Friday, March 28, 2014

Cat Happy

This cat has recently made me very, very happy.  He's never been a lap cat, much prefering the floor or the seat next to you on the couch.  But in the past few weeks, he's been jumping up to sit next to me - and, lean against me - in the recliner.  He'll even come up and sniff my nose and rub against me before settling down by my legs. 

This is the cat who had the urinary tract scare last summer.  After 9 months on food made specifically for cats prone to UTIs, he's the picture of health and rambunctious happiness.

Pets make the world a much happier place! 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Herb Biscuits (2014:11)

When trying new recipes, it's inevitable that some just don't work.  Some are mediocre and unexciting while some fail....on an epic scale.

I was all ready to make soup last weekend but wanted something other than cornbread to go with it.  Recently, I've read about how Bisquick is not so good for you (like everything else in the store, it seems), so I've been wanting to try a biscuit-y recipe using flour, etc, instead of Bisquick.  When I found this recipe for Herb Biscuits, I thought I'd accomplished my two goals. 

Like other biscuits - and Bisquick biscuits - I dropped this dough onto a greased cookie sheet.  Perhaps that was my mistake.  The biscuits did not rise - actually, they just spread out and gained, maybe a quarter-inch of hieght.  The texture was so that a knife could not cut them, they were so chewy (but, yes, done).  They were also too salty.

When I saw and tasted the result of my efforts, I double-checked the recipe: yes, I followed it exactly.  My baking powder is new, so that wasn't the problem....  So, I have no idea.  Maybe the recipe has a typo. 

I'll keep looking for a good drop biscuit from scratch recipe.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Firm Bootcamp: Maximum Calorie Burn (Review)

I'm not a huge fan of The Firm workouts, as I've said before.  The choreography is often poorly explained and, in general, none of the workouts are very advanced.  When I read good things about The Firm Bootcamp: Maximum Calorie Burn (2007), though, I was tempted.  I bought a copy.

Allison Davis, the instructor, is not unknown to me; I've seen her in other Firm videos.  Her Southern accent is always quite distinctive.  

Allison guides you through an overly thorough warm-up that includes light cardio and push-ups.  Ugh.  I hate it when instructors put push-ups in warm-ups.  The workout begins with a short toning section with weights followed by a plyometric move to get your heart rate up.  You do this about three times, weights and cardio, before you get to the first of three cardio interval sections.  

The plyometric moves interspersed with weights are good and challenging - lunges to jumping lunges, burpees, etc.  The cardio in the three cardio sections (each about 5 minutes) is more dance like but still high impact.  Your heart rate gets up there and barely has time to recover with the weights before you're on to your next plyometric move.   For the less advanced, there is a girl in the back who always does the beginner/low-impact modification.

There's a nice cool down - again, overly long - followed by some stretching. 

Weights are a sure fire way to get my blood pumping and it definitely pumps here.  I liked that some of the moves were different than the ones on other videos - variety is good!  The cardio was less innovative but still effective.  Allison falls into the same Firm trap - assuming you know what a star step is before explaining it.  There are better instructors - and better series than the Firm. 

But I will continue to keep this video in my rotation since it is different than the others. 

Bottom Line: This is a good introduction to HIT - high intensity intervals.
  You'll need weights and a towel to dry off with.  Ha!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Yoga Booty Ballet Live: Cardio Cabaret (Review)

A few years ago, my mom found and bought a Yoga Booty Ballet video in the store.  I liked it enough to buy some of the series myself.  One video set includes Cardio Cabaret and Hip Hop Abs.  Today, I'll review the Cardio Cabaret workout.

Yoga Booty Ballet is taught by two fabulous ladies, Teigh and Gillian.  Gillian generally teaches more of the yoga and ballet moves while Teigh does more of the strength training portions. 

Cardio Cabaret starts slowly with some yoga and meditation and then quickly transitions to some fun dance moves.  This is pure dance but it's also pure fun!  This is not a high intensity workout; it's much lighter and less stressful!  Your will shake those hips and butt!

The Cabaret section ends with some ballet to work on your balance followed by a good stretching segment.  

Cons: I'm not into meditation so I always fast forward through that bit at the beginning.

Bottom Line: For a beginner, this is a great way to get some light, fun cardio into your day, without taking up too much time (especially if you skip the meditating!).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Dark Monk

This week I finished the second book in The Hangman's Daughter series by Oliver Potzsch, The Dark Monk.  I was pleasantly surprised by it!

Here my Goodreads review:

Despite not being swept away by the first book in this series, The Hangman's Daughter, I picked up the second book, mainly because I liked the characters so much.

The Dark Monk was a great surprise: it was better than The Hangman's Daughter! The story had a tightness that the first novel lacked and I personally liked the subject: Templars and the Crusades.

This book has convinced me to keep reading the series.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Roasted Brussels Sprouts (2014:10)

At Thanksgiving with my cousins this past year, there was a dish of Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes.  I passed on it but tried a bit from my mother's plate.  It made me want to try making fresh Brussels sprouts.

As a kid, my mom always bought the Green Giant microwave in butter sauce Brussels spouts.  They were alright.  As an adult, I thought that surely there was a better way to make these ugly green vegetables edible.  

And so I ran across this recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts.  Having no interest in walnuts and not wanting the calories of cranberries, I roasted only the sprouts.  It was interesting how they cooked - and how brown the outer layers got.  I peeled back the layers and the sprouts were green and tender underneath.

I thought this was a good recipe, though it needed more salt (I barely dashed a bit on them).  Mr. Higgins, never a fan of Brussels sprouts, ate them without complaining but asked to never have them again.  Ha!  I'll stick to other veggies but it's good to know how to make this side dish...if one ever needs variety. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014


I recently finished the last selection made by my book group: Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife, by Lisa Miller.

This is my review:

Despite having heard of this book and it's author, it took the push of my book club to make me read Miller's Heaven.  Once I picked it up, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.

I'm perpetually wary of journalists who pursue topics generally reserved for academics and that's what initially kept me from reading this. Miller has no religion degree or history degree...  She's a journalist with years of experience writing about religion.
But Miller proves to be a competent researcher.  She is looking for her own answers with this book and in many ways, this is a personal pilgrimage for her.  She visits academics, ministers, ascetics, and people of every religion.  Along the way, Miller traces a lot of history of the major religions and I particularly enjoyed the parts on Judaism.  It's an enjoyable and enlightening read.

I can't believe I've already read two nonfiction books this year!  Dang! 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I'm back from the Caribbean where we had a lovely cruise!  

As I mentioned before, our new island for this trip was Nevis, which is a 45-minute ferry ride from St. Kitts.  The ferry was fun; the water was a beautiful Caribbean blue.  The times for the ferry, however, were not great.  We had only about two hours to spend on the island before turning around and sailing back to Kitts.  

We decided to go to a beach and visit the local famous hangout, Sunshine's Beach Bar.  The beaches on Kitts and Nevis aren't great but we sat on some loungers and got a few Killer Bees, the signature drink of Sunshine's.  Wow.  They are definitely killer; two of them almost killed me!  

All in all, I'm so glad to have visited Nevis.  The mountain is always shrouded by clouds and it was neat looking up at it, instead of across an ocean at it.  

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Oatmeal Chocolate Muffins (2014:9)

I've been on a search to find a healthy muffin recipe.  This is a lot harder than I ever would have imagined! 

SKP recommended this recipe for Oatmeal Chocolate Muffins.  The main appeal of this recipe, for me, was the flax.  I bought a bag of this 6 months ago and still hadn't used it. 

To decrease the calories, I used only a 1/2 cup of chocolate chips, which is plenty!  These muffins taste healthy but good.  Even Mr. Higgins approved these as a "keeper."  SKP suggested adding a banana which I'll try next time since the muffins are a bit on the dry side. 

Using egg substitute (I had no eggs), these muffins are 139 calories each.  Not bad!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cruise Questions

It seems fitting that while on a cruise, I should do a post about the questions people constantly ask me when I tell them how much we love cruising.  Here are the most common questions.....

1.  Do you feel the ship move?

Yes.  You will feel the ship move.  But unless there are high seas, you won't feel any significant rocking, rolling, or pitching.  Even if it gets up to 10 foot seas, it'll feel like you've had a few drinks.  The steps meet you sooner than expected and you may walk in a not-quite straight line.  It's actually fun - if you pretend like you're drunk!

2.  Do you get sick?

No.  I don't know if I'd get sick without medication.  I've always taken Bonine - one every night or two if the captain says we're in for some high seas.  I know the ship is moving but my brain never decides that I should feel sick.  But don't think about it.  Have fun!

3.  Do you worry about getting norovirus?

A tiny bit but the fact is that you don't have to be on a cruise ship to get norovirus.  You've probably had it, without ever setting foot on a ship.  All you have to do is be smart, just like when at  home - wash your hands frequently and if a food looks or tastes funny, avoid it.  Frankly, I'm always more worried about catching someone's cold on the plane ride to the ship.  Ugh.

4.  Is cruising only for older people?

No.  Cruises are what you make them.  You can stay on the ship in every port.  You can get off and go on a zipline tour.  On the ship, you can do every activity from sing-alongs to scrapbooking to basketball tournaments.  Or you can do none of them.  You can work out every day, on machines or with classes, or you can lay by the pool 8 hours a day.  You can dress up and go to the fancy dining room every night or you can stay in shorts and go to the buffet.  You can do whatever you want; it's all up to you!

5.  Why do you do so many cruises?

My husband loves cruises.  He loves the ships - Royal Caribbean's ships are beautiful - and he loves the sense of freedom he associates with ships.  I like to travel and, when I travel, I like to forget about everything else in the world.  There's no better way to do this than on a cruise ship, out at sea, where you have no cell service and have to pay for internet.  It's a break from normalcy. 

6.  Aren't the rooms tiny?  Too tiny?!

No.  All you do in your room is sleep.  You don't eat there, you don't relax there - hello, pool deck!  There's so much to see and do - but all of it is outside of your room.  I never notice how small the rooms are.  I do, however, notice how small the showers are, especially when shaving my legs.  Ha!

7.  Do you work out on cruises?

No, I don't.  But plenty of people use all the fancy machines and take the free classes.  I use the weeks we cruise to let my body rest.  We typically spend a few days hiking on the islands and we walk a lot on the ships themselves (which are HUGE - you're constantly going from one end to the other).  I try to swim a bit....but no formal working out.  Your body needs these periods of rest. 

8.  Is the food good?

Heck, yeah!  And as you become regular cruisers with a specific line, you begin to remember what is going to be served certain days.  With Royal Caribbean, honey stung chicken is served the first day at lunch and it is one of my favorite things ever.  The first formal night brings strawberry cheesecake.  The last night, key lime pie.  So, so good.  Even the drinking water, which is recycled, is deliciously cold and refreshing.  And don't even get me started on the tropical alcoholic drinks!

9.  Aren't the ships confining?  Don't you get claustrophobic on sea days?

No.  But then, I usually spend sea days watching the sea pass by.  It's so beautiful!  The wide open spaces stretch in every direction so how can you be claustrophobic.  At night, you can walk the promenade deck and pool deck to get fresh air....  There's nothing confining about a cruise ship!  The only time I feel uneasy is when I'm surrounded by people at an event...but because this bothers me, I try to avoid feeling closed in by people.  It's easy to do!

In the end, cruising is so much fun.  You go, you unpack once, and the ship takes you to amazing places.  I highly recommend it!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Cruise Time Again!

Today we board a ship for my 10th cruise.  And no, that's not many cruises at all!  It will be Mr. Higgins' 19th cruise!  

This cruise was spur of the moment, for us, at least.  We booked it only a month out when it became apparent that we needed 8 more nights on a ship to get to the next level of Royal Caribbean's award program.  We're very strategic in our thinking and cruise planning!

But we are so genuinely excited about this cruise even though it's not a new ship for Mr. Higgins (though it is for me) and no new ports.  It's a big ship - and we've been on only small ships for the last two years - so that's exciting.  And we get to go to some of our favorite places ever.  As much as I like new places, I love the familiarity of finding great places and knowing everything about them.  It means I can look forward to them instead of stressing about details and uncertainties.  LOL!

And we are getting to a new place, after all!  While docked at St. Kitts, we're going to take the ferry over to Nevis (pronounced Nee-vis) to see a new island.