Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween weekend in Urbana-Champaign

I attended my 2nd annual Halloween Swing Society Dance here in the land of University of Illinois. Usually, the folks down here don't swing with strangers but there were a lot of unfamiliar faces last night at the Union on campus. By strangers, I don't mean people I didn't recognize, because I don't know many people that swing. What I do mean though, is that many of the costumes made it hard to discern who some folks were or even their gender.

For example, there was one person (I figured it was a guy by the type of shoe he was wearing) who was dressed in a thin, purple, sheet-like material. On top of his head was gold-foiled decorations that looked like antlers or baby tree branches. He also had a red bike light that flashed under the sheet and around his head. Keep in mind that I could not see this person's face at all. I had danced with several gentleman in the first 1/2 hour I was there and with every dance partner, speculation on what this person's costume signified was a topic of conversation. And none of us knew.

So as I came back down the hall towards the ballroom where the dance was taking place, I encountered the strange purple creature and decided to just ask him (could it be a her?) what he was. Turns out this person wasn't just going to tell me. I had to guess.

Avoiding my initial instinct to walk away, I played the game of charades that he'd begun. After about 5 minutes of frustration I finally guessed germs. He then spoke and corrected me saying bacterium. Sheesh! Must be some science grad student or professor. A far cry from my first thought of a Sesame Street character!

Sesame Street characters were present. The Yip Yip monsters were a big hit, although they took their costumes off to dance, unlike annoying bacterium. Two guys dressed as G.I. Joe's came in green face paint, camouflage and complete with green boards and toy guns to complete their plastic toy look (the green boards were put on only for the sake of photos).

I liked the girl dressed as an upside down flower pot. The pot was on her head and she wore a flowered dress. Pretty original. A carebear was present as was a jester. A male cheerleader took the cake for scariest costume. Another original costume was the Chilean miner. 2 guys were dressed as priests. Several guys and girls were Avatars from the movie, one of the female avatars winning top costume prize.

One avatar couldn't decide what his costume should be though...he had blue face, a white, short wig, blue ears, tight blue pants and a blue Star Trek shirt. I was confused but he was a good dancer so I just my mouth shut since I didn't want to get another cryptic answer to "What are you?"

All in all, the dancing was great last night. Several new dancers which were pretty good. A few that really were not. For those that dance, you know the pain I speak of when I say a dance lead takes your and and PULLS you towards the direction he wants you to go rather than leads you there. There is a big difference and usually my shoulder and rotator cuff know it.

I've noticed that down here they teach beginners cross-hand but don't teach them that cross-hand implies to a follow that you are asking them to rock-step and then go past them as the lead does a move. I had several guys stay in cross-hand making it very awkward because my natural instinct is to travel or do a tuck turn.

The good dancer were a ton of fun. I haven't had the chance to Lindy much when I do dances at U of IL. People tend to swing most of the time. But last night was different. Tons of Lindy Hop and although my moves are a bit rusty, I loved every one of those Lindy dances.

I'll leave you with one final image from last night. Someone had either choreographed or is obsessed with Michael Jackson's Thriller. As soon as it came on (right after the costume winners were announced), several folks came out to the floor and laid down. Now, I have never seen the entire Thriller video dance done live nor do I remember the whole video but about 12 people did the entire dance from start to finish. I'm not sure if it was cool or weird but I think my mind is still processing it. Perhaps it was the fact that Superman, a witch, Lucille Ball and assorted other costumes were the ones doing the dance. I think the verdict is still out.

I'm looking forward to more dances coming soon. And especially to dancing in Chicago during the holiday break. I encourage you to check out swing dancing. It is fantastic exercise and the crowd of people are usually really, really friendly. It's been a great outlet for me and so glad I took the leap!

Now to go plan the rest of my Halloween festivities...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Confessions of a Foodie

I've never considered myself a foodie. I love food. I love cooking. I really enjoy baking. But when one of my students pointed out to me that I seem to never talk about eating out, I realized just how deep I am into the world of culinary therapy.

I teach students who spend 1/2 their school day working, many in restaurants. As part of my job I have to visit each of these students and thus various restaurants in the area. I never eat when I go though (although, if I have several visits in a row during dinner time I will cave in but this is a rare occurrence). One student said to me this week, "Ms. B. you don't ever eat do you?" And I had to laugh. He meant I never eat out. And they are right. I used to eat out a LOT. But sometime in the midst of having food allergies and then later while I was unemployed after grad school I learned that I really, really like cooking. It started as a safety thing, cooking with things I knew I could eat. Then it became a financial thing, cooking because it was cheaper. Now it has turned into not only a stress-relieving after work activity but a challenge to try new foods and new recipes and on occasion create my own!

My most recent creations were inspired by Jamie Oliver, the British cook once called the "Naked Chef" and who is known in the USA as the Food Revolution guy. He was the person who inspired me to start cooking about 10 years ago when the Food Network was still a fledgling network on cable tv. His Green Chili recipe was absolutely delicious. I've also made some banana bread and pumpkin bread, two of my go-to favorites!

I've begun to investigate using various types of flour when I bake these days. One I want to try is almond flour, made from ground almonds. Not only does it reduce the carbs in your recipes but it ups the protein quotient which is a necessity when you are on a diet that requires a ton of protein. Since I haven't had the extra $$ to buy almond flour, I've been substituting 1/3 of the flour for soy flour, which has a similar affect only a little less of a difference. The smell is not very appetizing but the taste in the bread is no different and makes the breads a little more healthy. Mind you, I still add in chocolate chips because I LOVE chocolate but with nuts thrown in too, they manage to be healthier overall than with plain flour.

Next on my list are a few more Jamie Oliver recipes including a cassoulet (Omitting the mushrooms of course). Ever since spending time in Italy, where pork is huge, I've made more things with pork than ever before. This looks delicious and could fill a few meals over a week. Yum!

So there you go. A quick update on my newest obsession. And in case you were wondering, I've eaten out 3 times in the last 3 weeks. Other than that it has been home sweet home and boy has it smelled good!


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Assorted Thoughts

6 weeks ago I wrote my last blog. I never ever meant for it to be so long between posts but it has been a very hectic 6 weeks. So here goes...

It is autumn which means ragweed, temperature swings and, in the middle of farmville, a lot of corn harvesting. Each of these things on their own make for a really rough allergy season for someone like me. Combine them and you get a serious out-of-the-park grand slam of a sinus problem.

I'm not normally one to complain and when I do I usually feel guilty. But I think that should anyone walk in my shoes in the fall they wouldn't handle what I go through for more than 24 hours. Imagine your body fighting really hard, but you can't see it until it begins to shut down. My asthma kicks in, my nose stuffs up and I start to feel tired all the time. This has lasted for 6 weeks and it often means coming home from work and hitting the couch or falling asleep for the night by 5pm (although I try to make it up past ABC World News at 5:30).

On Friday I finally started to feel better. I'm trying some new medication, extremely powerful antibiotics and had a shot of steroids which feels like I'm on caffeine all day and all night. (Remember, I don't EVER have caffeine!) But I finally feel good. Energy level is up. Nose feels okay and I had my 1st workout in nearly 6 weeks! Welcome back KB!

It was also Homecoming Week. We had the usual dress-up days and football game (we lost but played much better than last year). The Homecoming Dance went well too, although I ended up at one of the doorway exit spots near the end of the night because I was the only one who couldn't smell the apparently rough odors coming from the ladies restroom at that end of the hall. My Sophomores won every single event during the week including the dance competition at the assembly, the assembly games and the Float building award. I am so proud of these kids!

Last weekend I had the 1st movie night of the semester. We watched OO7 Casino Royale. We ordered 3 medium pizzas and all but 1 slice. I've never seen that happen before with just 6 people!

My car is finally getting fixed as well from the accident that was 2 months ago (when I was sideswiped by a motorcycle who didn't see me stop and hit me from behind). My baby should be ready by Tuesday. In the meantime I am driving around a sporty, old-fashioned Chevy Cobalt. Cute car and more along the size of vehicle I'm used to driving. It will be weird to go back to my big vehicle.

This weekend I made my 2nd batch of pumpkin bread of the season. I've been incorporating soy flour since it has less carbohydrates than regular flour. Eventually I want to start using almond flour as a substitute since it is all protein. At any rate, I've brought some to school and have been freezing a loaf each time. Delish!

I have also completed my video recap on my trip to Italy. I plan on putting it on DVD this week and sending a copy to my family in Modena. It has brought back a lot of memories and I incorporated some songs and singers that we heard on the bus while driving between destinations.

Finally, this past Friday, I had our 2nd annual Interview Seminar for my work-study students. 25 area HR representatives from companies like Kraft, Carle Hospital, First Mid Bank and the City of Urbana came to give our students mock interview practice. The feedback was extremely positive. I had our Principal and other administrators come down to see how it was going. Again, I'm so proud of my students this year! Even the ones who didn't dress up (some because they don't own dress clothes) had great, articulated answers according to some of the Interviewers.

So there you go. A brief look at the last few weeks. Only 9 more weeks until I'm 1/2 way through the school year. Can you believe it? 2 till Halloween. 6 till Thanksgiving. 10 till Christmas. We are heading into my favorite time of year. I'm going to try and take photos of how Christmas feels here and back up in Chicago. That is if it ever gets cold!