Tuesday 30 December 2014

Things I've Learned This Year

• Take motivation wherever you find it. If listening to the Avatar soundtrack while working out motivates you to get fit and defeat the Firelord, so be it.

• Doctors are there to help you. Don't pester them about a sneeze, but don't brush things off if you're genuinely concerned about them. You might just need a medical professional to tell you you're worried over nothing.

• Never tell someone that something's easy in an attempt to motivate them to try it. If it turns out that it's actually really hard, they'll give up quicker and feel worse about themselves for struggling. If you want to motivate them, tell them how great it is, not how easy it was for you.

• Do a good deed and tell no one about it. It's more selfless to not take credit. People don't need to know. You don't need a pat on the back. The person's gratitude is enough.

• If you write a series of blog posts with tips on how to do something, be sure to follow them yourself. I forgot about my fantasy writing tips blog post series and made a few mistakes in my last book - the very mistakes which my blogging series was written to help others avoid.

• The difference between a stalactite and stalagmite: tights hang down.

• It takes testosterone to bulk out with muscle - not exclusively, but as women have far, far less testosterone than men do, it's much, much, much harder for women to get as muscular as men. Women tone and become lean with weight/strength training, unless they seriously, seriously work at it and take a bucket-load of supplements every day, so the next time a woman tells you she won't use weights when working out because she doesn't want to turn into She-Hulk, it's a load of bull and she's the one missing out big time.

Monday 29 December 2014

New Year's Resolution Link-Up

   New Year's Resolutions, as I mentioned before, can be hard to stick to, whatever they might be. To really stick to them, especially if you know right away they're going to be a challenge for you because they're out of the norm, you have to give yourself achievable goals - but why you must also realise that it's all right to modify them a month or so later if it turns out that you can either do better, or in contrast that the goal simply wasn't realistic. Losing 20lbs a month, for example, isn't a realistic goal. Losing 5lbs a month, however, is. Just as dropping four dress sizes might be your end goal, but may well not be achievable in a single year. And you have to realise that that's fine. Just because you cannot reach your end goal in a single year doesn't make it impossible, and making the same resolution three years in a row isn't a failing, either, especially when that resolution was to work towards a much larger goal. Keep your sights on what you want and be patient but dedicated.

   The best resolutions to make are those that will do you good, either physically, mentally, emotionally, or all three. Drink less, stop smoking, work out, find a job that will make you happier even if it means working part-time instead of full-time, write the book you've been putting off. Achieve or work towards the things that really matter to you to make sure you enjoy your life, no matter what others might think of them. Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. Few people make a dent in the world, after all - you can either take that to mean that if you want to make a dent, you can, or to mean that you don't have to try to and you can do something you've always aspired to instead.

   I word my resolutions very carefully so that there's no way I can fail without actually trying to, even if my true goal is actually quite a challenge, and this year my resolution is the same as last year: 'change my workout every month'. As long as I do just that and stick with each different workout for 4-5 weeks, I can't technically fail, and by sticking to it I will achieve my ultimate goal of gaining the body I want, but without the disappointment of having not lost 'enough' by the end of the year because I made an unrealistic goal, which would be typical of me. By simply changing my workout every month, I can keep myself enthusiastic about my exercise and change them just as I start to get bored of them (which is usually after 4 weeks), I can avoid plateaus and consistently lose weight because I'm changing things up enough to keep challenging my body rather than letting it adjust too much to a workout, and I can learn more and more about the body and its musculature thereby allowing me to choose more effective workouts every month and gain better results. So by making such a simple resolution I've made it easier to achieve my true goals, and I've given myself simple monthly milestones - to actually complete the workout I set myself.
   I also find that by blogging about my resolution I have, in a way, publicly committed to it, and by doing that I find it far harder to back out of, even if no one actually paid attention to that blog post. By blogging my progress, as well - in this case by introducing the new workout at the start of every month, then writing a 2-week and then 4-week update as well as a review at the end if it was a class- or DVD-based workout - I can potentially provide worthwhile content for people with a similar resolution, or for people looking to get fit themselves later on.

   Make the public commitment. Blog about your resolution, state clearly what it is you want to do, but allow yourself a month to adjust it. If at the end of January you do decide to adjust it, don't deviate from your end goal. You picked your end goal because it matters to you enough to make it 2015's resolution, but do allow yourself to adjust it in a way to make it more managable, like mine. Perhaps you might find that by being less direct, as I have, your true goal will be easier to achieve in the long-run.
   Once you've blogged about your resolution, add it to the link-up below. It's open until January 29th, and there is one simple rule to the link-up: instead of writing your name in the link-up tool, write your resolution, and in the link section provide a link specifically to your committing blog post. Others may find your resolution similar to theirs and decide to adjust their wording to the wording you've used, while others who are still undecided may decide to follow in your footsteps because you were brave enough to make a deeper resolution. Some people may even have made the same resolution a few years ago and can offer tips to help you get there.


Need help sticking to your resolution?
   I've written a blog post talking about what can help you stick to your resolutions, and while it is more weight-loss-focused, there are a lot of neutral tips that everyone can benefit from regardless of their resolution.
   I've also published a blog series called Road to Workout which talks about the very basics of getting started with weight loss, using information I've learned from experience and research, and are all things I wish I'd known from the beginning so I could have avoided certain mistakes and made quicker progress.
   Last but not least, you can also view all the workouts I did through 2014 (intro, 2-week and 4-week posts) and see if there's anything in there you'd like to try to get you started, and, if not, there are a few fitness DVD and kit reviews on the 'Fitness' page, along with links for all of the above as well as one-off articles regarding diets, 'weight-loss' products that don't work, and more.

Sunday 28 December 2014

New Year's Resolution: 2015

Change My Workout Every Month

   Yes, I'm making the same resolution as I did last year, but that's not a failing. I have a long way to go to get where I want to be, and I knew that when I started in 2014. I still have a long way to go, but with everything I've learned over the past year, that distance has been drastically reduced, and I now know, as a fact, that I can get where I've always wanted to be.
   By changing my workout every month, I can avoid plateaus and subsequently burn off more fat more consistently; I can learn a range of new skills and learn more and more about the body with every different workout I do; I can find what works best for me; I can ensure that I've always got something new to do, and just as I start to grow bored with a workout, it will already be time to change it, or I'll only have one more week to go; I have a reliable monthly milestone.

   It's the best resolution I've ever made. Not only is 'changing my workout every month' technically very easy to do, but in the process of doing one workout a month, I only have a few weeks to complete and master it before moving on. I see that as a challenge so I work harder to achieve it, and by working harder I lose more weight and enjoy it more - and if I don't enjoy the workout, I can go into it knowing full well that I only have to put up with it for a month.

   In 2015 I may well repeat some of the more successful workouts from 2014, but I will also branch out into new things yet again - different dance styles, different kinds of yoga, try out different kit and so on. Given how 2014 went, and how I was able to find a diverse range of workouts to do, I can go into 2015 knowing full well that there's still a lot more to try, and with a subscription to Women's Fitness magazine coming through my door every month, if I'm unable to find anything new on my own, they will surely give me some damn good suggestions.

   I'm really excited to start 2015, and I already have January's workout lined up, which I'll begin on January 5th. I always start my new workouts on the first Monday of the month, so the dumbbells and P90X/2-styled workouts I've been doing in December 2014 will carry me through the new year. They've been effective so far, and I've upped the ante a little more over Christmas to compensate for the food - though it's proven to be a little unnecessary because I've developed far more self-control around boxes of biscuits and chocolates this year than I thought I had, but that's not to say that I let myself miss out!


June: - 
July: - 
August: - 
September: - 
October: - 
November: - 
December: - 

Wednesday 24 December 2014


   Perhaps it was the stress from my shop pushing me into overload, but the fact that Christmas Day is tomorrow hasn't really sunk in. Either that, or I'm growing old. I say 'old' rather than 'up' because you're only as old as you feel...but I just can't get into the Christmas groove this year. I've tried, believe me, I've tried hard. I play Christmas music every morning, but that doesn't do it, I make sure to light up the tree while I'm working/playing on the PC and the bigger tree in the living room when I'm exercising, but that still doesn't help. I've even drank lots of Christmas tea, but even the extremely Christmassy smell isn't doing much for me.
   I think it probably is because of shop stresses, so next year I think I might close up a little sooner and lose those last-minute sales (they're mostly just stress, though that doesn't mean they're unappreciated). I lost sleep in the last week of sales and when I did sleep I dreamt of little more than tissue paper and pillow boxes. I think I've burnt myself out on it. And despite what I said in my last post about being unable to just sit in the bath to relax because I'm sat there not doing anything else, I did sit in the bath yesterday in an attempt to chill out and try to think about Christmas.
   I think the other part of the problem is the big Christmas secret. That you-know-who isn't you-know-what. Even though I had that broken to me about 12 years ago, I think the magic has only just started to fade, but even if it's taken this long for that to begin, it's dropped at quite a steep and sudden gradient.

   This isn't to say that I've been moping around and saying 'bah humbug' every five minutes, quite the opposite, but I'm just not feeling it. I put a Christmas film on and turned on all the lights when I sat down to wrap presents, and just as I was starting all I could think was "I can't be bothered with this" - and I love wrapping presents. The only thing that put me in a good mood and urged me on was testing one of the gifts I'd bought Seeg to make sure it worked (you can't buy them new anymore) and finding that it did so perfectly (meaning I didn't have to rush around finding a new gift).

   I think I was spoilt as a child. I had wonderful Christmasses, I truly adored them, and I had a ridiculous amount of presents, too - lots of little things, but lots of them - and I think the experience I had every year at home with just my sister, my mum and my dad really burned its way into my brain. That's great, but the trouble is that when I think of Christmas I think back to that, and with my mum being heavily disabled and my sister living elsewhere, it just doesn't go that way anymore. Plus, y'know, I can't get up at 4am in my pyjamas and wake my parents up for presents.

   Still, maybe I'm wrong, maybe tomorrow I will wake up early and be filled with child-like excitement! I hope I do, but at the same time I have to remember that Christmas is what you make of it.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Closed for Christmas

   Well, as much as I love my shop, I can't say I'm not glad the Christmas rush is over. Absolutely everything went on the back-burner while I tried to stay on top of orders, but I think I managed! I got most orders out within 3 days rather than 5, and while I admit that I did end up losing sleep during the last week of sales, an immense weight was lifted from my shoulders on Monday when I posted the last of the orders from all shops, as well as all remaining gifts.
   I had a hugely successful Christmas, doubling from last year which is incredible, and I'm extremely satisfied with everything. The postal service has been quicker than expected in most cases, too, which is excellent when you consider that Royal Mail was privatised earlier this year. I also posted out a lot of orders as quickly as I could that were placed just after overseas posting deadlines in the hopes of them still arriving in time, but I admit that I have little real idea of whether or not they have. I really hope there won't be any disappointment!

   I've not had the chance to do anything but work on my shop lately, but I did ensure I had the time to exercise every day. I've not missed a single day yet - in fact I even upped the ante with half an hour of yoga every other evening. I don't really subscribe to the spiritual side of yoga, I just find it enjoyable, relaxing and, with ashtanga, I do work up a good sweat at the same time. I needed a way to unwind (or, rather, wind and unwind), but I've become so obsessed with using time efficiently over the past month that I had to get more out of it than simply finding myself some space - just sitting in a bath wouldn't do, but with yoga I come out of it feeling great and having burned off a few calories. Perhaps I'm obsessed, who knows, but I can't say I've been eating perfectly with Christmas so close by. Chocolate tends to assault me at this time of the year, so I think I've got the extra energy to do it.

   However, I've now 'closed' the shop for Christmas. I can still reply to messages and orders can still be placed, but nothing's being made again until December 29th, and nothing's being posted until January 5th. I've given myself a week away from crafting and two weeks away from the post office, and I'm very excited about it. The other day, for the first time in what feels like forever, I could actually sit down and watch something with Seeg without having to split my attention three ways. It was great. I'm also sleeping better now that I'm not working from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed (literally). I had just enough gingerbread green tea to go around, too! I bought about 7 boxes of the stuff and I've got 2 cups left, so while that does mean that not all of December's orders get a free cuppa, at least all of the orders up to December 22nd did. And most likely the next 2 I get, as well :D

   I want to thank everyone for their support of my shop this year, and this Christmas in particular. It's great to see so many handmade gifts being given, and it's been brilliant to work with a few people on custom pieces. I even made one for a friend for Christmas, but I won't show it on here yet in case she sees it! I'm stupidly proud of it though!
   I also hit 500 sales at the beginning of December, and since then I've whizzed past it like it was nothing, which kind of makes me sad in some ways because the significance of it has kind of faded. But, it's exciting nevertheless, and the 500th buyer was very pleased with her free gifts, as well as the product. Yay!

   So thank you to everyone who has featured my shop on their blogs, included it in treasuries, and tweeted/pinned/facebooked my products, it's been a huge help and I'm over the moon. But I'm also very glad for the rest, now!

Sunday 21 December 2014

How To Stick To Your New Year's Resolution

   Next year, I'm going to exercise every day. I'm going to exercise for an hour every day. I'm going on a diet. I'm cutting out sugar.
   Sound familiar?
   New year's resolutions are a tricky thing. People have a goal in mind, but quite often don't go about presenting it to themselves in the right way. Losing weight is the most typical goal because it's hard work with great rewards and is very slow-going - the sort of thing that would fit a new year's resolution very well - but the actual wording of the resolution, the promise they effectively make to themselves, is crucial.
   It's made worse by the fact that these resolutions are usually made by people who are new to fitness and have little idea how weightloss works - plateaus and things like that which present roadblocks that, to someone inexperienced, can seem impossible to overcome and lead to broken resolutions.

   So what can you do to stick to your new year's resolution, whatever it might be, weight-loss-related or not? It's simple: word and plan your resolution so that you can actually achieve it. A year to drop a dress size, yes that works, but if you're new to fitness that can still be a huge and daunting challenge. What you really need is something with milestones you can tick off. For example, if you wanted to lose 24lbs, aim to lose 2lbs a month, minimum. So instead of saying "I want to lose 24lbs by the end of the year", say "I want to lose 2lbs a month" - these bite-sized goals are far easier to maintain, and with the significantly quicker results, it gives a great boost of confidence to the individual because it feels like the end goal is much more achievable.

   For this post I'm going to stick to weightloss resolutions. While the above advice can be applied to any new year's resolution, I've got a better idea of what I'm talking about in this area because it's what I've done myself.

Mistakes I made:

   I always used to say I'd cut out chocolate or sugar. After a week, the resolution was broken. The fact that I'd outright denied myself these things I moved made them more desirable, and if I finally did give in to 'just a little bit' it always turned into more. You should never cut things out of your diet point blank. Reduce them instead. Sugary things are delicious, and cutting those out are more likely to lead to bingeing and that won't do much for the confidence of the individual. It's more of a psychological thing than physical, but it's also true that suddenly cutting things out can give your body a little bit of a shock, too. Flash diets are the same. There's a popular belief that cutting out carbs will help you lose weight, but that's not really true. You need carbs, the thing is that the foods heavy in carbohydrates are usually denser, more filling and, when eaten in abundance, do indeed result in weight-gain. The key is eating in moderation and making sure you get all of your food groups rather than lots of some and none of others. It goes both ways, too - you can get fat from eating too much fruit, for example. The keywords here are 'too' and 'much'.

   When I stopped making resolutions to cut things out I would make resolutions to exercise every week. I would put on a CD and dance in my bedroom for half an hour every Sunday when I was younger. That was it. It didn't work. I didn't know what I was doing, that was the problem, I mostly just moved my arms and waist, and while I was sweating, I didn't change my eating habits. I continued to buy full-sized cakes and eat them by myself. I thought half an hour of exercise a day was enough, and it wasn't.
   On the flip side of that, a mistake other people make is going from nothing to too much. "I'm going to exercise for an hour every day". There are two problems with this: first is that working out every day isn't good. It's just as important to rest and recover as it is to work out, be it cardio, strength or a mixture of both, and you should aim to take one to two rest days a week, ideally spread out (ie Wednesday and Sunday). The second problem is that while an hour doesn't seem like much when you're not doing it, it's actually a very long time. You're more likely to exhaust yourself in 20 minutes if you're new to it and phone the remaining 40 minutes in, which is about effective as exercising for just 30 minutes. Instead you should aim to start out at 30 minutes a day 3-4 days a week and ease yourself in, putting all your effort into those 30 minutes. Also realise that it's not the time spent working out but rather the intensity at which you do it. A 20 minute workout consisting of weights and cardio is about as effective as double the time spent on cardio alone.

   I've already stated that not knowing what I was doing was a damaging aspect, and it's what causes a lot of people to fail. It's best, if you're just starting out, to buy a DVD to use in your living room, preferrably dance. I say dance because it's fun. It doesn't feel like work. It's true that it can be frustrating when trying to learn the moves and keep up with the instructor, but it's equally true, if not moreso, that the more you use the DVD (they're designed to be repeated, not used just once, after all) the easier the moves will come to you. I recommend any 10 Minute Solutions dance DVD. These DVDs feature 5 seperate 10 minute routines. It's a brilliant place to start, and each 10 minute routine differs from the rest on the disc. You can line up anywhere frm 2 to 5 routines in whatever order you want, even repeating some and skipping others.
   By starting out with a dance DVD you can exercise without it feeling like work, you can do it in the privacy of your own home and eliminate any embarressment and confidence issues, and you can easily keep track of time without clock-watching. You can build up your stamina and start to see changes in your body, as even this cardio will be a sudden challenge for your body and will deliver results. In time you'll build up confidence and even grow to love exercise (I know that can sound insane when you're just starting out, but it's true), at which point you can move on and try other workouts. You'll learn about muscles and bodies from these DVDs as you go along, too, and that in turn will help you to shed weight and tone up because you'll understand that purpose and action of each movement better.

My Most Successful New Year's Resolution:

   This year's. To try something new fitness-related every month, which, from March, changed into 'changing my workout every month'. Why did I choose to make a resolution like that rather than create a goal for my weightloss? Well, for starters, I have a long way to go to get the body I want, it's not a quick thing. The second reason is that it has very clear monthly milestones - namely to begin and subsequently complete a workout for 4-5 weeks straight, before completely changing it the following month. The third reason was because I finally understood plateaus, and that they usually come about after 4-6 weeks of no change in workout or diet. In theory, by changing my workout every month, I could completely avoid plateaus and lose weight consistantly as well as finding what kind of workout works best for me.
   All of this worked out for me, and this year I've lost more weight more consistently than before, and transformed my body by strengthening muscles. Not only am I slimming down, but I'm becoming more defined with every passing month rather than just becoming skinny, and that's exactly what I want.
   As a result, this year I've decided to make the same resolution. I still have a long way to go to get the figure I want, but if I do as well as I did this year (if not better considering everything I've learned), by the end of 2015 I could be a hell of a lot closer.

Friday 19 December 2014

Homemade Christmas Crackers

   I love Christmas crackers. They look so pretty, they make a wonderful bang (unless you have animals, then that bang isn't as easy to enjoy), and they're a wonderful part of Christmas dinner. But they always contain the same rubbish. At least, over here they do. Nail clippers, whistles, Kinder Egg-style toys, tape measures and so on. The only thing I've ever considered useful are those tiny screwdriver sets. So we stopped buying Christmas crackers because they were always the same, unless you buy the expensive duluxe ones - and I mean duluxe, I mean like £30 or more for 6, otherwise you just end up with the same rubbish but a little better made.
   I've rather missed Christmas crackers, though, so this year I decided to make some myself. I'd done it before a few years ago but had nothing to put in it except the jokes and hats that came with the set - in fact I'm not even sure there were hats... And while I admit that I didn't have much of any use to put in them this year, at least there are things in them that we'll actually want...

   I bought a set of 12 Kraft crackers and a packet with 12 snaps, foil hats and jokes (which, with my stupid sense of humour, were actually funny), all easily found in craft shops, and then went and gathered up small sets of chocolates. 10 ferrero rocher, 12 Kinder maxi, 4 mousse snowmen, 16 celebrations and a bag of chocolates wrapped as Christmas puddings. I also found some thin wire with ivy leaves on which I thought would be a great addition, but I only bought one coil after deciding to remove the second from my cart. I wish I'd bought two! Using a small amount for each cracker I managed to get 8 out of the 12 with the ivy, and the rest had to have silver and red gift ribbon instead. They still looked good but if I'd had more ivy I could have given each cracker more!

To make crackers, you need:
A cracker-making kit or crackers, snaps, foil hats
Ribbon/decorative wire/twine
Stuff to fill them with
Stuff to decorate the crackers
optional cheesy Christmas jokes.

   I used a copperplate nib and white Winsor & Newton ink to decorate mine. They look lovely in person but in all honesty I think a little more decoration wouldn't have hurt, though I'm not sure what. Perhaps some 'Merry Christmas' scrawled in silver ink. The crackers seal with slot-tabs which you can see in the picture above, and they hold perfectly, but it also means it's easy enough to take apart so I might just do that and add a little more decoration.

   It took a while to scrawl over 12 of them, believe it or not, but I've got some confidence in the pen so it could have been worse. What I wasn't so confident about, though, was the scrawling itself. I see so many wonderful pieces across the internet but I can't seem to come up with a consistent flow.
   I closed the tabs, and after struggling to position everything into the middle of the cracker (the hat was a smidge too long, and the mousse snowmen only just fit), I realised it would be easier to undo the tab at one end, and not only close the tab at the other end but also close the opening before filling. So I faffed a bit with the first cracker, but the rest went a little quicker.

   As I said, unfortunately I didn't have enough lovely ivy wire to cover all the crackers, but the red and silver ribbon doesn't work too bad. In fact I almost prefer it since it's a little louder than the ivy and takes attention away from the lack of detail. But sometimes understated is good. It's not as if you need to add more glitter to Christmas than there already is!
   They'd be great with an understated Christmas - or a Christmas with all the effort, great impact, but still neutral and tidy. My chocolate pine cone cakes will go down a treat with these!

Thursday 18 December 2014

Road to Workout - 6: Importance of Strength Training

   For many people, this post might seem a bit sudden, but it truly is the next step, and you'll know when you're ready for it because you'll be seeking it out rather than it being forced upon you. But once you've gotten into the rhythm of working out, you've fit it into your schedule, it's nice and snug and no longer feels out of place or like a chore, it's time to step it up.
   I'm going to start by saying that I've not abandoned the exercise I enjoy. I absolutely adore dancing as an exercise, and I have around 9 different dance workout DVDs, and different types of dancing to boot - hip hop, Latin and Irish step dance, to be precise. I use routines from the easier DVDs for my warm-ups, and I use the tougher DVDs for a full cardio workout. But cardio - especially for endomorphs - can only do so much, and sooner or later, you will need to pick up the weights.

   Women are finally beginning to move beyond the idea that strength training = manly bulk, but many still harbour it as an excuse to avoid it, and they're seriously not helping themselves. So first of all, let me just tell you this: it's testosterone that causes men to bulk out when they work out, because nature intended them to be stronger. Women lack the levels of testosterone needed to bulk out, and as a result women become lean instead of bulky. The only way women - and, having said that, men too - become bulky is by serious dedication. And I mean serious, hence the bold and italic text. Bulky, over-muscular bodies do not happen by accident, so, unless you want it and take lots and lots of different supplements, it won't happen to you.
   Let me explain something about muscle. Ordinary muscle - usually under-developed, especially in endomorphs - only takes a certain amount of energy to use. This is because there's not much of it. It's flimsy and not particularly strong because it's not had to lift heavy things or do anything unusual, as our day to day lives are not very taxing on the average body. But when you start lifting weights - even as small as 1kg/0.5lbs - your muscles will start to strengthen because of new stresses. When this happens, they begin by shrinking a little and tightening up, becoming denser. Think of it like a piece of bread. That's the average muscle. When you screw that piece of bread up, you make it smaller by filling in the air pockets within the bread itself with the bread. It's still the same amount of bread at the end of the day, it's just denser. That is, to a degree, what lean muscle is: compacted, strengthened muscle. Once it's finished filling in the 'gaps' and becomes denser, the muscle will start to grow. This is done by creating small tears in the muscle, tears formed by the stress of completing the movements, but instead of pulling itself back together, more muscle is formed to fill it in. It sounds horrible, doesn't it? But it's completely normal and your body is more than equipped to cope with it as long as you don't try to lift a weight which is too heavy for you.
   Denser muscle requires more energy to move it, because there's more of it. It's more efficient, too. So you want to do strength training not only to increase calorie burn in your other workouts like dancing, tennis or whatever it is you do, but also in day to day life.

   The act of strength training alone will burn calories and shed fat as well as building muscle, though admittedly not as much as compound moves which work more muscle groups at the same time - like lowering yourself into a squat while doing a bicep curl and then releasing them together, but you need to know your form (covered in the next post) before trying compound moves to avoid injury - but the increased muscle from even singular moves will cause more energy to get used up in day to day life, and as you continue strength training, that, too, will start to burn more calories.

   Now, what you need to realise here, though, is that you shouldn't force yourself to do more than you can. Always start with small weights. They might seem too light when you start, but with every repetition (or 'rep') you do, they'll seem to get a little bit heavier as the pressure on your body increases. So never use a weight that you can only just lift on your third rep. You need a weight that you can control and complete a set (predetermined number of reps, usually 10-20) with. Something some people don't realise is that lifting a weight too heavy for you is more likely to make you look silly when you have to put it down almost immediately than it will make you look cool by lifting it at all. Never set out to show off or impress anyone because you really can injure yourself, and the same goes with number of reps per set, number of sets per circuit (routine made up of two or more movements), or numbers of circuits. There is no shame in going small and going steady if you're a beginner - 'go big or go home' does not apply to you unless you want to injure yourself.

   Most dumbell sets are 0.5-2kg and increase in 0.5kg increments. Start with the lowest weight of those sets and make sure you can maintain form throughout every rep. Building muscle will help to make you look healthy rather than just skinny, and contributes to long-term calorie burn and, subsequently, maintaining your shape. Once you can complete three sets with a weight and begin to feel that it's not enough anymore (and feel that honestly, because you shouldn't rush yourself), move on to the next weight up. It might only be 0.5kg heavier, but you'll be surprised by the burn at the end of the sets. It'll be like you just started. Except with perfect form.


Strength training doesn't make you bulky or manly. Testosterone is what is needed for muscle-building, and women have far, far less testosterone than men, which is why you almost never see bulky women. Strength training is great for fatloss as the increased dense muscle (which also makes you appear slimmer as well as improving your posture) uses more energy to move, so even normal tasks will use a little more energy and burn more calories than someone without the lean muscle gained from strength training, and strength training can be done either by using dumbbells, barbells and your own body weight. By avoiding strength training you're both slowing your weight loss progress and making it harder to keep the fat off afterwards.
Read also: 9 Reasons Every Woman Should Lift Weights

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Tuesday 16 December 2014

Last Purchasing Date for UK Orders

   That's tomorrow, folks! Wednesday the 17th is the last day for orders within the UK to arrive guaranteed by Christmas! Orders placed in Peaches and Pebbles after this date will be fulfilled as quickly as possible and may still arrive in time, but is it worth the risk? My last post run will be Monday the 22nd of December, and I always ship first class, but be aware that Royal Mail's deadline dates are the 18th for 2nd class and the 20th for 1st!

   I've added a next day delivery upgrade listing for UK customers to my shop. The info regarding this shipping upgrade is as follows:


Upgrade to Royal Mail's Guaranteed Next Day Delivery - guaranteed by 1pm. Please note that this is the day AFTER the product has been shipped, not the day after the product has been purchased.

Purchasing this listing with your product/s will get you priority service, however, meaning that I will give your order priority in fulfilling.

This listing is only available until Sunday the 21st. After this date, next day delivery will no longer be available as I am not shipping after Tuesday the 23rd.

   This listing can be added to any order to upgrade the shipping; the cost of the listing joined with the shipping costs on the other listing covers this shipping method.

A Very Pinteresting Christmas - Again!

   Another post of Christmas baking suggestions found on pinterest (and perhaps one of my own), for both cakes and sweets. Each of the tutorials I've listed below I have either tried or intend to try, and they all have wonderfully unique looks that will easily get Christmas dinner guests or party-goers talking. Each pin has a clear and concise recipe - you can't go wrong!

   This patterned arctic roll cake is to die for! Look at that fabulous design! And it's so easy, too! Just as is shown by La Receta de la Felicidad, pipe a design onto parchment paper and spread a cake mixture over the top! It works in the same sort of way as chocolate transfer sheets do - so easy, and so effective! Plus, I love arctic roll! It's perfect for either summer or winter!

   These gingerbread cheesecake bites would be wonderful for a small coffee (or in my case that would be hot chocolate) get-together this Christmas. They're so small and so simple, Rebecca's recipe on The Cherry On Top, adapted from Created By Diane the recipe suggesting pre-made gingerbread dough and where to find it to make it that little bit easier. I struggle with gingerbread myself - well, that goes for all biscuits and cookies, really - so the fact that they've made it around a premade dough is perfect for me! I can taste them already!

   Tiny gingerbread houses instead of dunking biscuits. You can't get more festive than this! Despite Cake Time being a Polish blog, this recipe is in English and the free gingerbread template is relatively straight forward once you compare it to the picture of the finished piece. I'd love to try this, but as I've mentioned above, I'm a nightmare when it comes to biscuits so there's no way the dough would keep its shape once it came out of the oven. Even if the dough was premade and essentially fool-proof. But that doesn't mean I won't try!!

   Pinecone Christmas cakes! The size of an actual pinecone and consisting of just chocolate cake, chocolate frosting, broken biscuits and powdered sugar. And they're not as awkward to eat as you'd think! This Christmas recipe is actually mine, but surely I'm allowed to add it to my list, right? As with the mousse-filled houses shown above, this requires a silicone mould as well. Of Easter eggs. Easy to find on ebay and amazon, though!

   A Berry Pavlova Christmas wreath! How fabulous! The colours are exquisite, and Gillian of My Square Frying pan has given some valuable tips through trial and error alongside her recipe. Not enough bloggers do this, which can be a nuisance as, if they get lucky on their first go, or a complete nightmare in the kitchen like myself has a go, I'm not going to know what to do when things inevitably go wry. But with advice such as not taking the pavlova out of the oven until it's completely cooled (which can understandably take a while and for someone as impatient as me, this tip is invaluable), she's made it much easier for others to try themselves.

   These homemade holiday lollipops from Just A Taste look amazing! So festive and so simple! If you've ever made hard candy, this is a cinch. Kind of. All right, if you've made hard candy successfully several times then this is a cinch. It's a very temperamental thing to make, but when it works, it works so well! These would be great for adults as well as kiddies - I know I'd be happy to be given one! They'd look lovely all displayed together, too!

   Another winter candy piece, if you can manage the lollies above, then this is the next step! Sprinkle Bakes shows you how to make these amazing twisted candy icicles with minimal ingredients and a microwave! Brilliant! I'd love to try these myself if my most recent attempt at hard candy hadn't gone so badly, but maybe if I'm feeling brave! They look incredible, but I think we can all agree that it's the incredible colour that delivers half of that impact! Just look at it! It's actually my favourite colour!

   Hot chocolate truffle balls, perfect for get-togethers, gifts or cold nights in a blanket. They look wonderful, and there's little doubt that they taste great! Just add hot milk and stir away! It's a very simple chocolate ganache recipe that, when heated in milk, will melt beautifully. I'm planning to make these for a few friends and a million more for myself. If there's one thing I love at Christmas - aside from food, decorations and old British comedy shows - it's hot chocolate. It is simply a must, and the more innovative ways to enjoy hot chocolate, the better.

Sunday 14 December 2014

Dumbbells & P90X/2 - 2 Weeks Later

   It's been two weeks and it's safe to say I hate it. The P90X-styled workout is just...awful. It's exhausting and so difficult, and I have to give myself a mini pep talk before I begin it every other day. But, as I've always said, if it's not hard, it's no good. You can't expect to lose weight by putting in little effort, and it's that reason that keeps me going. I do two circuits and it takes me a total of 20 minutes to complete, and I'm sweating buckets at the end.
   As for the dumbbells, that's the one I almost look forward to. It's not as much fun as kettlebells, but each movement is certainly different to anything I've done recently which is another good thing that helps to shed weight, using new movements, new muscle combinations and so on. But even though I initially thought it wouldn't be taxing enough using just 1-1.5kg weights (2-3lbs), I was proven wrong. I sweat just as much from 20 minutes of this routine (2 circuits again) as I did from 20 minutes of kettlebells last month.
   The movements were harder than expected as well when I began, but as always happens, I've become a little more adjusted to them and have a clearer idea of what I'm doing. As such, it's gotten a little easier - at least, I'm able to maintain form even if my muscles are screaming by the end of each set, and that's exactly what you want from a workout.

   I know I've said this a lot lately, but I can really feel a difference in my body. Even slimmer, tighter, more angles, more strength, more stamina. I get half way through the workout sometimes and want to give up, call it a day after one circuit, but so far I've managed to push myself through it. Once I force myself to begin the first set of the second circuit, there's no going back. I'm only cheating myself if I do that, and the fact that it's almost Christmas and there's an inordinant amount of chocolate in my house right now waiting to be eaten, I know I have to turn it up a notch as well as eat with very conscious moderation. Though I may have bought a metre-long Wispa bar. It's Christmas, for goodness' sake! There's a duck in the freezer that feeds 6-8 that will be used on just 4 of us! A little indulgence is fine, and I can't let myself not give in at Christmas, but I do have to make sure, as I said, I eat in moderation and turn my workout up a notch.

   I said when I began this month that the P90X was similar to the pilates/cardio routine I did every other day throughout October, and it is. I hate this just as much as that one. It uses very different movements, but they're all full-body, they're all a mix of body weight training and cardio, and they're all super effective. The denser, leaner muscle I've built up through strength training every other day means more energy is needed to power them through the body weight and cardio, which directly translates to calorie burn, so it's really important to do strength training alongside your cardio.

   So, while the only thing that makes this month's workout bearable is watching an episode of Dragon Ball Z while doing it, it is working, and it's exactly what I need this month. I may even repeat this workout or one similar to it this time next year. I am sticking to the 1500 calorie diet that I did back in October, but I admit that it's a little more difficult this time around. However, at the same time, I've become so used to not eating chocolate or sugary things through choice, that eating it is both wonderful and awful. I feel guilty for doing it, even though I know it's fine for me to do it now, and the guilt is made worse by the chocolate tasting soooo good. It's not a good thing to feel guilt over food if it truly is unwarranted. If I'd stuffed my face with chocolate all day, then yes, let the guilt come. But the first chocolate bar for a week? At 200 calories? Uh, no. There's no need for guilt at all and it's hard to remind myself of that. But maybe that's also a good thing as it keeps me from doing it too often.

   *Ahem* yes, the workout. It's great. I hate doing it but when I finish the last circuit I've got the stupidest, tiredest smile on my face, and I feel incredible. And that's what a workout should do.

   Once again, I'll update in another 2 weeks at the end of the workout. Though, I say that, I doubt I'll actually finish the workout until the 3rd of January. I'd rather start the first workout of next year's resolution (same resolution as this year, I admit, simply because it worked) in the new year rather than at the end of December, otherwise it doesn't quite feel official. So instead I think I'll probably end up doing this month's workout for 5 weeks rather than 4, in which case the next update will be in three weeks. Still, if it works, it works! I can hardly say I'm wasting my time at this time of the year by prolonging an intense and successful workout by an additional week.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Christmas Pine Cone Cakes

   The use of nature in Christmas decorations lately is amazing. Last year or the year before I bought a lovely snowy toadstool tree ornament made out of a pine cone and other garden scraps, and it's one of my favourites. I also love the white woven wood decorations with acorns and tiny pine cones tied to them. I'm a sucker for things like that, and I've always rather liked pine cones and conkers since I was a kid, they're lovely autumn keepsakes.
   But I also like cake. And so, while I'm not entirely sure what sort of gone-off cheese induced the idea to combine the two, I have to say I'm astounded by the results.

   A pinecone cake.

   It's small, I grant you, more like a cupcake or muffin, but my goodness I do love it! And it was stupidly easy. And while I know that 'easy' is a word thrown around a lot in crafting or baking tutorials, many of which turning out to be harder than they looked, this is coming from someone who fails in the kitchen a lot. I can't count the number of projects I've tried for this blog in the past and failed miserably with, so when I get a win, I'm over the moon.
   The cakes are guaranteed to be a winner at Christmas for you, too, and they're the perfect alpine dessert for your Nordic Christmas theme!

You will need:
A silicone easter egg mould*
Cake mix - either home made or a bagged mix**
Butter for greasing
Chocolate frosting or ganache - either home made or store-bought
Bourbon Creams/Chocolate biscuits
Icing piping bag***

*You can pick these up year-round in pound shops or from suppliers on Ebay, which is where I got mine from for about £2.50. They're usually either pink, blue or yellow, but to my knowledge there are no variations to the mould's pattern if you choose different colours.
**If you're using a recipe or box mix you know to be quite light and moist, you'll want to add a little more flour to it to firm it up. This will let it take and keep its shape from the mould much easier. You can experiment by splitting the mix in half and adding flour to one of the bowls and see which works best for you.
***Nozzles and fixtures don't matter for the piping bag, so disposable ones will do well. It's just to allow you to apply the frosting to the cake surface without pushing the cake around or making it fall over like it might if you were to spread it by knife.


1. First of all, butter/grease your moulds to help release the cake once it's done, then preheat the oven to the temperature specified on your cake mix. I used Wright's Chocolate Fudge Cake and used gas mark 5.

2. Mix up your cake and spoon it into the cavities. I wanted to make sure that the cake would completely fill the mould once risen so I spooned it in quite high. The excess cake can be trimmed away easily later.

3. Put them in the oven for the length of time you would for cupcakes and leave it be. Check back when the timer goes off and if the knife/skewer/toothpick doesn't come out clean, but them back in for 5 minutes. Once they do come out clean, set the cakes aside to cool down.

4. To remove the excess cake, slowly run a knife across the surface of the silicone mould, cutting the cake away gently until it's all level. Once the cakes have cooled - not before or you risk them breaking apart - carefully pull the silicone mat away from the cake, pushing them out from beneath. Some of the cake may not release perfectly, but remember that you'll be covering the whole thing anyway, so it's not a huge issue.

5. Prepare your ganache or frosting and pair up the cakes. Using the ganache/frosting, pipe or spread a little on the back of one piece and press another on top to form an egg. You can trim away more cake from the backs of each piece if you feel they're too big. Place the eggs back in the mould, though obviously only one side will be in a cavity. This will allow the frosting to set a little.

6. Take your biscuits. I used bourbons. Break them apart if they need to be, like bourbons do, and try to scrape the cream off. Not as easy a task as I had hoped, and it posed the first real problem. I had no idea how these biscuits would cut, but I knew they were far from crumbly.
Take a knife and carefully cut the square/rectangular biscuits into small squares. I managed two rows of four from a single layer. I can't say how many pieces you need, but it took half a packet of bourbon creams with Seeg stealing some in between to cover one cake, and there were many pieces that broke and had to be nudged aside. In theory, I should be able to make 3-4 pine cone cakes with a single packet of bourbons, but allowing for errors and theiving boyfriends, I'll say 2 pinecones per pack. Just as well they're only 43p.
   Alternatively, if you can't find any square/rectangular chocolate biscuits, you could make your own small, square chocolate biscuits about 1cm in size with a basic biscuit mixture or recipe. It depends what sort of work you want to put in.

7. An hour or two after having 'glued' your cakes together, you can turn them out of the moulds again and stand them up within the cavities to keep them from falling over. Prepare a surface to pipe upon, be it a turn table (you lucky devil), a plate or so on, and place one of the cakes upright upon it. It probably won't fall over, but if it does, you'll be adding frosting and biscuits around the base very shortly, which will keep it upright.
   Fill a piping bag (I used a disposable one without a nozzle) with frosting/ganache and pipe upwards from the bottom of the cake to the middle. There's no need to cover the actual base of the cake in frosting, that's just making more unnecessary work. The piping doesn't need to be perfect, and it should preferrably be a bit flat rather than round to avoid making the pine cone too fat, so try to pipe at an angle. Alternatively, you can smooth it out with a knife if you like. The frosting will add additional flavour and texture, but it's mostly only there as a glue. Piping only half way up will allow you to hold the cake in place with your hands as you work.

8. Take your biscuit pieces and push the roughest corner of each piece into the icing and have them pointing upwards at an angle. Work your way up until you've covered about a third of the cake, using bigger biscuit pieces as you near the middle if you can (if your biscuit pieces are all the same size then it doesn't really matter), then cover the rest of the cake in frosting and continue to add the biscuits. Use the smallest of the biscuit pieces at the top.

9. You can leave the frosting to set and use another plate to ice each of the others, or you can move it to its final resting place now. I did the latter with a spatula and unsurprisingly found some of the frosting at the bottom come away when I pulled the spatula back out from beneath it, so I'd recommend either using a large surface for all of them and letting them set before moving.
   I found my pinecone looking quite good at this point, if I do say so myself, but I wanted to try adding 'snow' - though I was very concerned I was about to ruin it. I have a habit of 'finishing' things by adding one step too many, and that final step usually makes everything fall apart. Fortunately, this wasn't the case.
   I used powdered/icing sugar and poured some into a sieve over an empty plate. I did this because I didn't want a sudden downpour of icing sugar on the pine cone when I wasn't ready for it, so the downpour went on the plate instead, and I carefully moved the sieve over the pinecone and gave it a gentle tap, then another, and another, until I was satisfied. I think I'll use this method...well, forever. It's the simple things which elude me.

   I'm dead chuffed with the outcome of this. Like I said, so many things go wrong for me in the kitchen! This was also just a test-run for Christmas, as I plan to make several of these when my sister comes over Christmas day. They're a little bit heavier than a normal cupcake, I'd say, and because they're a bit of a hassle to eat, I'm making one for each person.

   Also, how about that wooden cake stand? Eh? Eh? Everyone seems to have one, and for that reason they're overpriced. I got mine from a lumber place that makes play houses and things like that from 'raw' wooden logs, if you know what I mean, and they sell the excess pieces like these, all nicely sanded, on Ebay. I told them what I needed it for and they sprayed it with food-safe sealer for me at no extra cost! Wayhay! Needless to say I already went back for another...

Monday 8 December 2014

500th Sale

   I'm so excited! Today I received my 500th sale on Peaches and Pebbles! I'm over the moon! I never expected to have gotten as far as I have, especially since I never really took the shop seriously. Don't get me wrong, as soon as someone purchases one of my pieces I always make their orders a priority. Their money is hard-earned, and to them my shop is a shop, not a hobby. But either way, I'm still so pleased!
   The 500th buyer (whose identity is secret due to the gift-purchasing season - you never know who could be reading what!) will receive a few extra goodies - she doesn't seem at all aware that she allowed me to hit the landmark, either, which makes it all the better.

   Thank you to everyone who has bought from me. My Christmas purchasing deadlines are racing towards us, and in fact the last date to purchase from me in time for Christmas from the US/Canada is the 9th of December - that's tomorrow! So if you're planning a purchase, don't leave it too late!
   All deadline dates are visible in my shop announcement window beneath the shop banner.

   This has definitely put a boost on my day! I hope other Etsy sellers are having great success this holiday season! ♥

Saturday 6 December 2014

Why You Should Shop Small - SmallBizSatUK

   Today is Small Business Saturday in the UK, an event designed to help promote small businesses on and offline. Many retailers are offering discounts or promotions to entice shoppers to break away from their usual big-name habits and try something smaller, something newer, and it goes without saying that small businesses can do more to some degree than the big names.
   Small businesses are not bound to the services of the head office, and can offer tailored experiences or even custom made products to shoppers because of it. A highstreet jewellery shop may not even be willing to order something in for you, but handmade or local jewellery shops can create a unique piece especially for you, working alongside you to make sure you get what you want. A highstreet coffee shop may not offer your desired coffee and wouldn't be willing to make it off-menu, but a small bistro may well be more than happy to experiment, make something new, and add it to the menu. A highstreet clothing shop certainly wouldn't adjust garments or make the same item but in a completely different fabric for you. If it's not on the rack, you're not having it. A local or handmade clothing shop may well be more than happy to create your dream dress, tailor made, and give you exactly the unique look you're after.
   Smaller businesses can also provide generally better customer service than a lot of highstreet shops, with prettier and more careful packaging, more knowledgeable advice and information about their stock, and maybe even offering a hot chocolate while you browse!

   There are many ways you can get involved and support small businesses. Go to a market for your food instead of a supermarket, shop from places like Folksy or Etsy for wonderful handmade goods, or pop down to Etsy House if it's in your area, or go to a smaller hairdressers or other local service to make a difference. Big names don't always mean great quality. There could well be some gems hidden right on your doorstep!

   My own shop, Peaches and Pebbles, is offering a one-day sale in honour of the event. Using the code SMALLBIZSAT14 you can get 20% off store-wide. Plus, I'm just 9 sales away from 500, and since it's the season of giving, and 500 is an amazing milestone, I'll be giving the person to purchase the 500th item a few extra free goodies! You can see how many items have been sold on the left hand side of the shop page beneath the contact button and feedback rating.

Friday 5 December 2014

Staedtler Triplus Fineliners Review

   I showed you some Christmas cards I made with Staedtler triplus fineliners a couple of days ago. They're such great pens! The colours are true to the pen lids, the lines are indeed fine - 0.3mm lines, in fact! But the colours are also vibrant, and I was really surprised by the brightness of the yellow. Many pens I've used in the past have had dirty yellows, darker than they should have been, but these were as bright as the sun. The turquoise pen, much to my excitement, is also very amazing, and it has to be since it's my favourite colour!

   The pens are easy to hold, making them easy to use for both drawing and writing. I was writing thank-you notes for my shop in a ball-point pen the other day as I'd lost my usual fineliner, and it hurt my hand to use after two notes. I changed it for one of the new pens - the first use they actually had - and not only were they more comfortable than my usual pen, they also allowed me to write in colours that suited the picture and patterns on the back of the thank-you note, making them extra festive! It also allowed me to have the return customer discount code stand out a little more, too.

   I'm really impressed with these pens. They're water soluable, which means that they wash off of your clothes, but it also means that you can do a little bit of pen and wash with them, too! The pigments are strong enough to carry. I don't like to do pen and wash on one piece, I prefer to scribble the pen on one sheet of paper, wet it, and then use it sort of like a watercolour on the actual sheet I'm drawing on. It avoids thicker lines and flooding, giving me more control. I was quiet surprised by the pens' ability to work this way, actually, as their nibs wouldn't suggest it, being very hard and conservative of ink, but they do work, making it great for highlights.

   I always use pencil lines before inking a drawing. I can't just start drawing in pen right off the bat like some incredibly annoying talented people can, so once I've inked the lines, I have to erase them. The ink takes a little longer to dry than other pens I've used, so while with some I can erase the lines 30 seconds after inking, with these I have to wait about two minutes. However, despite that, I've noticed that the ink of Staedtler Triplus Fineliners stays more bold and vibrant than others, even if they're left to dry for 30 minutes! I usually find that black in particular lifts off of the paper while the pencil lines are being erased - not smudged, just dulling. These pens don't do this. The black and every other colour stays just as bold as when I laid it down, meaning I don't have to go back over it and risk messing up the fine lines, and that's really, really valuable.

   So, the ink is great - water-soluable to be washed out of clothes and for minor pen and wash work, but also bold and permanent enough to not be lifted off while erasing underlying pencil lines - the pens' comfort is great, the nibs are amazing, and the fact that this new set of fineliners includes every single one of their colours makes it a must have for comic artists, ink artists, manga artists and general crafters. And guess what? I've got five - yes, five, vijf, cinq, go  - sets of 30 pens up for grabs! So, comic, ink and manga artists, come on over!
   The giveaway is open worldwide, and it's with rafflecopter so it's easy to enter. Make sure you use an email address you're active with to make sure you don't miss the winning email. As always, winners will have 72 hours to respond with their postal address, and if they don't respond within that time another winner will be chosen, and they'll be notified that they missed out.

The giveaway is now closed and all winners have been contacted. Several have accepted their prize but a few still remain. If responses aren't received in 24 hours, new winners will be picked in their place.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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.