Monthly Archives: April 2013

It’s Funny

Sometimes improving the space around you includes changing the way you do things.

A funny thing happened last week.  I had fun at work.

I mean, I had a LOT of fun at work.

I’ve been working with the University of Arkansas Athletic Department on their annual awards reception and ceremony for the past 10 months.  They are called the HOGSPYs (like the ESPYs… get it?  No?  Do you watch sports?  No?  Okay then, don’t worry about it).  So much discussion, design and attention has been put into this event that waking up that morning I had one of those “THANK GOODNESS TODAY IS THE DAY” moments while straightening my hair.

Yes, I straighten my hair.  Don’t look so shocked.  It’s a lot of work to look this professional.

Then, when I got to work, I had one of those “THANK GOODNESS TODAY IS THE DAY” moments while pulling some tables into place and making sure everything was ready to go.

Then, it happened.

Well, yes, this giant hog head happened.  But something else happened, too!

I started having fun!  For the past couple of years, event days have been a swarm of meetings and texts to my team asking them to go do things for me because the meeting I was in was going long… very long.  Not this day, though.  I didn’t have one meeting to pull me away from the event, not one fire had to be put out, I just got to work the event.

I problem solved with the client when their reserved parking wasn’t going as planned.  I sat in the hall watching the giant hog head get blown up (with air, not explosives, of course).  I watched as our lighting designer played with the 8 moving lights we brought in for this event.

I was in the moment.  100% in the moment.  This Director of Events felt like she was actually working an event and not just going to an event and it was a BLAST.

Life gets so busy and by life, I mean work.  I don’t have many opportunities to step back and really enjoy that work because I’m already 5 events into the future by the time one event actually gets here.  I need to take the time to stop, enjoy it, look at the work I do and pinch myself because I really am so lucky to be in this industry.

Making the space around me be space that I love doesn’t stop at my front door.  It follows me everywhere.

I challenge all of you to make one change at work to leave you smiling at the end of the day.  What are you going to change?

Disclaimer: I know I’ve been posting a lot of pictures with Razorbacks in them.  I promise I haven’t crossed over.  It’s just hard to get around when I work 2 blocks from the University of Arkansas.

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Bowls full of happy pt. 1 – Cajun Chicken Alfredo

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If I mention a bowl full of happy, more than likely I’m talking about pasta (or Lucky Charms, but for this post, I’m focusing on the pasta). It could be any kind of pasta, I don’t discriminate. It’s probably a fact that I eat more bowls full of happy than I need to, but that doesn’t stop me from continuing to have these for dinner when the sweet boy and I actually have time to do just that… sit down for dinner.

I’m facing a month of days when I’m pretty sure the only time I’ll be home is to sleep, and even then I’m skeptical. I guess that’s the life of someone in the venue management industry. I suppose I live for that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t treasure the times when things seem a bit normal. Knowing that nice, slow evenings at home are going to be scarce for a while, I took the opportunity to make a BIG ol’ bowl of carbs last night.

Enter Chicken Alfredo.

This might possibly be our favorite make at home pasta. Alfredo is stupid easy provided you can manage not to scald the cream. This sauce is good over an shape of pasta, so it’s a good recipe to use to make to empty out your pasta pantry (what, you don’t have a space specifically for your pasta? Me neither in real life, but in my dream kitchen I do). It’s also good with many different fillers. I’ve used bacon, tomato, spinach, mushrooms, chicken, peppers, shrimp – you name it, it’s probably good in this sauce.

Last night I made it cajun style with some blackened chicken and mushrooms (okay, mushrooms aren’t cajun, but they are good in this pasta) served over penne but I usually use rotini. Is your mouth watering yet? Good, grab a snack and read on.

Adapted from Emeril’s recipe here.

Start by cooking up some chicken tenders (I cut up boneless breasts that I stock up on when they are on sale, but you can use the pre-cut tenders if you’re feeling rich). I cook mine up in a pan with a bit of olive oil and season those bad boys with a generous amount of blackening seasoning (or Cajun seasoning, I think they are the same thing). Don’t add more salt to the seasoning, it’s salty enough.

Cook as much chicken as you like, but i typically do 2 – 2.5 tenders/person or 1 chicken breast for 2-3 people.

While the chicken is cooking, dice up a slice of red onion. Dice it up small. I mean SMALL. you basically want the onion to melt into the sauce. Go ahead and mince a clove of garlic while you’re at it. Go along with that small theme you started with the onion. If you have one of those garlics with GINORMOUS cloves, just use half a clove. We aren’t fending off vampires here. It’s just dinner.

Don’t forget about that chicken! I usually turn it at this point as long as it’s good and golden brown on one side.

Grab a handful of baby bella mushrooms (crimini mushrooms are their technical name) and slice them fairly thin, 1/8 of an inch should do the trick. You can slice them a bit thicker if you want, but I’m for a quick meal here and don’t have all night to cook mushrooms. Again, use as many of these as you like. I use about 3/4 of a cup of sliced mushrooms for 2 servings. We like fungus.

The Sweet Boy’s best friend does not like fungus but LOVES this dinner so he tolerates having to pick out the mushrooms later. Basically, I’m saying don’t omit this just because someone around your dinner table (or coffee table as it is on our case) decided early in life that they have a textural issue with mushrooms.

Your chicken should be done at this point. Remove it to a plate and set aside.

In a small sauce pan, melt 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Melt it slowly, don’t let it brown. Take your time with this process. Add the onions and garlic in. Again, cook these guys slowly. Burned onions and garlic do not a bowl full of happy make. I stray from the original recipe here and add a generous pinch of dried red pepper flakes or seeds here. If you’re a bit wimpy when it comes to heat, you can omit this step.

While the onions are cooking, bring a pasta sized pot of water to a boil and cook your preferred pasta for the required length to achieve the perfect al dente. Drain the pasta reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta liquid (I never use it, but I always save it just in case my sauce turns out too thick).

Cook this the onions and garlic until soft. Add a half cup of heavy cream at this point. Don’t worry about your diet. this meal is worth straying.

Mmmm. Butter.

Mmmm. Heavy cream.

Mmmm. Pasta.

You can have a salad tomorrow. Today, let’s just enjoy.

Bring cream to a simmer and grate some fresh nutmeg over the top. I probably add 1/8 teaspoon but I never measure. If you like nutmeg, you can’t go wrong with this step… unless you use that ground nutmeg from the store. Never use that. Always grate your own as needed. Allow sauce to simmer for about 5 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, add a bit of olive oil to the same pan you cooked your chicken in, and add in the mushrooms. Saute those little guys until cooked through and remove from the heat. You can add a bit of salt and pepper after they are cooked, but you don’t have to. You can dice up the chicken to desired sized bites at this point and add to the mushroom pan. The leftover heat will help reheat the chicken a bit. If your chicken doesn’t reheat, no big deal, the sauce will take care of this step later.

After the sauce has reduced a bit, add 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese and allow to melt. Return the pasta to the pasta pan, add the chicken and mushroom and then dump that delicious, calorie laden, amazing alfredo sauce all over it. If it’s a bit thick, you can start adding small amounts of the pasta water in to thin it out. I said SMALL amounts. Now is not the time to be in a hurry. Stir it up, add another 1/4 cup of grated parm to the pot and viola!

You now have a pot full of happy to portion into bowls. I top mine with diced roma tomatoes and green onion.

It’s delicious.

It’s better than the cajun chicken pasta at Chili’s.Actually, a lot of things are better than the items at Chili’s.I’m still mad that they took away my ranchero chicken tacos.I’ll take that to my grave.

I haven’t been back since I made that discovery.

DARN YOU CHILI’S!

Ahem, but I digress. I hope you love this pasta. Let me know if you make it and what spin you put on it. It’s very versatile. It’s not, however, very good for you. You can’t get the best of both worlds.

Disclaimer: I recommend following Emeril’s recipe first to get the hang of this. You’ll learn if you want more parm or more cream by doing this. I no longer use a recipe and just go by site. You’ll get the hang of it… it’s super simple.

Alternate version: Use italian seasoning, salt and pepper on the chicken for a mild version. It’s still good, but not AS good.

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Saving $$$ one overpriced project at a time

I’ve been on a money saving kick lately. The Sweet Boy and I are traveling to two concerts this summer in addition to a planned trip to Austin to get my Texas fix for the year. Things like that take money and since I bring home a non-profit paycheck, things like that also take planning.

It seems to me that it’s only when I’m saving money that I realize how crazy expensive some things are.

Like going to Mellow Mushroom for pizza. That’s crazy expensive.

Buying propane for the grill that has finally been unveiled for the first time since last summer. That’s crazy expensive.

Fresh mozzarella for that amazing baked ziti you cook so you can sit down to some reruns of The Sopranos with a bowl full of happy in front of you. That’s crazy expensive.

Getting your long hair cut and styled at a salon you trust. That’s crazy expensive.

Since I’m not an expert pizza crust maker, nor do I source my own propane gas or have yet to make my own cheese, I can only solve one of the above problems.

I cut my own hair.

I’m lucky, because I currently have long hair, and it’s somewhat straight on its own, so it’s forgiving if I accidentally cut a hair too much off (HAH… a hair… get it? Yeah, okay, that wasn’t completely hilarious). I’m sure if I had shorter hair, I might be more cautious, but desperate times call for desperate measures and that trip to austin (and the margaritas I’m going to consume while there) aren’t going to pay for themselves.

Every time I cut my own hair, I’m saving about $50. that’s a lot of margaritas… or a tank of gas. So, without further ado, here’s how I do it.

Supplies include fairly sharp scissors, good pony tail holder (don’t use one that is super stretched and doesn’t hold well), a mirror to check your work, a trash can to catch the hair in, something to straighten your hair with (iron or hair dryer) and nerves of steel!

First, take a before picture so you can post it to Facebook and impress the heck out of your friends (after all, it doesn’t happen unless it happened on Facebook, right?).

Next, straighten your hair. I use a flat iron for this but you could blow dry it straight if you’re patient.

Then, flip your head over and brush all of your hair forward to make a pony tail at the front of your hair line. I put mine slightly to the side of center because that’s where I part my hair. If you part down the middle, put the pony tail in the middle.

Next, take another picture and post it to Facebook because it’s fun.

Now, with your face looking towards the ground pull your ponytail parallel to the ground with your index and middle fingers (straight out from your forehead). Position your fingers where you want to make the cut and go for it. Chop that sucker off. I did this in 2 inch increments just to be safe. I didn’t lose a lot of length, but started to notice layers forming between each cut. I HIGHLY recommend taking the ponytail out between cuts to check your work.

Once you have the length of layers you desire, you’re finished. I wanted shorter side swept bangs than this method gave me, so I found a tutorial on line for trimming those guys up.

Viola.

A free, and easy hair cut to maintain a long, layered style without shelling out the big bucks.

don’t trust me? Here’ s a link to another tutorial of the same method.

Let me know if you try this technique or if you have another one that you prefer. I’d love to hear what works for you.

Disclaimer: I don’t know if this works for people with curly hair… i.e. please don’t blame me if you have curly hair, try this, and end up looking like Helen Bonham Carter in Fight Club (I love her in that, by the way, but I love her in everything, so yeah).

Disclaimer #2: Ignore my well worn t-shirt. I was cutting my own hair, not trying to win a beauty pageant. I’m guessing you’re wearing faded yoga pants while reading this, so I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me.

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All in the name of a good cause

Oh hey… I haven’t written a post here since February.  Now now, this isn’t a shocker, I understand that.  You all have come to expect spurts of blog posts from me but consistency isn’t what you expect from me.  That’s fine, my feelings aren’t hurt.  It’s quite the opposite, actually.  What have I been doing while away from my computer?  Well, it seems I’ve been living my life.

Say what?

Living my life?  What’s that?

Those of you who know me personally know that I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately.  I haven’t been over the moon with the world around me.  I haven’t been in love with my condo.  I am constantly wishing my job had me learning new things and doing something… well… new.  I’m constantly counting down the days until my next trip to someplace that isn’t here.  I stuck around my house when I had time away from work and found myself doing the same old things as the week before… and the week before that… and that… you get it, right?

That’s kind of obnoxious, isn’t it?  I might even go as far as to say it’s kind of pathetic.  It was time for a change.  Sometime about 2 weeks ago I pledged to love where I am.  Make the space I’m in one that I love.  Find things to do that leave me loving the town I’m in.  Just go out and have fun!

The making my space I’m in one that I love was easy.  I hung pictures, staged some collections, CLEANED every square inch of my condo and finally bought that floor lamp the Sweet Boy and I have complained about needing for 2 years.  Love the space I’m in?  Check.

Now, onto loving the town I’m in.  this wasn’t as easy.  This meant getting out of my PJs on my day off and actually going out and doing stuff.  No, this wouldn’t be easy.  This past Saturday, I found myself doing my usual Saturday things.  Thrifting, treasure hunting and hanging around rummage sales.  I ran into a friend who recommended I head out to Abbott Nutrition RazorFest.

Wait… what?  She recommended I take my childless, University of Texas alumni, burnt orange bleeding self to RazorFest?  from the outside, what I knew of RazorFest was that it was a huge, kid-friendly, festival promoting all things UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS.  However, I’ll give anything a chance once.  I went to the event’s website (it’s here, in case you’d like to visit it, and I suggest you do, right away, well, after you’re done reading this post) to learn a bit more about the organization and to figure out a plan of attack.

Wow.  I couldn’t have been more wrong about the event.  Well, no, that isn’t 100% true.  This is definitely a  kid-friendly, festival promoting all things UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS, but it’s so much more than that.  Abbott Nutrition RazorFest is Champion for Kids’ flagship event with the goal to inspire those who attend the festival to provide resources and opportunities to benefit children.

Hey, I love organizations that provide opportunities for children (after all, I firmly believe that those opportunities are what build strong, fruitful and fun adults… fun adults are better than not fun adults, right?).  It was an easy choice to decide to head out to attend RazorFest… but only after running home to take off my Longhorn shirt and change into one of many of the Sweet Boy’s Razorback shirts.

Oh yeah, and to grab some canned goods to donate to the food drive at the event helping to fill area food bank pantries.  I feel very strongly about providing healthy food to food banks, so the lower the salt content, the better.  No Hamburger Helper from me, thankyouverymuch.

Now, on to the fun.

My first thought when I got to the event was “OH MY GOD… there are SO many kids… everywhere”.  I’m going to be honest here, because honesty is the best policy.  I was overwhelmed.  I couldn’t make sense of the layout of the event and there were lines of stressed looking parents with their pile of kids waiting to bounce on the blow-up slide or get flung to space on one of those bungee swing, slingshot thingies.  Don’t even get me started on the length of the line for the free Houndstooth t-shirts.  The lines were impressively long.

There you go, “OH MY GOD” was my first take away.

To be fair, this reaction came from a childless person attending a family event.  Oh yeah, and I’m a professional event planner and have been for the past 9 years.  Trying to completely let loose and thoroughly enjoy events like this can be tedious.  I’m always on the look out for ways to make traffic flow better and to keep people moving along and happy.  So when I was faced with the challenge to break my way through the human barrier the lines created, it was only natural that “OH MY GOD” was my first reaction.

One more thought on this, before I move on to the intrinsic, feel good moments, this event would be FAR better served with a bit more floors pace to spread out in and a bit of booth mapping.

Okay, I’ll stop being that person now.

This event was clearly succeeding in providing fun activities for families.  Every booth there had giveaways or activities perfect for the kiddos.  Some even perfect for the non-kiddos (I might have walked away with a handful of goodies myself, my favorite being the tomato seeds from Heinz… I do love a good packet of seeds).  I searched around a bit for booths promoting ways to help children in my community and I didn’t have to look far.  Habitat for Humanity was there, City of Fayetteville Parks and Rec with information about the Yvonne Richardson Center was out in full force, Lifestyles had a craft corner set up, a local Girl Scout troop was onsite, Seeds That Feed had a booth and many, many more booths filled the space.

Now, I saw the booths surrounding me, and because I know the mission of these organizations, I know of their importance in the community, but I couldn’t get that from this event.  I just couldn’t get near many of the booths with activities due to the lines and swarm of children.  I feel that their messages were lost on me and based on the short amount of time many of the people in line actually spent at the booth, I worry that the message was lost on other festival goers as well.

Is there a better way to accomplish the mission to spread this information and to share these opportunities with RazorFest attendees?  Maybe.  Do I know how do accomplish that?  No.  Unfortunately, I think the nature of a festival like this lends itself to just piquing the interest of those in attendance instead of fully educating them.

Perhaps baby steps are the right way to do this, in which case, I believe RazorFest’s message to be hugely successful.  And, on top of that, I’m pretty sure every kid in that parking lot was having a BLAST!  The parents, on the other hand, well… let’s just say I’m fairly certain many of them went out for margaritas afterwards.

I can’t blame them.

I almost did so myself.

Who’s to say I didn’t?

While I didn’t walk back to my car with any more information about Champions for Kids than I learned from the website before attending the event, I did leave with a sense of pride for my community.  Countless non-profits showed up to help build a festival that was both educational and fun for the kids of our community.  They didn’t do it for money or fundraising efforts, they did so just to help build this event.

Maybe I missed the point, but I didn’t miss having a great time.  In the end, is it always about the point?  No, not really.  Sometimes it’s just about having a good time.

Don’t just let me tell you about this great cause and incredibly successful event, go do a bit of research yourself:

Visit the Champions for Kids website
Follow Champions for Kids on Twitter (all the cool kids do)
Go like the Champions for Kids Facebook page

What about you, have you ever found yourself trying to fall back in love with your community?  What were some ways you did that?
While all opinions are my own, I am a member of the Collective Bias®  Social Fabric® Community.  This content has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias® . and Champions For Kids. #cbias #SocialFabric

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