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

Thursday, 29 October 2015

New Feather Christmas Tree Ornaments

   Last year and the year before I made a few sets of painted feathers to hang on Christmas trees and mantles and they did quite well, but they take a long time to make and seal so this year I decided that, rather than make them to order, I would pre-make them and list only what I had, though I'm more than happy to accept custom orders if anyone has any specific colours in mind. Otherwise, I've experimented with a few colours and these are the ones I have available so far, along with the gold and silver Christmas tree feathers that have done well in the past couple of years:









Monday, 26 October 2015

Witch's Brew - Halloween Hot Chocolate

   I'm not really one for Halloween - I think I mentioned this before. I don't go anywhere so I rarely dress up, just for poops and giggles at home really. We don't get any trick or treaters either so Halloween doesn't really hold much significance for us at all. The only thing really is that I see it as an excuse to watch a movie and eat sweets and maybe make a few slightly unusual crafts, but those are few and far between.
   This year I've been trying to find ways to stay healthy through Halloween without feeling like I'm missing out, because whether I go to any parties or dress up or not, there are still lots of Halloween sweets in the shops - just coloured variations of existing products like mini rolls and the like, and cheap, rubbish chocolate in Halloween foils, but it still makes me want to buy them regardless.
   Well, this year I didn't except for one bag of predictably disappointing chocolate eyeballs.
   But I mentioned I was trying to stay healthy. Well, that can mean many things, from trying to swap out bad foods for good, eating lower-calorie options or just straight up holding back when my inner child wants to scoff the lot - to be fair, I should be holding back anyway.

   Well, I recently posted a few Halloween options of good and healthy food - superfood marzipan monsters and a sludgy spooky spirulina smoothie - but there's only so far you can go and I refuse to miss out on my old favourites. So I made hot chocolate. Green hot chocolate. 50 calorie green hot chocolate with no artificial colours.


   "How?!" I hear you cry, "how?!"
   Well it's dead simple. I always use Options hot chocolates because they come in sachets which helps portion control - ie, it stops me from adding extra spoons - and because it's low in calories, you add water, not milk, and it contains ingredients like coconut oil and sugar is quite low on the list of ingredients. And as Options also have a range of...well, options, they also have white chocolate.
   How about the green? Well, it's tea. Yup, green tea. And no, it doesn't taste funny because the chocolate itself actually smothers the taste of the tea. But as well as getting a natural shade of green, by combining the two you get all the goodness and antioxidants of green tea, too!

You Will Need:
Options white hot chocolate (tub or sachet; sachets are more controlled portions)
Green tea bags, loose green tea or matcha powder


   The green tea bag I have in my house at this point all produce a yellowish green tea, and the loose teas, while they produce a beautiful clear green, I wanted something with more body in its colour, so I opted for matcha. It's true that I have a taste for it and many people don't like it, but at the same time the hot chocolate actually over-writes the taste - and if you're still not partial to it, you could always add 2 or 3 squares of white chocolate once it's all combined to give it more creaminess and give the white chocolate more strength.

   If you're using a tea bag or loose tea, know from the start that the colour will thin once the hot chocolate is added, so choose something with a good colour.
   Brew the tea bag/leaves in a cup as you usually would. Once your tea has reached a desirable strength and colour, add your hot chocolate powder and mix it all together.
   If you're using matcha powder, mix up a shot (1 teaspoon of powder and about 50ml water) and set it aside. In another cup, mix the hot chocolate powder with about half a mug of water, then add a little of the matcha at a time and stir. I added it gradually and mixed it, but ended up adding the whole matcha shot to the chocolate to get the colour I wanted.



   As I said, the hot chocolate overpowers even the matcha, but adding a couple of squares of white chocolate to melt in the mixture will boost the white chocolate flavour as well as thicken it all up, and adding one square at a time also helps in terms of calorie-control as most bars these days will list calories per piece of big bars, or you can just do the math with a smaller bar.





Sunday, 25 October 2015

How Important is Meal Frequency for a Healthy Life

   I'm so pleased to have Mathews McGarry back on the blog today! This time he's here to talk about eating - specifically when and what is best - and presents a number of studies from the past five years. A number of these things I was already a firm believer in, and a couple I'm just being introduced to, and I think it's quite a useful article, especially if that little black dress is starting to whisper to you from the closet. Christmas isn't far off, and if you want to squeeze back in, now is the time to start!


   In the early 21st century, some of the burning issues are obesity and obesity related ailments. Because of this, and because of the aesthetic norms marketed today, one of the main problems of modern man is related to losing weight. For this reason alone, many experts dedicate their entire lives to exploring this complex problem. In turn, this leads to many new breakthroughs, but also many myths and urban legends being born. Most of these myths are related to the issue of how meal frequency affects the success of your diet.

A number of meals a day
   Most people believe that the issue of how many meals a day you have has some influence on the rate at which you lose weight. Unfortunately the number of meals you take a day does not matter. An experiment was conducted where three persons were observed for days. The first one had 6, the second 3, and the last one 2 meals a day. What mattered in the end were two things, the number of calories they had consumed during the day and the very nature of those calories. Sure, daily fluctuations were quite different, but in the end differences were quite insignificant, almost indistinguishable. A research published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2010 pretty much confirms their findings.
   Moreover, some researches like one study from 2014 claim that, in the long term, eating less times a day is actually better for you. These researchers claimed that constantly taking snacks stresses your body, leading to the phenomenon known as the fatty liver. This is why they recommended a large resting periods between meals. Additionally, occasional fasting was listed as yet another great idea.

Fasting and its effects
   Another myth that most people are facing in this field is that fasting can slow down your metabolism. First of all, there is some truth to this but this truth is often and easily misinterpreted. Now, in order to slow down the rate of your metabolism you would need to fast for over three days. Even though some people resort to this, it is pretty uncommon. Furthermore, fasting for one day at a time is even known to increase the number of burned calories in resting mode. Taken into consideration that it is only one day of fasting, it does not even have to affect you negatively in any way.

The timing of your meals
   This is probably by far the most common nutrition myth there is. Most people will preach that you shouldn’t eat after 8pm or 9pm in order to lose weight. However, there isn’t a single valid study out there to support this claim. The truth is that calories simply cannot tell what time it is. If you manage to restrict yourself to the same amount of calories every time, there will be no problem whatsoever. Just remember to stop when you are full, and to mind what you are eating instead of when. Feel free to adjust your daily meals to your own schedules since contrary to popular belief, this has no negative side effects.

The type of nutrients matter
   What matters most is the type of nutrients you are consuming. A common misleading rumor spread by numerous quasi-nutritionists is that a well-balanced diet is one that excludes many nutrients like carbo hydrates of fats. This is not only inefficient but also potentially harmful for your health in general. The only properly balanced diet is a holistic one. Never avoid natural fats (only trans-fats should be avoided) or carbohydrates (just try to cut down on them a bit). The best way to ensure your diet is an adequate one is to start preparing your own meals. Go to a few cooking lesions or get a cookbook to help you out. Next, get professional kitchenware since you cannot get anything done without the proper tools. This way you will ensure that all the food you consume is quality made and of reliable material.

What to avoid
A least here common knowledge is true for once. The thing you should avoid the most is fast food, sweets, as well as various juices and sodas. You can seldom find a natural ingredient in these products, and even if some of it did originate from nature, by the time it reaches you it has most probably already been processed many times over. This is why home cooked meals and beverages have no alternative. In the end, before you decide to subjugate your lifestyle to some radical changes, make sure to find out whether the thing you heard is a myth or a fact. When your health and your figure are in danger, you should take no risks.


About the Author

   Mathews McGarry is passionate about many forms of strength training, and spent years lifting, dragging and flipping all manner of heavy objects. After graduating from the Faculty of Health Sciences, he started writing about his experiences, and sharing tips for better life. Follow him on Twitter.



Saturday, 24 October 2015

Frightfully Last-Minute - Printable Etsy Halloween

   Halloween isn't far off now and it's time for some last-minute panicking. Shops start clearing their stuff out far too soon for last-minute shoppers in the UK, Halloween stuff is usually gone by...well, now in most cases, so I decided to gather up some printable Halloween bits from Etsy. I've tried to cover a few different bases: decor, masks/props, cake wrappers, invites and accents. What do you think?






   By the way, today is the last day to get yourself signed up for the Christmas sock exchange. It's dead simple, you just buy a pair of Christmas socks, fill one with small, simple Christmas goodies like a little stocking, stuff the other sock in the top like a cork and send the package to your assigned partner. You can participate internationally if you're happy to send overseas, or you can opt to just send within your own country. From tomorrow there's a week-long drop-out opportunity if you change your mind, and then, as of November 1st, all participants are obligated to participate properly.
   You can get the sign-up sheet and full info on the original Christmas sock swap post.



Friday, 23 October 2015

Inktober 2015 - Week 4.2

   After drawing Daeaye last week, Seeg jokingly said that I should draw his character from Destiny - that would have been fine, but his character is an exo. A robot, in short. But to be honest I fancied the challenge and after a number of screen shots I put this together! And I'm so freaking pleased!
   The colours are a bit rubbish because of the cloak, but he wanted me to draw it as it was and the colour of the cloak is unaffected by shaders, which sucks. The only amendment I made was replacing the paint on the shoulder with the New Monarchy emblem, but I think it works!



Tools:
Lines: Faber-Castell PITT super-fine black pen
Body: ZIG Art and Graphic Twin Tip in black & warm grey
Detail: ZIG Art and Graphic Twin Tip in sand, red & baby blue
300gsm paper


Week 1 ♥ Week 2 ♥ Week 3 ♥ Week 4.1




Thursday, 22 October 2015

Spooky Spirulina Smoothie

   As well as making Halloween superfood marzipan monsters with InSpiral recently, I also made this spooky spirulina smoothie for the festivies, too! Like the monsters, it's all natural, GMO-free and packs a huge protein punch as well as offering loads of vitamins and essential fatty acids! It's another healthy Halloween option that doesn't compromise on taste or texture - it just sneaks in that much more goodness! Dress it up with straws and Halloween decorations and no one will know!
   Head over to InSpiral to see the full recipe as well as all their super healthy goodies - including chocolate!





Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Halloween Superfood Marzipan Monsters

   I recently worked with InSpiral, a massively healthy and organic superfood shop, to create some marzipan monsters for Halloween using only natural ingredients - it was tough to say the least, from designing the monsters to making the marzipan with the right smoothness and consistency for the colour to blend properly, but I managed!
   The marzipan was made from scratch from almonds, hulled hemp seeds, honey and almond essence, and superfood powders added for colour, most of which can be found with InSpiral.
   So these monsters are in fact entirely natural, GMO-free, full of vitamins and minerals and, in short, are good for you! A completely guilt-free treat and cake topper this Halloween!
   Visit the original post on InSpiral's blog to see the full recipe and how I did it.
   This is one sneaky way to having a healthier Halloween!





Monday, 19 October 2015

Christmas Sock Exchange - Last Call

   Just a quick note to let you all know that the Christmas sock exchange is open for sign-ups for just one more week! Saturday the 24th is the last sign-up date, and from then until the 31st comes the opt-out week, should you wish to back out, and on November 1st all people will be assigned to one another with packages to be shipped out by November 21st.

   It's open internationally - for full info and how to join in, read the original Christmas Sock Exchange post!






Inktober 2015 - Week 4

   So I, like many others, am quite excited about the announcement of World of Warcraft's next expansion, Legion. It brings back the 'ultimate' villains, the unstoppable demonic force of the Burning Legion, as well as my second favourite villain, Illidan, though I'm not sure I'm 100% happy about that, and it also, above all else, introduces demon hunters as a playable class. So I'm super excited!
   I couldn't get my mind off of it the other night so I ended up drawing a demon hunter - the horns were hard what with angles and all that, but I used my Illidan figurine as reference and it helped. It's far, far, far from perfect, it's a much quicker piece than the rest so far this month, but I'm actually quite happy with it. My scanner is absolutely awful, though, so the shading wasn't scanned in very well no matter how hard I tried, but there's nothing I can do about that without buying a new one. Maybe for Christmas. The quality of my scanner is half of what stops me from drawing at all.

Tools:
Lines: Faber-Castell PITT super-fine black pen
Body: ZIG Art and Graphic Twin Tip in black & warm grey
Demon marks: ZIG Art and Graphic Twin Tip in may green
300gsm paper


Week 1 ♥ Week 2 ♥ Week 3




Sunday, 18 October 2015

Weening Yourself Off Of Sugar

   Sugar is my vice. I love biscuits, chocolate, cake - it's what was responsible for me being a size 16 a few years ago. After lots of exercising and re-evaluating how I eat, I've managed to drop to a size 10 now and I couldn't be prouder of myself, but sugar has kept that progress slow.
   This past year has been the most successful in terms of eating well, and I've been working hard to keep my eating under control as best I can. Sometimes I slip up, tempted by an oversized cookie - and that's not a slip-up on its own, but if I let that single oversized cookie tempt me to another, and then to a chocolate bar, and so on - that's the slip-up. I used to cave and crumble like that all the time; one taste of chocolate would turn into a steep sugary slope.
   But, fortunately, a couple of months ago I got smart, and I want to share that with you right now. I suddenly realised that a treat every now and then, even if it is an oversized triple chocolate cookie, is not a failure, and neither is it going to undo all of my hard work. If I string together lots of treats over a day or two, that's going to become a problem - and it's true what they say about the more sugar you eat the more your crave it, and equally that the less you eat sugar the less you crave it.
   Now, admittedly this giant cookie might set me back a day or two of progress if it was really that decadent, but that's when deciding if something was 'worth it' comes into play. If I think something is worth the empty calories, and I've behaved really well for a long while, then why the hell should I not have one? I don't think you should reward yourself with food, but that's not the mentality behind this, it's not something I'm working towards, it's something I decide upon in the moment - and, believe it or not, this kind of mentality has actually gotten me off of rubbish food and onto a healthier diet with far more dedication than saying "from now on, I'm not eating sugar at all." The promise of something amazing at an undecided point in the future keeps me from eating chocolate and biscuits and the like that I don't really love. In short, things I don't feel are worth it; things that aren't particularly delicious or satisfying are the kinds of things that make me feel guilty, and sometimes, if I'm having a bad day, that guilt can actually lead to me doing it again rather than picking myself up and letting that silly guilt slap a little bit sense into me and getting me back on track.

   It's all a mental thing and it's not necessarily easy, but it's made easier by not buying sweets. You can't eat it if you don't have it - but the same is said for healthy snacks. So, throughout the year, I avoid most sugary things. It's so much easier to find the willpower for the hour it takes to do the weekly shop to not pick anything like that up than it is to find the constant willpower needed to not open the sugary things you did buy. And if you're not going to open it, why did you buy it? So the solution is simple: find the willpower to not reach out and put the biscuits or chocolate in your basket, and then there will be no temptation throughout the rest of the week.
   But it's not wise to go without snacks - ideally the best way to eat yourself slim, along with exercise, is to eat little and often, around 5 times a day rather than just the main 3 meals, and aim for about 300-400 calories for breakfast, 150 for a snack, 300-400 for lunch, 150 for a snack and 300 for dinner. So rather than opting for a standard chocolate bar (150-200 empty calories), buy nakd bars, nuts, fruits and so on and snack on those instead. You don't go hungry; you're replacing instead of cutting out.

   The idea is simple, really, and works with your blood sugar levels as well as basic psychology: eat well, say 'no' to the things you could have any time like custard creams or chocolate bars, and then, when something like a triple chocolate cake is offered on a rare occasion, you can say 'yes' without the guilt because you know you've been healthy and well-behaved for the past two weeks - and remind yourself that there's no reason why one slice of that cake would suddenly undo all of your efforts, especially if you exercise regularly, be it HIIT or pilates.
   But the mind can be a powerful ally or your greatest enemy, so it's important to phrase things correctly for yourself. Such as never saying "no, I can't," but rather "no, I shouldn't." It might sound silly, but that distinction tells yourself that you could have said 'yes' but you made the responsible decision and chose not to, and believe it or not, that can be empowering enough that when they say "are you sure?" you can respond in the affirmative without feeling regret. Food isn't going anywhere. Bourbons, jaffa cakes, mars bars, they're not going anywhere. You could have them any time - they're mundane and nothing special; you know what they taste like. But the things that are rarely offered, rarely eaten, rarely available and certainly more interesting - these you can have, and if you've said 'no' to the boring stuff offered before, there's absolutely no reason to feel guilty about this instead.

   Try it. And remember that the less you eat sugar, the less you truly do crave it. And this can happen at an astoundingly fast rate. I went from a bad few days of high refined sugar and constant cravings to cutting sugar down (not out; that's a quick way to withdrawal and caving back in at the next sight of it), and after three days of little refined sugar I found myself barely thinking about it. It's all about blood sugar levels really, and refined sugars play havoc with them. The less refined sugar you eat, the more your blood sugar stabilises on its own, and the less you crave it.
   If you're trying to cut your sugar down but struggling, one trick that works for both your blood sugar and your mentality is adding a little bit of cinnamon to your food, especially your breakfast. Cinnamon is a great natural blood-sugar-balancer, so it can really help. I believe dates are, too, and dates are at the heart of the raw food market - pretty much every fruit bar is made 50% of dates. Nakd bars and both Aduna's moringa and baobab bars are all made with dates as their base, and these can have a simiar effect as cinnamon - not to mention that they're delicious, don't taste like dates, and most even count as 1 of your 5 a day!
   And the reason these boost your mentality is simply because you know what they're doing to you - I just told you that they're helping to balance your blood sugar - and that fact will also help your dedication, sort of like a placebo, except that it is actually doing something at the same time.

   For me, sugar is my biggest vice. I don't drink coffee or alcohol because I simply don't like them, and sugar is one of the leading causes of obesity, largely for it's apparently addictive qualities. Just a few days of weening myself away from it and adding a pinch of cinnamon to my breakfast every morning (oats also help to stabilise blood sugar and release their energy much more slowly, making them the ideal ingredient in breakfasts) has had a massive impact on my weight loss results as well as my mood and mentality. I started keeping a close eye on my refined sugar intake - biscuits, chocolate, cake; the things you know are unhealthy - and swapping them more often for natural sugars like fruit and the occasional oat biscuit has been a huge help, and it's helped me to get my eating on track for the long-term - as well as letting me avoid guilt when I do indulge in the occasional decadent dessert! After all, what's there to feel guilty about if it's only once in a while?



Friday, 16 October 2015

Art Exhibit Completion

   I can't believe the time has gone that fast! I set up my art exhibit in the Cheng - Kim Loke gallery in Slimbridge's WWT centre back in July and on Wednesday I went back in to collect it. Well, most of it. I'd made 84 pieces in total and I only took home 52!
   The gallery director was really excited for me, and she told me that my set-up was gorgeous, too. Most people use black velvet jewellery stands or just put things on the white surface of the plinths, but I set everything up on wooden blocks instead. It brought out the colours and draw a little more attention; she said it wouldn't have looked as good on the white surface or against black velvet. I got it spot-on. My dad said I should decorate the wood but I thought it would be too much, so I didn't - it was the jewellery I wanted people to see, not wood, and I'm glad I ignored him! Not that I didn't appreciate his suggestion, but he has a habit of taking things too far sometimes.

   As for pieces sold...I'll be honest, I was a little disappointed that there were still so many left, but as it was my first art exhibit I really didn't know what to expect. It was only when when I stopped and really thought about the fact that I'd sold 32 pieces that I suddenly felt over the moon! The gallery director was really excited for me, too, and from what she said I actually did really well in general. Because of the time of the year that my exhibit was in place the centre got a lot of visitors and because my displays were so unique, rather than typical jewellery displayed, I got a lot of attention and people were getting quite excited. Compared to other artists I actually sold a lot!
   I don't really know what I expected - I suppose I hoped to have sold half of it, but as it's a gallery, not a shop, that was probably quite unrealistic. To purchase you have to speak to gallery staff rather than just pick it up and take it to the counter, so it's harder to impulse-buy, but like I said, according to staff I did really, really well.
   Of course, on the days leading up to collection I did start to hope that I hadn't sold too many because I wanted lots of new things for my Etsy shop over Christmas, and it looks like I've got just that! Lots of limited pieces, different to my usual stuff but all animal jars, that are ready to ship. The perfect Christmas set-up!

   Thinking about it all now, I'm really pleased with how it went. I sold lots more than other people do, I've got lots left over for my shop which means lots of new stock without the work, I'm getting a nice big cheque in the coming week, and I got my name out there. A number of people contacted me on Etsy throughout the exhibit to say that they purchased some pieces and were in my shop to buy more, so that was really awesome. I suppose, in that case, I sold more than 32!
   I can't say that I'd do it again, though. I got lucky with the time of year and I spread the work of creating the pieces out over a year and a half, so it was managable and with really great rewards, but it's not something I would want to risk again. Any other time of the year would be less successful, and you may recall that my shop suffered while I was working on the exhibit, as every new piece I made was set aside for the gallery rather than for my shop. Fortunately this means that there's lots and lots of new things now - about 30 new pieces, I think - and my shop can reap the benefits.

   So keep your eyes open in the coming few weeks for new pieces from the exhibit!



Thursday, 15 October 2015

Inktober 2015 - Week 3

   This is so far from being the first troll I've drawn. My main character in World of Warcraft is a female troll and I've tried on so many occasions to draw her, but it's so, so difficult. Trolls have tusks, long noses and no eyebrows, and all three of these details are so difficult to work with. The large, sharp noses are impossible to draw and noses are far from my strong suit as it is, so that can throw off the whole face, and I don't just mean make her look ugly, but simply throw me out of whack enough that I can't get the rest of the face down around it. The tusks are difficult because they can make the mouth harder to draw, interfering with the lips and shading, and the lack of eyebrows...well, it makes them look mean even when they're neutral. Eyebrows are so, so important and you don't notice it until you see someone without them, be they a real person or not.
   However, I think I finally did it. Finally, finally did it.
   I didn't want to draw her armour because I prefer to draw in-role, so I gave her skins instead, in part to show off her lean physique. Trolls aren't so much 'tall' as they are 'long', but they're fast and they're strong. I hope I have that much down.
   My scanner has not been co-operating, by the way. I've fixed up the colours so they're identical to the original image (on my screen, at least), but it just refuses to pick up the shading and it's driving me crazy. I'm doing all I can to fix it up, but, in short, I think I just need a new scanner.
   Either way, Inktober week 3 is done. Meet Daeaye.

Tools:
Lines: Faber-Castell PITT super-fine black pen
Body: ZIG Art and Graphic Twin Tip in black & warm grey
Hair: ZIG Art and Graphic Twin Tip in turquoise
300gsm paper

Week 1 ♥ Week 2 ♥ Week 4




Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Frightfully Giftable - Etsy Halloween

   There are so many great Halloween gifts on Etsy this year - for you or for someone else - so for today's Halloween Etsy Finds post I thought I'd gather these up. I've covered costumes, sweets and decor already so gifts were next on the list! And is that ghost pumpkin charm not the cutest thing ever?





   My Christmas sock exchange is still accepting participants! If you've not signed up, head over and do so! It's open worldwide and is similar to a Secret Santa and a blogger gift exchange, but it's much simpler - just fill a Christmas sock with some goodies and send it to your assigned partner like a tiny stocking!
   Sign-ups are open until October 24th, after which point there will be a 1 week drop-out opportunity for those who have changed their minds for one reason or another, and partner details will be emailed to each participant on November 1st.



Friday, 9 October 2015

Frightful Decor - Etsy Halloween

   Decor can really set an atmosphere - though I suppose that goes without saying. And when it comes to Halloween, there are so many ways to go: cute, scary, serious, Oz. While I like romantic and old-fashioned for Valentine's Day and Nordic/red & white for Christmas (or perhaps silvers, whites and greys), when it comes to Halloween I don't have a preference. So rather than try to theme the decorations in this post, I sort of just let it happen. So much jumps out at me but it's never cohesive. Christmas is cohesive; Halloween tends to be chaotic. Either way, these are the things that jumped out at me this year!






   My Christmas sock exchange is still open to new participants! If you've not signed yourself up, head over to the sign-up page and do so! It's open to anyone worldwide, all you have to do is fill a Christmas sock with goodies like a tiny stocking and send it to your assigned partner, spreading some simple Christmas cheer across the world (or within your own country; it's your choice!)
   Sign-ups are open until October 24th, after which point there will be a 1 week drop-out opportunity for those who have changed their minds for one reason or another, and partner details will be emailed to each participant on November 1st.



Thursday, 8 October 2015

Inktober 2015 - Week 2

   For my second Inktober drawing I decided to go the fangirl route and draw Lindsey Stirling. I love music, but I'm not really interested in much on the radio - that's not me trying to be hipster, it's just that music appeals to me more than songs. Don't get me wrong, I love a good sing-along, and with my mum's MS the radio is always on because it seems to stimulate her mind more than pretty much anything else, so I am in touch with the current mainstream music scene (what a terribly uncool thing to say). But anyone who knows me knows that it's mostly the music I'm interested in. Whenever I have anything else playing it's usually soundtracks - Naruto has some of the richest music, and the soundtrack of The Witcher is one of the best game soundtracks I've found. If I want something lighter I tend to turn towards World of Warcraft soundtracks, and, in particular, Taverns of Azeroth is one of my favourites.
   So it's difficult for me to name a musician I like. As a result, when I first heard Lindsey Stirling, I fell in love. The first I heard of her was actually her Dragon Age Inquisition video. It was around the game's release so I was really excited about it all, so the video and music really caught my attention. Unfortunately, while the game itself was possibly the best of the three, this music video was the highlight of the release.
   But since then I've bought both of her albums and, if I'm not listening to a soundtrack, I'm listening to her. I absolutely adore her skill and I've always loved violins, but her work is incredible.
   As a result I decided to draw a still from the Dragon Age Inquisition video. It's difficult to draw real people, there's always something to get wrong, but I think this is the closest I was going to get. If I tried to draw her face again I think it would have been worse. Either way, I'm quite pleased with the outcome. I'm far from amazing when it comes to drawing, I put in too much effort and take it all too seriously. I envy people who can just do an amazing drawing without thought or planning. It doesn't work that way for me, and while I'm proud of the outcome of most of the drawings I show, they're the result of a lot of time.
Tools:
Lines: Faber-Castell PITT super-fine black pen
Body: ZIG Art and Graphic Twin Tip Markers in black & warm grey
Violin & Hair: ZIG Art and Graphin Twin Tip Marker in sand
Corset: Winsor & Newton drawing ink in gold
300gsm paper


Week 1 ♥ Week 3 ♥ Week 4






Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Craving For Sweets and Keeping Healthy This Halloween

   Perhaps it's because it's almost Halloween and Christmas isn't far beyond it, leading to tubs of sweets, boxes of chocolates and biscuit tins pretty much lining the shelves when you walk into a shop, but I've been having some major sugar cravings. I might be low on chromium, who knows, but it could just as easily be due to exposure to such beautiful sights.
   So it shouldn't come as a surprise when I say that I've already been stocking up, both for Christmas and Halloween - no, not for me specifically, it's always nice to be given some chocolate or biscuits along with your gifts and, whether I'm obsessed with fitness or not, I won't have anyone tell me I can't eat give these kinds of things at this time of the year. But I admit that some of them are for me. I rather love some of the limited edition things like Cadbury's snow bites, little balls of chocolate covered in icing sugar. Yum.
   But when it comes to Halloween, tastes differ.
   Christmas is all about expensive boxes and tins of chocolate and biscuits, collections and selections to "share". But Halloween is about the smaller bits, the individual bars and sweets to give to kids at the door. We always used to buy one of the Haribo tubs in supermarkets in case we got any trick or treaters, but the kids in the area have all grown up and we've not seen trick or treaters in years. We buy through habit and just in case - we've been egged before - but we always end up eating them ourselves. So, instead, we buy things we actually want to eat now. And that's not tubs of the same old rubbish.
   We still get the simple things, the little things, little bags of gummy sweets and small kid-sized chocolate bars, like Freddos, not Double Deckers, in case kids do come to the door, but half of it has mysteriously disappeared before any kids were likely to knock.


   This is a fitness blog, I've not forgotten that, but there's no way anyone can live their life happily by cutting chocolate or sweets out entirely. It's true that not everyone likes sugary things, some people do prefer more wholesome foods, and that's great, but I'm not one of them. I need sugar, or I'll go crazy. I've tried cutting it out on many, many occasions and it's always led to me breaking within about 3 days at best and then eating more sugar in the following hour than I would have spread over the previous few days even if I wasn't being particularly mindful. There's a terrible condition of feeling like the world 'owes' you food if you deny yourself constantly, so it's best not to. Tell yourself you 'shouldn't' rather than 'can't'. At least you give yourself a choice that way and keep the door of possibility open a crack, and you'll feel proud of yourself each time you say 'no' because you made the active choice.
   But, at times like Halloween and Christmas, you simply must allow yourself to indulge and not feel guilty for it. It is not at all impossible to eat healthily over Christmas and Halloween while allowing yourself to indulge a little.

   So, like I said, we buy the things we do want to eat, so we have something if kids do come and knock at the door, and it's worthwhile to eat ourselves if we're stuck with it at the end of the night.
   I prefer chocolate over sweets. Sweets are made mostly of sugar, but at least chocolate has other ingredients, so chocolate usually tops our lists. But because they're meant for kids, we don't buy much and what we do buy are individually wrapped and small. By being individually wrapped they're much easier to hand out, as well as pace yourself on without feeling the need to eat all you see because it's open or because it might go bad if left alone too long. It's quite simple psychology.
   But I choose to go to online sweet shops like A Quarter Of because they have a much broader range of individually wrapped kid's sweets than most shops, which usually stock little under mars bars which are quite decadent at the end of the day. Plus, if we do decide we want to do something for Halloween ourselves we can buy 250g bags of things like cinder toffee, flying saucers, peanut clusters and other retro sweets you just can't find in most shops.
   But, when it comes to my choices, I usually go for curly wurly (my favourite), Freddo, Cadbury's fudge and so on, small little bars that still taste good but don't pack as hefty a punch as a noughat-filled caramel bar, but don't leave you feeling like you've missed out, which is the most important part when it comes to trying to stay healthy while indulging at Halloween. Plus curly wurlys look big because they're flat and full of holes, so that's an extra boost, tricking you into thinking you've had more than you have.


   So, suffice it to say that I won't be going without this Halloween. Yes, I'll still be exercising and maybe doing a little extra cardio just in case, but I won't be missing out. I advise you all to do the same. Shop smart; buy things you like but don't go crazy. You don't want to feel like you've missed out, but you don't have to eat loads to feel that way. Keep it simple so you don't cross the line and enter the guilt-zone.


Tips To Keep Healthy This Halloween
without denying yourself a treat

Don't buy things you don't actually like, and say 'no' to offers from others if you don't like it, either. If it's not worth the calories, don't touch it. That's just a one-way trip to guilt and regret.
• Go for chocolate, which has less sugar than sweets and candy because it has other ingredients instead. Be wary of anything that lists 'sugar' as the first ingredient; the first listed ingredient is always the one that makes up the bulk of the product, and hard-boiled sweets are almost pure sugar.
• Caramel is also mostly sugar, so if you choose caramels and toffees, don't eat too many.
• Go for things that look big but aren't. Curly wurlys are caramels that have been drizzled in a 'curly wurly' pattern and then covered in chocolate. They're flat, they're thin, and there's lots of gaps. All screwed up and compacted, it doesn't come to much. So, if you're like me and love caramel regardless of it being mostly sugar, curly wurlys are the way to go. Aero is also another great option because these bars are full of air bubbles that make up most of the bulk, making them look bigger than they truly are. The same can also be said for maltesers, which are honeycomb which is also half-air.
• Lots of people will tell you to make a list of your top 10 sweets and allow yourself something from the bottom of that list. I say 'don't waste your time'. That's just eating for the sake of eating and, I don't know about you, but I'd struggle to make a list of 10 sweets so whatever was at the bottom would probably be there just to get it to number '10', and I probably wouldn't like it all that much.
Look into healthy alternatives. I know I'm telling you not to deny yourself, but if you can find some tasty and healthy alternatives, or something healthy that will complement the sweets and chocolate, filling you up so you don't eat too many bad things, then do it. Be it fruit and nuts arranged in a Halloween theme, or some kind of trail mix with a bit of cinder toffee thrown in, then be sure to do it - you'll think yourself later.
Drink water. This will help your body to metabolise the sugar (water is needed for every chemical reaction in the body), it will also fill you up and it has 0 calories so it does no damage at all. Make sure to drink about 8 glasses of water a day in general, but drinking a little extra water if you feel you've over-indulged will certainly help.

   You can also try my Witch's Brew green hot chocolates - they're 50 calories and contain no artificial colours! Or you could even sneak in a few healthy treats with a Halloween twist, like my superfood marzipan monsters, or a spooky spirulina smoothie!

   Now then, regardless of calories, sugar and 'behaving yourself', what's your favourite Halloween treat?



Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Frightfully Visual - Etsy Halloween

   I love dressing up. In general, not just for Halloween, but I never do it. I always come up with elaborate costumes and always far too late, and then there's the fact that I don't do a thing for Halloween anyway. I see no problem with sitting at home in a costume and just watching TV, to be honest, though it is a little sad, but like I said, I always get my ideas too late.
   I saw a load of wonderful things on Etsy this year for Halloween, things I'd love to own in general, but Halloween is really the only real excuse since I don't cosplay. Given the time of the year, I thought I'd share them in another effort to make Etsy features a more frequent part of my blog again.






   By the way, my Christmas sock exchange is still open to new participants! If you haven't signed up yet, head over and do so! It's open worldwide and is a great way to spread a little simple Christmas cheer, as well as receive some, all across the world! And it's simpler than a Secret Santa - just fill a pair of Christmas socks with some goodies and send it to your assigned partner like a tiny stocking!
   Sign-ups are open until October 24th, after which point there will be a 1 week drop-out opportunity for those who have changed their minds for one reason or another, and partner details will be emailed to each participant on November 1st.



Monday, 5 October 2015

Adagio Artisan Teas

   I love tea. You probably noticed. But, if I'm honest, after having drank so much of it it's sort of all starting to taste the same. Probably because I drink mostly Twinings and, while I love it, when you're dancing between cranberry, orange & lotus blossom and apple & pear, it all boils down to the same thing. Pun not intended.
   So I've been turning my attention towards loose tea instead. Loose tea typically means more variety, noticable differences, because the teas are more specific and focused on the leaves rather than the flavour of dried fruits and flowers.  That's not to say that loose teas don't have these kinds of qualities, but when they do even they're more decadent.
   Teabags don't necessarily make a grand difference, but the brew is certainly hindered by that simple barrier. You'll notice it when you compare a bagged sencha to a loose one. Of course they're also far more convenient, easier to store, easier to brew without having to think about strainers, measurements and the like. Teabags are where tea drinkers start.
   So, it's not surprising that loose teas are more impressive in taste and aesthetics, and, of course, their prices reflect it in a number of cases, but believe me when I say it's worth it.

   Green teas are my absolute favourite, they always taste and smell so clean and they make me feel it, too, so it's not surprising that my shelves are stocked mostly with greens. Genmai cha is easily the best. I used to love jasmine but I've drank far too much of it - now it's all about the rice. Sencha leaves with roasted rice, and a wonderfully toasted, nutty taste and scent. It's simply the best.
   Adagio Tea is where my attention has turned recently for their massive range of loose green teas - including genmai cha, of course - and I absolutely love them. They're perfect for when you know what you want, and when you don't. They stock full packs of single loose teas as well as smaller collection packs. Not surprisingly, the Samurai collection is my favourite, in part for the name and also because of the inclusion of genmai cha. But kukicha is also included, and while the taste is far, far subtler, it has a wonderfully grassy scent. It might sound uninviting, but it's absolutely gorgeous.


   The massive variety of loose teas available is wonderful, and something you only really come to appreciate when you drink as much of it as me. The different looks, the smells, the tastes. I'm not a fan of fruit tea. I used to be, but I forced it. It always smelled and looked wonderful, especially bright red strawberry tea, but they always tasted the same, and it was never a good taste, either. 
   Camomile is known to be a good tea for relaxation, but green teas do it for me if just because I love the varying smells of the different blends. A nice, deep inhale and I'm calm. For a moment, at least, and then Seeg gets killed in Destiny and starts shouting, but then I just inhale again.
   And on that note of nerdiness, which you may not think is relevant, I can segue easily into another aspect of tea blends for which Adagio is unique: fan blends
   You've heard of fan art, of course, but fan blends? Yes, Adagio has them. Created by people with a really keen taste for tea, in a number of manners, teas have been blended to reflect characters and elements of a number of popular television shows and films. Harry Potter's polyjuice, an ode to Doctor Who's River Song, the sweetness The Town's Steve Carlsberg is missing - but the ones that jumped out at me were Sherlock (BBC's modern adaptation) and Firefly.
   See the relevance? Destiny - Cayde-6 - Nathan Fillion - Malcom Reynolds - Firefly. Smooth.

Serenitea                                                                                                      Sherlock

   I decided, while bagging the Samurai collection, that I would have a go at Sherlock and Firefly. Unsurprisingly, Sherlock Holmes sounded the most interesting of all the Sherlock blends - most of the characters were fairly unsurprising in their brews, at least by description, but while a synaesthetic person can easily appreciate that a personality can in fact be summed up in taste, Sherlock himself was one I couldn't wrap my head around. He's completely unique, so I figured his tea might be, too.
   As for Firefly, while Inara's blend sounded the most appealing, what with all the spices and chai base, I also decided that it was probably the most predictable. I could taste it just by reading it. But Serenity - the ship, the Firefly, itself - was something else.
   So, Sherlock Holmes and an old, luh suh space ship. In tea.

   Serenitea is a green tea, unsurprisingly - though appropriately gunpowder - and mint, while Sherlock is actually a black tea, lapsang souchong, with oriental spices, and while the latter is out of my comfort zone, I have to admit that I really love it. Though I've not tried the other fan blends, I think they were both perfect choices.


   Sherlock...well, I'd say they nailed him, as far as a personality can go in tea. It does smell a little strange, a mixture of spices and comfort - his eccentricity and yet also reliability, perhaps? You can expect him to react unusually, and, as unreadable as he is, you know where you stand with him. Perhaps. That's what I get from it, at least.
   As for Serenitea, the blend was intended to be rough but homely, with green tea to compliment the Chinese superiority of the show and mint for the comforting, calming touch, and I'd say they've done a good job there, too, though I would have thought to smell a little more roughness to it. But I don't really know my way around anything but green tea, so I can't judge too heavily. But it's certainly a pretty blend! The marigolds and safflowers give it a wonderful pop of colour, which also reflects the wonderful oriental touch to the series. Visual isn't supposed to be a part of the blends, necessarily, but, let's be honest, it's a part of the experience.

   So, if you're looking for a unique Christmas gift for a tea-drinking TV nerd, head over to Adagio now. Pick up a single-blend pouch or a full collection of smaller tins. You can guarantee that no one else would have bought it for them, and that they would never guess it in a million years.
   Though their range of 'ordinary' teas is very broad - white, black, green, fruit, herbal and so on - the simple addition of fan blends sets Adagio apart from other tea blenders. You simply can't find this kind of thing anywhere else, and if you do, the blends simply won't be the same.

   I'm going to brew some Serenitea now. Míng tiān jiàn.   


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.