If you’re anything like me then running alone is a little nerve racking. Should you muster the energy to step outside you’re faced with the embarrassment in sweating past strangers as you try to shift your holiday weight. And when you stop you’re confronted with the feeling that you’ve not run fast or hard or long enough. Anxieties like these make it almost impossible to maintain a regular running routine and achieve long term health goals. Fortunately, we live in a digital age where even our exercise can be enhanced with mobile apps.
After an eighteen month running hiatus I downloaded Couch to 5k. Being away from exercise for so long meant I could only run half the distance I achieved less than two years before. My efforts were disappointing and I needed a programme to rebuild the lost fitness level Couch to 5k offers this. The app encourages you to slowly develop your running abilities over a nine week schedule. By the end of the plan you’ll progress from a one minute sustained jog up to a half hour run.
As well as a providing an effective exercise schedule Couch to 5k comes with several features to keep you motivated such helpful reminders and encouragement from a well known celebrity voice (personally I chose stand up Sarah Millican). Not only does the app help you reach a goal practically but it efforts to keep you on the track by supporting your exercise. The steady but successful incline along side the helpful motivational features makes it an ideal app for the beginner runner.
I like my coffee black, my wine red and I drink both far too often. As every good dentist will tell you, over indulging in my favourite beverages can quickly take the shine out of your smile. To prevent this I spend too much time scouring stores for new toiletries to preserve my dental sheen. Retailers are packed with toothpastes promising to remove discoloration and deliver an award winning smile. With heavy competition in a crowded marketplace good products need to whiten effectively and fit your budget. Most importantly, they need to give you a feeling of security. If you’re using a toothpaste twice a day it should not only brighten your smile but provide good oral health.
I’ve trialed three easily accessible examples against these standards over the past month. Giving each one week of twice daily use and compared it with the others. The reason for this project is because there are now so many choices all claiming to produce great results. Until you’ve tried a few it’s impossible to know which brand is best. Hopefully this will save you some of that effort.
Arm and Hammer Advance White
I stumbled across this toothpaste when packing for a city break in the travel toiletries section. At an affordable £1 (usually £2.50 for regular), this miniature was the perfect sample to start to my weekly trials. The unique selling point of Arm and Hammer toothpastes is that their whitening comes from bicarbonate of soda, a product most of us are familiar with. I found this immediately reassuring, thinking that if it’s safe enough to eat, it’s safe enough for teeth. After a week your mouth feels healthy and after continual use the toothpaste is moderately effective. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the taste of bicarb, which dampened my experience. I’d recommend people try Advance White but be wary that the flavour may prevent the product from becoming a favourite.
EcoDenta Black Whitening
Like most toothpaste brands, EcoDenta offer several products with a variety of flavours and effects. On the recommendation of a friend I settled on trying Black Charcoal. My tube came from a health food store running an offer on the toothpaste at £2.50. EcoDenta state that this product is made of 96% natural ingredients and contains no fluoride. The dark colouring, unique taste and eco friendly origins make the brand appealingly unique. The main drawback of Black Whitening is the mixed reviews. There seems to be some online uncertainty if the product is suitable for daily use. After several days this made me feel slightly uncomfortable and regulated use to night time brushing only.
Colgate Max White Expert White Anti-Stain
When you think of teeth whitening toothpastes this is the most typical of the products. Looking over the ingredients there’s the usual list of chemicals, including Hydrogen Peroxide. My initial expectation was that the toothpaste would be unsuitable for daily use. Working more like a nuclear bomb to remove stains and discolouration but not having a positive lasting effect on my oral health. Thankfully, all my assumptions were pleasantly incorrect. After a week there was a visible improvement in the whiteness of my teeth and my gums felt healthy. Overall, this was my favourite product for both quality and taste but it does have a heavy drawback. Currently, a tube is retailing at a hefty £12. I anticipate this toothpaste will become more affordable when it has been on the market longer.
Circe is Madeline Miller’s second retelling of ancient Greek legend. The novel introduces us to the title character Circe, an underdog nymph and daughter of the sun Titan, Helios. We follow the minor immortal from her creation to final scenes as she is interjected into the lives of some of Greek mythology’s most prominent players. But even when placed in the path of famous beasts like the Minotaur; heroes such as Odysseus; and the proud Olympians Athena and Hermes, Circe carves her place among the illustrious cast.
The legend of Circe is often forgotten outside of Homer’s Odyssey, however Miller paints fresh layers onto one of the lesser characters in the Greek Pantheon. We are given an imaginative retelling that is overflowing with tragedy, magic and destiny. Such a story allows Circe to steal the pages, upstage the most famous characters and cement her place in legend. A must read for anybody with an interest in mythology.
The Graphic Guide series take the complete works of writers or a subject and turns them into a basic introduction. For Lacan, they lead you through his biography and key concepts and demonstrate how they matured over the course of his career. The information is broken down into easily accessible paragraphs, accompanied by visual aids and humour to cement your understanding of his theories. This approach is particularly helpful for English speakers who often receive the psychoanalyst/philosopher’s dense works in translation. ‘Introducing Lacan’ gives clarity to the often muddy and sprawling sentences that form the writer’s original French texts. I’d implore every school, college and university to purchase a complete collection of these graphic guides to coax their students into complex writers and their concepts.
My first encounter with watercolour pencils was in an art supply kit. The kind you receive for Christmas as a kid containing pencil crayons, a couple of erasers and sometimes a few pieces of charcoal. Of course, I had no idea what to do with the water colour pencils and after a few failed attempts neglected them to the bottom of the box.
Recently, I stumbled across a set in a craft store and wanted to unearth the purpose of these mysterious objects from my childhood. So, I purchased a beginner sample of twelve pencils and some water colour post cards. For the first few weeks my efforts were appalling. But I persevered and discovered that I could replicate a half decent rock. With bit more practice I was producing pretty impressive formations. However, whilst stone circles, cliff faces and craggy boulders are great, I started to become a bit bored of the only subject I could successfully capture. I found the solution on the internet.
Like every other skill there are online resources from masters in their field. After hours of studying their techniques and practice I am beginning to appreciate the diversity of water colour pencils. Their hybrid nature allows you to use them as a regular pencil crayons but with bit of water you can layer into effective, blended painting. Versatility is their main strength. With few drops you can move from a fluid landscape into fine detailing with a dry pencil. This adds a depth and boldness to your creations that cannot be obtained using pencil crayon or water colour paints alone.
Another great aspect of water colour pencils is how portable they are. With just a few hues you can create on the go without having to carry a canvas and other art supplies. Being able to transport such a versatile and effective tool becomes a blessing on long journeys or if you want to paint outside the home.
I would have uploaded a few of my own attempts but I have no aptitude for art. Rather than let my hobby level efforts deter you from water colour pencils I’ve included some tutorials by professionals. Their tips and insight into watercolour pencil techniques will hopefully entice you into getting started.
Blizzard has recently released their latest expansion for the World of Warcraft Series, Battle for Azeroth. It wasn’t long before online recommendations pointed me towards it. The trailers, available cut-scenes and information about the new content were enticing. However, I have always been apprehensive about signing up for WoW. As a frequent player of MMORPGs I have sampled various titles from Lord of the Rings to Dungeons and Dragons. I played them for about a month, grew tired and turned to something else. Naturally, I was worried I would end up in the same scenario with WoW. To investigate I decided to dedicate some time to the free trial to discover if I could justify spending about ten Great British Pounds a month on World of Warcraft.
When evaluating if a game is value for money then we have to consider the amount of content available, and whether it is engaging. Since its inception in 1994, WoW has grown considerably and currently boasts a total of seven expansions. This provides players with a strong arsenal of backstory and gameplay to explore. In an RPG this is an essential element because it allows new players fully immerse in the universe from its early releases like The Frozen Throne right up to the latest title. Furthermore, Blizzard has split the character creation into two distinct sides, with multiple races and classes. This not only deepens the amount of content and lore available, but also provides several different opportunities in which you can tackle the game.
Most entertainment is now packaged as a subscription service: Our music comes from Spotify; films and television from Netflix; even snacks and toiletries are sent through the post to save a trip to the supermarket. Why should gaming be any different? Of course, the real question is whether WoW is value for money. Taking a browse over the price of new releases you see an immediate price difference. Most recent titles come onto the market upwards of thirty pounds (assuming there is no additional downloadable content). If you find yourself enjoying the game you’ll receive an average of four days worth of game-play. On a purely financial comparison WoW comes in cheaper than buying a new game, whilst assuring that you are making your way through the kind of content that you already know you enjoy.
After three weeks of exploring the free trial I have found that the pleasure in WoW comes from the immersion. Overtime, you and your friends have explored the world of Azeroth, enveloped yourselves in its rich lore and developed your skills throughout each expansion. What Blizzard offers, in their most famous title, is a fantasy world that can be continuously explored and challenged. The addictive nature as well as the frequency of fresh content sells a monthly subscription, often making World of Warcraft cheaper and more rewarding than buying a new game once or twice a month.
After completing all the tasks on Duolingo I found myself a bit lost. Suddenly, I had exhausted the app and needed a new direction for my Swedish lessons. The alternate learning methods needed to develop on the basics of Duolingo and engage me into further study. There are a variety of information points available ranging from websites with lessons plans to online video tutorials and subscription apps. With a bit of experimenting I found a combination of several resources suited me best.
This is probably the simplest way to boost your vocab. Once you have changed the language settings on your devices, social media and Netflix you will pick up new words everyday. Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram translates all the adverts, which makes them slightly more interesting and streaming your favourite show teaches you all the swear words that family friendly sources won’t. The only problem is if you have a technical issue. It’s easier to walk past discount Ben and Jerry’s than turn your phone back to factory settings.
Finding an app that fits for you is exhausting. They all seem to offer the same intermediate level lessons and charge the GDP of Kuwait. It took a lot of experimenting before I settled on an app that would engage me and justify a monthly subscription. Eventually, I settled on Memrise partly because it was the cheapest on offer at less than £6 per month. However, the app offers a lot of features others don’t such as videos of native speakers pronouncing vocabulary, an interactive story-line as well as access to tutors for an additional charge. As you complete each lesson your extraterrestrial avatar grows and journeys further into space. Learning this way keeps exploring a language fun and feels less like a chore. Ideal if your children are insisting on being bilingual.
If language learning resources were gold then 101Languages is as valuable as the crown jewels. Just like the name suggests they have information on about 101 languages available. The site offers samples of everything from vocab flashcards to links to radio shows and a smorgasbord of audio lessons. There is so much choice, all you have to do is click a link and learn.
Over the Easter period I found myself with four free days. I decided to use this opportunity to do a little exploring. When I sat down to plan the city break I decided on two criteria. Firstly, I wanted to travel as cost effectively as possible. Secondly, the journey must take me somewhere new and be an exposure to fresh experiences . With only a week to plan and a starting point in Stockholm I scoured the internet for bargain holidays.
After a few hours of research I’d gathered a list of trains and planes that could take me somewhere within Scandinavia for a decent price. However, the costs seemed to treble when I searched for accommodation. Booking last minute meant all the bargains had already been bought and I was left with the more expensive options. I returned to the search engine disheartened and started reading other people’s recommendations. To my surprise, one of the most frequent options for budget traveling was to take a cruise.
Initially I was a little skeptical of boat travel. Cruises conjure the image of bingo halls and close quarters with very tanned pensioners who spend six months of the year in the Caribbean. However, after totaling the prices on several websites the savings of cruises couldn’t be ignored. Even with a last minute booking a three day journey came in slightly cheaper than flights for two people. By combining the cost of transport and accommodation traveling across the Baltic sea becomes a steal.
Finally, I had hunted down a holiday that fit my cost effective criteria. Now all I needed to do was choose a city to explore. Most cruises companies offer four or five destinations. That gives you plenty of options when picking a city break in a country that borders the Baltic Sea. The most frequent locations were Estonia, Latvia and Finland but if you were willing to travel for longer you can reach Russia and even China. With so many places to choose from it was impossible not to find somewhere I hadn’t explored. And by taking my first journey by boat I had the opportunity to appreciate a new country a unique way to get there.
The week quickly past and I found myself at Stockholm’s port, ready to begin my voyage. I still held some reservations about cruises but they were quickly washed away after a few hours. Unlike the airport leaving the country by boat is a much calmer experience. Gone are the frustrated families cramming through baggage checks and long lines at passport control. There’s no need to wrestle for a seat whilst you’re waiting to depart because you’re immediately at ‘hotel’.
Once onboard all there is left to do is relax and enjoy the journey. This is made easy with the amount of opportunities on board. Most hotels offer one or two restaurants whilst cruises double your choices. Alongside this there are multiple bars, shopping centers, live entertainment, spa facilities, play areas for the children and of course the obligatory bingo. Even though your are spending more time traveling by boat the experience itself makes the journey feel faster. What cruises lose in speed the make up for in comfort.
Taking a city break by boat is ultimately an experience in pleasure. From the effortless journey to the plethora of options for entertainment and dining, you arrive at your destination refreshed and ready to explore. When you consider the bargain prices as well then it’s not surprising why they are so highly recommended. If you have a few days to enjoy and a wanderlust to satisfy then a cruise around the Baltic may be perfect for you.
I first discovered blooming tea about two years ago in a small, hipster cafe. As I watched the dehydrated flower blossom to life again I knew it would become one of my favourite beverages. Fortunately the flower tea trend has taken off and a pot can be ordered in many more eateries or purchased online. However, despite the popularity of the product its origins are still a mystery. We know that the majority of the blooming buds are produced in China but who or when it was invented is still unknown.
Regardless of its secret history I am happy we have it in the present. In the era of Starbucks and Coco Cola producing high caffeine, high sugar drinks, flower tea offers something fresh. Most blooming tea bundles are wrapped in whole green tea leaves which are renowned for their numerous health benefits. These range from being rich in antioxidants to the claims the drink can lower cholesterol, improve blood flow and block the plaques linked to Alzheimer’s disease. However, if the green leaves aren’t your cup of choice then black tea and flavoured varieties are also available.
Not only is it a healthy drink the aesthetic value is important too. The dramatic resurrection of the flower turns a simple cup of tea into a Twenty First Century tea ceremony. There’s a tranquil moment as you take time to enjoy the natural artwork unfold. The only issue is that you can’t share the beauty of blooming tea. Attempting to take a photo is very difficult because light sources are reflected on the glass surface. This makes a pot of flower tea a private pleasure. The feast is only for those at the table, a selfish moment to be enjoyed away from social media or the wider world.
The health benefits of green tea:
An affordable example
Towards the end of last year I wrote a post titled ‘The Days out that Didn’t Happen’. The piece lamented my unfulfilled holiday plans and the three galleries/museums I didn’t explore. One of the places I missed out on was an old paint factory, Fargfabriken. Located in Liljehomen, Stockholm the building originally opened as paint producer in 1889. Nearly 150 years later it now houses art and architectural exhibits available to the public for a small fee.
To find Fargfabriken you need to journey about five minutes away from Liljehomen’s tube station. Unlike most art spaces which are located in affluent, central city locations the surrounding area of Fargfabriken is entirely industrial. Walking past the concrete landscape, coated in old snow the red brick of the factory is a contrast. It’s purpose is immediately imparted. The grey buildings are for working but the red is for exploration.
Inside, there is a popular cafe, gift store and exhibit rooms. Currently, the main attractions are installations from Beckers Art Award winner, Petra Hultman. Her exhibit focuses primarily on the home and the work of the women who make it. The walls are lined with old instruction manuals designed to inform housewives on creating the perfect living environment. The center tells a story of an elderly couple. The husband and wife have their creative outlets: He builds key boxes out of wood; she forms blankets from material. His work is stacked high and displayed for examination. Her work is folded into piles, neglecting the intricacies and effort of each piece.
I wondered if the works belonged to real people or if the couple were a fictional device to emphasise the experience of domestic labour. Huntman was available to question because she was working on a tapestry as part of the exhibit. However, I was stopped by a question: Did the origin of these characters matter? Whether they were a product of fact or fiction didn’t change the story. I’ll never know the answer and I’m content with that, If you have the time and about £7/70Sek spare perhaps you could visit and let me know your thoughts. I’ll leave a link to Fargfabriken and Hultman below.