementia research (JDR) in which I had to think and talk about dementia. I really didn't want to take part on that day but I'm glad I did because it made me realise how far things have come since I joined up with ARUK. Things have moved on so much and we talk more openly about dementia.

There were a few Lay Champions on the call and we all spoke about what we'd been doing to promote JDR and everyone had done a great job. I've been to local villages leaving leaflets in doctors' surgeries, sending out my usual newsletter to everyone who's sponsored me, spoken about it whenever I get an opportunity plus visited all the Nursing Homes with EMI Units (for the elderly mentally infirm - I HATE that acronym) in a town nearby. 

What I didn't share with everyone was that I missed out one EMI unit because I just couldn't face going inside. It was the one where mum spent the last few months of her life. I couldn't even drive my car into the car park as I felt a tightness in my chest and the tears welling up so I sat outside in the road trying to compose myself then headed for home. I was shocked that my emotions were still so raw after all this time.

RIP mum.

Another thing I've been thinking about is how our language relating to dementia has changed. By that I mean they way we describe people living with dementia and the words we use. This short video by the Dementia Action Alliance is really thought-provoking and well worth a look.

I have another marathon this weekend and I'm hoping the weather forecast is wrong because at the moment they are predicting wind and rain!