Wednesday 30 November 2016

Christmas Decorating Safety

   I love Christmas decorations. I love the colours, the glitter, the light, the temporary clutter - it's one of my favourite things about the season! And I like to go all out, use every decoration I have and cover every available surface. It's terrible, but it's absolutely wonderful, too. And while I absolutely despise anything that interrupts or inconveniences my workout, the only exception is the Christmas tree. No joke. I will leave the living room to perform a set of one particular move in the conservatory if there's not enough space then go back again for the rest. I even make sure I have all the Christmas lights on in that room while doing it.

   The trouble is, it's easy to go overboard. Christmas TV adverts and movies show all these beautiful houses covered in lights, and while it looks spectacular, there is one detail that gets forgotten in the excitement of it all: safety.
   In light of the recent release of safety statistics and things that have happened to people close to me in recent years, I thought it would be wise to put together a post about Christmas decorating's safety hazards. Because there is such a thing, and you'd be surprised how easy it is to tempt fate, especially when doing things you don't normally do.
   But it's not just about falling while putting the star on top of the tree. A few weeks ago I heard on the radio that a lot of people choose Christmas to do home improvements and DIY! It sounds absolutely insane, which is why it stuck in my mind - why choose such a stupidly hectic time to turn your home inside out?! Well, apparently it's mostly new home owners and it's because of Christmas. Work gets put off, but when Christmas rolls around and furniture is being shuffled about to make room for big trees and holes being drilled for hanging decorations, people think "What the hey? I wanted to knock that wall through anyway - what better time?!" Then, of course, they're pressed for time to have it all done before Christmas, which may be only a couple of weeks away, so it all gets rushed or done incorrectly.
   So, apparently, people are insane, and it's not surprising that there are so many accidents in the home at Christmas. So I thought it would be a good idea, in light of all of this, to put together a list of the most common Christmas decorating hazards and how to avoid injuries which would ruin you and your family's Christmas.

Ladder Safety
   If you're going up into the loft, the roof or climbing the garden tree, make sure you don't do it alone. Have, ideally, two other people on hand - one to hold the ladder and the other to fetch or catch things while you're at the top. And make sure you're using the right kind of lights! But if you're going into the loft, be additionally aware of the strength of loft flooring - in short, there's very little. If you slip, you're going to have a bad time. And be wary of the location of the loft hatch itself. Ours used to be right next to the top of the stairs, the worst possible place, but also the most convenient - loft hatches are usually located at the centre of the house so that you rise at the tallest point beneath the roof and so that you travel the shortest distance to get to the ends. So, again, don't go into the loft without someone waiting below - that also makes it easier to get the boxes of decorations down and reducing the risk of falling.

Plug Sockets
   It's easy to wish you had more plugs at Christmas, but more sockets is not a good thing - it's all too easy to overload the power supply, and if you're using old systems, it could trigger a fire rather than simply shorting out. Don't plug in more than you have to, and leave them unplugged when you're not using them. Better still, get an extension block with individual power switches, that way you can control what is on and what isn't much more easily.

Christmas Lights
   Old Christmas lights get hot and, when left on for long periods of time, can cause fires themselves. They can damage artificial trees, set alight to real trees or decorations, and burn the skin if touched by little hands. So it's worth noting that LED lights don't get hot.
   Christmas lights are expensive, so if you can't get any in the Black Friday sales, make sure you pick some up in the post-Christmas sales ready for next year.

Christmas Tree Chocolates
   Who doesn't love chocolates on the tree? People like me trying to lose weight, I suppose - it's too easy to eat them. But that's not the problem I'm outlining here. Instead, it's pets. Chocolate is poisonous to most animals - 'chocolate' drops for dogs and such aren't actually made of chocolate. Make sure you don't leave any chocolates within reach of crafty animals. If they get a small amount it will probably only upset their stomach, but dogs especially are opportunists, and they will eat anything they're not supposed to, and as much of it as they physically can.
See this article by Pets at Home for more Christmas pet safety tips.

   Now it gets simpler: tripping. Be sure you keep leads and cables beneath rugs or up high so that neither you nor anyone else trips over them. Also be sure nothing small is left in the reach of small, curious children. Kids explore by putting things in their mouths and noses, and you don't want little things finding their way into their mouths any time of the year, but it's easier for it to happen at Christmas due to baubles and such.

Large-Scale Rearranging
   Apparently, when the Christmas decorations come out, a lot of people decide it's a good idea to do some DIY. Perhaps they're mostly new home owners who are decorating for their first Christmas and are moving things around to make room for the decorations, but when you consider how hectic the Christmas season is, it's rather surprising that anyone would decide it was the ideal time to undertake such a project.
   This can be dangerous, too. If you mess around with electrics and then plug in lots of lights and such, you're more at risk of an overload, and if you're going as far as to knock down walls or move doors (at Christmas?!) for a long-term change, especially in a building you're unfamiliar with, you risk collapses and mesothelioma - a type of cancer caused by asbestos exposure, which you're quite highly likely to find in most buildings built before 1999! It's still a relatively young issue and is so wide spread that there are specific mesothelioma solicitors out there for precisely this matter, so don't think it's a minor or unlikely threat.
   But it's not just large-scale home improvements and alterations that carry a health risk - making your own decorations or scaffolding to support outdoor displays is also dangerous - only 4% of people think that sawing through treated wood or even MDF has any safety risks!
   And make sure you know what you're doing if you're using power tools. They're not as simple as they seem, and while you may be able to turn them on and think that's half the battle, you'd be wrong. As an example, my neighbour recently tried to hang blinds up in his living room. He was drilling for ages, and it really sounded like he had no clue what he was doing. Turns out that he - like many of us - thought any drill and bit would do, and that he only needed to drill a hole big enough for the screw to fit into. Wrong. He was using a bit made for wood rather than brick, and he was trying to drill the hole to fit the screw rather than a hole a little bigger than he needed and inserting an anchor beforehand. He didn't hurt himself, but it goes to show that such a seemingly simple task is far more complicated than the average person would think, and those blinds would surely fall down in time if not for my dad's intervention (to save everyone headaches). Fortunately, my dad has been an engineer since he was 18 and has done all kinds of home improvements, and with my mum's disability, those have been more varied and necessary than simply changing up aesthetics.

   This might all seem like fear-mongering, but it's a simple fact that things are more likely to go wrong when you do something out of the ordinary. The opportunity to decorate so garishly comes around for only a short time each year and we take extreme advantage of it, but that means that these drastic changes are often made with little thought beyond aesthetics. The stresses of Christmas also make it easy to forget things we might be more aware of otherwise, and so the possibility of overloading power supplies doesn't occur to most of us as quickly as it should.
   There are more fires and accidents during the Christmas period than any other time of the year all across the Western world, and most of these due in one way or another to Christmas decorations. But it doesn't take much to safeguard yourself against them, as I outlined entirely above, so it's worth bookmarking this post and sharing the information with those around you. It could save your Christmas, and it could even save your life.

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Christmas Jewellery Giveaway - Again!

   Yeeees, December is so very nearly upon us and I am ridiculously excited. I put the advent calendars together today (and only ate two of the left over chocolates) and they're looking pretty on the top shelf! I've also just about finished my Christmas shopping - all of the gifts have been purchased, now it's just a few boxes of chocolates and little family things. If I could get all of that done by tomorrow night, I'd be over the moon.

   But while Seeg is running around after me every time there's a knock at the door, trying to grab whatever box was delivered in case it was a gift for him, I am in the mood for giving. I know it's cliché, but truly, I love giving presents all year round and especially at Christmas.

   As it's the end of my Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale tonight, I thought I'd do another little giveaway! Last time it was for a handmade snowman terrarium necklace, this time it's for a tiny Christmas tree! Again, the jar measures 2.5cm tall, the tree fixed inside is about 1.3cm, and the chain is silver plated and 16 inches long.
   But, for those of you who would rather not wait, or spotted something in my shop you just had to get, be it for yourself or another this Christmas (my animal terrarium necklaces make excellent wildlife gifts for animal lovers), you can use my blog's 10% reader discount code: BBE10
   This giveaway is open worldwide and closes on the 12th, two weeks from now. The winner will be contacted directly and given 48 hours to accept their prize and give me their address details. If they fail to do so within 48 hours, I will contact them to let them know they've missed their chance and I will then choose a new winner.

Giveaway is now closed!
The winner has been contacted & has accepted their prize.
No new winners will be chosen.

Final order date for UK Christmas orders is Friday 16th!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

#DifferenceMakesUs - Product Packaging & Post Run

   Packaging. Oh I do loooove packaging. I have loads of washi tape and hunt down the prettiest tissue paper whenever I can because I hate plain packages. It's kind of disappointing when I get plain packages when I buy from Etsy, and even more so when there's no thank-you note. Call me a demanding customer, but when there's no note or effort in the packaging whatsoever, it feels like they don't enjoy what they do or really respect what they've made. I kind of get it if it's someone's hobby and they get like two or three sales a month, because why would they have pretty packaging for that? But at the same time, I would expect a note then because they would appreciate it more, wouldn't they?
   Anyway, that's half of the reason I put care into my aesthetics. The other half is simply that I enjoy it. If you buy from me, you will never receive a plain box or envelope, and neither will it just contain the item you bought in a ten-a-penny organza pouch.

   I enjoy the packaging process for another reason: I don't really have to think. It's the last thing I do for orders - though I write the address on a package as soon as I receive the order and put a note inside to ensure I send the right thing - so when the tissue paper and pillow boxes come out, I know I can sit down, switch off, and just enjoy the colours.
   It gets a little more fun at this time of year because of all the Christmas tape and stickers, but it does also, of course, become more of a chore. The closer it gets to Christmas, the greater the volume of orders, and that means that even when I've finished jewellery and all that's left to do is package things, that's still a big job. It can take four hours just to tape up envelopes in December for three days' of orders. Fortunately I have tea and hot chocolate on tap by that point, and lots of natural history DVDs to watch for the ten millionth time.

   As for the post run - obviously the final step - it's a nice walk and the post lady knows me well enough for the posting process to be as quick as it can be for the number of things I bring with me. I write my customs forms before leaving the house, I print my own bulk proof of postage forms so all she needs to do is sign it, and I have no issue with being just given the stamps for the UK orders, which I always hand over last, and putting them on myself while she sees to the ridiculous number of customers waiting behind me when December rolls around. I also usually slip her a small box of chocolates on my last post run before Christmas.
   And as for Christmas posting specifically, I have my last posting date (December 19th) circled on my calendar and accompanied with the promise of a long soak in the bath and, finally, Christmas indulgences. Unsurprisingly, I also love wrapping presents, so I wait until I've made my final post run before dedicating an afternoon to wrapping presents - usually the next day - and that will be accompanied by Christmas specials on the TV, hot chocolate and a small box of chocolates I have no intention of making last beyond four hours. Seeg hates Christmas wrapping, as does more or less everyone else I know, so I wrap everyone's and he wraps only mine.

Previously: Listing    ♥    Next Up: Ponderings

And don't forget about my final Christmas order dates for domestic and international purchases!

NaBloPoMo November 2016

#BlackFriday #CyberMonday Sale Ends Tonight!

   My Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale is coming to an end tonight! I've extended it so that all time zones get the chance, but as soon as I get up tomorrow morning, I'm deactivating the discount code and that will be it!
   So don't miss out because this is my final sale before Christmas, and there are still free gifts left! I balanced the stock of them perfectly, it seems.

   We're also running up on the first of the Christmas ordering deadlines - December 2nd is the last call for orders to the US, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and so on. The full list of dates are visible in my shop, but here they are again anyway:

USA & Rest of the world: December 2nd
Canada & Europe: December 9th
UK: December 16th

   Orders placed after these dates will be processed as quickly as any other order and shipped out promptly, but I can't guarantee that they will arrive in time for Christmas as they will likely be shipped out after the final recommended posting date as laid out by shipping and courier companies.
   And, for those interested, there are presently only 3 domestic shopping weeks left until Christmas, and 1 week if you're buying from overseas! So whether you're buying from me or not, keep these in mind to avoid general delivery disappointment!

Monday 28 November 2016

Etsy Finds - Not Quite Ordinary...

I really enjoyed putting this Etsy Finds post together. I found two things about 3 weeks apart and a few days ago, when I found a third, I decided they would work best together. I really wanted to include the first two but there was no place for them in my previous Etsy Finds posts this month, so I'm glad they get this one!

   My Skoll necklace just about manages to fit in, here. He's one of my World of Warcraft pieces based on Skoll, a lightning wolf, one of Thorim's beasts in the game, and does tie into Norse mythology.
   And also, lightning wolf.

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Sunday 27 November 2016

BarreAmped Strengthen & Stretch DVD Review

Price: $17
Length: 6 stretching routines varying from 6-28 minutes
Targets: Upper body, lower body, core
Suitable for: Everyone
Rating:   ★★★★★

   So, as you can probably tell, I've fallen in love with BarreAmped. I love Suzanne Bowen, she has a wonderful smile, an enviable body, she's clearly passionate and her workouts have a truly wonderful atmosphere. I love BarreAmped because it challenges my body by being so different to what I'm used to, it's low-impact but it truly gets deep into the promised muscle groups, providing a wonderful resistance workout before I move on to a cardio one afterwards, and as my heart has been completely spared throughout (the original BarreAmped DVD, at least), I can really give whatever cardio that follows (though it's usually kickboxing) my all.
   Well, I've just added a new BarreAmped workout to my library, and it's not like the rest.

   BarreAmped Strengthen & Stretch isn't really a workout; only two of the six sequences, which vary between 6 and 28 minutes, really use any kind of resistance, mostly barre and yoga, while the rest are stretches focusing on different areas or purposes. It's a 2-disc format with the two most resistant sequences on the first disc and the four stretching sequences on the second. But it really has very quickly become a staple in my whole workout DVD collection. It provides such wonderful, deep stretches that rival any cool down on any workout DVD ever, and is also really, really nice to do if you feel tight or stressed, as long as you warm up a bit first.
   The music is wonderful, too. It's got a Native American quality to it which is extremely relaxing on its own - some even have rain and gently rumbling thunder at the end. I absolutely love it. Never mind the fact that a great deal of it reminds me of some of my favourite game soundtracks.
   It's also filmed in the usual BarreAmped studio, which I adore, and Suzanne Bowen is on her own in this DVD without any back-up. There are different difficulties, but they are all demonstrated at once as the more advanced versions are simply moving deeper into the stretches and positions, so you simply go as far as you can without over-stretching and stay there.

   For this DVD you'll need a mat for gripping in some of the moves, a belt, yoga strap or resistance band for two stretches, an exercise ball of any size for the bonus ball stretch, and most importantly: something to hold on to. A barre is used in the DVD, but the back of a chair works just fine, and I lined my mat up alongside the sideboard cabinet in my living room, which is about waist-height.

Barre Power Stretch (23 minutes)
   The first workout on this DVD uses mostly small, controlled barre moves which really do wonders to tone and strengthen your legs. The movements are those found on the other BarreAmped DVDs, but while there is a lot of strength involved (which you'll build by doing this sequence), the muscles do get stretched, too. It's a good all-around barre workout, utilising calves, hamstrings, quads and glutes, rather than just focusing on one as in the original BarreAmped workout.
   It's surprisingly tough, but it's worth it, and given how your legs will be burning afterwards, it's a good excuse to use the lower body stretch sequence I talk about below.

Advanced Active Stretch (28 minutes)
   The second workout on the first disc uses a mixture of barre and yoga for the first twenty minutes, and then stretches for the last ten. It's actually a really great section because just as your legs finally begin to give up, pretty much exactly 10 minutes in, the lower-body sequence is finished and you move on to more core and general flexibility. Then when you get tired with that, after another 10 minutes, you move on again, and that final third is stretching. It's a pretty good low-impact resistance workout if you're looking to get a bit of work in but not wear yourself out.
   This is also tough, but it's quite probably my favourite of the six sequences.

Lower Body Stretch (20 minutes)
   And this is my second favourite. This 20-minute sequence, and the first of the second disc, focuses on stretching out the lower body, making it a wonderful supplement to leg day. You get deep into your glutes, your hamstrings, your quads, your calves and your lower back without using the usual stretching movements, which actually helps to improve overall flexibility as well as recover from a workout, or simply loosening up tight muscles. Even your feet get a look-in! And the lack of many familiar positions also makes it more enjoyable and less repetative.
   I've used this one the most, to be honest, because it feels great as well as providing a perfect stretch. I've used it after a number of workouts over the past few weeks in place of the usual cool down and I didn't suffer for that decision. In fact, I seriously benefitted. I mentioned in a past BarreAmped review that the cool down provided on the other DVDs are really relaxing as well as necessary, but this one has actually set me into serious chill-out mode more often than not and I feel like I got the most out of whatever I did beforehand in part because of it.
   You do need a support for this workout as it's not about building balance, it's about getting a stretch, so you're free to cheat on the see-saw and warrior 3.

Upper Body Stretch (13 minutes)
   This workout, like the lower body stretch, provides a wonderful post-workout stretch, but for the upper body (I bet you couldn't have guessed that). It uses another range of positions to open your chest, shoulders, back, triceps, biceps - even your neck and fingers.
   You don't need any stability or anything to hold on to in this sequence as you're either lying or sitting, but for the final stretch a heavy resistance band, yoga strap or just an ordinary belt is required, just something to hold on to and lower behind you to open your chest. It doesn't need to stretch, which is why a 'heavy' resistance band is best, or a weaker one folded in half.
   If you've got the time, adding this one onto the lower body stretch is amazing and gives you a really long cool-down that will target every part of your body, releasing every tension and helping your workout recovery at the highest possible level.

Relaxation Stretch (13 minutes)
   This is a wonderful sequence. As long as you're warm, you can do this sequence any time. It's much more focused on relaxation than on stretching, so it's not really a good cool-down replacement, unlike the previous two, but it does genuinely calm your mind. It's not full of yoga moves like I expected, instead it's tension-releasing and untangles knots, and even your feet get some attention, too. A strange decision was made, though: instead of having Suzanne Bowen speaking in the sequence, it's a voice-over, which may have made it easier for her to relax while performing the sequence, but it doesn't really make a difference to a viewer. Fortunately her voice is neither rough, distracting or loud, so it doesn't really matter.
   This is a sequence I've done at random moments, and it doesn't take much of a warm-up. It's effective - strangely so - and it has been quite valuable through this past month, helping me to release the tension of lots of Christmas sales in my Etsy shop!

Bonus Ball Stretch (6 minutes)
   This is the shortest sequence and uses a stability ball in all the stretches. The ball provides a semi-unstable base, one which you can roll and move with you, but which you can also rely on to stay put when you want it to (hence 'semi-unstable'). The size of the ball doesn't matter because you aren't sitting on it, so it can be a big yoga ball or a small one, and is a good cool-down after a cardio workout or one which didn't get too deep into any specific muscles, like dancing, or if you just want to move around a little bit.

   After having used these sequences to supplement my workouts and to get a little more movement in after sitting at a desk all day, I have to say that this is actually a seriously good purchase. The first disc provides a mix of yoga and barre, and the second provides cool-down and post-workout recovery, and relaxation.
   Unfortunately this is a brand new release in the US and the DVD isn't available yet in the UK, which is why I've actually chosen it on Purple Platform instead, the streaming service that Suzanna Bowen Fitness uses. This means it's also easy for me to do wherever because I can stream it on my PC, my Kindle Fire and my laptop, which also meant that I had access to wonderful stretches when I went away a few weeks ago.
   I urge everyone to consider this DVD. A cool-down is essential post-workout, and a shocking number of female gym-goers - about 68% I believe it was - don't actually do any kind of post-workout wind-down. It's extremely important to stretch out the muscles you've worked, and those you're unaware of, because it releases knots and tensions that will have formed while working out and will hinder recovery if allowed to remain, it helps to re-balance hormones, recover your breath, aid in muscle repair and settle your mind. It also helps to lengthen your muscles once they're warm from the workout, which will aid in flexibility which in turn will allow you to get more from future workouts.
   You're also far, far more likely to suffer pulled muscles and general injury from your workout if you neglect your cool-down, just as you would if you neglected your warm-up.
   While it's true that most DVDs provide their own cool down, and you can easily source them for free online, this DVD goes far deeper than any of that. The music does calm your mind, and not in a gimmicky way, and the instructor reminds you where you should be feeling the stretch which will allow you to avoid making mistakes and doing it wrong. As such, I urge you to consider this DVD if you value your time, your workouts, your body and your mind.

Disclaimer: I was sent this product to test by BarreAmped themselves, but all opinions 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.

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Saturday 26 November 2016

Clean Christmas Eating: Chestnut Bites

    I've been really trying not to turn to recipes for my crafting posts this Christmas because they always seem to be cake-related, and I always end up eating them. Not because no one else wants them, but because I never gave anyone else the chance to have any. Because I like food.
   But this is one of only two Christmas recipes I'm posting this year, and neither of them are cakes. In fact, they're both delicious but both clean, so if I do eat the lot, so be it! I'm making the effort this year to try to find healthy alternatives to festive food, not to replace them but to balance out the inevitable and wonderful indulgence that is Christmas. I put a post together a few days ago featuring a few of the things I'm turning to, and this recipe was noted on there, too!

   Chestnuts roasting by an open fire...
   Yet I've never actually had chestnuts at Christmas in any way, shape or form. Not knowingly, at least, and so I had no idea what chestnuts actually tasted like. They're a lovely mix of sweet and nutty, and I have actually decided that I love them. So rather than continue with my original plan, which was to make my own spiced fruit date bars, I decided to use chestnut flour instead and make festive chestnut date bars. And then made them bites instead.
   And they only take four ingredients, all of which are natural, and, for those interested, gluten free, dairy free, raw and organic. The image below shows the brands I used, simply because they were the first I'd found. Don't get confused, this post isn't sponsored by any of them! 

Makes 12 bites
1 bite: 40 cals, 7.5g carbs, 1g fibre, 1g protein
25g chestnut flour
20g hemp flour
10-15 pitted dates
1 tsp cinnamon


1. Chestnut bites are so easy to make. Put all of the dates into a blender or food processor and switch on for about 15 seconds. Add the chestnut flour, cinnamon and hemp flour and mix again. The dry ingredients will fly everywhere and it might seem a bit dry for a moment, but let it keep mixing. Switch it off after about 30 seconds and scrape down the sides if you'd like, then switch it back on.
   I'd never made anything like this before and thought it was all going wrong, but I just kept mixing it and it all soon formed a nice ball.

2. Remove your mixture from the blender or food processor and dump it on a sheet of grease-proof or silicon paper, then put another piece on top and roll the dough between them into a 4x4 inch square. This mix doesn't make a huge amount, as you can tell from the size of the square, but it does avoid potential spoiling or waste, and it's easy enough to increase the mixture.

3. Set the flattened dough into the fridge for a few hours, then remove and cut into 12 1-inch pieces. The easiest way is to cut it in half, then rotate it 90 degrees and cut it in half again, then do the same for those four squares.

   I finished mine with a small sprinkling of chestnut flour (which is white). I also added a few Wilton holly sprinkles to festive it up, but this is entirely optional.

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Friday 25 November 2016

Fitness Christmas Gift Guide

   I don't need to tell you that I'm obsessed with fitness. Not to the extent of being my healthiest self at every waking moment - I would die without chocolate and biscuits - but I certainly possess a passion for movement and physical challenges, as well as an appreciation for what eating healthily can do for you.
   It's difficult for people to indulge this passion in gift-form, however, and that doesn't just go for me, but for other health and fitness fanatics as well. And so I've put together a fitness gift guide full of lovely things to help you out should you have an irritating friend like me: one with a vey clear passion, but one which you can't get your head around and leaves you unsure where to turn when Christmas rolls around.
   So, if you're looking for gifts for health and fitness junkies, I've got your back.

  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11

   Every fitness junkie loves new kit, so this (1) Prana Henna E.C.O. yoga mat is a great gift for all fitness fans, be it for extra grip in post-workout stretches or as a soft surface for pilates, and hydration is essential for every form of exercise, so why not this gorgeous aqua (2) Sigg Viva water bottle? Footwear is also a great investment - most gym goers have only one or two pairs - and with ASICS consistently topping the bill in fitness footwear, their (8) Gel-Fit Sana is no exception. And just as loud and just as wonderful go are (4) Reebok's Studio Lux Urban Instinct leggings. And all this will fit snugly inside (10) Roxy's Sugar It Up duffle gym bag, along with this (3) 'Things I Can Do' workout journal.
   But don't let them neglect their recovery. Too many people skip their cool down and rush off out of the gym to see to their day-to-day. But cool downs are absolutely not a waste of time - if anything, they boost results - and these goodies will encourage them to give it a little more thought. (5) The GRID STK, a portable foam roller, is great for the more advanced gym-goers and avoids the need to have to use the gym's own foam rollers, and (6) The Oil Hut's exercise gift set is a real treat for soothing muscles after a particularly challenging workout. But you simply cannot beat a good old fashioned stretch, and Suzanne Bowen's new (9) BarreAmped Strengthen & Stretch DVD is the best there is, with yoga, barre and simply stretching routines ranging from 6 to 28 minutes. And while I admit that it's a little odd for me to look at a book like this, I saw it, picked it up and read it, and (7) Breathe by Jean Hall is a must for everyone, whether they do yoga, weights, crossfit or cycling, because breathing correctly makes up a good amount of your training. And, of course, no fitness junkie's wishlist would be complete without protein, and (11) Muscle Candy's blueberry protein shake is a must. It has absolutely no unnecessary ingredients, making it the perfect post-workout shake for the cleanest eaters, or as a great protein smoothie base.

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Thursday 24 November 2016

#DifferenceMakesUs - Listing

   Listing pieces is a tricky job. Most of my pieces share details - glass bottle, 'terrarium necklace', dimensions and so on - so it can be very difficult to write listings without using the same phrases. Copying a listing outright (using an existing listing as framework) seriously affects your position in search results both on and off of Etsy, and both the new listing and the original suffer.
   So I write them all from scratch, trying not to use the same phrases and I so often fail. You have to be aware of trends, think like a buyer, keep it all relevant and, above all else, be clear, and when I find something that works, it's difficult to rephrase it without losing its effectiveness.

   Some time early this year I started changing my listings a bit. Rather than just provide information on the necklace itself, I started including information about the animals they featured. Thinking about it, it must have been some time last year because all of my Christmas pieces had little information boxes when I came to relisting them this month.
   I thought it might help my work pop up in general animal google searches, too, but it also gives a nice bit of flavour to the listing itself. I try not to choose typical information, I like to try to provide interesting facts and either lesser-known details or things people aren't generally certain on. And some animals are better to do this with than others. My British Coasts collection was not particularly riveting - what is there to say about crabs? I did have a little more luck with hermit crabs specifically because I'd learned a couple of things about them from some documentaries (see the listing for yourself, lazy bum!). But it did prove to be the least interesting - no, we'll say 'most modest' - group of animals I've done.
   So when I write these listings, as well as contending with the usual relevancy rubbish that everyone seems to struggle with, I have to gather up interesting facts. I don't resent that, though; I really like having the facts there and I learn things, myself, in the process. I usually resort to the internet and my trusty animal book, but in some cases, such as the hyena, Breverton's Phantasmagoria comes in helpful. It's full of all kinds of myths an legends, including misconceptions about real creatures such as the hyena.

Previously: Product Photography    ♥    Next Up: Product Packaging & Post Run

And don't forget about my final Christmas order dates for domestic and international purchases!

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Etsy Black Friday Sale!

   I always participate in the Black Friday sale - it's only in the past few years that it's reached the UK, but since about half of my customers are overseas, it seems silly not to list my shop into the event. I'm taking the opportunity today to share the details, so if you've been holding off on buying Christmas gifts, now really is the time to do it!

Sale dates: November 24th - 29th
15% off of all products (excluding bundles and gift sets)
Code: BFCM1615
Free gift with all orders in the sale period

   This will be the last sale before Christmas, and we're also fast approaching some of the order deadline dates for Christmas delivery. Orders placed after these dates will be processed immediately and shipped out as soon as possible, and I will be making more frequent post runs, so they could easily still arrive in time, but I can't guarantee them. As a reminder, though they're also in my shop's policies and announcement box, here are the dates again:

USA & Rest of the world: December 2nd
Canada & Europe: December 9th
UK: December 16th

Wednesday 23 November 2016

The Healthy Taste of Christmas

   To my mind, there are three times in the year when you should certainly allow yourself to indulge and temporarily cast your healthy lifestyle into the breeze. These are: your own birthday (but allow yourself a nice meal and a slice of cake on your partner and best friend's birthdays, too), a holiday to another country with a unique menu consisting of ingredients or dishes you can't easily get at home, and, of course, Christmas.
   But the thing with Christmas is that there's not really any clear beginning or end to it. The shops put out their Christmas decorations in mid-September, chocolate gifts come out in mid-October, and the mince pies are abound by mid-November. But Christmas isn't until the end of December. So it can be hard to be good, especially if you love your Christmas tasties and want to make the most of them. But what you've got to realise is that a lot of that is in the flavour.
   That may be obvious, but it is in fact so obvious that it is constantly overlooked. Take a moment to consider the taste of Christmas: spices like ginger and cinnamon, oranges, roasted nuts and the like. In many cases these are combined with other things, but spiced fruit and nuts are extremely dominant in an English Christmas, just as speculaas spices are in the Netherlands. And you can do a lot with them to get a taste of Christmas without having to eat unhealthily.
   Or, at the very least it's a great way to balance out the indulgence. I'd be lying if I told you I said 'no' to any mince pie offered to me, so I like to use these following recipes and products to keep my healthy lifestyle in order on the run up to the big day without having to miss out. And in many cases, these options are just as good if not better than what is on the market at Christmas.

Clean & Healthy Homemade Christmas

Chestnut bites

Made from dates, hemp protein, chestnut flour and a sprinkling of cinnamon, these are a nutritious option for a deliciously chewy but nutty Christmas treat. The dates lend a light caramel taste, while the chestnut flour adds nuttiness and sweetness, which also makes it ideal to sprinkle over the top once finished as it doesn't have any bitter taste.
Full recipe here.

Apple pie porridge

Instead of adding any sugar or sweetener to your porridge, add in a teaspoon or two of apple puree (no added sugar) and a pinch of all spice and mix it in, and you've got yourself a wonderful winter pudding for breakfast! I cheat a little with Bootea's Little Oats because they're 150 calories per serving, have 7g of protein and are only slightly sweetened with xylitol. It's really mild, so you can really taste the apple puree and spices - and you can do the same with pumpkin puree to make a pumpkin spice porridge in the autumn! Make your own clean apple puree by peeling, coring and slicing an apple, putting it in a pan with enough water to cover it, bring it to the boil, then let simmer for 15-20 minutes, drain and mash with a fork. Let it cool then put it in a jar and store it in the fridge - this will yield about 10 teaspoons/6 heaped, making 5-6 servings at 10 calories each.
   Of course, if you want to be naughty on Christmas morning but don't want the trouble nor the calories from a full spread (perhaps you're saving yourself for Christmas dinner and two helpings of dessert - I really am in no position to judge), you could buy a lovely Hotel Chocolate tree decoration which contains three small chocolate snowflakes at just under 20 calories each (about 55 calories for all three), and pop them on top of your porridge. They melt in the most wonderful way: the outer edges soften and melt but then seem to reveal another smaller snowflake in the middle which you never noticed and takes a little longer to melt. I speak from the seasonal experience of three Christmas Eves.

Speculaas smoothie

It makes a wonderfully nutritious breakfast or snack - and if you swap the almond milk and cacao powder for a scoop of all-natural chocolate protein and 250ml water, it's a brilliant Christmas post-workout smoothie, too! It's easy to make, delicious and only mildly sweet - just as speculaas is supposed to be!
Full recipe here.

Healthy mince pie filling
Steps 2-5 of The Kitchen Shed's recipe for clean mince pies keeps it nice and simple with the juice of one clementine, one diced apple, some water, raisins, sultanas, mixed spice apricot preserve and, if you like, some pure maple syrup. Once cooled, you can stuff it in a jar and add it to greek yoghurt, porridge, smoothies or just make your own mince pies with the added clean sweet pastry recipe - at least you'll know what's in them!

Healthy Store-Bought Christmas

Nakd Christmas Pudding bars
These are simply perfect. Fruit and spices make up a great deal of the Christmas pudding taste, and given that these bars are made of nothing more than fruit, nuts and spices, all that's missing is a bit of fire and a sixpence. Truly, these capture the taste of the traditional Christmas pudding perfectly. And guess what else? One Nakd Christmas Pudding bar is less than 150 calories and counts as one of your 5 a day.

Graze's Speculoos Dipper
Graze can be trusted when it comes to wholesome ingredients, and their speculoos dipper is to die for. I absolutely love it. It's 19g of carbs but only 5g of sugar. The cinnamon biscuits are sugar-free and sweetener-free, instead the sweetness comes from the speculoos dip, and even that isn't particularly strong. It's more the spices and the texture that matters here, and my goodness it's worth it. It's also only 150 calories per punnet, and you can get them in their Graze Light boxes, and as a package of six from their store. I always have some of these on hand year-round, if I'm honest!

Green & Black's Maya Gold Chocolate
Dark chocolate means less sugar and more good things. Cocoa is renowned for health benefits, but it's often refined and over-produced and that means that what goodness was there has been drastically reduced, and with all the ingredients beyond cocoa added into chocolate bars, that means less room for the cocoa itself. But Green & Black's is known for high quality organic chocolate and for using only the most necessary ingredients - even the sugar is raw and unrefined - so their dark chocolate is still packed with goodness and the taste isn't compromised by anything artificial. Their 60% cocoa Maya Gold, in particular, has an unintentionally festive twist with orange, cinnamon, nutmeg and a hint of vanilla.

Twinings' Options hot chocolate
Options hot chocolate isn't necessarily "healthy", as it does have artificial sweeteners rather than all-natural ingredients, but a little bit of artificial stuff every now and then is fine and, given that the serving size is 11g and that you're not likely to have one every single day, it can easily be overlooked. Plus, if you're counting the calories, it's a hot chocolate for less than 50 calories, and to be completely honest, it may not be as thick as the hot chocolate in my local coffee shop, but it's certainly more tasteful than any of the others I've had. It comes in tubs and single-serving sachets for about 40p, and is available in a range of flavours, but I find the strawberry hot chocolate and orange hot chocolate to be the most festive. Add a handful of mini marshmallows and you've doubled the calories, but at 100, it's still less than half of a typical hot chocolate and much bigger on flavour.

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Alternative Christmas Gift Guide with Oxfam Unwrapped

   I've covered a few gift guides recently - foodies, animal lovers, fantasy lovers, and this Friday's is fitness - but after seeing a few unique gifts during my own Christmas shopping mission, I really wanted to put together an alternative gift guide, and Oxfam Unwrapped's campaign gave me the extra push to get on with it. Oxfam charity gifts aren't like other charity gifts - rather than buying stuff and allowing the profits to be used by the charity, these are more like animal adoptions. All of what you pay goes to the charity for the purpose you've selected, such as providing education in poorer countries, help with farming or giving a family the means to start up a business and gather their own income. They say Christmas is about giving - we should be conscious about the world around us all the time rather than wrapped up in our personal troubles, but that's just not human nature. So at least be sure, this Christmas, to consider the rest of the world around you - and not just poverty in other countries, but that around you, too.
   You'll appreciate your own Christmas all the more when you do.

1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12

   So make sure you do some good this Christmas. Oxfam Unwrapped's gift a goat is an excellent starting point. The goat provides a Nigerian family with milk to drink, as well as milk and goat cheese to sell, giving them a start to their own small business and income - not to mention the manure which they can use on their own fields, or sell to others for use on theirs.

   For the intellectual, or those of us who prefer to escape the world in the pages of a good book, this (3) book flower ring will appeal to book loving women of all ages. Available in a range of classic and fantasy titles, including Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, it's sure to appeal to every book worm - and with custom requests at just an additional £3, any title is a possibility, and only broken books are ever used.
   And if they aspire to pen their own creations, a set of (12) grammatically correct pencils will prevent any excuses for poor work, and this (7) worry eater will be a much needed companion for when the manuscripts start going out to agencies - a far more understanding alternative to a teddy bear.

   Socks and soap (or 'bathing gift sets') are staple Christmas gifts, but these (4) sushi socks are a cut above the rest, and you can never go wrong with toiletries from Lush - their (6) Father Christmas Lush bath bomb collection makes a great alternative to plain old soap or shower gel. Bath bombs are way more fun, especially when they release countless colours into the water!
   Oh, and forget those scented candles - this (11) hatching dragon candle is 9000 times better.

   Rather than a typical coffee mug, this (1) colour-change northern lights mug is a much better and far more impressive option. It reacts to the heat of its contents to reveal or conceal the aurora borealis! And instead of the usual earl grey to accompany it, how about some (8) monkey picked tea? Or, if they like their tipple and hide it in a coffee mug, (9) Phoenix Tears spiced rum is an interesting alternative to a bottle of wine. It's glittery, too.
   Then there are the best gifts is the rest of the food. The Christmas pudding is not for everyone - it isn't for me - but this (2) belgian chocolate christmas pudding with a runny chocolate centre might brighten the faces of the younger generation at this year's Christmas dinner. And for an alternative to chocolates, and truly a more nutritious one, (10) gourmet spiced apple cider popcorn is certainly going to be a more impressive gift, and perfect for the Boxing Day movie.

#DifferenceMakesUs - Product Photography

   You never truly appreciate how important good product photographs are until you put together gift guides or using Etsy's old 'treasury' feature - visual lists of up to 16 products arranged in a four by four square. You can find all kinds of nice products across the internet, but those with cluttered or even just coloured backgrounds can be difficult to incorporate into a curation and often get left out, unless the backgrounds work with the overall collection, but that is rarely the case.
   Of course, when you get into the technical and psychological side of it, white backgrounds are used in the vast majority of product photography for a few simple reasons:
1. White backgrounds keep focus on the product - where you really want people to be looking.
2. It makes online shops as a whole more cohesive, and means that, if you do add a background to a picture or photograph a product in use, it's much more obvious rather than a chaotic mess.
3. It makes online shops as a whole easier to navigate. You can clearly see each product rather than a tangle of colours and shapes.
4. It works with every single product.
   It didn't take me long to realise this, but it makes me quite sad when I'm on Etsy and see some amazing products with terrible pictures because I'm not at all likely to share them, and I don't usually pin things. If I share Etsy products, I do it on my blog and then share that post on twitter, facebook and pinterest.

   To get clean, crisp white backgrounds can be a challenge. Fortunately my products are small since it's just jewellery, so I have many options. Generally a lightbox is advised - a small box white on all sides with a white light shining from above. You can buy them, or you can make them out of some cereal boxes, white paper and a diffused desk light with a white bulb. The white sides reflect the light back all around and a soft or diffused white light softens shadows.
   But I don't use them. Once again, I work more spartan. Instead I just use a plain A4 sheet of white paper and my conservatory. It's built at the back of the house, which means direct sunlight doesn't get in until the afternoon, and because this is England, there's an awful lot of cloud. The cloud acts as a natural diffuser, softening the light and preventing anything direct, giving me soft shadows and, subsequently, softer colours in my images which are easier to edit back to their true colours. It also means that the 'cloudy' setting on my camera is pretty reliable.

   I use GIMP to edit my pictures, which is entirely free. No Photoshop to be found here! And because English weather and my camera's 'cloudy' setting is so reliable, very little editing needs to be done. Generally it's just rotating the image if it isn't straight, improving the light, removing any specks from the background I may not have noticed at the time, and, of course, ensuring that the colours are as accurate as they can be.
   It can be difficult to get a perfectly white background every time, though. Sometimes the cloud is thicker than usual and pictures turn out darker, and to get a white background, I end up over-exposing the colours and increasing contrast, or alternatively washing the colours out. So sometimes I just make do with a very light grey. You'll probably notice that snowy pieces are less likely to have perfectly white backgrounds, and that's because the post-processing affects the snow more than I want it to. Rather than have an over-white and subsequently invisible jar, I settle, once again, for a very light grey.

Previously: Jars    ♥    Next Up: Listing

And don't forget about my final Christmas order dates for domestic and international purchases!

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Monday 21 November 2016

Etsy Finds - Woodcut Wonderland

This collection really fell together. I found three pieces that all happened to have a fairytale or fantasy theme to them, all made from wood. So I went hunting for a fourth, which I found easily enough, and here we are!

I have no woodcuts nor fairytale pieces to add to this collection, but my book flower jewellery almost counts! They're made from paper, strengthened and sealed, and are made from a range of books, and if you'd like one I don't have stocked, it's easily done for an extra £3.
I have a full set of my own made from The Sapphire Rose (Eddings) when the book fell apart.


NaBloPoMo November 2016