Thursday, December 26, 2013

Workout Review: More Cardio Strength by Michelle Dozois

As mentioned in my previous post, it’s not too early to start thinking about your New Year’s resolutions, if you enjoy making those goals every year.  After days or weeks of indulging in holiday treats, you may feel the need to get back on track for 2014.  Having a healthy eating plan is essential to your overall wellness, but so is a fitness routine.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting some video-based workouts that could be just the thing to jumpstart your goal to exercise more this year.

First up is Michelle Dozois’ More Cardio Strength.  Michelle is a top fitness instructor who has come up with the very effective Peak system to maximize your results.  Like its companion More Cardio Interval Burn, this routine features five ten-minute blocks, with each block broken into two five-minute segments.  Countdown graphics are at the bottom of the screen, indicating how much time is left in each portion. Each segment pair is virtually identical, beginning at a Basecamp level, which is fairly easy and prepares you for the next level. She quickly moves into the Ascent portion of the workout, which is usually about two minutes in length.  Ascent segments are not incredibly difficult, but I find that there are usually one or two moves that surprise me in how they challenge me.  So the Ascent portion is not easy by any means.  It’s just a lower intensity than what comes later. This is the portion of the workout when the hand weights are used.

The next couple of minutes are spent in the Climb portion of the segment, which is mostly focused on cardio and does not use the weights.  While two minutes might not sound like a significant amount of time, Michelle really pushes her viewers.  The Climb is uncomfortable, and definitely gets your heart rate moving quite a bit.  The final 30 seconds or so of the segment are spent in Peak mode.  This portion is an all-out blast of energy, pushing your body to its limit.  It’s the kind of exertion that you probably could not sustain for more than a minute if you tried.  It always takes me to the limit of what my body can do. I welcome the following Basecamp segments, as they give us a chance to breathe and regroup.

After the five-minute segment is completed, she moves on to the next segment, beginning with Basecamp again. The choreography changes for each of the five blocks, so participants are challenged in different ways every 10 minutes. The workout concludes with a solid 5-minute cool down and stretch, which leaves you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.

I love the moves that she’s chosen for each block. They’re challenging, fun and there’s almost always an easier modification for those of us who aren’t quite ready to do everything in the routine.  Because the steps are so innovative, I would highly recommend watching the 55-minute routine ahead of time. First-time viewers will find that the moves come on very fast when you’re not familiar with them.  In fact, it took me a number of run-throughs before I could follow along comfortably.

What makes More Cardio Strength different from More Cardio Interval Burn is the inclusion of weight training during the Ascent segments.  You will need a pair of light hand weights and a heavy pair.  The definition of “light” and “heavy” will vary from person to person.  The key is to find weights that challenge you and are difficult, but not so difficult that you can’t perform the moves.  When your body becomes stronger over the weeks of using the video, simply increase the weights.  Beginners may want to try 5 pounds and 8 pounds as they start out.  And of course, follow your doctor’s instructions before beginning any fitness regimen.

Studies have shown that we can achieve a better fitness level with the inclusion of weight training. It builds lean body mass, so that even sitting still, your body burns more calories. Our bones are strengthened by the work, and we’re better able to complete the daily tasks of life, such as picking up our children or hauling heavy boxes when we move into a new home.  When all of our core muscles are challenged during the workout, we reduce the possibility of lower back pain.  The benefits are many, and well worth the inclusion of strength training into our routines.

I’ve done cardio and strength combination training videos for years, and Michelle’s are definitely some of my favorites.  Her strong enthusiasm is very contagious, and he encourages you to give it your best throughout the entire class.  Her fellow cast members (who have also partnered with her for a long time in the Peak system) seem genuinely glad to be in the program and have a great rapport with each other.  The soundtrack music is amazing. Michelle’s choices for each segment are so incredibly motivational.  There have been many days when I have heard music from Peak workouts running in my head, and I actually begin to look forward to sweating buckets and giving it my all in challenging moves like burpees and sit-outs.

As with many of the videos in the Peak series, some these workouts are not for everyone.  A significant portion of the choreography is high impact, requiring strength, speed and endurance. I would estimate that intermediate exercisers would be safe to give it a try. Modifications are offered for the more difficult moves, which I appreciated during my first tries with this workout, but it’s still very challenging.  If you’re just starting out as a Peak exerciser, do your best and give it your all.  Use the modifications if needed. Don’t expect perfection; just push your body a little more each time and have fun!

Here's a listing of each of the Peaks performed during the workout:
  • Block 1 - No Peak required, as we're still getting warmed up.  But make no mistake, this block will jump start your body in short order.
  • Block 2 - 180° Squat Touch Downs - I don't have any problem performing these. The trick is, how fast can I move, how many can I crank out before the bell rings?
  • Block 3 - Side to Side Squat Down Jumps - These are fun, but tough.  Getting all the way down in a crouch, popping up to jump to the side takes alot of of me, quickly.  Again, it's a question of how many I can do of these in half a minute.  You can see a bit of this at time marker 1:53 on the YouTube video below.
  • Block 4 - Big Tuck Ski Jumps - The side-to-side motion of this Peak isn't too difficult; it's the tuck-jump portion of the move that is super-hard for me.  I've been working on my tuck jumps for years, so this is a work in progress.  Getting my knees up is a big challenge.
  • Block 5 - Knee Slappers - This tuck jump has the added difficulty of getting the knees separated wide and high enough to slap without bending over at the torso.  In my opinion, it's by far one of the most difficult Peaks in the series. This move is at 3:51 in the aforementioned YouTube video.
Block 5 Knee Slappers

If you’re ready to push your fitness to the next level and are new to Michelle’s Peak workouts, More Cardio Strength and More Cardio Interval Burn are a great pair of workouts to do this. While they are follow-ups to the 10-workout Peak Fit program, they can stand alone as separate routines as well. Be prepared to work hard, sweat profusely, have fun and feel great! You’ll love the sense of accomplishment, your body will love its greater health, and others will see a difference in you as you become stronger, leaner and fitter.  Before long, you can get in the best shape of your life and actually enjoy the hard work it took to get there.  Take the next step in 2014 and become a Peak Fit participant.  This is the year to make it happen!

Four-Minute Preview of More Cardio Strength

Connect with Michelle Dozois and Breakthru Fitness


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Book Review and Giveaway: Whispers of Hope Devotional by Beth Moore

Scripture tells us to pray without ceasing, but how in the world do we do that? In fact, how should we effectively pray to begin with?

Best-selling author Beth Moore addresses these practical and pervasive matters in
Whispers of Hope by walking readers through an easy to remember and apply method of prayer, coupled with seventy daily devotionals and followed by prompts to put this prayer method into practice.

Indeed, Whispers of Hope teaches the manifestation process of powerful Word-saturated prayer in response to a daily Bible reading. In turn, you will better understand how devotional reading and prayer are central to a stronger relationship with God

*          *          *

As 2013 is coming to a close, many are beginning to consider New Year’s resolutions for January 2014.  Common goals for the year include weight loss, quitting smoking, improved physical fitness and debt reduction.  For many Christians, there are resolutions to read the Bible through in a year, or commitments to daily devotional time with God. If the latter resolution is one that you are considering, author and speaker Beth Moore may have a tool that can provide a great platform for you.  Whispers of Hope is her latest title, now available from B&H Publishing Group.

Whispers of Hope is part devotional book, part journal.  It is designed to be used for 70 days, with detailed instructions that cover the main steps in using the devotional each day.  They include:

•    Reading a short passage of scripture
•    Noting the specific scripture verse for the day
•    A one-page devotional with thoughts from Beth Moore
•    Following the 7-step prayer guide, writing in the journaling section following each devotional
•    Recording answers to prayer in the Answer Log portion of the book

The format that Beth presents in Whispers of Hope is a practical way to approach a daily time with God.  The devotional and 7-step prayer guide provide a framework to use for guidance during this time of spiritual communication and refreshment.  At the same time, the open journaling sections allow for freedom of thought and personal inspiration.  The materials used for this edition are also quite attractive. The paper stock is soft and deckle-edged, and the cover has an extra flap which could be used as a bookmark.

Beth's one-page devotionals are her greatest contribution to Whispers of Hope. In these modest essays, her characteristic tone truly shines through.  She exudes the wisdom of a mature Christian woman,challenging us to pursue God's will in our lives and to not remain infant Christians.  At the same time, her down-home Texas charm and humor make her work accessible for all readers.

Sharing an episode from her past, Beth encourages her readers to not remain grow in their walk with Christ, to not be afraid to move to a deeper faith:
“To imagine why Christians remain infants isn’t too difficult.  When I was little, I hated promotion Sunday at church. I was comfortable in my class…Once a beloved teacher explained promotion…’I used to feel just like you. I never wanted to leave my teacher or my classroom. Then I thought how silly I would look one day all grown-up in one of these little bitty chairs.’ She was a beautifully round lady who…squatted down on one of the tiny chairs. The legs gave way as she toppled to the floor. It worked. They laughed and the fear dissipated.” (Day 52, pg. 160)
I only found one area that could be improved.  There are only two pages available in the Answer Log to document God’s responses to our prayers.  I found this surprising. Over 100 pages are reserved for our input, but there are only two set aside for His responses in our lives? Surely we would have more than two pages’ worth of content to record.  That is my hope for Whispers of Hope, in any case.

If God has seemed distant to you lately, one of the best ways to remedy that feeling of alienation is to dive into his Word and spend time in prayer.  James 4:8 tells us, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” There are many reading plans and tools that we can use to do that with scripture and prayer.  Beth Moore’s Whispers of Hope is an excellent platform for this, one that I would recommend as many of us consider our goals for the New Year.  Improving our physical health is a worthy resolution for 2014, but growing in our walk with Christ is even better.

New Year's Giveaway!

If you'd like to start off 2014 with Beth Moore's devotional, enter to win a copy through the Rafflecopter widget below.  This one's going to be a short giveaway period, as the winner may want to get started with the devotional as soon as possible in January. Here are the contest guidelines:
  • The contest period ends at 12:01am EST on Friday, December 27th.
  • Giveaway open to those offering U.S. domestic mailing addresses.
  • Make sure you leave your email address in the one required portion of the Rafflecopter form. Should you win, I will contact you on Friday, the 27th. Please take measures to ensure that my email will make it past your spam filters, lest you miss my message ( You'll have 72 hours to respond before I pick another winner.
  • All entries must go through the Rafflecopter form. If you leave an optional blog post comment, in order for it to count toward your contest entry, be sure to indicate that you commented through the "Leave a Blog Post Comment" button on the Rafflecopter form.
  • Entries will be verified.  If a fraudulent entry is detected for the winning name, another winner will be drawn.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Product Highlight: Jane Austen Christmas Cards

As we're only a week away from Christmas, I've got to tell my fellow Janeites about some really cute Jane Austen Christmas cards.My mother-in-law just found them in a store and has purchased them from me, and I can't wait until she sends the box to my home. They are also available on  I don't know if they would be delivered to you before Christmas, but it's worth a shot!  Regardless of whether you want to buy a set, I thought that those interested should have a look in this hastily put together blog post.

I hope all of you are having a lovely Christmas season.  Jane Austen Christmas cards are fun, but the One who brings us Jane, joy and merriment is the One who came down to be born in a stable.  I pray He is filling your lives with joy and peace every day.

With that in mind, enjoy the video below of my favorite singer Amy Grant as she reflects on how crazy life can get during the Christmas season, and how we really just want the peace that cannot be bought in a store. The song she sings is "I Need A Silent Night",and it's off of her 2008 album, Christmas Collection.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Preview & Award Announcement: Fitzwilliam Darcy:such I was by Carol Cromlin

I'm pleased to announce that the world of Austeneque fiction has a new member among the ranks.  Please welcome Carol Cromlin, author of Fitzwilliam Darcy: such I was.  This new title was released over the summer, and is garnering positive reviews from many corners.  It's very high on my TBR list right now, and I look forward to reading it soon.

In the meantime, I have been given word that Fitzwilliam Darcy: such I was has been included in this year's lineup of the Best Indie Books of 2013 by the esteemed Kirkus Reviews.  Here are Kirkus' thoughts on the novel, posted in June:

In this enjoyable work of historical fiction set in the Jane Austen universe, Cromlin imagines what makes the mysterious Fitzwilliam Darcy tick.

In her book Pride and Prejudice, Austen famously suggests, “a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” With these words, the scene is set for Fitzwilliam Darcy, one of the most beloved, well-known characters in Austen’s oeuvre. Cromlin, in her book set prior to Darcy’s debut in Pride and Prejudice, envisions Darcy’s formative years, beginning with Darcy’s birth and continuing through his childhood and young-adult years. She breathes life into his parents, illuminates the bond between Darcy and his sister, and delves with great detail into the history of the contentious relationship between Darcy and George Wickham. Readers are invited to celebrate holidays at Pemberley and travel the world with Darcy during his adventurous grand tour abroad. Perhaps of most interest, Cromlin seeks to explain how Austen’s Darcy, a gentleman of great wealth, good character and impeccable manners, becomes a man perceived as distant and unpleasant. The journey toward understanding this complex character is immensely enjoyable, and the supporting cast of familiar characters, such as Col. Fitzwilliam and Georgiana Darcy, helps round out the satisfying story. Cromlin’s poetic descriptions paint a clear portrait of Darcy’s life of privilege in 18th-century England, tackling the many facets of Darcy’s personality with aplomb, often using his own thoughts to better explain his actions and defining characteristics. Ultimately, Cromlin’s tale arrives at the fateful moment when Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet first set eyes on each other, providing a seamless transition into Austen’s literature and Darcy’s future.

Austen devotees may enjoy this glimpse into Darcy’s background, and Austen newcomers might find themselves searching the shelves for her classic novels.


To celebrate this admirable honor, Carol Cromlin has generously offered to the readers of The Calico Critic an opportunity to win two Kindle editions of Fitzwilliam Darcy: such I was.  See below for contest rules and guidelines.  Please enter via the Rafflecopter widget below, and good luck!

In addition, Carol is also offering to the first 500 respondents Darcy calling cards and cover image bookmarks. To request your copies, visit  Go to the "Contact" page and fill out the form.  Provide your email address, full name and mailing address.  Please mention that you learned about the giveaway on The Calico Critic.

For another chance to win the novel, stop by Austenesque Reviews
before December 23rd, as they're hosting a giveaway as well!

  • The contest period ends at 12:01am EST on December 31, 2013.
  • Contest is open to those who are able to receive a Kindle edition of the title, sent from author Carol Cromlin, resident of the USA.
  • Make sure you leave your email address in the one required portion of the Rafflecopter form. Should you win, I will contact you on Tuesday, December 31st.  Please take measures to ensure that my email will make it past your spam filters, lest you miss my message. ( You'll have 72 hours to respond before I pick another winner.
  • All entries must go through the Rafflecopter form. If you leave a blog post comment, in order for it to count toward your contest entry, be sure to indicate this through the "Leave a Blog Post Comment" button on the form.
  • The winner's delivery information will be sent to Carol Cromlin for prize administration.
  • Entries will be verified.  If a fraudulent entry is detected for the winning name, another winner will be drawn.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author

CAROL CROMLIN, who has a great appreciation for history, tradition and all things British, is someone who has always needed to know how and why; researching and writing this book drew naturally on those traits. Cromlin graduated from Hofstra University and has a graduate degree from Fordham University. She lives in the United States with her husband, son and dogs.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Book Review - A Walk One Winter Night by Al Andrews

November 13, 2013:  The radio stations were already beginning to play Christmas music.  Normally I’d be excited about this, clapping my hands and saying gleefully, “Christmas is coming!  Christmas is coming!” as my husband would roll his eyes in bemusement.  Our holiday CD collection is large, and by hubby’s decree we aren’t allowed to break out those tunes until after Thanksgiving.  The same goes for the decorations.  But I usually have my own time of “sneaking” the yuletide tunes in private, so as to not annoy the man.  I understand his reticence in this area—we can’t keep backing up Christmas until it starts rolling in the early fall, can we?  Limits must be set!  So in that sense, I agree.  And yet, I always welcomed the arrival of the season, even if it was a wee bit early.

Holidays 2013 came especially early this year.  With fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, retailers are trying to make up for those lost hours of revenue generation.  I saw Christmas materials going up in the stores well before Halloween. So when the holiday tunes began to creep into radio programming, of course my husband had to comment, as he does almost every year.  And almost every year I joyfully welcome it, despite the early date.

Something was different a few weeks ago.  After my husband’s annual comment about the early arrival of Christmas, I looked to him, paused, and said, “I’m not ready.”

“You’re not ready?!?”

“No—shockingly enough.  I’m not ready.”

For the first time, a sense of dread and anxiety had filled my heart in regard to the season.  Somehow, this year’s festivities had become linked with stress, busy schedules and cranky, unfulfilled children.  To be honest, I wanted it to be over before it had even begun.  And this surprised me.  The Christmas season has always been such a magical time of the year for me. But somehow, this year it just…wasn’t. 

Not long after that, we’d had a stressful day in our household.  I went to bed feeling tired and defeated about a number of things.  Christmas?  I didn’t have the energy to even contemplate it. Cynicism had begun to creep in.  It honestly didn’t feel very real in my heart. And that made me sad. It really shouldn’t be that way.

I didn’t have much energy to read much that evening, but I did pick up the short book A Walk One Winter Night by Al Andrews.  I read it in just a few minutes, and in that brief time, Mr. Andrews helped to realign my thinking.  With simple full-page drawings and insightful prose, I was reminded of the wonder of the season.  The reality of it.  Going beyond just the dressings, posed nativity scenes and seemingly unrelatable  historical figures.  Andrews speaks in the first person, describing his cluttered mind and stress.  His irritation and annoyance with a lot of it echoed what I’d been feeling.

While A Walk One Winter Night is a simple book, the kind you’d see on a coffee table or in the gift area of a bookstore, it brings quality in its small packaging.  Andrews describes how his heart is touched and re-centered on the true meaning of the season.  Did he truly forget it?  Had I truly forgotten it?  No, not really.  But there are times when life’s stresses try to eclipse what is true and real, turning our eyes away from the very One who was sent here to save us. 

As I write this, the season has just begun.  The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree will be lit tonight. The decorations are going up in my home.  I’m preparing to perform Christmas carols in our church’s orchestra this weekend.  Will I get tired and frustrated again within the next few weeks?  Probably.  But will I allow the cynicism to creep in again?  I surely hope not.  And if it does begin to weasel its way into my heart once more, I’m going to remind myself of the thoughts within A Walk One Winter Night, concepts that are consistent with God’s word to us in Colossians:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  Colossians 1:15-17 NIV

I wish you all a blessed Christmas season.  May it be as real to you as it ever has been, because it truly is—the ultimate truth, the ultimate reality.

Nichole Nordeman's "Real", inspired by A Walk One Winter Night: A Christmas Story

WINNING ARTIST’S NEW CHRISTMAS SONG Two Christian music veterans unite to bring audiences a “real Christmas story” 

NASHVILLE, Tenn., July 23rd, 2013— Prominent counselor to many artists and acclaimed inspirational speaker Al Andrews recently signed on with The Worthy Publishing Group to publish his latest title, A Walk One Winter Night: A Christmas Story (Freeman Smith, September 2013) based on a poignant holiday experience. Burnt out on the hustle, bustle, and expectations the holidays can bring, Andrews took a late night stroll and wound up rediscovering his real passion and the true meaning behind the Christmas season. This simple message has spoken to the heart of audiences, and will help readers rediscover the joy of wonder and what is real in the season.

Al sent his initial draft to a few trusted friends in the music business in order to get early feedback. As the written word so often does, the book struck a major chord with Dove-award winning recording artist and GMA female vocalist of the year, Nichole Nordeman. "Every once in awhile you come across a story that helps you tell your own,” said Nordeman,“From the very first page of A Walk One Winter Night, I recognized that the characters around the manger had become distant and no longer dear. Icons, not the fragile and weary souls they were. In this beautiful story, I saw them differently, maybe for the first time ever. And they jumped off the page and right into the music of my heart. ‘Real’ is a song that's deeply personal for me. I hope it captures the same wonder of the beautiful book that inspired it."

Nordeman will be performing “Real” throughout the fall tour of The Story, alongside artists Casting Crowns, Steven Curtis Chapman, Natalie Grant, Matthew West, Selah, and Rawsrvnt. Tour dates and ticket information can be found at “Real” will also be featured on Capitol Christian Music Group’s album WOW Christmas, available nationwide in October.


Al Andrews is a counselor, author, and speaker. He is the director of Porter’s Call, a non-profit offering counsel, support, and encouragement to recording artists and their families. He is founder of Improbable Philanthropy, a charity that aids children in crisis through the sale of his children’s book, The Boy, the Kite, and the Wind. To learn more about Al Andrew’s visit; follow his daily journey on Twitter @itsalandrews.



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