Monday, 30 June 2014

The return of the cross stitch

After closing my doors to crocheting amigurumi animals because I was so sick of making them for other people and getting stressed about it all the time the inevitable happened.

I became absolutely bored out of my mind.

There are a billion things I could do. I could get on with my totally abandoned Tetris blanket (yeah, remember that guy?!), I could crochet some animals just for me, I could crochet some random flowers, or start to crochet stuff to build up a supply for *whispers* the C-word.

And then I remembered my cross stitch. I haven't done any cross stitch for a very long time. In fact, when saving the below photos on to my laptop I realised that I only cross stitched one thing in the whole of 2013, a Valentine's Day card for The Person. A whole year without cross stitching? How did that happen?!

I knew immediately the project I wanted to undertake.

When we were at Monument Valley in March (note to self: you've been back for three months and still haven't finished blogging about America. Get on with it.) I hit up the gift shop like it's never been hit before. I am a sucker for tat. I love it I love it I love it and that place had it coming out of the wazoo. There were magnets, there were random rocks, there were tshirts, there were posters, there were dreamcatchers, there were keyrings. You name it, they had it and I revelled in it all.

Off in a little corner on the wall they had a selection of cross stitch kits by NP Designs called Rugs of the Southwest. I pondered for a while because it was almost too touristy even for me but eventually I succumbed and made my selection, choosing the Wide Ruins design.

I was mesmerised by the pattern. As someone who prizes neatness and order above all else, the symmetry of all the designs were right up my street. I knew that the symmetry would mean that it would be a relatively "easy" piece to stitch up. No pesky half stitches and no colour changes every four minutes, just nice and simple stitch after stitch after stitch.

I started it on June 22 and immediately got swept away. Up and down I stitched, methodically working my way through. The pace took some getting used to, after a year of crocheting amigurumi I have got used to quick results. Crochet happens pretty quickly, whether you're making an elephant or a granny square and cross stitch is very much the opposite. You can stitch and stitch for hours and it still won't really look like you've done anything or made any progress.

But looking on that uniformity. Oh my word it's brilliant.

It wasn't long before I was stitching in the morning before I went to work and coming home at lunchtime to stitch a few more sneaky rows.

This weekend I have binged on cross-stitching and put in some serious hours, meaning  that I now officially one quarter of the way through. This made me feel happy and simultaneously made me draw in a huge intake of breath, because man cross stitch really is about the slow build...

But it feels nice to be doing something for me and nice to be back at the first creative, crafty thing I turned my hand to.

I'm sorry it's been so long cross stitch.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Amateur Zoologist

I decided some time ago that having two gerbils offered me the perfect opportunity to become an amateur zoologist and make some observations about the differences between two gerbils who are related to one another and are living in the same environment.

However the sum total of my zoological observations has mainly involved me just laughing at how Ser Jorah Mormont is a little fatty whilst Tyrion Lannister remains much slimmer and sleeker.

At first I worried at the weight and size difference between the two and worried that Ser Jorah was bullying Tyrion and not allowing him to eat enough food. I then decided that much as people are different sizes, so must gerbils be too.

But it went even deeper than that. The fact is that Ser Jorah is tubbier because he just ruddy loves food. Both gerbils have a natural check on their appetites, it's just that Ser Jorah's is slightly bigger than Tyrion's. I'll be honest, I feel his pain - the guy just bloody loves food. If you put your hand in the cage with food in it, Ser Jorah is going to eat it. Tyrion might eat it but if he doesn't feel like it he'll leave it alone.

Tyrion also is much keener on exercise and whilst Ser Jorah does love occasionally digging in the gerbilarium and runs about during playpen funtime, he's mostly interested in chewing up toilet roll tubes and giving his jaw a work out. Tyrion however loves his exercise wheel and has a current routine of going on it for a good hour or so at about 10pm at night whilst Ser Jorah dozes in the cottage.

A while ago I decided that I would undertake a "scientific" experiment and see what kind of food the gerbils liked the most. Would the winner be a pumpkin seed or a bit of peanut? A piece of museli or a blueberry?

The experiment was mostly hilarious. My research has indicated to me that Ser Jorah likes.....the first piece of food he comes to.

He shoves it in his mouth then realises that there are other foods are on offer and then tries to put all food on offer in his mouth at once, despite the fact that he is not a hamster and doesn't have cheek pouches to store food.

I re-ran the experiment last night with some fresh fruit - I figured I should be giving him something healthy if I'm going to encourage his over-eating - and put out on offer a choice between some pepper, half a grape, half a cherry tomato and half a raspberry.

You may notice that there is no raspberry in my hand in the above photo. That's because Ser Jorah ran up to my hand, came to the raspberry first and just ran off with it without realising there was anything else on offer.

On his second trip to the hand he was a little more considered before making his final choice...

And looking very pleased with himself...

Does it not kill you how absolutely massive half a grape looks when it's in the paws of a gerbil?

You can expect to see my findings in most major zoology journals in the upcoming months.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Picnic at the Castle

Way back at the beginning of April I had a plan.

That plan was that when the weather was nice we would definitely go for a picnic at the castle. I love this castle, I would be at it all the time, every single minute if I could. It's only a ruin and you would think that I had seen all of it that there is to see, given that it is pretty much the only thing in Tiny Town.

But no. I love it.

We had to wait a long time for the weather to be nice...

...the 1st June to be precise.

(Seriously, writing this post has really made me realise how shitty the weather has been lately. Two months to be able to have a tiny wee picnic? Are you kidding me?!)

We packed up our wares and headed over. We are sadly lacking in the picnic basket arena but where we don't have picnic baskets I have an outrageously unrelenting collection of cloth tote bags which is all you every need in this kind of situation.

We had a little bit of this and a little bit of that and most importantly, one of my crocheted blankets. I always thought when I made these blankets that I wanted them to be something I took out with me. Of course I had forgotten that I lived in the UK and it is never nice ever and thus my blankets have never really seen the light of day.

Oh hello picnic blanket. Hello castle. Hello The Person. Hello The Most English photo taken ever.

The sun beat down and we lay about, eating a bit, reading a bit and sleeping a bit.

I did the sleeping, whacked off my face on anti-histamines.

But after waking up I went and did some exploring. Like I said, I've seen this castle a huge number of times. I've wandered about with the official audio tour, I have hidden and scrambled about it, playing castles with my nephews. I have been here alone and with family and I love it to it's last stone.

Sometimes I see something new, other times, it's just an opportunity to take a photo of the same thing yet again - like this one that I took through this window. I must have twenty of these hidden in various files on my computer somewhere but it just always looks so good I can't resist yet another.

I love the fact that it its very solid walls have crumbled away at the seams in places.

Although I'd by lying if I said it didn't make me nervous.

Last time I was here the tower was closed for some repairs and I was gutted. The tower is the best part, all 121 steps of it.

It is a slightly terrifying climb, I am not a fan of spiral staircases and people in the days of yore had much smaller feet than this person does. Plus there was the added bonus of two pigeons that had decided to nest in the tower on the climb up, adding an extra element of danger to the already mildly perilous climb.

But the slightly aching thighs are worth it because the views from the top that await you are, you know, kind of nice...

Although I called the picnic photo The Most English Photo taken ever, I reckon that these guys are probably up there as well. You see these photos you can't help but think of England - and not in a creepy EDL, UKIP way, just in a "Man the scenery in our country is fricking awesome."

Despite the fact that you can see for miles around it took us an embarrassingly long time to figure out where even vaguely our flat lies. And I'll be honest, even now I'm not entirely convinced that we got it right.

After surveying our kingdom it was back down the staircase (more terrifying on the way back down than the way up fyi) and time to begin the trudge home. There are a couple of other grassy areas that we could go to and picnic it up for free, but you know what?

None of those come with a castle and if I've got to wait two months to have a picnic I'm going to make sure I do it in style.


Yes. I am blogging about something that I did at the beginning of June at the end of the June. I'm a little behind around here.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Happenings of Late

When you've been absent for a wee while it's always worth doing one of these little posts just to get you back in to the swing of things. It's a way of ordering my thoughts and reminding myself that there's a reason I haven't been sat in front of the computer very much.

So what have I been up to?

Sticking my Panini stickers into my sticker album. This is the coolest thing I've done in ages. Really, if you think about it, these albums are for adults and not kids, we're the only people who have the disposable income to buy the frigging stickers.

I'm currently 91 stickers away from completion and my obsession is well and truly underway. I have currently managed to finish four teams - Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece and Bosnia & Herzegovina. The excitement this causes me know no bounds.

Booking flights over to France for a long weekend in September to see my Dad and his wife at their house in France. They've been out there since the end of March so I haven't seen them for an incredibly long time.

Crocheting the last few bits that were remaining on my order book at work. I have officially shut the doors. As I mentioned in this post, it was starting to become a bit of a chore so I decided it was time to down my hook and only pick it up for selfish reasons for a little while.

Watching the World Cup. All of the World Cup. I can't really complain. Most of the time I have control of our remote and The Person happily watches whatever is on but every couple of years, when there is a major football tournament, I have to concede the TV to him as match after match after match is on. I mean I don't really mind football but three matches a day is starting to feel like a chore.

Repeating to myself about the above - "It's only really bad for a couple of weeks, it's only really bad for a couple of weeks"...

Painting my table as part of my grand plans to bring a bit of cohesion to our living situation as I mentioned in this post. I've been a very good girl and am priming it before beginning to paint it, something very out of the ordinary for me because I kind of like to throw myself into projects like this at times.

Walking the mad dogs when my sister and everyone in her house was struck down with the lurgy. It was a beautiful day and I took the dogs for a walk in a nearby hill with grasses that were about thigh high. What an idiot. I spent the remaining mile or so of the walk sneezing constantly and had to mainline anti-histamines when I returned the dogs.

Making ridiculous photos of my gerbils using PicMonkey because clearly I have far too much time on my hands...

Getting excited that in less than a week I'll be seeing Heather as I take a little trip over to her neck of the woods for a belated anniversary trip with The Person (postponed due to the fact that the original weekend we were going away coincided with England's first World Cup match. Why yes, yes I am a good girlfriend.)


And I think that is a pretty good round-up.

Now I shall leave. These football matches don't watch themselves you know.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Hull 10k l 2014 l aka A Tale of How my Brain Hates Me

I really really wanted this to be a triumphant post about my recent Hull 10k. You would think that after last year's 10k that wasn't a 10k, this year's run couldn't really be much worse for me.

You would be wrong.

Sometimes I forget that actually I'm not really a very experienced runner. If you discount last year's race, this one would be my third ever 10km. (The first being in Preston in 2012 and then last year's Whipsnade Zoo Stampede with my fellow Stampeder Lucy.)

Training did not go well for this 10km. I was first of all lazy to get started and then was laid up for 2 months in Dec/Jan with a messed up knee. When I started back I just found it nigh on impossible to make any headway. I felt like I wasn't building up any stamina at all and wasn't making the inroads that I thought I would be.

This is the problem with having been able to do something, then being lazy and letting it slip away. You spend a lot of time berating yourself for letting it slip away and the fact that you can't get it back. If you have my brain you will constantly get on at yourself for how you used to be able to do this and now you can't and aren't you a terrible person and what the hell is wrong with you why can't you just do it already.

My brain isn't very nice to me.

Then I got injured again. Then I started back running again. Then I had a very bad run on a very hot day and I cried. Then I got a bad back and couldn't run again.

Then I thought that I might just be getting better. Which was a breakthrough because I was pretty insistent at one point that every time I went out running I was getting worse at it.

Unfortunately it was all a little too late. By the time that the Hull 10k rolled around the furthest I had managed to run without having to stop and walk was 5km and the furthest run I'd completed was 7km.

I knew that it was unlikely that I was going to make it all the way around without walking but I hoped that being in a race situation and the crowds and the fact that Hull is so flat whereas my home turf is more up and down - I harboured a secret feeling very deep down inside me that I might do better than I thought.

I did not.

 Bless me. Taking photos of my kit before the race like a real runner

This race could be a case study in the importance of your brain when it comes to running. Not your lungs. Not your legs. But your brain.

So much of running is about your mind power. And as I've already mentioned I am just not very mentally strong when it comes to running, not strong at all.

The main factors that were my downfall in this race:

1. The fact that I just wasn't ready (kind of a big one)
2. The heat. After all this crappy weather, this was the day that the sun came out and it hit 20 degrees.
3. My brain.

Mostly it was my brain.

I started out and actually for the first 2kms felt pretty good. I was going along quite happily and feeling good about it and then it was like a switch flipped in my brain and I realised how absolutely roasting I was. I overheat anyway when I run, I overheat thinking about heat, running and heat for me are not good combinations. And in fact any time that I have run in heat it has not turned out well at all (remind me to tell you about the time I tried to run 5km in Phoenix....).

"It's too hot. You're too tired. You'll have to stop. It's just too hot."

And I made the fatal error of slowing to a walk just after the 3km mark.

Some people can walk a bit and run a bit and walk a bit. For me, walking is the death knell. I find it so hard to start and even harder to keep going. Any time I try interval training all that happens is the walks get longer and the running gets slower and my brain gets nastier.

I was disciplined and said I was only allowed to walk for 3 minutes. I stuck to it and started running again.

I was walking again just after the 4km mark.

Again I said I was only allowed to walk for 3 minutes and again I started to run again.

About 5.5km I saw my Mum, my lone supporter on this race. It was actually the worst thing. I ran past her got about a further 300m and nearly stopped altogether. I wanted to quit. I didn't see the point in continuing. I had blown it as far as getting a PB was concerned. I had blown it as far as my aim was concerned (I'd wanted to make it to 6km before walking) and as far as my brain was concerned I had blown everything. I was useless. I was shit at running. I couldn't even do this one thing for myself.

It become one massive negative feedback loop on myself. My brain telling me I couldn't do it --> me slowing to a walk --> my brain crowing that I couldn't do it --> and repeat.

To be honest I don't even know why I did keep going - for most of the way between 6km and 7km I'm pretty sure I walked. Then I figured that I was more than half way done and might as well just get on with it and get it over and done with.

Unfortunately around this point my body as well as my brain began to fail. My back started hurting and my legs felt like they were wading through the sea. A sea made up of embarrassment and failings.

I couldn't even run the last 1km and I can always run the last kilometre.

I crossed the finish line and didn't feel anything. I didn't even feel relief that it was over, I just went and collected my goodie bag and made my way to the meeting point to meet up with my Mum. There was no post-run euphoria. Just blankness.

Then I started in on my stupid brain. I was so mad at myself for giving in. If I'd just been stronger and carried on running at that 3km mark I could have made it so much further. Why was I so weak? Why was I not made of stronger stuff?

So basically my brain attacked my brain which attacked me.

I think there were a couple of issues apart from my mental brain problems and the heat (oh the heat!) and the fact that I wasn't ready.

1. I was running on my own. The Person was going to run with me but had to work this weekend so stayed at home whilst I went to Hull on my own. A friend was supposed to be running but dropped out because she was even less prepared than I was.
2. No support. Apart from my Mum there was no-one cheering me on. Even with a crowd of well-wishers along the way, if you know that no-one's really there to wish you on it makes it tough.
3. Nothing to run for. I wasn't doing this for charity, I was doing it for myself. Which is all good and well as long as yourself isn't a mad evil brain that turns on you when you find it gets tough.

I didn't want to tell anyone my time but there's no point not acknowledging it. It was 1:18:46. Hilariously that is basically the same time as the very first 10km I did in Preston which I actually ran. As in ran all of it. I don't even know how I ran that slowly.

In a way that should have made me feel better because hey, I might have walked but that means that when I was running I was running faster than I used to be able to.

Instead my brain said "See you idiot, if you hadn't walked so much you'd have done even better."

I know. I don't know why it's so mean to me.

The t-shirt in the goody bag made me smile. I cannot think of anyone who made less of a big impression on the Hull 10k in 2014. Unless that big impression was the massive stomping footprint that my brain made on myself.

I have thought a lot about whether or not to continue on the running path I'm on. It's not normal to beat yourself up this badly all the time. It's not normal to do exercise and instead of feeling a rush of endorphins, feeling a headrush of shame at how shit you are.

But deep down inside I do know that my brain is wrong. I am not totally shit at running. I do like it and do enjoy it.

So right now I'm saying, never say never....

Monday, 9 June 2014

When I'm not blogging I'm mostly reading...

...and not just reading but reviewing my friends.

And at the moment I am over round Alex's internet joint reviewing some books for her Blogging Good Read series.

Go have a gander won't you?

Friday, 6 June 2014

My running manifesto

I saw on Miss Pond's blog that she had created a running manifesto (in fact I linked to it in one of my Internet Love posts) and I thought to myself "I need one of those".

I can feel like I'm almost at the point where I'm going to fall back in love with running again. We go in and out and in and out and in and out of love but this downswing has been particularly tough and it's taking me a long long time.

Unfortunately for me, time has run out and I will be running the Hull 10k on Sunday. I wish I could say that I felt ready for it but I really really don't and I know that I won't be able to run the whole race which is making me feel pretty down about it.

But anyway...

Run Dem Crew Youngers are trying to encourage young people to get out and running by creating their own running manifesto and whilst I may not be young, I do need some motivation right now...

Running is…like being part of a gang

Running is not…easy
I run…because I know that every time I do it, I’m getting stronger
I run for…the sake of my health
I run because…I never thought that I would be able to
I run when…I am happy, sad, angry, excited and everything in between 
I run with…my Podcasts for company

I have never run…with the aim of beating a PB

I have always the evening
I run in spite of…the fact that I don’t run fast
I don’t run…first thing in the morning
I should run…even when I don’t think I want to
I might run…with a running group
I will run…with more confidence

And now I just need to memorise this and recite it to myself as I'm running around on Sunday!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Photo an Hour - 31st May 2014

I really enjoyed the Photo an Hour day that I did for BEDM last month and was equally excited to find out about Jane's Photo an Hour (via Rachael). So much so that I literally put it in my calendar.

Don't be jealous of my super coolness everyone.

So without further ado, welcome to my very typical (aka boring) Saturday 31st May...

7am - I'm going through a phase of waking up ridiculously early at the moment. Today it was 7am. That is unacceptable in my life so I sat in bed to have a read.

8am - No photo - I fell back asleep innit!

9am - Awake again and time for more reading in bed with a cup of tea. This book is wonderful and I'm really enjoying it.

10am - Out of bed (but not out of pyjamas) and watching one of my favourites. Judge Judy.

11am - Getting ready some swapsies to send out to Lucy!

12pm - I thought it would be fun to set out my outfit for the day on the bed, like a fashion blogger. Turns out it takes bloody ages. Then I put it all on and hated it and wore something else. Excellent.

1pm - In town and buying hair dye to cover my stupid grey hairs. I so wish I didn't work in the corporate world sometimes, I am desperate to dye my hair one of these colours.

2pm - Had a little stop off at the charity book shop in town and picked up some more books to add to my pile of Classics to be read.

3pm - Time for sticking! The more the album fills up the more my pile of swapsies grows. And the more exciting it gets when you actually come across a sticker that you don't have!

4pm - Sitting down for some crochet action.

5pm - I went out for a run! I've been having a mega rough time with running lately and I've just not been enjoying it at all and just going through the motions. But the good thing about that is that it tends to mean you lower your expectations - that means when you don't cry and want to die you have a pretty good time! I had to walk a couple of times during this run so the time is not great, but if there are no tears I'm calling it a win.

6pm - The downside of running? My face goes an unholy shade of red and stays that way for a good hour afterwards.

7pm - It's gerbil time! Ser Jorah Mormont came out for a little play.

8pm - I went into the kitchen and loved the light coming in through the window, it still kills me how light it still is during this hour of the day.

9pm - Curry time! Why else go out for a run, am I right?! Hey?!

10pm - More crochet time with a full stomach of curry.

11pm - Back where I started, in bed, with a good book.


And that, my friends, was the last day in May. I'm looking forward to next month already!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

A little bit of internet love: Part III

Happy Sunday to all. And Happy June to you as well.

*insert obligatory comment about the year moving too fast*

I would like to provide some lovely Internet Love for you to read on a Sunday afternoon. Just because I'm nice like that, you know?

"I am a jogger, not a runner"via The Guardian made me snort several times reading it. It sums up precisely how I feel and explains why I constantly find myself correcting myself when I refer to myself as a "runner".

In the same vein, I remembered reading this post by Pretty Fit about her experience running this year's London Marathon. I need to constantly remind myself that one bad run doesn't make me a complete failure - sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Rachael's new stitchy blog has been making me really feel the urge to put down my crochet hook and get back to my cross stitch tendencies. This post all about her old and new projects really made me yearn to start playing with aida and threads.

Hazel blogged about a mexican lasagne recipe which sounded a) awesome and b) is vegetarian. It has been promptly pinned on Pinterest and it will be definitely making an appearance on my list of veggie meals I'll be making in 2014.

If you ever happen to be in London on a weekday the ever wonderful Cafe Cat has come up with a plethora of things to amuse you - I'm considering booking a day off work just to literally follow her itinerary.

There have been a lot of posts about the recent decisions made about the GCSE English Literature curriculum. Nose in a Book's post about the subject was one of the best that I've read however.

I like to throw in a serious article every now and then just to shake things up for you and this week is no exception. This article from the New Statesman about whether or not certain men's misogyny is a 'private matter' really made my day.

Hope you have all had a lovely weekend - I'll be back with a little bit of internet love next week.