Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Recipe: Mexican Casserole

I love making casseroles on weekends, because it means I've got my lunches covered for the work week. This weekend I made a Mexican casserole. This is a "Rookie Cookie" recipe* from the Mini-Pages (i.e. the kids pages in some local newspapers); my grandparents used to send me these fun pages, and I would cut out the recipes that I thought sounded good. So I finally got around to making this one!

Because this is meant to be a simple recipe that kids can help make, the directions leave out bits of information that may be helpful. I've added them in with italics. 


·         1 ¼ lbs. lean ground turkey
·         ¾ cup cornmeal
·         1 ½ cups low-fat milk
·         1 egg
·         1 tbl. chili powder
·         ¼ tsp. garlic powder
·         ½ tsp. cumin
·         1 (15 ounce) can whole-kernel corn, drained
·         1 (15 ounce) can chopped stewed tomatoes
·         1 (15 ounce) can pinto beans, drained
·         ½ cup shredded low-fat cheddar cheese

1. Brown ground turkey over medium heat until crumbly. Drain off the fat.
2. Combine cornmeal, milk, and egg in a large bowl.
3. Add spices, corn, tomatoes, beans, and cooked turkey; stir well.
4. Coat a large (13 x 9) casserole dish with cooking spray.
5. Pour mixture into dish and top with shredded cheese.
6. Bake at 325 F for 45 minutes.

As with all of my recipes, I made a few changes. I didn't have any cornmeal on hand, so I used some of the Trader Joe's cornbread mix. It had corn kernels in it, and probably sugar, but I figured it would be okay. I also used basil-flavored diced tomatoes, because I couldn't find any stewed tomatoes (how different can they be?). I don't really like beans, so I chopped up red and green peppers (about half a pepper each) instead. I never measure out cheese, so I think I sprinkled way more than half a cup on there. Also, while I did actually use ground turkey, I would easily make this again using ground beef. I thought about adding in spinach and mushrooms, but I wanted to stick to the recipe somewhat, so I just ate those on the side.

This is an easy (and yummy!) recipe, so I certainly recommend it!

Image found here.
*There's even a Rookie Cookie book!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Interfusion Festival: Performances

Every night of the Interfusion Festival, there was a show so we could see performances of the different art forms brought together during that weekend.

One of the salsa groups. The girl in the middle was the best, I think! Image found here.
The Zafire Dance Company had outfits with some interesting fringe! Image found here.
Salsa: There were several groups who performed salsa routines (I'd say maybe even 10 performed throughout the weekend). One group was from Gaithersburg High School, and another women's group included two young girls into the routine. While I think it's great to get kids involved in dance, I'd rather watch experts perform. I was also surprised how many dancers didn't smile while they were dancing! I think they were concentrating so hard on the routine that they forgot to control their facial expressions, too. I wasn't blown away by these performances, but it was neat to see some of the moves and to think that with enough practice I could dance like that, too!

Click here for a video of ZaFire Dance Company.

Zouk: Jessica Lamdon and Henri Velandia (also known as Ry'el or Rio) from ZenZouk taught several of the zouk classes, and they also performed multiple times! They are really great together!

Click here for another Zouk video, but with different dancers.

Acroyoga: I couldn't find videos from the actual performances, but I can show some videos that feature the instructors who performed at the festival:

Jessalyn Leean Oxford and Glen Acro Saunders

Daniel Walsh and Jenny Mahler (click here for their actual performance at the festival)

Image found here.
And I couldn't find a video featuring Maya Kramer and Tad Merrell, but they performed several times during the festival. They were both really good, and I liked that he looked like he had just left the Ringling Brothers Circus with his curled-up mustache. I couldn't find videos of Jenna Cervantes or David Haws, either, but they were also fantastic (see photo below).

Image found here.

Image found here.
Belly dancing: Margarita Kleese taught the belly dancing workshops at the festival, and she also performed (the video below is from a belly dancing competition).

Image found here.

Hoola-hooping: Lea Short led the hula hooping workshops, and I really liked her energy! If you click the link above, you can find a video of her performance of her Facebook page.

Pole dancing: I didn't take any of the pole dancing workshops, but we did get to see Marion Crampe perform, and she was amazing! I never thought pole dancing could be so graceful and completely non-sexual. Bravo!

Like all performances, there were a few weak ones. BUT since the festival was all about positivity, I can't even bring myself to write all the mean things I normally would post in my blog. I will say this though: not many people attended the shows on Friday and Sunday nights. So I would suggest to the festival that they only do one performance on Saturday night. They saved the best routines for that night, and some were repeats on the other days anyway, so just show us the best of the best! I'd also make the show a little shorter; I understand that there are lots of different acts, but the shows lasted a little too long (especially when they started more than 30 minutes late!). People don't come to the festival for the shows; that's just an added bonus. So I wouldn't place as much emphasis on them (and like I said, a lot of people didn't even bother coming to the shows on Friday and Sunday, so they weren't putting emphasis on them either). But I did like how the shows were a nice culmination of the festival!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Interfusion Festival: Foundations of Ecstasy

Christian, the creator of the festival is in the middle, with the two instructors from this workshop. Image found here.
This 2-hour workshop hosted by Monique Darling and Peter Petersen had such an impact on me, so I wanted to dedicate a full blog post to it. I've always been curious about sexuality, and this workshop fell under the tantra category (which in our society has a sexual connotation, although it's really the principles taught in ancient Hindu/Buddhist texts...but I digress).

We did so much in this workshop, so it's hard for me to remember it all! Peter led us in some qi gong exercises, which for a first-timer like me seemed like moving in certain ways to gather good energy in your body, expel bad energy, and share good energy with others. I wanted to feel something while doing it, but I didn't. I think I may have been distracted by our large group, or I was just thinking too hard; perhaps if I tried to do this by myself with a video or something, I might feel the flow of energy around me.

Another exercise we did was finding a random partner, and then staring into each other's eyes and imagining something. One time we imagined that we were looking at our 7-year-old self; another time we were looking at ourselves on our deathbeds with only 20 seconds to live. The latter REALLY impacted me: I saw kind eyes telling me that everything was going to be okay in the end, even when I'm feeling a lot of inner turmoil at the moment. I almost immediately started tearing up; my partner started crying, too, and afterward we just held each other before moving to the next partner. At the beginning of the workshop, we were reminded that this was a safe place, and that we should explore and express our emotions, no matter what we were feeling. That note gave me the freedom to show my emotion AND connect with a complete stranger (on a level I maybe haven't even felt with people I've known for years). With our next partner, we were supposed to think about our greatest longing, what we were truly searching for. I started thinking about how much has changed in my life in the past year, and how everything seems so mixed up; I feel like I'm lost with no direction or grounding, and all I want is some peace, for everything to be stable again. Then my partner was supposed to whisper one word to me to sum up what I was wishing for, and he said, "serenity." MIND BLOWN! Again, this person who I knew nothing about connected with me on such a  deep level that he could tell what I was feeling. I do feel bad because when it was my turn to tell him what his greatest longing was, I drew a blank. I had been focusing so much on my own experience that I forgot to really look into HIS eyes to see what HE wanted. I think I said "total acceptance" (which is two words, bah), but I should have said "love." Even then, I'm not sure if that was right. If I ever did an exercise like this again, I would make sure to SHARE the experience and not just think about my own feelings (hmm, kinda applies to all relationships in life...).

Toning. Image found here.
After that, we moved into groups of four. We reflected on our experiences from the previous part, and then we worked on toning our chakras. There are seven chakras, and each is related to a body part. We only focused on some areas of the body: third-eye (head), throat, heart, and stomach. We were going to "tone" a part of the body for something we were wishing for: love for the heart, wisdom for the third-eye, etc. Each of us took a turn laying on the ground, and the other three people would gather around us and tone an area of the body (each chakra also has a different sound, like "ohm" etc.). Again, I didn't feel much with this particular exercise, but it was still nice feeling a physical connection with other people.

Then the entire class participated in what Monique calls a "heart fuck," which means imagining your energy as a penis or vulva and using that energy to penetrate/receive the energy of another person. So we were all in a huge circle kneeling over each other's backs with our hearts on their sacrums, imagining that we were penetrating the person in front of us and receiving energy from the person behind. Again, I didn't really feel anything, but I think my prudish mind was still getting over the imagery and term of "heart fuck."

The last exercise of the class was to find a partner, sit across from him/her, and ask each other questions to delve deeper into ourselves. So I would ask my partner, "Who are you?" then "Who are you really?" and finally "Why do people love you so much?". I would ask each question multiple times, so my partner had to give several answers to each question. At first I thought he wasn't taking it seriously, because he'd answer with, "I'm a man," "I'm a person," "I'm a human," etc. BUT these questions actually are hard! I was finding it difficult to come up with descriptors for myself, too. I especially found the last question tough. I know my friends and family love me, but the only reasons I could come up with were that I'm loyal and fun to be with; I even gave the answer "because I'm smart," which I know isn't a reason why the people in my life care about me. It was kind of sad that I couldn't see in myself what other people see, even though I do consider myself a confident, self-loving person. So I'm not sure how to practice this exercise, but I know I could do better!

Each of us then ended our part with dancing for the other person, as a gift. So I asked him the questions, he answered, and then he remained sitting on the floor while I danced for him. I really liked this part, because they played a song that was very similar to the 5rhythms music from the previous night, so it was very freeing and flowing. PLUS I'm a good dancer, so I don't get nervous dancing in front of people (although I will admit I closed my eyes the whole time, so I wasn't completely open). After he asked me the questions, he danced for me, and he had to dance to Lady Gaga's Born This Way. I love that song, but it's not easy to dance to, especially for someone who isn't a dancer! So while I was trying not to be judgmental, I was a little uncomfortable watching the awkward dance. But I'm definitely proud of him for putting himself out there and doing it!

Like much of the festival, sometimes things clicked, and sometimes they didn't. But when they did, it felt SO good! The festival, and this workshop itself particularly, allowed me to feel and express things that I didn't know I was suppressing (or knew it but didn't know how badly I needed to connect to those feelings). I think of myself as a very rational person, so exercises like these at first glance seem...silly. I was originally thinking, "I'll try this festival once, it'll be fun, and I'll move on." But this workshop has impacted me SO much. I can't stop thinking about it, and I'm already looking for other places to explore mindfulness and meet with others looking for a similar connection.

So while I keep saying to myself, "The festival was good, but it didn't change my life," because I know that's what I rationally should be thinking...it did change my life. I don't think I can go back to thinking with a black-and-white, and mostly negative, mindset. Already I'm thinking in terms of "sending good energy into the universe" and things like that, what I would have considered hoopla before. I'm not 100% converted, but I'm at least partially transformed by this experience. THANK YOU to all of those who made the festival possible!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Interfusion Festival

Image found here.
Earlier this month I attended the Interfusion Festival in Alexandria, Va. I had never attended any sort of conference or event like that before, so here's to my new year's resolution of doing things I never thought I would! Click here to see a highlights video from this year's festival.

For those of you who don't know, the Interfusion Festival is a 3-day event that hosts a variety of workshops, from dance to meditation to acroyoga. The purpose of the festival is to create a safe space that encourages the connection and exploration of the spirit, both for the individual and with others. I don't want to call it a hippie convention, because that sounds negative, which is the exact opposite of the very positivity this event promotes. But there were vendors selling hemp bars, crystals, and incense, exhibitors performing reiki and hypnosis, a face painter, and attendees with untamed hair and foot tattoos. However, that was just my immediate observation I made when I first arrived; by the time I left, those types of judgmental thoughts were certainly muted.

So much happened over that weekend, so it's hard to cram everything into this post! I'll include most of my notes here, but I'll have a few other posts for experiences where I want to go into more detail.

This is Keskya Barroso leading a bachata nueva class. He was a little demanding! Image found here.
Dance classes: The main reason I went to the festival is because I am a dancer (mostly blues dancing), and I am trying to learn other forms of dance. Over the weekend I attended workshops covering salsa, bachata, kizomba, zouk (I especially liked Ashley Kent's class on connection), fusion styling (with Linda Saenz), and cha cha. All of the workshops had a similar format, in which we would learn the basic steps first, and then learn a short choreographed routine. I'm not sure the routine bit was very helpful, since dancing is organic and should just flow between many different moves in a variety of sequences (unless you're performing). Since I am a beginner for all of those dances, I'm not sure how much information I actually retained (I still very much feel like a beginner), but I am learning the rhythms better, and I enjoyed the dance parties that the festival hosted each night (there was a salsa room, a bachata room, etc., all to practice your new moves!).

Here are some videos from some of the instructors (not the same routines from the workshops, but the same teachers):

Juan Aristy - Playful Bachata

David Norton: I thought he was a good salsa teacher, and he said at his studio in Vienna, VA, he teaches different levels of beginner classes, which I think makes a lot of sense!

Michelle Reyes: I had taken a kizomba class with her before. She's the only kizomba instructor I know who claims that kizomba is a family-friendly, not a sexy, dance. Every other kizomba class I've taken teaches that your thighs should be glued to your partner's, so it is VERY sexy. But she teaches in Bethesda, Md. if you want to take one of her classes!

David Campos: He has a very thick French accent, so sometimes it was hard to understand what he was saying! Plus, he and his wife, Guida Rei, were complaining how tired they were because they have a baby to take care of (save it: you're professionals, no excuses); I don't need to know about your personal life: I just want to learn how to dance! I thought the class was okay; perhaps if I had taken this workshop on an earlier day instead of on Sunday after I had already danced for several hours, I would have enjoyed it more.

5Rhythms: This was also a dance workshop, but there was no lesson. Instead, this was a guided form of free dance in a dimly lit room. We started off walking around the room, and then as people became more comfortable, they would sway their arms, move to the music, and then finally we were all dancing. Every once in a while the "instructor" Ann Kite would tell us to do something, like reach out and touch the fingertips of another person; the directions would mimic the five rhythms (see image below), like moving faster or stopping entirely. We did this for more than an hour, and I really liked it! I loved dancing without any harsh structure or judgement (we were asked to dance with our eyes gazing at the ground so we weren't directly looking at anyone), and the sporadic touch with other people helped connect me to the experience. I randomly went to this activity because it was the only one available when I arrived right after work, but I'm so glad I went!

Image found here.

Barbara Carrellas. Image found here.
Tantra Breath and Energy: This workshop, led by Barbara Carrellas (she's really good!), immediately followed the ecstasy class I took (stay tuned for my next post!), so I was learning about energy for four hours straight! We started the class sitting across from a partner, just looking into each others eyes and then taking turns stroking each other's faces. I was paired with an older woman, so while this wasn't sexual for me, I still found the connection comforting and soothing. We also did some deep breathing, imagining our pinky finger was a lung, filling up with air as we breathed in, and letting go as we breathed out; we continued adding more imagery, adding a color to our pinky finger, and then picturing an entire galaxy was inside of the finger. That exercise was then applied to the last half of the workshop, which was mostly what I expected from tantra: we were lying on the ground (more than 100 of us, like little sardines!), and she would talk us through imagining certain things/feelings in order to hopefully bring ourselves pleasure. I was very glad that she prefaced the exercise saying that it was okay if we didn't feel anything...because I didn't. I couldn't get into the zone, mainly because the room was SO cold! Even with all of those people in there, the A/C was blasting (in February, mind you), so when I was quivering, it was because I was shivering from the cold, not because I was feeling intense pleasure through deep breathing. So that was unfortunate. But I can at least try the same exercises at home (and honestly already do some of the things she talked about!).

Of course you can attend only so many workshops each day, so I did miss several of them. I didn't try acroyoga at all; I wasn't ready to trust another person (or myself!) to do those balancing moves together, and I'm still not comfortable with the idea of feet touching me in so many places (feet are so dirty!). Maybe one day I'll try it, but I couldn't commit myself to pushing myself to that place of trust this first time around. I also didn't attend any Thai massage workshops, mostly for the same reasons. And I didn't participate in any of the hula hooping classes, but I watched! And while I tried to go to a meditation workshop on Sunday morning, the instructor Dr. Deborah Norris never showed up! Hmpf!

One thing I really liked about the festival was just that everyone was so nice! Sure, there were a few people who weren't taking the eye gazing exercises seriously, or were a little judgemental during a dance class if he was a better dancer. But all in all, people were very open and kind. And we all just left our bags around the hotel, and nothing was stolen! Everyone was honest and understanding; we really did make a little community together, even just for the weekend. The producer of the event, Umka Pele, ended the last show saying things like "There has been so much love, so much support, so much positive energy," and "no fear, no failure, no divides, no judgement." I thought that was a great note for the festival to end on!

Click here for photos: Interfusion Festival Instagram

PS: The day after the festival, I came across this interview with a body-positivity yoga instructor. Her words about not sweating the small stuff and the need to let things go totally hit me. I need to do that! She should come to the next festival!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Brian Ganz plays Chopin at the Strathmore

This past weekend I went to the Strathmore to see the pianist Brian Ganz perform pieces composed by Chopin. I have seen Ganz perform several times, and I absolutely love him! You can so clearly see his passion and joy for playing the piano. I also enjoyed that during this particular performance, he would take the time to tell the audience about a certain piece, where Chopin was in his life during that time, etc. So this was a very educational program, too!

Nocturne in B-flat minor, Op. 9 (I was glad I could find this video that actually features Ganz!)

Here's a video of all 3 Nocturnes, Op. 9 that Ganz played:

Then Ganz moved on to play a few of Chopin's polonaises. He played three separate ones: the first was written when Chopin was very young, the next when he was a teenager, and the third as a young man. Ganz explained that the first one is very "glittery" with not much behind the music; the second shows some "teenage bravado," and the third is noticeably deeper and has more to say.

Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. Posth. (I specifically picked this video because Chopin wrote this piece when he was 11 years old (!), so I thought it would be appropriate to show a child playing this piece).

Polonaise in G-sharp minor, Op. Posth. (Again, I chose this video because Chopin wrote this one at age 15, so here is a teenager playing this one.)

Polonaise in C-sharp minor, Op. 26, No. 1 (This was a more mature piece, so you can see the transition in the music from boy to man [feat. Ganz].)

After intermission, Ganz played three mazurkas, again starting with one that Chopin wrote as a young boy, and finishing with one he wrote as a man, although still only in his 20's. 

Mazurka in G Major (I'm not 100% sure this is the right piece...)

(If you really like these pieces, listen to all of Chopin's mazurkas here.)

And to finish, Ganz performed 12 √Čtudes, Op. 10. These are studies Chopin wrote, so they are supposed to be exercises for pianists to gain flexibility in their hands, etc. I won't include all of them here, but here are a few (These videos were not filmed from the performance I saw, but they still feature Ganz.):

No. 3 in E Major

No. 4 in C-sharp minor

No. 5 in G-flat Major (Almost all of the notes played in this piece use the black keys. It's interesting to hear the difference when you know what to listen for!)

No. 12 in C minor ("Revolutionary")

What an incredible evening! I love Ganz's enamored relationship with the piano, his appreciation for the history behind the music, and his fun method of teaching audiences about the pieces and composers that Ganz has loved his entire life.