Wednesday 27 January 2016

Valentine Craft Compilation

   Valentine's Day is almost upon us - just 2 and a half weeks away - so I decided to consolidate some of my favourite Valentine tutorials into one post! I am working on new ones, but my mind always shifts to baking for events like these and, given that I'm trying to shed the final few pounds and Seeg has also become more weight-conscious, baking isn't such a good idea. Especially when I make the same cake every time, I just present it differently, it means a lot of extra sugar from frosting, sprinkles and so on! It's not worth it unless I can come up with something original, and as for general crafts, I spend almost all of my free time working on my book so I never leave time for things like that. There are crafts I've had in mind for a year now that I've not found the time to try!
   So, for now, we'll make do and I'll ensure I have new ones up for next year. Promise!

   Eros' Elixir Valentine smoothie. This Valentine smoothie is so clean and healthy, and provides a good dose of vitamin B12! It's a wonderfully clean and healthy treat to start the morning!

   Valentine locket cookies. These are my favourite! Of all the Valentine tutorials I've done, this takes the biscuit. Sugar cookies, isomalt 'windows', vanilla filigree and pink/purple mini smarties painstakingly separated from the other colours. They're not that tricky to make or assemble, you just have to pay attention when using the isomalt. These Valentine cookies could contain anything - sweets, chocolate, fruit, sprinkles, perhaps even a little love note!

   Patchwork Valentine sugar cookies. These Valentine cookies are really cute and the patchwork effect is so easily created with a ravioli cutter! Make the cookie dough, separate it into 3 balls and colour each individually, then roll them out, use a ravioli cutter/roller to cut squares of dough, layer them up and then cut out the hearts. Easy!

   Chocolate heart cake bites - these make a wonderful little Valentine dessert. Miniature heart cakes cut using cookie cutters, topped with messy chocolate frosting and chocolate hearts decorated with transfer paper - and this led me to making a little tutorial on how to use chocolate transfer sheets. It's not as hard as it might seem, you just have to take care while doing it. In short: easy, effective, delicious.

   Fabric Origami hearts. This unique tutorial provides you with wonderful handmade Valentine decorations! Using the same folding techniques as origami hearts and the heat and pressure of an iron, you can do the same with fabric! As the image might suggest, this is a very old post, but I've not seen it repeated anywhere else, so that's quite nice!

Check out my Tutorials page and
Valentine Pinterest board for more inspiration!

Follow Kim's board Valentine on Pinterest.

Monday 25 January 2016

A Possible Cure for Multiple Sclerosis?

   I've been quiet lately. Some of you may be aware that, recently, there's been a headline in the news that has struck a bit of a chord in my family: a possible cure for multiple sclerosis. They think they might have it.
   We've all been walking around in a bit of a daze. We had all written off the possibility of a cure, and at best only expected to see greater handling, but so far pretty much everything my mum has to take to manage MS just leaves more side effects. And my mum is in so bad a state that we figured that, if they did eventually find something, it wouldn't be too considerable and certainly wouldn't affect her enough, though would likely be great for people more recently diagnosed and not as far gone.
   But...we might just be wrong.

   It was discovered by accident, as many things are. What is it? Chemotherapy. A particularly unlucky individual was diagnosed with MS, and later with cancer. They underwent chemo to try to treat the cancer - and their MS started to clear up, too.
   Multiple sclerosis is a condition wherein the immune system starts to attack the body's tissue and damage the myelin sheaths that protect nerve fibres. Macrophages - 'scavenger' cells - remove the damaged myelin and leave the nerve fibres exposed which interferes with the conduction of impulses, resulting in interrupted signals to and from the brain. This affects speech, vision, movement - pretty much everything.
   Chemotherapy completely shuts down the immune system and leaves the body to rebuild it with their own cells and, in trials so far, has led to the ability to walk again. Trials are running for the next 2-3 years to find the extent that this can help, but people who have become wheelchair-bound by their MS, unable to feed themselves and need acute care throughout the day, have been able to regain motor skills. Muscles need to be strengthened and rebuilt in order to be able to walk again - years in a wheelchair alone makes it difficult to walk again, but with exercise and therapy, people have been learning to walk and move around again.

   My dad is usually very sceptical about these things, but from what he's read and watched, he's actually hopeful. I myself didn't have the heart to look into it. I didn't want to get my hopes up because my main concern isn't her body, it's her mind. She doesn't speak anymore, and we don't know if it's the MS or a decision she has made. She laughs a lot, but seems to have the attitude in that sense of a young child. She doesn't always remember who we are, either, even though she sees us every single day. We don't know if this is the MS - which is known to cause euphoria in some cases, and does affect speech - or if there's something else going on. But my concern is: what if she regains her motor skills, but not her mind. She'd be like a 5 year old that can reach the top shelf.
   My mind has been running riot. Sometimes full of hopeful things like finally getting my mum back, something I never dared think of, and sometimes it's negative, such as thinking all it will do is backpeddle 6 or 7 years to her either being able to move but not knowing quite what she was doing, or further to when she was able to move but was depressed all the time.
  And what if she regains everything? Will she be happy and embrace life? Or will she live in terror that it might return? But, if she was living in terror, would that fuel her to embrace life anyway, or would it paralyse her? I've had the unfortunate experience of discovering that I would be paralysed by fear, and I hope she wouldn't succumb to that.

   And this is all assuming that it's a true cure, rather than a temporary solution that will wear down again, and not accompanied by its own side-effects, and then there's also the general fact of how awful chemotherapy itself is.

   So, as you can guess, we're all in a bit of a daze. We're cautiously hopeful. But she's not in the trials, and, assuming they're successful, it won't become available for 2-3 years, at least.
   I've not felt such hope in all my life, but I'm also aware I could easily be setting myself up for disappointment.
   But...I just can't help wondering. My dad's level-headed but he keeps talking about what-ifs. Going on holiday to Devon again, as a family. Dad doing DIY work and her telling him he's done it wrong. Mum seeing something she likes and buying 2 of them in case the first breaks, and then never using either of them. Arguing with her.
   At this point, even the rubbish parts of family life I yearn for.
   And I could start my life with Seeg for real. Get a job, move out, grow up. I don't resent my situation, being a full-time carer for her. I don't resent it in the slightest, because it's our lot in life, and I've made the best of it. If not for this, I'd never have the opportunity to have a little jewellery shop, nor would I have the chance to throw myself into my writing as deeply as I do. I might be embarrassed about still living with my parents, but it's not because I'm lazy or dependant, and that at least lets me stand a little taller. I'm doing my bit as a daughter, looking after my mum when she needs me, and giving my dad peace of mind so he can work full time to pay for the equipment we need to look after her.

   Which then brings to mind one last thought: we had a wheelchair lift installed last year. That will be one big hole for my dad to fill in...

Sunday 17 January 2016

POUND - 2 Weeks Later

   It's been two weeks and I have to say that I'm absolutely loving POUND. I know I'm a fitness-crazed lunatic and that I love to move, but I haven't looked forward to my workout for ages. It's been so long since I've had one that flies by, and is so much fun that I can throw my full effort into it and feel like I've achieved nothing - until the next day.
   My best example of this is the upper body workout. The DVDs are broken into 4 workouts - upper body, lower body, abs and cardio - and I wasn't really sure that the upper body in particular was going to be very effective. The Ripstix are weighted, but only around the weight of actual drumsticks, maybe a little heavier, I don't recall, but regardless, I had low expectations on upper body work with those things. Well, as far as biceps go, I was right, but at the same time biceps are probably the easiest upper body muscles to isolate and work, so adding in a few bicep curls with hand weights would do the job, if you felt the need. But what I've been super surprised by is just how much of a workout your upper back and triceps get in that section! Some of the harder muscles to work, I've noticed, and yet POUND nails it.

   Core also didn't feel like much work, but there's a lot of rotations involved, pilates stance which works all the way down the front of your abs, and leg raises which are great for your lower abs, so in all honesty it does target everything without a single crunch, and while still drumming and keeping a beat.
   Lower body is, surprisingly, the most effective. POUND is spent either striking your Ripstix together, or against the ground, but you rarely sit. If you're striking the ground, far more likely you're in a pliĆ© squat while doing it, or a lunge, or an alternating side lunge, a dynamic squat...yeah, it goes on.
   And yet, despite the hard work you have to put in to actually strike the floor while maintaining form, you're having so much fun making noise and keeping the rhythm that you won't even notice it! Well, I lie, the lower body workout burns and you will notice it, but it's still amazing fun and you don't want to sit out and recover!

   Each workout is 20 minutes long, plus about a 5 minute warm up and cool down, and is divided into four 5-minute sections that are separated really just by a change of track, but they do have different feels to them. Sometimes you'll be on the floor for 5 minutes, then back on your feet, or perhaps on your knees or your back. Each 20-minute workout progresses like that and, as always, that helps to let you know how far through you are - and you'd be surprised how quickly you reach the end.

   This workout is very difficult to represent in pictures alone. It's easy enough with standard workouts, even dance, but what you miss from POUND is the noise. The sound of the sticks hitting the ground, or striking eachother - almost every movement in every workout makes noise, and that really gets a great rhythm in, both in keeping time with the reps, to just generally sounding amazing. It works with the backing tracks and gives the workout such a unique edge that makes you really want to keep going.

   This is the third indie workout I've used. The first was Buti Yoga, which I hated, the second was Kukuwa, which I adore, and I'm really pleased to see that the pattern hasn't repeated with POUND. I absolutely love this one, too, and I'm really hoping that they release an 'Album 2'. Being in the UK it can be a bit difficult because a lot of indie workouts come from the US, which means shipping even just the DVDs are expensive, and if you need special kit like Ripstix (they came with Album 1, however) it can make it even worse, and while unique and independent workouts like these are more than worth such support, it can often be a lot of money to spend on something you're not sure about. I'm glad I wasn't put off after spending so much on Buti Yoga, because if I'd left it there I would never have found Kukuwa, easily my favourite cardio of all time, and I'd never have found this incredibly unique conditioning workout either. And while I admit I wanted to focus more on cardio from January to March this year because it's been almost nothing but strength all through 2015, and that I was disappointed that POUND wasn't as high impact in cardio as I had hoped, I have loved it so far and am more than happy to keep at it for another 3 weeks before switching up my workout. And so often I'll use a workout for a month and never touch it again, but this one, fortunately, is definitely going to be used frequently. I don't often have days when I can't be bothered to work out, but they do happen, and this is exactly the kind of thing I need on those days. Kukuwa has been my go-to in those cases, but now it seems that I have a choice!

Wednesday 6 January 2016

Killer Body - 5 Weeks Later

   After having used Jillian Michaels' Killer Body over the last 5 weeks, I have to say: I love it. It wasn't the controlled strength I expected, instead there was cardio involved from the compound movements - even on leg day, you engaged your upper body, except you used light weights rather than the heavy weights you'd use on upper body day (such as the 1.5kg I used on lower body and core day and the 4kg I used on upper body day), and you still engage your lower body on core day, just not as much as leg day. Everything is always working, just to varying degrees.
   I was initially disappointed when I saw the cardio intervals because I really wanted to max out my muscles, I wanted that deep ache followed by a satisfying stretch and I thought that cardio would get in the way, that it wouldn't be intense enough. I was wrong. I still got that ache from all of the toning but I also got in the fat-melting cardio, all while maxing out the promised muscle groups. It was awesome.

   I can also say that the results were awesome. My size hasn't changed. How is this a good thing? Because I was using this workout over Christmas. No, I didn't gorge myself, but I didn't deny myself the festivities. And yet, despite that, I didn't gain a thing. In fact I lost a quarter of an inch. Over Christmas!! And I'm stronger in both body and mind, I'm proud of completeing the workout because the burn was intense, and I'm definitely going to revisit it later this year when Christmas doesn't get in the way.

   As I said above, every workout engages your whole body, but focuses on the specified areas above others on their allocated days. I did ache the next day regardless of holding each stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds, but it was a good ache. It told me I worked to the max. But one thing I did find was that my legs had a bit of a rough time. Leg day, as you'd expect, involves a lot of squats, lunges and jumps (as well as a combination of all three), and that's fine. Perfect, even. The trouble was, the next day I was really feeling it, and when I reversed the workout (I chose to go lower body, core, upper body) I found it quite tough. You use your legs the most on leg day, but you use them a lot on core day, and then less on upper body day, so going full-leg to lots-of-leg to little-leg was a bad idea. So my one tip is make sure upper body day follows lower body day, and core day comes before. When I put them back in the right order I found it easier to manage without compromising on effectiveness. It was, simply, more efficient.
   The other thing I discovered on day one was that trying to do any extra cardio like dance or...well, anything after the lower body workout is nigh on impossible. My legs were like jelly when I tried to do Kukuwa for some bonus cardio, but I could do it just fine after core and upper body. As a result, I let myself off of bonus cardio on leg day.

   Don't misunderstand me, however: you don't need to do anything extra after Killer Body. It is a full workout on its own that provides amazing results. I just like to take things perhaps a little too far. In fact I think I've actually over-worked myself - I've been having trouble getting to sleep for the last 5 days, despite being exhausted. I just can't drop off, and that is one symptom of over-training. So, though I'm loving POUND - loving POUND - I'm forcing myself to take a step or two back and take it easy this week.
   It's my birthday on Saturday and I toyed with taking the day off, but I decided I'd rather do at least 20 minutes of POUND rather than 40, because 1) it's fun, and 2) it's my birthday. I won't be eating perfectly, so I'd rather have an afterburn so I can reduce some of the guilt...

Monday 4 January 2016

January: POUND

Fun Rating: ★★★★★    Difficulty Rating: ★★★☆☆     Results Rating: ★★★☆☆

   One of the most important things about fitness is variety. Even athletes don't do the same thing every single day, both to aid their performance and their sanity. This is part of the reason that I change it up every month. The other reasons are that I'm still striving for my dream body and I know how quickly my body adapts to workouts, stopping them from remaining effective, and also because I do get bored. If fitness isn't fun, you're not going to be able to stick to it, so changing it up is essential - be it just a new circuit, or a whole new style of working out.
   I love Jillian Michaels, and I don't adore her because she's the 'in' thing, but because she honestly and truly gets results. In short, she's deserving of her fame.
   But that doesn't mean I won't stray and try something new, despite what this blog may suggest. And this month I'm so excited to be able to try a new workout I've had my eye on for a long time. I've not tried it yet because it's expensive, imported from the US, so I've not been able to spare the money to try it, but I was lucky enough to get it for Christmas - as well as a few other things from my wishlist, none of which I truly expected - and that meant I had January's workout sorted.

   POUND is a workout inspired by drumming, a mix of cardio an sculpting while using lightly weighted drum sticks, dubbed 'Ripstix'. I've tried drumming - it's hard, and it's exhausting, and that's all while sitting down. It takes co-ordination, pace and strength - so imagine doing it while standing and moving/jumping around. The Ripstix are there to throw you off balance as well as give the workout a whole new vibe and feel, and while I love my dumbbells and kettlebells, I'm excited to use my sticks!
   Album 1: Sweat. Sculpt. Rock. comprises of 4 20-minute workouts - upper body, lower body, ab and cardio, and there's an introduction to form to help you out. My intention is to rotate the upper body, lower body and ab workouts like I did with Killer Body last month, and add on the cardio section at the end. Of course, this is my intention. I'm slowly learning that this can easily change depending on the demand of the workouts in question - they may be too demanding, or not demanding enough. I won't know until I try it out - and I can't wait!

   If you're in the US you get the wonderful choice of being able to purchase a number of different workout packs, or attending a class instead, but for the rest of us, all we have is Sweat.Sculpt.Rock - though the fact that it's tagged as 'album 1' implies that there is indeed more to come.
   POUND is another independent but fully licensed fitness trend, like Buti Yoga and Kukuwa African Dance, which means the DVDs tend to be region-free rather than region-bound. In theory, they should play on any DVD player from 2010 onwards, or on games consoles. My DVD player is too old for this or Kukuwa, but my Xbox 360 plays them perfectly, so I'm all set. It's best to check out whether your machine will play the disc before you buy.

   And, as you can see, I also got the gorgeous leggings from my wishlist! They're even more gorgeous in person than on the website - the black and white looks like a flurry of snow, while the gold foil spots make for a wonderful festive touch, be it for Christmas or New Year! I also got the N7 Mass Effect workout racer back which I'm - heh - over the moon about, and it pairs perfectly with my starry sky leggings :D

I'll update, as always, in 2 weeks!