Thursday, 28 June 2018

BetterYou Magnesium Foot Soak & Inflatable Bath Review

   Ohh, heaven. I write this introduction upon my laptop, my next novel open on the window behind this one, Our Zoo on the TV and an evening cup of Chateau Rouge's Butterfly Lovers green tea beside me while my feet soak in a lovely magensium bath after three weeks of hard work with Core de Force. It's a workout not to be underestimated and has been totally worthy of filling my break from resistance training. My muscles are feeling it. But with so much work to do on my book cover before I can get my most recently completed title out by the end of next month, and my gallery exhibit having only just gone up, I haven't had the time to stop. I admit that the only reason I'm writing this post right now instead of continuing with my work on the huldra's domain is because I wanted to get across how wonderful this moment is.
   Oh and Seeg just handed me a piece of Cote d'Or. It just got better.


   Did you know that 64% of women skip their cool down after a workout? And only a few less than that skip their warm up? Both of these might seem needless if you already have to resort to a 20-minute express workout to squeeze it into your day - and indeed there's no such thing as a bad workout; an express workout is infinitely better than nothing - but they're both crucial in preventing injury. Even if it's a workout you've done a million times, all it takes is one slip up on form and you'll pull something, and that will compromise your next workout. A warm-up doesn't have to take long - 2-3 minutes of high knees, jumping jacks, toe touches and hip twists is perfectly good. The cool down, on the other hand, ought to take a bit longer (I usually take about 20 minutes, but I like to get deep into stretches and then I just sort of...stay there...). The stretching helps to release tension and build up of lactic acids from the muscles, and the deep breathing helps bring you back to yourself, wind down, lower the heart rate and relax the body, easing the work it has to do to repair the muscles and bones. And while the work is what triggers the change, the recovery is where it happens.

   There are a few short-cuts, though. Nothing that can replace warm-ups and cool-downs, but a few things that can reduce the strain, and my favourite by far is a magnesium soak. Buuuut again we step into the realms of time consumption (even though time tends to stand still when you're in the bath). So what do we do?
   A foot soak.


   Magnesium is absorbed both internally, by way of food and supplements, and also transdermally through the skin, into the blood and the distributed throughout the body. While it doesn't beat oral consumption, it's not too far off and is infinitely more relaxing. And when you don't have time for a bath, a foot soak is a wonderful option. Especially during a heat wave...
  BetterYou is my favourite brand for magnesium salts because theirs is mined from 1-mile deep European sea deposits in the Netherlands that are over 250 million years old (yes I'm nerding out a little bit over that), and the natural filtering and condensing that occurs in the rock means there's absolutely no man-made pollutants to contaminate them. They are the purest and most easily absorbed of magnesium deposits, meaning they're also the best you can use for sports recovery, when you want to get the most out of it.
   That said, time-of-the-month cramps can also be alleviated in this way, since magnesium levels in the body drop during the second half of your monthly cycle. And a little bit of pampering and home-spa treatment is always a good idea at that point.

   Of course, a foot soak lends a new problem - a minor one, but one I hadn't considered until I set out to actually have the foot soak: a container. I had nothing but the sink bowl. Not ideal, but it had to do. Fortunately, though, BetterYou also have an inflatable footbath, of which I am now a very happy owner. Inflatable sides and, more importantly, bottom for cushioning, it's fully collapsable, portable and non-intrustive, has carry handles and a water-fill line. The PVC is also very soft, strong and anti-bacterial, and can be inflated by mouth or with a hand pump.


   Using this for my second foot bath has been a pleasure. It's also meant that the recommended 20 minutes become 40, but that also goes to show just how convenient the foot bath is. Use it outside in the summer, on the grass, the patio, the decking, or stick it beneath your desk while you work (provided you move and cover electric cables and sockets prior to filling). Or in front of the sofa.
   I always feel better in my body after a magnesium bath, and the foot bath left me feeling just as good. My muscles are always lighter and looser, tightness is gone, cramps are alleviated and then there are the general up-lifting capabilities of a soak, be it body or feet, and the oh-so joyous coolness that comes when you pull your feet out and dry them off. But always put on clean socks. It just adds to the joy.

   BetterYou's inflatable foot bath is £9.95 and their magnesium salt flakes £3.49 and can be purchased directly from their website as well as health and well-being stores like Dolphin Fitness and Holland and Barrett. Or buy the magnesium foot bath and salts bundle and get the salts for free - but only on their website! Truly, for the purity of the salts alone, I highly recommend them. Your body - and your soul - will thank you.


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.



Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Prickly Pear & Pitaya Protein Pancakes

   Pretty, aren't they? Perfectly palatable. And it's pancakes, this time, not porridge.
   Yes, I've been playing with prickly pears again, and this time some dragonfruit has slipped into the mix. Its own subtle sweetness paired with the watermelon-like prickly pear makes for a wonderfully refreshing flavour you wouldn't expect to find in a pancake, and yet at the same time feels as though it should have been there all along. It's a really wonderful recipe for summer pancakes, and you can adapt your favourite pancake recipe (or dry mix - I'm guilty of frequently turning towards Flapjacked's buttermilk protein pancake mix) to work with it. I've included a basic recipe below with 10g of protein - it makes about 4 pancakes and serves one, so no waste nor temptation to overload on breakfast.


   Prickly pear can be a nuisance. It's riddled with seeds, and those seeds are big and solid. Not pleasant to chew. That said, while I'm happy to include the seeds in my porridge - in fairness, porridge takes minimal chewing - here I was a little more wary. While there are no prickly pear seeds in the pancakes, they remain in the pulp on top, though it's a totally optional detail. Instead, while I cooked and softened the entire fruit for my prickly pear & blueberry porridge, here I strained the juice out of one fruit and reserved the pulp with a sieve. If you'd rather more juice and little to no pulp, you can always put the fruit in a blender and strain the seeds out instead. It would be quicker, and you'd get all the fibre stuffed directly into the pancakes instead, but I preferred the pulp and seeds. Because I am foolish brave.
   Dragonfruit seeds, however, are no trouble at all, so you needn't worry about all those teeny, tiny little things. I used a melon baller to get the little scoops of dragonfruit. It has a very similar consistency to avocado, and you prep it the same way. It's very low in carbs (about 9g per 100g fruit) and loaded with protein, polyunsaturated fats, B-vitamins and antioxidants, so it's a really great addition to any breakfast. It's difficult to source, though - like prickly pears, you don't generally find them sitting in any old green grocer's or supermarket - but this dragonfruit was also purchased for the intention of some rather special themed porridges I've been working on, so I tracked them down from Fine Food Specialist. It's not cheap, but a dragonfruit generally weighs about 200g and across two porridges and these pancakes, I've used a little over half of the single fruit I bought. It's freezable, too - see my notes below.

Ingredients
Serves 1
1 serving dry protein pancake mix
or
30g oat flour, 10g protein powder & 1/4 tsp baking soda
40ml skimmed milk
30g dragonfruit - about 5 melonballed pieces. Reserve a few balls for decoration if desired.
1 prickly pear
Optional 10g white chocolate
Optional light cream, 25g


Method
1. Either puree/juice the prickly pear in your blender, or chop into pieces with 2 tbsp water in a pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Mash to a pulp with a fork (don't drain).

2. Set the pureed/mashed pear in a strainer over a bowl and push it around/continue to mash it to press out all of the juice. Ultimately, you're removing the seeds. Transfer the juice to a measuring jug, add 40ml milk and top up with water until you have a total of 80ml liquid (or however much your pancake mix requires).

3. Make the pancake batter. Combine the oat flour, protein powder and baking soda in a bowl and mix. Slowly add the liquid, stirring all the while.

4. Mash the dragonfruit and combine into the mix. The seeds here are fine.

5. Allow to thicken for 5 minutes, and heat a frying pan over medium-low heat, add a drop of coconut oil and then spoon in some of the batter. Cook for 2 minutes, then flip, cook for 2-3 more minutes.
   I actually prefer to bake mine (kind of removes the whole 'pan'cake thing, but there we go), so I preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180 C/350 F, line a baking sheet with paper and spoon 4 pancakes onto it, and bake on the middle shelf for 10 minutes. Longer if need be.

6. Chop your white chocolate if using and sprinkle between each pancake as you stack them. Top with dragonfruit, prickly pear pulp and cream, if desired.


Notes
• I used 1 Hotel Chocolate white chocolate baton (8g), cut first into quarters (one for each pancake) and then chopped each into pieces.
• I sourced my dragonfruit and prickly pears from Fine Foods Specialist.
How to prepare prickly pear.
How to prepare & store dragonfruit.


Nutrition
With above pancake mix recipe, no cream, no chocolate
226 cals, 3.5g fat (0.5g sat), 35.5g carbs (8.5g natural sugars), 7.5g fibre, 17g protein




Friday, 22 June 2018

How to Feed Your Inner Creativity (And Be Unique About It)

    I write. All. The. Time. Not a day goes by when I don't, and if I don't manage to get anything substantial done for one reason or another, I start to panic a little. I worry that I've lost the flow. I've recently discovered that, instead of trying to force it day after day for a week or more, if I take time out to turn off and play a video game even just for one afternoon, my creativity gets replenished in its entirety. It's the strain of trying to churn out consistently good work that can hamper the results, and it's a trial, especially when you're putting it all on yourself. I have no deadlines but the ones I've set myself, so needless stress is also a factor when it comes to stifling my own creativity.
   That aside, I do hear my friends and family ask how I can be so creative all the time - writing, designing book covers, making jewellery (which recently gained its second gallery showing), even porridge recipes - and manage to be unique about it, rather than copying the same things I've seen a million times everywhere else, and the truth is, it isn't easy, but the main thing is knowing yourself. Knowing what you love, what you enjoy, and not trying to force fads and whatever might sell into your work. Yes, I need my books and jewellery to sell, but it won't do that if I'm making or writing the same things as everyone else.
   But while it's all well and good to say "know what you like, and do it," it's another thing to translate it from virtual to actual. You just have to be willing to try things, to fail, to practice and get better, and accept when something's just not for you and move on to the next thing you want to try.
   But, again, all this is harder for some people than others - even just the matter of knowing where to start and how to get those creative juices flowing. I've learned little tricks that can help, even if they don't seem like they would. Like the above - taking time away from creativity to recharge it. But environment and outlook also have a big role. I work best in natural light, as most people do, but a lot of my writing is done in the evening with shop work done in the day; I work best in silence, but I get many ideas through music. It's learning what works for you. But there are a number of things that can stifle creativity, and mess is one of mine.

   This post by Emily Roberts covers a few of the basics, from things you can do right now, like putting your phone down, all the way to the more dedicated like taking a course in a new skill. It's easy to fill in the gaps between the leaps and bounds, but these four points alone will leave you perfectly equipped to get onto the creativity train.


--------- 


   For many people out there, one of the hardest things they are faced with today is finding a way to be true to their inner creativity and really stand out and be unique. In a world of so many people, personalities, interests, and backgrounds, sometimes it can be hard to not feel as though you get lost in the crowd and just blend in.
   Being true to yourself involves getting in touch with your inner creativity, what makes you so special, and what makes you different from the rest. So how do you go about doing this, and how do you do it in a way that doesn’t come off too “out there” or too “bold”? Here are some ways you can really feed that inner creativity that will allow your own uniqueness to bloom in a natural way.


Find a Place That Inspires You

   For many people, getting in touch with their inner creativity isn't just a simple and quick process. If you've never tried getting in touch with it before, then your creativity may be a bit stifled. If that's the case then it can be helpful to find a place that inspires you, is comfortable, and makes you feel passionate, happy, or relaxed.
   This place could be a comfortable reading nook in your apartment/house, it could be a favourite park of yours, a coffee shop, out in the country, or just whatever works for you and gets your ideas flowing.


Start Making Your Own Clothes

   If you’re tired of buying the same things that everyone else is wearing and you feel those styles either don’t represent who you are, or they just don’t flatter you, then it’s time to stop settling and instead look for ways you can customise your clothing and accessories and start making your own. When you make your own clothing, you will be in charge of the material that is used, the print and colours, the fit, and the style. You get to become your own fashion designer in a sense, which is incredibly creative.
   Making your own clothing isn’t always as difficult as it may seem. You can start with small and simple projects such as t-shirts, skirts, and pull on shorts or trousers. You can even make use of the creative clothing hang tags that Griffes Vivienne supply which will ensure they have that unique feel that you are striving for.


Live in the Now and Put Down Your Mobile Device

   Another tip is to live in the now, pay attention to what's happening around you, look for inspiration and passion, and really connect with the moment. This can only be done when you put down your digital devices and stop worrying about that digital world.


Take a Course in Something that Requires Creativity

   If you’re still having a hard time connecting with your creativity, you may find it useful to enrol in a course that requires creativity. This can be something such as a painting course, cooking course, dance class, etc. Whatever helps you to relax and get in touch with that other side of yourself.
   Feeding your inner creativity can feel a bit strange at first, especially if you aren’t used to it, but it’s a side of yourself that deserves attention and can help you to feel more complete and fulfilled.



Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Prickly Pear & Blueberry Porridge

   I've been working on some new porridge recipes lately, but I've been storing them all up for the upcoming release of a game. Yes, you read that correctly, I'm holding back porridge recipes for a video game. I have 4 of them, and while I thought I had only 1 more to do, I recently decided to add three more. But they're good fun and some are quite unique, and they've led me to buying some rather unusual fruits. One of which has become a recent breakfast obsession, if just because I couldn't get any fewer than 10 pieces.
   Prickly pears.
   Yes, the fruit of a cactus. I bought 10 heads, used just 2 for the porridge in mind and then had 8 left to play with. So I did just that, taking the obvious step of combining it with my other favourite fruit, blueberries, into my favourite breakfast, porridge. You are welcome.


   Prickly pear tastes like a combination of watermelon and bubblegum, but I find it leaning more towards watermelon, so, if you hate watermelon, you won't be fond of prickly pear. That said, if you hate the taste of watermelon but love to spit the seeds, then prickly pear can offer you more of that same pointless, dead-end relationship.
   Prickly pears are usually magenta. Yes, truly, that colour is real. So combining it with blueberries creates the most gorgeous lilac colour you ever did see. Except perhaps on lilacs. They're also super high in fibre, with about 4g of fibre per fruit and only 1g of sugar for the 10g of carbs, and are loaded with vitamin C, B-vitamins, magnesium and potassium, to name a few. So, with that taste (usually used to make sweets and confectionary in Mexico), that colour and that profile, how can it not become your new favourite fruit?!
   Well, I suppose those sharp spines could put people off. Then there's the itchy cactus hairs...but if you buy them from a reliable place rather than gathering your own if you can find them, you can bypass that terrible discomfort. I went to Fine Foods Specialist because it was the only place in the UK I could find them.


Ingredients
Serves 1
30g rolled oats (or preferred)
75ml water
100ml skimmed milk
20g whey protein
2 tbsp water
2 prickly pears
50g blueberries


Method
1. Cut the ends off of your prickly pears, then cut a slit down the side of the fruit and peel away the skin. Chop the fruit into chunks, setting some aside for garnish if desired, and set in a saucepan with 2 tbsp water. Heat over medium-low for 10 minutes, then mash to a pulp with a fork.

Overnight Oats
2. Combine the rolled oats and whey in a bowl (or shaker bottle) and, stirring all the while, slowly add the skimmed milk (or add liquid to the bottle, shake to combine and transfer into a bowl).

3. Mix in the mashed prickly pears, then add the blueberries. Set in the fridge overnight.

4. Heat if desired the following morning by stirring in 50ml water and heat in the microwave for 1 minute, stir, then heat for 20-30 second bursts until desired consistency, then serve.

Oats on the Hob
2. Boil the water.

3. Combine the rolled oats and whey in the pan with the mashed prickly pears. Slowly, stirring all the while, add the milk, then 75ml boiled water, then blueberries.

4. Bring the pan to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer for 15-20 minutes, until desired consistency is reached.

5. Transfer to a bowl and serve.


Notes
• I used Pulsin Premium Whey.
• I sourced my prickly pears from Fine Foods Specialist.
How to cut and prepare prickly pears.


Nutrition
346 cals, 3.5g fat (0.5g sat), 51g carbs (12.5g natural sugars), 12g fibre, 28.5g protein, 2.5 of 5 a day




Monday, 18 June 2018

Cheng - Kim Loke Gallery, Exhibit 2018

   Yes, that's right, my second art exhibit in the Cheng - Kim Loke Gallery in WWT Slimbridge is up! We all headed out there yesterday morning - Father's Day and my 1 month wedding anniversray - and my husband and I set it all up! I was so nervous the first time I did this back in 2015, but this year I was so very calm but for a brief pang of nerves as I walked through the door. But, having had experience with the gallery and generally setting up an exhibit, this time went much smoother and quicker. Although, I'm credited as Kim Wedlock rather than my brand spanking new name, but we won't worry about that! I'm continuing to publish my books under that name, anyway.


   I've got 6 plinths displaying 96 of my animal jar/wildlife terrarium necklaces, and they feature brand new pieces as well as those from past collections. Some pieces sold out fast on Etsy, like my leaf-nosed bats or my puffins, and others are still for sale like the fox cub and emperor penguin chick. All pieces are available for sale direct from the gallery, a portion of which goes to the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, and it runs from June 17th to September 14th.
   It was wonderful setting up, too. As Seeg and I worked along the plinths, people came and peered in behind us, and about 10 minutes after we'd put the final casing back on, and we probably looked like general visitors, a kid about 15, one who didn't look as though he'd be interested at all, peered into the furthest plinth from us, smiled, stepped back, took out his phone and took a picture of the whole display. It. Made. Me. So. Happy.
   When someone purchases a piece - parting with hard-earned money - it's the ultimate compliment. BUT, I sell online, which means I never see people looking and smiling at my stuff, I never hear the praise or the gasps of surprise. So, actually, this gallery exhibit gives me something I value just as much, if not more: the knowledge that even people who aren't looking to buy like it.


   It's been a source of stress on top of everything else, but as it was booked in about a year and a half ago, I've been able to seriously spread out the work - and now that the collection and set-up is done, I finally have some free time on my hands!
   I'm still working on the cover of my next book, and it's taking a while because I'd always rather write than draw, but it's a necessity if I want to get it out on the shelves. Who wants a coverless book?! So I'm still plodding away on that, and now I have more time for it.
   I'm also still writing the book that will follow, of course, and I'm about half way, which is just great. I'm really enjoying it and I am so confident that this trilogy is so much stronger than The Archguardians of Laceria. Every single day I just can't wait to get to work on it! I honestly can't fathom people who don't write. It sounds silly, but I genuinely can't work out what they think about all day...
   Oh, and, if you didn't catch it, I found Core de Force so awesome that the initial plan of using it as a 2-week hiatus from resistance training has collapsed into a full month of use before I start my next training plan. I practically leap out of bed on a morning, raring to go!

   Needless to say, I'm feeling pretty good...
   *enter pessimism* Something awful is going to happen, isn't it?



Saturday, 16 June 2018

Core de Force - 2 Weeks Later

   It had been my plan to take a 2-week hiatus from resistance training to avoid burn-out and finally try a DVD I'd been given for Christmas. I had expected Core de Force to be intense - it's by BeachBody, creators of P90-X and Insanity - and so I'd thought that 2 weeks would be more than enough time to burn out on that and remember why I love resistance training so much, all while still getting in some pretty good workouts.
   Well, I was wrong on that second count. It was intense, and I've been getting in amazing workouts. But 2 weeks wasn't enough for me to grow to hate it. I have my new resistance plan all drawn up and ready to go, and the thought of it excites me. But, do you know what? So does the thought of a gruelling 30-minute Muay Thai circuit workout. I know, crazy, right? But with 3 discs and 6 workouts between them, not counting bonus ab workouts, active recovery workouts and stretching routines, it was a bit much to expect to get fed up after just 8 uses. You could also say "how different can they all be?" Well, very. No single workout feels like another, but they're all just as intense, all MMA inspired - boxing, kickboxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu and Muay Thai - and all serious sweat-fests that leave you broken the next day.


   And so it is with only a touch of hesitation that I make the declaration that I will continue to use Core de Force for another 2 weeks and start my new training routine on Monday 2nd July.
   I could burn out at the end of next week, but I'm sticking with it all the same. I haven't sweat this much in a long time, which feels great, but I'm also learning so much from these DVDs, an abundance of new moves (I had no idea half of these existed) as well as escapes and defensive stances which rarely come up in martial arts workouts, but here they're worked into the sequences. It's all well and good to be able to hit, but you have to have a few ways of getting out of range, and if you don't practice them, you'll never have the speed to apply them.

   So, consider this my 2-weeks-later, with another post in 2 more weeks and a DVD review. While my plan for a 2-week break flopped, I've found something immensely effective and such good fun to do that I just don't care. I'm sure I'll be sick of it at the end of the month, but that's what I'm after, and my new resistance plan is all ready for me.



Thursday, 14 June 2018

#InShapeMyShape

   We are constantly bombarded with pictures of 'perfection'. With celebrities whose career partially relies on them looking good, who have the money to hire trainers, and the promise of a big paycheck from continued roles in films and editorial features as long as they maintain their beauty. But, often times, it doesn't end there. They're so frightened of losing their beauty that it leads to the extremes of plastic surgery. Because even they are subject to these ideas of 'perfection'.
   It's easy, in that case, for anyone think they're 'supposed' to look a certain way, and judge themselves by the one-size-fits-all of celebrities. But real people aren't like that, and we're beginning to see that more and more as social media continues to ride its wave.
   Of course, it's still all too easy to get in your own head, and once you're there, that little voice doesn't just set up camp, it builds a freaking palace. Because that voice is arrogant and is convinced it will win. Because it thinks it's louder than you.

   The first step is to realise, understand and accept the simple biological fact that no one's body is the same. Even twins vary. Our genetic make-up, our surroundings, our own individual combination of DNA - it all impacts our bodies and minds. But we're all capable of doing the same things, going through the same motions, and if you want to change, it's all on you. Nothing can stop you. See Tatsiana Khvitsko, or Danny Mardell.

   That first step leads onto the second: realising, understanding and accepting that one person's fit isn't another's.
   Some irritating people are naturally slim, and they'll tone up easily. Others store fat more easily and muscle, while present, may always be hidden under a thin layer of squish. Even the fittest, slenderest person may not be capable of growing abs or a thigh-gap. Some people's bones are aligned differently (I knew a boy in school whose ribcage was at about a 30 degree angle) and one person's hips may be sharper or rounder or wider than another's. A size 8 on one person may be sleek and toned. A size 8 on another may be squishy.
   You could be Jillian Michaels. You could be Cassey Ho. You could be Iskra Lawrence. Fit, healthy and happy women with completely different fit, healthy, happy bodies.

   I never really noticed this until I used fitness DVDs. Jillian Michaels has lots of different women in her videos and so many of them have very different fit bodies, down to their choice of personal training, diet, needs, lifestyle and DNA. But they're all fit. They're all healthy. They're all happy. Some are thicker, others are smaller-framed; some are clearly strong, others would surprise you; some are flexible, others are not; some are flat-chested, others are not.
   It was while using Kickbox FastFix that this fact finally hit home.

   It's still too easy to compare yourself to others in the world we live in now, and social media makes it even easier. But, if you let it, it can also be a source of inspiration. As I said, everyone's fit body is different. Look around, make peace with it, and learn to love what you have.
   At the end of the day, it makes no damned difference to the world if your body looks like Jillian's or Iskra's, as long as you're healthy and happy. And if you've put the work in to it, then you have no reason to feel bad.

   I admit, I suffer with this big-time. It has never stopped. I compare myself to others, and I try to find fitness inspirants who have bodies similar to mine to remind myself that I may not ever be what I originally dreamed, but that's no bad thing. But I'm still doing it wrong. Because it's not their body, it's mine. Some workouts just don't work for me, others work wonders; certain foods disagree with me. Then there's the fact that I suffer from migraines which mean that over-exercising or under-eating will do me more immediate damage than others, which means that, while some people can take things to unhealthy extremes, I can't. And even though I know I should be pleased with what is essentially an alarm that I have and other people don't, I have resented it in the past. Because I've gotten that desperate.

   I used to think that a size 8 was slim, firm and perfect. I was a size 16 back then.
   Well, I'm a size 8 now. And I've still got a good layer of belly fat. There's still a bit of jiggle on my upper arms. I avoid the mirror whenever I can. That single, blurry picture of a weighted squat lift two/three weeks ago was an immense achievement.
   But so what? I've got good, strong legs, but I'll never have a thigh gap. I've got strong arms, but I doubt they'll have any clear definition. I have a bum. And I have no negative to add on to that, though, because I never used to have anything back there at all. No junk. No trunk at all, in fact. And recognising that massive achievement right there is what I always forget to do: to look at where I am, how far I've come, not how far I have to go.

   I'll still work towards all these possibly-unobtainable goals, but in the process I'm learning to accept the fact that, if I never get them, it won't be because I haven't tried. It's because they're not part of my fit body. My shape. In shape. Instead, my fit body is, simply, my fit body. It is what it is. It is stronger, faster and sleeker than what it was. And it can be so much more. It might not look like I expected it to, but it already feels better than I expected it to.


   #InShapeMyShape.



Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Chocolate Hazelnut Porridge of the Forest

   Inspired quite directly by my wedding cake, this chocolate hazelnut porridge is decadent, but it's also healthy. With a steel-cut oat base blended with cacao (or chocolate protein powder) and ground hazelnuts, it's certainly nutty, and the added topping of ground pistachios gives it another level of nuttiness and texture. There is also 1 Oreo - yes, I used Oreos on my wedding cake, but everything else was totally made from scratch, and they weren't used in any tacky, obvious way, either. And the single Oreo is the only added sugar to be found in this porridge, and is totally optional. The biscuit has been separated and crumbled into 'dirt', and the cream has been scraped off and moulded into toadstools. It adds a burst of sweetness, but the dirt is so finely crumbled that it does little to add texture, it just looks and tastes good - but as both the 'dirt' and toadstools are on top, they're not present in the porridge itself and won't be missed if you decide to miss it out. I've made this porridge twice now - once with, once without, and I didn't miss it.



   You'll notice that I've strayed from my usual rolled oats in favour of steel-cut (also called Irish oats and pin-head oats). Not only are these virtually the whole oat, barely processed, but they also have their own vaguely nutty taste which adds to the overall nuttiness of the porridge. The wedding cake contained no flour, only ground hazelnuts and almonds, but of course we need oats to make porridge. So what better type of oat than nutty steel-cut? There is no compromise.

Ingredients
Serves 1
30g steel-cut/pinhead/Irish oats
10g ground hazelnuts
20g chocolate whey protein (or plain whey & 10g cacao)
100ml skimmed milk
100ml water
Sweetener of choice (if not using sweetened protein)
10 pistachios, chopped (approximately 7g)
1 Oreo
Optional Snapdragon flowers


Method:
1. Boil the water.

2. Combine oats, hazelnuts, sweetener and whey in a saucepan. Then, stirring all the while, slowly add the milk.

3. Add the water, stirring slowly again, and set over medium heat and bring to a boil.

4. Reduce to a simmer for 15-20 minutes.

For Overnight Oats: 5. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and leave overnight. Reheat on the stove the following morning.

To Decorate:
6. Sprinkle the pistachios in a moss-like arrangement.

7. Take one Oreo and split the biscuits. Scrape off the cream and roll it into a ball. It helps to have dry hands. Split the ball into 1/3 and 2/3. Split the 1/3 into three more pieces to make stalks. Split the 2/3 into three pieces to make toadstool caps and press them onto the stalks.

8. Take the biscuits and grind them up. Putting them in a ziploc bag and using a rolling pin over them is the quickest and easiest way.

9. Sprinkle the biscuit over the porridge like dirt.

10. When ready to serve, set the toadstools in place. Don't do this too soon, as they will begin to melt. If taking pictures (I learned the hard way), get everything ready, camera included, then add the toadstools.


Notes:
• I used PhD Nutrition's chocolate Diet Whey. Otherwise I use Pulsin premium whey and Aduna raw cacao powder.
• I only ended up using half of the Oreo biscuit crumbs, but I've used the entire Oreo in the nutrition below.
• I sourced my snapdragon flowers from Fine Foods Specialist. They arrive in a punnet. To help them stay fresh for a few days longer, take an air-tight box, fold a kitchen paper towel to fit, wet it and lay it in the bottom. Arrange flowers on top of it, then add another wet kitchen towel on top. Arrange more flowers on top, then lay another towel. Keep going until you have all the flowers you wish to keep (they very likely won't all be in perfect condition, but you'll receive about 15-20 flowers) and ensure that a towel is over the top layer, then close the lid and set in the fridge.


Nutrition
400 calories, 13.5g fat (2g sat), 33.5g carbs (10g sugar - 5g of which added), 6g fibre, 29.5g protein




Sunday, 10 June 2018

The Wedding Cake

   I'd mentioned on the run-up how nervous I was about the wedding cake. I made everything involved in the wedding, cake included, and I wanted something beyond the usual and all-too-easy chocolate sponge. I wanted something Seeg would love. He is a praline fiend - he has made me into one, too - so I figured chocolate, hazelnuts and praline was the best route to take. But how?
   I googled a few things and I kept finding similar recipes for hazelnut praline cakes, with the dominant factor being ground hazelnuts in place of flour. Completely. This was scary. I'd never used anything but flour, and I was wary of it being dense, not rising, or rising and then collapsing, being too dry, etc. But I really wanted to make it.


   A test-run was necessary. So I took a couple of recipes, merged them together (that's right - I'd never made it before and I was daring to make adjustments!), and cut the recipe down to 1 egg rather than 6. I made two tiny 3 inch cakes. They rose well, they looked good, they were surprisingly moist and, above all else, they tasted great. But that final point is all the test-run really proved. Cutting the recipe down so drastically and using smaller tins and a shorter cooking time all meant that something could still go wrong on the main cake.
   So I had a back-up plan: Love Brownies. They were always delicious, and they're decadent enough. I figured a couple of boxes would be a good fall-back if I purchased the quickest possible delivery. But I wouldn't know, of course, until I made the cake itself 2 days before the wedding. Yikes.

   So, I was nervous when I got up that Tuesday morning, but I set to work all the same. And I couldn't believe my luck. The cakes - both 8 inches - came out perfectly. No collapsing, no refusal to leave the tin, no crumbling, etc. They each came out in one piece. But they could still wind up dry on the day, or not taste the same. I had no way of knowing until after the wedding.
   And baking the cake was only half the battle. Next came decorating - something I'm generally better at than baking, but still something that could go wrong, especially since I had tried to make a tree stump cake in the past and it was not great to look at...
   But I set to that on Wednesday with the same anxiety and resignation.

   First I made a praline paste. This is also something I'd never done before, but something I'd always wanted to try, and while it wasn't vital to the finished piece, it did add a new layer of decadence.
   I combined 100g unrefined sugar with 1/6 cup of water in a saucepan, let it caramelise then combined it with 100g whole roasted hazelnuts, lay it out on a tray and let it cool. I then whacked it all in a blender and mixed it for about 15 minutes, scraping the sides every minute, and hoped for the best. After going crumbly, then dry and gritty, it finally became a paste. It just took a long time.
   I called Seeg down and had him take a taste. Now, he is hard to please - I'd said this before - so he had a small amount, was quite for a moment, then 'mm'd thoughtfully. He admitted afterwards that it was fake. But the second 'mm' was genuine, and the third was in surprise. He said it tasted like nothing at first, then a trickle of sweet came, and then a burst of nutty flavour. He loved it.

   I put a nice, thick layer in between the cakes (and had plenty left over for many various dessert toppings over the following weeks) and set to making a cream.
   I heated 300ml heavy cream then poured it over 200g almond milk chocolate (Green & Black's, thank you), stirred it together and spooned it on top of the paste.


   I sandwiched the two cakes together most happily.
   Then came the real decoration.
   I let the cream thicken and cool, grew impatient and whipped it, which was a mistake because it lightened the colour. But there was no going back, so I made do.
   Seeg and I are not all that keen on frosting, so I usually don't bother with it any more. It's been a few years since I decorated a cake with it, and that was usually store-bought anyway. Here, I made it from scratch. I was a bit dubious about it - I didn't want to put too much on because I didn't want to overpower the flavour of the cake, but at the same time I was concerned it would be dry, so I didn't want to stint, either. In the end, I didn't put very much on, but it was enough.


   I used the flat edge of a knife to make the bark-like pattern around the sides, and the underside of a spoon to ring the top. That doesn't look great at all, but it was going to be partially covered, so I didn't worry about it.
   Then I took about 10g of pistachios, ground them up with an added dash of matcha since they weren't as vibrant as I'd hoped, and pressed them over parts of the cake.
   Then I took out the Oreos. I was at this at 7am on Wednesday morning, in fact, before I'd done everything else, splitting Oreos apart, scraping off the cream and modelling them into toadstools. It works well, but the cream gets sticky when it gets warm, so after making about 2 toadstools, I had to wash and dry my hands before making any more. For anyone interested, I used two Oreos for the big toadstools, but the tiny ones you see at the front in the image below all came from just one Oreo. I ended up using an entire packet of Oreos to make the 12 toadstools, though the back 6 were larger than the rest.


   As for the biscuits, I put about 6 pieces (from 3 biscuits) in a ziploc bag and crumbled them with a rolling pin. I then pressed the Oreo 'dirt' into the cake, with much difficulty, and then arranged the toadstools as a finishing touch. I did have some snapdragon flowers I wanted to use, but they actually made the cake too busy, so I didn't bother.

   Then came the wedding day, and the moment of truth.




   It was dense. It was not dry. It was chocolatey. It was nutty. The praline paste was evident, but not overpowering. The ganache coating was perfect. The Oreo toadstools were amazing.
   Everyone loved it. Seeg's parents - or, rather, the 'in-laws' - made a point of saying to him just a few days ago that the cake looked unique, and tasted really, really good. And they brought it up out of the blue.
   I am so freaking proud.



Friday, 8 June 2018

Chateau Rouge Artisanal Tea & Hot Chocolate Review & Giveaway

   There's nothing quite like a cup of tea. Black, green, rooibos, fruit, herbal - whatever. It's lighter than coffee, it's so easy to drink, and there's a brew for every mood. I always drink a ginger green before my workouts, I keep lemon and ginger on hand for if I fall ill, and camomile and apple for those sleepless nights. Then there are the multitude of others to fill in every other whim and occasion throughout the day. So it's not surprising that my cupboards are bursting with the stuff. Though not so much with black. I'm quite fussy - if it's not spiced, I'm not interested.
   But when it comes to green tea, herbal and rooibos, I have my favourite brews and brands. That said, I am always on the lookout for new tea to add to my collection - or replace previous favourites - especially artisanal, so when I found Chateau Rouge, lured in by their fancy branding and small-scale, artisanal blending, I had to have a taste.


   Above all, I am a green tea drinker. I drink about 4 cups a day. I'd read some time ago that green tea could help improve metabolism so I began drinking it by the bucket. I then read some time later that you have to drink a lot of green tea to get that effect, and even then it's negligible. But by that time, I was hooked. I had never been a tea drinker prior to reading that fateful article somewhere back in 2014, and green wasn't my cuppa (pun intended), but I grew to truly, deeply love it. And it's one of the easiest and cleanest teas to drink. Nevermind EGCGs and catechins, it's a tea you never need to add milk or sugar to, it contains more antioxidents than other teas, it's rarely bitter, and it provides the most perfect base for flavours. For the most part, fruit tea smells amazing but they all taste the same, but when that fruit - or flowers - is thrown in alongside green tea leaves, oh my goodness, you truly can taste it, and every blend becomes notably different.

   Chateau Rouge's Butterfly Lovers green tea is no exception. A quick whiff of the teabag (or loose leaf, if you prefer) reveals hints of citrus and fresh meadows. Another sniff of the brewing tea highlights the wild flowers. And, at last, a sip, and the Seville oranges slip back through. It's light, as it promises, and colourful. Synaesthetically speaking, it was a beautifully yellow, late-summer taste. It was an immediate hit. Even Seeg was interested and he's very set in his ways.


   Rooibos and herbal are my next preferred teas, though I tend to drink them for a mood boost. Green is a great staple, but honey, lemon, ginger, liquorice, it's all functional and beneficial, and they're not old wives' tales. Ginger is an anti-inflammatory, and since I started drinking it before workouts, I've noticed less DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness - ie. the pain that comes the evening or day after a tough workout). Liquorice is a natural laxative (sorry), and is a very gentle way to encourage things to get moving. Camomile is calming. Valerian is relaxing to the point of aiding sleep. These are things that have been known and relied upon for centuries, and even present-day research supports it.
   Honeybush and rooibos can improve airflow to the lungs by naturally dilating the bronchi and bronchioles (tubes in your lungs), which is perfect for asthma and hayfever sufferers, and is also an antispasmodic agent which can help prevent stomach cramps. While I've not tasted more than two blends prior, Chateau Rouge's Wildharvest Honeybush, my third, is easily the best of the three. It's gentler, and yet somehow more pronounced, with a wonderful hint of peach. It's less smokey than one, less sweet than the other; it's easy to drink, but not so easy as to be glugged without taking notice. Their Wiedouw Rooibos is also sweet and gentle.


   That said, from time to time I admit that I like to indulge in something sweeter. I don't like to drink my calories, so when I do, I want it to be worth it. And it's usually only on special occasions, too. The most recent of which was my wedding 3 weeks ago. I don't drink alcohol, I don't drink coffee, I don't drink soda. If I'm treating myself to a denser beverage, it's going to be hot chocolate. And I don't care what the weather is doing. I'm of a firm mind that winter is ideal ice cream weather. You don't have to eat it in a hurry.
   So when I noticed that Chateau Rouge also made artisanal hot chocolate, well, I had to try that, too. Special occasion, and all. But I'd never seen dark hot chocolate before and, as we all know, it's the 'healthiest' kind of chocolate, so I needed to try that, too.
   And...salted caramel milk chocolate. I'm only human...

Iced hot chocolate. It is June...

   Like the old Chocolate Houses in the 17th Century - which I learned about in a suitably nerdy way, via the Assassin's Creed prequel novel, Forsaken - Chateau Rouge's 70% hot chocolate is dark and bitter, 'unadulturated', served just as it used to be. It is pure Columbian dark chocolate with a dash of Valrhona cocoa powder from Tain-l'Hermitage in France, with nothing at all to take away from the taste of chocolate, which tastes here just as it did when it first reached the UK and was something truly spectacular. An evening out for a mug of chocolate on a special occasion. And the romantic part of me has to admit that I love how its popularity hasn't faded even after 350 years. So many things have come and gone, but chocolate will always be here to stay.
   That said if dark isn't your thing, turn instead to their new sea salt and caramel blend. Oh. My. Goodness. I am a Hotel Chocolat fan, it's true, and I've always turned to them when I've sought out a salted caramel hot chocolate. But no longer. Truly. I stuck my finger into the shavings of Chateau Rouge's blend and had a cheeky taste, like I always do before brewing 200 liquid calories - just to be sure I really want it. Well, I admit that when I was tasting this one, I wasn't actually looking to make a hot chocolate. I was just looking for tasting notes. But, after a little squealing outburst that brought my dear newlywed husband running, wondering what had happened, I brewed one right away. 40% Columbian milk chocolate with Valrhona cocoa powder, sea salt and caramelised sugar, it is every ounce of what it promises to be. Creamy. Rich. Sophisticated. Sea salt. Caramel. Hot chocolate. It is, literally, everything it says on the tin. It also immediately reminded me of the best sea salted caramel chocolates I've ever had from a little artisanal shop in Lacock.
   It also makes a great iced hot chocolate!

   To summarise, never again will I turn to Hotel Chocolat for my hot chocolate blends, and Chateau Rouge's Butterfly Lovers green tea will be knocking something off of my favourites - only time will tell which.



   And Chateau Rouge have been amazingly kind and are offering three chocolates from their range for one lucky reader! 1657 70% Dark, Sea Salt Caramel, and 1930 30% White - and all you have to do is fill in the widget below for multiple chances. UK-only, I'm afraid - perishables, and all that! Not to mention that I wouldn't want to have chocolate in the postal system any longer than necessary at this time of year...
   Oh, and check back later in the summer for a tea giveaway!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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.



Thursday, 7 June 2018

Out Of Touch; Get Back To Yourself.

   In this past week, I've realised something.
   I'm completely out of touch with my body.
   My muscles are stiff - my calves feel like stone - my enthusiasm has dropped, I'm fretting about little things, I'm restless, I'm not sleeping well, and I've not bothered doing any yoga for weeks. This might sound like a rather desperate conclusion, but they're all little things that add up into something that matters.

   I mentioned last week that I had felt a drop in motivation for my training towards the end of the 10 weeks, but that I didn't think too much of it. Well, moving around towards the end of it I realised how stiff I felt. And, though it might sound strange, I was becoming very aware of the fact that I hadn't done a spinal twist in a long while - I'd knocked it off of my cool-down, which itself had become more disconnected, and I hadn't timed my stretches in ages. And that's not me saying 'I've not done it in a while', it was my body saying it. And yet I still didn't do a spinal twist because something else 'more important' kept coming up. Like the kettle had finished boiling. It was all too easily forgotten, and I was left with a stiff and rigid back most evenings.
   I used to have a body brush on Tuesday mornings, but I've not bothered with that in weeks. I used to do yoga in the afternoon and I've not done that, either. Little pick-me-ups like that have been pushed aside in favour of sitting around doing nothing, to be honest. I have no reasonable excuse for either.
   Pointless things are weedling into my brain, and they're keeping me up along with being unable to physically relax. I'm distracted, I'm worried, my crafting is lacklustre and even my passion for breakfast has dimmed.

   I noticed all this gradually, but it was driven home by my intention to set resistance aside for a couple of weeks and return to more explosive, high-intensity workouts instead. To, and I quote, 'postpone my weariness and remind me why I love resistance so much.' I thought about doing yoga instead, wondered why it had been so long, and recalled how good I felt and how much I enjoyed it back in the winter, rising early and flicking on the Christmas lights to do yoga before the sun rose, and then as spring crept in I would do it in the early light. Nevermind today's early sunrise, I've not done yoga in months. And it made me suddenly wistful. That's when everything fell into place.

   I have a plan. I'm going to take a whole day to get back to myself. I'm going to begin with a delicious and hopefully inventive breakfast (of porridge - what else?), try a few choice yoga videos I've never used before, have a nice body brush and gorgeously scented shower, then a nice healthy lunch, a face mask and magnesium foot soak in the garden with a book, a healthy dinner, and, quite importantly, write down what I want to get out of my workouts, how I intend to get it, and why I shouldn't be intimidated.

   I know how all of this sounds. I would scoff and shrug this off on someone else's blog as being melodramatic and attention-seeky, too. But since it's not someone else, I'm going to take it seriously, and, above all else, I'm announcing it for the good of others. If you've read this far, I guarantee you will feel like this at some point in your life whether you work out or not - you'll burn out on something else really important to you, perhaps career, arts or relationships. You'll focus more on what you want and how far you still have to go rather than on where you are and how far you've come. And if this is the case, when you finally realise it, this is what you do about it. Take a day off and do the things that make you happy, that relax you, that inspire you to get back on track with whatever it is that is most important to you, whatever has sprialled out of your control, and write down what it is that you want and how you plan to get there. In short: get back to basics. Get back to you.

   I'm thinking Tuesday. Join me, won't you?



Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Core de Force



   So I mentioned a couple of days ago that I was going to use Core de Force for 2 weeks while I take a hiatus from resistance training. Those 10 weeks were great, and I really saw results from my work, but the thought of finishing 2 months and then going straight into another 2 with a new variety of moves but, ultimately, more of the same unbroken work sort of knocked my motivation. So I decided to turn to trusty cardio DVDs and remind myself why I love resistance training and rediscover the enthusiasm I had at the start.
   Well, I used the DVD on Monday, and it was love at first sight. And hatred. Zealous hatred.
   I've not had a sweat like that in so very long. And it was awesome.

https://beachbodyshop.co.uk/products/core-de-force-mixed-martial-arts-workout-dvd-programme
   Core de Force is made up of 3 DVDs, each of which contain 2 workouts averaging 30 minutes that are either made up boxing, kickboxing or Muay Thai sequences. Some focus on body weight resistance, others on circuit training and intervals, so there's something for every mood and need. Then each DVD also has 2 bonus programs: a 15-minute core workout, a 5 minute pre-bedtime stretch, a 20-minute rest-day stretch, and each has a 5-minute plank sequence to build a strong core all around.

   After Monday's experience I'm extremely pumped up to go again, even though I decided to try the worst-sounding workout right off the bat before I could frighten myself away from it. Namely the 40-minute MMA Plyo. Yup. Mixed martial arts and jumping. My thinking was that if I could get through that, I could get through the rest. And I did get through it. And it wasn't that bad. I was a beetroot by the end, of course, and had to towel off three times during my cool down - I wasn't even working anymore! - and refill my 750ml water bottle, but it was such a great workout, I was overjoyed at the end and in a ridiculously good mood until I went to bed! I'd exercised at 9:30am!

   The plan is to use the 6 workouts throughout the next 2 weeks, and, as the workouts are made up of 6-12 'rounds', all of which are 3 minutes and separated onto different chapters on the DVD, it's easy to stop after, say, 15 minutes and then pick it up where you left off next time. I say this because it could be the answer to enjoyable and short-timed martial arts cardio after resistance training when it comes back around in 2 weeks' time.
  For now, though, I want to complete each workout over 8 days (Mon, Weds, Fri, Sat) as well as utilise the pre-bedtime and rest-day stretches, and, perhaps, though I loathe it, the core workouts, too. I may as well get as much out of the DVD while I can...



Monday, 4 June 2018

Archguardians of Laceria Turns Two! [Giveaway]

   The Archguardians of Laceria, by very first published book, turns two today!!
   It might not seem like much, but having wanted to be a successful fantasy writer since I was 12, the anniversary of my first published piece is a huge deal to me! And it may not be a typical milestone like 1 year, 5 years, 10 and so on, but this is still very important to me. And all the more so since I sold more copies last month than I have in any other single month for a year and a half. And almost certainly to people I've never met or spoken to. And that is a very, very exciting thought.

   So, that said, just as I did for its first birthday, I'm holding another giveaway for a signed paperback copy of the book, an exclusive print of a map of Laceria, a book flower necklace (or keychain) made from the proof copy, an exclusive bottle necklace (or keychain) containing rakikik, a sticker of the book cover which I drew myself, and a jar of Alvetha's jasmine tea.
   To Enter, either:
•  Follow my twitter and retweet this tweet
•  Like and tag a friend on this Instagram post
   Doing both will double your chances! It's open worldwide until Sunday 10th June! 1 winner will be chosen from all entries.
 
   You can read the first two chapters for free right here, or purchase the ebook - Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks - for £1.99. In fact, if you purchase the book, email me the order number and you'll get two extra entries!


   I'm so excited, and I'm still in the process of making the cover image for my next book (which is unrelated to AGoL and set in a new world) which I hope to have out by mid-July!
   Writing fantasy is all I've ever wanted to do since seeing The Lord of the Rings when I was 12, and from that moment I've never not had a story on the go. Even during high school I'd have a notebook open next to me which I'd be scrawling in rather than listening to the teachers, and I started a little craze of writing stories at the time, too! And while that craze didn't last, my passion never once diminished. I don't need fame or fortune from my writing - in fact my ultimate goal has always been very clear in my mind: to make enough money from writing to be able to keep doing it. To be able to pay mortage, bills, groceries and the little luxuries in life (like new books and video games!) without having to give it up in favour of a 'real' job. Because for 15 years, fantasy writing has been my life, and it shows no signs at all of slowing down. And while my next-to-be-published piece is the first of a trilogy, I already know what I'm going to be working on when the trilogy's over - another new world, new magic, new plot. I've already got a thick binder of notes!

   Please do enter, please do read the free chapters below, and above all else, please enjoy it. I write the things I'd like to read, but I'll get nowhere unless you enjoy reading it, too!




Sunday, 3 June 2018

Resistance - 10 Weeks Later

   For the past 10 weeks I've been following a fairly solid training program that focused in on resistance training - reps and weight over time and speed. It's been tough, to say the least, but it's also easily the most rewarding workout I've done in a long, long time.
   When I used to do HIIT, circuit training and cardio, it was so grueling. I hated it. I would dedicate myself to a workout for 4-5 weeks and after 2 or 3 I would be sick of it, even dreading it sometimes. And I would rarely see results. I would doubt myself, I'd lose hope, I'd phone it in sometimes, and I would feel disappointed at the end of it all because I'd not gotten anywhere, and when I started something new I always started with hope, but also with the underlying thought that I wouldn't get anywhere with it. But I couldn't let up, especially when you hear left, right and centre that HIIT is the best way to go to burn fat. I wouldn't dare try anything else. Of course, all the while I was also terrified of eating too much and often under-ate to protect against it. I was always weak and it took a lot for me to finally start eating more, after which I started to feel better and didn't gain weight like I'd thought I would. Even so, I'd lost a lot of heart.
   So when I made the decision to change it up, to focus on resistance, which I love, rather than exclusively high-impact HIIT and cardio, I was scared, but so excited. And it turned out to be the best thing ever.

   Every day, I've been sure of myself. Because it's not jumping around, I've been able to really throw myself into every rep and make sure I do it perfectly, focusing on the quality - depth and control - rather than on speed, and because speed hasn't been important beyond keeping to appropriate rest intervals, I've been able to maintain effort from start to finish on every 45-minute session. My form has improved, my strength and control. When I started I was using a 12.5kg barbell and 10 reps of each move. I'm now at 17.5kg and 14 reps. As a rule, you get familiar with the weight, then increase the reps. When that begins to get easier, increase the weight - dropping the reps back if need be. When it gets easier, up the reps, then the weight, then the reps, and so on. As long as you maintain form and hit muscle fatigue, you're good. Fewer reps with heavy weights and lots of reps with little weights will yield the same results, but heavier weights are more time-efficient (and empowering) I feel so strong.
   And not just physically. Knowing that with every session - every perfectly-controlled, sweat-drenched rep - I was getting something out of it helped me to keep going. And after 2 months, I could certainly keep going. I've had difficulties with motivation at certain points, it is true, and more lately than earlier in the program, but I've kept going with certainty. And being able to change the music day to day depending on my mood rather than sticking to the same DVDs and so on helps motivation move a little easier. Some times I didn't bother with music and just put the TV on instead. Word to the wise: Growing Up Wild is not a suitable documentary to watch while working out. Your breath control shatters whenever there's a baby animal on screen.

   And despite the difficulty, I really, honestly, truly have seen results.
   After four weeks I started to see a change in my skin. It looked and felt healthier, smoother and firmer, and it wasn't fat loss or muscle gain. I'm pretty sure it was a result of blood circulation and lymphatic movement, the way my body was responding to the exercise and the nutrients I was giving it. And those nutrients improved, too, because I felt that I needed the fuel more than I used to, so I started eating a little more again. Where I used to be around 1,300 calories a day, I'm up around 1,650 - and, again, I've not gained any weight like I was afraid of, and I've been feeling better still. And aside from BCAAs, I've not been taking any supplements beyond my usual multi-vitamin, magnesium and vitamin D, so I can't see how anything else could be responsible.

   After 8-9 weeks, I'm seeing definition in my shoulders and my bum has gotten bigger, but above all else my shoulder blades are more prominent and my upper back more toned. These are the results I was sure I was going to get. How could I not if I was working to muscle fatigue every day and moving the markers - increasing the reps, increasing the weight, and giving myself new goals when I met them every 2-3 weeks. I've had no doubt throughout these past 10 weeks that I've been steadily moving forwards, and that is such an incredible feeling. And among the muscle gains, toning and definition, the fat-loss is and always will be a side-effect. As long as the rest is happening and you're not eating too much or too little, fat-loss will follow.

   All this said, I'm choosing to take a 2-week break from my barbell. I'm taking a step back from resistance and turning to kickboxing instead, which I love just as much. But I'm not using my usual kickboxing DVDs. I was given Core de Force for Christmas and I have yet to try it, and I know it's intense and very involved, so I know it's going to be worthy of my time. And, I hope, it will also postpone my weariness and remind me why I love resistance so much.
   While using Core de Force, I'm going to put together another resistance program to use afterwards. I want to replace all four of my workouts - new moves, new sequences - and use them for another 9-12 weeks, lowering the weights a little if I have to.

   I'll update, of course, in two weeks' time, and review the DVD if I get enough use out of it to be feasible. Otherwise, wish me luck!



Friday, 1 June 2018

Friday Favourites

This week has been a bit of a grind. I've been working on filling orders and getting older ones out of the door, backed up since the wedding, and that's been a bit of a stress, then there's the fact that my next gallery exhibit begins in 2 weeks, so I'm a wee bit tense about that, and I'm trying to get my book cover finished asap so I can finally release the book itself. So it's been busy, to say the least, and strangled by deadlines.
That said, I have had time to breathe, because I've started enforcing working hours. I don't write during the day any more, I do shop work and save writing for the evening when my imagination and concentration is better (ie there are fewer distractions) rather than letting myself procrastinate through the day, get to the evening and have hundreds of things I have to do before I can do the things I want to do, like write.
Speaking of writing, you'll notice that Vaesen is in this week's favourites, too. It was Seeg's wedding gift to me, a book I'd had my eye on for a long time about Scandinavian folk creatures, and the reason it's here again this week, beyond the fact that I love the freaking thing, is that it's been a real help in my writing lately. I've just moved into a very wild area filled with creatures and beings, and the book has been a great source of inspiration for my own creatures.
Last night I also, for some reason, felt the compulsion to watch The Last Naruto Movie - a movie set 2 years after the end of the series. We haven't watched the series in a couple of years but I suddenly felt the need to watch it, and Road to Ninja, the movie that came before. These movies are usually awful, as a rule, but these two are actually great. Road to Ninja is relevant to the series, to a degree, and The Last actually sums everything up and ties it all together quite satisfyingly. It always makes me happy to watch.
Also, some of the best green tea I've ever tried, from Chateau Rouge, had to make it onto this list, too ♥




Naruto, The Last   ♥   Asymmetric skirt by H&M
Vaesen   ♥   Butterfly Lovers green tea by Chateau Rouge