Sunday, May 29, 2016

To The Sea, The Only Way Is South End

The title of this post is true if you're looking for the cheapest and fastest way to get to the beach from central London. 

I was missing the beach and as the days were sunnier, Kim and I went to South End On Sea on a weekday to avoid the crowds. It was my first time in Essex, hence the title of this post. Trains were frequent, running every 10-20 minutes. It took about 50 minutes to get to Southend Central from Limehouse and a day return ticket costs £15.50 

It's always lovely to get out of the city. We could see the countryside and a river, or rather low tide where boats stand naked on wet sand. 

The beach was 10 minutes walk from the Southend Central station. Typical of English beaches, there were loads of amusements arcades. I'm no fan of them as I think they detract from the beauty of a seashore. (Of all the places to have cheesy loud indoor entertainment, why the beach???)

Fish and chip shops lined Marine Parade, most offering OAP specials. Kim talked up a place called Bailey's Fry Inn so we had to try it. Indeed their fish and chips were amazing, the batter was perfectly crisp and bubbly. The fish so tender, it was actually juicy! I completely understand the British love for this deep fried meal. 

The beach was quiet with only small families around. The water was too cold to swim in but I was happy just to get my vitamin D. Southend beach is a pebbly sandy beach and there is a really long pier. Its private so you have to pay if you want to walk on it. 

We played a round of mini golf. The course is actually the best I've been to, by the sea and well maintained. It helped that no one else was playing at the same time.

I also had to try the cold seafood. Oysters are obligatory. We shared half a dozen and they were huge. Excellent value for £1 each, shucked on the spot with lemon. Kim recommended the cockles which was the most appealing cold seafood on display amongst rubbery whelks, frozen-looking prawns, fake lobster/seafood sticks, and jellied eels.  

The oysters were delish and the cockles weren't bad. They were tasty but had a lot of grit. 

By 4pm, there were more people around It was time to return to London. On a quiet day, I think Southend On Sea is lovely. I will come back for another easy seaside fix. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Cooking Seitan At Home

I've discovered a meat-like protein made from wheat gluten, otherwise known as Seitan. Yes, it's a funny name. I've found Seitan to be the closest plant based protein to meat in terms of texture.

In terms of other plant based protein, Quorn is not as flavoursome or economical as homemade Seitan. I limit soy/tofu from my diet as I've had a few hormonal issues. And I don't enjoy beans or pulses as they are too starchy. When I tried to become vegetarian, I missed the toothsome chew, the juiciness and flavour of meat.

I was put off by Seitan from the Chinese grocery store. It's known as mock meat but the main ingredient is wheat gluten. There was some frozen reptile looking "chicken" and "intestines" resembling turds. The mock duck tins from China didn't look appetising either.

I looked up a few recipes and ordered a bag of wheat gluten from Amazon. I've made it once so far and I'm storing it in the freezer. I use it for stir fries although it can also be chopped up for pasta sauce or chilli con carne.

Making your own Seitan is worth it if you do it in bulk as there's a long steam or baking period. The key is to cook it slow. Otherwise it gets a squishy, soggy sponge texture and the flavour get leached out. To cut down on cooking time, I sliced my raw Seitan into strips and steamed them single layer for 5 minutes. This was faster than cooking a hunk of it for an hour. After cooling, I put the pieces in the freezer. They should be fried for maximum chewiness.

The addition of Worcester sauce, vegetable stock, tomato powder and herbs helped the flavour alot. It was important to add some oil to give it juiciness. While Seitan won't ever taste like meat, (no matter what the recipe says), it's the closest thing I've come across as a substitute. Just make sure to include some nutritional yeast as wheat gluten is not a complete protein.

If you're trying to go meat free, even if it's for one meal a week and you're not gluten intolerant, Seitan is definitely worth a try.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Getting Zumba Instructor Jobs

When I decided to teach Zumba, my instructor friends added me onto a number of Facebook groups for Zumba cover. They are private so ask your instructor friends to add you as you can't search for them. Members post jobs that often need to be covered on short notice so keep their notifications on.

There are quite a groups for London although if you live in smaller areas, you might need to check the Zumba Instructor Network forums in your district.

I used Facebook groups to find my first Zumba instructor job. I managed to get regular work from cover jobs so they're worth putting your hand up for when you're starting out. It took a lot of persistence as the easy-to-get-to cover jobs get snapped up quickly.

If you private message someone, make sure to comment on their post so they know to check their filtered requests inbox. If you're not friends with that person on Facebook, they won't see the message in their usual inbox.

I've learned that it doesn't take much to get the job if you respond early, know the instructor (or rather, they know you) or they are desperate for cover. Keep your responses simple. Most people just want to know that you're experienced so just say where you have taught before. Since jobs get covered quickly, expect minimal response as sometimes the instructor will only comment to the original post to say cover is found.

It's important to ascertain these three details before committing to a job:

1) If you need to be on the facility's payroll as otherwise, who will pay you and by when. If paid directly by the instructor, chase them straight away if payment is late. You have little recourse if they fail to pay you.
2) How to play music through the sound system. What type of cables do you need to connect your device? Some gyms require that CDs are to be used to meet music licensing requirements.
3) The full name of the person you are covering as sometimes they go by an alias on Facebook. Check the gym's timetable to verify they are the usual instructor because it's questionable on how you will get paid if you or they are not on the payroll.

The second way to get work as a Zumba instructor is to contact gyms directly. Most of them have a Zumba cover list so ask to be added on. Try to get on their payroll as it opens up more cover opportunities, especially at the big gyms like Virgin Active, LA Fitness, Nuffield or Fitness First. To secure a permanent class you might need to audition.

I've been lucky approaching two local independent gyms. I got cover work from these gyms and then was given the classes permanently. Class co-ordinators like that you live nearby so make a mention of it.

The last way to get work is to create it although I don't have advice on this. If you're super confident and enterprising, the rewards of running your own classes can be significantly higher than teaching at a gym.

Friday, May 13, 2016

10 tips To Improve Your Dancing Through Zumba

If you're new to dancing and want to become a better dancer through Zumba, here are my top 10 tips:

1) Watch yourself in the mirror
There's a reason why people make a dash to the mirrors when they enter a studio. It's an aid to keep their alignment and timing in check. If you work out in a space without mirrors, watch with your peripheral vision or even your shadow. Practice where you can see yourself, including your sides. You'll be surprised how quickly you'll improve when you do.

2) Practice good posture
Even the best moves are spoiled by bad posture. Posture helps you maintain balance and make graceful movements. A quick way to keep tabs on your posture is to imagine that your body is suspended in the air by a rope coming out of your chest. If you have a sedentary job, make sure you're taking regular breaks and stretch. Keep your chin up, chest out, shoulders back and relaxed.

3) Pretend to play an instrument
To keep in time with the rhythm, imagine you are playing a "drum" as you dance. You can use you hands and feet to mark the beats with the moves. Sometimes I gently tap my foot or I discreetly tap the roof of my mouth with my tongue to keep in time with the rhythm. Keep counting the beats from 1-8 throughout the track. You will learn to find the beats without thinking about it.

4) Anticipate a move change on beat 6 or 7
An extension from the previous tip is that once you can pick the first beat and the eighth, you pre-empt the next move on the 6th or 7th beat. Your Zumba instructor might cue at this point. You can expect a repeat of the move or a new one even if it's a track you've not done before. On the eighth beat, you should getting in position for the next move, shifting your weight or turning your body in anticipation of the next step. You want your move to be correct on beat 1.

5) Minimise your reaction time
When you're new, there will be a delay from watching the instructor do the move and when you do it. It's a combination of observing, reacting and getting into position. Reaction time is minimised by anticipating the move. You might not get it correct the first time but at least there isn't an awkward pause where you stand like a deer in headlights. Stay moving on the beat. As you get to know the instructor, it becomes faster and easier to predict their moves.

6) Know the parts of a Zumba track
A track usually has set moves for the intro, verses, chorus and interlude. Listen and remember the order of verses, chorus and interlude. As you learn the track, you can pick out these parts and recall the corresponding moves. If you really enjoy a track, ask your instructor for the title of a song so you can learn the music and practice at home.

7) Build up your imagery bank
The more you practice and watch yourself, you build an imagery bank on the way you dance and what you look like when moves are done correctly or incorrectly. So as you're learning, recall what you have seen from tip 1. Over time your memory bank allows you to pinpoint repeated alignment issues and visualise new moves. 

8) Engage all muscles in your body
Moves are not confined to moving just the most obvious body parts like the hands or feet. A move looks more natural when the body reacts to it. Practice isolating muscles by circling only your hips or chest. Notice how muscles around the abdomen are either pulling or pushing? Remember for every reaction, there is a reaction. If something has to pull forward, there is something pushing it so remember that all muscles in your body needs to be engaged in the move. This enhances your workout and defines the moves. 

9) Add weight to your movements
To enhance body control, add imaginary weight to your hands, feet or whichever areas that need to move. Let's say the move is to put your hands above your head and wave them around. Imagine as if you a cans of soft drink attached to the palm of your hands. You create resistance in your arms. It looks more controlled than as if they were weightless. Not only do you burn more calories but helps you keep in time with the rhythm. 

10) Keep transitions fluid
To do this you're connecting the "end and start points" of the moves and making the transition as fluid as possible. There should be continuity in your movement so the moves flow seamlessly into each other.

On a final note, don't forget to keep smiling. Zumba is meant to be enjoyed and happiness looks good on everyone.

6 Tips For New Zumba Instructors

I have 6 tips that rarely get talked about in the online world. These are things I learned to raise the satisfaction level for myself and my participants.

1) Talk as little as possible about yourself.
It's easy to fall into "performer mode" when faced with your first class. You might feel a need to talk about yourself to become acquainted. But from the participant's perspective, they're already assuming you're a great Zumba instructor. There's no need for an opening speech about your background and credentials. Just say hello, tell them your name and ask if there are any injuries or pregnancies. Then give them the workout they came for.

2) Give them a hard workout, not a hard routine.
No matter how qualified you are as a dancer, remember it's about what your participants can do. Know your participants want. Just because you do the moves intensely, doesn't mean they can or will. If the moves are too lyrical, most people won't get it. They won't burn as many calories either. Participants are happiest when they've worked up a sweat and feel accomplished in class. Make the moves energetic and easy to follow. Keep momentum up by using a playlist so there's no idle time flicking through music in class.

3) Forget the bad days.
Bad days happens to all fitness instructors. People walk out, bring in the wrong mood or hardly anyone turns up. If you are taking on board feedback and trying your best, don't worry about the occasional bad day. You have no control over them so don't take them personally. I never thought I'd get asked to teach again after my first bad day but I did, and the following week's class was amazing. It must have been a "glitch" in the stars.

4) Swiftly deal with difficult participants.
Act quickly to difficult people and stay calm. Remember you have an audience and bad behaviour is not something participants have come to see. A participant interrupted me mid-track once, grabbing my arm and asking me to teach in front of the mirror. The class came to a halt. I had to acknowledge her and say: "Sure!" and did what I was told happily. Result? Minimal awkwardness and disruption.

5) Make eye contact with everyone in class.
You need to make eye contact with every participant at least once. It's means that you're checking up on them to see if they're having a good time. Eye contact shows that you are with your participants. If you make a habit of constantly meeting eyes with every participant, it builds a connection and they will reciprocate.

6) Have contingency plans.
If you rely on public transport or drive, aim to arrive at least 15 minutes early. Do a first aid course for the obvious reasons. And finally bring spare equipment. I carry audio cables and a UE Megaboom bluetooth speaker. If you play music through a phone, bring a spare device with the music backed up and a power bank. For your peace of mind, don't risk any show stoppers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

15 Things Good Zumba Instructors Do

There are Zumba instructors I'd move mountains for just to get to their classes. Their force, or energy is probably what inspired me to become an instructor. As part of my Zumba journey, I started to think about what instructors do to keep their classes full and participants wanting more.

From the the years of doing Zumba, here is my wish list for a good instructor. They:

1) Focus attention on the participants. It's never about themselves performing on stage.
2) Listen to and take onboard feedback from the class.
3) Plan their classes, never "winging it".
4) Get to know their participants.
5) Never show weakness or complain on the stage.
6) Never speak negatively about other instructors or participants.
7) Change their playlist every month or second month.
8) Keep breaks as minimal as possible, most times don't take breaks at all.
9) Show up early for their classes. Start and finish on time.
10) Do moves that flow well with the music.
11) Do quick cues clearly and consistently from the 6 or 7th beat.
12) Demonstrate the moves with energy and enthusiasm.
13) Take control of the class without being aggressive.
14) They're shining ambassadors for the fitness programme, Zumba.
15) Display confidence, smile and create camaraderie in their classes.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Visiting Richmond Park

I rarely visit Richmond Park because that it takes so long to get there. If you're new to London whatever you do, don't take the District or Overground lines unless you're within 10 stops away.

There is a faster way from central London. Take an overground train from Waterloo. Trains to Reading are the quickest because there's only one stop, Clapham Junction. There are other trains but make sure you check the stops because it can be either 25 minutes or 55 minutes to Richmond. 

From the train station I took a 371 bus and got off at the American University stop. It's a few minutes walk from there to the gates of Richmond Park. As you can tell it's not the most convenient park to get to but there are plenty of rugged natural areas to hike or have a picnic and see the deer that roam in the park.

Blue skies are fleeting so we made the most of them. It was a beautiful spring day.

By 4pm the clouds rolled in and it got cold. We saw what my friend came out to see-the deer that roamed the park. 

The appeared to be used to humans following them with smartphones. Very peaceful creatures.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Making Sashimi, Korean Rice Cakes, Radish Kimchi and Garabaldi Biscuits

I'm quite the homemaker now that I'm on a frugal lifestyle. Cooking has become a hobby or at most times a necessity as it's cheaper and healthier than eating out. 

Whole salmon was on special so I bought the one for £14 and had it filleted. I asked to keep the head too. (I'm Asian after all!) I note to to ask to keep the bellies because they keep it otherwise. 

I'm surprised cats didn't follow me because I smelt fishy carrying it home. I washed the fish and cut 14 fillets for freezing. The off cuts were used for sashimi. That's right, I eat raw fish from the supermarket. I'm not guaranteeing you won't get sick but I've not had an issue with eating fresh Scottish farmed salmon raw. Just get it super fresh, wash it, pat dry and slice before eating. Your nose should know if it's bad. At least that's my motto.

I'm addicted to Maangchi videos on youtube and made hot and spicy ricecakes, Tteokbokki. For the cylindrical rice cake, garaetteok, I misread the recipe and made them with rice flour instead of short grain rice flour. Instead of going to the shops, I used the organic brown sushi rice in our pantry to make the flour for garaetteok. This time it's healthier with more chewiness. I soaked the rice for a day and let it strain for two hours. Then I put it through a coffee grinder. It was hard work kneading the dough but I made a lot of rice cakes for the freezer.

I picked up some mooli on sale so made kimchi as I'm running low. It's easier to make than normal kimchi. I threw in some homegrown perilla leaves for a change of flavour. 

And finally I'm baking my own Garabaldi biscuits. I love the storebought kind and this way I get my fix fresher with no additives. Can't resist these things with a cup of earl grey with milk.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tips For New Zumba Instructors When Someone Walks Out

A walk out is when a participant leaves during a class and doesn't come back. Perhaps it wasn't my first, but I noticed this occasion because there were only 6 people to begin with. She was in the front row. Maybe two others didn't like my teaching style either. They chatted between tracks and I even heard one of them say: "are you kidding me?" as I was demonstrating quarter-turns. Most of them got confused turning all the way around, even when I said,"quarter turn, towards the mirror/sports hall/back of the studio."

I could only assume most participants were beginners. I toned down the moves and stayed on them for longer. I faced the mirror when they asked me to. But I still wasn't connecting with the them.

After the class I happened to be reception at the same time as the lady who walked out. When she saw me, she apologized for leaving early. I still had to question myself though. She didn't look like she was getting the moves and appeared unhappy before she walked out.

Was were my moves too advanced? Were my cues insufficient? Maybe the music wasn't to their taste? Did I come across as rude?

From then I learnt to ask in advance the class's preferred instructing style so I come better prepared. I now teach facing the mirror if there's one in the studio. And I address females in the class as "ladies" and not "girls". Not that I've had complaints-I should just be more PC.

More valuable tips to keep your participants engaged:

1) Beginners might only pick up the arm or the footwork but not both. If people are having trouble, give them the option of doing one or the other.
2) People can be impatient if they don't get the moves easily and give up. Stay focused on teaching the routine. If others are succeeding, that can be their source of motivation.
3) Keep breaks between tracks as short as possible to keep the energy in the room flowing. I aim not to take a break at all.
4) If someone is not even remotely doing the moves but they're still moving to the music, assume they have an injury or that they are happy to do their own thing.
5) Walkouts still happen to the best of instructors. And sometimes the class won't want to "whoop whoop" when you prompt them to. It's nothing personal. Don't waste precious energy overthinking it.
6) Ask for feedback from the participants and from the gym co-ordinator. Welcome it whether it's good or bad. It's helps you build a thick skin and helps you develop as an instructor.

So fellow new Zumba instructors, walk outs are learning experiences. Maybe we're unwittingly giving off the wrong vibe or the class isn't in sync with the way you teach. Or maybe they had a bad sandwich for lunch.

We all start our journey from somewhere. With practice, we improve as instructors. I'm determined that it will only a matter of time!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Confessions Of A New Zumba Instructor

After many months of saying I would, I've started teaching Zumba!

I watched the Facebook Zumba cover group for job postings but they usually get covered fast. Luck finally came my way when I got my first cover job not far from home.

I got to the location 10 minutes early with the teaching essentials: Ipad, sweat towel, drink bottle and Megaboom speaker. (I'm paranoid about not connecting to the sound system). 

I had butterflies in my stomach but when I got to the front of the class, there was no time to overthink. I pushed through with teaching the class.

The class ended with most people happy, I think. A few I could tell weren't having the best time. The studio was so hot the windows fogged up. I received some positive feedback and one person said she would ask the manager to bring me back.

I walked away a happy chick. Felt proud of pulling off my first professional teaching gig. The next day I went to my local gym and got in contact with the co-ordinator. They were looking for cover and I got my next job which was brilliant because the gym is a 5 minute walk away and the facilities are lovely. 

A strange thing happened in class-a lady stopped me mid track to ask me to face the mirror. It caused the class to stop. I saw a girl roll her eyes and guessed that this lady doesn't usually exercise her patience of all things.

My next cover was back at the first gym and I made the mistake of doing a Zumba class beforehand. When I started to teach, I realised I didn't have the energy to do verbal cues or pump up the class. I just wanted it to be over so I smiled through the exhaustion. No one left feedback afterwards. Oh well, it was a learning experience. Lesson: reserve energy to teach.

Recently I taught a double class which was a last minute job. Had to repeat the playlist in the second class. I planned to prepare different playlists but found out I needed an aux cable two hours before the class. 

I rushed to the shops and bought a cable from Poundland. I wasn't sure if it was the right one so I bought two other cables and a power bank from Maplin. On the last item, my phone battery died and I needed the location of the class. Lesson 2: carry a charged power bank.

The cost was more than what I'm paid to teach a class. Lucky I had a wall charger and got to charge my phone for a bit near the tube station. It turned out the £1 cable was the right one. Lesson 3: carry a 3.5mm aux cable and 6.35mm adaptor.

I must be doing something right because the next day the manager asked me to take on three regular classes a week. I still have lots to learn about teaching but it's progress!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Time Machine Moments In Bad Gastein

Grant and I discovered a gem of a Austrian restaurant on our ski holiday. It's so quaint and cosy, you feel like you're staying in a friend's ski chalet.

It's small-world charm is something we want to preserve so I won't mention it's name. But you will find it in Bad Gastein as it has a witch on it's roof. Just don't be like a tourist in there. Be like a friend of the hosts and you will have a true Austrian experience. 

The place is in a wooden hut next to the main bus stop of Bad Gastein but you wouldn't know it's a restaurant until the "open" sign is illuminated at night. The sandwich board outside only names 6 Austrian dishes with no English translation. You can't see what it looks like inside because the windows are sealed up at the front.

When we decided to take a chance on this place, I warned Grant if it's a dingy smoke filled pub, we're walking out. He opened the door and we were relieved to see a bar with a tiny kitchen. There were a few counter tables, two booth tables and 1 family table. The place was appropriately decorated with alpine paraphernalia. There was no one smoking which is a blessing as in Austria, smoking indoors is still allowed. 

Grant and I were welcomed by a tall and brawny chap who's real name is Hans. He's the owner and we presume he's lived in Bad Gastein for many years. There was a picture of his younger self in the drinks menu. He sings with a baritone voice as he serves the tables and would regularly chat with the customers.

We ordered a beer and a tap water from a blonde lady (his wife) dressed in an Austrian traditional outfit. The couple were the only staff until 9pm so we waited a while for our drinks. When we asked for the menu, the response from the lady was "the chief will come".

When "the chief" showed up, he spoke no English but cheerfully gestured the foods he had on offer, like spare ribs (action: holding and nibbling invisible ribs) and deer goulash (action: horns on forehead). When it sounded like he would decide our meals for us, we just went with it and said "but just for one person" in case it wasn't to our taste.

Again there was a wait but we enjoyed the warm atmosphere and Austrian music playing in the background. It's the type of music you'd gaily swing a beer stein to. We had no idea what would land on our table until he presented a mountain of ribs to the large party next to us, making sure we were watching.

We gave him a thumbs up. It all looked delicious. Cutlery, napkins showed up to our table and then he gave us a generous portion of spare ribs with roasted waxy potatoes and sauerkraut. And a jug of pan juice gravy on the side. Had we gone to heaven?

The ribs were so tender. There was enough food for four people and we finished the lot. When the bill arrived we expected them to charge for two but as we asked, they charge for one portion. They must have really wanted us to enjoy the ribs!

They bid us farewell when we when we left. The wooden door closed behind us and the music stopped. We were now standing on a dead quiet street with no signs of life. What just happened? Had we ventured into a time machine? 

We knew from travelling that we shouldn't go back to the same place, even if it was outstanding. We usually end up disappointed. We resisted the next night and unwittingly had a mediocre dinner elsewhere. The following night we just wanted to go back into our time machine.

I ordered the steak and Grant had the goulash. It was out of this world. I never expected the food could be so good from such a tiny unassuming place and it wasn't even packed with customers. My steak was done perfectly, I think it was a fillet. And it came with those lovely waxy potatoes. Best steak I've had in a long long time.

The bill came out a little pricer than expected but it was totally worth it for the food. We paid up and blonde lady brought three shot glasses to the table and poured out hazelnut schnapps. We took the shots together before we left. 

Again when the wooden door closed behind us, we were out on the cold silent street. The evening was as amazing as the first time. We had to go back for our final night in Bad Gastein.

That evening the place was full as it was a Friday night. But the chief and wife still welcomed us in. We waited awkwardly at first as there was no place for us to sit. The chief spoke to a party who let us sit with them, ensuring us that it was fine to do.

We sat down and said hello to our four table mates. I thought with the language barrier, we would have our own conversations but one of them struck a conversation with us in English and then we were all talking.

The four were from Germany, coming to ski together every two weeks. They have been visiting the area for 20 years and know the chief well, ever since he worked in a ski resort behind a bar. They spoke good English and knew how to have a good laugh. We felt lucky to have gotten to know them and they made an effort to make us feel welcome. Every now and then the chief dropped by to chat, sing or randomly say: "I love you baby" with a deep Austrian accent. The guys joked that it was the only English he knew.

The men ordered the spare ribs for dinner. Grant and I wanted something different. I asked for the kasespatzle (cheese noodles) and grant wanted the schnitzel. The look on the chief's face was of disappointment. He wanted us all to have the spareribs. I didn't think we would get the meals we asked for. But Grant and I just went with things, trusting it will all turn out.

Surprisingly we got the meals we ordered. The men let us try their semmelnudle, or bread dumplings.  Again the food was excellent and we knew would be dreaming about it for the weeks to come.

Grant got a fun scolding from the chief for using a fork instead of a spoon to scrape the crusty cheese from the pan.

After the meal a large party of apres skiers came in and we were asked to move tables. The men had already met them earlier at another pub so I think it was a queue for us to leave. We said our goodbyes and made our way to the door.

The chief, who must had known it was our last night shook Grants hand as farewell. He said a lot of stuff in German which we could only assume were kind words. He took my hand, touched my cheek and kissed my forehead about ten times. 

It was a happy goodbye and no doubt we will come back to our time machine of Bad Gastein.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Fake Oral-B Toothbrush Heads!

As I'm typing this, I'm nursing a cut inside my lip. When I brushed my teeth my Oral B toothbrush pinched inside my mouth and made me bleed. It was painful. It's still painful!

That's never happened to me before so I googled "Oral B brush cut mouth" and realised the brush heads I bought from Ebay are counterfeit. 

The bristles were harder than usual. I've been using the one on the left for almost two months and none of the bristles have faded like they should with the genuine brushes. As you can see on the left, the plastic in the centre of the head has broken away. This causes the brush to loosen and wobble. On the right is a new counterfeit brush with the centre intact.

 Check out the gap. The head has come loose and will catch the inside of your mouth when you brush. This is going straight into the bin!

This is the front view of the brush. They came in packs of 8 under the "Precision Clean" model. Each brush head is individually packed and hot-glued onto a piece of card. 

The toothbrushes came from an Ebay listing which had the pictures as below. When I messaged the seller, I was told that they couldn't refund me because the 3 month period to cancel the transaction on Ebay expired. Its' a shame but hopefully through this post I can save others from making the same mistake.

Crocheting And A Hack For Sore Fingers

I've taken up crocheting as a new hobby. I learnt the basics as a kid but never made anything I could actually wear. There wasn't anyone around how could teach me beyond the very basics. Fast forward to now where any can learn about anything on Youtube. 

After watching video tutorials on how to make a granny blanket, I ordered a stack of cotton yarn, a set of knitting needles and a crochet hook. The knitting needles are for a scarf project for later, although I might have missed the boat on wearing it before it gets warm.

This is the beginning of my granny blanket for my sister. It's a mindless project which I find relaxing. I just love working on the blanket in silence as I get to think alot. 

I've learnt to check my row at every corner as I've had unravel half an hour's work twice when I realised I've missed stitches. So annoying when that happened but the OCD in me wanted to make sure the blanket was perfect. 

I've worked out a hack for sore fingers when crocheting, whether it's pressure from the hook (as I hold mine like I'm writing) or burns from the yarn. I cut off a leg of old pantyhose, roughly 20 cms long and knot the ends together. You want to loop to be big enough to comfortably wrap twice over your fingers as pictured. Voila, protective cushioning that takes less than 10 seconds to make!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Back To Scotland

I flew to Edinburgh for a friend's birthday party. Snow was blowing (not falling!) when I arrived and I couldn't wait to warm up in the room before hitting the town. After enduring the snow, rain and Edinburgh's famous steep hills for 24 hours, I walked to the castle before my train to Aviemore.

I was rained on. I was tired of lugging my backpack. It was heaven putting it down on the train. That trip was one of my most pleasant journeys because I had four seats to myself in first class. I watched it get snowier as we headed into the Highlands.

Unfortunately I didn't sleep well in Aviemore. I was on the couch and the wind was howling all night. The next morning the snow melted away. It was so windy the ski fields were closed so we visited the nearby village of Carrbridge. We did some hiking but the rain was too much for me. My umbrella broke and my boots leaked. 

The stream that runs through the famous bridge was gushing muddy rapids. We found refuge in a pub where there was a cosy fireplace and we watched the snow fall outside. 

The next day we did a tour of the Cairngorm Brewery. I learned a lot about beer making and tasted 10  of their beers. We even got to stick our heads into a giant vat to check out the yeast. 

However without the excitement of skiing, I missed home and couldn't wait to get on the plane back to London. Scotland is indeed a much different place. It's a little too quiet for me in winter time. If it weren't for the fireplaces, I would not know where else to find respite from the unforgiving weather.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Skiing In Cairngorm Of The Scottish Highlands

It was a nip in, ski, nip out trip to Scotland. While the ski fields are not the first choice for seasoned snow bunnies, I made the most of the two days visiting friends working at Cairngorm ski resort, (pronounced "Carin-gorm"). 

My Inverness flights were cheap, in fact they cost as much as the train transfers. My final destination was a small town called Aviemore, 45 mins south of Inverness. 

Arriving in the city of Inverness after 5pm was a drag. It was cold, rainy and I had time to kill before my train to Aviemore. I saw two fights on the street. I'm sure there's more to Inverness aside from the river. 

In Aviemore I warmed up to my friend's fireplace and that's what I fell asleep to as I was on the couch anyway. Nothing replaces the blissful ambience and crackle of a wood burning fire. I could watch the flames burn all night.

I heard winds howling the next morning and decided not to have an early start in the ski field. Plus the sun didn't rise until 8.30am. 

We took a bus to Cairngorm ski resort, half an hour away from the town. It was a winter wonderland as we passed a frozen lake, Siberian huskies (training for a sledding competition) and a quaint little snow town.

The weather was cloudy and on the mountain, winds were up to 56km an hour. They picked up the snow and caused delays with the funicular to the top station. The train leaves every 15 minutes and normally takes 5 mins to get to the top. However twice we were held up due to the tunnel being backed up with snow. 

There were a few closed runs because of low snow coverage. The winds were so strong, we had to push ourselves downhill or we got propelled like sailboats. The red runs White Lady and M1 were my favorites as they are wide open and powdery. 

It's worth mentioning that food on the mountain is fairly priced. I had a burger with chips (GBP 8) and best of all, the cheese came grilled and melted over the patty! So crusty and delicious. 

After lunch it got darker and the wind picked up speed. Visibility on one side of the mountain was terrible and it was painful taking a t-bar with snow whipping on my face. Thankfully we got a few good runs down the other side before calling it a day. 

There was good snow at Cairngorm but as conditions change quickly, a tip is to make plans last minute. As it was relatively low altitude compared to say, the Alps, Cairngorm is heavily dependant on favourable weather. Is it comparable to Austrian and French ski fields? Definitely not. There are only T bars and pommel lifts to get you around the mountains. It's a small ski field. It's possible to ski all the runs in one day if you were an expert skier. 

We missed our bus to Aviemore so my friend, familiar with hitching culture within the ski field, asked a stranger in the car park for a lift. I was dumbfounded as I've never "hitched hiked" but my friend assured me that it was a very normal thing to do and people are really friendly here. 

Our driver was a Romanian snowboard instructor who kindly dropped us off in Aviemore. We then went to a recreation club to relax in a heated pool, spa and steam room. 

We retired at home with a ready made pizza and roasted marshmallows over the fireplace. I think I might have turned into a pyromaniac as I kept the fire roaring all night.

The next morning it was raining. I was told lot of the snow had melted in Cairngorm so the lift staff were told to go home. My friends and I went for a walk through the town and hiked to see a couple of lochs. The countryside was beautiful albeit soggy and freezing.

It was time to fly back to London. I was in Highlands for less than 48 hours but that's ok. I maxed out what could be done in the poor weather. I hope to come back for a full weekend trip!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Return To London

I'd been dreading it but my Sydney hiatus came to an end. I got on the plane and stopped over in Singapore. This time is was only for 6 hours. I wasn't feeling well when I landed. The heat and queueing at passport control was debilitating. After making it to the comfort of my friend's house and meeting their new family member, I recovered in time for the next leg of my flight... cold and grey London. This is the worst time to come back but thankfully I don't have a job to rush back to. For a week I was feeling blue and lonely. Grant was still in New Zealand. My depression was due to lack of sunshine and I missed my life in Sydney. 

I went to my Saturday gym classes and realised I needed my Zumba family. I missed them so much. The workout hit me hard and I was out of form. We had a catch up lunch after and for the first time I felt glad to be back in London.

When Grant returned, I finally felt 100% at home. While London's not the best place to live, we have each other and our home. I felt out of place without him.

Thanks to jet lag I've been waking up at 5am. One time, I woke up to snow. By sunrise most of it had melted. Hope the snow keeps coming. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Singapore Airlines Premium Economy Long Haul Review

I fly between Sydney and London almost every year and concluded that long haul flights involves a recovery period similar to surgery. While that's mostly due to jetlag, it doesn't help when I never sleep on planes.

Despite all this flying, I'll never be one of those lucky people who get upgraded to business class. So I finally shelled out for premium economy. I checked a few airlines and at the time Singapore Airlines offered the best value PE seats, priced 25% more than an economy seat. 

This is way cheaper than business class but you still get to check in at the business class queue and your checked in baggage receives the same priority. This is perfect for me as I usually get to the airport around 1-1.5 hrs before the flight.

The cabin area for PE is curtained off from economy and if you're on an A380, you don't have to walk through business class to get to your seat. The PE seats are at the immediate right of the door. 

There are only 36 PE seats on an A380 and 28 on an A777. The rows are made up of two, four and two seats with two spaces for bassinettes. A tip is is that A380 planes offer more space for window seats as there is a sizeable gap between the armrest and the wall. 

The downside to a PE ticket is that if you travel in peak times and need to change your flight dates, you may have difficulty finding availability. You can pay for a upgrade to a higher class seat, but you cannot be downgraded to economy. 

The PE seat is leather with bigger width and pitch. Even I felt the difference and I'm petite. There is more leg room and storage space. The tray table is kept in the arm rest. There is a leg rest which I would prefer it go higher. The entertainment screen is bigger with HD and over the ear headphones are provided. While I don't need the extra leg space, I found it handy to keep a large handbag, a travel pillow and my own blanket under the seat in front of me. 

Was I able to sleep in PE? Sadly no. Unless I'm lying down 180 degrees, I slide because I can't rest sitting up. PE is no substitute for flat beds.

There is a fair amount space between me and the next passenger. I was even able to "walk over" my sleeping (female-also-petite) neighbour to get to the bathroom without disturbing her. 

In PE they serve real champagne (decent but not great) and better food. You can even pre-order your meals online but I was happy to go with the flow. 

Is PE worth it? In my opinion, yes for any long haul flight. A cheaper alternative is to book a preferred seat with more leg room in economy however you risk getting annoyed by the close proximity to the bassinettes (ie, screaming babies) or toilet doors.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Last Days In Sydney

I went away to Auckland and came back with a cold. It was raining hard when I landed in Sydney. My nose was completely blocked and I can't taste anything. So disappointing as I hoped to have a final binge of Sydney food before returning to the UK.

The rain went on for days and I kept warm and toasty with my baby niece. Two of the days I had to go out to the city to meet friends but was so glad to come home to her. She is my little ray of sunshine. Every time I see her I just want to scoop her up and smother her with kisses!

I spent a whole day packing and running errands. I wish I started organising sooner. I had an incredible urge to stay in Sydney. It took an hour figuring out how much longer I can be out of the UK and calling to defer my flight. It however cost £385 so I said no. 

On the last day I was still considering forking out the cash even though it was a stupid amount to pay for an three extra days in Sydney. After realising I was procrastinating, I didn't give my "dilemma" a second thought.

To make the most of my last day, I decided not to see friends. I spent it doing what I love. First it was a Zumba class then a bike ride in Olympic Park.

Blue sky and pretty clouds-how I will miss you.

The sky was spectacular. I could sit here and watch it all day. But couldn't as I was hungry. 

For lunch I had my last pho at Toan Thang in Flemington. Thankfully I recovered the use of my taste buds. This restaurant is known for it's long queues on weekends. I was seated straight away although I had to share the table. It's rare to find decent pho for $10 or less and from a place that's close to me. I happily slurped away after taking the obligatory food pic.

Then I had family dinner at Mori Japanese Cafe in Glebe. It was all-you-can-eat. It was yummy but I was yearning to eat cooked vegetables. There were hardly any except edamame on the menu. On the upside the variety of seafood was amazing and I ate my money's worth.

My sister must have told Lillee I was leaving. She asked me to pick her up when crossing the road to the car. Maybe it was because I said that's what I'd do when I walked her to preschool. But she said intently to me with huge eyes,  "I need you. You must stay here." 

You must picture her saying this with a cute toddler voice. It was the most heart warming and heart wrenching thing to hear.

I went to bed feeling overwhelmingly grateful for my time in Sydney. Home is the best place in the world. The next morning on the day I flew out, I got up early to fill up my car to have it garaged. It was sad taking off my still-fresh number plates. I love my jellybean car and in ways it's loved me back as it still runs after 10 years of loyal service. 

Every time I depart Sydney airport it gets harder and harder. I wasn't looking forward to going back to London. This time is different, I no longer felt like being an intrepid traveller and just wanted to stay in my home country.