Friday, January 31, 2014

Sarah's Key

My new boss graciously extended me an offer to join her book club.  I was atually quite excited!  I'd really like to meet some of my new co-workers and several are part of the group!  When I learned that the book for this month was Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, I immediately checked it out of the library and started reading.

Here's my review:

This book was chosen by a book club I've decided to join. And, truth be told, this book was the deciding factor in me joining the club. I had no idea the events that took place in this book really happened. French Jews rounded up and carted off to Auschwitz? I know I'm not a World War II expert but I had no idea.

The story of Sarah and her brother is horrific - something that you would think could not possibly happen in the modern era. But it did. And this story will forever haunt me, just as it did the characters in this book.  The story is told parallel to that of a present-day journalist who is given the Vel' d'Hiv' topic to investigate.  My only gripe with this book was the persistent talk of the journalist's love life. 

I really enjoyed this book - and it was a quick read.  If you want to learn more about France during World War II, this is a good start.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Skinny Snickerdoodles (2014:4)

With my cooking challenge this year - 40 new recipes - I'm really trying to find different things to make.  I want to challenge myself and try some new techniques.  But, I failed at this recipe.  I needed some cookies to freeze in anticipation of company next weekend and these Skinny Snickerdoodles fit the bill: easy and low-calorie.

One thing I'm learning with low-fat cookies is that the recipes merely have you make a smaller cookie than one would normally make.  This seems to be the case with these skinny cookies.  They were small - but very good! 

I had to make a few substitutions.  When I went to get my whole-wheat flour, I saw that it was expired - by over a year.  So I used regular flour, which only increased the calories by 1.1  per cookie.  Not a dealbreaker.  I also lacked agave.  So as the dough was mixing - and was nothing like the consistency of normal dough, I added a few tablespoons of skim milk.  Once the dough looked normal, I scooped it out and it was perfectly good! 

When I took these out of the oven, they were almost too gooey.  But once they cooled and had set for a bit, they were good and soft.  Mr. Higgins approved of these bite-sized cookies and I like that they're portion controlled.  So, success!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Self: Sculpt Sexy Legs Fast (Review)

Despite the sexy part of this title, I found this DVD because I really enjoy the workouts of Violet Zaki, who I was first introduced to in the Star Trainers series.  She's a martial artist so her moves are always more kickboxing than dance (like Michelle Dozois).  But Violet is great for toning and this DVD - Sculpt Sexy Legs Fast (2007) - proves it. 

Violet begins with a warm-up that will get you nice and stretched out.  I love her accent, by the way!  Her cueing is great - not overdone and never annoying!

Next comes a toning section without weights.  Here you will do a ton of squats - literally.  The first move is a squat with leg raise....over and over again.  Then single leg squats, kicks, and lunges into a kick.  She intersperses the heavy toning moves with some jumps and jacks, just to keep your legs from burning.

After this long section, you'll do about five minutes of cardio.  Again, this is more martial arts inspired, instead of dance-y.  The end portion is especially difficult - squat jumps to heel clicks.  Ouch!

Violet then leads you through a section with weights.  Especially hard for me is a side lunge with bicep curl.  Violet's legs are so far apart and I try to do the same - and it burns!  

Next up is floorwork.  You'll do bridges, leg presses, etc.  These always make my bum burn but it's a great burn! 

After this you get a nice cool-down and stretch. 

Violet is great but she's tough.  Since most of this workout is toning, don't expect your heart-rate to go into overdrive, except in the cardio section.  But I like doing sections of this DVD after some cardio.  It really is a great workout and I highly recommend it.

Bottom Line
:  Violet will definitely make your bum burn and your legs will get thoroughly worked out.  I wouldn't try this until you've done a lot of cardio and can get through tough reps of squats.  Therefore, this qualifies as an intermediate workout.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Jalapeno Lime Chicken Soup (2014:3)

When I met my husband, he was surviving winters by eating canned soup five nights a week.  I was aghast.  Sure, the sodium is bad but there are even worse things in canned soup than sodium - hello, BPA!

And so I started making homemade soup on the weekends and freezing individual portions for week nights - and for some of my lunches.  It works great!  I don't cook during the week!  Alas, I'm always on the lookout for more freezable soup recipes.

When I happened upon this Jalapeno Lime Chicken Soup recipe, I was immediately tempted.  Usually, it takes me years to try new recipes once I bookmark them; this one took a week!

This recipe had two new ingredients for me: real jalepenos and white beans.  I was new to both.  I made a few changes to the recipe... I only used one 16 ounce jar of salsa - and I really can't imagine it with TWO jars.  Yikes!  For beans, I used two cans of Great Northern and two cans of navy beans.  I also skipped all the toppings, going for healthy instead of convoluted.  

This soup was very, very tasty!  And it has the added benefit of opening up one's sinuses - ha!  This will go into the regular soup rotation, at the request of Mr. Higgins.  A few suggestions, though....  Use a HUGE pot when making this; it makes a ton, which is great for freezing!  And use gloves when slicing up jalapenos!!  I'd never done it before so I didn't know that my hands would be burning for 24 hours afterward and that I would barely be able to get my contacts in and out.  Sigh.

Oh, I love finding new, good recipes!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Secret History: Theodora

On our December cruise, I got through a great novel, The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stephanie Thornton.  The subject matter was right up my alley - the late Roman Empire.  In fact, in graduate school, I quickly learned that the later Roman Empire, and early Christianity, was my favorite part of history.  So many peoples and churches vying for power! 

Here's my review of Thornton's novel:

This book kept my attention very well - I could hardly stop thinking about it when not reading it! Theodora's story in history is fascinating, for sure, but Thornton brings her to life in a very realistic, passionate way. You can only sympathize with young Theodora, who is faced with a horrific "childhood", and marvel at her true rags-to-riches story.

The setting of Byzantium has always fascinating me...Justinian's reign was a bright spot amidst years of war and turbulence. Thornton's descriptions and writing are mediocre but her storytelling is very nice!

If you're wanting to read some historical fiction, I highly recommend this book!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Michelle Dozois: Rockin Body Cardio (Review)

You well know of my love for Michelle Dozois' exercise videos.  She is the best, I think, at cardio.  Late last year, I needed a lighter cardio workout to do on days between Jari Love's rigorous workouts and Michelle's Peak 10 videos.  I turned to an oldie, but goodie: Michelle's Rockin Body Cardio (2007)

This video is made up of a warm-up, 6 cardio intervals, a cool-down, and stretch.  It runs for 51 minutes, which is just perfect for my early morning workouts.  There's also an express workout included in the video; it's 30 minutes long.

The warm-up is great: very light cardio followed by just a few stretches for your calves and hamstrings.  This is an especially good warm-up to do at 5:30 AM - ha!

The six intervals are not physically challenging but I always sweat a lot.  Michelle gets your heart-rate up and keeps it up.  This is basic cardio with some easy dance moves.  You jog a lot, kick, jab, and squat with some lunges.  The most challenging section has you doing squats with knee raises followed by lunges.  This is not hard but good, pure cardio fun.  

Unlike Michelle's Peak 10 videos there is no jumping or going to the floor.  I love it because I can do it in the midst of harder videos to let my body take a deep breath before another crazy weight workout.

Bottom Line: This is a good intermediate cardio workout.  Once you've gotten past the beginner stage and enhanced your stamina, you're ready for this 50 minute workout!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Chicken Enchilada Casserole (2014:2)

My dad hates casseroles.  Since my mom's main objective in her cooking was always to please my dad, she never, ever made casseroles.  Indeed, the very thought of the dish was foreign to me until I was grown-up.  

Now, my main problem with casseroles is that they are rarely low in fat.  Since I usually try to eat healthy, casseroles are not something I turn to when I choose to spend time in the kitchen. 

However, I recently saw a pinned recipe that, for whatever reason, I was very tempted to try.  It was a casserole - a Chicken Enchilada Casserole, to be exact. In an attempt to save some calories, I used whole-wheat tortillas and 2% cheese.  It was yummy!  Mr. Higgins - who grew up on casseroles - really liked it, too!  

And so, this recipe is being added to my recipe book.  It's a keeper!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Summer Garden

I've fallen behind in telling you about my reading of late!  On the December cruise, I finished a book and got through another.  

While away, I finally finished The Summer Garden, the end of Simons' trilogy about Russian lovers Tatiana and Alexander.  Here's the review I posted:

Amazingly, the conclusion of Tatiana and Alexander's story took me a long time to read. I could never quite reconcile the characters in this final book with those of the first two novels. I really did not like Alexander for most of this book...and, really, the entire thing did not sit well with me. The feminist in me hated how Tatiana always acquiesced to Alexander...and how Alexander always expected to be forgiven, no matter his manner of sins against her.

The end was fitting - but the first book is, by far, the best in this trilogy. 

Simons is, by her own account, a lengthy writer.  So much of this story, especially the marital relations bits, could have been condensed.  Really, after reading so much of these two characters over the course of three books, do we need to continually read about their day-to-day sex lives?  I just started skipping it.  

But I'm glad to have finished the trilogy!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Broccoli Salad Slaw (2014:1)

So far this year, 13 days into it (!), I'm really enjoying my time in the kitchen.  As long as I'm prepared to spend time cooking and baking, I really enjoy it!  And I've already tried a new recipe this year!  

My mother-in-law came across this recipe and decided to make it, with a few variations, for Christmas.  Once home, I decided to make it, with a few adjustments to her adaptation.  First off, I wanted to make more salad, so that we could eat on it for a good five days or so.  This was accomplished with the following recipe, which turned out great!  I'll be making it again and again!

Broccoli Salad Slaw

For the salad:

1.5-2 heads of broccoli, rinsed and chopped
1/4 of a white onion, chopped
1/2 c carrots, chopped
2 bags of broccoli slaw

For the dressing:

3/4 c water
3/4 white vinegar
.7-.9 ounce packet of dry Italian dressing mix
3/4 c sugar (I used 1/2 c Splenda, 1/2 c sugar)

Combine all the veggies in a bowl/container with a cover.  Combine ingredients for dressing, stirring until the sugar mostly dissolves.  Pour over salad mixture and stir well to coat.  Let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving.  Will last in the fridge for a week. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Goals for 2014

One thing I love about blogging is that it forces me to look back in time and see what's happened in my life.  Another tool for that is the wonderful Project Life.  With all this documentation of last year, it's easy to see what I read, what I cooked, and what I crafted.  It's great!  

And by doing all this reviewing of the last year, it's easy to set new goals for this year.  I already outlined a few in my fist post of the year. Now that I'm settling into 2014, I find that I want some additional goals.  

1.  Work on my genealogy stuff (as mentioned before).  Specifically, I want and need to get through the stack of papers my in-laws brought in October - which I haven't touched.  

2.  Lose my cruise/holiday weight (as mentioned before)....and get stronger while improving my flexibility.  Michelle Dozois, here I come!

3.  Read 20 books this year.  Last year I read 16 so surely this is doable.

4.  Try 20 new recipes (20 seems to be my magic number).  I really want to do more in the kitchen, especially more new stuff!  I love the foods I I want to keep making them!  But I'm going to try new things!!  This is partly inspired by my friend, SK, who set a great kitchen goal last year and met it! 

5.  Knit 3 projects this year.  I don't care what they are, even if they're dishcloths....I just want to do more knitting.

6.  The biggie: finish my novel.  I'm so close....

And so there are my goals for 2014.  Wish me luck and I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

December Daily Progress (2013)

The holidays are such a busy time!  Last year, I was on top of my December Daily album, having gotten the pages ready a month or so in advance - the pages only needed pictures.  This year, I was not so organized.  Also, October Afternoon made thier December kits available much later than last year, so it arrived later. 

And so I'm still putting the small album together.  I am disappointed in OA's kit this year.  There are not enough embellishments and I'm not thrilled with their Eggnog line of papers, which is the only paper that came with the kit.  But I'm plugging along and it'll be a cute album. 
The cover turned out well, I think, though I had to turn to embellishments that were not part of the kit to complete it.  Hopefully I finish this soon!  I'm running out of creativity!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Archies: 2013

It's that wonderful time of year again...for reflection and thought upon last year.   It's time for the Archies - my annual review of the past year and all the great things it offered.  This idea came from Donna and it's something I've really enjoyed doing.  It's basically a list of my 50 favorite things from the year.  Every year you compile a list, you add an additional item, so I'm now up to 54!  See also 2012 and 2011.  Okay, here we go....

1.  a new job.  finally.  deo gratias.
2.  new co-workers.  i like them.
3.  saying good-bye to my old boss.  awesome.
4.  Valley Church Beach, Antigua.
5.  “Battlestar Gallactica.”
6.  a new car.
7.  Rainbow Beach, St. Croix.
8.  Misty Fjords plane ride.
9.  Alaska – so beautiful.
10.  The Bronze Horseman, Paullina Simons.
11.  a new pope.
12.  “Downton Abbey."
13.  happy hour on St. John, USVI in Cruz Bay.
15.  Exit Glacier, Seward, AK
16.  Carmina Burana, performed by the FWSO at Bass Hall.
17.  Auburn football.  the national championship game is Monday.
18.  LONE RANGER soundtrack.
19.  a letter from Gooseberry Patch.
20.  hiking on Antigua.
21.  Jules Watson’s Dalriada Trilogy.
23.  Pigeon Island, St. Lucia.
24.  Nothing Bundt Cake’s Pumpkin Spice Cake.  yum.
25.  my new study wall of framed art/maps.
26.  first (completed) baby sweater.
27.  Pitons of St. Lucia.
29.  Joe’s Rum Hut, Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI.
30.  potatoes – in the skillet or oven-roasted.
31.  family portraits.
33.  “Battlestar Gallactica” soundtrack – the best music ever made for TV.
34.  Tom Hiddleston. 
37.  new Project Life products.  tons!!
38.  knitting baby socks!
39.  Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, AK.
40.  TheWinter Palace, Eva Stachniak.
41.  genealogy software.
42.  my low-fat broccoli salad.
43.  crazy-early morning workouts (because of new work hours).
44.  broccoli slaw.
45.  Instagram. 
46.  IKEA cart.  for crafty supplies.
47.  Richard Armitage.  Thorin.
48.  a new writing buddy.
51.  Scrapbook Celebration, Aledo, TX.
52.  Royal Caribbean’s Radiance-class ships – all our recent cruises have been on these smaller, tasteful ships.
53.  work clothes shopping spree – since I’m now working with adults.
54.  The Civil Wars.  i especially like their rendition of an Advent classic, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

That's it!  Whew!  

Thursday, January 2, 2014


Happy New Year!!!  I hope 2014 is a year of happiness for all!

2013 was an interesting year.  We started it off having a bit of a bad feeling....but by the end of it, I had a fantastic new job!!  It turns out that God has a plan for us all and his plan for me meant waiting just a few more years for a great career opportunity!

I'm still working on my Archies for 2013 (see 2012 and 2011)...  The holiday was great but a bit more stressful than usual due to our December cruise.  We're back from a week with the in-laws in Nashville and I'm happy to be home.  It's great being away and spending time with family but I miss my home and my kittehs. 

I don't usually do New Years resolutions but I have two this year...

1.  Work on my genealogy stuff!  This has fallen to the sidelines, despite finally getting some awesome software last Christmas!  Eek!

2.  Lose my cruise and Christmas weight!  I'm not too worried but I always gain a few pounds at the holidays.  Thankfully, I have two brand new Michelle Dozois Peak 10 videos to try out this week! 

Look for the Archies list soon and, in the meantime, enjoy the beginning of the New Year!