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Saturday, 25 April 2015

Earrings for Book Worms

   My book flower necklaces and rings are extremely popular this spring, and I finally realised what was missing: earrings. So I've just added book flower earrings to my shop! Just as my rings and necklaces, these earrings are made from pre-loved books that have reached the point of falling apart.
   There's a number of books available, all listed on the product page, including Jane Eyre, The Prisoner of Azkaban, The Light Fantastic, Pride and Prejudice and more, but if there is a particular book you'd love to wear, I can track down a well-worn copy for an additional £2.50 (approximately $4.50) and make it specially for you!
   The earrings cost £20 as an introductory rate until May the 1st, when they'll rise to their retail price of £26 a pair  - that's only £6 more than the necklace, but it consists of two flowers each an inch in size, rather than just one - and £2 UK shipping, $5 for the rest of the world.


Thursday, 23 April 2015

Cassey Ho's 'Hot Body Year Round' Review

Price: £14/ $13
Length: 250
Workouts: Full body
Suitable for: Everyone
Rating:   ★★★★★


   I love my workout DVDs. I have 18 of them. Some are various forms of dance, some are yoga, some are kickboxing, others are a combination of all the most effective kinds of exercises squashed together in an insane 30-minute workout. And they're all effective. Having an instructor in front of you performing the moves is extremely helpful as you can see what's expected of you and (usually) knock out the kinks quite quickly. The music is also brilliant and chosen because it boosts your energy in the tough combi-DVDs, or it's calming for yoga, or it's simply the music the choreography was created for. The instructors usually give you tips all the while - "belly button into the spine", "shoulders packed into the spine", "knees behind your toes" and so on - and will usually give you warnings of what not to do and what to look out for on individual moves, as well as just what muscles you're working - and the ever-true fact that too few women are aware of: weights won't build bulk. And then there are the personalities of the different instructors that shine through immediately. Some you love right from the start, and others you have to learn to.
   So it's not surprising that I've never been too inclined to pick up exercise books. Where's the music? The personality? The visual demonstrations? I've bought a few in the past, usually based on reviews from Women's Fitness Magazine, fitness websites or simply Amazon reviews, and not once have I ever been pleasantly surprised. They're just gathering dust at the foot of my bed, if I'm completely honest, and that's why I've never mentioned them on the blog or ever bothered to write a review. Because they're just disappointments. True, I could write a negative review, but the thing is that the books I've bought have been so blah that there's not really been anything of note to say, good or bad.
   And it's for that reason that I am reviewing this book.

   I've been a fan of Cassey Ho for a couple of months now, finding Blogilates and being drawn in by its success and, to be honest, the colourful personality of the blog itself. Since then I've fallen in love with her own personality - perfectly reflected by the look of the blog itself - and bought her Pop Pilates DVD. And, as much as a risk as I knew it was with my past experience with fitness books, I decided to pre-order hers. I was drawn in by the gorgeous cover, I'll admit that, too.

Overview
   I. Love. It.
   Cassey Ho's 'Hot Body Year Round' is an exercise book filled with her unique style of pilates - over 120 moves, in fact, and 20 different routines - amazing and clean recipes - not all of which are too complex (I hate complex recipes, especially recipes with half an ingredients list comprised of things I've never heard of, if I can even pronounce) - and tips for keeping motivated and staying on track to achieve your dream body. Her personality shines through in it, too, and the graphics in the book - watercolour washes are my crush right now - reflect it just as well as her blog does. It's a genuinely cheerful go-get-'em book.

Workouts
   'Year round' isn't just a part of the title. She's tailored the workouts in the book to correspond with our most likely goals for that season - the most obvious of which being summer's bikini body - and broken them into target areas so you know exactly what you're working, and which moves are best if a certain area of your body needs a little extra attention. There's a convenient chart at the front of the book before stepping into Spring that suggests how beginners and intermediate/advanced can pair their workouts with rest days and cardio for optimal results, she also explains vitamins and why we must drink enough water (it might sound obvious, but odds are that none of us are drinking enough, especially as the seasons change and begin to heat up as they are now). But one gorgeous touch she's added to the book's seasonal workouts are the pictures. She's demonstrating the moves in perfect locations - I think she was particularly tactful with winter's choice of location.
   Each season contains five workouts, each focusing on a certain part of the body, and are made up of six moves. They're clearly explained and demonstrated in pictures - yes, even I think so, despite my hate for photographical examples (though I obviously understand the need for them in books) - and certainly more challenging than they look, making them most definitely effective. None of the moves are duplicated in any of the workouts, making each of the 120+ moves unique in the book and subsequently allowing for easier personalisation of the routines should you wish to combine them from different workouts or different seasons.

Food
   Each of the season sections also contain 9-10 seasonal recipes complete with nutritional information including calories, grams of sugar, protein etc, a list of the fruits and veg that are in season and subsequently easier to find in farmers' markets and fresh fruit aisles, and a seasonal 7-day meal plan for breakfast to dinner with snacks in between. Most health websites and magazines - even healthy cookbooks - have a tendancy to leave out nutritional information. Of course, if you're eating clean, watching portion sizes, pairing your food together appropriately and keeping active, such things aren't necessarily required, but it definitely, definitely helps. Calorie-counting is a weakness of mine in particular, but I'm gradually learning that it's also what you eat that counts. A 200 calorie chicken sandwich and a 200 calorie slice of cake aren't the same thing, and making the right choice counts (though that's not to say that cake should be left out in the cold - something Cassey also seems to agree with).

Help & Understanding
   One of my biggest problems with fitness books is the lack of demonstration of the moves - all you have are pictures, so you have to consult Youtube. I'm in the minority - I don't have any kind of smartphone (in truth, I can't tell you where my mobile phone is because I put it somewhere 'safe' a while ago), I don't have a tablet, in fact we only just got wifi. Being a full-time carer, I'm at home all the time. If anyone needs me, the house phone will do, or more likely an email or FB message, if not coming right to my front door. My point is that to access the internet I need to go to the computer, and if I'm exercising I don't want to have to stop and hurry away to another room to google something. However, unlike any other book I've tried to use, Hot Body Year Round doesn't need this! The moves are explained perfectly, and any pilates terminology she uses was explained at the beginning of the book. The pictures are clear and beautiful, and I've had no trouble with the workouts I've tried on an evening so far.
   There are also tips interspersed throughout, and little nuggets of valuable motivational points - such as remembering that you're worth more than the number on a scale. Yes, it's cliché, but I've always said that things become clichés for a reason, and in this case that reason is because it's true. People may be cruel to you because they're unhappy in their own skin - either call you 'fat' because you're overweight, or, alternatively, call you 'fat' because you're clearly not but they want to upset you and make you think that the hard work you've done that they don't believe they're strong enough to do was for nothing.
   She knows just what to say and how to word it. She empowers you by simply reminding you that you're capable of completing these workouts, and when you do complete them, that empowerment comes rushing back. She talks about posture and how large a role that has in looking slimmer - if you hunch over, you don't look confident, but your body also scrunches up. And how important it is to have faith and belief in yourself and to love yourself however you might look. And that everyone has bad days, even people with bodies you may think are flawless. Sometimes your mind is your own worst enemy and will only pick out your flaws. On those days you have to push past it and focus more intensely on your assets - and everyone has assets.


Summary
   Cassey's book is genuinely worth writing home about. And blogging about. It's a beautiful-looking book inside and out, it's extremely well-written, the workouts are actually easy to follow (if challenging to perform, but that's personal skill rather than a lack of understanding), the recipes are gorgeous and the personality and motivational properties of the book makes it a winner. I'd never considered the changing seasons to be a new opportunity to "prepare myself for fresh beginnings four times a year", but do you know what? I really, really like that idea. I romanticise the changing seasons and this has fueled that. I love my new year's resolution, and I have no trouble sticking to it, and that brings me closer to my goal, but having new seasons resolutions can help to make more nitty gritty details come to light. The overall goal may not change, but changing seasons offer new opportunities - be that to cook with different seasonal ingredients or the opportunity to try new physical activity like skiing or rock-climbing - that should be embraced. I feel more cheerful and more motivated by that idea alone.

   In short? Buy it. You won't see me give 5 stars to a book again.


Friday, 17 April 2015

Crunchy Quinoa & Baobab Bars

   I love a good granola bar, but recently I've rather fallen for quinoa. It's a great source of soluable fibre and protein, both of which contribute to keeping you feeling full, which, when you're trying to lose weight, is invaluable since you're less likely to snack on bad things, and it also contains a lot more minerals and antioxidants than other grains or similar foods, making it a brilliant superfood.
   I've also fallen in love with Baobab which I've talked about before, and even baked with already, and I wanted to take it a little further.
   I love granola bars and flapjacks, and since I already had quinoa, I decided I would make some quinoa bars in the same kind of style. Baobab was quickly the second ingredient, and the chia seeds found themselves in the mix, then raspberries and dark chocolate, ultimately creating an amazingly nutritious superfood snack bar that will keep you feeling full even on a single piece. Think of it as lembas bread.
   I only encountered a problem when considering a binder. I didn't really feel the need to add anything sweet because the baobab would do that job well enough, but I couldn't really find an alternative. Fortunately, the baobab wasn't masked very much by it, so that was a great relief!
   They came out crunchy, sweet and fruity, and they didn't fall apart! I'm also going to admit that this was also my very first attempt at anything like this, so I'm so surprised it worked out! Most people encounter trouble with binders but I got on just fine!


Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups quinoa
10g baobab (I used Aduna's)
4 teaspoons chia seeds
1/2 cup raspberry crumbs
1/8 cups brown sugar
1/8 butter
3 teaspoons honey
dark chocolate

Method:

1. Line/lightly grease a 20cm tin to set the bars in.

2. Toast the quinoa for 10 minutes at gas mark 4/180 C/350 F.

3. Melt the butter, brown sugar and honey until sugar has dissolved to create the binder.

4. Combine the toasted quinoa, raspberries, chia seeds and baobab pulp in a bowl, then mix in the hot honey mixture and stir together until well combined.


5. Transfer the mixture to the lined/greased tin and press the mixture in firmly. I found it best to use a silicone spatula that had been dipped in water - the flat spatula gives good coverage and the water kept the mixture from sticking to the spatula and pulling back out.


6. Set in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes, letting the binder harden.

7. Remove the slab from the tin and cut them carefully into your preferred sizes. They're likely to be quite hard so take care.


8. Set a heat-proof bowl over a pot of water boiling on the stove. Break up the dark chocolate and melt it in the bowl, stirring the whole time. Take your bars one at a time and dip them in the chocolate. You could coat the bottom, coat a full half the bar or coat the whole thing, it's entirely up to you. Some of the chocolate ended up in my mouth so I could only coat the bottoms.





Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Fox Necklace Giveaway

   SPRING!! It's gorgeous. It's warm, but not too warm, and the sun light is so, so pretty. I always get seriously motivated around this time of year because the light fills me with energy and makes me just want to DO THINGS. I really wanted to celebrate spring somehow, but beyond taking complete advantage of the motivation it brings me, I'm not really sure how.
   Then I decided that, for lack of any better ideas, a little giveaway would do! The prize is simple but appropriate: my super popular fox jar necklace! I'm also offering 15% off across the shop with the code SPRINGBIRD until May 10th, so if you don't win you can always buy the necklace at a lower price!

   The giveaway is open worldwide from today until April 30th. The winner will be picked at random and contacted directly, given 72 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen. All entries are collected via Rafflecopter, as usual, but all entries are, of course, optional. The cost of shipping comes out of my own pocket, all you need to do is enter!

EDIT: I'm really glad I added 'fox trivia' to the entry form. You guys have given such great responses! I knew a fair bit about foxes to begin with, but I quickly learned more! Keep it up, it's awesome!




   
a Rafflecopter giveaway


Charlotte's 3 Minute Belly Blitz Review

   I was lucky enough to be asked by Women's Fitness magazine to be their reader reviewer this month, which was awesome since I love the magazine to bits, and for my little part, I reviewed Charlotte's 3 Minute Belly Blitz. It came out late last December and quite suddenly became the best selling fitness DVD in the UK in 15 years, smashing Zumba right out of the window. It's a celebrity fitness DVD, however. You might have noticed I never use celebrity fitness DVDs unless they're specifically celebrities in the fitness field - Jillian Michaels and Jean Butler, for example, people who know what they're doing - and the reason for this is that I've always considered celebrity fitness DVDs to be more of a gimmick and generally ineffective, like the celebrity is the selling point rather than the content. Though I will concede to the fact that celebrity fitness DVDs do encourage normal people to try to get fit if their favourite celebrity can lead them through it.
   Anyway, as I said, I'm always sceptical of them and never view the content as worthwhile, so I went into this dubiously. It was only the fact that it was such a massive hit that had piqued my interest. Otherwise I expected it to be mostly just cardio, low-intensity compared to what I'm used to, and fairly obnoxious.
   I'm not sure I've ever been more wrong.
   The DVD is incredible, and I'm not surprised she got the body she did. That's another reason I'm sceptical of celebrity fitness DVDs: you can't always tell what's natural and what's not, if you know what I mean, but after having given this DVD even just one run-through I could see her body was real. If it had been surgery or if it had been crash-dieting (DON'T do that) she'd have been sharp in the shoulders and hips and would look scary-thin. She would not be as contoured as she is, because it's toned muscle that does that to your body, and only toned muscle.

Resistance and Cardio
   I've said a thousand times that the most effective method of losing weight is to mix cardio and resistance in a circuit and to try to keep moving, never stopping, just taking active recoveries. And that's what this DVD did!
   The 3-minute part is a bit misleading. The workout is actually made up of 12 3-minute sections or 'rounds' and they follow one after the other, but they alternate between kickboxing-style cardio and body weight resistance training every 3 minutes. The moves were effective and fast-paced and really targeted the whole body, building lean muscle and melting off fat, but what surprised me more was the fact that some of the moves were completely alien to me.

Difficulty
   I mentioned at the start that celebrity fitness DVDs would be a great way for normal people to start working out if their favourite celebrity is doing it, too, but that's where this DVD kind of falls apart. Charlotte had trainers and people who weren't going to let her give up, so she was able to push through the movements and achieve results. The trouble is that ordinary people with only a DVD rather than a trainer would be more inclined to give up if it didn't go well right away, and with moves that get as tough as they do, that's more likely to happen with this DVD than with others. It really is a tough workout - and I do HIIT training 3 times a week!
   In a sense, I think they marketed the DVD poorly. The whole 'celebrity' and '3 minute' aspects of it will draw in fitness newbies, and that's great, but the trouble is that this workout is too hard for most newbies. It's not a good starting point. Instead it would be better used by more advanced people, people who are more familiar with exercises and know the basic form for a lot of body weight movements to be able to perform them safely and effectively, but the trouble there is that those people could well be put off because of the same 'celebrity' and '3 minute' aspects. And I think that that was a mistake - though I also think it's probably how it sold so well. People heard this person was bringing out a fitness DVD, so they lined up to get it. Others disregarded that fact but heard it was effective, so they lined up to get it.

Verdict
   At the end of the day, I have absolutely no doubt at all that this workout will achieve results, because it does everything right. It mixes 3 minutes of cardio and then 3 minutes of resistance 6 times through the 12 sequences, and you might remember, if you've done Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred, that even Jillian suggests 3 minutes of cardio and 3 minutes of strength (or 2 strength and 1 abs). It isn't as intense as the 30 Day Shred, of course, but it has that element down.
   There's also a 10 minute bonus routine of ab work that targets the upper abs, lower abs and the obliques, which is also really valuable.
   In truth, I'm considering taking this workout up for a month like I usually do...but that 'celebrity' aspect still puts me off, though I'll admit that I'm being unfair to myself and the DVD in that sense, because there's nothing wrong with it at all.

   So take it from someone who never buys into celebrity workout DVDs, someone who views them with suspicion, in fact, and someone who would usually run the other way when faced with a reality TV star, of all things: this DVD works. Buy it, stick with it, and you'll succeed.
   I know I've only given the DVD 4 stars, and that's for two reasons: 1, because it's been poorly marketed. If a newbie picks it up, they'll probably be frigtened away, and that's a real shame. 2, because at the start of each 3 minute round there's an additional minute of them talking you through the next routine so that you can go non-stop for those 3 minutes. This is fine initially, but you'll quickly outgrow the need for it, but you'll still have to sit through it. A second option to run through the workout without the talking, like in Jean Butler's Irish Dance Masterclass, would have been great. But I can advise a simple fix: while they're talking, cycle through 10 jumping jacks, 10 high knees and 10 butt-kicks. That way at least you can keep moving if you feel the need to, keeping the intensity up and compensating for the talking before jumping back into the workout.


As for my review for the magazine itself:





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