The Start of a New Gardening Season

After an absence in the garden over the winter I returned last weekend due to the warm weather. I mowed the lawn, tidied some of last season’s unyielding gardening pots and began thinking of this season’s efforts. So early yesterday afternoon I eased back into my amateur gardening by planting three different kinds of chilli seeds I received in a complete pack as a present last year [the cayenne, jalapeño and scotch bonnet seeds are shown below just before the thin layer of extra compost was added on top and placed on the kitchen windowsill].

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The trick is to always keep the compost moist [not soaked] and never dried out. I hope they will grow successfully as Kristina especially enjoys eating chilli peppers. 

Also I examined the state of my Rhapsody strawberry plants, which after planting all the plantlets I could are now established individually. I pruned each of the seventeen plants of all the dead [brown] leaves, extracted any sprouting weeds and watered them thoroughly [hoping that would revive any off-green leaves]. I then moved them closer to the back door on the pathway in a more open space so that I could keep a better eye on them and so they could receive more sunlight. To keep pests away I used some bricks to create a weak perimeter around the pots; I name the image below Strawberry Square, despite being a rectangular shape… I can’t wait for the summer return of my favourite childhood fruit [fingers crossed then].

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Marathon Plan Progress: Weeks 21-22

I remain confident with my marathon preparation with only seven weeks until my Halstead race. For week 21 [Tuesday 11 – Monday 17 March] and week 22 [Tuesday 18 – Sunday 23 March] I each ran 43 miles, instead of the required 47. This included two 7-easy milers, an 8-easy miler, a 6-miler [four 1-mile repeats with 800 metres recovery; I dismissed its 2-mile warm-up and 2-mile cool down due to time constraints], and a 15-slow miler each week. I ran a total of 12 hours, 35 minutes and 17 seconds across the fortnight. During the 10 runs in 13 days I burnt a total of 9,164 calories (an average of 4,582 per week). The quickest run was my second 6-miler [despite the recovery periods] at 8:18 per average mile, whilst the slowest run was my first 8-miler at 9:46 per average mile. My rest days were the first Tuesday and both Sundays.

Inspired by barefoot running [further research lead me to www.barefooters.org] my slowest (first 8-mile) run was made without shoes and socks. I wanted to gain a new experience and so I ran as best I could repeating a new cross-country trail course close to home, which included surfaces of smooth and stony pavement and road, wet and prickly grass, dry and cracked dirt as well as hard and sludgy mud. I enjoyed the run as it felt freeing, if not a little sore. Although my clothes got dirty and soaked [shown below] my knees felt strong, and I look forward to experimenting with the style in the future [for practical reasons, probably after the race in May].

Dirty Feet

I am also listening to a new audio book on some of my runs, called Running with the Kenyans: Discovering the secrets of the fastest people on earth (2012) by Adharanand Finn, which continues to confirm my belief that running is efficient, natural and humbling. If such inspiration continues I am certain I will achieve my future goal of becoming an ultramarathon runner.

Amateur Dramatics: Show 1

Kristina and I have been heavily involved in the local amateur dramatic group for the past three to four months. I was inspired by Braintree Musical Society’s production of Little Shop of Horrors at the Braintree Arts Theatre in November 2013 [see http://www.braintreemusicalsociety.wordpress.com, with the club’s long history, young actors and quality set design and performances [all useful for writing plays].

I researched and enquired soon after with the Witham Dramatics Club (WDC) [visit http://www.withamdramatics.co.uk for further details], which led to us enjoying the November’s production Generations Apart,  attending their Christmas social event and auditioning for the next play both in December [although we were unfortunately too young to gain any acting roles] and participating in the annual quiz night in January. Based at Witham Public Hall and the upstairs committee rooms Kristina and I gained backstage roles for the March production of Abigail’s Party*; me on technical sound, Kristina with props (as printed in the show’s programme below and visit www.facebook.com/pages/Witham-Dramatic-Club/101479526559190).

Credits

We were so dedicated we missed only a couple of rehearsals over the course of the three months [often on Tuesday and Thursday nights] before the four memorable and successful performances starting Wednesday night and concluding last night [which included some after show social events]. This morning we helped set down the hall and ended our often insightful, sometimes intense and nerve-racking community experience of our first theatre production as adults. I met a host of people, gained some important contacts and sparked my interest in acting. 

Looking ahead, I managed to gain an acting part in the WDC’s June production The Anastasia File, a Royce Ryton play concerning the alternative fate and identity of Princess Anastasia, one of the most mysterious happenings of the twentieth century. I have already begun reading the play and looking over my lines for my multiple characters [three different doctors and an American reporter]. I am excited about the upcoming rehearsals, which begin the week after next.

* An iconic 70s comedic play written by Mike Leigh, concerning a social gathering of couples and neighbours, only for tensions to build and Abigail’s party music next door to rise at the climax.

Marathon Plan Progress: Weeks 17-18 & 19-20

The past four weeks I adapted my running training to fit my recent schedule. For weeks starting 10 and 17 February (weeks 17 and 18) I ran 42 and 41 miles, instead of the required 47. This included two 4-easy milers, a 9-miler [six 800 metres with 400 metres recovery between a 2-mile warm-up and 2-mile cool down], a 10-miler [8-miles between a 1-mile warm-up and 1-mile cool down] and a 20-miler each week. I only dismissed some of the unimportant warm-ups and cool downs. I ran a total of 11 hours, 54 minutes and 22 seconds across the fortnight. During the 10 runs in 14 days I burnt a total of 8,801 calories (an average of 4,400½  per week). The quickest run was my first 4-mile at 7:32 per average mile, whilst the slowest run was my second 20-mile at 9:52 per average mile. My rest days were Mondays, the first Saturday and the second Thursday.

For weeks starting 24 February and 3 March (weeks 19 and 20) I ran 90 miles (an average of 45 miles per week, which included 10 March). This included two 4-easy-milers, a 7-miler, a 10-miler [8-miles between a 1-mile warm up and 1-mile cool down] and a 20-miler each week. I ran a total of 13 hours, 42 minutes, 36 seconds across the fortnight. During the 10 runs in 15 days I burnt a total of 9,602 calories (an average of 4,801 per week). The quickest run was my second 4-mile at 7:36 per average mile, whilst the slowest run was the second 20-mile at 10:41 per average mile. My rest days were the first Monday, second Thursday, Saturdays and second Sunday.

Instead of focusing on stretching, core training or writing my running memoirs I have been engrossed by an audiobook I recently purchased called Born to Run (2009) by Christopher McDougall [visit www.chrismcdougall.com for further details], famous for its details of the legendary, elusive running tribe of the Tarahumara Indians. I originally began reading the book from the local library but I wasn’t able to finish it. I am pleased to have revisited the book because it is a fascinating and inspiring story that questions the purpose and highlights hidden benefits of running. More practically there is a very convincing section regarding the choice of running shoes and barefoot running. I am now convinced my next footwear will by a pair of Vibram Fivefinger [see http://www.vibrams.co.uk for more on minimalist running], especially as my current trainers are falling apart.

Vegan Sugar-free Banana and Carrot Muffins

Early yesterday afternoon I baked a batch of vegan sugar-free treats for Kristina and I to eat on Valentine’s Day [and the following days]. As we had some black bananas and I enjoy the consistency of carrot cake I chose to make banana and carrot muffins plus bread. So I researched some inspiration online and found a recipe through a blog I subscribe to Honk, If You’re Vegan (see www.honkifyourevegan.com/2013/09/15/15-blogs-to-check-out) which I wanted to adapt; this can be found at  Much Ado About Muffin (visit www.muchadoaboutmuffin.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/carrot-cake-muffin).

The ingredients I used were as follows;

• 500g of strong wholemeal flour
• 3 tablespoons of mixed spice

• 200ml of unsweetened [Alpro] almond milk
• 100ml of pure sunflower oil
• 1 [Orgran] replacement egg
• 1 tangerine zest

• 1 large carrot
• 9 black bananas
• 50g of [Neal's Yard] organic pumpkin seeds

The method I used was as follows;
1. Add and mix the first two ingredients into a large glass bowl.
2. Add the next four ingredients into a jug and stir, then add to the dry mixture [the smell is divine].
3. Grate the carrot and peel the skins off the bananas then cut out the damaged areas and mash with a fork [left me with about 6 bananas]. Add them both to the mixture with the pumpkin seeds and stir thoroughly.
4. Pour the mixture into 12 silicone (reusable) cupcake moulds on a tray then tip the rest of the mixture into a loaf tin. The following photographs show my efforts at this stage;

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5. Start the oven at 180°C and place the muffins on the top shelf, the loaf on the bottom shelf.
6. Wait 25 minutes for the muffins to become firm [test with a knife to ensure the mixture is not runny] then place the loaf in the top shelf for a further 20 minutes.

The following photographs show the results;

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Although it took me over an hour to prepare, it gave my arms a workout [with the grater and stirring the mixture] and the desserts came out delicious; crunchy and moist inside, and only a little stodgy. Kristina also enjoyed them and we now have some healthy homemade treats – using leftover foods – to nibble on throughout the next week (if they last that long …).

Marathon Plan Progress: Weeks 15-16

I felt strong these past two weeks of my marathon training. I completed the necessary mileage of 41 per week, which consisted of two easy 3-milers, an 8-miler [involving three 1-mile repeats between 0.25 mile (400m) recoveries and 4-miles of warm ups an cools downs], a 9-miler [involving 2-miles of warm ups and cool downs] and a slow 18-miler.

I ran a total of 12 hours, 6 minutes and 45 seconds at a good performance level across the fortnight, which is building my confidence. However as I found in week 16 (commencing 3 February) I would not recommend having more than one rest day in a row before a long run as this scuppers momentum with little extra benefit.

I have recovered completely from the illness I picked up a few weeks ago, and feel I am becoming better accustomed to longer runs even though my times have not improved. I have also enjoyed wearing my bright orange WSPA runner’s vest on my runs that I began in the last few weeks to support my chosen charity at the Halstead Marathon.

During my ten runs in fourteen days I burnt a total of 8,756 calories (an average of 4,378 each week). My quickest run was my first 3-miler measured at 07:06 per average mile, whilst my slowest run was my last 18-miler measured at 09:43 per average mile. I altered my rest days accordingly in week 15 (commencing 27 January) to Friday and Sunday then in week 16 to Friday and Saturday.

I have continued to take my vegan glucosamine hydrochloride capsules with some positive effects on my knees. I have though neglected my core training in pursuit of further stretching, which I began in week 16 after borrowing a book from Witham Library called Anatomy of Running: A Guide to Running Right (2013) by Philip Striano. This book has given me the courage to improve the elasticity of my muscles and to help recover from harder runs. I also found the ‘scientific names’ for the regular stretches I undertake; these include wide-legged forwards bend, forwards lunge, standing quadriceps stretch and the straight-leg lunge. Over four of the last seven days I have also tried other stretches I feel are effective including knee-to-chest hug and supine figure 4.

I have also kept writing 1,000 words a day for my running memoirs, exploring more experiences and idiosyncrasies on the discipline [I have now accumulated just over 40,000 words although I now need to edit this material].

Positive Internet Usage: 2014 Update 1

Yesterday afternoon I found myself [Utopian Dave] on the roll honour page of the click-to-donate website Ecology Fund [found at www.ecologyfund.com/ecology/totals_honor_roll.html] under the green section. I became eligible on Tuesday (28 January 2014) when my daily clicks had accumulated 0.5 acre (or 21,829.8 square feet) of preserved rainforest.

I am proud of my achievement [which is easy and quick on a daily basis but took me around a year to establish] and would encourage others to do the same. So today I joined a group on the website, called CARE2 CLICKERS [who donate clicks to both websites just as I do] and started a petition via Care2.com to gain greater support for this cause [found at www.thepetitionsite.com/218/323/093/save-rainforests-via-ecologyfund/]. I also attempted to donate more land through filling in a Tell-a-Friend form to Kristina and my mum.

Furthermore, earlier in the month I started my first petition on Care2 to promote FreeRice [plus the group I created on the website and progress on my blog; found at www.thepetitionsite.com/119/462/942/play-freerice-game-to-end-world-hunger/]. I set a target of 100 signatures for the year so I would be more active on the website. I aimed the petition at all Internet users and already interested 27 Care2 members in my first month. There are downsides though; first, now my petition is not recent enough to be shown on the opening pages of the website I will need to promote it in new ways and second, I am almost certain that none of the people who signed joined my FreeRice group or visited my blog. However on the positive side they may have registered and played FreeRice as promised [even if I can not track their progress] and even if they have not the petition has still generated more butterfly rewards [currency on Care2] for me and others. This means more charitable gifts can be given; since the new year I have been able to provide at least one each day.

Also, from 2014 I have used an ethical search engine, SearchKindly.org. As explained on Easy Donations: Search to Donate [see www.easydonations.net/searchengines.htm], donations for good causes are generated through the every day internet activity of searching content. It is easy enough to use (especially if you set it as your default homepage) but unfortunately over the past week the website has had trouble loading. I hope this will be corrected, but if it does not then I will try others like The Environment Site and Good Search.

I still believe that seemingly insignificant actions can, and will bring the positive change in the world over time that is needed [especially regarding environmentalism]. So please join this positivity in whatever way you can.