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

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

#Fabletics21 Meditation - Week 3

   I almost forgot to write this post. I suppose that's testament to how true the 21 day rule can be. Do something often enough and you'll stop thinking about it and do it automatically. I even scrapped the meditation timer - this past week was supposed to range from between 11 and 15 minutes, but I don't think any day saw less than 16, owing to three particular tracks on the shakuhachi CD I mentioned last week.
   And it's been nice. I've been happier, I've been more patient - honestly, if I'd read this from someone else, I'd think they were just throwing out buzz words or being pretentious, but it's genuinely amazing the effect 10-15 minutes of meditation can have. Not every day, necessarily, but when you need it, my goodness, it can work wonders.

   I don't care if I look pretentious doing it, because the chill-out time far outweighs the concern of someone else's opinions. And with all the political nonsense going on lately, some of which affects me quite directly, I've really, really, really needed an outlet or I think I would have cried and screamed 18 times by now. But I haven't, because I breathed and slowed my thoughts down instead, and because of that, I've been able to handle it so well and actually take necessary steps rather than let myself become paralysed by it.
   Not only that, but my writing has improved - the first of the two books is almost finished, and it's at such a good standard, completely outshining my last book, and I feel so ridiculously good about it.
   And though my Etsy shop, Myth of the Wild, has been suffering big time lately, rather than obsess over it but not actually do anything about it, I've been taking the approach of a buyer rather than a seller and tweaking it from that angle instead. It's too soon to see if it's working, but I have hope. I have to have hope. It's been doing so badly I can't afford to advertise anymore, and that means my shop takes an even bigger hit. But such is life, I guess.

   I'll write a proper round-up for #Fabletics21 Meditation in a few days. For now, I'll leave you with the promise that taking a moment to breathe deeply and slow your thoughts really does do what all us pretentious lambs say it does.
 
http://www.ablackbirdsepiphany.co.uk/p/fitness.html



Monday, 30 January 2017

February - Ignite



   This month I'm going back to an old favourite: Kettlercise. I've used three of their DVDs in the past and I've found them all exceedingly effective, so when they announced Ignite, their newest title in December, I pre-ordered it within seconds of receiving the newsletter. That's how confident I am in Kettlercise. That and it was almost Christmas and I was anticipating fresh fatness that would need sweating off.
   And because of my unfailingly positive experience with Kettlercise in August 2015, April 2016 and August 2016, I have particularly high expectations for this compared to the others because it was mentioned that 'if you've not used Kettlercise before, then it's not for you'. Well, I have used them before, and I've used Jillian Michaels' kettlebell workout DVD, Shred It With Weights. So I'm confident I'll be all right - though I don't expect in the slightest for it to be easy. I've never found kettlebells easy.


   Ignite consists of three 30-minute workouts - knowing Kettlercise, that's including warm up and cool down, which I admit annoys me. When I see '30 minute workout' I expect 30 minutes of work, not 20/25. But at the same time, Kettlercise - and kettlebells in general - is intense enough that 20 minutes of work should be enough not only to shed fat while working, but to continue doing so once I've finished.
   The three workouts are also different from another:
   'After Burn' uses complexes, which were introduced in Kettlercise's Lean In 14 program, which strings together two to three kettlebell moves into one sequence which is then repeated to complete a timed set. I hate them because they're so hard, but it challenges your body, ensures more muscles are utilised, and also makes your nervous system work by forcing you to think about the sequence rather than just mindlessly repeating a single move. It's designed to maximise the after-burn - when your body continues burning calories after the workout has ended to repair itself. Most kettlebell workouts give you this, but the complexes take it to another level.
   'Detonator' is a more traditional kettlebell workout, and while it uses the phrase 'EPOC' - or Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption - it's really just a more technical term for 'after burn' - but compared to the first 30-minute workout, this one should be comparatively lower-impact.
   'Melt Down', the final workout on the DVD, focuses on cardio, which makes me think it's going to be more explosive and powerful than it will be controlled, as kettlebells are already high-cardio tools due to the fact that most kettlebell moves are explosive. As an example, you tend to snatch or swing with a kettlebell, not do a steady bicep curl.

   I'll use this DVD three times a week for four weeks, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with Lastics on Tuesday and kickboxing on Saturday. By using it 3 times a week I'll give my muscles chance to recover, I won't get bored, I'll remain challenged, and I'll only have to use each brutal workout four times each.

   And while I promise it's not an intentional habit, I've got some more lovely new capris - this time from a new, high-quality Thai brand, WakingBee (though I obtained them via StyleWe). They fit perfectly, they've got such a nice, soft feeling, and while I usually go for quite loud, bold prints and colours, I'm glad to have something more subdued in my collection - plus the white mesh panels at the end of the leg is gorgeous!

   As always, I'll update on my efforts and give more info about the workouts themselves - and whether or not they're meeting my expectations - in two weeks, then again two weeks later, then a DVD review.

   ...I find myself scared to start this...



Sunday, 29 January 2017

10 Minute Body - 2 Weeks Later

   So much for a 'lower impact fortnight'. I'd decided, following my new year's resolution not to push myself too hard all the time, that I didn't want to go from one intense workout straight into another, so rather than jump from level 3 of two Jillian Michaels DVDs to Kettlercise, I gave myself two weeks to cool off and try some of the DVDs I got for Christmas and my birthday. I wasn't going to do a 2-week write up on it, but as one of those DVDs was Jillian Michaels' 10 Minute Body Transformation, I decided it would be worth writing a review about it, so I decided to give it a little more attention than the other two - one yoga and one kickboxing.
   Well, I didn't expect a 20 minute Jillian Michaels workout to be compressed into 10 minutes. I used it for my 30-minute-minimum workout on Monday and Wednesday, which meant I used three workouts, and on Friday I typically do more in prep for the weekend, so I did the whole DVD - all 5 workouts - right the way through.
   It. Was. So. Hard.
   Even only 30 minutes is more intense than a typical 30 minute Jillian Michaels workout, which is saying something, and I barely survived the 50 minutes. But I'd set my mind on it so I was determined to see it through that day. So when you consider that those two weeks were supposed to be easier and calmer than usual, I think it's safe to say I utterly failed, all because I underestimated it. And it took the entire first week to realise that. It was so bad, in fact, that I only used it for 30 minutes on the second Friday - the shortest Friday workout in months - and I didn't even use my new yoga DVD on the Tuesday, as good as it was, and opted for a Lastics trial class from a recent issue of Women's Fitness.


   But I will say that this DVD is epic - I've got a full DVD review going up this time next week - and while I overdid it for the first of the two weeks I assigned it, I am quite satisfied that I didn't waste my time with it, and it was so intense that it forced me to act on my new year's resolution: learn to recognise when I need to back off, and that sometimes less really is more. I'm a bit disappointed because I didn't think I'd have to invoke that so soon into the year, but at the same time I'm proud that, when the time came, I was able to do it.



Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Jillian Michaels Killer Arms & Back DVD Review

Price: £11 / $13
Length: 3x 30 minute workouts
Workouts: Upper body
Suitable for: Everyone
Overall Rating:   ★★★★☆
Enjoyment:  ★★☆☆☆   Difficulty:  ★★★★☆   Results:  ★★★★☆
Based on 8 weeks of use.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/DVD-Blu-ray/Jillian-Michaels-Killer-Arms-Back/B017KOA22O/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1484655154&sr=1-1&keywords=killer+arms+and+back+jillian+michaels

   I used Jillian Michaels' Killer Arms & Back for eight weeks, 2-3 days a week, alternating with Killer Buns & Thighs. It was a great set-up, because while Killer Buns & Thighs took care of the lower body, toning muscle and burning fat, Killer Arms & Back took care of the rest. It also gave me the opportunity to compare this upper body DVD to a lower body DVD, as it's much harder to get cardio into upper body workouts than it is in lower. And yet, despite that, I can say with the greatest satisfaction that this upper body DVD delivered only fractionally less cardio than Killer Buns & Thighs, and almost all the sweat.
   I've already reviewed Killer Buns & Thighs, and here I'm turning my focus into Killer Arms & Back. So even if you don't want to double-up on insanity like I did, you'll still know exactly what Killer Arms & Back alone will deliver.



Overview
   Killer Arms & Back is made up of three 30-minute workouts (30 minutes including warm-up and cool-down), each increasing in difficulty. All three workouts focus on the upper body with strength and toning moves to sculpt your upper back, shoulders and arms, and with compound moves to get the lower body involved and burn more calories to melt away the fat. This combination is essential - it's all well and good to build sleek, toned muscle, but no one will see it if you've got a layer of fat on top.
   Jillian is her usual tough loving self, but it gets results, and I find her style of instruction works for me personally. Probably because I'm a little bit frightened of her.
   The DVD promises to deliver sleek arms, a toned back and gorgeous shoulders, and if you stick with it and push yourself, as you must if you want results from any workout, you will reap the rewards. You get what you work for.

Kit
   As you'd expect, you'll need an exercise mat for comfort, and dumbbells/hand weights of varying weights. I used 1.5kg (3lbs) for anything in a good morning yoga stance and I could barely handle that, but used 4kg (9lbs) for upright rows and similar. It's always best to have a variety of weights because sometimes you'll find something too easy because the particular muscles used in that case are stronger than others, and in those situations you do want to push yourself with heavier weights, otherwise your body won't change and you'll end up wasting your time.
   If you're unsure what weight would be too light or too heavy, go for the weight that seems easy at first, allowing you to perform reps with perfect form, but with which, by the end of the set, feel too heavy to quite maintain form. That's the right weight. When you stop struggling at the final rep, that's when you need to increase your weight.

Level 1
   Level 1 is, as you'd expect, the best place to start. While the moves involved in this first level are not all as basic as bicep curls and tricep kickbacks, you will see a few simple combinations like a three-way curl - bicep curl to hammer curl to reverse curl, repeat - which does help to ease you in, as well as provide opportunity to get your breath back from the full-body combis designed to melt off the fat.
   Despite being the starting point, you will be challenged both physically and mentally - I certainly was - but there are always modifications, and it's extremely important to remember that there is no shame in beginning on the easier variations if you need to. Some moves might be too complicated even for experienced athletes, and while I use intermediate and advanced modifications in most workouts, I found myself needing to use some of the beginner modifications here because they were movements I couldn't grasp as quickly as usual. And pushing yourself if you don't know what you're doing is a quick way to injury.
   So, if you need to - and the same goes with all other levels - use the beginner modifications on strange or uncomfortable movements before moving up to Jillian's demonstration, then beyond to the advanced modifications. The idea is to use a single level enough to become familiar with it before moving on when you're ready to up your game, and so it's best to push yourself onto more advanced variations when you think you've got a grasp of the movement - go deeper, go heavier. But above all else, remember that it's the challenge that counts; if a mixture of beginner and intermediate moves are enough to challenge you, then you do them, and you give them your all.


Level 2
   Jump from 1 to 2 seemed a bit bigger than is usual between Jillian Michaels levels, but not so much that it becomes unmanagable. If need be, you can always go back to level 1 for a little longer - there's no shame in going back a step if you can't handle it; there's only shame in giving up. There's also always lighter weights and beginner modifications if you want to stick with it, but you should aim to raise your game after 3 or so uses.
   There were more unique moves in this workout, such as elbow crunches - lying on your back, upper arms flat on the floor, pushing through the elbows to raise your midsection off of the ground while keeping shoulders and legs down - and a push up to a rotating hero - a push up, pressing backwards at the top and to one side, into hero pose from yoga, then back into a push up and repeat on the other side.
   It's moves like these which can really break up a workout and make it exciting, because lesser-seen or totally new moves linger in your mind like landmarks, and give you new angles from which to target your muscles, as well as new modes of mobility and, of course, new challenges. This keeps level 2 interesting even though it's the half-way point, as well as maintaining the difficulty and subsequently results. It's much harder to plateau on moves you've never done before, and avoiding plateaus is half the reason workouts like these are broken into levels. You have to keep switching up moves, angles and weights if you want to keep seeing results, be they in the realms of fat loss, muscle tone or improved strength.
   Of course, these complicated moves are also modified, and, as with level 1, if you're confused by them, beginner modifications can help you to grasp the motions safely before building up to your own capability. I was using the beginner modification for the push up to rotating hero for the first four times I used level 2 - that's eight circuits! As simple as it looked, I just couldn't grasp it, then on my 9th circuit, fifth attempt, it clicked.


Level 3
   Level 3 isn't so bad. I've found in a lot of Jillian's workouts that she can intimidate you a little at the start of the final level by telling you how hard it's going to be, and it never turns out to be as bad as you expect. I'm quite certain she's not trying to frighten us off, but rather congratulate us on getting this far in her own unique way, plus it makes you feel even better when you complete it.
   That's not to say that it's easy, but the jump between level 2 and 3 is more appropriate and feels like a decent but not unmanageable step up.
   Weights aren't used in this circuit as much as in the others, instead there are a lot of body weight movements - for example, the first circuit contains two push up variations, and you see another in circuit three, followed by a dynamic bound downward dog into a single-arm plank. It sounds complicated, and it does take concentration to achieve, but these are not fast moves, making level three a little more controlled than the others. And, of course, the co-ordination needed to complete a set of these moves challenges the nervous system too, making it a bit of a mental challenge as well as physical.


Verdict
Enjoyment:  ★★☆☆☆  -  It focuses on the upper body with the moves and intervals you would expect of Jillian Michaels. Not conventionally enjoyable.
Difficulty:  ★★★★☆  -  It's Jillian Michaels, and with a title like 'Killer Arms & Back', she intends to deliver on the promise.
Results:  ★★★★☆  -  It works.

   Jillian Michaels Killer Arms & Back provides the best upper body workouts I've come across, and while I had expected it to deliver, I wasn't quite prepared for just how well-constructed the workouts are. You will get tired out, you will feel it, but just as your muscles feel like they're going to give out, the move changes and your shoulders or triceps will get a break as the focus moves to another part of the upper body, and you're quite ready to return to them when the circuit restarts.
   Paired with a lower body workout, such as Killer Buns & Thighs, used on alternating days will give you incredible results in both fat-burn, muscle toning and metabolism boosting. Jillian Michaels is a huge success, and she has yet to fail to deliver.
   You will see a change in muscle tone after a month of use, two to three times a week, and you will also see an improvement in physical strength as long as you push yourself.



Tuesday, 24 January 2017

#Fabletics21 Meditation - Week 2

   The second week of #Fabletics21's meditation challenge went a little smoother than the first. I'm starting to get a feel for it - I feel like it's getting easier to settle down, but it could just be that I'm giving it more time overall and getting the chance to chill. It's nice. Especially with recent trials I've been facing, which I'll talk about...at some point.
   But I admit that I did also invest in some music to help silence my mind. I'm synaesthetic, and in my case, sound, letters, numbers and touch all have colours. It sounds mad, but since it's always been there, I don't notice any distraction except when music comes along. So if music is playing while I'm writing, I cannot think, but if music is playing while I'm trying to relax, it's all too easy to get lost in it. It's a CD of shakuhachi music, one of my favourite Japanese instruments. I love the elements of Asian music in general, but the erhu (Chinese 2-string) and shakuhachi (Japanese flute) are my two favourite instruments, and as the latter is used in suizen, a form of Japanese meditation where calm is reached through playing the instrument, presumably because it takes immense breath control to do so successfully, I felt it was appropriate. And it works well.
   The colours the shakuhachi conjure aren't too vivid, which keeps my mind calmer than other instruments like the erhu or violin, and if I note the time of the tracks, I can also use them as a less intrusive timer - the music just trails out.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shakuhachi-Japanese-Bamboo-Richard-Stagg/dp/B00NJ2ZDNU/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1485276910&sr=8-7&keywords=shakuhachi

   The second week invoked 5 to 10 minutes of meditation a day, and it's proving easier because of it. There's more time to settle and more time to benefit, and I'm feeling more relaxed for a while afterwards.
   An example of this week's benefit is that I had a rather hard day on Friday, and while I have not once given in to the temptation to try to eat stress and sadness away for almost two years now, on Friday I collapsed. Now, a standard bag of Maltesers is no problem, but once you collapse, it's easy for that bag of maltesers to escalate into three Lindt, then some chocolate dinosaurs, and then half a box of Guylian because, sod it, all is lost.
   But I managed to limit it to the maltesers and I felt no guilt at all - partly because I wasn't upset for a silly reason, so I can rationalise it. But what stopped me from taking it further was sitting quietly for 15 minutes with the music and just breathing. It didn't solve the matter, but it did calm me down, and I was able to distance myself and shed the need for more chocolate. It worked surprisingly well, and I became rational enough while meditating to remember that I would feel better about the situation in the morning. And I did.

   So I count week 2 as a success, and I'm finding it easier to work it into my day, which is even better. But I'm finding it important to remind myself that if I forget, that's not a bad thing - I clearly didn't need to take a moment to relax, because I always remember when I'm stressed, and while I may be far from in the mood to do it, I also know it's the best mood to do it.



Sunday, 22 January 2017

Jillian Michaels Killer Buns & Thighs DVD Review

Price: £9 / $9
Length: 3x 26 & 17 minute workouts
Workouts: Full body
Suitable for: Everyone
Overall Rating:   ★★★★★
Enjoyment:  ★★★★☆   Difficulty:  ★★★★☆   Results:  ★★★★☆
Based on 8 weeks of use.


Jillian Michaels Killer Buns & Thighs
   Killer Buns & Thighs has quickly become one of my favourite Jillian Michaels workouts. I love a good lower body workout, and this DVD is nothing but. I was so keen every leg day while using this, keener than usual, and I was so sad to see the end of it! I planned to use it for two weeks per level, alternating with an upper body workout on non-consecutive days, for 5 days a week, and though my initial plan was to use the two for 6 weeks between them, it became 8 weeks and that still wasn't enough! And frequent readers know I change my workout every 4-5 weeks to avoid plateaus and to keep it interesting, but I really wanted to keep going. So much so that I'm compromising and looking to fit it into my calendar later in the year.


Overview
   Split into three 30-minute levels of increasing intensity, each made up of 4 circuits, Killer Buns & Thighs is dedicated to transforming the lower body. With a mixture of controlled resistance to build muscle, interspersed with compound moves and cardiovascular exercises to help melt fat, you simply cannot avoid results. Lower body workouts are amazing for cardio as the muscles in your lower body are so much bigger than those in your upper body, and so take more energy to utilise and burn more calories. And, of course, improving the muscle there makes for a more shapely silhouette, slimmer thighs and a nice, round bum, not to mention helping to increase resting metabolism and burning more calories at rest.
   Each workout begins with a thorough warm up, then 30 minutes of work, then a cool-down.
   On a personal note, I also love the fact that Natalie and Anita are the additional instructors, because I love their chemistry. I feel more comfortable with these two than new and more frequently-changed faces in Jillian's more recent DVDs.

Kit
   Like all Jillian Michaels DVDs, you will need hand weights. It's true that it's a lower body workout, but to burn fat, you need to utilise more muscles, and so some light weights for compound moves is a good idea, as well as heavier ones for deadlifts and the like. But, and this is the first time I've seen it in one of her DVDs, you'll also want a chair or exercise step or bench. Level 2 uses a chair for step-ups and elevated bridges in a single circuit - I used my Reebok Deck at its highest - while level 3 uses it only for Bulgarian split squats, or 'king squats', depending on how you know it, in one circuit. A mat is also advised for comfort while doing fire hydrants and other moves on your knees.

Level 1
   Though the lowest difficulty, level 1, like all the others, has a beginner and advanced modification for every move, allowing you to find an appropriate challenge. Each circuit is made up of a mixture of low-impact strength and high-impact cardio moves, giving you the chance to get your heart rate up, then recover before getting it back up again, ensuring you can push yourself without fear of exhausting before the end.
   The first two circuits are higher impact than the others, with the third being lower and made up of moves like fire hydrants, really giving you your breath back so you can give the last circuit your all. This makes the entire workout more manageable and ensures that you have the energy to complete it, and it's the end that counts. After about 20 minutes, your body has quite likely used up all the energy stored in the muscles (glycogen), and so only then will it begin using body fat for fuel. This is also why it's a good idea to do cardio right after 20 minutes or so of strength training, because you're not as exhausted, can get more out of cardio, and subsequently also do less of it.
   Level 1 seems to target the glutes the most, as I felt it in my rear the following day on a number of occasions.


Level 2
   The jump from level 1 to level 2 was, in my mind, a little bigger than they usually are, and after two weeks (amounting, really, to 5 days of use) on level 1, I found it wasn't quite enough. I didn't go back, though, I stuck with level 2 and gave it my all, but subsequently gave it 3 weeks (8 uses) before moving on.
   The moves are more advanced and complex, with things like push-ups into hero pose from yoga, but the guidance and beginner modifications are there. This is also the level that uses a chair or a high exercise step if you have one in circuit 3, and I recommend you choose a stable one. The step-ups start with a rear lunge, then a step up onto the bench, then a knee raise as if you're going a step higher, before reversing the sequence and then repeating. You don't want something that's going to slip or make you hesitate.
   This workout used more quad (thigh) moves than level 1, like controlled leg extensions, and so I wasn't surprised the following day when I seriously felt it in my quads.


Level 3
   I personally found level 3 easier than level 2, but that's simply because I'm more experienced with more advanced moves from using other Jillian Michaels DVDs which weren't level-based. The jump between level 2 and level 3 wasn't as big as between 1 and 2, which was good, but I still gave it three weeks - partly because I was almost finished, so what was another week, and also because I was seeing definite results.
   Circuit 3 and 4 are both more controlled, and while the camels, fire hydrants with extensions, and bow pose in circuit 4 seriously begin to hurt, it also kind of feels like a mercy. You're doing intense work, but you feel like you can do it. Because you've already done those horrible rockstar jumps into cannonballs.
   Quite happily, I felt this workout the most in my hamstrings.


Verdict
Enjoyment:  ★★★★☆  -  Personally speaking, I love a good lower body workout, and this is no exception. But with a mixture of different kinds of moves, it's far from boring.
Difficulty:  ★★★★☆  -  Jillian Michaels never titles her DVDs mildly and always seeks to deliver on its promise. It is hard, but it has to be.
Results:  ★★★★☆  -  It works.
 
   It is impossible not to see results from this workout. Though each level increases in difficulty, it's also clear that each level targets a different area of the lower body, too. The whole DVD is well-rounded (no pun intended) and targets your legs and bum from all angles. There are some old school moves, like fire hydrants, but Jillian points out - and she is not wrong - that these moves are incredible effective, especially when used in a circuit that mixes strength and cardio.
   It's an amazing fat-burner, metabolism-booster and booty-shaper - seriously - and it also gives an incredibly rewarding feeling every time you complete a level.
   The atmosphere is also wonderful. Older Jillian Michaels DVDs I find a little awkward, while the newest feel a little too aggressive. This DVD, from 2011, is from my favourite JM period - she looks good, she's smiling, and there are one or two points to make you laugh and subsequently lose balance and fall over. This makes it easier to want to use the DVD.
   In fact, even on my birthday I couldn't wait to use level 3 for the 7th time.

   Paired up with Jillian Michaels' Killer Arms & Back on alternating days, you will transform your body, your strength, your mobility and your confidence.



Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Love Brownies Review

   A certain doctor once hissed 'indulgences are what make life worth living'. He wasn't wrong, and as such, despite A Blackbird's Epiphany being a health and fitness blog, above other details, I really want to remind you all that that includes mental health, too.
   Sugar is my vice; I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't even drink coffee. I don't like fast food and I get like 4 takeaways a year. My issue is and always has been sugar, and I've fought to get the control over it that I now have. But I've never cut it out, and I never intend to; instead I've adopted a particular line of thought that seems to contradict its intentions, but is actually immensely clever: if you're going to misbehave, do it properly.
   I don't eat just any old chocolate, instead I buy only the stuff I truly love, and that, most of the time, is expensive and very high quality. Hotel Chocolat, for example: their chocolates are rich, indulgent, and expensive. And worth every. Single. Bite. They're expensive because they're of a very high quality, with no artificial stuff in sight, and even their white chocolate can be up to 40% cocoa. But because they're so expensive, I can't indulge just whenever I want to, and it's too rich to gorge on, either. Plus it's hard to find in general supermarkets, which additionally means it can't just fall into my shopping basket on a whim.
   In short, I only eat sugar if it's genuinely worth it.

   And I finally have something new to add to that list: the aptly-named Love Brownies.


   Disclaimers usually go at the foot of posts like this, but I feel it's important, due to the nature of this review, that it should go bang-smack in the middle instead, to make sure there's absolutely no confusion:
   This review was written on my own prerogative; I've not received any samples, any payment, nor any request by anyone at all, affiliated with myself nor Love Brownies, to write this. It's quite different from what I usually review, and that's because, quite simply, I don't want to keep quiet about this product. I want you to know about it, and I also want you to realise that a healthy lifestyle is a balanced one; it's about moderation, not denying yourself a treat. And these brownies, in my humble opinion, are royalty among treats.


   Every Christmas, Seeg and I, like many people, exchange a box of chocolates. But unlike what we get from other friends and relatives, we tend to go for more expensive things with a flavour specific to eachother rather than anything generic, like Prestat's red velvet truffles rather than a Milk Tray.
   The trouble is that Seeg is much harder than I am when it comes to chocolates. He's grown tired of his old favourites (like hazelnut Lindt or Ferrero Rocher), and finding something else he'll enjoy is tricky. So this year I decided to try a different approach, and after a surprisingly successful and subsequently very brief search for 'brownies', I landed upon Love Brownies.
   I admit that I was dubious about spending £18 on a box of brownies because there's a wide range of ideas as to what classifies something as a 'brownie'. Some people consider brownies as tough cakes, others as soft biscuits, and some people consider them as anything chocolatey that is half way between cake and biscuit. Some like them dry and crumbly, or with a cracking top, while others like them moist and 'fudgey' - which, again, could mean literal fudge or half-cooked batter.
   For Seeg and I, a 'brownie' is a dense chocolate cake, evenly moist all the way through with only dry edges. It should not be spongey, it should be rich and accented with chunks of chocolate, and it should be chewy, not crunchy nor something to be inhaled. It should be eaten on its own or with ice cream, but only if it is warm.
   Which means, of course, that ordering online from a small, independent bakery in Ilkley, Yorkshire, without trying them first was quite an expensive gamble, but one, I hoped would be worth the risk. If not, I'd be taught a very quick lesson.
   But, in case they were the slice of heaven they appeared to be in their pictures, I decided to risk a box of 8 rather than 4, which was only £4 more anyway. I also decided not to buy just 8 double chocolate, instead I bought a mixture of 4 double chocolate and 4 caramel fudge. There were also chocolate orange and even mince pie brownies, among others - in fact you could have a mixed box of one of each flavour - but Seeg isn't as adventurous as I am where chocolate is involved, and for the price, it was beyond the risk I was prepared to take.
   I selected my dispatch date at checkout - December 22nd - and they arrived very next day, freshly baked in a gorgeous turquoise gift box (my very favourite colour) with a hand written note, and I was excited to hand them over.
   Sadly, much to my disappointment, he loved them. And he doesn't love just anything. They were soft, fudgy, but dense - so he said; they were definitely heavy. I bought 8 because they looked small, and while my eyes are known for being many times the size of my belly, for once it was a justifiable idea.
   Though he couldn't manage more than one in a sitting, they were so dense and rich.
   He was gracious enough, eventually, to let me try them, and I knew immediately that I wanted some for my birthday, too. So I placed another order - lesson learned - for a box of 4 caramel fudge brownies. If you've ever had one, you will know why. These are the ones I've photographed for this post.


   Truly, Love Brownies' brownies are dense; they're heavy, physically and in taste, and even I would be hard pushed to have two in one sitting, and I have been called a 'good eater' many times. But this is so far from a bad thing. I wouldn't want to pay £16+ for brownies and to enjoy them for a fleeting moment. Instead, they last, and they keep well. With a shelf life of two weeks (and a best before date stamped onto the ingredients card), they are something to look forward to and, if you're like me, plan your diet around. There is little rush to encourage you to scoff, in fact they actually taste better 4 or so days after baking, which makes the concern of freshness void when having them delivered (free, did I mention?). And nearing the end of the two weeks, they're firmer, and, true, a little drier, but they're still quite undeniably 'brownies'.

   These brownies are gooey, but not too much so; they are sweet, but not overpowering; they are chocolatey, but...they are chocolatey. The caramel, as you can see, is epic, and though they are small in size, they punch well above their weight. One box of four makes for an excellent and more satisfying and longer-lasting alternative to a box of chocolates, or as a small 'boutique' dessert for four on a special occasion - placed perfectly centred on a small, posh plate with some kind of sparkly adornments and you'll do its taste and texture justice. Or heat them up in the oven on a low setting for 5 minutes or so and serve with a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream, and perhaps some crushed nuts.


   If ever there was a brownie that was worth every calorie, every bite, and every ounce of guilt, it is this. Nothing I nor anyone I know has ever made a brownie that can stand up to this, but the fact that they're made in a small, independant bakery allows them to keep the 'handmade' and 'fresh from the oven' labels that generally mark the best of baked confection.

   Boxes start at £12 for 4 'treat yourself' double chocolate brownies, up to £24 for a variety box of 8 brownies, and there are also countless delivery options, from free first class (which I selected for my own, and they still arrived the next day) to guaranteed next day delivery for £5.95, and you always choose your dispatch date. They're always baked fresh, to order, with local, organic and Fairtrade ingredients (and unrefined sugar), and every one of them can be made gluten free or regular. Any note requested is handwritten on a printed band around the box, and the gorgeous box is always tightly sealed.
   They also have hot chocolate spoons, tote bags, marshmallows and gift sets, and if you're passing through Ilkley, you can stop in for a cup of their hot chocolate and a brownie for £4 or so. The perfect re-energiser if you're lucky enough to be hiking through the local Yorkshire landscape.



Tuesday, 17 January 2017

#Fabletics21 Meditation - Week 1

   I've just completed my first week of the #Fabletics21 21-day meditation challenge. I've worked from 3 minutes on day 1 to 5 minutes today, and I have to admit that it's been a bit difficult just to find the time. I exercise most mornings so nothing can get in my way, but I don't want meditation to fall into that category, I want it to be something I do consciously rather than because I feel I have to - though, admittedly, the challenge itself does somewhat force upon me the need to do it.
   I've not found a drastic improvement in my moods, but to be honest, I didn't expect to after just 7 days. The point of the challenge is to make something a habit rather than see immediate rewards. But, having said that, I was calmer after every session.
   With certain announcements made by the Prime Minister today, I've been feeling a bit more stressed than usual, and so rather than 5 minutes I did 10, and it did help to calm my mind and give me a more distanced and subsequently less biased perspective of the situation, and for that I was very grateful. I think meditation will come in as an unfortunate necessity over the next month, but I'm glad I have that outlet.
   I've also been tense the previous few days due to events in my book, and, of course, while I knew these were fictional events with fictional characters, it can be very difficult to distance yourself from them, but meditation reminded me that I'm being damned silly by getting upset about things like this. And no, I won't tell you what's happened, because loosing spoilers is a guaranteed ticket to hell.

   It's been difficult to find the time and remember to do it, as I've said, but I've also found further difficulty with the advised length of time. The first week, as mentioned, is 3-5 minutes a day, but I've found it takes me about that long to actually sink into the calm the meditation is supposed to ooze, so I feel like I've lost out from that a little bit. I have, when needed, extended the duration, but I've not wanted to race ahead of the calendar, otherwise I'll feel like I have to do 10+ minutes every day. It's true, while I'm doing it, that I'd be happy to stay that was for 10 minutes and longer, but the thought of sitting doing nothing for that long can be off-putting when I'm already stressed out - right when I need to do it, I suppose. I'm fighting against the daily personal need to keep running full-steam ahead. It is hard. But I am doing it.





Monday, 16 January 2017

January: 10 Minute Body



   After using Jillian Michaels' Killer Buns & Thighs and Killer Arms & Back for eight weeks, I decided to give myself 2 weeks off before moving into Kettlercise's 'Ignite' in February. The original plan was to use the Killer Body v2 workout for 6 weeks and start something new on January 2nd, but I found the last workout so good that I gave it an extra 2. I'm glad I did for a number of reasons, the two biggest being that I was getting undeniable results so it was worth keeping up, and that, to satisfy the OCD organised side of me, I had 2 weeks before the start of February. It's true I could just go ahead and start Kettlercise now, but I'd rather start a month's workout at the start of the month, not half-way through, and I really don't want to jump from one intense workout right into another, as I said yesterday.
   So I'm giving myself two 'free' weeks to cool off before beginning what, from my experience with Kettlercise, is guaranteed to be a toughy.

   I've had 'free' weeks before, and I find them quite rewarding. It's an opportunity to revisit old workouts - books, DVDs, websites - and remind myself why I loved them, as well as perhaps remind myself that I wanted to give one or two another go before they got pushed out of the limelight.
   Having said that, I was also given two DVDs for Christmas and one for my birthday that I want to have a go at, because I'm not sure that two of them would be good for a month's dedication, and the other I know isn't. And yet it's that last one that I want to give some attention to.
   I am a Jillian Michaels fan girl, it's true, but only because she has delivered me guaranteed results in every DVD I've ever bought from her. And my fitness journey began with a mixture of Wii Fit and 10 Minute Solution DVDs. In fact, though I've long abandoned the dance DVDs, I still actively use the kickboxing 10 Minute Solution DVDs. I'm a firm believer that DVDs of five 10 minute workouts should be a staple in everyone's fitness collection because it provides a guided workout for the days when a long one intimidates you - especially when you're first starting out - but often results in you doing two or three of them because 'what's another 10 minutes?'
   So when Jillian Michaels brought out 10 Minute Body, a DVD of five 10 minute workouts, it went straight on my wishlist.


   Each 10-minute workout is a different theme - kickboxing, bum/lower body workout, Pilates, calisthenics and 'killer cardio' - which means you have a good mixture of cardio and resistance to suit any mood, even on lazy days. It's true that I never give in to lazy days - I often find that I have the best workouts on the days I can't be bothered, so I can't justify not bothering - so if I play a DVD like this I'm guaranteed to use at least three workouts, and that's what I intend to do here.
   For the next two weeks I'm giving myself leave to do whatever workout I fancy, but I intend to use 10 Minute Body six times - three days a week. I don't think I'll be able to get a month's straight use out of this DVD, and to be honest I have no desire to try, but I am still giving it 2 weeks and priority because I'm certain that it's worth the attention. And I'm sure I'll end up using a couple of the 10-minute workouts more than the others, but so be it.

   I do have certain expectations from this DVD. 10 Minute Solution DVDs aren't very high-impact, though the kickboxing is quite good, hence why I still use it, but there's only so much you're going to get from 10 minutes. These DVDs are designed, I feel, for people with little time and little experience - people with lots of experience usually make more time for it, but '10 minutes' is an incentive for newbies, and that's good because it makes fitness so very much more accessible and less intimidating.
   Having said that, this is Jillian Michaels we're talking about, and she does not waste time. Therefore I expect lots of compound moves, no rest and absolutely no wasted time in each of these 10 minute workouts, but the fact that they're all different - kickboxing and Pilates are so very far from the same thing - means that stacking them up shouldn't be an issue.
   I'm hoping to use it for half an hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, using two resistance and one cardio on every run. Though on Fridays I have more time, so I may aim to use all five workouts, or do my usual thing of switching to a kickboxing DVD for an additional 20 minutes after my compulsory 30.

   Also, look at my epic new leggings!! I've wanted these for ages; they're from Wild Bangarang, and they're the armour of Sylvanas, the faction leader of the Forsaken, the first faction I ever played on World of Warcraft and of whom my warlock is once again my main. I was so surprised when he gave them to me for Christmas because they sell out on Wild Bangarang so fast, and I knew size small had been out of stock for months. What I didn't know was that the Blizzard gear store also stocked them (I thought they only had the Infernals) and they had my size. Very happy Kim. They're immensely moisture-wicking, too, and though there's 0 compression because they're not specifically designed for the gym, they're so gorgeous that I really don't care.
   Now I know what amazing quality they are, I can justify buying Arthas and Nozdormu - you know, eventually... 

http://www.wildbangarang.com?rfsn=474698.0db29&utm_source=refersion&utm_medium=influencers&utm_campaign=474698.0db29

   Otherwise, I'll report back in 2 weeks on this DVD and then write a formal review. I'm hoping it will end up being used as my 10 Minute Solution DVDs used to be, to add in a little extra resistance or cardio after another month's dedicated workout, or as a substitute on 'off' days in between the dedicated workout. I usually choose high-impact resistance workouts as my priority each month, and while I used to use them every day despite knowing I shouldn't do full-body resistance on consecutive days, I'm trying to restrict them to 3 non-consecutive days a week. As such, I have room for yoga and general cardio once again, as well as the opportunity to work on skills and flexibility, rather than just weight loss. I am excited for this change, and for this free week, because, 10 Minute Body or not, I'm still free to use other workouts instead.



Sunday, 15 January 2017

Killer Body v2 - Level 3

   Ooof! I'm so proud of myself - I gave level 3 of Killer Body v2 three weeks, not two! And the funniest thing is, even after 8 weeks of using these two DVDs, I'm really sad to see the back of them!  I didn't expect that...
   Level 3 of both Killer Arms & Back and Killer Buns & Thighs were both intense, but surprisingly easier than level 2 - for me, at least. I've found this before, and I think it's because I've used a lot of Jillian Michaels workouts and so I'm familiar with a lot of the moves. So the moves in level 1 are, of course, more basic than the other two, so they're easier to grasp and easier to complete. Level 2, however, increases the intensity and often features new moves, and they are harder, but when I get on to level 3, which is supposed to be the hardest, I find moves similar to other DVDs which weren't separated by level but rather intense from the very start. So I think that familiarity helps - not that that's to say it's easy, mind you, but knowing the moves means I can put more in and improve upon my depth and range of motion.


   I felt that the difference between level 1 and level 2 was a bit bigger than it should have been, more like a level and a half than a single level, and that was why I gave level 2 three weeks instead of two. The idea of moving on to level 3 after two weeks didn't sit right with me, and I do feel it was the right choice. But even so, level 3 wasn't as bad as I'd expected, and the difference between 2 and 3 felt more like a single level difference. It was a suitable jump and it still pushed and provided a challenge - one I certainly needed after Christmas, Seeg's birthday on Dec 28th and my own on Jan 9th! And I completed it with the  brightest of colours and biggest of smiles.


   Frequent readers know I usually change my workout every month, so I never usually give anything more than a straight run of 4-5 weeks, and this was already supposed to be the 'big one' at 6 weeks (two weeks per level) because of Christmas gorging, but it turned out to be 8 weeks instead. And I want to keep going!
   It's been such a satisfying workout, to be honest - I feel an enormous difference in my legs, my bum and my back, and I'm so, so pleased about it! I fully intend to return to these two DVDs, perhaps together, perhaps one at a time, but definitely again this year!

   I'll provide a DVD review for the both of them soon, so keep your eyes peeled if you're interested! Otherwise, despite how keen I am, I've got a new Kettlercise DVD lined up for February, and I don't want to jump from one intense workout right into another as it goes again my 'stop over-working myself' resolution, so I'm going to take two weeks off to do other random workouts, revisiting old DVDs and trying a couple I got for Christmas and my birthday! There's one in particular I'm very keen to try, so much so that I'm going to go as far as to make it my prioritised workout for two weeks, with a review at the end. And that begins tomorrow!



Wednesday, 11 January 2017

How to Meditate - The Basics

   As I mentioned on Thursday, this month I'm going to participate in Fabletics' 21 day meditation challenge to make meditation a daily habit, and I begin today. It's a straight-forward process that #Fabletics21 has lined out to make it easier, as well as providing a 21-day calendar for the timing goals. For example, day 1, 2 & 3 want you to aim for 3 minutes of meditation a day, while day 5 wants 4.5 minutes, day 11 wants 7 minutes, working towards an ultimate target of being able to shut your mind off for 15 minutes by the end of the three weeks, as well as having made it a habit to find time in your day to meditate.

http://www.fabletics.co.uk/21-day-challenge/meditation

   If you're struggling to find the mindset, and even if you fall in love with meditation, you will have days when you just don't want to even if it would help. In these cases, I find having a few dedicated items can help. It goes the same way with exercise - having pretty workout clothing can really help you stay on track, and treating yourself to something gorgeous and expensive becomes a bit of a reward, as well as further investment.
   In the case of meditation, having some nice, loose-fitting clothing can help. A nice oversized top in a nice colour, pattern or with a motivational/relevant quote, and some loose trousers. I always wear leggings or capris when I work out and rarely get on well with loose-legged trousers, but this was a nice opportunity to buy a cute pair that would otherwise go unused in every other moment in my life. To some degree, pyjamas would work very nicely. Whatever you're comfortable in.
   Other meditation-specific things could be a CD or playlist you would otherwise not listen to outside of meditation, or a pretty pillow (zafu or regular sofa cushion) bought for this specific purpose. You get the picture - a useful and visual investment of some sort.

1. Find somewhere comfortable to sit, somewhere soft and quiet where you'll be happy to stay put without fidgeting for at least 5 minutes. Bring a cushion if you need one - sometimes a peaceful spot isn't always comfortable, and a comfortable spot not always peaceful. Better to find a peaceful spot and make it comfortable. Light candles and play some relaxing music, if it helps. If it's your first time, you'll soon find out if it helps or not. If you find it doesn't, turn it off or blow them out.

2. Sit with a straight but relaxed back - your torso should be open and unrestricted to allow for easy breathing, and your back shouldn't be hunched or arched. It should be comfortable and easy to maintain the position, though it may take a moment or so for your body to settle into it. Fold your legs however you find comfortable. For most people it's the Burmese position, with both ankles on the floor, one in front of the other rather than stacked on top. There's no need to go full or half lotus if you don't find it comfortable.
   Close your eyes if you prefer, but don't close them tightly. Closing them to start with can help to shut out outside simulus, but once you've reached a tranquil state later on, don't fight them if they begin to open. Let it happen; most monks who meditated half-shut their eyes, shutting out outside stimulus without turning away from it.



3. Once comfortable, set a timer. Start with 3 minutes and work your way up. Alternatively, you can use music as a timer; the end of a certain track or number of tracks.

4. Breathe deeply, calmly, and from your centre. Let your stomach rise and fall, but try not to over think it. Let it happen rather than make it happen. It may well take a few breaths for this to become natural, and because of this method, this is one of the two most challenging details of meditation.

5. Begin to count your breaths to ten, then go back to one and count again. This is much harder than you expect because your mind will wander. When you notice it wander, start counting your breaths again from the beginning. Don't let yourself get frustrated. There's challenge in any new thing, and this is the second and greatest challenge of meditating.
   #Fabletics21 suggest focusing on a colour instead of counting on your breaths, and when your mind begins to wander, return to that colour. Anything that doesn't take concentration will work. We all know how to count to ten, and we all know what a colour looks like. It takes little to no brain power, and that's the point.

6. When your timer goes off or your playlist finished, open your eyes but don't move. Let yourself absorb the calm you've achieved. You can choose to write down any thoughts that came to mind - the ones that would pop into your head during a time you're trying to shut them out will be the ones most dominantly on your mind and likely giving you the most trouble. Write them down and, as suggested by #Fabletics21, consciously close the notebook and set it to one side. Odds are, most of these will be pointless things that don't deserve worrying about, some might be unavoidable and so time shouldn't be wasted thinking about them and others will either fix themselves or turn out to be better than expected.

   Try to do this three times a week, at least, but aim for every day. Learn that even if you only manage a few minutes, sometimes that's all you'll need, and if you're really stressed out, you'll want to make the time for it, so you're more likely to try harder. If you're really pressed for time, try doing it in the shower. I used it and it worked quite well for me.



Saturday, 7 January 2017

Myth Of The Wild

   For some time now, I've wanted to give my shop a face lift - well, a name change. I never really felt 'Peaches and Pebbles'. I came up with it because I liked the colour peach, the shape of pebbles, and I was making flat things out of polymer clay like rainbow rain necklaces and dinosaur skulls. I felt 'peaches' embodied the whimsical side while 'pebbles' spoke to the dinosaurs. Problem was, I never intended for my shop to get anywhere, so I made it with no kind of business plan in mind. I can't say I really have a business plan now, at least not for my jewellery, but over the past five and a half years, I've really found my niche, and I'm settled in it. I love my animal jars, terrarium necklaces, and my book flowers. I've even been shown in an art gallery, and I have another exhibit lined up for 2018. And since I've found my niche, I never really felt the name fit. It was easy to remember because it conjured images, but I've never been 100% comfortable with it - and I found out very early on that 'Peaches and Pebbles' was already a website, a dead blog, and I've always kind of felt that that's been letting me down a bit. So for a long time now, I've really wanted to break away from it and set myself up with a new name that I can completely call my own. But nothing I've ever come up with in that time has satisfied me.
   I'm also quite a changeable person; I can come up with a name, fall in love with it on the spot, start adopting it into my work and then, a month later, go off of it completely.

   I started giving my shop's name some more thought about 6 months ago - I don't recall why - and I'd settled on Tanuki Totems. I liked the alliteration, I like tanuki and it's a pretty word, and I felt 'totems' lended something a little more special to the necklaces. I looked it up, it was totally free, and so I started working on a new logo and everything. I didn't want to set it in stone, though, knowing how changeable I was, so I gave myself some time to adjust to it and find out if I actually liked it. I did. Until Seeg said it was awfully specific, people would misspell 'tanuki', that I didn't have any tanuki in my shop (hence the arrival of a rather poor and desperate tanuki) and that it didn't seem to include my book flowers.
   I went off it quite quickly, then.
   But of course that meant that I had more to think about, so when I went back to the drawing board, I gave up on alliteration and imagery and tried to look at my jewellery as a whole - there was one clear theme: nature.
   So, after writing down lots and lots (and lots) of words, I started throwing away anything that couldn't encompass every single item in my shop, and was soon left with some relevant if fanciful ideas.
   This was two months ago, and the name I settled on at the time was actually a place-holder. I wanted to do more with it, change it up a bit more - and then, as things often go, that place-holder name really grew on me.
   Myth of the Wild.
   'Wild' encompasses all aspects of nature, including flowers, but also less mainstream animals, and I've found myself making less obvious animals increasingly often - like hyenas, jaguar, spirit bears.
   'Myth' also embodies extinct creatures, and, at a slightly more desperate leap, includes fantasy, make-believe, stories and, subsequently, books.
   But there is one particular idea about the word 'myth' that struck me very quickly and has clung to me strongly since, because it's a thought that has been wheedling its way into my mind with every nature documentary I've watched over the last year: most 'wild' land these days is fenced in. They're nature reserves. There's little true 'wild' left anymore, both in the sense of freedom for animals and general exploration. Aside from deep underground and underwater, there are few areas of the world we've not inhabited, and fewer still we've not stuck our nose into to explore. And with my animals all being sat in jars, by themselves, it's as if they're in captivity - zoos or reserves. And it makes me kind of sad.
   This last point is not a desperate observation to make the name relevant, though it's also not the leading reason for having been chosen. But it does mean that, while the name is whimsical and can be applied in a number of lighter ways - folklore revolving around animals, like tanuki, fantasy stories and extinct/make-believe creatures - there is a deeper implication which I am very aware of and encourage to be considered.


https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/MythOfTheWild?ref=hdr_shop_menu


   Otherwise, I've put some time into re-imaging my shop. I'm not good with digital design, so I'm not 100% satisfied with my new banner/logo, but I'm happy enough to use it. I'd love to have it redone by someone who knows their way around Paint Tool Sai, GIMP or Photoshop, but as it is, given that I've barely used my tablet since I made my book cover, which I made with countless tutorials, I'm pretty happy with it.
   And I've bought a domain name: MythOfTheWild.com. My intention originally was to use Etsy's Pattern and attach a custom URL to it, but I'm not sure I can afford the $9 a month, nor that it will really pay for itself. Plus, like I said, I'm not good with digital design, so I'm not sure I could make the most of what it could provide. So I made a landing page instead. It's far from perfect, but it will do, and it means it'll be easier for people to find me. No more peachesandpebbles.etsy.com, no more uncertain google searches of 'Peaches and Pebbles' and pulling up the dead blog that has nothing to do with me at all. It means I can make a more cohesive business card - hell, I can make a business card - and it means I could get a broader reach. I appear more professional, and I have a business that feels a little more like a business.

   My products, prices and customer service isn't changing. I will still ship worldwide. All links on all blogs and websites to 'PeachesandPebbles.etsy.com' or any variation will direct to Myth of the Wild, as will all product links. All my customer reviews will remain. Any digital record of sales on my end and purchases on yours will stay as they are, and the shop link will also redirect. Favourites won't change. And I'm not leaving Etsy.
   This has been a big decision, but I'm a lot happier with the name, especially now I have a domain name and landing page. I'm hoping it might help my newsletter to take off, too - the implementation of MailChimp to my shop is the only reason I haven't completely ruled out Pattern, and I can always buy the .co.uk and attach that to the landing page and move the .com directly to the shop.

   I'm really happy to implement this change, and though I've been ready for a few weeks, I wanted to wait for the Christmas hype to die down and actually wanted it to kind of coincide with my birthday, too.

   So, from now on, you can forget Peaches and Pebbles - it's Myth of the Wild, now!



Thursday, 5 January 2017

Meditation - #Fabletics21 Day Challenge

 Read Also: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3


   There are a few things I want to achieve this year, but they're mostly just adjustments to the things I usually do, such as exercise a little less, because I've finally realised that pushing myself so hard all the time isn't getting me anywhere in terms of my goals. Otherwise, there's not really anything 'new' on my list of aspirations for the year. I've recently changed that, however.
   Meditation sounds pretentious, and it sounds excruciating. It sounds spiritual, religious, and also quite restricted. Sometimes I feel people shouldn't meditate unless they're of a certain faith, otherwise it seems sort of insulting.
   I've changed that outlook, though. I've realised that it's only if you mimic the spiritual side with beads and Buddha statues without understanding or acknowledging their importance. Otherwise, sitting, relaxing, breathing and clearing your mind doesn't 'belong' to anyone.
   Of course the excruciation is still there - being such a physically and mentally active person, it's a horrible thought to sit still, do nothing, and try not to think. There's also the fear of failure, of your mind wandering and breaking the peaceful absence of thought.
   But, what is there to achieve from meditation? Nothing tangible; if your mind does begin to wander, it's not the end of the world, it's just doing what a mind will. After all, dreams are just the meanderings of an unfocused mind. In fact, the whole purpose of meditation is to train your mind to still itself and allow yourself to step away from whatever is bothering you, and give you the ability to view it from afar, more rationally, once you've finished. That said, it's a given that your mind will wander. It's expected; it's allowed. The purpose of the activity, though, is to learn how to switch it back off again.

   So, this month, I am going to endeavor to make meditating a habit. I used to do it once a week on my rest day when I had the time to zone out. I'd sit down beneath the running water in the shower and let myself switch off. It was easy because there were no distractions, and I make a bit of a ritual out of showering anyway. I like to take care of my body, and that's not just food and exercise, but also skin care, so I'm usually at my calmest and most attentive in the shower.
   But that habit stopped. I don't know why, it just did. Perhaps because it was only for one day a week...

   Fabletics, my all-time favourite sportswear brand, has just launched a social challenge called #Fabletics21 - it takes 21 days, research says, to make something a habit, and they have proposed four different options for participation: running (the easiest of all fitness routines), healthy eating, flat stomach, and meditation. I was about to disregard it all until I saw the last one, and then I was immediately reminded of how I used to do it, how I felt calmer back then, and also how tense and knotted I presently feel. It becomes most obvious at night when I go to bed because I just can't get comfortable. Something had changed, and while I didn't know what when I noticed it and still don't know now, at least I have an idea of how I can fix it.

 
   So I'm going to participate in #Fabletics21 for meditation, and try to make it a habit. I know how to do it, I've read up on it in the past - that's how it was so effective for me when I used to do it - so it's just a matter of enforcing the time.
   But I'm not starting just yet. I'm a few days late for the start of the month, but I thought I could at least time the end to coincide with the end of the month instead. So I'm going to take a few days to prepare - to work out when would be best and most practical to fit it in, to find something comfy to sit on, and to set it into my mind that this is something that has to be done.

   I'm going to put together a few posts throughout the duration, including tips I've read previously and anything new I might learn.
  



Monday, 2 January 2017

Birthdays - What Does 'Growing Up' Really Mean?

   It's my birthday on the 9th. I've been dreading it, if I'm honest - in fact, I've dreaded it for the past four years. It's no secret that my life is less than ordinary because of my mum's disability; my boyfriend and I live with my parents so we can look after her while my dad works full-time as a team leader at GKN, and, naturally, that leads to a cramped house with little true freedom and, above all else, no opportunity to start a life of our own.
   I feel it necessary to state that I'm not actually complaining. I understand necessity, and my dad is genuinely grateful for the help we provide as my mum needs someone on hand at all times and we can't afford a nurse and neither would we want to put her in a home at the age of 49. And, if I'm honest, staying home looking after her all day, every day, has given me the time to run an Etsy shop and, above all else, work on my writing - in short, chase the dream I've had since I was 12.

   But of course, there are certain expectations people have for their lives, and other people have for those around them. 'Growing up', they call it.
   See, my friends understand my situation, but my grandparents, outspoken and misinformed as they are, are oblivious to the extent of my mum's condition (secondary progressive multiple sclerosis) and spout that Seeg and I should have moved out long ago, gotten jobs and 'grown up'. When we finally do leave and 'grow up', because it will have to happen eventually, my dad will give up work because there's no one else willing to look after my mum - not even her misinformed parents, nor my sister who only appears at the door when she wants something. He's made it clear that he's dreading that development.
   But though I know my grandparents are simply wrong in their assumptions and view of the circumstances, I can't help letting it get to me because I always thought that, by the age of 26, I would have gotten a job and been about ready to move out, property permitting.


   So I've dreaded my birthday for the last few years. I'd never really known why, but this year I finally worked out that these are the reasons why, and now I've identified them, I'm facing them head on. We've got money in the savings, made from my little Etsy shop - it's not enough to do anything with, but it's something - and I've got achievements under my belt that I am immensely proud of:

1. I'm officially self-employed, running my own business on Etsy.
2. I've had a 3-month art exhibit in 2015 and have been invited back for 2018.
3. I've published a fantasy novel and I'm working solidly on another, which is miles better.
4. I've dropped from a size 16 to a size 8 in 2 years and gained flexibility, strength and definition due to having the time to dedicate myself to myself.

   So, this year, I've found I don't care that much that I'm a year older and that time is still steadily moving on, whether I'm moving with it or not. I'm turning my mind away from blind expectations and continuing to do both what I must, and what I'm good at. I'm happy, believe it or not - I don't resent my mum's illness nor my situation - and in the end, that's what counts in life. I have no debts, I have no regrets, and while I can count my friends on one hand, and could continue to do so even if I lost half my fingers, my situation has weedled out the weak and unreliable and left me with people I know I can count on 1000%, and I hope I can deliver them the same.

   So, on Monday the 9th, I will turn 26. I will not lose my achievements; I will continue to dedicate myself to my dreams and my family, and I will continue to love myself and those around me to the degree they all truly deserve. And that gives me strength of self and an immense sense of true worth, which makes me proud to be who I am and living the life I've been giving, making the best out of the hand I've been dealt. I have nothing whatsoever to be ashamed or embarrassed by, and, truly, I can get out of bed every morning and greet the world with a smile.
   And that, surely, is being 'grown up'.



Sunday, 1 January 2017

Obligatory New Year Post 2: The Resolution

   I said in yesterday's 2016 round-up post that I never make new year's resolutions with a solid end result. The reason for this is that it's easier to fail on these, and sometimes that can be for reasons out of your control, perhaps because life threw a curve-ball or because your goals and expectations were simply unrealistic. So instead, I decide on what I want to achieve and structure a resolution that will lead me towards it, but word it in a way that keeps it in a reasonable perspective, makes it harder to fail, and also structures mini-goals and landmarks.
   As an example, in 2015 I resolved to try a new workout every single month - the ultimate goal here was to lose weight, build strength and generally get healthier, fitter and happier. But I didn't state anything like 'drop to a size 10' at the time because that may well not have happened and I would have been extremely bummed out by this point. I would also probably have eaten stupidly, gone onto a restrictive or extreme diet that would have made me miserable and I would no doubt have given up on because those kinds of diets are unmaintainable.
   Instead, my spoken goal was to change my workout every month - that meant that I would be encouraged to try new things. I could use difficult workouts knowing it would only be for 4 weeks, I could learn new things, improve on different skills like yoga flexibility and kickboxing, and, above all else, keep it fun, varied and avoid plateaus. In short, that would keep me losing weight rather than burning out and giving up. It's also very difficult to fail a plan like that - after all, all I have to do is dedicate myself to one workout - one DVD, one Youtube channel, one spread in a fitness magazine - for 4-5 weeks, and then, when I reach the end of that, dedicate myself to another one. With all the free resources out there like Darebee, Blogilates, FitnessMagazine.com and so on, how is it possible to fail that?
   In fact, it was so easy and addictive that it became a habit that continued all the way through 2016 and will proceed into 2017, too.
   And guess what? I made the same resolution in 2016 and subsequently very nearly hit a size 8.

http://www.redbubble.com/people/daeaye/works/24651102-fitness-earned-not-given?asc=u

   So what cleverly vague resolution am I making this year?
   Well, I've made one that addresses the biggest problem I faced over the past year: fear of slowing down. I seem to have gotten it into my head that if I skip a workout, I'm going to lose all my progress, or at least the progress of a full month. Which is, of course, preposterous.
   Now, I'm not talking about skipping a workout because I can't be bothered or because I don't have the time - exercising in the morning means that nothing has the chance to get in the way, and it sets me up for the day, too. I will never let myself skip a workout for such a stupid reason, and if I didn't have the time, I'd juggle things around and slip it in later, or sneak it in throughout the day. Rather, the point I'm hoping to address is skipping a workout due to injuries, sickness and things like that. Sometimes, exercising while you're ill is a good idea because it can help your body clean itself out, get the lymphatic system moving and help you to 'sweat it out', but there are points when it's not wise, as this Darebee article on Exercising When You're Sick explains.
   Unfortunately, while this information is obvious when you read it, it doesn't get put into practise in my head. Instead, the only reason I'll skip a workout is if a migraine strikes or I've actually broken or twisted something. I need to be immediately incapacitated in order to take a break; as far as I'm concerned, if I can move, I can exercise.
   The trouble here is that my body is put under too much strain, injuries are exacerbated, and most importantly, the results I'm working so hard for are simply not going to happen because I can't put the effort in that I need to - or my body can't recover from what I did manage to muster. That fear is what I want to address this year.

   So, 2017's resolution is to get over my fear of slowing down and to identify when I need it, and to get into my head that it's 20% work and 80% food. I'm not going to lose my progress by taking one or two days off to recover from an injury or sickness, but I will if I give up on eating well for those two days, too - like if I scoffed 3 boxes of chocolates and had pizza for dinner on both occasions. Brainless decisions like that will hinder progress, but I know myself, and I know that such a thing is not likely to happen at all, especially if I haven't exercised. If I'm ill or feeling that bad, I might have a treat, but it would be small and I would feel immediately guilty, so much so that it couldn't happen again because, if it was two chocolates from a box, I would either throw the rest of the box out or give them away to whoever was nearest. And, I suppose, guilt is something else I need to work on because I eat so well and exercise so intensely and regularly that I have no reason to feel bad about a small taste of chocolate once a week.
   Not only that, but the rate at which I exercise might also be too much, itself. I may be overdoing it and slowing my results by pushing too far. The best way to address this, I think, is to purposely choose a low-impact workout for a month every now and then, or to take a week out from a pre-determined high-impact high-result workout in favour of something more fun, familiar and slower to let my body settle. Jumping from one massive workout into another isn't smart - that's why I've already pencilled in a 2-week 'break' consisting of any workout I want between my 8 weeks of Jillian Michaels' Killer Body v2 and 4 weeks of Kettlercise's Ignite which I begin in February.

   This is the most grown up resolution I've ever made because it doesn't address a dream or something I want to achieve, but rather addresses an area of myself that I desperately need to improve upon for both physical and mental health. Which also means it's going to be harder because it's forcing me to face the voice in the back of my head and to tell myself, actively, when I'm being stupid - and that means I need to be able to see when that's the case.
   I'm a little bit frightened of this, if I'm honest, because even while writing this I still harbour the idea that a day off means undoing weeks of work, and I think that just drives home the necessity all the more.

   Do you have any resolutions this year? If you're still trying to come up with one, take a look at this post of new years resolution ideas I made in 2015, and also consider what I said above and in another 2015 post about wording your plans to make failure-proof new year's resolutions. You still have time - as far as I'm concerned, a new year's resolution should begin at some point within January, not necessarily January the 1st. But even then, I believe even more strongly that decisions to improve your life and well-being should be put into action immediately, because waiting until Monday, the start of a month, or the start of a year, puts the plan on a pedestal and gives you further to fall and subsequently further to climb to get back on the horse.


One final piece of advice to start your 2017 off right: you can't fail until you give up.
Deadlines can be moved, extensions given, special conditions and amendments to make goals more realistic. Making use of these does not mean you've failed, it means you're still going.