Monday 31 October 2016

Healthy Halloween Dinner & Jack O Lantern Bell Peppers

   It worked! I'm a nightmare in the kitchen - things taste good, but they rarely look it, and so that's why I dread trying to make aesthetically pleasing meals. Cakes are fine - I'm no expert, but you don't have to cook fondant or frosting, so if that goes wrong it's generally my fault and can possibly be fixed. But when you're relying on the finish of cooked food it can be a nightmare, especially when it's foods or cooking methods you're not used to. But this worked! And I've never sauteed cabbage before, nor cooked a whole pepper!

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4
Nutritional: 450 kcals; 2.5 of 5 a day; 30g protein, 7g fat, 10g carbs, 8g fibre 
4 orange bell peppers
400g cooked, shredded chicken, marinaded in your choice
75g feta cheese
1/2 a red cabbage, shredded
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup water
100g black bean spaghetti (I used Explore Asia)
Roughly 40 sprouts

1. Rinse the bell peppers, then, if you're carving the bell peppers, do so. They're not difficult to cut, but a sharp, narrow knife is best because you're less likely to make larger cuts than you want.

2. Cut the tops off of the bell peppers and scoop out the white flesh and the seeds.

3. Boil a pan of water. When the water is boiling, drop the bell peppers and their tops in and leave to boil for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F/gas mark 4.

4. Prepare a baking tray and stand your peppers on top. They may not all stand up on their own, so use their lids to prop them up a little. This also helps keep the pairings. Fill the peppers with chicken and feta cheese, alternating - layer it up. Stick them in the oven for half an hour.

5. Meanwhile, prepare the sprouts to your liking - boiling, steaming and stir-frying takes about 5-10 minutes; roasting them takes about 30.

6. Prepare a pan of water, bring to the boil and add the black bean spaghetti. Heat for 5-10 minutes.

7. Mix the red cabbage with vinegar and leave to sit for 5 minutes while you heat the 1/4 cup of water in a pan. When it starts to steam, add the cabbage and cover for 5 minutes.

8. Throw it all on a plate and serve! Happy healthy Halloween!

Black Magic Halloween Cake

   I actually made this cake last Halloween and never got around to sharing it! I used to make cakes all the time but it was the decorating I really wanted to do, but that always ended up meaning there was a cake that needed eating - not a problem at all, except that I want to eat the whole thing by myself. And a few years ago, I used to. Now, however, I think I must make maybe five cakes a year and only for birthdays or personal dates of note like my parents' anniversary - which I obviously don't eat all on my own. In fact I found a clever way around making too much cake, too: I use a 5 inch cake tin instead of 8 or 9, and it's a deep one - and even then I make half the cake mixture I used to. This way there's less cake, but because it ends up being taller, too, it's easier to decorate. I like tall cakes!

   This cake was just chocolate, I think, and I made up two cakes so I used a full-sized mixture, but like I said, it was the decorating I really wanted to do, so I used black fondant to make a bat wing, I made a small amount of cookie dough and made a biscuit bone using the Wilton bone cookie pan (this is literally the only time I've used it, I realise), and I added black food colouring to chocolate frosting and made it all super black. Then I broke the bone and stuck it and the wing in the frosting, which I put thick and swirly on the top to help give them both more support.
   The trouble is I'm awful at flat icing, I really am. I have the tools - even a rotating cake stand to make it easier - but I just can't grasp it, no matter how many videos I watch or tutorials I read. And because I rarely make cakes anymore, I'm getting zero practise. When I do make cakes I prefer to make them 'naked' to cut down on unnecessary sugar and just use a cake stencil with icing sugar or powdered baobab like with the Japanese cotton soft cheesecake I made
   This year I'm not making a cake, I have something else in mind, and if it works out, I'll share it. If not...I'll pretend I never mentioned it.

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Muscle Candy Protein

   Muscle Candy is a new brand of protein shake, but unlike the others, it's a small company with a careful product, focused more on quality rather than mass production, and that is good. People are becoming more aware of food labels now and starting to familiarise themselves with artificial and needless ingredients, and it's leading to generally better health. We're more aware of what we're eating, and the food companies are forced into being more transparent with their products. Organic produce and 'no added sugar' are things people want to see more of, and we're starting to get it.
   But the trouble comes really when people try to get more exercise in, eat clean and generally transform their lives for the better, and the products advertised towards people like them - people like me - aren't contributing to that what they could be.
   I've taken to using less 'convenient' products, and that includes a straight up chicken sandwich for Seeg post-workout. Thing is, I exercise a lot more than he does, and with trying to look after my mum, I can't go out and buy chicken every few days to fuel my recovery, plus it gets expensive. So while I tend to opt for more basic food and try to cook and prepare food for myself, protein shakes are one thing I'm adamant not to give up on. But have you looked at the food labels?
   Generally speaking, none of the ingredients are harmful, even if some are artificial, but if you're dead set on trying to eat clean, long ingredients lists with words you can't pronounce, even if they're perfectly safe, can muddy the waters.

   And so, when I found Muscle Candy, I grew curious because there are no needless ingredients in their protein shakes. They consist, in fact, of only four ingredients, and they're all natural: Bio80 organic whey protein, natural flavourings, stevia and, depending on the flavour you go for, either a berry mix powder blend (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry), raw cacao, matcha or blueberry powder. There is no needless thickener, no artificial additives, no preservatives, no GMO, now colourings. It simply is what it claims to be, making it easily the cleanest protein shake on the market.

   Each single-scoop serving of the protein powder contains, depending on the flavour:
• 97-106 calories
• 17-18g of protein
• 2g of fat
• 1-5g of carbs

   Each 1kg tub contains 40 servings which is enough to see me through 8 weeks of workouts, which is certainly worth the investment.
   Due to the lack of a thickener, the shake is thin so I take it with less water than other shakes, but that also makes it easier to incorporate into other things. Combine it with milk - dairy or almond - to thicken it up, and it works great as a protein base to a post-workout smoothie. Blended with a banana, it will be as thick as a smoothie should be without compromising on texture - and that banana will help replenish the potassium lost through your hard work.

   So for those of us who pay a little more mind to the ingredients in our health and fitness products, Muscle Candy protein shakes are the way to go. It contains nothing artificial, it's an all-natural protein shake made with, most importantly, whey protein. Why is that important? Because whey protein is more effective than plant-based protein, and that's because whey comes from milk and milk is an animal product, and as animal products are biologically designed to be consumed by all mammals, it's more easily absorbed into the body than soy or hemp protein and less of it is lost when it's converted into a form our bodies can put to use. That's why meat is always the best source of protein there is, because it requires minimal conversion in the body - because humans are also mammals, not plants.
   Yes. That's right. Science.
   And you can get £10 off of orders directly from Muscle Candy with the code CLEAN16 while stocks last!

Disclaimer: I was sent this product to review by the brand itself. The quantity and precise products sent were their choice, not my own. All opinions and images are my own, and all appropriate research has been done by myself from a range of sources rather than relying entirely on the product's website, especially where health products are concerned. I do not accept a product to review if I do not believe it is safe or worth my own time, regardless of any kind of reimbursement. I trial the products for an appropriate amount of time before writing reviews to check for wear-and-tear on physical items and side effects from edible (be it supplements or food). If I have negative points to voice, I will voice them, and I never, ever accept product reviews or reimbursement on the promise of a positive review. My reviews are and will only ever be honest.

Sunday 23 October 2016

International Christmas Sock Exchange - Last Call!

   It's the last call for sign ups to my Christmas sock exchange! Sign ups close tonight and then comes the opt-out week.
   You can still sign up before November 1st, but if you do, you won't be given the opportunity to opt out and change your mind because you'll have signed up during the opt-out week.

   You can sign up to send internationally, or just within your own country. I've had a huge response and a mix of national and international participants, so it looks like most sending preferences will be honoured! Yay!

   For more info on the sock exchange, including rules and how it works, check out the Christmas exchange post.

Saturday 22 October 2016

PIIT28 - 2 Weeks Later

   I respect Cassey Ho a lot, I think she's a fabulously bubbly individual and the world could use more people like her - enthusiastic people who want others to share in their passions. But as much as I love her, I wasn't sure how effective PIIT28 would be. I expected Pilates moves in an interval system, and while I love resistance training, be it with weights or my own body weight, I really wasn't sure that there would be much sweating. And as much as I hate cardio, cardio burns fat and after my vacation, there was much cake-induced fat to burn.
   But, as almost always, my concerns were pointless.
   Pilates is hard, there's no two ways about it, but Piit28 doesn't focus exclusively on Pilates moves. Every workout consists of seven different moves which alternate between resistance and cardio, meaning you basically get great active recovery after every brutal cardio set, and you repeat it four times through; 45 seconds of movement with 15 seconds of rest.

   It is tough, but I actually think it's been set up in the perfect way:
• By alternating between resistance and cardio, even on days that focus a certain area of the body, your whole body gets worked, you get your heart rate up while also building lean muscle and melting fat, and you don't exhaust that muscle group to the point that completing even one circuit is impossible.
• The fact that there are seven moves keeps it from being too daunting - indeed, five moves would be too few and nine would be too many - and completing the circuit four times is also just right. I start feeling it in circuit three and begin slowing down, and by circuit four, the dread starts to kick in - but then it's immediately eradicated when I realise I only have to do it once more, and that helps me to muster more energy and complete it to the best of my ability, more or less matching circuit three - or circuit two if it's a good day!
• And by having a new workout nearly every day (Cardio Camp is the only workout repeated every week), it means I don't get the opportunity to dread it. There are two different bum workouts, leg workouts, ab workouts, upper body workouts, and total body workouts, and that means that, should one of them be particularly vicious, I can rest assured knowing that I only have to do it once more even though PIIT28 lasts - you guessed it - 28 days. And the single workout that you do repeat every week was still challenging but actually quite manageable, and it's the only one out of them all that I actually loathe the idea of doing four times.

   The workouts have been relatively consistent in terms of difficulty. My lower body is stronger than my upper body, but I find myself challenged at an equal rate every single day, and that's wonderful. Not once have I felt like I've wasted a workout, and though I've found while actually doing an area-focused workout that it didn't seem as effective as it could have been, I was somewhat silenced the next day. I did the bum workout day 1 (I shuffled the calendar along a day because I wanted to keep Sunday as my rest day rather than Saturday), and I was still feeling it in my cheeks a little on day 3.

   I've now completed all the PIIT28 workouts, and now, for week 3 and 4, I'm to do it all again. I'm not looking forward to it, because it's all very hard work, but neither am I dreading it, and sometimes that's just to be expected.
   So, I'll be back again in 2 weeks with my verdict, and after that with a review!
   Stay tuned, folks! Oh! And enter my ProWater giveaway for some tasty protein-packed fruity drinks!

Wednesday 19 October 2016

ProWater Review + Giveaway

   Protein shakes are a great way to reach your daily recommended intake of protein (about 45g a day for the average sedentary woman), but they're not for everyone. Some people don't like the texture, some find them too thin, others find them lumpy (though that's usually down to the brand), and some people just don't like the repetitive flavours. A lot of the time they're chocolate-based, and if you're not one for chocolate shakes, then vanilla or strawberry are often your only alternatives, and I've come across quite a few poor vanilla ones, and I have yet to find any strawberry shake that I enjoy drinking - though, I find they go amazingly well in porridges.
   But if you're one of these people who hate protein shakes, then I've got something for you: ProWater.

   Protein water sounds strange, especially when it gets its protein from whey like shakes do, so it conjures the idea of a thin and disappointing shake with weak flavour, over-diluted and such, and it doesn't make me want to drink it. But when you look past that and view it as a high-protein fruity drink, suddenly you're in a new world.
   ProWater is a protein-packed fruit water, and unlike a lot of protein shakes, it has a tiny ingredients label due to lack of thickeners and the like. ProWater gets its protein levels - 20g per 500ml bottle - from whey and collagens and its natural flavours and colours from fruits. It's caffine-free, sugar-free and just 90 calories per 500ml bottle, and as it's fat-free and carb-free, it makes it a wonderful addition to an otherwise low-protein lunch, like a wholegrain and veggie sandwich, or instead of water for a high-protein base for smoothies with avocado, banana and greens. It comes in blueberry, red berries and citrus mint flavours, with no chocolate or vanilla in sight, so there's something to suit any smoothie!

   I've tried a few of these, and the blueberry is to die for. I usually drink water, green tea and herbal tea, so I'm not used to such sweet drinks - even as a child I over-diluted my squash - so I was a bit surprised by the sweetness, but it was neither unpleasant nor craving-inducing, which is great. It's a perfect replacement for ready-to-drink shakes so it's quite welcome in gym bags, and as most shakes are around 250ml, ProWater encourages you to drink twice that which, of course, improves your hydration.
   ProWater is new on the market but you can already find them in Superdrug stores, so they're not hard to come by, and with 10% of profits donated to help fund research on Alzheimer's and dementia, it's a do-good feel-good drink!

   Oh, but when I said I 'have something for you', I was being literal. I've got a bottle of blueberry ProWater and red berries ProWater to give away to one reader, and all you need to do is fill in the rafflecopter widget below - comment, follow, like, tweet; all the usual.
   Due to the edible nature of the product, this giveaway is regretfully only open to residents of the UK and EU, but I will have a worldwide giveaway here soon!
   This ProWater giveaway closes on November 3rd, and all entries will be checked when a winner is picked - all of that person's entries. Play fair, guys; don't lie!

Oh, and don't forget to sign up to my Christmas sock exchange, too!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

   Remember: it is important to keep fats and carbohydrates in your diet, whether you're trying to lose weight or to keep fit and healthy! Why? Because your body uses fats to protect cells and organs, and carbohydrates are your main source of energy. You should never cut either of them out.
   Disclaimer: I was sent this product to review by the brand itself. The quantity and precise products sent were their choice, not my own. All opinions and images are my own, and all appropriate research has been done by myself from a range of sources rather than relying entirely on the product's website, especially where health products are concerned. I do not accept a product to review if I do not believe it is safe or worth my own time, regardless of any kind of reimbursement. I trial the products for an appropriate amount of time before writing reviews to check for wear-and-tear on physical items and side effects from edible (be it supplements or food). If I have negative points to voice, I will voice them, and I never, ever accept product reviews or reimbursement on the promise of a positive review. My reviews are and will only ever be honest.

Sunday 16 October 2016

Texel Island

   Hey everyone! I'm back! Well, I have been since last Sunday, but I've only just found the time to sit down and write this post because as soon as I got back I was plunged into a mess of shop prep and orders that needed filling. That's all done now - at any rate the back-orders have been made and shipped and I've done as much on other projects as I can for the moment - paint drying and light for photos and all that.
   But yes! I had a wonderful time on Texel Island. The flight to Amsterdam was smooth and only 5 minutes late, the weather was excellent throughout the week, barring Sunday, our second full day, which saw the only rain. It was a very active and contrastingly fat week, and I absolutely loved it.
   The island is small - it takes about 30 minutes to drive from one end to the other - and we visited all compass points over the 4 days staying in the south and going for an evening walk on that first day.
   I actually had no internet access throughout and didn't use my laptop once. None of that was necessarily by choice, but I didn't resent it for a moment. It was a wonderful break. There was wifi in the bungalow we were staying in, but it wasn't working. But, even had it been, I forgot to bring my power adapter (UK to EU) and I couldn't get one there because it's such a specific thing, which meant we landed with only 3 hours of battery life left on my laptop. As a result, I simply didn't use it, and while I admit that I did still get work done the old fashioned way (paper and pen, yo), it opened up much more social evenings.

   On Saturday, the first day, we headed north to Cocksdorp where Ron, Seeg's dad, picked up a telescope he'd hired for the duration, and we took it along the coast for bird spotting. We saw spoonbills, snipes, oyster catchers and other waders, which I quite liked because I'm rather fond of waders. Seeg embraced it, though birds aren't his thing unless they're raptors, but that meant he was quite pleased when we eventually spotted a hen harrier. We walked along the coast for about 3 hours, stopping every twenty minutes to have a look about, and passed the northern lighthouse.

   On the Sunday it rained a fair bit, so we stayed in playing Scotland Yard until mid-afternoon, at which point we headed west towards Ecomare, a coastal wildlife rescue centre. There were lots of seals there, many of them blind or mentally damaged and unable to return to the wild, others were stranded and are being prepared to be released. There were also gannets and cormorants, and there were two beautiful and very curious porpoises who had been abandoned by their mothers while they were calfs and weren't taught how to fend for themselves.
   We went out to dinner that evening to Het Kompas (The Compass) which was quite an experience, as it's a famous whisky bar run by a lovely old fellow and his wife - and only them - and he's particular about who he lets in. So it was actually an honour to be able to go inside and have a gorgeous meal of wild rabbit, following a starter of smoked eel. Um, yum. It was amazing, and truly home cooked, all by his wife.
   The sky was amazingly clear that night despite the previous rain. There was very little light pollution, so there were so many stars that even the constellations were difficult to pick out, and the milky way itself was very, very clear.

   On the Monday we went to the west coast and stopped at each bird spotting site. We saw more or less the same birds as we did on the Saturday, so it wasn't quite as exciting, but it was still good to tick the west off of the list, and also nice to be up on my feet and out in the very fresh air instead of sitting at a computer like I would have been at home.

   Tuesday was our last day on the island, and we headed east again and wandered along the coast. I walked barefoot along the sandy beach, and ran along in the sea. This is a majorly big deal because I've not had the opportunity to do that in about 10 years. The coast near where I live is pebbly or muddy and the tide quite brutal, and even then I tend to go out with my mum and taking a wheelchair onto the sand is just not doable. So that was simply wonderful and I took full advantage, as you can see.
   It was the longest and most difficult walk that day, however. After the beach, we moved into the dunes and the grass beyond for three hours, and it was quite uneven - the closes thing to hills there, I swear - and with the sun deciding to shine as brightly as it could that day, it was hard going. But it was still really nice to get out.
   I admit I had two complaints that day, though. First of all, the scenery did not change. It was quite flat and there were few trees, so you could see very far - but there was nothing to see, which made the walking harder. But I didn't voice that complaint because I knew it was good for me, so I embraced it as best I could. But I wasn't so quiet about the next. The Dutch are not good at public loos. Not as in "they're dirty" but rather "they don't exist." So it was peeing in bushes, and when there's little around to conceal you, it was a bit...well it was something.

   We headed back to Arnhem the following day, but as it was a 4 hour drive, we had a mystery stop over which seemed to be for my benefit. Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden has just displayed Trix, one of the three most complete T-Rex fossils ever found, and the only one that can be seen outside of the US. All that was missing were a few vertebrae, its back feet, one back leg, and both its front arms. That is incredible. Bones so often get swept away or scattered by other creatures and scavengers after death, so to have remained so close together for long enough to be buried and fossilised (it takes certain conditions for fossilisation to take place) is truly amazing. Trix is thought to be female because she has bigger bones, and she was old. There's evidence of injuries - bite holes in her jaw and broken ribs that had healed, as well as a hole in her upper jaw caused by an infection - and she looked simply incredible. People were saying (so I was told) that they were surprised it wasn't all that big, but that's the thing: T-Rex was not the biggest carnivorous dinosaur, and even then it's our imagination that has made them so huge. They were still certainly a force to be reckoned with, and the T-Rex still certainly ruled where it roamed.

   The following three days were a mix of meetings with friends and family, and on the Thursday I was abandoned when Seeg left to play games with his friends and his parents went to work, so it was just me, Falko and Isis, both of whom were asleep. You may have caught that on my twitter. Fortunately we were able to get a UK-EU adapter on the Wednesday and the house had its own wifi, so I was able to get back online, see to business and work on my book in those five hours. I got some damned good work done, and Seeg stopped in a bakery on his way home to buy me a slice of spekkoek, a lovely Indonesian cake that the Dutch brought back during the time of the Dutch East Indies. So that was more than all good.

   It was a wonderful week, but I admit I am exhausted and I'm happy to be home. I didn't eat healthily while I was away - while most meals were home made, I had a lot of bread and not very much protein, and I had cake every single day, alongside other Dutch niceties like kruidnoten, spiced and filled cookies, spekkoek and all the Chocomel I could find. I gained weight. And I regret nothing. Piit28 is turning out to be as challenging as I'd hoped, and I'm glad to be able to eat well and exercise properly again. Holidays are great at reminding you how nice routine can be. That sounds awfully negative, doesn't it? I don't mean it that way. Holidays are great, and so is coming home.
   Even if you get back in the middle of October, just as Christmas shopping begins and my shop isn't as prepared as I'd thought...

Thursday 13 October 2016

It's The Middle Of October?!

   Hello everyone! I'm back! I had a wonderful week away, which I'll talk about very soon, but now I'm back I've found myself thrown into chaos! I made the mistake of not factoring those 9 days away into my shop and blog Christmas prep, and I've come home I have discovered it's the middle of October!

   My Christmas Sock Exchange - a secret santa exchange for readers and bloggers, but with a miniature stocking rather than large gift - has just 10 more days for sign ups, and I've had a wonderful response again, but this time from many international readers! Which is excellent! I'm so excited about it, I can't wait to assign everyone and start working on what I'm sending out myself! Sign ups close on the 23rd of October, then there's a 1 week period for opting out if you've changed your mind - you can still sign up between the 24th and 31st, but you won't be able to opt out if you do. It is, of course, open to anyone in the world.

What I received last year from the lovely Amanda

   My Etsy shop has taken priority this past week because I had a backlog of orders to get put together and shipped out, which I managed yesterday, and as a surprising number of early birds start their Christmas shopping in mid October, I had a lot to get laid out and a lot to stock up on.
   I've also got a few new pieces to go up, all of which needed listings written which can take a lot of time, though at least the work is broken up by a little research because I like to add a few relevant animal facts to my animal necklace listings. I only just completed that this very morning for the finished pieces, but I have a few more still in progress. I don't know how they will turn out as they're not my usual thing, but it is something I've wanted to try for a while, so with any luck I'll be able to add a few more pieces to the list.
   I'm going to start listing things on Monday, and I've got lots of Christmas-specific pieces that will be up at the beginning of November, too, but I think I'm about ready for it all. Ish.

   I've also got lots of bloggy things I want to get done, and it's time management that seems to be my real problem. Opportunity to put together crafting tutorials is scarce and I feel a little bit like I'm drowning in little details that need doing - jars need grassing, animals need sealing, pillow boxes need gluing, then there are the countless supplies I need to buy and always forget about because I buy them so infrequently and won't notice I'm in need until I'm out. Not good when this includes envelopes...
   I'm working on a plan to eliminate this, but already it's getting me down. There doesn't seem to be much room for writing, and that bums me out, especially after the awesome progress I made with my book while I was away. There was a single but immensely important and complicated detail that needed figuring out that tied together all the little things that had happened, expected and otherwise, and I'd been pulling my hair out over it for well over a month. But while I was away, it suddenly clicked, and I got it down. I made seven A4 pages of notes, by hand, in 50 minutes.
   I'm determined to get work done, though, because I know from the past 5 years that there's going to be little time for recreation in November, and none whatsoever in December - in fact, in December, there truly aren't enough hours in the day.

   But I'm clambering on top of it all. It's slipping about beneath me, but I'm staying up here. It's only two months. My blogging intentions stretch until mid December, and my sales typically dry up around then, too. After that I'll have two easy weeks, then my birthday shortly after, and I'll get to breathe again.
   I'm lucky I have such a teeny tiny family. Christmas isn't full of familial tensions like they are for a lot of other people, so I'm quite happy with this instead.

Monday 10 October 2016

October: PIIT28

   This month I'm turning to Pilates, but not as you know it. I've been following Cassey Ho for ages now and I have her Pop Pilates DVD and her Hot Body Year Round book, though I've not dedicated myself to either for a month. And though they're both excellent, I'm still not. Instead, I've decided to give her PIIT28 a go - that's HIIT + Pilates. HIIT is known as a great fat burner for the high intensity and the interval system, so matching this with resistance training like Pilates, which I've found is much, much harder than it looks, should provide an interesting workout.
   PIIT28 is a 28-minute, 28-day workout system using the HIIT method combined with Pilates moves, so I expect it to be difficult. The upside is that it's a new workout every day for two weeks, barring one day, which means each workout only gets used twice. Every day you work out for about half an hour and focus on a certain area of the body, meaning you can really max it out and then give it great time to recover before doing it again, and on the seventh day you rest completely. This means I'll be sacrificing my beloved Wednesday rest day and sticking with just a Sunday, but for a workout that, as I said, gives an intense focus then prolonged rest to each part of the body, it shouldn't be a problem at all.

   The PIIT28 package consists of a workout calendar, lots of videos, printables, bonus flexibility training and access to the PIIT Portal, which I guess must be some password-protected website and forum. I don't know, I've not checked it out yet.
   I'm looking forward to the idea of not getting bored from this. Last month's workout wasn't boring at all, but a lot that I've done in the past I've found gets quite dull after two weeks, but that's usually because I'm repeating the same workout two or three times a week, for four (or even five) weeks, meaning I run through the same thing at last eight times in a month and with such frequency, it's also easy to lose enthusiasm and start to dread a workout you know is hard. But this time, I don't think I'll have the opportunity to start mentally logging what is and isn't unenjoyable.

   So yup, this month's workout is Pilates HIIT and I'm quite looking forward to it. I don't yet know if the videos are of individual moves or if they're of full workouts - I hope the latter, but you know me: I don't like to watch these kinds of things through until the morning I begin it. It gives me too much time to overthink and I prefer to just get stuck in.
   In this case, my 2-week update will probably be more technical than usual because I'll be able to answer my own questions about the structure of PIIT28, as well as my impressions and struggles.

Saturday 8 October 2016

BarreAmped Cardio Fat Burn DVD Review

Price: £8 / $17
Length: 3x 26 & 17 minute workouts
Workouts: Full body
Suitable for: Everyone
Rating:   ★★★★☆
Enjoyment:  ★★★☆☆   Difficulty:  ★★★☆☆   Results:  ★★★★☆
Based on 4 weeks of use.
   If you've used the original BarreAmped DVD before, you'll know it's a very low-impact but highly effective sculpting workout, one with which you can transform your arms, your legs, your bum and your abs. But it's not something you would ever expect to raise your heart rate or shed any fat.
   As such, you can be forgiven for having low expectations of Suzanne Bowen's BarreAmped Cardio Fat Burn. After all, how can such small, controlled, low-impact movements ever make you sweat? At least, this is what I thought before I started using it on September 5th.
   So imagine my surprise when I played the first workout and began sweating after 5 minutes and dripping after 15. I was utterly shocked by how effective this workout was at raising my heart rate while still being so controlled and straight forward, and though not all of the three workouts are at that same fat-blasting level, they do all offer far more of a sweaty high-impact session than the original.

   BarreAmped Cardio Fat Burn consists of three workouts, a warm up and a wonderful cool down. The first workout is the longest, at 26 minutes, while the other two are 17 minutes; the warm-up is 2 minutes but there are additional and more relevant warm-up moves at the start of each workout for an additional minute or two, and they're all actually perfectly adequate. The cool down is about 10 minutes and it is simply amazing. It's such a long and wonderful full-body stretch and leaves you feeling so good. It might be silly to be in love with a cool-down, but a good wind-down is essential post-workout, but this sequence does a wonderful job of quieting your mind as well and honestly, truly slowing you down. It's something to look forward to.
   The workouts themselves use barre and barre-esque moves in an interval-style format, so they do all seriously target the muscles, just like the original BarreAmped, but they're far more dynamic. So expect lots of little jumps as well as V-positions.

   All of the kit is somewhat optional. Light hand weights should only be used if you're advanced enough to use them on the Cardio Sculpt workout. Just as in the original, there's no need for big weights because a lot of the movements are straight-arm or static, rather than bicep curls and tricep kickbacks. But don't be deceived. Light weights - even 1kg - are still very challenging in Bowen's sessions.
   The mat is good if you're working on a hard surface. Spongy carpets, grass or mats at the gym (all BarreAmped workouts are available through Purple Platform for streaming) don't really need it. It's just so that you're comfortable if you're on your knees.
   A support is worth keeping in mind if your balance isn't so good, though there are moves that burn so much that I have to reach out for something, and my balance is pretty good, if I do say so myself. The support can be a proper barre, it can be the back of a chair, it can be any piece of furniture. I line my mat up alongside a waist-height sideboard in the living room and it does me just fine.
   I did use all three: 1kg weights, a yoga mat for grip and cushioning (wooden flooring), and a sideboard cabinet.

BarreAmped Extreme Cardio Fat Burn
   At 26 minutes long, this is the longest of the three workouts, but it's certainly the most effective. It uses dynamic body weight movements and small jumps, but, most importantly, uses a Tabata-style format. But, rather than just lasting 4 minutes total and going like a bat out of hell, you work at a reasonable pace with focus on form with Tabata's 20/10 second structure: 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest, for 4 minutes straight. In those four minutes you will use two different moves, 2 minutes on each, and there are four Tabata rounds all broken up with slow, typical barre moves to let your heartrate and muscles recover, allowing you to tackle another round.
   Tabata is only supposed to last for four minutes. You're supposed to work so hard in those four minutes that you can't possibly do more. It's supposed to be brutally intense and for only advanced athletes. Obviously, to do Tabata for a total of 16 minutes, with 10 minutes of other moves scattered in between, you would have to work at a lower level to be able to complete it.
   That much is true here, but you mustn't think it's less effective. It works a real charm, and the moves are chosen in such a way that you can't really work any harder than she has you doing so anyway, and the two minutes of active recovery (lower-impact moves rather than inactivity) between Tabata rounds gives you just enough time to prepare to go again. It works wonders and this workout alone rivals a lot of other HIIT and cardio workouts I've tried.

BarreAmped Cardio Sculpt
   This workout has the options of using light hand weights; as in all BarreAmped workouts, there are two background instructors, one of whom provides advanced moves, the other more beginner-level. The latter uses no weights at all, but if you want to try it with, no one is stopping you from putting the weights down part way through if you need to.
   At 17 minutes and using a simpler interval method, it's not as intense as Extreme Cardio Fat Burn, but it does still raise your heart rate and provide a wonderful mix of cardio and resistance. The movements are closer to traditional barre moves than in the first workout of the three, but there are cardio intervals that really do get the heart pumping again, and that up-down of your heart rate does burn fat.
   With this workout you'll burn fat while sculpting your body, most notably your glutes, legs, triceps and shoulders. It burns and it sheds, and it's highly recommended.

BarreAmped Cardio Core
   This workout is also 17 minutes, though it uses no weights and focuses on the core. That doesn't mean it's just standing ab-work or crunches, it means balance, lower back and obliques. Your core consists of pretty much your entire middle-torso, everything between your bum and your ribs, all the way around. These are still pretty dynamic moves and do get your heart rate up, but less so than the others. But your core is so important to your form while exercising and your posture outside of it that it's really important to work.
   But having said that, it is still one of the more dynamic and sweaty core workouts I've used.

Enjoyment:  ★★★☆☆  -  The intense 20/10 second intervals is a difficult system, but its use with barre moves is different and still makes you feel quite dainty, which is a win. There's little new in terms of barre moves, though, and while the three workouts are different from one another, none are particularly any more enjoyable than the rest.
Difficulty:  ★★★☆☆  -  The format of Tabata-timed intervals means you have to go hard and fast, and that makes it a true challenge, but the go-between moves let you get your breath back and really makes the difference, and by comparison, the remaining workouts don't seem as tough.
Results:  ★★★★☆  -  Barre is typically low-impact, but this DVD really does deliver the cardio aspect without losing the foundation of barre, which means you can shed fat and tone up with this DVD.
   BarreAmped Cardio Fat Burn is an amazing workout, and truly shattered my expectations. Suzanne Bowen did a flawless job of combining barre with cardio and making it incredibly effective. It's also very enjoyable, the setting provides a nice ambience and isn't distracting, and the music is equally suitable. After using Extreme Cardio Fat Burn for the first time, I actually couldn't believe how incredible my sweat was. I genuinely hadn't sweat like that for months, and it was wonderful. My expectations of the cardio factor may have been low after using the original and low-impact BarreAmped DVD, but even had they not been, I would still have been surprised.
   It's a high-impact mix of barre resistance and plyometrics, set out in a variety of different interval structure, including Tabata, and you are guaranteed to shed fat and sculpt your body wonderfully.
   It's worth pointing out that it's nothing like Jillian Michaels' high-impact resistance/cardio fusion workouts, but JM and BarreAmped are two very different styles and you'd be a fool to expect them to ever overlap. But that actually means that, as someone who uses a lot of Jillian Michaels workouts, I actually find small weights and barre to be very, very challenging and really quite rewarding. It challenges the body in brand new ways, and if you use a lot of barre for a while, you'll find typical HIIT and JM workouts to be another kind of challenging all over again. Both styles of workouts really do complement each other, and BarreAmped Cardio Fat Burn is an amazing way of getting in a resistance/cardio HIIT workout while keeping a genuine smile on your face - until you start biting your fist when your thighs suddenly light on fire in those V-position pulses. Ouch.
   Recommended? Oh yes.

Saturday 1 October 2016

2016 Christmas Sock Exchange [Closed]

2016's Sock Exchange is closed.
Check back mid September for 2017's Christmas Sock Exchange! 

   After the success of last year's Christmas Sock Exchange, I knew I had to do it again this year!
   The premise is the same as last year: it's like Secret Santa, but you're using a pair of Christmas-themed socks - new socks, obviously - to make a mini Christmas stocking by filling one sock with goodies and stuffing the other in on top to keep it all in. They can be normal socks, fluffy socks, slipper/grippy socks, whatever you'd most like to give - but realise that this means that, if you give a duluxe pair of socks, that doesn't mean you'll get a duluxe pair back!
   You won't be sending to the person you're receiving from, either, but everyone will be assigned to each other as appropriately as possible using the information you provide in your sign-up email.

   This is a very quick exchange. You have about 3 weeks to sign up, after which point there will be a 1-week opt-out window, and then three weeks in which to fill your sock before shipping it out.

Required Information (email by November 1st):
Full Name:
Email address:
Full address, including country:
Sending preference: National/Europe/International*
Allergies (food colouring, Coeliac's, sensitive skin, etc):
Blog (if you have one):

*Delete all unappropriate options. If you select 'national' but you are the only person within your country participating, you will be contacted on November 2nd. You can either change your mind and switch to an alternative option, or you can choose to back out.

• To participate you must fill in the below form and email it to me by October 23rd, or November 1st.
• If you sign up before October 23rd, you will have the chance to change your mind between October 23rd and October 31st. Anyone who signs up between October 24th and November 1st will be unable to opt out. Their sign up will be locked in.
• As of November 1st, anyone who hasn't dropped out is obligated to participate; this is also the date when you will be emailed your partner's information.
• You must ship your package no later than November 21st to ensure it arrives in time for Christmas.
• Please obtain proof of postage from the post office, if you can. This tends to be free and in the form of a receipt - they usually offer, but if they don't, just ask at the counter.
• You must buy new socks, unworn and adult size. You can choose to just buy patterned day socks or you could choose to buy more expensive rubber-bottomed slipper-socks instead. The choice is yours, but be aware that you may not receive the same generosity. Don't think about what you'll receive, think instead about what you will give. It's for Christmas, after all!
• The cost of the socks' contents can exceed £10/$15, but, again, don't expect to receive anything worth more. £10/$15 is the average.
• You don't need to fill both socks! Fill one sock, roll up the other and use it to 'cork' the filled sock.
A word of warning to flakers: anyone who signs up, does not opt out but still doesn't participate will be publicly named and shamed right here on the blog. I've participated in things like this a few times in the past, and three of those times my partner flaked. As harsh as it might be, I will not stand for anyone doing it here. Most of the time, bloggers who host things like this don't want to admit if something went wrong and so never state if a few rotten apples spoiled the bunch, but I am not going to shy away from that as I've been on the receiving end too often.

Contents suggestions:
• Stationery
• Jewellery
• Decorations & Christmassy stuff!
• Sweets/chocolates
• Toiletries
• Christmas novelties
• Tiny toys/games

All participants must submit the above details by October 23rd. There will then be a 1-week window in which to drop out. As of November 1st, anyone who hasn't dropped out is obligated to participate properly. All packages must be shipped to the recipients by November 21st to ensure delivery in time for Christmas. Anyone who signs up must be willing to participate fully.
All participants must also be willing to pay full shipping fees.
Be sure to mark the package as 'gift' on any customs forms.
   I cannot be held responsible for missing packages or uncooperative partners. If you sign up, please play properly, and play nice. If your package doesn't arrive before Christmas, don't jump to conclusions; with the Christmas rush clogging up the postal system, it's inevitable that it may get slowed down and delayed. Be patient and try not to think about it!