Wednesday, November 27, 2013

First Batch of Christmas Cookies!

Since I have limited holiday time this year (due to our December cruise), I've begun baking.  My first Christmas cookie of the season: America's Test Kitchen's Triple Chocolate Cookies. 

I discovered these when a friend made them years ago.  I've made them about 3-4 times, but not in a couple years.  When I went to make them this time, I remembered the frustration of having to let the dough chill before baking the cookies. 

Well, the day I chose the make the dough turned out to be a crazy day and I never got around to baking the cookies.  They had to wait until the next morning.  And, oh boy, let me tell you, I think that's one of the secrets to chocolate chip cookies, of any kind.  I rolled the dough into what seemed like balls way too big - 3T worth of a ball (per the recipe instructions).  I let them bake for 12 minutes, rotating halfway through.  They turned out decadently soft and lumpy, not spread out. 

These are the best these cookies have ever been.  Never again will I make the dough and bake them on the same day! 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Denise Austin: Sculpt and Burn Body Blitz (Review)

Denise Austin has been around for so long that I can't believe she's still putting anything out, at least in the way of videos.  Needing to mix it up, I decided to try one of her recent DVDs: Sculpt and Burn Body Blitz (2011).

The video is divided into sections (four 10-minute sections plus warm-up and cool-down) so you can pick and choose what you do.

Warm-up: Some unusual moves here but good overall.

Mixed Martial Arts:  Some punches and kicks interspersed with cardio (jacks, mainly).  The cuing is not great with the punches and such but it got my heart rate up!

Athletic Conditioning: Some interesting moves in here and I really liked this segment.  In fact, I wish it was longer!  

Kettlebell-Insprired: Thankfully, this uses one dumbell instead of a kettelbell.  Good but light strength training.

Cardio Sculpt: My weights were almost too heavy for this section but with light weights, I can see that it would be a good workout.  

Cool-Down: Stretches.

My favorite segments were the first two.  But even in them, Denise was hard to follow since her voice was so light and wispy.  And annoying.  I know, I'm picky, but I guess that's the reason why you're given the option on the DVD to hear her instructions or not.  For a clip, go here

This is not an intense workout but it is a good workout to have in your rotation. 

Bottom Line: I would recommend this to anyone who wants to add some sculpting and toning into their cardio-heavy exercise regimen.  It's a good place to start.

Friday, November 22, 2013

December Daily 2013

I so enjoyed doing a December Daily mini-album last year that I was literally counting down the days until I could order this year's kit!

However, when October Afternoon finally announced this year's edition, I was a little disappointed.  It has changed a lot, including the album type.  In general, OA's Christmas line this year is less nostalgic and, therefore, less to my liking.  But I decided to order the kit anyway, knowing I would probably like most of it.  

It arrived a few days ago!  I can't wait to get started!  I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fall = Soup!

Now that it's fall, I'm back to freezing soups for us to eat for lunches and quick dinners.  I love how easy this makes life during the week! 

I recently tried a new recipe and it was great!  Chicken Enchilada Soup!
  To make it diet friendly, I cut out almost all of the cheese and skipped the tortilla chips.  I added only a tablespoon of 2% shredded cheddar cheese and Mr. Higgins was fine without even that.  We both really liked it.  It is a nice addition to my chili and taco soups - and different enough to be distinctive and exciting!  I'll be making this very often!

Mr. Higgins loves cornbread so I've been trying to perfect my skillet cornbread skills.  I'm doing pretty good!  

I'm already wanting to get started on Christmas baking.  There's so much I want to make (and eat!) and not enough time, as usual.  We have another December cruise this year which makes the holidays even crazier.  So I'll have to get to baking SOON!


Monday, November 18, 2013

Amy Bento: Kickbox Xtreme

You've read my opinion of Amy Bento.  However, after reading some good reviews, I decided to give her a second chance.  Her Kickbox Xtreme Workout (2008) arrived from Netflix and I tried it out on a day that I needed some heart-pounding cardio.

I'm not going to break down this video.   You warm-up (for a bit too long) and then you move into kick-boxing.  At the end of each combination is "power-burst" that consists of jumping and jump kicks.  

Because the nature of this workout is kickboxing, it was a little easier to follow than Bento's Hi-Lo Xtreme Workout.  However, my main problem with Bento remains the same.  She doesn't cue well and never demonstrates a move before going into it and expecting you to follow.  For example, while doing a convoluted move, she'll say, "next, we're going to do a jab, punch, block right, block left, kick, and then jack."  W...T....H....  This is not the way to lead a workout.  If you must do a convoluted combination, demonstrate it while we catch our breath.  After a few tries, we'll get it.  When you tell us, it takes twice as long to finally pick something up.  

(She did the same thing in her Hi-Lo Xtreme Workout, but it was even harder to follow, "now, let's do a grapevine, silly cross hook, jack into a twisty turn spin out."  I just rolled my eyes.)

Sigh.  I got a good workout with this video.  If I couldn't get something right way, I substituted my own move.  I kept moving and my heart rate stayed elevated.  

My other problem with Bento is that her moves don't flow well.  She'll be doing something on the right and the next move requires you to do something that feels completely unnatural on the left.  I guess good choreography is a gift and not everyone has it.  Bento does not have it.  

So, basically, if you want to know how to NOT lead a workout, or design a workout, watch Bento's videos.  She creates effective workouts, I give you that, but they're not in any way well-done or well thought-out...or well-cued.  To see a clip, go here

Bottom Line:  If you have a telepathic connection to Amy Bento, perhaps you can follow this video.  If not, jab and punch and kick until you can figure out what the heck she's doing.  This is an advanced workout, but on a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 1 as far as level of advanced (if that makes sense). 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Tatiana and Alexander

I recently finished the second book in The Bronze Horseman trilogy.  Here's the review I posted to Goodreads:

When I finished The Bronze Horseman, I thought, "how can the sequel live up to the first book?"  Well, I don't know how, but it does.

This book follows Tatiana's new life in America, with her son, Anthony.  In parallel, we learn of what Alexander is going through in Russia and Europe, as he fights to return to the woman he loves.  What happened to POWs and Russians after the war was not something I knew much about - and it was fascinating to read. 

The lovers get through it all with their memories of each other and their time, so fleeting, together.  Of course, that means reliving much of their "honeymoon," which means a lot of explicit togetherness.  But it wasn't as bad as the first book.

You can't help but love the story of Tatiana, a small but strong woman, and Alexander, the flawed hero who loves her without fail.

I highly recommend this series - just skip all the "honeymooning!"

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Crunch Super Slim Down: Pilates Yoga Blend (Review)

I own three workouts by Ellen Barrett, one of which was reviewed here.  Perhaps my favorite of her pilates/yoga workouts is Crunch Super Slim Down: Pilates Yoga Blend (2005).

Ellen begins with some breathing and back bends before moving into some yoga sequences - warrior pose, triangle pose, reverse warrior.  I really like these.  In fact, sometimes I'll just do the first 10 minutes of this video to feel refreshed and stretched out.  And this is the type of yoga I like - upbeat without all the breathing and meditation.

The next Pilates series is deceptively challenging - you go from child's pose and lift up and back with a push-up and end  in a plank position.  This really gets your arms!  Next up is a sequence of leg exercises - while on your side and then sitting up.  I really like this - not too hard but fun and challenging!  Then Ellen finishes with some ab work, done on your back. These are familiar pilates moves tweaked to get your abs burning!  

This is the closest workout to pure yoga that I own and I really like it!  Ellen is great and her moves are a great combination of unique and traditional.  Despite all the weights and cardio in my workout routine, I will occasionally do this video and my arms will always hurt afterward.  Ellen has crafted a workout that targets muscles we frequently forget about.

Bottom Line: This is a great video for beginners of yoga and/or Pilates.  If you're crazy advanced at either, this may be too easy for you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A New Beginning

On Friday I said good-bye to my job of seven years.  Today, I begin a new chapter in my work life.

In the religion department, and possibly in every building on the east side of campus, to go "across the street" is to sell out.  What one sells out of, I don't quite know, even after seven years.  Is it selling out of academia?  Selling out of being a rebel on the other side of campus?  Selling out to go to administration? 

I have no idea.  But, I'm selling out - by going to work in administration.  And my new job is, to make matters worse, in the swanky building where the Chancellor works.  At least I'm not on the same floor as the Chancellor - because that's an even bigger evil, according to university veterans.

But.....  I don't care.  I'm so excited to begin anew!  Wish me luck; my first week is sure to be overwhelming and exhausting!  But exciting!! 

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Farewell

And so it's my last day in the religion department.  The last two weeks have been a blur - of good wishes from colleagues, awkwardness with my boss, packing up my stuff, contemplating the future....

My office is (mostly) packed up.  I spent a sleepless night wondering what to do with my favorite office plant that cannot live at home or in my new, windowless office.  I've packed away the books my old boss game to me when he retired.  There are seven years worth of memories in this office.  

This office has seen me go through two heartbreaks and seen me meet my future husband.  It has witnessed the saga of online dating and the joy of wedding planning.  This office has seen me  mourn a cat and adopt two.  It has seen the stress of a boss' retirement and the up-and-downs of a new boss.  

It has been a good office, a good place to spend 9 hours of every day.  But it's time to move on.  It's time for new challenges and a new routine.  

But thank you, dear office, for being a constant these past seven years.  Thank you.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Halloween Page

Even though I'm not a big fan of Halloween, I decided to make a Halloween page for the 12x12 frame.  

I can't  remember where I got the papers for this.  I know some of it is October Afternoon; the tags came in a random bundle I got on sale.  It was fun to make!

And now that it's November, I must think about Christmas....and Christmas cards.  Eek!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Jari Love: Get Extremely RIPPED! 1000 Hardcore (Review)

Among the Jari Love videos I rotate through is her Get Extremely RIPPED! 1000 Hardcore (2011).  

The format of this video is unique to Jari's other videos. There are two workouts included.  For both, the warm-up (squats, steps, stretches) and cool-down (stretching) is the same.  The workouts alternate between a weight segment (3 minutes) and a cardio segment (5 minutes).  You will need weights and you can use a step (I never do and the workout is still extremely effective).

The first workout is my favorite, because it makes my thighs burn like crazy!  First off, you do deadlifts and back rows.  Then a cardio segment of straddle runs.  And another round, on the other side, of deadlifts and rows.  Then back to straddle runs.  The next weight segment is curtsy squats and triceps.  OUCH!  You will feel these curtsy squats!!  The next cardio: jumping jacks and squat jumps.  Then you repeat the curtsy squats and triceps on the other side.  Next is ab work.  (A little over 30 minutes total workout.)

The second workout has more cardio, it feels like, and is tougher for me to get through.  You start with squats and lunges with biceps.  Then the cardio segment is a variation of jacks.  Then legs and shoulders with weights.  Next up is cardio: pulse squats (ouch!).  More leg and shoulder combos.  And the the fun cardio: burpees.  Finish off with push-ups and abs. 
(A little over 30 minutes total workout.)

When choosing a workout option, you can also opt to combine both workouts for a full hour.  Or you can choose to do all the cardio segments OR all the weight segments.  I'm not suicidal so I generally stick to one workout.  All the cardio segments have levels of intensity so if you're a beginner you can stay at level 1 and work your way up. 

Jari's personality is, as always, one of the best in the business.  She's not in-your-face like Jillian Michaels; she's positive without being too talkative.  Her team, including Laurie, is a constant inspiration.  None of this workout is particularly ground-breaking or complex so a beginner can easily get started with light weights and the lighter cardio modifications.  I like having this video in my rotation as it's unique and different from Jari's others.  See a clip here

Bottom Line:  If you're wanting to get in some strength training but without sacrificing your cardio, this is a good option. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Great News!!

After seven years in my current job, I finally, finally was offered a new position!!!

I'm leaving the academic side of the university and moving to the administrative side, something I've wanted to do for quite a while.  In fact, I've been looking, sometimes very seriously for a job, on and off for five years.  But I think I've found the right thing for me.  

As most of you know, my job since my new boss arrived, has changed dramatically, and not for the better.  It's been a constant frustration for over a year and I was beginning to lose all hope for change.  But, as always, God has a plan and I think it's a great one.

I get a promotion, more pay, interesting (new!) work, and new co-workers.  Even better, since I'll be in a more professional setting, I won't be the lone staff member sequestered away with a bunch of academics who don't know or care about me.  I'll be part of a team; I'll have an office that's mine (with no common printer and common key lock!); I'll be in the same building as the Chancellor.....  There are a ton of benefits to this!

There are a few drawbacks, mainly the hours that will mean more traffic to deal with. But I'm staying focused on the positives because I'm so very, very excited!!!

Yay!!  I start my new job in a little over a week!