Monday 27 July 2015

Raffle Open One More Week

   Yup, my raffle to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society is open for just one more week! So if you've not bought your tickets already, you've got until Saturday 1st August to do so! They're available worldwide, so anyone can purchase them; each ticket also comes with a free digital watercolour print of either a fox, badger or rabbit - the choice is yours! You can find the tickets and their corresponding prints in my Etsy shop and here on the blog!
   Three winners will be announced and contacted on Tuesday, August 4th, first prize being a 10-piece woodland miniature jar bundle - either as necklaces or just ornaments - worth £250 if purchased individually - and two runners up will receive one of the new fox jar necklaces!
   If you don't win, however, I created a second 10-piece bundle which is available in the shop for £200, so it's still discounted by £50, and the proceeds of that will also go to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

   Remember, you have until Saturday to purchase your tickets, and the more you buy, the more chances you have to win the grand prize!
   And you can read about my experience with my mum's Multiple Sclerosis right here, too!

Thursday 23 July 2015

Easy Muffin Tin Omelette Cups

   Protein and fats are really important for weight loss. The amino acids in protein help to keep metabolism up and keep you feeling full, while healthy fats like omega-3 improve your body's response to the hormone leptin, which is responsible for telling your brain to suppress your appetite as well as increase your metabolism - in short, it's what lets your brain know when you're full - and it also causes your body to burn more fat as fuel.
   Eggs are a great source of protein, as are lean meats and fish, while salmon and flaxseed are also amazing sources of healthy fats. Olives are also made up mostly of healthy fats, and moringa is a great plant-based source of protein as well as other vitamins and minerals. So what happens when you combine the lot? Magic.
   Per 100g of:
Eggs - 11g fat (3.3g saturated), 13g protein
Salmon - 13g fat (3g saturated), 20g protein
Flaxseed - 42g of fat (4g saturated), 27g dietary fibre
Olives - 11g fat (1.4g saturated), 3.2g dietary fibre
Moringa - 2g protein, 9g carbohydrates, 3.2g dietary fibre

   Make these super-simple omelette cups for a great does of protein and healthy fats, ideal for breakfast or a protein-rich snack. Add diced vegetables or herbs and spices to really change it up and add an unexpected pop of flavour or texture.

Makes 2
1 large egg
10g flaxseed
1 tablespoon moringa
1 small piece smoked salmon or 1 slice of sandwich ham
2 olives
olive oil (pan)
Optional salt & pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 180/350/Gas mark 4.
2. Oil two cavities in a muffin pan.
3. Mix the egg, moringa and flaxseed in a small jug until combined, adding salt and pepper if desired. I don't like the taste of salt or pepper so I add them only if the recipe scientifically calls for it. This one does not. Plus, the salmon and olive added all the extra taste it needed, above the gorgeous 'green' and subtly spinachy taste of the moringa.
4. Pour the mixtures into the two cavities. Don't fill the first entirely, instead fill them both 2/3 the way and then top them up. If you have extra mixture, oil and fill another cavity.
5. Cut up the ham or salmon into small 1 inch pieces and distribute them amongst the cavities. Poke them down so that the egg mixture covers them.

6. Set the pan in the oven for 5 minutes.
7. After 5 minutes the edges should be cooked but the top and middle will still be runny. Place one olive in each (or more if desired) and set back in the oven for the remaining 15-20 minutes.

8. Remove from the oven and leave for 5 minutes.
9. Using a butter knife or similar, run it between the edge of the omelette cup and the pan to separate it, then go around again with a teaspoon and gently pry it from the muffin pan.
10. Freeze, set in the fridge or serve immediately.

   I'm guilty of using eggs the easy way and making omelettes. I'm not the greatest cook, but you can't get omelettes wrong, and there are so many different recipes out there - British Lion Eggs' website has a ton of omelette recipes for example, all in one place, and there's definitely something for everyone - unless they don't like eggs, of course. And while it's true that this method is basically just an omelette wearing a different dress, by making the omelette smaller but deeper it makes it easier to add additional and larger ingredients like olives or vegetables and give it a little extra jazz with that subsequent change in texture. They can also be more easily added to lunch boxes and eaten cold on the go, or as a batch-breakfast to set you up through a busy week.

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Extreme Shed & Shred - 2 Weeks Later

  These past two weeks have been amazing, which is funny because I've not felt very comfortable with this month's workout. There's an element to Extreme Shed & Shred that makes me generally...uncomfortable. I can find no other word for it. It's not that it's hard - well, it is, but that's not why I'm not happy with it. I think it's because it's not what I expected, but at the same time I feel like there's more to it than that, but I can't identify it.
   At any rate, I am a little disappointed with the DVD, though I love it at the same time.
   The reason I'm disappointed is more technical than practical: I feel the DVD was poorly advertised.
   For starters, I was expecting two 45 minute workouts - that's what the DVD says, after all - but what I got was a 30 minute workout (level 1) and a 40 minute workout (level 2), excluding warm ups and cooldowns, and Jillian says from the start that they're both 30 minutes and that she wants you to try to do both level 1 and 2 together, totalling an hour. But it's not really an hour, it's an hour and 10 minutes.
   I went in expecting 45 minutes, but I decided to do the 'full hour' since it was only an extra 15 minutes and I suddenly felt like 30 minutes would be ineffective (a very wrong assumption made before I'd even finished the warm-up), but it ended up, as I said, as an hour and 10 minutes - 25 minutes longer than I'd prepared myself for. And that's a considerable increase.
   The second reason I feel it was poorly advertised was because, as you may remember me saying at the start, it was a fusion of strength, yoga, kickboxing and jiu-jitsu. Well, there's plenty of strength, both with weights and body weight training - though level 2 felt more weight-based to me - and there's a good amount of yoga, too. In fact level 1 starts with burpees with lateral jumps (I died before I even started that, just the thought of it killed me), but you can really throw your all into that when you know that the second move is a static downward facing dog. Lovely.
   There's a good amount of kickboxing, too, with both individual moves and combinations, so that's great.
   But the thing I was looking forward to most was the jiu-jitsu because I'd never done it before, and it supplied me with the greatest disappointment. The movements supplied are unlike anything I'd ever done and, subsequently, were quite a challenge to complete a set of. But there were only two moves, and both of them were in the final circuit of level 1, never to be seen again. I was gutted.

   Because I did both level 1 and level 2 on the first day, I broke the barrier that usually keeps me doing one level for 2 weeks and the other level for the second two weeks, so I've ended up sort of alternating them, and that's also led me to mess up the second week by doing no cardio at all, and just alternating the level each day. And I think that's also sort of knocked my mind out of whack a little. I usually spend two weeks building up to the next level but this time I sort of threw it all in together, and I kind of feel like I have less to strive for. Crazy, I know.

   "But wait!" I hear you cry. "You said these past two weeks were amazing!"
   Well, they were, to be honest. Though I'm disappointed in the advertising of the DVD, I do like the two workouts. I find level 1 the most interesting because of the jiu-jitsu, the lesser use of weights and all the other new body weight moves I've not done before, whereas I find level 2 a bit more of a challenge because the weighted moves are also new. I'm still certainly challenged on both levels, though, and I think they're both actually as difficult as one another, though level 1 seems easier because I enjoy it more.
   I've also, for some reason, been eating better. I don't really know how it happened, I just suddenly stopped craving sweets, I started eating more whole food rather than diet bars and snacks like that, and I've even started cooking more - yes, I'm still focusing on eggs and smoked salmon because I love it, but I've been daring to try other things, too. Suddenly, I'm far more aware of what's actually in my local supermarket.
   And while I didn't have my two days of exclusive cardio last week, I have still been using Kukuwa whenever I only do one level. I said that 'intermediate' was great fun and a real full-body dance workout - the truest full-body dance workout I've ever seen and may well ever see - and I wasn't really sure how 'advanced' could be much harder. My goodness did I find out. It's madness! The movements are bigger, faster, shorter, there's more packed in, and it's not 30 minutes but 35, with seven routines instead of six. I'm not sure I'll even manage to fit all seven in this month! I'll try, of course. The three dances I've used from the 'advanced' workout are insanely enjoyable. The second, choreographed to Mafikizolo (Mafikizolo Sibongile), is simply the most fun I've ever had dancing. It's just stupidly good, and the song is simply awesome. But the third dance to Rabidanti (Funana) is mental. And I mean mental. It's a crazy person's dance; you're throwing yourself around like there's something wrong with you. And I don't mean that in any kind of negative way, either. It's simply awesome. You cannot do that dance and feel self-conscious, because if you feel self-conscious you wouldn't even try it; you're forced to throw away your inhibitions and just have fun, and for that I love it. It stops being a workout, and yet at that point also becomes so much harder, too. It's a seriously intense workout. I love it.

   So, so far, this month has been awesome. I am disappointed, yes, because the Extreme Shed & Shred wasn't what I expected, and my expectations were such for fair reasons. So I think I'm allowed to be disappointed. But, all the same, it is a damned good DVD and I look forward to using it. Or, I look forward to level 1. I seem to forget how difficult level 1 is, but when I think of level 2 all I see are my big weights and that somewhat puts me off. Even if samurai squats make me feel powerful. I'm a Feudal Japan nut, after all, so combining weights and sword movements gets me a little too excited.

Sunday 19 July 2015

Art Exhibit in the Cheng-Kim Loke Gallery

   After a year and a half of working and waiting, my exhibit has finally been set up! I never thought that this kind of opportunity would happen, so I'm absolutely thrilled to have my work in an art gallery to be seen by a massive number of people, from families on an easy day out to absolute bird-fanactics! I'm so excited!
   I'd spread the work out over quite some time to keep the pressure of the event minimal, which I think I managed with great success, because it was only in the last 2 weeks before the exhibit that its approach hit me. By that point I'd already done all the creative work and it was just down to tidying up each piece and making them presentable, and I only started to get butterflies when I was actually on my way to the gallery.
   I used six plinths, and, rather stupidly, only took pictures from close-up rather than of the plinths and gallery as a whole. I was flustered and excited so I didn't realise my mistake until I was already on my way home.
   I admit that there are only three set-ups in the six plinths, as I wanted the pieces to be seen, so I planned to have three displays on one side of the gallery and three matching displays on the other. In short, I made two of everything. I cheated, I know, but the gallery manager was quite happy with this, so it's all good! This way, even if one side of the gallery is crowded, people can still see the 'same' pieces on the other side. All of them are hand made and hand painted, not cast, so the two African Dogs, for example, are still a little different from one another.

  On a personal note, many of you will probably notice that this is in fact the first picture of me on this whole blog aside from the occasional headshot. I'm an extremely self-conscious person and don't really like to show myself ever, but all the weight I've lost from the obsessive exercise I've been doing over the past year and a half has given me enough of a confidence boost to brave this shot. Not to mention that I was also so, so proud of my little exhibit that I needed a little picture of me with it, even if I did look extremely uncomfortable!

   The woodland plinth features the usual suspects: foxes, deer, badgers, owls, but also has a few tiny garden birds which I'm particularly proud of! A blue tit, chaffinch, goldfinch and sparrow. The plinth on the other side of the gallery has the same set-up.

   The 'wild' plinth has animals from lots of different and deeply wild settings, like the African savannah, Asian forests and so on, with African wild dogs, snow leopards, spirit bears and yaks. Again, the plinth on the other side of the gallery has the same set-up. I had intended to expand on each location but I found coming up with animals and finding the time quite hard, and by the time I'd done half of these challenging shapes (the rhino was the worst) I'd also lost a lot of motivation. So I ended up putting them all together in one plinth rather than one for polar, one for Africa and one for Asia. Still, I'm actually quite happy with how the set-up went for these animals.

   The last plint is probably the most relevant to the gallery, as it's part of a WWT (wildfowl and wetlands trust) conservation centre. I made lots of different ducks! There's a mandarin, a male and female mallard, a nene (my favourite duck), a few whistlers, and I even made a couple of cranes, a stork and a heron! There's also a platypus and an otter. I'm not happy with the otter, in truth, it looks more like a weasel, but, funnily enough, I had a walk around the park after I'd set up and there was a collection of lego wetlands creatures set up around the place, including an otter which looked just like the one I made: in short, a weasel. While looking at the lego otter, remembering my own and then walking around the corner and seeing real ones, I realised that the main mistake both myself and the lego constructor had made was making the head too round and the belly too clean. Still, it could be worse!

   I'm happy with the set-ups. The woodland and grasslands plinth is fairly straight forward. No one can deny what sort of setting they're looking at. The wetlands plinth, too, is obvious, especially to the kinds of people who would frequent the park. In short: bird lovers. And because of the cohesion of these two plinths, the 'wild' plinth seems to work on its own, too. I was worried the animals wouldn't work well together in that one, but in fact I think they're each so different to what's in the other two plinths that they work just fine.
   The exhibit, in the Cheng-Kim Loke gallery in the WWT centre, Slimbridge, runs from July 25th to October 12th , and all pieces are for sale with a commission going to the WWT centre. Any pieces that aren't sold by the end of the exhibit will be returned to me, at which point I'll be listing them in my Etsy shop just in time for Christmas, so I'm confident that, however the exhibit goes, the time spent making the pieces was time well spent.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Busy, Busy, Busy!

   It's been a whole week since I last blogged! I've been super busy, in my defence, what with promoting my raffle and preparing to set up my art exhibit tomorrow, and I tell you I'm petrified. I've been working on it for the past 18 months, so it's been a really long time in coming, but now that it's so close, the necklaces are finished and I've sawn up all of the wood for the display cases, I'm suddenly realising that it's just a couple of days away. When did that happen?! So I'm extremely nervous.
   But because it's been in preparation for so long, I've not devoted much energy to it. That's not to say I've made rubbish pieces, but rather it means I've spread the work over the last year and a half so successfully that I've not felt very burned out. But it has meant that there were no new jars in my shop for about a year which is far, far too long for releasing new stock. So of course I was really pleased when I finished and was finally able to make 10 new pieces and open up a Multiple Sclerosis charity raffle, which is something I've wanted to do for a really long time.

   But speaking of devoting energy, my passion for fitness has become a little too much of an obsession. I feel immensely guilty for eating a single marshmallow even if I've been eating perfectly for days, and that guilt leads me to do about 20 minutes of Pilates 30 minutes later to burn it off. It's getting absolutely ridiculous and it's wearing me out physically and mentally. I'm not sure when or how it started, but I've realised, in part, that it's because I think about it all far too much. I worry, I fret, I obsess, and it means I can't enjoy a small treat without feeling like I have to run laps around the park.
   The best way to fix it is to simply direct my energy elsewhere. It will keep me from thinking about food unless I'm actually hungry, and it will also keep me from obsessing and doing spontaneous additional exercise. Over-exercising is not good and it can make your real workout's efforts obsolete. Doing too much can be as effective as doing nothing at all if you're not giving your body the chance to recover.

   So, like I said, I need to direct my energy elsewhere, and, fortunately, the answer to that question popped up a few days ago.
   Remember I told you I finally finished writing my book and that now I need to revise the whole thing - read it through, tweak it, correct it and completely change parts of it? It's a long process. But I had already decided that reading the thing through as a whole would have to wait. The summer holidays are almost upon us and reading the book through will take a while with the changes that need to be made, and with all the noise in the park outside my house during that period I won't be able to concentrate. So I'd already decided that I was going to put off actually reading it until September because the noise was due to start early this month with the GCSE students being released from their cages early to 'revise' (which usually means sitting in the park blaring their awful music through bad-quality speakers from mid afternoon until about 10pm, swearing loudly every five seconds), but I admit that it has yet to begin. I'm grateful, but the summer holidays start in about 2 weeks now, so even if I had started reading it through the moment I'd finished, with the massive changes that needed to be made, I wouldn't be anywhere near finished by this point and would have to stop prematurely - stopping half way through for a month means that making sure it flows and makes sense as a whole book is quite difficult.
   But I did decide that I could go ahead with the big changes, the parts that stood out in my mind as needing changing/removing either because I've decided I'm not happy with them or because the book changed a little along the way and they were made irrelevant. So I began that task about a week ago. Each of the bits I've changed so far have taken me longer than expected, so if I had gone ahead and started reading I would have to have stopped for several hours a number of times to make these big changes regardless of silence outside - two of the changes even took me 2 days! So I'm glad I did it the way I have.
   I still have a lot more to change, lots of little things but a few more big things, too, but I have to admit that, while I was dreading going back over it and making these changes because it was a more technical task than a creative one, I'm actually really enjoying it! One such change was introducing a character earlier on than I originally had, and it was amazing to go back and see him and others again! Characters change gradually based on experiences just like any normal person would, be it a drastic change following a big event, or just a build up of tension and irritability - or the opposite. So going back and seeing the characters as the readers would first see them, rather than how I now know them, is pretty awesome. In short: I'm loving it.

   I also admit that I've been playing World of Warcraft a lot more lately, since Patch 6.2 came out I've been doing the daily quests in Tanaan somewhat religiously to get the corrupted dreadwing mount, which I now have, and then I moved on to level my fishing, get Nat Pagle in my garrison and try to get the mounts from the frostdeep cavedweller. I've never fished in real life before and I want to try it, but fishing in WoW is surprisingly addictive and surprisingly relaxing. My hands are kept busy but my mind can wander, and in that time I've come up with a few ideas for my next book which is exactly what I need right now. I might be loving rereading my current book, but the story has finished and I'm going to need to make sure I have a plan ready to start on (probably in January since I won't finish with this book any sooner than October, and then Christmas sales will begin) by the time I finish so I don't get all down in the dumps with nothing to work on.

   So I've been keeping busy, to say the least! And I've been rewatching Stargate while tweaking my book - Seeg caught me smiling happily the other day for no apparent reason, but it was because I was thinking how much I was looking forward to watching it and working with a cup of tea. It's the little things - learn to love the little things and you'll lead a ridiculously happy life!
   Normal posting will resume presently.

Monday 6 July 2015

July - Extreme Shed & Shred

Read Also: 2 Weeks Later4 Weeks Later
& Extreme Shed & Shred DVD Review

   I thoroughly enjoyed using the Kukuwa African Dance workout DVD last month, and, to be honest, I rather liked returning to Jillian Michaels' Ripped In 30 and giving all four weeks a second run-through. It's true that I only used it three days a week, alternating the other three days between cardio and yoga, but it was good fun nevertheless. Kukuwa even managed to wiggle its way into strength days once I'd finished Ripped!

   I actually only used half of Kukuwa last month. I only used the intermediate dance workout - six different high-intensity 5-minute dance routines - and it did a damned good job, I think, but that means I still have the advanced workout, another six high-intensity, 5-minute dance routines, and so that will serve the purpose of July's cardio days just perfectly. Having not touched the advanced workout at all, all six dances will be new and, hopefully, more high impact. It must be called 'advanced' for a reason, right?
   So this means that it's the strength days that will be seeing a brand new DVD, but I admit that I have little idea how strength-orientated it is.

   Through July, while using Kukuwa's advanced workout on cardio days, I'll be using Jillian Michaels' Extreme Shed & Shred. The reason I say that I'm not sure how strength-focused it is is because it's described as a workout that 'blends everything from kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to yoga and weight training'. However, just because weights might not be used as much as in other JM DVDs, body weight can also be an insanely effective tool. Plus, it's Jillian Michaels. Whatever it is, it must be effective. And if I end up taking a month with a little less use of weights then so be it - I'm sure August will return to it.
   Extreme Shed & Shred is another DVD that consists of 2 45-minute workouts, so I'm expecting a lot from it. I used her Hard Body DVD a few months ago and that was pretty intense as I was used to using her workouts for just 20-30 minutes, so 45 minutes non-stop was pretty intense. I did it, though, and I loved it - I'm even considering returning to it the next time I'm stuck for a new strength circuit and find new cardio instead. But because that was also  45-minute workout, I'm hoping for the same high intensity and the same struggle, if not greater.

   I have to say that I'm really quite excited this time, too. Hard Body actually had me a little daunted, but the whole kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, yoga and so on blend sounds really awesome. I absolutely love kickboxing in particular - Jillian's Kickbox FastFix DVD is probably my most used of all of them as, being just 20-minutes and almost entirely cardio, I add it onto the end of strength routines from time to time and even did it following half an hour of Kukuwa a number of times in the last month alone. It's a sport that I actually really enjoy it and am getting quite good at, if I do say so myself - it's unbelievably satisfying to be able to kick at head-level and then return to fighting stance without a single wobble. So while all of its use is probably resulting in working with a lot more muscle memory rather than much fat, it's the one case I don't mind it because it's fun and I'm visibly getting better at it. But I wouldn't mind finding a new high-intensity kickboxing workout DVD. In fact, that's a mission I'm going to set myself on right now!

   I also have these amazingly loud new capris from USA Pro, they're 'acid rose' and I've seen them a number of times on their twitter, but they were always a lot paler on their website which put me off. I liked their vibrancy. But I decided to take a chance and see just how bright they are. In short: bright. I couldn't be happier with them. And they have the usual moisture-wicking, 4-way-stretch fabric and the flat waistband that I come to expect from USA Pro. Plus there's a concealed pocket at the back of the waist but I never use it - I've never had any need to. I workout at home so any music is usually played outloud and I don't have any electrical gadgets and doo-das to keep with me even if I was out of the house. But it's nice to know it's there if I decided to go running with an mp3 player.

Sunday 5 July 2015

Kukuwa (+ New Set-Up) - 4 Weeks Later

   This month's workout has been pretty awesome, if I'm completely honest. For starters, doing something different every day really did make each week speed by. There was absolutely no sense of repetativeness, and I've experienced that even with workouts I've enjoyed like Yoga Inferno or Kickbox Fusion. Monday was cardio, Tuesday was strength, Wednesday yoga, Thursday strength, Friday cardio and Saturday strength - it worked a dream. I had renewed energy every day, and taking a day in the middle of the week to do some active recovery rather than anything intense re-energised me to the point that it was as if I'd taken the day off completely, making Thursday's strength as faultless as Tuesday's. Not to mention the fact that my muscles got a really good chance to recover after every strength day before I touched the weights again.
   Secondly, revisiting Ripped in 30 was good fun, too, and a little less mentally taxing through using it for just 3 days a week, as stated above. I had the chance to learn the most alien moves from the DVD a little more, but as I'd only used each section for a week the previous month, it was all still a huge challege. I hate duck-walks.
   And, thirdly, Kukuwa is amazing.

   The Kukuwa African Dance workout DVD is made up of just two 30-minute workouts - intermediate and advanced - and they're both made up of six 5-minute dance routines. I only actually used the intermediate workout throughout June. The reason for this is simply the way I use dance workouts: it usually takes some time to learn the moves before you can throw yourself into the workout and actually get anything out of it. As a result, any time I try a new dance workout DVD, I run through just one choreographed routine a number of times until I get it before I'll try another. But these dances are usually quite showy as I usually go for hip-hop despite hating the music - the routines look impressive when you get it right, but they require a good amount of coordination and, by being so showy, they're often not as high-impact as you might want them to be. Plus, because of this reason, the moves are generally broken down a great deal and every time you want to use the workout you have to hold yourself back and keep pace with the DVD rather than rush ahead, even if you know what you're doing.
   Kukuwa simply isn't like that.
   Each 5-minute routine is broken down into single moves like any other dance workout, but they're much easier to learn. They're not showy, either, and because of that you can learn them much more quickly than any other dance workout and subsequently get a lot more out of it a lot sooner. The DVD also doesn't need to hold itself back to teach you the moves like you're new to it every time, meaning you don't need to hold yourself back to keep pace with it.
   Because the moves aren't showy, they compensate by being very 'big' - lots of hip movements, arm movements and leg movements - and it's these big movements that really burn the calories. Rather than performing impressive dances and worrying about getting timing and choreography right in order to keep up and move from one movement to the next, you can just throw your enthusiasm right into it really early on, making big movements and going at your own pace - be that faster or slower than the dancers.
   But, as simple as the movements are, there is also an 'instruction' section for both of the workouts that covers every move used in each 5-minute routine - but, like I said above, the movements are so simple that I never actually used it. I jumped right in to the workout itself thinking I could always just stop and go into the instruction section if I needed to, but that need simply didn't arise.

   Anyway, like I said, I only worked through the intermediate workout throughout June, and while that would usually be because it took me a while to learn the dances to get anything out of them, in this case it was actually because they were so much fun. I started off by using just the first two 5-minute dance routines and going through them both 3 times each. They were so big, energetic and fun that the 5 minutes passed so quickly I was eager to do them again, so I did. Half an hour passed in 10 minutes. A week later I decided I was ready to try the third routine, so I did the first three twice each, and then I started learning the rest. It was only on the final week that I used the sixth and final dance of the intermediate workout.
   This method also prevented me from both burning out on the DVD by learning too much too fast, and simply getting bored of it. The intermediate workout lasted me the month just perfectly. I am now tired of the first few dances of the intermediate workout, but the last few are still enjoyable.
   But, of course, I'm not done! As I still have the advanced workout, I have 6 more routines to learn that will undoubtedly last me another month, and that's fantastic for so many reasons.

   I absolutely loved Kukuwa, the new set-up, and the fact that I had the option of returning to a past strength DVD and running through it again, even if the first use was only last month. I think this new set-up will be a really, really good change to have made and I'm going to keep at it. My enthusiasm has increased again, I actually made greater progress in my weight loss than I have in months, and I'm also really happy that I have the opportunity to use some of my older workouts that I quite enjoyed a second time. As you can probably guess by the fact that it's been mentioned so much on the blog in the last year, Kickbox Fusion will probably be one of the first to be revisited when I'm stuck for a brand new cardio routine.

   I highly recommend Kukuwa, and I'm so, so glad I wasn't left disappointed by it like I was with Buti yoga. It cost about £17 with shipping, I think, but it is so, so, so worth it. It's the most effective dance workout I've seen both because of its big and truly full-body movements, and because of the fact that the moves are so easy to learn you can actually get results from it much sooner than most other dance workout DVDs.
   The single downside is that there's only one DVD, unless I fancy buying the one for kids. Yes, there's a Kukuwa dance workout for kids. If you're a parent, just buy it. Don't think. Buy them both, in fact. I promise you won't regret it!

Saturday 4 July 2015

My Experience With Multiple Sclerosis

   My mum always did what you would expect a mum to do: she came to parents' evenings at school, she took us on holidays or out to the park, she threw us birthday parties and made us cakes. She even put glitter on her fingertips and glue on the letterbox to make it look like Father Christmas came in that way the one year I asked him to. In short, she ticked every box. Except perhaps her insane habit of following bumble bees until they landed on flowers and began stroking their fuzzy bodies. Never once was she stung, I remember that as a fact.
   I had a great childhood really, and she was always there when it mattered most.
   But I would be lying if I said she was always happy. In fact, as far as I can remember, she was in a bad mood half of the time. But that was because she knew what was coming.

My mum when I was 7 1/2 months - clearly the most attractive baby you've ever seen.
   In 1989, just a year after she married my dad, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I don't know what caused her to go to the doctors or how long it took for her to get that diagnosis, and I also don't know what went through her mind when she was given it - I wasn't born until 1991, and I can't really ask her about it - but I know that it changed her. It couldn't not have.
   But while I knew she had multiple sclerosis since I was little, I never understood what it was. In truth I thought it was nothing really because she seemed just fine. She didn't look or act ill or anything, so I shrugged it off. Nothing seemed to be wrong.
   She still seemed to be fine when she started going to a help group when I was about 10, I think - at least, that's when I remember her going - and she used to get counselled there. I didn't know why, but I remember on days we were off from school and had to go with her that the car journey took forever. And the place had rubbish toys. You know how it is, when you're in a boring place and you're 10 years old, you will play with the coloured blocks on wires meant for 5 year olds.
   But what surprises me now I look back is how unaffected I was by this place. I don't know if I understood the situation even less than I thought, but every time we went, there were people there with walking sticks, in wheelchairs, people not entirely 'present' and other people sat in oxygen tanks, and yet none of it frightened me. I remember saying to my dad "we're lucky Mum's MS isn't as bad as these people's," and at the time I was right. I saw these people and thought there were varying degrees, and my mum didn't seem to be suffering like them, she just seemed a bit sad.
   The people there sat down to talk to me once - they were lovely, even the patients - but I didn't really understand what they were telling me. In fact I can't remember a single thing they said to me. I remember they gave me a little book designed to explain it to children, but I don't know if I ever managed to finish it. It wasn't long, I just wasn't interested. I was convinced my mum was more or less fine.

   It was when I was 13 that I started noticing things. My mum had a disabled badge which meant she could park in the disabled parking spaces - even now it's an alien notion to park a car on the other side of the car park from where we want to be when I'm with friends or other family - and whenever she got out people would look at her as if looking for her disability, and there was nothing to see. Some people even shouted at her and told her to park further away and leave the spots for people who needed them. It made her cry and I used to shout back at them. But still I saw nothing wrong with her.
   Until she started to fall over. She would just collapse like her feet stopped working for no reason at all. Some people would laugh thinking she tripped, and others would help her up. It took her a long time to start using a walking stick, and she hated it because...well, because she was a 38 year old woman with a walking stick.
   After a year or so she started having greater trouble walking and would fall more often and need her stick more often, and eventually she started using a zimmer frame - those 4-legged frames elderly people use to get around with tennis balls on the bottom - to get around the house. I don't recall if she ever used it outdoors, but if a walking stick was that bad, I doubt it ever ventured beyond the garden fence, if even that far.
   It terrified me when she got a wheelchair. She would use it once in a blue moon and she could still walk around, but it was then that I recalled the lovely old man in a wheelchair in the MS Centre. Suddenly it dawned on me that her MS was getting worse. Yes, it took me that long.

   My mum's friends gradually started to disappear when I was a teenager. They stopped visiting or talking to her, and soon a few members of the family did the same. I didn't realise at the time, but I'm beginning to think she was purposely alienating them. I don't know if it was because she was jealous of their health and bitter about her own, or if it was because she didn't want them to suffer with her, or she just didn't want them to see her the way she knew she'd end up. I think it was a bit of all of it, and I can't blame her for feeling that way, but in time it left her with only her immediate family: me, my sister and my dad.

   I moved to Hastings when I was 17 and I remember texting her when I went there for the first time to say I was in a London train station. She texted back saying "don't forget to have tea with the Queen!" Funny how I remember that.
   I moved back home when I was 19. Suddenly she was always in a wheelchair. She couldn't stand up for long and her hands were shaking a lot. She couldn't hold on to things. Her eyes literally shook and she couldn't really see anything.
   Somehow, while I was gone, she began to really deteriorate. Or it seemed that way, at least. Perhaps it was because it was all happening comparatively slowly while I still lived at home so I didn't notice it, and in the year and a half I was gone I wasn't seeing the change so it became extremely obvious and drastic when I came back.
   Remarkably, one of her friends had stuck around even to this point and I'm really grateful to her for doing so. She'd come over, make a cup of coffee for them both and sit and talk to her for a good hour even though she didn't seem able to follow a conversation. Her friend was always cheerful and put on a brave face, but in time even she left. That made me sad because now my mum really did only have us, but given how long she stayed around I think, in the end, she just couldn't watch her friend deteriorate further, and there was nothing she could do to help. I don't think she realised that just coming over and talking to her was the best help she could give, but I don't begrudge her leaving. I think, in truth, she had better reason than most. She didn't give up, she simply took as much as she could.

   Since then things have been a blur. Over the past 5 years she's steadily gotten worse. She could still think for herself when I was 19, and she could get out of her chair to reach things just out of her reach sat down. She could speak clearly, think clearly. Then she began falling out of her wheelchair, her legs giving out while she tried to stand and she wouldn't have the strength to get back up. She'd suffer surprisingly severe injuries in the falls, too, and they frightened me as well. But we all did what we could for her.

   Then she stopped speaking quite so much, she would forget things, and one such thing she would forget was that she couldn't stand up. So she would try, and she would fall immediately. She needed constant supervision. I'm not sure how clear her mind was working at that point, but it just continued to get worse. She wouldn't be much for conversation, and when you said something to her - anything - she would respond with "why?"
   Things were getting very, very difficult to cope with at that point, she was always trying to get out of her chair, she wouldn't ask for help because she wouldn't think to, she was confused and forgot a lot, and her mind was seriously slipping, so when she literally responded with nothing but "why?" for 3 hours straight, things got frustrating.
   I would get angry. I would shout. I could barely handle it. So when she moved out of the "why?" phase, I was relieved, though that happened gradually, too.
   But again things only got worse. She would forget who we were. Fortunately she wouldn't try to stand up any more and she wouldn't reach for anything, but she also didn't do anything. She would watch TV but I don't think she was really seeing it. But she would laugh every now and then when someone said something funny, but that would be about it. But that would be all.

   That's how it is now. She watches the TV or looks out of the window, and she listens to the radio. We found that music has an amazing ability to stimulate her - you hear about the stimulating power of music - and while she will go days saying just 3 words, sometimes, out of the blue, she'll sing along to a few songs on the radio. Out of time and off-key, but it's more than just 'something'.
   But she can't read books - she can't hold books - she can't do the puzzles she used to love, she can't feed herself or do anything for herself, not even move her wheelchair, and she doesn't even think to ask for something if she needs it. If she needs a drink, she won't say anything, you have to read her mind, and if you ask her a question it can take up to 6 attempts to get even just 'yes' or 'no'. She needs constant supervision and company because if anything were to happen, she would do nothing. She wouldn't even call out for help. She would just laugh.
   Why laugh? The single positive thing about multiple sclerosis is that it can cause euphoria, and she has the biggest case of it, a drastic turn around to what was actually depression before her mind started to leave her. Now she smiles all the time, she laughs all the time, and if she didn't, I don't think any of us could cope. Her smile lights up the room. Her mind is extremely simple and anything will make her happy. In fact it's kind of hard to make her sad. Her laugh sounds like a cheerful owl hooting, it's adorable, even though I hear it a million times a day when asking her if she wants a drink of water.
   Fortunately two family members have returned to us since she's gotten so bad, but I wonder if it's because they feel guilty. But, regardless, we're grateful for them coming back, and I think she is, too, even if she can't express it.

   I admit, however - and this may surprised you - that I don't struggle with this. Anymore, at least. Even after my year and a half away from home, everything happened gradually enough that I didn't really notice it, and because of it we've been able to adapt both ourselves and the house to deal with it. There are a number of hoists and slings to lift her from her wheelchair, there's a bath chair to get her in and out, we've even had a wheelchair lift installed in the dining room. Dad built decking so she can go outside in the garden and ramps have been placed around the house so we can get her around.
   Of course, I'd be lying if I said that writing this post was easy. And I also admit that I hate Mother's Day. It's envy really. I don't feel as though I don't have a mum, but I do feel that I'm missing the relationship, and all the posts and things you see about the wonderful things people's mums do just makes me sad. But I still make an effort for Mother's Day even if she's unaware of it. I make her a cake, I buy her a gift, some flowers and a card.
   It's hardest, I'm certain, for my dad. He didn't expect his life to go this way, but he's a strong, brave man for standing by her through it all, and I do all I can to try to decrease his work.

   There is, as yet, no cure for multiple sclerosis, and I also know that if one were both discovered and distributed tomorrow, it would be far too late for her. For those just being diagnosed, however, it might be enough. But at the moment all we can do is try to manage the symptoms, and that much medication just creates new problems. Smaller problems we can deal with, but new problems all the same.
   So much work still needs to be done in research and spreading awareness of the disease if we're ever to find a cure. The more people aware of it, the more minds that may come up with a solution. Or, at the very least, less people shouting at seemingly 'fine' people in disabled car parks. The disease can affect anyone and for no good reason at all - as far as we know, it isn't diet-related, activity-related, pollution-related or life-style-related.

Charity Raffle

   I'm working on raising money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the leading MS organisation in the UK, in the hopes of making some small dent in their funds for researching the disease and finding a cure. From July 1st  to July 31st, I'm selling raffle tickets. The grand prize is a miniature woodland collection with a value of £250 if purchased individually in my shop, with two runner-ups winning a miniature fox jar. The tickets cost £2.50 and are open to the whole world. The winners will be picked at random, announced here on the blog and contacted directly to collect the address to ship the prize to. For more information on the raffle itself, read here.
   The tickets are available in my Etsy shop along with a free downloadable watercolour woodland print I made to accompany them and here on the blog via paypal. You can buy as many or as few tickets as you'd like and the names of all ticket buyers will be placed in a bag once for each ticket they purchase - if you purchase 3 tickets, for example, your name will be written down and put in the bag 3 times. The bag will be shaken about thoroughly and all the names jumbled before the winners are pulled out. Winners will be announced and contacted on August 4th.

   I would say "I hope you enjoyed this blog post as much as I enjoyed writing it," but I don't think you did, and I know I didn't enjoy writing it all that much either. But I hope it made a few people think about judging people's disabilities based on looks alone, and, possibly on the flip side, judging people based on the look of their disabilities.
   There are a great many diseases out there that deserve our awareness, but this one is unfortunately the closest to my heart.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Raffle Now Open!

   The new woodland necklaces I showed you last week are now being added to my shop! There are only 4-6 of each piece available, and there's a full 10-piece bundle of each, too! But, more importantly, the raffle I mentioned last week for the same prize is also live, with tickets available worldwide both from my shop and my blog via paypal! They also all come with a free digital watercolour print of either a fox, a rabbit or a badger - and more may be added soon!

   If you purchase a ticket through Etsy, the digital print is available for immediate download, but if you purchase through paypal (button below) you'll have to wait for me to get back to you and email it over via the email address you used for paypal. There are individual Etsy listings for each print - fox, badger and rabbit - and if you purchase through the blog via paypal you can choose your desired print from the drop-down menu. You can also purchase as many tickets as you like - one, three, thirty! The buyer of every ticket purchased on Etsy and through the blog will be written down on a piece of paper and placed in a bag together. If you purchase three tickets, your name will be written down three times. The winner will be chosen at random and contacted on the 4th of August either via Etsy or by their paypal email address, as well as announced on this blog post.

   Tickets are available until July 31st and are available worldwide, and on August 4th three winners will be announced. The first drawn will win the full 10-piece woodland bundle, while the second and third will each win a fox jar necklace. The winner of the 10-piece bundle can decide if they'd like the pieces to be made into 10 necklaces or left unmounted to keep as miniature decorations.
   4-6 of each jar have been made, and as there are only 2 bundles available, the remaining 2-4 of each have been listed in my Etsy shop! You can purchase them individually like you would any other piece in my shop, and the second bundle that was created is also for sale in its entirety for £200, which saves £45 when compared to buying the full set individually!

   Each necklace or ticket sold will raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, a charity that supports those who suffer from Multiple Sclerosis as well as works to find a cure. My mother was diagnosed when she was 25, and so I've grown up watching her slowly deteriorate. It is a disease that leaves the sufferer incapable of looking after themselves and so affects all of those around them, and I myself am a full-time carer for her. The charity did a great deal to help my mum cope with the disease from the moment she was diagnosed, and they've also been a big help for myself and the rest of my family. It's not easy to watch and it's not easy for us to live with either, and without their support I'm not sure how we'd be coping.
   Multiple Sclerosis doesn't get the attention it deserves, and because of that, not enough money comes in to support the research needed. Multiple Sclerosis itself doesn't kill directly, not like Cancer. But it can leave people unable to breathe for themselves or unable to swallow, which in itself is a killer, but it does just as bad in another way by stripping people of their identity and independance.
  Read more on my experience with Multiple Sclerosis here.

   By buying a raffle ticket, you can help support this charity. You stand just as much chance as anyone else of winning the bundle I've created specially to raise money for this charity, and as every ticket comes with a free digital watercolour print, you don't walk away empty-handed!
   And if you can, please help me by tweeting and facebooking this blog post and spreading word of the raffle, or, better still, mention it in a blog post. Any help you can give me I'll be happy to return in the future with an event you may decide to host, be it for charity or not!

Raffle now closed.