Monday 29 June 2015

30DaysWild - Week 4

   I've been enjoying 30DaysWild, but I admit that my enthusiasm has dropped lately simply because I've had other things on my mind. My art exhibit in Slimbridge's WWT centre is being set up in 2 and a half weeks, so I'm trying to make sure I've not forgotten anything, I also have my Multiple Sclerosis Society raffle starting on July 1st so I've had a few things to do for that, and, as you'll see below, I've also been a bit busier with my book.
   But I still have yet to fail to do anything for 30DaysWild. I may not always have a picture to show or a story to tell, but even taking time out for a quiet and uneventful walk can be a really good thing to do.

   On June 22nd I showed the tree stump cake I made my dad for Father's Day. It's far from one of the best cakes I've made as far as photographs go - it looked better in person - and, to be fair, I have also made generally better-looking cakes. But he loved it, I was pleased with its outcome, and it tasted great - that, at least, was something I knew I wouldn't get wrong!

   June 23rd saw the announcement of my upcoming raffle to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, an MS charity that helped my mum and my family when she was diagnosed all those years ago, and have continued to offer their support over the past 23 years. Tickets go on sale on Wednesday the 1st July at £2.50 each

   On June 24th I took my mum out for a stroll around the park behind the house. I didn't bring my camera because carrying that bulky thing while pushing a wheelchair isn't a trial I fancied at the time. I took some of Aduna's Moringa bars with me so we had a nice, healthy and delicious snack while we were out. It was quite a nice day! But pushing the wheelchair in the heat of the sun gets old very fast. Still, she enjoyed it!

   I took my writing outside of June 25th and enjoyed my favourite snack combination of all time: tamaryokucha tea and a Trek raisin and oat flapjack. It's very specific, but those two come together to make an amazing combination with subtle flavours and textures, and when you've got a snack like that, it's easier to relax, I find.

   On June 26th I participated in #GoGadgetFree, stepping away from the computer and games consoles for a full 24 hours, and substituted my workout with plans from magazines rather than DVDs. I also did a little extra work on my raffle - I was hoping to be able to offer some digital prints of woodland watercolour paintings with each ticket to ensure everyone who buys a ticket gets something for it, but it took me a long time to get around to it. I finally did it, though, and have ended up with a fox, a badger and a rabbit. I'm hoping to be able to add a deer to it soon, but with tickets going on sale on Wednesday, I'd better get a move on!

   On June 27th I wrote outside again and, at last, finished writing my book, and on June 28th I just went for a walk. I was so focused on the 27th that it was just mental, and I admit that that day's 30DaysWild post focused more on the writing than on the fact that it was done outside, at least I made an effort. There wasn't much more I could have done, in truth, because my mind wouldn't shut down that day, and that's quite a nice feeling when you've been struggling for so long to truly focus on something important to you.

Sunday 28 June 2015

Writing Complete

   I took my work outside again yesterday for 30DaysWild - there was a soft breeze and the cloud hid the sun, so I'd expected more people to be outside because, while it was still warm, it was bearable, but it was in fact almost silent. I was coincidently sat beneath the pergola rather than on the grass this time, too, so I was sheltered from the occasional shower, so perhaps everyone else had simply seen the weather forecast.
   Anyway. That's not the point of this post.
   After far too long - about 2 and a half years - I've finished writing my book. It's not complete because now comes the long and tedious task of revising it - reading it a few times, tweaking things, adjusting things, removing and outright rewriting things. But the bulk of the book is, finally, done, and the story now exists in its entirety. It just needs a thorough polishing.

   It shouldn't have taken me as long as it has, but there are other things that pull my attention away from writing. My blog and my shop, for example - I love them both but they can be quite demanding, and when October comes along, so do the Christmas sales. By mid-October my shop takes up all of my time and I have simply no room for anything else. How I've managed to participate in NaBloPoMo every November is a mystery to me.
   It makes me kind of sad because, while I love my blog and I love my shop, my writing is what matters to me the most. It's the only thing I've wanted to do since I was 12 years old and it's not changed or wavered in the slightest. My shop is a hobby - a lucrative one that I see no need to put aside - and my blog is an enjoyable hobby, too, and, I hope, informative for others. But it's also a good way of trying to simply make my presence known to the world and hope that, somehow, it might help my book in the long run. An immediate representation of who I am, because, in order of business importance, after the book comes the author themselves.

   I knew I would feel something when I finished writing it - I wasn't sure what because I couldn't remember how I felt when I finished my last book - and it didn't disappoint. There was a strange sort of satisfaction, but a vaguely empty one, and it's a really unique feeling. Like saying goodbye to a friend for good, and yet never having met them. I know that sounds cheesy, by the way. But the story is finished; the characters and world not likely ever to be revisited.
   But I also feel victorious at the same time - this was something I did recall from the last book, but not as intensely this time around. Last time: I wrote the book, read it through with lacklustre, tweaked the first half and submitted it to fantasy literary agents. It was rejected and, in hindsight, I'm really not surprised. I finished writing the book and I'd considered it done; revising it was an after-thought and I think that was a big part of what let it down. This time, however, I've done it differently. Each time I finished writing a chapter I sat down and read it through to spell check, make sure it made sense and tweak bits. I had every intention of reading it through again from cover to cover once it was finished, but by reading each chapter individually I cut down the work I have ahead of me now because I know there are less tweaks and spelling corrections to be made.

   So while I feel a sense of accomplishment, I'm fully aware that I'm not finished yet. In fact, the light at the end of the tunnel has only just sparked into existence. It's still a way off. With with the summer holidays around the corner and my synaesthesia, I've finished at the worst time of the year. If I'd finished back - or forwards - in January, I would have 6 months of virtually uninterrupted time to work through it, which would be far more than enough. Now, however, I give it two weeks before the noise starts in the field behind my house when GCSE students get out of school early to revise for their exams. They're the noisiest people and thy're out there at all times of the day and night with no respect for those living around them. They shout, they scream, they swear and they play their awful music very loudly for everyone to hear. My synaesthesia responds to music a little too actively which means my head is awash with colour, and when that happens, I haven't a hope in hell of concentrating on anything important. But, for once, rather than stress myself out with it and try to work through it angrily and, ultimately, unsuccessfully, I'm going to put it off.
   There are a number of big changes I need to make to the book and I know they shouldn't take me more than a fortnight to do, so I plan to make these changes whenever the opportunity arises over the next 2 months, and in the far more numerous times that I'm too distracted to do so, I will simply brainstorm the layout of my next book, prepare my shop for Christmas and try to take casual time out for myself, I guess. Once October gets here I won't have a moment to breathe.
   Then, when school returns in September, I'm going to read like there's no tomorrow before Christmas can jump in the way. Then, with any luck, I'll finish revising the book by the middle of October and be able to write the synopsis, cover letters, queries and so on between Christmas sales and start sending it all out in January, by which point I'll have certainly started work on the next book.

   That's the plan, at least...

Saturday 27 June 2015

30DaysWild - Day 26 - GoGadgetFree

   Yesterday I took advice from the #30DaysWild newsletter and participated in #GoGadgetFree. I don't have an iPhone or any gadgets like that, but I pretty much live on my PC. I work on it, I game, I manage my shop, I waste time; pretty much everything I do is computer-based, and when I'm not on the computer, I'm using a games console either to - you guessed it - play games or watch DVDs, usually as background noise while filling orders from my shop.
   So on one hand, with no smartphone and no internet on my laptop, leaving the house ultimately means leaving everything behind, but on the other hand, I still have a lot to do in prep for my exhibit, my Mutiple Sclerosis charity raffle that starts on Wednesday, planning for my next book and so on that leaving the house isn't much of an option at this point, even on weekends when it's not fully my responsibility to look after my mum anymore.
   But I did it. I stepped away from the PC (even despite World of Warcraft's recent patch), I left my shop, and aside from anything that could be done on paper, I left my book, too. I watched no TV, no music, nothing. I just sat down with my watercolour paints and put a little more work into the raffle, I wrote out and developed ideas for my next book, I even replaced Ripped In 30 with some strength and HIIT workouts from magazines, which, I admit, were far less fun without music.

   I have tried things like this before and never has it gone this well. Yes, I did feel like I was missing out. I get extra exercise by running up and down the stairs to check on the PC - checking messages, sales, double-checking orders and researching things - and a number of times I dashed to the PC only to find it switched off. So I wrote down everything I wanted to look up so I could do it this morning instead and then returned to what I was doing.
   And for the most part I did enjoy it, but I think it was, in part, because not using gadgets is novel now, rather than the other way around. And while that is sad, it's the way the world works. I like my background noise while I work, even if it's just Stargate which I've seen a thousand times - I spend my time while that's on shouting at Jackson, until about season 6 when he suddenly develops a sense of humour and, from season 8 onwards, shouting at Colonel Mitchell instead. Or Avatar when I shout at Katara or Korra depending on which Avatar I'm watching.
   And I like having the internet immediately on hand to look up anything I might need to know whenever I need to know it (no iPhone, but, like I said, I'm at home all the time). For example, the square bits on top of castle walls are called merlons. If not for the internet I think that is a fact that would have niggled at and eluded me for a very long time because, unless you know exactly where to look or the librarian happens to have knowledge on such things, finding that kind of information would have been a real trial.
   And, let's face it, I like video games. I like to throw the world away and step into a new one, even if in one world people salute me and in others they spit at me. Because it's harmless fun that allows you to either switch off your brain or increase its activity depending on what you choose to do, and I love it - as long as there's some element of fantasy or science fiction!

   If you didn't #GoGadgetFree this weekend, try it soon. It's summer so there's plenty to do outside to get into nature and have fun without technology! Take a day to become more aware of the world around you. Even if it doesn't stretch beyond a family picnic in your back garden.

Thursday 25 June 2015

Writing With a Taste of Spring

   Today I worked outside. The sun was behind the clouds so it was bearable, and I could actually see my laptop's screen! I was out there for some time and I wheeled mum outside onto the decking so she could enjoy it too, and I had my ultimate favourite snack combo - no, not chocolate cake and hot chocolate, so I supposed it wasn't my favourite favourite, but it's my favourite healthy combination: Trek's Oat Raisin protein flapjack and tamaryokucha green tea. It might sound oddly specific, but the two go together so well that I never have one without the other. Together they taste like spring, really mild and earthy - it might be summer, but I don't care!
   So I sat outside on the grass beneath the overcast sky and worked on my book for a couple of hours before coming back inside when it started to rain and playing World of Warcraft. New patch and all that!

Urban Fruit

   Your 5 a day is important, it ensures you get fibre, healthy carbs and energy, not to mention a whole host of necessary vitamins, and should be made up of different fruits and vegetables every day - the bigger the range of colours, the better.
   The trouble is that fruit can go off quite quickly. It's easy to forget about it. Some fruits last longer in the fridge, but if you're like me, you don't always know which, or how to tell when fruit is ripe. Some fruit is purposely sold before it's ripened so that it will last a little longer, but, as I said, you can't always tell. The sam goes for veg, but I think that they may well last a little longer.
   But it can be disheartening when you forget about your fruit once in a while because you get tied up with other things and forget about the fruit bowl. Who buys 5 a day every day? Very few. You're more likely to buy a bag of apples to last you the week. But forget for 2 days and you're going to end up with rotten apples. Unloved and forgotten.
   My point is that getting your 5 a day is easy enough, but storing it is another. Fresh fruit is delicious and so nutritious but it's also difficult to keep fresh and inviting. So what can you do?
   Well, there are a lot of options, especially lately. It's getting easier to get your 5 a day without these kinds of concerns, and, best of all, these methods haven't been tainted by preservatives! And because healthy foods are finally starting to get the limelight they deserve, there are so many options that there's something for everyone. I wrote about nakd a while ago - twice - but they contain nuts and dates and because of this they certainly don't appeal to everyone. Some people are put off by the texture, the nuts themselves or just the look of them. They're missing out, of course.

    But then there is Urban Fruit. Quite simply: baked fruit. Goodness is sealed in, no preservatives are added, but there's no risk of bruising, bursting or squashing making them easier to eat on the go, and the bags are sealed for freshness. the fruits' lives are prolonged because of the lack of moisture.
   Just like nakd, Urban Fruit's deliciously heathy and wholesome fruit snacks are ready to eat on the go. Toss a 35g packet in your handbag, gym bag, coat pocket, whatever, and you've got a reliable, healthy source of one of your 5 a day without worrying about fruits bruising or rotting. I always get paranoid about an apple bruising in my bag, getting knocked about on my admittedly infrequent travels, and that's what stops me from bringing fruit out with me. But it was easy to bring a packet of mango - not only a large and cumbersome fruit, but also difficult to eat since you have to 'skin' it (this is what I said to the man in the shop last week) - to the WWT centre in Slimbridge last weekend when I was scoping out the plinths for my upcoming art exhibit.

   Each 35g bag counts as one of your 5-a-day and comes in at about 100 calories making them easy to add into a calorie-controlled diet because you know exactly what you're getting rather than guessing from one type of apple to another. There are also 100g bags available that are perfect for sharing and are around 300-350 calories - some of them are just larger bags of small bags of fruit, while others, like Tremendously Tropical, contain a small selection of different fruits like mango, pineapple, banana and coconut. And while the fruit doesn't look as vibrant as it would have when fresh, the taste is absolutely not compromised, and each packet is so satisfying!

   The fruits are wonderful to take on a day out for a healthy snack just in case, but Urban Fruit is also fantastic to bake with! Yes, I know, trust me to take something healthy and make it a little less so, but I made a wonderful baobab and strawberry cake using Urban Fruit and Aduna! It was experimental - while I already knew that baobab cake works gorgeously, I didn't know how pre-baked fruit would do. I was concerned the strawberries would dry up and turn tough, but in fact they softened and added a wonderful burst of flavour to the delicate baobab sponge.

   You can find Urban Fruit in a number of supermarkets like Tesco, Ocado, Waitrose and so on, and are also stocked on Amazon and are a convenient part of Boots' 'meal deal' so you can pick it up with a drink and a sandwich for less! It comes in Magnificent Mango, Smashing Strawberry, Perfect Pineapple, Superberry Blueberry & Blackcurrent, Awesome Apple & Pear, Brilliant Banana and Cheeky Cherry - don't you just love alliteration?

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.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

A little stroll

   I had planned to go out for a walk this afternoon with my mum and Seeg. I was a bit dubious about it because my mum has a tendancy to 'melt' in the heat - meaning she'll start leaning to one side in her wheelchair and she can't sit herself back up. It makes summer really, really difficult, but we expect it and we've learned a few little tricks. I was beginning to think it would be a bad idea until a breeze picked up and the sun vanished behind the clouds. In short: the perfect weather for a stroll/push with mum. Neither Seeg 'nor I are fond of summer because it's so much harder to cool down than it is to warm up, but this walk was lovely. I brought out some of Aduna's new moringa bars because I've become addicted to moringa and baobab, and now an omelette simply isn't an omelette unless it's green
   I didn't bring my camera out with me because pushing a wheelchair and carrying a big camera is too impractical, but you don't need to bring a camera with you to enjoy yourself, and while I know I did, I think my mum did, too. It's a challenge to get her out of the house in such a big, bulky wheelchair, but we managed, and she enjoyed seeing the squirrels that usually frequent the garden in a different setting.

Pre- and Post-Workout Habits

   When you get used to doing something, all kinds of little habits can develop. This is true for pretty much any aspect of your life, but you notice it only when those habits are removed from you for a while. Habits like brushing your teeth before bed or heaping teaspoons of loose tea aren't easily stolen unless you have no loose tea or you lose your tooth brush. But when I went on holiday, a lot of my fitness habits went out of the window - and I don't just mean not exercising at the time I usually would, if at all some days, or eating clean. Those are more lifestyle choices than habits. I mean the little things that can make or break a workout. Call me finickity, but I, like many others, am a creature of habit, and when certain things are important to people, the habits that come with them are, too.

   My fitness is important to me. You probably noticed. And, as I've been at it for so long, certain habits have stuck. Some form but break after a week or so, others come and go without me realising, but there are a number that I've held solidly pretty much since I started.

A suitable breakfast
   I exercise in the morning, so my breakfast is made into an even more important meal than it usually is. I need fuel for what I'll be doing an hour later - but not too much. I don't want to get hungry too soon and I want to be able to get through the whole thing without stopping due to fatigue, but I'm also trying to lose the last bits of stubborn fat as well as get fit, so I need my body to use fat as fuel, too.
   Protein is important, and especially when it comes to breakfast. It causes your food to digest more slowly and subsequently releases the energy at a more steady pace through the morning, so it makes it an important breakfast component whether you're exercising or not. But, of course, you also need energy, so a dose of healthy carbs like fruit or oats is always a good idea - that's why you so often see different porridge or oat recipes on health/fitness blogs, or combinations of fruit and yogurt. Fruit and oats give you lots of nutrients and fibre as well as a good source of carbs and, subsequently, energy.

   For me, however, while I always start the day with a glass of hot lemon water, what I eat for breakfast depends on the workout. If it's Monday, Wednesday or Friday, I skip the carbs and go straight for protein, be it an omelette, plain Greek yogurt or even a straight-up protein shake. This is because on those days I'm either doing cardio where I'll want to shed the fat sooner because I find cardio harder to maintain, or I'm doing yoga which I use more as an active recovery day rather than all-out exercise or all-out rest. I'm not sure if it's the healthiest thing to do, I'm not a nutritionists, but I've never suffered any ill effects from doing so - not a slow-down in weight loss 'nor increased fatigue while or after exercise.
   On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, however, I go for a protein porridge. This is because I do strength training on those days and I want to do that right, and I also know that I can rely on my body to use the energy from the oats to lift the weights, exhausting all of the glycogen in my muscles without exhausting myself, so that I can go on to cardio afterwards and burn fat more effectively.
   My protein porridge consists of Quaker whole grain oats, a scoop of PhD Woman's strawberry exercise support shake and a heaped teaspoon of Aduna's baobab powder, and it comes in at about 200kcals. It is deliciously thick, fruity, clean and wholesome, and is something I really look forward to starting my day with. And if I'm going for just protein, my omelettes consist of 1 egg, 1 heaped teaspoon of Aduna's moringa powder and a small piece of smoked salmon, which consists of 100kcals, as does the yogurt and the protein shake. I don't like PhD Woman's strawberry shake outside of porridge, though, so I usually just go for PhD Nutrition's Diet Whey in chocolate. Another delicious start to the day! I follow all of that up with a nice cup of Twinings green tea - pretty much anything from their green tea range, but 'cherry bakewell', 'pineapple and grapefruit' and 'jasmine' are my favourites.

   Okay, so breakfast admittedly goes without saying. It's important, whether I exercise or not. Some people say you lose more weight by exercising on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, others say you lose more if you have a small breakfast first, but studies have proven quite inconclusive. I believe it depends on what you eat, how you exercise and for how long. Personally, I admit I saw a fraction more weight loss when I used to exercise on an empty stomach, but I also got many more headaches and injuries because of it. Once I started having breakfast an hour and a half before hand, I saw a drastic improvement in my daily health, and only a small drop in weightloss, and let me tell you that I really prefer it this way.

   But another habit that I can't really explain as well are thermogens. Around May last year I started taking thermogenic capsules before my workout because they supposedly help you to burn fat more effectively through your workout. I have absolutely no idea if this is true. I don't have two of me, so I can't run a fair test to find out, but it's become a habit I can't shake. The reason for this is because you have to take them, on average, 30 minutes before you start your workout for them to be effective, so when I take them I'm more or less committed to that workout. From that point I know that I have 30 minutes to brush my teeth, tie back my hair (it's so long that tying it into a basic ponytail is, no joke, a 5-10 minute task), prepare my post-workout shake, fill a bottle of water, use the loo, set up my kit, give Seeg a kiss and get started. And it works, because it guarantees that I get started right on time, and knowing exactly when you're going to get started can really help when it comes to mental preparation, especially when you're new to fitness. It's such a habit for me now that it isn't something I think about at all.
   I like to use PhD Woman's body sculpt capsules, or Real Nutrition Co's 'Raw'.

Electrolyte tabs
   My next habit is, as I mentioned above, my water. Yes, water is water, it's pretty much the most hydrating thing there is. And so, when I reviewed nuun electrolyte tabs last year on the blog, I was sceptical as to their necessity. But, honestly, I noticed an immediate difference. Nuun allows your body to absorb the water quicker than if it was just water alone, and I really was more hydrated, and it was something I noticed while working out, rather than later in the day. They have immediate benefits. I also drained the 500ml bottle easily in the 45 minutes I was exercising because it tasted beter, compared to drinking only about 300ml if it's plain water, and it quenched my thirst easily. I wasn't gasping for water at all like I was before I tried them. As a result, a nuun tab a day in my workout water (except Wednesdays as that's yoga and Qigong) has become another necessity. I have run out from time to time and, of course, used normal water, and I immediately notice the difference in hydration levels while exercising.

10-minute dance warm-up
   Another habit I have comes at the very start of my workout. As you all know, I am a massive introvert and I have to stay at home pretty much constantly to look after my mum because of her disability. As a result, I don't go to a gym. I do all my workouts in my living room, so I have quite a growing collection of DVDs and kit. When I first started using exercise DVDs, I would just use 10 Minute Solution dance DVDs for about half an hour, and that did me fine back then. It was hard enough, intense enough and I enjoyed it. It took a long time for me to touch weights or try body weight training, let alone learning to love it, so I built up a good collection of 10 Minute Solution dance DVDs because each of them had 5 different 10-minute dance routines, so there was plenty of choice for the day's workout. Now, of course, these DVDs barely cause me to break a sweat. In short, they're too easy, but I do still enjoy them. And it's because of both of these factors that I use one every single day. I decide on the single 10-minute routine I want to do out of a combined choice of 30 from all the DVDs, and I use it at the start of my workout for my warm-up.

   This method provides me with a fun 10-minute warm-up that not only focuses my mind but also boosts my enthusiasm because it's fun but still releases endorphins, making it extremely valuable on those days when I just don't want to do anything and would rather stay in bed playing The Witcher or Mass Effect. It can completely change my mood around. Don't get me wrong, once I've finished that 10-minute section (and maybe completed a second section if I'm feeling either particularly down in the dumps or particularly energetic) I'll put on a proper workout DVD and I'll still use the warm up right from the start of that, too, but it gives me the perfect length of time to warm my body and focus my mind, which is another part of while warm-ups are so important. So these old workout DVDs that could be useless to me have been given another purpose, and have by no means been demoted. Like I said, sometimes these dance warm-ups can really change my mood around and get me raring to go. Without them, I think there would be days when I'd turn it all off after 20 minutes and admit defeat. A single 10-minute dance warm-up has often lead me to complete my full 45 minutes even on rotten days.

   Another thing I've found that can make or break a workout is music. Like I said, I usually use DVDs, but that's not to say I don't put together my own sequences, use magazines or websites, because I do, and often. My cardio day consists of one or two different DVDs, but it also includes a pliometrics workout from a website and my own self-created Wild Animal workout; on strength days I often finish up with a 15-minute HIIT workout from the same website as the pliometrics, and my yoga day is mad up of 4 different routines from 4 different magazines. As a result, these would be silent but for my grunting and gasps of exhaustion. So I play music, even if it's just for 10 minutes. At the end of strength days when I've done 25 minutes of strength and 20 minutes of cardio, I don't really feel like finishing up with 10-15 minutes of HIIT. But as soon a that music goes on and I tell myself "I'll just do two circuits", I go for the full allotted time.

   I'm not a fan of conventional music, so what I workout to is usually game soundtracks. Be that World of Warcraft or Assassin's Creed - or, much more recently, The Witcher. There is, in fact, only one musician I can say I truly love, and that's Lindsey Stirling. Both of her albums are amazing to workout to, especially her first, though I admit that yoga is kind of difficult with that playing as my downward dog is more like a downward wiggle. If I'm kickboxing I tend to go for orchestral dubstep - in particular, pretty much any dubstep mix of Two Steps From Hell. It tends to have a consistant beat that I can keep up with, but the epicness of it also sends my fantasy-driven mind into overdrive and I imagine fighting all kinds of bad guys. It's a lot of fun. Like I said: make or break.

Post-workout shake
   I always finish up with a post-workout shake. I calorie-count, so I know I need a certain amount of calories a day as well as certain food types if I want my workout to be effective, but I also have to spread those calories through the day for maximum effect and to keep my metabolism moving, as well as keep me from snacking out of turn. As a result, a small 100kcal protein shake even follows my low-key Wednesday workouts. The calories, protein and carbs that follow my strength workouts are higher.
   I rather look forward to these shakes if I'm honest, especially at this time of the year. In the summer I make the shake before I start my workout and stick it in the fridge, so I have a nice, cold shake when I'm finished, and the protein in that shake will tide me over for the following hour and a half before lunch.

   I'm not so sure the post-workout shake can be considered a habit since post-workout nutrition is important in general anyway. Your body needs the protein to help it rebuild, and it needs the carbs to fuel that rebuilding as well as put some of your energy back after that tough workout. But that doesn't mean you have to have a protein shake - a chicken sandwich would be just as good. The meat provides good and high-quality protein (animal foods such as meat and eggs provide the highest quality protein, then comes animal-produced foods like dairy, and then, on the bottom rung of the protein ladder, comes the plant sources), while the bread provides good carbs. But try to go for whole-grain bread whenever you can as it's simply more nutritious. Avoid sauces and butter/margarine when you can as they're simply not necessary.

   For the rest of the day I try to get a good balance of protein, healthy fats and clean carbs. Don't get me wrong, biscuits sneak in, as does the occasional cake, but I tell you that if I didn't allow myself these things I'd be 3 dress sizes bigger because I'd have given up long ago. I know myself well enough (and have proven this a number of times in the past) to know that by cutting things out for good, I will cave. I'm not as strong as I'd like to be, and while I know that I can work on that by trying, I also know that by eating well and exercising often, these occasional treats do little to no damage, and it's easy to get back on the horse. And I'm still healthy, still losing weight, and still getting stronger. So the Kinder bar I ate an hour ago isn't going to my thighs, and if it does it certainly won't be there long. I'm not at all concerned.
   I get my supplements from UK-suppliers like Real Nutrition Co and PhD Nutrition/PhD Woman, so a lot of what I use isn't available to the rest of the world, but there are other brands like ETB in the US that supply their own of all of the pre-workout and post-workout supplements above and they're affordable to those who are looking to try it all out for the first time.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

New Woodland Necklaces + Charity Raffle

   Today's post for #30DaysWild is a little different. I did go out hunting for lady birds (I failed), but that's not what I want to talk about today.
   I said a little while ago that I had been working on a small project for my shop. Those of you who are familiar with it will know that there's not really been anything new added for...well, a very long time. I've been working on my art exhibit for the WWT centre in Slimbridge which starts on the 18th July (yikes!) for the past year and a half and I've been really spreading out the work so that I could make as much as possible without feeling stressed by it - I think I've managed quite well and am just about finished, and it's only now that the nerves have started to set in.
   Anyway, while I've spread the work to reduce the stress, it has taken my mind away from my shop. I've filled in orders right away, of course, but I was left with no time and, admittedly, little desire to make anything new for my shop while my exhibit was still in the works.
   And so, now I'm finished and ready to display, I made some new pieces for my shop.
   But I called it a project, didn't I? Well, it's not as simple as 'new products'. There's also some charity involved in the form of a raffle.

   Many of you already know that my mother suffers severely from multiple sclerosis. Unfortunately there's nothing that can be done beyond management of her symptoms, and even if a cure was discovered tomorrow it would be far too late for her. But while there are a great number of people out there that suffer from it, it's not a well-known disease and, as a result, not as much research is put into it as there could be.
   There's a charity that helped my mum to come to terms with it by offering help and support where they could, as well as working towards a cure. They even counselled me once, but I was about 10 and didn't really understand the disease, but, in hindsight, I really appreciate the effort they made to make sure that my sister (8 at the time), father and I were able to come to terms with it, too.
   The Multiple Sclerosis Society is a charity that is subsequently very close to my heart, and I've wanted to try to raise some money for them for a while but never knew how. All that ever came to mind was a sponsored marathon or something but as fit as I am, I'd never be able to do that. Swinging kettlebells and roundhouse kicks aren't the same as running. But I finally had an idea while working on the last of my exhibit pieces, one that had been under my nose all this time: my jewellery. But just selling my jewellery and giving a % to the charity was neither good enough 'nor grand enough in terms of drawing attention to the charity and the disease. So I decided to go further. And you can consider this a formal announcement.

   I have made 10 new animal jar necklaces, all woodland-themed, and 4-6 of each. 2-4 of each necklace will be listed individually as ordinary necklaces in my shop, but the remaining 2 of each animal jar have been brought together into 2 10-piece bundles. One will be for sale at £200 (£245 if purchased individually) and can be purchased as either a bundle of necklaces or as a set of miniature ornaments. But, most importantly, the second bundle is going to be the main prize for a raffle.
   Raffle tickets will cost £2.50 each and will be purchasable through both my Etsy shop and a paypal button on this blog, and are open to purchase world wide. One grand prize winner will receive the full 10-piece bundle including a badger, fox, owl and toadstool and will have the choice of keeping them as ornamental jars or as having sterling silver chains attached to them so that they become 10 necklaces, while two runner-ups will each receive a fox necklace on a sterling silver chain.
   The raffle will raise money for The Multiple Sclerosis Society and tickets will go on sale on Wednesday July 1st, which is when the other bundle and individual necklaces will be listed for sale in my Etsy shop. The raffle will end on the 31st of July, the winners picked at random and announced on August 3rd, and contacted either via Etsy or by the email address used in Paypal.
   There will be a blog post to announce when the tickets are available, as well as offering the Paypal purchase button so tickets can be purchased outside of Etsy if desired.

   So, if anyone is interested in purchasing raffle tickets, keep your eyes open, but if anyone would like to help spread the word of the raffle once it's live, please get in touch. I really want this to work out, so any help I can get will be amazing - and I'll return the favour if ever you host something you'd like to get far, too. Brownie promise. I was never a Brownie, I went to Rainbows, but I keep my promises all the same.

Monday 22 June 2015

Tree Stump Cake

   There are many, many other and better tree stump cakes out there, but I'm really pleased with this one I made for Father's Day yesterday. It's really simple, two stacked zebra cakes made with vanilla and chocolate cake batters, a chocolate buttercream frosting and white chocolate cookies as shelf fungus, and, of course, the chocolate leaves I made the day before. The pictures aren't as good as I'd have liked them to be - the cake looked better than this, I promise! But I'm still happy with how the cake itself turned out, if not the representation. It was the cake that truly counted!

   I didn't want to use fondant or frosting to make the tree rings because not everyone is as fond of such things as I am, so I decided instead to try something a little different. I loved the look of zebra cakes and I noticed not long ago that the tops of them have rings like the cross-section of a tree, so I thought, rather zealously, that it might work. I looked up the different techniques for applying the cake batter to keep it as tidy as possible and settled on the piping bag method, but I didn't account for the runniness of the mixture. If I was to do it again I would definitely add more flour and cocoa powder to thicken the two cake batters up, because when I removed the piping bag after each application, half the time the mixture dribbled into previous rings. I made two cakes so at the very least I was able to choose the most successful of the two for the top, but if I could do it again, I know I could fix it. That, at least, gives me some comfort. And, to be honest, I have seen worse tree stump cakes.

   I used upside down white chocolate cookies for shelf fungus, I intended for it to be moss initially, using a fresh batch of my moss cookies, but shelf fungus isn't textured the same way so I left it as it was and just turned them upside down. All the white chocolate is on the 'underside' of the cookies.

   And I used my chocolate leaves to decorate the plate - I had wanted to put them on the cake, but when it came time to put it together I didn't really have any idea what I was doing with it, and the three I placed on top of the cake didn't look right, so I left them scattered at the bottom. I think they gave a nice effect, aside from the few I smudged.
   It's a simple cake at the end of the day, but it looked better in person than in the pictures, but it's all been eaten now so there's not really much of a chance to photograph it again!
   My dad loved it, as well as the golden eagle statue I got him and this awesome dad joke card!

   I also hope you don't think I'm cheating with these 30 Days Wild posts, I am going outside every day and doing a little bit of exercise or just taking the time to look around at the animals, feed the birds and squirrels and so on, but I think it's also a great excuse to make some wild-themed posts that are a little less conventional, like this cake, or, in stark contrast, my wild workout. I'm enjoying bringing wildlife and nature into my day in other ways than simply going outside. I've always loved nature and I've always made time for it, if I'm making a little more effort this month, but I'm trying to bring it into my day a little more actively for now.

#30DaysWild Week 3

   The third week of #30DaysWild wasn't perfect, but I put together a few good posts and even, finally, found a bug I wanted to photograph. No offence to the other bugs, and I'm sure other photographers could do it, but I can't find anything impressive about a woodlouse, and I don't really want a macro photo of a spider unless it's a jumping spider because they're almost, almost, cute, as far as spiders go. But some of the things I did manage to blog about last week I was quite proud of - though Friday and Saturday's posts decided not to post so I didn't get them up until today - thank goodness for blogger's backwards scheduling abilities! All is now as it should be.

   On June 15th I posted a compilation of 4 images of the same rose taken over 4 days. It started out yellow and ended a deep pink. The rose has been in the garden for years and years and I'd noticed that it changed colour every year as it bloomed but I'd never documented it until now.

   I took some time out on June 16th and lay outside for a while until a group of school children on a local (seriously local) trip shattered it. But the clouds looked wonderful and it was nice while it lasted! Not every day can be perfect.

   I made some scones on June 17th using blueberries I'd picked locally and frozen, and by changing up some of the ingredients I made them more nutritious than typical scones - that's often all it takes. Swap out fats and oils for coconut butter and swap out plain flour for white whole grain and you've given your scones a much more nutritional and healthy twist.

   The evening sky on June 18th was spectacular with a range of different types of clouds, all of them highlighted by catching different light from the sun set. The sheer number of different clouds blew me away - have a good look at each row of clouds in the picture and you'll see what I mean!

   I had a closer look at a giant peony in the garden on June 19th and realised why so many people make them out of tissue paper: because even the real things look like they are!

   On June 20th I made some chocolate leaves from rose leaves in the garden to accompany the cake I was making for Father's Day - the cake didn't come out as perfectly as I'd hoped but considering I'd never made a zebra cake before, I think it went quite well - I'll show it next week (22nd-28th). The leaves themselves were easy, though, and came out so, so well!

   And on Father's Day, June 21st, both my dad and I spotted this mullein caterpillar at exactly the same time. It was difficult to photograph it because there was a strong breeze out there so everything was flapping around, so I had to time my shot as well as I possibly could - so much easier said than done, but, somehow, I managed! And I'm really pleased with the outcome!

Sunday 21 June 2015

30 Days Wild - A Mullein Caterpillar

   Spotted a mullein caterpillar in the garden about an hour ago, and I have to say I'm made up with the picture! I'm also dead pleased I finally found a photographable bug - I've seen all kinds of spiders and woodlice, of course, but a caterpillar is a caterpillar and more fun to look at, I reckon!
   I've also done a few things over this weekend for #30DaysWild, I've not been inactive, but it's been one thing after another and I've not had the chance to fix up any of the photos of what I've been making and doing :( But this caterpillar is better than nothing!

Kukuwa (+ New Set-Up) - 2 Weeks Later

   I've been feeling particularly positive over these past two weeks - more energetic and enthusiastic, and I swear I'm seeing results at a faster pace, and I say that as someone who has learned that results don't happen over night.

   For starters, Ripped In 30 is just as hard as it was when I started it in May. Changing the circuits every week has really prevented your body from learning the moves which keeps it difficult, concentrated and effective. And as I'm only using the DVD 3 times a week rather than 6, each day stays hard. Even slightly dreadful.

   My single day of yoga has been made more interesting by practising Qigong beforehand, and after Wednesday's active recovery session, I'm feeling a difference on Thursday: I've got as much energy as I had on Monday, and I can get through the next 3 days of exercise as though I just had a weekend. I can't believe the difference that one day of low-intensity exercise in the middle of the week has made on pretty much every part of my week. Yes, I do still have days when I'm in a bad mood, other days when I just don't feel like exercising or eating clean, but when I'm not feeling that way I'm feeling really positive instead.

   And then there's Kukuwa. Oh my goodness. I've used a lot - a lot - of different dance workout DVDs. A number of 10 Minute Solutions (5x 10 minute routines), Hip Hop Workout 1 & 2 (4x 10 minute routines), Zumba, even Irish step dance, but not one of them compares to this. The first thing I noticed was that your whole body truly is constantly moving. All of the dance workout DVDs I've used have had impressive-looking moves once you've learned them, but it can take about 4 run-throughs of the section to learn the moves enough to actually be able to do the routine. In Kukuwa, the movements are very simple and you can nail them in a single run-through. It's hard to do them wrong. But, funnily enough, that actually makes them more effective. Because they're more energetic than showy, there are big arm, leg and body movements - even your head and neck get really involved. And because your body is moving so much, you really do burn a lot of calories. Because the moves are quick to learn, you can easily get a lot more out of the routines a lot sooner, and really enjoy it because you're not getting frustrated with getting the moves wrong. Plus the instructor and the music are both impossible not to get excited about. Kukuwa Nuamah is so positive and enthusiastic, she really loves what she's doing, and the African music has a beat and rhythm you simply cannot ignore. In short, so far, I am loving Kukuwa, and I can say, whole-heartedly, that it's the single best dance workout I've ever used. I'm still sceptical about the claim of burning 1,000 calories, but I'd say it has a much better chance at achieving that than any other dance workout there is. Plus I don't have any kind of calorie tracker so I have no way of knowing for certain.

   So the past two weeks have been tough, fun and surprisingly refreshing. I'm enjoying my exercise once again - it had begun to feel like a chore - and I swear I'm seeing quicker results. It could be my imagination, I grant you, but like I said before, I'm very sceptical about effectiveness of pretty much anything because there are no quick fixes, but there is a reason the system of 3 days strength/HIIT, 2 cardio, 1 yoga and 1 rest is suggested in so many cases. Changing your workout every 4-6 weeks is bang on, but it seems that doing a selection of different things throughout the week - not just the fact of strength, cardio, pilates, etc but rather the type of cardio, pilates etc - can have a big impact, too.

   I've been trying to cut down on carbs, too, which is a hard thing to do. I have no intention of cutting them out whatsoever because I exercise so frequently that I need and use them, but I noticed not long ago that biscuits had become a little too frequent in my day-to-day so by saying 'no bad carbs' I'm curbing the habit. It's only temporary - I love biscuits - so I'm cutting them down, not out, otherwise I'll be miserable, break and binge. But it can be tough because 'carbs' gets in your head and you start turning to protein and healthy fats instead, like my recent obsession with salmon and moringa omelettes, and you start to forget that you need fruit. Fruit are carbs but they're so necessary for health and for weight-loss because of the fibre and all the vitamins. Those are carbs you can't cut out, but, like I said, 'carbs' can get into your head and you start trying to cut all of them out. I'm trying to make sure that that doesn't happen. And, as I said, this is only temporary. I still need carbs because I exercise so often, but if I'm hungry then opting for something heavy in protein and accompanied by healthy fats is far from a bad thing. I just have to make sure I get a bit of fruit and plenty of veg every day.

  As always, I'll update again in 2 more weeks, but I'm certain I'll have nothing bad to say!

Saturday 20 June 2015

Chocolate Leaves

   For the cake I wanted to make my dad for Father's Day this year I wanted chocolate leaves, but I didn't have any kind of mould to use or anything, and I didn't want to opt for modelling chocolate because it was last-minute and I've never used the stuff, either. I wanted them thin and realistic, but I didn't really know where to start.
   Then I remembered that I'd seen some things online in the past about using real leaves and coating the underside in chocolate and I thought, rather dubiously, that I might give it a go.
   Since you should only use edible leaves, I used roses from the back garden which I could guarantee were pesticide-free, but you could also use mint leaves, fruit tree leaves, even some salad leaves.

You Will Need:
Leaves - young leaves work best as they're stronger and thicker
I only needed to make a handful so I used just 6 leaves, twice each. I also only used a standard 50g Dairy Milk bar. You don't need much!

1. First you need to clean your leaves. I collected mine from the garden so I knew there were no pesticides on them, but they were still outdoors so I gave them a good clean.
   First I rinsed them under the cold tap and gave them a gentle rub to remove anything that might be on them, concentrating on the underside of the leaf as that's where the chocolate was going, and as it's also generally the rougher side of the leaf which would be more likely to trap dirt and tiny bugs.
   Next I ran a bowl of warm water and a tiny bit of soap and set them in there for 10 minutes.

2. Dry your leaves carefully - use a dry tea towel or cloth to dab their undersides dry. You don't want to break the leaves, but you also don't want any water on the underside as it will stop the chocolate from sticking.
3. In a double-boiler (pan of water on a stove, heat-proof bowl placed on top, chocolate in the bowl), melt the chocolate over a low heat. Stirring the chocolate and keeping it moving will help in melt sooner and will prevent it from burning. Remove from the heat as soon as it's melted.

4. Next it's time to spread the chocolate over the back of the leaf. You can use a small brush for this, but I used the underside of a teaspoon that had been lightly dipped in the chocolate. Cover the underside of the leaf, but be sure to leave a small part, ideally the stem, uncovered to help peel it off when it's dry.
5. Lay them one by one on a solid surface and leave to set. If you put them in the fridge they'll set a lot quicker than if they're left out, about 20 minutes, but they will also soften very, very quickly once taken out. I used this method for the first batch and found I had to work out of the fridge, leaving the tray inside and peeling off one leaf, putting the chocolate back in the fridge, taking out the next and doing the same. If they're left at room-temperature to set, they'll take a lot longer but they'll also be far less likely to melt while being handled.
6. Arrange them how you'd like on a cake, cookie, etc. I used a knife to remove them from the fridge and place them where I wanted them, rather than my fingers as they caused a couple to melt - admittedly my hands were quite warm, as was the kitchen after baking the cake for Father's Day.

Friday 19 June 2015

Giant Peonies

   There is a giant peony growing over the pond in the garden. It is huge. I went over to have a look at it today because it was so big, and I couldn't help noticing just how like tissue paper the petals were. It was like one of those tissue paper pom pom things that had been roughed up a bit. After noticing that I couldn't really shake it from my mind, so I took a picture of it. I don't really like peonies, I find them too busy yet offering little to look at, but this one, at least, offered something to interest me, even if it was that it reminded me of something else, and that made it kind of pretty, in a simple sort of way. There is a lot of simplistic beauty outside, after all.
   Today was a busy day, so a few brief minutes in the garden was the best I could do, but I'm proud to have not slipped up once yet, even if I've not managed to post every single day.