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

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Piit28 - 2 Weeks Later

   Crikey, I forgot how hard Piit28 is! Pilates is always deceptive, and so is the idea of 45 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest. It doesn't sound like much, especially when those 45 seconds are Pilates - how can clams and grasshoppers be so hard?! When they're coupled with tuck jumps and stupid flipping frog hops, that's when. Suddenly those 45 seconds become a nightmare.
   But they work. There are no two ways about it. When it hurts, when it sucks, I just tell myself that that's when it counts the most. It's pushing past your comfort zone that gets you the results you want, and deserve, and that's why I chose Piit28 this month, because it does all of those horrible, wonderful things.


   I have to say, though, that Cassey's attitude is the only thing, along with the fact that I know it's working, that keeps me going. She must be immensely strong, because she can keep up that bubbly attitude and simply keep talking while doing the 7 minute circuit, and, I know, I know, she only does it once and you have to replay the video, but those are some tough 7 minutes, even on the first round, so you have to admire that strength.
   I toyed with the idea of becoming a qualified Pop Pilates instructor, but it was clearly just a daydream, because I realised while doing even the easiest and most classic of Pilates movements that I could never demonstrate and talk at the same time, and I can talk for England. It's only when you consider taking on her role yourself that you notice the finer details that really highlight her passion and abilities. But, you could also say, if I put the same time and dedication into one single form of exercise like she has Pilates, I could get that strong and capable, too.
   And, if I'm honest, though I love kettlebells and kickboxing, if I was going to instruct anything, it would be yoga or Pilates.

   So, these past two weeks have been brutal but incredible, and while I know I'll probably feel different when it comes time for tomorrow morning's workout, right now I can't wait to get down to it! Two more weeks to go!



Friday, 23 June 2017

Friday Favourites

With the heat wave, this past week has been filled with every effort to keep cool. I've had the Wind Waker soundtrack on repeat for the images of the sea - and because it's freaking fun - I've been wearing loose clothes, stuffing my face with ice cream - I can't get enough of Green & Black's caramel and hazelnut organic ice cream, but, alas, Tesco doesn't stock it so one pot has had to be enough. For everything else, there are Magnums.
I've also seriously been keeping my mind busy. I've done incredible work on redrafting my book - I've been averaging 5 chapters a week, but just knocked out 11! Woo! Progress. I'm past the half way mark now! And I'm still loving it. I have a thousand times more confidence in it than The Archguardians of Laceria - and I felt that that one was good enough to publish!


Legend of Zelda Wind Waker OST   ♥   Innocent tank from EMP
Green & Black's caramel hazelnut ice cream   ♥   Redrafting my next book



Thursday, 22 June 2017

That Was a Nice Summer...

   Crikey. Okay, so, I don't know where you're reading this from, but England has just had its summer. 20 C is positively tropical, and I can only just handle that, but this past week has seen highs of 33 C, locally. It's been awful.
   I'm sure many of you are scoffing at this, but it all comes down to what you're used to, and in England, we don't really get high temperatures, especially in the south west. So going from 20 C to 31 C literally overnight was a shock. Fans have been on through the night, ice cream has become a (welcome) daily necessity, and I've been drinking about 3.5 litres a day. Fortunately, I knock my exercise out in the mornings, so it's still comparatively cool and windows open and fans on are enough, even to see me through PIIT 28. But Seeg exercises in the afternoon and has had to skip a couple. I can't blame him. I've struggled with my shop - putting tiny creatures into tiny jars is fiddly at the best of times, but trying to do it at 5pm when you're hot and already frustrated is just impossible.

   The upside is, though, despite how difficult putting jewellery together has been, I've not been otherwise hindered. I've been working on a new jewellery collection for the summer and I'm totally on schedule with it (hoping to release it early July), and I've been doing some amazing work redrafting my book. Last week I got 11 chapters done rather than my average of 5, which gave me such a sense of accomplishment, and while I had music stuck in my head on Monday that totally blocked my concentration, I'm more or less keeping up momentum despite book work being done on an evening when the temperatures have been at their worst. Fortunately that means it's also been too hot for idiots to go out into the park and play loud, awful music until midnight, which blocks my work because of synaesthesia, and because writing doesn't require much movement, I'm free to sit down, stick a fan in my face and work for 5 hours until bed time.
   Speaking of which, I know it was trending, but I've not actually had much trouble sleeping. The only issue has been having to have the curtains open through the night to get air flowing, because with the early sunrise, by body is a bit quick to decide it's time to wake up. 5am is too soon. I don't care if it's light out.

   Who knows? Perhaps this heatwave would have been worse had my attention not been so focused. I certainly had plenty to take my mind off of it. And Seeg has just picked up Assassin's Creed Black Flag again, and its focus in the tropics has certainly felt appropriate.
  But I'm looking forward to returning to lovely English weather - clouds, drizzle and wind - and perhaps another week of summer a month or so down the line. Because that's more or less how it goes.



Friday, 16 June 2017

Friday Favourites

Rain, clouds, high winds and gloom. Yes, that's right, summer's well and truly on its way!
I'm still loving a few favourites from our 7 year anniversary a few weeks ago - Green & Pleasant's independantly brewed cider, ale and lager contain no nasties at all and no added sugar, and as someone who doesn't usually drink, I actually quite enjoyed them! And, also, how can I not love the custard cream cushion? I excitedly told the postlady what it was when she delivered it, and it really brightens up the room alongside the teacake!
We also watched the Assassin's Creed movie during the holiday, and while games generally don't translate well to movies, AC did. The only issue really was the animus - in the film, a huge mechanical arm; in the games, a high-tech hospital bed. But it worked. I cannot fault the film at all, and the decision to have them speaking Spanish throughout every scene in ancient Spain was also a nice touch.
And, finally, we ventured out to Puzzlewood with my lovely Lucy last week, soaking up the surrealism, and went to Bella Italia afterwards for a meal. Their 'less is amore' range lets you swap the pasta for spiralised veggies, and as I'm not personally that big on pasta, I decided to give it a try, choosing the same dish I had with pasta last time, this time without. The flavour didn't change, the texture barely did, but it dropped the meal to less than 300 calories, issued one of my 5 a day, and justified The Godfather afterwards. They even have the recipe for spiralised gamberoni posted on their website.

Green & Pleasant   ♥   Custard Cream cushion by Nikki McWilliams
Bella Italia's 'Less is AmorĂ©' gamberoni   ♥   the Assassin's Creed movie



Monday, 12 June 2017

June: PIIT 28

Read also: 2 weeks later, 4 weeks later & PIIT28 review


   I had fully intended to use a 'new' (old, but new for me) Jillian Michaels DVD - you know, one of the very, very few I've not used yet - but I actually kind of wanted to get some proper HIIT in. Flow Movement was fine, but very low-impact, and while Lean in 14 is a reliable post-holiday slimdown workout, it's not particularly HIIT-ish, but rather it's quite steady-paced.
   I hate HIIT, it's hard, but it's hard because it works, and lately I feel like I've been too comfortable. Yes, I have been struggling with things, but it's not the kind of struggling that yields results. I want to push PBs and break some barriers, and HIIT is the best way to do that.
   Sooo, I'm revisiting another workout: PIIT 28. I've only used Cassey Ho's pilates HIIT workout once, and I do not have fond memories aside from her attitude in the videos. Which means it's exactly what I'm after.

http://www.ablackbirdsepiphany.co.uk/2016/10/october-piit28.html

   So, I'm armed with floral favourites - I would love something from her beautiful PopFlex range but, being a full-time carer, I just can't possibly afford it - my beautiful mint green yoga mat and the living room fan on full power. I'm daunted despite having done it before, but I know it will work and, if I push myself and give it my all, as much as it will hurt, it will work all the more and certainly be worth the pain. And it's only 28 minutes a day!
   I'll probably take it easier next month, though - I'm thinking Kukuwa. I am still had over heels for that African dance workout, it's so unique and the most effective dance cardio ever because every part of your body is always in motion.

   So I'll update again, as usual, in two weeks. I know I've done it before - 2 weeks, 4 weeks and a workout review - but given the unenthusiastic place I'm in with my exercise right now, and how I feel I've not seen results in ages, I'm hoping I'll be able to give a positive update for once.



Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Wakame & Shrimp Summer Seaweed Salad

   Summer is on its way. Or so it would have you believe. I reckon we've had our summer here in England. And it was a very nice week.
   But all these summery inspo pictures on my twitter feed and people sharing their summer plans, I start feeling the summer vibes (if I turn my back to the window). I'm wearing tank tops, yearning for ice creams and generally turning towards cooler food. I'm also itching to travel, but as that's not an option, I can at least indulge in the flavours of far away places.
   But I'm not keen on heat. Tropical places look gorgeous, but I wouldn't enjoy them. I can barely stand an English summer. So, in truth, I don't really want to go much further south than I already am.
   My bucket list of destinations is the Arctic, Canada, Norway, Iceland and Japan. Japan is kind of the odd one out on the list because it's warmer than the others - indeed a few of the southern islands are tropical - but it's the culture and the food that interests me, not just the sights. In fact, Japanese is my favourite cuisine - all the fish, the noodles, the miso, green tea, and the fact that their confectionary is packaged by the serving - no share sized bags. It's easier to stop when you're supposed to; the temptation to gorge is made harder to indulge if you have to consciously go through another wrapper.
   Over the holiday week Seeg and I made a few Japanese dishes, including simple niku udon (beef udon) and our favourite: okonomiyaki. But the latter in particular is quite heavy and so reserved for holidays (2 or 3 times a year).
   So, with my desire to travel for a summer holiday and my love of food, I put together a nice, cool little Japanese lunch to spice up mid week: a wakame seaweed salad with shrimp.

   It might sound a little odd, or perhaps look unappetising, but you'd be wrong. It's also quite nutritious.
   The wakame seaweed doesn't offer much of a taste, instead the flavour comes from the marinade of soy sauce, white rice vinegar and miso paste, the latter of which intensifies the flavour without making it saltier. Instead the wakame contributes more variety in texture than much else, chewy but not rubbery, giving the small dish a lot more body.
   As for why I would eat seaweed, wakame provides a great source of iodine, as many sea vegetables do, and iodine is required to produce the thyroid hormone, which keeps cells and the metabolic rate healthy. It's also a good source of magnesium, and as I suffer from magnesium-related migraines, I'm always keen to keep myself topped up on that mineral in particular.
   Miso is also packed full of vitamins, and it's a healthy, fermented food full of good bacteria and enzymes which is great for your gut. The western diet doesn't get much of this, but it's quite common in the east, which is thought to contribute to lower BMIs. But heat can kill the goodness of miso quite quickly, so miso paste is usually added at the end of recipes to minimise the exposure to heat. In this case, we're adding it to room-temperature fluid - soy sauce and white rice vinegar - and then refrigerating. Miso paste should always be stored tightly sealed in the fridge.


Ingredients:
Serves 1; 200cals, 35g protein, 7g carbs
2 tbsp dried wakame seaweed
30ml / 1/8cup white rice vinegar
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp brown rice miso paste
150g / 5oz cooked and cooled shrimp/prawns
1 green onion, chopped

Method:
1. Put the dried seaweed in a bowl and cover with warm water. Leave to soak and expand for 10 minutes.

2. Mix the rice vinegar (sometimes called rice wine vinegar), soy sauce and brown miso paste until combined.

3. Remove the wakame from the water and plunge briefly into boiling water, then rinse in cold. Remove from water and squeeze out the excess, then combine wakame, shrimp, chopped onion and the vinegar mix in a bowl.

4. Chill for 2-3 hours before serving.




Monday, 5 June 2017

The Archguardians of Laceria is 1 Year Old!


   EEE!! My book is 1 year old! I published it on June 4th 2016 and it's just had its first birthday!
   It's done better than I expected it to have in that time, but a great deal of that is down to the week it was available for free on Kindle while it was a part of KDP Unlimited, which I couldn't continue if I wanted to distribute it onto other platforms like Nook, Kobo and iBooks. Which, if I'm honest, I don't feel has paid off, but I don't want to limit myself to just Kindle.
   But, when you consider the fact that I have no idea how to advertise, nor am I confident enough to present it to book bloggers and ask them to review it, so all the exposure it has gotten has been through this blog and my meagre twitter account, I'm kind of pleased with what I've done with it.

   I'm really pleased with where I am at the moment, too. Having published The Archguardians of Laceria one year ago, I'm presently redrafting my next book - one unrelated to Archguardians, set in a different world, with different cultures, different magic and so on - after having completed it a month or so ago, and once I'm satisfied with it, I'll get to work on the next. This book is the first of two, and while I was planning on holding the first back until the second is complete, I might actually submit it to agencies when I'm a comfortable point in the second instead, one third, half way, something like that. I don't know yet.
   If I'm honest, I'm actually surprised by my position. One year after publishing one book, I'm almost ready to publish another!


   As it's the book's birthday, I'm hosting another book bundle giveaway! Pictured above, it includes: a paperback copy, rakikik necklace or keychain (winner's choice), flower necklace from the pages of the test print book, jar of Alvetha's tea, sticker, a copy of the map of Laceria printed on parchment.
   It's open worldwide until June 19th. Enter via the rafflecopter widget below. The entries will be checked at the end of the competition and the winner will be contacted directly on the 20th with 72 hours to respond and accept the prize. If the entries are false or the winner doesn't respond within the specified time frame, a new winner will be chosen.

Giveaway is closed.
The winner has been contacted & accepted their prize!


a Rafflecopter giveaway



Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Flowbility; Floor Flow - 4 Weeks Later

   Flow Movement has provided an interesting month. A frustrating, bruising month. It truly is a mixture of dance and yoga, and it takes so much grace and control to execute it properly - grace and control that you will only really develop with practise. The movements aren't like anything I've seen anywhere else, and as there's a lot of core and upper body strength involved, it is very refreshing, but it's also very difficult to grasp, and that makes it frustrating.

   I used Session 1, which consisted of six tutorials totalling about 25 minutes. But it took me two weeks to be able to progress past tutorial 3 because they were so hard to grasp, and even then I ended up giving in to one movement because I wasn't brave enough.
   You can't use a mat or a carpet because you won't be able to move properly, so you need a smooth, hard floor, and when you're pivoting onto your shoulders, it can really hurt. It gets better in time, but it took a month to get to that point, and that can be really off-putting.


   The movements are also hard to follow while doing it because, using Seeg's summary, 'spinning around on the floor' makes it difficult to keep your eyes on the screen. If you learn by watching first, that's not a problem, but if you learn by doing like I do, it's very challenging to keep up with. Which makes it frustrating, and you will begin to feel nauseous, which only makes it worse.

   Having said all of that, it is immensely satisfying when you start to get it, when you're able to flow through a sequence and keep it going - and you really do flow with such grace when you get familiar with it - and that returns the enjoyment.
   When I reached that point, I found my heart rate rose and I began to sweat, which surprised me until I thought about how much effort goes into lifting your body and moving it so slowly and precisely. It's not necessarily a workout that's going to improve weightloss - it's more something to improve strength, grace, flexibility and co-ordination - but it did turn out to be  more demanding than I expected.


   After four weeks, I managed to familiarise myself with four of the six tutorials, and loosely grasp the final two. I feel - and it's silly to say - sexier and more confident in my body, which is rare because my self confidence has always been below average - I'm sure you've noticed the bare minimum number of pictures of me on my own blog - and I've also felt more confident and aware of my general movement.
   I'm working on a full review, but after my little holiday last week, I'm a bit behind on everything, which is why this post is late. But it will be up, in good time!



Monday, 29 May 2017

Back To The Grindstone.

   So my blog has been a little quiet lately because I've been a bit distracted. Seeg and I had a little holiday last week, which consisted mostly of The Wind Waker, okonomiyaki, ice cream, feeding a tarantula and working on my next draft. It was awesome.
   We're both big foodies, so we experiment with new recipes and foods, and while okonomiyaki is a favourite and always on the holiday menu, we tried crab fried rice, niku udon and all kinds of pancakes. Then there's the date night favourite dessert of freshly baked brownies, hot out of the oven, served with Ben & Jerry's chocolate fudge brownie ice cream for good measure, after a decadent duck dinner.


   Yep. I gained a little weight. But I expected that and planned ahead for it. My cupboards are now stocked with lots of healthy snacks and fresh ingredients, I've got new recipes to try, new products, and I'm raring to get back on the healthy old horse. I'm actually kind of sick of the holiday freedom, physically and mentally. I'm looking forward to stability, confidence and wellness. I'm also returning to Lean in 14, my two-week post-holiday slim down staple, so I've got some kettlebell swinging to do for the next two weeks before trying a new workout. That's always proven to be enough in the past, so there's no reason it won't now.
   I also got some lovely goodies, including Nikki McWilliams' new custard cream cushion (to go with my teacake), and a new Two Steps From Hell CD for our 7 year anniversary.


   It was a very enjoyable, quiet week, but also hot. We had a heat wave, and in Bristol, 28 C is high, especially out of the blue. So I went way out of my comfort zone with skirts, dresses and - would you believe it - shorts, and oversized, loose, breezey shirts were far more acceptable, meaning I could hide when I felt chunky without anyone batting an eyelid.
   We spent most of the time with video games, but while I usually watch Seeg play while I work, it was fortunate that I gave myself the week off of anything important, because he's just picked up The Wind Waker, and aside from Beedle's half-swallowed "Thaank yooouu" there's no spoken dialogue, so I have to pay attention if I want to follow.

   But the holiday is over, we're back to normal - demanding workouts, healthy eating and early rising to look after mum. Sometimes I think the comfort of stability and routine is the very reason we go on holidays and staycations. To upset our routine so that we're grateful to get back to it.
   Or perhaps I am just an insane creature of habit.
   But I do feel chilled and refreshed all the same, I enjoyed myself, and I'm happy to work on undoing all the weight gain because every bite was worth every Turkish get up.

http://www.ablackbirdsepiphany.co.uk/2016/05/kettlercise-lean-in-14-dvd-review.html



Friday, 19 May 2017

Friday Favourites

This week I've been pretty excitable. It was my 7 year anniversary with Seeg on Wednesday, which meant that I baked for the first time in forever, and with my dad taking my mum away next week, my responsibilities as a full-time carer are suspended and I can actually relax. I can stay in bed beyond 6:30am, I can eat tricky food like rice and noodles which we never have because my mum physically can't eat them, and I can watch/play video games all day long and really dive into redrafting my next book. I. Can't. Wait.
It's the little things.
And this week I've been yearning for this Belle & Rumple Once Upon a Time dress, envying the artistic skill of Faebelina, and enjoying a gorgeous salted caramel protein shake after every yoga/Flowbility session. Hell yes! Though with next week's menu, I expect I'll have to add some kickboxing into next week's workout schedule...but it'll be worth it!



Belle & Rumple dress   ♥   PhD salted caramel protein shake
Faebelina's art feed   ♥   Winn mid rise capri by Fabletics



Thursday, 18 May 2017

Kiss Goodbye to MS

   This Month, the MS Society is trying to raise awareness about multiple sclerosis with their #KissGoodbyeToMS campaign. Most of you know it's a charity close to my heart, as my mother suffers from secondary progressive MS and I'm a full-time carer for her, so I feel a little guilty that I'm so late to this month-long event.

   For those of you who don't know, multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease that affects the nerves. It occurs when the myelin sheath, the protective coating around nerves, is damaged and the body is unable to repair it. This simple damage can have far-reaching effects and a wide variety of symptoms, because it's the myelin that helps messages travel to and from the brain and the rest of the body. In MS, the reason the sheath doesn't get repaired is because the immune system mistakes it for a foreign body and attacks it, so it breaks down and can't repair itself. Over time this damage becomes scars and interrupts the signals travelling along the nerves, slowing them down, interrupting them or stopping them from getting through at all.
   In my mum's case, initially she suffered from what she called 'floppy foot' - her foot wouldn't lift properly as she walked, for no clear reason, and she'd fall over. Over time, this began affecting her lower body further, she was unable to walk and needed a stick, then a frame, and now a wheelchair. Now she can no longer do anything - anything - for herself, and is entirely dependent. She is absolutely never left alone. She barely speaks anymore, either - a day we get 5 words out of her is a good day. A full sentence is cause for celebration.
   I wrote a post a couple of years ago about it all.

   It's a vicious disease for which there is no cure. Fortunately, a lot of progress has been made in the recent year to delay its progression and to eradicate some symptoms in the beginning stages, but there is no hope for people suffering from such a severe case as my mum.

   My sister and I have always worried about it - what if we have it? We've wondered for years, as we watched her symptoms progress since we were children. She became wheelchair-bound when I was 16. Fortunately, all the progress being made means that, if we are so unlucky, then it's possible it won't be as bad for us as it is for her, assuming we were in the 65% whose MS escalates to secondary progressive. But it still terrifies us.
   MS can only be diagnosed by a neurologist; a GP is not likely to catch it, and it generally forms in women aged 20-30. The symptoms of MS are also so vague you might brush them off or chalk them up to something else, such as fatigue, dizziness, or blurred vision. It's always a good idea to get it checked out, especially if it's recurring.


   Sign up to the #KissGoodbyeToMS campaign - give up one thing for 4 weeks and raise money to help their research. Or just donate. It could help people you know - it could even help you. Sign up, kiss goodbye, share on social media with the hashtag, and spread the word.
   I'm giving up World of Warcraft for a month, which is a daily habit, and giving this month's game time fee to MS Society. Here's my kiss goodbye picture, and as an added bonus, there's a photo of my mum and dad in the background.
   And in case you're wondering, nude is the only lipstick I have...




Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Kletskoppen (peanut lace cookies)

   As today is my 7 year anniversary with Seeg (yay), I decided to make him some cookies he's been pining for: kletskoppen. They're basically peanut lace cookies, but they're impossible to find in the UK, so I tracked down a recipe and made him a little batch! They're gorgeous, and so easy, so I thought I'd share it here - because a little sweet treat every now and then doesn't hurt anyone, even if you're a health freak like me. Mental health is all a part of it!
   You can substitute other nuts in place, if you prefer. Almonds are quite popular, and very nutritious! And swapping white flour for whole meal adds more nutrition without compromising flavour or texture.


Ingredients:
Makes 20 cookies; 55 calories each
4 tbsp room temp butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup/100g packed brown sugar
1/4 cup/30g peanuts
1/3 cup/40g plain flour
(Note: I halved the above recipe since they were a gift, rather than something to be left in the cupboard)

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/gas mark 6 and line a baking sheet with parchment or silicone paper.

2. Cream the butter, cinnamon and sugar together, then add the flour one tablespoon at a time until it's absorbed.

3. Fold in the peanuts.

4. The dough should be a little tacky but workable. Add more flour if need be, or refrigerate to 10 minutes. Then divide into 20 small 1-inch balls and set them on the prepared tray, then flatten them a little. They will spread and thin out significantly as they cook.


Warning: they will burn easily, so don't walk away from them once they're in the oven! If you're worried, test one cookie first.
5. Bake (one cookie or all) in the centre of the pre-heated oven for 5 minutes. They will spread after about 2 minutes.

6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. They will dry and harden as they cool, so don't panic. If they didn't spread enough, add a teaspoon of water to the next batch or knead into the rest of the dough. If they spread too much, add a teaspoon of flour.


As with all lace cookies, store in an airtight container or they'll go soft in no time.




Sunday, 14 May 2017

Flowbility; Floor Flow - 2 Weeks Later

   After two weeks of Flowbility, I think I'm starting to get to grips with it. It's about as difficult as I'd expected - it takes a great deal of practise and understanding to grasp the movements, and even more to flow so fluidly. I can't fathom how long it would take to get as graceful at it as Marlo.
   But it's also been a bit more difficult than I'd expected, in the sense of keeping at it. Perhaps my shoulders are too bony, perhaps the floor is too hard, or perhaps I'm simply doing it wrong, but both of my shoulders and shoulder blades bruised after the first session - and I mean immediately. I had intended to use it Monday, Wednesday and Friday for a lower-impact workout this month, but that's not how it's panned out.
   I've stuck with low-impact, but I had to swap yoga in on Wednesday instead because the bruising was so bad. I was able to do it again on the Friday, and the second Monday was fine, as was this past Friday, but that means that I'm not getting the chance to put as much time and practise into it as I'd hoped to, which is disappointing.


   I had planned on flowing through all of session 1 (tutorials 1-6) each time, but given how difficult they were, I started by repeating tutorials 1 and 2 until I was comfortable, then began adding the others on. As a result, it's taken me two weeks just to get my head around some of the movements, and as of this point I'm only comfortable with sessions 1-3.

   Having said that, though, it's been very interesting. It's a completely different kind of thing to what I'm used to and I'm keen to get down to it. I was also surprised to actually raise my heartrate and work up a sweat, but to be honest, once you get used to the moves enough to be able to repeat them, there is a lot of full-body movement, core control and upper body strength involved. I think I underestimated it - though that's still not to say it's any higher impact than a dynamic yoga session.
   I'm also finding myself feeling a little dizzy after every session, too, but when you consider the fact that you're sort of spinning around on the floor, I suppose that's not surprising. Taking five minutes to do a savasana afterwards, or just sit and breathe, does help to settle yourself.


   I do feel kind of silly doing it, but at the same time I feel very proud of myself, and a little impressed with my strength in some cases. A few of the moves looked impossible with such grace, but while I am much clunkier than Marlo, of course, I was actually surprised by how well I executed them. And that has only improved with each use. I'm still far from confident, but I'm enjoying it, and I am getting satisfaction from personal progress, even after just 4 sessions.

   I'll report back again in 2 weeks with my final impressions, and whether recurring bruising has lessened. At this point, I think it's a great thing to do, and does draw attention to grace and strength, but it also sort of feels like a bit of a novelty workout that you'd probably use a couple of times a month at best.



Friday, 12 May 2017

Friday Favourites

I'm so excited for the weekend. I've been so drained this week, but I'm super excited about a little vacation in a couple of weeks so I've been gathering up some recipes I want to try, and as simple as it is, crab fried rice is one of them - along with the old favourites like okonomiyaki.
I'm also head over heels for my new grey skinnies. I used to loathe my legs, but since I fell in love with lower body workouts (epic for fat burning as well as leg-sculpting), I've equally fallen in love with my legs. I have no fear of super-tight light trousers.
Also, this cookbook, which I stumbled across in this month's Women's Fitness magazine, and this pink stegosaurus mug, both of which I need rather urgently.


The Woks of Life's crab fried rice  ♥  Super skinny grey jeans from H&M
Eat Better, Not Less cookbook  ♥  Stegosaurus cup by EARTHLINGSporcelain



Friday, 5 May 2017

Friday Favourites

I'm still obsessed with Breath of the Wild - I don't really have any game-related jackets or anything, but I'm desperate for this 'Write Your Own Legend' hoodie - it has a peak on the hood and everything! And I'm also head over heels for Pulsin's new packaging, and especially their peanut and chocolate chip brownie. It's so good that it's actually suspicious. I'm stocking up.
And despite the initial disappointment with Mass Effect Andromeda, and the remarkable similarities between its story and that of the original Mass Effect trilogy, I am actually really enjoying it. I loved the original trilogy, and though a lot of the details seem to have been unimaginitively repeated (you can't tell me the Kett aren't remotely the same as the Collectors), many of those are details I loved. All that's missing is Legion.


Delicious Guava by Yankee Candle   ♥   Mass Effect Andromeda



Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Game of Thrones Workout Tips

   Fantasy and fitness - two of my favourite things. I don't often share guest posts, but this one is more than welcome, compiling the fitness tips of the four leading ladies of Game of Thrones - and what great tips they are! Staying in shape is never easy, and it must be especially tough and demanding for stars in the limelight, but though my any of them have personal trainers to help them stay on their strict path, the rest of us can learn from their experiences.

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Game of Thrones is currently the biggest show in the world and has become a global phenomenon. The actors and actresses who star in it have become household names and inspire many who wish to follow in their footsteps. No matter whether they are good or evil the one thing the characters all have in common is that they are in great shape. In this article we look at the four main female stars and examine how they achieve their fitness goals.

Gwendoline Christie

The towering Brienne of Tarth is one of Game of Throne’s most loved characters. After learning about the series Christie was determined to be cast and put herself through a tough workout routine to lose a stone in weight and replace it with muscle. Her hard work paid off and she won the role. Hopefully this will inspire you to keep working for your ambitions whether they are health or career related.



Emilia Clark

Emilia Clark is not only the Mother of Dragons she has also played the iconic action heroine Sarah Conner in the Terminator franchise. In an interview with Train Mag she stated how her workout regime to become Sarah Conner included “weightlifting, kickboxing, hand-to-hand and stunt fighting – kicking a lot of ass.” She also pointed out that her diet was also important and that she had to plan out her meals.



Lena Heady

The Game of Thrones star is known for her ferocious portrayal of Cersei Lannister in the show. According to Food 4 Better Health, Heady stays in shape through boxing and yoga. Boxing is a great way to stay in shape as the body can burn over 600 calories during a 60-minute session. At the other end of the spectrum is yoga, which helps Heady stay injury free through stretching her muscles. Mixing up exercises is an effective way to keep in shape as different workouts can target different areas. Getting stuck in the same old routine is why many people quit.


Sophie Turner

Sansa Stark has had a tough time during the six seasons of the show. In contrast, the career of Sophie Turner who plays her has sky rocketed with a role in the recent X-men film. Speaking to Self.com, she told the health site that her workout includes hill sprints, kettlebells, resistance bands and burpees. Interestingly her workouts took place outside which she said: “was more fun than being cooped up in a gym.” What this shows is that you don’t need to be a slave to the gym in order to stay fit and it can often be better for motivation to find new ways to work out.

The next series is due out this July and is expected to break viewing records again. To get a sense of how big Game of Thrones is you only have to look at the ways different companies have used the show to entice new costumers. For example, gaming portal Pocket Fruity have their own official Game of Thrones game. This is just one of the many different gaming versions that have been launched off the back of the show’s global success.

Hopefully this article has relight the Game of Thrones flame within you and you will seek to become a warrior women through following the tips from the stars. 





Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Pulsin Protein & Brownie Bars (& Giveaway)

   Healthy eating has honestly never been so easy, nor so varied. Gone are the days of being able to snack only on a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts - because health and fitness has finally fought its way into the limelight and become a habit that more and more people consider desirable, so many new foods have also popped up on the market. Smoothies can be bought ready-made, a fact which we now take for granted, and with fruits being dried, smooshed or cold-pressed together into bars, we have not only a more convenient and de-cored fruit option, but also far more flavours. It's not so practical to carry a mango in your bag to eat at the bus stop - perhaps you've never tried, but now mango is a bus stop snack option.

   I'm sure you've heard of Pulsin - if you haven't, you must be new to this easy lifestyle. Like many snack bar brands on the market, they use only natural ingredients, which means no refined sugars, fats or proteins, only those found in the fruits and nuts they use, or from peas and other vegan high-protein foods. And they're not just simple fruit-nut combinations. Pulsin boasts high-protein energy bars, and 'raw brownies' - the closest you can come to brownies while keeping it clean and free of added sugars.

   Their protein booster bars are made with almonds and cashew butter, which are rich in vitamins and minerals, pea protein and rice protein for slower energy release, and sugar-free chocolate chips and cacao butter. They weigh in at 230 calories, 13g of protein, 12g of carbs, 13g fat and 6g fibre. These numbers vary slightly according to flavour, of course, which are chocolate orange, maple & peanut, maple & whey crisp, vanilla chocolate chip, and mint chocolate chip. All Pulsin protein booster bars are gluten-free, dairy-free, soya-free and vegan. They're great for an afternoon pick-me-up!


   But perhaps you're more interested in their brownies. Where fruit and nut bars are involved, 'brownie' is always a very bold claim, but Pulsin's raw chocolate brownies are the closest thing you can get to such a thing. Dates make up a great deal of the bar, lending it a subtle sweetness throughout, while almonds and cashews offer a good crunch. Cacao, rather than refined cocoa, gives it the chocolatey edge demanded of anything that can call itself a brownie. Now, of course it's difficult to overlook the fact that it is not, in fact, an actual brownie, and it certainly doesn't crumble, but I've tried a few fruit and nut bars that claim to be brownies and this is the closest I've found, a wonderful take on a chewy, fudgy brownie, and the almonds in the almond & raisin give it a nice nutty crunch, rather than having been blended into a smooth paste.
   Pulsin's raw brownie bars are 150 calories a piece, about 4g of protein, 12g of carbs, 8g of fat and 5g of fibre, all of which from natural and unrefined sources, just as their protein boosters are.


   I went back out after trying these and bought a box of 3 (give me a break, summer's coming!) almond and raisin chocolate brownie bars to give away to one reader. It's open worldwide until May 16th, and all you have to do is use the rafflecopter widget below to enter.

Giveaway closed!
Winner has been contacted via email. 


a Rafflecopter giveaway



Monday, 1 May 2017

May: Flow Movement; Floor Flow

& Flowbility Floor Flow Review


   At the start of the year, I made a new year's resolution to back off of exercise. For the duration of 2016 I worked so hard and never gave myself a break, and I didn't get the results I deserved. So I worked even harder, choosing ever more demanding workouts that promised results, and didn't dare to take a day off even when I needed it due to sickness or injury - which I was more likely to suffer from when burned out - and I still didn't get those results.
   My new year's resolution to back off was intended to counter that. I figured that maybe I wasn't getting anywhere because I was working too hard. It's proven true. I'm seeing results now.

   That said, it's still difficult. I'm still not giving myself the rest when I really need it. I still won't miss a workout, though I have reduced the time I spend on it and allocated another rest day, but that means I'm still putting myself through too much. So another change I decided upon was to try a lower-impact workout every couple of months. That way I can keep moving, but my body gets the chance to recover. In March I chose to do Kelta Fit, a Scottish dance workout, simple cardio rather than HIIT, and I saw some good results that month, and I regained my energy and enthusiasm.
   Last month I used Jillian Michaels, and next month I will again, so I decided that this month I'd do something simpler.
   Though, 'simpler' is a relative term.

https://www.fabletics.co.uk/invite/Blackbird/

   This month I'm giving Marlo Fisken's Flow Movement a go. I came across it via FitnessMagazine where it was introduced as a dance-yoga fusion. I looked into it and thought it looked really interesting - it's more about movement than it is about heart rate and strength, which means it could be excellent for joints, flexibility, transitions and stretching, without being a strain. But because it's so low-impact, unusual and complicated, I decided to try one of their sample videos before dedicating a month to it. I was surprised by just how different it is. First of all, it can be quite uncomfortable for your knees and joints on the floor, because you can't use a mat or use a carpet because gliding is a big part of the transitions. So while you can use folded leg warmers to pad your knees, it's not going to be a comfortable workout.
   It's also a lot about control, and strength does come into that. Pushing yourself up from one position to the next and then back again with good form and pacing can be really tough - it's similar to a full vinyasa in yoga, like a sun salutation at full-speed, but it's a lot more dynamic. The movements aren't typical, and symmetry is less involved than in yoga.

   I'm using Floor Flow, Session 1 - a series of six 'tutorial' videos that teach and flow through moves that keep you on the floor - which lasts about 30 minutes. There are more sessions, but I'm not going to invest in them until I'm comfortable with session 1, or have grasped and grown bored of it.
   I don't honestly know what to expect, and I'm admittedly dubious about using this for a month rather than a 'real' workout, but I'm forcing myself to recall my resolution, and that I made it for a reason. To be fair, Marlo states on her website:
'Flow Movement is not a gimmick.  When I asked fitness industry marketing professionals what they thought of my ideas, they were quick to recognize the innovation, but just as quick to tell me I needed a claim about looking good or losing weight or some other nonsense. I will not promise you amazing abs, great workout hair, or better sex. While your life could change by doing these exercises, that is your journey. I'm just here to share my experiences and reacquaint you with your body.' - About Flow Movement
   So I don't expect anything more from it than an opportunity for my body to calm back down after last month, and perhaps slightly improved grace in movement. Otherwise, I'm anticipating an interesting and alternative 'movement session'.

   Also - of course - new capris. Gisele from Fabletics. Mesh panel, gorgeous black, grey and blossom pink watercolour splashes. I've wanted watercolour print like this for so long, but no one has wanted to make one. So I bought these the moment I saw them. And I'm glad I did because they sold out within a couple of days and haven't yet been restocked.

   I'll blog again in 2 weeks, as always, and update you all on what it's like. The full program review will be up on June 4th and linked at the top of this post, so if you're interested in a full write-up, be sure to come back then!



Friday, 28 April 2017

Friday Favourites

   I've been crazy busy this week, redrafting my book, working on custom orders from Myth of the Wild and planning out a birthday cake for my sister (happy birthday you little weirdo), so I do like these simple posts!
My best friend, Lucy, introduced me to Once Upon A Time a while ago, and while I typically hate fairy tales, don't read them, won't write anything like them, I admit that I do like a nice romance and a happy ending. Even if I never read or write those, either. In fact, I fell head over heels for the show and finally bought the box set (I'd only seen up to season 3), and it's my only real source of silly love stories and drama. You know me - my DVD collection consists of documentaries, fantasy movies, Star Trek box sets and some stand-up comedy. I'm a varied sort of person.
I also love Wild Bangarang's new fitness tops, especially their clever 'belle' kettlebell tank.
And also Doisy & Dam's date and Himalayan pink salt chocolate bar is officially my favourite chocolate bar in the world.


Once Upon A Time   ♥   Belle tank by Wild Bangarang
Washi tape   ♥   Date & Himalayan Salt chocolate by Doisy & Dam



Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Killer Buns & Thighs (and a mobile ankle)

   I wasn't really sure how things were going to go this month after I sprained my ankle at the end of the last, but it turned out to be a mild sprain and I only had to miss about a week and a half because of it, which was great for Easter. And believe me, I needed that after Easter Sunday!
   The funny thing is, though, that I've done this workout before, over Christmas, and I got on just fine with it, but this time around my legs just couldn't keep up with it - it was nothing to do with my ankle because it was in both thighs. But that struggle was actually awesome - it was a challenge again, things that became easy for me long ago have become difficult again, and I think it's because I took some time away from it to focus on Kelta Fit through March, which was cardio rather than resistance training.
   Wow, so many back links...

   Anyway, it was wonderful having a challenge again because that means I get results. When things become easy, you plateau. The fact that I struggled so much with it meant that it did something.
   I still have one more level to do - I've been doing each level once through the week. Monday was level 2, which I've found the hardest, Wednesday was level 3, which I found sort of middle-ish, and Saturday has been level 1 followed by some cardio. Friday has been an upper body workout while Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday have been rest days. It's been rather nice starting with the one I find the hardest because it gets it out of the way and helps to work off the weekend, and it's also nice knowing right now that I've just got level 1 to go. Yay!


   It's also been a generally productive month. I've been working on a few custom orders for Myth of the Wild, as well as a future collection and pieces for next year's art exhibit, and I also finished the first draft of my book a few days ago. I have since started the next draft and I've got two chapters down already, and I'm feeling quite good about them. And daunted about the rest. I'm trying to forget about that and take it one chapter at a time.

   Next month's workout will be quite different and, mercifully, much lower impact. I'll talk more about that on Monday. And I obviously won't be posting a DVD review about this next weekend because I already wrote one in January.



Matchasaurus Cakes with PureChimp

   Ahhh, matcha. I'm addicted - I have been for a couple of years - and I have at least one cup every day. I love it. I also love cake. In Japan - because they are oh so clever - they combine the two. The issue is that the West has tried to pick this up, and there's two ways we've gone about it: take a standard cake recipe and swap some of the flour for matcha, or take a standard cake recipe and swap the vanilla or cocoa powder for matcha. Neither of these make true matcha cakes.
   Matcha is not the same as flour - it absorbs more water but less fat than flour, resulting in a greasy cake. And if you swap out the flavouring for matcha, it's being compromised by two other ingredients in the cake. Salt is added to cakes to round off the sweetness - it's not there to be tasted, it's there to finish it. But matcha does that itself, which means your cake needs no salt. Matcha is also a delicate taste, and baking powder can completely eliminate it, which means if you've removed vanilla and used matcha instead, it's not going to taste like much.
   So how do you go about making a true matcha cake while maintaining the spongy texture and the delicate taste of the green tea?
   By using a more traditional recipe.
   And you have to make sure you use good quality matcha, and that you've stored it properly - ie in an air-tight container, in the fridge. Light, heat and oxygen can very quickly compromise the quality and taste of matcha powder, so correct storage is essential. In this case, I used Purechimp - I bounce about from brand to brand, trying different matchas, and Purechimp are among the top brands I've tried, and as they're currently having a sale and free shipping, you can get 20g of matcha for just £3.95! Perfect if you're keen to try but not sure you'll like it.

   I've used this recipe a few times, and as I was given a dinosaur cake mould for Christmas that I had yet to use, I decided to whip it out for this, especially since I'm still excited about these recent discoveries that could serve to shake up dinosaur classifications! So here are some matchasaurs!

http://www.ablackbirdsepiphany.co.uk/2016/09/the-benefits-of-matcha-purechimp.html

Ingredients:
10g sugar & 45g sugar, separated
3 egg yolks & 3 egg whites, separated
30ml oil
5g matcha powder
40g cake flour (or all-purpose flour and cornstarch; 2 tbsp cornstarch for every level cup of flour)
pinch cream of tartar

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 160 C/325 F/gas mark 3 and line an 8 inch cake tin with parchment paper

2. Prepare green tea - add the matcha to 20ml boiling water and mix until smooth. Add 30ml of room temperature water and mix again, then set aside to cool.

3. In another bowl, mix the 10g of sugar with the egg yolks until the sugar has dissolved, then add the oil and whisk until just combined.

4. Add the green tea to the egg yolk mix and whisk thoroughly, so the colour is even.

5. Sift in the self raising flour and mix until almost combined - small lumps will remain, so don't over-beat!

6. In another clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with a clean whisk until frothy, then add the cream of tartar and whisk until it forms a thick foam. Gradually whisk in the 45g of sugar, and continue until it forms firm peaks.

7. Now mix the yolk mixture until smooth, and add half of the egg white mixture and mix until almost even. Add the remaining egg whites and repeat. Now, using a spatula, begin to fold the mixture until totally even.

8. Spoon the mixture into your dino moulds or cake tin, and bake for half an hour for dinos, or 50-60 minutes for a cake, or until a tooth pick or knife comes out clean.

*Don't remove from moulds or tin until cool*



Friday, 21 April 2017

Friday Favourites

Ahh, Easter has passed. Like I said yesterday, I'm kind of pleased. I ate so much chocolate that I got sick to death of it. It's very strange. Seeg makes a double take any time I turn it down.
And so this week I've been obsessing over healthier eating, and after getting my first Tribe box, I rather love their '10' bars - a good balance of protein, fat, carbs and fibre - the stuff you really need, all from natural ingredients. Yay! Also, Pukka's ginseng matcha tea. Yum.
And like I also said yesterday, we recently started Mass Effect: Andromeda, and I've been really focused on my writing - so close to finished!


Mass Effect: Andromeda    ♥    Tribe 10 bars
Writing    ♥    Ginseng matcha tea by Pukka



Draft 1, Complete!

   Oh yes, yes, yes, that's right, last night I finished the first draft of my next book! Well, actually, my second draft, too, I suppose. Every time I finished writing a chapter I went back and redrafted it to squeeze in another opportunity to improve it. But the point is that last night I finished the final chapter!
   I started it back in March 2016, and it's taken a lot of work, but I've finally finished the first book. Unlike the last, which really should have been split into two (it sort of got away from me), this time I had a more solid technical plan and knew from the start that it would be two. It seems to have worked out very well that way, and is a much, much better story than The Archguardians of Laceria. I'm so proud of it!
   But if I'm honest, I don't feel quite right celebrating. I'm well aware that there's still a lot of work ahead for this book - it will need more redrafting and editing - and the story is far from finished because I still have the second book to write. But at the same time...I can't help smiling every time I think about the fact that I've reached a big milestone. I even allowed myself a couple of chocolates in celebration last night (yeah, that whole 'sick to death of chocolate' thing didn't last very long).

   Tonight I start the third draft, which means going right back to chapter 1. I've already taken a look at it, and while I was happy with it 13 months and 8 days ago, I am not now. But the first few chapters are so important, and also often some of the worst written because they're the first you do - you have to get your mind out of planning and bullet-point mode and into prose, which is difficult, and why that first chapter has - now I think about it - been through probably five drafts already. But it takes what it takes, and I really do love doing it, so my writing never feels like work.
   I also have to design my book cover, but I've got that planned out: summer's coming, apparently, and that means that the field behind my house will get a lot noisier, and on a night teenagers go out there and play their god-awful music. With my synaesthesia, it's impossible for me to write or read when I can hear music, but that gives me the perfect opportunity to turn my hand to other creative outlets - such as digital art. So I'm hoping to get the cover design in July/August, and hopefully do some character portraits, too. I wanted to do that for Archguardians but I'm more interested in writing than in drawing, and when I eventually had the opportunity last summer I was working on this book instead and lost all interest in drawing previous characters who may or may not be dead.
   So I'd like to embrace the opportunity when it comes around this time!

   You can be sure I'll update you when I...have something to share I suppose. This is another long process, but one with another milestone at the end. And I will, again, be rewarded in chocolate.





Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Lately

   Oh thank goodness Easter has passed! I'd been looking forward to it for so long - you know I'm a chocolate fiend - and managed to get in some amazing workouts and ate well on the run-up, but over just Sunday and Monday I managed to make myself sick of the stuff. Which is a peculiar feeling...

   In short, I had a wonderful weekend with few but epic eggs, including Hotel Chocolat's Rocky Road to Caramel extra thick egg, and a 70% dark Green & Black's collection, Seeg and I rewatched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and we had two roast dinners. Happy Kim.
   Seeg also finished Breath of the Wild on the Friday, which was a wonderful game, so cute and whimsical, and on Easter Sunday he started Mass Effect Andromeda. Mass Effect has always been one of my favourites, but with everything we'd seen of the new installment's development, we both had quite low expectations. I'm not actually someone who is too concerned with the quality of graphics, but for a game as grand as Mass Effect, and in the age of digital development we're currently in, it has actually been an issue because the detail affected is really quite hard to miss: the faces. They're not expressive, the eyes are totally empty and sometimes, no joke, seem to spin around in their heads. It's difficult to follow a character's reaction to situations or to other people, and in a game where relations between characters is essential, it's quite a disappointment. Fortunately everything else has been pretty good, and I'm still really really really looking forward to watching him play it again, but that detail - hard to miss, like I said - is undeniably dragging it down and you'll no doubt hear other actual fans (ie. not 'fanboys') saying the same. And I'm not 'spoilt' either - for the past few weeks I've seen little beyond Legend of Zelda or World of Warcraft, neither of which are ground-breaking. Mass Effect should have blown them both out of the water without an argument.

   Anyway. As for what I spent the weekend doing: I'm writing the final chapter of my book. Once that's done, it goes through another draft, and once that's done, I have to go all the way back to the beginning and redraft the entire thing all over again.
   In all sincerity, I can't wait. But it's still too soon to celebrate. Even though I want to. Then comes planning out the next book - the second half of the story - and working on a cover for the first. I was planning on holding the first book back until the second was totally finished and the story completed, but now I'm not so sure. But, if I do decide to submit the first before the second is finished, it's still going to be a way off from now, and there's a lot to do in between. At the very least, I want to make sure I have a solid start on the second...
   But still--No. Too soon to celebrate. Too soon...

   But my ankle's doing better! Which has meant that I've been able to really dive into this workout, post-Easter when it counts the most, and shed any guilt and chocolate before it gets the chance to make itself comfy. I've also got next month's workout figured out - it's totally different, but while I'm intrigued, I also admit that I'm not convinced. But after a month this intense, and what I have planned for June, an easier month in between isn't so bad an idea. So we'll stick to the optimism!

   So I've really enjoyed this Easter, which makes a change from last year when I felt so guilty for eating any chocolate at all that I spent most of Sunday doing Pilates just so that I couldn't add 'sitting still' to my list of disgraces. I was such an idiot. This time I learned to breathe and have fun, and I've come out of it much happier. Except for knowing that now I won't be able to get any more Galaxy golden eggs until next year...

   How has everyone's Easter weekend been?!