Friday, 31 October 2014

Happy Halloween...




I got a daily deviation on DeviantART with this picture a few years back, you know :P
Happy Halloween!



Thursday, 30 October 2014

Youvember and Participational Prizes

   Youvember begins on Saturday, and I've got the participational prize list for 4 winners put together with pictures to follow! To win, read below!


The Health and Fitness bundle will include:
  • A selection of Real Nutrition Co goodies including amazing protein shakes, multi-vitamins and your choice of #RNC fitness t-shirt or vest - did you know 57% of female gym-goers now use protein shakes and powders?
  • Nuun tri berry hydration tabs and a Nuun water bottle to better increase your hydration while working out, running or cycling
  • Dance it Off and Tone it Up DVD - my personal favourite 10 Minute Solutions DVD with 3 high-energy and fun dances, and two resistance band routines for upper and lower body
  • A resistance band - y'know, so you can do those last two routines!
  • Teapigs green and herbal tea


The Arts and Crafts bundle will include (with more to come):
  • PITT Castelle Fineliner Pens - Fine and Superfine - I use these pens in my inking drawings, and their different thicknesses are very useful. They're also incredible quality and extremely reliable with no smudging when erasing pencil lines beneath them.
  • Winsor & Newton drawing ink in black and silver and a fine paint brush.
  • 300gsm sketch book
  • Selection of washi tapes


The Feel-Good bundle will include:
  • Bill Bailey 'Qualmpeddler' DVD (in your region) - a unique musician/stand-up comedian.
  • Galaxy Chocolate is the best chocolate in the solar system. You thought I'd say 'galaxy'. Well, I've not tried chocolate from Risa but I bet it's good. So I'm not prepared to say 'galaxy'. Yet.
  • A monster plush toy from Grumble Cave Monsters - hand made by myself, standing at 35cm tall, faux fur, anti-allergenic filling, safety eyes; not suitable for children under 3.
  • Handmade animal jar jewellery from my shop, Peaches and Pebbles - my fox jar necklaces are easily my most popular item, and I've thrown in some bonus pieces from my upcoming art exhibit in the summer.
  • £50/$50 Etsy gift card - does what it says on the tin.
  • Options hot chocolate - drum of belgian hot chocolate; just add 3 teaspoons of powder to hot water and stir away. The best bit? 40 calories. I've blogged about Options hot chocolate in the past, and I still adore it. No need to add sugar or milk, it's quick, easy and flawless.
  • Pastel Barry M nail polish selection
  • BBC's 'Africa' DVD (in your region) - one of the BBC's best nature documentary series, it will leave you in awe when you see giraffes fighting and rhinos gathering to socialise at night.


The Christmas bundle will include:
  • A wide selection of different decorations and embellishments
  • A Christmas monster plush set from Grumble Cave Monsters, both the Christmas and the bah humbug monsters!


   Participating in Youvember is easy, and it's all about you. The only 'wrong' way to do it is by stressing yourself out with it. Youvember is simply taking time for yourself to destress and unwind in order to tackle the Christmas (and Thanks Giving) period a little easier. You can work out and take out stress physically, you can take time to meet with friends and encourage them to do the same and chill out over a coffee one day every week, or you can finally set aside some time to do something you've been meaning to for a long time, like try out a new craft or start and/or finish a project.

   To win one of the above prize bundles, you need only participate regardless of your location, doing something for yourself, and at the end of the month either email me a link to a blog post summarising your Youvember experience, or, if you're not a blogger, email me a picture or paragraph doing the same, as well as a note to say which bundle you'd like to be entered to win. The picture or paragraph can be about something you spent the month making, a workout you started and completed - then 30 Day Shred, for example - a long awaited trip or visit with friends, a Christmas organisational plan - maybe even a blog itself you finally decided to start.

As long as you do something for yourself this November to de-stress or breathe, you're eligible.

   There are Youvember badges you can display on your sidebar or at the foot of your posts to show your participation and spread the word. They can be found on the Youvember page, along with suggestions for how you could participate. The email to submit your entries via will be released and announced during the final week of November, as stated on the Youvember page.






Barn Owl, Tiger and Custom Cat Jars in Peaches and Pebbles

   Yup, a few more new products have made it into the shop at last! The barn owl jar is half a centimetre taller than the normal large jars, but the tiger and cats are average. The barn owl and the tiger are one-offs, however, additional pieces I made for the exhibit next year, and so they're not likely to be back in the shop for some time. The cat jar, however, is custom-painted, so you can choose the breed you want from the drop-down menu. The perfect Christmas gift for a crazy cat lady! But, as always, I love custom orders, so if you wanted a jar of your pet dog or pet cat, the piece will be much better and the shape will be very different.





   I said 'breed' at the beginning of the post, but what I really mean 'colour'. I'm a dog person, and as ashamed of it as I am, this is unfortunately quite accurate:






Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Halloween Horn Temporary Tattoos

   My Halloween costumes have always been a little...off. One year I was the 'punk-ass fairy of doom', another year I was a dead child with a blood-soaked stuffed toy and a skeleton face, and another year still I was a drowning victim - I actually went trick-or-treating with my then-boyfriend's kid brothers, which was pretty stupid because my costume consisted mostly of black clothing I'd worn in the shower moments before, so I was dripping wet and freezing outside at the end of October.
   This year I'm doing something a little more orthodox, though I admit that that's because I'm not going out or seeing anyone so my costume will be worn in front of the TV and I can't be bothered with the effort (she says, having put far more time into making one single aspect of the costume than she has on any costume before) of something unique. But I did have an unrelated idea I wanted to try.

   I don't usually offer free downloads, mostly because I can't come up with anything anyone would want even if I were to dress it in gold ribbons and send it with a marching band, but I decided to just go for it this time, in part because it's not as simple as print, cut and stick... well, I suppose that, technically, that's not true. Because it is very much print, cut and stick, just not the way you'd think.
   Temporary tattoos. Demon horn tattoos and tauren tattoos to go on your forehead, shadows and all to give them that 3D look.
   You can get printable tattoo paper if you know where to look, and in the UK that's Crafty Computer Paper, and in the US you can probably find it in similar places, this ebay listing being one example. You can find them elsewhere but these are the two places I've looked at personally.
   They're easier to use than you'd think, too. You've got two parts to each sheet - the printable tattoo paper itself, and then a clear adhesive sheet to stick on top and protect them before you use them, and in truth the only hard part is applying that clear top sheet with as few bubbles as possible.
   There are both inkjet and laser printer paper, just make sure you buy the right one for your machine, and when it comes to printing, make sure that you set the printing quality to 'glossy photo paper' on your computer beforehand. Generally it will print regardless, but the one time I forgot to change it to 'glossy' the colours didn't come out as bright and the finish wasn't as crisp because the printer wasn't prepared for the glossy surface. But they were still more than usable. Either way, the paper usually comes with instructions, and if it doesn't, the info I just gave you will suffice.

   Save and print the images below, choosing your horn type. You can open them in any basic program, including MS Paint. Print a test horn first on normal paper to make sure your sizing is right.


How to resize:
Using the 'page settings' or 'print setup' under 'File' in the image window, adjust the size percentage. I reduced the entire thing to 20% of its full size and printed landscape to use as little paper as I could and make it easier to feed the paper back through in the future. If you want them bigger or smaller but aren't sure what size would be best, roughly draw them out on an ordinary piece of paper the same size as the tattoo paper and consider the proportions, then, using the 'print preview' option, see if it matches up. But remember: they will look smaller on the screen's print preview than they will once printed, and equally when you draw them out yourself remember that less is more. Don't overestimate the size of your forehead.

Once printed:
Peel the edge of the backing paper away and line up the two corners with the tattoo paper. Be aware that you only need to cover the printed area, so if you've only used half a sheet, you'll only need half of the adhesive, so cut the transparent sheet in half before peeling from its backing paper. Line it up as carefully as you can and try to avoid air bubbles. One of the best ways to do this is to use something like a bank card or other thick, laminated card to flatted the adhesive as you stick it down. If you do get some air bubbles in the adhesive you can tease them out by pushing them with the edge of a bank card away from the printed area.

   The trouble with inkjet or laser printer tattoo paper is that most of them do leave a plasticky feel to the tattoo and give it a shine. It can feel quite uncomfortable, like having a sticker stuck to you, but if you're just wearing it for a party, Halloween or a photoshoot, it shouldn't matter. Because of this, however, they're very easy to remove, and so you won't have to worry about a red forehead the next day after a vigorous scrubbing.

    I've made two sets, one for light skin, one for dark skin, but they can be lightened or darkened further in a program like GIMP with the 'burn' tool.

   These designs (digital or printed product) aren't for resale. They're permanently free for anyone to use whenever they wish. If you do use them, I'd love it if you could send me a picture, or link back to me on your blog or website!



Hand-Printed Skeleton T-Shirt for Sale

   Some time ago I printed a black rib cage and spine onto a t-shirt and never did anything with it. So I've decided to sell it now.
   It's UK size 12, beige, figure-fitted with a wide neck, and the fabric is so soft. It's the same t-shirt I always buy to screen print on because the paint takes so well and the fabric stays soft and stays fitted.






Monday, 27 October 2014

Hermaeus Mora Cookies

   After my monster eye cookie tutorial in September I couldn't help but have an idea. There's a god in the Elder Scrolls, a daedric prince called Hermaeus Mora, the keeper of knowledge, and he usually appears as either a void of darkness or a mass of tentacles and eyeballs. Lovely, isn't it? Well, he's one of my favourite daedric princes alongside Sanguine, and when making cookies with eyeballs peering out at me I couldn't help wondering if Hermaeus Mora cookies would work.
   Well, I think they did.
   I used the same cookie mix and the same method for making royal icing eyes, I just changed their design, and I also used black fondant for the tentacles. Despite how inedible they look, they taste great. It's just cookie, icing and fondant, afterall! Though I admit that I took the fondant off when I had one, since it was a bit much, but I think they look great and, for once, so does Seeg.






   Unfortunately the cookie dough didn't stay completely black for some reason, even though the colour took really well on the original monster eye cookies, but nevermind. In all fairness, as you can see below, he's black/green anyway, so I'm happy to settle for how it's turned out!

The vision of Hermaeus Mora I based them on:



Oghma Infininom.



Edit: And excuse me for feeling the need to mention this, but it's freaking awesome:


Hermaeus Mora himself approves.



Thursday, 23 October 2014

Mineral Necklaces Hit Peaches and Pebbles

   It's a little different to what I usually do, but I recently got my hands on lots of minerals from one of my favourite geology shops (come on, we all have one) and I decided that, just for Christmas, I would list them in my shop. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a sucker for stones and rocks - along a coastline I'll be staring at the cliffs rather than out to sea - so I'm quite excited for these mineral necklaces, and I admit that I've made several for myself, my favourite being the one that looks like the aurora borealis! They're £9.50 a piece, with £1.50 UK shipping and £3.50 for the rest of the world.

https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/208225408/green-titanium-mineral-necklace-aurora https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/208219734/rainbow-titanium-mineral-necklace-smooth https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/208231033/rainbow-titanium-mineral-necklace-long

https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/208226258/gold-titanium-druzy-necklace-gold-toned https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/208237291/silver-druzy-mineral-necklace-silver

https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/208225656/pink-gold-mineral-necklace-rough-stone https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/208225852/rainbow-mineral-necklace-rough-rough




Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Inktober - Week 3

   This week's Inktober is a little different to the last. I decided to draw a guy - boring, really, because female shapes are much better to draw - and I also did a little messing around on the computer to give him magic. He is a void mage, hence the purple and black magic in his hands. I did have the intention of trying to give him magic with ink but that would have required using techniques I've never tried before, and I would inevitably ruin it by rushing in before practising enough first.
   I'd like to say I'm proud of his expression, but I can't take the credit for it. Grimmjow from Bleach is one of my favourite Arrancar because of his expressions. He looks completely normal one moment, then turns around with an expression like the one above. He's freaking awesome, and I've always wanted to draw the expression but never had much need to. I don't generally just sit down an draw, I'm usually drawing characters, individuals with purpose, but since I started participating in Inktober I've started to just draw, and it gave me a good opportunity to try.
   But also, look at his hair! I'm so proud of it, and I'm really, really proud of the coat, too. I've never been good at fabric in general, let alone moving fabric, so while it was a challenge, I'm damned pleased with the outcome ^^

   Same pens as always: Faber-Castell PITT super-fine black pen for the lines and ZIG Art and Graphic Twin Tip Markers in black and warm grey with a blender.


Other illustrations: Week 1, Week 2

http://mrjakeparker.com/inktober



Monday, 20 October 2014

Paperchase and Christmas

   It's one of my favourite occurrances: Paperchase releasing their Christmas stuff. There are two places I must visit every year: one is Cadbury garden centre in Congresbury, and the other is Paperchase, because they're both excellent at Christmas! And while the garden centre is still setting up this year's Christmas displays, Paperchase are releasing their new Christmas products! Decorations, wrapping paper, cards... I buy every year, even to the point now where I've got nowhere to store the decorations and nowhere to display them, but I can't stop!


   I almost always buy a stag or two, every year different colours become available, and now it looks like they're going two-tone. I also can't help buying boxes of 2cm glass baubles. LOOK AT THEM. Look at them arranged in their lovely organisedness! I've got 6 boxes. There's no helping me.
   I also like to buy my cards from Paperchase. I'd love to get them from Etsy but the prices of boxes are often too extreme to justify, not to mention the fact that most of the cards I like don't come as box sets anyway! But I admit I buy them loose from Paperchase still, sometimes, and this year will be no different. Baby cheeses, peas on earth and mince spies. I absolutely love it. Fortunately I have very few people to send cards to, so at least it doesn't cost me a fortune to buy nice ones.


  Paperchase are especially good because they have both grown up decorations as well as whimsical ones and kiddy ones. There's definitely something for every taste, and every year I buy a mix. I always think I'll be buying the grown up stuff, but I don't...and let's be honest, calling it the 'grown up stuff' should be enough to suggest I'm not grown up yet by itself. Age means nothing! Every year as soon as I see the first glint of tinsel I regress 13 years. Even writing this post I had to fight the urge to put on Christmas music.
   The downside is that Paperchase release new products very frequently, and while they're releasing new Christmas goods, some of the first items to come out that year disappear. I don't like to buy too frequently, so I usually pick out the stuff I want and wait for more to appear before buying, but this means I miss out. This year I may well not do that, for once. I'll buy what I like when I see it. Because...well, because Christmas.






Sunday, 19 October 2014

Nuun Hydration Review + Giveaway [closed]

   I have a problem with hydration. Simply put: I forget to drink. I know how stupid that sounds, honestly I do, but it's one of my worst habits. I used to run to the toilet a lot and it got quite annoying, so I started drinking less and less to the point that I would have two, maybe three 200ml drinks - tea, water, juice, whatever - a day, and when you're working out as much as I do, that's going to cost you big time. In fact, if you're not properly hydrated your body isn't going to work very well, and that alone can hinder the entire weightloss process, believe it or not.
   I've been forcing myself to drink more now, though, and branch out beyond tea. The trouble is that I've never really liked water. It doesn't taste great - at least not the water around here, it's quite 'hard', too - and that doesn't really encourage me. Squash has a funny nauseating effect on me, and juice can be quite sugary, natural or not. So water is the only other option from tea, really.
   But I came across nuun the other day - you may already have heard of it, because for the last 10 years it's been used by top athletes for its brilliant hydration boost, and after trying them myself, it's already very easy for me to see why.


   First, though, I'll tell you what nuun is: it's a hydration tab, and it's filled with electrolytes - calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium - and these nutrients help to increase your fluid uptake and quite effectively prevent cramping. They're very simply designed: each full 1 inch solid tablet is intended to be dropped into 500ml (a typical water bottle) of water, where it will completely dissolve in a couple of minutes and enrich the water. The tabs have been specifically formulated to work with that particular volume of water, but the tabs can be broken in half along the indent for 250ml instead. They work alongside the water, not instead of it, and so there are no minimum or maximum you should take a day, as long as the water level is as it should be for the size of the tab (full or half).
   As well as improved hydration, nuun also addresses the taste issue. The tabs come in 10 different flavours, all natural, and contain natural colourings, too - beet juice for red, riboflavin for yellow. These make the water more inviting and easier to drink.
   Now, I've been using these nuun tabs since I started this month's workout on the 6th, and I tell you I've been feeling great. Truly great! I'm sweating buckets because this workout is so good, but nuun is helping me to replenish that lost moisture, and I've been feeling really, really great because of it.


   Nuun contains no sugar and no carbohydrates, because while energy needs are based on effort and activity, hydration is based on temperature and starting-hydration levels. Fixed carb:fluid ratios can be really hard on your stomach as a result, so nuun focuses only on hydration, leaving you to power up however you prefer - bars, gels, shots, whatever.
   Nuun does contain 8 calories per full tab, but this comes from the ingredients that cause them to dissolve, and those 8 calories are easily shed while working out.


   Nuun really does taste great, and the colour is an added bonus (who doesn't love a splash of colour while working out?), and the packaging for the tabs is quite efficient and wasteless - not to mention cute. I never thought I'd see such a pretty venn diagram.
   Out of those that I've tried, strawberry lemonade is my favourite - so much so that I went back to nuun and bought another tube and another waterbottle in order to set up a giveaway! I truly, truly love nuun, and given that their prices are so agreeable I am really pleased to be able to make them a part of my permanent workout set-up!

   Tubes of 12 nuun tabs cost £6 with £1.50 shipping, or free shipping on orders of £15 or more. They have a UK shop and a US shop. There are 10 flavours, and 3 contain caffine (lemon tea, kona-cola and cherry limeade), flavour, flavour). They can be purchased individually, in packs of 4, or in packs of 4 mixed flavours. The water bottle costs £5, and shipping is still £1.50.


Winner has been notified; Prize has been accepted and is now on its way to the US


  This giveaway is open internationally until October 31st. Enter below with the Rafflecopter widget below to win a tube of 12 strawberry lemonade tabs and a 500ml nuun waterbottle. Full terms and conditions are stated at the bottom of this post. The winner will be chosen on November 1st using Rafflecopter's randomising service and they'll be notified directly via the email address used with Rafflecopter. Once the winner has accepted their prize and given me their address, this blog post will announce that a winner has been chosen. No names will be given publicly due to negative experiences in the past. This giveaway is being run based on my personal experience, and the prize is both purchased and sent at my own expense. The winning entry will be double-checked.







a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway open internationally and closes on 31st October 2014. Winner will be chosen at random through Rafflecopter the following day, and contacted directly by the email address used on Rafflecopter. The winner will have 72 hours to respond to the email. If the winner fails to respond to the email within that time frame, a new winner will be chosen and the original winner notified that their time to accept the prize has expired. Prizes are sent at my own expense from the UK, and so if the winner is overseas it can take a couple of weeks to reach their destination.



HIIT & Pilates - 2 Weeks Later

   I'm a little late with my 2 week post on this month's workout, and in truth I think it's because I don't want to jinx anything. This workout is undeniably tough, it's definitely the hardest thing I've done. The 30 Day Shred is a cake walk in comparison, no joke. But the reason I'm concerned about jinxing it is because it...it kind of seems to be working. I admit that I'm not really going to know anything for certain until I weigh or measure myself in another 2 weeks, but I swear I've slimmed down and toned up more over these 2 weeks than in any full month before. The workout is also designed to go alongside a 1500 calorie diet which I've been working with after speaking to a dietician, and it's the first diet I've ever been able to stick to because the workout is so hard that I don't want to be putting all that work in for nothing.
   I was right in what I said as well: it's not really very enjoyable. But I've made it work for me by watching Dragon Ball Z while doing my circuits. Watching TV while working out isn't a bad thing as long as your priorities are right. Meaning as long as your focus is on your workout, not on Goku chasing a monkey around a tiny planet, you're fine. And Dragon Ball Z offers its own nerdy encouragement to me, too, so what can you do? Gotta train if you wanna be a Z Fighter.

  

   But all nerdiness aside, this workout is intense. I'm at 2 circuits a day, alternating them as I should and maintaining form, and I'm using a 4kg/8lb kettlebell on the HIIT training. I'd rather use a 6kg one if I'm honest, but the moves are so tough and so new to me that I have to use a lighter one to make sure I can maintain control of it. I don't really want to drop it on my head. The pilates are tough, but I'm getting a good grasp of them, too.
   But the fact that every single one of these moves are so new to me is a really, really, really good thing because it means my body will take a lot longer to adapt to it, and when your body adapts to it, it stops being as effective, and if you don't change anything like the weight, number of circuits or even the moves themselves, you're going to hit a plateau, which is when your body just stops being challenged and you get absolutely nowhere with all your hard work.

   The moves are easy to learn, though. I don't have anything like an iPad or iPhone or anything I can use to view the movements while I'm actually working out, because the PC is in another room. So, just as I did with Kickbox Fusion - another workout I got from FitnessMagazine.com - I sat down, watched the moves and made notes on them on paper, numbered them, and then laid them out at the edge of the room on the floor while I was working out. It took about 2 days of each workout for me to stop having to look at the descriptions and just look at the list (names of the moves only, in order, on a separate piece of paper) instead. But I'm there now and it's much more effective.
   HIIT takes me about 10 minutes per circuit, and pilates takes me about 7-8 minutes per circuit, moving at a consistant pace. I've also been sweating buckets - no joke, I've never sweat so much from a workout - and drinking lots more water than usual. I'm also making better food choices with the 1500 calorie diet, and as a result I feel really good both physically and...gut-wise. Simply put: I feel good. I hope the next 2 weeks are as effective. I'm nowhere near used to the moves yet, and I don't see myself getting used to them in another 2 weeks, either.



Thursday, 16 October 2014

Youvember - Take The Stress Off This Christmas + Competition

   You may have seen me mention 'Youvember' on Twitter and wondered just what I was on about. Well, I'll tell you. This year I'm hosting an event designed to bring a little bit of calm to your life before the insanity that is December. Youvember takes place in - you guessed it - November, beginning on the very first day of the month and ending on the very last, and its purpose is to encourage you to do something for yourself to take the edge off this Christmas. This can be anything from making a Christmas plan, taking up something for your personal health or wellbeing, or simply doing something you've always wanted to do - what it is doesn't matter, as long as you'll enjoy it and wind down with it.
   There is, of course, a difference between taking time for yourself and being selfish, and when the Christmas stress starts to pile on - which it does - taking some time for yourself can be vital. Perhaps you'd benefit from setting aside a certain amount of time every day to do something like finally start working out (you can do it at home with no equipment but your own body weight - you'd be surprised how far this alone can get you), or it could be setting aside time every week to do something like go to a coffee shop with a friend, or simply having something to look forward to at the end of the month like a weekend's break an hour or so away from home.
   There is no wrong way of participating in Youvember. As long as you're taking time for you in order to de-stress, it counts. You can find lots more information on it on the Youvember page.

http://www.ablackbirdsepiphany.co.uk/p/youvember.html

   But there's an added incentive to make it a little more exciting. A competition, open internationally, with 3 winners.
   I've been in touch with several of my personal favourite companies and put together three prize bundles with their help - a health and fitness bundle, an arts and crafts bundle, and a cheerful bundle - and to win one, all you have to do is participate in Youvember and take time for yourself. There's no downside! It's all for you anyway.
   To enter, during the final week of November, you can either:
   If you're a blogger, email me a link to a blog post you've written concluding your Youvember experience (if you decided to finally workout that month, how do you feel at the end of it? If you decided to work on a crafting project, how did it turn out?)
   If you're not a blogger, email me a picture that concludes it instead (if it's a workout, you could do a before/after picture, or photograph the equipment you used at home/class you attended; if it's a crafting project then, as above, a picture of the finished piece, maybe a few progress shots; if it's going out for coffee dates with friends, a picture or two of you and your buddies with big cheerful faces).
   You don't need to be a blogger to participate at all. Bloggers, however, have the added benefit of spreading the word of Youvember through the event's badges and through their own participational posts about how they've taken time for themselves and whether it's working or not.

Fancy participating? Here are some Youvember ideas which could improve your Christmas:

6-Week Christmas Plan
   Spend the first week of November (1st to 8th) writing down everything that needs to be done before the big day. Christmas gift shopping, food shopping, party planning - food, venue/decorations, entertainment, invitiations - christmas tree shopping, recipe hunting, accommodation for visiting friends or family. Write it all down and organise it into six groups that will make them easy to tackle. For example, if the tree farm is near a hotel or lodge, you might want to group booking accommodation and buying a tree in the same week so you can tackle them at the same time. If buying decorations or having invitiations made requires the same shopping centre or venue as the gift shopping, group those together, too. Then will be the more last-minute stuff like wrapping gifts, baking and collecting things from bakeries/butchers. This will likely take place in the last two weeks out of the 6, so feel free to leave those until last and tackle them with some Christmas music, a mug of hot chocolate and your dog wearing reindeer antlers.
From the second week of November (Nov 10th to Dec 20th), spend the following six weeks tackling your plan. Tick off your checklists and stow away the gifts, doing everything as you've already planned. You'll sleep easier for doing this if you usually have quite hectic Christmasses.

Sweat off the Strain
   You might think that exercise is one of the last things you have time for at Christmas, but that's exactly what Youvember is about: taking that time for you. And exercise is a great option, one which you can do in your own living room without having to face another person at all, too. You can warm yourself up, and if you need a little extra incentive, you can make room for the laziness and pigging out that always comes with Christmas without feeling so guilty after doing so, either. You may also find you quite enjoy it, and if not, well, it's only a month. There's no need to stick to it once November is over unless you want to. Consider it a trial month.
   Pick up a dance workout DVD - Hip Hop Workout, Urban Workout, 10 Minute Solutions' Dance It Off and Tone It Up - these are three DVDs that I promise you will love. I absolutely frigging adore them, and trust me, these are seriously more like fun than work. Or are you looking for something more hardcore that will actually feel like a workout? It's the perfect opportunity to try Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred. Why? Because it's a month long and only 20 minutes a day, but it works. You could also try yoga - buy a DVD or download some moves off of the internet. FitnessMagazine.com is one of my top resources for new workouts that don't require DVDs or very much equipment - a lot of it uses simple dumbbells and resistance bands, or simply your own body weight - and it's not as easy as that might sound. It's a very, very effective way of working out. Yoga is also body weight training.

Try Something New
   I wanted to try out modern calligraphy, but I was always so intimidated. Where do you start? What do you need?
   Well, a paintbrush and some drawing ink like Winsor and Newton isn't a bad place to start, and neither is a starting set of Manuscript nibs. There's a fabulous book called Modern Calligraphy that teaches you how to do all that beautiful scrolling handwriting you see on wedding invites on Pinterest and Etsy, as well as great crafting ideas that incorporate the calligraphy skills themselves. The Youvember logo was quickly thrown together thanks to that very book, in fact! No, it isn't perfect, but like I said: quickly.
   Maybe you fancy taking up a pottery class? Why not? Find the nearest school and get yourself some weekly or bi-weekly lessons for the month. It's far from likely that there will be many bookings, what with everyone else stressing out of their minds about their Christmas shopping.
   Maybe you just fancy starting a blog? Blogger is entirely free - always has been, always will be - and can be customised to your heart's desire without having to pay fees, either, like Wordpress. You're immediately indexed into Google and you'll be easy to find right away. All you need are posts, and your blog is your own. Keep it true to you and you'll have a vibrant following in no time. Never pretend to be someone you're not just to see your followers increase.

If It Makes You Happy...
   Do it. Drawing, painting, singing, dancing, reading - all these things you've been putting off lately because you've not had the time - make the time. This is for you.

   I know what you might be thinking. "Another silly '-vember' event, and it's aimed at me thinking about myself. I don't need you to tell me to chill!" - well, actually, I do. Like I said, November is the time of year people start stressing over Christmas, and when December rolls around that tension only gets worse. Taking some consistently planned time (daily or weekly) to do something for you can really take the edge off and let you breathe, and you might even find that, if it works (and it will), you'll keep doing it into December. But even if you don't keep it up past November 30th, when December comes around your stress levels will be lower than they usually are and you might get to enjoy Christmas a little more because of it.

   There's no set way in which to participate in Youvember, and no requirements either. You can blog about it if you like, as often or as infrequently as you'd like - though I do ask that you display one of the buttons at the bottom of those specific blog posts - or you can handwrite a journal with it instead. Take pictures and generally embrace what you're doing. It's for you, after all!



Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Slimming Products That Don't Work

   With all of us building up our Christmas wishlists right about now, I thought it might be a good idea to blog about a few of the different 'slimming' products out there and tell you what simply doesn't work, and why. So you can knock these products off of your wishlists without hesitation!


Teatox

   It sounds inviting. A tea that will help you lose weight by cleaning out your system and improving its function as a result. I mean, who doesn't like tea? And who wouldn't love a quick and easy way to help shed the pounds? Well, there's your first problem. There is no quick and easy way to shed the pounds. But most teatoxes will, admittedly, tell you that it acts as an aid in weight loss, and indirectly effects weight loss. This is because there's nothing in tea that will melt fat away, improve metabolism or curb hunger.
   The second problem is that your body actually does a pretty good job detoxing itself if you're drinking enough water and eating right - that doesn't mean only veg and white meat, it just means not fast food every other day and sugar cakes three times a week. While it's true that some detoxing products do work to improve your body's function, the trouble is that most advertising campaigns (slogans, adverts and articles written to sell you something) try to convince you that your body isn't doing it right, or doing it well enough.
   Most teatoxes induce a laxative effect, and that, quite simply, is not good. That's not a safe side effect. Nothing good should induce diarrhea unless they're medically prescribed to do so, and you might think that detoxing means getting rid of the bad stuff, but it doesn't mean diarrhea. And while there are literally one or two teatoxes on the market that don't give you a reaction like that, they're still not doing you a blind bit of good. Your body detoxes naturally, as I said, and it goes at a natural rate that is comfortable for it. If you're eating all the wrong stuff and not drinking enough water it won't be as effective, but in cases like that, just clean up your eating, don't spend buckets of money on these teas. I hesitate to say that you may well lose weight from it because sometimes all people are looking for is someone to confirm it, but from what I've seen you will either lose little to none, or you lose too much too fast, and whatever the case, weight lost by such means always returns. You'll gain it all back in no time, even if you eat right and exercise while taking it and continue to do so afterwards.
   Don't be fooled by the expensive price tags. They don't mean effectiveness, they just mean a huge profit for the company, or expensive but still ineffective ingredients.


Sauna belts

   'Sweat off the pounds', 'sweat off the inches' - these are popular phrases, because, obviously, an effective and powerful workout will have you sweating buckets. You work hard, you sweat hard. But there's something people seem to be overlooking: sweat does not equate to weightloss. It equates to hydration levels, and hydration levels have nothing to do with energy levels. So sauna belts, which promote sitting infront of the TV while sweating around your middle are simply wrong. They're preying purely on the 'sweat off the inches' slogans, and it just doesn't work. But people keep buying into them. Once again, you cannot expect to lose weight by putting in little to no effort.
   Saunas themselves can indeed improve cardiovascular activity as your body tries to keep itself cool in a hot environment - which is exactly why we sweat. To cool ourselves down. But this only works in a sauna because it's heat all over your body, not in one spot, and even then its effects are not very noticeable at all.
   Your body sweats to keep itself cool, to prevent overheating, not because it has too much water in its system, and, as a result, a glass of water will replenish a lot of the water lost from a sauna belt, and you'll put the inches back very, very quickly, because all you've lost is water weight - and avoiding drinking is a very good way of getting yourself in hospital.
   Once again, price tags mean nothing. Some are cheap and some are expensive, and they're all just as useless. My mum bought one years ago before MS (not related to the sauna belt, I promise you) took her over, and I tried it a few times myself. Neither of us found any lasting results, and the results we did get were minor.
   Sauna belts are extremely ineffective for weight loss.

Toning belts/massage belts

   I often used to get sauna and toning belts confused. After all, they're both bulky things that go around your middle, but while they're quite different, they're just as useless as eachother.
   A toning or ab-defining belt is designed to send small electric shocks to your abdominal muscles (which, I may remind you, are not just down the centre of your body, but the sides and towards the back as well), and the idea is that these electric shocks will stimulate the muscles and cause them to contract. Supposedly, it's like doing a load of crunches. The problem here, however, is that, for the shocks to stimulate the muscles enough for them to be effective, they would have to be much, much stronger, so what you get from an ab-toning belt won't be enough to do diddly squat.
   Secondly, a toning belt won't burn any calories, and to get amazing abs, you need to burn a lot of calories in order to rid yourself of the squish that covers them in order to expose them for the world to see. This is also why just doing crunches isn't much good, either - because you can build up really strong, healthy abs, but if you're not melting the fat away by burning loads of calories, no one, including yourself, will ever see them.
   In the end, toning belts are only good for losing money and making you look a little strange if you wear them in public. There is no quick fix, and once again, wearing this in front of the TV won't do anything of any consequence.


Shake Weight

   Shake weights. Designed by Johann Verheem - yes, a man - specifically for women. I'm already a little suspicious. There are two versions, one for women which weighs 2.5lbs (that's a little over 1kg) and another for men which weighs 5lbs (about 2kg). The idea is that you shake the weight with both hands and it works on contracting your muscles much more than an ordinary bicep curl. There are a number of problems with this, and I'll tell you what they are.
   1) You're not moving the weight very far - only really a few inches up and down, and in the end you're only really squeezing your muscles rather than contracting and relaxing them like you should be. And because of this, you're also not working all of the muscles you should be, either, and the fewer muscles you work at once, the less calories you burn. Even doing a full set of bicep curls with a 5kg weight does little in terms of calorie burning. Yes, you might feel a burning or knotting sensation in your muscles after the required 6 minutes of use, but that does not equate to effectiveness at all. It just means you're tired.
   2) The required 6 minutes of use, as I just mentioned, is simply not long enough to be effective, either. Your body takes about 15-20 minutes to burn enough calories and melt enough fat for your exercise to make any kind of difference, which means that doing at least 20 minutes a day for about 5 days a week is the only way to see any change.
   3) 2.5lbs/1kg - even 5lbs/2kg - is pitiful and it won't get you very far. It's simply not enough resistance to be a challenge. In a basic 3- or 4-piece set of dumbbells, the lowest weight you get is 1kg - sometimes it's even 1.5kg instead. It's a tiddler, and it won't do enough to burn calories or tone up. Yes, 1kg might feel like a lot if you're new to it, but you'd be surprised how quickly you outgrow them.
   At the end of the day, the Shake Weight is just silly and suggestive, and you look damn silly doing it. 6 minutes is not enough use, and the movements are too short and abrupt to be effective - you're more likely to injure yourself than you are to get the sexy arms you're after. The Shake Weight might be enough to maintain good arms, as long as you do a range of other things too and make sure each muscle group in your upper arms, shoulders and chest get enough love and attention, but as a way to get nice arms, it's just nowhere near enough.


Slimming Toe Ring

   Yep, you read that right. I laughed out loud for a few minutes when I first found it. Seriously, if you think it's going to work, you're insane, and you're desperate. I'm sorry to be harsh but it's the honest truth.
   Supposedly, these rings stimulate the acupressure points on your big toe and suppress appetite, using magnets that create magnetic fields of 1100 gauss - the strength of 22 fridge magnets. I do, to a small degree, believe that certain pressure on your foot can affect other parts of your body, but this is all just seems simply ridiculous, and, I might add, extremely vague. Nowhere online have I been able to find a decent explanation of how or why it supposedly works.
   At best, these are placebos. If you think they're going to work, or truly believe they will, they will, but only because you're telling yourself "oh my appetite is gone!" - some could argue that that means that it does work if you believe it will, but that's not what 'it works' means. If it truly worked, it would do so whether you were scepitcal or not, but if it takes you to believe in it to work, then it doesn't. That's called willpower - the ring isn't making the difference, you are. If you find that the ring works, you were only overeating because you wanted to, not because you were ever truly hungry.
   Yes, they cost very, very little, so I can understand why people just give it a go for the laughs, but if people turn to it genuinely believing it's going to work, they're out of their minds.


   If none of them work, why do companies keep releasing products like these? For profit. We live in an extremely image-focused world, and it was the Victorians who started it. But the trouble is, we're also a lazy world, always looking for the quickest and easiest way of getting our desired results, but it doesn't work that way. But because we so desperately want it to, companies are able to prey on it, because they know there will always be someone who is willing to try anything to get slim quick except exercise and changing their diet.
   So why does only eating right and keeping active work? Simply put: because you're using your body the way it was intended to be used, eating how you're supposed to. If you can't catch or grow something and stick it on a fire to cook it and eat it afterwards, you shouldn't be eating it. That's not to say you have to keep a 1 mile radius from it, but it means it shouldn't have a dominant spot in your daily diet. If it requires machinery to cook it that you couldn't put together in the wilderness, you probably shouldn't be cooking it that way. Deep fat friers are a massive no-no, for example.
   You might think that your body is smart enough to not put fat away if you didn't truly need it, but there's one simple fact you're forgetting if you believe that: your body is not your brain. Your body is designed to do certain things, but it's the brain that deals with decision making and reasoning. And if you convince yourself that you're still hungry an hour after a 650 calorie meal and an afternoon sat on your backside and you give in to that, then your reasoning systems are probably off, and you've got re-evaluating to do.

   There is no quick-fix. The reason there are so many posts on Yahoo answers and other websites asking "do sauna belts work?" is because we know, deep down, that they don't. If they did there wouldn't be any posts trying to convince you that they do. It would be a widely-known fact, and the more of these 'do they work' posts you see, the more likely it is that they don't. People have probably already seen the answers to these questions before asking again themselves, hoping someone else will answer them with a positive experience, but even they can't always be trusted, as companies will do a lot to try to trick people into buying their products.

   If you're desperate to spend money on things to help you slim down, buy more veggies, some cute workout wear to give you a motivational boost, some real dumbbell weights and a DVD. Anything else is just a waste.



Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Inktober - Week 2

   I have to say that I'm surprised I managed a second drawing. It's not that I don't have the time or the desire, it's just that I usually either forget or succumb to the pressure of knowing I'm putting it on my blog...but I have to admit, given that I've not drawn for so long, I actually think both this week's and last week's drawings are quite good. This week's is better, though, in part because I didn't bother with any background. I feel like it cluttered up the last one. 

   This week I stuck with the tribal theme and draw the Goddess of the Hunt - not an Amazonian thing or anything, it's just that I'm working a lot with tribes and gods lately for my next book, so I couldn't help going the same kind of way.
   I love her hair so much, it's wild but not excessively so. Seeg said 'why is she so naked' - well, because she relishes in the hunt so there's little need for armour? I dunno. Women just have a great form so I can't help it.
   Her weapons were a real nightmare for me, I had to keep repositioning her bow and I tried to have her firing it initially but I couldn't figure out perspective without making her look like she had a hand three times too big for her body, and she's not part of the Akimichi clan so that's no good. In the end I decided to go for a spear and kit her out with several things. She has a spear with a notch-tally of beasts killed with it, a bow and quiver on her back, a skinning knife on her thigh, and a horn and an atlatl at her hips. She also has a tiger skull on her shoulder, though admittedly it's way too small for a tiger, but its teeth are too long, too, so I think I can get away with saying it's just a big cat. I wanted to put a bear skull on her head but I didn't want to flatten out her hair.
   She's got a few scars on her chest, abdomen and leg, and face paint on her face and one arm.

   I used the same pens as last time - Faber-Castell PITT super-fine black pen for the lines and ZIG Art and Graphic Twin Tip Markers in black and warm grey with a blender - and the same A4 300gsm paper. I'm dead proud of this one.


Other illustrations: Week 1, Week 3

http://mrjakeparker.com/inktober



Monday, 13 October 2014

Autumn Cheese and Cider Bread

   Crunchy brown leaves, warm and neutral tones, and apples, cider and cheese. This is autumn for me, especially here in the West Country. Wrapping up in thick sock, gloves and beautiful coats and warming the house with baking is one of the best things in life, so you can imagine how happy I was to bake bread the other morning while there was a cold fog outside. But it wasn't just any bread; I decided, as I saw the first red leaf in the garden, to gather up autumn and put it in the oven. Part from the woolies, I don't think fluff would go down too well.

   I used dry apple cider and some of Boursin's garlic and herb cheese for my bread - I was a little concerned that the garlic might over power it, but it complimented the whole thing rather well in my opinion, and no one in the house complained when they ate it, and Seeg in particular is usually quite vocal about his complaints, so I'm going to assume that it means something good.



You will need:
300ml dry cider
1tbsp soft light brown sugar
1tbsp dried active yeast
450g strong white bread flour
50g strong wholemeal bread flour
50g Boursin garlic and herb soft cheese
2tsp salt
50g unsalted butter
1 large egg


Method:
1. Melt the butter and allow to cool, and beat the egg in another bowl.

2. In a saucepan, bring the cider and sugar to the boil over medium heat and simmer gently for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and allow to cool until lukewarm.
3. In another small bowl, mix 2tbsp of the cooled cider with the yeast until you have a smooth paste. Mix the flours and the salt in another bowl and make a well in the centre, then pour in the yeast paste, the cooled, melted butter, the egg and about two thirds of the cider. Mix until you have a soft dough, then add the cheese, combining it to the mixture. If it seems too wet, add a little more flour.

4. Lightly flour a surface and knead the dough on it for 10 minutes until it's smooth and springy.

5. Oil a large bowl and transfer the dough into it, covering it with oiled clingfilm to keep the dough from drying out. Leave the dough alone for about an hour, hour and a half.

6. Once it has doubled in size, transfer the dough to an oiled 2lb bread tin and make sure to press the dough into the corner, and cover again with oiled clingfilm. Leave again for about half an hour so that it puffs back up.

7. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 and bake at the middle or top of the oven until golden brown and well-risen - about 30-40 minutes.

8.You can pull the bread out after 20 minutes of baking and add a few pieces of cheese to the top of the bread and put it back in like I did.


   Look at this lovely autumnyness! The house smelled wonderful and I was suitably warmed up afterwards. I have some other Boursin cheese that I have other plans for, so I'm all for baking wholesome this autumn - though that's not to say that cakes will be put off, because life isn't worth living without cake!



Sunday, 12 October 2014

Bookmark Dump

20 Spectacular Weather Phenomena - white rainbows, volcanic lightning, frost flowers... this list is amazing!

http://www.wherecoolthingshappen.com/20-spectacular-and-bizarre-weather-phenomena-that-really-exist/


Dogs of the World - grouped by their geographic origins, it's a surprisingly long list with cute illustrations. By DoggieDrawings.net

Xpodz - recently launched Kickstarter project to mass produce and distribute a tool to combine yoga and pilates. This piece of kit doesn't look like it's for the faint-hearted! They require $25,000 and by pledging $36 you'll be one of the first to own Xpodz! Pledging $42 will get you the Kickstarter-exclusive colour Xpodz.

Stupidly good needle-felted animals by Daria Lvovsky. Seriously, how is this level of talent legal?


https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/106048253/needle-felted-animals-needle-felted?ref=shop_home_active_19