Sunday 30 March 2014

One Down, Forty-Nine to go - 5x50 Begins

Today was my first 5x50 day. The Shetland weather was kind to me bringing a glorious spring day with bright sunshine and no gales.  I had completed Week 8 of my 'Couch to 5K' and Week 9 was to run for 30 minutes, so I decided to jump full force into my 5K as I was feeling ready - or as ready as possible. It was my first full Sandwick route this year; the Sandwick route is the harder of my two routes as it has a slight hill. I say 'slight' as  if you are driving or walking you don't notice it, but running up it gets you right in the calves. I think that Day 1 is both the hardest and the easiest. It's difficult because it is the point of no return, and is also a long way from the end, but on the other hand it is exciting to start a new challenge and the ache from lots of consecutive runs has not set in.

The jog itself was good, the hill section hurt but I found about a minute in my last stretch where everything came together and I felt like I was running without thinking about it, and it felt faster than normal. I have no idea how to recreate this feeling tomorrow but it gives me some hope that my legs can move faster. I am not comparing my times with the end of last years challenge as I am not yet back up to that standard of jogging, but I will be comparing my times to the equivalent day last year. Today's time was 36.08, so still a 12 minute mile, however looking back at last year it was 40 minutes the first day. With a good head start on last year I am hoping to get a few personal bests this time.

With a sunny beach walk in the afternoon I added a 3.3K walk to my tally. They have changed the website for logging this year and I like the extra information given but it is still easy to fill out the activities. The bonus of starting on the day the clocks change to BST is that I found the time to jog, and log... and indeed blog on a day with only 23 hours so the rest will be easy - right?!?

Wednesday 26 March 2014

On a Roll

There are two types of people that are very difficult to sew for; males and teenagers. Teenage boys have no hope! I needed to sew something different for my 17 year old niece that was quirky and fun, plus there are only so many bags that you can send someone.

I found out that her foundation brush was in desperate need of replacement so I decided to replace the brush and make a brush roll to put it in. I had some fantastic aqua fabric with pandas in cars, aeroplanes and teacups. I bought the fabric on-line at Fabric Rehab which has a lot of fun and unusual fabric and great customer service.  I had made a few rolls before for pencils, although these were easier in some ways as I had a whole set of pencils to use for sizes.

To make the brush roll I used twice the length of the brush that I bought and added 4cm to get the height of the fabric. I used the brush in the packet and measured approximately 10 times the packet width to get the length of the fabric. As you can see this is a really rough way to do it, but it really depends on how big you want it and how much you want to put in it. I cut both rectangles the same size, using plain white cotton to line it. I placed both rectangles right side together and sewed the top and bottom seams and one side. On the other side I put a short row of stitches in the top and bottom of the side seam and left a turning gap. I turned it right side out, added in a folded piece of ribbon and closed it all with a row of top stitching. I folded up the bottom so it covered the handle of the brush then pinned it all in place. I stitched the edges in place and then added 11 rows of stitches to make 12 pockets. These got slightly narrower in size. I was quite generous with the width as I though that it could easily be used for mascara, lip gloss and eye liner as well. I tucked the lose ends in with buried knots, and when complete the top folds over and it all gets rolled up and tied with a pretty bow.

Open roll with brush

Closed with ribbon

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Baa Baa Blackwork Sheep

I love blackwork, the designs are strict and regimented yet it is somehow amazingly versatile. Cross-stitch uses variations of a cross and backstich, so the stitch type is quite uniform but defined by colour. Embroidery uses an almost unlimited number of stitches as well as colour to create different effects. Blackwork uses very few colours; traditional blackwork uses black and gold although I have seen some beautiful coloured designs. It only uses backstitches. They are used to form different patterns which depict different areas of a design. A single thread used in blackwork can make a delicate and intricate design, thicker stitches over a large area can create a fun and bold design. A different number of threads can be used to build up areas of shading with thicker thread looking darker. Blackwork is very unforgiving because the pattern is repeated so any mistake is noticeable. I also find it helps to plan out how to stitch a pattern beforehand; consistency will give a better tension so the order in which you stitch can effect how a pattern looks.

I found a fun pattern to use for my mum's card. It is a simple but effective pattern and plays on the rhyme 'Baa baa black sheep'. My Mum taught me to sew so this seems like a good idea and as my sister is very good at cross stitch I wanted something different. I chose to use a 14 count aida for the fabric as I wanted a "chunky" effect. I think that patterns with a lot of cross stitch lend themselves to thick thread, though I am sure there are exceptions to this rule. I chose to use 2 threads for the backstitch and 3 for the cross stitch and I gave a good close block on the head. I think the design could be altered to give a "Fair Isle" effect but I have yet to try that. The other thing I do without fail is underestimate the time that it will take to do a border. I know I do this and yet I fail to correct it every time!It is far more stitching than it looks so give yourself lots of time.

The pattern was really clear and easy to follow, it was enjoyable to do and it bought a smile to Mum's face.

Finished design

Monday 24 March 2014

Count down to 5X50 and What is running anyway?

It is now 6 days until the 5x50 challenge starts. This is my second year so in some ways I feel better prepared and I know that I can do it. On the other hand I remember the pain, the weather and the "I just want to hibernate" days from last year. It is a fantastic challenge and the beauty is that you can tailor it to your own goals. I know some people questioned why I needed the challenge; Why not just do it off your own back? I am quite a motivated person but for me having to write down activity and distance on my form pushed me on the really hard days. The on-line system of tracking what you do encourages you to do something and allows you to look back and see how far you have come. I made my challenge about running and walking and added extras on for fun. Felling like you are contributing to a big total helps a lot. The £5 entry fee goes to Sport Relief so you are doing for a good cause too. The forums and social network pages are really fun. There are lots of very fit people doing it but there are even more people that just want to be fitter and that comes across.

I am eager to beat last year so this year :  I want to run more than 30 days and walk the rest.
                                                               I want to cover more than 400Km in total.
                                                               I want to reach 250Km before day 37.
                                                               I want to do a 5K in less than 33 minutes.

For a lot of people this might look easy but they are my goals. I would also like to do the UK's "Most Northerly" 5K as part of my 5x50 challenge. This does depend on the right weather at the weekends. I am also guessing that someone else might have the same idea (if you are reading this - hello).

When I started talking about this last year it opened up a discussion about what running is. I was told by a friend that running is "going under a 10 minute mile". Another friend argues that it is simply "moving faster than you can walk" though that asks questions about speed walking. This was cleared up by a third friend (yes I am that popular...) that said it "is having both feet off the ground during a stride". Laura from the NHS C25K plan said that I was a runner at the end of week 6 when I did 25 minutes without stopping.

I know that this a roadrunner but the rest is confusing!

File:Roadrunner DeathValley.jpg
Roadrunner  by Wilson 44691 - Sourced from Wikimedia commons 

I am now working on preparing for my challenge. As well as all the obvious things like checking my trainers are okay and that I have good high-visibility clothing I am doing a few things that I found helped last year.

I have been using the NHS Couch to 5K plan to get up to distance. I found it really helpful and I am on week eight now (despite my blog updates being behind). It would be a great plan for anybody that wanted to be able to jog 5K at the end of the 5x50 challenge as the rest days would allow walking or 30 minute activities. I think the two would be easy to combine.

I found it important to plan what I wanted to achieve and stick to it. It is nice to have some flexibility but I didn't want to look at my pedometer and think that thanks to a busy morning walking about at work I didn't have to run that day. If you are doing classes or group events then it would be easy to plan and give it a little bit of structure. I also found reaching little goals a good way to break down what felt like a daunting challenge.

I set up a couple of routes depending on where I would be for my run so I have one in Sandwick and one in Lerwick. I used walk jog run to set my routes and check my pace. It is a really easy site to use and free. It took me a little while to get a route just the right length but that was going to be the same no matter how I measured it. I also wear a pedometer during the 5x50 to measure my walking every day and I log that separately.  I find my pedometer is good for my mindset, if I am wearing it I am more likely to park further away from the shops, or vacuum for that matter, as it all adds up.

Clickimin Loch, part of my 5K route in Lerwick

p.s I am pretty sure that I am not a runner ..... yet.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Jamie's 30 Minute Meals - Amazing Sweet Potato Mash with Fish and Pudding

I decided to cook a 30 Minute Meal on Saturday. They always feel like a feast and this one includes a drink and a pudding. As much as I love the '15 Minute Meals' it was nice to go back to where I first got excited about Jamie Oliver books. I chose to do Sea Bass and crispy pancetta with sweet potato mash, Asian greens and a berry ice cream to follow. The drink is sparkling lemon and ginger. This is a great meal, it has the balance that I have come to expect from a Jamie Oliver feast, although it is very difficult to find sea bass in Shetland so I used local haddock from the fishmongers. They had no fillets with the skin on and crispy skin seemed to help with the cooking, so I chose to buy a headless/gutted haddock and fillet it myself. I am really not great at this but I took my time and got the fillets off. It was a little scrappy in places but did the job. It works out a lot cheaper this way but is messy and a sharp knife helps a lot. 

With my fish prepared I sorted my other ingredients and pans and started the clock. With so much more going on than a 15 minute meal you really have to keep your head, and I also had a 2 year old sous-chef which caused some delays! My little girl loves tasting ingredients as I cook which is generally a good thing when it comes to beetroot but more tricky to explain that a chilli is too spicy to eat and not actually pepper at all. She did chew on some lime flesh just to prove she would eat it after I said she wouldn't like it. As a result it took me 38.35 minutes and I did the ice cream after; although I knew we would struggle to eat the ice cream straight away after such a big meal. The fish was very tasty with just some lemon zest, fennel seeds and salty-crispy pancetta to compliment it. The dressed greens with chilli were really tasty and fresh but the best part had to be the sweet potato mash. It was incredibly easy to do and had fresh coriander, spicy chilli and sweet mango chutney running through it. I could just eat bowls of it. I can see me using this with chicken and maybe even pork in the future.


There are no difficult techniques at all. I know some people find cooking fish daunting but it is really straight forward. The use of a microwave to make the mash is great as it doesn't take up a free hob. The only thing I would say is that the recipes seem to use a bigger frying pan than I have so I end up using two quite a lot and this was no exception.

The drink is made of lemonade, sparkling water ginger and mint. Unfortunately we were not able to get any mint. Although I can see what the mint would have contributed it was nice without it. I think if I did it again I would be tempted to strain the pieces of ginger but that is personal preference.

Haddock, pancetta, Asian greens and sweet potato mash with lemon drink
The desert is berry ice cream/frozen yoghurt. It is incredibly simple putting frozen berries and greek yoghurt together in a blender. It made a bright purple very tasty pudding with lots of fresh blueberries to finish it off. This could work with any fruit and would be great for children.

Berry frozen yoghurt with fresh blueberries

Tuesday 18 March 2014

I Am Not "Phoning It In" - Level 1 of 30 Day Shred

Before Christmas I completed "Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred". I developed a strange love/hate relationship with it. I felt the benefits and was pleased to have done it although it really pushed me. I did however feel that I wanted to do it on the harder level.

The shred is really well designed, it is broken into 3 levels. Each level has 3 6-minute circuits which are broken down into 3 minutes of strength, 2 minutes of cardio and 1 minute of abs work. There is a decent warm up which is effective and gets your heart rate up without wasting time and then there's a good cool down afterwards that allows you to stretch. It is only 20 minutes but it really pushes you. Jillian demonstrates the moves and has two girls behind her, one doing the harder level and the second doing easier modifications. This is good as it allows you to do the full workout even at the beginning but also gives you something to work towards and keeps you motivated. Some of the moves require hand weights, and this allows a second level of challenge as you can increase the weight size. I am still using small weights but would consider increasing the size of them in the future.

I made the decision to complete 10 days at each level. I worry that I would struggle to consider myself happy enough to move up a level, so the 10 days made me push myself. I found the first circuit of level one the hardest. This was good as once that part was done I knew the rest would be better, however it was difficult to throw yourself into. I really struggled with full press-ups last year, so I did it on my knees but I was determined this time to do full press-ups. I had managed this by workout 6 but at the the detriment of the next move. It took until workout 10 to get all of the harder moves to come together. I think that the yoga helped my strength a lot and all of the chaturanga push ups have helped with the standard push ups.

I feel that the first level is a little 'jumping jack' heavy, saying that they are simple effective cardio and easy to follow. She explains that there is no easy modification for jumping jacks as she "has 400lb people who can do jumping jacks".

The music is nothing special but then I find that I am so involved with the workout I don't pay that much attention. Jillian is pushy and has some amazing sayings including "don't phone it in". She pushes you to exercise arms and legs together to burn more calories. Despite the fact that I often find myself muttering expletives she makes you complete the workout. She is strangely encouraging despite sayings such as "if you think you are going to die, follow Anita".

The frequent changes in exercise keep you on your toes and make the workouts go quicker.  It is very hard and by the end I was sweating and shattered but it does start to feel good. You feel that your muscles have been worked and that you have gotten out of breath. She encourages you to work through the difficult parts as that is when change happens. This is a message that comes across in the couch to 5K podcasts as well.

Sunday 16 March 2014

Having a Whale of a Time

My Mum has always sewn and I think that is where some of my passion/obsession comes from. This makes her the best and worst person to sew for. She knows the time and effort that goes in so appreciates it, however there is always something in my head that says that I cannot just "bodge" it. I like to make different and fun things. She likes humpback whales so when I saw a humpback whale made out of jeans I knew I was going to have to give it a go. Many patterns for soft toy whales are quite "cartoony", I loved the face that this one had definite humpback whale features, I am not saying it is anatomically correct but it gives the right effect.

I found the pattern on an excellent blog. The blog states that "if you love tidy and neat sewing then please monitor your blood pressure".  This is a great disclaimer. There is no pdf or printable template with these instructions. The photos and instructions are really clear, as are the relative size and shape of the pieces. I think it would be difficult to give specific sizes as people will be using different jeans made of different types of denim. I decided to make the top and bottom pieces fit on an A4 piece of paper. I found half way through this that it was too small to get good seams. Part of my problem was that the jeans I was using were slightly elasticated so the stretch made them more susceptible to fraying, which resulted in holes at the seams. I drew up a bigger pattern with an extra 3cm all round,  this would allow bigger seams and I made the throat area a little deeper. I love the detail in the throat, I made it a little deeper just so I could have a bigger seam in the creases. The pattern itself explains that you should take in and adjust as you go, so if in doubt it is best to err on the side of caution and take in. I love the details in this design with the top stitching and details on the fluke being in the coloured thread that you get on a pair of jeans.

I stuffed the whale and used a ladder stitch to close the turning gap. I used a button instead of fabric for the eye because I liked the sewing/recycled connection. I added the eye after stuffing which is a tip I got from Melly and Me as it allows you to add details after seeing the "face" shape.

My denim whale, pattern by Mevrouw Walvis

Couch to 5K - Week 5

Week 5 is a really important week, as it goes from three identical runs to three different runs. This is where you make a lot of progress and get slightly anxious. For me this is also where my route got longer, as initially I was using a 4.3Km route as I was jogging for less time, but from week 5 I tried the full 5K route, walking whatever was left over at the end.

The first run starts with a 5 minute warm up walk, followed by 5 minutes jogging-3 minutes walking twice, followed by another 5 minute jog. This is a minute less than week four but only has 3 runs. Again this pushes you to run for longer with a shorter recovery period. This jog was fine and I found I had some energy left at the end of it which gave me hope for the next run. Doing the programme for the second time is a blessing and a curse, as I know it works and I can do it but I also remember how hard I found it and how heavy my legs can get. A lot of the podcast talks about pacing and in the later levels it is very important. I had more issues with the weather again this week with it raining so hard the water was dripping off my eyelashes and I was struggling to see. It is at times like this that pushing on makes you feel better in the end.

The second jog is 5 minute warm up walk then 8 minutes jogging, 5 minutes walking and 8 minutes jogging. I was feeling good about it and managed to push harder on both jogs. 5 minutes is a generous recovery time and by this point I am finding that I need less and less recovery. Despite being quite windy at least it was dry! Keeping a steady pace really pays off. The podcast also gives time updates and in many ways it is good to just not worry about the time. I think I would be more tense if I had to think about it.

The third run of week 5 is where it gets serious with a 5 minutes warm up walk followed by a 20 minute jog. On paper this seems like a really big jump and is over twice as long as any previous jog. This is where the podcast really helps. It is very reassuring that you have done the preparation and need to just keep going and pace yourself. Had I been trying to plan my own jogs I would have never taken such a big step up but it works. I kept a steady pace and got through it. The podcast says that it is a mental as well as a physical challenge which is very true. I think it is at this point that the 5K seems achievable.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Couch to 5K - Week 4

I have just finished week four of Couch to 5K . This week consists of three runs all of which start with a 5 minute warm up walk followed by two repetitions of  3 minutes running - 90 seconds walking and 5 minutes running - 2.5 minutes walking. This is significant for a few reasons; the first is that total running time goes from 9 minutes to 16 minutes, which is a big step up, and also because the overall 'recovery time' is less than the running time. Although both of these factors seem quite daunting it is fine once you get into it.

The pacing that has been talked about in the first few weeks really comes into play. I find the first 5 minute run the hardest, I am not sure why this is but it could be either; a) I want to subconsciously hold something back, b) I feel better when it is out of the way as I know I am half way there or c) I am not warming up adequately.

The weather here has been really windy for these three jogs with some hail thrown in for good measure. When I made the decision to jog outside in Shetland I knew that I could not worry too much about the weather. Wind is tough to deal with but it feels good when you change direction and get a bit of rest-bite from it. I also struggle to jog when it is too hot so I find the motivation of getting out of the wind good!

I have been given a few tips that have helped and also found out some of my own. I am guilty of not moving my arms enough when jogging so I find wiggling my fingers a little when jogging prompts bigger arm movement and it is becoming habitual now. If I mouth words to a song it can sometimes help me breath as I can get too caught up on breathing 'correctly'. It also makes me smile which, as much of a cliché it sounds, really does help!

Monday 3 March 2014

Bashera is My Daddy - Apparently!

After being unwell and having a cough that slowed my exercise to a halt I have finally completed the next set of Level One workouts on 'Jilian Michaels Yoga Meltdown' DVD. I am not as impressed by this DVD as I am the '30 Day Shred'. I love the theory but there is too much contrast between yoga and high intensity work-outs to combine them comfortably. There is the usual injection of sayings with "Who's your Daddy? Bashera is your Daddy" being up there. Bashera is there to demonstrate the more difficult moves and it is nice to see her getting credit for this albeit in a rather cheesy catchphrase. I will be doing Level Two as I am curious and it seems fair to fully review the complete plan. I did not find it as compelling to do as the '30 Day Shred'.

It is effective, I am more flexible than I was and I managed to do the "camel" pose even if I do struggle with holding chaturanga for the full time. When I was feeling too ill to do the DVD I went back to the Wii Fit Yoga. On the Wii I have a profile from a few years ago and a profile that I set up after having my daughter. I was impressed that I managed to beat my personal best on both profiles in the yoga session. This was despite some of the moves being very different and me feeling out of practice on the Wii. I think the most noticeable difference was on the 'sun salutation' pose. This makes sense as it is very dynamic and even though it is different to the yoga meltdown it follows the principles. I would like to do a more traditional yoga DVD and see how it compares, for now I am eager to get back on the 30 day shred.

Orchid card

I am liking all of the oriental inspired cross stitch designs that are about at them moment. I found a lovely library of them in issue 207 of 'The World of Cross-Stitching'. I especially liked the use of pink and turquoise as it gave a softer feel to them. I chose to stitch an orchid for a friend as it was such a pretty design. I also had paper to match from a Craftseller magazine (Issue 33).

The design itself was easy to stitch although I was stitching on some fabric in my stash. I have no idea where it came from but it was an odd evenweave/aieda hybrid. It resulted in a small stitch but was effective as it kept it very compact. I do not like it when the count size is too big and you get gaps in the cross stitch. The only issue with such compact stitches is that it can make the backstitch more "fiddly" I was pleased with the result and only made one small alteration which was to make the stem a little more turquoise so it co-ordinated with the paper.
Orchid card design

Sunday 2 March 2014

Couch to 5k - Week 1 - 3

To learn to run last year I used the NHS 'Couch to 5K' podcast. I found this a fantastic resource so this year after some hibernating and indoor exercise I decided to return to it in order to get back to my 5km distance for the 5x50 challenge at the end of March. It is a nine week plan based around 3 runs a week, although I tend to aim for 4 runs just because it fits better with work. When I did it the first time I stuck strictly to the 3 jogs per week rule and it helped a lot. This time as I am feeling a little more confident so I compressed the first two weeks. I think this is one of the great things about having a set of downloaded podcasts as I have read about people reducing the number of weeks at the start but also people having a few extra runs during a week that they found really challenging. The three runs per week is a good target and really worked for me last year but it is nice to know you can be a little flexible.

I have read that there are a lot of apps for phones that do the same thing. I have a very basic Nokia so it was never going to be an option for me. I found this easy to download and stick on my MP3 player. The obvious benefit being that you don't have to worry about timing yourself and you can just get on and run.

The first week is a 5 minute warm up walk followed by 60 seconds of running and 90 seconds of walking for  a total of 20 minutes. The podcast is narrated by "Laura"  who has a wonderfully calm and reassuring voice. I was worried at the start that this would annoy me or make me feel patronised but it didn't. There is just the right amount of talking and the updates on how much time is left are really helpful. She encourages and reminds you to keep a steady pace and that you just want a jog. It also give you somebody to mutter at when it gets hard. The challenge in Week One is that you have the most amount of 'stop-starting' of any week. This is great as it allows you recovery time but if by 'Jog 8' you are finding new leg muscles you really have to push to go again. I found that a minute could feel like a really long time. I completed this and felt a lot better after it than I did a year ago so I was happy to move on to week two.

Week two consists of a 5 minute warm up walk followed by 90 seconds of running and 2 minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes. At this stage you still have more time to 'recover' than to 'run' which is reassuring and with less runs in total than week one you can tell yourself there is less stop-starting. There are more tips in the second week, however, the first one they tell you is wrong as she suggest heel striking - which used to be advised but is now out of date. It is now advised to land on the middle of your foot as suggested on the NHS website. There are a lot of good hints and tips on the website as well as in the podcast.

Week Three is 5 minutes of warm up walk followed by two repetitions of 90 seconds running-90 seconds walking and 3 minutes running-3 minutes walking. This is the week where the recovery time matches the jogging time. This puts more pressure on to recover but it is doable. I really liked this week as the 90 seconds are feeling a lot easier by now and the 3 minutes are manageable. The timing of tips here helps as by the time she has explained a tip then you have gone from 90 seconds left to 60 seconds which makes it fly by. I did this run 3 times.

The music is well thought out, I did not recognise any of it but found out after using Shazam that quite a few songs are available on Amazon. I don't tend to pay a lot of attention when I am running but it is good to have it there. They pick up the tempo of the music during the runs and slow it back down for the walks. I tend to find I naturally go with this even though I did not consciously register it at first. Doing the three runs from each week helps as you start to associate parts of the music with being near the end. I think if I listened to the podcast sat still my heart rate would speed up and slow down accordingly now after hearing it so may times! There are also some great tongue in cheek lyrics in the songs, my favourites being "I gotta run I gotta go", "I can't do this long distance thing" and "Take a little time, don't you move too fast".

One of the things I will say is that when I started I was incredibly self concious; I am not built like a runner and I had to research how to run but I realised that nobody cared. I find that jogging pink faced in hail and grinning like a Cheshire cat, because I cannot believe I am jogging, is character building. I also find that the dog walkers of Lerwick are especially nice and are also out in all weather. I have had lots of encouraging words from runners but those that do it well have the sense to go to the gym in the hail.

Baileys cupcakes

It was a friend's birthday last week and I know that, like me, she is a fan of Baileys cheesecake. I thought that I would try something different so I found a recipe for Baileys cupcakes on a very yummy looking blog. It is a really good recipe and easy to use. The cake was chocolatey and rich and the Baileys kept it moist. The mix itself was amazing but sadly taking somebody a bowl of uncooked cake is just not the done thing. The cakes did not taste overly of Baileys when cooked though there was still a hint there. I found that the recipe made more than it suggests as it says six and I doubled the recipe wanting twelve and got 21. I think that muffin cases were used in the recipe despite saying they were cupcakes, although if using muffin cases I would worry about getting them to cook through evenly.

The icing worked well though I was dubious at first as the alcohol started to split the butter in the butter icing. It tasted good and did deliver a "Baileys kick" and I would not recommend this one for children. If I did them again I would be tempted to make a white chocolate and baileys ganache. I think this could help tie the flavours together. I topped mine off with a chocolate flake. Overall I was pleased with the flavour and everybody seemed to enjoy them.

Baileys Chocolate Cupcakes