Friday, 20 February 2015

Road to Workout - 8: Protein, Supplements & Diet Shakes



   There are all kinds of weight loss and fitness products on the market, and in this post I'm going to go over supplements, diet shakes and protein shakes - what they are, how they work, whether or not you really need them, and what to keep in mind if you decide to try any.


Supplements

Above: active joint care, CLA, BCAA, thermogens, Vitamin D3
   You must be aware of all of the weight loss and fitness products on the market - supplements and superfoods in particular. Now, it's important for you to realise this right away: most of them don't work, and if they do, they certainly don't do so on their own.
   Most of them will tell you to take their supplements as part of a balanced diet, and this is because they're designed to work on a healthy individual with a body which is working properly. If you eat lots of sugar, fat and takeaway meals, then the supplement simply won't work. They're not designed to counter an unhealthy lifestyle, so unless you make a change in your diet and exercise routine, they won't work. They're an aid, not a solution. You have to help them to help you. The same goes for basic 'superfoods' - sprinkling a super fruit over a chocolate cake won't make a blind bit of difference, and gorging yourself on the fruit instead won't, either, as fruit has a lot of natural sugar - simply put, eating 'too much' of anything is bad, hence the use of the phrase 'too much'.
   It also has to be said that companies are out to make money, and some of them don't care if their products don't work. 'Every body is different' is a very true statement. A supplement/diet/workout might work perfectly for Person 1, but it's very possible that it won't work at all for Person 2, even if they eat and exercise in exactly the same way. But the trouble is that some companies will use this as an excuse to sell a product that genuinely doesn't work.
   So what should you do? Well, first, I'd suggest not bothering with supplements. Eating right and exercising is the only guaranteed method of weight loss. However, I can appreciate that many of you will be curious about some supplements and I don't want to put you off. I've tried some - hell, there are some I still take, but whether or not they work, I just don't know. They make me work harder because I want them to work, so, at the very least, they're an encouragement and a placebo (you think they work, so they 'do').
   If you really want to try something:
1) Be sure to read up on it first - the good and the bad. Side effects are often things that companies and ambassadors won't let you know. A few of them will, however, and if a company freely gives information about a laxative effect or something similar, they're probably more trustworthy than those that sell similar products and try to hide it.
2) Don't expect the product to work. Keep exercising and keep eating right while taking it, don't suddenly rely entirely upon it. Taking or not taking a supplement won't cause you to lose or gain weight on its own, but exercising and healthy eating will cause you to lose weight, with or without the supplement, and that's simply a fact which is well worth keeping in mind. They're simply not a necessity to get slim, fit or healthy, but they can help if you work with them rather than against them.
3) Don't buy cheap rubbish, and don't buy overpriced nonsense. Go for something in the middle ground. You want to be paying for quality ingredients, not a brand name. Find a reliable brand with great reviews on their website and off of it, and try to stick with it. Don't buy the cheapest option of protein, for example, 'just to try it'. Buy quality or buy nothing.


Post-Workout & Proteins


   There are products like whey protein and such things that work in a very simple way: protein is basically the building blocks of muscle, and so a protein shake after a workout, especially strength training, can help to repair the muscles more effectively, speed recovery time and subsequently allow you to work out more effectively the next day. Now, the reason I've brought this up is because whether or not post-workout protein is necessary depends on the workout and your goals. Protein shakes should only really be taken if you've done at least 30 minutes of solid, well-performed (meaning using good weights, good form and preferrably most of your body in every move, like a kettlebell swing or windmill) strength/body weight/interval training, and/or if you're aiming to compete in a sport which will require a lot of training. If all you've done is dance, it's not worthwhile, as dancing doesn't put your muscles through the same strain and having a protein shake after such a workout would just be unnecessary calories. All you'd need after a dance workout is a drink of water and perhaps a chicken sandwich (solid alternative to post-workout shakes as it contains good protein and carbs, but it releases these nutrients slower).
   For 3 days a week I do around 35-60 minutes of high intensity resistance training and cardio in the morning, and the remaining 2 of the 5 days a week I workout I trade in resistance training with weights for body weight instead with ashtanga yoga. These are the kinds of workouts that warrant a post-workout shake, usually containing 25g of protein per serving, but many contain other ingredients which help recovery. I also aim, personally, to improve my strength as well as lose fat (note: this does not mean I'm striving to be a body builder or lift a fridge over my head, and improving strength does not equate to muscle size despite popular belief). As I mentioned in the 6th post of this series, 'The Importance of Strength Training', using weights doesn't make you big and muscly, and neither do post-workout/protein shakes. Above all else, it's massive amounts of dedication specifically towards the goal of building muscle which causes it, along with a lot of protein. A post-workout shake after a standard strength workout even with 12lb/6kg dumbbells won't do that, especially for women, who produce only 10% of the testosterone that men do - meaning we don't produce enough of it to build massive amounts of muscle like men do naturally. If this is the reason you avoid strength training, you're both highly mistaken, and missing out.
   Simply put: protein shakes don't make you muscular, but they do help the recovery of your body after such activity by repairing the tears that form in your muscles from resistance training. They also provide carbohydrates which will replenish your energy levels. The difference between a protein shake and a chicken sandwhich is ultimately the rate at which it's absorbed into your body. Shakes provide faster absorption because they need little digesting, but that also means they're not as filling.


Diet Shakes & Meal Replacements


   Diet and meal replacement shakes are often sold by nutrition companies, and I think it's important to note right off the bat that these aren't what you might be expecting. Diet shakes and meal replacement shakes are pretty much the same thing, and all consist of the same kind of thing wherever you get them from - of course the quality differs from brand to brand.
   These shakes and bars usually consist of about 200 calories per serving and are loaded with 30% of your RDA of a range of vitamins and minerals. They can help you to lose weight by replacing one or two meals a day with these low-calorie options because you're obviously taking in a lot less fat and junk while getting more vitamins and minerals at the same time, both in percentage and range, than you would have from a normal lunch or dinner, and that's a really good thing.
   However, then you have to keep in mind that calories don't equate to fat; calories are energy, and if you work out, then having a 300 calorie breakfast, a 200 calorie lunch shake and a 200 calorie dinner shake, you're not getting anywhere near what you need to get through the day, let alone do an effective workout. As such, you may well need to snack, and you have to make sure you make the right decisions there. Having a meal replacement shake for lunch and dinner and then eating biscuits and crisps in between negates the benefits, so you need to fill in the lost calories with other good foods, as the calories are needed to get you through your workout and your day, while keeping your body working just right throughout. You don't want to be hungry, that's not a good thing.

   The purpose of diet shakes and meal replacements are actually to ensure you get a good amount of vitamins and minerals while fitting in with whatever kind of diet you're on, whether it's calorie-controlled or something else. The high amount of vitamins and minerals help your body to work properly, as many people may cut out food that they actually need, causing them to lose out on some of the necessary nutrients in favour of eating less.
   Diet shakes rarely ever have bad side effects, and if they're used alongside - you guessed it - a healthy diet and good exercise, they can really help weight loss. But, as I mentioned in the Supplements section, you have to help them to help you, and you can't rely entirely upon them, either. After all, every body is different.
   Just as with protein shakes, meal replacement shakes also come in several flavours - most basically chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Some brands will juice up the names to make them sounds more luxurious, like chocolate cookie instead of just chocolate, but they taste similar at the end of the day. Of course, a chocolate diet shake and a chocolate protein shake will taste different from one another, too, as they contain different ingredients. Quality of taste varies from brand to brand, and it sort of goes without saying that you want it to taste good. If it tastes bad you may end up eating something sweet later on if just because you weren't satisfied or you've got a bad taste in your mouth. Cheaper brands often taste worse, while more expensive brands can be both more delicious and creamier. It's something that comes down to trying different brands, of course, and, on a side note, I'm putting together a diet shake comparison post in the next few months with just that information, since they all contain more or less the same thing.
   If you're trying to save money - and if you're new to this, it's something I can really appreciate - you're better off just buying a sample size of a quality product rather than something cheap with poor sources. For example, Real Nutrition Co, a very reliable brand, have 5-serving jars of Whey Protein Deluxe, and PHD Woman sell individual sachets of both their diet shakes and post-workout recovery shakes.


Fat Binders

   These are not supplements, but I wanted to have a word about these in particular. I've never tried them, and I don't intend to.
   They have mixed reviews from users and I think, ultimately, it's because a lot of people don't understand them. Fat binders are supposed to bind dietary fat. This does not mean the fat which is already on your body, it means the fat in the foods you're eating. The fat which is already on your body has to be burned off with exercise and healthy choices. The fat binder simply takes care of the additional fat you're consuming.
   Fat binders take some of the fat you've consumed (note that it's specifically fat, not sugar or excessive calories) and clump it together, making it too thick to pass through the walls of your intestines, meaning it doesn't get absorbed into the blood stream and deposited all around. Instead, you simply poop it out. It goes without saying that you're likely to get clogged up if you don't drink enough water, eat enough fibre and keep eating fatty foods.
   However, there are a number of different types of fat: saturated, polyunsaturated, mono-unsaturated and omega-3. Saturated fat is the closest to 'unhealthy' on this list, but it's only unhealthy when too much is consumed. So if a fat binder could target only saturated fat then it wouldn't be so bad. The trouble is that fat binders don't target just one type of dietary fat, they target all of them, and the reason this is an issue is because your body needs fats, even if you're trying to lose weight. Certain fats are responsible for the production of certain hormones and bodily processes, and without that fat - pretty much all of those listed above, though saturated not so much - your body is going to suffer. If your body isn't performing properly, the hormonal levels aren't what they should be and it's not getting enough nutrients, you're going to suffer. If you're trying to lose weight, you need fats. If you're trying to stay healthy, you need fats. If you're athletic or lazy, you need fats. In short, it doesn't matter who you are, you need the healthy fats (mono-unsaturated, polyunsaturated, omega-3).
   Fat binders don't take healthy fats into account and will instead bind most of the fats you consume - the good ones and the bad ones - and that's not good for your body. There is a reason that on food packets it says "fats; of which saturated" - it's because it's the saturated fat you need to keep an eye on, and it's easier to list just the saturated fat than it is the rest. Suffice it to say that if 100g of Californian walnuts have 69g of fat, but only 2.5g of that is saturated, it's pretty clear that walnuts are full of good fats. And indeed they are.
   But fats are still fats, and you don't want to exceed about 45g of fat a day, all fat types inclusive. If something is heavy in good fats, great, but don't overdo it. You also don't want to choose low- or 0% fat foods that have been processed to have all fats removed to make it seem 'healthier' or simply as a way to alter a cooking ingredient.
   In short, fat binders don't take fat type into account and instead will bind any type of fat, even the many good ones your body needs. Just avoid them.


TL;DR?

   The definition of 'supplement' is 'a thing added to improve or complete something', not 'something to replace something', and you should always keep that in mind when using them. If ever something tells you that it can help you to lose weight all by itself, don't trust it. If something says it can help you to lose weight when used alongside a proper diet and exercise regime, it's a lot more likely to be effective if you help it along.
   Fat binders clump fat you've just eaten together, but they bind all fat types including the many good fats your body needs which will starve you of needed nutrients. Fat binders do not bind body fat, meaning it doesn't affect the fat already on the body.
   Diet shakes are a replacement, but only to a certain degree. They're still not a substitute for a balanced diet and active life style. Expecting your body to change with the shakes alone will lead to frustration and disappointment.
   Protein is key in aiding muscular recovery especially after a strength-focused workout, as such activity puts great strain upon the muscles. However, if all you do is dance and yoga and/or work out every other day, protein shakes aren't something for you. They're intended for individuals who do intense workouts on consecutive days and/or have goals of gaining more muscle definition or more muscle mass. If all you seek is to lose weight, not become leaner and more defined, protein shakes shouldn't be on your shopping list.


   In the end, these kinds of products and eating habits rely on you doing the right amount of the right work to be of any use; 20 minutes of dance every other day doesn't warrant a protein shake or a scrummy chicken sandwich, for example, whereas 45 minutes of strength training every other day does.
   If you decide at any point to try a food supplement, always read the instructions. They're all perfectly safe and all perfectly legal within the sporting world, too, but if you don't read the instructions you could well cancel out the benefits without realising it, or take too much or too little at the wrong time of the day. Some supplements like thermogens are designed to be taken before a workout, wheras supplements like BCAAs are designed to be taken after. If it tells you to avoid certain foods (rare, but when it does it's usually just sugar), avoid them, but if the list is a very long one, the product you're looking at is probably not going to work anyway.
   And remember, there is no substitute for a healthy diet and active lifestyle if you want to lose weight. It's the only thing which is guaranteed to work, and while you might well be looking for fast results without putting in too much effort, remember that these fixes either don't work, or are extremely dangerous. Plus, if you're obese, losing weight too quickly will result in excess skin as your body's not had the chance to keep up with the weight loss, and that's going to be just as confidence-crushing as fat, if not more so.


Next Up: TBA


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Wednesday, 18 February 2015

JoggBox - Fitness Subscription Box Review

   Subscription boxes are becoming a common thing these days. By paying a monthly fee, you receive a box every month filled with goodies from a number of different brands. They're essentially little more than samples, but it's a great way of trying new products without having to decide which - the choices are made for you.
   The thing is that most of the subscription boxes out there are beauty boxes, and that's fine for beauty buffs, but it's not for me. My skin is too sensitive for most skin products and I don't use any make up beyond eyeliner, so the majority of products I'd likely receive would be of little to no use to me. The rest of the boxes are food-based, like Graze, and that's also great, but I find myself eating for the sake of eating whenever I get them, so I don't bother any more.
   But I came across JoggBox a couple of months ago. JoggBox is a subscription box aimed at runners and other active people - more or less the only one I've come across - and, like other boxes, is filled with samples. The difference is that these samples are aimed at improving an individual's experience - electrolyte tabs, energy gels, protein shakes and so on. So it's right up my street!

1  •  2  •  3  •  4  •  5  •  6  •  7  •  8  •  9

   JoggBox contained 9 items in this month's edition; 8 were edible, 1 was not. The box contained samples to cover a good run or an intense gym session, which I thought was brilliant. Rather than having lots of products that worked on their own, all of these products from all brands would only compliment eachother and give greater and greater results.
   Muesli from Primrose Kitchen makes a great breakfast before an active day, while Vita Coco's coconut water provides amazing hydration and carbs (energy) while you're active, and as it's also a great source of electrolytes, you can guarantee better absorption and proper hydration.
   There are also hydration tabs, similar to nuun, by HiGH5's Zero, so you can keep your electrolyte levels up with plain water when you're out of the coconut water, and with two different energy gels (iso and energy), you can give yourself a boost of energy during your workout, too.
   Protein is key after an intense workout, be that a run or a gym session, as it helps to speed the recovery of your muscles, and carbs are a key way of refuelling when you're done, too, and you can find both of these in HiGH 5's protein recovery shake.
   There were also two simple snacks included, an energy bar from HiGH5 made from fruits and grains, and a chia cereal bar by Wowbab made from dark chocolate, fruits and nuts, both of which provide a tasty alternative to sugary snacks.
   And, while winding down, the Foot Rubz massage ball by Due North will help your hands and feet recover from the stress.

   So, unlike other subscription boxes that only give you three or four samples, this box fully kits you out for an intense workout or a long run. I absolutely love how everything in the box works together like this, as it makes the whole thing more desirable and more useful. It's a running kit in a box! Throw in a pair of good trainers and some reflective and moisture-wicking clothes and you're off!


   JoggBox is £15 a month, and the value of each box exceeds that cost. There are new brands and new products every month, and if you're a runner or a gym bunny, I highly recommend it! A little guide was included in the box, explaining each product and the brand, as well as a green smoothie recipe, and it also provided running tips by level ('starting out', 'getting better' and 'marathon training'), and one tip I'll point out for you for free is the 'be a minuteman'. Apparently, the biggest mistake that new runners make is the habit of counting miles, not minutes. Mile increments are far larger than minutes, so while you can run for 30 minutes, you may only cover a mile, depending on your skill. What feels better? '30' or '1'? I think that, right off the bat, that point makes a big impact if just because it's so simple.

   I was a little unsure about what JoggBox would provide, I wasn't sure it would be worth my time, but I promise, promise, promise that it is. It's an amazing subscription box for people like me, and a great opportunity to try other products on the market without paying for an entire tub of protein or tube of electrolyte tabs only to find you hate them.
   So, if you're a runner or a fitness fanatic, JoggBox really is the box for you.


The giveaway is over! The winner has been contacted and has 72 hours to respond before another winner is chosen.


   Win a JoggBox! This giveaway was an abrupt decision but the product is so good that I want to share it beyond this post, so I'm offering a single month of JoggBox to the lucky winner! I'll activate the gift subscription during March so that the winner will receive the next month's box instead of the one shown here, that way it's a little more exciting! The giveaway is open until March 1st, and the winner will be contacted directly.


a Rafflecopter giveaway
   Unfortunately, this time the giveaway is only open to UK residents as JoggBox doesn't ship outside of the UK just yet. I usually always keep giveaways open worldwide where possible, but given the kind of contents within the box, its size and its weight, it would be too complicated to forward the box on to other countries. However, JoggBox are working on extending the availability of their product for other countries, so that's good! I'll be sure to update this post when that happens.


T&C: This giveaway is unendorsed, meaning it comes out of my own pocket. The giveaway is only open to residents of the United Kingdom (UK). The subscription box received will not be the same as the one above, as it will be the following month's to make it more exciting. The winner will be contacted directly via the email address they used when operating the Rafflecopter widget. The winner will have 72 hours to respond to the winning email, and if they fail to do so, another winner will be chosen and notified, and the original winner will also be notified that they were too late. Prize is non-exchangable, and I cannot guarantee the specific products that will be included in the next box.


Disclaimer: I was sent this product to review by the brand itself. The quantity and precise products sent were their choice, not my own. All opinions and images are my own, and all appropriate research has been done by myself from a range of sources rather than relying entirely on the product's website, especially where health products are concerned. I do not accept a product to review if I do not believe it is safe or worth my own time, regardless of any kind of reimbursement. I trial the products for an appropriate amount of time before writing reviews to check for wear-and-tear on physical items and side effects from edible (be it supplements or food). If I have negative points to voice, I will voice them, and I never, ever accept product reviews or reimbursement on the promise of a positive review. My reviews are and will only ever be honest.



Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Protein Pancakes Recipe

   It was only yesterday that I realised today was pancake day, but fortunately pancakes are so simple to make that they didn't require a rush out to the shops. However, this year I decided I'd change them up a little bit. This month's workout is a toughy, so I thought that perhaps a nice protein breakfast would be a good idea. So, swapping a cup of milk from the basic pancake recipe for a cup of Real Nutrition Co's protein shake, I set to work.
   I'm a nightmare in the kitchen with anything that isn't a conventional over-baked cake, so I was surprised when these actually came out cooked, not to mention the fact that I'd blindly substituted a third of the ingredients for something else! But they came out awesomely!
   The raspberry ice cream is my favourite flavour, and I used a scoop of my post-workout supply for these pancakes, guaranteeing a good 15g of protein, a great taste and no need for added sugar, lemon juice or chocolate chips. Never did I think I could be satisfied as such!


Ingredients:
1 cup of  self-raising flour
1 cup of protein shake + water, or protein powder + water
1 egg

Combine the lot in a bowl as you would a normal pancake mixture and pour into a frying pan, cooking on medium heat and flipping when necessary. They smelled amazing, and their taste was mild, which was great! I expected a stronger flavour and it concerned me a little, but they genuinely tasted great, and smelled just like the shake!





Sunday, 15 February 2015

Nakd Bars Review

   The hardest part I find in a diet is snacking. Snacking on a diet is not a bad thing as long as your diet has been made to accommodate it, but either way, when hunger strikes, it's easy to reach for the nearest packet of crisps or run to the nearest vending machine. And there's nothing wrong with that from time to time, but having healthy snacks on hand is always a good idea. And you can't get much better than Nakd.
   No, taking all of your clothes off won't do much for your hunger, and I apologise immediately because I'm sure that joke has been heard time and time again. But Nakd snack bars are pretty much the pinnacle of good snacking.
   Why? There are several reasons.


Calories.
   At roughly 150 calories per bar, they're easy to fit into a calorie-controlled diet, and provide zero guilt in any way, unless you stole the bar from your best friend's bag. And unlike other snack bars, the calories from flavour to flavour aren't suspiciously similar despite different ingredients - that might be a little bit of paranoia from someone who stares at the calorie/sugar/protein/carb count of foods, but it's something I've noticed from other brands.

Ingredients.
   Nakd bares are made from whole foods. Whole foods are simply foods that need only to be picked or cooked to be eaten, not mixed together. Like apples, salmon, eggs and so on, rather than sugar, flour or salt. This means that there are no preservatives or additives in their products, they're purer and have been through little to no processing (bear in mind that 'processing' can mean cooking, washing and so on, too). They're also made from only a few of these whole foods, too - in fact, their cashew cookie bar is only made from cashews and dates.

Availability.
   Nakd bars are not a new thing. It's a known brand, and these days I'm seeing not only more healthy snacks in vending machines alongside chocolate bars, but Nakd bars in particular. My local corner shop is a bit rubbish, but even they stock Nakd bars, both individually and in boxes of 4. There's not a wide range of flavours there, I admit (just one, actually), but the fact that they have them at all is amazing. I've seen other flavours in vending machines, too, and the full range of Nakd bars is quite surprising, all of which can be purchased on their website.
   They're affordable, too, at about 75p a bar - that's about the same as a Mars bar.


Taste.
   No, they don't look appetizing, but they honestly, truly taste like their names. I'm not even kidding. You know how unique bakewell tarts taste, right? This bakewell tart Nakd bar tasted just like it. And I can say this with complete confidence because I hate the taste of bakewell tarts, I'd just forgotten that fact. I was mesmerised by the colour of the wrapper, I think. But, despite the fact that I hated it, it was immediately obvious to me that the bar's claim of flavour was well-founded, and it turned out that that was the case for each of the bars I then tried. It's astounding, really, that they've been able to pair up fruits and nuts to replicate the taste of baked goods so perfectly.

Gluten-, wheat- and dairy-free.
   So that's great news for people with a lactose- or gluten-intolerance! And, better still, because it's just 'wholefood smooshed together', there was never any flour or dairy in the first place, and so no fabricated alternatives used in their place like most lactose- or gluten-free foods.

5-a-day.
   Yup, some of these bars alone will count as one of your 5-a-day, and I think that's both unsurprising, and pretty great. I really struggle to get my 5-a-day, if I'm honest, which is not a good thing, but many Nakd bars offer the opportunity to get one of your 5-a-day while offering a unique taste, too. You can have your cherry bakewell, I swear it tastes exactly the same, and know you're only doing yourself good with no guilt at all. Win!

   Needless to say, I've stocked up on these beauties. I'm so glad I've found a low-calorie snack filled with fruit and tasting like something a little more special - apples are lovely, but they can get repetative. Plus, you can buy them in 18-bar packs from Nakd themselves for about £15, and, better still, until the 19th you can get 20% off of all mixed boxes! Yay! The Crunch range is my favourite :D Plus, there's free shipping in the UK and low shipping for the rest of the world. Seriously, is there any down-side?
   I beg you to try them if you haven't already, because I'm sure you won't take my word for it regarding the taste, but it's the winning factor as far as I'm concerned. Nakd bars don't look all that appetizing, I'll give you that, but they taste amazing! The proof is in the smooshing!



Jillian Michaels' Kickbox FastFix DVD Review

Price: £9/ $15 (can be found cheaper elsewhere)
Length: 3x 20 minute sections
Workouts: Upper body, lower body, core
Suitable for: Everyone
Rating:   ★★★★★
Based on 4 weeks of use.


   A lot of the time, I feel like people love or praise something or someone because they think they're supposed to. Like Tim Burton (bear with me, I do have a point). A mass amount of people love him and his work, but I have to wonder how many genuinely do and how many do because they feel they have to. I was always one of the latter, but I soon found myself simply not enjoying his stuff. I bought loads of merch and forced myself to watch the Nightmare Before Christmas because it was considered 'cool' among my friends to do so. But I hated it in the end. I only 'liked' it because I had to. I mean, if someone can tell me why they like Tim Burton without using the words 'cult', 'classic' or 'artistic' then fine, because everyone says that.
   Everyone loves Jillian Michaels, too. She's released workout DVD after workout DVD, book after book, she's toured - she's a fitness personality. And people love her. And I have to say that she truly deserves that love. Why? Because her stuff works. She creates 20-minute routines for people with no time, and she makes them as effective as they can be by shoving as much into that time as possible and never focusing on just cardio or just strength. Even yoga, which is an effective workout in itself, she's improved by adding repetitions and moving in and out of the moves before holding them. She incorporates interval training into her workouts, and interval training is one of the most effective ways of losing weight, if also quite tough.
   I'm a very sceptical person when it comes to 'fast fixes', but such a phrase only applies, legitimately, to a workout. Fast-fix foods, diets, supplements, they never work and are more likely to be dangerous than healthy, but fast-fix exercises always will work, and Jillian Michaels is the queen of truly effective fast fixes. So if this DVD review seems fan-girly, know that it actually comes from someone who views such a phrase with suspicion, and will only stick with a workout if it genuinely works. It's a waste of my time, otherwise.

Overview
   Kickboxing is a fantastic workout. It's amazing cardio, but it incorporates a lot of body strength and body-weight training by throwing yourself into each punch, and it takes a lot of work in your hips, legs, bum and core to throw out a controlled kick. It's also an amazing exercise for releasing frustration, even if you're shadowboxing (no opponent or punch bag) and can really melt off fat as well as tone you up and improve muscle tone - and lean muscle is key to not only losing fat, but keeping it off.
   Jillian Michaels, in her usual fashion, turns it up a notch in her Kickbox Fast Fix. As well as kickboxing combinations of different types of punches, kicks and knees, she includes cardio intervals - suicides, butt-kicks and so on - as well as strength intervals with hand weights for the upper body, and body weight for the lower body, keeping your heart rate high with active recoveries and allowing you to get your breath back without stopping.
   The DVD is split into three sections and it's expected that you do just one of them a day. The first section focuses on the upper body, the second section on the lower body, and the third section on the abs.
   Upper body puts more effort into your arms, chest and back and uses more punches and weights, but kicks are still involved in the combinations, and your whole body gets a workout.
   The lower body section turns the first section around by giving more focus on the legs and bum, but punches are still included. Instead of using hand weights for the strength intervals, however, your body weight is used instead, such as squats and lunges, which do for your legs and glutes what the hand weights did for your arms, shoulders and chest.
   The abs section focuses more on crunches, sit-ups and other core-strengthening (obliques, hips and lower back as well as your abs) moves. Kicks and punches are still included, but there is less focus on the act of kickboxing in the third section and more focus on improving your core strength, which in turn will strengthen your kicks and punches, as well as improve your balance for the kicks. It's harder than the previous two sections despite less actual kickboxing, and I found it a little less enjoyable than the rest - but I can't deny it effectiveness, and I stuck with it just like I stuck with the others.

Tutorial
   If you've never kickboxed before, there is a tutorial which teaches you the punches and the kicks, but in the actual workouts themselves the combinations are usually no more than four moves and are repeated over and over, so you can pick up and perfect the moves even during the workout. However, viewing and practising with the tutorial first will certainly improve the effectiveness of the workouts as you'll already be familiar with the individual moves. She tells you how to find your stance, how to punch through your foot and hip, not just your fist, and the difference between a side kick and a roundhouse kick (important stuff!). Throughout the workouts, however, she still reminds you to distribute your weight unevenly, with 75% of your weight on your back foot and the remaining 25% on the front, and to power each punch with the corresponding hip. And practise makes perfect, so while it might seem like a lot to keep in mind at first, I promise you that it quickly becomes natural. Some of the moves, such as the crescent kick, are pretty tough, but in the tutorial she also tells you that if you can only spin the knee, just spin the knee. Keep to your level and gradually work up - as long as you keep moving, keep up and keep trying, you'll do just fine and get an effective workout.

Level Variations
   There are a good number of women behind Jillian who are performing the moves, and while there are no variations to make them easier or harder, you can see clear differences in execution of the moves from each of them. Some are more aggressive than others, and some throw more momentum into their moves rather than strength. You simply kick as high as you can without losing your balance, don't try to imitate the others, and while you might think you're kicking low initially, you will improve. The height of your kick has more to do with balance and muscle strength than knowing what to do, so while you may think you can kick high, your muscles may be limiting you. Simply sticking with the workout will improve your leg muscles enough to allow you to kick higher in time. I was kicking at stomach-height when I started, and after four weeks I was kicking to the head. Kickboxing is as good as yoga when it comes to seeing real changes in your skill - on day 1 you may not be able to do something very well at all, but by day 7 you might be able to do it almost perfectly.


   Like I said, I love Jillian Michaels not because I feel I have to, but because she clearly deserves it. Her DVDs work for me. I've used three so far - the 30 Day Shred and Yoga Meltdown - and they've all had better results than any other. Kickbox Fast Fix is my favourite, however, because I find kickboxing simply more enjoyable than the rest as I'm learning a skill at the same time as getting a killer workout.

   I highly, highly recommend this DVD. It's genuinely effective, shedding fat and improving muscle tone as well as strength and stamina, and it's also very enjoyable. I've tried kickboxing workouts before and I enjoyed them all, but this one took the cake for both effectiveness and enjoyment. It was incredible and I'll be returning to it in the future!





Saturday, 14 February 2015

Eros' Elixir - Valentine Smoothie Recipe

   Smoothies are great, aren't they? A better source of your five-a-day than fruit juice because all of the fruit is added, not just the juice, and they taste so good, too. Plus, unlike a half-eaten apple, if you leave a smoothie alone for five minutes, it won't go brown. Win.
   And I love inSpiral. They've got wonderful raw foods filled with health benefits, and fabulous powders to add to shakes, cooking and, you guessed it, smoothies. For Valentine's Day they released the Love Mix, a blend of organic, natural ingredients known to put a bit of zing below the belt, and includes sugavida, the only known plant-based source of vitamin B12, a key vitamin for maintaining brain and nervous-system function, as well as the formation of blood.

   So, I decided to make a really simple smoothie with added Love Mix for extra kapow without overdosing on goodness - there can be too much of a good thing, after all - which is perfect for Valentine's Day, from colour to effect!

   
Ingredients:
2 cups of frozen raspberries
1 banana, cut into chunks
3 heaped teaspoons of inSpiral's Love Mix
350ml coconut milk

Method:
Pour the coconut milk into the blender, then add the banana, the Love Mix, then the frozen raspberries. The trick is to layer the ingredients in a blender, starting with water and then work your way up to the harder ingredients. This is both to protect the blades in the appliance, and to ensure a thorough mix.





Thursday, 12 February 2015

Valentine's Day - Do You Bother?

   It's something I've been thinking about lately. Perhaps it's because Seeg and I don't really make a big deal out of it, but I'm under the impression that most couples don't, these days. Of course, I have nothing to really base that on, it's just a feeling I've been getting. I think the only people who really bother with it are new couples, and it's the single people who seem to make the biggest deal out of it, either by feeling exceptionally lonely on that day, or being avidly against the event. Either way, I've began to wonder if anyone really does much for it.

   I'm not anti-Valentine's Day - I was when I was single, because I was lonely, but I don't really bash it. Hallmark holiday, yes, but let's be honest, it's nice. But I don't believe people should put too much effort into Valentine's Day. It's a great opportunity to express your love for your partner in a louder way than usual, and there are lots of love-based products on the market to make that easier (I don't just mean red roses and chocolates, I mean exclusive products by handmade sellers such as myself that aren't as generic as store-bought goods), but it's a couple's anniversary that deserves the most effort, and even then, by no means should those two be the only days in a year that you make an effort. Every day should be an opportunity, and taking your partner out to a fancy restaurant on a random day of the year would be more special and be more appreciated simply because it wasn't expected. Not to mention probably a lot easier to get a reservation.

   Like I said, Seeg and I don't really bother with Valentine's Day. I did initially because it was exciting, but he made it clear right off the bat that he didn't really care for it. He's lucky I was level-headed enough to understand and not get upset, because I think a lot of women would have heard him say that but think he was planning something and trying to throw them off. Fortunately he understood that it meant something to me back then and he made an effort, but after 2 Valentine's Days, we didn't really bother anymore. Or, neither of us put much effort or expectation into it. We always watch a movie or a DVD together in the evening, and while initially we tried to find a new movie or something to watch, the past couple of years it's just been binge-watching a series we've usually already seen. I can already tell you that this year it's going to be Stargate. Neither of us are particularly into romantic movies, and these days most rom-coms don't match our sense of humour, so we usually opt for fantasy or sci-fi, something we're both more likely to enjoy.
   I make cakes, too, little ones that are easy for the whole family to share, and I get him a gift, but not much effort goes into it, it's usually something he's said he wants. This year I bought him a figurine from Don't Starve - you may remember I showed you the Don't Starve chest I made him for our 3rd anniversary, an example of a gift that effort did go into - and I got one of those boxes of truffles from Thorntons with 'Kim ♥ Seger Valentine' written on it in chocolate (wanted to make it personal, had no idea what to write - it seems more like a reminder than anything else :P). I'm not sure he's getting me a gift - he knows I have something for him, but he procrastinates and odds are he'll forget, but we never make any formal, big 'Valentine' plans, and gifts are a part of that, so I'm not expecting anything. And anyway, if it mattered, I'd make sure he knew that. Besides, the chocolates are for the both of us anyway!

   Do you do anything for Valentine's Day? As a couple? On your own?


 






Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Don't Starve Chest

   With all my fitness posts lately, you could be forgiven for thinking I was about to go on about the importance of eating right and eating enough, and that starving yourself is an ineffective way to lose weight. And while those points are true, that's not what this post is about. In the slightest.

   Don't Starve is an action-adventure game with focus on wilderness survival which was released in early 2013. It's a simple game about a scientist named Wilson who has been transported to another world with a very Tim Burton-esque feel, and he has to survive there as long as possible if he has any hope of returning, fighting against the man who put him there and the creatures both in and out of his control. Death in the game is permanent, meaning you lose all progress from the start and you have to begin all over again, which is a growing trend in survival games. To survive, above all else, you must simply not starve or get killed by things. You can run away from mobs, however, but you have to forage for food, making hunger more important. You can also go mad, and that creates a whole new set of problems.


   Seeg started playing this game at its release, and he really enjoyed it, and after watching him play a little I got an idea. You know me, I like to be creative from time to time, so I decided that, for our anniversary two years ago, I would make him a box. Yes, a box. Or, more specifically, a chest.
   Using models from the game, I put together a Don't Starve chest and filled it with things both from within the game and without, using the game's stats to describe the items - health, sanity and hunger. Items from the game included the pan flute, butter muffins and feather hat, and items outside of the game included Pokemon cards, a map of Middle Earth and some sweets.



   I'm really pleased with the way it all came out, and Seeg loved it way more than the Assassin's Creed box of bloodied water I made him for Christmas, which means a lot. The box of bloodied water was more expensive to make, but more effort went into the Don't Starve chest, so that makes me really happy ^^ I'd love to make him another game-based thing like this, but I'll be damned if I know what, and there's nowhere to put it, anyway. Still, never say 'never'! I did enjoy making both of them and I'm sure in time I'll make something else along the same lines whether there's anywhere to keep it or not!


See also:



Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Dutch Stuff

   We're back! And we had a great week in the Netherlands! We met with Seeg's friends a few times, some of his family, who I love, and had a generally great time! It's such a gorgeous place! I think I said it last time we went, but all those pictures you see of tall buildings and bicycles everywhere aren't cliche, it's real. We were staying in Arnhem, an hour from Amsterdam, and the buildings were still tall, narrow, gorgeous, and there were people cycling everywhere. Once upon a time, in England, there were bicycle lanes. Now the best you'll find are old remnants that last about 10 yards before they abruptly end. In the Netherlands, there are cycle lanes everywhere, and they're separated from the road half the time as well! You're just as likely to get hit by a bike as a car, and while in the UK cyclists are hated by drivers, in the Netherlands they seem to be on almost equal terms - there are just so many of them!

   We stayed with Seeg's parents in their massive and, again, gorgeous house with moulded ceilings, and there was loads of room without anyone getting in anyone's way. They're such lovely people, and so creative and artistic and yet not in a snobbish or pretentious way. I love it. They have art made by themselves and others hung around the house but never talk about their art, even though I walked into their art room on the Sunday to see a blank canvas on the easel, and the next morning there was a gorgeous autumn painting on it - I wish I'd taken a picture!
   It was awfully cold in the Netherlands, far more so than I'm used to in England. With the wind blowing in from the Atlantic, the UK, especially the south west, gets the warmer air, meaning we never see snow and our winters and summers are milder (warm air in the winter, cold in the summer). But in the Netherlands they don't have such a large body of water next to them so the air cools as it travels over the land. We've been to the Netherlands together four times now, and two of those times it's snowed, once for the whole week. As you can see, however, the snow melted away after a few days. But it was still cold, and I hadn't brought any gloves with me because they were broken and I didn't think to replace them. My hands, by half way through the week, had dried and cracked so badly from the cold that my knuckles were bleeding, and I'd forgotten to pack any moisturiser or lip balm, so my lips felt like plastic! We eventually bought some, but by that point it stung like hell on my hands and I just couldn't put it on, but my lips recovered well, so that was something!
   Despite the weather, however, we did go to Burger's Zoo for the second time, and that was great. They even had four baby gorillas, but the pictures didn't come out so well because the observation room was black and I had to speed up the shutter so they wouldn't blur which lead unavoidably to grain. But still, look at this little guy!


   The city of Arnhem is so pretty, too. For a city, it's really quite green, and there's a lovely lake just outside which was partially frozen. Though part of what I love about the winter is the near perpetual 'morning' light, so it was great to go out at nearly midday and still get lighting like this! Even if it was freezing!




    Such yummy chocolates, La Place is always where I go for gifts. We never really do many touristy things so there's not much of an opportunity to find much in the way of presents, but La Place's chocolates always look so good, so it's a safe, if expensive, guarantee of gifts ^^
   We played a lot of board games while we were there - and I mean a lot. It's still a really popular pass time over there I think, especially judging from the fact that a shop specialising in board games still exists on their high street rather than in a little side street. We played Star Wars Monopoly, Mole Mania (moving moles across a board in straight lines to get them into the holes, at which point, once all holes are filled, the pieces outside of holes are removed, along with the top layer of the board game - oh yes, layers - and the players are whittled down over 5 levels), Ramses II, Sjoelbak (an older board game where you shove wooden discs to get them into slots) and, quite excitingly, difficultly and frustratingly, the Warcraft board game. There were too many rules, it was late and I couldn't focus - but at least I got to play as the Scourge.



   Then there are the two strange, furry beings that lurk in the house. Falko is Seeg's cat, he's a bit old, but a bit mad. You can do anything with him - you could use him to clean the floor. He doesn't care, he just loves the attention. Isis, named after the Egyptian goddess, on the other hand, is Duco's cat, Seeg's brother, and she's very jumpy despite being only a little bit younger than Falko. She's only recently calmed down enough to let me get near her, but she's still a little edgy. It's best to let her come to you, and when she does, you can rough her about a bit and she doesn't mind. She's a funny little thing, though, and quite likes flowers. She always sits beneath a vase of flowers, whether the table's a mess or not, and she rubs her head against them if they're in reach. Well, she is a lady, after all. They're such great cats, and that's coming from a devoted dog person.


   We had a great time, but it's great to be back. There's nothing like a holiday to remind you how nice home can be, and how comfortable routine is, too. I did a little yoga and some resistance while I was away (I love how mobile resistance bands are) and did a lot of walking, but I ate lots of cakes, too. I like to think it balanced out :D

   Orders went on hold while we were away, of course, but work has resumed, and all UK orders have been shipped in time for Valentine's Day. It was a relaxing week away and a great opportunity to wind down...but it's good to be back.


   Oh, and, also, Mr Bean biscuits.





Monday, 9 February 2015

February: Hiit, Kickboxing, Booty Barre + Yoga

Read Also: 3 Weeks Later


   February would usually be the ideal month for my workout intentions. Being exactly 4 weeks long, I can start a new workout on the 1st and end it on the 28th with a nice, clean, crisp and tidy feeling, and start the next workout at the very beginning of March. February is a very purposeful month, giving the year some stability and organisation quite early on. Come on, you already know I'm weird.

   But, as Seeg and I were going away for the whole first week of February, that kind of changed things around a bit. It takes between 3-5 days for me to settle into a new workout depending on difficulty, difference from the norm and, lately, number of different routines involved. So, the first week of each new workout is spent learning the ropes. It's only after that that I'm able to really throw myself into it with confidence and get the most out of it, but since the whole first week was tied up in another country, I wasn't able to begin, and that left me with just 3 weeks - or, two weeks, after the first week of coming to grips.
   Because of all of this, planning out February's workout was hard. I wanted to do something fun, but I wanted something effective, something that I wouldn't have to learn too much new stuff for and could jump into a lot quicker.
   Well, I decided.
   First of all, let me say that I'm changing enough of this up and creating new combinations so that, even though I've done it all before and quite recently, the whole thing will still be effective, just not as effective as a whole new workout would have been.
   So, I'm sticking with Kickbox Fast Fix for three more weeks, but I'm changing up the 20 minute body band routine that I did before it following a spontaneous decision on January 6th. Actually, I'm making a few changes.


   Last month went like this: 20 minutes of resistance training with a body band and then the 20 minutes of a Kickbox Fast Fix routine. I did one a day, keeping to a regular rotation, and the body band would always correlate to the kickboxing section: upper body resistance and upper body kickboxing; lower body resistance with lower body kickboxing; ab-focused resistance with ab-focused kickboxing.
   This month I'm changing that up, using November 2014's Kettlebell and Booty Barre routines in place of body bands. So instead of upper body resistance, I'm using a much harder 20 minute kettlebell routine and then going on to the upper body kickboxing. Kettlebells are heavy, but because of their funny shape and the amount of skill required to control them when compared to controlling dumbbells, they require the whole body rather than just the upper body, making them much more effective and increasing calorie burn.
   Instead of lower body resistance before the lower body kickboxing, I'm turning back to the Booty Barre, a much harder routine using balance and body weight to work the bum and legs, and it gets amazing results as well as an awesome sweat, and as the legs and glutes are the largest muscles in the body, working them all more intensly with this routine rather than the body band will also increase the fat loss.
   But there is one more change. The third workout of the Kickbox Fast Fix is focused more on ab toning moves than it is on actual kickboxing moves, which made it much less exciting for me, and the two days a week I lacked the same enthusiasm were the two days a week I had this routine. But, you can't neglect the core, of course, so I do get it. However, this month, as I've already spent a month going through the Kickbox Fast Fix, I've decided to replace the ab-focused workout from the DVD altogether, in favour of another workout: Jillian Michaels' Yoga Meltdown. I've come to discover that throwing in more focused body weight moves and stretches between higher impact days can really help the body recover faster while still getting in a great workout, and changing the pace every few days can have amazing results.

   So, it's safe to say that I'm familiar with everything I'm doing, though I have to wonder how difficult it's going to be, as the kettlebell routine alone left me dead after 20 minutes back in November. But I intend to stick with it before truly changing my workout in March. It's just three weeks, and it will give me a chance to get tired of the kickboxing DVD while getting the most out of it, and not have to waste a week coming to grips with a new workout only to use it for two more because I'd rather not overlap into March if I can help it. But, as I've said, I've changed enough about this month so that the kickboxing is just another part of the day's workout rather than its focus, and that will help. I loved it so much last month that it makes sense to just continue doing it, but I need to change the whole thing up enough so that it's still effective, and I believe that that is what I've done.

   Time will tell!



Sunday, 8 February 2015

Jillian Michaels' Kickbox Fast Fix - 4 Weeks Later



Fun Rating: ★★★★☆    Difficulty Rating: ★★★☆☆     Results Rating: ★★★★☆

   I think that, by now, most of my readers know I love exercise. I look forward to doing it - mostly because I only do things I enjoy, not the things I hate - and because of that, it's meant that it's easy for me to do it every single day and make it as basic a part of my day as eating breakfast and brushing my teeth. I love dancing and yoga, but I also love strength and resistance training, and while that might seem more like genuine work to a lot of people, I've managed to find the fun in it, usually alongside a good soundtrack.
   I love kickboxing, too, because I kind of view it as a combination of dance and strength training, as strange as that may sound, so kickboxing had become my favourite exercise a while ago. But despite that, I didn't think I would get to the end of this workout and feel sad about having to change my workout...

   I loved Jillian Michaels' Kickbox Fast Fix. It was hard, yes; I was dead at the end, yes; but I loved it. I looked forward to it every day, much more so than any other workout, and when I realised I would have to miss out on my final day of that workout when I went to the Netherlands, it made me quite sad!
   It was a difficult workout, I grant, but given the powerful nature of kickboxing, you can really take out your frustrations much easier with this exercise than with others. I told you in my 2 Week update that I'd cried after the first two days because it was overwhelming. I realise how pansy and ridiculous that is to say, but I genuinely felt so much happier as well as exhausted after finishing up on those two first days, and it was awesome.
   In Jillian Michaels' typical fashion, she incorporates active recoveries between the moves, and you get a good fill of cardio and strength training through each, whether with hand weights or body weight, and while the three sections are split into upper body, lower body and abs, you get a good fill of kickboxing combination routines in amongst the rest. It's a diverse DVD but it teaches you the basics and a little more of kickboxing.

Results:
   I lost half an inch from my middle, which is the kind of result I get from really good workouts, but I will admit that there is less and less to lose now, so loss has started slowing down, so to be honest I'm surprised I managed to take that much off in a month! Especially when you bear in mind that I forgot to measure and weight until we got back from a week in The Netherlands with a few too many sweet treats. But what surprised me more was that I'd lost a full kilo as well, dropping from 55.5 kilos to 54.4 kilos, which really was a surprise!


   I'm going to write a DVD review soon where I'll focus more on its content than its effect. It is a tough DVD, and while there is a tutorial section I've not looked at, it would still be difficult with someone inexperienced. I've used a few kickboxing DVDs before, and I did Kickbox Fusion back in August 2014, though it was quite different in comparison, but I picked up the basics quickly enough, but I was really pleased to see that there was still more to learn from Kickbox Fast Fix.



Saturday, 7 February 2015

Google Chrome Easter Egg

   We all know that if you can't connect to the internet while using Google Chrome, you get a little graphic of a T-Rex. Look at him, with his small arms, rolling his eyes at the over-used joke that T-Rex can't hug. Poor thing.


   But did you also know that by pressing the space bar on this page that a game begins? Perfect for refocusing your d/c rage.
   A floor appears beneath the dino and he starts running. Cacti start to appear which you have to jump over using the space bar, and by hitting them, it's game over. It gets more difficult the longer you're at it, but, internet connection or not, by hitting the little reload arrow that appears once you fail, you can restart the game. Hours of fun can be had instead of shouting at your modem.





I love how his eyes are wide with shock when he hits a cactus.







Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Update From The Netherlands

   I've decided that the first thing I'm doing when I get home is buying a compact camera, because I hate either having to lug around my DSLR everywhere I go, or bring nothing. I've been opting for the latter because of the weather and being unable to fit a DSLR in my pocket, but you never know what you're going to miss, and I've been unable to get pictures of the surroundings so far because of that decision.

   *ahem*
   Greetings from The Netherlands! It's been great so far, though we've only been away for 3 days really, but they've been good. The plane landed in snow, which is a rare sight for someone who lives in the South West of England, so that was cool, and cold. We went to dinner with Seeg's cousin and his wife on the weekend, which was lovely because I really, really like them, they're game nerds like us but they don't look it, and they're really nice people. I'm a shy person when I meet people, like a lot of people are, but we're usually with them for most of the day when we meet with them, so I get more than enough chance to relax, be myself and actually speak to them.
   One of Seeg's oldest friends, Arthur, came to visit one evening, too, and we played Star Wars Monopoly until goodness knows how late, by which point I was struggling to keep my eyes open (in part because I'd lost the game earlier on and had to sell everything because I'd landed on a fully-occupied planet), but it was great fun. I kid you not, every single Dutch person I know loves board games. There are still board game shops on their high streets, it's mad, you just don't see that in the UK, and in truth it's really, really great to see out here. I've been here for 3 days and we've played 4 board games already with another lined up tonight with Arthur again, and another tomorrow with Seeg's best friend.
   We went to Burger's Zoo with Seeg's best friend, and his girlfriend who we met for the first time, and that was great fun, though more awkward for me because it kind of matters to me what they think, but I loosened up in the end (and had a few moments where I forgot myself and leapt off the bus instead of stepping off, but, fortunately, I don't thin they saw). Burger's Zoo is one of the best zoos I've ever been in, and even despite the cold, we saw lots of animals indoors, including about 4 baby gorillas, and there was a baby macaque who saw us through the glass and came over to investigate, but we panicked it by leaning closer to the glass. It was awesome.

   Thursday will be Seeg's mother's 59th birthday, so we're glad we're here for that, and we're off out to dinner again tomorrow night and Friday night. It's been quite hard to eat well while we've been away as his parents keep bringing home local pastries and things you just don't get in the UK, and I've been unable to resist trying and subsequently chowing down on it all, but I've been squeezing in exercise, and fortunately we've been out enough and around enough new people for me to be polite and only take a little of what's on offer. But, hey, I'm on holiday, and I'm already planning to work my butt off when we get back, and March is going to be pretty intense workout-wise, too, so I'm not too worried.

   We're seeing Arthur again tonight and playing a board game I'm...rather excited about...


   Excuse the crappy laptop webcam picture! Like I said, compact camera...and I'll be sure to pack the cable, which I forgot with my DSLR, so for the moment, I'm making do...