Monday 29 September 2014

Monster Sleep Mask & Tiny Totoro Necklace

   I've added two new products to my shops recently - both Peaches and Pebbles and Grumble Cave Monsters - and at last there are more to come! I'm also going to rephotograph some of the existing products as their quality has improved over the past year, but for now, here are the two newest:

   A sewing pattern for a monster sleep/eye mask - it's a really simple pattern, and let's be honest, if I can do it, anyone can. It's got soft, plush horns that don't get in the way while you're lying on your side, and button/cabochon eyes for comfort for you while giving the mask eyes. The pattern supplies templates to print or copy onto paper by hand, instructions and a materials list. It's an immediate download, and, as with all my sewing patterns, it's 3 for 2 - add three sewing patterns to your cart and apply the code 3FOR2PATTERNS for the price of one pattern to be knocked off.

   And then there's Totoro! A tiny Totoro in a jar necklace, just like my other animal jars but with a cute anime twist! £18 and ships worldwide, and would make a great Christmas gift for anime lovers. Totoro is about 6-7mm, and the jar measures just under 2.5cm in height and 1cm wide. It's much, much smaller than it looks in the picture!

Monday 22 September 2014

Halloween Monster Eye Cookies + Candy Eye Tutorial

   I spotted googly eye cookies on pinterest a few days ago and fancied a go at them myself. There was no link behind the image, however, so I had to use my head, and given how badly biscuits always seem to go for me - all except one - I decided to cheat a little bit, and opted to use a chocolate chip cookie mix from Betty Crocker that I found in my local corner shop.
   The cookies were only half of the problem, however. The eyes were the next, because what on earth was I going to make those out of? I considered different sweets, but there were absolutely none coming to mind that would be suitable. And then I thought about fondant. The trouble there was that fondant wouldn't do well in the oven if I were to bake them into the cookies, and it might well get squished or break if I were to push them into the cookies while they were still soft and fresh from the oven. So I needed something that would either bake well, or stay hard. And then I thought of it: royal icing. When mixed up well it dries rock solid. I'm quite hit and miss with royal icing, though, and only once has it ever gone well for me - but boy, did it go well or did it go well?! But I thought that it was my best chance, so I set about giving them a go.

To make the royal icing eyes, you need only royal icing, a non-stick surface like a silicone mat, black food colouring (preferrably gel, it's more concentrated, less messy and doesn't add much moisture to the mixture) and a piping bag with a couple of small, round nozzles.

1. Mix up your royal icing, or use a pre-made mixture like Beau. Transfer it into your piping bag with a nozzle attached and pipe blobs onto the non-stick surface. I used the back of a silicone macaroon mat which has never once been used for its original intention, but what are you going to do? Vary the sizes for a creepier effect. Make more than you think you'll need.

2. Wet your finger slightly - dip your finger tip in a bowl of water and then dab it into a clean towel - and tap the top of each eye down. The water will keep it from sticking to your fingers and subsequently offer a smoother finish, but you only want a damp finger, not a wet one, otherwise it will take longer for them to dry and possibly cause the pupils to run.

3. Once you've done this, you can either leave the eyes to set for an hour or so, use the same method I used to dry fondant quickly by putting them in a warm oven for about 20 minutes, or work with them damp.
   Mix up another lot of royal icing and colour it black for the pupils and transfer it into another piping back with a smaller nozzle, or the same nozzle after it's been cleaned and, most importantly, dried. If the nozzle is wet the colouring might be likely to separate from the icing a little and if your whites are still wet or damp, the black colouring might leak. Royal icing should be thick enough even with the colouring, however, not to run. I used it on my eyes while they were still wet, and only about 4 out of 75 or so spread, and these were on the wettest surfaced eyes. If you're uncertain, however, I suggest drying them first.
   Once you've applied the pupils, pat them down like you did with the whites, but make sure your finger is drier to prevent colour run.

4. Now let the eyes dry. I put them in the oven and they were done in about half an hour. Once they've cooled, peel the back away from one or two of them and see if they break, pull apart from themselves, or lift off. If they pull apart from themselves then they're still wet and you will either want to put them back in the oven or leave them to set at room temperature. To play it safe, I left them for an hour after taking them out of the oven, and once one lifted off perfectly, I removed them all and turned them all face-down so that the backs would dry a little easier.

5. I left the eyes over night before making the cookies, just to be safe.

6. Now, make your cookies. Gel food colouring is amazing because it comes out vibrant, doesn't interfere with the consistancy of the mixtures, and lasts a lot longer than liquid. Any cookie recipe will work, here, but you want a cookie whose surface will crack like chocolate chip cookies rather than sugar cookies. Like I said, I used Betty Crocker's chocolate chip cookie mix because I could guarantee that it would work better than if I'd made it from scratch.

7. Put the cookies in the oven and bake for the appropriate amount of time. No changes need to be made to this part unless the cookie recipe itself says so.

8. Move all of your eyes within reach before taking the cookies out of the oven, and while they're still soft and warm, start pressing the eyes in with clean, dry fingers. I had to use a knife to break parts of the surface because, obviously, they weren't still wet. The royal icing eyes didn't react to the warmth or the softness of the cookies; they remained solid and the only discolouration came from melted chocolate that I didn't notice get on my fingers, or that oozed out around them. The eyes might seem as though they'll fall out, but as the cookies cool they will harden, and the eyes will set in with them.

9. Once the cookies have cooled enough, move them onto a wire rack to cool completely, and hey presto, weird monster eyeball cookies.

Sunday 21 September 2014

Bookmark Dump

Sneak preview of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 winners - One of my favourite events of the year.

Jelly fireworks by Geo Cloete

Female body types - Pears, apples, rulers and hourglasses, plus ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph - how to tell what body shape and body type you are.

Rejected Princesses - 'Women too awesome, awful or off-beat for kids' movies'

Picsees Tales - 8 short and adorable picsee stories (PDF)

Wednesday 17 September 2014

iQ Chocolate Review

   If you're on a little bit of a health and fitness kick like me, you should know that chocolate is not off the menu. I know, best news ever, right? And when it comes to chocolate, the darker the better, as the high cocoa content (70%+) is amazingly good for you - but then there's raw chocolate, which is in a league of its own. It's a popular belief that chocolate releases endorphins and makes you happy. Well, that's not strictly true. Cocoa does do this, but the lower the percentage of cocoa and the more it's cooked and tempered, the less happy-making they are. Dark chocolate has a high cocoa content even with all the tempering, which means it retains a lot of good stuff - dark isn't the popular favourite, no, but the reason it's so bitter is because of all the goodness. Who looks forward to eat vegetables? It's a similar sort of thing.
   But raw chocolate goes through very little tempering, very little cooking and tempering, and as it maintains so much of its natural goodness, it also includes less additives, including added sugars. It is, believe it or not, one of the fabled 'superfoods'.

   iQ Chocolate, a chocolate company based in Scotland, have some of the best raw chocolate I've had, and I've tried a few. It's not as rough-textured as most of them are, and has a nice, shiny, smooth finish to the bar itself. They're made from Peruvian cocoa, some of the best cocoa around, and sweetened with coconut blossom nectar, meaning no refined sugars or artificial sweeteners. It's au naturel, and has been stoneground at low temperatures to keep it raw, preserving all of the goodness, which means high levels of nutrients, minerals and antioxidants, which is something iQ are proud to point out all over their adorable packaging. What's more, all iQ bars are free from gluten, soya, dairy, lecithin and nuts, so it's safe for most allergies, too. No one has to miss out.

   YogiQ and BeautiQ are the two newest bars from iQ - guess who they're aimed at? Beauty buffs and fitness fanatics.
   BeautiQ has a delicious addition of wild, organic seabuckthorn which adds a lovely little crunch to each bite, something I really quite liked. Seabuckthorn is a brilliant antioxidant and immunity booster on top of the benefits of raw chocolate itself, and the combination of all ingredients helps to promote anti-aging, cellular repair and hormonal function.
   YogiQ contains ginseng and ginger, giving it another little something to set it apart from the rest, and supports muscle function and energy release - and I tell you, I felt it. Perhaps I imagined it, I don't know, but sometimes even if it is a placebo effect, it's valuable. Both ginseng and ginger are wonderful immunity boosters, too, and ginger can also increase metabolic rate while ginseng can improve stamina and endurance, too.
   Both 35g bars contain only 197 calories, which is quite an achievement - but you have to remember, of course, that calories are important for active individuals such as myself, which is also why putting together a calorie-controlled diet by yourself rarely works out unless you're a dietician. I also felt more positive after each bar, too. I used to eat ordinary chocolate when I felt down - I've since learned not to drown my sorrows in food because it doesn't help any, only making me feel sick and guilty - but I admit to giving in when it comes to raw chocolate, and since raw chocolate packs a big punch in such a tiny bar, I don't feel the guilt, I don't feel sick, and I actually feel better than normal chocolate makes me feel.

   I know what you might be thinking, because I used to be the same way: it's chocolate, stop gussying it up, it can't do all of that, for goodness' sake.
   But why not? Cocoa beans are seeds from a fruit, it's a naturally occurring thing, just like milk. Cocoa goes through a process to become what we know as chocolate, just as milk goes through a process to become safe to drink, or to become cheese or yoghurt. What's the difference? There isn't one, and dairy is rich in calcium which does a number of wonders itself. And raw chocolate isn't typical chocolate, afterall; it's not been treated the same way as standard store-bought chocolate, and as a result it's healthier, with less calories, bad fat and sugars. So believe it. I'm not talking out of my bum, and you all know I wouldn't push a product if I didn't see any value. Remember my trial with raspberry ketone? Remember how I said it didn't work for me? Well, I love raw chocolate, and I love iQ the most. I'll be back and buying more in no time. And just as well, because I fancy trying their orange with wild raspberry bar!

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

Friday 12 September 2014

Manchester Dog's Home Fundraiser

   Following the fire at the Manchester Dog's Home last night, which claimed the lives of over 53 dogs, 50% of all sales in Peaches and Pebbles over the next 7 days will be donated to their fundraiser.

Shaolin Warrior Workout: 2 Weeks Later

   The Shaolin Warrior Workout is amazing. As I said before I started, I didn't expect it to be easy at all, and I was right: it's not easy. But I didn't even expect it to be doable, and it was. It takes some concentration to make sure you maintain your form, and a little bit of flexibility, but after having started doing yoga several months ago, even before my month of Yoga Meltdown, I am a little looser and my legs are a little stronger than they would have been otherwise, and that's made learning, sinking into and holding the stances easier for me, too. So I do have a slight advantage, but that still only comes from about 4 months of casual yoga and 1 month solid.

   Having done kickboxing I've also found I have a slight advantage in the punches and kicks, too, but that's not to say that any of it is easy. The DVD is broken down into 8 sections not counting the warm up and the introduction, but so far I have only been able to use 3 of those sections - the stamina training, basic stances and punches, and combination training. I spent the first day alone going over the stances - like the Irish Stepdance workout I did back in June, this consisted of replaying the first 2.5-3 minutes of a single chapter. However, I gained a good workout from that alone, to be honest, and I'm quite confident in my stances now. I can only hold them for about a minute - some, like the ma bu and gong bu a little longer, and others, like the pu bu a lot less, but I am familiar enough with them.

   Once I had taken the time to learn the stances, I was able to move on with that same chapter of the DVD to the actual punches and body movement, and I managed to pull my left tricep immediately. Oops. It was my own fault and I knew it had happened the moment I threw a single awkward punch. Lesson learned. But suffice it to say that the punches certainly helped to raise the heartrate, and when I moved onto combination training I got an even better workout.
   The warm up also gets into more muscles than I knew I had, and while I would certainly recommend doing a little bit of cardio before the workout to make certain that your muscles are warm enough to do what needs to be done, the warm up really does loosen you up.

   I've been doing it for two weeks now, and I'm building my confidence with it. I certainly can't keep up with them all when they're speeding up their punches and body movements, but I'm quite proud of what I can do. I'm quite confident that, like a few of my DVDs, I won't make it to the end of this workout by the end of the month. I don't like to progress onto new chapters of the DVD unless I'm happy with what comes first. If I can't do it, I won't move on until I can, because it surely only gets harder from then onwards, unless the move is just impossible. There were a few jumps in the Irish Stepdance workout that I just could not figure out no matter how many times I tried and I had no choice but to move past those, but I'll only do that if I really must, and I can't get my mind to work over my body. However, at this point, while I've not yet encountered anything in the DVD that I've not been able to overcome (I'm still in the early stages, of course), I do believe that both of the other Shaolin Warrior Workout DVDs will serve to cover another month of workouts each - and they also lead me to believe that a few of the other Yan Lei DVDs I've been looking at might well be worth the time as well.

   Simply put: I love it. It's fun, it's different, and it gives me the cardio and body weight training moves I need. The Shifu's English isn't perfect, no, but you get used to it, and the more you use the DVD the easier it becomes, and because moves are demonstrated as well as explained. There are no problems, as far as I can see. At this point, I recommend it! But we'll see if any of that changes in the next two weeks...

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Ask Me Anything

Following on from last week's question about dreams, I don't mean this in as harsh a way as it might sound, I'm just curious: do you truly believe you can achieve your dream?

   In all honesty...I don't know. I'm writing in an obscure genre, and while I'm fortunate that the Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit being turned into films, and Game of Thrones being as big as it is, fantasy is of more interest these days, there's also the issue of there being about 6 literary agencies in the entire country that accept fantasy novels. And that sucks.
   However, I can say this: I have no intention of giving up. I enjoy writing immensely, and I have ideas on top of ideas. I have vague plans for about 5 more books, all in different worlds with very different stories, and I built those ideas up over the past year. So you can assume that, for every book that gets rejected, I have four other ideas for new books. Yes the rejections suck, but you have to remind yourself that it's not just because it might be badly written that it gets rejected. It can also be because the agent doesn't feel they can represent your work well enough, maybe they're not taking on new pieces at that time, maybe they simply didn't like it, or maybe the market isn't ready for it. All you can do is press on and try again.
   I do have a plan, though. The first thing I submitted to literary agencies was the first book of a trilogy. I hadn't yet finished the trilogy, though I was a quarter the way through the second book when I sent the first out. When I got my rejection letters back I was understandably heart broken, as it was my first go. I kept writing the second book, but I gradually lost interest due to hopelessness. It was then that I took a depressed sort of break and stopped writing for a few months, then decided I missed it too much and started work on something new. It fell apart, but then I began work on my current book which is very nearly finished. But! Instead of sending it out and waiting for a response before getting to work on a new book, I'm going to polish it off, proof read it, clean it up so it's ready, write the cover letter, synopsis and so on, and then put it all to one side to start work on a new book. That way, when I do get around to sending the book out, I'll have already moved on and the rejection won't hit so hard because I'll have moved onto something new already and likely become obsessed with that, instead.

   I feel I'm blathering and making no sense. So, in short, while I can't say that I honestly believe I'll get where I want to the way I want to, I will be published one day because I can self-publish if I have to. I'm fortunate in that aspect, at least. But will I be able to convince an agent that my work and I are worth the time? I don't know. There are a lot of factors to consider. I do believe my work and I are worth it, though, but of course I'd say that, I have to believe in myself, otherwise why would I keep trying?

   Either way, I will continue to write. I've been doing it for nearly 11 years now, I've found many of my weaknesses and fixed many of them. There are still a few that exist, I can admit that, but I'm overcoming them, too. And it will take a lot of rejections on a lot of my books to get me to give up, but even then they are the opinions of the few. Those 'few' are professionals in the industry, yes, I am certainly not disputing that fact, and whether they ever accept me or not, I respect them and their experienced decisions, but there are only about 6 of them. Those 6 can't speak for all the fans of fantasy. For example, people love Game of Thrones; I, on the other hand, have neither seen it or read it, and 'nor am I interested in doing so. I don't like shiney, happy, heroic fantasy, but I don't like exceedingly dark and gritty/sexual fantasy either. I like it in between, and Game of Thrones doesn't seem that way to me. Admittedly I've not given it the chance in order to find out, but I'm quite happy not watching it, and I don't feel I'm missing out at all. I'm following too many complex programs at the moment to add another to the list, anyway.

   But, I'll end with this: I do believe that, if you stick with something and let yourself grow with it, accepting help and criticism where you can, you can take it where you want to, and I don't think my work is any different.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Japan Sweets Review

   Those who know me know I have a love for Japan. Feudal Japan is of greater interest to me than present-day Japan, but I will admit that I am still pleasantly surprised by the mixture of tradition and modernism that is currently co-existing there. Even in Tokyo! But despite the greenery, the brutally honourable ancient lifestyle and the traditional music that firmly captured my heart a few years ago, I do love the bright colours and crazy designs of modern Japanese culture. I watch a few anime, though they are the mainstream ones - Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z when I was younger and am revisiting now, and Bleach and Naruto/Naruto Shippuden now (the latter is easily and unexpectedly my favourite of all - when Seeg suggested I try it, I was against it. "Why does the kid have whiskers, for god's sake?" I said. "Is he some kind of animal, or something?" Well, now I know).
   I also love the green tea obsession; just about everything is available in green tea flavour, which is baffling to me! But interesting nevertheless. And as some of you know, when I began this month's workout - Shaolin Warrior (yes, I know that Chinese and Japanese are very different things) - I also started drinking matcha tea powder grown in Nishio, Japan. So I'm a little more focused on Asia right now, but I promise this isn't an intentional theme.

   I've tried Japanese sweets before, and there's one thing I have to say about them: they're different. A good kind of different. The watapachi candy floss with popping candy brings out the child in me, and puccho sweets do too, because they're unlike anything we have here in England. If we had all this over here I'd have been a fat child instead of just a fat teenager. I also love Meiji Hello Pandas, because they remind me of some kind of alien biscuits that were virtually the same thing that I had when I was a kid, but for the life of me I can't remember what they're called. Which is why I have 3 boxes and 2 small bags of them. isn't the first Japanese sweet shop I've found in the UK, but they do have the upper hand. As I mentioned before, I am a fan of certain animes - and I am very, very fussy about them - and Pokemon was my first love when I was 8 years old. I bought a 3DS last year just to play Pokemon (I bought a refurbished display model, so I saved £100 without compromising on performance, and Seeg then spent days trying to get me a shiny Skrelp in Pokemon X/Y because I love leafy sea dragons).
   I've not seen anime-themed sweets before, and that's where Japan Sweets has the upper hand. Look at this stuff! I'm a hoarder, I keep wrappers because I'm an idiot, and you can guarantee I'm keeping this stuff!! It's so cool! I got a few Super Mario Bros. things, too and I'm keeping those wrappers as well.
   So, as you can see, this place has unique stuff, including sweets of One Piece and Attack on Titan - two huge animes that I've never seen. Seeg's best friends back in the Netherlands love both of those animes, so you can bet that I'll be buying them a few pieces - I've not met one of them yet because he was living in the US when I came over, and he and I managed to have a few clashes in the past despite that fact, so I'm hoping to win him over a little!
   But they also have the more expected and better known pieces like Meiji Hello Pandas and Pocky sticks. The thing is, while other Japanese sweet shops seem to stock whatever they can get their hands on, seem to go out of their way to find limited edition and awesome stuff, like these themed pieces, which I've seen nowhere else. I'd be over the moon if they got the Dragon Ball Z sodas! Yet more wrappers to keep!

Hello Panda and Panda Pocky

   It does have to be said that the Japanese are clever and efficient. The tiny little box of chewing gum - blue, cube-shaped, soda-flavoured chewing gum - shown below has a tiny little pocket on the front beneath the lid which contains what I initially thought were post-it notes, which I thought was odd, but I realised shortly after that they're small pieces of paper to wrap your gum in, and there are exactly 10 sheets for the 10 pieces of gum. Uh, all right, that's pretty flipping awesome. Cube gum, Pikachu and a tiny pocket with papers for disposal. I also love the different pokemon sillhouettes on the Pokemon monster ball sweets - I've guessed most of them right so far, because I'm cool like that.
   Then there are the pieces with free little gifts, like the Mario hi chew with a free little stamp! I love this! I know we have Kinder Eggs, but I've never liked them - the chocolate is foul (and yet the little maxi bars are amazing) and the 'toys' are always so very disappointing! But I really, really liked this, it feels like you get more for your money beyond a smattering of chocolate and a small jigsaw puzzle.
   But there's more grown-up stuff, like the Melty Kiss chocolates which are gorgeous, and more familiar things like Kit Kats - except they're green tea Kit Kats or bakeable pudding flavour Kit Kats. Seriously, it's awesome, and the green tea ones are surprisingly good! So there are things for all tastes! Be it ridiculous, sweet, sour and colourful, or chocolatey, biscuity, slightly-more-grown-up-ful.

   Not only is the shop itself great and fresh, but they're such lovely people! I've been speaking with them on twitter and they're so friendly and so real - being an Etsy seller I admit I've taken friendly sellers a little bit for granted, but when you find someone selling on their own website but are still real and down to earth, well that's just brilliant, and it's very encouraging to come back to. I'd also usually be afraid to ask a shop if they're likely to stock such-and-such a product, but in this case I really, really do feel like asking them if they could get ahold of something in particular wouldn't be rude or an inconvenience (yes, I know, but I'm English, as far as we're concerned just looking at another person is an inconvenience).

   And also, it needs to be said: the website is easy to navigate, but more importantly the postage prices are brilliant. All this stuff cost £3.94 to ship within the UK, and just a couple of pieces would only be about 75p - another very, very encouraging factor to return to. Their website is cute and the service is wonderful. I cannot fault them in the slightest, even if I wanted to. Rest assured, you lovely people, you've won me over from other websites, and that's something I can say whole-heartedly, too.

   Aaaaand because I have so much, I'm willing to share! ...Though reluctantly. Very reluctantly.
   Enter using rafflecopter below and you can win a box of Meiji Hello Pandas, Karipori Pokemon candy sticks, Super Mario Bros. U Candy with a free pack of stickers, and a Kajiriccho Grape stick. It's not much, but there's only so much you can expect from someone with a box full of sweets! The more I have the more selfish I get.
   The giveaway is open worldwide until the 20th of September, and shipping is entirely my own responsibility. As usual, due to negative personal experiences, I won't be publicly announcing the winner, though I will be announcing right here when a winner has been chosen and has accepted the prize.

The winner has accepted the prize, it's now winging its way to Italy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Rules: the giveaway is open worldwide, and the winner is chosen at random. The winner will be contacted via the email addressed used to access the widget and will have 72 hours (3 days) to respond. If they do not respond within 72 hours, a new winner will be chosen and the original winner notified that it is too late to claim the prize. The new winner will have another 72 hours to respond. The prize cannot be changed, sod off, they're my sweets; all decisions are mine and all decisions are final.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Bookmark Dump

I find myself both sad and amazed by Lyuba, the 42,000 year old mummified baby mammoth. Its preservation is absolutely astounding, though looking at the pictures I can't help feeling a little disrespectful for gawking. Plenty of info and many pictures.

How flexible are you? I've never been particularly flexible, but since I started doing yoga a few months ago I've felt a lot looser, and I shocked myself by scoring 33 out of 36 on this test (29-36 is the highest bracket).

I'd never tried microwave mug cakes before, but I needed a sugar fix a few weeks ago and came across this post with a few recipes and information about it. A normal cake can't be beaten, but given that everything I do in the kitchen fails astoundingly, I couldn't believe how well it went!

They wasted the name 'Dreadnaughtus' on a herbivore.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Ask Me Anything

What made you decide you wanted to be a writer? Why are you so firm on that idea? I'm a little older than you but I still have no idea what I want to do with my life. Emelia x

   I first decided I wanted to be a writer when I was 12. I can actually tell you that it was in October 2003, actually, and I remember that because it was then that I finished reading The Lord of the Rings. It started with me seeing the first film when it was on the TV, I think. I'd been exposed to fantasy before, but it was fantasy that always freaked me out, like the Wizard of Oz or...I've forgotten what it's called, the film with the Goblin King, David Bowie. Those films always really freaked me out, and I never saw the appeal of such dark fantasy. But The Lord of the Rings offered such a bright, brilliant fantasy that I'd never seen before, with new races, a new world, magic - it was so new and enchanting to me. After I watched that, my dad leant me his copies of the Lord of the Rings and I couldn't put them down. I finished during the school holidays in October, and when school started back up, I walked through the gates with my friends and declared that I wanted to be a writer. My best friend looked up and said the same thing, and both of us have been writing ever since, both fantasy - though completely different types of fantasy, mind you.
   I wrote about 5 'books' (23-82 A5 pages) which basically saw me copy the Lord of the Rings with Elves as the main characters. I hand-wrote them, drew the covers, sticky-back-plasticked them and everything. I've kept them all for nostalgia's sake, but once I'd written them I tried my hand at normal stories. I used the TV show 'Friends' as my style but gave it a punky twist - it was so lame, and yet I wrote 16 of them! I returned to fantasy after that because I just lost interest in the style, I yearned to create my own world, and since then - the last one was written in 2007 - I returned to fantasy and have been firmly stuck into it since.

   I've had other, fleeting dreams since I was 12 - I wanted to be in a band, I wanted to be an actress - but they never stuck. I went from band to band, 5 in total, and kept giving up and losing interest, and I never actually got a single acting lesson, the best I did was audition for Les Mis in high school. Didn't get any part. But writing was still something I wanted to do even throughout all of that, it was always part of my plan to publish at some point, and that never once wavered.

   As for knowing what you want to do with your life, it's not something you can force. If you've not yet found something you love enough to want to make your life in then maybe you need to branch out, try new things. I've often seen myself as a jack of all trades, master of none. I wonder if I have a true, indisputable natural talent for something, something obscure to me like golf, but I'll never know because I doubt I'll ever try.
   Something I've seen a lot of on 9gag as well is the notion that people worry more about making money and paying bills than doing something they love with their life. Yes, you need money, whether we like it or not it is what makes the world go around, without it you've got no home, no food. But you also have to realise that if you choose a profession based on paycheque rather than passion, you're going to have a miserable life.
   So yes, get a job, make some money and survive, but find a hobby, find something you enjoy. If you stick to it and get good at it, you can make money from it.
   Say, for example, you love horse riding. Professions? Horse trainer, a teacher for horse riding, a jockey. You love drawing/painting/digital painting; professions: concept artist, general artist, commissioned artist (portraits, etc). You enjoy parties; professions: party planner, designer, decorator, hostess. If there's something you love enough to do often, then you will get better at it in time, and you will find some way to make a living from it - it won't be fast, but you'll be happy, and if you stick with it you'll get there in time.
   Like I said, you can't rush it. My boyfriend, Seeg, also has no idea what he truly wants to do, and his greatest passion are games. To people uninterested in games it can seem like a fruitless passtime, but there are many professions revolving around games, though they are areas that require training as well as passion and positions are few, but by going for it, sticking with it and so on, you'll stand out in the end.

   So, my advice to you, Emelia, is if you don't know what you want to do with your life, stop thinking about money and think about enjoyment. When someone asks you what you enjoy doing in your spare time, there's bound to be one answer that comes immediately to mind above all others - whether you tell people what it is or not. I suggest you embrace whatever that is, regardless of what others think. Even if it's pole dancing, because who the hell's business is it but yours, anyway? Dreams are dreams. 

Monday 1 September 2014

September: Shaolin Warrior Workout

Read Also: 2 Weeks & 5 Weeks

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

   I'm returning to the more unusual workouts this month. I can't remember what made me think of it, but I've always loved martial arts, I find them so impressive, particularly Kung Fu, which is a form of martial arts based on the form of animals. That's enchanting, to me. I've wanted to learn it for so long but I've never been brave enough so I've never even tried to find a class even out of curiosity. I was interested in Karate too, but there was a girl in my high school who I didn't really like who did it and it put me off. She was so pretentious about it, and she actually used it, mind you, or at least the strength she gained from it. If you went to tease her by nudging her pencil case a little (yes, I know, it's extremely childish, but we were all good friends at the time and it was never meant in a mean way and I'm certain we all knew that) she would kind of chop at your arm, and it wasn't a playful, jokey chop either, there was force behind it and it hurt every time.
   Ahem. Yes, so she sort of put me off of that. I also admit, though, that I don't think I'd know karate if I saw it, there are so many different kinds of martial arts. Kung Fu, however, I think I would know a move or two if I saw it.

   Well, I was curious one day, so I went on amazon, not expecting to find anything remotely close to what I wanted in the DVDs section, so imagine my surprise when I came across a small range of workout DVDs called 'Shaolin Workout'.
   They're expensive, yes, but they all have pretty good reviews, and after a little bit of deeper research, my single concerned was alleviated: the instructor is a true Shaolin monk from China, Shifu Yan Lei. The reason this was a concern was because I didn't think it would be quite as accurate or authentic from someone from the West. Call me racist, but I don't mean it in any bad kind of way, like I said, with a true monk as a trainer the workout would be more accurate.

   Now, I know what you're thinking: this isn't going to be easy. Well, good. I don't want it to be. You're probably now thinking: no, seriously Kim, it really isn't going to be easy. I say bring it on.
   My new year's resolution was to find new workouts every month to stave off plateaus and to try new things, keeping working out from becoming a chore, and it's by embracing these kinds of interests that keeps it fun.

   I bought Shaolin Warrior Workout, Volume One: Beginner. It claims that you need no previous experience in martial arts, and the DVD is 60 minutes long, complete with warm up and cool down. Like I've suggested, I know it's going to be hard, I honestly do, but I want the challenge and the experience, I really want to give it a go, and this it the best there is without taking actual classes - though I think if it goes well I might consider that.
   There are two other Shaolin Warrior Workout DVDs - Intermediate and Advanced - and there are about 6 other DVDs from the same Shifu and production company, including Qigong - the slow form that helps to slow the mind - and DVDs specialising in punches and kicks. I'm hoping that I'll get on well enough with this DVD to try one of the other two levels at some point, but I'm not going to let myself race ahead with that yet. This is possibly going to be one of the hardest workouts I've chosen, so I'm going to be patient with it, too. Fortunately I've done enough yoga and strength training to make this a tiny bit easier for myself, and I'm hoping that some of the kickboxing from last month will help me out, too. But only time will tell.

   As always, I'll update in 2 weeks with my impressions and progress, and two weeks after that again.