UNIK Latin Dance Company brings diversity to dance community

— UNIK Latin Dance Company of Baltimore was born in 2014 out of a desire to make the Baltimore Latin Dance scene stronger and more diverse. “UNIK,” was formed as a collaboration between Latin Dance instructors from the Baltimore area who share the same passion for Latin dancing and the same vision for the community, to offer Baltimoreans premier dance instruction in a variety of Latin rhythms. Combined, the instructors bring a level of diversity never seen before in the Baltimore community! They are experts in teaching everything-Salsa, Bachata, Cha-Cha, Afro-Latin, Cuban Salsa (Rueda and Casino), Flamenco, organizing and coordinating dance teams, choreographing dances for birthdays, weddings, sweet 16 celebrations, offering entertainment for corporate and non-corporate events.

Although they all have their individual dance related businesses, they wanted to come together to form UNIK because they are passionate about changing the Baltimore Dance scene landscape by combining, as this fun group of teachers like to refer to it, “their dancing superpowers.”

Brandon Ross, a United States Army drill sergeant and UNIK instructor points out, UNIK is special because “it brings to the Baltimore community a wide variety of dance styles exposing customers to more than just one way of dancing and enjoying music. It is also important, for everyone, but especially for the youth, to be involved in something that will require hard work and discipline”

To learn more about all UNIK Latin Dance Company of Baltimore has to offer check them out on facebook at www.facebook.com/UNIKLatinDanceCompany

(see pictured above from left to right Tabitha Holliday, Cedric Teamer, Nancy Alers, Brandon Ross and Claudia Barraza)

Do you really know your decorating style?

— You have a new home or your first apartment and dozens of crazy ideas to make it look the way you want. But do you really know your own decorating style?

Perhaps it was easy to see that your mom had a taste for historic, Colonial decorating. Maybe you’ve always marveled at the way a friend embraced midcentury modern style to create the perfect “Mad Men” pad.

But if your decor seems to lack that kind of continuity and flair, you’re not alone.

Fight feeling overwhelmed

In this day and age, asking someone to name their decorating style is almost a trick question, said Better Homes and Gardens home content director Jill Waage.

Thanks to nebulous decorator terms such as “eclectic” or “personalization,” interior decor isn’t as easy to typify as it was even 10 years ago. (Remember “Moroccan style”?) That makes decorating harder than it used to be, Waage said.

Since 1924, Better Homes and Gardens (first published under the name “Fruit, Garden and Home” in 1922) has been giving all manner of home economics and homemaking advice. Readers’ questions have always betrayed an anxiety over home decor.

“Pick a decade,” Waage said. “People are still looking for tips about how to use color, arrange furniture, always looking to make their home better.”

What’s different in 2014, Waage said, is that homeowners itching for a living room makeover are indelibly changed by the design information available to them.

By now a generation has grown up witnessing complete home redecorations within the span of a 30-minute television show. Early adopters of Pinterest and devotees of tutorial-disseminating decor blogs are largely empowered — or sometimes overwhelmed — by this media, Waage said.

The magazine still delivers decorating tips and examples, but instead of a few fresh looks every month, tips now include online color choice generators and automatic room planners.

Even with a new understanding of the mechanics of decorating, it’s still difficult to orchestrate the room of your dreams, or even realize what it is you like in the first place, she said.

So what’s a DIY decorater to do?

Be brave enough to try

Bravery and experience are what helped self-taught blogger, photographer and decorator Emily Clark handle her home decor. Figuring out which interior styles influence you is born from self confidence that only comes with age, she said.

She no longer focuses on the giant set of matching furniture she and her husband bought as newlyweds in their first grown-up home. She encourages slowing down to make decorating a gradual process.

“It’s about not second-guessing yourself. As you get older, you get more confident in your decisions,” Clark said.

It has been 15 years since she lived in her first apartment, and her family now lives in its second home — and Clark finally feels comfortable broadcasting her style to people around the world through her blog.

“A lot of people get stumped or scared they’re going to mess up,” when applying their tastes to interior decor, Clark said. But discovering what you appreciate about decor means you have to be brave enough to try decorating in the first place, she said.

“Taking chances and enjoying where you are and what you’re looking at every day. It’s better than sitting around looking at blank walls, worried about what to do,” she said.

“My philosophy has been, if I don’t love it to begin with, it can’t get any worse. If I have a piece of furniture sitting here that I detest to begin with, slapping a coat of paint on it isn’t going to make it any worse.”

Through clipping magazine images from Southern Living or House Beautiful and looking online when she decorated her first home, she uncovered some obvious patterns, she said.

“There are things I am naturally drawn to,” she said, “I love black and white stripes, I love blues, I love textures. I like a good mix of things.”

What she doesn’t like, even among her decor blogging peers, is the accelerated pace of decorating trends and how many bloggers adopt them, making those ideas feel a lot less personal.

“I want to know what you like, I don’t want to know that you bought every Nate Berkus piece at Target,” Clark said.

When she finds a blogger whose home shows a distinct personality, “it motivates me to get off the computer and do stuff to my own house,” she said. “That’s a good house!”

It’s OK to call the pros

Alexis Kraft, owner of the Kraft Studio design firm and an interior design professor at Parsons The New School for Design in New York, teaches his students not only how to recognize and manifest the decorating styles of clients, but also how to do the same for themselves.

“A designer starts to realize early on in their education and in their career that they need to have a sense of style,” he said. “They need to embrace and embody (a design style) that then becomes marketable for them: Their style becomes part of what (potential clients) are attracted to.”

That ability is something of a superpower, he said. “I like to think anyone can be an interior designer, but it’s not something everyone can do,” he said.

He likens interior decor to music. “We all have opinions of (whether or not) music is good,” he said. “Not all of us can be musicians.”

The interest in design, an innate sense about art and an ability to understand the relationship between objects and space is part of why interior design is such a specific career path, he said. Interior designers spend years in school and internships learning little details like where to mount a toilet paper holder or how a kitchen tile can keep a remodeled kitchen looking fresh for decades.

Kraft can not deny the grip that a modern, DIY attitude has on Americans. Miraculous TV makeovers or bloggers who document their decorating adventures are compelling, motivating voices in the interior design conversation, he said.

But there’s a chasm between the way we talk about design and the effort it takes to create a beautiful room in your own home.

“There is still an art to it that has to be developed,” he said.

If you’re not happy with the look of your home, you can work to hone that artistic ability — or you can call for backup. Sometimes, he said, hiring an interior designer is the way to discover your style.

What’s your decorating style? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter @CNNLiving or on CNN Living’s Facebook page.


™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

E-cigs’ liquid nicotine causing poisonings

— As electronic cigarettes increase in popularity, calls to the nation’s poison control centers about exposure to the liquid nicotine used in many of the devices have surged, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

In February, there were 215 poison center calls involving e-cigarettes, the CDC said. That’s compared to one per month in September 2010.

And 51% of those calls involved children 5 and under, officials said.

Since not all poisonings get reported, the CDC said the total number of cases is likely even higher.

Nicotine is a drug, and in its concentrated liquid form, poison experts warn it is also significantly toxic, even in small doses. E-cigarettes, which are not required to be childproof, feature flavors like spearmint, banana and bubble gum, making them appealing to kids.

“What’s attractive to kids: It’s the smell. It’s the scent. It’s the color,” said Gaylord Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Center. “A kid’s not going to know the difference between a poison and something they can drink.”

An Oklahoma mother found that out the hard way when her 4-year-old son got his hands on the liquid nicotine used to refill her e-cigarettes.

“We hear a little noise, come in and he has taken the lid off of all of them and has this liquid everywhere. He’s got it all over him. He’s been eating it,” Ren Gaulrapp told CNN affiliate KFOR.

Her son was rushed to the emergency room and vomited all day long.

Poisonings can also occur when liquid nicotine is inhaled or absorbed through the skin or eyes, and other side effects can include nausea and eye irritation. It can even be deadly. One person used the liquid to commit suicide by injecting it, according to the CDC.

Lopez said his poison center has also taken calls from adults who’ve spilled e-cigarette nicotine on themselves while filling up the devices.

“You can start to feel sick in as little as four to five minutes,” he said. “The fumes themselves can be poisonous, and if we inhale them for long enough we’re going to get a little sick to our stomach.”

About 42% of the poison calls in February involved people age 20 and older, the CDC said.

E-cigarette products are currently not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Poison control experts say the liquids, found in bottles or cartridges that have been known to break, need to be better controlled.

“There’s no legislation on the books right now,” Lopez said. “A product as dangerous as this, as lethal as this, child-resistant caps would be a great help.”

Ray Story, founder of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, said his association promotes childproof packaging, warning labels, and limits on the potency of liquid nicotine sold in bottles.

“We have expressed our concerns about unregulated liquids on many occasions, but we do not want to demonize them as the culprit for this problem,” Story said in a statement. “The toxicity for all products is in the dosage.”

“We have provided the regulatory bodies information and guidelines on this that can easily be implemented and then could eliminate these cases entirely.”

Educating e-cigarette users is also a crucial step in eliminating the incidents, he said.

Gaulrapp, the mother in Oklahoma, said she has since moved her liquid nicotine up and out of her son’s reach.

“It smells like candy. It really isn’t,” she told KFOR. “This really can hurt you.”


The rise of Michael Strahan

— Michael Strahan loves the mega-romantic film “The Notebook,” isn’t afraid to admit his fear of snakes, supports same-sex marriage and makes Kelly Ripa giggle like no one else.

Is it any wonder he’s a media darling?

The former NFL star is a rising star of another sort these days with gigs as co-host on the popular morning show “Live with Kelly and Michael,” as a sports commentator and now reports that he may be joining “Good Morning America.”

It’s an interesting trajectory for the 6-foot-5-inch, gap-toothed Strahan, who spent his entire professional athletic career playing for the New York Giants and proudly sports a Super Bowl championship ring.

Strahan grew up in Germany, the son of a military man, and briefly played high school football after his family sent him to the States to live with relatives. After playing for Texas Southern University, he was drafted by the New York Giants, where he played from the 1993 to 2007 season.

He enjoyed a 15-year career in the NFL and after retiring in 2008, Strahan followed the route of many former athletes by venturing into sports commentary and signing on as an analyst with Fox Sports in 2008. He also ventured into the world of acting with commercials for various entities including Vaseline, Subway and with the very short-lived Fox sitcom “Brothers,” which premiered in 2009.

But it was multiple appearances guest-hosting on the then “Live with Regis and Kelly” morning show that helped him secure a spot as co-host in 2012 after Regis Philbin retired. The pair have become favorites among fans with their easygoing chemistry and obvious adoration for each other.

“He really gets it,” Ripa told Katie Couric in an interview in 2012 after Strahan was selected following a massive search for her new co-host. “He gets what we’re about.”

“It’s how it is all the time,” Strahan said of his relationship with Ripa, whom he calls his work wife. “What you see on camera is what you get behind the scenes.”

The former jock has also scored in his personal life. After two previous marriages, the second of which was so explosive it provided plenty of fodder for the New York tabloids, Strahan has been engaged for the past few years to Nicole Murphy, who has five children from her marriage to actor Eddie Murphy. Between Strahan and Murphy, the pair have nine children in their blended family.

Appearing on “Live with Kelly and Michael” in 2013 to promote her reality show “Hollywood Exes,” Murphy shared 10 things most people didn’t know about Strahan, including the fact that he can’t “stand to be tickled,” once had a pet pig and “Michael loves to spoon.”

Such romance is to be expected from a man who is very open about his love of at least one “chick flick.”

” ‘The Notebook’ gets me every time,” Strahan told Elle magazine. “It’s a great love story. Boy from the wrong side of the tracks. They get on each other’s nerves, but they can’t live without each other. It almost makes me shed a tear.”

Now it looks as if Strahan may be about to bring all that personality to “Good Morning America.” He previously filled in for the show’s anchor, Robin Roberts, when she was on sick leave.


™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

15 best U.S. spots for kids

— The best kids’ attractions are fun for adults, too.

“When you spend the whole day at some place like a theme park or zoo, you want everyone in your family to enjoy it — young and old,” said Travis Katz, CEO and co-founder of travel planning site Gogobot.

That’s what the site’s favorite spots for kids have in common, Katz said. The 15 best attractions in the U.S. for kids, announced Tuesday as part of Gogobot’s Travelers’ Favorites awards, were selected based on Gogobot user recommendations and the number of visits from the site’s 3.7 million users.

And the best in the U.S. for kids? That would be the Exploratorium on Pier 15 in San Francisco.

The interactive learning lab features 600 exhibits.

“The slogan at the entrance says ‘Touch Everything,’ making it more like a giant playground than a museum,” Katz said.

Plus, there’s an evening event for adults only on the first Thursday of each month, with a cash bar and film screenings in addition to the exhibits. See? Fun for everyone.


Big Data is secretly scoring you

— You likely know about your credit score — that key measure that influences everything from your monthly car payment to your ability to buy a home. But there are dozens of other consumer scores that are impacting your daily life that you have no idea about.

Data brokers, analytics firms and retailers are creating hundreds of “secret” consumer scores that rank you on everything from the likelihood you will keep your job to how likely you are to commit fraud, according to a report released Wednesday by nonprofit World Privacy Forum.

Marketers, financial institutions, wireless phone service providers, law enforcement agencies and others use these scores to do everything from promoting new products to investigating crimes.

Yet, while these consumer scores are pervasive, most consumers don’t know they exist. Rarely are they able to view their scores, find out how they are compiled or used or correct inaccuracies like they can on a credit report, the World Privacy Forum found.

“Consumers have little to no ability to learn when their lives are affected in a major or minor way by a consumer score that they never heard about,” the report’s authors Pam Dixon and Bob Gellman wrote. The two are calling for more transparency and government scrutiny of consumer scores.

Dixon and Gellman acknowledge that some scores could be used to help consumers, by providing them with targeted deals and discounts, for example. But they say some scores infringe on a consumer’s privacy and can affect their eligibility for everything from a new job to affordable insurance. Inaccuracies could also cause a consumer to be mislabeled as a fraudster and shut out of important lines of credit.

“Whether a consumer receives a coupon for a free soda is not a big deal,” they wrote. “Whether a consumer can complete a transaction is of significant consequence.”

Here are just a few of the hundreds of scores that the World Privacy Forum uncovered:

Consumer profitability score: Using factors like your income, one company sells a score which predicts how likely you will be to pay your debts. The higher your score, the more likely you are to be a “profitable” customer (and a target of marketers).

Churn score: Many companies, such as wireless carriers and cable companies, create scores that predict how likely you are to take your business to a competitor. Get deemed a flight risk, and you may be offered a better deal. On the flip side, get labeled a stable customer and you may end up paying higher rates.

Job security score: One company sells a score that uses employment and unemployment data, economic trends and forecasts to predict the probability that you will lose your job, and as a result not be able to pay your bills.

Banks sometimes use these lists in order to limit their losses, according to the report.

Medication adherence score: Do you always follow your doctor’s orders? Or do you skip a pill here and there? One firm sells a score that predicts the likelihood you will follow a prescription plan, based on factors ranging from age to home ownership, that is designed to let pharmacies and insurers know when a patient is at risk and needs a medication reminder.

As long as the score does not use your own protected health information, it would not be protected by privacy laws.

Fraud scores: Widely used by retailers, credit card issuers and other companies, fraud scores indicate whether a consumer may be posing as someone else or attempting to perpetuate a fraud of some sort.

While the scores are an important fraud and loss prevention tool, they can also create major headaches for any consumer who gets incorrectly labeled or is a victim of identity theft.

Get branded as a high risk and you could be declined on credit card purchases or rejected on loan applications, among other things. And unlike a credit score, you typically have few rights to access or contest a fraud score.

Custom scores: Some retailers create their own custom scores using sophisticated analysis of their massive databases of customer purchases and demographic information. The most famous example: Target’s pregnancy predictor score, which used a consumer’s shopping history to predict that she was pregnant even before she had told family members.

Law enforcement scores: A variety of government scores are used for safety, anti-terrorism and other law enforcement purposes, but very little is known about how this information is used, the report stated.


™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Foot Care Tips for Diabetics

Diabetics have to take special care of their feet. The disease can cause peripheral neuropathy—otherwise known as nerve damage. When this happens, you might lose feeling in your feet and be at greater risk of sustaining injuries. Foot injuries can become infected and, in the worst-case scenario, require an amputation.

Follow these care tips to keep your feet in the best shape possible.

  • Wash your feet with mild soap and lukewarm water (less than 90° F) every day. Pat your feet dry, paying special attention between your toes.
  • Though you can apply lotion to your feet, don’t rub any between your toes. Sprinkle on a non-medicated powder before putting on your socks and shoes.
  • Talk to your doctor before you trim your own nails. Better yet, treat yourself to a professional pedicure. If you have corns, calluses or ingrown toenails, it’s best to let the doctor handle those.
  • Always wear socks and shoes, even indoors on carpeted floors.
  • Choose cotton socks and wear a clean, dry pair every day. Skip the cute sandals, flip-flops and sexy stilettos. Check your shoes regularly for rough spots or worn lining. Replace damaged or worn-out shoes.
  • Avoid using electric blankets or heating pads on your feet. If you have nerve damage, you might not notice when you’re being burned.
  • Keep the blood flowing to your feet by move them around several times a day. Wiggle your toes often.

Michael Gavin named AACC’s new Associate V.P. for Learning

Michael H. Gavin of Baltimore is Anne Arundel Community College’s new associate vice president of Learning.

In that capacity, he will oversee faculty professional development, the college’s process of course and program development and the Sarbanes Center for Public and Community Service. In addition, he will participate in AACC’s Student Success 2020 initiative that aims at doubling the number of degrees, certificates and workforce credentials earned from 2009, when the program began, to 2020.

Gavin came to AACC from Prince George’s Community College where he was a tenured professor of English for 10 years before becoming the senior academic administrator two years ago. Last year he was a League for Innovation winner for PGCC’s Envision Success program, which is similar to AACC’s Student Success 2020 initiative. He has published poetry on the themes of memory and gravity and combined his interests in sports and politics in a book published in 2012, “Sports in the Aftermath of Tragedy: From Kennedy to Katrina, the Politics of Race and Media,” which explores what a sporting event can mean to people after a major national tragedy.

He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Literature from Dickinson College, a Master of Arts in Literature from American University and a doctorate (Ph.D.) in American Studies from the University of Maryland.

Official: Obamacare on track to meet original goal

— After a surge of sign-ups on enrollment deadline day, Obamacare is now on track to hit the White House’s original target of 7 million people signing up, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

More than 4.8 million visits were made to healthcare.gov and 2 million calls were made to the call center Monday, raising optimism that the goal would be met, the official said.

The administration is awaiting final numbers from the federal and state exchanges, the official said.

Pharrell Williams joining ‘The Voice’

— Yet another reason for fans of “The Voice” to get “Happy.”

NBC tweeted confirmation on Monday that Pharrell Williams will be joining the show as a coach for Season 7 of the reality singing competition.

“Okay, we can OFFICIALLY say it! WE ARE SO #HAPPY to announce PHARRELL WILLIAMS = #NewVoiceCoach for SEASON 7,” the tweet read.

That’s music to the ears of many fans who have been clamoring for Williams to be involved with the show. In 2013, one of the show’s coaches, Usher, brought Williams in as a guest mentor for his team and the “Happy” singer brought it. So much so that it prompted the New York Magazine’s Vulture column to headline one of their recaps “Pharrell should be a coach.”

“It’s been a huge year for Pharrell, with recognition for his contribution in the world of music — the Despicable Me franchise soundtracks, his Oscar-nominated song ‘Happy’ and his Grammy-winning collaboration with Daft Punk on the breakout dance hit ‘Get Lucky.’ His dominance in record sales in 2014, coupled with his incomparable accomplishments in the world of fashion and design, make him an irresistible addition to The Voice family,” said Paul Telegdy of NBC Entertainment.

“He has already made a considerable impact as a mentor, drawing on an impressive track record as both a producer and performer. It is a perfect fit for ‘The Voice’ as we evolve and reach for new heights with this franchise. It feels like we are welcoming an existing family member home.”

On Monday Williams retweeted the NBC tweet adding: “This is going to be so fun.”


™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.