Monday, 27 July 2015

Raffle Open One More Week

   Yup, my raffle to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society is open for just one more week! So if you've not bought your tickets already, you've got until Saturday to do so! They're available worldwide, so anyone can purchase them; each ticket also comes with a free digital watercolour print of either a fox, badger or rabbit - the choice is yours! You can find the tickets and their corresponding prints in my Etsy shop and here on the blog!
   Three winners will be announced and contacted on Tuesday, August 4th, first prize being a 10-piece woodland miniature jar bundle - either as necklaces or just ornaments - worth £250 if purchased individually - and two runners up will receive one of the new fox jar necklaces!
   If you don't win, however, I created a second 10-piece bundle which is available in the shop for £200, so it's still discounted by £50, and the proceeds of that will also go to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

   Remember, you have until Saturday to purchase your tickets, and the more you buy, the more chances you have to win the grand prize!
   And you can read about my experience with my mum's Multiple Sclerosis right here, too!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Easy Muffin Tin Omelette Cups

   Protein and fats are really important for weight loss. The amino acids in protein help to keep metabolism up and keep you feeling full, while healthy fats like omega-3 improve your body's response to the hormone leptin, which is responsible for telling your brain to suppress your appetite as well as increase your metabolism - in short, it's what lets your brain know when you're full - and it also causes your body to burn more fat as fuel.
   Eggs are a great source of protein, as are lean meats and fish, while salmon and flaxseed are also amazing sources of healthy fats. Olives are also made up mostly of healthy fats, and moringa is a great plant-based source of protein as well as other vitamins and minerals. So what happens when you combine the lot? Magic.
   Per 100g of:
Eggs - 11g fat (3.3g saturated), 13g protein
Salmon - 13g fat (3g saturated), 20g protein
Flaxseed - 42g of fat (4g saturated), 27g dietary fibre
Olives - 11g fat (1.4g saturated), 3.2g dietary fibre
Moringa - 2g protein, 9g carbohydrates, 3.2g dietary fibre

   Make these super-simple omelette cups for a great does of protein and healthy fats, ideal for breakfast or a protein-rich snack. Add diced vegetables or herbs and spices to really change it up and add an unexpected pop of flavour or texture.

Makes 2
1 large egg
10g flaxseed
1 tablespoon moringa
1 small piece smoked salmon or 1 slice of sandwich ham
2 olives
olive oil (pan)
Optional salt & pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 180/350/Gas mark 4.
2. Oil two cavities in a muffin pan.
3. Mix the egg, moringa and flaxseed in a small jug until combined, adding salt and pepper if desired. I don't like the taste of salt or pepper so I add them only if the recipe scientifically calls for it. This one does not. Plus, the salmon and olive added all the extra taste it needed, above the gorgeous 'green' and subtly spinachy taste of the moringa.
4. Pour the mixtures into the two cavities. Don't fill the first entirely, instead fill them both 2/3 the way and then top them up. If you have extra mixture, oil and fill another cavity.
5. Cut up the ham or salmon into small 1 inch pieces and distribute them amongst the cavities. Poke them down so that the egg mixture covers them.

6. Set the pan in the oven for 5 minutes.
7. After 5 minutes the edges should be cooked but the top and middle will still be runny. Place one olive in each (or more if desired) and set back in the oven for the remaining 15-20 minutes.

8. Remove from the oven and leave for 5 minutes.
9. Using a butter knife or similar, run it between the edge of the omelette cup and the pan to separate it, then go around again with a teaspoon and gently pry it from the muffin pan.
10. Freeze, set in the fridge or serve immediately.

   I'm guilty of using eggs the easy way and making omelettes. I'm not the greatest cook, but you can't get omelettes wrong, and there are so many different recipes out there - British Lion Eggs' website has a ton of omelette recipes for example, all in one place, and there's definitely something for everyone - unless they don't like eggs, of course. And while it's true that this method is basically just an omelette wearing a different dress, by making the omelette smaller but deeper it makes it easier to add additional and larger ingredients like olives or vegetables and give it a little extra jazz with that subsequent change in texture. They can also be more easily added to lunch boxes and eaten cold on the go, or as a batch-breakfast to set you up through a busy week.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Extreme Shed & Shred - 2 Weeks Later

  These past two weeks have been amazing, which is funny because I've not felt very comfortable with this month's workout. There's an element to Extreme Shed & Shred that makes me generally...uncomfortable. I can find no other word for it. It's not that it's hard - well, it is, but that's not why I'm not happy with it. I think it's because it's not what I expected, but at the same time I feel like there's more to it than that, but I can't identify it.
   At any rate, I am a little disappointed with the DVD, though I love it at the same time.
   The reason I'm disappointed is more technical than practical: I feel the DVD was poorly advertised.
   For starters, I was expecting two 45 minute workouts - that's what the DVD says, after all - but what I got was a 30 minute workout (level 1) and a 40 minute workout (level 2), excluding warm ups and cooldowns, and Jillian says from the start that they're both 30 minutes and that she wants you to try to do both level 1 and 2 together, totalling an hour. But it's not really an hour, it's an hour and 10 minutes.
   I went in expecting 45 minutes, but I decided to do the 'full hour' since it was only an extra 15 minutes and I suddenly felt like 30 minutes would be ineffective (a very wrong assumption made before I'd even finished the warm-up), but it ended up, as I said, as an hour and 10 minutes - 25 minutes longer than I'd prepared myself for. And that's a considerable increase.
   The second reason I feel it was poorly advertised was because, as you may remember me saying at the start, it was a fusion of strength, yoga, kickboxing and jiu-jitsu. Well, there's plenty of strength, both with weights and body weight training - though level 2 felt more weight-based to me - and there's a good amount of yoga, too. In fact level 1 starts with burpees with lateral jumps (I died before I even started that, just the thought of it killed me), but you can really throw your all into that when you know that the second move is a static downward facing dog. Lovely.
   There's a good amount of kickboxing, too, with both individual moves and combinations, so that's great.
   But the thing I was looking forward to most was the jiu-jitsu because I'd never done it before, and it supplied me with the greatest disappointment. The movements supplied are unlike anything I'd ever done and, subsequently, were quite a challenge to complete a set of. But there were only two moves, and both of them were in the final circuit of level 1, never to be seen again. I was gutted.

   Because I did both level 1 and level 2 on the first day, I broke the barrier that usually keeps me doing one level for 2 weeks and the other level for the second two weeks, so I've ended up sort of alternating them, and that's also led me to mess up the second week by doing no cardio at all, and just alternating the level each day. And I think that's also sort of knocked my mind out of whack a little. I usually spend two weeks building up to the next level but this time I sort of threw it all in together, and I kind of feel like I have less to strive for. Crazy, I know.

   "But wait!" I hear you cry. "You said these past two weeks were amazing!"
   Well, they were, to be honest. Though I'm disappointed in the advertising of the DVD, I do like the two workouts. I find level 1 the most interesting because of the jiu-jitsu, the lesser use of weights and all the other new body weight moves I've not done before, whereas I find level 2 a bit more of a challenge because the weighted moves are also new. I'm still certainly challenged on both levels, though, and I think they're both actually as difficult as one another, though level 1 seems easier because I enjoy it more.
   I've also, for some reason, been eating better. I don't really know how it happened, I just suddenly stopped craving sweets, I started eating more whole food rather than diet bars and snacks like that, and I've even started cooking more - yes, I'm still focusing on eggs and smoked salmon because I love it, but I've been daring to try other things, too. Suddenly, I'm far more aware of what's actually in my local supermarket.
   And while I didn't have my two days of exclusive cardio last week, I have still been using Kukuwa whenever I only do one level. I said that 'intermediate' was great fun and a real full-body dance workout - the truest full-body dance workout I've ever seen and may well ever see - and I wasn't really sure how 'advanced' could be much harder. My goodness did I find out. It's madness! The movements are bigger, faster, shorter, there's more packed in, and it's not 30 minutes but 35, with seven routines instead of six. I'm not sure I'll even manage to fit all seven in this month! I'll try, of course. The three dances I've used from the 'advanced' workout are insanely enjoyable. The second, choreographed to Mafikizolo (Mafikizolo Sibongile), is simply the most fun I've ever had dancing. It's just stupidly good, and the song is simply awesome. But the third dance to Rabidanti (Funana) is mental. And I mean mental. It's a crazy person's dance; you're throwing yourself around like there's something wrong with you. And I don't mean that in any kind of negative way, either. It's simply awesome. You cannot do that dance and feel self-conscious, because if you feel self-conscious you wouldn't even try it; you're forced to throw away your inhibitions and just have fun, and for that I love it. It stops being a workout, and yet at that point also becomes so much harder, too. It's a seriously intense workout. I love it.

   So, so far, this month has been awesome. I am disappointed, yes, because the Extreme Shed & Shred wasn't what I expected, and my expectations were such for fair reasons. So I think I'm allowed to be disappointed. But, all the same, it is a damned good DVD and I look forward to using it. Or, I look forward to level 1. I seem to forget how difficult level 1 is, but when I think of level 2 all I see are my big weights and that somewhat puts me off. Even if samurai squats make me feel powerful. I'm a Feudal Japan nut, after all, so combining weights and sword movements gets me a little too excited.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Art Exhibit in the Cheng-Kim Loke Gallery

   After a year and a half of working and waiting, my exhibit has finally been set up! I never thought that this kind of opportunity would happen, so I'm absolutely thrilled to have my work in an art gallery to be seen by a massive number of people, from families on an easy day out to absolute bird-fanactics! I'm so excited!
   I'd spread the work out over quite some time to keep the pressure of the event minimal, which I think I managed with great success, because it was only in the last 2 weeks before the exhibit that its approach hit me. By that point I'd already done all the creative work and it was just down to tidying up each piece and making them presentable, and I only started to get butterflies when I was actually on my way to the gallery.
   I used six plinths, and, rather stupidly, only took pictures from close-up rather than of the plinths and gallery as a whole. I was flustered and excited so I didn't realise my mistake until I was already on my way home.
   I admit that there are only three set-ups in the six plinths, as I wanted the pieces to be seen, so I planned to have three displays on one side of the gallery and three matching displays on the other. In short, I made two of everything. I cheated, I know, but the gallery manager was quite happy with this, so it's all good! This way, even if one side of the gallery is crowded, people can still see the 'same' pieces on the other side. All of them are hand made and hand painted, not cast, so the two African Dogs, for example, are still a little different from one another.

  On a personal note, many of you will probably notice that this is in fact the first picture of me on this whole blog aside from the occasional headshot. I'm an extremely self-conscious person and don't really like to show myself ever, but all the weight I've lost from the obsessive exercise I've been doing over the past year and a half has given me enough of a confidence boost to brave this shot. Not to mention that I was also so, so proud of my little exhibit that I needed a little picture of me with it, even if I did look extremely uncomfortable!

   The woodland plinth features the usual suspects: foxes, deer, badgers, owls, but also has a few tiny garden birds which I'm particularly proud of! A blue tit, chaffinch, goldfinch and sparrow. The plinth on the other side of the gallery has the same set-up.

   The 'wild' plinth has animals from lots of different and deeply wild settings, like the African savannah, Asian forests and so on, with African wild dogs, snow leopards, spirit bears and yaks. Again, the plinth on the other side of the gallery has the same set-up. I had intended to expand on each location but I found coming up with animals and finding the time quite hard, and by the time I'd done half of these challenging shapes (the rhino was the worst) I'd also lost a lot of motivation. So I ended up putting them all together in one plinth rather than one for polar, one for Africa and one for Asia. Still, I'm actually quite happy with how the set-up went for these animals.

   The last plint is probably the most relevant to the gallery, as it's part of a WWT (wildfowl and wetlands trust) conservation centre. I made lots of different ducks! There's a mandarin, a male and female mallard, a nene (my favourite duck), a few whistlers, and I even made a couple of cranes, a stork and a heron! There's also a platypus and an otter. I'm not happy with the otter, in truth, it looks more like a weasel, but, funnily enough, I had a walk around the park after I'd set up and there was a collection of lego wetlands creatures set up around the place, including an otter which looked just like the one I made: in short, a weasel. While looking at the lego otter, remembering my own and then walking around the corner and seeing real ones, I realised that the main mistake both myself and the lego constructor had made was making the head too round and the belly too clean. Still, it could be worse!

   I'm happy with the set-ups. The woodland and grasslands plinth is fairly straight forward. No one can deny what sort of setting they're looking at. The wetlands plinth, too, is obvious, especially to the kinds of people who would frequent the park. In short: bird lovers. And because of the cohesion of these two plinths, the 'wild' plinth seems to work on its own, too. I was worried the animals wouldn't work well together in that one, but in fact I think they're each so different to what's in the other two plinths that they work just fine.
   The exhibit, in the Cheng-Kim Loke gallery in the WWT centre, Slimbridge, runs from July 25th to October 12th , and all pieces are for sale with a commission going to the WWT centre. Any pieces that aren't sold by the end of the exhibit will be returned to me, at which point I'll be listing them in my Etsy shop just in time for Christmas, so I'm confident that, however the exhibit goes, the time spent making the pieces was time well spent.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Busy, Busy, Busy!

   It's been a whole week since I last blogged! I've been super busy, in my defence, what with promoting my raffle and preparing to set up my art exhibit tomorrow, and I tell you I'm petrified. I've been working on it for the past 18 months, so it's been a really long time in coming, but now that it's so close, the necklaces are finished and I've sawn up all of the wood for the display cases, I'm suddenly realising that it's just a couple of days away. When did that happen?! So I'm extremely nervous.
   But because it's been in preparation for so long, I've not devoted much energy to it. That's not to say I've made rubbish pieces, but rather it means I've spread the work over the last year and a half so successfully that I've not felt very burned out. But it has meant that there were no new jars in my shop for about a year which is far, far too long for releasing new stock. So of course I was really pleased when I finished and was finally able to make 10 new pieces and open up a Multiple Sclerosis charity raffle, which is something I've wanted to do for a really long time.

   But speaking of devoting energy, my passion for fitness has become a little too much of an obsession. I feel immensely guilty for eating a single marshmallow even if I've been eating perfectly for days, and that guilt leads me to do about 20 minutes of Pilates 30 minutes later to burn it off. It's getting absolutely ridiculous and it's wearing me out physically and mentally. I'm not sure when or how it started, but I've realised, in part, that it's because I think about it all far too much. I worry, I fret, I obsess, and it means I can't enjoy a small treat without feeling like I have to run laps around the park.
   The best way to fix it is to simply direct my energy elsewhere. It will keep me from thinking about food unless I'm actually hungry, and it will also keep me from obsessing and doing spontaneous additional exercise. Over-exercising is not good and it can make your real workout's efforts obsolete. Doing too much can be as effective as doing nothing at all if you're not giving your body the chance to recover.

   So, like I said, I need to direct my energy elsewhere, and, fortunately, the answer to that question popped up a few days ago.
   Remember I told you I finally finished writing my book and that now I need to revise the whole thing - read it through, tweak it, correct it and completely change parts of it? It's a long process. But I had already decided that reading the thing through as a whole would have to wait. The summer holidays are almost upon us and reading the book through will take a while with the changes that need to be made, and with all the noise in the park outside my house during that period I won't be able to concentrate. So I'd already decided that I was going to put off actually reading it until September because the noise was due to start early this month with the GCSE students being released from their cages early to 'revise' (which usually means sitting in the park blaring their awful music through bad-quality speakers from mid afternoon until about 10pm, swearing loudly every five seconds), but I admit that it has yet to begin. I'm grateful, but the summer holidays start in about 2 weeks now, so even if I had started reading it through the moment I'd finished, with the massive changes that needed to be made, I wouldn't be anywhere near finished by this point and would have to stop prematurely - stopping half way through for a month means that making sure it flows and makes sense as a whole book is quite difficult.
   But I did decide that I could go ahead with the big changes, the parts that stood out in my mind as needing changing/removing either because I've decided I'm not happy with them or because the book changed a little along the way and they were made irrelevant. So I began that task about a week ago. Each of the bits I've changed so far have taken me longer than expected, so if I had gone ahead and started reading I would have to have stopped for several hours a number of times to make these big changes regardless of silence outside - two of the changes even took me 2 days! So I'm glad I did it the way I have.
   I still have a lot more to change, lots of little things but a few more big things, too, but I have to admit that, while I was dreading going back over it and making these changes because it was a more technical task than a creative one, I'm actually really enjoying it! One such change was introducing a character earlier on than I originally had, and it was amazing to go back and see him and others again! Characters change gradually based on experiences just like any normal person would, be it a drastic change following a big event, or just a build up of tension and irritability - or the opposite. So going back and seeing the characters as the readers would first see them, rather than how I now know them, is pretty awesome. In short: I'm loving it.

   I also admit that I've been playing World of Warcraft a lot more lately, since Patch 6.2 came out I've been doing the daily quests in Tanaan somewhat religiously to get the corrupted dreadwing mount, which I now have, and then I moved on to level my fishing, get Nat Pagle in my garrison and try to get the mounts from the frostdeep cavedweller. I've never fished in real life before and I want to try it, but fishing in WoW is surprisingly addictive and surprisingly relaxing. My hands are kept busy but my mind can wander, and in that time I've come up with a few ideas for my next book which is exactly what I need right now. I might be loving rereading my current book, but the story has finished and I'm going to need to make sure I have a plan ready to start on (probably in January since I won't finish with this book any sooner than October, and then Christmas sales will begin) by the time I finish so I don't get all down in the dumps with nothing to work on.

   So I've been keeping busy, to say the least! And I've been rewatching Stargate while tweaking my book - Seeg caught me smiling happily the other day for no apparent reason, but it was because I was thinking how much I was looking forward to watching it and working with a cup of tea. It's the little things - learn to love the little things and you'll lead a ridiculously happy life!
   Normal posting will resume presently.

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