Sunday, 14 December 2014

My Kind of Music, part 10

This week's song is Roses by Darren Hayes. So completely sweet and delicate, and ooohh how I love his voice!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

My Kind of Music, part 9

This week's song is Cuckoo by Adam Lambert. Great beat and great attitude, fun to work out to. Sometimes I too want to lose my mind, and what better time to do it than during a workout?

Sunday, 30 November 2014

My Kind of Music, part 8

This week's song is Never Underestimate A Girl by Vanessa Hudgens. The sound is totally basic, dime-a-dozen pop, but the lyrics are fun and quite empowering. A song I like to sing along to!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

So Much to Be Thankful for - 2014 Edition

The people who celebrate Thanksgiving have just had their celebrations. This is not a holiday we celebrate here in Finland, but as I am in the mood to write, I am going to make a list of the things I'm thankful for below anyway.

My body - Thank you for having remained so capable in spite of all the ways I have neglected you. I have caused you to put on weight, I have unintentionally deprived you of almost all of the unsaturated fats you needed, and I haven't given you nearly enough exercise. Yet, you've still been good to me, enabling me to keep going about my daily life unencumbered by any injuries, dysfunctions or illnesses. You've done everything I've asked of you, never letting me down. Thank you for being so healthy, strong and resilient! You are amazing! I promise I'll pay more attention to you and take good care of you from now on!

My mind - Thank you for always keeping me entertained, for seeing the beauty in the moment and for enjoying the little things. Thank you for having the capabilities to analyse and think things through yourself, the patience to look before you leap, and the strength that enables me to remain my colourful, compassionate, creative, unique self. Thank you for so frequently taking me on such wonderful trips of imagination, insight and contemplation. You are a treasure!

My friends - Thank you for being there, for listening, for sharing my interests, for being such beautiful, unique individuals and for offering me support, perspective, inspiration, role models and entertainment. Thank you for frequently taking me out of my head - it's nice to see other places, too, occasionally. I love you!

My boyfriend - Thank you for always being there, for listening to me ramble on about cross stitching, fitness, health stuff and weight loss, I know you only do it because you care about me, and that is just so thoughtful! Thank you for being so kind, patient and thoughtful, and for making me feel I'm never alone. I love you, too.

My home - it's wonderful to have a home that is so nice, affordable, roomy and quiet, just perfect for two people who both need their own space but would rather live together than alone.

Fitness Blender - Thank you for your hundreds of inspiring, motivating, challenging, free workout videos! You are doing such an amazing thing, motivating and enabling people from all around the world to take better care of themselves and get stronger and fitter! Lots of success to you two miracle workers!

Heaven and Earth Designs - Thank you for your huge, beautiful, highly enjoyable, 100% cross stitch (no back stitching or specialty stitches) charts! I love working on my Fairy Wishing Well, it's become like an old friend to me that's always so comfortable, peaceful and relaxing to get back to. One of the things keeping me grounded and sane in this crazy, cruel, depressing, shifting, insecure world.

Audible - Thank you for making your huge and ever-growing selection of audiobooks available to this godforsaken corner of the backwoods of the world! Instead of having to choose between cross stitching or enjoying a book, thanks to you I can do both! There are countless wonderful stories I would have missed if I hadn't had the opportunity to get them in audio form.

There are other things I'm thankful for as well, but I think these are the biggest of them. I'm pretty lucky to have them all! I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving, and also found plenty to be thankful for.

Friday, 28 November 2014

To Carb or Not to Carb?

The discussion on weight loss and carbs makes emotions run quite high every time the topic crops up in the Finnish weight loss group I belong to on Facebook. Everyone has a very strong, absolute opinion on the matter, and there seems to be no room for compromise or relativity. Most people think that carbs and weight loss cannot go together - their advice to everyone is that if you want to lose weight, ditch the carbs. Myself, I am of the relativist mindset, thinking everything is subjective, even - or perhaps especially - when it comes to losing weight. Not everyone's body responds to everything the same way as everyone else's. My advice: as long as something works for you and doesn't do you any harm, go for it! For myself, instead of no-carb or low-carb, I prefer slow-carb.

You can read more about fast and slow carbs here, but basically, the difference is that fast carbs get digested quickly, causing a spike and then a crash in blood sugar, making you get hungry again soon after you've eaten them, whereas slow carbs take time to digest, causing a gradual rise in your blood sugar and sustaining you for much longer, avoiding the crash. Brown rice and lentils are both staples in my diet, and both of them belong to the slow carb group. I would never even want to consider ditching them from my diet! I also eat some fast carbs, like fruit for instance, but most of my daily energy intake comes from slow carbs like lentils, vegetables, brown rice and other whole grains. Yummy and healthy!

Of course, in addition to carbs, I also include the recommended amounts of protein and unsaturated fats in my diet. I believe in the good of diversity, both in my diet and in my exercise routine. I think the bad reputation some of the basic, natural nutrients such as carbs and fats have comes from the food industry abusing them for its own needs, adding "too much of a good thing" into the food products to make more money by appealing to our appetites to make us consume more of them. These super sugared and/or super greasy "foods" and drinks are indeed unhealthy, but it is because of the giant quantities of fats and sugars/carbs in them are unhealthy, not because fats and sugars/carbs themselves are unhealthy - because they aren't, not when consumed in the right quantities. Moderate quantities of each carbs, fats and proteins are, in fact, essential for our well-being. That's why I believe in getting my energy from diverse sources, that are as unprocessed as possible in this day and age, and that I can afford with the very limited income I have. As much as possible I steer clear of refined, white flour and sugar, pre-packaged meals, anything with added sugar and/or fat, and basically try to buy everything as "clean" as possible, with as few additives as possible.

But remember, this is only my personal approach to healthy eating, and not necessarily the right one for everyone else! You do what you think is best for you, find your own personal answers, the main thing is that both your body and your mind approve of your choices. Health and healthy eating are always very subjective matters, for we are all individuals both on the outside and on the inside. Whatever your personal choices are, make sure they are right for you.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

My Kind of Music, part 7

This week's song is Have A Nice Day by Bon Jovi. It's got the beat and the attitude just right, and is also a great song to work out to.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Keywords: mystery, surreal, science fiction
My Rating: ★★★★☆ story, ★★★★★ narration

by Haruki Murakami
read by Adam Sims, Ian Porter

Publisher's summary:
"Information is everything in Hard-boiled Wonderland. A specialist encrypter is attacked by thugs with orders from an unknown source, is chased by invisible predators, and dates an insatiably hungry librarian who never puts on weight. In the End of the World a new arrival is learning his role as dream-reader. But there is something eerily disquieting about the changeless nature of the town and its fable-like inhabitants. Told in alternate chapters, the two stories converge and combine to create a novel that is surreal, beautiful, thrilling and extraordinary."

I wholeheartedly agree with the last sentence of that summary. The stories are beautifully told, both visually and intellectually engaging, and unlike anything I've ever read or listened to before. The narration has a quite markedly hetero-masculine flair to it, especially when it comes to descriptions of and interactions with the female characters, but this didn't really bother me, just made me roll my eyes a couple of times. Both of the narrators are pleasant to listen to, fluent and actually invested in the story - they do all the voices and accentuate the atmosphere by changing intonation, tone of voice, rhythm of speech etc. as befits the different situations and characters. This was my first book by Haruki Murakami, and I will absolutely be seeking out more of them in audio form to listen to while cross stitching.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

My Kind of Music, part 6

This week's song is Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield. The music by itself is rather unremarkable, but I like her sound a lot and the lyrics in this song are something really special. Also, this video is just adorable.

Friday, 7 November 2014

My Kind of Music, part 5

This week's song is Night On Fire by Reckless Love. I really like glam rock (yes, '80s / early '90s Bon Jovi is right up my alley), and this song is a beautiful specimen of it. It has the sound and the attitude just right, and is also a great song to work out to as it really makes me want to move.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

My Kind of Music, part 4

This week's song is Rescue by Yuna. It's light, upbeat and beautiful and has very empowering lyrics.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Kundalini Yoga: Green Energy of the Heart

This was my first ana&ravi DVD, and I liked it so much that I decided to get more. They are quite pricey on, but if you're patient and wait for a good deal to pop up at the marketplace, you can get them for 10€ or less (including the shipping cost) which I think is an acceptable price for a new (not used), really good workout DVD.

This DVD, like the others in the series, is a mixture of yoga and gym workout (without any equipment, of course). It includes a mantra to focus and tune in with, two great warm-up sets, two "main" sets (called Green Energy Sets on this particular DVD), a deep relaxation, a fun chant to lighten the mind, and a sweet little closing prayer. There are lots and lots of back bends, but also some great exercises for the tummy muscles. The thighs get a workout as well. And the ability to pick and choose which sections to include in your workout is great. As for the difficulty, I think this truly is an exercise DVD accessible to everyone. While some of the exercises are very challenging to do 100%, it's always easy to modify them to make them a little easier - not go as deep into the posture, not do as many repeats, or not stay in the posture quite as long as the instructor, etc. After doing this workout, I always feel great: my back feels wonderful, my mind clear and my whole body a lot more awake than when I started. I like this DVD a lot, and would absolutely recommend it.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Xbox 360: Ilomilo - A Tearful Farewell

I'm too lazy to keep writing about my video game progress, so I think I'll just make it a habit to write about a game once I'm done with it. That way, I can give a properly informed opinion and put all my thoughts about it into one blog post so I won't have to repeat things I've already said in an earlier post about the game.

Sadly, I finished Ilomilo a while ago, including Autumn Tale, its sole DLC. (For a proper introduction to the game, including pictures and a trailer, see my previous post about it.) I have to say, it's the cutest, cuddliest game I have ever played, and I'm still completely in love with it even after finishing it. Puzzle games are my favourite video game genre, and Ilomilo's gameplay is just perfect for me - it combines simple but clever mechanics, cute and totally unique graphics, a completely original and cozy soundtrack and an utterly charming atmosphere into such a lovable and one-of-a-kind experience that realising that there were no more levels left for me to play made me quite sad.

Goodbye, Ilo and Milo, and thanks for all the wonderful times we had! And if you ever happen to run into your developer team on one of your wanderings, please tell them we need a sequel!

Saturday, 25 October 2014

My Kind of Music, part 3

This week's song is something a little more dramatic, Black Out the Sun by Darren Hayes. Both the song and the video are extremely powerful and atmospheric, and together they make for a truly gripping, very emotional experience.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

My Kind of Music, part 2

This week's song is We're All Mad by Natasha Bedingfield. It's nice and mellow, and has beautiful, meaningful lyrics that convey a very important message.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

My Kind of Music, part 1

I listen to music a lot, so I thought why not share some of it here, make it perhaps a weekly thing to post about a song I like...

This week's song is Sweet Ophelia by Zella Day. It has just the right mixture of heavy (the beat) and sweet (her voice) to work for me. On top of that, it's exactly the kind of trippy electronica pop that I love. I'm really looking forward to her planned mainstream breakthrough next year!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Power of Self-Compassion

As I have shown an interest in books on mental and physical health and well-being in amazon's Kindle store, I one day found Kristin Neff's book on self-compassion among the books that were recommended to me there. It piqued my interest, and I went onto her website to learn more about this concept and see if reading about it might help me on my quest for a healthier, happier life. Reading through the info and checking out the free exercises provided on the site, I realised that, even though the term "self-compassion" was a new one for me, I had already incorporated the concept into my life, I just didn't have a name for it until now. This was confirmed by the results of the test I took on the site: it gave me an over-all self-compassion score of 4,44/5, with both self-kindness and mindfulness at 5/5. Still, I think it's a great resource for anyone wanting to lead a happier life, and thoroughly recommend checking it out. So here are some links: the main page - self-compassion test - guided meditations for increased self-compassion - exercises for increased self-compassion.

Even if you don't want to take the test, I recommend reading through all the statements and considering how you would answer each of them if you were to take the test and answer truthfully. This will make you more conscious of what self-compassion is and how you exercise it in your everyday life. The guided meditations are useful as they help you to slow down for a moment, to stop and be conscious of your body and your emotions, and give yourself the attention, love and kindness you need. I did find myself wishing for some meditative background music, though, but for an otherwise well-thought-out set of guided meditations that is available to everyone for free, this is a very small complaint. And it could just be me - I find that for me, everything tends to be better with music. Someone else might be perfectly fine meditating without any. The exercises are great as well, as they give you a good set of tools to practice self-compassion in your life. All in all, this site is amazing in that it offers so much of such great value completely for free. A huge thumbs-up for that!

I attribute a lot of my healthy self-compassion score to my parents and to the way I was raised. Dr. Neff says that a big part of our attitude problem is that we always have to be better than or at least as good as other people in order to feel good about ourselves. I, though, don't remember ever being very competitive or comparing myself to others in that way. I was raised to believe that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, everyone is unique, and no-one is any better than anyone else, just different. I wasn't raised to compete and try to be better than other people, I was raised to care for myself and look after myself, and to be sensitive both to my own feelings and to the feelings of others.

I never lacked for loving attention from my parents. They always supported me with my hobbies: built me a doll house (yes, actually built it, from scratch, and grandma upholstered the furniture for it), made sure I had enough books to read (I was a ravenous reader!), encouraged my creative writing (my grandpa did, too, but he died while I was still in primary school - grandma has often said that if he had lived to see what I've become, he would be very pleased and proud of me), took me to my piano lessons... I didn't need to be the best at anything, they didn't pressure me to compete, being myself and doing my best was enough. My parents are some of the greatest, kindest, most principled, encouraging, loving, down-to-earth wholesome imperfect ordinary people I know, and I recognise in both of them a lot of the qualities I want to nurture and develop in myself. I couldn't imagine myself a better set of parents even if I tried, and I am very, very grateful and proud to be their daughter.

 I did go through a period of very low self-esteem and almost no sense of self-worth as a teenager - I guess most introverted, introspective teens who have been bullied at school do. My boyfriend was the key to getting me out of it. Through his patience, love and kindness I learned to see myself as worthy again. It took years, but I was healed. And, finally, again over many years, I learned how to take care of my own heart, feel whole by myself, without relying on other people to heal the hurts life tends to inflict on all of us every now and then.

Now I can enjoy the company of others, love them and appreciate them as they are, without being too dependent on them, without holding onto them too tight, allowing them their own space and their own lives, their own independence. They are a part of me, a part of my world and my life, in my thoughts, yet they are separate from me, I don't own them and I don't control them - and that's okay, as I know that even if someone breaks my heart in some way, I will eventually be able to get it back together again. I love myself, care for myself, and that will be enough to get me by if I ever find myself in a situation where I am not loved by anyone else. It is this knowledge that enables me to be myself and live with an open heart, be approachable and let people in. No matter what happens, no matter how life and the people I let into my heart treat me, I will always have myself - I don't fear heartbreak or rejection as I know that, given time, I can heal myself.

When it comes to taking care of you, comforting you, motivating you, cheering you up, understanding you, giving you what you need, saying the right words, no-one knows how to do those things better than you yourself. Accept yourself for the unique, flawed and wonderful creature you are. You don't need to be perfect or better than someone else, just do your best to be the best person you can be. Don't beat yourself up when you fail. Instead, encourage yourself to learn what you can from it, move on and do better next time. Everyone, even the most perfect, most successful person you know, fails and makes mistakes sometimes - it's a part of life and doesn't make you a worse person. Your heart is precious, and it is in your hands. Take good care of it. Be your own best friend - for like it or not, you yourself are the only person you can count on to stick with you for the rest of your life, so making that relationship a good one should be one of your top priorities.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Body Book by Cameron Diaz

Cameron Diaz has been one of my favourite celebrities for a while now. There's just something about her - she's so cute, witty, funny, warm, charming and deep at the same time - that I can't help but love her. When I came upon this book in amazon's Kindle store, I didn't have to think twice: of course I wanted to read what she had to say about nutrition, fitness and a generally healthy lifestyle! I'm on that quest myself, too, and thought that some tips and encouragement from a favourite celebrity would be a fantastic thing to get.

I wasn't wrong. While there are, of course, a lot of facts about nutrition, fitness and general health in the book, it is also riddled with personal anecdotes and written in a style that, like Cameron Diaz herself, is warm, witty and a little goofy but also deep and serious. Reading this book is like listening to her speak to me - the writing in it is so delightfully, upliftingly her - and she has a lot of interesting things to say.

Even though almost all the health and fitness facts presented in this book are things I already knew, it still managed to change my everyday life for the better in a few small but very significant ways. This is due to the surprising but brilliant ways Cameron Diaz presents of applying these facts to your daily life - the kinds of things that, once you've read them, you wonder why you didn't think of them yourself as they are so ingenious in their simplicity and efficacy. I don't want to spoil the whole book for you as I sincerely and wholeheartedly want everyone to read it for themselves, but I will give you two examples to show you what I mean:

1) I've known for a while now that I drink too little water during the day. It just seems to completely slip my mind, I can go for hours and hours without even a little sip before it comes to my attention that I'm thirsty. In the nutrition part of this book, Cameron Diaz suggests making the drinking of some water part of your morning ritual: get up, brush your teeth, drink some water and only then go on to have breakfast. Leave the jug or bottle of water someplace where you will spot it during your morning routine so you won't forget.

I have made this a part of my daily life and now start my mornings with a glass or two of water before breakfast to help my body rehydrate after the night. As I always do it in the same place, between tooth-brushing and breakfast, it's pretty unlikely for me to forget it. And voilĂ , my body is a little better hydrated than before I read this book!

2) In the fitness part of this book, Cameron Diaz talks about how the body wants to move. Not only during a workout at the gym, but throughout the day, any where, any time and any way it can. She talks about how good even a few minutes of heart-rate stimulating physical activity can be both for the body and for the mind. She uses TV's commercial breaks as an example - during one, you could do a few jumping jacks, some squats, a little light stretching, and then return to the couch when the commercials are over and the series or movie you were watching continues.

I don't watch all that much TV, but after reading this, it came to my mind that I always listen to music while I cook - I start up Spotify and put on the playlist I'm in the mood for at that moment - and the music is, pretty much without exception, danceable. When making a veggie soup or stir-fry, both of which are staples in my diet, there is some waiting around included. A recipe can read, for instance, something like this: bring water to boil, add ingredient a), let it cook for x minutes, add ingredients b) and c), etc. Now, I can use these short wait times - waiting for the water to come to a boil, waiting for that slower-cooking ingredient to cook for x minutes before adding the other ingredients, etc. - to give my body a few mini dance workouts! I love moving to music and my body seems to be able to find the beat completely on its own, without any help from the conscious part of my brain (people have always told me I have a good sense of rhythm), so it's very easy and natural for me to just let loose and enjoy the music with both my mind and my body. Like Cameron Diaz says, "Let your body move you" - don't think, just move! Let your body do what it wants! During "slow" songs I might do some light stretching, using what I've learned from yoga standing poses, and during faster tracks I just let my body, arms, legs and head move to the beat and do what ever they want to. It feels pretty amazing, both in my body and in my mind! I'm the dancing chef, and I love it!

In addition to being a life changer, this book is also a pretty potent mood booster. Cameron Diaz's honest warmth of personality and healthy can-do attitude are contagious, and I found that, after a session with this book, no matter how short, my mood was lifted and my energy levels boosted, and I was itching to move! I recommend this book to anyone who wants a healthier life, as it is full of encouragement, motivation,  information and great tips on applying that information to your everyday life.

I'll end this post with the parting words from this book, as I think they sum its message up quite nicely: "Wake up. Love yourself. Care for yourself. Your body is the most precious thing that you have."

Monday, 8 September 2014

Poll Results

What would you like to read about in this blog?

Many thanks to the six people who voted! As to the people who didn't, I'm assuming they're at least mildly interested in all the subjects listed above and that's the reason they didn't vote.

I was especially pleased to see that all the people who voted liked my contemplative posts - I tend to think about things rather deeply and from many different angles, and it's great to know that reading about these contemplations of mine isn't boring for you. Because I enjoy writing them and finding the images to accompany my words and enhance the overall mood and message of the post. There will definitely be more of that kind of posting here in the future.

It was also great to see that none of the subjects was left with no support whatsoever. From time to time, I will get inspired to write about a book, movie, TV show, video game, food, drink, or whatever, and it's nice to know that those posts, too, have their audience here. The weight loss and fitness progress logging is mostly for my own benefit, but it does give me a good feeling to know that some of my readers are actually interested in following this journey of mine. I already feel stronger, healthier, and in many ways more capable than I have ever felt before, and feeling accountable to my readers is one of the many small things that help keep me on this healthy path.

So, thanks for being there, thanks for reading, and see you around!

Friday, 29 August 2014

Dear Readers, Your Opinions, Please!

So, I've noticed that this blog has accumulated some readers - cool! Since I'd really like you all to stick around - it's so much nicer to write these posts when I know there are people out there who are going to read them - I'm going to ask you what it is you'd like to read about here. Since I know by the scarcity of comments around here that I'd probably end up with 0 replies if I asked you to comment on this post to tell me your preferences (that's okay, by the way, I'm not exactly the world's most active comment-leaver myself), I have created a poll for you and embedded it below. I make no promises to abide by the results, but I sure am curious to find out what all of you think! So please take the time to answer the poll and check all the boxes that apply! The poll is open until the start of Sunday, September 7 (GMT+3). Thank you for letting me know your preferences, I'm really looking forward to seeing the results!

What would you like to read about in this blog?

Thursday, 28 August 2014

What it Takes to Be Happy

Success. Wealth. A perfect body. A perfect love life. A dream house. A dream job. The perfect life. I see and hear these linked to happiness every day. Somehow, happiness has been confused with perfection and a life where nothing is wrong or lacking. People spend a lot of time and effort pursuing this elusive fantasy, thinking once they achieve it, it will make them happy. Yet from time to time, we encounter people who have achieved this state of perfection and still are not happy. Because happiness doesn't come from the outside, it comes from within you. It's not a trophy you get once you achieve perfection in every aspect of your life - it's a skill, a state of mind, an attitude you need to learn and consciously practice and cultivate. External things can make it easier or harder to be happy, but ultimately, happiness comes from within. The only one that can make you happy is you.

I have been unemployed for a few years now. The state of my bank account is such that any small disaster - an accident leading to medical bills or property damage, an expensive household appliance breaking - would land me in financial trouble. I have no financial security whatsoever. The relationship I'm in is not the kind I dream of. I don't have enough money to decorate my home the way I'd like to, buy the kinds of clothes I'd like to wear or eat the kinds of foods and snacks I'd like to eat. My body is pretty far from perfect, and thanks to years and years of total neglect, I'm overweight and nowhere near the shape I'd like to be in. There's no way I could possibly be happy, right? I used to think so, too. I, too, used to think that happiness was perfection and that the closer I got to perfection, the closer I'd get to happiness. Turns out I was wrong.

One day, I thought "Wouldn't it be nicer to focus on the positive instead of the negative?" and that's where it began. I started to notice things - just little, everyday things - that were beautiful and enjoyable to me. The smells of baking and cooking, of opening the door to the cupboard where I keep my selection of flavoured teas, of scented candles and aromatic oils. The taste of my favourite foods, of chocolate (especially when enjoyed with one of my favourite flavoured teas), of the fruity bread I bake myself, of hot chocolate enjoyed on a chilly evening. The wonderful peace and quiet enjoyment cross stitching gives me. The comfort of my sofa, perfect for napping or enjoying a movie on. The exhilaration of zumba and the healing power of yoga, the joy of movement. Music. Books. Movies. The peace and calm of my home. My ability to go on all kinds of mental journeys with my inner self - into memories, dreams, hopes, fears, inspirations, meditations and analyses just to name a few. I could go on, but I think you get the point already. There is so much good here, in this imperfect life I have, and being conscious of it, appreciating and enjoying it, I am happy. How could I not be?

Success, wealth, the perfect guy and the perfect relationship, the dream job and all that other stuff would be nice to have, of course, but I don't need them in order to be happy. I just need to be mindful of all the good things in my life, right here and right now. That's all it takes. Seriously. It may not be an easy skill to learn and external circumstances can sometimes make it quite hard to practice, but if I could do it, you can too. Whatever your situation, right here, right now, being happy is an option - it is up to you to choose it.

By this, I do not mean to say that if something is really wrong in your life you should just accept it and settle for what you have. No. Being happy in a less-than-perfect life does not mean abandoning your dreams and aspirations or letting other people walk all over you without doing anything to defend yourself and fix the situation. Notice the negative, and if you can, do something to make things better, but generally, focus on the positive and notice the good things as well, no matter how small they are, and appreciate and enjoy them. You can still go for your dreams, but this way, you'll be able to enjoy the journey. Plan and dream for the future, but, at the same time, be present in the present and mindful of the good things you have right here and now. Because that's what sustainable everyday happiness is all about.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Yoga, My New Friend for Life

For some time now, I have been aware that I need to do more stretching. Zumba, cross trainer workouts and circuit training are all well and good, but my body also needs me to pay attention to its flexibility and the health of my joints, and to release the tensions that tend to build up in the neck, shoulders, back and calves. For this purpose, I decided to try yoga.

My first experiences with yoga came from the 25-minute yoga class in Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012. It was perfectly adequate for my purposes and not too difficult, but as there is only the one yoga class in the game, it wasn't long before I started to get bored with it. That's when I went to to get myself some yoga exercise DVDs. I browsed for hours, carefully reading through reviews for each product, and finally decided on the three DVDs / packs I wanted to get. Here are the three products I got, along with my experiences with them so far:

Great for total beginners. A slow pace and a lot of explaining. I used this DVD three times before I got the urge to move on to something with a little quicker pace and a little less explaining. I would recommend this for total beginners.

This is what I moved on to after I'd had enough of Yoga for Beginners. I started with Earth, did it three times a week for two weeks. Nothing too difficult there, I could do all the poses on first try, though of course not as deeply as the instructors. Afterwards, I felt very light, peaceful and tension-free. I could have easily stayed with the Earth class after the two weeks, working towards deepening the poses, but I was curious about the other classes in the series, so I moved on to Water. I did it today for the first time, and found it a lot more challenging than Earth, there were even two poses there that I couldn't do because my muscles lacked the required strength. I will keep at it, though, two more times this week and three times next week, before rotating on to another DVD after this two-week period with Water is up. After I get really familiar with these classes and more proficient with the poses, I might do three different classes a week, but for now, I find spending two weeks with one class is just right for me - it gives me time to familiarise myself with the class a little and practice the poses, but not enough time for me to get bored with the class.

So far, I really like this DVD set. The classes are well paced, not too fast but not too slow either, and I like that each class is of a different difficulty / intensity, making the set accessible for beginners as well as more advanced practitioners. The instruction is clear and concise, very easy to follow and not boring or annoying in any way. And the whole set only cost me £7,50!

I haven't done the class yet, but the Pose Study Guide is amazing! You can choose the pose you want to study, and there is a 3D image of the instructor in the pose that you can rotate with your mouse to view it from any angle you want to in order to study how to put your legs, arms, head and torso to do the pose right, and there is also a "live in class" video of each pose on which the instructor tells a student to do the pose, showing step by step how to do it right, and then uses the student to show common mistakes people make when doing the pose. This set of 2 DVDs cost me £4,99, and I'd say the pose study guide alone is worth that, it's so well made and totally indispensable for a beginner like me! I keep returning to it time and time again to check that I'm doing all the poses right.

Now that I look at this set on today, I see that they, too, have realised it may be worth more than £4,99, as they've increased the price to £18,69! I'm really glad I bought this set when I did, as its price has almost quadrupled since then! At £4,99, it was a total, complete, absolute bargain!

I think I've got to a solid start with my yoga with these DVDs, and, with the exception of Yoga for Beginners which already has a new home waiting for it with one of my friends, I will continue to use all of them in the future. I will also be adding to my collection of yoga DVDs over time so that I can keep discovering new things and vary my practice to keep enjoying it and avoid getting bored. Yoga and I are going to be friends for life, and I look forward to getting to know it better and discovering new sides of it. This friendship has already given me some tangible benefits, and it's only just beginning!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Fitness Games and Me

Fitness games are the main reason why I got myself an Xbox 360 game console during autumn 2012. I wanted to get into shape and lose weight, but have always dreaded exercising with other people around (why, hello, traumatic experiences from primary, secondary and high school PE classes) and so was more than reluctant to go to a fitness class or the gym. When I randomly stumbled upon a Zumba Fitness game video, I knew that instant that I had found the perfect way to get my fitness level up: unlike ordinary fitness exercise DVDs, these fitness games would be interactive and give me feedback based on my performance to keep me motivated to keep doing my very best through the entire workout. I did some research and found that new Zumba Fitness games still appeared at a rate of one per year for Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii. Out of these two consoles, I chose the Xbox 360 as it didn't require the player to hold or wear a controller when playing fitness games and therefore felt like a more comfortable and natural choice than Nintendo Wii which does require the player to hold or wear a controller.

I didn't get to fully enjoy the fitness games on my Xbox 360 until spring 2013, when my boyfriend and I moved into a more comfortable-sized apartment (the place we still lived in during autumn 2012 was tiny!) as playing the fitness games does require some room (I should have thought about that before, but luckily we had been planning to move to a bigger place anyway, and found a nice one we could afford during spring 2013). It was worth the wait, though, as I found exactly what I had been looking for, and more! My favourites are the Zumba Fitness series (duh, it's what I bought the whole console for in the first place) and the Your Shape: Fitness Evolved series. I will now introduce to you the latest Xbox 360 installments in both series.

Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012

This is a full-on, professional, all-encompassing fitness game with a personal trainer who encourages you to do your best with every exercise, corrects you when you do something wrong, and praises you for your progress. There are different kinds of fun minigames to warm up with, an impressive number of workouts of varying lengths and intensities grouped together based on which muscles they are designed to exercise, fitness classes (such as cardio boxing and yoga) of varying lengths and intensities, different kinds of dance classes... Let's just say it's a package full of fitnessy goodness for the whole body and leave it at that! When I list "circuit training" among my exercise in my weekly reports, it means the different workouts in this game.

Here's a trailer so you can have some video to accompany my words:

Zumba Fitness: World Party

A dance game with an emphasis on fitness. This particular one in the series is themed as a dance fitness trip around the world. It's a lot of fun, effective and very addictive!

Here's a trailer:

And three of my favourite songs from this game:

I love my Xbox 360 and its fitness games, and honestly think that buying this game console and these fitness games were some of the best decisions I've ever made. I never knew I could have so much fun while getting fit in my own living room!

Friday, 1 August 2014

A new favourite!

Tofu, Chicken, Vegetables and Ginger Fried Rice

I was browsing through the recipes on Noom Weight Loss Coach - the mobile app I use to help me with my weight loss and fitness project - and noticed a recipe for fried rice there. I love the fried rice at my local Chinese restaurant, so of course I had to try it. I made some adjustments to better fit the recipe to my tastes, made a trip to the grocery store, spent some time cooking, and have now added the recipe to my favourites. It's even better than the fried rice at my local Chinese restaurant!

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Today, I Love...

- Peggle 2

Such cute goofiness!

- Some especially sweet green grapes


Home-made bread with raisins and dried cranberries

So yummy!

 Written by one of my favourite actresses, this book tackles some serious, important issues in depth and with all the warmth, good cheer, sincerity and personality I've come to expect from Cameron Diaz. I myself am just starting my own journey into better health and conscious mental and physical well-being, and it feels really great to read about someone else's journey, especially when that "someone else" is one of my favourite celebrities. My boyfriend, ever the sceptic and pessimist, says this book could very well have been "ghost written" by someone else, but, as usual, I choose to take no part in his doubts and negativity. In my mind, I can hear Cameron Diaz speak the words I read, and that adds to my enjoyment of this book. So far, it's been a very enjoyable read.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Apricot Lentil Soup

From: Lentil Recipes: The Ultimate Collection - Over 30 Healthy and Delicious Recipes

I love this soup. It's the perfect blend of tastes and textures. Lentils and vegetable stock form the savoury base, dried apricots add a bit of sweetness, onion, tomato and garlic harmonise with the lentil base to enrich its flavour, black pepper adds a little heat to the mix, thyme lightens it up a bit with its strong, fresh flavour which is wonderfully complimented by the acidity of a little bit of lemon juice added to the soup right before serving.

There are many other recipes in this book that I would also like to try, but whenever I decide to make lentil food, I always end up making the apricot lentil soup. It's just so good...

The divinely delicious Apricot Lentil Soup.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

To feel or not to feel - emotions and their uses

- What are you doing?
- Nothing.
- You're reading something. What is it?
- Just something boring.
- If it's boring, why are you reading it?
- Because I can't think of anything else to do. I don't really like spending all day in front of the computer and am quite often bored, but I can't think of anything else I'd like to do, either...

I live with my boyfriend, who is really strongly an intellectual. He thrives on projects that challenge his intellect and ultimately needs them to feel fulfilled. He is unemployed, just as I am, and as there isn't an abundance of such projects that are both challenging and meaningful enough to be engaging in his life, he quite frequently feels bored. He spends his days in front of his computer, playing games, watching series and movies, reading articles on the Net, and participating in lots of discussions on various different forums. I have tried to get him interested in one of my hobbies - the fitness stuff is the latest example - and take him with me to the social gatherings I have with my friends to include him in our activities, but he's not interested. I have asked him if there is any hobby he can think of that he'd be interested in, but the answer is always the same: he can't think of any.

I, myself, don't have this problem. Quite the opposite: there are so many things I like to do that I don't have enough time for them all! There's cross stitching to do, movies and series to watch, audiobooks to listen to, books to read, poems, essays and short stories to write, delicious foods to cook and all sorts of mouth-watering pastries to bake, all sorts of video games to play (including but not limited to fitness games), cards to make, ... and, when I'm in the mood, I might light a scented candle or drop a few drops of an essential oil mix onto an aroma stone, put on some appropriate music (or not, sometimes silence is best), and just sit on the sofa and let the scent (and music) take me to a trip into my inner world (these trips are always quite interesting, as you never know beforehand where you'll end up and what you'll find along the way). Of course, I don't find all of these activities appealing all of the time, but I can always find something I'd love to do. I am never bored.

I am quite emotional, and take pride in that fact. Nevertheless, I am not controlled by my emotions: I ride them, channel them - they are my strength and I am in control of them. I enjoy and readily explore my emotions, there is something beautiful and inspiring in each and every one of them. Anger, Joy, Sadness, Frustration, Triumph, Happiness, Despair, ... they can all be converted into art (poems, short stories, cards) or energy, or sometimes both. There's beauty in everything if you only know where - or perhaps how - to look. Maybe this is somehow connected to why I never feel bored? At least it is one of the big differences between me and my boyfriend. He consciously distances himself from his emotions, taking pride in the fact that he doesn't feel much. His strength lies in having a lot of intelligence, but not too many strong emotions. I can see how a life like that would be very boring for me...

You might think that opposites like this wouldn't mix very well. True enough, I get frustrated sometimes when I need someone to share my feelings with. He can listen to them, but is unable (and unwilling) to share them, and always manages to flatten my joy, triumph, or any positive emotion with his cold intellectual analysis. (The latest example of this is when I, stupidly, went to him a week ago to share my excitement about having been able to keep my weight going down for four weeks in a row. He told me that a tiny weight loss like that was nothing to get excited about, that a person's weight can easily fluctuate a kilo or two into either direction even when there is no apparent reason for it, and to come to him when I had some real results to show or when I needed some concrete help researching more effective weight loss methods. That totally flattened the excitement I was feeling, even though I strongly felt that having been able to keep my weight going steadily (albeit slowly) down for that long was a justifiable cause for some excitement. My comment of "What about some emotional help/support?" went unanswered. Needless to say, I will no longer be going to him to celebrate my small successes with this project of mine.) Luckily, I have my wonderful friends who I can go to when I need to share an emotion. They are very precious to me and I don't know what I'd do without them. I feel so lucky to have them in my life.

This problem of not being able to share emotions (easily solved by having friends who I can share my emotions with) aside, I think my boyfriend and I are quite alright together. Our home is a very calm, quiet place and both of us can quite naturally and instinctively respect the other's privacy, personal space and need for "me-time". All of those things are very, very important to me. We both are also very patient people and neither of us likes to fight, so the few conflicts we have - we've lived together for over 10 years and we've had, like, two major issues - are always resolved peacefully through calm discussion, analysis and compromising. Voices are never raised. I could absolutely not live with someone who couldn't resolve any and all issues calmly and without a fight. My boyfriend's ability to remain calm and keep his emotions out of it gives me a certain sense of security - I can count on him acting rationally and not making any rash, out-of-the-blue decisions without careful consideration and intellectual analysis. He always has good reasons for his actions, and that makes me feel safe. I also know that whenever I face a problem, I can count on him for some well-thought-out and thoroughly-researched advice, and I appreciate that very much. I can - and do! - talk to him about anything, just as long as I remember that he probably won't share my feelings. He has a lot of knowledge about a lot of things and is very calm and collected, and therefore is a good, though a bit unemotional, conversationalist. He shows his affection for me by being very kind, thoughtful and patient with me, and we also exchange a lot of hugs and kisses every day. He's someone I can rely on, respect, and love. We make a good team, and balance each other out nicely.

Friday, 17 January 2014

PS3: Tekken Revolution

I'm not a violent or even very aggressive person in any way, but from time to time I like to play fighting games. Stylish moves, cool characters and a generally pretty look are what draws me to these games. Eye-candy, that's where it's at! As a rather casual gamer, I also appreciate games that do not require me to spend hours practicing my moves before I can properly get into the game.

One of these games that I've been playing recently is Tekken Revolution for PS3.

My absolute favourite character so far is Lili. She is cute, poised and graceful, and has a variety of beautiful gymnastics-style fighting moves. She is one of the initial characters available from the get-go, no need to collect a massive amount of gift points (earned from online and arcade matches and login bonuses) for a chance to unlock her.

Of the unlockable characters, I have managed to unlock two: Christie and Dragunov. Both of them are quite fun to play, but I need to put in some practice with Christie first before I can really use her in anything but easy arcade mode battles. Her fighting style is fun and effective, but perhaps a bit more complex than, say, Lili's. Hence the need for practice. I like her though, so it is possible that I actually will some day take the time to get to know her moves a bit better.

I also played my very first online matches in this game today. As Lili, of course, since she's the only character whose moves I'm a bit more familiar with. I chose to play Ranked Matches, and won 4 out of the 5 I played. My rank is now Disciple (4th dan). At the moment, the highest attainable rank in the game, according to tekkenpedia, is 24th dan. As a quite casual gamer, I'm sure I won't be progressing very high up the ranks before the matches get too tough for me, but that's fine by me. I'm happy to leave the higher ranks to those who are more dedicated to these games and thus way more skilled at them!

Friday, 3 January 2014

PS3: Rune Factory: Oceans - An Introduction to the Characters

One day, two good friends, a girl and a boy, were just going on with their lives on Fenith Island, when suddenly a lake they were passing started to shine with a bright white light. They stopped to see what was going on, and the next thing they knew, they were transported to another Fenith Island. It was clearly Fenith Island, but the people were all strange to them, and a lot of things were not as they knew them to be on the Fenith Island they lived on. To the player, it became gradually clear that they had been transported in time to the future, but the characters themselves deduced they had somehow crossed over to an alternate reality.

They also realised they had another problem: somehow, the girl's spirit had become an uninvited guest in the boy's body, and the girl's own body had completely disappeared. At around this point, the player got to name the two characters. The boy's default name was Aden, but I prefer to call him Lenn. The girl's default name was Sonja, but I prefer to call her Linn. So, my reader, meet the main characters: Lenn and Linn. Cohabiting the boy's body caused a bit of a dilemma when taking a bath or going to bed for the first time after the incident, but mostly, Lenn and Linn didn't let it slow them down. As Linn puts it (she is translucent in the pictures because she is a spirit):

The characters they met on this new Fenith Island didn't seem too weirded out by this strange occurrence, either. Odette, the first person they met there, is a good example:

I think it was Odette who remembered that something similar had happened a long time ago, but didn't remember how the situation had been resolved. It was decided that Lenn and Linn should stay on this new Fenith Island and make the inn's guest house their new home. Perhaps, in time, they would meet someone with the knowledge required to help them.

As Linn and Lenn were gradually introduced to the island's residents, Linn made an observation:

And Odette agreed with her assessment:

And so I think it is time for you too to meet this colourful cast:

♥ ♥ ♥

The Most Notable Characters on Fenith Island (so far)

The Three Sisters
Lily is the eldest of the three sisters who own the inn on Fenith Island. In my opinion, she is also the cutest. I love her hair! She is quite clumsy and a bit of an airhead, but also very charming and cheerful, and plays the lute beautifully.
Odette is the middle sister, responsible and pragmatic, and just generally a "take charge" kind of person. As well as an inn keeper, she is also a Dragon Priestess and a Fenith Island tour guide.
Violet is the youngest sister. She is a little shy and awkward, but has a heart of gold. She also works as a nurse at the church, so if you ever get ill, she'll be the one to cure you.

The Shopkeepers
Bismark is the older of the two siblings who own the general store. He's really responsible and a stickler to the rules, but also shy and socially awkward, and less manly than he'd like to be. And completely terrified of talking to girls.
Sierra is Bismark's younger sister, and a real troublemaker. She hates work and, to Bismark's continued exasperation, habitually plays hooky from minding the store. Always on the lookout for anything fun.

The Sainte-de-Coquille Household
Beatrix is the mayor of Fenith Island, but prefers to spend her days digging for treasure in her back garden. Finding a treasure would certainly help, as the family used to be very rich, but fell on hard times and lost all their wealth. That is not the reason why Beatrix is hunting for treasure, though. She says she does it for the thrill and adventure of it.
Electra is Beatrix's daughter and handles most of the mayor's duties. She also loves making accessories and doing housework. A very hard-working and level-headed young lady.
Maerwen is a dark elf and a kind of an au-pair, both living in the Sainte-de-Coquille mansion and working there as their maid. She is on cultural exchange from the dark elf homeland, and clearly has much to learn about the social customs of Fenith Island, as she can be quite rude at times, even to people she cares much about.

The Blacksmith & The Brother
Elena is the blacksmith of Fenith Island. She loves tinkering with her golems and is a wealth of information on them. Likes to stay up till the small hours and wake up late.
James is Elena's older brother, and hands down the cutest bachelor on the island. He's a really nice guy, but way too attached to his sister, constantly watching over her and worrying about her. When I get to the endgame and can choose to play as Linn, I will cure him of that - he doesn't know it yet, but he and Linn are going to get married and live happily ever after.

The Church Residents
Father Gerard is the island's slightly creepy but kind-hearted and well-meaning priest. He has a secret which will be revealed to you when you become better acquainted with him.
Pandora introduces herself as an evil arch-sorceress. She is not originally from Fenith Island, but appears there after Linn and Lenn bring home a statue from one of their adventures. Turns out she was experimenting with a spell to turn things to stone and accidentally turned herself to stone. After Linn and Lenn return her body to life, she is very grateful to them, and names them her minions number 1 and 2 as she resumes her interrupted plotting to take over the world. Father Gerard lets her stay in a spare room at the church, as she naturally has no place of her own on the island.
Kelsey is a shy, orphaned boy who Father Gerard has given a home at the church. Very quiet and timid.
Quinn is an outgoing, tomboyesque orphaned girl who, like Kelsey, lives at the church in the care of Father Gerard. Constantly bossing Kelsey around, dragging him into her athletic, energetic games.

The Adventurers
Bacchus is a seasoned old sea dog, now retired from adventuring and residing on Fenith Island. Lily's most fervent admirer. Burly and rowdy, but mostly good-humoured.
Joe is Bacchus's grandson, but not nearly as burly as him and only interested in surfing and fishing, and thus a bit of a disappointment to his grandfather.

Jocelyn is an archaeologist who visits the island on Thursdays and Holidays, setting up shop at the church plaza. Lives somewhere off the island with her husband and children.

Mikoto is a dedicated warrior who performs guard patrol on the island every day and gets up early to practice sword fighting before starting the walk around the island looking for trouble.

♥ ♥ ♥

Each character has a "friendship meter" the player can fill by interacting with them and giving them presents (limit once per day per character). Each character also has a favourite present that fills the bar up faster than anything else. Once the bar is full, the next time you talk to the character you get a "friendship event", a cutscene where you learn more about that character and deepen your friendship with them. This event raises your friendship level with that character and resets their bar - fill it up again to get your friendship level with that character up another level.

I love how each character has their own, unique favourite gifts and friendship events that are unlike those of any other character. Each friendship event is fun (though some are a bit more serious) and feels like it has been made with great care and attention to detail. Getting to know each character and learning more about their past, who they are and what secrets they have is one of my favourite things to do in Rune Factory: Oceans. Everyone on Fenith Island really is a character!