Tuesday 25 August 2015

Rewarding Yourself - Experiences

   Chocolate is amazing, isn't it? But if you're trying to lose weight while rewarding yourself for hard work or great accomplishments, it can often leave a sour taste. Maybe you chose something decadent that left you feeling a little too guilty afterwards, or perhaps you chose something that sounded nice but ended up being wasted calories because it left you disappointed. Neither are great situations, and I'm speaking as someone who loves to reward myself with food - but when I'm rewarding myself for hard work related to weight loss, that's the worst kind of rewarding I can do, and it's made worse by being so easy.
   No, treating yourself to something scrummy every now and then is not a bad idea. If it's that infrequent and you eat really well most of the time, then rewarding yourself with something decadent should not be overlooked. But there are so many better ways of rewarding yourself that will last beyond licking your ice cream bowl clean as well as providing none of the guilt.

   I'm the kind of person that gets swept away by music and dance. I can't help it. I love a good sing-along and I get stupidly teary-eyed over impressive dancing. I can't understand it, it just overwhelms me. Irish step dance in particular gets me every time, and it's why I used Jean Butler's Irish Dance Masterclass last year - I loved every bit of it, and my legs were transformed!
   I was thinking of revisiting the DVD soon, and in my excitement I rewatched Lord of the Dance, and it reminded me just how desperate I am to see it live.

   There are a number of shows I'd love to see, all slightly different from each other but no less grand, but, as a full-time carer, it's so much trouble to arrange to see them that I'll be lucky if I ever manage to see all of my top five. As a result, however, they are my top-level reward type. When I strike the body of my dreams, one of these will be my reward! And I'd be happy with any of them; they're all quite close - in fact I'd almost say that number 1 and 2 are equal, but I've put them as they are by how long I've wanted to see them

   I'm a dinosaur nut; we all know this. I love dino documentaries, be they CGI or more fossil-based. I love it. I'm utterly fascinated by it all and I take a lot of what I learn from it for my writing - no, my books are not filled with dinosaurs, but the basic lessons of evolution and raw power are incredibly useful when creating fantasy creatures.
   The Walking With Dinosaurs TV series is one of my favourites, even though I'm sure the graphics looked better at the time than they do now. So imagine my desperation when they went on a live tour with fully robotic dinosaurs a couple of years ago. Supposedly they were only going to do one tour, but they did two, so there's always the possibility that they'll do another since they went back on their word once.
   This is a show I would love to see; it's unconventional and would keep my attention.

4. English National Opera
   Like Billy Connolly, I was surprised to find that opera wasn't as dull as I had expected - it can be surprisingly passionate, in fact, and all the singing is good fun, even if the songs or subjects are gloomy - I especially love it when they make a cheerful song out of a bad subject.
   The English National Opera is one of the best, performing all kinds of things from tragic dramas to Gilbert and Sullivan. I'd love to see The Mikado! Theirs are some of many opera shows in London, but having heard that they're the ones most worth the time to see, they make it onto my list. Everyone has to watch an opera in their life time!

3. Wadaiko Yamato
   I've had a passion for Japanese history that's expanded into present day and recent culture, from games and entertainment to food and clothing, and to be honest, even my favourite instrument is Oriental. My interest is primarily the history, however, so I love seeing traditional Japanese cultures given a modern twist. Taiko drums are amazing, they're huge loud things that can be as loud as jet aeroplane, which is sheer madness. I just want to be in the room and feel that vibration in the air, and Wadaiko Yamato are one of the biggest taiko drum troupes. They were in Bristol back in April but I was unable to attend, which sucks, but because they perform in smaller venues, they are the most likely on this list for me to catch.

2. Lindsey Stirling
   My favourite musical artist, and I'm not one to enjoy the music of an individual; I prefer soundtracks from games and movies more often than not because they can be moving, calming, energetic and easy to ignore in the background, but in all honesty, Lindsey Stirling is just as good. I absolutely adore her style, she is stupidly talented with a violin, it makes me sick, and the dubstep overlay is amazing. I don't really like dubstep all that much, but the mix of dubstep and an incredible violin is just awesome. I love to listen to it casually, I love to listen to it while strength training, I love to listen to it while doing yoga (though, in fairness, I hate calm music while doing yoga, it makes me impatient and I start breathing quicker just to move onto the next move and finish the sequence).
   I would love to see her live. She's such an amazing performer, she loves what she does, she's a real person and she's immensely talented. I don't know what kind of size venues she plays at so I don't know what kind of crowd I'd be up against (yikes) but it's an experience I'd love to have. Plus I wish I could move like these people.

1. Lord of the Dance
   Nothing else could be at the top. Call me lame, whatever you like, I don't care. This is the stuff. I've always loved villains in books and movies, and I love the villains in the Lord of the Dance. Their music is amazing, their moves are amazing, and I start shaking just from watching 'Warriors'. It's my favourite sequence from the whole show and I've watched the DVD to death.
   One thing people say about Irish step dance is that you can really feel the movements of their feet, the noise they make just goes right through you, and I want to experience it. I know I'll be in tears quickly - I mentioned already that it overwhelms me more than I expect, giving me the shakes and I really don't know why. But this is the one show, above all others, that I must must must see. I love the sound, I love the sight, and the syncronisation is just mind boggling - and the speed! I learned a few simple moves from Jean Butler's DVD, and I'm still dead proud of what I can do, even if it is little, but rather than take away some of the magic like Seeg said it might back when I used the DVD, it's just given me a new found respect for such dancers. It's insane.

   I've only seen two shows. I saw Mindless Self Indulgence in London about 7 years ago, which, if I'm honest, isn't that memorable at all, and Billy Connolly in Bristol with Seeg's family about 3 years ago, which I loved. I'd definitely go to see him again! But as it stands, these are my top five, and I have to see at least one of them!

   Have you seen any amazing shows?

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Kettlercise For Women - 2 Weeks Later

   After having spent 2 weeks using the Kettlercise For Women, Volume 1, I have to say that all of my concerns when I started were for nothing. I have only used the 20 minute express program so far, and there is a good reason for that which I'll get to later in the post, but even just the 20 minute workout is really good.

   I was concerned that the DVD would take itself too seriously. The cover of the DVD alone suggested that and it's overly loud description on Amazon was also off-putting. But the reviews were great, and the results the DVD claimed to have given people in their magazine adverts and on their websites weren't unrealistic, so I decided I'd give it a go.
   The DVD backdrop is a bit dull, but it's not as dark and solemn as I thought it would be, so that was good. I'd read in a number of reviews that the instructors were grim and never smiled, so I was a bit concerned about that, but while it's true that the two back-up instructors look miserable - not neutral, miserable - the instructor herself is perfect. She's cheerful, but not overly so, and she keeps you on task well enough. That concern was for nothing, so I was really pleased, and, at least in the 20 minute program, you don't see the back-up instructors up close more than once or twice so their attitude doesn't get the chance to bother you.
   There's a constant timer in the top right corner that never once stops, and, in fact, neither do the moves. There's no rest in the transition, it's a smooth flow that keeps you in constant motion, and you spend 1 minute on a move before transitioning immediately to another. Moves that focus on one side are split into 30 seconds on each. It's not a circuit program, either, you don't learn a move and go back to it after 5 minutes, and as the workout is a solid 20 minutes, minus warm-up and cool-down, you go through 20 different moves. That's a bit crazy now I think about it.

   My only issue with the 20 minute program was that a few of the moves weren't compound, and I can name three off the top of my head that had you standing still while doing them: overhead press, overhead tricep extension, and bicep curl. In all three of these moves your legs aren't engaged - perhaps it's too much Jillian Michaels, but I know I can do better than that. So for each of those moves I engaged my legs: I added a dynamic squat into the overhead presses, a static sumo squat for the bicep curls, and a dynamic sumo squat into the tricep extensions. By keeping my legs engaged, I got more work done.
   Having said that, your legs are not neglected, and after a move where your legs were left to relax, you had one that worked them quite hard. So I admit that my modifications may be unneccessary, but there've been no negative repurcussions from them just yet.

   I'm really quite enjoying the DVD and I'm very comfortable with the instruction. The workout is still tough, but it's great, and I feel like I'm getting results. I'm using 4-8kg, too! And when I move on to the full 60 minute program, I don't plan on adding modifications. It's a full hour, I'll be dead at the end of it - because, so far, I've never gone longer than 40 minutes with a kettlebell workout.

   As for why I've only used the 20-minute routine so far, despite my intentions, it's because I've had 3 migraines in 8 days and Seeg reckons it's because I've overworked myself. I usually suffer from one a month, so when I told Seeg I was getting another blind spot just days after the last migraine, which was worse than usual, he said I should take a week off. Being the stubborn idiot that I am, I ended up shrugging it off and pretending I didn't have one. Fortunately it hit at 10pm and we were about to watch Life Story before going to bed, so I had to sit through the first 20 minutes unable to see half of the screen, and then the last 20 minutes with an eye that felt like it was going to explode, all without complaining. Unfortunately I couldn't hide the third migraine 2 days later (last night) because I was about to start making dinner at the time and he ended up taking over. I managed to convince him that I didn't need to take a week off, I would just tone down the exercise to 4 days of yoga and 2 days of kettlebells. He seemed satisfied with that, but he still made me take today off.
   I do think I need to give it some thought, though, because migraines are more than just a nuisance. They stick me in bed for 2 hours and then give me a pounding headache for the rest of the day, and I can't look down because my eye will blow up.

   I've gotten it into my head that if I don't exercise for a couple of days, all the weight I've lost will come flooding back. That's simply not true, especially if I make sure I eat a little better than normal and take in a few less calories on inactive days, but it's something that has weedled its way into my mind and I can't shake at all. So, though I absolutely hate the idea of no exercise for even just 3 or 4 days, I may have to face up to it. Though part of me wants to tempt fate and see if I get a 4th migraine before doing so...

   Do as I say, not as I do.

Tuesday 18 August 2015

A Balanced Diet For Better Health

   I'm really happy to have Mathews back on the blog today! The last article he wrote for us was really well-received, and it did a lot for me, personally, too! And now he's back to share with us some simple tips to make a transition towards a balanced diet - which, I've found personally, isn't something that is easy to do. It's been hard enough getting in my 5-a-day, but I've made a bit of a game out of it and I'm getting there! The trick I've found is to sneak things in, and find fun brands like nakd and BEAR if the idea of an apple doesn't cut it, and my salmon omelettes are always accompanied by peas or carrots. It started as a conscious effort, but that, along with hot lemon water every morning and filling a water bottle every three hours has turned into a set of habits I don't have to think about anymore.
   So take the easy road to a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle by picking out even just a couple of things from this list - it will make a massive difference, and once they become a subconscious habit, it'll be easier to make more changes. Baby steps!

   Over the past few decades, our lives have become frantically busy. Our lifestyles do not always allow us to rest and eat well. It may not seem like a problem at first, but have you noticed just how long it takes us to recover from a simple case of common flu? This happens as a result of our busy lifestyles and bad eating habits. What can you do to make sure you stay healthy even with all these road blocks?

Good morning, Sunshine!
   Not many people are aware that they get thirsty overnight, and they head straight for their cup of coffee first thing in the morning. However, if you feel like you could try something else instead, something that is beneficial in more than one way. Try drinking a glass of hot lemon water instead of coffee. Lemon water will do wonders for your immune system, it will hydrate your body (this is incredibly important during hot summer months), and it can even help beat obesity.  

Hack your food cravings
   You know those days when you feel like you are going to lose your mind unless you eat some 
chocolate or a bag of chips? Learning to understand your food cravings and what is actually behind them can help you keep your weight under control. Craving for chocolate usually means your body needs magnesium, and you can find it in fruits and raw nuts, while craving for salty, oily snacks indicates you need calcium, and you can get it from raw cheese, turnip, and broccoli. 

Swap that sugar for something better
   Sugar is important, it ‘fuels’ us up and tastes divine; no wonder so many people love it. However, when you’re trying to keep your weight under control, adding sugar to your food is going to make the process difficult. So, instead of adding a spoon of white sugar to your coffee, creams, or strawberries, try adding raw organic honey instead. Honey tastes much better, it’s super-healthy, and can even help you if you have skin problems. It’s a known antioxidant and even has antibacterial traits, so you can use it in your diet and skincare routine alike, and by choosing locally-sourced, organic honey and having a little bit a day can even help build up a resistance to hayfever!

More vitamins for better immune system
   Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables sounds like the easiest thing in the world to do, but it is not always so. We are busy and seldom have the chance to eat a decent meal, so our immune systems can be in pretty bad shape. For those who do not like taking chances with their health and who want to make sure they get everything they need, multivitamin supplement Legion athletics' Triumph will provide enough vitamins for your body to stay healthy even when you are really busy and barely have time to sleep. Alternatively, Teami's Profit tea is another natural way to boost the immune system first thing in the morning.

Junk food withdrawal
   Junk food can become an addiction, and to stop this addiction, you should ‘program’ your brain into liking other things as much as it enjoys junk food. There are several ways to ‘trick’ the brain such as: swapping pizza with extra cheese for vegetarian one, or making your own pate with tuna and mustard, or even by swapping a candy bar with a homemade smoothie made of fresh fruit and honey. You can still eat things you like, just try to do it occasionally instead of every day. After a while, you will notice you’re not even thinking about cheeseburgers; it just takes time and patience to get there.

   Taking good care of health of your body and mind will make you realize just how busy you can be. Admittedly, you will slow down your pace, adopt a healthy habit or two, and start making small changes which will eventually give great results. Over a period of time, you will notice that you sleep better, move more, and you will definitely lose some weight as a result of all that.

About the Author

Mathews McGarry is passionate about many forms of strength training, and spent years lifting, dragging and flipping all manner of heavy objects. After graduating from the Faculty of Health Sciences, he started writing about his experiences, and sharing tips for better life at highstylife.com and other health blogs. Follow him on Twitter.

Wednesday 12 August 2015

My Gym Bag Must-Haves

   I was tidying out my gym bag - yes, I workout at home and have a gym bag - the other day, removing weak resistance bands and other things that had been tossed in there when my brain goes sleepy-byes at the end of my workouts, and I decided I'd share my personal essentials, ranging from workout aids like electrolyte tabs to more basic vanity. Every girl likes something nice, after all.

   First of all: kit.
   A sports bra is simply essential. The ligaments in your breasts are not elastic and you can do irreparable damage if you're jumping around unsupported, and I don't trust the built-in stuff. I always make sure I go for quality, so I have a number of gorgeous Panache sports bras - the best part? Panache sports bras are available from B to J cup sizes, and 28-40 back sizes, so even busty ladies can get the best support even while grinding out burpees.
   Good clothing, preferrably moisture-wicking, is always good. Comfort, form-fitting to avoid catching and 4-way stretch are pretty basic essentials. I also have a personal criteria for tops and bottoms: the tops have to be vest/racers, plain in colour but with an interesting back like low-cut, open, cross-over straps, narrow as hell racer back, vents and so on, while the bottoms should be capris with a gorgeous all-over print. These are just my preferences, and when it comes to tops, I love Fabletics, and when it comes to bottoms, it's USA Pro. I need their acid rose 3/4s but I can't decide which size to buy.
   Shoes also need good shock-absorption, stability and comfort. Again, I use USA Pro because they've yet to let me down.

   That covers vanity and basic practicality. Then comes the nitty gritty.
   Hair bands. I need really good ones. My hair is long and it's thick, so it's very heavy. I've used a number of different types of hairbands in the past and it's taken me a long while to find any that will do the job reliably even against dancing, burpees, jumping jacks, suicides and so on. Funnily enough, they don't look like they'd do much good. Invisibobbles or anything similar are my go-to hairbands. They're plastic and they look like old phone cords, but they're brilliant. They keep elasticity better than elastic hair bands, and they have better grip, too. I can't retie my hair half-way through my workout because my hands are sweaty and my arms are tired so I'll only end up knotting it, getting frustrated and losing my mojo. So it needs to last an hour - and these do.
   Nasal spray. It's gross, I know, but sometimes your nose starts running and when you're doing renegade rows or push-ups, that's just not helpful, or, in particular, plank jacks, mountain climbers or any downward-facing cardio move because then your breathing matters all the more. So nasal spray can help eliminate that problem. I always have a little stick on hand.
   Weight gloves. These things are a godsend. I actually have three different pairs. One I bought for yoga, so I keep them for yoga. The Toesox gloves have thin palms so they're not great for heavy weights, but they're perfect for (and designed for) extra grip on the yoga mat. The second pair is from Blogilates and I bought them, in truth, because they're gorgeous. These have thicker palms and provide a bit of padding, which is perfect for heavier weights, and the grip is stronger too which helps not only holding on to weights, but also helps when I have cardio moves on the mat in the same workout but my hands are too sweaty and I risk slipping. The third pair is from USA Pro, they have thick palms again, but they don't have much grip. I use these for kettlebells. They keep the sweat from reaching the weight which in turn helps my grip, but because they have little to no grip themselves, snatches and racking isn't hindered. I'd likely injure my wrist if I tried to use kettlebells in my Blogilates gloves because, in many cases, your grip on the handle switches.
   Towel! It goes without saying that you're going to get sweaty, and some workouts are harder than others. I seriously recommend a gym towel - they're not very big, just enough to mop up, really, but believe me you'll be glad you bought it when you need it, and kicking yourself if you didn't buy it.
   Stopwatch. I usually use the clock if I'm upright sprinting on the spot in a HIIT workout or something, but if I'm face-down in plank or some plio-variation, I can't keep craning my neck to look up at the clock. So a stop watch is essential. I think I paid about 99p on ebay for this, and it's not let me down yet.

   And finally, onto the workout aids.
   Nuun tabs. Adding one of these to 500ml water, which is about how much I get through in a typical workout, means not only do I guarantee to finish the bottle, but it also hydrates me more effectively. I reviewed them last year and fell in love with them; they have since become a staple part of my workout kit. And when I run out and am forced to use plain water, I notice the difference.
   Thermogens - though this is more of a psychological thing. You have to take them, on average, 30 minutes before your workout, and that means that, once taken, I've committed and I've laid down the time I intend to begin. This gives me half an hour of direct mental preparation as I get things ready to use. I have little idea if they truly work, but they at the very least have a placebo effect that leads me to work harder and more consistently.
   A little protein and carbs are important post-workout, and while it's always best to source it from real food for the best quality, post-workout shakes are a good alternative. Protein helps your body repair muscle, especially after a strength or resistance workout, and carbs provide the energy your body needs to make those repairs. A post-workout shake should also provide both. Some post-workout shakes don't, however, and are more like protein shakes instead. In this instance, sticking the powder in a blender with some water and fruit to make a protein-enhanced smoothie would provide the necessary carbohydrates in fruit form. Or, you could also bring some fruit with your shake, be that pure fruit like an apple, or more convenient (but still just) fruit like a pouch of Urban Fruit, a BEAR yoyo or BEAR paws, or a nakd bar. All of these count as one of your 5 a day, too, and BEAR paws are good fun!
   Music is another important workout aid, it really can make or break your workout, like I said in my workout habits post. If my workout doesn't use DVDs, I make sure to have some music on hand, be that a game soundtrack or a Lindsey Stirling album. These are my go-tos!

   What are your workout necessities? What's in your gym bag? Feel free to post a link to your workout must-haves post in the comments!

Friday 7 August 2015

Eat Fat To Lose Fat?

   Fat. The word strikes fear into the heart of any woman trying to shed excess inches - after all, how can consuming the very thing you're trying to lose be good? So people turn to reduced-fat, low-fat and completely fat-free alternatives thinking it can only help.
   The trouble is, they're wrong.

   Fat is essential. It's one of the most essential macronutrients for maintaining the function of every cell in your body, it's one of the best sources of fuel for your brain functions, keeps your organs functioning properly and so much more! What's more is that a number of vitamins such as A, D, E and K cannot be absorbed into the body without dietary fat.
   But there are a number of different types of dietary fat, however, and the one you really have to look out for are trans (or hydrogenated) fats. These have no place in your diet whatsoever and can cause a number of health problems - fortunately these are easy to avoid as they're mostly man-made and found in processed and deep-fried foods.

   The rest, however, are good. Even saturated, as long as it's natural. For example, about half of our cell membrane structure consists of saturated fats, and saturated animal fats like some butters or fatty organ meats contain loads of fat-soluable (meaning they need fat in order to be absorbed) essential vitamins. That doesn't mean you should load your toast with three times as much butter, but it does mean that you don't have to cut it out completely. Just go easy on it.

   Monounsaturated fat is also a great fat as it has properties that can really help against inflammation, aiding against allergies and arthritis, and it can do your heart a world of good, too. Avocados, olive oil (ideally 'extra virgin') and macadamia nuts are great sources of monounsaturated fat, and each have amazing additional benefits - avocado is also a better source of potassium than bananas, and 100g has almost half of your RDA of dietary fibre! In fact, eating avocado with other fruit can even help the absorption of their nutrients, too.

   Then, above all else, there's omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are absolutely amazing for your body, and, believe it or not, this dietary fat can help you lose body fat.
   Omega-3 helps to keep your cell membranes flexible, making them more sensitive to insulin, which in turn means that more glucose will be burned as energy rather than being stored as fat in the body for later use. And storing energy as fat for later use is fine if you're a bear, but not if you're a human. Its anti-inflammatory properties can also help keep blood vessel walls and heart tissue healthy, improving the overall function of your heart. Fat is also a beauty food, as contradictory as that might seem, as the fats found in coconut oil, avocado, olive oil and oily fish all nourish the skin from the inside out. Omega-3 can also improve brain function and the rebuilding of brain cells, maintaining and improving memory, and oily fish in particular can improve serotonin levels - and effectively boosting moods and lowering chances of clinical depression - and reduce likeliness of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
   The absolute best source of omega-3 fatty acids are oily fish and seafoods, especially wild salmon, mackerel and krill, and while there are technically plant-based sources of omega-3, they're not ideal as their conversion into the necessary compounds (eicosapentaenoic acid, or 'EPA', and docosahexaenoic acid, or 'DHA') is quite poor.

   So, needless to say, fat is important to your body. But due to the foods on supermarket shelves, it's all too easy to get the wrong fats and miss out on the right ones. Saturated fat may still be important to the body, but you need very little of it, which is why it's typically the only subclass of fat shown on food labels, just like how sugar is typically the only subclass of carbohydrate shown - because these are the ones you need to watch. But trans fats are becoming more and more common, and they're easier and easier to consume. They're easy to cut out, though, and so easy to avoid. But with all the processed foods and ready meals available, making things easier for people with busy lives, it's not surprising that the good fats get forgotten.
   While the best sources of fats come straight from foods, there are supplements for pretty much everything - they're not meant to replace, only compliment, but they are an option for those who aren't getting enough of what they need. There are a number on the market, but the best of all are specifically krill oils. The reason krill oil capsules are better than fish oil capsules is because the omega-3 is in the form of phospholipids, rather than triglycerides in fish oil, and while the body is perfectly capable of using both forms of omega-3, phospholipids are more easily absorbed into the body without needing to be converted into a useable form (though your body is still very, very good at these conversions).
   It is always best to get your nutrients, including omega-3, from food directly, but as omega-3 is particularly important (most of use have too little omega-3 and too much omega-6 in our bodies), taking a supplement like MegaRed krill oil capsules along with your dinner can give your whole body a welcome boost, and you can read more about natural food sources of omega-3 on their website, too.

   Though I absolutely adore salmon, I use MegaRed on a daily basis because of the krill oil, and given the nature of this post, I thought it would be great to give one of you a great helping hand with getting a little more omega-3 into your diet!
   To win a box of 30 MegaRed 300mg fast-absorbing omega-3 capsules and a box of 20 MegaRed 500mg extra-strength omega-3 capsules, just enter the rafflecopter widget below! The winner will be contacted directly at the end of the giveaway on Saturday 15th. Though my giveaways are usually open to all, due to the nature of the prizes, this giveaway is limited to residents of the UK.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday 5 August 2015

August: Kettlercise

   This post is a couple of days late, I know - like I said in my last post, I've been doing lot of work on my book so everything else has fallen by the way side. I've been working out hard, mind you, that's one thing that hasn't suffered, but that's also because it takes me just 30-40 minutes a day and it's been a part of my daily routine for so long now that I just don't have to think about it.
   Anyway, this month's workout is yet another strength one: kettlebells. Again.
   I've been seeing adverts for Kettlercise in Women's Fitness magazine for well over a year now and I finally decided to give it a go. I was a bit put off because of how seriously it took itself - I don't necessarily want a workout that is bubbly and silly, but I don't respond well to giggle-free zones. That's why I love Jillian Michaels so much. Her workouts are hard and keep me challenged, but she's funny while being serious. I could never help laughing every time in Extreme Shed & Shred she turned to Basheerah Ahmad and said "I can hear you breathing," and Basheerah laughs a simple "Hah!". It gets me every time. It's the simple things. But I love that about Jillian's workouts. She's strict, but she manages to keep the atmosphere light so you're encouraged to do your best without feeling intimidated.
   Kettlercise always looked way too serious. I like people who smile, not grunt and growl. But I bought volume 1 anyway. I admit, I love branded goodies, so I would have loved to have bought the DVD with the kettlercise-branded kettlebell, but it was only 2kg which is too light for me, so I didn't bother, but it's a great option for people who are new to it and need a kettlebell as well as a kettlebell workout.
   The DVD is made up of a 8-minute abs-focused section (which I always find gimmicky), a 20-minute express workout, and a 60-minute full workout. Yikes. 60 minutes?! Jillian Michaels' kettlebell DVD consisted of two 25-minute workouts and I found that a more than adequate amount of time. The idea of a 60-minute kettlebell workout intimidates me. I can only hope that the first and last 5 minutes - 10 if I'm lucky - are warm-ups and cool-downs.
   Even so, I'm only using this DVD 3 times a week, so trying to do the 60 minute workout should be my target. But I've been feeling quite tense lately and run-down, so for this first week, I'm going to just use the 20-minute workout. I'm hoping that the 20-minute workout will be short but intense, while the 60-minute will be a bit slower-paced, like more kettlebell windmill, less rock and roll squats. It probably isn't, but I'll find out in time...eep.
   No new leggings or anything like that this month. I've not really had time to look around and nothing has jumped out at me. There is a pair from Roxy that I've liked for a while but I can't seem to find them anyway.

   I'll update again in two weeks, as always, at which point I should be able to tell you whether the 60 minute workout is a real killer or not, or if it turns out that I'm going to be disappointed by the whole thing. I've got my 4kg, 6kg and 8kg kettlebells on hand. I swing with the 8 now so I know I'll want that on hand for the easiest moves, 6 for the middles and 4kg for moves I've never tried before - apparently the DVD features about 32 moves, and I think I only know something like 20, so I'm hoping for a challenge, but not one I can't complete.
   Either way, we'll find out in 2 weeks!

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Multiple Sclerosis Raffle Winners!

   Did anyone else read the title as 'waffle winners'?
   The raffle didn't go quite as well as I had hoped it would, I have to admit, I had been hoping to raise around £200. Still, £57.50 from £2.50 tickets is still pretty good, I think! And the fact that my tickets were purchased from all around the world is even more exciting! Either way, I think I may well do this again!
   And a very special thank you goes out to James Lamb for his selfless and direct donation!

   And so, the winners! Thank you so much to everyone who purchased tickets, your support of my work and, above all else, The Multiple Sclerosis Society means a lot to me. The three winners are as follows:

   1st runner up and winner of a deluxe fox jar necklace + sterling silver chain is Henry Toppen of Germany!
   2nd runner up and winner of another deluxe for jar necklace + sterling silver chain is Anita Wicks of the UK!
   And, last but by no means least, the winner of the grand prize, a 10-piece miniature woodland bundle ranging from 1.5cm to 3cm tall, is Samantha Summers of Australia!
   Congratulations everyone, and thank you again to everyone for entering. I've already contacted the winners directly, but if either of you three don't receive the message, just drop me a line here instead ^^

   The second full 10-piece bundle is still available in my shop for £200, and would cost £255 if the pieces were purchased individually. The full £200 from this bundle will be going to charity, so if anyone had their heart set on it, it's still available, as are many of the individual pieces, though a number of them are down to just one remaining!

Monday 3 August 2015


   The blog's suffered lately. I've been working on my book something fierce, giving the first few chapters a complete overhaul. It's amazing to see how writing skill improves in time, because the last few chapters I wrote are so much better than the first ones in the book. And while the change in narrative is gradual, I'm not at all happy with the idea of submitting the first three chapters to an agent if they're that badly written.
   Fortunately they've already been completely revised and I'm much more confident in them now, but I do still have the nagging doubt about the whole book. It's not my skill I doubt - I have a lot of faith and pride in my ideas and my characters, and I think I'm a relatively good writer. I'm not so good that people would stop and say "wow, what a good writer," but I believe I'm good enough that people will keep reading and understand what's going on.
   But that's not where my doubt lies. My doubt instead lies with the likelihood of getting an offer. There are so few agents that accept fantasy in the UK and that limits me right off the bat. Not enough not to try, of course, because I absolutely love writing and that's been the case for almost 12 years now. But when you consider that bad writing skill is just one of many reasons you can get rejected, it's a bit disconcerting. There's the technical stuff like the presentation of your query letter and the structure of your synopsis, both of which give an insight into your writing skill, how seriously you take yourself and your work, and a little bit about you as well. If these are poorly presented, they may not even request the first three chapters. There are a number of websites out there that can help you to write these to the best of your ability and they're at the top of my bookmarks, so that is in my hands, but then there are the things that simply aren't.
   I could present a perfectly written synopsis, a great story, and a professional cover letter. In short, I could give an agent everything they would want and I could be rejected purely because they're not able to take on any clients at that time, or because they don't feel that they, personally, can represent the story, no matter how well-written it is. And I don't dispute these points, of course. An agent won't see a penny for their work until a book sells, and if they don't think they can do what needs to be done to make that book sell, they'll waste their time as well as mine. And I know that I don't want an agent that can't represent it well, or an agent who doesn't have the time for me but has squashed me in anyway. I want an agent who will be almost as enthusiastic about my book as I am, who can give it the time it needs, and who knows the right people to talk to in order to take it where we both would want it to go.
   But it's that uncertainty, the areas I have no control over, the chance, that has been weighing on my mind. I can self-publish, yes, and if this book is rejected I might do just that, otherwise I've wasted 2 and a half years. But the trouble with that is that I personally - and admittedly rather unfairly - view self-published books with low expectations. I don't mean to, not at all, but any time I've read a self-published book it's never had the same quality of writing  as a traditionally-published books. I think it's because no one encourages you to revise, revise, revise before self-publishing, but agents will certainly do that before even accepting to take the book on, let alone approach publishers with it. And while revising is exactly what I'm doing right now, I don't want to self-publish and have people view my work as second-rate without giving it a chance.
   But, having said that, I am also well aware that, if the book does well even as self-published, it would give agents a better idea of what I can offer when I approach them with another book in the future. If the book gets good reviews and maybe even sells well, an agent would be more inclined to take a chance on me because they would have some kind of figures rather than none at all.
   So, while the book is far from complete in terms of revising and, as such, I'm nowhere near ready to send out any query letters, I'm still fretting about it. Who knows, maybe I'll be given an offer and I'll be worrying over nothing, or I'll get rejected, self-publish and do well through that. Or I'll self-publish, it will do horribly, but the next book I write could take off.
   You can't waste time guessing. I know that, once the book is done, I will send out query letters and then I will submit my work to those that ask for it. When they go out, I'll start work on my next book, and when I get my responses I'll already be hard at work on it and rejections won't be as upsetting. And if I get rejected by everyone, I'll try to find an artist to make a cover for the book and I'll self-publish it and cross my fingers.
   This is what I know I will do, because I can't let myself waste 2.5 years on a book for it to collect dust and go unread. And a rejection isn't going to stop me from writing - after all, I submitted my last book and received rejections along with comments of "clearly talented" and "very readable" from a number of different agents, and, after a little bit of research, discoverd that agents don't just give out compliments randomly like that, so I should take them as sincere. Those rejections still upset me, but I started work on another book instead. And when this is rejected, I'll be working on another. I have no intention of stopping, and I understand enough of agents' criteria to know that a rejection doesn't necessarily mean that it was bad.

   I'm yammering now. Like I said, it's been on my mind and I've been quite focused on it so everything else has fallen by the wayside. Writing fantasy is the only thing I truly want to do with my life. I don't want to be a freelance journalist forever, I don't want to be a blogger forever, I don't want to be a jewellery maker forever. These things are brilliant for me right now, but they're not what I have my hopes set on, and I'm working very, very hard on what they are.
   So if my blog goes through periods of silence over the next two months, now you know why.

Saturday 1 August 2015

Extreme Shed & Shred - 4 Weeks Later

   After initially being disappointed by the Extreme Shed and Shred's poor advertisement, I've actually come to quite love it. No, neither workout is the 45 minute workout I had expected, and yes, there are only two jiu-jitsu moves between them both, but I actually ended up enjoying it. I also realised I was pushing myself too hard by trying to do an hour a day - meaning both level 1 and level 2 together, totalling 70 minutes minus warm up and cool down - as I fell ill and became really quite unmotivated, which is unusual for me and my exercise. You all know by now that I'm weird.
   So at the beginning of week 3 I decided I wouldn't try to do the full double workout, but instead just do one level a day. I had to consciously remind myself that Jillian Michaels' workouts are hard, and both levels are difficult on their own. Once I realised that, I found myself more able to enjoy both workouts, I had more energy, I felt more positive and by the start of the 4th week I was over the illness.
   Of course, during the third week I had ended up swapping out cardio days for the Extreme Shed & Shred instead, which meant I did Level 1 on Monday, Level 2 Tuesday, 1 Thursday, 2 Friday and 1 & 2 on Saturday, with yoga as usual on Wednesday. Its true that JM workouts are a mixture of cardio and strength training, but it's all very high-impact and that makes it physically demanding, which is as good as doing strength training every day. Not good.
   So at the start of the 4th week I got myself back on track, choosing whichever level I felt I could do on strength days (level 1 if I felt tired, level 2 if I was ready for something a little harder), and on cardio days I stuck with Kukuwa and a bit of kickboxing.

   I don't really have much to say about the workouts from the 2-week update, but that's because while I usually would have spent 2 weeks using level 1 and then 2 weeks using level 2, I jumped right in because I was confused and put off by the claims of 'two 45-minute workouts' whereas it's actually one 30-minute and one 40-minute workout that she wants you to do consecutively as one '60 minute' workout that actually becomes 70, plus 10 minutes for warm-up and cool-down. And I know it shouldn't necessarily be that much of a big deal - you're probably saying "if it said it was 2x 45, but is actually one 30 and one 40, what's the problem?" - but the issue I had was that I was expecting something like Hard Body, but when she said, before anything started, that she wanted you to do the 'full 60 minutes' of level 1 and level 2 together, I thought "oh...wwwwell that sucks, but if I do them both together then that's only an extra 15 minutes on top of what I expected. I can do that." And yes, I could do that, but it turned out to be 25 minutes on top of what I expected, and it was tough right from the word 'go'. Every day the warm up had me tired out. Initially I thought I was just overdoing it or I hadn't slept right and was still tired, but it was every day. And though I consider level 1 to be easier than level 2, it still begins with burpees and lateral jumps. It was not easy. But I still felt like I had to do the full '60' because she made it seem as though just one level wasn't going to be enough.
   The purpose of the DVD is to get you 'extremely shedded and shredded in the shortest time possible', so if there was an event a month away that you wanted to lose weight for, then doing the full 60 minutes and following the meal plan would get you there. That's not the case for me, I want to lose weight at a steady pace but I also really enjoy exercise, so I'm not in any kind of rush. I would rather get in a good workout every day 6 days a week and have the energy to function than wake up miserable like I kind of started doing at the beginning of week 3 and loathe the idea of moving.

   Having said all of this, I would still most certainly recommend the DVD, but only if you go into it looking for two 30-minute workouts. I usually throw in my all on a Saturday since Sunday is a rest day, so I did the full 60-minutes every Saturday, but honestly the 30 minutes of level 1 is enough. It's a great mix of cardio, strength and yoga, with a number of kickboxing moves making up pretty much half of the cardio sections, and when you know a yoga pose is coming, it's easier to throw everything into the cardio. I mentioned that the first move of level 1 is a burpee with a lateral jump, and that is murder, but when you know that the second move is holding a downward-facing dog, it's so much easier to max out the first move because you know you have a 30-second breather right afterwards.

   Kukuwa has been great fun, too, and the 'advanced' section really is much harder than the 'intermediate', but no less fun - though it does take a little longer to learn the moves. But, as with any dance workout where becoming familiar with a routine is key to keeping up with them, patience and practice are important. It took longer but I got them down - even so, after using Extreme Shed & Shred every day in week 3, I didn't move beyond the 4th routine of the advanced level of Kukuwa, so I have yet to find out what the final 2 or 3 routines are like, but even so, the first 4 get your heart thumping like crazy and even more than the intermediate level, which you might remember me saying last month was quite possibly the most effective dance workout I've ever encountered, and quite likely ever will.

   The leggings I treated myself to at the start of this month - the acid rose 3/4 from USA Pro - fit exactly the same as the black lotus ones I bought a while ago. They're the same size, same brand, same everything except the print, really, but when I wore the black lotus capris in week 2 I thought they felt a little looser around the waist than they were the last time I wore them, which was 2 weeks before. I thought perhaps they'd just gotten old and broken in - though it was sudden if that was the case - and I'd find out for sure when I wore the acid rose the next week. Except I started to get suspicious, so instead of wearing the acid rose the next week I wore my most unforgiving pair: the taos salar capris from Fabletics. The top of the waistband on those is quite thick and the very top hem isn't very stretchy at all, which is why I consider them so unforgiving: if you've gained - not even gained, just bloated - even a little bit they will let you know.
   And yet when I put them on the next week, they were loose.