Relaxation, running . . . and return.

They say a change is as good as a rest and we have certainly indulged in both over the last few days. The thirteen-hour drive to northern France was incredibly dull and ridiculously tiring considering we spent most of it sitting on our backsides, but it was well worth the effort for the holiday we enjoyed once there. Mayenne is very different to Asturias: no dramatic green mountains or rugged coastline, but instead a rich and fertile open land, rolling softly beneath wide lark-filled skies.

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This is growing country, the poppy-edged fields of ripened grain rippling like water in sunlight, the massed ranks of sunflowers turning their faces obediently to the sun and the thick groves of maize brooding and silent, greening the patchwork landscape. We lived there once and it is always a pleasure to go back.

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Away from the noise and busyness of the building work, it was lovely just to unwind and relax and spend some time enjoying old haunts and treats. When the temperature hit 35 degrees we decided it was time for a swim and headed to one of the beached lakes the French do so well; it was blissfully quiet (I’d forgotten how sacrosanct lunchtime is in France) and the water was warm enough for a long, indulgent swim. Wonderful!

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Of course, I had a bit of yarn therapy planned, too. Initially when packing I had thought just to take my sock knitting as it’s small and very portable . . . but my little bower bird looked so appealing in its nest of wool that I succumbed to temptation and decided to treat it to a French holiday. Well, why not? There was plenty of room in the car for my basket after all and I can’t resist having a choice of activities to fiddle with, which is why my projects tend to run away with me at times.

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One happy hour with my crochet hook, one striped bower for the bird.

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Where the sock knitting was concerned, sitting in the dappled shade of a young oak tree to work on that intricate leaf lace pattern seemed very appropriate. Having got off to such a tricky start with the pattern, I truly love these socks: they are so pretty and feminine and summery, just what I had hoped for. A bit on the tardy side for a June birthday gift but hopefully I will be forgiven!

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One of the important things on our French agenda was a long run. Roger is toying with the idea of running a marathon in October so he wanted to try something close to 20 miles to help him decide. (He said he probably wouldn’t bother doing any more marathons as the training means he can’t enter other races but I have a sneaking suspicion that is about to change . . . ) For me, it was an attempt at 10 miles / 16 k where I could give it a go on the flat. Despite being on holiday, I went to bed early the night before, gave up my lie-in to have an early breakfast and passed on the pain au chocolat, having a healthy bowl of oats, yogurt and banana instead. Talk about commitment, this is not normal behaviour! When we have run down the old railway path before I have tended to plod out only two or three kilometres from the car, telling myself I can always run a bit in the opposite direction if I feel the need to run any further once I’m back. Ha ha, like that ever happens! I have always made sure to take a book or knitting and a deck chair so I can enjoy some post-plod relaxation while Roger is off pounding out the miles.

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The old Mayenne railway path: perfect place for runners, walkers, cyclists and horse riders . . . and SO flat! Also not a bad place for a deck chair . . . 

Ah, not this time. This was all about running 8k out and 8k back with no wriggling out of it in a well-I-could-always-do-6k-each-way-and-the-rest-when-I-get-back-to-the-car sort of way. After all, in a race you don’t get to the finish line then have to do several kilometres beyond it so I needed to take this seriously. I even carried a little bottle of isotonic water Roger had been given at the end of a race in Spain; I don’t like the stuff, but stupidly I felt quite nervous so I think it was my security blanket, really. I promised myself a very quick pause at the 5 mile /8k marker if I needed it – after all, I may well stop at a water station in the half marathon so it’s not cheating as such – and off I went. Did I do it? Well, yes, I did. I ran 10 miles, the furthest I have ever run in my life, with just the briefest of breaks at the halfway point to strip off my vest, blow my nose and have a slurp from my comfort bottle. I was so intent on keeping my pit-stop to a minimum that I didn’t even notice the message of encouragement that my coach had lovingly scrawled across the gravel path on his way through. The last mile was excruciating, pure agony as I started aching in places I’ve never ached before. Roger tells me this is quite normal and will happen in the race – that’s why the long training runs are so vital. What is strange is that I had expected to feel physically exhausted and mentally elated if I managed it . . . but in the event, the only word to describe it was ‘shell-shocked’. It all seemed a bit surreal, actually: I wanted to feel happy and joyful and bouncy but I didn’t.

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Almost at the marker: another kilometre down.

Reassurance from Roger once again: it’s a perfectly normal feeling, partly because I was tired but also because I know subconsciously that even though it was a mighty milestone, it’s still not enough. There is another 3.1 miles / 5k to find (I can’t think that’s just a Park Run because I find 5k as hard as I ever did) and a lot of work to be done before September. I’m not there yet . . . but on reflection – and after a good night’s sleep – I did manage a little smile at the fact that I’m well on my way.

So, home again, and what have we come back to? Well, the roof is shaping up nicely but new scaffolding has appeared which makes getting in and out of the house an exercise in gymnastics.

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There obviously hasn’t been a drop of rain in our absence and the garden is dried to a crisp, so emergency pot watering was the first job. I love that first look round to see what’s new, it’s incredible how much can change in just a few days. We certainly have food a-plenty and lots to come.

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There is a serious outbreak of cucumbers.

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The first aubergine.

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The length of the yellow climbing beans is ridiculous.

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We really rate the Italian ‘Costata Romanesco’ courgettes – every bit as tasty (and pretty when sliced) as the ‘Latino’ we’ve grown previously.

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I’ve forgotten exactly how many types of pepper I planted . . . but they’re on their way.

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‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes, sweet and juicy.

The squash patch is now officially out of control and all I can do is try to encourage the plants from swamping other things as they go about their business. We will definitely be playing ‘hunt the squash’ come autumn but that’s part of the fun of growing them. I can’t resist a little early peep, though . . .

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‘Crown Prince’, our absolute favourite.

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Baby butternuts (one of three possible varieties, don’t ask me which!).

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‘Guatemalan Blue’, a special heirloom seed we had from Sarah in a seed swap moment. To say this banana squash variety is thriving in Asturias would be a serious understatement; actually, it’s taking over the valley quietly . . . 

Ah, holidays are great things . . . but it’s good to be home! 🙂

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French leave

The roof is off and we’ve decided to run away! Well, escape to France for a few days anyway, and leave our trusty builders Jesús and Felix to it. It was quite a moment on Tuesday when the house went totally ‘topless’.

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. . . and there it was gone. Adios, old roof.

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On Wednesday, the serious business of reconstruction began with the two massive main beams being lifted onto the house by a crane on the back of a lorry. It’s very exciting: now at last we are starting to see how the new roof will look.

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Once the work is finished, ours will start in earnest. We’ve spent a couple of days replacing the ceiling in one bay – me painting the wooden panels, Roger putting them up and sorting the cabling – so now at least we have two lights back in the kitchen.

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My painting workshop in the shade of the kiwi: 70 panels down, 150 to go!

With the old roof timbers stacked in several piles ready to chop for the stove (we certainly won’t be cold this winter) there’s not a lot else we can do for the time being, so a few days’ holiday seems like a good idea and Jesús and Felix can crack on without us getting under feet.

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The vegetable garden is at that stage where it’s just doing its own thing i.e. it’s slightly out of control, but we will pick a pile of veg to take with us and hopefully everything will be fine left to its own devices for a few days.

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The builders have had to lower the phone line temporarily:  the cucumbers (foreground) and climbing beans (background) are planning to make good use of a new aerial support . . .

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The courgettes have completely filled their patch.

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Beautiful borlotti beans: I just love those colours!

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Of course, the squash were never going to stay tidily on their terrace.

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Sunny faces.

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A trug full of gorgeousness for dinner.

We have been enjoying fresh figs for our breakfast lately – the ones the jays and blackbirds didn’t eat – and I suspect we will be coming back to the peach harvest. That’s no problem.

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One of the things I’m planning to do in France is go for my longest run yet. There is a great track along the course of the old Mayenne railway, lightly gravelled and specially designed for walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders. It’s relatively flat, pretty shady and there are kilometre marker stones all along it so it’s easy to measure distance. My coach suggests I have a crack at 16k (10 miles): it’s a bit ahead of my training programme, but he’s right that the psychological boost would be fantastic. We’ll see how that one goes! I’ve found my post-race runs hard work this week and some stiffness in my hamstrings reminded me how much I’m missing my yoga practice. It’s impossible to do any at the moment – just take a look at my usual yoga spaces . . .

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Kitchen yoga studio

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Barn yoga studio

. . . not very conducive to rolling out my mat (not to mention the noise)! Still, I plan to get back to it in August and to try some pilates, too; it’s not something I’ve ever really done but Adrienne has loaned me some beginners’ dvds and I’ll give it a whizz to work on building core strength.

I did have a really special moment on my run yesterday. I had reached the bottom of what I always think of as ‘Christa’s Hill’ (see below) and was deliberating whether to run up it or turn down the track to return home (it’s the same distance, just different running conditions) when the decision was made for me. There, bumbling along the track towards me in broad daylight and without a care in the world, was a young badger! I have to confess to pausing for a few moments to watch its antics, it was completely oblivious and so close at one point that I could have touched it. What a truly lovely moment . . . and I had my new Spanish word of the day, too:  el tejón.

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Bumble bee in the agapanthus: not quite as exciting as a baby badger, but every bit as lovely to watch.

So, Christa’s Hill it was. Oh good. 😦 Christa is our lovely neighbour who lives 1.4.k from us and I love running past her house for two reasons. First, it is the prettiest cottage, painted a gorgeous shade of blue with a terracotta roof. Second, she has recently acquired some new overspill accommodation for her B & B guests, the coolest tent I have ever seen in the shape of a blue VW camper van. It never fails to make me smile when I see it! 🙂 Christa’s B & B However, the run home from there involves a kilometre of continuous climb that makes the Hill From Hell look like child’s play.

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The bottom of Christa’s Hill: the only way is up . . . and up . . . and up!

It’s steep  – especially at the start – and winds round several hairpins as it goes. Last year, I had to walk the whole way every time; since then I’ve worked on a walk -run strategy, just running in bursts where I can. Now I can run most of it on a good day but I still have to take a couple of recovery walks; the problem is that because of the lie of the land, it always comes at the end of a run when I’m feeling tired. However, to run all the way up without stopping is the new challenge I’ve set myself . . . and if I manage that, I really will believe in miracles!

In the meantime, it’s hasta luego to the house, garden and meadows and time for a little R & R elsewhere. A bientôt, Asturias! 🙂

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Running scared

Countdown to Lake Vyrnwy Half Marathon: 62 days to go.

We’re moving ever closer to being without a roof completely now and starting to acclimatise to life under tarpaulin. I must admit there were times last week when I wasn’t sure where the best place was to be; with new beams going up in the kitchen and slates and tiles flying off the roof, there seemed to be rubble and noise everywhere. Still, it’s getting the job done: our builders are great – so hardworking – and with any luck, we are about halfway to our lovely new roof.

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Having got the hang of the builders’ timetable and activities, it was a bit easier to keep to my running programme last week. Actually, I made up for lost time and miles by doing three long (well, long for me) runs of 9.3k, 10.4k and 13.1k. I was especially chuffed with the last one, partly as it’s the furthest I’ve ever run but mostly because I ran from home so it involved plenty of hills. In fact, 6k was notched up running up and down the Hill From Hell three times. It has come to something when being out running has been preferable to being at home – another of my coach’s ploys, I wonder?!

My fourth and final run of the week was the Luarca 5k race yesterday. This is the first Spanish race I have taken part in and it was a good one to choose. Luarca is about half an hour’s drive from here, a pretty seaside town with a working harbour. We have become quite familiar with it since moving here as it is the main centre of any business we need to do (town hall, tax office, bank, dentist, etc); it’s also a lovely friendly place to wander round and has a good Wednesday market. Roger entered the race last year but had to pull out in the first minutes because of a calf injury so this year he was hoping for better things and to continue his winning streak. For me, position and time were completely irrelevant: this was all about trying to get a grip on my race day nerves.

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Slightly nervous smile – hope this is my lucky number.  Just look at how colour co-ordinated I am in my CHAS shirt, though!

 

My race ‘career’ so far doesn’t amount to much –  two 5k Races For Life, two Park Runs, one 8k and two 10k races – but each time I have felt very nervous at the start. I’m not entirely sure why this should be as I’m not athletic or competitive so it’s not as if I’m worried about doing well; trust me, finishing on my feet is all I ever hope for. I think perhaps it’s running surrounded by other people that I find difficult as I always run alone and enjoy that quiet solitude (even when there’s a hill involved). Whatever the reason, while everyone else looks like professionals as they go through their stretches, jogs and sprints before a race, my warm up generally involves a large dose of butterflies and a desperate need to wee (several times)! Mmm, it would be good to have that under control before September!

I have to admit I didn’t feel too bad this time. The race was very typical of all those Roger has run in in Asturias – well-organised, friendly and well-supported. I don’t mind starting towards the back: as I’ve pointed out to my coach (who’s not convinced!), it means a leisurely start after the gun while I wait for the pack to move off and of course there’s no chance of getting lost if there are plenty of people in front of me. Mostly, though, it’s because all the runners around me are like me, not trying to win but running for a personal challenge . . . or just because they can. There’s a sort of back-of-the pack cameraderie which I like and this race was no exception. There was also tremendous support from people on the streets right from the word go and the shouts of ¡Venga! and ¡Ánimo! were great encouragement.

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Okay, so remind me why I’m putting myself through this?

As the race was two laps of the same course, I saw Roger twice on the way round and it was clear that there were no injury issues for him this year.

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There goes my speedy coach!

In fact, he finished ninth overall in 16:51 and won the Veteran class – no mean feat as it was a 45-55 age group this time so at 54 he certainly gave those youngsters a good run for their money. I am in awe of his running ability and speed but then, if you’re going to have a coach you might as well have one who leads by example (and as I keep telling him, he’s not doing too badly for a Grandad – even if it does mean yet another trophy for the collection!).

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Another proud podium moment.

Needless to say, he was finished in plenty of time to cheer me towards the finishing line, just the encouragement I needed for those last few metres. I even surprised myself with a burst of speed, determined not to let the clock tick over to another minute. A far bigger surprise is that at that moment I was SMILING! Oh my goodness, now that really is a first!

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I can see the finish line . . . 

So, how did I do? Well, I came 199th out of 228 runners which is much as I expected and I was 10th out of 20 ladies in my age group which was better than I imagined I could achieve. My time was 28:30 which pleased me as it’s usually over 30 minutes but the best thing was I had held those nerves more or less under control. I was very glad of the water at the finish line and the bag of goodies which included a banana, apple, chocolate wafer and a couple of buttery biscuits . . .yum! What I wasn’t expecting was a sausage sandwich and a very cold beer which I have to say really hit the spot. Muchas gracias, Luarca – what a great event. I have to admit to slightly enjoying it: in fact, I’m even considering entering another race here before The Big One – and no, it’s not just for the beer! 🙂

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Cheers!

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Builders, Blankets and Bower Bird 2.

I love the fact that we live in a small and cosy open living space, more like a cabin than a house; it suits our lifestyle so well. The only problem is that when the house is full of busy builders, there is nowhere to hide! The weather has done one of its spectacular Asturian turnabouts this week and we have enjoyed brilliant blue skies, sunshine and temperatures up in the thirties so I’ve been quite happy to escape outside. I’ve been going for a run as early as possible while the air is still relatively cool, then working in the garden for as long as it has some amount of shade.

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Midday and there is just a little bit of shade left above the stone wall . . . almost time to move out of the garden.

Once the sun is up over the mountain, though, the heat builds quickly so in the afternoons I’ve set up a yarn workshop under the sunbrella and turned my attention to woolly things. (By the way, the sooty, dusty, rubbly situation is so bad in the house that I’ve been storing all my yarn projects – along with our bedding – in the car to keep them safe and clean!) I started by finishing the baby blankets, adding two more rounds of border to the Harmony Square blanket, giving it a depth of colour that finished it off beautifully.

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I love this blanket, it is such a pretty design. I’ve even found myself mulling over the possibility of making one as a double bed cover for our guest bedroom (now that’s a lovely thought – a guest bedroom . . . ). Mmm, it would be a huge project. I’ll let that one roll round my mind for a while.

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I worked 40 bands of colour in the ripple blanket; this made it the same size as the rainbow ripple blanket and also meant I only used the combinations of pink twice rather than three times. I’m trying to keep my projects gender neutral and although the pinks bring a lovely old-fashioned sweet pea feeling to the blankets, I don’t want to over-sugar them as Babi Tachwedd could well be a little boy. I did feel the border needed to be a little softer than on the rainbow blanket, so I worked a round of treble crochet in Turquoise, then a round each of double crochet in Lavender and Parma Violet. So here they are, all finished and ready to keep a precious November baby warm and snug.

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Time to  move on to a bower bird. Yippee! I had so much fun making the last one so it was pure pleasure to find Lucy’s wonderful pattern once again and get stuck in. Attic 24 Bower Bird Pattern The first decision to make was all about colour. I played around with ideas and decided all the greens and most of the blues would be perfect for the bower. (Note: the soft bluey effect of these photos is a result of everything being under the brolly, not me trying to get arty with the new camera!)

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Bearing in mind my thoughts on pink above, I felt that purples would be the best choice for the bird: the darker Violet shade for the main body teamed with Parma Violet for the wings and tail.

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This pattern is so clever: I love the way a spiral becomes a circle that becomes a hexagon.

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Actually, at this point I realised I had got so carried away in my excitement that I was using the wrong sized crochet hook, whizzing around on a 4mm hook when last time (following the pattern to the letter) I’d used 3.5mm. Never mind, let’s see how it goes; I felt far too hot to think about climbing up into the horreo to hunt out the smaller hook and starting all over again. With the final round worked in the contrasting colour, the basic body was soon done.

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Time to add a tail and beak. When I made my rainbow bower bird, the bright Citron yellow seemed the perfect compliment to the red and orange of the bird’s body but I felt it would be a bit harsh and something softer was needed with this new colour scheme. Cue a quick little foray into the back of the car and a rummage in my baskets: perhaps the Camel yarn in my Coast blanket pack would do the job?

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Underparts next, then the part I really love – adding little bits of embroidery which gives the finished bird such a lovely crafty homely feel. I stuck mostly with blues and greens, just adding a splash of Raspberry in the lazy daisy.

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Day 2 in Bird World. The weather had cooled a little, low misty clouds clung to the mountain tops and the valley echoed with the sound of the tiles coming off our roof. It was supposed to be the day when the ceiling panels (known as ‘sandwich’) went up in the house to make us snug and safe from the elements but there was a distinct lack of any sandwich delivery in sight and the roof appeared to be coming off instead. Having finished my duties as electrician’s mate (highly technical stuff on my part, turning switches on and off as required), I headed out after lunch for some more yarn therapy. Luckily, I had remembered to extricate my sewing basket from the general mayhem of piled-up-or-hidden-away stuff in the house before the builders had started so I would have the black embroidery thread I needed to make little beady French knot eyes. Unluckily, when I opened my basket it wasn’t there. Not a good time to remember it was tidied away with some woolly stuff – along with the toy stuffing I needed – in the horreo. No question of climbing up there, the path was blocked with piles of tile and slate and given the speed at which things were flying off the roof I decided maybe another activity elsewhere was a safer plan. I did manage to sneak in a couple of bonus ripples on my Coast blanket, though, while a lorry load of the long-awaited sandwich was being delivered.

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So to Day 3, which began with our two builders lowering themselves into the house through a hole in the roof like Spiderman and his sidekick. I sometimes wonder if my life can become any more surreal and it seems that it can.

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Who needs a front door?

As this was going to be Major Sandwich Day, outdoors was looking good and I enjoyed a very busy morning in the garden. The flowers are all looking so cottagey and pretty and I feel they need a lot of daily inspection! I’m really chuffed with this rather beautiful cleome.

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This is a flower I’ve admired from afar for years; they are very popular in public floral displays in France, but I’ve never grown them until now. They have gone so well from seed  I bought from Moreveg, I shall definitely be planting again next year. Anyway, back to the serious end of gardening and it was time to lift the potatoes. As Roger had cleared the path so we could store them in the horreo – which meant I could retrieve my bits and pieces – the way was clear for a bit more post-lunch bird business. First, some eyes followed by the sewing up and stuffing part: suddenly, there was my little bird!

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I love the cheerful sun that hangs above my rainbow bower bird but, as with the beak, I didn’t feel the colours would work with this project. A hanging heart seemed far more in keeping and if I used stronger shades – Violet and Raspberry – I could avoid it looking too mushy. A quick trip back to the horreo for my bag of haberdashery bits and I was delighted to find I still had some tiny lilac heart-shaped buttons I cut off an old pair of pyjamas years ago; these would make a perfect decoration in the centre of the heart and also add a bit of extra weight. At this point it occurred to me that a pair of bower birds in the right colours would make a lovely wedding gift and when I spotted a length of lace in my bits and bobs left over from making Vicky’s wedding dress, I couldn’t resist a silly moment with the camera.

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Bridal bird!

Oh go on, indulge me! It was our wedding anniversary, after all – or maybe all the dust I’ve been breathing in the last week has totally addled my brain.

It fascinates me the way projects based on the same pattern or ideas can evolve in such different ways. When it came to choosing colours for the bower (I’m going with my electric cable idea again) I found myself rapidly backtracking from all those blues and greens. Somehow this feels like a ‘less is more’ project so I’ve decided to stick to just three colours – Aster, Storm Blue and Petrol – worked in equal bands of double crochet.

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Apart from anything else, that will give me the option of using blue for flowers (and a butterfly?) and a wider choice of leaf colours when it comes to working the little enhancements.  At this point, rubble began to fly off the roof in an alarming fashion once again: time to take cover, little bird.

To be continued . . . 🙂

A simple celebration

Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary. We have never been ‘hearts and teddies’ sorts of people so card companies, chocolate manufacturers and florists would have a hard time if they relied on us for a living. We love to celebrate on special occasions – of course we do! – but in ways that are simple, personal and meaningful and we would choose experience over ‘stuff’ every time. So, building work permitting, we are planning to have a lovely trip out sometime in the coming days with a special picnic, back to Somiedo Natural Park to walk again in the Kingdom of the Bear. We’re not expecting deep snow this time but hopefully a fine show of alpine flowers instead.

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In the meantime, I am enjoying two beautiful gifts. The first is the rose we were given by Roger’s mum and dad to mark our rather large anniversary two years ago. It’s called ‘For Your Eyes Only’ and is truly exquisite; when I was having to make some very tough decisions about which plants to bring to Asturias, this one was top of the list. It’s been growing quite happily in a large pot but we have recently earmarked the perfect spot for a permanent planting in the autumn. Here it is now, enjoying a second flush bang on time for our anniversary and lighting up our seating area with its pretty blooms – when the evening sun shines through them, the effect is magical. Gorgeous, gorgeous thing!

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Now for my second little posy of happiness. If I had to choose just one wild flower there is no question that it would be honeysuckle. I love its wild, untamed nature, climbing and twisting through hedges and up trees, weaving its gentle beauty among the green and brown; I love those spidery flowers with their tubular petals and delicate stamens, the soft colours from palest buttery cream to deepest duskiest pink; above all, I love that sweet heady perfume wafting along lanes and through the woodland – for me, the pure scent of summer. No surprise, then, that when it came to organising my bridal bouquet, honeysuckle was top of the list. “Oh no”, said the florist, holding his hands up in horror, “it’s just not possible. Honeysuckle doesn’t hold up, it will wilt, it won’t last. It just can’t be done.” Now I like to think I’m a fairly easy-going, reasonable person (those who know me might want to disagree) but at this point I do have to confess that I had a complete Bridezilla moment: nobody – NOBODY – was going to tell me I couldn’t carry honeysuckle on my wedding day. Fine, I replied. If that was the case, he could keep his bouquet and I would simply go out on the morning of our big day and pick myself a big bunch of honeysuckle to carry up the aisle. Honeysuckle or nothing. End of story. Bless the poor man, he backed down immediately and in my bouquet was the most beautiful deep pink honeysuckle mingled with cream rosebuds and tiny ivy leaves . . . and what’s more, it lasted all day without any problem. So when Roger appeared after an evening walk this week with this beautiful creamy symbolic little posy for me, what else could I do but smile?

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The little blue vase is symbolic, too. It was made in the year we were married in a pottery in the pretty Saxon town where we were married and there have been very few weeks since when it hasn’t held a posy of fresh flowers gathered from the garden or hedgerow. Simple, personal, meaningful. Surely this is how love should be? Forget the hearts and helium balloons: I am a very lucky lady! 🙂

Going topless

It has been quite an eventful week and here’s a clue as to why . . .

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After several months of planning and waiting, the builders have started work on our new roof. It was very exciting to see the scaffolding going up: yes; there will be several weeks of disruption and dirt but this is the key to getting the house really sorted out once and for all. Not only will it finally be waterproof but we will gain a light, airy space in the old attic for our new bedroom and be able to finish the rest of the house after several months with little progress on the renovation front.

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Unfortunately, the weather gods have been in a spiteful mood and we have had what has probably been the worst week of weather since January, with thunderstorms, torrential downpours – often prolonged – and high winds with gusts of 50mph. Not really what you want when you are about to go roofless!

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The first few days of work have been done inside and have been mostly about destruction. The house slopes pretty badly so the first job is to level everything in order to ensure the upstairs floor is horizontal – it will be quite useful not to be rolling out of bed all the time, I suppose! After discussing many options with our builder and architect it seemed there was no choice but to take all the ceilings down and start again. That included the new ceilings we had put up last year; remember all that balancing of plasterboard on brooms last summer? The seven coats of white paint? It’s a bit frustrating but on the other hand we wouldn’t have wanted to live under the old ceilings for all this time so it was worth doing anyway – just a shame they couldn’t stay up.

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We have had a busy time of it going pretty much flat out from dawn to dusk, moving furniture and covering everything with dust sheets, hauling timber away to stack (and eventually chop) for the stove, and lugging vast trugs of rubble and plasterboard and sooty dust up to the skip. I’m hastily drafting this post during the builders’ lunch break, it’s a pleasant excuse to sit down for a few minutes! It’s Week 2 of my half marathon training and my running has really not been happening as it should but even my coach admits these are exceptional circumstances. I have been doing plenty of miles in other ways, though, and have climbed those 14 steps to the house more times than I care to remember. It’s not a form of cross-training I’ve read about in any training programmes but surely it must be helping with my fitness levels?

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Up the hill . . .

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. . . to the skip!

At one point as we were clearing up the mess at the end of another long day, Roger said, “Remind me why we’re doing this?” Good question, and a good time to reflect, I suppose. We’re doing this because we wanted another adventure, something to take us off the proverbial  hamster wheel and give us an opportunity to do new things in the name of living our lives to the full. We didn’t want to stagnate or get set in our ways or lead a hugely predictable lifestyle. We’re too young to be old. Yes, we were tired, hungry and filthy but better that than be bored . . . and we certainly can’t complain on that score. It’s just a shame there was no wine in the house to wash the dust from our throats and toast our own brand of madness – bit of an oversight on our part, I’d say! 🙂

So, here we are now facing an interesting few days with no ceilings and the house open to the blackened rafters like a draughty barn. We have pots and buckets scattered all over to catch the drips as the rain comes through the tiles (there’s a reason we need a new roof) and from time to time, sooty clots fall down on us in a loud black splat from above.

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Our bed under a dust sheet in the kitchen: the bucket is catching drips from above.

There is black dust everywhere. If we had enough flat land to pitch the tent, I’d be tempted despite the weather. Next week, the tiles come off; the word ‘tarpaulins’ has been mentioned and the weather forecast is looking a hundred times better so fingers crossed going ‘topless’ won’t be too stressful. Watch this space . . !

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Looking up from below you can see why we need a new roof.

There’s been no time to do much in the garden which is probably a good thing as the weather has wreaked havoc and it makes me sad to look. I was glad to see some rain; having pulled out the early pea and broad bean plants last week, I was struggling to get a fork into the ground, it was so hard. The wind, however, is another matter. It blew the fig tree over so we have had to tether that to a post and the sunflowers are now lashed to tripods of climbing beans. Several calabrese plants were blown clean out of the ground (thank goodness I’d planted far too many) along with some young lettuces.

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I was thrilled to see the first flowers appearing on the aubergines and not so thrilled the next day to see them lying face down in the mud. Oh, the joys of gardening.

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My biggest upset, though, was the dahlias. I decided to grow lots of them this year on account of them being very popular in local gardens and flowering for months here. I’ve always had mixed results in the past, losing them to wet weather, slugs and early frosts but I’ve been really chuffed at how easy they were to grow from seed and how beautiful they were looking with their bright colours and cheerful, bee-ridden faces.

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The wind smashed them to smithereens without mercy, flattening the plants and breaking them off at the base. I just hope they manage to recover. 😦

It’s not all bad news, however, and there have been a few things to smile about. The French beans, peas and courgettes are cropping heavily and we are enjoying the best basil we have had in years (enough to make pesto using our walnuts in place of pine nuts – delicious!).

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The other brassicas have taken a bashing, but the summer cabbages have weathered the storms and are forming lovely crisp hearts.

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Our Big Tomato Experiment seems to be working so far and although there’s a hint of blight about the place, there certainly hasn’t been the dramatic collapse we saw last year.

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In fact – and I hardly want to even whisper this – there are little ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes starting to ripen. Shhhhhh! Don’t tempt fate!

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There are some other beauties to enjoy, too.

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That’s better. Suddenly all that sooty dust and rubble doesn’t seem so bad. 🙂

Woolly world

Oh, the frustration of being without a camera for three weeks – especially three weeks spent on my own with a lot of time to indulge in Woolly World activities and no way of recording my little bits of busyness. With new camera in hand, there is quite a bit of catching up to do now: if the truth be told, I went into yarn-obsessed overdrive while Roger was away.

First, the leaf lace socks I am (still) knitting.

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To say these are a labour of love would be a huge understatement, not only because I am not a fan of lace knitting but also it’s all so fiddly on fine, slippery (and – let’s admit it – somewhat inconsistent) homespun yarn and four spindly double-pointed needles. This is definitely an outdoors project, sitting in bright sunlight and working with complete concentration. How happy I was to get down to the heel flap and the light relief of working rows of knit and slip stitch for a little while!

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Once I reached the instep, things became much simpler (down to three needles and the lace pattern worked on only one of them) and suddenly I was flying. Blimey, I could even let my brain wander a bit – listen to the birds, breathe in the scent of flowers, wonder what to have for dinner – you know the kind of thing. Suddenly, a sock was appearing and actually I’m pretty chuffed with it.  I’d hoped for something that sings of summer, the fresh zingy green of leaf and hedgerow with a hint of blue sky and white cloud and this is pretty much doing the job. The Merino wool is soft and vibrant, the tussah silk running through it shimmers like cobwebs in the sunlight. One sock almost down, one to go.

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Crochet, next. Ah yes, that little addiction which shows no sign of disappearing. I am so enjoying working away on my Coast blanket, the colour combinations are beautiful and I just love that ripple stitch so much. I’ve been doing a little bit at each end of the day: a few minutes in the morning with that all-important first big mug of tea and a bit more before bedtime while listening to music – it’s such an easy, soothing pattern to work, it suits those moods and times of day perfectly (plus it’s not exactly comfortable sitting under a woolly blanket in the heat of the day). The blanket is taking shape and growing rapidly: 41 ripples out of 84 done.

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Having dispatched the rainbow baby blankets with Roger, I found myself looking at the leftover yarn and thinking I should really pack it all away carefully in the horreo (everything needs to be tidied away in storage before the builders arrive) . . . but what I did of course was launch into another project. Cue several very happy days spent messing about with bits of yarn to make a Bower Bird Attic 24 Bower Bird for Baby’s nursery. I’ll pop a photo in here but I had so much fun making this that I’ve already written a separate little post about it.

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With plenty of yarn still left over, I decided to have a go at making a Harmony Granny Square (bear with me, the reason will soon become clear). Attic 24 Harmony Granny Square These are a very different design to the Flower Garden squares I used in Baby’s blanket – more rounds and different stitch patterns – slower to make, but truly lovely when done. I enjoyed making the first one so much, I made a second . . . I just can’t get enough of those blue / green / purple combinations. The soft green is exactly the same shade as our bed – an old pine thing we gave a painty facelift to some years ago – and it occurred to me these squares might make pretty coasters for the bedside table once we have overhauled the bedroom and turned it into a cosy guestroom.

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Ping, went my brain. How about some bunting in similar colours to string above the window and brighten it up a bit? Hell, why not?

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As I said, it is an addiction. (Strict instructions to Roger: if he catches me crocheting a toilet roll cover, he is to confiscate all crochet hooks immediately.)

So, there was the kitchen table looking like some kind of mad yarn studio with baskets of wool and squares and triangles and bird bits and a blanket spilling out all over when the tooting of the postman’s car put me in crazily excited mode and saw me flying down the steps to collect my parcel from him. Parcel? Yes, believe it or not, another new crochet project. Now I know that I said this year I was going to try really hard to keep my projects down to one or maybe two on the go at the same time and no more and it seems that I have failed in spectacular fashion . . . BUT my reason for this new basket of gorgeousness is such a wonderful one: another precious little grandchild arriving later this year. We are so blessed and I am hopping, skipping and jumping with sheer joy and excitement. Smile, smile, smile! 🙂 🙂 🙂 It does mean that I need to find a way of distinguishing between these two little bundles of joy-to-be so maybe I will call them September Baby and November Baby or perhaps – as their daddies are Welshmen – Babi Medi and Babi Tachwedd. That has a musical ring for sure!

So what were my plans for Babi T? Well, I wanted to do something along similar lines to the Granny Flower Garden and Rainbow Ripple blankets but not identical: our grandchildren, like our children, are all equally precious and loved but very different, unique and individual beings, so I think it’s important that they all have a gift that is special and unique to them. I can use the same basic ideas but with new twists: a different colour palette for a start will create something fresh and new. Have a peep . . .

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I decided to opt for softer hues this time rather than crazy brights, without going down the pale pastels route – I’m not a pastel fan and have never understood the tradition of wrapping babies up in washed-out shades, then surrounding them with toys and accessories in screaming bright primaries. These are lovely soft summery colours and are a joy to work with. Project 1: a square blanket to use as a floor or lawn throw, using the Harmony Blanket pattern as a starting point – hence the earlier practice at making the squares. Attic 24 Harmony Blanket This has such a different feel to my Flower Garden blanket, far less random and haphazard and a little more sophisticated, I suppose.

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Making the squares was pure pleasure and using the join-as-you-go method worked well and saved me having a pile of squares to join at the end.

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I’ve worked a few rows of border around the edge but I’m not sure whether it’s finished yet or not; I might go back and add a soft green and blue to finish just as soon as I know how much yarn is left after Project 2.

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On which subject . . . can you guess? Well, of course it has to be another ripple event!

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No real plan here, I’ve just been pulling colours out of my wool basket as I go along, combinations that please me so that they shift through gentle shades but with a bit of a pop between the lime green and clematis pink. The edging colours as usual are still hovering somewhere in the future.

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There is a softness and tranquility to these blankets and I see the colours reflected all around me: sweet peas, lavender, roses, cornflowers, pinks, borage and thyme. A baby’s posy. Perfect. 🙂

 

Grow it, pick it, eat it.

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.    J.R.R.Tolkien
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When Roger was away for three weeks recently, the time of day I least liked to spend alone was early evening. This is because usually, whatever we have been doing during the day, we stop and prepare our evening meal together and it just didn’t feel right to be cooking for one on my own. We have always cooked from scratch, even when we were both working full time, and our family evening meal was a treasured time to sit down with our children and share food and tales of the days’ activities. Now, with a simpler and slower lifestyle, we can spend as much time as we like planning, preparing and enjoying our meals together . . . and that is a very precious thing.

The starting point for our meals is always what’s good in the garden. From the very first salad leaves, baby peas and broad beans, so tender and spring sweet, to parsnips and squash, the starchy heavyweights of late autumn and winter, our menu planning starts here.

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We are not vegetarians but we eat a lot of vegetarian food, and even where meals involve meat and fish, the vegetables are never just a side dish playing second fiddle. How could they possibly be when they have so much to offer? So fresh: from plant to plate in the shortest time, we measure in food footsteps rather than miles. So organic: give me a few tiny slugs to wash out of a lettuce than something that’s been sprayed and triple washed any day. So nutritious: five-a-day is not a problem – in fact, it’s more likely to be eight, ten, fifteen . . .  So natural: no such thing as standardised here, our veg come in all sorts of strange shapes, colours and sizes – that’s all part of the fun. So delicious: the flavour of sun-kissed, rain-washed, frost-sharpened homegrown vegetables is  beyond compare. So  – truly wonderful!

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I have to confess to being a bit of a hunter-gatherer by nature – well, a gatherer anyway. I love to wander about foraging for good things to eat, whether it be wild food or things we’ve grown in the garden. The process is the same wherever: basket in hand, lifting leaves, pulling roots, rummaging about in vegetation, sniffing, squeezing, picking, nibbling, grazing. Awakening the senses to the pure pleasure of fresh food: what better way is there to begin making a meal? I love the fact that no two baskets are ever the same, especially at this time of year when there is so much to choose from. The veg might all come from the same patch but that doesn’t mean we are eating the same old thing every day.

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So to the kitchen, and when it comes to food preparation we do tend to be a bit maverick in our approach. Why not? Recipes are great as guidelines and there are literally millions of fantastic ones out there, but I believe cooking should be about enjoyment and pleasure and freedom, experimenting with textures and flavours, trying new and maybe crazy ideas, above all having fun. Surely one of life’s greatest pleasures is to prepare food with love, not gritted teeth and a furrowed brow? The kitchen has always been the heart of our home and here in our little mountain house it is no exception. The rest of the house is still barely more than a rundown hovel but the kitchen is king, designed for happy cooking moments and the general chaos that ensues when we both roll up our sleeves and get down to business. Windows thrown open to the mountain air, knives chopping, spoons stirring, music playing, chatting and laughter as somehow and at some point a meal is created: this is what makes our house a home.

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When it comes to dishes, we tend to take a basic recipe and make changes to it to suit ourselves or we simply make it up as we go along. Roger’s favourite comment is that he has no idea what he is doing but ‘something will happen’ . . . and something invariably does. Occasionally it’s something we don’t feel like repeating (!) but more often that not it ends in a meal that looks and tastes lovely. We are great fans of meals that consist of lots of little dishes (think mezze, tapas, smorgasbord . . . ); true, there’s a fair bit of preparation involved but they are well worth the effort and usually result in plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day. There is so much fun involved in looking at the raw ingredients and planning what to do with them.

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Where using fresh vegetables in this way is concerned, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingtall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday! is a great starting point and inspiration, especially as Hugh encourages readers to take his recipes and change and experiment with them as they like. River Cottage Veg Everyday! Our copy is much used, much loved and much thumbed!

Here, then, is a typical kind of meal we like to make and eat – those marked with an asterisk are based on recipes from the book above:

Beetroot and carrot salad (grated raw with orange zest, olive oil, toasted walnuts and cumin seed) *

Green salad of Little Gem lettuce, French beans, courgettes, peas, basil and oregano.

Red and green peppers cooked in olive oil with garlic, onion, green olives and basil.

French beans (steamed) and courgettes (raw) in an Asian-style chilli dressing.

White bean and chickpea hummus *

Broad bean dip (cooked and cooled beans blitzed in a food processor with lemon zest and juice, mint and olive oil).

Homemade flatbreads.

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The peppers and white beans were shop-bought but in a few weeks’ time we will be harvesting our own. The broad bean dip (completely scrumptious and definitely recommended) used up the last fat beans of the season and the beetroot and carrot salad saw the first of this year’s young juicy roots. There was a platter of cheeses and chorizo on offer but I didn’t feel the need. What a wonderful colourful seasonal celebration on a plate! How very blessed we are.

Mmm . . . so what will be in tomorrow night’s basket, I wonder?! 🙂

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The heat is on

Countdown to Lake Vyrnwy half marathon: 79 days to go

Week One of my official training programme: now it gets really serious! What a week to have chosen weatherwise, the sunshine has certainly been a very apt celebration of the summer solstice. Roger doesn’t mind running in searing heat one bit but I find it hard work so with the temperature rising quickly into the mid-thirties, I’ve had to come up with Plan B: get up super early, have a light bite and head out for a run before the sun climbs too high over the mountain. I don’t find it easy; I’d far rather run a bit later once I’m properly awake and stretched but that said, there is something special about running at this time of day with the air all fresh and earthy and full of birdsong. There’s more wildlife about, too, although I haven’t been lucky enough to see Roger’s Iberian wolf yet. The best part is that I can come home to a second breakfast Hobbit-style in the morning sunshine. Okay, so maybe these early runs aren’t so bad after all!

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Homemade spelt and seed toast topped with chunky homemade orange and lemon marmalade, melon, apricots and cherries and a pot of freshly ground coffee: not a bad post-run breakfast!

One of the changes I’ve made to the programme I’m following is to shift the weekly long run from Sunday to Monday. This is because I know that as the miles start to stack up, my best bet for running longer distances is to go to a beach and Sunday is very definitely  a busy family beach day here – early morning (tide times permitting) on Mondays, even in August, should be a lot quieter. The beach at San Juan de la Arena with 4km (2.5miles) of flat sand is fantastic and we had a good run there last week, despite a very strong wind: hard work one way up the beach, much easier coming back. Still, I managed to run 12 km (7.5 miles) which really pleased me. I managed a bit of CHAS publicity, too, but the shirt is too big and baggy to run far in and it kept ballooning in the wind, making me wonder if I was about to take off! The wind also whipped my hair out of its French plait in the last couple of kilometres so I need to look at pinning my crazy mop down a bit more before the race. I’m really not bothered about image (obviously!) but it helps if I can see where I’m going.

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Earlier this week we went to one of our favourite beaches, Playa de Silencio, with the intention of having a swim to cool off in the heat. Asturias is a true surfers’ paradise but the sea at this beach is like a calm, clear lagoon and we’ve been planning this swim for some time. I’m not a huge fan of swimming in the sea but was happy to look on this as an opportunity for a bit of cross-training. Mmm . . .

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Refreshing? Cold? Nope – it’s ffffffffreezing!

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Okay, I’m in . . .

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. . . and I’m out again!

Even my tough ‘wild swimming’ coach didn’t linger in there for long . . . we’ll try again when the sea has warmed up a bit!

Having said in an earlier post that I’m not a ‘stuff’ person I have given in to common sense this week and splashed out a whole six euros on two Spanish running vests, the point being that I am going to be doing more and more running in the coming weeks and the hottest weather is still to come. They are incredibly light, very different to my running shirts and I’m enjoying the freedom of no sleeves. They have already made a big difference to my comfort level, I just hope they wash and wear well as they have a lot of miles to do between now and September. No cabbage to contend with this week but believe it or not, here I am armed and ready for another run  – well, I do have a reputation to uphold now!

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This time I’m carrying a ‘Red Rosie’ lettuce and bunch of sweet peas from the garden to deliver to our lovely neighbour Christa. It’s 1.4km to her house from ours, luckily most of it being downhill so compared to the great cabbage caper, this was a piece of cake. I have promised more deliveries over the summer – we have so much veg to come in the garden and it’s a pleasure to share – but I might have to draw the line when we get to squash season, downhill or not! 🙂

My JustGiving page

 

 

Butterflies

If I had to give a name to this week I think it would be Semana de las Mariposas – Butterfly Week. They have been everywhere, in carpets and in clouds, every shape, size, colour and pattern imaginable, from velvety regal peacocks to tiny dusty blues the shade of speedwell. None of them are easy to photograph, though, as they just don’t stop flitting around (and I’m still trying to get the hang of our new camera, which doesn’t help). I love the spotty black and white ones that flutter slowly like flying hankies – if I can just persuade one to land and spread its wings, maybe I stand a better chance of identifying it.

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Insects are such an important part of the ecosystem, we do as much as we can to attract them to the garden by providing food, shelter and places to breed.

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I’ve had mixed success with those ‘bee and butterfly’ seed mixes over the years, often preferring to buy or collect single types and mix my own; borage, phacelia, calendula, Californian poppies, poached egg plant, field poppies, cornflowers and mustard make a great basic mix for starters and can be relied upon to self-set for many years. Economical and efficient as well as beautiful!

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Of course, some of the visitors arrive hell-bent on destruction but that’s gardening for you – we expect to lose some of our crops to our co-inhabitants, that’s just how it goes. The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, though, and on a purely selfish note pollination is what we’re after. I love flowers in the vegetable garden and have never understood separating the two; after all, if an insect comes in to visit sweet peas then the chances are it will visit the green peas, too.

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Where pollinators feed, crops will follow.

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Tiny cucumber

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Borlotti bean flowers .  . .

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. . . then the beans!

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Beautiful striped Italian courgette

Nature at its most remarkable in tiny six-legged forms. How simple but how truly wonderful. 🙂

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