Monday 31 March 2014

April: 30 Day Shred

Read also: Level 1, Level 2Level 3 & DVD Review

Fun Rating: ★★☆☆☆    Difficulty Rating: ★★★★☆     Results Rating: ★★★★☆
   For April's fitness trial, I decided I'd try the biggest challenge yet: a 30 day shred. Jillian Michaels is one of the most famous certified fitness instructors in the world, and her DVDs are some of the world's most best selling fitness DVDs. But they are not for the faint-hearted, and while I wouldn't describe myself that way in regards to fitness, I am under no illusions about her technique. And so, it is with much caution that I begin this trial.
   You'll also note that I'm starting April's trail on March 31st. I know I've gone on and on about pedestals in the past, but since the 1st of April was a Tuesday, I figured starting a day early would be a good idea.

   There are a few things I feel I need to say before beginning my trial however, for the benefit of others who are interested:
   Shreds typically use weights and are very much power-filled workouts. The thing with them is, however, you shouldn't really use weights more than 3 times a week, and you should definitely take a day or two off of workouts to rest up every week. A 30 day shred doesn't accommodate this. You're supposed to work at it for 30 days straight, and to an extent that isn't really all that good for your body. I think that part of the reason you have to go for 30 straight days, is because it's only a 30-day workout, after which point you have to find something else to do. You should not repeat the DVD so soon, and you should not expect it to be easy - but definitely don't go into it expecting to fail.
   Women who refuse to use weights because they're afraid that they'll turn into a super muscular woman are absolutely pathetic. Gaining a body similar to that of a body builder does not happen by accident, and it does not happen quickly even then. They go through a lot of training and use weights you'd never be able to lift without practising on much smaller weights first and moving up. There is no way you will turn into a body builder even when using an 8kg kettlebell and 4kg dumbbells, it just won't happen, so never ever shy away from weights. You absolutely should use them if you're trying to slim down, and the reason for that is this: strength training builds lean muscle, and lean muscle improves the rate of calories burned as well as your metabolism while resting. What's lean muscle? Lean muscle, simply put, is exercised muscle. Think of it this way: we all have muscles, that's how we're able to move. Lean muscle is muscle that has been used and toned with weights, kick boxing, sports and so on, muscle that has been used for more than simply walking to the shop and carrying home the shopping. So pick up the dumbbells, buy some weighted gloves (I swear to you that they're totally worth the money) and get lifting. Add them into your dance DVDs, your yoga, even while doing house work. They will boost your workouts.

   A 30 day shred will give you results if you dedicate yourself to it and do it right - and by 'dedicate yourself to it' I don't mean drink only protein shakes and swear off chocolate, though the latter may help. I just mean make sure you rest properly, don't overdo it, and eat properly throughout those 30 days. The trouble with the results, however, is this: 30 day shreds are, to a degree, a quick fix. They do get results, but you have to continue to stay active to keep them, and by calling it a '30 day' workout plan, you're less likely to want to workout after completing it since you'd have gone 30 days without rest, telling yourself when it got tough that 'it's only 30 days'. Once those 30 days are up and you see your results, you are likely to revert back to normal after a few weeks if you don't keep active and eating properly. No, this doesn't apply to everyone, but it is very basic psychology, and a lot of people will succumb to it. The simple way around it: line up another workout DVD to follow on after the 30 day shred. Try something that's more fun like hip hop or latin dance, or something empowering and fun like kickboxing. 10 Minute Solutions have 2 hip hop, 2 kickboxing and 1 latin dance DVDs, plus plenty of other types of dance and other kinds of workouts too. If you go into the 30 day shred with something lined up to do after those 30 days, you'll get through the shred easier, and learn to keep the weight off.
   You'll be strengthening and toning your muscle in this workout as well as increasing your heart rate, so it's important to remember that muscle weighs more than fat. There is an enormous visual difference. How enormous? That enormous ↓ That's 1kg of fat beside 1kg of muscle.

You can lose an inch from your waist but gain a pound. That's why it's a very good idea, regardless of what you're doing, to both weigh yourself and measure yourself every 2-4 weeks. Any more frequently than that and you're less likely to see any honest difference, but rather see fluctuations that will mess with your head. Also you have to keep in mind: do you want to weigh less, or do you want to be slimmer? If it's the latter then keep with the weights and don't take what the scale says to heart. A tape measure is your best friend. And when using weights, it's also important to realise that BMI, or Body Mass Index, completely goes out of the window, so you should ignore that completely.

   I've decided to do this DVD because it's been praised to the heavens and I want to see for myself a) if it is any good, and b) just how hard it truly is. I'm expecting it to be harder than I think, not easier, and I'm going to go in fighting. These things will affect different people differently, that much is certain, but I'm looking forward to seeing how my body will react to it.
   I do, however, have no intention of stopping exercising after the 30 days are up. I intend, of course, to continue with other workouts, but I do, perhaps foolishly, expect to see results from this. There are a few reasons, other than its praise, as to why I expect this: 1) I am used to taking a break, not working out for 30 days non-stop, so this will shock my body, and, I hope, help to keep a plateau away, which is why I've taken up this new year's resolution in the first place. 2) I usually do cardio in the mornings, not weights (weights and strength I do in the evening 3 times a week), so this is hopefully another big change that will get my body working harder and out of its normal routine.
   However, because I know my body and I know what my stamina is like, I decided a week ago that I would dedicate Saturday the 19th and Sunday the 20th to resting, breaking the 30 day shred into two different parts. Those two days will do wonders for my recovery - it may seem too little compared to 20 days of exercising, but from experience I'm confident that it will be enough, and I also know that I'll need it.

   The 30 day shred is a 60 minute DVD broken up into three levels, each of which is 20 minutes long. You spend 10 days on level 1, 10 days on level 2 and 10 on level 3, using the DVD for a measly 20 minutes a day. You can spend a few extra days on each if you don't feel confident enough to move on, and by doing so you'll be dragging the shred out a little longer and doing a bit more work by the end of it, but you don't truly need to. You must also try to realise that you probably won't be able to do everything she tells you to at first, which is why you're more likely to spend a few extra days on the first level rather than on the others. You'll loosen up quickly, however, and learn the moves, and you'll be able to do the next level when it comes around.
   Another thing to keep in mind is that the heavier the weight, the better the workout, but if you honestly can't handle the weights this superwoman suggests, go for a lighter weight, but whatever you do, do keep at the DVD. You can always increase the weights when you come back to the DVD a few months later (I mean, who buys a fitness DVD and uses it once?). In the US weights are measured in pounds (lb), whereas in the rest of the world, weights are measured in kilograms (kg). 1kg is equal to 2.2lbs, so yes, weights in Europe weigh a little more than they do in the US because they're generally used in whole weights (ie 2lbs, not 2.2lbs; 2kg, not 1.8kg). But, if you want to try to make it a little easier for yourself, round it down. If they say to use a 2lb weight, don't look for a 0.8kg weight, us a 1kg weight. Half the number of pounds to get the number of kilograms. I'm currently using 2.5kg dumbells and 4-6kg kettlebells.

   I won't be doing just this DVD in the mornings. I will probably be completely exhausted, but I'm going to continue to use a hula hoop (just because the month has finished doesn't mean I'm done with the workout!) and spinning machine afterwards, more low-key stuff in comparison. This will keep my heart rate up and allow me to burn more calories, but also give my mucsles a chance to wind down and stretch out and allow my whole body to gradually recover, as opposed to stopping suddenly.
   I'll be sure to post again when I've finished level 1 with an update, assuming my arms still work, and then again at the end of level 2, and then at the end of the shred with my verdict, and, hopefully (all fingers crossed), my results.

Sunday 30 March 2014

Heart Hulaerobics DVD Review

Price: £5
Length: 1 hour 20 minutes
Workouts: All-over body
Suitable for: beginners and more experienced hoopers 
Amazon UK 
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Based on 4 weeks of use.
   The Heart Hulaerobics DVD is actually a pretty good product. In the US, Hoopnotica is a pretty big thing, but those DVDs aren't available in the UK, which sucks big time. In fact, the only hooping DVD I could find was this one.
   But before I get into it, I feel I have to say this about fitness DVD reviews: take the negative reviews with a pinch of salt. Time and time again I see DVD reviews on Amazon that gave only 1 star because it was "hard" and they only used it "once". These are not at all valid reviews. Why? Because a fitness DVD is supposed to be hard. If you're able to do half of the DVD easily on your first try then you need a new DVD. If they don't challenge you, they won't be effective for long. And as for only using the DVD once and finding it hard? They're not designed for one use, they're designed to be learned and re-used often. People who leave reviews like this are generally people who were either looking for a simpler workout, or were simply looking for the most results for the least work, and that is not how weightloss works at all. I've bought a lot of DVDs with reviews like that, and I've found them to be perfectly good, and, more importantly, effective.

   Now, on with the review. Like a lot of fitness DVDs, this DVD has been split into sections, such as 'tum', 'bum', 'arms' etc. Now, I will point out that the first two sections aren't really part of the workout. There is a warm-up section, yes, but I've never really done it because I've always started hooping after about 20 minutes of dance, so I'm fully warmed up by that point. But even so, I did do it once and it is more than adequate. If you're worried about looking silly, remember that you're in your own home while doing it and no one can see you if you draw the curtains! Don't worry about what peeping Toms think.
   There is another section that I feel compelled to point out isn't part of the workout, and that's the 'how to hoop' section. It does feel a bit like an interview, because you have the instructor talking to a Heart FM radio host who has come to hoop with her for a bit, and they're just asking eachother how they are and silly things like that. But after a few minutes you will begin to see the value of this section. Instead of watching an instructor hoop expertly, you're watching her do that with a far less experienced person beside her making the same mistakes you are. The instructor corrects her, and that makes it a lot easier for you to correct your own mistake, because you can see that 1) you're not the only one doing it, and 2) you're getting genuine advice. Watch this section and you will learn to hoop properly, and you'll find the hoop is being far more co-operative than it was before.

   Then comes the real workouts. Now, I will admit that I've been using this DVD for two weeks and I haven't progressed past the 'tum' section, not truly, but I have looked at and tried the rest of the DVD once. The 'tum' section takes you through power hooping - hooping really quickly - and hooping at an angle, where you lean back and push your body up through your toes and get the hoop to spin at an upward angle instead of horizontally. This isn't easy, at all. Like I've said, I've not truly moved past this section of the DVD even after 2 weeks. That's how tough (and effective) the workout is. I've only just grasped how to hoop at an upwards angle.
   The second section is called 'back', and as it suggests, it's focusing more on the back muscles than the abdominal muscles. I have tried this section, and believe me when I say that I've not been so frustrated at a workout DVD that I've wanted to throw whatever was in my hand at the time (the hoop) through the window for about a year or two now. There was a move similar to the upward hoop from the previous section, but was downwards instead, and I found it frustratingly impossible. I soon found why, however: 1) my legs and feet were already exhausted from the tum section which I had run through twice already just before then, and 2) I was trying to keep up with the instructor. No, I've still not mastered the section at all (in fact I'm a little afraid of it), but the next morning, I left the DVD off, put on The Simpsons, and tried that back move again at my own speed and in my own time, and I kind of, sort of, maybe almost got the basics of it down. Perhaps. But I didn't want to throw my hoop out of the window that time. Simply put: there are sections to the DVD that are ridiculously hard, but practice them and you will get them. If you're struggling to keep up with the instructor, remember that it's not a dance routine, so you can turn it off and focus on teaching yourself the move.
   One thing I will add to that section, though, is that at the end of it, the radio host does come back and the two of them go over that move (called the booty bump) and you can see her make the same mistakes you will. The instructor, as before, identified the problem and offered solutions. I had given up at that point because I was exhausted when I saw it, but I appreciated what she was saying. Personally, I was struggling to get the hoop to go diagonal because my back muscles were exhausted. All I was doing was keeping it horizontal (and, don't ask me how I managed it, at several points I got it moving at an upwards angle again - clearly I was doing something wrong!).
   There is a section for the arms - beware where you try this: I have yet to do so myself because I'm convinced I'm going to bring the ceiling fan down - and a section for legs. There's a section for the bum, and one of the two moves is definitely difficult. The other kind of goes against what you were initially taught (keeping the hoop above your hips) because it has you bringing the hoop beneath (not on!!!) your hips and around your bum instead. You have to spin the hoop much faster to keep it there, and trust me when I say it's surprisingly taxing.

   Overall, while it is the only hooping DVD available in the UK, it is actually a good one. It doesn't teach you a million moves, but the moves it does teach you are surprisingly hard, but they are learnable. It's difficult enough to last for quite some time, is well-worth the little money it costs, and despite what some reviewers whine about (some people complained about the music - the DVD came out in 2007, of course the music is old! It's a workout DVD anyway, not a music DVD. Some people really annoy me), it's actually perfectly adequate. Don't get me wrong, I'd love a new one with some new moves so I can do even more, but for now, this has more than enough for me. So while you don't really have a choice if you're looking for a Region 2 hooping DVD, rest assured that this DVD is actually pretty good. I bought it second hand, but if it suddenly broke or went missing, I would buy it again, and at full price, because it's well worth more than the asking price, as I believe most of my fitness DVDs are (bare in mind, however, that the effectiveness of a workout depends on how often you do it, how long you spend on it at a time, and how you behave in regards to food and activity outside of exercising).

Hooping: 4 Weeks Later

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

   How effective can standing in one place while spinning a hoop around your waist possibly be? You're not exactly jumping up and down, plus hula hoops are just kid's toys!
   While these points may be true to a degree, hooping is surprisingly hard work. I didn't expect it to be so exhausting at any rate! I thought I'd give it a go because of all the hype, plus even if it wasn't that effective, it could be a good workout for quieter days, or a means to increase my workout time by adding some hooping onto the end of it.
   After this month of hooping, I have come up with a verdict: it is awesome. It's not easy at first, but once you get the hang of it, you really get the hang of it, and it really is enjoyable. My waist, to my surprise, has become firmer and more toned, and those were results I didn't at all expect to see. It's also not an expensive workout - sure, a good hoop isn't exactly chips, but they last a long time, can give your whole body a workout, and it's the only thing you really need. I'm also glad I swapped my first massage hoop in for a padded one - you can read why, and the beginning of the month, here.

   There are two things I feel I have to say about hooping, however, in case anyone is thinking about trying it: 1) you will bruise, and 2) you will drop the hoop.
   Why will you bruise? Because you're not used to keeping it around your waist. It doesn't matter if you get a massage hoop or a padded one, the fact is that the hoop will drop down to your hips from your waist, and that will bruise your hips. Also, it's likely to hurt your waist since your waist is soft and gently and not used to having such a thing spin around it. But know this: your waist will toughen up, and it won't take long. Your waist will toughen naturally just by using the hoop, and when your waist toughens, you'll find it much easier and more comfortable to keep it around your waist, it'll stay off your hips and bruising won't occur. It's really very simple.
   However, from my personal experience, I would recommend a padded hoop, not a massage one. Those little massage nobbles can hurt like hell and really put you off. I would also recommend following the instructions that come with the hoop, which is usually as follows: use for 3 minutes a day for the first 7 days, then 5 minutes a day for the following 7. Once you've adjusted, you can build that time up. It might seem counter-productive to use it so little at the beginning, but those timeframes are there to give your waist a chance to properly toughen up and get used to it. It's far better to use it for 3 minutes a day, every day, than it is to use it for 10 minutes in one day and be unable to use it again for another four because you're hurting too much. Never, ever, ever ignore these kinds of instructions, they're there for your benefit as much as the company's legal protection (meaning that you can't sue them over injuries if they made a point of letting you know how to avoid them, or telling you that they're inevitable, and in this case, the bruising certainly is).

   Why will you drop the hoop? Because initially it's hard to keep it up and keep it spinning. When you're a kid, you're full of energy, you're more flexible, and the hoop you're using is really light, so it was easy peasy lemon squeezy. An adult hoop, however, is bigger and heavier, and we're not all as flexible as we used to be. You will probably think, when you first start spinning the hoop, that I'm talking nonsense, and that it's easy. That's because you've spun it in an instinctive direction which likely correlates to being right- or left-handed. You have to spin the hoop in the opposite direction for the same amount of time in order to tone properly on both sides of your body (five minutes one way, five minutes another), and that's when it will fall, and fall it will, probably almost immediately. Stick with it. Believe me, you adjust quickly, and it'll get easy very fast. I think it took me 3 days with a total of 5 minutes a day to get the hang of it completely and it was quickly easy as pie.

   I mentioned two weeks ago that I got myself a hooping DVD. I haven't mentioned it since, but reast assured that I've been using it, and I really must say that I recommend getting a hooping DVD. You don't have to spend a fortune - get it second hand and learn the parts and then you can do it without the DVD. Hoopnotica, which I know is popular in the US, is not available in the UK, so I bought the only one that was: Heart Hulaerobics. It's been made by Heart FM, but just because it's a radio station rather than a gym, don't think it's not reliable. The instructor is a proper instructor, and the DVD is clear and directional. That's not to say that it's easy, though. It's got several sections, and that's not counting the first two. The first two sections are an introduction, and a 'how to hoop' which basically shows you how to do it properly (hint: don't move your hips in circles, move your weight through your feet and pump your waist backwards and forwards). A Heart FM radio host is doing it with her at that moment and she is clearly not a professional, and that's good, because she's making similar mistakes that you probably will be, and the instructor corrects her and makes sure she's doing it right, and that is quite valuable. It pops up later in the DVD to cover a move from the 'back' section which I have to admit I haven't at all mastered myself yet.
   I'll be posting a DVD review that covers more of it in a few days.

   For now, I'll simply say this: hooping is a good way to workout. It's fun, and it's challenging enough. You can do it anywhere - in your living room, the garden - and you don't truly need a DVD to do it, just some instructional videos on Youtube would do. It is hard work, but when you've learned a few moves, you really do start to feel like a clever clogs, and that's a feeling I don't get elsewhere these days! March's workout challenge has been a load of fun. I feel a lot slimmer and more toned, and I just feel a lot better physically than I have from any other workout before.
   As I've said, I'm going to post a review on the DVD in a couple of days, and I'm also going to try to put together a post of hooping tips for those of you who are more interested. When I started, before I got the DVD, I was looking around the internet for tips and I didn't find any of them helpful, so I'm hoping I can put together a post full of the things I was looking for myself in the beginning.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Mother's Day Purchasing Deadline Tonight

   Yup, if you're planning on buying from either Peaches and Pebbles or Ebony Fawn for Mother's Day, you'd better do so now! I'm making my last post run before Mother's Day tomorrow, early afternoon, so place your orders tonight or early tomorrow morning to get them out in time.
   This obviously only applies to UK's Mothering Sunday, which is March 30th. Mother's Day in other countries is May 11th, so if you're planning to get something from my shops for that date instead, please be sure to purchase by April 20th at the latest. Any purchases placed after then may well not reach you in time. It takes, on average, 2-3 weeks to get from the UK to the US and 3-4 for other countries, but often sooner - but I don't think it's worth taking the risk.
'Happy Mother's Day' cake topper £12 with 5 free watercolour rose cupcake toppers ♥ Ebony Fawn

Sunday 23 March 2014

Shiny Skrelp + Pokerus

   Seeg doesn't buy me things and he doesn't make me things. He shows his love in less tangible ways, but ways that mean a lot. But when he does do it in a tangible way, he does it in a way typical of himself. Like spending hours trying to get me a pokémon that is exclusive to his game (each Pokémon game comes out in 2 versions, at the moment it's X and Y, and each version has some pokémon exclusive to that version but is tradable to the other), which is also a shiny, and put it in a luxury ball so it sparkles when it comes out.
   Skrelp is one of my favourite pokémon of the current generation, and is basically a leafy sea dragon. I love leafy sea dragons, and this pokémon is both adorable, and actually quite good. It's also contracted pokerus from one of his pokémon, which is a pokemon virus, which is 33% less likely to occur than a shiny, so it's bloody rare, and increases the stats of the pokémon a little more than usual each time it levels up. So whether you give a crap about pokémon or not, the image shown below is not something many people ever see for themselves.

   He's played more or less every Pokémon game and only seen 4 shinnies, which are rare versions of the normal pokémon with different colours, so for him to have not only found one, but found one of the pokemon I wanted and then to give it to me, it means a hell of a lot. Like I said, he doesn't do many tangible things, but when he does, he does it in his own fashion, and because it's so infrequent, it means a hell of a lot.
   It's level 55, and should have evolved at level 48 but I had to give it an Everstone to stop that because I didn't have a photograph yet D:

Saturday 15 March 2014

Hooping: 2 Weeks Later

   I've been hooping now for about two weeks - that's not including the two weeks before that of just hooping 3-5 minutes a day - and I've worked up to twenty minutes a day. I've got myself a DVD to use but I'm waiting until Monday to start using it.
   I have to admit that, as simple as it seems, hooping is so much fun, and takes a great deal more concentration than you'd think, especially when using a weighted hoop. It's also kind of difficult. Initially, you're likely to start spinning it counter-clockwise around your waist, and that's fine, but you also have to spin it in the other direction after about five minutes. I tried this when I was doing ten minutes a day, and spent the five clockwise minutes spinning it about three times then dropping it over and over again. After a few days, though, I got the hang of it, and can now confidently spin it in both directions for prolonged periods of time.

   The hoop is quite hard to use actually, and you do work up a sweat if you're doing it properly. You have to use your abs, not wiggle your bum. You don't spin your hips, you move them back and forth. After a while, the hoop will spin faster and it'll just get caught in momentum and virtually spin on its own with little help on your part, and that's not much good. If that happens, slow it down. The slower you go, the harder you have to work to keep it up.
   Hooping really works at toning all around your waist - your abs, obliques, your back, and it works your core. If you relax your shoulders, you'll find your arms are getting a bit of a workout (and once you're confident that you can keep it spinning, you could do a few dumbbell lifts in the process and give your arms, co-ordination and concentration a better workout), and your legs get a bit of work, too, all from just doing basic hooping.

   I've actually noticed a shrink in my waist over these two weeks, though only a minor one, but I definitely feel the muscles having been toned a little. I'm firmer right the way around, and that's an amazing feeling.
   As for the bruising I mentioned at the beginning of the month, it's almost totally disappeared because my body has toughened up, but also because I have a better idea on how to actually spin it properly (I can't really explain how to do it, you'll just feel it when you do it right, and it won't try to spin downwards so much). I do still get the occasional bruises, but they're usually yellow, so they fade fast, and they tend to form coincidentally after I've bumped it on my hips in the wrong way, so they're all my own fault and easily avoidable. But regardless of bruising - it's only bruising - I really do recommend it. It's such good fun!

   I'm going to give a write-up of the DVD I've got either a week from now, or at the end of the month with the result write-up. Unfortunately there are DVDs by a group called Hoopnotica, but they aren't available in the UK unless you use a region-free DVD player (ouch), so I've had to go for a UK alternative of which there is only one level, not three. Here's hoping more will come out while the hula hoops are still hot!
   For now, though, I'm having plenty of fun hula hooping for twenty minutes a day. I put The Simpsons on while doing it, but I do have to make sure I concentrate on what I'm doing. It's not easy. Either way, so far, so good!

Weekly Deal: Birdhouse Necklace for Mother's Day

   This week's deal is on my birdhouse necklace! It's been quite popular on the run-up to Mother's Day (March 30th) this year, and sold very well last year! I've knocked the price down to £13.50 from £17, and UK postage is just £1.50 (outside the UK, postage costs £3/$5). There are currently only 6 available, however, so get in quickly! Offer only applies on my Etsy shop; discount codes cannot be used in conjunction with this offer.

Monday 10 March 2014

Fox Jar Necklaces £14 / $23 Sale

Today only, my fox jar necklaces are just £14/$23. Get them while you can!
The price will return to normal tomorrow at approximately 8am GMT.

Santoro London Gifts & Stationery

   I've mentioned before how much I love stationery, especially notebooks. I came across a wonderful website, Santoro, the other day, and I had to share it with you.
   Santoro London has a gorgeous range of stationery and gifts based around their unique collections, my favourite of which are Gorjuss, Mirabelle, Willow and Once Upon a Time. Each series of illustrations share similarities, such as dark or melancholy colours for the most part, and whimsical, light-hearted subject matter. That is exactly the kind of whimsy I adore. Yes, of course the miniature animal jar or birdhouse necklaces I make strike a chord with me, but I've always had a love for cute, whimsical subjects in darker colours that contradict the mood. I don't know why, I've just always loved it. I think it stems back to my teenage love of Rachael Huntington's illustrations, particularly of animals.

   While I've struggled to make the decision, I think Gorjuss is my favourite collection, which is also perhaps quite saddening. As well as lovely notebooks, pens, mugs, bags and boxes and so on, there are also dolls in the same style at a painful £90 - it breaks my heart because I want one so much! The style is beautiful; the little ladies lack both noses and mouths, and their innocence is projected by their eyes and adorable hair and clothes. The colours, on the other hand, as I've mentioned, are dark and dreary. Even the rainbow horse on the gorgeous gift bag features darker shades of the rainbow rather than vibrant or pastel. I love that.

   I'm all for presentation, and I think that this 'White Rabbit' illustration Gorjuss mug has the best presentation for a mug I've seen so far. The box is sturdy and beautiful, both the lid and the box itself, and even the lining of the box, is a beautiful damask instead of just plain white. It really is the little things. The mug itself is light and feels very, very well made, though delicate, and will accompany my cups of tea or hot chocolate (depends what day it is) beautifully. I really love it. It's 'simply gorjuss'.

   The 'Tell Me Something' illustration notebook I got my hands on is from the Mirabelle collection, which, like Gorjuss, focuses on females, and while it maintains its whimsical style, there is a notable difference. The cameo-style frame and coat of arms at the top and bottom circles the illustration gorgeously, as it does so many others, and lends a more sophisticated air to the whimsy. The notebook itself is very strong with nice, thick paper that won't bleed through easily (something I just can't stand), and has sewn-binding. I've mentioned before how much I love notebooks, the prettier the better, but I don't like to give notebooks random or undedicated uses. I'll buy cheap £1 notebooks for random notes and things to remember, or just stick with funny-shaped post-it notes. When I find a subject that I have a lot to write down about, such as plots or simple ideas for future plots, I will pick a notebook, preferrably a pretty and big one, and that will forever be dedicated to that topic. For now, this lovely notebook will sit with the few other truly gorgeous ones I have and wait for their very important assignments. The nicer the book, the more important its use will be.
   The 'The Guide' pen shown is from the Willow collection, and has an even more complex illustration style to the others. The ink is gorgeous, and as someone who uses a lot of pens (I massively prefer to have my book plan and all of my book notes written out, by hand, on paper, so that I can spread as much of it in front of me while working or progressing my worlds as much as possible without having to switch between windows on a computer. Half of my books themselves get written by hand first), the ink is a very important aspect of pens. If the ink keeps starting and stopping, even just slightly, not even so much that I need to go back and redraw a line but enough that it's not completely smooth, my train of thought gets broken because I'm distracted by a minor OCD of vaguely broken lines. And yes, that is my handwriting; it's atrocious, but I can read it and that's what counts.

   Finally, I've got this lovely hammered 'Frog Prince' illustration card from the Once Upon a Time collection. I don't often look for cards, but when I do, I can't help getting distracted by lovely designs. If a birthday is coming up, I will often end up buying multiple cards and keeping some for myself as prints. Sometimes I find it quite sad when I find a really gorgeous design somewhere but it's only available as a card, when I'd love it as a print, but I remind myself that there's only so much room on the wall what with replicas of all kinds of props from Middle Earth (you remember I mentioned my AMAAAZING replica of Radagast's staff that Seeg's parents got me for Christmas), Chinese and Japanese pictures that Seeg collects and the prints and paintings I've slowly accumulated from Etsy.

   I adore Santoro. They also stock clothing in some of the same collections, gorgeous nesting suitcases in the same collections again, and amazing pop-up and swinging cards that I may just have to get a few of. And, as simple as it is, I love the round postcards and only wish I'd have spotted them when I got this bundle of goodies! Their selections are huge, both in design and product, and the customer service is delightful. I really do recommend them if you're looking for some gorgeously whimsical designs (in bright colours, too) on some gorgeously unexpected products.

Thursday 6 March 2014

World Book Day Sale!

   Happy World Book Day everyone! I remember when I was in primary school I loved it. We'd be given a £1 book voucher that could be used in any book shop either as £1 off of any book we wanted, or to get a free book valued at £1 that was brought out specially for this day. They were quite small books, but perfect for primary school children like I was. I would go around collecting all the book vouchers from friends who didn't want them and I'd get myself LOADS of £1 books.
   I also remember that for the week of World Book Day, my primary school would hold a book market in one of the school halls - it sounds more awesome than it actually was in hindsight, but as a kid I loved it. I'd go around after school, telling the teachers which books I wanted and they would hold them for me until I had money. I'd go home and tell my mum I needed £15 for all the books (remember when an ordinary book would cost £3.50?) I'd put by and they were angry with me - in typical English fashion, once you've reserved something you MUST pay for it, you can't simply say "I know you've been holding this item for an hour, and you could very easily sell it to someone else in the next few days, but I no longer wish to own it so please put it back on the shelf for one of any number of other people to buy." So they gave me the money and I got my books. Fortunately for my parents and unfortunately for me, when I got to high school that kind of thing stopped, but I still have fond memories of World Book Day and all the wonders the books around me held. I still consider books to be one of my favourite things. As cheesy as it sounds, they're doors to new worlds, especially when you read fantasy as much as I do.

   So, in celebration of World Book Day, my book flower rings, necklaces and gift sets have been reduced in price! If you have a discount code it can still be used on the items to get them for even less. This sale only lasts today. I'll be manually putting the prices back tomorrow around 10am, so to be honest, regardless of your time zone, today means today.

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Mother's Day Custom Animal Necklaces

   It's Mother's Day on the 30th of March, and I just thought I'd take a moment to remind you all that I am open to custom jar necklaces. They range from £25 to £35 depending on the amount of work involved (I' give you a quote up front) and have £2 shipping in the UK. Mother's Day for the rest of the world is in May, I believe, but if you're outside the UK, remember that it will take longer than just 2 days to get to you! So it's best to get a head start. Shipping anywhere outside of the UK on these pieces will be £3.50.

   If you'd like a custom animal jar of a different animal than listed in my shop (like a snail or a monkey) then I may well need to test the shape first. In this case I will simply tell you I'm not certain if I can do it or not, and that day will sit down and attempt the shape. Unless my internet fails, you will hear from me the next day with whether or not I can do it. If I can then I will make a custom listing for you to purchase before I paint it and put it together.
   If you'd like a jar of a specific pet, I will require photographs of the front, back and both sides of the animal so that I can see the markings. Please note that if it's, for example, a dalmation, I won't be able to get every single spot in place, but I will make sure that there are clusters where there are clusters, and that the faces are painted as accurately as possible. If however it's something like a ferret with a standard coat, you won't need to provide me with lots of pictures but I will need to make sure I've got the colours right.
   So far I've only done dogs, and, on one occasion, three little ratties. I'm happy to try other animals, though, but as suggested above, I might need to test the shape first.
   These custom jars are made much, much more carefully than standard animal jars because they are generally one of a kind. The jars stocked in my shop are simpler because I make them in groups and expect to make even more once they're gone. These, however, won't be reproduced unless of course I receive a request for two of the same pet, but even then they will have a better shape than any others in my shop.
   Due to the detail of custom pieces they tend to be too big to fit in a narrow jar, so custom animals are limited to 2x3cm jars. The chain can be either 16 inches or 18 inches.

  • Range from £25-£35 depending on detail. Please assume the latter to avoid disappointment. You will be given a quote upon your enquiry.
  • Shipping costs £2 within the UK and £3.50 (approximately $5) outside of the UK.
  • Please purchase before March the 19th for UK Mother's Day (March 30th).
  • Please purchase before April 10th for overseas Mother's Day (May 11th).
  • Requests made afterwards may still arrive in time but I can't guarantee it.
  • Items are not shipped tracked overseas as tracking adds an additional £10 to the postage price. Ouch.
If you're interested, drop me a line on Etsy.

Saturday 1 March 2014

March: Hooping

 Read also: 2 Weeks Later4 Weeks Later &

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

   I was flicking through this month's Women's Fitness magazine, and at the back was just a mention of hula hooping. Immediately a fire started in my head (it takes that little) and I decided it sounded like buckets of fun, so I got myself a hoop and decided that that would be this month's challenge.

   I did a quick search on Amazon for a fitness hoop and the very first result was a ResultSport Level 1 Anion Hoop - it had all these strange nobbly bits on it to massage you, and given that the reviews were pretty good (110 5-star, 37 4-star, 20 3-star, 9 2-star and 16 1-star reviews) with the only negatives really being that the product hurt and caused bruising (which was mentioned several times in the product details by the seller themselves, and in my opinion, if warning is given on the product page then you don't really have much of a reason to complain because you should expect it), I decided I'd try it.

   The product arrived flat-packed with instructions on fitting together (easy) and using it. I did feel that the plastic felt a bit cheap but I always get that sense from plastic so I looked past it. The pieces fitted together easily, but not so easily that they'd break or come apart after or during use. To be honest, it really felt quite sturdy.
   There was, initially, only one problem: it's advised that you only use it for 3 minutes every day for the first 7 days, and then 5 minutes a day for the next seven. I'm not new to working out at all, so I didn't really think sore muscles would be a problem, but I decided that it's best to follow the instructions anyway. So I do have a confession to make: I started using the hoop around the 17th of February. I didn't want to save it until March 1st only to find I'm barely using it for the first two weeks because that wouldn't really offer anything in the way of results, so I decided to break it (and my waist) in two weeks early.
   I was right: sore muscles weren't a problem. I never got them at all, and the stitch I had expected to get never occurred either. The product's packaging, website information and reviews were right: bruising occurred. Horrible little circles. I had expected it, though, since I was definitely warned, and intended to persevere, but I found it very difficult to keep going on the second day. The bruising hurt, but even where there were no visible bruises the nobbles were hurting me like hell.
   I had three choices: stick with it but with doubtlessly little enthusiasm until my body toughened up against it; send it back and buy a hoop without nobbles; or give up completely. The latter was not, in my opinion, an option, and I can't say that the idea of continuing to use a hoop that was that uncomfortable filled me with enthusiasm, so I decided to send it back, get a refund, and buy a new hoop.

   I stuck with ResultSport, however, and went for a padded hoop instead. The original hoop weighed about .75kg, but this one weighed 1.2kg, almost 500g more, and that does make a difference. The ResultSport Level 1 Padded Hoop in particular also had amazing reviews (168 5-star, 39 4-star, 6 3-star, 2 2-star and 3 1-star reviews) and it seemed to be an even better option, though more expensive. This time I did make sure to read the negative reviews, as few as there were. The majority of 1-3 star reviews said the hoop was too heavy, a couple said it was too light, and one said something about their cat which was clearly not worth taking into account at all. They also mentioned bruising as well, but I figured that bruising was bruising; this padded hoop would surely be more comfortable to use and the bruising wouldn't last long, or keep forming after a few weeks. They did all say that the hoop was good quality, though, it's just that it didn't seem to agree with them. But with 168 5-stars I barely had to think about it.

   Much like the first hoop, this was flat-packed and easily assembled. It felt like much better quality, really good stuff. It was a little tougher to put together because of the foam, and it's a little harder to disassemble as well, but that's why there are little white rectangles printed on the foam. Beneath them (or close to that area) is where you'll find the buttons to press to take the hoop apart. As with the first hoop, it doesn't seem likely at all that it's going to come apart while in use, or afterwards. It's definitely kinder on the skin, too, but bruising did still occur, though whether this was because of the specific hoop or because I was already bruised (the new bruising was on top of the initial bruises) I don't know. Regardless, my lack of enthusiasm melted away.

   Either way, I've done the first 7 days of 3 minutes and the next 7 days of 5 minutes, and feel more than ready to go for a more prolonged time frame. Once I've got the basics down, I might get a DVD to use with it - there are plenty. So while I did start 2 weeks early, I don't feel like I've done all that much with it except some kind of pre-use checks, really.
   I'm quite excited to get to using it properly now, and as last month, I'll write a 2-week report around the middle of the month to update you on how it's gone.