Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Running to stand still

I never run. I've always thought of running as some kind of bizarre self-torture. I think it's because I hated every flavour of P.E. at school. I've always been quite clumsy as far as sports go, and my ineptitude at catching and hitting balls always got me picked last (genuinely) for P.E. teams. That sort of thing can put you off sports for life.

The idea of going to a gym makes me feel sick. I tried a Pilates class a few years ago and it had the same P.E. effect on me; I felt that I didn't fit in and that I shouldn't be there. Plus the Pilates room was really cramped and when I was lying on my back and stretching my arm up for some particular exercise, I kept making hand-to-foot contact with the long toenails of the man in the the row behind me. Also, the instructor made us do Pilates to the music of Simply Red. As soon as I heard Hucknall's first "Love the thought" that marks the start of FairgroundI knew I would never be attending that Pilates class ever again.

I've not owned a pair of sportsy trainers since I was a teenager. I walk everywhere as I don't drive, and my Converse were starting to give me ankle issues; I think they're just too flat and un-bouncy for walking long distances, so I bought myself some Skechers walking trainers. I wore them on a walk for the first time a few weeks back. It was a sunny day and there were wildflowers everywhere and poppies in the fields. (The photo at the top of this post is of one of those fields.) I also had my earphones in and when OK Go's The One Moment came on I broke into an uncontrollable, spontaneous run. I still don't know why. But I ran for a short while in the sunshine and I bloody loved it. I walked the rest of the way home and for the next couple of days I couldn't shift the thought of that feeling of pure loveliness which that little run had given me.

I Googled "how to start running" and found the NHS Couch to 5K website. I'd heard of C25K before but my anti-sports filter had always done a great job of blocking it out, pretty much in the same way I'd always scrolled on by people's social media posts about running. I got reading, searched a few hashtags on Instagram and Twitter and immediately ordered a pair of running leggings and a running belt (to hold my phone and keys) from Amazon. I already had a couple of sports bra top things that I'd bought for the godawful Pilates class. I decided I would start the plan the following Monday and set about making a running playlist on Spotify.

After my first run. Much water required!

The first run was a five minute brisk warm-up walk, followed by one minute of running and then ninety seconds of walking for a total of eight running segments, then a five minute warm-down walk and then some warm-down exercises.  I honestly didn't think I'd be able to complete the whole run and I had visions of collapsing and Chris having to come and fish me out of a hedge somewhere. But I did it! I was very red and very sweaty by the end but I absolutely loved it. With the C25K plan you have one or two rest days between runs and I was actually really excited about my second attempt.

After my second run. Quite hot!
Post-run. No make-up, no filter, no shits given.

What I've found I love most about running is the way it switches my brain off. I have never done any other activity that silences all my other thoughts. When I run, it's just my music, the C25K app telling me when to run and when to walk, the environment around me and the running. It makes me smile really huge grins. It makes me do arm-dancing to Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. It makes me forget everything else but the running moment I'm in. How la-la does that sound? Very. But it's true.

It was all going really well. I visited Dad last week and I did my fifth run in Abingdon, through a woodland path, over the lock and along by the river. I felt a couple of knee twinges but got back to Dad's, did my warm-down, necked a couple of Ibuprofen and then went off and did some blacksmithing, which I'll write about another time. I came home last Thursday and all was fine knee-wise. On Friday morning I set off for my third week two run which was running for ninety seconds and walking for two minutes, for six run segments. Two thirds of the way through my run I felt a twinge, not actual stabby pain, about two inches under the knee on the insides of both legs, but I carried on.

Well, that was a terrible error.

My five minute walk home afterwards took me three times that long and there were many tears and swears as I hobbled home, the pain worsening all the while. I did my warm-down exercises (which I probably shouldn't have done) and then put some ice packs on my legs. There was no swelling and only a tiny bit of pain when I touched the affected leg bits. I assumed it was some form of ligament sprain or something so I did the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and no HARM (no heat, alcohol, running or massage) shenanigans all weekend. However, there wasn't a lot of improvement. Basically, when I put weight on them, the tops of my tibiae feel like they're being stabbed with red hot daggers and it makes me feel like my legs are about to go full Shakin' Stevens. The sofa and I have become one. I can't walk around the house without holding onto things for support and I'm having to go up our spiral staircase like a sad old cat, which Nigel thinks is some kind of hilarious funtime game.

I spoke to the doctor on Monday and he reckons it's pes anserine bursitis in both legs. One or more of the bursae (little liquid-filled cushions) in and around my knees have possibly burst or become irritated, which is causing inflammation and pain. This is most probably because my quads are weak. I've gone from zero running to doing some actual running but my legs are not used to this. I'm going to get back to the plan when my knee bursa sac things are all better. (Bursa Sac sounds like a bounty hunter from a planet in the Ryloth system.) The doctor was fully aware of C25K and he gave me some really good advice. He says that I mustn't let this put me off and that it's quite common in new runners, especially not-really-very-fit-and-active-40-ish women. His advice was to get my legs totally better and pain free, then do leg strengthening exercises—quaddy ones like squats and lunges—then make sure I have the correct footwear, and then restart the plan, doing each of the first few weeks twice, to really get my legs and body used to this running thing. In the meantime, it's rest and staying off my legs as much as I possibly can for about a fortnight, accompanied by icing my legs and taking ibuprofen. I'll probably go for a gait analysis so I can make sure I buy the correct running shoes and then I'm going to take the running so slowly the slugs will be overtaking me.

I am absolutely determined to do the Couch to 5K plan. I never thought that I would ever run or enjoy doing so. Right now I am frustrated and angry with myself for not having the correct shoes—I was going to get those sorted this weekend just gone but then the knee thing happened—and for not stopping when my knees were having twinges on that run. But you live and learn and I am very much looking forward to getting back out there, running while grinning and arm-dancing without a care in the world.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Where I'm at with the beads right now

Lampwork glass bead bracelet by Laura Sparling

I've been making a lot of jewellery recently. I've had several "Where are the loose beads, Laura?" messages and emails and I thought I'd explain why there is a lack of them.

Right now, my beadmaking time is limited. I make beads in the mornings and then I study in the afternoons so in effect my bead production time has been halved. However, my financial needs haven't; those archaeology books cost money. Also, the cat needs food.

Lampwork glass bead bracelet by Laura Sparling

I know that if I make some beads and turn them into something wearable, I am more likely to sell the jewellery than I am the loose beads. It also means that I can make my beads 'go further'. For example: one set of seven daisy beads can become seven Little Something necklaces. Additionally—and this may sound crass or harsh—as jewellery, I am able to get the 'correct' price for my glasswork. Some people would argue with me, but my loose beads are very much underpriced; as jewellery I am able to ask for, and sell them for, what they are actually worth.

So for now, expect more finished jewellery than loose beads. There will be loose beads but just not as many as usual.

Lampwork glass bead bracelet by Laura Sparling

In a similar time-related vein, I also get several "Can you do a video or a tutorial for...?" requests a week. It's really lovely to know that people find my videos and tutorials helpful but right now I just do not have the time to create them. So there will be no videos, tutorials or magazine articles for the foreseeable.

Lampwork glass bead bracelet by Laura Sparling

I'm aware that this sounds like a misery-moan post, but it's not intended to be. It's just me explaining why I'm doing and not doing the bead things that I'm doing and not doing.

Now, I must away to the shed...

(PS: Some of the jewellery featured in this post is currently available on my website.)

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Nothing in particular

Lampwork glass button by Laura Sparling

This is one of those bit-of-everything posts where I waffle on and on for no particular reason. I know my parents-in-law like reading my ramblings, though. *waves at Lynne and John*

I've had a very meh bead week output-wise, but I had the urge to make buttons yesterday. I've not made any buttons for about eight years so goodness knows why I suddenly decided some had to be made, but I did and they were. I made a few but the one at the top of this post is the best of them. It's not for sale as I'm not totally happy with it (bit of scum in the clear and a slight wonk) but I'm going to make more.

Lampwork glass cabochon by Laura Sparling

I also made a couple of cabochons. These are flat-backed, without a hole, and can be set in jewellery or seed-beaded around. They can also be turned into pendants and brooches with a bit of glue and some findings. This black and white cabochon is my favourite and I can just picture it set in a silver ring. So yes, expect more buttons and cabochons soon. Not strictly beads, I know, but never mind.

On Monday Chris and I went to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. I took many photos but I'll not bore you with all of them. Here are a few of my favourites:

Bee on a flower, taken with iPhone 6s and Olloclip macro lens
Bee going about his bee business

Aster, taken with iPhone 6s and Olloclip macro lens

Honey bee on a purple tansy, taken with iPhone 6s and Olloclip macro lens
Honey bee on a purple tansy


Mullein moth caterpillar, taken with iPhone 6s and Olloclip macro lens
Groovy mullein moth caterpillar

Our gardens at home are coming along nicely too. We've had the front garden turfed—it was just gravel and weeds—and a couple of flowerbeds made. I'm going for a cottage garden look and have planted lupins, asters, poppies, white foxgloves, teasels and cornflowers so far. They're all sprouting well so we should have some colour out there soon. I've also planted a little French lavender bush and a yellow climbing rose. We have a round window in the side of our 'porch' and I'm hoping that the rose will climb up and around it.

'Graham Thomas' climbing yellow rose from David Austin Roses
Graham's first bloom

'Graham Thomas' climbing yellow rose from David Austin Roses
Raindrops on roses etc etc...

The rose is 'Graham Thomas' from David Austin Roses and he's already blooming. My mum absolutely loved yellow roses and I've been wanting to plant one since Chris and I bought the house, so I've got there eventually. Only took me seven years.

My study resumes on Monday. This time it's Later Prehistory (Iron Age and Bronze Age) and Classical Archaeology (ancient Greece and Rome). The textbooks for the latter look very dry, like drier than a dry Shredded Wheat in the Sahara on a particularly dry day dry, but hey, I wasn't too enthused by the prospect of the Early Prehistory module either and look how I enjoyed that. Oh, and I got my first two essay marks back. I passed! I got two 2.1s (upper second class) and on one of them I was only two marks away from a 1st. That'll do for me.

Enough of my chatter. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

My beads

Lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

I've always said that I don't have a 'signature bead' but many people have pointed out that I do. They normally say something like "Your scroll beads are your signature beads" or "I can spot your polka dot beads a mile off" so maybe I actually have a signature style as opposed to a bead? Scrolls and polka dots aren't fancy or wow or how-did-you-even-do-that? but they require a steady hand, oodles of patience, careful heat control, precision and a good knowledge of what each glass type and colour does and how you can make that work for you to get the results you're after.

Lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

I often feel like I should be making more elaborate beads—big, showstopping, takes-an-age-to-make beads that contain a bazillion elements and techniques—but I just like the simple look of my dots and lines and I enjoy making them. That last point is very important to me. I enjoy getting lost in the rhythmic placement of polka dots and I get a buzz from completing a bead that's covered in curvy, loopy scrolls. I'll often do an out-loud "Yes!" as I put a finished one in the kiln. And I know that they look simple, but finishing a well-executed spiral bead—the ones with the continuous trail of fine stringer wrapped from hole to hole—always makes me smile.

For me, beads are as much about the beauty of the glass as they are about the prettiness of the design. I like my beads to show off the glass itself; how it plays with the light, and how certain colours look together. For me, the negative space is as important as any decorated parts.

Lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

Now my beadmaking time is limited due to my studies, I'm making sure I thoroughly enjoy my shed sessions. Yesterday I got absolutely lost in making navy and white polka dot beads while listening to Steve Coogan's autobiography. The day just flew by and I walked out of the shed feeling all relaxed and happy. In the past I've often felt bad about making "just some polka dot beads and a few spotty ones" or "just a few scrolly beads today", like I should have created some massive focal with silver glass, gold leaf, silver foil, goldstone, enamels, and maybe some CZs and fancy cane, all finished off with a touch of sandblasting instead, but I've decided to not think that way anymore. This probably won't make sense but it does in my head... my beads are my beads because they are my beads. And that's fine by me.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Hello Sailor

Lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

These are a bit nautical, aren't they? Flexing my scrollwork muscles. I'm glad my fingers can remember how to apply stringer. Feels like an age since I did a bit of scrollollollollolling. If you like these 'Hello Sailor' beads, they're in my shop as I type.

I fixed my it-will-not-go-over-my-head sweater problem and the finished item is waiting to be blocked so I've still not got a photo of it. Here, have an in-progress shot.

Puffin sweater in progress
Puffin sweater in progress

I'm part-way through another sweater, this time not so colourful. It's just plain grey but I love grey so that is plenty fine by me.

Knitting in progress
Sleeve-in-progress in my yarn bowl. Puffin sweater in the background.

I've developed a bit of a morning-knitting habit. As soon as I've fed the cat and made the morning tea I sit and knit for about forty minutes. It gives me chance to think about the day ahead and what needs doing.

Addi Clicks cable stopper
Lovely grey wool. Lovely Addi Clicks cable stopper. Lovely.

My in-laws are visiting this weekend so I'd better go and throw the hoover about the place and make it look like we actually do some housework.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Even more pebbles

Tumble-etched lampwork glass pebble beads by Laura Sparling

Sometimes I get caught up in making the same beads over and over because I just need to know what they'll look like in different colours. These pebbles are very soothing, both to make and to touch.

Tumble-etched lampwork glass pebble beads by Laura Sparling

Although they look like random shapes, they're not. In true me style each strand has three beads in three shapes and three patterns. The repetition of making them all the-same-but-different has been lovely. I could go on making them but I feel that people may get bored with them so maybe I'll leave them for now and return to them at a later date. I have no basis for that last comment, except the reception they get on Facebook and Instagram. I read far too much into that, you know. People stick a 'like' on things because its easy - hit the like button and done. Not many folk take the time to leave a comment these days so I find it hard to gauge how things are received. Social media, eh? It'll be the undoing of us all. I find myself withdrawing from it more with every passing week.

Anyway, I've added more pebbles to the shop, including a couple of strands of assorted pebbles.

Tumble-etched lampwork glass pebble beads by Laura Sparling

I'm now going to make a peppermint tea, compose myself and unpick the neck of the sweater I've just about finished knitting. I knew that following the pattern as written was going to result in a head hole that would make putting the sweater on feel like I was being born again, but honestly, this is ridiculous. I don't think even the cat could fit his head through it. When the sweater is done and actually put-on-able I shall blog about it. That'll be mighty exciting for you, won't it?

Have a great Wednesday!

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Pebbles aplenty

Tumble-etched lampwork glass pebble beads by Laura Sparling

I've finally reached the end of my first two degree modules. I submitted my essays on Tuesday night and now I have to wait a month to see if they weren't complete twaddle. I'm not expecting amazing marks; I'd just like passes. We shall see...

Tumble-etched lampwork glass pebble beads by Laura Sparling

I now have a study-free month and I've been down the shed this week making beads. The resulting 'pebble' beads that are pictured withing this post are mainly about glass, shape and texture, as opposed to stringer and precise patterning. The tumble-etching makes them so beautifully smooth and they're ever so soothing to touch. Little glass worry beads.

Tumble-etched lampwork glass pebble beads by Laura Sparling

I listened to Into the Water by Paula Hawkins as I made beads this week and oh, that was a good'un. Proper gripping. I do enjoy an audiobook while I work. I can't listen to words, either sung or spoken, while I study (I end up focusing on that rather than what I'm supposed to be reading) so I've missed my audiobook and podcast listening and I've got lots to catch up on. Also, telly-wise, OBVIOUSLY Line of Duty series four, obviously, but did you see Big Little Lies too? That was great. I've read all but one of Liane Moriarty's books and the Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon adaptation of Big Little Lies was perfect. Hard to watch at times, but perfect.

Tumble-etched lampwork glass pebble beads by Laura Sparling

All of the glassy pebbles pictured are currently available in my webshop. I'm expecting a glass delivery on Monday so expect some different coloured pebbles soon.