Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chandor Gardens

Mr. Higgins' parents were recently in town for my birthday and we wanted to do something different and fun, especially since the weather was finally supposed to be nice.  And so we headed to Weatherford, TX to visit Chandor Gardens.

Chandor Gardens was designed by a British protrait artist, Douglas Chandor, who moved with his wife to her hometown of Weatherford in the 1930s.  

Over the course of twenty years, Chandor converted four acres of land into a lush garden.  The gardens are amazing, even in the off-season.  

There are a lot of Asian influences - statues, Buddhas, dragons....among the fountains and plants.

There are fountains, a waterfall, pergolas, bridges...  The gardens are an oasis within downtown Weatherford.  The fountains drown out the noise of traffic and it's a very peaceful place to relax. 

There were some flowers in bloom and they were beautiful!

If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit to Chandor Gardens, a lovely escape from the city noise and concrete.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Michelle Dozois: Peak 10 Cardio Interval Burn (Review)

I'm loving the Peak 10 workouts by Michelle Dozois.  Her Cardio Interval Burn (2010), as usual, does not disappoint.  

As with all the Peak 10 videos, the workout consists of 5 segments with two peak intervals within them - so, 10 peaks for a total of 50 minutes of crazy cardio.  This is not a negative, but I can tell that this Cardio Interval Burn was the first.  If Michelle's More Cardio Interval Burn is a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 in difficulty, this first video is a 9.5.  But when you're talking about this level of intensity, that is not a bad thing.

The great thing about this video is that it's the only Peak 10 workout, that I've reviewed so far, that does not go to the floor for burpees, push-ups, etc.  You're on your feet the entire time.  That sounds like a small thing but it's not.  It's a very small relief.  Ha!

Michelle starts with a 5 minute warm-up which consists of some very light cardio and then stretching.  In each interval you have a "basecamp" which is the time to catch your breath.  This flows into a 2-3 minute "ascent" where you may do some punches, some kicks, and low-impact cardio.  Then the tempo increases and you're at the 2-3 minute "climb" - full-out high-impact cardio: jacks, jog with knees up, speed skates, etc.  This all climaxes in the "peak" - one crazy move that you do for a minute and that will leave you breathless: 180 degree lunge jumps, jump with one leg up, etc.  Basically, a jumping move.  The workout ends with a lovely stretch. 

Let me tell you, even after all these videos I've done, I still can't do these moves where you have to bring your knees up and in front of you.  That's just crazy!  So, I substitute that peak move with something else.  

I really like this video.  There's really only one "move" I dread and it's quick feet (jog) into a
plié.  For some reason, I hate it.  
But I love the workout.  It's a real challenge without being exhausting.  Your heart rate will not lower for fifty minutes.  Michelle and her crew are fabulous, as always.  I really have no idea how Michelle keeps coming up with such great workouts.  Hopefully, she keeps them coming!!
Bottom Line: I would definitely do this video before the More Cardio Interval Burn.  It's just a half-step under the later video.  But still advanced. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Bronze Horseman

I just finished a book that I loved...  Paulline Simon's The Bronze Horseman.

This was my review:

When I picked up this book, I thought I was going to be reading about the siege of Stalingrad. I did not know I was going to reading one of the most beautifully frustrating love stories of all time.

The first half of this book was incredible; I could not put this book down. Never have I read anything as heartbreaking, poignant, and terrifying as the story of the Metanova family during the siege. Simons definitely has a gift for writing; the reader lives through the siege.

And then came the "honeymoon" time, which was just a bit too much. Suddenly I was reading romance instead of historical fiction. But the characters are thrown back into war and Simons once again flourishes by making the reader FEEL so very much for the characters.

I look forward to reading the rest of the story. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Method: Cardio Boot Camp (Review)

Having seen Tracey Mallett lead a fun dance workout, I searched for her other workouts and found this Cardio Boot Camp (1999). I decided to try it, on loan from Netflix, for one of my Monday cardio workouts. 

This video definitely has some negatives to go along with quite a few positives.  Here's a breakdown...

Segment 1: The only warm-up you get is about a minute of breathing and stretching.  Tracey leads you through jacks, kicks, push-ups, one plyometric move, etc.  She gets your heart-rate up and gives you only a few opportunities to bring it down.

Segment 2: This starts off with a few minutes of Tai Chi, which is not easy to follow, but relaxing.  Then on to some kick-boxing: punches and kicks.  At the end, Tracey grabs some light weights (she uses 3 lbs) and you do some arm exercises.

Segment 3: The first time around, I thought this segment was repeating the first.  It isn't, but they're very similar.  A cool-down consists of one move done at the end.  No stretching.

The run-time of actual exercising is forty minutes.

Negatives: This video, as you would imagine, is extremely dated.  (But, as I've said before, the outfits, the setting, the music should not stop you from doing a video.)  Tracey is extremely young and her cuing is not great.  She's also very annoying.  I usually find her adorably chipper but here she's just annoying.  But if this is her first video, I can forgive her.  No explanation is given for the Tai Chi so you just follow along as best you can.  The entire thing could benefit from a good warm-up and cool-down.  Since the first and last segments are so similar, I can see getting bored with this video very quickly.  I was bored the second time around. 

Positives: My heart-rate went up and stayed up.  I felt like I got a good workout, without getting killed in the process.  This is not "a keeper" but if you're on Netflix and need a change for a week or so, try it out.  

Bottom Line: A good, different, moderate cardio workout.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Temple of a Thousand Faces

One of my favorite books of all time is Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors.  When I saw that Shors had a new historical fiction novel out, I ordered it.  It's about a topic I know nothing about: medieval Cambodia.  

This is the review I posted on Goodreads: 

History, architecture, and historical fiction are some of my favorite things. John Shors frequently, and successfully, combines all three to make beautiful stories. Temple of a Thousand Faces is no exception.

Angkor Wat and the history of Cambodia were both foreign to me, making this book very appealing; I love learning about new places! Shors tells us the story of the Cham invasion of the Khmer kingdom in the 12th century. A Khmer king flees the invaders and must find an army to battle for his kingdom.

Shors does an excellent job of telling the story from several points of view. In this story, you hear about a soldier, a king, a captive, and a family struggling to survive the Cham oppressors. It's a story filled with religion, hope, and history - a great read!

This is why I love historical fiction: you learn a bit of history while reading incredible stories.   

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


It's been a while since I've had a vacation.  Mr. Higgins and I like to try to space out our three weeks of vacation time throughout the year.  For some reason, this year, we're going from June to December without a vacation.  Oy.  It's tough.  

We've already been thinking about our next cruise, at the beginning of December, where we'll get to visit our favorite place again: St. John, USVI.  After spending the morning on the beach (probably Cinnamon Bay), we'll go into town and shop, visit some of our favorite places, and have a drink at our favorite bar.  

One of my favorite drinks to get on St. John is the Painkiller.  It's deliciously pineapple-y!  Here's the recipe:

2-4 oz of dark rum (we use Cruzan, from the Virgin Islands)
4 oz pineapple juice
1 oz cream of coconut (aka Coco Lopez)
1 oz orange juice
a dash of nutmeg on the top of each drink

Oh, boy.  I can just feel the island breeze as I sip one of these at home.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Crunch: Fat Burning Pilates (Review)

When I first started working out, I did a lot of Crunch videos, because that's what was on Netflix.  Back then, I really liked dance and pilates workouts.  I stumbled upon trainer Ellen Barrett by doing her pilates workouts, which are a lot of fun.  One of her videos that I own is Crunch's Fat Burning Pilates (2003).

This is a bit unlike traditional pilates.  There is a lot of standing work that doesn't resemble normal pilates.  But some traditional floor work comes next, which also incorporates some nontraditional "fat burning" moves. 

My first impression of this video was "holy cow, this is a lot of pliés!"  Literally - my thighs were burning.  There is a drummer on the set who provides a nice upbeat tempo for the standing work. Again, this is nontraditional pilates - more like fast-paced ballet/pilates combined in a dance-like format. The floor work includes a lot of leg and bum toning. 

Ellen Barrett is a very good instructor.  She's motivating and not at all annoying - except that she really likes pliés in this video.  

After a few years of doing this workout fairly regularly, I no longer go to it very often.  I don't find it very challenging.  But when I need a light workout, like when I don't feel well, I turn to Ellen's pilates.  There's not a lot here to challenge you, outside of the pliés, but you end up feeling nice and refreshed.  For a clip, go here.  

Bottom Line: This is a nice introduction to dance-like pilates.  You can't go wrong with Ellen Barrett and I'd recommend her for good, beginner workouts.

Friday, October 11, 2013

My Workout Schedule

Recently I was a little miffed when Mr. Higgins brought up working out and my dad said, "well, now you need to get Doniamarie working as hard."  Mr. Higgins, to his immense credit, responded, "Doniamarie works out ten times harder than I do.  She's doing long, crazy workouts most days."  I was so proud of him, right then!

But my dad was almost blacklisted for such a comment, especially when he knows I work out all the time.  

I hope my reviews of workout videos have been helpful.  Now, I'll share with you how I put them all together into a weekly workout schedule.  Here it is....

Mondays - random cardio such as The Firm's 500 Calorie WorkoutStar Trainer's Cardio (I workout plus some additional cardio), Shape's Bikini Body Camp Transforming, or a different cardio workout from Netflix.  45-60 minutes.

Tuesdays - Jari Love's GET RIPPED! Slim and Lean or a similar Jari Love workout, interspersed with my own cardio segments. 45-55 minutes.

Wednesdays -  Michelle Dozois' Peak Ten Cardio Interval Burn (review to come) or More Cardio.  I alternate between the two.  50-55 minutes.

Thursdays - Jari Love's GET RIPPED! 1000.  50-55 minutes.

Fridays - rest.  A margarita.

Saturdays -  Michelle Dozois' Peak Ten Cardio Strength or More Cardio Strength.  I alternate them.  45-50 minutes.

Sundays - A Jari Love workout.  I alternate between three, one of which is Get Extremely Ripped.  40-50 minutes.  If I have more time, I may shorten this workout to 35 minutes and add 20-30 minutes of yoga.

Abs....  I'll either do an ab workout video (review to come) on the weekend or be diligent in adding 5 minutes of ab work a day.  The exception is on Wednesdays, when I'm too beat after Michelle Dozois' cardio to attempt anything more afterward.

Notice that I try very hard to not do weights two days in row.  The exception is Saturday and Sunday, but neither of those workouts is a strenuous weight workout.  My hardest workout with weights is on Thursdays, so my Friday day of rest is always nice. 

When to work out....  Monday through Thursday, I work out after a full day of work.  And some days, after working out, I'm completely exhausted.  Sometimes it's all I can do to not just sit and read the rest of the night.  

On Saturdays and Sundays, I tend to work out an hour after a very light breakfast.  This breakfast is usually coffee with toast or a Breakfast Cookie.  Though I do it occasionally, it's a lot harder for me to roll out of bed and work out without anything in my stomach.  I can barely muster the energy to get through a workout, especially a difficult one. But, if I eat something, wait an hour, and then work out, my body has something to burn and is a lot happier.  

This is what works for me.  I'm maintaining the weight I want to be - the lowest my body can get, apparently - and I'm perfectly happy with this.  I hope my routine helps you to find one that works for you.  Everyone is different so be sure to find a schedule that keeps you motivated and happy.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October Page

My October page was both fun and frustrating to put together.  The frustration came from not having any fall or Halloween pictures to choose from.  I had to settle on a sunset picture - albeit a perfect one from Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI.  

The fun came from the papers.  I did this page and then decided that I had too much cute Halloween paper - so a separate Halloween page had to be done.  Ha!  I will show that to you later in the month!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Star Trainers: Ab Blast (Review)

Having really enjoyed Star Trainers: Cardio, I decided to give their Ab Blast (2007) workout a try.  I'm so glad I did!  I purchased this one and have done it consistently now for years.

Just like the cardio video, this has five separate workouts led by five "star" instructors.  Each ab workout is ten minutes long and after those ten minutes, your core will be protesting!  Here's a rundown of each instructor's section, in order of least to most liked.

Gay Gasper.....  This woman just does not do it for me.  But I will admit that her ab workout is tough.  In fact, I didn't do it for the longest time because I didn't like how tough it was!  Just like her cardio, some of her combinations will take a few tries to master.  She has some planks with tricep push-ups that really test you.  

Kendall Hogan's section is interesting because he incorporates weights.  I found this difficult since I only had one weight to choose from.  

Violet Zaki's workout is possibly the least innovative, but still good: a lot of crunch variations and then some planks.  My abs are always happy when the non-stop crunches stop!

Rob Glick's section is a continuous onslaught of crunches and my abs are always hurting after these.  Glick then makes you turn on to your stomach for some back extensions.  He finishes with the toughest round of planks on the video.  You hold these for a long time!

Kimberly Spreen is my favorite.  She somehow manages to lead you through a crazy ab workout without one single crunch.  Your obliques will get quite a workout!  

I usually do one of these workouts a week.  They will definitely make an impact on your core!  However, don't forget that you won't see any changes in your abs until you get rid of your belly fat.  It's depressing, but true.  Don't let that stop you from strengthening your core, though.  Everyone needs a strong core for good posture!

For a clip of this video, go here.  

Bottom Line: This is a great video to have on hand, no matter what your fitness level.  

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Taste of Fall

It's almost, almost beginning to feel like fall here in Texas.  Last weekend we had a taste of it: a cold front came through and temps dropped into the low 60s.  It's been four months since we've seen anything under 70.  Usually, in Texas, we rarely ever drop below 80 for the months of July and August.  Yay, Texas summers.

But last weekend was wonderful.  We opened the windows and left them open all night long.  I don't think this cat left the windows all night.  He didn't touch his dinner or his breakfast because he couldn't bring himself to leave his window.  Days later, he sat in this room and looked at the windows, willing them to open.  I've never seen anything so cute or sad.  Ha!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Christmas Tags

My mother-in-law has really gotten into papercrafting, as I've mentioned here before.  She has started making the most precious gift tags I've ever seen.  I've dabbled in tags but have never been proactive enough to have enough for Christmas presents by the time Christmas rolls around.

This year, because we have another December cruise, I'm forcing myself to start Christmas shopping now.  I've done good so far.  But the other day, I made progress in another area.  For some reason, I sat down at my craft desk and started making Christmas tags.  

I used the leftovers from my October Afternoon December Daily kit from last year.  I love OA's product lines, especially their Christmas lines.  I must say that these tags are not terribly detailed or extravagently embellished but they're cuter than what you get in the store and they'll work great.  So, success!