Fitbitches - The February Run Down

Fitbitches - The February Run Down


So I'll start with the negative from this month. I had the worst run (mentally) around three weeks ago. It was a normal Monday 3-mile run with my usual running group and some of the route was to be torchlit (it mixes things up a bit - here's the stats from Strava).  I don't suffer from panic attacks however I struggled with pace and I had a bit of a moment half way round where I struggled to breathe, felt physically sick and got a bit tearful. My running pals talked me through it and got me to a point where I felt as though I could carry on.

After getting home, I had a bit of a think about what had happened and felt as though I had been building up to this for a long time. The decision to run further and faster over the winter was a tough one to make. I was leaving my Couch To 5k community group comfort blanket behind, running with new people - many of whom were already great friends with each other - and pushing myself to do something that still feels so unnatural to me. The runs with this group are tough but I can already feel the difference in my stamina and pace in general and that's the positive I'm taking from this.

Moving forward, we are on week 7 of the latest 5-10k Progression Plan and this is the third time I've been on this plan. As mentioned earlier, it's a challenge for me to be out of my comfort zone but I do organise the weekly optional extra run on a Saturday which is anything between 3 and 5 miles. I've also got the Stroke Association Resolution Run (10k) booked for the beginning of March and there's a few of my running mates taking part. I have also registered for another virtual 10k during March.

Blackburn Road Runners Winter Warmer 10k


I had been mentally preparing for the Blackburn Road Runners 10k Winter Warmer for a while. It's our only local 10k and includes my nemesis hill - Buncer Lane.  The route is tough in general, with the first 3k being totally uphill however the views are spectacular. The organisation of the event is second to none with BRR members as pacers and marshals - and this is what helped me have such a good run as I know most of them personally as part of my extended running community. My run was full of shouts of encouragement, high fives and hugs.

Fitbitches - The February Run Down - the BRR Winter Warmer elevation chartFitbitches - The February Run Down - BRR Winter Warmer at around 7k - photo credit : Claire Young


At around the halfway point I fell into a matching stride with another runner and we ran the second half of the route together, giving each other little pep-talks, chatting about our running achievements and goals for the year and generally helping each other along for the last part of the race. Because of this, I totally ran through my usual wall at 7-8k but definitely hit it for the last kilometre when I was back in the park and could see the finish line. My new-found running buddy stretched out for the final leg and we finished around a minute apart. Photo credit : Claire Young

Fitbitches - The February Run Down - BRR Winter Warmer overview, route, medal, running number
I'd set myself a goal of completing the course in 1hr 20min as I knew how long it would take me to run that first section but my chip time was 1:17:22 - yes it's slow but it's the first time I've not felt like I was running for well over an hour and that was simply down to my own personal experience with this race and the people involved.


Fitbitches


The last few weeks have been spent thinking a lot about the Fitbitches ethos and how I can grow this into the meaningful, altruistic community that I want it to be. The Facebook group has doubled in size but I'm still determined to ensure that there are only proactive members who are focused on encouraging each other, regardless of fitness level, exercise discipline or personal goal, and all with no sales pitch as I'm looking more at the community atmosphere. As individuals, these goals are always so different but we all need that little high five or pat on the back to keep us going, don't we?

Fitbitches - The February Run Down - Fitbitches is not about being better than someone else, its about being better than you used to be
Along with the original members of Fitbitches, I organised a February Virtual Event. We were all looking to move more in 2017 but I always find having an actual target is the best way to get to the next level.  I saw that Virtual Runner UK were offering a medal in February where you could run or walk either 5k or 10k to achieve that medal.  It was the ideal goal where we could all be involved, so we signed up for it, agreed a day when we could all do the activity near our own homes and kept in touch via social media for mutual support. It was such a good feeling to actually see my friends achieving what they'd set out to do and enjoying the time they were spending doing it! Huge congratulations to Tanya, Kirsty & Clara and Penny (links to their Instagram so you can follow their updates).  If you want to follow our progress then we are using the #Fitbitches hashtag on Instagram - that hashtag isn't exclusive though so I might have to create a unique one moving forward... EDIT - THE HASHTAG IS #FitbitchesMOVEment - see all the posts here.  Leading on from this, Tanya has absolutely SMASHED another personal goal by power-walking 21k in a week - you can read her update here.

We are all now contemplating what we can do in March and we are slowly introducing more people to the group who can help mould this unique community in the way that I want. This is more than completing just one 5k or chatting on a Facebook group or selling fitness advice in the form of e-books that isn't tailored to the individual. It's not blogging, it's not tweeting... it's doing. It's a MOVEment.

Stories That Have Captured My Interest This Month

Fitbitches - The February Run Down - Ron Hill
Most distance runners will have heard of Ron Hill and many other runners will know of him through his sport clothing range as he was a pioneer of various products, but mainly the reflective strips that are now found on most sports outerwear.  I knew of him long ago as he was the first winner of the Freckleton Half Marathon (my home village - and, if it ever came to it, the only half marathon I'd ever run) and he still holds the course record after 50-odd years!

Born in Accrington, Lancashire, he was a multi-gold medalist marathon runner and recently ended the longest recorded running streak in history, finishing at 19,032 days where he ran at least one mile for every single one of those days. I honestly can't imagine how that feels as he has said that he mentally wants/wanted to continue but, due to illness, his body just couldn't do it any more.  The Guardian shared a video of his achievements which I've embedded here for you to watch.


Fell running is so far off my radar that I cannot even contemplate the dedication it takes to train for such events. This article about Ricky Lightfoot appeared on my Strava feed a couple of weeks ago and is a must-read. He talks about the Bob Graham Round, which is the Lake District's most historic fell running challenge and the input that is needed for this endurance feat. As an aside, the photography accompanying this article is too DIE for!!

And I'll finish with yet another excuse to embed a Casey Neistat video where he examines his addiction to running. The mini-film is under 3 minutes long so well worth a watch.



What I'm wearing this month 


Adidas Duramo 55 - discounted at Sports Direct (although their staff are worse than useless) - bought a half size bigger which is recommended and laced for high arches. This has completely eradicated the pins-and-needles feeling I regularly have in my foot and I've had fewer calf twinges this month too.

Wild Bangarang - I wore my Anne Stokes Gothic Skull leggings when running the Winter Warmer  which are definitely my favourite pair from all the ones I own. If you're ever ordering from their site you can use the discount code TYPECAST15 for 15% off your order.

Blackburn Road Runners buff - I joked that I'd only entered their Winter Warmer so I could receive the logo'd running buff in the goodie bag... but they didn't include one this year!! My friend, and BRR member, Lisa kindly bought me one as a gift and I've worn it every time I've been running since - it was brilliant as an 80s style sweatband on this weekend's 8k run (pic here)!! 


Total distance for 2017 so far

123 kilometres
I should be up to 140 km this week to be on track for my goal of 1000 km this year. I'm not too worried about being a little bit behind but I really can't let it slip much more as it will become too challenging later in the year

My focus for March is to catch up on the missing mileage and to be more positive about my runs. One day, I'll nail this.  (PS... read January's Fitbitches Run Down here)


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How Can I Get A Good Night's Sleep?

Sleep... it's a sore subject in this house

The cause? My husband's snoring! One pillow, two pillows, on his back, on his side, using an anti-snore pillow, whatever. And he sleeps so deeply that he has no idea that he's doing it either. He protests by saying that I snore too but I know I don't...  I'm too ladylike to snore. Cute little piggy grunts, maybe, but not loud enough to wake someone from their slumber and prevent them from nodding back off again.

You would think I would be used surviving with no sleep. When my youngest child was born (and before was diagnosed with ADHD) he used to sleep for anything between half an hour and two hours then stay away for the next eight hours. This went on for approximately two-and-a-half years. In fact, I was so adept at surviving of little or no sleep that I laughed at the idea of the reality TV Show, "Shattered" which involved a number of contestants going without sleep for a week (I'm sure I am the only person who remembers this. Dermot O'Leary presented the nightly updates).

Nowadays, I sometimes manage a lie-in at the weekend but I am usually awake before it is absolutely necessary to get up and can never settle back down again. That's a sign of old-age, isn't it?

Sleep isn't something that you can store in reserve for a time when you need the extra push, so what can you do to ensure a better night's sleep? Hopefully this video below from Adjustamatic will provide some advice about sleep position, pillows and how the position of your spine is all important.

And feel free to share your top tips about sleeping well - I need all the help I can get!!



This is a featured post. For more details please read my disclosure policy

7 New Hobbies to Kickstart 2017

It’s a new year, a fresh start. Resolutions have been made, goals have been set. Things are looking up. You feel energised, revitalised and somewhat uplifted. The thought of starting afresh gives you a spring in your step. Or does it? Isn’t that what a new year is supposed to make you feel like?

7 New Hobbies to Kickstart 2017For many of us, as the new year rolls around, we find ourselves stuck in the same old rut, wondering what all the fuss is about. We’re stuck with the same pile of credit to pay off, in the same boring job, with the same responsibilities as we had last year. For some of us, the new year brings about barely any excitement.


So how can we work to make 2017 the year of change? What exactly does a new year’s resolution entail? Is there a fun way to turn our routine from being a total snooze-fest to an exciting and inspiring routine that will help invigorate our lifestyle? The answer is a firm yes.

By taking on any of these 7 exciting hobbies, we’re confident that you’ll kickstart 2017 into a whole new gear.

Arts and Crafts

What better way to express yourself than to take up a hobby working with a glue gun and some paint? Let your creativity soar as you create watercolour works-of-art, or as you decoupage more tissue boxes than you could possibly ever need. Now is the perfect time to take on a project that will help you get in touch with your creative side.

Mosaic

This project requires a little more dedication and vision. Visit your local mosaic shop to browse the tile selection as you draw inspiration for a colour-scheme and picture you’d like to run with. After working on your mosaic masterpiece, we’re sure you’ll never look at a cracked tile the same way again.

Bingo

Our all-time-favourite past time, BINGO! Who can resist playing this classic game? Why not make bingo a new hobby this year? This is one of our favourite hobbies because there are endless rounds of bingo games to play, so you’ll never find an excuse to be bored again.

Boxing

Yes, boxing is more than a competing sport. It’s a fun form of exercise. (Yes, we used the word fun and exercise in the same sentence). This is a great way to let off some steam, get your adrenaline pumping and build on your strength.

Danceclass

While the idea of taking part in a dance class can be a little intimidating to some people, we swear by it! It’s time to lose your inhibitions and let loose! Sign up with friends, a family member or your partner and get your body moving and grooving to the beat. We’re sure that you’ll find yourself having a giggle or two as you dance your socks off. Our recommendation? Try out a salsa class!

Cooking club

Who doesn’t wish they could whip up a slap-up meal without breaking a sweat? Book yourself in for a cooking class or join a weekly cooking club to share ideas, recipes and to tuck-in to some tantalizing tasters.

DIY

Start a DIY project that you can work on whenever you have a bit of free time. Build your dream coffee table or start on that bookshelf you always wanted. Look for inspiration, by surfing the net, watching tutorials online or by visiting your local DIY stores.

Whatever hobby you decide to take on, make sure to make 2017 the best year yet.


This is a featured post. For more details please view my disclosure policy.

Soundtrack To My Life - Songs That Sound Alike

As mentioned last month, I'm taking Soundtrack To My Life on a different journey this year. Each month is going to have a different theme and this month is an train of thought that has been almost 12 months in the making but I was unsure how to approach it.

I have a mixture of theories about music (to be expanded on in another blog post in the very near future)... bear with me and I'll try and explain *deep breath*

There are eight notes in an octave and the human voice has a specific range, only reaching to extremes in very few people, Therefore, there must be a finite amount of ways in which those eight notes (and the higher/lower scales) can be arranged into a song. There also seems to be a 20-year recycle point for popular songs - this is when they will be released as a cover version or 'sampled' within a new arrangement. I totally believe that this is because of influence in our younger years - our first experiences of listening to music will probably have been the collection of tunes that our parents owned. This will then lead onto creators wanting to try and emulate those first glorious, nostalgic emotions, and will insert those memories into their next mix.

Over the past year or so I've been hearing more and more songs that sound alike so I'm attempting to see if they fit into my theory. Come with me on this aural journey; maybe I'm using a little bit of poetic licence here and there but there's definitely some influence (and blatant copying in at least one case) but let me know what you think. I can't be this weird all by myself!


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Bruno Mars versus The Whole Back Catalogue Of Music Ever (slight exaggeration)

I suppose you could say that this digging around started when comparisons to Bruno Mars' songs were flying around. You can hear from these cleverly mixed examples that he was probably influenced by my aforementioned theory. 

  

Now my own examples aren't this well edited (I mean, how much time do you think I have on my hands?) but I hope you get the gist...

Phil Collins versus Amy Winehouse

It was my youngest son that highlighted this about six months ago. We were in the car and the intro to Phil Collins' version of You Can't Hurry Love came on the radio and he started to sing Valerie by Amy Winehouse, then looked at me in amazement when he realised that he was singing the wrong song. See what you think...

  

The Rolling Stones versus The Rocky Horror Picture Show

I heard Sympathy For The Devil on the radio a few weeks ago and actually had to stop myself from singing the lyrics to Sweet Transvestite. It is entirely possible that Richard O'Brien could have taken inspiration from The Rolling Stones as their song was released in 1968 whereas The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a 1975 production.

  


Elbow versus The Smiths

This recent match must have been something you've heard yourself? When I first heard Magnificent (She Says) on the radio, in the car, I felt as though I should know the words already. I was convinced it was a Smiths song that might have been a modern remix or a B-side, even though I knew it wasn't really possible. I can't pinpoint exactly which Smiths song it sounds like but I think the Dream Academy's cover of Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want is the closest.

  

Cornershop versus The View

This is one of my favourite 'matches' as it's probably not too obvious but once you've heard both Brimful of Asha and then Same Jeans one after the other (that's how they appeared on 'shuffle' on my mp3 player a few years back) you can't not hear the similarities!

  

Stevie Nicks versus Destiny's Child

I'm not even going to try and fight for this example. There is no way that you can deny that Edge Of Seventeen and Bootylicious have the same intro. Note for note, beat for beat.


  


I have loads more stashed but I wanted to test the water with this selection. I can bring you comparisons of Queen and Bananarama, or what about 10cc and Erasure? There's even a Cameo song that sounds like something Prince would have released so I'm wondering if he had a hand in the composing or the production? 

But, for now, I'll leave you with another interesting fact about music and how it can trigger your subconscious. Did you know that there is a method used in advertising campaigns to impact on certain people? Research has shown that we were probably at our most influential at sixteen years of age. If a specific age bracket is to be targeted in an advertising campaign, the background music will be of the era when the target audience would have been age 16 as it evokes and unlocks that weakness in us. Genius!


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Soundtrack To My Life  - Motivational Songs For The New Year
Well done for reading down this far. Soundtrack To My Life is an occasional series on this blog where I talk about music that's influenced my life or I invite people to talk about the same. Read/Listen to all the previous Soundtrack To My Life entries here or follow the dedicated Pinterest board. Find out more about participating by >> clicking here <<




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Things I Learnt In January

Last year I promised myself that the best way to maintain sharing stuff-I-found-on-the-internet-that-was-too-important-to-be-passed-by-on-social-media-but-not-long-enough-for-a-blog-post was to keep up this series of "Things I Learnt In..."



I don't want to put out content that feels forced or boring and some months you think that you don't have enough material to create a meaningful article or you get to the second week of the next month and think, "Oh, shit. I didn't do my monthly series shizzle".  So, what I learnt in 2016 is that if I miss a month, then it's no biggie.  Here is a mixture of what t'internet and life taught me in November, December and January.


When you blog for yourself, writing for magazines is harder than it looks. I was asked to write the lead editorial for one of our annual industry publications at work.  Following on from that I have been given the opportunity to write another lead editorial for a brand new magazine and have landed the gig of writing a bi-monthly column for the first magazine and a quarterly column in the other. I know it's something that will stretch my writing limits but it's a challenge that I'm looking forward to. Note to self : request a byline...

Things I Learnt In January - Electrical Trade Magazine - Annual Buyers Guide - editorial
Electrical Trade Magazine, Annual Buyers Guide. Read in full here

Things I Learnt In January - Plumbing Trade Magazine - Issue 1 - lead editorial
Plumbing Trade Magazine, Issue 1. Read in full here

Things I Learnt In January - parcel collection meme
I'm definitely not the only person who takes their "Your parcel has been left at..." card with me to the neighbour's house.  In fact, all my friends do the same, usually marching over with it outstretched in their hand.

The 2nd February 2022 will fall on a Tuesday. 2/2/22. Think about it. TWOS-DAY. How bizarre is THAT?

You can count up to 59048 using just the 10 digits on your hands. I knew that if you used a binary system you could get up to 1023 but the Indy100 highlighted a few methods which gave you ways in which to count higher and higher using a base three positional system. One to show the kids, I think.

Conversations with my grandchildren are always unpredictable. For example, just before Christmas we were talking about television shows. Here's how our chat panned out:
Me: Amie, who do you like on XFactor?
Amie (8 years old): Sam. She's got a great voice. I wish I could sing like that.
Me: Megan, do you watch XFactor?
Megan (6 years old): No
Me: Do you watch Strictly Come Dancing?
Megan: No
Me: Well, what do you watch then?
Megan (looking at me, witheringly): Peppa Pig, of course, Nana. I'm six! What else do you think I'm allowed to watch?


THE STATIONERY SECTION


If I had a diary left over from 1989 I could reuse it this year. I was listening to "Homework Questions" on Simon Mayo's Drivetime show on BBC Radio 2 and someone had found a 2016 diary that they hadn't used and wanted to know when they could use it again, date for date, day for day, especially as 2016 had been a leap year. So when I got home I did some investigating and came across this nifty little website which tells you which year you could use your old diary from or when you could reuse a forgotten one.

New ideas for my bullet journal never go amiss.  If you are a regular reader you'll know that I'm a huge fan of the bullet journal system. I am always looking for ways to update my notebooks and make them more streamlined and keep a simple system effective.  I've found a new way to index my notebook using an A-Z plus page numbering method. I was also going to utilise this method of brainstorming the new year. There is a PDF for you to print out but it would be just as nice to write it out in your planner. [P.S. Bullet Journal Fan Page | Bullet Journal Fan Group - both on Facebook]

Richard Branson handwrites all his notes. I'm sure I've read about this somewhere before but I could have written his blog post for him. Everything he says about the physical act of writing out your thoughts and ideas helping you to digest the information is true. Maybe he needs to bring out his own line of notebooks. I'm free to help you with that thought process, Richard... Richard? No?

THE RUNNING SECTION


I've started a(nother) monthly series called Fitbitches and you can read the January instalment here. What my main aims with this are to collate my thoughts about running each month, to focus on my monthly and annual goals and to not end up with my head up my arse when it comes to the actual act of running. I also want to create an online community but... baby steps...

I have been trying to stop the pins and needles in my foot when I run.  I have read many online articles to try and find the solution to my problem. There are so many theories which include thick socks, trainers that are too small/tight or laces that are fastened incorrectly however I found a little piece from Runners World which mentions ensuring that calf muscles should be stretched before a run. This would explain the fact that I've been feeling a bit of tightness and aching in my calves recently when on longer runs so there's very possibly a correlation between the two. Or maybe I need to treat myself to a new pair of trainers...?

This Facebook conversation starter on The Fat Girls Guide To Running page ended up as a marketing exercise and 'research' (which was a bit disappointing) however, some of the comments from other slow runners are worth reading. As someone who has moved from the front of the pack (group leader) to the back of the pack (back runner, slowest in the group), I've battled with personal negativity - but definitely not from anyone in our community. A mile is a mile whether you run it in 8 minutes or 18 minutes or however long it takes you.


THE MINI REVIEW AND RECOMMENDATION SECTION


Things I Learnt In January - January mini reviews
I've received a couple of gadgets to review this month from EC Technology. I'll always give these guys a mention as their products are extremely useful and reasonably priced. The Bluetooth 4.0 Portable Speaker makes a great gift for that hard-to-buy person or you could throw it in your suitcase so you can pair it with your phone or mp3 player for holiday tunes. For your phone, you could try this Wireless Charging Pad which charges your device without cables - it's also a very portable unit so can be taken with you in a work bag or handbag (NB: check compatibility first).

I've also been taking time out from my new-found love of thriller stories and reading a bit of chick-lit. I was recommended The Lost and Found Life of Rosy Bennett by Jan Birley which is about a newly widowed woman finds out her husband and a secret life before his death so she is forced to leave London with her reluctant sons and set up a new life in the countryside. A great read on my Kindle! [Jan Birley : website | twitter | facebook]

THE EXTENDED VIDEO OF THE MONTH SECTION


I've been subscribed to Nadia Sawalha & Kaye Adams' YouTube channel for a while but hadn't been clicking on any of the videos because they were taking part in Vlogmas (vlogging every day in December) however, in between Christmas and New Year I saw that one of their new video's view count was climbing higher and higher. It was a raw cut of an conversation, led by Kaye, detailing Nadia's husband's battle with alcoholism and depression. It was an open and interesting, from the heart, truthful conversation. Moving into 2017, Nadia is daily vlogging but creating content that includes her husband asking him how he is coping with his demons on a daily basis (full playlist here). There are two facets to this - firstly, the actual content which is interesting to hear from a first-person perspective rather than an 'expert' but also it makes me wonder if him over-talking the situation makes him examine himself and the battle too much? Either way, as a wife to someone in a similar situation, I'm finding it compelling viewing.


If I lived in London I'd have to undertake every single one of Geoff's Tube Challenges.  His latest Tube Map Challenge looks the most interesting yet.  Do I know anyone that's prepared to give it a go?


I want this vase. Do I know anyone with a lathe, please and thank you? I can supply the pencils.


And to finish on a weird note (badum-tish) you can have this version of 'All Star' by Smashmouth where all the notes have been re-tuned to C. It's like a weird Friday night karaoke version that I love and hate in equal measures. What the fuck is wrong with me?




Don't forget to let me know what you've learnt in the past few weeks. Amaze me with your new found knowledge...


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National Handwriting Day

I remember my first school books having the top two thirds of the page blank for a picture and the bottom third of the page printed with two or three lines for our handwritten story. I much preferred writing to drawing and went through about ten different styles of handwriting before settling into the one I naturally use now.

National Handwriting Day
(see in full on Instagram)
I had a pang of nostalgia recently when I became the proud owner of a couple of Sylvine red exercise books. Once upon a time they were my go-to notebook when writing short stories or drawing pictures or playing paper-and-pen games with my sister on long car journeys. The cover of their books has changed (it's no longer shiny) and the pages are perforated but that shade of red hasn't changed... *be still my beating heart*

Anyway... this isn't about me and my memories.  It's National Handwriting Day and handwriting is something that always fascinates and amazes me, especially when a comparison of two different (adult) samples shows so very many dissimilarities. We all have the same basics and the same tools, yet so much variety. I do hold my pen slightly differently (apparently) as I rest it on my third (ring) finger rather than my middle finger.  I mentioned this in a #StationeryLovers video last year where I talked about all my favourite writing implements (I'll embed the video at the end of this blog post for you to watch).

So what is the point in National Handwriting Day?  Well, for me, it encourages you to put pen to paper and practice your handwriting. It's also proven that the act of writing something out can help to order your thoughts and is good for mindfulness. The whole process of writing helps with grammar, punctuation, spelling rather than txtspk and those processes also translate to my online communication - I'm a stickler for writing the longest ever texts and Facebook messages and then taking just as long to decipher the speedy reply that my friends send - it's almost like code!

I know that my bullet journal is a great way for me to empty my head of my continuous to-do list and seeing it on paper (and physically crossing the items off) helps me to Get Things Done. I did have a bit of a giggle when reading this blog post about pen behaviour from Pen Heaven as I'm sure it tells me that when I consistently click my pen, I'm creatively frustrated... story of my life.  Pen Heaven also send me some general handwriting analysis which I'll leave at the end of this blog post for you to read - it's so interesting!

Just to finish off, I also asked around the interwebs for some handwriting questions and I've picked a few of my favourites with my own answers.  Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments too.

"Will left-handers always be messy writers" (from Emma) and "How can I help my left-handed daughter with her writing skills?" (from Amy)

Gone are the times where we force our children to favour one hand over the other although it is very noticeable that languages that are written on the paper from left to right, right-handedness is more popular. I found this great blog post from Stabilo which gives great advice about pen position, arm and wrist position and how to angle the writing paper, all of which will help lefties to control their writing technique.

"Why do all doctors have ineligible handwriting?" (from Lucy)

I laughed when I read this question from Lucy because I am almost certain that the reason is the same as my own messy handwriting. A work colleague commented recently that I write very quickly; I have my own version of shorthand which helps me to take speedy notes. I'm convinced that doctors are so concentrated on listening to their patient, making notes to refer back to later that, in their haste, their writing takes a back seat.

"Are there any helpful ideas for children who struggle because they have fine motor skills?" (from Ann)

I'd personally suggest that practice makes perfect but this could be achieved with fun activities that are going to assist in the development of the fingers and the wrist. There are also fabulous angled writing implements and pencil grippers available that I found useful when my own children were younger.  This blog post from OT Mum which might have some tips to help.


"What are the best pens for calligraphy in my Bullet Journal that don't cost the earth?" (from Kate)

As calligraphy is ink based, I'm sure you're already using a notebook that has heavy paper so looking for fountain pens or traditional calligraphy sets on recommended pen sites would be a good start. I found this selection on Pen Heaven and more here on Bureau Direct (Lamy seems to be the top recommendation on both sites) - both of which I'd fully recommend.  As an aside, I'm so envious of your calligraphy skills. It's something I've always wanted to learn.

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Here's the video I mentioned further up the blog post - also, keep reading for that research from Pen Heaven which looks at what your handwriting says about you.




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What Your Handwriting Says About You


National Handwriting Day - What Your Handwriting Says About You
Have you ever wondered what is in the written word? Stimulated by brain impulses, the act of writing is both a science and an art, with the state of the brain at the time of writing having a direct influence over what appears on the page.

As unique as a fingerprint, with no regard for age, gender or race, handwriting, with all its subtleties, has long been used to determine ones’ personality. An excellent reflection of a person’s psyche, doctors through to matchmakers have been known to examine cursive to reveal everything from lingering ailments to compatibility.

Delving deeper and looking at the finer detail, Pen Heaven have pooled together their best resources, experience and knowledge to help you ascertain what your writing style reveals about you.

From sharp pointed letters to large looped ‘y’s’ and how one dots an ‘I’, Pen Heaven present their handwritten rules to ascertain if your cursive is giving off the right impression!

Size, Pressure & Speed

Small lettering shows academic qualities, often found in scientists, lawyers and technicians – those who need to be precise. It represents a good ability to focus and concentrate on the job at hand.

Large script comes from the hand of a true creative, showcasing the writer’s wide perspective on the world and one who rarely gets bored.

When it comes to the amount of pressure applied when writing, this is directly related to a person’s mood and emotions - the harder the pressure, the deeper the emotion. Very indented font can signify tension, stress and moments of anger.

Those who have patience when they write exude a methodical and organised hand, the complete opposite to a hasty writer who scribbles down quickly and often has a dislike for any delay.

Angles & Spacing

Wide spacing between letters shows a free spirit, one who is relaxed and open. The same hand will more than likely use large loops for y, g, p and l. The more artistic the individual is, the more curvaceous and rounded all letters become.

Words that overcrowd and offer limited space between each other, very much reflect a person of the same nature – one who is intrusive and oversteps personal space. If the author is of a sceptical mind, they may also express their mindset with narrow loops on all letters that hoop and curl.

Sharp and pointed lettering is an immediate giveaway for a curious, intelligent and intense character, one who is likely to cross their ‘t’ with a long stroke to show just how determined they are.

Crosses, Dots & Slants

When it comes to self-esteem, how one crosses off the letter ‘T’ will say it all. A writer who crosses with a short line allows all to see their lazy streak, whilst one using a longer strike oozes determination. The forever optimist will also cross the T at the very top, with the most comfortable and secure souls crossing around midway.

Representing the writer’s ego, the positioning of the dot that completes a lowercase ‘I’ can either show a precise and exacting nature (a high dot), allow the inner procrastinator to shine through (to the left) or unearth a deluded personality (to the right)! Equally, a circle will uncover an eccentric, a childish one if the circle is large, whereas a slash represents a self-critical being.

Words and letters that slant are a direct indicator of a person’s emotional response. The further the text leans forward or to the right, the more outgoing the author is. Those with handwriting that leans back tend to be more independent and aloof, whilst the hand that writes exactly vertical on the page emanates control of their emotions, using their head rather than their heart to lead.

Quality & Clarity

The author who always writes in cursive likes to display their logical mindset – one who is headstrong and examines all options before taking any decision.

Clear and disconnected writing shows great intuition, with the author tending to act on impulse.

Even a signature can offer an insight into your personality traits, with a legible mark letting others know you are strong and confident. Those who sign in ineligible text keep their cards close to their chest, making them hard to read and often seeking privacy. The bigger the size of the signature, the more important the person thinks they are, whereas a small (normal size as text) signature is an expression of modesty and sincerity.

Reproduced with kind permission - thanks to Pen Heaven



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Productive Habits

Productive Habits


We live in a hyperactive world. People are either busy or stressed about not being busy enough. Almost every hour of every day is scheduled with activity, most of that involving work and communication, thanks to technology, is immediate and constant. Yet despite all the apps and software that's now available to supposedly make our lives easier (and some of it definitely does), we're still battling with the issue of productivity. Our demands have increased, but time hasn't. People are working longer hours, losing more and more of their social existence, with very little to show for their efforts. The way to really boost your productivity isn't to try and do more, but to change your habits. Here's how to start:

Delegate

It's not a weakness to ask for help. All the best leaders understand the importance of delegation to lighten their workload, introduce new perspectives to their work and allow them space to think. It's about understanding your priorities and your skills so that you can make the most effective use of your time. If you're battling with mundane tasks that are consuming hours of your day and giving you little satisfaction, you should delegate to a colleague or personal assistant so that you can concentrate on actively working towards your vision.

Communicate

Over my career, the most important thing I've learnt is the power of communicating and sharing ideas. First of all, it's a release. When your mind is constantly turning over ideas or problems, it can get confused and frustrated, speaking your thoughts aloud allows you to verbally organise and encourages a response from someone else, which could introduce an interesting new perspective or solution. Secondly, it gets you excited. Discussing a vision or plan with a colleague or employee is a great way of building enthusiasm and a sense of unity.

Focus

Whilst multitasking creates the illusion of increased productivity, it creates chaos with our concentration, making it more difficult to organise thoughts and filter out irrelevant information. To maximise your productivity, it's important to learn focus your concentration on one task at a time. That means turning off notifications on your apps, closing down tabs on your desktop, putting your phone on silence and hanging a do not disturb sign on your door. I use blocking to assign specific time slots to each task so that I don't waste any time on deciding what to do and never agonise over one task for too long.

Exercise

Make exercise part of your daily schedule, even if it's just a lunchtime walk. It will give you a break from staring at your screen, elevate your mood and refresh your enthusiasm. Throughout the day our productivity naturally dips as we become tired and restless, exercise gives your mind a break and actually enables you to soak up more information.

Relax

Most of us think that resting is an indulgence. In fact, it's crucial to productivity. Our bodies regularly tell us to take a break, but we override the signals with caffeine and sugar in a desperate attempt to get more done. Eventually, we end up burning out. Relaxing, reading a book, spending time with friends, meditating, taking naps are all ways of allowing your body and mind to recover and refocus. It means that when you work, the work you do is actually productive.

Richard Walton is the Founder of AVirtual a company that provides virtual PAs to small business, entrepreneurs and start-ups. He is regularly featured in the press talking about topics such as work life balance and productivity.


This is a featured post. For more information please view my disclosure policy.


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What Are Your Rights In Rented Accommodation?

If you're looking at renting your home it's a good idea to know your rights whether your are a tenant or a landlord.  

As a tenant you have the right to live in a property that's in a decent state of repair, to live in the accommodation undisturbed and to be protected from unfair rent and/or eviction - all of which (and more) will be covered in your tenancy agreement which should be signed by you and your landlord before you move in.

Landlords need to ensure that they are protected from non-payment of rent and expenses incurred by damage to the property but there's no legal requirement for landlords to have insurance (however, the mortgage lender may insist on it and there are some great deals on landlord insurance to be found).

Here's a fabulous infographic from HomeLet which may help answer some of your questions.


What Are Your Rights In Rented Accommodation? [infographic]


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Fitbitches - The January Run Down

Fitbitches - The January Run Down


I struggled so much in 2016 to find my headspace when running after coming back from a three month break due to injury and a diagnosis of arthritis in my knees. In March I rejoined our local community Couch to 5k programme, revisited my volunteer role as Group Leader for a few months and then took the personal decision to spend the winter running for me to try and find my sweet spot again in our Progression group (5-10k).  I ended up with a couple of personal best times - just shaving a few seconds off here and there - and started to fall back in love with running again.

For 2017 I have three goals and they are not 'time' related.  I need to take that particular pressure off myself but I'm sure that if I stay injury free, the better times will come in the long run (no pun intended but you can have that as a bonus).  So my goals are manageable and achievable and which, I hope, will keep me motivated month after month. They are:

  • A medal a month
  • To run 1000k in total before the end of the year
  • To create a small but meaningful online running community


A Medal A Month

Official races can be expensive and I only really enter local ones. I have no desire to run anything further than 10k - my half marathon dream is over - so finding appropriate races that are close by and that aren't going to break the bank can be difficult. Toward the end of last year I stumbled across the Virtual Runner community which provides real medals for challenges that can be completed within an allotted time on your own doorstep or even a treadmill. All you have to do is enter and pay for your chosen challenge, capture your run data (easy peasy when you have running watches or fitness apps), submit your evidence before the cut-off date and, a few days later, a nice shiny medal appears through your letterbox!

Fitbitches - The January Run Down
So for January, I chose an easy-to-achieve virtual race of running 10k within the month of January but my own mini-challenge was to do it in the first week of January.  This was for the Unicorn medal and it's beautiful - very girlie and a bit of fun.  I easily did the 10k in two parts with my running group but it got me hooked!! So I've now got a virtual race/challenge booked for March and I had already registered for the 1000k in 2017 (more on that in a minute).

Then I remembered I had registered for the East Lancs Hospice 10k. I marshalled this last year, it was freezing cold and in the middle of nowhere! I'm still not sure what compelled me to sign up for it but I'm sure it was something to do with the euphoria of those aforementioned personal best times...

Anyway, this one was today (Sunday 15th January) and it was, once again, freezing cold and raining (but not extreme weather like we've been having) and the course was muddy and 'undulating' (sidenote: in the running world the word 'undulating' usually means 'fucking great big hills').  I laced up my trainers and prepared for the worst.


Fitbitches - The January Run Down
It was definitely as bad as I thought it was going to be but after the first couple of miles, instead of mincing around the puddles and slipping on the mud, I decided to go headlong through most of them. The hill was a tough nut to crack and it formed part of the loop back, so you had to run up the hill, round the park then down the hill but the best thing about it was all the support shown for everyone and by everyone on that section of the run. The front runners coming down were shouting encouragement to those of us going up and those of us going up were calling out the same to those on their way down.  It was also the place where I saw friends who were not running the race, half way up that hill, giving out cheerleading chants, hugs, jelly babies and taking photos.  It was the exact point I needed to see them and really spurred me on.


I ran all of the race with a friend from my running group. She's much faster than me and had only registered for the race last week but stuck with me through it all, providing that 'push' when I needed it, chatting about mundane things like work and our past (when we could catch our breath).  She's now sick of hearing me thank her for doing that but after my lonely run at Lytham, it was a game-changer for the whole event for me.





As an aside - a huge thanks to all the organisers of the East Lancs Hospice 10k - it's lovely to support a local charity - plus all the marshals today were smiley and enthusiastic which means an awful lot when you're soaked to the skin, can see that you're not really near the end yet and feel a bit rubbish. Also, because I've marshalled that course, I know it's a long and cold day for those standing around. You may think it's hard to be happy and encouraging but when you see the effort the runners are putting in you just want to give them a yell and a cheer and it gives you a positive experience in a totally different way.

To Run 1000k In Total In 2017

So what am I going to do with all these medals? Why push myself to do something each month when I can just go out and run with my crew three times a week? 

Well, one of the other virtual challenges I have registered for is to run 1000 kilometres before the end of the year.  A simple task for many endurance athletes or those marathon training but this focus means that I have to stick to an average of 20k per week and use additional races to soak up the gaps.  The 'medal a month' plan will help me focus on this goal and I know I will want to push myself slightly to ensure that I'm generating enough distance each week.  Again, it's not about times or training for a half-marathon, but about giving myself a goal which feels attainable over this period of time.  Fingers crossed that I don't come a cropper and end up with a twatish injury that will stop me in my tracks (ho, ho, another pun for you there - I'm on a roll now).

To Create A Small But Meaningful Online Running Community

Hello Fitbitches!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, and again, and again. The running community we have here in Blackburn is unique. It's run solely by volunteers, it's altruistic, it has many arms, there are countless opportunities which lie within and beyond and it brings together people whose paths would never normally cross in real life. I've never seen anything like it before and I'm so proud to be a part of it as one of their volunteers.  I've seen the way that the people within the community (and beyond) support each other - that proved itself today - and I've seen people achieve goals they thought were way beyond their reach just a few short months ago.  A lot of this support takes place within Facebook groups as well as out on the roads.

Fitbitches - The January Run Down
I want to take some of that positivity that I've been experiencing for the past two-and-a-half years and share it with some friends that find following Couch to 5K on their own difficult, or struggle to get motivated to power-walk for half an hour a day, or feel as though there's no-one cheering them on when they come back from a run to a house of chaos. So Fitbitches has been re-born.

Fitbitches started out as a podcast a while back but, once again, time constraints put it on the back burner for a bit (you can hear some old podcasts on YouTube).  I'd like to restart the podcast again. I'd like to support a charity. I'd like to organise my own virtual race and let my friends-inside-the-computer feel the elation of achieving a goal and having some bling to show for it. The plan is half-written and I have the support of two brilliant people who are my sounding board. It will be a while before it becomes what I want it to become but, in the meantime, you'll see me hashtagging every running update and photo with #Fitbitches and there are people benefiting from the idea in a small (but perfectly formed) Facebook group.  If you want in, just let me know, but I'm accepting active members only - people who can really invest in providing support and encouragement to each other, regardless of the differing goals and fitness levels. As soon as it starts growing bigger, you'll definitely be hearing about it anyway!

I'm going to publish a Fitbitches-style blog post like this every month to help me re-cap the previous few weeks and to focus on the upcoming month.  Yes, the January one is early but there will be nothing much else to write about as I'll just be running my usual three times a week for the rest of the month.  In February, I've entered the punishing Winter Warmer 10k organised by Blackburn Road Runners which includes my nemesis, Buncer Lane (read more about that hill here) so I'll be working towards that for my February medal.

And now I'm off for a well-earned lie down and maybe a glass of wine!  By the way... did you spot the third free running pun? Have another look at the title.  I'm done now... promise... 



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