Sunday 30 November 2014

Round-Up: Netherlands, New Nephew & Youvember

   After three days away, we're back in England. First, let me say thank you to everyone who sent messages of condolence, I've passed them on to the family, and though they haven't a clue who any of you are, they were extremely grateful, as am I.
   The cremation was a little heart-wrenching, even for someone who only met Seeg's grandmother once, and despite the fact that the service was mostly in Dutch. I wasn't the only one there who doesn't speak the language, however - Seeg's uncle's husband is French and was just as left out of conversations as I was - so the important parts were translated.
   May Ger rest in peace.

   In completely contrasting news, I am an aunt, again! My sister had her son, Layton, on November 12th, weighing 7lbs 2.5oz. He's healthy, quiet, sleeps through the night and barely ever cries. And, I got ridiculously lucky and snapped this picture of the two of them just as he smiled. It's probably the first picture of him smiling, so yay! His older brother, Riley (3 years old), is being gentle with him, though a little jealous but that's to be expected. 

   In other, more mundane news, I'm very glad that I set to Youvember this month - I realise I've not posted much about it, I've been rushed off of my feet - as if I hadn't, then when we went away on Wednesday afternoon and I typically had an increase in sales, I'd have had a ridiculous amount to do upon returning on Saturday morning. Fortunately I sold only popular items while away, and the few pieces that were unexpected were also already in existance and needed no more work than to be threaded onto a chain. So I'm quite pleased, both that I can get all orders posted out Monday morning, and that I was also able to sit down and relax this evening once all the work was done.

   And speaking of Youvember, the email submissions for entries has been opened, and I'm absolutely bowled over by the response! I'd not heard much from anyone beyond the odd tweet, but it seems more people were silently taking part than I had realised! The submissions are open until December 6th, and on the 7th the winners will be drawn and contacted. Once they've accepted their prizes and I've got their details I'll send off the bundles with priority shipping. However, as usual, if, after a certain amount of time, I've not received their confirmation, I'll choose new winners. Though, while this period is usually 72 hours, it'll be 7 days, due to the nature of the competition. It's not a small giveaway through Rafflecopter, it's much bigger than that with prizes from a range of amazing suppliers, so the winners will get a far longer chance to accept their prizes.

   I hope everyone has been well, and I'm a little disappointed that I couldn't complete NaBloPoMo, but that really can't be helped. I still have a lot of half- or almost-finished posts that I wanted to get up last month, but they'll go up in short time nevertheless.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Trip to the Netherlands; Delayed Orders

   We received some sad but not totally unexpected news last night. Seeg's grandmother, 89, fell ill with a lung infection two weeks ago. She's been in the hospital since with an oxygen mask, but unfortunately, due to her Alzheimer's, she didn't help her situation by constantly removing it, forgetting why she needed it. She was sent home around the end of last week as she appeared to be doing better, but unfortunately she took a turn for the worst. Deciding that the oxygen was merely prolonging her suffering, they began to ween her off of it on Monday. Last night, she passed away with her family around her.
   Her funeral is taking place on Friday, but as my father is home from work with a few pre-booked days off, I'm able to accompany Seeg for support to the Netherlands. We'll be leaving Wednesday night and coming home Saturday morning, but unfortunately this means that there may well be a delay in processing orders placed in my Etsy shop. I usually post on Mondays and Thursdays (in December the number of post office trips a week will increase, however), but I'll be unable to make Thursday this week for obvious reasons. I'm going to post as many orders as I can today and tomorrow afternoon, but unfortunately this does mean that some orders that would have been shipped on Thursday won't be leaving until Monday. My processing times do state 3-5 working days, and this certainly won't change as I'm only losing 2 days of crafting time for what is a very good reason.
   All orders that will be shipped on Monday will be notified as soon as I know that I'll be unable to get them out tomorrow.

   Peaches and Pebbles will not be closing as it's only 2 days I'll be delayed, and the 3-5 day processing time is usually an over-estimate that I've put together in case the Christmas rush is greater than expected. Orders placed on a Thursday or Friday wouldn't have been posted until Monday anyway, and as I return at about 10am on Saturday, I've got plenty of time to fulfill these orders. It's only the orders placed over the 24th to the 26th that are likely to be affected.

   This is all very sudden and a very sad time, so I hope that my customers will be understanding. As I've said, I will process existing orders as quickly as I can. The Christmas deadline dates, shown below, won't be affected:

Australia & New Zealand: November 24th
Europe: December 1st
USA & Canada: December 6th
UK: December 18th

   These are not the dates given by Royal Mail. Royal Mail's dates are shorter than this, but as the company has become privately owned rather than public since earlier this year, I'm expecting delays a little longer than usual. As a result, I've changed the deadline dates to try to compensate for that.

Monday 24 November 2014

Black Friday and Cyber Monday

  I've been running around like a headless chicken this month, fulfilling orders and staying true to my Youvember project of following a Christmas prep plan for my shop, and as a result, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have snuck up on me this year. I'd usually have changed my tags, titles and descriptions by Monday this week and had a discount code ready to go, but I completely spaced. I've also heard little about it from Etsy, either, which didn't help me remember. But, either way, I never get much success out of Black Friday. It's a lot of work to adjust titles, tags and descriptions to pop up in Black Friday searches on Etsy, and I've never felt any benefit from it, so this year I'm not bothering. There will indeed be a discount running from Thursday 27th to Tuesday 2nd, but that's all I'm doing. Changing my tags and titles knocks me out of the searches I rank highest in, and I don't want to risk it again. So I'm staying as I am for the time being.

   I'll active the code, BLFRCYMO14, for my wonderful readers here a day early, so you can all get 20% off from now until Tuesday on orders of all sizes from Peaches and Pebbles, and there's already a 3 for 2 on all sewing patterns on Grumble Cave Monsters with the code 3FOR2PATTERNS.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Road to Workout - 4: When to Weigh

   It was when Seeg first bought me a Wii and Wii Fit that I started dedicating myself to exercise, mostly because I couldn't let him spend that much money and never use it. The program wanted me to weigh in every single day, so I did, for a couple of months. I never, ever saw any differences because my weight would go up and down constantly and it was so hard to ever see any change unless I viewed the entire month as a whole and saw it all go down.

   So I stopped weighing every day and did it every Monday and Friday, and discovered something. I would weigh in on a Monday after a 2-day rest, and I'd weigh, for example, 10 stone. I would workout every day from then on and weigh in on Friday before that day's workout. Imagine my heartbreak where, after a week of good work, I had gained 2 lbs! That right there could have been the breaker, but I didn't let it defeat me. Instead I went ahead and worked out that day with a stubborn determination, took the next 2 days off to rest and weighed in again on Monday. I could barely dare to look. How could I have lost any weight after 2 days of doing nothing? Well, it said 9st 12. I had lost 4lbs since I'd last weighed myself, and 2lbs since the past Monday. What the hell? I continued working out that week with greater enthusiasm and found on Friday I'd gained 2lbs again. I didn't take it too deeply to heart that time, however, and after another 2-day rest I weighed in on Monday and saw another 4lb drop from Friday. This happened very consistantly (barring that 'time of the month') over the next month and a half, and it was much easier to see the difference.

   I'll get to my point, however: now I weigh in only once a month, following a 2-day rest, on the very day I'm about to start a new workout. This allows me to see, obviously, how well I did over the last month and whether the workout was anything special or just as effective as usual, and also gives me a solid start point for the next workout I'm trying.
   I also measure my waist at those points, too, and record it with my weight.
   I always keep the circumstances the same, as well, though perhaps obsessively so. Monday morning, after a 2 day rest, wake up around 7-7:30, go to the toilet, weigh and then measure around the narrowest point of my waist, fighting the urge not to suck in.
   Now, peeing first doesn't actually make you weigh less, but it does make you bloat a little - or it feels it, at least - but I always try to keep the circumstances the same if it's in my power. Plus, first thing in the morning you kind of need to go anyway. I admit that I don't know if it truly makes a difference, though.

   Weighing and measuring once a month guarantees you to see a decrease, but you have to fight the urge to measure again the next day. I saw a massive drop in my waistline after doing the 30 Day Shred, so I measured every day for 4 days because I couldn't believe it! I was so excited! But then, one day, I suddenly gained an inch and my mood plummeted. Since then I've been sure never to keep doing it because I didn't want another shock like that.
   Your weight fluctuates big time all day, every day, and it's important to realise that because it's totally naturally and totally unavoidable. You also swell after working out because of the increase in body heat - basic science - especially if you've been doing sit-ups or crunches, so you should never stand in front of a mirror right after a workout looking for a difference because 1) there won't be one that quickly, and 2) you'll actually appear bigger than before you started. So fight the urge and look for differences at the end of the month, but definitely keep a record of your measurements and weight.

   And on a final note, something I've mentioned before: muscle weighs a lot more than fat. 1lb of fat is about three times the size of 1lb of muscle. Now, you won't gain enough muscle for this to really affect the scales unless you throw your all into it and do it for a very long time, but it's still an important point: weight doesn't really matter, it's the measurements of your waist. And, as a result, if you workout and use weights - which you really should, but that's a post for another time - your BMI will eventually become redundant.

Next Up: Plateaus - What They Are and How To Avoid Them

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Get your first full activewear outfit - top, bottoms and sports bra - from Fabletics for just £22 with free delivery! New designs released every month, purchase garments individually, or save and purchase full outfit sets for less!

Saturday 22 November 2014

Fitness Gift Guide

   Christmas is fast approaching, and shopping is well underway. But it's not always easy, is it? Especially when the person you're shopping for has a passion for fitness. What on earth do you buy them? Well, I put together a gift guide of some of the best fitness gifts out there at the moment to make your job a little easier.

Fitness clothing is always a good investment, and you can never have too much! New fitness and activewear can also really help to boost motivation in workouts - buying them a new piece of clothing could actually help to improve their workout, and that's something they'd thank you for!
I love Fabletics because they've got such a unique range of styles. So many of their tops have stuff going on at the back that really makes them scream. I love this amazing Norwalk Tank - it's got an amazing back, but the pattern is also amazing, and the grey tones really hit the spot for me. Plus, the best part about Fabletics, is that by signing up and becoming a VIP, which is free by the way, you can get your first outfit - top, bottoms, and sometimes even a jumper/jacket/bra - for just £22, as long as you purchase within 2 hours of signing up! VIPs also get better prices across the board, so Fabletics is a great choice.

DVDs are a great fitness aid, especially when someone is too self conscious or too busy to get to a gym, or simply can't afford it. Believe it or not, dream bodies can be achieved at home if you know what you're doing! 10 Minute Solutions DVDs in particular are a great place to turn to. Each DVD features 5 separate 10 minute sections - dance DVDs have 5 different dance routines, strength DVDs have 5 different strength circuits and usually focus on different areas of the body, kickboxing is a mixture of the two and so on. There's something for everyone - even mothers-to-be! The 10 minute sections are easy to follow and fit into their day, and it's also makes a great warm-up for more advanced fitness freaks. They're informative, enjoyable, and just easy enough to encourage you while still offering a challenge. 
I love the Dance It Off and Tone It Up DVD - 3 10 minute dance routines, all of which are very different from one another, one includes an introduction to abdominal isolations, while the final 2 10 minute sections offer resistance band workouts, one for the upper body and one for the lower body.

New yoga mats are great for the yogi in your life. They come in so many different designs and can be used in a variety of different workouts - not just yoga and pilates, but also for body weight training, offering a non-slip surface for planks, push-ups, abdominal reaches and so on. They come in a range of prices, from £10 from USA Pro to £75 from Magic Carpet Yoga Mats. They're a must-have piece of kit, and you can never have too many! Several yoga mats are easier to utilise than several sets of the same weights.
I love this prosperity mat from Gaiam. I've had my eye on it for some time and I WILL get it at some point. Gaiam mats also come with a free downloadable yoga workout, and Gaiam also sell kits with a yoga mat, block and bag to get people started.

But it's important for both you and the recipient to realise that there's nothing wrong with a little bit of indulgence at this time of year as long as it's not over done. Keeping away from boxes of chocolates while everyone else is nibbling on them can get people really down in the dumps. It's far better to have a little something good than nothing at all, and this stands for everyone.
I love this luxe chocolate box from Hotel Chocolat. 43 gorgeous chocolates in Christmassy flavours, including mulled wine! Everyone needs a little indulgence!

Are you shopping for your lady? Because there's nothing better than a little bit of lingerie. Losing weight can really do wonders for self confidence in the nude, and some gorgeous lingerie can really help make her feel even more gorgeous. It might sound cliche, but at the very least, I find it's true.
I love this Clara set from Bravissimo. The black and gold is so festive and so elegant, and comes in D-J cups. Plus, for every bra you buy from Bravissimo you gain 1 reward point, and once you've collected 10 reward points you can choose a free bra up to the value of £30! I love Bravissimo, because they

A personalised gym towel - I know I want one! It's one of those essentials that would make a really thoughtful gift, not to mention something that they would notice over and over again. Whenever I'm working out hard enough to pick up my gym towel - which is every day, lately - I find myself taking notice of the embroidery detail every time. My mind is so focused on my workout that I'm thinking about nothing else until I stop to take a breather at the end of the circuit, which is when I pick up my towel, at which point my attention is grabbed by the detail. So, suffice it to say, it really would be one of those things they'd appreciate time and time again. That little bit of personalisation is wonderful, too.
I like this embroidered towel by Merci Maman Gifts. Any wording you want in any thread colour!

Friday 21 November 2014


   Vicky of Vivid Please has boldly branched out by herself and created her own blog, Miss Vicky Viola. Yes, that is her real name. Isn't it epic? With her eccentric smile and incredible taste in fashion she's certain to capture your attention if you're a new reader, and recaptivate you all over again if you're following her on her way.
   Her blog is already filled with her signature style, fashion and crafts, and if Vivid Please is anything to go by, you just know it's going to be brimming with unique and original content, so it's more than worth watching with a keen eye.
   She's an honest person and one anyone would be lucky to call a friend, and her cheerful attitude has a tendancy to rub off on everyone who hears from her.

Thursday 20 November 2014

Warlords of Draenor

   It's World of Warcraft's 10th anniversary this year, and given that the latest expansion, Warlords of Draenor, came out a week ago, Seeg and I have been busy playing together. We don't really play many games together, it's really only WoW or Pokemon, otherwise I watch him play all the others, like Assassin's Creed which was also released a week ago, or Dragon Age which comes out tomorrow.
   It's been an interesting expansion so far, keeping a lot of the elements from Mists of Pandaria which I loved, like finding random items like weapons or junk that has been abandoned in the past which can either still be used or just sold for a nice sum of gold, but it's also added new things like the ability to tame mounts rather than just buying them from a vendor.
   It's an exceptionally pretty expansion, but it also holds a lot of interest in terms of the game's lore, which is extremely deep - World of Warcraft stems from the original game, Warcraft, which was released in 1994. Then came Warcraft 2, then Warcraft 3, and then World of Warcraft, the latter of which is an MMORPG rather than an RTS and continues the story more fluidly than the Warcraft games, which focused on the great wars, starting with the first invasion of the Orcs from Draenor.
   World of Warcraft's very first expansion was the Burning Crusade, which took place in 'Outland' - it's little more than a giant floating rock to be honest, and it's what remains of the world of Draenor after a massive invasion by the demonic forces of the Burning Legion. It consisted of a continent made up of 7 zones which all different from eachother, but next to none of which were particularly pretty places. Nagrand was the closest to pretty, but it, too, was in ruins.
   Warlords of Draenor sees Draenor as it could have been had the demonic forces not destroyed the world, though they're still trying to but they're a long way off. As a result, it's pretty amazing seeing some of the zones players levelled through 7 years ago still in one piece. There are a lot of forested areas, but there are some areas that, of course, didn't exist in Outland like the Spires of Arak with - you guessed it - stone spires and thick, dark forests. Zangarmarsh in Outland is a marshland zone with giant fungi instead of trees, a deep blue hue and generally feels alien. In Draenor, it turns out that the entirety of Zangarmarsh was actually underwater, part of the Zangar Sea.

   New character models were released a month before the expansion, updating the models of all NPCs and player characters from the original game to much better models. As time passes, graphics improve and so does their utilisation. While things looked amazing 10 years ago, they look dated now, but sometimes you just don't notice it. Graphics aren't as important to me as a smooth-running game so I never looked too closely at it, but once the new models came out I couldn't believe how bad they used to look. Trolls were my favourite race, and I, of course, played a female, but they always felt unfinished. Still, I loved them, and I thought my character, Daeaye, looked great. But with the release of the new models (which sort of made me go off of some of my previous favourite characters), Daeaye looks simply incredible. Just by updating the character models they've made the game feel entirely new, and with a new expansion again, we're running new content with the new character models and it feels so shiny.

Seeg and I after hitting level 100, the new level cap for Warlords of Draenor

   It's been great to see the game revived especially with not only seeing an old zone how it should have been, but also seeing famous faces from the three Great Wars still alive and kicking while they'd each usually be dead for one reason or another, such as Durotan, Gul'dan, Orgrim and Grommash, which is another big deal.
   It's also been nice to have some new fantasy to throw myself into. With Christmas sales pouring in I've been too tired to do much writing, so it's nice to have something simple and immersive to do, especially since it's something I can do with Seeg, and I think most people would agree that games are always better when you can share the shocks, the laughs and the adventure with someone else.
   The end of the Assassin's Creed 3 intro, for example.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Road to Workout - 3: Maintaining Motivation

   Motivation is a big issue when you're just starting to work out, and you really have got to take it where ever you find it. Even a year on from this year's resolution alone, I find my motivation slipping. So I'll tell you how I keep myself lifted.

   First there's the obvious: remember that, once you get started with your workout, you do enjoy it. I used to want to give up quite often even when all my workout consisted of was dancing, but when I plucked up the courage and got to work later that morning, I always enjoyed it immensely. It's likely to be the same for you, so remember that, and remember that by working out you are only doing yourself good. Nothing bad in the slightest. Keeping at it will make your future self much happier, too - 'do something today that your future self with thank you for'.
   But when I need an extra boost on top of it, maybe because my workout is at the 3-week point and I've not weighed myself since I started it and refuse to do so until I've finished (it's just how I roll), these are some of the things that I turn to:

1) New workout clothes. I adore USA Pro - all of my clothes and just about all of my kit is from USA Pro. The prices are affordable, quality is through the roof, and the designs are awesome. The clothes are also stupidly comfy and so flattering I'm forced to ask why all normal clothes don't fit so beautifully!
   But the thing is, affordable prices or not, I don't like to waste money. So if I buy myself a new top or a new pair of 3/4s I do not want them to go to waste. I get excited to wear them, and that makes me work a little harder because I know (or think) I look good. Eventhough I work out in my living room while Seeg is still in bed and no one ever sees me. I know it sounds strange, but like I said, motivation where you find it.

2) I took a chance and subscribed to Women's Fitness Magazine. I say 'chance' because subscriptions aren't things I do - in fact, I've never done it - and I worry about the money, but they have a trial of £3 for 3 issues, and if you like it, you subscribe. I did that, loved the magazine, and I've been a subscriber for a year, and had a letter printed. How about that?
   The reason this magazine motivates me is because sometimes it has information and articles in it that can make a big difference because they might tell me something I never knew and is very valuable, or they might reassure me and make me realise that whatever trouble I'm having is normal. In one issue they spoke about 'fat brain' and how you sometimes have days where you think you've gained weight when you look no different, or you simply cannot see the weight you've lost, because your brain can't keep up with it, especially if you've drummed into yourself that you're overweight even despite your hard work.
   It also suggests new products like healthy food to try, new kit and so on, and provides recipes and gym fashion. The slender ladies also help to boost my motivation because I want to look like them, and the fact that the magazine arrives at all reminds me why I'm doing what I'm doing.
   But to top it off, it also gives about 3-4 new workouts in every issue using body weight, dumbells, barbells, kettlebells and so on, and it was Women's Fitness Magazine that encouraged me to try out yoga, as well as giving me the moves.
   It's one of my biggest motivators and gives me a great top-up every month. I'm more than happy to pay £15 every 6 months for that!

3) Want something stranger, far less conventional and ridiculously nerdy? The character models in World of Warcraft are quite old, and Trolls are my favourite race. When they released the unique Boss model of High Priestess Mar'li and I saw her blue abs, quads and biceps, well...that fuelled me for a good 3 weeks. In fact, not only did it keep me motivated, I also worked harder over those three weeks than usual, and saw some better results, too!

4) All right, it seems that this list is going to be a bit strange and a bit nerdy from this point onwards. Music is undeniably a motivator, and it does this for me in 2 ways. The first way is if I can't be bothered to do my strength training on an evening, I'll listen to the instrumental version of La Caution's 'La Menthe' - better known as the laser dance song from Oceans Twelve. I listen to 30 seconds of that and I'm raring to go, because I see that guy dancing through the lasers and I just think "shit, I want to be able to do that! Minus the alarm-rigged lasers, though..." and upper body strength is a big, big part of that.
   The second way is, of course, the music I listen to while working out. I use DVDs for the most part, so my MP3 player doesn't get much use, but when it does it's a big booster. When I was doing kickbox fusion back in August, I listened to heavy dubstep with a really fast and solid beat that I could just keep up with while maintaining form, and it really, really made my kickboxing epic. Half of that dubstep was orchestral, too, and so my imagination ran away with me while doing it - the usual, you know? Lots of enemies swarming me while punching the crap out of them and bursting magic around myself with epic music playing over the top.
   But I also have soundtracks that I use for my strength training, most notably Avatar, The Last Airbender. Because I want to get strong enough to defeat the Fire Lord. I also have a few tracks from World of Warcraft I like to do ribcage and hip isolations to for the beat. Oh, if you hadn't guessed, I'm a giant nerd.

5) I find watching something exciting and action-packed to be quite helpful if my workout doesn't involve a DVD and my choice of music is too fast-paced for it, and lately that's been Dragon Ball Z. It's far-fetched, I know, but Goku is basically Japan's answer to Superman, and the whole show is infinitely better than Superman, too. I watched it when it first came to the West when I was about 7 so I remember it being exciting, and I also remember enough to not feel the need to watch it constantly while working out, which allows me to focus my attention correctly whilst still being entertained. They're also a reliable length of time, so as long as I start my workout as soon as the opening credits begin, I don't need to look at the clock unless my workout calls for 30-second countdowns. I'm training to fight alongside Goku, but I've got a hell of a long way to go...

6) Changing my workout every month. That was this year's new year's resolution. Last year I spent months on the same workouts and got sick of them, so this year I decided that I would change them up. It takes about a month to reach a plateau (a plateau in fitness is when your body adapts to the stresses put on it by working out and it stops becoming effective because it's become normal. Increasing weight, changing circuits around or doing something completely new can bust through them) so by changing my workout every month I can avoid hitting any, and it's been quite successful. It keeps me excited because I've done a lot of different ones, my favourites up to this point were Jillian Michael's Yoga Meltdown, Jean Butler's Irish Dance Masterclass, and Shifu Yan Lei's Shaolin Warrior Workout.

   Find what works for you and embrace it. What makes you want to work out? Seeing pictures of people with your dream body? Seeing a dress you want to be able to rock? Reading through your monthly fitness magazine? Or listening to an awesome soundtrack and imagining yourself as the main character? Take what you find and use it, because it doesn't matter to anyone else what you're motivated by. It doesn't affect them whatsoever - not that that means I'm ashamed or embarassed by my own motivation, because I'm totally not!

Next up: When to Weigh

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Get your first full activewear outfit - top, bottoms and sports bra - from Fabletics for just £22 with free delivery! New designs released every month, purchase garments individually, or save and purchase full outfit sets for less!

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Youvember Progress - Still Time To Participate!

   How is your Youvember coming along? Not started yet? It's not too late to join in! Just do something for yourself to decrease the Christmas stress - plan a relaxing day out for you and your friends or just you alone, put together a Christmas plan to make sure everything is done in time, start or finish a craft/DIY project you've wanted to forever, take the plunge and start working out or eating right before the Christmas binge, clean out that spare room and finally get that ticked off of your age-old to-do list. As long as you're able to breathe easier and face the Christmas hype with a smile, you've done yourself good.
   And remember that just by participating, you are eligible to win one of the four prize bundles shown below! All you have to do to enter is prove your eligibility. Between November 25th and December 9th, send me an email with either a link you a blog post you've written about your Youvember - how your new workout is going/went, before/after pictures of that once-neglected spare room, the completed craft project, an introductory post to the blog you finally decided to start. Or, if you're not a blogger, just email me a picture and a paragraph about the same thing you would have put in a blog post if you had one.
   Along with your proof of eligibility, you can also state which of the four bundles - Christmas, fitness, craft or feel-good - you'd like to win. There will be four separate draws, one for each bundle, so all 4 winners will win their desired bundle.

   The email address you are to submit to will be posted on the blog on November 25th, and you'll have up to and including December 9th (2 weeks) to email me your entry. It's so easy, and by making the effort to destress and take time for yourself to make Christmas a little easier, you can win some amazing goodies! For full info on the prize bundles and their contents, see this post.

Monday 17 November 2014

Anime Gift Guide

   I am an anime fan, to a certain degree. I won't watch just fact I watch very little. Bleach, Dragon Ball and Naruto/Shippuden is about all I've tried, and I love them all. I grew up with Dragon Ball Z, and my boyfriend introduced me to Bleach and then to Naruto - was very against the latter. "Why has he got whiskers, what is he, some kind of animal?" Well, now I know. And funnily enough, Naruto is my very favourite. The funny stuff is really funny, the sad stuff is really sad, the serious stuff is really serious, and the villains are awesome, for the most part.
   In this 2014 anime gift guide I'm going to go over some of the best anime-related things I've found this year through hopes of giving you suggestions for your anime-obsessed loved ones.

   First, I'll mention - I blogged about them a few months ago and I've been back several times since, mostly for the fact that they have anime-branded sweets on top of the other Japanese goodies. Their stock is growing all the time, and they've got such great prices that you could really fill up a stocking with their sweets and biscuits alone!

   They have a nice range of Pokemon sweets, biscuits and chewing gum, and Pokemon is undoubtedly popular. I grew up with that, too - there's one I left off of my list! I was 8 when it came to the UK, I think, and I've loved it since, so it's not surprising that I've purchased almost all of their Pokemon products at some point. I also had to get the Dragon Ball Z bubble gums when they started stocking them, too! There are Attack on Titan sweets, as well as One Piece, and while neither of these are animes I've ever seen, their sweets are still awesome, and a few even come with free gifts - the One Piece gum has a free poster, and the Attack on Titan Puccho have a free toy! A few of the Pokemon pieces have free stickers, too - it's all stated on the product pages!
   Add a few boxes of Pocky or Puccho and you've got a nice little bundle of sugar goodness! Plus, from time to time JapanSweetsNom will add a free item to your order if you spend over a certain amount - just check their twitter - @Japan_Nom - to see if they have any offers on!

   Etsy has a huge range of awesome anime-related things, too, made by the fans, and since I am a huge supporter of Etsy and its creative sellers (I am one, too!), I have to include such pieces here. I've tried to limit it to pieces that ship worldwide, too, because there's nothing I hate more than finding awesome things on Etsy that don't ship to the UK.

   These hand-painted anime shoes by BoBPaintedCustom - converse and vans - are perfect anime gifts for fans who like to shout about their passions. They're individually hand painted so there will always be slight variations, and they take about 15 hours! Yikes! These Kakashi Converse feature Hatake Kakashi, Sharingan and Raikiri, and, frankly, they're my favourite from the whole shop. But there's a very wide choice, including Totoro, Bleach, One Piece and more.

   Anime posters are a simple way to express your fanboy/fangirlness. EpicShoppe's posters range from A6 to A3 in size - pretty comfortable sizes, really - and are buy 2 get 1 free, which is pretty nice! As with the shoes shown above, different anime are covered, including Bleach as pictured below with the awesome Zaraki Kenpachi watercolour print. 

   These natural wooden anime iPhone cases are laser engraved by hand by Wemecases and they have a huge range of One Piece designs, though Kevin Leo is happy to accept custom orders and designs. There are also a lovely range of Chinese traditional designs like lung dragons, cherry blossoms and hanzi.

   Be quiet. You can't blame me for adding myself to this list if it fits! I've got some tiny Totoro jar necklaces in my shop, Peaches and Pebbles, as well as flower necklaces made from used manga, perfect for anime fans. And I, like the other shops and websites listed on this guide, ship worldwide, and am happy to accept custom orders.

   There are many, many more gifts outside of Etsy with a much broader range - while you can't beat the genius of fan-made stuff, there are some things ordinary fans just can't do. Like make swords.
   Display swords, of course. I've had my eye on Urahara Kisuke's sword, Benihime, for a long time, but alongside his, you can find most of the swords from the Gotei 13 captains as well as others in Barrington Swords.

   Then there are specialist sites which stock either an individual anime's merch, or a wide range of merchandise from a wide range of anime. Crunchyroll is one of the best, and there you can find figurines, plush toys, wall scrolls, DVDs, jewellery and so on.

   The last on my list is is a less material gift, but one that I'm sure would go down a treat with anime fans. Crunchyroll is a website which gives access exclusively to anime and manga online. Buying a gift membership to Crunchyroll will get them quicker access to new releases before others, HD streaming and a discount in their rather incredible online store which I've picked a few items from above.

Sunday 16 November 2014

Kettlebells & Booty Barre - 2 Weeks Later

   After substituting the Insanity-style workout with the booty barre, I have to say I've stepped up my game this month. The kettlebell workout used on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays is made up of 9 moves as I've added in the rear lunge to dead lift from last month because I felt my obliques (side abdominal muscles) weren't getting targeted enough, and I've increased the weight from 4kg to 6kg on 3 of those 9 moves, and I'm almost ready to do the same with another one or two. It's a tough workout, but I'm still going for 4 circuits a day. By the time I finish the 4th I'm exhausted, but I think if I pushed it I could manage 5. The circuits are 2-3 for beginners, 3-4 for intermediate, and 4-5 for advanced. It takes me about 30 minutes to complete 4 circuits.
   The booty barre, similarly, is made up of 8 moves. These are tougher than they look and while I'm still at 10 reps of the abdominal reach, I'm pushing 16 reps easily for the rest of the moves, and I do the circuit twice, which takes me 20 minutes.
   I still feel a little bad at having substituted Insanity, but I know that I'm doing better now than I would have been had I stuck to it. The lack of enjoyment I had for that workout gave me little motivation to do it, which drained my energy before I'd even begun. It's true that, had I been doing the workout perfectly, it would have been more effective than what I'm doing now, but I wasn't doing it perfectly, I hated it, so it wasn't very effective at all.

   In all honesty, I've got little to say as an update for this month's workout so far. Usually I'd be noticing changes in my body, but nature's called and I'm not feeling too slim and fancy lately. Not only that, but I've come down with pityorisis rosea so any focus on my body at all is directed to the itching. I'm proud to say, however, that the rash, while distracting, has only affected my exercise once, where I did 3 circuits instead of 4. The rash is self-isolated, and according to the doctor, there's no known reason for developing it, it can happen to anyone during the autumn. It's not at all contagious, but it also can't be hurried or healed by anything, it can only be left to run its course, which sucks. The best I have are antihistamines and cream, but that's at least given me back my focus because my mind isn't completely occupied by trying not to scratch. So, because of these two factors, I've not noticed any changes in my body because I've been quite distracted. Hopefully in another 2 weeks I'll be able to give a good verdict. It does feel like a good workout, though.

   Good sweat, good burn, good physical stress, so I'm quite confident that it's worth my time. Of course, I won't know until I get on the scales and grab the tape measure which I only do at the start of the month, but I doubt there will be any pictures this time around unless the rash has cleared. I'm a blotchy monster, but fortunately, mercifully, the rash doesn't spread onto the face, so I can hide it with a long-sleeved top and a scarf, which are, fortunately, not unusual choices this time of the year.

   So, I'll update again in 2 weeks!

Saturday 15 November 2014

Writer's Resource: Underground, Caves and Cavern Systems

   I did a fair bit of research for a recent book on the underground, caves and cavern systems, and I found that a lot of the information I wanted was spread around in a variety of places, so I decided it might be a good idea to collect up all of this information in one place for other writers to use.
   I've not gathered up too much detail - if there's something you want more info on, such as karst formations, this information is much more easily found. Instead I've limited it to the basics. So unless a character is an expert in their underground surroundings, what I've given you here will be more than enough to work with.


Formation of Caves, Caverns and Systems
   The most common type of cave and cavern systems is limestone, and as well as being the most abundant, they are also the longest and deepest in the world. The limestone is worn away over time by water soaking through from the surface and by underground rivers. Rain picks up carbon dioxide in the air and forms a weak solution of carbonic acid which wears away the soluable limestone and creates caves. The limestone can be deposited elsewhere in the cave as the water flows or soaks. These are solutional caves (caves formed by an acid solution wearing away the rock; some solutional caves are also worn away by sulfuric acid instead, such as Lechuguilla).

Cave Features
   Many caves and caverns have certain formational features, known to cavers and professionals as speleothems, and the most likely to come to your mind are stalactites and stalagmites. First of all, how to remember the difference: I follow Stephen Fry's example: tights hang down. Stalactites hang from the ceiling, whereas stalagmites form on the ground. As long as you know one, you know the other.
   These are formed by water rich in dissolved limestone drop from the ceiling. Tiny deposits of the limestone is left behind when the water drips away, and over time more and more of it builds up to form spires on the ceiling (not always sharp or even conical). But while these are forming, the water that drips onto the ground still has some dissolved limestone in it, and that limestone gets left on the ground. Over time that too can build up and form an up-ward pointing spire. When a stalactite and stalagmite meet they form a column which thickens over time as limestone-rich water runs over it, depositing minerals as it goes.

   There are many other types of speleothems, however, my favourite are cave pearls - smooth, polished stone spheres that cluster together and look like pearls, which are formed in a similar way to real pearls: a grain of sand, for example (a 'nucleus'), is surrounded by a layer of calcite which is deposited in the same manner as a stalactite is formed, but forms a cave pearl when water is moving too vigorously around it to form a stalagmite. They're usually found in shallow pools of water - it's that water which is responsible for making them so smooth and round.

   Here we have an example of stalactites & stalagmites (1), a pool of water and a column (2)

   An example of cave drapery - another form of speleothem which are wider, flatter sorts of stalactites which look to a degree like curtains.

   A flow sheet, which form of cave walls and floors where there is no opportunity for the dissolved limestone to form in one concentrated area. They often look like frozen water.


   To say the least, it's dark. In fact, it's black. No daylight gets into caves and caverns unless they're at the entrance. All the light you see in photographs (for there has to be light for photographs) are either from camera flash, torches, or pre-set lights in show caves (caves that have been adjusted so that the flooring is smooth enough for children to walk over safely and is open to the public for a fee). There is no natural light in caves - at least not as we know it, but more on that later.
   So your characters will need to bring their own light, and you must consider, of course, how far that light reaches and the shadows that will be cast around them.

   The temperature underground is consistant, and it barely changes all year round. In the winter, a cave is generally warmer than the outside, while in the summer it is cooler than the outside. As I said, it's consistant, but it's still quite cold. As a result of the consistant temperatures in caves and caverns, they're sometimes used to mature cheese, such as Gough's Cave in Somerset's Cheddar Gorge.

   For the most part, caves and caverns are silent. You might hear running water if you're close enough, the movements of small animals if they are plenty enough - such as insects and bats - and perhaps the sound of the wind, though it's uncommon for it to be loud enough to hear. More likely you'll feel the slightest breeze.

   Rivers, waterfalls, streams and lakes are not uncommon, and neither is complete flooding. Inland caves will usually feature freshwater unless they open out into the sea, as can happen with very long cave systems, and in this case the two waters don't mix, so much and exist alongside eachother. Or rather on top of eachother. Excessive rainfall can affect flooding, too.
   Because of the consistently cold temperatures underground, the water in caves is very, very cold. As a result, hypothermia is a real threat. Cotton absorbs and holds the most water, so is particularly dangerous, so it's wise to bring a change of clothes or two if someone must enter the water. If there are no change of clothes available, wringing the clothing out as much as they can and letting their body heat dry them will do, but they'll have to huddle together and minimise direct contact with the cold ground with blankets and such. Keeping active can help against hypothermia, even if it's just walking on the spot.


Plants and Animals
   There is life underground, though it might be sparse. Plants, however, are difficult to find. They would need both a source of light and a source of water to grow, though not necessarily soil - certain moss, for example, don't require soil. But while plants are one of the basic beginnings to a food chain, they're not the only beginning. Waste that flows from the surface through unpercolated rivers (rivers that don't get filtered through the rock itself before reaching the cavern system) can carry food with it, such as tiny animals, small fish, dead animals, plant waste and so on, albeit on a small scale. But sometimes this is enough. But there is also bacteria that feed on acids. The aptly named 'snottites' (what you're picturing is more or less accurate) are colonies of single-celled bacteria that feed off of sulfuric acid. 
   Troglophiles are animals that use cave entrances to escape the outside weather and temperature, seeking heat in the winter and cool in the summer, and sometimes for safety, too. These animals are usually found near entrances - not necessarily entrances we could fit through, however. As long as there is a short and direct route from cave to surface, you can find them there. Such animals include newts, frogs, snakes and salamanders, and small mammals such as foxes, wolves, raccoons and so on. There may be much larger mammals, too - even elephants have been known to seek shelter in some African caves. Insects include scorpions, cave crickets, cockroaches, moths, etc.
   Then there are the troglobites, the animals that live only in caves, never venturing out. These are the more interesting creatures as they've adapted to a life without light and little food. The most common of these adaptations are a loss of eyes - if there's no light, there's nothing to see, so there's no need for eyes - a loss of pigment - and if nothing can see you, you don't need to blend in, and you don't need to look threatening - and elongated appendages. They also generally don't eat often, and have very slow metabolisms to save their energy, but when a meal comes by, they can't afford to miss it. Such troglobites include, specifically, the Texas blind salamander, the Kauaʻi cave wolf spider, and blindfish.
   There are also some rather unique evolutionary traits for cave-dwellers, such as glowworms (troglophiles). In the Waitomo (Māori for water hole) Caves in New Zealand there's the famous Glowworm Grotto, a small cave that is part of the cavern system wherein hundreds of glowworms live. They spin a line of silk which they cover in their mucus to catch anything that passes by, such as moths and mosquitos, and use their lights as a lure - the insects fly higher and closer to their lines, or 'snares' because their collective lights can cause an insect with poor eyesight to believe it looks like the night sky, and that they're outdoors. It's a truly beautiful sight, despite the worms, mucus and mosquitos, as you can see below:

    Animals are a versatile subject, however. Writing fantasy means you can really play around with them, but you have to consider their environment, too. Instead of being blind, they could have giant eyes that detect the slightest of lights - but that would mean that there would have to be the slightest of lights present and consistant in your cave system, or at least in the area they live. This would mean that the need for camouflage and threatening colours would become relevant again. Their size will also depend on how they feed, and if their food source is abundant.

Effects of Being Underground

   Being underground can easily cause claustrophobia. Claustrophobia is the fear of having no escape, or being enclosed in small spaces, so being unable to get out of a cave or cavern quickly and easily can lead to panic attacks which in turn can lead to hasty decisions and subsequently injuries. Caves and caverns of a single system won't usually vary very much in appearance - all the rock will have the same colouring, possibly the same roughness or smoothness, and lots of similar features as they'd all been worn in by the same cause, and to someone prone to such attacks, the surroundings will seem even more identical than to someone keeping a cool head and taking note of their surroundings.
   Along with claustrophobia, tensions will rise. It could be that no one in the party would suffer obvious claustrophobia, but they might all suffer some small degree of it and become quite irritable. Or if just one person shows obvious signs of it, that can be enough to stress everyone else out.
   Underground there's no daylight, either, which throws your body out of whack. Melatonin is the chemical that is heavily responsible for your circadian rhythm - your 24 hour 'body clock' - and is quite dependant on light. Melatonin levels are low during the day when there's a lot of light reaching your retina, and high in the evening and higher at night when the light dims and vanishes. When melatonin starts to increase, it chemcially causes drowsiness and lowers the body temperature to encourage and aid sleep. Underground there is no natural light (camp fires don't count because they don't emit enough 'blue light' like the sun), and as a result the levels of melatonin will probably be quite high a lot of the time. This means that everyone will be quite cold and sleepy more often than not, and we all know that when we're tired we can get a bit moody, especially if it's constant tiredness. Let's not also forget that natural light can boost moods, so being away from natural light will also contribute to foul tempers.

   The ground is far from even - far from even. In fact for half the time you're likely to be scrambling over rocks, and it would be all too easy to break a bone, twist an ankle and fall down narrow cracks. In Lechuguilla in New Mexico it took over 100 expert cavers 3 days to retrieve someone who'd broken an ankle, and in Riesending Cave in Germany, it took over 700 people to get out another man with a similar injury. So simply put, injury is fairly likely, and if there are no experts in caves or underground worlds with your characters, injury is even more likely.
   Caves can also be flooded over time, and these flooded caves can be anywhere from metres to miles long - over 300 miles of underwater passageways have been mapped in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and Ox Bel Ha is almost 150 miles long - and sometimes, if fresh water meets salt water, it can be deceiving to the eyes, as salt water is heavier than fresh water which leads the salt water to slip beneath the fresh. Salt water isn't as clear as fresh water, either, so the separation of the two can create the illusion of air, which is certainly dangerous if free-diving (diving on one breath, carrying no breathing apparatus). While it would be much harder to break an ankle or fall off of something while swimming, there are other dangers, such as 'squeezes' - narrow gaps that you can squeeze through though you run the risk of damaging yourself or your oxygen tanks, and if you get stuck you'll either run out of air quicker in your panic, or, if free diving, will perhaps inhale in a panic.
   The water is also quite cold, so if someone were to stay in it for too long they could get hypothermia quite easily, and the water can also weaken the rock, wearing it away over time, and as a result ledges can give way beneath people which will, obviously, result in injury.
   Small unventilated caves can become gas chambers which fill in time with extremely toxic gases like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ammonia, methane and others. Sulfur dioxide and ammonia in particular are extremely water-soluable, meaning that they create acids upon contact with water - this includes bodily fluid and as a result it can be irritating to the eyes and lungs, especially when in great concentration. These two also have pungent smell - sulfur dioxide smells of rotten eggs; ammonia smells like urine.

   Disorientation is easy in a cave system, as tunnels wind off everywhere and areas, as mentioned before, all look the same to untrained eyes. And so string is often used to both map their route and measure the length of cave systems. It's quite a simple method, but it's one still used today.
   First aid should always be on hand, the most basic of which would be bandages, clean cloths, clean water, alcohol and material for splints. Painkillers would also be good, but, of course, it depends on the advancement of your world (you'd forgotten this was a writing rescource put together by a fantasy writer, hadn't you?).

Other types of caves

Limestone Caves
   Limestone caves are the most common, largest and deepest of all cave types, so it's likely that it would be a limestone cave that characters would either stumble across or be forced to pass through. They're formed over thousands of years by water wearing away the rock - usually it's rain water mixing with carbon dioxide to form a weak solution of carbonic acid, or occasionally it's rain water mixing with hydrogen sulfide in the earth, creating a weak solution of sulfuric acid which eats the rock away in the same manner. Limestone caves are rich in speleothems.
Search 'limestone caves' on Google images for visual examples.

Lava Caves
   Lava caves or lava tubes are generally tubular in shape (I bet you didn't see that coming). They're created by lava flow, where the outer layer of the lava will harden and cool, but the inside is still molten and continues to flow. The caves/tubes are formed when that still-molten lava flows right out of its hardened casing and leaves an empty passage way. These are, of course, found in regions with both active and extinct volcanoes, but they usually lack speleothems, except perhaps a few stalactites created by hardened lava that dripped from the ceiling. They also have a tendancy to lead nowhere.
Search 'lava caves' or 'lava tubes' on Google images for visual examples.

Sea Caves
   These are caves and caverns created by the pounding of waves against the rock and removing material as they go. They can also be formed by the waves creating and widening a crack in the rock. They're relatively small, averaging 300 metres in length, feature next to no speleothems and require crossing water to reach them. These, too, lead nowhere. If the rock the water is attacking is a narrow stretch jutting out to sea, it's more likely to cause the cave to become a sea arch instead where the water eats the rock away all the way through to the other side. If the top of the arch collapses, which is likely over time from weathering and a lack of base support, you'll be left with sea stacks.
Search 'sea caves' on Google images for visual examples.

Ice Caves 
   Ice caves are formed by ice, of course, and there are two types: glacier and ice.
   Glacier caves are really just glaciers - just ice - that have had water running through the bottom that has gradually worn the ice away to form a cave. These are highly dangerous because of shifting and melting ice. However, these can also be both beautiful and fantastical.
   Ice caves are simply any kind of cave listed above that happens to have ice in it all year round. This ice forms by cold air trapping air and subsequently freezing water within it, and as caves don't really see much of a change in temperature, that air will stay cold all year round. This can mean that you get beautiful ice formations in ordinary caves.
Search 'ice caves' or 'glacier caves' on Google images for visual examples.

Unique Caves
Er Wang Dong cavern system with its own weather.
Lechuguilla and its Chandalier Ballroom, a cavern filled with enormous gypsum crystals.
Deer Cave in Borneo is big enough to fly a jumbo jet through

Further Your Research

Watch Planet Earth's documentary: Caves
   Part of the Planet Earth series, created by the world-renowned BBC Bristol Natural History Unit and narrated by the even greater known David Attenborough, the episode 'Caves' shows different types of cave formations, speleothems, troglobites, troglophiles, flooded caves and cave diving, and the 10-minute 'diary' at the end of how they filmed certain points also hints at the mental pressures and frustrations of being stuck underground for several days straight. As well as slightly more detailed and varied information than what I've provided, it also offers visual examples of the different formations, creatures and darkness, as well as the difference in weight and density of salt water versus fresh water. It's an amazing piece, and the many visual examples can also really help to put the writer in the setting, making it easier to create a cavern system of your own.
   You can buy the box set of the series on Amazon, and I promise it's worth it. There is another wonderful episode on mountains, and the footage used across the entire series is unique to its own, rather than filled with repeats from others.

Watch Wild China's documentary: Heart of the Dragon
   Part of the Wild China series, created once again by the world-renowned BBC Bristol Natrual History Unit, but narrated this time by Bernard Hill (King Théoden; you're welcome), the episode 'Heart of the Dragon' shows unique caves and caverns, none of which are repeats of Planet Earth's 'Caves', as well as creatures and interaction from people, including the temples and a school built within the caverns. This documentary is just as beautiful as Planet Earth, but features elements of Eastern culture at the same time, some of which really sparks the imagination.
   You can buy the complete series on Amazon as well, and as before, I promise you the entire series is worth it. It's filled with so many unique things - including the fact that people in China keep birds as pets, but as they worry that they get lonely, once a week they take their birds outside, hang their cages in a tree, and let them all talk to one another. I love that.

Go to a Show Cave
   There are show caves dotted everywhere. A show cave is typically a natural cave with natural features (if you're concerned that the cave you're considering visiting isn't natural, do a quick search for it online. If it's not real, several geologists will have been quick to point it out), generally with several examples of different speleothems and even sometimes human remains, such as the 9,000 year old skeleton found in Gough Cave, England.
   The only adjustments generally made to make a cave into a show cave is a smoothing of the floor to make it safe to traverse for children and the elderly, steps and railings, electric lighting, and the closing off of unsafe areas. Everything else is generally authentic. Show caves almost always include guided tours, and often have a walkie talkie tour option and informative posts. Show caves are far, far safer than actual caving, with first aid on hand if needed, and the exits are always easy to find. You can see for yourself the stalactites and cave pearls, feel the temperature, and see the uneven walls - though I suggest you not pay too much attention to the ground. A real cave isn't anywhere near as easy to walk across.
   Prices tend to be around £12/$17 per adult, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on where the cave is, the kind of cave, the cave's features and nearby attractions. They make for a unique experience, a fun day out, and very hands-on research experience - yes, research. Don't forget that part. All of the pictures above (minus the glowworms, of course) I took myself at Cheddar Gorge, Somerset.

Friday 14 November 2014

Road to Workout - 2: Body Types

   Body Types. They're the combination of your bone structure, density and musculature. It cannot be changed, and whether you get skinny or get curvy will depend on these characteristic. No single person is the same, but we do have similarities, and it's important to realise that. Being able to not only recognise but also admit your body type can be a challenge in itself, and I mean that more towards endomorphs than anything else. Why? Because they are the short, stocky type that gain fat easily and lose it after a lot of trouble. And that sucks and can hurt to admit, but once you know your body type you'll have a much better idea of what to do to reach your body goal.
   I quite liked what said on this matter: "the truth is you can make each body type absolutely stunning. You just gotta work with what you’ve got. If you are beautifully curved like Jennifer Lopez, you will make yourself ill to be a Kate Moss. Instead, lose the fat, get toned and be as beautiful as Jennifer Lopez. Do not be mad at your genetics. Do not use them as an excuse. You cannot change your genetics. It is an impossibility. You can change your weight. You can change your body fat percentage. You can change how much muscle you have" - see a pattern? The ability to change your body and make yourself beautiful does exist, you just have to find it, and recognising your body type and working with it is a huge step in the right direction and can make the difference between healthy and attractive, and simply being and looking ill.

   So, what are the body types? Apples? Pears? No, those are shapes and have more to do with clothing than fitness. Body types are ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph, and they're all quite different from one another.

Ectomorph                                        Mesomorph                                        Endomorph

   Typically the slimmest and tallest of people. They have the fastest natural metabolism, but tend to have trouble gaining weight as both fat and muscle. They also tend to have the straightest frames - 'ruler' or 'pencil' - and curves are rare.
   Ectomorphs should stick to a strength-based workout to build muscle and strength, and cardio isn't something necessary because there's little to no fat to lose anyway. The heavier the weights the better for ectomorphs, with sets between 5-10 reps, but rest time between sets should be about 1 minute.
   Ectomorphs should drink plenty of milk and consume 50-60% carbohydrate foods, and high-density foods like almonds and peanut butter.

   The middle and most average of frames, some will have curves and others will not. These are the people who have a moderately easy time gaining and losing weight as both muscle and fat, and tend to be naturally lean. It's the middleground between ectomorphs and mesomorphs and so carries qualities from both, with body fat evenly distributed.
   Mesomorphs should do both strength training and cardio to build and maintain muscle, and to keep off fat. They tend to eat well in general, and will gain weight from fatty foods but can shed it easily enough.

   Typically the curviest and widest frames, and short to middle in height. Endomorphs tend to be wider and gain weight as both muscle and fat easier than the others, but have a harder time losing it.
   Endomorphs should do both strength and cardio, and as much of the latter as possible. Strength training should be completed in sets of around 15 reps once familiar with the weights and the movements to develop what muscle they have as it is usually underdeveloped (this will tighten and 'shrink' the muscle, making it denser).
   Endomorphs should drink plenty of water and eat lots of veg to keep full, and eat 30-40% carbohydrate foods, and endomorphs in particular should never cut out food stuffs cold turkey (flash dieting).

   Now, the thing about the above body types is that it's highly unlikely that you're just one type. Most of us will be a cross. Personally, I am a cross between a mesomorph and an ectomorph, so strength training and cardio are important for me. If you aren't sure which category you fall into, take this test by to find out.

   I also have a quick thing to say about endomorphs in particular: just because endomorphs lose weight slowly and gain weight easily does not mean that they can't lose weight, and the difference between their rate of weight gain and weight loss compared to the other two body types is still only small. It's very important to realise that there isn't a chasm between each body type, so don't let any of that above put you off, whether you're dominantly ecto' or endo'. Everyone can and will gain and lose weight, it just might take a little longer for others to get the same results as a friend with a different body type even if you're doing exactly the same thing, so if you're training with a friend, it's important to realise that and to never, ever compare yourselves.

   Your body type will never change, but that doesn't mean it'll always be easy or difficult to maintain your weight. Ectomorphs can find that their metabolism will slow over time, and if they continue to over eat or eat the wrong things 'because they can' they're likely to become overweight in the future, whereas you can also speed up your metabolism with things like Tabata and a good diet, but Tabata is not at all for inexperienced people. I'll post about Tabata soon, but if the Road to Workout series is of use to you, Tabata shouldn't be on your mind for at least 6 months.

   Learn your body type - and be honest with yourself, don't just pick the most attractive picture or deescription, choose the most accurate otherwise you won't do yourself much good. Once you've learned your body type, learn to embrace it, and realise that everyone can look and feel good, and be a healthy weight. It might be a little harder for some than for others, but that's makes the need for your exercise to be enjoyable even more important.

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