My debut fantasy novel, The Archguardians of Laceria, is now available in paperback, and in all ebookstores!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Glittery Doughnuts!

   Yup, glittery donuts! I tried my hand at making some and...I'll be honest, they came out more like cakes. I tried three times, and only on my second try were they remotely doughnut-y, so I guess it must just be me. I used the recipe from this video from Nicko's Kitchen to make them, but at no point during my three tests did they stay as firm as they were in the video, and in the end I gave up and bought a donut baking tray instead. They taste good though, so there's no real problem as far as I'm concerned! And the glittery icing was my main interest, anyway.


   I bought some Rainbow Dust in crystal turquoise and stardust pink. I didn't expect it to really colour the icing so I also got some food colouring, and I was right, it didn't. Once I mixed up the icing I added a few sprinkles of glitter and mixed it in. The pots are really small so I could only fit the end of the teaspoon in, but that did help as far as conservation goes


   Once I mixed it all up I slathered the doughnuts in it. That was hard. I think I made the icing a bit thin but it all ran down the edges. I don't suppose that really matters, though, so I didn't worry too much about it, but it's nice when it all goes smoothly.


   The Rainbow Dust glitter is quite good stuff. You can sprinkle it or mix it into things. I'm going to see if baking with it works or not - I doubt it, but it's worth trying! I'm quite pleased with how they've all come out, but I was a bit surprised by just how bright the pink glitter is, but since it didn't colour the icing, it's quite easy to control how bright the overall donut is.



Sunday, 27 April 2014

30 Day Shred - Level 2

   On Wednesday I completed Level 2 of the 30 Day Shred. I took a single day off after day 5 because of stomach pains, but I got right back to work the day after and continued as day 6. I did a total of 11 days, as I did with Level 1, because it feels more like the first day of each level is spent learning and failing. I do my best, obviously, but I never feel as efficient on day 1 as I do on day 2.

   It was definitely tougher than Level 1, but that is to be expected. I had been able to increase the weights on Level 1 after about 5 days I think, but I wasn't able to on Level 2, and I did spend more time following the modified versions of a couple of the moves than in Level 1. The thing I found toughest was the cardio section of the 2nd circuit, there's a lot of jumping and I really struggled. Most of the rest of it was fine, though.

   This feels like a really disconnected post, like I'm just throwing words on the screen. I've gotten so used to typing stories and notes that there's either going to be a dragon popping up in this post, or it's going to remain extremely to the point and unemotional.

   I feel slimmer, my trousers are falling down, and I've dropped a belt loop, but I've not measured or weighed myself yet. If you want to weigh or measure yourself you have to wait a couple of days before doing so without exercising to give your body a chance to relax and recover properly, otherwise both the scales and tape measure will lie, and tell you you're bigger and heavier than you truly are. So keep that in mind. But I do feel smaller, and I certainly feel firmer. It's wonderful.

   However, I'm quite used to doing 30-40 minutes of exercise in the mornings, so regardless of just how good the shred is, I've not felt comfortable just doing those 20 minutes. To that effect, I've started doing other DVDs afterwards - just dance and cardio, but it adds the time up, keeps me moving, and I enjoy it more than the shred. I've been focused on my 10 Minute Solutions Latin Dance DVD - it's my absolute favourite, it's SO much fun, has amazing music, and it's hard even now. I adore it. The downside is that there's so much hip wiggling that I get a killer stitch on my right side without fail so I can't do more than one section, at which point I switch to another DVD. So while the shred is my priority, I have been trying to scale it up, and since I've done that I've felt even better than before.
   I've also stuck with my Real Nutrition Co Muscles Shakes Lite Monday to Friday after workouts. I don't know if they're working, but I'm seeing so much progress that I refuse to change anything just in case.

   If anyone is interested, new customers can get £10 off of orders of £15 or more, and get free shipping and a free shaker bottle worth £5 for orders of £20 or more after the £10 has been deducted. Purchase through this link, or use this code at checkout: REAL-9400-TWQRU-YVLK




Sunday, 20 April 2014

Happy Easter! + Discount

   Happy Easter everyone! I hope you've all been having a great weekend filled with chocolate, hot crossed buns, crafts and other good things. My entire weekend has been spent like all the others over the past few weeks with excessive writing. I used to struggle to get about 3 pages out in a day, lately I'm averaging 10. So I'm a happy bunny.

   Also, there's a small sale in Peaches and Pebbles right now for 20% off until Tuesday the 22nd when you use the code EASTERWEEKEND at checkout. Valid on all orders.

   Have a great Easter everyone! ♥



   I'd also like to apologise for the lack of an appropriate Easter picture. I don't have any eggs or decorations, so I decided that my PC mascot will have to do. Enjoy Reptar.





Thursday, 17 April 2014

Buying Online From H&M - Don't Bother



    I'd be lying if I said I didn't like a good complain - who doesn't? - but what I don't enjoy is having a good reason to do so.
   I've bought online from H&M on a few occasions in the past, and it's never been a smooth process. For starters, they have a habit of, by default (and the option to change it is quite hidden), having you pay by payment slip once the order has been received, as if it's still the late 90's. Changing to a card payment is quite difficult, because you have to go through several pages to find the option, by which point you've probably already gone through the checkout process, expecting to be shown a payment page, only to be given a "thanks, your order's been received!" ...uhh, okay, great, how do I pay for it, then?
   The second problem you'll find only once you've placed your order and go back to have a look at it - assuming that you do that. H&M don't seem to keep in stock what they sell. Each time I've purchased from them, I've had to wait at least a month to see the products, and sometimes the date that they're available changes and I'm forced to wait longer. Yes, I could just go to the shop, but any time I have they never have what I want, and I simply cannot get out to one with the commitments I have at home.
   Then you'll find that, if you didn't also select the option to have everything delivered together rather than in little bits, all of your products will be separated into different orders and, here's the kicker, if one of those segments doesn't meet the "minimum order value for a partial delivery," they will simply not let you have it and cancel that part of the order. And when you're buying basics such as a couple of £4 tank tops, that can mean that half of your order gets cancelled, even perhaps all you actually went in there for. Yes, yes, I know, tank tops and camisoles, you can get them anywhere, but I wanted H&M's specifically for their fabric and shape - they simply fit me better than others do. But, now they've decided that because the tops won't be available until EARLY JUNE despite the fact that I was able to place my order EARLY APRIL, even if I was able to get it delivered I'd have to wait a far, far longer time frame.
   And, last but not least, they don't tell you any of this. The only way you can find it out is by logging into the website and looking at your order yourself, and why should you need to do that to find out half of it's been cancelled? You'd think that would be the kind of thing they'd tell you themselves.

   I don't really know why I bother with them to be honest. It's like I forget what an assault course it is. If any of you are considering buying online from them, don't bother. Yes, they're cheap, yes they're quite good products, and yes you can use two discount codes on one order, but you probably won't receive half of what you want in the end anyway.



Wednesday, 16 April 2014

How To Make Tea Cakes

   I love teacakes, I love the biscuit, the chocolate, and the soft fluffy marshmallow inside. Tunnock's is my favourite, easily. But, I thought I'd try my hand at doing them myself, and I think they came out really well - not as good as Tunnock's, but good enough!

   I used a silicon cake pops mould to make the tea cakes smooth and round. I got it on Ebay for about £3 and it works a treat. It's the same mould I used in my surprise cake to make the coloured cake balls that went inside it.



You will need:
 • A half-ball mould (alternatively you can work through this tutorial backwards and have a less rounded teacake) such as a cake pops tray
• Marshmallow mixture - you can either make your own using this recipe, or buy a tub of marshmallow fluff
• Disposable piping bag
• Biscuit mixture (I used my sugar cookie recipe)
• Chocolate- or Candy-melts (you can use chocolate bars but they won't harden very well)



1. First of all, put the chocolate in the microwave and follow the instructions on the packet. I used Wilton Candy Melts and Callebaut chocolate and microwaved them for 30 second bursts, getting them out and stirring them between each burst. Be careful here, because Candy Melts and white chocolate will appear to have not melted but will need a bit of a stir to reveal that it has. If there are a few small lumps, keep stirring, don't reheat it again or you'll burn the stuff and make it go clumpy.


2. Use a tea spoon and drop a bit of the melted chocolate or candy melts into a cavity. Use the back of the spoon to spread it around. It won't matter if the inside isn't very smooth, but you must try to make sure that the chocolate is pressed against the mould's surface. Candy Melts harden very well, and even a thin layer - a layer so thin you can almost see the mould through the chocolate (easily done since my mould is pink) - will harden completely without breaking. Do this with all the cavities until they're all full. I only used one half of my cake pop mould because the other half had a hole in the bottom to allow the cake to rise properly while in the oven. The chocolate wouldn't have seeped through it necessarily, but the tea cakes wouldn't have had a perfectly smooth top.

3. Leave the chocolate or candy melts to set. You can put them in the fridge, but if you've used an ordinary store-bought chocolate bar, this is a bad idea. The reason I say to use chocolate melts instead of chocolate bars is because a store-bought chocolate bar is a completed item, it's been through the tempering process (heating and cooling repeatedly within a certain amount of time) and if it's melted again, it's not likely to harden as well as it had in the factory. This also means that they'll be soft rather than completely hard, and when you try to push them out of the moulds, they'll get dented, assuming they come out at all. You will need a thick layer of chocolate if you've used a chocolate bar, and I suggest avoiding Galaxy chocolate, as delicious as it is, because even the bar itself melts quickly. Candy and chocolate melts are designed to be remelted and cooled, so their tempering process is incomplete.

4. Get your cookie dough and break it into small balls. Put them onto a baking tray and flatten them out with your fingers to make them round. Make sure they're smaller than the mould because they have to fit inside the chocolate rather than on top of it. They don't have to be perfect because they'll be completely covered in chocolate eventually. I used my sugar cookie recipe and baked the little biscuits for about 7 minutes and then let them cool compeltely.


5. Once the chocolate and candy melts have set, get your marshmallow mix. Keep the chocolates in the moulds to strengthen the edges throughout this step.
   I used a tub of Marshmallow Fluff because I would prefer to pay £4 and buy the right about rather than mix up way more than I need for about £1 - I'm trying to lose weight, so having far too much marshmallow lying about is a bad idea. And, I know, I know, if I'm trying to lose weight, why am I making tea cakes? Well if it makes you feel better I'm going to be giving them to friends and family rather than eating many of them myself.
   In my test-run of tea cakes, I used a teaspoon to scoop marshmallow mixture and spoon it into the chocolate cavities. This was difficult and it let to air pockets and broken edges - this is why I learned to keep the chocolates in the mould instead, and they will pop out afterwards just fine. Instead, this time I put the marshmallow fluff in a disposable piping bag and used that to put the marshmallow in the chocolate cavities. It worked remarkably well.


6. Take the little biscuits and press them into the cavities and marshmallow. Try to get the top of the biscuit lined up as well as you can to the top of the chocolate. If marshmallow fluff comes out around the sides, it doesn't matter.


7. Take some more of the chocolate or candy melts and melt them down. Spread them over the top of the biscuits and make sure the melts meet the edges of the already set chocolate so that the marshmallow and biscuit are sealed inside. Try to keep the chocolate level, but don't worry if you can't manage it.

   Once the new chocolate and candy melts have set, you can push them out of the moulds and flip them over. Ta da! You can experiment with them, too, by adding jam, caramel, even popping candy into the cavities before or after the marshmallow. If you didn't have a mould, work through backwards. Start with the biscuit, then add the marshmallow on top, then cover it in chocolate.





Saturday, 12 April 2014

30 Day Shred - Level 1

   Well, I completed Level 1 of the 30 Day Shred, and let me tell you right now: it was fucking hard. Pardon the language but I wanted to emphasis that. But let me also go on to say that day 1 was the worst, but I stuck with it, and by day 4 I was having a much easier time, and began looking forward to doing it from day 6 onwards. I did two extra days because I really feel like it's making a difference, and I want to get the most out of it.


   Why was it so hard? Because the instructor doesn't give you a chance to rest. It's only 20 minutes a day, but it's 20 minutes of non-stop work, and it is hard. You get a brief warm-up, and then 3 6-minute circuits of 3 minutes of strength, 2 minutes of cardio, and 1 minute of abs, and it is tough. She does explain throughout the workout, however,
   I am used to using weights, so the positions and posture wasn't a problem for me, and I've strengthened my back enough already that the dumbbell rows were the easiest move of the DVD and didn't tire my back at all. But that experience was what made it so hard. I didn't go into it thinking it would be easy, I knew it would be hard, but I underestimated how much. I made a few mistakes on day 1, the first of which was choosing to use my 2.5kg (5.5lb) weights, which is what I've adjusted to over the last month, and I'm about ready to move up to 3kg. It destroyed me, and after the first circuit I ended up moving back to my 1.5kg (3.3lb) weights instead. The second mistake I made was trying to follow the tougher, more experienced demonstrations rather than easing myself into it. The moves done during Level 1 are moves that I am only partially familiar with, and that was also my third mistake, when it comes to combining them all together. Experienced or not, I should have started with the lighter weights and followed the less experienced demonstrations. I did pull a lot of muscles, but I still did it the next day, and the day after, and the day after. I haven't yet missed a day.

   As I just said, I pulled some muscles, and I think that that is only partly because of the weights I'd used. I am quiet sure it was also because I was doing movements like push-ups that I don't usually do, and it took some getting used to. I admit that on days 2, 3 and 4, I did the push-ups against the door with my feet about 2.5 feet away from it rather than on the floor because my front shoulder muscles had been really pulled, but by after doing them on the floor again on day 5, I found them surprisingly easy by day 9. But the thing is that, when you pull muscles in the 30 day shred, you still have to continue the next day. I felt like I couldn't do it, but I tried anyway, and by actually continuing and doing day 2, I worked my muscles and warmed them up and they didn't hurt as much any more. My body fully adjusted to the workout after 5 days, but it started getting easier after 3.


Tips:

1. Don't think 'oh this'll be easy' or 'I want to get the most out of this' on day 1 and try to follow the tougher demonstrations. You'll only tire yourself out and hurt yourself. Start off with the easier demonstrations and work your way up.
2. Don't try to use heavy weights, even if you're used to them. Use smaller weights in the beginning to get used to the movements.
3. You will very likely pull your muscles after day 1 because there isn't enough stretching at the beginning or the end of the routine, so when you've finished, you'll definitely want to do more by yourself.
4. When you pull your muscles, don't skip a day. I'd usually say that you should rest, but this workout is designed to be done for 30 consecutive days, and if you let yourself take day 2 and day 3 off because of injuries from day 1, you're only going to find yourself pulling more muscles when you return to it. Work through it, it will get easier. You'll warm your muscles up, and despite what you might expect, you won't find it that hard to do day 2 once you've warmed up.
5. If someone tells you that this is easy, they're probably just trying to encourage you to try it. Definitely try it, but ignore what they say about it being easy. If you expect it to be easy when you begin, you'll probably be quite put off when you find out that it's the opposite.
6. Don't let yourself get put off of the moves. Push-ups are hard, there's no doubt about that, and I could never do them, but they get easy quite quickly, and you will be very surprised by how quickly your body strengthens and adapts to it all.



Thursday, 10 April 2014

General Silence, Insanely Motivated

   You may have noticed that I've been being quiet lately. In truth, similarly to my last post a week ago, I've been focusing on my writing. Completely. Not a moment goes by that my mind isn't bent on it. I've felt the biggest bout of motivation I think I've ever had, so I used it to my advantage. Rather than write write write write write until I burned out, I opted to go and do the one thing I dread: reading it through from page 1. I dread this because the first few chapters are usually terribly written, characters are inconsistent with anything I've recently written because they've developed since then, and it generally fills me with hopelessness. But I decided that if there was any time to do it, it was now.
   And was I in for a shock.
   For once, the first few chapters were actually good. Well-written, characters were consistent, and next to nothing needed tweaking. I even enjoyed reading them. In truth, I had to go back and read through chapters 6-10 to pick up some notes for where I am now. Sometimes things happen in a book that don't seem significant even to the writer at the time, but all of a sudden, a little ways down the road, they're surprisingly important. So I needed these notes, but thought to myself 'Would it really be so hard to read chapters 1-5 as well?' No, it wouldn't.
   As it stands I'm currently reading through chapter 13, though I had to read a handful of them again after I made necessary adjustments (at some points I was just frowning at the computer thinking 'what the hell are these people talking about?' - clearly they couldn't just be left alone if I didn't understand!), and I'm hoping to finish reading 13-16 tonight, and I'll be able to continue writing 17 with confidence and the notes I need.

   Yes, I'm still feeling pretty obsessive over it right now, it's more or less the only thing on my mind, and most other things have been completely pushed aside. The one thing that hasn't changed is my exercise - I've been shredding every day, I'll write about Level 1 soon - but I admit I have abandoned my evening workouts while I've been reading my work through because there aren't enough hours in the day. Literally. In the past I've thought to myself 'oh there aren't enough hours in the day!' usually around Christmas with a flood of Etsy orders, but never have I actually thought 'I wish there were more hours in the day' - if days were 3 times as long right now, I'd be happy.

   But this is why I've been silent. I promise I'll return soon with tutorials, posts, features, product reviews and so on! I will!



Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Finally Figured Out Why I've Been So Tense Lately

   How's that for a rubbish title?
   Lately I've been feeling extremely tense. When I go to bed, when I wake up, when I'm working on stuff, and just all the time, in general. And I've finally figured out why, and funnily enough it makes me happy: I've gotten too intensely involved with the characters in my book.
   This is, on some levels, a good thing. I can switch to their lives and personalities whenever I need to while I write, which a good writer needs to be able to do, but a good writer also needs to be able to think straight when things get sad, heartbreaking, or tense in order to maintain the narrative. Things in my book at the moment - which I have been working on an insane amount lately - are becoming quite heated. Things are popping up that, as far as the characters are concerned, shouldn't be happening, both on global (even beyond) and personal levels, and it's getting me so freaking excited. Hey, if I'm not enjoying my book, how can I expect anyone else to? But, unfortunately, getting that into it that means that the emotion is spilling over to my every day life, and that's not so good. I've been jumpy, I've been irritable, I've been having trouble sleeping.
   I love it when books get tense, when they get exciting, romantic, dangerous and upsetting, because I can't help but marvel afterwards at how words alone can do that to me, and so many others.
   I could never go as far as to say that my writing was amazing, because I know I have weak points, but I admit that I do believe my ability to write tense or sad situations is quite good, though I can't be sure until lots of people read my work.
  I'm confident that this book will be rejected by agents, because there are too few that handle fantasy, and those that do probably aren't taking on many more writers, and that does make me sad. But despite that confidence, I'm also confident that the work itself is publishable - the trouble is finding someone with the time and enthusiasm to take it on. I've spoken to a few authors lately who got their agents years ago, and the one thing they have all told me is that getting an agent these days is hard work, with a lot of rejection, and that all I can do is my best, send it in and hope. Which I will do, of course, I want this too much to be put off. But every now and then - surprisingly only for a few minutes - the idea that it could be years until I get anywhere, if ever, really makes me wonder why I'm bothering. Then I remember: because there's nothing I enjoy more.
   I'm not looking for fame, I'm just looking to make enough money to justify writing - so that I can support a family (either as sole bread-winner or partial) without having to worry about money, and subsequently be able to write more and more.

   I'm babbling. Basically, I'm glad I figured out why I've been tense, and I'm even happier about what exactly it is that's causing it. I'm seriously enjoying writing right now, and I've just bought a few new books to read which I'm super excited about too. I just bought the Tamuli by David Eddings (I read the Elenium a couple of years ago), and I've got the complete Belgariad, and there are two Warcraft books I have yet to get (Vol'jin and Warcrimes, the latter of which is released in May), but completing my own book comes first. It can take a few minutes to write a line sometimes, and it's a bit sad when it takes mere seconds to read it. The time seriously adds up.